September 20, 2018

Plunge into Prayer Because Christ Has Plunged into Our Humanity

Christian's plunge into prayer because Christ has plunged into our humanity. He penetrated the depths of the human heart in all its earthiness and scaled its heights, circumscribing its vast horizons in glory.  This means He is familiar with everything, our whole range of experience, all our hidden secrets, all our secret sorrows, those burdens of which we are conscious and mysteries about ourselves of which we have not the faintest inkling. He rejects nothing that is true but embraces all, holds us close, treasures who we are with all the affection of His Heart.

Christ has plunged even into our death and that is why death becomes a supreme moment of prayer, and every other trial practice for this final offering. He is not afraid of the meaninglessness that threatens human dignity or the painful riddles of life or the unresolved questions that haunt our hearts. He has already walked into all of this- He who is Ultimate Meaning shines His healing light into this darkness. Every tear that is shed for a loved one, every heartache over the loss of someone close, even the anger that can come with loss, and the anxiety for those we fear to leave behind - He knows it all and walks with us through this dark valley. No enemy, not even death, can thwart His love for us or His desire to save us.

This is why, no matter the evil or the trial or the sacrifice that we must endure, we can always pray. Forever and irrevocably immersed in our humanity, He is always with us. Our minds might be confused. Our emotions numb. Our bodies exhausted. But the frailest effort, the tiniest act of will - He receives like a precious pearl and He treasures, for He knows exactly what it costs.

When we are drowning under a flood of anxieties and painful tears, it is time for us to plunge into prayer even more. The immensity of His love is ever greater than anything that threatens us. The farther away He might seem, the closer He is - the smallest act of faith opens His Heart and  the floodgates of His Mercy. Having plunged into our humanity, He overflows its banks with Divine Hope.


September 18, 2018

The Power of Contemplative Prayer

Contemplative prayer has immense power against all kinds of evil. This silent movement of the heart unveils self-contradictions and rash judgments that threaten one's own integrity and, at the same time, this vulnerability to God is healing balm for the integrity of others. This deep stillness of spirit allows God to establish one's whole being in His very Presence so deeply that one cannot remotely guess how profoundly hidden one's life has become. At the same time, in this hiddenness, life flows anew in this old, tired world.

This kind of prayer involves renunciation. One must renounce all forms of bitterness and resentment, even when these are evoked by seemingly just causes, to protect the delicate work that God's love is bringing to perfection. One must renounce the frustrated anger that would lash out and assert itself when circumstances and events seem to be spiraling out of control.  This means humility -- what Divine Presence is unfolding within can never be controlled by any created power. One must also renounce all self-pity and anxiety -- indulging such self-occupation renders the heart too small for the Living God. All lesser loves must find their proper place before this one Love.

This adoration soaked in tears also involves sacrifice. Though a thousand schemes and opportunities for self-preservation flood the mind, this movement of the Holy Spirit requires us to be resolute not only in renouncing these, but also in picking up the Cross of self-abnegation out of an obedient love for God. Though other dreams and ambitions shine from every side, this surge of the heart to the Lord evokes a singleminded faithfulness that stays the course. Some have gladly sacrificed careers, worldly honors, and friends to attain this pearl of great price. Others have even left family, and language, and country because of where this humble pathway leads. Once one begins this difficult pilgrimage from the surface of life to the depths of God's love, there can be no looking back.

Only this prayer can traverse the abyss of human misery. As it climbs the steep ravines of virtue, of insight, of integrity, it slides down further the slopes of inadequacy, of powerlessness, of painful voids. What draws it forward is not desire for victory or fear of failure, but the Hidden Presence of Love Crucified. What gives it confident assurance is not its own progress or industry, but the One who has Risen from the dead.  Rooted in His Presence by faith, this quiet stillness knows that deeper than the abyss of misery is the abyss of mercy - to fall into this abyss is to be raised to heights that this world cannot contain.

No wonder this kind of prayer allows us to pray in reparation for our own sins and the sins of the world. When one can no longer weep for one's own sins, it is possible to begin to weep for the sins of the world. When one knows how much one needs the mercy of God, one self-identifies with everyone who needs this mercy - and deep heartache for the plight of humanity grips the soul. Such grief is honored by God. No sin can bend as low as this humbled knee. No evil can reach as high as this bowed head. No rant can be heard as clearly as the confession of this tongue.  Such prayer knows the deep things of God and opens up space in the wilderness of human freedom for the Lord to make all things new. 

September 15, 2018

The Tears of Mary

The tears of Mary, treasured by God, are poured out for those who are powerless and vulnerable. She stands with all those who have been abused by the powerful. She takes her stand with those who have no one to take their side. She listens patiently to their grief and anger, and she hears the heart of her Son on the Cross.  She suffers their indignity until the pain dissolves into tears. She lets her heart be pierced by the wounds that that have pierced their innocence and goodness.  She never fails to see in the forgotten and the lowly, in the abused and humiliated, in the marginalized and the oppressed, in the suffering and the poor an image of her own Son.

Of all the closest friends of Christ, only one stood with His Mother when it most counted. Today, also there are shepherds who stand on this holy ground where hearts are pierced. As when the Church was born from the side of Christ, they are too few who have the courage not to abandon Him.  The Lord invites us to stand with them - to allow our own hearts to be pierced with them just as His Mother's heart was pierced.

Let our own tears fall as these good shepherds make reparation for the evil wrought, not only by thieves and marauders, but by His unfaithful friends. These good shepherds see the heartache of the people of God and we should not fear to see this with them.  Their hearts break because of the confusion caused by the Lord's own disciples and we should let our own hearts break with them. It is painful to live in the light of this truth, yet this is a healing pain.  To stand in this place with the Beloved Disciple and His Mother, this is to stand at the epicenter of a new creation no human evil can circumscribe - it is where integrity is born and wholesomeness reclaimed.

For the faithful of the Lord, those who cling to Him night and day, and those who suffer the loss of all things for His sake - the Living God takes your side. As you weep for those who have been abused and for their abusers, as you beg for the Holy Spirit to reveal to us our sins and to lead us all to deeper conversion, He bends over you like a mother her child. The Father has covered you with His mighty shadow, and His Holy Spirit is renewing the mystery of Christ in you. Your prayers are heard and those who most need healing today are being blessed by your intercession. Your cries are accepted and structures of sin are falling down. Those holy feelings and noble thoughts that lead to courageous acts of mercy and witness to the truth testify to this new work in you. Hidden in His tenderness, He is unleashing something beautiful in you and through you.  

September 14, 2018

To Console the Heart of Christ

In this time of scandal, the Holy Spirit moves hearts to console the Heart of Christ. I saw this at the SCRC on September 1, 2018. In a filled arena after mass, Bishop David O'Connell, an auxiliary bishop of the Los Angeles, offered a healing mass. After a Eucharistic Procession, he prepared to repose the Blessed Sacrament on the Altar. But then he stopped and offered a short catechesis on praying the name of Jesus and being mindful of His presence in the heart. A great stillness filled the thousands gathered in the arena. Then, sobbing, he began to pray for all the victims of clerical abuse, and their healing. He begged for the mercy of Jesus for all the failures of the clergy and for the grace of conversion. In tears, he humbly asked Jesus "how can we console your heart?"

I had closed my eyes for most of this. When I opened my eyes, a group of priests were kneeling around me - their eyes were also wet with tears. Indeed, most of those gathered that evening were pierced to the heart by this prayer to console the heart of Jesus. What consoles His Heart but our humble awareness of the immensity of His love for each of us, especially for the vulnerable and afflicted?  Our sorrow over how He continues to be rejected by his friends and our own sluggishness creates space in our hearts for Him to do something beautiful in the world and in our lives. In that arena, many who came to seek healing from the Lord, but through the bishop's ministry, suddenly were caught up in this act of reparation for the healing of the Church. 

September 11, 2018

The Spiritual Castle and Monsters that Threaten it

In times of crisis and confusion, if we do not wish to be swept away, we must return to "ourselves" and remember who we are. This is what St. Teresa of Avila's Spiritual Castle introduces in the life of prayer. To help us understand this movement of interior recollection and contemplative prayer, she shows us a crystal radiant with light whose brightness increases the closer we draw to its center. God's own light shines forth from such a soul as a beacon in this dark world. But to become such a beacon for others, St. Teresa explains that we must deal with monsters who threaten us not only on the outside of the Castle, be even on the inside.

She speaks of lizards, toads and snakes - and she has in mind demonic and worldly influences on our emotions and thinking.  Making what is merely peripheral the priority of our heart leaves us vulnerable, and mindlessly going with the emotion of the moment can leave us poisoned in the cold darkness of this world. St. Paul similarly warns us against conforming our minds to this age and living with our minds darkened. St. Teresa wants us to raise our minds to the light of truth in prayer. The closer we draw to the light that is Christ, the more we overcome the threats that these monsters represent.

This is a call to great vigilance especially in stormy times. Emotions stirred up by the news cycle, or gossip or even our own rash judgments about the world can often betray where we would otherwise desire to stand in life. We forget to be true to ourselves when we are caught up in the bellicose or vindictive movements of the moment. We become weighed down in a spiral of self-torment when we are not wise about our own impulses against what is true and good. We take nihilistic plunges - blowing up trust, relationships and opportunities, because without self-knowledge, we forget the task of who we are and the divine gift that our neighbor is. Long before we can ever effectively deal with difficult circumstances that beset us from without, we must be masters of the challenges that we confront from within.

Father James V. Schall reminds us of this point through his reflections on Samuel Johnson's Idler: 
things we would rather remain hidden from ourselves, it is best to pull out and deal with. Is it not true that often we allow ourselves to be driven by the emotion of the moment so that we are distracted from this painful truth? Yet, those who find this truth - who have the courage to accept their strengths and weaknesses for what they are - they are the one's who discern best how to respond to the value at stake. They become beacons for those who have lost their way.