March 24, 2019

The Redeemer and the Gift of Lent

Each of us has a great task ... that of becoming who God made us to be. Were we without sin, this task would still be impossible for us, left to our own resources and abilities.  For indeed, the Lord created us in His Image and Likeness. This means that we are made to be the praise of God's glory, living icons of His hidden life and love in His visible creation. What creature could ever attain to such holiness and splendor?  Yet, we are made, though a little less than the angels, the very crown of God's creative action.

The great purpose entrusted to each one of us was long ago made subject to futility because of the mystery of sin.  From the very origins of humanity, the envy of Satan and the sin of our first parents has threatened our existence. Though we want to do what is good, noble and true, without Divine help, we are inclined to fall into an abyss of self-contradictions. Our desire to praise God, to make known His glory, never leaves us, even if it is utterly forgotten or resisted. Our restlessness and death remind us of our downfall and pride, but sin and its consequences are not the last word about humanity. Something more beautiful defines the mystery of our humanity, and every man and woman is invited to freely accept this calling if they will listen to the voice of God.

The Father, whose thought of us delighted Him so much that He summoned us into existence, could not bear that we should perish without hope. As He promised, He sent us a Redeemer who would enter into our plight and rescue us from sin and death. This Good Shepherd did not fear the wolves that threaten our existence and he did not allow the distance that we had strayed to discourage Him in His search for us. A physician of the body and spirit, His words of truth are the remedy for the wounds we bear and the mistaken judgments that have driven us into myths and alienation. He does this more over by entering into our misery so deep that in the face of our hostility, He patiently remains and will not forsake us, anxious that we should not suffer alone.

Call to Him. He actively works, holding nothing back, until our dignity is restored and our every humiliation redressed. Indeed, all that is most precious to Him - His obedience to the Father and His own devotion to His Mother, He freely offers as a gift to all those who ask. Most of all, by his passion and Crucifixion, He merited for our sake that Divine Gift whose presence not only remits our sins and consecrates us in holiness, but infuses us with the love that the Father has yearned for us to know. An inexhaustible fountain, this sanctifying Gift infuses every moment with treasures too precious for this present life to hold, but imperfectly, for a time, if only we ask and accept what He offers us.

Because even the most imperfect beginnings of this New Life offer so much hope to the world, we must also welcome Lent as a gift won for us by the Shepherd who laid down His life for His sheep. Lenten observance is no more than a participation in the graces already won for us -- and they point somewhere beyond the here and now, to mysteries so sacred and tender, even the greatest joys of this life are as nothing in comparison.  We step into an arena because the life of the Risen Lord in us enables us to be contestants in the battle for all that is good, noble and true. We fight with confidence against all that threatens not only our own integrity but that of our brothers and sisters too because Christ gives us a sharing in His confidence. We do not fear our weaknesses but surrender them in prayer and repentance as occasions for the power of God to be made perfect.  We run the race because the Spirit of the Lord quickens us on our way until nothing can hold us back from the prize.

The Lenten Discipline invites us to embrace in our own lives the victory won for us at such great price. If we practice self-denial, it is because in the blood and water that flowed from His sacrifice we have already received all we really need. If we fast, it is because we already feast on the Bread of Life who sustains us with truth that no earthly bread can provide. If we are merciful to those to whom the Lord sends us, it is only because it is His mercy in us that compels us. If we sorrow over our sins and imperfections, we are also compelled by Christ to share our joy with others at any cost.

We die to our earthly dreams so that Christ's dream for us might unfold in our heart and our spirit might finally awaken to love. In hours spent silently listening to the Word of the Father, we anticipate a reality too great for this world to contain, a fulfillment long ago yearned for by God and whose shadow calls to our existence even now. We offer our bodily existence in spiritual sacrifice because united to Christ in the Holy Spirit, our whole being finally begins to become what the Father predestined us to be: the praise of the Trinity's glorious grace.

Mysticism and Holiness - a seminar and retreat

March 23, 2019

Pilgrimage to France

To Savor the Presence of God

In Psalm 34:8, we are asked to taste and see the goodness of the Lord. What does it mean to taste the Lord's presence?  When it comes to savoring the presence of the Lord, Holy Communion comes to mind, in particular those moments in which time seems to stop and something beautiful is granted the heart. We savor a mystery even if we are unable to find words to express it. Without fully realizing it, faith opens at least to an instant where we find satisfaction for those deep needs that drive us in ways we do not understand, toward a destination that is hidden from our grasp, but in this hidden moment, suddenly is given in meaningful fullness. This is the Sacred Banquet in which Christ becomes our food, the memory of his passion is celebrated, the soul is filled with grace and a pledged of future glory given us.

While God is always present to everything at every moment, this food is fed to us in a form that our tradition calls "Real Presence." Such presence is called "real" not because all the many other modes of Christ's presence are less real, but because under this special presence, Christ as especially given Himself to us as true spiritual food. The Manna from heaven heals our many spiritual wounds, nourishes us for our journey to our heavenly homeland, fortifies us in the battle for integrity with each believer is entrusted, and binds us together around a single table, the altar of sacrifice. This personal presence of God is never static - but always explodes in encounter either for our eternal beatitude or diminishment. He always comes anew and never the same way, so that at each new coming, every moment might be sanctified. Here, through ancient rites instituted by Christ and handed on since the first ancient communities of faith, the Real Presence of the Risen Lord mysteriously transports us through the unrepeatable circumstances of our lives to the Cross, that threshold of the Father's heart suffered for our sake, uniting us anew and more wondrously than anything else until that moment in the power of the Holy Spirit, if we are disposed to Him, into a single fellowship of mutual abiding with the Living God.

To dispose us, the Holy Spirit convinces us of both sin and, even more, the merciful love of God.  Those who avail themselves of frequent confession and commit themselves to lives of penance understand this paradox. One is eager to take up ascetical practices, to fast, to pray and to render thousands of acts of service and love once one considers the great price that was paid and the great gift of having one's own sins remitted.  When we repent of our sins, weep over them and humbly confess them out loud, the Holy Spirit sanctifies our weaknesses to make us more confident in Divine Mercy than we are confident in our own human misery. Each time we remember the goodness of God, stand up, and go to Him by following the way of faith, hope and love, we learn to surrender into the arms of the Father and to accept ourselves for who we are before Him. The rejoicing of His heart at our return is more than this present life can bear, a mystery so beautiful that it causes one to weep and laugh all at once. Because it makes us vulnerable to such divine horizons in the Heart of God, a good confession always leads to a beautiful Holy Communion.

One other way to savor the Lord's presence is through mental prayer. Contemplation rooted in living faith sees the mystery disclosed in the Real Presence of Christ. In fact, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament can occasion such contemplative prayer.  In this kind of prayer, a holy conversation between the soul and the Lord unfolds - solemn questions and sober answers are poured out between the Heart of God and the human heart. Familiarity with the Bible, especially the psalms, helps us ponder and enter into this richness. Yet prayers as simple as repeating the Name of Jesus or the Holy Rosary enter this same sacred place. Woe to those who purposely remain ignorant of the words of the Word, for without allowing the Church to guide them, they risk all kinds of self-contradictions that will betray the Presence that they seek. Even so, there is a mystery here.  For it is most often the case that the less one understands or remembers of this holy exchange, the more meaningful this conversation becomes.

Such is the standard, the rallying point, of mental prayer if this prayer is to learn to savor the presence of God. The less we cling to what we understand and the more moved by love, the more deeply the Word and the Spirit etch into our hearts that exquisite truth that the Father yearns for us to know. This is a general loving knowledge, a taste for Divine things, an intelligence of the heart, an awareness baptized in Divine affections, and human affections grounded in a truth that the natural light of reason cannot know. We must learn to be caught in this delicate paradox of love and fear, joy and sorrow, encounter and absence, Mercy and misery in which the Holy Trinity has chosen to abide. There are even moments when all of this crescendos before this coming Threefold presence of unity and distinction, relation and possession, and we feel invited into a deeper surrender, pulled in fact as if by deep currents in a sudden storm of love. This is to be buried in the Divine Presence and to allow the Living God to bury Himself in the soul.

Those who allow prayer to take them into this unfamiliar place have tasted something not of this world and nothing in this world tastes the same them. To taste and see the Lord in this way is to have something about us die even as life becomes more intense than ever before. We ache, we pine, we hunger, we thirst - for we have savored the delight, the purpose, the Banquet, the Cup of God Himself. Even if our human weakness is terrified by this mysterious "I know not what," we swoon in the shadow of Him who comes for us.

March 17, 2019

The Love of the Father - Unfathomable Immensity

Christ Jesus, the radiant splendor of the Father's love, entered into our condition to infuse into human history a gentle blessing that was long ago misunderstood and rejected. This uncommon benevolence toward us in our present plight comes from the hidden depths of God's very Being. In those same depths, the Father conceived each one of us in His Word by an unfathomable ecstasy of goodness and truth. The Father asks us to listen to His Word now - to allow the words of His Word to enter our hearts.

The Father knew us in Christ in eternal jubilation from before the foundation of the world, and, by the delight of His heart with which He pondered each one, He summoned each of us into our own existence, in time and space, before Him to know the burning furnace of His love. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we came to be in all our uniqueness and particularity in the precise circumstances that He longed to entrust to us so that the blessings that He longed to lavish on us might be known. He does so with the tender hope that we might take up the task of becoming what He knows us to be: unrepeatable living instances of His infinite glory made known. For the world that the Father longs to bring to completion would not be complete without each soul that He has summoned into existence. It is with this same love that Christ comes to save us - and respectful of our freedom, by this very love He waits for us to allow Him to make known the vast horizons of the Father's Heart.

Time and space race behind the fruitful tenderness of such magnificent love. Unveiled in a multitude of unrepeatable surprises and astonishing moments of grace, the very newness of this love brings into being all that the Father's heart has most treasured. In the center between visible and invisible, holding together what is most lowly and most exalted in creation, He places the mystery of the human heart. All the cosmos holds its breath over the revelation of each new image and likeness of His love, each new end point in eternity showing forth a glory that would otherwise be hidden.

Such is the inestimable treasure entrusted to the world in each human life, this image and likeness begun and still in progress, for the sake of whose fullness the Holy Spirit with all of creation pants in labor. Not whimsical. Not accidental. Solemn, majestic, purposeful. Such eternal predilection toward humanity is irrevocable by virtue of being divine and, therefore, unchangeable, the still point around which all other cosmic and personal activity plays out. To choose this love is to choose a truth so meaningful that this present life cannot contain or fully express it. Yet in the shadow of this immense love, every other love finds its rest and solemn place in life even at the moment of death.

Such eternal love in its sheer sovereignty is not dissuaded by weakness or sluggishness, poor results or even betrayal. Instead, this mighty flood incarnate in human nature patiently suffers all things until fruition finally overflows the floodgates that attempt, in vain, to contain it. This self-emptying and humiliated love is forever confident and undaunted even as it breaks out in blood sweat prayers. Like a Bridegroom coming from His tent, nothing, not death nor any malicious power, thwarts His course. Those who would oppose the awesome majesty of this divine tenderness will be broken between the surging tides of Divine Mercy and the rocky fastness God's Justice. For, on this rugged solitary shore line, unveiled and realized is that singular cruciform greatness for which humanity is pre-destined.

Thus has Christ come to renew the Father's love. He plunged undaunted into our suspicions and self-contradictions, our drivenness and despair, our grasping for control and lack of self-control, our haughtiness and shame. He took hold of the cup that contained all the pain and bitterness that threaten the noble greatness for which we were made. He drank it in and suffered that hostility until He brought it with Him into death. Neither that death nor that hostility was enough to quench His love. For His love was given to Him by the Father -- and the Father's love raised Him up unvanquished.

Whenever invited, He enters the abysses of misery that we suffer with this same radiance of His glory. With gentle kindness, He exposes every threat to our integrity to the light of truth and, by moving us to tears, empties it of its power. He seeks us out even as we hide. He calls even as we try to close our ears. If we are asleep to love, Love Himself awakens us. He shines forth even as darkness draws near. The healing warmth of His radiant beauty is not diminished but revealed all the more wounded we come to Him.

Do not think that what you have done is too great for God's mercy or that the Father has utterly rejected you. Such thoughts do not please your Father who is heart-broken for you and patiently awaits your return. How can the Father ever delight in your condemnation and humiliation when He created you for love and honor? How can He ever be content with you being mistreated and homeless when He longs for you to come home and enter into your rightful place? You were not made for meaninglessness or self-contradiction. There is someone who stands ready to vindicate your integrity, who has the power to remit sins, to infuse you with a love far greater than anything you have done. Do not assume that you must content yourself by stealing what belongs to pigs when a banquet of eternal joy awaits you. Instead, think on what the Good Shepherd has suffered for you and that His heart burns for love of you as He seeks for you.

If you are lost, you are not abandoned. Leave what is beneath your dignity and set out for the greatness that your Father longs for you to know. Put away the deeds of darkness and make no provision for earthly desires. To put on Christ and be clothed in His light, ponder the radical lengths to which the Father has gone for you so that you might hear His Word and know how loved you truly are. In stillness, surrender yourself to Him and ask Him to help you. If you are sincere, He will not refuse you.

Since He has held nothing back for your sake, hold nothing back from Him. Put on the armor of light and live as if in the daylight - this is our pathway home. After Christ has suffered so much for your sake, do you think He will refuse your repentance or that your contrition will not be the source of heaven's joy?  The Good Shepherd will bind your wounds and help you find rest. The Lamb of God is ready to walk with you through any dark valley that you face and, and not even the shadow of death can stand between you and the love He has for you. With eager longing, He longs to sup with you. More than merely managing along, He yearns for you to share in the same abundant banquet of love that He shares with the Father. Untold riches are yours for the asking. A fount of mercy waits to quench your parched lips. With an overflowing cup of blessing, He is eager to give you cause to rejoice even in the face of your enemies. He knocks at the door even now hoping that you might open to Him. Fear not to open wide the doors to Christ.