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.

Wisdom, let us attend!

You know how once in a while you meet someone that knocks your socks off and deeply unsettles you precisely because what they say, and who they are, is to true and real that it cuts right to the core of you? I’ve had such an encounter over the last several years with two different men, one Vietnamese, one Nigerian, and I’d like to share their words here for your benefit. I will presume on their consent, and hopefully this brief post will spread to you some of their sagacious contagion.

I love the phrase, “sagacious contagion.” You know, one day this past semester I was walking down the hall at the seminary and a staff person shouted out after me, “Look! There goes a walking hyperbole!” You have to admit, it was quite a bizarre thing to say. I was not offended by his comment, though I thought it was a bit exaggerated. Aside from weirding me out, what it did do was make me even more away how much I am infatuated with the power of language to magnify things and render them larger than life for those, like me, who tend to miss the countless tiny epiphanies that dot our landscape every day.

But I greatly digress.

Cardinal Insight

I had the amazing privilege of interviewing Nigerian Francis Cardinal Arinze,  Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (whew), while I was serving as a Catholic radio show co-host in Iowa. He was there to give the keynote address at a Catholic conference, and made time, at the fraternal encouragement of Des Moines’ Bishop Richard Pates, to sit down for a nearly hour-long interview. He is a brilliant and holy man who exudes both conviction and humility. After the interview was over, and my friend Lisa Bourne had taken photos (like the one below), I asked him if he had a moment for a question. We stepped off to the side of the room and I asked him, “What advice would you give to me as a catechist and as a theologian?” He replied, without taking even a moment to think, “Are you married?” I replied, “Yes.” Again he queried, “Do you have children?” Again I replied, “Yes.” Then he said,

Well, you know that your first duty is to be a good husband and a good father. That’s more important than catechist or theologian. So, first you must get your priorities right and be faithful to your first vocation. Anything else I could say to you about being a theologian or a catechist would be nice, and I gather you work hard at what you do or you wouldn’t have asked for my advice, but if I had one thing to say to you today it would simply be to love your wife and children, help them become saints, and the rest flows from there. Okay?

I was so unprepared for that reply that I awkwardly said, “Okay. Yes. Good. Thank you, Eminence. Will do.”

Pray, right?

I had an equally amazing privilege meeting a 90+ year old Vietnamese gentleman, and his wife, last year. He and his wife had come to visit the seminary and go to Mass. I saw them at Mass in the front pew and noticed how intensely he participated in the Mass. They came to lunch afterwards in the seminary dining room. I sat with them at their table and spent the next 45 minutes speaking with him (his wife smiled but did not seem to speak any English). Though I struggled to understand everything he said through his thick accent, I was able to discern the main lines of his story. He told me about life growing up in poverty in Vietnam, about their families’ immigration to the U.S., and about their love for the Church and the priesthood. He asked me what I did at the seminary, and when I told him I was Academic Dean, responsible for the intellectual formation of the seminarians, he became very animated and said,

Oh! What an honor! Oh God has blessed you. Do you know that? Do you see God chose you? To help make priests of Jesus Christ. Make them holy priests. How unworthy! Do you know that? We are all unworthy! But God has chosen you to do this. And do you know what the secret is to doing good work? Being holy. You must be holy. Do you know how to be holy? Praying! You know what else? Praying! And holding on to Our Lady. And the Rosary. Do you pray the Rosary? You must! Do you think you will make it if you don’t? You won’t! Pray the Rosary, okay? Stay close to Our Lady, okay? Do you understand what I am saying? Oh God has blessed you! But you do nothing without God, right? And Our Lady. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

Like my conversation with Cardinal Arinze, I felt sucker punched when he was done and said something inane like, “Yes, right! I agree. I will! Thank you!” And I wanted to go to Confession right away. Because of the intensity of the conviction I experienced as he spoke I felt like — this sounds crazy, I am sure — he exposed and saw all my sins and weaknesses.

I thought later, why was I so affected by his words? It was the way he said it, the passion and love in his voice, the way his eyes looked into mine as he leaned across the table, smiling and speaking with such energy. It was also the power of a long life of fidelity, of suffering, of praying for so many years that gave his words power to the heart. It was as if Christ Himself were peering into my soul through him. As early fifteenth century English anchoress Julian of Norwich beautifully puts it, it seemed clear to me that this man and God were oned.

After he was done with his monologue he returned to his quiet, reserved self and finished eating. It’s not something I will forget. Later that night when I was praying, I had this thought that at my judgment before Christ this Vietnamese man and his wife would be standing there next to Jesus, smiling and saying, “Well?”

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Laudámus te

The Ancient of Days (1794), Watercolor etching by William Blake. Taken from wikimedia.org

Beauty is gloriously useless; it has no purpose but itself. ― David Bentley Hart

My spiritual director from the early 1990′s once pressed me to focus on praising God Praise, he said, is crucial to a healthy spiritual life as it seeks to honor God simply for being who He is and not for what He can give me. He counseled this new focus because when he had asked me that day what role praise had in my prayer, I shared with him that it was really a meaningless word in my prayer life.

In much the same way as Muslims recite the “99 beautiful names of Allah,” he asked me to write out a list God’s attributes, as many as I could conjure in my mind, and make a litany of praise that lauded God for being, for example, just, infinite, peace, mercy, truth, beauty, goodness, Trinity, and so on. He asked me to pray it every morning first thing, and to pray it slowly, allowing myself to linger over attributes that grabbed me. Very powerful. As I would pray through this list I would often get “stuck” on beauty. Psalm 27:4 stuck in my heart:

One thing I ask of the Lord;
this I seek:
To dwell in the Lord’s house
all the days of my life,
To gaze on the Lord’s beauty,
to behold his temple.

As David Hart says above, God’s beauty serves no useful function, but is merely the excessive and wasteful overflow of the magnificence of God’s esse, His being in all its eternal splendor.  Beauty is the showing of who and what God is. How delightful it is to pause from the day and simply say to God, “I praise you for your beauty, O God.”

And I cannot help but say here, as I say ad nauseam, that divine beauty shows itself most perfectly, and so calls for the highest praise, precisely here:

Crucifixion Altarpiece (detail) – Matthias Grünewald. Taken from wikipaintings.org

Turn Your Praise

After praying this litany for a few months, my director asked me what fruits were I had derived from this spiritual practice. I said that the number one fruit was that this litany had worn down, in a good way, my tendency to make prayer utilitarian, i.e. God I need this, she needs that, help them with this, thank you for this other thing, etc. It made me lose my focus in Him and also made my prayer slide over into thanksgiving that God is who He is. That God is as He is is wonderful beyond all words, right? But more, thank you, O God, for being all of these for us! In His great economy, He places all of His attributes in our service, to serve our happiness and joy. It makes you want to explode with joy.

After I excitedly shared these fruits with him, my smiling director paused and said,

That’s so good to hear! But there’s one more fruit that I’d like you to glean from this, but this one will require you to work. I want you to act toward others in this manner, to look for discreet opportunities to praise them simply for who they are. Search out some laudable attribute and find subtle ways to magnify it; even secret ways where they won’t know you have found a way to allow others to see some good characteristic in them. And especially practice this with those who have far more attributes that you don’t find especially praiseworthy.  Ask God to reveal these to you, and often you’ll discover no one has ever taken time to do this for them because they are so difficult. Do this for a long time and then share with me the fruits.

My director died two years after this conversation. I’m still working on it…

Captivating Fallen Catholics

“The Return of the Prodigal Son” (1773) by Pompeo Batoni, Taken from i.huffpost.com

A few years ago when I was living in Iowa, I was invited by the pastor of a parish to collaborate in an initiative he had spearheaded to invite fallen away Catholics home. The initiative, part of a five year plan, was multi-pronged and, while I was still living there, began to have some real success on the ground.

Captive Catholics

Among other things, we devised some creative ways to make use of the “captive audience” moments that every parish has access to, e.g. Christmas, Easter, Ash Wednesday, infant baptisms, weddings, funerals, first communions. These are times when Catholics who normally would never darken a church door find themselves face to face with the liturgy, the faith community and with the clergy. These are graced moments of opportunity, moments when the Church should unsheathe her best evangelizing weapons: intercessory prayer, evocative preaching, dynamic catechesis, a warm welcome and proactive outreach, clear communication of parish ministerial services and opportunities for faith community involvement, information gathering unrelated to money, follow ups, and so on.

I remember at one of the committee meetings when we were discussing these various outreach strategies, one of the women in the group made a remarkable point:

I think these are all great ideas that the Holy Spirit is inspiring. But we’d just better be sure that if we invite these people home to the Church that they find Jesus here waiting for them and a community worthy of the name “faith family.” If RCIA’s any indicator, we’d better take this seriously. After people go through RCIA’s dynamic process, its welcoming small faith community and its powerful Easter Vigil, the dust settles, they fall into step with “regular” Catholics and find themselves saying, “Where did all the Catholics go? Isn’t anyone excited about this stuff?”  That stats say that after 5 years something like 60% of converts stop practicing. So if we’re not ready to challenge the regular Catholics to be a community of faith worth being part of, no point in inviting these folks home. We need to ask, “Come home to what?”

Parishes, parishes, parishes

Her point is powerful and very important, and, in the U.S., it places parishes at the epicenter of any and all successful welcome home initiatives. As Russell Shaw once said, “In Europe it’s in eccleisal Movements that people are gathered back into the Church, but in the U.S. it’s the parishes. Americans do parishes well.” And if the center of effective regathering is the parish, the center of the parish is the parish priest, who incarnates for those who are far off, in an irreplaceable way, the fatherly and ever-welcoming Christ. Through his personal holiness and prayer, his witness of love, his preaching, his beautiful celebration of the liturgy and sacraments, his effective shepherding, etc., he serves as a key to the success of renewal. As Archbishop Curtiss once put it, referring to a speech by Pope Benedict,

Benedict XVI asserted that no one in the world today knows people better than the parish priest. He knows their struggles and weaknesses, he knows their hungers and dreams, and he knows their basic goodness. No one is better able to relate people to the suffering and death of Jesus, and to the hope of resurrection, than the parish priest. No one is able to help people discover the presence of Jesus and his action in their midst than the parish priest. No one is better able to help people be reconciled with the Lord and with each other than the parish priest.

It is to priests that people will come with their doubts and confusion, with their suffering and loneliness, with their need for reassurance and encouragement, and their hope for the future. People come to priests unmasked in the sacrament of reconciliation. No one in any other profession has this possibility of knowing people in the intimacy of their inner hearts. No one is better able to bring healing and solace to troubled souls than priests because they are the conduits by which Jesus reaches out with forgiveness and love to his people.

Thank God for our parish priests, the unsung heroes of the Church who serve on the front lines. We pray for you and we love you!

Get ready, here they come!

The pastor had a brilliant idea along those lines, as the Sunday before Christmas and Easter he would say to the whole congregation,

Guess who’s coming next week? Yep, the C&E Catholics. And it’s our God-given task to make them feel welcome and connected. You’re my ambassadors. You’re Christ’s ambassadors. Help me welcome them back home and keep them home.

I never actually made it to any of the Masses where he did this, but I think it’s a brilliant idea. And though none of these things in and of themselves are a sufficient response to the “fallen away Catholic” problem, we have to start somewhere and trust God will work through our “widow’s mites.”

Jesus Vid

One of the last things I did with this parish committee was to develop a video that would be given out as a DVD to newcomers, inquirers, infrequent Mass attenders, registered parishioners who had ceased to attend. It’s thrust was to be spiritual and inviting, focused on Christ and specific to that parish community. I was asked to write the script and we worked with a professional videographer and a producer who helped pull it all together. Here’s what we came up with:

Grandma Catholic

“When the babushkas [pious grandmothers] of Russia die, the Church will die.” — Joseph Stalin

I have a dear friend who is a woman of faith, joy, humor, humility, who is totally grounded in reality and has a mother’s compassionate heart that extends to everyone she encounters. She’s theologically astute and deeply prayerful. She’s a wife, mom, has worked in both secular and ecclesial professions and has an amazing ability to think in both worlds.

As we’ve shared ideas in the past, I’ve gained lots of wisdom, a bit of which I’d like to share here (with her permission). I’ll put them loosely in her words and follow each of them up with a quote that sprang to mind as I thought of her insights.

+ + +

1. “Adore the Lord in his holy court.” — Psalm 29:2. Eucharistic Adoration before the exposed Blessed Sacrament is a life-changing power. Just plant your knees in front of that Host and be prepared for God to act in your life in “crazy” ways. God’s never outdone in generosity. Move an inch, He’ll run a mile. Bring your kids. Go as a couple. Just show up and He’ll show up. It’s a no-brainer way to grow in your spiritual life and to bring others to Christ. You can’t spend time in front of the Blessed Sacrament and NOT change.  You may not feel it then, because it is subtle and happens inch by inch, but you can see your way of looking at things change.  It’s like putting on “spiritual glasses” that give you the ability to see things different – even when life does not make sense or is dragging you where you don’t want to go.  Every now and then I find myself not wanting to go to my scheduled hour because I don’t want to let my mind race over the things I have to worry about.  But I go – knowing that after I share my cross with Him, He will send someone to be my “Simon of Cyrene” when I don’t think I can carry life’s burdens.  

To converse with You, O King of glory, no third person is needed, You are always ready in the Sacrament of the Altar to give audience to all. All who desire You always find You there, and converse with You face to face. — St. Teresa of Avila

2. “The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’” — Matthew 9:11. I like hanging with the sinners, not the perfect people. First, because I relate more to the sinners since I am one.  Secondly, because Jesus hung out with them. Unless you’re going to form an exclusive devout-Catholics-only club, which I don’t think is what we’re supposed to do, you won’t be able to relate to us regular people. Sinners are more likely to recognize the messiness of life and walk with me when my life gets messy. They don’t judge me for not being perfect. Besides, you can’t really evangelize if you won’t let yourself be at home among people who don’t share your enthusiasm for the a life of prayer and faith.  

Evangelizing pre-supposes a desire in the Church to come out of herself. The Church is called to come out of herself and to go to the peripheries, not only geographically, but also the existential peripheries: the mystery of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance and indifference to religion, of intellectual currents, and of all misery.– Pope Francis

3. “I recall your sincere faith that first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and that I am confident lives also in you.” — 2 Timothy 1:5. I’m proud to be a Grandma Catholic. When I was younger, I was always super self-conscious about public expressions of faith. I was very private and avoided making people uncomfortable by showing my Catholicism in word or action. But now that I’m older, and this is the grace of age, I don’t care so much about what people think of what I say or do. With age comes wisdom, and wisdom makes you realize what’s really important and what’s not. I feel freer to pray with people, to share my faith, to invite people to Adoration. I make full use of my maternal heart which, because of my age, is more and more like a grandmotherly heart. And you know grandmothers, they can get away with just about anything.

Today, as the Church seeks to experience a profound missionary renewal there is a kind of preaching which falls to each of us as a daily responsibility. It has to do with bringing the Gospel to the people we meet, whether they are our neighbors or complete strangers. This is the informal preaching that takes place in the middle of a conversation, something like what a missionary does when visiting a home. Being a disciple means being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others and this can happen unexpectedly anyplace: on the street in a city, or during work or in a city square or on a journey.

In this preaching, which is always gentle, the first step is personal dialogue, when the other person speaks and shares his or her joys, hopes, and concerns for loved ones, or so many other heartfelt needs. Only afterwards is it possible to bring up God’s word, perhaps by reading a Bible verse or relating a story, but always keeping in mind the fundamental message: the personal love of God who became man, who gave himself up for us, who is living and who offers us his salvation and his friendship. This message has to be shared humbly as a testimony on the part of one who is always willing to learn, in the awareness that the message is so rich and so deep that it always exceeds our grasp. — Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium

Taken from theheartofthematterblog.files.wordpress.com

Daily wonder

Image of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, Taken from http://www.societyofourlady.net

I came across a quote from American philosopher Thomas Nagel this past Tuesday, and after reading it suddenly exclaimed aloud in my office, “Yes!” My next door co-worker shouted back, “Yes what?” I shouted back, “Long story!” So I decided to write a post to tell the story.

Nagel said,

Existence is something tremendous, and day-to-day life, however indispensable, seems an insufficient response to it.

What a fantastic insight! It applies to so many aspects of life. I think, for example, of those many special moments I have with my wife, my children, my mom or my friends. So often in the midst of particularly profound, joyful, tragic or playful moments I will step back and think, “I wish I could appreciate more fully the power or beauty of this moment!” But time is fleeting and one’s capacity to grasp the full import of a particular event in time is so limited.

For example, sometimes, especially when I am out in nature away from both city and suburb, I have these “flash” experiences of gratitude well up in me over the great wonder of existence, of creation, of being alive in a world so vast and beautiful and mysterious. But soon I find myself again thrown back into the dullness of my everyday unawareness that all-too-often keeps my heart from fulfilling its desire to fly on High to Him who is the source and goal of all things in order to say: “Thank you!”

The Kingdom Within

I also think of the mystery, grandeur and immensity of the truths of our Faith! I think of their capacious and monumental significance, and of how I live largely asleep to the awe of their dazzling Presence in my life. In particular, though, I stand in the greatest awe of the doctrine of the “indwelling” of the Trinity, i.e. that the eternal God dwells in my body and my soul. How can we possible comprehend this? My body, my flesh and blood and bones, are a naós, a Holy of Holies in which the all-holy, all-glorious, infinite Trinity – before whom the many-eyed Cherubim hide their faces and tremble! — has chosen to abide. Our great God abides in my tiny abode. Crazy!

This should infest every aspect of our lives and even revolutionize the way we think of sin. St. Paul reminds us of this in his stinging indictment of Corinthian Christians who are still having sex with pagan temple prostitutes,

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take Christ’s members and make them the members of a prostitute? Of course not! Or do you not know that anyone who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For “the two,” it says, “will become one flesh.” But whoever is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Avoid immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the immoral person sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? – 1 Corinthians 6:19

I knew a priest named Fr. William in N. Attleboro, Massachusetts who really “got” the dynamic power of this teaching and offered a vivid witness to it. After he baptized an infant, he would hand the baby back to the mother and then slowly step back, genuflect before the baby and say while still down on his knee,

Behold the temple of the undivided Trinity. Now raise this child knowing s/he is that temple.

This gesture always elicited a “wow moment” in the family and friends present, and an occasional gasp. I know it changed the way I think of the grace of Baptism. In fact, the first time I saw the above image of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, in which she is adoringly gazing at the Trinity dwelling within her, I thought it was the perfect Baptismal image of what Fr. William was doing. It reveals the infinite dignity that every Christian possesses.

Do you not know?

How might a Christian better cultivate an awareness of these, to use Nagel’s words, “something tremendous” realities in our day to day life?

The answer, of course, is by prayer. Especially, I would argue, by daily doing what Br. Lawrence of the Resurrection called the “practice of the Presence of God.” At the heart of this “practice” is the habit of frequently stopping throughout the day, even if only for a few moments, to call to mind one of the many ways in which God is present to us. As we pause, we should pray, “Lord, show me your Face!” Become aware of God present to you as Creator, lovingly sustaining you in existence at every moment; present in the Holy Eucharist; present in your spouse or friend, in a stranger or an enemy; present in your repentance, in suffering or in joy. Or, as I am especially fond of doing, become aware of Him present deep within your soul.

It’s also very fruitful, at the end of each day, to practice an examen in which we can recall the day’s events and ask the Spirit to reveal to us where He revealed to us the Face of God-with-us.

This, I might say, is what “seek and you shall find” means. How much seeking do you do every day? If we don’t “practice” the presence of God consistently, it will be difficult for us to recognize Him when those dark or difficult times come around and we want to see Him. When someone says to me in the midst of a crisis, “Where was God?,” I think, “Did you seek Him out before now?”

Eucharistic amazement

When I first began to practice my faith back in 1987, I was struggling with what to “do” after I received the Eucharist. No one had ever told me, and I always felt a bit lost and hazy after receiving. Once I asked the pastor of the parish I attended for help, and he gave me St. Thomas Aquinas’ prayer after Communion, which was a great help:

I thank You, Lord, Almighty Father, Everlasting God, for having been pleased, through no merit of mine, but of Your great mercy alone, to feed me, a sinner, and Your unworthy servant, with the precious Body and Blood of Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. I pray that this Holy Communion may not be for my judgment and condemnation, but for my pardon and salvation. Let this Holy Communion be to me an armor of faith and a shield of good will, a cleansing of all vices, and a rooting out of all evil desires. May it increase love and patience, humility and obedience, and all virtues. May it be a firm defense against the evil designs of all my visible and invisible enemies, a perfect quieting of all the desires of soul and body. May this Holy Communion bring about a perfect union with You, the one true God, and at last enable me to reach eternal bliss when You will call me. I pray that You bring me, a sinner, to the indescribable Feast where You, with Your Son and the Holy Spirit, are to Your saints true light, full blessedness, everlasting joy, and perfect happiness. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

But it was not until I read St. Teresa of Avila’s description of a vision she had after receiving Communion that my imagination lit up. It totally rocked my world and, for a few days, even made receiving the Host a bit fearful. How could something so epoch,  something of such staggering magnitude happen in puny little me? Here’s what she said in one of her Soliloquies,

Once after receiving Communion I was given understanding of how the Father receives within our soul the most holy Body of Christ, and of how I know and have seen that these Divine Persons are present, and how pleasing to the Father this offering of His Son is, because He delights and rejoices with Him here–let us say–on earth. For His humanity is not present with us in the soul, but His divinity is. Thus the humanity is so welcome and pleasing to the Father and bestows on us so many favors.

Come on! Are you kidding? The Father receives the self-offering of the Son “afresh” in me each time I receive? It’s been 26 years since I read that text and I still can’t get over it. Even thinking about it too much causes, as my son calls it, “brain shutdown.”

Interior Castle

A last point. I knew a really holy priest in Massachusetts back in 1990 who lived in a nursing home. His name was Fr. Robert Goulet. He was in his 90′s when I met him. We became quick friends and for a whole summer I would go to Mass with him every day at 5:00 a.m. He’d celebrate it in his room with just the two of us there. It was a great privilege for which I will never cease to be grateful. We would talk after Mass about the spiritual life, and he loved to talk about the mystics. One day I remember we were talking about St. Teresa, and he shared with me his favorite story from her writings — her vision of the soul. He said, “Can you imagine if we really believed that this was the way it was? Don’t you know we could never sin! I think we’d die of joy! Maybe that’s why God hides it from us.”

Teresa’s vision was shared publicly by one of her confessors, Fray Diego de Yepes, after her death. I will leave you with this extraordinary image of your soul to ponder. Hopefully it will kindle a bit more your daily wonder over the shocking dignity that is yours in Christ. Be amazed!

This holy Mother had been desirous of obtaining some insight into the beauty of a soul in grace. Just at that time she was commanded to write a treatise on prayer, about which she knew a great deal from experience. On the eve of the festival of the Most Holy Trinity she was thinking what subject she should choose for this treatise, when God, Who disposes all things in due form and order, granted this desire of hers, and gave her a subject. He showed her a most beautiful crystal globe, made in the shape of a castle, and containing seven mansions, in the seventh and innermost of which was the King of Glory, in the greatest splendor, illumining and beautifying them all. The nearer one got to the center, the stronger was the light; outside the palace limits everything was foul, dark and infested with toads, vipers and other venomous creatures.

While she was wondering at this beauty, which by God’s grace can dwell in the human soul, the light suddenly vanished. Although the King of Glory did not leave the mansions, the crystal globe was plunged into darkness, became as black as coal and emitted an insufferable odor, and the venomous creatures outside the palace boundaries were permitted to enter the castle. This was a vision which the holy Mother wished that everyone might see, for it seemed to her that no mortal seeing the beauty and splendor of grace, which sin destroys and changes into such hideousness and misery, could possibly have the temerity to offend God. It was about this vision that she told me on that day, and she spoke so freely both of this and of other things that she realized herself that she had done so and on the next morning remarked to me: ‘How I forgot myself last night! I cannot think how it happened. These desires and this love of mine made me lose all sense of proportion. Please God they may have done me some good!’ I promised her not to repeat what she had said to anyone during her lifetime.

 

Letting Christ love me, unpleasantly

“Christ Washing Feet,” Ford Madox Brown (1821 – 1893)

Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.” — John 13:8

I heard a homily the other day in which the preacher said,

Let’s ask for the grace to serve Christ in others and allow others to serve Christ in us.

I was taken by that last point, allowing others to serve Christ in us. It made me think of how difficult it can be for those who commit their lives untiringly to the service of others to allow others to serve them; or to serve with them. One somewhat related example came to mind. The details of the story has been sufficiently altered to make identification of those involved impossible.

Most Giving

When I was living on the East coast, I once served alongside a woman who was selfless to the extreme. It was a privilege to work with her and learn from her sacrificial approach to life. She’s one of those people who never seems to tire and who forgets to eat because she’s too busy feeding other people. During the time that I worked with her, she gained a very powerful insight into herself that she graciously agreed to allow me to share in my teaching work.

Once she came to “vent” to me about another person who was asked to help her lead a service committee project. She was frustrated with this other person’s need to “control” the project, to be involved in every decision and be present for everything. As we talked through her anger, it became clearer to her that what was really at stake was not just a conflict over control but a conflict over appearance and efficiency.

She realized was so used to being the front person in everything she set her mind to – giving excessively of her time and energy so, in effect, no one could compete — that the idea someone else might steal some of that “most giving” spotlight from her was, deep down, very threatening. That’s a tough thing to admit, and I was deeply moved by her sincerity in being willing to face this struggle so candidly.

She also confessed that, truth be told, she was far more efficient than this other person and could get the job done much faster without them. We explored this point a bit, and she again admitted that the deeper issue seemed to be not just efficiency but working with someone that rubbed her the wrong way. We talked about the fact that for a Christian work is never simply about efficiency, but is also about learning to love others by means of a common task that requires mutual dependence and challenging collaboration. I mentioned that I loved the fact that in the Gospels Christ seemed to intentionally choose for his disciples people who were not at all naturally comfortable with each other, and he challenged them to become a model community of reconciled humanity.

We also came to a common insight that real love, tough virtue, costly grace can only be had when we learn to love Christ in others and learn to be loved by Christ though others. Christ appears above all in the midst of relationships, especially the tattered, yucky, unpleasant, ragged-edged ones that make our spirits sweat.

I later thought and noted in my journal: Selflessness without a love that is genuinely about every neighbor, and not just the pleasant or agreeable ones, can easily become cleverly disguised selfishness. I also thought of my professor, Dr. Germain Grisez’s, pithy point,

One should not be pressed by enthusiasm or impatience to act individualistically for basic human goods.

Even if the “products” of our labors (e.g. a successful event, a clean house) are less refined or more laborious, the dirty collaborative process of creating that product, especially with an un-chosen neighbor, can, in many ways, be the far more important product.

After our conversation, she said something I felt was worth its weight in gold,

Pray that I will now be able to allow Christ to call me to deeper love through this person. Or, better yet, let Christ love me through this person. That’s the harder one for me, so it’s probably the better.

 

O Fortunate Ruin

{This is an old post from summer of 2012}

The other day I was speaking on the phone with someone who has worked for a few decades in a Catholic institution, and in the course of the conversation they related some painful job-related difficulties. In the course of the conversation this person said in exasperation, “Sometimes I wonder if Jesus has anything to do with the work we do.”

It set me wondering.

Solus Christus

Having worked within the Church Institutional for the last ~24 years, I have noted that original sin is alive and well in its unoriginal hosts.

The bumps, bruises and blows I have endured, and have doled out, over the years have served to reinforce in me a bedrock truth upon which I have tried to build my own work and protect my inner joy: the Church is, in the final analysis, Christ’s and not mine or ours. Further, the Church rests on an unstable paradox: the Church’s one foundation is the terrifyingly unjust execution of the divine Creator and the Creator’s terrifyingly merciful re-creation of his human executors. She’s built on human sin and divine grace, human violence and divine peace, human rage and divine compassion. Human infidelity is built into the Church’s very founding event, making sin into a strange fountain in our midst that upwells with superabundant grace (cf Rom. 5:20).

Take this into prayer and allow the Spirit to weave it into your soul and watch the transformation happen — the way you will see powerful divinity appear in weak humanity.

Cleave

Back in 1989, I met an elderly priest (probably in his 90′s) at a Lourdes Grotto in Emmitsburg, Maryland. He randomly grabbed my arm and said to me, “Son, the secret to a lifetime of priesthood is found in Jeremiah 17:5 and Psalm 146:3. Look them up.” I went and looked them up as spoon as I was able.

Thus says the Lord:
Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings,
who makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the Lord. — Jeremiah 17:5

Put no trust in princes,
In mortal men in whom there is no help. — Psalm 146:3

After I read them I thought, “Cynical.” I was sad to think at his age that that was where he was ending.

But now, I get it.

From the vantage of faith, success in life isn’t determined by the absence of hardships or difficult people, but on how tightly one has cleaved to Christ in all things. Only in that way can the ups and downs of life open up into so many singularly graced opportunities to sink my anchor deep into the only Rock.

I love you, Lord, my strength,
my rock, my fortress, my savior.
My God is the rock where I take refuge;
my shield, my mighty help, my stronghold. — Psalm 18:1-2

Long learned wisdom

If I had to name those men and women of faith that I most admire, all of them, as I call them to mind right now, are people who have suffered hardships and disappointments within the Church, but have refused to succumb to bitterness, cynicism or flights from reality. An old priest I know and greatly admire not long ago said to me (and consented that I share these words), referring to his lifelong ecclesiastical tribulations,

I’ve been through hell, but it’s taught me heaven. In the blackness of my worst pain, I have caught a glimpse of St. John of the Cross’ stanza:

O night that led me true,
O night more fair than morning’s earliest shining,
O night that wrought from two
lover, beloved entwining
beloved and lover one in their combining!

Had I not gone there, I would never have come here. Jesus. Jesus. It’s all Jesus.

You see, for me it’s people who have been “through it” that have something to say, and who can, like Jesus, “speak with authority.” And though I myself cannot yet speak with such authority, I can share with you the hard-won wisdom of those who do.

Italian-American theology

Let me leave you with the well-known words of the late Italian theologian, Carlo Carretto, who here starkly expresses this paradoxical vantage, and the words of Frank Sheed, brilliant American lay Catholic theologian/author of the mid 20th century, who captures the same tension.

Carlo:

The Church has the power to make me holy but it is made up, from the first to the last, only of sinners. And what sinners! It has the omnipotent and invincible power to renew the Miracle of the Eucharist, but is made up of men who are stumbling in the dark, who fight every day against the temptation of losing their faith. It brings a message of pure transparency to God but it is incarnated in slime, such is the substance of the world. It speaks of the sweetness of its Master, of its non-violence, but there was a time in history when it sent out its armies to disembowel the infidels and torture the heretics. It proclaims the message of evangelical poverty, and yet it does nothing but look for money and alliances with the powerful.

Those who dream of something different from this are wasting their time and have to rethink it all. And this proves that they do not understand humanity. Because this is humanity, made visible by the Church, with all its flaws and its invincible courage, with the Faith that Christ has given it and with the love that Christ showers on it.

When I was young, I did not understand why Jesus chose Peter as his successor, the first Pope, even though he abandoned Him. Now I am no longer surprised and I understand that by founding his church on the tomb of a traitor, He was warning each of us to remain humble, by making us aware of our fragility

How much I must criticize you, my church,
and yet how much I love you!
You have made me suffer more than anyone
and yet I owe more to you than to anyone.
I should like to see you destroyed
and yet I need your presence.
You have given me much scandal
and yet you alone have made me understand holiness.
Never in this world have I seen anything
more compromised, more false,
yet never have I touched anything
more pure, more generous or more beautiful.
Countless times
I have felt like slamming the door of my soul in your face
– and yet, every night,
I have prayed that I might die in your sure arms!
No, I cannot be free of you, for I am one with you,
even if not completely.
Then too–where would I go? To build another church?
But I could not build one without the same defects,
for they are my defects.
And again, if I were to build another church,
it would be my church, not Christ’s church.
No, I am old enough, I know better.

Frank:

We are not baptized into the hierarchy; do not receive the Cardinals sacramentally; will not spend an eternity in the beatific vision of the pope. Christ is the point. I, myself, admire the present pope (John Paul II), but even if I criticized him as harshly as some do, even if his successor proved to be as bad as some of those who have gone before, even if I find the church, as I have to live with it, a pain in the neck, I should still say that nothing a pope (or a priest) could do or say would make me wish to leave the church, although I might well wish that they would leave.

Fatima

Three Fatima Seers, Francisco Marto (June 11, 1908 – April 4, 1919), his sister Jacinta Marto (March 11, 1910 – February 20, 1920), and their cousin Lúcia Santos (1907–2005). Taken from http://www.shrineofsaintjude.net

Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us! This is a remarkable feast commemorating a private revelation that has arguably exercised more influence on the Catholic imagination than any other. From Our Lady’s prediction of the end of World War I and coming World War II to her identification of the impending global catastrophe of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution; from the Three Secrets (here) to the dancing sun miracle; from her revelation of Hell to three small children to her promotion of the Holy Rosary, Our Lady of Fatima has impressed herself deeply in the Catholic spirit. Let me share with you a portion of the vision of Hell the children received to give you a taste of Fatima’s stark vividness:

Our Lady showed us a great sea of fire which seemed to be under the earth. Plunged in this fire were demons and souls in human form, like transparent burning embers, all blackened or burnished bronze, floating about in the conflagration, now raised into the air by the flames that issued from within themselves together with great clouds of smoke, now falling back on every side like sparks in a huge fire, without weight or equilibrium, and amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair, which horrified us and made us tremble with fear. The demons could be distinguished by their terrifying and repulsive likeness to frightful and unknown animals, all black and transparent. This vision lasted but an instant. How can we ever be grateful enough to our kind heavenly Mother, who had already prepared us by promising, in the first Apparition, to take us to heaven. Otherwise, I think we would have died of fear and terror.

We then looked up at Our Lady, who said to us so kindly and so sadly:

“You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace. The war is going to end: but if people do not cease offending God, a worse one will break out during the Pontificate of Pius XI. When you see a night illumined by an unknown light, know that this is the great sign given you by God that he is about to punish the world for its crimes, by means of war, famine, and persecutions of the Church and of the Holy Father. To prevent this, I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of reparation on the First Saturdays. If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred; the Holy Father will have much to suffer; various nations will be annihilated. In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and she shall be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world.”

Heaven Hears

Pope Benedict XV wrote a letter dated May 5, 1917, pleading for an end to World War I. He asked the faithful throughout the world to have recourse to the Heart of Jesus through the mediation of Mary, and he ordered that the invocation “Queen of Peace, pray for us” be permanently added to the Litany of Loreto. Here’s a portion of what he said,

Our earnestly pleading voice, invoking the end of the vast conflict, the suicide of civilized Europe, was then and has remained ever since unheard. Indeed, it seemed that the dark tide of hatred grew higher and wider among the belligerent nations, and drew other countries into its frightful sweep, multiplying ruin and massacre. Nevertheless Our confidence was not lessened …. Since all graces which the Author of all good deigns to grant to the poor children of Adam, by a loving design of His Divine Providence are dispensed through the hands of the most holy Virgin, we wish that the petition of Her most afflicted children, more than ever in this terrible hour, may turn with lively confidence to the august Mother of God.

To Mary, then, who is the Mother of Mercy and omnipotent by grace, let loving and devout appeal go up from every corner of the earth – from noble temples and tiniest chapels, from royal palaces and mansions of the rich as from the poorest hut – from blood-drenched plains and seas. Let it bear to Her the anguished cry of mothers and wives, the wailing of innocent little ones, the sighs of every generous heart: that Her most tender and benign solicitude may be moved and the peace we ask for be obtained for our agitated world.

Exactly eight days after this appeal – an octave! – Heaven replied as Mary appeared on 5/13/1917 to three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal. Her message was clear: prayer and penance! Here’s a sample of what she said, from the third apparition on July 13,

Sacrifice yourselves for sinners and say often whenever you make a sacrifice: “O Jesus, it is for love of You, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the offenses committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.” Pray much and make sacrifices for sinners, for many souls go to hell because there is no one to make sacrifices for them.

A Child’s Solution to War

Here’s what strikes me most about the message of Fatima: Mary’s proposed solution to the unimaginable complexity of what was at that time history’s bloodiest war was piety. She does not propose diplomatic strategies, but calls for repentance and conversion, reparation and penance, vicarious act of consecration and the daily praying of the Rosary, daily sacrifices and Adoration.  The primary strategy she proposed for establishing peace was imitating the crucified High Priest: praying, sacrificial self-offering and so atoning for sins. In other words, as I said two weeks ago, conquering Hell and consecrating the world to God comes about by hanging as a powerless, praying Victim on the Cross of Christ. As in the apocalyptic Book of Revelation, it’s the bloody slain Lamb that slays the blood-thirsty and violent Dragon, waging war by means of what you might call God’s peaceful violence. So there’s no surprise to hear this description by the visionary Lucia of this vision that accompanied the Third Secret:

Beneath the two arms of the Cross there were two Angels each with a crystal aspergillum in his hand, in which they gathered up the blood of the Martyrs and with it sprinkled the souls that were making their way to God.

For Christians, our body-sacrificing (cf Rom. 12:1) baptismal priestly identity stands at the heart of the war against evil. Worship and prayer, sacrifice and repentance, penance and acts of faith, hope and love are, in God’s economy, omnipotent weapons.

As a priest friend of mine colorfully says it,

All loss in Him is gain. On the cross God defeats dark powers by a victorious victimhood, an omnipotent impotence, a heroic defeat. If you just give God your aches and pains, justice falls and mercy reigns…is it not divine comedy that the raging roar of Hell is undone by a frail elder whispering of a prayer while thumbing a bead?

What a wonderfully dizzying and counter-intuitive vision of life! The fabulous naivete of spiritual childhood!

So, rejoice in God’s strategic plan today by consecrating the world to God by your dally fidelity to prayer, sacrifices and penance.

Oh, and pray the Rosary.

70,000 people witness the “miracle of the sun” on October 13, 1917, http://www.fatima.org/essentials/facts/miracle.asp

Bearing my iCross

St. Moses the Black. Taken from http://www.mosestheblack.org

Someone said to me recently after they had done something they regretted, “I’m telling you, if it weren’t for Confession, I would probably have despaired long ago over all my crap; I mean, my sins. It’s my favorite Sacrament, no offence to the Eucharist intended.” I asked them if I could quote them, and they said, “If it helps someone go to Confession, by all means.”

That made me reflect on how I deal with my own piles of inner junk, which led me to write a post for all of you fellow sin junkies out there.

The Heaviest Cross: Me

I went on an Ignatian retreat a number of years ago, and my director shared a trove of insights with me after my general life confession. Here is my journal recollection of his advice:

You must be attentive to the wiles of the Enemy alluring you to abandon fidelity to your state in life, and what God commands of you. You must also be aware of others’ failings and sins, but only inasmuch as they might affect you adversely and require a prudent response, or might require you to offer them charitable correction, or maybe even require your forgiveness and intercessory prayer for them. But what should really grab your attention and effort are your own sins and weaknesses and failings. In the end, God will judge you only for your response to His will in the face of others. But even as you are attentive to your own inner mess, your focus must be never be on the mess per se, but on God’s mercy that both exposes your sins for what they are and at once drowns them in his healing Light. That’s the Cross, right? Light is stripped naked by our sins, lays bare our guilt before God and humanity, and is plunged into our deepest darkness so that our darkness might be overcome by the Light. It’s interesting that right after John 3:16, which is about God’s love for the sinful world, it says, “…everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light…” If you want to taste of God’s love for your sinful world, you must step into the light every day when you examine your conscience; when you are corrected by someone else who speaks the truth to you. Those who hide from the truth, run from it, deny it, reject it, betray it, rationalize it away discard mercy. But once you experience mercy, and its liberating joy, you are freed to admit all of your faults because you are freed from the exhausting work of constantly constructing cages created by your endless self-justifications. That’s why St. Neri would run out of the confessional, laughing and saying, “I can’t wait until I fall again to be raised up by such a Redeemer!” People who fear the truth about themselves are a sad, joyless lot. The desert Fathers often spoke about praying for the gift of tears, which for them meant tears of repentance, of being enabled by God to unveil in the secret of one’s heart the depths of guilt, the roots of one’s sins, so that God could get his grace into those roots. Those tears, the Fathers said, were sacraments of “joy bearing mourning,” the joy of salvation.

…you are your own heaviest cross, you are your own worst enemy, and embracing that fact will preserve you from a life of cage building. Facing the truth of your sinfulness, owning your pettiness and vices, keeps you humble and makes room for divine mercy. Who needs mercy when they’re preoccupied with the smoke and mirrors game of self-righteousness or the turned inward anger of self-loathing? Receiving mercy makes you able to be joyfully merciful with others’ faults and failings. Jesus says only those who are forgiven much can love much. And he doesn’t mean only those who have committed lots of sins can be forgiven much, but that those who allow their many sins to be forgiven are the only ones who can really love; and love in the most extreme way, which for Jesus means love in the form of mercy. That’s perfect love [Luke 6:36]. Welcoming humble correction from God and others, which is a natural reflex for the humble, is the prerequisite for being qualified to offer it. In the end, when it comes to sin-gazing keep your eyes fixed on Jesus as the one “from whence comes your help,” and not fixed on yourself or on others. Only he keeps you humble and hopeful.

He then shared with me the story of desert Father, Abba Moses the Black, which I’ve shared here before. St. Moses entered the monastic life after abandoning a life of gang violence (who was a leader of bandits in the Nile valley), alcoholism and crime who was known especially for terrorizing his victims. He was also a huge, imposing figure. One day a member of the monastic community was caught committing a particularly heinous sin, and the abbot of his monastery asked the revered Abba Moses to come to the church and render judgment. He came reluctantly, carrying on his back a leaking bag of sand. When he arrived, the brothers asked him why he was carrying such a thing. He simply said,

This sand is my sins which are trailing out behind me, while I go to judge the sins of another.

At that reply, the brothers forgave the offender and returned to focusing on their own salvation rather than the sins of their brother.

A side note. Abba Moses was martyred at the age of 75 by a gang of desert bandits whom he, after telling his brother monks to flee to safety, greeted with open arms.

So I tell you, [his] many sins have been forgiven; hence, [he] has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little. – Luke 7:47

Fr. Tom, preach it!

Consistent readers of this Blog know well how much I love Orthodox theologian Fr. Tom Hopko, whose work I could read every day and never tire. Let me leave you with his wisdom today to punctuate my theme.

Endure the trial of yourself and your own faults and sins peacefully, serenely, under the mercy of God. This is very important. St. Seraphim of Sarov said: “To have the Holy Spirit is to see your own wretchedness peacefully, because you know that God’s mercy is greater than your wretchedness.” St. Therese of Lisieux, a Roman Catholic saint who died at 24, she wrote to a friend: “If you are willing to bear the trial of your own wretchedness, serenely, then you will surely be the sweetest dwelling place of Jesus.” We have to bear our own faults, serenely. St. Paul said: “Where sin has abounded, grace has superabounded.” And we cannot let the devil rejoice two times. Pythagoras said: “When we fall, the devils rejoice. When we stay down, the devils keep rejoicing.” And nothing puts the devils more to shame than having fallen, we stand up again. So we must bear peacefully, calmly, our own weaknesses, our own failings. Expect them. Don’t make them happen, but expect them. We are not God.

When we fall, get up immediately and start over. As often as we fall, we stand up again. And we will fall. It says in Scripture that the wise person, the wise man, falls seven times a day, that meanas a lot, but he gets up again. The fool does not get up again, and the fool doesn’t even know that he has fallen. The wise person knows when he falls, but he gets up again. In fact, the tradition says: “It belongs only to God, never to fall.” It belongs to demons to fall and not get up again, but it belongs to human beings, certainly to Christians, to fall and to get up again, to fall and to get up again. One Desert Father even described human life, according to Christian faith, in that way. When he was asked by a pagan, what does it mean to be a Christian, he said: “A Christian is a person who falls down and gets up again, who falls down and gets up again, who falls down, is lifted up again by the grace of God to start over.” And you can start over every moment anew.