My theological jam

The divinized hands of a Royal Priest chrism’d by Baptism

I just got off the phone with a theologian from Opus Dei, whom I met on a trip last May. We hit it off immediately and exchanged ideas that made us feel like long lost brothers. Our electric conversation was about “my theological jam” (fitfully attempting to use a vogue phrase), the mission of the laity to discover “transforming union” with God, not by becoming otherworldly but by virtuously and passionately engaging in temporal, secular, mundane, worldly activities.

In fact, we had a moment in the conversation when I had to put the phone down and catch my breath under a spell of near-fatal awe. Here’s the substance of what he and I explored over about a five minute stretch of the whole conversation:

Consecrated in Baptism as royal priests, we faithful have been empowered as Christ’s Body (for real) to bless, consecrate and offer up in sacrifice to the eternal Father the temporal order under our sway. Aside: the “temporal order” is all of the time-bound affairs and concerns of us civilization building earthly mammals stamped with God’s image.

But here’s where my phone fell. He said, “the laity are tasked with giving Christ leave to become fully secular in every imaginable form … we are Christ making a living as a computer programmer, a maid, a CEO, a professor, an engineer, a politician, a widow, a spouse, a father, a physician, a Canadian citizen, a musician, a passenger on Southwest airlines, a small business owner, a driver, a cancer patient, et alia.”

The Baptized, in a state of grace, allow Christ to save and sanctify every nook and cranny of life in the world.

For most of His life, Jesus was a small business owner before He began His public ministry, and precisely as a carpenter-artisan He was making a new heaven and a new earth in the hidden shadows of His tiny Nazareth workshop.

Christ longs to become all things in all men, longs to “take up” as His own all that we are in every age, in every place, at every moment, because He loves all that He has made (Wisdom 11:24), loves to the extreme all that has fallen into death, and longs for all to be raised up and joined to Him in mercy and love.

By becoming Incarnate, God assumed human flesh and soul, culture and labor, relationships and suffering, time and space. Even sin (2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13). In Christ God united to Himself the entirety of the fallen created order to redeem her, that He might “marry” her in a new creation.

As we spoke, I thought of the extraordinary words of Isaiah 62:4-5:

You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate;
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;
for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your Builder marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.

These are no mere metaphors. The Triune God wishes to draw the “land,” all things to — and into — Himself through us (John 12:32).

Through us. Take in for a moment the grandeur of that prepositional phrase. Look at your hands, hold your calloused palms upward, and, with a fiat, lift the whole cosmos Up to Him.

Virtuously living secular lives in the world — in all worthy professions, in marriage and family life, in every labor and leisure, in culture and civic life — the laity give Christ the freedom to send out His wedding invitation to the whole of creation. Every moment is pregnant with a fresh resurrection.

Saints’ relics are the material signs of our consent to the Proposal, and of jubilant matter awaiting the final consummating resurrection at the End when the Bridegroom will delight and rejoice over His Bride for all ages (Romans 8:20-21).

Here in this world, men and women called to remain deeply embedded in secular affairs are — hear mesupremely dignified, as they allow Christ to be where He most desires to be and do what He most desires to do: so love the world (John 3:16).

In such a world vision, those who suddenly find themselves on fire for God will know this Fire within first forges not world-fleeing saints, but world-freeing ones. Ite, missa est…

“I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety” — 2 Cor. 11:28

This is not a particularly theological post, but it came to me and I felt I should write it.

As I’ve shared before here, I have suffered from various forms of anxiety disorder most of my life. For those who have this dis-ease as their daily reality, you know it is not a cross you shoulder but rather a cross inscribed deep within your body and soul. It can be sometimes irritating, sometimes debilitating. And it’s a cross that, for many or most of us, accompanies us the whole of our lives.

The real healing, I have found, is not in finding freedom from anxiety but in finding freedom within the limits it imposes — above all, the freedom to learn to love within those limits.

I had a breakthrough back in 1993 that substantially changed the way I approach my anxiety, and for the better. The doctor who finally diagnosed me with “panic disorder” set me on a path of growth and acceptance that, to this day, remains my daily bread. I pray for him often in gratitude.

He worked closely with me on developing strategies for cultivating emotional intelligence, healthy eating/sleeping/exercise habits, and a better time management by asking me to audit my commitments. When I brought my “report” with me to the next visit, he said (as I recounted in my journal):

You are doing too much. No, that’s not right. You’re not in control of what you’re doing, but letting things and people hold you hostage and run you into the ground. Then you play the martyr. That’s a prison.

You need to figure out who you are, what you in fact have to offer, what you can actually do or not do, stop trying to please everyone and learn the art of No. Decide what’s essential, and not simply what’s possible. Because the possibilities are endless, but you’re not. If you continue on this road of doing the possible, you’ll have no one to blame but yourself for your demise.

Those, in fact, were my issues, that was my unique path, my road to freedom and recovery. Over the years, I have met so many people who suffer from anxiety, and can now see just how diverse both the causes and the remedies are for each. Yes, there are common grounds among us, but each has to be discerned for both cause and remedy.

I have often thought to start a catholic support group for people who wish to talk about anxiety and faith, pray together, share their burdens and exchange wisdom. I could have used that in the beginning, years ago.

I love to use music to interpret my experience, and among the songs over the years I have found that allow me to voice to God my cross of anxiety, the Twenty One Pilots song Goner captures best the gritty guts of my inner despair seeking hope from a God who knows me well (Ex. 3:7).

In those moments when my inner world fragments into a thousand un-held pieces, and I can’t breathe well, I am able to see better the Ghost of the One who descended into Hell to be close to me, and to hold me in my own…

The Love of Thousands

Yes, that. A friend sent me that, and then I wrote this…

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We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now. — Rom. 8:22

The universe has labored in agony for over fourteen+ billion years to give birth a hospitable star and planet suitable for life. The earth took shape over four+ billion years, and life has slowly evolved over three+ billion years. Preparing the way for my life were the endless cycles of cosmic birth and death, violence and suffering, chaos resolving into order; and a hundred thousand years of human genealogy, of the struggle to survive and thrive, to build civilizations and make culture, to search for God and one another amidst the ruins of Eden.

Their gift is my inheritance.

I still remember the episode of Cosmos when Carl Sagan said, “We are a way for the universe to know itself. Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return. And we can, because the cosmos is also within us. We’re made of star stuff.” And I remember the strange feeling of being grateful to the stars for spending themselves for me.

“This is my body which will be given up for you” is written into the very structure of existence.

This grand cosmic and bio-history is my litany of gratitude, which my lifetime will not be sufficient to exhaust. I give glory to God by being grateful for the laboring agony of creation, of life, of humanity, of my ancestors who have given me the opportunity to be, and to do the same.

If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough. — Meister Eckhart

Legacy

I have a friend who introduced me to Halík several years ago, and this Czech theologian and philosopher has become one of those writers I return to over and over again to mine the depths of his thought. What I find most helpful about Halík is that he refuses to engage the complexities of modernity with easy answers and facile certitudes that, for example, can seduce Catholics into accepting the straitjackets of political liberalism or conservatism as orthodox canons of judgment.

Okay, now on to his quote…

“The fruits of those years.”

I gave a talk last week on the Catholic meaning of legacy, which I described as “the world you leave behind in your wake.” I argued that as people of faith we should be deeply intentional about the legacy we are choosing and planning to leave behind for others, not simply leaving our legacy to chance. I made the point that so much of the Last Supper discourse in John’s Gospel is Jesus ensuring the memorial of His legacy of sacrificial love would not be left to chance. Nowhere in John’s Gospel does Jesus command love until the Last Supper, and then by explicitly linking it to “as I have loved you.”

St. Paul understands this well when he says, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). He’s clear, his legacy is to be the Christ-legacy.

I asked the participants to memento mori, “remember death” and imagine what people from their past and present worlds would say of them at their funeral. What would these people inscribe on your tombstone to sum up your life? What do you believe God will say of you before the Angels at your Final Judgment?

A perfect meditation for the liturgical month of November.

How do you hope the world you have left in your wake will one day be described as in a word or a phrase? More just? More generous? More hopeful? More kind? More honest? More merciful? More peaceful? More compassionate? More sacrificial? More patient? More joyful? More hopeful? More forgiving? More beautiful?

And how are you living each moment to make that so?

I find this question my most fruitful method for examining my conscience every evening.

What is the “word” God has given you to speak to the world? The “letter” He has given you to write?  To whom has He sent you to speak it by your life? Do you prayerfully discern this unique mission every day?  Pope Francis said, “Each saint is a mission, planned by the Father to reflect and embody, at a specific moment in history, a certain aspect of the Gospel.”

What is your mission name in Eternity? Ask Him, then do it.

Churn out enormity

And we need reminding of what time can do, must only do; churn out enormity at random and beat it, with God’s blessing, into our heads: that we are created, created, sojourners in a land we did not make, a land with no meaning of itself and no meaning we can make for it alone. — Annie Dillard

I had an exchange with a friend, who’s also a dad, about the impossibility of fully appreciating your children’s childhood. Here is a part of what I wrote to him:

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You know, you are so right to say it that way. I try so hard to appreciate things in the moment, but always feel later a failure. When my mom was dying, as I sat beside her bed I tried desperately to appreciate her still being with me…but in some ways it was too hard to think that way, as the grief of impending loss, of the water’s imminent escape from my hand, clouded my ability to receive the moment. Such a paradox!

But an insight I had with my mom, and have had with the kids, was in the whole liturgical sense of ‘anamnesis’ [Greek word for ‘remember’]. Remembering “in God” what has sunk into the past has become the primary way I access the unsearchable depths of the beauty present in each moment. So much of my prayer has become remembering the past in God’s presence … is this not what praying with Scripture is? Only in prayer can I see clearly that, to the eternal God, all is present. And to the incarnate God, Jesus Christ, our memory and God’s memory have become one remembering. Such is the Eucharist.

Prayer also allows me to realize my nostalgia, the painful desire to not allow what I love to vanish into the past, is an imago, an echo of God’s eternal — agonized — love for all things:

For you love all things that exist,
and detest none of the things that you have made,
for you would not have made anything if you had hated it.
How would anything have endured if you had not willed it?
Or how would anything not called forth by you have been preserved?
You spare all things, for they are yours, O Lord, you who love the living. – Wisdom 11:24-26

This morning I had breakfast at City Diner with Maria (our little monthly tradition), and we remembered the past — the special moments, random happenings, and funny things we treasure together…and it was incredible, always is, left me filled with a blend of joy, sadness and hope as I drove away. And when I go to my Mom’s grave, I sit there and remember. So much, everything really. And somehow I go deeper into what was, with a mix of sadness, gratitude and hope.

At once, I must treasure and let go. ☨

To me, as you know, this is what I believe the new creation is about in its deepest structure: forever unpacking in the eternity of God what was the infinite depth of time, of the now, of the sacrament of the present moment that none of us has, or can receive wholly in this life.

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Astonishing thought, in every moment of our lives in this world we are called to “churn out enormity” — to impregnate each minute of each hour of every day with love, readying its labored procession for eternal remembrance in everlasting Resurrection.

Dr. Mario, what is prayer?

On this memorial feast day of St. Teresa of Avila, doctor of prayer, it seemed appropriate to share a podcast my friend, Dr. Mario Sacasa, and I did on prayer. Dr. Mario’s podcasts are a treasury of wisdom, and I highly recommend them to all interested in the ways faith and reality intersect in hope: https://faithandmarriage.org/alwayshope/

He is a long time friend, colleague and inspiration to me and my family!

“Our world no longer hears God because it is constantly speaking.” — Robert Cardinal Sarah

Image result for monk in silence

I write often of silence. As we live in a world imprisoned by noise, silence has become an increasingly necessary witness that Christians have to offer. St. Isaac of Syria said, “silence is the language of the Kingdom of heaven.” Hence, silence must be our native tongue.

Sacred silence is not the mere absence of noise, but the capacity to be attentive and open to receiving the gift of existence as it is, appearing on its own terms all around us — and not as we wish it were. In all its glory and gore.

Silence is, in the words of Deacon Jim Keating, the “diminishment of interference between ourselves and another.” Silence makes us vulnerable to the mystery of encountering another person, as they are, as the image and sign language of a creating and redeeming God.

In every encounter, the silent God speaks.

The late Fr. Raphael Simon was a Trappist monk at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts. I knew him when he was in his 70’s and 80’s, and devoured his book Hammer and Fire soon after my conversion experience. He left a deep impression on me not so much by his words, but by his silence.

I especially remember the one time I went to Confession to him. We began the Confession in silence before he spoke the opening words of the Rite. Then again, we sat in silence for two or three minutes after I had finished listing my sins. It was awkward for me, as I was not sure what was happening. Then after those minutes he said, “Tom, ask God to create silence in your heart so you can sense Him, and then consider your words more carefully before you speak. Be more aware they originate from and echo within His Temple, your body, the Holy of holies. Because He’s invited you within Himself, every word you think and speak enters His depths. Make each worthy of Him.”

Those words filled me with my first taste of holy fear. Then we sat in silence for another two or three minutes before he absolved me. I left, acutely aware, and every word my mind conceived seemed wrapped in memory eternal. God’s.

Be still and know.