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." 

May 26, 2017

Divine Gentleness and Contemplative Prayer

Christ offered Himself in death for our sake out of love, to reveal the mercy and gentleness of the Father. Though the absence of love that ought to be stirs regret in the heart of God, the Almighty does not unleash His power to surmount human freedom. Instead, He restrains Himself because He knows His love is more powerful than our evil, and He has confidence in the goodness that He has sewn into our hearts. This confidence in what He created us to be is why the Father sent the Son into the world. The Son, at the right hand of the Father, testifies to what is most true about humanity and the drama of its existence. Humanity is made to know the love of the Father, and through Jesus, even in the face of all our failures and wickedness, this Divine Dream is realized.

Moreover, the supreme gentleness of God toward humanity is offered to all those who believe in the Risen Lord here and now. With all its unrestrained coercion and bitter aggression, the world cannot surmount the humble kindness of God. To believe that Christ has been raised from the dead and ascended into heaven means to believe in the gentleness of the Father over humanity, each individual, every relationship, every event, all of history. Christ reigns so that we might cling to this truth with our whole existence.

Such faith does not lash out or loose patience. Though it appears powerless to the world, it is never anxious or fearful. It does not sit in judgment over others and it does not need to be in control -- although it orders everything with great delicacy.  Always subtle, it does not manipulate or coerce. It has no need to be competitive, but always seeks the last place. Neither does it "wish away" misery or lose courage when it is time to speak truth.It has the strength to love in the face of evil and to remain constant even as the world crumbles around it. This is because such faith keeps itself enclosed in the gentleness of the Father and never acts except that this gentle love might be manifest anew.  Such faith alone provides space for Divine Gentleness to abide in it.

When we spend time making our hearts vulnerable to the gentleness of the Father, something divine is restored in us -- we who are in the image and likeness of the gentle Trinity  Such silent prayer finds this transforming gentleness in the face of Christ for this is what the Word of the Father came to reveal to us. Completely given to us, completely given in love, the Word of the Father speaks this holy gentleness into the core of our being - if we humble ourselves and ask, bow our heads and pray, a loving movement of heart welcomes the love so gently offered to us.

His face shines on us wherever His power is most hidden - in our neighbor's distress, in trying circumstances, in rejection. In this light, the rancor of our hearts is stilled and we find the courage to repent of our indifference. But to find what is hidden we must go into mysteries our natural powers cannot see. The holy silence of contemplative prayer hides the soul from itself and makes it subject to a kindness that it cannot understand. Christ's gentle gaze that such prayer discovers hides us in the gentleness of the Father, Captivated by this gaze, we find ourselves moved to completely give ourselves in love to Him and to those He entrusts to us. 

April 23, 2017

Strangers in a Strange Land

Thank you Archbishop Charles J. Chaput for writing Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World (Philadelphia: Henry Holt and Company, 2017).

I am only half way through, but what compels me about your book is that it is helping me with my own soul searching. I feel guided on an vital examination of conscience that helps me ask important questions about who I am as a husband and a father.  Most authors do not have the courage to challenge their readers in this way -- but you do, and that is why your works are worth taking the time to read.

At the end of Chapter 6, quoting Flannery O'Connor, you observe that the truth not only makes us free, but it makes us odd. This is because the truth always requires us to go against the grain and not simply to go along to get along. Yet to fit in, to be accepted, to make a name for oneself - what great temptations! We are afraid of being odd and unless we confront this fear, we cannot be free.

You are so right to insist that the truth calls us to something different.  It demands something that is not comfortable or convenient. The standards of heaven require something much more noble, much more set apart - in a word holy. Indeed, the standard of heaven, the power by which both Heaven and Earth were made is Love - for God is Love. You are right that the price of answering this call to love is to be considered "odd," to be rejected and despised. To love unto death is "odd" to a world that lives under the fear of death.  If we instinctively recoil from this, we allow ourselves to be defined by this cowardice -- a cowardice that now defines so much of our society and culture. But to have the courage to live by this truth - a love that goes all the way to the end -- this is a pure gift. This is grace - and the Risen Lord is the source of this. This is, as you say, true freedom.

You aptly describe how when we as individuals lose the truth and with the truth, our integrity - so too our whole social order. As a society, we lose our ability to see each other as human beings - in the image and likeness of God.  When we just go along with the narrative put out by the culturally powerful, we are unable to see our neighbor as someone entrusted to us by God. Instead, my neighbor is reduced to a social problem to be disposed of.  Euphemisms in our government, in the workplace, in the Church and in the family disguise our cruelty as cleverness - and because we have become so good at this kind of lie, we are no longer able to repent of our hardheartedness. Imprisoned in heartlessness, we throw ourselves away in a throw away culture -- unable to encounter one another, not free to be fully human or fully alive.

You made me ponder how the truth calls us to stand not only for our own integrity but for the sake of those we love or ought to love. Those who we ought to love include even those we do not personally know. It is for love of those that God has given to us -- each one a new unique manifestation of His image and likeness -- that we must overcome our fear and have the courage to re-examine our lives in the light of the Gospel. As I read your analysis on these things, I could not help but think, if this is true of strangers, how much more is it true of those whom God has entrusted to us in our own households - our spouse, our children, our parents?

I am looking forward to finishing this wonderful and well-researched book.  If the task before us is to build a culture of "encounter" in the face of our "throw away" culture, the world needs the integrity that we gain only by repentance, the re-thinking of all the ways that we have compromised ourselves and those we love in relation to the truth. Many of our brothers and sisters in other countries have not failed to embrace this kind of repentance -- even at the cost of their own lives. And they and those they left behind would not have it any other way.  This is because the nature of truth - that is, the way we should be and live in relation to what really is - is ultimately, relational, in the form of friendship, a love that is worth dying for, a friendship that God offers because He already died for us to have it. Only by such integrity can we offer a witness that will provide a word of hope to a world so poorly in need of it.


April 14, 2017

To Know the Father - To Behold the Cross

On this Good Friday, we celebrate the definitive revelation of the Father's love for the world. God the Father reveals Himself through His Eternal Word - the Word whose last wordless cry resounds through all space an time. In this last wordless cry, everything that Jesus came to reveal about the Father, everything that the Father wished us to know about Him, is laid bear and entrusted to us with great tenderness and patience.

To know this truth is to know at once the Father's great mercy for us and who we are in His sight. He does not use His power to force our behavior. He patiently accepts our hostility and rejection - even permitting what is most precious to Him to suffer death for our sakes.  His love is deeper and more powerful than our hatred and His patience is able to bear with our infirmities - to heal and raise up what is good, beautiful and true about who we are in His sight.

In a world that does not have the strength to restrain itself, we behold on the Cross the gentleness of the Father who tenderly restrains His power to heal us. Our heartache and anxiety, our guilt and our fears are all remedied before this mystery - if only we will humbly surrender and let what the Father has revealed enter into our hearts. If we will silence ourselves and remain with Him, the love of the Father flows through the Cross into the deepest wounds to heal, to restore and to set free.  On this day, our misery is immersed in His Mercy so that we might be saved.

Through Christ's great prayer for us we know that the Father longs for us to dwell with Him. If we approach the foot of the Cross with reverence, the deep things of God and His divine dream for each one of us is manifest and realized in faith.  If today we follow in the footsteps of the One who was Crucified by love and for love, we will find the courage and strength to life by love and for love. If we adore the Wood on which our Savior offered Himself for us, we will find that the kiss we offer the Lord is returned in the most profound and beautiful way.

March 26, 2017

The Gift of Hope and Battle for Life

We live at a time where a great battle for life is being played out. The Christian faith offers a discipline of life by which this battle can be won. This faith teaches that, in fact, this battle is already won - if only we will trust in the One who conquered sin and death. In this, the discipline of the Christian life preserves the hope of humanity and gifts it the gift of a supernatural hope.

Nihilistic forces in our boorish culture are causing many good people to lose hope.  I am not referring to specifically Christian hope in asserting this.  Rather, it is a matter of basic human hope -- the kind of hope that women and men need to have the courage to live.  This kind of hope is not exclusively Christian, but the Christian faith is earnestly implicated in preserving and promoting it.

In a certain sense, life is a battle - a struggle between good and evil, not only outside of ourselves in the world in which we live, but also within. What is invisible is more fierce than what is visible. This interior battle faces one's own wickedness and inadequacy with the confidence that this is not the last word about one's personal existence. What characterizes this natural hope is the at least inchoate conviction that somehow, if we do not compromise ourselves in a self-contradiction, what is good and true about us may in the end prevail.  Even when very painful and difficult, such hope sees that the effort to live a worthy life is worth it.

To protect the integrity of this important human hope, Christianity denounces false hopes. For example, it does not provide a firm basis for hope to believe oneself no more than a cog in the wheel of societal progress. Yet many do.  The world of Hegelian idealism may subordinate everything, even God, to an unfolding dialectic, but it cannot raise the heart above itself.  Such a mentality hides under a bandage (but does not heal) the deep misery that we must confront in life.

Although useful to some limited extent, no purely human program - whether sociological or psychological -- sufficiently deals with the pain that aches in our depths. Alcohol and pharmaceuticals can only dull it for a time. None of this provides the solid ground on which to walk through the misery that would otherwise drown out our existence. This is why a reason for our hope must be found beyond the programs, agendas, methods and techniques offered (and marketed) by the clever of the world.

To stand firm under fire, we need a good reason for the hope we have inside - a truth by which to live. We need help from Someone whose life is above our own if we are to learn to ponder how astonishing and un-repeatable the personal drama of one's own life actually is. To find this Someone, all that must be done is to cry out in prayer with faith. For this Someone is not remote.  He has come for us. He has entered into the pain of humanity and has taken into His own heart; and has carried it with Him to the Cross.

Christ Crucified has dared to enter into our own hearts because His compassion moved Him to suffer with us through it all. The discipline of the Christian life is about learning to walk with Him. To take on this discipline is to know the Mighty God's creative and healing power. To be a disciple is to humbly attend to the Eternal Word as He addresses the most painful heartbreaks and disappointments. The discipline of the Christian faith involves the prayerful examination of our lives before the Savior's glance of love. Such a way of life is a life in complete communion with Him.

With one word, the Word restores a disciple's dignity; with one touch, the Hand of God lifts His followers on high. The Risen Lord provides the solid ground for those who would pick up their Cross and follow HIm.  The Bread of Life Himself nourishes us for this journey. The Eternal Son awaits us, ready to welcome us into the Father's House.