April 23, 2019

The Risen Lord's Victory over Death and Sin

In His Divine Person, the New Adam united Himself to the destruction men suffer in death, to vanquish and transform what would most threaten human dignity into a gateway of eternal glory.  Sin is our hostility to Life Himself, and death in sin is the destruction of human life. Sin is the source of our guilt and wraps our existence in shame so that death's shadow haunts our lives. Yet, into this shadow, the Good Shepherd went in search of us, and that we might dwell in His house forever, the Risen Lord bought us with His own blood.

The loss of integrity and alienation that sin causes finds its full bodily expression when a cold corpse is lowered into its grave and so the Word most fully expressed the Father's love when His body was sealed in the tomb. We are not comfortable with the world, or our neighbors, or ourselves because we have defied our Maker, and the lifeless body of the visible image of the invisible God proclaims just how uncomfortable the Almighty is with our defiance. We feel thwarted before death because, in His humility, the Source of Life thwarts the proud. The Creator does so not as an angry God who seeks vengeance, but rather as a father whose heart is broken over the plight of his son, as a bridegroom who is distraught that his beloved is in grave danger. The power of sin and the depths of its mystery is great. Greater still is the Divine Mercy that has suffered and overthrown it for our sake.

The Risen Lord has the power to forgive sin because He wants us to have the antidote for death. Death in sin not only alienates the human body from its soul, but the soul from its God. This does not happen all at once - but unfolds despite every effort to avoid or prevent it.  Death's dehumanizing power rips the principle of human life away from its body until life-less body and body-less life are incapable of meaningful connection with others, and the soul has nothing to pull it back into relation with the Lord. Even for a person of great faith, hope is tested and love itself is questioned as the unfolding of death's mystery is suffered. Trapped in sterile alienation and unfulfilled desires, death subjects all that is good, noble and true about our humanity to futility. Death becomes a great spiritual contest, one in which the very meaning of our lives and our loves are on the line. The Word of the Father chose to suffer this for us - not to prevent it or provide an escape from it, but to transform it into a mystery that leads to the perfection of faith, the invincibility of hope, and the final triumph of love.

The Father did not wish humanity to perish even as it suffered death. Desiring that the Father's dream for humanity might be realized, after the Word became flesh for our sake even to the point of embracing the annihilation to which our human existence was subject. He did not abandon His dead humanity. He was personally present to both his dead body and his soul in death, suffering in them all that death means and yet, because suffering death, also infusing it with His saving presence so that death no longer has the last word about humanity. Instead, the love of the Father revealed by His Son is become the deepest truth of human existence, deeper than any misery or absence of life. 

His Divine Person united His lifeless body and his departed soul even as death corrupted the bonds by which one animates the other and the other expresses the one. Cut off from all human connection and bereft the love of the Father for which his humanity lived, the Word with eternal meaning plunged into the futility that threatens the meaning of our lives. This means that the Son of the Father held fast to his lifeless body so that even when wrapped in burial cloths deep in the darkness of a sealed tomb, His earthly tent was never separated from His Divine Nature.  This means that the Word clung to his human soul even as it plunged in the depths of human misery, so that though suffering places so alienated from the love of God no unaided human power can escape, his human spirit was never cut-off from His Divine Life. Though completely hidden from the living and seeming not to be accomplishing anything that can be measured- the life of God was fashioning a great new hope for humanity.

In these colliding polarities, His Divine Person bore such sanctifying paradox to transform what was once our curse into humanity's greatest moment, an offering rendered acceptable because infused by His sacrifice. Indeed, no matter how sealed away His Body in death and no matter how deep into the sleep of death His soul, the Savior would not abandon His Body or His Soul because of the immensity of His love for each one of us - until he opened for each of us the way home, no matter how lost we find ourselves.

Is it any wonder that when we come to Him with our sin, He is always ready to forgive it?  He has gone deeper into our misery than our own sin can know. No addictive behavior, no psychological brokenness, no self-loathing, no self-torment -- nothing we can bring to Him is too unbearable for Him, for He has already bore it all.  He has contended against the powers that would try to hold us down, and none of them could separate us from His love.  






April 20, 2019

The Word and the Sleep of Death in Christian Prayer.

Christian contemplation takes in the mystery of death and sees it transformed by the Word of the Father.  It is not more powerful than the love of God. It's hellish currents cannot drown out desire that the Lord has for us to live. This is a true spiritual reality, a great drama that God takes seriously - because His love is more serious than death.

St. John of the Cross observes that Christ suffered the annihilation in not only his body but also his spirit, arguing that this is why Christ calls out in the words of a psalm: My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?  To suffer the absence of the Father, says the mystical doctor, is the Lord's greatest suffering. It is a true spiritual death, and we could say, His pathway into the abyss of human misery. Yet in suffering this death, St. John of the Cross observes that Christ accomplished his greatest work: our salvation. So it is with us - when we enter by prayer into the mystery of Christ's death and allow our own existence to be shaped by His suffering for our sake, we also accomplish our greatest work. What is more, our friendship and union with Christ is perfected.

 On Holy Saturday, we realize the radical extent that Christ journeyed into death for our salvation includes His descent into Hell. For those who want to follow their Crucified God, this descent also informs their journey.Yet just how far do we go with this? The answer is the length that Christ went into the mystery of death - the depths to which He suffered his own separation from the Father is the pathway that we also must follow until we find those places where God seems absent to us too.

What this means in practical terms is that the Word of the Father waits for us in those miseries we would rather avoid. Our prayer must not keep Him waiting but should bravely go where we are awaited by Him. Our hidden poverties, miseries, affections, voids, inadequacies, failures, weaknesses, frustrations and disappointments are not places that God avoids or pretends does not exist. To say that the Son of the Most High has descended in hell is to proclaim that He has gone down into these abysses and embraced them as our Savior and as our Friend,

The Word made flesh descended into our miseries and afflictions no matter what they are and He awaits us in these painful places. If we will seek His presence even here, He who is the Truth Himself can teach us how to offer these most difficult parts of our personal existence - so that instead of such things damning us, the Good Shepherd can lead us out of them and onto higher ground. Whoever goes into these hidden poverties of our lives with hope in the Lord and seeks Him, the Son of Mary will raise up to new life.

This is the mystery of Holy Saturday.  Christian contemplation becomes a kind of sleep of death when we descend the abyss of our miseries in search of the Lord of Life. We do not do this to beat ourselves up or torment ourselves or accuse ourselves. We do this to find the Suffering Servant who has gone before us into these places and transformed them into springs of life.  No sin is too great that it cannot be surrendered to His mercy. No failure is so definitive that the Son of the Father cannot show us how His love is all the more definitive of who we are.

Christian prayer allows us to find God in our afflictions. Prayer that listens for the voice of Love Himself when all seems lost and there seems to be no way out, such prayer has already entered the sleep of death that the Living God embraced for love of us. Souls that have ventured with faith into "hell," that is all those memories and attitudes where God seems most absent in one's heart, these are the ones who are always astonished to find Christ in this same sleep with them, for them in unfathomable power and authority. They know the glory of Him awakening them to new life.

Out of the treasuries that these disciples discovered in the Lord, they can speak words of hope to those who also find their own lives threatened by the power of sin and death. Those who the Deliverer saves from the hellfire that threatens their own hearts, they know what true freedom is.  If we persevere in our search for the Conqueror of Death even in the miseries of our lives, the Lord of Life comes to us with His peace and offers to lead us home.  

April 18, 2019

The Father and the Mystery of Holy Thursday

The liturgies of Holy Thursday commemorate the institution of the Priesthood, the Eucharist and the mandate of Christian Charity. Each of these are beautiful mysteries for the heart to ponder, places of profound encounter with Christ where He unveils the mystery of the Father's love.  Each manifestation of the Father's love also unveils the deepest truth about who we are and the high calling that we have received.

When Christ's establishes his priesthood, this includes a participation in Christ's  priesthood that baptism makes possible. Christ instituted this priesthood based the ancient priestly character of humanity.  In human existence, visible and invisible realities are mediated one to the other through the beautiful reality of our body-soul personal existence. As stewards of creation, our first obligation was to order the whole visible cosmos to the true spiritual worship of the Creator. The  dominion that the Lord entrusted to us over the earth and its creatures was intended so that through humanity, the whole earth might know the glory of God and His holiness through our obedient surrender to His immense love.

This great purpose was impeded when we fell into disobedience. Without following the will of the Father ourselves, the rest of creation could not know His love through us. We ourselves, unable to fulfill the office of praise entrusted to us, suffered the misery of not knowing the great love that lives in the heart of the Father for us. And so, our disobedience has caused us to suffer the indignity of hostility to the Lord - a hostility that Christians are the special object of in these times.

The obedience of Christ restores the priestly office entrusted to humanity and confers it with a more perfect kind of priesthood - one from the very heart of the Trinity.  The Son of the Father offers His very person to the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit in an eternal moment of praise, one without beginning and end. Creation is simply a reflection of this immeasurable love, unending adoration and perfect praise through in time and space. Humanity was created in the image and likeness of the Holy Trinity - a communion of love -- because only such a communion could make such love known in the way the Father yearned that it should be manifest. Christ obedience not only restored this sacred reality of holy humanity, but opened up the possibility of spiritual worship beyond the limits of this presence life and the confines of time and space.

The priesthood of Christ is anticipated in the mysterious person of Melchizedek, who offered sacrifice of bread and wine for the Father of our Faith, Abraham (Genesis 14:18).  By tithing to this righteous priest and king, Abraham was able to offer acceptable worship and thanksgiving (Hebrews 7:1ff). Similarly, the priesthood founded in Christ's obedience to the Father enables us to offer true spiritual worship with our bodies when we join Him by faith and baptism.  Yet the form of this worship is Eucharistic - a thanksgiving that utterly transcends everything that pre-figured it.

In Christ's personal existence, His Divine Person mediates divinity and humanity, without mixing them, into a perfect harmony of salvation, mediating one to the other just as Melchizedek mediated between God and man for Abraham. Those who believe in Christ participate by faith in the restoration of the priestly dignity that belonged to humanity from the beginning. Just as Abraham experienced through the mysterious Melchizedek, but now in Christ, we have this priesthood in a more perfect and irrevocable way.

For with the institution of the Eucharist, the Bread of Life found a way that we might share in this harmony of God and man that He knows in His very person.  Moreover, He has done this in a manner that beautiful relations between humanity and divinity constituted in Him might be our strength and sustenance in this life.  He has made Himself into the Way, the Truth and the Life. To this end, the Lamb of God established a new covenant, a never before known relationship with humanity, in the Eucharistic Banquet of the Last Supper.

It is in offering Himself as our spiritual food that our Crucified Master has made of Himself the very means of sharing in His own life. Through this sacred banquet, the Risen Lord fills the soul with grace, helps us remember his passion and gives us a pledge of our future glory - for in this sacrificial offering, faith brings us face to face with the mystery of His Blood poured out and His Body broken for our salvation.

On Holy Thursday, this is expressed in the ritual acts of the Last Supper - where, by Jesus's own words, the ministry of a priest makes bread and wine the very Body and Blood of the Lord in such a way that we who partake in these gifts also mysteriously participate in the life of His Human Soul and Divine Nature. Christ Himself would ratify these sacred actions by offering Himself with complete love and thanksgiving to the Father by humbly accepting the full vent of our hostility to God.

The Apostles received the power and authority to continue this sacrificial offering in the life of the Church and they past this power and authority on to presbyters as their successors in this ministry. Thus, the ministerial priesthood is drawn from the priesthood of Christ to serve the baptismal priesthood - especially by offering the Eucharistic liturgy which is the source and summit of our whole life of grace, including the mysterious of Christian prayer.

This is why every priest bears a special relationship to the Eucharist. This sacrament of sacrifice, of communion and of presence characterizes the priestly existence of the ordained - they minister to offer sacrifice, to build communion, and to unveil the presence of Christ saving His people from their sins.  In this way, each priest is an image of God the Father - just as the Father gives us everything when He gives us His Son, a priest has only fully grown into his own vocation when he gives everything to give us Christ.

The secret of restoring the priesthood is to adore Christ in the Blessed Sacrament on their behalf. The more we pray for them to plunge more deeply into this mystery, the more the Lord can work to heal the many wounds our broken society and ecclesial divisions have caused them. We should not be alarmed if today we are aware of priests and bishops who have betrayed, denied and abandoned the Lord - all but one of those at the Last Supper did no less. Instead, we should thank God for the Beloved Disciple in our midst. This is the one who stands at the foot of the Cross come what come may. This is the one who out runs everyone else to the empty tomb. We must pray with and for such holy priests whenever we find them. We must remain constant in our prayers for the others until Christ is able to restore those who have scattered under tribulation.

Finally, the Word of the Father left us an example in washing the feet of his Apostles. Instead of using religion and the priesthood for worldly power and influence, what the Great High Priest has given us and sealed by His suffering and death is to be used in humble service of one another. He has enabled us to be the guardians of each other's dignity. So even our feet, the Living God has elected to wash with His own hands.  What is lowest is tenderly bathed by Him who is highest. The mandate of charity has the form of supreme humility.  There is no other way to love. To share in Christ's Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity means to allow one's whole existence to draw its sustenance from this humility and to be utterly formed by it.  In this divine humility, we contemplate what it means for us to share in his Divine Life.

April 6, 2019

The Silent Kiss of the Soul

Jesus reveals the Father to us in  adoration and He wants us to know that the Father is always at work - loving, healing, restoring, sanctifying and transforming our humanity in an infusion of Divine Love. This is why the Son wants us to know the Father: that we might allow ourselves to be baptized the immensity of the Father's love. This is where we belong - hidden deep in this unfathomable love. It should evoke adoration - the kiss of our soul given to God. In such a kiss, the soul surrenders its whole life over and abandons itself without reserve. Such a kiss thrills the heart of the whole Trinity and unveils the solemn greatness of humanity. That is why with every breath and heartbeat, Word made flesh poured Himself out - doing the works of the Father for us and adoring the Father because of the Father's goodness but also rendering adoration, the kiss of His soul to the Father, on our behalf.  To say that these were the works of His Father is to say that these were works of the Son's divine obedience in human flesh that flooded the world with a life - a life rejected, but in Him undaunted.

Until His death, Christ's every work surged with new life so that in His resurrection, we might draw our life from each them. Reflecting on even the most mundane and ordinary of Jesus's actions, this is to have flow into us a readiness to respond to the Father's slightest desire with astonishing generosity and thoughtful care. And the Son knows the desires that live in the depths of the Father's love as wellsprings that can never be exhausted - and so He never tired of adoring His Father and abandoning everything to Him with complete thanksgiving.  And the Father knows His Son, delights in Him, and hands everything over to Him. Each of the Lord's works are filled with this exchange of delight and thanksgiving, of handing over and abandonment, of a circumcession of love and truth, of mutual possession and surrender possible because the Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father.

What was disclosed in even the most unnoticed acts of the Lord was an indomitable trust and confidence. The kiss He offered his mother. The smile He offered a stranger. The hope He offered to those who did not even know that they had lost it. The origins of this confidence were more ancient than humanity - but from this ancient source, humanity finally draws forth its deepest truth. With every decision, Christ His Sacred Heart unveiled this transforming infusion of overflowing Divine Trust until through His Heart pierced, the same trust surged to flow into every heart ... even the heart furthest away from His love. A new beginning was afforded each us from this Sacred Spring and the prayerful drink from it.

Through prayer, the Cross becomes the key that unlocks the meaning of every action of Christ. A prayerful thought tastes how the moment in which Christ acted could not contain the wonder that the work of the Father evokes. The sigh of faith ponders a glory too great for this world unveiled in the obedience of Christ. Eyes closed with reverence even glimpse the hidden secret about humanity in the Lord's every effort. The vulnerable stillness discovered on bended knee hears each word of wisdom, sees each healing, marvels over each miracle. Contemplative reading of the Bible searches for what is signified in each moment of Christ's life and knows without knowing something so much greater than the limits of the words can show. With unrelenting purpose, this surge of the heart follows the mysteries signified in each of those revealed moments until they crescendo upon the Cross. When brought to this threshold of the Father's heart, the ear of one's own heart can even hear the Lord's last wordless cry echoing. The meaning every work of Christ's life resounds in this sacred place where the silence of a soul kisses the silence of the Cross.

March 31, 2019

Rejoice in the Lord

Rejoicing in the Lord is a source of strength. As we strive to discipline ourselves and convert from sin, it is easy to be distracted by our failures and weaknesses.  Shame is a heartless task master and our inadequacies are often easier to find than Divine Providence. Yet, God is always there for us - more present to us than we are to ourselves, anxious that we might not delay, but God home.  What most defines who we are is not our voids, or foolishness, or inability to meet the ideals that we set for ourselves. The holiness of God is not a mystery that lends itself to our efforts at idealization. It is pure gift, freely given, from a Divine Wellspring of inexhaustible love and concern - ours for the asking, if only we will ask with humility and love.  Rather than caving into anxiety or depression because we do not measure up to the bar we have set to ourselves - climb out of the mud of self-pity.  Turn away from the pigsty of self-accusation. Rebuke the inner voices that would have you believe that God is not waiting for you to come home. Instead, search for God whose gentle voice calls to you in the silence of prayer. He watches for your coming and awaits you with an immense joy. Set out under the Standard of the Cross and let the Good Shepherd's rod and staff guide you home. Enter through the Gate of faith in Christ and find shelter under the banner of love. Let the Father welcome you with rings and robes and lead you into the feast He has prepared for you. Nothing has been held back. Everyone is invited. Rejoice that your brother has made his way back to life too - for in the Father's house, there is no more reason for sorrow.