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.

Inviting Jesus in the Frame for Kids’ Sake

I too am very familiar with the “immanent frame” and only broke free by the grace of God. And yet, though i know it is only by the Holy Spirit that we experience conversion, what can we do practically to raise our children with this profound sense of God’s majesty and might in this post-modernist culture? I feel like I am treading water alone in choppy seas sometimes!

This lovely and honest comment was left on my post yesterday, so I thought I might take a moment to respond. I am no expert in child raising, but my wife and I have fought the same fight she speaks of and we have known countless families who have offered us a remarkable witness to how this might be done and done well.

Just a few thoughts. Hopefully some of them practical.

What can we do?

Though there are common characteristics that unite all great Christian families (e.g. rooted in family prayer) and universal principles that should illumine and govern every Christian family’s quest for holiness (e.g. mutual love and forgiveness), there is also a great diversity in how this might be done well. Truth may be one, but its epiphanies are many. What the Catechism says of Christian prayer I would affirm of Christian families:

To be sure, there are as many paths of prayer as there are persons who pray, but it is the same Spirit acting in all and with all. #2672

Let me share two examples of such diversity, though there are countless others I could give.

I met a wildly Catholic “hipster” family years ago, while I was giving a parish mission, who demonstrated a sui generis ability to freely and fearlessly engage with various elements of American pop culture, but do so in such a refined and deft manner that not only did they not lose their souls through fatal compromises, but they found themselves very much drawn and sent out to bring their Catholic faith joyfully and straightaway into the midst of the public square of popular culture. They made the “Catholic difference” felt when I sat and talked with them one morning about their homespun passion for evangelizing the “nones,” those many in our culture who identify their religious affiliation as “none.” Their faith was natural, unaffected and essentially traditional. The dad sported a long pony tail, the mom had cornrows in her hair, and one of their 20-something daughters who joined us dazzled the eyes with her nose ring, pink hair, shaved sides of the head and scapular! She was a musician who dabbled in indy music styles and aspired to write lyrics that were not necessarily religious but were “transparently human” in the way God designed. They’re pro-life Democrats who pray the Rosary after watching American Idol.

Their vibe reminded me of Orthodox theologian Dumitru Stăniloae’s comment that believing in a God who became man for our salvation creates a path to salvation that requires us to first become fully human before we can become divine. For these people, the mysteries of faith were as tangible and real and gritty as the lattes and scones in front of us, while their ability to hold robust faith in tension with such culturally edgy visages gave me a holy, if dizzy, envy. I can only be culturally edgy in my imagination! When I left our coffee visit, I said to myself, “These folks have something remarkable to offer both Church and World which I could never bring. Thank God for them!”  When I asked them what was the heartbeat of their family’s faith, the mom said, “John Paul II’s words, ‘Do not be afraid!’” They definitely exuded a fearless faith, brash and bold, grave, fun and mirthful all at once. Mark Judge’s article (here) on faith and pop culture would describe well their approach. I don’t meet too many Catholics like this, but that’s probably because I am as far from being a hipster as Pope Francis is from speaking fluent English, so I would not hang in their circles. In fact, whenever I try to assume any hipster characteristics (like lingo), my children come at me “as one man” (Acts 7:57) and put an abrupt end to it. Usually with the word “awkward” thrown in somewhere.

I have also met equally wildly Catholic families who keep a more radical distance from contemporary American culture and prefer to show their Catholic edge by sinking themselves into some or another Catholic sub-culture that remains at more or less of a distance from mainstream American life. But even these sub-styles of nurturing children in a world drenched in Catholic faith can vary immensely among themselves. Some are extreme (in a good sense, not extremist) in their lives of piety and devotion, others are extreme in their commitment to social activism, while others are just quiet, simple and humble in their desire to raise children exposed to a consistent Catholic worldview. Many send their children to Catholic schools, at great personal expense and sacrifice, in hopes that they will discover an integrated worldview that makes sense of everything from the vantage of a Catholic mind and heart. Others homeschool, also at great personal sacrifice, to ensure their children have both an excellent academic and character formation under their watch. Some of the best and brightest, most well integrated and wholesome young adults I have known have found their way through the homeschooling world.  Rod Dreher’s article (here) would describe well this approach.

And then there’s the third option — a bit of both — what’s been called by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry the “Francis Option,” represented in this article.

E pluribus unum

The common threads that (in my limited perspective) seem to explain these families’ consistent success in raising children who grow up into Catholic “ceiling bashers” capable of transgressing and transforming the confines of the “immanent frame” are (1) the resolve of one or both of the parents to make that breakthrough and integration first of all in themselves (nemo dat quod non habet, “you can’t give what you don’t have”); (2) the unrelenting commitment by the parent(s) to create for their children a domestic environment that mirrors the integration of faith and life they hope their children will one day build once they leave the home and go out into the secular world; and (3) the daily practice of prayer that invites Christ and His saints to inhabit these children’s worlds from the time of their conception in saecula saeculorum, “forever and ever.” In sum, these parents got it, they show it and they pray for it.

There are more threads, but those are the three stand out at the moment.

Et alia…

Here are a few other final and random thoughts, as I am running out of time and have, it seems, gotten a bit too big here for a bite-sized blog.

* The immanent frame is ubiquitous in the West and all of us, unless we withdraw from society like the Amish, will find ourselves hemmed in by its limits. Whereas early Christians found themselves rejected or excluded from public life by the claims of rival gods, post-modern Christians find themselves rejected and excluded by the claims that no god has any place inside the frame. The constriction of the frame consists of deep seated cultural attitudes like a skepticism that makes all truths relative, a materialism that strips spirit of existence, a narcissism that rages against moral limits on freedom, and a boredom that doesn’t bother to wage war against transcendent divinity as much as declare It to be irrelevant. Frequently, among the faithful, this at-times asphyxiating pressure appears under the form of persistent doubts in regard to this or that aspect of the faith, doubts that incessantly gnaw at the mind and heart. Because of this, learning how to struggle in faith with doubt in a flattened and framed world is staple food for the secular saints of post-modernity. Parents must come to terms with their own struggles in faith, face them with the wisdom of the spiritually mature, and pass on their wisdom to their children to steel them for the struggles they will inevitably face. Do it constructively, respectfully, engagingly and joyfully and not cynically, angrily, fearfully and arrogantly. I think here also of Edward Oakes’ article on Mother Teresa, patron saint of modernity’s doubting pilgrims.

* Sacramentalize your home and kindle your children’s imaginations! Fill your home with the matter of sanctity that can penetrate your children’s five senses with faith. Consider things like a crucifix to reveal the posture of love; holy water to sprinkle; blessed salt to taste; blessed medals or scapulars to wear; blessed candles to light the darkness; a little incense now and again to sweeten the air; blessed holy cards to pray with and trade; holy images and statues tastefully displayed; a well-used Bible reverently enthroned; Rosary beads to thumb; great stories of saints read aloud; baptismal days, patron feast days, solemnities celebrated with savory festivity; fasts celebrated with tummy-growling austerity; sacred music sung and played; and on ad infinitum. Paint their imaginations really well with great stories from great books – above all Sacred Scripture (given in age-palpable forms). See Vigen Guroian’s great article with a persuasive argument for a method of intentional storytelling that (re)shapes your child’s inner universe aright.

* Faith as normal talk. Faith language should be a normal part of your daily home vocabulary, grammar, syntax like football, studying for an exam or asking “what’s for dinner?” Weave doctrines into daily events or world crises, talk liturgical seasons in the midst of baseball season, turn off the car radio and pray a Hail Mary when you hear ambulances whiz by. Share your child’s puzzlement when they ask why none of the cartoon characters on TV pray before they eat. Venture an answer to your child’s incessant questions about why God made the dinosaurs (after you read Chris Baglow’s book!). Allow the kids to hear a language faith-life integration at home even as you help teach them how to engage the religion-free zones that dominate so much of public life.  Let prayer sprinkle the day as you deem appropriate along with the fixed patterns and rhythms that write prayer into their sense of time.

* As the Russians would often tell me when I would attend my Dad’s Orthodox parish, “Always welcome strangers as Christ.” Creating a home where generosity to the needy is evident, where those who suffer and are vulnerable are treated, spoken of, prayed for as Christ-among-us opens for children the ceiling of the world to a God who judges all of history according to its role in the fate of these “least” of His.

* Make the pilgrimage between domestic church and parish church a wonderful, regular, joyful, natural, spontaneous, challenging tradition that wears deep neural paths in your child’s brain. Make sure they know there is a communion of saints in heaven and on earth that’s there to help cheer them on all the way to eternity. And make the Eucharist the axis of their universe in whatever ways you can.

* Love your spouse like an e5 mystic (Ephesians 5:21-33), rendering the whole faith plausible to a child by revealing the Fire within your love. And then in turn love your children with a resounding echo of that spousal love, even down into your child’s hells if that’s what Heaven requires.  Caritas numquam excidit, “Love never fails.” But if that’s missing, the rest is empty, flat and stale.

* You do what you can do, accept what you wish you could do but can’t do, repent for what you didn’t do but should’ve done and then leave the rest to God’s infinite mercy when you wake up at 3 a.m. worrying about it all.

Okay, I am out of time! Too much to say, and so much editing needed to say this better. But alas! there it stands. More like a sneeze than a cathedral of ideas. There’s tons out there written on how to raise faith filled children. Some of it good. Popular ones in the U.S. might include the likes of Dr. Ray Guarendi, Greg and Lisa Popcak or Patti Armstrong.

Thanks for asking, Reader! May God lead all of us parents along the way to give our children all they need to render the frame translucent.

God of the Frame

I see his blood upon the rose
And in the stars the glory of his eyes,
His body gleams amid eternal snows,
His tears fall from the skies.

I see his face in every flower;
The thunder and the singing of the birds
Are but his voice—and carven by his power
Rocks are his written words.

All pathways by his feet are worn,
His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea,
His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn,
His cross is every tree. – Joseph Mary Plunkett (1887–1916)

Ever since I first heard Archbishop Fulton Sheen recite this poem, I have always been drawn back to it. Shortly after I had experienced a life-changing “faith awakening” back in 1987, someone gave me several sets of Sheen’s sermons which I promptly devoured. I recall the thrill of discovering in Plunkett’s poetic imagery a view of life that I had never before imagined was possible or desirable, one in which the  world around me was alive with the mysteries of faith.

The frame

I loved nature as a child (from the age of 6 to the age of 14 I had successively “decided” to be an entomologist, ornithologist and meteorologist!), and though I had always sensed in it something more than an object of empirical science, I would never have thought of it as related in any way to the presence of Christ. The world for me had always been, in the words of Charles Taylor, an “immanent frame” in whose self-contained godless insularity God played no active or evident role. God remained safely outside the frame — in the ethereal bubbles of church, religion class at school or bedside prayers at night — but would never dare venture into the framed world in which “transcendence” had no place. Though I believed in God, and certainly was raised in a home where faith was present, I was a child of modern Western culture’s version of a “secular world” which, for all intents and purposes, had so radically privatized and marginalized the transcendent realm of angels and demons, saints and the poor souls, God and Christ that one could function in life largely without any reference to that “spooky” realm.

The modern world in the West, though ever-broadening, was flat, devoid of eternity’s heights and depths. And even when God was invoked by the inhabitants of this frame, it was not as the all-pervasive, radically enmeshed, everywhere revealing and incarnate God that Plunkett celebrates in his poem. The God outside the frame was, rather, what you might call a “therapeutic deity” that stayed at a safe distance from the “religion-free zone” that governed most of daily life, but was always there, somewhere out there like a celestial Santa, ready to be invoked in targeted moments of need when the mechanisms that governed the immanent frame failed to suffice. This was the crutch-God, the God of the gaps, not the God who holds all things is existence at each moment by His all-loving and merciful will, making Him, as Augustine memorably says, “closer to us than we are to ourselves.” There’s nothing very threatening about these idols of modernity, though They can be disappointing if They don’t live up to our capricous expectations or meet our occasional demands.

The Christ

But then of sudden, in my little 1987 world, that harmless, aloof deity, like the god Dagon in 1 Samuel 5:3, was handily displaced by the living Christ who “fills all things” (Ephesians 1:23) with His Risen Body. The idols in my shrines were felled by a God that was not only God-with-us, unspeakably present and fearfully near, but a downright invasive and trouble-making God, more like a swirling firestorm than a serene porcelain statue. And though this flesh-and-blood God did not promise me safety from His sway, He also was no dehumanizing Thief threatening to take from me all that made life joyful and good, beautiful and great. I say that because, lurking deep in my culturally shaped subconscious was a dark, ominous voice that warned me — before the radiant face of this Christ — of what Algernon Swinburne (1837 – 1909) deftly articulated in his poem, Hymn to Proserpine:

Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean; the world has grown grey from thy breath;
We have drunken of things Lethean, and fed on the fullness of death.

As I met this Christ, He at once exhilarated me and threatened me by leading me to pray, “O Lord, invade my stayed and steady space with Your raucous and unsteady grace” (to use the memorable words of an AME Pastor I met in Florida). I was afraid! I had lived my whole life safely distant from God, safe in my world’s immanent frame, but now, before His Face, the existential fabric I had woven of my life looked only to be a tangled mess. What a crisis! How I wish I had had those words of Pope Benedict’s Inaugural Homily to read!

Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? And once again the Pope said: No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation.

Maranatha

The crucified-dead-risen-ascending-Spirit-breathing-knocking Christ seeks admittance into our “immanent frame,” seeks to enter in and render translucent its boundaries, smash its ceilings and inhabit all of our safe-zones. This is the incarnate, sacramental God-with-us who hangs with prostitutes and tax collectors, makes muddy salve from His spit, drives out demons from men who live in graveyards, sleeps in the hull our wind-tossed boats, heals filthy lepers by touching their decaying skin and falls face first into the terrors of our night that we might not be afraid. This is a God who reverences our freedom because He designed it, who in truth loves us without measure and expects that we do the same. He is a God who loves best to be called a Bridegroom, a lover who pursues His adulterous bride down the ages to win back her affection and be oned with her in faithfulness forever. “Hence those skilled in divine matters call Him a zealous and exemplary lover” (St. Maximus the Confessor). He can be found everywhere, anywhere, from the heights of joyful ecstasy to the dungeons of hopeless despair. Hebrews 4:15. Luke 10:21. John 11:35. Matthew 27:46. Philippians 4:4. He has tasted it all, redeemed it all and left nothing of human life — save our freedom to reject — opaque to His all-sufficient grace.

This is the God who is the Christ, the God who “delights to be with the children of men” (Proverbs 8:31). The God who poked the universe full of holes through which we can, if we but learn to love, catch a glimpse of His Fatherly gaze. This is the God whom French mathematician and physicist Blaise Pascal “met” on 23 November 1654. On that night between 10:30 and 12:30 at night, Pascal had an intense experience of God and immediately recorded it on a small piece of paper: “Fire. God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and the scholars…” and concluded by quoting Psalm 119:16, “I will not forget thy word. Amen.” He seems to have carefully sewn this document into his coat and always transferred it when he changed clothes; a servant discovered it only by chance after his death.

This is the God who is inescapably everywhere, the Christ whom the late Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J. collided with as an agnostic undergrad studying at Harvard:

 …in 1939, one grey February afternoon in Harvard’s Widener Library, I was irresistibly prompted to go out into the open air…The slush of melting snow formed a deep mud along the banks of the River Charles, which I followed down toward Boston…As I wandered aimlessly, something impelled me to look contemplatively at a young tree. On its frail, supple branches were young buds…While my eye rested on them, the thought came to me suddenly, with all the strength and novelty of a revelation, that these little buds in their innocence and meekness followed a rule, a law of which I as yet knew nothing…That night, for the first time in years, I prayed.

The is the Christ who has come to make a flat earth round, to set a cold world ablaze and dapple a grey world in the spectrum colors of His glorious grace.

 

Draw me up, O Lord

“The Ascension of Christ,” c. 1340, Pacino di Bonaguida. Taken from blogs.getty.edu

When You had fulfilled the dispensation for our sake, / and united earth to heaven: / You ascended in glory, O Christ our God, / not being parted from those who love You, / but remaining with them and crying: / “I am with you and no one will be against you!” — Byzantine Kontakion for the Ascension of the Lord

In my archdiocese, as in most dioceses of the United States, the solemnity of the Ascension was transferred from Thursday to Sunday. There were considered pastoral reasons for doing so, certainly, but… Sadly, this move breaks the temporal sequence St. Luke offers us that places Christ’s ascension from the Mount of Olives 40 days after his resurrection, and the coming of the Spirit on the 50th and final day of the Jewish Passover season. It also breaks the 9 day novena of intercessory prayer to “be clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49) that intervenes between Ascension and Pentecost. But most of all I find it sad because it fails to inconvenience us by disrupting our work-school-entertainment structured temporal rhythms that have become strangers to the Author of time, the Alpha and Omega.

Such is life.

No mere exit

The Ascension, as the late Fr. Jean Corbon contends in his masterpiece on the liturgy, Wellspring of Worship, is not Jesus’ “exit strategy” from history so he can leave behind for greener pastures the fallen world that rejected him. No! It is rather an event that transcends the strictures of history as Jesus bears his glorified humanity — utterly transfigured by his divinity — back to the Father whose love sent him into the world to reconcile the world to himself by the blood of his Cross. For us and for our salvation, as the Creed says, Jesus “came down from heaven” to take flesh, suffer death and be raised in order to raise up the whole human race, which is why Pentecost comes immediately after the ascension. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit, sent by the ascending Christ, gives birth to a new humanity by uniting human persons to the body of the glorified Christ. He does this above all through the sacramental liturgy, which is the extension into time and space of the ascending body of Jesus that now abides in eternity. In this way, the Spirit grants us a share in all that Jesus does and is as the God-Man. In Corbon’s words,

The movement of the ascension will be complete only when all the members of his body have been drawn to the Father and brought to life by his Spirit.

Jesus says in John’s Gospel, “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself.” If we apply these words to the  ascension, and not just as a one-time event but rather as an ongoing dynamic reality, we can see this feast as the Feast of Christ’s tireless heavenly labors expended, through the Spirit, on earth in order to rescue and redeem fallen humanity and raise us, and the whole of creation, up with him into the Presence of the Father. Thus conceived, the liturgy and sacraments — outflowing from the ascending Christ — become efficacious encounters with the mystery of God’s laboring love that tirelessly works for our eternal well-being. By uniting us to the ascending Christ, the Spirit shares with us his very divine life and draws us up into an unthinkably intimate collaboration with Jesus’ creative and re-creative divine-human power. Every stirring of grace you sense within, every call to prayer, every moment of conversion, mercy and enlightenment is nothing other than being drawn into the momentum of the ascending Christ who longs for us to be with him in the New Creation wrought by his death and resurrection.

This, in turn, makes each of us joined by the Spirit to the ascending Christ into living extensions of Christ’s immortal desire to draw all things to himself through us. This means evangelization is written into our very being! We who, through faith, grasp the outstretched Hand of the ascending Christ can remain safe in his firm grip only if we likewise outstretch our open hands to those around us. This image reminds me of the troubling parable told by Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov,

Once upon a time there was a woman, and she was wicked as wicked could be, and she died. And not one good deed was left behind her. The devils took her and threw her into the lake of fire. And her guardian angel stood thinking: what good deed of hers can I remember to tell God? Then he remembered and said to God: once she pulled up an onion and gave it to a beggar woman. And God answered: now take that same onion, hold it out to her in the lake, let her take hold of it, and pull, and if you pull her out of the lake, she can go to paradise, but if the onion breaks, she can stay where she is. The angel ran to the woman and held out the onion to her: here, woman, he said, take hold of it and I’ll pull. And he began pulling carefully, and had almost pulled her all the way out, when other sinners in the lake saw her being pulled out and all began holding on to her so as to be pulled out with her. But the woman was wicked as wicked could be, and she began to kick them with her feet: “It’s me who’s getting pulled out, not you; it’s my onion, not yours.” No sooner did she say it than the onion broke. And the woman fell back into the lake of fire. The angel wept and went away.

Christ’s love never tires of inviting every man and woman to be seized by him that he might lead them captive on High to join him in the company of his Father. Hear his voice saying to you,

And human love needs human meriting:
How has thou merited –
Of all man’s clotted clay the dingiest clot?
Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!

Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee
Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms.
But just that thou might’st seek it in my arms.
All which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home;
Rise, clasp My hand, and come! – Francis Thompson

“The Ascension of the Lord.” Taken from 2.bp.blogspot.com

Hermit till 6/1/14

Taken from ellenfinnigan.com

 Besides institutes of consecrated life the Roman Catholic Church recognizes the eremitic or anchoritic life by which the Christian faithful devote their life to the praise of God and salvation of the world through a stricter separation from the world, the silence of solitude and assiduous prayer and penance. — Canon 603 §1

For the rest of this week I will be locked up for a few days in a hermitage, c/o of the generosity of my wife, to write in solitude. I love to write, and I love solitude, and I write best when I am absolutely alone. My plan is to write on the vocation of the laity and to come up with an article. I’ve tried this before, with marginal success. So, if I might, I’d like to solicit your kindly prayers that I might succeed according to God wishes.

As ever, thank you for reading what I write, to my boundless amazement.

As I will be away for 5 days, I’ll leave a 5 things for your reflection. :-) (N.B. Archbishop Eamon Martin, the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland recently said, “Be positive and joyful. Offer ‘digital smiles’ and have a sense of humour.”)

1. Misérables. For those of you who love Les Misérables, I will share you with this amazingly talented one-man version of the musical’s signature songs. It’s about 13 minutes.

2. St. Dismas. There’s a gentleman who comments on this post now and again who leaves the most engaging reflections. I don’t know him. His pen name, Dismas Dancing, is clearly meant as a self-identification with the Good Thief, St. Dismas, the rebel-saint who finds joyful redemption dying on a cross next to Christ. All of his comments are candid and inspiring, and the one he wrote this past Saturday commenting on my thoughts on raising daughters was no exception. Whoever he is, he appears as a man of character and has a deep, blood-red faith. Enjoy.

Brother Neal, as you certainly know from most of my comments on your blog, I spent a full career in the Marine Corps. When I retired from the Corp, three of our four children were already married having kids of their own and marching to the sound of their own career drums. Interestingly, not one of our children entered the military, although our sons investigated the possibilities, but with their own well-established parameters for doing so in mind before making a commitment.

Last weekend, our youngest and his bride invited us to attend their collegiate Alma Mater to celebrate a couple of significant events the University School of the Performing Arts was conducting. He was the last to leave the nest, doing so in 1996 after having worked as a golf course laborer in New Orleans while discerning whether, where, and which career, profession, job would most suit his life. He ultimately chose Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, LA deciding to work toward life as a stage actor. His elder brother was attending Durham University in England at the time, also majoring in the arts. In that field he has excelled, just finishing up a gig in London’s National Theater in the critically acclaimed “Yellow Face”. He has a long and impressive resume. But, since I am not advertising for them, I’ll spare you specifics beyond that mentioned above. We also had two daughters, the eldest of the four. Both are exceptional in so many, many ways. Both are wonderful Moms AND professionally successful outside the home, one as a teacher in a private school in southern Georgia, the other as a property manager in central Texas. Indeed, Our Lord has not only blessed both of us (my bride and me) with wonderfully talented children, He has been magnificently generous in His blessings of them as well.

So what? In this age that denies ever more loudly that men (fathers) are no longer necessary for the rearing of children, I scream loudly in protestation using Our Lord’s message from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know NOT what they do!” If nothing else, the experiences my wife and I shared with our kids throughout our military life demonstrated in unassailable statistics and observable real life events the absolute criticality of an engaged father working in consonance with the loving mother as a holistic, functional team in order for the offspring to have at least some real potential to succeed in life. Absent an engaged father, a child (male or female) will find an alternative, often one that is the antithesis of what the child needs. But within that substitute relationship one finds approbation, approval, “Love” (such as it is), belonging, and purpose. Sadly, over the years, we knew and took care of a number of latch-key kids whose parents abandoned them to the vagaries of the social network around them. Fortunately, within our rather closed society that is the military family, these kids found acceptable substitute families willing to stand in for absent parents. My wife and I still keep in touch with a number of them through our own kids and their periodic communication with fellow “military brats” they got to know and befriend over the years.

Several years ago, following a very special event in which I participated with my sons while we were stationed in Seoul, Korea, I wrote a memoir about it. Perhaps the most poignant line in your blog was:

“Dad is a Son’s First Hero and a Daughter’s First Love.”

In my own memoir, shadows of your daughter’s line to you jump out at the reader—often. For, in their invitation to me to participate in a stage production, I was asked to be that “sons’ hero”. It was an immensely awesome experience. In other aspects of that same memoir, I document the very real necessity and experience of being “a Daughter’s first love.” Specific experiences throughout our lives—daughters and father—are equally awesome. In the final thoughts of that memoir, I opine that, in the many trials my kids and I experienced together in our roles as a father and his children, they have become unwitting “heroes” to me. Before “tough love” became a cliché, it governed the rearing of my kids. The operative word, however, is “love” not “tough”. Anyone can be tough. That’s the easy part. Sometimes it was too easy for me as one of those “tough” Jarheads. The horribly difficult challenge is whether love governs the issue. I submit that if a father does not do as you did and find a place to privately “grieve”, whether happily or sadly, whether having received a “hand painted piece of construction paper” upon which is written a beautiful and simple love note, or having just meted out a “just” punishment in response to an errant action—If you cannot/do not find that private place and submit to the “LaCrema Christi” so to speak, you cannot, you are not, a father in the sense that your other quotes demonstrate that we should be. Even today, I indeed grieve for the times when I allowed “tough” to be my guide, instead of the “love” that is always richly deserved, regardless of circumstances. When my kids and I talk about those days and comment on the memoir, they chide me for “beating yourself up” over things “we probably deserved.” It soothes, but shall never heal, the wounds of remembrance.

BTW, two of my heroes, the eldest child (elder daughter) and her brother, the elder son, celebrate this year their 20th wedding anniversaries. Six grandchildren from those unions, four boys and two girls—ALL incredibly talented and smart (documented, NOT just braggadocio from a proud grandfather). Youngest son this year married 12 years with youngest grandchild (ditto the above). Next year another 20th anniversary—for second daughter. They have two very smart, lovely, and talented girls. Nine grandchildren in toto, ALL talented, smart, and possessed of a firm faith background (pls see above comment re proud grandpa). Can one question why, in my world where genuine heroes are in far too short supply, that my own children are MY heroes?

“My Father in Heaven, in Your mercy and generosity, You have allowed me, in unity with the love of my earthly life, the privilege of being father and earthly trustee of four of your beautiful creatures. In them are reflected Your infinite glory and majesty. I beg You in Your Fatherly love to rain down Your graces upon me and my own sons that I/we may be always “real” father(s) to our children in Your image and reality as Father of all creation. I beg also to be imbued with the necessary graces and strength to be a true son to You as is Your only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. I make this prayer as always in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. ”

Thanks so much for the great post. Upon finishing it, my own reaction was doubtless similar to yours in far more circumstances than we, as “tough” men might like to admit. Peace, my friend.

DD

3. Dramatic proposal. A friend of my wife and I, who is an actor in Des Moines, recently proposed to his girlfriend (also a friend and member of my wife’s church choir in Iowa) in a really creative way. Click here.

4. Catholic-Orthodox. Pope Francis and the Patriarch of Constantinople, Barthholomew prayed together Sunday at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and issued a joint statement. Here’s an excerpt:

…even as we make this journey towards full communion we already have the duty to offer common witness to the love of God for all people by working together in the service of humanity, especially in defending the dignity of the human person at every stage of life and the sanctity of family based on marriage, in promoting peace and the common good, and in responding to the suffering that continues to afflict our world. We acknowledge that hunger, poverty, illiteracy, the inequitable distribution of resources must constantly be addressed. It is our duty to seek to build together a just and humane society in which no-one feels excluded or marginalized.

It is our profound conviction that the future of the human family depends also on how we safeguard – both prudently and compassionately, with justice and fairness – the gift of creation that our Creator has entrusted to us. Therefore, we acknowledge in repentance the wrongful mistreatment of our planet, which is tantamount to sin before the eyes of God. We reaffirm our responsibility and obligation to foster a sense of humility and moderation so that all may feel the need to respect creation and to safeguard it with care. Together, we pledge our commitment to raising awareness about the stewardship of creation; we appeal to all people of goodwill to consider ways of living less wastefully and more frugally, manifesting less greed and more generosity for the protection of God’s world and the benefit of His people…

Pope Francis and Constantinople Patriarch Bartholomew kneel to kiss the Stone of Unction, traditionally claimed as the stone where Jesus’ body was prepared for burial, in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, in Jerusalem, Israel, Sunday, May 25, 2014. Taken from i2.cdn.turner.com

5. Papal Prayer. Pope Francis broke protocol by suddenly asking the motorcade to stop so he could pray at the Bethlehem Israeli-Palestinian Separation Wall beneath some graffiti that said, “Pope we need some 1 to speak about Justice Bethlehem look like Warsaw ghetto.” I could not help but think of this text:

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called the uncircumcision by those called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands — remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility…that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near – Ephesians 2:11-18

Taken from npr.org

Incomprehensible God

Taken from transparentwithmyself.files.wordpress.com

Warning: this post contains a spontaneous and somewhat muddled effusion of thoughts, more than I usually like out of respect for your time and interest. I will grant you a reprieve tomorrow, and beyond.

+ + +

Behold, God is great, and we know Him not;
the number of His years is unsearchable…
God thunders wondrously with His voice;
He does great things which we cannot comprehend…
The Almighty–we cannot find Him;
He is great in power and justice,
and abundant justice He will not violate.
Therefore men fear Him.”–Job 36:26,37:5,23-24

I remember when I first thought deeply about the infinity of God. Can you believe I remember things like that? I was in an undergrad metaphysics class and the professor was reflecting on a quote from St. Augustine, “Every infinity is, in a way we cannot express, made finite to God.” As I recall from the lecture, the prof explained that for Augustine infinite numbers actually exist but are, by the very fact of being infinite, not able to be comprehended by finite minds like ours. However, the same infinite numbers, because they are created by God, are comprehensible to Him in whom “infinity” has a radically different meaning from the “limitless sequence” that characterizes infinite numbers. He said something like this,

God is not a limitless sequence of numbers or spaces or moments, but is the pure, limitless, beginningless act of absolute and total simultaneity, i.e. God is all that He is simultaneously, all at once. But even that is misleading, since “all at once” sounds like a split second in time. And if you think of God in terms of time categories the image you’ll get is of a frozen, static God who can’t do anything new because He’s stuck doing everything all at once, in a moment of time that can’t open up into a next moment of time. God is not like that, is not time-bound, but is the creator of time. For Augustine, the best expression for God’s timeless and space-less infinity is the Name He reveals to Moses in the burning Bush, ego sum qui sum, “I am who am,” or qui est, “The One who is.” But how does a creature that only knows time and space speak of God? It’s like the case of a saint who tells us of a vision she [I think he was speaking of St. Catherine of Genoa] has of God in which she sees colors that don’t exist here. After the vision, she fitfully tries to describe those colors to her Confessor. She ends up saying, “Can’t do it!” So we are at a loss as to how we might describe what it means for God to be undetermined by time or by any limit; to be eternal. We can say what infinity doesn’t mean – not finite! – but when we try to say what it DOES mean, the best we can do as philosophers is offer is an inkling, a gesture.

I recall feeling dizzy as I tried to wrap my mind around what it means to say that, as the professor put it, Jews and Christians affirm that God is in-finis, without bounds, edges, horizons, limits. Like a vast sea with no shores. I remember also that he referred to Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza’s contention that God even has an infinite number of attributes, which means that, in addition to those attributes we would ascribe to God – justice, mercy, faithfulness – there’s more! That would imply a limitless diversity in God’s nature. I thought further, “Infinite attributes? That must mean heaven will be an endlessly surprising journey into who God is. How fun – like a kid in a candy shop!”

It’s likely that Spinoza wouldn’t have thought of this as “fun” in the way I do. But I tend to think (or idealize) that life itself is a form of play, i.e. an endless procession of surprising new moments that kindle the imagination, require nothing beyond them to justify their inherent value and, regardless of how repetitious, never get boring or fail to provide fresh epiphanies of God’s boundless creativity.

Several years later in my theological studies I discovered, via theologian Jean Danielou’s work on St. Gregory of Nyssa, that I was not alone. Gregory argues that in this life and in the next, our journey toward union with God never rests in a final “got it” moment but only transforms from glory to glory. Like a child that runs after a beautiful butterfly trying to capture it, those whom Christ has claimed find themselves endlessly in pursuit of the playfully elusive God of countless surprises.

…but they who wait for the Lord
shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint. – Isaiah 40:31

This understanding came to shape the way I conceived of theology. If theology is fides quaerens intellectum, “faith in search of understanding,” then God provides us with a quaerens, a “quest” that admits of no end-game. For me, this is what makes theology so enjoyable, thrilling, engaging, disorienting, challenging and wonder-full as the gift of faith grants to the intellect unfettered access into the “deep things of God” (1 Cor. 2:10) and makes the life of thought into a plunge into the deepest abyss or a mountain climbing expedition up the slopes of the soaring Mountain of God. As Danielou says,

There is at once for the soul an aspect of stability and possession, which is her participation in God, and an aspect of movement, which is the ever infinite gap between what she possesses of God and what He is…Spiritual life is thus an everlasting transformation of the soul in Christ Jesus in the form of a growing ardor, increasing thirst for God growing as participation in Him increases, which is accompanied by a growing stability, the soul becoming simple, and fixed ever more firmly in God.

Regarding his last point, how paradoxical it is that the one who surrenders himself to endless movement toward God discovers great stability. As my spiritual director once put it to me when I complained of my tumultuous life, “God is a Rock, but He’s a Rock in a state of perpetual earthquake!” When you sink your anchor in a God whom Gregory calls “changeless motion,” you soon discover that this is precisely what God is: absolutely trustworthy in an unpredictable way. Being fixed in the God who is torrential peace makes life inherently interesting.

Shut down mode

One of my sons summed it up well the effects of this paradox on common sense at the end of a three hour conversation he and I had about God’s eternity. I was reiterating the idea that God’s infinite knowledge has no source, and that God is, in Aquinas’ words, Ipsum Esse Subsistens, “Self-Subsistent Being,” which means God is the un-caused cause of His own beginningless existence. He said,

Okay I have to stop, Dad; my brain shut down.

I wrote later a brief reflection on my son’s comment:

And it’s precisely in that moment of “shut down,” that moment when you really know you don’t know, when you slam against that limits and taste the knowledge of God as beyond all of your finite categories; only in that moment can you really become vulnerable to God as God, to God out-of-the-box uncaged from comprehensibility. But it’s not that you are now free to simply deny the possibility of knowing God, to become an agnostic who realizes there are better things to do than waste your time thinking about the unthinkable. No! Rather, it’s only at that moment of “shutdown” that you become appropriately receptive to the infinite God who leaps out of His mystery, His infinity, His incomprehensibility in order to reveal Himself. Why reveal Himself? In order to open to you knowledge leading into love, a love that leads into union. That union of itty and infinity — unthinkable! – raises the finite creature to the level of the infinite God. Verbum caro factum est et habitavit in nobis, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Divine love overcomes the abyss that separates finite and infinite as the Word born of the Father before all ages is born of flesh, so that we might be born of God, made capax infiniti Dei, “capable of the infinite God.”

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth
Our full homage to demand. — from the  the Divine Liturgy of St James

God’s silence is overcome by His Word, God’s infinite height is overcome by His descent into our depths, God’s mystery is disclosed by His love that cannot remain hidden from man whom He loves for reasons that transcend all reason.

{don’t worry, I did not foist this on my son}

Pope Benedict XVI also expressed this great mystery memorably,

If the painful history of the human and Christian striving for God proves anything, it surely proves this: that any attempt to reduce God to the scope of our own comprehension leads to the absurd. We can only speak rightly about him if we renounce the attempt to comprehend and let him be the uncomprehended. Any doctrine of the Trinity, therefore, cannot aim at being a perfect comprehension of God. It is a frontier notice, a discouraging gesture pointing over to unchartable territory. It is not a definition that confines a thing to the pigeonholes of human knowledge, nor is it a concept that would put the thing within the grasp of the human mind.

Stretching prayer

For people of faith this is not just a speculative theorem. When we pray we get caught up in this mystery. When we pray, if we allow God to be God, we make the words of Hebrews 10:31 our own,

It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Fearful, that is, for the small minded who prefer to remain in Egypt, what Jews call mitzrayim, “that narrow place,” rather than go out on a risky exodus across the desert into that “spacious land” of God’s Promise.

I think here of Bl. Teresa of Calcutta’s well-known comment on prayer that, considering she suffered for decades the agonizing expansion of her desire for God through an inner darkness, offers us a compelling (and revolutionary) way for thinking about why we pray; about why peopl of prayer gladly endure every imaginable hardship, dryness and struggle to remain faithful to daily prayer. She says,

Prayer opens the heart, till it is capable of containing God himself.

Prayer stretches us wide and deep. Mother might say to you, “next time you find prayer dry, arduous, aching, or stretching you to the point of painful discomfort, see in it God making you capable of receiving Himself in all His limitless Being and love.”

The goal of prayer is not getting what we want, but “to be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:19).

Madness!

What?

St. Thomas Aquinas expressed his own willingness to “stretch” when Christ confronted him one day with the question, “What do you want?” One night, in the chapel of the Dominican priory in Naples where he was then living, one of the sacristans concealed himself to watch the Thomas at prayer. Evidently it was a sight to behold. He saw Thomas lifted into the air and heard Christ speaking to Thomas from the crucifix on the chapel wall,

Thomas, you have written well of me. What reward will you have?

Thomas, the sacristan said, replied,

Lord, nothing but yourself.

Soon after that experience, St. Thomas’ secretary, Br. Reginald, testified after his death that Thomas had another experience of God during his celebration of Mass that caused him to say afterwards to Reginald,

I can write no more. All that I have written seems like straw to me.

I guess finite next to infinite must look like straw awaiting consumption in a vast and endless Fire.

Love without borders

My grandfather (“Pop”) wrote my wife and I a letter several months before our wedding, which I’ve quoted before in this Blog. I think his words articulate far better than I ever could the deepest meaning of divine infinity. Here’s some of what he said,

From now on, it is up to you, Tom, and you, Patti, to love together, to laugh together, to cry together, to respond together, to be joined together. When one is cut, the other bleeds; when one wants, the other gives. There are no rules; there are no formulas; there are no singular pronouns. There is no “I,” “me,” “my,” “mine.” Only “us.” “ours.” I don’t know where Nana begins and I end, or where I begin and she ends. There is and always has been the union of all singular pronouns into a composite image of joy, happiness and fidelity which floods our togetherness which has never lost the first moment of magnetic reverence and worship which blanked out all the world and its occupants. And for over 66 years of oneness, each year has been an exponential factor, a geometric multiplier, that carries our fidelity way beyond the puny magnitude of E=mc2. Long ago we have outscored the dimension of such a feeble concept as infinity…faithful love alone is worthy of naming God and a marriage made in Heaven.

So it’s love, above all things, that participates most perfectly in the infinity of God. Love that knows no end, no bounds, no limits. Love that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:7). With love heaven is overfilled. By means of love, one can transform the merest mite into an infinite treasure. A treasure which is, by the way, not for myself only but for all. Infinity would demand nothing less.

“The Widow’s Mites,” Taken from christthesavioroca.org

Cultural Mystics

This still shot (taken from the Russian movie, Andrey Rublyov) of Saint Andrei Rublev for me captures the gritty sanctity that made this Orthodox iconographer a saint. His vocation to shoulder the terrible burden of bringing the Beauty of the Kingdom into the grey ruins of a violent, loveless, fallen world was a true co-crucifixion with Christ that made him a saint. See the movie some time and you’ll understand. Taken from liturgieapocryphe.com

Anyone who reads this Blog knows that I am passionately committed to proclaiming and unfolding the hidden treasures found in what I would consider the greatest gift of the Second Vatican Council to the Church: the recognition and valorization of the lay call to the fullness of holiness in its secular dimension. In other words, the lay calling is to realize the pinnacles of sanctity while living fully immersed in the heights and hovels of secular society. This Conciliar articulation of the laity’s unique path to perfection holds within it an immense and largely unrealized potential for opening all manners and fresh expressions of “worldly” holiness. The Council’s vision was that there is that the laity, by virtue of Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist and (for those called) Marriage, are given by God a specific vocation and mission whose genius demands a distinctive spirituality different from those in the Church called to dedicate their lives principally to the “goods of religion.” As Lumen Gentium #31 worded it:

Laicis indoles saecularis propria et peculiaris est, “What is proper and peculiar to the laity is their secular genius.”

And that demands a proper and peculiar asceticism and mysticism.

I won’t completely rehash right now what I have already said on this topic, but I will today renew my contention that the only real antidote to an increasingly rabid atheistic secularism is an increasingly radical theistic secularism; that the only real cure for the growing worship of the world as a god by idolaters is the consecration of the world to God by Christ’s faithful; that the only real remedy for modernity’s divorce of faith and life is to be found only in lives lived “on earth as in heaven”; that the only healing for a culture built on the divinizing self-exaltation of man is a culture built on the humanizing Incarnation of a self-emptying God; and so on.

From such a robust vision of a world-consecrating laity flows a spirituality that refuses to merely condemn, hide from or flee the world but, like Christ crucified outside the sacred walls of Jerusalem, intentionally places itself in the midst of the world’s secular affairs all-the-while working “for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven” (LG #31). Again, Lumen Gentium #38 says that the laity “must be to the world what the soul is to the body,” which means that the laity must have a spirituality that is able to inspire lives dedicated principally to bringing the divine will to bear on the goods of this world. And, as Dcn. Dr. Jim Keating contends, that means a spirituality that flows from Catholic social doctrine.

Khristian Kulturkampf

The laity’s world-leavening spirituality, so rich and varied according to each of the faithful’s place in the world, finds its home, in a unique and particular way, in the midst of human culture. In other words, the ordinary (meaning normative) path to holiness for the laity, which constitutes the specific mode of their intimate union with Christ, is to be found in the cultivation of a culture that extends the Incarnation into every nook and cranny of social, economic, political, legal, educational, agricultural, business, etc., as well as into marriage and family life for those so called by God.

When God became human in Christ, He did not just assume to Himself a human body and soul, but the whole cultural matrix that constituted the fullness of His human life as a Jew living under Roman occupation. And at Pentecost, Christ offered to draw the whole culture of mankind into His Body to be transfigured and redeemed unto eternal life. I would argue further that the Eucharist itself proclaims this truth in a singularly striking way as the Holy Spirit in the Liturgy transforms nothing other than two artifacts of human culture, bread and wine, into the Body and Blood of the God-Man. Understood in this way, engaging human culture can never be seen as a “mystically” neutral act, but doing culture itself becomes an essential and, you might say, sacramental medium of entering into transforming communion with the Risen Christ. In other words, the laity are the purveyors and embodiers of a “cultural mysticism,” which permits no aspect of “worldly/secular” life to escape the ambit of God’s sanctifying Spirit.

Art

Among the nearly infinite variety of world-leavening acts of culture-making the laity are called to engage in, the Church has always placed a special emphasis on art — musical, visual, literary, theatrical, etc. In fact, St. John Paul II, himself an artist, wrote a beautiful letter to artists in 1999. In that letter he said,

My hope for all of you who are artists is that you will have an especially intense experience of creative inspiration. May the beauty which you pass on to generations still to come be such that it will stir them to wonder! Faced with the sacredness of life and of the human person, and before the marvels of the universe, wonder is the only appropriate attitude.

People of today and tomorrow need [your] enthusiasm if they are to meet and master the crucial challenges which stand before us. Thanks to this enthusiasm, humanity, every time it loses its way, will be able to lift itself up and set out again on the right path. In this sense it has been said with profound insight that “beauty will save the world”.

Beauty is a key to the mystery and a call to transcendence. It is an invitation to savour life and to dream of the future. That is why the beauty of created things can never fully satisfy. It stirs that hidden nostalgia for God which a lover of beauty like Saint Augustine could express in incomparable terms: “Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you!”.(26)

Artists of the world, may your many different paths all lead to that infinite Ocean of beauty where wonder becomes awe, exhilaration, unspeakable joy.

May you be guided and inspired by the mystery of the Risen Christ, whom the Church in these days contemplates with joy.

May the Blessed Virgin Mary be with you always: she is the “tota pulchra” portrayed by countless artists, whom Dante contemplates among the splendors of Paradise as “beauty that was joy in the eyes of all the other saints”.

“From chaos there rises the world of the spirit”. These words of Adam Mickiewicz, written at a time of great hardship for his Polish homeland, prompt my hope for you: may your art help to affirm that true beauty which, as a glimmer of the Spirit of God, will transfigure matter, opening the human soul to the sense of the eternal.

What an extraordinarily precise phrasing of what is, for me, the soul of the lay saint: one called and sent by the Spirit into the world to “transfigure matter, opening the human soul to the sense of the eternal.” The laity are called to be iconographers of culture, co-creating with Christ the Artisan a civilization made susceptible to what the Preface to the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe calls

a Kingdom of truth and life,
a Kingdom of holiness and grace,
a Kingdom of justice, love, and peace.

JP2 Artists

Let me leave you with a cool video that has various young artists reading a section of the Pope’s Letter to Artists. May his intercession raise up a new generation of cultural mystics who are not afraid to be secular and will reveal in the midst of the world the Kingdom of God. Those who are set on fire by the Gospel should not turn within and burn only in church, but should rather Ite, missa est, “Go, be sent” into the world to set it on fire. Do not be afraid!

See here:

O Filiæ

Having a teen, and a tween, daughter is definitely a vocation within a vocation for a parent. A pink martyrdom. Nuff said.

But, as a dear and wise friend who has grown children said to me once, “Every age has its beauty.”

It’s hard to let go of their childhood. Really hard. At least for me.

I remember several years ago when my daughter gave me a hand painted piece of construction paper for Father’s Day that said on it,

Dad is a Son’s First Hero and a Daughter’s First Love.

I had to “use the restroom” to have a good sob.

Who am I?

My wife said to me later that night,

Do you have any idea how powerful your love for your girls is? Don’t ever underestimate it.

I try not to.

And a priest in Confession once echoed her words,

God’s entrusted those children to you to imprint His Face deep into their minds and hearts. Be a good artist and make Him recognizable.

Such words concentrate the soul wonderfully.

Original sin is not only the violation of a positive command, but attempts to abolish fatherhood, destroying its rays which permeate the created world, placing in doubt the truth about God who is Love and leaving man with only a sense of the master-slave relationship. ― St. John Paul II

Fatherhood: my life’s sweetest terror.

Here’s my oldest guitar-wielding daughter now:

IMG_7332

Such Abundance

When our eyes are enlightened by the Spirit, they open to the contemplation of God in the beauty of nature and the grandeur of the cosmos, and lead us to discover how everything speaks to us of Him and everything speaks to us of His love. All this arouses astonishment and a deep sense of gratitude in us! It is the feeling we experience when we admire a work of art or any marvel that is the result of the genius and creativity of man: before all of this, the Spirit leads us to praise the Lord from the depths of our hearts and recognize, in all that we have and are, a priceless gift from God and a sign of His infinite love for us. — Pope Francis

Yes, today I will subject you to yet another reflection on the beauties of the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain.

The other evening I went for my daily walk on the levee. When I’m able to do it, it’s one of my favorite things to do at the end of a long work day. After a day largely spent staring at a computer screen or digging out of paperwork, it’s especially refreshing to open out into the cathedral of the skies! Sometimes I go with my wife, sometimes with my oldest son. Sometimes alone. This evening I was alone, and the weather was exquisite. There was a warm breeze from the northeast strong enough to keep the gnats at bay, people were out enjoying a walk, bike riding or fishing and, as I walked toward the sun slowly sinking into the western horizon, the deep blue lake water scattered the light in every direction making it nearly impossible for me to see anything other than the ground at my feet.

I happened on two fishermen who had just caught two small bass and had hung them up on a sign that said, “No fishing…” I went up to them to ask what lure they’d used, and, after one of them showed me his lure and explained his jigging technique, he said, “We haven’t been so lucky lately, but you know how it is with fishing. If you’ve got some beer and a friend, it don’t matter. It’s all sweet.”

0519141933a

As I walked further down, I caught sight of a father and his daughter throwing a casting net together. She seemed to be around 11 or 12 years old. They were talking and laughing, and he was helping her set the net for the throw and cheering her on as she dragged it back in.

I noticed the purple martins, as I did back in March, were ably darting about the levee for their food along with the barn swallows. The terns were diving into the water by the pump station searching for small fish, and the grackles were screeching out their cacophonous and guttural readle-eak amid the budding cattails that line the edge of a tiny inland pond.

I got a text from a friend with a photo of the late Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger. I had just seen the movie about his life, The Jewish Cardinal, with my wife and had told this friend about it. The movie was very powerful, a remarkable witness of a priest’s willingness to remain faithful to his divine vocation in spite of the terrible crosses of isolation he suffered. I looked at his face in this texted photo and felt a surge of gratitude for his white martyrdom. It stirred my resolve to keep walking in faith.

IMG959504

Then I snapped a shot of the sunset and texted it back to my friend, with the words,

Taking my eve walk. I can’t imagine more beauty in life…

0519141935a

They wrote back,

It is truly beautiful! God is so amazing to gift us with such abundance. It is overwhelming to think He loved us so much that He even gave us His own Son. It blows my mind.

That set my mind to thinking about a comment a priest once made to my father when I was a small child (maybe 7). We were out in a boat in Narragansett Bay, RI, and he said something like this (meaning this is my adult version of the deep impression it left in my memory),

Imagine what it was like for Jesus to look out through human eyes over the creation he himself once called into existence. Imagine the joy of tasting the very delight of man for whom he created all things. Imagine him thinking back to the dawn of creation, remembering in his divine-human mind why he and his Father chose to call all things into existence in the beginning. It’s what must have made him weep over Jerusalem [Luke 19:41-44] as he recalled his ancient laboring over humanity to rescue and call us to himself. I think that’s what faith is, allowing us to see the world through his eyes. It’s more than we can conceive.

Such abundance.

The second to fourth stanzas in the Breastplate of St. Patrick sprang to mind,

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ’s birth with His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In the predictions of prophets,
In the preaching of apostles,
In the faith of confessors,
In the innocence of holy virgins,
In the deeds of righteous men.

I arise today, through
The strength of heaven,
The light of the sun,
The radiance of the moon,
The splendor of fire,
The speed of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of the sea,
The stability of the earth,
The firmness of rock.

The sun set and it was time to turn back home.

More abundance.

The heavens proclaim the glory of God,
and the firmament shows forth the work of his hands.
Day unto day takes up the story
and night unto night makes known the message.

No speech, no word, no voice is heard
yet their span extends through all the earth,
their words to the utmost bounds of the world.

There he has placed a tent for the sun;
it comes forth like a bridegroom coming from his tent,
rejoices like a champion to run its course.

At the end of the sky is the rising of the sun;
to the furthest end of the sky is its course.
There is nothing concealed from its burning heat. — Psalm 19:1-7

 

Your Personal Eschaton

On March 24, 1980, while saying Mass in the chapel of Divine Providence Hospital, Archbishop Oscar Romero was shot and killed by a paid assassin during the offertory of the mass when the priest offers the gifts of bread and wine as a sacrifice to God. Taken from cacina.wordpress.com

Do something politically incorrect every day to stay in shape for the Eschaton. — Fr. Aidan Kavanaugh

The Eschaton, of course, refers to the glorious return of Christ at time’s end when He will judge the living and the dead and will, as David Bentley Hart tersely words it, “judge much of history to be damnable.”

This quote from Fr. Kavanaugh, like many of his pithy phrases that drip with irony, captures the tensions latent in a Christian’s witness to the coming Kingdom of God, i.e. that “normality” for people of faith will always find itself an abnormality, more or less awkwardly out of step and in tension with the dominant culture of postlapsarian (sinful) humanity. Even as the faithful are called to consecrate the world to God, to submit the world to a sustained epiklesis, we cannot be so naïve as to think that the world as a whole gratefully awaits the coming of the Refiner’s Fire.

As with Archbishop Oscar Romero in the moment of his martyrdom, we must realize that the act of offering the world to God for consecration is supremely subversive, dangerous and threatening to those invested in maintaining to their own advantage the world’s disfigurement. Like him, we may find ourselves in the cross hairs of others’ fear, anger and hatred as we seek to reclaim the artifacts of culture — music, politics, business, law, economics, literature, marriage, sex — for the Transfigured One who makes all things new.

Walking Liturgies

Our Catholic theology of the Liturgy proclaims that the Eschaton is, under the form of sacramental Mystery, already upon us, crashing into our world in the Ascending Christ’s falling-like-dewfall Spirit, translating this world into the next by a transubstantiating heavenquake. We think here especially of the Holy Mass, in which the Risen Christ comes to us bearing the entirely of the celestial wedding feast of Paradise, i.e. the Mass is the fons et culmine, “source and summit” of the Church’s mission to make present God’s Kingdom “on earth as in the heavens.” Liturgy thus conceived is what the emissaries from the pagan Prince Vladimir reported back to him after experiencing for the first time the Divine Liturgy celebrated at the Cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople in 988:

Then we went on to Greece, and the Greeks led us to the edifices where they worship their God, and we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendor or such beauty, and we are at a loss how to describe it. We know only that God dwells there among men, and their service is fairer than the ceremonies of other nations. For we cannot forget that beauty.

But we also proclaim that, by Baptism and Confirmation, every Christian has been rendered into a ceaseless Liturgy, a new creation raised from the watery womb, reborn from above. We proclaim that every Christian has been made a priest, altar and sacrificial victim on, in and through which this world becomes susceptible to the Life-giving and Truth-bearing Spirit of Jesus. By means of our daily fidelities and our acts of prayer, we become for the world a mini-Eschaton, the End and Consummation of all things already now at work in us, joyously threatening with rebirth a world grown old in sin.

The world has become our Cross on which God consecrates. A world-made-Cross represents the threatened, fearful response of a fallen world when confronted with the prospect of resurrection; of a corrupt world confronted with the prospect of incorruption; of a sinful world confronted with the prospect of mercy; of a dying world confronted with the prospect of new life. To be Christian is to be co-crucified with Christ, is to co-confront the world with the prospect of its own restoration, reconciliation, redemption, re-creation and every other imaginable re- that, though it may be judged by the world as “incorrect,” is nothing other than the world’s — and God’s — deepest longing.

But may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither does circumcision mean anything, nor does uncircumcision, but only a new creation. — Galatians 6:14-15

“Answer me, LORD! Answer me” — 1 Kings 18:37

St. Edith Stein, on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, September 14, 1939 (three years before being gassed at Auschwitz), wrote these words (referring to the Nazis) that I will leave you with today. She was truly a New Elijah who brought into the camp of the pagan priests of death the Sacrificial Fire of God.

More than ever the cross is a sign of contradiction. The followers of the Antichrist show it far more dishonor than did the Persians who stole it. They desecrate the images of the Cross, and they make every effort to tear the cross out of the hearts of Christians. All too often they have succeeded even with those who, like us, once vowed to bear Christ’s cross after him. Therefore, the Savior today looks at us, solemnly probing us, and asks each one of us: Will you remain faithful to the Crucified? Consider carefully! The world is in flames, the battle between Christ and the Antichrist has broken into the open. If you decide for Christ, it could cost you your life.