December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas 2014

The Mystery of the Lord's coming is drawn near to us today and tonight we begin to celebrate Christmas. Christmas is a whole Octave of great joy even as it is also a solidarity with hearts in great sorrow.  Christmas is dwelling in the mystery of the hushed silence of an inexhaustible love. It is all about being vulnerable to divine wonder. To celebrate Christmas means the readiness to fall in adoration before the mystery of the Lord come into our very flesh, to be present in the midst of not only our joys but especially our trials.  

Prayer at Christmas is always a celebration of the victory of solidarity over alienation.  It is the decision to believe that God's love is greater than our own misery.  It is to choose to have joy over the fact that our mistakes do not define us, but God's mercy does.  

With this coming of God into human history, no one suffers alone in their personal history. He is with us, each and everyone, and all of us together.  Nothing can separate us from His love. Even in the face of catastrophic failure and overwhelming evil, He does not forsake or abandon, but remains through it all. Embracing our poverty (spiritual and physical), He dwells with us, vulnerable in our own vulnerability.

This is not a sentimental thought but a spiritual reality that makes all the difference. This abiding presence is what gives us the courage to pray. When the Living God learned to cry as an infant, we learned to cry to God.  Our sorrows became His, and His joys became ours.  Christmas is a mystery of great prayer -- where the prayer of God and the prayer of humanity coincide.

Prayer and action are joined in Christmas. We must bind our hearts with all those whose families were affected by the violent protests and senseless killings across the United States, and the many more families around the world who also have been robbed of any sense of security or safety. We cannot be indifferent to the Christians who do not have the freedom to celebrate Christmas in the open and who are refugees, homeless and hungry, who have suffered great distress, even loss of life.  During this Christmas, my own heart remembers a young mother and her child, parishioners of Saint James Parish in Redondo Beach who were killed coming out of Church after a Christmas pageant.  

Our Christian faith does not close its eyes to these sorrows -- it speaks a word of hope into them, even when that word can be nothing more than a cry of the heart. Our hearts are guided by a star when we dare to pray once again in a world filled with so much ambiguity and darkness. As our prayer searches the face of the child Jesus, we know it is the saving presence of God alone that gives the strength our faith requires.  

Light shines in the darkness as unvanquished now as it did in that stable in a backward village at the outer edges of the Roman Empire. This light shines for the poor, the lowly, the meek, the persecuted, the rejected, the abandoned, the naked, the homeless, the sorrowing, the hungry and the thirsty. In so far as we bind ourselves to such as these in a solidarity of love, friendship, and prayer, the joy of this light shines for us as well.  It is time for us to allow the divine light of Christ Jesus to shine in our union of love and prayer this Christmas to the wonderment of the world. It is time to find the courage to be joyful once again. It is time to begin to pray!

For those who visit this blog and find encouragement to pray, I want to wish you a very Merry Christmas for you and your families.  Thank you for making space for God in your lives and in your hearts.  Thank you for your dedication to prayer. To you it may seem insignificant, but the sacrifice of devotion that you offer is something beautiful and needed in the world today.  In some way, as the mystery of Christ's birth is announced again in the prayers of the Church, we also draw close to one another through prayer. Christ Jesus, Emmanuel, draws us and binds us through prayer in a web of grace, divine love and friendship. 

November 26, 2014

Finding our Footing in Prayer

Today, many are concerned about confusion in the Church and a lack of confidence about how we are to live. Angry accusations fly back and forth like arrows poisoned and barbed. Violence rips at our communities and all kinds of aggression is unleashed in our homes. It is hard to bear with one another. We want peace but we lack the common ground we need to find it.  For all the technology and information at our fingertips, we lack, among other spiritual things, the gift of understanding.

Understanding is among the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, a characteristic of the Spirit of the Christ. The great Fathers and Doctors of the Church described this dynamic disposition of mind as perfecting the stand we take toward ultimate reality, God Himself.  The gift is a readiness to be grounded by the Holy Spirit, an interior receptivity to His promptings that we need if we are to find our footing in prayer.

The Gift of Understanding is a divinely inspired intellectual propensity to be purified concerning one's judgments about God and who He is.  In ways that no mental gymnastics carried out under the impulse of reason can manage, this gift protects the soul against all kinds of idolatry by rooting it in the mystery of God's presence in real life.  The Holy Spirit convinces us concerning sin and frees us to repent of it.

All kinds of self-contradiction are laid bare as the ear of the heart attends to the surprising freshness of the Holy Spirit's secret judgments, especially about those things with which we would rather not have to deal.  But the mind raised in love can no longer put things off. Dissipation and dulness recede before this unfamiliar radiance.

This movement of the Holy Spirit leaves the soul speechless because it has rendered the mind vulnerable to splendors so wonderful no word can express them.  All at once, this mysterious rectification of the mind sobers and inebriates, humbles and exalts, bows down and lifts up.  The mind under the influence of this movement of the Holy Spirit penetrates the deep things of God even to the point that one's whole life is intensified and a source of intensification for others.   Falling in adoration, one finds one's proper footing for prayer.    

The Gift of Understanding is about standing in the shadow of our crucified God.  It is about seeing the invincibility of the Father's love in the face of our sin at the foot of the Cross of Christ.   It is about drinking in the deep things of God flowing from the pierced heart of Christ.  This gift is about the freedom to be astonished and gripped by divine tenderness in all kinds of unexpected ways.   

October 17, 2014

The Heart of the Father and the Gift of Freedom

God the Father delights in the freedom He created each soul to live in.    Every time anyone freely chooses to move toward this loving freedom, the Eternal Father savors the wonderful courage and generosity that such a solemn decision reflects.  Mercy and consolation are firmly established, even in great trials, because of what the Father contemplates when He beholds this glory.

This same reality delighted His heart when His only begotten Son animated his own human will with the possibility of such divine liberty.  The Father gloried in His Son announcing in this same freedom the fullness of love's saving truth even to His last wordless breath on the Cross - such is the magnitude of this inexhaustible gift! And now, by this very work of redemption, the Eternal Father rejoices with His Son to pour out the Spirit of Freedom in ways unimaginable, defying all calculation, exceeding every expectation.

At once Living Waters and Living Flame, the Father knows this wave of freedom fills everything with life, establishes relation and harmony, and flows through the unrepeatable circumstances of this present moment.  In a flash of hidden transformation, converting and subverting every principality and power, this Divine Breath submits under freedom's ideal law every psychological, social and physical force.  And when this jubilation is shared by someone who is vulnerable enough to be freely moved by such an excess of love - it is a mystery so beautiful that even heaven holds its breath, and this tired old world, completely caught by surprise, is lifted up by a sudden and invincible surge of pure glory.

September 25, 2014

Temple of the Holy Spirit Continued: Praise as the Music of the Soul

From October 2-4, 2014, the Society of Catholic Liturgy is meeting in Colorado Springs.  The theme for the conference is "The Temple Transformed."  To this end, I am giving a concurrent address on "The Temple of the Holy Spirit in the Writings of the Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity."  The last post and this one are some of my notes.

Blessed Elisabeth describes praising the glory of the Lord in terms of music.  The soul is a lyre.  Emotions, passions, thoughts and imaginings are the strings that must be tuned.  The Holy Spirit is the musician.  Such praise takes up the inner life, it constitutes the existance of the soul as a temple of the Holy Spirit.

She compares the praise offered by a soul with descriptions of heaven found in the Revelations.  This is an invitation to think about the analogy between the soul as a kind of heaven in faith and the heaven of glory that awaits us.  In each one there a chorus breaking out.  The inner sanctuary of one's very being, like heaven, is meant to be filled with wonder, adoration and the jubilation ceaseless praise.

Such joy is for her a divine harmony played on the strings of the heart.  She describes a secret canticle learned from Mary at the foot of the Cross, and at the same time a heavenly hymn which lifts the soul out of time and into eternity. Such praise clings to the glory of the Risen Lord in the midst of all of life's difficult questions because it discovers itself embraced by love.

Music involves harmony and rhythm, the resonance of deep movements of the heart with vast horizons of the world, a mediaton of beauty, of glory, a shining forth of what is good even when it is difficult to discern.  For the soul filled with the Holy Spirit, canticles of the heart offered to the Lord in praise are born not only in the midst of comfort, consolation and satisfaction, but especially in those piercing moments of personal inadequacy, failures and voids.  This divine music, music that Elizabeth describes as the Holy Spirit playing on the strings of the heart, is not an escape, but an expression of real life, of an existence open to the possibility of hope.

The divine indwelling establishes a center point for the heart. In this axis for the inner world, the power of God is made known even as the circumstances of life spin out of control.  Real life does not threaten the music or diminish such praise. The canticles of a soul animated by the Holy Spirit are born in between this divine reality in the depths of the soul and the earthly, created reality through which the soul is living and enduring.  The temple of the Holy Spirit, a Christian courageous enough to stand in this gap by choosing faith, by choosing joy, mediates grace in the real world through this kind of praise, and in this jubilation renders heaven and earth vulnerable to one another.

Faith accesses this center through what Blessed Elizabeth proposes as a simple loving movement toward God. This is a silent humble adoration of the One who is totally other than me but who loves me exceedingly, and it is this movement toward the personally present God who loves that reverberates and explodes into a praise that must be expressed: a song, a canticle, a hymn of love.  Those who have heard such canticles know that the human heart raised by grace to this true worship is unconquerable. In the midst of every trial and hardship, such a soul is become the praise of glory, a temple where the joy of the Holy Spirit overflows and fills the whole world around it.

September 23, 2014

The Temple of the Holy Spirit, Praise and Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity

Blessed Elisabeth of the Trinity became aware of the indwelling presence of God at her First Communion.  This initial experience was satiating.  Whereas the other children were ready for the wonderful reception prepared for them after the liturgy, witnesses describe Elisabeth captivated by her encounter with the Lord.  She seemed to be filled with wonder over His new presence to her and teachable, open to new words of wisdom for her life.

Witnesses also describe the beginning of a new self-control.  This self-mastery was not all at once, but an unfolding reality whose roots go back to this moment of encounter, this experience of a love that fed her soul.  There is infact a correlation between the transformed life that amazed both friends and family and a growing awareness on her part of the loving presence of the Trinity in her soul.

Years later as a Carmelite she writes a powerful prayer that brings together the doctrine of the Divine Indwelling of the Holy Trinity and her experience of contemplation.   "O My God, Trinity Whom I Adore" is a petitionary prayer, a cry of the heart for the peace and stillness that only God's presence can establish in the soul.  It is a prayer that reaches out to the ultimate end of the divine economy while always remaining mindful of the difficult ambiguities besetting a soul that yearns for God.  This prayer confronts weaknesses, emptiness and inadequacy with hope.

It is important to note that this prayer describes the indwelling not as a completed fact, but as something unfolding, as a work that only God can bring to completion.  Blessed Elisabeth reveals the divine presence as intrinsically dynamic, a reality that raises human nature above itself.  As the presence of God establishes peace in the soul even in the midst of great difficulties, the Holy Spirit renders the Christian capable of participating fully with his own life in the Son's perfect offering to the Father.  In short, the Divine Indwelling dynamically perfects the spiritual worship that faith in Christ makes possible.

This is a theme we find also in the retreats she authored.  These spiritual reflections she wrote in the final stages of what was then a terminal disease.  She returns not only to the theme of the divine indwelling as a source of peace in the soul, but also elucidates the particular activity this heavenly peace makes possible: perfect praise.

One is struck by her conviction that to be the praise of glory is not simply a noble ideal to which she aspires, but her sacred name, her very identity, the secret purpose of her life before God. In her Last Retreat, she begins her reflections in a truly ecclesial voice, the voice of the Bride of Christ.

The song of the Bride for her Bridegroom she describes discloses this kind of praise in terms of a secret longing that Christ and the Church share.  What is more, she understands herself as personally participating in this love.  She sees herself as a kind of personification of the Bride of Christ, a Bride who sings to her Beloved a canticle of love and devotion, and this even as her own life plunges in its final agony.

Here, Blessed Elisabeth expands our understanding of the divine indwelling.   The presence of God in the soul is not only satisfying and morally transforming, it is not only psychologically therapeutic and an answer to difficult interior experiences, this divine presence is also the source of a whole new range of spiritual activity, an ecclesial existence that breaks out in true worship.   The soul filled with the presence of God is being transformed into a kind of heaven, fashioned as a dwelling place for the living God, built up as a temple, a particular and unrepeatable realization of the Church, where the glory of the Lord rests.  In the soul filled with God there is finally the freedom to sing His praise, not in some distant future, but in the vast horizons of the present moment.


September 14, 2014

Pilgrim George

In the seventies, as a boy, I heard that a pilgrim from Pennsylvania had walked through California.  Many of my friends from Santa Cruz went to meet him.  They were young adults and what he witnessed to them changed their lives.

He told them how he made God the center of his life and allowed himself to be completely vulnerable to the Lord in prayer.  He claimed that living this way was the source of an abiding peace and that anyone who would live their lives loving God could know this peace too, not only in this life but also in the life to come.

Just by walking by foot where he believed God called him to walk, Pilgrim George helped us believe that God truly loves us and that loving God is the secret of happiness - this is a truth strong enough to build a whole life on.  As a result, some of my friends discovered the joy of doing something beautiful for the Lord with their lives.  Their response, in turn, had a ripple effect throughout our whole community.

Years later, when I was a student in Rome, some Jesuit priests had invited me to dinner and they began to talk about a foot pilgrim who was walking through India.  After a few questions, I learned it was the same pilgrim George who had influenced so many of my friends during my youth.  It was obvious that his witness to God's love was compelling to them as well.  So again, he helped me think about how I was living and how I ought to respond to the goodness of God.  

In these ways, Pilgrim George, even though I never met him, became an important influence on me, personally.   I have heard he had this impact on many other men and women around the world -- and in a world that has become increasingly hostile to God, this is something remarkable.

After over forty years of being a foot pilgrim, he is now devoting himself as a poustinik - a life of silence, solitude and contemplation, but also witness and service.  Click here to watch an interview he gave to Christ the Bridegroom Monastery in Ohio.

September 1, 2014

Treasures of Divine Life

On September 6, 2014, Archbishop Aquila is hosting a special catechetical event to repropose the ancient order of the sacraments of initiation: Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist.   The Catechetical Congress draws its name from a passage in the Catechism, "Treasure of Divine Life."  These are notes from a presentation in which we will consider how the signs used in the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist have a certain order in the Bible, and this order reveals the splendor of what it means to be fully human and fully alive.

"Christ instituted the sacraments of the new law. There are seven: Baptism, Confirmation (or Chrismation), the Eucharist, Penance, the Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and Matrimony. The seven sacraments touch all the stages and all the important moments of Christian life: they give birth and increase, healing and mission to the Christian’s life of faith. There is thus a certain resemblance between the stages of natural life and the stages of the spiritual life" (CCC 1210).

Analogy between life and the spiritual life serves as a basis for understanding the order of the sacraments, including the order of initiation.   Yet to understand this analogy, it is not enough to appeal to the visible elements and gestures as we know them outside the logic of our faith.  It is true that the elements of water, oil, myrrh, bread and wine belong to the sphere human activity from ancient times.  Thus, when Christ and the Church raised them for use in the mystery of Christian initiation, they did so building on ancient meanings already deeply part of human experience.   Yet, to understand the wisdom of the Church, among the manifold of signification contained in these products of the earth and human industry, there are also those special meanings we find in the Holy Bible.   It is a contemplation of these special meanings that reveals a deep truth about the order of initiation in the life of the Church.

Because the salvific meaning there is not only inspired but inerrant, the Bible contains the deepest and most important meaning of these sacred signs.  The Word of God reveals the heart of the Sacraments.  The heart is a drama, a contest, a testing of love.   Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist are three moments in this divine story - a story that is at once the story of all humanity and that has the possibility of being the story of each soul.  The story of the victory of good over evil, of the triumph of the Lamb over the powers of sin and death.


August 16, 2014

Transitions in Life and Prayer

Pope Francis suggests the writings of Anselm Gruen for spiritual readings.  Anselm Gruen is a Benedictine Monk familiar with Jungian psychology.  Although he appreciates the insights of psychology, he does not subordinate these to the truths of the faith.  

He does not propose that the trials of this life, like the mid-life crisis or other difficult moments of transition, are problems to be solved through self-realization and personal development.  Instead, Gruen presents them as moments in which God is to be glorified.  Psychology might help us appreciate new angles of the difficulties we face in our brief existence in this world, but it is not enough to content ourselves with simply mastering new life skills.  In fact, for the Christian, it is never enough to manage life circumstances.  Instead, we must discern the most appropriate way of serving the Lord in the midst of them.  

My verdict as I struggle with my own relocation to another state for another job: He is right!   The Lord stands in the midst of life's chaos, waiting to be discovered anew.   When I make time for prayer and when I renounce myself a little, just around the corner the glory of God begins to shine.   I cannot say that this is consoling.  But to live with this fulness of life even as waves of all kinds of uncertainties crash around us, this is to finally begin to thrive, to fully become what God made us to be.

Faith does not try to surmount life's challenges.  Nor does it seek an escape from the inevitable uncertainties and difficulties in which we find ourselves.  Faith is all about facing reality with humility and courage, and this especially when life's trials are the most challenging.  Every time life is turned upside down, faith propelled by God's love boldly enters into all the disturbing ambiguity and delights in a fuller and unique encounter with the living God manifest only there.   The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it -- this is not a static principle but a moment by moment mystery that is meant to explode into one's whole existence.

Making space in one's own life for this encounter requires prayer, fasting and asceticism, and this exactly at the moment when we want to run away and escape it all.  To this end, Father Anselm provides some good counsel in his work, Crisis and Opportunity in Midlife, Ligouri Press, (2006).
Thank you Pope Francis for recommending this spiritual writer.

July 6, 2014

Pilgrimage in Post-Christian Europe

Why are you on the way? This is a question I tried to ask and was frequently asked on the way.  The Europeans think that Americans are coming because of Martin Sheen.   It surprises them that I have come for traditional reasons-- to do penance for my sins and to pray for those I love.   Some of them then disclose that they are there for the same reasons...but only a very few.  

My favorite answer came from a small woman with a slow and painful limp from a far away and non-Christian country.  As her 500 mile trek of 35 days was coming to an end this morning, I caught up with her and asked her my question.  Annoyed at what should have been obvious to me, she retorted "Because it is there."

Like this woman, many on the way see the Camino as a physical feat like climbing a mountain.  Others enjoy meeting people from all over the world, even Americans like me. They are hungry for real connections.  There are also entertainment tourists, bon vivants, with an appetite for hedonistic pursuits.  Still others cannot or will not articulate what draws them... But something (or Someone) is.

I have wondered how to speak a word of truth, a true word of life into this.  It is more than a matter of knowing what to say and when to say it.   Sometimes, silence itself speaks more than any word conveys.  Early on, one pilgrim was annoyed when after rejecting my offer to help I told him he would be in my prayers.  Today when I saw him in the Cathedral, he spontaneously grabbed my hand and thanked me for my prayers.  Will there be moments like that in heaven?

There are moments of authenticity when a soul discloses itself.   These moments are more frequent on pilgrimage because it is demanding and we touch our poverty in the difficult situations that come up.   What reverence and respect is called for in these fleeting moments!   And yet the slightest gesture or simplest word plants a seed....a hope where it is most needed.

Pilgrimage in post-Christian Europe offers a moment of not only penance, but also evangelization.  Saint John Paul understood the importance of pilgrimage for the New Evangelization.  Pilgrimage to traditional holy places like the Cathedral of Santiago De Compostela reintroduces believers to their rich heritage of faith and opens up the soul to a deeper encounter with God.   At the same time, these traditional roads and places are filled with people drawn for reasons they do not know.  Some of my best conversations happened with these pilgrims.  I merely asked questions or offered to pray, but they disclosed a deep yearning and desire for answers for the questions of the heart.

July 4, 2014

Faith on the Way

What does a pilgrim find in Spain?

A land of paradox.   Extremely modern communist style apartments can rise above very ancient and warmer architectural forms on the same street.  Miles of the old primitive path are interrupted by brand new roads or in other places bordered by electric fences (a deterrent for livestock or pilgrims or both).   Beautiful silence is sometimes swallowed by the droning of "power generating" windmills.  The spirit of Don Quixote and the spirit of materialism, idealism and cynicism, faith and skepticism, ancient Catholicism and new religions of drug culture, simplicity of rural living and the complexity of over technologized souls, joy and sorrow; all of these movements one picks up on while treading the via primitiva.

Asturias was very beautiful but the chapels and sanctuaries were all locked or else in ruins.   This made finding a place for daily mass very difficult and, really, our greatest hardship.  Now in Galacia, chapels and masses are a little more available.

The other hardship which we are still contending with is the walk itself ... About 18 miles a day.  The body adjusts to this.   And there are only two days to go.  Still, more than half way and drawing closer to Santiago, I still find the last three miles always a little more difficult, but because of that, the very best for prayer.  

It is not a deep mental prayer of insight, or or delving introspection, but a prayer of intercession that comes easiest, "I offer this hundred yards  in reparation for the scandal I caused in the hearts of others...please let them know your love and draw them close to you even in the face of my failure to witness- because no matter how great my sin, your love is greater." 

Or else "remember my friend who died.  His life was filled with so much ambiguity and difficulty, but you were with him through it all. Now, as he stands before you, let this little act of love I offer with my feet open up the floodgates of your mercy on him."  

Or again, "I offer this stretch of path in thanksgiving for all the blessings you have lavished on meand my family.  I did nothing to deserve them.  But you blessed us anyway.  Let these steps be for your glory ..." 

The one phrase however that returns time and again is "Into your hands I commend my spirit.  With this step, I give myself to you completely, I abandon myself to you, with all the love of my heart, with total confidence, for you are my Father."

As I wrote this reflection in the Albergue, in the room next to me, graduate student Lucy Ridsdale's voice echoed over the 1970s pop song playing on the local radio. It was paradox: sachrine tunes suddenly overshadowed by something deeper and richer, and more fully human.  Everyone stopped.  The radio was turned off.  One young man broke down in tears.

I will post that recording in the future but here is a rendition of the chant dedicated to St James, sung in Santiago almost 800 years ago, when Saint Francis trod this path during another age of paradox and contradiction, penance and renewal: 
http://chantblog.blogspot.com.es/2013/07/o-adiutor-omnium-seculorum.html 


June 20, 2014

Our Journey and the Message of Lourdes

Our pilgrimage took us from Paris, Lisieux, Omaha Beach, Mont Saint Michel, the Shrine of Saint Anne in Aurray, and then south to Lourdes.  Here we pondered another powerful cause for the explosion of religious fervor in the 19th Century: the apparitions of Mary first at La Salette, but then in Lourdes.   We will tell more about LaSalette in a later post.  I want to share first about Lourdes.  

Following on the heels of the solemn definition of the Immaculate Conception (1854), a young girl from an impoverished family saw a beautiful woman who confirmed this teaching (1858).  Mary who disclosed her presence to Saint Catherine at Rue du Bac as conceived without sin was not only praying for those who had recourse to her, she was executing a daring plan.  Just like she implicated Catherine Laboure in bringing hope to the despairing, she also pulled Bernadette into her web of grace to encourage those who need a reason for their hope.

Identifying herself as the Immaculate Conception, Mary told Bernadette that a Shrine should be built over a grotto near a river where she stood.   Mary also told Bernadette to dig and then to drink and to bath in the water that flowed there.  The water was to be a sign of conversion and bathing in it an act of making a new beginning in the spiritual life.  Mary explained that there would be miracles, (and it is beautiful to see the great faith not only of the sick but also their caregivers), but these signs were meant to stir confidence so that many souls would return to God and live holy lives.

Bernadette did as she was told even though it was a trash dump and she also told the local priest to build a Sanctuary even though the priest thought her to be delusional.  Yet it was this radical obedience without regard for herself or what others thought that allowed Mary to bring forth a source of spiritual renewal for the whole world.  The axiom that God is not limited to the most powerful and greatest, but allows himself to be contained in the weakest and least is in the story of Bernadette fully illustrated.

Bernadette eventually entered religious life and embraced a life of silence, anonymity, and intercession.  When asked about mental prayer she explained the importance of welcoming Christ and showing Him hospitality in the heart.  She said that when Christ feels welcome, He is a good guest: He never forgets to pay the rent.

June 19, 2014

In the footsteps of the saints of France

The day after Pentecost, Fifty-two of us chiefly from the Shrine of Saint Anne in Colorado but also from other parts of the USA started in Paris.  In 1834 on Rue de Bac Mary appeared to one of the spiritual daughters of St. Vincent de Paul.   She had grown up as in a peasant farming family just after an era in which the French Catholic World was turned upside down.  Part of our pilgrimage in the footsteps of the saints of France was dedicated to understanding the spiritual explosion that Saint Catherine's obedience to The Lord ignited in the 19th Century.

Leading up to what happened at Rue de Bac had been a time flowing with the blood of martyrs. French secularists viewed religious culture, contemplative thought and Christian virtues as a threat to progress. In genocides that would later be replicated in the 20th century by both Russian Communists and German Fascists,  blood flowed not only in Paris, but military commanders proudly reported, along with the destruction of Catholic villages, also the thorough massacre of all women and children in those communities.  In the New France of liberty and fraternity, faith could not be tolerated and people of faith needed to be carefully terminated.   Against this heartlessness, Catholics bore witness with their lives that the deepest truth about humanity is to be found not in our science, nor in our productivity, nor our politics.  Instead, they stood up for our capacity to worship as spiritual creatures who show mercy to one another because of the Divine Mercy shown us. 

Notwithstanding the heroic witness of many, after the French Revolution and Reign of Terror, the average Catholic was demoralized and confidence in the faith undermined by political and social design.  Later, the Napoleonic Wars exacerbated the plight of the poor who not only could not count on the state but also despaired to rely on God- les miserables.   Yet it is from the poor in an era when the faith was the most challenged and all seemed lost that some of France's most important saints were born.  

In the 19th Century, France would be home to an explosion of religious devotion ending with the two sisters in the Spirit Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity and doctor of the Church Saint Therese of Lisieux, but beginning with the Cure d'Ars, Saint Bernadette and Saint Catherine Laboure.  They were disenfranchised from their society and culture, sometimes misunderstood by the Church itself, and without any economic or political power.  Biblically, we could identify them with the anawim, the lowly for whom The Lord does great things. Both France and the world were impacted by their faith in the Risen Lord.

As we approached the chapel at Rue de Bac where Mary revealed her presence to Saint Catherine, it seemed hard to believe that no one could have predicted the birth of a quiet, competent, down to earth mystic in Catherine's day.  The assumption would have been the opposite.  

In the New France, like present day Pop American culture, salvation was believed to come from faith in science rather than faith in God. It was a tyranny of heartless reason demanding absolute homage to the political and material realities of life.  The deeper and more noble aspirations of humanity were regarded as little more than a threat to progress.   In such an environment, one would expect not the emergence of saintly intelligence of heart but rather a more heartless genius, less maternal, more capable of competing in the new will to power. 

Catherine Laboure was a mature religious when Our Lady appeared to her in 1834.  She was well aware not only of the spiritual material poverty but also the spiritual emptiness that had robbed  people of their hope.  And for love of The Lord, she had dedicated herself to these - les miserables.  The message of our Lady of Grace also spoke into this misery.

Mary asked that a medal be struck with her image.  Her hands were to be outstretched with rays coming from them.  Anticipating the dogmatic definition of the immaculate conception, she also asked thar Around this image the words "o Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee".  

With the permission of her bishop, the medal was struck and distributed.   Despite the rapid growing popularity of the devotion, Catherine stayed in the background and continued to live in the obscurity of religious live, anonymous and unknown to the world. Only in the last years of her life did she reveal herself as the mystic behind the medal.   By then the medal had a nickname, the Miraculous Medal because of the many miracles associated with it.

This humble beginning may seem to many as insignificant.   It was indeed only a spark in the heart of Paris.  But this spark together with the obedience of other humble, poor and confidence souls will lead to an explosion that continues to rock the Church and the world today.  Our pilgrimage began by pondering this spark in Paris, but as we progressed, it would take in the blaze of 19th Century Devotion that Saint Catherine helped to ignite.

April 27, 2014

On the Canonization of John Paul II

Last summer, in 2013, the Shrine of Saint Anne in Arvada, Colorado invited me to provide a lectures series on the Wisdom of the Saints.  The last lecture for this series was filmed by Stephen Keating and edited into short video segments.  The Blog Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction (rcspiritualdirection.com) has generously made these videos available.  Click here to access part one.

EWTN's Register Radio also interviewed me about John Paul II.  To access this podcast click here.

April 26, 2014

Some thoughts on Saint John XXIII

The National Catholic Register asked me to review John XXIII's Journal of a Soul.  His interior life is intense and beautiful.  Perhaps this is the secret to the fruitfulness of his life.  Click here to read more. 

April 17, 2014

A Note of Thanks From Archbishop Aquila - the beginning of a journey


From Archbishop Aquila:

Thank you for your prayers and witness!  See the story in the DCR. 

Dear Friends,

As I said yesterday after we prayed together on the steps of the State Capitol, I had no idea how much impact my letter would have on the people of Colorado. In just a few days we are able to raise a united front in opposition to Senate Bill 175 and in defense of unborn children, the most innocent of all people. Congratulations to the people of good will throughout Colorado who listened to God's call to be active in politics and to defend life at every stage! You are the ones who made a difference!

Thank you to all the families that came out in support of life, particularly mothers who came with their young children. Thank you to the seminarians, my brother priests, and the women religious who came to pray to Our Lord for his intercession. And of course, thank you to all the people of various faiths who work each and every day to be a leaven in society for the common good. We need you! Keep up the good work!

I also want to extend my deep gratitude to Father Ambrose Omayas of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Denver, who joined me in a particularly moving way on the steps of the State Capitol to pray and bless the people present. Thank you to my brother bishops, Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs and Bishop Stephen Berg of Pueblo, who joined with me to write a letter to all the State Senators. Additionally, thank you to Regis University president Fr. John Fitzgibbons, for publicly opposing SB175.

Holy Week is the time to turn our attention to the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. These holiest days of the year are a very important moment of memory. For the Catholic Christian, living the 'memory' of Christ is not like remembering some completed event that's now relegated to history; rather, the memory of Christ is someone present in our midst - in the sacraments, in our communities - and is the same as remembering who we are, and whose we are. He is our strength and our hope and the one who brings joy to the human heart!

Our hope lies not in the powers of government, nor the laws of man, but in the Resurrected God-Man who conquers the grave and never ceases to be present among us, His followers. This is not the end of a political battle, but the beginning of a journey together in the Archdiocese of Denver. Let us continue to be people of hope. Let us continue to be a leaven in society. Let us continue to seek the Kingdom of God, helping one another, particularly those who are most vulnerable.

May God bless you and your families this Easter,
Most Reverend Samuel J. Aquila Archbishop of Denver

April 12, 2014

Archbishop Aquila's Call for Prayer and Action


An Open Letter from Archbishop Aquila:

Open Letter to Catholics in Northern Colorado
SB175: Pray and Act!

To all people of goodwill in Colorado:

I am writing to you today with a very important request. Weekends are busy for all of us, but I am asking you, as a believer in the sanctity of human life, to pray for 10 minutes and take one of the actions that I will mention at the conclusion of this letter.

If you haven’t yet heard, there is a very troubling bill being debated in the Colorado State Senate next week. Senate Bill 175, touted as the “Reproductive Health Freedom Act,” passed on a party line vote in committee this past Thursday. I am grateful to every person who showed up to oppose the radical bill.

This over-reaching piece of legislation would essentially shut down any attempt to pass life-affirming legislation in Colorado ever again. More than that, it enshrines the “right to abortion” into Colorado law. It’s being praised by anti-life organizations such as NARAL and ThinkProgress as “the first of its kind” in the country and “ambitious.”  It enshrines the culture of death into law and ignores science.

This bill would prevent lawmakers from enacting laws such as ultrasound requirements, which we all know—particularly from the work of the Knights of Columbus Ultrasound Initiative here in Colorado—have done so much to give mothers vital information about their pregnancy, and thus save countless children from imminent death.

It prevents common sense regulations like waiting periods, restrictions on abortion pills (particularly for minors), and parental notification policies. Advocates of this bill seek the absolute “right to abortion” for girls as young as 10 or 11 without a parent’s knowledge, guidance or advice. Parents are seen as unfit in the moral guidance of their children.

Pope Francis affirmed on April 11, support for parents to decide their children’s moral and religious education, while he rejected “any kind of educational experimentation with children.”

He further stated, “The horrors of the manipulation of education that we experienced in the great genocidal dictatorships of the twentieth century have not disappeared; they have retained a current relevance under various guises and proposals and, with the pretense of modernity, push children and young people to walk on the dictatorial path of ‘only one form of thought.’”

This bill would protect the “only one form of thought” that Pope Francis warns against and undermine the freedom of one’s conscience to promote the dignity of human life and the unborn child.

Finally, this bill would eliminate abortion clinic health code regulations, which pro-abortion advocates label as “burdensome.” Remember Kermit Gosnell in Philadelphia, and the horrific images and stories of women nearly dying on the abortionist’s table? That is what an unregulated abortion clinic looks like! This bill is not good for the women and girls of Colorado!

I am prayerfully asking every person of good will to spend 10 minutes this weekend in prayer. Plead to Our Lord for His intercession on behalf of life in Colorado. Also, pray for our politicians on both sides of this issue, particularly for those who work tirelessly and often without recognition to promote life-affirming legislation in our State Capitol. Pray for the conversion of the heart and mind of those who support such irrational, unscientific, and a denial of conscience legislation.

But don’t stop there. As a conclusion of your prayer, ask Our Lord what action he wants from you. You are called to be a leaven for good and for life in society. 

Here are some ideas of concrete actions you can take this weekend.

Contact your Senator. It would be a beautiful testimony on the part of the people of Colorado who support life if each senator in Colorado would wake up on Monday morning with hundreds of emails asking them to oppose SB175.

Please contact the Colorado Catholic Conference to learn more about this bill or to get contact information for your Senator. Call 303-894-8808 or visit their website: www.cocatholicconference.org.

Contact the media. Call your newspaper, your television station and your radio station. Ask them to cover this bill. Let them know that they are letting down the people of Colorado by allowing this bill to pass without a true public debate!

Spread the word. If you have a Blog, or are active on Facebook, Twitter or one of the other social networks, spread the word! Invite others who may not have received this letter to pray and act!

Be people of hope! Many of you have lost faith in politics, but remember that attitude is not of God and is of the evil one. The devil confuses people and discourages them.  Pope Francis in his April 11 daily homily reminded us, “The devil is here…even in the 21st century! And we mustn’t be na├»ve, right? We must learn from the Gospel how to fight against Satan.”

Christians are a people of hope! No action taken in defense of life is meaningless, particularly if it comes from a place of prayer and the Gospel.

I leave you with some thoughts on the importance of Christian witness in our times. Remember that Vatican II called every Catholic to serve as leaven in society and “work for the sanctification of the world from within.”

“Since they are tightly bound up in all types of temporal affairs,” the document “Lumen Gentium” states, “it is their [the laity’s] special task to order and to throw light upon these affairs in such a way that they may … continually increase according to Christ to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer” (LG, 31).

My brother bishops and I have sent a joint letter to all Colorado Senators, now I ask you all to do your part to sanctify society. Together we can make a stand for life here in Colorado!

May God bless each one of you abundantly!

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila
Archbishop of Denver

April 5, 2014

The Spiritual Liberty of Holy Obedience

Saint Hildegard von Bingen contemplated the origin of evil in terms of disobedience.  Satan believed he could begin what he wished because he presumed he could finish what he had begun.  He invented his own schemes and programs against the plan of God because he did not believe he needed the Lord for his existence.   Because he was not open to God's will, Satan is entrapped in a lower existence, imprisoned in currents of unredeemable chaos below this world.  Hildegard sees how the Ancient Adversary is at work to lure and coerce into this same pit all those whose lives he invades and touches.

Obedience begins with the realization that one cannot bring into completion the work God has begun.   The ambiguity surrounding this life is beyond human capacity to understand or master, and left to ourselves, we are always at risk of being mastered by it.  Following our own whims is not enough because even the whims of the heart are subject to this confusion.  Our dignity, our integrity, our existence require firm ground on which to stand, or they all fall.  This understanding, this saving truth is found somewhere beyond our natural capacities, from Someone above us, who comes down to us, who calls to us and who waits for us to welcome Him.

Rather than allowing oneself to be consumed with the confusion of doing what one wishes, we only begin to redeem the ambiguity of life by searching out the most appropriate way of serving the Lord who reveals Himself to us.  He does not coerce or manipulate or threaten in anger.  He humbly invites. He gently warns and patiently corrects.  He thoughtfully questions.  He appeals to our holy freedom because our free decisions to love delight Him more than anything else.

He who yearns for the free response of our humanity works through human freedom, inviting his friends to help us hear His voice.  He who is Love Himself reveals Himself through those whom He has entrusted with preaching the Gospel, teaching sacred doctrine, and directing us with His authority.  Ministers of the Gospel, spouses and parents, missionaries, catechists, and so many others share in this great work.  Through these frail human instruments, His divine power is manifest.  If we persevere in trusting Him to show us Himself through them, our life becomes the very prayer He taught us to say: On Earth as it is in Heaven.

To be obedient in this sense is to learn to listen, to hear the voice of God resound in our hearts and to act on it.   Obedience here is a matter of being vulnerable to the mind of God revealed on the tongues of men and women, allowing His mind to call into question one's own mind on things through their words.  The paradox of this obedience to what God reveals through frail human instruments here below is that the Word of the Father who is from above lifts up those who cling to Him into divine freedom.  This spiritual liberty of holy obedience delights in an unvanquished glory that rules over all the ambiguity and confusion in this world and below it.  Even when such love is subject to every kind of trial and hardship, it is subject only to God.

March 16, 2014

Faith Simplifies Prayer

Faith simplifies us, in the way we live, and even in our prayer.   During Lent, elaborate meditations involving our imagination, composition of place and attending to the movements of our hearts can all be helpful.  One should use these as long as one draws good fruit.  It can also be helpful to remember the beautiful ways that the Lord has visited us in the past whether in something that happened in prayer or in something that happened as a result of it - as long as we do so to thank Him and not out of some nostalgic impulse to live in the past.

We should, however, be aware of doctrine of teachers like Saint John of the Cross: the more we exercise our love and faith in prayer, the simpler our exercises become.  If we try to hold onto methods because we want to reproduce an experience, we have introduced a complexity into our prayer that can be an obstacle to the new things the Lord yearns to do in our lives.  So we surrender our prayer to what the Lord wants and we allow Him to draw us, even when sometimes He leads us into an unfamiliar darkness, the kind of prayer we do not understand and that does not seem to offer the same consolation we were once accustomed to.

This truth about prayer is echoed in the way we should live our Christian life - out of devotion to Christ and out of an effort to imitate Him in everything.  Since Christ lived to do the will of the Father, we should examine what we own and how we live.  If there is in our lives something (like a possession, a relationship or a habit) not purely for the glory of God, then we should renounce it.  Otherwise, clutching after things that have little to do with the Lord, our hands are not free to welcome Him and receive his gifts.  Here too possessions that were fine to acquire and own at one point in our journey of faith may now be an obstacle to the glory of God unfolding in our hearts - so we must give it to someone who needs it, or else sell it and give the money to those in need.

God who is Love is simple and when His presence is welcomed, He simplifies the soul, and the simpler our souls the more room there is for His love.  What we own visibly and how we conduct ourselves in this world below should mirror this invisible, spiritual reality from above.  Divine simplicity should inform human life, here and now.  This way, as we receive the love of God, we receive it not only in our good intentions and vague hopes, but also in the nitty gritty of the present moment, the complex challenges of the concrete circumstances of our life.

This kind of true devotion is a spiritual gift from above that can only be welcomed in grateful simplicity in the ambiguities and difficulties of this life.  It is sought and accepted only after arduous efforts at renunciation and perseverance.  At the same time, such devotion is not a personal accomplishment or the outcome of our own discipline in spiritual exercises.  Prayer is not reducible to hoped for outcomes.  Prayer is in the logic of a gift, a friendship, a love, and before the mystery of love, the more simply we open our hands in trust, the more the Lord can give.

March 10, 2014

The Lenten Observance

My theory about Lent is that this observance is not so much a time for taking up impressive spiritual exercises in order to abandon them as soon as the Lenten Observance is over.  It is even less about getting proper exercise, giving up chocolate, and losing weight - even pagans do more than this.  Instead, Lent is about restoring the devotion to the Lord we ought to have all year round. 

The Lord has given Himself to us completely, and Lent is remembering this exquisite gift and pondering the return we ought to make with the whole of our lives.   How can we, in the face of His excessive love for us, do anything other than renounce ourselves, take up our Cross and follow in the footsteps of our Crucified God?  Yet there is a resistance in our hearts, a lack of gratitude, something deep inside that is repulsed by the goodness of the Lord.  

Why do we fall out of the beatitude that Christ proclaims the sorrowing know?  The world is filled with all kinds of challenges and trials.  Things happen in life that test us and even discourage us.   We also do things that cast a shadow over the discipline of the Christian life we ought to observe.   

In the midst of this discouragement, Christ is walking along side of us -- He never abandons those He loves.  As He walks with us, He asks us questions.  He is concerned about our direction and about the heaviness in our hearts. Lent is a time to listen to His questions.  

This can mean to read and to re-read the Gospels.  Such a lectio divina involves concentrating on passages with all the force of our mind while attending to the presence of the Lord with all the love of our hearts.    

Really listening to the Lord involves real fasting - from food to the point that we really feel hungry, to the point that we are in touch with our own hunger and thirst for justice.  

Listening to the Lord's questions can also mean going to daily Mass, taking time to ponder the readings, devoutly lifting up our hearts and entering with our lives into His great prayer before the Father.  

Listening means going out and finding my neighbors in their need and loneliness and making sure that they feel loved (it is never enough to just tell them so - love needs to be felt).  When we let ourselves be inconvenienced by those who most need us (true love is never convenient or easy), Christ speaks through them into our own poverty with a beautiful eloquence.  

Such listening can also mean entering into a deeper silence, one which is vulnerable to wonder and awe, and inclines one's whole being to adoration - it culminates in compunction and awareness of one's own need for mercy. 

The works of mercy, the fasting and the prayers that we take up for these Forty Days are meant to help us face a spiritual sluggishness that constantly creeps up in our lives to weigh us down.   These spiritual exercises of love help us recognize the Face of Christ who gazes on us in love. When we welcome His words, our hearts burn with the holy sorrow and secret joy of repentance.   In his eyes, we find the gift of tears which is a beatitude, the hope that lives unvanquished.


February 18, 2014

A Madonna House Staff Member Remembers Lucille

LUCILLE CLAIRE
(claire is the French word for clear, light. bright)

God made a mountain in fire and might
High above the canyon, with great delight
He set there a green meadow, prepared a holy place
From the start of time, a new chapter of grace.

The Lord waited and pondered through ages long
For someone with a will so united and strong
To work and beg, build a solid house of prayer
Upon His mountain, to stand still with Him there.

When God brought Lucille into this world
He must have known that light would twirl
Around her soul, His fuel of light
Nourishing her life with music bright.

You Lord, guided her youth, a jealous lover
Within her heart, a balm would cover
Lucille’s eyes and mind were guided by truth
As she grew and matured, she needed no proof.

So God brought our ‘Lu’ north to Combermere
She fell in love with the Gospel and Little Mandate clear
For a time she absorbed and lived all that she could
Then Colorado called, to the Rockie’s high, fragrant woods.

Lucille crossed the country setting roots in dry mountains
She knew that the Lord was her clear, living fountain
He brought her to live and to die on this site
With God she wrestled for souls, a long, holy fight.

Our Lady of Tenderness, her daily companion
In Mary’s hands did she strive to always abandon
Year by year she opened her wounded heart to all
So each person who came could hear and answer His call.

Her tools, the Word and silence, prayer and listening
She insisted “Go to God! , His holy Spirit glistening
A spiritual mother at service for rich and poor souls
We’ll not forget your deep faith, and heaven’s high goal.

When finally God called your name one day Lucille Claire
You were with Him on the mountain, a eucharistic prayer
And there your body shall always rest and remain
Until the Resurrection comes, in Christ’s Holy Name.

We will then see the throng, the great living host
Of men and women and children, that you loved the most
priests and nuns, laborers and students tous extraordinaire
You welcomed them all to the clear mountain air.

Your prayer does not cease, a loving intercessor on high
We believe God will use you, in His work you will strive
The Church has great need of heaven and earth’s living witness
As the Mountain waits for another – to honor your greatness.

Lucille Claire, our true friend, Mother, helper and guide
We will miss you, we love you, in God’s mercy abide
Help strengthen our faith and our hands for the Kingdom
Of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – Trinity, one God, come!

Alleluia!

Scott Eagan
February 1, 2014

Be hidden – be a light to your neighbor’s feet.

Go without fears into the depth of men’s hearts … I shall be your rest.



 from The Little Mandate
 of
Catherine Doherty
and
Madonna House