April 29, 2012

Unexpected Horizons - Heaven in Faith Continues

Blessed Elisabeth of the Trinity helps those who want to pray enter deep within the Word of God.  Here we discover the wonderful and astonishing will of God for all creation, especially for each of us.  He has desires each of us to take up our part in His beautiful plan conceived before the world began, a plan that reaches beyond the end of time into the unexpected horizons of His love.  

What does God desire for us?  God wants our lives to be beautiful, to be full of life, filled with love.  Blessed Elizabeth believes that prayer is an essential part of this plan.  For her, prayer is reaching out to Jesus who is already reaching out to us - it leads to a tender embrace, a loving communion, a friendship with no end- this is the ultimate end of the plan of God, the splendor He desires to cover us in - not just in the future, but right now in this moment in time - which she describes as eternity begun and still in progress. 

Blessed Elizabeth explains: “God chose us in Him before creation, that we should be holy and immaculate in His presence, in love. “Our created essence asks to be rejoined with its principle”, The Word, “the Splendor of the Father, is the eternal archtype after which creatures are designed on the day of their creation.” This is ‘why God wills that, freed from ourselves, we should stretch out our arms towards our exemplar and possess it,” “rising” above all things “towards our model.” “This contemplation opens” The soul “to unexpected horizons.” 

Click here for Episode 13 Beginning to Pray: “Heaven in Faith” Day 7 Prayer 1 – 

I would like to thank Kris McGregor for conducting these interviews and producing them as well as Miriam Gutierrez for providing “the voice” of Blessed Elizabeth for this series.

April 27, 2012

The Simplicity of Faith - Heaven and Faith Episode 12

Blessed Elisabeth of the Trinity understood something beautiful about contemplation.  As a simple gaze of love on God in faith, this kind of prayer opens us to the simplicity of love, to an interior harmony, to an inner unity with ourselves which allows us to freely give ourselves in love.  This unity, this harmony, this new life comes from God and is in God.  This is because God through the Cross imprints us, touches us, kisses us with his very own divine simplicity.  The Mystic of Dijon believed that when we spend time seeking Him in the silence of our hearts, the One who is immensely simple offers us this loving touch, this holy kiss, that we might know again the simple greatness of our humanity.

Through his Word and by his Holy Spirit, the Father unites the powers of our soul in a work of love.  Through this simple movement of love He inspires, we learn to submit our thoughts, judgments, fantasies, dreams, desires, feelings and choices to Him.  We do this by forgetting all of this and giving ourselves wholly over to the simple acts of love He entrusts to us.  Love envelops us the more we surrender to Him in this way.  This is what we are doing  when we choose to spend time in loving attentiveness to his Presence within.  It is what we are expressing when we choose to implicate ourselves in the plight of those who suffer so that they too might know this exceeding love.

The One who is Incomprehensible and totally Transcendent dwells in our innermost being because in his Omnipotence He has chosen to make Himself that accessible to us.  It was at a great price that He chose to do this -- to the point of making Himself completely vulnerable to our hostility to Him.  Behold the enigma of the Cross where misery and mercy embrace once and for all.  By this mystery, the Most High God has made the lowliness of our hearts his heaven for no other reason than He loves each one of us in a unique and unrepeatable way.

Just as the Word came into the world in the flesh to destroy death, the Victor now comes into each of our hearts in the Power of the Holy Spirit.  He, the Bridegroom of our Souls, comes to free us from the personal hell we have hid ourselves in.  He comes because He did not create us for hell.  He is eager in this quest: to rejoice with us, to delight in us, and to be enamored by us.  Such is the irresistible power of the divine love we were fashioned to share.  He also aches over the complicated pride that attempts to block His simple love.  Yet no height or depth can resist His power - for His love is stronger than death, having descended deeper and ascended higher than all else that is.

The Perfecter of our Faith is come to free us from our bondage.   He opens before us the pathway to holy freedom.  Trust in the Risen Lord is how we journey on this road.  Such trust is born in every humble prayer and grace filled decision to let go of anything and everything that keeps us from Him.  This trust, this prayer, this grace imbued choice is given by gazing on Him in faith, even as we are imprisoned by our own complications, by our own bloated sense of self.

Contemplation, time spent in silence, careful scrutiny of the Presence of God in Word and Sacrament; this kind of prayer is vital for simplicity of life.  In gazing on the One who is recognized in the Breaking of the Bread, in making oneself present to the incomprehensible gift of his Presence, in making the God who thirsts the priority of one's heart, one discovers the secret by which irrational desires for lesser things lose their power.  The heart is pure, the eye single, each effort unified, every moment of life full.

Yet this kind of prayer involves great effort, difficult trials, and all kinds of purifying hardships.  As long as we are entertaining fantasies, as long as we are driven by what seems to satisfy, as long as we are given to little power games, as long as we are tormented by righteous indignation, as long as we wallow in resentment, as long as our hearts linger on what is not for the honor and glory of God; we are not gazing on the One who gave Himself up for us.  If such failure seems certain, more certain is the victory.

It is in the very center of our failures and inadequacies where He stands victorious. Even the faintest glimmer of the Lord's radiance draws us forward, through every darkness and void.  This Word is the Light that shines in our darkness and we must vigilantly seek this divine radiance to find our freedom.  He is the substance of our hope and we possess Him by cleaving to Him in faith.  By keeping our eyes fixed on His radiance, His victory is realized again and again in each concrete, here and now circumstance, no matter how overwhelming or impossible it seems.

Only the humble, contrite gaze of faith permits the Word to share His very life with us.  Indeed, the light of faith exposes the complications in our hearts for what they truly are.  When we see such things in the light of God's love, it is easier to repent, to rethink, to let go, to accept, to forgive, to hope.

God is love.  Love is immensely simple.  Cleaving to God by faith makes us simple too. Here, the saving truth really does free us from all that is not worthy of our dignity.  Here God's power raises us up and causes all that is simply wonderful about our frail humanity to shine.

Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity  takes her younger sister Marguerite through these powerful truths in the retreat she left for her.  To continue to follow my reflections with Kris McGregor on these beautiful teachings, please click here. 

April 24, 2012

The Light and Shadow of the Heart

The heart is a place of encounter, the innermost sanctuary of the human person. What a mystery this innermost sanctuary! Although we are closest to ourselves, we understand the wilderness of our own hearts least of all. Those who explore this landscape discover endless horizons covered in light and shadows, surrounded by God whether closed against Him or opened to Him.

The paradox of true self-possession is that it is realized in sharing our hearts with others, in being vulnerable, in being true in our friendships and dealings. The truth about the heart is only realized when it is open. We only know the truth about who we are when we give ourselves in love. For those who give themselves in love, this truth is received and all kinds of wonderful holy affections are born deep within that they did not know they could have.

Without the truth, the heart is a very dark place where rash judgments are made and malice conceived. Posed against the truth, sentimentalism and nostalgia are as much enemies as are resentment and bitterness. Such enemies confine the heart in the prison of one's own big fat ego. If the walls to this prison do not come down, there is no escape.

The heart is the prize that is at stake in the cosmic battle of good and evil. The battle for the heart is waged in the mind. We use our minds to pray because we want to lift up our hearts to God. Prayer opens our minds to the truth.

If we are to preserve what is most good, beautiful and true about our humanity, we must safe-guard the heart with the truth. The truth is the banner of the heart, the seal which protects what is most sacred about our lives. Truth is the royal road to freedom of heart, to the heart-felt joy this world cannot take away.

For those who pray, truth is revealed on the Cross. Christ Crucified is forever the new man who opens God's heart to man and He is God who reveals the truth of man to himself. To live under this saving truth means to constantly scrutinize our lives in the Light of the Gospel and in the Shadow of the Cross. Even more, it is to behold with wonder and adoration the splendor of this Shadow and Light across those limitless horizons which reveal the One in whose image the human heart is fashioned.

April 21, 2012

Opening our Hearts to the Word

How does the mystery of the Risen Lord, the Word of the Father, become part of one's own life? This question reveals the beautiful paradox that lives in God's work in our humanity and in our humanity's grace filled effort in God. Such questions point us to the great mystery - the Word made flesh.

John of the Cross points to this answer in his work Ascent to Mt. Carmel, Book I, Chapter 13.  He teaches that if we  really want to encounter the Lord, if we really want to find Him, we must resolve first of all to imitate Him in all things.  Then, he explains, if we are to be successful in our imitation, we must also carefully study the life of Christ out of devotion to Him.

This is where his doctrine gets tough.  He observes that when we study the life of Christ we discover that the Lord renounced every satisfaction that was not purely for the honor and glory of God. Saint John of the Cross believes we can enter into deep intimacy with the Lord if we will resolve to do only that which gives God glory and honor - which means renunciation of any delight or comfort which does not give glory to God.  

Most everyone questions this logic. Many are frightened by it to some degree. Few understand it. Even fewer live it.  

To really understand what St. John of the Cross is saying, we must go beyond a pre-critical guess.  The deeper mystery in this teaching is only unveiled if we consider who Jesus is to him and what he means when he invites us to study Christ's life.  What does it mean to study the life of Christ Jesus for St. John of the Cross?

St. John of the Cross believed that study of the Scriptures and contemplation, sacred reading and meditation, silent attentiveness to the Word and wonder filled exploration of sacred doctrine; that all of this must be an integrated effort of the heart.  He believed in a theology carried out on his knees and in constantly rendering himself vulnerable to the demands of the Gospel of Christ.  Such is the power of the Gospel: the more we encounter Christ, the more He animates our innermost being and transforms us in his love.  

St. John of the Cross describes the kind of study we should take up as "gazing" at the Lord with eyes of faith - a search for the eyes of the Lord who looks at us in love.  It is with this living hope that he himself searched for Christ in prayer and study, contemplation and constant conversion. Conversely, any study that does not ultimately lead to the interior peace that God produces is be a waste of time and a distraction.

Christ for him is the Word of the Father who has come as the Bridegroom of Creation -- the perfection of which is the Church Herself. Each soul that participates as a unique endpoint in this ecclesial life reconstituted as the People God, the Body the Bride of Christ. To live for the Bridegroom like this is to begin to live a life that is not one's own. It is to be animated with the life of Christ within.

The Eternal Word communicates everlasting life - wounding, slaying and raising us up all at once. Whoever He touches, by word and sacrament, by inspiration and presence, He wounds. The Word who was wounded for the sake of love wounds us with love. A soul so wounded wants to live by love and to die by love, to make an offering of self in love.  This is because a heart wounded by the Word aches to have been loved so much, and aches over how wonderful the One who so loves.

The Bridegroom gives such souls his own Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity to sustain such souls in these noble desires.  Anyone who has met the Bridegroom yearns for the wedding feast and for the wonderful things that God has in store for those who believe.  For those who ache for love of the Lord, the work of renunciation, of dying to oneself--this is as nothing.   What is love if there is no sacrifice and how do we love but at our own expense?

April 17, 2012

Our Great Act of Faith

Is one of the greatest spiritual diseases inflicting our age a lack of confidence in the love of God?   Confident as we are in technology, science and psychology, we are not able to bear with one another the way the generations before us were.   Our sacred promises unkept, our marriages broken, our children neglected, our dignity diminished: our faith in materialism has not given us confidence.  What has robbed us of our courage to stand fast in the midst of hardship, to believe in love in the face of the sin that afflicts us all?  

Death, sin, moral evil, physical and psychological suffering, contention even with those we most love, these signs of brokenness in our world thwart us and discourage our spirits.   We want to rebel against them or we feel overcome with despondency.   We also know that such temptations are not new, and that every man and woman who has gone before us had to face the same crossroads.  

The biggest difference between the people of faith who came before and us now is not the advancements we have made in science and technology but rather the wisdom they had and we have lost.  They knew that, whenever we try to rely on our own limited resources, such efforts are futile.  They were not so superstitious about the promises of material bliss as are we. Those people of faith also knew that God did not create us for futility.

Blessed Elisabeth of the Trinity was convinced that our great act of faith was to believe in the exceeding love of God, to believe that no matter what happens to us, we remain always enveloped in His exceeding love.  This kind of faith in which we abandon ourselves into God's hands and trust in Him requires that even after we have failed miserably in our efforts to love one another, we pick ourselves up and step out again.  It demands constant efforts at examining our conscience, conversion, repentance, and difficult sacrifices for the sake of love.  This faith demands that we constantly renounce discouragement and seek the courage that only God can give through prayer. 

We never give up on one another because God never gives up on us.  He loved us to the end and He gives us what we need to love one another to the end.   What is it we need?  Him, Himself!  For God is love -and it is his love in us that makes it possible for us to live by love.  Living by this love - this alone restores what we have destroyed for it unleashes a power greater than unkept promises.   Marriages, children and dignity have been saved by the Blood of Christ - His Cross is our source of courage.

For Episode 11 on my reflections on Blessed Elizabeth's retreat Heaven in Faith with Kris McGregor and Miriam Gutierrez as the voice of the Mystic of Dijon, click here.

April 14, 2012

Happy Divine Mercy Sunday!

The Feast of Divine Mercy, Divine Mercy Sunday, is a special grace.  Blessed John Paul II established this celebration on second Sunday of the Easter Octave.  Divine Mercy was so important in his ministry to the Church, he wrote an encyclical on it.  He also canonized St. Faustina Kowalska on this same feast.  She was the Polish mystic who promoted devotion to Divine Mercy just prior to World War II.  Blessed John Paul also died on the very eve of this feast day.  Last year, Pope Benedict beatified him on this day.

Calling to mind all these connections, it is easy to see why many consider Blessed John Paul II an apostle of Divine Mercy.  Prior to his death, John Paul II consecrated the Shrine to Divine Mercy in the Krakow neighborhood of Lagiewniki.  The Shrine is adjacent to the convent where St. Faustina died and it is not far from the labor camp where he worked during the war while secretly in formation for the priesthood.  In his homily consecrating the Shrine, the Pope of Mercy helps us see how the mystery of mercy in prayer converges on the power of the Holy Spirit and the Cross of Christ:

It is the Holy Spirit, the Comforter and the Spirit of Truth, who guides us along the ways of Divine Mercy. By convincing the world "concerning sin and righteousness and judgement" (Jn 16,8), he also makes known the fullness of salvation in Christ. This "convincing" concerning sin is doubly related to the Cross of Christ. On the one hand, the Holy Spirit enables us, through Christ's Cross, to acknowledge sin, every sin, in the full dimension of evil which it contains and inwardly conceals. On the other hand, the Holy Spirit permits us, again through the Christ's Cross, to see sin in the light of the mysterium pietatis, that is, of the merciful and forgiving love of God (cf. Dominum et Vivificantem, 32).  Consequently, this "convincing concerning sin" also becomes a conviction that sin can be laid aside and that man can be restored to his dignity as a son beloved of God. Indeed, the Cross "is the most profound condescension of God to man [...]. The Cross is like a touch of eternal love upon the most painful wounds of man's earthly existence" (Dives in Misericordia, 8).

April 13, 2012

The Eucharist and Life to the Full - Heaven in Faith Episode #10

The saints and mystics approach the Eucharist with an expansive vision of the possibilities this sacrament opens before the heart.  For Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, fully partaking of the Eucharist paradoxically feeds the hunger of God, "He wants to enter the very marrow of our bones and when we allow Him to do so, the more fully we savor Him... He wants to consume our life in order to change it into His own; ours, full of vices, His, full of grace and glory and all prepared for us, if only we renounce ourselves."

Those who want to enter deep into the Eucharistic mystery must renounce themselves out of love for Him.  The more they renounce, the more they give Him space in their hearts to rule.  This Eucharistic vision stands against all forms of spirituality rooted in the merely gratifying.  How many spiritual fads are aimed at merely validating agendas and ideologies with which we are too comfortable?  The way of the Cross is to go against what is popular and to refuse to be driven by anything that is merely gratifying.  This can be so difficult!  God knows this because He knows us better than we know ourselves.  To help us travel this road, the Risen Lord feeds us with Himself.  

Nourished with His humanity, our own humanity discovers possibilities and opportunities which go beyond the power of sin and death.  No longer limited by the fear of anything in this world; letting go, surrender, abandonment to the will of God, and trust in Him begins to replace our own anxiety driven efforts to control or escape the realities of life.   Trusting in God, this is to trust in love, because God is love.  To trust in love, this allows us to live by love - not as a sentimental wish, but as a moment to moment decision with all those God has given to us.  To say "Amen" to the Body and Blood of Christ is to say "yes" to this kind of trust in our lives - and with such trust, nothing holds us back from living life to the full.

For further reflections on Blessed Elisabeth's Eucharistic vision of union with God, here is episode #10 of my reflections on her retreat Heaven in Faith.

April 12, 2012

Religious Freedom and Prayer

Beginning to pray is closely tied with religious freedom.  In fact, prayer is the font of all freedom, but religious freedom in particular.  Once God has touched one's heart, it is not enough to privately worship Him.   One is compelled by love to live this new freedom in public; to share the joy of faith not only within the family but also in the marketplace - indeed from the rooftops.  It is this faith filled witness to freedom that opens up new possibilities in a society, new and previously unimaginable opportunities to deepen the dignity of the human person.

At the same time, there have always been those who have opposed freedom and who fear humanity's religious aspirations.  For these political and cultural forces, religion is something especially to be controlled by manipulation and oppression.  They will not only use widespread cultural and commercial power to stifle the freedom that God gives, but they will also abuse even legal means to promote their bigotry.  Yet they can never attain their end without robbing a society of its hope, of that which is most genuinely noble about our lives in this brief time we have together in this passing world.  That is why when governments fail to respect the religious freedom of their citizens, such efforts must be resisted.

The U.S. Catholic Bishops released an important statement today asking from us a fortnight of prayer starting on June 21.  They are concerned about a number of issues where religious liberty has been co-opted in the United States, including the Health and Human Services Mandate for contraception, sterilization and abortion inducing drugs.   This is an example of another grossly unjust law which is aimed at not only coercing the religious freedom of Catholic Hospitals, Schools and other social services, but also the freedom of anyone who out of love for God is morally opposed to providing what this law requires.

Against this and other unjust laws of its kind, the U.S. Bishops do not call for the right to merely conscientiously object to government mandated religious discrimination.  There is no accommodation to be made with bigoted tyranny. Because such laws attack the fundamental civil liberty on which our free society is based, they must not be complied with at all.  Because more and more people of faith are facing persecution and having their rights to religious freedom denied them, this is an important battle to win not only for ourselves but for all those whose freedoms are being denied.  The Bishops call upon all people of good will to support them in this fight, every way they can.

The most powerful weapon in this fight is prayer.  This is why I am asking you to pray for religious freedom, not only in the United States, but around the world.  This is not the first time people of faith have had to work together and pray against unjust laws.  History is full of failed attempts, even recent ones, to oppress the free exercise of our faith in the public square.  The U.S. Bishops, in their statement, refer to the experience of Martin Luther King, Jr.:

In his famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail" in 1963, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. boldly said, "The goal of America is freedom." As a Christian pastor, he argued that to call America to the full measure of that freedom was the specific contribution Christians are obliged to make. He rooted his legal and constitutional arguments about justice in the long Christian tradition:
I would agree with Saint Augustine that "An unjust law is no law at all." Now what is the difference between the two? How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of Saint Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.11
It is a sobering thing to contemplate our government enacting an unjust law. An unjust law cannot be obeyed. In the face of an unjust law, an accommodation is not to be sought, especially by resorting to equivocal words and deceptive practices. If we face today the prospect of unjust laws, then Catholics in America, in solidarity with our fellow citizens, must have the courage not to obey them. No American desires this. No Catholic welcomes it. But if it should fall upon us, we must discharge it as a duty of citizenship and an obligation of faith.

April 10, 2012

The Risen Lord and the Gift of Faith

To believe that the Lord is Risen is to believe that He is present in a radical and wonderful way.  His powerful presence is accessible only by faith -- this is because He has ascended into heaven.   Such is the substance of our hope.  When we cleave to Him by faith, because his presence is real and personal, He raises us up with Him.

When Mary Magdalene calls out to the Risen Lord, He tells her not to cling to Him because He has not yet ascended to the Father.  He sends her -- the Apostle to the Apostles - to his apostles to announce to them the resurrection.   His words reveal that someday she will possess Him in a more marvelous way -- but He must ascend from the midst of this life first so that this new presence can be known.  She will have the fullness of faith when the Holy Spirit descends on her.  By the faith the Holy Spirit produces, Mary Magdalene will be raised up to new life - and with that life she will be able to cling to the One whom she loves -- and who loves her even more.

Christian faith is a not self-generated psychological exercise. It is part of the new creation, the new humanity which the Risen Lord has established by his victory.  His Gift of the Holy Spirit produces the faith.  This is why He ascended into Heaven.  The Giver of Life could only descend on us if Christ ascended to his Father.

What a gift faith is!  Doubts and difficulties of all kinds might afflict the soul -- but the gift of faith is invincible.   This loving assent of the will is given if we ask for it in even in trying circumstances.  The darkest trials cannot defeat it because it communicates something to the mind which no affliction in this world - no height, nor depth - can shake.  In fact, such trials when endured with love and by love make faith stronger.

Even though Mary Magdalene cannot yet cling to Him, the faith of the apostles is stirred by her message.  They run to find the empty tomb and encounter the Lord for themselves.  They hear his voice and speak to Him.  They see his body.  They touch his wounds.  They eat with Him.  But they can not yet cling to Him.

Though He has conquered death, He must leave this world because his Kingdom is not of this world.  He must ascend above this life so that the faith of the apostles in Him will raise them up above this life too.  The resurrection was not about any mere restoration of an earthly paradise -- it is about access to heaven.  This is a new humanity - a humanity with power that exceeds what this world can contain, a humanity which is filled with what is eternal.

What about us, here and now?  The Risen Jesus longs for us to be where He is -- and He is now ascended, and ascended He reigns at the right hand of the Father.   Now we can cling to Him by faith.

Christian contemplation and theology converge on the objective and personal presence of the Risen Lord.  By objective, we know He is present to us quite apart from whether we feel or imagine Him.   By personal, we know that our faith opens up a real heart to heart relationship with Him.  This is not fluff -- it is the substance of our hope.

This objective and personal faith is not limited to knowing things about the Lord, the Christian faith discloses the mysterious depths of God so that we can really know Him and his great love.  To know these depths, to plummet them in prayer, to search them in sacred doctrine -- such things raise us up with Him so that we might dwell where He dwells.  In all this the fullness of joy is ours, even now in a hidden way, here below the banquet has begun in mystery, and all this as we learn to cling to Him.

April 6, 2012

The Divine Dynamism of the Poverty of Christ

Christ crucified reveals to the world the poverty of God.   On the Cross, God comes to us with arms stretch out and empty hands.  We see there a sacred emptiness, an abyss drawing us.  This divine humility opens up a place of encounter where everyone no matter their struggles can come to Him.  The poverty of God is God's love for man.

To accept this poverty is to open up one's heart to God's love and to be implicated by God in his love for others.   This is why some choose to live a more radical form of  poverty for the sake of a genuine love of God and one another.  Their radical poverty is really a radical fraternity, a fraternity with divine dynamism.

The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, started by Father Benedict Groeschel and some of his fellow Capuchins,  have devoted themselves is a rediscovery of genuine fellowship in the Lord. By placing their fraternity above material comforts, they are rediscovering how to live with one another as brothers in Christ. Their community is committed not only to how much more simply they might live but even more to how to simply build real fellowship with one another in the Lord. By eliminating material distractions, they discover new ways to be more patient with each other and trust God - and this builds up those who volunteer with them and all those whom they serve.   It brings hope to the communities in which they live.  The following is part of a note about the last Palm Sunday from the Bronx from Father Conrad Osterhout, c.f.r., a long time spiritual father and friend who runs a soup kitchen there:

This past Sunday, the friars and sisters and many friends of the friars, as with the Church around the world, processed with palms and sang Hosannas in praise of Christ our King.  Processing around our Bronx neighborhood on Palm Sunday is an incredible experience.   Passing along the avenues, 200 voices strong, we wave our palms and sing to the rhythm of drums and guitars.  It is a festive entrance to the Holy Week.  As we read in scripture, "with praise, let us awake the dawn," so our prayer and song resounds with incredible joy.  The greeting of our neighboring Baptist and Evangelical friends along the way adds to the hope we feel.  Some express their union with us with waves and smiles.  Others sing along or dance a bit.  Even those who look on quietly accept the palms that are offered by the brothers who greet them along the way.  

April 5, 2012

The Paschal Mystery

Those who yearn for a deeper friendship with Christ look to the Cross as the threshold of hope.  They see in  it their own failures, short-comings and inadequacies enveloped by the boundless mercy of God.  The weakness and evil each of us struggles against finds its limit before this inexhaustible mystery.  The whole world, every hardship that shakes it, every trial that overwhelms it, and every disappoint that threatens it, all of this revolves around the One crucified by love. We see in him a love that is stronger than death, a love no deluge can quench, the definitive victory of good over evil.  Who can separate us from Him?  It is enough to gaze into the face of the One who accepted death for our sake to know why the Christian does not lose hope in the midst of persecution, rejection, derision, abandonment or even death:

Progress is made only by imitating Christ. At the moment of his death he was certainly annihilated in his soul,without any consolation or relief, since the Father had left him in the deepest aridity.  The Lord was compelled to cry out, "My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?" (Mt 27:46, Ps 22:1).  This was the most extreme abandonment that Christ had suffered in his life.  And by it he accomplished the most marvelous work of his whole life.  What he did surpassed all the other miracles he had performed on earth or in heaven.  That is, he brought about the reconciliation and union of humanity with God through grace.  The Lord achieved this at the moment in which he was most annihilated in all things: in his reputation before people, since in watching him die they mocked him instead of esteeming him; in his human nature, by dying, and in spiritual help and consolation from his Father, for he was forsaken by his Father at the time, annihilated and reduced to nothing so as to pay the debt fully and bring people to union with God.  Likewise, the greatness of the work accomplished by those who are truly spiritual will be measured by their annihilation of themselves for God.  When they are reduced to nothing, the highest degree of humility, the spiritual union between their souls and God will be accomplished.  

From Ascent to Mt. Carmel, II, 8, 8-11.

April 4, 2012

The Mystery of the Lord's Supper and the Faith of those who Hope

Francis Xavier Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan, when he was Archbishop of Saigon, was sent to prison and not allowed to exercise his ministry for thirteen years. On occasion, family and friends found ways to get particles of bread and a dropper full of wine to him explaining that he needed this "medicine." With this "medicine" the prisoner would celebrate Mass in secret and then give communion to his fellow prisoners. Through the mystery of the Lord's Supper, these prisoners found the strength to face their own Calvary and to become a source of hope for others.

When his friends and family said they were providing medicine, they were telling the truth -- the Eucharist is the medicine of immortality, and the Mass has real power to heal. This is because Christ feeds us with Himself and his life transforms our suffering and weakness. With his strength in us, our hardships are changed. Nothing can separate us from the love of God and with this love, we constantly discover new ways of loving those God sends to us.  The Cardinal's witness helps us see that no matter how desperate the plight in which we find ourselves, with the Eucharist we find ever deeper reasons for hope.

"If you wish to strengthen your faith
you must nourish yourself with the blessed Eucharist,
which is the "Mystery of Faith" and fortifies faith."
Road to Hope, 80

April 2, 2012

Holy Week, Prayer and Suffering

Holy Week helps us focus on the salvific suffering of Christ.  The events of this week spiral towards the Cross where human misery is enveloped in Divine Mercy.  In this week we recount how the politically and culturally powerful could not thwart the plan of God to raise up humanity above everything that threatens its true dignity.  Before the One Crucified by love, Holy Week opens the mystery of suffering to the threshold of glory.

Although aspirations for something greater than this world live in the hearts of men, suffering and death, guilt and shame burden human existence.  We are not at home with this state of affairs even when it is obvious that we have brought so much of it on ourselves.  We know things ought to be different, but there is no easy answer to this riddle.  Humanity struggles under a kind of doom where everything that is good, beautiful and true about our lives finds itself subject to futility.  Here, we constantly betray ourselves even in the best of times, but when there is great hardship, we find ourselves on the edge of falling apart in despair.  

We are not the only ones who are concerned about our plight.  Deep in the heart of God there is a judgment about human evil that we can only know through the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This knowledge pierces to the heart and makes us rethink the way we live. When we know our sins in light of this judgment we also know there is Another who knows our true dignity and He has chosen not to be a spectator to our plight.  Instead, He has implicated Himself in it.  Holy Week is about God's answer to our human dilemma.

On the Cross, God and man become implicated in each other's plight.   In mystery of Love crucified the heartache God suffers for humanity and the misery men suffer without God are bound to each other.  By this saving work, suffering and death have been endowed with new meaning.  This means when we face discouraging circumstances our faith opens us to his transforming power -- if we trust in Him.

We have every reason to trust!  The power of God's love, is greater than all the evil that looms over our existence, including even the evil produced by our own failures.   Before this Divine Power, any sense of hopelessness however strongly felt is only a feeling, a feeling to be resisted even if it must sometimes be suffered.

By faith, Christ has suffered in such a way that we can join all our afflictions with his in a mysterious manner.  When we trust Him, when we choose to believe in love even when we feel like we cannot love any more, when we offer our misery to Him in an act of faith, this sacrifice of love unleashes God's power in the world.  This has practical implications for those struggling under the difficult burden of hardship.  No matter our circumstances, if we look to Christ, we behold an answer to the difficult riddle of human suffering and death.  

In his encyclical on Human Suffering, Blessed John Paul the Great explains to us how to find joy in the midst of illness and hardship.   In his vision of our faith, the feeling of uselessness and the sense that one is a burden to others, discouraging though this may be, these difficult moments can actually become through faith in Christ a source of joy.  This is because when we surrender this feeling to God in prayer, we discover "the salvific meaning of suffering in union with Christ."
Saint Paul speaks of such joy in the Letter to the Colossians: "I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake"(88). A source of joy is found in the overcoming of the sense of the uselessness of suffering,a feeling that is sometimes very strongly rooted in human suffering. This feeling not only consumes the person interiorly, but seems to make him a burden to others. The person feels condemned to receive help and assistance from others, and at the same time seems useless to himself. The discovery of the salvific meaning of suffering in union with Christ transforms this depressing feeling. Faith in sharing in the suffering of Christ brings with it the interior certainty that the suffering person "completes what is lacking in Christ's afflictions"; the certainty that in the spiritual dimension of the work of Redemptionhe is serving, like Christ, the salvation of his brothers and sisters. Therefore he is carrying out an irreplaceable service. In the Body of Christ, which is ceaselessly born of the Cross of the Redeemer, it is precisely suffering permeated by the spirit of Christ's sacrifice that is the irreplaceable mediator and author of the good things which are indispensable for the world's salvation. It is suffering, more than anything else, which clears the way for the grace which transforms human souls. Suffering, more than anything else, makes present in the history of humanity the powers of the Redemption. In that "cosmic" struggle between the spiritual powers of good and evil, spoken of in the Letter to the Ephesians(89), human sufferings, united to the redemptive suffering of Christ, constitute a special support for the powers of good, and open the way to the victory of these salvific powers.  The Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris #27.

April 1, 2012

I Stand at the Door and Knock - Heaven and Faith Episode 9

Christian prayer begins because the Word of God comes to us.   Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity believes Jesus is constantly coming to us in new ways - always humble and gentle, in his own time and on his own terms.   Our Risen Lord is the Word of the Father sent to our hearts that we might know the truth about God's love and the truth about our humanity.   God loves us in an exceeding way because He created humanity to be filled with his love.   And God is Love.   To say "yes" to his Word is to say "yes" to his love and filled with Him, to choose to love right now all those God is entrusting to us.  We can do this even in our weakness because of his beautiful presence within us.   The Word of God, the Word made flesh, the Word crucified for our sake, this Word that has conquered death lives to give us new life.   He knocks at the threshold of our innermost being and waits for us to open wide the door of our hearts to Him.  All we must do to begin to pray with this Word is to believe, to choose to say "yes" to this Word.

Click here for episode 9 of my podcast on Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity's Heaven and Faith.