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.