Pouring Coffee Beneath the Ascending Christ

“Ite, Missa Est: The Lay Vocation.” Taken from sportishness.com

As was the case yesterday, today I get to reflect a borrowed light and share with you a homily that is too big to remain parochial. This is an Ascension homily preached by a priest whom I have known for years, and from whose witness I have benefited intellectually and spiritually. He wrote me a few weeks ago after he read my “Cultural Mystics” post and said something like, “This is my Ascension homily! I will be preaching on the lay vocation soon.” I think maybe I wept, or at least fell backwards from my office chair onto the floor. I asked him for a copy of it and he graciously gave me permission to post it here. It gives me more joy than I can express to see this theological flame flaring up in the pulpit, and with a homiletic flair and eloquence that would put a smile on the face of old “golden mouth” St. John Chrysostom.

Enjoy and heed his words!

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Check the Hallmark store and you’ll notice that there are a couple of greeting cards for key moments in Christ’s life. There are cards commemorating Jesus’s birth (Christmas) and there are cards commemorating his resurrection (Easter). But the cards stop there in terms of key events in the life of Christ. Few of us in the United States give out Ascension greeting cards or Pentecost greeting cards. They simply aren’t on the shelves. I looked on the web site of the Printery House, the Christian greeting card and gift ministry run by the monks of Conception Abbey where I used to be a monk for many years. I did find holy cards and icons for the Ascension and Pentecost, although there are no greeting cards for Ascension and Pentecost. These two feasts would seem to be of little importance to many of us.

So beyond being a bit of biblical trivia that we might affirm as true, what does Christ’s ascension have to do with my waking up, pouring my morning coffee, checking email, and heading out to work for the day? How does Christ’s ascension matter to my life and my vocational commitments?

In the first place, the Ascension is critically important to how we understand the relationship of heaven and earth, and the reality of Christ’s sovereignty over all of creation. The problem comes from a very prevalent, but wrong, conception of heaven. Once you start to think of heaven, not as a place miles up in the sky, but as the intersection of the reality of God with us – an intersection that is to us unpredictable and uncontrollable – then you realize that for Jesus to “go into heaven” is not for him to go up as a spaceman miles into space somewhere, and not for him to be distant or absent now. It is for him to be present to us as our Lord and God “in whom we live and move and have our being,” as St. Paul said to the Greeks in the Aeropagus.

Because we haven’t taken seriously what Jesus said in the gospel today, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” we haven’t thought of heaven as the reality of God “in whom we live and move and have our being.” We’ve thought of it like, He’s gone away, leaving us to run things. No. He ascended not in the sense of being beamed up into the sky, but of ascending his throne as Lord of heaven and earth. The Ascension is Christ’s “enthronement.” What began as the cruel mockery, Christ’s crucifixion as King of the Jews, ends with the most surprising vindication. He was indeed King and did receive a throne. Failing to remember and celebrate the Ascension means our Easter season is incomplete.

As our resurrected and ascended king, Jesus gives us a command today. “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

Very quickly, the last sentence, “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Jesus is with us always because no matter how sinful or saintly we may be, no matter how much we may realize and understand this or have no concept of it. First, last and always it is in Jesus that “we live and move and have our being.” Living and moving and having our being in Jesus is not something dependent on us. It is God’s gift, so there is nothing we can do; there is no place we can go to get away from him. As the psalmist says, “O where can I go from your spirit, or where can I flee from your face? If I climb the heavens, you are there. If I lie in the grave, you are there. If I take the wings of the dawn and dwell at the sea’s furthest end, even there your hand would lead me, your right hand would hold me fast. If I say: “Let the darkness hide me and the light around me be night,” even darkness is not dark for you and the night is as clear as the day.”

And the command he give us is “Go, therefore”, in other words, because all power in heaven and earth has been given to me, I command you to “Go…and make disciples of all nations.” So how do we do that? Of course through Baptism, but there is something much more that needs to accompany that and I want to speak about that in terms of how you live that out in your life.

The Second Vatican Council repeatedly outlined and clarified the role of the laity. But we don’t talk about it much or understand it anywhere near what we should. I suspect that the average lay person vaguely perceives Vatican II as a Council which opened the doors of the Church to the spirit of modern world, especially in the areas of liturgy and ecumenism. While there is some truth to this, the Council did much more. But first it is eye-opening to read the warnings of the Council Fathers and St. John Paul II regarding an essential element at stake in this matter of the role of the laity; namely, your salvation.

Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, makes a clear and serious connection between the laity’s life as Catholics in the world and your eternal destination, the fate of your soul:

This council exhorts Christians, as citizens of two cities, to strive to discharge their earthly duties conscientiously and in response to the Gospel spirit. They are mistaken who, knowing that we have here no abiding city but seek one which is to come, think that they may therefore shirk their earthly responsibilities. For they are forgetting that by the faith itself they are more obliged than ever to measure up to these duties, each according to his proper vocation. Nor, on the contrary, are they any less wide of the mark who think that religion consists in acts of worship alone and in the discharge of certain moral obligations, and who imagine they can plunge themselves into earthly affairs in such a way as to imply that these are altogether divorced from the religious life. This split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age. . . . The Christian who neglects his temporal duties, neglects his duties toward his neighbor and even God, and jeopardizes his eternal salvation (GS 43).

Two common problems are pointed out in this quote from the Council: the shirking of responsibilities by those who would focus on their heavenly home at the expense of earthly duties, and, that which is much more prevalent, those who, due to a legalistic compartmentalizing understanding of their faith, divorce the practice of the faith from their everyday life. That tends to be prominent in our culture – faith is something you do on Sundays and something you keep out of the marketplace. This is directly in contradiction to the teaching of the Church.

St. John Paul II alluded to this same message in his Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici, written immediately after the 1987 Synod of Bishops. He said:

At the same time, the Synod has pointed out that the post-conciliar path of the lay faithful has not been without its difficulties and dangers. In particular, two temptations can be cited which they have not always known how to avoid: the temptation of being so strongly interested in Church services and tasks that some fail to become actively engaged in their responsibilities in the professional, social, cultural and political world; and the temptation of legitimizing the unwarranted separation of faith from life, that is, a separation of the Gospel’s acceptance from the actual living of the Gospel in various situations in the world. (CL 2)

In talking about the temptation of being strongly interested in Church services and tasks, St. John Paul II was speaking about the narrowing of vision in considering ministries as those things that are connected immediately to the Church rather than understanding that the essential ministry of the laity is to become “actively engaged in their responsibilities in the professional, social, cultural and political world…”

Jesus told us that we are in the world but not of it; that we are citizens of two cities – that of earth, but our true homeland is heaven. Because we are members of both cities we cannot withdraw from the earthly one to focus only on the heavenly one, nor can we withdraw from the heavenly one to focus only on the earthly one. We must be connected to both worlds; in the world but not of it, as Jesus says.

We hear often about a vocation crisis and although there is a real crisis in regard to the number of priests, there is an equally real crisis in the area of lay vocations. A teaching and emphasis of Vatican II is the call – the vocation – to holiness as the essential basis for the Christian life.

This vocation to holiness points the laity towards their proper role: working in the temporal order for the kingdom of God. In other words, your daily life in the world is the particular environment and means for the fulfillment of the lay vocation.

It is your duty to engage in a sort of sacred subversion by which, grounded in holiness and filled with the Holy Spirit, you change the world from the inside, permeating it with truth and light. That is where you find your salvation – the fulfillment of your role in the world to be yeast in the dough, to be sacred guerillas changing the world by filling it with the word of God just as yeast fills dough with the spirit of carbon dioxide. Listen again to the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.

But by reason of their special vocation it belongs to the laity to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God’s will. They live in the world, that is, they are engaged in each and every work and business of the earth and in the ordinary circumstances of social and family life which, as it were, constitute their very existence. There they are called by God that, being led by the spirit to the Gospel, they may contribute to the sanctification of the world, as from within like leaven, by fulfilling their own particular duties. Thus, especially by the witness of their life, resplendent in faith, hope and charity they must manifest Christ to others. It pertains to them in a special way so to illuminate and order all temporal things with which they are so closely associated that these may be affected and grow according to Christ and may be to the glory of the Creator and Redeemer. (LG 31)

That’s what Jesus means by being yeast in the dough of the world. Again, this involvement of the laity in the world is not an option, but a command given by God, who desires all people to come to salvation. It is also the way in which the laity fully realize their true place and role in the Church. By bringing the Church to the world, the laity brings the world into contact with the Church, the Body of Christ, as the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church says:

The apostolate of the laity is a sharing in the salvific mission of the Church. Through Baptism and Confirmation all are appointed to this apostolate by the Lord himself. Moreover, by the sacraments, and especially by the Eucharist, that love of God and man which is the soul of the apostolate is communicated and nourished. The laity, however, are given this special vocation: to make the Church present and fruitful in those places and circumstances where it is only through them that she can become the salt of the earth. Thus, every lay person, through those gifts given to him or her, is at once the witness and the living instrument of the mission of the Church itself “according to the measure of Christ’s bestowal.” (LG 33)

Each of the baptized has this as a primary vocation, a primary calling by Jesus. By a full response to the call of your primary vocation that you work out your eternal salvation through God’s grace. It is at Christ’s ascension that you received that call and it was handed on to you at your baptism.

So, waking up, pouring your morning coffee, checking email, and heading out to work for the day, make sure you prepare yourself for the work you are to accomplish each day by remembering this simple truth: Christ ascended into heaven and is enthroned as Lord of all creation. He is sovereign over your home and your workplace, over the order forms and the shopping lists, the vacation schedules and the work schedules, even the cranky co-worker. His presence through the intimacy of the Holy Spirit is yours, always and abundantly – in board meetings, in difficult or mundane conversations, in dark dungeons, and in tension filled court rooms. Christ ascended into heaven, and it matters for your life and your work today, because the manner in which you live out the mandate he gives you today will determine your eternal salvation.

 

When We Close Our Wombs

“The Visitation,” 15th century, Heimsuchung von Maria und Elisabeth. Taken from unbornwordoftheday.files.wordpress.com

The biological nature of each person is untouchable in the sense that it is constitutive of the personal identity of the individual throughout the whole course of his history. Each human person, in his absolutely unique singularity, is constituted not only by his spirit, but by his body as well. Thus, in the body and through the body, one touches the person himself in his concrete reality. To respect the dignity of man, consequently, amounts to safeguarding this identity of the man as “one in body and soul,” as Vatican Council II says. — St. John Paul II

I have a dear friend in Lafayette, Louisiana, Dr. Damon Cudihy, who is a radical witness of the lay vocation lived out under the form of husband, father and Ob/Gyn. He demonstrates daily how the synthesis of faith and life is not only possible but beautiful to behold, though its beauty has, for him, only been wrought by a steady dose of costly grace. I admire his kindness, his work ethic, his brilliant mind, his even-handedness and his joyful love of Christ, the Church and the people who cross his path every day. You can see more about his work here.

My main reason for referring to Dr. Cudihy today is to bring to your attention his recent response to an article by a theologically degreed Protestant Christian, Suzanne Burden, called, When We Close Our Wombs (see here). Her main point is summed up in the article’s final paragraph:

…most women will face many choices regarding their reproductive system in their lifetime, and many will face a decision about whether to end their fertility for health or personal reasons. Whatever choices we make, we should do so with reverence, care and the support of spiritual companions. As we do, we agree that our reproductive systems are a good gift from God. And we affirm that decisions about them should be filled with intention, care and the Christian hope that God will continue to bear his good fruit in us whether our wombs are open or closed.

When I read it, I wrote Damon and said, “Would you comment on this?” He graciously did and, though his comment has not yet (as I write this post) been approved for viewing on the “her-meneutics” website where the article first appeared, I thought I would post it here for your edification.

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Dear Suzanne,

My heart goes out to you as it does to all my patients who suffer with infertility and the heart wrenching decisions to undergo procedures which result in their permanent sterility.  As a gynecologist who has dedicated his professional life to addressing the problems of female infertility, painful periods, and heavy menstrual bleeding, and as a fellow Christian, I’d like to offer a unique perspective for both you and your readers.

The symptoms of infertility and pelvic pain (menstrual-associated or otherwise) are the most common symptoms of endometriosis.  Despite the fact that this condition is typically treated with birth control pills, the best treatment for the pain and the only treatment that restores (or preserves) fertility is surgical removal of the endometriosis.  Unfortunately, however, in the age of using birth control pills as a cure all and of IVF as the answer to infertility, fewer and fewer physicians are able to provide a more specific diagnosis and treatment plan that actually corrects the abnormality.

Your situation sounds very similar to many patients I’ve treated over the years.  More specifically, the combination of tubal sterilization and endometrial ablation.  Since I don’t perform either of these procedures, they became my patients when they experienced a fairly common condition resulting from this combination known as “Post-ablation tubal sterilization syndrome (PATSS).”  This condition of intense menstrual pain results of blood becoming trapped in the tubes because of the sterilization occlusion on one end and the scarring of the uterus (caused by the ablation) on the other.  The best treatment for these situations is usually a hysterectomy (often, in retrospect, would have been the best treatment to begin with).

One of the medical principles I strive to follow is that of “first, do no harm.” Accordingly, when surgery is necessary, I do everything possible to do so in as minimally invasive a manner as possible. (Fortunately, modern surgical technology has allowed the once morbid hysterectomy to become one where the recovery period is much quicker and less painful.)  Because fertility is a healthy condition, I would be causing unnecessary harm to a woman’s body if I were to perform a direct sterilization.  By direct, I mean a procedure where the sole purpose is destroy her capacity to conceive children.  When I perform a hysterectomy for a genuine problem (i.e. intense pain, excessive bleeding, etc), the sterility that results is indirect—one that we accept as an unavoidable (yet accepted) consequence to the best treatment for her medical problem (diseased uterus, etc).  If a woman is in a situation where a future pregnancy in unadvisable for whatever reason, there are much better ways to avoid pregnancy that maintain a more complete respect for the woman’s body as created in the image of God.  For married women, this simply entails learning one of the various methods of Fertility Awareness (often derisively called the “rhythm method” by those unfamiliar with its actual effectiveness).  Among all creation, only humans have been granted free will.  Regarding sexual intimacy, this is why mutual consent is universally recognized as absolutely essential–even among atheists.  Using a Fertility Awareness Method to avoid pregnancy is as simple as learning to identify the fertile days in a woman’s cycle and avoiding marital intercourse on those days.  While at first this may sound like an excessively scrupulous method to obtain the same end, if we thoughtfully and prayerfully reflect on it further we can see why this is the best way.

Sadly, a contraceptive mentality as contributed to our increasingly hedonistic society.  When we fail to recognize children as the supreme gift of marriage, we see them instead as inconveniences, burdens, health hazards, or even enemies to be avoided at all costs.  No wonder then that our federal government has now codified law that literally regards fertility as a disease—one that all insurances must pay to cure. (On the contrary, the legitimate problem of infertility is never covered by insurance.)  Since we are a people following the one who is “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6), we must be careful that our actions always reflect a reverence for our “bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit.” (1Cor 6:19).  In doing so we give witness to God’s plan for marriage and the essential good of children—even when, paradoxically, we suffer the cross of infertility.  Since we believe that God designed our bodies and commands us to “be fertile and multiply,” we should joyfully accept children as a gift from the Most High and should be careful that any means used to avoid or postpone new life is completely respectful of our bodily integrity and the truth that openness to children is an essential purpose of marriage.

In Christ,

Damon Cudihy, MD

 

Come, O Harmonious One!

Pope Francis, Taken from wdtprs.com

The Spirit raises our hearts to heaven, guides the steps of the weak, and brings to perfection those who are making progress. He enlightens those who have been cleansed from every stain of sin and makes them spiritual by communion with himself. As clear, transparent substances become very bright when sunlight falls on them and shine with a new radiance, so also souls in whom the Spirit shines become spiritual themselves and a source of grace for others. From the Spirit comes foreknowledge of the future, understanding of the mysteries of faith, insight into the hidden meaning of Scripture, and other special gifts. Through the Spirit we become citizens of heaven, we enter into eternal happiness, and abide in God. Through the Spirit we acquire a likeness to God; indeed, we attain what is beyond our most sublime aspirations. – St. Basil the Great

Getting Spirit-reliant

When I was on my 8-day Ignatian retreat two years ago, my retreat spiritual director — who was in his 80′s, very experienced as a director and brutally insightful — was confronting me on my fear of new situations that challenged me to step outside of my comfort zone. As I presented to him my standard approach to such challenges, he said,

You see, that’s your problem. You try to white-knuckle everything, a typical American middle-aged white male who thinks sheer will-power, stoic indifference and an ethic of self-reliance will get him through everything. But you see, that’s got nothing to do with holiness if God is not invited into your fears and weaknesses, if God is not sought before every decision but only asked to bless you after you’ve made your decision or only after you’ve gotten through the pain. A God who is only asked to bless what your self-reliant self decides to do is not the God of the Cross, but the god of your ego. Next time you walk into a new situation, a new place, a new office space, a new home, I want you to stop and remember that the Holy Spirit is already there; that He already has a plan for you to navigate the fears, the unknown, the chaos; and He’s overloaded with graces to dispense if you ask Him for them at the beginning, middle and end.  Every morning when you wake up I want you to say, right away, “Holy Spirit, before I begin my day I want to ask what you want from me.” Just sit and listen long enough to receive His grace. He’s in no rush, and when we show Him we aren’t in a rush to receive from Him, He’s generous. If He sees we are impatient and restless, ready to move on to other things and we quit after a few moments, He will withhold His richer graces and wait. Wait until the pain and exhaustion pulls you to your knees, and then you are ready to wait and receive because you know you have nothing. But really, you always have nothing, always depend on Him for everything. Wait every morning in silence to receive from Him, to hear; maybe for 15 minutes. You won’t hear a voice — usually — but He always and infallibly communicates to every trusting, waiting soul. When you stop and listen to Him, dispose yourself to His action by sitting in a silent fiat, a “let it be,” and He will secretly communicate to your soul all that He wishes. Its effects will spill out during the day even when, and especially when, you’re not aware.

St. Paul says the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of harmony, of peace, of order, so when your life feels out of those things He awaits your aching cry to Him: Come! In fact, let me encourage you to pray Cardinal Mercier’s prayer every morning to help you open yourself and, at least when you are in God’s presence, forget your white-knuckled machismo: “O Holy Spirit, beloved of my soul, I adore You. Enlighten me, guide me, strengthen me, console me. Tell me what I should do; give me your orders. I promise to submit myself to all that you desire of me and to accept all that you permit to happen to me. Let me only know your will.” Do this faithfully every day, and tell me in three months about the changes you’ll see. Remember, the Evil One will do everything he can to distract you and discourage you and dissuade you from the practice, because he’s threatened by it. Terrified. But stand your ground and you will not be disappointed…

I can’t quote that Mercier prayer without offering you Colleen Nixon’s exquisitely beautiful musical rendition that makes you want to pray it 24/7:

Papa Franceso

Finally, let me share today a portion of the brilliant Pentecost homily of Pope Francis from 2013:

In the light of this passage from Acts, I would like to reflect on three words linked to the working of the Holy Spirit: newness, harmony and mission.

1. Newness always makes us a bit fearful, because we feel more secure if we have everything under control, if we are the ones who build, programme and plan our lives in accordance with our own ideas, our own comfort, our own preferences. This is also the case when it comes to God. Often we follow him, we accept him, but only up to a certain point. It is hard to abandon ourselves to him with complete trust, allowing the Holy Spirit to be the soul and guide of our lives in our every decision. We fear that God may force us to strike out on new paths and leave behind our all too narrow, closed and selfish horizons in order to become open to his own. Yet throughout the history of salvation, whenever God reveals himself, he brings newness and change, and demands our complete trust: Noah, mocked by all, builds an ark and is saved; Abram leaves his land with only a promise in hand; Moses stands up to the might of Pharaoh and leads his people to freedom; the apostles, huddled fearfully in the Upper Room, go forth with courage to proclaim the Gospel. This is not a question of novelty for novelty’s sake, the search for something new to relieve our boredom, as is so often the case in our own day. The newness which God brings into our life is something that actually brings fulfillment, that gives true joy, true serenity, because God loves us and desires only our good. Let us ask ourselves: Are we open to Gods surprises? Or are we closed and fearful before the newness of the Holy Spirit? Do we have the courage to strike out along the new paths which Gods newness sets before us, or do we resist, barricaded in transient structures which have lost their capacity for openness to what is new?

2. A second thought: the Holy Spirit would appear to create disorder in the Church, since he brings the diversity of charisms and gifts; yet all this, by his working, is a great source of wealth, for the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of unity, which does not mean uniformity, but which leads everything back to harmony. In the Church, it is the Holy Spirit who creates harmony. One of Fathers of the Church has an expression which I love: the Holy Spirit himself is harmony, “Ipse harmonia est.” Only the Spirit can awaken diversity, plurality and multiplicity, while at the same time building unity. Here too, when we are the ones who try to create diversity and close ourselves up in what makes us different and other, we bring division. When we are the ones who want to build unity in accordance with our human plans, we end up creating uniformity, standardization. But if instead we let ourselves be guided by the Spirit, richness, variety and diversity never become a source of conflict, because he impels us to experience variety within the communion of the Church. Journeying together in the Church, under the guidance of her pastors who possess a special charism and ministry, is a sign of the working of the Holy Spirit. Having a sense of the Church is something fundamental for every Christian, every community and every movement. It is the Church which brings Christ to me, and me to Christ; parallel journeys are dangerous! When we venture beyond (proagon) the Church’s teaching and community, and do not remain in them, we are not one with the God of Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Jn 9). So let us ask ourselves: Am I open to the harmony of the Holy Spirit, overcoming every form of exclusivity? Do I let myself be guided by him, living in the Church and with the Church?

3. A final point. The older theologians used to say that the soul is a kind of sailboat, the Holy Spirit is the wind which fills its sails and drives it forward, and the gusts of wind are the gifts of the Spirit. Lacking his impulse and his grace, we do not go forward. The Holy Spirit draws us into the mystery of the living God and saves us from the threat of a Church which is gnostic and self-referential, closed in on herself; he impels us to open the doors and go forth to proclaim and bear witness to the good news of the Gospel, to communicate the joy of faith, the encounter with Christ. The Holy Spirit is the soul of mission. The events that took place in Jerusalem almost two thousand years ago are not something far removed from us; they are events which affect us and become a lived experience in each of us. The Pentecost of the Upper Room in Jerusalem is the beginning, a beginning which endures. The Holy Spirit is the supreme gift of the risen Christ to his apostles, yet he wants that gift to reach everyone. As we heard in the Gospel, Jesus says: I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to remain with you forever (Jn 14:16). It is the Paraclete Spirit, the Comforter, who grants us the courage to take to the streets of the world, bringing the Gospel! The Holy Spirit makes us look to the horizon and drive us to the very outskirts of existence in order to proclaim life in Jesus Christ. Let us ask ourselves: do we tend to stay closed in on ourselves, on our group, or do we let the Holy Spirit open us to mission?

Today’s liturgy is a great prayer which the Church, in union with Jesus, raises up to the Father, asking him to renew the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. May each of us, and every group and movement, in the harmony of the Church, cry out to the Father and implore this gift. Today too, as at her origins, the Church, in union with Mary, cries out: Veni, Sancte Spiritus! Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love! Amen.

Okay, I know this is a lot, but you have to listen to this magnificent Byzantine hymn to the Holy Spirit called, O Heavenly King:

Fire

“Pentecost,”by Jean II Restout, 1732. Taken from wikimedia.org

On the eve of Pentecost, I thought I would offer a simple hommage to a Sacrament I assume most of the readers of this Blog have received: Confirmation.  I will use the Catechism of the Catholic Church to reflect on some of its riches.

First, do you know when you were Confirmed? As with the dates of Baptism, Holy Orders and Marriage, it’s a salutary practice to annually honor the anniversary of this day of grace. You can find out from the parish in which you were Confirmed. That said, tomorrow’s Feast, in real sense, is the anniversary of your Confirmation, as the Catechism reminds us (#1302). Confirmation, the Catechism says, is the sacrament of Pentecost, i.e. the whole mystery that took place that morning in Jerusalem is planted in us spiritually, mystically, invisibly through the visible signs of the laying on of hands and Sacred Chrism. In other words, Confirmation is your personal Pentecost. I attended a Confirmation six or seven years ago, and the a Confirming Archbishop gave a really passionate homily to the teen confirmandi which I later jotted down from memory. Here’s a portion of it:

If God gave to your eyes right now the power to see the spiritual world, you would see this church enveloped in wind and flame. Why? Well, at this very moment the Holy Spirit is eagerly awaiting to ignite the kindling wood of your faith so He can set the world on fire! You all have faith, right? [he walked over to individuals and asked them with mic in hand, much to their chagrin!] If not, tell me now. This isn’t magic. Like all the Sacraments, this is a Sacrament of faith. Faith means you believe what God has revealed to his Catholic Church about who He is and who you are. And faith means we cling to the God we believe in, we trust him absolutely, in the best and the darkest of times. We have to have a fierce faith in this world of doubt! The cowardly disciples came out of that Upper Room after the Spirit came filled with trust, with a fearless joy and enthusiasm that drove them into the streets to greet — like madmen! — the very people who had, only weeks before, shouted to Pilate: Crucify him! Crucify him! Now they were going to tell those same people to their faces: this Jesus you crucified is now exalted as the Lord of all creation. Jesus puts his disciples in places of dissonance and rejection so they can bring the Spirit’s harmony in to replace that division and hate and every other sin. You’re going to get uncomfortable when your Confirmed. You’re squirming now, right?

But you’re not alone, you’re not orphans. Jesus is sending you now His Spirit to fire you up, to enlighten your mind and make you firm in your faith — Con-firm-ation, right? Be ready to break open those church doors when this Mass is over, get ready to rush out into the world to shout, by your words and actions, that one word of the Cross that silences the babel and tell everyone you meet: Christ is the meaning and measure of life! He’s the right Way! Crazy, right? Crazy chaste men and women who refuse to give in to a culture of self-indulgence and addiction to pleasure. Crazy honest men and women of integrity who refuse to succumb to a culture of lies and deception. Crazy sacrificial men and women who refuse to live their lives for themselves first, but who live for Gof and others even and especially when it hurts. We’re crazy people, folks, Jesus freaks. They may accuse you of being drunk, of having lost your mind, but you’ll know that you haven’t lost your mind. No! You’ve gained not a lost mind but a Pentecost mind, the mind of Jesus! He’s the only fully human human-being who ever lived. Vatican II says it like this: “Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.” You want to know who you are? Look at Him! Jesus is our looking glass: He reflects back to us what we’re supposed to look like, who we’re supposed to be. And when we look like Him those whose mirrors and dark, distorted, shattered think we look crazy. But who’s really the crazy one?

Confirmation is conformation to the mind and heart of Jesus Christ, and it’s not just thinking like Jesus but it’s letting Jesus think his thoughts in you. You see, He’s alive! That’s what the Holy Spirit’s whole mission is: to open your mind to Jesus’ mind, to what’s on Jesus mind right now gets into my real life and fills it with real and lasting joy.

So, as Pope John Paul often said to us, do not be afraid to be different, to put out into the deep, to be counter-cultural, to surprise your peers and parents with a new way of thinking. It may cause a stir, an uproar, laughter and snickering; but that’s the stuff saints and martyrs are made of, the stuff your own patron saint was made of; stuff God wants you to be made of. Are you ready for the challenge? I can’t hear you!…

Unpacking the Catechism

The Catechism reminds us that Confirmation is really about diving deeper into the baptismal font, unlocking and searing into our souls more perfectly and permanently some of the most profound gifts that came to us in our Baptism. There are five effects in particular that are highlighted. I will list each in the Catechism’s own words and then offer a brief quote to further illumine it’s meaning.

1. Rooting us more deeply in the divine filiation which makes us cry, “Abba! Father!”

And since I in the beginning created man after my own image and likeness, and afterwards imprinted your image on my Son by assuming human nature, it is always my endeavor, in so far as you are fit for it, to intensify that likeness between me and you. — God the Father to St. Catherine of Siena

2. Uniting us more firmly to Christ

The laity derive the right and duty to the apostolate from their union with Christ the head; incorporated into Christ’s Mystical Body through Baptism and strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit through Confirmation, they are assigned to the apostolate by the Lord Himself. They are consecrated for the royal priesthood and the holy people (cf. 1 Peter 2:4-10) not only that they may offer spiritual sacrifices in everything they do but also that they may witness to Christ throughout the world. The sacraments, however, especially the most holy Eucharist, communicate and nourish that charity which is the soul of the entire apostolate. — Vatican II’s Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity

3. Increasing the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us

We turn now to the Seven Gifts of the sanctifying category. They are: wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord. They each perfect certain basic virtues. Four of them perfect the intellectual virtues. Understanding gives an intuitive penetration into truth. Wisdom perfects charity, in order to judge divine things. Knowledge perfects the virtue of hope. The gift of counsel perfects prudence. The other three gifts perfect virtues of the will and appetites. The gift of piety perfects justice in giving to others that which is their due. This is especially true of giving God what is His due. Fortitude perfects the virtue of fortitude, in facing dangers. Fear of the Lord perfects temperance in controlling disordered appetites. — Fr. William Most

4. Rendering our bond with the Church more perfect

Why do I remain in the Church? Because she is the Church of the saints, both the hidden ones and those others who have been pushed into the limelight. It is they who refute the silly assertion that Christians are so engrossed in receiving their God that they can never forget themselves to engage in feats of courage and imagination.

And the saints are humble, that is to say, the mediocrity of the Church does not deter them from expressing once and for all their solidarity with her, knowing well that without her they could never find their way to God. To bypass Christ’s Church with the idea of making their way to God on their own initiative would never occur to them. They do battle with the mediocrity of Christ’s Church not by protesting but by enkindling and encouraging the better. The Church causes them pain, but they do not become embittered and stand aside to sulk. They form no dissident groups but cast their fire into the midst.

Your genuine saint never points to himself; he is no more than the reflection. It is the Master Flame that counts. This pointing away from self is an exact criterion. “He was not himself the light, but was to bear witness to the light” (Jn.1:7). But of the same saint it is written that he was “to shine on those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Lk. 1:79). When you come to think of it, is not this pointing away from self perfectly and uniquely realized in the Church herself? She is more than community, more than “a sociological phenomenon,” she is “the handmaid of the Lord” (and that includes the humiliated holder of church authority) who points away from herself and is filled with all fullness, not of herself but with “the fullness of Him who is all in all” (Eph. 1:23). — Hans Urs von Balthasar

5. Giving us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross

Lastly, we cannot forget that evangelization is first and foremost about preaching the Gospel to those who do not know Jesus Christ or who have always rejected him. Many of these are quietly seeking God, led by a yearning to see his face, even in countries of ancient Christian tradition. All of them have a right to receive the Gospel. Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone. Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, they should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet. It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but “by attraction”. John Paul II asked us to recognize that “there must be no lessening of the impetus to preach the Gospel” to those who are far from Christ, “because this is the first task of the Church”. Indeed, “today missionary activity still represents the greatest challenge for the Church” and “the missionary task must remain foremost”. What would happen if we were to take these words seriously? We would realize that missionary outreach is paradigmatic for all the Church’s activity. Along these lines the Latin American bishops stated that we “cannot passively and calmly wait in our church buildings”; we need to move “from a pastoral ministry of mere conservation to a decidedly missionary pastoral ministry”. This task continues to be a source of immense joy for the Church: “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Lk 15:7).

We do well to keep in mind the early Christians and our many brothers and sisters throughout history who were filled with joy, unflagging courage and zeal in proclaiming the Gospel. Some people nowadays console themselves by saying that things are not as easy as they used to be, yet we know that the Roman empire was not conducive to the Gospel message, the struggle for justice, or the defence of human dignity. Every period of history is marked by the presence of human weakness, self-absorption, complacency and selfishness, to say nothing of the concupiscence which preys upon us all. These things are ever present under one guise or another; they are due to our human limits rather than particular situations. Let us not say, then, that things are harder today; they are simply different. But let us learn also from the saints who have gone before us, who confronted the difficulties of their own day. So I propose that we pause to rediscover some of the reasons which can help us to imitate them today. — Evangelii Gaudium #263

Have a joyous day of preparation for the Feast of Fire!

Taken from msmc.la.edu

Texting your sins

Taken from bryanterrill.com

Recently my wife and I watched a documentary with our children on texting and driving, From One Second To The Next, that told the heart-wrenching stories of victims and victimizers whose lives were turned upside down by one person’s decision to text while driving. It withered any temptation I may have had in me.

It reminded me of a Sunday homily I heard several years ago by a priest who spoke of what he called “the sins I am surprised I never hear confessed.” It was a sobering homily.

First, he mentioned the need to consider more carefully “sins of omission,” meaning sins that emerge from “failing to do what we can or ought” when circumstances call for action. For example, he said, sometimes we are obliged to act or speak out against maligning gossip shared in our presence, but we fail to through cowardice, laziness, desire for others’ approval or some other self-interested rationale. In such circumstances, he argued, “it is Christ whom we deny or fail to shield, as He is present in every person unjustly accused or maligned; and He awaits members of His Body — us! — to come to His defense. He identifies Himself with these ‘least’ and takes very personally what is done, or not done, for those so wronged. That’s if we are to take really seriously the implications of Matthew 25. Those judged unto damnation are judged for sins of omission.”

Then the priest took a surprising direction in his homily, one I have heard preached neither before nor after that day. It stung me. He said,

But one of the most surprising omissions in Confession is the sin of breaking traffic laws, reckless driving. Did you know the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, ” Those incur grave guilt who, by drunkenness or a love of speed, endanger their own and others’ safety on the road, at sea, or in the air”? Grave guilt! Let me ask you — but don’t raise your hand! — how many of you have sped, had too much alcohol and gotten behind a wheel, texted while you were driving, blown through stop lights or done other irresponsible things while driving? This is, the Church tells us, a grave matter, “graviter” in Catechism’s Latin — which means it’s grave matter, the matter for mortal sin. And the Catechism takes it so seriously that it places this consideration under the 5th commandment, Thou shalt not kill. If Jesus says to grow angry with your brother in your heart is already murder, the Catechism adds that reckless driving, even if you don’t get caught, can be considered already murder.

I beg you as your father in Christ to respect life by driving safely, to be a witness to temperance and justice, and call others to be accountable and responsible. Maybe put a religious bumper sticker or “respect life” sticker on your car so that you make yourself more self-conscious of being a witness to others of the faith, of Christ, of being consistent in your reverence for life.

There’s a bumper sticker I’ve seen — “honk if you love Jesus, text if you want to meet him” [congregation laughter] — but I would add, on a much more serious note, that I personally would not want my last deed before entering the presence of Christ the Judge to be the violation of the 5th commandment.

Go to Confession if you haven’t and unburden your sins before our merciful Lord, the Lover of life…

I know I sure had to.

John 17: Written on Such Thin Paper

“Mystical Supper,” Coptic print, Taken from coptorthodox.ca

O Master, keep me constant and unshaken in the interior dwelling-place that you have made within me. Though dead, I live when I gaze upon you; possessing you, though poor, I am for ever rich, more wealthy than any ruler. Eating and drinking you, clothing myself in you from day to day, I shall be filled with blessings and delight beyond all telling. For you are every blessing and all splendor and joy, and to you is due glory, to the Holy, Consubstantial and Life-giving Trinity, worshiped and confessed by all the faithful and adored in Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen. — St. Symeon the New Theologian

As we near Pentecost have you noticed that the Mass texts, likely abetted by our present risky novena to the sky-rending Spirit, seem to almost be threatening to transgress the already breached and weakened boundaries that still hold at bay the dawning New Creation? I mean, as the Christ of St. John’s Gospel speaks, or the the detonation of God at Pentecost (aka “the Church”) roars out to the ends of the earth in Acts of the Apostles, it seems like our world simply cannot much longer bear the strain of so much disruptive novelty.  The Kingdom has come, how long can the world remain unconquered? But I say, Maranatha! Thy Kingdom come, O Lord — in me, in us, here, now.

Yet even as I say that so glibly, I still wonder, Are you really sure you want Heaven’s untamable Fire to come and unravel all your ego-incurvature by His selfless free-fall on you? 

17

Tuesday-Today’s Gospel for Mass, taken from John 17, has been the Church’s hushed and awestruck eavesdropping on the colloquy that goes on, from before the world began, in the inner recesses of the ineffable Trinity. It’s almost embarrassing to read it, or hear it proclaimed, because of its unequaled character as a disclosed secret of divine intimacy. It is a text of such great profundity and grandeur that it seems to take on an almost sacramental quality, as if the human words of God it contains have nearly been transubstantiated beneath the force of what Meister Eckhart called the ebullitio, the boiling-over of the Living Water that gushes from the wellspring of God’s threefold inter-indwelling love. The Sacred Page that bears John 17 has been so thinned out by the Spirit-who-makes-all-things-new that it’s been worn almost into new-being (Rev. 21:4).

St. John of the Cross claimed it as his most cherished text, and the many testimonials collected after his death agreed that John would recite its Vulgate rendering in a whispered voice almost ceaselessly as he would travel on foot, carry out manual labor or sit in the night silence beneath the vast starry dome. And if you read his most personal and (I would say) mystical text, Living Flame, the fluid rhythms and otherworldly textures of John 17 permeate nearly every line. For John, the heights of union with God mean nothing if not the unspeakable capacity of the soul — after the long and painful journey through the purgative dark nights — to speak of John 17 not as an outsider-interlocutor, but from within.

What has always struck me most forcefully about John 17 – and as I write this I’d rather share it in an old church whose walls have been thickly coated by incense, whose floors have been worn thin by pilgrims’ feet and penitents’ knees, and whose stained glass windows refract the hidden colors buried in the sun’s light — is that, as a revelation of the eternal dialogue coursing about to and fro in God, it reveals something that one fears even to believe for a moment could be true: from all eternity God thinks of us. Prayer, in its highest height, is hearing and receiving and singing back this text in, with and to God. That’s what liturgy must become for each of us. This revealed truth is wonderfully, astoundingly, awfully confirmed in the Incarnation as God has forever and forever made being human constitutive of what-it-means-to-be-God. God’s eternal Word will always know and love His Father in and through a human mind and heart.

For us…

Why would God make Himself so? The Creed says it beautifully,

Qui propter nos homines et propter nostram salutem, “For us men and for our salvation…”

“For us.” That implies love, which is always about the other.

…in fide vivo Filii Dei qui dilexit me et tradidit se ipsum pro me, “I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.” — Galatians 2:20

This truth I understand, I salute and bow before, but still long to internalize and ingest into my heart of hearts. When someone really gets this whole mystery, really believes it from the epicenter of the soul, what might that sound like? Stealing from a saint now seems appropriate.

[Prayed after receiving holy Communion] O eternal Trinity, You are a deep sea in which the more I seek the more I find, and the more I find, the more I seek to know You. You fill us insatiably, because the soul, before the abyss which You are, is always famished; and hungering for You, O eternal Trinity, it desires to behold truth in Your light. As the thirsty hart pants after the fount of living water, so does my soul long to leave this weighted body and see You as You are, in truth. — St. Catherine of Siena

This language, so lofty and passionate in its earnest yearning for the God revealed in Jesus Christ, reveals the secret to this woman’s superhuman capacity to love pauper and king, sinner and saint, pope and profligate: consumed with love, she knew she was loved by God, and so willingly submitted to His surgical grace. The coming of the Spirit is, in the end, not about speaking in heavenly tongues or doing miraculous deeds, but rather is about refashioning us in the image of the Crucified Christ. About allowing the God who has done all things “for us” to make us, in His image, into people who live life for others, i.e. those who can say of me, “He lived for us and for our salvation.”

A friend and fellow devotee of St. John of the Cross once said it well, “We want to luxuriate in the rhapsodic glory of St. John’s mystical poetry, we just don’t want to have to die to ourselves to get there.”

Written in blood

There was a man I knew years ago, who is now a priest, whose father heroically witnessed to the deep meaning of God’s wondrous love that holds us in mind. Here’s an excerpt from a 9.10.08 article about his dad in the Washington Post.

If you ever ran into Nokesville dad Thomas S. Vander Woude, chances are you would also see his son Joseph. Whether Vander Woude was volunteering at church, coaching basketball or working on his farm, Joseph was often right there with him, pitching in with a smile, friends and neighbors said yesterday.

When Joseph, 20, who has Down syndrome, fell into a septic tank Monday in his back yard, Vander Woude jumped in after him. He saved him. And he died where he spent so much time living: at his son’s side.

“That’s how he lived,” Vander Woude’s daughter-in-law and neighbor, Maryan Vander Woude, said yesterday. “He lived sacrificing his life, everything, for his family.”

Vander Woude, 66, had gone to Mass at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Gainesville on Monday, just as he did every day, and then worked in the yard with Joseph, the youngest of his seven sons, affectionately known as Josie. Joseph apparently fell through a piece of metal that covered a 2-by-2-foot opening in the septic tank, according to Prince William County police and family members.

Vander Woude rushed to the tank; a workman at the house saw what was happening and told Vander Woude’s wife, Mary Ellen, police said. They called 911 about 12 p.m. and tried to help the father and son in the meantime.

At some point, Vander Woude jumped in the tank, submerging himself in sewage so he could push his son up from below and keep his head above the muck, while Joseph’s mom and the workman pulled from above.

When rescue workers arrived, they pulled the two out, police said. Vander Woude, who had been in the tank for 15 to 20 minutes, was unconscious. Efforts to revive him were unsuccessful, and he was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead, police said.

Joseph remains in Prince William Hospital with double pneumonia, and doctors are monitoring him for infection, said Erin Vander Woude, Thomas Vander Woude’s daughter-in-law. Joseph is in critical condition and on a ventilator, she said.

“He doesn’t know that his dad died,” she said.

For those who knew him, Vander Woude’s sacrifice was in keeping with a lifetime of giving.

“He’s the kind of guy who would give you the shirt off his back,” said neighbor Lee DeBrish. “And if he didn’t have one, he’d buy one for you.”

…hoc est enim Corpus meum, quod pro vobis tradetur, “for this is my body which will be given up for you…”

Living Text

My wife and I chose John 17 as our Nuptial Mass Gospel, and as in persona Christi Fr. Tom Collins proclaimed it, Patti and I experienced, in a way that can’t really put into words, the voice of the living Christ speaking these words to God the Father about us. The homily, in fact, was all about that. “Thomas and Patricia,” the homilist said, “these words Jesus spoke to His Father in the Gospel just now were not words from a distant and dead past. No. They were for you, for here, for now; for all your future friends, for your children and grandchildren, for all who fall under your influence. Till death do you part, these words of Jesus are to be the binding seal of your love. Cling to them. If you let go, you’re on your own…”

Still clinging.

…I pray not only for these,
but also for those who will believe in me through their word,
so that they may all be one,
as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
that they also may be in us,
that the world may believe that you sent me.
And I have given them the glory you gave me,
so that they may be one, as we are one,
I in them and you in me,
that they may be brought to perfection as one,
that the world may know that you sent me,
and that you loved them even as you loved me.
Father, they are your gift to me.
I wish that where I am they also may be with me,
that they may see my glory that you gave me,
because you loved me before the foundation of the world… — John 17:20-24

3rd century papyrus fragment “P. Oxy. 4447″ from the Gospel of John 17:23-24. Taken from wikimedia.org

Gasp

After the last three posts, I think I will take (give you) a breather.

Sometimes, believe it or not, I run out of words. And one thing I have learned from others’ example is that when you do run out, don’t fake it.

Also, Pythagoras said that it was requisite either to be silent or to say something better than silence.

But, sed contra, the saints’ voices are are never silent:

The key to all Divine gifts is given to the heart by love of neighbor, and, in proportion to the heart’s freedom from the selfish bonds of the flesh, the door of knowledge begins to open before it. — St. Isaac of Syria

Well, that’s enough said for today about how I will not speak.