April 23, 2017

Strangers in a Strange Land

Thank you Archbishop Charles J. Chaput for writing Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World (Philadelphia: Henry Holt and Company, 2017).

I am only half way through, but what compels me about your book is that it is helping me with my own soul searching. I feel guided on an vital examination of conscience that helps me ask important questions about who I am as a husband and a father.  Most authors do not have the courage to challenge their readers in this way -- but you do, and that is why your works are worth taking the time to read.

At the end of Chapter 6, quoting Flannery O'Connor, you observe that the truth not only makes us free, but it makes us odd. This is because the truth always requires us to go against the grain and not simply to go along to get along. Yet to fit in, to be accepted, to make a name for oneself - what great temptations! We are afraid of being odd and unless we confront this fear, we cannot be free.

You are so right to insist that the truth calls us to something different.  It demands something that is not comfortable or convenient. The standards of heaven require something much more noble, much more set apart - in a word holy. Indeed, the standard of heaven, the power by which both Heaven and Earth were made is Love - for God is Love. You are right that the price of answering this call to love is to be considered "odd," to be rejected and despised. To love unto death is "odd" to a world that lives under the fear of death.  If we instinctively recoil from this, we allow ourselves to be defined by this cowardice -- a cowardice that now defines so much of our society and culture. But to have the courage to live by this truth - a love that goes all the way to the end -- this is a pure gift. This is grace - and the Risen Lord is the source of this. This is, as you say, true freedom.

You aptly describe how when we as individuals lose the truth and with the truth, our integrity - so too our whole social order. As a society, we lose our ability to see each other as human beings - in the image and likeness of God.  When we just go along with the narrative put out by the culturally powerful, we are unable to see our neighbor as someone entrusted to us by God. Instead, my neighbor is reduced to a social problem to be disposed of.  Euphemisms in our government, in the workplace, in the Church and in the family disguise our cruelty as cleverness - and because we have become so good at this kind of lie, we are no longer able to repent of our hardheartedness. Imprisoned in heartlessness, we throw ourselves away in a throw away culture -- unable to encounter one another, not free to be fully human or fully alive.

You made me ponder how the truth calls us to stand not only for our own integrity but for the sake of those we love or ought to love. Those who we ought to love include even those we do not personally know. It is for love of those that God has given to us -- each one a new unique manifestation of His image and likeness -- that we must overcome our fear and have the courage to re-examine our lives in the light of the Gospel. As I read your analysis on these things, I could not help but think, if this is true of strangers, how much more is it true of those whom God has entrusted to us in our own households - our spouse, our children, our parents?

I am looking forward to finishing this wonderful and well-researched book.  If the task before us is to build a culture of "encounter" in the face of our "throw away" culture, the world needs the integrity that we gain only by repentance, the re-thinking of all the ways that we have compromised ourselves and those we love in relation to the truth. Many of our brothers and sisters in other countries have not failed to embrace this kind of repentance -- even at the cost of their own lives. And they and those they left behind would not have it any other way.  This is because the nature of truth - that is, the way we should be and live in relation to what really is - is ultimately, relational, in the form of friendship, a love that is worth dying for, a friendship that God offers because He already died for us to have it. Only by such integrity can we offer a witness that will provide a word of hope to a world so poorly in need of it.


April 14, 2017

To Know the Father - To Behold the Cross

On this Good Friday, we celebrate the definitive revelation of the Father's love for the world. God the Father reveals Himself through His Eternal Word - the Word whose last wordless cry resounds through all space an time. In this last wordless cry, everything that Jesus came to reveal about the Father, everything that the Father wished us to know about Him, is laid bear and entrusted to us with great tenderness and patience.

To know this truth is to know at once the Father's great mercy for us and who we are in His sight. He does not use His power to force our behavior. He patiently accepts our hostility and rejection - even permitting what is most precious to Him to suffer death for our sakes.  His love is deeper and more powerful than our hatred and His patience is able to bear with our infirmities - to heal and raise up what is good, beautiful and true about who we are in His sight.

In a world that does not have the strength to restrain itself, we behold on the Cross the gentleness of the Father who tenderly restrains His power to heal us. Our heartache and anxiety, our guilt and our fears are all remedied before this mystery - if only we will humbly surrender and let what the Father has revealed enter into our hearts. If we will silence ourselves and remain with Him, the love of the Father flows through the Cross into the deepest wounds to heal, to restore and to set free.  On this day, our misery is immersed in His Mercy so that we might be saved.

Through Christ's great prayer for us we know that the Father longs for us to dwell with Him. If we approach the foot of the Cross with reverence, the deep things of God and His divine dream for each one of us is manifest and realized in faith.  If today we follow in the footsteps of the One who was Crucified by love and for love, we will find the courage and strength to life by love and for love. If we adore the Wood on which our Savior offered Himself for us, we will find that the kiss we offer the Lord is returned in the most profound and beautiful way.

March 26, 2017

The Gift of Hope and Battle for Life

We live at a time where a great battle for life is being played out. The Christian faith offers a discipline of life by which this battle can be won. This faith teaches that, in fact, this battle is already won - if only we will trust in the One who conquered sin and death. In this, the discipline of the Christian life preserves the hope of humanity and gifts it the gift of a supernatural hope.

Nihilistic forces in our boorish culture are causing many good people to lose hope.  I am not referring to specifically Christian hope in asserting this.  Rather, it is a matter of basic human hope -- the kind of hope that women and men need to have the courage to live.  This kind of hope is not exclusively Christian, but the Christian faith is earnestly implicated in preserving and promoting it.

In a certain sense, life is a battle - a struggle between good and evil, not only outside of ourselves in the world in which we live, but also within. What is invisible is more fierce than what is visible. This interior battle faces one's own wickedness and inadequacy with the confidence that this is not the last word about one's personal existence. What characterizes this natural hope is the at least inchoate conviction that somehow, if we do not compromise ourselves in a self-contradiction, what is good and true about us may in the end prevail.  Even when very painful and difficult, such hope sees that the effort to live a worthy life is worth it.

To protect the integrity of this important human hope, Christianity denounces false hopes. For example, it does not provide a firm basis for hope to believe oneself no more than a cog in the wheel of societal progress. Yet many do.  The world of Hegelian idealism may subordinate everything, even God, to an unfolding dialectic, but it cannot raise the heart above itself.  Such a mentality hides under a bandage (but does not heal) the deep misery that we must confront in life.

Although useful to some limited extent, no purely human program - whether sociological or psychological -- sufficiently deals with the pain that aches in our depths. Alcohol and pharmaceuticals can only dull it for a time. None of this provides the solid ground on which to walk through the misery that would otherwise drown out our existence. This is why a reason for our hope must be found beyond the programs, agendas, methods and techniques offered (and marketed) by the clever of the world.

To stand firm under fire, we need a good reason for the hope we have inside - a truth by which to live. We need help from Someone whose life is above our own if we are to learn to ponder how astonishing and un-repeatable the personal drama of one's own life actually is. To find this Someone, all that must be done is to cry out in prayer with faith. For this Someone is not remote.  He has come for us. He has entered into the pain of humanity and has taken into His own heart; and has carried it with Him to the Cross.

Christ Crucified has dared to enter into our own hearts because His compassion moved Him to suffer with us through it all. The discipline of the Christian life is about learning to walk with Him. To take on this discipline is to know the Mighty God's creative and healing power. To be a disciple is to humbly attend to the Eternal Word as He addresses the most painful heartbreaks and disappointments. The discipline of the Christian faith involves the prayerful examination of our lives before the Savior's glance of love. Such a way of life is a life in complete communion with Him.

With one word, the Word restores a disciple's dignity; with one touch, the Hand of God lifts His followers on high. The Risen Lord provides the solid ground for those who would pick up their Cross and follow HIm.  The Bread of Life Himself nourishes us for this journey. The Eternal Son awaits us, ready to welcome us into the Father's House.


March 21, 2017

Louis Bouyer and the Gift of Good Teachers

"In learning, it seems to me, that the greatest thing that can happen to one is to sit a the feet of a great teacher. I've had that good fortune a few times...."

So begins the paper that Fr. Giles Dimock, O.P. delivered at Saint John's Seminary's Miller Symposium this evening. The presentation was on the great Oratorian Louis Bouyer. Fr. Bouyer is one of several professors who formed Fr. Dimock as a teacher of liturgy, spirituality and the Church for the Domincan Order. Yet, especially in this case, it was not only Bouyer's brilliance, but the wisdom of his faith that made a lasting impression.  Fr. Dimock's first encounter with the great Oratorian was at Brown: As Fr. Dimock explains:
He offered a graduate seminar on Lumen Gentium of Vatican Council II.  The text was still in Latin because it was so "hot off of the press" that it hadn't yet been translated.. all very exciting.
All these years later, it is nearly impossible to imagine the excitement and enthusiasm of the period immediately after the council. The hope was that the teachings of Vatican II would spur a deeper renewal of the faith in the Church and strengthen Catholics in their witness in the modern world.  Louis Bouyer's familiarity with some of the discussions of the council offered an insider's view of its teaching. In another course in ecclesiology that he went on to audit, Fr. Dimock came to see Bouyer's theology of the Church as speaking into the contemporary need to better connect with the tradition of the Church:
So, in his black corduroy suit and Roman Collar, sitting at a desk and reading in a monotone voice from a neat little notebook, he gave me the most exciting course of my academic career. The ideas of our heritage, the Sacred Scriptures, and the Fathers as understood by the Church, medieval doctors and modern theologians came alive as he unpacked their understanding of the Church.  This was a life-changing course.   
Fr. Bouyer, as did Fr. Dimock, also came to love the Church through the influence of good teachers. Even before he became Catholic Louis Bouyer's circle of friends considered themselves "Evangelical Catholic Lutherans." As a protestant scholar in Strasbourg, he wrote a paper on "Newman and the Alexandrian Christianity." At l'Institute Catholique, Lambert Beauduin, O,S.B. and Yves Congar helped him question whether his inclination toward "Evangelical Catholicism" might mean he was Catholic.  It was in the years just before World War II that he entered the Catholic Church and he eventually joined the Oratorians. It was after this that many of his ideas began to influence the Church's understanding of the liturgy and ecumenical discussions.

Fr. Dimock's favorite memory of Louis Bouyer is a very humble one. He had a meeting with Fr. Bouyer in his academic office at Brown. He opened the door a little too quickly after he knocked and found Fr. Bouyer praying the Rosary. In his final years, Fr. Bouyer continued his quiet life of piety at the Little Sisters of the Poor. Fr. Dimock reflects on this:
His short-term memory failed, but not his long-term.  He lived more in previous epochs of history than his own. He constantly prayed the Eastern Jesus prayer and the Rosary with the Sisters, thus confirming one of my fondest memories of him.
If "the greatest thing that can happen" in learning is "to sit at the feet of a great teacher" Fr. Giles Dimock, O.P. has blessed many students with this opportunity through the years. His stories about the great Louis Bouyer -- the powerful content of his lectures, his sense of humor, and his humble devotional life helped many of us understand that truly great intellects are those that are bowed before the glory of God. To see this is to love the Church and such love for the Church inclines the heart to the same humble movement of prayer that all good teachers want us to share.

March 9, 2017

The Face of Christ

In the Face of Christ is the truth about God and the truth about the human heart. To say that we are a mystery to ourselves is to acknowledge that the heart has depths that only God's mercy knows.  In deep movements that we do not understand or even notice, He is there gazing on us with tender love.  Through a glance that unveils the immensity of his mercy, the Almighty discloses Himself to our frail nature: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Trinity does this through the Face of Christ. Though sovereign to gaze or not gaze on us at all, The Three-in-One and One-in-Three has chosen to see us through the Risen Eyes of His Son, our Crucified Lord.

The gaze of the Face of Christ opens our whole existence to a circumcession of love and life, of truth and goodness, of grace and mysterious glory. As the Word of the Father, the Son's compassionate contemplation of our existence creates a kind of harmony within us. He sees into its very depths of who we are and nothing will avert His gaze - for He loves us and thirsts for us.

This harmonizing gaze of Divine Mercy is not over and against our lack of love and bitter sorrows.  He does not overlook or ignore the disappointments and frustrations, or failures and inadequacies that haunt us. He is not a stranger to the rejection and abandonment against which we struggle. He knows we are weary from the contention and rancor that relentlessly pull at us. Before His Face, we do not suffer alone - for He shares our heartaches with us and is moved to sew His un-vanquished love into the very fabric of all this pain. In this, the gaze of Christ makes all things new.

In the Face of Christ Risen from the Dead, the Father's love is disclosed to us anew. Behold in His Eyes a love that is stronger than death - a love no power in heaven or on earth or under the earth can overcome. To gaze into the Eyes of Christ who gazes on us with love is to see the Father who awaits us in love. In the face that suffered unto death, He shares with us the secret of the Father's heart.

To humbly meet His gaze is to be pierced by how the Father broods over us at each moment and will not rest from searching for us until we are safe at home in His love. To win us over is why He sends His Spirit of Love into our hearts - convicting us about our sin and inviting us to the freedom of His sons and daughters. To help us find our way, He speaks His Word of Truth into our hostile silence and empty alienation-- even to the point that He gave Himself up and was crucified for love of us.

How do we find this Face of Christ crucified by love? The most simple turn of the heart finds Him, and the Holy Spirit very delicately works that this tender moment of recognition might be ours.  A humble cry of faith offered with perseverance and trust knows this gentle surrender of God and the human heart together.

To find the face of Christ is to strive to surrender to a Divine kiss.  He has not repented of bowing down to enter into our lives that we might receive this great gift.  He has suffered such betrayal that we might knows this grace. But to look into His eyes is to see that no betrayal could ever overcome His devotion to us.

To find the face of Christ is to return this His kiss through the bowing down of our being in contrite repentance before Him. These can be moments of prayer where we kiss the Cross of Christ. They can be moments of mercy in our dealings with others where we render Christ hidden in our neighbor the tender affection for which He longs. They are rarely convenient moments, but they are always deep moments of the heart. Our tradition calls this adoration - and there is nothing more healing for the heart than to allow itself to be kissed by God and then to offer God the kiss for which He longs.

To be captivated by the love that fills those Risen Eyes is the vision to which our faith avails us. No more than a surrender to the deep currents of the Holy Spirit running through the heart, to lift our eyes to the loving gaze of the Lord silences the chaos within. It establishes us in peace. It envelops us in love. To allow ourselves to be astonished by the love of the Father living in His humble glance, this is what it means to have the Holy Spirit reveal the Face of Christ. 

February 27, 2017

Treasures of the Triduum at the Liturgical Institute

The Liturgical Institute is hosting a conference on Friday, March 3 at St. Mary of the Lake Conference Center. Join Liturgical Institute faculty member Christopher Carstens together with Dr. Anthony Lilles, Academic Dean of St. John’s Seminary of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. This year’s topic takes its starting point from Saint John Paul II’s document Spiritus et Sponsa, which asked that a “‘liturgical spirituality’ be developed that makes people conscious that Christ is the first ‘liturgist’ who never ceases to act in the Church and in the world.”  For more information, please click here or call 847.837.4542.
Anthony Lilles, STD has served the Church and assisted in the formation of clergy since 1994, and now serves in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles as Academic Dean of St. John’s, associate professor of theology and Academic Advisor of Juan Diego House.
Christopher Carstens, BA Oratory of St. Philip, Toronto; MA, University of Dallas; MA (Liturgical Studies), The Liturgical Institute, University of Saint Mary of the Lake. Coordinator of Pontifical Liturgies, Director of the Office of Sacred Worship, liturgical coordinator for the diocesan Permanent Deacon formation program, diocesan Director of RCIA and Director of the Diocesan Televised Mass for the Diocese of LaCrosse, Wisconsin. Co-author of Mystical Body, Mystical Voice: Encountering Christ in the Words of the Mass (LTP, 2011) and frequent presenter in liturgical conferences and parish education. Member of the Society for Catholic Liturgy. He co-hosts The Liturgy Guys podcast which is produced by The Liturgical Institute and is editor of the Adoremus Bulletin
Session 1: Developing a Liturgical Spirituality.
What is meant by "spirituality" and the Catholic life? How does the personal presence of Christ make Catholic spirituality unique?  How have different spiritualties contributed to our celebration of the Triduum? Why is it essential to foster in oneself and one's family and parishioners a vibrant spiritual life? Pope John Paul called for the "development of a liturgical spirituality": what does this mean?  How does it relate to the overall spiritual life? Why are the liturgies of the Triduum a privileged fount of a liturgical spirituality?

Session 2: The Spirituality of Holy Thursday
Holy Thursday celebrates the institution of the Eucharist and, with it, the beginning of the New Testament Priesthood: how do these core realities inform Catholic Spirituality? How do the faithful understand the ordained priesthood and, along with it, their own baptismal priesthood? How does our Eucharistic participation on this night affect Eucharistic participation for the rest of the year? The other key element of Holy Thursday--the command of brotherly love--flows from the Eucharistic font: how should Holy Thursday shape my charitable life for others? Why do we keep vigil with the Lord on Holy Thursday?

Session 3: The Spirituality of Good Friday
Good Friday tells us to "Behold (Ecce) the man," "Behold the Wood of the Cross," and "Behold the Lamb of God." What insight can such intentional looking give to my spiritual life? Good Friday, the "day on which the Word himself is muted" (Verbum Domini) is filled with silence: what place should silence have for liturgical spirituality? The cross of Christ is central to this day, as central to the whole economy of salvation and, consequently, to my own spiritual life: what lessons from Good Friday's cross can be had for a liturgical spirituality?

Session 4: The Spirituality of the Paschal Vigil and Easter Season
Light, darkness, wind, fire, water, and oil: these elements are all present at the Paschal Vigil, as they have been in our own sacramental initiation. How are these elements, and the Sacraments of which they are a part, building blocks of a liturgical spirituality? As many as nine readings are heard at the Vigil: what role does the word of God play in my own spirituality--and how is my own life a part of the Economy of Salvation here recounted? How do the rites of Christian initiation renew our awareness of the whole mystery of salvation? At the Vigil's dismissal, the double "Alleluia" rings out: how does a liturgical spirituality impel believers into the world for its sanctification?

February 5, 2017

Marriage and the Word of the Father

When it comes to marriage, as to the rest of life, the Word of the Father does not offer us a fairytale, but a reason for our hope. He does not offer a happy ending in this life, but suffering, and the promise of glory in the life to come- for He commands us to deny ourselves and follow in His footsteps.  Whatever becomes of our marriages and our families, there is no room for anxiety or despair - for the Bridegroom calls. His voice resounds in both sorrow and joy, hope and anxiety. He is waiting for our response. To accept Him, come what come may, is to journey forward, even if in complete humiliation, towards a fullness of joy too great for this life to contain.

This journey progresses by means of the Cross - this means believing in God's love in all manner of hardships and trials, even when all human love seems to fail.  Only those who dare to make this journey, however, discover that love that no power or abyss of misery can overcome.  The love that awaits us ahead is stronger than death - and even if we die, death in the face of this love is not the last word.  For in this love and by this love we live.

This Love is a gift. He comes to us in the form of "the Word" spoken by the Father into our flesh. He comes full of confidence into our difficult life history - that common story in which each of us shares, and those particular sorrows that no one else can share with us, but Him.  In the midst of this life's storm, the silent majesty of this Divine Word is filled with a longing for our humanity that is deeper and more ancient than our resistance to Him. The soul's Deepest Center, He draws a response from places so deep in our being that we do not even know they exist. Even in the most bitter catastrophe, a hidden hope gestates because of the salvation that He has come to bring.

The One who aches for faithfulness is never indifferent to tears shed over married love.This Light walks into the darkness of failed or struggling marriages undaunted. He is confident even when we have completely lost our confidence. He walks on top of the waves of despair and reaches to pull us above the flood if we will turn our eyes to Him and cry for help.  In the face of an angry and hostile world, in our weaknesses and voids, He indissolubly fashions marriage and sanctifies it by His blood -- changing our limited efforts to give ourselves in service to one another into a wellspring of grace.

The Word by which all things were made, including marriage itself, waits for couples to seek Him in the silence of Eucharistic Adoration. He is present to those husbands and wives who in their humiliation and feelings of abandonment trust in Him. Through a family's icons He beholds the candlelight shining on the faces of both the betrayed and the betrayer, and He hears the faith that cries out to Him from pain. Before the barren wall that bears His Cross, He weeps with those who weep. His silent fullness fills every emptiness. His last wordless cry establishes meaning even when a marriage's crushing circumstances seem to render everything meaningless.

The conqueror of death, the Risen One has opened the gates even to the hell that we make of our lives and families. Where no other connection seems left, He is all the connection that we really need. For couples who need integrity restored, He is ready to become their integrity.  For couples whose purity is compromised, He is ready to purify anew.  He liberates from cycles of shame and disgrace. He establishes trust and peace. For couples that need a new beginning, He is the Word that is from the Beginning.

When we struggle against running away from heartache and are loathed to face the truth, the One who is True finds His rest in bearing even the most bitter struggles with us in love. He provides courage for those difficult conversations. He makes it possible to humble oneself, to forgive, to be forgiven. The Man of Sorrows is ever ready to teach how to intercede for the one who has betrayed, denied and abandoned his friend. He is ready to baptize a couple in His compassion when they have deeply saddened one another.

The humble presence of the Truth Himself causes pride to fall, and raises up from bitter humiliation. Because He is righteous and true, this Mighty Warrior does not fail to fight for faithfulness. Because He has overcome, not even addictions or depression or long painful illnesses can prevent His love from prevailing. Even when one's own life's companion will not hear His voice, He is enough to fill even the most difficult life with joy.  Against every obstinacy, He evokes conversion of heart and puts the whole of one's life into dialogue with the love of the Father.

The radiance of the Bridegroom purifies and transforms all our loves the more we make space for Him in our lives. The more a couple will allow Him to captivate their hearts, the easier it is to surrender everything to Him.  He treasures those fleeting moments of unexpected victory when husband and wife stand together in faith. He is amazed and gives thanks to the Father when together with Him they lift up their hearts in thanksgiving -- because of all of these mysterious blessings that they do not understand and struggle to receive.




January 29, 2017

Paradoxes and Prayer

To enter deep into the mystery of prayer opens the heart to certain paradoxes. A humble cry of the heart knows blessings disguised in difficult poverty, meekness, sorrow, hunger, thirst, and persecution.  When such prayer is pure, merciful, and persevering under trial - it actually tastes the things of heaven. The extent of such prayer reaches from the joy of the lowly who are exalted to the sorrow of the mighty who are cast down.  A heart pierced with the love that this prayer knows can be amazed over the hungry who are filled with good things, and the well fed who are sent away hungry. This searching for the eyes of the One who looks on us with love renders us vulnerable to the tragedy of the rich young men who go away sad, and the sheer grace that other men such as Zaccheaus should rejoice to have Christ enter their homes.  This attending carefully to the Word of the Father discovers with holy fear how teachers of the faith and religious authorities are silenced, while the speech of the mute and simple laid open and made bold.  In the humble lifting of one's hands in faith we can wonder over how the prayer of the sinner is heard, and the prayer of the self-assured is rejected.  Bathed in such wonders, we are bowed in adoration and lifted on high with praise.