December 25, 2021

Christmas Light

Christmas is a special holy day. Normally, on holy days, there is one mass that is celebrated.  Three masses are celebrated for Christmas - at Midnight, at first light and for the rest of the day.  Each of these masses celebrates a sacred characteristic of the Christmas light. 

At Midnight, the Christmas light celebrated in the liturgy is brighter than day in the dark of night and filled with angles and their songs. Thus, we celebrate the Mass of the Angels. It is that primordial and undimmed radiance shining above the world's darkness from before the sun and the moon, on the first day of creation. This angelic light shows shepherds the way to the Messiah and evokes the gift of faith.

At Dawn, the Christmas light celebrated in the liturgy is a new morning glory. It is the first light of day and under these rays those tending flocks beheld with human eyes the saving wonder heralded by heaven. Thus, we celebrate the Mass of the Shepherds.  The brightness of this new beginning is the only newness the tired out cycles of historical life have ever known. These cycles are subject to death. But this light reveals salvation has begun. Wrapped up in the swaddling clothes of a visible existence, First Truth babbles in humanity at last. It is the sacred truth that dawns in the chaos of the world to bring hope.

In the Day, the Christmas light celebrated in the liturgy is a glory that the powers of darkness cannot defeat. Thus we celebrate the Mass of the Nations. In this liturgy, our hearts are filled with a victorious and sovereign light of peace, a light that no darkness can overcome, the light of eternal life. This unending light awaits us in the world to come but it also shines even now whenever we dare to love for the sake of God.

December 24, 2021

The Word and Silence

In the Nativity of the Lord, the cries of the world, the cries of the human heart and the cries of God coincide.  These shared sighs and aches unveil silences overshadowed by Divine Power and out of which the Savior comes.  

Though unaided reason is ignorant of His presence, God has never been indifferent to the plight of even the least of His creatures. He is always at work on their behalf. That is why we find Him throughout the Scriptures searching in the world's silences and poverties as a shepherd seeks out lost sheep in a wilderness or a father his lost son.  

The Living God implicates Himself in the misery of the most forgotten, overlooked and rejected until He too is rejected, overlooked and forgotten. He is not disgusted with his children when they cry to Him no matter how lost they are. He eagerly takes them home and embraces the consequences of their sins, suffering them with the wisdom that knows that evil is not without limits. Love goes farther than hatred, lasts longer than resentment and bitterness. Love heals what we have destroyed.   

Such a pathway involves humiliation in the short run and in the exigency of the moment looks as certain defeat. But God's love is never defeated. In the pure excess of His love, God chooses the humiliated and the humble even to the point of his own humiliation and death. But His love is stronger than death and the chaos of Hell has no hold on this Light. So He raises up those who are bowed down and refreshes them for the great journey home. The humble "yes" of those who choose to serve Him leads to all this and more. The object of his Divine Affection, these are the souls who He invites into even deeper silences, spacious places that the world cannot know, nights so dark that they alone can hold a light brighter than day. 

For those who choose to trust Him, He invites them to go where no creature has ever gone before. He makes this invitation by entrusting to them His Son. The invitation is by way of faith, the decision to believe when this choice seems most difficult to make. This is because trust alone welcomes God and trust only becomes strong when it is tested. The Word comes to those who will welcome him in times of trial and hardship - He sees the strength of His Father in them, and this delights His heart. He comes in the vulnerability of a baby. He comes as the pure gift of the Father for no other reason than love and love alone. 

Into the silence of the world, the Father has spoken his Word.  Into humanity's deepest silence, the Word entered and resounded.  That deepest silence was in the form of "let it be done to me." It is not only a silence of soul but also a silence of body, a taking flesh in a loving womb because so perfectly held in a humble heart. Sin does not know this silence but through this silence the Word communicates power to overcome sin. This same power waits to be enfleshed in our own lives too - a transformation in light and love. 

December 5, 2021

St. Nicholas and the Byzantine Monks of Northern California

One of my favorite churches is the Temple of St. Nicholas at Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Redwood Valley, California. The Byzantine Monastery was founded by Abbot Boniface Luykx, a Norbertine who participated as a periti at Vatican II. He was convinced that the Church needed to recover the riches of the East so he began to found Ukrainian monasteries first in Africa and then here in America. 

I made a retreat at this beautiful place of prayer in Advent of 1988. The chanting and the silence, the icons and the forest, the fasting and the joy all live in my heart this many years later. Most of all, the bells calling us to prayer, ringing out through the valley, reminding the heart of resonances beyond this world. I remember the powerful conversation that I had with the Abbot. I remember also the witness of the monks - their dedication, perseverance, authentic joy. 

Just as has been the case in so many communities, the monastery went through many difficult trials. Even still, Fr. Raymond Gawronski, so instrumental in building up the spirituality year in Denver and laying out the vision for a spiritual formation program at St. Patrick's in Menlo Park, joined the monastery and found in its way of life an island of humanity.  Notwithstanding natural and supernatural hardships, the community is dedicated to drawing close to the Lord and to conversion of life.  The rhythm of silence and intense liturgy is challenging and refreshing at the same time.  The monastery chapel, called the Temple of St. Nicholas, is at the very center of this holy work for God. 

That this space should be dedicated to St. Nicholas is fitting. This saint was a man above all who encountered the Lord in a world that was hostile to the faith.  The monks of Mt. Tabor also live by this encounter in historical and cultural circumstances not unlike those of the saint. Though he lived very simply in self-imposed poverty, St. Nicholas was known to be a very generous man and a giver of secret gifts to those most in need. This spirit lives in the monastery where souls come with all kinds of poverty to find the riches of Christ.  The monks, as did the saint, live dedicated to conversion from sin, rigorous asceticism and kindness to others. This attracts young men who want something other than a meaningless and indulgent life. If St. Nicholas was noted for his loving concern for those entrusted to his pastoral care, so too the monks of Mt. Tabor who provide a refuge for those needing shelter from the fire storm of secularism raging in our time. 

We need places of refuge and prayer, sacred places of healing and holiness to put us in touch with the truths to which St. Nicholas witnessed. If the monastery protects a great truth about living out our faith through dedication to the praise of God, St. Nicholas was a man of deep prayer who safeguarded the truth of the faith with courage. If the monks are dedicated to dying to themselves out of devotion to Christ, the presence of St. Nicholas in their midst reminds them that the love of God is more powerful than death. 

There are many stories of St. Nicholas coming to the aid of the poor in his own lifetime even raising from death those who suffered under great evil. Among the monks, there are men who also have been raised up by Christ to begin the discipline of the Christian life anew.  After his death, the number of miracles attributed to him confirmed that St. Nicholas was a wonder-worker for the whole Church. Mt. Tabor also is a place of miracles where the veil of our Lady protects souls in peril. 

November 28, 2021

Silences Filled with Meaning

Prayer that waits for Christ's coming in glory opens to silences filled with meaning.  The silences that live in the shared gaze of lovers or at the bedside of a dying family member are filled with meanings too deep for words. The depths of these silences approach prayer because they reach down to what is truly sacred in life. Prayer, however, plunges even deeper than these tenderest moments - it knows the tenderness of the King who comes.

Prayer knows an abyss deeper than the depths of eros and death. In that silent depth, prayer discerns the exquisite melodies that the unaided heart cannot hear - but aches to know. This abyss down into which prayer descends is bottomless and the silences there are pregnant with meanings too much for space and time to contain. 

Every human love and every misery are circumscribed in the meaningful silence that prayer explores. In the depths of this contemplative prayer, earthly friendships are purified and vindicated because they are re-established in deeper truths than space and duration can bind.  Betrayal, denial and abandonment do not define the heart that pours itself out in this way. Instead prayer unlocks mysteries more powerful than every human frailty. Death itself ceases to be the last word about one's existence, for this prayer accesses new life. 

Fear of death is an absence of faith but prayer under the shadow of the Cross triumphs over death.  This prayer under the darkness of Christ's last wordless cry conquers disintegration.  Prayer re-establishes and heals bonds between the body and its powers, between body and soul, between one's own soul and souls of one's neighbors, between the soul and God.  Prayer unleashes the courage to love where love seems most absent. Prayer gives birth to hope when all seems most lost. In the face of hardness of heart, prayer draws down the power to forgive and to seek forgiveness. The prayer of faith, the prayer that lives in the Church, the prayer of the Church, this prayer brings back to life.

This kind of prayer is a baptism into the life and death of the Lord Jesus Christ. Prayer knows that His Cross establishes such new silences in the heart that even after so many centuries we have hardly explored their breadth and length, height and depth. Prayer sees His radiance as it illumines all human loves and fears, even in the darkest night.  Prayer find rest even in suffering because His peace conquers rancor in the heart even as the world falls down around us.  

By prayer, His truth dispels lies even when the exigency of the moment attempts to limit our freedom. Prayer is convinced that the bottomlessness of his mercy is deeper than the abyss of any misery. Prayer holds fast His imminent return and instills that conviction that His justice swift even when evil seems to be winning the day.  When the sorrow of death stings in the moment, prayer discovers that His consolation is forever.  When the heart feels most empty, prayer is filled with Him. 

November 14, 2021

Prayer's Power

It is time to return to prayer and to believe in the power of God. The power of God defends and holds up human freedom. Prayer is the safeguard of human dignity.The power of God is able to dispel the fog of anxiety and rage that has gripped our communities.  

Under a cloud of great social anxiety, we tend to make judgments in accord with a certain mass hysteria and surrender things that we would otherwise never surrender. When cave into such things, it is always at the price of human dignity and freedom.  For people of faith, as we experience such societal movements, we must hold fast to the teaching of St. Paul not to conform ourselves "to this age", not to be carried away "by every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness," not occupy oneself with "myths" (see Romans 12:2, Eph. 4:14; and 1 Tim. 1:4).

To hold fast to this teaching, we need God's power. We need prayer. The power of God unleashed in Christian prayer roots the heart in truth. To be rooted in a truth by prayer is radical but when we pray, God does root us in being, goodness and beauty. Before the changing winds of the times, we need this kind of radical. We are not at the mercy of the cunning and crafty when we humble ourselves before God. He protects us from the kinds of social "myths" that gave birth to Gulags and re-education camps. Only God can help his creatures rise above a culture of death. By prayer, He opens the path of life.

Those who are radically with God are not radically ideological, but open to truth.  Driven by anxiety and the need for control, the radically ideological cannot admit when they are wrong. Prayer brings repentance. Radical ideology brings hardness of heart. 

The radically ideological could be commercial or political or even medical, it does not matter, but self-enchanted with social myth, they strive, even without realizing it, to make an absolute claim over our existence. Because ideologically driven myths see the good, beautiful and true only in terms of a means to an end, they are prone to fail to rise to the true greatness that is at stake. The absolute claim they would make of human life easily robs us of the joy of loving one another and being present to each other as true neighbors.  

Whenever we are carried away by ideological claims, we gain a sense of security always at the expense of the truth. When we worship falsehood, truth must be sacrificed on its altar. But with truth, there is peace. With falsehood, anxiety and fear of death. 

A soul at peace feels no compulsion to spy on or report his neighbor, but an anxious soul is duty bound to make sure the non-compliant are shamed.Without the truth, I cannot see my neighbor as a child of God but only the "other" who is alien to me or else a co-conspirator who makes me feel validated in my foolishness. Blinded by ideology and social anxiety, I only see obstacles, cogs and sycophants. An obstacle or a cog in the wheel of social progress does not challenge me to love anymore than a sycophant. Only a neighbor can do that. 

To see our neighbor in truth, the fog of social anxiety and radical ideology need to be lifted. Only the power of God can dispel falsehood and free the heart to see rightly. Christian prayer accesses this power. A child of God, a real neighbor, does not leave me indifferent but summons sacrifice. Prayer calls down power that allows me to welcome this gift.

October 9, 2021

The Eucharist and the Church

The Mystery of the Eucharist, the great thanksgiving sacrifice of Christ that continues in the Church, reconstitutes the whole cosmos and every heart that welcomes it. In this ecclesial action, the saving action of the Word made flesh is renewed and extended in space and time. An interplay of heaven and earth unfolds in this worship so beautiful and breathtaking as to elude the power of human reason to grasp.

When the Word made flesh blesses and gives to those with whom He has greatly desired to share this sacrificial meal, a kiss is exchanged between the Creator and creation, and the Image of the Invisible God unveils to mere mortals what angels fear to look upon.What is above and what is below embrace. In this dance between the Bridegroom and His Bride, the Church, it is difficult to discern where divine action begins and human action ends.

In this gathering of the meek and lowly, an unvanquished greatness lifts their hearts.  Terror and joy, sorrow and hope explode all at once by the Church's humble act of faith. Sins are cleansed. The ego quelled. The heaviness of any burden born away by Love's wings. In this Eucharistic mystery. the Bride is again made holy and immaculate because the Bridegroom did not hesitate to lay down His life.

Deep waters cannot quench such love. A mystery stronger than death unfolds.  In the valley of the shadow of death, the Eucharistic Lord has prepared a banquet. His body, real food and his blood, true drink. In the face of mortal enemies, this Good Shepherd gives to drink with overflowing abundance. Simply to gaze on this mystery, to ponder the Eucharistic face of Christ, is to take hold of the very joy of our desiring. 

Out of the depths, He cries with us and the Father hears His cry. On the battlefield of life, the Captain and Perfecter of our Faith opens the door to our true home.  The One true Mediator transforms our frail offerings and makes them worthy.  His Risen presence gives over his Body ready to suffer as food for us in our sufferings, who make up in our bodies what is lacking in his sufferings for the sake of the Church. The High Priest opens access to heaven, here and now, so that we might know the glory that the Father has given to Him out of pure love.  

And the Father receives all this from His Son and rejoices.  At last we have tasted that love that the Father has desired us to know from before the foundation of the world. We have finally picked ourselves up from the mud of the pigsty and turned back home.  He predestined us for all such blessings in His Son, and so He spoke His Word into our most painful miseries and waited until at last we might hear. Whoever sees the Son sees the Father.  The Messiah's longing to celebrate this Sacred Banquet with His friends reveals the longing of the Father that we might know His delight. In the echoes of Christ's agonized wordless cry, the eloquence of the Father's suffering love, his mercy, is entrusted to us once and for all. 

October 3, 2021

Sacred Space and Prayer

If prayer is aided by a sacred space that we see with our eyes, it is because the deeper substratum of our existence has a theological character.  If inner dispositions are brought into harmony through what we see and touch, it is because of a deep theological connection between our bodies and our prayer. If it is a matter of reverence, desire for the truth, gratitude for inexhaustible gifts, and hope for salvation, our bodies also must find a posture that receive such mysteries.  It is not easy to see the world by faith. The spiritual eyes of our soul remain close until we allow the Lord to wake us from our slumber. Then, we learn to gaze only by stages and in degrees. 

What is more, this spiritual awakening is not simply a matter of our spirits but also our bodies - for the body expresses the reality of the heart.  Christ redeemed us body and soul - and what ever He does deep in the heart also takes up the mystery of our flesh and blood.  He loves our whole humanity - and wants all the dimensions of our existence to stand before the Father.

This is where a well ordered physical sanctuary assists our hearts. What is in the visible, physical world that we touch with our hands and see with our bodily eyes can dispose the vision of our hearts to be open to invisible mysteries.  If with good teaching and reverence for the Lord assists our hearts, a space physically arranged to what is sacred is an aid. For to welcome a teaching into our spirits also takes up our visible existence. Our faith is performative. In the realm of being real, taking a stand in the concrete particulars of life, a space adorned with holy images, can help train us to see the world with the eyes of faith. 

September 26, 2021

The Body and the Mystery of Prayer

If Christian prayer plummets dim but real reflections of eternal glory in the passing shadows of the world, it is because God has fashioned the world to contain mysteries beyond what is material and visible. By faith, everything becomes a sacrament that gives us God - even the most painful circumstances. Without faith, the human heart cannot ponder the uncreated love that sings in the silences of created things. Naked reason is deaf to the symphony that lifts up the heavens and the earth. Only faith hears the deeper harmonies of this life and sees visible signs of grace in those mysteries reason fails to grasp. Eyes opened in childlike wonder find icons through which heaven gazes on us. 

Our bodies are themselves part of this sacramental mystery. The meaning of our very physiology is not exhausted by medical science. To be fit and healthy is good but only at the surface of what it means to be a human being. There is something sacred about our bodies themselves beyond their mere appearance. Not only do they express our image and likeness to God, but God Himself dwells in us in such a way that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, the dwelling place of the most High God. By our flesh, we make visible that great mystery that would otherwise be hidden from sight. Even at the point of death, the love we express through our bodies allows the eyes of another to delight in the glory of God.

When it comes to prayer, a sanctuary needs to be commensurate with the reality of our bodies. Such a place must help our bodies express the praise of glory.  To make visible what cannot be seen is why the physical places we gather to pray should be adorned with sacred art and solemn of architecture. God desires to enter the tabernacle of our hearts and so we must order physical things in the pattern of His Tabernacle, not made with human hands. 

To enter deep into prayer, physical space and inner dispositions need to be brought into harmony. It is a matter of reverence, desire for the truth, gratitude for inexhaustible gifts, and hope for salvation.  It is not easy to see the world by faith. The spiritual eyes of our soul remain close until we allow the Lord to wake us from our slumber. Then, we learn to gaze only by stages and in degrees. 

What is more, this spiritual awakening is not simply a matter of our spirits but also our bodies - for our body expresses the reality of our hearts.  Christ redeemed us body and soul - and what ever He does deep in the heart also takes up the mystery of our flesh and blood.  He loves our whole humanity - and wants all the dimensions of our existence to stand before the Father.

This is where a well ordered physical sanctuary assists our hearts. What is in the visible, physical world that we touch with our hands and see with our bodily eyes can dispose the vision of our hearts to be open to invisible mysteries.  With good teaching and reverence for the Lord, a space physically arranged to what is sacred, a space adorned with holy images, can help train us to see the world with the eyes of faith. Such a vision of reality ought to grow until even the most mundane and ordinary events disclose Divine Providence to our hearts. 

Making visible what cannot be seen is why it is important to bless ourselves with holy water when we enter such a sacred space. It is why we genuflect to the real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. It is why we bow before the Altar of the Lord. It is why we keep silence in such a sacred space. It is why candles are lit and sacred songs sung and the words of the Bible read and rites instituted by Christ offered.  As we learn this reverence in such public sanctuaries in public prayer and bodily gestures, we also discover that every private place in our lives is a threshold for entering the presence of God.

September 19, 2021

Contemplative Prayer and Sacred Space

In order to enter into contemplative prayer, it is important to enter into a sacred space. The holy place Christian contemplation accesses is heaven itself. Every church, oratory and shrine is only a physical image of this spiritual reality. This is because, joined to the Lord of Life by faith, the Christian lives, not his own life, but the life of Christ in him.

Anticipating the greatness God has prepared for humanity, Christian life is the life of the Heavenly Man - for Christ sits at the right hand of the Father above all the heavenly powers. Christian prayer is gathered with hosts of angels and witnesses around the Throne of the Lamb who died and is risen from the dead. This prayer knows that He has ascended to the Father who is in heaven.

Such prayer wonders over the reality that the One Crucified by Love is now seated with the Father. It allows itself to be astonished over the communion, life and love that is the very mystery of God. This prayer glimpses the sovereignty, authority, and dominion that the Savior has over everything that is below. To have the life of the One who sits at the right hand of the Father means, even though a disciple of Christ remains in the world, the believer is not of the world, but of heaven. The prayer that flows from such life welcomes the glory and victory of the Lord.

By faith, Christ's Life in us allows us to participate in his own victory over evil in every daily circumstance. His life empowers us to make in known His glory even in this world below. We do not see this clearly. It is not obvious to anyone outside the logic of faith. It appears the opposite.

Most consider us fools when we continue to forgive and seek forgiveness even to the point it seems not to make sense any more. Or else, when we begin yet again to disavow what is ignoble in our hearts even after many failures, many deem us hapless or hypocrites. Others resent our defense of life or mock our concern for the most vulnerable. Even our feeble generosity is perceived as little more than naïveté. Yet the love of Christ in us, His Life, compels us nonetheless.

When we enter this obedience, our prayer finds dim but real reflections of eternal glory in the passing shadows of the world. By faith, everything becomes a sacrament that gives us God - even the most painful circumstances. The sacred space in which Christians pray lives in this mystery.

This is why entering in a sacred place is always possible no matter where we are or what is going on around us. Calamity may be crashing down and sudden catastrophe strike when least expected. Believing in God's love, however, sets our lives above the exigency of the moment. His love is more surprising than any unexpected trial.  And such divine surprises never leave us in anxiety or rage, but always lead into hope. A simple act of faith brings us into this deepest center, this hidden peak of existence, this secret garden, this wine cellar, this Bosom of the Father - where the Great High Priest is.  

Through the centuries, the way Catholics have expressed this faith is by making the sign of the Cross.  Indeed, it is through the Cross that one has faith and it is through the Cross that one enters into a sacred place.  By the Sign of the Cross, our bodies declare that what is invisible and spiritual is greater than what appears and is merely material. By the Sign of the Cross, the heights and depths and horizons of our own personal existence are brought under the shadow of the Risen Lord - His love becomes the standard, the banner, and the seal of the heart. In that sacred place, His words resound:

"Father, I will that where I am, those whom you have given me might also be with me in order that they might see the glory that you have given me because you have loved me from before the foundation of the world." John 17:24

September 12, 2021

Spiritual Fatherhood and Spiritual Motherhood

Christian formation requires above all formation in truth. We are formed in truth when our judgements conform to the way things actually are and we act in harmony with what we know. No one can arrive at such judgments or action by himself. To judge rightly, one must be formed. 

Only when one is gratuitously loved does such formation take place. Natural fathers and mothers help their children live in such a way concerning the natural good things of the world.  In the spiritual life, only spiritual fathers and spiritual mothers can provide formation for the supernatural life.  

A spiritual mother and a spiritual father know that a well-lived life needs an orientation point, firm footing, a sure center. Formation in the truth guides the heart to such a sacred place.  This journey requires the courage and humility to see things as they are, especially oneself and God. Firm footing for life cannot be found by oneself. The difficult ambiguities to which this world below is subject do not allow the truth to be a private, individual pursuit even if it requires solitude and silence. God sends us living icons of Himself so that we might find signposts to His Heart.

We are blind until Someone opens our eyes to see, and this Someone has chosen to work through His Mystical Body, the Church. Spiritual Fathers and Mothers help us open the eyes of our souls.  This eye-opening is faith and no one receives the gift of faith unless there is someone else who loves them enough to share this gift with them. This is what a spiritual mother and a spiritual father do in the life of another. 

This eye opening gift is called an awakening - the realization that one has not yet begun to live, on the one hand, and, at the same time, the certitude that life is filled with meaning. Through the listening ear of a spiritual mother, a new beginning is born in the heart. Through the attentive presence of a spiritual father, a hope emerges. Through these icons, a new possibility to give oneself in love appears before the threshold precisely because one feels heard and understood. 

Spiritual paternity and maternity is a source of life in the Church. There is a new awareness of the very gift of life and a sense of urgency to do something beautiful with it in thanksgiving.  An awakened soul sees the world through eyes no longer subject to death - through the eyes of Christ.  

Even then, our seeing is only partial, so we need others to accompany us on the way. So the Lord sends them to us. They help us see that Jesus Christ is the orientation point and under the shadow of His Cross, we find firm footing. They reassure us that the prayer of faith knows this sure center around which the world turns. Spiritual fathers and mothers lead souls to this deepest center.

Christ is the Life, the Truth and the Way - and every true spiritual father and mother witnesses to this great mystery.  Truth confronts disharmony in the things of this world and in ourselves. If we have truly found moments of joy, there also also many secret sorrows that we must learn bear - and He is ready to teach us. So He sends us these icons of his wisdom.

Through the words of a good shepherd, He who is Truth unveils confusion casting its shadows over the many good things that we enjoy and discloses a certain gnawing emptiness that we might wish to put off or walk away from. Through the prayers of spiritual mothers, the Truth Himself makes us deal with the fact that there is something more for which the heart aches and healing for this is not grasped, but received only as a gift. An all this is the loving glance of an elder, a soul that has journeyed a little farther down the road, whose look back encourages us forward.

Here, in prayer before the Risen Lord, we discover feelings that cannot bear the weight of our existence. They often betray us. If this life is too short for all that lives in the heart, it can also feel too long for all the evils that must be endured. The faith that comes from the Lamb of God purifies our feelings. Christ crucified stands ready to give this freely to whoever asks in humble perseverance. Since this gift comes from the Cross, faith knows that frustrated desire, sin and death do not exhaust the way things are.  Faith sees that the love of God is also hidden in the shadows of life and and this love is the pathway of the Truth.  

Spiritual fathers and mothers give souls real food when they train them in prayer and fasting. These are as it were labor pains in the spiritual life. When a soul is hungry, learning the prayer of faith in fasting gives real food, true sustenance. 

If prayer and fasting go together, it is because part of dealing with the truth is allowing ourselves to "feel" our hunger for love to the point that it leads us to pray. Such faith is no escape from reality.  The discipline of faith requires us to experience life for what it is: the hunger, the thirst that lead us to seek real food, true drink. 

When we pray and fast, what we eat and drink by the truth of faith frees us to love when love seems impossible. It is to this love that spiritual fathers and mothers feed those whom they train to fast. By praying and fasting for those entrusted to them, and by teaching them to pray and fast, they prepare them for this real food.

Wherever we find any hungry absence of love among His children, faith fed by the food fasting knows sustains us in choosing to love anyway. We have this capacity because God in whose image we are made also loves in this way. HIs Will is the food that fasting feasts on and this Will is Love Eternal.

God who is Love also hungers and thirsts. Christ reveals this thirst to the woman at the well and on the Cross - it is among the very last things He tells us. In His image and likeness man is made to thirst like God. God's mercy aches to relieve our misery and so too should our love ache over the plight of another.  And where there is no love, if we put love, we will find love say St. John of the Cross.



August 22, 2021

Eucharistic Contemplation

The Eucharist, the sacred banquet, is a mystery that evokes a certain kind of contemplation.  Peter caught this gaze of love when Jesus asked him, "And you, will you also depart from me?" If we desire to enter into Eucharistic contemplation, we must allow this question to inconvenience us until we are uncomfortable. 

Contemplative prayer is Christian insofar as it avails the soul to union and transformation in Christ. It is ecclesial insofar as it participates in the Church's gaze on the Bridegroom. It is taken up into the Trinity insofar as it receives the Word of the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is experiential and personal but not simply a subjective experience. Instead, it is a relation with the One who is Other. It suffers with love the space between human and divine freedoms. It is satisfied by Christ's total gift of self when it leads to giving oneself in return. 

The Body and Blood of Jesus are the source and summit of such a communion.  Under the signs of bread and wine, this spiritual food sustains Christian faith in the very face of everything that stands in its way. This nourishment cuts against the grain. This medicine of immortality swims upstream. This antidote for death resists convention. This Life is new.

In this nuptial banquet, one forgets oneself and is captivated by the Light that shines in the darkness. By this mystic wine and mysterious manna, the voice of the Bridegroom leads into the Father's House. By this divine inflow, one welcomes the Word into the most hidden depths of one's own being. Unless we eat of this flesh and drink of this cup, we are left with meaninglessness. "To whom else shall we go?"

August 15, 2021

Praying for our Shepherds with the Mother of God

Mary stands in the midst of the Church and the brokenness of her members as a sign that reminds us to fast and pray for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit. If, in these trying times, Church leaders fail us now as once did Peter, Judas and the nine who abandoned Christ, we should, as did John, stand with Mary under the shadow of the Cross. Mary did not disdain those who failed their charge. She waited for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. With John, she prayed for their conversion - for the just mercy of God was to be unleashed on them as well. So too for any who would draw close to Mary under the cruciform shadow of God. It is not the failures and shortcomings of her members, even those with authority and power, that defines the Church. It is this Mother's love that has been raised into heaven and draws close to us now. As she did at the Cross and in the Upper Room, so she also teaches us how to pray for the apostles of the the Church.

The assumption of Mary reminds us that the shepherds of the Church are servants, not masters, of the sacred. They do not apportion the Spirit, but the Holy Spirit comes through them with unpredictable force and freedom. Just as at the words of the angel, the Holy Spirit always does the astonishing. It is because he served the Church that Pius XII formally defined Mary's assumption - not as a new teaching, but one that Christians held from earliest times. This has great ramification for prayer.

Mary has taken our hearts with her to where she is so that when we pray, our prayers are heard by her Son and through her Son, offered to the Father. Where is she? If Jesus prayed that we might be where He is so that we might know the glory given Him, then Mary must be there. Hence, we believe that she was assumed body and soul in Heaven that she might be the Father's first answer to His Son's prayer, the Son whom He loved from "before the Foundation of the World." She is also where Jesus sent her when He told us, "Behold, your Mother." Shepherds in the Church are charged with keeping this mystery - as did John. So should we. 

To bring her into our homes and hearts means that we let her teach us to pray -- to pray for the earthly fathers her Son has appointed. Earthly, they are meant to offer spiritual sacrifice, to be spiritual fathers. But they cannot do this until we learn to pray for their wisdom, fortitude, faithfulness, perseverance, patience, gentleness, courage, resolve, bravery and humility. Only the Holy Spirit can communicate such gifts and, somehow, He has chosen to work through a Marian dimension. This Marian dimension is more primary than the Petrine, just as the heart more vital than the head. Thus, even the threefold munera, priest, prophet, and king flow from a contemplative act: the maternal "yes" to the mystery of God. Mary has pondered these mysteries in the heart of her Son and she knows how to unlock them for spiritual fathers today - but she needs us to pray for them. 

Spiritual fathers need the strength to serve. We must pray that the enormity of their task does not discourage them. Faced with vexing ambiguities and complexities, exercising prudent and just judgment requires a wisdom from above. The struggle for the truth is fierce, we must pray for their fortitude and faithfulness. Before the overwhelming needs of those who they serve, it is easy to be made weary and so they need us to pray for their perseverance. All kinds of betrayals and disappointments thwart their best made plans until it is easy to be overcome with sorrow, so we must pray for their patience. They face disrespect of every kind until it is easy to be overcome indignant, so we must pray for their gentleness. So many threats to the Church and its safety evoke fear and anxiety, so we must pray for their courage. They are aware of plots and traps, and we must pray for their bravery. It is easy to be tempted by what is convenient and comfortable, so we must pray for their resolve. It is easy to be enchanted with what others think, so we must pray for their humility.

In short, the Church suffers from a crisis of spiritual fatherhood, and the Bridegroom is not indifferent to her plight. We who serve the Heart of the Church, that is, those who are called to pray, must learn to intercede for our spiritual fathers, that they might become the men they were meant from before the foundation of the world to be. To this end, Jesus sends His Mother to us - he wills to share with us the one who was most dear to Him that we might learn to pray.  She is a powerful teacher because she sees what we cannot. Assumed into heaven, she sees the Church and all its challenges through eyes no longer subject to death. Joined above to the prayer of her Son, the prayer she teaches turns chastisement, purification and doom into redemptive realities, mysteries filled with conversion, healing, and hope.  

August 8, 2021

Messages from Heaven in these Difficult Times

Even as ecclesial leaders are dismayed before the storm of an increasingly angry secularism, there is also an increase in saints, apparitions and locutions. On every continent of the world, Jesus, Mary, St. Michael and other good Angels and saints have been addressing us with ever greater urgency. Each message, in one way or another, consistently calls us back to basics: personal conversion, daily prayer, reading the Scriptures, praying the rosary, frequent confession and, if possible, daily mass. While not all have been judged by the Church, we should measure what they ask us to do against the Scriptures and Tradition, and when we see good fruits, it is important to ask the Holy Spirit how we should respond. 

While there are some nuance differences, whether we consider Lourdes, or La Salette, or Fatima or even contemporary phenomena the consistent theme is that we have entered a time of impending judgment with difficult hardships and terrible challenges that can be averted or decreased by our own return to the Lord. This is a biblical message that echoes throughout the whole of Salvation History. That story is our story and faith in Jesus Christ, not secularism, helps us find our place in the unfolding drama. Any other message from heaven is only as helpful as it helps us find Him, believe in the Gospel and cling fast to our faith in our own times.

These messages help us remember, if we put them to practice, that the medical and social catastrophes we face are not defined by their human causes, but by divine purpose and how we respond is subject to divine judgement. Divine Judgement is not something that Christians fear, but rather the substance of our hope. Despite all the disorder and injustice in the world, God has taken our side and is ready to right the wrong, to dry every tear, to lift up the lowly and fill the hungry with good things. 

These messages help us realize that it is time to repent of our lack faith, to renew our efforts in compassion and to renounce our pre-occupation with self-preservation. Even in a society where we self-indulgently mutilate our children in fits of identity disorder and nihilistic rage against life, not only Divine Justice, but Divine Mercy is being unleashed. When God visits us with chastisement, purification and doom, chastisement merely limits on the power of evil, purification heals the wounds that have robbed too many of their dignity and freedom, and the doom of earthly kingdoms (even the merely commercial) serve as a sign of indomitable love from above. The order of world events is subject to the order of heaven, and it is better to entrust ourselves to the hands of God rather than the hands of men. 

These messages remind us that world powers whether political or cultural or military cannot make an absolute claim over human affairs. In the face of social schemes to gain more control over populations by stirring anxiety through catastrophes and the exploitation of tragic circumstances, we must choose to act against a spirit of fearful self-preservation. We must act against the vain hope that things are going to return as they were before - as if that were a good thing. 

Instead, the Lord, Mary and the hosts of heaven remind us that we must choose to love, to fill this present moment with all the love that we can.  This is never easy, but by God's grace it is always possible, no matter the circumstance. We must love God and neighbor, starting with those in our own families - we must not allow those we live with to remain strangers or enemies. We must  work and hope for reconciliation, even when it seems impossible. Under the power of God, no earthly power can hinder prayer, empathy and our solidarity with one another in Christ. Indeed, prayer and fasting can change not only our own hearts, but the whole world around us.

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 by the Word became flesh. He has opened a path so that we find 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 we 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 ineffective in countering this tendency. 

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. Without an orientation point, we are lost in ourselves, lacking direction 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 have lost our sense of the sacred not because it is remote. Rather, in our lack of reverence and wonder, we are unaware of how close it is. The ticktocks of the office clock deafen us to angels songs because the noise materially measuring moments rings too loud in our ears. 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 converted to medical science for salvation. The prevailing social narrative "follow the science" supposes, if we will just work together to contain this disease, isolating ourselves as if patients in a giant hospital, we will be okay - for indeed we are all in this together, we were told. As ever new treatments are arbitrarily required, not for the science but for sheer conformity, we should question the role of technology. Does it open human possibilities or render impossible being human? 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.