December 30, 2015

The Voice of Angels and the Witness of our Faith in England

This Christmas I had the joy of making a pilgrimage to the Tyburn Convent in London together with an English spiritual theologian David Torkington. He took me to this convent of contemplative nuns who keep vigil together at the sight of heroic witness to the Catholic Faith. The Benedictine Adorers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Montmartre are there to intercede perpetually for the whole world, all of humanity -- for its reconciliation, healing and peace. Throughout the day, the nuns offer a  tour and presentations of the Shrine of the English Martyrs over which they keep watch. While there were many powerful stories shared during my time with them, the story of the Carthusian martyrs was particularly poignant.

Earlier in the day, Dom John Houghton and his Carthusian brothers together with a diocesan priest were marched in their vestments from the tower of London to the Tyburn. They were partially hung and mutilated before their death. After this public torture and exhibition, the executioners cut out their hearts to kill them.

John Houghton was first. When his heart was cut out, they placed it in his hands. He is reported to have offered it to God with his dying words, "Lord, what wilt thou do with my heart?"

The context of this execution is striking. When Henry VIII had asked the Carthusians to support his succession as "Head of the Church," the hermits took this request to prayer. At this time, doctrines concerning the Chair of Peter were not as clear as they are today. We can guess that they had wanted to be good subjects to the King. We can also guess that they did not want to cut themselves off from communion with the universal Church.  Finally, we can also surmise that they had some sense that defying their King would have disastrous consequences.  They needed to sanctify this ambiguity by discovering the most appropriate means of serving God in the midst of it. So they offered the Mass of the Holy Spirit.

During Mass, through the Eucharistic prayer and the descent of the Holy Spirit, the priest consecrates the offering of bread and wine with his own hands and the power of the Holy Spirit. By this action, the bread and wine are earthly bread and wine no more, but become the Body and Blood of Christ - his real presence on earth, heavenly food. In this way, the hands of a priest allow the whole Church to offer through his ministry the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ in a very real and powerful way.

Through this offering, we pray for everything and everybody -- our enemies and persecutors, our neighbors and loved ones, the stranger and the destitute. Not as a nice wish or some vague aspiration, but with confident certitude and firmness of purpose, this spiritual worship allows us to stand before God and know that we are heard. When His whole mystery is offered to the Father for His glory and for the salvation of the world, something from Above breaks into even the most difficult circumstances here below - light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.

At this moment of the Mass, the Carthusian heard the singing of heavenly choirs - angels songs were calling to them. This canticle echoing from heaven called to them and they could not be indifferent. Love from heaven above evoked love from their very depths.

Their hearts were pierced with clarity, conviction and confidence. The confusion that they suffered before Mass was dispensed. The inner voice of conscience had spoken in harmony with the music from above. In holy freedom, for their own integrity and dignity as sons of God, they knew what they had to do, even at the price of their own blood because of the Blood that was shed for them.

When Saint John Houghton held his heart in his priestly hands, his executioners might not have understood the sanctifying power of his priestly question, but the glory given to the Father at the Mass was extended into that very moment. The integrity of worship and faith and witness were being held up in the midst of painful obscurity in the frail hands of a dying contemplative and priest. This gesture did not make the evil of that day magically go away, instead the powerful here below were confronted with a wisdom from above -- and at the Tyburn Convent, this wisdom of loved offered for the sake of men, their integrity, and their faith remains unvanquished.

December 24, 2015

The Arms of Christ Outstretched this Christmas

Mary sees in the face of her child the tears of God and the joy of humanity. Hungrily having clung with unquenchable thirst to her breast in our cold darkness, in every challenge she sees Him ready to teach us how to cling to Him in faith. He at once envelops us in the abyss of his love when we see how He allowed her to wrap Him in swaddling clothes. At home with the poor and all those for whom there is no room in society, she ponders how He leads us to our true home in the bosom of the Trinity.  She has always welcomed these unfamiliar gifts with awe, adoration, and selfless acts of mercy. Her example lights the way for us to discover how to rejoice in these troubled times. 

When we consider the arms of the Virgin Mother carefully holding the Savior, we behold how our own hospitality to Him must include complete acceptance of His power to deliver us from sin and death. As she rejoiced to be redeemed by His blood in a singular way, each of us must learn to humbly lay before Him the burden of guilt that He has come to take away so that we might rejoice as well. Confessing our sins with holy sorrow and rendering to Him an act of thanksgiving, we too hold Him in our own arms. Lifting up our hearts with prayers that are right and just, we too learn to listen to his vulnerable cry. 

If we will look into his eyes, we will see that, with great joy and eagerness, He has come in poverty, like a beggar. He hopes that we might let go of our pain and trust Him with it. He wants us to be completely free to love -- and He does not want us to torment ourselves over failure and inadequacy. He yearns to be welcomed and held with confidence in love and for love. His arms remain as outstretched to us this Christmas as they were to Mary that first Christmas, and the joy she knew through her devotion to Him could be ours - by this simple movement of trust, the choice to respond to His tender presence.

In Mary we know that the God who weeps as a baby is discovered by the heart who says "yes" to this gift of divine joy.  This peculiar paradox is an encounter of suffering humanity against divine humility, the doom of death against the surprise of life ever-lasting, the limits of human evil against limitlessness of God's goodness, of earthly poverty against heavenly riches, of ignorance of men against the foolishness of God, of deserved condemnation against incalculable forgiveness, of darkness against the Light, of the Word against silence, of human emptiness against divine fullness. Because Mary pondered all these things, we know that the conflict of these extremes is only resolved by an adoration of the heart, a loving acceptance the mystery of the Word become flesh dwelling among us.This simple movement, this humble contemplation, this willingness to be inconvenienced by God who smiles at us in our neighbor, makes us like her vulnerable to angels' voices, and heavenly signs, and shepherds' wonder, and the homage of wisemen.

December 18, 2015

His Coming is Like Dew Fall

Like the magic of dew fall in the morning, the life of Christ is invisible to the world, an impenetrable secret to anyone whose concerns are limited to the here and now. At the same time and without fully being aware of it, everything that is below, visible and part of this physical world is waiting for what comes from above, what is invisible and spiritual. Into this expectation, the Father speaks His Word and the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. Because of this secret presence, Saint Paul teaches those who believe, “Your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3).

This truth of the faith is not simply about the physical location of Christ -- for the Risen Lord has gained access to the whole of our human reality.  For Christ to dwell with us especially means that the world here below has been filled with heavenly realities. The emptiness of our lives yields to the fullness and new meaning He brings to everything.

Hidden in the mystery of faith, Christ realizes all the noble aspirations of the creatures with whom He has chosen to make his home. He is not put off by our hardships but enters into our homelessness. Born in into a immigrant family, He is in solidarity with the strangers in our midst. Cloaking Himself in poverty, He is not put off by our rejection but remains present, inviting us to change our hearts. He is not put off by the humble and marginalized, but sends them heavenly messengers of His presence. Most of all, He does not fear our aggression or hostility, but comes in great humility and gentleness to rescue us from these things and to restore our dignity.

This embrace between Heaven and Earth that He extends to us is not an abstract idea, but a living reality, personally present, in a transforming way. Every Advent allows us to welcome and marvel over this wonderful gift again. There is, however, a price: those who begin to live hidden in this mystery will certainly be misunderstood by those who do not share this life. Even more, people of prayer will be confounded by their own failures and mediocrity in the face of such divine love. We must never be discouraged by our own difference and lack of mercy. Instead, each of these trials is another occasion to learn to have confidence in the One who has come and is coming for us anew.

Even as the hostility of this world exhausts itself against the love of God, prayer discovers how inexhaustible God's love is. For those who go on this pilgrimage of prayer with the Lord who comes, they come to yearn for the secret glory that He yearns to share. Without knowing how, the dew of Christ's coming permeates their own life -- and, in everything, they rejoice in His victory and Lordship.

December 13, 2015

Come Thou, Wisdom from on High

The Word comes - emptied and humbled for those who are empty and humble

Wisdom from on High
Not a subordinate idea, but primary, First Truth,
Not an appearance or feeling masking something absolute that lies beyond,
but the very manifestation of ultimate reality — indeed the very source and end of all that is.
Not for the world's nostalgic sentimentality, but for the solemn purpose of heaven's mirth,
Not static and remote, but dynamic and personally present,
Not abstract and universal, but particular and concrete,
Not repeatable and expected, but unique and surpassing every expectation,
Not in the strongest and greatest, but in the least and weakest,
Not changing and passing, but eternally firm and abiding,

A new dawn for those who believe,
His coming fullness fills everything though nothing can contain Him,
This Coming in history is renewed today in mystery for all who will ready their hearts -
- everything belongs to them:
The angel that declared His Mystery,
The womb that welcomed His coming,
The unborn Baptist who recognized Him,
The powerful who threatened Him,
The carpenter who protected Him,
The baptism that awaited Him

The Presence of God's Excessive Love
For Divinity has chosen to dwell on earth in tender vulnerability
and today, as then, the human heart can welcome Him and become a divine dwelling.
Not familiar or comfortable, but inconvenient and unfamiliar for God and man,
A surprise, a new beginning, a secret joy that nothing can take away -
Tenderly suffering one's another's presence with such mutual hope,
To raise mysterious hymns of glory and to sing great canticles of praise,
On earth as it is in heaven,
The Word who comes, always comes anew
in the astonishing excessiveness of divine love.

December 5, 2015

Where the Prayer of Advent is Forged

Advent Prayer is forged in the darkness of this world's injustice, hatred and cold disregard. It is not a convenient or comfortable offering. It is crucified and bound to those who need a word of hope.

To be truly Christian, this prayer must suffer all kinds of difficulties and face seemingly insurmountable challenges with generous readiness. This cry of faith must not allow itself to be overcome by distress or anxiety, but instead patiently endure all kinds of sorrow with trust. The more love such prayer costs, the more love it brings -- but it has the power to find love where there is no love, because it puts love there.

Even when no more than a gentle invocation of the Name of the Lord, its gentle persistence is not crushed down even by the most coercive hostility. When exhaustion and shock leave one with no words to say or spiritual feelings at all, this hidden act of piety remains a beacon of human dignity in determined silence -- an offering in hope that does not disappoint.

This humble prayer stands on what is faithful and true. It finds invincible confidence in the face of heartrending disappointment and unbearable grievances. By believing in the coming of the love of God, even more than the malice and apathy of men, this simple movement of heart remains on firm ground, the only ground that can bear the weight of human existence.

Such love consumed prayer can hear Divine Whispers above even the oppressive rancor of cold contempt. The unfamiliar light that this contemplation knows can open up a sanctifying gaze deep into every terrifying shadow of our culture. It makes straight a pathway through confusion. It levels mountains of doubt and despair. It sings with a joyful praise that can still even the clamor of the public square. It always rejoices to welcome the quiet fullness of the Word even in the midst of tears. When it is fully mature, this cry of recognition and love echoes forth from such depths that not even death can silence it forever.

If we desire our Advent Prayer, in the end, there are no tricks to teach, no shortcuts to take. In the cold hard path where we stumble on our neighbor broken in the dirt of daily life, this prayer begins when we surrender our own plans and appeal to the mercy of God with humble trust. When this happens, when our Advent Prayer takes on the proportions of real love, something worthy of the One crucified by love is born in us and we have begun at last to prepare for His coming. 

November 23, 2015

Self-Knowledge and Seeking God

We have been created as wonderful mysteries. God loves to contemplate the hidden glory that He makes known deep in the secret of our hearts and that He wants to help us see with Him. But to see it, we need to seek Him -- and that is why He commands us to love Him with all of our heart.

We are indeed mysteries to ourselves -- being in the image and likeness of God, each person ever made is endowed with unique and surprising spiritual depths and horizons. These inexhaustible places were established by the Lord so that He might find His rest in them. Thus, each particular, unique soul is meant to be a new kind of heaven where His glory is made known in a way that it cannot be known anywhere else in the whole cosmos. Self-knowledge learned in prayer makes us more vulnerable and open to this secret plan of God.

There are, however, many different kinds of self-knowledge.  Not all of it is as beneficial for our salvation.  As we prepare for Advent, it is time to make space in our lives for the self-knowledge to be gained in prayer.

For example, there can be an excessive self-occupation in which we carry out an interior dialogue with our own self. This alienating effort may analyse hidden motivations or constantly evaluate personal failures or grievances, or even stare with nihilism into the deep voids of one's own psyche. It may be the quest for some kind of absolute idea whether to seize upon or reject. It can be the effort to break through to the other side, to go beyond good and evil, to somehow escape the acute pain that haunts our lives in terms of desire, guilt and death. None of this by itself is helpful in the life of prayer  -but can easily become a form of self-torment. When these efforts do not lead to taking responsibility for one's own actions before God, when they do not culminate in repentance and conversion, such self-knowledge no matter how enlightened is nothing more than a simple foretaste of hell.

There is also a so called self-knowledge that is really nothing other than self-delusion. One form of this is a kind of egalitarianism in regards the whims of the heart. The voices that we attend to in our hearts must be carefully discerned because not all of them are true. When we mistake the whims of our own big fat ego for the hidden judgments of God, we are subject to all kinds of rashness. Such magical thinking can even threaten the very integrity of our lives and our connections with those we most love. If one is not careful, it is easy to drown in an abyss not only of capriciousness, but also of pride. Only the truth can hold up the weight of our existence against our fickleness in the moment.

There is also a certain self-knowledge gained through various kinds of therapeutic counseling.  This kind of self-knowledge can be useful and even necessary in helping us identify and learn to manage psychological pathology.  Yet, securing a healthy psyche is still only secondary when it comes to the life of prayer. Indeed, there have been saints who were robbed of this blessing even as they were raised to the gates of heaven.

The self-knowledge that most glorifies God is that which comes when we see ourselves in the light of His own goodness and truth. This knowledge of self suffers a humble vulnerability before God that accepts the reality of who we actually are in His Presence with invincible hope. It is a knowledge that grows the more the heart gives itself to the Lord, the more one allows oneself to be loved and to fall in love with Him. Such contemplation is realized before the Manger, at the Foot of the Cross and in the Breaking of the Bread.

This faith informed "knowledge of self" at once grounds us in the dirt and grit of our lives with holy fear, while heaven's peace resounds within us. We move forward to our final judgement not with timid reluctance but in hope. What we thought could not be forgiven or forgotten has suddenly become a fountain of compassion and intercession.

This confident contemplation keeps before us not what we have accomplished but what He had done for us. It is not a knowledge that beats us up over our inadequacy - but confronts our whole existence with the love of God. It helps us bow our heads even as it gives us standing. More than an intellectual assent, this kind of self-knowledge roots us in the truth that we are not God, that my ego must surrender to the One who gave up everything and humbled Himself for my sake. And the more we lower ourselves in this Light, the more this Eternal Word raises us on high.

This self-knowledge leads out of self and into adoration of God. In this knowledge, heaven's mirth does not allow me to be weighed down by those heavy shackles of self-absorbed thoughts. Even a difficult pathology becomes a little easier to bear because of the patience such grace infused self-knowledge bestows. This powerful secret is a gift that the Lord of Hosts is waiting to share with us -- and He gives it in the measure that our devotion to Him is tested in all kinds of trials and sacrifices. All we need to do is ask, patiently believe, and to love Him with all our heart.

November 12, 2015

Set your Mind on What is Above

Set your mind on what is above, Saint Paul advises in Colossians 3:2. He himself who was once caught up in hatred and rash judgment understood how earthly dreams and worldly influences pull good hearts into irrational currents. Having survived shipwrecks, he knew how easy it was to drown when one allows oneself to be swept away by these deep waters. Through his own weakness, he knew that only the One who is from above can rescue us from the destructive forces here below. Having seen and heard the Risen Lord, he knew how our faith in Christ raises up our mind to see new saving wonders, eternal blessings no irrationality can ever overthrow.

To set our minds on what is above is not a matter of avoiding difficulties and challenges that cause us to question everything. These ambiguities are a necessary part of our existence in this life. Yet we are not to allow ourselves to be anxious or despondent in the face of them. These trials are not meant to destroy our integrity or imprison us in alienation. These things from below are permitted only so that we might raise our eyes to the One who comes for us.

The One who is from above walks towards us on the stormy sea of this life. He has called us to meet Him there. He yearns that we too might find solid footing, that we might follow him on the surface of this world's waves. He takes us out of our loneliness with His own hand and stands us up right even as the ground shakes beneath us. To fix the minds eye on Him and to listen with the ear of our heart is not to escape or evade such a great gift, but to finally begin to welcome it -- to live it to the full!

Contemplative prayer is the effort to keep our eyes fixed on His on the rough waters of this life's journey.  Such mental prayer bathed in holy silence and grounded in the truth is the effort to set our minds on what is above.  As we set out to greet Him on the surface of all kinds of danger and threats, we only make progress to the degree that we gaze into the face of the One who awaits us with love. Even when the storm of this life causes us to lose our footing, as long as we keep our eyes fixated on His, we will not sink or lose ourselves. If our attention is diverted for a moment by surging anxieties and fear, all we need to do is call out and He comes to pull us up with Him.  In this effort to pray, He is saving us from the dangers here below with His power from above.

October 18, 2015

Holy Ground

The Trinity is the ground of our soul. This eternal communion of divine persons in one Nature is given as life-giving soil for the heart with Infinite Humility. Only in this garden can we bear fruit for eternal life. Only this ultimate Truth is able to bear the weight of human existence. We find this ground on which to stand by faith because this is how God has revealed Himself -- the Father has spoken His Mighty Word into the lowly dirt of our humanity so that we might at last behold Him, and see in His eyes gazing back at us the deepest truth about who we truly are.

Prayer that seeks out and welcomes this Word made flesh learns to attend to:
the echoing thunder of heaven's thrown whose majesty and power reign over every circumstance,
the saving truth that sets us free,
the irrevocable promise that does not pass away,
the suffering cry of Mary's Son wrapped in swaddling clothes,
the gentle whisper of a mysterious stranger struck to the heart by our plight,
the comforting call of the Good Shepherd who has sought us through thick and thin,
the soothing song of the Vinedresser who longs for us to thrive and be fruitful,
the urgent prayer of the Suffering Servant who has offered everything for our sake,
the ardent appeal of the Bridegroom who longs for His Bride,
the triumphant shout of our Captain who has vanquished our enemies,
the joyful welcome of the Father who has patiently awaited our return,
and the the answer of many mysterious trumpets
and roaring waters from a glassy sea
and the ringing of crowns cast down,
answering at once, "Worthy is the Lamb!" and
"Come Lord Jesus!"

Like Moses, we can only approach this Life set ablaze barefoot and vulnerable, bathed in unfamiliar wonder. He was sent from above to abide in us and invites us to abide in Him, just as He is with the Father. His breathes His Spirit of Life to convince, to teach, to correct, sometimes even to rebuke, but always to build up, to offer hope. This Gift from above does not destroy or diminish, but comes to heal and make perfect. He consumes and purifies, but does not reduce to nothingness. This uncreated Fire rectifies, raises us above ourselves, planting the Word in our hearts. And the Father rejoices in what He contemplates in us.

October 14, 2015

God's Light and Proportion according to Saint Teresa

"The light God grants you from time to time concerning spiritual joys is a special mercy. His Majesty comforts us in proportion to our trials. Since yours are great, so are His favors."
Saint Teresa of Avila, November 1576.

Father Gracian, to whom Saint Teresa addressed the words above, was a competent and industrious leader. But Teresa wants him to focus on divine mercy, divine love implicated with us in our plight. God gives “light" when we face difficult challenges in His service. Concerned that we persevere when circumstances seem impossible to bear, she knows that the Lord gives us ground to stand on. Everything else in our lives may be completely shaken, but He remains, ever more steadfast for us. Saint Teresa observes that the Lord “comforts us in proportion to our trials.”

We can take this proportion of comfort in trial in two ways.  On one hand, there is a sense of consolation that comes from being productive for the Lord even when we are faced with opposition or difficult circumstances.  Father Gracian was probably familiar with this grace -- even as opposition to the reform grew, God continued to do great things through him. The day would come however when all his achievements for the reform would seem undone, even wasted.

We can also consider this “proportion” in terms of our awareness of God’s presence. While all things are passing God never changes. He is always coming to us in wonderful new ways by grace.  Saint Teresa would probably propose this second kind of consolation as the most important.

God never comes in the way we expect Him -- He exceeds all expectations. Never passive or aloof, He is always active and personally implicated in our concerns.  When darkness seems to prevail, with dawning brightness, He purifies and expands the soul, opening up new horizons in our hearts, and this with even greater delicacy and power the more intense and frequent our trials.

Without faith, such divine brightness remains unseen. His light exceeds our natural powers, overshadowing them in glory. When, however, we seek His presence dwelling in our hearts and choose to live by His love, He uses all kinds of trails and difficulties only to take us ever deeper into the dwelling He has prepared for us.

This mysterious “light” and this sacred “proportion” help us discover the wonder of our Almighty Father. He waits for us at the intersection of human suffering and divine love -- the mystery of the Cross. He is not limited by what is easiest and most comfortable.  He does not confine Himself to the most convenient or successful.  Within the limits of human frailties and needs, lowliness and simplicity, humility and reverence, Saint Teresa knows that His paternal tenderness in limitless glory abides.  

September 21, 2015

To Do Good to Those who Hate Us

Christ Crucified is not embarrassed by our plight or disgusted by our failures when we find ourselves defenseless before those who despise us and what we believe as Christians. He is grieved by the numerous injustices that we suffer more than we can ever grieve for ourselves. He never allows those who despise us to have the final word. Just the opposite. He stands with us, unvanquished.  In standing with us through it all, He implicates those who hate our faith in His definitive victory of good over evil, giving us even greater reason for the hope we have inside.

There is an exquisite grace that the Lord yearns to grant, but He cannot as long as we close ourselves off to Him. He needs our trust for Him to accomplish His Will in us. He needs our vulnerability and our openness before the wonder of His presence. Yet, we cannot be open to wonder and we cannot find confidence in Him as long as we are more focused on ourselves than we are on Him.

When it comes to helping us see just how little we are really open to God, an enemy is like an angel from Heaven. It is true that such a person, especially when friend or family, knows what buttons to press. At the most inopportune time we find ourselves pushed to the brink. If you find yourself at just such a place, it is time to thank God. At brink of human existence, we open to God and God opens to us.

The brink is not a place of mere emotional insecurity but instead an intensely spiritual place of surrender. The harsh judgments to which the scorn or indifference of others incline us are only so many symptoms that our way of life remains out of harmony with the deeper truth written into the substance of our humanity.By faith, we do right to resist the impulse to retaliate and to submit these grievances to the Holy Spirit. Yet the more we love and try to serve those who hate us, the more we discover that deeper and more fundamental lack of confidence in God and His will for us. This interior state of affairs is known only through great suffering, but this knowledge provides the surest ground for the hope we have inside.

Whenever our enemy helps us repent of our distrust of God, the Risen One cuts new and unexpected facets of patience and gentleness in the soul.  It is a painful grace.  Cold stone is rendered into living flesh and the greatness of our Christian faith raises everything and everyone onto unfamiliar heights.
He Himself is the resounding Word that the Father subtly whispers into the depths of our broken existence, making all things new even as all our noble intentions and resolutions come tumbling down all around us. In such moments, He humbly waits for our invitation, and we know that He will not resist the humble contrite cry of love.

This solidarity of human suffering and divine love in such prayer converges on the Mystery of the Cross. When we follow in the footsteps of our crucified Master by such prayer, the scorn of an adversary or the betrayal by a friend can only lead us all the more to this supreme moment.  When we fix our gaze on the One who gazes on us with love, even as the urge to lash out swells, we find the freedom not to render evil for evil, but to do good to those who hate us.

September 9, 2015

What satisfies – by Father Raymond Gawronski, S.J., Professor of Theology, Saint Patrick's Seminary

“Our hearts are made for Thee O Lord, and they will not rest until they rest in Thee.”

St. Augustine’s famous words say it all: for we are made to know – and experience – God, and we will be restless until we come to that rest. Son of St. Ignatius, Balthasar would add: that “rest” is the acceptance of the mission God has for us, and that is a most active “rest.” But it is the “peace that the world cannot give,” and so not a philosophical repose, but rather an active “rightness” which comes from being in the will of God, however that may look.

Put differently, “what satisfies the soul?” What satisfies the deepest part of me? It is clear from all the “restless wanderings” of the people of the world that they are not finding that which satisfies. Half the people are terribly overweight – food does not satisfy. Many, maybe most, are engaged in some sort of driven sexual search – if only on the Internet. But the satisfaction there is momentary, leading to a period of exhaustion, and then a renewed hunt, more restless – more desperate – than before.

There are simpler satisfactions. The contemplation of nature, the immersion of our starved senses in the world God created, satisfies for awhile, and that in a healthy way. But nature is less than we, and so can only give a bit of respite, a bit of memory of Paradise. There are more sophisticated satisfactions. The world of the mind opens up. The satisfactions of intellectual sustenance, the pleasures of art – all these lift and feed the soul. For awhile. But in the end, they are only invitations, beautiful portals – to a reality beyond any of them.

And this reality can only be found in silence and darkness, for it is so totally different from all that is less than God, who is infinitely beyond us, that we must enter into the negation of all that we know, all our ways of knowing, in order to “know” in the “divine darkness.”

And so, calming all the senses, stilling our beings, we sit in the quiet – and await the working of the Holy Spirit of God. The very being there, the receiving of the invitation, the saying “yes” is itself a step into that “otherness” that begins to satisfy our souls, as nothing in this world can. We can – we must – bathe in these deep, dark waters, immerse ourselves, let ourselves drown in fact, that we may be lifted out of them.

We emerge to the greater satisfaction: that of love. No longer needy, no longer demanding. Rooted in that death which alone gives life,  in that silence from which alone satisfying sound emerges, we have found satisfaction, by renouncing all lesser satisfactions.  And we no longer demand that humans give us that which they cannot give: eternal life, perfect understanding, total acceptance and forgiveness.

This satisfaction has a name, for “it” is a person: His Name is Jesus, the “human face of God.” The Word that emerges from the Silence and invites us to that silence from which the only satisfying speech – the only real music – will emerge. From the heart of the Trinity.  May we be blessed to enter into this life-giving silence that alone stills our restless hearts, that alone satisfies. 

Father Raymond Gawronski, S.J. is a spiritual theologian and the author of Word and Silence: Hans Urs von Balthasar and the Spiritual Encounter between East and West, Second Spring Books: 3rd Edition (2015). He helped launch the Spirituality Year at the founding of Saint John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver where he served as professor, director of spiritual formation and retreat master, and most recently he started a similar program for Saint Patrick's Seminary where he also teaches and serves as a spiritual director.

September 6, 2015

Hidden Glory: beautiful birthplace of prayer

The glory of God shines though hidden in both the fleeting joys and the difficult exigencies of this life.  Divine immensity disguises itself in what seems small and inconsequential: the haunting glance of a despised and marginalized neighbor -- whether threatened by danger or death, whether in the public square or in the womb. Hidden here is God's self-disclosure in my neighbor.

In a single moment this mysterious glory can shake the heart from slumbering indifference.  In an instant, we are moved away from the temptation to simply pass by and into the overwhelming need to be implicated and inconvenienced by the plight before us - whether a young person aching to find some reason for their existence or someone disenchanted by the unrelenting cycle of this world's misery.

To know the warmth and radiance of heaven manifest in such heart breaking encounters is to discover a secret power breaking into our world. To be touched by the unfamiliar, subtle and delicate uncreated dynamism at work in these hidden moments tastes of the very purpose of life itself. Before this irrevocable dawning of Divine Glory onto our personal affairs, we see every other wonder, no matter how impressive or overwhelming, a passing shadow.

Even the slightest glimpse of this mystery fills the heart with such limitless fullness, nothing circumscribed by the merely visible and tangible can hold it.  Where we see and feel any lack of love, the light of this glory shines even now, in this very moment, with unperceived radiance, an aching paradox, a clashing of opposites. In the very face of fury and hostility, splendor concealed in mercy cries out always with love, to love, by love and for love. And this light shines unconquered everywhere and on everyone and in our own hearts, even as we attempt in vain to shut our eyes against it or with rage, to snuff it out.

If you want to put love where there is no love, unaided human industry is of no avail.  Whatever outcomes you attempt to control, the Living God cannot fit in these.   No method (no matter how difficult to master), no technique (regardless of how well practiced), and no program (how ever cleverly concocted) even begins to sound the depths of the inexhaustibly deep dug well of overflowing divine life and love.  No titanic exploit of human industry, whatever the dynamic psychic state or powerful social awareness it produces, even remotely attains the height of this divine humility. No purely natural evolution in human enlightenment will ever glimpse more than a vestige of the least shadow of this Uncreated Splendor.  We may rightly exhaust ourselves in our efforts to welcome Him in the distressing disguise of the poor, but the divine call to love is never exhausted and to ignore its unique claim over our hearts is to live nothing other than a diminished life.

To see this glory from above is to acknowledge at once that we are all beggars here below.  The glory of God is from above, completely beyond our power to grasp or manage. Before His overflowing torrents of life, the only proper response is surrendered vulnerability, humble obedience and selfless adoration.  From above, this eternal fire is sovereign over every matter, no matter how urgent, of this world and in our hearts. Nothing can force or prevent or impede this unquenchable river: it is over all and in all, sustaining everything and everyone in existence out of pure love, and all this inexhaustibly and unfathomably, for no other reason than for His own sake.  Even when ridiculed, rejected, despised and crucified - this glory rises again and abides forever, unconquered.

This is why, with the suddenness of lighting, this glory breaks forth in deepest darkness. When all seems most lost, an astonishing flash of divine gratuity discloses the limits of evil to eyes aching for truth. This is the fresh glory of an unanticipated new relation, of unexpected harmony in the heart and between hearts, of an unimagined joyed shared with God and with others, with expressions so tender and wonderful, this world's time and space are too small for them. Yet every moment of this life is pregnant with this uncreated splendor, which is always beginning and still in progress.

Not dis-incarnate, but an enfleshed, this beautiful presence of the Living God can only be shared face to face and heart to heart. This inexhaustible divine self-disclosure can be found in the secrecy of one's own home or in an anonymous encounter on the street, in a cup of water offered to a weary pilgrim or an ear that listens into the heart-ache of the distressed, in a kind smile of welcome for the stranger or a loving word of truth to a displaced soul searching for home.  This glory can even be the gentle glance at one's very enemy - the one whose wounds of betrayal and hatred you still bear - that dares to echo with that primordial divine judgment, a judgment renewed in those eyes that conquered death: "yes, it is very good that you exist."

This is the the hidden glory in which Christian prayer is born and by which such prayer reaches the very heart of God. For His part, God is always pleased to welcome this cry of the heart because He delights in how much this effort to embrace both sorrow and joy welcomes His glory -- in all its exquisite hiddenness and distressing disguises.  The Almighty carefully implicates His glory in these simple movements hidden in depths too secret for anyone to understand about themselves. In His tender compassion, He has chosen the limitations, the inadequacy, and the voids in which this prayer resounds to be raised in an eternal chorus of unvanquished love.

As for me, in my efforts to be a loving father, or a good husband, or a half decent teacher - my sin is before me always.  When I am tired of raging against the One who alone can heal and free me, I realize it is time again to humbly acknowledge my sin and to begin my journey home into His merciful embrace. When I want to open my eyes to see His face, I must humble myself and ask for the gift to praise Him again. He is Lord even over the hostility of my own heart, and only He can quiet those raging waters -- they cannot drown Him, for He has vanquished death itself.   Whenever I approach as His unworthy servant, His voice with unearthly jubilance echoes 'my son.' Here, I begin to learn to praise His glory.

July 31, 2015

Living by the Pace of Prayer

Living at the pace of prayer disposes our lives to the beatitudes of Christ Himself. What I mean by "the pace of prayer" great Catholic thinkers call "being recollected." A recollected life is the opposite of living dissipated or scattered by the many diversions that we can get sucked into.  It is also the opposite of being driven or obsessed.  Instead, it is the effort to be mindful of the presence of God, a mindfulness that requires a renewed act of faith in the Lord's presence throughout the whole day, every day, and then to live accordingly.

When we pace our lives around our awareness of the many ways the Lord discloses Himself to our faith, we discover the capacity not to over-react or to get caught up in activities that are beneath our dignity. This capacity for interior freedom in regards exterior circumstances also inclines us to be ready to recognize and act on the truth at stake in any situation, and to do so with love.  To live life at a prayerful pace in this way lifts us above the work-a-day world and relativizes the absolute demands of a demanding situation. Not in dreamy escapism or emotional distance, a prayerful life renders us intensely aware of our unfolding relationship with the Lord and, like God Himself, vulnerable to the needs of all those whom He entrusts to us.

Life then takes on the flavor of a conversation.  Living at the pace of prayer, we are always listening and waiting to recognize the presence of the Word of the Father who constantly reveals Himself anew, in the most subtle and delicate ways. When the Word became flesh, eternity broke into every moment of our lives, and is beginning all around us, in every concrete situation, no matter how humble the circumstance.  In fact, the more humble, the more wonderful His self-disclosure: always revealing the inexhaustible love of the Father and the hidden mystery of who we truly are to ourselves with unanticipated freshness.

To live with such newness and fullness is to reject intellectualizing our existence or emotional self-occupation.  Confident faith in the presence of the Risen Lord not only grounds us in reality but questions us about our whole way of life, our whole approach to everything.  When we discover His gaze of love shining at us through the circumstances of the present moment, we are free to say "yes" with the depths of our being, to welcome His astonishing presence with wonder and joy in our hearts, even when He is disguised in poverty, distress and rejection.

In this way, living at the pace of prayer, living recollected, opens us to the mystery of the Beatitudes. To be ready to show hospitality to the poor, hungry, thirsty, and meek Christ puts us on a pathway of purification, of mercy, of peacemaking, of being rejected and persecuted, just as was He.  And there is no greater beatitude than to welcome this mystery into our lives, because in this mystery, the glory of the Father, His exquisite and unvanquished love, is revealed when it is most needed, and what is most true about ourselves is, in so many unfathomable ways, at once purified and intensified.

In the 20th Century, we were blessed with many wonderful men and women of faith knew this truth not only with their mind but with their lives, from the depths of their own hearts. They chose to live by the pace of prayer when everyone around them feared to do so. One of these is Dietrich von Hildebrand, a convert to the faith who had the courage to publicly criticize Nazism even at great personal cost.

In 1938, he secretly met with a group of young adults in Florence.  He provided them conferences on how to live a transformed Christian existence even as their faith and way of life were under attack by military, political and cultural forces. The notes from these conferences were published in 1940. In English, this work is called Transformation in Christ

I have found that his words to those Christians then apply for those who endeavor to follow Christ now. In particular, his chapter on Recollection and Contemplation (see Sophia Institute Press, 1990, pp.  138-144) provides counsels that have helped me live at the pace of prayer. They might be summarized as follows:

1. Consecrate every day by a certain space of time to inward prayer.  (I have found that the beginning and end of the day are good for this -- I also like to take time before and after Mass, as well as a few minutes at 3:00pm - the Hour of Mercy.)

2. Interpolate free moments in the course of our day; moments in which we raise our eyes to God, forgetting everything for a second and experiencing his presence.

3. Resist being swallowed up by the immanent logic of our activities and of the diverse situations in which life places us. (Sometimes, the intensity of the workplace makes this more difficult, but this practice has helped me navigate difficult conversations.)

4. Shun everything that appeals to our craving for sensation.  We must guard against yielding to our idle curiosity, against cramming our mind with wanton things. (Today, our use of social media and other diversions technology makes available need to be carefully monitored and often renounced.)

5. Silence alone evokes inward calm.  Especially in important conversations, frequent intervals of silence allows "the things that have deeply impressed us" to "resound and grow in our soul, and strike root in our being."

6. Solitude is requisite from time to time because "a moment saturated with meaning, a valid 'now' requires a period of calm relaxation for taking effect." (This can be in the form of a periodic weekend retreat or even for longer periods as one's responsibilities allow).

7. Mental alertness needed for prayer requires a certain amount of sleep and simple recreation.  (In other words, we need to take care of our basic human needs or we will simply not have the energy to respond to God.)

July 16, 2015

The Aspen Catholic Institute August 14-16

I have been invited to provide a presentation at the inauguration of the Aspen Catholic Institute on the Future of Christianity at St. Mary's in Aspen.  As Fr. Hilton has been cycling across the United States this summer, Catholic Spiritual Direction  has been posting his updates and sharing his progress. Underlying his enormous efforts have been our efforts to bring the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation to Aspen.
In August, we’re honored to be part of the inaugural event, “The Future of Christianity?” We expect it to be lively and engaging for everyone involved.

The Schedule

Friday, August 14
  • 5:30 PM – Mass celebrated by Fr. John Hilton, pastor of St. Mary’s
  • Catered dinner
  • 7:30 PM – Presentation by Dan Burke
Saturday, August 15
  • 10:00 AM – Outdoor hike with Fr. Nathan Cromly
  • 11:30 AM – Presentation by Fr. Nathan Cromly at John Denver Sanctuary
  • 5:30 PM – Mass celebrated by Fr. Nathan Cromly
  • St. Mary annual feast day potluck dinner
  • 7:30 PM – Presentation by Dr. Anthony Lilles
Sunday, August 16
  • 7:30 AM – Mass celebrated by Fr. Nathan Cromly
  • 10:00 AM – Mass celebrated by Fr. Nathan Cromly
  • 11:00 AM – Roundtable wrap-up with Dan Burke, Dr. Anthony Lilles, and Fr. Nathan Cromly
  • Coffee and donuts
There will be child care available each day.
Register to attend by clicking HERE. For a one-page document listing hotels in and around Aspen, click here (link opens a PDF file).

The Speakers

Dan Burke
Dan Burke will reveal how God drew him out of despair, which came from the profound spiritual, physical, and psychological suffering of his youth, and how his life-changing encounter with God relates to the future of Christianity and how we can engage even in the face of growing hostility.
Fr. Nathan Cromly, CSJ
  • Member of the Community of St. John
  • Founder of Eagle Eye Formation Program
  • Responsible for many forms of evangelization and outreach to all age groups
  • Author and Speaker
Fr. Cromly will preach, and will base his comments on the Gospel readings of the day. He will the following thoughts in his reflections:
  1. The five aspects of the “missionary spirit” outlined by Pope Francis at the end of Evangelii Gaudium.
  2. The need for confidence in the Holy Spirit to proclaim the “newness of the Gospel with boldness” in the face of secularism.
  3. The response to secularism offered by the thought of Pope Benedict.
  4. The courageous witness to truth lived with a spirit of solidarity found in the preaching of Pope John Paul II.
Dr. Anthony Lilles
This’ talk will on “Missionary Discipleship in the Wisdom of the Saints.” The presentation will propose Sts. Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and Thérèse of Lisieux as witnesses to missionary discipleship that Pope Francis has asked the Church to embrace. These three doctors of the Church remind us by their witness and spiritual doctrine that such discipleship is only possible when we take time in our prayer to seek and enter into the mystery of God’s heart, opened for us by Christ Jesus. Just as each of these saints advocate this personal relationship in prayer, the future of Christianity requires Catholics to welcome and deepen this friendship with the Lord in new ways, not only for themselves, but also to provide the world the word of hope it needs to hear.

Register to attend by clicking HERE. For a one-page document listing hotels in and around Aspen, click here (link opens a PDF file).

Read more:

July 12, 2015

Christian Piety and Political Power in America

Is faith in the Risen Lord a true shield against a growing political and cultural absolutism in America today?  If so,  it may explain why a growing number of Catholics feel the need not retreat from the public square even as they seem to lose struggles for the sacredness of marriage and life. Instead, Christians and other people of prayer engage marketplace of ideas with even greater vigor. In the meantime, young people are responding to the call to ministry and lives of prayer with greater courage and enthusiasm than ever  Even as our churches in America and around the world are burned down and unbridled hatred is unleashed on our brothers and sisters in the Lord with horrific brutality, we have good reason to fall to our knees and pick up this shield again in prayer.

The Catholic faith is about freedom because it is about the truth, the deepest truth about God and about our existence. It appeals to the deepest sanctuary of the heart. If it promotes social institutions, it does so to make space for the voice of conscience in human affairs. Whether it concerns the sacredness of marriage, or of motherhood, or of family, or of life itself, the Church has a responsibility to speak the truth in love.. The Risen Lord died that this voice might be made pure through the forgiveness of sin. All the baptized are obliged to propose hope with love, no matter how often it is rejected or how deeply it is despised.  It is about people being set free to thrive, to live life to the full, to come home to God where they most belong.

As it abandons Christianity, America is diminished under the weight of bad religion. We have enslaved ourselves by worshipping at the altar of political avarice. All too often, our leaders refer to God with manipulative sentimentality, cloaking with calculating hubris their hidden agendas with pious jargon. Our branches of government usurp the very place of God, desecrating the most sacred institutions of human existence, declaring as burdens and not blessings the dying, the unborn and the stranger. As a result, marriage, motherhood and family life are all vulnerable to the latest whims of the politically powerful while scoffing cultural thugs shame us into silence. 

Everyone is afraid of being called intolerant. But the greatest sin in America today is not intolerance. Indeed, intolerance toward Christians is heralded as a great social virtue. Fewer and fewer leaders find the courage to stand up for people of faith.  They are looked upon as a political liability, discussed as an unruly part of the political equation. It has long been the case that people of faith who question the wrong cultural conventions are deemed politically and intellectually anathema. To propose that there is another standard besides the whims of the powerful is a threat to popular convention and civil discourse. Christians find themselves compelled to propose just this and so they always find themselves as the special target of social hatred.  

True piety and humble prayer always take Christians into this beatitude. Real prayer leads us to question both ourselves and our conventions in the light of heaven. Such prayer is dangerous personally and socially for those who are attached to using others for their own projects and personal gain. Yet, for those who need a word of hope and a shield against tyranny, such prayer this kind of prayer is vital.

Prayer rooted in what God has revealed causes us to measure everything against the wonder of His love at work in our misery. Manifest in the very least of our neighbors, the glory of this Living God implicates us in the plight of the less fortunate and most vulnerable, because this is where He is. As a people without this kind of piety, without this loyalty to God for His own sake, we cannot find this standard of American greatness raised by our forefathers or provide the rest of humanity a sanctuary of true human liberty.

In this proclamation, our faith lives in the wonder of Divine Providence raising up the poor and lowly, and bowing down the powerful and self-satisfied. A piety rooted on this hidden truth purifies politics. It reveals those wolves that merely use people to gratify their will to power. It raises the most essential questions about the meaning of society and the proper role of government. Here, our faith protects what is most tender and noble about our fragile human existence.  

Christ crucified humbles us all.  Before Him we know that might does not make right, due process alone is not enough for justice, and even capitol punishment does not provide the last word about the truth. The earthly supremacy claimed by any court will pass away -- and He will remain. To Him, we will all render an account.

The greatness of the Christian religion, the power of the Cross, is how it raises us above ourselves and gives us the courage to seek and live by the truth. This is the freedom to question cultural convention and political powers, to renounce the absolute claims they make on our lives, to choose to live in the freedom of God's love. Under the shadow of the Cross, believers know that the land of the free and the home of the brave can be rediscovered in our time.  Under the shield of faith, we have every hope of finding the courage to defend those sacred institutions and values that make a nation great.

June 18, 2015

Pilgrimage and Prayer

The Lord blessed me with a pilgrimage just at the end of the academic year.  About thirty pilgrims from the Shrine of Saint Anne in Arvada together with others from a couple different parts of the country joined together for two weeks of walking in the footsteps of the saints of Spain.  Together with them I am praying for our families and loved ones, for deeper conversion, for a deeper faith in the One who walks with us.

These journeys are filled with beautiful moments of prayer and fellowship.  They also involve discovering treasures of culture and history, and thinking about the presence of the Lord in the midst of the shadows and bright spots of the Church in the world, walking with those who need a word of hope. In all of this there are glimpses of holiness, and there is the provocative witness of the saints we meet along the way.

Today, I am at Saint Michael's chapel above the Benedictine Monastery of Montserrat ... Where a spiritual revival began about the time Columbus brought the Gospel to America.   After the reform of contemplation Cisneros initiated to reform this sacred place, Saint Ignatius came here and discovered the great grace that spiritual exercises offer the Church.  He would develop his own spiritual exercises not far away, at Manresa.

The Society of Jesus Saint Ignatius founded would also be enriched through the tireless dedication to prayer, preaching and conversion of figures like Saint John of Avila who preceded and then supported him. Like Ignatius, the encountered the Risen Lord and their lives were transformed with devotion and the burning desire to bring the Gospel to that ends of the world.  The Spanish Jesuits in turn supported the great Carmelite Reformer, Teresa of Avila.  And, it is Teresa of Jesus and the 500th anniversary of her birth that moved me to take up this journey.  

Together all these Spanish saints, and so many more, helped the Church discover her heart in the 16th Century.  The heart of the Church is prayer, an exchange of love between Christ and His bride.  Every Eucharist reveals this reality anew, every act of repentance returns to its living source, every effort to begin to pray is already taken deep into the greatness of this mystery.  

This kind of prayer animates the mission of the Church.  Through rediscovering prayer countless more men and women found the courage to take up the work of evangelizing a new continent.  Junipero Serra, soon to be canonized, was caught in the wake of this great movement of contemplative prayer, even centuries later.  Whether they went to the far West or East, the heartbeat of God's love resounding in the heart of the Church at prayer moved them and strengthened them to face every trial.
The spiritual renewal continues in our day and propels us into mission too.  I do not doubt the indispensable role prayer must play in our new evangelization today.  True prayer is an encounter with Someone who awaits us with love.  He is waiting to entrust us with a exquisite work of love, to implicate us in His tender concern for families and marriages, for all those in need of a word of hope. In this way, prayer opens up new beginnings, a renewal of fidelity and joy that only an encounter with Christ can bring.


June 8, 2015

Prayer and Beauty, Love and Work

John Paul II greatly admired a poet named Cyprian Norwid.  His poetry connected work, beauty and love with the task of being human, of living life to the full.  Through this poet, Saint John Paul came to appreciate how men and women are meant to build bridges, to connect to one another and to God. These insights permeate many of his social teachings. Lifting our hearts to see what is beautiful, to allowing beauty to move us into love, this is also a good way to begin to pray. 

Saint John Paul and the Poet Norwid were convinced that what makes something beautiful is the love it discloses. This love disclosed in the truly beautiful evokes the response of love, and not to love, when we see what is truly beautiful, is to fall short of the noble calling of our humanity.  Here, in the face of beauty, the holiness of marriage, the sacredness of society and the necessity of prayer converge.  We find them leading to and flowing from the work of love that beauty inspires deep in the heart.

The work of love and our need for God coincide before the dynamism of beauty.  When a word of hope is most needed, God answers in heart piercing ways. The face of a neighbor, whether stranger or friend, is an icon through which heaven gazes on us.  Whether hidden in poverty or distress, if we seek God's glory that He has given us through His Son, we find the splendour of his beauty shine out once again.  A single glimpse of this beauty makes the work of marriage, family, and society not only possible, but worthwhile for a life time. Prayer knocks at the door of love, and through its humble petition finds this threshold open to all that is truly great, noble and wonderful about human existence.

People who search for and find what is truly beautiful in prayer become committed to the work of connecting with God and with one another because they believe in what they see. They burn with love to share the love they know. They feel the need to give themselves. In the beautiful horizons of God's particular love, they behold their neighbor as a gift and a task, and they would not want it any other way. This burning adoration causes them to be invested in people and in God. In this contemplation, what is beautiful has captured their gaze and expanded their spirit: no sacrifice is too great or too small.  

This happens because love is that for which our hearts are made, that by which we exist at all. Whenever we see this ultimate purpose in the here and now, in this particular moment limited by these concrete circumstances, in the gift and task with which God entrusts us now, we are invited to cross a threshold, to pass through a doorway, to make an connection, to build a bridge. Our hearts; cannot be indifferent because the One who reveals the Beauty of the invisible God, the one who discloses the Father to us, He is the One who is present in such moments. If the bridge seems impossible, it is only because God is bulding it in a hidden way, and He needs our trust and our effort to make space for this beautiful work to be realized.

The bridge we feel ourselves compelled to build is like the one that God has fashioned to span the distance between our hearts and His. It is deeply established in the ground, rooted in the nitty gritty, and in this sense, radical in our basic human experience, our needs, drives, instincts, passions and desires. It reaches into heights, appealing to all that is noble and true, evoking a generous and great response. It extends out from our every effort to protect and makes space for what is more dear to us. Its expanse reaches across our fears and indifference, even our malice itself. One finds this pathway starting before our own past and racing ahead to a future that this life is too small to contain. This bridge from heaven to earth makes possible even on earth the things of heaven, even in the heart of men, the heart of God.

Those who glimpse this bridge, who gain a sense of the vast horizons love has opened before us, cannot settle for alienation or allow others to suffer loneliness, not without a word of hope. They must also build bridges to connect others with the beauty they have seen. To reach beyond their own humanity, they have seen, is what makes us human -- for what is humanity but a radiance of the beauty of God?

May 19, 2015

A Missionary Disciple and the Gift of God

The disciples of the Risen Lord are missionary.  They are sent out by Him into the world to be messengers of Divine Mercy, and their teaching is not their own. They know that they have been entrusted with a pearl beyond price, the mustard seed, the one thing that does not fail when all else fails around them. They declare what they have heard because what they hear has turned their whole world upside down and given them ground on which to stand, rock on which to build, "If you knew the Gift of God."

They are sent out because the One sent to them commands them.  Raised from their sight, and at the same time, always mysteriously present in new and surprising ways, they follow in the footsteps of their Crucified Master.  Their mission is to reveal His love in the face of alienation and hostility, to bring action filled words of hope into hopeless situations, to propose and re-propose faith for eyes yet unable to glimpse the glory of God. In all this and so much more, they long to satisfy the great thirst by which Christ cries out, "If you knew the Gift of God."

The One who conquered death asks the Father to send Tongues of Fire to these disciples whom He has sent. Thus, this Mysterious Breath from the Heart of Father and Son breathes in them, sealing the deepest interior of their hearts with the freedom to offer their lives in love. The Father and the Son have always delighted in this excess of joy because in sovereign freedom They forever seal their own love with this Consuming Fire.  Now in pure jubilation, because the Risen Lord has asked it and because all things are given Him, the frailest creature can also know this Uncreated Gift until one's whole being echoes, "If you knew the Gift of God."

Missionary disciples live by breathing in the Holy Spirit's animating presence through which with great delicacy He lavishes on them spiritual gifts of every kind. New and unfamiliar wonders bathe these souls as their whole existence aches with both the exultation of heavenly canticles and the heart-piercing cry of the most vulnerable, the very same music resounding in the depths of God. In this symphony of truth, the true disciple discovers how to rest in the tenderness of God and, even more, how to be so tender with God that He might rest in them, "If you knew the Gift of God."

The intensity with which the Fire of God's Love burns in them is the same intensity that propels them out into the most painful of life's problems.  Into the dangerous peripheries of society and into the troubled heart of a family, for the sake of both friends and enemies alike, the missionary disciple is not afraid to enter with the peace of Christ. Animated by the Spirit, these disciples breathe forth a hidden fruitfulness so super-abundant, this life is too short and limited to hold it all.  Even in their dying breath, one can hear them sing, "If you knew the Gift of God."

A missionary disciple is a soul lit ablaze, a fiery icon of love and truth, a window through which the joy of heaven shines with life saving splendor. By making of their bodies a living sacrifice, true spiritual worship, such missionary souls offer divine warmth, light and life to a cold, dark and dying world. Through these generous souls, even when brutally rejected and scorned unto death, the joy from on high is revealed here below, especially where it is most needed.  Because they have sung sealed with the Holy Spirit, others now sing "If you know the Gift of God." 

May 3, 2015

The Risen Lord Waits for Us to Call on Him

Jesus, the Risen Lord, is truly present in this moment. In the midst of difficulty or rest, sorrow or joy, He is with us, fully alive, more real than all the rest of reality combined.  He is present with great humility and respect: asking as if He were a starving beggar, seeking as if He were the one who had lost something and knocking as if He had no right to enter.  He is here, in this moment and in every moment, above all space and time, over all circumstance and trial, waiting for us to open the door.

The Victor once and for all, He has been raised and set apart to judge the living and the dead, not in the distant future, but now in the present moment. Only those who are pierced to the heart by love can accept the judgment of His justice and truth, and how I long for my own heart to be pierced so that at last I might know that freedom of love that He alone can give.

Spiritual freedom flows from His touch and even now He holds out His hands towards us.  Those who believe in Him find forgiveness. Even as we confess our sins and repent of our rash judgments, He silences the voice of condemnation that cries against us.

He has suffered death and passed through hell to restore peace to our troubled consciences because He did not create us for self torment.  He has come Himself because He alone has the power and authority to liberate us from such a hellish burden.  In Him, we discover that the power of misery is not absolute and that evil does not have the last word.  Darkness vanishes before His light.  He reigns unconquered and invites us to join Him.

Who will separate us from His love?  Who can prevent us from living the life that He has come to give?  Worldly powers could not silence Him. Suffering could not diminish Him.  Death could not contain Him.  Every knee is bent before Him and every head is bowed in His presence.  He rules forever at the right hand of the Father.

Against all falsehood, he shines forth forever true. Though winds of false teachings and all kinds of myths seem to hold sway, He is a sure anchor, a safe-harbor in the storm.  In the midst of a changing sea of confusion, He stands as the sure reference point of life and every decision.  In the midst of rancor and contention, whether within our hearts or in our communities, He is the only true source of peace.

The Word of the Father is the Love that is stronger than death.  He is Truth unvanquiahed.  He is the living waters of the deep dug well of salvation. He calls in whispers that thunder in our hearts. He gazes on us with love though we have done nothing to deserve it. He hopes in us and rejoices when we raise our eyes to Him if only for a moment.  The Lord of Life longs for us to share our hearts with Him freely and to share His heart with us completely in that moment which will have no end. 

April 3, 2015

Holy Fear and the Shadow of the Cross

Today, the Church takes us under the shadow of Calvary to behold our salvation and to approach this sacred place requires a reverence and awe that are not of this world. The Man of Sorrows gives Himself for our salvation, lays down His life that we might live. We come here today because of the burden of guilt that we have carried for far too long, the reality of death that we cannot avoid, and the desire to be understood and loved, to be connected to Someone who can relieve the sense of alienation that we suffer, to the only One who can fulfill at last the desires of our hearts. We dare to call out to Him "remember me" because of the heart-piercing gifts by which the Holy Spirit moves our hearts.

Saint Hildegard von Bingen describes this supernatural grace that she discovered when she entered into this shadow of God's immensity. Fascinated and astounded, she has discovered awe in the presence of a reality greater and more real than is she. Tested, challenged, and tried, this gift from above makes her dare to approach nonetheless, and to stand humble, attentive, and ready to act. The tedium that can sometimes overcome a soul in prayer has no power over her now. Completely alert, this profound reverence prevents her from losing her focus, gives her the courage to stand firm, to behold, to listen, to adore. She personifies this astonishing super human gift, describing a mysterious figure covered with eyes, a creature who never loses sight of the immensity of Divine Justice, a being of merciful contemplation whom she identifies as “the Fear of the Lord.”

We, frail though we are, are all called to stand before the immensity of God’s justice and truth just like Saint Hildegard. The gift of fear of the Lord remains meaningless if we do not ponder the great mystery of human weakness and divine power, the abyss between actual human achievement and the demands of divine justice, and this for even the most pious and holy among us. What is this mountain, this immensity of Divine Justice, but the very mountain on which the Father glorified His Son, the mountain on which stands that Cross around which the whole world, each one’s life and all of history turns?

Up against the price that He paid for us and the greatness of the salvation He won for us, no one who is unwilling to bend the knee and bow the head should ever dare approach this King of Glory. Christ crucified knows our presumption and pride, our capacity for self-delusion, our hypocrisy, all the ways we overestimate ourselves, and even more, the ways we hate and torment ourselves.  These spiritual diseases are not acceptable to Him but for love of us, each one, He accepted their consequences unto death on the Cross. So He offered His last wordless cry, the prayer that still echoes between heaven and earth, a cry that death could not silence, that hell could not contain, this prayer from a heart that our cowardice and lust for power rent open.  This cry of love is the last word concerning all things human, the fullness of everything the Father has yearned for us to know, the voice that is heard the immensity of Divine glory. We dare not listen without the reverence this supreme act is owed.

If we are to stand before the mystery of the Suffering Servant who, raised on the Cross, revealed the unity of divine justice and mercy at the price of His own blood, then we need the Holy Spirit to protect us from our own cowardice and mediocrity. If we ask with humility, He gives us the same hope-filled fear that He breathed into the good thief and that He sent to stand with Saint Hildegard. If we will persevere in Calvary’s shadow, the Holy Spirit will move us with humble awe and wonder to renounce all the evil and mistaken judgements we have made about God, ourselves and neighbors.

When we tremble before the love, justice and mercy revealed on the Cross, holy fear makes us know that our Crucified God does not intend his admonishments to crush us but to prepare us, to make us humble and vulnerable enough to carry out His work in the world.  Holy fear will prevent us from losing heart. Today, Saint Hildegard’s vision of Divine Justice and Holy Fear gives us the courage to stand before the righteousness of God, to beg "remember me", to confess his sovereignty, to bow our heads and to kiss his feet. 

March 28, 2015

Saint Teresa of Avila's Way - on the Quincentennial of her Birth

"When our actions and our words are one, the Lord will unfailingly fulfil our petitions.  He will give us His kingdom and help us by means of supernatural gifts...which the Lord bestows on our feeble efforts." Teresa of Avila, Way of Perfection, Chapter 37

Today, Saturday, March 28, is a great day of rejoicing for Carmelites everywhere and for the whole Church.   Five hundred years ago the daughter of Alonso Sanchez de Cepeda and Beatriz de Ahumada y Cuevas, in the heart of the Iberian Peninsula, in the province of Avila, in the small town of Gotarrendura, she became a pioneer in the renewal of contemplative prayer that swept through Spain in the 16th Century.  In her work, Way of Perfection, she offers a meditation on the Lord's Prayer.  For her, this prayer aims towards the heights of mystical contemplation, but starts in the simplicity of a humble petition.

Teresa is convinced that the prayer that Christ commanded us to say demands the same humble movement of faith whether from the simple minded or else the most genius, the most disciplined or the least. Only as the disciplined realize the insufficiency of their own efforts do they glimpse the spiritual logic that she contemplates in this Gospel message. Only as a great mind humbly bows down in wonder can it begin to explore the pathway to perfection that she sees in these seven petitions entrusted to us by the Lord.

The pathway to the progress that she sees in this prayer revealed by the Word of the Father is the way of authenticity, the alignment of what we say with what we do.  We are so out of harmony with ourselves, with each other and with God that only God Himself can bring us back into tune.  She herself knew from first hand experience how His saving intervention comes in the nature of a gift that we welcome by humble efforts informed by living faith. Her encounter with the Man of Sorrows in her convent in Avila helped her understand that this saving gift is the heart piercing realization of how much He loves us, a consuming desire to contemplate the suffering love by which He contemplates us.

She suggests in so many ways that the Lord is never indifferent to even the most tepid efforts of devotion if only we will trust Him and not lose heart.  What starts as a spark becomes a consuming fire.  What seems to take so much effort at first soon washes over the soul like a refreshing rain.  The silken cocoon of good works we make by God's grace but with great difficulty becomes a transforming place of new spiritual freedom.  She describes a quietness of soul filled with the fulness of God, a sacred stillness exploding like a fountain of living water.  Although bringing the way we live into harmony with those noble intentions the Holy Spirit has stirred in our hearts may seem impossible, she insists every act of devotion exposes us to these splendors of heaven...provided we keep our hearts fixed on His great love.

What amazes me is her confidence in God.  She is acutely aware of human weakness and our capacity for self-deception. She knows how given we are to self-torment.  She is no stranger to the host of irrational anxieties that can assail a soul. She is even more aware, however, of the astonishing immensity of God's love.

On this great day in the life of the Church, Teresa helps us consider how the Lord permits himself to be bound by our love.  It is love that makes our prayer authentic, God's love at work in us that brings into harmony what we say and what we do.  If however our efforts to repeat what the Lord has told us to say move in our hearts in even the most subtle of ways, it is only because the Holy Spirit used our frail efforts to blow new life in us.  This is the Kingdom of Heaven that the wisdom of Saint Teresa of Avila sees coming, and today, on the threshold of Holy Week, may we all come to see it too!

For more on this Doctor of the Church, I recently published a book with Dan Burke that provides meditations on a selection of Teresa of Avila's letters, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila through Emmaus Publishing. 

March 5, 2015

The Gravity of the Father's Love in Heaven and on Earth

The Lord taught us to call on our heavenly Father not because God is distant or inaccessible, but because the Father is awaiting for us with love. This means that heaven is near and dawning on us even now.   This means that we are the objects of a particular joy, a special and un-repeatable delight that has lived in the Heart of God from the beginning. He respects our freedom but no power from above or below can thwart the hidden purpose of His exceeding love. He is making His will on Earth as it is in Heaven.

The Lord's prayer reveals that the Father Himself is not passive or absent, that heaven itself is not indifferent to our struggles here below. Similarly, the Lord's prayer has nothing to do with spiritualizing away the painful ambiguity of life.  Even when overwhelmed with crushing hardships and painful sorrows, even when our dreams are dashed to pieces and we feel left in total darkness, it is not escapism to remember that our present problems do not have an ultimate claim on us. Instead, we see our hardships in a broader context, a difficult but brief moment in a beautiful story that is raising us on high.

What most defines our existence is the specific gravity of the Father's love.  To turn to this love is to choose to confront what is most essential in reality, what is most painful in our existence. Here we know the mystery of the Cross. All longing and disappointment, all guilt and injury, and death itself fall in prostrate silence before this threshold of Heaven. Following in the footsteps of our Crucified Master into this great mystery, we discover the dynamism of the Father's love as an unvanquished force even when disguised by the obscurity of great suffering.  

His heart is pierced by our plight. He watches for us eagerly even when we are still a long way off.  He is ready to rush to us as soon as He sees us turning home.  He cries out with His Eternal Word and by His Holy Spirit implicates Himself in our lives to welcome us home.  His Love aims for nothing less.

This new presence of the Father working through the Word and Spirit cried with love into our hearts makes our spirits increasingly more heavenly.  This beautiful presence is is in the form of a celebration, filled with the joy of banquet, a feast too wonderful for this world to contain,

If the Father cries out to us in love and truth, how can we do anything other than cry out to Him in faith and confidence? We must never be afraid to allow Him to welcome us home.  Faith and confidence are the most beautiful way of welcoming God and showing hospitality to the one who rushes to us.  The more we makes space and welcome this heavenly reality, the more powerfully this divine indwelling moves us to cry out with trust "on earth as it is in heaven."