Threatening Mass

cardinalsblog.adw.org

Re-post 2014

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. 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 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. Mind blowing!

Among many practical points, he 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 a routine of daily repetition which can lull you into a dull comfort zone. “But,” he continued, “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, he said, and are mostly about some new awareness of Christ is acting in you. “There are these moments that come along when you are totally overwhelmed by this very real sense that you’ve become Christ’s ‘I’, acting in the first person with Him. Christ and I are one ‘I’ in the Consecration, that totally blows my mind. It’s almost too much to bear. And then there’s other times, when I’m asking the Father to send the Spirit down on the gifts of bread and wine, that I become really aware that I am calling Him down by Christ’s authority. He comes. That’s terrifying.”

The key, he told the seminarians, is not allow these two to become polar opposite experiences, but to allow one to influence the other. Let the dull moments get burnished by the startling ones, and let the startling stay anchored in reality by the dull. “This is the flux of life, brothers, so get used to it. But don’t get used to it. It’s 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 himself caught in uncomfortable spots, who appreciates that the discomforts of being torn between alternating extremes. These, for me, are what make you feel fully human, and so open to the fully divine. Caught between between binaries, or dyads. Here’s where I love to get caught — between evident and hidden, mysterious and mundane, infinite and finite, visible and invisible, power and weakness, transcendent and imminent, routine stability and mystical detonations. It’s easier to remain exuberant there, I guess. Maybe that’s what’s really needed to carry out St. Paul’s impossible command to “Rejoice always” (Phil 4:4).

So let me share with you the Jennings poem. Incidentally, she wrote it for a priest after they’d spoken together at length about the Mass, to help him augment his sense of how its earthy signs and symbols so wonderfully conveyed 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.

Significant sex

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Sexual union, lovingly experienced and sanctified by the sacrament, is in turn a path of growth in the life of grace for the couple. It is the “nuptial mystery”. The meaning and value of their physical union is expressed in the words of consent, in which they accepted and offered themselves each to the other, in order to share their lives completely. Those words give meaning to the sexual relationship and free it from ambiguity. Sexuality is not a means of gratification or entertainment; it is an interpersonal language wherein the other is taken seriously, in his or her sacred and inviolable dignity. – Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia

I’d like to share today a song by the group, Penny and Sparrow. The song, Duet, is sung by lead singer Andy Baxter and his wife, Hannah. Our friend, Austin Ashcraft, played it for Patti and me last winter and we both loved it.

The song brings into close proximity the tender thrills of sexual intimacy in marriage, and the hard labor of day in and day out commitments to spouse and family. You can feel as they sing how these two seemingly contrasting aspects of marriage actually intensify one another. I’ll share below what I wrote later that night after he shared the song with us.

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I’ve found it to be the case that among the most creative tensions within marriage are those that pulse between the self-oriented dynamism of erotic-possessive love (I want you) and other-oriented dynamism of self-sacrificing love (I am for you). Marriage is a fiery dance between desire and choice, possession and freedom, drinking in and outpouring, cleaving and surrendering, eros and agape. All at once, I am caught up in a burning passion for my wife, just as I am called out to a death-to-self Passion for her. Both flames mingle in our nuptial fire. When these two coexist in marriage, and eros serves agape, they forge a profound unity between us that cannot adequately be expressed in analytical prose, but requires intuitive poetry and song. Like Duet.

It’s really pure ‘theology of the body.’ Only when erotic sex is joined to sacrificial, total and lifelong fidelity (aka marriage) does it consecrate the one-flesh union, making of each sexual act a ratification of the unbreakable bond that “God has joined.” When these are not joined, when eros is dissociated from agape, sex becomes a fleeting act of use, the exploitation of another for self-pleasuring — until the thrill wears off. Once her usefulness wanes, I can move on.

Every sexual act bears the inscription of a marital act, a sign and pledge of everything-forever, which is why every sexual act apart from marriage is a lie, an act of theft. Only after I sold all I had — renounced every other option among women and pledged ny whole heart, soul, mind and strength — was I permitted to claim as my own this treasure buried by God in the field of my wife, Patricia, daughter of the Most High King.

Drilling down a little deeper. I can see a bit more now, after 20 years, that only after long togetherness can you experience the profound significance of sexual union as a sacrament of the Sacrament — a tangible sign of trust, surrender, gift, unity, mutual indwelling, an exchange of hearts, and everything else marriage is God-designed to be. When minds and wills have achieved an intimacy born of battles, struggles, tears and countless reconciliations, then each sexually unitive act comes to embody a real love story. Then sex becomes a truly intimate act, signifying and expressing the insanely personal knowledge you have of each other; a knowledge that makes you finish each other’s sentences, anticipate each other’s needs, forgive each other’s failures even before they happen. My wife knows me more than any other human being. That is terrifying and thrilling all at once! That’s why radical honesty and trust in marriage are so essential. Without them the mystery of interpersonal intimacy, in this full sense, is absolutely impossible.

Again, the true beauty and power and ecstasy (which means “going outside of oneself toward”) of sex after years of marriage is that it enfleshes an actual story of two who are ever-more becoming one. “Adam knew Eve” (Gen. 4:1) is such an apt euphemism for the sexual act, as God intended it to be.

Our culture worships sex in a cult of pleasure, which renders sex susceptible to addiction. Such an addiction, devoid of authentic freedom, is an idolatry trivializing the true beauty and power of sex. Christian culture worships with sex in a cult of self-gift, making of each sexual act a free bodily offering (Rom. 12:1) of faithful and fruitful love, offered with my spouse to the God-Man whose Incarnation has forged in “one flesh” His everything-forever covenant love for the human race.

Entering that mystery in marriage is real ecstasy.

Here’s Duet:

I bet your shoulders can hold more than
Just the straps of that tiny dress
That I’ll help you slide aside
When we get home

I’ve seen ’em carry family
And the steel drum weight of me
Effortless, just like that dress
That I’ll take off

Because I’ve seen you
And I know you
And I’m not going anywhere

Because I’ve seen you
And I know you
And I’m not going anywhere

I bet your back can carry more than
Just the weight of your button-down
One by one, they’ll come undone
When we get home

I’ve seen you carry family
And all my insecurities
One by one, they’ll come undone
When we get home

Because I’ve seen you
And I know you
And I’m not going anywhere

Because I’ve seen you
And I know you
And I’m not going anywhere

Because I’ve seen you
And I know you
And I’m not going anywhere

Because I’ve seen you
And I know you

Goner

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My last T.O.P. for a while…

…but now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again? (Gal 4:9)

I just came across another remarkable Twenty One Pilots song, called Goner.

It’s a very gentle and plaintive song, and, as with so many of their songs, it is an exploration of the inner conflicts that characterize human life.

The story Tyler tells sounds so much like the internal struggle St. Paul describes so vividly in Romans chapter 7. For example, vs. 15,

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

We are all in some very fundamental sense thus riven within, two-faced, unable to consistently be the person we want and know we should be. This inner schism, with its relentless tensions, can create terrible anxiety and hopelessness, as St. Paul evidences in vs. 24,

Miserable man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

The resolution for Paul is clear. Only the gift of God in Jesus Christ poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit can free me from this inner war. Only by welcoming within the Spirit of Jesus, who makes His own our agonized groaning and makes them redemptive (Rom. 8:26-27) can we know inner peace.

I want to be known by a God who knows well humanity’s griefs and has entered into them (Ex. 3:7; Is. 53:4; Jn. 11:33-35). I want Him to know my griefs and pains and anxieties, closely and intimately.

In this song, Tyler seems to have lost hope (“I’m a goner”), weighted under the burden of his struggle for authenticity. He gasps for breath, hyperventilating, constricted by the inner storm of anxiety. He deeply regrets his two-faces. “Face” is a meaningful metaphor. In Scripture it serves as a “sacramental” outward sign of our truest inward self, i.e. the image of God. The face is an epiphany, and when our face is true it reveals that image of God that is stamped into each of us. Tyler’s “blurry face” represents the distortions masking his true inner self. He’s controlled by others’ opinions and judgments, is not confident in the truth of who he is, in his gifts or in his life-mission. He longs for clarity, to be set free from his inauthentic blurry face.

No doubt being thrust into fame, and into the machinations of the entertainment industry, has presented Tyler with innumerable challenges. “Who will I be in my emerging public persona?” (persona, incidentally, is Latin word for “face”) This is the challenge that we all face when we leave our safe environments, where authenticity seems natural, and enter into new contexts where what we believe and how we act is put into question. Being true to yourself everywhere you find yourself is a learned art, a long labor of virtue that requires passage through purgative fires.

Tyler sees all of this swirling about him and turns to his music as a means of prayer. He desperately wants to be known by the God of authenticity and peace, whose (Holy) Ghost is so close to him. The same Ghost who breathed into him the breath of life in the beginning (Gen. 2:7) can now help him catch his breath, free him from anxiety and duplicity. Though Tyler is twisted “inside-out” by all of this turmoil, God is there with him, beneath him, to catch him.

It’s a profoundly consoling image that Tyler paints. It reminds me very much of the Breastplate of St. Patrick.

The sound of this song that he “slips away into” is the sound of prayer. His voice and the music remains very gentle throughout most of the song, but suddenly — so much their style — it explodes out into a desperate and heart-wrenching cry to God: “Don’t let me be!…”

Like a little child, utterly terrified of being abandoned, left alone.

It’s very moving, especially if you have tasted hopelessness in life and known this cry.

Here is the video with lyrics:

 

Ode to Twenty One Pilots

vocaltune.com

Yes, the obsession continues.

Someone recently sent me an interview with Twenty One Pilots lead singer, Tyler Joseph. He is so young, yet possesses a remarkable depth and authenticity. He is plagued by the anxieties and insecurities of our age, which makes him a powerful voice for the inhabitants of this age.

I was particularly interested when the interviewer asked him what the mission and purpose of Twenty One Pilots was; what explains the origin of their lyrics, their musical style? He struggled to answer, wading through the numbers game that dominates the music industry — profits, number of fans — and admitted these tempts him. But, he said, what really drives him is the idea that their music makes people think about life’s deepest and most universal questions. He said if their music lifted just one person up, making his or her life better and more full of joy, then that was the mission of Twenty One Pilots. “I don’t just want to entertain people,” he said, “I want them to think with me, to think about universally true things. I’m a seeker. I ask questions and hope they lead to joy.”

There’s no doubt the Christian worldview inhabits the lyrics, but Tyler is exceedingly careful not to speak with overtly religious language. He is very aware of the constraints of reaching a broad audience in a radically pluralistic world. His circumspect approach seems quite intentional. After listening to the interview, I wrote in my journal:

It’s like their music is composed and performed — “offered up” — on “the altar to an unknown God” St. Paul identified in the Areopagus of Athens (Acts 17:23). It’s a natural space to plant faith in the midst of our increasingly pagan culture, without being preachy. It’s a place where faith can encounter, give voice to and respond to the great questions and anxieties of our day. Their (lay) genius, to me, is that they are out there in the midst of that culture, singing with abandon of and to an unknown, hidden and humble God.

I also wrote a poem in my journal after hearing the interview. It’s my summary take on what I see to be their artistic mission. If I could send them a message, which I have concluded I cannot, it would be this poem.

Prophets of Zeitgeist

Voice of angst, prophets of zeitgeist
in authenticity, integrity unsacrificed
inscribing, singing a silent Christ
by twining faith in life, deftly spliced.

Rappers of deepest dark reality
facing who we are, we long to be
discovered by Truth who sets free
we, a restless, twisted humanity.

Not thru preaching, but evoking;
not thru imposing, but provoking
us to think thoughtfully; soaking
greying despair in colorful cloaking

by words that cut, yes make us bleed
though then only to heal and feed
souls yearning for an immortal creed
that won’t break the most fragile reed.

Your call and mission seem clear:
daring us hope in a world of fear;
outing a hidden God, so silently near
who whispers, “I am with you, here
wiping, drying, shedding every tear.”

 

Eating Flesh and drinking Blood

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Last Sunday we celebrated a great mystery of faith, the Holy Trinity. We pondered the beauty of its truth, and marveled that at the origin of all things — behind this world of death and sorrow — is infinitely selfless, joyful and outpouring love, God, who was revealed above all in a drained and exhausted Body. And we see that that image is our image, who we are meant to be. Trinity Sunday is a contemplative feast of gazing on what we wish to become: like the God of other-centered love.

But today we go even farther. We not only contemplate and confess the mystery of our Triune God, but we claim a divine command beyond belief (John 6:53): ingest the mystery of God.

No mere metaphor, but in reality. Jesus, eternal Word-made-flesh, commands us to devour, tear and shred (trōgōn of John 6:54) His Flesh and Blood, taking Him into our own flesh and blood.

Any illusion Christians may have that “spiritual” means non-material is dashed by this doctrine. Eucharistic Communion is nothing other than the coming together of the Incarnate God with our ensouled bodily digestive fluids. This is the spiritual mystery of the edible and potable Flesh and Blood of God.

Christian spirituality is not about rising above the body into some antiseptic, pure and bodiless spiritual world. Rather, it is about lifting up flesh and spirit together as a single spiritual sacrifice (Rom. 12:1). God so loved our material body — with all of its gross secretions, sinews and tissues — that He sent His Son to unite it to His own Person forever. God has joined matter so intimately to Himself in Jesus that it remains forever constitutive of who God is. The Son of God has a Body, taken from the humanity of Mary, and forever will. As moral theologian Germain Grisez once said to me when we were discussing the role of earthly goods in heavenly fulfillment, “Remember, in His glorified Body Jesus continues to enjoy cooking and eating food” (Luke 24:42-43; John 21:9-13).

I love that.

To this effect, a priest once said in a stellar homily on the Eucharist,

Receiving the Eucharist reverently is a matter of interior disposition, with faith, devotion, free from serious sin. But the manner in which we actually receive the Holy Gifts is really quite appalling, if you think about it. Saliva, chewing, swallowing, digesting. But of course this is no more appalling than the manner by which Christ became our Food and Drink — the Passion, with all its sordid details. This is my Body broken, Blood shed.

… And there’s something else remarkable here. All other foods say to us, in effect, “Take us in, consume us and raise us up to your higher form of life.” But to us the Lord says something totally new, “Take me in, consume me and I will raise you up to my higher form of life.” St. Augustine says, “If we receive the Eucharist worthily, we become what we receive.” God, as it were, obeys the logic of nature’s food chain, and yet (as He always seems to enjoy doing) subverts, inverts it in the Eucharist, putting a final end to the death and violence of the whole process.

Fr. Aidan Kavanagh also captures the stark meaning of our Eucharistic theology:

Two main forces have traditionally balanced this tendency and checked its spread. The first has been the attempt at keeping Eucharist as “banquet or meal” in tension with a perception of Eucharist as “sacrifice.” The tension reminds us that, however elegant the knowledge of this dining room may be, it begins in the soil, in the barnyard, and in the slaughterhouse—amidst strangles cries, congealing blood, and spitting fat in the pan. Table manners depend upon something’s having been grabbed by the throat. A knowledge ignorant of these dark and murderous “gestures charged with soul” is sterile rather than elegant, science rather than wisdom, artifice rather than art. It is love without passion, the Church without a cross, a house with dining room but no kitchen, a feast of frozen dinners, a heartless life. The pious (religious and secular) would have us dine on abstractions but we are, in fact, carnivores—a bloody bunch. Sacrifice may have many facets, but it always has a victim

In the Eucharist, we recognize that “God is love” and “God is food and drink” are interchangeable definitions. God is a feeding God (Psalm 107:9) who makes Himself the “finest wheat” and “best wine” harvested, crushed, baked and fermented for us and for our salvation. Those who feed on God in turn become partakers in this facet of His nature (John 6:57), manifesting their “deified” state precisely by becoming feeders of the hungry and slakers of the thirsty (Mark 6:37; Matt. 25:35).

Russian philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev said, “When you’re a Christian, bread for yourself is a material problem, but bread for my brother is a spiritual problem.” This is Eucharistic logic.

St. John Chrysostom also said,

Do you wish to honor the Body of the Savior? Do not despise it when it is naked. Do not honor it in church with silk vestments while outside it is naked and numb with cold. For he who said, “This is my Body,” and made it so by His word, is the same one who said, “You saw me hungry, and gave me no food. As you did not do it to the least of these, you did not do it to me.” Honor him then by sharing your property with the poor. For what God needs is not golden chalices but golden souls.

When I worked with the Missionaries of Charity in D.C. back in the early 1990’s, I was entrusted with the care of a man in his late 30’s who was from Tallahassee originally. I’ll say his name was Richard, which it wasn’t. He was partially paralyzed from a stroke he had had while sleeping in an abandoned car during the winter. Thank God he was discovered before he succumbed to hypothermia, and was brought to the Sisters’ home to recover.

I had to feed him, clip his nails, brush his teeth, wipe the feces off his bottom and change his clothes. He had slurred speech from the stroke, so communicating with him was difficult. It was very hard work for me. Not simply because of the tedious repetition or unpleasant odors, but because it was pulling me out of myself. Up to that point in my life I had lived a largely self-centered lifestyle, meaning most of my decisions were not determined by someone else’s needs. No one depended on me or my care. And if they did, it was part of my job and I was being paid to respond. But here I was a volunteer, and here these people — this was terrifying — depended on me to love them, and to care about their hopes and fears.

I felt like the Lord was saying to me for the first time in my life, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go” (John 21:17-18). I would soon come to realize that adulthood is about learning to be taken where you do not wish to go, and there making of yourself a worthy sacrificial offering.

One day I was at Mass with the Sisters and the residents. Nothing unusual. That morning had been a difficult one, as I had to give Richard a shower. It was always a long, arduous and complex process. Far more humiliating for him than for me, I was sure. He was angry at something and very resistant that day. I couldn’t figure out why. So at Mass I was feeling agitated and sad about the experience. I wrote in my journal afterwards, “What the hell more does he want from me?”

Then the Words of Institution came along. Nothing unusual. But they were different this time. “This is my Body which will be given up…This is the cup of my Blood which will be shed.” I thought of Richard’s naked body, so vulnerable, soiled, partially paralyzed.

The Sisters taught me when I first arrived to reverence the residents’ bodies Not easy to do in a shower as you try to clean very private parts, and they are cussing you out. Sr. Manorama had said it to me even more plainly: “You need to reverence these men’s bodies like you reverence Christ’s Body. Even if they treat you poorly, maintain your reverence, as then Christ comes to you in His distressing disguise, as Mother tells us. That’s when He is closest, you know.”

I didn’t know. But that day at Mass I said to myself, “Yes, even then. Especially then. Amen.”

Bluebirds

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From my journal this past week while I was on a silent retreat.

It just so happened that this was the one “dead week” of the summer at the retreat house, so there is no one else here. I am alone. God, you know I love solitude. To be alone with the Alone. Thank you.

I got up today at 5:00 a.m. to pray before sunrise in front of this splintered, decaying, lichen spotted, vine covered, old rugged Cross. I find it absolutely gorgeous, for whatever reason. It radiates sacramental light. In that split open wedge near the top on the right, there are these bluebirds nesting. The pair faithfully flies to and fro, selflessly feeding their young. How astonishing to find such fragile, new life hidden in the crag of a inhospitable Cross. Psalm 84:3.

It’s so quiet now as I write.

“Sometimes quiet is violent.” — Twenty One Pilots, Car Radio

I find whenever I enter into days of silence like these, deep insights emerge. Silence excavates insights into myself, into God, into others, into the world. Some lurk darkly, others burn brightly; some brood with evil, others breed good; some taunt me disturbingly, others console me with calm. My frenetic life corks my soul, stuffing my ‘stuff’ in a cobweb-infested basement closet, inuring me from the stench of the garbage that lies within.

Really, who wants to deal with all that?

But silence leaves me no escape. My spiritual director told me to practice a listening silence. It overtakes me, it dares me to trust the knocking of an insistent Word. Listen, can you hear the rhythmic beat of His knock? Especially at night, in the dark. Fear: if I open, all the trash will come tumbling out everywhere. It’s all safely contained now, right? The house looks neat, save for that closet. Why do you knock there?

Silence lets me feel how just much pressure has built up on that door. I hate silence, I love silence. It repels, it attracts. It afflicts, it comforts.

“When peaceful stillness lay over all, and the night was half spent, your almighty Word, O Lord, descended from heaven’s royal throne” (Wisdom 18:14-15).

From His throne to my insignificant door? Opening. The Word has exposed the debris in my cellar: my many cluttering words; my piles of clever disguises; my pallid pretenses and unconvincing lies (especially the ones I tell myself); my evasive games; the dusty storms raging within.

And I see temptations unmasked. The tail of the serpent, nearly hidden, but… Damn, I thought I was managing fine. But now I see the dangers of my presumption, my arrogance, my illusion of complete control.

My holy hours these days in front of the Tabernacle are brutal. “A fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall” (Jer. 1:18). Transubstantiation is dangerous as hell, is so bloody, in your face real, unyielding to my fanciful whims. “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself” (Gen. 3:10). Yet, there’s no where to hide.

O where can I go from your spirit,
or where can I flee from your face?
If I climb the heavens, you are there.
If I lie in the grave, you are there.

If I take the wings of the dawn
and dwell at the sea’s furthest end,
even there your hand would lead me,
your right hand would hold me fast.

If I say: “Let the darkness hide me
and the light around me be night,”
even darkness is not dark for you
and the night is as clear as the day (Psalm 139:7-12).

Silence is nakedness before You, stripped of all the garments of noise, the masks of pretense.

What can I see now? Here’s one…the Cynic has imperceptibly made inroads into me, stealing thrones within me, where Wonder once reigned supreme.

I fear this broken secret, this plundered closet will wreak havoc. The Judge is at the gate, condemnation awaits. Where do I run to hide?

Sometimes quiet is violent
I find it hard to hide it
My pride is no longer inside
It’s on my sleeve
My skin will scream
Reminding me of
Who I killed inside my dream
I hate this car that I’m driving
There’s no hiding for me
I’m forced to deal with what I feel
There is no distraction to mask what is real

I could pull the steering wheel

Yes, that’s it. I’ll pull the steering wheel, take charge again, shut the door and bring an end to this dreadful silence. But silence peels the steering wheel from my fierce grip. All control on my life is attenuated, wrested by that Word.

I remain in silence. Abyssus abyssum invocat.

I ponder of something terrifying
‘Cause this time there’s no sound to hide behind
I find over the course of our human existence
One thing consists of consistence
And it’s that we’re all battling fear
Oh dear, I don’t know if we know why we’re here
Oh my,
Too deep
Please stop thinking
I liked it better when my car had sound

Yes, outer noise to quell the inner noise; outer order to compensate for the inner chaos. But there’s that immobile Cross there. I see chaotic order in that Wood. What if I allow that Wood into my closet? Or what if I could just go to sleep and forget it all. When I stress I want to take a nap. “Wake me up when it’s all over.” But the Word speaks,

“Keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’” (Mk. 13:35-37).

There are things we can do
But from the things that work there are only two
And from the two that we choose to do
Peace will win
And fear will lose
There’s faith and there’s sleep
We need to pick one please because
Faith is to be awake
And to be awake is for us to think
And for us to think is to be alive
And I will try with every rhyme
To come across like I am dying
To let you know you need to try to think

Faith invited Him in: O Word of the Cross, come into my mind.

I loosened my grip, opened my hands upward out into the silence. Waiting, watching.

The Word has entered in, seizing charge of my thoughts. As if from nowhere, certainly nowhere in my own wits, I hear: “Be still” (Mk. 4:39). Order, peace. Love has appeared at the center of things. Here, inside that split in the Dead Wood.

My accusers have gone.

“And Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. He straightened up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, sir.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you.'” (8:9-11).

Love illumines darkness, heals infirmity, orders disorder, frees, gives rest, feeds and slakes. If peace is the tranquility of order, then love is the order. “Love never ends.” (1 Cor. 13:8).

“Every thought captive to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). O Christ, who are the Captor whose bondage is freedom. Free me from every slavery and make me your liberator. Preserve me in inner silence, and guard my mind in the peace that comes through faith in you. Amen.

O mes Trois! “O my Three!” — Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity

masaccio_holy_trinity

“The Holy Trinity,” Masaccio, 1427. /introtorenaissance2015.files.wordpress.com

This Sunday is the solemnity of the Holy Trinity. This dogmatic feast comes in the aftermath of Pentecost, the apogee of the Paschal Mystery, and confesses what we have seen: the absolute revealation of God through the Incarnation of His Word and the coming of His Spirit. Like someone standing in dizzy amazement at the edge of a new and massive crater formed by the crashing of an unexpected meteor, the Church stops today to look back at the whole Paschal season and say: “What was that?”

What? It is the Mystery of all mysteries! It is the deepest secret of God! It is the revelation that unity in the one God means not solitary existence but a oneness of consubstantial communion as Father, Son and Spirit. Tertullian, in the 3rd century, coined a new Latin word, Trinitas, from the word trinus, meaning “threefold.” A new word had to be created to bear the weight of this mystery. A new confession of faith: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the One is Three.”

But how could this be? Just thought as I asked this question: Mary asked this same question in Luke 1:35 and Gabriel’s answer was to reveal and invite her into an intimate unity with the Trinitarian mystery.

The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.

And to the same Trinity who at the dawn of creation said, “let there be…” she said, “let it be done to me.” And by her consent, all humanity could now receive this same invitation.

Human beings are the original crater in creation, the stamp of divinity in matter, so let’s pause there for just a moment. The two-in-one-flesh union of Adam and Eve makes clear that in Jewish metaphysics oneness does not a preclude in its definition a plurality of persons. Compare Genesis 2:24 that says of the man and woman that “two become one” (one=e·ḥāḏ) with Deuteronomy’s 6:4 “YHWH is one” (one=e·ḥāḏ). This opens an intelligible space in divine revelation for union as communion, unity as community and for God as Three-in-One. Furthermore, Genesis 1:27 amplifies this “space” as it makes clear that only as male and female together is the fullness of the divine image to be found. To use the beautiful metaphor found in Genesis 2:22, the divine image is made complete when the face of the woman is turned toward the face of the man by the God whom we come to find out, in Christ, is Himself Face turned toward Face (John 1:1 “the Word was toward God [pros theon]” who calls all humanity into that same interfacing unity of love (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Here we can see that God’s Trinitarian identity is not some esoteric doctrine requiring bizarre leaps of pseudo-mathematical logic or a suspension of disbelief in the face of contradictions. Rather, the theo-logic of Trinity is inscribed into the DNA of humanity. The Trinitarian stamp is found in the tensions we live every day, between difference and oneness, diversity and unity, solitude and communion, etc. And these are tensions that not only define human social existence but also structure the entire cosmic order. The unity of our known uni-verse subsists within a vast interrelated and irreducible plurality. Each particularity can only be understood in its relation to everything else that exists.

Back in 1994, a biologist at Florida State took me, and a group of others, on a trip into the Okefenokee Swamp in south Georgia to explore the swamp’s wild biodiversity. At one point, as we were out in the middle of the swamp, he began describing the fragility of the ecosystem, explaining that when one small part of that system is disrupted its effects are felt everywhere. He said, “the swamp is like one great living organism, with its own personality and unique biorhythms. Its beauty can’t be fully appreciated until it’s seen in the context of the whole, until you can see its complexity, its organic unity that makes it act as if it were one great living thing.” As if nature wished to punctuate his point with an exclamation, a lightning bolt suddenly struck the water a few hundred yards away from our boat. I thought I was a dead man.

The unity-in-diversity of the Trinitarian God is ineffable, meaning it is beyond the reach of finite reason to fully comprehend because God is beyond all of the time-space categories that constitute the defining limits of the human mind. Also, the Trinitarian nature of God as Father, Son and Spirit had to be revealed by God precisely because it is a personal mystery, and the mystery of a person, by definition, can only be known by a free personal act of self-disclosure. I must choose to disclose the mystery of who I am in my inmost self. Keeping those caveats of mystery in mind, we still must say that the mystery of the Trinity is not remote, absurd, irrelevant or illogical, but rather it coincides in the most profound way with the deepest elements of human experience. Especially the experience of human solidarity brought on by the exigencies of love.

There’s no mistake that just before the profession of the Nicene Creed, the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom has the Deacon say, “Let us love one another that with one mind we may confess” and the faithful respond, “Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Trinity, one in essence and undivided.” Only the unifying power of love lived out in the world with our lives makes us worthy and able to confess the Trinity in the liturgy with our lips.

Origen of Alexandria once said, “The Church is full of the Trinity.” Yes! But let me also add that the whole of creation is full of the Trinity, filled with traces and vestiges marked by Their life-giving holy Communion.

How blessed are we to know that Mystery intimately, face to face, and to be invited to dive into that mystery through Christ and in the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father. O mes Trois! “O my Three!” Amen.

St. Gregory of Nazianzus, help me praise.

Glory to God the Father
and to the Son who reigns over all.
Glory to the Spirit, All-Holy,
to whom praise is fitting.
This is the Single God, the Trinity,
who created all things that are;
who filled the heavens with spiritual beings,
the land with earthly creatures,
the oceans, rivers, springs,
with all aquatic living things.
Out of his own Spirit he gives life
to all that lives
so that all created life can sing out praise
to the wisdom of the Maker;
that single cause of their existence,
their continuing subsistence.
But more than all other things,
and in all things,
rational nature must sing out
that he is the Great King, Good Father.
And so, my Father, grant to me
in spirit and in soul, in heart and voice,
in purity of heart
to give you the glory. Amen.

Help me, Colleen: