April 25, 2021

How Shall I Repay the Goodness of the Lord?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 18, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 12, 2021

Our Lady of the Night

In the earliest hours, when world

Yet sleeps in restless wonderings

Cease I, and keep a vigil

In faith's terrible darkness singing 

With the Lady of the Night.

Here, I discover how her serene silence soothes 

tender, lonely tormented

souls, even in death's grip,

For faith's shadow holds

such love from dark night's Lady.

The Cross on an empty street, 

sudden struck sober cars

An absent father's homecoming, 

That wounded son, my difficult brother, sin now

Born away, on faith's lightening, as flash 

And flow those tears unseen shed

Of the Mother before coming Light.

The Cross of cloaked asphalt, cement, 

hidden bus stop, when no-one knew

that disconnected goodly child self-poisoned

In her arms at rest as did her own Son

Save that Woman who gazes by faith's glory.

We place such large stones in the holes we dig

For ourselves, for those we love 

While faith weeps, aching for the lost

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

with the Daughter whose glory sees hope.

Rising, before first light, a dawning New Day, 

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

Every Cross, wounded Hands roll away that large stone,

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

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

April 2, 2021

Under the Branches of Wood Flesh Fastened

Flesh fastened branches breathe Mysterious Wind

Carrying enfleshed silences of a divine cry 

whose wordless harmonies, above deepest waters,

echo with terrifying meanings, 

a fastness against which shores shatters even death, until

Life's dying drinks down dregs unfathomed, 

Bearing away burdens never meant to be carried, 

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

Given for love and by love received.

Hidden hells, of anxiety sheltered prisons - 

Fragmented points of consciousness peering over masks, 

Windows into bags of bones rattling infertile, alienated,  

Frustrated discontent drowning in distraction, a gnashing 

Suddenly stilled by the piercing silence of a dying God. 

Poured out into every frailty, He descends 

Where no one dares, into unbearable 

Ordeals on which the weight of existence

Crushes what love for life one thought one knew. 

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

Given for love and by love received,

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

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

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

Thirst for righteousness so seized drinks in how, 

From the very fruit of paradise lost, the Vine 

Makes this crushed commingling of grapes:

Every grape of each branch itself a moment 

Ripening under the excessive presence of the One 

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

From such fastened flesh flows forth floods ever new,

Given for love and by love received,

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

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

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

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

Gush forth again for those you have entrusted 

With such great purpose in times such as these.

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

That standard by which faith measures 

The gravity of each heart beat, every breath 

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

Under this shadow, hidden in sacred secret,

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

O Sober Inebriation! In your Threeness and Oneness, 

Forge us now in such solidarity of hearts as would 

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