Eating Flesh and drinking Blood

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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.”

Bluebirds

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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

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“The Holy Trinity,” Masaccio, 1427. /introtorenaissance2015.files.wordpress.com

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. telegraph.co.uk

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

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Re-post

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.

He came Down, from heaven

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[as often is the case, I embedded a video here which cannot be viewed in emailed version]

I had a conversation with someone last summer about their son with Down Syndrome. They live in a large city in the U.S. and they shared with me the difficulties they’ve had finding any significant assistance in the public school system for children with Down Syndrome. While there were many offerings for children with Autism, there was almost nothing available for their son. They puzzled and agonized for a long time.

By chance they found out about a pediatrician who specializes in working with Down children. During their first appointment, they mentioned to the doctor their frustrations with finding public or private school support for their son. The doctor said to them very bluntly, “The reason is clear and tragic: most Down Syndrome children never see the light of day.” The stats are clear: most children with Down Syndrome are aborted after their genetic abnormality is discovered through prenatal testing. “When he said it,” the father said, “I felt nauseous. I thought of my son. What a beautiful gift he is. How helpless he is. He’s taught my wife and me the meaning of sacrificial love. Special needs children remind us of what it really means to be human.”

David Bentley Hart has a remarkable reflection on the vision of humanity Christianity “invented.” It’s a vision of life so extraordinary that God had to break into history and reveal it to us in Jesus, shattering our hardened hearts. It can be said that the whole economy of salvation exists to bring this vision into the world. The Church, which is a God-knit community of re-created men and women, exists to build a new culture amid the ruins of the old, a culture in which the destruction of the disadvantaged or disabled would be absolutely inconceivable. Hart:

The more vital and essential victory of Christianity lay in the strange, impractical, altogether unworldly tenderness of the moral intuitions it succeeded in sowing in human consciences. If we find ourselves occasionally shocked by how casually ancient men and women destroyed or ignored lives we would think ineffably precious, we would do well to reflect that theirs was-in purely pragmatic terms-a more “natural” disposition toward reality. It required an extraordinary moment of awakening in a few privileged souls, and then centuries of the relentless and total immersion of culture in the Christian story, to make even the best of us conscious of (or at least able to believe in) the moral claim of all other persons upon us, the splendor and irreducible dignity of the divine humanity within them, that depth within each of them that potentially touches upon the eternal.

In the light of Christianity’s absolute law of charity, we came to see what formerly we could not: the autistic or Down syndrome or otherwise disabled child, for instance, for whom the world can remain a perpetual perplexity, which can too often cause pain but perhaps only vaguely and fleetingly charm or delight; the derelict or wretched or broken man or woman who has wasted his or her life away; the homeless, the utterly impoverished, the diseased, the mentally ill, the physically disabled; exiles, refugees, fugitives; even criminals and reprobates. To reject, turn away from, or kill any or all of them would be, in a very real sense, the most purely practical of impulses.

To be able, however, to see in them not only something of worth but indeed something potentially godlike, to be cherished and adored, is the rarest and most ennoblingly unrealistic capacity ever bred within human souls. To look on the child whom our ancient ancestors would have seen as somehow unwholesome or as a worthless burden, and would have abandoned to fate, and to see in him or her instead a person worthy of all affection-resplendent with divine glory, ominous with an absolute demand upon our consciences, evoking our love and our reverence-is to be set free from mere elemental existence, and from those natural limitations that pre-Christian persons took to be the very definition of reality.

And only someone profoundly ignorant of history and of native human inclinations could doubt that it is only as a consequence of the revolutionary force of Christianity within our history, within the very heart of our shared nature, that any of us can experience this freedom. We deceive ourselves also, however, if we doubt how very fragile this vision of things truly is: how elusive this truth that only charity can know, how easily forgotten this mystery that only charity can penetrate.

All of which, as I take leave of this phase of my argument, raises certain questions for me. A civilization, it seems obvious, is only as great or as wonderful as the spiritual ideals that animate it; and Christian ideals have shown themselves to be almost boundless in cultural fertility and dynamism. And yet, as the history of modernity shows, the creativity of these ideals can, in certain times and places, be exhausted, or at least subdued, if social and material circumstances cease to be propitious for them. I cannot help but wonder, then, what remains behind when Christianity’s power over culture recedes?

Confirmed in Fire

Coptic Egyptian icon of Pentecost. squarespace.com

Re-post from 2013

On the Feast of Pentecost, I thought I would offer a simple reflection on the Sacrament of Confirmation.

Do you know when you were Confirmed? If not, contact the parish where you were Confirmed and they will tell you. It’s a revered practice in our tradition to honor the anniversary of sacramental celebrations — baptism, holy communion, marriage, holy orders.

Today’s Solemn Feast concludes the Easter season and is, in real sense, the memorial feast of your Confirmation. Catechism #1302:

It is evident from its celebration that the effect of the sacrament of Confirmation is the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost.

Confirmation is a sacrament of Pentecost, as the whole mystery that unfolded Pentecost morning in Jerusalem mystically irrupts (not erupts) in your body and soul through the conferral of Sacred Chrism on your forehead. Chrism is sacramental oil, and in the Eastern Churches it is revered with a piety akin to that connected with the Eucharistic presence. Once in my Dad’s Orthodox parish some Chrism was spilled on the ground and the priest bowed down to the ground to worship Christ present there as the Deacon cleaned it up with sacred linens. I was in awe!

I attended a Confirmation eight years ago, and the Archbishop gave a really dynamic extemporaneous homily offered to about 70 teen confirmandi. I later that night jotted down as much as i could recall from memory. Here’s a portion of what I wrote:

If God gave to your eyes right now the ability to see the spiritual world, you would see this church enveloped in wind and flame. Why? Well, at this very moment the Holy Spirit is eagerly awaiting for you to receive Him, to ignite the kindling wood of your faith. Only through you can He set the world on fire!

You all have faith, right? [he walked over to individuals and asked four or five this question, much to their chagrin!] If not, tell me now. This isn’t magic. Like all the Sacraments, this is a Sacrament of faith. You gotta have faith! Faith means you believe in a talking God, a God who reveals Himself and wants to talk with you, personally, individually. Whenever you pick the Bible up to read with faith, it’s alive! He’ll talk to you in those words.

And faith means God has something to say that requires action. You gotta do your faith. Get out there and show you believe, show what belief looks like in real life. In fact, I believe that our faith only grows when we do. When you step out in faith and talk about Jesus. When you step out in faith and forgive an offense. When you step put in faith and put yourself second and others first. When you step out in faith and don’t get drunk, tell dirty jokes, sleep with that boy, take those drugs. Step out in faith when you make time to pray every day, even when it’s really hard to pray and really easy to do something else.

And faith means we cling to God when things go south. We trust Him absolutely, in the best and the darkest of times, to be with us. Faith really means something when it’s all we have, when all our props and crutches fail. We have to have a tough faith in a world of doubt and unbelief! Am I wrong?

And let me just say, anyone who says faith is a crutch doesn’t know what faith is. A crutch to do what? Deny yourself, pick up your cross and do good in the face of every temptation to not do good? If I’m going to choose a crutch, that’s not the one I would choose!

Those cowardly disciples came out of that Upper Room on Pentecost, Spirit-filled and hearts burning, filled with trust. Filled with fearless courage, joy and enthusiasm. They ran out into the streets of Jerusalem like madmen! They ran out to tell some crazy news to the same people who had shouted only weeks before: Crucify him! Crucify him! There they were telling these Passover pilgrims, to their faces: this Jesus you crucified is now King of kings and the highest Lord of all creation. What?

Jesus thrust his disciples out into a place of dissonance and confusion so they could bring out into the world the Spirit’s harmony. Jesus sent them out as a demolition crew tearing down the tower of Babel by speaking in all tongues the faith of Jesus. This is all coming to you in a few minutes when you get Confirmed. Are you ready? You’re squirming now, aren’t you? How do I get out of here?

You see, Jesus is not leaving you orphans, not leaving you to face this all alone. He’s sending His Spirit to fire you up, give you courage, firmness in your faith — Con-firm-ation, right? Be ready tonight to break open those church doors when this Mass is over. Get ready to rush out into the world to shout, by your words and actions, the word of the Cross and tell everyone you meet by the way you speak and act: Christ is the meaning and measure of life! He’s the best Way to be human!

Jesus shows us what it means to be human. You don’t abuse the gift of sexuality, you don’t lie or cheat or steal and kill. You enjoy life in moderation, stay free of addictions, live lives of sacrifice to make others’ lives better. People will accuse you of being drunk, of having lost your mind, but you’ll know that you haven’t lost your mind. No! You’ve gained the mind of Jesus! You want to know who you are? Look at Him! Jesus is our looking glass: He reflects back to us what we’re supposed to look like, who we’re supposed to be. And when we look at Him, all those other facsimiles out there look dark, distorted, shattered and plain old crazy.

Confirmation is conformation of the mind and heart to Jesus. Not just thinking like Jesus, but letting Jesus think his thoughts in you. That’s prayer! You need to allow Him in to think with you about things. He’s a friend. You see, He’s alive! And that’s the Holy Spirit’s entire mission statement: opening YOUR minds to Jesus’ mind. Pray every day.

As Pope John Paul so often said to us, do not be afraid to be different, to put out into the deep, to be a sign of contradiction, to surprise your peers and parents with a new way of thinking. Revolutionary. It may cause an uncomfortable stir now and again, an uproar, laughter or snickering, but that’s the stuff saints and martyrs are made of. That’s the stuff your own patron saint was made of. That’s the stuff God wants YOU to be made of. Are you ready for the challenge? I can’t hear you! Are you ready….?

Come Holy Spirit: