Pause

Well, the week upcoming is daunting, so I will predict a full week respite from my daily Inbox invasions.

Let me leave you with a new TØP song, rejecting suicide as a choice-worthy option for dealing with life’s pain. And even more, rejecting the culture of glorifying (“neon gravestones”) suicide. As Tyler sings,

our culture can treat a loss like it’s a win … no

I love TØP.

Marriage, Children and Humility

Love, on the other hand, is marked by humility; if we are to understand, forgive and serve others from the heart, our pride has to be healed and our humility must increase. — Pope Francis

Today’s Gospel about marriage and the humility of children made me think. So I will subject you to a few of those meandering thoughts.

A seminarian in a class I am teaching asked me the other day, “What virtue is most important in your marriage?” Without hesitation, I said, “Humility.” He said, “Why?”  I said, “Because marriage has to be grounded in radical honesty, in a willingness to speak the truth and a willingness to hear truth as the other sees it. Humility is truth, and no one, if you’re doing it right, makes you face the truth more than your spouse.”

He seemed surprised, and followed up by asking, “But what about love?” I said, “Yes, yes. Of course. Without love, humility becomes shaming and degrading. But love has nowhere to grow if there’s no tilled earth for it to grow in. Humility is all about cultivated ground, dealing with messy dirt, being down to earth. And because you know your spouse isn’t going anywhere, the definition of love, you never fear the truth of who you really are will drive them away.”

Fairly regularly, my wife and I ask each other for an honest appraisal — Is there anything I need to hear from you? She will usually preface her honesty with, “Do you really want to hear what I think?” I often will say back, “Well, it really depends on how bad it is.” The beauty of that gift is that it keeps both of us grounded in reality, provided we each are willing to hear what is said and make changes when needed. It also keeps me from believing that the more superficial masks I put on during the day are really me. Prayer and marriage function very similarly in that respect.

Patti is a polished mirror by which I see in exquisite detail the good, bad and ugly. And I strive to be the same for her. Once when a young couple preparing for marriage met with us to talk, the guy asked me what I thought Patti’s greatest gift to me was. I said, “Two gifts. Being mother to our children and keeping me real. She makes me feel a hundred feet tall and very tiny, all at once.”

My first spiritual director back in the late 1980’s, an old monk, said to me once, “Remember, when people flatter you, think of me. I know the real you. That’s where you need to stay anchored.” He also said, “In spiritual direction, if you ever feel you have to please or impress your director, it’s over. Find someone else right away. It only works when you can bear your soul as it is, face yourself as you are.”

When my children turn 18, I ask them each for an honest reflection on my parenting. On how they viewed me as a father. And I say, “Be brutally honest. Don’t spare my feelings.” Each has been so different in their perspective. It’s a bit terrifying asking them, and it’s humbling to hear what they say. But it has opened our relationships out into adulthood and toward friendship … and that for me is the sweetest fruit of being a parent.

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” — Rom. 12:21

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The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The thronèd monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptered sway.
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings;
It is an attribute to God Himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice. — Shakespeare

During these days of trial in the church and the world, when the failures of humanity seem to tower, it is now, above all, that Christians must show to the world “the quality of mercy.”

Mercy is not the absence of justice, it is the fusion of justice and love. Mercy is what love becomes when it meets injustice. Mercy is not soft or weak, but is infinitely more fierce and costly than justice alone. Justice alone condemns and contains, rages and seeks the punishment of the evildoer in order to bring justice the wronged. But justice wed to love for the persecuting, reviling, evildoing, hating, cursing enemy seeks restoration, redemption and remedy for both victimizer and victim.

But mercy is infinitely more extreme than just “seeking” these things.

In Jesus the fusion of love and justice compels Him to embrace the Father’s command to identity with the innocent victim and the guilty victimizer, to bear their burdens that both might be saved. In the Passion He drank our poison to become our antidote. This is what made Him sweat blood and bargain with the Father in the Garden of Agony (Mk. 14:36). This:

For he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed. — Isaiah 53:5

From the Cross, wholly identified with all innocent victims, Jesus pleads for the victimizers:

Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing. — Lk. 23:24

In fact, He identified with evildoers in the most radical sense imaginable:

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. — 2 Cor. 5:21

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” — Gal. 3:13

St. Paul, having himself become Christ (Gal. 2:20), embraces this same terrible logic of mercy in response to his (Jewish) people’s rejection of the Messiah:

For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. — Rom 9:3

In a most stunning passage from Pope Benedict, we see this explosive tension between justice and love erupts within God as a war:

God’s passionate love for his people—for humanity—is at the same time a forgiving love. It is so great that it turns God against himself, his love against his justice. Here Christians can see a dim prefigurement of the mystery of the Cross: so great is God’s love for man that by becoming man he follows him even into death, and so reconciles justice and love.

We who are in Christ, who have fallen deep into the paschal waters of Baptism, who dare sign ourselves with the Cross, who ingest the Food and Drink born of this war internal to God, must evince, must live out this same ethos of mercy. Seventy times seven times a day.

Whenever we embody this crazed love of our extremist God, “we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Cor. 1:23).

The world outside of Christ either condemns or canonizes evil, but Christians carry evil — and evildoers — on their backs as a Cross (Lk. 9:23), by every means possible. By prayer and reparative penance, by fasting, by forgiveness, by alms or by charity-drenched fraternal correction. And in a million other merciful ways.

In fact, if we resolve to be tough and fierce in the face of evil as disciples of the Christ, with heroic courage, we must don those most fearsome weapons of the Cross that alone cause hell to shudder in terror. These were the same weapons with which the dead Christ harrowed hell’s infernal abyss. These are the weapons by which martyrs conquer evil.

Are we courageous enough to wield these weapons in these dark times? Let’s dare…

…as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, to clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.

The great danger in this storm

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Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things pass away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
He who has God
Finds he lacks nothing;
God alone suffices. — St. Teresa of Avila

Here is a great danger I myself face during these time of church upheaval: taking my eyes off of Jesus, fixing my eyes on the storm, only then to become consumed by things other than grace.

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” — Matthew 14:28-31

A mentor of mine wrote me a lengthy letter last week to encourage me in what he imagined was a difficult time for me working in a seminary. He’s much older, has a long, wise view of things. As I often do, I take letters and then, after reading them, re-express them in my journal to make evident what I received from them. I do the same with conversations, homilies, movies, etc. After re-writing his letter, I was filled with a new resolve and focus. Thanks be to God for loving and wise mentors.

Among many things he said that I digested, he said, “During this time, my brother, double up on your prayer time if possible. Above all, keep your anchor in God. The Enemy is skilled at using such turbulent times to set an ax to our prayer as It knows well prayer alone gives free reign to God. This alone It fears.”

He also said,

… Be amazed at the willingness of public figures in the church to cast their half digested opinions to the wind with arrogance. Amid this sea of rash judgment, maintain a spirit of charity at all times. Think this: speak of and to others as did Christ in the midst of his blessed Passion. You know Christ’s charity alone is the path of unity in the church that serves as a compass guiding our quest for truth. It is to be the signature of Christian witness. Judge yourself by the standard of the cross in facing evil.

… The world outside the church is watching us very carefully. What witness have we offered them? A model of civil discourse? Where do they see the fruits of the Spirit [love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control]? Where do they see signs of grace super-abounding among us even as sin abounds? How is our response to failure and sin different from responses uninformed by those fruits, that grace? How many converts might we imagine running to the church after witnessing in us the difference God makes in facing what is our universal human plight? Again, Christ in his blessed Passion is the difference.

… And always comport yourself with sober judgment. Take great care with every word your write or speak. In such grave times, flee innuendo, irony, sarcasm, detraction. Confess in the Sacrament all your wasted, misused words that pollute and poison the air. Sobriety of reason, courage of character and care of expression are our tactics against the Liar that craves division. Re-read 1 Peter 5:8. Too many are intoxicated by their own words, arrogant in their self-righteousness.

… fast and pray twice for all you levy judgment on, whether fairly or unfairly. On second thought, thrice for all you judge unfairly. But pray seven times for the victims of these dark days.

… Above all things, keep in mind this is to be our final end, our ultimate criterion, the only witness worthy of the name Christian: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” In these days, who would say this of us?

The letter concluded with St. Teresa’s prayer above. May we allow ourselves to be consumed by grace alone, so that the world might then also be…

In a lost embrace

This is a text I sent last week from the Houston airport to my wife, children and some other friends.

Supreme moment of digital age disconnection: woman runs to greet a teen boy (seemed like she was an Aunt), and as she embraces him tightly and verbalizes her love for him and marvels @ how much he has grown, behind her back he is scrolling on his screen looking at his Instagram. Breathtaking.

The woman had been excitedly talking to someone near me for some time about a relative she had not seen in years. She kept saying, “It’s been so long, I wonder if he’ll even recognize me.” I assumed she would be meeting him when she landed wherever she was going, but suddenly she jumped to her feet and ran toward this 15 or 16 year old boy who had walked up to our terminal. “Seamus!” The energy from her voice electrified the air, catching the attention of lots of people and generating lots of smiles and “awws.”

But, as I happened to be leaning against a post right next to them, I noticed the details of what I described above. She squeezed him for a good thirty seconds, rocking side to side as she repeated, “I love you! I love you! You are so big! I am so happy to see you again! Thank God! It’s been too long. How have you been?…”  I could see him scroll the Instagram posts up, “liking” pictures in rapid succession.

Yes, I knew I should turn my head away from this private moment, but that stunning sight seized control of me.

After they strolled off together, I sat down to take that all in. Someone next to me must have noticed my reaction, and said, “Yeah, I know, I saw it too. Sad.” I said, “Yeah. More like, unreal.”

Unreal. That’s it. We need an asceticism, a virtuous discipline that places technology at the service of ordo cartitatis, “the order of love,” attending first to the neighbor nearby, to the priority of real relationships grounded in the immediacy of real presence. Virtual reality should flow from and lead back to the reality that soaks your clothes in rain, makes you shiver in the cold or warms your heart in an embrace of love.

My wonderful and gifted colleague, Dr. Daniella Zsupan-Jerome, said once in an interview,

Out gadgets connect us but our screens can make us forget that on the other side there is another person there, a full, embodied complex human being. Communication toward communion keeps this in mind and forges true encounter.

That’s what was missing. And in the presence of the bodies of others, screens should pass away in favor of face to face, embrace to embrace, I and Thou.

My daughter Maria, about six years ago, was desperately trying to get my attention as I was working on my laptop in the dining room. I was writing a blog post (maybe on effective parenting? lol). As I typed away, looking intently at the screen, she repeated with antiphonal force, “Dad! Dad! Dad!” I quipped back several times in a sharp tone, “What?! Say it, child!” But she would each time resume her antiphon. Finally after half a dozen times, eyes still fixed on the screen’s dim glow, my exasperation got the better of me and I shouted, “What! Say it! I’m listening!” She said back, in a low voice, “But your face isn’t.”

That slayed me.

Since then, any time I am tempted to stray my attention away from the person I am with, and toward a gadget, I can hear Maria’s haunting words sound in my head.

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. — 1 Corinthians 13:12

Kyrie eleison

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A few unorganized thoughts written over a week’s time on The Cardinal, certainly not touching on a thousand complexities that demand response.

I have worked closely in and with the institutional Church for nearly 30 years. My overwhelmingly consistent experience has been of faithful clergy, men who have brought to me and my loved ones great good.

Yet.

Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick. Yes, we all know. Allegations, horrific and devastating. The cover-up of an egregious abuse of power and trust, certainly extending far beyond the Cardinal himself.

For people of faith this is the most terrifying abuse of trust in power imaginable — the abuse of sacra potestas, “sacred power.” Employing consecration to desecrate, using grace to disgrace, harnessing the trust of faith to exploit the faithful, stealing divine Fatherhood to abuse God’s children, victimizing in the name of the Priest-Victim, exercising the authority of the Shepherd to feed on His sheep. Ezekiel 34:2-4,10,

Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them …

Thus says the Lord God, I am against the shepherds; and I will demand my sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them.

And so on.

Sacred power,

…the word “ordination” is reserved for the sacramental act which integrates a man into the order of bishops, presbyters, or deacons, and goes beyond a simple election, designation, delegation, or institution by the community, for it confers a gift of the Holy Spirit that permits the exercise of a “sacred power” (sacra potestas) which can come only from Christ himself through his Church.

The Holy Spirit permits the exercise of sacred power. What a risky permission.

Jesus saved His most biting invective for the religious leadership of His day, excoriating them for their abuse of sacred power (e.g. Matt. 23). In fact, He spoke very specifically of the grave consequences for the predicted abuse of that power among His own apostolic disciples in Luke 17:1-3,

Occasions for stumbling [skandala] are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. Be on your guard!

Terrifying. Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany captures well the dark-heart of this abuse in McCarrick’s alleged crime,

The psychological and spiritual destructiveness of such predatory behavior, really incestuous by a man who is held up as a spiritual father to a son in his care – even if not a minor – cannot be minimized or rationalized in any way.

All that boldly said, we also must remember the comment Jesus makes immediately after the dire warning of causing “stumbling,”

If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.”

If, then. The rebuke has sounded loudly, and we ‘people of good will’ hope it enters into every silent corner of the Church to shatter all pernicious secrets.

After hearing His ground-shaking words, the “apostles” say to Jesus, “Lord, increase our faith!” Indeed, a plea we all should heed and plead for our Shepherds every day.

Bishop Scharfenberger also made this point in a recent statement, “But, at its heart, this is much more than a challenge of law enforcement; it is a profoundly spiritual crisis.” It is spiritual, and it is institutional, cultural. And more.

I have no profound prescription, save that as in any age of human history when men fail both God and man, the response is never to flee from the garden of agony and betrayal (cf Mark 14:50-52), but to “Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41). Or succumb ourselves to the time of trial.

Swiss theologian Fr. Hans Urs von Balthasar once said, “The reason why I remain in the Church is certainly not that I have succeeded in seeing that the Church corresponds a) to my expectations, or b) to God’s expectations … despite the high degree of idiocy we have displayed, the Church has miraculousy managed to survive.” Then he says,

I remain in the Church because she is the Church of the saints … [who] do battle with the mediocrity of Christ’s Church not by protesting but by enkindling and encouraging the better. The Church causes them pain, but they do not become embittered and stand aside to sulk. They form no dissident groups but cast their fire into the midst.

Yes, the response must continue to be a searching, honest, radical institutional reform. That never ends in the Field Hospital. But in the first and last instance our response, born of faith, must be to surrender in absolute trust to the paschal mystery of the God who was betrayed in Christ. By us, with us, for us. The God who saved a wretch like me by rising with Wounds crying not for revenge, but for the severe justice of mercy.

How much I must criticize you, my church, and yet how much I love you! You have made me suffer more than anyone, and yet I owe more to you than to anyone. I should like to see you destroyed, and yet I need your presence. You have given me much scandal, and yet you alone have made me understand holiness.

Never in this world have I seen anything more compromised, more false, yet never have I touched anything more pure, more generous or more beautiful. Countless times, I have felt like slamming the door of my soul in your face–and yet, every night, I have prayed that I might die in your sure arms! No, I cannot be free of you, for I am one with you, even if not completely you.

Then too–where would I go? To build another church? But I could not build one without the same defects, for they are my defects. And again, if I were to build another church, it would be my church, not Christ’s church. No, I am old enough. I know better. – the late Carlo Carretto, Italian theologian

Breaking

Busy days again. I am going to be off from blogging for a week or so, returning July 29th or so. Look forward to returning!

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The faithful, more precisely the lay faithful, find themselves on the front lines of the Church’s life; for them the Church is the animating principle for human society. — Pope Pius XII

Three tidbits I will leave you with.

A gentleman I know, who works in the restaurant business, came back to the practice of his Catholic faith several years ago (which is itself a great story). He said something like this to me when I happened on him at a local supermarket in June: “Being Catholic is the hardest thing I’ve ever loved. When your primary relationship circles are made up of people who don’t have faith and don’t share many of your most basic moral beliefs, it’s really hard to keep on going every day. The underlying tension is all the time in your face. Some days I wish I could just leave all of those people behind and start over again with people who see things the way I do now. But that ain’t gonna happen, and I know it would be a cop out. If it weren’t for the men’s group [weekly bible study], I’d have checked out of the God thing long ago. Anyone who says religion is a crutch hasn’t given it a real go. Religion’s not a crutch for the weak, it’s a cross for the courageous!” Then he said, “And please tell those seminarians that when they’re priests, and preach, please, please, please remember those of us out there in the fields who are just hanging on. Throw us a bone once in a while to help us face the heat, ‘cuz it’s hell out there.”

At a recent Sunday Mass, the priest (who is a widower) said in his homily, “What is the most important sign in today’s Eucharistic Liturgy? The Tabernacle? The Altar? The Holy Eucharist? What do you think?” Someone said, “The Tabernacle!” He said, “Well, yes! That’s a key sign. Of course, they are all key. But the most important sign for YOU ALL is the exit sign. That tiny red sign right there [he pointed to the lit exit sign] that tells you to Go! To go forth, to be sent by Jesus and do outside those doors what you heard and saw, touched and tasted in here today. There’s a world starving for the joy of this Feast. Give them a reason to believe, to see that joy exists in your face, and bring just one of them back with you next week if you can.”

Today would have been the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene. Sad we don’t get to revel in her Apostolic honors at the Altar today. St. Mary Magdalene, Equal of the Apostles, pray for us!