I was naked…hungry…

The story goes that St. Martin of Tours (316 – 397), who was a senior officer in the Roman Imperial Horse Guard, and who had just come to faith in Christ, was approaching the gates of the city of Amiens, France when he was confronted by a half-naked beggar. At once he took off and cut his military cloak in half to share with the man. That night, Martin dreamed of Jesus wearing the half-cloak he had given away, and heard him say to the angels: “Martin, who is still but a catechumen, clothed me with this robe.”

Jesus came to the main entrance today, under the guise of a poor young man. This young man, emaciated, barefoot and bareheaded, and with his clothes in tatters, was frozen because the day was cold and rainy. He asked for something hot to eat. So I went to the kitchen, but found nothing there for the poor. But, after searching around for some time, I succeeded in finding some soup, which I reheated and into which I crumbled some bread, and I gave it to the poor young man, who ate it. As I was taking the bowl from him, he gave me to know that He was the Lord of heaven and earth. When I saw him as he was, He vanished from my sight. When I went back in and reflected on what had happened at the gate, I heard these words in my soul: “My daughter, the blessings of the poor who bless Me as they leave this gate have reached My ears. And your compassion, within the bounds of obedience, has pleased Me, and this is why I came down from My throne–to taste the fruits of your mercy.” O my Jesus, now everything is clear to me, and I understand all that has just happened. I somehow felt and asked myself what sort of a poor man is this who radiates such modesty. From that moment on, there was stirred up in my heart an even purer love toward the poor and the needy. — St. Faustina, Diary #1312

I was hungry statue

Palm Sunday

“Lamentation at the Tomb” Taken from http://gabrielsmessage.files.wordpress.com/

Re-post from 2014

We have at last arrived at Holy Week. This week, culminating in the Three Days (Triduum), is the axis of cosmic time. Stat crux dum volvitur orbis, “The cross is steady while the earth spins.”

I will share with you a paschal meditation I wrote sometime in the 1990’s for a priest friend, to honor the anniversary of his ordination. I wrote him, “As I think of the ministerial priesthood you’ve been consecrated with by the Spirit, I think of priesthood’s origin in Jesus’ Passion. There everything to be known is known. Thank you for saying Yes, Pater et Frater, to being ‘cast down’ for us with Him, that we might be raised up to His Father…”

Like a Dish Cast Down
In this world of shallow depths
only what is fair to the eye, and clean
is held aloft in high esteem;
but what is broken, unpleasing to the eye
we shun, we hide, we judge worth to be despised.

But should it be so for us in Christ?

No!

And God, to shatter such folly, chose
to stoop lowly, down from soaring height
far-low into a womb, hidden enclosed.
Highness fell down, God made mercy-crazed,
to shatter our binding, shackling chains
being-bound, flogged, crowned, dazed;
yanked along to the plotted slaughter
to rescue the Plotter: Zion’s captive daughter.

Behold: Immortal Spirit gasps!
Suffocating, ebbing, smoldering Fire:

Could it be that God would expire?
Only if love is mercy,
and justice be duly purged
in bloodied,
sullied,
spit-drenched,
mocked and cruelly crushed charity.

His priestly prayer is mercy:
Wailing, lamenting, crying,
gathering up our every “Why?”
Gurgled beneath our blackened sky,
Crashing into tear-drenched earth:
God labors, wailing: “Behold your second birth!”

O Icon of the blessèd Three,
Writ upon the cursèd Tree,
on you hung the One begotten. Eternally
shattering from an-Other!
O Substance dispossessed by piercing love,
wastefully Begotten before all ages,
now seen, now heard, now touched in time;
and drained – still now! – but here as chaliced Wine.
Drink, O Man, His immortal Blood; eat Flesh
raised as an up-offering oblation,
ever-ours, mine a consubstantial immolation
thrust deepward into the heart of Adonai…

O Fallen-God, now arise for us
and ever-plead for mortal flesh:
O Thou who art deathlessly undying!
Remember us before your Father’s fleshless Face
— O this is truly grace upon grace! —
and with our eyes look up and (dare I say?)
for us, evermore and evermore,
eternally smile our thankful praise. Amen. Amen.

Happy 500th, St. Teresa!

 

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Taken from socialhistoryofart.com

St. Teresa of Jesus—also known as St. Teresa of Avila—was born in Avila, Spain, on March 28, 1515. Thus, today is the 500th anniversary of her birth.

So much to say. I will tweak a three year old post for it!

Like all genuine mystics, Teresa appears as an unexpected epiphany of God’s Fire into our shadowlands. Her remarkable, extra-ordinary encounters with God are dramatic signs of what every Christian bears within under the ordinary form of concealed mystery. Here’s an analogy that came to me. Just as the earth’s homely, stable crust conceals beneath its surface a burning cauldron of molten rock and iron, so the ordinary Christian bears within, sealed beneath the economy of faith, the coming Kingdom, the lumen gloriae, “light of glory” that awaits us beyond death and final Judgment. All the baptized are re-created as a Temple of the Trinity, a Holy of Holies filled with all the Fire of Pentecost, and remain so as long as they remain in grace. Or, as St. Symeon the New Theologian memorably phrased it, each soul in grace is “a living Paradise, a new Eden” where God dwells. “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own” (1 Cor. 6:19).

But in this life, this truth is only accessed through the inchoate darkness of faith (cf. 1 Cor. 13:12). However, on rare occasions — to exploit the analogy further — the earthen crust of faith ruptures, the magma wells up, the fire explodes and the blazing glory of the next world suddenly breaks into ours. Then the Church looks back discerningly, retrospectively and canonizes the site of the eruption. And we get a Saint. That is who Teresa is.

So to honor St. Teresa today, let me share here my favorite Teresa quotes:

“It is love alone that gives worth to all things.”

“It is foolish to think that we will enter heaven without entering into ourselves.”

“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 of 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.” [mind blowing]

“You pay God a compliment by asking great things of Him. And the greatest is love.”

“Be gentle to all, and stern with yourself.”

“God save us from gloomy saints!”

“Mental prayer is nothing else than a close sharing between friends.”

“The important thing is not to think much but to love much; and so do that which best stirs you to love.”

“In light of heaven, the worst suffering on earth will be seen to be no more serious than one night in an inconvenient inn.”

“The closer one approaches to God, the simpler one becomes.”

“Often, as you have read, it is to the weakest that His Divine Majesty gives favors, which I believe they would not exchange for all the fortitude given to those who go forward in aridity of spirit. We are fonder for spiritual sweetness than of crosses. Test us, O Lord, Thou Who knowest all truth, that we may know ourselves.”

“Seek the God of consolations and not the consolations of God.”

“Perhaps we do not know what love is: it would not surprise me a great deal to learn this, for love consists, not in the extent of our happiness, but in the firmness of our determination to try to please God in everything.”

“God withholds Himself from no one who perseveres.”

“The devil frequently fills our thoughts with great schemes, so that instead of putting our hands to what work we can do to serve our Lord, we may rest satisfied with wishing to perform impossibilities.”

Amor saca amor, “Love begets love.”

“But here the Lord asks only two things of us: love of His Majesty and love of our neighbor. The surest sign that we are keeping these two commandments is, I think, that we should really be loving our neighbor; for we cannot be sure if we are loving God, although we may have good reasons for believing that we are, but we can know quite well if we are loving our neighbor.”

“God has been very good to me, for I never dwell upon anything wrong which a person has done, so as to remember it afterwards. If I do remember it, I always see some other virtue in that person.”

“In order that love be fully satisfied, it is necessary that it lower itself and that it lower itself to nothingness and transform this nothingness into fire.”

“It is of great importance, when we begin to practice prayer, not to let ourselves be frightened by our own thoughts.”

“All the way to heaven is heaven.”

“Love turns work into rest.”

Please Pray for Colton Shaw

Dear Readers: I don’t usually use this Blog to post personal requests, but for those who have followed over the last few days, one of the readers (who is also my friend) commented on two different posts and left these successive prayer requests. Please keep this family and young man in your prayers. Thank you.

Young Colton Shaw, 14 years of age, from Valdosta, Georgia was struck in the head during a baseball game. He was taken to T.M.H. PICU. unit. Please ask your faithful readers to intercede in prayer to not only our blessed mother but to their beloved saints as well, that Colton’s family is rewarded for their faith their hope and their love of our LORD AND SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST for the physical healing of young Colton.
… 

Please ask your faithful readers to keep not only the Shaw family, who lost their son Colton yesterday morning after he was removed from life support. Please also pray for the young man who made the errant throw that struck young Colton. I cannot imagine his pain.

Remain with us, O Lord

Icon of the Supper at Emmaus. Taken from boutique.flambeaux.fr

That priest I wrote about on March 25, who offered some guest lectures to the seminarians, had a few more insights he shared with me outside of classroom that he gave me permission to (anonymously) share here. He’s been retired for a number of years. This priest, whom I will call Fr. C here, is a phenomenal priest, salt of the earth. After he spoke, I wrote these comments to a colleague about him:

Father C was in rare form today.

Pure grit poetry. Wonderfully off point, but absolutely on point.

As he spoke, I couldn’t help but think of what an Anglican biblical scholar I heard in Tallahassee – Dr. Kenneth Bailey – said: “For Jesus, the story was not simply an illustration of some greater concept, an anecdote, as it was for the Greeks. Rather, for Jesus, and for Semitic minds in general, the story is the point because reality is really an extended narrative; and divine revelation is not an idea, but a sojourning event.”

So, I love to say: hearing him speak is an event you go to, but an event that happens to you; a living text that reads you.

His Mass this morning [he celebrated a private Mass I attended] – it was an event, words that happen in and to you, and leave you shaken to the core. Also, whenever I’m around him, I feel more human. Wild, eh? But faith makes us more human, not less, right? But how rare it is in my experience to be with someone who can really make that happen — seemingly — all at once. Divinization is so obviously humanization when you’re around Fr. C.

In fact the way he told the story of “Joe” in the psych-ward yesterday — so gut wrenching — was so compelling in its truth, I don’t think I’ll ever examine my conscience the same again with that inhabiting my imagination.

Wow.

Below is some of his simple, yet profound wisdom that I noted in my journal:

+++

Fr. C said:

At this point in my life as a priest, it’s clear to me that all our frenetic busyness — all our busy busy busy and all our talking talking talking — so often masks our emptiness. Our pain. We distract ourselves; we’re masters of distraction. Who wants to face it? … All I want now, all I hope for now, is that the Lord lets me sit at His feet and listen to His voice; and just let Him know I’m there, listening. All relationships fall in place when that one is right … If you can listen to Him, and stay with Him, you can speak with authority; with power. His power. But if you don’t listen, it’s all just blah blah blah and going to an early grave. But for what?

Many years ago I was called by a family to minister to a young man. He was 24. He’d been burned over 95% of his body because he ran into a burning house to rescue his roommate. His family had traveled from the other side of the country and called me to visit him in the burn unit … He was naked, strung out in the net over the water and the nurses were carefully picking the dead skin off of him with tweezers. His eyes were fused shut. I came over to him, told him I was priest and asked if I could anoint him. He painfully nodded. I anointed him, as I could, and as I did I could see the nurses all were weeping. Then I absolved him and gave him communion. I told him I would come every day to stay with him. His family left and never returned again. Not even for the funeral. I don’t know why. One day, while I was with him, he tried to pull the tubes out of his throat, and I asked him to stop. I got the nurses. He gasped toward me and said in a gurgling voice: “Tubes-not-in-YOUR-throat.” But we stopped him. He slowly died over those two weeks, suffocated from the fluid build-up. I was helpless to do anything but be with him and pray. That’s when you really get to know Christ, in your face, at your nose. No sky-Jesus. Nailed-Jesus. The Cross. I could see Jesus slowly dying in him, helpless with him. There’s nothing to say, or do. You just stay with him. Emmanuel. Mane nobiscum, Domine, quoniam advesperascit, “Stay with us, O Lord, for evening comes…” (Luke 24:29). That’s our faith. It’s awesome. So much pain without hope in the world. If only Catholics knew this and lived the Gospel, this Gospel, what a different world we’d have.

Someone was telling me recently about the elaborate strategic plan their parish had devised .. I know you have to be prudent and plan and make it all practical; I get that … but I said to him, “That’s all fine, but don’t forget we have to start by reading the Gospel! The Gospel is where it’s at. It’s all there. The whole strategic plan of God.”

That last quote totally reminded me of a line in St. John Paul II’s Novo Millenio Inuente, where he says in #29:

“I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20). This assurance, dear brothers and sisters, has accompanied the Church for two thousand years, and has now been renewed in our hearts by the celebration of the Jubilee. From it we must gain new impetus in Christian living, making it the force which inspires our journey of faith. Conscious of the Risen Lord’s presence among us, we ask ourselves today the same question put to Peter in Jerusalem immediately after his Pentecost speech: “What must we do?” (Acts 2:37).

We put the question with trusting optimism, but without underestimating the problems we face. We are certainly not seduced by the naive expectation that, faced with the great challenges of our time, we shall find some magic formula. No, we shall not be saved by a formula but by a Person, and the assurance which he gives us: I am with you!

It is not therefore a matter of inventing a “new program”. The program already exists: it is the plan found in the Gospel and in the living Tradition, it is the same as ever. Ultimately, it has its center in Christ himself, who is to be known, loved and imitated, so that in him we may live the life of the Trinity, and with him transform history until its fulfillment in the heavenly Jerusalem. This is a program which does not change with shifts of times and cultures, even though it takes account of time and culture for the sake of true dialogue and effective communication. This program for all times is our program for the Third Millennium.

The Beauty of the Time-worn Eternal Gospel

Re-post from 2013, with the addition of a 1 minute video a friend sent that relates to this post. But first, let me share with you a recording of my wife singing during yesterday’s Annunciation feast at our daughter’s all-school Mass. She is mortified when I do this, but that’s too bad. You see, I teach about God, but she sings to Him. She has the greater calling. Click here if you want to listen, and here are the words of the text:

Here am I, O God,
I come to do Your will
Here am I,
I come to do Your will

I’ve waited for you and you heard me, O God.
You have put a new song in my mouth.
A hymn of praise to the God of my salvation.

You opened my ear to your word, O God.
You take no delight in empty sacrifice.
To do your will, is my life and my delight, O God.

I sing of your justice, I sing of your peace.
I sing of your faithfulness and love.
I chant your praise in the midst of all your people.

+++

I have spent the last 3 years trying to complete David Bentley Hart’s book, Atheist Delusions. What great pleasure I take in reading his celebration of the English language that requires me to have my dictionary always at hand! I wish the book had no final chapter.

In any event, there was one quote (pp. 215-16) on the 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 beg you to believe me when I say it’s worth the effort…

…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.

Modern persons will never find rest for their restless hearts without Christ, for modern culture is nothing but the wasteland from which the gods have departed, and so this restlessness has become its own deity; and, deprived of the shelter of the sacred and the consoling myths of sacrifice, the modern person must wander or drift, vainly attempting one or another accommodation with death, never escaping anxiety or ennui, and driven as a result to a ceaseless labor of distraction, or acquisition, or willful idiocy. And, where it works its sublimest magic, our culture of empty spectacle can so stupefy the intellect as to blind it to its own disquiet, and induce a spiritual torpor more deplorable than mere despair.

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?

Watch here:

The Word was made flesh and stooped among us

God, then, is the Father of the created world and Mary the mother of the re-created world. God is the Father by whom all things were given life, and Mary the mother through whom all things were given new life. For God begot the Son, through whom all things were made, and Mary gave birth to him as the Savior of the world. Without God’s Son, nothing could exist; without Mary’s Son, nothing could be redeemed. — St. Anselm of Canterbury

I was planning to write a theological flourish on today’s atom-splitting Solemnity — the Incarnation! I had hoped to sing of Infinity becoming itty-bitty in the womb of the Virgin, that all-lovely Woman before whom the Angel Gabriel found himself at a loss for words — as the Eastern Akathist hymn reminds us:

Awed by the beauty of your virginity
and the exceeding radiance of your purity,
Gabriel stood amazed and cried aloud to you,
O Mother of God:
“’How can I praise you as I should?
With what name shall I invoke you?
I am lost and bewildered!
Therefore I will greet you as I was commanded:
“Hail, O you who are full of grace!”

Listen to this haunting version:

O Mary, echo of the creating words of God in Genesis, you said, “let it be.” And so it was! In the Garden of your all-pure womb shone the Dawn announcing “a new heavens and a new earth in which justice dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13).

At least, that was the gist of what I had been thinking I would write…

…but then last week I heard a talk at the seminary by a visiting priest who was sharing stories from his years of service to those who live on the margins of life, and his stories dismantled my plans.

He shared the story of a man who was, in his words, “a mass of suffering.” He was entrusted with the care of this man who was a committed patient in a psychiatric ward — for eight hour stretches, five days a week. The man’s name was Joe. Joe suffered from chronic involutional depression, severe compulsive anxiety, was unable to speak anything other than repetitious babble. He was also stricken with cancer of the intestines that often left him severely incontinent. After Joe would have an “accident,” this priest would have to get on his hands and knees to clean the feces from the floor under Joe’s chair, from his shoes, clothes and body. “The stench was noxious,” he said, “unlike anything I’d ever smelled before.” One day, it happened three times in three hours. Each time, the priest stripped the man of his soiled clothing, thoroughly cleaned him and re-clothed him, trying all the while to preserve the man’s dignity.

After bathing Joe and re-clothing him the third time, while the priest was still tying his shoes, Joe said: “Up!” The priest looked up, and the man looked in the priest’s eyes, aspirating the first meaningful words he’d ever spoken: “Thaaank yooou.”

The priest was deeply emotional as he shared this story and choked up as he repeated Joe’s words. I was overcome with feeling and wrote this in my notebook:

The Annunciation. God become incarnate, fragile flesh, stooping down to clean up our filth, and bidding us: “I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” (Jn. 13:15). Holy Mass! Having our unlaced shoes tied by the downward-bending God who bids us: “Join me! Sursum corda! Up!” We cry, “It is right and just!” as we look up in an anaphora, aspirating toward the Father’s Face: “Thaaank yooou…”

Amen. Deo gratias. Ite, missa est…

Coptic icon of the Annunciation. Taken from pravmir.ru