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.