October 22, 2018

Saint John Paul II

St. John Paul II believed that believers have nothing to fear amidst the deep cultural crisis that threatens contemporary society.  Instead, we need "to show to what depths the relationship with Christ can lead"in Novo Millennio Enuente, 32.

He observed that we live at a time of deep spiritual hunger and that cultural forces opposed to the Church are unable to address this growing need. The Modern Metropolis, no less than any ancient one, is waiting for the word of hope that the Christian faith provides. To build a culture of life and civilization of love in these tough times, Pope John Paul was convinced that a vital Christianity "returns continually to the sources" of our faith. "The great mystical tradition of the Church of both East and West has much to say in this regard" Novo Millennio Enuente, 33.

The contemporary magisterium, before and after Saint John Paul II, has also invited us to bring "the great mystical tradition of the Church" into our contemporary situation. That is why, starting in the early 1970s, Popes have proposed seven new Doctors of the Church. After Saint Paul VI added St. Teresa of Avila, St. Catherine of Siena and St. John of the Cross, John Paul II advanced St. Therese of Lisieux to this status. Since then, St. Gregory of Narek, St. Hildegard of Bingen, and St. John of Avila have also been named.

This mystical tradition offers a pathway to human maturity and to the greatness that God fashioned us to realize. It challenges conventional thinking and causes us to look beyond what is comfortable or convenient. Indeed, this wisdom is about God raising us above ourselves and leading us our of those routine ruts that lead no where. By directing us to this mystical wisdom, John Paul II invites us into this same undertaking, the holiness that lives in this tradition, the adventure into which a relationship with Christ leads.

The recently declared Doctors of the Church open us up this wisdom and we need to revisit their writings -- to allow their ideas to shape our own and to impact how we live. This is what John Paul II meant when he encouraged us to draw from these sources.  As their insights purify our own judgments, we become capable of a more intense engagement with our human vocation.  In their works we discover the wonders of the Lord and find ways to make all our relationships and our entire way of life into something beautiful for God. 

October 21, 2018

Action and Contemplation

Many believe that action and contemplation are mutually exclusive efforts. Some argue that a prayerful life is an escape from the difficult effort of loving service. Others argue that the apostolic life lacks a certain depth and devotion to the Lord. Yet the greatest mystics never saw a tension between apostolic service and contemplative prayer -- for them, it would be impossible to have one without the other.  The deeper into prayer they went, the greater their apostolic zeal. The more dedicated their love of neighbor, the more they relied on prayer for strength. How is it that these prayerful people did more than those who feel they are too busy for prayer?

In her retreat, Heaven in Faith #40, Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity looked to the Virgin Mary to resolve this paradox. She notes that during the months between the Annunciation and the Visitation, the Virgin is a model for contemplative souls.  Indeed, soul who lives by the interior life of love of the Indwelling of the Trinity is especially chosen by God to know the kind of peace that Mary knew in all her activities.

A contemplative who pondered everything in her heart, Mary was ready for action. When a command from heaven arrives, she does not hesitate to makes haste into the hill country to serve her cousin. Putting her love for God into action did not diminish her prayer. As soon as she completes her service to Elizabeth, she returns to her life of contemplation in Nazareth. The reason why she so easily goes between the two is the simplicity of her soul - her soul is simplified, unified, made simple by its wholly loving movement to the Lord whether in service to others or in prayer.

This same loving movement can lead us out of ourselves and into a great silence. In the exquisite silence of faith, every obstacle to such self-donation is removed. In particular, the stranglehold of self-occupation and fear is broken. Stripped of all that can hold it back, in this wonderful stillness, the soul is vulnerable even to God's slightest wish - and God will never hold Himself back.

The dynamism of the Bride of Christ - the mystical Body constituted by the Gift of the Holy Spirit. Love draw His Love all the more. Here, in this silence, the same silence that Mary knows, whether for love of neighbor or for love of God, the soul is always ready to give itself. Such a self-gift is at the heart of true and mature contemplation. The same self-gift defines true apostolic mission.

This peaceful readiness desires only that the will of the Father be fulfilled. If the Spirit of the Father prompts such a contemplative into action - its efforts are always fruitful. When the action is complete, the Farther delights in the prayerful gaze of such a devoted heart - for He sees His own Son reflected there. Nothing can thwart this kind of love -- for Divine Love animates and sets this heart in movement and at rest. The Trinity has become the very life of this soul - and this same soul, for its part, is transformed in its image and likeness to the Three Persons in One God.

October 18, 2018

The Indwelling of the Trinity

What animates Christian Contemplation is the most beautiful and intimate mystery of the universe -- the Glory out of which all things visible and invisible have issued forth.  This unseen Glory causes all that is to exist and holds all things in existence for no other reason than sheer love and goodness. By an utterly excessive outpouring of love, in a divine and wholly gratuitous gift of sheer grace, this inexhaustible treasure has been entrusted to the heart to be known and loved.

Such is the Divine Indwelling - beyond holding us into existence, the Trinity manifests its goodness and truth to those who believe in the Risen Lord. This is no ordinary knowledge, no simple accumulation or mastery of information. It is sacred truth - the kind of truth that when humbly received shatters all rash judgments and helps us find the way home.

The prayer that receives this knowledge and love is called mystical. It is produced, not by human effort, but by the gentle touch of the Holy Spirit.Only the most humble act of faith and determined devotion makes the soul vulnerable enough to receive this Divine Gift.

The Holy Trinity may dwell in a soul for many years before the soul become conscious of the gift that it has been given. The humble love that such a gift requires can take years of constant vigilance and silent readiness. Steeping the imagination in holy images prepares the soil. Baptizing our intelligence with revealed truth makes the necessary space. Surrendering affections and offering painful sorrows with love draws this powerful blessing. 

This hidden secret cannot be grasped by mental gymnastics or intellectual feats.  This deepest spiritual truth evades the proud and powerful. The wise of this world are confounded by its simplicity. The clever stumble over its shocking liberty.  Only poor beggars are ready for this hidden bounty.

Pierced and disjointed in helter-skelter agony, hung on dead splintered wood between heaven and earth, the last wordless cry of the Word of the Father fills the empty voids of this world with this living fullness. It flows like a font from the deepest center of Holy Spirit bathed baptized souls. It falls like rain on the contrite and runs like streams from their eyes to their hearts. Its fragrance awakens and draws love. It shakes the foundations of human existence and rips open the veils that separate Bride from Bridegroom.  

Such is the august mystery of the Holy Trinity. An endless sea of love and life flows immutably from its tenderness toward humanity while its patient purpose remains un-thwarted by our hostility.  Oh,  that we might share in that same great stillness that this boundless Presence knows -- the peace of love poured out and received. In this magnificent stillness is the humble Greatness that resists our pride and the gentle Immensity that silences our aggression.

Generously implicated in our misery, the Father sends His Son in the power of His Spirit again and again into our hearts anew -- a pure, total and personal gift -- as if always for the first time. For, in the image of the unrepeatability of God's majesty, this astonishing gift never comes the same way twice.  A personal gift of mutual relations, enkindling with bright warm splendor, this indwelling mystery is the hidden uncreated form of every created gift of self given and received in love.  

October 15, 2018

St. Teresa of Avila

St. Teresa of Jesus draws us to the light of Christ.  She does this by moving our minds, our imaginations and our hearts into the humanity of the Lord. She baptizes our imagination with the night of the Agony in the Garden so that the King might illumine us. She explains His teachings on prayer to help us see just how far heaven is beyond what we can see. She exhorts us to be mindful of His majesty and humbled by His great love so that when we ask we might receive. She argues that our prayer lives by His Body and Blood so that no matter how sublime the experiences we might have, we will stay grounded in real life.  We need this mystical wisdom in these difficult days -- for it reminds us about who we are and of the great things to which we are called.

For more on this amazing Doctor of the Church:


October 11, 2018

On Keeping the Word of the Father

How do we remain in the Word? The night before He died, Christ commanded his disciples to remain in Him - and, explained, that this means to keep His Word. (See John 15.) Obeying this command goes beyond any moralism or fulfillment of minimal obligation. Minimalism does not keep the Word - for the Word, in its sheer grandeur and inexhaustible wonder, is maximal. We need to live with a maximal response if we are to hear and keep this Word whom the Father fully speaks into our lives. Such is the great task of being Christian -- and the constant effort of contemplation in the Catholic Tradition.

Keeping His Word is painful - because to receive the Word of the Father is to accept being stripped, pruned of what is not fruitful in one's life. The Father cuts off dead branches from our lives as we keep His Word in our hearts.  If we try to keep what is not fruitful, there is no room for what is fruitful. We are dissipated, wasting energy on what has little or nothing to do with the Word. So the Father prunes away what is lifeless.

He does so in respect to our freedom -- for He will not prune what we do not allow Him to. That is why remaining in the Word requires great effort. It costs us trust and confidence in the Father and surrendered openness. It means a receptivity that welcomes what the Father desires and that readily gives permission, assents to all that He yearns to do. When we freely surrender to the Father's purifying action - room is made in our hearts for the new life that the Word makes fecund within.