October 25, 2020

Receiving the Word in Affliction and Joy

St. Paul calls believers of Thessalonica "imitators of the Lord" who received the Word in "affliction" and "the joy of the Holy Spirit."   To imitate is to repeat what another has done. When imitation is made of another out of love, it reveals a beautiful devotion.  So one friend imitates the virtues of another because he admires her, and a spouse reveals a deep devotion to her beloved when she attempts to make him feel the love that she has felt from him. Thus, does marriage reveal the Great Mystery.

In the case of the Bridegroom of the Church, He has loved us to the end. He who is Love Himself was hated for our sake. To rescue us from a world dying in its own lies and myths, He suffered the truth of God's love for us and dared to reveal it no matter the cost. With patience, His loving obedience bore away sin until death itself was overcome. How can a believer show his devotion to such a Lover other than to love Him in kind? 

This is what St. Paul praises when he singles out believers for receiving the Word in affliction. In welcoming the Word of the Father while they are under trial, they imitate the One whom they love. They suffer the Truth -- for no one can know the Truth until they suffer it in their own life, in the depths of their heart. Only to the degree that we suffer the truth in our hearts do we possess it. Those who believe in the Word suffer this Truth even as they make their way through the work-a-day world as a sign of contradiction - and thus, they too are hated even to the point of sharing in His salvific work.

Holy Spirit, who makes this imitation of Christ possible, gives them joy.  The Word connects present afflictions and the Gift of the Holy Spirit. The greater an affliction is born with love filled faith, the more completely the Word is received, and the greater that joy which the Holy Spirit produces in the heart. 

He who is the True Life permits us to undergo afflictions only so that we might turn to Him and welcome Him as the Beloved of the Father.  As we welcome this Life more deeply into the heart, this Word made flesh speaks with the power of the Holy Spirit and floods our innermost being with unexpected and inexhaustible riches. His Light shines into the most secret depths, and through the power of the Holy Spirit He fills with love abysses that we do not know are there. Indeed, only affliction can open up such depths to these life-giving riches - so did Christ Crucified suffer for us and so does this Risen Lord suffer with us, and so we never suffer alone. Here we find the secret of a joy that the Holy Spirit knows between the Father and the Son - and wherever the Word communicates His riches, the Fire of the Holy Spirit ignites our joy. 

October 18, 2020

The Pathway of Forgiveness

"Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.' 

What if the neighbor who I trust sins against me and robs me of the dignity that is due, am I still to love him? Such a neighbor has taken a hostile stand toward me and has become my enemy. Christ commands me to love my enemies, to be concerned over the plight of those who have betrayed me. How do we love an enemy? How do we forgive or forget an offense? Here, only the Cross of Christ opens the way and only the Holy Spirit can provide the compassion that makes such love possible.  Only those who suffer an enemy's hostility can know this most mysterious form of love. 

To forgive with love is a great challenge. Part of this forgiveness involves renunciation of all that is not worthy of one's own dignity - a certain putting to death of bitterness, resentment and harsh judgment. When someone has violated one's own dignity and stolen away the honor due to you, the temptation is to either cowardice or vindictiveness. To cave into either of these options sets one's own integrity at risk. By faith and through prayer, we can disavow these movements of heart no matter how often they assail us.  We can begin to do this long before the one who offended us asks for mercy: indeed, we might hope for their own sake that they do seek forgiveness, but we may never hear the words "please forgive me" or have the satisfaction of seeing their repentance over the humiliation that they have caused. Our peace must be rooted in a more firm hope. As we seek this firm hope, another unfamiliar pathway opens that no natural power of reason can know but that in all its inconvenience and discomfort, truth is found. 

Only faith sees the way forward - because by faith we know a love that is more powerful than sin. This includes not only the wrongs we have suffered at the hands of others but also the suffering we have caused others - even unto the passion of Christ Himself. Here, silence before our Crucified God is vital. Allowing His countenance to shine on us and taking in His gaze of love, a certain wisdom is given. Before His face, one does not find simple solutions that make a problem disappear, but only the next step to take. The small sure steps of love descend the abyss of misery to discover the ever deeper abyss of mercy.  When the Word of the Father descended this pathway into hell, He brought meaning into what was most meaningless about human existence. This pathway of truth into the wounds of life also discovers compassion and intercession for those who offend us. These are the treasures of the Heart of Christ, and they are ours if we dare to ask.  

To choose to love in the face of an offense, this is a secret form of mercy that God longs to share with us, a wisdom that is unfamiliar to this world.  Indeed, to forgive an offense makes space in the heart to receive the Lord's forgiveness. But whoever says that the Lord has forgiven them and still holds a grudge, his own bitterness has blocked the inflow of mercy that Christ desires him to know.  

October 4, 2020

Praying the Rosary to Free the Mass - Triumph Tour 2020

Click here to see the Rosary Offered at the John Paul II Center for Contemplative Culture at St. Patrick's Seminary and University on October 4, the Feast of St. Francis. We prayed for San Francisco, the City named after him, for California and for our Country.  At 5pm (Pacific Time), together with transitional deacons from Korea and Guam, I offered a rosary and chaplet of Divine Mercy as part of the Triumph Tour 2020, an effort of prayer and reparation. 

We prayed for those affected by COVID, including our President and First Lady, and for all those involved in medical care. We also prayed for all those affected by the wildfires across California, especially the safety of firefighters and first responders as well as those who have suffered losses.  We prayed for our political leaders, public health and safety officials and the police that they will have the wisdom that they need to keep our communities safe and the rights of individual citizens respected.  We prayed for all those who feel overwhelmed by the social turmoil and natural disasters of these difficult days, especially those for whom loneliness and anxiety are a particular burden.   

There is much to give thanks for including the efforts of the petition signers and demonstrators to which the Mayor responded and on September 29, 2020 announced a loosening of restrictions to match those issued by the State of California. In a press release, Archbishop Cordileone says: 

“I want to thank Mayor London Breed for recognizing that faith is essential.  As well, I want to thank the thousands of San Francisco Catholics and others who joined the processions, the more than 35,000 who signed the petition at FreeTheMass.com, came to St. Mary Cathedral’s outdoor plaza to witness to our faith, wrote letters to the editor or op-eds, and who generally spoke up with one united voice under the banner: We are essential! Free the Mass! Respect for each other’s rights and compassion for each other’s needs are core San Francisco values.  God bless Mayor Breed for responding to her constituents’ call."  

At the time, the Benedict XVI Institute in collaboration with the Archdiocese of San Francisco is still concerned: 

"The state of California’s limit of no more than 100 people inside of a house of worship regardless of the size of the building remains unjust.  We want and we intend to worship God safely: with masks, social distancing, sanitation, ventilation, and other such safety protocols.  But we will not accept believers being treated more severely than other, comparable secular activities." 

Although the situation continues to improve, returning to prayer and devotion to the Lord is vital for the future of California and the United States.  Please pray for us.

September 27, 2020

Free the Mass

We must free the Mass because the sacred liturgy of the Catholic Church has been held hostage by incoherent and inconsistent governmental policies. Compared to stores, restaurants and airlines, places of worship are often treated differently. These policies, however incoherent in relation to actual public safety, align as are part of a worldwide erosion of religious freedom. Indeed, there is an irrational fear of faith in which religion is seen as a threat rather than an asset for a community.  The marginalization, dislocation and persecution of religious people marks the times in which we live to the extent that this new callousness threatens the whole human ecosystem, a global climate of hearts goes cold. A government, no matter the nobility of its purpose, dehumanizes its population whenever it attempts to impede the exercise of this most basic right.  To free the Mass says to the world that the freedom for public worship is a basic right, a debt society owes its people because human dignity cannot have it any other way. 

Prayer is the most essential human activity and public worship as a people gathered together is a vital part of our social life. That is, when we pray together, something about the mystery of our shared humanity is set free and realized before God. Is it not true that our sense of solidarity with each other has ebbed away the longer common worship has been denied us?  Fractured and fragmented, only as we turn together and worship God will we also discover again the respect we owe one another. Until then, we are subject to the rantings of personalities so occupied with self-loathing shame that even a neighbor's kindness is regarded as a demeaning threat.

(As an aside, among those who see religion as an obstacle to social progress, I keep reading that history belongs to the victorious. No. It belongs to God. Because His presence is with us, it is never the politically, culturally or militarily powerful who determine history in the end, but always the brave and God fearing. Under the providence of God, those who are courageous in their faith define history even if against the cowardice of overwhelming mobs and abuse of governmental power. History is left to lesser men to write about, a project that measures their efforts against the greatness of what God has done. What cowards write is not history, but an exercise in magical thinking and self-justification. As for what is history and what is magical, good students know the difference.) 

The profound need to worship God is why history is filled with societies in which life is not so much about physical survival, but instead religious practices. Meaningful societies have always been formed for something more than producing and consuming, or securing and controlling material goods - as if the most noble truths of humanity are advanced through merely profane efforts or self-interest. Instead, a great society allows religious people to foster a sense of life beyond health, wealth and self. These are blessings for which to give thanks, but they are not meaningful enough to bind long a society of hearts. 

We need to go to Church and worship God as a people - the salvation of the whole world depends on it. Every true culture is always built around sacred space, a place of prayer and reverence, where a soul discovers awe before the majesty of God and the gift of life. The Church realizes this as the mystical body of Christ - at once on earth amidst the world of men and in heaven before the Father. The work-a-day world of a great civilization is interrupted by the frequent observance of sacred festivals where the affairs of man are subordinated to the things of God. For Catholics, this happens weekly on the Day of the Lord and the Mass is the source and summit of this solemn day of joy. Not for sentimental and nostalgic moments, not to find an escape from the travails of existence, but to work in union with God to bring sacred order and holy purpose into the chaos out of which creation issues forth, to find together that freedom from all that would compromise dignity and integrity, to stand as one before the gates of death with certain hope, and to offer in a single solidarity the praise of glory unseen yet shining forth in this short life we share together


September 12, 2020

The River - inspired by a poem by St. John of the Cross

To approach the living God requires a journey to the deepest center, to the very Spring from which all things come. No matter where we are, we can find the river that flows from this Spring. Yet, to be answered, we must ask; to find we must seek, to have laid open, we must knock. These are the steps of a great journey, the journey of a beat up and destitute beggar whose only hope is in the goodness of that Neighbor who passes by. Should we persevere, the River that makes all things new is ours, flooding even those steep banks that were once thought too high to be immersed.

This river of Word and Fire flows through the heavens. Revealing all things and setting them on fire, it flows through all space and time in this world below. It's light and warmth flows forsaken, deep below this world, even in those places where all love and hope is ever forsaken - and still it flows for this is not the last word about humanity. Overflowing into this present moment, even as you read this text, a fullness of meaning and life gushing forth unimpeded, never aging always new, the only new thing in this tired out world, making new all things, with a deep down cool freshness. Hidden under the veils of bread and wine, this Body and Blood feeds, nourishes, satisfies, quenches, inebriates until Spirit-filled the spirit of man must needs offer that spiritual worship that only a bodily sacrifice can achieve.  

Woe to those who, believing faith to be some private affair, dare to place unveiled glory under jars of acceptability. Woe to those who mindlessly accept the absolute claims of a governmental power and cowardly render to a social agenda even that which belongs to God. Woe to those who for fear of mere bodily harm neglect those matters of the heart for which we exist. 

Blessed are you whom God has called to live by faith in times such as these - for Love has called you to tender love, for love and in love at a time when kindly love is most needed.  Blessed are those who forgive from the depths of the heart that grievance until now so tormenting. Blessed are those who fear not to offer the thirsty a cup of water when others are too afraid to go forth. Blessed are they who do not fear to minister a word of truth in the midst of confusion and viral accusation.  Blessed are those who suffer detracting sneers for having dared speak up for the most vulnerable: standing by the smallest among us come what come may -- great indeed is the homecoming that awaits such as these.