¡Triumph!

Faith is not merely a personal reaching out towards things to come that are still totally absent: it gives us something. It gives us even now something of the reality we are waiting for, and this present reality constitutes for us a “proof” of the things that are still unseen. Faith draws the future into the present, so that it is no longer simply a “not yet”. The fact that this future exists changes the present; the present is touched by the future reality, and thus the things of the future spill over into those of the present and those of the present into those of the future. — Pope Benedict XVI

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

For Christians, joy is the preeminent sign of the new creation, exploding from the empty tomb, spilling into the present. Joy is the most important element of witness Christians can give the world. Joy, which is the delight of unshakable hope in a God who eternally loves us, testifies with unparalleled eloquence to the living Truth faith embraces and confesses.

Yet it is not simply that Christians are themselves to be a joyful people, but that they, with irrepressible zeal, bring joy into the world around them. Each disciple of Jesus is to be a charatokos, a “joy-bearer.” Like angelic messengers flashing with superabundant joy, we are sent into the world to roll back the stones from every tomb and leave in our wake a new world “unveiled” by Christ.

The world I touch should always be more hopeful, lighter, brighter, more beautiful than it was before, because “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27) overflows into the deserts of this world. In us, Isaiah 41:18 is to be fulfilled:

I will open rivers on the bare heights,
and fountains in the midst of the valleys;
I will make the wilderness a pool of water,
and the dry land springs of water.

God, who is rich in joy, created all things to share in His joy. The incarnation of God in Jesus, under the form of the Passion, had as its goal the dispossession of divine joy for us. 2 Cor. 8:9:

For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.

Marked by such a divine economy, joy is never possessed, only held in trust; and then, only when it’s given away. To paraphrase Mother Teresa, “if you have no joy, find another with no joy, lead them to joy and you will discover joy.” Yes,

give, and it will be given to you.
A good measure, pressed down,
shaken together, running over,
will be put into your lap;
for the measure you give
will be the measure you get back (Luke 6:38).

So flood the world these 50 days of Easter glory with the inexhaustible wellspring of joy!

Like this:

Arabic: Al-Masih qam minbain’il-amwat,
wa wati al mowt bil mowt,
wa wahab’l hayah lil ladhina fi’l qubur

Greek: Christos anesti ek nekron,
thanato thanaton patisas,
ke tis en tis mnimasin,
zoin charisamenos!

English: Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
Bestowing life!

God against himself

For this holy Day, a quote from Pope Benedict, a spoken reflection by me (excuse the ambient knocking noise outside my car where I recorded), and a hymn.

Israel has committed “adultery”
and has broken the covenant;
God should judge and repudiate her.
It is precisely at this point
that God is revealed to be God
and not man:

“How can I give you up, O Ephraim!
How can I hand you over, O Israel!
My heart recoils within me,
my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my fierce anger,
I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God
and not man,
the Holy One in your midst” (Hosea 11:8-9).

God’s passionate love for his people
—for humanity—
is at the same time a forgiving love.
It is so great
that it turns God against himself,
his love against his justice.

Here Christians can see
a dim prefigurement of the mystery of the Cross:
so great is God’s love for man
that by becoming man
he follows him even into death,
and so reconciles justice and love. — Pope Benedict XVI

Mary Mother of the Church

Pope Francis instituted a new liturgical Memorial feast, celebrated on the Monday after Pentecost, in honor of Mary “Mother of the Church.” The purpose of this new feast? Robert Cardinal Sarah:

This celebration will help us to remember that growth in the Christian life must be anchored to the Mystery of the Cross, to the oblation of Christ in the Eucharistic Banquet and to the Mother of the Redeemer and Mother of the Redeemed, the Virgin who makes her offering to God.

This feast will help us discover in Mary the sweetest fruit of the Paschal Mystery, the Woman who became all-Fire because she was all-Yes to God. From the Annunciation to the Cross to Pentecost, she is the perfect realization of free human cooperation in God’s saving plan made known in Christ. Her immaculate reception of the Pentecostal detonation of the new creation in Jerusalem (Acts 1:13-15) permitted the radiant Light, blazing out of the empty tomb of the risen Jesus, uninhibited access into the heart of the world.

At Pentecost the same Spirit who first overshadowed Mary to enflesh God, now came to complete the Incarnation by inviting all of humanity to become the Body of Christ and allow Christ to come to “full stature” (Eph. 4:13). You might say that the whole of creation was, in nuce, wholly re-created by God in, with and through Mary’s human and maternal flesh, from whom God took His own flesh. In Mary, from her Immaculate Conception to her glorious Assumption, the whole Body of Christ was mystically present in its perfection.

And then there’s this. Mary is a laywoman made perfect in grace. She who is “tainted nature’s solitary boast,” she who is “more honorable that the Cherubim and more glorious than the Seraphim,” stands among the lay faithful, giving magnified voice to their thanksgiving, praise to the God who lifts up the lowly.

As New Eve, in consecrating the whole world to God by co-offering herself with her Son’s priestly and eucharistic sacrifice, Mary becomes the supreme icon of the lay vocation in the world. As a wife and mother at home with her husband and child in Nazareth; as a refugee in flight into Egypt; as guest celebrating at the wedding feast at Cana; as a widow standing at the foot of Golgotha along a public street outside the walls of the Temple in Jerusalem; as a woman at prayer in an upstairs apartment in Jerusalem on the feast Pentecost — Mary casts out into the world, far and wide, the graced seeds of the Kingdom.

It’s why we consecrate ourselves, nations and the world to her heart. Her heart is consecrated earth. Indeed, it is through the human heart that God empties out His Spirit to renew the face of the earth and make it again into His Garden (John 19:30-42). Consecrating ourselves to her is like jumping on an already racing meteor hurling headlong toward the Kingdom of God.

Christ the New Adam makes “all things new” precisely by joining Mary, the New Eve, to Him, so together they — in a world of violence, tyranny, hate, apathy — can walk the via dolorosa and bring all things — even death itself — under the unconquerable dominion of self-wasting, life-giving, sacrificial love.

God likes stories

God as an Architect, 1794 by William Blake

Why did God create mankind? Because God likes stories. — Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

This past weekend I gave a retreat for adults preparing for sacramental reception into the Catholic Church. It was a great blessing and very humbling to be among such passionate seekers. The retreat ended with the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which I thought was an especially powerful crescendo. Afterwards, one of the participants in the retreat said to me something like this,

The images and stories you shared with us brought the Mass so alive for me that I wanted to shout out to everyone else around me, ‘Do you see what I see?’ Especially at the Consecration of the Host, all your words about the crazy love God has for us, and all the amazing people you told us about, seemed to flash out of the Host. It all made new sense to me. It was so cool. I actually wish Father Ray could have just stopped and held the Host up for a really long time so we could take it all in. It so in my face that Jesus is the center of absolutely everything Catholics are about.

I sat in a coffee shop the next day and prayerfully thought about her words, and her sincerity. How incredibly important storytelling is for internalizing the faith, precisely because it translates abstract ideas into the concrete and narrative shape of human life. Stories put skin and bones on the truths of faith, wrap them in imagination and embed themselves deeply in our memories. Life is lived not in the form of precepts, bullet points or concepts, but in the form of a constantly unfolding story. Once God spoke creation into existence in the beginning, a never-ending story was born; and He remains the primary Storyteller. It’s His pedagogy, and I have tried mightily to imitate it in my own.

I also thought, the Incarnation is the premier sign of God’s irrepressible penchant for storytelling, and of His desire to elicit our gifts in co-scripting history’s epic drama. Jesus, God and Man, is the story of God; exegete of the Father (John 1:18 uses the Greek verb exēgēsato). It makes so much sense that Jesus, Word-made-flesh, was a master storyteller who wove eternity into the fabric of time through His metaphors, analogies, parables. And even more by His very short life, His death, resurrection, ascension, sending of the Spirit, and His glorious coming at the end of history. Jesus of Nazareth is the defining narrative by which the entire history of the cosmos is to be rightly understood, the final word on man’s dark story of sin and death. Jesus is the theo-drama, i.e. the story of God in search of man.

Then I thought — with copious awe — this Story has at its heart the crucifixion of God-with-us which, well, says volumes about what we are to expect as creation follows Him toward the re-creating resurrection. Per crucem ad lucem, “through the cross to the light.” The new creation passes by way of an economy of repentant humility and surrendering trust in the Father’s will to deliver us from every evil by drawing from evil definitive, imperishable good stored up for us in heaven.

Jesus, I trust in you.

Even more, beginning with Baptism, and then in all of the Church’s Sacraments (which you might say are the mystical narration of this theo-drama), we who believe in this Story plunge headlong into the Spirit of the dying and rising God, who cries out within us, “Abba! Father!” (Rom. 8:15) — “in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:20). Think of the Mass this way, with the Words of Institution in the Mystical Supper pulsing at its heart, “Take this, all of you, and eat of it…Take this, all of you, and drink from it it.”

In the Mass, that paschal narrative transubstantiates the whole world into food and drink, because our God is a God who fills the hungry with good things. Which is why our judgment will be based on feeding and drinking (Matt. 25:35). Credo.

💥

My God. My simple act of trusting faith every day, my feeble “let it be,” my whispered “Amen” to this theo-drama is what all of creation waits on, is what speaks Light into the darkness again and again and again. And the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is where it all finds its perfect completion. This is the vocation of the Church in the world. May every human being come to know and believe in this majestic dignity and hope that is theirs in Christ.

After thinking on all of this, I thought of a powerful skit I have posted here before that dramatizes the whole Story from creation to redemption, watching it again with fresh eyes.

David’s Wavering Worship

thewinedarksea.com

[This will be my last post till this weekend, likely]

I wrote this poem sometime before 2008 after attending Mass with a friend who was dying of ALS. A man of deep faith. He sat in a wheelchair in front of our family, moving awkwardly and clearly was in pain. At the Consecration, I looked at the elevated Host which, from my vantage, was just over his right shoulder. The priest’s hand was wavering, so the Host moved during those seconds. Swayed with this man, it seemed, as if they were moving together. One sacrifice. Later in the Mass the priest brought him Communion, which he struggled to receive, awkwardly moving with the Host as the priest followed him until he ingested Him.

That night I wrote this poem.

+ + +

David’s Wavering Worship
Rough-hewn, splintered wood gathered
as kindle for a mighty Flame
’round which we whirl unchained wild
like royal David of dancing fame.
For me it is certain (though dimly seen)
there was a Fiery Divine-human yearning
with raging-hunger on his blistered tongue
pining, writhing to taste impossible Love
in Passover mystery, living Memory sung
singing downward from High Above
through the steaming Blood of Adonai, arising.
Wheat crushed, ground-divinity chewed
for God is Bread, immortal Love-made-Food,
bitter herbs with all sweetness endued.
Metabolized in one Body, one Flesh co-dying
expiring, a consecrating desecrated Corpse all-Holy
risen now Most High in glory, a Father’s Only Own
become our Food of freedom, us setting free
to love like Bloodied water outpoured, wastefully:
God who reigns, Beauty blessing from the cursèd Tree.

+++

And for whatever reason, that night, this song was playing in my head as I thought of him, Him together at that morning Mass.

Frittered away by detail

thelaratouch.com

[this is the post I mistakenly posted the other day before it was edited. I had been cobbling it together over a month’s time. Hope it is useful.]

Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify. — Henry David Thoreau

My New Year’s Resolution is to cut away all the fat, all the excess, all the frivolous or directionless investments of time and energy that distract me from what is essential, and from those who are essential in my life. I have a short, doable list of specifics, but that’s the general theme. And, like salvation, this resolve is not a once-saved-always-saved decision, but one that requires a daily renewal of vows.

Fulton Sheen once said that rivers are only strong and deep when they have sharp and firm borders that define their course with purpose. The Desert Fathers argue that among the greatest obstacles to progress in spiritual maturity is “dissipation,” the helter-skelter life. For the Fathers, the endless flitting from thing to thing without sustained attention, without a defined purpose that serves worthy goals, chokes off the virtues of temperance, fortitude and patient endurance. The dissipated may do many good things, but few of them well, none with consistency, and all absent of the ability to build that virtue that alone carries you from good to saint, perseverance.

Early last Fall, I was being pressed against the wall of my limits and knew I needed to reassess my commitments. I re-connected with an old friend I always go to when I want unvarnished honesty from someone who knows me too well, and who understands the challenges of balancing marriage, raising children, work and the rest of life. People like that in your life are gold.

Among other things, he encouraged me to engage in a week-long time audit. He said, “My father used to always say, if you want to know a man’s priorities, follow the check ledger and follow the clock. Where your time is, there is your treasure, and where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” He added that in his experience people tend to be the most defensive when you question their use of time or their money spending habits, “because everyone knows by instinct both lay naked your real priorities.”

He jotted down a list for me on a napkin and asked me to see how I fared in investing my time into these 9 categories: focused time for prayer, focused time with spouse, focused time with children, exercise, eating with others, eating alone, personal leisure, work, sleep. He also required a separate spread sheet for me to examine the time (how much and when) I spent looking at any screens and the purpose of viewing.

Let’s just say, though carrying out the audit was challenging (a lot of work!), the results were eye-popping on all fronts. But the beauty of an audit is it eliminates all space for rationalizing distortions of how I in fact spend my time and allowed me to come up with a plan that addressed concrete issues. And some of the changes I have made have already yielded peace in my life and my family’s life.

We often think of peace as that “oceanic” feeling of tranquility when we feel good about life and have no angst or cares. However, St. Augustine defines peace as tranquillitas ordinis, “the tranquility of order,” and by order he means a life intentionally organized around the demands of justice and charity. As Pope Paul VI said, “if you want peace, work for justice.”

Peace requires that you bring an order to your world that begins with ensuring you are being faithful to your primary life commitments in a sustained and enduring way. This requires simplicity. Simplicity does not mean a mere absence of “stuff” in your life, as much as it evidences a unity of focus, i.e. living so everything conspires toward the service of your primary commitments. This form of simplicity requires a resolve based not just on passing feelings, but on lasting virtues. Which means it takes hard work.

As my oldest son once said when he was 4 years old, repeating the proverb he mistakenly thought my wife had been saying all his life, “I know, mom, patience will hurt you.”

Only a well-ordered life allows for genuine spontaneity, opens an authentic space of freedom for the Spirit to blow where He wills — which is always in the context of good order (1 Cor. 14:33). Those who live by emotional whim, who justify disorder by referring to what God has supposedly “placed on my heart,” ignoring the presiding role of good judgment and the necessity of exercising the hard virtues, don’t experience spontaneity. Rather, they live in disorder constructed around personal preference dressed in religious garb. And it is my experience that these ’emo-gnostics,’ more often than not, cause others who rely on them to suffer far more from the effects of their canonized egoism than they do themselves. But they often don’t notice these casualties, as their priorities are built around their own immediate needs which, they believe, God always blesses.

To bring peace into the world you have to take charge of your life, assume responsibility for your use of time, consider your primary commitments, think of how your decisions affect others, act with purpose and intention, plan and assess regularly how you are doing, and establish a relationship of accountability to keep you honest and cover blind spots. This is a marvelous asceticism, a personal discipline that can grow a garden of virtues and benefit many people’s lives around you who depend on you being faithful to first things first. Our life is to be a living liturgy, and if you look at the Church’s liturgy, well, it’s really really well ordered and planned, with intention. It’s what St. Paul calls the offering of logikēn latreian, “rational worship” (Romans 12:1), which is far better than emotional worship.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your rational worship.

One of my favorite poets, Carl Sandburg, voices well my own vivid awareness of the need to intentionally steward my time: “Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.” May 2018 offer a new opportunity for consecrating time to God, of stewarding this most precious gift that comes to us but once and passes through our hands into eternity. May my every moment become a worthy, intentional, just and love-drenched offering. Not much time left, so let’s get to it…

O Lord, you have shown me my end,
how short is the length of my days. — Psalm 39:5

Baptized in Mud

Happy Epiphany of the Lord!

The Archdiocese of New Orleans Office of Evangelization asked me to record a brief reflection on tomorrow’s Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. I think they chose that video thumbnail just to humiliate me.:)

So here it is, for what it’s worth.