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