January 27, 2019

The Kingdom of Heaven Descends on Us

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

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

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

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

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

The Joy of the Father

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

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

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

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

January 20, 2019

Theology and Priestly Formation

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

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

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

A Pilgrim's Memory of St. Anthony of Egypt

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 13, 2019

St. Teresa of the Andes and Love for Life

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

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

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

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

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

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