O come, O come!


I gave an Advent parish mission last week. Among the topics I covered, I explored the depth of meaning in a verse we sing so often that we forget what it’s really saying:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

This is the plaintive cry of a slave living in exile, begging God to come and liberate. We have a planet filled with such cries, yet without the faith to turn them into prayer. The confident “Rejoice!” of the refrain, filled with certain hope, is only possible when the depth of the plight is fully acknowledged and then brought to God in prayer. Packed into the seemingly placid “O come” is a world of pain, sorrow, hardship, fear, anger, desperation, turned by faith into hope in love that gives wings to prayer.

During the mission, I shared stories of people I have known who have taught me how to pray like this. I shared with them a conversation I had with an Orthodox Rabbi who told me Jews pray not just from the heart, but from the guts; from the depths (Psalm 130). The last prayer of Jesus on the cross was a phōnēn megalēn, a “loud scream” (Mark 15:37), and the next verse says the veil in the Temple was torn. Such prayer rips open heaven.

The word Advent comes from the same Latin root that is found in the Our Father, adveniat regnum tuum, “thy kingdom come.” Advent means, “come!” and so as a season is meant to carve out in us a hunger, thirst, longing, yearning, pining for God to come and save us, rescue us, redeem us, raise us, ransom us. So, I argued, the harder and darker life gets, Christians should more and more become an Advent people “who cry to Him day and night” (Luke 18:7).

And as this season can be hard for many people, Advent is meant to bring to their hardship the brilliance of costly hope gained in deep, sustained and honest prayer to God.

A person followed up the retreat with an email to me saying simply, “Thank you for giving me permission to bring my pain and doubt to God. That’s a new faith for me.” I sent them this lovely version of my second favorite psalm, the brutally honest Psalm 77.

I cry aloud to God
aloud to God and He will hear me
In the day of my troubled soul
I reach out and seek You, Lord
but I can’t feel You

In the night of my pain
darkness falls, questions rage
Have You forsaken?
O God, have You left me all alone?

You keep my eyes from sleep
so troubled I cannot speak a word
I consider the days of old
when I felt Your love and held Your hope
Where have they gone?

In the night of my pain
faith has fled, doubts remain
Have you forsaken?
O God, have You left me all alone?

Your ways, O God
Your ways, O God, are holy

Your ways, O God
Your ways, O God, are holy
You are holy

My Advent Back-Flip


This post all about me, so there you have it.

I deactivated my iPhone and have returned to a flip phone for Advent, and from then on.

It’s not a crusade, or some grand protest against smartphones and the like. It was a decision of personal necessity, a recognition of discerned limits.

When my family first got me an iPhone 27 months ago for my birthday, I told them that I had long resisted getting one because I knew myself well enough to know it would be hard for me not to turn it into (1) a portable, total-work-portal and (2) to over-engage my knack for prolixity in communicating with the revolutionary voice-to-text. I give new meaning to the word “hypertext.”

I anticipated I would be tempted, and so it was.

I fought valiantly, devised various schemes for limiting myself, but alas! I was vanquished. I’m intense, and my mind never sleeps. The iPhone, well suited to such a penchant, offered me ever-fresh fodder in steady supply. Good things, indeed, just far too many of them. During our anniversary getaway in October, I realized, after a long and wonderfully deep conversation with my wife, that my mentality — my presence of mind — had become diffused, distracted, doubled by the iPhone. In fact, “doubled” best expressed for me the effect, as the phone had shaped in me a potent bias toward a virtual ‘elsewhere,’ detracting from the concrete world of my immediate daily existence that demands primacy as it contains my primary vocation.

My asceticism in general largely looks like barricade building, as I identify my weaknesses and temptations and then systematically limit their access to preferred suppliers. For me, this works best as, instead of choosing to talk to the devil directly, I just avoid and block my access to his favored haunts. As a friend of mine (who has lived a lot of life) often says, “I can resist everything but temptation.” lol And I usually bring other people into the act, to ensure accountability, as I am too willing to excuse small transgressions until they snowball into sizable ones. I imagine I’m not different than most. My wife is my technology accountability partner, and she has been excellent in keeping me honest, in her typically brutally honest way. Deo gratias.

Yes, I have lost quite a number of wonderful features the iPhone afforded me, which are such gifts; especially group texting, voice-to-text, and easy access to calendar/email. But a week into it, the benefits of flipping have been immediate and wondrous, with some being surprisingly unexpected. If I seem to be exaggerating, I’m not. I’ll name four benefits to give you a taste:

  1. I very quickly experienced a freeing diminishment of those diffusing, distracting and doubling effects, and a rapid re-entry into the slow moving, mundane and concrete world of my immediate daily existence. So much so, that I have had some genuine ‘wow’ moments in seeing my mentality re-center and settle back on the faces and places in front of me. The world has shaded brighter, more colorful, more vivid.
  2. Having lost my GPS, I now have returned to a favorite past-time: reading and memorizing road maps. I found myself this week dazzled at the resurrection of my spacial imagination, realizing I have never really learned Louisiana in my own mind. All I could think of last weekend as I drove to Albany, LA to do a parish mission was Psalm 84:5: “They are happy in whose hearts are the roads to Zion” (Psalm 84:5)!
  3. Now that texting (and emailing limited to my desktop) without voice-to-text is quite an effort, like handwriting, what I text is much more intentional, concise and thought out. I’ve remembered a bit more just how much I appreciate individual words and the labor of writing them. Flip texting (and desktop emailing) also slows down the volume of correspondence massively, which, while I lose out on many good things, has allowed me to re-appreciate simplicity. It has also made me much much more realistic about how many conversations I can (and should) actually sustain.
  4. As the camera-video features are pathetic, I have lost the tendency I had to want to capture, more than simply experience, the world happening around me in real-time. I love taking photos of people and things to treasure and share, but I found the iPhone made me think more and more of life as better captured and shared than experienced raw in the moment without a lens and savored later in conversation and memory.

I share all of this as a personal quest to place digital communications technology in service to my humanity; to my vocation; to my quest to be, as my colleague Dr. Daniella Zsupan-Jerome says so well, “connected toward communion.” I wish to be able to worthily receive the sacrament of the present moment at every moment. I wish to conserve my ability to attend with love, before all else, to my neighbor, to my nigh-bor, the nearby inhabitants of my immediate world that command my attention first and foremost. To receive the grace that’s in my face.

My Advent motto is, Simplify, do or die. Time will tell.

I’ll leave you with 10 additional reasons I, also, preferred the flip. Hopefully they will make you smile.

Let go and let God

“The Annunciation,” Nicolas Poussin. 1660. nationalgallery.org.uk

A blessed Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary to all.

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In this great fiat of the little girl Mary, the strength and foundation of our life of contemplation is grounded, for it means absolute trust in God, trust which will not set us free from suffering but will set us free from anxiety, hesitation, and above all from the fear of suffering. Trust which makes us willing to be what God wants us to be, however great or however little that may prove. Trust which accepts God as illimitable Love. ― Caryll Houselander

A 92 year woman I know here in New Orleans spoke to me about the loneliness of old age with me last week. I have come to know her well. She is effectively estranged from most of her six children. Such a tragic story. I had asked her that particular day what was hardest about her life now. She said,

The time you have to think about the past is hard. Very hard. Regrets. My children [tears] … But, let me tell you, when you get old you realize what matters and what doesn’t matter. You get perspective. Things you thought were so important, aren’t. What matters is love. If you could go back, take words back, you’d do it all differently. But there’s no going back. That’s always there.

I just sit and look at [the image on her wall of] Jesus and tell Him things. He’s such a good listener. His face always tells me, “Give me everything.” Such a kind face. [smile, tears] The best part of getting old is that you can just let go, because what’s left? [laugh] It’s like He just gently pries everything out of your hands and then you just realize one day, “Wow, it’s all gone!” [soft laugh] I am grateful God allowed me to stay this long. I’m not afraid of dying. He knows I’m ready any time to let go. I tell Him every day, I’m ready when you are.

Then I asked her what she would tell me, as a young man, what I should do that she wished she had done. She said,

Let go and let God. Trust Him. And love as much as you can. Take lots of time to love. You’ll never regret loving. Never. Only not. Especially your children. When you think back on your life, you’ll say, “Every time I took to love, that’s what mattered. No regrets.”

When I got home that night, among other things, I wrote,

As I listened to her, I was deeply moved by the childlike way she expressed an almost majestic inner freedom that she used to give herself over to God. In her presence, I could feel inside of me all of my clasping and clinging exposed. So much reason for bitterness in her life, yet only sweetness. But not living in fantasy; very real. And her humility is so deeply meshed ‘in her fibers,’ so totally natural and unaffected that she is without any trace of self-conscious obsession. No proving, defending, justifying, rationalizing, grasping left.

All I could think was — this is what being without sin must have meant for Mary; why Mary was able to so very naturally surrender her soul and body over to God so completely that He could take her to Himself without her having to die first. Let it be done to me! For us, proximity to death gives us opportunity to succumb to Love. Dispossession.

May my time be wasted on loving, on letting go, on just looking at Him and telling Him things. He’s such a good listener, such a kind face. His face always tells me, “Give me everything.”

Listen to the Mustn’ts

[one last ’til Thursday…a free-falling meditation I wrote in a coffee shop on John 19:30 spilling all over everything. Ave=”Hail!” and Nova Eva=”New Eve”]

Yes, that’s the heart of Advent.

O preposterous, breaking-and-entering Thief, opening fissures in our hardened Heartland! Onto parched clay, thirsty earth, you splashed, splattered down torrential waters. A dreadful drenching, awe-inducing, hope-producing, life-diffusing Kingdom come.

Into the Land of Impossibles, the Possible. Into the Land of Fate, Providence. Into the Land of Won’t, Will. Into the Land of Can’t, Did. Into the Land of Not, Is. Into the Land of No, Yes. Into the Land of Old, New. Into the Land of Death, Life.

We are the fissures, priests of creation’s undoing, redoing, calling down Downpours on our Land’s re-creation. Offering from desert death, a Garden bloom.

What Child is this, dreaming of such Impossibles? Listen, O priestly-Man, to God-with-us saying in His dying, “It is finished!” Now new, Anything can be — miracles, martyrs, mercy, Mass testify of this eloquently.

O Come, O Come all who tighten the knot of Eve ’round the neck of God! Me, in my every binding sin. Behold! In cradle and cross, One of Three co-entangled, untangling by the Ave to Nova Eva to set us free.

A Gardener, unobtrusive as the dewfall, heavy-laden with sowing seeds, scattering liberally, profusely, wastefully. Beneath His footsteps earth splits open, yawning, yearning, receiving sunward the downfalling Dew; flowering in song.

Awaken. Sprout. Flower. Seed. Die only to Rise in Eternity.

¡Absolutamente imposible!


Down to the Jordan

Jordan River. pilgrimtoursofjordan.com

I didn’t plan to post until next Thursday, but I had a brief inspiration yesterday evening before falling asleep, so I took a few minutes to write it down. I’ll share it here, along with a (click here ->) wonderful Advent series.

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A friend of mine, Jordan Haddad, sent me this music video. I fell in love with it immediately, as did my family.

During Advent we will approach the Jordan River and allow St. John the Baptist to invite us again to hope in the Messiah who comes to save us from our sins.


There are times when I can see my own sins, failures and weaknesses with such a terrible clarity. Terrible, indeed. That night was so dark. Those are the times when I realize I can’t hide from man or from God, or from myself. I find myself faced with a fundamental choice: denial, despair or divine mercy. The first is unsustainable, the second is un-survivable, while the third is unlimited freedom.

I chose to be found. O Jesus, in the Jordan, here I am.

In the darkest night, when the air is thick, my lungs heavy and my mind weighted down with fear and shame, I say the 5 words St. Faustina gave to the Church, “Jesus, I trust in you.” So simple, so deep. I join Him down at the Jordan where He, All-Innocent, wades down into the muddy waters of my repentance to take up and away the sins of my world and bring me home. I seem to hear Him sing to me,

Settle down, it’ll all be clear
Don’t pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear
The trouble—it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found
Just know you’re not alone
‘Cause I’m gonna make this place your home

Thank you, God, for such costly hope. May I bear it with me.

A kingdom not built on arms and violence

Mother Teresa. americamagazine.org

Jesus’ lordship is inextricably connected to his debasement. So when Herod’s soldiers mockingly dress Jesus in royal apparel (Lk. 23.11) and when on-lookers scoff at Jesus on the cross for purporting to be King of the Jews (23.35-38), they are in a sense truly crowning him King of the Jews … The path to the Davidic throne came, not by a reversal of fortunes, but by submitting as [the Servant]. Thus, the lowly are lifted up, not by joining a conquering king, but as a conquering king joins them. — Nathan Eubank

Jesus clearly had no political ambitions … Jesus knows that God’s kingdom is of a completely different kind; it is not built on arms and violence … henceforth the path to the Cross becomes ever clearer; there, in the supreme act of love, the promised kingdom, the kingdom of God, will shine forth … [Jesus] does not wish to be defended by arms, but to accomplish the Father’s will to the end, and to establish his kingdom not by armed conflict, but by the apparent weakness of life-giving love. Jesus came to reveal and bring a new kingship, that of God; he came to bear witness to the truth of a God who is love, who wants to establish a kingdom of justice, love and peace. — Pope Benedict XVI

It would mean very little, however, if we believed Jesus was King of the universe, but did not make him Lord of our lives: all this is empty if we do not personally accept Jesus and if we do not also accept his way of being King. — Pope Francis

ever-Whirling Trinity

Elijah calls down fire. miltongoh.net

Some celestial event. No – no words. No words to describe it. Poetry! They should have sent a poet. So beautiful. So beautiful… I had no idea. — Ellie Arroway in the movie, Contact

During Mass, a poem opened in me. It came between the calling down of the Spirit (epiclesis) and the Consecration. I sensed the coming of two Persons – Spirit and Son — sent by the Father to render themselves radically present, tearing open the heavens to come down and save us as God-with-us.

So far, too close! I want to run, I never want to leave.

I shivered. It was as if an immaterial Fire swirled ‘round the altar, bearing within it an infinite love streaming from the Heart of the Risen Jesus.

Mysterium fidei.

O Whirling Trinity
At present now, I my longing vigil keep
looking round-about for you, O Far-Near,
you who neither slumber nor sleep
who in love I seek, even as yet I fear.
You come so fast, of sudden, falling into sight:
Love’s descent, then, now and ever yet to be,
I choose you, O thrice holy Light of Light,
my Coming, Crashing, ever-Whirling Trinity.