Give me wonder, O Lord

Re-post from 2014

The innermost meaning of wonder is fulfilled in a deepened sense of mystery. It does not end in doubt, but is the awakening of the knowledge that existence is mysterious and inconceivable, and that it is a mystery in the full sense of the word: neither a dead end, nor a contradiction, nor even something impenetrable and dark. Rather, mystery means that a reality cannot be comprehended because its light is overflowing, unfathomable, and inexhaustible. And that is what the wonderer really experiences. — Joseph Pieper

Someone asked me recently, “What’s most important to you as a theologian? What’s your non-negotiable?” My spontaneous response was, “Wonder!” They replied, “What does that mean?” I proposed an answer of sorts, but here’s what I jotted down later on my journal:


For me, theological wonder is permitting faith to get the mind stuck in amazement, surprise, marvel and openness to the unexpected answers found in a life shot through with the divine. Answers that set the mind off-balance, i.e. re-calibrating answers.

In wonder there’s also an astonished gratitude over the sheer gratuitousness, the undeserved gifted-ness of everything. As the German philosopher Martin Heidegger put it, I experience myself as “being thrown” into existence. I was not, I never asked to be, but then found myself suddenly here. I am. I always find my “first person” vantage completely mind-blowing: what does it mean that I am me and not another? I used to think of this beginning at the age of 7 or 8 — it was my first taste of this mystery’s conundrum that leaves your “why am I me?” faced with no better answer than, “Gift.”

My favorite philosophical question is closely related, “Why there is something rather than nothing at all?” None of this world had to be, but here it is. Wow.

Existence is a ceaseless wellspring of fresh insight. Every day is as freshly new into existence as the light that followed the words, “Let there be…”

Morning has broken, like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird

Wonder allows you to return to this “first” moment, which is not “back then” but now. If you allow yourself to receive existence as a new gift in every moment, it will regularly re-set the limits of your constricted horizons. I need a poem here to help me. Per Letters to the Exiles, Rilke’s “Go to the Limits of your Longing”:

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

Wonder is giving over your hand to God.

Theological wonder also requires and gives birth to humility. The first stance of everything is not grasping and dominating and doing, but absolute receptivity. I am in every moment receiving from God the act of being. And, by humility, I know how much I don’t know. I know that I never, in any final sense, will arrive at the end of knowledge. There’s always more, a surplus of meaning to be sought after. This gives rise in me not to shame or despair or frustration, but to hunger and thirst. Desire. Love.

Knowledge without love is data, knowledge with love is wisdom. By wisdom I see how love coheres all that I know. By wisdom we can see that everything is a gift of love given for the good of all. The universal destination of goods. “What have you that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?” (1 Cor. 4:7). All I am and have is meant for the good of all. I contemplate in order to share the fruits of contemplation. I am bright so I might enlighten. I learn in order to teach and give all I’ve learned away. Wonder makes the teacher’s greatest joy not being called wise but making wise.

I want to remain restless, unfinished. Though I wish to be grounded firmly on the rock of truth, I never want to ossify. I desire certitude, not hubris. While certitude confidently raises up its wide-rimmed chalice to be overfilled, hubris builds up roundabout itself an impenetrable fortress to remain safe.

I long to remain open to learning from anything and anyone, without prejudice. I aspire to listen closely, to look closely, carefully, with discernment. I hope to greet in each new day the feast of Epiphany; to live in a perpetual wow, imprisoned there, permitting faith to inflict serial shock on my mind. Leading me up a Mountain that admits of no zenith, Christ.

Faith-drenched minds seek what keeps all our liturgical orations so hesitant to “wrap it all up” — their codas are fearful of ending: in saecula saeculorum, “unto the ages of ages.” St. Gregory of Nyssa uses the verb epektasis as a refusal to punctuate the quest into mystery. Epektasis means something like “upward striving.” Mountain climbing with Moses. St. Paul uses a form of this verb in Philippians:

Forgetting those things that are behind, and reaching forth [epekteinomenon] unto those things which are before, I press towards the mark (3:13).

How thrilling.

Theology boils up from within the open Heart of the God-Man, gushing out into all faith-disposed minds. Boiling faith inhabits understanding, stretching its present borderlands.

Faith stays in me the surge of sardonic cynicism that can so easily overtake Church-insiders (like me) who are well aware just how terribly awful baptized humanity (like me) can be. A theologian is preserved from cynicism only in the childlike mind of Christ. Guileless. His wonder poured from the cursèd Cross and filled the bowels of Hell, where He descended. He could not but preach God’s ebulliant [from the Latin ebullire “to boil over”] Gospel of joy and hope to Hell’s prisoners (Lk. 4:18; 1 Pet. 3:19).

So we get Christ-minded saints like Silouan the Athonite: “Keep thy mind in hell, and do not despair.” And we get Popes like Benedict XVI:

Christ descended into “Hell” and is therefore close to those cast into it, transforming their darkness into light. Suffering and torment is still terrible and well- nigh unbearable. Yet the star of hope has risen—the anchor of the heart reaches the very throne of God. Instead of evil being unleashed within man, the light shines victorious: suffering—without ceasing to be suffering—becomes, despite everything, a hymn of praise.

Theologians are called to offer their living witness of hope in the midst of the Church. Their life should shout:

The farther you sink into the mind of Christ, the better, more joyful, more loving and hope-filled human being you become.

May it be so for me and all of us called to be theologians. Amen.

Ode to Twenty One Pilots

Yes, the obsession continues.

Someone recently sent me an interview with Twenty One Pilots lead singer, Tyler Joseph. He is so young, yet possesses a remarkable depth and authenticity. He is plagued by the anxieties and insecurities of our age, which makes him a powerful voice for the inhabitants of this age.

I was particularly interested when the interviewer asked him what the mission and purpose of Twenty One Pilots was; what explains the origin of their lyrics, their musical style? He struggled to answer, wading through the numbers game that dominates the music industry — profits, number of fans — and admitted these tempts him. But, he said, what really drives him is the idea that their music makes people think about life’s deepest and most universal questions. He said if their music lifted just one person up, making his or her life better and more full of joy, then that was the mission of Twenty One Pilots. “I don’t just want to entertain people,” he said, “I want them to think with me, to think about universally true things. I’m a seeker. I ask questions and hope they lead to joy.”

There’s no doubt the Christian worldview inhabits the lyrics, but Tyler is exceedingly careful not to speak with overtly religious language. He is very aware of the constraints of reaching a broad audience in a radically pluralistic world. His circumspect approach seems quite intentional. After listening to the interview, I wrote in my journal:

It’s like their music is composed and performed — “offered up” — on “the altar to an unknown God” St. Paul identified in the Areopagus of Athens (Acts 17:23). It’s a natural space to plant faith in the midst of our increasingly pagan culture, without being preachy. It’s a place where faith can encounter, give voice to and respond to the great questions and anxieties of our day. Their (lay) genius, to me, is that they are out there in the midst of that culture, singing with abandon of and to an unknown, hidden and humble God.

I also wrote a poem in my journal after hearing the interview. It’s my summary take on what I see to be their artistic mission. If I could send them a message, which I have concluded I cannot, it would be this poem.

Prophets of Zeitgeist

Voice of angst, prophets of zeitgeist
in authenticity, integrity unsacrificed
inscribing, singing a silent Christ
by twining faith in life, deftly spliced.

Rappers of deepest dark reality
facing who we are, we long to be
discovered by Truth who sets free
we, a restless, twisted humanity.

Not thru preaching, but evoking;
not thru imposing, but provoking
us to think thoughtfully; soaking
greying despair in colorful cloaking

by words that cut, yes make us bleed
though then only to heal and feed
souls yearning for an immortal creed
that won’t break the most fragile reed.

Your call and mission seem clear:
daring us hope in a world of fear;
outing a hidden God, so silently near
who whispers, “I am with you, here
wiping, drying, shedding every tear.”


Eating Flesh and drinking Blood

Last Sunday we celebrated a great mystery of faith, the Holy Trinity. We pondered the beauty of its truth, and marveled that at the origin of all things — behind this world of death and sorrow — is infinitely selfless, joyful and outpouring love, God, who was revealed above all in a drained and exhausted Body. And we see that that image is our image, who we are meant to be. Trinity Sunday is a contemplative feast of gazing on what we wish to become: like the God of other-centered love.

But today we go even farther. We not only contemplate and confess the mystery of our Triune God, but we claim a divine command beyond belief (John 6:53): ingest the mystery of God.

No mere metaphor, but in reality. Jesus, eternal Word-made-flesh, commands us to devour, tear and shred (trōgōn of John 6:54) His Flesh and Blood, taking Him into our own flesh and blood.

Any illusion Christians may have that “spiritual” means non-material is dashed by this doctrine. Eucharistic Communion is nothing other than the coming together of the Incarnate God with our ensouled bodily digestive fluids. This is the spiritual mystery of the edible and potable Flesh and Blood of God.

Christian spirituality is not about rising above the body into some antiseptic, pure and bodiless spiritual world. Rather, it is about lifting up flesh and spirit together as a single spiritual sacrifice (Rom. 12:1). God so loved our material body — with all of its gross secretions, sinews and tissues — that He sent His Son to unite it to His own Person forever. God has joined matter so intimately to Himself in Jesus that it remains forever constitutive of who God is. The Son of God has a Body, taken from the humanity of Mary, and forever will. As moral theologian Germain Grisez once said to me when we were discussing the role of earthly goods in heavenly fulfillment, “Remember, in His glorified Body Jesus continues to enjoy cooking and eating food” (Luke 24:42-43; John 21:9-13).

I love that.

To this effect, a priest once said in a stellar homily on the Eucharist,

Receiving the Eucharist reverently is a matter of interior disposition, with faith, devotion, free from serious sin. But the manner in which we actually receive the Holy Gifts is really quite appalling, if you think about it. Saliva, chewing, swallowing, digesting. But of course this is no more appalling than the manner by which Christ became our Food and Drink — the Passion, with all its sordid details. This is my Body broken, Blood shed.

… And there’s something else remarkable here. All other foods say to us, in effect, “Take us in, consume us and raise us up to your higher form of life.” But to us the Lord says something totally new, “Take me in, consume me and I will raise you up to my higher form of life.” St. Augustine says, “If we receive the Eucharist worthily, we become what we receive.” God, as it were, obeys the logic of nature’s food chain, and yet (as He always seems to enjoy doing) subverts, inverts it in the Eucharist, putting a final end to the death and violence of the whole process.

Fr. Aidan Kavanagh also captures the stark meaning of our Eucharistic theology:

Two main forces have traditionally balanced this tendency and checked its spread. The first has been the attempt at keeping Eucharist as “banquet or meal” in tension with a perception of Eucharist as “sacrifice.” The tension reminds us that, however elegant the knowledge of this dining room may be, it begins in the soil, in the barnyard, and in the slaughterhouse—amidst strangles cries, congealing blood, and spitting fat in the pan. Table manners depend upon something’s having been grabbed by the throat. A knowledge ignorant of these dark and murderous “gestures charged with soul” is sterile rather than elegant, science rather than wisdom, artifice rather than art. It is love without passion, the Church without a cross, a house with dining room but no kitchen, a feast of frozen dinners, a heartless life. The pious (religious and secular) would have us dine on abstractions but we are, in fact, carnivores—a bloody bunch. Sacrifice may have many facets, but it always has a victim

In the Eucharist, we recognize that “God is love” and “God is food and drink” are interchangeable definitions. God is a feeding God (Psalm 107:9) who makes Himself the “finest wheat” and “best wine” harvested, crushed, baked and fermented for us and for our salvation. Those who feed on God in turn become partakers in this facet of His nature (John 6:57), manifesting their “deified” state precisely by becoming feeders of the hungry and slakers of the thirsty (Mark 6:37; Matt. 25:35).

Russian philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev said, “When you’re a Christian, bread for yourself is a material problem, but bread for my brother is a spiritual problem.” This is Eucharistic logic.

St. John Chrysostom also said,

Do you wish to honor the Body of the Savior? Do not despise it when it is naked. Do not honor it in church with silk vestments while outside it is naked and numb with cold. For he who said, “This is my Body,” and made it so by His word, is the same one who said, “You saw me hungry, and gave me no food. As you did not do it to the least of these, you did not do it to me.” Honor him then by sharing your property with the poor. For what God needs is not golden chalices but golden souls.

When I worked with the Missionaries of Charity in D.C. back in the early 1990’s, I was entrusted with the care of a man in his late 30’s who was from Tallahassee originally. I’ll say his name was Richard, which it wasn’t. He was partially paralyzed from a stroke he had had while sleeping in an abandoned car during the winter. Thank God he was discovered before he succumbed to hypothermia, and was brought to the Sisters’ home to recover.

I had to feed him, clip his nails, brush his teeth, wipe the feces off his bottom and change his clothes. He had slurred speech from the stroke, so communicating with him was difficult. It was very hard work for me. Not simply because of the tedious repetition or unpleasant odors, but because it was pulling me out of myself. Up to that point in my life I had lived a largely self-centered lifestyle, meaning most of my decisions were not determined by someone else’s needs. No one depended on me or my care. And if they did, it was part of my job and I was being paid to respond. But here I was a volunteer, and here these people — this was terrifying — depended on me to love them, and to care about their hopes and fears.

I felt like the Lord was saying to me for the first time in my life, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go” (John 21:17-18). I would soon come to realize that adulthood is about learning to be taken where you do not wish to go, and there making of yourself a worthy sacrificial offering.

One day I was at Mass with the Sisters and the residents. Nothing unusual. That morning had been a difficult one, as I had to give Richard a shower. It was always a long, arduous and complex process. Far more humiliating for him than for me, I was sure. He was angry at something and very resistant that day. I couldn’t figure out why. So at Mass I was feeling agitated and sad about the experience. I wrote in my journal afterwards, “What the hell more does he want from me?”

Then the Words of Institution came along. Nothing unusual. But they were different this time. “This is my Body which will be given up…This is the cup of my Blood which will be shed.” I thought of Richard’s naked body, so vulnerable, soiled, partially paralyzed.

The Sisters taught me when I first arrived to reverence the residents’ bodies Not easy to do in a shower as you try to clean very private parts, and they are cussing you out. Sr. Manorama had said it to me even more plainly: “You need to reverence these men’s bodies like you reverence Christ’s Body. Even if they treat you poorly, maintain your reverence, as then Christ comes to you in His distressing disguise, as Mother tells us. That’s when He is closest, you know.”

I didn’t know. But that day at Mass I said to myself, “Yes, even then. Especially then. Amen.”



From my journal this past week while I was on a silent retreat.

It just so happened that this was the one “dead week” of the summer at the retreat house, so there is no one else here. I am alone. God, you know I love solitude. To be alone with the Alone. Thank you.

I got up today at 5:00 a.m. to pray before sunrise in front of this splintered, decaying, lichen spotted, vine covered, old rugged Cross. I find it absolutely gorgeous, for whatever reason. It radiates sacramental light. In that split open wedge near the top on the right, there are these bluebirds nesting. The pair faithfully flies to and fro, selflessly feeding their young. How astonishing to find such fragile, new life hidden in the crag of a inhospitable Cross. Psalm 84:3.

It’s so quiet now as I write.

“Sometimes quiet is violent.” — Twenty One Pilots, Car Radio

I find whenever I enter into days of silence like these, deep insights emerge. Silence excavates insights into myself, into God, into others, into the world. Some lurk darkly, others burn brightly; some brood with evil, others breed good; some taunt me disturbingly, others console me with calm. My frenetic life corks my soul, stuffing my ‘stuff’ in a cobweb-infested basement closet, inuring me from the stench of the garbage that lies within.

Really, who wants to deal with all that?

But silence leaves me no escape. My spiritual director told me to practice a listening silence. It overtakes me, it dares me to trust the knocking of an insistent Word. Listen, can you hear the rhythmic beat of His knock? Especially at night, in the dark. Fear: if I open, all the trash will come tumbling out everywhere. It’s all safely contained now, right? The house looks neat, save for that closet. Why do you knock there?

Silence lets me feel how just much pressure has built up on that door. I hate silence, I love silence. It repels, it attracts. It afflicts, it comforts.

“When peaceful stillness lay over all, and the night was half spent, your almighty Word, O Lord, descended from heaven’s royal throne” (Wisdom 18:14-15).

From His throne to my insignificant door? Opening. The Word has exposed the debris in my cellar: my many cluttering words; my piles of clever disguises; my pallid pretenses and unconvincing lies (especially the ones I tell myself); my evasive games; the dusty storms raging within.

And I see temptations unmasked. The tail of the serpent, nearly hidden, but… Damn, I thought I was managing fine. But now I see the dangers of my presumption, my arrogance, my illusion of complete control.

My holy hours these days in front of the Tabernacle are brutal. “A fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall” (Jer. 1:18). Transubstantiation is dangerous as hell, is so bloody, in your face real, unyielding to my fanciful whims. “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself” (Gen. 3:10). Yet, there’s no where to hide.

O where can I go from your spirit,
or where can I flee from your face?
If I climb the heavens, you are there.
If I lie in the grave, you are there.

If I take the wings of the dawn
and dwell at the sea’s furthest end,
even there your hand would lead me,
your right hand would hold me fast.

If I say: “Let the darkness hide me
and the light around me be night,”
even darkness is not dark for you
and the night is as clear as the day (Psalm 139:7-12).

Silence is nakedness before You, stripped of all the garments of noise, the masks of pretense.

What can I see now? Here’s one…the Cynic has imperceptibly made inroads into me, stealing thrones within me, where Wonder once reigned supreme.

I fear this broken secret, this plundered closet will wreak havoc. The Judge is at the gate, condemnation awaits. Where do I run to hide?

Sometimes quiet is violent
I find it hard to hide it
My pride is no longer inside
It’s on my sleeve
My skin will scream
Reminding me of
Who I killed inside my dream
I hate this car that I’m driving
There’s no hiding for me
I’m forced to deal with what I feel
There is no distraction to mask what is real

I could pull the steering wheel

Yes, that’s it. I’ll pull the steering wheel, take charge again, shut the door and bring an end to this dreadful silence. But silence peels the steering wheel from my fierce grip. All control on my life is attenuated, wrested by that Word.

I remain in silence. Abyssus abyssum invocat.

I ponder of something terrifying
‘Cause this time there’s no sound to hide behind
I find over the course of our human existence
One thing consists of consistence
And it’s that we’re all battling fear
Oh dear, I don’t know if we know why we’re here
Oh my,
Too deep
Please stop thinking
I liked it better when my car had sound

Yes, outer noise to quell the inner noise; outer order to compensate for the inner chaos. But there’s that immobile Cross there. I see chaotic order in that Wood. What if I allow that Wood into my closet? Or what if I could just go to sleep and forget it all. When I stress I want to take a nap. “Wake me up when it’s all over.” But the Word speaks,

“Keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’” (Mk. 13:35-37).

There are things we can do
But from the things that work there are only two
And from the two that we choose to do
Peace will win
And fear will lose
There’s faith and there’s sleep
We need to pick one please because
Faith is to be awake
And to be awake is for us to think
And for us to think is to be alive
And I will try with every rhyme
To come across like I am dying
To let you know you need to try to think

Faith invited Him in: O Word of the Cross, come into my mind.

I loosened my grip, opened my hands upward out into the silence. Waiting, watching.

The Word has entered in, seizing charge of my thoughts. As if from nowhere, certainly nowhere in my own wits, I hear: “Be still” (Mk. 4:39). Order, peace. Love has appeared at the center of things. Here, inside that split in the Dead Wood.

My accusers have gone.

“And Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. He straightened up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, sir.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you.'” (8:9-11).

Love illumines darkness, heals infirmity, orders disorder, frees, gives rest, feeds and slakes. If peace is the tranquility of order, then love is the order. “Love never ends.” (1 Cor. 13:8).

“Every thought captive to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). O Christ, who are the Captor whose bondage is freedom. Free me from every slavery and make me your liberator. Preserve me in inner silence, and guard my mind in the peace that comes through faith in you. Amen.

O mes Trois! “O my Three!” — Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity


“The Holy Trinity,” Masaccio, 1427. /

This Sunday is the solemnity of the Holy Trinity. This dogmatic feast comes in the aftermath of Pentecost, the apogee of the Paschal Mystery, and confesses what we have seen: the absolute revealation of God through the Incarnation of His Word and the coming of His Spirit. Like someone standing in dizzy amazement at the edge of a new and massive crater formed by the crashing of an unexpected meteor, the Church stops today to look back at the whole Paschal season and say: “What was that?”

What? It is the Mystery of all mysteries! It is the deepest secret of God! It is the revelation that unity in the one God means not solitary existence but a oneness of consubstantial communion as Father, Son and Spirit. Tertullian, in the 3rd century, coined a new Latin word, Trinitas, from the word trinus, meaning “threefold.” A new word had to be created to bear the weight of this mystery. A new confession of faith: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the One is Three.”

But how could this be? Just thought as I asked this question: Mary asked this same question in Luke 1:35 and Gabriel’s answer was to reveal and invite her into an intimate unity with the Trinitarian mystery.

The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.

And to the same Trinity who at the dawn of creation said, “let there be…” she said, “let it be done to me.” And by her consent, all humanity could now receive this same invitation.

Human beings are the original crater in creation, the stamp of divinity in matter, so let’s pause there for just a moment. The two-in-one-flesh union of Adam and Eve makes clear that in Jewish metaphysics oneness does not a preclude in its definition a plurality of persons. Compare Genesis 2:24 that says of the man and woman that “two become one” (one=e·ḥāḏ) with Deuteronomy’s 6:4 “YHWH is one” (one=e·ḥāḏ). This opens an intelligible space in divine revelation for union as communion, unity as community and for God as Three-in-One. Furthermore, Genesis 1:27 amplifies this “space” as it makes clear that only as male and female together is the fullness of the divine image to be found. To use the beautiful metaphor found in Genesis 2:22, the divine image is made complete when the face of the woman is turned toward the face of the man by the God whom we come to find out, in Christ, is Himself Face turned toward Face (John 1:1 “the Word was toward God [pros theon]” who calls all humanity into that same interfacing unity of love (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Here we can see that God’s Trinitarian identity is not some esoteric doctrine requiring bizarre leaps of pseudo-mathematical logic or a suspension of disbelief in the face of contradictions. Rather, the theo-logic of Trinity is inscribed into the DNA of humanity. The Trinitarian stamp is found in the tensions we live every day, between difference and oneness, diversity and unity, solitude and communion, etc. And these are tensions that not only define human social existence but also structure the entire cosmic order. The unity of our known uni-verse subsists within a vast interrelated and irreducible plurality. Each particularity can only be understood in its relation to everything else that exists.

Back in 1994, a biologist at Florida State took me, and a group of others, on a trip into the Okefenokee Swamp in south Georgia to explore the swamp’s wild biodiversity. At one point, as we were out in the middle of the swamp, he began describing the fragility of the ecosystem, explaining that when one small part of that system is disrupted its effects are felt everywhere. He said, “the swamp is like one great living organism, with its own personality and unique biorhythms. Its beauty can’t be fully appreciated until it’s seen in the context of the whole, until you can see its complexity, its organic unity that makes it act as if it were one great living thing.” As if nature wished to punctuate his point with an exclamation, a lightning bolt suddenly struck the water a few hundred yards away from our boat. I thought I was a dead man.

The unity-in-diversity of the Trinitarian God is ineffable, meaning it is beyond the reach of finite reason to fully comprehend because God is beyond all of the time-space categories that constitute the defining limits of the human mind. Also, the Trinitarian nature of God as Father, Son and Spirit had to be revealed by God precisely because it is a personal mystery, and the mystery of a person, by definition, can only be known by a free personal act of self-disclosure. I must choose to disclose the mystery of who I am in my inmost self. Keeping those caveats of mystery in mind, we still must say that the mystery of the Trinity is not remote, absurd, irrelevant or illogical, but rather it coincides in the most profound way with the deepest elements of human experience. Especially the experience of human solidarity brought on by the exigencies of love.

There’s no mistake that just before the profession of the Nicene Creed, the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom has the Deacon say, “Let us love one another that with one mind we may confess” and the faithful respond, “Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Trinity, one in essence and undivided.” Only the unifying power of love lived out in the world with our lives makes us worthy and able to confess the Trinity in the liturgy with our lips.

Origen of Alexandria once said, “The Church is full of the Trinity.” Yes! But let me also add that the whole of creation is full of the Trinity, filled with traces and vestiges marked by Their life-giving holy Communion.

How blessed are we to know that Mystery intimately, face to face, and to be invited to dive into that mystery through Christ and in the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father. O mes Trois! “O my Three!” Amen.

St. Gregory of Nazianzus, help me praise.

Glory to God the Father
and to the Son who reigns over all.
Glory to the Spirit, All-Holy,
to whom praise is fitting.
This is the Single God, the Trinity,
who created all things that are;
who filled the heavens with spiritual beings,
the land with earthly creatures,
the oceans, rivers, springs,
with all aquatic living things.
Out of his own Spirit he gives life
to all that lives
so that all created life can sing out praise
to the wisdom of the Maker;
that single cause of their existence,
their continuing subsistence.
But more than all other things,
and in all things,
rational nature must sing out
that he is the Great King, Good Father.
And so, my Father, grant to me
in spirit and in soul, in heart and voice,
in purity of heart
to give you the glory. Amen.

Help me, Colleen:


Can you save my heavydirtysoul?

Black Friday.

Re-post 2015. Taken from my journal and left in its raw, stream of consciousness form

And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” — Luke 12:16-21

After watching the video of that famous 2008 Walmart Black Friday stampede that left one worker dead, I could not stop thinking about the faces of those crazed shoppers. Desperate and glazed, like soulless zombies carrying out an irresistible command. I was reminded of Zosima’s words in The Brothers Karamazov as I watched:

The world has proclaimed freedom of theirs: nothing but servitude and suicide! For the world says: ‘You have needs, so satisfy them, for you have the same rights as the wealthiest and most highly placed of men. Do not be afraid to satisfy them, but even multiply them’ — that is the present-day teaching of the world. In that, too, they see freedom. And what is the result of this right to the multiplication of needs? Among the rich isolation and spiritual suicide, and among the poor — envy and murder, for while they have been given rights, they have not yet been afforded the means with which to satisfy their needs.

These memories were resurrected (for unknown reasons) when my daughter recently introduced me to the Twenty One Pilots song, Heavydirtysoul. It feels like the song of someone who is confronted by a music culture that proliferates the mindless life of a moral zombie, and responds by crying out to God to save him and smoke out the “infestation in my mind’s imagination.” These lyrics in particular struck me:

Nah, I didn’t understand a thing you said,
If I didn’t know better I’d guess you’re all already dead,
Mindless zombies walking around with a limp and a hunch,
Saying stuff like, “You only live once.”

You’ve got one time to figure it out,
One time to twist and one time to shout,
One time to think and I say we start now,
Sing it with me if you know what I’m talking about

Death inspires me like a dog inspires a rabbit.

YOLO, which is meant as the cry of a hedonist rebel, is judged to be the motto of mindless zombies. Yes, you only live once, but that time is given for us to think, which in other Twenty One Pilots sons, like Car Radio, is equivalent to faith seeking understanding. Faith alone sheds light on the ultimate meaning of our one-life.

Jesus’ parable of the rich man, Zosima’s incisive diagnosis and Heavydirtysoul face us with the critical choices thrust on us by a consumerist culture: either live a self-serving hedonist ethic, driven by the insatiable cycle of pleasure-seeking consumption (with only pragmatic regard for consequences), or “take time to think” (metanoia) and rise above avarice and greed by practicing a virtuous asceticism. For those who take this road less traveled, “You Only Live Once” ceases to serve as a cognate of the Epicurean motto, “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die,” and becomes a bracing call to make of one’s life a worthy offering.

“Death inspires me like a dog inspires a rabbit.” Brilliant! Fear that emerges out of an awareness of the gravitas of freedom can serve as an effective motivator for change. Proverbs 9:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” In the Christian tradition the prospect of death has always served as a core theme of any healthy spirituality. Every night we are counseled to prepare for death and final judgment as the surrender of sleep is, in the words of Thomas a Kempis, “a daily rehearsal for death.” With its absolute finality, death forces a definitive confrontation with questions of ultimate significance. Memento mori, “remember that you must die” has long served as a mantra for keeping one’s priorities straight by living every moment sub specie aeternitatis, “in the light of eternity,” fully aware that the Awesome Judgment could follow your next breath.

Those who live mindless YOLO lives — driven by greed, avarice and the gluttonous quest to always feel full — have numbed the sting of conscience by living in a vast Mall within which needs are conjured and satisfied. Chanon Ross masterfully describes the psychology of such a superficial mall culture:

When a consumer enters the shopping mall, her senses are engaged by a panoply of stimuli designed to intoxicate. Images, music, scents, and products swirl together in a whirlwind of desire. The consumer does not have to want anything before entering the shopping mall because it is designed to cultivate desire for her, and it provides her with the products she needs to consummate the desire it has produced.

The charge of energy that the shopper gets wears off. The products she bought get a little old, a little drab, a little familiar, losing their gloss and sheen. One day she will peer into her overflowing closet and conclude, ‘I have nothing to wear.’ Taken literally, this statement is nonsensical; what she really means is that the clothes she purchased in the past no longer provide her with the intensification of being that she craves. Purse in hand, she heads off once again to the shopping mall, and the cycle of de-intensification begins anew.

This vapid consumerist culture shrivels all aspirations to spiritual greatness. Fr. Tom Hopko describes this state with his usual color:

…Man emerged from 12 billion years of cosmic evolution. God breathed in us an immortal spirit and stamped us with His divine image. We fell into sin but He pursued us with love, taking on flesh, being crucified and rising from death to give us a share in the divine life. He gave us generations of saints and martyrs whose blood and sweat and tears and sacrifices have been poured out to ensure the seeds of the Gospel made it to the ends of the earth. And then we look to see what fruits have come from all this and what do we find? Some guy slouched in a La-Z-Boy, intoxicated, or high on weed or heroine or some drug of choice, watching porn while eating junk food. This is where we have come. When we become like this, we are no longer human. We’re post-human. We’re sub-human. We’ve become nothing but brains and bodies, computers and consumers, calculators and copulators, constructers and cloners who believe we’re free and powerful but we’re really enslaved and destroyed by our insane strivings to define, design, manage and manipulate a world and a humanity without the God who loves us. It’s all so sad. Only God can save us from this mess!

Twenty One Pilots asks us to cry out to God from this mess:

Can you save, can you save my—
Can you save my heavydirtysoul?

If we dare to receive His answer, the revolution begins:

There’s an infestation in my mind’s imagination,
I hope that they choke on smoke ’cause I’m smoking them out the basement,
This is not rap, this is not hip-hop,
Just another attempt to make the voices stop,
Rapping to prove nothing, just writing to say something,
‘Cause I wasn’t the only one who wasn’t rushing to sayin’ nothing,
This doesn’t mean I lost my dream,
It’s just right now I got a really crazy mind to clean.

Gangsters don’t cry,
Therefore, therefore I’m,
Mr. Misty-eyed, therefore I’m.

Can you save, can you save my—
Can you save my heavydirtysoul?
Can you save, can you save my—
Can you save my heavydirtysoul?
For me, for me, uh
Can you save my heavydirtysoul?
For me, for me, uh
Can you save my heavydirtysoul?

Nah, I didn’t understand a thing you said,
If I didn’t know better I’d guess you’re all already dead,
Mindless zombies walking around with a limp and a hunch,
Saying stuff like, “You only live once.”
You’ve got one time to figure it out,
One time to twist and one time to shout,
One time to think and I say we start now,
Sing it with me if you know what I’m talking about.

Gangsters don’t cry,
Therefore, therefore I’m,
Mr. Misty-eyed, therefore I’m.

Can you save, can you save my—
Can you save my heavydirtysoul?
Can you save, can you save my—
Can you save my heavydirtysoul?
For me, for me, uh
Can you save my heavydirtysoul?
For me, for me, uh
Can you save my heavydirtysoul?

Death inspires me like a dog inspires a rabbit. [2x]

Can you save, can you save my—
Can you save my heavydirtysoul?
Can you save, can you save my—
Can you save my heavydirtysoul?
For me, for me, uh
Can you save my heavydirtysoul?
For me, for me, uh
Can you save my heavydirtysoul?

Can you save, can you save my—save my—
Can you save my heavydirtysoul?
Can you save, can you save my—save my—
Can you save my heavydirtysoul?

Unrequited love


If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful (Luke 6:32-36).

I was speaking last Fall with a woman whose husband had abandoned her without warning. He left her with grave health issues and in a state of financial hardship. She is also a woman of faith and has been so most of her adult life.

She begged me to encourage seminarians to make certain their parishes have a ministry of outreach to the divorced. She said the aftermath of divorce is a time of terrible vulnerability when the divorced man or woman is poised to make either something really good out of it, or something really bad. Without guidance from the Church, she said, it’s very hard to make changes for the better as a Catholic. It’s much easier to make poor or stupid choices with long term damaging effects that make the practice of faith much harder. She also asked me to share with seminarians a few things she has learned over the previous two and a half years since her husband left her. Among many of the things she asked me to share, there was one insight that blew my mind. As I wrote out her words below, I can see how poorly I am conveying the power and beauty of her words. You see, my sentences contain none of the tears, pained facial expressions or passion she communicated as she spoke. But little is better than nothing, so here is what I have.

We were talking at this point about her insights into the above passage from Luke’s Gospel which, she said, was the passage her pastor gave her to pray on as he walked with her through the grief and anger and hurt.

…I used to think I lived those words when I put up with annoying in-laws or prayed for Al-Qaeda terrorists to convert to Jesus. Now I realize I had no clue. You can’t possibly know what it means to truly love someone *like that* until they no longer love you. But even more, not until you find yourself faced with someone who has done you harm and rejected your offers of love and poured poison in your medicine. These last years have felt like held my heart in my hand and he repeatedly slapped it down to the ground, laughing all the while at what a fool I was to trust him. Loving someone like that takes me beyond anything I have ever faced or imagined I could suffer. Sometimes I feel like I’m dying.

I believe I was terribly wronged by my husband, I was the victim. That’s the truth. But I’m not sinless by any stretch, nor was I totally innocent in the failure of our marriage. But it’s made me think so much about Jesus as an entirely innocent victim, whose love was and is and will be abused and rejected and mocked all the time. The rejection of pure and innocent love is a pain you can’t possibly understand unless you’ve experienced it yourself. Just imagine the pain of God at our rejection. It never really moved me before now. It was nice and Hallmark kinda touching, but let me tell you now it does move me. It’s totally crazy. It’s so much of my prayer life now.

I know for certain I’ve found at this point in my life a new calling and life mission from God. My vocation of marriage has turned into a vocation to love my husband faithfully the rest of my life, without his knowing or caring that I do. Without his reciprocating and with his rejection. My prayer every day is, “Christ give me your strength to love my husband as my sacrament until death. To pray for his well-being, his salvation.” My resolve is that his evil actions won’t kill my ability to love, but make it greater. But I could never do that alone. Without Jesus, I would only hate him. No Jesus, no way.

God the Father spoke to St. Catherine of Siena, as recorded in her Dialogue, words that echo the depth of power in this woman’s lived witness. I will leave you with them:

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.