April 10, 2022

Palm Sunday

"You have stood by me in my trials and I am giving you a Kingdom."  This solemn declaration was made by the Lord even as He faced betrayal, denial, and abandonment - suffering these unto death. To enter into His Kingdom, we must follow Him down this same pathway.  This means that we will face what He has faced. To enable us to follow Him, He must purify us and strengthen us to remain standing with Him even after our sin. To the degree that we are afraid of death, suffering, and sin, we are afraid also of His mercy. But His merciful love overcomes our fear.  Accepting His mercy, we learn to see in our own life experience that sin, suffering and death ultimately do not stand between us and the love of God. Indeed, He has made of them a pathway. 

"You have stood by me." We hear these words knowing full well how often we have failed Him. Yet, He does not focus on that. He sees what is good. He chooses to be conscious of what we have done in our devotion and so He directs us to also acknowledge what He sees.  It is not that He is not aware of our sins. It is only that He chooses not to allow them to define our relationship with Him.  Thus, He said this in the presence of the Twelve: the betrayer, the nine would abandon Him and the most trusted who would deny Him. He says it also to us now.  

"You have stood by me" unveils his decision to see past our failures to a deeper mystery about us that we cannot know on our own. He gazes with hope on the possibilities of the human heart. This is because we are not in his eyes friends who fall short of His expectations. Instead, we are each a gift of the Father to Him - and so He treasures our faithfulness no matter how weak or fleeting it might be.  Thus, He confirms all that is good, noble and true. The the gaze in which he holds us never breaks - He suffers this regard of the deepest truth of our existence unto death and will search hell to rescue it.  Here, the basis of hope no matter how often we have fallen, a truth He repeats today in our presence too: "You have stood by me."  

"I have prayed that your faith will not fail and once you have turned back, you must strengthen the faith of your brethren."  Love requires many difficult purifications and painful healings before we can stand before the face of the One who loved us to the end. No unaided human effort can endure these trials of love. Yet, we never face these alone, but always in the Church with Christ's gentle presence and His mighty prayer. His prayer that our faith should not fail does not mean we will not fall.  It means that if we fall, no matter how far or hard or for how long, we can turn back - convinced that the power of His love is greater than the power of our sin.

What we do not see but what Christ sees is the splendor of His Bride - a splendor in which we have already been implicated from before the foundation of the world. Despite the sinfulness of her members and even the failures of her shepherds, she knows from the vantage point of eternity the way to the Bridegroom in both life and death. She knows this path to love even as it leads through the difficult ambiguities of our lives. She knows it by love and She knows it for love even when we have long stumbled away from it. She knows even as it disappears from our sight at the last moments of this life. And so, if we listen to the voice of the Bride, she teaches us to find it even when we feel farthest from it. Indeed, the Good Shepherd Himself will pick us up and place us there - for He has abandoned everything to find us.  Though we cannot see it, the Body of Christ knows the passage that crosses from the gates of hell to the very threshold of heaven. Christ Himself bridges this abyss - and He suffers it in His mystical body so that we might become immaculate and holy in His presence. 

April 3, 2022

Repentance and Contemplative Prayer

The story of the woman accused of adultery reveals the plight of humanity in the Cosmos.  Christ turns a circus of shame into a confessional, a heartless courtroom into a garden of encounter. The Lord's finger cultivates the barren ground of hopelessness into the fertile soil of new beginnings.

Just as when she was brought before the Lord condemned, we too stand alone, scapegoat of an oversexed culture and the object of unchaste rage. As was the case with her, all sorts of spiritual powers demand justice and point out our shame. The accusations seem well grounded and we feel the ground under our feet slipping towards death. Then Someone bends to the earth and scribbles in the dust. What once seemed firm gives way to his touch and what once faltered beneath the weight of our sin now is suddenly firm. In the aftermath of this earthquake, those who would condemn us have left and we find ourselves alone with the Great Alone. He questions us. Will we dare approach Him and stammer our reply?

If we seek Him, the Lord will draw us by his beauty.  Where he draws us is more than merely a physical place. And He stands us up and addresses us. With the touch of His finger, our accusers have lost their ground.  He draws us out of shame and accusation and into a new beginning, out of the gutter and into safe-haven, out of the pigsty and into the arms of the One who has long awaited our coming home. He does not wish us to be distracted with lesser things, so He arranges everything to free us from what holds us back: terrible trials, catastrophe, failures, voids, unbearable hardships in life and in the heart. All of these become so many thresholds to freedom when we realize that we are not alone, that He leads us through them and that, come what come may, we can trust Him. He even transforms sin into a means of grace when we surrender it to Him in sorrow. He draws us to where the longing of our hearts at last discover fulfillment. 

In the imagery of the Song of Songs, this sacred place is a vineyard, an orchard, a garden, a hidden wine cellar.  These images of paradise speak of friendship, fruitfulness, family, and feasts. In the very shadows of these rich mysteries, the original goodness and nobility given to the human heart flash anew despite it all. On this holy ground, the heart's purpose is manifest in pledges of love stronger than death. There is freedom, repentance and new resolve. In this sacred place, joy and sorrow seize the soul until it explodes with life and meaning.  The way we had always hoped things might be, we suddenly discover are unimaginably more than so.  Hidden fullnesses rush in to fill that gnawing emptiness and we who were lost find ourselves standing just where we ought to be, together, before Him whose love surpasses our every hope. 

And in that deep silence, He gazes into the eyes. The ears take in His harmonies and in the deepest down core of one's being, something new is born.  This newness is a reality for which this tired-out world cannot account and it will last long after all that is passing passes away. For as beautiful as the world in its order and ornament is, what God has done in the human heart is so even more. A new creation begins when heart speaks to heart, when the Word of the Father shines in the darkness, when He is lifted up, when He draws us to Him.