October 29, 2010

Jesus - Our Access to God

Jesus is access to the Father, the bridge to heaven, the road to hope.  Faith in Him, this is to believe that He is fully God and fully man, that he died for our sins and is risen from the dead, that He is present to each one of us personally even when He seems completely absent, that He called us all to be one in Him even in the face of our divisions.  Most of all, faith in Jesus is to let his longing capture our hearts.  For He longs for us.  This is what is revealed on the Cross.  This is why the only way to Him is the Cross.  We go to the Cross by faith, faith which renounces sin, endures trial, and is tested: in prayer, in work, in service to God, in loving others, in suffering sickness, in rejection, in persecution, in the face of death.  Whenever we go to the Cross, his longing is produced in us by the purifying fire of his Holy Spirit - and when we surrender to this loving action, there is nothing He cannot achieve in our lives.  Bound to Him, our cross with His, He raises us to the Father.

October 28, 2010

Francis Xavier Nguyen Thuan - Road to Hope

Cardinal Thuan was just declared venerable on October 22. A priest of Vietnam, he was into police custody in 1975 only months after being named the coadjutor archbishop in Saigon. Thirteen years later, nine of those in solitary confinement, he was released from prison into house arrest and then expelled from his native land in 1991. He served the Church in Rome until his death in 2002. While in prison, anxious for his flock, he found a way to sneak messages to those entrusted to his care. Many of them are challenging:

"Is your life merely a continuous chain of events with time for sleeping, for rising, for eating, for study, for work, for relaxation, watching television, or reading newspapers? If there is not unifying element to your life, it will be meaningless. That element is the love of God. With it your life will change and all your actions will testify to God's presence within you."

And even more poignant:

"If you do not advance along the Road to Hope or aim at holiness, you belong to neither the younger nor the older generation, but to the generation of the dead. How wonderful and attractive it would be if, in this age of weakness, there should arise a generation of saints! God desires this, and you should desire it for your own life."

The Road to Hope, Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2001. p. 152-153

October 27, 2010

A Sacrifice to God - Guigo the Carthusian and St. Paul

Almost a thousand years ago, a group of men built a monastery above Grenoble in the Carthusian Mountains and dedicated themselves to following the Lord in the tradition of the early desert fathers of Egypt.   In that dark and cold wilderness, they wanted to live their lives as an offering to the Lord.  They understood that the one who gives his life to God is never outdone in generosity.  The Lord fills such a person with his own life, a life offered for the Glory of the Father and the Salvation of the World. This view of life is not original to the Carthusians.  It is a fundamental truth in all Christian spirituality.   It is why St. Paul wrote the Galatians that it is no longer he who lives, but Christ who lives in him.  The Carthusians knew this same truth, and because of their intimacy with Christ, even though they had very little interaction with the rest of society, they were credited with bringing the warmth and light of the East to France.

For Christians, life is a precious gift, one that should be treasured.  We show how grateful we are for the gift of life when we live it to the full.  And, the paradoxical secret of living life to the full is to offer it as a sacrifice of love.  Both the Apostle and the Hermit were convinced that faith in Christ Jesus makes such a sacrifice possible.

"Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, your spiritual worship."
Romans 12:1

"As you are farseeing, careful, learned and most acute, take care to save the little bit of life that remains still unconsumed, snatch it from the world, light under it the fire of love to burn it up as an evening sacrifice to God.  Delay not, but be like Christ both priest and victim, in an odor of sweetness to God and to men."
Guigo the Carthusian to the servants of the Cross (trans. Thomas Merton, Charterhouse of the Transfiguration, 2006)

October 26, 2010

Karol Wojtyla - the Man of Will

"Love and move inwards, discover your will."   Through poetry, John Paul II explores three kinds of men - the emotional, the intellectual and the volitional.   He describes the limitations of emotions and thought when it comes to really living life.  Can the man of emotion, so caught up in the enthusiasm of love, embrace the distance between hearts that must be entered into with reverence?  Can the man who lives out of his head really appreciate the charm, variety and adventure of life?   When it comes to following the Lord, sometimes we think too much.  Sometimes we must act even when we feel nothing.  Against unbridled emotions and cold thought, he holds up the one who lives by making the right choice.  Such a person is free to live by love.  The end of this meditation says a lot about his own character and the secret of his faithfulness to the Lord:

Man of Will

Colourless moment of will yet heavy as piston's drive,
or sharp as a whip,
a moment that, on the whole,
encroaches on nobody --
or only on me.
It doesn't ripen like fruit, out of feeling,
or emerge from thought,
it just shortens the road.
When it comes I must lift it up
and this I do, on the whole.

No place for heart and thought,
only the moment exploding
in me, the cross.

A poem by John Paul II in his Collected Poems translated by Jerzy Peterkiewcz (Random House, 1979, 1982) p. 87.

October 25, 2010

The Beginning of Christian Prayer

Jesus’ last cry from the Cross is the beginning of Christian prayer. How can we ignore the connection between what St. Paul says is the Holy Spirit groaning in us and this wordless cry of the Word made flesh? The Holy Spirit, the very Soul of our souls, pours out Christ’s prayer in us, especially in those moments when the Lord seems furthest away, when the very meaning of life seems lost. Christ cries out in us in our broken poverty, suffering this with us so that even the most severely sick, those right at death’s door, can find Him. When the cry of our hearts is taken up by the cry of his heart – this is prayer. St. Therese of Lisieux explains that this is a cry of recognition and love, a cry that embraces not only joy but every trial, even the most crushing defeats. For in this cry of faith, Christ is recognized, his love known, his joy tasted, and the cup of his suffering shared. 

The prayer of those who believe in Jesus is not their own - by a wholly simple movement of love they participate in the deepest yearning of the Lord's own heart.  That is why cultivating silence, self-possession and interior recollection are all so important.  Only faith guided by love can enter deep into the heart of the Lord - can find the heart of the Lord the depths of one's own poverty.  And He discloses the most beautiful truths to those who persevere in seeking Him.  They come to rest in knowing Him and in knowing all things in Him.  But what strange rest - for those who taste it find themselves caught up in the superactivity of divine love!  This kind of rest constantly breaks forth in new acts of compassion and concern.  This rest bursts forth with Jesus's thrill in the goodness of the Father.   This rest plunges into the very heart-ache of Christ for those who will not hear his voice.  Words fail.  This is why the great doctors of prayer describe it as a rain storm, a wild fire, a gentle breeze, blairing trumpets, delicate melodies, a loving light, fire in the night, eternity begun and still in progress.

For those who open their hearts to this kind of prayer, the movements of His heart are the gravitational force for their whole existence - in Christian prayer, the heart moves into the orbit of the One crucified by love.  Every time one dies to oneself, every small act of obedience to the Lords voice, joins us to the mystery of crucified love - the only place where human poverty and God's mercy can embrace.  Because of the Cross, Christians can finally pray in a communion of real friendship with the living God. The disciple of Christ's prayer discovers in this friendship he is totally understood and begins to understand, he is exceedingly loved and so begins to learn to love in return.

October 21, 2010

Prayer and Creation

Christian prayer is rooted in creation because the true Christian accepts the fundamental goodness of God's work.    Ancient Christian thinkers loved to ponder this point.  For example, Dionysius Areopagite taught how the Lord created the world with a diversity aimed at manifesting his own incomprehensible goodness and inexhaustible glory.  Such faith recieves the world as a gift - and the more profoundly this gift is recieved, the purer and deeper its ability to give thanks. Christian prayer drinks in the manifold diversityof creation and discerns in the harmony of the things that exist Someone who is love.  Here, St. John ofthe Cross believes that even inanimate objects can be messangers that wound the soul with God's love -- for mystics like him, creation becomes an invitation, an ever unfolding epiphany of a surprising truth, a deeply stirring theophany knocking at the heart.
This is especially true of the human person, the particular man or woman, son or daughter, parent or child entrusted to me and you right now by God.  The path to God is not by a method that takes me away from them or raises me above the struggles of our frail humanity - it is through the Cross, and the Cross alone, which God has given me the privilege to help them carry.  But this Cross cannot be carried without prayer - so lets pray for one another.  Whoever you are, what you are, in all your suffering splendor is irrepeatably precious, for you too are part of his great work - and it is God's will that you not perish, even if you stand at the threshold of death.  Because He has entered our world with the desire to save us, our hidden struggles are not senseless, our personal plight not unnoticed. 

The Author of Creation, by becoming one of us, has shown us the path to become fully ourselves, to real human freedom, to the greatness of our humanity.  It is the path of humility, of accepting we are not God and need God.  We who are limited, frail and vulnerable - we who struggle not to deem equality with God something to be grasped at - all this struggle is uniquely yours and mine, an unrepeatable creative work which we possess when we, like our crucified God, empty ourselves.  Behold, the greatness of the humanity entrusted to us individually and together.  You who yearn for God, who struggle to be true to Him, your goodness and nobility are most clearly manifest in that inner poverty that God cannot resist and yearns to fill with his love - yes, you yourself, He wills to live forever with Him. 

October 18, 2010

Priesthood Needed: even in a world that deems it irrelevant

At the beginning of an address to seminarians, Pope Benedict observes that the world will always need the priesthood because, no matter how advanced the culture, people always need God:

"When in December 1944 I was drafted for military service, the company commander asked each of us what we planned to do in the future. I answered that I wanted to become a Catholic priest. The lieutenant replied: 'Then you ought to look for something else. In the new Germany priests are no longer needed'. I knew that this 'new Germany' was already coming to an end, and that, after the enormous devastation which that madness had brought upon the country, priests would be needed more than ever.
     Today the situation is completely changed. In different ways, though, many people nowadays also think that the Catholic priesthood is not a 'job' for the future, but one that belongs more to the past. You, dear friends, have decided to enter the seminary and to prepare for priestly ministry in the Catholic Church in spite of such opinions and objections. You have done a good thing.
     Because people will always have need of God, even in an age marked by technical mastery of the world and globalisation: they will always need the God Who has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, the God Who gathers us together in the universal Church in order to learn with Him and through Him life's true meaning and in order to uphold and apply the standards of true humanity. Where people no longer perceive God, life grows empty; nothing is ever enough".

October 12, 2010

The Grace of Baptism and the Jordan River

On our pilgrimage last summer, we went to the Jordan River, a spot north of where John baptized Jesus. While we renewed our baptismal promises, other Christian groups from around the world came for baptisms. It was so beautiful. Christian prayer leads to and flows out of the grace baptism bestows. This is why for Catholics our prayer begins and ends with the sign of the Cross we recieved at baptism. This sign of our faith, this sign of our baptism, reminds us of our promises by which we are bound to the Lord and at the same time, it reminds us of God's promise, the Gift of the Holy Spirit - the Spirit of God dwelling in us as in a temple. This means through our faith and by the action of the Church at baptism, each of us becomes a place where God is known and loved in such a way that he can be given true spiritual worship through our very bodies when we offer them - and everything we do with them - as a sacrifice to God.  This gift animates Christian prayer to make it effective and it transforms Christian life to make it acceptable.

October 1, 2010

The Vocation of St. Therese

I am gong to make you smile:  in my childhood I dreamed of fighting on battlefields.  When I was starting to learn the history of France, the story of Joan of Arc's exploits delighted me.  I used to feel  the desire and the courage to imitate her.  It seemed to me that the Lord destined me too for great things.  I was not mistaken.  But instead of voices from Heaven calling me to combat, I heard in the depths of my soul a voice that was gentler and stronger still:  the voice of the Spouse of virgins was calling me to other exploits and more glorious conquests, and in the solitude of Carmel I understood my mission was not to crown a mortal king but to make the King of Heaven loved, to conquer for Him the kingdom of hearts.
Letter to Maurice Belliere, April 5, 1897, trans. Patrick Ahern