“Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8)

“Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.” — St. Teresa of Calcutta

Here’s an excerpt from a scripted portion of my talk last Saturday on the lay apostolate in the world, i.e. the mission to be secular saints and infiltrate the world with the love of God. I did not get to present most of it and I never edited it, so please excuse all mistakes.

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There’s a lovely phrase frequently used by Evangelicals when they evangelize, “God has a plan for your life.” At the heart of that “plan,” Catholics would say, is the universal call to holiness. God created each of us to be a saint. Holiness is nothing more, or less, than being made perfect in Christ’s love.

This vocation, regardless of our state or circumstance in life, is renewed from moment to moment. Every new situation we find ourselves in is a fresh calling from Jesus: COME, FOLLOW ME. My child awakens at 2:00 a.m. with a nightmare: Come, follow me out of your rest. My boss fires me unjustly: Come, follow me in patient endurance and hope. My irritating neighbor knocks on my door asking me to move my car, again (which is actually in front of my property): Come, follow me in speaking the truth in charity. My alarm goes off at 4:00 a.m. to pray before I leave for work at 5:00, and I’m tired: Come, follow me into your prayer room where I await your sacrificial offering. The doctor gives me news of terminal cancer: Come, follow me along the way of the cross, of dark faith and of trust. When we see all life as a vocation, everything becomes a new opportunity to choose God’s plan by choosing life, faith, hope, trust, patience, honesty, kindness, forgiveness – in a word, by choosing love…

Love of God and love of neighbor.

But what is love? To love is to will the well-being, good, fulfillment, salvation of another. All of the commandments are the substance of love, giving love meaning and direction, and rooting it in justice. Of course, we can love our neighbor by willing their good, but what of God? He is Goodness itself, purely actualized. We cannot will His well-being, good or fulfillment.

So how can we love Him?

By willing what He wills. And what does He will? The good of our neighbor. And how do we do that? By keeping His commandments. And so it all circles back on itself, a closed and endlessly revolving circle that binds love of God and neighbor inextricably together. They can never be separated — when you love God, you are loving your neighbor; and when you love your neighbor, you are loving God. God does not compete with His creation, as if we had to choose God or others. Only when we sin do we establish a competition.

Jesus commanded us, taking His words from Leviticus, “love your neighbor as yourself.” This does not, by the way, mean that self-love and self-care are model of genuine love. (nothing against self-care) Rather, this commandment means that to love one’s neighbor is to love oneself. What I do to my neighbor I do to myself. If I kill my neighbor, I commit suicide. If I slander my neighbor, I slander myself. You might even say that God Himself obeys this same commandment. Inasmuch as God made us in His own image, and became Man, He made the welfare and good of humanity His own. He loves humanity as Himself, loves us as another self. This binding love meant the Father could not but raise Christ from the grave into eternal life.

God wishes us to think of Him the same way: when we love neighbor, we love not only ourselves but Him. God does not eat sacrifices, like the pagans thought, but His hunger and thirst is satisfied through our feeding the hungry and thirsty — “I was hungry, thirsty and you gave me food, drink.” Or Proverbs 19:17, “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord.”

Dorothy Day made this point stunningly when she said that we only love God as much as love person we like the least. This is the hallmark of Christian love: sacrificial, self-less, other-centered, forgiving love. God loves most to be loved through our enemies. Only such love possesses restorative, reconciling power. It’s also why Fr Walter Ciszek, who spent 23 awful years in Soviet work-prison camps, said that persecution is really our enemies testing how serious we are about this love thing. So when Christians suffer abuse and hardship and persecution for their faith, their first recourse must not be outcry and  lawsuits, but mercy, patient love, and courageous, uncomplaining, un-bitter endurance. Even as they pursue justice.

Because every vocation is always a declension of love, the fundamental vocational discernment question is never, “What does God want for me?” but “what does God want for others?” Never, “What good will this bring me, but “How can I best, most efficiently expend everything I have been given on others? How can I best obey the law of the gift? What is (as my own spiritual director once said it) the most likely way I can be assured to die broke, having expended my gifts on other’s well-being and divine glory?”

Discernment is about the alignment of the gifts and desires with the needs around me. A really brilliant Sudanese missionary priest I met years ago said, when I asked him how he decided to become a priest,

I can tell you this — it didn’t begin with my exploring “I, me, my;” but with exploring “thou, thee, thy.” God, neighbor. My mother taught me that as a small child: You will find God only when you fill the mouth of your brother, your sister. In American culture so much discernment is an agonizing over personal fulfillment and happiness — what will make me feel fulfilled, me happy, me complete? Love can’t start there or it will always be a tortured process, locked in your ego. Because the center of gravity in every vocation is always the other, the neighbor, the church, the village, the world, God.

A vocation feels like a direct compliment of God to me: I am special, unique, gifted, God has called me by name. Yes, there is truth in that. But vocation must always be attended by mission, which is always a direct compliment for the neighbor to whom we are sent by God. Vocation serves mission. Sometimes people get stuck in naval-gazing vocation circles because they know if they say Yes, freedom tightens, the mission begins, and we must forget ourselves. But this is natural in a culture that claims rights without responsibility, gifts without giving.

For me my discernment to be a priest was simple, but not easy. There is a real need for priests, I had a desire, an openness and I had the gifts to accomplish priestly ministry. So, I am a priest. I saw the apostles did not deliberate over personal fulfillment when Jesus called. They dropped all. With the hand on the plow, no turning back. The rich young man in the Gospel? He stopped and deliberated his personal happiness and fulfillment, weighed his options and went away sad. The Devil makes us look back over and over, always wondering if other pastures are greener.

When Jesus calls, He does not say: “Do you want to feel happy and fulfilled and special?” No, he says, “Do you love me? Feed my sheep, tend my lambs.” Our response should always be, “Yes, Lord! Now, which sheep, how to feed, how to tend?”

Jesus is clear, mission is really cross-carrying. Pick up your cross and follow me. This reminds us every day that thinking of our calls as a an ego trip, rather than death-to-self for the other, is a total farce. Only when you embrace this will you stay faithful when you face all of the hardships, temptations, struggles that will come your way. If the whole vocational edifice is built on me, my, mine you will fall fast, like a house built on sand.

To love, think and live like this, we must be immersed, soaked, drenched in God’s love; be intimate with Him, drawing our power from Him like a branch grafted to a Vine. We have to have our imaginations captured by the greatness of this adventure — like Augustine said: “To fall in love with God is the greatest romance; to seek him the greatest adventure; to find him, the greatest human achievement.” Once you fall in love with Jesus and allow His love to enter your life, you become more able to respond to His call at every moment, consecrating the very earth by every drop of blood you shed.

Pope Benedict helps us here:

If I have no contact whatsoever with God in my life, I am incapable of seeing in my neighbor the image of God. But if in my life I fail completely to heed others, solely out of a desire to be “devout” and to perform my “religious duties”, then my relationship with God will also grow arid. It becomes merely “proper”, but loveless. Only my readiness to encounter my neighbor and to show him love makes me sensitive to God as well. Only if I serve my neighbor can my eyes be opened to what God does for me and how much he loves me. The saints—consider the example of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta—constantly renewed their capacity for love of neighbor from their encounter with the Eucharistic Lord, and conversely this encounter acquired its realism and depth in their service to others.

Only then can your vocational mission look, as it must, like this…

Mashley, Prison and Storms

A medley today.

First, a new Maria and Ashley video. MIKA’s Grace Kelly. It’s playful and spikes some amazing pitch peaks! Always gives me joy to share…

I’d also like to share a bit of my yesterday before I go to bed…

Yesterday I had the privilege of speaking at the Cathedral in Pensacola for a Lenten day of reflection. I was invited to speak on a topic dear to my heart, the lay vocation to sanctify the world as “secular saints.” I spoke alongside Dale and Susan Recinella, both of whom serve on behalf of the Catholic bishops of Florida to Florida’s Death Row and Solitary Confinement population. They are two extraordinary people who incarnate both the justice and the mercy of God. So while it was my job to offer a fresh look at the Catholic theological and spiritual vision for the lay apostolate, it was theirs to give concrete evidence of what it looks and feels like when you live that out in a radical and real way. I’ll share below a 10 minute clip of a talk Dale gave at Jesuit High School in Tampa on his apostolic work in prisons.

At the very end of my talks, this wonderfully joyful and faith-filled woman came up to me and shared with me a quote (she has framed on her wall) that knocked my socks off. Here’s what it meant to me, per my journal entry…

Her quote captured with one image all I had tried to say about the (mostly ignored) meaning and power of Baptism and Confirmation that confer on each of the lay faithful the exalted vocation to consecrate the world itself to God.

These Sacraments introduce into creation an entirely new and destabilizing principle of divine life — Emmanuel — inaugurating the overthrow of death and the re-creation and transformation of all things, as God becomes an “insider” in the world — first by becoming Man in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and then, through faith and the Sacraments, continuing His incarnation in each of us. Again, just reflect on this — in the Sacraments, the Word of the Father extends the fullness of His “becoming flesh” to us (John 1:14), making us His Body, drawing us through His death and resurrection, and filling us with the roaring Wind and raging Fire of Heaven (Acts 2:1-13). God became man that man might become God, as St. Athanasius famously put it.

Wow.

Every time we say Yes to God, Heaven’s tempest — the Spirit of Jesus — fills the earth and God unleashes His own re-creating storm on the storm-battered ruins of this world (1 Pet. 3:18-21). Indeed, the God-Man allows Himself to be ruined with us, only then to rise and still the storm (Job 38:1; Matt. 8:24-26; 27:50-53; John 20:19-23), preaching good news to the poor, proclaiming release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, setting at liberty those who are oppressed and proclaiming the acceptable year of the Lord (Luke 4:18-19). Like Elijah, the faithful are caught up in the Whirlwind, in a chariot of Pentecostal Fire, to bring earth to heaven and heaven to earth (2 Kings 2:11).

Man, those are some seriously volatile Sacraments we receive. Saints are dangerous.

It was so appropriate that, as I drove home from Pensacola yesterday with her quote resonating in my heart, I passed through several lines of violent thunderstorms. And all on the feast of the Annunciation. Deo gratias.

I asked the woman to allow me to record her sharing the quote, and she graciously agreed:

Here’s Dale:

Staycationing in God

Children play with a suitcase near a camp for people displaced by the earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Tuesday, March 23, 2010. A 7.0-magnitude earthquake hit Haiti on Jan. 12, killing and injuring thousands and leaving more than a million people living in makeshift camps. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

[I will not post until Sunday because I have another very hectic week. Hence, this post’s theme…]

Instead of wondering when our next vacation is we should set up a life we don’t need to escape from. — Seth Godin

My daughter shared this quote with me last weekend, and said: “Isn’t that great?” I said, “It is! And the busier your life gets, the harder it becomes!” After that exchange, later that night, I wrote out a few rambling thoughts in my journal…

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When beset by worries, anxieties and responsibilities, the temptation is immense to narrow the world around me and refuse to live fully in the present moment. It’s natural, in a certain sense, as I only have so much psychic energy to spend at any given time and stress naturally constricts my vision. But what I tend to miss out on when I get in that “survival mode” is the capacity to receive each arriving moment as a gift laden with rich possibilities for discovery and grace.

We call this attentiveness to the now by words like mindfulness, awareness or watchfulness. In the Catholic tradition we refer to the “sacrament of the present moment.” Regardless of the term used, for a Christian these all represent a disciplined attentiveness to the truth that each now is an opportunity for a singular and fresh encounter with the God who is at all times calling creation into existence.

In this sense, the primal event of the Big Bang has no advantage over us in its proximity to the shock-and-awe experience of God’s creating  words: “Let there be…” When God spoke creation into being, He did not just create cosmic raw material and then saunter off to attend to other things. Rather, the God who is timeless called into existence, all-at-once, every single moment of cosmic time. From 13+ billion years ago to the end of time, all is wholly and immediately present to the freshness of God’s creative Word. I’ve always thought that the words to Eleanor Farjeon’s hymn, Morning Has Broken, capture elegantly this sense of “springing into being” so well.

We live mostly in ordinary time, in the daily routines and rhythms of school and work and family and trash day. Sometimes slow, sometimes harried. So how can we avoid ordinary time’s seemingly natural slouch into stale, dull time? How can we fend off the sense that ordinary time’s well-worn grooves or tight strictures are a rut or an imprisonment from which we require periodic vacating?

To see ordinary time not as a prison but as a Gate, I must be able to rediscover the Gift of Wonder again and again. Wonder, the capacity to be #surprised!, originates in God. Wonder abides deep within his eternally proceeding Fire, Fire once stolen from Heaven for us by Christ as he breathed his last on the cross.

I ponder of something great
My lungs will fill and then deflate
They fill with fire, exhale desire
I know it’s dire my time today

Wonder’s raging fire topples walls, plows ruts and expands horizons. Fire fills the Kingdom that Baptism first inaugurated within me. God’s is an ever-nearing Kingdom, cast by Christ into a world grown cold in sin. It is a Kingdom filled with song and praise, dancing and feasting, angels and rivers, seas and orchards; a realm without tears or pain or sorrow or loss.

In prayer I enter, and am entered by, this Kingdom. Intimately. In prayer, I allow God’s reign entry into the fissures and marrow and sinews and quarks of my being. In prayer I pass through the Wardrobe into Narnia, through the Sea into the spacious Promised Land. All of this transpires in the heart of the one who prays with the heart. It’s why Satan, lord of the icy prison, abhors prayer.

Only if we live in prayer will we come to see, taste, touch, smell and hear the coming of that Kingdom’s King, who comes softly as a zephyr (1 Kings 19:12), whose delight is to play among the children of men (Proverbs 8:31). The God of ever-present refreshment, celebration, newness and restorative rest is so near. Just listen now, in the silence. Do you sense him? The Wonder-Counselor is with us, working joyfully, eagerly awaiting our offerings, to render them translucent, transubstantiating them into sacraments of His Kingdom. Whatever it is we choose to offer Him– time, work, play, possessions, relationships, pain, boredom, dreams, regrets, love. Even a tiny puddle.

But do I have an offering to give? I can only offer what I am able to receive, and I cannot receive if I don’t first loosen my white-knuckled grip on everything. I can feel the tension right now! Here, let me release my possessing, controlling, consuming, using, abusing, squandering, self-centered and ungrateful grinding through the moments of each day; moments that so quickly bloom and fade away. I walk amid lush meadows of magnificent flowers, yet I thoughtlessly crush them underfoot because I live elsewhere than where I am. I long to pray with the immediacy of wonder:

Glory to Thee for the Feast Day of life
Glory to Thee for the perfume of lilies and roses
Glory to Thee for each different taste of berry and fruit
Glory to Thee for the sparkling silver of early morning dew
Glory to Thee for the joy of dawn’s awakening
Glory to Thee for the new life each day brings
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Annie Dillard said so well, “The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” Striving to “be there,” present in the moment. Present to the beauty of grace in life, in real-time. Allowing it to drench my soul and shape me. What a wonderful definition of contemplative prayer: Permitting the grace of the moment to shape me. St. Thomas Aquinas defines contemplation as a “simple gaze on truth.”  A simple gaze is receptive, uncomplicated, not manipulative or exploitative, allowing reality to be what it is, the Real to be who he is.

Gazing simply, consistently, receptively on the God of Jesus. Crucified, dead, buried, risen. Letting this God be God, rather than me writ large. Doing within me all he wills.

This is the secret of liberating incarcerated grace. The Passover God is an emancipator. Let him enter, the King of glory. He will bend your prison bars into a Gate opened out into vast and fragrant meadows.

But if I persist in barring this Kingdom’s entry, failing to pray, I remain pressed, hemmed in, stifled in narrow places.

I love vacations. I find them so important for resetting my inner compass. But I don’t want to live my ordinary time bereft of wonder, depleted of joy, blind to beauty. I choose now to draw near to my recreating God. Come, Lord Jesus!

Creative Lenten Penances

paintedprayerbook.com

On Mardi Gras, as I sipped an Abida Amber, I was inspired to text a bunch of people I know all over the country and ask them: “Would you share with me a creative Lenten penance you’ve done in the past, or are doing this year, so I can share it anonymously (or not) on my blog?” People married, single, divorced, teenagers, middle-aged, a 78 year old and 2 priests replied.

Wow. I was amazed at the response. 23 texts/emails. So humbling and beautiful and inspiring. I will just paste them all here for you to read. Thanks to all who took the time in making themselves vulnerable enough to share them with me. Most of them came as texts, and I will just leave them just as they are. May they inspire your own Lenten practices!

I won’t post again until I have a fresh inspiration, and to give your Inbox a rest!

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Sorry for the delay. Thanks so much for the consideration Tom. Majorly humbling. My first response would be that everyone should just listen to Mashley. But I digress…

If not possible, there are two things I would like to share. Both have not been pulled off to perfection internally or in lived reality. They’re great challenges that I try to navigate.

First, I try to take the beatitudes and break them into weekly reflections for Lent. Though the number of beatitudes and weeks of Lent don’t perfectly match, I try to make them work close enough. Each week, I try to focus on a beatitude. Keeping one beatitude in front my eyes. How is this one manifested in the world. How’s it manifested in my life. How is it manifested in my words and actions. In my encountering Christ work, I stumbled upon a guy that is a theology teacher in town. He really schooled me in the beauty of the beatitudes. Ever since, I’ve tried to find a practical way to tear them open and allow them to infect me. Lent seemed ideal.

The last way is a use of media. Media sometimes takes over me during the year. A natural progression, or digression. I made an intentional decisions to not remove myself from media, instead I tried to use Lent to allow God-filled content to permeate my day-to-day media consumption in the true hope that it converts my overall (year long) intake of music, movies and/or online reading consumption. I usually take a social media fast, but didn’t find that I replaced it with proper channels. This was just an attempt to convert the parts of my habits that were fairly engrained and daily routines. Thanks for asking. Ask any questions you may have, hope that helps in anyway.
Oh. For [my wife’s] sake and with the kids. Creative ideas a plenty for Lent. We did the crown of thorns with the toothpick idea. The kids got to take a toothpick out every time they did a good deed. They loved it.

Resource here: http://www.catholicicing.com/lenten-activities-for-children/

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I’m not sure if this is what you are looking for, BUT… One of the things I am working on is following through with what I commit to and making my “yes mean yes and no mean no”. So before I impulsively commit to anything I’m practicing my immediate response to be “let me get back to you after I check my schedule/prays about it/etc …that way I am also allowing room for Jesus to fill my day before I do. As far as prayer goes, I am doing the Marian consecration and ending on the Annunciation which is a little shy of Easter
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Thanks, Tom. I’m a little under the weather. Besides, I don’t really have many words of value. I’m simply going to rend my heart and love like Christ until il it bleeds. I hope 😉 OR I could give up coffee. But I have to function. I’ll probably be better off with a bloody heart than be without Caffeine!!!

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In the past I have invited people to pick a vice and cultivate the opposing virtue for the entirety of Lent. For example:

Vice: Lust
Virtue: Temperance

Prayer: The Rosary. If we meditate on the Life of Christ in our thoughts and imagination then our words and actions will most likely be Christ Centered.

Abstain: No music in the Car during Lent. This can be used as time to talk with God about our time of meditation.

Fast: Fast from tasty food and drink during Lent. If we can deny ourselves the pleasure we get from tasty food then we can more easily deny ourselves the pleasure we get from Lust.

Almsgiving: Give time to Someone or People we get know pleasure from being around. If I don’t like old people then I will schedule a weekly visit with old people at the nursing home or I will call an elderly relative for a half hour conversation. If I don’t get pleasure from being around poor people then I will spend a day at the soup kitchen every week.

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I don’t know if my penances are very creative! No Netflix on Tuesdays and Thursdays so as to better enjoy my books and my house and 10 minutes of lectio divina every night; I find that much more helpful than spiritual reading alone. If either would be helpful, you can post them!

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Mmmmm. Nothing creative coming out of here for quite some time.

Junior high RE director suggested to class that they keep journal and right the names of people who annoy/hurt/offend them. Rather than gossip or complain, penitent must keep silent and pray – for the “offender’s” intentions, not for them to evaporate/apologize/even change their mind.

Journal must be shared with no one but Christ.

Reverse of private: Bo Bonner had Orthodox friend on his “Uncommon Good” radio show. Conversation about the Orthodox being more about communal penance/offerings. Suggested having another person choose YOUR penance for you, in order to help you practice conforming your will to another’s.
*people in my house thought this was a great idea , until they realized they wouldn’t just choose another’s penance…another would choose the penance for them. Mmmm.

Help others succeed.
Practical application:
Perhaps helping remove obstacles and temptation for one another. Forbidden foods kept out of the house. Prayer books kept in a prominent place. No interruptions for a person trying to create prayer habit at specific time of day.
No invitation to gossip, break fast, skip difficult practices ( stations, late night adoration times, chores we hate).

Maybe there’s a shred there you can add to. That’s all I’ve got.

God bless you and yours.
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Tom,

I’m happy to share, but I have to say that there’s nothing too “creative” about my penitential practices. I’m a firm believer in the value of fasting–mostly of the traditional not-eating kind (a penance that I recommend to one and all, but perhaps especially to husbands/fathers), but also of variations on that theme (giving up desserts, not listening to music in the car, giving up recreational internet usage, etc.). The one other aspect that I’ve included in my Lenten discipline at times is to use Lent as a focused inauguration of some practice that I’d like to maintain
after Lent (for example, increasing/modifying prayer or devotional practices)–the zeal for Lenten practices can go a long way to laying the foundation of a new habit.

Sorry I don’t have anything more interesting to offer, but thanks for thinking of me.

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Not so unusual, but during Lent I typically try to spend more time with the elderly.
And other exercises of almsgiving with time rather than money.

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Sorry for the late reply. Was driving earlier. Two particularly memorable Lenten penances come to mind. One year, I gave up hot water. Having spent a couple weeks on a mission trip in Honduras we didn’t have hot water. I underestimated how much colder the water could be in [my home town] in late winter. I remember all my muscles tensing up and barely being able to stand the cold water long enough to rinse shampoo from my hair. I certainly learned how little water is really necessary (turning it off while lathering, etc) and how quickly and shower can be had!
The Lent preceding my proposal to [my wife], I gave up my bed. It was old anyway, so in order to keep me from backing out of the commitment, I took the drastic step of taking the mattress to the street for trash pick-up. Inspired to continue this sacrifice afterward for my bride to be, I didn’t own another bed until we were married. Thank you for keeping my identity anonymous in sharing.

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Realize that I need to be other focused and more generous…so I’ve picked 6 individuals to focus on. One person per week of lent. I will fervently pray for them and probably write them a note to let them know how much I appreciate their existence.
Also, I have been lackadaisical about tithing, and I have enough saved to do this: writing a check for 10% of my 2016 income and joyfully giving it to my parish.
Also…I always give up sugar but THIS year I’m not going to talk about it or complain about it and have a big smile when I say “no thanks” to dessert. Keeping it a little secret.

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Yes, [my daughter] and I are giving up eating out and not buying anything we don’t absolutely need. I am also starting a weekly bible study.

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I gave up watching the golden girls one Lent, huge sacrifice for me, it was my favorite part of the day

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Be happy to help — Not sure how creative but this Lent I am committing to a Wednesday intercessory prayer gathering during at the Cenacle. In the past one of more creative and powerful Lenten experiences— prayed daily (missed a day here and there) about a long held resentment that I had problems letting go of. And did with through the Grace of God. Hope this helps. Good luck with the blog.

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Not listening to anything in the car to create a space to pray, especially for the random drivers around me…
There also is the 40 bags for 40 days challenge (I have never actually signed up or read the “official” rules/thought behind it), it has been communicated to me that the idea is to declutter your home one bag at a time for 40 days to learn to live a more simple life, more detached.

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Taking the bus/public transportation instead of driving my car.

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I gave up makeup for Lent. I actually almost didn’t give up makeup because I realized that the tøp [Twenty One Pilots] concert was during Lent. But then I was praying before a big physics test and I promised that if I got an A I would give up makeup for Lent because it was my biggest sacrifice.

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Dear Tom,

Per your request yesterday, here is the Lenten practice that is the most important and central for me:
During Lent I really try to make an effort to actively cooperate with the movement of the Holy Spirit within me to not only think but especially act in ways that I would ordinarily not. Rather than remaining within my own human logic, I try to create a space for the theo-logic to surprise both myself and those with whom I come into contact: my family, friends, and strangers. In other words, I attempt to step beyond my own self-centered world, get out of my boat, and meet Christ upon the tumulus waters where he awaits me. This could be anything from giving of my time or possessions when it simply does not make sense to do so or saying that which would normally make me feel extremely uncomfortable but is spiritually edifying for others. It’s all about creating room for God’s activity in the my life and the world!

I hope this is what you were looking for!

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Hi!
Here we go
For this 2017 Lent, I plan on abstaining from the use of mirrors. Doing this service to the Lord will make me a more humble Child of God and teach me the importance of humility. I will not be able to apply makeup nor check my appearance every few minutes. There will be a cover over my mirrors and a sticker over my phone’s front camera. I hope that after this experience I will not be so dependent on my appearance in order to APPEAR kind; I hope that my actual KINDNESS will show through without the mirror-obsessed face.

Hope this is good enough 🙂
Let me know if you need something else, and I’ll be happy to do it

[At the bottom of this page are her mirrors. She gave me permission to share them]

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Hey Tom,

Here’s something I hope to do this Lent.

Grand Silence. At a certain hour of the evening—8pm or so—practice a “grand silence”. No music, no TV, no computers or mobile devices (obviously, be attentive to your family). Just time for prayer, reading, silence: listening to the Lord. And keep the silence until you wake the next morning.

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My wife and I give up making love every Lent so that we can focus more on other forms of affection and caring and appreciate more the gift of sexual union and not take it for granted. She especially likes that for 6 weeks she can know that if I want to kiss her or cuddle in bed it’s not a seguy to sex. Especially for me as a man it’s important that I can let her know in a very specific way that I love her and not sex and that I’m willing to forgo sex at any time if need be (like if she ever got sick) and love her just as much (or more) as when we can have sex. I decided to ask her to do this with me eight years ago when one day she asked me if I would be disappointed if for some reason we couldn’t be intimate any more. I said of course I would always love her no matter what and could never be disappointed in her if we didn’t have that in our marriage. But I could tell she was like you’re just saying that to be nice so I decided one Ash Wednesday after asking God during mass what sacrifice He wanted from me. It hit me like a baseball bat: show her it’s true that you love the way you say you do every Lent. She really loved the idea and cried when I said it because it made her feel cherished. Okay thanks Tom for letting me share that. And by the way [my wife] approves of my sharing this with the one qualification that it be anonymous lol. God bless.

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Every Lent I resolve to begin every day by doing first the day’s responsibility I like the least.

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He simply texted me this:

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I’m a chronic insomniac and I struggle with being irritable during the day, which makes me short tempered and quick to criticize. So this Lent I consecrated my insomnia to God and will work on intentionally making both my daily exhaustion and my tongue-restraining a sacrifice offered to Jesus on the cross, especially for all the people who irritate me most during the day or cause me to lay awake at night. Psalm 134:2 is my lenten verse: “bless the Lord through the night.”

 

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AN EMØTIØNAL RØADSHØW

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The sky on the drive into the city for the concert

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It finally happened. 3/2/17 my daughters, their friends and I went to the Twenty One Pilots (TØP) concert in New Orleans, the fourth to last gig in their Emotional Roadshow tour.

Someone the next day asked me to choose a single word to describe my experience. I immediately said: Transcendent.

The lead singer in one of the two opening acts, Jon Bellion, captured perfectly the marvelous distinctiveness of TØP:

You know, when you’ve got a band that makes it big as fast as they have; that can pack arenas all over the globe, like tonight; and you’ve got a band with only two men in it that can put on a show of the quality you’re about to experience tonight — and they still remain just as kind, humble and compassionate as they’ve always have been — well, you know you’ve got something amazing going on. Right? [cheers] And you fans tonight — right? — who you are, well, it’s a worthy reflection of who these guys are. So let’s get hyped, okay! Are you there?

I don’t know how to really convey my thoughts on this whole experience, so I’ll just let it flow without a plan. Yesterday, the morning after the concert, I was slammed, beginning at 5:00 a.m., with a series of intense work-related stresses, so I had to tuck away the fire that I had burning within me until my work day ended late last night. It’s still burning in me as I write.

Being at this concert with my daughters and their friends was a piece of heaven for me. That’s really the highlight of the night. These are all very special young women. One of my sons once said of all these girls, “Where do they come from? No one their age is like that.” They’re deep, beautiful throughout, hip, smart, fun, faith-filled, loving, not petty and real people. The fact that they were thrilled I was there with them, were totally jazzed that I knew the words to every TØP song, as I danced, jumped and arm-waved (all of which is, I believe, worth doing badly)? Well, it was nothing short of a suspension of the laws of teen nature. Here they are:

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It was transcendent. The concert, that is. Transcend, from the Latin trans (above or beyond) and scandere (to climb up), captures perfectly the effect of Josh and Tyler’s musical performance  — propelling, lifting, drawing, dazzling my spirit up into wild joy, forgetfulness of my cares, amazement and (a number of times) profound prayer. Their music in general, and this performance in particular, bears a profound sense of empathy, human solidarity and — there is no better single word for it — hope. Hope, because you feel in your guts you are not alone in the mess of things. Hope, because the unspecified “you” that marks so many of their songs is so naturally, though not assaultingly, open to God.

Someone asked me yesterday, “Are they a Christian band?” I immediately said, “No, they’re a schitzo-pop band who, as they write, sing and perform, inhale and exhale Christ, who is God so near that He’s nearly invisible.” They are artists who draw living water from the well of Christ who, in the words of Vatican II, “reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling.” Yep, their music brings to light the high calling of men and women who find themselves presently very, very low to the ground. Often with the high skies blanked out of view. Especially as they sang Addict with a Pen, Trees, as well as a haunting — almost mystical — cover of My Chemical Romance’s song, Cancer. 

As I wrote last summer, while there are significant differences, concerts like theirs deeply resonate with the meaning and experience of liturgical worship. I think of the almost sacramental character of the lights, sights and sounds; the communal singing of common texts (lyrics) that unite all; the ritual body movements; the focus around a “sanctuary” populated by celebrants clothed in symbolic vestments; or the feeling of being removed from everyday experience to enter into a world of higher-deeper-wider meaning that transfigures the way you think-see-hear-feel everything. These events give baptismal priests like myself the opportunity to give voice to the liturgy of creation that shouts and whispers, sings and groans with all the vitality and agony of life in a world laboring to give birth to a new creation. In fact, a friend of mine texted me just before the concert began: “Prayers for your night of lay high priestly worship!!”

Jamie Smith, in his book Desiring the Kingdom, argues that humanity is naturally homo liturgicus, “liturgical man.” We are drawn to ritual and liturgy, are naturally oriented toward worship and desire for the taste of transcendence in liturgy. Psychologically, socially, spiritually. He makes the point that good education, which is meant not simply to train workers with skill-sets for lucrative careers or give head-knowledge, but to form the whole person, must be thoroughly liturgical. Hence, it must engage the whole person in every aspect of existence, while being at the same time a full immersion into the dynamic mystery of God. He says,

Education is not primarily a heady project concerned with providing information; rather, education is most fundamentally a matter of formation, a task of shaping and creating a certain kind of people. What makes them a distinctive kind of people is what they love or desire – what they envision as ‘the good life’ of the ideal picture of human flourishing. An education, then, is a constellation of practices, rituals, and routines that inculcates a particular vision of the good life by inscribing or infusing that vision into the heart — the gut — by means of material, embodied practices.

The Sacred Liturgy is not a concert, but concerts have the capacity to profoundly bear the imprint of Sacred liturgy. When done well, musical events lead us into the Sacred Liturgy and intensify the force of the dismissal Rite — Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life — empowering us to set the world on fire. Artists like TØP make present a FarNear Kingdom burgeoning with divine Fire, a Kingdom guilty of breaking-and-entering a world grown old and cold in sin. In the words of Ode to Sleep:

I’ll stay awake,
‘Cause the dark’s not taking prisoners tonight.

Why am I not scared in the morning?
I don’t hear those voices calling,
I must have kicked them out, I must have kicked them out,
I swear I heard demons yelling,
Those crazy words they were spelling,
They told me I was gone, they told me I was gone.

But I’ll tell them,
Why won’t you let me go?
Do I threaten all your plans?
I’m insignificant.
Please tell them you have no plans for me.
I will set my soul on fire, what have I become?
I’ll tell them.

Thank you, Lord of Fire, for TØP, who share with us words of hope and fire that consume the flaming arrows of dark demons who whisper despair into the night.

Here are a few videos I shot, portions of songs captured with my 432-times-dropped phone. So realize the quality is low and a dim reflection of the reality.

Very end of Car Radio:

Mashup of Screen and The Judge:

Ode to Sleep:

Migraine:

Cancer:

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Catherine and Maria, lights in my life

She got it!

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My wife, Patti, finally got a Music Director job! She told me to please express her heartfelt gratitude for the prayers and support she received during the time she searched for work. May God reward you for your goodness.

She will begin May 1st at St. Philip Neri parish in Metairie. He’s the patron saint of laughter, so we are grateful also for that temperament alignment. They had a wonderful and faithful music director for many years, but, in all of my objectivity (and Patti would not appreciate this praise), I can say that St. Philip is about to discover a new charism awakening in their midst.

St. Augustine captured her unique charism well in a phrase, Cantare amantis est, “singing is for lovers.” That’s Patti’s gift, she sings out of her love for God. I mentioned before on this blog that a famous jazz and blues singer in Florida, who converted to Catholicism, said to Patti one day after Mass: “Every time you sing the Lamb of God, I’m converted all over again.”

I’ll leave you with a recording I made of her rehearsing a Good Friday song, so you can hear that same gift:

Lent, the Liturgy of Agápē

Lent! It’s here, the party’s over. The liturgy bids us cease the festive parades of Carnival and enter the quiet desert of heart-rending penitence. In place of the laughter and cheer of Mardi Gras, we now hear the weeping of Adam, the dirge of Eve that echoes still from the primal Fall (Gen 3:19), along with the press of mortal ash that crosses our foreheads:

Memento, homo, quia pulvis es,
et in pulverem reverteris.
“Remember, man, you are dust
and to dust you will return.”

Liturgy is God’s manner of (re)structuring and redeeming time and space.

We who have been Baptized into Christ and anointed by the Spirit become ourselves liturgical beings, seized by the redeeming work of God (Phil. 3:12). In us the Holy Spirit recapitulates the life, death and resurrection of Christ so that we might be daily remade in His likeness. We pray, “Christ, live your life in me.”

Like a signet ring pressed into soft wax, the Spirit-filled liturgical seasons of the church year mark history’s unfolding with the diverse facets of the mystery of Christ. The church, born of and birthing the liturgy, makes the Kingdom’s re-ordering of time and space present here-and-now, in innumerably creative ways. Just think of how — no matter the distortions — these liturgical seasons and feasts have shaped the American culture of time: Advent-Christmas, Mardi Gras, Groundhog Day (Presentation of the Lord), Valentine’s Day, Lent, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter.

Liturgy, when it is made alive in us, is meant to become a primary locus and force of the Spirit’s shaping of human culture according to the pattern revealed by Christ in His words and deeds (Ex. 25:9). In the Sacraments we become a living, breathing, walking, speaking, singing, working, suffering sacramental liturgy in the world, allowing the Risen Christ, now exalted beyond history, to daily “crash the party” of life, transforming revelry into the celebration of redemption. As liturgical beings, we permit Christ in each moment of history, through-with-in us, to “do His thing” in all human cultures until the end of time.

Lent is the liturgical space-time warp when the church accompanies Jesus into the great silence of the Judean desert and face the ancient Tempter of humanity with all the weapons of the Father, i.e. prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Let me offer a brief reflection on each of these.

Prayer: Prayer is intimate communion with the living God that allows us to bring our existence under the sway of His energetic power. Prayer affirms our dignity as stewards of God’s creation, allowing us to participate in His providential governance of all things, including evil. We have all been marked in Baptism with a priestly nature, and priests above all mediate, which makes each of us a center of commerce, so to speak, between heaven and earth. In this sense, prayer exists to increase in the world Heaven’s premier commodity, agápē. Agápē, in the New Testament, is the catch word for the singular manifestation of the “no greater love” shown by God in Christ on the Cross. This form of love is the signet ring’s image, the signature style by which God governs all things. It’s why the demons, purveyors of loveless death, despise prayer because they know it is Heaven’s chosen means by which creation is soaked in God’s life-giving and redeeming love. Fr. Hopko makes this point with his customary sharpness:

If you wish to prove the existence of Satan, start praying daily with depth and consistency and watch all Hell break loose to try to stop you with a thousand good reasons why you don’t need to pray now. “Not today, later, plenty of time” is their refrain. But God says to us, “Now is the time of salvation.”

Fasting: Fasting is usually associated with cultivating self-discipline, losing weight, taming the unruly passions, breaking addictions or helping turn our focus from purely material to more spiritual realities. In a word, fasting facilitates inner freedom for Christian excellence which requires self-mastery, with the appetites and emotions being under the rule of right-reason informed by faith. Fasting gives wings to prayer, helping snap our tethering cords and allowing us to feel in our bodies the ache of our yearning for God.

Fasting is also about exercising the muscle of solidarity — “I am my brother’s keeper” — under the form of hunger, inscribing the law of sacrifice into our body. Like a nursing mother, Christians eat always with the feeding of others in mind. Fasting involves renouncing good things, especially needful things, in order to free certain “goods” up to benefit others who lack them. This is why the demons hate fasting, because it frees the heart for agápē, for life-giving sacrifice. And whenever we present to God a sacrifice born of love for His glory and the good of our neighbor (tautology), no matter how tiny it is, God infallibly responds in a 100:1 ratio (Mark 10:30). St. Therese said this beautifully:

Even to pick up a pin for love can convert a soul.

Indeed, sacrificial love is the grain of God written into creation, marred in the Fall, and found deeply embedded in the core of the wood of the Cross. When we sync our lives with the endless rings of this grain, we re-create creation with the Creator.

Almsgiving: Almsgiving flows from prayer and fasting. We pray to become capable of loving God with our whole heart, soul, mind, strength and our neighbor as ourself. Prayer inspires us to offer to God our bodies as a living sacrifice, fasting prepares the material for the sacrificial feast and almsgiving is the feast offered to “the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind” (Luke 14:13). This sacrificial feast can be a feast of food, of hope, of friendship, of justice advocacy, of time spent in patient listening or any number of other acts of agápē that bring life to the world around us.

As an elderly priest said once in a homily, “If we give up sweets for Lent, it’s so we can become sweeter to the bitter.” Love that.

In the desert and on the eucharistic Cross, Jesus prayed, fasted and gave sacrificial Alms to satisfy our hunger with finest Wheat and quench our thirst with the rivers of tender mercy that flowed from His open side. God’s liturgy of love makes of every desert an oasis and of every Cross a Tree of Life.

There is a woman I know — have known for decades — who has a son with Down Syndrome, who is himself beset by several severe disabilities. We will call him Tony. Among his many challenges, he has a sleeping disorder that keeps him up for 3-day stretches 2 to 3 times a month. And this has gone on for nearly 30 years. Because he is terrified of being alone during the night during these stretches, she stays awake with him, and then works during the day while he is at school. That astounds me. Once when I was speaking with her, I complimented her amazing stamina and selfless love for him. She said, “No, it’s Tony who’s the champ. He’s the one who suffers with this. Me? I have the privilege to accompany him. You know I say that if I’m ever saved when I die, it’ll only be because of Tony. He pulled me out of my self-centered life and taught me how to love.”

And is that not the meaning of salvation? To think less of yourself in order to think more of others.

Above all hold unfailing your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins. — 1 Pet. 4:8

This Lent, may our chosen way of prayer, fasting and almsgiving thus save us, and the world, with the beauty of Christ’s sacrificial love.

Judean desert. swordsoftruth.com