September 20, 2018

Plunge into Prayer Because Christ Has Plunged into Our Humanity

Christian's plunge into prayer because Christ has plunged into our humanity. He penetrated the depths of the human heart in all its earthiness and scaled its heights, circumscribing its vast horizons in glory.  This means He is familiar with everything, our whole range of experience, all our hidden secrets, all our secret sorrows, those burdens of which we are conscious and mysteries about ourselves of which we have not the faintest inkling. He rejects nothing that is true but embraces all, holds us close, treasures who we are with all the affection of His Heart.

Christ has plunged even into our death and that is why death becomes a supreme moment of prayer, and every other trial practice for this final offering. He is not afraid of the meaninglessness that threatens human dignity or the painful riddles of life or the unresolved questions that haunt our hearts. He has already walked into all of this- He who is Ultimate Meaning shines His healing light into this darkness. Every tear that is shed for a loved one, every heartache over the loss of someone close, even the anger that can come with loss, and the anxiety for those we fear to leave behind - He knows it all and walks with us through this dark valley. No enemy, not even death, can thwart His love for us or His desire to save us.

This is why, no matter the evil or the trial or the sacrifice that we must endure, we can always pray. Forever and irrevocably immersed in our humanity, He is always with us. Our minds might be confused. Our emotions numb. Our bodies exhausted. But the frailest effort, the tiniest act of will - He receives like a precious pearl and He treasures, for He knows exactly what it costs.

When we are drowning under a flood of anxieties and painful tears, it is time for us to plunge into prayer even more. The immensity of His love is ever greater than anything that threatens us. The farther away He might seem, the closer He is - the smallest act of faith opens His Heart and  the floodgates of His Mercy. Having plunged into our humanity, He overflows its banks with Divine Hope.


September 18, 2018

The Power of Contemplative Prayer

Contemplative prayer has immense power against all kinds of evil. This silent movement of the heart unveils self-contradictions and rash judgments that threaten one's own integrity and, at the same time, this vulnerability to God is healing balm for the integrity of others. This deep stillness of spirit allows God to establish one's whole being in His very Presence so deeply that one cannot remotely guess how profoundly hidden one's life has become. At the same time, in this hiddenness, life flows anew in this old, tired world.

This kind of prayer involves renunciation. One must renounce all forms of bitterness and resentment, even when these are evoked by seemingly just causes, to protect the delicate work that God's love is bringing to perfection. One must renounce the frustrated anger that would lash out and assert itself when circumstances and events seem to be spiraling out of control.  This means humility -- what Divine Presence is unfolding within can never be controlled by any created power. One must also renounce all self-pity and anxiety -- indulging such self-occupation renders the heart too small for the Living God. All lesser loves must find their proper place before this one Love.

This adoration soaked in tears also involves sacrifice. Though a thousand schemes and opportunities for self-preservation flood the mind, this movement of the Holy Spirit requires us to be resolute not only in renouncing these, but also in picking up the Cross of self-abnegation out of an obedient love for God. Though other dreams and ambitions shine from every side, this surge of the heart to the Lord evokes a singleminded faithfulness that stays the course. Some have gladly sacrificed careers, worldly honors, and friends to attain this pearl of great price. Others have even left family, and language, and country because of where this humble pathway leads. Once one begins this difficult pilgrimage from the surface of life to the depths of God's love, there can be no looking back.

Only this prayer can traverse the abyss of human misery. As it climbs the steep ravines of virtue, of insight, of integrity, it slides down further the slopes of inadequacy, of powerlessness, of painful voids. What draws it forward is not desire for victory or fear of failure, but the Hidden Presence of Love Crucified. What gives it confident assurance is not its own progress or industry, but the One who has Risen from the dead.  Rooted in His Presence by faith, this quiet stillness knows that deeper than the abyss of misery is the abyss of mercy - to fall into this abyss is to be raised to heights that this world cannot contain.

No wonder this kind of prayer allows us to pray in reparation for our own sins and the sins of the world. When one can no longer weep for one's own sins, it is possible to begin to weep for the sins of the world. When one knows how much one needs the mercy of God, one self-identifies with everyone who needs this mercy - and deep heartache for the plight of humanity grips the soul. Such grief is honored by God. No sin can bend as low as this humbled knee. No evil can reach as high as this bowed head. No rant can be heard as clearly as the confession of this tongue.  Such prayer knows the deep things of God and opens up space in the wilderness of human freedom for the Lord to make all things new. 

September 15, 2018

The Tears of Mary

The tears of Mary, treasured by God, are poured out for those who are powerless and vulnerable. She stands with all those who have been abused by the powerful. She takes her stand with those who have no one to take their side. She listens patiently to their grief and anger, and she hears the heart of her Son on the Cross.  She suffers their indignity until the pain dissolves into tears. She lets her heart be pierced by the wounds that that have pierced their innocence and goodness.  She never fails to see in the forgotten and the lowly, in the abused and humiliated, in the marginalized and the oppressed, in the suffering and the poor an image of her own Son.

Of all the closest friends of Christ, only one stood with His Mother when it most counted. Today, also there are shepherds who stand on this holy ground where hearts are pierced. As when the Church was born from the side of Christ, they are too few who have the courage not to abandon Him.  The Lord invites us to stand with them - to allow our own hearts to be pierced with them just as His Mother's heart was pierced.

Let our own tears fall as these good shepherds make reparation for the evil wrought, not only by thieves and marauders, but by His unfaithful friends. These good shepherds see the heartache of the people of God and we should not fear to see this with them.  Their hearts break because of the confusion caused by the Lord's own disciples and we should let our own hearts break with them. It is painful to live in the light of this truth, yet this is a healing pain.  To stand in this place with the Beloved Disciple and His Mother, this is to stand at the epicenter of a new creation no human evil can circumscribe - it is where integrity is born and wholesomeness reclaimed.

For the faithful of the Lord, those who cling to Him night and day, and those who suffer the loss of all things for His sake - the Living God takes your side. As you weep for those who have been abused and for their abusers, as you beg for the Holy Spirit to reveal to us our sins and to lead us all to deeper conversion, He bends over you like a mother her child. The Father has covered you with His mighty shadow, and His Holy Spirit is renewing the mystery of Christ in you. Your prayers are heard and those who most need healing today are being blessed by your intercession. Your cries are accepted and structures of sin are falling down. Those holy feelings and noble thoughts that lead to courageous acts of mercy and witness to the truth testify to this new work in you. Hidden in His tenderness, He is unleashing something beautiful in you and through you.  

September 14, 2018

To Console the Heart of Christ

In this time of scandal, the Holy Spirit moves hearts to console the Heart of Christ. I saw this at the SCRC on September 1, 2018. In a filled arena after mass, Bishop David O'Connell, an auxiliary bishop of the Los Angeles, offered a healing mass. After a Eucharistic Procession, he prepared to repose the Blessed Sacrament on the Altar. But then he stopped and offered a short catechesis on praying the name of Jesus and being mindful of His presence in the heart. A great stillness filled the thousands gathered in the arena. Then, sobbing, he began to pray for all the victims of clerical abuse, and their healing. He begged for the mercy of Jesus for all the failures of the clergy and for the grace of conversion. In tears, he humbly asked Jesus "how can we console your heart?"

I had closed my eyes for most of this. When I opened my eyes, a group of priests were kneeling around me - their eyes were also wet with tears. Indeed, most of those gathered that evening were pierced to the heart by this prayer to console the heart of Jesus. What consoles His Heart but our humble awareness of the immensity of His love for each of us, especially for the vulnerable and afflicted?  Our sorrow over how He continues to be rejected by his friends and our own sluggishness creates space in our hearts for Him to do something beautiful in the world and in our lives. In that arena, many who came to seek healing from the Lord, but through the bishop's ministry, suddenly were caught up in this act of reparation for the healing of the Church. 

September 11, 2018

The Spiritual Castle and Monsters that Threaten it

In times of crisis and confusion, if we do not wish to be swept away, we must return to "ourselves" and remember who we are. This is what St. Teresa of Avila's Spiritual Castle introduces in the life of prayer. To help us understand this movement of interior recollection and contemplative prayer, she shows us a crystal radiant with light whose brightness increases the closer we draw to its center. God's own light shines forth from such a soul as a beacon in this dark world. But to become such a beacon for others, St. Teresa explains that we must deal with monsters who threaten us not only on the outside of the Castle, be even on the inside.

She speaks of lizards, toads and snakes - and she has in mind demonic and worldly influences on our emotions and thinking.  Making what is merely peripheral the priority of our heart leaves us vulnerable, and mindlessly going with the emotion of the moment can leave us poisoned in the cold darkness of this world. St. Paul similarly warns us against conforming our minds to this age and living with our minds darkened. St. Teresa wants us to raise our minds to the light of truth in prayer. The closer we draw to the light that is Christ, the more we overcome the threats that these monsters represent.

This is a call to great vigilance especially in stormy times. Emotions stirred up by the news cycle, or gossip or even our own rash judgments about the world can often betray where we would otherwise desire to stand in life. We forget to be true to ourselves when we are caught up in the bellicose or vindictive movements of the moment. We become weighed down in a spiral of self-torment when we are not wise about our own impulses against what is true and good. We take nihilistic plunges - blowing up trust, relationships and opportunities, because without self-knowledge, we forget the task of who we are and the divine gift that our neighbor is. Long before we can ever effectively deal with difficult circumstances that beset us from without, we must be masters of the challenges that we confront from within.

Father James V. Schall reminds us of this point through his reflections on Samuel Johnson's Idler: 
things we would rather remain hidden from ourselves, it is best to pull out and deal with. Is it not true that often we allow ourselves to be driven by the emotion of the moment so that we are distracted from this painful truth? Yet, those who find this truth - who have the courage to accept their strengths and weaknesses for what they are - they are the one's who discern best how to respond to the value at stake. They become beacons for those who have lost their way.

September 9, 2018

Time to Pray, Fast and Offer Sacrifice

Painful truths are coming forward and evil swoops down like a terror of the night. Apostles have betrayed the Church. Abuse. Denial. Fear. Silence. Confusion. Rancor. Yet this terror does not get the last word -- and will never be victorious. Let us instead attend to the heart of God and be concerned about what concerns Him. Let us console the heart of Christ over the plight of His mystical Body, the Church - over the wounds suffered by the powerless and vulnerable, the lowly and humble.  For God weeps for them -- and so should we. He sought us out in our brokenness. Now it is time for us to stand with Him and makes space in our lives for Him to act.

What do we do to console the heart of Christ, we who have no ecclesiastical power or authority? Obviously, walls of secrecy must fall and thresholds of justice and mercy be built. This begins in our hearts and in our families - from the smallest every day habits to the big life time decisions. All must be purified and reformed and made new. This transformation of the heart cannot stop in one's private sphere, however - like all new life, it must extend to our parishes, local churches and communities. This gathering tide of reform continues from these humble beginnings to reach ever deeper and farther and higher through the wounds of Christ's Body. Such a flood of wisdom for this does not come from human industry or cleverness. It is a gift from the Father -- He has a plan for peace that He desires us to know. This plan is opened up by His Son, crucified for our sake. If we want to know this plan, we must find and abide with Him.

To find the Crucified Image of the Invisible God, we do not need to search far. Instead, we pray, we fast and we offer sacrifices - with confidence that Christ's love is more powerful than every abuse and betrayal. If we remember Judas's betrayal, Peter's denial, and the nine who abandoned their Friend; we will be saddened, but not astonished, by evil in the Lord's House. Only one remained to stand with his Mother as He suffered abuse, humiliation and death. Only those who will stand by those who suffer in this way will ever know what the Beloved Disciple knew at Mary's side. Solidarity with our humiliated sisters and brothers requires us to go beyond what is convenient and face truths that are uncomfortable to live with. Only love humbled by prayer and fasting allows one to enter this Holy of Holies.

Under the shadow of the Cross, the glory of God shines forth. The power of the Risen One is seen in ecclesial leaders who stand with the truth, who comfort the sorrowing, who thirst for justice, who for mercy's sake ask for clarity and who act as good shepherds -- not hired-hands and thieves. Not afraid of wolves, these peacemakers protect the meek and the lowly -- through them, those who have chosen the Cross find themselves overshadowed by the truth that He who is mighty is doing great things.

Indeed, in this night of faith, the passion of Christ is renewed and the soul is filled with grace. Those who do not pray cannot find this holy ground because only prayer openness to that fresh newness that waits there. Those who do not fast cannot enter under this soul-filling shadow, they are already too full. Those who will not bear hardships or renunciations or sacrifice for the love of the Lord can never stand with the Woman and the Beloved Disciple - because one can only enter into the mystery of the Cross at one's own expense.

Under the outstretch arms of the One who cries out for the plight of humanity, heaven and earth embrace, injustice is overthrown and evil vanquished. Here is the chastisement that makes us whole. Here, the blood and water that purifies from the stain of sin and give new life. Here, the truth of human dignity finds shelter. Here, the proud are cast down and the humiliated raised up.  Here, reform for broken structures of hubris and secrecy. Here, renewal of hope - born in the darkness that cannot overcome it.  Here, in the very bosom of God, we stand with the One who weeps that the true peace He holds out for us might at last reign in our hearts. 

September 7, 2018

Prayer in the Catholic Tradition

Prayer in the Catholic Christian tradition immerses us in the love of the Word of the Father. An activity of the heart of Christ, this cry to the Father flows from and leads to the Holy Trinity. Emptying and humbling of "self," this going out from self implicates us in the plight of humanity. Opening up a vision that looks beyond the veils of this present life, this baptism of the mind in truth demands purification, renunciation and sacrifice. Bringing to completion God's work in us, this silent fullness confronts all manner of challenges and hardships. Never offered alone, even in extreme loneliness and humiliation, this spiritual worship is in solidarity with the Mother of God, and all the angels, and all the saints in endless praise. A gift from above, even when there are no more words to say, this prayer groans with divine meaning and love. 

September 5, 2018

Truth

Truth does not rant or rage,
This silent Stranger patiently knocks at the door of the heart.

Truth does not change to avoid conflict.
This Suffering Servant is the still point around which the world turns.

Truth does not impose itself or presume.
This Neighbor waits to be freely welcomed. 

Truth cannot be purchased or controlled.
This Life never fails to enrich the soul and to provide self-mastery.

Woe to those whose hubris blinds them to this kindly Light,
if they do not come to their senses,
they may lose their way forever.

No one can stop the Truth --
Though abused, betrayed, denied, abandoned,
Even by His friends,
The Word of the Father rises against death itself unvanquished.

September 3, 2018

Purity of Heart

In the midst of crisis, Christ looked to the Father with infinite confidence. So must we. He knew, with infinite confidence, that the Father also gazed on Him with love.  In Him, the Father also gazes on us.  The Father delights to show us in His Son the immensity of His love -- this is why He is constantly sending His Word and His Spirit into our hearts in ever new ways.

How do we contemplate the Father? Jesus declared that "whoever sees me, sees the Father" (John 14:9). The image of the invisible God, faith in Him gives real access to the Father. This means, if we approach the Father in the name of Jesus, the Father always hears us -- if we persevere in calling on the Name of Jesus, the Father will not fail to pour out His blessings on us.

Yet to believe in Jesus, the Word of the Father, implicates us in a difficult task. To believe in the One who is Truth Himself means that we commit ourselves to believing the true faith - and this means our false beliefs must fall away.  To believe in the One whose body was crucified for our sake, we must live our faith out in our bodies by keeping ourselves chaste in all our relationships. To believe in the One who loved us to the end, we must live our faith by laying our lives down for one another.

Confidence in the Father through faith in Jesus commits us to purity of of heart -- a life long pursuit that the Blood shed for us makes possible.  Pure of heart by our teaching, our chastity and our love, we will see the living God.  Holding nothing back in our devotion to Christ, the Father will hold nothing back from us. 

August 22, 2018

The Glory of God in this Time

In the midst of distress and anxiety, the glory of God crashes in around us. This glory is revealed in the plight of our brothers and sisters who have been abused, abandoned, betrayed and denied by those entrusted with their care. When apostles betray Christ, this glory unveils the truth about who we are and what we have done against the standard of God's love. When God's shepherds fail to protect the sheep, this glory manifests all the more the warmth and light of heaven in the dark cold of our hearts and our society. When hearts fail and compromise themselves at the expense of others, this glory establishes justice and offers a pathway of mercy.

Though some defensively rant to preserve themselves, in this glory is chastisement and purification, a time to renew our dedication to the Lord and to His Little Ones. Though some cast about with accusations and blame, before this glory is an invitation to pray the Magnificat mindful of how the Lord deals with the proud and strong, and how He takes the side of the poor and powerless. Though some deflect and avoid, the radiance of this glory offers the opportunity to repent of our indifference to sin and to the harm sin causes. Though some are bogged down in dismay and self-loathing, this glory calls us to turn back to the Lord with our whole heart, and allow His love to challenge us to the core.

In this glory of God's coming, there is no time for business as usual. No time for righteous excuses or empty promises. No time for hubris. Not time for cynicism. No time for presumption. No time for fear. No time for righteous displays and empty words in prayer. No time to worry about spin and liability. No time to search for scapegoats or to point the finger at others. No time for conventional thinking. No time to hang on to our old way of life. There is no time for noisy rancor in the glory of the coming of the Lord.

In this glory is the newness of the Word who makes all things new. In the glory of this Just Judge, it is time to allow ourselves to be shaken out of complacency and self-occupation. Time for a new beginning. Time to take stock. Time to return to our senses. Time to start the journey home. Time to take responsibility for what we have done. Time to rescue the wounded and dress the wounds. Time to realize that whatever we do, it is never enough. Time to submit our whole manner of living to the Gospel of Christ. Time for the renewal of our mind.  Time to seek forgiveness. Time to learn to forgive. In the shadow of the justice this glory declares, it is time for sobered silence humble before the Word.

For in the midst of catastrophes of our own making, God speaks His word of hope. While the sun and moon fall out of the sky, and every corporate structure in the Church passes away, this Word does not waiver -- the Word who dwells with us remains forever. Hear the Word whose wordless cry rings from the Cross and echoes in the empty tomb. Allow this great canticle to lay bear your heart. This is the Word that the Father hears and the Word that tells everything the Father longs for us to know. This Word can teach our hearts to ache with compassion for those who have been abused, betrayed, denied and abandoned. For those who will keep this Word, the passion of Christ is unveiled again through the suffering of His Little Ones; and because of this Word, we find the courage to take their side, to hear their suffering cry, and to stand with them in this difficult hour. 

August 12, 2018

Only the Love of God the Father Can Restore Us

The moral and spiritual crisis of our time is a crisis in fatherhood - a refusal to allow the Father to love us and the lack of courage to reveal the Father's love and concern for the most vulnerable.  We see this reflected in the mentality that Church problems are fixed by money and programs - rather than conversion of heart and prayer. Just as no program can heal the heart of a child as much as the love of father and mother, no committee or policy can heal the Church apart from the love of God the Father. Yet, because so many have been abused or neglected by their fathers, we are afraid to draw attention to God the Father.

We see the Father as neither comfortable or convenient politically, socially or culturally.  We pretend that we do not come from Him and that we are not in His image and likeness. We presume that we have a right to take the blessings that belong to the Father, and to use them for our own social agendas and projects. To live on our own terms rather than His, we distance ourselves from His Love.

Since we will not draw close to our heavenly Father, we ourselves have forgotten how to be fathers.   Afraid to offend against dehumanizing ideologies, we do not speak of the Father's goodness or wisdom, or offer His blessing to those who most need it. Shamed into silence and afraid to sound unsophisticated, we have allowed heartless jargon to replace what we can only find if we go to the heart of the Father. And fatherless societies beget walking wounded, children whose gaping emptiness torments them ... even to the point that to relieve the pain, they abuse themselves and others. These fatherless children become adults -- and now we live with generations suffering this nihilistic vacuum in which all that is innocent, good, holy, and true is sucked away. Even those who we trust have become like pigs -- and have we not been drawn to their sty?

The love of the Father is so much more, so far beyond, so much more beautiful and tender than the limits of our feeble hearts allow us to feel or know. We are afraid of his paternal affection because we will not allow ourselves to become familiar with it -- we are ignorant of just how much we are loved to our own downfall.  If only we would calm the internal rancor of our own thoughts and allow ourselves to listen to the deep movements of tender concern and gentle understanding that live in His Word!

To be kissed by the Father, to be taken into HIs embrace, this is no less than to surrender into a love that at once heals, purifies, reconstitutes, and transforms. This is the Gift of the Holy Spirit - its intensity and power cannot be overestimated. Such loves moves us against presumption to penance; against callousness to make restitution; against arrogance to humbly atone for what unaided human effort can never atone. The sheer immensity of the Father's love raises us above ourselves -- not only in our giftedness and excellences, but in our weaknesses and inadequacies -- especially in the painful voids. Yes, there where love seems most absent, the Father is there with us -- aching over our humiliation and shame, with life giving tears.

The Father's heart is pierced by the plight of his children -- He is never indifferent or aloof. This is what we read in the story of the Prodigal Son... Luke 15:11-32. The Father is deeply moved when He sees His son coming from a long way off.  The verb in Greek for "to pity, to have compassion" (ἐσπλαγχνίσθη) means that the deepest parts of one's very being are moved, implicated, in the plight of another. This is the same word used in the parable of the Good Samaritan. It is also used when Jesus sees the crowds who have come to follow him.

When applied to God the Father, this means that the mysterious depths of God are implicated in our plight ... that like of Father of the Prodigal Son, God the Father has taken our side. He is already running to us, ready to embrace, to kiss us with the affections of His love for us. Anyone who allows himself or herself to become the object of the Father's love, such a person becomes like the Father, capable of being moved by the plight of those in distress. Such a movement of heart never sees strangers or enemies to be feared or used ... only family to be cherished.

We live at a time when all of us need to come to our senses and consider how generous and good the Father is to everyone who serves Him.  Betrayal, denial, abandonment are not more patient than this healing love that both awaits and evokes our contrition. Avoiding responsibility has baptized us in desperate plight - it is time for the courage to face who we are, what we have done and to whom we have done it. No program or policy can  replace humility. No optics or media spin can heal the shame or cure the wounds we have caused. We may not feel that we are worthy to be his sons or daughters -- but the One who begets, who loves life, wants us to live life to the full.

To approach the Father, we must follow the way of His Son - empty ourselves of our projects and ambitions, humble ourselves about our need for salvation, die to ourselves and our hubris. We approach Him in penance, fasting and prayer, realizing that in the immensity of His generous love, we are not worthy to be his slaves for His Son took the form of a slave... and, on this very cross road that His Son trod, the Father runs to meet us with the same love that He bears "the One in whom I am well pleased". And in a silent fullness, we feel at once the comfort of His embrace; and the overwhelming goodness of His kiss. Healing and restoration await in the tender touch of those wetted cheeks and in those tears, divine and human, mingled through that hoped for, but surpassing, joy. 

July 29, 2018

Avila and Signs


Around Avila, as the holy soul by love,
Walls witness signs above.
Wisdom here, against rancor, raises
Ramparts, crying out, "God never changes."

Blood's anger before these walls will pass -
Testimony that loss is not the last
word, for only one Word abides.
Trial, for the humble, after a time subsides.

His strength and goodness remain
Reflected, and in silent stillness sustain,
Above all dark dread on earth's slope,
a sign, her one great unvanquished hope.


June 22, 2018

To Live by Faith

To live by faith in the Risen Lord is to root one's existence in a personal reality far deeper and far higher than the exigencies of the moment. Tenderly relational, this faith makes a mutual indwelling of the heart in God and God in the heart. Faith that seeks Him, though He seems so hidden, allows the winds of eternity to blow into time. Faith in His living presence renders an unnoticed instant vulnerable to eternal meaning.  Faith's gift opens the heart's door to this Divine Guest - that mysterious neighbor whose benevolence remains unmatched. 

Living by such faith is to be liberated from chains of rash judgments and the weight of painful memories. To cleave to God in this way alone sets one free on the vast horizons and sure ground of truth. The substance of our hope, only this faith opens to a love stronger than death and more powerful than the dark forces that threaten human dignity. Only this faith forgives sin and gives standing before the Almighty. 

Stretching earthly existence beyond what natural reason can calculate, this radiant light inspires the loftiest of thoughts but is never circumscribed by them. This new beauty baptizes the imagination with heart-piercing symbols and signs but no mere myth contains it. No projection of one's own ego or project, this astonishing power carefully purifies and heals deep seated instincts and urges, patiently submits them to the One who conquered sin, and humbly raises them above to glory. 

To die by faith in this Bridegroom, the One whose coming no power in heaven or on earth or under the earth can deter, this is to offer in love the most beautiful of deaths. Faith in the Life, the Truth, and the Way, who died for love of us, empowers us to offer our own bodies as a living sacrifice, so that even our last breath is taken up into spiritual worship.  For by faith, even as we die, His power is given to us and is accomplishing in us a work so rare and so vital, the whole world awaits its revelation. 

May 3, 2018

The Grace that Silence Knows

In the deepest center of the abyss of one's being there is a fountain of life-giving waters. This fount flows forth from an even deeper abyss into abyss of the heart - for deeper than the misery of the heart is the mercy of the One who knows it. Ever deeper the farther from its center - sanctifying, forgiving, healing, renewing. This life giving spring lives unfathomably deeper than either sin or death can know.

If the truth revealed to us did not propose the secret of such a hidden place, that haunting ache for the One who we do not know remains a mysterious witness. For in the painful emptiness that prayerful silence hears suggests the fullness that eagerly waits to fill it. In the silent cry of the heart one discovers that the ennui that creation suffers for the Creator is only a dim reflection of the ennui the Creator has freely embraced for humanity.

The Cross has unleashed this torrent relentless in pursuing its course -- making all things new. The ocean of mercy that issues forth from such glory can never be exhausted. The empty tomb is proof that the vast horizons out to which these waters stream remain, to this very day, largely unexplored. The real presence of the Risen One ensures that this hidden but mighty river will flow in us always until the end of the ages.

The grace that makes holy the human heart invites, calls and challenges each one. Like the morning sun invites and the beauty of spring calls, grace evokes new confidence and enkindles fresh hope.  Like the love of a bridegroom challenges his bride, this wonderful gift surrenders itself into the surrender that each heart renders. For the grace that makes holy makes youthful and new every heart that receives it - no matter how aged.

This freely given gift liberates a soul from its own ego. An immense overflowing flood of love and life, its currents are not imposed, are not extrinsic.  For this most precious and delicate of gifts refuses to coerce what is most interior to man. This grace floods a person's interiority until the body itself is freed for love. This mysterious power makes chains of selfishness fall away. The ability to do something beautiful for God and one's neighbor is unlocked.

With tender gentleness, this gift from above re-constitutes and subtly perfects what is most noble within us. It conceives truths and movements of heart by which God Himself is enjoyed and brought to bear for solemn purpose. To resist such a priceless gift is to resist no less than the truth about oneself and the dream that God has kept from before the foundation of the world.

May 1, 2018

From the Deepest Abyss to the Furthest Frontier

Your body is a temple. It is not inconsequential. You have been set apart - not as an abstract spirit, but enfleshed.  A dwelling place for God, there is something sacred about who you are. How you offer your body reveals your spiritual worship. If you allow Christ to renew your mind, your whole existence can be entirely transformed.

Just as at the dawn of creation, the Living God has fashioned each one's being not unlike an open sea. The shores of each one's existence are only found beyond one's own horizons. On this ocean, ripples from a single thought begin in deepest secret and move beyond anywhere unaided reason might strain. Blown by the Spirit, they can even enter into the heart of another. And the ripples that this same thought causes to flow from the heart of a stranger can also suddenly pierce through one's own indifference.

These Spirit blown ripples of new life go out with gathering speed and magnitude until, as mighty waves, they surge toward the rugged coastline of humanity's furthest frontier -- their final destination, not a place, but a Heart who eagerly awaits them. Against the Rock Ages, their foam and spray reach for the heavens, and for pure joy, their roar and crash crescendo. For indeed, words fall short of this happy meeting, the pledge of something that this world cannot contain. Pounding again and again, as if always for the first time, rock and water mutually surrender, one to the other, while each remains in total otherness, entwined. Is it the waves or the shore that has caused this jubilation?

At this mysterious frontier where humanity and divinity meet, all restlessness, guilt and death is circumscribed. All that threatens the greatness and dignity of humanity finds its limit on this obedient shore. On this rocky fastness one's very integrity and all noble hope find safe haven. Tears are dried. Sorrows consoled. Confidence given. A new beginning awaits. For such is the limitlessness of Divine Mercy - that exotic coast whose untamed freedom defies all mastery.

Yet what thought goes from the deepest abyss to these furthest frontiers of human existence? This fiery sword cuts free, severs and penetrates deeper than marrow. This shining star captivates, draws to heaven, and radiates one's very existence with truth. An anchor for one's whole being, body and soul, that suffers storms only to establish an even deeper peace.

Not a tempest threatening with passionate violence, yet this sudden spark can sting one's conscience until one's life turns in a new direction. Not a abstract ideal, yet a coming to one's senses that leads from pigsty to the Father's embrace. Not a program of self-improvement, but this gentle call of love evokes solemn resolve. Not understood or grasped by any natural capacity, but in unaware fruitfulness, this contemplation is given and received in naked faith.

Filled with the Word who makes all things new, this vulnerable prayer vanquishes death and gives birth to a life undying. Born in the impoverished ambiguity weighing on the world below, this ray of truth enriches with the most delightful treasures and raises everything to what is above -- so that even the heavy of heart wonder over how light the burden, how easy the yoke.

To allow this holy thought to sanctify your heart, turn your thoughts to Him. His Tomb is empty yet His Cross stands at the very center of your life. In the face of meaninglessness, Christ Crucified lives to free, purify, and graft us in truth. On the waters of our hearts, He processes in sovereign freedom. In heart-breaking silence, His prayer to the Father still echoes with hope and His life, poured out for the world, still pours out with love.

The holy sanctuary of your  heart yearns for memory of His passion to be renewed. Your very body, fashioned by the Father to be a temple, longs for His Son's life giving water and blood to burst the banks of the sin and misery that have imprisoned you.  Your soul starves for the only food that can feed it, the only drink that can satisfy its thirst. Once surrendered to His humility by humble prayer, nothing can stand between your heart and the inexhaustible torrents of our Savior's love.

April 28, 2018

Witnessed on a Freeway in California

A glimpse of faces passes
Mindless sunglass glances
Mosaics of machinery chances
Moving seeming secure advances
Atop asphalt surfaces imperiled

Between barren hills whose golden brightness
Is broken by oaken blotches of bitterness
Under strident currents of reckless drivenness,
Lurk faults of unforgiven-ness,
On bumpers, beneath smiles of strangers embroiled.

Sorrows unseen in merciless
Stares: Each from disparate starting point relentless
Barrels to its goal in senseless
Abandon, reeling unaware, restless 
Hearts racing for connection en-shadowed --

Under a rosary's hope dangling
     from a rearview mirror: 
Between what lay ahead and what is passing
Away, that shining still point of the world's revolving
Anew by but the resolved murmuring
Of lips, by heaven's taste, hallowed.

April 3, 2018

The Resurrection and Life

Do you long for New Life?  Easter is about the only new life this tired out world has ever known. This life has the form of a vine exploding with branches and fruitfulness.

Jesus, risen from the dead, is the Vine - and his friends who believe in Him are the branches. He has called you, the one who is reading this, into this friendship.  Connected to the Word of the Father by faith, we have a new life in us -- an eternal life, stronger than death, making all things new.  Just as life flows from a vine to the branches, the Holy Spirit flows from the Son through His Body, the Church, into the soul of the believers to make their love for one another fruitful.

That we might fully possess this joyful fruitfulness, the Father tenderly serves us as the Vine-Dresser. He delicately prunes his vines, for no other reason than that they might be fruitful. Sometimes, this means patiently pruning us down to the stump, until nothing but what seems weakest and most inadequate is left.

The mystery of the Father's vine-dressing is a difficult mystery. Yet, it is rooted in everything Christ revealed to us through His own passion and resurrection. Only by allowing His Son to suffer death is the Father able to raise Christ's humanity to life not subject to death. Similarly for us, that we might know the life of the Risen Lord, the Father sometimes prunes away what we deem most precious.

The devotion of Christ to the Father, characterized as it is by faithfulness, confidence and trust, must become our same obedience to Christ. His total surrender to the loving plan of the Father is given to us and meant to live in us. The Father only prunes away what is lifeless, what stands in the way of this surrender.  He permits us to die to ourselves in order that Christ's obedience might become the obedience that lives in our hearts. As the Risen One reveals, surrendering to the Father's will, even as we die to ourselves, opens up a more fecund and eternal mystery. Paradoxically, being pruned by the Father is the source of joy.

To be pruned down to the stump - there are times when we most desire to feel the presence of the Risen Lord, but in our distress cannot seem to find Him. It is a kind of death. Sometimes,we are permitted to suffer that interior void, that empty abyss that only He can fill. We long for an answer to tragedies sometimes so catastrophic that nothing in our lives feel like they will ever be the same again.  Instead, we are left, at least for a time, feeling puzzled and even abandoned. Yet, engulfing this abyss is an even deeper abyss: God has plunged our misery into the immensity of His Mercy. 

Though we cannot see or feel it, Christ who knows our misery sends the Holy Spirit into our sorrow to bring us a new life, a new joy.  This is why, as we are pruned even to the stump, we have a reason for our hope.  If we believe, nothing can stand between us and the love of Christ - no matter how great the feeling or difficulty. Our work, at such times, is simply to trust in Him, to remain in Him by an act of faith -- for obedient faith goes deeper than feeling, thought, fantasy or intuition. Obedience lives in a deeper part of who we are -- and the Spirit dwells in these abysses because it is here that He has fashioned horizons vast enough for His presence.

The Risen One too was stripped, and as He suffered the loss of everything, our Crucified God, through his obedient devotion to the Father, accomplished His greatest work: our salvation. Our work, as the Father prunes the branches of His Vine, is to be obedient to the Word that not even the meaninglessness of death could mute. This means sacrificing our plans for God's plans. It means putting our neighbor before what is comfortable and convenient. It means also renouncing sin - no matter the cost. It means offering the sorrow of our heart as a sacrifice of love in prayer. All of this is how we remain in Christ even as we are being pruned and stripped of everything - even down to the stump of our lives. When the obedience of our faith is most tested and conformed to the obedience of the Son, we can at last receive the fruitful joy that the Father longs for us to know.



March 29, 2018

The Triduum - Into the Silent Fullness of God

The deepest and most beautiful pathway of prayer is opened up in the Triduum. Each liturgy opens into an even deeper silence in the fullness of God. This is the fullness open when Christ's heart was pierced by the lance -- one which gushes forth with new life for those whose prayer aches with thirst.

The Savior of the World on Holy Thursday in thanksgiving and blessing binds us to Himself by the Blood of the New Covenant. At that Sacred Banquet in which the Word of the Father washes feet and offers Himself as true spiritual food, prayer takes us into the mysterious source and summit of everything we believe! Those who will partake of this mystery offered, broken and given, taste on their own tongues a glory that the world cannot give.  

On Good Friday, the realization of this supreme prayer of the Lord passes through betrayal, denial, passion and the silence of death.  In the agony and blood of the One whose wordless cry reaches the Heart of the Father, prayer beholds an obedient love that no height or depth or power can overcome. Those who will come to adore the Cross enter the very threshold to the bosom of the Trinity and find the only place where the human heart can rest.

On Holy Saturday the pathway of the Lord's prayer leads through Hell itself. Guided by His Rod and Staff in that Valley of the Shadow of Death, prayer discovers an invincible fountain of hope. Those who follow Him through such pain know the light, warmth and victory that are His.

In the dark hours of the Easter Vigil, the unvanquished Word of the Father rises and appears in our midst.  This enfleshed Word, having conquered death and sin, lifts the whole world into a new creation, and makes of everything in our lives, an acceptable offering to the Father. Prayer beholds on this night the light that shines in the darkness and the truth that darkness cannot overcome it. Prayer plunges into those new waters of that new creation and it gives birth with the Church to new sons and daughters in grace. Easter Prayer proceeds from this new life and, even when uttered on dying lips, knows the antidote for death and the medicine of immortality -- for it beholds the One whose silent fullness makes all things new.

March 4, 2018

Self-discovery and Gift of Self - the Truth Christ Reveals

John Paul II sincerely believed that we are so created that we can only discover the truth about ourselves when we give ourselves to another.  He believed this from his own experience. He marveled how it was possible to meet someone and be so overwhelmed by their beauty that you should want to sacrifice everything for their sake, that this other person might thrive. In this he glimpsed not only the beauty of God's plan for man and woman in marriage, but also the beauty of Christ's love for each and every soul.

The communion Christ has come to share surpasses the fulfillment and mutual possession meant to be ours in the institution of marriage. When we see His beauty, we realize that the deepest joys shared in the marriage of man and woman only foreshadow a more wonderful communion that is to come.

Before the Beauty of His Face, even the sorrows and disappointments that we bear in our families, no matter how crushing, take on a new perspective. He who was abandoned and betrayed captivates us in His radiance even as we struggle with humiliation and resentment. Those who we thought we could never forgive, we find the courage to forgive whenever we glimpse Him gazing on us in love.

His beauty, the beauty of a love that holds nothing back, evokes a response from the deepest part of our being. For when our eyes are opened by faith in Him, we are moved to believe at once that Christ has perceived our beauty before the dawn of creation -- and in perceiving it, brought it into being and offered His life in sacrifice for it, that each soul that believes in Him might know a greatness far beyond its power to surmise.

The Son who forever rejoices in the sheer goodness of His Father, rejoiced anew to make this known to all creation. He chose to do this through friendship with each of us - so that each of us participate in the revelation of glory the Father has given to His Son. This friendship and participation is nothing less than a dwelling in his presence - by faith in this life, and glory in the next. For this purpose and out of nothing, the Word of the Father summoned a beauty so deep in the human heart that, even when the human heart is diminished by sin, He has already resolved to sacrifice everything in order that all that is good, noble and true in it might not perish.

Nothing forces his loving sacrifice save the divine predilection for humble humanity that lives deep in the mystery of the Holy Trinity. The Father is drawn by our plight to speak His Word into our difficult  personal circumstances. With His Word, He breathes His Holy Spirit into us that we should have hope and thrive. In the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ journeys across the vast horizons of our hearts "like a Bridegroom coming from his tent, a champion running his course." For what He finds most beautiful in us is that we are in His own image and likeness -- creatures who are meant to mirror in time the love that He offers without reserve to the Father from eternity.

The work of redemption that He wrought on the Cross is about bringing to completion this intimate and faithful communion of sacrificial love for which we were created. He reveals the beauty of an unimpeded love on the Cross to capture our hearts so that we might finally be able to love without impediment. Though such a love seems so far beyond our limitations and sins, He offered his sacrifice for our sake in a way that allows us to participate in what He has done -- and, in this, we become what we are meant to be: living sacrifices of love, the praise of His glory.  

February 25, 2018

Glory in the Shadows

This Sunday of Lent, my thoughts go to the Reverend Billy Graham. Saint John Paul II called him "Brother" and I am thankful that God sent such a brother to walk with our nation during such times as ours. He witnessed to the Gospel of Christ with a certain wholesomeness and confidence that helped me remember the goodness of God. I do not believe that his witness has been diminished by his death, that death could ever diminish his life - for he lived for God and hoped that, by suffering his own death with faith in Jesus, he might finally enter into the fullness of life that Christ came to give him.  From what I have heard, there is little doubt that he saw glory in the shadows of death, and he knew his hope would not disappoint.

The Holy Transfiguration avails the heart to a secret glory - a hope flooding contemplation in faith that we hold in our hearts as we follow the Lord. The light of Christ shows us that the love of the Father, so immense and inexhaustible, is a mountain that towers above and overshadows our lives. When we allow Christ to lead us into this shadow, His glory baths the soul in a splendor that this world cannot hold. Our hearts are finally open to hear the Father's love speak to us in the midst of this astonishing beauty that only our Savior can reveal-- the truth that the Son has longed for us to know from before the foundation of the world.

This place to which the Word of the Father leads us is an up hill climb. He knows, because He has gone before us, that His Father's love is made known at a height that challenges us out of sluggishness. Yet, just as He is drawn to the Father, He draws us upward, against the grain of our lives. Sometimes this pathway of faith leaves us with many unanswered questions - questions about death and beyond death, about a difficult hope, far beyond our power to imagine and understand. Such is the greatness of the Father's love - His merciful love draws us up into a greatness that is unfamiliar to us, so different than our own expectations, so far beyond our own sinful limits.

To be led into these heights of eternal life, to this sacred place of truth, one must renounce the easy way, and climb with acts of faith through the difficult ambiguities of life - stretching above what is merely convenient and comfortable, beyond what we feel entitled to, and beyond even what the world judges to be respectable. This is because the great love to which we are called can never be confined by what is merely comfortable or convenient.

Witnesses like Billy Graham remind us that real love goes beyond social conventions and the fears of the culturally powerful. To ache with such love for God, and for those He has entrusted to us, is to share in the love of the Son for the Father, of the Savior for the world, of the Trinity for holy humanity. Such love gives hope. It heals marriages and makes families whole. It mends broken hearts and welcomes the lost home. It brings back to life. It stands firm in the face of death because it knows that death is not the end. This is the pathway of faith - a path that goes against our sluggishness, that ascends with the Word ablaze into the Father's shadow, that is vulnerable to the command of Love, that sets out to the Cross - that place of love poured out to the end - with unfathomable hope.

PS - for those interested, I am giving conferences for a retreat on the spiritual doctrine of Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity in Nebraska this Spring.  For more information, click here.

February 19, 2018

Making Space for God

In these holy days of Lent, we are invited to make space for God in our lives and in our hearts. We do this by prayer, fasting and almsgiving. To give alms empties our hands of things that distract us. To fast empties our bellies of food that dulls the mind.  To pray empties our hearts of agendas that can only fall short of the glory to which God calls us.  With hands empty and ready, a mind hungry for His Word and athirst with His love, and a heart humbled and freed to welcome His presence, we give the Lord all the space that He needs to heal us, to strengthen us, and to draw us deep into the bosom of the Trinity.

February 10, 2018

Haiti and the Love of God

One of the greatest graces for my spiritual life came in the form of an invitation from the Missionaries of Charity to my wife and me to be guests at their home in Haiti. This home is a compound in the midst of a very poor and dangerous slum in Port-au-Prince. Mother Teresa's sisters are fearless in entering into areas that no one else wants to go and entering into solidarity with those most abandoned. This is because of their love for Jesus who they encounter and serve in the poorest of the poor. They believe that He thirsts for our love, and that He thirsts that His love be known to others. So they go where His love is most needed and, among those who face the most crushing circumstances, they find and make known the love of Jesus anew through silent acts of love.  In this way, by their silent witness, they draw souls to Him - both the souls of those who suffer and also the souls of those who, with them, are moved to relieve this suffering. To accompany them in this vocation is to have the joy of the Gospel re-ignite in one's heart. 

My wife had the honor of serving in their home for children.  Parents unable to provide enough food or care for their sick children, entrust them to the Missionaries of Charity until they are healthy enough to come home. Through the assistance of Haitians from the surrounding neighborhoods, Mother Teresa's sisters provide both the medical care and the loving hands that these children need to recover from malnutrition and a whole string of various serious diseases. One of my favorite memories with Agnes was holding little children who would not let us put them down. 

We also met some extraordinary people who help the Missionaries of Charity and work alongside them. Among those we met were a couple of priests - one from the US and the other from Canada.  They both were adamant that the Gospel of Christ must be enfleshed - shown in action, action that relieved the misery and restored the dignity of those whom they served in very practical ways.  Moreover, for them, the answer to material poverty was not simply providing material things.  Instead, in order to witness to the Gospel of Christ, they learned that more than anything else, those they served needed to feel respected and loved.  They needed some good guidance on both practical and spiritual matters. They needed, even more, confidence in the gifts that God has given them.

Father Dupuis self-identifies as the “Solar Priest.” The Missionaries of Charity, with whom he works, do not disagree with the handle. In the last few years, he acquired (by trial and error) a knack for installing solar panels, not only in his home diocese, but also in some of the poorest areas throughout Haiti.  He is a tireless advocate for providing this sustainable energy system because it provides electricity where it is not available or dramatically brings down the cost of electricity for those who most need it. It also provides job training for laborers eager to make a living.

Originally from Montreal, he was a student in Rome when he was invited to serve Jamaica.  He has spent his priesthood building communities of hope not only there, but also in neighboring Haiti. A believer in an incarnate Gospel, he is convinced that the love of Christ will compel generosity and mutual concern for one another in his parish family.

At one of his parishes, he worked out an elaborate food service where parishioners buy one another’s products, and strategize together on how to develop new markets for their goods. He initiates new efforts like these by creating incentives and providing a little direction on regulations and professionalism. Once the entrepreneurial spirit takes over, however, he steps aside.   

Mother Teresa’s sisters, and other communities, rely on his priestly ministry whenever he comes to visit. They also rely on his willingness to take on all kinds of maintenance and engineering projects, including his self-taught expertise with installing and maintaining solar panels. When asked about how he acquired this skill, he smiles and explains with the wry wit only a French accent can provide, “Trial and error: lots of error and also, watching how-to videos on YouTube.” 

When we met at a home for children, he had just returned from Port-de-Paix, where he provided much needed repairs to one of his solar systems that he installed five years ago for the Missionaries of Charity. He and his team discovered a wiring problem (the saline air from the sea had pulverized the electrical wires coming out of the solar panels) and worked to fix and improve the whole system. In fact, between when he had first installed that one and now, he explained, he had learned a lot. His Haitian team double-checks each other’s work, including his. If someone complains, team members explain that it is not enough to get the job done fast. Their attitude is, according the the Solar Priest, “We are professionals and people are relying on us, we must do it right.” 

This attitude has been invaluable to groups who try to be a light in the darkness of Haitians, including the Missionaries of Charity and Father Tom Hagan’s Hands Together.  Indeed, physical darkness compounds spiritual misery for many Haitians. After a recent earthquake in which 220,000 souls perished, and two years of severe hurricanes, the power grid is either unreliable or else non-existent in the poorer areas. All this has added to squalid conditions with which so many have to manage on a daily basis. Father Francis knows this and is willing to learn almost anything to give those serving in these communities better light and water. 

Fr. Tom Hagan (founder of Hands Together) has helped Haitians start several schools in the slums of Port-au-Prince that provide free education for elementary, middle and high school students. A good number of kids come to the school for lunch (food) and often that is the only meal of the day for them. Father Tom is proud of these joyful and remarkable young people in the face of such adversity. He is keenly aware that the problems they face are more than the challenge of poverty. They are made for greater things -- and he wants them to discover this. He also supports other apostolates run by the Haitian people in different parts of Haiti. He sees himself not so much as doing ministry for the Haitian people as much as he does it with them. To this end, he raises the funds thru his "Hand Together": http://www.handstogether.org/


As for donations for the work of the Missionaries of Charity, checks may be made payable to Missionaries of Charity and sent to the Miami House address listed below. Please note on the check that you would like it used for the work in Haiti and/or send a note specifying that how you would like that the donation to be used. The Sisters will honor that request as much as possible. The Sisters will always acknowledge donations with a letter to the donor.

Missionaries of Charity
727 NW 17 ST.
Miami, FL 33136

February 8, 2018

An Encounter in Burgos

Every seven years, the Church in Spain celebrates a Teresian Holy Year, and the Avila Institute of Spiritual Formation organized a journey to participate with about forty pilgrims last November. In nine days, over Thanksgiving week, we visited many of the convents that Mother Teresa founded. On one of the days of our pilgrimage we set out for Burgos. 

On the way, we stopped for Mass in the monastery in Palencia - and the sisters graciously provided us with cookies and coffee for breakfast afterward. Their joy was so contagious - we in the small parlor and they behind the grill, physically jumping up and down with glee at seeing us. Though most of us spoke little Spanish and they little English, there was a bond that we shared together… we, like them, though only laity managing our way in the world, had been touched by the spiritual doctrine of their Foundress — her teachings on prayer and on faithfulness.  With this foretaste of heaven, we climbed back on the bus and road a couple more hours to Burgos, to visit, among other sacred places, its beautiful Cathedral.  

After our arrival, we had a few minutes for a bathroom break and I was a little distracted by a hot chocolate shop nearby. I had been at this very spot once with another group of pilgrims - a memory of fun and laughter that I wanted to re-live. But like most beautiful moments of grace… they never come the same way twice.  Indeed, as I approach the shop to get my hot cocoa, an upset pilgrim approached me for help.  

With a sense of urgency in her voice, she explained that there was a man dead in the public bathroom. No one knew what to do. I am embarrassed to admit that I was annoyed at first — this was not according to plan. All I wanted was to indulge an old memory. This was the opposite of that. 

Reluctantly, I let the pilgrim lead me to a steal public restroom with automatic doors and locks. Lying on the floor was a young man. I asked another pilgrim to fetch our doctor and asked the lady at the chocolate shop to call an ambulance. Then while I waited, I heard the voice of my own conscience - it was not enough to ask others, I needed to do something myself. But I did not want to… I was afraid of what I might find. Prodded by an insistent pilgrim, I finally succumbed to that still small voice in my heart.  What I experienced was a powerful grace that has stayed with me ever since. As I prayed over the few minutes of my visit, the words of a poem emerged and it is these that I would like to share with you now:

On Him, the Door I Shut
(A Pilgrim on the Streets of Burgos)

A break for toilette, for chocolate, for “Time was tight”
In Cathedral’s shadow, I fell upon that victim’s plight
There, my selfishness recoiled before Mercy’s might.

On the ground, a naked stranger lays fetal
skin white, floor plastic and cold metal
blood bright, feces dark, under heroine lethal

Pilgrims, helpful, call aghast
Shopkeeper annoyed, excited, on phone harassed
Onlookers, indifferent, quickly passed

That sepulcher, there both shame and glory meet -
Heart lost in revulsion, righteous excuse, readied retreat
At that restroom door, prayer and pilgrims but stayed my feet

Like a corpse it lay, a youth, the image of my son
In stench fluid’s filth, needle, darkness, spoon 
No pulse, but warm, with opened wound

To our Lord, heartfelt but pathetic prayer
Then he twitched, stirred, and pulsed bare-
Ly, boom, boom, boom, as I exit to siren’s blare

Steal on steal and electric lock
Anxious tolls of ancient clock
In Burgos as in L.A., my thoughts just empty talk

On Him, the door I shut,
whose silent glories cut
short, my cold indifference.


For me, the distress of an unknown stranger became a moment of grace. In a single moment, I saw this young person as my son and at the same time as my Lord. In that encounter, I was put face to face with my mediocrity and the moral standard of the Gospel of Christ. For a moment, I glimpsed the mystery of the Father’s love of His Son in the Holy Sepulcher, and God’s desire to raise each of us up out of the filth of our lives. I tasted, for an instant, a love that is stronger than death and the mercy that circumscribes our misery. Such moments ought to live in the heart of apostolic activity, and they ought to feed our prayer. Otherwise, we remain but prisoners of the projects of our self-indulgent piety — save for the fact that the Lord never fails to come to us, even though in disguise.