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.