Consuming God on Black Friday

Black Friday 2011

This year’s Black Friday push-back into Thanksgiving evening, 7:00 p.m. has caused a stir as many people feel that something is amiss. But exactly what is it that’s amiss?

I was listening to a talk radio show the other day, and they were interviewing people in a Mall asking them what they thought of the incremental encroachment of sales and store hours into the sacred space of Thanksgiving Day evening – a process they dubbed “Black Friday creep.” Many said they think it’s a shame that stores just won’t leave family time alone. Others offered a more pragmatic view and said that an earlier opening Thursday evening allows people to not feel they have to stay up late into the night to take advantage of sales. One Corporate rep from a store that will open early said “it gives consumers a choice they’ve never had before. It diversifies their options, which is what drives the market and keeps our economy healthy.”

The fact is, consumerism unrestrained by a “thick” ethical and theological worldview (like that articulated in Caritas in Veritate) spares nothing in its ravenous appetite for more, insidiously, relentlessly commodifying persons and placing the core values that undergird marriage, family, childhood, adulthood, sexuality, religion, leisure, or the meaning of the “feast” (e.g. the Sunday Sabbath, Thanksgiving or Mardi Gras) at the service of the market.

On that last point, Josef Pieper powerfully argues in his book Leisure: Basis of Culture that the authentic role of leisure and the feast is to guard those God-given foundations upon which all human dignity lies: truth, goodness and beauty. When the market does not serve, but overtakes these three “transcendentals,” truth becomes a market-driven statistic, goodness a market-driven appetite, and beauty a market-driven advertising ploy.

David, Take it Away

But let me not waste any more time here trying to say poorly what David Hart, yet again, says so incisively. This is taken from his latest book, which I am also wading through with great joy, The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss.

Late modern society is principally concerned with purchasing things, in ever greater abundance and variety, and so has to strive to fabricate an even greater number of desires to gratify, and to abolish as many limits and prohibitions upon desire as it can. Such a society is already implicitly atheist and so must slowly but relentlessly apply itself to the dissolution of transcendent values. It cannot allow ultimate goods to distract us from proximate goods. Our sacred writ is advertising, our piety is shopping, our highest devotion is private choice. God and the soul too often hinder the purely acquisitive longings upon which the market depends, and confront us with values that stand in stark rivalry to the one truly substantial value at the center of our social universe: the price tag. So it really was only a matter of time before atheism slipped out of the enclosed gardens of academe and down from the vertiginous eyries of high cosmopolitan fashion and began expressing itself in crassly vulgar form…In a sense, the triviality of the movement is its chief virtue. It is a diverting alternative to thinking deeply. It is a narcotic. In our time, to strike a lapidary phrase, irreligion is the opiate of the bourgeoisie, the sigh of the oppressed ego, the heart of a world filled with tantalizing toys. (313-14)

Compassionate with God

9/11/01

I have made the point in this Blog on a number of occasions that our society’s ever-increasing inability to see and accept that there are “tragic” dimensions to life that admit of no ethical resolve “this side of Paradise” leads to such unthinkable and unethical “solutions” to real-life’s painfully tragic limits as the creation and destruction of human embryos to remedy infertility, the redefinition of marriage to canonize same-sex sex, the intentional killing of the terminally ill, or the extermination of 90% of pre-born babies diagnosed (rightly or wrongly) with Down Syndrome (see here).

The Christian story of the Passion of Christ bears within it all of the tensions of human tragedy which find resolve in re-creating, redeeming, tear-wiping Triumph only after the awful finality of agony, torture and death; only after the Tomb is sealed by a lifeless stone and the humanity of God descends headlong into the deepest chasms of Hell.

Spe salvi. In hope we are saved, and hope-bearing Christians would never choose to face the tragic elements of life with a will bent on wrongful compromises with evil in order to alleviate and eradicate the tragic elements of this life. That said, the Samaritan Christian, bearing within the light of Resurrection already now, does all in his or her power to raise up the fallen, to shine the paschal rays of the rising Dawn into every dark Tomb, and to face the tragic elements life in manners that move with the grain of God’s justice, love, mercy and will that all be saved. Just as the martyr’s unwillingess to do evil that good may come of it implicates him or her in a fatal embrace with a tragic fate, so the Christian, ever-called to live such martyrdom, sees in every tragedy a moment of Christian witness, a call to imitate the Master, an encounter with the tragic love of God in Christ that has embraced our disfigured world so that, with Him, we might participate in the ultimate transfiguration of every human story in a new creation where “there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away. ‘Behold, I make all things new.’” (Rev. 21:4-5)

“Walk with me”

When I lived in Des Moines, I had a young man walk up to me one day while I was reading in a coffee shop (my favorite pastime) and say to me, “I saw you make the sign of the cross. Are you a Christian?” I said, “Yes, I am.” He said with disarming bluntness, “I’m gay and I’m Christian, too. But here’s my problem. The churches I have wandered in and out of the last several years, since I came out, have either demonized or legitimized my orientation. And I feel lost in both those worlds. I don’t know you, and you’ll probably think I’m freaky, but I think God told me to talk to you. What I’m asking is that you don’t try to demonize my orientation or legitimize it. I just want to know if you’d be willing to walk with me?”

Needless to say, I was stupefied by his openness with a complete stranger, but even more by his willingness to face his profoundly painful personal history and inner struggles with such courage, and with a rare openness to living in ambiguity and uncertainty. I won’t reveal the rest of the story, but suffice to say his journey is a “way of the Cross,” marked by an abundant capacity to, as the Catechism words it, “unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition” (CCC 2358).

Houselander

All this thought was provoked by an absolutely brilliant reflection of Caryll Houselander (early-mid twentieth century lay Catholic ecclesiastical artist, mystic, popular religious writer and poet in Britain) that I read in the Magnificat this last week.  She is a brilliant author, worth reading, and her insights always provoke new insights and convictions. Drink it in:

There are too many common sense Christians, afraid to spend themselves on anyone from whom they do not get visible results. They are ready with hard work for reform, they pour out good advice, they are proud to be realists who repudiate everything that seems to them to he impractical, including the poetry of Christ, but they have no use for those baffling human creatures who won’t—or can’t—play the game by their rules. These “realists” refuse to see that there are problems that can’t be solved, griefs which cannot be healed, conditions which cannot be cured. They are impatient with the suffering they cannot end; unable to accept its reality, they wash their hands of it, because they cannot, so they think, do anything about it. But we cannot make an end of Christ’s suffering, for as long as the world goes on, the Passion of Christ will go on in his members; and he will ask, not for his suffering to be mitigated, but for sympathy. In Gethsemane Christ tried to awaken his apostles, not because they could take away his agony, but because they could give him their compassion.

Pope Francis’ Compassionate Moment (ABC News)

Our Symphonic God

I heard a great talk recently that stimulated in me a firestorm of insights. So I offer you here a hybrid of that talk and my mind:

God dispenses his gifts uniquely to each person in view of the whole, with an eye toward the flourishing of every person, and in a manner that requires of human beings mutual interdependence and abiding solidarity. In this sense God is like the author of a symphony who writes particular musical scores for each musician, or group of musicians, in a manner that complements the other scores written for the other musicians in the orchestra in order to produce a unified event of complex beauty

This metaphor translates into the way we must approach discernment of God’s will for each one of us. We must ask, ‘How can I, with the God-given gifts and desires, as well as the human limits and dissonances that constitute my life, contribute to the good of all? How can I be of service to the harmonious unfolding of God’s symphonic Kingdom within history, in this unique time and place?’

This consideration raises yet another point: How do I face the seeming uselessness of my sinfully discordant dissonances? How do these infidelities not irreparably detract from God’s beautiful symphony and sour the sweet melodies with me damnable cacophony?

Well, God is the Master Composer who, Lover of Beauty that He is, is both willing and able to resolve every dissonant note – especially those freely surrendered to his merciful love by each fumbling musician – into the first note of a new, sparkling and more magnificent movement within His still-unfinished symphony. This divine capacity to resolve dissonance was revealed with a most exquisite and ineffable artistry on the Cross, in the Tomb and on the third day as Christ, the Key Note of God’s new song, rose triumphant to lead the powers of heaven and the lowly of earth in deathless and unchained melodies.

If I had to choose an arrangement that strikes my fancy at this moment, reflecting aright this new divine song, it’d have to be this arrangement of the Hebrew wedding folk song Hava Nagila, “Let us Rejoice” that is embedded here:

A last word on this from my favorite theologian:

So in your harmony of mind and heart the song you sing is Jesus Christ. Every one of you should form a choir, so that, in harmony of sound through harmony of hearts, and in unity taking the note from God, you may sing with one voice through Jesus Christ to the Father. If you do this, he will listen to you and see from your good works that you are members of his Son. – St. Ignatius of Antioch, 108 A.D.

Caught in the Matrix

Okay, I feel compelled to interrupt my regularly scheduled Blog post today to insert this ridiculously marvelous reflection Pope Francis gave Wednesday on the topic of the “communion of saints” and scratch out a few reflective thoughts.

Read this excerpt:

John’s Gospel states that, before his Passion, Jesus prayed to the Father for communion among his disciples, with these words: “that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (17:21). The Church, in her most profound truth, is communion with God, intimacy with God, a communion of love with Christ and with the Father in the Holy Spirit, which extends to brotherly communion. This relationship between Jesus and the Father is the “matrix” of the bond between us Christians: if we are intimately part of this “matrix”, this fiery furnace of love, then we can truly become of one single heart and one single soul among us. For God’s love burns away our selfishness, our prejudices, our interior and exterior divisions. The love of God even burns away our sins. If we are rooted in the source of Love, which is God, then a reciprocal movement also occurs: from brothers to God.

What an image.

He’s saying: Real, authentic, abiding Christian unity and communion can only be had if Christians become saints who freely abide in the relational “matrix” of “fiery love” that burns between the Father and the Son. That’s a sort of tautology, since saints, by definition, find themselves caught up in the deep mystery of the interior structures of God’s inner life — the “matrix” — which include, as the Nicene Creed magnificently reminds us, divine acts of eternal begetting, being begotten, born and proceeding. These are verbs, taken from the Scriptures (see here), that describe the origin and relationships of each divine Person to the other Persons, all of whom are consubstantial, i.e. all three Persons are whatever-it-means-to-be-God.

Yes, that’s God-breathed mystery language that alludes and gestures toward the reality of God revealed to us fully in Christ. But because it’s mystery-language, its intelligible content, though true, always by necessity super-exceeds our human capacity to understand, like the water of the Niagara River forever and thrice exceeds the rocky precipices named Horseshoe Falls, American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls.

Prayerfully consider for a moment that God became man so that man, through Baptism and all the Sacraments, might possess fully the terrifying joy of being granted immortal entry into divinity’s infinitely excessive dynamism:

…the Only Begotten Son of God,

born of the Father before all ages.

God from God, Light from Light,

true God from true God,

begotten, not made, consubstantial

with the Father…

the Holy Spirit,

the Lord, the giver of life,

who proceeds from the Father and the Son

Credo

When you say/sing “I believe in…” with living faith, you are claiming no mere foggy assent to an abstract intellectual proposition about what God might be like. Rather you are choosing  to freely re-plunge into the dangerous, roiling, turbulent, inscrutably mysterious and supremely peaceful structures of God’s infinite manner of being Thrice-God.

That’s really, really mind blowing and should cause us to blush for even trying to articulate it apart from the sublime gild of sacred music, the eye-shielding grace of shrouding incense, the articulated awe of bodies bent over or the cathedral space of celestial silence measuring one half-hour (Rev. 8:1).

Amor saca amor — Love begets love

But, the Pope adds, those who allow themselves to be caught up in this Father-Son Furnace of endlessly out-flowing/in-flowing love also overflow and boil-over – with God – outward with love toward other persons — toward “brothers” in the communion of saints who also find themselves caught up in the Trinity.

That’s the foundation of Church unity: sharing in the eternal Communion of Persons in God that preceded not only the Church’s birth at Pentecost, but the creation of the universe.

It’s not about us, it’s about God-for-us, God-with-us.

In the first instance, ecclesial unity/communion is not something we build in 5 year strategic plans, or diligently work toward and strive toward with problem solving ingenuity. Rather, it’s something we receive and participate in by freely allowing ourselves to be caught up in the immortal and burning Fire of that Father-Son matrix, that infinitely fertile “space” in the loving gaze ever-exchanged between Father and Son.

In other words, ecclesial unity requires you to be a saint.

Well, what are you waiting for?

The Beauty of the Time-worn Eternal Gospel

I have spent the last 3 years trying to complete David Bentley Hart’s book, Atheist Delusions, and the great pleasure I take in reading his inimitable celebration of language makes me wish the book had no final chapter.

In any event, there was one quote (pp. 215-16) on the utterly singular contribution of Christianity to ethical thought that I felt compelled to share here in its entirety. Brace and pace yourself for its density, but let me opine that the yield of insight is worth the labor!

…In short, the rise of Christianity produced consequences so immense that it can almost be said to have begun the world anew: to have “invented” the human, to have bequeathed us our most basic concept of nature, to have determined our vision of the cosmos and our place in it, and to have shaped all of us (to one degree or another) in the deepest reaches of consciousness.

All of the glories and failures of the civilizations that were born of this revolution, however, everything for which Christendom as a historical, material reality might be praised or blamed, fades in significance before the still more singular moral triumph of Christian tradition. The ultimate power and meaning of the Christian movement within the ancient world cannot be measured simply by the richness of later Christian culture’s art or architecture, the relative humanity or inhumanity of its societies and laws, the creativity of its economic or scientific institutions, or the perdurability of its religious institutions through the ages. “Christendom” was only the outward, sometimes majestic, but always defective form of the interaction between the gospel and the intractable stuff of human habit.

The more vital and essential victory of Christianity lay in the strange, impractical, altogether unworldly tenderness of the moral intuitions it succeeded in sowing in human consciences. If we find ourselves occasionally shocked by how casually ancient men and women destroyed or ignored lives we would think ineffably precious, we would do well to reflect that theirs was-in purely pragmatic terms-a more “natural” disposition toward reality. It required an extraordinary moment of awakening in a few privileged souls, and then centuries of the relentless and total immersion of culture in the Christian story, to make even the best of us conscious of (or at least able to believe in) the moral claim of all other persons upon us, the splendor and irreducible dignity of the divine humanity within them, that depth within each of them that potentially touches upon the eternal.

In the light of Christianity’s absolute law of charity, we came to see what formerly we could not: the autistic or Down syndrome or otherwise disabled child, for instance, for whom the world can remain a perpetual perplexity, which can too often cause pain but perhaps only vaguely and fleetingly charm or delight; the derelict or wretched or broken man or woman who has wasted his or her life away; the homeless, the utterly impoverished, the diseased, the mentally ill, the physically disabled; exiles, refugees, fugitives; even criminals and reprobates. To reject, turn away from, or kill any or all of them would be, in a very real sense, the most purely practical of impulses.

To be able, however, to see in them not only something of worth but indeed something potentially godlike, to be cherished and adored, is the rarest and most ennoblingly unrealistic capacity ever bred within human souls. To look on the child whom our ancient ancestors would have seen as somehow unwholesome or as a worthless burden, and would have abandoned to fate, and to see in him or her instead a person worthy of all affection-resplendent with divine glory, ominous with an absolute demand upon our consciences, evoking our love and our reverence-is to be set free from mere elemental existence, and from those natural limitations that pre-Christian persons took to be the very definition of reality.

And only someone profoundly ignorant of history and of native human inclinations could doubt that it is only as a consequence of the revolutionary force of Christianity within our history, within the very heart of our shared nature, that any of us can experience this freedom. We deceive ourselves also, however, if we doubt how very fragile this vision of things truly is: how elusive this truth that only charity can know, how easily forgotten this mystery that only charity can penetrate.

All of which, as I take leave of this phase of my argument, raises certain questions for me. A civilization, it seems obvious, is only as great or as wonderful as the spiritual ideals that animate it; and Christian ideals have shown themselves to be almost boundless in cultural fertility and dynamism. And yet, as the history of modernity shows, the creativity of these ideals can, in certain times and places, be exhausted, or at least subdued, if social and material circumstances cease to be propitious for them. I cannot help but wonder, then, what remains behind when Christianity’s power over culture recedes?

And the Word was made neurological, and dwelt among us

[This is a re-post of something I wrote two years ago that I felt was worth unearthing. We'll see!]

For all the immense good the ever-expanding Theology of the Body (TOB) movement has achieved, there’s still lots more to be done. Recently, I was able to re-think a bit more about what that might mean.

A friend of mine who is a psychotherapist and a woman of faith was sharing with me some of her research on the relationship between mental health and the body; or more specifically, between biochemistry, neurology and emotional health.  She shared that she has long hated the term ‘mental illness’ because what is ‘mental’ in the human mind is actually a profoundly embodied, bio-chemical phenomenon centered in the complex and fragile wonder of the human brain. She also shared with me her hope for a more robust integration of these marvelous discoveries of science with spirituality and the Church’s proclamation of virtue (especially chastity).

From our exchange (and her lectures) I also gained amazing new insights into the biochemical/physiological ground of human emotion, and the various modes of treatment that can be used to help heal and/or work with the strengths and limits of our embodied minds.

GodsHands

From http://s89.photobucket.com
“God’s Hands”

So what of theology?

Well, in addition to sparking a lively meditation on the Catholic vision of the body-soul relationship, her data-flush made me reflect more deeply on the fact that there can be no Christian spirituality or ethics that is not wholly conscious of and engaged with our embodied nature.  I also re-realized how any ‘theology of the body’ that deals with, for example, sexual ethics must be able to go-bio and go-micro and see in our sexualized bodies not just as fraught with abstract symbolic nuptial language, but an organic mash of God-fashioned fleshy-sinewy-hormonal complexity.  To see a thought of the divine present in the messy, oozing and tumultuous biochemistry of sexuality is to see creation aright. Conversations about moral integration and chastity must, therefore, be as keenly attentive to the unseen world of neuro-psychology as to the mysteries revealed in Genesis’ grand theological narrative of the muddy creation of Man-Woman; though, of course, divine Revelation is always the final arbiter of the truth of the human person made in the divine image.

What evocative and engaging topics would arise — the hypothalamus and chaste living; the medulla oblongata and the virtue of temperance; the frontal lobe in service to a redeemed eros; clinical depression and Christian joy; marital fidelity and the hormonal dimensions of concupiscence.  Let’s talk about bio-virtue, and allow science, philosophy and theology to convincingly demonstrate the unity of truth. From this vantage, one would be empowered to link all of that complex medical diagnostic jargon a doctor throws at you in her office with your own unique vocation to offer your flesh-and-blood body as a living sacrifice.

Theology of the Flesh  

Maybe we could capture this more ‘messy-soupy’ approach to the Theology of the Body movement via the more graphic-concrete Hebrew-Greek biblical word, flesh (basar-sarx), that seems to me to more vividly evince human fragility. We could then call our embodied theology a Theology of the Flesh. This would render more gritty and dirty — though not overrun — the more abstract tendencies of the present state of the Theology of the Body, enriching its prescriptions for pursuing a chaste sexuality (all embodied virtue) that’s grounded in the whole truth of the human person. In particular, it would help to tether down some of TOB’s more lofty idealism and offer specific practical aids to those whose weak flesh could really benefit from a more generous dose of the light of reason.

Jesus said to his sleepy disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, when his own flesh underwent immense duress, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:31). If the flesh is weak in doing the right and avoiding evil, the spirit would benefit greatly not only from more prayer, but from more empirical information as to why that might be so.

This complexification of the body would also invest the faith-science dialogue with a new energy, and it would permit a new space for science to offer theology’s heavenly wisdom an empirical handmaid that would greatly enrich our pursuit of holiness-in-the-flesh.  You might also say that such an enriching conversation would permit us to more clearly peer into the wondrous nano-intentions of God.

Mirabilia Dei!

During the season of Easter we celebrate the truth that human flesh is forever glorified in the heart of the Trinity, as God himself has forever made his own blood and nerves and bone marrow and hemoglobin. We liturgically marvel over the Risen Christ who still eats fish, and who bids us to eat and drink of his deified Flesh and Blood in the Holy Sacrament.

Let us rejoice in the fragile, complex and wonderful gift of our messy, fleshy souls that are made in the image of our fleshy God, Jesus Christ.

Halving Two Shirts

As I was preparing the reading list in July for a class I was to teach at the seminary, Spirituality of the Laity for the Parish Priest, what became even more clear to me was this well-known truth: at the core of the lay vocation is the call to translate the vision of this world found in Catholic Social Teaching into the exigencies of life in every nation. This revivified insight made me wildly aware that these future priests, and the laity they will be called to love, must be deeply formed in this teaching.

Worldly Holiness

It is at the heart of Vatican II’s teaching on the laity that the essence of the lay vocation/mission is to govern the ‘temporal order’ according to the will of God, which means that the core-path to holiness for the laity is to be wholly engaged in the ‘temporal duties’ secular world. Hence, the Council could even make so bold as to say that “the Christian who neglects his temporal duties, neglects his duties toward his neighbor and even God, and jeopardizes his eternal salvation” (GS 43).

Lay saints rejoice in the endless variety of mundane activities that characterize life “in the world,” and see in their faithful execution a “liturgy of life” by which all things around them can become a living sacrifice to God. The drudgery of work, the struggles of being an active part of a an increasingly non-Christian culture, the daily challenges of marriage and family life, the burdens of economic hardship, as well as the innumerable joys of sharing in the celebration and creation of the good things in one’s social/cultural world all constitute, for the lay Christian, the substance and summit of sanctity. The combined forces of heavenly faith and earthly labor together serve to crush both wheat and grape, preparing this world as gift to be taken up into God’s transforming Fire.

This means that if my participation in the Eucharistic Liturgy at my parish on Sunday does not lead me to discover in my weekday cubicle at work, or my kitchen at home, a glorious Cathedral, then I have failed to “discern the Body of Christ” in its fullness.

The laity’s spiritual keynote is found in the last phrase of the Mass of the Roman Rite, Ite, Missa est, ‘Go! Be sent.’

Or we might translate that Latin more accurately as Jersey friend of mine used to say it to me, ‘now git outta here and do’s somthin’ ’bout it!’

Solar Plexus Punch

As I was reading the endless articles and books written on Catholic social teaching and the lay vocation, I happened on an especially striking quote by Fr Robert Barron which I will share here to end my musings with a punch that knocked the wind out of me. And it fits perfectly with today’s Gospel:

Thomas Aquinas teaches that ownership of private property is to be allowed but that the usus (the use) of that privately held wealth must be directed toward the common good. This is because all of the earth and its goods belong, finally, to God and must therefore be used according to God’s purpose. Pope Leo XIII made this principle uncomfortably concrete when he specified, in regard to wealth, that once the demands of necessity and propriety have been met, the rest of what one owns belongs to the poor. And in saying that, he was echoing an observation of John Chrysostom: ” If you have two shirts in your closet, one belongs to you; the other belongs to the man who has no shirt.

“… today the Virgin Mother of God was assumed into heaven”

On this supremely joyful feast of resurrection and new life, our Summer Easter, the Assumption of the All-Pure Mother of God body and soul into the glory of her risen Son, we rejoice with superabundant joy over this woman whom William Wordsworth famously called “our tainted nature’s solitary boast.” The liturgy of the day exults in God’s design to preserve her immaculate body from corruption “since from her own body she marvelously brought forth your incarnate Son, the Author of all life.”

What a festival of life this is! A Holy Day of Obligation whose obligation is commanded as one is “commanded” each moment to yet again breathe, for if you wish to live even now in the joy of her risen life, celebrate now this life with her!

Taste and See

Many years ago, circa 1988, I was struggling with “getting” why Mary mattered to me in my new-found life of faith in Christ. It all seemed to distant and irrelevant. I brought this struggle to a retreat at a Trappist monastery. The retreat Master, Fr. Basil Pennington, offered an evening reflection on Mary the first night of the retreat, and I recall so clearly his words:

Mary was given the singular privileges of being conceived without sin, conceiving and bearing the Incarnate God, and being assumed bodily into heaven. We know that in God’s wise plan, every great gift He gives always comes with a great responsibility, and Mary was no exception. Being chosen, for a Jew, meant being weighted with the burdens of others to help bear them up with love to God. Mary is full of grace, but full for you and for me; she is a vessel of God’s overflowing and particular love for all mankind, and for each man and woman. God gave her each of these particular graces so that she could become a universal Mother to all those who are joined to her Son.  So tonight, I want you to ask her, in your time of Vigil prayer, to receive you as a son or as a daughter, and to reveal to you personally her love for you.

I went back to my room a bit unnerved by this request, but took up his challenge and began to pray with a book on Mary I’d never heard of before, by Saint Louis-Marie de Montfort, and I happened upon this stunning passage:

She is an echo of God, speaking and repeating only God. If you say ‘Mary’ she says ‘God.’

For whatever reason, this passage opened in me, around 2:00 a.m., an overwhelmingly intense and very personal awareness that she was present, looking at me with tenderness and raining down torrential grace (that was the image I had). It lasted the rest of the night, and by morning I was absolutely convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that she was, in God’s exquisite plan, my Mother, the summation and overflow of all that is best in redeemed human nature, and that being near her in prayer only left you better, nearer to her eternal Son who made our humanity His own in her heart and her womb.

Palamas

All this seems to beg for a more fitting conclusion of praise and thanks to God for such a gift, the gift of a Mother whose love is utterly flawless and transparent to God’s own tender and maternal love (Is. 66:13) that humanity seeks out in the love of every human mother. So I will allow an excerpt from the brilliant homily of St. Gregory Palamas on this feast fill this need:

Hence, as it was through the Theotokos alone that the Lord came to us, appeared upon earth and lived among men, being invisible to all before this time, so likewise in the endless age to come, without her mediation, every emanation of illuminating divine light, every revelation of the mysteries of the Godhead, every form of spiritual gift, will exceed the capacity of every created being. She alone has received the all-pervading fullness of Him that filleth all things, and through her all may now contain it, for she dispenses it according to the power of each, in proportion and to the degree of the purity of each. Hence she is the treasury and overseer of the riches of the Godhead. For it is an everlasting ordinance in the heavens that the inferior partake of what lies beyond being, by the mediation of the superior, and the Virgin Mother is incomparably superior to all. It is through her that as many as partake of God do partake, and as many as know God understand her to be the enclosure of the Uncontainable One, and as many as hymn God praise her together with Him. She is the cause of what came before her, the champion of what came after her and the agent of things eternal. She is the substance of the prophets, the principle of the apostles, the firm foundation of the martyrs and the premise of the teachers of the Church . She is the glory of those upon earth, the joy of celestial beings, the adornment of all creation. She is the beginning and the source and root of unutterable good things; she is the summit and consummation of everything holy.

The Gospel of Work

As I was asked to give some reflections recently on a “spirituality of work,” I thought I would share just one insight that I gained from my research into the Catholic tradition that is so clearly articulated in Bl. John Paul II’s encyclical on work, Laborem Exercens: Excellence in one’s work is the foundation of effective evangelization.

The Gospel of Working Love

The Lebanese author Kahlil Gibran has a great way of articulating this point: “Work is love made visible.” Christian evangelization always, in the first and last instance, makes love — divine and human — the core animating principle of all activity (cf. 1 Cor. 13). In fact, Vatican II defines holiness as the perfection of loving. Love, which for a Christian can be defined as freely willing another’s good after the manner of Christ crucified, transforms all work into an opportunity to grow in perfection by glorifying God and serving one’s neighbor. For a person of faith, all work, regardless of how arduous, menial, tedious or toilsome, when it is suffused by love-from-the-cross, overflows with meaning and purpose.

Pursuing excellence in one’s work — e.g. integrity, honesty, attention to detail, diligence, giving one’s best —  gives evidence to others of the “hope that lies within” and makes more credible the faith we claim to represent and profess. Excellence, which Aristotle linked closely with the work of virtue, reveals love as refracted through all the virtues required by our work.  More, the pursuit of excellence in our specific “field of action” deepens our covenant union with the laboring God who has clearly revealed Himself in Scripture as a master craftsman driven by love to work ceaselessly for our salvation. Indeed, our trusting faith in His goodness rests on the extreme, mind-blowing quality of love that marks His every work on our behalf in creation and redemption.

Does this not make you want to pursue excellence in your work and, as St. Paul says, “…do everything for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31)?

Quotables

Let me end here with two juicy quotes that emphasize my point:

If a man is called to be a street-sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will pause to say ‘here lived a great street-sweeper who did his job well.’ — Martin Luther King, Jr.

We all have the duty to do our work well. If we wish to realize ourselves properly, we may not avoid our duty or perform our work in a mediocre way, without interest, just to get it over with. — Bl. John Paul II