April 23, 2019

The Risen Lord's Victory over Death and Sin

In His Divine Person, the New Adam united Himself to the destruction men suffer in death, to vanquish and transform what would most threaten human dignity into a gateway of eternal glory.  Sin is our hostility to Life Himself, and death in sin is the destruction of human life. Sin is the source of our guilt and wraps our existence in shame so that death's shadow haunts our lives. Yet, into this shadow, the Good Shepherd went in search of us, and that we might dwell in His house forever, the Risen Lord bought us with His own blood.

The loss of integrity and alienation that sin causes finds its full bodily expression when a cold corpse is lowered into its grave and so the Word most fully expressed the Father's love when His body was sealed in the tomb. We are not comfortable with the world, or our neighbors, or ourselves because we have defied our Maker, and the lifeless body of the visible image of the invisible God proclaims just how uncomfortable the Almighty is with our defiance. We feel thwarted before death because, in His humility, the Source of Life thwarts the proud. The Creator does so not as an angry God who seeks vengeance, but rather as a father whose heart is broken over the plight of his son, as a bridegroom who is distraught that his beloved is in grave danger. The power of sin and the depths of its mystery is great. Greater still is the Divine Mercy that has suffered and overthrown it for our sake.

The Risen Lord has the power to forgive sin because He wants us to have the antidote for death. Death in sin not only alienates the human body from its soul, but the soul from its God. This does not happen all at once - but unfolds despite every effort to avoid or prevent it.  Death's dehumanizing power rips the principle of human life away from its body until life-less body and body-less life are incapable of meaningful connection with others, and the soul has nothing to pull it back into relation with the Lord. Even for a person of great faith, hope is tested and love itself is questioned as the unfolding of death's mystery is suffered. Trapped in sterile alienation and unfulfilled desires, death subjects all that is good, noble and true about our humanity to futility. Death becomes a great spiritual contest, one in which the very meaning of our lives and our loves are on the line. The Word of the Father chose to suffer this for us - not to prevent it or provide an escape from it, but to transform it into a mystery that leads to the perfection of faith, the invincibility of hope, and the final triumph of love.

The Father did not wish humanity to perish even as it suffered death. Desiring that the Father's dream for humanity might be realized, after the Word became flesh for our sake even to the point of embracing the annihilation to which our human existence was subject. He did not abandon His dead humanity. He was personally present to both his dead body and his soul in death, suffering in them all that death means and yet, because suffering death, also infusing it with His saving presence so that death no longer has the last word about humanity. Instead, the love of the Father revealed by His Son is become the deepest truth of human existence, deeper than any misery or absence of life. 

His Divine Person united His lifeless body and his departed soul even as death corrupted the bonds by which one animates the other and the other expresses the one. Cut off from all human connection and bereft the love of the Father for which his humanity lived, the Word with eternal meaning plunged into the futility that threatens the meaning of our lives. This means that the Son of the Father held fast to his lifeless body so that even when wrapped in burial cloths deep in the darkness of a sealed tomb, His earthly tent was never separated from His Divine Nature.  This means that the Word clung to his human soul even as it plunged in the depths of human misery, so that though suffering places so alienated from the love of God no unaided human power can escape, his human spirit was never cut-off from His Divine Life. Though completely hidden from the living and seeming not to be accomplishing anything that can be measured- the life of God was fashioning a great new hope for humanity.

In these colliding polarities, His Divine Person bore such sanctifying paradox to transform what was once our curse into humanity's greatest moment, an offering rendered acceptable because infused by His sacrifice. Indeed, no matter how sealed away His Body in death and no matter how deep into the sleep of death His soul, the Savior would not abandon His Body or His Soul because of the immensity of His love for each one of us - until he opened for each of us the way home, no matter how lost we find ourselves.

Is it any wonder that when we come to Him with our sin, He is always ready to forgive it?  He has gone deeper into our misery than our own sin can know. No addictive behavior, no psychological brokenness, no self-loathing, no self-torment -- nothing we can bring to Him is too unbearable for Him, for He has already bore it all.  He has contended against the powers that would try to hold us down, and none of them could separate us from His love.  

April 20, 2019

The Word and the Sleep of Death in Christian Prayer.

Christian contemplation takes in the mystery of death and sees it transformed by the Word of the Father.  It is not more powerful than the love of God. It's hellish currents cannot drown out desire that the Lord has for us to live. This is a true spiritual reality, a great drama that God takes seriously - because His love is more serious than death.

St. John of the Cross observes that Christ suffered the annihilation in not only his body but also his spirit, arguing that this is why Christ calls out in the words of a psalm: My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?  To suffer the absence of the Father, says the mystical doctor, is the Lord's greatest suffering. It is a true spiritual death, and we could say, His pathway into the abyss of human misery. Yet in suffering this death, St. John of the Cross observes that Christ accomplished his greatest work: our salvation. So it is with us - when we enter by prayer into the mystery of Christ's death and allow our own existence to be shaped by His suffering for our sake, we also accomplish our greatest work. What is more, our friendship and union with Christ is perfected.

 On Holy Saturday, we realize the radical extent that Christ journeyed into death for our salvation includes His descent into Hell. For those who want to follow their Crucified God, this descent also informs their journey.Yet just how far do we go with this? The answer is the length that Christ went into the mystery of death - the depths to which He suffered his own separation from the Father is the pathway that we also must follow until we find those places where God seems absent to us too.

What this means in practical terms is that the Word of the Father waits for us in those miseries we would rather avoid. Our prayer must not keep Him waiting but should bravely go where we are awaited by Him. Our hidden poverties, miseries, affections, voids, inadequacies, failures, weaknesses, frustrations and disappointments are not places that God avoids or pretends does not exist. To say that the Son of the Most High has descended in hell is to proclaim that He has gone down into these abysses and embraced them as our Savior and as our Friend,

The Word made flesh descended into our miseries and afflictions no matter what they are and He awaits us in these painful places. If we will seek His presence even here, He who is the Truth Himself can teach us how to offer these most difficult parts of our personal existence - so that instead of such things damning us, the Good Shepherd can lead us out of them and onto higher ground. Whoever goes into these hidden poverties of our lives with hope in the Lord and seeks Him, the Son of Mary will raise up to new life.

This is the mystery of Holy Saturday.  Christian contemplation becomes a kind of sleep of death when we descend the abyss of our miseries in search of the Lord of Life. We do not do this to beat ourselves up or torment ourselves or accuse ourselves. We do this to find the Suffering Servant who has gone before us into these places and transformed them into springs of life.  No sin is too great that it cannot be surrendered to His mercy. No failure is so definitive that the Son of the Father cannot show us how His love is all the more definitive of who we are.

Christian prayer allows us to find God in our afflictions. Prayer that listens for the voice of Love Himself when all seems lost and there seems to be no way out, such prayer has already entered the sleep of death that the Living God embraced for love of us. Souls that have ventured with faith into "hell," that is all those memories and attitudes where God seems most absent in one's heart, these are the ones who are always astonished to find Christ in this same sleep with them, for them in unfathomable power and authority. They know the glory of Him awakening them to new life.

Out of the treasuries that these disciples discovered in the Lord, they can speak words of hope to those who also find their own lives threatened by the power of sin and death. Those who the Deliverer saves from the hellfire that threatens their own hearts, they know what true freedom is.  If we persevere in our search for the Conqueror of Death even in the miseries of our lives, the Lord of Life comes to us with His peace and offers to lead us home.  

April 18, 2019

The Father and the Mystery of Holy Thursday

The liturgies of Holy Thursday commemorate the institution of the Priesthood, the Eucharist and the mandate of Christian Charity. Each of these are beautiful mysteries for the heart to ponder, places of profound encounter with Christ where He unveils the mystery of the Father's love.  Each manifestation of the Father's love also unveils the deepest truth about who we are and the high calling that we have received.

When Christ's establishes his priesthood, this includes a participation in Christ's  priesthood that baptism makes possible. Christ instituted this priesthood based the ancient priestly character of humanity.  In human existence, visible and invisible realities are mediated one to the other through the beautiful reality of our body-soul personal existence. As stewards of creation, our first obligation was to order the whole visible cosmos to the true spiritual worship of the Creator. The  dominion that the Lord entrusted to us over the earth and its creatures was intended so that through humanity, the whole earth might know the glory of God and His holiness through our obedient surrender to His immense love.

This great purpose was impeded when we fell into disobedience. Without following the will of the Father ourselves, the rest of creation could not know His love through us. We ourselves, unable to fulfill the office of praise entrusted to us, suffered the misery of not knowing the great love that lives in the heart of the Father for us. And so, our disobedience has caused us to suffer the indignity of hostility to the Lord - a hostility that Christians are the special object of in these times.

The obedience of Christ restores the priestly office entrusted to humanity and confers it with a more perfect kind of priesthood - one from the very heart of the Trinity.  The Son of the Father offers His very person to the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit in an eternal moment of praise, one without beginning and end. Creation is simply a reflection of this immeasurable love, unending adoration and perfect praise through in time and space. Humanity was created in the image and likeness of the Holy Trinity - a communion of love -- because only such a communion could make such love known in the way the Father yearned that it should be manifest. Christ obedience not only restored this sacred reality of holy humanity, but opened up the possibility of spiritual worship beyond the limits of this presence life and the confines of time and space.

The priesthood of Christ is anticipated in the mysterious person of Melchizedek, who offered sacrifice of bread and wine for the Father of our Faith, Abraham (Genesis 14:18).  By tithing to this righteous priest and king, Abraham was able to offer acceptable worship and thanksgiving (Hebrews 7:1ff). Similarly, the priesthood founded in Christ's obedience to the Father enables us to offer true spiritual worship with our bodies when we join Him by faith and baptism.  Yet the form of this worship is Eucharistic - a thanksgiving that utterly transcends everything that pre-figured it.

In Christ's personal existence, His Divine Person mediates divinity and humanity, without mixing them, into a perfect harmony of salvation, mediating one to the other just as Melchizedek mediated between God and man for Abraham. Those who believe in Christ participate by faith in the restoration of the priestly dignity that belonged to humanity from the beginning. Just as Abraham experienced through the mysterious Melchizedek, but now in Christ, we have this priesthood in a more perfect and irrevocable way.

For with the institution of the Eucharist, the Bread of Life found a way that we might share in this harmony of God and man that He knows in His very person.  Moreover, He has done this in a manner that beautiful relations between humanity and divinity constituted in Him might be our strength and sustenance in this life.  He has made Himself into the Way, the Truth and the Life. To this end, the Lamb of God established a new covenant, a never before known relationship with humanity, in the Eucharistic Banquet of the Last Supper.

It is in offering Himself as our spiritual food that our Crucified Master has made of Himself the very means of sharing in His own life. Through this sacred banquet, the Risen Lord fills the soul with grace, helps us remember his passion and gives us a pledge of our future glory - for in this sacrificial offering, faith brings us face to face with the mystery of His Blood poured out and His Body broken for our salvation.

On Holy Thursday, this is expressed in the ritual acts of the Last Supper - where, by Jesus's own words, the ministry of a priest makes bread and wine the very Body and Blood of the Lord in such a way that we who partake in these gifts also mysteriously participate in the life of His Human Soul and Divine Nature. Christ Himself would ratify these sacred actions by offering Himself with complete love and thanksgiving to the Father by humbly accepting the full vent of our hostility to God.

The Apostles received the power and authority to continue this sacrificial offering in the life of the Church and they past this power and authority on to presbyters as their successors in this ministry. Thus, the ministerial priesthood is drawn from the priesthood of Christ to serve the baptismal priesthood - especially by offering the Eucharistic liturgy which is the source and summit of our whole life of grace, including the mysterious of Christian prayer.

This is why every priest bears a special relationship to the Eucharist. This sacrament of sacrifice, of communion and of presence characterizes the priestly existence of the ordained - they minister to offer sacrifice, to build communion, and to unveil the presence of Christ saving His people from their sins.  In this way, each priest is an image of God the Father - just as the Father gives us everything when He gives us His Son, a priest has only fully grown into his own vocation when he gives everything to give us Christ.

The secret of restoring the priesthood is to adore Christ in the Blessed Sacrament on their behalf. The more we pray for them to plunge more deeply into this mystery, the more the Lord can work to heal the many wounds our broken society and ecclesial divisions have caused them. We should not be alarmed if today we are aware of priests and bishops who have betrayed, denied and abandoned the Lord - all but one of those at the Last Supper did no less. Instead, we should thank God for the Beloved Disciple in our midst. This is the one who stands at the foot of the Cross come what come may. This is the one who out runs everyone else to the empty tomb. We must pray with and for such holy priests whenever we find them. We must remain constant in our prayers for the others until Christ is able to restore those who have scattered under tribulation.

Finally, the Word of the Father left us an example in washing the feet of his Apostles. Instead of using religion and the priesthood for worldly power and influence, what the Great High Priest has given us and sealed by His suffering and death is to be used in humble service of one another. He has enabled us to be the guardians of each other's dignity. So even our feet, the Living God has elected to wash with His own hands.  What is lowest is tenderly bathed by Him who is highest. The mandate of charity has the form of supreme humility.  There is no other way to love. To share in Christ's Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity means to allow one's whole existence to draw its sustenance from this humility and to be utterly formed by it.  In this divine humility, we contemplate what it means for us to share in his Divine Life.

April 6, 2019

The Silent Kiss of the Soul

Jesus reveals the Father to us in  adoration and He wants us to know that the Father is always at work - loving, healing, restoring, sanctifying and transforming our humanity in an infusion of Divine Love. This is why the Son wants us to know the Father: that we might allow ourselves to be baptized the immensity of the Father's love. This is where we belong - hidden deep in this unfathomable love. It should evoke adoration - the kiss of our soul given to God. In such a kiss, the soul surrenders its whole life over and abandons itself without reserve. Such a kiss thrills the heart of the whole Trinity and unveils the solemn greatness of humanity. That is why with every breath and heartbeat, Word made flesh poured Himself out - doing the works of the Father for us and adoring the Father because of the Father's goodness but also rendering adoration, the kiss of His soul to the Father, on our behalf.  To say that these were the works of His Father is to say that these were works of the Son's divine obedience in human flesh that flooded the world with a life - a life rejected, but in Him undaunted.

Until His death, Christ's every work surged with new life so that in His resurrection, we might draw our life from each them. Reflecting on even the most mundane and ordinary of Jesus's actions, this is to have flow into us a readiness to respond to the Father's slightest desire with astonishing generosity and thoughtful care. And the Son knows the desires that live in the depths of the Father's love as wellsprings that can never be exhausted - and so He never tired of adoring His Father and abandoning everything to Him with complete thanksgiving.  And the Father knows His Son, delights in Him, and hands everything over to Him. Each of the Lord's works are filled with this exchange of delight and thanksgiving, of handing over and abandonment, of a circumcession of love and truth, of mutual possession and surrender possible because the Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father.

What was disclosed in even the most unnoticed acts of the Lord was an indomitable trust and confidence. The kiss He offered his mother. The smile He offered a stranger. The hope He offered to those who did not even know that they had lost it. The origins of this confidence were more ancient than humanity - but from this ancient source, humanity finally draws forth its deepest truth. With every decision, Christ His Sacred Heart unveiled this transforming infusion of overflowing Divine Trust until through His Heart pierced, the same trust surged to flow into every heart ... even the heart furthest away from His love. A new beginning was afforded each us from this Sacred Spring and the prayerful drink from it.

Through prayer, the Cross becomes the key that unlocks the meaning of every action of Christ. A prayerful thought tastes how the moment in which Christ acted could not contain the wonder that the work of the Father evokes. The sigh of faith ponders a glory too great for this world unveiled in the obedience of Christ. Eyes closed with reverence even glimpse the hidden secret about humanity in the Lord's every effort. The vulnerable stillness discovered on bended knee hears each word of wisdom, sees each healing, marvels over each miracle. Contemplative reading of the Bible searches for what is signified in each moment of Christ's life and knows without knowing something so much greater than the limits of the words can show. With unrelenting purpose, this surge of the heart follows the mysteries signified in each of those revealed moments until they crescendo upon the Cross. When brought to this threshold of the Father's heart, the ear of one's own heart can even hear the Lord's last wordless cry echoing. The meaning every work of Christ's life resounds in this sacred place where the silence of a soul kisses the silence of the Cross.

March 31, 2019

Rejoice in the Lord

Rejoicing in the Lord is a source of strength. As we strive to discipline ourselves and convert from sin, it is easy to be distracted by our failures and weaknesses.  Shame is a heartless task master and our inadequacies are often easier to find than Divine Providence. Yet, God is always there for us - more present to us than we are to ourselves, anxious that we might not delay, but God home.  What most defines who we are is not our voids, or foolishness, or inability to meet the ideals that we set for ourselves. The holiness of God is not a mystery that lends itself to our efforts at idealization. It is pure gift, freely given, from a Divine Wellspring of inexhaustible love and concern - ours for the asking, if only we will ask with humility and love.  Rather than caving into anxiety or depression because we do not measure up to the bar we have set to ourselves - climb out of the mud of self-pity.  Turn away from the pigsty of self-accusation. Rebuke the inner voices that would have you believe that God is not waiting for you to come home. Instead, search for God whose gentle voice calls to you in the silence of prayer. He watches for your coming and awaits you with an immense joy. Set out under the Standard of the Cross and let the Good Shepherd's rod and staff guide you home. Enter through the Gate of faith in Christ and find shelter under the banner of love. Let the Father welcome you with rings and robes and lead you into the feast He has prepared for you. Nothing has been held back. Everyone is invited. Rejoice that your brother has made his way back to life too - for in the Father's house, there is no more reason for sorrow.

March 24, 2019

The Redeemer and the Gift of Lent

Each of us has a great task ... that of becoming who God made us to be. Were we without sin, this task would still be impossible for us, left to our own resources and abilities.  For indeed, the Lord created us in His Image and Likeness. This means that we are made to be the praise of God's glory, living icons of His hidden life and love in His visible creation. What creature could ever attain to such holiness and splendor?  Yet, we are made, though a little less than the angels, the very crown of God's creative action.

The great purpose entrusted to each one of us was long ago made subject to futility because of the mystery of sin.  From the very origins of humanity, the envy of Satan and the sin of our first parents has threatened our existence. Though we want to do what is good, noble and true, without Divine help, we are inclined to fall into an abyss of self-contradictions. Our desire to praise God, to make known His glory, never leaves us, even if it is utterly forgotten or resisted. Our restlessness and death remind us of our downfall and pride, but sin and its consequences are not the last word about humanity. Something more beautiful defines the mystery of our humanity, and every man and woman is invited to freely accept this calling if they will listen to the voice of God.

The Father, whose thought of us delighted Him so much that He summoned us into existence, could not bear that we should perish without hope. As He promised, He sent us a Redeemer who would enter into our plight and rescue us from sin and death. This Good Shepherd did not fear the wolves that threaten our existence and he did not allow the distance that we had strayed to discourage Him in His search for us. A physician of the body and spirit, His words of truth are the remedy for the wounds we bear and the mistaken judgments that have driven us into myths and alienation. He does this more over by entering into our misery so deep that in the face of our hostility, He patiently remains and will not forsake us, anxious that we should not suffer alone.

Call to Him. He actively works, holding nothing back, until our dignity is restored and our every humiliation redressed. Indeed, all that is most precious to Him - His obedience to the Father and His own devotion to His Mother, He freely offers as a gift to all those who ask. Most of all, by his passion and Crucifixion, He merited for our sake that Divine Gift whose presence not only remits our sins and consecrates us in holiness, but infuses us with the love that the Father has yearned for us to know. An inexhaustible fountain, this sanctifying Gift infuses every moment with treasures too precious for this present life to hold, but imperfectly, for a time, if only we ask and accept what He offers us.

Because even the most imperfect beginnings of this New Life offer so much hope to the world, we must also welcome Lent as a gift won for us by the Shepherd who laid down His life for His sheep. Lenten observance is no more than a participation in the graces already won for us -- and they point somewhere beyond the here and now, to mysteries so sacred and tender, even the greatest joys of this life are as nothing in comparison.  We step into an arena because the life of the Risen Lord in us enables us to be contestants in the battle for all that is good, noble and true. We fight with confidence against all that threatens not only our own integrity but that of our brothers and sisters too because Christ gives us a sharing in His confidence. We do not fear our weaknesses but surrender them in prayer and repentance as occasions for the power of God to be made perfect.  We run the race because the Spirit of the Lord quickens us on our way until nothing can hold us back from the prize.

The Lenten Discipline invites us to embrace in our own lives the victory won for us at such great price. If we practice self-denial, it is because in the blood and water that flowed from His sacrifice we have already received all we really need. If we fast, it is because we already feast on the Bread of Life who sustains us with truth that no earthly bread can provide. If we are merciful to those to whom the Lord sends us, it is only because it is His mercy in us that compels us. If we sorrow over our sins and imperfections, we are also compelled by Christ to share our joy with others at any cost.

We die to our earthly dreams so that Christ's dream for us might unfold in our heart and our spirit might finally awaken to love. In hours spent silently listening to the Word of the Father, we anticipate a reality too great for this world to contain, a fulfillment long ago yearned for by God and whose shadow calls to our existence even now. We offer our bodily existence in spiritual sacrifice because united to Christ in the Holy Spirit, our whole being finally begins to become what the Father predestined us to be: the praise of the Trinity's glorious grace.

Mysticism and Holiness - a seminar and retreat

March 23, 2019

Pilgrimage to France

To Savor the Presence of God

In Psalm 34:8, we are asked to taste and see the goodness of the Lord. What does it mean to taste the Lord's presence?  When it comes to savoring the presence of the Lord, Holy Communion comes to mind, in particular those moments in which time seems to stop and something beautiful is granted the heart. We savor a mystery even if we are unable to find words to express it. Without fully realizing it, faith opens at least to an instant where we find satisfaction for those deep needs that drive us in ways we do not understand, toward a destination that is hidden from our grasp, but in this hidden moment, suddenly is given in meaningful fullness. This is the Sacred Banquet in which Christ becomes our food, the memory of his passion is celebrated, the soul is filled with grace and a pledged of future glory given us.

While God is always present to everything at every moment, this food is fed to us in a form that our tradition calls "Real Presence." Such presence is called "real" not because all the many other modes of Christ's presence are less real, but because under this special presence, Christ as especially given Himself to us as true spiritual food. The Manna from heaven heals our many spiritual wounds, nourishes us for our journey to our heavenly homeland, fortifies us in the battle for integrity with each believer is entrusted, and binds us together around a single table, the altar of sacrifice. This personal presence of God is never static - but always explodes in encounter either for our eternal beatitude or diminishment. He always comes anew and never the same way, so that at each new coming, every moment might be sanctified. Here, through ancient rites instituted by Christ and handed on since the first ancient communities of faith, the Real Presence of the Risen Lord mysteriously transports us through the unrepeatable circumstances of our lives to the Cross, that threshold of the Father's heart suffered for our sake, uniting us anew and more wondrously than anything else until that moment in the power of the Holy Spirit, if we are disposed to Him, into a single fellowship of mutual abiding with the Living God.

To dispose us, the Holy Spirit convinces us of both sin and, even more, the merciful love of God.  Those who avail themselves of frequent confession and commit themselves to lives of penance understand this paradox. One is eager to take up ascetical practices, to fast, to pray and to render thousands of acts of service and love once one considers the great price that was paid and the great gift of having one's own sins remitted.  When we repent of our sins, weep over them and humbly confess them out loud, the Holy Spirit sanctifies our weaknesses to make us more confident in Divine Mercy than we are confident in our own human misery. Each time we remember the goodness of God, stand up, and go to Him by following the way of faith, hope and love, we learn to surrender into the arms of the Father and to accept ourselves for who we are before Him. The rejoicing of His heart at our return is more than this present life can bear, a mystery so beautiful that it causes one to weep and laugh all at once. Because it makes us vulnerable to such divine horizons in the Heart of God, a good confession always leads to a beautiful Holy Communion.

One other way to savor the Lord's presence is through mental prayer. Contemplation rooted in living faith sees the mystery disclosed in the Real Presence of Christ. In fact, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament can occasion such contemplative prayer.  In this kind of prayer, a holy conversation between the soul and the Lord unfolds - solemn questions and sober answers are poured out between the Heart of God and the human heart. Familiarity with the Bible, especially the psalms, helps us ponder and enter into this richness. Yet prayers as simple as repeating the Name of Jesus or the Holy Rosary enter this same sacred place. Woe to those who purposely remain ignorant of the words of the Word, for without allowing the Church to guide them, they risk all kinds of self-contradictions that will betray the Presence that they seek. Even so, there is a mystery here.  For it is most often the case that the less one understands or remembers of this holy exchange, the more meaningful this conversation becomes.

Such is the standard, the rallying point, of mental prayer if this prayer is to learn to savor the presence of God. The less we cling to what we understand and the more moved by love, the more deeply the Word and the Spirit etch into our hearts that exquisite truth that the Father yearns for us to know. This is a general loving knowledge, a taste for Divine things, an intelligence of the heart, an awareness baptized in Divine affections, and human affections grounded in a truth that the natural light of reason cannot know. We must learn to be caught in this delicate paradox of love and fear, joy and sorrow, encounter and absence, Mercy and misery in which the Holy Trinity has chosen to abide. There are even moments when all of this crescendos before this coming Threefold presence of unity and distinction, relation and possession, and we feel invited into a deeper surrender, pulled in fact as if by deep currents in a sudden storm of love. This is to be buried in the Divine Presence and to allow the Living God to bury Himself in the soul.

Those who allow prayer to take them into this unfamiliar place have tasted something not of this world and nothing in this world tastes the same them. To taste and see the Lord in this way is to have something about us die even as life becomes more intense than ever before. We ache, we pine, we hunger, we thirst - for we have savored the delight, the purpose, the Banquet, the Cup of God Himself. Even if our human weakness is terrified by this mysterious "I know not what," we swoon in the shadow of Him who comes for us.

March 17, 2019

The Love of the Father - Unfathomable Immensity

Christ Jesus, the radiant splendor of the Father's love, entered into our condition to infuse into human history a gentle blessing that was long ago misunderstood and rejected. This uncommon benevolence toward us in our present plight comes from the hidden depths of God's very Being. In those same depths, the Father conceived each one of us in His Word by an unfathomable ecstasy of goodness and truth. The Father asks us to listen to His Word now - to allow the words of His Word to enter our hearts.

The Father knew us in Christ in eternal jubilation from before the foundation of the world, and, by the delight of His heart with which He pondered each one, He summoned each of us into our own existence, in time and space, before Him to know the burning furnace of His love. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we came to be in all our uniqueness and particularity in the precise circumstances that He longed to entrust to us so that the blessings that He longed to lavish on us might be known. He does so with the tender hope that we might take up the task of becoming what He knows us to be: unrepeatable living instances of His infinite glory made known. For the world that the Father longs to bring to completion would not be complete without each soul that He has summoned into existence. It is with this same love that Christ comes to save us - and respectful of our freedom, by this very love He waits for us to allow Him to make known the vast horizons of the Father's Heart.

Time and space race behind the fruitful tenderness of such magnificent love. Unveiled in a multitude of unrepeatable surprises and astonishing moments of grace, the very newness of this love brings into being all that the Father's heart has most treasured. In the center between visible and invisible, holding together what is most lowly and most exalted in creation, He places the mystery of the human heart. All the cosmos holds its breath over the revelation of each new image and likeness of His love, each new end point in eternity showing forth a glory that would otherwise be hidden.

Such is the inestimable treasure entrusted to the world in each human life, this image and likeness begun and still in progress, for the sake of whose fullness the Holy Spirit with all of creation pants in labor. Not whimsical. Not accidental. Solemn, majestic, purposeful. Such eternal predilection toward humanity is irrevocable by virtue of being divine and, therefore, unchangeable, the still point around which all other cosmic and personal activity plays out. To choose this love is to choose a truth so meaningful that this present life cannot contain or fully express it. Yet in the shadow of this immense love, every other love finds its rest and solemn place in life even at the moment of death.

Such eternal love in its sheer sovereignty is not dissuaded by weakness or sluggishness, poor results or even betrayal. Instead, this mighty flood incarnate in human nature patiently suffers all things until fruition finally overflows the floodgates that attempt, in vain, to contain it. This self-emptying and humiliated love is forever confident and undaunted even as it breaks out in blood sweat prayers. Like a Bridegroom coming from His tent, nothing, not death nor any malicious power, thwarts His course. Those who would oppose the awesome majesty of this divine tenderness will be broken between the surging tides of Divine Mercy and the rocky fastness God's Justice. For, on this rugged solitary shore line, unveiled and realized is that singular cruciform greatness for which humanity is pre-destined.

Thus has Christ come to renew the Father's love. He plunged undaunted into our suspicions and self-contradictions, our drivenness and despair, our grasping for control and lack of self-control, our haughtiness and shame. He took hold of the cup that contained all the pain and bitterness that threaten the noble greatness for which we were made. He drank it in and suffered that hostility until He brought it with Him into death. Neither that death nor that hostility was enough to quench His love. For His love was given to Him by the Father -- and the Father's love raised Him up unvanquished.

Whenever invited, He enters the abysses of misery that we suffer with this same radiance of His glory. With gentle kindness, He exposes every threat to our integrity to the light of truth and, by moving us to tears, empties it of its power. He seeks us out even as we hide. He calls even as we try to close our ears. If we are asleep to love, Love Himself awakens us. He shines forth even as darkness draws near. The healing warmth of His radiant beauty is not diminished but revealed all the more wounded we come to Him.

Do not think that what you have done is too great for God's mercy or that the Father has utterly rejected you. Such thoughts do not please your Father who is heart-broken for you and patiently awaits your return. How can the Father ever delight in your condemnation and humiliation when He created you for love and honor? How can He ever be content with you being mistreated and homeless when He longs for you to come home and enter into your rightful place? You were not made for meaninglessness or self-contradiction. There is someone who stands ready to vindicate your integrity, who has the power to remit sins, to infuse you with a love far greater than anything you have done. Do not assume that you must content yourself by stealing what belongs to pigs when a banquet of eternal joy awaits you. Instead, think on what the Good Shepherd has suffered for you and that His heart burns for love of you as He seeks for you.

If you are lost, you are not abandoned. Leave what is beneath your dignity and set out for the greatness that your Father longs for you to know. Put away the deeds of darkness and make no provision for earthly desires. To put on Christ and be clothed in His light, ponder the radical lengths to which the Father has gone for you so that you might hear His Word and know how loved you truly are. In stillness, surrender yourself to Him and ask Him to help you. If you are sincere, He will not refuse you.

Since He has held nothing back for your sake, hold nothing back from Him. Put on the armor of light and live as if in the daylight - this is our pathway home. After Christ has suffered so much for your sake, do you think He will refuse your repentance or that your contrition will not be the source of heaven's joy?  The Good Shepherd will bind your wounds and help you find rest. The Lamb of God is ready to walk with you through any dark valley that you face and, and not even the shadow of death can stand between you and the love He has for you. With eager longing, He longs to sup with you. More than merely managing along, He yearns for you to share in the same abundant banquet of love that He shares with the Father. Untold riches are yours for the asking. A fount of mercy waits to quench your parched lips. With an overflowing cup of blessing, He is eager to give you cause to rejoice even in the face of your enemies. He knocks at the door even now hoping that you might open to Him. Fear not to open wide the doors to Christ.

February 18, 2019

The Mystery of Death and the Need for Prayer

When friends draw close to death, a certain intensity of life presents itself. This is true in Christian death. It is meant to be a sacrificial offering of oneself to God if we give it to Jesus with the help of his mystical Body, the Church. Faith in Christ Jesus opens up this possibility.  A recent visit to see a friend helped me remember that Christ's sacrifice on the Cross allows dying Christians to share in his work of redemption even to the point that their very death releases anew the power of God's love in the world.

For the Christian, as one's own sacrifice is united to the sacrifice of Christ, death becomes the supreme moment of life, one's finest hour, in which a man most fully becomes who he is. Indeed, it is only by giving ourselves in love that the truth of who we are is realized. When death becomes an offering of oneself to God in love, the majestic self-donation that makes man in the image and likeness of God attains its most magnificent moment.

This is a hidden mystery, a great secret disguised in suffering. When the body is exhausted under a burden of pain, the lips unable to form words, and the mind so engulfed in suffering that all awareness of everything and everyone one is lost, faith's greatest prayer is unknown to all but God. It's power is nonetheless unleashed for the life of the world even as every other earthly sign of life falls under mortality's shadow. Such a prayerful death opens itself to the most profound union with God until, in final agony, the last breath becomes one's greatest act of adoration.

The man I visited is a priest and long time friend in Colorado. Msgr. Michael Glenn and I studied together in Rome and Steubenville. He invited me and my wife to join his prayer group when we first arrived in Denver. When he was made rector of Saint John Vianney Seminary, I served him as academic dean. He has tried to live a holy priesthood and to work for the renewal of the priesthood even in this turbulent time of grave scandal. He has always believed in the power of prayer, penance and the practice of lectio divina.  He has been battling brain cancer and for a while seemed to be winning. Despite the efforts of his medical team and the love and support of his friends and family, his final agony is begun.  When I stepped into his hospital room, I was struck by the love, faith and prayer that surrounded him.

Dying is difficult, but offering a noble death in faith requires the support of the whole Church. A hosts of bishops and priests have ministered to him. Many friends have come to pray with him and support him. He sometimes opens his eyes to acknowledge someone. On rare occasion, he lifts his head. We do not really know how much he is able to join us when we pray the rosary for him - but what he is conscious of, or not conscious of, is not really the point. We are joined together with him, implicated in his plight and he in ours too. This solidarity of life in the face of death is what it means to be in the Body of Christ - for there is no more important moment than the moment of death to bear one another's burdens out of devotion to the Lord.

He endeavors to offer himself as a living sacrifice in a manner deeper than what the body or mind suffers, deeper than what the intellect can search or the intuition guess. It is deeper not only than what falls in the scope of consciousness but also in what remains underneath unconscious impulses too -- at the very core of one's personal existence. From this sacred place of the soul's substance, this deepest center where the whole Trinity abides, a drama of love unfolds, even for a priest. Every Eucharist springs from this very place - for here the mystery of the Risen One communicates new life all the more when we die. A dying priest realizes this in a particular way. He, just as is true of every disciple, must confront his own hostility to God and to the great purpose for which the Word summoned him into existence. At the same time, the sacred office entrusted to him is also implicated - so that even in death, he continues his ministry in the Church.

Aside from this, there is little that he can disclose about the race he is running or the fight that he fights or the prize that he seeks to win. His faith is taking him across the unseen frontiers of fear, inadequacy and misery. If storms of pride and humiliation, doubt and regret threaten his heart, all of this is part of death when we seek to make it into an offering pleasing to the Lord.

Those who pray for him enter into this arena with him. They do so without regard for what they understand or do not understand about the pathway Christ has called him to follow. They have come to help him make this final offering to the Lord, to accompany him as he follows the footsteps of His Crucified God. By adoring Christ with and for him, we keep him company on his journey to the Father's house.

All this however is passing to the disciple resolved to persevere until he can persevere no more - and I believe Fr. Michael is this kind of soul. Such a faithful heart finds itself carried to the finish line by a love that surpasses its every expectation - and this is also true for priests. For the whole Body of Christ walks through the Valley of Death together under the Lord's rod and staff, and our prayers for one another flow from the springs and meadows through which He leads us. Our enemies assail us when we are at our weakest, but, by prayer for one another and perseverance in this great fight, victory is assured. We have this assurance because of the One who has gone before us.  Indeed, when the struggle becomes too much, He lifts us on his shoulder and carries us to the sacred banquet prepared for us.

Praying with Fr. Michael reminded me that with every act of love offered to God by a dying soul, peace envelops, establishes and shines through one's whole existence. By the prayer of faith, even in death, the whole world is made vulnerable to a love that it cannot contain. The passion of Christ is renewed.  A pledge of future glory is given. This means that there is something Eucharistic in my friend's final agony - a sacred action is being accomplished by God as this dying priest struggles to surrender everything to Him.

By the most humble assent, a baptism of divine fire surges through and infuses all one's powers of consciousness.  The Holy Spirit produces an abundance of undaunted noble passions and the holy freedom to love, no matter how feeble they have been rendered by the disintegrating power of death.  By even the most imperfect act of faith, spiritual space is made for the Father to raise up his Beloved again. This dying body and soul is transformed into an altar and an offering is made perfect even in the face of this most brutal trial.

In the hidden offering of Christian death, spiritual worship is accepted by the Most High. Such a living sacrifice truly extends the saving power of Christ in space and time as the history of humanity unfolds. Each sacrifice of praise offered in the dying body of even the least of the children of God, Jesus humbly accepts in the Fire of Divine Love. With solemn gratitude, He joins this final holocaust into the mystery His own sacrifice on the Cross so that it might bear fruit for the glory of the Father. By the ministry of Christ's Body, one's death actually consoles God's Heart like no other gift man has to offer. For in death, those who believe become most like His Beloved Son.

This sacred and unrepeatable sacrificial offering can only be made with the help and new solidarity of the Body of Christ. Indeed, the mystery of death, even as it would alienate the dying disciple from everything and everyone he cherishes, only increases the very loving solidarity and communion of holy things for which the Church exists.  This is why at death such mysterious conversions take place.  A new torrent of Divine Mercy is unleashed through all the imperfections of a soul's last offering to God. Sobered before such love, we find ourselves eager to repent and forgive and to seek forgiveness - and unexpectedly desiring to reconciled, wanting to be more patient, striving to persevere with one another just a little longer. Such great spiritual works remain hidden in the limits of human weakness, disguised in powerlessness even as time rushes on too quickly or not quickly enough. Is it not precisely because it is so hidden that the beauty of these graces are so heart-piercing? Sorrow and hope collide on this mysterious meeting place with God.

As an update to this post, Monsignor Michael Glenn died on Friday, March 1, 2019. I am grateful for the blessing he has been in my life, in the life of my family, and in the lives of so many others. May he rest in peace. 

February 9, 2019

The Urgency of Contemplative Prayer

The urgency of contemplative prayer comes into focus when we begin to ponder the transitory nature of our lives and the precariousness of the society in which we live.  We lull ourselves into thinking that things have always been a certain way and therefore will always stay the way we imagine them to be.  But this is not the way life is, and time is harshly more linear than it is cyclical. As long as we cling to the delusion that the work-a-day world is unchanging, we are susceptible to catastrophe up ending the very purpose of our lives.

Here, our judgment betrays us if we do not allow it to be purified by a new awareness of God in prayer. The faith that animates Christian contemplation knows that the Trinity's presence is always new - always bringing newness into the world as a foretaste of what is to come. It knows that Christ is sent by the Father in the Holy Spirit that we might have life to the full ... but this faith also tells us that we must be ready for this gift. He reveals His glory that we might thrive in praise of it, but if we are distracted by the same cares and anxieties that weigh down everyone else, we miss this extraordinary opportunity to our eternal detriment and the detriment of all those we love.

Matthew 24:37-40 reveals that just before catastrophe, most are mindless about their own impending doom. Even more so is the coming of the Lord in glory catastrophic for those who are cavalier about holy things and how they live. If we live our lives as if our selfish occupations were the only concerns to be concerned about; if we do not allow ourselves to be convicted of sin by the Holy Spirit; if we are not moved by the immensity of the love that burns in the Heart of God for our sake and for the whole world; we too will be overtaken by catastrophe at the coming of the Lord. A fate more terrifying than any flood, doom more dark than earthly death, a judgment more severe than time can contain - all of this is what falls on a soul that is not vigilant, but careless in the presence of the Lord.

The Lord is a just judge and His presence demands the complete and total vigilance realized in mental prayer. Such attentive silence helps us be ready to render what is His due, to give an account of ourselves before Him.  Indeed, to give such an accounting is the most important, the most sacred of all moments in one's own personal existence.

Mindful of Divine Judgment, mental prayer makes us vulnerable to the ways that Christ speaks to us in our own conscience. Such a heart to heart with the Lord draws us away from those activities that dissipate our capacity to love and plunges us in the drama of salvation. This inner stillness makes possible the renunciation of all that is not worthy of God's love and gives courage to love when love seems impossible. Nothing can better prepare us for His judgment at the evening time of life. At death, when we are infused with the light of His truth, frequent contemplative prayer has already anticipated this finest moment of life.

Contemplation searches for the Holy Mighty One, and it knows that failure to revere Him never allows a man to rise above irreverence. Such mental prayer ponders Him as ultimate Truth supported all the while by the humble realization that failure to obey Him condemns one to a meaningless existence. This prostration of the mind knows that He alone is the Righteous One with the firm conviction that failure to seek His forgiveness is to continue to wallow in guilt and shame. This captivity of thought approaches the Prince of Peace with the sobered awareness that not to welcome Him is to burn with of all kinds of irrational impulses and of unquenchable desires.  Such solemn interiority is at once wrenched in astonishment that He has suffered the consequences of our sin while also amazed over the indifference to Divine Mercy that alienates man in misery. This cry of recognition and love knows that He is come to bring Eternal Life and feels with painful sorrow how failure to believe in Him results in eternal death.

The dynamism of Christ's immanent coming into the world of my own personal existence evokes the urgency of such contemplative prayer. The end of the world is not remote, but ever present, an unfolding reality into which we are all already caught up. As stars fall out of the sky and the earth is shaken, the visible image of the ultimate and absolute love of the Father, the Judge of the Living and the Dead moves the very depths of our being with reverence, obedience, desire for forgiveness and to forgive, sobriety, humility and living faith. Yet, none of this can ever be if we do not sanction and permit this movement of grace in contemplation. Indeed, in times of supreme trial and tribulation how can we if we do not keep our eyes on Him? The faith that such prayer requires makes obvious how inadequate it is merely to think or wish for such things before His face. Instead, true vigilance in prayer makes a believer choose and beg for the grace to be reverent, obedient, forgiving, sober, and humble before the Risen One before whose personal presence one suddenly finds oneself.

Here, the urgency of contemplative prayer impresses an enfleshed spirituality - one that is full engaged in this world, but not of it. This means a movement indifferent to anything that is not God's will, but whatever God's will is to be ever ready and eager to implicate oneself in it unreservedly. As his presence dawns on us in our effort to enter silent stillness, it is not enough to vaguely intend - but we must actually offer, in the concrete moment, spiritual worship with our bodies. The presence of Word made flesh requires that our faith and love be unveiled through our bodily actions, even the words we say. This means in the earthly, nitty gritty and real day to day relationships and service that make up our daily lives. Prayer that leads away from this enfleshed devotion is not Christian - is not in the pattern of the Savior who humbled Himself, in our likeness, to become the loving servant of all unto death. By the true sacrifices that such an enfleshed spirituality demands, contemplation finds and follows in his footsteps until how we live is animated and radiant with His very life. 

February 7, 2019

The Mother of Mercy and the Abyss of Love

The Mother of Mercy spoke through Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity. As death approached the young Carmelite, she addressed Mary's words to her Prioress as well as to every soul who longs for the coming of the Lord.  The Mother of Mercy because the mercy of the Father is revealed in her Son, Jesus, Saint Elizabeth presents Mary's mission of mercy. The Carmelite reveals, through Mary's words, the generosity of the Lord who does not even withhold his own mother to help us and to affirm our faith. Just as Mary helped Jesus make his very first offering to the Father as his mother, the Virgin has come to help us make an offering of our lives too.

Out from between my arms, entering into the world, Jesus made his first oblation to the Father, and He sent me to receive yours! I brought you a scapular as a pledge of my protection and of my love, and also as a "sign" of the mystery that will be worked in you.  My daughter, I come "to cloth you in Jesus-Christ" until you "walk in Him," with the Father and the Spirit of love, into the very depths of the Abyss. I come until you are built up in Him who is your Rock, your Fortress. I come until you are "affirmed in your faith." I come until your faith is affirmed in the immense Love who plunges the very ground of your soul into the great Furnace. My daughter, this all powerful Love will accomplish great things in you. Believe in my word, the word of a Mother. This Mother thrills in seeing with what particular tenderness you are loved.  Oh, remain in the deepest core of your being and behold Him who comes fully armed with gifts. The abyss of his love surrounds Him like a cloak: the Bridegroom!

Letter 316, 24 Sept. 1906

The truth of our humanity is revealed only when we encounter the Bridegroom who gives Himself to us. In meeting Him, we discover how to offer ourselves as a gift of love for others and for God. He helps us realize that to make such a gift of self can only be learned from Him - for He not only exemplifies this gift, but enables it, the deeper our faith in Him becomes.

Indeed, we must suffer the immensity of His love and overcome our tendency to promote ourselves rather than give ourselves. As long as self-promotion and self-occupation reign within, we lack the freedom to give, to offer our lives for the glory of God and the good of our neighbor. To arrive at the freedom required to offer our lives as something beautiful for God, as a living sacrifice, as a pleasing offering, the Lord must accomplish a great mystery in us. It is a mystery of holiness, a mystery of love. This mystery that God brings about in us also encompasses our own effort too.

This is why Mary is sent, to teach us how to love in the way the Jesus loved. She can do this because she knows in a singular way the particular tenderness of Jesus' love. Indeed, love never rises to anything if it fails to demand all our effort, all our strength, the endurance of hardships, many difficult renunciations, the humble acceptance of our own inadequacies and perseverance through many painful failures. Saint Elizabeth knew that this would be impossible but for the fact that the Lord Himself accomplishes all this and so much more in us - the more we believe in Him. So, she received the gift of the Mother of Mercy - and she wants us to experience how Mary can affirm our faith in the immensity of Mercy too.

February 3, 2019

The Way of Love

There are many spiritual paths offered us in life. Some promise therapeutic relief from
burdens of sorrow and anxiety. Others achievements of consciousness and the wonders of psychic states.  There are forms of spirituality that promise power and gifts, prophecy and knowledge. The Holy Spirit, however, offers another way.

This new way on which the Holy Spirit leads passes across these other paths. It knows relief from anxiety and many other rich spiritual experiences. It is strewn with many gifts, prophecies and kinds of knowledge. A certain stature is realized. An inner strength acquired. A beautiful wisdom grows. Yet none of this is the destination that the Breath of God gently blows us toward or the ultimate purpose for which this Furnace of Love burns within.

The vanishing points to which the Soul of our Soul raises us, calls us, and directs us reach out to an unfathomable unity of love. The Creator Spirit etches us into a window through which heaven comes. He forms the clay of our humanity to become a resting place for the Living God. He breathes on us until we are covered with divine life and intimately bound to it. Our Advocate, He floats the light of truth into the deep crevices of our hearts as we ponder the Scriptures so that we might renounce what is not worthy of our dignity and glow with warmth in this cold world. He washes over us through our fasting and prayer until we are purified of anything that might betray the friendship that we are meant to know.

Finally, after we are made mature through the difficult trials and challenges of loving those entrusted to us, this Anointing from Above makes us shine with the Light of Christ as if we were icons surrounding the sanctuary of God's presence. Then, when fully having realized in our own personal freedom the unique and unrepeatable creature God has delighted in from before the foundation of the world, we will have become a communion of living signs whose joy - the limits of time and space are too small, whose peace - nothing in the heavens or on the earth or under the earth can diminish, whose love - death has no power to end.

February 2, 2019

The Battle for Integrity - a Men's Conference

Saturday, March 2
9:00 AM ~ 5:00 PM 
Sacred Heart Retreat House
St. Joseph Campus 
Anthony Lilles, S.T.D.

The battle for integrity is a task that each man must take up, not only for himself, but for all those entrusted to him. Social media and the entertainment industry present challenges that must be faced in the battlefield of life.  But the fight is not merely against cultural forces outside of oneself. Instead, it is a spiritual battle waged in the mind and for the heart. The freedom to live a meaningful life and the hope of humanity are at stake. This conference intends to inspire men to join the fray. Come and learn to take up the weapons of the Word of God, daily mass, confession, the rosary, personal prayer and fasting. Meet our allies, the angels and saints. Listen to Christ, our Captain. Renew your conviction that if we follow our Captain, if we do not betray our allies, and if we do not drop our weapons - victory is assured. 

Dr. Lilles is a Catholic theologian, married father of three, serving as academic dean of Saint John's Seminary in Camarillo, CA, Juan Diego House for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, he also teaches in the Avila Institute of Spiritual Formation. Having completed doctoral studies in '98, his research is dedicated to the wisdom of the saints and mystics of the Church.

Three ways to register:
Go to: www.sacredheartretreathouse.com  
Email: sjcprogcoordinator@carmelitesistersocd.com 
Call (626) 289-1353 x203

Sponsored by the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles

St. Joseph Campus
507 North Granada Avenue 

Alhambra, California 91801 
(626) 289-1353 x203 

Cost: $65.00 Includes:
- Dynamic and Inspiring talks 
- Sacrament of Reconciliation
- Holy Mass
- Time for personal prayer
- continental breakfast and lunch

January 27, 2019

The Kingdom of Heaven Descends on Us

It is a great act of faith to believe that the Father truly hears our petition "on earth as it is in Heaven." Yet He does hear His slain Son's desire resound throughout His mystical Body, from highest heaven to this world's deepest abyss, and this desire stirs Him, so to speak, with great joy at all times and forever. This is why the Father constantly sends His Spirit through His Risen Word into the world. If evil is permitted in His paternal tenderness, it is only because it does not thwart the Father from revealing the immensity of His love - instead, through the Spirit and the Word, He constantly changes grave evils and terrible sorrows into new disclosures of Love's glory. Through the Holy Spirit, even betrayal, denial, abandonment and death are implicated in the coming of this Kingdom- and so we pray convinced that the obedience of Christ Crucified transforms every abuse and condemnation into gateways through which the reign of God descends upon us.

Despite the tender generosity of the Father and the priceless gift that He freely offers, many in the Church have failed to bear witness to the truth. For sheer lack of this wisdom, our society is succumbing to dehumanizing violence. Without a compelling Christians witness to what God is doing in the world, otherwise decent people make catastrophic mistakes at the expense of the innocent and vulnerable. We walk over the homeless and ask who their neighbors are. We glimpse the hungry and naked always from afar, but never close enough to see the Lord. Instead of offering lasting freedom to captives, our prisons overflow with disregarded social "problems." Despite what Christ preached with mighty power, have we let anything be fulfilled in our hearing? 

A vicious societal irony pierces the Heart of God. Ecclesial leaders join media personalities to "condemn" children who marched for life even as they were assaulted by adults who abused, persecuted and exploited them for political purposes. Yet these same leaders fail to condemn the politically powerful who promote and celebrate laws ushering into our culture the most brutal and extreme forms of infanticide. This is not the first time a society has rejected His blessing, but the Father remains undaunted.

Into this abyss of confusion, the Father never fails to send the Spirit of Truth who, brooding over our brokenness, proves the world wrong about sin, righteousness and judgment. The powerful who stand against the Author of Life have brought condemnation on themselves and the Consuming Fire permits them the heartless culture that they have orchestrated. Those ecclesial leaders preoccupied with media spin have lost sight of Him who has ascended above the world and the Pillar of Cloud leaves them in the banality in which they take refuge. To the children, however, the Holy Spirit gives the Kingdom of Heaven: for abused and condemned they glimpsed the beatitude promised by their abused and condemned God.

Postscript: Some ecclesial leaders are offering apologies to the young people mentioned in this article and Bishop Barron has admonished us to be careful of scapegoating - here.  The astonishing glory of Merciful Love is the basis of our hope that Christ won for us. In this mercy, one always finds a new opportunity to repent and to make a new beginning. In this, the Spirit of the Father rejoices for whenever the human heart comes to its senses -- this gives God freedom to do something beautiful in our midst.

The Joy of the Father

The world needs the joy of the Father and this is what the Lord came to give us. He preached this joy at the outset of his ministry when He proclaimed a Year of Favor - and this Jubilee is fulfilled in all who will listen to Him.  He whispers to the ear of our heart so that our judgment about the Lord, about sin and about what is true might be filled with the jubilation the Father yearns for us to know. Yet, because of the noise of the world, we do not hear His voice. Because we do not listen, we are robbed of the joy that could otherwise bring us to our senses. To hear voice the Lord, there are other voices that we must recognize and reject. This requires discipline and vigilance, by opens to great joy.

If we are not discerning in what we attend to and whose judgments we allow into our hearts, we are driven by dehumanizing forces and immature impulses. The voices of nearly every political interest fosters fear and resentment to advance control. The voices of the famous excite sensationalism to advance their own reputation and influence. The messages of the culturally and financially powerful too often appeal to arrogance to exploit their wealth and positions in society. So many of the sellers in the marketplace of materialism stir little more than avarice to commercialize every relationship. Yet, if we are not resentful, who controls us? If we are not spellbound by the sensational, who influences us? If we are not arrogant, who can exploit us? If we resist greed, who reduces us to commercialism? This kind of vigilance keeps the ear of the heart open to the voice of the Lord - and wherever this voice is heard, there is always insurmountable joy.

Of the heart, this joy is manifest in the whole way one engages life - socially, interpersonally, and interiorly all at once. Yes, this joy from above overcomes laws against life and protects all the most vulnerable. This joy lifts up the lowly and stands with the poor. This joy welcomes the stranger and protects children in the name of the Lord. It boundaries protect what threatens our dignity and it overcomes every division. This joy purifies the Church and moves to a deeper examination of conscience. It is an encounter, a connection with the Lord, that nothing can take away, and that moves the heart to witness to others.

This joy cannot be destroyed by political or cultural powers even in the face of death. Neither fame nor wealth secure it, yet humiliation and poverty can be filled with it. Nothing man makes to achieve it, yet in inadequacy and weakness it is often found. It is pure gift - for this is how the Father loves and whoever receives this love learns to love in the same way.

January 20, 2019

Theology and Priestly Formation

Some have argued that too much attention is payed to theology in priestly formation. They contend that most priests forsake the ministry for lack of human and spiritual rather than intellectual formation. There is something important to this position and efforts to provide better spiritual and human formation must be engaged in earnest. Yet, I am not fully in agreement with the idea that we need to ease up on theological exploration so that proper attention can be given these other areas. This is too compartmentalized in its approach.

All Christian formation, including priestly formation, needs to have the form of an incarnate discipleship - the learning of a whole manner of life that involves all the excellencies of human existence. A theology that does not purify and intensify one's humanity, contemplation and pastoral charity is a very poor theology indeed.  The theological task must be lead souls into a baptism of wonder until their whole existence is on fire with the love of God. Any other kind of theology is simply a waste of time.

Pure of heart, an existence aflame with Divine Love knows the sanctification of all its bodily and psychological urges, drives and instincts. Completely vulnerable in obedience to the Word made flesh, it is become poor in spirit, an icon of the Father's love for the World. A peacemaker, it yearns for the unity of the Church and stands against discord in the Body of Christ. Hungering and thirsting for justice, such an enflamed soul takes the side of the humble and powerless in society, always ready to offer a word of hope. Most of all, such a disciple rejoices in the face of persecution - for it finds in such rejection, a more perfect identification with Christ.

A Pilgrim's Memory of St. Anthony of Egypt

Many years have come and passed
Since before your smile in inner mountain fast
Stepped my bare feet out on bare forest last,
To that living unshod joy in your greeting past!

Was it by flesh or faith that your face shone
In brightness, to lift from skin to bone,
In light against sin's darkness to atone,
In radiance to live that life of love alone? 

Reminiscences of that New Eden contain 
Solitude's vestiges that join the strain 
Of my own existence dissipated but in refrain
From those idols who, by Life's death, are slain.

What tolling silences with thunder peel 
amid the interior cacophony unreal
of my own thoughts to rekindle and to heal 
that longing to long too long neglected still?

Is all the empty service that I halfway render 
Any more pleasing than what saving secrets engender
In prayer, that power to conceive and not to hinder
His surrendered love, so true and tender?

Anthony of Egypt, in the battle of faith, you shine,
Against all spiteful spirits, your own words still bind
The discouraged believer in the Word to find
Hope's new beginning and in love's discipline, a living sign.

January 13, 2019

St. Teresa of the Andes and Love for Life

At the beginning of this New Year, I was blessed to get to know another Carmelite saint.  Juanita, an early 20th Century Chilean, was given the name Teresa of Jesus when she entered the convent at 18 years of age. She would die less than a year later of Typhus in 1920. Yet, she had been a contemplative and mystic since her childhood, having espoused herself to Christ at 15 and pledged herself to the Carmelite vocation. As a contemplative, she loved life, enjoyed parties, horseback riding and tennis. None of this diminished her devotion for the Lord. Influenced by St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, the writings of St. Teresa of the Andes are part of the same spiritual mission. In fact, she began to read St. Elizabeth of the Trinity at 16, and on her 17th birthday develops seven counsels for herself from her older sister in the spirit's spiritual doctrine:

1. Live a Divine Life by loving God with a pure love, giving oneself to Him without reserve.
2. Fulfill God's will in everything, meeting all of one's obligations with joy and not allowing anything to disturb one's peace.
3. Live in silence to allow the Holy Spirit to draw forth harmonies in the soul by which the Holy Spirit and the Father may form an image of the Word in me.
4. Suffer, because Christ suffered His whole life long and was the praise of the Father's glory. I resolve to suffer with joy for my sins and for sinners.
5. Live a life of faith, considering everything from a supernatural perspective, reflecting Christ as a mirror in all our actions.
6. Live in a continual state of thanksgiving so that every thought, word and action may be a perpetual thanksgiving.
7. Live in continual adoration, like the angels, repeating "Holy, holy, holy... " and since prayer cannot be uninterrupted, renewing our intention before each activity, and thus we will be a praise of glory inflamed with zeal for Divine Glory. (See her Diary, #28; July 15, 1917)

Pondering her words in relation to her short and difficult life, I am amazed about the repetition of "live" throughout these counsels. Very early on she had discovered the secret of Christianity, the hidden joy that those who know Jesus live by.  Because she chose to live by love, life had become for her an opportunity to give thanks to God - a thanksgiving evoked in her because of her conviction about how much He had already given her.

A certain love for life that faith in Jesus opens up is a message that this American mystic helps us to ponder. We should not be afraid to let her witness contradict the cultural status quo that we too readily accept. We should allow her to help us question our own societal assumptions.

Whereas she celebrated every moment of life as a gift from God to the end, we have long allowed even places as tender as the womb to become dangerous for life. Whereas she pondered the value of life in suffering for others, we question whether those who suffer should have any part in our society. Whereas her heart was moved to befriend homeless children, our own homeless do not often know our love. Whereas her brother's struggles with substance abuse moved her to seek him out and accompany him, we are quick to disrespect those that we believe have given up on life. Whereas she approached death as her supreme moment of life, we live as if the terminally ill should be shunned at all costs. We spend our lives fearfully pursuing the limited exigencies of the here and now, she shows us the joy that is ours no matter our present circumstance if we would dare to live for heaven.

Our attitude has not increased the tenderness or goodness of our humanity, but hers did -and not only her own, but everyone around her. So it is time to consider the witness of her short but rich life. If we refuse to listen to her warm voice speaking from the heart of the Church, we risk becoming cold. If we will not let the truth she witnesses to touch us, we may soon be tormented by the meaninglessness that we have brought on ourselves.  If someone were looking for a way out of such nihilism, St. Teresa of the Andes is a sign that love of God offers a pathway forward. She is a charming witness that an encounter with the One who is Risen from the dead helps us live by this love. In Him, there is a love for life that not even fear of death can diminish - and St. Teresa of the Andes is an American prophet of this truth for our time.