Alone

Monastery church

Final stretch of road I drove to the monastery

[I will break my break today by posting one from my retreat. BTW, loved the comments:) Will reply next week. Pax]

I’m alone.

A retreat I have awaited for months. A Trappist monastery in eastern Iowa.

The silence. So rich, full of meaning. It is a capacity, a space to receive. More, a power of awareness. Attentiveness to the moment. The ubiquity of sacrament. God is with us, in Him we live and move and have our being. Hearing becomes more refined and what was before mere “background” is now foreground. The small is great, the quiet is loud, the insignificant signs.

I arrived in my car with Louisiana plates, parked under the Norway spruce and made it in time for supper. A silent meal. Simple. Stark.

Vespers. As the monks chanted the psalms a wild chorus of house sparrows chirped outside the church. This blend of strange, unplanned harmonies and rhythms — chant and chirp — made me think of St. Maximus the Confessor’s description of man as “priest of nature.” We give intelligent voice, in praise and thanksgiving to the Creator, on behalf of all creation. I thought of Romans 12:1 and its description of our priestly action as “rational worship” (logikēn latreian). We alone of all creatures on earth can clothe our worship in language and so echo back to God the Word He spoke in the beginning. In us, “let there be” becomes “let it be.” Genesis 1:3 becomes Luke 1:38. Light becomes life. The Word spoken in the beginning is made flesh in the fullness of time.

I also thought of the preface to the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer (in the Mass):

And so, in your presence are countless hosts of Angels, who serve you day and night and, gazing upon the glory of your face, glorify you without ceasing. With them we, too, confess your name in exultation, giving voice to every creature under heaven as we acclaim: Holy, holy, holy…

If we are thus attentive throughout our days of work and rest, all that we hear, see, touch, taste and smell is brought into the temple of our bodies and readied as material for the Great Sacrifice of the Mass to be offered, co-mingled with the bread, wine and alms to be lifted aloft to the Creator. Readied for Consecration by our daily prayer, by our daily acts of virtue, by our daily repentance. By our “prayers, works, joys and sufferings.” The world that I take in every day has the potential to be re-created, redeemed within me precisely because I am a dwelling place of God, a locus of sacrificial offering, a nexus of eternity and time ambling about on this tiny plot of land floating in a vast universe. In us, when we live life thus, God casts fire into all things. In us the cosmos becomes one great burning bush afire with divine love, co-extensive with the Risen Body of Jesus.

“Full, conscious and active participation” in liturgy is the labor of logikēn latreianan action of our common priesthood that stitches together heaven and earth in Christ in each moment we live the act of bodily offering. This participation at Mass means not primarily that we join in the singing, movements and responses of the Mass (though it is that), but that we fully engage the priesthood of Jesus that we are at every moment of our lives, bringing it to perfection in the Holy Mass.

I went to bed last night with my screened window and curtain open. No car sounds, no outdoor lighting. Just stars, crickets, a catbird at sunset, a lonely nighthawk at 3:15 a.m. when I awoke for Vigils, a steady breeze from the northwest that whispered through the mesh of the screen. I asked St. Elijah to pray for me to listen to the Voice.

And I could smell the white pine sap. They must have pruned.

I rose for Vigils at 3:15 a.m. Dark. Quiet split the night. One spotlight shone down from the high ceiling above the lectern. And the flame of the sanctuary lamp flickered. No organ, just human voices. And that nighthawk. Psalms were a cappella, recto tono. Echoing softly in the stone church. Slight dissonances in their voices drew me in. An aging community of men, and many of the monks are bent over, using a cane or walker. If I were called to be a monk, I would be a Trappist. How many thousands of times these men have entered the Abbey church before dawn to sanctify the night with the divine Word? The church, unadorned, rough, real, breathed their prayer in and out.

Or so it seemed.

The Guest Master told me today the architect back in the 1800’s who inspired this Abbey’s neo-Gothic architecture once said, “The severity of Christian architecture is opposed to all deception. We should never make a building erected to God appear better than it is by artificial means. It is better to do a little substantially and consistently with the truth, than to produce a great but fictitious effect.” That’s it! That’s why I love Trappist monasteries as my place of retreat from the world, because my retreat is not from, but into reality. It’s why I leave every retreat with them more ready for life in the world. A retreat is poor, artificial, fictitious, un-truthful when it makes you dread returning to life. When I end my days at these retreats I feel sent. I come fleeing but return running.

So many reasons this space inspires this in me. But today what struck me was this. These men, they are poor, live so simply, unpretentiously in their manner of living. There is no ego-fest allowed, no cult of personality. Me is always inverted to We. A Guest Master several years ago told me that those few Trappists who may have become well-known outside the monastery for their work, like Merton or Pennington, in the monastery wear the same habit, chant the same psalms, obey the same rule, engage in the same labor as all others. Monastic life levels for the sake of charity, unity, the common good. Yet when I go to confession to a monk, the color of the personalty is rich, as is the depth and profundity of what I receive! 30 years of going to Trappist monasteries around the country, I have found more healing balm here than anywhere else as they school me each retreat in the self-renunciation of love — the supreme recipe for healing.

All of this is a marvelous critique of portions of our American ecclesial culture.

A time ago, the Guest Master shared with me at my request his vocation story. Remarkable. This point he made caught me: “When I entered here years ago, I was filled with consolations. On a sustained God-high. It was all so wonderful and necessary to secure my vocation. But the day I professed my solemn vows — the day — it all vanished. The Abbot, so wise, said to me: ‘God has removed those consolations from you so that those who come here weary from the world might find refreshment. This is the heart of our monastic vocation, to live Philippians 2:5-11. Christ emptied Himself to fill us, He calls us to empty ourselves to fill others.’ Once I saw this, I was grateful to know this was my vocation. It was easy to bear.”

The Guest Master then said to me, “Your being a husband and a father is the same. The same exchange.”

!

Today’s readings at Mass, amazingly, contained this line from 2 Cor. 8:9:

For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that for your sake he became poor although he was rich,
so that by his poverty you might become rich.

“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?” — 1 Cor 6:19

wikiart.org

Happy Pentecost! A special shout-out to Thom and Heather Jordan on this nearly 20-year anniversary of their Profession of Faith, Confirmation and First Communion, from their sponsors who love them and think they and their family all rock. Isn’t it awesome that our Catholic Church is spread over so much territory? Plenty of breathing room for charity to grow.

Okay…

Today the Paschal Mystery comes to a wrap as the power of the dead and risen Jesus falls down from the Father and explodes in Jerusalem to make the whole cosmos into a City of God.

The Holy Spirit is the living presence of God in the Church. He keeps the Church going, keeps the Church moving forward. More and more, beyond the limits, onward. The Holy Spirit with His gifts guides the Church. You cannot understand the Church of Jesus without this Paraclete, whom the Lord sends us for this very reason. And He makes unthinkable possible, the unimaginable imaginable! To use a word of St. John XXIII: it is the Holy Spirit that updates [aggiornamento] the Church: Really, he really updates it and keeps it going. And we Christians must ask the Lord for the grace of docility to the Holy Spirit. Docility in this Spirit, who speaks to us in our heart, who speaks to us in all of life’s circumstances, who speaks to us in the Church’s life, in Christian communities, who is always speaking to us.” — Pope Francis

Back in 1987 I went through a “Life in the Spirit” seminar and was prayed over for an unleashing of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It was powerful for me at what was really the beginning of my faith journey. I did not experience the gift of tongues or words of knowledge or other charismatic gifts often hailed by both Pentecostals and Catholics in the Charismatic Renewal as premier signs of “baptism in the Spirit.”  What I did experience, though, was a very intense and sustained awareness of what is often called the “indwelling” of the Spirit (cf 1 Cor. 6:19). In fact, I remember when one of the members of the prayer group I had joined quoted St. Augustine, I thought to myself, “That’s exactly  it!” He told me Augustine said, “God is closer to us than we are to ourselves.” [Actually what Augustine really said is even more lovely and poetic in Latin and English: Interior intimo meo et superior summo meo, “Higher than my highest and more inward than my innermost self”]

God is more interior, “closer” to my innermost self precisely because He communicates to my “self” existence at every second. God is “beneath me,” the “ground of my being,” as the Rhineland theologians of the 15th century loved to say. But God is also insanely close to us because He desires to unite Him-self with our-self. Not united at the superficial levels of our consciousness, but at the source, the core, the origin of who “I” am, the personal spring from which my deepest identity emerges. In other words, God wishes to get dangerously close to my heart, to what makes me who I am as an absolutely unique individual person; to the place where I am stripped of all pretense and deception and empty show and defense mechanisms. There, in that most intimate and supremely vulnerable space within me, where I am “naked,” God wishes to gain entry to become one with me, opening His Heart and Person just as unreservedly to me as He asks me to open to Him.

Whoa.

After that personal experience of the Spirit’s indwelling, of a heightened awareness of my body being His temple, I suddenly became more aware of my words and actions as being done in the presence of God. I developed what I might call an acute case of “holy fear of the Lord,” i.e. a tremendous sense of reverence, awe, fear of offending God who dwelt within. Fear of “grieving the Holy Spirit” (Eph. 4:30). That holy fear has never left me in 30 years. In fact, my resolution to give up cussing permanently after my initial conversion experience in 1987 was sealed by this new awareness. I had developed a very foul mouth when I was 13 or so, but after my conversion experience I instinctively knew I had to stop though no one had asked me to.

While I am making this point, let me share a very personal grace I received from the Spirit in that regard six years ago. As I have a bad memory these days, so I cannot recall if I have ever shared it here.

Although I had given up cussing in 1987, and was almost 100% effective in keeping my commitment in the subsequent years, inside of me there was a sewer of language that assailed me night and day. All of the memories and habits of a childhood surrounded by cursing, and years of practicing it with abandon, remained in me. It was especially bad when I would pray. But, at the encouragement of my spiritual director, I had long ago accepted it as a lifelong penance for my sins and the sins of others, and I tried to make the best of it.

In 2011 I went to Confession to a priest who was, by chance, also an exorcist. I had never met him before this. I never mentioned to him my inner struggle with vulgarity, but he himself brought it up — which was a bit disconcerting. Just after absolution he put a crucifix on my head and prayed something like this: “Lord, you know your son here has long struggled with the spirit of blasphemy. And he has been faithful. And now you wish to free him from this so he can worship you in purity of mind and heart.” Later that day, I immediately thought of Exodus 7:16.

It was absolutely astonishing, and I could never explain to anyone what happened with adequate clarity. But I can say that from that moment on, till this day, I have never again been assailed in my mind by vulgarity. While I can call to mind curse words at will, they never present themselves to me. I knew immediately, as soon as he finished praying, that it was gone. I told him so, and he said: “The Lord, the Spirit of freedom, wanted you to first struggle all those years to make you ready to receive this grace. Otherwise it would not be your own, be part of you.” He added, “You know that vulgar and blasphemous words, especially the f-word, are the lingua franca of the demons in an exorcism. Just think of the one time you hear of a disciple using curses — St Peter denying Jesus [Matt. 26:74]. A good sign that Christians should avoid them. A salty word is fine to spice things up now and again, but perverse and blasphemous language that offends God and human dignity are not. We live in a very vulgar culture, which is a symptom of spiritual decay. God wishes Christians to be signs of contradiction that remind the world that we will be judged one day by the way we used the gift of language God gave us to resemble His Word. Go in peace, son.”

O Spirit of Freedom, Spirit who makes of my body your temple, come and abide with me forever. Give me the mind and heart of Jesus and make His prayer my own: “Abba! Father!” Amen.

Saint of Joy

St. Philip stepping on a Cardinal hat

Today is the feast of St. Philip Neri, 16th century Italian reformer-priest who was known for his joy, sense of humor and offbeat spirit. Philip, patron saint of comedians, demonstrates wonderfully how sanctity preserves and amplifies, even as it purifies, the unique character of each person’s personality. I have always loved this saint and begged for a double-portion of his spirit.

He is the saint known for telling jokes in the confessional to break the tension, throwing picnics in the middle of the street between visits to churches, breaking out into silly children’s songs in the presence of stuffy cardinals, shaving off half his beard before a meeting with a wealthy Roman family, walking out of the Confessional laughing uncontrollably, kicking balls through the streets of Rome dressed in his cassock as he skipped and sang with his followers, carrying bouquets of flowers and distributing them as he went along, intentionally mispronouncing Latin words in the Mass in the presence of a gravely serious scholar-bishop, making a priest in his Order who took himself too seriously sing a dirge at a wedding breakfast, wearing red jerseys over his black cassock, giving out crazy penances (e.g. to a priest known for eloquence, Philip ordered him to give the same sermon six times in a row so people would think he only had one sermon) and tossing around like a frisbee the cardinal hat offered him by the Pope.

Thank God we have this saint!

But what made this man a saint and not simply a cut-up was his deep humility and his intense love for God and people. His humor was never used to knock down, cut or wound, but to build up and wake up a sleepy church. To thaw out the Frozen Chosen. He was a Fool for Christ whose prophetic mission was to remind the faithful that joy, as Fr. Chardin once said, is the infallible sign of the presence of God and the premier indication that your spiritual life is in good order. His jovial manner was lived in service to lifting hearts and leading others into a place of light, hope and conversion to the Gospel of joy. Above all, he wanted to free the Roman clergy from the shackles of cynicism, ladder climbing and dour seriousness that confuses solemnity with somberness.

Once while he was praying on the Vigil of Pentecost in 1544 a globe of fire appeared in front of him and entered his mouth. Afterwards, he felt his heart swell in his chest — without pain — and was so overwhelmed by an intense feeling of love for God that he fell to the ground yelling, “Enough, enough, Lord! I can bear no more!” It became immediately apparent to him that the superabundance of joy that filled him was meant to be given away, shared with all he would meet along the way. He had been commissioned to be “drunk with love” (Acts 2:13-15!) by the God whose love is joy, to permit divine joy to break into a world grown old, bitter, tired and angry in sin.

Philip the priest-saint is an electric sign to clergy. How desperately we need deacons and priests and bishops and popes who ingest Fire and are filled with joy, whose lives — uniquely — cry out to both church and world: Sursum corda! “Lift up your hearts!”

In the words of Pope Benedict addressing his fellow clergy:

It is really true: as we follow Christ in this mission to be fishers of men, we must bring men and women out of the sea that is salted with so many forms of alienation and onto the land of life, into the light of God. It is really so: the purpose of our lives is to reveal God to men. And only where God is seen does life truly begin. Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is. We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary. There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than to know Him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him. The task of the shepherd, the task of the fisher of men, can often seem wearisome. But it is beautiful and wonderful, because it is truly a service to joy, to God’s joy which longs to break into the world.

Let us sing!

Jubilate Deo omni terra (shout joyfully to God all the earth).
Servite Domino in laetitia (serve the Lord in gladness).
Alleluia, alleluia, in laetitia!
Alleluia, alleluia, in laetitia!

“Without Sunday, we cannot…”

[this post was written in 2016, and after receiving a request today to “post a draft to break up ur week off and don’t bother editing it”. I won’t!]

In Abitene, a small village in present-day Tunisia, 49 Christians were taken by surprise one Sunday while they were celebrating the Eucharist, gathered in the house of Octavius Felix, thereby defying the imperial prohibitions. They were arrested and taken to Carthage to be interrogated by the Proconsul Anulinus. Significant among other things is the answer a certain Emeritus gave to the Proconsul who asked him why on earth they had disobeyed the Emperor’s severe orders. He replied, “Sine dominico non possumus” [without Sunday we cannot]. That is, we cannot live without joining together on Sunday to celebrate the Eucharist. — Pope Benedict XVI

Sunday is the golden clasp that binds together the volume of the week. ― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

One of my children asked me the other day, “What’s the best way to explain why we go to church every Sunday?” I offered three points — one from my memory of a theology class lecture (the notes of which I later retrieved to post here), one from an immigrant Siberian woman and one from a granddaughter of Italian immigrants.

+ + +

My dogmatic theology professor back in 1992 once said, according my fresh rendering of those choppy class notes:

One of the most crucial points of that very orderly 7-day creation story in Genesis, and really of the whole Torah, is that God not only organizes space in the way He wishes, but He also organizes time. God gets to decide when, where and how we are to enter His presence and worship Him. The Book of Leviticus delves into this ‘ordo’ in excruciating detail. In other words for both Jews and Christians the who-what-when-where-why-how of worship is not a personal choice or a style preference — “I have my own way of worshiping God.” Rather, worship is revealed to us by God wrapped in a command. The Eucharist is supremely that, instituted and commanded by the God-Man.

To engage with God on God’s terms is a terribly weighty matter for Jews. Man-made religion is the stuff of pagans with their hand-crafted idols. God-made religion is the stuff of Jews, the people He chose to shout to humanity: you are God-etched images whom God set in the world to teach the world God’s Way; to love the world God’s Way; to cultivate the world God’s Way; to bless the world God’s Way. Again, the Jews go out of their way to make absolutely clear: ours is a revealed religion, not the product of human ingenuity but surprisingly disclosed and reluctantly discovered inside a divine Furnace burning on Mt Sinai during an earthquake.

It’s why the Church has always been at pains to organize the liturgical year according to the pattern shown her in the divine economy. All of it. Every feast day, every holy season reflects some aspect of God-writ salvation history; reflects the way that God has organized His own ‘oikos,’ His cosmic home that He designed for us to live in with Him, i.e. Emmanuel.

So, Jesus rose from the dead and sent down the Fire of the Spirit on a Sunday, re-creating the creation, dawning creation’s Eighth Day, the Lord’s Day. Therefore Christians worship on Sunday. Period. If, that is, they want any part in His new creation. Or they can skip Sunday Eucharist and opt out, sleep in, watch TV and miss out on eternity. This is why so many Christians early on, and throughout the centuries, were willing to risk the loss of biological life rather than renounce their commerce with eternal life that Sunday offered.

And this is why the Church makes Sunday a grave obligation: it is the Day on which all time hinges, when Christ’s Body gathers as one, the Day when Christians do their priestly work of transacting between heaven and earth, singing the songs of the free, giving thanks for all things, offering up six days worth of sacrifices, and eating and drinking the Flesh and Blood of God.

If that doesn’t get you out of bed and to church, I don’t know what possibly could.

And as wonderful a gift as daily Mass is, it should never be allowed to overshadow the preeminence of the Sunday Eucharist. As they say in the Eastern Churches of Sunday: “This chosen and holy day is the first of the Sabbaths, the queen and lady, the feast of feasts, and the festival of festivals.” It is the apex and axis of time. God gives the faithful Monday through Saturday, six days to engage in their priestly preparation of gifts, for wheat-and-grape crushing. But He gives us one Day for the Great and Holy Oblation, the Awful Sacrifice, when those gifts are gathered up into the joying House of the dancing Father by the ascending Christ through the Wind and Fire of the falling Spirit. No sleepy church allowed in this whirling perichoresis!

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Back in the late 1980’s I met a Siberian woman at my dad’s Orthodox parish. We were talking about her flight from the Soviet Union to the U.S. and she was hacking and coughing. I mentioned to her how impressed I was that she came to church even when she was very unwell (even as I wondered if she thought about how contagions travel!). She said:

It is nothing. In my country people go to the gulag or die for going to church, so what is it if I come to church sick? This country was established so you could go to church freely, but once people tasted freedom they used it for other things and stopped going to church. To me that’s a slap in God’s face. People stopped using their freedom for God and use it on themselves. So when I am tired or sick I think of the people home who risk their lives to go each Sunday and then for me it is nothing. It is a blessing.

I was stunned speechless. I thought of the interconnection of the Eucharist, with its core of “this is my Body broken, Blood shed” sacrifice, the command at the end of Liturgy to “Go!” and the willingness to live this whole furious mystery in the world outside the church. If freedom in the Inside Church is defined by sacrifice, freedom in the Outside Church must be likewise.

+ + +

Years ago I asked a woman to give a personal testimony to parents of children preparing for First Holy Communion. She had earlier shared a story that knocked my socks off so I wanted the parents to hear it as well. It went something like this:

When I was growing up, my maternal grandparents were the hub of our family. Their home was like a warm hearth, full of love. Almost every Sunday of the year, we had to go to their house after morning Mass for a family gathering and feast. My grandparents were Italian so food was a huge part of life. And everyone brought something. The house was packed with immediate and extended family, and occasionally some random stranger my grandmother invited. Before lunch began everyone always had to gather in the den, packed like sardines, and listen to Papa tell some fantastic story from our family history. I am sure now his stories were a mix of fact and fiction, which my grandmother would confirm any time she stepped into the room as she would immediately correct some detail or say, “Papa, stop exaggerating.” Everyone would laugh and he would sing this line from Gigi, “Ah yes, I remember it well!” Sometimes he would get choked up as he told a story, other times he would tell funny stories, laughing harder than anyone else; and still other times told stories that were meant to teach us kids something about our family’s core values. Honesty, integrity, patience, courage.

When my grandmother died and my grandfather went into a nursing home, our extended family started to unravel until my mom decided to take up the tradition and keep it going. She still does, though it’s not quite the same.

What I learned from this is that when you don’t have a regular place for family to gather, hear their stories, sing and laugh and cry and eat together, you forget who you are the rest of the week. My grandparents as good Catholics knew Sunday was a special day, a holy day, a day set apart to celebrate family and life and God’s gifts and to keep us close to each other so we could, each of us, stay strong. They thought that without family everything falls apart. On Sunday, we knew who we were as a family, and so I knew who I was, so the rest of the week we could then live up to our family name and our family tradition of hard work, generosity, love.

That’s how I think of Sunday and Mass and why making sure Sunday and Mass look like each other is a priority. It’s an obligation of love and not of guilt. Though there was always that if you missed, my grandmother was good at Catholic guilt!

I’ll end with this quote from the Bible that Father John used when my daughter made her First Communion. It made me realize that my grandmother knew that the feast of the Mass and the feast of home needed each other, made sense of each other. So: “Today is holy to the Lord your God. Do not lament, do not weep! Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks, and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared; for today is holy to our Lord. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord is your strength!” [Nehemiah 8:9-10]

Our local Archbishop has put restrictions on sports and certain other activities in Catholic schools and parishes to help return the focus of Sunday as a day of worship, of family, of rest, of outreach to the lonely and poor and suffering. I am so grateful for his courage and I know he has faced lots of resistance and criticism. But he has only created a space, a vacuum that now demands to be filled by us Catholics who’ve been gifted with the limitless creativity of our faith. It’s our mission to make Sunday into a day so extraordinary and so revolutionary that the rest of the world — presently consumed by endless work, addictive entertainment and restless consumption — may just decide to stop, look up and listen to our song of revolution: “Without Sunday, we cannot…” The list is endless.

Without Sunday, the day we remember that, in the end, all is gift:

Mashley’s “Goner”

Simple post for me today. My last till the weekend.

My daughter Maria allowed me to share a video she and Ashley made last summer. They never published it because they did not feel it was up to their standard. I did! My begging prevailed. Love Ashley trying out the ukulele!

They made this while Maria was in Florida with our family on vacation and Ashley was in NOLA. They did it over the internet, I have no idea how.

It’s the Twenty One Pilots song, Goner. The song is addressed to “You” — to me it is clearly spoken to God, prayerfully begging Him to save Tyler from despair and help him to be authentic (and not a ‘blurry face’).

The end of the song (in the original version) explodes in impassioned pleading. Just exquisite.

The most beautiful part of this prayer for me is the expression of a desire to be known by God, whose [Holy] Ghost is “close to me.” A lovely riff on Galatians 4:9:

…but now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again?

No turning back.

Oh, and look at the drawing on the wall to the left behind Ashley. Cool.

Lyrics below.

I’m a goner, somebody catch my breath,
I’m a goner, somebody catch my breath,
I want to be known by you,
I want to be known by you.

I’m a goner, somebody catch my breath,
I’m a goner, somebody catch my breath,
I want to be known by you,
I want to be known by you.

Though I’m weak and beaten down,
I’ll slip away into this sound,
The ghost of you is close to me,
I’m inside-out, you’re underneath.

I’ve got two faces, blurry’s the one I’m not,
I’ve got two faces, blurry’s the one I’m not,
I need your help to take him out,
I need your help to take him out.

Though I’m weak and beaten down,
I’ll slip away into this sound,
The ghost of you is close to me,
I’m inside-out, you’re underneath.

Though I’m weak and beaten down,
I’ll slip away into this sound,
The ghost of you is close to me,
I’m inside-out, you’re underneath.

Don’t let me be gone.
Don’t let me be gone.
Don’t let me be gone.
Don’t let me be gone.

Don’t let me be.
Don’t let me be.

(Ah, yeah)

I’m a goner, somebody catch my breath,
I’m a goner, somebody catch my breath,
I want to be known by you,
I want to be known by you.

Daft Punk Sabbath

bp.blogspot.com

Jews gave the world a day of rest. No ancient society before the Jews had a day of rest. Those who live without such a septimanal punctuation are emptier and less resourceful. Those people who work seven days a week, even if they are being paid millions of dollars to do so, are considered slaves in the biblical conception. — Thomas Cahill

To gain control of the world of space is certainly one of our tasks. The danger begins when in gaining power in the realm of space we forfeit all aspirations in the realm of time. There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in harmony. Life goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things of space, becomes our sole concern. ― Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

The Sabbath! Shabbat! The day of ceasing from work, the day of rest, the day of thanksgiving, the day of celebration when Queen Sabbath, and her Lord, come to set free those men and women whom work, under the dominion of sin, ever-threatens to enslave.

When Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” — He was declaring Himself to be the Sabbath, the eternal rest of God-made-man in whom God’s rest and man’s rest coincide. Hebrews 4:1-13 makes this point. The eternal Word is the delighted Sabbath gaze of the Father who, on the 7th day, ceased creating to look back on the “very good” creation He had called into existence out of nothing. And He invites us, made in His image, to join Him on the 7th day in His delighted contemplative gaze on the beauty of both creation and Creator.

In His resurrection, Jesus, having completed all of His redeeming work, entered the 8th day of creation — the day of eternity — to gaze with the Father and the Holy Spirit on the goodness and beauty of the new creation. In Him all creation finds its final rest-oration, and every Sunday is a sacrament of that rest as we cease from our labors and allow God to gaze on us with delight. And in the Holy Mass He invites us, reborn as His sons and daughters, to join Him on the 8th day in His delighted contemplative gaze on the beauty of both re-creation and Redeemer.

Work and rest, labor and leisure, doing and be-ing, action and contemplation, planting and celebrating, harvesting and feasting, giving and receiving, usefulness and uselessness, means and ends, composing and playing. These furious opposites shape a fully human life and give birth to creativity. Leisure, which is a posture of grateful receptivity toward existence as a gift, is not a luxury but a necessity for authentic human living. Leisure and labor are not opposites or competitors, but dance partners. Leisure requires labor, and labor requires leisure. Without leisure there is no “space” made in which we can return to God as a sacrifice all that we have made of what we received. Without leisure we forget to give thanks, we fail to celebrate and the fruit of joy dies on the vine. Without labor we cannot rightly receive the gifts we are given, which requires that we multiply them in service to the good of all to the glory of God. With no labor, there is no sacrificial offering to return God’s fruit-bearing gifts with thanksgiving. God created six days to gather the material for the Sacrifice, and one day to pour it out before Him in joyful celebration.

Oh the purposelessness of Sabbath celebration, of making beauty, of splashing life with infinitely varied colors! The Sabbath commands we have tea with our grandmother, swing quietly beneath the oak with a friend, smell flowers, dance, make love to our spouse, dress up for Mass, set the table for a feast with exquisite care, make music, laugh, play, bathe the feet of Jesus with our tears and dry them with our hair. O sheer, glorious, reckless, blessed waste done for the sake of love without measure.

I worked in an Orthodox Jewish nursing home in Connecticut in the 1980’s and I will never forget the weekly experience of welcoming the Sabbath on Friday evening. With the tables decorated beautifully and adorned with traditional foods and wine, the Rabbi would welcome Lady Sabbath into the Home with song and dance and prayers. “Shabbat shalom…”  All in Hebrew. Many of the residents knew the words, the songs and would sing. While during the week they looked sad from loneliness, on this evening every week all would come alive. It was an emotional thing to watch. For that short time they felt valued, worthy, loved, essential, important, joyful. The world took on a beauty and meaning that it lost during the days of efficiency and procedures, busyness and rushed pragmatism. Eating, drinking, dancing, singing, speaking a sacred language, drawing on memories that went back to childhood; to Sinai; to the dawn of creation. Lady Sabbath had come and set them free from a world that declares the unproductive unworthy, dead weight. A foretaste of the next world, where all means-to-ends collapse into a single End and utility is swallowed up in the final work of all creation: ceaseless celebration of unending love.

Not long ago, I had worked for 14 days in a row. It was a Sunday and I was writing a talk I had to give out of town that week. My son, who wanted to go for a run with me, came over and said, “Dad, when will you be done?” I said, “Not much longer.” He said, “That’s what you said last time.” I got a bit short and said, “I just have to focus, please.” He said, “What are you writing about?” I said, “The Paschal Mystery for an adult education thing.” He said, “Don’t you think the Paschal Mystery would want you to spend time with your family on a Sunday?”

The Church exists in the world to bring to the world the culture of Sabbath. The Church is meant to be for all people a “house of prayer,” a place to bring labors and heavy burdens and rest them on the Altar for total consecration. Like the prodigal son who returned to the father weary, burdened, exhausted and chained by his labors and his sins, we must make Sabbath time to return to God with the sacrifice of our whole life-offering — repented sins and virtuous labors — so He can receive all of it, with us, into His outrageously wasteful (see the older son in Luke 15:25-32) and joyful celebration.

As I like to use off-beat songs to punctuate my points, I will end with the song Daft Punk by one of my favorite contemporary groups, the crazy-talented a capella Pentatonix. They are nuts! The lyrics of this cover-mashup of various Daft Punk songs alternate (in my mind!) between labor and Sabbath celebration. My favorite part of the song is the beginning riff of technologic buzz words that exhaust me just thinking of! Mostly because so much of my work life is dominated by those words. Feel the tension between the freedom of celebration and the work that is “never over.” I won’t attempt any commentary beyond that. If you so desire, watch the wildly colorful and fun music video and follow the lyrics I posted below.

Buy it, use it, break it, fix it,
Trash it, change it, mail, upgrade it,
Charge it, point it, zoom it, press it,
Snap it, work it, quick, erase it,
Write it, cut it, paste it, save it,
Load it, check it, quick, rewrite it,
Plug it, play it, burn it, rip it,
Drag and drop it, zip, unzip it,
Lock it, fill it, call it, find it,
View it, code it, jam, unlock it,
Surf it, scroll it, pause it, click it,
Cross it, crack it, switch, update it,
Name it, rate it, tune it, print it,
Scan it, send it, fax, rename it,
Touch it, bring it, pay it, watch it.
Technologic.

One more time
Ah ah ah ah ah
Ah ah ah ah
One more time
Ah ah ah ah ah
Ah ah ah ah

We’re like the legend of the Phoenix
Our ends with beginnings
What keep the planets spinning
The force of love beginning
We’ve come too far,
To give up who we are
So let’s raise the bar
And our cups to the stars
We’re up all night till the sun
We’re up all night to get some
We’re up all night for good fun
We’re up all night to get lucky
We’re all up till the sun
We’re up all night to get some
We’re up all night for good fun
We’re up all night to get lucky
We’re up all night to get lucky
We’re up all night, all night to get,
Up all night to get, get, get lucky
Last night, I had this dream about you
In this dream, I’m dancing right beside you
There’s nothing wrong with just a little bit of fun
We were dancing all night long
Oh, I don’t know what to do
About this dream and you
I hope this dream comes true
One more time
We’re gonna celebrate
Oh yeah, all right
Don’t stop the dancing
One more time
We’re gonna celebrate

Work it harder, make it better
Do it faster, makes us stronger
More than ever hour after
Our work is never over
Work it harder, make it better
Do it faster, makes us stronger
More than ever hour after
Our work is never over
I’mma work it harder, make it bett-
Do it faster, makes us
More than ever hou-hour after
Ou-our work is never over
Work it harder, make it better
Do it faster, makes us stronger
More than ever hour after
Our work is never over

Television, rules the nation, oh yeah
Television, rules the nation

Music’s got me feeling so free
Celebrate and dance so free
One more time
Music’s got me feeling so free
We’re gonna celebrate
Celebrate and dance so free (celebrate)
Tonight (We’ve)
Hey, just feelin’ (Come to far)
Music’s got me feeling the need (To give up who we are)
One more time
Music’s got me feeling so free (So let’s)
We’re gonna celebrate (Raise the bar)
Celebrate and dance (And our cups)
To the stars
We’re up all night till the sun
We’re up all night to get some
We’re up all night for good fun
We’re up all night to get lucky
We’re up all night till the sun
We’re up all night to get some
We’re up all night for good fun
We’re up for
One more time
We’re up all night till the sun
Celebration
Feelings so free
One more time
We’re up all night till the sun
Celebration
Music’s got me feeling so

Our work is never over

The intimacy of Mass

I wanted to share a brief reflection with you all, in hope that it will bless you as it did me.

This week at work has been extremely difficult for me, my wife is away for the week helping her brother and his wife up in NY, my girls have been at school late every night this week — sometimes coming home at 10:30 p.m. — for a musical they are in, my sons have had a difficult week at work and school, and a slew of other things happened in the midst of it all.

At the end of today’s work day, which began for me at 3:30 a.m., a priest at the seminary asked me if I wanted to join him as he celebrated Mass in the sacristy. As my home and work commitments had prevented me from attending Mass that day, I was overjoyed, especially since I always try to go to Mass every day of the Easter Octave.

It was a profound experience. Afterward, I ran to my office and wrote out my reflection quickly so I would not forget it. Here’s part of what I wrote:

+ + +

The intimacy of Mass, the two of us. Christ, risen, inexplicably tender, was palpably present. It was almost disconcertingly immediate. Father Joe prayed for my wife and children, for Fr. John. It seemed as though space bent, warped, spiraled, as though we were all suddenly thrown together in this small space. Unwittingly caught up in the communion of saints. Fr. John in the hospital bed, my wife taking care of Mike and Arron’s children. The Mass swept into its gravitational pull those whom we had borne there by our intentions. I could almost hear the IV pump, the children’s laughter, my wife’s voice. I welled up.

I read the reading from Acts, and the psalm. A simple “Alleluia” response. Again, I felt we were there with Peter and John, the Sadducees, Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, Alexander and all who were of the high-priestly class. No mere memoir. I’m telling you. A sacrament. Anamnesis. Living memory. A dangerous memory that renders past and future, present. Or present, past and future? Obliterated, transfigured. What has become of time? Of space? What did He do when He rose?

That Gospel! Again, intimate. Jesus cooks breakfast, invited us to join Him in the sacristy. He’s so close. Psalm 139:7:

O where can I go from your spirit,
or where can I flee from your face?

I want to run.

Jesus said to them, “Come, have breakfast.”
And none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?”
because they realized it was the Lord.
Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them,
and in like manner the fish.

Then the petitions. “Lord, hear our prayer.” Father prayed for various intentions — the seminarians, Fr. John, Patti. I prayed. All of these people, needs, joys, worries (all) were sent up. Sirach 35:21 popped into my mind:

The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds;
it does not rest till it reaches its goal;
Nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds.

I want to be lowly. I felt lowly, not through my virtue, but by virtue of the Presence there, then that made me feel very small, extremely tiny. A Most High God stooping down low to listen. No mere metaphor. Absolutely real.

Then the Preparation of Gifts, the Offertory. Sublime. Father took the bread and wine and just packed them dense, an initial singularity, with all of these intentions. I felt all of my week, all of my struggles, all of my exhaustion, all of my nightmares, my failures and all of my friends and co-workers and children and wife and mother and seminarians and others who have populated my thoughts this week all lift off of my shoulders and — how best to say this? — enter the bread and wine. My God. Missa est, “it is sent.” How did he lift up, so high, all that weight on the paten and in the chalice? In Persona Christi, clearly.

And then — I knew it was coming — he invoked the dewfalling Spirit over “your sacrifice and mine,” and spoke those words I can never wrap my head around:

Take this, all of you, and eat of it:
for this is my body which will be given up for you.
Take this, all of you, and drink from it:
for this is the chalice of my blood,
the blood of the new and eternal covenant.
which will be poured out for you and for many
for the forgiveness of sins .
Do this in memory of me.

All of it, sacrificed, offered Up. Broken, bled, buried, risen, exalted. Everything of my life, of others’ lives was all lost (and found) in Him. I handed all of it over to Him, more willingly than usual (clearly grace) and He took the whole of it up to Himself. Deposited in that rot-free Treasury. Gaudium et Spes #39:

For after we have obeyed the Lord, and in His Spirit nurtured on earth the values of human dignity, brotherhood and freedom, and indeed all the good fruits of our nature and labor, we will find them again, but freed of stain, burnished and transfigured, when Christ hands over to the Father a kingdom eternal and universal, a kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice, love and peace.

Us, Priestly us. Nexūs.

As he prayed the long Eucharistic prayer to God the Father, we were being seen. “Look, O Lord, upon the Sacrifice which you yourself have provided for your Church…” The whole of my week, all of those people’s faces, were there, all at once, Christ having already made its catholic entirety His on the Cross. One Sacrifice. Carrying it up on, or in, His risen, ascending Body. Not then, now. I, His risen, ascending Body. I, inseparably joined to Him, baptized into Him. Shattering: What I intend, He intends, inasmuch as what He wills, I will. So when I carried all of those people, all of that history to Him in my intentions, He obeyed, He took it all up with Him into glory; soon to give to His Father.

I am His, He is mine.

Liturgy is this, enacted, realized. Liturgy vivisects this world with the Risen One who holds the keys of death, whose sacrificial offering on Golgotha drenches, washes, inebriates a world now rendered immortal. A furnace. A consuming fire. Where am I? Amen.