“Let me now sing of my friend” — Isaiah 5:1

‘Cause all of me
Loves all of you
Love your curves and all your edges
All your perfect imperfections
Give your all to me
I’ll give my all to you
You’re my end and my beginning
Even when I lose I’m winning
‘Cause I give you all of me
And you give me all of you. — John Legend, “All of Me

On September 14th I felt compelled to violate my self-imposed blogging silence and write something on the mystery of the Cross. Now October 14th has come and I yet again feel impelled to say something, though this time it is for the sheer joy of Patti and my 19th wedding anniversary. It will be more of a gushing than a meditation, but here it goes…

What to say?

The Catechism (#2365) reminds us of what St. John Chrysostom suggests young husbands say to their wives:

I have taken you in my arms, and I love you, and I prefer you to my life itself. For the present life is nothing, and my most ardent dream is to spend it with you in such a way that we may be assured of not being separated in the life reserved for us…I place your love above all things, and nothing would be more bitter or painful to me than to be of a different mind than you.

 

Wedding

“Stern as death is love, relentless as the nether world is devotion; its flames are a blazing fire. Deep waters cannot quench love, nor floods sweep it away.” — Song of Songs 8:6-7

When we were married I thought my love for Patti to be so intense and fiery it could never be surpassed. I believed my love so absolutely unyielding that I could confidently assert it was “stern as death.” On our wedding morning I pronounced our nuptial vows with a deep sense of conviction, willing every syllable with all my might. I even remember quietly whispering words from the prophet Malachi just after I completed the vows, “For I hate divorce, says the Lord, the God of Israel” (2:16). In fact, my original choice for the first nuptial Mass reading was Malachi 2:10-16, but I later changed my mind.

I was fiercely resolved that our bond, entrusted to us by God that day, would never be soiled, damaged or broken. I prayed, “God, keep us faithful.” Our Gospel reading was from John 17,

As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. — 17:21

I could never have imagined, though, the whole truth of the matter. I could not have known what it meant not just to be, but to become “one.” The ways in which we’d live our life together, day in and day out, would forge and reveal a unity, a depth, a bond that was far more powerful, thrilling and real than anything I could have conjured up in my imagination that day we were married. What a mystery marriage is as it imparts to us no abstract or sentimental unity, but the privileged opportunity to cooperate with the God who effects re-unity in our fragmented humanity by means of the dying and rising of Jesus. The pledge of lifelong unity was a pledge to receive, to embody and to return to God in death Christ’s cruciform love.

The Icon of Christ the Bridegroom (Ο Νυμφίος), taken from iconreader.files.wordpress.com

Forging a totius vitae consortium, a “total partnership of life” (Can. 1055 §1)

Better and worse, sickness and health, prosperity and need, births and miscarriages, peace and chaos, laughter and tears, arguments and peace, leisure and exhaustion, faithfulness and sin and reconciliation. We’ve truly been learning to dance together, to sing in harmony. We’ve become, and are daily becoming more, co-celebrants of the sacrament of life and love, co-stewards of a domestic church, co-mediators of divine grace, co-lovers of Christ in each other. Our marriage has been drenched in happiness; raptured in joy; baptized in tears, blood and sweat; has burned with passion and anger; labored through sleepless nights and weary days; and has accompanied us into unknown lands and uncertain futures.

Wherever you go, I will follow,
Wherever you live is my home.
Though days be of blessing or sorrow,
though house be of canvas or stone,
Though Eden be lost to the past,
though mountains before us be vast,
Wherever you go, I am with you.
I never will leave you alone. – Covenant hymn 

We learn again every day, fumbling along the way, how to fashion our “two in one flesh” body into a living sacrifice for our children, our church or whomever it is God places along our pathway. We learn to pray together, from afar and near, tracing crosses on one another’s forehead, bending on our knees together beside our bed, blessing our children. We offer our entwined lives at Mass, repent our sins in the same Confessional line, learn to love in silence together. We bless meals holding hands across the table and wrap our children in begging, thankful, praising prayer.

One night I recall suffering terrible anxiety and fear, and Patti spontaneously turned to pray over me. All at once my fears fell away and I fell asleep under her watching eyes. We have also prayed together out of terrible anguish, and as the anguish still remained, strength to endure came. We can feel welding, knitting, in our souls; harder, stronger each time. I am weak, but as this marriage is His, He is strong. He is what we have to offer one another.

I will hold the Christ light for you
In the nighttime of your fear
I will hold my hand out to you
Speak the peace you long to hear. – Servant Song

Over time, day by day, bit by bit, muddling together through the messiness of living and loving, amid the glorious tangle of our children, through ebbs and flows, our unity intensifies, our bond strengthens, and our love uncovers a depth within we ourselves cannot see until life’s trials break us open to reveal what lies hidden within. The mysticism of marriage is a mysticism of messy, mundane, playful, intoxicating love. But how could sacramental love be otherwise, plunged as it is in the mystery of Christ?

Patti once said, “We never could have known that day of our wedding what it meant to love…and I thought I really knew then what love meant. Laugh at me!”

“Whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” — 1 John 4:20

A priest once told me in Confession something like this, “You love God best when you love your wife most. Before your children, there was her. [Your children] need you to love God in her first. She’s your Sacrament, not them. And they need your Sacrament.”

Christian marriage, like the other sacraments, “whose purpose is to sanctify people, to build up the body of Christ, and finally, to give worship to God,” is in itself a liturgical action glorifying God in Jesus Christ and in the Church. By celebrating it, Christian spouses profess their gratitude to God for the sublime gift bestowed on them of being able to live in their married and family lives the very love of God for people and that of the Lord Jesus for the Church, His bride. — St. John Paul II

That’s what we have tasted, what we aspire to, what we have failed in, repented of and resumed again and again. It’s a quest more thrilling than any other adventure. In our nuptial liturgy divinity and humanity are laboring to love one another on the Cross. The liturgy of marriage, like the Cross, is a place of glory and pain, of rejection and inexhaustible mercy, of infinite grace and fearsome love, of unspeakable joy and total surrender, of beauty and new life, of fear and trust, of darkness and light, of patience and long-suffering.  It’s a ceaseless liturgy that give this world glimpses of Another. I have found that marriage, when one surrenders oneself to its grace, offers an intimacy with Christ that can hardly be justly praised for its grandeur. Even as I was seduced into marriage by my love for Patti, I was simultaneously seduced into another Love.

The liturgy, like the feast, exists not to educate but to seduce people into participating in common activity of the highest order, where one is freed to learn things which cannot be taught. – Aidan Kavanagh

Marriage is also, as Pope Francis said, a revolutionary liturgy:

Today, there are those who say that marriage is out of fashion… They say that it is not worth making a life-long commitment, making a definitive decision, ‘for ever’, because we do not know what tomorrow will bring. I ask you, instead, to be revolutionaries, I ask you to swim against the tide; yes, I am asking you to rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary and that ultimately believes you are incapable of responsibility, that believes you are incapable of true love.

We are capable! We who are fashioned in the image of a God who is love are capable of true love, enduring love, love that endures as relentlessly as the Crucified and shines as gloriously as the Risen One. Divine love is the core-gift of marriage and we must daily receive this love as a gift from Christ’s Spirit in hands outstretched and hearts uplifted. Petite, et dabitur vobis: quærite, et invenietis: pulsate, et aperietur vobis — “Ask, and you will receive: seek and you will find: knock, and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7).

Man is a pauper who needs to beg everything of God. — St. John Vianney

Facie ad faciem, “Face to face”

My grandfather sent us a letter just before our wedding, a letter I’ve quoted before in this blog. When they sent it, Nana and Pop had been married for sixty nine years. Here are the very first lines of his letter:

First and foremost we will follow the time-worn custom of sending you our congratulations. More importantly, my response to Patti’s photograph is “Wow! What took you so long.” Nana’s is more sedate but eloquent with the elegance of her simple honesty: “Patti is a beautiful girl. She has a good character. It is in her face”. I’m not going to attempt improving on that assessment except to say, “Yeah!”

That beautiful face, the face of Patricia Ann, became for me on 10/14/95 the face mine was created to look at, to kiss, to smile with, to cry with, to laugh with. Her face became for me on that day the sacrament of Christ, a shroud bearing the imprint of His paschal gaze. I love that face.

On that day, O Lord, after death has parted us, may Patti and I be eternally reunited in the Garden of your Paradise. With her face beside mine, hands joined, O Lord, may I forever behold your Face through,, with and in hers. May it be so in saecula saeculorum. Amen. Deo gratias.

When I fall in love it will be forever
Or I’ll never fall in love
In a restless world like this is
Love is ended before it’s begun
And too many moonlight kisses
Seem to cool in the warmth of the sun

When I give my heart it will be completely
Or I’ll never give my heart
And the moment I can feel that you feel that way too
Is when I fall in love with you.

And the moment I can feel that you feel that way too
Is when I’ll fall in love with you.

– Nat King Cole, “When I Fall in Love” (Our wedding reception theme song)

Patti

Ave Crux! Okay, now back to silence till 1/1/15

Adoration of the Cross, Taken from drevodelatel.ru

Today’s feast dismantled my resolve to not blog until January 1st. At least for a day.

How could I resist the infinite force of the Exaltatio, the “exaltation” of the precious and life-giving Cross? Even the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time could not resist this Feast, so who am I to remain silent?

Yet, I have little coherent to say. Only some splattering of paint that flew from my prayer this morning.

Ave crux, spes unica, “Hail the Cross, our only hope.”

A Sudanese refugee, pointing to the crucifix carried by a Catholic missionary priest, once said: “Now there, there is a God I can worship. He walks with me.”

The Cross bears within its frame the truth that an all-pure God, in His love for humanity, risked contamination with the filth of sin and death.

A man I know who’s long worked in and for the Church, and has seen within her the best and worst of humanity, responded once to a rookie church employee who was kvetching about the warts and stains of various church leaders: “Yah, it’s a mess. But so was Calvary. God, uncomplaining, puts Himself in the middle of messes and so do we if we’re His servants.”

The Cross is the farthest exodus of God from eternal bliss, God’s ek-stasis, His “coming out of himself” to face His enemy (Rom. 5:10) with unimaginably tender mercy, to save that which was lost. Like the Samaritan who tended to the fallen stranger – who could well have been a decoy-victim luring do-gooders into an ambush on the exceedingly dangerous road to Jericho — God-in-Jesus stooped down from the supernal Heights with great compassion and tended to our mortal wounds. And we savaged Him, violently stripping Him of all His glory. Though, O Terrible Paradox, even that awful stripping proved to reveal God ever more glorious still! Naked, dying, mocked, rejected, hated, cajoled, struck-down, God’s most glorious attribute — mercy — ascended to the highest of heights and filled the universe with its all-surpassing brightness.

The God of the Cross is not risk-averse in His love for humanity, not self-protective.

And so the Church bears within, impressed upon by the fiery waters of Baptism and the crimson hues of Chrism oil, this divine drive to risk all for the sake of the well-being of the Other – for the God-Neighbor. To be outward, downward, turned toward the broken, wretched, irritating man or woman nearby is to face Godward. Dorothy Day: “We love God only as much as we love the person we like least.” Pope Francis: “We need to avoid the spiritual sickness of a church that is wrapped up in its own world: when a church becomes like this, it grows sick. It is true that going out on to the street implies the risk of accidents happening, as they would to any ordinary man or woman. But if the church stays wrapped up in itself, it will age. And if I had to choose between a wounded church that goes out on to the streets and a sick, withdrawn church, I would definitely choose the first one.”

The Cross, God-made-serpent, God-expended, God-emptied, God-made-sin (2 Cor. 5:21), God-so-loving-us that our imaginations cannot bear its weight, save in this Symbol and Sign, this horrid Tree on which Love bled and Life died.

Why?

Qui propter nos hómines et propter nostram salútem descéndit de cælis, “Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven.” God from God come down to lift up the fallen children.

Man fell, God falls. The Cross opens for us a revelation about God that no mind could have conceived of, and which rightly leads us to stupefied, if adoring, silence.

“God’s passionate love for his people—for humanity—is at the same time a forgiving love. It is so great that it turns God against himself, his love against his justice.” – Benedict XVI

I once shared this Dietrich Bonhoeffer quote with you on Good Friday, but it’s worth repeating:

“Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work. The kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared.”

At today’s Mass, remember that the Food and Drink you ingest into your embodied souls was gained and given at unspeakable cost to God. Eat and drink with reverence, awe, holy fear and a full awareness of the real danger that comes with consuming it. Repent of all in you that refuses conformity to the prodigal extravagance of divine love; repent before you dare receive into your very depths Heaven’s Hound.

“You are the body of Christ. In you and through you the work of the incarnation must go forward. You are to be taken; you are to be blessed, broken, and given; that you may be the means of grace and the vehicles of the Eternal love. Behold what you are. Become what you receive.” – St. Augustine

The Sermon on the Plain in St. Luke’s Gospel is a presage of the Cross, a prelude, a preface, an exegesis, a prism that rendered the Cross’ invisible light into a visible spectrum of colors with which Christians paint the world beautiful.

But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. — Luke 6:27-35

Okay, back to silence. Blessings on you all.

Until 2015

I write you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears. — 2 Cor. 2:4

That’s a dramatic opening statement, I know. I know also that applying it to my Blog writing may seem absurdly excessive. Maybe so. But, though I am at peace with the decision because of its clarity, it’s the experience I had within as I discerned and decided this summer that I needed to stop blogging, at least for 2014, to attend with more undivided attention to the increasingly weighty responsibilities of work and home.

Exhaustion is a great teacher.

Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world. — CS Lewis

As I said in June, and have said before too many times, this Blog is a nearly unparalleled joy for me. It’s my theological playground where my faith-in-quest mind is allowed a free reign it’s not allowed even when I teach — I can blow where the Spirit wills in an unfettered way. I have also experienced a deep sense of communion with those who think with me on this Blog — who read and pray and wrestle with the thoughts I offer. Thank you for enriching my mind and heart by lending your own to that which is my life’s passion: to become a sacramental sign for seekers of the Word made fresh.

Again, if you put your email in the subscription window to the right you will receive my Blogs again when I return. I will, God willing, begin again 1/1/15. May the eternal God bless you with all good things, especially through the intercession of today’s O.P. saint, St. Dominic Guzmán!

I’ll leave you with a piece of sage advice a priest friend shared with me earlier this summer that will continue to daily call me back to the One Thing Necessary.

Tom,

I keep trying to call myself back to his, many times failing in the task. Then I try to make my failure part of my prayer. Nevertheless, what Benedict XVI said to priests applies to all vocations.  Have a fruitful and restful bloggus interuptus.

“Dear brother priests, if your faith is to be strong and vigorous, as you well know, it must be nourished with assiduous prayer. Thus be models of prayer, become masters of prayer. May your days be marked by times of prayer, during which, after Jesus’ example, you engage in a regenerating conversation with the Father. I know it is not easy to stay faithful to this daily appointment with the Lord, especially today when the pace of life is frenetic and worries absorb us more and more. Yet we must convince ourselves: the time he spends in prayer is the most important time in a priest’s life, in which divine grace acts with greater effectiveness, making his ministry fruitful. The first service to render to the community is prayer. And therefore, time for prayer must be given a true priority in our life. I know that there are many urgent things: as regards myself, an audience, a document to study, a meeting or something else. But if we are not interiorly in communion with God we cannot even give anything to others. Therefore, God is the first priority. We must always reserve the time necessary to be in communion of prayer with our Lord.”

 ADDRESS OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI

TO PRIESTS, DEACONS AND SEMINARIANS

OF THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BRINDISI

Cathedral of Brindisi

Sunday, 15 June 2008

 

In the love of Christ,

Dr. Tom

Taken from usatoday.net

Summer hiatus (June 14 – August 14)

{if you wish to receive posts again when I resume, please feel free to submit your email over here —>}

A random “Far Side” comic that well sums my deepest math-phobic fears. Taken from calculushumor.com

This is my 897th post since I began. Hard to believe. My son said to me the other day when he saw me typing, “Dad, that your Blog?” “Yes,” I replied. “Don’t you ever run out of things to say?” I said, “Well, why don’t you read them and tell me if I do.”

I have discerned that the Lord is calling me to a hefty bloggus interruptus, and though it sounds sinful I promise it’s not. It is a grief for me to stop, and a friend of mine warned me that I will probably lose a lot of readers. I have family vacays coming up, I am teaching a course in July on Liturgy and priestly spirituality, I am leading 2 retreats, I am preparing for a new course to teach this Fall at the seminary (Pastoral Theology) and bracing for a new year as Academic Dean (administerium meum est ad mortem). Then there’s sleep and such.

Discernment very often is about judging limits that protect one’s own personal limitations and primary vocational responsibilities. Such limits ensure that I do not become unfaithful to the few good things God is calling me to do by doing other good things He is not calling me to do. It’s among the Evil One’s favorite tactics, and the one most easily rationalized.

Right Gratitude

I truly love this template. It permits me to paint on a digital canvas the theological storm that swirls about on my “inscape,” mostly within my imagination. As I frequently say, I am never not amazed that people find in Neal Obstat a source of spiritual nourishment. For me, there is no higher purpose I could imagine for any of my theological work than for it to become viaticum, food for the journey to our Father’s house. Deo gratias, “Thanks be to God”!

I must say that since I began writing this Blog in 2010 I have had more fresh theological insights than in the previous twenty-something years of theological study combined. Part of that is the natural gift that comes with the discipline of writing — as you write, you express and create ideas. But another part, I am convinced, is that the impulse to write daily, the superabundance of fresh insights, flows (on better days) from the Lord for you. So many times this or that idea will seize me in the midst of a relatively innocuous task – taking out the garbage, sitting in a budget committee meeting or while I’m taking a shower (tmi) — and it will not leave me alone until I write it here and edit it for posting. Not in an oppressive way, but with a gentle insistence that remains until the task is completed. Now and again, some kind reader will leave a comment that affirms they “needed” a certain message, or received a certain grace from what was said in a post. That makes it all worth the labor.

In this, I find confirmed again and again a truth my first spiritual director drilled into me long ago:

Tom, if people some day compliment you on your work, on your teaching, and they thank you for this or that grace they received through you, I want you to say to yourself at once, “How much God must love them to give me these gifts!” Because any gift you have been given is not about you, Tom, it’s about them; it’s for them. If you make the gifts about you, think you’re special because you have them, then those gifts are ruined and they will become the very reason for your condemnation. But if you make them about others, then they will sanctify you. Remember what I told you: the premier sign of holiness is humility; and the premier sign of humility is that others’ needs and welfare populate your thoughts more than your own do. And remember, if God can speak through Balaam’s jackass [Numbers 22:21-39] he can even speak through you…

A new patron saint.

“Balaam and the Ass,” Pieter Lastman 1622. Taken from morenormalthannot.com

Favor?

If I might ask 2 final favors from you:

1. Who are you? Though I enjoy immensely the steady stream of comments from a core of a dozen or so friends and other people whom I feel I know a bit, I always wonder who is out there on the digital continent reading. If you could leave a brief comment here sharing who you are, I would be grateful!

2. Kindly pray for me and my family. I will include you in my daily prayer for a new Pentecost:

Father in heaven,
renew your wonders in our time,
as though by a new Pentecost,
by sending down your Spirit upon us.
Grant that by the same Spirit
your holy Church in [name your diocese],
praying with one mind and one heart
together with Mary, the Mother of Jesus,
and guided by Sts. John XXIII and John Paul the Great,
may make present in our world
the kingdom of your Divine Son:
a kingdom of truth and life,
a kingdom of holiness and grace,
a kingdom of justice, love, and peace. Amen.

[I adapted this from Archdiocese of Detroit prayer found here]

Yad Vashem

Let me leave you two texts — (1) Pope Francis’ awe-inspiring words spoken at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial during his recent journey to the Holy Land and (2) Pope Benedict’s equally awe-inspiring words spoken at Auschwitz (which I have posted before). Note the remarkably different, yet complementary, vantage each takes on the same mysterium iniquitatis, “mystery of evil.”

+++

Address of His Holiness Pope Francis
Visit to the Memorial of Yad Vashem
Jerusalem, 26 May 2014

“Adam, where are you?” (cf. Gen 3:9).
Where are you, o man? What have you come to?
In this place, this memorial of the Shoah, we hear God’s question echo once more:
“Adam, where are you?”
This question is charged with all the sorrow of a Father who has lost his child.
The Father knew the risk of freedom; he knew that his children could be lost…
yet perhaps not even the Father could imagine so great a fall, so profound an abyss!
Here, before the boundless tragedy of the Holocaust,
That cry – “Where are you?” – echoes like a faint voice in an unfathomable abyss…
Adam, who are you? I no longer recognize you.
Who are you, o man? What have you become?
Of what horror have you been capable?
What made you fall to such depths?
Certainly it is not the dust of the earth from which you were made.
The dust of the earth is something good, the work of my hands.
Certainly it is not the breath of life which I breathed into you.
That breath comes from me, and it is something good (cf. Gen 2:7).
No, this abyss is not merely the work of your own hands, your own heart…
Who corrupted you? Who disfigured you?
Who led you to presume that you are the master of good and evil?
Who convinced you that you were god?
Not only did you torture and kill your brothers and sisters,
but you sacrificed them to yourself, because you made yourself a god.
Today, in this place, we hear once more the voice of God:
“Adam, where are you?”
From the ground there rises up a soft cry: “Have mercy on us, O Lord!”
To you, O Lord our God, belongs righteousness;
but to us confusion of face and shame (cf. Bar 1:15).
A great evil has befallen us, such as never happened under the heavens (cf. Bar 2:2).
Now, Lord, hear our prayer, hear our plea, save us in your mercy.
Save us from this horror.
Almighty Lord, a soul in anguish cries out to you.
Hear, Lord, and have mercy!
We have sinned against you. You reign for ever (cf. Bar 3:1-2).
Remember us in your mercy.
Grant us the grace to be ashamed of what we men have done,
to be ashamed of this massive idolatry,
of having despised and destroyed our own flesh
which you formed from the earth,
to which you gave life with your own breath of life.
Never again, Lord, never again!
“Adam, where are you?”
Here we are, Lord, shamed by what man,
created in your own image and likeness,
was capable of doing.
Remember us in your mercy.

Address by Pope Benedict XVI
Auschwitz-Birkenau, 28 May 2006

To speak in this place of horror, in this place where unprecedented mass crimes were committed against God and man, is almost impossible —and it is particularly difficult and troubling for a Christian, for a Pope from Germany. In a place like this, words fail; in the end, there can only be a dread silence — a silence which is itself a heartfelt cry to God: Why, Lord, did you remain silent? How could you tolerate all this?

In silence, then, we bow our heads before the endless line of those who suffered and were put to death here; yet our silence becomes in turn a plea for forgiveness and reconciliation, a plea to the living God never to let this happen again.

I had to come. It is a duty before the truth and the just due of all who suffered here, a duty before God, for me to come here as the successor of Pope John Paul II and as a son of the German people — a son of that people over which a ring of criminals rose to power by false promises of future greatness and the recovery of the nation’s honor, prominence and prosperity, but also through terror and intimidation, with the result that our people was used and abused as an instrument of their thirst for destruction and power.

This is the same reason why I have come here today: to implore the grace of reconciliation — first of all from God, who alone can open and purify our hearts, from the men and women who suffered here, and finally the grace of reconciliation for all those who, at this hour of our history, are suffering in new ways from the power of hatred and the violence which hatred spawns.

How many questions arise in this place! Constantly the question comes up: Where was God in those days? Why was he silent? How could he permit this endless slaughter, this triumph of evil?

The words of Psalm 44 come to mind, Israel’s lament for its woes: “You have broken us in the haunt of jackals, and covered us with deep darkness … because of you we are being killed all day long, and accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep,O Lord? Awake, do not cast us off forever! Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression? For we sink down tothe dust; our bodies cling to the ground. Rise up, come to our help! Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love!” (Psalm 44:19,22-26).

This cry of anguish, which Israel raised to God in its suffering, at moments of deep distress, is also the cry for help raised by all those who in every age — yesterday, today and tomorrow — suffer for the love of God, for the love of truth and goodness. How many they are, even in our own day!

We cannot peer into God’s mysterious plan — we see only piecemeal, and we would be wrong to set ourselves up as judges of God and history. Then we would not be defending man, but only contributing to his downfall. No — when all is said and done, we must continue to cry out humbly yet insistently to God: Rouse yourself! Do not forget mankind, your creature!

And our cry to God must also be a cry that pierces our very heart, a cry that awakens within us God’s hidden presence — so that his power, the power he has planted in our hearts, will not be buried or choked within us by the mire of selfishness, pusillanimity, indifference or opportunism.

Let us cry out to God, with all our hearts, at the present hour, when new misfortunes befall us, when all the forces of darkness seem to issue anew from human hearts: whether it is the abuse of God’s name as a means of justifying senseless violence against innocent persons, or the cynicism which refuses to acknowledge God and ridicules faith in him.

Let us cry out to God, that he may draw men and women to conversion and help them to see that violence does not bring peace, but only generates more violence — a morass of devastation in which everyone is ultimately the loser.

Pope Benedict XVI entering the Auschwitz camp. Taken from bp.blogspot.com

Pope Francis praying at the eternal flame, Yad Vashem. Taken from yadvashem.org

My wife, conception, Tori, Sinéad O’Connor and other unrelated items

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A rose in our “Mary Garden.”

Today I’d like to leave a smattering of miscellaneous insights that have been hanging around in my head the last few weeks. I’m trying to get these final ideas out today, which makes this one a “doozy,” but I will soon give you a doozy-break. I do hope these thoughts lift you a bit.

1. B-Day! Today is my wife’s birthday. For those who know her, if you leave a comment I will share it with her. Birthdays are big deals. The Church gets enthused about nativities and still has not tired of celebrating them after two thousand years — Our Lord, Our Lady, St. John the Baptist. The Church also celebrates conceptions — Our Lord on 3/25, Our Lady on 12/8, St. John the Baptist (in the Orthodox Church) on 9/23. That would be something, eh? Hey, happy conception day! The icons for the 3 conceptions are super-cool:

“Annunciation,” 12th century St. Catherine’s Monastery In Egypt’s Sinai. Taken from http://www.touregypt.net

“Conception of the Mother of God” showing Sts. Joachim and Anne embracing. Taken from glory2godforallthings.com

“Conception of St. John the Baptist” showing Sts. Zechariah and Elizabeth embracing with St. John off to the side. Taken from images.oca.org

Please pray this Orthodox blessing for Patti this day:

Grant, O Lord, a prosperous life, health, salvation, furtherance in all good things, and all Thy blessings to Thy handmaid and protect her for many years. Amen.

2. Cantare amantis est. You know I love, and am all about, Catholics who boldly cast the seeds of Christ into contemporary culture; especially into music culture. Well, I happened to cross paths last week with a young lady who’s doing this with gusto: Tori Harris. Tori is, as her website (here) says it, “bridging the gap between ancient tradition and contemporary worship music…is part of a wave of vibrant young Catholics who are committed to communicating the richness of the Catholic faith to a new generation of the faithful.” She reminds me very much of Colleen Nixon, whom I have featured several times here. I asked Tori a few questions and I thought I would share her answers with you:

How do you see yourself reflected in these words of St JP2?

JP2: “None can sense more deeply than you artists, ingenious creators of beauty that you are, something of the pathos with which God at the dawn of creation looked upon the work of his hands. A glimmer of that feeling has shone so often in your eyes when—like the artists of every age—captivated by the hidden power of sounds and words, colours and shapes, you have admired the work of your inspiration, sensing in it some echo of the mystery of creation with which God, the sole creator of all things, has wished in some way to associate you.”

TH: I remember watching a youtube video of different artists speaking this exact quote. I was so moved by the video, that I watched it a second and third time – and with each viewing, the words sank deeper into my heart. As a songwriter, I’m acutely aware that, although I am the “author” of songs, I am not the author of creativity. Though I may decide to set aside time to write a song, the resulting work – the melody, the lyrics, the emotion- all of this creativity pours out from something greater than myself. I deeply believe that this source, the origin of creativity, is God the Father. Thus, my career as a musician, is less an independent, personal endeavor and more a participation in the creative movements of the Father.

What unique “word” do you believe your work speaks to your Millennial generation?

TH: There was a time in my life when I thought, “if I could just say the RIGHT thing, or phrase the Gospel in the right way, than surely the world would be converted” – it took a lot of failure before I realized that I had the wrong perspective. By thinking, “if I could say the right thing”, I had assumed that I had some kind of power over another person’s conversion – and this isn’t true. Certainly, we can influence a person, but at the end of the day, it is the Holy Spirit who moves and changes hearts.

I wouldn’t say I had a “word” for my generation, as much as a desire to use music to usher in the real heart-changer, the Holy Spirit. I strive to use music in a way that creates environments of receptivity to the Holy Spirit. I desire for the music to speak to a place in a person’s heart which invites them into a posture of openness, of safety, of gentleness – and in that place, encounter the Holy Spirit.

What inspires your lyrics and melodies?

TH: I have found that my inspiration always begins in a place of brokenness. I lean into songwriting as a way to encounter healing in some area of my life. The lyrics find their way into a song from many different places (scripture, poetry, conversation, personal revelation) but each word or line is recognized because of its role in the process of my healing. I cry out in confusion, or in question, and the lyrics & melodies are the response, the consolation.

Here’s one of her music video, a prayer to the Holy Spirit:

3. When it all falls apart. I came across a small bit of wisdom that a retreat director gave to me not long after my conversion. I kept notes in pithy fragments. It’s so to the point! I’d evidently complained about how hard life had become since I began to have a spiritual life, which seemed to me counter-intuitive and to argue against my life’s turn as “progress.” Wasn’t I supposed to be feeling great, high on God?

The best sign that you are making progress is when everything comes apart as you’re being put together in a new way. All your false props, false securities are being removed. God is giving you some new tools. Stretching you. Giving you a new mind. God teaches the soul by pains and obstacles, not by ideas. The Devil can’t ignore you now. You’re walking from false peace to true peace, from absence of conflict to the presence of truth. Every time you pray, “Help me trust! Give me peace!” God gives you reasons to exercise trust, and removes all of the obstacles to His peace. More tears are shed over answered prayers than over unanswered, so be ready when you pray and trust the Surgeon. We want free and infused graces, but God wants our participation in their acquisition. Pray for perseverance, which is supremely important if you’re going to become what God is making you. Faithful to the very end. The flighty, fair weather friends of God always stay shallow, flit about, never go deep, run when it gets hard. God wants you to go deep. That’s where the gold is. Saints are far sighted and say things like, “Well, after 20 years I think I am beginning to understand.” Canonized saints are defined as those who practiced Christian virtue to a heroic degree. Long-suffering, sticking with it, is the stuff heroes and heroines are made of.

This reminds me of marriage. As my wife and I draw nearer to our 20th wedding anniversary, I honestly feel I can just now begin to say I understand what “the two become one” means. Marital unity is a pearl of great price, purchased at the cost of giving up everything for the sake of my bride. True unity is love refined in the furnace of the “for worse, or poorer, in sickness” part of “for better or…, for richer…, …and in health.” It’s a unity that makes life’s bitterness sweeter than I could ever have imagined,

How good and how pleasant it is,
when [spouses] live in unity!
Like precious oil upon the head
running down upon the beard,
running down upon Aaron’s beard,
upon the collar of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon which falls
on the heights of Zion.
For there the Lord gives his blessing,
life for ever – Psalm 133:1-3

The married couples I most admire have demonstrated unity in “worse” that can get really bad, in “poverty” that can get really poor, in “sickness” that can get really heavy. Yet there they remain, together clinging to God in the night like Jacob in Genesis 32:22-32. In our fickle, feckless and fluid culture, of which I am very much a part, such persevering love has become the new form of heroic sanctity; the new white martyrdom. In fact, those who can persevere to the end in any worthy commitment set themselves apart. My grandfather used to quote to me from somebody, I think Vince Lombardi, who said: “Greatness is found in the last five minutes of anything.” St. John of the Cross loved to say that the night always got darkest just before dawn. Faithfulness, not success. A religious order priest from Sudan I met once said to me with disarming, alarming and unaffected sincerity, “You Americans always think of personal happiness up top. That makes discernment of God’s will very complicated. What will make me happy? I became a priest because my people needed a priest. Discernment was simple: there was a need, I saw it, knew I could respond to it, so I did and will till I die. God is pleased with such simplicity. It’s simple. We’re complicated.”

Humorous aside: I remembered just now an elderly woman I met in an assisted care facility in Iowa saying to me, after I marveled at her and her husband’s 60+ year wedding anniversary, “The secret to a lifelong marriage is love, and the secret to love is knowing when to shut your mouth.” Her husband silently nodded. True love. :-)

4. Stop and Let Go(d). A friend wrote me and shared a beautiful grace she received in prayer and I thought, in the wake of my Sunday post on the Holy Spirit, it would be (with her permission) good to share here:

This morning, as I prayed before Mass, I asked the Holy Spirit to empty my heart so that I might better open myself to His will. I could feel the hard-hearted stubbornness and chaos leaving, only to be replaced a few seconds later by the most awesome calm and peace. If there was ever any doubt that God is good, that took care of it, in spades.

5. Abba! Father! This Sunday is Father’s Day and Trinity Sunday. A felicitous overlap, as the dogma of the Trinity is at heart a mystery of paternity. Being a father is among God’s most extraordinary, ecstatically joyful, really hard graces. Fatherhood awakens you to the fact that your children have become the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, lonely, imprisoned Christ of Matthew 25, who incessantly pleads for your attention and care. My children daily evoke, call, pull and yank fatherhood out of me. If I had to define my own experience of fatherhood, I would say at heart it’s about making my whole self for-them that they might become everything God created them to be.

But my fatherhood is empty and meaningless without its necessary complement in my wife’s motherhood. She challenges and encourages me to be a better dad and I (hopefully) do the same for her. Our marital covenant is the foundation and axis of our family, and our unity as husband and wife is brought to a whole new depth in our unity as father and mother. Neither comes easy. I can see now how bringing those two unities into harmony is not only challenging, but not to do it threatens both the marriage and the children. “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby…” Marital unity, nuptial love, must always come first, must rank ahead of and ground parental love. The children must always see and know — though they will occasionally rail against it — that your love for one another is first and founding and unbreakable. Love for them, thought not “lesser,” must come second. When my children ask, “Do you love Mom more than us,” I answer, “No, but I loved her first and always will.” My children must also see that I defend my wife’s honor and demand their respect for her. Respect is a fundamental, bedrock form of love. Right after my first son was born, I went to a parenting conference by John Rosemond and I remember well when he said,

The most troubling things I see developing in the U.S. as I travel is the increase in children hitting their mothers. Hitting their mothers! I hope that does not describe anyone here today. When women tell me this, and say, “What do I do?” I have two responses: (1) They must know they can never ever do it again and if they do there will be dire consequences; and (2) where is your husband? The second question is usually the hardest to hear…

I’ve mentioned here before that my daughter once said to me years ago, “I feel safe when I see you and mommy kiss.” That lovely affirmation of the gift our sacramental love offers to our children is just as lovely as the day that same daughter (years later) said to me, “Dad, it’s not fair that Mom won’t let me…would you let me…” and I replied, “No, I agree with your Mom and, yes, life’s not always fair.” Even if I don’t agree with my wife’s decision, as far as my daughter’s concerned I do, and I will work out my differences with Patti later when we’re alone. I consider some of my greatest failings as a father those moments when I failed to uphold that unity.

My wife calls me to — better, kicks my butt into — holiness through fatherhood. That’s the way it is for so many men I know. That’s certainly the way St. Gianna Molla’s husband saw it. I think here of the words in a letter he wrote (standing before her relics) to his deceased-canonized wife shortly before his own death:

Now, while you are still present to me, I kneel before you, my holy wife, and I entrust to your intercession with Jesus and our Heavenly Mother, our children, myself and all of our dear ones, for all who knew you, loved you and still carry you in their hearts, for all who turn to you each day, and you know that they are so many, always growing in number: mothers, young people, couples, doctors, religious, in Italy and throughout the world. My beloved Gianna, help me to be as much as possible worthy of you. Please remain always close to us and pray for us.

Your beloved Pietro

Thank you, O Holy Trinity, for lending your paternity to me long enough to reveal it to your children whom you have entrusted to me for this brief time! Make me worthy of this high calling.

Daddyhood thus conceived, if you’re honest, gives you both a shot at unsung greatness and a whole new set of sins to confess that grant you unequaled access to humility.

Oh, and here’s a funny video my kids love to play for me on Dad’s Day:

6. Sacerdotal Songs. “I see music as a priesthood” – Sinéad O’Connor.

I watched a recent interview with this eclectic Irish singer and she made this comment after being asked about her thoughts on Pope Francis. Though it’s no doubt freighted with the anti-clerical sentiments she’s made no secret of, it contains a powerful truth that is, of course, my personal passion.

 …like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. — 1 Peter 2:5

The holy and royal priesthood that the Risen Christ shares out with all the baptized is the power to consecrate the temporal order, to daily transact sacrificial oblations between time and eternity. I was at a priestly ordination last Saturday and was struck by a phrase I had never attended to before. When the bishop handed the host and chalice to the newly ordained priest, he said these words:

Receive the oblation of the holy people to be offered to God.

The oblation of the holy people? The chalice and host are neutron stars, highly compressed, visible symbols that bear within them an invisible oblation, i.e. sacrificial offering. That oblation is the material gathered by Christ’s lay faithful through their daily lives of bearing the crosses of their vocations to be salt, leaven and light in the little corner of the world that God has entrusted to them. To tend and feed God’s holy people with the Shepherd’s love, and then to gather up the bounteous “material” of their lives in order to lay it before God for consecration into Christ’s immortal sacrifice – such is the great work of the ministerial priest! As I heard these words, I was deeply moved to think of the vast amount of “material” brought to the Cathedral that day by those hundreds of faithful who came to share in the joy of the Mass of Ordination. Being flanked by a family with five children and a severely disabled elderly woman in a wheelchair was enough to make me cry! What treasures! What a dignity the priest has to be entrusted by each of the faithful with all of their life’s true riches, that he might, through the Eucharistic sacrifice, store their riches safely in heaven. Through your hands, O priest, nothing good in life is lost. Deo gratias!

Back to music. Musicians have a special role in this priestly work of consecrating the world to God. They get to be stewards of unrivaled beauty. St. Paulinus of Nola once said, At nobis ars una fides et musica Christus, “Our only art is faith and our music Christ.” I read an article (here) recently about musicians who are Catholic, like Danylo Fedoryka and Mike Mangione, and whose mission is to make non-religious music that resonates with Christ. Their comments were perfect expressions of the priestly vocation of the laity:

From the beginning, our desire has been to bring a lightness into the darkly charged environment you find in most clubs and bars. Our goal is to change that feeling of darkness into a feeling of joy. What we bring to the table as musicians is that we love everybody because they’re God’s children. Recognizing the dignity of the people in our audiences requires us to give them the best show we can give no matter what. There’s been a lot of bad music for a long time, and they’re tired of the overproduced offerings from the music industry. Then, along comes the Avetts and Marcus Mumford, and they’re writing songs with substance, songs that are about more than the latest hookup or partying. They’re talking about things that are real, and people respond to that. Our culture is filled with incredible people with incredible potential. But they’re constantly bombarded by so many negative messages. That’s why we’re called to go out into the streets and present a different message. That’s our job. Not to be on the outskirts shouting, but to be on the inside showing.

7. “And on the seventh day God finished his work which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done.  So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all his work which he had done in creation,” — Genesis 2:2-3:

“The Trinity with the Dead Christ,” Lodovico Carracci c. 1615. Taken from wikimedia.org

Art, 4 Art’s Sake

Yesterday I came across what is considered to be among the oldest icons of Christ, probably a 6th century painting that has been housed in St. Catherine’s monastery at the foot of Mt. Sinai for over a thousand years, and was overwhelmed by its beauty:

Taken from bp.blogspot.com

Icons, called “windows to heaven,” are at the heart of the Christian Gospel as they proclaim with vivid power the truth of the Incarnation of God, that God has bound Himself to the material world and rendered it capax Dei, “capable of God.” I shared this before, but several years ago I had an experience praying before a replica of this icon at the Cathedral in Omaha, Nebraska. Prior to that experience, I had always understood the “window” theology to mean the icon opened for me a portal to gaze into the Next World. But that experience, in which I was ambushed by Christ’s eyes, His gaze, whirled my understanding and allowed me to see that icons were windows by which Christ and His saints gazed on — or better, into — me.

This is a theology of grace, really. Every impulse to pray, to remember God, to repent for a sin or to do some good is always first and foremost a response, a coming to awareness of God’s penetrating gaze of infinite mercy that is always cast upon our inmost being. After I had that encounter with the Christ of the Icon, I found this (youtube) woman’s portrayal of the Woman at the Well to be a perfect summation of that brief glimpse I caught of His eternally knowing gaze:

Borrowed light, again

I must again allow some Greats to sing the praises of artists!

To all of you artists of the world, the Church of the Council declares through our lips: if you are friends of true art, you are our friends! This world in which we live needs beauty in order not to sink into despair. Beauty, like truth, brings joy to the human heart, and is that precious fruit which resists the erosion of time, which unites generations and enables them to be one in admiration. And all this through the work of your hands . . . Remember that you are the custodians of beauty in the world. — Pope Paul VI at the conclusion of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council on 8 December 1965

Man can live without science, he can live without bread, but without beauty he could no longer live, because there would no longer be anything to do to the world. The whole secret is here, the whole of history is here. – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Saint Augustine, who fell in love with beauty and sang its praises, wrote these words: “Therefore we are to see a certain vision, my brethren, that no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived: a vision surpassing all earthly beauty, whether it be that of gold and silver, woods and fields, sea and sky, sun and moon, or stars and angels. The reason is this: it is the source of all other beauty” (In 1 Ioannis, 4:5). My wish for all of you, dear artists, is that you may carry this vision in your eyes, in your hands, and in your heart, that it may bring you joy and continue to inspire your fine works. — Pope Benedict XVI

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once they grow up. ― Pablo Picasso

Oh, and here’s a sketch my oldest daughter is working on, i.e. almost complete.

photo (3)

 

 

 

D-Day

D-Day claimed over 4,400 killed in action and 8,000 more wounded. Taken from http://www.crossfitjamesisland.com

…a tribute to your many friends who have paid with their lives for fidelity to their mission. Forgetting themselves and despising danger, they rendered the community a priceless service. Today, during the Eucharistic celebration, we entrust them to the Lord with gratitude and admiration. But where did they find the strength necessary to do their duty to the full, other than in total adherence to the professed ideals? Many of them believed in Christ, and his words illumined their existence and gave an exemplary value to their sacrifice. — St. John Paul II

Last Friday, the 70th anniversary of D-Day, our family watched HBO’s “Band of Brothers” which, starting with their rigorous training in Georgia in 1942, recounts the achievements of the elite rifle company – Easy Company, 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, U.S. Army – which parachuted into France early on D-Day morning, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and captured Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest at Berchtesgaden. It was very powerful and, as one of my sons said, “it makes you realize these were real people.” Something that can be lost when you study wars in history books. Afterward, I re-read Pope St. John Paul II’s remarkable reflection on 50th anniversary of the end of World War II (see whole text here), and would like to share my favorite excerpt here.

O God, grant eternal rest to the souls of all those who died in that war and in all wars.

Many are the voices raised on this 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in an effort to overcome the divisions between victors and the vanquished. There are commemorations of the courage and sacrifice of millions of men and women. For her part, the Church wishes to listen in particular to the plea of all the victims. It is a plea which helps us understand better the scandal of those six years of conflict. It is a plea which asks us to reflect on what the War meant for all humanity. It is a plea which serves as a denunciation of the ideologies which led to that immense catastrophe. In the face of every war, we are all called to ponder our responsibilities, to forgive and to ask forgiveness. We feel bitter regret, as Christians, when we consider that “the horrors of that war took place on a continent which could claim a remarkable flowering of culture and civilization – the continent which had remained so long in the light of the Gospel and of the Church”. For this the Christians of Europe need to ask forgiveness, even while recognizing that there were varying degrees of responsibility in the events which led to the war.

War never again! Yes to peace! These were the sentiments commonly expressed after the historic date of 8 May 1945. The six horrible years of conflict provided everyone with an opportunity to grow in the school of suffering. Christians too were able to draw closer together and question their own responsibilities for their disunity. They also discovered anew the solidarity of a destiny which they share in common and with all men and women of whatever nation. An event which marked the depths of strife and division between peoples and individuals thus proved for Christians a providential opportunity to become aware of their profound communion in suffering and in bearing witness. Beneath the Cross of Christ, members of all the Churches and Christian communities were able to resist even unto the supreme sacrifice. Many of them, with the peaceful weapons of witness in suffering and of love, stood up in an exemplary way to their torturers and oppressors. Together with others — believers and non-believers, men and women of every race, religion and nation — they held aloft very clearly, above the mounting wave of violence, a message of brotherhood and forgiveness.

On this anniversary, how can we fail to remember those Christians who, bearing witness in the face of evil, prayed for their oppressors and bent down to bind the wounds of all? By sharing in suffering, they saw one another as brothers and sisters, and fully experienced the unreasonableness of their divisions. Shared suffering made them feel ever more deeply both the weight of the divisions still existing among Christ’s followers and the negative consequences which these divisions entail for the building of Europe’s spiritual, cultural and political identity. Their experience serves as a warning for us: we need to continue along this path, praying and working with fervent confidence and generosity, in expectation of the fast-approaching Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. May Christians set out towards that goal on a pilgrimage of penance and reconciliation,  in the hope of being able at last to restore full communion between all believers in Christ, a step which will assuredly benefit the cause of peace.