December 28, 2019

The Suffering Love of the Savior

The love of Jesus saves because it has the power to bear away sin. The witness of the Holy Innocents shows us that the powerful of this world do not have the final say about humanity. At the end of the day, no matter how much violence is unleashed, Christ's saving love will raise up the lowly and the powerless - even if they are as helpless as infants and children. Because of Christ, they suffered, but because of Him, they testify to something good and true about humanity - that the most vulnerable of our society to not admit of being used as a means to and end, that those who do so will never thwart the plan of God. For the saving power of God is greater than the power of evil.

If the Savior has so much power over the affairs of the world, what about the movements of the heart? No disordered affection can withstand the heat of Christ's love and this suffering love burns away all impurity of a soul until only the truth remains. Because this love comes from the Father, the suffering love of the Savior makes us just. That is, when we allow this love to burn in us, it gives us standing before the Lord. Enchantments, intoxications, false teachings, myths - none of this can stand before the presence of this burning fire.  All that is left is the truth of who we are.

There are those who hate the truth. They would rather their false teachings and myths. So they run into different kinds of enchantments, one after the other, until they exhaust themselves in self-contradictions. Still, His love burns, ready to do its work of restoration, purification and transformation - if only they will turn back to Him. No matter how far someone seems to have gone, the way back is as close as a prayer of the heart.

This divine love restores integrity by overcoming our lack of integrity. It untangles self-contradiction by aligning our being with the truth. It heals wounds that seem impossible to heal - not only those that life throws at someone, but also those that we have caused those we love. Such is the saving fire of Christ's suffering love. 

December 26, 2019

Welcome the Christ-Child into Your Heart

The Word of the Father has entered into the world with great gentleness and discretion. Not violent, but tender toward humanity, how He has come into human history unveils how he comes into the mystery of each heart. He does not come to diminish or impose, but to build up and to enrich. Not to come to adore Him is to lose out on the whole purpose of life, but many who seek Him are baptized into so much meaning that their hearts can no longer hold it in. It is precisely his vulnerability and his poverty that unveil his power and riches.

As powerless as a babe shivering in the night, He brings the power to conquer sin and death. Those who will bear His life in their hearts discover how carefully He bears away sin.  He is not put off by disordered desires or bad habits - but longs for us to entrust these to Him so that He might transform them into new floodgates of mercy. As poor as a newborn without a home, He enriches with the blessings of the Father all who invite Him into their households and relationships.

Just like any infant, welcoming the Christ-Child is never convenient but calls forth the very best from us.  If he pierces the heart, it is only to set it free. If he unmasks the material delusions that bog us down, it is so that we might be swift enough to walk with God. If to hold Him in our hearts we must enter the darkness of faith, it is so that we might be held by Him. So He comes as a babe in the darkness of night, and in the stable, among creatures utterly dependent on the care of others, he learns to be utterly dependent on us.

The Word made flesh speaks in silences. If we will hold Him in our hearts, we must enter into the swaddling silence that enwraps Him and, just as he emptied Himself, despoil ourselves of every attachment that holds us back from Him. Born of a Virgin womb, He is able to show us what to let go of by speaking to us in our own consciences. Whatever the possession or position that will make us humble not to have, let go of it for His sake and entrust it to Him. Whatever attachment that threatens one’s integrity or proposes a self-contraction to the truth of the heart, leave it behind so that you might draw close to Him, the possession of whom gives everything that is needed for a fullness of life, love and truth.

To draw close to this unique child, we must go beyond what is familiar and comfortable. We must make space for Him to speak to us by setting aside time from lesser pursuits and devoting it instead to a prayerful reading of the Bible and meditation on the beautiful things He has done. Most of all, choosing to believe in His presence and to live in it even when it seems that He is not there. When our love for Him prompts us to make a commitment that stands in the face of our own lack of courage, accepting this challenge is the condition that allows His courage and generosity to flood our lives.

The Christ-Child chose to rely on us in poverty and nakedness, and He invites us to choose to rely on Him in everything and in complete vulnerability. The more we let His presence inconvenience us, the more meaningful our faith in Him becomes, not only for ourselves, but for the whole world. He is the new life for which this dying world longs, its only hope, and He hopes in us to make known the Good News. He is the wheat in the manger of the world, and when He fills us, the world knows that nothing else can relieve the hunger of this famished life. When we suffer the loss of all things for His sake, the world comes to see that He is the treasure that makes rich all who will trust in Him.

December 14, 2019

The Shield of Faith and the War against Idolatry in Advent

Christmas approaches. It is a magical time of music, light, happy meetings, and touching goodbyes. The heart is full all at once and then, suddenly alone.  It is in the "aloneness" of a soul that a powerful battle unfolds. It is a battle not against men but against principalities and forces that seem to govern this world. They clamor for our devotion and want us to erect idols to them in our hearts. Indeed, not only re-emerging primitive forms of idolatry but also their modern counterparts, make so many promises concerning a better future.  But whenever an idol is allowed in the heart, whether we believe it is divine or base, it always enslaves us.

We are easy to enslave because of a painful aloneness that haunts our lives. This restlessness is not the same as a moment of loneliness when we suddenly realize that we are far from friends and family.  This too is painful but passing because the moment is filled with the hope of a future homecoming. Aloneness that occasions spiritual battle is different.

There is a pain that is cause by the absence of a love that ought to be but is not.  Aloneness aches in this absence until it becomes a threat to our dignity and opposes the greatness for which we were made. A deeper and more permanent sense of alienation makes one feel estranged even from oneself and disconnected from the world. All kinds of fear and insecurity emerge. The desire to find a distraction or at least some relief from the gnawing sense of emptiness floods the soul. So occupied with self-preservation and self-hating shame, our egos can become the cages in which humanity's ancient foes capture and imprison us.  To escape, we need a key and the One who holds it comes for us even now!

In the face of human misery and the opportunity to presents, false deities make empty promises that faith in the true God must confront. These are legion but can be categorized broadly in terms of bread, sex and power. Each attempts to reclaim oppression over human freedom in every generation, even in the modern world. Christianity is, in a certain sense, a resistance movement against these dehumanizing forces. It holds out against them until the return of the Lord.

In the ancient world, early Christianity unmasked the absurdity of such worship and people found refuge in its truth. Today, these same powers have a singular advantage in that what these ancient idols symbolized is now de-sacralized in the modern mind. Instead of powers over and above humanity, wealth, pleasure and control are accepted as worthy of homage not despite, but precisely because, they are less than holy. In other words, ancient people were drawn by what they looked upon as divine powers - today, blind to the greatness for which we were made, we allow ourselves to be enslaved by what we know is base. Believers must find a way to confront this new reality.

The dark rulers who reign over this world and want to enslave humanity are the same as those that Christianity confronts in every age, even as modern people have depersonalized them.  It has become the cultural norm to acquiesce to the absolute claims that these disordered urgings stir in the depths of the heart -- and humanity diminishes for it. They would have us burn with unfulfilled desires until we lose desire altogether. Only the shield of faith can protect a soul from the fiery darts that they throw.

Christian prayer unfolds in with confidence that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob has come to deliver us from these dehumanizing forces. He does not want us to merely manage the best we can -- He wants our freedom and protection. Thus, He asks us to make real acts of faith. That is, He hopes that we will make concrete decisions regarding worldly things so that we can see the reason for our hope. Faith gives Him space to reveal the freedom for which we are made when we engage real flesh and blood actions that go beyond good intentions and half-hearted resolutions. This means renouncing all idolatry of ever kind, whether new or ancient, whether primitive or cosmopolitan: the bread deities, the sexual fetishes, and the power gods of every age, all that ask for our allegiance in the place of God.

A bread god is nothing more than an unhappy party animal who promises a good time but always disappoints.  When it rules over our hearts, we are inclined to all kinds of over-indulgence, lack of restraint, gluttony, and insobriety.  We escape by consuming until we attain that dissatisfying state of sensory overload.  The bloated euphoria acquired by consuming and hoarding more than we need makes us quick tempered and impatient with any hardship. We lose our capacity to bear with one another patiently or to be vulnerable to the plight of those who are hungry.

In the end, we debase ourselves by serving what we eat instead of ordering what we eat to the service of God. Spiritual lethargy that comes from overeating and insobriety robs the soul of joy and gratitude for the bountiful goodness of the true God. Against this idol, the shield of faith calls us return to the discipline of our faith; to fast, to stay sober, and to remain alert for the coming of Christ in prayer.

A sexual fetish or fertility god is nothing more than a sullen seducer who promises connection, bliss and fruitfulness but always alienates and leaves spiritually barren. When erotic forces rule over our hearts, we are disposed to cold calculations in our relationships.  We regard others in terms of the pleasure they provide and whatever we have calculated is never enough. We are frustrated in all kinds of self-contradictions and breeches of personal integrity. We exhaust ourselves in hunting, even if only in a virtual world, for satisfactions that can only leave us all the more empty inside. We suffer both a certain fear of and despair over any meaningful intimacy. Our consciences are haunted by our own betrayals of those entrusted to us.

To deflect the onslaught of this idol, our faith calls us to the renunciation of not only illegitimate pleasures but even legitimate ones -- that is, to pick up our cross and follow our crucified God. This is the pathway that chooses sacrificial love and acts of merciful kindness over indulgence in selfish pleasure. Faith protects our resolve to attend to the beloved entrusted to us by God more than one's own self. There is something great when we arise above selfish indulgence and implicate ourselves in the misery of those who ache for someone to acknowledge their existence, especially when that someone is close to us or even has acted against us. The world never expects much of us, but God has created us for the greatness of a life lived by love.

A power god is nothing more than a control freak who promises protection against all kinds of passing fears but engenders hubris and arrogance instead. When this power is given reign over our hearts, the more successful our plans, the more we judge our neighbor and determine him to be less than us. If we are opposed, we entertain righteous indignation at the expense of the truth and with no desire for reconciliation. When others are no more than obstacles or means to an end, we can never know the communion that God created us to have or the humility that we need in order for Him to bless us.

Without the blessing of the Living God, we are doomed. Thus, faith's obedience shields us from the mean-ness of our own plans by putting us under His plan.  As we learn to entrust our happiness to Him and to allow Him to become the shelter of our lives, He gives us a new courage to confront the vicissitudes of life and to find in them beautiful new expressions of His Providence. Behind the veil of overwhelming catastrophe, He who is mighty continues to do great things.

If we are imprisoned, Advent holds a key that can free us if we will only step into the silence to which it invites us. The Key of David has given those keys of Peter that unlock the doors of the heart in repentance, confession, and conversion. Unlock the doors and step into the starlight of hope. All our efforts to be reconciled, to seek forgiveness and to forgive provide new openings for the Lord to unshackle us. Open wide the doors to Christ and He will cast away the idols that we have allowed to reign in our lives. 

December 8, 2019

The Mystery of the Church in Advent

Advent is a season for us to rediscover the mystery of the Church. She is the Bride who awaits the Bridegroom with eager anticipation. The shining glow of a secret joy glistens in her eyes. To glimpse her fierce majesty is to be drawn into her invincible dynamism.  For she awakens a longing that nothing can overcome and in the deepest center of the heart, brings to birth a new certitude.

The Bride knows, in a way that no one else can know, the truth and goodness that the Bridegroom imparts, and each new gift that he gives makes her yearn for Him all the more. Conversely, without the Church, we are deprived of the passion that the Christian faith demands. We can only strain for what lies ahead as we learn to see the goodness of the life that He has given us now. The life of the Church spans the "here and now" with an eternity of new beginnings so that as she journeys, He makes all things new.

His Bride knows more than any other with what unsearchable riches He floods the heart. If she teaches us to fast and to renounce otherwise good things, it is only so that we will be hungry and open for better things. Of all things, knowledge of Christ is best of all. It is a knowledge that suffers His obedience in the whole of one's entire being, even into its deepest abyss. If this excelling knowledge becomes too much to hold in and one suddenly needs to surrender and let it flow out, it is because those who draw close to her mystery are overtaken by the same joy and heartache to which the Bride of Christ too has surrendered. When we allow it, what flows out can change the world.

Conversely, disobedience to God obscures our vision of the beauty of the Bride even to the point that all sight of her radiance is lost. In the face of the gross mediocrity of her shepherds or else the cold hypocrisy of her members, it is possible for the soul to fall into a kind of spiritual shock that closes the eyes of the heart. Under this blinding spell, one might still practice many different kinds of piety, but does so -- at least, to some extent -- extra ecclesia, outside the Great Mystery, or at least only on its outskirts. In a certain way, all of us, to the extent we are not obedient to Christ, allow ourselves to be subject to this spiritual blindness. Only through embracing the obedience of the Bride in our own lives do we see the Church the way Risen One sees her.

Not ever to see what the Lord sees can only be the greatest tragedy in this short life of ours. This vision of the Bridegroom - that loving gaze that sees possibilities that eyes still subject to death cannot see -- sees the truth of His Mystical Body. What He sees delights Him to the point that nothing could ever overshadow the joy that He has in the Bride given to Him by the Father. If only we will allow Christ to show us the truth about his Bride, if only we will enter into the mystery of obedience that he lays open for humanity, that very joy that He shares with her becomes ours too.

At a time when hope is tested and the bonds of friendship are often forsaken, we need this joy - that joy that Christ and His Bride share together. This is the joy of faithful love -- and all faithful love that is good and true is as an icon of this great love the Christ brings into the world. Loneliness and alienation are not the last word of our lives -- an uncommon love awaits us if we give Him space in our lives to reveal it.

If someone has left the Church, ask Christ to show you His Bride anew. He does not wish to hide what He came to raise up with Him for eternity. Instead, He yearns that we might share in this sacred mystery - the flashpoint of holy humanity joined in communion with Him.  Advent declares that fullness of life awaits those who will walk with this Virgin, Bride and Mother, and learn to see with her eyes the Risen One who comes for her.

Glorious Mirror of that Dawning Splendor
Living Witness of yet to be seen Brightness
Shadowed power magnified terrible and tender
In that heart pounding gaze
Of Him who comes.

Across every distance and through each age
On the Wind of ageless processions
Into the bosom of Threefold Oneness
Those deep currents surging
Towards Him who comes.

She steps through those meaning filled silences

Of hearts given, suffering
Unfamiliar tensions, resolved
Only in what secret harmonies find,
fasting, kindliness and truth's trials,
For His Bride. He cries:

Come Beloved, bathed in My Blood
Rise up immaculate and free,
Loving you first, I surrendered to your love
Until whosoever joins your journey Advent,
Comes to Me, and, with each new maranatha, I come.

November 30, 2019

Fire from Above and the Son of Man

"What we utter is God's wisdom: a mysterious, a hidden wisdom... Yet God has revealed this wisdom to us through the Spirit" 1 Cor. 2:7 and 10.

In Daniel 7:2-14, though overwhelming forces blow and surge through the world, the radiant King of the Universe is enthroned above the fray, undeterred by the winds and waves of the age. This is the Holy Trinity - the surging of an uncreated love from which everything good and noble proceeds. People of faith are not limited by a vision that only sees the passing intrigues of injustice. Their eyes are lifted up to the One who is their help.  He is the great artist whose primal art cannot be defaced even when threatened by gross injustice. The Almighty God has created a world so beautiful that it can make the heart ache with a fullness of meaning - for those who glimpse this glory, joy and sorrow crescendo into a grateful stillness. That benevolent silence is enclosed in the mystery of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Only within this primordial cloister, only in this secret garden accessed by faith, only in this hidden mountain that obedience to God can find, in this place, the truth about the world is unveiled.

The Uncreated Love eternally engendered by the Father and the Son is enthroned on wheels, streams and flames of Fire. Unheeded by the world, myriads upon myriads attend and minister to this great Furnace of Love. Who can resist this burning heat and what can hide from such shining radiance?  Yet, none of the rulers of this age knew the mystery; if they knew it, the would never have crucified the Lord of glory (1 Cor. 2:8).

Notwithstanding the tumult of the times, Love's eternal purpose holds. In the face of arrogant powers, Love's final judgment is rendered. Unquenchable Love decides for the humble and lowly. Jealous Love casts down every dehumanizing monstrosity and abusive abomination. Tender Love establishes order and peace so that all that is good, noble and true in our life might thrive in pure intensity.

Above all violence and oppression, the Living God recognizes the sovereignty of the Son of Man. The Savior reveals the liberty of love entirely freed from self, completely surrendered in love. The powerful of this world grasp for absolute authority over the lives of others and become enslaved to the monsters of their own making. Though He was in the form of God, Son though He was, Jesus did not grasp at Divine Power but rather emptied Himself, humbly taking the form of a slave to set us free.

If wisdom in this world below avoids humiliation and defends from threats, wisdom from above acts in the opposite way. The Suffering Servant entered into every humiliation man has every suffered out of love, so that no matter the humiliation that comes our way, we might know the immensity of the Father's goodness. Though humiliated by us unto death, he yearned to become like us in all things but sin, so that we might not suffer alone, not even death itself. This is a wisdom from above. It can suffer death because it comes from a love that is stronger than death and that no power can over come.

With divine dignity and integrity, the Good Shepherd sacrificed everything to restore our humanity to the glory for which it was made, and no matter how lost we become, He never tires in his search to take us home. At the sound of His voice, the darkness of fear and shame draw back. Touched by truth, we suddenly realize that we are not far from the pathway home. Carried on His shoulders, no matter the dark valley, we find our rest.

He is the Man of Sorrows who bore our afflictions with divine love and by whose stripes in his human flesh we are healed. No matter how diseased or wounded our hearts, the Son of Mary has power to heal so that we might make a new beginning.  When He comes on the clouds of heaven, the Word of the Father is presented in the power of the Holy Spirit and presents us so that we might know the immensity of the Father's mercy as He Himself has known it before the foundation of the world. All He desires is that we might become who He created us to be - creatures of an Uncommon Love, capable of making that Love known wherever and whenever that Love is needed. He yearns to raise us up so that through our lives His dominion might be revealed to those whom He has entrusted to us, to both friend and foe, to all those who most need a word of hope.

November 24, 2019

The Personal Presence of Christ the King

The personal presence of Jesus Christ the King reigns over the world even in its present turmoil. No one and nothing can thwart His plan.  The glory that He desires us to know in Him is ours, if we will believe in Him.

This King has taken His stand with all that is good, noble and true. Those who stand against Him oppose the glory and greatness of their own humanity. They have allied themselves with self-contradiction and already have chosen for themselves their own punishment. Yet, whoever would stand for virtue, nobility and kindness will find in the King of Glory the dearest friend. His reign is a mystery that contains and is contained by anyone who believes He is Lord and Savior.  Those who choose to enter into His reign find peace, a peace the world cannot give.

Indeed, the Lord Jesus, the Word of the Father, establishes peace in all things because He contains all things in Himself. He is before the whole cosmos in power and presence: there is no moment of time, no distance or space, nothing visible or invisible, no force of good or evil, no intelligence or ordering principle material or immaterial that comes before Him. Every creature comes from Him. They are, in wondrous ways, patterned after Him. In their very multiplicity, they are ordered to Him and express His immensity. His mysterious benevolence sustains the existence of everything that is - even the human person and the wonderful gift of freedom with which each member of humanity is endowed. Because He is the source who makes exists and directs all things, even the those things entrusted to the liberty of men and women, the peace that He brings allows all things to thrive, and this is particular true of mankind.

When it comes to the human person, Jesus Christ, our Just Judge, has also chosen to make Himself present to be known and loved in a personal way. The Word of God does this by not only containing our existence and making the use of our own freewill possible but also by freely allowing Himself to be contained by our hearts. He suffers with us all the threats to our integrity so that we do not suffer alone, and He preserves the most precious truth about who we are and where we belong, even when we believe that we have thrown it all away. Our own free willed acts of devotion are endowed with eternal meaning in His eyes - because He is the One who makes them possible for our sake. This makes Him an intimate player and principle actor in the drama of good and evil that unfolds in our hearts. When it comes to the battle for our own integrity, He has taken our side.

With great hope in the goodness by which we were made, the One who is just and true speaks to us so that we might realize the victory of good over evil in our own conscience. Each time this Eternal Word communicates in the passing silence of our hearts, He gives Himself with the desire to hold nothing back, including the secret judgments of His own heart. Those who quickly confess their sins and seek His pardon know this to be true. He wants to share with us the deep things of God, truth hidden in the abyss of divine wisdom, that the judgment of our own hearts might stand unveiled and become vulnerable to His love.

He has won the right to do this by giving Himself on the Cross, and we grant Him permission to do this when we approach that Cross with gratitude, ready to take up our own. Every time we renounce our selfishness, He cultivates His own selflessness in us. Here, we anticipate that final judgment that will be rendered about our lives at the end of time. Before His judgment seat, if we are open, He pours out his fullness into our lives in exchange for our own poverty -- and He longs for us to entrust Him with our very misery so that He might make known to us His invincible mercy.

He does this, first of all, because He knows and loves each of us in a very particular and unrepeatable way. We are actually dear to Him - worthy of every inconvenience and sacrifice, He cannot rest until He finds us and leads us to our true homeland. Indeed, He has cast in His lot with us in the great cosmic conflict with evil. Entering into our plight, He has accomplished, once and for all, the definitive victory against every principality and power that would threaten human dignity or seek to diminish its most high calling.

He did this by entering into our humanity, to embrace and  sanctify the whole of human experience, from womb to tomb. Whatever is ignoble and self-contradictory, he destroyed by His death on the Cross. Such evils only hold sway to the extent that we will not surrender them to Him. Whatever is true and good in our humanity, He saved and raised on high. In His resurrection, He trail blazed a new frontier for humanity, a horizon that stretches even further than death, to a fullness of life completely beyond our powers to grasp or estimate.  This is the way that is open to us if we will accept His reign over our lives.

In the Kingdom of Christ, He rules through and with Mystical Body. Whether by the blood of the martyrs, the contemplation of the ascetics, or generous work of His servants, the loving obedience of His mystical Body constantly expresses His reign in the most concrete and existential ways. Not in mere ideas or intentions, not in mere feelings and fantasies, but in those hard won actions of faith and love, the good and beautiful work of the Lord is manifest. The reign of God is not about unaided human industry, but rather surrendered obedience to the love of the Father. This is the rule of the Lamb who was slain. In all its sublimity, it is found not first of all in great feats, but in those hidden and patient gestures of every day life: a cup of cold water, a smile, a soft answer, an understanding glance.

What would seem pure weakness to the world and an inconvenience is nothing short of a mystical new birth in the reign of Christ. He is ready to act in every contrite acceptance of responsibility, every sincere effort to be reconciled, any attempt to relieve the suffering of my neighbor. No matter how feeble, sacrificing one's own pride and comfort matures into amendment of life, restitution of wrongs thought to be impossible to heal, penance so loving that Christ is able to take delight in its gratitude and sincerity.

This opens into a whole wilderness of new actions of life and love waiting to be explored by the human heart -always together with and for Him. Each here and now, nitty gritty sacrifices made for the love of God and for those who are entrusted to us gives this reign the space to draw us into Him even more -- building up His whole Body with such splendors as no one in this world has ever seen before.

If through His mystical Body, His reign contains and is contained by each one of us through our faith in Him, a certain new unity is established among all of us - in and through Him. Righteous and True, He is already closer to us than we are to ourselves - even if we are indifferent to or doubtful of His presence. In this Kingdom, the closer we draw to Him, the closer we are to one another. He implicates us in one another's plight until we are able to bear each other's sufferings and uphold each other's dignity. If not even death can separate us from the love of Christ and we are all bound together in this love, then this unity is not something that the futility of this world can diminish. Instead, all the limitations of our present life are, by faith in Him and the unity of his Mystical Body, already being transformed into new moments of eternal life. 

November 19, 2019

Light, Glory and Judgment

These days, as we approach the mystery of Advent, the Church invites us to think of  the End of Time. The world looks upon this mystery with avoidant fear. The powerful see inevitable destruction. The rich certain misfortune. The comfortable, catastrophic hardship. The secure insurmountable insecurity. Christians look upon this same reality with hope.

In this final mystery, Divine Justice is at last unveiled. Not only will what's wrong with me be set straight, but what's wrong with the whole world will be too. Mysteries not yet known come to light. Things hidden shown forth. Those who fear the Lord will know His sheer goodness. The children of God will be made like Him, for they shall see Him as He is.

The beatitude that haunts the heart of every man will show forth in sudden splendor. The dumb will proclaim what renders the eloquent speechless. The tears of the oppressed will wiped away. Liberty given captives. The blind sight. The deaf hearing. The lame dancing. The hungry filled with plenty. The poor flooded in abundance. Every form of injustice overthrown. The proud  humbled while the humble raised up. All will fully realize the definitive victory of good over evil won for us on the Cross of Christ. There will be peace.

Christians do not see this Day of Judgment as a remote future event, a "some day" that can be calculated. By faith we know that this inevitable moment comes crashing into human history even now, impregnating time with seeds of eternity. Each instant of this present life both points to and anticipates the consummation that awaits us.  Every heartbeat and every breath relentlessly converges up to vanishing point that faith sees dimly as in a mirror.  This is the point of ultimate encounter in which humanity stands unveiled before the Righteous One in all His glory.

The Just Judge who comes for humanity is the Lamb that was slain. He intends salvation but this gift can be rejected by neglect no less than malice. He yearns for all that makes known the tenderness and wonder of humanity should be raised up on high while all that threatens its dignity and diminishes its glory should be destroyed. Those who seek out this Crucified God and who humbly ask for His mercy find it in astonishing superabundance. Savior of those who cry out to Him in faith, He confirms their every good work and brings it to completion.  In Him, nothing that is good, noble or true is ever lost. Every self-contradiction and threat to one's own integrity is born away and consumed by His inexhaustible love.

In the Sacrament of Penance, this final end of humanity is made present in the most saving way. His mercy fills the voids our failures in justice have caused our neighbors. Indeed, He gladly pays this price for us if we will only begin our journey home. Here, our penance is nothing more than a token thank you for a that healing goodness that flows forth from His Judgment Seat. For our homecoming and the final judgment are meant to coincide: at last, wrapped in new robes, rings on our fingers, in the embrace of our Father, and in our brother's realization that we must celebrate, we who were once dead are being now, and will be forever, brought back to life.

November 14, 2019


Where night is merely a memory
and stars a faded story
the moon eclipsed by fire light
dark shadows too have died
another world, a new earth
radically begotten from an uncreated spark
fresh secret, single key opening every door
the bright alpha and omega forever
living within us.

            Scott Eagan
                November 8, 2019

November 12, 2019

A Meditation on Renewing Formation

The Lamb’s love lavishing
Unrecognized Gifts of Priestly Calling
And myriads more too beautiful to name —
Amid  those sinking vestiges of Christendom
Amid that drifting emptiness of aimless progress
Amid jetsam of broken families, broken wombs and broken hearts,
So many broken shards of the Bride’s radiance
To be found, to be gathered, to be made whole:
New living unities of Office, Teaching and Holiness
Forged in the Divine Furnace
for the salvation of the world

A disciple does not take or make,
but receives identity from his Master:
Integrity is not given but by battle,
Intensity untapped but by the loss of all things,
Truth not suffered but by humiliation,
Beatitude not possessed but in that poverty,
unmasked with careful kindness
In the difficult questions and puzzles of the heart
Proposed by the Son of the Father.

Availing oneself of that silent fullness
that contains and is contained in the Word’s Real Presence
Is never safe, never comfortable, never convenient:
Fire can burn
flaming forth with mysteries
of Love, Death and the Bearing Away of Sin.

All this joining on those relentless waves
of faith’s obedience, humility, and mercy
        Islands of humanity prostrate before
That threshold of the Cross,
That pouring forth of blood and water,
That ocean of deep currents and infinite horizons
in the heart of the Father.

November 3, 2019

Silence, Judgment and Freedom

Contemplative prayer flows from and leads to worship of the Living God, and somewhere in this great moment, we learn to live. Christian prayer, when offered in this context, is never an escape from the voice of our conscience but a coming to terms, a necessary change of heart, a surrender to the power of God. This unfolds in Revelations 8:1 when silence is observed in heaven:

"When the Lamb broke open the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about a half an hour" (NAB).

This celestial silence is alway before us, and it would be reductionistic to presume that it is only a mystery of the future. We are meant to anticipate its mystery now. Contemplative prayer lives in the thanksgiving and adoration of the Eucharist. After receiving Holy Communion, we should keep a brief a period of silence that is open to this heavenly silence. We should also allow the silence of Eucharistic Adoration to take us into this same great stillness. If someone discovers this silence after pondering the Bible, it is because the Word of God is the pathway that leads into it. The holiness of the saints is filled with this same silence for the silence of heaven searches out and finds the Lamb who was slain only to humble itself before what He reveals.

The silence of St. John is occasioned by the opening of the seventh seal. The Seventh Seal, as did the seventh day of creation, represents the final seal of God's plan. Before the coming of Christ, we could not know the ultimate destiny of the heavens and the earth. The Lamb who offered Himself for us reveals the definitive judgment of God. His wounds concern the world and sin, humanity and its integrity, man and woman before God, the Blood from above that falls on all that is below, and the failure of what is below to respond to what has come from above.

The silence of heaven is not empty or meaningless. It is receptive and responsive, and this receptivity to the Word overthrows all the powers of hostility to God in the world below, turning them upside down, purifying the world of them for the sake of new life. Trumpet blast after trumpet blast fills the silence in St. John's Apocalypse. The seventh seal is followed by seven angels blowing seven trumpets: an image of the Eternal Sabbath, a culmination of God's plan, a judgment, a blessing, and the definitive decision in which lives the completion of His saving work. In the end, as it is now, it will be on earth as it is in heaven. This should make us tremble: for what ought to be already is whether we are aware of it or not. We live as if this were not so unto our own peril.

The great silence and the sound of trumpet are not a remote realities to be avoided by cleverness or luck. They are to be sought, longed for, hoped for. Whether by the Rosary or Lectio Divina, spiritual exercises or a sudden grace that seizes our hearts, contemplative prayer takes us into this moment, and the liturgy of the Church teaches us to remain there.

The worship of the Church takes us out of the work-a-day world, out of the exigencies of the moment, out of the limits of time and into the solemn moment where heaven adores the Lamb. We may not be aware of it but that stillness that haunts every moment of our lives and serves as the forgotten backdrop of our existence. There is great jubilation and thanksgiving before the Lamb because His risen humanity surrounded by the saints is a sign that our sinfulness does not get the last word about where we stand with the Father.

Liturgy, our service for the Church and the world, makes that joy known on earth. This great work of prayer enters into the sanctuary not made by hands because it lives in the Body of Christ. The Risen Lord stands before the Father on our behalf because He has loved us to the end and this is why only He can unseal the final judgment on our existence. To enter into the throng of heaven is a super moment of supreme love, a completely humbling instance of eternity in which the truth of our hearts is laid bare as the heart of Love Himself definitively bares Himself to us. The proper response to this definitive moment of God's work is reverence and awe in adoration, bowed and prostrate.

Let the lips quiver and the tears flow, for until now we have not yet lived. We have avoided life in a sea of contradictions, afraid of the truth, fearful of who God is and who we are in His presence. His judgment is ever before us, and we, until this moment indifferent, have not let it into our hearts as we know we should. So, let it in! Open wide the doors to Christ ... there is nothing to lose and everything to gain. Fear is useless ... only trust and confidence in Him can save us. Now is the time to repent and to reconcile, for the silence in which we find ourselves, that very silence into which lead every humble prayer and hopeful cry of petition, is a silence that resounds with truth telling, soul saving and peace establishing trumpet blasts from heaven. And before this fullness of love and life, nothing is ever the same again.

Yet to have this so close but to continue on as if nothing were to change, as if everything would continue on as it always has, this is to cling to a perilous illusion, a dehumanizing myth. It will not stand. In the vigilant humble silence that angelic trumpet blasts fill, all illusion is unmasked and the sense of security into which we lulled ourselves is dispelled.

Here, we find ourselves deciding on our role in the great drama of life, the true story that the heavens tell, the primal story from which all stories worth telling are taken: God's saving plan. Cain or Abel? Abraham or Lot? Moses or Pharaoh? Myth, magic thinking and resistance to the voice of God mark the storyline of Pharaoh. Faith, obedience and holiness open the path of Moses and the Prophets. Myths of men appeal to the imagination and stir hubris, but cannot bear the weight of our existence. Faith in God challenges the heart and offers the only firm ground on which freedom is found.

We hear His voice for the Word became flesh and dwells among us. Our created silence rings with His great uncreated canticle and this changes everything, even the doubts and questions we face. His fire blazes and the bush of creation is not consumed: will we take off our shoes and listen to His voice? In that silence, not to be changed, to be indifferent to the call of truth, this is already to be plagued with scorching hail, burning sea, torched rivers, and darkened skies. Yet relief is swift if we contritely confess our sins and offer acts of penance in thanksgiving for the mercy of God.

The image of Revelations 8 unveil the crisis and hope of our lives: prayers and petitions rise up to heaven while a hot censer of coals is hurled to earth. Thundering angelic trumpet blasts over earth fill the silence of heaven. Catastrophe and salvation together in invincible movement, unavoidable certainty, that final reckoning, that eternal setting things straight. Injustice shall not continue as it has: we may be saved from it or perish with it. Grace makes this great self-defining act possible, even if our choice is not to choose, and we live or die with the consequences of our free decision because our liberty before God is taken serious by all of heaven. How I hope that you and I will always choose God, and find each other in Him!

Whatever we decide, the heaven sent plagues that liberated the People of God from Egypt will liberate the Church from the arrogant. Christ is the New Adam, the New Moses: pillars of fire on land and sea will open a way forward now as they did for Moses - no demonic undercurrent, no earthly power, not even heaven can stop Him. Enslavement, oppression and manipulation will be confronted by the justice of the Most High until the Children of God, safe from every abuse and self-contradiction, are free at last to worship Him and to live life to the full. 

October 27, 2019

The Battle for Integrity and the Gift of the Holy Spirit

Often, the lack of peace in our relationships with others is a symptom of the contention we carry in our hearts. Something is wrong with the world first of all because something is wrong inside me. My conscience convicts me of sin. The sin is never anything I really wanted, but there are forces at work in me that oppose one another - movements of passion that oppose who I want to be in relation to Christ and how I truly desire to act. These passions result in self-contraction whenever I allow them to sway. And they do sway as long as I also allow a host of inordinate attachments dissipate the inner resources required to live a life worthy of the call that I have received. Something deep inside me groans over this -- and that groan is one particular instance of a groan that rises in all creation. Something is out of order in the world, in my relationships with others, and, most of all, in me. What should I do?

St. Paul gives us a little secret when he declares, "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ" (Romans 7:25). Rather than leave the field of battle or surrender to our enemies, he finds reason to thank the Lord.  This state of affairs does not stop the love of God or frustrate the Divine Plan. For St. Paul, God's plan unfolds precisely here, in this difficult paradox of conflicting desires, good and evil, within us. God knows our very integrity is on the line, and we can be grateful to Him that He has not abandoned us but found a way to accompany us in the midst of our plight. He leads us to victory, to true peace, if we will persevere in trusting and giving thanks to Him.

But how? This is where the Gift of the Holy Spirit comes in.  The Holy Spirit is the Gift that Jesus won for us through His passion and death. He ascended into heaven so that this very Breath of God that He shares with the Father might also breathe in our own hearts. A Fire from Heaven, this Furnace of Love is meant to give new light and new warmth to this earthly life. If we let it, our whole existence can suddenly be ablaze with this Living Flame of Love.

The Holy Spirit does not make the winds of self-contradiction vanish all at once. He blows through and in them, purifying them, transforming them from dispositions of sin into moments of conversion. In this way, the Spirit of God suffers our human spirit with us, in all its brokenness, and moans with us over our desire for integrity and wholeness. Foretastes of something beautiful are found, even in the midst of failure, and a new beginning awaits even when everything ends poorly. Indeed, we are not meant for a frustrated existence, dissipated and turned in on itself, but in the Divine Image and Likeness, we live our short and frail lives
to make known that eternal peace born in love and truth, the source of all that is, the happy ending for which all things were made.

The Lord and Giver of Life who dwells in us longs for us to know the peace that reigns with the Father and the Son -- and the cry of the Holy Spirit takes up our own cry and the cries of the whole world into one great hymn of praise, a canticle so magnificent that it moves the very depths of God Himself. This Gift from Above brings into harmony all the misery of our lives with the passion of our Risen Lord -- and with desires to beautiful for words,  the Word cries with us in the same Spirit to the Father. And, in the great silence of Divine Love, the Father blesses this great sacrifice of praise with His tender mercy until the pathway to conversion and peace opens before us. 

October 19, 2019

Fighting Against Lethargy

There are periods of prayer that must endure "storms of destruction" (Psalm 57:1). These storms can be exterior events - whether meteorological or else political, sometimes familial.  Currently, it seems we are in the midst of an ecclesial storm. There are also internal storms. There are tempests of temptation that, if you ever timed them, you would find last about 30 minutes - less than fifteen minutes of which are really intense (if resolutely resisted). Sometimes, an external storm and internal storm converge with demonic force. What does a person of prayer do against such fierce threats to interior peace?

Failure to take the right steps can end in disaster.  What can happen if we are not careful is that we can lose ourselves in thundering torrents of anger or sudden chills of self-pity or in flooding escapism. A dark lethargy soon follows. We lose our heart to continue on and, thus, discouraged, lose our way.

If presumption is to be avoided in the face of a storm, how should we instead proceed?  Anxiety does not help either. Too often we permit anxiety to add to the storms that we have been given to endure. Similar to presumption's anger, self-pity and escapism, unholy forms of unchecked anxiety rob a disciple of the heart needed to follow our Crucified Master.

Devotion stands against the distaste for spiritual things that sometimes seizes us. In fact, the movements of presumption and anxiety are not far apart at all if discerned against devotion. They are both movements away from it. Without the holy oil of devotion how can we rouse up desire for holy things, rejoice in a way that gives strength to others, or stand firm though the whole world falls down around us? Such oil is wasted in the lethargy of anxiety and presumption.

There is a holy anxiety that love knows, and it gives birth to that mysterious prayer that under night and olive sweats blood. There is nothing more powerful in the world than a prayer offered in such close solidarity to the Man of Sorrows. For, He is the One who is praying in such a soul.

Holy agony in prayer rises on wings of love and obedience. This prayer is animated with the unvanquished hope of the Lamb who was slain. The triumph of this prayer goes high above the bog of fear and insecurity into which the worrisome mind often slips.

Holy anxiety, however, is not the starting point, even for the repentant sinner. Rather, Christ's saving agony is born when all other anxiety is surrendered through humble repentance and grateful tears. How do we rouse ourselves from lethargy, avoid presumption and sanctify the agony that we face? Trust and confidence in the One who has gone before us.

Rather than presumption and anxiety, only trust in the Lord can endure a storm of destruction.  Trust is the pathway to devotion - its safeguard, its source. Trust in the Lord, keeping our confidence in His power and mercy, this is what it means to hide "under the shadow" of the Lords "wing" (Psalm 57:1). As we "cling" to the Lord, He "holds fast" to us (Psalm 63:8).  This is true even when the storm is our own emotional baggage and rash judgments. Devotion grows and matures the more our trust in God takes us through these trials. Trust in Him and all else passes away. For the soul that will wait with vigilant trust, the truth, in solemn stillness, remains, and with silent majesty, the Word resounds.

October 13, 2019

Newman: Disciplined pursuit of the Truth, Doorway to Friendship

The newly canonized St. John Henry Newman invites us to a discipline pursuit of the truth that builds up the world. His Idea of a University rings with this invitation. It is an invitation that we need to hear again today just as much as when it was first written.

Too often, we direct students to what is functional and useful, but we fail to set them free to engage a meaningful social life, one that blesses the whole community in which they live. We want them to get a degree, so that they can get a job, so that they can support themselves, so that ...  But we do not always help them ask the deeper questions about existence or help them cultivate hunger for the truth.  For Newman, the Catholic University has a much higher utility than simply career placement -- he wants lay faithful who are ready to engage the world, build society, live meaningful lives and witness their faith in Christ in a compelling way.

I was exposed to a genuine liberal education, the kind of Saint John Henry Newman writes about, during my years as an undergraduate at Franciscan University of Steubenville. In the mid-80's, I felt the frustration of many in that generation. We were born into economic good times. If we were a little suspicious regarding the free-love idealism of the 1970's, we were nostalgic and naive for its hedonism. Others saw us as cynical, reluctant to sacrifice for the common good. Enchanted with Star Wars, we had not learned to wonder over the real world before us and would rather escape than apply ourselves to engaging it. Laced with nihilism, this was the conventional attitude of the day, and I was locked in its drab narrow-mindedness even while I hoped for something more.

I believed in the Lord and loved Him. There were retreats and prayer meetings and courses on the Bible before I went to college. But the conviction that His plan would lead to real happiness or that the real sacrifice it required was worth it, I was not ready for this. Behind my lethargy, I was haunted by a desire to make a real, concrete, flesh and blood decision to step out in faith. I intellectually assented to this, but I was too lukewarm to put it into practice. It is in this social context that I had heard about this small Catholic school in Ohio and half-heartedly applied late in July. A month later, a group of upper class-men greeting me at the Pittsburg Airport and we shuffled off into a van speeding through West Virginian country roads, singing not John Denver tunes, but charismatic praise songs instead.

Something clicked in my first year.  One of my professors asked me what I wanted to do. Now, I profoundly admired this priest, Fr. Francis Martin. When he taught, I felt a deep desire for the truth burn in me and sometimes, this desire caused me to actually apply myself to my studies. To flatter him, I said I wanted to teach theology, like him. He asked about my grades and when I told him, he smiled. If I wanted to teach, he explained, I would need to apply myself much more and that this would require setting some new priorities in life. This was a lighting strike. His challenging words revealed to me a desire in my heart. Up to that moment, education had been a game, and not a real engagement with life. To actually teach, I needed to actually learn.

There was a gradual shift. Instead of studying because of a function that I wanted to perform in the future, I began to study because of the truth that I was confronting in the here and now. The motivation of becoming a teacher was eclipsed by something beautiful that I was discovering through study. Although I was blessed with many very good professors, in a particular way, Alan Schreck, James Harold, Mark Miravalle, and, most of all, Fr. Giles Dimock baptized my mind in wonder. Suddenly, I was no longer simply going through the motions, fulfilling minimal obligations. Instead, a fire was set and shadows of truth's splendor began to challenge how I lived and judgments that I had made about God, about others, about myself and about life.

What I discovered in St. John Henry's writings helped me understand all that happened at Franciscan University and to better appreciate the privileged opportunity that God provided in my life. In my senior year at Steubenville, I had the honor of sitting next to David Warner. He would be the future president of Our Lady Seat of Wisdom in Barry's Bay, Canada. At the time, he was not yet Catholic but, unknown to me, thinking about it.  David also was on fire for the truth, and because of our Central California roots, a friendship was born. Years later, after he and his family entered the Church, we collaborated together in Denver.  He was writing his dissertation of Cardinal Newman's understanding of Catholic Education. While on my own, I was never quite drawn to these writings, Dr. Warner challenged me to begin reading, and after David's difficult struggle with cancer and death, engaging Newman's ideas often reminds me of our friendship and some of our discussions.

Genuine Catholic Education is a privileged opportunity that can open to great friendships and the discovery of one's own mission from God. As the Academic Dean of St. Patrick's Seminary, I have come to see that Newman is right: desire for the truth demands excellent teachers, intense reading beautiful literature, clear focused thinking about difficult to grasp connections, and decent writing about the whole human experience, from its ancient roots to its most contemporary applications. This is a journey from a little knowledge about many things to a profound understanding of the most important things. Left to ourselves, we will never see those deep and meaningful connections that purify and advance society or even one's own private life. Yet, in a community bound together in pursuit of what is genuinely good, noble and true, men and women learn those arts of companionship and right judgment that help those with whom they interact flourish. This is as true for future priests as it is for the lay faithful.

Though I do not have extensive experience with the broader education of the laity, please allow me to end with a note about why St. John Henry's vision of Catholic Education is so important for the faithful today, so necessary for Catholic institutions to strive for.  We live at a time when the lay faithful are at the frontlines of the mission of the Church. The secular character of their vocation puts them in direct contact with those who would never hear the Gospel of Christ without their particular witness.  This witness belongs to the marketplace of ideas and the public square, the water cooler and the Board Room, on the field and in the stands, on the job sight and around the dinner table.

Some might object that the kind of education that Cardinal Newman advocates is not practical for an actual job and, therefore, a waste of time and resources.  Others question whether such an education really prepares men and woman for the real world. I can recall some who were dissatisfied with the Catholic education that they received at Franciscan. My heart is saddened also by some whose lives fell apart and did not meet with success. Yet success or failure in life is not the ultimate criteria. Many who fail are all the happier for having tried. As I consider my Steubenville friends, the ones who even in the face of difficult illness and reversal of fortune persevered in their faith, there is a deep gratitude for their beautiful families, their contributions to society, their lives of faith ... I am not sure that any other kind of education could have prepared them as well or better for the life that the Lord gave them to live.

October 11, 2019

Peace and Prayer

While contention in the media and among bishops marks the life of the Church today, it is easy to get caught up in all the battles and to forget to turn to prayer. Shrill accusation, vitriol and provocation beat at the doors of our hearts like barbarians before the gates, and we forget the Guest who has made His home within us.  Perhaps this mirrors state of our households and parishes. Perhaps, our struggle to pray signifies even deeper discord that we suffer in our own souls.

Prayer is more powerful than ecclesial politics, theological rancor or personal failure. Big personalities cannot stop the mind attentive to God and the political gymnastics of the powerful are lost in a humble petition's shadow. The wings of a heart that relies on God rise above familial conflict and tense marital arguments. Pleading before the Lord baptizes humiliation in hope. 

No abyss of pain can yawn between two hearts any further than the prayer of faith still can cross. With fasting and sacrifice, not even the powers of Hell can hold back that surge of heart that Christ joins to His own. A cry to the Lord can still even the restlessness and lack of interior peace that we suffer because of sin - our own and of those who Christ has given us to bear for His Body, the Church. 

In fact, reverently repeating the name of Jesus is enough to bring us back to our senses. His Name helps our knees find the holy ground on which they were created kneel and our head the only glory before which it should bow. This is the only Name that ever brings unity to the Church or restoration to families. If divisions seem insurmountable, invincible floodgates of mercy are unleashed by the power of the Name of the Lord. No other name can heal one's own integrity or restore one's own dignity as can the invocation of Jesus. 

October 8, 2019

The Rosary and the Silence of the Word

The Rosary is a pathway of prayer that follows the mysteries of the life of Christ. It challenges us to ponder in our own hearts what Mary pondered in her heart. Sometimes our personal reflections on these can be a little sentimental. Sometimes they can be a little too cerebral. This happens in human conversation too.  Yet if a conversation with a friend never goes deeper than platonic ideas or emotive outbursts, a genuine communion of hearts alludes us. Thus, in praying the Rosary, it is not enough to attempt to move our affections or entertain ourselves with new insights. We ponder the mysteries that live in the heart of Mary so that we can love Jesus the way that she knows and loves Him.

To go deeper than thoughts and movements of emotion, we must allow the Word of the Father to draw us into the silence that He knew in the womb of Mary. Long before He knew this fruitful silence in her body, He had already delighted in it -- for it sprung first from the depths of her heart. Pure, there was nothing in this fruitfulness that would impede His self-disclosure. So, without her understanding or feeling or even intuiting, He gave Himself in the power of the Holy Spirit. The words of the Angel Gabriel reveal not only a definitive moment in the communication of the Word, but also a reality that had already in some sense begun without her knowing. His self-gift began as a hidden reality of the heart before it was embodied and revealed to the visible world.

Similarly, when we pray the Rosary, the most fruitful moments are the silences between our insights and the stillness between the movements of our heart. In that silence and stillness, He is at work accomplishing far more than our own human industry could ever achieve. Our posture becomes one of wonder, surrender, and joy filled thanksgiving -- those attitudes of Mary and the only attitudes that adequately respond to the destination that the Rosary directs us to. 

October 1, 2019

Wisdom and Spiritual Childhood

St. Therese of Lisieux is the champion of spiritual childhood in the Church. This kind of childhood has a heroic note -- the note of confidence in the Lord's Merciful Love.  This kind of confidence trusts that through persevering in love of God and one another, no matter what happens, the Lord will be victorious - the more we trust in Him, the more His victory is realized, even in our failures and weaknesses. Before her illness and the spiritual trials that she endured at the end of her life, she entrusted herself to the merciful love of God, consecrating herself as a "victim of merciful love."  Her self-offering contains this same radical confidence in the love of God -- if I will allow Him to do with me what He will, it will cost me everything, but such a price is worth it because of the immensity of His love. Those who make this same surrender enter into God's perspective of this life -- the purpose of which is to learn to love the way that He loves.  This surrender challenges us to see our brothers and sisters with the resurrected eyes of Christ, eyes that always contemplate a reason for the hope that we have inside.

This kind of hope, the hope that comes when we surrender everything to Christ, even our own dreams about the kind of happiness that we think we want, gives God space in the world to accomplish beautiful things in the lives of others. By choosing this surrender, we allow ourselves to be pierced by the plight suffered in the hearts of those Christ entrusts to us.  We feel in ourselves the desire not to allow our brothers and sisters to suffer alone just as God desired when He sent His Son for our sake.  We are convinced about the dignity of our neighbor and willing to do whatever we can to protect his integrity no matter the cost just as Christ desired when He spread Himself on the Cross as a victim for our sake.  Most of all, we feel gratitude for what the Lord has done for us and we know that whatever we do in return is nothing in comparison, yet we do it anyway because we love Him who loved us.  When all our efforts end up in disaster and it seems that nothing we have taken up has made any difference at all, we have finally embraced the Cross on which Christ sanctifies everything and makes all things new.  This is no wisdom of this world, but wisdom from above.

September 26, 2019

When Nothing Makes Sense and All Seems Useless - Pray

"In this world, you will have trouble" John 16:33. There are trials so severe that they seem to render prayer impossible. A soul might want to pray and may even try to pray, but the ability to actually pray seems frustrated -- drowning in discouragement and exhaustion. It would seem far fetched to such a person if one were to attempt to explain the greatness of the gift being offered in the midst of such a difficult crisis.  The gift is not seized in some great sensational feet.  Instead, by the frailest act of surrender to love, for love and by love one offers to the Lord the trial that besets and in this humble offering, in what seems of so little worth, that unfamiliar inflow of love untold springs forth. A naked, vulnerable act of faith makes space in time and space for the glory of God.  The threshold of this mystery is the foot of the Cross, and those who suffer are invited to cross over this threshold into a new kind of fruitfulness. 

To offer up one's own suffering to God seems useless. After all, it does not produce anything tangible. It does not lessen the suffering itself or shorten the length of the affliction to be endured.  No one, except God, ever knows whether the offering was accepted. It is never really known how God uses this difficult to give gift.  Yet it is our teaching that the suffering of the faithful is meant to participate in the redemptive work of Christ. Somehow, what seems utterly useless in the eyes of the world the Lord renders useful. He seems to love to endow what is meaningless with inexhaustible riches. What else is Christian death but our last offering of that which we have tried to offer all our lives? Yet, even the death of His beloved is precious in the eyes of God, and He counts it a no small gift when the faithful offer their afflictions in intercession for the salvation of the world. 

Dear Reader, if you have such a sacrifice to offer the Lord, please offer this oblation now on behalf of the Pope, the bishops and our priests. Offer it for those who are discouraged by scandal and who are confused by failures of leadership in the Church.  Offer it for those who attack the Church and her teaching authority. Offer it for families who are trying to hold together and for others that have fallen apart and need healing.  Offer it for the prodigal who has forgotten the way home and for the prideful whose indignation has driven them from their home. Offer it for all those beat up by bandits and passed by on the road of life. We need your prayers.

We need the glory of God that comes through your heroic effort to pray even when prayer seems not to come.  Entrust to Him all your struggles and failures, your hardships and renunciations, feelings of abandonment and loneliness, of fear and powerlessness, your humiliations, all the little sacrifices of love that you have made for others- even if not very successfully in your own eyes. Give all of this to Him in humble surrender -- this is our human poverty, and it is the only thing we really have to offer that is truly our own. Ask Him to join these sufferings to His sufferings so that His life and love flow through them even when your own love falls short. A great mystery is manifest in this - for when we implicate ourselves in Christ's work of redemption in this hidden and humble way, the hope of God for humanity is made manifest anew in ways that no one can contain. 

September 24, 2019

To Attend to the Reading and Be Absorbed by It

"Attend to the reading, the exhortation, the teaching" (1 Timothy 4:13). Reading - Lectio - is the basis of the Church's exhortation and the teaching. Paul commands Timothy to read and by this command, every minister of the Gospel is likewise obliged to ponder the Scriptures in ways that will build up the whole Church. Through reading the words of the inerrant and inspired Scriptures, we encounter the Word of the Father. To read, in this sense, is to plant one's whole mind, not merely in the words of a text, but in the truth that those words convey, the Truth that biblical teaching bears.

The Holy Bible, though inerrant and inspired by the Holy Spirit, is safeguarded and rightly used only through the most prayerful reading, a reading that is "absorbed" and "diligent" (1 Timothy 4:15). To truly read the Bible is to prostrate one's whole being in adoration. This is because the mysteries conveyed in the inspired text helps one find a reference point that is higher and more noble than one's own judgments.

Not only does this kind of reading demand total concentration with the entire strength of one's mind, it also requires prayer, prayer that suffers deep silences. It is in the difficult to enter silences of heart that the Word has chosen to dwell. He makes our home in human poverty where one lives only by reliance on God, and this includes in the poverty of a mind that has emptied itself of all other unworthy occupations.  This is where the reading of ministers of the Gospel must take them - whether one is a bishop or a parent, a priest or a catechist, a deacon or a teacher.

To say that we meet the Word made flesh in such a reading is to affirm that the words of Sacred Scripture convey more than the limits of created human cognition can grasp. Since inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Truth Biblical teachings bear is greater than any created language can ever convey.  Since committed to writing by men chosen by God, the words of this sacred teaching can seize us with holy fear. Since inerrant, these Spirit breathing words silence the cacophony of disordered judgments that have drowned out the sweet harmony of all that is most tender and good about life. Sin is revealed, a desire for conversion is conceived, and hoped filled contrition is born. There are even moments when a passage from the Bible suddenly baptizes the heart in mysteries that surpass every longing one has ever known.

If ministers do not allow themselves to be taken up into the Sacred Scriptures through their own devoted reading, they lack the wisdom that they need to exhort and teach righteousness. Through the Bible, those powerful stories, teachings and songs, God manifests where we stand in relation to Him, His unimaginable kindness to us, and the response that we owe to Him. This rallying point is set higher than the affairs of the work-a-day world because we are meant for something higher than our own affairs. The Sacred Scriptures make known the affairs of God in our midst, and these Divine concerns are the measuring stick for our own concerns. It is this rallying point to which every exhortation calls believers.  Only such a reference point lays bare the righteousness of God needed to instruct the members of Christ's Body.

Those who diligently suffer being absorbed by the Word gain a wisdom that the whole Church needs today more than ever. A minister absorbed in the Word has a confidence that solicits the confidence of others. Although this directive to "attend" and "be absorbed" is particularly addressed to Timothy, he has come to represent all those who received the "imposition of hands from the presbyterate." Every deacon, priest and bishop should be "diligent" and "absorbed" in reading, preaching and teaching. Ordered to God's holiness by Holy Orders, the mystery that they have received is irreplaceable for the transmission of the Gospel.

This is not an optional effort: the communion of the Church is at stake.  Even in today's myriads of podcasts and blogs, and no matter how big the personalities involved, the preaching of those whom Christ has set apart by His Holy Mysteries can not be duplicated. This means that members of the lay faithful, such as myself, teach only in collaboration with the ministries of those God has chosen and raised up by Holy Orders. Sometimes our collaborative role is to encourage and to remind those whose first duty is this task. Privately, it even can be to correct. Whatever else, we support and we submit ourselves to the authority of the Church with which these men have been entrusted, and we never usurp their role, but defend it and help them embrace it.

To act otherwise begets confusion in the communion of the faithful. If it is shameful to be ambiguously silent when the clarity is needed, it is likewise disordered to spew noisy rancor when the power of silence is demanded. Only the Word can give this clarity. Only He evokes the silence truth demands. To speak the truth into the difficult hardships that men and women face today protects the unity of the Church and the unity of a family. If many ministers fail to offer such a word, perhaps this is because one cannot utter it without being vulnerable to difficult hardship and rejection. Fear comes by nature ... by grace audacity. And grace comes by prayer. Yet, what a poverty when our courage fails and we neglect the duty that love imposes.

Conversely, when a minister summons the fortitude to speak the truth with love, no matter the cost, something good always results, even if cloaked in rejection and hostility. Such a man embraces that suffering by which alone one soul can call another "father." Lay teachers of the faith have every reason to rejoice whenever their imperfect efforts help a preacher of the Word find this courage. When one minister regains heart, he helps thousands take heart too. On this note, St. Hildegard of Bingen describes the preaching of the ordained as the radiance of the Bride of Christ -- so that through her, the Lord draws those in need of salvation to Himself.

We are bound together by the Holy Spirit -- the baptized and the ordained.  As the Holy Spirit empowers their devotion to teach us, He inspires us to receive those words and enflesh them in human affairs.  We cannot do this on our own. To ween us off self-reliance and to help us learn obedience of heart, God has chosen to work through others in our life. Because this is a time that calls for bold courage, we need those to whom God has given the power and authority to teach His Word for our sake with boldness and courage.  It is through these Divinely imbued servants of the Word that we are able to receive the Word in the power of the Holy Spirit.  

September 21, 2019

The Holy Spirit and the Holy Bible

Since "all scripture is inspired by God" (2 Timothy 3:16) and "no prophecy of scripture is a matter of personal interpretation" (2 Peter 1:20), we need the manifold ways that the Holy Spirit works in the Church to enter deep into the truth of the Holy Bible. He who inspired men to write these words of the Word is the very One who can help us penetrate their deepest meanings when we allow those who He has chosen to minister to us. Yet this demands from us humble surrender, not to human authority, but to the Divine Authority exercised in the Church.  Such an obedient surrender can only be learned in the school of prayer, fasting and sacrifice.  Only insofar as we, the hearers of the Word, are surrendered to the Holy Spirit can the words of Sacred Scripture be "useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16). Only then, do we become "doers of the Word" (James 1:22).

If Christians are to be "competent, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:17), ministers are charged to help them engage the Word of God not only with their heads, but with their hearts. In ways that go beyond human understanding, God empowers a minister to lead disciples beyond all that is familiar, comfortable and convenient.  With not only eloquently spoken words but also silence sobered with holy joy, a minister who has contemplated those writings inspired by God can render a heart ready to encounter the Risen Lord.

If "no prophecy ever came through human will" (2 Peter 1:21) then the response to the prophetic message demands more than the white knuckled efforts of unaided human will. The conversion that the Bible calls for is not the product of our own determination, though we must be more determined about this than anything else in life.  It is not the product of self-generated desire, though the greatest desires are demanded. It is not a matter of assent to ideas, but of total conversion, a whole new way of life.

If "men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke under the influence of God" (2 Peter 1:21), then it is by the movement of the Holy Spirit within the Church that the heart learns to respond to God rightly. What is the right response? It is a humble, simple loving movement to the Lord - one that gathers speed as it roles through the history of one's life.  It is a life lived by love for the sake of love. Each instant of such a life opens to a new opportunity to receive that mysterious love that the Crucified Word of the Father unveils. At the very moment of reception, there is also a new opportunity to offer, to sacrifice, to give -- always in the form of a feeble response before the astounding generosity of God.

If the inerrant and inspired Word of God reveals a mystery of love so far beyond the limits of human industry, one cannot, on his own, summon the gratitude that is owed but feels compelled all the same. Thus, the form of the Christian life - that life revealed in the Bible - is Eucharistic, a thanksgiving.  Only with the aid of God who is Love can anyone offer that solemn "thank you" to love that God inspired the Holy Bible to witness to us through the words of a preacher.   Such total surrender requires Divine Assistance -- a sheer gift above and beyond anything anyone ever deserves, yet by the words of a preacher, that gift is ours. 

September 19, 2019

The Priesthood and Prayer

Christ is the Great High Priest -- and because of His priesthood on our behalf, our prayers are raised to heaven and heard by the Father.  The Risen Lord intercedes for us in the sanctuary not made by human hands, and He is at work in the world, fully present to our needs. This is what makes Christian prayer unique. By faith, the One who mediates the blessings of God the Father to us and who has won for us the forgiveness of our sins, also presents to the Father our sorrows and joys, hopes and fears in such a way that all of heaven becomes implicated in our plight.

What is more, the priesthood of Christ is not remote from those who are baptized. But baptism, each of the Lord's disciples actually participate in His priesthood as members of his mystical body.  He has given us everything, even allowing us to share in His intercession to the extend that we can pray for one another in His Name and by His Blood, have our prayers answered.  Yes, we need to ask with faith for those things that are in accord with His will and we need to persevere believing that He will grant what is most needed when it is most needed. Yet, our priestly dignity comes from the fact that our existence is rooted in Him and in His priesthood.

This fulfills something intrinsic to our humanity. Religion and spirituality is not accidental to our humanity -- it is at its very heart. Yet this spiritual reality of our existence is thwarted by all kinds of sin and evil. Constantly, we compromise the original priestly role we were meant to have in creation by neglecting our worship of God and by rendering worship to things that are far beneath our dignity. If the Word did not become flesh, humanity's vocation to offer the visible things of time and space to God would be lost.  Yet, the Word who orders all things to God has entered into our humanity and reordered us away from slavery to the merely material. When He rose from the dead and ascended to the Father, He opened up for us a pathway so that our capacity to worship in a manner that is right and just might be realized.  Such is the greatness of our vocation - we are called into a communion of God and man to offer true worship, pleasing to God for the sake of all of creation.

To help us realize this great vocation, Christ called from among the baptized those who would minister to the rest of us through a new sacred ministry: the ordained priesthood.  The ordained priesthood, established by the sacrament of Holy Orders, is for the building up of the whole body. These men whom Christ has chosen and who have responded to His call, through the ministry of the Church, are raised into a special participation in Christ's saving work. Joined to Him in a unique way, they collect us together in the solidarity that the Lord has called us into so that we might worship in accord with His Will.

These priests who are ordained to participate in Christ's Priesthood in a unique way empower the rest of the Mystical BodyThose who receive the sacrament of holy orders devote themselves to the study of God's Word so that we who are incorporated into the priesthood of Christ by baptism might ponder the truth of who we are and remember the great dignity to which we are called.  They are empowered to perform sacred rites and confer sacraments - visible signs of God's grace - so that the rest of the Body might behold the wonders of the Lord and exercise our gifts in worship of the Father and in service to one another.  In this way, the prayer of the priest empowers the prayer of the whole Church.