December 28, 2019

The Suffering Love of the Savior

The love of Jesus saves because it has the power to bear away sin. The witness of the Holy Innocents shows us that the powerful of this world do not have the final say about humanity. At the end of the day, no matter how much violence is unleashed, Christ's saving love will raise up the lowly and the powerless - even if they are as helpless as infants and children. Because of Christ, they suffered, but because of Him, they testify to something good and true about humanity - that the most vulnerable of our society to not admit of being used as a means to and end, that those who do so will never thwart the plan of God. For the saving power of God is greater than the power of evil.

If the Savior has so much power over the affairs of the world, what about the movements of the heart? No disordered affection can withstand the heat of Christ's love and this suffering love burns away all impurity of a soul until only the truth remains. Because this love comes from the Father, the suffering love of the Savior makes us just. That is, when we allow this love to burn in us, it gives us standing before the Lord. Enchantments, intoxications, false teachings, myths - none of this can stand before the presence of this burning fire.  All that is left is the truth of who we are.

There are those who hate the truth. They would rather their false teachings and myths. So they run into different kinds of enchantments, one after the other, until they exhaust themselves in self-contradictions. Still, His love burns, ready to do its work of restoration, purification and transformation - if only they will turn back to Him. No matter how far someone seems to have gone, the way back is as close as a prayer of the heart.

This divine love restores integrity by overcoming our lack of integrity. It untangles self-contradiction by aligning our being with the truth. It heals wounds that seem impossible to heal - not only those that life throws at someone, but also those that we have caused those we love. Such is the saving fire of Christ's suffering love. 

December 26, 2019

Welcome the Christ-Child into Your Heart

The Word of the Father has entered into the world with great gentleness and discretion. Not violent, but tender toward humanity, how He has come into human history unveils how he comes into the mystery of each heart. He does not come to diminish or impose, but to build up and to enrich. Not to come to adore Him is to lose out on the whole purpose of life, but many who seek Him are baptized into so much meaning that their hearts can no longer hold it in. It is precisely his vulnerability and his poverty that unveil his power and riches.

As powerless as a babe shivering in the night, He brings the power to conquer sin and death. Those who will bear His life in their hearts discover how carefully He bears away sin.  He is not put off by disordered desires or bad habits - but longs for us to entrust these to Him so that He might transform them into new floodgates of mercy. As poor as a newborn without a home, He enriches with the blessings of the Father all who invite Him into their households and relationships.

Just like any infant, welcoming the Christ-Child is never convenient but calls forth the very best from us.  If he pierces the heart, it is only to set it free. If he unmasks the material delusions that bog us down, it is so that we might be swift enough to walk with God. If to hold Him in our hearts we must enter the darkness of faith, it is so that we might be held by Him. So He comes as a babe in the darkness of night, and in the stable, among creatures utterly dependent on the care of others, he learns to be utterly dependent on us.

The Word made flesh speaks in silences. If we will hold Him in our hearts, we must enter into the swaddling silence that enwraps Him and, just as he emptied Himself, despoil ourselves of every attachment that holds us back from Him. Born of a Virgin womb, He is able to show us what to let go of by speaking to us in our own consciences. Whatever the possession or position that will make us humble not to have, let go of it for His sake and entrust it to Him. Whatever attachment that threatens one’s integrity or proposes a self-contraction to the truth of the heart, leave it behind so that you might draw close to Him, the possession of whom gives everything that is needed for a fullness of life, love and truth.

To draw close to this unique child, we must go beyond what is familiar and comfortable. We must make space for Him to speak to us by setting aside time from lesser pursuits and devoting it instead to a prayerful reading of the Bible and meditation on the beautiful things He has done. Most of all, choosing to believe in His presence and to live in it even when it seems that He is not there. When our love for Him prompts us to make a commitment that stands in the face of our own lack of courage, accepting this challenge is the condition that allows His courage and generosity to flood our lives.

The Christ-Child chose to rely on us in poverty and nakedness, and He invites us to choose to rely on Him in everything and in complete vulnerability. The more we let His presence inconvenience us, the more meaningful our faith in Him becomes, not only for ourselves, but for the whole world. He is the new life for which this dying world longs, its only hope, and He hopes in us to make known the Good News. He is the wheat in the manger of the world, and when He fills us, the world knows that nothing else can relieve the hunger of this famished life. When we suffer the loss of all things for His sake, the world comes to see that He is the treasure that makes rich all who will trust in Him.

December 14, 2019

The Shield of Faith and the War against Idolatry in Advent

Christmas approaches. It is a magical time of music, light, happy meetings, and touching goodbyes. The heart is full all at once and then, suddenly alone.  It is in the "aloneness" of a soul that a powerful battle unfolds. It is a battle not against men but against principalities and forces that seem to govern this world. They clamor for our devotion and want us to erect idols to them in our hearts. Indeed, not only re-emerging primitive forms of idolatry but also their modern counterparts, make so many promises concerning a better future.  But whenever an idol is allowed in the heart, whether we believe it is divine or base, it always enslaves us.

We are easy to enslave because of a painful aloneness that haunts our lives. This restlessness is not the same as a moment of loneliness when we suddenly realize that we are far from friends and family.  This too is painful but passing because the moment is filled with the hope of a future homecoming. Aloneness that occasions spiritual battle is different.

There is a pain that is cause by the absence of a love that ought to be but is not.  Aloneness aches in this absence until it becomes a threat to our dignity and opposes the greatness for which we were made. A deeper and more permanent sense of alienation makes one feel estranged even from oneself and disconnected from the world. All kinds of fear and insecurity emerge. The desire to find a distraction or at least some relief from the gnawing sense of emptiness floods the soul. So occupied with self-preservation and self-hating shame, our egos can become the cages in which humanity's ancient foes capture and imprison us.  To escape, we need a key and the One who holds it comes for us even now!

In the face of human misery and the opportunity to presents, false deities make empty promises that faith in the true God must confront. These are legion but can be categorized broadly in terms of bread, sex and power. Each attempts to reclaim oppression over human freedom in every generation, even in the modern world. Christianity is, in a certain sense, a resistance movement against these dehumanizing forces. It holds out against them until the return of the Lord.

In the ancient world, early Christianity unmasked the absurdity of such worship and people found refuge in its truth. Today, these same powers have a singular advantage in that what these ancient idols symbolized is now de-sacralized in the modern mind. Instead of powers over and above humanity, wealth, pleasure and control are accepted as worthy of homage not despite, but precisely because, they are less than holy. In other words, ancient people were drawn by what they looked upon as divine powers - today, blind to the greatness for which we were made, we allow ourselves to be enslaved by what we know is base. Believers must find a way to confront this new reality.

The dark rulers who reign over this world and want to enslave humanity are the same as those that Christianity confronts in every age, even as modern people have depersonalized them.  It has become the cultural norm to acquiesce to the absolute claims that these disordered urgings stir in the depths of the heart -- and humanity diminishes for it. They would have us burn with unfulfilled desires until we lose desire altogether. Only the shield of faith can protect a soul from the fiery darts that they throw.

Christian prayer unfolds in with confidence that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob has come to deliver us from these dehumanizing forces. He does not want us to merely manage the best we can -- He wants our freedom and protection. Thus, He asks us to make real acts of faith. That is, He hopes that we will make concrete decisions regarding worldly things so that we can see the reason for our hope. Faith gives Him space to reveal the freedom for which we are made when we engage real flesh and blood actions that go beyond good intentions and half-hearted resolutions. This means renouncing all idolatry of ever kind, whether new or ancient, whether primitive or cosmopolitan: the bread deities, the sexual fetishes, and the power gods of every age, all that ask for our allegiance in the place of God.

A bread god is nothing more than an unhappy party animal who promises a good time but always disappoints.  When it rules over our hearts, we are inclined to all kinds of over-indulgence, lack of restraint, gluttony, and insobriety.  We escape by consuming until we attain that dissatisfying state of sensory overload.  The bloated euphoria acquired by consuming and hoarding more than we need makes us quick tempered and impatient with any hardship. We lose our capacity to bear with one another patiently or to be vulnerable to the plight of those who are hungry.

In the end, we debase ourselves by serving what we eat instead of ordering what we eat to the service of God. Spiritual lethargy that comes from overeating and insobriety robs the soul of joy and gratitude for the bountiful goodness of the true God. Against this idol, the shield of faith calls us return to the discipline of our faith; to fast, to stay sober, and to remain alert for the coming of Christ in prayer.

A sexual fetish or fertility god is nothing more than a sullen seducer who promises connection, bliss and fruitfulness but always alienates and leaves spiritually barren. When erotic forces rule over our hearts, we are disposed to cold calculations in our relationships.  We regard others in terms of the pleasure they provide and whatever we have calculated is never enough. We are frustrated in all kinds of self-contradictions and breeches of personal integrity. We exhaust ourselves in hunting, even if only in a virtual world, for satisfactions that can only leave us all the more empty inside. We suffer both a certain fear of and despair over any meaningful intimacy. Our consciences are haunted by our own betrayals of those entrusted to us.

To deflect the onslaught of this idol, our faith calls us to the renunciation of not only illegitimate pleasures but even legitimate ones -- that is, to pick up our cross and follow our crucified God. This is the pathway that chooses sacrificial love and acts of merciful kindness over indulgence in selfish pleasure. Faith protects our resolve to attend to the beloved entrusted to us by God more than one's own self. There is something great when we arise above selfish indulgence and implicate ourselves in the misery of those who ache for someone to acknowledge their existence, especially when that someone is close to us or even has acted against us. The world never expects much of us, but God has created us for the greatness of a life lived by love.

A power god is nothing more than a control freak who promises protection against all kinds of passing fears but engenders hubris and arrogance instead. When this power is given reign over our hearts, the more successful our plans, the more we judge our neighbor and determine him to be less than us. If we are opposed, we entertain righteous indignation at the expense of the truth and with no desire for reconciliation. When others are no more than obstacles or means to an end, we can never know the communion that God created us to have or the humility that we need in order for Him to bless us.

Without the blessing of the Living God, we are doomed. Thus, faith's obedience shields us from the mean-ness of our own plans by putting us under His plan.  As we learn to entrust our happiness to Him and to allow Him to become the shelter of our lives, He gives us a new courage to confront the vicissitudes of life and to find in them beautiful new expressions of His Providence. Behind the veil of overwhelming catastrophe, He who is mighty continues to do great things.

If we are imprisoned, Advent holds a key that can free us if we will only step into the silence to which it invites us. The Key of David has given those keys of Peter that unlock the doors of the heart in repentance, confession, and conversion. Unlock the doors and step into the starlight of hope. All our efforts to be reconciled, to seek forgiveness and to forgive provide new openings for the Lord to unshackle us. Open wide the doors to Christ and He will cast away the idols that we have allowed to reign in our lives. 

December 8, 2019

The Mystery of the Church in Advent

Advent is a season for us to rediscover the mystery of the Church. She is the Bride who awaits the Bridegroom with eager anticipation. The shining glow of a secret joy glistens in her eyes. To glimpse her fierce majesty is to be drawn into her invincible dynamism.  For she awakens a longing that nothing can overcome and in the deepest center of the heart, brings to birth a new certitude.

The Bride knows, in a way that no one else can know, the truth and goodness that the Bridegroom imparts, and each new gift that he gives makes her yearn for Him all the more. Conversely, without the Church, we are deprived of the passion that the Christian faith demands. We can only strain for what lies ahead as we learn to see the goodness of the life that He has given us now. The life of the Church spans the "here and now" with an eternity of new beginnings so that as she journeys, He makes all things new.

His Bride knows more than any other with what unsearchable riches He floods the heart. If she teaches us to fast and to renounce otherwise good things, it is only so that we will be hungry and open for better things. Of all things, knowledge of Christ is best of all. It is a knowledge that suffers His obedience in the whole of one's entire being, even into its deepest abyss. If this excelling knowledge becomes too much to hold in and one suddenly needs to surrender and let it flow out, it is because those who draw close to her mystery are overtaken by the same joy and heartache to which the Bride of Christ too has surrendered. When we allow it, what flows out can change the world.

Conversely, disobedience to God obscures our vision of the beauty of the Bride even to the point that all sight of her radiance is lost. In the face of the gross mediocrity of her shepherds or else the cold hypocrisy of her members, it is possible for the soul to fall into a kind of spiritual shock that closes the eyes of the heart. Under this blinding spell, one might still practice many different kinds of piety, but does so -- at least, to some extent -- extra ecclesia, outside the Great Mystery, or at least only on its outskirts. In a certain way, all of us, to the extent we are not obedient to Christ, allow ourselves to be subject to this spiritual blindness. Only through embracing the obedience of the Bride in our own lives do we see the Church the way Risen One sees her.

Not ever to see what the Lord sees can only be the greatest tragedy in this short life of ours. This vision of the Bridegroom - that loving gaze that sees possibilities that eyes still subject to death cannot see -- sees the truth of His Mystical Body. What He sees delights Him to the point that nothing could ever overshadow the joy that He has in the Bride given to Him by the Father. If only we will allow Christ to show us the truth about his Bride, if only we will enter into the mystery of obedience that he lays open for humanity, that very joy that He shares with her becomes ours too.

At a time when hope is tested and the bonds of friendship are often forsaken, we need this joy - that joy that Christ and His Bride share together. This is the joy of faithful love -- and all faithful love that is good and true is as an icon of this great love the Christ brings into the world. Loneliness and alienation are not the last word of our lives -- an uncommon love awaits us if we give Him space in our lives to reveal it.

If someone has left the Church, ask Christ to show you His Bride anew. He does not wish to hide what He came to raise up with Him for eternity. Instead, He yearns that we might share in this sacred mystery - the flashpoint of holy humanity joined in communion with Him.  Advent declares that fullness of life awaits those who will walk with this Virgin, Bride and Mother, and learn to see with her eyes the Risen One who comes for her.

Glorious Mirror of that Dawning Splendor
Living Witness of yet to be seen Brightness
Shadowed power magnified terrible and tender
In that heart pounding gaze
Of Him who comes.

Across every distance and through each age
On the Wind of ageless processions
Into the bosom of Threefold Oneness
Those deep currents surging
Towards Him who comes.

She steps through those meaning filled silences

Of hearts given, suffering
Unfamiliar tensions, resolved
Only in what secret harmonies find,
fasting, kindliness and truth's trials,
For His Bride. He cries:

Come Beloved, bathed in My Blood
Rise up immaculate and free,
Loving you first, I surrendered to your love
Until whosoever joins your journey Advent,
Comes to Me, and, with each new maranatha, I come.