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. 

October 22, 2018

Saint John Paul II

St. John Paul II believed that believers have nothing to fear amidst the deep cultural crisis that threatens contemporary society.  Instead, we need "to show to what depths the relationship with Christ can lead"in Novo Millennio Enuente, 32.

He observed that we live at a time of deep spiritual hunger and that cultural forces opposed to the Church are unable to address this growing need. The Modern Metropolis, no less than any ancient one, is waiting for the word of hope that the Christian faith provides. To build a culture of life and civilization of love in these tough times, Pope John Paul was convinced that a vital Christianity "returns continually to the sources" of our faith. "The great mystical tradition of the Church of both East and West has much to say in this regard" Novo Millennio Enuente, 33.

The contemporary magisterium, before and after Saint John Paul II, has also invited us to bring "the great mystical tradition of the Church" into our contemporary situation. That is why, starting in the early 1970s, Popes have proposed seven new Doctors of the Church. After Saint Paul VI added St. Teresa of Avila, St. Catherine of Siena and St. John of the Cross, John Paul II advanced St. Therese of Lisieux to this status. Since then, St. Gregory of Narek, St. Hildegard of Bingen, and St. John of Avila have also been named.

This mystical tradition offers a pathway to human maturity and to the greatness that God fashioned us to realize. It challenges conventional thinking and causes us to look beyond what is comfortable or convenient. Indeed, this wisdom is about God raising us above ourselves and leading us our of those routine ruts that lead no where. By directing us to this mystical wisdom, John Paul II invites us into this same undertaking, the holiness that lives in this tradition, the adventure into which a relationship with Christ leads.

The recently declared Doctors of the Church open us up this wisdom and we need to revisit their writings -- to allow their ideas to shape our own and to impact how we live. This is what John Paul II meant when he encouraged us to draw from these sources.  As their insights purify our own judgments, we become capable of a more intense engagement with our human vocation.  In their works we discover the wonders of the Lord and find ways to make all our relationships and our entire way of life into something beautiful for God. 

October 21, 2018

Action and Contemplation

Many believe that action and contemplation are mutually exclusive efforts. Some argue that a prayerful life is an escape from the difficult effort of loving service. Others argue that the apostolic life lacks a certain depth and devotion to the Lord. Yet the greatest mystics never saw a tension between apostolic service and contemplative prayer -- for them, it would be impossible to have one without the other.  The deeper into prayer they went, the greater their apostolic zeal. The more dedicated their love of neighbor, the more they relied on prayer for strength. How is it that these prayerful people did more than those who feel they are too busy for prayer?

In her retreat, Heaven in Faith #40, Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity looked to the Virgin Mary to resolve this paradox. She notes that during the months between the Annunciation and the Visitation, the Virgin is a model for contemplative souls.  Indeed, soul who lives by the interior life of love of the Indwelling of the Trinity is especially chosen by God to know the kind of peace that Mary knew in all her activities.

A contemplative who pondered everything in her heart, Mary was ready for action. When a command from heaven arrives, she does not hesitate to makes haste into the hill country to serve her cousin. Putting her love for God into action did not diminish her prayer. As soon as she completes her service to Elizabeth, she returns to her life of contemplation in Nazareth. The reason why she so easily goes between the two is the simplicity of her soul - her soul is simplified, unified, made simple by its wholly loving movement to the Lord whether in service to others or in prayer.

This same loving movement can lead us out of ourselves and into a great silence. In the exquisite silence of faith, every obstacle to such self-donation is removed. In particular, the stranglehold of self-occupation and fear is broken. Stripped of all that can hold it back, in this wonderful stillness, the soul is vulnerable even to God's slightest wish - and God will never hold Himself back.

The dynamism of the Bride of Christ - the mystical Body constituted by the Gift of the Holy Spirit. Love draw His Love all the more. Here, in this silence, the same silence that Mary knows, whether for love of neighbor or for love of God, the soul is always ready to give itself. Such a self-gift is at the heart of true and mature contemplation. The same self-gift defines true apostolic mission.

This peaceful readiness desires only that the will of the Father be fulfilled. If the Spirit of the Father prompts such a contemplative into action - its efforts are always fruitful. When the action is complete, the Farther delights in the prayerful gaze of such a devoted heart - for He sees His own Son reflected there. Nothing can thwart this kind of love -- for Divine Love animates and sets this heart in movement and at rest. The Trinity has become the very life of this soul - and this same soul, for its part, is transformed in its image and likeness to the Three Persons in One God.

October 18, 2018

The Indwelling of the Trinity

What animates Christian Contemplation is the most beautiful and intimate mystery of the universe -- the Glory out of which all things visible and invisible have issued forth.  This unseen Glory causes all that is to exist and holds all things in existence for no other reason than sheer love and goodness. By an utterly excessive outpouring of love, in a divine and wholly gratuitous gift of sheer grace, this inexhaustible treasure has been entrusted to the heart to be known and loved.

Such is the Divine Indwelling - beyond holding us into existence, the Trinity manifests its goodness and truth to those who believe in the Risen Lord. This is no ordinary knowledge, no simple accumulation or mastery of information. It is sacred truth - the kind of truth that when humbly received shatters all rash judgments and helps us find the way home.

The prayer that receives this knowledge and love is called mystical. It is produced, not by human effort, but by the gentle touch of the Holy Spirit.Only the most humble act of faith and determined devotion makes the soul vulnerable enough to receive this Divine Gift.

The Holy Trinity may dwell in a soul for many years before the soul become conscious of the gift that it has been given. The humble love that such a gift requires can take years of constant vigilance and silent readiness. Steeping the imagination in holy images prepares the soil. Baptizing our intelligence with revealed truth makes the necessary space. Surrendering affections and offering painful sorrows with love draws this powerful blessing. 

This hidden secret cannot be grasped by mental gymnastics or intellectual feats.  This deepest spiritual truth evades the proud and powerful. The wise of this world are confounded by its simplicity. The clever stumble over its shocking liberty.  Only poor beggars are ready for this hidden bounty.

Pierced and disjointed in helter-skelter agony, hung on dead splintered wood between heaven and earth, the last wordless cry of the Word of the Father fills the empty voids of this world with this living fullness. It flows like a font from the deepest center of Holy Spirit bathed baptized souls. It falls like rain on the contrite and runs like streams from their eyes to their hearts. Its fragrance awakens and draws love. It shakes the foundations of human existence and rips open the veils that separate Bride from Bridegroom.  

Such is the august mystery of the Holy Trinity. An endless sea of love and life flows immutably from its tenderness toward humanity while its patient purpose remains un-thwarted by our hostility.  Oh,  that we might share in that same great stillness that this boundless Presence knows -- the peace of love poured out and received. In this magnificent stillness is the humble Greatness that resists our pride and the gentle Immensity that silences our aggression.

Generously implicated in our misery, the Father sends His Son in the power of His Spirit again and again into our hearts anew -- a pure, total and personal gift -- as if always for the first time. For, in the image of the unrepeatability of God's majesty, this astonishing gift never comes the same way twice.  A personal gift of mutual relations, enkindling with bright warm splendor, this indwelling mystery is the hidden uncreated form of every created gift of self given and received in love.  

October 15, 2018

St. Teresa of Avila


St. Teresa of Jesus draws us to the light of Christ.  She does this by moving our minds, our imaginations and our hearts into the humanity of the Lord. She baptizes our imagination with the night of the Agony in the Garden so that the King might illumine us. She explains His teachings on prayer to help us see just how far heaven is beyond what we can see. She exhorts us to be mindful of His majesty and humbled by His great love so that when we ask we might receive. She argues that our prayer lives by His Body and Blood so that no matter how sublime the experiences we might have, we will stay grounded in real life.  We need this mystical wisdom in these difficult days -- for it reminds us about who we are and of the great things to which we are called.

For more on this amazing Doctor of the Church:

https://stpaulcenter.com/unmasking-popular-spiritualities-what-teresa-of-avila-can-teach-us-today/

October 11, 2018

On Keeping the Word of the Father

How do we remain in the Word? The night before He died, Christ commanded his disciples to remain in Him - and, explained, that this means to keep His Word. (See John 15.) Obeying this command goes beyond any moralism or fulfillment of minimal obligation. Minimalism does not keep the Word - for the Word, in its sheer grandeur and inexhaustible wonder, is maximal. We need to live with a maximal response if we are to hear and keep this Word whom the Father fully speaks into our lives. Such is the great task of being Christian -- and the constant effort of contemplation in the Catholic Tradition.

Keeping His Word is painful - because to receive the Word of the Father is to accept being stripped, pruned of what is not fruitful in one's life. The Father cuts off dead branches from our lives as we keep His Word in our hearts.  If we try to keep what is not fruitful, there is no room for what is fruitful. We are dissipated, wasting energy on what has little or nothing to do with the Word. So the Father prunes away what is lifeless.

He does so in respect to our freedom -- for He will not prune what we do not allow Him to. That is why remaining in the Word requires great effort. It costs us trust and confidence in the Father and surrendered openness. It means a receptivity that welcomes what the Father desires and that readily gives permission, assents to all that He yearns to do. When we freely surrender to the Father's purifying action - room is made in our hearts for the new life that the Word makes fecund within. 

October 8, 2018

Prayer and Discouragement

Sometimes, when you offer all that you have and there is no more to give, all the good that you intended seems to crash down around you. All of your efforts seem to have been for naught. Hidden sacrifices and hidden tears seem to have paid no dividends.

Sometimes, while offering a noble sacrifice and tender act of mercy, you only accomplished your own humiliation. Not only the project that you failed to bring to completion, but your own weakness and inadequacy stares you in the face. No noble feelings are left. Only void remains.

Do not let this abyss of humiliation go to waste! Do not let the opportunity to pray in the midst of failure pass you by. For here, we are finally able to offer something of real worth in the eyes of God. Here, in the place where plans are shattered and the heart is broken, Christ Crucified awaits us in love - and the Author of our Faith waits to make our own faith perfect.

The King of Glory prefers these places of poverty and failure: consider where He was born and how He died. The Image of the Invisible God has chosen to make our humiliation His own.  When we are humiliated for His sake, He who is Mighty stands ready to exalt us.

That is why, precisely when we are engulfed in disappointment, we should not torment ourselves with what we thought ought to happen, but give thanks for what the Lord Himself will accomplish. We do not need to know how or what He will do. We only need to trust that His work will be so much more beautiful than anything that was limited by our own categories of success.

Faithfulness, not success, is the good soil of prayer. In failure and defeat the frailest act of love and trust makes the whole world vulnerable to a new work that the Creator yearns to accomplish. In such a sacred place, the smallest act of gratitude is like a mustard seed. When the heart is crushed, one instant of praise in such circumstance is like a priceless pearl in His eyes. Such an act opens fissures in this world and into these the Fount of Living Waters waits to pour the inexhaustible treasuries of His great mercy.

October 6, 2018

The Personal Presence of God

God's presence in the world is personal and intimate. He is vulnerable to every concern and attends with tender care to every request. He does not approach with programs or agendas. He approaches in true friendship - offering forgiveness, salvation, a new beginning and a bond of love. He longs that we might know peace with Him and with one another.

God's personal presence in the world unveils a great mystery of love and truth that cannot be circumscribed. In His inexhaustible Fullness, He overflows the barriers of malice and contempt and shatters prisons of confusion and deception. The shrill cry that fears love and truth is silenced before His holiness. His Truth in silent majesty is always victorious when clamor of darkness would stand in His Way. Where there is no love, the Author of our Faith fills with love until love is found -- and all our clever calculations are confounded when what seemed impossible is suddenly accomplished.

God's intimate presence in love and truth is shared with us by the grace that comes from the Cross. We pull back and fear what this might mean. Yet the the King of Righteousness suffered our hostility to the end and marched into Hell so that death could not have the last word about our humanity. The power of His presence confronts our every sin and, in the face of our ignorance, makes known His justice -- so that we might come to our senses, give up our rebellion, turn to Him and know His merciful kindness. For He awaits us with open arms.

October 1, 2018

The Hidden Way

St. Therese teaches us the hidden way. It is not the way of convention. Nor is it the way of convenience. It often goes against what seems opportune. It always opens out into what is not comfortable. It goes beyond all these things to our fatherland - a place where love is unimpeded by the narrow limits of our own cleverness and achievement. She calls this hidden journey "living by love."

We are pilgrims in this world who travel with the trust of children -- this means never forgetting the goodness of the Father even when it seems most absent. The hidden way goes past our insecurities and our need to be in control. It takes us far past personal gain and even our own health. It takes us deep into the heartache of others - for there Our Bridegroom waits for us. Not suffering in itself, but the love He sees us offer in the midst of life's challenges pierces His heart.

In this face to face, the heart cries out not only in sorrow but also joy. Such is the oblation to merciful love one makes in this hidden way. Y
et it costs dearly - for who can learn to love except at their own expense? And of what use is a love that has never been tested by suffering?

For to live by love takes us on a pathway into the deepest voids -- it is in precisely such painful places that His healing touch is most felt. Finally, where His mercy touches our
misery at last, our frail humanity finds its rest - not in what it achieves but in its very inadequacy, in its very failures to lov
e. Only here, where we spend ourselves and pour out our last effort, falling short even as we hold fast to Him, do we finally learn to be confident in the goodness of the Father.

Confidence in the love of God - that is the path and it is the destination. He draws us into this great mystery by the immensity of His love - beyond every barrier, every seeming impossibility, into a place of mystery that even those closest to us do not understand ... but somehow yearn for.