Laity on Fire, Part II

A epiclesis

…a total aside on that Eucharist thought. Think about the bread and wine in the Eucharist that serve as sacramental symbols of what we offer for Consecration. Remember, the laity are out in the world consecrating it to God by their holy lives, but their consecration isn’t perfect until it comes to the Eucharist and suffers the consecratory epiclesis [calling down of the Spirit]. Given over to the Spirit, it’s joined to Christ’s bodily Sacrifice and presented in thanksgiving to the Father. In a sense, those 2 symbols of bread-wine contain all that we’ve come to offer in the Mass — our highly compressed prayers, works, joys, sufferings, possessions, losses, health, illness, etc. that we give over to God. Bread and wine aren’t themselves really “natural” elements, right? They’re human-fashioned cultural artifacts, “fruit of the earth and work of human hands,” so aren’t they totally perfect symbols of what we’ve made of creation with God? Super cool. The Offertory at Mass thus becomes the crucial “lay moment” in the Liturgy’s mystical transaction — and the Epiclesis-Consecration seals this transaction by re-making the perishable material of this world we present to “pass over” into the “celestial realm,” the imperishable Kingdom. Wow! Lay life becomes a constant liturgical Pass-over if we do it right, the God-way. Nothing good in this life, that is given over and offered up, is ever lost. And nothing bad that happens, that’s given over and offered up, is ever left unhealed. That’s my favorite insight of all. Hopeful!

…also, imagine that transubstantiation does not mean that the bread/wine’s substance is somehow invisibly hollowed out and replaced with Christ (so maybe you could see him with a microscope!). What an insult to this creation that would be if Christ simply replaced this world’s substance and set it aside! Rather, trans- means that the very substance/being (ontos) of the bread/wine, as existing realities of this world, has “passed over,” been “taken up into” a utterly new order of being: the New Creation built on Christ’s dead-buried-risen and not-left-behind-or-set-aside Body. The consecrated bread and wine no longer belong to this order of existence, but to the Age to Come, even though their material characteristics as bread and wine remain within this old creation (kinda like Christ after the Resurrection appearing and passing through doors). So when you consume these transformed materials at Communion, guess what you are participating in, being transformed into and metabolized by? The new order of being, the New Creation, built on Christ…and that change shows itself in you by your living as a new man through the charity in your life…because this New Creation is “made of love,” is structured by the order of divine-human charity…or, as the Preface for Christ the King says:

 Father…with the oil of gladness hast anointed Thine only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, as eternal high priest and universal King; that offering Himself on the altar of the Cross as an immaculate victim and peace offering, He might complete the mysteries of human redemption; and all creation being made subject to His dominion, He might deliver us into the hands of Thine infinite Majesty, a kingdom eternal and universal, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace. And therefore with angels and archangels, with thrones and dominions, and with all the heavenly hosts, we sing a hymn to Thy glory, saying without ceasing: Holy, holy, holy…

So do you see why getting eschatology right is so incredibly important, as it makes clear precisely why this life in the world is so crucial, why everything we do without exception for good or ill matters (think here: Hell is the loss of the New Creation’s fulfillment born of our catastrophic failure to cultivate this world aright), and why Jesus is not God’s Plan B, but rather is the crown of God’s plan from the beginning to make us His co-workers/co-creators/co-redeemers (cf. 1 Cor. 3:9; Gal. 2:20). What extraordinary dignity it is to know that God established humanity in this vast creation so that we could participate in its laboring and gestating in saecula saeculorum, “unto the ages of ages.” I think here of the Our Father, where Jesus asks us to unite earth and heaven by our lives of obedience to His coming Kingdom of holiness. You might say that inasmuch as we bring “heaven to earth” by our Christlike lives, we claim earth for heaven. Earth was made for heaven, and heaven is made of earth lifted by the totus Christus to the Father in the Spirit of love. Isn’t that was Belinda Carlisle was getting at?

Ooh, baby, do you know what that’s worth?
Ooh heaven is a place on earth
They say in heaven love comes first
We’ll make heaven a place on earth
Ooh heaven is a place on earth

Maybe not.

Okay, I have to stop here. I am so sorry this is so long. But to me, catching this vision would make for a laity on fire with a secular mysticism uniquely theirs. Let me leave you with St. Isaac the Syrian’s beautiful comments on the dignity of this creation, and how every aspect of creation, when met with the righteous love of saints who already belong to the New Creation (cf 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15), is consecrated by saints who notice — like God — even when a tiny sparrow falls to earth.

What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation. For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm her or him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner such a person prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns without measure in a heart that is in the likeness of God.

God bless you for your patience with my disquisition! Let me know if you have other questions. Say hey to Fr. John and Bill for me.

…and let me leave you with a fun vid that playfully sums up my point:

Laity on Fire, Part I

Grinding wheat. images.travelpod.com

…Conversion calls for a number of attitudes which together foster a spirit of generous care, full of tenderness. First, it entails gratitude and gratuitousness, a recognition that the world is God’s loving gift, and that we are called quietly to imitate his generosity in self-sacrifice and good works: “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing… and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Mt 6:3-4). It also entails a loving awareness that we are not disconnected from the rest of creatures, but joined in a splendid universal communion. As believers, we do not look at the world from without but from within, conscious of the bonds with which the Father has linked us to all beings. By developing our individual, God-given capacities, an ecological conversion can inspire us to greater creativity and enthusiasm in resolving the world’s problems and in offering ourselves to God “as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable” (Rom 12:1). At the end, we will find ourselves face to face with the infinite beauty of God (cf. 1 Cor 13:12), and be able to read with admiration and happiness the mystery of the universe, which with us will share in unending plenitude. Even now we are journeying towards the sabbath of eternity, the new Jerusalem, towards our common home in heaven. Jesus says: “I make all things new” (Rev 21:5). Eternal life will be a shared experience of awe, in which each creature, resplendently transfigured, will take its rightful place and have something to give those poor men and women who will have been liberated once and for all. — Laudato Si

That paragraph sent me into a lengthy lectio reflection on a subject dear to my theological heart: the earthly character of the lay vocation. Why? Because it reminds us that the Christian vision of salvation is not simply “of souls,” but of bodies that inextricably link us to a vast universe that “waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God” (Romans 8:19).

The below text was excerpted from an email I sent last year to a student who asked me about how the world-focused character of the lay vocation can truly be considered “spiritual.” The email was written in haste, is informal and untidy, but most of what I write — and my life! — is like that anyway.

+ + + +

…You say, “it seems to me that the spiritual world is our real destiny, so a vocation that makes worldly stuff the focus just makes an obstacle to getting where we’re supposed to be putting our hearts’ focus — right? We’re aiming for heaven and not earth, aren’t we?”

…heaven, or “the new creation” as it’s called be St. Paul, isn’t simply a new and improved product God fashioned to supersede the old, obsolete version we screwed up. Rather, from the very beginning this “old” creation was destined to be fulfilled, perfected, transfigured, re-created in the Age to Come through us, priestly humanity created in Christ who came to make all things new (cf Ephesians 2:10; Revelation 21:5). And note, we say, “Behold, I make all things new,” and not, “Behold, I make all new things.” This is Jesus saying this, right? And those of us who are “in Christ” as His Body, and so what He does, we do with Him. If He makes all things new by His life, death and resurrection, we co-do. Our vocation as lay men and women — bound up tightly in temporal-worldly reality by God (Lumen Gentium 31) — is to consecrate this world to God by immersing ourselves in it like leaven kneaded into dough, by cultivating Eden according to the will of God, and by so doing to lift up the old creation into the new creation. Or as Gaudium et Spes 38 memorably says it, secular laity “make ready the material of the celestial realm by this ministry of theirs” (see also Gaudium et Spes 14). To so-love-the-world like God was really humanity’s orginal call in the beginning, but sin corrupted the process and made us not upward-offering priests but inward-turned idolaters. But God’s redeeming work in Jesus the Gardener (cf John 20:15), who reveals to us with His cross-plow the Way of cultivating creation aright, has restored to us our original vocation to co-create and co-redeem the garden of this world to ready it for the New Eden of Paradise (which btw in Greek, paradeisos,  means “garden”).

…The Catechism (1120) says, “The ordained ministry or ministerial priesthood is at the service of the baptismal priesthood.” Why? Well, in part we can say that lay “baptismal priests,” whose vocation is to “make ready the material of the celestial realm” by their world-leavening lives, rely on the ministry of Ordained priests who gather up our sacrificial “materials” we hand them in the Eucharistic Offertory (as bread, wine and alms). Acting in the Person of Christ, the Ordained minister calls down the Sprit to consecrate our offerings and translate them into the immortal Kingdom (a Kingdom built on Christ’s risen Body). All earthly treasures gained for God’s glory and placed in service to man’s salvation are thus “stored up as treasure in heaven” where they will endure for all ages to give joy to all the saints and reveal the glory of God. This should transform our view of the world from a mere “testing ground” where we prove ourselves worthy or unworthy of an unworldly heaven into a theater of redemption where we “glorify God in our bodies” (Corinthians 6:20), “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1) and so, by extension, bring salvation to the whole material creation as material creation is caught up in the human body’s redemption. All creation is depending on us “priests of nature” (as St. Maximus the Confessor calls us) for its salvation (read the whole Romans 8:18-23 this way). We humans were made to give all creation its liturgical voice, verbalizing its inscribed longing to praise the Creator and Redeemer for unending ages (cf. Daniel 3:57-88!). This freaking ridiculous! And it’s why I love so much Eucharistic Prayer IV’s preface:

Father…you are the one God living and true, existing before all ages and abiding for all eternity, dwelling in unapproachable light; yet you, who alone are good, the source of life, have made all that is, so that you might fill your creatures with blessings and bring joy to many of them by the glory of your light. And so, in your presence are countless hosts of Angels, who serve you day and night and, gazing upon the glory of your face, glorify you without ceasing. With them we, too, confess your name in exultation, giving voice to every creature under heaven as we acclaim: Holy, holy, holy…

Giving voice to every creature by lives that accord with God’s will for creation, and so praising and glorifying God on the stringed harp of natural and theological virtue. Every creature! Look outside, all around you. Our world is a Garden that God has entrusted to us and called us to cultivate and (like Abel) make an offering, growing righteous fruits that endure to eternal life (cf. John 6:27). Or maybe creation is a whole lot of “talents” God has entrusted to us to invest and gain interest on by lives of faithful stewardship (cf. Matthew 6:20). You see, the new creation is a collaborative project, a work of synergy between God and men together — all in Christ the God-Man — building up here and now together a Kingdom that is here and is to come at the end of the ages. Think of it through the lens of this popular medieval story:

Two men were hauling stones through a muddy medieval street. One was cursing and the other was singing. A traveler asked them what they were doing. The curser replied, “I’m trying to get this damned rock to roll through this damned mud!” The singer replied, “I’m building a cathedral.”

Christ’s lay faithful aren’t just stuck in the secular world pushing damn rocks, but are joyful celebrants of the secular liturgy building a Cathedral out of the raw materials of a sin-hardened earth which we plough, breaking up the hard clods, cultivating, planting, watering, tending, guarding, loving, caring for the innumerably precious goods of this world. Even allowing our own blood to be shed on the soil in self-sacrificing service to men to the praise and glory of God. This is the bread-baking, wine-pressing, poor-loving Eucharistic vocation of a laity, readying gifts for the Offertory of the Mass so the Ordained have something substantial to offer up for consecration. Gifts composed of lives well lived in holy and sacrificial service to God and neighbor and all creation. How differently we would see the Offertory if we believed this, and how we would fight over the privilege to “bring up the gifts” for Consecration. Lumen Gentium 34 says it perfectly:

For besides intimately linking them to His life and His mission, He also gives [the laity] a sharing in His priestly function of offering spiritual worship for the glory of God and the salvation of men. For this reason the laity, dedicated to Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit, are marvelously called and wonderfully prepared so that ever more abundant fruits of the Spirit may be produced in them. For all their works, prayers and apostolic endeavors, their ordinary married and family life, their daily occupations, their physical and mental relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and even the hardships of life, if patiently borne—all these become “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”. Together with the offering of the Lord’s body, they are most fittingly offered in the celebration of the Eucharist. Thus, as those everywhere who adore in holy activity, the laity consecrate the world itself to God.

When I discovered this in the 1990s, it revolutionized my view of worldly, secular, mundane, temporal realities…it all was suddenly shot through with eternal value. Gaudium et Spes 43:

They are mistaken who, knowing that we have here no abiding city but seek one which is to come, think that they may therefore shirk their earthly responsibilities. For they are forgetting that by the faith itself they are more obliged than ever to measure up to these duties, each according to his proper vocation … Therefore, let there be no false opposition between professional and social activities on the one part, and religious life on the other. The Christian who neglects his temporal duties, neglects his duties toward his neighbor and even God, and jeopardizes his eternal salvation.

And the salvation of the whole of creation…

20 thoughts on marriage

I wrote my simple thoughts on marriage/family for some wonderful friends who were getting married recently. I won’t say their names, for privacy’s sake (their married last name begins with an “H” and ends with addad), but their Nuptial Mass — which was truly a mystical experience for all who went, had faith and payed attention — is captured below in a photo taken with my flip phone during the Matrimonial Rite (note astonishing clarity of image).

Anyhow, with their permission I thought I would share my thoughts here, for what they’re worth. Like all advice, it’s idiosyncratic. If nothing else, say a prayer for this couple that they will be bright witnesses to the Gospel of Marital Love.

0613151350

  1. Remember every day that marriage is a gift from God placed like the Blessed Sacrament in your hands, hands which God has joined. You are Christophers, Christ-bearers. Every dimension of your being is to become a grace-giving Sacrament, a lived Liturgy, a total Offering, a holy Mystery of divine and human love. Your every gesture, lived in fidelity to your promises, saves the world. Rejoice that you have become God-with-us, embodying Him in a way absolutely and uniquely yours.
  2. Love is the bond that seals you as one and the gift that is poured out for many.
  3. Honor is the guardian of love, so you must show honor to each other and guard each other’s honor, especially teaching your children to honor their mother and father.
  4. Today you have embraced your vocation to love God by loving your beloved. Always remember you will love God best by loving your spouse first, and placing all other loves in service to the first.
  5. Today you are surrounded by family and friends, mentors and the whole communion of saints. Remember that your marriage will flourish in this web of support.
  6. Let prayer be your daily bread. Mutual forgiveness your daily balm. Laughter your wings. Tears the presage of joy. Common labor a strong bond. Hope your anchor. Kindness a gentle embrace.
  7. Speak the truth in love. Keep confidences, but never secrets.
  8. Multiply small signs of your love, impractical gestures that reveal the sheer giftedness of your marital bond and the purposeless beauties in your purposeful existence.
  9. Never let your love grow old, but permit it to mature, deepen, broaden, soar by every day begging the Spirit to kindle the fire of love between you.
  10. Your marriage and, God willing one-day, your family life is a Garden of Virtue where your characters are afforded the opportunity to become great and noble.
  11. Bless each other every night. Never go to bed estranged, harboring hurt or anger or resentment.
  12. Protect your face-to-face time.
  13. Before you turn outward in self-gift toward others, turn upward toward God in petition and inward toward each other in love. Always return to each other after you have given yourselves for others.
  14. Strive for a well ordered love, because disordered love is no love. And disorder is a seedbed for conflict and stress. Plan your lives, your priorities together. Don’t let your calendar dictate to you but you dictate to your calendar. Reverence each other’s unique gifts and build on them.
  15. Know each other’s weaknesses, help each other to grow, but never use them against each other. We are made in weakness that we might supply for each other. Each of your weaknesses is an opportunity for Christ to supply his sufficient grace through the other. Learn to laugh at your own foibles, to laugh with the other over their foibles; but never laugh at the other’s foibles.
  16. Choose your battles wisely. Some things you can live with in patience, others require challenging, repentance, change. Seek counsel from others to help discern which is which.
  17. Learn that some of the sweetest joys in life are found in trials lived through together in common trust, sacrifice, humility, perseverance and Christ-like charity. Don’t be afraid of trials. God orders all things for good in your marriage because you love him.
  18. Be unrelentingly faithful to each other in body and mind. Fidelity is the bedrock of trust.
  19. Remember God, forget yourself.
  20. Know you are daily gathering materials for the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, and nothing you do, consecrated to him, will be lost in that “eternal and universal kingdom; a kingdom of truth and life; a kingdom of holiness and grace; a kingdom of justice, love and peace.” May we all one day join again there to forever rejoice in the beauty of your life together, begun today. May it be so. Amen.

“Though war break out against me even then would I trust.” Psalm 27:3

Repost 2013

My wife and I suffered a number of miscarriages years ago. It was profoundly painful to endure, especially for her as she bore in her body our children’s death.

She found great comfort in a Canticle from the Bible that she first discovered when we’d pray the Breviary together. It quickly became her favorite Scripture text. It’s from the prophet Habakkuk. Here’s the section that resonated in her soul:

For though the fig tree blossom not
nor fruit be on the vines,
though the yield of the olive fail
and the terraces produce no nourishment,
though the flocks disappear from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet will I rejoice in the Lord
and exult in my saving God. (3:17-18)

The greatest beauty of her witness to me was her ability to grieve in hope and believe these words not just in her mind, or even in her heart, but from her womb — which, in the Hebrew imagination, is the deepest seat of human compassion and the supreme icon of divine compassion. I think of the tender Isaian passage:

Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me,
my Lord has forgotten me!”
[Thus says the Lord:]
Can a woman forget her nursing child,
Be without compassion for the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
I will not forget you. — Isaiah 49:14-15

When I first heard Kari Jobe’s song, Steady My Heart, I thought of Habakkuk’s profession of trusting faith, and of my wife. Listen:

Go.

“The Call of St. Matthew” by Caravaggio. caravaggio.org

Jesus teaches us another way: Go out. Go out and share your testimony, go out and interact with your brothers, go out and share, go out and ask. Become the Word in body as well as spirit. — Pope Francis

Last Sunday’s first reading was a brief excerpt from the prophet Amos. In it Amos responds to the Israelite priest Amaziah’s command that he, Amos, leave Israel and take his unpleasant prophetic message with him. Amos protests that he is no “professional” prophet, not part of the kingdom of Israel’s prophet guilds that would hang around the royal court and prophesy comforting words to the monarchy. Rather, he was called from the kingdom of Judah and commanded by God to abandon his profession as a shepherd and arborist to proclaim His word of judgment on the corrupt kingdom of Israel. God, Amos said, spoke to to him with that simple mission verb in the imperative: “Go.” In the Scripture this verb often seems to be the equivalent of another unsettling verb — Jump.

Every divinely given vocation implies a mission, but it also contains the gifts needed to do carry out that mission. And every gift given to me by God has inscribed within it the name of every person God intended that gift to serve. So even as I rejoice in the gifts I possess, I recall the words of Jesus: “To whom much is given much will be expected” (Luke 12:48). Though vocations can at first feel very me-focused — a sign of God’s particular love for me by name — missions are other-focused. My spiritual director of long ago gave me a phrase that has forever burned itself into my heart: “Whenever people laud your gifts, say: How much God must love them to give me these gifts! Gifts are only an indirect compliment from God to you; but are a direct compliment to others.”

An Orthodox Jewish Rabbi I worked with in Hartford back in the 1980’s once said to me, when I asked him what it meant to him that he was part of God’s chosen people:

Some chosen-ness! Disasters, enslavements, exiles, genocides, forever wandering the earth like our father Abraham. This is the terrible and blessed burden of being chosen, of making known His holiness among the nations. Baruch Hashem.

Baruch Hashem means, “Blessed is the Name (of G-d).”

Every celebration of Holy Mass, which binds our lives to the terrible Crucifixion and blessed Resurrection of Christ, is inscribed with the language of vocation and mission. We are called by God to worship and receive the Gift that empowers us for our mission: Venite, “Come!”  And we are sent by God on mission: Ite, missa est, “Go, be sent!” I recall one Sunday the priest-celebrant of the Mass, just before the dismissal, said: “You’ve come today to be fed, and you’ve feasted on God himself. Now go and feed the world with the food you’ve been given and watch Jesus multiply what you give away. Freely you’ve received, now freely give. Then come back next Sunday and share with all of us and God the fruits of your harvest. The Lord be with you…”

0712151450

Monument at Creighton University where I am teaching this summer.

The Nth Degree (-issimum gradum)

[Incidentally: this is my 1000th post since I began this site.  I feel great joy (Matthew 10:27) and terror (Matthew 12:37) at this accomplishment!. Thank you most sincerely for reading now and again, as y’all are the primary reason I write. Psalm 115:1 gives me words of thanks: Non nobis, Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam. “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to thy name give the glory.” Deo gratias et gratias tibi.]

I am excited to post today the thoughts of a biblical scholar, imaginative thinker, dear friend, intellectual companion and soul-sister, Dr. Sonya Cronin. She shared them with me the other day by email. It’s her theological response to my post from last week entitled, “Paschal Providence.” I am grateful beyond words that she allowed me to re-post her work here.

Sonya

+ + + +

The idea of the “nth” degree began with C.S. Lewis’ “The Necessity of Chivalry” – an essay that has always been very compelling to me. In it Lewis argues that our modern notions of chivalry, which must be cultivated, comes from the medieval knight. The knight is both fierce to the nth degree and meek to the nth degree. He is mighty and courageous in battle, but also meek in the dining halls, able to go from being the man of war, to the man of peace, with grace, manners, gentleness, and civility. These ideals are not mixed, but must coexist, neither one compromised or watered down, and the combination does not occur in man naturally but must be cultivated, as most are prone to one or the other.

In a recent blog post, a dear friend of mine discussed the problem of evil in relation to hope and surrender (trust). A topic near and dear to me, I knew he had struck gold when after reading it, I didn’t want to fling my computer and vomit. There was no visceral reaction lined with intense anger, but instead it was a “balm of Gilead” which fell cool on raw vulnerability. In the blog post, he discussed holding Matthew 6’s “consider the lilies of the field… do not worry” with the latter passage in Matthew (27:46, also spoken by Jesus),  “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.” Juxtaposed in this conversation is utter trust, with utter anguish – nth degrees.

This concept is one that I think we most of us dance around, it hovers in the back of our conscience, but perhaps is not understood as a fundamental concept of God: the extremes, that must be held lightly but with all our might, and that cannot be mixed (lest each actually negate the other), and like Lewis’ chivalry, must be cultivated if they are to exist together. It reminds me of the words in Revelation (3:15-16) to the Church in Laodicea, ““I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

As this pertains to the problem of evil, trust, and hope, we are to hope in God to the nth degree but also trust to the nth degree, especially in the moment of darkness and evil. As it has been said many times before, there is no need to hope when the sun is shining, but we are to hope when we cannot see the light, when the dark is what we see all around. “Rescue me” says the Psalmist (Ps. 71), “For YOU Oh Lord are my hope.” Here we have hope and trust, married in the stand against evil and darkness. This may seem like an obvious, but there are other systems which suggest differently. One of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism states that the cause of suffering is desire. Eliminate desire and you will eliminate suffering. “Hope not” it suggests, “and you won’t be disappointed.” Here we have absolute resignation, and the submission to whatever comes. On the other side of this is hope without trust, which cannot help but be disappointed. As my hopes are dashed over and over, if I cannot trust that God does indeed will the Good, and will come through, I can only fall into eventual despair.

When they ask Jesus what the greatest commandment is, He responds with the Sh’ma, the maxim that is repeated over and over, morning and night by every observant Jew, “Hear O’ Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. You will love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and with all your veryness.” You will love him with your hope, with your trust, and to the nth degree.

Jesus Himself is the embodiment of this living, loving, and trusting to the nth degree in Phillippians 2.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

Phil 2:6                who, though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God

as something to be exploited,

Phil 2:7                but emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave,

being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,

Phil 2:8                               he humbled himself

and became obedient to the point of death—

even death on a cross.

Phil 2:9                 ¶ Therefore God also highly exalted him

and gave him the name

that is above every name,

Phil 2:10             so that at the name of Jesus

every knee should bend,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

Phil 2:11             and every tongue should confess

that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

Notice here the extremes. Christ was in the form of God (exalted to the nth degree), and emptied himself… into human form, but not stopping there, was obedient unto death (humbled to the nth degree). Through the Cross, obedient, Christ is then exalted, glorifying the Father. There is no lukewarmness here, no middle ground.

In the Gospels, Jesus takes the law and pushes it to the nth degree.

Matt 5:21 ¶ “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’

Matt 5:22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.

Matt 5:27 ¶ “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’

Matt 5:28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

But in the Gospel of John when the woman is found in the very act of adultery, Jesus does not condemn, He forgives. He calls us to the highest of standards, but then expects us to extend grace even beyond, nth degrees.

He is able to expect this from us, His family, because he paves the way. To quote the blog once more, “St. Matthew’s Gospel tells us, ‘And going a little farther Jesus fell on his face and prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will”’…The Father’s answer was not preventing Jesus from ‘loving us to the end’ in the Passion (cf. John 13:1). His answer was raising Jesus from the dead. By doing this, and by not saving Jesus from our plight, God transformed the silence that envelops every human Passion into a space for trust and surrender.”

It is not by denying hope, trust, or even sorrow that we find God. It is in embracing it all to the nth degree. Hope with all your heart; trust, with all your heart, and when hopes seem dashed and God seems silent, it is okay to let your heart break (Christ sweat blood, and on the Cross, blood and water flowed). But don’t let go, and don’t give up.

In John 14  Jesus tells us:

v.1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?

3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.

4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.”

5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

In light of the cross, and in light of our own passions, this passage has a certain nuance. It is not just about “getting to heaven” or understanding Jesus’ cryptic words, it is about hope and trust in the midst of evil. Jesus doesn’t just give us the hope of heaven, but the way to make it through our lives here on earth – the same way He himself did, through death to self and abandonment in trust to the Father. In the model of His life and death, His hope in God and for humanity, and the devastating reality of the impending passion in the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ tells us we can trust Him, God the Father, and this model. Thomas asks the important question, “How can we know the way?” “I am the Way” responds Christ, as He makes His way towards His passion, the salvation of the world, and the defeat of death and darkness through death and darkness. He has shown us the way, and it is loving the Father to the nth degree, with all our veryness, embracing our own crosses and passions, not as one abandoned, but as one loving and trusting the Father, who will raise us also. God, in an absolute demonstration of respect for the human other, does not “rescue” us from the consequences of our freewill or humanity’s cooperative freewill, He allows it to play out, and then, He initiates a response. He shares the world that we have marred, dies the death that we have caused, and in His divine freedom, fulfills all and then takes us home to be with Him forever.

Divine Revelation

St. Francis of Assisi vision of the Crucified

In a terrific homily I heard recently, the homilist talked about God as a “revealing” God. I often take notes during homilies for later use, and I did that day. Later I took those notes into my prayer time, blended them with my own meditation and then transcribed it all into my journal. Here’s an excerpt…

+ + + +

At the heart of Judaism and Christianity is a God who reveals himself. In fact, the whole of Sacred Scripture can be said to be a witness to God’s very lavish and highly elaborate plan to make himself known to human beings. But why? What’s underneath this scheme of self-disclosure in which God spares no expense? First, what is it that God reveals? You might say, in short, that God reveals to us who he is, who we are, who we were created to become, how we get there, why things are such a mess and what God is doing about that mess to ensure we can become what he made us to be. As you can see, divine revelation is really about deep and substantive matters, and at heart it’s really a relational affair. Second, what does saying “God is a self-revealing God” imply? Think first about your own choice to reveal yourself to someone else. Not just revealing trivial information about yourself, but your deepest inner self, your inner secrets. What does that choice imply? It implies that you love and feel loved by the recipient of your revelation, that you desire an intimacy of friendship with them, that you trust them. It implies that you enjoy their company and companionship. It also implies that you possess a hope that they will receive what you reveal in love, with interest and with reverence. And a hope that they will be willing to reciprocate by revealing themselves in equal measure to you. In this sense, self-revelation bears a remarkable vulnerability on the part of the revealer as their is always a risk of rejection, disinterest, non-reciprocation, etc.

I once worked with a severely disabled resident in an assisted care facility who would never speak to me. One day while I was helping her with her food, she said, “Thank you. That tastes good. It’s the one pleasure I have left.” I said, “You’re welcome. I’m so glad you spoke to me.” She responded, “I learned not to talk because it hurts too much to talk to people who are just doing their job. But you really seem to care.” I suddenly felt really uncomfortable inside as we had moved from a cold distance to a stunning intimacy in only a few words. I was amazed a few words could make you feel so close to someone. I also realized how painful communication can be for one who feels what they have to say is not really worth much to anyone, and so feels rejected.

Now I think of Jesus, the Father’s eternal Word. He is the supreme expression of God’s desire and choice to fully reveal himself to the human race. I think more, the whole life, death and resurrection of Jesus is God’s encounter with and response to humanity’s (and my) catastrophic rejection of his self-revelation. I ache. Every time I watch The Passion of the Christ, the scene where the nails are being brutally hammered into his hands always tears me apart — as the pain shoots through his body, he cries out like a child, “Abba! Abba!” I can hear in that moment an unfathomably tender and pained cry that emerges from the silent depths of the life-giving Trinity whose essence is utterly innocent and guileless love — a love mocked and spat on in that very moment. But even there as he suffers this rejection he thinks of us, as he continues: “Abba, forgive them; forgive them…” It’s devastatingly beautiful and terrifying to reflect on — the response of the Omnipotent God to this mortal rejection by his creatures is unremitting forgiveness, mercy and undefended vulnerability. His response is to pour out on us without measure the Holy Spirit. Qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur.

I think also of the words of Jesus to St. Margaret Mary in 1673 as he revealed his Sacred Heart to her in a series of visions:

Behold the Heart which has so loved men that it has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming itself, in order to testify its love; and in return, I receive from the greater part only ingratitude, by their irreverence and sacrilege, and by the coldness and contempt they have for me in this Sacrament of Love.

Here I think now of the gift and invitation to prayer, which is fundamentally a response to God’s revelation. What an unspeakable privilege we have to each become a loving, reverent, reciprocating recipient of God’s vulnerable and selfless self-disclosure. When we read the Scripture and encounter this long and mind-blowing history of God’s attempts to converse with men “face to face” in friendship, to enter into intimate union, we can — in faith — experience this whole history as being for me (cf. Galatians 2:20). When I ask for a sign of love, the biblical narrative and the Sacraments all shout out to me: “It was all for you, it is all for you!” The whole long, meandering and painful history of God pursuing humanity ends with me, with my “yes” or my “no.” How will I respond?

I think I will try to follow Colleen Nixon’s Marian lead: