June 15, 2019

The Radiance of the Bride - Source of Contemplative Prayer

The world may fear Fire from above, but not the Bride of Christ. For her, this Eternal Flame flashes down as torchlit sign of hope in the present moment - infusing the difficult circumstances that threaten humanity with those possibilities that eyes still subject to death cannot see. Hearts not satisfied with a half-lived life, not ready to settle for anything other than the truly authentic, need this source of contemplative prayer.  The radiance of the Bride comes from Heaven as a pure gift, and she shines with this resplendent peace precisely for those longing for the rushing stillness of a truly meaningful life.

The Church possesses the Light which contemplation seeks. As a dark cloud of accusing fingers rush forward claiming victim status in social myths indifferent to the innocent, the gentle dignity of truth remains the uncompromising standard of her heart, the only ground that she allows to bear her weight and the weight of that encounter for which she longs. Woe to those who preach another standard in her name and claim that such darkness is light- their myths entrap in self-contradiction putting at risk one's integrity and dignity.

All that is not chaste, simple, and obedient under the Light of the Church fails to find the footing that she offers. Sensational controversy, intrigue, and political maneuvering remain ignorant of even the passing shadow of her Great Mystery.  Calculated spin, social stratagems, and clever agendas can never access her deepest treasures. Instead, only a heart surrendered in truth to love can know that Surrender into which she has surrendered herself. Only a mind whose every thought is held captive by the ignominy of the Cross can know that unfamiliar brightness whose wound heals.

The Church is captivated and captivates by the uncreated Light unveiled in the suffering and risen humanity of the Lord. The Bride of Christ, in the warm radiance of this mysterious splendor, silently processes forward to Him who awaits her. She presses on in trust and confidence through the deep currents of humanity's doom, carrying a candle lit in the darkness of the world by that flaming Word who would not be dimmed.  He is the way - the way for humanity as a whole, and the way for each heart to whom He calls.

Illuminating this pathway for humanity, the Bride's faithful shadow discloses a true alternative to all social and psychological idealisms of our time. Her light is her own - it is Him, the Light - not a light of our time, but Eternal Light. Nihilisms of contemporary conventions, deprived of the Light that shines in the darkness, never lead out of the dark, no matter the supposed nobility of their cause. In the end, they betray, in slanted labyrinths of twisted thought, those enclosed in concentric circles of egoism.  Even here, if a heart will strive to seek Him, Christ's raised Lantern provides an escape. For she knows these dark prisons whom her Bridegroom harrowed and her pathway to Him takes her through those barred gates and locked doors - for nothing is denied her as she follows the footsteps of her Crucified Master.

In her maternal brightness, all that is good, noble and true about holy humanity is set aglow even if largely unrecognized save by some mysterious relief, if only momentary, from the ennui haunting the secure routines of a half lived life. Immaculate and holy by the Blood shed for her she shines. Though ravenous wolves violently tear at her to devour her children and render her fruitless, the brightness of her Shepherd fills her gaze. The constant object of malicious schemes, she knows not to yield even when engulfed in humiliation and utter failure to all earthly eyes. Yet, even as her most vulnerable members are falsely accused and slaughtered, she lives unvanquished and remains undeterred in her magnificent purpose until every drop of innocent blood is vindicated.

Consider this: countless of her conquerors now find themselves head bowed and kneeling before her Bridegroom. The blood of her witnesses evokes and conceives new life all the more that it is discounted and abused. Even as the world turns upside down, this Bride is ever confident in the Lamb that was slain for He is even more confident in her. This trust of the Bride protects the poor of spirit who take refuge in her. Thus, by the Fire that burns within her, Mother Church fiercely defies all worldly powers and rulers of darkness until terror overtakes them and the light of truth exposes the shame that they presumed would never be known. Here, repentance and the hope for humanity - ushered by fasting and welcomed by prayer, a chastisement that makes us whole because of the chastisement already suffered for our sake.

As she journeys in such saving brightness, she tenderly gathers in the wounded to heal and provide a little safe-harbor even as the harsh storm of secularism surges on every side. With words whose silent weight tip the scales in favor of the poor and humble, she sings canticles that reverberate farthest star of remotest galaxy with harmonies too beautiful for this world to hold. Reflected and magnified, Heaven's brilliant glory shines forth from her least movement, while with unrelenting determination she presses forward to what lies ahead. 

May 19, 2019

Contemplation and the Renewal of the Church

Contemplative prayer remains a largely untapped resource for the renewal of the Church. Many understand it to be no more than an esoteric or at most therapeutic exercise.  Others show little regard this spiritual activity or anyone who dedicates his life to this effort. Even still, this most simple and hidden movements of heart avails the world of a power too great for time and space to hold. This surrender to the surrender of God is the unseen spark the ignites the Church into a fiery icon of Divine Presence when light and warmth are most needed.

Contemplative prayer is a unifying reality that integrates our judgments and our desires, our being and our actions before the glory given to us by the Risen Lord. Some love to distinguish affective and intellectual modes contemplative prayer, and there is no harm in this as long as the sovereign freedom of the Most High is revered. On the other hand, a soul that resists truth is as deprived as a heart that will not be pierced in prayer.

While moments of truth and wonder may enflame a soul with love and other moments of divinized passion explode into love revealed in personal action, we make these distinctions only to humble ourselves before the life-giving work of the Holy Spirit and the self-communication of the Word. The Living God moves emotions with fear and trembling when He discloses His inexhaustible mystery. He baptized intelligence in understanding and knowledge when His eternal splendor baths the soul. His whole mystery impacts the mystery of our own hearts until the jubilation of this encounter is born  in our whole manner of life - its every moment aflame in glory and given over in thanksgiving.

How this happens is so unique for each of us, but the Good Shepherd leads each of us to the same verdant pastures and living springs. When we withdraw from noise of the mundane to take time for God, He guides us into his own great stillness. The terrain of this wilderness is open to ever deeper and more beautiful kinds of meaningful silence. Does our mind race with thoughts and distractions? Quieting ourselves before the Lord allows us to surrender all our judgments to Him so that He might hold every thought captive. Are we anxious about many things or crushed by worries? Stillness in His presence allows Him to calm the interior storms that threaten to rob us of peace, the peace that only He can give.  On such the frontiers to which He guides us, we finally find the freedom to leave our "self" and allow ourselves to be vulnerable to a still greater mysteries.

What happens when human freedom surrenders to the incomprehensible surrender of God? Prayer open to this mystery knows He gives Himself irrevocably in the measure that we welcome Him and the gift of His Presence is always at work, accomplishing the work of His Father. He does not come disembodied, a pure spirit, an idea. When the soul beholds the Risen Lord in faith, it is His whole mystery that is present: Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. His Body is One and this One Body is the Church - no one who encounters Christ ever encounters Him apart from His Body.

Because ecclesial and therefore, catholic, this contemplation is enfleshed - an encounter of our whole humanity with the Holy Humanity of the Lord. No matter our solitude or the depths of silence, the creative Word of the Father always comes through His Mystical Body the Church and, through the Church, makes our own bodies into living sacrifices, our true spiritual worship. Thus, in this actual renewal of the Church, each new and unrepeatable moment we give Him makes space in the world for Him to do something new, something that has never happened before and will never happen again.

He is a courteous guest. If we will only partially accept His presence, He holds back what we will not receive. If we take the time to show Him hospitality, He gladly remains with us, showering us with gifts that exceed the limits of our wildest imagination.  No matter how much time we pour out on Him diligent for His Heart's desire, it is never enough for all that He longs to accomplish in us and through us. Indeed, He has lavished us with so much more than we could ever deserve, and, even so, eagerly longs to pour out still more - such inestimable wonders to be enfleshed in our own humanity until His whole mystery is renewed in us for the salvation of the world.

May 17, 2019

The Archangel Gabriel to the Men of St. John's Seminary - a Commencement Poem


Salve, brothers of this New Day,

In-shadowed in early silences before first light,
Framed in Renaissance cloistered sight
Vestiges of Paradise cloaked in failing light
Palms and pines, rosemary and roses -- right
Reminders strewn of Him who before you lay.

Enter those Sienese walls of Catherine’s garden
Where mirrored Sphinx of Pietas find
Woman’s son offered, where tabernacled glories bind
Fast bended knees seeking unfamiliar sound
Of fiery words from Word aflame, where resound
Ache and wonder through yawning vastness within.




Before rising hymns of stained-glass sails.
Shot with splendor through mysterious painted veils,
Echoing heart-piercing shadows, secret radiances disclose
Priests – by whose mysterious ministry angelic choirs propose
That Silent Presence hastening to free with Love’s wound.


Here, under Byzantium sky, unfolds the battle for the hearts of men
Waged in mind, paid in flesh, and fought to free from sin
Those who have fallen yet strive to rise again
New martyrs of that banquet blessed, broken, given,
Blood amid palms and pines, rosemary and roses --
Charges forth the Lamb with His war arrayed forces.

Will you too step into the arena of life and for life stand?
Not with shadows, nor mere flesh, to contend
But against worldly powers and spiritual forces to defend:
When humiliated, stay unvanquished and fight, not yield;
When victorious, not on laurels sit lest for certain ruin;
Instead, for those littlest ones take courage wherein
To shield those unable themselves to shield;
For holy humanity, for Heaven’s Queen, for your true homeland.




Citizens of Heaven, on that ground of truth which alone can bear
The weight of your existence, as innumerable hosts process,
As cherubim and seraphim with Spirit and Bride profess,
As mysteries given on and under signs from above,
As born anew on silent canticles in each humble act of Love
That Bridegroom Who, by sacrifice blessed, broken stays
No spirit, no myth, but enfleshed -- for those whose feet He baths.
Call His Name on bended knee, a fellowship of lifted hearts breathing incensed air.

As day and life run their course and close their story
Renew again that oath that once you made in water 
To sail beyond sunsets to the shores of Our Father,
To sing with her who magnifies Who is blessed, broken, given - 
To offer a paternal blessing not your own, yes, Anointed One,
As priests in palms and pines, rosemary and roses.
For even on the remotest horizon courses
The eye of Him who at the sight of you, his son
Will run with robes, and rings, and endless glory.

Dean Anthony Lilles, May 13, 2019

May 12, 2019

Mary, Mother of Contemplative Hearts

Mary pondered a profound mystery. She discovered the inexhaustibility of the gift God had given to her. By humbly assenting to the gentle action of the Holy Spirit, He surrendered such unimaginable riches that she could think of nothing else but the magnificence of His Love. She marveled over the Word of the Father, conceived not only in her womb but first in her mind.  Always fruitful when He is allowed to enter into the drama of human freedom, He infused her freedom with such fullness it enveloped her whole being and established her in such a peaceful stillness that nothing but love alone could move her.  This divine fruitfulness became the wellspring that overflowed her interiority and transformed her whole humanity.

The inner reality of human life, that question that we carry without being fully aware of it, this is where the Word brought her when she entered under the shadow of the Most High.  She entered the Word even as the Word made His home in her heart and womb. There, the most tender exchange, so subtle and gentle, all unaided natural powers were completely oblivious, left in the dark. There, a death to earthly dreams, conventions of acceptability, pre-conceptions too small for God, and all other ways circumscribed by merely visible standards here below.  There, space is made for something new, exceeding all expectation, an unfamiliar truth that astonishes the world, a dawning of mysterious freshness from above. Thus, this Ray of Darkness made the Virgin's whole existence radiant, and a new glory too great for this tired old world flashed through her. As lightening to the earth, He thundered toward the Cross, exploding with meaning so powerful that not even death could hold it. Hope for humanity was born even as she held with heart piercing love and faith the lifeless body that would have seemed a contradiction to everything she believed. The prayer of faith is never defeated. Such is the power of this mother's cry and, and by that faith filled silence, the hearts of many have been laid bear.

As Mother of the Word incarnate, she is mother of interior souls. She teaches those dedicated to prayer those most exquisite and delicate movements of heart in response to the inestimable gift gently surrendered to them. The Holy Spirit invites and she encourages, and these heroic hearts, no matter their age or bodily frailty, learn to be bold children of the Father. When all seems dark and their deepest hopes are challenged, her maternal love patiently accompanies them and silently teaches them the same fruitfulness that she discovered. Surrendered to the Spirit of Truth, these souls receive the Word as did Mary, and allow all that He reveals to be accomplished in them. What beautiful things for God and humanity spring forth because of the confidence in Christ that they learn from the Mother of God.

May 5, 2019

The Words of the Word and the Language of the Soul

When the Word made flesh rose from the Dead, human speech was freed from the futility of sin and death. Endowed with power and authority to express the hidden judgments of God, this new kind of speech unveils truth deeper than death and stronger than sin. This is hidden from those who live by the spirit of this dying world - for those still subject to death are deaf to the "alleluia" that resonates deep in the hearts of those who behold the Risen Lord. To all those who accept the remarkable friendship that the Word freely offers, His voice enfolds their whole existence with a meaning so beautiful and complete, the limitedness of time and space cannot contain it.

In the words that the Word of the Father speaks to the heart, the silence of death is no longer humanity's last word and misery no longer circumscribes the meaning of our lives. Instead of alienation and loneliness, a new relationship, a new connection with God, the ability to cry out "Abba!" is born where once was only an empty cavity of pain. Eternal significance that once was impossible to hold now takes hold of each one of us, if only we would welcome this astonishing Gift.

He in us, we in Him, He in the Father, the Father in Him, we where He is: by the Gift of the Holy Spirit, the Word of the Father has infused human words with Divine Authority and Power - power to bring back to life, to transform, to recreate, to make all things new. New beginnings, new hopes, new dreams live in each sacred syllable of this language. Speak this undying speech and rejoice with holy tears beyond the fate that Christ has overthrown.

If we let the language revealed in the Bible and preached by the Church become the language of our soul, the words that we offer in prayer are more powerful than death itself. This is because the words of Sacred Scripture bear the Truth whom death could not defeat and these words of the Word open our hearts to His undying Presence:

When the humblest petition, "Lord, have mercy," is offered with faith, this simple cry is made pregnant with a newness that changes everything.

When infused with the obedience of the Risen Lord, the "I believe" of the Creed becomes language that boldly speaks against the mystery of sin and turns it against itself until the soul finds ground to stand on.

When "Holy, Holy, Holy" echos in the heart of a believer, this sacred cry raises the soul far above the exigencies that otherwise weigh down the heart.

When lips move to offer the "Our Father," heavenly desires are born and  the irrevocable judgments unveiled.

This is the language of the resurrection. There is so much more to be said, but words fall short. In every case such holy speech makes space for a tender love and inner strength that do not come from the soul but the Risen One, and what He gives is everything that soul and every soul ever needs.

The language of a whole new creation, no spiritual power can be an obstacle to the riches that flood the heart that lives by the words of the Word and nothing can thwart the new communion that this spiritual language establishes. These words that the Son of the Father entrusts to us in prayer are a shield against everything that would threaten our integrity and they turn every disappointment and hardship into a floodgate of mercy. This prayerful speech confounds the malignant plans of any creature that would oppose the eternal plan of God. The Lord, for His part, uses all things, even the malice of those who hate His disciples, to make all things new - for His Word is Life.