February 28, 2021

Christian Formation

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

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

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

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

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

February 21, 2021

Asceticism, Spiritual Exercises and Joy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


February 14, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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