June 29, 2012

The Mystical Life: Where Liturgy and Contemplation Converge

Liturgy and Contemplation converge in the mystical life, a life animated by the mystery of Christ.  There are many who see liturgy and contemplative prayer in opposition - one a shared experience of the community and the other an escape into the esoteric.  Yet neither liturgy nor contemplation are properly understood as experiences.  Nor can they be defined by their psychological outcomes. Contrary to this dominant religious thought, the unity of contemplation and liturgy is grounded in the remarkable access to God faith in Christ makes possible.  

The confidence Christ provides emboldens mental prayer and the liturgy to their ultimate end, to an actual anticipation of the unity with the Holy Trinity to which the life of the Church is ordered.   This means beyond all merely psychological descriptions of the liturgy and mental prayer, these practices converge in the heart lifted up as an offering to God.  Rather than limiting ourselves to the narrowly anthropocentric boundaries of religious experience, the unity of contemplation and liturgy lives in astounding theo-centric horizons.  

Only a vision centered in the Invisible God glimpses the heights, depths and radical extent of his divine philanthropy, and only this perspective begins to provide a sense for how implicated we are in His merciful love.  This astonishing love for man is revealed in Christ Jesus, the Word of God encountered in the Liturgy and pondered in prayer.   Those who have made themselves vulnerable to this Word in holy silence also avail themselves of  liturgical participation which is truly mystical, beyond the limits of our own efforts and even our conscious awareness.  Those who hunger for this Bread of Life in the liturgy are fed with mystical food that nourishes them for the pilgrimage of prayer.

June 28, 2012

The Truth Is What the Heart Needs

St. Irenaeus believed that the vision of God is the life of man.  This is because God is truth and man is made for the truth.  When we try to live by anything else, we do not flourish.  Only the truth sets free the full potential of the heart.  The truth is what the heart needs.

St. Thomas Aquinas explains that the truth is what is - that we only know anything at all when the mind is conformed with reality.   Sacred doctrine renews the mind with the saving truth about God and ourselves and the wonderful things He has done for us.   When we study it, it raises our whole being so that we might thrive and live life to the full.   The Angelic Doctor knows that the Lord have created the human heart for truth, especially the saving truth, and that we thrive only when we know and live by the truth.   The Fortnight for Freedom is all about the truth - without the truth about our humanity and human society true freedom is at great risk.

Today, most people believe the truth is limited to what they can prove by observation or produce by their efforts.   But this so called truth is not enough for the human heart.  The truth that allows us to thrive is not made or produced, it is discovered.  This because reality is much bigger than what is within our power to prove or manipulate.  The truth is what is - and what actually is is much more wonderful than our own achievements or any hypothesis based on what we think we perceive.

This is why truth alludes the grasp of the powerful but entrusts itself to the humble.  The powerful are often seduced by their own ability to achieve and they constantly rely on their cleverness to manipulate circumstances so that they do not have to accept reality for what it is. Pope Benedict explained on Wednesday, "Human logic, however, often seeks self-realization in power, dominion, in powerful means. Man still wants to build the tower of Babel on his own to reach the heights of God himself to be like God."

There are some who think that the truth is manufactured - that if you have the power and the perseverance to convince others that something is true simply by assertion and manipulation, the fact that others have been convinced makes it true.  Political and cultural powers have a tendency to propose and promote unjust laws under this rubric.  Only a calculated myth can demand what is not really owed and only by way of a clever narrative can not respecting basic human rights be rationalized.  Without the truth, the heart is vulnerable to the tyranny of mere myth and narrative.

Truth cannot be manufactured by human cleverness and it never admits of being used as a tool for manipulation. A contrived narrative might appeal to the imagination, but it is always restricting, always smaller than reality. If we do not know what is but entertain only a caricature of reality, we do not really know anything worth knowing at all. The truth, on the contrary, that waits to be discovered. To know the truth is to see reality for what it is as it is -- this is freeing and this is what living faith helps us glimpse.

The humble, those who accept the truth about themselves, are receptive to the truth.  By accepting the truth about themselves, they can receive the truth about God, His love, the world and God's desire to save.  Furthermore, their humble posture towards themselves and reality also disposes them to desire the truth - because they are oriented not to strive for what is merely useful but to behold the splendor of the world around them.   Such souls are open to what can disclose itself to the natural power of reason.  They are also disposed to what God discloses by the light of faith.


June 27, 2012

Living Faith and Freedom to Live the Faith

Why do those who pray need to express their faith by acts of mercy, by speaking the truth, and by working for the common good?  It is because their faith is a living faith, a faith animated by friendship with God.  In such faith, God is present in a real, personal and particular way.  This faith glimpses how much God has implicated Himself in human affairs and it desires to implicate itself in divine affairs.   In such faith, the heart is open, completely vulnerable to the Lord who has made Himself vulnerable to us.  In love animated faith, His love for humanity becomes the passion of our hearts.  This heart to heart is meant to hold up each moment of our lives, but it reaches a special note of intimacy only in the silence of prayer.

Those who know this divine love yearn for the freedom to share that love with the whole world.  They are compelled to be concerned about the things that concern His Heart.   God really is concerned about humanity, about our lives together, about the most vulnerable and about the truth.   So God's friends, those who have dedicated themselves to living faith, they want to make their voices heard and work for a society that is ordered to the truth - the truth about who God is, who we are before Him, and the truth about how we are to live together in love.   This means being able to protect and promote all that is good, holy, tender, authentic and noble about sacred and frail humanity.

In the United States today this freedom is gravely threatened by those who do not understand God's love and who view living faith as an impediment to progress.   Such ignorance and misunderstanding is not fundamentally political or cultural problem, it is spiritual, a problem in the heart.  Only prayer and real dialogue - dialogue radically rooted in the truth - can change hearts.  Only the truth can set us free.

God delights in all that is genuinely human.  He delights in just laws and fairness.   He is always at work in the hearts of those with good will and in the events of life to help us enjoy what He enjoys.  He loves us this much.   Thus, as we work against unjust laws, not only here in America, but all over the world where ever people are not free to live by living faith, we must proceed confident in his love and providence.  Here, more than anything else, prayer opens up the space for Him to bless our solidarity with one another.  With divine blessing, we discover the freedom to delight in what God delights in when He gaze on us and the courage to do what needs to be done so that those we love might have this freedom too. 

June 25, 2012

Where Religious Civil Liberty Touches Spiritual Freedom

Religious liberty and spiritual freedom embrace in the desert of difficult trials. When the Lord brought Israel out of Egypt, the initial elation about being free from slavery faded in the wilderness. As their hardships increased, the people murmured that their new found freedom was more difficult and less comfortable than had been their bondage. They questioned why they had stepped out of subjugation. The political and cultural powers to whom they had been bound provided safety and comfort: their hardships made choosing liberty appear rash.

Similarly today as we strive to protect our religious civil liberties, there are many people of faith who are uncomfortable with the Church speaking out against unjust laws supported by the culturally and politically powerful.  They would prefer that the Church would just go along with the dominant value system and they do not understand why we simply do not adjust our principles and practices to what those in power deem acceptable. This is like longing for the fleshpots of Egypt.

Spiritual freedom is the soul of religious civil liberty.   For Israel to come to prefer slavery over freedom gives us insight into how difficult spiritual freedom is to attain - chased by enemies, hungry, thirsty, not confident about what God had promised them, and afraid to listen to his voice, they spent many years learning the spiritual freedom their new religious freedom required. We must learn this spiritual freedom too.

The freedom of the people of faith cannot be won by just going along with everyone else. True freedom to love requires suffering all kinds of hardship, opposition, false judgment, slander, and other forms of persecution.  This is the desert into which the Lord leads us.

 God has not offered us freedom to make us comfortable but to provide us the opportunity to do something beautiful for Him.  Giving up this freedom for the merely culturally comfortable is hell - and there many who suffer hell in this life. They do not want to be imposed on by God because what God asks is uncomfortable - the wilderness where freedom is forged is always uncomfortable.

Spiritual freedom requires constant renunciation of our desires for security, power, and reputation. This renunciation does not mean that these things are bad in themselves. To renounce such things means to put the interests of God first, before these other interests, no matter the cost.

To what great purpose does the Risen Lord want us to use our freedom?  God is interested in our marriages, our families, and our babies -- as Catholics we need the civil liberty to put these divine interests before every other human interest and the freedom from any mandate that would require us to act otherwise.  We also need the interior freedom which knows it is not intolerant to say this or to live it.  The Lord is concerned with vulnerable, poor, lonely and sick - if they come first for Him, we need the religious liberty to take care of them and not leave them in their hour of need.  We also need inner freedom which knows it is not mean-spirited to serve them in accord with the Gospel of Christ.   The freedom of the children of God is the freedom to put God first - not just in Church on Sundays or in the privacy of our homes, but also in our work and our public life, and especially in our hearts.  This is not an impediment to society, but a nation's greatest blessing.

God frees us for a great purpose - to reveal his love to the world.  To realize this purpose takes true freedom and the courage that goes with it.   This is a purpose worth speaking out for against political and cultural interests who are afraid of the truth and what might happen if the God-given capacity to love were unleashed in society.  The desert is where these fears are revealed and where spiritual freedom is born - it is where our civil right to religious freedom becomes animated with the love of God. 

June 23, 2012

Prayer and Action in the Night of Freedom

The Catholic Bishops have asked us in these days leading up to July 4 to pray for our most cherished freedom - religious freedom.  This is freedom not only to go to Church and pray, but also to provide works of service and love to the vulnerable in society, to tell the truth about human dignity and the sanctity of life to governmental powers and commercial interests who tend to treat persons as merely the means to an end rather than an end in themselves, and to share the Gospel of Christ in the public square.  This great freedom is not free and from childhood we learned songs about fighting through the night for what is most sacred about our way of life.  So this Fortnight of prayer is a kind of battle, an expression of opposition to those who would try to prevent us from rendering unto God what belongs to Him alone.

In this world, the religious liberty that belongs to humanity is always threatened.  Every generation must speak out and struggle for its right to serve God anew - or what is holy in humanity is lost.  While making our political voices heard is essential in this struggle, this sacred civic freedom is only truly protected by learning to pray in true spiritual freedom.  For indeed, our struggle is never really against human foes but spiritual ones against whose tactics and stratagems Christ has promised victory.  In this struggle for freedom, every threat can become by our prayer and love the revelation of the glory of God.

In this Fortnight of Freedom, the Lord invites us into a beautiful night of spiritual freedom, a true interior liberty St. John of the Cross describes as a search for God in a dark night. For those under trial, burdened by extra projects and afflicted with all kinds of discouragement, St. John of the Cross teaches that the Lord is at work in secret, hidden ways accomplishing something that we do not understand.  He describes this unseen work as producing spiritual freedom. True freedom he has in mind is the ability to love when we do not feel loved, the ability to appreciate when we do not feel appreciated, the ability to understand when we do not feel understood.

St. John of the Cross is suggesting that trials become beautiful when we allow the Lord to teach us this kind of freedom.  This kind of freedom of heart is so precious, so sacred because it is precisely with this same divine freedom that God loves us. If this is the case, we can call our struggles and difficulties and hardships a Night of Freedom, and our greatest contribution to America during this Fortnight of Freedom is to keep the light of our faith by prayer and action burning bright.

June 20, 2012

Faith, Love and the Truth

Some people believe that faith implies doubt.  For them to live by faith is nothing more than the belief in a pleasant myth that helps one get through life.  Faith is to be believed when it is convenient and we never inconvenience anyone by our belief.  But to live in a fantasy like this, this is foolishness.  Unlike fantasy, the truth is inconvenient and inconveniences everyone who wants to be true.  If we do not believe in the truth, we believe in nothing.  And to believe in nothing, this is to live without anything really to live for.   This is why faith cannot be a pleasant myth to which I sometimes have recourse so that I feel better about life.   Faith either seeks the truth and cleaves to what is true with certitude, or it is utterly useless.

Faith, love and truth converge for the Christian.  If we think about our own experience in friendship, when someone discloses their love for us, we know in an instant whether or not to believe the declaration.   The authenticity of the person is evidence of the authenticity of what they have revealed.  Such a declaration, such a disclosure, such a revelation must be judged to be true or it means nothing.   There are few things in life more beautiful than to know that you can believe someone who discloses his or her heart.  When you know you can believe in someone, you do not doubt them.  You believe in them. This is what husbands and wives must do for each other.  It is what parents and children must do for each other.  To protect this exchange of love and promote it, it must not be doubted.   Instead, in all these relationships, we believe in each other, even when we fall short and disappoint.  Christain faith has this form of belief.  It is believing what God has disclosed to us about His Heart.  The difference is that our hope in God does not disappoint because God never falls short.   He goes all the way.

To believe, for the Christian, implies a claim about the love of God.  To believe implies no doubt about this love and its demands.  To believe means to be willing to fight for this love, no matter the cost.  This battle we wage not only for ourselves but also for our friends - and to be a Christian means to be ready and willing to lay down one's own life that one's friends might know the truth about the love of God.  Yes to dare to be a Christian is to pledge oneself to relentless battle in this life, but this battle of faith more than any other struggle that life throws at us is worthy of our lives and devotion.

The great saints, the martyrs of truth, men like John the Baptist, they keep before us the truth.  In the battle of faith which is a battle for the truth and for love, we like them can discover the invinible certitude that God provides.  Today more than ever in the presence circumstances of our culture and society, we who dare to call ourselves Catholic must come to believe with invincible certitude that the Christian claim and commitment to the truth is true.   It is the inheritance of the saints to be affored the opportunity to stand for truth against tyranny, to share in their invincible certitude in new ways in our times.

We have faith in the truth because we believe the claim of the One who declared God's love to an alienated world that needs love.  We have faith in the truth about who God is because the Way, the Truth and the Life died for our sake out of love and for love.  Since this is true, we cannot limit our faith to the inside of a Church building or the privacy of our homes.   Because God's love is true, we are compelled to announce it everywhere and everyplace.  Those who are oppressed by the misery of not knowing that they are loved have a right to know they are loved beyond all measure.  It is our sacred duty to announce from the rooftop, in the public square, the the marketplace of ideas that every man and woman is called by love and is awaited by love, that in this inestimable love the true meaning of our lives is to be discovered.  It is by standing on this truth that accounts for our hope and in our hope any readiness on our part to put our fortunes, reputations and lives on the line for God's love.  It is by taking our stand with this truth about God - this truth about love! - that we at last find our freedom.   Such faith does not imply doubt.  It vanquishes it.

June 19, 2012

Standing Firm on our Principles

We seem to be going from crisis to crisis, at least according to the dominant voices of our culture.   There is a reason for this.  In the midst of a crisis, we are usually told that the end justifies the means.  In other words, a state of crisis is often used by the unscrupulous to manipulate and to silence people of principle. Here is the battle in which we are tested.  The principles we believe, those propositions of our faith as Christians, those things to which we boldly adhere, our Creed itself is what is under assualt.  No matter the crisis, the principles of the Christian faith are infallibly true and in this battle, our faith is being made pure and strong if we stand firm. 

Faith is a contest that involves courage, struggle and constant effort.  Today more than at any time in history we face a constant onslaught of all kinds of trials, hardships and persecutions against Christians in general and the Catholic Church in particular.  We confront all kinds of evil both from within and from outside the Church.   In each scandal that rocks the People of God, in every governmental assault on the consciences of faithful, in the endless cultural attacks by the entertainment industry on all that is good and wholesome in our way of life; in all of this, the principles of the Christian faith are tested again and again. 

It is a grave mistake to see this test from only a human level or to try to overcome it by human cleverness alone.  In fact, we must persevere against principalities and powers not only for our own sakes, but especially for the sake of those who have made themselves our enemies.  Love for them demands our fidelity to the truth - such fidelity may help not only our enemies but us ourselves to rethink our hostility to one another and rediscover the dignity we share together.  Such humanzing fidelity is rooted in a radical trust in God - our faithfulness to Him flows from the fact that He is always more faithful to us.

In the midst of a battle this fierce and prolonged, it is easy to lose heart and to be gripped with all kinds of insecurities.   A lack of confidence thwarts many who otherwise would do something beautiful for God.   This is why we must not only be faithful to God, but we also must encourage one another by both words and prayer.   The battle of our faith is a personal struggle for freedom but it is also a battle for communion, true communion with God and one another.  The battle is won when our love for one another is built up deeper and stronger in friendship with God.

The battle of faith is won by standing on the principles that live in our hearts, the truths we know are true.  The articles of our faith handed on and entrusted to us by the Church: this is the firm ground of our hearts, the battlefield where we take our stand.  Our weapons are prayer, fasting and works of mercy.  If we stand firm, our victory is assured.  This is because by believing what we profess in the Symbol of our Faith, we have access to the Lord Himself -- He is our courage even when we feel no courage at all. 
With Him and through Him, all things are possible, even victory in the face of overwhelming and oppressive force.   For indeed He has already won this victory and we are only extending the fruits of his triumph into our own lives when we stand firm in prayer and refuse to lose heart. This is the substance of our hope - the living presence of the Risen Lord who never abandons us and to whom we have bold access in faith.  

June 14, 2012

The Heart of Christ - Our Hope for Holiness

Holy Cross Church, Santa Cruz, California
Why do Christians strive for holiness?  It is certainly not because we are naturally inclined to set ourselves apart for God or that we are very successful at it.  Wounded by sin, we constantly feel thwarted each time we try to act on desires we deem noble.  Instead of accomplishing something beautiful for God, it is as if the Lord allows us to fall flat on our face.  Then comes a temptation to discouragement and the heart feels itself drowning in a host of insurmountable difficulties.  What is our reason to hope when faced with such moments and why does this hope cause us to rise up again and follow our crucified God? It has to do with Him and not us.

Though there is no earthly reason to believe it, the hope of Christian holiness burns brightest precisely in this kind of trial, these moments when we see unfold before us the antithesis of what our hearts most desire.  It is in these moments when our hearts are laid bare that God lays bare His Heart to us.  When our inadequacies and failures to love appear the most overwhelming, God is inviting us into the purifying fire of His love.  This unquenchable fire burns in His Heart for us, each of us personally and uniquely, and He longs that the whole world be ablaze in it.  In such trials and hardships as in no other moments of life the Living God offers His Heart in an uncommon, unrepeatable, most intimate and person way.   In these moments, humbled faith beholds the Heart that has humbled itself unto death, and the Heart that is risen and raised to the right hand of the Father gives cause for us to lift up our hearts anew.

What happens when we say "yes" to the Sacred Heart in the midst of our defeats and failures?  If we are to live by faith, if we are to let ourselves be moved by the heart of Christ, our job is not to be overwhelmed, not to run away from such moments, not to give into anxiety.  Before the ineffable love of the Savior, we must die to all cowardice and self-occupation.  Instead, we must trust in the One who is righteous and true.  He alone is our Vindicator.  When we do, when we make even the frailest effort to trust in Him, we discover, to the degree we surrender to His power working through our weakness, a new nobility is born in us even as our broken efforts to be noble seem to fall apart.  The love of Christ is greater than the sin that weighs us down and His love restores our dignity by working all things for His glory - if we trust in Him.

The movement of the Heart of Jesus moves us to holiness informing our natural efforts with new life, a life that raises us above our failures and into the victory Christ realized for God the Father, the victory of Good over Evil.   The unfolding of this mystery in our lives and our lives in this mystery - this is the life of faith.  Where it leads we do not know but we do know we shall be like Him - for we shall see Him face to face. This is our hope, the hope of the children of God.  And, our hope does not disappoint.

For those who have been following my pod-casts with Kris McGregor and Miriam Gutierrez at Discerning Hearts, click here for episode #17.

June 12, 2012

For Greater Glory

Over the weekend, I saw For Greater Glory (Cristiada), a movie about the Cristero wars in Mexico (1926-1929).  Until I saw this movie, most of what I had heard about this war was from Graham Greene's Power and the Glory, a few short biographies from some of the martyrs who were beatified and canonized, and word of mouth stories from migrant workers with whom I worked in California, New Mexico and Texas.  I never was able to put together all these different sources.  The movie was deeply moving to this end, especially at this time when religious freedom is being threatened all over the world.  Now I cannot wait to read the book by Ruben Quezada.

For our time and for those who are beginning to pray, the movie helps us think about the connections between faith and culture, religion and society, personal conversion and social change, and holiness and the authentically human; all of which ought to be part of our personal conversation with God.  Humble prayer informed by these considerations helps us discern what it is we are to render unto God, to summon the courage to be good citizens, and to find the joy we need to share the Gospel of Christ.  Here are my thoughts on the Cristeros, their struggles and their witness, thoughts I hope to develop for many years to come.

To God, what belongs to God.  The movie depicts how government overreach incited the Cristeros.  Although it is the teaching of the Lord that we must render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar, the claim of Caesar is not absolute.  There are things to be rendered unto God to which Caesar has no right.  With the battle cry "Viva Cristo Rey!" the Cristeros were affirming that the demands of faith in Christ do not admit of compromise.

Unjust laws are a threat to what is authentically human in society, especially for the poor and the powerless.  The movie shows an escalation in violence proportionate to the attempts of governmental power to suppress people of faith. Sadly, throughout history and throughout the world today, governments have shown a propensity to lay claim to what pertains to the innermost sanctuary of the human person -- and the fruits of this oppression always undermine and destabilize society.  Whenever state power encroaches on obligations of conscious to God, it is always to the detriment not simply of religious institutions but rather of the whole of society.   As has been the case throughout history, the movie depicts the poor and the powerless bearing the brunt the social aggression which results from all sides.  Indeed, the development of a more humane society is thwarted until unjust laws subverting religious freedom are repealed.

Witness to the true freedom of our faith through responsible social participation.  The movie shows bystanders who try to avoid conflict by compromise but end up subjecting the most vulnerable to harms way.  Whenever the followers of Christ have been shamed or bullied into silence, it is always disastrous for the rest of society, but especially for those who most need a voice.  It is cowardly to be a bystander when the rights and dignity of the most vulnerable in society are on the line. Religious freedom is not only about one's own freedom to live one's own faith in private but it is about the responsibility to promote this freedom to build up the common good.  Rendering unto God what belongs to God and to Caesar what belongs to Caesar converge on the responsibility Catholics have for social participation.  We must not be silent in the marketplace of ideas or in the debates that take place in the public square when something so precious as religious freedom is at stake.

Be proud of the Gospel.  The movie puts together in a wonderful tapestry the stories of both the saints and sinners who comprised the Cristero movement.  Among the sinners, we see a purification of faith in the lives of the Cristeros as they come to grips with what it is they are fighting for and why they are fighting for it. At  the same time the movie develops the gradual realization among the secularists of the insufficiency of violent oppression as a means for securing social stability.  Among the saints, the martyrdom of both Blessed Jose Sanchez del Rio and Blessed Anacleto Gonzales Flores are depicted.  By making sure to include their stories, For Greater Glory helps us see that there is no greater glory than to live for Jesus Christ and that even in the worst circumstances if we are faithful to the hope that comes from God victory is assured.      

June 7, 2012

The Eucharistic Heart of Christ - Torrent of Love

While he was imprisoned in Toledo in the silence of his dark cell, St. John of the Cross must have been able to hear the mighty Tagus river roar below the city.   He could not see the river, but his prison, so close to the edge of the city (and thus the river) reverberated with its power.  In his poem La Fonte, he uses this experience to help describe the power of Christ's presence that surrounds us even though we cannot see it.   The verses are filled with allusions to an unseen river and the words "I know" and "although it is dark" are almost a refrain.

The Tagus, the dark, and knowledge of this poem speak to us about the experience of faith.  The Tagus is like God's unseen presence in the world.  The dark is the dark pain of this world in which the love of God is hidden.  The dark knowledge of a lonely prisoner listening for consolation describes what it means to have faith in the power God to accomplish something beautiful in the midst of pain.

The message of our faith, the message of the love of God, is like a river we hear but we cannot see.  We hear the goodness with our ears and the power of grace enters us as deeply as we are able to believe in Him.   He lays claim to the innermost sanctuary of the deepest center of our being where we are vulnerable to ourselves and to Him.  The powerful torrent of His love enters to destroy all that threatens the truth about who we are.  He enters to raise up our dignity beyond anything we can understand.  His saving hand sets us free to love in a manner beyond all limits.  This overwhelming torrent which carries us beyond ourselves, all the while helping us become the creatures we were meant to be from all eternity.  We cannot see this grace, but we believe in its power to change and transform us in love, even when it seems love is impossible.

At the end of the poem, he reveals that the river he knows is the presence of Christ, especially as it is given to us in the Eucharist. Our eyes see bread and wine, but the Eternal Word, Truth Himself tells us, "This is my body, this is my blood."  The torrential presence of Love Incarnate in the Eucharist is meant to overflow the soul, to envelop it, to submerge it, to divinize it with heavenly gifts.  Jesus awaits us in love in the Eucharist, but to behold Him gazing at us in love in this supreme gift, we must go beyond what we can grasp by the mere power of reason and open our hearts to a reality higher than mere reason can know.  God is waiting where only faith filled love can take us, a love soaked silence which aches for a real union of hearts.  Love for Him takes us beyond our natural limits to this place of fruition.  St. John of the Cross speaks of a general loving knowledge which has its own kind of clarity - a clarity we can live by.  We access the transforming dynamism of Christ at work in the world and in our lives only by this kind of love imbued faith.  Through such living faith, the power of new creation surges in the appearance of bread and wine.  The last lines speak to the Eucharistic realty:

This eternal spring is hidden
in this living bread for our life's sake,
although it is night.

It is here calling out to creatures;
and they satisfy their thirst,
although in darkness,
because it is night.

This living spring that I long for,
I see in this bread of life,
although it is night.

Translation by Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D. and Otilio Rodriguez, O.C.D. as in Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, Washington, D.C.: ICS (1991) 60.

June 6, 2012

Doing God's Will Puts Music in the Soul

For Blessed Elisabeth of the Trinity, the spiritual life is all about bringing our will into harmony with God's will.  When we will what God's wills out of love for Him and out of desire to be with Him, our hearts sing his praise - we in fact become the praise of his glory.  But to become praise, we must die to everything that is not God's will for us.  This means letting go of all the things that drive us that are other than the love of God.  Selfish habits, pride, the desire to be in control, the need to say the last word, resentment, bitterness, rash judgment, even the need to appear justified in the eyes of others -- all of this can be very hostile to the will of God and as long as we allow these things to drive us, we are out of harmony with God.  If we are not in harmony with God,  we can never join in the divine melodies Christ reveals on the Cross and we are deaf to the the symphony of truth and love which echoes in heaven.  Blessed Elisabeth shows that the pathway to enter into harmony with the Will of God is the way of the Cross, the pathway by which we die to self and live for God.  For episode 16 in my pod-casts at Discerning Hearts, click here.

June 5, 2012

The Impact of God

I am in the Santa Cruz Mountains at a retreat center giving conferences on St. John of the Cross.  We are using a text by Father Iain Matthew called The Impact of God: Soundings from St. John of the Cross published by Hodder, 1995, 2010.  Father Matthew provides a wonderful orientation to the life and writings this Carmelite Doctor of the Church, an orientation which Jean Vanier calls "firmly centred in Jesus, in love with Jesus."  Because of his decades of living in an intense and catholic form of Christian community, the fact that Vanier wrote such a glowing foreword to the book gave me confidence that it would be worth my time.  It is one of the most insightful secondary sources on this spiritual master's thought I have yet come across.

One of the many things Father Matthew captures well is the divine dynamism of the Living God in contemplation.   He directs us to the One St. John of the Cross encountered in prayer - the initiator of a beautiful friendship, the Fire of Love who burns in a particular way for each person as if they were the only one He loved.  If God is totally transcendent, ineffable and unattainable by the unaided operations of the soul, Father Matthew makes sure we know that the Carmelite Poet does not describe a passive, stale and exhausted presence that is indistinguishable from one's own big fat ego.  Instead, Father Matthew relentlessly unpacks the 16th century mystic's descriptions of an in-flowing presence which imbues the soul with such supernatural gifts it can boldly go in search of the One who is by nature totally hidden from it.  The work is geared to providing confidence in suffering and in prayer, and because it is faithful to theological vision of St. John of the Cross, Father Matthew succeeds in this enterprise.

John [of the Cross] has traced a pattern--a God who gives himself, a darkness making room for the gift--which presents a purpose worthy of a person's life.  But his promise of encounter is not reserved for those who make it to the end.  John sees the pattern available now--present in faith, guaranteed in Jesus, released in prayer.  Having reviewed the pattern, we want next to take hold of this encounter.  Not that there will be no pain or confusion; but there is a precious and more significant friendship, closer than pain or confusion.  That is a valid reason not to be afraid.  Father Iain Matthew, Impact of God, 93.    

June 1, 2012

The Power of the Holy Trinity

All too often, the Holy Trinity is approached as a problem to be solved rather than the initiator and ultimate end of the whole Christian Mystery.  This living love is not something that we wait for at the end of our lives.  Nor is it something we analyze as an object of study outside of ourselves.  This eternal life is the truth we were made to behold and to share in.  We access the life of the Trinity even now by faith - it is why we begin our prayer "In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit."

To be a Christian is to be plunged into the primordial mystery of love which is the Trinity.  This means we participate in their circumcession of love, of being in relation to one another, being "for" one another, all of this makes us capable of being for God and for one another in all the concrete circumstances of our life.  Circumcession is the circulation of love and knowledge - a knowing love and a loving knowledge- eternally exchanged by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  It is the reality of communion in which we participate by sheer gift, a gift won for us on the Cross.  

The Trinity is the mystery from which our faith comes and to which it leads. The Three in One and One in Three is more present to our hearts and minds than we are to ourselves.  The Holy Trinity is a reality of unspeakable love that begins right here and right now with the decision to believe in this love and to live by this love.  To choose this is to make oneself vulnerable to the love of God - and to die to everything that is hostile to His love.   This is what happens when the Trinity touches us, when the living God pierces our hearts - the invincible unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is ours by grace.

In his commentary The Living Flame, St. John of the Cross describes the Trinity in terms of a hand, a delicate touch and a delightful wound.   The Father is the hand "wounds to heal."  Everything comes from Him reaching out to us in blessing just as He reaches out to Adam in Michaelangelo's Sistine Chapel.  Yet to make us healthy, He reaches out to destroy sin.  This involves dying to our old way of life and renouncing those things that are obstacles to loving those He entrusts to us.  The Father reaching out to us wakes us from our spiritual slumber and stirs us to re-orient ourselves ever more deeply to his love.  

If the Father is a hand reaching out of us, the Son is his touch - the Crucified Christ is the only way the Father reaches out to us.  In Jesus, humanity and divinity touch each other, divine mercy touches human misery.  This means that to know the Father we must not be afraid to search our misery for His mercy - Divine Mercy is deeper, the ultimate boundary to our hostility to God, to one another and to ourselves.

If the Father touches us through his Son, the touch of Christ leaves us the Gift of the Holy Spirit.  With the presence of the Holy Spirit, a taste for eternity lingers in the soul.  We find in ourselves not only the desire but the ability to rise above the limits of the present circumstances and see the possibility of a greater freedom and truer love.   The Holy Spirit lives in the wound of love God grants us - a wound that heals us and helps us realize the great dignity for which we are made.

To avail ourselves to this beautiful touch of the Father by which His Spirit orients us to divine things, all we must do is prayerfully surrender.  This means to boldly trust in Him through all the opportunities to love He gives us in the here and now.  This is not always an easy choice - but what good is our love if we only render it when it is easy to give.  And this choice that opens the whole mystery of God before us is always possible, no matter the circumstances around us, if we reject sin and keep prayerfully vigilant for His presence, clinging to our faith in which we find  the very substance of our hope.  A soul that lives by this hope hungers for love and is always ready to be drawn deep into the mystery of the Holy Trinity into which we have been invited through the generous blessing of the Father, through his Son and in the Holy Spirit from before the foundation of the world.