November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving and Forgiveness

Thanksgiving takes a kind of courage that comes from above.  This is because real thanksgiving is not limited to assenting to the fact that we owe God a debt of gratitude.  Nor is it a vague wish or sentimental feeling that we indulge.  It is not merely tolerating one another around a common table while judging one another in our hearts. True thanksgiving is evoked by God's immense and faithful love, and it wants to render Him a return for what He has done for us.

The hidden immensity of God's love evokes a thanksgiving that implicates one's whole life in a deep and expansive solidarity. The meal that we share is only a sign of this tender movement toward real friendship. The Church visibly expresses this invisible reality. This communion of hearts tends toward a loving union deeper than differences in opinion. This kind of thanksgiving means to surmount even those grievances that we struggle to forgive.

This is true even when the call of God's love leaves us confounded. Because so much is hidden from us and his ways are so mysterious, we might even be tormented by a secret concern that we someone who we love has fallen into a void that is beyond His reach. Or else, that we have fallen into it ourselves. In the face of such difficult feelings, bearing with one another may seem impossible. Yet if we give God our hidden trials, with God's help, we can always find new ways to build up one another.

The mysterious faithfulness of God's love evokes a gratitude that is faithful. When we have been touched by His love, we want to give thanks for Christ's faithfulness to us unto death.  This compels us to be reconciled with one another, no matter the cost.  God is always ready to free us. He is waiting for us to make a simple act of faith. He waits for us to choose to believe that His merciful love is greater than our misery, greater than our inability to love, greater than our own personal evil and even the evil at work in the world. When we cry out with this kind of faith, He always acts with great power.

The Holy Spirit reveals in prayer how the love of the Father gives the courage and the motive to hold out the hand of friendship once again, to forgive, to ask for forgiveness. To forgive as the Father has forgiven us through the blood of His Son, this is true thanksgiving! Thanksgiving rooted in this effort opens up the path to perseverance with one another out of reverence for Christ. 

Granted this kind of gratitude is a very high standard - but to strive for it is to avail ourselves a foretaste of heaven.  As imperfect as our own efforts at thanksgiving are, the Father delights in them, treasuring each one as if it were the most important and most solemn moment of our lives -- as indeed it is. To know this delight of the Father is to participate in the joy of Christ's own sonship. In this, we glimpse the even greater homecoming awaits us.

This kind of thanksgiving is a great heart to heart, the most intimate exchange of secrets: the secrets of a human heart and the deep secrets of the Trinity are pledged and completely given. Such profound things lead to and flow from the greatest thanksgiving of all - our Eucharistic sacrifice. In this, our heart ache and His coincide. There are no words to express how much God treasures this solidarity. It is the very reason that the Word became flesh.  In this true thanksgiving, the secret concerns of God become our own concerns just as He has made our secret concerns the concerns of His own heart.

November 13, 2016

Christian Contemplation and God's own Little Ones

Christian contemplative prayer is a prayer that "sees" but what it sees is sometimes painful. Earlier this weekend, Archbishop Gomez reminded us that there are whole families that are afraid of the future of these uncertain times, that there are even children who live in fear. He was referring to specifically to the children of immigrants for whom He shares a particular solidarity and bond. His voice is so important for all of us to listen to on this last day of the Year of Mercy -- for today is not the last day that we must be generous with the stranger in our midst. In fact, we will be held accountable before God for precisely how we respond to the plight of those who live among us now.

If we really had the courage to think about it, our callousness today is not limited to questions of immigration or the latest election results. Any society in which babies are not safe in a mother's womb is a society in which anyone who is vulnerable is at risk. The stakes are high for us as a people. Just as what happens in the womb determines the course of society, so too how we treat our children (whether born or unborn) determines who we are. If only we could face this, then we would remember how to treat our neighbor, even the undocumented ones. In the meantime, we have passed laws to promote all forms of insobriety and intoxication-- a culture of escape from self-torment.

Do not be dismayed by callousness or escapism -- Christ has come to save us even from this. Against our own self-hatred, our faith in the Just Judge reminds us that we do not have to be the fanatical zealots of the latest political cause. If we turn to the Son of God, we do not have to demean ourselves before the altars of social progress and material wealth. If we embrace the Word of the Father, we do not have to indulge frenzied fits of social nihilism. If we will accept the gift of His Heart given for us, we do not have to give our hearts to heartless programs.

Christian contemplation prayer allows us to access the very Heart of God, and in the Heart of the Trinity, we discover a point of entry into the heart of our neighbor.  This is because the deeper that one goes into the mystery of prayer, the more familiar with the deep things of God one becomes.  What does contemplative prayer "see" in the immensity of God's presence?  In the fullness of God there lives an abiding love for humanity, for each person in the unique exigencies of his and her own real life situations.

The prayerful heart knows that the Lord's love for each one of us is a particular and unrepeatable love - as manifold in its expressions as the variety of beings that He has summoned into existence.  Because the Almighty Father treasures each of his creatures in unrepeatable and unique ways, the soul that prays becomes vulnerable to the overflowing intensity of this same divine tenderness. This is why a heart truly steeped in prayer cannot be indifferent to the fear of little children and of families. It feels moved into action to relieve the burden that God's own little ones suffer.

Invisible and more powerful than anything that can be felt, prayer allows Eternal Love to blow forth like a wind or a breath. From the Father and the Son this Holy Wind blows through our cry of faith into the deepest crevices of our personal existence and out to the very ends of the world around us. An elaborate harmony of astonishing mutual recognition and tender empathy, this Hidden Mystery rushes into our own secret sorrows and fears to make His home with us. In ways of which we are hardly aware, but that make all the difference, the Uncreated Gift of the Father and Son bows our very spirit in adoration while lifting it up with a joy that nothing can take from it. Our sorrow and fear become His and His joy and hope become ours.

The Trinity leads us out of ourselves, our own self-occupation, and into the love of the Father for His whole work of creation and every person in it.  As we see how much He wants to save each of our neighbors, we learn to ache with the same ache that lives in the deep in the Mystery of God. The more we are implicated in this movement of love, the less we are able to be indifferent to the plight of our neighbor.

To be silenced by the immensity of God, to be baptized into the three-fold personal presence of the Most High, this is the mystery of contemplative prayer, of a prayer that "sees." Such deep prayer joins us to the suffering of all those with whom God has implicated Himself. This heart to heart can in a single instant completely convince the soul of its true worth, and, in the same moment, bind it to the plight of its neighbor in way that it cannot not act.  The realization dawns - the heart knows the secret that God knows -- no longer alienated, its own misery has become a rendezvous with the One crucified by Love and with all the little ones that He entrusts to it along the way. 

November 8, 2016

Be Not Afraid!

We are voting on the Feast Day of Saint Elisabeth of the Trinity -- and this curious coincidence strikes me as an act of Divine Providence.  During her lifetime, though she was a Carmelite Nun, and thus, some what removed from political affairs, she was deeply concerned for France and for her city of Dijon. Now, from heaven and on her feast day, she can only be praying for America on this important day of decision. She would want us to know that no matter the outcome, the all-loving presence of God is among us and at work in our midst. Even in the face of extreme injustice (and she and her community faced this too), the mercy of God prevails if we hope in Him.

On this point, she deeply influenced another saint who has a message of hope.  During his ministry, John Paul II invited us to find the courage to cross the threshold of hope.  On this day of decision, we are invited again to cross this threshold.  Although we now live in a society where the last embers of Christendom have died out and a boorish culture of dehumanizing aggression  has gained its foothold, God is still very much at work in our midst.

God has entrusted America with what John Paul II called "a noble destiny" and the pope connected this high calling to the affirmation of human dignity and freedom, especially the liberty to worship God. God, however, carefully works within our personal freedom to accomplish his plan. As people of faith, as we cast our votes, we give God room to work so long as we choose to live and even vote in His presence, as men and women who choose mercy, life and truth.

So today we cast our vote with the help of heaven, and heaven has not abandoned us -- but is indeed very concerned and very involved in the affairs of our world.  Only, from Heaven, there is a clearer vision of Divine Providence, even as He works in hidden ways.  Lets let this light of heaven shine on our decision and guide us in our choices --

Saint Elisabeth of the Trinity and Saint John Paul the Great, pray for America and pray for us!

For more on Saint Elisabeth, click here.

October 13, 2016

Pilgrimage to the Canonization of Elisabeth of the Trinity - Mystic of Dijon

On Thursday October 13, after an interview with Father Mitch Pacwa on EWTN the day before, I began the long flight to Rome. (Click here to see the interview.) My trip is going to be a little bit of an adventure - but what is a pilgrimage if there is no adventure to it?

As a academic, my travels are often determined by the lowest cost fare that I can find. This time, it was Turkish Airline.  I have never flown this particular airline but I am convinced that this is unfolding in accord with Divine Providence.  So I am flying to Rome via Istanbul -- I cannot help but think of the deep wounds of our times, and that, perhaps, part of the reason the Lord has permitted this journey through Turkey is that I remember to pray for my persecuted brothers and sisters throughout the Middle East, and that I also pray for Muslims, during this difficult moment of history.

My fellow pilgrim was to be Richard Ziegman who works in a hospital down in Southern Colorado. Elisabeth of the Trinity has been a great consolation to him through the years and he told me that he had to make this pilgrimage no matter what.  But today, God revealed He had other plans. There were complications with his flight so that he never made it here to LAX.

There are other pilgrims who I will meet in Rome if it is God's will.  For example, EWTN will carry the canonization live.  I am hoping to connect with their team in Rome.  We will see happens.

Also, my good friend Kris McGregor with Discerning Hearts will be onsite. She was tremendously helpful in helping get out the message and mission of Elisabeth of the Trinity through a series of podcasts she and Mariam Guttierez (the voice of Elisabeth of the Trinity) conducted with me - first on Saint Elisabeth’s retreat she wrote for her sister, “Heaven in Faith” and second on her retreat for her Carmel “Last Retreat.”

There is also some of my former students, now priests, studying at the Pontifical Universities. We promised to meet for pranzo. I believe that I will meet many more friends in Rome — friends of Elisabeth of the Trinity who have been touched by the inheritance she left us: faith in the all loving God intimately present in the soul.

To find out more about Saint Elisabeth of the Trinity, I highly recommend a book by Sr. Giovanna della Croce translated by Julie Enzler A Life of Praise to God. Sr. Giovanna was a intellectual whose own conversion was influenced by Saint Teresa Benecticta of the Cross. After she entered Carmel, she began to write about this great martyr and also discovered the writing of Elisabeth of the Trinity.  Her book, translated by Julie Enzler, a wife, mother and instructor at the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, introduces the life and some of the most beautiful passages of the Mystic of Dijon.
The Carmelite Sisters of Alhambra will be offering a prayer service before the Mass of  Thanksgiving for the Canonization of Elisabeth of the Trinity at 3:30pm on November 6 at St. Teresa's Parish in Alhambra. Their music is really edifying, so I hope you can come. 

October 2, 2016

The Liturgy and the New Evangelization - Los Angeles, 2016

The beauty of Christ continues to draw men and women to the Church today just as much as it has at any other period in the history of the Church.  This dynamism of the Lord remains the most vital means to connect with people today and preach the Gospel anew -- not only to those who have not heard it, but also to those who have heard it, but not yet entered into a personal encounter with the Lord.  This beauty is most fully disclosed in the liturgy of the Church when the whole Body of Christ gathers for the glory of God and the salvation of the world.

Archbishop Jose Gomez, Bishop Elias Zaidan and other lecturers introduced and developed this idea in presentations that explored the Liturgy and the New Evangelization. The audience was a group of theologians, artists, liturgists, architects, musicians, students and seminarians from around the world and throughout the United States. The gathering at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on September 29, 30 and October 1 was for the 21st annual conference of the Society for Catholic Liturgy.   Yet, what happened went beyond simply the scholarly presentation of academic papers -- instead, in the liturgies and the fellowship, the personal encounters and the conversations, a renewed sense of mission and purpose was born.

The weekend started with Archbishop Gomez celebrating a pontifical mass for the feast of the archangels.  Surrounded by saints on tapestries, led by wonderful choir (thanks to Dr. Paul Ford) and served by seminarians from Saint John's Seminary, mass started with a wonderful procession of priest members of the society and other concelebrants from the Archdiocese.  His homily, about how we should be mindful of just how present the angels are to us, was complemented by the angel motif decorating the Cathedral. After mass, he provided the opening address of the conference in which he spoke of the pastoral importance of popular piety as a means of drawing individuals and families into the beauty of the liturgy.

In particular, the Archbishop presented his ideas within the context of creating a atmosphere of encounter and relationship through our awareness and appreciation of cultures.  He observed that a growing plurality of cultures is the actual pastoral situation of the Church in the United States.  Rather than ignoring cultural diversity, the Church has always treasured it and today, in the New Evangelization, this is now our effort too.  This means, in particular, a generous attentiveness to and respect for the various forms and expressions of devotion that live in the culture of the people we serve, especially as these are observed in families.  Living in each expression of genuine devotion is a grace that can create a relationship between those who do not otherwise practice their faith and  the life of the Church.  Holding up and joyfully celebrating the piety of the people can become a threshold for those looking for answers and hungry for the truth, a threshold to Christ in the Eucharist. 

Bishop Elias Zaidan also spoke of the need for a deeper connection in the Church, especially a connection with Christians who live where the Church is persecuted.  After celebrating the first Maronite Liturgy ever offered in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, he explored how we live in a time with religious rights are under attack around the world in every nation and society. He insisted however that as Christians we believe in something, in Someone, that no political or military power can ultimately overcome. In this context, he introduced the Maronite liturgy as a celebration of hope -- recounting that his Church has known religious persecution in a particular way even since the first days of its founding.  Yet the hope and joy of his people have not been diminished -- instead, through worship, they have found strength to be faithful witnesses to the Lord.  

Friday evening, participants were treated to the powerful documentary by Lannette Turicchi "John Paul II: Prophet for our Time."  With original footage and first person witness accounts, the witness of the saint who initiated the New Evangelization was brought to life for participants. Afterward, a powerful silence filled the room that helped us think about greatness of what God is calling us to do today. While it is easy to become discouraged with some of the cultural struggles we face today, the voice of John Paul II echoed, "Do not be afraid to open wide the doors of Christ."

The Society also helped host a solemn high mass in the extraordinary form at Our Savior Parish at the USC Caruso Catholic Center for students and others throughout the area.  When we arrived, a wonderful choir led by Jeff Ostrowski was practicing outside while priests from the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter were preparing to offer the mass.  The liturgy was truly beautiful in every way and a couple of USC students I spoke to afterwards were deeply touched -- amazed by the beauty that they had just experienced.  The homily itself offered a powerful catechesis on the Roman Canon as a fence around the truly holy, setting apart the sacred actions of the Mass for the glory of God and the salvation of the world.  

Several concurrent sessions explored many other powerful ideas.  These hopefully will be published by Antiphon, recently as a publication of CUA Press.  The texts for the presentations by Archbishop Gomez and Bishop Zaidan will also be available through the USCCB soon.