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: http://www.spiritualdirection.com/2015/07/07/hosting-the-future-of-christianity-in-aspen#ixzz3g4eiEPk9

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.