In Summary…

wikimedia.org

This icon, when I posted it in 2013, was by itself (with no commentary) a complete daily Blog post titled, In Summary. The day after I posted it, I received an email from a long time friend. His reaction so moved me that I asked if I could post his email anonymously. I felt his reaction demonstrated eloquently the very point I was trying to make: the image of Jesus crucified surpasses all of my words, because it is truth, goodness and beauty perfectly fused into the one “word of the cross” (1 Cor 1:18).

Here’s what my friend’s email said:

My dear friend!

I habitually open your blog when I feel hungry for inspiration in the morning. This morning I am preparing for a hard meeting amid a series of other difficulties that have made me cry out to God, “Basta! Enough!” out of dryness.

When I saw your simple post of the cross this morning my raw reaction was to let out an an expletive.

Then I started laughing. Then I started crying.

Ave crux, spes unica! Hail the cross, our only hope!

Keep teaching me from afar!

His email brought to mind the Peruvian St. Rose of Lima’s impassioned proclamation of the word of the Cross. She taught me through her words that the Cross is not only to be the supreme beauty that informs our contemplative gaze, but is to become the beauty that informs our whole existence. Here are her words, taken from the Divine Office for her Feast Day:

Our Lord and Savior lifted up his voice and said with incomparable majesty: “Let all men know that grace comes after tribulation. Let them know that without the burden of afflictions it is impossible to reach the height of grace. Let them know that the gifts of grace increase as the struggles increase. Let men take care not to stray and be deceived. This is the only true stairway to paradise, and without the cross they can find no road to climb to heaven.”
When I heard these words, a strong force came upon me and seemed to place me in the middle of a street, so that I might say in a loud voice to people of every age, sex and status: “Hear, O people; hear, O nations. I am warning you about the commandment of Christ by using words that came from his own lips: We cannot obtain grace unless we suffer afflictions. We must heap trouble upon trouble to attain a deep participation in the divine nature, the glory of the sons of God and perfect happiness of soul.”

That same force strongly urged me to proclaim the beauty of divine grace. It pressed me so that my breath came slow and forced me to sweat and pant. I felt as if my soul could no longer be kept in the prison of the body, but that it had burst its chains and was free and alone and was going very swiftly through the whole world saying:

“If only mortals would learn how great it is to possess divine grace, how beautiful, how noble, how precious. How many riches it hides within itself, how many joys and delights! Without doubt they would devote all their care and concern to winning for themselves pains and afflictions. All men throughout the world would seek trouble, infirmities and torments, instead of good fortune, in order to attain the unfathomable treasure of grace. This is the reward and the final gain of patience. No one would complain about his cross or about troubles that may happen to him, if he would come to know the scales on which they are weighed when they are distributed to men.”

Nativity of Patti

Okay, I know, June 15th…but today, in addition to being the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, is my wife’s birthday. Just don’t let her know I let you know. For those who know her, feel free to email me a note for her: tneal@nds.edu

Kindly pray with me (from the Book of Blessings):

God of all creation, we offer you grateful praise for the gift of life. Hear the prayers of Patti, your servant, who recalls today the day of her birth and rejoices in your gifts of life and love, family and friends.

Bless her with your presence and surround her with your love that she may enjoy many happy years, all of them pleasing to you.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

Bad Day, See You on June 15

Taken from gagthat.com

With regret I need to take a break from posting, as commitments press on all sides. God willing, I hope to return on June 15. I invite you to please join me again then. Let us pray for one another.

And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. — The fox to the prince in Le Petit Prince

My mission in writing this Blog is to search with you for the heart of the world. What’s that heart? The Catechism (#25) says it eloquently:

The whole concern of doctrine and its teaching must be directed to the love that never ends. Whether something is proposed for belief, for hope or for action, the love of our Lord must always be made accessible, so that anyone can see that all the works of perfect Christian virtue spring from love and have no other objective than to arrive at love.

To that effect, let me offer you some food to chew on in your heart. I will leave you with 4 meaty quotes, and one parting smile.

0527151922

Random image: 5/26 sunset near our home

The quotes:

I was speaking the other day to an elderly woman at [my parish,] who’s lived as a member of the parish since childhood. What a rare bird! And she’s a character. She’s a daily Mass goer, involved in a number of social outreach programs. She’s someone you want to talk to when you are looking for a long-viewed and unvarnished opinion. She said some remarkable things to me the other day, when I mentioned to her about how difficult it was to get people involved in parish life when they’re always coming and going. You gotta hear this. Feel free to use it. It went something like this: “The problem these days is that people have too much to do. But what are they doing? They don’t have time for a cup of tea. They can’t spend ten minutes with you without reaching for their phone to see the latest update. They’re so busy keeping up with everyone that they don’t have real time for anyone. They’ve lost their patience with staying too long with the same people. You see, when you stay ‘too’ long with the same people you find out they’re a petty bunch. They’re annoying. Get on your nerves, you see. And then you see your own pettiness that they bring out of you. Not pretty. But if you don’t stick with them long enough to squirm, I think, Father, you’ll never learn love. Not real love. Love with dirt under the nails. Love means staying a long time with the same annoying people. It’s easy to flit from person to person or parish to parish. You never have to dig deep. Keeping the time short enough each time lets you hide from the hard work of love. The longer you spend time with people, the more times you have to forgive them. Ask forgiveness. You have to be patient. Put up with a lot. Mable, she’s our gossip. Henry snorts and coughs in the pew behind me. Betty’s the complainer. Larry’s the talker. A motley crew, all of them! But I love them all. They’re family. Didn’t choose ’em! I always say if they’re good enough to be God’s family, they’re good enough for me. So, Father, guess I’m not much help. Don’t know if you can change things these days. Only the good Lord can. But maybe it’d do some good if you gave a sermon now and again about what’s real love. I mean, love with staying power. Love means sticking around with people you don’t like. And if you do it long enough you just may learn, even if you still don’t like them, you’ve learned to love them. And learning to love, isn’t that the whole idea?”— Letter from a priest friend

…it is more important than ever for us to bear witness to truth of Christ’s love. It’s not necessary for us to march or protest or organize boycotts. It’s not necessary for us to form Catholic ghettos and keep the world from polluting the purity of our truth. Christ’s love and truth do not need our protection. We need his protection, that is, we need the protection that divine love and truth afford us. Not protection from the world. But protection from our own inclinations to borrow trouble and beg for compromise. We need to be protected from our own base longings to be included, to be applauded, to be honored by the world. The temptation for us now – right here in 2015 America – is to avoid being seen as backward-looking, ignorant, knuckle-dragging rednecks who just won’t “get with the times.” The more colorful the names we’re called, the harder we must love as Christ loves us. The heavier the fines, the harder we must love as Christ loves us. The longer we spend in the jail, the harder we must love as Christ loves us. The bloodier the violence (if we ever come to that!), the harder we must love as Christ loves us. We don’t love God and one another as Christ loves us in order to win the fight. The fight is won. We love b/c Christ loves us. And by loving him – even imperfectly – we become more and more like him. — Fr. Philip Neri Powell, O.P.

The Scriptures remind us, “If any one says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” … “Which means we love God only as much as we love the person we like the least.” — Servant of God Dorothy Day

You cannot be too gentle, too kind. Shun even to appear harsh in your treatment of each other. Joy, radiant joy, streams from the face of him who gives and kindles joy in the heart of him who receives. All condemnation is from the devil. Never condemn each other. We condemn others only because we shun knowing ourselves. When we gaze at our own failings, we see such a swamp that nothing in another can equal it. That is why we turn away, and make much of the faults of others. Instead of condemning others, strive to reach inner peace. Keep silent, refrain from judgement. This will raise you above the deadly arrows of slander, insult and outrage and will shield your glowing hearts against all evil. Acquire the spirit of peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved. – St Seraphim of Sarov

The smile: a re-post of a music video my tech-genius son, Michael, made for me. Once I shared with him an idea I had about splicing a 23 second video clip I’d seen on the news with a song I like. He said, “sure,” and in a matter of minutes it was done. Here’s the result:

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

Daring Seekers

I finally finished David Hart’s high-density theological/philosophical tour de force and refutation of naturalism, The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss. It’s an extraordinary exploration of the mystery of human consciousness and of the human quest for happiness, as well as an inquest into the problem of “existence,” i.e. why there is something rather than nothing

Today, I want to share an insight from the book that really helped me see Christian apologetics in a new light. In the last chapter (pp. 327-28), Hart offers a challenge to the serious atheist or agnostic who is willing to confront the evidence for God’s existence utilizing a methodology prescribed by theists: prayer.

In my experience, those who make the most theatrical display of demanding “proof” of God are also those least willing to undertake the specific kinds of mental and spiritual discipline that all the great religious traditions say are required to find God. If one is left unsatisfied by the logical arguments for belief in God, and instead insists upon some “experimental” or “empirical” demonstration, then one ought to be willing to attempt the sort of investigations necessary to achieve any sort of real certainty regarding a reality that is nothing less than the infinite coincidence of infinite being, consciousness and bliss. In short, one must pray: not fitfully, not merely in the manner of a suppliant seeking aid or of a penitent seeking absolution but also according to the disciplines of infused contemplation, real constancy of will and a patient openness to grace…no one is obliged to make such an effort; but, unless one does, any demands one might make for evidence of the reality of God can safely be dismissed as disingenuous, and any arguments against belief in God that one might have the temerity to make to others can be safely ignored.

That quote then reminded me of a post I had written a year and a half ago, which, for what it’s worth, I include below.

+ + +

I heard a lecture yesterday by an eastern Orthodox theologian which contained a treasure trove of fascinating insights into the “spiritual not religious” (SNR) craze in the West. Too many insights to capture in this brief post, but his main argument went something like this.

The love of spirituality, when it is set in opposition to organized religion, usually revolves around two focal points: (1) SNRs usually abstract a sanitized and idealized “spiritual core” out of the messiness and specificity of a particular religious tradition. Religion, which includes all of the elements of faith embedded in an organized human community, is always an admixture of pure and impure, ideal and real, mystical and managerial, charismatic and institutional. As such it’s always subject to critique and reform. Like the Gnostics of old, SNRs seek refuge from the hardships of organized social groups that contain wildly diverse practitioners at various stages of “buy in.” (2) SNRs often seek out the primarily individual, autonomous and self-legislating modes of fulfillment. They also often construct universes emptied of hard ethical truths, commanded by a divine Legislator, that demand from the religious practitioner an asectical life of obedience, repentance and personal/social reform.

At the end of his lecture, he shared some advice he said he gives to SNR “seekers” who come to him to investigate Orthodox Christianity. He said they are often attracted to Orthodoxy initially because it seems to them exotic and, they hope, is sufficiently “mystical” to offer ample room in their quest for personal fulfillment. He went on to say that he is always willing to talk. But after years of noticing that most of those he spoke with never experienced any change of heart, he decided to make a change. He said, “One day I was speaking to a Russian starets [a venerable old monk] about this, and he said to me: ‘You cannot get someone to think themselves into God. They need to learn prayer, then He will reveal Himself to them.’ So I changed my tactic that day.” He went on to say:

When they come to me inquiring, I say: For six months, try this. Pray to God every day, even if you don’t know who God is, or if he exists. Simply say every day, in the space of five minutes of quiet, ‘O God, guide me.’ Then just listen. Show up here at church every Sunday for the Divine Liturgy and just stand there. Pay attention without analyzing or criticizing. Just attend to what’s happening. Read from the New Testament for at least 15 minutes every day, beginning with the Gospels, and read very slowly; again, without analyzing or criticizing. If you are presently involved in sexual activities apart from marriage, stop for these six months. The same goes for alcohol abuse or drug use. Give some alms to the poor so it hurts some. After six months, we can explore your questions. But they will no longer be the same ones you have now.

He said in his experience over 50+ years of priesthood he has never once seen the successful completion of this experiment fail to effect a radical change.

However, he said the majority of those whom he confronts with this challenge “walk away sad” as they are unwilling to invest the effort. “Like Herod, they want to be titillated by a quick fix, not converted.”

“I dare you,” he once said to a young woman, “give Christ a try.” “She did, and,” he said, “she met Him.”

Orthodox priest hearing confession

5/1/15

Moon

My daughter Maria took this photo Good Friday night. The Passover moon.

Happy Bright Monday of Easter Octave, the day God laughed!

I will resume posting on May 1, St. Joseph the Worker’s Feast. As ever, I am grateful and exceedingly humbled that those who read this blog, well, read this blog. Deo gratias et gratias tibi.

In the mean time, let me leave you with one powerful article to read here.

All good and innumerable graces to you during this joyous season. Christus resurrexit! ¡Cristo ha resucitado! Cristo ressuscitou! Alleluia to the Risen One!

Dr. Tom

“The Raising of Adam and Eve,” Chora Church, Istanbul, c. 1315. Taken from wikimedia.org

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.