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.

September 18, 2019

Mary, Mother of the Messiah, Protection of Families

Mary is ready to protect the heart of our homes. As would the mother of an earthly king, the Mother of the Messiah is solicitous for the kingdom of her Son - his reign in our families. Just as she kept in her heart the grace of Nazareth, Mary is the safe guard of the grace of every Christian family. Her maternal protection over these spiritual riches is why she has a very special place in the life of the family. What is more, the way she safeguards our families is through all the treasures that Christ has given her - from this inexhaustible treasury, she wants to share with us. Those beautiful memories that she ponders of Him are transformative of our whole human existence when we welcome her into our life of faith.

Just as she received every gift to raise up her son with St. Joseph, so now with St. Joseph she shares these gifts with families that turn to her. How do we turn to her? To this end, we should make time and space for the for all forms of family prayer: the Family Rosary, Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary in our homes, Family Consecration of ourselves to Jesus through Mary, reading the Scriptures, singing songs together to the Lord.

Such prayer makes concrete the new solidarity that Christ won for our families.  As we persevere with one another out of devotion to Him and love for one another, the power of family prayer helps us hold together. Christ has given everything for this purpose - even when everything seems to be falling apart.  He has even given us his own Mother as a gift to this end.

Mary's maternal love for her Son extends to each member of His whole mystical body. She shares every spiritual blessing from her Son with all those that her Son entrusts to her so that they might enjoy the strength and joy they need to serve one another and to build each other up. She desire every member of our family to know this wholesome love -- it at once humanizes and divinizes everything in life.  Bound together with us through her intercession for us, she can help our families become places of the tender mercy of God and places where sons and daughters are raised up in courage, where spouses serve one another with reverent solicitude, where parents learn the wonder of the Father's mercy.

Mary, the Mother of the Redeemer, can teach us to make our home into a place that is consecrated to God. She can also lead our families into the silent wilderness outside of our home where together we can learn a deeper vulnerability before the Lord.  Mary's silent presence can help us embrace a more profound personal discipline and fasting.  She can help us unlock the power of prayer in the domestic Church. Offering the warm light of her Son in the midst of the cold darkness of our times, our Lady walks with us on this journey to our heavenly homeland.

(This is the final part of my presentation at the SCRC in September, 2019)

September 9, 2019

The Christian Family's Unique Relationship with Christ

The Christian family, that is a family where at least one member is baptized and practicing the faith, bears unique relationship with the humiliated Christ - Christ's humiliation is the Christian family's glory,  Christ loves but He is not loved. So it is with the believer. we must learn to love when we are not loved. the more we learn such love, the closer we have drawn into the heart of the Lord. Only prayer can go to this place. By devotion that allows the heart to pour itself out to the Lord in silence, we follow in the footsteps of our crucified God even in the hidden and difficult to bear moments of marriage and family life.  The power of prayer leads us on a pathway to Christ’s humility, the deepest humility ever known.  The deeper into humility we plunge with Christ, the more invincible our love for one another and our hope becomes. Prayer takes us into this victory.

Christ’s death on the Cross with his descent into hell, with his resurrection with his ascension into heaven— all of these mysteries of redemption are the mysteries that animate the Christian family. If there are moments of defeat where nothing goes well and every plan runs amiss, an act of faith joins this sorrow to Christ's victory. Indeed, it was when Christ was most powerless and humiliated that He accomplished his greatest act of praise and won the salvation of humanity. So too when the family is most tried, faith in Christ allows the Holy Spirit to shower down blessings and beatitude in ways our natural power of reason cannot see. A family can go through hell but, by faith in Christ, there is always new reasons for hope.  

The Holy Spirit is drawn to the humble but humility is not easy to learn. We learn humility by being brought to our knees.  In many ways, the story of the family in the world today is one of the brokenness and betrayal.  Without faith, it may be easy to see this as insurmountable and meaningless. The eyes of faith, however, see new opportunities for identification with Christ - for a deeper connection with the mysteries by which He overthrew our hostility to Him.  The story of the twelve who betrayed Him and the humiliation of the Cross was prelude to a new birth for all of humanity  So the stories of our family prelude a new work that God yearns to do if we will trust in Him. This new work opens to the household of faith that John and Mary shared. Here, at the hearth of Mary's maternal love for every beloved disciple, the new family that Christ’s death has constituted is open to us. 

How do we know whether teaching is true? Christ revealed a love stronger than death and this is ours if we will believe in Him. He offers us a new communion with one another, a solidarity. This is what He prayed for when He prayed to the Father "May they be one." His prayer is infallible. If we join our prayer with His, in ways that do not conform to our imagination or narrow plans, He brings to fulfillment His deep desires for us in ways that cause all of heaven to rejoice.

The break up of families and marriages — the horrible alienation that threatens on every side, the terrible loneliness — this is not the end of the family.  With a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit, it is the birth pangs of new life - God is bringing to birth a new love more beautiful than any love we have ever known. Lesser loves, impure loves, these hold back the fullness that He yearns for us to share in. He purifies us because He wants us to know the truth, and standing on the ground of the truth, He longs that we may at last discover the freedom to love with a new intensity, a fullness that we have never known before, one so rich in meaning that time cannot contain it.

(This is part of the presentation given to the SCRC on the Power of Prayer in Family Life)

September 5, 2019

You Are Invited on a Holy Land Pilgrimage - In the Company of Elijah

Join Anthony Lilles, STD and Sr. Magdalit Bolduc
along with Kris McGregor of Discerning Hearts

For More information - click here to check out Discerning Hearts Events

Day 1
Saturday, May 23 | Depart US
Departure for your overnight flights to the Holy Land.
Day 2
Sunday, May 24 | Arrive Holy Land
Arrival at Ben Gurion Airport. We’ll be met by our representative. A luxury motor coach will transfer us to the Negev, 18 miles from Beer Sheva (Gn21:25), towards Arad (Judges 1:16) our destination. We will overnight in Kfar ha Nokdim a typical and original Bedouin Style Guest Rooms in the desert. Dinner, time for settling in, late Mass. Special readings adapted to Elijah in the desert.
Day 3
Monday, May 25 | The Negev – Ein Gedi – Day of walk in the desert
After breakfast, the coach will leave us at the head of a trail for an hour walk. we’ll take a route in a magnificent rocky landscape, perfect to reflect on God the Father’s promises through his prophets and Elijah’s ministry (1kg 17). Mass in the wilderness (open air). In the afternoon, the coach will drive us on the Arava side (Ez47:8-12). Drive along the Dead sea to Ein Gedi, a beautiful oasis in the region were King David hid while fleeing Saul (1Sm24:2). Time of teaching and Scripture reading. We will meditate on Elijah and his encounter with God (1Kg 19: 1-14). Finish the day in the beauty of the desert. Dinner and overnight at Ein Gedi Hotel, few miles from Jericho.
Day 4
Tuesday, May 26 | Jordan – Jericho – Nazareth
After breakfast, we will pass in front of Qumran (Jr32:14), the site where some of the Dead Sea Scrolls were found and go towards Jericho to the Baptismal site (Jn1:29) on the Jordan River. We will renew our baptismal vows, feet in the water, or totally immersed. There will be the shift from ‘the Father to the Son’ in our Trinitarian journey. From the Jordan banks, drive to Jericho where Elijah ascended in a chariot of fire (2kg 2:5-15) and were Jesus healed the blind man. We will celebrate the Eucharist at Jericho’s Parish. Enjoy lunch in a beautiful restaurant nearby. After lunch, see a sycamore tree like the one of Zacchaeus the tax collector (Lk19:1-10), and continue along the Jordan Valley to Mount Carmel to our lodging. Dinner and overnight in Stella Maris. In the evening, fraternal time.
Day 5
Wednesday, May 27 | Mount Carmel – Stella Maris – Muhraka – Carmelites. Nazareth
In the morning we will visit the grotto of Elijah in Stella Maris. The emplacement (ruins) where the first monk started to live modeling their lives on Elijah. From there we will go up to Muhraka were Elijah confronted the 450 Baal of Queen Jezebel (1kg 18:20-40). Mass. Time of Lectio. Lunch. Transition with Mary: she is the one who will protect the order of Carmelite. In the afternoon, head towards Nazareth. Visit the Greek Church the Fountain of St Gabriel and the Basilica of the Annunciation which is built over the remains of the House where the Angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary to announce that she was to become the Mother of God (Lk 1:26). Dinner and overnight in Nazareth. Free evening.
Day 6
Thursday, May 28 | Tabor – Cana
In the morning, we will proceed to Mt. Tabor in the Jezreel Valley (Zc12:11), 11 miles west of the Sea of Galilee. According to Origen, St Jerome and St Cyril of Jerusalem, this is the site of the Transfiguration (Mt 17:1) where Jesus appeared in his Glory between Elijah and Moses. Also, the site in the first covenant, in the mid – 12th century BCE of the battle between Barak and Sisera, under the leadership of Deborah the Israelite Judge of that time (Jg4:5). We will ascend the Mount Tabor by foot in silence (1,886 feet). After praying and contemplating the Moso-Arab Church, a jewel of art, We will celebrate the Eucharist in this magnificent place, ponder on the person of Elijah in Judaism and his presence in the New Testament. Lunch. Descent of Mount Tabor by foot. Cana, where Christ performed his first miracle at the request of his mother is on our way to the Lake. In Cana (Jn2:1-11) we will take time to read and pray. If doable, the couples who wish too can perform the renewal of their wedding vows. After Cana, en-route for the Lake of Galilee called also the Sea of Kinnereth (Nb34:1). The next three days we will ponder on the Public life of Jesus. Dinner and overnight on the Sea shore of the Lake. Free evening.
Day 7
Friday, May 29 | Boat ride – Capharnahum – Mount of Beatitudes – Tabgha
After breakfast, we will embark for a Boat ride to Capernaum. Capernaum is now in ruins but was once a thriving town where Peter lived and hosted Jesus (Mt 4:13). In this Synagogue Jesus gave the discourse on the Bread of Life (Jn 6:35-70). Drive to the Mount of the Beatitudes. Visit the Church that commemorates where Christ taught the Eight Beatitudes to his Disciples (Mt 5). Walk down the Mount to the altar of the Beatitude grotto. Celebrate Mass in open air. Go to lunch. After lunch, the bus will drive us to the Primacy of Peter and after to Tabgha the site of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fish (Mt14). Visit the Church and its famous mosaics. Afterward, we will have a time of adoration on the seashore (called Dalmanoutha). Back to the Hotel. Dinner. Free evening.
Day 8
Saturday, May 30 | Ascent to Jerusalem – Panorama – Bethlehem
After breakfast, we depart from Tiberias directly to Jerusalem. While ascending the mountains, we will shift from ‘the Son to the Holy Spirit’ in our Trinitarian journey. Make the ascent to Jerusalem while reading the Psalms of Ascent. Enter in Jerusalem and drive directly to Bethlehem. Visit the Basilica of the Nativity, built over the site of the birthplace of Jesus, born amongst the Jewish people. Visit the Cave where Christ was born and the cave of St. Jerome, who lived here for many years translating the Bible into Latin. Celebrate Mass Go to Bet Sahour for lunch. at the Shepherds field, recalling the “great throng of the heavenly hosts” that appeared to the Shepherds announcing to them of the birth of the Savior (Lk2:8). After lunch, we will have time for shopping. While driving home if time permits, stop at the panorama view of the Tayelet above the Gehenna and Kidron Valleys. Dinner and overnight at our hotel. Teaching on the Holy Sepulcher in the evening.
Day 9
Sunday, May 31 | Early Mass at the Holy Sepulcher or with the Greek Catholic Patricarcate – Temple Mount – Mt. of Olives – Gallicantu – Via Dolorosa
Start the day walking through the Old City, towards the Temple area, where Jesus used to preach (Jn7:15) and where many episodes from the Bible took place (Lk2:22). Visit the Temple Mount. Time of teaching with Father. The coach will pick us up at the Lion gate. We will drive to the Mount of Olives (Mt21). Visit the Dominus Flevit Church, where Christ wept over Jerusalem (Mt23:37). Onwards to Gethsemane reliving the descent of Mount of Olives of the Palm Sunday. We will view the ancient Olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mt26:36) and visit the Church of All Nations which houses the Rock of the Agony of Christ on Holy Thursday. In this Church is a beautiful mosaic donated by the United States. The coach will drive above the Kidron Valley and bring us to the Zion Gate for Lunch in the Armenian Quarter. After lunch, we will head towards the house of the High Priest Caiaphas (Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu). This Church commemorates where Jesus was examined and eventually imprisoned before the Council in Jerusalem. It also commemorates Peter’s Denial of Christ (John 18:15 – 18). We will take a time of prayer in the cistern that served as prison. Late afternoon, the bus will drive us to the Lion Gate, for the Way of the Cross. Relive the way of the Cross. We will start at the site of the Antonia Fortress where Christ was tried and condemned to death. Proceed along the Via Dolorosa praying the Stations of the Cross – ending at the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, built over the site of the Crucifixion and the Tomb of Our Lord. Return to our accommodations for dinner and then make our way to the private Garden of Gethsemane for a special Holy Hour of Adoration.
Monday, June 01 | Mt. Zion – Emmaus (pm)
The day starts driving to Mount Zion. We will ask for a renewal of the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room on Mt. Zion. The Upper Room is where Jesus and His disciples celebrated the Last Supper (Matthew 26:17-30), and where they were together the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit fell upon them. In addition, our group will visit the nearby Benedictine Church of the Dormition. Tradition tells us that this Church is where Mary, the Mother of Jesus, “fell asleep.” Drive down the mountains towards North for the celebration of the Eucharist in the Holy site of Emmaus Nicopolis where the Risen Jesus met the disciples on the road to Emmaus and was recognized through the braking of the bread (Lk 24). We will have lunch served at the Monastery of the Beatitude’s Community, the Community of Sister Magdalit. After lunch, we will have a time of fraternal sharing and visit this moving site. We will end our pilgrimage with a thanksgiving Mass in the antic outdoor ruins. You will see how Jesus came and revealed Himself to you during this pilgrimage as He walked at the side of the two disciples of Emmaus. Return to Jerusalem to pack our bags and overnight.
Tuesday, June 02 | Return home – Day of travel

September 4, 2019

The Christian Family and the Mystery of Sin

Because the Christian Family bears a unique relationship with the Holy Trinity, it also bears an adversarial relationship with the mystery of sin.  As a communion of persons that images the truth, love and life of the Divine Persons, each family of Christ's disciples must struggle against anything that would be an obstacle to this life. In this sense, family life is a battleground where character and faithfulness are proven. The family is where the battle for integrity begins and it is where self-contradictions must be faced. In familial relationships, the dignity of each member of the family becomes the project of the entire family to defend and to promote. Here, we discover the pathway to discipleship, to living the Gospel without compromise.

Catherine de Hueck Doherty reflected on the reason couples were marrying in her day. In answer to a survey, a majority explained that they wanted to marry because they wanted to be loved. The Servant of God quipped that if everyone wanted to be loved, who was going to do all the loving?  Learning to love someone is a difficult battle. It requires every once of our humanity. We are defeated even before we step into the arena if we do not realize what we are fighting for - the battle that God wants us to win.  God loves us because He knows the Love whose image and likeness we bear. In His love for us, He has chosen to do whatever it takes to save us from anything that might prevent us from responding to the greatness that He has called us to. This saving work of love cost Him death on the Cross and merely by believing in the love that He reveals by His passion and death we already begin to taste the freedom that we were created to know. He loved us to the end so that we might fight for the freedom to love in our lives -- to love with the fullness of our being, this is what is means to be fully human, fully alive. To live in any other way is not really to live at all, it is merely to exist.

Our failure to fight the battle of love - to learn to be the one who loves - is seen today. In our day, most couples do not want to marry and live together in other kind of arrangements. If they would explain why they did not want to enter into the sacrament of marriage, it is likely that many would express a fear, the fear that if they entered marriage, they might not receive the love that they need for a meaningful life. They are afraid of being unhappy.  

Baptized in a loving encounter with Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit, Christian discipleship confronts this fear. When we follow the Lord who loved us to the end, we stop worrying about our own needs and begin to be concerned about the needs of those who love. The love of Christ leads us out of self-occupation an
d into the battle to live for love, by love and in love.

Such a battle requires suffering all kinds of hardships, trials, renunciations, difficulties, because (as St. Teresa of Calcutta told us) one cannot love except at one's own expense. Similarly, it is not in our successfulness in character development and family relations, but in our faithfulness to love and truth that the holiness of the Holy Trinity shines forth in our families.  

September 2, 2019

The Victory of the Christian Family

Baptism and marriage establishes a supernatural reality - the Christian family. This mystery is raised to an even more powerful sign when the marriage is sacramental, when both husband and wife are baptized and marry with the blessing of the Church. Yet, even when one spouse or the other is baptized, the mystery of the Christian family has taken hold. Indeed, if a son or daughter were the only baptized member of the family, the power of Christ's grace is already being unleashed throughout the whole household.

I assert this because families struggle today. In some cases, disciples of the Lord find their households in bitter disarray.  A breakdown in basic kindness and a proclivity to resentment haunt our homes. Many question whether the hard work of mutual faithfulness and sacrifice is worth it. Yet our consciences cry out and we know in our hearts that we must not forsake the bonds of love established by God in our lives. Peace in our family requires a great battle, even a constant battle, and despite our many questions, we know we must engage the fray.

In the face of so many challenges to our love for one another, is there a reason for our hope?  Yes. His Name is Jesus. The price He paid for our sake is the source of restoration and victory for our families, no matter the sin we must confront. His Cross establishes new relations between our souls and God, and these new relations implicate all our other relationships - including those intimate relationships of family life.

Because of what Christ suffered for our sake, the family bears a unique relationship with the Holy Trinity. Because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the souls of each of the baptized, each family relationship become capable of revealing the love of the Father communicated by Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit.  This relationship of life, love and truth in God breaks into every relationship the closer each family member draws to God. This divine life is an active reality, sanctifying the most commonplace things, making everything of family life into a kind of sacrament in which the Lord's glory shines through.  This mystery is so superabundant that if but one member draws close to the Lord in prayer and fasting, the whole family can become vulnerable to this divine reality.

So it is in the family that we pray for one another. We never pray alone. The Holy Spirit who prays in us also moves the hearts of all of heaven -- including the heart of Mary, the Mother of the Lord. She is not indifferent to the plights of our family. With her Son and the hosts of heaven, she is at work, with her maternal love, bringing about something beautiful, a hidden victory of love, truth and life: the heart warming triumph of grace filled humanity over the limits of sin and misery.

(This is the first part of my presentation to the SCRC in Anaheim, California, Sept. 1, 2019.)

August 30, 2019

The Spirit of Obedience and the Real Presence

A spirit of obedience is being renewed in the Church. It is expressed in the restoration of prayer and fasting, the restoration of marriages and of various forms of consecrated life. A growing number of parishes host perpetual adoration and lay faithful keep vigil through the night. These same parishes often have very active social ministries and a deep sense of solidarity with those most in need.  More of the faithful are going to confession and offering of acts of penance, not only for themselves, but in reparation for the sake of others. Obedience to the Holy Spirit evokes all of this and those who are docile to this new work of God in our midst are becoming instruments of hope.

Not too long ago, some assumed that Eucharistic Adoration was a thing of the past and that contemplative prayer was a waste of time. Instead, some insisted, we had to get busy with doing various social projects and pledge our allegiance to some political agenda of one kind or another. If we were not caught up in a spirit of anger and ready to accuse and condemn, we were told that we were part of the problem. What was important was the cause, whatever the cause: we should be ready to raise the barricade with righteous indignation!

But progress to what end and fight for what really?  Our consciences questioned us. How do we know whether what we were doing in the name of progress was actually the progress that the Lord desired us to make? Whether this battle was for His glory or our own? Yet, we feared to ask such questions lest we find ourselves condemned as a scribe or pharisee -- an anachronism holding back the inevitable progress that everyone else felt compelled to join.

The social teaching of the Church is a vital part of our devotion to God - for who can love God and remain indifferent to a neighbor's plight? This teaching demands moral leadership and requires that integrity be pursued on every level of life, especially in the Church. The great mystics were voices for this kind of social change. At the same time, they insisted that these same social concerns were secondary to one's own personal obedience to the Gospel of Christ. Only when I am completely surrendered to the Holy Spirit can I ever be obedient to the Gospel. Only when I allow the Holy Spirit to convict me of all my self-contradictions can He lead me into the integrity that following Christ demands.

Prayer comes first.  This is the effort to be silent enough to attend to the voice of the Lord and to allow the stirring of the Holy Spirit to move us. When it comes to rectifying social evil, even those inside the Church, before pointing my finger at others, I need to allow the Lord to heal the problems in my own heart. This means, I need to get out of my self-occupations and enter into the attentive silence in which the Holy Spirit convinces me of sin and wakes me into love. This kind of silence puts everything in second place before Him and allows Him to be sovereign over all other projects and desires. Once I have allowed Him to touch me, then I can share what He has done in me with those who most need Him, even if what they most need is His correction or rebuke. This is the logic of obedience - of listening to the Lord with the ears of the heart.

This is why mystics such as St. Teresa of Calcutta or Catherine de Hueck Doherty insisted on the importance of prayer.  If they rebuked us, it was because they suffered the rebuke of the Lord in their own prayer first. If they corrected us for our indifference, it was because the Lord had already called them out of their own lukewarmness. No one could effectively charge either of these women as having held back social progress -- in different ways, they were at the heart of the most effective social change of their generation.  It was never about programs for them or advancing a cause- it was about loving people and bringing them to salvation. The change they brought about in our communities was filled with that tender goodness of noble humanity -- they helped us remember who we are. Yet they put prayer first, and their action, they believed, flowed out of total obedience to Christ - and in this obedience was the rediscovery of the truth of our humanity.

This is why the renewal of obedience in the Church is such an important grace. Something new is happening in our midst and we can be part of it too -- if only we will humble ourselves, renounce every form of rancor from our hearts and fall on our knees. Prayer and fasting in obedience to Christ, humble prayer open to the power of silence -- the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament resounds with this power.  Here, the wellspring of adoration. In this astonished silence, the splendor of glory unfolds and our hearts are set aflame with divine love-- and through our hearts, the world.

August 25, 2019

Thanksgiving for the New Work of God in our Midst

This is a note of gratitude to God for the many signs of hope that He showers upon us during these times. On the surface, evil would seem to have the upper hand and, indeed, many are discouraged by the many painful setbacks in religious freedom and in the mission of the Church that we have witnessed in recent months and weeks. Yet, this kind of darkness does not reveal the deepest truth of the times in which we live. In days such as these, God is at work in powerful ways and He is accomplishing something truly amazing in the Church today.

One of the many profound and exquisite works that He is bringing to completion is a whole new generation of men and women to worship and adore Him.  My heart goes to the many martyrs of our time - our brothers and sisters of every ecclesial communion across the world who have suffered the loss of all things for the sake of Christ. Their blood is the very seed of the Church and it is no small wonder that wherever they are most persecuted, these disciples of the Risen Lord win the most converts.

In addition to those who witness with their blood, there are also those believers whose whole life has become an eloquent testimony to the glory of the Father.  The Passion of the Christ has so pierced the hearts of many Christians that, though they do not have their own traditions of contemplative prayer, they are moved to keep vigil with the Lord through the night praising the Lord and interceding for their communities with profound confidence in the inexhaustible mercy of God. Our Orthodox brothers and sisters also are experiencing a renewal of calls to the monastic life and a rediscovery of the ascetical disciplines of the early days of our faith. Among the Byzantine and Maronite communities, a renewed call for mental prayer and fasting is being undertaken by young people -- and rich spiritual treasures, so tender and beautiful, once neglected, are now rediscovered with intense vitality.

What is more, because Our Lady is also at work in these days, thousands of believers gather in places of pilgrimage such as Lourdes, Mexico City and Fatima - all seeking a deeper conversion of life and ready to embrace personal penance because of this new work of God in our times. Thousands of pilgrims are drawn to Eucharistic Adoration and feel compelled to keep vigil in small chapels across the world. They form overflowing crowds are offering up in a powerful solidarity a new wave of reparation and love to God such as the world has never seen before.

Out of this, the heart of the Church is being rediscovered and the dynamism of this love is drawing everyone into a more intimate and meaningful love of God. Yes, Jesus loves but He is not loved -- and so His disciples are pierced to the heart and know that something needs to change. Some may not known they are drawn. Others may resist.  Yet Christ is drawing all of us to Him. To resist this call is perilous, but to surrender to it is to discover a pathway of life not only for oneself, but for everyone we love.

The Real Presence of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament is a special means of this love in our times. Books such as In Sinu Jesu point us back to this mystery in which the glory of the priesthood of Christ and the ministerial priesthood in the Church is revealed. Others, such as the Power of Silence beckon us to humble our hearts before the Lord.  If we were too occupied with power and politics in the Mystical Body, the Holy Spirit is showing us the love that pulses through and brings new life to each member in this mystery.  Here, in parishes and cathedrals, the Lord has again raised up adorers in spirit and truth, and no one should underestimate what God will accomplish through their contemplation of Him. Entering into the deep silence of the Eucharist, the Word of the Father imparts graces that overflow the whole People of God and spill into the world.  

August 19, 2019

Priesthood, Contemplative Prayer and Real Presence

Contemplatives need holy priests and holy priests need contemplatives.  The priest helps the contemplative behold the mystery given by Christ and the contemplative helps the priest humble himself in prayer.  In this mutual relation, we confront beautiful dimensions of the mystery of the Real Presence.

Some contemplatives believe that it is possible to reach a state of consciousness that surpasses the whole sacramental economy.  The corollary is that the ministerial priesthood is superfluous once a certain level of spiritual maturity or degree of prayer is attained.  The Sacrament of Holy Orders, however, is uniquely implicated in the mediation of the Great High Priest.  At the Last Supper, the Lord instituted its mystery as a necessary means of grace in His Mystical Body.  Priests, who act in the person of Christ, serve as the very head of His Body with power and authority to make Christ's presence Real. Contemplation that leaves the Body of Christ behind is no longer really Christian and the spiritual life that rejects the gift of the priesthood has lost its head.

On the other hand, there are also some who believe that priesthood does not need to be rooted in contemplative prayer. It does not need to be lived out so radically they presume. It would seem to be enough to manage through the business of religious and make sure all institutional obligations are efficiently dealt with. Such an attitude believes that contemplatives themselves are of little value for the priestly business of the Church. This is pure folly. Such hubris cuts off those who most need the love of God from the only kind of prayer that will help them find it. When the priesthood is deprived of contemplative prayer, it is cut off from its life's blood and proceeds in its activity with lifeless closed eyes.

Though it is never an easy thing, the priest thrives the more intimate his relation with the Lord, and contemplative prayer is nothing other than that commitment to spend time in still silence before Him, waiting on Him, searching for Him, and allowing oneself to be found by Him. Christian contemplation gazes on pure love -- Divine Love dwelling in humble humanity making all things new -- and it takes diligence and fasting to recognize the delicate, subtle and hidden work that He is about.  For the Body of Christ not only has a Head, but also a Heart. Christ the Head laid down His life that we might have His Heart and behold the undying life that flows from it.  Contemplatives draw close to this Sacred Heart and through them, Eternal Life flows into the rest of the Mystical Body.  A priest who contemplates the merciful love that this Heart contains is vulnerable to this Divine Inflow.  A minister who allows himself to be formed by contemplatives who know this wisdom becomes a source of spiritual refreshment to all those to whom he ministers.

This joining of Head and Heart, of truth and holy desire, of wisdom and joy, of contemplation and action has the quality of music. The interplay of these relations evokes moments of elation and heartache so intense that time and space can no longer limit it.  This music moves us into great silence, an openness, a receptivity. The mysterious harmony of these sacred relations reconstitutes those who will join its strain. Complementary differences in the Body of Christ not only protect us from hubris before the Lord, they implicate us in a beautiful mystery of interpersonal relations that reflect eternal splendors otherwise hidden from this world.  What results is a great hymn, a song of praise and thanksgiving, a canticle of love that reverberates in every Mass and echoes in the silence of Eucharistic adoration -- a Eucharistic canticle.

When a priest holds the Blessed Sacrament in his hands, it is in order that this supreme gift might be seen, recognized, contemplated, treasured, adored and partaken.  His ministry evokes contemplation, adoration, and transformation through the Real Presence his ministry makes manifest. In the Mystical Body, the Head and the Heart are bound to each other, each building up and blessing the other, each depending on the other.  Thus, the priestly ministry and contemplative prayer are bound to one another, in the Eucharistic canticle of heaven.

Ecstatic Love and Real Presence

Ecstasy is a total going out of oneself.  It is an abandonment of all else save for what has captured the heart. It is a getting caught up in the beauty, the glory of something - someone outside of myself. Ecstasy is to be rendered fully present to the other - the beloved before me captures my attention until I am aware of nothing else.

There are many kinds of ecstasy. For example, a kiss shared by husband and wife conveys ecstasy.  It is a sign of the gift of self that one has made for the other -- the expressed desire to render one's whole life in the service of the other. To say that a marital kiss conveys such suffering passion for the other is to say that this ecstasy is born anew moment by moment in real life sacrifices that each spouse makes for the sake of the other. Each is delighted to receive but even more devoted to give - no matter the cost. For ecstasy loses sight of self-preservation.

The unfolding exigencies of ordinary life for such a couple invite new ways to surrender themselves for the sake of the other, but never is it enough.  In each new surrender, no matter the cost, they confirm over and over the ecstasy of the kiss that they share. Their kiss, because of the whole way of life, seals the mutual presence that they have already suffered to render one to the other.  If spouses do not find and take advantage of these daily opportunities, a kiss becomes nothing other than a mediocre intention, or worse - a lie.

If a kiss conveys ecstasy, the Real Presence evokes an even more profound going out of self. The most profound going out of self ever known: the Cross.  Established, revealed and sealed by the passion and death of the Risen Lord, the Real Presence is the Divine Ecstasy of the Word made Flesh into His Mystical Body, into Sacrament, into the space and time of our personal history. The Great Mystery - the love of Christ of the Church - is confirmed by this ultimate presence, this irrevocable gift of self for our sake and for the glory of the Father.

To speak of the Real Presence unveils the unreserved and radical outpouring of the Son of God into our lives. His Eucharistic Presence is so powerful that He completely enters into our human reality to  be present to us in the alienation and loneliness of life.  In this sacrament, He overthrows the claim our personal sin holds over us and robs death of its sting -- not only at the end of our lives, but even now, in this present moment.

In a pouring forth of his Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, Christ touches, illumines, and sustains each of those who seek Him. He has suffered all things to come to us and to dwell in our midst. His closeness is such that if we but gaze on Him in this sacrament -- we are already caught up in His own ecstatic going out of self. In the reverent awe that He invokes, we can lose ourselves in His Love and there, finally find ourselves.

This ecstatic love is excessive, without measure. The only proper way to respond to such excess is to love excessively. Yet, we know our weakness and how often we have failed. We feel ourselves threatened by our own inadequacies, and we feel ourselves limited by our short-comings and self-contradictions. We are tempted to believe more in our sin that we do in His power to save. This is exactly why we need the Real Presence of Jesus: only His Real Presence can answer our doubts and help us find the courage to love as freely as He has loved us.

Because the ecstatic presence of the Risen Lord is "Real", He evokes a real ecstasy in us when we come before Him. We cannot be indifferent before the rejected and ignored ecstasy by which He has allowed Himself to be seized: He loves and He is not loved. How can we remain reserved in His regard when He has been so unreserved toward us?  Indeed, if the Fountain of Life is so completely surrendering Himself to me, what does it mean for my own personal existence if I only half-heartedly and distractedly respond? If we will be true to the greatness of our humanity, we must respond with love no matter the cost. His Real presence is without compromise, and this means that we must learn to present ourselves to Him likewise - without compromise. This means ecstasy. 

August 18, 2019

The Challenge of the Real Presence

It may well be the case that many of those who say they do not believe in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament make this claim out of a kind of fear. This fear should not be overlooked, not only as a pastoral reality at large, but also as a personal reality that gnaws at one's own conscience and goads us out of lethargy.  Before the mystery of the Risen Lord's living and sacramental presence, we who profess the Christian Faith confront a Great Mystery that should challenge each of us to the very core.

If He is truly present Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, how can we live as if His presence were only an emotional trip, an idea, a 'spiritual' experience? Beyond all religious feelings,  pious thoughts and religious experiences, there is the objective reality of a Personal Presence quite apart from my own personal being.  Not the projection of my ego or of a collective consciousness, but a real sovereign Person -- over me and holding me. If even in the most private moment of prayer, He can disclose Himself as totally above and beyond the limits of my own mind, in the public worship of the Church, we can speak of a fullness of this Presence -- a Real Presence from which all other moments of His Presence flow and to which they lead. Such has the Almighty God freely chosen to surrender Himself to humanity - unimaginable, inexhaustible pure gift. At the heart of liturgical prayer, source and summit of all authentic Christian prayer, there is the abiding presence of the Risen Lord we call Real.

This Real Presence grounds all talk of God in objective reality and can lift spiritual considerations out of the muck of pious twaddle. The presence of the Immortal One is more real than any psychological state, any enlightenment of consciousness, any intuition, or any feeling. This is especially the case when He is encountered in the presence that the Church calls "Real." Drawing close to the Blessed Sacrament, the soul is baptized into a Great Silence in which the Word of the Father resounds. It is to its own detriment not to be prepared for or recognize so great a gift. The Divine Harmonies that it confronts in this sacramental mystery ought to cause an existential crisis. There is a reason why we genuflect, kneel and bow our heads - these acts of reverence speak to a whole surrender of one's life, the offering of a living sacrifice with one's own body, true spiritual worship.

When adoration of the Blessed Sacrament reaches the point of crisis, a moment of a profound life decision, questions of whether we really want to believe what we know we ought to believe are not surprising and must be faced. A remote god will only demand only external allegiance, an abstract deity merely conceptual adherence. But the God who is personally present to me, who gives Himself for me - not in the distant past or as an abstract idea -- but instead dynamically evoking my total adoration: this God deserves and yearns for a more complete and un-compromised gift. If His presence is really real, the stakes are high. We risk losing all that is familiar and comfortable. Such a challenge is not convenient. It means that I cannot go on living as I like anymore. Instead, I must reckon with who I am in relation to this God who is so very present, even more present to me than I am to myself. Beyond all security and convention, and into that unfamiliar territory of nobility and courage as well as inadequacy and weakness, His Presence beckons.

When I present myself in front of the Blessed Sacrament with faith in His Presence, the Truth Himself gazes on me with love. There is something healing about this gaze. Alienated though I am, His Presence is so complete that He suffers my alienation with me until I no longer suffer alone. He is also present to all the anxieties of my heart, to all those for whom I am anxious, to those situations that have pierced me to the heart and before which I feel powerless. Before this Presence who implicates Himself so profoundly in my plight, how can I abide my own self-contradiction any longer and how can I not find the reason for my hope?  

This God of Real Presence demands a total response from the depths of my being - one in which I choose to be present to Him because He has chosen to be present to me. If Christ's presence is "Real", then belief in Him must also be real - a lived reality. The Real Presence constitutes a real relation between the Almighty God and the human soul.  Life happens in the tension between the truth He knows about me and my willingness to trust Him.

The Blessed Sacrament is where one confronts the other.  Faith makes this become the standard to measure all my other relations - with both friend and foe, with both my neighbor and myself. It is simply a matter of integrity that the reality of His Body and Blood poured out for us must be made real in our own flesh and blood, in space and time, in every act and decision, in those vertical and horizontal Cross beams.  It is not enough to assent to the Eucharist with our minds, we must live in response and total relation to this abiding Presence by dwelling in Him ourselves.