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.