December 27, 2016

The Word Made Flesh and the Wonder of Christmas

The wonder of the Nativity of the Lord, that holy silence that received the Word, evokes deep prayer. No human achievement, no technique, no method could ever achieve what is freely given during this Holy Season. Only humility can welcome the humility of God that this feast knows.

The freshness of this coming of the Word at Christmas is the only truly new thing that this tired old world has ever known. Having implicated Himself in our weakness and poverty, the Word of the Almighty God makes Himself as vulnerable now in our hearts as He was as a newborn baby.  With great concern for the dignity of each one, He is careful not to overwhelm or to force, but to be present in a manner that is at once subtle, gentle and kind. Not afraid of rejection, He exercises His great power to address us by means of a bold invitation, a surprising appeal, an insistent cry of the heart. So great and inexhaustible is His desire for us that He constantly comes in ways that are never the same, always new - as if each Noel were the first Noel and the only Noel that He had ever offered.  

Life-giving in the face death, He comes anew today to illuminate the Divine Tenderness towards us that we have too long shut our eyes against. His radiance draws, attracts and captivates. Why resist such beauty? This Light that our darkness cannot overcome is ever ready to save, to comfort, to raise up. What is more, in this Christmas Glory we see that God Himself longs to be held like a baby, to be carried, to be consoled.  Bound in swaddling cloths for our sake, the smile of Divine Word on us awakens hope and provides that new beginning we thought we could never have. The Virgin's Baby does so all in a moment pregnant with truth, in a whisper that roars through our hearts,

December 24, 2016

The Birth of Christ - a mystery for our hearts

"The Word of the Father constantly desires to be embodied" declared Saint Maximus the Confessor.  This is what Fr. Cantalamessa preached for Advent and his message lifts us up into the mystery of Christmas.  Christ born of the Virgin Mary in history now desires to be born in our hearts by mystery.   This is the grace of the mass - the Christmas - that we celebrate tonight and tomorrow.

In Christ's birth in history, there is a new birth for humanity in mystery. Such is the new life that God begets in us because He was born as one of us.  To celebrate Christmas is to say "yes" to this birth in one's own life.  By a simple movement of faith, one can claim this new birth for one's own. A humble assent of the heart to this inestimable gift is all it takes to share in this joy.

What we sanction with our hearts must be lived out - or we have not really sanctioned it. Good intentions must be acted upon - or they die hidden away where they do no good. To sanction this mystery is to be open to a deeper trust in the loving plan of the Father.  He has given us everything we need in giving us His Son. When we possess Christ by faith, we possess all that we need to live by love and for love.

This kind of faith means, on an even deeper level, cleaving to Jesus and relying on Him, just as He cleaved to his Mother and learned to rely on her as a new born. When we turn away from power struggles in our relationships with each other, this mystery helps us accept our poverty before God with the hope that comes from Him.  Because of His generous goodness, we can let go of anxieties. With His life in us, we can silence our righteous indignation and be amazed at the mercy of God.

Faith in the Son of Mary born for our sakes empties us of "self" just as He emptied Himself of His Divinity.  This is a pathway of humility up which we progress by a simple act of trust  - choosing to fill this present moment with all the love we can even when love seems impossible. In particular, to participate in the mystery of Christmas is to be, like God, ready to forgive, and this divine readiness in us should make us even more ready to seek forgiveness.

For those who know this new birth in their hearts, Jesus's birth is no artifact. Instead they, like Emmanuel, entrust their new existence into the loving arms of Mary until her "Fiat" informs their own.  In the swaddling clothes which bound the Savior, they find their new freedom. In the first cries of the Word made flesh they hear that mysterious jubilation that animates all that which is truly Christian.  

December 19, 2016

Christmas Trees and Prayer in Advent

In these last days of Advent, we decorate our Christmas Trees and light our wreathes. If we pray, the candles can remind us that the One who is above has come and is still coming down to dwell with us. He has descended from the heavens to enter into the plight of humanity -- in this present fullness of time. The wood of the tree might remind us of the wood of the Cross.  The fresh pine branches, of the new life that comes from Him.  With a simple movement of the heart, a Christmas Tree can become a sign that reminds us from where He came, and to where He leads.
One of my favorite childhood memories is going to the mountains in the days before Christmas to find a tree.  The mountain air, the smell of the forest, and the search for just the right one made for an exciting adventure. The adventure also had unexpected moments of solitude and silence. Sometimes, the quiet beauty of the wilderness would even catch you in wonder.
When we finally brought our Christmas Tree into the house to decorate, the solitude of the forest and the mountains also filled our house. God's presence seemed as heavy as the smell of fresh-cut pine. Especially in the silence of the night in  the days before Christmas, the tree and all it signified helped me to pray.
The mountains and forests of this life signify spiritual realities. Earth and sky are more than visible, physical things. What we see with our eyes points to those heights and depths that God sees in Himself.  He has filled our hearts with the image and likeness of these invisible mysteries. Out of our depths, He draws us up to seek the glory of His face. The more we search for this loving mystery that hovers over us, the more deeply He stirs our desires. We ache for Him, and this ache is no more than the whispered response to His desire for us. God, hidden but present in His power and glory, has chosen to abide in these mysterious regions of our being -- drawing, moving, captivating in ways that we cannot understand.  
If we are attentive, a Christmas Tree can open the heart to this mystery. Just as this tree fills a room, when He chose to be born of the womb of Mary, the Word made  flesh became the center of our history, in the apex of each one's life. Its star reminds us that wisdom from on High has chosen to make our hearts His home. The lights of the tree remind us that He is no more afraid of our darkness than he was of the manger in which He first took rest. The decorations remind us of that unfathomably beauty: the Word of the Father and son of Mary joining together the mysteries of God and man.
As Christmas draws near, His first cries are ready to echo within us even should they go unrecognized. Angels are ready to sing from heaven even if no one below will hear their voices. The poorest shepherds are ready to adore even if no one of high station will share their joy. We, for our part, have nothing to fear. He never loses His hope in us, and is ever ready to allow our prayers to bind Him like swaddling clothes. 

December 14, 2016

Saint John of the Cross - By Love Alone

Saint John of the Cross explored how all of creation was the fruit of the love shared by the Father and the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Father is the One who for Saint John completely delights in the Son. The Son is for him the One who adores the Father with profound joy and solemn gratitude.  Out of this inexhaustible mutual love, the Holy Spirit communicates the whole personal reality of One to the Other in an eternal exchange.   This vision of the inner life of the Trinity allows Saint John to propose the mysterious purpose of creation, its ultimate end in the plan of God.

For the Carmelite Doctor of the Church, it is out of the profundity of the Trinitarian mystery that the Father proposes to present His Son a Bride so that the Son might know what it is to be loved like the Father is loved by the Son. That Bride is the summit of all creation: the Church -- and, throughout the poetry and commentary of Saint John, every soul personifies this ecclesial mystery anew through faith, baptism and growth in spiritual maturity.

When it comes to growth to full spiritual maturity, mental prayer in particular is the special means that Saint John expounds on. In in image of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we are made for the loving communion that lives in the heart of the Church. The blood of Christ has given us access to this mystery.   If we contemplate this loving communion in faith we not only see a pattern for how we ought to live, but we receive the power to live in the likeness of God.

This vision is so biblical!  When know from John 10:10 that Jesus longs for His disciples to have an abundantly fulfilling life.  Not simply happy within the bounds of this present life, but extremely so in ways that this present life cannot contain.  When men and women thrive, they give God glory because they are in the image  of the One who eternally thrives before the Father: the more like Him they are, the more they reveal His glory.

Jesus made this kind of life possible when He was born of the Virgin Mary and gave himself up for us through his death on the Cross.  Because of sin, we were cut off from this fullness of life.  Before Christ, the miserable absence of love in our hearts blinded and weakened us so that we could not attain our true good.  Our own hostility constantly threatened our very existence.  The Lord could not watch indifferently when the noble goodness with which He endowed us was subject to such futility.  He set out to save us.  Since He is the Word of the Father, whatever He enters into receives purpose and meaning.  When He entered into fallen humanity, He brought our nature into harmony with God’s will to raise us up.  Yet this was done at a great price.

Throughout his writings, Saint John of the Cross reveals his conviction that,Jesus did not hold back from entering into the terrible mystery of our own suffering. He did this not only in a general way for all of humanity, but in a specific way for every single soul. He has suffered the particular hardships, difficulties, and wounds that weigh us down and He did so to the end. As a result, He knows intimately the absence of love that oppresses each heart and we never suffer this alone. For the Carmelite Master, the Lord is always present especially in His seeming absences and always ready to fill this absence with his faithfulness - if we will follow Him all the way to the Cross.

It is on this point that the wisdom of Saint John of the Cross is particularly eloquent. For he is adamant that we should respond to the excessiveness of such love. One only truly enters the heart of another when one embraces the suffering that is there. Out of pure love, Christ has chosen to know our suffering. Out of love and gratitude, Saint John of the Cross encourages us to become familiar with the Lord's suffering -- to share with Him even the difficult spiritual sorrows and death that He offered for our sake.  We do this through prayer and by being faithful to obligations of love that He has entrusted us with - even when we do not feel or understand, even when the effort to love seems to put to death everything else that is in us.

This in fact was the experience of Saint John of the Cross who died mostly misunderstood, especially by the community that he spent his life building up.  When faithfulness to God's love takes us into hardships that completely overwhelm us and cause us to suffer the loss of all things, he firmly believed we are finally accomplishing our greatest work.  Just as the greatest work of Christ's humanity was accomplished through the physical and spiritual agony that He suffered in his death, so too our greatest work is being realized when we seem to have utterly failed and feel ourselves completely powerless.  Even when he was catastrophically misunderstood, this great mystic tenderly loved those who the Lord had given him in his community, and in so doing witnessed to the whole Church what it means that "in the evening time of our life, we will be judged by love alone." 

December 10, 2016

Advent Visit to Colorado December 10 through 12

Something wonderful is happening in Colorado this Advent --- and I am excited to be part of it.  This wonderful new grace will be a life-changer for many, a new beginning for those who did not think such things were possible. Confident in this, I am setting out on a mission.  That is, I feel sent by God to announce the good news of this new grace.  Whenever we are sent on mission, every conversation becomes a new seed planted. In holy conversations and friendship, we make space for God to do something unexpected... and this kind of adventure is always for His glory, always more than we could hope ever hope for. In winter's dark cold, God is coming to bring the light and warmth of His love in a new way -- and my visit to Colorado is a small but real part of this great work!

My part will be first to visit the Masses of the Shrine of Saint Anne this weekend in Arvada. Fr. Peter Mozdyniewicz  has invited me to announce a pilgrimage to Italy that we will lead this August. It will be a joy to sign books after Mass for many of my old friends and former parishioners.  I am bringing copies of Fire from Above, Living the Mystery of Merciful Love and 30 Days with Teresa of Avila

Sunday night at 6:30pm, Fr. Jason Thuerauf and Shawn Schadler of Saints Peter and Paul Youth Group in Wheat Ridge have invited me to share about Fire from Above -- to encourage the young people of the parish to make space in their lives for the silence that allows God to speak in their hearts.  This will be an evening of great grace -- but I need intercessors who will hold me and the young people up in prayer.  The gift of prayer is the most important thing in life, and there are many to whom God wishes to give this grace, but He is waiting for us to intercede for them.  With prayer, a word of truth can enter deep into the heart of another -- and change everything!

Monday night at 6:30 at All Souls Parish in Englewood, Colorado, Fr. Samuel Morehead has invited me to give a talk on Saint Therese of Lisieux and the Mystery of Advent.  It will be a powerful evening -- Indeed, Saint Therese has a powerful message for our time. In an age where the powerful and boisterous command everyone's attention all the time, she comes forth to propose her "Little Way" and shows us how to make straight the pathways for the Merciful Love of God. For anyone who is concerned about becoming a saint in our post-Christian world, her wisdom opens up a pathway to holiness.

It will be great to see everyone and I hope you can come! Even more, I hope the grace of this Advent envelops you in a profound way before Christmas.  The Lord is beginning something beautiful in our midst and we are privileged to be part of His new work.

November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving and Forgiveness

Thanksgiving takes a kind of courage that comes from above.  This is because real thanksgiving is not limited to assenting to the fact that we owe God a debt of gratitude.  Nor is it a vague wish or sentimental feeling that we indulge.  It is not merely tolerating one another around a common table while judging one another in our hearts. True thanksgiving is evoked by God's immense and faithful love, and it wants to render Him a return for what He has done for us.

The hidden immensity of God's love evokes a thanksgiving that implicates one's whole life in a deep and expansive solidarity. The meal that we share is only a sign of this tender movement toward real friendship. The Church visibly expresses this invisible reality. This communion of hearts tends toward a loving union deeper than differences in opinion. This kind of thanksgiving means to surmount even those grievances that we struggle to forgive.

This is true even when the call of God's love leaves us confounded. Because so much is hidden from us and his ways are so mysterious, we might even be tormented by a secret concern that we someone who we love has fallen into a void that is beyond His reach. Or else, that we have fallen into it ourselves. In the face of such difficult feelings, bearing with one another may seem impossible. Yet if we give God our hidden trials, with God's help, we can always find new ways to build up one another.

The mysterious faithfulness of God's love evokes a gratitude that is faithful. When we have been touched by His love, we want to give thanks for Christ's faithfulness to us unto death.  This compels us to be reconciled with one another, no matter the cost.  God is always ready to free us. He is waiting for us to make a simple act of faith. He waits for us to choose to believe that His merciful love is greater than our misery, greater than our inability to love, greater than our own personal evil and even the evil at work in the world. When we cry out with this kind of faith, He always acts with great power.

The Holy Spirit reveals in prayer how the love of the Father gives the courage and the motive to hold out the hand of friendship once again, to forgive, to ask for forgiveness. To forgive as the Father has forgiven us through the blood of His Son, this is true thanksgiving! Thanksgiving rooted in this effort opens up the path to perseverance with one another out of reverence for Christ. 

Granted this kind of gratitude is a very high standard - but to strive for it is to avail ourselves a foretaste of heaven.  As imperfect as our own efforts at thanksgiving are, the Father delights in them, treasuring each one as if it were the most important and most solemn moment of our lives -- as indeed it is. To know this delight of the Father is to participate in the joy of Christ's own sonship. In this, we glimpse the even greater homecoming awaits us.

This kind of thanksgiving is a great heart to heart, the most intimate exchange of secrets: the secrets of a human heart and the deep secrets of the Trinity are pledged and completely given. Such profound things lead to and flow from the greatest thanksgiving of all - our Eucharistic sacrifice. In this, our heart ache and His coincide. There are no words to express how much God treasures this solidarity. It is the very reason that the Word became flesh.  In this true thanksgiving, the secret concerns of God become our own concerns just as He has made our secret concerns the concerns of His own heart.

November 13, 2016

Christian Contemplation and God's own Little Ones

Christian contemplative prayer is a prayer that "sees" but what it sees is sometimes painful. Earlier this weekend, Archbishop Gomez reminded us that there are whole families that are afraid of the future of these uncertain times, that there are even children who live in fear. He was referring to specifically to the children of immigrants for whom He shares a particular solidarity and bond. His voice is so important for all of us to listen to on this last day of the Year of Mercy -- for today is not the last day that we must be generous with the stranger in our midst. In fact, we will be held accountable before God for precisely how we respond to the plight of those who live among us now.

If we really had the courage to think about it, our callousness today is not limited to questions of immigration or the latest election results. Any society in which babies are not safe in a mother's womb is a society in which anyone who is vulnerable is at risk. The stakes are high for us as a people. Just as what happens in the womb determines the course of society, so too how we treat our children (whether born or unborn) determines who we are. If only we could face this, then we would remember how to treat our neighbor, even the undocumented ones. In the meantime, we have passed laws to promote all forms of insobriety and intoxication-- a culture of escape from self-torment.

Do not be dismayed by callousness or escapism -- Christ has come to save us even from this. Against our own self-hatred, our faith in the Just Judge reminds us that we do not have to be the fanatical zealots of the latest political cause. If we turn to the Son of God, we do not have to demean ourselves before the altars of social progress and material wealth. If we embrace the Word of the Father, we do not have to indulge frenzied fits of social nihilism. If we will accept the gift of His Heart given for us, we do not have to give our hearts to heartless programs.

Christian contemplation prayer allows us to access the very Heart of God, and in the Heart of the Trinity, we discover a point of entry into the heart of our neighbor.  This is because the deeper that one goes into the mystery of prayer, the more familiar with the deep things of God one becomes.  What does contemplative prayer "see" in the immensity of God's presence?  In the fullness of God there lives an abiding love for humanity, for each person in the unique exigencies of his and her own real life situations.

The prayerful heart knows that the Lord's love for each one of us is a particular and unrepeatable love - as manifold in its expressions as the variety of beings that He has summoned into existence.  Because the Almighty Father treasures each of his creatures in unrepeatable and unique ways, the soul that prays becomes vulnerable to the overflowing intensity of this same divine tenderness. This is why a heart truly steeped in prayer cannot be indifferent to the fear of little children and of families. It feels moved into action to relieve the burden that God's own little ones suffer.

Invisible and more powerful than anything that can be felt, prayer allows Eternal Love to blow forth like a wind or a breath. From the Father and the Son this Holy Wind blows through our cry of faith into the deepest crevices of our personal existence and out to the very ends of the world around us. An elaborate harmony of astonishing mutual recognition and tender empathy, this Hidden Mystery rushes into our own secret sorrows and fears to make His home with us. In ways of which we are hardly aware, but that make all the difference, the Uncreated Gift of the Father and Son bows our very spirit in adoration while lifting it up with a joy that nothing can take from it. Our sorrow and fear become His and His joy and hope become ours.

The Trinity leads us out of ourselves, our own self-occupation, and into the love of the Father for His whole work of creation and every person in it.  As we see how much He wants to save each of our neighbors, we learn to ache with the same ache that lives in the deep in the Mystery of God. The more we are implicated in this movement of love, the less we are able to be indifferent to the plight of our neighbor.

To be silenced by the immensity of God, to be baptized into the three-fold personal presence of the Most High, this is the mystery of contemplative prayer, of a prayer that "sees." Such deep prayer joins us to the suffering of all those with whom God has implicated Himself. This heart to heart can in a single instant completely convince the soul of its true worth, and, in the same moment, bind it to the plight of its neighbor in way that it cannot not act.  The realization dawns - the heart knows the secret that God knows -- no longer alienated, its own misery has become a rendezvous with the One crucified by Love and with all the little ones that He entrusts to it along the way. 

November 8, 2016

Be Not Afraid!

We are voting on the Feast Day of Saint Elisabeth of the Trinity -- and this curious coincidence strikes me as an act of Divine Providence.  During her lifetime, though she was a Carmelite Nun, and thus, some what removed from political affairs, she was deeply concerned for France and for her city of Dijon. Now, from heaven and on her feast day, she can only be praying for America on this important day of decision. She would want us to know that no matter the outcome, the all-loving presence of God is among us and at work in our midst. Even in the face of extreme injustice (and she and her community faced this too), the mercy of God prevails if we hope in Him.

On this point, she deeply influenced another saint who has a message of hope.  During his ministry, John Paul II invited us to find the courage to cross the threshold of hope.  On this day of decision, we are invited again to cross this threshold.  Although we now live in a society where the last embers of Christendom have died out and a boorish culture of dehumanizing aggression  has gained its foothold, God is still very much at work in our midst.

God has entrusted America with what John Paul II called "a noble destiny" and the pope connected this high calling to the affirmation of human dignity and freedom, especially the liberty to worship God. God, however, carefully works within our personal freedom to accomplish his plan. As people of faith, as we cast our votes, we give God room to work so long as we choose to live and even vote in His presence, as men and women who choose mercy, life and truth.

So today we cast our vote with the help of heaven, and heaven has not abandoned us -- but is indeed very concerned and very involved in the affairs of our world.  Only, from Heaven, there is a clearer vision of Divine Providence, even as He works in hidden ways.  Lets let this light of heaven shine on our decision and guide us in our choices --

Saint Elisabeth of the Trinity and Saint John Paul the Great, pray for America and pray for us!

For more on Saint Elisabeth, click here.

October 13, 2016

Pilgrimage to the Canonization of Elisabeth of the Trinity - Mystic of Dijon

On Thursday October 13, after an interview with Father Mitch Pacwa on EWTN the day before, I began the long flight to Rome. (Click here to see the interview.) My trip is going to be a little bit of an adventure - but what is a pilgrimage if there is no adventure to it?

As a academic, my travels are often determined by the lowest cost fare that I can find. This time, it was Turkish Airline.  I have never flown this particular airline but I am convinced that this is unfolding in accord with Divine Providence.  So I am flying to Rome via Istanbul -- I cannot help but think of the deep wounds of our times, and that, perhaps, part of the reason the Lord has permitted this journey through Turkey is that I remember to pray for my persecuted brothers and sisters throughout the Middle East, and that I also pray for Muslims, during this difficult moment of history.

My fellow pilgrim was to be Richard Ziegman who works in a hospital down in Southern Colorado. Elisabeth of the Trinity has been a great consolation to him through the years and he told me that he had to make this pilgrimage no matter what.  But today, God revealed He had other plans. There were complications with his flight so that he never made it here to LAX.

There are other pilgrims who I will meet in Rome if it is God's will.  For example, EWTN will carry the canonization live.  I am hoping to connect with their team in Rome.  We will see happens.

Also, my good friend Kris McGregor with Discerning Hearts will be onsite. She was tremendously helpful in helping get out the message and mission of Elisabeth of the Trinity through a series of podcasts she and Mariam Guttierez (the voice of Elisabeth of the Trinity) conducted with me - first on Saint Elisabeth’s retreat she wrote for her sister, “Heaven in Faith” and second on her retreat for her Carmel “Last Retreat.”

There is also some of my former students, now priests, studying at the Pontifical Universities. We promised to meet for pranzo. I believe that I will meet many more friends in Rome — friends of Elisabeth of the Trinity who have been touched by the inheritance she left us: faith in the all loving God intimately present in the soul.

To find out more about Saint Elisabeth of the Trinity, I highly recommend a book by Sr. Giovanna della Croce translated by Julie Enzler A Life of Praise to God. Sr. Giovanna was a intellectual whose own conversion was influenced by Saint Teresa Benecticta of the Cross. After she entered Carmel, she began to write about this great martyr and also discovered the writing of Elisabeth of the Trinity.  Her book, translated by Julie Enzler, a wife, mother and instructor at the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, introduces the life and some of the most beautiful passages of the Mystic of Dijon.
The Carmelite Sisters of Alhambra will be offering a prayer service before the Mass of  Thanksgiving for the Canonization of Elisabeth of the Trinity at 3:30pm on November 6 at St. Teresa's Parish in Alhambra. Their music is really edifying, so I hope you can come. 

October 2, 2016

The Liturgy and the New Evangelization - Los Angeles, 2016

The beauty of Christ continues to draw men and women to the Church today just as much as it has at any other period in the history of the Church.  This dynamism of the Lord remains the most vital means to connect with people today and preach the Gospel anew -- not only to those who have not heard it, but also to those who have heard it, but not yet entered into a personal encounter with the Lord.  This beauty is most fully disclosed in the liturgy of the Church when the whole Body of Christ gathers for the glory of God and the salvation of the world.

Archbishop Jose Gomez, Bishop Elias Zaidan and other lecturers introduced and developed this idea in presentations that explored the Liturgy and the New Evangelization. The audience was a group of theologians, artists, liturgists, architects, musicians, students and seminarians from around the world and throughout the United States. The gathering at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on September 29, 30 and October 1 was for the 21st annual conference of the Society for Catholic Liturgy.   Yet, what happened went beyond simply the scholarly presentation of academic papers -- instead, in the liturgies and the fellowship, the personal encounters and the conversations, a renewed sense of mission and purpose was born.

The weekend started with Archbishop Gomez celebrating a pontifical mass for the feast of the archangels.  Surrounded by saints on tapestries, led by wonderful choir (thanks to Dr. Paul Ford) and served by seminarians from Saint John's Seminary, mass started with a wonderful procession of priest members of the society and other concelebrants from the Archdiocese.  His homily, about how we should be mindful of just how present the angels are to us, was complemented by the angel motif decorating the Cathedral. After mass, he provided the opening address of the conference in which he spoke of the pastoral importance of popular piety as a means of drawing individuals and families into the beauty of the liturgy.

In particular, the Archbishop presented his ideas within the context of creating a atmosphere of encounter and relationship through our awareness and appreciation of cultures.  He observed that a growing plurality of cultures is the actual pastoral situation of the Church in the United States.  Rather than ignoring cultural diversity, the Church has always treasured it and today, in the New Evangelization, this is now our effort too.  This means, in particular, a generous attentiveness to and respect for the various forms and expressions of devotion that live in the culture of the people we serve, especially as these are observed in families.  Living in each expression of genuine devotion is a grace that can create a relationship between those who do not otherwise practice their faith and  the life of the Church.  Holding up and joyfully celebrating the piety of the people can become a threshold for those looking for answers and hungry for the truth, a threshold to Christ in the Eucharist. 

Bishop Elias Zaidan also spoke of the need for a deeper connection in the Church, especially a connection with Christians who live where the Church is persecuted.  After celebrating the first Maronite Liturgy ever offered in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, he explored how we live in a time with religious rights are under attack around the world in every nation and society. He insisted however that as Christians we believe in something, in Someone, that no political or military power can ultimately overcome. In this context, he introduced the Maronite liturgy as a celebration of hope -- recounting that his Church has known religious persecution in a particular way even since the first days of its founding.  Yet the hope and joy of his people have not been diminished -- instead, through worship, they have found strength to be faithful witnesses to the Lord.  

Friday evening, participants were treated to the powerful documentary by Lannette Turicchi "John Paul II: Prophet for our Time."  With original footage and first person witness accounts, the witness of the saint who initiated the New Evangelization was brought to life for participants. Afterward, a powerful silence filled the room that helped us think about greatness of what God is calling us to do today. While it is easy to become discouraged with some of the cultural struggles we face today, the voice of John Paul II echoed, "Do not be afraid to open wide the doors of Christ."

The Society also helped host a solemn high mass in the extraordinary form at Our Savior Parish at the USC Caruso Catholic Center for students and others throughout the area.  When we arrived, a wonderful choir led by Jeff Ostrowski was practicing outside while priests from the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter were preparing to offer the mass.  The liturgy was truly beautiful in every way and a couple of USC students I spoke to afterwards were deeply touched -- amazed by the beauty that they had just experienced.  The homily itself offered a powerful catechesis on the Roman Canon as a fence around the truly holy, setting apart the sacred actions of the Mass for the glory of God and the salvation of the world.  

Several concurrent sessions explored many other powerful ideas.  These hopefully will be published by Antiphon, recently as a publication of CUA Press.  The texts for the presentations by Archbishop Gomez and Bishop Zaidan will also be available through the USCCB soon. 

September 19, 2016

Elisabeth of the Trinity - Mysterious Hymn of Praise

For Elisabeth of the Trinity, to surrender ourselves to God in love is to join the Great Canticle echoing from the foundation of the world and resounding in the heights of heaven: the very praise of the glory of God's merciful love. In her biblical vision of the cosmos, those who pass through the great tribulation of Christ's passion also raise victorious with Him.  They share in His glory and they make it known. And so can we, here and now, if we will choose to live by faith in the midst of the trial that God has permitted in our lives.

The music that Elizabeth of the Trinity proposes is richly relational and engenders a tender reciprocity between Heaven's glory and the trials of earthly life, time and eternity, the soul as Bride and Christ, the Divine Bridegroom, This chord of reciprocity also resonates out from the soul surrendered to God to all the souls entrusted to it -- so that they are all implicated in the eternal plan of the Father. The music of the heavens and the music of the soul can become the same because God dwells in both as in a temple.She describes a secret harmony exchanged not only in the life to come, but presently, right now, hidden in the silence of this humble moment, where eternity is already begun. What is realized perfectly by the souls in heaven is a hymn of praise anticipated now by those who live in the simplicity and humility of faith.

Resounding in a silent fullness of love and communion, this music moves in the soul the more the soul is drawn to Christ. The melody of this mysterious hymn is unfamiliar and strange, but she attempts to find words for it. She describes the Divine Presence as in-flowing, enveloping, establishing and transforming. God's roaring silence produces peace, self-possession and interior strength. She draws her descriptions from the Bible:

If speechlessness grips those who are pierced to the heart by the love of God, tradition calls this apophasis, she quotes the Bride of the Canticle of Canticles to bring out the relational and bridal dimensions of this failure of human speech: "I know longer know anything"  she sings "but Christ crucified." Not a mental state or a natural mode of consciousness, she describes for us a speechless prayer realized when the soul is overwhelmed by the immensity of God's love, an immensity that flows through the Cross of Christ and overwhelms the soul. This is a hymn whose secret is known by the soul and shared with heaven.

To help us glimpse the new self-possession it challenges us towards and produces in us, she intones songs that she attributes to Christ Himself: "My soul is always in my hands" and "I shall keep my strength for you." And for her, the strength that this hymn of praise unveils is found in observing silence. To be silent is to choose not to attempt to influence or control or manipulate.  It is to be surrendered to what God is doing in the moment.  This is how Christ lived -- obedient to the will of the Father.

To live like this, to choose to be humble and to accept the situation for what it is and then to order it to God, this requires dying to our own plans and dreams, to the tyranny of what we think ought to be, and to respond to the love of God being made known in the moment.  To live like this, this is to die to self. Elisabeth reveled in this death to self -- she not only accepted it, she sought it. As a result Christ's obedient, vulnerable, and vigilant heart came to reverberate in her own by faith.  This is the source of the spiritual music, the rhythm that carried her personal hymn of praise. Because she wants to share the joy that she discovered, she yearns that we might discover this divine heart beat for ourselves.

This vision sees the whole world animated by an eternal Sanctus. This Sanctus evokes surrender and lifts up by God, establishing total forgetfulness of self, total awareness of the Lord. Everything is in the shadow of Christ crucified by love, everything a response, a "thank you" for the immensity of love that He has revealed. Wholly attentive and adoring, a soul that is drawn out of itself by the love of the Lord is vulnerable and ready for a beautiful encounter, for the impact of Divinity into the frailty of humanity.

September 11, 2016

The Liturgy and the New Evangelization - Update

ISSUED BY: SCL (Society for Catholic Liturgy)

Society for Catholic Liturgy Conference 2016
“The Liturgy and the New Evangelization”
September 29 − October 1, 2016
Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels − USC Caruso Catholic Center
Los Angeles, California

Hosted by the Society for Catholic Liturgy, this annual conference opens Thursday, September 29 and runs through Saturday October 1.   Speakers from the throughout the international community  offer their insights into the liturgy of the Church and the work of actively proclaiming  the Gospel of Christ today. Conference presentations in both English and Spanish  address the themes of beauty, liturgy and the New Evangelization in the Catholic Church.

On Thursday evening at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Archbishop Jose Gomez  welcomes conference  participants to the  celebration of the pontifical liturgy. His welcome continues during the  opening dinner banquet as he  offers  thoughts on how popular devotion can become an effective source of the New Evangelization when  properly ordered to the Eucharistic liturgy.

The Cathedral Friday morning hosts  Bishop Elias Zaidan  who will celebrate liturgy in the  Maronite rite.   He is also the day’s keynote speaker and will deliver “The Liturgy and the Church Persecuted.” His talk  explores how beauty in liturgical celebration of the Maronite tradition has supported Christians experiencing  ongoing persecution which  inhibits religious freedom.  Friday evening’s dinner  banquet presentation features the documentary, Pope John Paul II: Prophet for Our Time,  produced by Lannette Turicchi.

On Saturday morning, October 1, the conference venue shifts to  the USC Caruso Catholic Center. Father James Fryar, FSSP,  offers Mass in the extraordinary form. Liturgy is  followed by a plenary session with Fr. Andrew Menke of the USCCB giving the conference address. He  reviews the current status of various liturgical projects taken up by the US Bishops.

The conference features 12 academic papers and 6 pastoral presentations in English, and 3 pastoral presentations in Spanish which run concurrently. All sessions  serve to promote dialogue and direction for the Church in her celebration of liturgy,  Among the presentations in English, Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth presents The Rites of Christian Initiation and the Baptized but Un-catechized. Msgr. Wadsworth offers insight into the currently revised translations of the liturgical texts for these rites utilizing  the lens of “beauty of holiness.”  Other presentations will address topics as diverse as architecture, marriage, and the renewal of liturgical catechesis. The pastoral presentations in Spanish invites conference particpants to  a series of pastoral presentations in Spanish by Father Daniel Cardo. The first in the series entitled Fuente y Cima: La Liturgia y la Nueva Evangelización explores the liturgy as source and summit and the New Evangelization. Each of Fr. Cardo’s presentations  center on  the meaning of the Eucharist and the Eucharistic rites in the New Evangelization.

For more information, please go to

August 18, 2016

The Liturgy and the New Evangelization

Registration open and conference schedule posted:

The Society for Catholic Liturgy is pleased to announce its 2016 annual conference, to be held at Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral in Los Angeles.

September 29 – October 1, 2016

We are especially pleased to host keynote and plenary presentations by Archbishop José Gomez (Los Angeles), Bishop Abdallah Elias Zaidan (Maronite Bishop of Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles), and Sister Esther Mary Nickel, R.S.M. (St. John Vianney Seminary, Denver), as well as an update on the liturgical activities of the U.S.C.C.B. by their representative Fr. Andrew Menke.

The conference will include sung liturgies in both the ordinary (pontifical) and extraordinary forms of the Roman rite as well as the Maronite rite (pontifical), along with sung vespers.

Saturday features a Spanish-language track.

Registration, more information on the conference venue, and bios of our distinguished speakers are available at the SCL's website:

Preliminary conference schedule:
Thursday, September 29
3:00pm Registration and Welcome Reception
5:00pm Sung Mass (Stational - Ordinary Form)
6:00pm Opening Banquet with address by Archbishop Gomez “Popular Piety, Liturgy, and the New Evangelization”

Friday, September 30
8:00am Divine Liturgy (Maronite)
9:00am Continental Breakfast
9:30am Keynote: Bishop Elias Zaidan, “The Liturgy and the Church Persecuted”
11:00am Concurrent Sessions
  • (1) Academic Track: James Pauley, Renewing Liturgical Catechesis: Towards the Cultivation of Desire for God
  • (2) Academic Track: Michon Matthiesen, “The Eighth Day”: the Evangelizing Potential of Liturgical Time
  • (3) Pastoral Track: Andrew Casad, Preparing the Uncatechized for Confirmation and Eucharist
12:00pm Lunch
1:00pm Concurrent Sessions
  • (4) Academic Track: Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth, The Rites of Christian Initiation and the Baptized but Un-catechized
  • (5) Academic Track: Veronica Arntz, “This is a Great Mystery”: Sacramental Families Formed by Cosmic Liturgy
  • (6) Pastoral Track: Paolo Miguel Cobangbang T.O.Carm., the Canonical Coronation of Marian Images as a Liturgical Revival: a Philippine Perspective
2:30pm Concurrent Sessions
  • (7) Academic Track: Sr. Moira Debono, R.S.M. The Church Shares Your Joy: Amoris Laetitia and the Order for Celebrating Matrimony
  • (8) Academic Track: Mike Nolan, Re-interpreting the Poetry of Robert Southwell within the Context of New Evangelization
  • (9) Academic Track: Alphonso Lopez Pinto, Visions of Heaven on Earth: Mystagogy, the Santo, and Modernity
  • (10) Pastoral Track: Fr. Daniel Cardó, The Homily and the New Evangelization: Saint Augustine and Some Lessons for Today’s Preaching
3:30pm Business Meeting
5:00pm Vespers
6:00pm Reception and Banquet, after dinner talk by Sister Esther Mary Nickel, R.S.M. and the screening of Prophet for our Times.

Saturday, October 1
8:00am Mass (Extraordinary Form)
9:00am Breakfast with Registration for the Spanish Track
9:30am Fr. Andrew Menke – USCCB “Liturgical Projects Undertaken by the USCCB”
9:30am Spanish Session: Fr. Daniel Cardó : Fuente y cima: La Liturgia y la Nueva Evangelización
11:00am Concurrent Sessions and Spanish Session
  • (11) Spanish Track: Fr. Daniel Cardó: Explorando los Misterios de la Misa
  • (12) Academic Track: Dom Benedict Andersen O.S.B., The Role of Monasteries as Being (or Being Potentially) Centres of Liturgical Apostolate in the Life of the Local Diocesan Church
  • (13) Academic Track: Dino Marcantonio, Symbolic Architectural Form
  • (14) Pastoral Track: Michael Foley, Sanctifying the Bar: Liturgical Drinking and the New Evangelization
12:00pm Lunch
1:00pm Concurrent Sessions and Spanish Session
  • (15) Spanish Track: Fr. Daniel Cardó: La Homilía y la Nueva Evangelización
  • (16) Academic Track: Lisa Knutson, Principle and Foundation of Beauty in the Missionary Liturgy: The Jesuit Reductions as Model and Ignatian spirituality as Guide
  • (17) Academic Track: Steve Baker, Between Luminous and Numinous: the Coincidence of Opposites and Its Role in the Aesthetic Appreciation of Catholic Sacred Architecture
  • (18) Pastoral Track: Fr. Jamie Hottovy, Sacred Beauty: Evangelizing through the Images of Our Faith     
2:00pm Concurrent Sessions and Spanish Session
  • (19) Academic Track: Richard Nicholas, the Sacramental Ordo in Medieval Architecture as a Means for Evangelization in the Twenty-First Century
  • (20) Academic Track: Richard Bulzacchelli, There Are No Doors to Open if There Are No Walls: Maintaining Sacramental Discipline as a Prerequisite for Preaching the Gospel
  • (21) Pastoral Track: Fr. Nick Schneider, In My Heart and on My Lips: Proclamation in the Mass as a Model for Evangelization
3:00pm concluding Plenary Session (announcement of new officers)

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