December 30, 2013

A New Beginning to Pray

Beginning to pray is the project of a lifetime.   The entry of the Word of the Father into human history makes this project possible.  This entry is not convenient or easy for God or man.   Love never is.  It demands taking up our freedom in the most difficult and most worthwhile of all human endeavors - the effort to attend to and respond to love.

Beginning to pray is learning to respond with love to the Living God who has called out for our love as if helpless and completely vulnerable.  The Creator of the whole Cosmos speaks to us in supreme humility allowing his His almighty voice to be contained in the hopeful cries of a hungry infant.

One does not always hear at first how His invincible will reverberates.  For those who persevere in listening for this voice, they hear its harmony resound in the gentle way the the Word made flesh allowed Himself to be encompassed by the frailty of human freedom: conceived and born of the "fiat" of a lowly handmaid, bound by her in swaddling clothes, placed by her in a manger in the cave in Bethlehem.  This is what we must attend to in our hearts and respond to with our lives -- God's still small voice is echoed in the plight of those entrusted to us, the poor, the vulnerable and the most needy in our midsts.

In this still darkness, "the Visible Image of the Invisible God" speaks into our reality, historical and personal, impatiently awaiting our response.  He believes in our liberty so much that He freely chose to enter into it and submit Himself to it.  He kisses human freedom with divine freedom - over two thousand years ago in history; today right now in mystery.   This kiss cost Him dearly and those who attempt to respond to Him also must renounce themselves, pick up their cross, and follow Him.  Yet those who pray pay this price gladly because human liberty raised by grace is capable of love -- and one free thought filled with love of Him is worth more to Him than all the universe combined. 

December 27, 2013

Saint John Beloved Disciple and Witness to the Light

The Apostle John fills Christmas with a wisdom that knows what it means to be "beloved" of God.  This is an intimate kind of understanding born in friendship for the sake of love alone.  His Teacher passed on the discipline of love to him.  What he received was no incoherent doctrine or conflicting myth.  Rather, he was fed the truth and he ate from the Bread of Life and found it has the consistency of truth, a consistency on which one can stand with his entire existence.  Thus, he roots his whole witness to divine love on the Word.

The Word dwelling with us, not in mere appearance but in our flesh, this is the context of the Beloved Disciple's message.  Gazing on all of sacred doctrine with the analogy of faith, his own writings reach out to the vast horizons of what the Word of the Father has revealed about the love of God that abides with us.  Indeed, he teaches as one who has heard, touched and contemplated this Word.  From the very first line of his Gospel, the Evangelist draws an intrinsic connection between the saving mystery of the Incarnation,"the Word became flesh" and the work of Creation itself, "In the beginning the Word:" It is this Word who personally and intimately "abides."

The Word of the Father remains with us not as an impersonal force imposing the Father's will as if humanity needs to be coerced or overpowered.  He is not an ideal extrinsically imposed on our existence from without.  He is not a system: the clever invention of the powerful in the heavens above or on earth below to manage our pain, our individuality, our guilt, our dis-ease over death, our yearning for something beyond ourselves.  The Author of human freedom has no need to deprive us of liberty or violently rob us of our dignity even as He grieves over its loss.

Saint John knows that the Lamb that was slain rules by attraction and invitation.  The Risen Lord proposes and offers friendship.  The One whose eyes blaze like fire appeals to all that is good, noble and true.  The Lord evokes faith so that those who believe in Him know life to the full.  This is why he does not need to annihilate evil or surmount our frail humanity.  He leads humanity like a shepherd through the valley of death to victory by remaining with us, abiding with us even in the face of all that threatens our lives.

The Word is the Son of the Father from the Father and for us.  In Eternity, the Son is the Word from and for the Father: conceived by the Father and proceeding from Him in goodness and truth, He communicates all that is good and true to the Father in the Spirit and to the Spirit for the Father.  In time, the Word become flesh is sent from the Father and for us: conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary and baptized by John that we might know the Father's goodness and truth for our own life through the gift of the Holy Spirit.  To abide with us as He abides with the Father is the reason He suffered death on the Cross - the Incarnation culminates in the Paschal Mystery.

By abiding with us in this way, the Word fills our brokenness with ineffable fullness like light shining in the darkness.  To believe in Him is to stake our lives on the proposal that our existence is not an empty accident or meaningless void.  Instead, to hold fast to this Word is to believe that everything, even when suffering reduces us to silence, resounds with His fullness.

He is the One who loves us and is with us through it all.   This is why He does not make our problems magically go away as if they were purely incidental to our lives.  Instead, He loves us in these trials, redeeming them, even as our whole world falls apart around us.  In this solidarity, He reveals God's decision to suffer the necessary ambiguity our freedom and dignity require.  He wills that we might with contrite and astonished heart find our dignity in returning again to Him, He who abides with us.

This Disciple who in the shadow of the Cross took the Lord's Mother into his home wants us to know this wisdom, the wisdom of being the beloved of God.  He knows that the disciple who surrenders to Christ's particular and unrepeatable love for him, becomes, not God's slave, but his friend.  He knows that this kind of faith suffers the abiding presence of God in the Word made flesh even in the face of the Cross.  This wisdom, baptized in Blood and Water, beholds the loving goodness of the Father who raises up from death.  This wisdom feeds on all that is good, holy and true about consecrated humanity, "My flesh is real food."

This Seer of Patmos is a reliable witness.  He testifies to the light from above, a light that shines in darkness.   In the midst of all the confusion and ambiguities of this world, he proposes that the Lord has entered into the world of our misery, not to annihilate or coerce, but to remain with us in our freedom, awaiting us with love.  He enters into our world and into our hearts with tender mercy to be our life.  He invites us to say "yes" to the Blood and the Water, to the Spirit and the Bride, to the abiding presence of a love the world does not know.  

December 18, 2013

Faith Contemplates the Advent Mystery Because He Leads into Captivity All Powers

Blessed Elisabeth of the Trinity helps us open our hearts to the coming of Christ.  On the twelfth day of her Last Retreat, she offers a reflection on "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us."  Jesus has come to give us peace through opening up access to the Father's house.

Whoever sees Christ sees the Father, and to see this love is to find that for which our hearts most long.  This seeing, this contemplation, this knowledge is by faith.   Here, faith is no mere assent to a body of information but a contemplative reality that seeks the saving truth and savors it.  Faith is an encounter with the One whom the truths of our faith bear to us, and we believe what the Church proposes to us because we want to know Him.  Whoever has surrendered his personal existence in response to the surpassing totality of love revealed by Christ crucified, this soul has gained access to the Father's house, the freedom to go to our real spiritual home, the liberty that leads to our true peace.

Blessed Elisabeth sees the peace of Christ through the eyes of Saint Paul.  Through the Blood of the Cross, the Lord leads all oppressive "Principalities and Powers" away "as captives, triumphing over them in Himself" (Col 2:15).  Without the knowledge of Christ's love, our dignity is vulnerable to all kinds of dehumanizing forces.  But with the surpassing love we know in Christ Jesus, we are free from every form of irrational oppression -- indeed, rather than rob of us dignity, the Lord permits all kinds of spiritual hardships only so that we might know the full extent of the greatness He calls us to and makes possible in our lives.

What the Apostle beheld in terms of oppressive cosmic forces, the Mystic of Dijon applies to our psychological powers.  Our interior battle with ambiguity and darkness in terms of our own patterns of thought and behavior is part of a cosmic struggle where evil powers attempt to overcome the light.  Just as Christ has taken diabolical powers captive, He also takes our psychological powers captive so that the ambiguity and confusion the emerges from them no longer robs us of our dignity as long as we persevere in believing in His love.  Her application  sees beyond the darkness of our interior frustrations to see the limitlessness of His mercy.

Beholding the unsurpassable love of the Lord, she understood how our limited powers of imagination, emotion, intuition, cognition and volition often hold us back.  Without the Word of the Father, these powers subject us to a labyrinth of fears, anxieties, false judgments because they are subject, not to the truth, but to sin and disintegration.  Left to their own, the powers of our soul frustrate that peace for which our hearts truly long.  

Blessed Elisabeth also knew that Christ has the power to captivate, to hold even our own psychological powers captive.  He does not lead our psychological powers by oppression and He is never violent.  He attracts.  He fascinates.  He captivates - because in Him is the fullness of God, in Him all that is good, holy and true about humanity is revealed.  His love is that beautiful and she knew this and longed for her friends to see it too.  To see this love is to be freed from sin, to be raised up, to be capable of true praise.

Techniques and methods rooted primarily in our own powers lack the freedom to achieve moral rectitude and cannot access the peace of the Father's house.  Instead, Blessed Elisabeth invites us this Advent to allow our hearts to be drawn into a greater silence and solitude.  The surpassing love of Christ is known in our weakness, poverty, and thirst.  By humbling accepting this poverty of heart, the beatitude of His presence is ours.

Our faith truly accesses God.   Instead of attempting spiritual feats of devotion, Blessed Elisabeth invites us to simply surrender to His presence breaking in all around us.  To turn our thoughts to His great love is already to lift up our hearts.  To waste time thinking on what He has done for us by humbly entering our human poverty, this is already to begin to taste eternity.

He is the light in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome Him.  So in the inconvenience and difficult of our poverty and lack of love, He remains, waiting for us so that we, each of us, is awaited by an uncommon love.  She invites us to allow ourselves to be captivated: this Word, the Word made flesh, does not disdain humble humanity but cherishes his own birth in its frail freedom.