December 29, 2018

The Holy Family and Contemplative Prayer

The Holy Family is the first school of contemplative prayer.  One way to know the truth of this is to visit the Holy Family in prayer. St. Francis brought the manger scene into the churches that he rebuilt precisely to build up such prayer. St. Ignatius also invites us to use our imagination to ponder this same mystery. Christmas carols also take us to this same contemplation if we let them.

This spiritual exercise best begins by visiting a manger scene, making the sign of the Cross and calling to mind the presence of God. Sometimes we can be too mechanical about this, taking too much for granted, and this is a mistake. His presence is remarkable. He is closer to us than we are to ourselves, holding us in existence, and at the same time, waiting for us to hold Him. Calling to mind His presence then is always in the form of a person encounter, a heart to heart, a mystery that deserves the complete attention of all the powers of our being. The Lord who relied on Joseph and Mary in His infancy also relies on us, entrusts Himself to us.

As we allow this truth to sanctify our minds, if we prayerfully turn to the Gospels, our imagination can begin to probe the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke. The power of our imagination can search for Mary and Joseph on their flight to Egypt. Or else, we can imagine them on their frantic search for Jesus in Jerusalem. The revealed drama that they endured puts Jesus at the center - everything is always in relation to Him, bringing them into a deeper relation to one another. We might take in the surroundings, sounds and smells that live in the silences of the Gospels; and then the search the faces of Mary and Joseph to discern the paradoxes of tension and peace, prayer and practicality, anxious concern and mutual confidence. When we carefully search the devotion of their hearts revealed in the Scriptures, without realizing how, our own heart can suddenly be revealed.

In the Biblical images, each verse invites us more deeply into the vast horizons of empathy born in contemplative prayer. Here, with the Holy Family, we discover and can even feel that this empathy has a poignantly familial tenderness to it and a fierce dedication driving it. Yet the Bible allows us to share this tenderness with them - their own fierce solicitude for Jesus and familial devotion is passed on to us through the Church.

Ripples on the surface of a deep mystery follow from this. If the concern that Joseph and Mary shared for the Christ-child can rouse our hearts to deeper devotion, then the drama of other hearts in relation to Jesus also belong to us in prayer in some way. And, the anxious concerns and peace that we ourselves know in prayer are also not meant to be carried by ourselves alone, but through the ministry of the Church, by the whole Family of God together in communion. This mystery of communion is why we must never forget the heart of the Church - that place were tenderness and dedication spring just as it sprung in the heart of Mary and Joseph as they drew ever closer to Emmanuel. The familial empathy that impacts contemplation of the Holy Family is ultimately ecclesial. What we behold in the Holy Family is what should live in our own domestic churches, our families, our parishes.

Beautiful silences in mental prayer and the mystery of communion in the Church coincide in the Holy Family. Mary and Joseph shared a devotion that was not individualistic but always in relation and bringing all things into relation in them and between them. The silences they knew were filled with this very fullness of encounter and recognition. If we consider their shared devotion to the Christ-child, they teach us how to protect the gentle awareness of God's presence that has begun in each other too. The concern-in-common that we ponder in the stillness of their hearts is meant to become the concern that lives in our hearts as we strive for a deeper communion in the Church. Such love implicates us in each other's life of faith with all the tension and concern that flows from this -- a mystery that defined the very life of the Holy Family.

December 28, 2018

Holy Innocents, the Sanctity of Life and Contemplation

The joy of Christmas unveils the abuse of power, disrespect for life and irrational fear of every age. The Christ-child always comes with blessings of peace, but governmental abuse of power plot against Him and our hatred toward life is continually unmasked. There have always been pharaohs and kings who have shed innocent blood. God is never indifferent. The violence that we neglect is the evil that He wages war against. Prayer cannot be indifferent to this spiritual reality: the innocents massacred by Herod speak to us through the innocents murdered in abortion - prayer helps us hear this voice.

As was the case with Herod, the blood on our hands reveals the extent of our resistance to the Lord of Life. Our own governments are no more righteous than was his.  Our fears and fury not any less than his. Our abuse of power no less grave than his. Our sin is greater because he only violated a village, we have desecrated motherhood itself, making pregnancy the most dangerous time of a baby's life in our society. If Herod made holy Bethlehem a place of wailing and oppression, our judiciaries and legislative bodies have made the life-bearing womb a place of death and political opportunism. How do we rediscover our humanity after we have indulged the inhumane?

In prayer's determination, it knows that we may drive the Lord of Righteousness into exile from our hearts, but He bides His time and waits to do battle on His timetable, not ours. We might cast around violently, but His saving presence returns at His own good pleasure. Prayer that does not give up hope knows how the Christ-child vanquishes our hostility and lays siege until we open the gates.

If our hearts are hardened and we do not know how to trust, prayer can be a school of trust and vulnerability before the Lord. In prayer's confidence, it knows by His purity, He returns to free us from our lust for power, pleasure and possessions. By His gentleness, He enters our hearts to liberate us from our gluttonous attachments to rancor and wrath. By His humility, He undoes our pride.

If bitterness and anxiety have robbed us of peace before God and our neighbors, prayer is the treasury of patient endurance that attains all things. In the patience of prayer, our secret mean-spirited judgments will be unmasked so that we might beg to be freed from them. The murder and adultery that live in our hearts will be unveiled so that we might repent. The greed and envy that we plow will be uncovered so that we might try another yoke and a lighter burden.

If anger, cruelty, and vengefulness imprison us, the patient kindness of the Lord works to liberate us in prayer. What social or psychological power can stop Him? Herod's massacre, the blood of abortion, and other crimes against humanity do not stop the saving mission of the Messiah. For the Anointed One of Israel and the Savior of the Nations is not thwarted by malice of any kind. Nothing can resist His power.

The Risen Lord knows the immensity of the love of the Father is an abyss much deeper and more powerful than the abyss of misery we have made. His saving presence communicates this conviction when we avail ourselves to its silent splendors. In personal and intimate ways, He speaks in silences to the humbled heart, piercing through our indifference and giving us real power and strength to begin again. In such prayer, the desire to do penance is born and pathways of restitution opened that were previously impossible to find. Peace and joy are born even when all seemed lifeless. In all this, prayer is amazed over how much more powerful is His love than the evil we have done. No matter the sin, whether personal or societal, His mercy heals -- if only we are determined, confident and patient with Him.

December 27, 2018

In the Beginning, the Word

The Gospel of John begins with a battle cry. Its declaration challenges nihilistic powers and impulses at work in our society and in our hearts.  It raises a meaningful standard around which human existence rallies. What is this standard, this challenge, this battle cry? At the very origin of all that is and of each one's own life resounds the Word of the Father - and the beauty that He unveils is the very hope we need in life.

Sovereign, generative and beautiful, the infinite fullness of this Eternal Word is manifest in the very multitude of created beings, bringing harmony where ever freely welcomed and even before being welcomed, already ordering everything so that the miracle of each free personal encounter might happen. And so the miracle of Christmas where God entered the world of humanity without absorbing or diminishing the meaning of man but instead unveiling its fuller truth, the truth about the human heart that the Father has pondered from before the foundation of the world.

This miracle has happened because of who God is. At once One in Three and Three in One, the Word made flesh reveals the mutually peaceful self-disclosure and jubilant recognition of truth and love that He shares with the Father from all Eternity. Such communion does not diminish, absorb or surmount but beholds, shares and delights in the Other. Out of His goodness and wisdom, God has freely chosen to raise humanity into this very communion of magnificent mutuality by a sheer gift of grace. And so the Word became flesh.  Embodied in our poverty, the Word does not overwhelm or absorb, but dwells with us. How can the Infinite dwell with what is finite? He arranges everything so that what has been summoned into existence might more fully become what it was meant to be.

In this present world as is true in the world that is yet to come, this is true first and foremost of His own Mother by whom He became flesh and made His dwelling among us. In being born in a particular moment of history through a particular woman of a particular people of all particular place, the Eternal Word sanctifies all space and time, transforming all of it into a place of encounter for every heart, of every time and place. In not overcoming particularity of human existence or surmounting the frail limits of manhood, his birth changed our very weakness and poverty into the dwelling place of the Almighty.   

So it is with us in the particularity of our lives. We fear that welcoming the Word will make us uncomfortable and inconvenience our lives -- and so it does, but for great purpose and the healing of our humanity. We are accustom to our sinfulness and familiar with the cycles of life and we suspect that He offers something that will shattered the prison we have built for ourselves.We would rather an impersonal absolute, abstract and far away from the concrete grit of our daily existence. Even if our dreams seem subject to futility, we resist the One who has come to free us from what is futile. Our fears betray us even as we are trapped in self-contradictions. There He is, as vulnerable as a newborn babe, waiting for us to lift Him into our arms. If the Light who was from the beginning is to evoke hope beyond a vague sense of nostalgia, if He is to illumine more than a what the limits of hubris can know, if He is to help us find ground firm enough to support the weight of human existence, He could never render meaningless the noble desires of our hearts - for what is good and true is what He has come to save. 

When He manifests the tender love of the Father, He does not wish to overthrow our freedom or to diminish our personal excellence. The obedience that welcomes the compassion that He manifests discovers a hidden capacity to believe in love though love seems so absent, to make a new beginning even as all things seem to be coming to an end, to set out with fresh hope in the very face of disaster, to fight with renewed purpose though the battle seem impossible to win, to endure all that passes with assured confidence in what will not pass away, to stand for what is right no matter the cost because the price has already been paid, to begin something beautiful for God because the Word has already begun something beautiful in all that He has begun for us.   

December 26, 2018

Contemplation of Christ's Poverty

While the world wonders over power and politics, the Church turns her gaze to the poverty of Christ. Wealth and influence evoke desire and disappointment, but the vulnerability of God is the sure ground of a meaningful existence. To contemplate Christ born of Mary plunges one's whole being into this vulnerability. Conversely, when being in control and making a name for oneself are no longer confine our gaze, the hunger and thirst of the Christ Child nourishes the heart and quenches the spirit.  So, the Church invites us to lower ourselves and enter into the silent stillness of Divine Love.

To enter such prayer, believe in His presence ... not as an idea, but a reality, an inexhaustible mystery entrusted to you in this very moment. Riches untold are found in this Divine poverty knocking on the door of your heart. Let Him in and He will let you in. Are you anxious about many things? Cast your cares on Him for He cares for you. Do you doubt that His mercy is offering you a second chance and a new beginning? Believe that He did not come to condemn but to save, and behold how He makes all things new.

With the eyes of her who is made holy and immaculate, lift your eyes to the visible Image of the Invisible God who took on our frail humanity with the undaunted resolve to accompany us through every sorrow, even humiliation and death.

With the mind of Mother Church, let our thoughts ponder this Word in swaddling clothes whose revelation of the Father begins and ends in a wordless cry of love.

As members of His Body, let our imaginations be drawn to the Bread of Angels in that manger in Bethlehem for He is come to be the spiritual food of humanity.

With the eagerness of Bride of Christ, let our ears listen for the silence of Creation's great joy in those bleating of sheep and mysterious anthems in the heavens.

With the Heavenly Hosts before the throne, let our prayers rise like incense as we take in those strong earthy smells that the Lord first knew until our knees find ground to kneel on.

As the privileged children of the People of God, let the affections of love in us be roused into action by the tears, smiles, dreams and songs of angels, shepherds, Joseph and Mary. 

December 22, 2018

Christian Prayer and the Incarnation

With the Word of the Father, the words of Christian prayer are born from the Virgin's Womb. Such was the mystery of prayer learned first by the One who Believed as she felt Him ready to enter the world. It is not seized by force or mastered by practice. The result always exceeds expectation but can never be calculated. This prayer can only be welcomed as a gift and requires that humble reverence without which no love is ever possible. There is no other prayer that the human heart can offer that is given to us as this prayer has been given.

Just as she carried the Lord in her womb before His birth, every prayer offered in Christian faith also carries Him. Since her "fiat", the Word of the Father has never stopped coming and with each advent, He prepares a new theophany whenever a heart says "yes" to Him. Each new word of prayer offered by faith in Him makes space for Him to be born, and opens unseen human poverties and miseries to Divine Peace and Glory.

As she waited for that first Christmas, filled with wonder, the humble Handmaid knew the mystery first conceived in her heart by obedience would soon be heard and seen in the shadow of the Almighty. She must have been amazed that the very vulnerability of His prayer, even when only an infant's cry, would pierce the heart of the Father and unveil the deep things of God. Her mind must have bathed in astonishment over how His prayer would echo at the center of human history and in every human heart. Did she guess by the way it drew her that His prayer had the power to draw all men back to all that is noble and true about humanity, and to all that is good and tender about God?

She must have wondered over that mysterious silent love by which He raised His Heart. If she felt this in her womb, could she see with her heart that His canticle of love would not be dimmed even when He suffered death? She nonetheless believed that the humble glory of his unvanquished petition would make powerful knees bend and haughty heads bow down. By the invincible hope of His cry, she still rejoices that the prayers of those who believe stand in the midst of hardship and shine bright against the darkness.

It is possible to learn such prayer in these finals days before Christmas. These are words that are learned by an obedience that suffers, progresses and dies in love just as He did.  The Man of Sorrows is the Way that prayer must walk if Christian faith is to attain what it seeks. The Just One is the Truth who makes true the desires of the Christian heart. The One Crucified by Love is the life for all those who, by prayer, die to themselves and live no more this earthly life. A wondrous gift is offered in the simple surrender that would turn again from sin, persevere in love and invoke His Name; and that prayer that amazed the Mother of God becomes also the prayer coming to birth in the heart. 

December 18, 2018

Gabriel - The Angel of Advent

When St. Gabriel appeared to a humble handmaid, he became the first evangelist.  Through the meeting of the archangel with this woman of faith, heaven evangelizes earth.  Sent from above, the heavenly power makes known a truth that has humbled all of heaven, and the humility of this virgin welcomes it in faith.  He does not come to overwhelm, frighten or oppress this creature full of grace. He comes with a greeting and a word of courage to this Daughter of Zion. He makes known what her intelligence could not fathom. Divine promises are fulfilled in an unanticipated way. The unimaginable message surpasses every hope. By the ministry of an angel, the Word is conceived first in the human heart, but then in the womb - and through this heart, every heart has new hope, and through this womb, all wombs made sacred.

December 17, 2018

Gentleness of Advent

As the Christmas mystery draws near, we are tested by Divine Gentleness to a greater love. Our meanness of spirit is revealed in flashes of anger over something trivial or in a bitter judgment of heart that we want to forget, but find ourselves unable to let go. We wound with a glance and kill with a single whisper. Even our smiles in a tense moment betray hostility. In all of this we confront how countless banalities and irrational judgments threaten our freedom to love. We also discover our sluggishness toward God. We distract ourselves from the promptings of the Gentle God because they are inconvenient, and then we wonder why He seems so distant.

For all this, we have reason to hope and our hope is not in vain. Divine Love is not content to allow us to wallow in self-pity or wrath. The Almighty permits our failures only so that a greater victory might be ours. He knows what we face and He has taken our side, implicating Himself in our plight. He enfleshes Himself in our hearts and works to be brought to birth in our actions. The Just Judge tests only to encourage us to turn to Him again and to allow Him to reveal the perfection of His power in our weakness.

If we have fallen, it is not too late to ask the Lord to lift us up. If we have wounded a heart that is close to us, ask the Lord for the humility to admit fault and make reparation. He will give this grace. If we cannot forgive or forget an offense, submit to the Holy Spirit who teaches compassion and how to intercede for those who have hurt us.  Our mysterious Advocate will not fail us. Above all, cling to the love of God when love seems impossible. Love rebuilds what we have destroyed, and whatever it costs in prayer and sacrifice, it is worth the expense. For in the grace filled effort to love, our inadequacy is met with a Divine caress.

December 16, 2018

Rejoice, Daughter Zion

The joy of the Mother of God, in these days drawing close to the nativity, opens up new depths of the Advent Mystery. She personifies the New Jerusalem, and the title Daughter of Zion applies to her in astonishing ways.  She is an icon of the Church, the Bride for whom the Bridegroom comes. Mighty divine relations of Father, Son and Spirit impact frail human relations in her, not to destroy or diminish, but to renew in love. And in her womb, the Word made flesh is become her joy, and Her soul, in response, declares infinite magnitudes that this world cannot hold.

How can any frail human words proclaim the Almighty Word? How can this finite creature express infinite meaning and communion? Even still, something in her maternal heart explodes into action and no power in heaven or hell can hold her back. And because she personifies the Church, we who are members of Christ's Body are part of this very jubilation. We are, each of us, words of the Word made flesh. Because God draws close to us, our lives in their very particularity and limits are implicated in the joy of magnifying the infinities of Divine love.

Who could have guessed that the Lord's promises would be fulfilled in this way? The prophet Zephaniah commands the Daughter of Zion to shout for joy, and the Handmaid of the Lord exclaims, "My spirit rejoices in God my savior." He declares that the Lord, the mighty Savior, is in her midst, and she foresees that "all generations shall call me blessed."  He foretells that the Mighty God "will rejoice" over her and "sing joyfully" because of her, and she exclaims, "My soul magnifies the Lord."

To magnify the Lord, we must welcome Him with the surrender of our whole existence. We must make ourselves vulnerable as He has become vulnerable to us. This means whole mountains of sluggishness must come down and valleys of indifference filled with empathy for others.

John the Baptist's message help us make the crooked ways of our hearts straight. He knows that the Lord is close at hand and answers the anxious questions of those who know they were not yet prepared. If even he once asked "Are you the One?", do we have any hope of responding to the truth and light of the Word who comes to us?

The Daughter Zion is not discouraged or afraid of such anxieties, and she know the assurance that we need as the Word is conceived in our hearts. For she knows the question of the Baptist and the questions in our hearts have an answer. She knows this answer is not a puzzling proverb to quiet our minds or any clever technique by which we surmount anxieties. The answer is her Son, the Word of the Father who speaks into the whole earthly existence of our very being. She knows a simple act of trust in Him is greater than all fears no matter the threat we face. Her hope is grounded in the Word's triumph over evil and lives in the Holy Humanity that He has won on the Cross. This means Mary's hope lives in the Body of Christ, the Church.

The Daughter of Zion knows that the Lord has come to forgive sin and to defeat the enemies of holy humanity.  She ponders the words of the Word that live in His Body as His members These same words echo the Word made flesh in the world. Each saint is a new expression of the Word who has come, not to condemn, but to save. And we, the members of His Body are born as was He, not into a welcoming world, but into one in which we are not received. The Virgin is not dismayed by this and Advent invites us to see what she sees.

Mary ponders the greatness of the Lord in the hearts of those who are obedient to the Word. Betrayal, denial and abandonment in the Church are no more than the stammered syllables through which the Father whispers His mysterious love into our pain. The story that He entrusts to us does not end in misfortune. In the limits of time and space and in the brokenness of human misery, new joy fills the Virgin as the words of the Eternal Word are born anew in our midst.

December 14, 2018

The Mission of the Baptist in the Advent of the Lord

The mystery of John the Baptist cries out in a world whose love has grown cold. His voice tolls to awaken our dull consciences. He calls out to help us recognize the truth that only love knows. If we do not hear this testimony, it is easy to forget what it means to be, not only a Christian. but simply human. Christ comes for humanity and to prepare for Him, we must return to human tenderness. Such is the mission of the Baptist in the advent of the Lord.

If we would heed his message, God would make our hearts vulnerable to the joy of Christmas. If we set his testimony free in our hearts, the Baptist's cry has the power to limit on what the world can claim from us. If we allow him to admonish us regarding the truth about marriage and family, about faithfulness and sin, about God and our neighbor, we would not be trapped or embarrassed by our own rash judgments. Let us live in denial no longer but obey his call to act justly and to love tenderly.

Obedience to the messenger prepares for the coming of Word of the Father. Yes, John still challenges us to step out of the shadows of sin and to wash in the waters of truth. If we are comfortable, the Camel-hair prophet makes us uneasy.  If we are arrogant, his message humbles us. If we are confused, he is there to clarify. If we are discouraged, he helps us find the heart we need. Will we recognize the hour of our visitation?

In the lifeless desert of secular living, who can help us find Living Water? Indulging heaps of technology, we have become spiritually dull. In our self-conceit and self-interest, we live imprisoned in our egos. Fearing inconvenience, we have robbed ourselves of the greatness of God's love. Condemning our enemies and exacting payment, we owe debts that we cannot repay.  Thus, the Forerunner comes to cut through our fear, insobriety, and lust for control - and makes us humble before the truth once again.

Where is the wilderness in which he ministers? This testimony echoes in the distressing outburst of an autistic child, and is heard in the quiet sobs of a grieving widow. It resounds among the brokenhearted who have lost it all and even thunders among the cynical who risk being lost forever. This cry is familiar to the powerless and poor. It is repeated by the forlorn and the forsaken.  It is the hope of the homeless and the humiliated.  The diseased and the dying draw close to it.

To hear this spirit of Elijah, withdraw into your heart, be still and attend to your conscience.  When you hear his voice, do not delay but act. Obey his instruction to confess your sins and to make reparation for what you have done and not done for others. Let him admonish you to not abandon those that God has entrusted to you. He tells you to reconcile with those in your household and to persevere with one another out of reverence for Christ. Return kindness for injury. He bids you to seek forgiveness from those you have hurt and to forgive those who have wounded you. If someone were to say this is impossible for men, he would be right. Do not be discouraged but listen again to the Baptist: he beseeches you to go to the Bridegroom and ask Him for the grace - for he knows that all things are possible for God, and that the Lord fulfills His promises in unanticipated ways.

December 11, 2018

Our Lady of Guadalupe

This mysterious Woman came to the poorest of the poor with a mysterious word of hope when hope was most needed. She did not declare it to the powerful. She did not entrust it to those comfortable with life. She did not go to someone highly regarded in the world. Instead, she put her hopes in a simple and hidden heart of a humble man in a very broken time.

He thought he could avoid her impossible task, but she found him. He thought he was not worthy, but she told him not to be afraid.  In the end, while it was neither convenient nor comfortable, he obeyed her maternal request, and his obedience allowed her to awaken faith in those whose dignity was on the line.

This mysterious Woman comes again. Entrusted to us as our Mother, she is a gift from Jesus who has given us everything. Holding nothing back, He hopes that we will take her into our homes. Are we simple and hidden enough for her to find us? Are we meek enough for her to rely on us?

For many have forgotten hope and many more long for peace, and she cannot be indifferent to their plight. She wants them to know her Son. If we welcome it in prayer, her maternal love gives us courage to witness to the Savior of the World.

December 10, 2018

Advent's Light

The Beloved of the Father is coming to share His joy with you, a fullness of life that not even death can contain. Enslaved by the banality of the work-a-day world, our Deliverer did not create us to be in bondage to material pursuits. Calling us out of the exile of sin, He offers freedom from ignoble relationships or selfish insobriety. Oppressed, we have been weighed down by sorrows that no one was ever meant to carry. Now, He runs to us to make our burden light. He advances to bring us home, sons and daughters of His Father, by the very glory of Heaven.

The Mighty God draws near and it is no time to be timid but to lay hold of the promises made to us. The Sun of Righteous rises up in splendor, it is time to open the windows of our hearts to the radiance that justifies us. Our Champion will be delayed no longer: now is the time to rid ourselves of anything that stands in the way of God. Myriads of messengers go before Him to stir us out of our sluggishness and to encourage us on our way. If we once fed on fleshpots that cannot nourish freedom, now He is ready to feed us with Manna from Heaven.

The Word of the Father beckons us in the innermost sanctuary of our very being.  The anxieties of the moment do not deserve our allegiance. The concerns of the day are not worthy of our worship. Let our ears be attentive to His Wisdom. Let us make straight the pathway by reconciling with those whom you have offended. Let us knock down all prideful thoughts and fill in every bitter valley with forgiveness. The One who comes for us declares, "Do not fear to confess your sins and to do penance out of love for what I have done for you. Dark voids and difficult inadequacies do not have the last word. For Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it."

December 8, 2018

Our Lady in this Time for Prayer

Prayer is needed in these difficult days. The darkness and cold we feel are not merely physical realities related to the time of year and weather conditions. People have forgotten the Lord and they do not have time for God. Prayer can change all of this ... but we have not yet welcomed the Word of God and answered this call to prayer.

Homeless, the Word made flesh travels this world now as He did while in his Mother's womb. Crowded out of the lives of those He loves and having the doors of their hearts shut on Him, there is no room for Him to stay. He would be conceived in the minds of those to whom He has drawn close and born in their actions, but His own would not receive Him. He has no where to lay His head.

Our Lady is just as much part of this story now as she ever was. For she tirelessly journeys forward determine that Her Son shall come into the world anew. She is not discouraged by rejection, but has confidence in the goodness of every heart she meets. She is not afraid to accept whatever space we give her Son, no matter how lowly ... for she sees it as a gift from the Father above. Even the most humble stable in our hearts will suffice for her - for she already knows manger in which her Son. might be safely kept.

Thus, the Mother of the Lord comes to us in the dark cold of these heartless times. She is not discouraged by our failures but she hopes in us instead. She who gave her "fiat" to the angel understands the greatness of the human vocation.

She knows the courage that a prayerful life demands of us. She also knows the joy of trusting in what the Lord has said. She knows that this humble trust can change our lives and the world. Most of all, she longs for us to know the presence of Her Son as she knows Him, and with maternal solicitude she prays for us. 

December 6, 2018

A Movement of Heart

When I am too tired to collect my thoughts, when there are too many failures to confess, a simple movement of heart becomes my prayer. I ponder, or try to remember, the closeness of His promised Presence though I feel far from Him and feel Him not at all. Having fallen short of the mark yet again and weighed down by the day's anxieties, holy fear forbids me to presume but commands me to rely on Divine Mercy. A wave of compunction wants to surface, but my mind is too sluggish to bear more than a feeble sigh. Even as I suffer this void of devotion unaware, a more simple movement takes hold. Familiar with my weakness, the Lamb who has come into the world tenderly sighs in my sigh and patiently joins my pathetic offering to His magnificent sacrifice of praise. Without my knowing how, the Good Shepherd is leading me out of self-occupation and into great silence - all He needs is a humble act of trust. In the shadow of so great and so undeserved a gift, I struggle to lower my head and bend my knees, but not in vain: His prayer gently moves my prayer when I can pray no more.

December 5, 2018

The Trials of Advent

As we wait for the coming of the Savior, many trials and challenges must be faced. Advent stakes out a battlefield that we must hold for the coming of the King. This vineyard of the Lord is worthy of our toil and labor. If others plot to take away the land that belongs to Him, their violent successes are not the last word.

When all seems to be lost and the darkness too heavy to endure, Advent's quiet witness reminds us to lift up our head and to stand our ground. We have better reason to be more confident in the Almighty's kindness than we are in our failures or the wickedness at work around us. In the shadow of the Lord's coming, we are never tested beyond our strength even when hostile forces and bitter circumstance seem to triumph.

It is to purify us of every doubt that the Refiners Fire burns in our lives even as unexpected disappointments crush us and we suffer the loss of all things. Others have patiently endured much more than have we, and no one who persevered was ever disappointed. The pure gold of fortitude, the myrrh of patient endurance, and the incense of tested prayer are noble gifts to offer the Deliverer who draws near. 

December 4, 2018

Advent's Hour

The hour is upon us to make straight the pathway of the Lord. It is time to straighten the crookedness of an indifferent life, to level pride's mountains, and to carefully fill in the absences of love that ought to be there. We must wait no longer for broken friendships to be reconciled, for the bonds of married love to be renewed, for parents to take up again their dedication to their children, and for children to honor their parents anew. Tomorrow is too late. The time is here, now, for us to forgive our enemies and seek forgiveness from those we have offended.

Have we been impatient? Now is the time to take hold of ourselves and to choose to live for the joy of the Lord. Have we been harsh? Now is the time to submit our anger to the gentleness of God. Have we failed to speak for those who have no one to take their side? Now is the time to surrender our timidity to the Mighty Lord. Have we stewed over injury? It is not too late to plead mercy from the One who bore injury and bitterness for our sake. Have we sat in judgment over those who offended us? Now is the time to loosen the chains by which we have bound them, for the Vindicator draws near.

The Glory of God comes for us! Let us abandon anything that is not for the glory of God. Let us renounce what is merely convenient or comfortable - for what does love know of these? Let us leave behind discouragement and second thoughts - for what hope is found in what lies behind? Let us set aside our lack of faith - for how can doubt help us find the Face of God? Let us never settle for the conventional or sit on our laurels, for cowardliness never wins the day. Let us disavow what is not worthy of the high calling that we have received and dare embrace the new beginning that has been prepared for us.

Disguised in the lonely and lost, in the homeless and hungry, in the diseased and dying: the Judge of the Living and the Dead comes to us in the darkness of this Advent hour. It is not time to avoid His judgment. Let us go seek Him out so that His loneliness for human love might be relieved. Let us not fail to welcome the homeless One who knocks on the doors of hearts looking for a place to rest His head. He hungers and thirsts for justice, let us make no provision for sin in our lives or for indifference to our neighbor's plight. The Mighty King identifies with the rejected and abandoned. He abides with the lowly, the vulnerable and the afflicted as their very possession- woe unto us if we will not relieve their plight when only they can give us the Heart of God. He cannot bear the thought of those who suffer alone, so He suffers with them hoping for our help.

December 2, 2018

Advent's Sacred Silences

In the quiet of a room they sigh
In candle's glow they live under
An icon's shadow and an unheard cry
And the Truth-bearing words that thunder -
Those Sacred Silences who
    tenderly await the soul.

They speak of His coming, not delayed, but near
for etched in unknown depths, they say,
the same Image of the One whose patient tear
slays the heart and gives all away -
In those Sacred Silences who
    tenderly await the soul.

Let saving truth's grammar unbound
Those lips thirsting for syllables of love
To drink deep the wisdom in whose font resound
Those words below of the Word above:
As enveloped in great silences
  The soul awaits His Coming.

December 1, 2018

Vigilance, Fasting and Unexpected Graces

Keeping watch and waiting for the Lord is part of the mystery of Advent Prayer.
If we keep faithful to the discipline of this Advent,
a grace that we do not expect will seize us
and we will find ourselves plunged into the most beautiful paradoxes:

With Divine Power, the Word is coming in a new way, and
we cannot presume we will recognize Him.

Just as fasting from physical food
  keeps us spiritually hungry for the Bread of Life, and

Interrupting our sleep for prayer
  helps our hearts find rest in the Prince of Peace, and

Pondering His teaching with our hearts
  humbles our intellect and baptizes our imagination in glory:

So too setting aside our daily routine for the sake of our neighbor
  aids us in our quest
For the One who has set aside everything for us. 

November 30, 2018

Contemplation and the Final Judgment

Contemplative prayer is born in the silence that reverently adores the holiness of the Living God. No stranger to the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, such prayer is marked by familiarity with the deep things of God.  In the glory of wisdom's height and under the watch of holy fear, this tear drenched gaze of heart ceaselessly searches for the One who is Righteous and True. In the face of senseless horror and abuse of power, this song in the soul knows that the very mystery of human existence has a meaning that Divine Judgment stands ready to reveal.

With confidence in the goodness of the Father, such a sacrifice of praise mysteriously joins the hidden harmonies of the heavenly multitude. Established in this profound stillness, one's body is no longer limited to earthly purposes or spent on worldly dreams. Renunciation of comfort and convenience clears the ground so that the garden of this prayer can be planted. Discipline and determination tills the soil that this devotion makes fertile. This renewal of the mind surrenders to the yearning of divine love to be enfleshed in one's own existence. This panting for God breathes the air of humbled astonishment before the Almighty.

This tender ache knows both jubilation and blessed sorrow as the crucified Lamb of God definitively interprets all of human history and the meaning of each one's life. Contemplation rallies under this banner of love. The spiritual worship it knows advances the cause of heaven. The mystical wisdom it begets makes the world vulnerable to the glory of the Lord.

A heart on fire with the Holy Spirit in this way is not terrorized by the thought of what His judgements make known. Instead, as He reveals arrogance and casts it down, this soul crawls like a starving beggar utterly confident in His Mercy. As He sends the self-satisfied and haughty away empty, the emptiness of this ravished soul draws the Bridegroom. As He releases the heart knelt in adoration from all manner of captivity and self-made prisons, such a soul glimpses the Vindicator of the oppressed and wonders over the ways that He lifts up the lowly. This saving mystery, even as it waits to be revealed, already feeds the hunger and thirst of a soul who seeks the face of God.

November 24, 2018

Christ the King and the Courage of the Martyrs

Through the reign of Christ the King, martyrs raise Christian prayer into heights that the limited powers of this world cannot know. The King of Kings dwells in this place forever implicated in humanity's plight, sending His Holy Spirit of power, consecrating all creation in the truth.  Those who have joined His Body, the Church, are implicated in this very work. The sacred purpose of the Son of the Father will not be thwarted. That is why Revelations 11:3ff speaks about the undaunted witness of two mysterious figures who, though killed, rise up victorious against all hellfire. What is told about these witnesses is true for every martyr and serves as a standard for anyone who would witness to the love of Christ.

One becomes the subject of this heavenly reality through faith in the Lord of Lords. Faith that makes us subject to the Word made flesh frees us from this world even though we still live in it. Those who believe in the Risen Lord and who live by His love still live in this work-a-day world marked by the daily routine. They feel the tyranny of anxious circumstance and the urgent moment's  absolute claim over the attention of the heart. They are not unfamiliar with the popular conventions, learned cynicism, political agendas and cultural forces that enslave their neighbors.

Although in this very world, Christians are subject to it only to the degree that their faith fails them. By faith, they are subject only to the will of the Prince of Peace. Their confidence comes from Him. No longer subject to the commercial and political myths that define social relations, faith gives a higher vantage point. From this height alone is one able to see the true value that is at stake in an encounter and given the freedom to fight for it. Above the fray of the routine, for the sake of the Lamb, these witnesses continue to implicate themselves in the plight of those still subject to it by prayer and love, and here, in prayer's loving power, they fight to open up the vast horizons of truth for which longs the human spirit.

Who are they that they should live and pray in this way? As did Enoch and Moses, they walk with the Lord and call on His Name through it all. As did Elijah and John the Baptist, they bravely unmask every offense against human dignity, even when cloaked in social convention and moralistic disguise. Although certain defeat and death awaits them, as it did St. Peter and St. Paul, they still dare contend against the deepest enemies of humanity until their testimony is complete.

They reign with the Victorious One in the midst of every defeat, void and inadequacy. Even in utter disaster, their witness remains even if in the form of a dried up corpse. A horror to every worldly power, they may even be denied every last respect but they are unmoved. Their enemies may gloat over them, but only for a time with misguided hubris. Their works may appear to crumble into dust and blow away, yet the King has established through them what will not pass away. Like condemned criminals their cause might seem utterly lost, yet, as it is with their Crucified God, not even death can keep them down.

Reigning with the Lamb that was slain, they possess a freedom that allows them, even in the midst of total failure, to witness with courage. Their weaknesses is only a window for divine power. Their seeming foolishness none other than a fountain of divine wisdom. Their mortal end, merely the beginning of new life. In serving their Captain, they have found a liberty that rises above the narrow limits of time and space, a prayer that ascends to the very heart of God in a cloud of glory.   

November 21, 2018

The Invasion of the Word

Night's Darkness
The Word invades
In the solemn mirth
Of this very moment,
Under a multitude of veils,
Rejected but undaunted,
Resounding with meaning.

Hear these silent
Magnitudes of majesty,
In hidden untold splendor,
Bursting forth the more
Betrayed, denied, abandoned,
Suffering to be suffered,
Soft on beatitude's breathing.

A soul can ache with
Such sadness and joy
At once enkindled
By those harmonies
As still remain to be heard:
Hymns, anthems, canticles becoming
That heart, who raises whole creation into
Dawn's brightness.

November 18, 2018

Discerning God's Will

How do we know God's plan for our lives,
The particular pathway that He has prepared for us to follow,
The great purpose for which we are created,
The noble vocation bought for us by the blood of Christ?
The Lord implicated Himself in our Pilgrim plight,
And has already gone before us to our heavenly homeland,
If we search His heart, we will find every gift and virtue needed
To ascend with Him to the Father's glory:

Hope raises our eyes to this Holy Mountain.
Prayer unlocks this narrow gate hidden in our heart.
Wisdom lays open its wondrous horizons.
Devotion sets us across its threshold.
Faith is our guide on this mysterious pathway.
Understanding follows its unwavering course.
Knowledge frees from every distraction.
Counsel finds the cairns when the trail is difficult to discern.
Fortitude fights its foes and endures its painful sorrows.
Holy fear prevents us from looking back.
Love moves each footstep forward.

November 16, 2018

Prayers for those who have Died

My heart goes to those whose loved ones have died in the recent fires in California, in their aftermath as well as in so many terrible acts of violence. Clearly those of us who are close to these awful events cannot be indifferent and we must find ways to relieve the suffering of the living. But what about the plight of those who have died? Does our faith in Christ allow us to offer them relief and aid in their final journey to the House of the Father? If so, then we must pray for them, and for the friends and family that they have left behind.

We are implicated in each other's mysterious journey to God, even after death. We believe this because of the resurrection of the Lord from the dead and the reality of the Church in which Christ has established us. The Christ's own body and blood, soul and divinity are not remote from us, but given to us, even to the point that we nourish ourselves on Him and are made His members.

Hence, joined together in Him, in His Body, the Church, we go where the Risen Lord leads - and He always leads to a deeper solidarity, He in us and we in Him. Having blazed the trail from the valley of death to the Father's House, He is the Way from the depths of sin to the highest heavens. He leads us from the visible to the invisible, from time to eternity, from what seems senseless to what is most meaningful. No one can thwart His purpose.

As members of His Body, we trod this trail by a communion of prayers. This solidarity of hope includes prayers of our own and also of those who pray for us, and every prayer echoes with the cry that lives in the Heart of Christ. Whether we live or die, no power in heaven or on earth or beneath this world can break this communion of prayer. Indeed, when we pray and when others pray for us - it is truly our Immortal Lord praying in us. Wherever there is a reason for hope,  no matter how difficult the journey, who will set limits on the desires of His Heart or circumscribe the love He bears for each soul, especially those whose last moments seem eclipsed by agony?

By a communion of prayer, we journey in Him with one another from the first moment of faith until we arrive at last in the light of glory. By the simplest movement of heart and even the faintest effort to cling to Him, a happy ending awaits us even if in death everything seems engulfed meaninglessness. Not a movement we ever make on our own, but our own decision nonetheless, even as myriads of hosts rush to protect it and help it realize its hope. Thus, at death, when we are no longer able to journey on our own, His prayer through the Church carries us onward.

Love requires many difficult purifications and painful healings before we can stand before the face of the One who loved us to the end. No unaided human effort can endure these trials of love. Yet, we never face these alone, but always in the Church with Christ's gentle presence and His mighty prayer. Because He conquered death and because we are members of His Body, death cannot stand between us and the love of God. If Christ's prayer has triumphed over sin and death, then when Christ prays through us in His Church for our brothers and sisters who have died, whatever He asks for on their behalf is heard and granted by the Father.

By this exquisite solidarity of prayer, the Bride of Christ knows the way to the Bridegroom in both life and death. She knows this path to love. She knows it by love and She knows it for love. She knows even as it disappears from our sight at the last moments of this life. Though we cannot see it, the Body of Christ knows the passage that crosses the very threshold of heaven. Christ Himself bridges this abyss. Therefore, the Bride of the Lamb dares to pray, even for those who have died, by prayer that participates in Christ's own prayer. With a newness that this dying world cannot know, we who are bound together in the Church traverse with each soul the wounds of sin, covered by the blood of the Lamb and His own unvanquished hope, to enter the healing heart of the Trinity.  

November 14, 2018

The Rosary - Ladder to Heaven

A ladder of contemplation, the whole saving mystery of the Heart of Christ is given to us in this humble prayer called the Rosary. When we attend to the Scriptural prayers we repeat, the very mystery of the Word made flesh is given to us.  When we attend to the Biblical stories from which these prayers are drawn, we suddenly become part of the drama of salvation that God Himself has revealed. When we offer the intentions and heartache that often drives us to pray, without realizing it we are freed from our self-occupation and self-reliance. When we consider the immensity of Love to which this prayer points, we are moved to repent over our sluggishness and indifference. When we ponder the Woman whom we call blessed in this prayer, our hearts are plunged into wonder over this Mother who Christ so generously gave us from the Cross. When we ponder the same secrets that she pondered in her heart, without knowing how it happened, we find ourselves in solidarity with all the angels and saints of heaven, crying out "holy, holy, holy..."

November 11, 2018

The Radical Hope of a Generous Heart

Catholics and all Christians are called to live a radical hope - a hope rooted in the resurrection of Jesus from the Dead.  Since we believe that He has conquered sin and death, neither sin nor death can take away our hope.  Our conviction that good has triumphed over evil in the world spills over into our own lives. It gives us the freedom to be completely generous with the Lord because it knows that no matter how much is given, God has already given so much more. Those who ground themselves in the Word of the Father do not fear death or anything, for nothing can stand between them and the love of God.

Radical hope engages in battle. A hope that fights against fear is needed in our families and in the broader community. To be permissive seems like kindness but it is stingy. It lacks confidence in God who is at work in my neighbor. Failures to protect the most vulnerable steal away the hope of others nearly as much as it robs hope from one's own soul. The greed of such despair is only fully revealed under the shadow of the Cross, and it is in this same shadow that radical hope triumphs.

Before the Cross, we find the ground of God's hope for man and man's hope for God. Here, a mysterious Presence enfolds the misery of humanity in mercy. The Father's gaze searches sin and death and finds the loving obedience of His Son. In this mutual gaze, the Holy Spirit convinces us of sin and gives the courage to make a new beginning. Here, cowardice loses its power. The bravery to give all that one has is born. Let the tears that fall from our eyes lift us into prayer. By prayer, let us allow God to move us into action. From the smallest and most informal conversation to a public event where one's reputation is on the line, God is ready to act in and through us - ready to plant hope firmly in His Merciful Love.

November 8, 2018

Hidden Immensity and Secret Harmonies

A hidden Immensity of meaning, a fullness that has only begun to disclose itself, awaits us in the humble act of prayer. This is the Word of the Father. He makes known the truth in ways hidden behind what seems to be routine. This Great Stillness is disguised in the demanding circumstances of the moment. This Beatitude is the hidden solitude one can find even on a busy street. He speaks in the language of silences, most still to be heard, that haunts the noise of the work-a-day world. This Divine Glance is disguised in the lonely stare of a heart that thinks itself forsaken.

Nothing deserves our attention in the way that Divine presence ought to command ours. Fires may rage dangerously close. Floods might threaten. Gratuitous sudden violence leave its trail of broken lives and hearts. Family anxieties and difficult relationships might pile up in overwhelming ways. Menacing political and cultural forces might intimidate. Before our very eyes, the innocent, the marginalized and the weak may be grievously neglected, or harshly crushed, or used. All of this might rightfully require our attention for a time, and often demand decisive action. With time, all of this passes, but God does not change and the love He yearns for us to know is never offered the same way twice. 

For the Holy Trinity envelops and penetrates this whole brief moment of life we share together. So fragile and magnificent, such sorrow and joy all at once, this passing moment rushes to the Heart of the Lord - if we will let it take us there. This very moment was loved into existence - the idea of it so beautiful to God that He willed it should exist. We are bogged down in sluggishness and still something in it echoes and draws us. 

Let the secret harmonies of God draw us out of ourselves.  In ways that defy our ability to guess, the Three Divine Persons have already disclosed their Unity to us, and in this Unity, their Three-ness rings out more beautifully than any earthly music. The great symphony of this uncreated Love resounds at this very moment - and only prayer opens the ears of the heart to hear it.

November 7, 2018

In Praise of the Holy Trinity

In a retreat reflection that she wrote for her sister Marguerite, a mom with small children, Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity sets the life of heaven as the ideal to seek. Yet, she does not propose heaven as simply a remote future possibility. Through a complete surrender of our whole existence to God, the life of heaven is a way of life that begins now. This means that the glory that awaits us is the same glory already present to us now. We are meant to be the praise of this glory - creatures who make known the inexhaustible riches of God:

In Heaven, each soul is a praise of glory to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is because each soul is fixed in pure love. Each one "no longer lives its own life but the life of God" (St. John of the Cross).  The soul "knows itself", says Saint Paul, "as it is known by God." Its will the will of God. Its love the very love of God.  

In reality, the Spirit of love and power transforms the soul.  Given in order to supply what is lacking, as Saint Paul explains, the Holy Spirit accomplishes this glorious transformation in it (see Romans 8:26).  Saint John of the Cross affirms that for the soul that has surrendered to God, little is left to; by the power of the Holy Spirit, it attains the degree of which we are speaking here below! This is what I call a perfect praise of glory!

Heaven in Faith, 42.

November 6, 2018

The Saints' True Knowledge according to Saint Elizabeth

It is good to look into the soul of the saints and to follow them by faith right up to Heaven. They are completely luminous with the light of God. There, they contemplate Him face to face for all eternity. 

The Heaven of the saints is our homeland.  It is “the Father’s House” where we are awaited, where we are loved, where one day we too will be able to soar and rest in the bosom of Infinite love.  When we turn our attention to the sacred world that even in our exile envelops us, the world into which we can move ourselves – oh, how things here below vanish: all of it is for naught. It is all less than nothing. The saints for their part understood true knowledge so well. This knowledge makes us forsake all else, especially ourselves, so that we can soar to God and live only for Him! 

Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity, selected from L 184 – On November, 24, 1903, written to Mrs. Angles, the sister-in-law of Father Angles, a close family friend. After the death of her husband, Mrs. Angles became a Visitation Nun in the final years of her life.

November 5, 2018

The Eucharistic Heart of God According to Saint Elizabeth

Saint Elizabeth writes to her brother-in-law, a seminarian:

Nothing tells us more about the love in God’s Heart than the Eucharist. This union, this consummation of Him in us and we in Him, is this not heaven on earth? This is Heaven in faith while awaiting the vision face-to-face for which we yearn. When His glory appears, we will be satisfied for we will see Him in His light. Does not the very thought of such a meeting refresh you, this conversation with Someone so particularly beloved to you? All else disappears. It is as if you already penetrate the very Mystery of God.

May I be wholly ready to respond, wholly vigilant in faith, so that the Master can take me wherever He wishes. I wish to stay close to Him and to learn everything from Him. He knows the whole mystery, “The language of the Word is the gift's infusion.” Is this not so very true? He speaks to our soul in silence. 

I find this precious silence a blessing.  We have the Blessed Sacrament exposed in the oratory: what divine hours are spent in this little corner of Heaven. Here, we possess the vision in substance under the humble Host. Yes, one and the same, He who the blessed contemplate in light and He who we adore in faith. 

Selected text from Letter 165, to Andre Chevignard, June 14, 1903

November 4, 2018

The Measureless Measure

In 1904, in the days leading up to the Feast of the Presentation of Mary, Father Fages preached a retreat to Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity and the Carmelites of Dijon. In that retreat, the Dominican drew on St. Augustine to describe Mary as a model of contemplative souls. She magnified the Lord because of the love that lived in her heart, "Love, unmindful of its own dignity, thirsts to exalt and to increase the beloved: its only measure is to be without measure."

Saint Elizabeth sees this kind of love as the standard, rallying point and gravitational center for her life and the lives of her friends. Heaven loves without measure and this force of love is at work in our souls - if only we will make space for God.  She identifies love's measureless measure with the "riches of God's glory." The gravitational pull of this glory is drawing us to live "no longer our own life, but the life of Christ in us."  With this in mind, she prays to God "to fill you with this measure without measure." (see Letter 214). 

November 3, 2018

The Flowing Presence of the Holy Trinity

In a poem, John of the Cross describes the life of the Trinity as a river. He describes how this Personal Presence given to us in the Eucharist flows through the heavens and the earth. He even claims that this brimming River of Life surges through hell. Is God actually present where He is definitively and eternally rejected? If He can be present there, triumphant and just in the face of malice, how much more He reveals when the rejection is only indefinite and still confined by time.

As St John was tormented by his persecutors, he understood hell fire, and yet, he also knew that those fires could not constrain the Divine Presence. Not only through the very heart of evil, but through the evil that we cling to in our own hearts, this Living Water floods forth.  How can evil withstand this surge? How long will we resist Mercy's force?

Those who are moved to confess their sins and to do penance have felt this Almighty River. Ready to burst dams of bitterness and set limits on the power of sin and death for the price of a prayer, the currents of Divine Mercy cannot be contained or predicted. As this overflowing Flood surges through the sinful levies that we raise, tender tears begin to flow and snobs comforted by forgiveness realize a new beginning.

To help us see what the Divine Persons begins and causes to progress, Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity describes not a river but an Ocean. What mysterious Water holds us afloat on these unfathomable seas! Great tides pull us beyond what is comfortable and convenient. Deep currents can suddenly take us where no one can see. Yet, it is not to nothingness but to fullness of life the Divine Persons draw us.  Christ, the Radiant Star, captivates us and at the same time helps us navigate these Waters in which we lose ourselves. As we surrender, God surrenders - and the Holy Spirit renews this saving Mystery and the Father overshadows with His creative love anew.

Saint Elizabeth's Promise

Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity, before her death, promised to help her friends from heaven. She claimed that it would increase her joy to do so.  What she most wanted for her friends is that they should thrive, and that they should render-vous with her again in our heavenly homeland. Yet this homeland was not something that she envisioned in the distant future or remote from the heart. Instead, our true home, the place where we belong, for Saint Elizabeth, is the "Bosom of the Trinity" which is ours by a mutual indwelling - God in us, and we in God.  For her, prayer is meant to lead us out of ourselves and into a great silence that is vulnerable to the Presence of God, and such contemplative prayer knows communion with "infinite beatitude," not only in the glory that awaits us after this life, but right now, by faith. That is why she is praying for us even now. She has a special mission to lead us out of self-occupation and to open us up to the interior grace of contemplative wonder, its adoration, its mystery, its loving surrender. 

October 27, 2018

Fighting the Good Fight

Many of my closest friends, though they live disciplined and prayerful lives, struggle with various kinds of depression and painful sorrows.  They are tested beyond what seems humanly possible to bear.  Sometimes this struggle is related to exterior circumstances - a disease, the loss of a friend or an accident at work. At other times, this struggle emerges from within. Although counseling sometimes helps and other therapeutic efforts help them manage the interior pain, they sometimes are overwhelmed. They long for some kind of relief or release, and they turn to prayer. The answer they often receive is not easy or a quick fix. Sometimes, for months and years, words of a psalm become their own words,"My tears have become my bread by day and by night, while men say to me all day long 'Where is your God'" (Psalm 42:3)?

In the midst of difficult struggles, the Apostle Paul counsels Timothy to press on in righteousness, holiness, faith, love, patience, and meekness (see 1 Tim. 6:11). We must not think that such a pursuit did not involve bouts of deep sorrow and even feeling at times tormented and overwhelmed. Saint Paul himself was tormented until he discovered the strength of God in his own weakness (see 2 Cor. 12: 7-9).  Our weaknesses, dispositions, inadequacies, even the voids of our life are never obstacles to pursuing this course and fighting this fight. These interior hardships are simply a different kind of stepping stone, the next foothold for the climb that Christ leads us on.

This race, this fight, this course we are on ... it does not avoid pain and hardships. It is not intimidated by the riddles of human existence or the struggle for integrity and dignity. It is not a pathway to meaninglessness - but out of death's nihilism it journeys by faith. This is a battle for something beautiful.  It claims the ground of what is good and true. Our hope in this fight is in something more powerful than human industry and cleverness. Strength for this journey is not drawn from this world below or from the broken cisterns of self-preservation, but from above.

The evil against which we contend is not without limits, and our failures are not the last word about who we are or where we stand. Those painful voids that we fall into are not deeper than His love. When we feel cast down, even as we fight to remember God and to believe in the salvation that comes from Him, He is not indifferent to our plight, but fights for us, for He has taken our side. He lifts high His banner of love over us. Will we stand with Him?

Away from escapism, this pathway of love cuts deep into misery and contends against everything that threatens our nobility. Let us press on and run to our fatherland. Let us fight hard for what is true. We are not too young to make good progress. We are not so old that we cannot quicken our pace. Indeed, we are closer to the finish line than when we first began. It is not the second wind of limited human effort - but the new wind of the Spirit that carries us forward.  No depth, no height, no creature can stand between us and the prize that is held out.

October 25, 2018

Waters of Prayer

The gift of prayer is watered by the stream that flows from the side of the Savior. Blood and water flow out for the Church and for each soul that enters into this sublime mystery. To receive these waters, to allow them to baptize one's own existence, one must draw close to the Cross.

Before the Cross one finds the threshold of heaven, the narrow entry-way into the vast horizons of the Father's Heart. Prayer patiently searches this Heart and surrenders to its joys and sorrows. Prayer gradually discovers how much His Heart was broken on that piece of wood - for His Son possessed His Heart, and when we broke His Son, we broke the Father's heart too. Yet prayer also is also filled with the affirmation that the Father would not have it any other way. Prayer unfolds on the sure conviction that our Father would rather His Heart be broken open for us, than remain closed to our misery.

What comes from the Heart of the Father through the keyhole of the Cross? The Gift of the Holy Spirit is poured out in the Blood that makes prayer possible. The Living Presence of God is found in that water that alone quenches the thirst of prayer.  What an inexhaustible treasure! What an undeserved Gift? For the Spirit whom the Father and the Son have shared for all eternity, their mutual gift one to the other, they have given freely to us - at the price of only a few tears and a humble request. By blood and water, prayer has made us partakers of the unity, the love, the truth, and the very life of Life Himself.

October 23, 2018

Prayer's Courage

It is possible to approach prayer recklessly. Many treat the Lord as if He were a vending machine or a personal servant, or a projection of their own ego. They are impatient when the Mighty God does not gratify their momentary whims. They do not realize that it is possible to offend Him. Hardly mindful of what they have just asked and from whom they have asked it, some even rashly rebuff the One who only desires their good. This happens often when the heart allows itself to be ruled by anxiety or greed or hubris.

In a humble cry to the Lord, we can find freedom from the tyranny that possessions and power hold over us. In adoration before the Holy One, anxieties can be made subject to true hope. In repentance, sin to compunction. In attentiveness to the Word of the Father, self-delusion to truth.

Such efforts at prayer, when offered with a bowed head and bended knee, can even find reverence and awe. When the shoes of the daily routine are removed and the cacophony of one's own self torment is silenced, there is space in the heart to acknowledge the awesome majesty of God.  Jesus humbly whispered on loving lips and in the trusting heart stills every storm.

It is also possible to approach the Lord without courage.  Rather than humbly acknowledging one's place before the Lord and respectfully unfolding the deep pain that troubles one's heart, we can hold up a protective distance. It is not respect but fear to think that if we ask from Him, He will ask of us.  It is cowardly to reject the desires of the Almighty God simply because they do not respect the familiar limits that we prefer for ourselves.  It is timid then to tell ourselves that our lives are good enough, that we do not need to change.  We are afraid that the Lord just might call us out of Ur, that He might extend an unexpected friendship, and that we might have to leave everything familiar, convenient and comfortable behind.

What He asks is inconvenient because love is inconvenient: fearful of what this might mean, we draw back from the Lord even as we use just the right formulas to convince ourselves that this is not what we are actually doing.  We not only fear the truth about what He will ask of us: we fear the truth that He is showing us about ourselves.  We have not yet guessed the greatness of the sacrifice that He has created us to render. We would prefer to remain ignorant of this hidden secret. What will we have left if we give Him whatever He wants?

To offer a contrite spirit to the Lord takes great courage.  To be humble and vulnerable before His majesty takes more heart than anyone can generate on their own. Yet the courage to offer prayer in a manner that searches the deep things of God does not come from ourselves. It is a gift given from above. Those who know this gift also know confidence in the goodness of the Father. They have discovered a strength to stand, even before the gates of hell, with the triumphant Heart.