February 9, 2016

Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving - in harmony with human nature

Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are works of piety that make space for a right use of reason. Many spiritual people do not connect works of piety with reason or love or freedom.  Without making good use of reason, freedom and love, our works of piety will fall short of our Lenten Observance, and the healing that this season offers us will not be realized.

We must confront some popular misconceptions about our human reality. Reason is presumed as cold and calculating, the dispassionate part of our psychology whose purpose is exhausted in minimizing risks and maximizing opportunities. Freedom is associated with selfish indulgence and escape from responsibility.  Love is often thought to be irrational or opposed to reason or simply a feeling. Although to the extend that they are isolated from one another some of these presumptions about these spiritual realities might be true, God created these wonderful powers to be related in a kind of sacred harmony resonating in the spiritual interior of our lives.

Frequent confession and extra-sacramental penance like making a pilgrimage or observing Friday abstinences are aids to this difficult work.  It is a manner of asceticism, of spiritual practice, out of love for the Lord. It is not a matter of accomplishment or achievement, but a matter of vulnerable surrender and humbling ourselves before an inestimable gift. To fully realize our God-given human vocation, we must do everything we can to tune and discipline our use of reason and piety, love and freedom until they are made to resound in divinizing harmony through our spiritual exercises this Lent.

The harmony of reason, freedom and love with works of piety is gift upon gift - restoring and perfecting the image and likeness of God in us.  The gift of human reason is given by God so that we might use our freedom to love in a manner that gives Him glory. Through the Holy Spirit who prays in us, the gifts of prayer, fasting and almsgiving expand the capacity of reason to find the holy freedom such divinized love demands -- a freedom that gives space to everything that is good and authentic in our humanity and that frees us from everything that is not worthy of the noble calling that we have received.

Because of sin and its limiting power, unaided reason by itself cannot secure this kind of freedom.  So we surrender to the Holy Spirit who convinces us of sin and the deep things of God. He prompts us to be merciful when we are otherwise thoughtless or resentful, and He moves us to venture with love into situations that we would otherwise find inconvenient and repulsive. When the Holy Spirit raises reason up in prayer, when the limited designs of our hearts are pierced by the limitless designs in His, the vast expanse of human frailty is laid bare and capacities unfamiliar to us are revealed.  It is here, in this desert wilderness, that the music of heaven is waiting to fill.  It in this emptiness and poverty of heart that the divine harmony of human reason, freedom, love and piety resounds.

February 4, 2016

The Music of Divine Mercy

Hidden in the mystery of my neighbor's greeting is a stream of divine music that resounds with tenderness and that rings with goodness. The sacredness of human life is validated when I recognize its call and empathize with its heart piercing dynamism. Under the enchantment of this tolling theme, the individual is not ever an accidental and isolated note, but a delicate part of a divinely purposed chord in which we are all caught up. In this resonance of life and truth, our very core reverberates if we let it. In the silence of my neighbor's glance, a symphony is ready to break forth as if for the first time -- when and only when I learn to listen.

Just as all true music expresses stirrings in the heart that time cannot contain, the wonder of this particular neighbor before me is the object of Divine jubilation -- an exquisite expression of joy so serious that the whole reality of heaven and hell weighs in this moment of encounter. Even a chance meeting bears this existential weight. In the precipice of a moment, eternity can break in with its thunderclap of meaning with hardly a word exchanged. Or else, with the wrong word, what was to be a moment of grace devolves by neglect or indifference into lifeless banality. Yet, this risk on which God pauses is what makes His music so beautiful.

This particular person whose path I have crossed is for God a new turn, a surprising twist in a never heard before symphony, an irreplaceable part of a whole that I too am caught up in. A melody from above this world waits to catch us off guard if only we will bring this encounter into tune with its subtle movements. Yes, divine harmonies play out in the real life concrete historical choices we make. They are heard not by escaping or surmounting life, but plunging into it with an attentive heart, with a living faith, with humble vulnerability, with the readiness to do something beautiful for God. 

The eternal hymn that could resound requires a harmony in which both word and silence be raised to love and by love and for love. If earthly music resonates in the connection of rhythm and sound with the heart, this heavenly canticle relies on the Holy Spirit stirring our hearts, liberating our wills. With a gentle touch He tunes us. He restores the right relation of encounter and recognition, empathy and truth, forgiveness and reconciliation. In these ways, the Spirit of Love fills the silent emptiness of human misery with melodies of Divine Mercy, setting a limit to evil to make space for a new love to be born -- if only, in this moment, especially this difficult moment, we will offer our "fiat." 

The life giving presence of the Holy Spirit is why whenever any soul cries out to God for help, the Father never sees anything other than His own embodied image and likeness, and hears only the voice that the Son has joined to His own. Within the space of a humble prayer, with great respect for our liberty, the Trinity tenderly embraces us like delicate musical instruments, patiently waiting for us to sanction the immense and subtle movement of Infinite Love that the Divine Persons desire to unleash. The music of God's Heart is ready to forgive and to help us forgive, to plant new hope and to help us bring hope to others. Love's own melodious fullness is ready, ready to sound a new and unvanquished beginning to what we thought to be destroyed.

The Trinity waits for us, on our side, on the side of humanity, as the One God who longs to see each man and woman thrive in a new solidarity of life and love. Through the movements we allow the Trinity to raise in our souls, God's very presence resounds by a knowledge and love too great for this life to contain. On this Divine Hymn of Mercy, the story of our humanity finds sure footing, ground firm enough to hold its weight as the music of its frail prayer echoes on earth as it is in heaven.