My Lady



“I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!” (Luke 12:49)

My Bride:

Twenty one years! How could that be?

That day, I imagined I could love you no more than I did. My heart was full, ready to burst!

I, Thomas, take you, Patricia, to be my wife.
I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad,
in sickness and in health.
I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.

My journey was now complete. At last we had had surrendered our separate identities, bound together by God as one in the sacramental bonds of everlasting covenant faithfulness. Wonderful! Terrifying! Everything else the future could hold, it seemed to me, could only be mere commentary. My single fear that day was that these God-kindled fires could dim and cool. How could we sustain such passion?!

I had no clue!

Those fires had indeed been fully entrusted to us by God that day. But they had yet to permeate us, every bit of us, consume in us all that was unworthy to make love the defining whole of our common life. As the years progressed, I saw more clearly that Sacramental fire commands our common, daily consent amid the endless vagaries of life.

As we left the island of Aruba, where the whole world blanked out beneath the Honeymoon, suddenly we found a complex and challenging world waiting to test our unity. We found those innumerable moments of decision confronted us as the voice of God. In them He said: “Let my fire refine you and make of your common life an inferno!” Out of the totalizing commitment of our monogamous love rises a new epiphany of beauty in creation: an icon of Three-in-one love. That icon of divine love was perfectly painted in Christ, on the Cross, where love was made perfect and the real meaning of unity was revealed.

“What God therefore has joined together (synezeuxen) man must not separate (chōrizetō).” You, my Bride, are His new commandment to me: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34; 15:13). To love you is to love Him, to love Him is to love you. To be loved by you is to be loved by Him. And I desire no greater gift than to be His love for you.

If I am to act with the grain of God, my every choice must be in reference to you; be defined by you; be for you and with you and about you. Holiness for me means fidelity to the grace of synezeuxen, so that our love defines me wholly. My life’s greatest danger is chōrizetō, what tears apart the building symphony of our life into a covenant hymn.

How I’d love to recount all of the details of our story thus far!! But “if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25). “If I count them, they are more than the sand;
to finish, I must be eternal, like you.” (Ps. 139:18).

But we have the perfect summation of all we have done in our children!! Michael, Nicholas, Maria, Catherine, and the six whom you labored into eternal life. Our children whom we love, our joy and crown, the living sign of our one flesh union. They are THE gift that reminds me every day, amid my thousand failings, that God is faithful to us and will bring to completion the good work He has begun in us.

I am supremely grateful that I can spend my life with you, now and in the Age to Come. Thank you for saying yes to Him for me.

You’re my Lady…


DBH Quotable

In honor of David Bentley Hart’s lecture at Notre Dame Seminary here in NOLA last night, I want to post a quote from an appreciative article he wrote on St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. In it he contrasts the rapidly ascending “trans-humanist” worldview that sees the mastery of (human) nature as the final eugenic solution to human suffering, with the Christian humanism that St. John Paul proposed. While both visions seek divinization (becoming God) as the goal, one proposes to achieve it by manipulation and destruction, while the other proposes to achieve it in freedom by love of God and neighbor, with a special reverence for those whose disabilities permit them to resemble the crucified God.

For the Christian to whom John Paul speaks, however, one can truly aspire to the divine only through the charitable cultivation of glory in the flesh, the practice of holiness, the love of God and neighbor; and, in so doing, one seeks not to take leave of one’s humanity, but to fathom it in its ultimate depth, to be joined to the Godman who would remake us in himself, and so to become simul divinus et creatura. This is a pure antithesis. For those who, on the one hand, believe that life is merely an accidental economy of matter that should be weighed by a utilitarian calculus of means and ends and those who, on the other, believe that life is a supernatural gift oriented towards eternal glory, every moment of existence has a different significance and holds a different promise. To the one, a Down syndrome child (for instance) is a genetic scandal, one who should probably be destroyed in the womb as a kind of oblation offered up to the social good and, of course, to some immeasurably remote future; to the other, that same child is potentially (and thus far already) a being so resplendent in his majesty, so mighty, so beautiful that we could scarcely hope to look upon him with the sinful eyes of this life and not be consumed.

What the Laity Knead


When I was in Omaha recently, I had lunch with a dear friend. We got to talking about the lay vocation (a shock, I know), and the need for the church to re-focus its faith formation and preaching energies on the primary mission of the vast majority of lay men and women: the secular apostolate. For those who’ve read my thought on this, it’s same ole. Here’s a jumbled summary of our combined insights that I wrote in my journal:

The church’s best institutional energies and resources need to be channeled into exalting the exalted call of those lay men and women living and working “in the world.” Those who work in church ministry, both ordained and non-ordained, need to foster a new culture in the church that makes clear, among other things, that (1) all sacred and ecclesial ministry exists in service to the secular apostolate of the baptized (CCC #1120); (2) the secular apostolate discovers its ecclesial center of gravity principally in the home, the office, the market square, the theatre, the construction site, the hospital, the slum, and so on; (3) radical holiness among those “set apart” from the world – Religious, clergy, laity devoted to church ministries – is not meant to become the devoted focus of secular laity (=clericalism). Rather, set-apart holiness points away from itself toward the sent-out, empowering, illumining, encouraging and lifting up the dignity and mission of the lay faithful in the world.

The Eucharist is the gravitational center of ecclesial life, but important to remember that it calls the laity out of the world only to offer, receive and be sent out again. Venite always leads to ite.

The holy cleric, monk, lay ecclesial minister embraces with joy their own magnificent calling unto fascination with the secular apostolate of the laity by which the “world itself is consecrated to God.”

The consecrated hands of the ordained celebrant of the liturgy should tremble with awe and holy fear as the Gifts of the Faithful are brought forward in the Offertory, for he knows that these costly gifts come drenched in the sweat and tears of his people. And as he sees those Gifts brought forward to him, he feels overwhelming joy to see the fruit of all his labors in their harvest.

Those who are “set apart” from the secular concerns of the world in sacred ministry and consecrated life don’t exist as a superior caste, or as a sacred reproach to those who remain fully immersed in the secular world. Though they turn their backs on the world, they don’t turn their backs on those called by God to remain in the world. Rather, these men and women are set apart precisely so they can turn back toward Christ’s lay faithful, who face the heat of battle on the front lines, and minister to them.

The hostility of secular culture against religion has created an ecclesial culture of extremes: assimilation and isolation. In assimilation, faith becomes the handmaiden of the dominant culture. In isolation, faith creates a subculture that insulates itself from the dominant culture. The church’s vision for the lay vocation is the creation of faith-formed subcultures that neither assimilate nor isolate, but separate in order to fully engage. These subcultures are formed in families, parishes, schools, faith-based communities, and so on. They create safe “bushel baskets” under which a great flame can be kindled, only to at-once cast off those baskets and unleash the heat and light into the cold and stormy darkness. They gather together purified leaven only so it might at-once be roughly kneaded into the tough, unleavened dough. They refine a savory salt only to at-once be scattered abroad to season a corrupt world and make all things fresh again.

Between the two extremes of assimilation and isolation is nailed the Crucified Christ. Thus Venerable Fulton Sheen: “The laity will have to come to a comprehension that our blessed Lord was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles but in the world, on a road way, in a town garbage heap, at the crossroads where there were three languages written upon the Cross. Yes, they were Hebrew, Latin and Greek, but they could just as well have been English, Bantu or African. It would make no difference. He placed Himself at the very center of the world, in the midst of smut, thieves, soldiers and gamblers. He was there to extend pardon to them. This is the vocation of the laity: to go out into the world and make Christ known.”

It’s why so few choose this via media between these tempting extremes. But we need a church that celebrates this virtuous middle, and that celebrates the extraordinarily ordinary, radical, mystical, common bread of lay life in the world that alone is well-suited for permitting God to carry out His eternal dream: to consecrate every dark corner of creation, transubstantiating it into a new creation of “truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice, love, and peace.”

Pope Francis catches this need so well: “As I have said before, there is a problem: the temptation to clericalism. We priests tend to clericalize the laity. We do not realize it, but it is as if we infect them with our own thing. And the laity–not all but many–ask us on their knees to clericalize them, because it is more comfortable to be an altar boy than the protagonist of a lay path. The layman is a layman and has to live as a layman with the strength of his baptism, which enables him to be a leaven of the love of God in society. Not from his pulpit but from his everyday life. And the priest–let the priest carry the cross of the priest, since God gave him a broad enough shoulder for this.”

To be Love

Therese playing St Joan of Arc.

I feel as if I were called to be a fighter, a priest, an apostle, a doctor, a martyr; as if I could never satisfy the needs of my nature without performing, for Your sake, every kind of heroic action at once. I feel as if I’d got the cour­age to be a Crusader, a Pontifical Zouave, dy­ing on the battlefield in defence of the Church. And at the same time I want to be a priest; how lovingly I’d carry You in my hands when you came down from heaven at my call; how lovingly I’d bestow You on men’s souls! And yet, with all this desire to be a priest, I’ve nothing but admiration and envy for the humility of St. Francis; I’d willingly imitate him in refusing the honour of the priesthood.

I understood that Love alone makes its members act, that if this Love were to be extinguished, the Apostles would no longer preach the Gospel, the Martyrs would refuse to shed their blood… I understood that Love embraces all vocations, that Love is all things, that it embraces all times and all places… in a word, that it is eternal!

Then in the excess of my delirious joy, I cried out: “O Jesus, my Love, at last I have found my vocation, my vocation is Love!… Yes, I have found my place in the Church, and it is you, O my God, who have given me this place… in the heart of the Church, my Mother, I will be Love!…. Thus I shall be all things: thus my dream shall be realized!!!” — St. Thérèse of Lisieux

There was a woman in New England who was a real mentor to me back in the late 1980’s. She was married, had four adult children and, as I recall, several grandchildren. She worked for a parish as a pastoral minister, coordinating the outreach works of the parish to the bereaved, poor, sick and elderly. She dedicated most of her own time to visiting the homebound and bringing them Holy Communion. She had such a heart of compassion and was super intelligent. We’d hold a theology discussion for hours. She also worked with the diocese in offering encouragement and prayer support to priests who were in a difficult spot — maybe feeling isolated, depressed or struggling with alcohol.

One time she and I were talking about women and priesthood. She shared with me a remarkable perspective that I wrote in my journal and will replicate here. Though I can no longer obtain her permission, I am certain she would not mind my sharing it. I’ll change my journal and call her Jean. The insight seems so basic and simple, which is why it’s so profound. I’m so grateful I journaled all these years!

Jean and I talked for almost two hours about women and priesthood. Fascinating! She said that back in the 70’s she’d gotten caught up into the woman-priest movement. She told me that she felt that seeing so many women feel the call to be priests was just too strong an evidence that God was indeed calling. But she also felt a desire to be faithful to the church’s teaching. She loves the church so much. Caught between a rock and a hard place.

But in the early 1980’s she came across “Story of a Soul” and suddenly had her whole worldview shaken. She read the part where Thérèse says she feels all of these callings in her, but feels terribly limited by her one life and feels all the tensions of frustration. Something like that. But then, Jean said, Thérèse comes to this remarkable realization that her feeling called to vocations she is not called to is really an overflow of the “more excellent way” of Love Jesus had planted in her. That her attraction to all of these callings was like a reverberation of restless Love, which is the soul and fire and compelling force of every vocation.

Jean realized, she said, that the Love that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” also WANTS all things, and so includes in its scope everything. If it’s really divine Love, that is, since God’s Love is catholic. And those who feel called to a vocation they cannot live aren’t being called by God to break the system He’s set up, but to remind those who feel so-called that their REAL vocation is not “this or that,” but is EVERYTHING: to Love.

Jean said that’s the real purpose of every vocation, and wherever you find yourself, even if you’re confined to a small POW cell, you can live an infinite vocation if you Love there. Jean said she suddenly saw that if she lives Love in her life, she will in effect be living out every vocation since it is Love that pulses through the whole Body of Christ. Each member of the Body who gives him or herself over to loving in their own small plot of life unleashes God’s Love on the whole Body and so on all vocations. She said that’s why 1 Corinthians 12 and 13 are back-to-back chapters. I’ll have to read them again with this in mind.

She ended our conversation by saying she realized after her epiphany that the feeling of being called to priesthood was indeed a call that, in her case, was to teach priests how to love; to support them in their call to love; and help them see, by her prayer with and for them, that Jesus loves them so much that He called them to be among His closest friends and confidants. BUT if they don’t live in that place first, they go into bad places and will never be able to fulfill their own call to be His Love beating in the heart of the Church.

What Thérèse has, I want: “O little Mother, I don’t love one thing more than another; I could not say like our holy Mother St. Teresa: ‘I die because I cannot die.’ What God prefers and chooses for me, that is what pleases me more.”

St. Thérèse, pray for us.

Remove this cup

“There are more tears shed over answered prayers than over unanswered prayers.” — St. Teresa of Avila

I’ve known that quote for years, but recently as I was prepping a paper on St. John of the Cross I received a new depth of insight into why answered prayer can make us cry. It’s not exactly what Teresa meant when she said it, but it was powerful for me. Dr. Denys Turner gave a lecture last year on prayer in the thought of Aquinas, and touched on this same idea. Here’s what I wrote in my journal:

It’s more evident to me this go around with John that for him the highest “purpose” of prayer is to permit God a free hand to act in creation as Redeemer. More personally stated: God wants to bring about in me a new exodus, rescuing me from the inner enslavement that keeps me from the freedom he wishes for me. When I pray, just as when I receive the Holy Eucharist, I consent — “Amen” — to a new Passover, a new Exodus plundering my inner Egypt.

Why pray? To expose festering wounds to the Surgeon’s skillful care. To expose the darkness to Light. To expose lies to Truth. To expose death to the Author of Life. To expose infidelity to the Faithful One. And so on. Prayer exposes that portion of creation included in our prayer to God. Prayer brings an end to our hiding from God (Gen. 3:10; John 19:26). Prayer for myself, prayer for others. Prayer for the whole of creation to be set free. St. Isaac the Syrian: “For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm her or him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner such a person prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns without measure in a heart that is in the likeness of God.”

It’s also why you must pray “out of” your sin, your fear, your temptations, your desire to not do God’s will. Your cry must rise out of Egypt (Ex. 3:7-8).

The only time in the Gospels Jesus uses the very intimate Aramaic word, Abba, for his Father is when he is praying out of his darkest trial: “Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what thou wilt” (Mk. 14:36).

No pious evasion of his terror. He asks to be spared from what he repeatedly told the disciples during his public ministry was his providential destiny (Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:32-34; Jn 12:27). That’s absolutely remarkable. Jesus knew the Father was asking him to embrace the shame of the cross. But before he could fully and finally consent, Jesus had to bring that inner revulsion to the Father in a very direct way.

The inner storm of humanity: wanting God’s will to be done, but feeling the extraordinary force of fallen nature chaffing against that will. Then praying “out of” that chaffing, allowing the most violent temptations to be caught up into prayer (Heb. 4:15). Not arguing with them, consenting to them, but turning them over to God (remove this cup) and leaving the battle to him (what thou wilt).

Never attempt to dialogue, reason or argue directly with a temptation. Either reveal it to a trusted other as a confession or speak directly to God about it. Fr. Hopko says regarding overcoming temptation:

“Number one, it can be said very clearly: you can’t do it by willpower. You can’t do it by yourselves. You can’t do it by figuring things out. You don’t have the means to figure anything out, and you don’t have the power to overcome this stuff. In your fallen, corrupted condition, this is stronger than you are. Don’t dialogue with it. Don’t think you can control it. Don’t think you can find some human method by which you’re going to make yourselves intelligent, strong, holy, pure, and beautiful. It ain’t going to happen. Only Christ can conquer and win it.”

I remember many years ago I was sharing with my spiritual director a very dark temptation I was undergoing. I was terribly ashamed of it. I told him I couldn’t even articulate it directly. He said: “You must. When you’re ready, just speak it. Don’t sugar-coat the words.” I said it. He said, “Now, tell it to God.” I prayed my struggle aloud. We sat in silence for a few minutes. Tears flowed. He said: “You’re still here?” I said, “Yes.” He continued, “And God is still here. He hasn’t left you. It’s his battle. Let him have it. See, you allowed him in that place that you had walled off and excluded him from. There he is, right in the middle of that awful place of temptation. It’s not so awful now. Love is there. Light is there. Truth is there. Mercy is there. Pardon is there. The Almighty is there. Of course, he was already there, in that dark place, waiting for you. It’s called Golgotha. Keep your eyes on the cross when you feel its pull again. Don’t look at it, look at him.”

On Golgotha, God entered every human darkness, sin, injustice, despair, failure, pain — Godless places — and filled it all with his saving presence.

c. 1516. Matthias Grünewald’s “Crucifixion”

“It has been finished”?!

I was at a theology symposium this weekend and received some wonderful insights. Pages and pages of them, scribbled in indecipherable script! I will share one here. I wrote this after one of the presentations when I had a few minutes to think it all through. Here it is:

John’s Gospel begins with a prologue (1:1-18) that sets a startling backdrop for Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Unlike the other Gospels, it does not begin in Nazareth or Judea, but begins by taking the reader back to ultimate “beginning,” before creation, opening with the first (Greek) words of Genesis, “In the beginning…” Jesus of Nazareth, we discover in the prologue, is the “Word” that God spoke in the beginning when He said, “let there be light.” That Word, who is God with the Father (1:1), pre-existing creation as eternal with the Father, and through whom all things were made (1:2), has now become “flesh” and pitched his tent (eskēnōsen) among us (1:14).

This makes Jesus the Alpha, the origin, archetype and beginning of all things. But He is also the Omega, the goal, fulfillment and end of all things. He has come into a world created through Him – the world we have sin-wrecked – in order to liberate it from the bonds of corruption and death, re-creating it by restoring it to its original capacity to receive God (capax Dei) as a bride receives her bridegroom.

But here’s the truly amazing new insight I received. At the Last Supper (13-17) Jesus reveals the goal of all creation – the sharing of divine agape-caritas-love with humanity – and then brings it to fulfillment. Washing feet, commanding love, promising the Spirit, fulfilling the Passover by feeding humanity with His broken Fresh and spilled Blood while asking the Father to admit us into the threefold intimacy of Their eternal Triune communion.

In all of this He is rendering us capable of loving as He loves, “to the end” (13:1) with a self-sacrificing servant love precisely because He has made accessible to us the whole of God’s life which is love.

From the beginning, this and this alone was the true end and purpose of God calling all things from non-existence into being: Man is made capable of God because God has become man.

But here’s the super-duper cool part. On the cross as He’s dying, Jesus says something striking for its stark simplicity – it’s a free-floating verb: “It has been finished” (Tetelestai). What has been finished? Creation! The beginning has achieved its end. In fact, the “end” has already come. Everything from here on out is merely an extension of the end of creation into time. Christus vincit! The God-Man has achieved – “on behalf of all and for all” – in fullest measure possibe the original vocation of humanity: to return the gift of creation back to the Father in the form of a total self-sacrificing gift of love. Now we are invited to join in that fulfillment and allow it to define us.

This is why the Eucharist is a foretaste of the End, of eternal life, of the new creation, because in it is the perfect, total act of both divine and human selfless, sacrificial love — paschal love. And those of us who co-celebrate the Eucharist with Christ, eating the Flesh and drinking the Blood of God-is-love, receive a foretaste and promise of the Age to Come which, even now, forms in us an ever-more perfect love. Here Aquinas’ point that the primary effect of receiving Communion is an increase in charity makes marvelous sense. And the gravity and implications of the Christian vocation to become divine love in the world are revolutionary. The folly of cruciform love conquers all. Amor vincit omnia!

In Christ on the cross, humanity, created in the image of eternal self-wasting Love, brings to perfection the longing of the whole cosmos to share in the liberty of self-wasting love (Romans 8:21 – what else is the freedom of God’s children than love?).

This, it seems to me, is yet another reason why Jesus does not heal the five wounds in His resurrection, because they stand forever as icons of this immutable truth that has been stamped by His Pasch into every quark in the cosmos.

This gives me a fresh vantage on Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar’s contention that martyrdom – laying down one’s life out of love for the glory of God and the neighbor’s wellbeing – is the *normative* state of Christian life. All claims to Christian authenticity must derive from the martyr’s witness of love to-the-end. The martyr is a living profession of the Shema: love with all your heart, soul, mind, strength (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). And with the whole of one’s body (Romans 12:1).

All of one’s life is meant to be a progressive self-emptying of love in service to others.  Only with this logic in mind could St Therese’s comment make any sense: “I prefer the monotony of obscure sacrifice to all ecstasies. To pick up a pin for love can convert a soul.”

I had a philosophy professor at back in the 1980’s who was also a devout Jew. One day in our philosophy of nature class, he said: “When you look at the precise balance of innumerable factors that had to be in place for life – and man – to appear, it’s awe inspiring. The appearance of man seems to be the universe’s desire to reflect back on itself and say to someone, “thank you.”


But more, in Christ, the universe turned back to its Origin and, after saying “thank you,” added: “I love you.”

That’s the gist of the insight.

“A sword will pierce through your own soul” (Luke 2:35)


A sketch of my children by seminarian Matthew Hoffpauir

[note that the post continues past the video]

A time ago, I had a tough day that followed on some rough struggles one of my children was going through. I snuck away to the levee for a few hours to process it all, and cleared my head. Afterward, I did a voice-to-text summary of the experience that I thought I would share here. Though I am not generally a fan of oversharing deeply personal struggles in public forums, sometimes I believe doing so can be useful for others who struggle. I hope that’s the case here. It’s raw and unrefined but exactly what I felt in my guts as I finished my micro-retreat that day.

I took the Chevy to the levee and man-oh-man it was balm for my soul. In front of God, birds and maybe a turtle, I *cried* my guts out, and prayed through my tears, and you know what? I stopped crying. It really does stop. And I felt so much better. Cathartic. Washed. I rarely cry, so when I do it’s an avalanche. I was especially grateful no human was around to watch!

Here’s what came out at core. I can take work stress, financial stress, extended family stress. Lots of stressors. But my kids. When they’re in distress, it’s really really hard to handle. Suddenly makes the doable stressors un-doable. Cuts you to the core. Makes you bleed. Your kids are part of your heart, your soul. You know, when they suffer you want to scoop them up, make it all better. Like waking them from a night terror, you want to sing and rock them back to sleep. Stroke their hair. But on waking to reality you suddenly realize you can’t do that anymore. You can’t fix life’s wounds with a tender kiss, a band-aid and a fun treat. Adulthood means they must now face the darkness and shadows themselves. They have to. They need to know how to trust God and cling to Him themselves, apart from my body and voice. That is a black night of the soul for a parent: to let go. To admit in reality, and not just in a pious prayer, they’re really His; and they’re their own.

Then your morning prayer of meditation-hoping-for-contemplation suddenly gets interrupted by thoughts of your children’s welfare. Self-enriching meditation becomes pleading-prayer, all about them. All about asking God to be who His is: all about them. Who has time for ethereal contemplation when your children’s lives now rest in the balance of your pleas before the Eternal?

Hebrews 7:25: “Consequently he is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” Parents who want nothing more than that their kids to “draw near to God” get lost in Jesus’ tireless priestly prayer: He lives to make intercession. Scripture says nowhere that Jesus contemplates the Father, but it does say that He pleads before the Father for the “children God has given me” (Heb 2:13). Intercessory prayer beautifully joins love of God and neighbor, as you are asking God to do His good things in another. Intercessory prayer helps keep your other forms of prayer from becoming too much about sating your appetite for self-gratifying spiritual goodies, and keeps prayer about acquiring in order to expend on others.

Parents must let go of their adult children and give them over to God, but the form letting-go and giving-over takes for us as people of faith is not apathy or detachment, but ceaseless intercession for them till your last breath; or theirs. And beyond. Kyrie eleison, ad infinitum…

And even more, as you face the letting-go process you realize that regretting what YOU did or did not do for them in the past only takes you into bad places. Even to despair. The past can’t be undone or redone, only learned from and forgiven. Such regret must teach you to pray as you never have, from the guts. De profundis, as psalm 130 begins. Guts prayer makes you see so clearly that it is not by ‘faith alone,’ but by ‘mercy alone’ that we are saved. Mercy — love’s touch on evil and failure — alone makes life livable, hopeful. And mercy makes despair into iron-cast humility.

Humility. Yes. There’s a toughly-tender Jersey Jewish mother I know who once said some amazing words to me I’ll never ever forget. And they came to mind today as I was heading to the levee: “We are made in weakness that we might supply for each other.” Made in weakness?! Yuck! Fell into weakness via sin, yes, but made in weakness?? An Omnipotent God who makes man in His image would never do such a thing! Power must be our natural state. Look, I’m a White Anglo Male, I hate feeling weak in front of others. Yet the truth is I feel my humanity most when I face my weakness with a trusted *other* and rely on their strength in the moment of weakness. That’s when you REALLY feel intimate with the God-with-skin-on, when your exhausted arms held up by Aaron and Hur (Ex 17:12); by Patti and Peggy; by Austin and Paul; by Sonya and Faye; by Mary and Juan…

An Omnipotent God whose terrifying omnipotence is love that risks weakness, that becomes weakness for love’s sake. Far more terrifying than destructive power is the power that awaits your free consent of surrender to enter the union of love. One conquers without, the other, within.

“Hence, those who have deep spiritual aspirations should not feel that the family detracts from their growth in the life of the Spirit, but rather see it as a path which the Lord is using to lead them to the heights of mystical union” (Pope Francis).

Parents enter the heights of mystical union with God mostly by praying and loving and forgiving and laboring through the thickness of family muck, the unplanned joys and heart-rending tragedies. But it’s not automatic. You’re sainted only if you choose to cling to God’s mercy in the darkest night, give thanks on the brightest days and sleeplessly give your children’s lives over to a Father whose love endures forever.

I’d trade it all for nothing, because love is the only measure that endures.

Botticelli’s “Trinity”, c. 1493