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. 

August 16, 2019

Draw Near the Real Presence - Faith made Perfect

In the Eucharist, Christ's countenance shines with a personal energy that the Church calls "Real Presence." He is wholly surrendered to us in a way that is meant to bring His passion to bear in our lives. Not passive, He actively enters into our company and knocks at the door of our hearts.  He shines on us and evokes the deepest and most tender desires. His subtle presence invites the most radical conversion of heart. In this Sacrament, He can even baptize us in deep silence until our whole being joins the hosts of heaven in the aching joy of hymns of praise. In this Real Presence, His very adoration of the Father can suddenly shake the deepest foundations of our existence.

He means for us to be pierced with the love of the Father until we finally begin to live. He yearns for us to be free from self-contradictions.  He wants to lead us beyond the banality of desires unworthy of the greatness to which we are called.  In this Sacrament, He is present so as to give us a foretaste of the resurrection itself if we would only allow Him.

Through this great mystery, under the humble signs of bread and wine, the Divine Physician reaches out to touch us in the most delicate and saving ways. In the Host, the Almighty stretches out to hold us fast as we suffer loneliness and alienation. This Living Bread offers to feed us with immortality in this dying world, and to be for us the antidote for death even as we approach the final moments of our lives.  Such a personal presence of the Living God is utterly undaunted in the face of disaster and tragedy, but quietly persists with hidden intensity until every evil exhausts itself and all that is good, noble and true remains.

His face turns to us in this Holy Sacrament with real and meaningful force -in an instant that never seems to end, filled as it is with eternity. Here, the Glory of the Father gazes on us with a transforming but disguised splendor. Reason kneels before such inestimable beauty and faith grows as it is led only by love. This veiled radiance draws us out of ourselves without our ever being aware. Unfelt, the Divine Impact of this Real Presence resonates to our deepest core. In the shadow of this mystery, the Lord can reveal us to ourselves and help us begin to see the inexhaustible immensity of love being poured out for our sakes - in this moment, in every moment if only we would surrender to Him.

To sanction even a single instant of this love is to render oneself vulnerable to be lifted up with Him on high.  One thought open to Him can open up a pathway down which the most exciting of all human adventures await. Faith is made perfect by such a gift. Yet, who remain indifferent when the One who looks on us with such tender and saving love is not loved.

August 13, 2019

Without Compromise - the Real Presence is Given

Many are offering all kinds of theories about why disciples do not believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Some point to the failure of teachers to propose this truth with conviction and in a compelling way. They are right. Some point to failures in liturgical practice to maintain the reverence owed to the Lord in this great gift. They are right. Others point to the nihilistic skepticism of our time - a gnawing insecurity before the cultural, social, personal and cosmic realities of our existence.  They are also right.

How can a culture maintain confidence in the "reality" of anything if Christians are afraid to cry out for the sake of the Real Presence in the Public Square? How can the rest of society make space for the sacred in the marketplace of ideas if the followers of Christ will not allow themselves to be overcome with awe before the solemn presence of the Almighty under those humble signs transformed by Christ? How can anyone ever know what has been revealed by God in this surpassing Sacrament if teachers themselves are not set ablaze with love of Him and pierced with gratitude for the way He has so totally given Himself to us?

Catholics do not believe in the Real Presence of the Risen Lord because teachers, ministers, and public voices have winked at evil and rejected the demands of the Gospel. We wanted the comfortable and the reality of this Presence was inconvenient.  We preferred what was familiar to us and the mystery we call "Real" was lost to our hearts.  We wanted power and prestige and we shunned the Mother given to us under the shadow of the Cross. Without her, who can ever know His Real Presence?

Christ promised life to the full if only we might believe in Him. We chose banality because we believed in conforming our thinking to what pretends to be sophisticated and acceptable. (As if limiti
ng one's life to what is merely acceptable ever brought anyone true happiness!) He beckoned us to renounce ourselves, pick up our cross and follow Him. We renounced Him, gave our cross to someone else to deal with, and followed our own whims. Along the way, we lost our integrity even as restoration was ours for the taking. We threw away our dignity even as untold glory stretched out its hand to us. We lost our way even as the Way beckoned us home.

Yet for all of this, the presence that believers call "Real" is not lessened. Through this Presence, the loving mercy of the Father extends itself into the difficult and ambiguous circumstances of our lives - to bring saving clarity and courage. The radiant glories of this Presence stream into the self-made prisons of our own egoism to unmask the collective myths that we allow to drive our lives. It is not too late to come to our senses, stand up and go to the Father as long as this real food and real drink is so freely held out to us.

Hidden possibilities are disclosed under the shadow of this Presence if only we open our eyes. Hope is born in its depths if only the depths of our hearts were vulnerable to its mystery. Horizons of peace open up if only we attend to the Word whose silence resounds in that Divine Inflow we call "Real." This is radical: grounded in this Real Presence a Christian finds firm soil on which to stand and the humility finally to kneel.  Such unfathomable mystery overflows all existence, every exigency and unfolds the depths of Uncreated Love - that Immeasurable Sea, that Holy Fire, that Hidden Mountain, that Secret Garden, that Deep Dug Wellspring whose life-giving depths have scarcely been plummeted by the Church even after 2000 years.

Because of His Real Presence, he who gazes on this Sacrament of Love discovers the tenders eyes that have conquered death looking back at him. No longer subject to the powers of this world below, this gaze from above is real - is a true encounter.  Because His Eucharistic Presence grounds all human history, including our personal histories, in truth, he who consumes this hidden Love is consumed by Love in the hidden reality of everyday life. Because this Presence is truly at work freeing and building up all that is real about our lives, he who assists at Mass is in the deepest reality of all, profoundly implicated in Christ's saving mission in ways that no one else can take up, to cry out the Gospel without compromise in one's whole way of being.

August 11, 2019

Real Presence - Divine Power Unleashed in Human Life

Before He ascended to the Father's Righthand, the Risen Lord promised to remain with us until the end of time. This pledge is filled with salvific tension. The dissonance between heaven and earth, time and eternity, and spiritual and material is not permanent. A heart-piercing movement toward unimaginable resolution is already unfolding. The Gift of the Holy Spirit seals the Lord's promise and all those who receive this Uncreated Gift know that new life that brings everything into a harmony -- joy and holy sorrow live in the shadow of the Lord who is ascended from our sight yet still at work among us.

The Son of Mary's irrevocable word conveys that what is above implicates itself with all that is here below.  Against the love of God revealed in Christ Jesus, all the meaninglessness of evil can only wreck itself against the invincible rock of Divine Mercy. The Savior's oath anticipates a final consummation when the stream of time will run its course only plunge into eternity. His promise provides hope that the merely material manner of men can be spiritualized and raised into a transforming union of life and love shared by creature and Creator.

How is this promise realized? The presence of the Lord evokes faith and all those who will live by this faith without compromise become icons of this presence to the whole world. Today, countless witnesses, ordinary men and women of all ages and of diverse social backgrounds, undergo the loss of all things and suffer bitter martyrdom for professing His presence in their lives.  Others encounter Jesus reading the Scriptures and seeking Him in prayer.  Others encounter the Lord among the poorest of the poor, and in the most difficult of human circumstances even as they strive, for the sake of the Lord, to put love where love is all but forgotten. Some even meet Him in their adversaries whom they have persecuted or else attempted to ignore. Here, repentance and conversion from bitterness are the sure signs of His presence. Wherever He is sought in faith, there He is found.

There are other, even more wonderful ways, He reveals His presence. A full encounter with Christ always involves His mystical Body and the visible bonds through which He delights in working. When the Church gathers in prayer, even if only two or three, He is always in their midst. He is present as their foundation, their cornerstone, their capstone - and He implicates Himself in their every care. To cry out to Him, no matter how alone one might feel, is to enter into this magnificent edifice of His undying presence and to be embraced by a solidarity of hearts so profound that not even death can overcome it.

He is present in all the baptized in the Holy Spirit joined as they are in Him by powerful sacramental mysteries. In those joined in marriage, He is present as the Bridegroom to His Bride -- manifesting a mystery so beautiful that even the mightiest of angels gaze in astonishment. In the deacon, the Lord Himself is present as the very servant of those who He loves.  In the priest, because Christ has ordained Him, the Lord's holy presence heals, builds up, and nourishes His whole Mystical Body.

Yet, of all the gifts of His presence, the greatest and most beautiful of all is His Real Presence in the Sacrament of His Love. What is the Eucharist but the great hymn of thanksgiving rendered by the Son from all eternity before the Father in a manner so real we can see and taste it?  Under the appearance of Bread and Wine, the Eucharistic Lord communicates Himself into us Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity.  His spiritual power resonates in our very bones and raises into harmony the most painful thoughts and difficult desires. In the gift of the Real Presence, He fulfills promise to remain and answers to our desire that He stay with us -- not as an idea or a memory, but in the objective reality before which the drama of our lives unfolds.  Because of His Real Presence, we are never alone even when distance and circumstances separate us from the powerful sacrament that conveys this encounter of Truth on fire with Love.

In this Real Presence, a new heavens and a new earth are already being refashioned if only we were open to the conversion He evokes. In this Sacred Banquet human existence is spiritualized and the union for which the heart longs already takes hold if only we will nourish ourselves in the adoring reverence His majesty establishes. Here, heaven embraces our earthly ways, spiritual life flows into our dying bodies, our misery confronts a mercy so much the more and eternity begins in time. Here, no matter the battles we fight, new confidence is conceived, peace flows, judgments surrender before the truth, insight is granted, the resolve to try again restored, and a new beginning is born. Unleashed by faith, this Real Presence inebriates with untold joy even as exhausted eyes strive to lift themselves to behold such a tireless gift so generously lavished upon them. 

July 18, 2019

The Victory Disclosed in Christian Death

A war has been fought in heaven for the life and dignity of each man and woman so that in death all that is good, noble and true might not be taken from us but definitively restored forever. Indeed, the powers of death and corruption have been cast down and sent away empty. The lowly and those who hunger and thirst for justice have been raised on high. The Cross of Christ witnesses to the truth about holy humanity - sinful though we are, what defines us most in the end is not our failures and short-comings, but instead the inexhaustible love of God. In the voids, inadequacies, weaknesses, doubts and questions of our hearts, the Living God mercifully has made  His home and we can find Him there even when we feel completely alone and pushed beyond all our strength. 

What a great mystery into which we have been baptized! In this very mystery even the meaningless of death is plunged into the saving Truth of God. Born of the Virgin, the Word of the Father has shown Himself to us in the flesh so that we might live in His Spirit. In the communion of his Mother and the Disciple whom He loves, the Risen Lord has suffered our death so that we, even when we die, might rise to new life. To the astonishment of his Apostles, He remains with us even in the cold social darkness of this present culture of death so that this old dying world might still find a reason to hope - a light that cannot be overcome, a warmth that gives courage when courage is most needed, a saving connection that no power on heaven or earth or under the earth can ever take away. 

St. Irenaeus declares that the life of humanity is the vision of God. The Risen Lord shines forth with Eucharistic glory in the holy places of our faith.  The Word unveils His saving presence through His words in the Bible. He manifests his riches in the poorest of the poor.  He makes known his glory in the death of his beloved.  We can add that the victory of good over evil is discovered in this vision.  We can also add that the glory of new life shines in the heart on those who turn by faith to this contemplation.  We can even add that in the adoration that this vision evokes, we come to realize that the living God has taken our side and is raising us into the circumcession of that eternal life, love and truth that flows undaunted in the unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  

June 17, 2019

Mysterious Currents of the Trinity

The journey out of self and into God is long and arduous. This pathway traverses a bottomless abyss, and we row along unaware of the doom that threatens beneath us. Progress is measured only by a greater freedom to love - for only in love is the truth of our lives unfurled. The One God is not indifferent to our plight but will not force us as we make our way. Yet, His long forgotten love is the ocean on which we sail. So He subtly draws us with Love's own dynamism until we believe and choose to set our course by His voice.

The Lord is motivated only by His desire that we should not perish but instead come to know Him in the deepest and most personal way. In this excelling knowledge, eternal Friendship Himself offers the astonishing promise of true friendship. In the face of this tender and sincere offer, we discover our poverty: that deep dark hostility to God and the things of God. This abyss of death pulls at us and threatens to imprison us until nothing good, noble or true about our lives is alive at all. To be trapped in our own ego - this is to be already dead. Only the freedom to love beyond ourselves allows us to live. Here, before the mystery of death where our voids and inadequacies make themselves felt, we also discover grace.

We ask for help because this gift has evoked our prayer - that gift of new life won for us by Christ's passion and death. It is grace that enables us to struggle against our hostility to God. By sheer grace, we find that steep passage out of the prison of our own ego and into those open seas on which alone freedom to love is found.

If we think we are doing all the work because of the determination and perseverance the freedom to love demands, we are mistaken. All the trials, hardships, sacrifices and renunciations that love requires are only a frail response to a greater love already lavished on us. The Father carefully draws us by His Word and the Gift of the Holy Spirit into this hidden mystery. If we are timid and not confident in the immensity of His love, the Holy Spirit engenders a new confidence and the Word not only reveals why we should be confident in the Father, but communicates His own confidence in us, the confidence of a child of God.

So, the Trinity is patient and gentle, accomplishing the most delicate work even in our inconstancy and lukewarmness. We avoid, we delay, we put off. He waits, He runs, He embraces. With longing expectation, He orders events, even making use of catastrophes, so that, though we are unaware, we will suddenly find ourselves implicated in His love. Such are the deep currents of the Holy Trinity.

We set out on a peaceful sea and believe we have found peace until unexpected mighty swells take us under into depths we did not know existed - abysses deeper than death. We would never have desired to go into such difficult places, and yet our faith helps us realize that somehow this present heartbreak is good though that goodness seems hidden from our sight. Yet we believe -- for in these depths are found the heights of God's love - its length and breadth - cruciform dimensions too great for this frail world to hold.  And only here are we at last at rest in that peace for which we were made.

What a paradox - the Trinity takes away a certain peace that we thought we held secure to give another, more wonderful peace. He Himself holds us safe in this quiet stillness with an assurance more sure than death itself. For in these mysterious currents of the Holy Trinity, love's freedom fully lives.

June 15, 2019

The Radiance of the Bride - Source of Contemplative Prayer

The world may fear Fire from above, but not the Bride of Christ. For her, this Eternal Flame flashes down as torchlit sign of hope in the present moment - infusing the difficult circumstances that threaten humanity with those possibilities that eyes still subject to death cannot see. Hearts not satisfied with a half-lived life, not ready to settle for anything other than the truly authentic, need this source of contemplative prayer.  The radiance of the Bride comes from Heaven as a pure gift, and she shines with this resplendent peace precisely for those longing for the rushing stillness of a truly meaningful life.

The Church possesses the Light which contemplation seeks. As a dark cloud of accusing fingers rush forward claiming victim status in social myths indifferent to the innocent, the gentle dignity of truth remains the uncompromising standard of her heart, the only ground that she allows to bear her weight and the weight of that encounter for which she longs. Woe to those who preach another standard in her name and claim that such darkness is light- their myths entrap in self-contradiction putting at risk one's integrity and dignity.

All that is not chaste, simple, and obedient under the Light of the Church fails to find the footing that she offers. Sensational controversy, intrigue, and political maneuvering remain ignorant of even the passing shadow of her Great Mystery.  Calculated spin, social stratagems, and clever agendas can never access her deepest treasures. Instead, only a heart surrendered in truth to love can know that Surrender into which she has surrendered herself. Only a mind whose every thought is held captive by the ignominy of the Cross can know that unfamiliar brightness whose wound heals.

The Church is captivated and captivates by the uncreated Light unveiled in the suffering and risen humanity of the Lord. The Bride of Christ, in the warm radiance of this mysterious splendor, silently processes forward to Him who awaits her. She presses on in trust and confidence through the deep currents of humanity's doom, carrying a candle lit in the darkness of the world by that flaming Word who would not be dimmed.  He is the way - the way for humanity as a whole, and the way for each heart to whom He calls.

Illuminating this pathway for humanity, the Bride's faithful shadow discloses a true alternative to all social and psychological idealisms of our time. Her light is her own - it is Him, the Light - not a light of our time, but Eternal Light. Nihilisms of contemporary conventions, deprived of the Light that shines in the darkness, never lead out of the dark, no matter the supposed nobility of their cause. In the end, they betray, in slanted labyrinths of twisted thought, those enclosed in concentric circles of egoism.  Even here, if a heart will strive to seek Him, Christ's raised Lantern provides an escape. For she knows these dark prisons whom her Bridegroom harrowed and her pathway to Him takes her through those barred gates and locked doors - for nothing is denied her as she follows the footsteps of her Crucified Master.

In her maternal brightness, all that is good, noble and true about holy humanity is set aglow even if largely unrecognized save by some mysterious relief, if only momentary, from the ennui haunting the secure routines of a half lived life. Immaculate and holy by the Blood shed for her she shines. Though ravenous wolves violently tear at her to devour her children and render her fruitless, the brightness of her Shepherd fills her gaze. The constant object of malicious schemes, she knows not to yield even when engulfed in humiliation and utter failure to all earthly eyes. Yet, even as her most vulnerable members are falsely accused and slaughtered, she lives unvanquished and remains undeterred in her magnificent purpose until every drop of innocent blood is vindicated.

Consider this: countless of her conquerors now find themselves head bowed and kneeling before her Bridegroom. The blood of her witnesses evokes and conceives new life all the more that it is discounted and abused. Even as the world turns upside down, this Bride is ever confident in the Lamb that was slain for He is even more confident in her. This trust of the Bride protects the poor of spirit who take refuge in her. Thus, by the Fire that burns within her, Mother Church fiercely defies all worldly powers and rulers of darkness until terror overtakes them and the light of truth exposes the shame that they presumed would never be known. Here, repentance and the hope for humanity - ushered by fasting and welcomed by prayer, a chastisement that makes us whole because of the chastisement already suffered for our sake.

As she journeys in such saving brightness, she tenderly gathers in the wounded to heal and provide a little safe-harbor even as the harsh storm of secularism surges on every side. With words whose silent weight tip the scales in favor of the poor and humble, she sings canticles that reverberate farthest star of remotest galaxy with harmonies too beautiful for this world to hold. Reflected and magnified, Heaven's brilliant glory shines forth from her least movement, while with unrelenting determination she presses forward to what lies ahead. 

May 19, 2019

Contemplation and the Renewal of the Church

Contemplative prayer remains a largely untapped resource for the renewal of the Church. Many understand it to be no more than an esoteric or at most therapeutic exercise.  Others show little regard this spiritual activity or anyone who dedicates his life to this effort. Even still, this most simple and hidden movements of heart avails the world of a power too great for time and space to hold. This surrender to the surrender of God is the unseen spark the ignites the Church into a fiery icon of Divine Presence when light and warmth are most needed.

Contemplative prayer is a unifying reality that integrates our judgments and our desires, our being and our actions before the glory given to us by the Risen Lord. Some love to distinguish affective and intellectual modes contemplative prayer, and there is no harm in this as long as the sovereign freedom of the Most High is revered. On the other hand, a soul that resists truth is as deprived as a heart that will not be pierced in prayer.

While moments of truth and wonder may enflame a soul with love and other moments of divinized passion explode into love revealed in personal action, we make these distinctions only to humble ourselves before the life-giving work of the Holy Spirit and the self-communication of the Word. The Living God moves emotions with fear and trembling when He discloses His inexhaustible mystery. He baptized intelligence in understanding and knowledge when His eternal splendor baths the soul. His whole mystery impacts the mystery of our own hearts until the jubilation of this encounter is born  in our whole manner of life - its every moment aflame in glory and given over in thanksgiving.

How this happens is so unique for each of us, but the Good Shepherd leads each of us to the same verdant pastures and living springs. When we withdraw from noise of the mundane to take time for God, He guides us into his own great stillness. The terrain of this wilderness is open to ever deeper and more beautiful kinds of meaningful silence. Does our mind race with thoughts and distractions? Quieting ourselves before the Lord allows us to surrender all our judgments to Him so that He might hold every thought captive. Are we anxious about many things or crushed by worries? Stillness in His presence allows Him to calm the interior storms that threaten to rob us of peace, the peace that only He can give.  On such the frontiers to which He guides us, we finally find the freedom to leave our "self" and allow ourselves to be vulnerable to a still greater mysteries.

What happens when human freedom surrenders to the incomprehensible surrender of God? Prayer open to this mystery knows He gives Himself irrevocably in the measure that we welcome Him and the gift of His Presence is always at work, accomplishing the work of His Father. He does not come disembodied, a pure spirit, an idea. When the soul beholds the Risen Lord in faith, it is His whole mystery that is present: Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. His Body is One and this One Body is the Church - no one who encounters Christ ever encounters Him apart from His Body.

Because ecclesial and therefore, catholic, this contemplation is enfleshed - an encounter of our whole humanity with the Holy Humanity of the Lord. No matter our solitude or the depths of silence, the creative Word of the Father always comes through His Mystical Body the Church and, through the Church, makes our own bodies into living sacrifices, our true spiritual worship. Thus, in this actual renewal of the Church, each new and unrepeatable moment we give Him makes space in the world for Him to do something new, something that has never happened before and will never happen again.

He is a courteous guest. If we will only partially accept His presence, He holds back what we will not receive. If we take the time to show Him hospitality, He gladly remains with us, showering us with gifts that exceed the limits of our wildest imagination.  No matter how much time we pour out on Him diligent for His Heart's desire, it is never enough for all that He longs to accomplish in us and through us. Indeed, He has lavished us with so much more than we could ever deserve, and, even so, eagerly longs to pour out still more - such inestimable wonders to be enfleshed in our own humanity until His whole mystery is renewed in us for the salvation of the world.

May 17, 2019

The Archangel Gabriel to the Men of St. John's Seminary - a Commencement Poem

Salve, brothers of this New Day,

In-shadowed in early silences before first light,
Framed in Renaissance cloistered sight
Vestiges of Paradise cloaked in failing light
Palms and pines, rosemary and roses -- right
Reminders strewn of Him who before you lay.

Enter those Sienese walls of Catherine’s garden
Where mirrored Sphinx of Pietas find
Woman’s son offered, where tabernacled glories bind
Fast bended knees seeking unfamiliar sound
Of fiery words from Word aflame, where resound
Ache and wonder through yawning vastness within.

Before rising hymns of stained-glass sails.
Shot with splendor through mysterious painted veils,
Echoing heart-piercing shadows, secret radiances disclose
Priests – by whose mysterious ministry angelic choirs propose
That Silent Presence hastening to free with Love’s wound.

Here, under Byzantium sky, unfolds the battle for the hearts of men
Waged in mind, paid in flesh, and fought to free from sin
Those who have fallen yet strive to rise again
New martyrs of that banquet blessed, broken, given,
Blood amid palms and pines, rosemary and roses --
Charges forth the Lamb with His war arrayed forces.

Will you too step into the arena of life and for life stand?
Not with shadows, nor mere flesh, to contend
But against worldly powers and spiritual forces to defend:
When humiliated, stay unvanquished and fight, not yield;
When victorious, not on laurels sit lest for certain ruin;
Instead, for those littlest ones take courage wherein
To shield those unable themselves to shield;
For holy humanity, for Heaven’s Queen, for your true homeland.

Citizens of Heaven, on that ground of truth which alone can bear
The weight of your existence, as innumerable hosts process,
As cherubim and seraphim with Spirit and Bride profess,
As mysteries given on and under signs from above,
As born anew on silent canticles in each humble act of Love
That Bridegroom Who, by sacrifice blessed, broken stays
No spirit, no myth, but enfleshed -- for those whose feet He baths.
Call His Name on bended knee, a fellowship of lifted hearts breathing incensed air.

As day and life run their course and close their story
Renew again that oath that once you made in water 
To sail beyond sunsets to the shores of Our Father,
To sing with her who magnifies Who is blessed, broken, given - 
To offer a paternal blessing not your own, yes, Anointed One,
As priests in palms and pines, rosemary and roses.
For even on the remotest horizon courses
The eye of Him who at the sight of you, his son
Will run with robes, and rings, and endless glory.

Dean Anthony Lilles, May 13, 2019

May 12, 2019

Mary, Mother of Contemplative Hearts

Mary pondered a profound mystery. She discovered the inexhaustibility of the gift God had given to her. By humbly assenting to the gentle action of the Holy Spirit, He surrendered such unimaginable riches that she could think of nothing else but the magnificence of His Love. She marveled over the Word of the Father, conceived not only in her womb but first in her mind.  Always fruitful when He is allowed to enter into the drama of human freedom, He infused her freedom with such fullness it enveloped her whole being and established her in such a peaceful stillness that nothing but love alone could move her.  This divine fruitfulness became the wellspring that overflowed her interiority and transformed her whole humanity.

The inner reality of human life, that question that we carry without being fully aware of it, this is where the Word brought her when she entered under the shadow of the Most High.  She entered the Word even as the Word made His home in her heart and womb. There, the most tender exchange, so subtle and gentle, all unaided natural powers were completely oblivious, left in the dark. There, a death to earthly dreams, conventions of acceptability, pre-conceptions too small for God, and all other ways circumscribed by merely visible standards here below.  There, space is made for something new, exceeding all expectation, an unfamiliar truth that astonishes the world, a dawning of mysterious freshness from above. Thus, this Ray of Darkness made the Virgin's whole existence radiant, and a new glory too great for this tired old world flashed through her. As lightening to the earth, He thundered toward the Cross, exploding with meaning so powerful that not even death could hold it. Hope for humanity was born even as she held with heart piercing love and faith the lifeless body that would have seemed a contradiction to everything she believed. The prayer of faith is never defeated. Such is the power of this mother's cry and, and by that faith filled silence, the hearts of many have been laid bear.

As Mother of the Word incarnate, she is mother of interior souls. She teaches those dedicated to prayer those most exquisite and delicate movements of heart in response to the inestimable gift gently surrendered to them. The Holy Spirit invites and she encourages, and these heroic hearts, no matter their age or bodily frailty, learn to be bold children of the Father. When all seems dark and their deepest hopes are challenged, her maternal love patiently accompanies them and silently teaches them the same fruitfulness that she discovered. Surrendered to the Spirit of Truth, these souls receive the Word as did Mary, and allow all that He reveals to be accomplished in them. What beautiful things for God and humanity spring forth because of the confidence in Christ that they learn from the Mother of God.

May 5, 2019

The Words of the Word and the Language of the Soul

When the Word made flesh rose from the Dead, human speech was freed from the futility of sin and death. Endowed with power and authority to express the hidden judgments of God, this new kind of speech unveils truth deeper than death and stronger than sin. This is hidden from those who live by the spirit of this dying world - for those still subject to death are deaf to the "alleluia" that resonates deep in the hearts of those who behold the Risen Lord. To all those who accept the remarkable friendship that the Word freely offers, His voice enfolds their whole existence with a meaning so beautiful and complete, the limitedness of time and space cannot contain it.

In the words that the Word of the Father speaks to the heart, the silence of death is no longer humanity's last word and misery no longer circumscribes the meaning of our lives. Instead of alienation and loneliness, a new relationship, a new connection with God, the ability to cry out "Abba!" is born where once was only an empty cavity of pain. Eternal significance that once was impossible to hold now takes hold of each one of us, if only we would welcome this astonishing Gift.

He in us, we in Him, He in the Father, the Father in Him, we where He is: by the Gift of the Holy Spirit, the Word of the Father has infused human words with Divine Authority and Power - power to bring back to life, to transform, to recreate, to make all things new. New beginnings, new hopes, new dreams live in each sacred syllable of this language. Speak this undying speech and rejoice with holy tears beyond the fate that Christ has overthrown.

If we let the language revealed in the Bible and preached by the Church become the language of our soul, the words that we offer in prayer are more powerful than death itself. This is because the words of Sacred Scripture bear the Truth whom death could not defeat and these words of the Word open our hearts to His undying Presence:

When the humblest petition, "Lord, have mercy," is offered with faith, this simple cry is made pregnant with a newness that changes everything.

When infused with the obedience of the Risen Lord, the "I believe" of the Creed becomes language that boldly speaks against the mystery of sin and turns it against itself until the soul finds ground to stand on.

When "Holy, Holy, Holy" echos in the heart of a believer, this sacred cry raises the soul far above the exigencies that otherwise weigh down the heart.

When lips move to offer the "Our Father," heavenly desires are born and  the irrevocable judgments unveiled.

This is the language of the resurrection. There is so much more to be said, but words fall short. In every case such holy speech makes space for a tender love and inner strength that do not come from the soul but the Risen One, and what He gives is everything that soul and every soul ever needs.

The language of a whole new creation, no spiritual power can be an obstacle to the riches that flood the heart that lives by the words of the Word and nothing can thwart the new communion that this spiritual language establishes. These words that the Son of the Father entrusts to us in prayer are a shield against everything that would threaten our integrity and they turn every disappointment and hardship into a floodgate of mercy. This prayerful speech confounds the malignant plans of any creature that would oppose the eternal plan of God. The Lord, for His part, uses all things, even the malice of those who hate His disciples, to make all things new - for His Word is Life.

May 2, 2019

Prayer and Truth, Theology and Contemplation

There are some who attain with strenuous effort a sophisticated understanding of their faith without ever having learned to truly pray. It is not that they do not pray at all. They go to Mass. They murmur the psalms in the Liturgy of the Hours. They may even rattle off a chaplet of the Rosary. Yet, they have not taken up that deeper heart to heart with the Living God. Instead of an understanding of the faith that opens to the mystery of the Fire of Love, they have insulated themselves against its igniting  sparks.  They cleave to the formulas that bear the articles of our Faith more than they do to the One who the articles bear. Though they may feel self-satisfied in their intellectual mastery of many beautiful truths, their neglected hearts remain parched for Living Waters. Unless they allow the Lord to address the misery that haunts them by learning how to pray, the intellectual artifice that they have created will crash down around them in ruin.

There are others who are given an awareness of the Divine Presence but presume that sacred doctrine is an obstacle rather than a pathway. They are dazzled by Divine Splendor or else confounded in its shadow. Yet, because they do not know the teachings of the Church, they easily misunderstand and misconstrue the heart-piercing reality that has dawned upon them in an unmerited and unanticipated moment of prayer.  Their hearts are bathed in jubilation, heart-break and silence all at once, but for lack of having heard Him preached, they do not recognize or know how to respond to the Bridegroom who contemplates them in His Bride. Their loving surrender into His love is impeded for lack sound teaching and the winds of myth and error threaten their very integrity.

Blessed the soul humble enough to submit every thought to Christ and simple enough to confidently surrender to the Father's will made known in the life of the Church. The one who will baptize his whole manner of life into the mystery of Christ allows the Holy Spirit to question his secret judgments and his deepest desires while the Church, as a good mother, accompanies him along the way. Rooted in the language of the Church, the Holy Bible, he is not afraid when the Holy Spirit scrutinizes his every action and shines the light of truth into darkened motives. Instead, tears of contrition and the water from the side of Christ bath this disciple with hope until body and soul, word and action, desire and decision align with the most beautiful mysteries in the depths of God. New presences of the Trinity so much more subtle, more meaningful, and more transforming await those awake to such an embodied spiritual devotion, the living devotion of the Bride of Christ.

The mind without the heart is lifeless, and the heart without the mind is lost. Faith that does not spring from the Heart of the Bride cannot know the Bridegroom. Theological wisdom without mystical wisdom cannot draw from the wellsprings of worship, and mystical wisdom without sound teaching is vulnerable to shipwreck.  Prayer bereft of God's Word lacks soul, and study not carried out on one's knees is dis-embodied. Silence without the Word of the Father is empty, and so are words that do not flow from the fullness that resounds in the Silence of the Word. This silent fullness fills the heart of the Church and her true teachings allow it to fill our hearts.

May 1, 2019

First Day - by Scott Eagan


From midnight on
the prospect of sun rising
first day in the week, a sleeping
Savior prepares to open his eyes.
Second Adam touched by the Father’s
helping hand, who is speaking silently the invitation
‘Wake, come cross the frontier.’
Sitting up, stars far above, overhead
points of light in eon’s black dome
deep in the tomb, the day has already dawned
new flower unfolding on a bed of old dreams
casting off the slumber of time
sparking a new order hidden in stone
sharp ray of light slicing the bonds.
Six days we work and worry
they slide into the hope, the incredulity
beyond our control, a Root splitting rock
Seedling transforming its old shell
revelation has become charged with energy
Sunday step into the cradle of truth
and the opening rhyme of resurrection.

Scott Eagan
March 10, 2019

Pierced - by Scott Eagan

Everyone will see Him, including those who pierced Him.
                                                                                     - Revelation 1:7


When the sharp point pricks the skin
or the razor edge parts the flesh
blood flows freely, pain raises its head
alarm spreads through the body – brain, heart, spirit
and unless the crimson river is staunched
the wound attended to, panic sets in
trauma, shock, anger and fear fill the senses.

Retaliation is often our immediate response
wounded, we must defend ourselves, fight back
...puncture for a puncture…
...threat and cut and injury for every infliction…
at least a sanction, a barrier to address the attack
some form of offensive action, retribution to right the wrong
that is unless we are in Christ.

God-become-man knew all the wounds
bled from cuts of the scourge, bruised pride of religion
suffered pricks of long thorns and deep insults of words
His life ending in blood and water on the Cross
with nary a word, a rebuttal, a defense
offering up spirit and truth in the Father’s love
and inviting us all to do the same.

Scott Eagan
November 28, 2018

April 29, 2019

Notre Dame Burning - by Scott Eagan

                                                She is a vast symphony in stone – Victor Hugo
                                        NOTRE – DAME BURNING
                - Holy Week Tuesday -  Allegro con brio -
Somewhere within the ‘forest’
    in the wooden heart of that complex community
    of primal oak beams, interweaving rafters,
    a renovating spark spawned a flame – and hungry to destroy
    tongues and tails of demons licked the branches
    until the forest was burning with a violent, evil blaze
    spreading is wiles throughout the woods
    toppling the mighty spire – its tall head high above the canopy
    while the gargoyles, stone faced, grimaced unwaveringly.
    In the bosom of the Île de la Cité, having survived Reformation and Revolution
    and modern unbelief, standing steadfast, the citizens
    rushed to the rescue – water, prayer, hymns – and a human chain
    of saving hands in that crucible of Gothic alchemy.
        A whirlwind of crackling notes, a cacophony of roaring incense.

                          - Holy Saturday -  Allegreto -
Within the ashes of wreckage
    smoke stained walls and buried pews
    ravaged roof, damaged stained glass windows,
    the teary cry of a city, of the world – and a smokey silence
    tomb-like, not even the curious tourist’s chatter,
    poor stilled heart wounded in a Passion of fire and water.
    Scarred body wrapped in a shroud of love
    awaiting the touch of God and man, encased in stone
    the crown of thorns removed in the age old battle against beauty
    she is laid to rest, the poignant price of neglect.
    Music, paused in a chiseled silence, holds a hidden note -
        hope remains in the place of Golgatha.

                     - Easter SundayAllegro con spiritu -
Still standing, the luminous cross
    surmounting a pietá. Mother and Son a midst
    twisted and blackened pipes, timbers – the forest fallen in ruin
    a tomb with a stone rolled across the sanctuary.
    Yet, a strange beat begins in resurrection
    with the centuries of faith, of craftsmanship and artistry
    a response to the Conductor’s baton, phoenix-like the promise
    rising again from death, the notes in recapitulation of its creation.
    A heart burning in the cinders of Notre Dame de Paris -
    the forest will grow back, the music will return
        and with it, the strength to begin again. 

                  Scott Eagan  April 23, 2019

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.