May 2, 2021

Things Worth Dying For

Dying is a difficult fight.  Archbishop Charles Chaput sheds light on this struggle in his book, Things Worth Dying For.  What makes dying more difficult in our own days is that we live in a culture of
death.  This culture does not know the value of life and the civilization that it leads to lacks love. This is unmasked when we face our own mortality, when we are seized by the awareness that our time in this life is very short. 

When we realize that death is near, something deeper in us kicks in and we want to fight for life. This is not always the effort to live longer. It is a struggle for meaning and our integrity. For death confronts us with meaninglessness and disintegration.  It alienates our bodies from its generative power, our souls from our bodies, and our life from this world. We find ourselves haunted by memories that we have not yet dealt with and we feel the need to confront these -- to find the truth, to find meaning, to find mercy.

Sometimes, as a man dies, there are voices that try to shame him because he fights for life. Not only in the inner circle, these voices echo among the culturally powerful that are themselves afraid of death. Yet, faith unleashes a different power, one that confounds and consoles at once. The Word of God is not silenced by any cacophony of fear, shame, and anger. His Mercy is forever. 

In the majesty of His splendor, the Most High is not unconcerned about the trials faced by the dying. He knows the alone-ness of death, its terrible tedium. He knows that it takes courage to die well - for both the person dying as well for the family and friends who support him. If he who dies is haunted by memories, questions and disappointments, a man's death is still the most supreme moment of his life, his final offering to God. God waits for us to surrender the puzzles of our heart and He can make sense out of them all. The gift of faith, no matter how frail it may be, is enough to make this offering right and just, acceptable to the Lord.

The Lord has destroyed death by death, and at one's own death, the Fire of the Holy Spirit burns the brighter as we cling to the Lord by faith.  The Lord never abandons those who call to Him in this final battle. He rages with them against death and gives a love that is stronger than death.  This Bridegroom does not neglect the Bride for whom He laid down His Life. If shepherds abandon the sheep, this Shepherd stands firm. The Son of the Father has taken up our cause and the Fire of the Holy Spirit burns bright in this terrible darkness because the Holy Trinity His implicated Himself in our plight. 

April 25, 2021

How Shall I Repay the Goodness of the Lord?

Do not be afraid. Hell is angry because Christ is risen from the dead and has destroyed death by death.  When Satan can no longer vent against us, he vents himself against those we most love. For all of this, do not think that the Lord is indifferent — this is a great mercy, for HE is leading those we love into truth about about the world, the meaning of life and the mercy of God. So we go forward on the pathway of life sent by the Risen Lord. We do not go alone. And you, with your great love and fire tried faith, are the instrument by which the Holy Spirit will make your friends strong and invincible to evil.

Great is the mystery of our religion - more powerful than sin and death! In Psalm 116, we find a prayer offered by a soul entangled by death and who realizes that everyone suffers from a lack of integrity. In the face of all this evil, this soul sees the salvation of the Lord and gives thanks, "How can I repay the Lord for his goodness to me?" Such is the greatness of our faith - we can see past evil and death, and believe in the salvation that God's love is working out in our lives even when it seems most impossible. 

The Lord has permitted your afflictions for reasons that we cannot understand on this side of heaven.  Many young adults have similar struggles, and these are all especially augmented by the COVID policies of shelter in place. For many reasons, this present generation suffers from an excess of technology - and as a whole, our culture has come to worship the works of its hands, the machines that we give dominion over us. In exchange to the homage we pay to our technology (personal communication, medical, transportation), these machines have provided illusions of power and control - fantasies about life and about oneself.  These fantasies might distract us for a while but they do not offer firm enough ground for the weight of human existence.  The current crisis makes this known.  

Because of imprudent policies and political games, a certain darkness has settled over our lives. Social enmity seems to have sway over our interpretation of our neighbor's actions. We swell with righteous indignation and justify to ourselves the condemnatory spirit and social fear that we indulge. We judge one another with a certain harshness and find it difficult to be gracious and forgiving. This lack of mercy effects the next generation in ways that we do not understand. 

Cut off from friends and their old way of life, deep down pain that our young people were trying to avoid now surfaces. The illusions of life have been taken away and self-delusions about one's own purpose have been lifted. The intoxications of boorish entertainment and selfish indulgence are sobered. Now the terrible nakedness and awareness of deep pain emerges — and by ourselves, we cannot know how to deal with this. Not only our psychology and body, but even the deepest recesses of our hearts are at risk. This is why during COVID and shelter in place, there is so much abuse, depression, anxiety, and addiction because their is also so much un-dealt with sin, guilt and shame. Sometimes, there is even temptations to self-destruction and for some, they lose confidence that there is relief from these torments. Here, the evil one is also at work — testing us and our peers, angrily sifting us like wheat, prowling like a lion ready to devour us. We are, as prays the psalmist, entangled in death -- but we are not alone or without hope.

How is it that the psalmist gives thanks to the Living God even in the midst of affliction? It is because he knows that darkness and trials, even those that cause extreme anxiety, do not get the last word about humanity as a whole or his own life specifically. There is a deeper purpose that no evil can vanquish - something about who and what we are that is precious in the eyes of the Almighty.  Indeed, the Savior of the World in his faithfulness has not allowed what is most true about sacred humanity to perish. We are more than conquerors in Christ Jesus. He is risen from the dead and no human or diabolic power can outlast His Mercy.  No machine or artificial intelligence can anticipate the glory by which He makes all things new. He raises up. He raises the weary. He raises the sick. He even raises the dead. Who can stop Him? Thus, we have a reason for our hope even in the midst of the present darkness.  

We must learn to listen to our neighbor with faith. We must not be afraid to enter into the heart of another with the hope that Christ has given us. If we do this carefully, the Word of God will allow us to listen a soul into existence. This is especially true of the young people that the Lord places in our path as we journey where the Risen One sends us. In the midst of the storms that we meet them, we need to give these fellow pilgrims a safe-place to vent and to unburden the terrible evils that weigh down their hearts. They need to know that no matter what they suffer, the Lord has never abandoned them and is always waiting for them, anxious that they should feel so alone, and longing to share His heart with them. If we do this carefully, respecting the gift of freedom that is itself a reflection of their image and likeness to God, a soul can find ground to stand on, to rise up, to step forward. Our faith becomes a cup of water, a gesture of hospitality to a weary fellow pilgrim. Together, no matter the darkness or trial, we come so see the light and salvation of the Lord. 

April 18, 2021

Islands of Humanity and a Kneeling Theology - Refuge Against Therapeutic Technocracy

A kneeling theology, that is a theology rooted in prayer, is vital to the renewal of the priesthood and the Church. What it requires is a deeper dedication to the renewal of our minds. Specifically, this dedication is marked by a renewed pastoral concern over the plight of our contemporaries as well as a greater openness to the ongoing conversation with God to which each is called. Such theology can become a vibrant expression of our devotion to the Lord and a conforming of our intelligence to His saving mission in the world.

Conventions once supported theological approaches that were without regard to prayer or pastoral charity.  We no longer have this “luxury.” The Christendom of Western Civilization is shipwreck in a storm of secularism. We have allowed technology to suck life out of our souls. For all our social networking, we are extremely lonely and disconnected from one another. Such loneliness inevitable takes hold when men worship the work of their hands – and, indeed, technology, especially medical technology, is raised up as the new god. If we view physical disease as the greatest threat to humanity and believe that medical technology is the only thing that saves us from this evil, we are already worshipping at a false altar. When falsehood alienates us, loneliness crushes us.  

This alienation has also affected the Church spurring destructive sectarianism and a certain coldness toward one another, especially the most distressed. Instead of hope and courage, a spirit of accusation and complaint grips our hearts. Instead of loving the shepherds that Christ has given us, we allow our hearts to be turned against them. The faithful feel abandoned and alone, but polemics that stir up anger do not address the crushing loneliness that pierces the Heart of Christ.  To overcome this dehumanizing loneliness, the resources of the Church must be dedicated to building safe-havens, islands of humanity in which believers can support one another in witnessing to the Risen Lord. It is to this great task, that of building islands of humanity, that a kneeling theology contributes. 

Hans Urs von Balthasar understood this and tried to build a community of those who would consecrate themselves to being just such an island. He did this believing that even if last vestiges of Christian culture have passed away in our post-modern society, our Christian faith has not. His example, and the example of his community remind us of the love of the Risen Lord at work in the world when we most need this reminder. The love of Christ compels us to holy friendship and mutual concern even as a growing technocracy threatens religious freedom and makes absolute claims over every social interaction. 

We have come to believe, if it can be done, we must do it, because whatever we can do (in the name of science, public health or a political agenda) must be good. But our hearts know better.  We are deluded into believing that what divides us can be overcome by manipulating how we communicate. We have seen how a fluidity in meaning and narcissism coincide.  Deep down we know that it is not a lack of technology or science that divides us. We live with the gnawing realization that we are divided one from the other not because of failures how we relate but because of failures in being human. Humanity has never had such great power to relate, but it has never been so far from itself, and the more we entertain ourselves with information, the more this self-alienation haunts us.   

This is because the technology that we adore is about doing, not about being. We "do" the therapeutic even at the cost of being human, because "doing" does not require surrender to the mystery of God or the mystery of being human. It gives a sense of control - and we feel out of control, so we grasp for our masks and feign disgust when our neighbor dares show his face.  

Technology is a kind of knowledge living at only the periphery of human existence. It is a decorated face mask. It might ape the things of the heart, but it can never replace the encounter that happens when heart speaks to heart - and so without the heart, the techno-therapeutic only frustrates the meaningful communion we are meant to know with one another.  

Islands of humanity must be built.  If we are shamed into paying compliant homage to the latest politically expedient fashion, we also feel convicted by the truth that life must have a deeper purpose. This is the voice of God that prayer knows, and it is the task of theology to help souls listen to Him. 

Conflicting cacophonies of woke and racist, progressive and conservative, left and right, oppressed and oppressing, haves and have-nots (and each heart knows all of this more or less because sin can only divide) must not be allowed to silence the Gospel of Christ in our hearts or in the public square. But by the words of a preacher and the power of the Holy Spirit, every political and cultural tyrant will bend the knee to the self-emptied, humbled, and crucified humanity of God. Just as has been true in every age, to do more than merely survive, indeed, to thrive people need to hear those echoes of the eternal sanctus in times such as these as well - with physical, flesh and blood, contact with the Holy One and His Mystical Body.  

Amidst all social tension, anxiety, and distrust, the love of Christ compels us to find a way to bring a word of hope to those who ask. True prayer is not indifferent to this plight. Real theology does not ignore the needs of our neighbors.  Prayerful study, love inflamed reason, a kneeling theology guides the Christian mind to address this crisis in compelling ways.  It is about living with power over sin rather than under the power of sin. It is about sin born away and sin's matter transformed by mercy into the matter of eternal life.  It is about daring to enter into the sanctuary of the heart and allowing it to be set ablaze with the love of God. No disease, no mask, no technology, no ideology can cage such freedom and the fellowship that this builds is far greater than wreckage left by the weapons, polemics, or political power plays. 

Prayer and adoration of God is the starting place for welcoming the love that alone answers the great problems of our time. Beyond the power of technology, St. Teresa of Jesus calls this a conversation with God and His personal presence. Beyond our own doing and industry, St. John of the Cross describes a Living Flame and the unvanquished coming of the Bridegroom.  Beyond what we can grasp, St. Augustine describes this as coming from some place deeper the innermost depths of human existence and surpassing its greatest heights. Beyond every argument, St. Thomas Aquinas teaches the relationship of theological wisdom of study and the mystical wisdom of prayer. The call to this kind of kneeling theology means to pursue theological formation that is born in this wisdom, leads to it and is animated by it - for this wisdom beyond builds islands of humanity on whose shores the sacred truth of our existence is protected and made known.

April 12, 2021

Our Lady of the Night

In the earliest hours, when the world

Yet asleep from restless wonderings

Cease I, and keep a vigil

In faith's terrible darkness singing 

With the Lady of the Night.

Here, I discover how her serene silence soothes 

tenderly lonely, tormented

souls, even in death's grip,

For faith's shadow knows

such love from dark night's Lady.

The Cross of racing cars and empty 

street, met in sober homecoming, sudden struck

Absent father, wounded son, my difficult brother, sin now born away

On faith's lightening, as flash and flow those tears 

Of the Mother gently given us by her dying Light.

The Cross of cloaked asphalt, cement, 

hidden bus stop, when no-one knew

that disconnected goodly child self-poisoned

In her arms at rest as did her own Son

Save that Woman who gazes by faith's glory.

We place such large stones in the holes we dig

For ourselves, for those we love 

While faith weeps, aching for the lost

In the arms, we rest, as did her own Son,

Of that Daughter whose glory sees hope.

Rising, before first light, a dawning New Day, 

In each one's garden, a throw from that Cross, from

Every Cross, wounded Hands roll away that large stone,

While in upper room, in each one's plight, prays

That good Lady, the Gardner's Mother, ours in the night.

April 2, 2021

Under the Branches of Wood Flesh Fastened

Flesh fastened branches breathe Mysterious Wind

Carrying enfleshed silences of a divine cry 

whose wordless harmonies, above deepest waters,

echo with terrifying meanings, 

a fastness against which shores shatters even death, until

Life's dying drinks down dregs unfathomed, 

Bearing away burdens never meant to be carried, 

Buried. That primal Ache at last unveiled, a Threeness and Oneness 

Given for love and by love received.

Hidden hells, of anxiety sheltered prisons - 

Fragmented points of consciousness peering over masks, 

Windows into bags of bones rattling infertile, alienated,  

Frustrated discontent drowning in distraction, a gnashing 

Suddenly stilled by the piercing silence of a dying God. 

Poured out into every frailty, He descends 

Where no one dares, into unbearable 

Ordeals on which the weight of existence

Crushes what love for life one thought one knew. 

There, a "close by" Threeness and Oneness "ever near"

Given for love and by love received,

Reaches out to grasp that hand who, pushed beyond every limit,

Can grasp no more: "Awake, Oh Sleeper! Rise from the Dead." 

Bathed in shadows of Beauty's terror, sorrow, joy

Thirst for righteousness so seized drinks in how, 

From the very fruit of paradise lost, the Vine 

Makes this crushed commingling of grapes:

Every grape of each branch itself a moment 

Ripening under the excessive presence of the One 

Who overflows in time what Eternity foreknew and has already given. 

From such fastened flesh flows forth floods ever new,

Given for love and by love received,

And that mystic wine now is given deep within a soul's secret cellar. 

O Blood and Water! Humanity's crushed fruit surging with Divine Mercy, 

Wash water become wine best, fountain of life dug deeper than misery,

Fermented in trial, aged by pain, poured out free, 

Gush forth again for those you have entrusted 

With such great purpose in times such as these.

O fruitful flesh fastened Tree of Life! You have become the banner, the rallying point, 

That standard by which faith measures 

The gravity of each heart beat, every breath 

Between heavenly and earthly cares, self and neighbor, suspended.

Under this shadow, hidden in sacred secret,

One clings to hope's substance amidst the grip of peril.

O Sober Inebriation! In your Threeness and Oneness, 

Forge us now in such solidarity of hearts as would 

Dare beyond this present sunset with love's unvanquished courage.

March 14, 2021

The Breastplate of St. Patrick 2021

The Deer's Song or the Breastplate of St. Patrick is a battle cry. It stands the ground claimed by the Apostle's Creed. Every line boldly resounds with the Gospel. The prayer is rooted in mission. Its words resound with the sense that God Himself has called us forward and sent us with sacred purpose. We do not go alone into the world, but in Christ, following Him, supported by Him, filled with Him. The prayer helps us step forward with courage because not even death can stop the Lord. 

All that can be seen in the visible world is a faint echo of those greater glories eye cannot see, and that unseen glory is not indifferent to the plight of creation. The Incarnation of the Word has unleashed powers beyond the control of the world of men, and in the face of evil, noble humanity is given unvanquished hope by Christ's passion and death. No conjured force or malevolent spirit can stand before this dawning radiance of the Trinity and this prayer unveils the new rising of this fresh brightness even in our own day.

The Breastplate begins with a call to rise up, to stand and to bind. This pledge of allegiance rallies courage in the face of death.  Such prayer does not back down in fear or anxiety.  It is not bogged down with vitriol or finger pointing. Because of Christ's faithfulness to all of humanity, the prayer reminds us that we must not allow anything or anyone to distract or discourage us from going to where He leads - for He is with us to the end. 

This is a prayer of pilgrimage, of journey, of the setting of one's chin, of not looking back, of mission from God. One girds, one clads, one arrays oneself with strength and power for the fight. God Himself has given us the power of the Holy Spirit. A spirit of fortitude springs in the heart from Him who conquered death. Through Him who created heaven and earth, all the wonders of creation rise to the defense of those who stand with God. 

This prayer is also a prayer of humility and solidarity. Solidarity with God and with creation. All manner of creatures are referred to and their multiplicity opens to a contemplation of humanity's image and likeness to God. We are meant for union with Him not despite the world or by surmounting it - but in it. All that is good, holy and true about the world has a place in the human heart and in our relationship with God. As we are faithful to the mission that God gives us, all of His wonderful works are sanctified and caught up in His saving action that He accomplished through us.

It is said that St. Patrick offered this prayer with his brethren as they walked into an ambush. Ambush should never take the believer by surprise. Traps, plotting, snares are always set against the love of God. The Word of the Father makes all things new and this newness constantly upends the old ways. Those who are set in their ways will always attempt to prevent this new beginning.

False religion always limits the freedom and dignity of the heart. It even results to manipulation, intimidation and the conjuring of malevolent forces. Such a culture of slavery and oppression unravels social fabric until all that is wholesome and true is lost.  Christianity stands by the love of God and this love has never peacefully co-existed with such deceit and evil. 

St. Patrick's preaching dispelled these structures of death because it appealed to the truth about God and holy humanity. As the Irish began to renounce paganism and believe the Gospel, those who relied on the old fashionable myths for their place and power schemed how to protect themselves. Social standing, privilege, wealth, cultural influence were all at stake. Those who used these things for their own benefit became convinced that the holy truth of God's love had to be suppressed at any cost. Such hatred of the Word of the Father hatched the plot against St. Patrick.

His enemies were prepared to kill him and his comrades. St. Patrick's response was to continue his mission undeterred and the Lorica or Breastplate was born in this holy determination. He taught this prayer to those who assisted him in the ministry. As they prayed together, their would be assailants could not see them - an unseen glory cloaked them from the plots of men.  Indeed, all that the powerful and cunning saw was a few deer walking across a meadow. They were confounded. The prayer became known as the Deer's Song

If true, the story is not surprising. There are many accounts of missionaries being delivered in miraculous ways.  Those who cling to the status quo and fear losing their power will always attempt to stand in the way of Christ.  But a new power that evil cannot overcome is unleashed - the same Power that holds together Creation is poured out for the salvation of those who will cry out to Christ.

Over thirty years ago,  my spiritual director gave me a small part of this prayer. Since then, the Lorica is a frequent part of my daily prayer. In a special way, I ask you to pray this Deer's Song in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Ireland, England and France - all places that were part of St. Patrick's pilgrimage of faith -- for their safety and protection during these days of great trial.The Gospel offers the truth about humanity and our place before God. This truth is the only firm ground that can bear the weight of human existence, and when men and women are able to rise up and stand together, a beautiful and great civilization can be built - a civilization of love and culture of life.

Now, I stand clad for battle in
That Mighty Power
of the Name of the Trinity:
Believing in the Three-ness,
Holding fast the One-ness
Creator of Heaven and Earth.

This day I array myself with
The power of Christ’s Birth and Baptism;
The power of his Crucifixion and Burial;
The power of His Resurrection and Ascension;
The Power of His coming to Judge on judgment day.

I go forth today
By virtue of the Seraphim’s devotion,
By angels’ obedience,
By resurrection’s hope unto reward,
By Patriarchs’ prayers
By Prophets’ word of power,
By Apostles’ preaching
By Confessors’ faith,
By Holy Virgins’ purity,
By righteous men’s deeds.

I gird myself this day
With heaven’s might,
With sun’s light,
With moon’s shine,
With fire’s glow,
With lightning flash,
With wind swift,
With sea deep, 
With earth firm,
With rock hard.

Today, I rise up with 

God's Power guiding me,
God's Might upholding me,
God's Wisdom teaching me,
God's Eye watching over me,
God's Ear hearing me,
God's Word giving me speech,
God's Hand guiding me,
God's Way stretching before me,
God's Shield sheltering me,
God's terrible Army protecting me,
Against demon’s snares
Against vicious seductions
Against nature’s lusts
Against everyone who meditates injury to me,
Whether far or near,
Whether few or many.

I invoke all these powers, now
Against every hostile merciless force
Which may assail my body and my soul,
Against the false seer’s enchantments,
Against paganism’s dark laws,
Against heresy’s false standards,
Against idolatry’s deceits,
Against spells of witches, and smiths, and druids,
Against every knowledge that binds the soul of man.

Christ, protect me now
Against every poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against death-wound,
That I may receive abundant reward.

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ within me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ at my right,
Christ at my left,
Christ keeping the defense,
Christ setting the course,
Christ giving the orders,
Christ in every heart that thinks of me,
Christ in every mouth that speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

Today I bind unto myself Mighty Power, 
The Name of the Trinity:
Believing in the Threeness,
Holding fast the Oneness
Of the Creator of all the heavens and the earth.

Dominus est salus, Domini est salus, Christi est salus;
Salus tua, Domine, sit semper nobiscum.

March 7, 2021

The Glory of God and the Deep Waters of Life

Deep waters tell the glory of God.  That is, just as when we approach these waters recklessly and face peril, so too those who approach the glory of God are in peril if they do not respect His Word. Deep waters are a reflection of this truth.  This is true of the visible waters of the world but also the invisible, spiritual waters of our lives. Water that can be the source of life can also kill. The glory of God is meant to be the life of man, but without the reverence and awe that is its due, this same glory can become one's eternal peril. 

The glory of God is the living man. This means, that before the glory of God there is space for the sphere of one's integrity. Obedience to the Lord in love creates this space so that the unrepeatable uniqueness that God has willed into the world through this specific creature might thrive. Disobedience makes one's uniqueness subject to the deep waters of life, and puts at risk a great good meant to be a blessing for the world.  

Water is integral to a garden paradise. As it is in a garden, so it is in all of creation, and, thus, for every soul.  Each life requires an ordered space to protect the sphere of its integrity. Too much or too little water is destructive. What physical water is for the visible world, the presence of God is for the spiritual world. That is why God both gives and hides his life giving mystery - He gives us life and wills us into existence out of love, and he also makes space for each of us to exist with our own freedom by keeping the immensity of His presence secret. This divine secrecy allows our own freedom to unfold until we learn to seek God. 

Part of this divine secret is not only God's presence but also the painful exigencies in which He allows Himself to be hidden. Such exigencies are also "deep water." Just as is true with all else in human existence, these difficult ambiguities of life are part of the divine plan but as we are swept away by these waters, we also confront the seeming absence of God, His hidden presence. 

His hidden presence is revealed to us by His Word and His Word speaks into the dangerous waters of life from the Cross.  God desires we sanctify these waters by discerning how to obey His Word in midst of them. As we discern the most appropriate way to respond to God in the ambiguities of life, God acts to protect our integrity and hold together our dignity. By the frail obedience of faith, God makes something un-repeatably beautiful within the human person. The interiority or heart becomes a garden where God walks, where He rests. 

The Biblical Man respects the glory of the deep waters of life by obedience and dedication to the Word so that the Lord can cultivate the garden of his heart. Water first appears in Genesis as part of a primordial chaos in which there is no room or order for life. Some would see this analogous to the power of sin and darkness. Indeed, the waters of the Great Deluge would seem to unveil this truth. It is true that every sin has the quality of disorder, an effort against the act of creation.  Sin is a movement against order and the integrity that life needs. Sin is a movement of disobedience against the harmony of love into chaos. Such disharmony destroys the noble and good things God would will grow in the heart. 

There is a difference between the chaos of sin and the primordial chaos described in Genesis, however. The Water over which the Spirit of the Lord whispered was not disobedient but had itself been summoned into existence by the Word of the Father.  When God commanded, this primordial water obeyed. Out of this obedience, God was able to freely order a world in which life might thrive and His glory be revealed.

Deep waters also reveal God's glory in the face of sin. Every act of sin may be an attempt, conscious or not, to return to primal disorder. That attempt goes against the very fabric of God's handiwork -- for in the beginning, the world came into existence under the power of the Holy Spirit in obedience to the Word.  Those who act against the primordial obedience of the waters of creation plunge themselves into forces that destroy their efforts.  The plight of humanity is that we have made ourselves subject to these waters by our sins and therefore have brought doom upon ourselves. God, however, was not satisfied with leaving us to our fate. He who made the deep waters of life, all those tragic failures, evils and injustices that overwhelm us, has entered into them to rescue us from death. 

There is a love that deep waters cannot quench and that death cannot overcome. Why would the Almighty create something outside of Himself, beyond His own eternal thoughts? Why would He communicate an existence apart from His own to that which He ponders when He ponders us? There is a truth, a secret that we do not know, but He knows it, even as He plunged into the flood waters to find us.  He generously willed it so. Creation exists because from the beginning God respected its integrity and, out of pure love, gave space for it to be outside His eternal, limitless being. Out of an unfathomable love, the Trinity hid His Glory so that the world might exist to magnify and reflect His Glory in its own wonderful way. Now, He enters into this world that is totally other than Himself. He even enters its hostility towards Him and accepts being despised and rejected, if only to find us.  It is this unvanquished love that is revealed on the Cross.

O Love who is not loved! Love who knows no limit desires out of sheer limitless goodness that we who are other than Him (and therefore limited) should exist. That is why, even as you read this, we exist in our own limited way - for Love delights that we should be so. Thus, though other than Him, we exist in the image and likeness of Love Himself. At the same time, Love wants so much more for us. We love Him when we allow Him to bring to completion the love that He desires for us. Love Himself knows something about us that we do not know - the truth about the Love in whose image and likeness we are made. This mystery that we are meant to become thrills His heart and for it, Love has given everything in order that it might come to pass.

God suffers the deep waters of life to exist out of great love and for the sake of love. Love does not need the these waters but is glad that the world with its deep waters should be. Sheer gratuitous goodness is behind these waters.  This same loving gratuitousness is behind humanity, even sinful humanity. Though we sin, we would not have the freedom to rebel against Love if Love, on a more fundamental level, did not contemplate that it is better for us to be than not to be. So He enters the garden of our hearts and offers His life on the barren tree that we erect for Him. Love knows the truth about us and has died for that truth that we might live. Thus, though we rebel against Him who is Goodness itself, He has chosen to love us all the more, and tenderly implicating Himself in our plight. 

February 28, 2021

Christian Formation

Today, in discerning how to address formation for ministry, the Church states its concerns over human formation. True formation requires the addressing of three dimensions of our human experience: 1) Conversion from sin; 2) Accepting and dealing with reality; and 3) Choosing the totality of what Christ has revealed a complete surrender of one's whole existence to Him. Only the Crucified One reveals sin and makes conversion possible. The Risen Lord is the One who teaches us how to accept and deal with the reality of the world and ourselves. We are able to be formed and to offer this formation in true hope because He has given Himself to us and we truly possess Him - not as an abstract idea, but in a personal and intimate way. Indeed, He is more present to us than we are to ourselves. Human formation is about the art of giving the gift of ourselves in love. 

Such a gift is not about being a cog in the wheel for a corporation. It goes beyond the conventions of a professional culture where, under the guise of polite smiles, cruelty is promoted. It is not about the indulgence of frenetic activity to gain the approval of others, no matter how successful or impressive or seemingly noble. Is not such activity simply the appropriation of others (who are really only known as a number, a statistic, a generalized idea, a means to an end) for my need to make a name for myself, to get on top, to be successful, to win control? 

Christ never gives us one more abstract, nameless customer to be satisfied, but always a living and breathing endpoint in eternity and icon of the Living God. A true gift of self in love demands not so much the self-exhaustive effort to meet expectations as much as going beyond all expectation to offer a moment of recognition, understanding and heart to heart solidarity. Here, one is not lost in activity but suddenly confronts the truth about oneself in seeing the truth about one's neighbor.

This kind of gift of self implicates our most noble thoughts and aspirations but also our deepest needs and desires - forcing us to deal with the totality of who we are before the truth that Christ unveils in my neighbor.  It is a crisis for my whole being that only true beauty evokes -- something deep in my conscience is awaken, A movement seizes my being the resolves to disavow any impulse to appropriate this Image of God who Christ has given to me. Instead, a new generosity compels me to give no thought to what might be lost but to be aflame for what my neighbor might gain no matter the cost.  

True love demands such vulnerability. It can be crucified and often is and because of this, knows many resurrections - for this love is stronger than death. Such love costs a soul all kinds of hardships, daily trials, renunciations and hidden sacrifices. It requires a patience that takes us to the terror of the Cross and ,at this threshold where misery and mercy meet, into that unchanging kindness that bears away evil. This terrible patience perseveres to the end - because no one has given himself completely until he has laid down his own life.    

February 21, 2021

Asceticism, Spiritual Exercises and Joy

Fourteen Rules for those Engaged in the Lenten Observance during this Pandemic

1. Open wide the doors of the heart to Christ: The Word is made flesh and dwells among us, and our faith in Him demands that we not only assent with our mind to believe in what He has revealed, but our faith compels us to live in union with Him in a manner worthy of our calling. This call takes up our whole existence, including our bodies and our chosen actions in the space and time. If our bodily actions are not filled with His life, our faith is dead.

2. Live a transformed life: Offering our bodies as a living sacrifice and spiritual worship must include periods of fasting and abstinence not only from food, drink and other bodily pleasures, but also from seeking praise, esteem, acknowledgement, and other spiritual escapes as well. This is because bodily discipline without spiritual discipline is too superficial to be of any value. 

3. Love, love love: Rending our hearts and not our garments must include an examination of not only this action or that, but also our whole manner of existence before the banner of love, that is the Cross of Christ.  

4. Pray without ceasing: In prayer, never fear to let the tears flow until gratitude springs for what He has done for us. Then, any act of love we offer will be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, no matter how secret it seems be. In fact, the more secret the spiritual sacrifice, the more powerful the Holy Spirit works.

5. Be vigilant: Only in so far as this thought or that desire conforms to the thoughts and desires of Christ Crucified should we sanction it and allow it to bear fruit in action. To conform our hearts and minds to His, ponder over His thoughts and desires, treasuring them in a great silence of heart, allowing these to captivate, to fascinate, to astonish. Jesus's Heart is filled with the most wonderful thoughts and desires for each one of us and all those whom He entrusts to us. He wants to share these with us.

6. Be generous distributors of God's grace: In addition to fasting, abstinence and prayer, one must also be generous to those in need. Be careful to examine what motivates even the effort to be generous. Clarity comes under the shadow of the Cross - for almsgiving is of little value if we give only to relieve our conscience but remain indifferent to the beggar. It is under the Cross that we learn to embrace the needy, that we discover just how needy we are ourselves. We must seek out these ambassadors who the humiliated Christ has sent to us. We must pay them tribute until our hostility to the Lord and His Kingdom is surrendered.   

7. Renounce your very self: Self-occupation is the great obstacle to love and the Cross opens the pathway out of self-occupation. Any action, no matter how noble in appearance, that springs from thoughts, desires and imaginings with no connection to the Cross are not worthy of a disciple of Christ. A disciple is renounces to make room for love - the Cross provides the wisdom and strength for this love. 

8. Pick up your Cross: All actions, no matter how poorly they are esteemed by others, that spring from thoughts, desires and imaginings that flow from our devotion to our Crucified God give Him great delight. Picking up always in the form of a sacrifice, an obedient offering, something for the sake of love, difficult to bear, painful to let go, something that only love can do. The more love with which we pick up and embrace the Cross that He asks of us, the greater the delight of His Heart. 

9. Do not conform yourself to this age: During this time of pandemic and political conflict, the love revealed by the Risen Lord requires questioning all the judgments in our hearts, especially those influenced by our culture and the social mores of our time. We do not live by political ideologies or social agendas, but by faith - so guard against anything that competes with faith in the Risen Lord. This includes careful examination of our desire for comfort, convenience, and even our own instinct for self-preservation. 

10. Live a transformed Life: If courage gives us sovereignty over fear, it does not remove the feeling. Thus, we also must prayerfully confront fears in light of our responsibility to worship the Father through our faith in the Great High Priest.  This responsibility includes the readiness to put one's life and reputation on the line for those entrusted to our care, especially the most vulnerable and the most despised, for God has chosen to manifest Himself in them most of all. 

11. Renew your mind: Throughout all of these 40 Days, be faithful to those things that you have promised to the Lord in prayer - not only those things that you have renounced for His sake, but also those acts of kindness and patience that you have bound yourself to because of what He has done for you.  Such faithfulness makes space in your heart to receive blessings far beyond anything that one can ask or imagine - so immense His exceeding love for us. 

12. Let the joy of the Lord be your strength: On Sundays, if what you have sacrificed increases the joy of this wonderful day, then sacrifice it. If it does not, then do not.  The joy of the Lord must be your strength. 

13. Adore the Lord: The pathway to spiritual maturity is not afraid to seek those deeper silences poured out into the world through the Cross of Christ. The more mature the prayer, the more it becomes simple before God. Only the most simple and humble prayer is fully able to be still enough to hear the mysterious canticles that flow from the Word of the Father and make all things new. 

14. Be confident: This pathway to Golgotha is never tread alone. Armies of angels and saints march alongside of you. No matter the trial or the challenge, Christ has already won the victory and He shares with us the joy of the Father. He does so in every sorrow - for in his beauty a soul is overwhelmed by every noble sorrow and every joy all at once until it cannot contain itself. Once alive with such jubilation, no power on earth, or below, or above can ever separate us from Him. 


February 14, 2021

Human Love - the mirror meant to magnify the glory of God

Human love, with all its frailty and limitedness, has a great and sacred purpose.  It is a mirror for the glory of God. That glory would remain hidden and unseen but for the love of Adam and Eve, even in their fall and its aftermath.  It is precisely in the failures of human love that Divine Love reflects all the more - implicating Himself in the misery behind our blame games and mutual shame.  So it is that human love is sanctified and perfected when Mary and Joseph welcome the gift of God's love into their home - the the form of a helpless infant, the invincible power of Divine Love reverberates through human history and through the personal story of every love.

He has never taken our loves lightly because from before the foundation of the world, He pondered our hearts, knew our tragedies, and delighted at the possibility of our faith and hope.  Thus, He has chosen to accompany us, even as Adam and Eve were sent out of the garden, and always He is ready to make our broken efforts of love filled with life and truth.  Always, He is ready to heal and restore what we have destroyed. It is in the healing and reconciliation, the humility and courage, the forgiveness and being forgiven, the mutual prayers and decision for faithfulness that our love makes space for Him to be magnified in the world anew.

The reason that this is true pertains to the deepest truth of creation.  All of creation is the handiwork of God. Summoned into existence out of nothing for no other reason than the Lord willed it's goodness into being, each creature is an un-repeatable instance have the sheer wonder of His love. This divine love is always making space for the other to exist, always respecting each creature's sphere of integrity. He does not force or coerce, but evokes and invites to a greater fulness that He yearns to share.  

Here there is a great paradox: our likeness to God is in our otherness, our distinctness as creatures. It is true that the greater the likeness, the greater the union. It is also true that the closer we allow ourselves to be drawn to Him, the more fully our otherness is manifest -- and this otherness that He knew before there was either time or space delights His heart. He who is totally Other delights when we become the otherness that He predestined us to become - this beautiful, wondrous otherness reflects and magnifies His Otherness, the incomprehensible splendor in ways that no other creature in the heavens or the earth can do.

So it is with our love for one another. Our differences, although the source of agitation and requiring so much patient perseverance with one another, are precisely the most amazing part of our vocation as human beings.  We are meant to become a tender solidarity of hearts, islands of humanity, living shelters in the difficult storms of life - who are crushed with sorrow at the thought of not being of one heart and mind with one another no matter the differences or trials that must be faced. We are given to one another in all our distinctness so that we might learn to love - and in this love we discover the truth about ourselves, that secret that only God knows and that others at times glimpse for a moment.  When we learn to love, to make space for one another, to receive the gift of the other for who he is and to bless him, when especially we suffer to love, bearing the misery of another to relieve his suffering and to affirm his dignity -  the mystery of God Himself is reflected and magnified anew. 

January 10, 2021

The Baptism of the Lord - a Mystery of Theophany

When John baptizes the Lord in the River Jordan, Christ establishes a reference point all of human history, the sacred history of Israel and each one of our personal stories. The deliverance of Israel from  pharaoh's chariots in the Waters of the Red Sea flows into the Lord's passing into these waters. The crossing over of the People of God into the Promise Land floods within Christ's  immersion. The mystery of Elijah's crossing of the Jordan returns when Christ comes up from its currents: instead of a fiery chariot that takes up and away, a dove comes down and remains on the Son of the Father. The dark powers in the Jordan's currents so fatal to humanity could not keep Christ down anymore than Pharaoh's chariots could destroy Israel. The fulfillment of divine promises that Joshua led unveils an even more wonderful faithfulness in Jesus.  The double portion of Elijah's spirit that Elisha knew speaks into the Gift of the Holy Spirit when the Father's voice resounds. The whole cosmos is changed and the floods of futility that subjected the human heart are now purified and made subject to Life Himself. A new spiritual dynamic is sewn into the human heart, a invincible movement of faith - for heaven has come down to earth and the Word of the Father makes known the Holy Trinity, not by what He said or did, but by what was done to Him. And so it is when we accept the baptism that the Lord has for us, it gives space for the Trinity to act with saving power.