September 12, 2020

The River - inspired by a poem by St. John of the Cross

To approach the living God requires a journey to the deepest center, to the very Spring from which all things come. No matter where we are, we can find the river that flows from this Spring. Yet, to be answered, we must ask; to find we must seek, to have laid open, we must knock. These are the steps of a great journey, the journey of a beat up and destitute beggar whose only hope is in the goodness of that Neighbor who passes by. Should we persevere, the River that makes all things new is ours, flooding even those steep banks that were once thought too high to be immersed.

This river of Word and Fire flows through the heavens. Revealing all things and setting them on fire, it flows through all space and time in this world below. It's light and warmth flows forsaken, deep below this world, even in those places where all love and hope is ever forsaken - and still it flows for this is not the last word about humanity. Overflowing into this present moment, even as you read this text, a fullness of meaning and life gushing forth unimpeded, never aging always new, the only new thing in this tired out world, making new all things, with a deep down cool freshness. Hidden under the veils of bread and wine, this Body and Blood feeds, nourishes, satisfies, quenches, inebriates until Spirit-filled the spirit of man must needs offer that spiritual worship that only a bodily sacrifice can achieve.  

Woe to those who, believing faith to be some private affair, dare to place unveiled glory under jars of acceptability. Woe to those who mindlessly accept the absolute claims of a governmental power and cowardly render to a social agenda even that which belongs to God. Woe to those who for fear of mere bodily harm neglect those matters of the heart for which we exist. 

Blessed are you whom God has called to live by faith in times such as these - for Love has called you to tender love, for love and in love at a time when kindly love is most needed.  Blessed are those who forgive from the depths of the heart that grievance until now so tormenting. Blessed are those who fear not to offer the thirsty a cup of water when others are too afraid to go forth. Blessed are they who do not fear to minister a word of truth in the midst of confusion and viral accusation.  Blessed are those who suffer detracting sneers for having dared speak up for the most vulnerable: standing by the smallest among us come what come may -- great indeed is the homecoming that awaits such as these. 








September 7, 2020

The Holiness that interrupts Time and Space - what is essential


Those who believe that religion is non-essential can live only half-lived lives. Their existence is limited to a reduced sense of place and time.  They live with a sense of linear progress, but this is always toward an unknown nexus. Blind to the truth about themselves, they are privy to a host of self-contradictions each a fall into deeper alienation not only from the rest of humanity, but even from one's very self. 

Those who approach religion as non-essential  worship the works of their hands because their sense of space or time does not allow for anything else than what they manipulate, produce or consume.  Man becomes what he worships - and if he does not worship what is holy, he becomes profane - and while the holy also know the profane, the profane cannot see the holy. And so what is truly religious, truly essential, is written off as "non-essential" while what is secondary to our existence - those things under our control - becomes absolute, the essential value for which all else must be sacrificed.  

This is why the are two different ways of living in time and space today. Scholars of comparative religion tells us that those who settle for a merely secular and profane existence possess a homogenous sense of time. We can agree with this insight even if the non-religious man cannot maintain the purity of this way of existing without falling into self-contradiction. He endures duration enslaved to productivity and consumption of goods, not free to rise above merely banal survival, even as he is haunted that life must be something more. Whether through their producing or consuming, the measurable and quantifiable establishes the homogeneity of daily existence and the tedious sameness of it exhausts the human spirit and frustrates its most noble desires.  When the only reference point for progress is the produceable and consumable, that is to say the quantifiably, measurably and predictably useful, life is entrapped in a two dimensional plane, a plane of duration and space that is merely material. 

There is another sense of place and temporality that is not homogenous. Scholars speak of the religious person as living in a world of non homogenous time - where profane banality is interrupted by the sacred's inexhaustible treasures.  While some might try to manipulate what is holy in an effort to get results, one's own existences is broken against Divinity's immutable otherness until one's blasphemy repents in adoration or fades into despair. The religious man is someone who suffers what is most true about himself and the world, and chooses not to despair. 

The religious man realizes that to step into a holy place is to step out of the day to day routine. In those places that are sacred, one ascends a hidden mountain toward which all temporality flows and one descends into the deepest center out of which the space and duration needed by living things springs. As anyone who has ever fed from the Eucharistic feast and drank the mystic wine flowing from the Cross well knows, to consume the sacred is to be consumed by it -- and only those who dare to be immersed in these realities ever rise to the fullness of life that humanity was meant to know. 

August 30, 2020

The Best Wine for Last

Feeling abandoned by the Church, many wonder over the plight of humanity and the promise of the Gospel. Some priests and bishops remember the tradition passed on to them and they dare, even in the face of incoherent policies, to build an island of humanity and to raise the standard of love. The miracle of Cana flows from these celebrations of eternal thanksgiving, not despite, but because of such suffering. The Church is born of loneliness - man's loneliness is an echo of God's loneliness for man.

There have been moments of intervention when Merciful Love is experienced as a kind of divine wrath. If this is one of those moments, then it is time to take stock and allow Christ to question us, to ask "Where are you going." To respond to His initiative is already to begin to come to our senses.  Indeed, history also shows that whenever a people turns back to the Lord, He unleashes blessings that could not have been anticipated, for He gains nothing when we are lost, but is filled with boundless joy when He glimpses us though we are still a long way off. 

Eternal love binds itself to a child's plight. Made to reveal the hidden glory of the Uncreated Light, the child may choose a darkness that cannot bear its brightness. For lack of truth, integrity is compromised and self-contradiction inevitable. For such as these, Love flames forth seemingly to blind and burn, but ever triumphant over evil, this warning reveals the way out of tragic ruin.

In shipwrecked loneliness, adrift in myths and falsehoods, we sink below waves of chaos and exigencies of the moment. Yet, there is One who the dark forces of life cannot pull under. The deep primordial threats to existence haveno claim on Him for He has already descended to vanquish their strongholds. Unvanquished, He comes by word and sacrament to pull us up with Him, to follow where He leads.  

Where the Bridegroom leads goes far beyond any unity of hearts that is neither fruitful nor unto death. He beckons to a cellar where the best wine is still waiting, where we each are awaited, a place of consummation where mutual recognition is finally fully realized. Relying on an emotional crutch, one can never ascend the magnanimous heights alive in His indissoluble embrace or sound those terrible depths flowing with His very life. 

Thus, as one is given over to prayer, tender power tears us away from selfish alliances to make room for a more fitting love, like weeds pulled from around a rose.  Such a loving touch shatters only to set free. Its hurts only to heal. What seems as stern as death unleashes astonished encounter, unexpected fecundity. 

Homecoming, holy inebriation, jubilation and an overflowing heart - all at once in forgetfulness of everything, all else left unknown, but that gaze of love. Fire has ignited a living flame and aglow, darkness loses its hold. Life cries out of the silence and the smile of birth reaches a new mother's tired eyes.

 

August 23, 2020

Chastisement and Mercy

How can Unchanging Love not chastise those who, if not corrected, will destroy themselves? It is true that disaster stings the good and bad alike, and that the suffering of grave evil is not simply the result of a moral failure - not individually or collectively. Both innocent and guilty suffer death and tragedy strikes without regard to our achievements - meritorious or ill. Reality is too rich and complex for a simplistic approach to such a difficult and painful question.  Yet, it is also true that evil is related to the mystery of sin - a miserable absent love that ought not be, but that has come as unintended consequence unleashed in human history and in every heart.  God is not indifferent to this evil and has taken our side against it.  He also knows that even a good man sins and needs correction if he is to stay good. 

In chastisement, the tender concern that Christ Crucified reveals only acts in accord with itself: a divine punishment, an admonishment from on high, heaven's correction - all of these are simply the same superabundant kindness, but in relation to those who act against it and meant with the same divine philanthropy that summoned humanity out of nothingness. It is not a matter of shaming and blaming, as if God were an abusive parent, but extreme love acting in an extreme way to prevent an terrible evil.  Running away from Love's Truth leads to folly's loathsomeness ... it is to prevent us from being frozen the the fire of self-hatred that the Lord acts in history to help us come to our senses.   

When we suffer, it is good to ask ourselves how God is present and what He may be revealing in a difficult circumstance. The Judge of the Living and the Dead inconveniently disrupts the enchantments of boorish satisfactions. When we suffer, the scales fall our of our eyes and we notice what previously we too easily overlooked. God allows sometimes overwhelming difficulties, not to diminish us, but that we might discover His hidden presence in ways that we did not know could be possible. In finding this hidden presence, our dignity and noble calling is realized. Here we discover, despite our complaints, that He never upsets any other order than that of our own shrill discordance. 

Made to resonate in peals of joy echoing in love's undying hymn, we are spellbound by a dirge of deafening accusation and anxiety. Thus, He chases false mourners away only so that we might know a new joy.  He pushes over tables of greed and manipulation, driving out those who would commercialize that which ought never be bought or sold. If his anger is disquieting, this is because our own unquestioned conventions numb us to the dehumanizing shock of material bondage. We need to feel shocked by the indignity that we suffer or we may never discover the greatness that we are meant to know. Thus the Lord shakes the depths of our piety to unveil how prayers limited to the profitable, comfortable, and respectable lack the freedom that true worship requires.

God's desire that we might know true worship gives reason to believe that what sobers and humiliates may disguise dire warnings that our sacred purpose is at risk. If left unchecked, a flight from Love's light can lead to an irrevocable refusal even to the point that one finds kindly warmth an eternal torment. Such is the power of human freedom.  We can, if left unaided, define ourselves against the purpose for which we were summoned into existence.  If we live within a well insulated artifice of illusion, the Creator knows that such walls are too constricted for those who bear His Image and Likeness.

If such a terrible possibility hangs over us, so too the cruciform reason for our hope. The Holy Mighty One gains nothing when we run away into darkness. It gives the Crucified King no pleasure when we refuse the mercy of the Father.  He has already taken the form of a slave, emptied Himself and suffered death - how could He be satisfied if we were lost? If only disaster can sober us, loving Providence pulls back one blessing for the sake of another. Thus, the Lord permits even catastrophe, bringing down nations and whole world orders, let alone our own prodigal ways, if doing so will bring even just one of his children to his senses.  A deeper prayer animated by Fire from Above and a new trust born from the heart of the Trinity allow for this sacred purpose, obstacles is not worthy of our dignity are overcome, and what once seemed impossible to hope is freely given. 

August 22, 2020

Fire and Judgment

The smell of smoke and hazy horizon aglow at night evoke wonder over what God is doing. A fiery sword looms over a once indifferent and indulgent coastline as firefighters and first responders fight against impossible odds. There is goodness in the heroism that such sacrifice unveils, and, for many, this has become a time to pull those who we cherish a little closer, to give thanks for such blessings that we do not deserve. Still the questions: is God angry with us and have we fallen out of favor with Him? It is a biblical question that Saul did not grieve enough before the Lord and that David wept so bitterly that only God could comfort him. Our hope is hidden here. Deluge and Fire are symbols of Christian initiation - for Christ has changed the punishment of death into a threshold for eternal life. 

We ought to feel ill at ease before the Face of Love. A certain fear should grip us who otherwise self-reliant have failed to question the false security we take in our enchantments.  The arrows we let fly by day in the form of calumny and heartless accusation fall under the shadow of our Judge. Love is not ignorant about our efforts to pin on someone else the responsibility for the dis-ease that infects those dark places of our hearts. Love knows that we fear bearing the weight of responsibility for what we have done and failed to do.  Love knows the dignity that we have stolen from our neighbor through indifference, and this Judge of the Living and the Dead is never indifferent to our plight. He knows that however much we have wounded our neighbor and left him for dead, we have wounded ourselves even more and He will not abandon us.

God is Love and Love is Fire. The standard of burning Love measures that quaking rancor that shakes ground from under foot while offering footing only on perilous peaks of righteous indignation.  The Divine Scale with its very warmth weighs those celebrations of rage that expose envy's wound, and Love's eternal brightness illumines that cavity of covetousness broadcast with shameless satisfaction. Ever attentive, Love gathers as a storm, never deaf to the constant drumbeat of dread filled stories meant to paralyze until deadly specters haunt every gathering, ready to strike when least expected.  Not indifferent, thunder in the skies recall how Love also weeps when the most vulnerable are traded as ponds in nihilistic games, discarded and despised for not being more useful in the latest social engineering experiment. When self-satisfied arrogance seems to have destroyed all that is noble and true, Lighting reminds us that Perfect Love rectifies humanity with sudden but sobering shock and awe until ablaze in the hearts of heroes, He rescues the oppressed from their plight.

August 21, 2020

Walls

The contemporary man, or rather post-apocalyptic androgyne, loves building walls - not the kind that sets boundaries in which to thrive, but rather divisions for manipulation and oppression. Having once clamored hope, he peddles fear: whether border barriers or fences between angry neighbors, he is all about dungeon partitions. Caged in narratives of constant crisis: his own state media shames, patronizes, intimidates, moralizes, and blames him as would an abusive parent with ever changing but always oppressive norms. Without regard for consistency and coherence, a new ethic divides the communion of hearts that he might otherwise know, and this not for nobility or greatness or tender goodness, but for sterile, hygienic and self-absorbed cellphone monological explorations. After he exhausts himself in the effort to appear in compliance with masked manipulation, we must ask, did he really tear down the wall of atheism or simply expand it until the West woke in partitioned dialectics? 

Not just brick and mortar, not just digital, but spiritual automated sliding class doors, gleefully operated by empowered middle managers of social fantasy, torment the anima technica vacua.  His technocracy's new "uber"class thwarts any thought that might spoil its commercial calculations until he is gated away while he secretly indulges in forbidden conspiratorial myths vulnerable to winds of rage and despair. What is performed in the most visible part of life, is also erected in its most intimate moment: blocking off the very fertility that married love was meant to know until he has stifled any hope of new birth. 

Not limited to the secular and profane, barriers define his piety. He sacrifices the most vulnerable at the altars of a biomedical complex when, in the name of public safety, he condemns his own flesh and blood to dismal facilities of loneliness. In the meantime, governmental powers use scientists to raise barriers of prophylactic policy between the faithful and God, the communicant and the medicine of immortality.

How do we preach the Gospel to this creature atop his self-made precipice of doom? How do we offer him a cup of water or a word of truth as he crawls along such perilous labyrinthian paths? If deluge cannot wash him free, is there fire that might consume walls never meant to be?

 

August 14, 2020

Splendor Dawning in Social Fault Lines

As tensions mount in our social fault lines, a new splendor dawns. The singular victory of an Unstained Heart is disguised only in the disfigurement caused by cacophonies of judgment, accusation and blame. Families may turn against each other - the powerful against the vulnerable, the prideful against the lowly, the rich against the poor, the born against the unborn  - but holy truth shines where least expected, flashing forth free, liberating from the cold harsh shackles of a merely material existence. Through a maternal fiat, the Lord of Peace extends his reign even as calamity grips the world and whole churches wonder whether to pray. 

What this mother's Son is doing in the world is a painful question before which all speech fails. Do we find ourselves at the threshold of events that anticipate the end of time? If the conscience is at peace, there is nothing that cannot be faced. Sun and moon can fall from the sky but we have a Word that lasts forever. In the end, Love wins - love alone remains. That is why we have had the courage to camp on doom's precipice for quite some time, crying out with the Bride's hope-filled prayer, "Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!" If this is chastisement, we believe that it is the Divine Action of the One who works in human history with loving discipline, lest left to our own devices, we destroy ourselves. 


The idolatry of success and security is shaken to the ground of truth when the Son of Mary comes in judgment: if you have been shaken, the Lord who loves you is nearby. Earthly dreams are dispelled before the dawn of heaven. Under the shadow of this glory, cry out to the Lamb who was slain for He opens horizons so much more meaningful that the boorishness of the latest cause and convention. By simple conversion of heart, this Cornerstone holds us together, building us into a temple that will never pass away. By this mystical Body, in society's very fault lines, God's love reshapes the world.

August 9, 2020

After the Storms, the Whisper outside the Cave

Vitriolic accusation might impress, intimidate and intrigue, but never liberate holy humanity. Indeed, mud into which Uncreated Breath has whispered life, we step toward freedom only on the ground of truth, even when that ground seems ravished and shaken, as if the winds and waves of the sea. Commercialism's covetous conventions and envy's mores are too flimsy to bear the weight of of enfleshed spirits. Visible images of Ineffable Being have walked with Un-circumscribed Power in the cool breeze of Eden's twilight and, at His command, dare across the most perilous abyss if only to be with Him. Love knows such freedom beyond the vision of all indulgent rage. Thus, no cunning serpent, no matter how wrapped in the latest news cycle, ever has the last word on humanity - it is always crushed under heel in its very attack.  

True. Displays of sheer force might capture our psychological capacities for a moment. Promises of power might entrap us in sheer folly. Harassed too long by the latest empty myth the mind can crack and betray all that is most dear. Nonetheless, a deeper mystery remains untouched, and the tender stirring of untold immensities still hold sway. 

If we hide ourselves in deep caves of fear, the Father's voice can still be recognized no matter the violent danger that passes by. That is why, no matter how loud the upheaval, a more profound truth does not cease whispering through our being, calling us out of whatever hole we hide and into the light of day. It may seem long before first light, in the utter exhaustion of the moment but a new brightness is coming toward our long harassed barge. Set out for that glory! If pushed under waves of despair and trapped in a would be grave, in a split second, the hushed silence echoes with that strong hand that no-one could have suspected: no storm of disease or social unrest or terrible disaster is able to keep down the soul that has heard the Lord say, "Come."

The powerful of the world are self-satisfied in the absolute claims that they would have over human existence.  A righteous cause, a social agenda, all kinds of commercial projects to lock up the winds of human freedom - winds and waves of more profit, more advantage, more prestige easily distract us from those Eyes who gaze upon us. Even feigned prudence in the face of a disease can be used to indulge that need to control others when one's own life is out of control - give control to Him.

Shackles of fear often hold for a while. Yet those mysteries blowing in the heart do not long bear imprisonment. The Spirit who stirs them so will not suffer them to be stilled by ought else than what moves in His own Mystery for humanity's sake.  His saving Hand is swift and catastrophe's sting upends the latest money-changing tables, throwing them out from the sanctuary in which true human sovereignty thrives. The working of such justice is not to be feared but searched for the mercy it unveils. 

After storms, earthquakes and fires, we might yet climb out of our caves to hear that still small voice remind us of our sacred purpose. A tender whisper chides deep within raising questions about how we live and the secret judgments that we have passed on others. New realizations emerge: the heart withers on boorish indulgence and indignant rage exhausts itself soon enough. More noble breath than the gasp of rancor and strife is meant to fill the sails of desire. Those humbled meek mourning in vulnerable poverty, life loving, peace making and mercy giving, suffering all kinds of persecution; these are the ones in whom Life billows anew in this dying world, and through them, bright freshness awaits outside the cave.  

August 2, 2020

Under the Shadow of the Cross

Under the Shadow of the Cross, an uneventful silence can take hold.  We want something to happen but instead we are pulled into a sort of idleness. We want some sort of result, something that will help us prove to ourselves that this time was not wasted. Instead, there is an empty expanse and the only horizons we see are lonely, raising more questions than answers. What difficult voids wait in the heart! Yet, here, the Living God has created an ache that He yearns for us to share, a sharing in we know not what.

This silent stillness at times seems oppressive and something to be avoided. So we distract ourselves with our daily routine and with our routines in prayer and piety.  We conjure memories of the last time we felt spiritual, but no memory can satisfy the need to be still.  So we wait, humbled, haunted by the thought that no feat of spiritual industry can remove the piercing thorn. God Himself does not touch it but permits us to discover Him in our inadequacy. Thus, in the vestiges of religious accomplishments, our heart aches on deserted ground, sharing in we know not what.  

In the public square, this same silent prayer boldly rings for the cruciform shadow that we know in our hearts also covers the marketplace of ideas. Infuriated health officials vent oblivious to the ringing tolls of coming glory. Pedantic political powers relentlessly blame, but resonances of grace bathe the humble. No deadly hum of satanic accusation can thwart the hidden splendor lurking within hearts enchanted with prayer's good spell.   Something noble is being conceived in sacred hiddenness while the powerful cast about unaware of the perilous precipice before them.  A new unheard of hope stirs, even as earthly dreams seem shattered, in a sinner's fellowship, sharing in we know not what.    

Whether amidst the exigencies of the daily grind or hidden in the privacy of one's room, a deeper kind of prayer finds those eyes who search for us in love. Only as we learn to rest in the seeming idleness of love will we ever catch a fleeting glimpse of His inexhaustible gaze. Only a shared gaze catches unexpected voids and the haunting expectations that await us in love cannot be guessed until they are welcomed by the soul, even in its not knowing.

Idleness before the Cross of Christ takes on new meaning -- for in that intimate stillness to which He calls us one heart speaks to another, an abyss calls to abyss, voids co-inhere in that surprised possession of the other, that astonishing, but hope for, mutual delight.  He aches, knowing our plight, having chosen to take our side and we ache, seeing His plight for our sake. Here is the landscape of mutual recognition: He suffers our misery for love and seeing that He has so suffered for us, we wish to suffer in love for Him.  Something no words can say is shared, under the shadowof the Cross, known by that loving faith alone.

July 26, 2020

Contemplative Prayer in Crisis

Worried eyes peer above a mask in a supermarket while customers attempt to dodge each other in the aisles. Someone does not see the floor stickers and back muscles tighten. The sharp condescending tones of a young and tired cashier remind me of a middle school teacher. In the chaotic wreckage of post-shelter-in-place America, childhood insecurities have reclaimed ground once lost to adulthood, and the smallest act of non-compliance solicits fierce if unspoken reactions. Anxiety and concern for safety suck the air out of humor and graciousness - in a world where the only smiles we can offer are hidden and at a distance.  Yet, the Lord is present in this tenseness of it all, waiting for that one moment where He might unveil his glory.

This would seem to be one of the tasks of the moment - to allow our conscience to convict us more than we allow our fears to excuse us. This is a grace to ask for and to work to receive with all of one's effort.  For the Holy Spirit convinces of sin precisely when we believe that catastrophe has rendered that mystery no longer applicable. The irony is that in catastrophe we most need to be spiritually awake - yet under the spell of sin, our eyes are shut to the exquisite new work that God has begun among us. The Holy Spirit would set the world afire were not our hearts dampened by distrust.  This Living Flame in a disclosing flash illumines the secret mediocrities otherwise hidden by our pre-occupation with crisis. With heavenly warmth, this Furnace of Love carefully melts that hardness that forms on life's surface for our own lack of love. Yet, to accomplish this great work, we must suffer the dark smoke that bellows in prayerful awareness of the Word until, dried out from insobriety, a more worthy desire might ignite.

Contemplative prayer does not cringe before crisis, but wades in.  Not limited to a few moments of solitude or a brief period of exterior silence before the noise of the daily routine takes hold, this prayer, if humble and determined, stays lit in the heart no matter the darkness of the moment. Not a public display, this prayer is at work in the public square precisely because it keeps alive the things of the heart. Yes, it knows all sorts of humiliations and trials - but such is the stuff of love. So a harsh word is turned away with a kind response - one as gratuitous and unexpected as the other. Then, where no one sees, in the hidden quiet, its solitary quest is renewed and deepened, even when the soul steps forward with no other light than comes from that secret Fire from above.





July 19, 2020

Dare We Go to Mass?

Dare we go to Mass? We are told that somehow not going to Mass in times of crisis is the most responsible and heroic thing we can do. Patronizing authorities assure us that this prevailing premise should not be called into question or else we are labeled fideists. And no one wants to be considered simple minded or fanatical. A host of experts would have us forgo liturgy because the singing might kill us and partaking of the Bread of Life might spread death. When we attend, we are ordered to cringe behind masks, at alienated distance from one another, cow-towing as if we should not be bold in our worship of the Risen Lord. Its Abitene 2020, yet unlike those young African martyrs of early Christianity, our post-modern hearts do not ache with the realization, Sine Dominico non possumus (without the Lord's Day, we cannot go on).

Why is Mass so necessary in the midst of pandemic and societal collapse? In dystopia, would it not be safer to worship in a more socially acceptable, even entertaining way? After all, instead of braving death to hear homilies about seemingly antiquated moral systems, social media provides designer deities who confirm the current think of the culturally hip. Who needs priests to offer mass when health officials and celebrities are the real mediators of human salvation? Or bishops to teach when a community organizer is able to offer a more politically acceptable word of hope? Or a pope to safeguard divine truth when any university sociologist can shame us before the herd's more accessible and relevant superego? Let's face it, fanciful though it is, this ideological idolatry makes one feel mighty: subordinating our dignity to the latest fetish saves America from evil politics, humanity from pandemic, and the world from pollution.

Unlike the Mass, these psycho-socio agendas never deal with any true challenges to one's own mediocrity. Rather, some social prophet provides a scapegoat, one opportune enough for social media platforms, such as any saint or father figure with a public statue. The self-serving inconsistencies of these agendas are rarely called into question because they distract from one's own (painful) self-contradictions. Not dealt with, the interior cacophony of anxiety and rage surges out against the weak and powerless -- and it is precisely for such as these that, the night before He died, the Lord made Eucharist.

When one is bereft of worship that is right and just, what opportunities for manipulation our current agreed upon religious incoherence presents! Yes, the worship of designer deities inevitably leads to that singular form of oppressiveness that only narcissique self-satisfaction can attain. The burning of churches is often replaced with killing the Christians who worship in them. Despised more than any other institution, most of all by those who are themselves Catholic, attacking the Church is lauded as some enlightened moral obligation. St. Junipero Serra statuary has not only been defaced with the triumphant approval of media and political personalities, but those indigenous communities who are grateful to him for bringing the Gospel of Christ are not so discretely ignored in the public square. And so we live in the echo of "Crucify Him!" Could it be otherwise? When progress is limited to idolatrous sensibilities, it cannot not long suffer the truth, especially when truth confronts one's own self-loathing emptiness. Only the coming of the Eucharistic Christ provides an antidote for such misery.

With Catholics failing to stand together for the salvation of the world, it is not by coincidence that we now live in climate of moral oppressiveness spiraling into open religious persecution. Rooted in systemic manipulation, all different forms of bad religion appeal to the imagination of both oppressor and oppressed -- and as long as one lives in this dream of alienating shame, one never is woke from the dynamic of suspicion, accusation and blame. Without the Word of the Father to lift up our hearts, one's own empty boorishness is deaf to the cry of my brother's blood to heaven. While we blame each other about the pandemic or bigotry, a pathway for meaningful discourse is overshadowed by myth induced malice. It is to help humanity escape this labyrinth of anxiety and despair that Catholics must go to Mass.

We go to mass for the saints. These are the selfless few who put their lives on the line so that we might enjoy blessings we ourselves did nothing earn. To be indifferent to their memory is to be ungrateful to God. These saints are a sign of hope, reminding us that what is noble is also worthy of the sacrifices we share as a people. The Sacrifice of the Mass makes their sacrifices present to us again.

We go to Mass for the poor and vulnerable. The Crucified God has chosen to disguise Himself in their plight - and without the Mass, we can never recognize Him. These poor are especially loved by the Lord and our solidarity with them in their weakness reminds us that before God, no matter how blessed, we are all in need of a savior. When we lift up our hearts together, the most vulnerable member of a community is never a social problem to solve, but a neighbor to serve and a friend waiting to be made.

We go to Mass because, contrary to the prevailing voices of demonic accusation that echo within the limitations of idolatry, our Christian faith teaches us to believe first and foremost that we are not condemned but forgiven, and at a great price. Thus, defense of human dignity and a dignified way of life flow from what God yearns to give us when we come together to worship.

To go to Mass is to stake out a claim that will not, come what come may, ever condone boorishness - no matter how wrapped in indignation. In Christianity, there is no proletariat who can claim innocent victimhood - before the Cross we are each of us judged as thieves and liars. The blood of Abel is on our hands. Yet before the Cross to which the Mass brings me, I also see, in the very face of all my self-contradiction, there is truth - and this truth raised up on the Cross has taken the form of mercy. Mercy is more powerful than any unjust system or effort at social manipulation. Going to Mass unlocks this unconquered power, participating in the Eucharist opens floodgates of astonishing wonder and confident sharing in Christ's great sacrifice unleashes torrents of Divine Glory on the world.

In the Mass, I stand as a child of the Most High God. Before the immensity of His Love that has called me to true worship, I find the courage to work for reconciliation and to believe in the power of kindness even more than the threat of a disease. Not worthy that the Lord should enter under my roof, I accept responsibility for what I have done and failed to do, and as Christ calls to me at Mass, I climb down from my pride to repair what damage I can out of devotion - for He desires to sup with me. At Mass, I give the Lord the opportunity to heal broken situation that we call the world. Even more, as I approach the altar, I find the courage to forgive the debt that I hold over my brother ... for however great it might be, a greater debt was paid for me.



July 12, 2020

Mission San Gabriel

On the Feast of Saint Benedict, Archbishop Jose Gomez stood among the remains of Mission San Gabriel. The embers of the old Californian mission present him with one more trial on top of many other hardships confronting Los Angeles and the Church from which it derives it name, Our Lady, Queen of the Angels. He thanked the fire fighters for their great work and thanked God that no one was hurt, but he also lamented the evil suffered by an active parish of wonderful people of faith.

The Archbishop of Los Angeles has long advocated for the Catholic roots of the American experiment. The Catholic faith has been with America from the beginning and any betrayal of it also betrays the very heart of our nation. The history of California is one of the sources for his arguments. The missions provide a living sign of the hope that holy humanity offers every people, and this same hope lives in the very best of the American dream.

We do not know whether this particular fire was arson. Hopefully this is not the case, but current political powers have promoted vandalizing sacred art for political purposes. So, there is reason for suspicion.

The call for political violence has resulted in the destruction of important monuments of our faith heritage throughout California. Nor is it a new thing for activists of different kinds to burn down churches throughout the US. In a recent case, someone in Florida crashed his car into a parish church just before mass, splashed gasoline, and set the building on fire. The strange way state and local officials relate to churches during the pandemic has not helped: not essential social and spiritual partners with whom to cooperate, but instead non-essential dangers to be kept shut down. When legislatures pass laws aimed at particular practices of faith, as say is the case of sacramental confession, it sends a dangerous signal and violent opportunists have seized upon this reckless messaging. It is now open season on the Church even as the Church continues its outreach to the homeless, mentally ill, the displaced and the dying.

Something about this calls to mind other terrible fires suffered by parishes around the world. Though not itself the result of deliberate action, the terrible accident in Notre Dame in Paris is the most known of these. Only the most attentive might have also noticed that churches across France have been deliberately attacked for political purposes for a few years. As to the persecution of Christians in China, the West shuts its ears completely even as our brothers and sisters are tortured in camps. Something about the religious hatred and reckless indifference at work in the rest of the world connects with the new hatred of God in America.

Exploited by certain political powers who would seek to displace the role of Christianity to make room for some new utopianism, religious bigotry lays social sins on the Catholic Church.  An all too compliant scapegoat, the politically powerful intimidate the Church into this role for their own gain. The holiness to which the Church witnesses is banished from the rest of the community, no longer to be thought of, except in derision. A voice for the most vulnerable is all but muted. Indeed, there are in fact grave social troubles, and the most vulnerable always bear the brunt of these.

Is it actually to solve social ills that religious hatred promoted? The American equivalent of Maoists teach that the pathway to a brave new world is built on vilifying all vestiges of the past - including the Christian memory of holy humanity.  As teach the architects of secular Europe, heritage and piety must be sacrificed to usher in fundamental social change. Make no mistake: this change is not about protecting anyone's dignity or freedom. It does not lead to spiritual maturity or to any form of human progress. It subverts all that is noble to accommodate the fantasies of the politically powerful. Yet, whatever the future utopia that the powerful envision, sown in anarchy's burnt soil, it can only reap more nihilistic oppression of the poor.


Mysteriously, attacks on the sacred stir many Catholics to lives of deeper prayer and spiritual renewal.  The Church in China continues to grow much more on the persecuted mainland than it ever did in the freedom of Taiwan. Religious movements of young families throughout France continue to grow. Priests in St. Louis gather every night before a public statue of St. Louis to pray with the faithful.  Together with a group of the faithful, they witness that this King is not a symbol of oppression but of the justice and holiness that inspired the founding of their city. The same is happening here in California where prayer services have been held in front of monuments, often defaced, of Saint Junipero Serra.

A man who gave up everything, left the comfort of his home to bring the Gospel to the farthest edge of the world, Saint Junipero Serra deemed the chain of missions that he founded on earthquake faulted soil to be a sure ladder to heaven, a pilgrim pathway not unlike the Camino de Santiago.   These missions were not first and foremost buildings. They were visible signs of spiritual realities in which indigenous people might find shelter and make a new beginning in an ever changing world. Not without untold hardships and many grave mistakes, it is on this spiritual path that California is built.

To this day, the buildings witness to a faith that offers humanity the only real new start it has ever had - for other beliefs are subject to the changing cycles of culture and history, but this one offers a pathway to a more noble destiny and purpose. The saint founded these islands of humanity on what was considered the very periphery of the world so that on earth's most unstable remotest frontier, there might be a sure sign of hope. And so they are today, even as Californians dance on the edge of a shaky precipice, sunbathed white stucco and sandstone shining under the darkest threats to human dignity any people have ever faced at any time in history. For moral and spiritual oppression is far more dehumanizing than any other absolute claim a government might make on its people.

Fittingly, long before anyone else ever would, Saint Junipero was a voice of justice for the plight of the indigenous peoples. While some of the indigenous see Saint Junipero and his missions themselves as symbols of oppression, not all native Americans share this opinion. When Spain brought its many terrible social evils, it also endeavored to entrust to the unknown peoples of the world's edge its greatest treasure: a gift so beautiful and necessary for humanity that many Spaniards gladly suffered hardship and death that those who now live here might enjoy it. El Escorial was built around it, terrible wars were fought to preserve it, and each expensive expedition to America was dedicated to extend it -- and so the Catholic faith came to California at great cost.

For many, the missions meant freedom from the violence inherent to both European occupation and pagan culture. Grateful to Saint Junipero for this freedom, thousands of indigenous Californians wept at his death and exponentially more raised their families in peace because of his selflessness. That is why some native peoples even see Saint Junipero Serra and the Franciscan family as a sign of God's favor to them. Through the Franciscans, God sent them someone who, as did the Son of God, gladly forsook every comfort in life and embraced every kind of unforeseen hardship to rescue the threatened dignity of the indigenous, and to walk with them through their trials.

Of course, with the societal vilification of the Church and the Christian faith, there is a wholesale return to those same dehumanizing practices now that once plagued the pagan world and infected their European occupiers: open thuggery, sex-trafficking, and all kinds of oppression. Thus, only native voices of righteous indignation and condemnation are permitted as if the indigenous know nothing of the mercy, the graciousness or the greatness of Christian piety. My own conscience, however, rings with memories of great indigenous Christians whose voices, if ignored, can only worsen the plight of those now manipulated by the latest news cycle and political ideologue. As was the case for the Nazis and the Communists, the whole neo-pagan narrative only disadvantages the poor who must raise their children subjugated to the commercial opportunism of heartless algorithm, hostile atheism, and holistic arrogance. How does a voice of prayer speak into this?

The destruction of Mission San Gabriel has diminished the cultural heritage and spiritual patrimony of California. The faith from which this State is born is increased, not lessened, nonetheless. It is a kind of spiritual rule, the more persecuted, the more the Church lives. Archbishop Gomez knows this, as did Saint Junipero and the Franciscans who came with him. Through the echo of an angel's greeting, California has received a ladder that cannot be destroyed by any fire, political or ideological. Mission San Gabriel remains a vital part of this great mystery.

Though the visible structures might need constant rebuilding, the spiritual realities that are the missions have endured starvation, abandonment, attacks, and earthquakes. They will also endure the bigotry of our day. The imperfect Christendom that founded California sank long ago in a sea of secularism.  The remnants of its structures remain vulnerable to the next wave of social strife. At the same time, the faith that Christians selflessly sowed into the soil of the world's edge provides a way up that will last long after any current government is a forgotten memory.  Through their faithfulness to what they received, the faithful of Mission San Gabriel form an island of humanity, a refuge for what is most sacred and true about this frail piece of the Pacific Rim, and through them, anew, tidings of great joy.
A statue of St. Junipero Serra at Mission San Antonio


July 8, 2020

The Gift of Life and the Search for God

When life seems to be more of a drudgery than a blessing, it is well past time to search for God.  It is before His Face that we come to learn just what a beautiful gift life actually is. The wonder of this creature alive before me, given to my gaze, by Someone who, with no ulterior motive, simply wants my happiness. This is always the deepest truth - that we are beloved by a God who has taken our side, who is not indifferent to our personal plight, who humbly comes to us, desirous to be with us.

To see such immense goodness is to avail oneself of a banquet of manifold living gifts, each nourishing my own existence in ways that words cannot say - if only I allow the sheer splendor of these encounters with truth into my heart. Restitution becomes no more than repaying love for a debt already forgiven and before such Crucified love, there is no condemnation, only joy that the missing coin has been recovered, the pearl purchased, the lost lamb found, the son come home. In finding God and daring to stand before His face, we find what lays bare the heart - our very life.

The vision of God is the project of a lifetime, and thousands of battles are fought to win this prize. Shame beats us down even as our quest begins. We play the blame game at the expense of never entering the arena of life. Unwilling to bear with our own sin, we believe that we can finally set the world straight once we convince ourselves that it is all our neighbor's fault. In the midst of the chaos of this age, where shouts for "justice" stir social wrath, we are vulnerable to all kinds of false myths that distract us from this search. Feeding this frenzy, the news cycle rotates not to meaningful encounters, but to confrontations of spiraling fear, rage and self-loathing, such pursuits as exhaust themselves in what is truly damnable: alienating self-contradictions ever deepened by fruitless gratifications closed off to life.

When we do not seek God, we can only sow with rash judgment and reap the wind of righteous indignation. The voice of conscience goes unheeded when we consciously indulge calumny's self-justification. We sit on top of mountains of judgment as storms of destruction come bearing down.  Perched so high on pillars of pride, we are unable to shelter under the wings of God.

How do  I safely descend such a precipice and begin to climb the mountain of God? The Lord allows his disciples all kinds of humiliations, persecutions and overwhelming trials- for without these, I might never learn to live. He even sends his messengers as broken beggars crying for a word of hope. Each cry invites me to come down, to descend to where the Lord is waiting.

For my part, the mystery of Zacchaeus comes to mind. I must be on the lookout beyond the structures of sin in which I have enmeshed myself. As long as I am pulled to the periphery of perception, I can easily mistake a blessing for misfortune. With beams in my own eye, I can only see my neighbor according to his splintered sized faults. No, I must not be blind to the glory hidden in those distraught eyes who calls out, "I must stay at your house."

The stranger who invokes me can never be an encounter with Author of Life as long as I see only a character playing out his role in the latest social narrative and political conflict. I must stop stuffing my sickly imagination with pig's slop and remember the food of my Father's house. I must be open to what is unfamiliar, uncomfortable and inconvenient - for love is of these things and God is love. The wonder of life will never astonish me if I fail to welcome the friend in need with an open heart - for one treats the Giver just as he treats the gift.

It is time to seek the Lord. We risk losing the beautiful gift of life as long as we submit ourselves to any voice other than His.  He is never far away - the ears of the heart know the melody of his call even when only a whisper and the eyes of the soul recognize His mysterious radiance even when it's hidden in distress. Yet, even at one's last breath, to hear His Voice and to seek His Face is at last to have finally lived.  

July 6, 2020

Awakening of the Word

Deep in our hearts, the Father has sent his Word. He can enter into the abysses of our humanity and all its bodily existence because this Word became flesh in the womb of a woman. In those depths that the soul itself does not know it has, the Word rests, waiting for the right moment to awaken.

He may rest there even when a soul completely neglects and forgets His presence. He may rest there even when a soul is resentful toward Him and otherwise sinfully not hospitable.  With the slightest motion, His gentle voice can pierce the cacophony of one's thoughts and still all disordered affection. With the faintest whisper, he can help a man come back to his senses, get up and go back to the Father's House. Yet, there is so much more He yearns to share but cannot until the soul is ready ... so He patiently waits, in a resting earnestness, sleeping eager to awaken.

When He awakens, St. John of the Cross speaks a stirring of breezes, a burst of pleasant scents, a shimmer of glory moving in everything that is, taking us up into its wake. He who is the source of all meaning opens our hearts to the beauty and goodness of the world around us. Everything is charged with the love of the Father, already breaking forth in praise, overflowing with a wonder that it cannot contain. Until the Word awakens in us, we do not hear, see, taste, smell or touch the true story that we are part of - but when He does, it is as if we hear, see, taste, smell and touch for the very first time. Our bodily existence with our earthly senses, fiery affections and exploding imagination is not diminished by the Word, but at long last finally realized (See Living Flame 4:4)


July 5, 2020

Missionary Discipleship

To form a missionary disciple, the first task is to accompany him as he journeys to the truth in his humanity. When the Word became flesh, he constituted all that is good, noble and true about humanity as the pathway to the Father. Coming into maturity is part of this pathway.  This means that a missionary disciple needs to be accompanied into facing difficult personal challenges inherent to natural maturation, or else his discipleship risks self-contradiction. 

One of the first obstacles a man faces is ignorance over who he is and why he is alive. When a man does not have a sense of firm purpose, he is going to lack motivation, initiative and self-control. Any lack of firm purpose involves three factors - lack of self-knowledge, blindness to the beautiful mystery at stake and a lack of courage before the challenges that must be confronted if he is to realize what he desires.  

Without a great purpose, a disciple will “go away sad.” That is he will constantly be haunted by feelings of inadequacy, depression, and anxiety. Resentment, aggression and self-indulgence are born in him because he is either refusing, resisting or trying to escape the void that only God and his sacred purpose could fill. 

The sadness and nostalgia that can overcome a disciple whose purpose is void can be disguised in self-reliant spiritual practices and harsh judgments. The heart lacking in self-knowledge is an aching vacuum vulnerable to all kinds of deception. For the religious person, even prayer and solitude can be used as an indulgent escape from this pain. Righteous indignation toward the failures of authority can become a cancer of the heart and self-justify forsaking responsibility and disciple out of devotion for Christ. Left unchecked this disease, which has both despair and pride at its root, will drive a man away from his community, out of the communion of the Church and trap him into an alienated childishness. 

The inability to see what is at stake requires both contemplation and instruction. Until a man sees the beauty of a woman, he has no affectivity that moves him to fight for her.  Internet pornography is singularly destructive because it blinds a man from the true beauty that alone can move him with firm purpose.  False beauty can only move a man with false purpose. This presumes that “being itself” constantly presents to the eye of the heart situations where something good and beautiful is at stake before which a man ought not be indifferent, that summon a response from the very depths of his being. 

The supernatural purpose unveiled to the disciple of Christ bespeaks a contemplation of the beauty unveiled by Christ and the Church.  It presumes instruction about the nature of this beauty and the specific demands it makes as to a way of life.  Holy conversation, filled with words of truth, bring out the implications of this glory before which no heart ought long be indifferent without betraying itself. 

If he is accompanied by a heart that he knows is listening to him, the disciple will receive a wholly new presence of Christ in his heart.  With this new presence, he gains an awareness of what the Lord sees is at stake and, with this, new inner fortitude that only the Holy Spirit can produce.   This kind of accompaniment is possible because through contemplative prayer, the Father can communicate the Sonship of the Word.

With the right instruction, contemplation confronts self-doubt. This silent prayer does not replace accompaniment, but requires it: what is received in the human heart in such prayer is subject to strong doubts and insecurities, and only the counsel of another can help a disciple discern how to respond.  The soul, with the help of another, needs to test what God is asking of him if he is to more deeply accept it. 

Not only does the Father confer identity and thus, self-knowledge, but with self-knowledge, He also communicates mission — a purpose in life that is worthy of His Son. The Father has chosen to communicate this by means both of mental prayer with the accompaniment of a fellow disciple - so what is received in silence is confirm in conversation. As a man firmly accepts this purpose and learns to sacrifice for it, His identity in Christ’s sonship deepens until he becomes who the Father intended him to be from all eternity. 

Accompanying a disciple whose purpose is not yet firm requires walking with them through all kinds of challenges.  This testing that every disciple endures will cause them to question everything that they thought and believed.  In the face of these difficult trial, a man will runaway and hide, just as did Adam when shame overtook him. As did Adam, he fears the burden of guilt would be unbearable. 

Though God would that no man suffer such pain alone, this shame, unaddressed, leads to death because as long as it drives the heart, the disciple is closed to what the Father would otherwise reveal. Only by helping a disciple connect his own trials with what is common to all men can we accompany a man from such fear into a new trust. This requires carefully listening to the burdens that he bears.  

A disciple left unaccompanied or who forsakes the accompaniment of another will not be able to assert himself into the situation at hand. The Father has chosen to give him confidence through the ministry of another. Until he humbles himself to receive this gift,  a disciple will not have the confidence required to make the painful sacrifices by which along the Father’s glory is manifest.  

Among the sacrifices needed is self-assertion, and on this point, a fellow disciple can speak of word of encouragement and even admonition. If we do not assert ourselves as sons of God, others powers will fill the vacuum — and the noble voice that might have humbly proposed a way forward will go unheard by those who most need a word of hope. This means encouraging a disciple to go beyond the comfortable and convenient.  Such self-assertion requires an obedience always ready to abandon what is familiar. For greatness and glory are not familiar to a disciple until he has come into maturity. 

The Weight of Heaven's Whisper

On Earth as it is in Heaven ... Heaven tolerates no social agendas but hears the blood of Abel again crying out from the earth.  It sees more than the loss of a pious voice who might make intercession for the world. The celestial choirs perceive rivers of rancor and strife that one act of vengeful anger unleashes, and their mighty canticle becomes a whisper - but the weight of this whisper raises earth to the mercy of God.

Hell's rancor raises its accusing voice. It's judgment is against man and the work of his hands- it hates man's culture, society and freedom, and like a prowling lion, it waits to seize its prey. Its scorching remedy would devour cities, nations and earth in a firestorm of calculated oppression disguised as spontaneous anarchy.  Such judgment gives birth to cacophonies of mindless voices all demanding that Cain should have no quarter in the world.  With righteous indignation, demons cry that he should be hunted down so that Cain never learns to grieve the brother envy incited him to kill.

And so the drama plays out again and again. Every culture, every society, every age -- even our own -- knows the heavy oppression that reigns whenever envy, wrath and righteous indignation are permitted to make an absolute claim over the human heart.  For all our technology, we have not progressed much beyond the primal ways of that original brotherhood - and brothers keep killing brothers. Subservient to accusation and condemnation, we lose our standing and find ourselves roaming from one social agenda to the next. Why anyone should believe that his lack of concern for his brother should lead anywhere else is mystifying, yet again we believe the satanic proposal that this time will be different, by this one act of evil (social and political, always personal!) we will no longer be reminded of our inadequacies, and we will be like gods.

The gravity of love, however, pulls in another direction.  Heaven's silences do not condone but convict the grumbling of our hearts.  The weight of its whisper comes down with the force a new day. Something immensely more than fear and anger, envy and righteous indignation is offered. The Living God is not indifferent to the plight of His sons and daughters, and He aches to relieve the misery that threatens their freedom and dignity.  Turn to Him and in place of murder, an answered prayer.  In place of judgment, the Heaven's tell the mercy of God. 

July 3, 2020

Love's Obedience

Toll
Ringing rolls in battles
Half-fought for love's obedience, echoing
Hidden resonances refined, forged in that very
Secret by which, into far aching
Horizons of heart, His Unfathomable Cry
Resounds in terrible tenderness,
Baptizing the restless in earthed
Soul.

Light
Glistens on grounds where tear trails pool -
Flashes fast from such sacred soil
Silences here reflected as only whisper
Those triumphant trumpets thunder
Deep down beyond the grasp
Of highest cherubic insight
Hope hymns amidst the darkest
Fight

June 28, 2020

The Saints in the Public Square

People of prayer are witnessing to the religious dimension of humanity. Even in the face of an angry crowd, the gentle tenderness of holy humanity is a sign that helps everyone return to their senses.  The one thing all the politicians, experts and mobs have in common is that they do not understand the religious dimension of humanity. That is why saints are so important. The witness of someone praying the rosary even as rancor is begin incited reminds everyone of their own humanity. We are not beings whose meaning is ever exhausted by the latest political cause or social agenda, no matter how noble.  We are spiritual creatures who need to be reminded of the deeper truths in which we live, and move and have our being. Saints signify what the nihilistic conventions of the moment obscure.

Dissociated from the natural world and, thus, our own humanity, without the witness of saints, we find ourselves rendering sacrifice to the golden calf of a therapeutic utopia. Without them, we are left with the secular media as our prophets. Instead of men chosen by God, doctors, psychologists and other experts ape priesthood on the altars of our phone screens. We presume that our salvation is in the next advancement in technology or medical discovery - and, when we are not otherwise scapegoating one another, we convince ourselves that only the unborn can serve as our unblemished holocaust. So the womb is the most dangerous place of a baby in a society that sanctions religious hatred -- only when saints cry out can we return to our senses to heal this deadly structural and institutional bigotry.

In the spiritual vacuum such irreligious pursuits occasion, our society now deems the ultimate purpose of life to be the advancement of the biological and physical freedom to achieve absolute autonomous self-definition.  Yet we are not absolutely autonomous beings. This is supreme presumption for, indeed, we are not gods. The path to sanctity, so maligned today, into the most sacred depths and fragile limits of humanity begins when one humbly accepts this revealed truth.  Because he knows that he is not God, only the saint can fill this vacuous need for meaning haunting the hearts of our contemporaries, and to the saint alone belongs the task of helping our communities remember the sacred truth that has been entrusted to their care.

In the silence of a single saint, deepest truth pierces every empty slogans bellowing out of the dimmed consciences of our angry mobs. What else can any mob yell but "Crucify Him"? If a mob again cries "Barabbas," it is only because it always sides with murderers rather than the innocent. The suffering silence of a holy witness is pregnant with that new life that the blessing of persecution begets.

To hear the truth about humanity, the saints help us assume the posture of the Good Thief: only when we are convinced of sin can we repent of how conformed we have been to this world and call out Christ, our Savior. Paradise awaits those who are condemned if they will let Him speak. As political activism would seem to eclipse the light of faith, we have saints in our midst who help us see a pronounced and growing desire for the spiritual truth that Christ whispers into our hearts. These saint believe that there is a new openness to the spiritual riches of Christianity even when the witness of religious art is torn from the public square because they have beheld the beauty of Christ.

Wherever sin abounds, grace abounds the more.  Saints help us remember to search and ponder what is good, beautiful, true and noble. To find these graces (and there are twice as many of them as there are evils) requires another courageous form of silence.  This is not the silence that hides itself because it is afraid of another's wrath. This deeper silence can patiently endure the rage the spews from righteous indignation of another because it is confident of a much deeper justice, a justice that only mercy knows.  This silence does not fear abysses of misery but carefully journeys through them until it arrives at a deep place of encounter. Such prayer goes deeper than fear and rage, and rests only in the truth.  On that holy ground is planted the cruciform still point around which the world turns, the threshold to the Heart of God.

June 23, 2020

Persecution and Prayer


There is resentment toward people of faith, toward our Christian heritage, and especially toward the Catholic Faith.  In this picture, we see fury unleashed on a public statue of the first great missionary to California. He came to bring the Gospel of Peace, but now is a sign of the brutal hostility that lives in what is left of our culture and society.  The red paint might anticipate blood that the Lord will permit be shed in our own times, martyrs for Christ on American soil again, and this to lay bare the hearts of many.  The red also bespeaks that Blood that has already been shed that we might at last find true freedom to pray.

Political leaders and news media keep reporting how peaceful the protests are. This defaced statue tells another story.  We see Junipero Serra as a witness, not to our enlightened society or the glories of a technological culture - but instead to the empty vacuum, filled with rage, that our soul-less technocracy has created. Ignoring the religious dimension of man always leads to violence ... neglecting our spiritual life, always causes death.  Without the healing presence of God, men are damned to rage or despair, and are cut off from everything that is most dear and wonderful about humanity. Prayer makes space for the presence of God - even in the face of complete catastrophe.  It is indeed a time of great unrest -- and yet in the midst of unrest and in the face of religious hatred, Christians are called to pray.

Righteous indignation does not convert hearts. Bitter polemics do not assuage the misery that haunts human existence.  Charged rhetoric does not bring a soul to repentance. But a word of truth spoken with love and aflame with prayer can pierce through confusion and re-establish those who have been trampled down in rage.

Instead of joining the cacophony of the moment, people of faith are invited to raise up praise of such glory that it opens beyond time and space and all hostility -- helping humanity find a foothold in a peace that this world cannot give. This praise of glory that we must find a way to sing can only be summoned by those who are willing to enter into the silence of God and humbly welcome the treasures of love that He longs to give. This pathway of true prayer requires repentance, humility, gentle kindness, and the courage to believe that what is good and noble in the hearts of humanity comes from God, and therefore is more powerful and enduring than anything that contradicts it - no matter how violently.  So a hymn is born in those who believe - the same hymn as those who right now are gathered around the Throne, crying out before the Lamb that was slain, "Holy, Holy, Holy."


June 19, 2020

The Sacred Heart of Jesus

The heart of the matter is what is searched for when listening to another's heart. Only those who are brave will ever be able to bear what they hear. This is because, in every heart, there are difficult secrets, troubling things that are too hard to share and at the same time, painful things to know. There are also beautiful things so heart piercing that one overflows with joy and sorrow all at once. The pure of heart knows a brave freedom before the pain and beauty of such deep down things. Theirs is the courage to ask for, to seek out, to knock at and to listen to the one Heart that Christians call sacred.

To be pure of heart requires self-mastery, especially of one's own sexuality, and one finds this treasure in the Heart of the Lord. Chaste and modest, a heart can find in Him the freedom to give itself with tender delicacy without every betraying itself. The heart made pure by the Savior does not yield before the terror of great beauty, but can freely behold what is truly good in every encounter while remaining faithful to all that it holds dear and sacred. Such purity creates both the noble boundaries and the necessary discernment when approaching the heart of another. To humbly surrender the misery another suffers and to commend them to the mercy of God is the most noble expression of such chastity. At the same time, renunciation of all that is not God's will comes from possessing Christ's own purity of heart - the purifying power of the Sacred Heart communicates this to those who persevere in asking for this grace.

Deep in the Sacred Heart one also finds the truth that one most needs in life.  To be taught the truth by another gives some insight, but until our own understanding of what we have learned has been purified by the Holy Spirit, our sight is only partial. Whether we seek the heart of the Scriptures or the heart of a friend, only when the Spirit who knows the Heart of Jesus whispers in our depths are we free from rash judgments, irrational desires, and pride. Yet, as we surrender our hearts to the Holy Spirit, He communicates the most precious truths that pour forth from the pierced Heart of God - and forgiving an offense or praying for an enemy suddenly becomes a possibility.

Chastity and truth are deep in the Sacred Heart, but even deeper is the merciful love of the Father.  This is the deepest secret of the whole cosmos - the secret that lives in the bosom of the Trinity.  If we ask, the Heart of the Crucified will give us to overflowing. If we seek this love, the Risen Sacred Heart will show us this uncreated power that can change not only one's own heart, but the whole world.  If we knock at the door of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Savior will open wide His Heart and wait for us to open wide to Him.

Do not be afraid to ask, to seek or to knock at the Sacred Heart. For His Heart is also asking, seeking and knocking - do not be afraid to open wide to Him.



  

June 14, 2020

The Mystery of the Holy Eucharist - Real Presence in Real Time

Catholics process publicly with the Eucharist because the whole world needs the Body and Blood of Christ.  A priest, flanked by altar servers with candles and incense, processes through the streets with a circular container called a monstrance, usually golden. This monstrance shows the Blessed Sacrament, earthly bread become the Body of Christ, by holding, in its circular center, a consecrated host.

This procession is actually spectacular - something that is meant to be seen not only by believers but also by those who do not believe. More than raising questions, this spectacle is meant to witness. As parishioners follow behind, they believe that the pilgrim God is walking before them once again, leading them through the desert of their lives to the promise land. In the Blessed Sacrament whose reality they believe guides them home, they have found and proclaim a splendor that is even now breaking in on us, even if this glory seems hidden from our eyes, disguised as it is in the suffering, alienation, social strife and political vitriol of the moment.

Such spectacles are not tolerated in contemporary societies, especially during pandemics. This too is part of the mystery of Corpus Christi - how one looks on the Body of the Lord unveils where one stands in life. Secular society is soul-less because it will not welcome the Soul and Divinity of the Savior.

If there is discomfort around Eucharistic processions, there is a contemporary prejudice that presumes religion to be something that should be kept in the privacy of the home or at least behind closed doors.  When religion is relegated to the realm of emotion one may well be embarrassed to allow it on our streets. But is it really only a crutch for difficult moments as we hobble through this world? And if we are hobbling through, where are we actually headed.

Religious gatherings are socially accepted only insofar as they help us manage painful moments of life, but true prayer must stay out of the marketplace of ideas. Here is this Eucharistic procession right into that marketplace.  The media only presents it as reckless endangerment in a time of crisis. But what threat does God actually pose our collapsing civilization? His saving presence might have something to speak into the mobs whose anger still resonates with "Crucify Him." Those who want a public square free of religion might allow it whenever it is useful politically - scapegoating is a very real phenomenon of ritual purification on a communal skill. Others might grant that some religious practices are therapeutic at least personally.  Others might allow religion to provide social gratification. Ver few want to be challenged by the fact that God is truly present and on the march, Real Presence in Real Time.

The mystery of the Eucharist processes forward against the tendency to remove God from human affairs.  This mystery by which the memory of Christ's passion is renewed signifies the deepest truth of all: that God has come, at great price, to save us. Those who participate in this Great Mystery by faith are filled with the most healing and wonderful power every unleashed on Earth. This pure gift comes through the wounds that God suffered for our sake to transform not only the way we live, but the whole world in which we move and have our being. It is the most real thing in all space time and space, the single still point around which the world turns - for what God has done stands above all the threatening exigencies that oppose what is good and true about humanity, and on this ground, we find the freedom to stand and to move forward, to finally fully become what we are meant to be.

The Eucharist shows us how great is the mystery of Christian piety.  This devotion to God and to our neighbor is given to us when we gather for the Mass and lift up our hearts before the Living God. What makes life worth living is knowing the truth and falling in love. Through this Sacrament we know that God has fallen in love with humanity and He unveils, by real true Presence, the truth that we need for life. Not merely a symbol to placate our psyche, but a truly personal presence that engages the reality of our whole being and implicates us in the very truth about our own existence, the existence of our neighbors, and the existence of all that is.

This Sacred Banquet is the only food that can address the spiritual malnutrition that afflicts the hearts of men and women of our time.  This Body and Blood is the only real answer to injustice - not only in our communities but in our hearts. Those who welcome the Risen Presence not only find the courage to ask for forgiven, but are given true strength to forgive. Starving for truth those deprived of this food may rage or despair, but they are not free to live. Thwarted by death and goading against it, they need this medicine of immortality if love might reign anew in their hearts.  No matter how much we demand that our dignity be recognized, without this antidote for death, nothing else can restore our integrity and make us just. Yet, those who will humbly seek and ask can freely receive that which is no less than a pledge of future glory. 

June 12, 2020

In Memory of John Mathias

Recently, I attended a funeral service for my nephew John Mathias. He was one of the victims, not of the corona virus, but of shelter-in-place. I would prefer not to see him that way … for he is much more than this, and yet his blood cries out. Thus, I must write this difficult overflow of heart.

Like many who suffered addictions, public policy held avid disregard for his safety.  Apparently, he could not take it, sought an escape, and accidently overdosed on the street’s latest dark toxins. I loved my nephew and I am saddened, not only for him, but for all the other young people our public policy has precipitated grave and irreparable harm.

Yes, the mystery of John’s own freedom is involved with this. And for that I can offer no excuse save that a terrible inner pain and anxiety afflicted him since his youth. As he entered his teenage years, drugs seemed to offer some sort of relief and he self-medicated.  At the same time, this same anxiety opened up for him the mystery of faith and his parents witnessed to him with a tender and patient love. It is true that during the shelter-in-place, he re-established a connection with them. As a young adult, he opened up about his struggles and they saw the beautiful kindhearted man that was beginning to emerge. Yet the Bay Area is not a merciful place for those who struggle with addictions. He had recently got a job and some money when the police found his corpse at a lonely bus-stop somewhere in Santa Clara.

One of the ways current policy contributed to his death was it took away a safety net, something his humanity needed just as much as breath. That safety net was his community of faith.  Truth be told, he assisted his mother in looking in on other members of their church – she brought food and company to those who found shelter-in-place too much, and with silent friendliness, he stood beside her. So, he was not utterly deprived. Still though, and not only for him but for others who suffered as did he, besides these beautiful acts of mercy, he and his family were unable to gather with their faith community to worship together. This took a toll.

Against those who assert that gathering for public worship is a non-essential activity, we see even now in our own society that people perish without it. Embodied spiritual and communal worship – people actually gathered physically in a sacred space – is the very life breath of the soul. Rob a man of this, and you risk robbing him of any reason to live and he either collapses into despair or rises up in rage, most of the time without knowing exactly why. Yet we are too compliant with a suffocating secularism: if we want our spirits to breathe, we must have courage to protect the rightful place of faith in our hearts, homes and communities. Sadly, our public policy did not adequately take into account this important truth – and many have died, though their deaths go largely ignored.

For months we were told that we could not exercise our right to gather to worship — and out of civil obedience we gave up those rites most sacred to hearth and home. Our religious leaders asked us to make this painful sacrifice out of love for our brothers and sisters in our community.  And so we did in a spirit of obedience and true concern. Did it even cross our minds for a moment that our failures to gather in prayer might sow seeds that could bear the fruit of social rage or alienated despair? No.  We failed to question the experts who made us think that worshipping God was but reckless endangerment. Now I ask myself, was it not even more reckless not to gather with courage and stand before God for the sake of those who most needed His mercy? Thus, the very ground of our dignity, from which alone our rights come, is taken from under our feet and as a civilization, we are falling into a darkness with millstones of discord around our necks.

How do we make space in our lives for the Lord? John had a noble cynicism expressed in a wry knowing smile whenever I shared my faith with him. I should allow this to help me question that which I too readily accept. An amazingly perceptive man, he sensed that something was wrong, not only with his own heart, but the world itself. He could not articulate the lack of authenticity that frustrated him, but this frustration did not overcome the love he bore and tried to live by, even as he patiently listened to me and shared his heart. Wit and humor were his weapons and his gifts. All the same, his mischievous eyes betrayed insight into the inconsistencies of the stories that we tell ourselves and the ironies of a broken world, and he did not really want to go along with the meaninglessness of it all. He invited me to pray over him, and I wanted him to be healed or at least relieved from the inner pain that he bore. In a single moment, suspicion and surrender flashed on his face. He did not want to be taken in but he was open to meeting the One who would take him home. So we prayed and there were tears we shared together.

The questioning glance that John once gave me makes me wonder about my own authenticity and kindness as I indulge in judging my neighbor, even when that neighbor is a politician or expert. I ought to fear and tremble before the Lord who endures all the self-contradictions that I constantly explain away to myself. We make space for the Lord by facing the truth and renouncing social myths that stir up either unnecessary anxiety or righteous indignation.

What is it but an attack on the greatness of our piety when we sacrifice our young people as well as the most vulnerable on the altar of the latest social experiment?  There is no room for real religion here.  To secure a therapeutic utopia, only emotive vague religious sentiment managed before the glow of a computer monitor is tolerated. Perhaps, small sterile gatherings as well, but only if these assist in making us compliant cogs in the machinery of social progress. We dare not question this diminishing role of religion - for we should be shamed into silence. Yet, our young people and the vulnerable pay the price when we allow the promotion of any public policy that robs us of piety - that holy devotion to God and family that, when rooted in truth and true love, makes life worth living.

It is with holy devotion that we gathered as a family for John.  His mother discerned God’s mysterious plans and, believing in his mercy, commended her son to God, thankful that in the final months of his short life they had shared such a beautiful time together, even in the midst of difficult hardship.  Indeed, I believe in Jesus Christ because He alone safeguards those most deep down things that makes worthwhile this brief time we have to share one with the other. I believe that He never abandoned my nephew even as my nephew struggled to be faithful to him.

Only Christ’s Blood can save the truth about the human heart – and that truth is this: we are made for love and only when we truly fall in love do we finally begin to live. Faith in Christ is all about the redemption of this love and life for humanity. We need the freedom, physical space and fellowship that this faith demands – or the light of true love and life will be withheld from a whole generation in their darkest hour. Would that those who are struggling in darkness even now might have this light – for though the Light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it, we must never hide our lamps under a bushel basket when the world needs a city shining on a hill.

Religious leaders must needs make their voices heard in the public square. You have a competency that no scientist or health official could ever possess. If you do not speak, what is most vital is overlooked or rejected. Indeed, the deepest truths of human life are entrusted into your hands and you touch the very saving mysteries that the World most needs today. Those mysteries flow in the Blood of Jesus that you have been given for the sake of others and the world needs the truth that only that Blood can give.

John and I shared this Blood in that one mutual glance – and, I would like to think, somewhere deep in his heart he glimpsed Him who alone is our hope.  And our hope does not disappoint. I hope this memory might have consoled him in his final moments and even more, I hope at that lonely bus stop, the love of Christ that his parents shared with him might have baptized him with new life even as he breathed his last. At this point, what more can be said? My heart rests with the lifeless ashes of my nephew, and goes to his parents, and his brothers and sister, and my prayer is for those such as these who most need God now.