Spes nostra, “Our hope”

15th century “Assumption of the Virgin Mary.” udayton.edu

Today is a Feast of hope, joy, resurrection and new life. Today is a Feast celebrating Christ’s defeat of death and despair as he raises His Mother from the tomb, body and soul, as the incorruptable Ark of the Covenant who gave flesh to God. Mary is the perfect icon of the Church, so whatever Jesus does for Mary, He also does for us…as long as we also, like her, say Yes to His will.

Better than any theological commentary I could aspire to give today is the hope-filled, honest and tender witness of a father eulogizing his 12 year old little girl who died of cancer. His daughter’s name is Kylie. No father should have to eulogize his daughter, but Kylie’s dad proves that in Christ, even in the face of great tragedy, hope never dies. As I listened to his testimony, I could feel the love that must have filled Kylie’s home, and imagined that when she died and came to the Father’s House, it surely would have felt very familiar.

My thanks to seminarian Patrick Russell, a cousin of Kylie, who shared this youtube link with me. Patrick told me with utmost sincerity that Kylie was the most real and profound witness to Christ he had ever known. He also said that the impact of her witness played a significant role in his desire to be a priest, called lay down his life for God and for others.

I’d also like to (re)share a story I posted back in May. After my 4th child was born, a priest said to me in Confession: “Isn’t it wonderful God has entrusted His children to you for a such brief time?” I thought, “Wonderful? Stressful!” Then he offered some powerful advice:

Your mission is to help them know and love Him … God wants parenting to be a joint venture, which means you have to ask Him all the time what He wants for them. Ask why He created them, what their life-mission is. What gifts He’s given them. How best to remedy their sins and weaknesses … Teach them how to hear His voice. And the best way to do that is for you to be a good son of the Father. Listen to His voice. Be close to Jesus who shows you the Father … You don’t possess your children. They’re not yours. They’re His. Your greatest act of love is leading them back to their Father … The best news you could ever hear on Judgment Day is that, when your children finally saw the face of God, they blurted out: “You remind me of my dad!”

No doubt in my mind, those would have been among Kylie’s first words before the face of God.

Enjoy these 12 minutes of beauty:

Laity on Fire, Part II

A epiclesis

…a total aside on that Eucharist thought. Think about the bread and wine in the Eucharist that serve as sacramental symbols of what we offer for Consecration. Remember, the laity are out in the world consecrating it to God by their holy lives, but their consecration isn’t perfect until it comes to the Eucharist and suffers the consecratory epiclesis [calling down of the Spirit]. Given over to the Spirit, it’s joined to Christ’s bodily Sacrifice and presented in thanksgiving to the Father. In a sense, those 2 symbols of bread-wine contain all that we’ve come to offer in the Mass — our highly compressed prayers, works, joys, sufferings, possessions, losses, health, illness, etc. that we give over to God. Bread and wine aren’t themselves really “natural” elements, right? They’re human-fashioned cultural artifacts, “fruit of the earth and work of human hands,” so aren’t they totally perfect symbols of what we’ve made of creation with God? Super cool. The Offertory at Mass thus becomes the crucial “lay moment” in the Liturgy’s mystical transaction — and the Epiclesis-Consecration seals this transaction by re-making the perishable material of this world we present to “pass over” into the “celestial realm,” the imperishable Kingdom. Wow! Lay life becomes a constant liturgical Pass-over if we do it right, the God-way. Nothing good in this life, that is given over and offered up, is ever lost. And nothing bad that happens, that’s given over and offered up, is ever left unhealed. That’s my favorite insight of all. Hopeful!

…also, imagine that transubstantiation does not mean that the bread/wine’s substance is somehow invisibly hollowed out and replaced with Christ (so maybe you could see him with a microscope!). What an insult to this creation that would be if Christ simply replaced this world’s substance and set it aside! Rather, trans- means that the very substance/being (ontos) of the bread/wine, as existing realities of this world, has “passed over,” been “taken up into” a utterly new order of being: the New Creation built on Christ’s dead-buried-risen and not-left-behind-or-set-aside Body. The consecrated bread and wine no longer belong to this order of existence, but to the Age to Come, even though their material characteristics as bread and wine remain within this old creation (kinda like Christ after the Resurrection appearing and passing through doors). So when you consume these transformed materials at Communion, guess what you are participating in, being transformed into and metabolized by? The new order of being, the New Creation, built on Christ…and that change shows itself in you by your living as a new man through the charity in your life…because this New Creation is “made of love,” is structured by the order of divine-human charity…or, as the Preface for Christ the King says:

 Father…with the oil of gladness hast anointed Thine only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, as eternal high priest and universal King; that offering Himself on the altar of the Cross as an immaculate victim and peace offering, He might complete the mysteries of human redemption; and all creation being made subject to His dominion, He might deliver us into the hands of Thine infinite Majesty, a kingdom eternal and universal, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace. And therefore with angels and archangels, with thrones and dominions, and with all the heavenly hosts, we sing a hymn to Thy glory, saying without ceasing: Holy, holy, holy…

So do you see why getting eschatology right is so incredibly important, as it makes clear precisely why this life in the world is so crucial, why everything we do without exception for good or ill matters (think here: Hell is the loss of the New Creation’s fulfillment born of our catastrophic failure to cultivate this world aright), and why Jesus is not God’s Plan B, but rather is the crown of God’s plan from the beginning to make us His co-workers/co-creators/co-redeemers (cf. 1 Cor. 3:9; Gal. 2:20). What extraordinary dignity it is to know that God established humanity in this vast creation so that we could participate in its laboring and gestating in saecula saeculorum, “unto the ages of ages.” I think here of the Our Father, where Jesus asks us to unite earth and heaven by our lives of obedience to His coming Kingdom of holiness. You might say that inasmuch as we bring “heaven to earth” by our Christlike lives, we claim earth for heaven. Earth was made for heaven, and heaven is made of earth lifted by the totus Christus to the Father in the Spirit of love. Isn’t that was Belinda Carlisle was getting at?

Ooh, baby, do you know what that’s worth?
Ooh heaven is a place on earth
They say in heaven love comes first
We’ll make heaven a place on earth
Ooh heaven is a place on earth

Maybe not.

Okay, I have to stop here. I am so sorry this is so long. But to me, catching this vision would make for a laity on fire with a secular mysticism uniquely theirs. Let me leave you with St. Isaac the Syrian’s beautiful comments on the dignity of this creation, and how every aspect of creation, when met with the righteous love of saints who already belong to the New Creation (cf 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15), is consecrated by saints who notice — like God — even when a tiny sparrow falls to earth.

What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation. For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm her or him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner such a person prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns without measure in a heart that is in the likeness of God.

God bless you for your patience with my disquisition! Let me know if you have other questions. Say hey to Fr. John and Bill for me.

…and let me leave you with a fun vid that playfully sums up my point:

Laity on Fire, Part I

Grinding wheat. images.travelpod.com

…Conversion calls for a number of attitudes which together foster a spirit of generous care, full of tenderness. First, it entails gratitude and gratuitousness, a recognition that the world is God’s loving gift, and that we are called quietly to imitate his generosity in self-sacrifice and good works: “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing… and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Mt 6:3-4). It also entails a loving awareness that we are not disconnected from the rest of creatures, but joined in a splendid universal communion. As believers, we do not look at the world from without but from within, conscious of the bonds with which the Father has linked us to all beings. By developing our individual, God-given capacities, an ecological conversion can inspire us to greater creativity and enthusiasm in resolving the world’s problems and in offering ourselves to God “as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable” (Rom 12:1). At the end, we will find ourselves face to face with the infinite beauty of God (cf. 1 Cor 13:12), and be able to read with admiration and happiness the mystery of the universe, which with us will share in unending plenitude. Even now we are journeying towards the sabbath of eternity, the new Jerusalem, towards our common home in heaven. Jesus says: “I make all things new” (Rev 21:5). Eternal life will be a shared experience of awe, in which each creature, resplendently transfigured, will take its rightful place and have something to give those poor men and women who will have been liberated once and for all. — Laudato Si

That paragraph sent me into a lengthy lectio reflection on a subject dear to my theological heart: the earthly character of the lay vocation. Why? Because it reminds us that the Christian vision of salvation is not simply “of souls,” but of bodies that inextricably link us to a vast universe that “waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God” (Romans 8:19).

The below text was excerpted from an email I sent last year to a student who asked me about how the world-focused character of the lay vocation can truly be considered “spiritual.” The email was written in haste, is informal and untidy, but most of what I write — and my life! — is like that anyway.

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…You say, “it seems to me that the spiritual world is our real destiny, so a vocation that makes worldly stuff the focus just makes an obstacle to getting where we’re supposed to be putting our hearts’ focus — right? We’re aiming for heaven and not earth, aren’t we?”

…heaven, or “the new creation” as it’s called be St. Paul, isn’t simply a new and improved product God fashioned to supersede the old, obsolete version we screwed up. Rather, from the very beginning this “old” creation was destined to be fulfilled, perfected, transfigured, re-created in the Age to Come through us, priestly humanity created in Christ who came to make all things new (cf Ephesians 2:10; Revelation 21:5). And note, we say, “Behold, I make all things new,” and not, “Behold, I make all new things.” This is Jesus saying this, right? And those of us who are “in Christ” as His Body, and so what He does, we do with Him. If He makes all things new by His life, death and resurrection, we co-do. Our vocation as lay men and women — bound up tightly in temporal-worldly reality by God (Lumen Gentium 31) — is to consecrate this world to God by immersing ourselves in it like leaven kneaded into dough, by cultivating Eden according to the will of God, and by so doing to lift up the old creation into the new creation. Or as Gaudium et Spes 38 memorably says it, secular laity “make ready the material of the celestial realm by this ministry of theirs” (see also Gaudium et Spes 14). To so-love-the-world like God was really humanity’s orginal call in the beginning, but sin corrupted the process and made us not upward-offering priests but inward-turned idolaters. But God’s redeeming work in Jesus the Gardener (cf John 20:15), who reveals to us with His cross-plow the Way of cultivating creation aright, has restored to us our original vocation to co-create and co-redeem the garden of this world to ready it for the New Eden of Paradise (which btw in Greek, paradeisos,  means “garden”).

…The Catechism (1120) says, “The ordained ministry or ministerial priesthood is at the service of the baptismal priesthood.” Why? Well, in part we can say that lay “baptismal priests,” whose vocation is to “make ready the material of the celestial realm” by their world-leavening lives, rely on the ministry of Ordained priests who gather up our sacrificial “materials” we hand them in the Eucharistic Offertory (as bread, wine and alms). Acting in the Person of Christ, the Ordained minister calls down the Sprit to consecrate our offerings and translate them into the immortal Kingdom (a Kingdom built on Christ’s risen Body). All earthly treasures gained for God’s glory and placed in service to man’s salvation are thus “stored up as treasure in heaven” where they will endure for all ages to give joy to all the saints and reveal the glory of God. This should transform our view of the world from a mere “testing ground” where we prove ourselves worthy or unworthy of an unworldly heaven into a theater of redemption where we “glorify God in our bodies” (Corinthians 6:20), “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1) and so, by extension, bring salvation to the whole material creation as material creation is caught up in the human body’s redemption. All creation is depending on us “priests of nature” (as St. Maximus the Confessor calls us) for its salvation (read the whole Romans 8:18-23 this way). We humans were made to give all creation its liturgical voice, verbalizing its inscribed longing to praise the Creator and Redeemer for unending ages (cf. Daniel 3:57-88!). This freaking ridiculous! And it’s why I love so much Eucharistic Prayer IV’s preface:

Father…you are the one God living and true, existing before all ages and abiding for all eternity, dwelling in unapproachable light; yet you, who alone are good, the source of life, have made all that is, so that you might fill your creatures with blessings and bring joy to many of them by the glory of your light. And so, in your presence are countless hosts of Angels, who serve you day and night and, gazing upon the glory of your face, glorify you without ceasing. With them we, too, confess your name in exultation, giving voice to every creature under heaven as we acclaim: Holy, holy, holy…

Giving voice to every creature by lives that accord with God’s will for creation, and so praising and glorifying God on the stringed harp of natural and theological virtue. Every creature! Look outside, all around you. Our world is a Garden that God has entrusted to us and called us to cultivate and (like Abel) make an offering, growing righteous fruits that endure to eternal life (cf. John 6:27). Or maybe creation is a whole lot of “talents” God has entrusted to us to invest and gain interest on by lives of faithful stewardship (cf. Matthew 6:20). You see, the new creation is a collaborative project, a work of synergy between God and men together — all in Christ the God-Man — building up here and now together a Kingdom that is here and is to come at the end of the ages. Think of it through the lens of this popular medieval story:

Two men were hauling stones through a muddy medieval street. One was cursing and the other was singing. A traveler asked them what they were doing. The curser replied, “I’m trying to get this damned rock to roll through this damned mud!” The singer replied, “I’m building a cathedral.”

Christ’s lay faithful aren’t just stuck in the secular world pushing damn rocks, but are joyful celebrants of the secular liturgy building a Cathedral out of the raw materials of a sin-hardened earth which we plough, breaking up the hard clods, cultivating, planting, watering, tending, guarding, loving, caring for the innumerably precious goods of this world. Even allowing our own blood to be shed on the soil in self-sacrificing service to men to the praise and glory of God. This is the bread-baking, wine-pressing, poor-loving Eucharistic vocation of a laity, readying gifts for the Offertory of the Mass so the Ordained have something substantial to offer up for consecration. Gifts composed of lives well lived in holy and sacrificial service to God and neighbor and all creation. How differently we would see the Offertory if we believed this, and how we would fight over the privilege to “bring up the gifts” for Consecration. Lumen Gentium 34 says it perfectly:

For besides intimately linking them to His life and His mission, He also gives [the laity] a sharing in His priestly function of offering spiritual worship for the glory of God and the salvation of men. For this reason the laity, dedicated to Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit, are marvelously called and wonderfully prepared so that ever more abundant fruits of the Spirit may be produced in them. For all their works, prayers and apostolic endeavors, their ordinary married and family life, their daily occupations, their physical and mental relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and even the hardships of life, if patiently borne—all these become “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”. Together with the offering of the Lord’s body, they are most fittingly offered in the celebration of the Eucharist. Thus, as those everywhere who adore in holy activity, the laity consecrate the world itself to God.

When I discovered this in the 1990s, it revolutionized my view of worldly, secular, mundane, temporal realities…it all was suddenly shot through with eternal value. Gaudium et Spes 43:

They are mistaken who, knowing that we have here no abiding city but seek one which is to come, think that they may therefore shirk their earthly responsibilities. For they are forgetting that by the faith itself they are more obliged than ever to measure up to these duties, each according to his proper vocation … Therefore, let there be no false opposition between professional and social activities on the one part, and religious life on the other. The Christian who neglects his temporal duties, neglects his duties toward his neighbor and even God, and jeopardizes his eternal salvation.

And the salvation of the whole of creation…

Hopko reloaded

Another injection of Orthodox theologian Fr. Hopko’s gritty medicine for you to start your day. This is part of his response to a woman who says she thinks God plays favorites with saints by giving them spectacular spiritual experiences.

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…Chances are a married person — I would even go so far to say I believe that it’s the truth — that a married person cannot have the mystical experience of a St. Seraphim or a St. Sergius, because we’re too caught up in things, and that’s our vocation. God is not going to say to me, “Fr. Tom why did you never see the uncreated Light?” I do hope that he’ll say to me, “Fr. Tom, you did the best you could with what you had, and it was pretty tough, but you did the best with what you got. Enter into the Kingdom of God.” And I’ll say to the Lord, “I’m not worthy. I’m a sinner,” and he will say, “Your sins are forgiven for the blood of Christ.” That’s what I hope in, but I don’t think that we can say we are deprived if we don’t have mystical experiences like some saints — I had a student in class once who said, “If you don’t see the uncreated Light in this life, you’re not going to go to heaven, you’re lost.” That’s simply not true! Whoever could get such a kind of an idea?

You wouldn’t get it from the people who saw the uncreated Light because they don’t say that. They say something completely different. They say if you are who you are created to be and say the Lord’s Prayer three times a day and think about Jesus in between and try to do what you gotta do, you will have the rewards of the Theotokos. That’s what they tell us. And only they could tell us because they were in the combat of the desert. If I told that to someone, they’d say, “Who are you to say that, Fr. Tom? You’re a schmuck.” I’d say, “Okay, I’m a spiritual schmuck, but the guys who weren’t schmucks said it. And the women who weren’t said it, and I trust them.” And I trust also that when they tell me, “You’re not a schmuck, you’re loved by God. It’s just not your vocation to be that kind of a mystical person,” I have to humbly accept it, and humility is everything. Humility is everything.

And of course, in our time, we have a terrific example that Mother Teresa of Calcutta. A holy woman. She said that she had very great experiences of God as a young woman. She claimed even to see Jesus and to see the divine Light, and then when she finally got permission to form the Missionaries of Charity and to start her Order and then she said, “I’m going to love God more than anybody, I’m going to serve the poorest of the poor, I’m going to do this and that for Jesus,” and you know what happened? She had no sense of sweetness from God for the rest of her life. And if you don’t believe it, just read the book that was written about her just recently: Come Be My Light. Where God took away the sweetness from her, and I guess maybe that was what her vocation was: to do all these things without ever feeling the sweetness of God. In her kind of boldness she said, “I’m going to offer myself as a holocaust and nobody’s going to love God as I love God and I’m going to love God more than anybody,” maybe that’s why God did it. I don’t know. You have to ask God, but Mother Teresa said that was her life. She did not have the sweetness.

But I think at some point, we have to say, it ain’t about the sweetness. It’s not about the sweetness. It’s about the Cross. It’s about being who we are. It’s about accepting our own vocation. It is about being a schmuck if God wants us to be a schmuck and that’s what we think of ourselves. That’s what it’s about. It’s about stumbling around at the foot of the mountain, if that’s what God wants from us. But one thing is for certain, that doesn’t mean that he loves the Theotokos and St. Seraphim and St. Sergius more than you. It doesn’t mean that. More than us, I should say. It doesn’t mean that. It doesn’t mean that if I don’t have some euphoria and mystical experience of the presence of God, I’m less favored. Many saints had these favors but then they were taken away from them and then they had to suffer. The experiences were readying them for the trials.  St. Silouan had that. St. Simeon the New Theologian had that. No, and we don’t know always know what was in the interior heart of many of the saints.

No one would have said that Mother Teresa was experiencing inner darkness when she was doing what she was doing, because her presence was so full of light and joy and peace, and that’s all she was thinking and speaking about, and witnessing in her acts. Whereas she had to bear the Cross, and she even died with the words: “Jesus, my love, you ask too much from us. You ask too much from us.” But God asks what he asks because of who we are, who our parents were, who their parents were, what our unique providence is, and so we’ve got to be the one God created us to be. We can’t say, “I want to be somebody else.” But once we accept who God wants us to be, then we can be at peace. And then also, we will really come to know that the truth of the matter is that God does not play favorites. In God’s eyes, each schmucky-yucky person is his favorite as much as any of the greatest of the saints that we know about.

Lovely Orientation


Repost from 2012

When I read Chris Warner’s article on Eastern Christianity, I was captivated by this line…

The East complements the Western need to act upon the world with missionary zeal by being more singularly focused on the liturgical and interior spiritual life of Christianity than its Roman counterpart.

Immodest Thinking

The proclivity of the West to intellectually master, dissect, analyze and dominate everything often spills over into theology as a temptation to siphon God’s mystery of secrets that can only be had by the posture of humble receptivity we call faith. Theology, which is faith’s intelligent exploration of divine revelation, begins as an act of patient waiting wrapped in a reverent awe of the God who speaks only to those who listen in silent love. This posture of faith toward God’s mystery we call prayer. The desert Father Evagrius said as much when he said:

The one who prays is a theologian; the one who is a theologian, prays.

Within academic theological circles there is a tendency, in my experience, to view prayer a mere act of sentimental piety ultimately peripheral to the work of rigorous and critical thinking. To see a scholar thumbing her rosary beads before offering an erudite lecture entitled, say, “Theology in a post-Christian world,” would appear in the academy as a curiosity at best.

But for a Catholic theologian it must not be so. Theology is not a disinterested dissection of a corpse, but a *dangerous* encounter with the living and risen Christ. Dangerous because God’s Truth is not assimilated by us, but we by It. Prayer, therefore, is not only an act of emotive piety but, as Deacon Keating says so eloquently, is the suffering of the coming of Truth Himself into the mind.

In this sense, theology is fundamentally a liturgical act inasmuch as liturgy thrusts us into the thickets of God-made-flesh only to find ourselves caught up in a dialogue that eternally erupts in the fathomless heart of the Trinity. Theology is thinking in prayer.

Imagine what “thinking in prayer” must be like if we are talking about the living God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Imagine if this God were, as St. Catherine of Siena once boldly worded it, pazzo d’amore, “mad with love” for humanity. To speak worthily of such a God we must balance careful thinking and careless loving, detached reflection and total immersion. Here we can affirm that the sober architecture of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa theologica must be complemented by the inebriated gush of Dominican tertiary St. Catherine of Siena’s Dialogue with God the Father.

Such a praying “liturgical theology” functions in much the same way the late Benedictine theologian, Fr. Aidan Kavanaugh, described the liturgy:

The liturgy, like the feast, exists not to educate but to seduce people into participating in common activity of the highest order, where one is freed to learn things which cannot be taught.


A professor from my graduate theology study years once shared a first-hand account of a lecture presented by the famous Dominican spiritual theologian Fr. Réginald Marie Garrigou-Lagrange during the early 1960s in Rome. He said that the agèd Lagrange, who was otherwise in good health, walked up to the podium and began the opening prayer with the Latin word, Deus, “God.”

‘Deus…Deus…De-…’ Lagrange was unable to proceed any further, and had to leave the auditorium. “But,” my professor said, “it was clear to all who knew him that this was no stroke; that Fr. Réginald was seized, as he often was in his latter years, by a love for the God whose Name he could not speak without being drawn out of himself.”

As a saintly DRE once said to me after a lecture I gave on theology, “Thinking about God at this point in my life leaves me with little to say, but much to love.”


Do you hear me?

Repost 2012

Grandfather and Grandson Holding Hands --- Image by © Claudia Kunin/CORBIS

Grandfather and Grandson Holding Hands — Image by © Claudia Kunin/CORBIS

This week we celebrated the joyous memorial of St. Benedict [July 11], Patriarch of Western Monasticism. And yet again here at Omaha, we got another stellar homily.

The homilist opened with the opening words of St. Benedict’s monastic Rule, Obsculta, o filii…et inclina aurem cordis tuis, “Listen, O sons…and incline the ears of your heart.”

He repeated the word, “Listen,” and then left us in a lengthy silence that was wonderfully disquieting.

He then went on to reflect on the virtue of listening attentively to others “with the ears of the heart.” The seminarians laughed heartily as he spoke of those who talk incessantly:

You know them. They love the sound of their own voice. They listen little, speak much, and even when they do listen it’s only to leave time to build up pressure that will gush into a new torrent of words. We live in a noisy culture. We have to be sound-saturated. We compulsively and thoughtlessly “hit send” with our opinions and thoughts. In a world where no one really listens, no one really loves. From compulsive noise grows a culture of anxiety and depression, isolation and pain-killing. Listening with the heart means entering another’s world, the world revealed by words and gestures. It means caring about what they say. Listening with the heart is hearing with love. And the harder it is to listen, the greater the love expressed. Listening has the power to cure, to shine light into darkness, to dispel the clouds of despondency, to raise the dead. You can also kill someone with a spear or a sneer. Dismiss someone into the grave. The one who is truly capable of listening is the one who first knows they’ve been heard; really heard. And in being heard, they know they’re loved. Children’s sense of self is shaped and defined by listening love, or misshaped and deformed by being shut out and ignored … The best are those who know prayer of the heart, who know that God hears their cry. God’s name is “the One who hears the cry.” Small children who are consistently neglected stop crying because they no longer believe they are heard. They die inside. But God hears us, and God loves to hear us.

He then recalled with deep emotion — his voice cracked a few times — the times as a boy when he would dry dishes with his grandfather in the kitchen after dinner. He remembered the way his grandfather would speak to him — the tone, the facial expressions. But above all he remembered that his grandfather would listen to him with rapt attention and great delight. He said:

Any parent who’s honest knows, listening to a seven year old child is not always the most interesting thing in the world. But it was there at the sink that I learned the inner unity of listening and loving. My grandfather would punctuate my stories and comments with “ooh,” “wow” and “is that right?” Thinking back on those conversations now, I re-experience God’s tender fatherly love for me … I would dare say to listen in love to another is among the highest forms of redeeming grace in this life. Even the Sacraments, if you think of it, are all Gifts given in response to our cry — “Father, send your Spirit” — by a God who responds. In the Liturgy, the Holy Spirit *is* a listening God’s answer to our cry for recognition and love. God responds to our heart’s outpourings by pouring Himself out on us. What a model of ministry, brothers…

After the homily, all I could pray were those 6 words:

Incline the ears of my heart.

Hopko-isms, Part I


I was re-listening to a recorded lecture I had by Orthodox theologian Fr. Tom Hopko the other night to fill my late night insomnia with some light. The next morning, with great relish, I typed out the quotes I found most powerful. I’ll break it into 2 parts. Put on your seat belts, crash helmets and enjoy:

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We enter into communion with God through love, which means love for all around us without exception, and especially our enemies and those who hate us. Until we are ready to love with very love with which God has loved us in Jesus — who is the Son of his love — by the Holy Spirit who has been poured out into our hearts, we will never know God. If you allow God’s love to penetrate into the marrow of your bones, you’ll get a fire in your bones and then you can love with his love. Pray every day like a baby bird, wide-mouthed begging, full of absolute trust, to be filled with the Holy Spirit. St. Seraphim says that the whole spiritual life is acquiring the Holy Spirit. Ask. Seek. Knock. God can’t resist expectant, trusting, persevering faith.

Be aware! Consolation precedes crucifixions, exaltation precedes humiliations, divinization precedes degradation. That’s St. Isaac the Syrian. And this is the good news! Good because the cross of Jesus ensured that everything life throws at us can become a rung in the ladder to Paradise. God turns our downfall into our rising. Orthodoxy is paradoxy. Kenosis is theosis.

The holy Fathers say you should always pray to God about everything, so when what you seek does not happen you’ll know it’s not God’s will. But if you don’t pray you won’t know that it’s not God’s will, as there are some things God will not grant unless they’re sought in prayer. So not getting things we ask for is a big part of the story. But there’s always some grace seething in God’s answer, even if it seems it’s unbearable; if it seems things are crazy — they’re not crazy — well, actually, you can say that God is crazy as far as this world’s logic is concerned. The cross is a scandal and absurdity and madness — moronic! — but for us who have faith in Christ crucified and risen, at the Father’s right hand with open wounds, he is the power and wisdom of God. But you have to give yourself over to it for it to happen, you can hold nothing back. When you finally give in to him, that’s when his power unleashes. That’s what Jesus meant when he said to St. Paul, “My power is made perfect in weakness.” So then Paul goes on in first Corinthians to boast of all the catastrophes of his ministry — these are the emblems of success.  Remember? He says [1 Cor. 11:23-27], “I am talking like a madman–with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” How about putting that on your C.V.? See here, God’s success story!

The holy Scriptures — what can I say? We have to read them, contemplate them and put them into practice more than we breathe. It’s terrible that we like spirituality books, read books on theology and the saints and holy Fathers, but we don’t even know the holy Scriptures. That’s not right! All of the holy Fathers say everything in the Christian life has its foundation on the canonized Scriptures of the Church. St. John Chrysostom said that every cause of discord in Church comes from ignorance of Scripture and the irresponsible way men are made priests and bishops. He said that. Really. A constant theme among the great spiritual authors of the monastic tradition — like St Ignatius Brianchaninov — is trying to convince the monks to read the Scriptures. They’re too often more interested in reading books on spirituality or mysticism or deification than they are in reading holy Scripture. The holy Fathers all say: “This should not be! Repent! Scripture should be your primary love. This only is God’s inspired Word” There’s even a canon in the seventh Ecumenical Council that says a man should not be consecrated bishop if he cannot recite the 150 psalms from memory. Otherwise how can you teach the faith if you don’t know it by heart? The holy Scriptures should be our first love.

I know people who say, “Oh, yes Father Tom, we love to come to church because it makes us feel good, feel uplifted.” Well, okay, sometimes God consoles us in church in times of our affliction. Okay. But we go to church to get lacerated. I mean, if you see a church with a sign that says, “Come for soothing, upbeat, happy worship,” sue them for malpractice. First you have to be brought through the fire. You have to just stand there in church and let God’s purifying fire burn through you. Don’t look around and think critical thoughts, judging people’s outfits or the priest’s liturgical purity or how good you think his sermon was. Let God burn you through, let the Word of God pierce and cut through you and scrub clean your filthy mind and heart. Say, “I am ready to change, O God.” Or better, pray like the publican, with his head bowed low as the Pharisee up front babbles on about all the mistakes of his flawed neighbors — “O God, thank you for not making me like these idiots.” Rather, pray: “O God have mercy on me, a sinner.” Remember your baptism in the church was a plunge into Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, not into self-improvement and healing. For us healing means: die and rise. Our festal meal consists of a broken Body and spilled Blood. It’s a pledge, when we eat the Flesh and drink the Blood, a consent to the same dying and rising happening to us, giving us the chance to love God and our enemies. Give it all over, let it all go, renounce yourself and be ready to be hated by all for him. Immerse yourself again and again and again into the Divine Liturgy which plants us firmly on Golgotha.