“Let them praise his name with dancing” (Psalm 149:3)

Re-post from 2011

Interlude

Seemingly unrelated to theology is my recent obsession with the song Interlude by Attack Attack. Somebody keyed me into the awesome University of Northern Iowa dance setting to the song, and my kids and I jam to it when no one is looking.

I love to dance though I am, as my kids would say, a “fail” when it comes to dancing that should be seen in public. I ask you to imagine me cranking this song up early in the morning at home, my feet meeting the floor in graceless thuds. But mine is the joy of the fool.

And it’s good aerobics.

One of the reasons I love dance is its uselessness. Yes, I realize it has psycho-somatic benefits and can be good for marriage. But, just like liturgy, it courts the spontaneity and “just because-ness” of unproductive play. So I think, what is play? It is a rehearsal of real life in the spirit of near-limitless freedom and creativity; a purposeless celebration of existence; an imaginative shrine for unfettered, choreographed creativity and exploration within the vast expanses of the true, the good and the beautiful. In play the dramatic nature of existence is performed with playful abandon. Play, and dance, affirm that our dignity need not be justified by anything other than itself.

Play is also recreation (meaning re-creation), as it participates in the creative act of the God who made all things spring into being as καλὰ, kala,“good/beautiful” (cf. Genesis 1:31).

The barely dressed King David celebrated the liturgical aspect of dance as he whirled around the Ark of the Covenant.

David danced before the Lord with all his might (2 Samuel 6:14).

Jesus, the Son of David, who stripped himself of glory as he entered the womb of Mary, the Virgin Ark, was greeted by the dance of John the Baptist in his mother’s womb.

Why don’t we dance at Mass? Well we do, but the dance is not free and spontaneous but ritualized and unified to accord with the greatness of the celebrated Mysteries around which the Mystical Body of Jesus dances. Liturgy evokes the gravity of play, as Romano Guardini reminds us:

Liturgy is not work, but play. To be at play, or to fashion a work of art in God’s sight — such is the essence of the liturgy. From this is derived its sublime mingling of profound earnestness and divine joyfulness. The fact that the liturgy gives a thousand strict and careful directions on the quality of the language, gestures, colors, garments and instruments which it employs, can only be understood by those who are able to take art and play seriously. Have you ever noticed how gravely children draw up the rules of their games, on the form of the melody, the position of the hands, the meaning of this stick and that tree? It is for the sake of the silly people who may not grasp their meaning and who will persist in seeing the justification of an action or object only in its obvious purpose. Have you ever read of or even experienced the deadly earnestness with which the artist-vassal labors for art, his lord? Of his sufferings on the score of language? Or of what an overweening mistress form is? And all this for something that has no aim or purpose! No, art does not bother about aims. Does anyone honestly believe that the artist would take upon himself the thousand anxieties and feverish perplexities incident to creation if he intended to do nothing with his work but to teach the spectator a lesson, which he could just as well express in a couple of facile phrases, or one or two historical examples, or a few well-taken photographs? The only answer to this can be an emphatic negative. Being an artist means wrestling with the expression of the hidden life of man, in order that that inner life may be given existence. Nothing more. It is the image of the Divine creation, of which it is said that it has made things “to be.”

The liturgy does the same thing. It too, with endless care, with all the seriousness of the child and the strict conscientiousness of the great artist, has toiled to express in a thousand forms the sacred, God-given life of the soul to no other purpose than that the soul may therein have its existence and live its life. The liturgy has laid down the serious rules of the sacred game which the soul plays before God. And, if we are desirous of touching bottom in this mystery, it is the Spirit of fire and of holy discipline “who has knowledge of the world”– the Holy Spirit — who has ordained the game which the Eternal Wisdom plays before the Heavenly Father in the Church, God’s kingdom on earth. And “Wisdom’s delight is to be with the children of men” (cf. Proverbs 8:31).

The Eritrean Orthodox in Africa really understand this. They have gravely-playful and graceful rubrics that make clerics poetry-in-motion. See here:

The Eastern liturgical Dance of Isaiah, done at weddings and baptisms, is also beautiful:

Can you believe it took all that to simply introduce you to the dance-music video of the Interlude? Watch and dance:

“I will arise and go to my Father” Luke 15:18

Taken from wunderground.com

Last night I sat on our carport and watching lightning criss-cross the sky, listening to the grinding roar of thunder that made the ground shake. I’d just waved goodbye to my oldest son as he drove off to his senior prom. As I sat in the dark I, as parents do, reminisced about his 18 years of life and thanked God for the blessings and hardships of those years. Flashes of a little boy excitedly running to me with a lizard in his hand, or of a teenager brusquely saying “No!” to me before I even said a word, filled my mind. I laughed, pondered, prayed, shed a few tears. How did this happen, 18 years? As we prepare him to be “sent” into life, I feel like St. Paul who says, when writing to Philemon the slave-owner of Onesimus:

I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment. I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart (Philemon 10, 12).

My children are like “my heart standing outside of my body” — an expression my wife taught me when they were very young — and consenting to them “abandoning” us (cf. Genesis 2:24) to cling to their God-given vocation is an act of self-immolating love. But is that not the whole goal of parenting? As my grandfather said to me in a letter, “Love for your children doesn’t mean protecting them from every harm, but preparing them to face every harm with a virtuous heart.” Or as a seasoned parent told me once, “Give them to God, stop clinging, they’re not yours. Let them go now to their real Father’s house.” We must prepare them to embrace their calling, allow them to own their own maturity and empower them to be capable of saying, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49)

As the thunderstorm continued, I pulled out my “even better than” litany I wrote a year or so ago and read it aloud. I’ll share again today the excerpt I posted last year. Pray for my children. I’ll pray for yours.

+ + +

My son is approaching his 17th birthday soon (Domine ad adjuvandum me festina, “O Lord, make haste to help me”), so I was journaling recently about parenting. I titled it, “Parenting: What I Occasionally Did Right, But Wish I Did Better.” Of course, it’s what my wife and I did right, but the “occasionally/wish” is my own moral grappling with the past. All parents who want to live their God-given trust well must grapple, and honest parenting makes Confession into your favorite Sacrament.

There was a section of the journal entry, as I wrote, that suddenly turned in to an “Even better than…” litany. It was written in a simple, randomly arranged, free flowing stream of consciousness state-of-mind. And it was a wonderful litany of thanks to God for all those extraordinary people who have helped shape my spousal and fatherly heart.

For what it’s worth, I share it here:

+ Even better than showing them a sacrificial life is allowing them to sacrifice.

+ Even better than serving them is to allow them to serve.

+ Even better than showing them how to pray is allowing them to pray.

+ Even better than trying to model suffering well is helping them to suffer well.

+ Even better than creating consequences for bad decisions is allowing them to suffer the natural consequences of their bad decisions.

+ Even better than protecting them from bad decisions is helping them learn from bad decisions.

+ Even better than pointing out their faults is praising their virtues.

+ Even better than telling them what chastity is, is to be chaste myself, when they’re watching and when they’re not.

+ Even better than telling them to respect their mother is to never ever tolerate disrespect for their mother.

+ Even better than talking to them about God is talking to God about them.

+ Even better than sermonizing morality is narrating great lives.

+ Even better than issuing moral commands is wondering aloud at the beauty of goodness.

+ Even better than telling them to “honor thy mother and father” is to allow them to see I honor my own.

+ Even better than telling her to “Get off the iThing!” is to say, “Let’s go fishing.”

+ Even better than making it to work on time is staying to look at her crayon drawings.

+ Even better than telling him to not be lazy is to have him help me fix the mower.

+ Even better than telling them to be charitable is to refrain from speaking uncharitably of others.

+ Even better than yelling is serene and unyielding firmness in my expectations.

+ Even better than talking is listening.

+ Even better than my private life lessons is my public life witness.

+ Even better than raising Christians is raising Christ-lovers.

+ Even better than the silence after they’ve fallen asleep is their voice first thing in the morning.

+ Even better than loving them is loving my wife, for when I love my wife well I love them best.

…Talkin’ ’bout my Girls…

Pope Francis kissing hand of Holocaust Survivor. Taken from euronews.com

Repost from January 2014

I came across this quote from Pope Francis again yesterday, and it caused me to reflect on the gift of women in my own life,

We talk about whether they can do this or that: Can they be altar boys? Can they be lectors? About a woman as president of Caritas. But we don’t have a deep theology of women in the Church.

Thanks especially to the witness and influence of my wife and my daughters, I have discovered over the years in a much more profound manner the “splendor of truth” contained in what Bl. John Paul II in his 1988 Apostolic Letter, On the Dignity and Vocation of Women, called ingenii muliebris, the “feminine genius.” That genius, the Pope argues, manifests itself in a great diversity of ways, and it’s hard cross-culturally to name this or that personal characteristic as a uniquely feminine one. But, he says, there are some universally recognizable and God-given dispositions marked deep in the soul and body of each woman. At the very core of that “mark,” the Pope argues, is the woman’s tender solicitude and loving concern for the personal dimensions of each human life. From the womb to the grave, women are uniquely gifted to cradle life, to look with tenderness especially on the face of life in its most weak and fragile state. He says, “the human being has been entrusted by God to women in a particular way.”

The World Press Photo of the Year shows a woman holding a wounded relative during protests against president Saleh in Sanaa, Yemen, in October 2012. Taken from nydailynews.com

Feminine Geniuses

Let me offer four examples — two very simple examples of the soul-shaping epiphanies of the feminine genius in my own life, and then two examples from two acquaintances of mine.

1. Whenever we have a guest come to our home, my wife’s all-consuming passion is to make our home beautiful and welcoming. Flowers in the guest bedroom, fresh towels and scented candles in the guest bathroom, candles and flowers on the dining room table, and libations and hors d’oeuvres in plenteous supply. In St. Edith Stein’s essay,“The Separate Vocations of Man and Woman According to Nature and Grace,” she argues that the “natural feminine concern for the right development of the beings surrounding her involves the creation of an ambiance of order and beauty conducive to their development.” That’s my wife.

2. Every weekday morning, my youngest daughter, as I drive off with my sons to drop them off at school, is relentlessly committed, whether it’s raining or cold, to standing at the end of our driveway to wave goodbye to us. Why? “Because I don’t want you to feel sad that you’re leaving home.” The boys are always puzzled, while I feel each time a deeper heartache as her tender love draws out from me something better. I am ever-more redeemed as a man, as a dad, each time I watch her wave to me in my rear view mirror.

3. A man I know who serves in the military was telling me with great pride about his eleven year old daughter’s many academic and sport achievements. In particular, he shared with me a story that, he said, illustrated a fundamental difference between his daughter and his sons.

For two years, she was the only girl to receive the highest academic achievement award in her grade. But this year she had to share the award with another girl. When I asked her if it was hard for her to not be top dog this year, she said, “No, but I’m excited that we get to get out of first period tomorrow and have donuts together!” She was more excited to share donuts with her friend! My boys? They’d be ticked and mope, just like their dad.

4. A priest I know ministers to the faithful who live on economically depressed rural farms, and he shared with me a powerful story I will paraphrase here.

I was called on one day to give last rites to a man who was dying of mouth cancer. His wife called me. He was a younger man, in his late 40s, and he and his wife had two children — a son in his late teens and a daughter in her mid teens. When I arrived at the farm house, the son was outside tinkering with a truck engine. I asked him, “Is your dad inside?” He said, “Yup.” I continued, “Don’t you want to come in while I anoint your father and pray with him?” He wouldn’t look at me, and said without emotion or hesitation, “Nope,” and continued tinkering with the truck. So I went inside. The man was in bed, in real pain, and his daughter was quietly weeping in the corner of the room. His wife stood over him with a strong and quiet look on her face. She said, “Thanks for coming, Father.” She turned to her husband, held his hand, and said with remarkable strength, “Father’s here to bless you, honey.” Then she disappeared from the room.

I took my oils out, knelt next to his bed and began to pray. He was groaning in pain. Suddenly the door opened and the wife walked in with her son, dragging him by the arm. She pulled him next to his father and said, “Now you say goodbye to your father! Tell him you love him!” The boy began to sob and, on his knees next to his dad, threw his arms and face on his dad’s chest and told his dad he loved him and said, through sobs, “Goodbye, Dad.” The room was filled with an air of solemnity. I think even the angels stopped singing in heaven. The boy then got up and his mom walked him out of the room and closed the door.

I could never have done that. Only she could have. A mother’s love is fierce. Only she could break through his hardness, his fear and break open his heart toward his father. As I anointed the man, I felt that I was offering a Sacrament after witnessing a sacrament — the sacrament of married love, of a child’s love, of a mother’s love that can soften the hardness of even the hardest man.

John Paul II expressed this mother’s genius well,

Perhaps more than men, women acknowledge the person, because they see persons with their hearts. They see them independently of various ideological or political systems. They see others in their greatness and limitations; they try to go out to them and help them. In this way the basic plan of the Creator takes flesh in the history of humanity and there is constantly revealed, in the variety of vocations, that beauty – not merely physical, but above all spiritual – which God bestowed from the very beginning on all, and in a particular way on women. — Mulieris Dignitatem #12

Benedicta tu in mulieribus

So, men, today renew your gratitude for the women in your life who humanize you, who break your stony hearts; who call forth from you a certain noble greatness; who remind you of the primacy of love; who proclaim by their very being that, before we are human-doings, we are human-beings created to be loved and to love. Revere the women in your life, daughters of the King and missionaries of compassion sent from the heart of the Father.

Thank you, every woman, for the simple fact of being a woman! Through the insight which is so much a part of your womanhood you enrich the world’s understanding and help to make human relations more honest and authentic.. — Bl. John Paul II, Letter to Women #2

Here are the three feminine geniuses who brighten our domestic church…

mom

IMG_5778 IMG_5817

‘Thou hast ascended, O Christ our God, King of the universe…’

“Ascension,” by Francisco Camilo (1615–1673). Taken from wikimedia.org

Re-post 2012

After appearing to his disciples for 40 days post-resurrection, Jesus ascended to the Father in a final movement of exaltation that will not cease its upward thrust until the consummation of all ages and the final and awesome Judgment. In the ascension, Christ bears up our nail-marked humanity into the innermost depths of the immortal Trinity, lives forever to make intercession for us before the Father’s Face and draw all things to himself. He does this not for himself, but to open the way for all humanity to follow him into the House of the Father, where the great Feast has already begun.

Christ ascends, but after nine days his Spirit will descend to flood the earth, though this time not with a punishment unto death, but with a deluge of living waters flowing from his open side. Pentecost re-gathers humanity into the blood-stained Ark made of the Wood of the Cross and built by Christ, the new Noah.

The Ascension is, therefore, the completion of the Incarnation: God descended into the depths of hell to raise us up to the heights of heaven. In Christ, God’s abasement as a condemned slave opened the way for our liberation as freed sons and daughters of the Most High King. In his ascent, Christ a human heart forever beats at the side of the Father’s breast (cf. John 1:18). In the Spirit’s descent Jesus, with fiery passion, casts fire on the earth and empowers his newborn Mystical Body to follow him down into the gutters of Calcutta to establish a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love, and peace.

This Spirit bears the Bridegoom to his fallen Bride, and fashions the Church into a divine-human tête-à-tête — a sacred tryst between Spirit and flesh, consummated in the sacramental Liturgy. Dare we speak thus of the Liturgy?

One dark night,
fired with love’s urgent longings
— ah, the sheer grace! —
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled.

O guiding night!
O night more lovely than the dawn!
O night that has united
the Lover with his beloved,
transforming the beloved in her Lover.

Upon my flowering breast
which I kept wholly for him alone,
there he lay sleeping,
and I caressing him
there in a breeze from the fanning cedars.

When the breeze blew from the turret,
as I parted his hair,
it wounded my neck
with its gentle hand,
suspending all my senses.

I abandoned and forgot myself,
laying my face on my Beloved;
all things ceased; I went out from myself,
leaving my cares
forgotten among the lilies. — St. John of the Cross, “One Dark Night”

Let the Fire fall! Oremus:

Tragedy embraced, redeemed, Part II

The Good Samaritan,. Taken from wkw.com

Suffering Mercy

I recall an elderly Siberian Orthodox woman saying something like this to me back in the late 1980’s:

You Americans are so shallow because you do not know how to suffer. You hide from suffering. If you do not suffer you cannot know God. We Russians know suffering well, and it makes us saints or demons, depending on whether we choose to love or not. Under Communism there are many demons because God has been banished and there is no love.

Love! Love, and not compromise with evil, is what transforms tragedy into hope. In fact, love that encounters evil and transforms it is what we call mercy. Mercy is our only hope!

Mercy! Such a beautiful word. Yet how easy it has become to define mercy as a “soft” virtue that resembles indulgent and libertine tolerance more than genuine charity. Genuine charity, in the face of fallen humanity, stoops down as mercy to raise us up toward an authentic fulfillment born of the union of truth and love. Mercy is not inimical to truth, but is its emissary in a world darkened by lies. Mercy, which is by nature fierce and unsparing, spares no sacrifice in seeking out disfigured humanity, transfiguring us into the image of Christ Crucified. Under the weight of tragedy, mercy does not offer compromise but compassion, as the merciful God is willing to suffer all of humanity’s self-degradation in order to restore us to lost innocence.

While an increasingly anti-Christian culture cries out to us, “Assimilate, assimilate!”; and an anti-culture Christian cries out, “Isolate, insulate!”; the Christian lover of culture cries out, “Remain in the middle, between two thieves, and do the truth in mercy! Love the world into life from the Cross with Christ the Merciful!” Mercy is a fulcrum at the heart of tragedy, a hearth that transforms loss into sacrifice, fear into surrender, despair into hope and death into life. Mercy, flowing from the Heart of the slain God, is a raging storm that leaves in its wake what Tolkien called a eucatastrophe, a “good disaster,” i.e. the Resurrection. Mercy keeps us restless until we rest in the Kingdom which is to come. As Chesterton said,

Christianity got over the difficulty of combining furious opposites, by keeping them both, and keeping them both furious.

Mercy draws a new creation out from the midst of life’s tragic tensions, and gives rise to creation’s supreme work of art: the saint.

Final thoughts on redemptive aching

On Orthodox priest with whom I am friends once mentioned to me how much it grieved him to not be able to offer me Holy Communion when I came to Divine Liturgy. I agreed. He added a thought that I found utterly captivating as an insight into life’s tragic character:

But isn’t it appropriate, Tom, that our estrangement should inflict such pain? It mirrors the real and painful divisions that have broken the Body of Christ for a thousand years. Our embracing this ache of ex-communication, the pain of schism and wound of division and joining it with Christ’s prayer in John 17 is a powerful redemptive offering we can lift up to the Lord. If we remember this is the Eucharist of the Crucified One, it all means something powerful. Only by first embracing the Cross should we dare receive the Eucharist.

For the first time in my life, I suddenly saw the tragic beauty of being denied Communion in a sister Church. I saw that the ache and pain it gave rise to, when offered to God, becomes a prayer like that of Jesus himself at the Last Supper as he longed for the unity of humanity with God in love in the face of the Passion.

Let me leave you with the remarkable witness of Anthony Schefter, who suffers from bipolar and schizoaffective disorder. He lives this embrace.

My Catholic faith gets me through everything. I know that I am a human person who has value, despite consistently underperforming in almost every job I’ve had in the last 13 years, and there have been many. I am not a “mentally-ill person” or a “schizophrenic”; I am a human person who struggles with mental illness. My illness does not define me; my relationship with Jesus does. And Jesus, in our relationship, looks out for me. Those prison guards didn’t shoot me that day, though they were talking about it, as I learned later. My Disability and employment income is meager but Jesus sees that I have everything I need, with my Mom helping manage my finances – and, to Mom’s chagrin, there is always a little left over for pipe tobacco. I am very grateful to our Lord, to his Church, to my family and to the members of my community who have made an independent life possible for me despite the burdens of my illness.

And there is an unlooked-for silver lining to it all. You haven’t lived until you can truly appreciate getting a good night’s sleep, waking up and feeling rested. Because I cannot cope very effectively with work, I live mainly off Disability and have a lot of free time, which I use well. I take seriously the admonition to “pray constantly.” I am always in conversation with God, and I am aware that my trials are helping myself and others. I take nothing for granted, not my Disability check, not my doctor, not my family that has always been there for me. In many ways I am the most fortunate of men.

When this is all over, then there will be a life of blessedness in Heaven. My freedoms were taken away from me in this life—freedom to work, to have a family, to be healthy, to pursue what I most wanted, the Catholic priesthood; even to be myself in many ways—and so I know I will have a glorious and never-ending freedom in the age to come. To anyone who is newly diagnosed with mental illness, or to anyone who cares for someone who is, I have this to say: Never give up. It will get better. I cannot promise you anything but the most difficult of roads, but God has entrusted you with this burden because you can bear it, and bear it well for him; and he has something very good in store for you at the end of a lot of chapters that will make all of this more than worth your while. When this is all over, you and I will be able to say together: we wouldn’t have had it any other way. Have hope, trust Jesus, and never quit.

I will leave you with a beautiful reflection — the merciful love of a mother and son in the midst of tragedy:

Tragedy embraced, redeemed, Part I

The Cross left behind after the Twin Towers collapsed on 9/11. Taken from werismyki.com

Re-post from 2012 [with new video added at the end]

“I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).

…The priest told St. Bernadette to offer pen and ink to the Lady with a request that she write down what she wished of the people, or at lest tell what was her motive in coming. It happened that Our Lady appeared to Bernadette that day, the third apparition of Lourdes. Bernadette obediently offered the pen, ink and paper to the Lady. Later Bernadette offered this oral report: “The Lady laughed. Then she said, ‘There is no need for me to write what I have to say. Will you do me the kindness to come here every day for fifteen days?’ I promised, and then she said, ‘I promise you happiness not in this world, but only in the next.'”

Our culture continues to grow increasingly averse to the inexorably tragic dimensions of life. By tragic I mean that in this life not all evils, disorders and disabilities can be overcome, nor can all sufferings be taken away. Unresolvable tensions always remain a part of life, and the art of being fully human in a tragic world requires of us the capacity to discover hope when facing an insolubly tragic state of affairs. Viktor Frankl, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, coined the phrase “tragic optimism,” which for him is an attitude that empowers us to say “yes” to life in spite of everything. But for Christians, as Pope Benedict reminds us, hope is not simply optimism, which is, he says, “merely the ability to look at things with good cheer and move on.” Rather, hope is the ability to see in this present darkness the coming dawn, to be at peace in your storm-tossed boat with the knowledge that Jesus sleeps serenely in the bow. Hope is to rest in confidence that our provident “God works all things for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Yet increasingly we Westerners wish to keep open all options for eliminating the tensions of tragedy by any and all means available, including the deconstruction of moral prohibitions that sustain certain tragic tensions (e.g. advocating for the moral status of same-sex sex and the legal status of same-sex marriage) or the elimination of tragic lives (e.g. in the U.S., following a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome, 92 percent of Down syndrome children are aborted). Someone recently captured this logic when, as we were debating the logic of aborting disabled children, she said: “Better to be dead than to suffer.”

Jesus does tragedy otherwise. The Christian Gospel proclaims that Christ came not to redefine or overlook evil, or to sanction the doing of evil to achieve good. Rather, Jesus freely chose to suffer a tragic death in obedience to the Father, trusting him to draw from it a greater good — the Resurrection! Christ invests tragedy with hope, confronts failure with mercy, suffuses pain with an infinitely redemptive power. The Paschal Mystery opens a new space for St. Siloan the Athonite to say, “place your mind and hell and despair not … for Christ descended into hell to break the chains of despair.” Pope Benedict, in his encyclical on hope, Spe Salvi, says:

It is when we attempt to avoid suffering by withdrawing from anything that might involve hurt, when we try to spare ourselves the effort and pain of pursuing truth, love, and goodness, that we drift into a life of emptiness, in which there may be almost no pain, but the dark sensation of meaninglessness and abandonment is all the greater.

“Christ is Risen!” is our exultant song of triumph, our secure claim to invincible meaning. “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19). Only in the Paradise Jesus has prepared for us beyond the grave is every tear wiped away. Only in the Resurrection is every unresolved tension shattered, and the the Age to Come there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor any more pain, for the former things will have passed away, and he that sits upon the throne will say, “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5). Only in Paradise will there be unadulterated happiness, though in this life we can know unadulterated joy, as joy is the fruit of our hope in love (cf. John 15:11).

Many years ago, a 80+ year old Trappist monk in Spencer, Massachusetts once said to me: “When you suffer long for God, you begin to learn what distinguishes joy from contentment. Contentment passes when its immediate object is removed. Most of our young spiritual life’s about contentment; like a child darting from toy to toy, bleeding out of each all its pleasures. But joy, joy increases the more distant and inaccessible God seems. Joy comes with waiting and watching.” I said, “How’s that?” He answered, “Because God’s absence is his presence in the form of yearning, and yearning in us makes us desire him. And joy is the really the delight of yearning, of aching, of longing for a certain love that we have and don’t yet possess. We pray in our doxology that we love the ‘One who is to come.’ I am the stretching of Psalm 63. Even in heaven I believe we will infinitely long, though there every longing will be satisfied, only to awaken a new longing. ad æternum.” I looked Psalm 63 up:

O God, you are my God, for you I long;
for you my soul is thirsting.
My body pines for you
like a dry, weary land without water.
So I gaze on you in the sanctuary
to see your strength and your glory.

For your love is better than life,
my lips will speak your praise.
So I will bless you all my life,
in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul shall be filled as with a banquet,
my mouth shall praise you with joy.

On my bed I remember you.
On you I muse through the night
for your have been my help;
in the shadow of your wings I rejoice.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand holds me fast.

 

Taken from nd.edu

Come, O Harmonious One!

Pope Francis, Taken from wdtprs.com

Re-post 2014:

The Spirit raises our hearts to heaven, guides the steps of the weak, and brings to perfection those who are making progress. He enlightens those who have been cleansed from every stain of sin and makes them spiritual by communion with himself. As clear, transparent substances become very bright when sunlight falls on them and shine with a new radiance, so also souls in whom the Spirit shines become spiritual themselves and a source of grace for others. Through the Spirit we become citizens of heaven, we enter into eternal happiness, and abide in God. Through the Spirit we acquire a likeness to God; indeed, we attain what is beyond our most sublime aspirations: to become God by participation (cf. 2 Peter 1:4). — St. Basil the Great

Getting Spirit-reliant

Three years ago, my private retreat director confronted me on my fear of new situations that challenged me to step outside of my comfort zone. As I presented to him my standard approach to such challenges — I’m planning my escape routes — he said,

You see, that’s your problem. You try to white-knuckle everything. Typical American middle-aged white male who thinks sheer will-power, stoic indifference, an ethic of self-reliance will get him through everything. But that’s got nothing to do with holiness. If God’s not invited into your fears and weaknesses, if God’s not sought before every decision, but only asked to bless you after you’ve made your decision or weathered the pain, what’s that? That’s you as god. A God who’s only asked to bless what your self-reliant self decides is not the God of the Cross, but the god of your ego. Next time you walk into a new situation, a new place, a new office space, a new home, I want you to stop and remember that the Holy Spirit is already there. He already has a plan for you to navigate the fears, the unknown, the chaos. He’s overloaded with graces to dispense if you ask Him for them at the beginning, middle and end.  Every morning when you wake up I want you to say, right away: “Holy Spirit, before I begin my day: what do you want from me?” Ask, sit tight, then listen long enough to receive His grace. He’s in no rush, and when we show Him we aren’t in a rush, He’s generous. If He sees we’re impatient and restless, ready to move on to other things and we quit after a few moments, He will withhold His richer graces and wait. Wait until the pain and exhaustion drops you to your knees. Then you’ll be ready to wait and receive, because you’ll know you’ve got nothing. Sad, but it’s the usual way he has to work. But really, remember, you always have nothing. You depend on Him for everything, and the times you acknowledge that He gets a free hand to act. Wait every morning in silence to receive from Him. Let’s say 15 minutes. Don’t listen for a voice, but look to be spoken into. He infallibly communicates to every trusting, waiting soul. But it’s usually so deep and subtle that it’s imperceptible. Stop and listen to Him, dispose yourself by waiting like a silent fiat, a “let it be,” and He will secretly communicate to your soul all that He wishes. Its effects will spill out during the day, mostly when you’re not aware.

St. Paul says the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of harmony, of peace, of order, so when your life feels out of those things He awaits your aching cry to Him: Come! In fact, let me encourage you to pray Cardinal Mercier’s prayer every morning to help you open yourself and, at least when you are in God’s presence, forget your white-knuckled machismo: “O Holy Spirit, beloved of my soul, I adore You. Enlighten me, guide me, strengthen me, console me. Tell me what I should do; give me your orders. I promise to submit myself to all that you desire of me and to accept all that you permit to happen to me. Let me only know your will.” Do this faithfully every day, and tell me in three months about the changes you’ll see. Remember, the Evil One will do everything he can to distract you and discourage you and dissuade you from the practice, because he’s terribly threatened by it. Terrified. But stand your ground and you will not be disappointed.

Papa Franceso

As a parting gift, let me share today a portion of the brilliant Pentecost homily of Pope Francis from 2013:

Newness always makes us a bit fearful, because we feel more secure if we have everything under control, if we are the ones who build, programme and plan our lives in accordance with our own ideas, our own comfort, our own preferences. This is also the case when it comes to God. Often we follow him, we accept him, but only up to a certain point. It is hard to abandon ourselves to him with complete trust, allowing the Holy Spirit to be the soul and guide of our lives in our every decision. We fear that God may force us to strike out on new paths and leave behind our all too narrow, closed and selfish horizons in order to become open to his own. Yet throughout the history of salvation, whenever God reveals himself, he brings newness and change, and demands our complete trust: Noah, mocked by all, builds an ark and is saved; Abram leaves his land with only a promise in hand; Moses stands up to the might of Pharaoh and leads his people to freedom; the apostles, huddled fearfully in the Upper Room, go forth with courage to proclaim the Gospel. This is not a question of novelty for novelty’s sake, the search for something new to relieve our boredom, as is so often the case in our own day. The newness which God brings into our life is something that actually brings fulfillment, that gives true joy, true serenity, because God loves us and desires only our good. Let us ask ourselves: Are we open to Gods surprises? Or are we closed and fearful before the newness of the Holy Spirit? Do we have the courage to strike out along the new paths which Gods newness sets before us, or do we resist, barricaded in transient structures which have lost their capacity for openness to what is new?

Today’s liturgy is a great prayer which the Church, in union with Jesus, raises up to the Father, asking him to renew the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. May each of us, and every group and movement, in the harmony of the Church, cry out to the Father and implore this gift. Today too, as at her origins, the Church, in union with Mary, cries out: Veni, Sancte Spiritus! Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love! Amen.

Now, a magnificent Byzantine hymn to the Holy Spirit called, O Heavenly King: