February 9, 2019

The Urgency of Contemplative Prayer

The urgency of contemplative prayer comes into focus when we begin to ponder the transitory nature of our lives and the precariousness of the society in which we live.  We lull ourselves into thinking that things have always been a certain way and therefore will always stay the way we imagine them to be.  But this is not the way life is, and time is harshly more linear than it is cyclical. As long as we cling to the delusion that the work-a-day world is unchanging, we are susceptible to catastrophe up ending the very purpose of our lives.

Here, our judgment betrays us if we do not allow it to be purified by a new awareness of God in prayer. The faith that animates Christian contemplation knows that the Trinity's presence is always new - always bringing newness into the world as a foretaste of what is to come. It knows that Christ is sent by the Father in the Holy Spirit that we might have life to the full ... but this faith also tells us that we must be ready for this gift. He reveals His glory that we might thrive in praise of it, but if we are distracted by the same cares and anxieties that weigh down everyone else, we miss this extraordinary opportunity to our eternal detriment and the detriment of all those we love.

Matthew 24:37-40 reveals that just before catastrophe, most are mindless about their own impending doom. Even more so is the coming of the Lord in glory catastrophic for those who are cavalier about holy things and how they live. If we live our lives as if our selfish occupations were the only concerns to be concerned about; if we do not allow ourselves to be convicted of sin by the Holy Spirit; if we are not moved by the immensity of the love that burns in the Heart of God for our sake and for the whole world; we too will be overtaken by catastrophe at the coming of the Lord. A fate more terrifying than any flood, doom more dark than earthly death, a judgment more severe than time can contain - all of this is what falls on a soul that is not vigilant, but careless in the presence of the Lord.

The Lord is a just judge and His presence demands the complete and total vigilance realized in mental prayer. Such attentive silence helps us be ready to render what is His due, to give an account of ourselves before Him.  Indeed, to give such an accounting is the most important, the most sacred of all moments in one's own personal existence.

Mindful of Divine Judgment, mental prayer makes us vulnerable to the ways that Christ speaks to us in our own conscience. Such a heart to heart with the Lord draws us away from those activities that dissipate our capacity to love and plunges us in the drama of salvation. This inner stillness makes possible the renunciation of all that is not worthy of God's love and gives courage to love when love seems impossible. Nothing can better prepare us for His judgment at the evening time of life. At death, when we are infused with the light of His truth, frequent contemplative prayer has already anticipated this finest moment of life.

Contemplation searches for the Holy Mighty One, and it knows that failure to revere Him never allows a man to rise above irreverence. Such mental prayer ponders Him as ultimate Truth supported all the while by the humble realization that failure to obey Him condemns one to a meaningless existence. This prostration of the mind knows that He alone is the Righteous One with the firm conviction that failure to seek His forgiveness is to continue to wallow in guilt and shame. This captivity of thought approaches the Prince of Peace with the sobered awareness that not to welcome Him is to burn with of all kinds of irrational impulses and of unquenchable desires.  Such solemn interiority is at once wrenched in astonishment that He has suffered the consequences of our sin while also amazed over the indifference to Divine Mercy that alienates man in misery. This cry of recognition and love knows that He is come to bring Eternal Life and feels with painful sorrow how failure to believe in Him results in eternal death.

The dynamism of Christ's immanent coming into the world of my own personal existence evokes the urgency of such contemplative prayer. The end of the world is not remote, but ever present, an unfolding reality into which we are all already caught up. As stars fall out of the sky and the earth is shaken, the visible image of the ultimate and absolute love of the Father, the Judge of the Living and the Dead moves the very depths of our being with reverence, obedience, desire for forgiveness and to forgive, sobriety, humility and living faith. Yet, none of this can ever be if we do not sanction and permit this movement of grace in contemplation. Indeed, in times of supreme trial and tribulation how can we if we do not keep our eyes on Him? The faith that such prayer requires makes obvious how inadequate it is merely to think or wish for such things before His face. Instead, true vigilance in prayer makes a believer choose and beg for the grace to be reverent, obedient, forgiving, sober, and humble before the Risen One before whose personal presence one suddenly finds oneself.

Here, the urgency of contemplative prayer impresses an enfleshed spirituality - one that is full engaged in this world, but not of it. This means a movement indifferent to anything that is not God's will, but whatever God's will is to be ever ready and eager to implicate oneself in it unreservedly. As his presence dawns on us in our effort to enter silent stillness, it is not enough to vaguely intend - but we must actually offer, in the concrete moment, spiritual worship with our bodies. The presence of Word made flesh requires that our faith and love be unveiled through our bodily actions, even the words we say. This means in the earthly, nitty gritty and real day to day relationships and service that make up our daily lives. Prayer that leads away from this enfleshed devotion is not Christian - is not in the pattern of the Savior who humbled Himself, in our likeness, to become the loving servant of all unto death. By the true sacrifices that such an enfleshed spirituality demands, contemplation finds and follows in his footsteps until how we live is animated and radiant with His very life. 

February 7, 2019

The Mother of Mercy and the Abyss of Love

The Mother of Mercy spoke through Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity. As death approached the young Carmelite, she addressed Mary's words to her Prioress as well as to every soul who longs for the coming of the Lord.  The Mother of Mercy because the mercy of the Father is revealed in her Son, Jesus, Saint Elizabeth presents Mary's mission of mercy. The Carmelite reveals, through Mary's words, the generosity of the Lord who does not even withhold his own mother to help us and to affirm our faith. Just as Mary helped Jesus make his very first offering to the Father as his mother, the Virgin has come to help us make an offering of our lives too.

Out from between my arms, entering into the world, Jesus made his first oblation to the Father, and He sent me to receive yours! I brought you a scapular as a pledge of my protection and of my love, and also as a "sign" of the mystery that will be worked in you.  My daughter, I come "to cloth you in Jesus-Christ" until you "walk in Him," with the Father and the Spirit of love, into the very depths of the Abyss. I come until you are built up in Him who is your Rock, your Fortress. I come until you are "affirmed in your faith." I come until your faith is affirmed in the immense Love who plunges the very ground of your soul into the great Furnace. My daughter, this all powerful Love will accomplish great things in you. Believe in my word, the word of a Mother. This Mother thrills in seeing with what particular tenderness you are loved.  Oh, remain in the deepest core of your being and behold Him who comes fully armed with gifts. The abyss of his love surrounds Him like a cloak: the Bridegroom!

Letter 316, 24 Sept. 1906

The truth of our humanity is revealed only when we encounter the Bridegroom who gives Himself to us. In meeting Him, we discover how to offer ourselves as a gift of love for others and for God. He helps us realize that to make such a gift of self can only be learned from Him - for He not only exemplifies this gift, but enables it, the deeper our faith in Him becomes.

Indeed, we must suffer the immensity of His love and overcome our tendency to promote ourselves rather than give ourselves. As long as self-promotion and self-occupation reign within, we lack the freedom to give, to offer our lives for the glory of God and the good of our neighbor. To arrive at the freedom required to offer our lives as something beautiful for God, as a living sacrifice, as a pleasing offering, the Lord must accomplish a great mystery in us. It is a mystery of holiness, a mystery of love. This mystery that God brings about in us also encompasses our own effort too.

This is why Mary is sent, to teach us how to love in the way the Jesus loved. She can do this because she knows in a singular way the particular tenderness of Jesus' love. Indeed, love never rises to anything if it fails to demand all our effort, all our strength, the endurance of hardships, many difficult renunciations, the humble acceptance of our own inadequacies and perseverance through many painful failures. Saint Elizabeth knew that this would be impossible but for the fact that the Lord Himself accomplishes all this and so much more in us - the more we believe in Him. So, she received the gift of the Mother of Mercy - and she wants us to experience how Mary can affirm our faith in the immensity of Mercy too.

February 3, 2019

The Way of Love

There are many spiritual paths offered us in life. Some promise therapeutic relief from
burdens of sorrow and anxiety. Others achievements of consciousness and the wonders of psychic states.  There are forms of spirituality that promise power and gifts, prophecy and knowledge. The Holy Spirit, however, offers another way.

This new way on which the Holy Spirit leads passes across these other paths. It knows relief from anxiety and many other rich spiritual experiences. It is strewn with many gifts, prophecies and kinds of knowledge. A certain stature is realized. An inner strength acquired. A beautiful wisdom grows. Yet none of this is the destination that the Breath of God gently blows us toward or the ultimate purpose for which this Furnace of Love burns within.

The vanishing points to which the Soul of our Soul raises us, calls us, and directs us reach out to an unfathomable unity of love. The Creator Spirit etches us into a window through which heaven comes. He forms the clay of our humanity to become a resting place for the Living God. He breathes on us until we are covered with divine life and intimately bound to it. Our Advocate, He floats the light of truth into the deep crevices of our hearts as we ponder the Scriptures so that we might renounce what is not worthy of our dignity and glow with warmth in this cold world. He washes over us through our fasting and prayer until we are purified of anything that might betray the friendship that we are meant to know.

Finally, after we are made mature through the difficult trials and challenges of loving those entrusted to us, this Anointing from Above makes us shine with the Light of Christ as if we were icons surrounding the sanctuary of God's presence. Then, when fully having realized in our own personal freedom the unique and unrepeatable creature God has delighted in from before the foundation of the world, we will have become a communion of living signs whose joy - the limits of time and space are too small, whose peace - nothing in the heavens or on the earth or under the earth can diminish, whose love - death has no power to end.

February 2, 2019

The Battle for Integrity - a Men's Conference

Saturday, March 2
9:00 AM ~ 5:00 PM 
Sacred Heart Retreat House
St. Joseph Campus 
Anthony Lilles, S.T.D.

The battle for integrity is a task that each man must take up, not only for himself, but for all those entrusted to him. Social media and the entertainment industry present challenges that must be faced in the battlefield of life.  But the fight is not merely against cultural forces outside of oneself. Instead, it is a spiritual battle waged in the mind and for the heart. The freedom to live a meaningful life and the hope of humanity are at stake. This conference intends to inspire men to join the fray. Come and learn to take up the weapons of the Word of God, daily mass, confession, the rosary, personal prayer and fasting. Meet our allies, the angels and saints. Listen to Christ, our Captain. Renew your conviction that if we follow our Captain, if we do not betray our allies, and if we do not drop our weapons - victory is assured. 

Dr. Lilles is a Catholic theologian, married father of three, serving as academic dean of Saint John's Seminary in Camarillo, CA, Juan Diego House for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, he also teaches in the Avila Institute of Spiritual Formation. Having completed doctoral studies in '98, his research is dedicated to the wisdom of the saints and mystics of the Church.

Three ways to register:
Go to: www.sacredheartretreathouse.com  
Email: sjcprogcoordinator@carmelitesistersocd.com 
Call (626) 289-1353 x203

Sponsored by the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles

St. Joseph Campus
507 North Granada Avenue 

Alhambra, California 91801 
(626) 289-1353 x203 

Cost: $65.00 Includes:
- Dynamic and Inspiring talks 
- Sacrament of Reconciliation
- Holy Mass
- Time for personal prayer
- continental breakfast and lunch

January 27, 2019

The Kingdom of Heaven Descends on Us

It is a great act of faith to believe that the Father truly hears our petition "on earth as it is in Heaven." Yet He does hear His slain Son's desire resound throughout His mystical Body, from highest heaven to this world's deepest abyss, and this desire stirs Him, so to speak, with great joy at all times and forever. This is why the Father constantly sends His Spirit through His Risen Word into the world. If evil is permitted in His paternal tenderness, it is only because it does not thwart the Father from revealing the immensity of His love - instead, through the Spirit and the Word, He constantly changes grave evils and terrible sorrows into new disclosures of Love's glory. Through the Holy Spirit, even betrayal, denial, abandonment and death are implicated in the coming of this Kingdom- and so we pray convinced that the obedience of Christ Crucified transforms every abuse and condemnation into gateways through which the reign of God descends upon us.

Despite the tender generosity of the Father and the priceless gift that He freely offers, many in the Church have failed to bear witness to the truth. For sheer lack of this wisdom, our society is succumbing to dehumanizing violence. Without a compelling Christians witness to what God is doing in the world, otherwise decent people make catastrophic mistakes at the expense of the innocent and vulnerable. We walk over the homeless and ask who their neighbors are. We glimpse the hungry and naked always from afar, but never close enough to see the Lord. Instead of offering lasting freedom to captives, our prisons overflow with disregarded social "problems." Despite what Christ preached with mighty power, have we let anything be fulfilled in our hearing? 

A vicious societal irony pierces the Heart of God. Ecclesial leaders join media personalities to "condemn" children who marched for life even as they were assaulted by adults who abused, persecuted and exploited them for political purposes. Yet these same leaders fail to condemn the politically powerful who promote and celebrate laws ushering into our culture the most brutal and extreme forms of infanticide. This is not the first time a society has rejected His blessing, but the Father remains undaunted.

Into this abyss of confusion, the Father never fails to send the Spirit of Truth who, brooding over our brokenness, proves the world wrong about sin, righteousness and judgment. The powerful who stand against the Author of Life have brought condemnation on themselves and the Consuming Fire permits them the heartless culture that they have orchestrated. Those ecclesial leaders preoccupied with media spin have lost sight of Him who has ascended above the world and the Pillar of Cloud leaves them in the banality in which they take refuge. To the children, however, the Holy Spirit gives the Kingdom of Heaven: for abused and condemned they glimpsed the beatitude promised by their abused and condemned God.

Postscript: Some ecclesial leaders are offering apologies to the young people mentioned in this article and Bishop Barron has admonished us to be careful of scapegoating - here.  The astonishing glory of Merciful Love is the basis of our hope that Christ won for us. In this mercy, one always finds a new opportunity to repent and to make a new beginning. In this, the Spirit of the Father rejoices for whenever the human heart comes to its senses -- this gives God freedom to do something beautiful in our midst.