April 18, 2021

Islands of Humanity and a Kneeling Theology - Refuge Against Therapeutic Technocracy

A kneeling theology, that is a theology rooted in prayer, is vital to the renewal of the priesthood and the Church. What it requires is a deeper dedication to the renewal of our minds. Specifically, this dedication is marked by a renewed pastoral concern over the plight of our contemporaries as well as a greater openness to the ongoing conversation with God to which each is called. Such theology can become a vibrant expression of our devotion to the Lord and a conforming of our intelligence to His saving mission in the world.

Conventions once supported theological approaches that were without regard to prayer or pastoral charity.  We no longer have this “luxury.” The Christendom of Western Civilization is shipwreck in a storm of secularism. We have allowed technology to suck life out of our souls. For all our social networking, we are extremely lonely and disconnected from one another. Such loneliness inevitable takes hold when men worship the work of their hands – and, indeed, technology, especially medical technology, is raised up as the new god. If we view physical disease as the greatest threat to humanity and believe that medical technology is the only thing that saves us from this evil, we are already worshipping at a false altar. When falsehood alienates us, loneliness crushes us.  

This alienation has also affected the Church spurring destructive sectarianism and a certain coldness toward one another, especially the most distressed. Instead of hope and courage, a spirit of accusation and complaint grips our hearts. Instead of loving the shepherds that Christ has given us, we allow our hearts to be turned against them. The faithful feel abandoned and alone, but polemics that stir up anger do not address the crushing loneliness that pierces the Heart of Christ.  To overcome this dehumanizing loneliness, the resources of the Church must be dedicated to building safe-havens, islands of humanity in which believers can support one another in witnessing to the Risen Lord. It is to this great task, that of building islands of humanity, that a kneeling theology contributes. 

Hans Urs von Balthasar understood this and tried to build a community of those who would consecrate themselves to being just such an island. He did this believing that even if last vestiges of Christian culture have passed away in our post-modern society, our Christian faith has not. His example, and the example of his community remind us of the love of the Risen Lord at work in the world when we most need this reminder. The love of Christ compels us to holy friendship and mutual concern even as a growing technocracy threatens religious freedom and makes absolute claims over every social interaction. 

We have come to believe, if it can be done, we must do it, because whatever we can do (in the name of science, public health or a political agenda) must be good. But our hearts know better.  We are deluded into believing that what divides us can be overcome by manipulating how we communicate. We have seen how a fluidity in meaning and narcissism coincide.  Deep down we know that it is not a lack of technology or science that divides us. We live with the gnawing realization that we are divided one from the other not because of failures how we relate but because of failures in being human. Humanity has never had such great power to relate, but it has never been so far from itself, and the more we entertain ourselves with information, the more this self-alienation haunts us.   

This is because the technology that we adore is about doing, not about being. We "do" the therapeutic even at the cost of being human, because "doing" does not require surrender to the mystery of God or the mystery of being human. It gives a sense of control - and we feel out of control, so we grasp for our masks and feign disgust when our neighbor dares show his face.  

Technology is a kind of knowledge living at only the periphery of human existence. It is a decorated face mask. It might ape the things of the heart, but it can never replace the encounter that happens when heart speaks to heart - and so without the heart, the techno-therapeutic only frustrates the meaningful communion we are meant to know with one another.  

Islands of humanity must be built.  If we are shamed into paying compliant homage to the latest politically expedient fashion, we also feel convicted by the truth that life must have a deeper purpose. This is the voice of God that prayer knows, and it is the task of theology to help souls listen to Him. 

Conflicting cacophonies of woke and racist, progressive and conservative, left and right, oppressed and oppressing, haves and have-nots (and each heart knows all of this more or less because sin can only divide) must not be allowed to silence the Gospel of Christ in our hearts or in the public square. But by the words of a preacher and the power of the Holy Spirit, every political and cultural tyrant will bend the knee to the self-emptied, humbled, and crucified humanity of God. Just as has been true in every age, to do more than merely survive, indeed, to thrive people need to hear those echoes of the eternal sanctus in times such as these as well - with physical, flesh and blood, contact with the Holy One and His Mystical Body.  

Amidst all social tension, anxiety, and distrust, the love of Christ compels us to find a way to bring a word of hope to those who ask. True prayer is not indifferent to this plight. Real theology does not ignore the needs of our neighbors.  Prayerful study, love inflamed reason, a kneeling theology guides the Christian mind to address this crisis in compelling ways.  It is about living with power over sin rather than under the power of sin. It is about sin born away and sin's matter transformed by mercy into the matter of eternal life.  It is about daring to enter into the sanctuary of the heart and allowing it to be set ablaze with the love of God. No disease, no mask, no technology, no ideology can cage such freedom and the fellowship that this builds is far greater than wreckage left by the weapons, polemics, or political power plays. 

Prayer and adoration of God is the starting place for welcoming the love that alone answers the great problems of our time. Beyond the power of technology, St. Teresa of Jesus calls this a conversation with God and His personal presence. Beyond our own doing and industry, St. John of the Cross describes a Living Flame and the unvanquished coming of the Bridegroom.  Beyond what we can grasp, St. Augustine describes this as coming from some place deeper the innermost depths of human existence and surpassing its greatest heights. Beyond every argument, St. Thomas Aquinas teaches the relationship of theological wisdom of study and the mystical wisdom of prayer. The call to this kind of kneeling theology means to pursue theological formation that is born in this wisdom, leads to it and is animated by it - for this wisdom beyond builds islands of humanity on whose shores the sacred truth of our existence is protected and made known.

April 12, 2021

Our Lady of the Night

In the earliest hours, when the world

Yet asleep from restless wonderings

Cease I, and keep a vigil

In faith's terrible darkness singing 

With the Lady of the Night.

Here, I discover how her serene silence soothes 

tenderly lonely, tormented

souls, even in death's grip,

For faith's shadow knows

such love from dark night's Lady.

The Cross of racing cars and empty 

street, met in sober homecoming, sudden struck

Absent father, wounded son, my difficult brother, sin now born away

On faith's lightening, as flash and flow those tears 

Of the Mother gently given us by her dying Light.

The Cross of cloaked asphalt, cement, 

hidden bus stop, when no-one knew

that disconnected goodly child self-poisoned

In her arms at rest as did her own Son

Save that Woman who gazes by faith's glory.

We place such large stones in the holes we dig

For ourselves, for those we love 

While faith weeps, aching for the lost

In the arms, we rest, as did her own Son,

Of that Daughter whose glory sees hope.

Rising, before first light, a dawning New Day, 

In each one's garden, a throw from that Cross, from

Every Cross, wounded Hands roll away that large stone,

While in upper room, in each one's plight, prays

That good Lady, the Gardner's Mother, ours in the night.

April 2, 2021

Under the Branches of Wood Flesh Fastened

Flesh fastened branches breathe Mysterious Wind

Carrying enfleshed silences of a divine cry 

whose wordless harmonies, above deepest waters,

echo with terrifying meanings, 

a fastness against which shores shatters even death, until

Life's dying drinks down dregs unfathomed, 

Bearing away burdens never meant to be carried, 

Buried. That primal Ache at last unveiled, a Threeness and Oneness 

Given for love and by love received.

Hidden hells, of anxiety sheltered prisons - 

Fragmented points of consciousness peering over masks, 

Windows into bags of bones rattling infertile, alienated,  

Frustrated discontent drowning in distraction, a gnashing 

Suddenly stilled by the piercing silence of a dying God. 

Poured out into every frailty, He descends 

Where no one dares, into unbearable 

Ordeals on which the weight of existence

Crushes what love for life one thought one knew. 

There, a "close by" Threeness and Oneness "ever near"

Given for love and by love received,

Reaches out to grasp that hand who, pushed beyond every limit,

Can grasp no more: "Awake, Oh Sleeper! Rise from the Dead." 

Bathed in shadows of Beauty's terror, sorrow, joy

Thirst for righteousness so seized drinks in how, 

From the very fruit of paradise lost, the Vine 

Makes this crushed commingling of grapes:

Every grape of each branch itself a moment 

Ripening under the excessive presence of the One 

Who overflows in time what Eternity foreknew and has already given. 

From such fastened flesh flows forth floods ever new,

Given for love and by love received,

And that mystic wine now is given deep within a soul's secret cellar. 

O Blood and Water! Humanity's crushed fruit surging with Divine Mercy, 

Wash water become wine best, fountain of life dug deeper than misery,

Fermented in trial, aged by pain, poured out free, 

Gush forth again for those you have entrusted 

With such great purpose in times such as these.

O fruitful flesh fastened Tree of Life! You have become the banner, the rallying point, 

That standard by which faith measures 

The gravity of each heart beat, every breath 

Between heavenly and earthly cares, self and neighbor, suspended.

Under this shadow, hidden in sacred secret,

One clings to hope's substance amidst the grip of peril.

O Sober Inebriation! In your Threeness and Oneness, 

Forge us now in such solidarity of hearts as would 

Dare beyond this present sunset with love's unvanquished courage.

March 14, 2021

The Breastplate of St. Patrick 2021

The Deer's Song or the Breastplate of St. Patrick is a battle cry. It stands the ground claimed by the Apostle's Creed. Every line boldly resounds with the Gospel. The prayer is rooted in mission. Its words resound with the sense that God Himself has called us forward and sent us with sacred purpose. We do not go alone into the world, but in Christ, following Him, supported by Him, filled with Him. The prayer helps us step forward with courage because not even death can stop the Lord. 

All that can be seen in the visible world is a faint echo of those greater glories eye cannot see, and that unseen glory is not indifferent to the plight of creation. The Incarnation of the Word has unleashed powers beyond the control of the world of men, and in the face of evil, noble humanity is given unvanquished hope by Christ's passion and death. No conjured force or malevolent spirit can stand before this dawning radiance of the Trinity and this prayer unveils the new rising of this fresh brightness even in our own day.

The Breastplate begins with a call to rise up, to stand and to bind. This pledge of allegiance rallies courage in the face of death.  Such prayer does not back down in fear or anxiety.  It is not bogged down with vitriol or finger pointing. Because of Christ's faithfulness to all of humanity, the prayer reminds us that we must not allow anything or anyone to distract or discourage us from going to where He leads - for He is with us to the end. 

This is a prayer of pilgrimage, of journey, of the setting of one's chin, of not looking back, of mission from God. One girds, one clads, one arrays oneself with strength and power for the fight. God Himself has given us the power of the Holy Spirit. A spirit of fortitude springs in the heart from Him who conquered death. Through Him who created heaven and earth, all the wonders of creation rise to the defense of those who stand with God. 

This prayer is also a prayer of humility and solidarity. Solidarity with God and with creation. All manner of creatures are referred to and their multiplicity opens to a contemplation of humanity's image and likeness to God. We are meant for union with Him not despite the world or by surmounting it - but in it. All that is good, holy and true about the world has a place in the human heart and in our relationship with God. As we are faithful to the mission that God gives us, all of His wonderful works are sanctified and caught up in His saving action that He accomplished through us.

It is said that St. Patrick offered this prayer with his brethren as they walked into an ambush. Ambush should never take the believer by surprise. Traps, plotting, snares are always set against the love of God. The Word of the Father makes all things new and this newness constantly upends the old ways. Those who are set in their ways will always attempt to prevent this new beginning.

False religion always limits the freedom and dignity of the heart. It even results to manipulation, intimidation and the conjuring of malevolent forces. Such a culture of slavery and oppression unravels social fabric until all that is wholesome and true is lost.  Christianity stands by the love of God and this love has never peacefully co-existed with such deceit and evil. 

St. Patrick's preaching dispelled these structures of death because it appealed to the truth about God and holy humanity. As the Irish began to renounce paganism and believe the Gospel, those who relied on the old fashionable myths for their place and power schemed how to protect themselves. Social standing, privilege, wealth, cultural influence were all at stake. Those who used these things for their own benefit became convinced that the holy truth of God's love had to be suppressed at any cost. Such hatred of the Word of the Father hatched the plot against St. Patrick.

His enemies were prepared to kill him and his comrades. St. Patrick's response was to continue his mission undeterred and the Lorica or Breastplate was born in this holy determination. He taught this prayer to those who assisted him in the ministry. As they prayed together, their would be assailants could not see them - an unseen glory cloaked them from the plots of men.  Indeed, all that the powerful and cunning saw was a few deer walking across a meadow. They were confounded. The prayer became known as the Deer's Song

If true, the story is not surprising. There are many accounts of missionaries being delivered in miraculous ways.  Those who cling to the status quo and fear losing their power will always attempt to stand in the way of Christ.  But a new power that evil cannot overcome is unleashed - the same Power that holds together Creation is poured out for the salvation of those who will cry out to Christ.

Over thirty years ago,  my spiritual director gave me a small part of this prayer. Since then, the Lorica is a frequent part of my daily prayer. In a special way, I ask you to pray this Deer's Song in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Ireland, England and France - all places that were part of St. Patrick's pilgrimage of faith -- for their safety and protection during these days of great trial.The Gospel offers the truth about humanity and our place before God. This truth is the only firm ground that can bear the weight of human existence, and when men and women are able to rise up and stand together, a beautiful and great civilization can be built - a civilization of love and culture of life.

Now, I stand clad for battle in
That Mighty Power
of the Name of the Trinity:
Believing in the Three-ness,
Holding fast the One-ness
Creator of Heaven and Earth.

This day I array myself with
The power of Christ’s Birth and Baptism;
The power of his Crucifixion and Burial;
The power of His Resurrection and Ascension;
The Power of His coming to Judge on judgment day.

I go forth today
By virtue of the Seraphim’s devotion,
By angels’ obedience,
By resurrection’s hope unto reward,
By Patriarchs’ prayers
By Prophets’ word of power,
By Apostles’ preaching
By Confessors’ faith,
By Holy Virgins’ purity,
By righteous men’s deeds.

I gird myself this day
With heaven’s might,
With sun’s light,
With moon’s shine,
With fire’s glow,
With lightning flash,
With wind swift,
With sea deep, 
With earth firm,
With rock hard.

Today, I rise up with 

God's Power guiding me,
God's Might upholding me,
God's Wisdom teaching me,
God's Eye watching over me,
God's Ear hearing me,
God's Word giving me speech,
God's Hand guiding me,
God's Way stretching before me,
God's Shield sheltering me,
God's terrible Army protecting me,
Against demon’s snares
Against vicious seductions
Against nature’s lusts
Against everyone who meditates injury to me,
Whether far or near,
Whether few or many.

I invoke all these powers, now
Against every hostile merciless force
Which may assail my body and my soul,
Against the false seer’s enchantments,
Against paganism’s dark laws,
Against heresy’s false standards,
Against idolatry’s deceits,
Against spells of witches, and smiths, and druids,
Against every knowledge that binds the soul of man.

Christ, protect me now
Against every poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against death-wound,
That I may receive abundant reward.

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ within me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ at my right,
Christ at my left,
Christ keeping the defense,
Christ setting the course,
Christ giving the orders,
Christ in every heart that thinks of me,
Christ in every mouth that speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

Today I bind unto myself Mighty Power, 
The Name of the Trinity:
Believing in the Threeness,
Holding fast the Oneness
Of the Creator of all the heavens and the earth.

Dominus est salus, Domini est salus, Christi est salus;
Salus tua, Domine, sit semper nobiscum.

March 7, 2021

The Glory of God and the Deep Waters of Life

Deep waters tell the glory of God.  That is, just as when we approach these waters recklessly and face peril, so too those who approach the glory of God are in peril if they do not respect His Word. Deep waters are a reflection of this truth.  This is true of the visible waters of the world but also the invisible, spiritual waters of our lives. Water that can be the source of life can also kill. The glory of God is meant to be the life of man, but without the reverence and awe that is its due, this same glory can become one's eternal peril. 

The glory of God is the living man. This means, that before the glory of God there is space for the sphere of one's integrity. Obedience to the Lord in love creates this space so that the unrepeatable uniqueness that God has willed into the world through this specific creature might thrive. Disobedience makes one's uniqueness subject to the deep waters of life, and puts at risk a great good meant to be a blessing for the world.  

Water is integral to a garden paradise. As it is in a garden, so it is in all of creation, and, thus, for every soul.  Each life requires an ordered space to protect the sphere of its integrity. Too much or too little water is destructive. What physical water is for the visible world, the presence of God is for the spiritual world. That is why God both gives and hides his life giving mystery - He gives us life and wills us into existence out of love, and he also makes space for each of us to exist with our own freedom by keeping the immensity of His presence secret. This divine secrecy allows our own freedom to unfold until we learn to seek God. 

Part of this divine secret is not only God's presence but also the painful exigencies in which He allows Himself to be hidden. Such exigencies are also "deep water." Just as is true with all else in human existence, these difficult ambiguities of life are part of the divine plan but as we are swept away by these waters, we also confront the seeming absence of God, His hidden presence. 

His hidden presence is revealed to us by His Word and His Word speaks into the dangerous waters of life from the Cross.  God desires we sanctify these waters by discerning how to obey His Word in midst of them. As we discern the most appropriate way to respond to God in the ambiguities of life, God acts to protect our integrity and hold together our dignity. By the frail obedience of faith, God makes something un-repeatably beautiful within the human person. The interiority or heart becomes a garden where God walks, where He rests. 

The Biblical Man respects the glory of the deep waters of life by obedience and dedication to the Word so that the Lord can cultivate the garden of his heart. Water first appears in Genesis as part of a primordial chaos in which there is no room or order for life. Some would see this analogous to the power of sin and darkness. Indeed, the waters of the Great Deluge would seem to unveil this truth. It is true that every sin has the quality of disorder, an effort against the act of creation.  Sin is a movement against order and the integrity that life needs. Sin is a movement of disobedience against the harmony of love into chaos. Such disharmony destroys the noble and good things God would will grow in the heart. 

There is a difference between the chaos of sin and the primordial chaos described in Genesis, however. The Water over which the Spirit of the Lord whispered was not disobedient but had itself been summoned into existence by the Word of the Father.  When God commanded, this primordial water obeyed. Out of this obedience, God was able to freely order a world in which life might thrive and His glory be revealed.

Deep waters also reveal God's glory in the face of sin. Every act of sin may be an attempt, conscious or not, to return to primal disorder. That attempt goes against the very fabric of God's handiwork -- for in the beginning, the world came into existence under the power of the Holy Spirit in obedience to the Word.  Those who act against the primordial obedience of the waters of creation plunge themselves into forces that destroy their efforts.  The plight of humanity is that we have made ourselves subject to these waters by our sins and therefore have brought doom upon ourselves. God, however, was not satisfied with leaving us to our fate. He who made the deep waters of life, all those tragic failures, evils and injustices that overwhelm us, has entered into them to rescue us from death. 

There is a love that deep waters cannot quench and that death cannot overcome. Why would the Almighty create something outside of Himself, beyond His own eternal thoughts? Why would He communicate an existence apart from His own to that which He ponders when He ponders us? There is a truth, a secret that we do not know, but He knows it, even as He plunged into the flood waters to find us.  He generously willed it so. Creation exists because from the beginning God respected its integrity and, out of pure love, gave space for it to be outside His eternal, limitless being. Out of an unfathomable love, the Trinity hid His Glory so that the world might exist to magnify and reflect His Glory in its own wonderful way. Now, He enters into this world that is totally other than Himself. He even enters its hostility towards Him and accepts being despised and rejected, if only to find us.  It is this unvanquished love that is revealed on the Cross.

O Love who is not loved! Love who knows no limit desires out of sheer limitless goodness that we who are other than Him (and therefore limited) should exist. That is why, even as you read this, we exist in our own limited way - for Love delights that we should be so. Thus, though other than Him, we exist in the image and likeness of Love Himself. At the same time, Love wants so much more for us. We love Him when we allow Him to bring to completion the love that He desires for us. Love Himself knows something about us that we do not know - the truth about the Love in whose image and likeness we are made. This mystery that we are meant to become thrills His heart and for it, Love has given everything in order that it might come to pass.

God suffers the deep waters of life to exist out of great love and for the sake of love. Love does not need the these waters but is glad that the world with its deep waters should be. Sheer gratuitous goodness is behind these waters.  This same loving gratuitousness is behind humanity, even sinful humanity. Though we sin, we would not have the freedom to rebel against Love if Love, on a more fundamental level, did not contemplate that it is better for us to be than not to be. So He enters the garden of our hearts and offers His life on the barren tree that we erect for Him. Love knows the truth about us and has died for that truth that we might live. Thus, though we rebel against Him who is Goodness itself, He has chosen to love us all the more, and tenderly implicating Himself in our plight.