Daft Punk Sabbath

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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.

Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (beneath Golgotha)

The Cross at Ground Zero. carbonated.tv

[In absence of more time to write, I will share my recent journal entry here meditating on the Triduum. It was a one sitting stream of thought. I pray one insight feeds your prayer these holy days. This will be my last post till after Easter, so all good wishes for your celebrations to be filled with joy and God’s blessings.]

As I have been meditating on this impending Triduum, a host of insights have been boiling in my heart. I will write them here with a logic and order totally disrupted by the unsettled-ness of this paschal mystery. Worse in its mess because I am part of that mystery. Gulp.

In the 7-day liturgical rhythm of the first creation story in Genesis, Friday (day 6) is the day Man was created, male-female, in the divine image; Saturday (day 7) is the day of both divine and human Sabbath rest; Sunday (day 1) is the very dawn of creation when God first spoke light into being.

Good Friday. Holy Saturday. Easter Sunday.

The Pasch of Christ weaves its seamless disruption so magnificently into the textures of creation’s pattern, you almost don’t notice when the bread and wine become Him. Clearly, divine providence loves patterns that evince surprising beauty. God loves making us gawk.

The Last Supper takes place, by the Jewish counting of a new day beginning at sunset, on the same day as the crucifixion. “Holy Thursday” is a deceptive way of naming the Last Supper. The Eucharist and the cross are in one day, are one event.

The Eucharist is a verb, a sacrificing: Body broken for you, Blood spilled for you.

The Eucharist is a verb, a command: Take, eat; Take, drink. Terrifying to eat and drink verbs. Especially ones suffused with crazed love. Active, plying. I much prefer nouns. Passive, pliable.

The Eucharist is a verb, a demand: As I have done, so you must do. Understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate, and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s Cross.

The Eucharist is God-Man grain, grapes, surrendered to death, to crushing, to pressing, to fire, to fermenting, to ingestion. All in order to give life, to give thanks, to reveal the most secret essence of God. God is food, drink.

The crucified and risen Flesh and Blood of the God-Man is His supreme sacrificial self-gift for His bride, for humanity. Given so she might become “church,” ekklesia, which means “called out from where you are.” Out of my comfort zone, that is, to where He is. Ekklesia is the Woman born of His open side, a New Eve washed and clothed, invited, called and gathered into His home, His life, His love, His faithfulness, His joy, His recreating work.

The Eucharistic sacrificial banquet feeds us, the image-bearers God created to make certain creation was lovingly cultivated into a beautiful, fragrant, fruit-filled, life-giving Garden of offering.

The Eucharist effects, seals, perfects, elevates, transforms, transfigures, glorifies, divinizes Man and Woman. Eucharistic Communion is the true two-in-one-flesh, the extreme source and paradigm of all human community, the nuptial union on which a new humanity is built.

The Word once spoken into clay, in the beginning, comes now, in time, to speak words of tender love to His image. Yet His image silences Him, takes His Breath away. The “word of the cross” is His silence, the asphyxiation of the God who breathed life into Man in the beginning. Silent, breathless love. “He opened not His mouth.” “He breathed His last.” “He handed over the Spirit.”

Listen to His silence, eloquent beyond all words. In His silence He listens attentively to our screaming hatred, rejection, cursing, jeering, mocking, spitting, abuse, blasphemy, ridicule, injustice, lies, torture, death. His silence speaks long, long-suffering mercy. Omnipotence, un-condemning from the cross, unsaying sin, undoing death, unmasking violence: “I don’t want to hurt you,” He says in effect. And after He rises, after being felled by us He says with indescribable kindness, “Shalom.” “Do you love me?” “Feed.”

“It is finished,” before He finally obeys death. Creation is finished, completed, redeemed, re-created now that the labor of love-to-the-end has ended its exodus and all things have been delivered. God can rest in the completion of love’s toil.

The Burial of Christ, the Sabbath of the slain God-Man, a rest restless with the urgency of love (John 5:17); of a Father gazing in tender mercy on the corpse of His Son, contemplating the goodness and beauty of Their love’s self-emptying work. The Word-made-flesh has restored creation to its original beauty and goodness (kalon) by an act of obedient love. Creation was created by and for love. As Christ rested in Hell, slept in that loveless space, preached hope wordlessly, Hell shook with unrest and terror.

And on the first day of the week, before dawn, the Word, dreaming of us, awoke from sleep and at once commanded Hell still, Death slain, Sin pardoned, the Grave powerless. The Word rose from death’s darkness and said, “Let there be light.” And He was Light without evening, forever risen in an unending Day, artisan of a New Creation, Gardener of an immortal Garden through which the Living Waters flow.

All this because in His compassion He came down for us, for our salvation. For me, the guilty, fallen, beaten and bleeding bystander, He stooped low to tend my wounds and lift me up.

I re-read Fr. Aidan Nichols’ reflection on the paschal mystery again this week for the umpteenth time. This paragraph always blows me away:

Christ’s death was not a piece of ritual yet it was a cultic act, i.e. a deliberate act of adoration of the Father … Thus the circumstances in which the death was embraced — the betrayal by friends, the rejection by the religious leaders, the hostility, or cynical indifference of the men of power — all of these purely secular conditions were taken up into an act of cult, a supreme act of worship, whose hidden fruitfulness made it the central event in the history of the world. Because Christ’s sacrifice was a supreme act of worship, it was capable of becoming the foundation of the Christian liturgy. Aquinas remarks that by his sacrifice on the cross, Christ inaugurated the cultus of the Christian religion. His sacrifice is the objective basis of our worship.

It means so many things to me! But here is what springs to mind.

The “purely secular conditions” of human existence — what is good and what is riddled with chaos and evil — are caught up into the cross-shaped Liturgy that, every day since the Resurrection, fills the world. Haunts the world.

Especially through the laity, whose baptismal priesthood renders them liturgical beings, allowing them to carry with them, everywhere, the “hidden fruitfulness” of  the Liturgy. As they live, love, work, pray, eat, drink, forgive, play, sacrifice, repent, suffer, sleep or weep, the earth-quaking power of Christ-unleashed hiddenly floods out of them into every nook and cranny of secular life. They roam out about everywhere, celebrating amid the truth, goodness and beauty of the world; as well as amid the “betrayal by friends, the rejection by the religious leaders, the hostility, or cynical indifference of the men of power” — all the while gathering innumerable fragments of redeemed existence and bringing them, compressed into bread and wine, up to the Holy Sacrifice.

The faithful refuse to abandon anyone, anywhere — even the hangman or the gulag — by leaving them bereft of Christ’s saving power. Pentecost ensured Hell no longer has anywhere to hide, no world without a soul.

“We may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body” (From a letter to Diognetus, 140 A.D.).

The redeemed animate the world with divine life and love, humbly and mostly unnoticed, like God Himself.

Ours is a Paschal Liturgy, in which purity appears wrapped in filth; love in hate; gentleness in violence; life in death. Fr. Kavanagh:

The Book of Hebrews tells us how the resolution was accomplished, not in an orchard set in pleasant countryside but in a butcher shop located in the city’s center. The World’s story from beginning to end pivots upon this resolution, a resolution the faint of heart, the fastidious, and the squeamish find hard to bear. Suburbia prefers its meat wrapped in plastic, all signs of violence removed so as to reduce the necessity of entering into the dark and murderous transaction with reality which one creature giving up its life for another entails.

Daring to liturgize, we join the obedient love of the “total Christ” — Christ and Christians — who bears on His back the sins of the “whole world” (1 Jn 2:2) and everything is redeemed (Titus 2:11). Christians have this noblesse oblige, this liturgical burden to offer their own Christ-knit lives to the Father in the Spirit for the whole of humanity and creation. Interceding forever for all, lifting them up with and to Him (Heb. 7:25); offering up their bodies as living sacrifices “on behalf of all and for all,” with martyrdom being liturgy’s apogee.

Egypt, Copts, Passion Sunday. Alongside them, I am unworthy to be called Christian. May I become worthy.

The Chaplet of Divine Mercy magnificently captures the liturgical work of the baptized as a Eucharistic co-offering for the whole world. And it should be prayed not only in churches or shrines, but everywhere we find ourselves. Eternal Father, I offer you…

Someone just sent me this clip they recorded during the celebration of Holy Mass on a balcony in the French Quarter. The recording catches a most beautiful part of the Mass, the “liturgy of the laity” — the Offertory. It seemed divinely timed that during the Offertory a huge second line party passed right under the balcony on the street below. It was a wedding. How fitting. No need to be super-spiritual here in the sense of being swept off into some otherworldly Heaven. Rather, Heaven swept down to Earth. Or, better, Heaven wedded to Earth, and man was reconciled to God.

As at Golgotha, this wedding welcomed near unlikely guests joyful, smelly, drunken, laughing, staggering revelers. In those streets, some strange and unsortable mix of saints and sinners. I imagine the shysters, tourists, prostitutes, johns, tax collectors extorting, gamblers squandering their mammon, addicts looking to buy, dealers looking to sell. Unaware their redemption was near at hand. Encircling them. Above them. Beside them. Beneath them. For them.

Might they only see, hear, understand and say, “Remember us, Lord, when you come into your Kingdom.”

I dream of an outbound Church, not a self-referential one, a Church that does not pass by far from man’s wounds, a merciful Church that proclaims the heart of the revelation of God as Love, which is Mercy. More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: “Give them something to eat” (Pope Francis)

Thank you, Father Celebrant, clothed in Penitent’s Purple, for turning your face toward them, and so sweeping them — us, me — up into the at-one-ing Offering.

It seems fitting to end here with an excerpt from Hymn of the Universe by Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, followed by a contemporary musical setting of the 6th century liturgical hymn to the Cross, Vexilla regis proderunt:

I, your priest, will make the whole earth my altar and on it will offer you all the labors and sufferings of the world.

I will place on my paten, O God, the harvest to be won by this renewal of labor. Into my chalice I shall pour all the sap which is to be pressed out this day from the earth’s fruits.

This restless multitude, confused or orderly, the immensity of which terrifies us; this ocean of humanity whose slow, monotonous rhythms trouble the hearts even of those whose faith is most firm: it is to this mystery that I thus desire all the fibers of my being should respond. All the things in the world to which this day will bring increase; all those that will diminish; all those too that will die: all of them, Lord, I try to gather into my arms, so as to hold them out to you in offering. This is the material of my sacrifice; the only material you desire.

Tree of life and glory, Tree that heals and saves;
Tree that tells the ancient story:
dying, rising from the grave.

The royal banners forward go,
The cross shines forth in mystic glow;
Where He, by whom our flesh was made,
In that same flesh, our ransom paid.

Where deep for us the spear was dyed,
Life’s torrent rushing from His side,
To wash us in that precious flood,
Where flowed the water and the blood.

Fulfilled is all that David told
In true prophetic song of old,
That He, the nation’s King should be,
And reign in triumph from the Tree.

O Tree of beauty, Tree most fair,
Ordained those holy limbs to bear:
Gone is your shame, each crimsoned bough
Proclaims the King of Glory now.

Divine ecology, writing and seed-casting

Sunset during the Willwoods Gala cocktail hour — “Tom, look, you need to get a picture of that and write a Blog on it!” I love challenges.

[Another busy week this week so probably no posts till the Triduum.]

I have no idea where this entry will go. Enjoy the ride…

Saturday night, my wife and I were invited to attend the Willwoods Sixteenth Annual Gala. Willwoods is a NOLA Catholic ministry that serves, among other things, the work of strengthening and supporting marriage and family life.

Patti and I love events like this because it’s kind of a “who’s who” in the world of NOLA Catholic culture on-the-move, with laity and clergy who invest their energy and love and faith into a unique aspect of Catholic life. Aided by an open bar, we had lots of lively conversations with a number of people, some of whom we had never met, but now are connected with — which is our favorite part. As I sat early Sunday morning reflecting on that night and the conversations we had had with quite a number of people, I began to think of the way many those people have reshaped me, my worldview, my marriage and my family’s life.

How marvelous is the interconnectedness of humanity! How astounding it is that we, as persons made for each other, are wholly defined by our relationships — for better or for ill. Many of the people I knew at the Gala I would consider people who strive for holiness, who have labored strenuously to permit God’s grace to shape their lives and, through them, influence the lives of those they interact with every day.

All of this reminded me of a conversation I had a few weeks ago with a priest I know, whom I quoted in yesterday’s post. He’s a remarkable man who has an unusual depth of compassion. By that I mean that he possesses a sustained and genuine interest in entering into others’ worlds and allowing them to enter into his. Not to simply accomplish some useful goal, or as a superficial formality, but in order to allow a meaningful human relationship to emerge. It is only, he believes, within such authentic human encounters that Christ can truly enter and reveal His life-enriching glory. It is a marvel to behold the fruits of his approach in others’ lives, mine included. In fact, the most frequent comment I hear said of him is: “He is so caring.” 

Such an approach to life and ministry takes discipline, intentionality and repeated acts of patient love. It comes with a high price tag. You might say his approach lacks a certain product-oriented “efficiency” which demands many — or even most — relationships be functional and goal-oriented. But from what I have seen and heard, the resulting quality-over-quantity “product” he produces bears the sweetest and most enduring of fruits on which alone — he would argue — genuine Christian community can be built.

It certainly was Jesus’ methodology.

As we sat together eating our meatless salads on a Lenten Friday, he asked me to describe the process that goes into my writing posts for this blog. “Where do the insights come from?” Here is roughly what I said:

The vast majority of posts begin with something I read, a conversation I have, a sunset I watch, a billboard I see, an insight that appears while I pray in the waiting room of a car repair shop. Something about this or that experience I have in a particular moment sparks something in me, like a flash of light, which then somehow gets caught up, in my mind, into the matrix of Christ — with it casting light on Him or Him casting light on it.

Then I will feel compelled to jot down the essence of whatever insight I’ve had on a receipt in my wallet, or speak a voice-to-text sent to my email address, or ask my wife if she wouldn’t mind pausing our evening conversation for three minutes while I type an explosive idea I just had into my blog drafts. Bless her heart, she’s so patient with her manic husband.

I have hundreds of drafts sitting in my wordpress account, waiting for me to have time on my hands and a Muse stirring in my imagination.

The amazing thing about writing, for me, is that when these insights detonate inside and I write them, they come alive inside of me. Like, really alive. The whole of my perspective is altered, shifted, expanded, troubled, deepened, stretched, inhabited by something new, something living, something vital that, once released into my thought-world, continues to work on everything I see and do and hear and touch and taste and reflect on and love and pray.

It’s like the ideas I get are living, not simply dead facts or bits of data added to a mental fact sheet. They trouble the waters of my mind until everything else adjusts to their presence. Which is why I love the song, “Wade in the Water,” which captures the “feel” of what goes on inside me as I theologically reflect on some wierd thing that caught me by surprise.

But I’ve noticed that it’s really only when I take these new insights and write them in my blog, or weave them into a talk or lecture I will be giving, that they come alive and begin to reshape the way I see and experience everything. They can’t just sit there, or they vanish. It’s only when I *intend* to give them away that they seem to have the power to re-define the way I see everything. This, it seems to me, is the fundamental difference between faith and knowledge. Knowledge is information added to my worldview, while faith is information, set in motion by love, that reshapes and defines my whole worldview; becomes bit by bit the way I see everything — others, yourself, the world, God. “I believe” means “I see.”

But it’s really when I take the new knowledge into my prayer-time that, like activated charcoal, purfies and enriches and affects everything else, in a strange way, resetting the the whole mess of my inner life.

That’s really quite odd sounding, isn’t it? It sounds odd as I never articulate this. Thank you for asking the question and listening so carefully.

After I finished sharing this, he shared with me a metaphor that floored me. In brief, it went something like this (I will do grave injustice to it here trying to sum it as his phrasing was so succinct and brilliant):

The image that comes to mind as you speak is of an ecosystem, with your intellectual thought being almost like an ecology of the mind. An inner culture. Ecosystems have a certain delicate balance in which each organism adapts to its native environment and learns to cohabit with other organisms in a vital interdependence and network of life which allows all to thrive in an organic web. But when a new organism is introduced, everything gets troubled, disrupted, and needs to realign and re-adapt to the demands of the newcomer introduced. And vice versa. The ecosystem needs to adapt itself and change to move toward a new equilibrium in which everything becomes different, even if only slightly.

This seems to be what you’re describing here. What you allow into yourself, through your senses or in prayer, finds an already established inner-ecology, Tom’s unique personal ecosystem with its worldview that then trustingly yet discerningly welcomes in various new organisms, i.e. a new face, a new idea, a new smell or sight or taste; or divine life. Everything then has to adjust. And it’s all alive, as you say.

And then when you write, it’s then that you actively reorganize your ecosystem to make a fitting place for the new living principles, whatever they might be. Like dreams do at night, defragmenting and reorganizing new information, writing does for you. [Tom: Which makes me a daydream believer? Us: haha] Maybe some new things you’ve taken in have to be chewed up and digested, while others must be expelled or others embraced, while still yet others — like divine grace — well, you have to allow them to consume and digest your ideas, feelings, desires; your soul and spirit … or even the whole of you. Like the Shema commands. So when you consume the Eucharist, as St Augustine says, Christ consumes you; metabolizes you; adapts you to His divine-human ecosystem. The whole Church is this adapted ecosystem, expressed and given birth to in those real symbols of theandric [God-man] biodiversity: Christ in the Sacraments. Saints are the embodyment of the whole Church in its radical adaptation of human life to God-life. Or maybe the other way around, too, if we believe St Irenaeus. [He was speaking of the Catechism #53: “St. Irenaeus of Lyons repeatedly speaks of this divine pedagogy using the image of God and man becoming accustomed to one another: The Word of God dwelt in man and became the Son of man in order to accustom man to perceive God and to accustom God to dwell in man, according to the Father’s pleasure”]

At the heart of your inner culture, Tom, your inner ecology — constituted by your own free act of faith — is the gift of divine love, the indwelling Spirit that is itself the womb of the ecclesial Supernatural Organism, with its own force and vitality and blows-where-it-will purposes. It gets into everything like leaven spreading resurrection through dough. All of which you welcome whenever you pray. Prayer exposes your inner ecology to that of Jesus, joins them.

So whatever enters into you throughout the day encounters not only “Tom,” but God active and living and sorting things out within you. Christ within is busy at work re-creating in you a new creation; a new Ecology; a new Garden. Holiness. Only then, through such saints, can He extend His divine-human culture and ecology into the various ecosystems around you and effect new changes in others’ lives and in the whole material world you inhabit. That’s holiness, and its progress is slow, uneven, filled with setbacks, death and rebirth.

In this line of thought, that means the Cross embodies the event of God introducing Himself into a human ecosystem that has organized itself against, and to the exclusion of, His life. While His love compels Him to risk entry and deadly rejection in our hostile ecosystem, even while He remains long enough (to the end of time!) for that living system to gradually adapt itself to His presence and organize its life around and in and with His life. The Cross is the symbol of God’s willingness to pay an immense cost in order to enter our world and achieve a symbiosis with us. Divinization by hominization. Restructuring our micro and macro cultures according to the omnipotent principle of divine-human love. Jesus. He is the ecosystem of God introduced into the ecosystems of creation, through the consent of a Virgin who welcomes God into our world. 

Something like that.

I said: “What just happened?”

We went off in stunned silence to retire for the night. He showed me where the tea was for the morning. My heart was on fire with this new metaphor. And I could not get out of my mind that night a chilling scene from the movie, Risen, that contains a dialogue between a blind woman and the Roman tribune, Clavius, who is trying to crush the new “Jesus is risen” movement. They are discussing her claim to have encountered the risen Jesus. Listen:

Hopefully in ten years I will have a better way to explain its power.

 

 

Threatening Mass

Cornsheaves. rackcdn.com

Re-post 2014, amplified

This amazement should always fill the Church assembled for the celebration of the Eucharist. But in a special way it should fill the minister of the Eucharist. For it is he who, by the authority given him in the sacrament of priestly ordination, effects the consecration. It is he who says with the power coming to him from Christ in the Upper Room: “This is my body which will be given up for you This is the cup of my blood, poured out for you…”. The priest says these words, or rather he puts his voice at the disposal of the One who spoke these words in the Upper Room and who desires that they should be repeated in every generation by all those who in the Church ministerially share in his priesthood. — St. John Paul II

I recently taught a course on the liturgy to seminarians in Omaha. The course explores the theological and spiritual depths of the liturgy to better enable these future celebrants to personally enter more fully into each celebration in a life-transforming way. The hope is that a fuller personal engagement with the mystery of the liturgy will make them more effective mystagogues, i.e. ready to lead the faithful into those same deep mysteries.

One day I invited a priest to come and speak in my class about his own experience of celebrating the Mass. I asked him to give them advice, based on his personal experience, on how to deal with the distractions and obstacles that can prevent them from experiencing a fruitful celebration. Not being a priest, I needed the view of an insider.

As I listened to him, I thought of the immense privilege I have to be such a trusted part of this work of forming priests. Although the seminarians where I work full-time may not realize it, my lay colleagues and I feel insanely blessed to each be a small part of their formation. In fact, I recall once in Des Moines, Iowa an particularly intense sense of this. I was leading a day of recollection for the priests of the Des Moines deanery (itself a terrifying prospect for me!) on St. John Vianney as a model for parish priests. At one point in the morning, as I was speaking, I was unexpectedly overcome by a moment of awe that shook me up. I was commenting on this line from Vianney: “Oh how great is the priest! If he realized what he is, he would die.” Just as I began offering my commentary on its meaning, I felt inside these words ambush me, as if they were from Christ: “They are me for you.”

I stumbled over my words for a moment before I was able to continue. Later I wrote in my journal:

“Me for you” locates priestly identity in the heart of the Eucharist, making them a sacrament of His self-gift: “…this is my Body which will be given up for you…this is the Chalice of my Blood…shed for you and for many…”

Okay, back to my Omaha liturgy class…

Among many other practical points, my guest-speaker priest shared with the men a struggle I’d never considered before. He called it “teetering between ecstasy and dullness.” There is, he said, as with all things in life that are sacred, the danger of routine; of daily repetition which can breed complacency and contempt. He continued,

But there are these occasional lightning bolt moments that leave you a bit startled. That knock you off balance. While routine can breed contempt, the bolts threaten you with getting lost in the Rite. They are never predictable and are mostly about some new awareness of Christ acting in you. Then there are these moments when you are totally overwhelmed by a very real sense you’ve become Christ’s “I”. Acting in the “first person” with and for Him. Christ and I become “one I” at the Consecration. “My Body” — I am almost afraid to say it at times, it’s so intimate. Totally blows my mind. It’s almost too much to bear and threatens my ability to complete my role.

And then there are other times I’m stunned, like when I’m asking the Father to send the Spirit down on the gifts of bread and wine. I’ll become intensely aware that I’m calling Him down by Christ’s authority. He always comes. That’s terrifying.

Then there are other times when I’m tired, distracted, when I just don’t perceive what I’m doing. That’s totally okay, you can’t always be “on,” it’s not all about your personal experiences. But I do notice that often my lack of attentiveness to the mystery I’m involved in is closely connected to my slacking in my personal prayer that day. Or my lack of preparation before Mass, which is sometimes due to pastoral necessity, other times just my laziness.

The key, he told the seminarians, is not allow these two extremes to become polar opposite experiences. And never to seek out the highs or run from the lows. But to allow one to influence the other. Let the dull moments get kindled by the startling ones, and let the startling ones stay anchored in reality by the duller times. “That’s the flux of life, brothers, so get used to it. But don’t get used to it. Priesthood is a fulcrum full of tugs and pulls that makes for greatness.”

That’s great advice for the spiritual life of any Christian.

He then shared with us a poem called Harvest and Consecration by Elizabeth Jennings. I’d never read it before. He focused on the last line of the poem, saying it best captured his sense of these tensions. I wrote in my notebook at the end of his lecture:

It’s a rare person who loves finding him or herself caught in uncomfortable spots, who appreciates that the discomforts of being torn between alternating extremes.

I try.

These swings are what make me feel fully human, more open to the fully divine. Caught between opposites. Most of my personal energy comes from the tensions that emerge between obvious and hidden, exciting and boring, boundless and fenced in, seen and unseen, strength and weakness, transcendence and immanence, static and earthquake. It’s where mystery, left long over fire, remains in a permanent state of what Meister Eckhart called in Latin, ebullitio, “boiling over.” It’s easier to remain exuberant there, I guess. Extremes lack mystery. The middle’s where it’s at. Maybe that’s what’s needed to carry out St. Paul’s impossible command to “rejoice always” (Phil 4:4).

Jennings wrote her poem for a priest, to help him augment his sense of how its lowly earthy signs and symbols masterfully convey divine mystery. May our hearts never be protected against the unpredictable inroads of God!

After the heaped piles and the cornsheaves waiting
to be collected, gathered into barns,
after all fruits have burst their skins, the sating
season cools and turns,
and then I think of something that you said
of when you held the chalice and the bread.

I spoke of Mass and thought of it as close
to how a season feels which stirs and brings
fire to the hearth, food to the hungry house
and strange, uncovered things —
God in a garden then in sheaves of corn
and the white bread a way to be reborn.

I thought of priest as midwife and as mother
feeling the pain, feeling the pleasure too,
all opposites together,
until you said no one could feel such passion
and still preserve the power of consecration.

And it is true. How cool the gold sheaves lie,
rich without need to ask for more
richness. The seed, the simple thing must die
if only to restore
our faith in fruitful, hidden things. I see
the wine and bread protect our ecstasy.

Thank you, dear priest-fathers, for your generous self-gift to Christ for us. May He protect your ecstasy…

Praying, with TØP, of the world

M

Pic from the concert

Per the gracious request of one of the people who comment on this blog — AMDG — I will post a portion of my journal entry from the night after the Twenty One Pilots concert. Note: the “sacramental shuttle” is the name my wife and I give to the friends of our daughters who regularly join our family for Mass and Confession.

So, for what it’s worth, in all its rawness, here you go…

+ + + +

…I’ve been to many music concerts, but this one had a different ‘feel’ to it. Of course, clearly, being with [my daughters] Maria and Catherine and the sacramental shuttle was a game-changer. Cor ad cor loquitur. That alone made for a seriously giant quality of life increase. But these two men — Josh, Tyler — have this stunning capacity to make my faith so human, intricately knit into the marrow of my bones. As I inhabit their songs, I don’t sense in any way spiritual means less-human, more-porcelain. Vatican II says the great error of our age is the “split of faith and life.” This means people privatize their faith, check their conscience at the door of the voting booth. This means theists act like atheists. But this split also emerges from the sense that to be religious, faithful, pious means that you have to repress your earthiness, denigrate the material good things of this world in order to exalt the spiritual good things of the next world. Or so the split-minded would have it. Catholics (kath’ holou, “according to the whole”) don’t see it that way. Belloc:

Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,
There’s always laughter and good red wine.
At least I’ve always found it so.
Benedicamus Domino!

Aligning your soul with the grain of God only sets you in opposition to sin, never against creation itself. Sinners are world-haters, saints are world-lovers. On the Cross, hewn by sin, God allowed us to cut Him cross-grain so that He could, from within that mercy-suffused creative tension, realign all things with Himself. We Christians, set square in the crux of the Cross, are called to be the living signs to the gnarled world of a God-who-so-loves-the-world that He consents to be cut down so we might be raised up. Christians, lodged in this crux, should love the world more than the world. In the world but not of the world in order to live for the life of the world. We are consecrated, set apart, to ensure all things enter the Age to Come. By being human. In fact, God becoming man so that man might become God seals the deal: the only way to share in the divine life, to be divinized, is to be fully, unabashedly, joyfully hominized.

c/o Jordan Haddad, a rockin’ Augustine quote from The City of God, Bk 20 Ch. 14:

“For after the judgment has been accomplished this heaven and this earth will, of course, cease to be, when a new heaven and a new earth will come into being. For it is by a transformation of the physical universe, not by its annihilation, that this world will pass away. Hence the Apostle’s statement, “The form of this work is passing away, and I want you to be spared anxiety.” It is, then, the outward form, not the substance, that passes.”

And that cosmic transformation, inaugurated in Christ, the God-made-cosmos, is wrought in us, we who are His mystical Body. Wrought in us by Spirit-powered love, agápē, by which and for which all things were created. Wrought in us by Alms, which turn matter into mercy. Oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus — “star stuff” — achieve their telos [purposeful goal] in us. Matter, the laws of physics, space, time came alive to make love. The cosmos labored for 13+ billion years to produce bread, wine as its locus of transubstantiation; re-created to feed and give joy to the Poor of Yahweh. We, clay-stamped icons of God, are creation’s inscribed vocation made conscious, quarks made grateful and free to love — priests of nature who unite earth and heaven, time and eternity, spirit and matter, Creator and creature in the bond of charity.

Pope Benedict: “If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great.” But how many live in this fear: “Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished?”

God, no.

I’ll never forget when [a dear friend of mine] told me that, after she gave a talk to a women’s group on her own love for the Virgin Mary, a number of women crowded  around her to excitedly talk about apparitions and rosaries and scapulars and First Saturdays and miraculous photographs. After listening to them for a bit, she finally said to them: “Can we talk about the weather?” She meant, good as they are, there are vastly more worthy things in the world to speak about than just the “goods of religion.” Even at the wedding feast at Cana, Mary the Jew was undoubtedly all about celebrating, music, dancing and an ample supply of spiced red wine.

St. Isaac the Syrian: “What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists.”

Pope Francis: “The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God.”

So this TØP concert was an artistic foray into the orderly beauty and the blooming, buzzing confusion of the human condition. Their songs — mightily searching, struggling passionately; lost, afraid; pining for hope, love, connection, meaning, purpose.

God abides in their songs as a silent Thou; a rapt, attentive You. A Father, Hearer of cries, sighs, whys.

For many of the fans around me, maybe their intention was devoid of any idea of God. Regardless, the songs drew out, exegeted, the deepest of human aspirations and longings. Tapped into life’s profoundest questions. Playfully, exuberantly, agonizingly. For those who have explicit faith, their music very naturally springs alive as prayer. Not because it’s religious, but because it’s human. For those who have no faith, their music grants permission to long, ache, yearn with open-ended hope of being heard, being seen, being loved. And these seem to frequently be young men and women who live on the margins, who may not be prone to trusting others — hence, their famous Heathens counsel:

All my friends are heathens, take it slow
Wait for them to ask you who you know
Please don’t make any sudden moves
You don’t know the half of the abuse

I think of [Vatican II’s] Gaudium et Spes: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.” People of faith need to take this opening salve of Gaudium deadly seriously. We’ve gotta be real, connected, set apart only in order to re-turn and face with-God the ones we momentarily stepped away from. Turning from sin in order to turn toward the myriad faces that seek His Face. Turning to face the wonderful, terrible world with God-with-us. All because Christ first, from womb to tomb, up-took into Himself the whole of the human condition, from the brightest selfless sacrifice to the blackest selfish hatred. The God buried in our wreckage, the drunkard, glutton, dinner companion of sinners, Lover of Mankind Messiah.

Thank God for artists like Tyler, Josh who give full, unhesitating voice to the vast expanses of the human condition, inviting a weary world into a living quest for the FarNear.

I read several articles recently that described their music as schizo-pop, because they expose the “schizo-split” that cuts through minds riven by doubt, anxiety, despair, fear, temptation, sin, and yet those same minds long for faith, peace, hope, trust, reconciliation and faithfulness to “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, any excellence, anything worthy of praise” (Phil 4:8). They sing St. Paul’s own schizo-verse (Romans 7:14ff) into life, making it contemporary.

I found myself again and again, while fully enjoying the sheer thrill of their electric music, falling upward into prayer. Naturally, seamlessly, not feeling I had migrated from secular to sacred or withdrawn from the sensory flood of sounds and sights to enter a purely spiritual realm — precisely because I have become more and more convinced as years have passed that the Word, indeed, became flesh and pitched His tent among us.  And last night, amid the silent Trees, “there were shouts of joy and victory in the tents of the just” (Psalm 118:19).

In fact, it was when they sang Trees at the end of the concert that I found myself completely lost in prayer, begging God it would never end, wholly present to my daughters and the sea of humanity around me and the God who breathed silently. Singing, feeling swept up, and up-sweeping my offering. It was transcendent. When it all ended, I could hear distinctly within: Ite, missa est, “Go, be sent.” Out into the world so large it seems to have no end. Yes, right, world without end. Amen.

I know
Where you stand
Silent
In the trees
And that’s
Where I am
Silent
In the trees

Why won’t you speak?
Where I happen to be
Silent
In the trees
Standing cowardly

I can feel your breath
I can feel my death
I want to know you
I want to see
I want to say
Hello
Hello
Hello
Hello