“At the Offertory, therefore…”

Repost from 2019

On Friday, a seminarian I know texted me a photo of a page from Ven. Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s A Priest is Not His Own, and said beneath it, “I thought you’d like that.”

My God yes.

Sheen was describing to priests, as celebrants of the Mass, the meaning of the Offertory — the offering of gifts of bread, wine and alms as “my sacrifice and yours.” How eloquently Sheen expressed the mystery of a ritual action that is so often reduced, in most people’s minds, to fishing for money or dropping envelopes in the basket. Or maybe checking the watch to where we stand at Half Time.

Do the Faithful have any idea what they are really transacting in? Are saying “Amen” to? Giving over? Such ignorance profoundly weakens the Offering’s potential effect to change lives and transform the world. Literally. Annie Dillard captured my sentiments in a passage I seem to quote every other week:

Does any-one have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake some day and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.

It’s why I get concerned when I see programs or schemes that over-focus on what people should “get out of Mass” by reducing Mass to emotional satisfaction or learning outcomes. By doing this, we strip Liturgy of its vast, mysterious, transcendent and terrifying power. The late Fr. Aidan Kavanagh makes this point:

Although the liturgy does indeed ‘teach,’ it teaches as any other ritual does – experientially, non-discursively, richly, ambiguously, and elementally. Liturgy, like the feast, exists not to educate but to seduce people into participating in common activity of the highest order, where one is freed to learn things which cannot be taught.

Okay, so here’s a nutty stream-of-consciousness scenario that runs through my head as I write:

Jerry: “Hey, what did you get out of Mass today, Tom?”

Tom: “Oh, well, hmm, let me think. Well, you know when they pass the collection plate around and then bring the gifts up?”

Jerry: “Sure, what about it? Did you realize you had an empty wallet when the basket came by?”

Tom: “Ha! No, thank God. Well, it was a little different for me. I found myself handing over to God’s uncreated Fire my body and soul; all of my prayers, works, joys and sufferings; my livelihood; my sins and failings; my marriage and family and friends, even strangers and enemies; the living and the dead; angels and demons; all of time and space. I mean, the whole freakin’ universe! But that was a little scary, because I realized I was giving absolutely everything back, handing it all over completely to God’s control and will. It was like saying, ‘Okay, it’s all yours now. All of it. Dispose of it wholly according to your will.’ I was unsettled at what I was agreeing to.”

Jerry: “Yikes.”

Tom: “Yeah, well, it gets worse. After I did all of that…oh, wait, I forgot. As I handed all this over, it all Somehow got tangled up with everyone-from-everywhere else’s Stuff. I was like, ‘Hey wait, that’s my Stuff not theirs!’ But He wouldn’t listen. A little shocking.”

Jerry: “Then what?”

Tom: “Okay, so then all that Stuff got loaded onto the Altar, and then got totally Wrecked into the bread and wine we’d brought up. And it was done by those scary words, “This is my body given up, blood shed…” Those are hard words to hear, you know? But it was too late. Then without warning the eternal Spirit fell Down on all of it, like free-falling Fire and burned it all Up into the Heart of the risen Body of Jesus. Then it all became like a raging Furnace coming out of that totally-Ruined Bread and Wine. I could hardly breathe.”

Jerry: “I can image.”

Tom: “Then Jesus, Master Craftsman that He is, started building out of all of our tangled-up Burning Stuff a whole new section of the New Creation. Which, I heard someone whisper, never ever passes away. Jerry, it was amazing. He built it up in a way I never would have imagined doing, out of all my seeming-trash. Incredibly beautiful, and very strangely new. Everything.

Jerry: “Wut.”

Tom: “Okay, listen. Then Jesus, after Building all this at His Altar on High, carried the whole New World He’d made There back Down here toward us, borne on some gorgeous seraphim that flanked His fiery Spirit. Then, Somehow, all of that was the Ruined Bread and Wine, which came prodigally running over toward us out of the sanctuary. But here’s the wildest thing of all. It was I who got totally Ruined, as He commanding me to “Eat, drink.” Eat and drink Fire? Unworthy me? Was He crazy? Terrifying! But He said “do not be afraid,” and gave me courage. And now, my God Jerry. I ingested eternal life. I was undone. Speechless. Unable to move. It was all super-intense, more Real than reality. And then I was totally overwhelmed with a gratitude I’ve never felt before. Ever before.”

Jerry: “I don’t know how much more I can hear. Is that’s all that happened?”

Tom: “Oh no! There’s so much more. But that’s what comes to mind. Oh no, wait, I forgot! The priest said something at the end. Did you hear him? He seemed to yell it, something like ‘Go! Be Sent!’ But when I looked up at him, Father wasn’t there. Only Christ, but terrifying in Majesty, impossible to look directly at. He was commanding me again: ‘Go! and Ruin our ruined world, just here at Mass.’ And He said this: ‘Then bring those Ruined ruins back to Me next Sunday, and we’ll do this all again.'”

Jerry: “I mean, what can I say?”

Tom: “Oh man, I gotta run! I can’t stop now…”

Jerry: “Whoa.”

Tom: “Yeah, I know. Who knew?”

All rind, no meat

Image result for praying and feeding poor

Repost from 2017

The Holy Spirit teaches us to love even our enemies. When you love this way, your prayer has born its sweetest fruit. — St. Silouan

I was talking with someone at a retreat I gave a little while ago. He shared a really great insight:

About ten years ago I had a crusty old Jesuit as a spiritual director. He’s now deceased. I loved him because he was merciless on my erroneous zones, and he kept me honest.

Once I was sharing with him some lofty experiences I had had in prayer, and some of the deep insights I had received. He listened in his usual dispassionate way. After I finished he said, “How are you doing with your sister?” My sister and I had a falling out months prior, and he knew she was a thorn in my side, that we didn’t ever get along well.

Thinking his attention must have wandered while I spoke, I said to him a bit louder: “Excuse me, Father?” He repeated his question again, “Your sister? Are you speaking?” I said, “Well, as I told you last time, I’m not ready to re-connect with her yet. Still too raw. But with all due respect, what does that have to do with what I’m sharing with you, Father?” He said, “Well, when you’re ready to forgive her and reach out again for the umpteenth time, and face the unpleasantness of love — well, then I’ll be impressed with these experiences  in prayer you describe. Until then, it’s all rind, no meat.” Then he ended with the gut punch: “Next time you get filled up by your prayer, be sure to spend it on your sister.”

The man said to me, “What was THAT?” We laughed.

My first spiritual director, a Trappist monk, was of the same mind as that crusty old Jesuit priest. He was a St. John of the Cross devotee, and told me once to

Remember, the lofty spiritual poetry and mystical union John describes happened while he was imprisoned in a smelly latrine, with minimal food, no change of clothing for 6 months and a weekly lashing. The way John saw it, both the beautiful poetry and the mystical union with Jesus were gifts granted to him precisely in the midst of his awful predicament, so he could pour out these riches on his envious and hateful Carmelite brothers. …To that point, the man who stood guard at his cell during the last 3 months before his escape said John became more gentle and kind over time.

You can’t properly understand the saints’ spiritual classics apart from the context of their lives. Those spiritual authors who wrote such lofty thoughts about prayer were, like the rest of us, mired in the mess of human dysfunction. But that’s their point! It’s there, in the crucible, where we discover greatness. Not when life is ideal, going my way. Without unavoidable and inconvenient neighbors, Christian mysticism quickly devolves into a gnostic narcissism. We become spiritual gluttons who store up our surplus grain to feed ourselves, instead of destitute widows who give away our last two coins.

The core heresy of gnosticism is, you might say, being spiritual but not religious — making the claim that salvation consists in my personally delightful, antiseptic, autonomous and enlightening experience of God, not in any way dirtied by the hypocrisy and filth of real humans who organize as best they can in a religious community of saints, sinners and misfits. But St. James (1:27; 2:15-17) shows us what true spiritual religion looks like:

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress. If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

So: after my time of prayer if I feel peace, I give peace. If I receive forgiveness, I give forgiveness. If I feel loved, I love. If I am enlightened, I illumine. If I feel encouraged, I encourage. If I am nourished, I nourish. And if I hear Him call, I go.

“God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.” — St. Augustine

To be sure, there are as many paths of prayer as there are persons who pray, but it is the same Spirit acting in all and with all. — CCC 2672

One thing that I have learned being a father is to respect the radical uniqueness of each child’s way of approaching faith and life, decisions and setbacks, relationships and vocational paths. As they approached adulthood, I found it to be so important for us as parents — regardless of our good intentions — to not try to over-determine their emerging worldview or try to control and manipulate their decisions toward what we think best. Not only because it’s massively counter-productive in the end (in so many ways!), but because it is a failure to respect their unique and God-given identity, freedom and calling that are, in the final analysis, theirs alone to unfold.

I have also learned that my advice to each has to be very specific, which requires that I know, love and reverence each child’s unique personality, strengths, gifts, desires, weaknesses — and seek God’s wisdom specifically for each. That is a terribly tall order and grave responsibility! Pope Francis once wrote, “Indeed, when the great mystic, Saint John of the Cross, wrote his Spiritual Canticle, he preferred to avoid hard and fast rules for all. He explained that his verses were composed so that everyone could benefit from them ‘in his or her own way.’ For God’s life is communicated ‘to some in one way and to others in another.'”

God help me.

Patti and I especially try to approach their faith this way, discovering (not imposing) how each approaches God, their way of praying, seeking divine guidance, dealing with intellectual difficulties over Catholic teaching, navigating culture as a person of faith, etc. And I must say that entering into each of their respective paths to God in all these ways has stretched, challenged, inspired and blown-me-away in ways no other relationship, other than my marriage, has. Above all because, for their whole lifetime, they have known the real me and I have known the real them. There’s no pretending in family.

It’s really quite wonderful and terrifying all at once.

I showed a video last Fall to the seminarians in my theology of marriage class, and the couple sharing their witness described their very different prayer lives. Once, when they were on a retreat, they were asked to share how they each would greet Jesus if he knocked on their door. The wife said she’d take it very seriously and would bow to the ground, worship and say, “Thank you for dying for my sins.” They she said,

But my husband, who you have to know loves his car, said that after he said “Hi!” to Jesus, Jesus would say to him, “Hey, Cuz, your rims are shiny.” And I said to him, “Come on now, be serious.” But tears filled his eyes, and he said to me, “I am. Jesus is my friend and that’s what my friend would say.” I was in awe, because I finally saw he had a relationship with Jesus I don’t, and that I never knew before.

 

 

Mama Caterina da Siena

For this great feast of St. Catherine of Siena, I thought I would quote one of my favorite passages from her work, The Dialogue, which is her mystical dialogue with God the Father.

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God related to Catherine of Siena:

I ask you to love me with same love with which I love you. But for me you cannot do this, for I love you without being loved. Whatever love you have for me you owe me, so you love me not gratuitously but out of duty, while I love you not out of duty but gratuitously. So you cannot give me the kind of love I ask of you. This is why I have put you among your neighbors: so that you can do for them what you cannot do for me–that is, love them without any concern for thanks and without looking for any profit for yourself. And whatever you do for them I will consider done for me.

So your love should be sincere. You should love your neighbors with the same love with which you love me. Do you know how you can tell when your spiritual love is not perfect? If you are distressed when it seems that those you love are not returning your love or not loving you as much as you think you love them. Or if you are distressed when it seems to you that you are being deprived of their company or comfort, or that they love someone else more than you.

From these and from many other things you should be able to tell if your love for me and for your neighbors is still imperfect and that you have been drinking from your vessel outside of the fountain, even though your love was drawn from me. But it is because your love for me is imperfect that you show it so imperfectly to those you love with a spiritual love.

“…he descended into hell…”

A priest I know shared with me a short film (6 minutes) that blew. me. (and my family) away. It’s a dramatization of what happened to the soul of Christ on Holy Saturday, after his death.

I recommend a few things before you watch it. First, that you get your self in a quiet place and a prayerful state of mind. Second, that you watch it on a larger screen if possible with either good speakers or earbuds. Third, that you give yourself at least a few minutes afterward to prayerfully process it. And lastly, that you (re)read this 2nd century homily on Holy Saturday before you watch it.

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What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.

Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam’s son.

The Lord goes in to them holding his victorious weapon, his cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: ‘My Lord be with you all.’ And Christ in reply says to Adam: ‘And with your spirit.’ And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.

‘I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise.

‘I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person.

‘For you, I your God became your son; for you, I the Master took on your form; that of slave; for you, I who am above the heavens came on earth and under the earth; for you, man, I became as a man without help, free among the dead; for you, who left a garden, I was handed over to Jews from a garden and crucified in a garden.

‘Look at the spittle on my face, which I received because of you, in order to restore you to that first divine inbreathing at creation. See the blows on my cheeks, which I accepted in order to refashion your distorted form to my own image.

‘See the scourging of my back, which I accepted in order to disperse the load of your sins which was laid upon your back. See my hands nailed to the tree for a good purpose, for you, who stretched out your hand to the tree for an evil one.

`I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side, for you, who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side healed the pain of your side; my sleep will release you from your sleep in Hades; my sword has checked the sword which was turned against you.

‘But arise, let us go hence. The enemy brought you out of the land of paradise; I will reinstate you, no longer in paradise, but on the throne of heaven. I denied you the tree of life, which was a figure, but now I myself am united to you, I who am life. I posted the cherubim to guard you as they would slaves; now I make the cherubim worship you as they would God.

“The cherubim throne has been prepared, the bearers are ready and waiting, the bridal chamber is in order, the food is provided, the everlasting houses and rooms are in readiness; the treasures of good things have been opened; the kingdom of heaven has been prepared before the ages

Kindly Light, online

In the digital environment, too, where it is easy for heated and divisive voices to be raised and where sensationalism can at times prevail, we are called to attentive discernment. Let us recall in this regard that Elijah recognized the voice of God not in the great and strong wind, not in the earthquake or the fire, but in “a still, small voice” (1 Kg 19:11-12). We need to trust in the fact that the basic human desire to love and to be loved, and to find meaning and truth, keeps our contemporaries ever open to what Blessed Cardinal Newman called the “kindly light” of faith. — Pope Benedict XVI

The kindly light. What a magnificent phrase Newman coined to express the spirit of the Christian who refracts the splendor of divine Light into the darkness. How desperately the digital world needs such kindly polished prisms these days.

What the Pope argues here is that the universal human desire for love, meaning and truth finds in the digital world a privileged forum for the discovery of Love, Truth and Meaning incarnate, Jesus Christ, in the words and witness of those who bear His Name. For the Christian, every word, every action, every image contains the potential to influence for good or ill, to reveal or conceal God, to consecrate or desecrate digital space. I think here of Matthew 12:36:

I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter.

This reminds of a colorful story from the life of that fool for Christ, St. Philip Neri, who once offered a woman a creative penance for her sin of spreading malicious gossip. He instructed her to take a feather pillow to the top of the church bell-tower, rip it open, and scatter the feathers into the open air. Then he asked her to come down from the bell-tower after she had emptied the pillow of its contents and collect all the feathers that had dispersed throughout the town. The impossibility of completing this penance is, he said, a parable of the irretrievable damage she inflicts on others each time she chooses to spread gossip.

I find a simple way to judge my impact on the world under my influence is to examine whether or not my words and deeds appear to cultivate and communicate the fruits of the Holy Spirit:

Love
Joy
Peace
Patience
Kindness
Goodness
Gentleness
Faith
Modesty
Self-control
Chastity

When I served with the Missionaries of Charity, we would pray this prayer written by St. John Henry Newman every day. It remains in me as a perpetual examination of conscience, and seems a fitting conclusion to these scattered thoughts…

Dear Jesus, help us to spread Your fragrance everywhere we go.
Flood our souls with Your Spirit and Life.
Penetrate and possess our whole being so utterly
that our lives may only be a radiance of Yours.

Shine through us and be so in us
that every soul we come in contact with
may feel Your presence in our souls.
Let them look up, and see no longer us, but only Jesus!

Stay with us and then we shall begin to shine as You shine,
so to shine as to be a light to others.
The light, O Jesus, will be all from You; none of it will be ours.
It will be You, shining on others through us.

Let us thus praise You in the way You love best, by shining on those around us.
Let us preach You without preaching, not by words but by example,
by the catching force, the sympathetic influence of what we do,
the evident fullness of the love our hearts bear for You.

Amen.

 

A Priestly Chaplet

As we call everyone ‘Christians’ in virtue of a mystical anointing, so we call everyone ‘priests’ because all are members of only one priesthood. — St. Augustine of Hippo

Priests offer sacrifice to God, a symbolic act of returning the whole gift of creation to the Creator in thanksgiving.

Priests mediate between God and the world, bringing the world to God through reconciling intercession and God to the world by beneficent blessing and consecrating invocation.

Priests stand on the boundary lands between two worlds, transacting between spirit and matter, heaven and earth, God and the world, infinite and finite.

Sell your cleverness and purchase bewilderment.

Jesus Christ is the great High Priest, who assumed and restored the sin-desecrated priesthood of Adam-Eve, bringing it to supreme perfection by His obedient self-offering as humanity’s true Bridegroom on the Cross, and in His harrowing descent into our Hell.

Through him God was pleased
to reconcile to himself all things,
whether on earth or in heaven,
by making peace through
the blood of his cross. – Col. 1:20

How much more will the blood of Christ,
who through the eternal Spirit
offered himself without blemish to God,
purify our conscience from dead works
to worship the living God. – Heb. 9:14

He descended into Hell. — Apostle’s Creed

Seen this way, the glorious resurrection of Christ’s wound-riven Body on the third day, that once-and-for-all shattered the silence of God, is the Father’s definitive acceptance of Jesus’ sacrificial atoning offering. Jesus is God’s reconciling at-one-ing sacrifice, the covenant wedding of God and creation forever.

In Baptism-Confirmation, perfected in the Eucharistic sacrifice, Christ wholly opens up His priesthood to us so we might live out with Him our original priestly calling to offer sacrifice and mediate, to bless and consecrate, to reconcile and transact, to stand on the boundary lands between heaven and earth, calling down the eternal Fire:

Renew the face of the earth!

This is the heart of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, a devotion that powerfully activates our baptismal priesthood and permits us to offer — in a stunningly Eucharistic fashion — Christ the Priest-Victim to the eternal Father “in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.”  But it is not just Christ we offer, but ourselves with Him as His Mystical Body. Which is why we say, “I offer.” Like Christ, in those two words we become both the priest who offers and the sacrifice that is offered.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers,
by the mercies of God,
to present your bodies as a living sacrifice,
holy and acceptable to God,
which is your rational [logikēn] worship. – Rom. 12:1

Rational worship from creatures endowed with the gift of reason, that stamp of the divine image in our flesh. How do we do this form of worship? The rest of Romans 12 makes it clear. Our priestly worship is best expressed by exercising rightly our royal authority over creation, by doing the truth in love, making of our works of mercy a worthy sacrificial return of creation to God, offered in thanksgiving…

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. — Rom. 12:9-21

 

What does this pandemic mean?

What does this pandemic mean in the light of God’s providence? Why has He permitted this? What is God saying? These kinds of questions are, naturally, found everywhere among people of faith these days. And quite a number of people have freely posed very specific answers that betray extraordinary access to the mind of God. I myself would never venture such stunning certitudes.

But we can draw some general conclusions that our faith in Christ offers us. Let me offer just one.

Quoting St. Thomas Aquinas, the Catechism #412 says, “God permits evil in order to draw forth some greater good.” Joseph of Egypt said something quite similar when he addressed his brothers, who had years before tried to kill him and then sold him as a slave: “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today” (Gen. 50:20).

This does not imply that God needs or uses evil as some blunt instrument in His hands to get out of it something better, which would make God an accomplice to evil. God never intends evil directly, but only permits it to emerge in His creation in view of His will and power to draw from it some greater good that, in the end, will be ultimately victorious. For the Christian, if you want to really see how God views evil, look to the End of the Ages. As David Bentley Hart put it,

Ours is, after all, a religion of salvation; our faith is in a God who has come to rescue His creation from the absurdity of sin and the emptiness of death, and so we are permitted to hate these things with a perfect hatred. For while Christ takes the suffering of his creatures up into his own, it is not because he or they had need of suffering, but because he would not abandon his creatures to the grave.

And while we know that the victory over evil and death has been won, we know also that it is a victory yet to come, and that creation therefore, as Paul says, groans in expectation of the glory that will one day be revealed. Until then, the world remains a place of struggle between light and darkness, truth and falsehood, life and death; and, in such a world, our portion is charity.

Yes, as divine-image bearers in creation, our God-given portion in this “valley of tears” is charity, meaning the only response to evil (and interpretation of its meaning) that fittingly corresponds to God’s eternal intention toward our fallen world is to “not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). This was Jesus on the Cross. This is what we call charity, agapē, love, which is to will the good of the other. And love in the face of evil has a name, and that name is mercy. Mercy is love encountering evil and overcoming it, healing it, pardoning it, redeeming it. Again, this was Jesus on the Cross.

So what is the meaning of this disastrous global natural evil? It is a call from God to receive and then do the truth in love, to be merciful as the Father is merciful, to practice solidarity with the suffering, to sacrifice one’s own good for the good of others, to ceaselessly intercede for the welfare and salvation of all.

And it is a universal call to repent of all that works against this universal human vocation entrusted to us above all in Christ. Jesus made this very point about repentance:

At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. Jesus asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” — Luke 12:1-5

This is indeed the Great Lent, the season of repentance, of purification, of detachment from all that prevents us from loving God and neighbor in the extreme.

Back to Aquinas: “God permits evil in order to draw forth some greater good.” This statement is not simply a call to passivity, to waiting on God’s miraculous intervening power to suddenly appear and deliver us from evil. Nor is it simply a call to wait for heaven where all will finally be well. Aquinas’ words represent a command to cooperate with God’s merciful will to draw greater good from every evil, in the here and now.

It is Jesus saying to us again, “You give them something to eat” (Mk. 6:37).

Just look around! Everywhere, even amid many evils, there has emerged an explosion of goodness, of kindness, of patience, of mercy. O Christians, light the world, leaven the bread, salt the earth, lead the way.

So even now as we ask-seek-knock in prayer, we must sense deep within the power of mercy stirring, surging, commanding: “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life!” And always remember when you say Amen, “So be it,” you accept in full the divine commission to draw forth some greater good.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offense, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life…

“She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pangs, in the agony of giving birth.” – Rev. 12:2

“I’m working a lot more,” says Don LeBlanc, who cleans everything from operating theaters to patient wards during his usual 6 p.m.-to-2 a.m. shift. “Now, it’s sometimes 10 hours or 12 hours [per day].” https://www.marketwatch.com/

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. — Charles Dickens in a Tale of Two Cities

One cannot extol enough the many people in diverse professions, circumstances and states of life who are presently living lives of great sacrifice and hardship now. People who, faced with fear and enormous obstacles, maintain a firm will to sustain hope, to defend life and to maintain good order in the face of the great forces of chaos that threaten us.

Though I never wish to idealize or romanticize people, these days of crisis have called us all to a new greatness — a greatness that for some involves risky work and exhausting hours, for others means dealing with job loss, illness or death, while others are challenged with suffering feelings of helplessness, isolation, loneliness or anxiety, even as they muster acts of courage and trust in God’s mysterious providence.

So many people’s lives of prayer — certainly my own — have turned away from more self-absorbed musings on their own spiritual lives, needs or personal fulfillment, and outward toward the needs and welfare of others. This reminds me of what a priest said several years ago in a retreat I was on:

The saints are quite unanimous: a premier sign of holiness is when your thoughts are populated more by considerations of the welfare of others than of your own, and in that you find your greatest freedom and joy. Certainly if we examine the prayer life of Jesus, as in John 17 or on the cross, this was His whole prayer’s concern: us and our salvation. And what preoccupies His mind now that He’s in heaven? Hebrews 7:25 gives a stunning answer, “He lives forever to make intercession for us.”

In the ancient pattern of God’s redeeming providence, these days of dark travail are ripe for transforming our wailing world into a labor and delivery room, from which a new era of saints can now be born. So it might be good for leaders within the churches, amid the scurrying, to heed the words of St. John Paul II, watch carefully and take note(s)…

…The eyes of faith behold a wonderful scene: that of a countless number of lay people, both women and men, busy at work in their daily life and activity, oftentimes far from view and quite unacclaimed by the world, unknown to the world’s great personages but nonetheless looked upon in love by the Father, untiring laborers who work in the Lord’s vineyard. Confident and steadfast through the power of God’s grace, these are the humble yet great builders of the Kingdom of God in history.

Particular Churches especially should be attentive to recognizing among their members men and women of those Churches who have given witness to holiness, in everyday secular conditions and the conjugal state, and who can be an example for others, so that, if the case calls for it, the Churches might propose them to be beatified and canonized.

Bless with abandon

Sacramentals derive from the baptismal priesthood: every baptized person is called to be a blessing, and to bless. — Catechism #1669

God has entrusted to each baptized Christian the authority to bless, which means imploring “the grace of the Holy Spirit that descends through Christ from the Father” (CCC #2627).

For Catholics, this is to be distinguished from the “constitutive” form of blessing offered by an ordained minister, which permanently brings about the dedication of a person or object in the service of the Church — like the blessing of an altar. For the laity, blessings are principally expressed in the form of an invocation, asking God to shower some particular gift on something or someone. This difference does not make the non-ordained blessing “lower-grade,” but simply distinguishes its mode and purpose.

All this to say, baptized Christians should see blessing as a normal daily activity, or, even better, as a grave duty. St. Paul tells us that God “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens” (Eph. 1:3). Every. And so everywhere you go, at any time, whether quietly in your heart, or aloud, or by outwardly tracing the sign of the cross on another’s forehead, the baptized should bless with abandon. In every new situation, we should invoke the divine grace of mercy, peace, deliverance from evil, forgiveness, healing, faith, hope, love, joy, i.e. “every spiritual blessing in the heavens.”

When I invoke a blessing with spontaneous prayer, I use formulas like:

“God bless you.”
“Come, Lord Jesus!”
“Come, Holy Spirit!”
“Father, kindly send your blessing…”
“May the Lord bless you…”
“Lord, hear my prayer for…”
“I beg you, Lord Jesus…”
“O Lord, open…”
“Dear God, grant…”
“Keep safe, O God…”
“Merciful Father, bring healing to…”
“O God, through the intercession of St. X…”

Catholics have a rich treasury of blessings, especially the traditional Catholic blessing at meals, “Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts…” And the magnificent Aaronic blessing, taken from Numbers 6:22-27:

The Lord bless you and keep you!
The Lord let His face shine upon you,
and be gracious to you!
The Lord look upon you with kindness
and give you peace!

One of the more poignant blessings is the one Jesus commands. Right after telling his disciples to “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,” He says “bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Lk 6:28). St. Paul echoes this when he says, “bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse them” (Rom 12:14), while St. Peter counsels the Christlike response to evil is to return “a blessing, because to this you were called, that you might inherit a blessing” (1 Pt 3:9). Such blessings given by baptismal priests gush from the open side of the Wounded Healer.

Let me especially say spouses should bless each other and (grand)parents should bless their (grand)children every day, all their lives. Spouses and parents have been given special authority by God to do this. Whether near or far, audible or silent, wanted or unwanted, expend your treasury of blessings. Bless them at bedtime, bless them before they leave home, bless them in times of illness or fear or temptation. And add secret sacrifices to augment your blessing. I know a mom who has quietly skipped lunch whenever possible for decades as so many sacrificial pleas to God for Him to bless her children.

We fast so we can feed.

I knew an ordained priest, now deceased, who would bless everyone everywhere he went. Not long before he died, I asked him what he would like most to be remembered for as a priest, and he offered an answer that gave new meaning to his rampant blessing

I hope it could be said of me, ‘Here lies a priest of God who died poor because he gave everything away.’