November 29, 2012

With God's Love Wounds of Sin become Wounds of Love

Transforming "wounds of sin into wounds of love" is something that St. John of the Cross describes the Holy Spirit as accomplishing in the soul. To help us understand this effect of God in the soul, St. John of the Cross describes God's action as a cautery - the application of something physically hot to a wound, "If applied to a wound not made by fire, it converts it into a wound caused by fire." (See Living Flame of Love, 2.7)

In prayer, God can touch the soul in such a beautiful way that all past grievances are forgotten and all past guilt surrendered to His Mercy. Such prayer anticipates what awaits those who hope in God and choose to live by love -- at the final judgment; every tear shall be wiped dry, every sorrow consoled. Divine Love is that good.
This means, when I am vulnerable to the love of God in prayer, He is able to help me forgive and even to forget grievances that burden my heart. Rather than disposing me to render a harsh judgment toward the person who has hurt me - the Holy Spirit teaches me how to pray for that person and how to have compassion for them in their misery. This also means that when I struggle to forgive someone it is not merely because of the wicked thing they have done, but this struggle also speaks to the ignorance of God's love I am suffering.

To be merciful, I need mercy -- and here I am a sick beggar who must rely completely on the Lord. Yet God would not give us the desire to be merciful if He did not intend to give us the love we need. This love, which He gives in prayer to those who confidently ask with perseverance, this mysterious love makes wounds of sin into wounds of love because each wound of sin becomes a beautiful new way for us to discover the inexhaustible riches of Christ.

Not to know the love of God is the deepest misery of all -- but to be pierced by His Mercy, if only for a one wondrous moment - no wound is more healing for the soul, and the only thing that can heal such a wound of love is to become more vulnerable to love, to allow oneself to be pierced by love over and over again, "to such an extent that the entire soul is dissolved into a wound of love. And now all cauterized and made one wound of love, it is completely healthy in love, for it is transformed in love."

November 24, 2012

Living With Holy Desires

Today, as secular as we have become, we need prayer more than ever.  In the midst of a superabundance of material conveniences or else in their felt absence, we forget that we are spiritual beings at our own peril.  We must not define ourselves by the things we possess or do not possess.  We must not allow the pace and noise of the marketplace to suffocate us.  There are deeper and holier desires that haunt the human heart - desires that drive us beyond our limited accomplishments and compel us to look out onto those new frontiers where the mystery of humanity touches the creative force of God's love.  We must order our lives so that these desires are not only protected and nourished, but also unleashed.  Such desires unleashed by prayer avail us to the fullness of life that the Lord longs for us to know.

From Pope Benedict XVI's General Audience of November 7, 2012

We are pilgrims, heading for the heavenly homeland, toward that full and eternal good that nothing will be able to take away from us. This is not, then, about suffocating the longing that dwells in the heart of man, but about freeing it, so that it can reach its true height. When in desire one opens the window to God, this is already a sign of the presence of faith in the soul, faith that is a grace of God. St Augustine always says: “so God, by deferring our hope, stretched our desire; by the desiring, stretches the mind; by stretching, makes it more capacious” (Commentary on the First Letter of John, 4,6: PL 35, 2009).

November 23, 2012

Hidden Mountain Secret Garden

Hidden Mountain, Secret Garden: a theological contemplation of prayer is my first book.  The work derives from lectures on the spiritual classics of the Catholic Tradition delivered over a twelve year period.  Gaged to help new seminarians of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary and other graduate students discover the riches of prayer, these lectures introduced the practice of contemplative or mental prayer in the discipline of the Christian life.  In fact, the images of the "Hidden Mountain" and the "Secret Garden" are ancient metaphors for contemplative prayer, a kind of prayer that begins and ends in faith.

Drawing from the Holy Bible as well as a selection from the great saints and mystics, the book explores how the presence of Christ is the living fountain of Christian prayer.  Christians offer their hearts to the Lord in response to the very objective but very personal way the Lord has disclosed His love for us.   The Lord's mysterious presence  invites us into an ongoing conversation about the whole of our lives and at the same time His dynamic presence provides the power to live in ways we could not have imagined were possible without Him.

To follow the way shown to us by the Risen Lord, no method or technique can  replace faith guided by love, a living faith which is ours for the asking, a bold faith that steps out in confidence even in the shadow of death.  Such faith sees what is hidden and secret: Jesus Christ is never absent in our struggles, no matter how dark the doubt, or the fear, or the trial, or the temptation engulfing us.  He is with us in all our efforts to love, and especially in our efforts to find Him, to cleave to Him, to share Him with others.

This book is especially for those whose prayer is a search for the loving eyes of One who has conquered death.  This kind of prayer beholds the wonder of Christ's living but hidden presence lifted up in one's highest thoughts as well as in one's deepest longings.   The ecstasy of this kind of prayer extends beyond even the vast unexplored frontiers of the human heart and opens to an immensity of such excessive mercy that all else is forgotten -- and only love remains.

The whole world needs this love: it is the secret garden, the hidden mountain, the inexhaustible riches only prayer knows and only prayer can make known.  For those great souls who are faithful in opening their hearts to the Lord, every Christian owes you a debt of gratitude.   For those who want to join them, I hope this work encourages you along the way.

Available at as an ebook (click here), a paperback edition will be available here soon.  You may also order a paperback edition at   This work has been published by Discerning Hearts in Omaha, Nebraska.

November 15, 2012

Hidden Movements of the Heart

In prayer, in deep prayer, there are hidden movements of the heart.  Like gravity, there is a pull to silence, a gentle impulse, hardly perceptible, yet exerting its influence all the time.   Love is the specific gravity of the soul and that to which we give our heart is a force in our lives.  If we give our hearts to good things, our lives feel the tug of what is good.  If to evil, evil things.  But if to God, not only do evil things lose their influence over us, but we come to possess all the good things we have ever hoped for in a more marvelous way.  This is because all that is good, holy, noble, beautiful and true is enveloped and established in the gentle mystery of His presence.  For God's part, the Holy Trinity burns with all the warmth and light of perfect, uncreated and eternal friendship, a love never ceasing with the full force of divine passion to share all of this with us - and to give so much more - and this in a secret and tender exchange of hearts.  Who would know there was such power unfolding in spiritual movements so subtle we are scarcely aware of them?

November 10, 2012

St. John of Avila: The Obedience of Faith

It is the Year of Faith and the great mystics help us see dimensions of faith that raise our hearts above ordinary existence while also rooting us more deeply in the truth.  To this end, one of the newest doctors of the Church wrote about the virtue faith extensively.   One aspect that he describes is the need to believe what we do not understand.

In "Listen, O Daughter" chapter 38 he mentions an analogy: just as God's love demands we renounce our self-love, and just as trust in God demands we renounce our trust in ourselves, so too the obedience we owe the truth of God demands we renounce our own opinion.  This does not mean that our faith is not intelligible or that we should not try with all our might to understand the truth given to us by God, but it does mean that as Christians we do not live within the narrow confines of what we understand.  Instead, we believe, we live, we stive to be faithful on the vast horizons of all that really is and this truth is always more than we understand.

St. John of Avila is inviting us to live with our minds bent in adoration, our intellects bowed down in humility before a mystery so immense and beautiful and moving that only a light beyond all natural lights, the light that comes from God - the Light that shines in the darkness - can allow us to glimpse its inexhaustible glory - a glory which is known by love informed faith alone.

November 7, 2012

How the Saints Dealt with Unanswered Prayer

Blessed Elisabeth of the Trinity, whose feast day is on November 8, had a landlord for whom she prayed and fasted, begging God for his conversion for years.  In many ways, those who prayed and fasted for the elections earlier this week would probably appreciate her experience.  For just as many had hoped that America would choose to be a little more open to God and to life, she too had cause for disappointment when M. Chapuit died without ever having shown any sign of returning to the faith.

When our intercession for those we love and for difficult situations seems unheeded, this is never because God does not hear our prayer.  In His abundant love, He stands ready to give always what is most needed in each situation.   However, what He knows is really needed and what we think we are asking for do not always coincide.  This means that sometimes we must come to terms with disappointed expectations in our prayer.

For some, this disappointment is so great, they determine to give up prayer altogether.  They walk away from their faith and assume that somehow it just does not work, at least not for them.   When this happens, they have allowed their disappointment to become despair.

There is another way.  Instead of succumbing to disappointment, Blessed Elisabeth learned from St. Paul that God's power is sufficient. St. Paul asked the Lord three times to remove a thorn from his flesh, an allusion to some sort of spiritual trial (2 Cor. 12:7).   Despite the Apostles devotion and long perseverance in prayer, God would not remove the thorn.  Instead, the Lord answered Paul by explaining that His power was brought to perfection in our weakness.

St, Paul wanted God to deliver him from difficulty by making it magically go away.  He wanted a fairytale - but instead the Lord was leading him on an epic journey.  What he did not fully grasp was the deeper things God desires to address when we present Him our concerns.  He learned that the most powerful way God works is not despite but through our weaknesses.  It seems that to accomplish the great wonders He yearns for us to know, the Lord does not need our clever solutions, only our faithfulness in prayer.

St. Paul's mentality toward prayer displays the transforming encounter that took place in his conversation with God.  And because he did not succumb to disappointment, he is a powerful witness to the remarkable ways God works in the world.  Rather than boast of his apostolic and spiritual achievements, St. Paul loved to boast about his weakness and helplessness so as to affirm that all things are possible with God who strengthens us.

What St. Paul is teaching us is that the providence of God is more manifest when we have been brought past the brink of our own limited resourcefulness.  The marvels of God begin at the breaking point where the natural capacity to cope has been completely exhausted.  This always takes us beyond our expectations.   In fact, as long as when try to limit God to the narrow scope of our expectations, we have little occasion to be filled with wonder over His surpassing greatness.   God loves to surpass all expectation because His love is unsurpassable.

For our part, radical openness to God and humility before the astonishing ways He chooses to answer our prayers allows us to give Him all the glory.  When all the glory goes to the Lord, we find even deeper and better reasons for gratitude than we would have had had our prayers been answered the way we thought they should. Those who seek God in intercessory prayer open themselves to this very same mystery - it is a mystery that provides us the opportunity to more radically avail ourselves to the hidden power by which God makes all things work for the good of those who love Him.