July 7, 2021

Fasting from the Media

Human freedom requires prayer and fasting. We should fast from everything that is against freedom. Let's face it: there is little real "free" speech or objective reporting in our news media. It is geared to excite insecurity to sell products and to manipulate social behavior. The more emotionally worked up we allow ourselves to be, the less we can rationally and freely discern how to live. There are some who are afraid of the freedom of the sons and daughters of God. They will do anything to dampen the love we share one with another. Rather than allowing ourselves to be dissipated by competing materialistic nihilisms, we should take strategic breaks from this influence. Fasting from food, drink and entertainment, we will find ourselves freer to turn to prayer. In such prayer lives the courage that freedom needs.

Acting primarily out of fear of death is a lack of faith. Although our enemies are not flesh and blood, we should not be surprised when the politically and culturally powerful treat truth and the liberty of the human heart as threats to security and order. They are simply under the irrational compulsions of fear, greed, and anger. Such drivenness is always self-destructive even when it is clung to out of a desire for stability and safety. Faith in the Risen Lord frees us from being driven by a fear of death. The Conquerer of Death protects our ability to live by reason. By the courage He gives in the face of death, we must discern every spirit and learn to renounce those that are against right reason. 

July 4, 2021

The Discipline of the Christian Life

The discipline of the Christian life, the discipline of obedience to the Lord, is filled with blessings, fruitfulness, gifts and deepest meaning.  Pandemics, social upheaval, natural disasters, calamities and rumors of war do not excuse us the mission to share the Gospel of Christ but instead provide new occasions and opportunity to reveal the wisdom the Christian discipline commends. For the sake of the Church and the world, we need to make a new beginning in our faith. It is time to examine our hearts and renew the practices of our faith, taking them up with greater boldness and resolve.

This task even imposes on us a certain love and dedication to those whom Christ has given authority over us even when they seem to have fallen short of their responsibilities.  If we find in our hearts a certain resentment towards those who disappointed us in the Church, we must remind ourselves that it is never enough to condemn the apostles who abandoned, denied and betrayed the Lord. Indeed, how could these mysteries of our brokenness before God not be present now when they were present in the very shadow of the Cross?  Mary who stood with her Son when He faced that antithesis of all that was promised did not disdain the company of his disciples in their weakness but stood with them in their midst, praying and fasting with them in the Upper Room after the Resurrection and into Pentecost. Thus, against those who believe that prayer and fasting are optional or a threat to psychological health, we are bound to fast and pray out of love and concern for the shepherds whom Christ has placed over us, especially when we see their weakness and inadequacies. Only then can the obedience that we owe Christ Jesus be rendered in a way that gives Him glory. 

Nor is stoking fear and judging the sincerity of our neighbor's faith acceptable to the Savior of the World. This does not mean silence in the face of injustice or evil. Instead, the Lord expects great courage and the willingness to take a stand come what come may.  We do this to save souls from the fires of hell - fires that often rage even in this world. And so often those we love are consumed in addictions, greed, cowardice, resentment, and self-hatred in ways that not only threaten their own dignity but also hurt everyone around them. When such hellfire is manifest in human affairs, Christ has authorized us to speak the truth with love. Such speech suffers being misunderstood, rejected and hated. But love endures all things and the discipline of the Christian life supports this endurance.  

We must not allow an exaggerated pre-occupation with self-preservation and psychological health to distract us from a more meaningful life - a life given over to love, by love, and for love. Praying, fasting, keeping vigil through the night, reading the Scripture, doing penance, daily mass, and frequent confession - I do not know a saint who did not embrace these practices. This is not self-destructive behavior but instead a pathway to true love of self. For these practices orient us toward giving ourselves in love to God and neighbor. They free us from self-indulgence and self-occupation. I have found this especially true with praying the Rosary and the Psalter. If done right, they order our hearts to greater and more noble things - truths that lift us up above ourselves rather than drown us in self-concern.   

Extended prayer and frequent fasting protect us against bitterness, resentment and vengeance. I notice that these can bring out some irritability in me but this becomes the very stuff of humility if I let it. I cannot speak to any exalted state of consciousness in this. Instead, confession and penance become a school of humble acceptance of my weakness and of finding the courage of Christ when my own strength has failed. By putting us in touch with our own weakness and need for God, the struggles we confront in prayer and fasting dispose us to forgive, to have compassion, and to seek forgiveness.  Filled with compassion, we learn to pray for our enemies rather than call down hell-fire on them. We find the courage to listen to the heart of our neighbor, especially if they are children or parents. We more readily recognize our own tendency to pre-judge as driven by our own shame, inability to take responsibility for our own actions, and our need to self-justify. As did our Crucified God, we must bear with one another patiently and persevere in love, even when with this means humbling ourselves unto death.  Preserving true peace with one another requires implicating ourselves in one another's plight, even at our own expense.  

  

July 1, 2021

A Journey Down Apparition Hill

A burning draws barefoot pilgrims to
A bush aflame but unconsumed.
In deepest center, in central height, 
Away from earthly cares, out of empty voids:
Only unshod do steps off inadequacy’s edge
Lead into those whispers of silent stillnesses, 
Where Meaning freely searches the heart.

An ache compels them down closer.

Held to breast the Word moves and 
Rests that knowing twinkle in searching glance
With mixed sorrow, sweetness, and dancing joy
At the sight, hoping to catch the attention,
If for a fleeting moment,
Of the pilgrims plodding down the rocky fastness.
Under the canticles of maternal counsels, visions, dreams; 
He babbles eternity in frail finitudes, a stammering brook 
Of Divine Fingertip touched signs and symbols.
This yet unrecognized love 
vindicates, rebuilds what men destroyed.

The further down a disciple falls, the nearer he dares -

His own stumbled steps 
Broke on rocky circumstance,
Lost in anxiety’s labyrinthian slopes, crash 
On anger’s jaggedness, striking 
Untested feet, bare where even 
An outburst’s pebble blisters, cuts, 
On steep pride breaking marble slides.
Soundings beyond adversary, obstacle, threat -
Fathom mysterious sin bearing pain, 
Peace, peace, peace, she cries!

Nearer down he must.

Below bottom of those anguished depths, 
Where beyond self-occupation’s living death,
Where discipline’s tedium tunes taught that suffering string,
Where mysterious melodies melt away mediocrity’s weight,
Where alone a sobered inebriation whelms euphorias, 
Where shook darkness dispels spiritual enchantment, 
Where divine deluge drowns distracted delusions, 
Where intoxicating torrents still lesser love’s disharmony, 
Where lonely, where broken, buried, laid bare 
Draws Christ’s aching prayer, aches the pilgrims feet,
towards the aching Queen of Peace.

So close, he dares down nearer still.

Into such shell shocked emptiness, entombed   
All else in His unrequited love for me, for man, for you pilgrim - 
Eternal Word ablaze in Uncreated Fire. Enfleshed -
Who has born such separation of body and soul? 
Drawing, bellowing, moving deeper still 
Into what Life harrowed Hell
A pilgrim has yet to know - His Crucified love 
In him flies, races, walks, falls, crawls and he crawls

He slides down further.

For failure, void, catastrophe do not exhaust 
Mercy’s unsounded depths. Buried there, 
A pilgrim dares drink to the dregs 
His unquenchable thirst, 
And hears echoed in his own heart that virginal  “Fiat”, 
And welcomes anew that maternal question, 
And makes his own that irresistible Magnificat, 
And tastes the very substance of hope.

A burning heart compels him deeper.

Heart-pierced with her, compelled, finally free 
Traversing, flying, running, walking, falling, crawling 
That royal highway unknown to unaided eye
To chance upon, to stumble into, to discover  
that wall, that rampart, that impenetrable frontier
that no evil passes beyond - but wherein lies 
The homeland of his heart, that sacred ground, 
That fertile soil smiling on us even in death -
To gain for his brothers, his sisters, his friends, 
For you, for Him whose suffering love 
Even at this late hour rushes in us 
Towards yet unexplored and endless seas. 

Farther, higher, deeper, nearer!

In this hidden mountain, in secret garden’s center
Eternally begotten Meaning 
Begets in him life not his own.
Womb conceiving and conceived Word 
Conceives in his heart words not his own.
Words not of sounds and syllable, but purpose and resolve.
God's body, the birth of Un-circumscribed Truth
Embodies faith's sojourner and his body is not his own:

Does Life’s wounded hand wave him still closer?
Is it instead the discrete and urgent hand of a mother?
Still the disciple's heart aches to be nearer.

Humbled in the mud 
Of blood and water, knees fasting find 
The blue Portal in which misery meets its limit,
A still point in the cycle of human affairs, 
A sin bearing boundary. 
Bitterness passes away but the Gate of Heaven remains -
Suffering souls into the Heart of the Father
By love refined, in love alive, in love to die - 
Surrendering to such Uncreated Love
Who cannot release a heart’s 
Scorned captives and bitter debts? 

Though we die a thousand deaths, Love’s ache beckons 
Near beyond all nearness. 

O Dawning Horizon of New Life 
Whose glance of goodness makes all things new!
Such splendors as evoke awe spill through your windows, 
In radiant songs and dancing hues, crystal clear torrents
Of tears and joy, reflecting flashes of terrible tendernesses 
By which alone history’s true currents shine
With thundering tapestries of life and love,
Sprung from yet deeper down bottomlessness,
No one knew moved with such un-vanquished force,
In that Father’s Heart at journey’s end.

June 28, 2021

Mary and new outpourings of the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit moves over the chaotic forces of this world to communicate the Word of the Father. This Eternal Meaning always brings order and peace so that the mystery of love might unfold. Friendship and fullness, joy and communion overflow wherever this creative power is unleashed. Even His first movement brings into darkness: light; and into emptiness: life.  In all this, He never comes the same way twice and to miss the Breathe of God is to miss all that makes life worth living.  If this Spirit is ever grieved, His mercy is only increased until all hostility is humbled. In this way, the Spirit of Truth breaths the Word into this passing world with ever new and astonishing effect. No matter the evil, God's purpose holds - the glory of the Trinity is given to us even in the most difficult and unlikely moment.

To bring peace to the world, the Holy Spirit set aflame the heart of a virgin in a new whirlwind of love never before unleashed. Such love had never been before because no one had ever welcomed love as fully as did she. She allowed herself to be overshadowed until the Giver of Life breathed into her a fullness of life. Divine Fire conceived Saving Mystery in her and through her, became manifest. Her being was lit with this love. 

Such an outpouring of the Spirit was not despite her body and sexuality, but instead flowed into the very nuptial mystery of her whole humanity from highest heights to deepest depths. The very Holiness of God sanctified secrets of her womanhood that only God Himself knew were there, receiving all from her and giving all to her. Not only her spirit but her body burned with this Uncreated Gift. Thus, the Creator Spirit set Her womb ablaze with the Word until she bore Him forth into the world. Working through humanity, including this new relationship to Mary, reveals the fullness of how God wants to work in our lives even now. Wherever the Holy Spirit leads the Word, we confess that the Son of God is present to humanity through His humanity, and thus, through his Mother: the Virgin become Theotokos, the Daughter of Zion become Mother of God, the Handmaid become Queen of Peace.

This is the great mystery that plays out by a certain analogy in everyone who believes in her Son. The relationship of Mary to every new outpouring of the Holy Spirit helps us see how we are all caught together in a web of sanctified and newly established human relationships - because our humanity is in relation, personally implicating us in each other's lives, and the Gift of the Holy Spirit perfects this solidarity emerging in time, realizing it in the eternal love of the Holy Trinity. 

To believe in the Lord Jesus Christ leads to a communion of humanity aflame in Holy Fire of the Father. Wherever this Furnace of Love descends, the Word Incarnate renews His whole saving mystery with power to enlarge our capacity for love and discrete enough to protect our integrity no matter how close we draw to God. Not just in spirit, but in our flesh and blood relationships, in the concrete particularities of life, in those nitty-gritty moments that seem so ordinary and inconvenient, in that single unnoticed decision to love without counting the cost. This is the hope of humanity - the humble "yes" to God that allows Him to give what He most yearns for us to have - His Uncreated Love dwelling in us, bringing us into a new unity more powerful than the sting of death.

June 24, 2021

Medjugorje - My Experience






The Apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Medjugorje have been important for my spiritual life. While we are still waiting a definite judgment by the Church, the small town in Bosnia and Herzegovina is an approved place for pilgrimage. My first pilgrimage was in 1986 and I am here now for the 40th Anniversary of the Apparitions. 

What most impresses me about the visionaries is their piety and hospitality. They are well formed in the faith - as if they had the best of teachers.  In fact, the piety and the hospitality of the whole village extended to so many pilgrims over so many years is remarkable. It was heroic when offered during Communism and it persecution of the Church. It is difficult not to see the grace of Christ at work in the kindness shown from what generation to the next in a people who are very much God's "little ones"- that is a people poor enough to need to rely on the Lord in the midst of all kinds of trials and hardships. Somehow Mary is magnified in this and somehow her song sings in these lives lived by faith: Holy is his Name.

Similarly, the content of the messages reported over the last forty years is not something that I have kept close tabs on. However, the basic message of frequent confession, going to daily Mass, praying the rosary daily, fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, and reading the Bible daily has challenged me to be a better Christian. What is more, both the visionaries and the whole community have been a faithful witness to these practices through four decades in midst of oppression, wars and the rebuilding of their country. 

Forty years ago, I stayed in a farm house where the mother and grandmother would walk with the children to daily mass. It was at least a mile away and when we arrived at the parish church of St. James, I was edified to see a whole contingent of farming families who had made a similar trek by foot. The simplification of making one's way with one's own two legs slows down life and inclines to prayer. This is especially true in climbing Cross Mountain. These paths were not then and are not now smooth. They remain rugged and serve as a reminder that we follow in the footsteps of a crucified God. 

Now, though thousands come to daily mass from all over, it is still the piety of the villagers that speaks most to me. They have deeper Catholic sensibilities than one finds among the theologically sophisticated in America - and as an American, I let this truth sink in.  Prayer and liturgy is not rushed. Instead, it is the center of life. The local Franciscans together with scores of priests gather every evening for liturgies and devotions that last for over two hours. This is in addition to daily adoration and long confessional lines. Though so much time is devoted to prayer and piety, very few leave early. A rhythm of prayer carries life.  Seeing the locals now, just as it did so many years ago, draws me to prayer too.  

Probably the grace that has had the greatest impact on me is my devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Here, during the long homilies and devotional prayers offered in Croatian, I realized so many years ago that Mary is a real person, a true mother, and that Christ has given her to us as a gift. Just as she was his mother, Mary can be ours if we would welcome her into our homes - as did the Beloved Disciple. Ever I have found that she helps me encounter Jesus with greater humility and faith, and no matter how much I try to offer the Lord, He never ceases giving Her together with a host of other undeserved gifts even more. In the face of so much generosity from God, what else can I do but read the Bible, go to confession, go to Mass, fast and pray? 


June 20, 2021

Eucharistic Coherence and Co-inherence


The Eucharist, the great thanksgiving that Christ instituted the night before He died, imposes on those who share in it a certain cohesion of belief and life.  It was not a one time event - but because He is God and Man - it has an eternal quality. When we share in it, we join in the intercession He makes for us before the Throne of the Father even now. It is above us, eternal, heavenly and yet given to us in the nitty-gritty of life, in the fiery furnace, in the Lion's Den.  This supreme act of thanksgiving is meant to be the orientation point, the standard, the source and summit in navigating the whole of our existence. Such is the gift of the Most High God to humble humanity.

This great act of worship cannot be rendered if one does not believe and live in accord with it.  This is because the praise and blessing Christ offers establishes a new relationship between God and humanity, a new covenant, a certain co-inherence so that my life is implicated in the plight of everyone entrusted to me just as Christ has implicated Himself in my own plight - because I am given to Him by the Father in this very act of worship.  Moreover, this act establishes and demands my own integrity - the alignment of my mind, instincts and heart with the will of God. Such an alignment is not required because the Divine Will is some extrinsic force imposing itself into human affairs. Rather, all that is most personal and intimate about my life comes from Him and goes to Him, and only by my whole manner of living and being in accord to His can I ever realize the truth that He has will into existence. He is counting on us to pursue interior integrity so that He can help us realize the spiritual harmony that we are meant to know.

This implication in one another's plight is an ecclesial relationship. It participates in the Body of Christ, not as a metaphorical analogy, but as a perfected act of creation, a previously unknown alignment of Uncreated and created being, an organic whole of various functions co-inhering in one life, one act of love. In this act of worship, a communion of persons is established in reality, grounded in the truth of existence. This act of worship establishes a people and makes them holy so that through their communion, every people, every person has a reason for hope. In Christ's divine and human blessing, He has brought into being a whole new society by offering a whole new act of worship.  Only building culture of life and civilization of love are a coherent response to the atonement this worship offers.

What characterizes this great mystery is spousal in that each is given to God the Father through the Son in the power of the Spirit with a Divine Faithfulness even before the mystery of death. Our participation is Bridal in that we are given and give ourselves over to the Bridegroom who has bestowed on us every good gift and longs that we should be fruitful, that we should bear new life in this tired out and dying world. Indeed, what He engenders in us is newness in the face of all that passes away, the only sure hope against everything that oppresses holy humanity and threatens its dignity. 

This act of worship established by Christ as "the breaking of the Bread" was entrusted to humanity at such great price. It is an act that involves sacrifice: the shedding of God's own blood, the breaking of God's own body.  Nothing is held back and so those who enter into this offering must respond in kind. Christians who offer such worship too must not hold anything back from God but surrender to Him their whole lives, entrusting Him every joy and sorrow, even plans and dreams. Whatever is offered is never lost but blessed, sanctified and made perfect in a love that will last forever - and in this love, the Lord and Giver of Life restores what we have destroyed. 

This Trinitarian worship binds us together in Christ to God. We participate in his very Sonship so that we see the same glory that the Father has given His Son because He has loved Him from before the foundation of the world.  Such is this communion that the very inner movements of his Heart are communicated to us in the power of the Holy Spirit and this especially when we assist in offering the Mass together. Yet, what we share at Mass would become a dangerous self-contradiction if we did not share it in the rest of our lives. In every communion that we receive, all that the Holy Spirit communicates in that particular act of worship is completed and nourished in us to strengthen and deepen our love for one another in the day to day, moment to moment challenges of life.  When we are caught up into this mystery, when we share in it, we bind ourselves to lay down our lives for one another just as Christ sealed His act of worship by laying down his life for us.  

This is why those who participate in the Holy Eucharist of Christ must stand with life. Bound by He who is Life Himself, we must serve life as did He.  It is incoherent even to remain a bystander when policies and laws are advocated that intend harm to the unborn, the elderly and the impaired. Holy Communion establishes a spiritual bond with the prisoner, the homeless, and the unwanted children of the world. Indifference is never an option. Instead, our Eucharistic sacrifices should pierce our hearts until we must act - or else how we worship and how we live have not yet matured into the coherence the human vocation requires.  Our worship knows a certain co-inherence with strangers and even our enemy in our prayer so that we can even suffer for them, substituting ourselves in prayer for their freedom just as Christ has done for us. The marvels of such mercy have hardly been tasted even after two millennia of offering such a sacrifice. Every political cause and agenda pales before the brightness that Christ would have shine through us that our neighbor and even our enemy might have life.  

June 2, 2021

Symposium on Contemplative Culture

The first ever Symposium on Contemplative Culture is being held at Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Ukiah, CA from June 4 through June 13. About 20 thinkers, theologians, artists, poets, priests and contemplatives are gathering with the Byzantine Monks for discussions on a wide range of topics related to the Glory of God including our current cultural crisis, the mystery of atonement, the musical character of the human person, psalms, icons, contemplation, the relationship of human and divine action in Christian perfection, poetry readings, photography, and St. Elizabeth of the Trinity. The event is co-hosted by the John Paul II Center for Contemplative Culture, an initiative proposed before his death by Father Raymond Gawronski, S.J. who was also a monk of Mt. Tabor. The purpose of this Center is to help form "islands of humanity" to support our Christian faith in the aftermath of Christendom. Please pray for its success.

May 30, 2021

The Holy Trinity and Christian Prayer

Christian prayer is founded in the mysterious wisdom of the Holy Trinity. Such prayer has gained access to the Holy of Holies because of all that Christ has done to reveal the love of the Father and send the gift of the Spirit. Such prayer participates in the very creative act of God and it shares in His saving power in such wise that the more simple it becomes, the more the entire cosmos, visible and invisible is renewed and raised is the praise of glory.  

Prayer's simple movement is hidden in one's innermost being, in secret depths infused with the Life-Breath of the Word and stamped with the Image of the Invisible God. Such oblations of self are baptized in a splendor too great for this world to hold. This cry of the heart is ecstatic in the self-emptying humility of God who descends into the mess of our concrete particularity and enraptured in the power that raises up even to the bosom of the Most High.  This surrender descends not only humanity's abysses of misery, but also the deep things of God. If this inestimable knowledge is conceived in pits deeper than Hell, it proclaims with great praise an  understanding firmly grounded above the Heavens.  Carried on high by those same pinions that conquered death by death, made to ache by that Divine Thirst that no amount of evil can quench, this prayer dares to enter that Spacious Place which alone is vast enough to be the dwelling of the human heart. 

Here, christian prayer is inundated with such immense silences of Three-ness and One-ness. This prayer thrills in those un-resistible currents of Subsistent Eternal Relations. This prayer fully welcomes those stillnesses of  Being, of Life, of Love: always at rest and always active, at once always fully present but never grasped, in the very face of destruction, in frailty riddled limits of one's own life, making all things new.

May 23, 2021

Come, Welcome the Fire of the Holy Spirit

Jesus has sent His Holy Spirit into the Church and He yearns that this Lord and Giver of Life fill our hearts.  Beg the Holy Spirit to come and He will.  The Holy Spirit burns in the center of the Church with unquenchable love, and when this Love is in the center of hearts who welcome Him, He makes all things new.  

Sometimes He is difficult to welcome because of our pride and laziness.  We do not want to change but He comes to convince us of sin and of the righteousness of God. If however we do not humble ourselves and rouse ourselves to show the Spirit of Truth hospitality, we are lost. To show the Breath of God hospitality, we must choose to live and we must decide to let go of every rash judgment about ourselves, others and God. 

To beg the Holy Spirit to come means weeping over sin. To welcome Him means contrition. To receive Him means humble recognition of faults and a readiness to descend from our own vantage point and be raised by the Spirit to see life circumstance from God's perspective. This means the willingness to put one's life on the line that there might be justice in our communities, that the weak and vulnerable be protected and cared for.  This means readiness to forgive and to seek forgiveness. This means compassion for those who hurt us and learning to plead for them before God. This means a resolution to do whatever it takes to restore the dignity of my neighbor, especially when I am the one who has caused his misery.  This means being vulnerable enough as to allow my heart to be pierced over the plight of the stranger whom the Lord has sent to me. 

Welcoming the Holy Spirit means openness to the inconvenient, the uncomfortable and the unfamiliar, for unless we allow Him to root our love in this, we have not yet learned to love in a manner worthy of a follower of Christ. Christ has sent Him to us so that we might finally learn to love as He has loved us.  Such love begins with welcome, with receiving the Gift, with showing hospitality to the Divine Guest.


To welcome the Holy Spirit, we must be open to being astonished. When the Creator Spirit comes, the power of our imagination is freed from narrow fantasies.  When the Advocate enters, the eye of our intelligence is opened to horizons far beyond personal failure and death. Where this Wind blows, barriers of frustration and disappointment are cleared away. Before the Deluge of God, levies of hubris and cowardliness are flooded over and washed away. All small-mindedness and pettiness are shattered in this Light. When the Sanctifier moves within, wonder seizes the soul and we are baptized in a joy that confounds the world.  When the Soul of our Soul stirs in the substance of our being, the whole cosmos is filled with New Life through us. 

May 16, 2021

Ascension and Abiding Presence

The Risen Lord ascended from our midst and remains more present to us that we are to ourselves. He went to offer the Father worship that is right and just. His holy humanity, no longer bound by this world below, is raised above itself in excellence and blessing. Having already conquered death, material extension and duration no longer circumscribe his manhood. He is fully present even as He is taken from our sight. He at once abides with us until the end of time and goes before us, to prepare a place for us. That place is as no place in this world. It is where we do not know what we shall be, where we will be like Him, for it is where we shall see Him as He is.

He has opened to humanity a new horizon. He sets before us yet to be explored and forever unfathomable frontiers. What He sees stirs us with desires that haunt our hearts. He sees glory, the glory that was His from before time began. And the Father who gave Him this glory has given us to Him as well. As He treasures all that the Father gives us, so He treasures and cares for us, wanting us to share in His glory with Him. 

He is above us now and raises us with Him to the life we are meant to share. Circumstance has no hold on Him but He is Lord over every exigency. He has left what is outside humanity's deepest center and entered the heavenly sanctuary, the temple not made by human hands. There He establishes the ultimate reference point for all created existence, the measuring point for how we live and move and have our being. For we are meant to worship God and in Him, we finally realize our great purpose - yet this worship is above what we can see, and so He needed to go where only our faith can take us.

He was taken from our sight because this dying world is too small for the greatness of the praise that mankind is meant to offer. Politics and public policy, the work-a-day world, hegemonies of science and technology, and the enchantments of all earthly dreams are overshadowed by His Mystery raised on high. All this will pass away before His face, but He who is over all is the same yesterday, today and forever. Prisons of fear and alienation below are flung open by His Mercy above. Below no one is every alone because He was raised to light, to life, to love - the only space where one can fully be a man. His humanity is taken up into unseen glory and in that, his full manhood raises up perfect praise in every heart that will call to Him.  In this praise of glory, the perfect unity of God and man in his very person reverberates with such harmonies as make all things new. 

How can He lead us to be where He is so that we at last might fulfill the purpose for which we were made? He who is fully God and fully man was raised far above anything our natural powers can penetrate or grasp, so high that our human powers must be prostrate in surrender, must let go, accept and be ready in reverence and awe. Sanctified humanity is completely directed to a new kind of worship for it is finally and completely vulnerable before God. To welcome the unveiled Holy Trinity and to accept this uncreated love evokes the deepest going forth from self, a sacrificial gift that realizes at once perfect self-possession.  Every act of worship now prepares us for that sacred aching jubilation ready to bust open with unceasing fullnesses of meaning and love. 

The ascension of Christ in his abiding presence that is always at work roots humanity into a mystery this world cannot hold. We belong not to the profane, to what is outside the temple, but to the all holy, to the most sacred - every holy place is a reminder of this secret.  All our life, every banal and mundane moment, must be oriented to what is above or else what we do in the world is at risk. We can live this way by faith because the Word made flesh is raised above all time. This means every moment is subject to His humanity and therefore is directed to a fullness that it cannot contain. Because the Man born of Woman has gone above all space, He is the orientation point for every place and establishes the whole cosmos into a new astonishing order.  Our lives are meant to witness to this new creation. He has opened for all humanity a pathway into the depths of the heart of the Father and so we journey as pilgrims in this world to the home that has been prepared for us. He longs that where He is, we too might also be so that we might see the glory that the Father has given Him from before the foundation of the world.


May 12, 2021

To Worship the Living God in Time and Space

We are made to worship the Living God.  Because we are creatures who live in time and space, this means we need physical time and space for this worship -- not as an extra benefit of life, but to address what is most essential, what is truly human. We need sacred festivals and temples, Sundays and Churches - or all that is most wonderful about life is diminished. 

Humanity is ordered, not to what is outside the temple, the profane, the world, but to what is within, the sacred space set apart for God and the things of God, the holy place around which the world turns.  By this reference point, love, family and friends take their proper place and the work-a-day world is ordered to it -- rather than the other way around. This holy mountain is hidden, above our sight, and we need divine help to see what only the heavens know. Yet, the way has been laid open for the Word became flesh. He has opened a path so that we find ourselves and arise above ourselves. 

The Risen Lord leads us into the deepest places of human intimacy and tenderness to give a strength and fruitfulness that this tired old world has never seen before - but longs for all the same.  This secret garden cannot be grasped by the keenest intellect. Yet, the most humble of prayers unlocks its gate and enters. Here, in this place of reverence, worship and adoration, we learn to rest, to be who are are meant to be, to do what alone can satisfy our hearts: the praise of the glory of God.  

Holiness is the reference point of life, our burning bush, our orientation to peace. With the reporting of each new calamity, strife and disaster that strikes our communities, our news outlets are confirming what we most know in our hearts: humanity is lost, enslaved to destructive impulses, imprisoned in enmity. Our own industry and accomplishments are unable to produce a sufficient standard to this end. 

What we make is not much because every self-determined end is too small, another indulgence of our inflated ego. The fantasy of secular existence - a life in this world without reference to another - has no orientation to what most matters in life and so we are imprisoned in ourselves, lacking liberty to truly live. When even religion is reduced to our own spiritual industry, no matter how therapeutic, it also falls short of taking us into the truly holy. Lost we cannot find rest. Far from peace, humanity needs a reference point if it is to find its way. Indeed, it is in God that we live and move and have our being.

We need a savior.  We are not conscious of the sacred because it is remote. Rather, we are unaware of how close it is. The ticktocks of the office clock deafen us to angels songs because we hear with the presumption that what we measure is reference point enough. Life is more than a succession of neatly divided periods of duration that we fill with activity or waste on silliness. If we go on living one moment as if it were just like the last, enter one space with the same self-occupied desire as we had in the one we left, we will never find our place, the home where we belong.  When life is driven by weight and measure, a cubicle, a punchcard, we will eventually either cave into despair or lash-out in rage. Unless Someone from the outside offers a path of escape, we live imprisoned in the measurable limits of our own selfishness. 

We live in an age that turned toward medical science for salvation. If we will just work together to contain this disease, isolating ourselves as if patients in a giant mental hospital, we will be okay - for indeed we are all in this together, we were told. We are mistaken to believe that technology makes us free. What deception lulls us to accept that virtual meeting rooms and digital liturgies suffice for our spiritual needs - as if prayer were some narcissistic indulgence of pious sentiment for therapeutic needs! 

Our toys fail to direct our existence beyond ourselves because these instruments are simply self-extensions, limited by the measurable, what our natural powers can grasp. We need liberation from our gadgets, our mediocre ambitions, the narratives that appeal to our imaginations. We need a greater freedom, freedom from self, if we are to enter into a meaningful life. 

Truth is the pathway to this freedom and it leads to bodily action in space and time. Truth is sacramental. Human life, as is the case for time itself, has come from and leads to what is immeasurable and beyond the limits of created intelligence. If secularism has entrapped our hearts, God Himself will set us free from the hunter's snare. 

The Word of the Father reveals that no moment of our lives is without reference to the first moment when God ushers us into existence and the last moment which opens into eternity.  All the time and space of our lives, in other words, are filled with supernatural, divine meaning. Part of God's creation, these realities witness to a love that has summoned them into existence for us and when ordered for his glory, this wondrous part of his creation points us to an existence beyond themselves.  

Life is not a monotony of moments in which each moment is the same as the last. Each moment is unique. It comes from and goes to God.  The world in which we move is not a monotony of places, each one interchangeable or calculated only in terms of its usefulness as a means to an end. Every place is characterized by its relation to the sacred.  For humanity is meant to participate in the holiness of God Himself in each moment, and in every place. Offering praise to God where we are right now in this moment sanctifies the dimensions and duration of our lives. It is to realize our purpose in the cosmos - to reveal the glory of God. 

May 9, 2021

The Remarkable Work of God in our Times

The Lord God is a jealous God. He is concerned about those who cleave to medical science as their savior. He sees how fear of disease and death reigns in the hearts of those who He loves. Because they live in this fear instead of in Him, He is concerned over all the ways that they allow themselves to be manipulated. Under the spell of algorithmic social enchantments, He knows that many are losing the only firm ground that can bear the weight of human existence. With no grounding, He sees how the changing winds of each new political fashion or social agenda blow his children this way and that.  

The culturally and politically powerful find the current state of affairs advantageous: never let a good disaster go to waste they whisper to themselves. Indeed, the possibility of God's existence dethrones the absolute claim governments want to make over human affairs. This is why secular polemicists revel in interpreting science as a weapon against God. 

We have all personally experienced how, when this weapon is politicized, it becomes simply a tool for social manipulation. It is the survival of the fittest when scientists and psychologists replace priests and bishops. The end justifies the means if science says so.Threats, dire forecasts, and moralizing drive us to the crystalline utopias of scientific fantasies. All the while whole populations go neglected and abandoned - and to dare to question this is worse than heresy. Case in point: If someone approaches holy communion in a manner that does not conform to public policy, we have seen ministers dutifully withhold the sacrament. If however the communicant is policy compliant, no matter the sins on his hands, far be it from the minister to deny.  After all, it is reasoned, science knows that there are more culturally acceptable causes than life in the womb. Such abuse of science sews fear, hubris and ambition, but never firm hope or lasting peace. Science is human and the truly human needs the one true God.

God takes the side of the poor and vulnerable.  He accomplishes his purpose right under the smirk of the arrogant. In the end, a certain respect for reality and humanity's place in it will be recovered. In light of how God is working in our midst, the Church does not pose a simplistic choice between God and science. True science has a secular character but it is not reducible to a propaganda tool for secularism. Science is not opposed to truth and God Himself is Uncreated Truth. 

If those whom we love are subject to grave threat, instead of clinging tighter to the work of our hands, the Almighty is teaching us to let go and cleave to Him by faith. Only when we learn to revere the Maker of Heaven and Earth, and praise His wonders, can all our clever machines serve their proper purpose.

The Church exists to remind the world that God is real, that he made humanity to offer Him praise, and that, though we rejected this reality and lost ourselves in our own fears, He has come to bring us hope. This is the real world and to believe otherwise is to risk being imprisoned in what appeals to the imagination. The preaching of the the Body of Christ must dispel the myth that the merely material actually suffices for the spiritual needs of the heart.  Indeed, the Mystical Bride must not be afraid to witness how a purely secular existence is empty compared to what the Lord would have for us.   

The Truth from above humbly reveals Himself to humanity in our scientific discourse, if we accept its limits. If medicine reveals an evil threat, science does not absolve us from doing something to relieve the plight of others. Instead, what we learn can prick our conscience and pierce our heart until we relieve the plight of our neighbor.  

If the Lord wants science to see all it has the power to behold, the Conquerer of Death also points us to all the new possibilities beyond those horizons. Eyes no longer subject to death help us find that pathway into the heart that can raise a soul from death to life. God is ever ready to re-establish human dignity, even when it seems most lost. And by this hope we are saved. No matter the violence or the turmoil, Uncreated Truth continually brings the world to rest on a tender mercy far beyond the calculations of the clever and mighty.



  

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 world

Yet sleeps in 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 

tender, lonely tormented

souls, even in death's grip,

For faith's shadow holds

such love from dark night's Lady.


The Cross on an empty street, 

sudden struck sober cars

An absent father's homecoming, 

That wounded son, my difficult brother, sin now

Born away, on faith's lightening, as flash 

And flow those tears unseen shed

Of the Mother before coming 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 her arms, we rest, as did her own Son,

with the 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.