Rain down

This is the spring of life that waters the whole world,
Taking its origin from the Wounds of Christ.
Sinner, to be purified, go down into the holy water. — Inscription on the Lateran Baptistery

During the proclamation of the Gospel during yesterday’s Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, for whatever reason I had a flash memory that dates back to the Fall of 1987. It’s very simple, so for what it’s worth here it is.

I had experienced a life-altering encounter with Christ in February of that year, and spent the subsequent months trying to figure out what on earth had happened to me and what to do with this whole new world that had opened up to me. It was thrilling and frightening all at once. The combination of the divine wildfire that was burning in me and the loss of a girlfriend, and several other friends who thought I’d gone mad, had caused me tremendous stress.

My flash memory was of me walking across the Florida State campus one hot afternoon right after I had gotten out of class. I remember I was praying to God with great frustration, and said something like this: “God, you’ve caused this mess. You have to help me get through all this. It’s just too much too fast!” I recall so vividly that right at that very moment a heavy afternoon shower — the kind that begins with giant drops — suddenly let loose and drenched both me and my backpack. I started laughing so hard I fell to the ground and shouted aloud, without a hint of self-consciousness, “Okay, enough! I get the point!”

Anyone looking at me certainly would have thought I was in the midst of a psychotic break.

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, I knew there was strange grace in that rain. Along with the unbridled freedom that came with this unexpected moment of totally letting go, a deep sense of God’s playfulness filled me. I sat still on the pavement until the rain ended, still laughing, and realized in those moments I felt freer than I ever had in my whole life. It was like a second baptism, and its power, from that day forward in the weeks and months ahead, turned my stress into determination and trust.

“When the Savior is washed, all water is cleansed.” I think if I had read these words of St. Maximus of Turin as I sat there on the ground, I would have nodded and smiled.

Grace is everywhere.

In honor of this Mystery, I will leave you with a recording my daughter Maria helped me upload to YouTube. It’s from 2015. My wife and one of her choir members nicknamed “CC” were rehearsing before Mass in the stairwell of the church. I decided to quietly sneak in and record it, unbeknownst to Patti….

Gaudete!

Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved. — Pope Francis

Today is Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday of “rejoicing in the Lord always” (Phil, 4:4)! The coming birth of the Savior is near.

Fr. Teilhard de Chardin once famously said, “Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.” The witness of angry, sarcastic, complaining, cynical, critical, mud-slinging, murmuring Christians ensures only those who share such dispositions will be attracted to the Faith. Those looking for hope that joy is possible in a joyless world will look elsewhere.

I like to define joy as the delight of hope in the God of love we have come to know through faith in Jesus Christ. Joy therefore thrives in those who, by faith, know they are loved with a mad and merciful love.

That crazed love drew the Most High God down into the most low of places, with us amid the skulls of Golgotha. He did this so that we cruel and crude creatures might be raised up from the “dung heap” (1 Sam. 2:8) to be seated with the Lord of joy in a Kingdom where servire regnare est, “to serve is to reign.”

If we undeserving creatures desire joy, we must hope in God’s love by imitating Him — loving the unlovable, serving the undeserving, being kind to the nasty and merciful to the miserable. St. Teresa of Calcutta leads the way:

To speak as little as possible of one’s self. To mind one’s own business. Not to want to manage other people’s affairs. To accept contradictions and correction cheerfully. To pass over the mistakes of others. To be kind and gentle even under provocation. To choose always the hardest. Never be so busy as not to think of others. These are the secret to joy.

Conception

So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?” — Genesis 18:12

In honor of today’s solemn feast of the Virgin Mary’s sinless conception, I will simply honor the beauty of the sexual act of marital union her elderly parents, Sts. Joachim and Anna, engaged in to bring about that blessed conception. To not reflect on and honor — or even mention — the beauty of that human and conjugal act in honoring a conception is unthinkable. And, as Fr. Dwight Longenecker said,

What does it matter? Well, it matters because marriage is blessed and the marriage union is sacred. If God uses this most natural and basic human action – sexual intercourse – to fulfill his work in the world, then all marriage is sacred and the marriage bed is not to be defiled.

In the Christian East, allusion to this sexual act is the image that captures the mystery of Our Lady’s holy conception best. The Russian icon I include below, from the 16th century, shows, as Orthodox priest Fr. Joseph Gleason says, “saints Joachim and Anna near their bed, preparing to conceive the Blessed Virgin Mary. These saints had sex with each other, and there is no hint of shame. It was a pure, holy, and blessed event.”

Silent Advent

 

Image result for the fruit of silence is prayer

Lack of silence in contemporary society is making many people’s lives more agitated and at times convulsed. Some people are no longer able to stay long in silence. Most young people, who are already born in this state, seem to fill every empty moment with music and images, almost afraid to feel, in fact, this void. Without realizing it, people are immersed in a virtual dimension, because of the audio-visual messages that accompany their life from morning to evening.” — Pope Benedict XVI

Advent is a season that should be marked by greater silence. While it seems obvious that time spent in silence should be used for prayer, I also strongly recommend spending time in silence with a spouse, a friend, a child. Try it, it’s extremely powerful.

Here by silence, I mean freedom from noise for the sake of an increased capacity to receive and perceive. Or, as Deacon Jim Keating describes it, “silence is the diminishment of interference between ourselves and…”

So many “…” in our lives.

Silence heightens our awareness.

Silence prepares us to become better listeners.

Silence opens up in us an inner space for greater clarity of thought and creativity.

Silence permits the deep inner world of the mind, that often hides in dark shadows, to surface and come into the light.

Silence allows us to fashion and discover our true center within.

Silence exposes our attachments so we can act in freedom.

Silence grants our weary souls rest.

Silence heals.

But make no mistake, the one who pursues silence will find himself at war with a world of noise, within and without.

To achieve inner silence requires great effort and resolve, planning and patience, accountability and long-suffering perseverance.

But the fruits.

The Meaning of Icons

I wanted to share the video recording of a lecture we had last Wednesday at Notre Dame Seminary, where I teach. It is of Fr. Maximos Constas speaking on The Meaning of Icons. It is brilliant, as Fr. Maximos always is. He gave our last annual Catholic-Orthodox lecture on St. Maximus the Confessor, and we loved him so much we asked him to return!

He’s the only rockin’ Athonite monk I know. A genius, a linguist, a theologian, a historian, a warm human being and a connoisseur of great art. The kind of man you could speak with for hours, and forget time passed. The kind of man who, when displaying his vast knowledge of nearly any subject, doesn’t make you feel stupid, but wiser. In other words, he’s a teacher.

My son Michael recorded and edited the video (note the cool way he inserted Father’s slides!). He said to say that the video is a bit grainy because Fr. Maximos wanted the light dimmed for the Power Point slides.

Churn out enormity

And we need reminding of what time can do, must only do; churn out enormity at random and beat it, with God’s blessing, into our heads: that we are created, created, sojourners in a land we did not make, a land with no meaning of itself and no meaning we can make for it alone. — Annie Dillard

I had an exchange with a friend, who’s also a dad, about the impossibility of fully appreciating your children’s childhood. Here is a part of what I wrote to him:

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You know, you are so right to say it that way. I try so hard to appreciate things in the moment, but always feel later a failure. When my mom was dying, as I sat beside her bed I tried desperately to appreciate her still being with me…but in some ways it was too hard to think that way, as the grief of impending loss, of the water’s imminent escape from my hand, clouded my ability to receive the moment. Such a paradox!

But an insight I had with my mom, and have had with the kids, was in the whole liturgical sense of ‘anamnesis’ [Greek word for ‘remember’]. Remembering “in God” what has sunk into the past has become the primary way I access the unsearchable depths of the beauty present in each moment. So much of my prayer has become remembering the past in God’s presence … is this not what praying with Scripture is? Only in prayer can I see clearly that, to the eternal God, all is present. And to the incarnate God, Jesus Christ, our memory and God’s memory have become one remembering. Such is the Eucharist.

Prayer also allows me to realize my nostalgia, the painful desire to not allow what I love to vanish into the past, is an imago, an echo of God’s eternal — agonized — love for all things:

For you love all things that exist,
and detest none of the things that you have made,
for you would not have made anything if you had hated it.
How would anything have endured if you had not willed it?
Or how would anything not called forth by you have been preserved?
You spare all things, for they are yours, O Lord, you who love the living. – Wisdom 11:24-26

This morning I had breakfast at City Diner with Maria (our little monthly tradition), and we remembered the past — the special moments, random happenings, and funny things we treasure together…and it was incredible, always is, left me filled with a blend of joy, sadness and hope as I drove away. And when I go to my Mom’s grave, I sit there and remember. So much, everything really. And somehow I go deeper into what was, with a mix of sadness, gratitude and hope.

At once, I must treasure and let go. ☨

To me, as you know, this is what I believe the new creation is about in its deepest structure: forever unpacking in the eternity of God what was the infinite depth of time, of the now, of the sacrament of the present moment that none of us has, or can receive wholly in this life.

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Astonishing thought, in every moment of our lives in this world we are called to “churn out enormity” — to impregnate each minute of each hour of every day with love, readying its labored procession for eternal remembrance in everlasting Resurrection.