Affair of the Mind

Re-post from 2013

Taken from

Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials. — CCC #2354

I spoke with a woman recently whose husband had indulged in pornography for several years of their marriage. She gave me permission to share the general lines of her story.

It was crushing to listen to the pain she suffered.

What stood out most to me as she recounted its disastrous effects on their marriage, was this statement:

What suffered most was my sense of personal worth and dignity. I felt demeaned and betrayed … The greatest harm was the immediate erosion of trust, and the terrible feeling of being insecure and worthless. I was clearly not enough for him … Having happened on some of the filth he’d been viewing gave me a vivid awareness just how vile the images and sounds were, and so knew this was what was in his mind each time he looked at me. Once I discovered it, his every gesture of physical intimacy toward me made me physically nauseous.

Eventually he got help in a 12-step sex-addict program, she forgave him, he rebuilt trust and their marriage has been renewed.

I thought about it over the next several days. I collected various thoughts in my journal.

+ + + +

In a Christian culture men are gentlemen, careful to honor the dignity of each woman and promote her feminine genius. St. JP2 says that every man, like St. Joseph, is called to be a “protector of every woman’s honor and dignity.” Men honor every woman because every woman is held in honor in the heart of God.

The stats show that a staggaring percentage of men, and growing percentage of women, consume pornography regularly. Porn breeds isolation and self-absorbtion, trivializes and degrades the sexual act as a covenant sign, rewires the brain with an addict’s neuro-grid and enslaves the imagination. As theologian David Hart says well:

The damage that pornography can do — to minds or cultures — is not by any means negligible. Especially in our modern age of passive entertainment, saturated as we are by an unending storm of noises and images and barren prattle, portrayals of violence or of sexual degradation possess a remarkable power to permeate, shape, and deprave the imagination; and the imagination is, after all, the wellspring of desire, of personality, of character. Anyone who would claim that constant or even regular exposure to pornography does not affect a person at the profoundest level of consciousness is either singularly stupid or singularly degenerate.

I once wrote an email to an acquaintance, a Catholic married man who struggled with porn addiction. I remember agonizing over how to respond to his honest and tortured confession. Among other things, I wrote:

God loved your wife before you ever did, and He loves from all eternity each and every one of those women who are exploited in porn. High price for a cheap thrill. God loves them far more than you ever could, and will judge you one day on how you handled these pearls of great price — His daughters.

Along with links to resources for overcoming addiction, I included in the email Michelangelo’s painting of the creation of Adam. Under the picture, I wrote:

Note who’s held tight under the arm of God as he creates Adam. It’s the woman, Eve, whom God has not yet drawn from Adam’s side and entrusted to Him as His gift and image. She is still God’s dream awaiting creation … Pope John Paul II has a powerful comment in a letter he wrote on the dignity of women (Mulieris dignitatem) to this effect: “The dignity and the vocation of women find their eternal source in the heart of God. Consequently each man must look within himself to see whether she who was entrusted to him as a sister in humanity, as a spouse, has not become in his heart an object of adultery; to see whether she who, in different ways, is the co-subject of his existence in the world, has not become for him an ‘object’ — an object of pleasure, of exploitation. Christ’s way of acting, the Gospel of his words and deeds, is a consistent protest against whatever offends the dignity of women.” In invite you, my friend, to join the protest.

Sub specie aeternitatis — in the light of eternity — one sees everything differently.

Porn culture calls for the evangelization of imagination, which means the purification of imagination — not merely by a renunciation of porn’s graven images, but by an encounter with icons that uncover the true dignity and beauty of the human body made to glorify God.

The Christian gentleman stands on the front lines of the New Evangelization. Let God’s chivalrous revolution, once conceived in eternity, begin in time. In you.

God alone for love alone


I wrote this poem of sorts to a contemplative nun I met a number of years ago. She prayed often for me and for my family, and I wanted to thank her, as a layman, for the radical gift of her vowed consecration to Christ. It’s very “Neal” in its language, but if you can get beyond that maybe you can catch at least some sense of the beauty of that state of life I tried to capture. Below the poem is the image I used to pray with before I wrote. It’s of St. Catherine of Siena drinking from the side wound of Christ, painted in the mid-15th century.

Ancilla Domini (Handmaid of the Lord)

God alone, for us alone you live

there, ‘neath those stone vaults

bent, veiled, heart aloft

celestial curtains rip, fall away,

stripped down by love’s pine.

God-revealed for us, to us, in us

by and through your fiery prayer

that burns night and day

up-toward your Bridegroom:

Come! Abide! Remain!

In your gathered hours

outpouring grace, sacred space

where Wisdom at last plays free,

His children all-guileless.

You never do violence, save by love

as your peaceful wills are ever-warring

twixt falling night and rising Day,

conquering death by means of serenest love.

From nuptial chambers — yours! —

leaks divine Fire, O wedded Bride,

out into our fields, far and wide

from whence we draw warmth and light

in the long dark night’s bitter chill.

My sister, for us

stand so near

the Master’s side-torn Flood,

drink deep and

share with us, parched in the midday heat,

the Bridegroom’s Vintage best:

God-crushed, pressed, distilled into

inebriating Blood, spiced Wine

of the ever-blessing, blood-red Vine.

You, my sister, called near

to gather from the Wellspring’s shore

for our salvation you implore:

For us you die —

we who have been called

out into the tilling field

to trade in the market,

to love in the home,

to sweat in the sun

that we might lift earth and sky

worthily, rightly,

daily with, through and in you

unto God Most High.

Deo gratias et gratias tibi.


Word Made Face

Repost 2012

Breaking News: the father’s role in a child’s life is crucial.

When I was made aware last year of a study that found the average American parent spends fewer than 3 minutes a day in non-directive communication (directive meaning “do this, don’t do this”) with their child, I thought of the dangers built into a culture that discourages frequent real-time, in the flesh communication within a family. TV face, screen face often replaces face to face. Having face time with the ones you love is an irreplaceable dimension of being human, of fostering communion — and it is an irreplaceable means of forming, “getting into” the mind and heart of your child.

God’s pedagogy in the Bible followed this pattern, as God’s incessant pleading with man for face-time in prayer found its completion in the Incarnation. In Jesus we see God’s human face, we see God pursuing a face-to-face encounter with us. That blows my mind. And remember that Jesus spent three long, intimate and uninterrupted years building a face-to-face friendship with his disciples (cf. John 15:15).

Stealing Back Time

A family asceticism must include a regular, rhythmic setting aside of computer and media technologies — activities that steal away family face time — in favor of engaging in close-range activities of all sorts. In our family, every Sunday is a “screen free” Sunday, meaning we put away every electronic device and rediscover the world as it was millennia before computers, iPhones, social media or internet existed. We do make exceptions for football or edifying movies. Our children think “edifying” is code word for torture, but we are working hard to change that.

On the nights I’m able, when our children go to bed I lie down on the floor between their beds and talk about the day. I ask lots of questions and offer subtle commentaries that hopefully help them think through life in the light of faith and good common sense. Even though these conversations often end with my falling asleep, or speaking some gibberish as I nod off, I’ve found these nighttime exchanges have been the most important (and special) moments of parenting. Helping form their minds and hearts seems somehow much easier at night. It’s hard sometimes to choose to disconnect from everything else  to be with them. My grandfather taught me how to do that when he would say, “Tommy, come waste time with your Pop talking about things that don’t really matter.” But they did matter because as we talked I felt that I mattered.

Here’s a study to that effect…

Adolescent kids retreat to their rooms when you try to ask them how they are and hide out with their friends so often that they spend less and less time with family, right? Read more…

Discerning in plain English

[I wanted to acknowledge with regret the constant presence of grammatical errors, misspellings, etc in my posts. I rarely have the chance to edit what I write, and often catch mistakes after posting. I know it can make for unpleasant reading. As a teacher of mine in college memorably said, “Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” I am genuinely fearless.]

One of my students this summer, in her presentation on the meaning of vocational discernment, shared with us a video series that I thought was just spectacular in its simplicity and depth. Four 3 to 4 minute long videos. So let me share all four here with you:


In the evening quail came up and covered the camp.
In the morning a dew lay all about the camp,
and when the dew evaporated, there on the surface of the desert
were fine flakes like hoarfrost on the ground.
On seeing it, the Israelites asked one another, “What is this [mánna]?”
for they did not know what it was.
But Moses told them,
“This is the bread [hal-leem] that the LORD has given you to eat.”

Last Sunday’s first reading from Exodus contained the above passage in which the Israelites first discover a strange “bread from heaven” they named manna, given by God to sustain them on their long desert journey toward Mount Sinai and then to the Promised Land. In the Gospel reading that followed, Jesus radically reinterprets the Exodus story:

Amen, amen, I say to you,
it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven;
my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.
For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven
and gives life to the world.

So they said to him,
“Sir, give us this bread always.”
Jesus said to them,
“I am the bread of life;
whoever comes to me will never hunger,
and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

As he does throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus here makes clear that every detail of the story of the exodus from Egypt finds its full meaning in him. In the light of Jesus, the whole Old Testament is revealed to be a foreshadowing and prefigurement, and the story of the giving of manna is no exception. How many theological and spiritual riches are packed into these readings! Let me share a few small insights that seized me while lectoring at Mass. In fact, these insights in that moment shook me.

Here’s what I wrote in my journal after Mass:

+ + + +

The Hebrew name given to this strange bread-like food by the Israelites is itself strange — manna. In Exodus, the word itself is really a question: “What’s that?” The name given by the Israelites to the bread from heaven, the bread of angels (Psalm 78:25) does not define the bread — which would show mastery or possession of this strange food. No! The name they give relinquishes control by naming it a question. It escapes man’s comprehension, eludes our grasp. This name expresses humility, open endedness, listening, awaiting an answer from the Giver of the what’s-this-? food, for he alone knows what it is.

This reminds me of the revelation of God’s Name to Moses from the burning Bush: “I am…” (Exodus 3:14). Moses asked God his name, and God gave him a name that itself forms in the mind a question: You are who?? Certainly God could not give his name yet, as it’s only in the unfolding story of his saving deeds that his identity would be revealed. The divine Name, like the divinely-given manna, awaits the completion of itself in the creating and redeeming Word that passes from fire to stone to parchment to flesh (cf John 1:1-14). This Word is the One who tells us all things (cf John 4:29; Hebrews 1:1-2). Manna, God’s response to the human cry of hunger (Exodus 16:12), to our starving epiclesis, is to feed us. The God of the Scriptures is a feeding God (cf Psalm 136:25; Luke 1:53), and so the very gift of manna anticipates the answer to the Israelite’s question. 

In John’s Gospel Jesus reveals himself as the answer to manna, and to every human question born of hunger and thirst. I think here that the deepest human desires find “sacramental” expression in the bodily pains of hunger arising from every (eucharistic) fast, whether that fast be voluntary or involuntary. All hunger hides within it a desire, a yearning for the feeding-God. And we, made in his image, are called by him to be known above all for feeding the hungry (Luke 16:20-21; Matthew 25:35).  How utterly astounding that the God of manna chose, in Jesus, to give himself entirely as food that answers in itself every human desire. “Containing in itself all sweetness.” The Word-made-flesh is not merely spiritual nourishment for angels, but bodily nourishment for humanity that responds to the pining of our flesh for God (cf Psalm 84:2; 63:2).

In Jesus is also made complete (John 19:30) the revelation of the divine Name, I am. In Jesus, the story is complete, the Word has been spoken, and the secret nature of God has been uttered in a word: Jesus, the Name above every name. On the Cross (cf John 8:28) we finally see laid bare for all to see who and what God is: Θεὸς agapē estin, “God is love” (1 John 4:16). More specifically, God is crucified love that is forever life-giving. How astounding to think of the Last Supper in this way … the answer to what-is-this-? manna is given in the final revelation of a feeding God whose Body is broken and whose Blood is poured out that the starving and parched might at last be filled forever.

Venite adoremus.

A last thought. Manna, as open ended question-food, is a marvelous way to render the theological word we use to express the Eucharistic change: transubstantiation 

The Council of Trent summarizes the Catholic faith by declaring: “Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.” — Catechism #1376

Transubstantiation, a true expression of paradox, is magnificently captured in manna’s, “What’s that?” This is no cheap concession of reason to illogic, but rather is reason’s surprised, bewildered, unexpected encounter — through faith — with a world-overturning Mystery that has crashed into our world in Christ. Mystery alone satisfies reason’s deepest desire to know the incomprehensible Truth-made-flesh, since human reason is itself inscribed with his image and so longs to become one with the Truth in love. The scholastic neologism “transubstantiation,” which borrows from Aristotle’s metaphysical categories,  subverts Aristotle’s empirically based logic by opening it to the dead and risen Incarnate God whom Aristotle never met. And when human language and logic meet Christ, they are stretched to the breaking point that they might, like the human person they serve, become capax Dei infiniti, “capable of the infinite God.”

Next time you approach Holy Communion, be sure you’re ready to be stretched, to taste the immortal and all-holy feeding God.

Do you wish to honor the body of Christ? Do not ignore him when he is naked. Do not pay him homage in the temple clad in silk, only then to neglect him outside where he is cold and ill-clad. He who said: “This is my body” is the same who said: “You saw me hungry and you gave me no food”, and “Whatever you did to the least of my brothers you did also to me”… What good is it if the Eucharistic table is overloaded with golden chalices when your brother is dying of hunger? Start by satisfying his hunger and then with what is left you may adorn the altar as well. –– St. John Chrysostom

He who eats it with faith, eats Fire and Spirit. — St. Ephraim the Syrian

As I finished this journal entry Cynthia Clawson’s version of Let All Mortal Flesh came into my head — how awesome is this Mystery of faith:

Deo gratias.

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.

…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…