Kyrie eleison

Image result for sunflower turning toward sun

My wife, Patti, has been a music director in parish contexts for over 30 years. She is an accomplished vocal performer, an exacting choral conductor and a gifted composer. She treats her work as a sacred task in service to the majesty and dignity of the divine liturgy, and experiences her work as an act of prayer and as a call to prayer. Anyone who has ever watched her conduct knows it is pure choreography. David twirling about the Ark of the Covenant with unhampered joy — with abandon! — is the best analogy I can think of. Her ebullience and intensity electrify every space she enters.

And as any artist knows, the grace of bringing beauty into the world plants the Cross of Christ, the origin and standard of all beauty, deep into the core of her being. How grateful we we should always be to artists.

Patti has brought into our family over the years a steady diet of the arts, and has taught our children — and especially me — the intimate relationship between God and beauty. There have been many times over the years when some of my most profound experiences of God in prayer, in the context of liturgical worship, have come through her work.

One example I felt moved to share today was when she had the choir perform Mary E. Smisek’s Kyrie, which is an arrangement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A Major, opus 92, movement 2. The Kyrie eleison, which is Greek for “Lord have mercy,” stands at the heart of the Penitential Act in the Mass. In those ancient words drawn from Sacred Scripture, we sinners — like Isaiah — seek God’s forgiveness and healing grace as we enter into the holy-holy-holy presence of God:

Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts! — Isaiah 6:5

It was Lent, and my chosen penance that year was exposing in me just what a weak and pathetic man I was. That year, the combination of graduate studies, my job and our four small children was an “exhaustion-cocktail,” and so my threshold of tolerance was low. I began to back off on my early morning prayer discipline, as my struggles with guilt made prayer uncomfortable, and I found excellent excuses to busy myself with other things. I am excellent at that.

It was the third Sunday of Lent, and as Mass unfolded the Kyrie began. I had never heard this arrangement before. Immediately, its magnificent tones washed over me and I experienced the most profound awareness of being loved by God very specifically in what I considered my most loathsome self. I saw myself as a frightened child and immediately thought of God calling out to Adam, who was hiding in shame amid Eden’s trees: “Where are you?” But whereas previously I had always thought of those words as a divinely irritated reproach, I knew in that moment, with absolute clarity, these were words of tender compassion.

That grace not only remained with me throughout Lent, and emboldened me to return to daily prayer, but to this day if I hear this piece of music I am transported at once into the Garden, where mercy again calls out: “Where are you?” I am also reminded of Fr. Tom Hopko’s searching insight,

Whenever we pray Kyrie eleison, don’t imagine we’re trying to convince God to be something He isn’t. Like, “O God, you are usually a tyrant, be nice today if you please!”

No!

We are simply making a declaration in the imperative form: “O God, you who ARE mercy, be who you are toward me!” Like a sunflower that turns toward the sun to receive its warmth and light, only when we confess with faith who God truly is can we receive what He longs to give us…

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” — 1 John 4:18

Again, I am sorry I post so infrequently. This is the season of my life right now.

I wanted to share briefly an insight I gained recently was particularly powerful personally. I went to a Penance service last week in Omaha, Nebraska and the priest who presided preached on a portion of this familiar parable of Jesus:

A man fell victim to robbers
as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho.
They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead.
A priest happened to be going down that road,
but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.
Likewise a Levite came to the place,
and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.

Fr. John argued that while there are many plausible interpretations as to why the priest and Levite chose to pass by the victim on the opposite side of the road, there is one common theme underlying all of them: fear. Maybe, he said, it was fear of being ritually contaminated by contact with an ‘unclean’ bloodied body, or maybe they were simply afraid of assuming the responsibility of being drawn into another’s complicated tragedy. Regardless, he said, it was fear that prevented them from choosing love for their neighbor.

Then he said (as I later recorded in my journal),

And isn’t it the case that so often lurking behind our sins is some hidden fear. Fear of failure, of being a failure, of being rejected. Fear of commitment. Fear of others’ disapproval, or of not getting others’ approval. Fear that who you are, who others are, or even who God is just isn’t good enough.

Fear of not measuring up to others’ expectations. Fear of missing out on happiness, of being hurt, being alone, being ignored. Fear that if we don’t do this thing we know to be wrong, we won’t get what we think we really need. Fear of criticism, change. I could go on all night.

So many things we are afraid of, which is undoubtedly why God says again and again in Scripture, “Do not be afraid.”

He was silent for a few moments. A powerful silence. And then he said, “Now in the silence of your conscience, as you prepare to confess your sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, ask the Holy Spirit to show you what fear hides behind your sins. Especially your habitual sins. Ask Him to help you name that fear. Then give it to Jesus, and trust His perfect love to cast it out.”

That Confession was, for me, one of the most powerful and decisive of my life. The priest gave me 131 to pray often.

Lord, my heart is not proud
Nor are my eyes fixed on things beyond me
In the quiet, I have stilled my soul
Like a child at rest on its Mama’s knee
I have stilled my soul within me

Israel, come and hope in your Lord
Do not set your eyes on things far beyond you
Just come to the quiet
Come and still your soul
Like a child at rest on its Daddy’s knee
Come and still your soul completely

Open me, revisited

I don’t usually reflect back on a previous post, but I had to this time.

The prayer I composed and then posted Sunday morning has had so much impact on me since then. Praying it, I mean, has had a strange power. And some of the comments I received via text, email and here indicated the same for a few others. It’s a very simple prayer. And maybe that’s the secret.

But today in class I had another insight. I taught the seminarians about the epiclesis at Mass, the “calling out” to the Father asking that He send His Holy Spirit to come down on the gifts of bread and wine and transform them into the Body and Blood of the risen Christ. In other words, we ask the Father to give us everything we seek, i.e. the Christ-bearing Spirit.

Epiclesis, I told my students, is what a baby does when she’s hungry, what a man in pain does when he needs help, what a grieving woman does when she wants to wail aloud her pain in the arms of a compassionate loved one. It is an open-ended cry of the poor and needy, a cry of yearning and hope, a cry of trust, expectation and faith that there is an other who hears, loves, cares, and will respond.

God cannot resist faith (Luke 8:46).

I am the Lord your God,
who brought you up from the land of Egypt.
Open wide your mouth, and I will fill it. — Psalm 81:11

Friends of mine adopted a child from Romania many years ago, and the state representative they worked with said, “When this child was taken from the orphanage, they said there was an eerie silence. He and the other infants with him had all stopped crying. They’d given up hope of a response.”

In the brightest days or darkest moments, never cease to cry out, to open every crevice of your life to the tender Father who always, always hears our cry. And responds.

I was wrecked

[From this morning’s journal]

Yesterday, Pentecost.

I was wrecked by an Apocalypse, now
the End was falling backwards, raising the fallen
as New Creation rushed in to save us Olden ones.

How can I keep from singing?

Are you not still shaking in this Aftermath?
Did you not see the skies Ablaze?
Can you not still hear the echoed roar of Yahweh Sabaoth?
Were you not left breathless by His mighty Zephyr?
Soaked in the crackling Fire falling?

At Mass the wings of the Dove were immensely laden. They shimmered, I shook.

He came, rushed upon our Gifts overthrown without destruction
giving God-from-God as Food for the hungry, Drink for the thirsty.

I heard a still whisper, a loud cry: Come, regather my scattered children!
as freely fell limitless riches won by Christ Ascending
lavishly rising Downward, wholly extended, fully expended, God given-away
left forever open-wounded, God-emptied, King-impoverished, Infinity-dispossessed.

Yes, forever.

And I could hear uncountable prison doors unlocking around me
feel violent earth-tremors quake from unshackling chains falling
once worn by the flogged Redeemer, our incarcerated executed High God.

For us men and for our salvation, you came down to this?

Madness seems always Thy eternal preference.

Be still and listen. Ask. Wait. Watch. Beg. Expect. Receive. Give.

The Mystery is above you, beside you, beneath you.

Within you.

Look Up! He comes…

Pentecostal Poem

By Jyoti Sahi (Indian, 1944–), Pentecost, 1983. globalworship.tumblr.com

This poem came to me the 8th day of the Pentecost Novena.

Come!
My being is longing
carved out by your desire
O King of all the ages
O Tongue of living Fire.
You come down to knit
to wed my life to His
and His to that of all
that was, will be and is.
O Christ-bearing Love
unseen Light unsetting
fall on our parchèd flesh
by your Dewfall wetting
turning desert into garden
our death to eternal life
our sin teeming with grace
ending every hatred and strife.
Come now! Make haste
to bring creation’s End
by healing mortal wounds
our seamless garment,
Mend.

O ever Whirling Trinity

Elijah calls down fire. miltongoh.net

[re-post from 2017 in honor of Pentecost]

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 came to me sometime between the calling down of the Spirit and the Words of Institution. I sensed the coming of both Spirit and Son, sent by the Father to render Him radically present, tearing open the heavens, even His own Heart, to come down and save us as God-with-us.

So far! So close! I want to run! I never want to leave!

I sensed an immaterial Fire swirling ‘round the altar, bearing within it 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
who neither slumber nor sleep.
You in love I seek, even as I still yet fear.
You come so fast, of sudden, falling into sight.
Love’s falling Flame: Then! Now! Ever yet to be!
I choose you, O thrice holy Light of Light,
my Coming, Crashing, ever Whirling Trinity.

Okay, where did He go??

The Ascension of Jesus to the Father, forty days after the resurrection, is often lost on the Christian imagination. What exactly is it? Is it a mere dramatic exit from the stage of history for Jesus, who leaves us behind to now get our sea legs and fend for ourselves? Or is it Jesus’ escape from this world to go prepare a better place for us, so we too can also one day finally escape to heaven?

No!

The Ascension is the definitive rescue of creation from sin, corruption and death. The Ascension is the return of all creation, by Christ’s priestly humanity, to the Father as an ongoing event of liberation, thanksgiving and joy. The Ascension means that the human heart of God now forever beats in the eternity of the Trinity! In fact, countless human hearts now ever beat there, since Christ in the Ascension brings back to the Father something He did not have when He first “came down from heaven” — our humanity. Christ brings us back with Him as members of His risen Body.

The Ascension brings all history to its final End. You see, in Scripture the drama of history can be summed up very simply: all things come from God, and all things will return to God. Like it or not, believe it or not, this is an inexorable law.

But here’s a key point: God created us in His image to be the hinge, the point of return on which history pivots God’s gift of creation back toward Him as a grateful return. This is the deepest meaning of the priestly nature of humanity. I might say more specifically, our freedom is the real priestly hinge, the pivot (Heb. 10:5-10). And we are allowed by God’s majestic gift of freedom to either say Yes or No. Tragically, the Original depraved ingratitude of our No — of sin — crippled our freedom, unhinged the hinge, tilted the pivot off center, and plunged creation headlong into death by means of our stillborn priesthood.

But God, over-filled with compassion, became Man to rescue us, to empower us and to restore us with us! By becoming Man, by living, dying, rising as a Yes (2 Cor. 1:19), and establishing the Eucharistic Sacrifice as the new Hinge, new Pivot and everlasting Vocation of humanity, Christ reconstituted and perfected our priestly calling (John 19:30).

Then, by Ascending to the Father as the event of Final Return, and sending to us His fiery Spirit at Pentecost, Christ opened up His Priesthood — our priesthood — empowering us to co-fulfill this titanic Vocation with Him. Hallelujah!!!

When I see the heavens, the work of your hands,
the moon and the stars which you arranged,
what is man that you should keep him in mind,
mortal man that you care for him?

Yet you have made him little less than a god;
with glory and honor you crowned him,
gave him power over the works of your hands,
put all things under his feet. – Psalm 8:4-7

The Church, Christ’s Body, has been called and empowered at every moment to be uplifting, raising, dragging, offering Upward all of creation back to the Father through, with and in Christ in an ongoing Ascending rescue mission of Return (Phil. 3:14).

My God, it’s going on right now as you read. Can you feel it quaking in you?

But how can one see signs of that liberating, compassionate Ascension empowering humanity to say Yes and embrace her priesthood again? See Church….