September 24, 2023

Changes Coming Soon

 Dear Readers,

Thank you for reading this blog and for the encouragement through the years. It has been nearly twenty years since the blog Beginning to Pray began -- and you have been a blessing for my life.  This is to let you know that I will continue this blog for many more years, God willing, but in a different format.  In the coming weeks, as details are confirmed, I will pass them on to you.  

Anthony Lilles 

September 17, 2023

Truth, the Heart and the Sacred

"Lord, you love truth in the heart. In the secret of my heart, teach me wisdom."  David prayed these words after he repented of committing adultery with Uriah's wife and then killing him.  Through his sin, he discovered that his heart lacked wisdom and without the truth, he was given over to grave evil. He knew that he was worthy of punishment.  He knew he had caused such damage that he could never undo or heal what he had caused.  Yet what shattered him was that he was cut off from the sacred, unable to offer acceptable worship to God, without standing before the Lord - whose love was more precious to him than life. Yet God takes no delight in the misery of a sinner and yearned for his son to come to his senses. That beautiful prayer "teach me wisdom" reveals a man who has chosen to rise up from the pigpen and to set his chin for the Father's house.   

The Church and the world need this wisdom today.   Wisdom is a vision of the whole and a taste for the sacred. Without wisdom, the heart only sees broken fragments of the truth that excite a storm of passion but never provide ground firm enough for a man's existence. Without wisdom, without truth the heart lacks an orientation point, a banner around which it might rally its forces.  So the heart drifts from the sacred to the profane into chaos.  Standing on the truth, there is stability. The specific gravity of such ground is holiness - the only ground on which God deals with man face to face. Without it, life goes into a free fall.  This is exactly what David experienced -- and this deadly confusion is what we are also experiencing in the world and in the Church today.

Conversations in the Church that call into question fidelity and chastity can only lead to murder and the suffering of the most vulnerable.  This was St. Paul VI's basic insight in Humanae Vitae, a document that might have protected human life if only the faithful were helped to receive it.  He said that the practice of contraception is opposed to the conjugal act and would contribute to a contraceptive mentality among the faithful.  He reasoned that contraception violated the chastity proper to matrimony and robbed of chastity, a dark mentality would open to greater evils among believers.  He prophesied an increase in divorce and abortion. 

This prophetic word is fulfilled in our hearing, and yet few leaders have the wisdom of heart to call us to conversion. The rejection of Saint Paul VI's teaching contributes even now to a culture of death and this culture robs us of the courage we need for life. It is a mistake to believe that this rejection is first and foremost the reality of married couples. Those of us who teach must look in the mirror. There has been an abuse of the authority we have from Christ to teach the truth.  Ecclesial leaders are entrusted with authority to teach and pass on the deposit of faith, and failure to do so is a grave abuse that causes scandal ... and these are indeed scandalous times, times in which the lives of the most vulnerable are at stake. Those whose duty it is to teach have squandered the riches of Christ and chosen a pigpen. 

Recognizing the pigpen that into which too many leaders have led us is not for the sake of wallowing in self-pity.  It is precisely in a time of terrible scandal that we must beg Christ to teach us wisdom.  It is precisely when his apostles betrayed, denied and abandoned Him that He revealed in the most poignant and powerful way the wisdom of God.  So, today, when ecclesial leaders have followed the ways of their fathers, we must draw close to the Cross with the Christ's Mother and Beloved disciple.  

To stand under the shadow of the Cross in this way means not being naive about wolves who prey on the faithful. We must draw close to the Good Shepherd so that He can deal with the wolves. We must decry those who rip at the womb of the Church because of their own heartless lack of wisdom and cry for help. To draw near to Christ crucified, we must reject every form of falsehood.  We must have the courage to constantly speak the truth with love until our grammar includes Spirit-filled embodied actions of tongues, lips and hands. 

No one can declare the truth of our faith with enough boldness, but boldness comes through a return to personal prayer, to fasting and to works of mercy. We must again take up the Bible and read. We must again grab hold of those Rosary beads with the determination of the saints.  We must again find the hardness of earth with our knees. We must again embrace the Cross, practice self-denial and die to ourselves. We must begin again to confess our sins, to do penance, to make restitution, to offer sacrifice and to adore the Lord for His Eucharistic presence is filled with power.

In these ways, Christ will open the eyes of my heart to the goodness of the Father until I see enough to help others open their eyes too.  If only by yanking out the plank that blinds me do I help my brother see, then it is well past time that I yank it out.  This means renunciation and self-denial: turning off the media, the entertainment, the gossip, the detraction. This means turning the heart to solitude, to silence, to the Lord who waits for us in the dessert.  If such radical conversion of life requires trodding the narrow path of determination, humility and patient endurance, it also opens passage out of the pigpen of anxiety and resentment, a road to hope, a future filled with blessing, a journey to the Father's house. When suffering comes, and it will, this faithfulness to the wisdom of the saints makes space for the Lord to do something beautiful, to renew His whole mystery, and in the secret of our hearts, He will teach us wisdom.   

July 2, 2023

Entering into Contemplative Prayer

Contemplative prayer is best begun under the Sign of the Cross. This physical action together with the words that recall our baptism opens access to the heart of God and protects from irrational powers that would otherwise oppose this holy effort.  The words of this simple prayer orient me to the Holy of Holies - Father, Son and Holy Spirit whose life bears me up and carries me into the Sanctuary not made by human hands.  The gesture puts me under the banner of Crucified love, and reveals the spiritual Seal of my heart.  As the Sign is traced on my body, my spirit bows before the Presence of the Lord.  My awareness is filled, and my heart stilled.  Now I am ready to wait upon the Word. 

As the Presence of God dawns in my heart, the light of truth shines on its labyrinthian ways.  The still small voice of conscience cries out and this prayer allows it to echo until compunction.  Finally, my feet find the firmness needed to bear the weight of my soul.

Contemplative prayer accessed by the Cross suffers the truth and discovers the humility of God.  His gentle kindness calms storms of wrath and self-pity.  The warmth of His love ignites the heart -- and the words of the Word resound in great canticles - for He calls me to stand before His Face. 

June 18, 2023

Spiritual Fatherhood and Elijah

A spiritual father is someone who serves the Lord and ministers God's word to another.  This is what Elijah did for King Abab of Isread.  Ahab, for his part, rejected this fatherhood at first.  Under the enchantment of a destructive marriage and idolatry, the king refused to believe. Instead, he pitted himself against the Lord.  The role of Elijah is to bring Ahab to a place where he might be fathered by God, where he might learn to be a son before the mystery of the Lord. The project took years but finally, Ahab briefly came into obedience, and in that brief moment of obedience he found the blessing of God and true freedom.  This spiritual liberty of being a son was short-lived. The deadly relationship with Jezebel stoled away the blessing that could have been his.  His life would go on to end tragically.  As far as Elijah, he too had to face death.  Anyone who is father to another in deadly peril knows that he too must face death with his son, even when his son refuses to be fathered.  Yet, the story does not end here and neither does spiritual fatherhood.  Rejected by Ahab, hunted by Jezebel, afraid for his life and wanting to die, Elijah was invited into an even deeper intimacy with the Lord. He discovered in the face of disaster the still small voice of hope, and through faith built a new future. The death others wished on him was thwarted and the power of God was revealed - when this spiritual father sustained himself on the bread of angels and dared to stand in prayer on the Mountain of the Lord.  

March 12, 2023

The Bread of Life and the Need of the Human Heart

Even earthly bread, if received with thanksgiving, is food for the heart. It joins us in fellowship and sustains not just our bodies, but something of our spirits too because of the love that it expresses. Yes - bread reveals the love of the one who provided it. This love is more important than the nutrients it contains.  If this is true of earthly gifts, how much more heavenly bread?   

God told Adam that he would need to earn his bread by the sweat of his brow among the thorns and thistles. Adam for his part suffered the labor for love of Eve and their children. So too God loves us - and suffers for us. God rained down manna for heaven when his people found themselves most in need of his providence.  Christ said that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. His bread was to do the will of the Father.  He also declared that He himself is the bread of life.  The Word of the Father is given as food for the heart.

From ancient times, the father of a family would break the bread and give it to the members of the household around his table. The offering of Melchizedek is a revelation of divine fatherhood, the paternal love that God has for humanity.  This is what this mysterious priest mediated to Abraham, father of many nations, when he made that ancient sacrificial bread offering.  Christ fulfills this mediation and endows these ancient cultic acts of taking, blessing, breaking, and distributing. He foreshadows this mystery in the multiplication of the loaves, He discloses its significance in his Bread of Life discourse. He establishes these actions in Him the night before He died. He seals their meaning with the offering of his body and blood on the Cross. The power of what he has entrusted to humanity opens eyes on the road to Emmaus. Hearts filled with fear and doubt are set ablaze with love.

The Eucharist, the great thanksgiving, feeds the heart what it most needs.  Without hope, the heart shrivels. The inevitability of death haunts our existence and crushing circumstances can cause us to lose our way. Something in us goads against death even as its alienating power threatens all that is most dear to us. How do we find our standing when our hearts are weak? Yet, God does not wish us to perish - so He feeds us with the Word of the Father, and our hearts, filled with new and eternal meaning, find strength to love again.

March 9, 2023

Through the Wounds of Christ the Father Transforms our Wounds

To be a Christian is to be plunged into the mystery of the Trinity.  This mystery is one of both primordial and eschatological love for humanity.  Just how radical this love is defies any attempt to articulate. Yet the Word of the Father has spoken it once and for all in the silence that followed his last wordless cry.  The eternal meaning of this love confronts the ancient hostility that man has taken against God.  This hostility overshadows all that is good in the human heart, but this man-made could not hold back the light of God's uncreated love. This light is the life of humanity. It shines on us through the Cross because on the Cross, the Word of the Father reveals a love that no sin, or weakness, no wound or imperfection, no power under the earth, on it or over it can ever overcome.  

Since the definitive triumph of good over evil is revealed in the Cross of Christ, then Christian prayer that is under the seal of that Cross also knows this victory. Put another way, participation in divine life and love flows through the sufferings of Christ. Christian prayer dares to enter those suffering depths.    

The reason such access could only only be given at the price of Christ's blood pertains to the whole reality of sin. We have in our hearts a hostility to the Lord that prevents us from entering into communion with Him.  Contrary to some who accuse God, He is not the stumbling block. Our own indifference attempts to impede His mercy. His justice and righteousness is not the scandal. The scandal is our own hostility. We, by our own actions, close the door to the One who has come to us out of love. He suffers our lack of hospitality even as it is expressed in betrayal, denial, abandonment, the abuse of power, humiliation, and violent aggression. As prayer enters into this mystery of suffering, it discovers the life that he yearns to give. When the Word became flesh, he took into himself our hostility and suffered it in his obedient love.  

Thus, the wounds of Christ, wounds our own hostility has caused, have become sources of grace.  For the love of the Father revealed by Christ is not overcome by the chaos in our hearts.  In prayer, we find this chaos and if we humbly beg, the Father pours his mercy through it. The Father touches the misery, the absence of love in us, through the suffering of His Son, and when He touches our wounds He transforms them from storms of hostility and darkness into sources of divine kindness and light. Such is the power of the Cross.  The wounds of Christ heal our wounds and transform them into new vessels of his love.  

If the Father touches us through his Son, the touch of Christ leaves us the Gift of the Holy Spirit.  With the presence of the Holy Spirit, a taste for eternity lingers in the soul even where misery once robbed it of hope. We find in ourselves not only the desire but the ability to rise above the limits of the present circumstances and see the possibility of a greater freedom and truer love.  A confidence, a freedom is ours because God's own strength floods through our veins.  We have partaken of the body and blood of Christ. In this way, the Holy Spirit lives in the wound of love God grants us - a wound that heals us and helps us realize the great dignity for which we are made. 

February 24, 2023

Predestination and Spiritual Revival

At the heart of every revival is the eternal plan of the Father that has predestined us in Christ for every spiritual blessing. There is such wisdom and goodness in this plan that it can move the coldest of hearts into prayer.  It is this grace that stands behind the revival of our own times - the Eucharistic revival is a grace that the Father has predestined us to receive.  Will we open the eyes of our hearts and welcome the gift? 

Some use sacred doctrine to distract themselves from the power with which God moves.  One doctrine that ought especially evoke tears of compunction and gratitude is predestination.  Instead, it is often proposed in a way that stirs up bewilderment and confusion. Yet, if approached correctly, predestination can draw us into contemplation and lead to spiritual renewal.  

Predestination is sometimes used to mask anxiety and smugness before the mysteries of grace and freewill, God's plan and human freedom, who will get into heaven and who will not. The mystery is approached as if it only concerns the particular future of this soul or that one. Yet the Fathers of the Church and mystics like Saint Elisabeth of the Trinity considered this mystery from another standpoint.  For these great contemplatives, predestination was a doctrine about the wonderful possibility to live by the love that the Father has blessed us with in Christ Jesus.  

St. Augustine and St. Thomas took great pains to help us wonder over the freedom of the children of God in the shadow of the grace of Christ. They did not intend to limit the scope of human freedom in the narrowness of despair or presumption. They had no desire to discourage a generous response to the Lord.  They had personally been touched by the unexpected liberty of Divine love liberating their own human love, creating in it new capacities, moving their own hearts across new and yet to be explored frontiers.  This hope they wanted to hand on through their teachings.  

To understand them, we must respect their purpose and holiness.  Instead of a discouraging mental puzzle riddled with presumption or despair, they saw true hope rooted in the victory of good over evil already realized on the Cross. For them, this free decision of God in his loving plan means that nobody's life is an accident or the result of chance, that by God's grace a soul is granted the true freedom to stand with God who has taken his stand with us. In humility, they knew that such freedom was not their own doing but the grace of Christ in them. So did they find their place under the Cross of Christ and stand with Him. Correct interpretation of their development of the doctrine of predestination can only be done from this vantage point. 

The saints saw themselves not as innovating but as protecting the Biblical vision, the vision of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church who preceded them. This is the vision of St. Elisabeth of the Trinity. This is the vision of St. Paul.  In fact, she believed that through the biblical passages that she committed to heart, St. Paul taught her this message in a very personal way, as one soul to another. Relational wisdom can only be transmitted relationally - so the Father sent the Son, and so the Son sends us to one another, and so we enter into one another hearts with the wisdom that is from above.

In this vision, every human person is foreknown by God in a gaze of pure goodness, meaning and beauty.  From the vantage point of pure gratuitous love, wonder grips the heart over just how much God has chosen to bless us in Christ.  Such a vision of predestination ought to evoke determined bold confidence, a firm resolve to receive the gift that God has so freely offered. It ought also evoke humble gratitude and reverence for such an undeserved gift. Here, from the ground of fear of the Lord and love of the Father, we can discover a new willingness to avail ourselves to everything that God has in store for our lives. 

We are invited with the saints to open our eyes. When we do we discover another gazing on us with an ever incomprehensible and inexhaustible love. To look into the eyes of Christ who longs for us in love, to rest in that gaze, in the love that one finds there one discovers that answers to all the most difficult questions of life.  For just such an encounter, the Father sent His Son into the world - and the Word waited until the moment under that kindly movement of the Holy Spirit our eyes were finally awake. 

Predestination challenges us to open our eyes.  Its resounding echo resonates deep into our hearts with primordial and eschatological reverberations. Only the eyes of faith can behold the fire of sacred love igniting the whole cosmos until the heart itself burns with the same fire. To contemplate, to behold, to ponder, to yearn, to be amazed, to be astonished, to let the Word of the Father into our innermost heart - this is what it means to open our eyes.  If we but open our eyes, all the blessings given us in Him transform us into pure praise. Then we become a perfect offering in which the glory of God is revealed in the world.   

Predestination is catholic - universal for every time and place in the life of the Church because such is the love of the Father. Blessed Elisabeth of the Trinity offers her vision of predestination to her sister Marguerite, a young mother with two daughters.  She proposed predestination in Christ to help her sister open her eyes. She believes that even those with busy family lives and overwhelming responsibilities can become the praise of God's glory.  So we who have been predestined in Christ must open our eyes today and behold the goodness of the Father who gives every good gift in Him - for a great gift is given us today, an immense outpouring of the blessing of the Father, and this gift of revival reveals His goodness and love for us.

January 1, 2023

Eucharistic Revival - the Invasion of the Word

 The Invasion of the Eucharistic Word 

The Eucharistic Word invades

In the solemn mirth

Of this very moment,

Under a multitude of veils,

Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity

Rejected but undaunted,

Resounding with meaning - faith’s secret orientation point

Amidst the rush of change, 

Through the profane, Light blazes its trail of glory. 

In the beginning, we hear these silent

Magnitudes of majesty,

In hidden untold splendor,

Bursting forth the more

Betrayed, denied, abandoned,

Suffering to be suffered,

By a surrendered heart, that patiently 

Bears his love lavished soft on 

Beatitude's breathing.

Before this fulness of life, 

a soul can ache with

Such sadness and joy in adoration - 

At once enkindled, overflowed, overwhelmed

By those harmonies

As still remain to be heard:

Throw down your crown, fall on your knees - ah those

Hymns, anthems, canticles becoming

That heart, who raises whole creation into

Dawn's brightness.