Bloom where you’re planted

Another dusted off post from 3 years ago that I will kick off with a Pope Francis quote:

We do well to keep in mind the early Christians and our many brothers and sisters throughout history who were filled with joy, unflagging courage and zeal in proclaiming the Gospel. Some people nowadays console themselves by saying that things are not as easy as they used to be, yet we know that the Roman empire was not conducive to the Gospel message, the struggle for justice, or the defence of human dignity. Every period of history is marked by the presence of human weakness, self-absorption, complacency and selfishness, to say nothing of the concupiscence which preys upon us all. These things are ever present under one guise or another; they are due to our human limits rather than particular situations. Let us not say, then, that things are harder today; they are simply different. But let us learn also from the saints who have gone before us, who confronted the difficulties of their own day. So I propose that we pause to rediscover some of the reasons which can help us to imitate them today.

And, never ever thought I would do this, but I will also quote rapper Big Sean from his cameo in Justin Bieber’s song, As Long As You Love Me:

But the grass ain’t always greener on the other side,
It’s green where you water it

+ + + +

Eat, Eat

I was listening to Orthodox theologian Fr. Tom Hopko last summer, and he shared a marvelous  Latin quote from St. Benedict of Nursia:

Age quod agis, “do what you are doing.”

He also shared another pithy saying drawn from Zen Buddhism,

When you eat, eat; when you walk, walk.

Then he added this striking commentary (paraphrased from memory here),

It is the universal consensus of the spiritual authors in the Orthodox tradition that those who refuse to embrace life’s present joys and trials as coming from the Hand of God, who constantly complain of their present circumstances and whine, “if only things were different!”; these will never grow in sanctity, but rather will forever remain mired in the stagnation of mediocrity, grumbling that their present situation is simply not conducive to practicing virtue. In the Bible, “murmuring,” or as Jews say in Yiddish, “kvetching,” is a symptom of spiritual sickness. Jesus conquered the distorted mentality of “if only” once and for all in the Garden of Agony when he said, as he oscillated between present circumstances and the Father’s will, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by. Nevertheless, let it be as you, not I, would have it.”

Archbishop Sheen once said the devil’s mantra always inverts Christ’s — Not now, but later. What if? If only.

Always Away

A theologian acquaintance of mine shared a comment his wife’s best friend made to her: “Boy your husband is away from home a lot doing his work!” She wholeheartedly agreed, he said, adding: “Yes! And even when he’s home, he’s away.” My friend said that when she shared that with him, it really hit him hard.

I love my work, and my family, but she was absolutely right; it stung me to the heart. I found my work much easier to get lost in, and even seemingly easier to find God in. I used the “supporting my family” line to justify my perpetual absence and immersion in work, but knew deep down I was in part running from the challenges of family life. The tedium, the conflict, the cold pricklies. My wife and I prayed about it that night, and I asked God for the grace to die to myself and live for my family first. It really helped me to come out of myself. After that time, when I came home, I was home. Or I should say I chose to be home every day as it was not always, is not always easy. And I came to discover God was there.

Great Books

This reminds me of what I consider to be among the finest works of spirituality ever written, both of which propose methods and means for renouncing our life’s “if onlys” and learning to practice being present to the demands of the present moment. The first is The Practice of the Presence of God, a collection of letters and transcribed sayings authored by the 17th century Carmelite monk, Brother Lawrence. The second is The Sacrament of the Present Moment, written by 18th century French Jesuit, Jean-Pierre de Caussade, and is a collection of lectures and retreats given to nuns.

I could read these two works hundreds of times, and still feel edified and challenged anew on each read. Though written long ago by men who lived as consecrated Religious, and a bit challenging to read as they are collections of various reflections that sometimes repeat, they embody a universal vision that speaks, in a singular way, to one’s particular state in life in any time or place.

A final tangent

A professor who taught me Christian existentialism back in the 1990s once said to me (in paraphrase),

Christians in the West have largely become repulsed by the tragic elements of life, and in so doing lose the opportunity, in facing tragedy, to experience the divine depths of faith and hope that spring from the corpse of Christ. They never get to know what it means to cling to God in the dark. Running from darkness and tragedy, one loses that most precious gift, that feeling, that thrill that makes us most human: the joy at seeing the first rays of a long awaited dawn after a long, dark night. Instead, we keep our self-made night lights on.

I’ll give Thomas Merton the last word:

You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope…It is better to find God on the threshold of despair than to risk our lives in a complacency. A life that is without problems may literally be more hopeless than one that always verges on despair.

Agony in the Garden, taken from

Diffusing $100

A simple post today.

My daughter recently sent me a youtube video, “How does a homeless man spend $100,” which many of you may have already seen. It made me think of the medieval philosophical axiom, drawn from neo-platonic metaphysics, that is meant to capture in a phrase the nature of God:

Bonum est diffusivum sui.

Loosely translated, it means “goodness gives itself away.” For medieval Christian theologians, it offered a marvelously simple manner of describing the Trinity of divine Persons, who eternally give themselves away to each other, and the Incarnation, which is God’s self-gift to creation.

Swiss Theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar expressed this well:

Wastefulness is the original Christian attitude. The entire Passion occurs under the sign of this complete self-wasting of God’s love for the world.

Humanity, made in the image of a self-diffusing good God, is called and gifted to go and do likewise. Personal fulfillment is only to be found in a life oriented toward the fulfillment of others.

So simple, so hard.

Fr. Anthony, my sainted (and now deceased) spiritual director once said to me in a rare moment of personal sharing:

My hope is to die poor, to spend all God has given me.

That’s a handy definition of holiness. The idea also appears in a framed quote hanging on a wall in what I consider to be one of the best movies ever made, It’s a Wonderful Life:

Okay, here’s the video. Enjoy:

“As we were saying yesterday…”

When I think of picking up where I left off, I think of Luis de León

“Fray Luis de León,” Francisco Pacheco (1564-1644), taken from

León was an esteemed biblical scholar at the University of Salamanca in 16th century Spain. His dedication to early modern advances in biblical scholarship, combined with his “converso” Jewish ancestry, made him a suspect character. He was imprisoned in 1572 by the Spanish Inquisition mostly for his maverick translation (i.e. critical of the Latin Vulgate) of the Song of Songs into Spanish. Tradition has it that Luis began his university lecture in January of 1577, his first after returning from four years’ imprisonment, with the words: Dicebamus hesterna die, “As we were saying yesterday…”

I love that sort of unflappable approach to life’s hardships, a sort-of wry smile in the face of adversity that makes of life a divine comedy, an epiphany of hope in catastrophe. Christian hope, anchored in Resurrection faith, can forge in us such stunningly serene confidence; the conviction that all life circumstances, regardless of their tragic character, conspire unto ultimate good for those who love the provident God (cf Romans 8:28). This hope further empowers us to choose love capable of willing the good even of those who wish us ill or do us harm, and see in that ill-will a singular opportunity for being joined with Love-made-flesh, Jesus Christ.

Love was our Lord’s meaning, and we are oned with him only in loving — Julian of Norwich

I will take de León as my inspiration for returning to writing this Blog on a consistent basis. I am grateful to any who care enough to find this welcome news.

We’ll see

It’s good to be back, though I have to say up front that I am not certain I can maintain my past commitment to daily posts. I intend to make them frequent, and if time and inspiration look kindly upon me, I will post daily. But I have become a bit more realistic these days as my life retains its hectic pace and shows no signs of abating. A friend of mine said it succinctly and well when he advised me about how to resume posting again: “Get real, Neal. Better something on occasion than nothing at all.” It’s my tendency to say all or nothing, perfect or fuggetaboutit. Speaking of perfect, another acquaintance once gave me a nice ditty:

I’d rather stumble humble into heaven than stride with pride into hell.

I love rhymes.

Mary Day

As today is the apex of the Christmas Octave, centering on the maternity of Blessed Mary, Theotokos, “God-bearer,” I will leave you with a quote from Pope St. John Paul II on Mary as the icon of women’s dignity:

The remarkable gift to the Mother of the Lord not only testifies to what we could call God’s respect for woman, but also emphasizes the profound regard in God’s plans for her irreplaceable role in human history.

Women need to discover this divine esteem in order to be ever more aware of their lofty dignity. The historical and social situations which caused the reaction of feminism were marked by a lack of appreciation of woman’s worth; frequently she was relegated to a second-rate or even marginal role. This did not allow her to express fully the wealth of intelligence and wisdom contained in her femininity. Indeed, throughout history women have not infrequently suffered from scant esteem for their abilities, and sometimes even scorn and unjust prejudice. This is a state of affairs that, despite important changes, unfortunately continues even today in many nations and in many parts of the world.

The figure of Mary shows that God has such esteem for woman that any form of discrimination lacks a theoretical basis.

The marvellous work which the Creator achieved in Mary gives men and women the possibility to discover dimensions of their condition which before were not sufficiently perceived. In beholding the Mother of the Lord, women will be able to understand better their dignity and the greatness of their mission. But men too, in the light of the Virgin Mother, will be able to acquire a fuller and more balanced view of their identity, of the family and of society.

Attentive consideration of the figure of Mary, as she is presented to us in Sacred Scripture as read in faith by the Church, is still more necessary in view of the disparagement she sometimes receives from certain feminist currents. The Virgin of Nazareth has, in some cases, been presented as the symbol of the female personality imprisoned in a narrow, confining domesticity.

Mary, on the contrary, is the model of the full development of woman’s vocation, since, despite the objective limits imposed by her social condition, she exercised a vast influence on the destiny of humanity and the transformation of society.

Bernardino Luini (c. 1480/82 – June 1532), “The Nursing Madonna,” taken from

Ave Crux! Okay, now back to silence till 1/1/15

Adoration of the Cross, Taken from

Today’s feast dismantled my resolve to not blog until January 1st. At least for a day.

How could I resist the infinite force of the Exaltatio, the “exaltation” of the precious and life-giving Cross? Even the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time could not resist this Feast, so who am I to remain silent?

Yet, I have little coherent to say. Only some splattering of paint that flew from my prayer this morning.

Ave crux, spes unica, “Hail the Cross, our only hope.”

A Sudanese refugee, pointing to the crucifix carried by a Catholic missionary priest, once said: “Now there, there is a God I can worship. He walks with me.”

The Cross bears within its frame the truth that an all-pure God, in His love for humanity, risked contamination with the filth of sin and death.

A man I know who’s long worked in and for the Church, and has seen within her the best and worst of humanity, responded once to a rookie church employee who was kvetching about the warts and stains of various church leaders: “Yah, it’s a mess. But so was Calvary. God, uncomplaining, puts Himself in the middle of messes and so do we if we’re His servants.”

The Cross is the farthest exodus of God from eternal bliss, God’s ek-stasis, His “coming out of himself” to face His enemy (Rom. 5:10) with unimaginably tender mercy, to save that which was lost. Like the Samaritan who tended to the fallen stranger — who could well have been a decoy-victim luring do-gooders into an ambush on the exceedingly dangerous road to Jericho — God-in-Jesus stooped down from the supernal Heights with great compassion and tended to our mortal wounds. And we savaged Him, violently stripping Him of all His glory. Though, O Terrible Paradox, even that awful stripping proved to reveal God ever more glorious still! Naked, dying, mocked, rejected, hated, cajoled, struck-down, God’s most glorious attribute — mercy — ascended to the highest of heights and filled the universe with its all-surpassing brightness.

The God of the Cross is not risk-averse in His love for humanity, not self-protective.

And so the Church bears within, impressed upon by the fiery waters of Baptism and the crimson hues of Chrism oil, this divine drive to risk all for the sake of the well-being of the Other – for the God-Neighbor. To be outward, downward, turned toward the broken, wretched, irritating man or woman nearby is to face Godward. Dorothy Day: “We love God only as much as we love the person we like least.” Pope Francis: “We need to avoid the spiritual sickness of a church that is wrapped up in its own world: when a church becomes like this, it grows sick. It is true that going out on to the street implies the risk of accidents happening, as they would to any ordinary man or woman. But if the church stays wrapped up in itself, it will age. And if I had to choose between a wounded church that goes out on to the streets and a sick, withdrawn church, I would definitely choose the first one.”

The Cross, God-made-serpent, God-expended, God-emptied, God-made-sin (2 Cor. 5:21), God-so-loving-us that our imaginations cannot bear its weight, save in this Symbol and Sign, this horrid Tree on which Love bled and Life died.


Qui propter nos hómines et propter nostram salútem descéndit de cælis, “Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven.” God from God come down to lift up the fallen children.

Man fell, God falls. The Cross opens for us a revelation about God that no mind could have conceived of, and which rightly leads us to stupefied, if adoring, silence.

“God’s passionate love for his people—for humanity—is at the same time a forgiving love. It is so great that it turns God against himself, his love against his justice.” – Benedict XVI

I once shared this Dietrich Bonhoeffer quote with you on Good Friday, but it’s worth repeating:

“Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work. The kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared.”

At today’s Mass, remember that the Food and Drink you ingest into your embodied souls was gained and given at unspeakable cost to God. Eat and drink with reverence, awe, holy fear and a full awareness of the real danger that comes with consuming it. Repent of all in you that refuses conformity to the prodigal extravagance of divine love; repent before you dare receive into your very depths Heaven’s Hound.

“You are the body of Christ. In you and through you the work of the incarnation must go forward. You are to be taken; you are to be blessed, broken, and given; that you may be the means of grace and the vehicles of the Eternal love. Behold what you are. Become what you receive.” – St. Augustine

The Sermon on the Plain in St. Luke’s Gospel is a presage of the Cross, a prelude, a preface, an exegesis, a prism that rendered the Cross’ invisible light into a visible spectrum of colors with which Christians paint the world beautiful.

But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. — Luke 6:27-35

Okay, back to silence. Blessings on you all.


After the last three posts, I think I will take (give you) a breather.

Sometimes, believe it or not, I run out of words. And one thing I have learned from others’ example is that when you do run out, don’t fake it.

Also, Pythagoras said that it was requisite either to be silent or to say something better than silence.

But, sed contra, the saints’ voices are are never silent:

The key to all Divine gifts is given to the heart by love of neighbor, and, in proportion to the heart’s freedom from the selfish bonds of the flesh, the door of knowledge begins to open before it. — St. Isaac of Syria

Well, that’s enough said for today about how I will not speak.

Draft post script

Amendment to today’s post: if you read it, the final line in my “Saved?’ post just before the video was a non sequitur, so I removed the “12 words” thing.

What was that? 2011 must have been a tough year.

Divine Mercy Sunday

Divine Mercy Sunday
This final Day of the Easter Octave, named Divine Mercy Sunday by Pope John Paul II in 2000, is a “hermeneutical crown” of the eight-day-long celebration of that Eighth and final Day of creation.

Hermeneutical? The word simply means “interpretive,” or the science of discovering meaning. Hence, I mean that this feast of Mercy really gets to the core of Easter’s true meaning.

Mercy, as I intend it here, is love encountering evil and overcoming it, healing it, redeeming it and raising out of its ruins surpassing goods that could never have been apart from these evils. Though God never positively wills an evil, He permits evil only in view of the greater goods He might draw from them. And it is mercy that sustains the mysterious logic of the felix culpa, the “happy fault” of Adam that we sing of in the Exultet at the Easter Vigil.

The whole economy of God’s work in Jesus is at heart a work of mercy, with the Passion being the inner core of that heart. In the Resurrection, God the Father accepted his Son’s sacrifice as a new and eternal mode of God’s being God: in the heart of the eternal Trinity is forever the risen Body of Jesus ever-marked with the signs of the Passion. God now, only and for all ages, relates to creation through the open wounds of the Risen Christ.

To me, this is utterly astonishing to ponder: God’s mode of being-God — etched in His flesh — is forged by mercy’s response to human hatred and cruelty. This is the message embedded in the icon of Divine Mercy revealed to St. Faustina Kowalska.

Eucharistic Chaplet
It’s also the meaning of the “Chaplet of Mercy” that St. Faustina received from God in a vision. The Chaplet is an offering of the Slain-Risen Lord to the Father — by His priestly people — asking the Father to be who he has shown himself to be in Christ: Mercy. As such, the Chaplet is an extension of the liturgical-sacramental offering of the same Slain-Risen Lord that is the holy sacrifice of the Mass.

To see this, one need only reflect on the words of Eucharistic Prayer I that follow the Consecration: “…we, your servants and your holy people, offer to your glorious majesty, from the gifts that you have given us, this pure victim, this holy victim, this spotless victim, the holy Bread of eternal life and the Chalice of everlasting salvation…”

In this sense, I have always found the Chaplet to be a superb way to prepare for, and extend forward the celebration of the holy Eucharist into life. It shapes in me a deeper awareness of my sharing in Christ’s royal priesthood through Baptism. This priesthood calls me to — at every moment — offer both my own life as a living sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1) for the life of the world, and to offer the living sacrifice of Christ Himself.

A number of years ago, this insight — like lightning — flashed in my mind during the per ipsum at Mass. The per ipsum is the moment, at the end of the long Eucharistic prayer after the Consecration, when the priest lifts up the Host and Chalice toward the Father and prays,

Through him, and with him, and in him,
O God, almighty Father,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
all glory and honor is yours,
for ever and ever.

On behalf of all and for all, the priest offers up God to God, the Son to the Father, and the faithful, united to the Son in His self-offering, seal their co-offering by a solemn and oath-making  “great Amen.” As we were singing thrice the great Amen, I understood with what seemed like absolute clarity this Amen was our co-pronouncing with Christ His tetelestaiconsummatum est, “It is finished” (John 19:30). I also saw in that moment that our “Amen” was also our consenting “we are able”:

But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized…”

That “cup” and “baptism” are, of course, references to his Passion.



The Chaplet, as a para-liturgical devotion, sustains the moment of our liturgical “great Amen.” It affirms the staggering truth that in Christ we have the authority to — at any moment we choose — apply the infinite treasury of God’s mercy to the world. And the sobering truth that we are willing to join Jesus in His self-offering.

Eternal Father, I offer you the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of your dearly beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.

It causes me to tremble. May He who is Risen to forever intercede for us before His Father sustain us daily in fidelity by His grace.