October 8, 2017

The Dynamism of Truth's Splendor in Prayer

The splendor of the truth is a mystery discovered by the obedient, and this obedience, explains Saint John Paul II, is not easy.  On August 6, 1993, on the very Eve of World Youth Day in Denver Colorado, the Pilgrim Pope proposed anew the Church's moral tradition. He did so precisely because the question about how one should live this life is the question that the Church is sent to help men and women discern. It is a question that opens to and ends in prayer and praise. It is a question that reveals how a human being is simply a work in progress.  If we live well, an ever greater freedom and nobility is ours.  If we fail our task, we can be trapped in the prison of our own selfishness.

The truth contains its own compelling grandeur and its breathtaking horizons, but there is something in us that resists it. In his encyclical, Splendor of the Truth, Saint John Paul connects this to relativism and skepticism. No one can argue that the failure to rise to the occasion is an advancement of human freedom.  No one truly believes that doubting the possibility of human greatness makes anyone great. Yet, whenever we allow relativism or skepticism to have a foothold, it is always diminishing for everyone - whether in marriage and family, or in healthcare and services for the most vulnerable, or our schools and places of work, or in our neighborhood and the public square.

In an age of banal and odious nihilism, true greatness is realized in the humble recognition of what one ought to do in response to the truth, and the steadfast resolve to do it no matter what even in the face of one's own inadequacies. It is about faithfulness to our friends and to our commitments. It is also about the proper restraint and the readiness to give the benefit of the doubt. It is about vigilant awareness of one's own blindspots and the humility that allows another to help us see what we might have missed. It is about that courage that speaks the truth with love. John Paul II exemplified how such readiness to do what is right cannot be limited by selfish whims or lack of resolve in its devotion. Because he was steadfast in his love, he helped us see this freedom as taken up by Christ on the Cross to become a perfect offering to the Father.

The splendor of the truth, the radiance of what we ought to do, raises a great moral (and therefore, an inherently human) question: will we rise to the dignity that has been given us by God, or will we betray ourselves? Progress in human maturity, for an individual and for a society, depends entirely on how this question is answered.

This question is addressed in the depths of our hearts. It resounds in the ambiguous circumstances of the world. Resonating with our very being, it makes at once a gentle and irrevocable appeal, causing us to question our judgments and revisit our decisions. Those deaf to this call can be suddenly caught off guard by its beauty, and even those who are vulnerable to its sound never cease to be amazed and challenged.

For a heart vulnerable to this kind of beauty, the gravity of what is at stake draws it out of itself. There is a freedom from "self" when something more wonderful than self-concern has seized a soul. Such a heart discovers the freedom to let go of every blinding bias. Impossible situations cannot thwart its hope. Its resolve and integrity echo more loudly than the cacophony in which it would seem to be engulfed. Under the shadow of truth's splendor, the heart that is attentive has found ground to stand on,  and in the shade of this peace, love has a place to make its stand.

Silent prayer knows this splendor. The soul that attends to this still small voice knows that to render what this splendor evokes is to be filled with a fullness of life. Such a soul will suffer the truth in silent prayer because it knows that to fall short of the opportunity at hand is to diminish the whole of humanity. Indeed, when the prayerful find a way to be obedient to the appeal of the truth, they have "standing" in the shadow of this splendor -- and by their standing magnify a little of heaven's light and warmth in a world that has lost its way.

August 15, 2017

The Assumption of Our Lady -- A Sign of Hope

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Assumption - a mystery of Mary, the Mother of God. She was raised above this world to be a sign for the Church of the New Creation that God is bringing to completion in our midst.  By God's power, a love stronger than death has raised up a woman and mother to point us to the victory of good over evil, and to be a sign of the greatness to which each one of us has been called. Death and failure, inadequacy and weakness are not the last word about human existence. Instead, when God assumed Mary into heaven, He revealed that the great truth of our lives is found in Him, that He is always ready to save us from meaninglessness and to establish us in His peace. This is why the Church proposes the mystery of the Assumption of our Lady for our belief.

To believe that Mary is assumed into heaven is to believe that Christ is capable of raising our frail humanity above all the powers that threaten it. No matter how dark and cold things in this life become, no matter how nihilistic political and cultural forces, none of this can prevent God from realizing the plan that He has for our lives if only we will believe in Him and the immensity of His love.

To believe that God has accomplished such a wonder for Mary is also to believe that He has found a way for humanity to fulfill its ultimate purpose in the very face of all that opposes it. We are after all, notwithstanding all our sin, first and foremost creatures of praise, of thanksgiving, of prayer and of love. Through the faith of this woman the fruitfulness of God in the human person has been unleashed  - divinity reaches into humble humanity and creatures formed from earth's lowly dust find access to the glory of heaven. In claiming this for Mary, one is claimed by the same sanctifying mystery -- a mystery of perfect praise.

To believe that Christ raised His Mother body and soul into heaven is to believe that God has not lost sight of anything that is good, beautiful and true about who we are and what we are created to be. It is to believe that what is concrete, particular, and unique about our lives, our bodies, and our hearts is all precious in the eyes of God and not a barrier to union with Him. This world is for God the place where He has chosen to reveal His greatness. He is ready to help us make a beautiful offering of the life with which we have been entrusted just as Mary made the same offering of her life.  He is ready to ignite our lives with the fire of His love so that every moment, every relationship, every dream and every hope resonates with a fullness of being and life that nothing can diminish -- even when everything seems turned against it, just as a sword pierced her heart too. Here, just when we need it the most, the Daughter of Zion becomes a reminder that the Living God not only knows us, but gazes on us with tender love and immense compassion. 

August 11, 2017

A Prayer for Peace

Under the shadow of the Father's glory, humanity is established in peace -- whether as individuals, or families, or whole societies. This is more true and real than all the passing circumstances of this world below, no matter how evil or catastrophic they might become. Under the shade of this glory, Christ purifies and illuminates our whole human experience so that all that is cold and dark is being made radiant with divine warmth. This is the reason for our hope.

If we persevere in our hope, this very glory visits us through faith in Jesus with every humble cry for his help. Even when we run out of the right words to say, the Holy Spirit teaches us to express desires that no words can contain, holy desires that the Father longs to fulfill. Rooted in obedience to the Father's Word, such prayer shelters the whole world even as everything in the world falls apart. To learn to pray in this way is to overcome every fear and anxiety, not only in one's own heart, but in the whole world. It is to access a saving mystery that changes hearts and reveals new reasons for hope. It is the prayer that the world is longing for Christians to offer anew.

Come Spirit of Peace
Holy Comforter and Spirit of Truth
Convict us of our indifference
Convince us of our sin
Let us know again that human misery is not without limits,
that the victory of good over evil has already been won.

By the Mercy of the Father,
Cast down the mighty from their thrones
Scatter the proud in their conceit
Lift up the lowly

By the Blood of Christ,
Silence our rancor
Overcome our enmity
Give courage in the face of tyranny
Mercy for the plight of our neighbor
Compassion in offering forgiveness
Humility in seeking to be forgiven

Through the tender courage of Mary's Son
Vanquish the oppressor
Rescue the oppressed
Thwart the violent

Under the shadow of Eternal Glory,
Protect the vulnerable
Calm the anxious
Hear the desperate
Establish us in peace -
Amen.


July 29, 2017

On Being a Friend of God

Someone asked how we know whether the Lord has truly disclosed His presence in prayer. After all, given how hard hearted we are, even the most beautiful experiences in prayer could be nothing more than a figment of one's own imagination. History in fact is full of those who have mistaken a projection of their own bloated ego for God. Without guidance for prayer and careful discernment, our lack of openness and humility before the Lord makes us vulnerable to self-generated spiritual feelings or even demonic fabrications.  Can the Lord really breakthrough our hardened hearts? Can we truly become His friends?

When prayer is open to the Word of the Father, completely surrendered to Him in love, abandoned with trust, humble and reverent before His sovereignty, it becomes a fruitful conversation between friends. Such trust and confidence allows the Word made flesh to communicate His power in ways that produce spiritual fruit: joy, peace, love, self-control, perseverance. This power, the power of the Holy Spirit abiding in us, is always transformative in saving, gentle, and kindly ways. To be God's friend means to become like Him and to be in union with Him through listening to the Word spoken by the Father into our humanity. This holy conversation constitutes Christian prayer as a living reflection of the life of the Trinity.

Put differently, prayer that is truly vulnerable to God's self-disclosure in Christ Jesus results in lives transformed by love, for love, and in love. God is love and prayer implicates us in this holy mystery in the same way that true friends are implicated in one another's lives. He indeed has implicated Himself in our plight, and prayer is a humble movement of love and gratitude in response to His saving presence in us. A transformation first and foremost of one's own life, the power of this love extends out from the person who prays to everyone God has entrusted to him - from one's closest family member to the perfect stranger or even enemy who Providence places in one's path.

The Father wishes to fully disclose His Word as an answer to the ambiguities that threaten our existence. He is never indifferent to our plight or far from it. He desires to entrust the Delight of His Heart to us without our placing any limit on what might happen when we receive this saving Word in this present moment. He wants this manifestation of meaning and love in the difficult circumstances that we face to be analogous to the way the Son has disclosed Himself to the Father from all eternity. He desires to act within our faith in the same way that He acts within His own Eternal Truth. He desires to do so precisely within the humble limits of the specific act of faith that the passing circumstances of this moment allow us to make. Though He is never outdone, it is true that the more magnanimous and generous our faith in His Word, the more magnanimous and generous we have allowed the Word to bear fruit in us.

If prayer is not fruitful, then it is likely that it lacks the faith that allows the Father to act in the way that He desires. Fear of Him, lack of trust in Him, the need to be in control of His saving action, gluttony for psychic experiences, greed for certain spiritual outcomes - all of this can impede the kind of faith within which God desires to act in us. When prayer does not result in the desire to forgive or seek forgiveness, to repent or at least the desire to repent, to be converted from sin or at least the desire to be converted from sin, then such prayer has not been open in faith to a fruitful encounter with God. If my prayer does not implicate me more deeply in the plight of my neighbor or if it does not humble me to gratefully accept the help that God has sent to me, if it does not shake me from my conceit and make me weep over my hard heartedness, then whatever else happened in my prayer, what did not happen was the encounter with Christ by faith that the Father yearns for us to know.

How can we avoid this lack of fruitfulness in prayer? Pray for Christ's own humility. He gives this gift to those who ask for it with perseverance. The humility of Christ before the Father, this humility of the Son of Mary, is the humility of a child, of the least, of the poorest, of the most vulnerable. Such humility is the fertile soil that allows the Father to plant His Word in a way that will give life. Because the Father wants to sow His Word into humanity anew, anyone who has this humility, He makes His friend.

Not just any prayer, but the humble prayer of faith makes us a friend of God.  God is drawn to the humble, the powerless, the needy.  He identifies with them. When we identify with them by humble faith, He is drawn to us.  He offers friendship.  When one by humble faith becomes a friend of the Word of the Father, when one remains with this Word no matter what, when one allows this Word to speak into the deepest questions that haunt our existence, powerful things happen in the heart and in the world.

Like waves crashing against the shore, the revelation of the Word of the Father in such humble prayer baptizes the human condition anew. The hard-hearted idealism of our day might believe that it remains unmoved, but in ways that it cannot begin to understand, each new wave of that inexhaustible mystery has changed its center of gravity. The hard heart, like a coastal rock, becomes another opportunity for God to manifest the splendor of his power.

June 12, 2017

The Holy Trinity and a Foretaste of Heaven

Saint Elisabeth of the Trinity's spiritual mission is to promote mental prayer through devotion to the Holy Trinity.  One of her most important spiritual works is a prayer that she wrote just after her novitiate.  In this prayer, she makes a personal claim over the Trinity, "My Three",  "my All", "my Beatitude." Through learning to pray like this, those who are dedicated to prayer have found a way to deepen their devotion to the indwelling of the Divine Persons of the One God.

Saint Elisabeth helps souls move past meditations on the Trinity that are overly abstract and depersonalized.  She invites a vision of the Three-in-One and One-in-Three that is at once personal and Biblical. She sees a dynamic unity in the personal relations of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit that evokes from the soul a response of praise. The Father contemplates and blesses the truth His Word reveals in us and the Word of the Father yearns that we might know the same glory He himself knows. Through the Holy Spirit, this Great Mystery buries itself in the soul, overshadows it, catches it on fire, captivates it, and establishes it in peace. In this "infinite solitude" and "immensity" of love the soul forgets itself, loses itself, buries itself and becomes pure praise.

To allow oneself to be completely captivated by the Holy Trinity is to secure a foretaste of heaven. When the Trinity ceases to be a puzzle and becomes an object of devotion for the heart, the greatness of Christian prayer opens up. The eternal splendor that lives in such a soul is no fantasy or abstract thought - it is, in Saint Elisabeth's own last words, "light, love, life." Such a heavenly in breaking is not in the remote future, but a reality born already in time, making this present moment a kind of sacrament, "eternity begun, and still in progress."