May 27, 2012

The Gift of the Holy Spirit

Pentecost is a Feast of Love.  It is the feast of the Canticle of Canticles where the Bridegroom comes to kiss his Bride. Today the Church cries out to her Bridegroom for a divine kiss, a kiss from the mouth of God.   It is this kiss entrusted to frail humanity that makes all the difference in the world and in our lives.  It is by this kiss that God discloses the depths of his love, that He surrenders His Holy Spirit to each of us in the most unique and particular way.   It is the kiss God entrusts to humanity from the Cross.

The Holy Spirit is the life of the soul.  He is the great gift that the Risen Lord breaths into the world.   When lovers kiss, it is as if they are trying to breath their spirits into each other.  Each wants the other to completely possess the gift of who they are.   It is by way of a holy kiss that Christ breaths his Holy Spirit into the Church.

The whole Church and each of us as members of this mystical Body, through this same Gift, want to give everything we have to Christ and find in ourselves the power to do so and the inner conviction that we do not want to have it any other way.  This is because with the Gift of the Holy Spirit we realize this is exactly the way God has loved us in Christ Jesus.

Wherever the Spirit blows, the most beautiful affections are ignited in our humanity.  The Spirit of the Father and the Son moves us with a passion so sacred that it raises us up above ourselves.  Such holy desires caused by the Fire of God in us allow us to participate in the very life of God.

The more humble we are, the more the kiss of Christ permeates the deep places of our hearts.  He won the right to enter into these deep places, to breath his Holy Spirit into these depths, by emptying Himself until he became like us.  In solidarity with our humanity, having embraced this most frail work of his creation to his Uncreated Nature in his Divine Person, He allowed himself be completely vulnerable to us - like a lover who attempts to disclose his love to the beloved.  Spurned and rejected from the beginning, He would not give up on the friendship He yearned to share with us.  He offered his kiss to a distrustful humanity by humbling Himself in the face of our pride and overcame our hostility to Him by his death.  When we gaze on Him who died for us, always we see His arms are wide open, ready to embrace us.  He waits to kiss us with the Gift of His Spirit whenever we allow our hearts to be pierced by his love.

Will we surrender to his kiss?  Will we allow ourselves to be caught up in his love?  True, the more we offer ourselves in love, we find ourselves dying to our old way of life. It is the pathway of surrender and trust. We are afraid of this -- abandoning our old way of life leads somewhere with which we are not familiar. But the kiss of Christ is so beautiful, so life giving, it is worth this death a thousand times over.  Let Him kiss you with the Kisses of his Mouth! 

May 24, 2012

Predestination and Prayer

Predestination often evokes arguments surrounding grace and freewill, God's plan and human freedom, who will get into heaven and who will not.  Yet the Fathers of the Church and mystics like Blessed Elisabeth of the Trinity considered this mystery from another standpoint.  For these great contemplatives, predestination was a doctrine about the wonderful possibility to live by love God has opened up for each of us in Christ Jesus.  Instead of a system which limited the scope of human freedom, they saw the unexpected opportunity to really love, to truly live call to them like a new and yet to be explored frontier.    Instead of a discouraging mental puzzle occasioning hidden judgments of self-righteousness or despair, they saw true hope rooted in the victory of good over evil already realized on the Cross.   For them, this free decision of God in his loving plan means that nobody's life is an accident or the result of chance.  In this doctrinal vision, every human person is foreknown by God in a gaze of pure love and out of this pure love, we can only be astonished at how much God has chosen to bless us in Christ with every spiritual blessing.  Such a vision of predestination ought only evoke determined bold confidence on our part, a willingness to avail ourselves to everything with which the Lord is waiting to entrust us.   If we do this, because of the blessing we have in Christ, our lives can become pure praise, a perfect offering in which the glory of God is revealed in the world, in which His love ignites the whole cosmos on fire.  Blessed Elisabeth of the Trinity offers her vision of predestination to her sister Marguerite, a young mother with two daughters.  She believes that even those with busy family lives and overwhelming responsibilities can become the praise of God's glory.  For a podcast on her teaching done in conjunction with Discerning Hearts, click here.   

May 22, 2012

Learning the Language of Sacred Scriptures

C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, refers to a conversation he had with an old soldier about God. The soldier said he did not need theology because he found God on the battlefield and what he experienced was completely different from anything he had ever heard from any theologian. Since he knew God personally, why would he need Church doctrine or theology? C.S. Lewis took this objection seriously as too should we.

He dealt with this critic of doctrine with a simple comparison. God is to doctrine what the ocean is to a map. If all one wants to do is go for a quick swim it is arguable that a map might not be necessary. However, if one wants to get somewhere, to dive in the ocean and just begin to swim could be dangerous. He suggests it is similar with God.

Christianity is about more than an experience of God. It is about being saved from certain peril and spending ourselves for one another so that all of us together might arrive at a destination prepared for us from the foundation of the world. Accordingly, the Christian life requires us to steep ourselves in sacred doctrine and to apply our whole intelligence to the saving truth proposed to us by the Church. To this end and through the centuries, Christians have devoted their lives and fortunes to learning, arguing about and trying to live the language of the Sacred Scriptures.

Is it necessary to take up a scientific investigation of the Holy Bible? Yesterday in my post on De Doctrina Christiana Saint Augustine provided us a glimpse of his vision of theology by addressing the objections of those who cannot understand or apply his teaching. In his vision, theology looks out upon the wonders of what God has done just like astronomy looks up into the heavens. Whether his students understand what he teaches or whether they can apply it does not diminish his investigation of the truth anymore than someone with bad eyesight diminishes the beauty of the stars or the joy of star gazing. In today's post, we will consider the position of those who object to a disciplined approach to contemplating Divine Revelation because of their direct experience of God in prayer.

Saint Augustine is aware that in addition to those who do not understand or else are unable to apply what he teaches, others might criticize his teaching on the basis that they have mystical knowledge of God's Word and therefore do not need his scientific rules to know what the Scriptures are saying. St. Augustine does not discount this important form of knowing, but he does argue that this kind of knowing is not sufficient for the demands of divine revelation. Mystical knowledge is not sufficient to persuade others. To help others understand the reason for the hope we have inside we need to present what we believe in a manner which appeals to what can be known in reality itself. Mystical knowledge is super-conceptual and can not be conveyed from one created person to another. It is rather a knowledge received from God in a supernatural manner. Yet the Word of God has not chosen to reveal himself spiritually to each soul by grace individually alone. Instead, God respects our humanity.

Our humanity is not only spiritual but also material, historical, particular and concrete. God bases his invisible mission in the life of the soul on his visible mission in the history of the world. Foreshadowed by the Law and the Prophets, the Word of God expressed himself in human speech and performed tangible signs for the salvation not so much of isolated individuals but of a heavenly community, a divine family. Although He could have saved us in isolation from each other, the Word made flesh has bound us together through the preaching of the Church.

Sacred Doctrine is what the Church proposes for our belief as saving truth, the truth we need to know for our salvation. When we believe what the Church proposes, we open our hearts to encountering Christ who draws us deeper and deeper into a communion with one another in his new humanity, a humanity He refashioned by his death and resurrection. Through this humanity, we convey the wonders of what God has done by applying all the powers of our intelligence to what He has revealed.  Although the subject matter is incomparably beautiful, great effort and suffering is called for in distinguishing, comparing and finding the connections between what God has revealed to us and what we can naturally know about ourselves and the world.  

This intensely human engagement with the Word of God disclosed in the Sacred Scriptures is the task of Christian theology.  In this effort, we learn a kind of wisdom by which we are able build up each other's faith not only by repeating biblical sayings to each other but also with our own words.  Here, theological wisdom is at the service of mystical wisdom, the loving knowledge which increases in us as we cling to God by love and prayer.  With both theological wisdom and the wisdom that comes from prayer, our thoughts become so baptized in sacred doctrine we find ourselves thinking with the mind of Christ and more fully living a transformed life - that is, a life completely offered to God.  

To refer back to C.S. Lewis's comparison, one wisdom is the kind we get from looking at the map and the other from catching the waves. For those who want to avoid danger and get somewhere, both kinds of wisdom are necessary. In theological wisdom, we learn to understand the language of the Sacred Scriptures so that something beautiful of what God conveys to the soul through its life of prayer can be shared from mouth to mouth. In this way, through our life together in the Church the saving truth resounds not only in one's own hidden depths but also from the rooftops for the salvation of the world. This is why St. Augustine believes Christians must study the Holy Bible in a disciplined way.

May 21, 2012

Theology: to Study God's Word with Understanding

Is there a right way to read the Holy Bible? Are there rules to be learned or do we simply rely on the Holy Spirit to guide us alone? In the prologue to his work De Doctrina Christiana, St. Augustine answers critics who think that proposing rules for the study of Sacred Doctrine is a waste of time.  He starts by observing some critics might not understand his rules or else they might not be able to apply his rules. There is a beautiful truth which presents itself when we consider what he proposes to these critics, and pointing to what he sees is itself foundational in the effort to fruitfully contemplate that to which the Holy Bible bears witness.

To deal both with those who do not understand his teaching as well as those who cannot apply what he proposes, he offers a fascinating metaphor: like an astronomer who points to the heavens, so to his effort to elucidate sacred doctrine. The inability to understand Augustine does not negate his effort to teach anymore than it negates an astronomer's effort to point to the wonders that fill skies. Similarly, the inability to make use St. Augustine's teaching to understand the words of Holy Writ no more invalidates what he teaches than one's own blindness to the stars and planets negates the value of astronomy.

The dynamism of this comparison lives in St. Augustine's certitude that his theological teaching is pointing to something far beyond his own cleverness and personal preferences, to an astonishing reality wholly objective and wonderful to behold. In other words, right off the bat, Augustine is making clear to his readers that theology is not mythology.  Theology is rooted in the way things really are, the way God truly is.  It raises human intelligence not by imposing cleverly contrived categories on what we would like the truth to be but rather by opening the capacity of the heart to be amazed by the Truth revealed by God.

Mythology, oftentimes mistakenly identified with Christian theology, is the study of myth. A myth is contrived to help us understand something about the way the world works. Like the conflicting narratives spewed by our competing news outlets and political forces, myth appeals to the imagination.  Mythology does not point to the stars even if it tries to explain their movements.  Those who live by such magical thinking never really enjoy what the heavens proclaim.

Theology is the study of God and all things in relation to God.   This sacred doctrine is received and passed on by the Church on the basis of what God has revealed to the world. It surpasses anything that can be imagined.  Unlike myths which are subject to all kinds of whims of the moment, theology studies the only narrative we can ever have any absolute certitude over: God's narrative, the story He is telling through space and time, people and events. Christian theology is not an exercise in religious fantasy to validate a prevailing ideology of this or that cultural force; but rather, this branch of science is the engagement of the intellect in the wonder of what God has accomplished to validate the hope that comes from Him.

Whether we understand good theology or we are able to use good theology in our own efforts to give an account for the hope we have inside does not make the theological enterprise superfluous, it only means we do not benefit from it.  It is possible to gaze upon the stars without the benefits of astronomy.  In this case, do we understand what we see and can we give an account of the wonder we behold?

Yet is is precisely to give an account for the hope we have that we search the Bible and our holy tradition with all the effort of our intelligence.  Only in this way are we able to pass on the priceless gift we have recieved.  Through his comparison, Augustine is chiding us to make a better effort to see the wonder to which he points.  The implicaton is striking: those who make this effort can discover not only a source of personal joy, but also a gift that enriches the lives of each of those God entrusts to them.

May 19, 2012

The Ascension - a sign of hope

Descending and Ascending are beautiful movements of the paschal mystery, the saving mystery by which all that is good, holy and true about our humanity is rescued by God and cherished by Him.   To say that Jesus, Risen from the Dead, ascended into heaven is to profess that frail humanity not only has been recreated in Christ but through Him drawn up into the mystery of God.  It is both the love and the vulnerability of our humanity that God has drawn into Himself, and in drawing this into his Heart, He has made it holy, once and for all.  What is more, but ascending into heaven and presenting holy humanity before the Father, Jesus obtains for us the Gift of the Holy Spirit so that through Him, the Holy Spirit descends on humanity anew.

Jesus Christ, ascended into heaven, reveals God's astonishing delight in humanity.  What causes the Creator to be captivated by his creatures?  It is the most humble elements of our humanity that the Son of God raises up.  In the mystery of the Ascension we see that humble human love must be counted as greatness of humanity.  It is this love by which Jesus was obedient unto death.  It is this love that God raised up with Christ.  It is this God saved love that is stronger than death and greater than all the powers of this world.  It is in love surrendered to God that we realize the greatness of our vocation, that we actually give real glory to God.

Love draws the Lord down into our lives: the more the heart boldly lifts up to the Lord, the more the Lord descends into its depths, the more such a creature is raised on high not despite its inadequacies, but through them.  That is why the poor of spirit, the peacemakers, the merciful, and the sorrowing are so blessed.  

It is in the effort to love, no matter how broken or inadequate, that we most reveal God to one another.  To love is to give the gift of oneself to another, to be "for" another.  The moment we try to give this gift, the moment we try to really love someone the Lord has entrusted to us, we soon discover all kinds of inadequacies and voids and weaknesses.  We see in all of this that the love that ought to be in our hearts is not there.  To live life to the full, we need something (and it is not just some thing but rather Someone) we do not fully have.  This is a discovery of our spiritual poverty.  To know such poverty is to begin to pray.

The truth is, left to ourselves, we do not have the capacity to love in the manner we know the one we love deserves.  We constantly fall short of giving ourselves the way we want to give ourselves to one another.  This is true even in the most sacred and intimate of natural relationships: husband and wife, parents and children, brothers and sisters. It is especially true in our relationship with God.  

This is why it was so important that the Lord Jesus ascend to the right hand of the Father.   The Father in gazing on his "Only Begotten Son" also gazes on the humanity the Son has united to Himself.  In the face of the Son, Father sees only what is good, holy and true about each of us, especially in our weaknesses.  He delights in what He sees.  This is because all that is evil, inhumane, and ugly about humanity has been destroyed by Christ through his death on the Cross.  All that is beautiful about humanity, fashioned and refashioned in the very image of the Most High, Jesus has rescued from the power of death.   This He has taken with Him when He ascended before the Face of God.

A new humanity is revealed in Christ before the Face of God to the wonderment of all Creation.  In Christ, the Father blesses humanity with every spiritual gift so that all of us might be raised up to dwell where Jesus dwells - in the heart of the Father.   In ascending into heaven, it is the glorious beauty of what humanity is meant to manifest that He gives to the Father.  This is what the Father sees in us - and this is why He hopes in us even more than we hope in Him.

May 15, 2012

Witness to Hope when Beauty is Defaced

It was a sorrow to learn that my childhood parish was defaced by vandals last week.  Mission Santa Cruz was founded in the late 18th Century by the Franciscan Missionaries who first brought the Gospel of Christ to the native peoples of California. Since the beginning, the Mission, and the Holy Cross Parish which succeeded it, have had a difficult history with earthquakes, natural disaster and local politics. Yet, for me, from childhood until today, this parish church continues to tower over Santa Cruz, not just architecturally but also in its outreach to the poor, as a beacon of hope in the midst of chaos, a sign on earth pointing to heaven.

It is difficult not to associate the attacks on traditional marriage - both local and national - with the vandalism of Mission Santa Cruz and Holy Cross Parish in California. In both cases, there is an effort to deface something beautiful. In both cases, those who carried out the attacks whether with spray paint or with political rhetoric are to be more the pitied than scorned. In both cases, it is difficult to forgive or forget having family values and religious truths publically derided and despised. In both cases, the Holy Spirit prompts me to surrender to his action under which alone I can learn compassion and intercession. In both cases, the proper response is to pray for our enemies and those who hate us.

How can anyone be surprised by hatred against the Church and against the things of God for which she stands, things like traditional marriage and beauty? In the last one hundred years, more violence has been indiscriminately unleashed against specifically Christian populations than in any period of history. That these same forces of hatred for God should now be unleashed in this country and in the communities in which I live, this is no surprise.

St. Therese of Lisieux confronted this kind of malice over a hundred years ago. Only a few months after she had written her play on St. Joan of Arc, St. Therese learned of the supposed dramatic conversion of a certain "Diana Vaughan." St. Therese did not know that it was part of an elaborate a hoax fabricated by Gabriel Antoine Jogand-Pagès which took in not only local priests and bishops, but even the pope.   Without realizing she was playing into a prank of scandalous scale, St. Therese sent a picture where she was dressed up as St. Joan of Arc to "Diana" to encourage her.

Jogand-Pagès who wrote under the pseudonym "Leo Taxil" feigned a conversion to Catholicism and had plotted over a period of years a media campaign to embarrass the Church, especially the clergy.  "Diana" was a completely fictitious character he had invented for this purpose.  In addition to a dramatic conversion, the fictional "Diana" claimed a special devotion to Joan of Arc.  When she sent in her picture, Therese had no idea that she had played into his plot.  

Therese's picture was used as a backdrop by Jogand-Pagès when he exposed his prank to a packed audience of onlookers. This was an act of aggression against people of faith in general, but also a mockery of St. Therese's whole way of life specifically. This public humiliation was delivered while St. Therese was dying of tuberculosis.

St. Therese's actions at this point are impressive and point the way forward when cultural forces become mean-spirited towards people of faith. She had already abandoned herself into the hands of God. She looked on her life as an offering to his merciful love. Instead of anger or judgment, she turned to prayer and offered her sufferings for souls just like Jogand-Pagès.

Although there is no evidence that he ever converted, there were thousands of others like him who did. I am constantly amazed at the conversions to Christ of learn of those who were far from God but feel somehow St. Therese helped them find Him. This is because the power of God's mercy is greater than human misery, and even our persecutors need a sign of hope. The witness to hope when beauty is defaced is found in the depths of prayer - and these times call us to pray like never before.

May 12, 2012

Elisabeth of the Trinity Episode 14

Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity believes that deeper encounters with the Lord await those who embrace the path of integrity.  The Lord in fact constantly sends his grace to those who believe that He died for them to set them free.  Those who cleave to this saving truth by praying to Him find themselves constantly examining their lives in the light of the Gospel, constantly seeing deeper ways they can follow the Lord.

To have died in Christ means to be raised up in new life in Him.  This is the grace of baptism.  Those who accept this grace are filled with new life.  The old way of life before they believed no longer animates them they way it once did.  The old values are empty and lifeless.  The more they say yes to the new life of baptism in each moment, they also discover in that same moment that they are in fact spiritually dead to everything in this world that once motivated them.

At the same time, these disciples at the beginning of their spiritual lives have not yet entered deep into the peace of the Lord.  They struggle with thousands of imperfections, involuntary habits and sinful inclinations that distract them from what they really want.  The beginning of the spiritual life in fact takes great determination and perseverance.

However, this beginning is not about developing one's own cleverness or ability to be good or even learning how to feel good about oneself.  Instead, beginning the spiritual life is about realizing how completely reliant we really are on the life of Christ.  He Himself is the source of our faithfulness. Here, perseverance and determination are aimed at not simply trying harder but rather generously accepting all the graces the Lord sends at each moment.  It is what God is doing in our efforts and even our failures that is paramount and it is this for which we must constantly give thanks.

What is spiritual integrity and purity of heart?  It is a gift from God given to those who love God enough to ask for it.  Those who learn to rely on the Lord in this effort begin to see how much He is faithful in their weakness.  This kind of openness, this kind of surrender, allows God to be even more generous.  Such souls, by the purity and integrity of their faith, are given an even deeper and more peaceful freedom - a freedom that is like the freedom of God Himself, a freedom that only God can provide.

Making sure we know this is what Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity believed to be an important part of her spiritual mission.  In the retreat she wrote for her sister, she constantly returns to this idea.  The battle for integrity takes great effort and we must constantly encourage each other so that we can all be open to this wonderful gift.
"Our aptitude for receiving His grace depends on the inner integrity with which we move towards Him.  And then God, bringing us His gifts, can give Himself, imprint on us His likeness, forgive, and free us."
To hear the next episode of my pod-casts on Elisabeth of the Trinity's Heaven in Faith, click here. 

May 10, 2012

Does Real Marriage have a Prayer?

In a world gone mad, does real marriage have a prayer? The hostile attacks of the government of Colorado on the institution of marriage as well as the wavering of the world’s most powerful leader on the same issue make it appear as if the demise of traditional marriage is inevitable.  Indeed, the matter is no longer discussed as one in which intelligent people might have principled disagreements.  Instead, anyone who supports marriage as an institution between a man and a woman ordered to family life is now branded by the media as either a coward or else prejudiced bigot. 

But this is nothing new.  It was not so long ago when a governor of Colorado called Cardinal Stafford sophmoric for defending the dignity of marriage.  Yet just as the sacred institution of marriage between a man and a woman cannot be destroyed by unjust laws and the irresponsible comments of those in power, those who defend marriage are not bigots, cowards or sophmoric.  Indeed, traditional marriage not only has a prayer, it is an answer to prayer, a God-given sign of hope in the midst of societal insanity.

Those who fearlessly protect the dignity of marriage and family life today are arguably our greatest heroes, the real champions of our society, the true leaders of our time.  Mostly normal people simply trying to live normal lives, they are being attacked and ridiculed  for no other reason than they have dared to have the courage to stand up for what is right and just.   Though they are thought to be despised, the teachings of Christ indicate that these ordinary people persecuted for the sake of righteousness are extraordinarily blessed.  The truth is marriage will always have a prayer, and so will those with the courage to stand for it. 

The best defense of marriage is for every husband and wife to renew their dedication to one another.  Faithfulness to the unique friendship made possible in traditional marriage protects life and love in society like no other institution of society can. Conversely, when the sacred bonds of this kind of love are made vulnerable to any kind of infidelity or selfishness, the rest of society suffers. When the pledges of husband and wife are forsaken, an anti-culture rooted in hubris and arrogance emerges. Neither life nor love are safe when the ancient death-wish that thwarts the proud takes hold in family life or the life of a civilization.  Steadfast fidelity to the vows of love of those God has joined together keeps hope alive not only for the man and woman who choose such a friendship, but also for the whole world.

When man and woman publicly and solemnly bind themselves together in an indissoluble sacred friendship, they reveal something of the communion which God desires to share with creation, a mystery that lives in the very heart of the Holy Trinity. Because of its particular radical openness to love's fecundity and fidelity, no other natural form of friendship is capable of signifying this divine mystery of love the way marriage does. Marriage reveals not only to the married couple but to the whole world dimensions of God’s love we cannot live without if we are to be fully human and fully alive.

Human society needs this most sacred of all forms of natural friendship. We see in the prophets of Israel as well as in the histories of Ancient Greece, Carthage and Rome, great civilizations, cultures and individuals advanced on the basis of having realized this or came to their ignoble end to the extend they failed to protect it. The married friendship of man and woman, in fact, is imbued with values the dynamism of which do not admit of being violated by political or cultural powers without grave consequences to the whole of society.

True married love is fully open to divine gifts which bless all of humanity when both husband and wife realize how precious the brief time they have together actually is.  In the daily struggles to be of one heart and one mind in this present life, both husband and wife begin to discover the true meaning of their lives and the deepest truth about love. By their bonds of love, married couples learn to be fully human and fully alive, even (especially) in the most heart rending of circumstances. Through all the hardships, sorrows and sacrifice that indissoluble fidelity in love and complete openness to fecundity demand, they catch glimpses of the splendor of God otherwise unknown in this world. It is in this context of mutual devotion that the gift of life is meant to be bestowed because only in the midst of these fires of love is the family hearth, in all its sacredness, forged.

Frail and embattled though the sacred pledges of man and woman in marriage might be, true married love judges the nature of a society, not vice versa. Other kinds of relationships might try to ape this kind of tender fidelity and radical openness to another's gift of fertility. Confused governmental authority might try to call all kinds of social bonds by the same name. A cynical entertainment industry might sneer at those who believe in real marriage and try to live it. Desperate political forces may well marginalize those who attempt to defend it. Yet against all these things that will most certainly perish, the truth of marriage endures for ever.

The life long bond between husband and wife points to a love stronger than death. Because of the mercy of God, the victory of those who are faithful to this gift and who stand firm in defending its dignity is assured. This is true even though dark days are ahead. This road to hope, is it not also the very pathway of every great marriage? Fidelity and confidence which pass through the Cross of Christ always discover anew the Way for true spousal love to advance in society, in families, and especially in one’s own life.

Marriage has a prayer because the fidelity for which husband and wife strive comes from prayer. Like marriage, prayer is also a pledge of friendship. It is a divine gift meant to indissolubly link God and humanity as friends forever. Unlike the bonds of marriage in this world, the extent of the friendship to which the bond of prayer opens us goes well beyond this world.  Yet earthly marriage needs this heavenly help.  On the basis of the fidelity of God discovered in prayer, marriage discovers the power of its fidelity and fecundity. Indeed, because of prayer, this most tender and yet embattled of all loves in our day unleashes divine power in a hostile world, the only power on which a culture of life and civilization of love can be sustained.

May 8, 2012

Theological Contemplation - theological and mystical wisdom

Prayer and theology bring the wisdom that comes from the Cross of Christ to bear on the need for truth living in the heart of humanity.  This is, in part, the message of the International Commission on Theology in Theology Today: persepctives, principles and criteria released on November 29, 2011.  This document, the fruit of years of study and conversation by various members of this pontifical commission, offers an approach to theology rooted in the Word of God and the vital engagement of human reason.  

As a student of spiritual theology, the Commission's perspective "theological contemplation" (see #61) is especially interesting. Contemplation of the Word of God is presented as an effort which brings all the powers of reason to bear on the effort to behold the wonder of what God has revealed of Himself in the world for our sake. Divine revelation flows from and leads to the Cross where the Word made flesh lays bear the fullness of what God has to say to each of us. Theological contemplation consists in making human intelligence and affectivity completely vulnerable to this paschal mystery.

Contemplation means "to behold," "to see," "to gaze upon." Those who contemplate behold the wonder of what is. In this wonder filled gaze, the heart opens to all that is beautiful and good. In this kind of knowing, truth and love are co-existence: the mind loves the good sees and sees the truth it loves. This wisdom is possible because we are in the image of God - God who beholds that that is good and loves it into existence including all of humanity to whom He has disclosed Himself definitively in the Word made flesh.

The natural wonder of all that His hands have made is so beautiful that some devote their whole lives to beholding the beauty of creation even if they do not acknowledge it as created: philosophers, physicists, mathematicians, and almost every other kind of scientist in various degrees and according to their distinct methods. Our naturally endowed capacity for wonder frail though it is nonetheless truly opens to the vast splendor of the things that are.

There is another kind of contemplation, theological contemplation, which requires God's help.  This kind of study is no easy undertaking.  Nor is it something someone can safely take up as an isolated individual. Great things in life require great effort, and the most difficult understakings draws us together in support of one another.  While either an urgent plight or a sense of adventure might move someone to take up a great work, theological contemplation involves both the plight of humanity and the noble calling with which each human being is endowed. 

In theology, God draws us to Himself and draws us together with one another so that we might know the truth in a saving way.  Holy Spirit has been sent to the Church so that we might together support one another in this difficult task.  Even with divine assistance and the Church, this kind of study is the most difficult of all human endeavors because what God has revealed far exceeds our frail natural powers to fully comprehend. That is why there is so much strong disagreement and even vital mistakes that are made in the effort to attain this Christian wisdom.

In theological contemplation, God helps all our efforts to understand his incomprehensible love so that we are able to see difficult to discern connections between the truths of the faith not only among themselves but also in relation to what is known by the natural power of reason. God who created our natural powers of reason aids our natural effort to understand what He has done, constantly purifying our gaze and endowing us with ever more penetrating insights. Even after two thousand years, we have barely begun to understand all that Christ has revealed to us.   His riches are inexhaustible! Yet, in addition to his generous cooperation with our efforts to understand Him, He can also raise our natural powers of wonder to participate in his very life. Here, theological contemplation, when radically rooted in the Word of God, glimpses for a moment a light not of this world, a hope that infuses with divine love, an eternal love which makes all things new.  Such is the inheritance of the saints before the Throne of the Lamb.

In theological contemplation where the Word of God is sought in the words of the Bible, where study of the sacred page is imbued with promptings of the Holy Spirit, where prayerful reflection on the tradition handed on to us vigilantly prepares to give an account for the hope we have in Christ; this kind of wisdom brings to humanity an anticipation of the splendor God has yearned to share from before the foundation of the world. The Commission proposes that this effort truly contributes to humanity a certain "supernatural Christian wisdom" of which there are two distinct but related forms, theological and mystical:

This supernatural Christian wisdom, which transcends the purely human wisdom of philosophy, takes two forms which sustain one another but should not be confused: theological wisdom and mystical wisdom. 
Theological wisdom is the work of reason enlightened by faith. It is therefore an acquired wisdom, though it supposes of course the gift of faith. It offers a unified explanation of reality in light of the highest truths of revelation, and it enlightens everything from the foundational mystery of the Trinity, considered both in itself and in its action in creation and in history. In this regard, Vatican I said: ‘Reason illuminated by faith, when it seeks zealously, piously and soberly, attains with the help of God some understanding of the mysteries, and a most fruitful understanding, both by analogy with those things which it knows naturally, and also from the connection of the mysteries among themselves and with the final end of man’.The intellectual contemplation which results from the rational labour of the theologian is thus truly a wisdom.
Mystical wisdom or ‘the knowledge of the saints’ is a gift of the Holy Spirit which comes from union with God in love. Love, in fact, creates an affective connaturality between the human being and God, who allows spiritual persons to know and even suffer things divine (pati divina), actually experiencing them in their lives. This is a non-conceptual knowledge, often expressed in poetry. It leads to contemplation and personal union with God in peace and silence. (Theology Today, #91, bold and italics added)

May 4, 2012

Prayer to the Holy Spirit

O Holy Spirit, Soul of my soul, I love You and adore You!

Teacher of all truth who searches the deep things of God:
In the face of my hostility to the truth,
You have the power to sting the conscience
With your healing power,
Open up today, again, the floodgates of holy tears,
Let compunction flow in this barren heart,
In this love parched world,
In the hearts of all who long for freedom from sin.

Lord and Giver of Life,
Time is short, the hour is late, and judgment certain:
I beg for the gift of repentance
That I and all those threatened
By the power of death,
Might never again forsake the pathway of life.
Help me scrutinize my whole way of life
In the light of the Gospel.
Help me die to myself that I might live
No longer my own life,
But the Life of Christ in me.

Sanctifying Gift of God,
You are constantly coming
Into the innermost depths of my being:
In ever new and more wondrous ways,
Inebriate me again in Your Love!

Breath of God who sweeps over Creation,
Your presence transforms the heart into paradise
And you constantly fill our inner poverty
With such inexhaustible riches.
Even more, You never cease
To allure us out of self-occupation
And into that sacred silence
Where the Word, who makes all things new, resounds:
As You enter ever deeper into my misery,
Lead me deeper and deeper into the heart of Divine Mercy.

Fire of Love,
Ignite holy affections in the deep places of my heart
that I might never be indifferent to the plight of my neighbor
Or fail to seek forgiveness from those I have wronged,
Or delay in offering forgiveness for those debts I can relieve.
Left to myself, I do not have the power
To forgive or forget an offense,
And in the effort to love as I have been loved,
I feel my weakness and inadequacy all the time.
But you constantly teach me compassion and intercession:
Help me submit my brokenness and sorrow to you.

You who covered the Son with transfiguring brightness,
Illumine our darkness with the radiance of Christ,
In the midst of crisis, help us overcome anxiety and insobriety,
In the midst of disaster, free us from all despondency and sinful anger,
That all those who suffer and are burdened might keep their eyes fixed
On the One who has triumphed over sin and death,
Who alone can lead us to the victory of good over evil.

You who overshadowed the Virgin Mary:
Pierce me with the love of the Father revealed by Christ Crucified,
Lift up my heart with the praise of the Only Begotten Son
In whom the Father is well-pleased,
Enflame me with the prayers of the Risen Lord in bold confidence
For the salvation of the world!

Most High and Glorious God,
I promise to be obedient, teachable, surrendered, and abandoned
In everything you permit to happen to me:
Only let me know your holy and true will.