July 18, 2019

The Victory Disclosed in Christian Death

A war has been fought in heaven for the life and dignity of each man and woman so that in death all that is good, noble and true might not be taken from us but definitively restored forever. Indeed, the powers of death and corruption have been cast down and sent away empty. The lowly and those who hunger and thirst for justice have been raised on high. The Cross of Christ witnesses to the truth about holy humanity - sinful though we are, what defines us most in the end is not our failures and short-comings, but instead the inexhaustible love of God. In the voids, inadequacies, weaknesses, doubts and questions of our hearts, the Living God mercifully has made  His home and we can find Him there even when we feel completely alone and pushed beyond all our strength. 

What a great mystery into which we have been baptized! In this very mystery even the meaningless of death is plunged into the saving Truth of God. Born of the Virgin, the Word of the Father has shown Himself to us in the flesh so that we might live in His Spirit. In the communion of his Mother and the Disciple whom He loves, the Risen Lord has suffered our death so that we, even when we die, might rise to new life. To the astonishment of his Apostles, He remains with us even in the cold social darkness of this present culture of death so that this old dying world might still find a reason to hope - a light that cannot be overcome, a warmth that gives courage when courage is most needed, a saving connection that no power on heaven or earth or under the earth can ever take away. 

St. Irenaeus declares that the life of humanity is the vision of God. The Risen Lord shines forth with Eucharistic glory in the holy places of our faith.  The Word unveils His saving presence through His words in the Bible. He manifests his riches in the poorest of the poor.  He makes known his glory in the death of his beloved.  We can add that the victory of good over evil is discovered in this vision.  We can also add that the glory of new life shines in the heart on those who turn by faith to this contemplation.  We can even add that in the adoration that this vision evokes, we come to realize that the living God has taken our side and is raising us into the circumcession of that eternal life, love and truth that flows undaunted in the unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  

June 17, 2019

Mysterious Currents of the Trinity

The journey out of self and into God is long and arduous. This pathway traverses a bottomless abyss, and we row along unaware of the doom that threatens beneath us. Progress is measured only by a greater freedom to love - for only in love is the truth of our lives unfurled. The One God is not indifferent to our plight but will not force us as we make our way. Yet, His long forgotten love is the ocean on which we sail. So He subtly draws us with Love's own dynamism until we believe and choose to set our course by His voice.

The Lord is motivated only by His desire that we should not perish but instead come to know Him in the deepest and most personal way. In this excelling knowledge, eternal Friendship Himself offers the astonishing promise of true friendship. In the face of this tender and sincere offer, we discover our poverty: that deep dark hostility to God and the things of God. This abyss of death pulls at us and threatens to imprison us until nothing good, noble or true about our lives is alive at all. To be trapped in our own ego - this is to be already dead. Only the freedom to love beyond ourselves allows us to live. Here, before the mystery of death where our voids and inadequacies make themselves felt, we also discover grace.

We ask for help because this gift has evoked our prayer - that gift of new life won for us by Christ's passion and death. It is grace that enables us to struggle against our hostility to God. By sheer grace, we find that steep passage out of the prison of our own ego and into those open seas on which alone freedom to love is found.

If we think we are doing all the work because of the determination and perseverance the freedom to love demands, we are mistaken. All the trials, hardships, sacrifices and renunciations that love requires are only a frail response to a greater love already lavished on us. The Father carefully draws us by His Word and the Gift of the Holy Spirit into this hidden mystery. If we are timid and not confident in the immensity of His love, the Holy Spirit engenders a new confidence and the Word not only reveals why we should be confident in the Father, but communicates His own confidence in us, the confidence of a child of God.

So, the Trinity is patient and gentle, accomplishing the most delicate work even in our inconstancy and lukewarmness. We avoid, we delay, we put off. He waits, He runs, He embraces. With longing expectation, He orders events, even making use of catastrophes, so that, though we are unaware, we will suddenly find ourselves implicated in His love. Such are the deep currents of the Holy Trinity.

We set out on a peaceful sea and believe we have found peace until unexpected mighty swells take us under into depths we did not know existed - abysses deeper than death. We would never have desired to go into such difficult places, and yet our faith helps us realize that somehow this present heartbreak is good though that goodness seems hidden from our sight. Yet we believe -- for in these depths are found the heights of God's love - its length and breadth - cruciform dimensions too great for this frail world to hold.  And only here are we at last at rest in that peace for which we were made.

What a paradox - the Trinity takes away a certain peace that we thought we held secure to give another, more wonderful peace. He Himself holds us safe in this quiet stillness with an assurance more sure than death itself. For in these mysterious currents of the Holy Trinity, love's freedom fully lives.

June 15, 2019

The Radiance of the Bride - Source of Contemplative Prayer

The world may fear Fire from above, but not the Bride of Christ. For her, this Eternal Flame flashes down as torchlit sign of hope in the present moment - infusing the difficult circumstances that threaten humanity with those possibilities that eyes still subject to death cannot see. Hearts not satisfied with a half-lived life, not ready to settle for anything other than the truly authentic, need this source of contemplative prayer.  The radiance of the Bride comes from Heaven as a pure gift, and she shines with this resplendent peace precisely for those longing for the rushing stillness of a truly meaningful life.

The Church possesses the Light which contemplation seeks. As a dark cloud of accusing fingers rush forward claiming victim status in social myths indifferent to the innocent, the gentle dignity of truth remains the uncompromising standard of her heart, the only ground that she allows to bear her weight and the weight of that encounter for which she longs. Woe to those who preach another standard in her name and claim that such darkness is light- their myths entrap in self-contradiction putting at risk one's integrity and dignity.

All that is not chaste, simple, and obedient under the Light of the Church fails to find the footing that she offers. Sensational controversy, intrigue, and political maneuvering remain ignorant of even the passing shadow of her Great Mystery.  Calculated spin, social stratagems, and clever agendas can never access her deepest treasures. Instead, only a heart surrendered in truth to love can know that Surrender into which she has surrendered herself. Only a mind whose every thought is held captive by the ignominy of the Cross can know that unfamiliar brightness whose wound heals.

The Church is captivated and captivates by the uncreated Light unveiled in the suffering and risen humanity of the Lord. The Bride of Christ, in the warm radiance of this mysterious splendor, silently processes forward to Him who awaits her. She presses on in trust and confidence through the deep currents of humanity's doom, carrying a candle lit in the darkness of the world by that flaming Word who would not be dimmed.  He is the way - the way for humanity as a whole, and the way for each heart to whom He calls.

Illuminating this pathway for humanity, the Bride's faithful shadow discloses a true alternative to all social and psychological idealisms of our time. Her light is her own - it is Him, the Light - not a light of our time, but Eternal Light. Nihilisms of contemporary conventions, deprived of the Light that shines in the darkness, never lead out of the dark, no matter the supposed nobility of their cause. In the end, they betray, in slanted labyrinths of twisted thought, those enclosed in concentric circles of egoism.  Even here, if a heart will strive to seek Him, Christ's raised Lantern provides an escape. For she knows these dark prisons whom her Bridegroom harrowed and her pathway to Him takes her through those barred gates and locked doors - for nothing is denied her as she follows the footsteps of her Crucified Master.

In her maternal brightness, all that is good, noble and true about holy humanity is set aglow even if largely unrecognized save by some mysterious relief, if only momentary, from the ennui haunting the secure routines of a half lived life. Immaculate and holy by the Blood shed for her she shines. Though ravenous wolves violently tear at her to devour her children and render her fruitless, the brightness of her Shepherd fills her gaze. The constant object of malicious schemes, she knows not to yield even when engulfed in humiliation and utter failure to all earthly eyes. Yet, even as her most vulnerable members are falsely accused and slaughtered, she lives unvanquished and remains undeterred in her magnificent purpose until every drop of innocent blood is vindicated.

Consider this: countless of her conquerors now find themselves head bowed and kneeling before her Bridegroom. The blood of her witnesses evokes and conceives new life all the more that it is discounted and abused. Even as the world turns upside down, this Bride is ever confident in the Lamb that was slain for He is even more confident in her. This trust of the Bride protects the poor of spirit who take refuge in her. Thus, by the Fire that burns within her, Mother Church fiercely defies all worldly powers and rulers of darkness until terror overtakes them and the light of truth exposes the shame that they presumed would never be known. Here, repentance and the hope for humanity - ushered by fasting and welcomed by prayer, a chastisement that makes us whole because of the chastisement already suffered for our sake.

As she journeys in such saving brightness, she tenderly gathers in the wounded to heal and provide a little safe-harbor even as the harsh storm of secularism surges on every side. With words whose silent weight tip the scales in favor of the poor and humble, she sings canticles that reverberate farthest star of remotest galaxy with harmonies too beautiful for this world to hold. Reflected and magnified, Heaven's brilliant glory shines forth from her least movement, while with unrelenting determination she presses forward to what lies ahead. 

May 19, 2019

Contemplation and the Renewal of the Church

Contemplative prayer remains a largely untapped resource for the renewal of the Church. Many understand it to be no more than an esoteric or at most therapeutic exercise.  Others show little regard this spiritual activity or anyone who dedicates his life to this effort. Even still, this most simple and hidden movements of heart avails the world of a power too great for time and space to hold. This surrender to the surrender of God is the unseen spark the ignites the Church into a fiery icon of Divine Presence when light and warmth are most needed.

Contemplative prayer is a unifying reality that integrates our judgments and our desires, our being and our actions before the glory given to us by the Risen Lord. Some love to distinguish affective and intellectual modes contemplative prayer, and there is no harm in this as long as the sovereign freedom of the Most High is revered. On the other hand, a soul that resists truth is as deprived as a heart that will not be pierced in prayer.

While moments of truth and wonder may enflame a soul with love and other moments of divinized passion explode into love revealed in personal action, we make these distinctions only to humble ourselves before the life-giving work of the Holy Spirit and the self-communication of the Word. The Living God moves emotions with fear and trembling when He discloses His inexhaustible mystery. He baptized intelligence in understanding and knowledge when His eternal splendor baths the soul. His whole mystery impacts the mystery of our own hearts until the jubilation of this encounter is born  in our whole manner of life - its every moment aflame in glory and given over in thanksgiving.

How this happens is so unique for each of us, but the Good Shepherd leads each of us to the same verdant pastures and living springs. When we withdraw from noise of the mundane to take time for God, He guides us into his own great stillness. The terrain of this wilderness is open to ever deeper and more beautiful kinds of meaningful silence. Does our mind race with thoughts and distractions? Quieting ourselves before the Lord allows us to surrender all our judgments to Him so that He might hold every thought captive. Are we anxious about many things or crushed by worries? Stillness in His presence allows Him to calm the interior storms that threaten to rob us of peace, the peace that only He can give.  On such the frontiers to which He guides us, we finally find the freedom to leave our "self" and allow ourselves to be vulnerable to a still greater mysteries.

What happens when human freedom surrenders to the incomprehensible surrender of God? Prayer open to this mystery knows He gives Himself irrevocably in the measure that we welcome Him and the gift of His Presence is always at work, accomplishing the work of His Father. He does not come disembodied, a pure spirit, an idea. When the soul beholds the Risen Lord in faith, it is His whole mystery that is present: Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. His Body is One and this One Body is the Church - no one who encounters Christ ever encounters Him apart from His Body.

Because ecclesial and therefore, catholic, this contemplation is enfleshed - an encounter of our whole humanity with the Holy Humanity of the Lord. No matter our solitude or the depths of silence, the creative Word of the Father always comes through His Mystical Body the Church and, through the Church, makes our own bodies into living sacrifices, our true spiritual worship. Thus, in this actual renewal of the Church, each new and unrepeatable moment we give Him makes space in the world for Him to do something new, something that has never happened before and will never happen again.

He is a courteous guest. If we will only partially accept His presence, He holds back what we will not receive. If we take the time to show Him hospitality, He gladly remains with us, showering us with gifts that exceed the limits of our wildest imagination.  No matter how much time we pour out on Him diligent for His Heart's desire, it is never enough for all that He longs to accomplish in us and through us. Indeed, He has lavished us with so much more than we could ever deserve, and, even so, eagerly longs to pour out still more - such inestimable wonders to be enfleshed in our own humanity until His whole mystery is renewed in us for the salvation of the world.

May 17, 2019

The Archangel Gabriel to the Men of St. John's Seminary - a Commencement Poem


Salve, brothers of this New Day,

In-shadowed in early silences before first light,
Framed in Renaissance cloistered sight
Vestiges of Paradise cloaked in failing light
Palms and pines, rosemary and roses -- right
Reminders strewn of Him who before you lay.

Enter those Sienese walls of Catherine’s garden
Where mirrored Sphinx of Pietas find
Woman’s son offered, where tabernacled glories bind
Fast bended knees seeking unfamiliar sound
Of fiery words from Word aflame, where resound
Ache and wonder through yawning vastness within.




Before rising hymns of stained-glass sails.
Shot with splendor through mysterious painted veils,
Echoing heart-piercing shadows, secret radiances disclose
Priests – by whose mysterious ministry angelic choirs propose
That Silent Presence hastening to free with Love’s wound.


Here, under Byzantium sky, unfolds the battle for the hearts of men
Waged in mind, paid in flesh, and fought to free from sin
Those who have fallen yet strive to rise again
New martyrs of that banquet blessed, broken, given,
Blood amid palms and pines, rosemary and roses --
Charges forth the Lamb with His war arrayed forces.

Will you too step into the arena of life and for life stand?
Not with shadows, nor mere flesh, to contend
But against worldly powers and spiritual forces to defend:
When humiliated, stay unvanquished and fight, not yield;
When victorious, not on laurels sit lest for certain ruin;
Instead, for those littlest ones take courage wherein
To shield those unable themselves to shield;
For holy humanity, for Heaven’s Queen, for your true homeland.




Citizens of Heaven, on that ground of truth which alone can bear
The weight of your existence, as innumerable hosts process,
As cherubim and seraphim with Spirit and Bride profess,
As mysteries given on and under signs from above,
As born anew on silent canticles in each humble act of Love
That Bridegroom Who, by sacrifice blessed, broken stays
No spirit, no myth, but enfleshed -- for those whose feet He baths.
Call His Name on bended knee, a fellowship of lifted hearts breathing incensed air.

As day and life run their course and close their story
Renew again that oath that once you made in water 
To sail beyond sunsets to the shores of Our Father,
To sing with her who magnifies Who is blessed, broken, given - 
To offer a paternal blessing not your own, yes, Anointed One,
As priests in palms and pines, rosemary and roses.
For even on the remotest horizon courses
The eye of Him who at the sight of you, his son
Will run with robes, and rings, and endless glory.

Dean Anthony Lilles, May 13, 2019