December 25, 2020

The Great New Beginning

The Christmas Mystery is humanity's great new beginning, the sure orientation point for all history and each one's life, the pathway out of social and personal chaos, and the threshold into such tender harmonies as heal hearts and unleash untapped potential. If by the envy of the devil an obstacle thwarted the holiness that men and women were meant to know together, the love of this newborn has changed everything, forging a way to even deeper communion.  If in weakness and ignorance we turned from confidence in the goodness of God under the power of a seductive enchantment, the trust that this Child places in us helps us find our way again on the solid ground of truth. If unmet needs and bitterness threaten to swallow all that is good and noble with despair, the vulnerability of this Babe unveils the Lord's undaunted hope in those He created in His Image and Likeness Boorishness is buried when Christ comes forth from the womb!  Nihilism's darkness is destroyed when the Word made flesh cries out in the night. The truth confronts deceit. A new harmony takes up all discordance. In a sudden crescendo the Cosmos has never heard before (faith comes by hearing), in the murmurs of a sleeping newborn, there rings out that new echo of the inexhaustible Mystery from which all things come. It is the great canticle of life and love, the unheard eternal anthem  drawing all things to their great purpose. Creatures are taken by the gravity of a mercy excessive beyond all imaginings and wonder fills this tired out world - this living death discovers new life, and cannot be the same again. By the birth of God in our human poverty, even when the Word as not yet learned to speak, such unfathomed divine riches flow at last into hearts broken enough to welcome Him!

December 13, 2020

That disturbing consolation that confirms identity and reveals mission

When the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, His greeting disturbed her and his explanation consoled her. Contemplative prayer unfolds in that polarity of divine disturbance and sacred comfort.  Whether disturbing or comforting, every encounter with the Holy One always communicates identity and purpose, the truth about oneself and the mission that God has in store.  The angel spoke his greeting and Mary was disturbed. The angel rushed to reassure her and unveiled God's eternal plan. In this disturbance and reassurance, Mary offered her generous obedience - the great "fiat" that opened wide the doors of humanity to the Redeemer.

Angelic beings are more powerful than space and time in this world. Their presence orients space and they do not travel through time as much as time travels through them.  When the angel appeared to Mary, the place had come into the angel's orientation so that he might be seen by her. The moment had rushed into his presence until she was ready to receive the greetings he bore her.  

His message was not his own, but from the Most High God. He had received it in the moment that he was created because in the moment, he was given freedom to choose to be its bearer.  He knew of the handmaid though she was not yet created because the Lord imparted His own knowledge of this virgin to him. And Gabriel loved her and all humanity with her - because he saw how much God cherished humanity in all its weakness and poverty. He contemplated her in God and discovered her to be in her very lowliness most highly favored.  To speak and appear to the lowly, one must allow lowliness to enter one's own being.  So it was the the mighty angel welcomed the lowliness of the time and space in which he would find the one he knew to be full of grace.  

When the unfolding of God's plan brought to completeness the movements of all creation, her eyes were open to this angelic presence - fierce, unworldly, and unsettling as it was.  He had waited for time to reach the fullness of this moment in him and, aware that our frailty cannot bear the unveiled glory of God, he poured out his heart with that tender gentleness that alone can offer those deep secrets that live in our existence. For there are truths about ourselves that we do not know and only someone who truly loves us can help us find the mission for which we were made.  The words of an angel lifted up that sacred, tender and transforming moment, a moment in which the moment of all new beginnings find their source!  Something new had been born in what disturbed and reassured the Virgin's heart and she found the freedom to magnify the Lord in a way the world had never known before.  

November 26, 2020

A Thanksgiving Reflection from a Monk of Mount Tabor

My father told me last night about his deep, deep sadness. He talked about all the things that he has lost in his life. He felt great despair and despondency Seeing his wife disappear and vanish before his eyes, only a shell of what she once was. He’s almost 98 now. 

I reminded him of something he taught me long ago. When he saw such great difficulty Ahead of him keeping His failing business afloat, he remembered the words of Dr. Schuyler who said “do not think of the things you have lost, but the things you have left And be grateful.” At that time in his life, he was ready to give up, but upon hearing these words he had hope which renewed his strength to persevere.

Today he’s setting another example - he’s still learning as we are.  He’s not one to quit, yet everything now is out of his control and he must trust. His short term memory though is not as it once was, but his long term memory is solid, and he recounts the losses internally - making each day another mark on the calendar with the same daily “routine” distractions that give an air of “peace.” It is as if the elephant is really not standing in the room in a house of glass where so many stones have been hurled. Later, I thought of Time, what vanities we fill it with when there is only a little left for Him. I looked for something that crosses the canyon of frivolity and is truth that endures beyond death. 

I looked for a Bible in his house and could find none. If only I could find just one... then he could flip the pages at least once a day, randomly place his finger on a page and verse and listen to whatever words are written there and allow them to mollify his heart. None on any shelf.... I kept searching and then hidden on a shelf in the back room, among family histories some novels and 200 year old books with missing and vermin eaten binding I found a Bible, opened it and found the name “ Andrea Hayward,” his mother.

His time is filled with distractions - daily movies mom watches (understanding little of the drama) the time he spends on the computer chatting with other lonely hearts he has never met, trying to “advise” everyone and fill an emptiness in his heart. Needing so much himself, his loneliness and loss cry silently within him.

Twenty minutes later, the movie favorite that he and his wife have watched together (at least 2-3 times a month over the last 10 years) ended. He recounted to me how he remembered the grim Nazi Brownshirts in Germany when he toured Europe with his family at age 15 in 1938. Three times, he told me last night,  he had hiked the exact trail taken by the VonTrapp family as they escaped the Nazis. 

Then he turned to me and told me a story, “I remember these words from long ago, “do not think of the things you have lost, but the things you have left And be grateful.”

And be grateful for even the losses, the suffering they cause serves a greater purpose. Contemplate the depths of God’s great desire to draw us close to Him and allow Him to fill our emptiness, a void only His spirit can fill if we ask Him to, a “fail-safe” He created within us. This Thanksgiving, cling fast to what endures: Love.

Happy Thanksgiving 🙏

A Monk at Holy Transfiguration Byzantine

Monastery in Ukiah, California.

November 22, 2020

The Great King's Shadow

Rages that terrible battle, in deep

darkness, deceit, disdain, Divine 

Obedience cries remain as

Rises undeterred the Shepherd's' Shadow 

whose splendor unseen 

Save under clouds of grace and glance as

Gains the dawn, this Day without End.

Though hard fought, costing 

cruel crown and cross, crushed

obedience, hell's cacophony is silenced by Word's

Weakness ablaze in Uncreated Fire

And still the Lamb's concealing shade covers 

Hidden hearts once dead, now 

Born again, this Day without End.

Who rules Day and Night in power

Perfected? O Prince of Peace, 

obedient praise of glory, worthy Lamb!  

You reign by faith's secret. That hope invincible 

unmasks scheme's smirk, causes crowns cast down, all under 

that Mighty Shadow once slain, 

Alive again, this Day without End.

November 15, 2020

Deep Down Mercy

Off the edge of inadequacy, into that void,
I searched for Him
Who would vindicate and rebuild
What I destroyed.
Into the deep, that step
sliding down ravines of misery, abyss
swallowing, flooding torrents of chaos, self
Vanishing under waves of euphoric delusion and
Dreams dashed dead on reality's rocks -
Such shell shocked emptiness, entombed
All else in that ache for Him.
Deeper still I traversed crawling
those pathways unknown to unaided eye
To chance upon, to stumble into, to discover
that wall, that rampart, that impenetrable frontier
that no evil passes beyond -
O Boundary in which misery meets its limits!
O Circumscribing Periphery of Hope!
In that glance of goodness, making all things new
Such splendors as evoke awe,
radiant harmonies through all troubles shining,
In that Sun rising where spews alive -
Currents from deeper down bottomlessness
No one knew moved with such un-vanquished force.

November 8, 2020

St. Elisabeth of the Trinity: that praise of glory

What glory this fiery creature bears 

In the bottom of that bottomless Abyss

A radiance, not her own, but in her radiant being!

She knows well that secret cellar

Where unseen the Furnace of Love humbly 

envelops and begins boldly her own loving flame:

Nature's unaided eye cannot see - nescivi! -

As she passes into such ineffable Solitude, 

Communion, Silence, Consuming, Consumed 

of deep buried Three-ness and overflowing One-ness 

Whose splendors evoke such praise!  

Those celestial canticles, unheard hymns

resonate on such delicately touched lyre strings  

with the Spirit incarnating, Father over-shadowing, enfleshed Light 

whose love rebuilds, saves, sanctifies 

What we destroyed.

But beckons she her friends with what wisdom 

Wading into those depths 

with fearless abandon

To sail, to plunge, to remain, to surrender  

With her, that prey, 

that communion of hearts, 

That praise of glory! 

(Thank you Kris McGregor and Discerning Hearts for providing a platform for St. Elisabeth of the Trinity's spiritual mission... And thank you for this beautiful video!)

November 2, 2020

The Heart of the Church

Much attention is rightfully rendered to the Head of the Church - Christ. But we need to ask, is the Head really the most important member of the Church? Indeed, the only devotion to "the Head" we have as Catholics is that "Sacred Head surrounded by crown of piercing thorns." What makes this devotion so beautiful is that the thorn-pierced Head suffered humiliation for no other reason than to keep the Heart of the Church above reproach. Christ sees His Bride as more important than life itself, and the Head oversees only that the Heart might thrive. The Heart, this gives life to the whole mystical Body - it is the place of encounter between God and man, the deep center from which spring all that is good and noble in holy humanity.  The Heart is the place of contemplation - where the love gaze of Christ is sketched into the very substance of humanity. It is the place from which alone acceptable sacrifice is offered to the Father. Every time we make the sign of the Cross, the heart is at its center as a reminder of this truth. Likewise, it is for the Heart that anyone who exercises authority as Head of the Church must act - or betray Him who bestowed the authority and power he has. For it was to make her holy and immaculate that Christ offered Himself on the Cross - and any power and authority he permits others to share must only serve this same purpose. For this reason, those great women mystics who help us hear the deep things of the heart of the Church may well be more worthwhile to heed than those who blather about their own  importance with reckless regard for why they have been granted such a treasure.  

October 25, 2020

Receiving the Word in Affliction and Joy

St. Paul calls believers of Thessalonica "imitators of the Lord" who received the Word in "affliction" and "the joy of the Holy Spirit."   To imitate is to repeat what another has done. When imitation is made of another out of love, it reveals a beautiful devotion.  So one friend imitates the virtues of another because he admires her, and a spouse reveals a deep devotion to her beloved when she attempts to make him feel the love that she has felt from him. Thus, does marriage reveal the Great Mystery.

In the case of the Bridegroom of the Church, He has loved us to the end. He who is Love Himself was hated for our sake. To rescue us from a world dying in its own lies and myths, He suffered the truth of God's love for us and dared to reveal it no matter the cost. With patience, His loving obedience bore away sin until death itself was overcome. How can a believer show his devotion to such a Lover other than to love Him in kind? 

This is what St. Paul praises when he singles out believers for receiving the Word in affliction. In welcoming the Word of the Father while they are under trial, they imitate the One whom they love. They suffer the Truth -- for no one can know the Truth until they suffer it in their own life, in the depths of their heart. Only to the degree that we suffer the truth in our hearts do we possess it. Those who believe in the Word suffer this Truth even as they make their way through the work-a-day world as a sign of contradiction - and thus, they too are hated even to the point of sharing in His salvific work.

Holy Spirit, who makes this imitation of Christ possible, gives them joy.  The Word connects present afflictions and the Gift of the Holy Spirit. The greater an affliction is born with love filled faith, the more completely the Word is received, and the greater that joy which the Holy Spirit produces in the heart. 

He who is the True Life permits us to undergo afflictions only so that we might turn to Him and welcome Him as the Beloved of the Father.  As we welcome this Life more deeply into the heart, this Word made flesh speaks with the power of the Holy Spirit and floods our innermost being with unexpected and inexhaustible riches. His Light shines into the most secret depths, and through the power of the Holy Spirit He fills with love abysses that we do not know are there. Indeed, only affliction can open up such depths to these life-giving riches - so did Christ Crucified suffer for us and so does this Risen Lord suffer with us, and so we never suffer alone. Here we find the secret of a joy that the Holy Spirit knows between the Father and the Son - and wherever the Word communicates His riches, the Fire of the Holy Spirit ignites our joy. 

October 18, 2020

The Pathway of Forgiveness

"Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.' 

What if the neighbor who I trust sins against me and robs me of the dignity that is due, am I still to love him? Such a neighbor has taken a hostile stand toward me and has become my enemy. Christ commands me to love my enemies, to be concerned over the plight of those who have betrayed me. How do we love an enemy? How do we forgive or forget an offense? Here, only the Cross of Christ opens the way and only the Holy Spirit can provide the compassion that makes such love possible.  Only those who suffer an enemy's hostility can know this most mysterious form of love. 

To forgive with love is a great challenge. Part of this forgiveness involves renunciation of all that is not worthy of one's own dignity - a certain putting to death of bitterness, resentment and harsh judgment. When someone has violated one's own dignity and stolen away the honor due to you, the temptation is to either cowardice or vindictiveness. To cave into either of these options sets one's own integrity at risk. By faith and through prayer, we can disavow these movements of heart no matter how often they assail us.  We can begin to do this long before the one who offended us asks for mercy: indeed, we might hope for their own sake that they do seek forgiveness, but we may never hear the words "please forgive me" or have the satisfaction of seeing their repentance over the humiliation that they have caused. Our peace must be rooted in a more firm hope. As we seek this firm hope, another unfamiliar pathway opens that no natural power of reason can know but that in all its inconvenience and discomfort, truth is found. 

Only faith sees the way forward - because by faith we know a love that is more powerful than sin. This includes not only the wrongs we have suffered at the hands of others but also the suffering we have caused others - even unto the passion of Christ Himself. Here, silence before our Crucified God is vital. Allowing His countenance to shine on us and taking in His gaze of love, a certain wisdom is given. Before His face, one does not find simple solutions that make a problem disappear, but only the next step to take. The small sure steps of love descend the abyss of misery to discover the ever deeper abyss of mercy.  When the Word of the Father descended this pathway into hell, He brought meaning into what was most meaningless about human existence. This pathway of truth into the wounds of life also discovers compassion and intercession for those who offend us. These are the treasures of the Heart of Christ, and they are ours if we dare to ask.  

To choose to love in the face of an offense, this is a secret form of mercy that God longs to share with us, a wisdom that is unfamiliar to this world.  Indeed, to forgive an offense makes space in the heart to receive the Lord's forgiveness. But whoever says that the Lord has forgiven them and still holds a grudge, his own bitterness has blocked the inflow of mercy that Christ desires him to know.  

October 4, 2020

Praying the Rosary to Free the Mass - Triumph Tour 2020

Click here to see the Rosary Offered at the John Paul II Center for Contemplative Culture at St. Patrick's Seminary and University on October 4, the Feast of St. Francis. We prayed for San Francisco, the City named after him, for California and for our Country.  At 5pm (Pacific Time), together with transitional deacons from Korea and Guam, I offered a rosary and chaplet of Divine Mercy as part of the Triumph Tour 2020, an effort of prayer and reparation. 

We prayed for those affected by COVID, including our President and First Lady, and for all those involved in medical care. We also prayed for all those affected by the wildfires across California, especially the safety of firefighters and first responders as well as those who have suffered losses.  We prayed for our political leaders, public health and safety officials and the police that they will have the wisdom that they need to keep our communities safe and the rights of individual citizens respected.  We prayed for all those who feel overwhelmed by the social turmoil and natural disasters of these difficult days, especially those for whom loneliness and anxiety are a particular burden.   

There is much to give thanks for including the efforts of the petition signers and demonstrators to which the Mayor responded and on September 29, 2020 announced a loosening of restrictions to match those issued by the State of California. In a press release, Archbishop Cordileone says: 

“I want to thank Mayor London Breed for recognizing that faith is essential.  As well, I want to thank the thousands of San Francisco Catholics and others who joined the processions, the more than 35,000 who signed the petition at, came to St. Mary Cathedral’s outdoor plaza to witness to our faith, wrote letters to the editor or op-eds, and who generally spoke up with one united voice under the banner: We are essential! Free the Mass! Respect for each other’s rights and compassion for each other’s needs are core San Francisco values.  God bless Mayor Breed for responding to her constituents’ call."  

At the time, the Benedict XVI Institute in collaboration with the Archdiocese of San Francisco is still concerned: 

"The state of California’s limit of no more than 100 people inside of a house of worship regardless of the size of the building remains unjust.  We want and we intend to worship God safely: with masks, social distancing, sanitation, ventilation, and other such safety protocols.  But we will not accept believers being treated more severely than other, comparable secular activities." 

Although the situation continues to improve, returning to prayer and devotion to the Lord is vital for the future of California and the United States.  Please pray for us.

September 27, 2020

Free the Mass

We must free the Mass because the sacred liturgy of the Catholic Church has been held hostage by incoherent and inconsistent governmental policies. Compared to stores, restaurants and airlines, places of worship are often treated differently. These policies, however incoherent in relation to actual public safety, align as are part of a worldwide erosion of religious freedom. Indeed, there is an irrational fear of faith in which religion is seen as a threat rather than an asset for a community.  The marginalization, dislocation and persecution of religious people marks the times in which we live to the extent that this new callousness threatens the whole human ecosystem, a global climate of hearts goes cold. A government, no matter the nobility of its purpose, dehumanizes its population whenever it attempts to impede the exercise of this most basic right.  To free the Mass says to the world that the freedom for public worship is a basic right, a debt society owes its people because human dignity cannot have it any other way. 

Prayer is the most essential human activity and public worship as a people gathered together is a vital part of our social life. That is, when we pray together, something about the mystery of our shared humanity is set free and realized before God. Is it not true that our sense of solidarity with each other has ebbed away the longer common worship has been denied us?  Fractured and fragmented, only as we turn together and worship God will we also discover again the respect we owe one another. Until then, we are subject to the rantings of personalities so occupied with self-loathing shame that even a neighbor's kindness is regarded as a demeaning threat.

(As an aside, among those who see religion as an obstacle to social progress, I keep reading that history belongs to the victorious. No. It belongs to God. Because His presence is with us, it is never the politically, culturally or militarily powerful who determine history in the end, but always the brave and God fearing. Under the providence of God, those who are courageous in their faith define history even if against the cowardice of overwhelming mobs and abuse of governmental power. History is left to lesser men to write about, a project that measures their efforts against the greatness of what God has done. What cowards write is not history, but an exercise in magical thinking and self-justification. As for what is history and what is magical, good students know the difference.) 

The profound need to worship God is why history is filled with societies in which life is not so much about physical survival, but instead religious practices. Meaningful societies have always been formed for something more than producing and consuming, or securing and controlling material goods - as if the most noble truths of humanity are advanced through merely profane efforts or self-interest. Instead, a great society allows religious people to foster a sense of life beyond health, wealth and self. These are blessings for which to give thanks, but they are not meaningful enough to bind long a society of hearts. 

We need to go to Church and worship God as a people - the salvation of the whole world depends on it. Every true culture is always built around sacred space, a place of prayer and reverence, where a soul discovers awe before the majesty of God and the gift of life. The Church realizes this as the mystical body of Christ - at once on earth amidst the world of men and in heaven before the Father. The work-a-day world of a great civilization is interrupted by the frequent observance of sacred festivals where the affairs of man are subordinated to the things of God. For Catholics, this happens weekly on the Day of the Lord and the Mass is the source and summit of this solemn day of joy. Not for sentimental and nostalgic moments, not to find an escape from the travails of existence, but to work in union with God to bring sacred order and holy purpose into the chaos out of which creation issues forth, to find together that freedom from all that would compromise dignity and integrity, to stand as one before the gates of death with certain hope, and to offer in a single solidarity the praise of glory unseen yet shining forth in this short life we share together


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


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