December 26, 2017

Christ Child Awakening

Just as when He awoke in swaddling clothes in a manger, Christ can awaken in our hearts in prayer. In that mysterious moment His eyes communicate the same invincible joy that they did when they gazed into the eyes of His virgin mother. We know in that single instant what she knew -- that He has given Himself to us and for us, and that we are the object of His delight.  If we allow ourselves to be captivated by His gaze of love, we will soon find that we cannot but give ourselves to Him in return.

Just as He opened His eyes and saw the world for the first time, when we allow Him to open His eyes in our prayer, it is as if we have been seen for the first time. When we rest with Him in silent prayer, the Word who made the world opens His eyes anew and sees us and the whole world again through our own human eyes.  It is so silent and subtle -- so easy to miss. The delight that He first took at the first moment of creation is suddenly renewed. It is a profound but secret moment of of recognition and affirmation that both Christ and the soul share together.

When Christ awakens as we pray, His gaze imparts a delicate blessing. The moment of recognition and the delight that He takes in seeing us causes a mysterious movement in the deepest part of our own being.  All of creation is taken up in its wake.  We are recognized and in that loving recognition, something is etched in the very substance of our being, and as he snuggles back to sleep, all of creation awakens to new life.

December 13, 2017

Advent and John the Baptist

In the Season of Advent, we should allow ourselves to experience the mystery of John the Baptist. His voice rings in our conscience and when we hear it, God is able to make space in our hearts for the joy of Christmas. The Baptist's voice sets a limit on the power and authority of the world in our lives. His voice reminds us of the truth about marriage and family, about faithfulness and sin, about God and our neighbor.

If we are comfortable, the Baptist makes us uneasy.  If we are arrogant, His voice humbles us. If we are confused, he is there to clarify. If we are discouraged, he helps us find the heart we need. This inner voice prepares for the Coming of Word of the Father. It is a voice that helps us recognize the truth that we need. If we do not hear this voice, it is easy to forget what it means to be, not only a Christian. but even decent human being. Such is the mission of the Baptist in the life of the Church and the plan of God.

We need to listen to the voice of John the Baptist anew. In our great wealth and power, we have become spiritually dull. In our self-conceit and self-interest, we live imprisoned in our egos - and remain powerless to help others find freedom.  In our fear of discomfort and inconvenience, we have robbed ourselves of the greatness of God's love. The witness of the Baptist cuts through fear, self, wealth and power - and makes us vulnerable to the truth once again.

To listen to the voice of the Baptist requires us to withdraw into our hearts and be still.  It requires the confession of sin and the readiness to commit ourselves to reparation for what we have done and not done for others. It requires us to listen to the suffering of those often alienated and sometimes tormented souls that God has entrusted to us. The voice of the Baptist can be in the distressing outburst of an autistic child, or in the quiet sobs of a grieving widow. His voice whispers among the brokenhearted who have lost it all and it calls out among the cynical who risk being lost forever. This call to love requires patient vigilance.  To make space for this voice in our lives, we must welcome the inconvenience and discomfort it causes - this suffering is salvific.

None of this is comfortable, but it makes all the difference in life. If we let what this prophet says change our judgments about ourselves, the world, and God, a pathway to reconciliation, integrity and fulfillment is opened before us. Listening to the Baptist and heeding his call to repentance fills in valleys of indifference and levels mountains of sin. Our whole being and existence is made ready for the coming of Word of the Father into the reality of our lives - a suffering joy that not only makes life meaningful, but lifts up everyone around us.

December 7, 2017

Advent of that Mysterious Joy

Broods the cosmos in painful rending
Beyond infinity’s gentle bending
Over misery’s edge, in galaxy far,
Cries the lost, under lonely star,
While glory, in virgin womb, abides

Superintelligences cannot fathom
The hidden secret’s tender anthem
For they from above all time and space charge hastening
To the garden, to guard, to wield swords in chastening
Where envy’s deceit resides

Until heaven, song and peace bestowing
On lowly shepherds with their flocks and cattle lowing,
Beheld revolving all hearts, and stars, and years, and land
Around what humble Godhead offers man,
And that mysterious joy besides.

November 27, 2017

Of Word and Silence

Only those who do not understand silence believe that all kinds of silence are the same. Not limited to the mere absence of noise, there are different kinds of silence on earth, in the heavens and in hell - though a deeper silence informs them all. We are made to listen to this quiet stillness that lives even in the midst of noise and is never disturbed by its ambiguity.

Many fear an emptiness that silence sometimes sustains. There is, however, a silence that is not empty. A vulnerable silence is shared in the glancing recognition of hearts that love one another. Something too great for mere words lives in the reassuring hand offered to the broken soul. More than any word can convey is quiet solidarity that one offers a friend in death.

Because our hearts ache for a silence that we do not have, some seek pathways that would still the unquenchable gnaw of unfulfilled desire. Some strive to be mindful of the present moment in an effort to find relief from their tormenting thoughts and memories. Others strive for a psychic state to set themselves above the turmoil of the day to day grind. Others pursue the next evolutionary step for human consciousness with the hopes of charting a new spiritual course. Yet all of these kinds of silence, no matter how effective in consoling and surmounting painful exigencies, cannot avoid the finality of death and its disintegrating power. These natural modes of interior serenity cannot overcome sin or forgive it -- and are, therefore, as subject to its futility as is every other unaided human activity.

There is, however, a silence that heals, uplifts, and ignites a desire for something greater.  This majestic calm can live in the soul even the the midst of racing thoughts and oppressing anxieties. Such serenity is hidden from human industry and calculation though it can permeate bone and marrow, highest thoughts and deepest instincts. No technique or method discovers the secret fountain that floods human existence in this way. Yet, its call haunts us in our pride and provides the boundary for our despair.  The humble cry of faith invites its mystery.

When approached in humility and faith, this merciful silence is ready to run and embrace us while we are still far away.  Unearned, unmerited, unexpected, for the price of our tears, this quiet stillness pays us in full, no matter how little we have labored. This silent plethora binds our wounds and restores our dignity, no matter how beat up we are on the path of life. A mere mustard seed of this tender lull fulfills every desire and surpasses all our hopes. In the form of a pure gift, the wisest have sacrificed all they have to acquire this buried treasure, while only the most childlike fully possess this precious pearl. Each human heart and the whole human adventure were born out of the hope that this silence holds for us.

We bear the image and likeness of this great mystery, and we live to make known its glory.  Never imposing itself, the secret of this immense solitude provides the space for self gift and self possession, of relation and communion, of action and contemplation. A hidden and humble quietude, if we deny it, it will deny us. It never abandons us, however, no matter how often we abandon it, because this eternal silence is faithful to itself. This mysterious speechlessness beckons between the beats of one's own heart, in the space between the inhale and exhale of a single breath, at the end of one thought and before the beginning of the next.

That we might know this ever-flowing Spring, the Truth who has always proceeded from the silent stillness of the Father's heart was conceived when this same Stillness overshadowed the woman's womb. Born in poverty and nurtured in exile, the Father's Son established the still point around which all of human history and each human heart revolve. Living among us, with every heartbeat, every breath, every thought, every word, every work until, climaxed in wordless cry and final breath, the silenced Word fully disclosed the great secret that the Father yearned to entrust to us in crucified glory.

When the Word humbled Himself in rejection, betrayal, humiliation, denial, injustice, and death, all this evil was at once implicated in the Father's silent love. Because the secret of the Father is more powerful than the rancor of sin and death, He raised His Crucified Word. In raising Mary's Son, He gave Christ's obedient love the power to raise all of creation, making all things new.

Having implicated Himself in our plight, the crucified Word can give us life even as we die in dissonant restlessness. Each of us can claim this Truth and cling to it even as our last life breath leaves us.  In all the noise and confusion that threaten to reduce us to mere cogs in the wheel of human industry, our union in faith to the Word of the Father makes us vulnerable to that tender silence that heaven knows.

Beyond the power of death, the hidden eloquence of God's immense love defines human existence.  So full, so rich, so beautiful -- all words fail, speechless adoration overcomes the soul - the same speechlessness that the Divine Persons share imprints itself in us. New meaning floods over our existences even now, in this difficult hour and in this grace filled moment. A saving silence rises above the silence of death and cacophony of sin.

November 10, 2017

On the Ocean of Christ's Love

The power of Christ is immense and at the same time hidden.  It is as if we were in the hull of a ship unaware of the great ocean on which we rest or even that we are in a ship at all.  We feel tossed and turned, and upset that this has disturbed our rest, completely oblivious that great currents are directing our ship homeward.  We are irritated with fellow passengers who are as ignorant as we are – and don’t you know that there are some rats on board as well, disgusting and frustrating us – even to the point that we think their stench is ours.

It’s time to wake up, shake off your slumber and to remember who you are.  You are a baptized son of the Most High and you are sailing forth on the great Bark of Peter, sailing across the ocean of Christ’s love to our Fatherland, to the place prepared for us – for the Father has made us for greatness.  You are not made for the filth of wrath or self-pity or scrupulosity – but to stand like a man on the shores of salvation and cry out to the Living God and be heard by Him, to His great delight! 

Remember who you are and do not let the rats distract you.  The rats are but demonic vermin who frighten, steal food and make a mess. Ignore them unless you can throw one overboard into immensity of the blood of Christ.  

To remember who you are, simply climb out of the hull of the daily grind and step out into the starlight of prayer. Walk across the deck of silence and do not fear the plank of solitude. Shake off the squalor of scrupulosity – and bath yourself in the love that holds up the whole Church.  

As you plunge into Christ, search for the Star of the Sea – her light reassures you that you have found your way.  Let her maternal presence comfort you as a mother her son – for she understands your agony and stands with you through it all – just as she did her own Son.  Then refreshed, cloth yourself anew with Christ and climb back down to the hull and give your fellow travelers a word of hope.  This is your great mission and purpose. 

October 8, 2017

The Dynamism of Truth's Splendor in Prayer

The splendor of the truth is a mystery discovered by the obedient, and this obedience, explains Saint John Paul II, is not easy.  On August 6, 1993, on the very Eve of World Youth Day in Denver Colorado, the Pilgrim Pope proposed anew the Church's moral tradition. He did so precisely because the question about how one should live this life is the question that the Church is sent to help men and women discern. It is a question that opens to and ends in prayer and praise. It is a question that reveals how a human being is simply a work in progress.  If we live well, an ever greater freedom and nobility is ours.  If we fail our task, we can be trapped in the prison of our own selfishness.

The truth contains its own compelling grandeur and its breathtaking horizons, but there is something in us that resists it. In his encyclical, Splendor of the Truth, Saint John Paul connects this to relativism and skepticism. No one can argue that the failure to rise to the occasion is an advancement of human freedom.  No one truly believes that doubting the possibility of human greatness makes anyone great. Yet, whenever we allow relativism or skepticism to have a foothold, it is always diminishing for everyone - whether in marriage and family, or in healthcare and services for the most vulnerable, or our schools and places of work, or in our neighborhood and the public square.

In an age of banal and odious nihilism, true greatness is realized in the humble recognition of what one ought to do in response to the truth, and the steadfast resolve to do it no matter what even in the face of one's own inadequacies. It is about faithfulness to our friends and to our commitments. It is also about the proper restraint and the readiness to give the benefit of the doubt. It is about vigilant awareness of one's own blindspots and the humility that allows another to help us see what we might have missed. It is about that courage that speaks the truth with love. John Paul II exemplified how such readiness to do what is right cannot be limited by selfish whims or lack of resolve in its devotion. Because he was steadfast in his love, he helped us see this freedom as taken up by Christ on the Cross to become a perfect offering to the Father.

The splendor of the truth, the radiance of what we ought to do, raises a great moral (and therefore, an inherently human) question: will we rise to the dignity that has been given us by God, or will we betray ourselves? Progress in human maturity, for an individual and for a society, depends entirely on how this question is answered.

This question is addressed in the depths of our hearts. It resounds in the ambiguous circumstances of the world. Resonating with our very being, it makes at once a gentle and irrevocable appeal, causing us to question our judgments and revisit our decisions. Those deaf to this call can be suddenly caught off guard by its beauty, and even those who are vulnerable to its sound never cease to be amazed and challenged.

For a heart vulnerable to this kind of beauty, the gravity of what is at stake draws it out of itself. There is a freedom from "self" when something more wonderful than self-concern has seized a soul. Such a heart discovers the freedom to let go of every blinding bias. Impossible situations cannot thwart its hope. Its resolve and integrity echo more loudly than the cacophony in which it would seem to be engulfed. Under the shadow of truth's splendor, the heart that is attentive has found ground to stand on,  and in the shade of this peace, love has a place to make its stand.

Silent prayer knows this splendor. The soul that attends to this still small voice knows that to render what this splendor evokes is to be filled with a fullness of life. Such a soul will suffer the truth in silent prayer because it knows that to fall short of the opportunity at hand is to diminish the whole of humanity. Indeed, when the prayerful find a way to be obedient to the appeal of the truth, they have "standing" in the shadow of this splendor -- and by their standing magnify a little of heaven's light and warmth in a world that has lost its way.

August 15, 2017

The Assumption of Our Lady -- A Sign of Hope

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Assumption - a mystery of Mary, the Mother of God. She was raised above this world to be a sign for the Church of the New Creation that God is bringing to completion in our midst.  By God's power, a love stronger than death has raised up a woman and mother to point us to the victory of good over evil, and to be a sign of the greatness to which each one of us has been called. Death and failure, inadequacy and weakness are not the last word about human existence. Instead, when God assumed Mary into heaven, He revealed that the great truth of our lives is found in Him, that He is always ready to save us from meaninglessness and to establish us in His peace. This is why the Church proposes the mystery of the Assumption of our Lady for our belief.

To believe that Mary is assumed into heaven is to believe that Christ is capable of raising our frail humanity above all the powers that threaten it. No matter how dark and cold things in this life become, no matter how nihilistic political and cultural forces, none of this can prevent God from realizing the plan that He has for our lives if only we will believe in Him and the immensity of His love.

To believe that God has accomplished such a wonder for Mary is also to believe that He has found a way for humanity to fulfill its ultimate purpose in the very face of all that opposes it. We are after all, notwithstanding all our sin, first and foremost creatures of praise, of thanksgiving, of prayer and of love. Through the faith of this woman the fruitfulness of God in the human person has been unleashed  - divinity reaches into humble humanity and creatures formed from earth's lowly dust find access to the glory of heaven. In claiming this for Mary, one is claimed by the same sanctifying mystery -- a mystery of perfect praise.

To believe that Christ raised His Mother body and soul into heaven is to believe that God has not lost sight of anything that is good, beautiful and true about who we are and what we are created to be. It is to believe that what is concrete, particular, and unique about our lives, our bodies, and our hearts is all precious in the eyes of God and not a barrier to union with Him. This world is for God the place where He has chosen to reveal His greatness. He is ready to help us make a beautiful offering of the life with which we have been entrusted just as Mary made the same offering of her life.  He is ready to ignite our lives with the fire of His love so that every moment, every relationship, every dream and every hope resonates with a fullness of being and life that nothing can diminish -- even when everything seems turned against it, just as a sword pierced her heart too. Here, just when we need it the most, the Daughter of Zion becomes a reminder that the Living God not only knows us, but gazes on us with tender love and immense compassion. 

August 11, 2017

A Prayer for Peace

Under the shadow of the Father's glory, humanity is established in peace -- whether as individuals, or families, or whole societies. This is more true and real than all the passing circumstances of this world below, no matter how evil or catastrophic they might become. Under the shade of this glory, Christ purifies and illuminates our whole human experience so that all that is cold and dark is being made radiant with divine warmth. This is the reason for our hope.

If we persevere in our hope, this very glory visits us through faith in Jesus with every humble cry for his help. Even when we run out of the right words to say, the Holy Spirit teaches us to express desires that no words can contain, holy desires that the Father longs to fulfill. Rooted in obedience to the Father's Word, such prayer shelters the whole world even as everything in the world falls apart. To learn to pray in this way is to overcome every fear and anxiety, not only in one's own heart, but in the whole world. It is to access a saving mystery that changes hearts and reveals new reasons for hope. It is the prayer that the world is longing for Christians to offer anew.

Come Spirit of Peace
Holy Comforter and Spirit of Truth
Convict us of our indifference
Convince us of our sin
Let us know again that human misery is not without limits,
that the victory of good over evil has already been won.

By the Mercy of the Father,
Cast down the mighty from their thrones
Scatter the proud in their conceit
Lift up the lowly

By the Blood of Christ,
Silence our rancor
Overcome our enmity
Give courage in the face of tyranny
Mercy for the plight of our neighbor
Compassion in offering forgiveness
Humility in seeking to be forgiven

Through the tender courage of Mary's Son
Vanquish the oppressor
Rescue the oppressed
Thwart the violent

Under the shadow of Eternal Glory,
Protect the vulnerable
Calm the anxious
Hear the desperate
Establish us in peace -

July 29, 2017

On Being a Friend of God

Someone asked how we know whether the Lord has truly disclosed His presence in prayer. After all, given how hard hearted we are, even the most beautiful experiences in prayer could be nothing more than a figment of one's own imagination. History in fact is full of those who have mistaken a projection of their own bloated ego for God. Without guidance for prayer and careful discernment, our lack of openness and humility before the Lord makes us vulnerable to self-generated spiritual feelings or even demonic fabrications.  Can the Lord really breakthrough our hardened hearts? Can we truly become His friends?

When prayer is open to the Word of the Father, completely surrendered to Him in love, abandoned with trust, humble and reverent before His sovereignty, it becomes a fruitful conversation between friends. Such trust and confidence allows the Word made flesh to communicate His power in ways that produce spiritual fruit: joy, peace, love, self-control, perseverance. This power, the power of the Holy Spirit abiding in us, is always transformative in saving, gentle, and kindly ways. To be God's friend means to become like Him and to be in union with Him through listening to the Word spoken by the Father into our humanity. This holy conversation constitutes Christian prayer as a living reflection of the life of the Trinity.

Put differently, prayer that is truly vulnerable to God's self-disclosure in Christ Jesus results in lives transformed by love, for love, and in love. God is love and prayer implicates us in this holy mystery in the same way that true friends are implicated in one another's lives. He indeed has implicated Himself in our plight, and prayer is a humble movement of love and gratitude in response to His saving presence in us. A transformation first and foremost of one's own life, the power of this love extends out from the person who prays to everyone God has entrusted to him - from one's closest family member to the perfect stranger or even enemy who Providence places in one's path.

The Father wishes to fully disclose His Word as an answer to the ambiguities that threaten our existence. He is never indifferent to our plight or far from it. He desires to entrust the Delight of His Heart to us without our placing any limit on what might happen when we receive this saving Word in this present moment. He wants this manifestation of meaning and love in the difficult circumstances that we face to be analogous to the way the Son has disclosed Himself to the Father from all eternity. He desires to act within our faith in the same way that He acts within His own Eternal Truth. He desires to do so precisely within the humble limits of the specific act of faith that the passing circumstances of this moment allow us to make. Though He is never outdone, it is true that the more magnanimous and generous our faith in His Word, the more magnanimous and generous we have allowed the Word to bear fruit in us.

If prayer is not fruitful, then it is likely that it lacks the faith that allows the Father to act in the way that He desires. Fear of Him, lack of trust in Him, the need to be in control of His saving action, gluttony for psychic experiences, greed for certain spiritual outcomes - all of this can impede the kind of faith within which God desires to act in us. When prayer does not result in the desire to forgive or seek forgiveness, to repent or at least the desire to repent, to be converted from sin or at least the desire to be converted from sin, then such prayer has not been open in faith to a fruitful encounter with God. If my prayer does not implicate me more deeply in the plight of my neighbor or if it does not humble me to gratefully accept the help that God has sent to me, if it does not shake me from my conceit and make me weep over my hard heartedness, then whatever else happened in my prayer, what did not happen was the encounter with Christ by faith that the Father yearns for us to know.

How can we avoid this lack of fruitfulness in prayer? Pray for Christ's own humility. He gives this gift to those who ask for it with perseverance. The humility of Christ before the Father, this humility of the Son of Mary, is the humility of a child, of the least, of the poorest, of the most vulnerable. Such humility is the fertile soil that allows the Father to plant His Word in a way that will give life. Because the Father wants to sow His Word into humanity anew, anyone who has this humility, He makes His friend.

Not just any prayer, but the humble prayer of faith makes us a friend of God.  God is drawn to the humble, the powerless, the needy.  He identifies with them. When we identify with them by humble faith, He is drawn to us.  He offers friendship.  When one by humble faith becomes a friend of the Word of the Father, when one remains with this Word no matter what, when one allows this Word to speak into the deepest questions that haunt our existence, powerful things happen in the heart and in the world.

Like waves crashing against the shore, the revelation of the Word of the Father in such humble prayer baptizes the human condition anew. The hard-hearted idealism of our day might believe that it remains unmoved, but in ways that it cannot begin to understand, each new wave of that inexhaustible mystery has changed its center of gravity. The hard heart, like a coastal rock, becomes another opportunity for God to manifest the splendor of his power.

June 12, 2017

The Holy Trinity and a Foretaste of Heaven

Saint Elisabeth of the Trinity's spiritual mission is to promote mental prayer through devotion to the Holy Trinity.  One of her most important spiritual works is a prayer that she wrote just after her novitiate.  In this prayer, she makes a personal claim over the Trinity, "My Three",  "my All", "my Beatitude." Through learning to pray like this, those who are dedicated to prayer have found a way to deepen their devotion to the indwelling of the Divine Persons of the One God.

Saint Elisabeth helps souls move past meditations on the Trinity that are overly abstract and depersonalized.  She invites a vision of the Three-in-One and One-in-Three that is at once personal and Biblical. She sees a dynamic unity in the personal relations of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit that evokes from the soul a response of praise. The Father contemplates and blesses the truth His Word reveals in us and the Word of the Father yearns that we might know the same glory He himself knows. Through the Holy Spirit, this Great Mystery buries itself in the soul, overshadows it, catches it on fire, captivates it, and establishes it in peace. In this "infinite solitude" and "immensity" of love the soul forgets itself, loses itself, buries itself and becomes pure praise.

To allow oneself to be completely captivated by the Holy Trinity is to secure a foretaste of heaven. When the Trinity ceases to be a puzzle and becomes an object of devotion for the heart, the greatness of Christian prayer opens up. The eternal splendor that lives in such a soul is no fantasy or abstract thought - it is, in Saint Elisabeth's own last words, "light, love, life." Such a heavenly in breaking is not in the remote future, but a reality born already in time, making this present moment a kind of sacrament, "eternity begun, and still in progress." 

May 26, 2017

Divine Gentleness and Contemplative Prayer

Christ offered Himself in death for our sake out of love, to reveal the mercy and gentleness of the Father. Though the absence of love that ought to be stirs regret in the heart of God, the Almighty does not unleash His power to surmount human freedom. Instead, He restrains Himself because He knows His love is more powerful than our evil, and He has confidence in the goodness that He has sewn into our hearts. This confidence in what He created us to be is why the Father sent the Son into the world. The Son, at the right hand of the Father, testifies to what is most true about humanity and the drama of its existence. Humanity is made to know the love of the Father, and through Jesus, even in the face of all our failures and wickedness, this Divine Dream is realized.

Moreover, the supreme gentleness of God toward humanity is offered to all those who believe in the Risen Lord here and now. With all its unrestrained coercion and bitter aggression, the world cannot surmount the humble kindness of God. To believe that Christ has been raised from the dead and ascended into heaven means to believe in the gentleness of the Father over humanity, each individual, every relationship, every event, all of history. Christ reigns so that we might cling to this truth with our whole existence.

Such faith does not lash out or loose patience. Though it appears powerless to the world, it is never anxious or fearful. It does not sit in judgment over others and it does not need to be in control -- although it orders everything with great delicacy.  Always subtle, it does not manipulate or coerce. It has no need to be competitive, but always seeks the last place. Neither does it "wish away" misery or lose courage when it is time to speak truth.It has the strength to love in the face of evil and to remain constant even as the world crumbles around it. This is because such faith keeps itself enclosed in the gentleness of the Father and never acts except that this gentle love might be manifest anew.  Such faith alone provides space for Divine Gentleness to abide in it.

When we spend time making our hearts vulnerable to the gentleness of the Father, something divine is restored in us -- we who are in the image and likeness of the gentle Trinity  Such silent prayer finds this transforming gentleness in the face of Christ for this is what the Word of the Father came to reveal to us. Completely given to us, completely given in love, the Word of the Father speaks this holy gentleness into the core of our being - if we humble ourselves and ask, bow our heads and pray, a loving movement of heart welcomes the love so gently offered to us.

His face shines on us wherever His power is most hidden - in our neighbor's distress, in trying circumstances, in rejection. In this light, the rancor of our hearts is stilled and we find the courage to repent of our indifference. But to find what is hidden we must go into mysteries our natural powers cannot see. The holy silence of contemplative prayer hides the soul from itself and makes it subject to a kindness that it cannot understand. Christ's gentle gaze that such prayer discovers hides us in the gentleness of the Father, Captivated by this gaze, we find ourselves moved to completely give ourselves in love to Him and to those He entrusts to us. 

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.