Eating with God

Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord — John 21:12

This is such a stunning scene in context of St. John’s Gospel. Breakfast being served by the now risen Jesus, only days after his horrific execution. God-made-Cook wishes to eat with his friends, with food he has prepared. The surreal transcendence of this scene is reminiscent of Moses and his companions’ dizzying experience in Exodus 24:9-11, as they were summoned up Mount Sinai to dine with God:

Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel … they beheld God, and they ate and drank.”

This same God, who pitched his tent with Israel by becoming flesh (John 1:14), and pledged that he would feed us with his own flesh and blood (John 6:52ff), tells us in Revelation 3:24,

Behold! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.

God desires intimacy with us, and again and again in Scripture it is the covenant family meal that stands at the center of that call to intimacy. Indeed, the meal perfectly frames an intimacy that is at once vertical and horizontal, bringing God close to us, and us close to each other. In middle eastern culture, the meal reigns supreme as a sign of friendship, of encounter, of trust, of love’s willingness to share life and waste time with others. As Jennifer Grant once commented,

I have a friend who lived for several years in the Middle East, in Baghdad and Dubai. He is currently at seminary, preparing to be ordained as a Roman Catholic priest. Last summer, as the two of us ate crusty bread and double-cream blue cheese, and drank glasses of good pinot noir, he told me that eating together, or “breaking bread,” is considered an act of worship for his Muslim friends. In the Middle East, he said, people who are merely acquaintances do not “grab lunch” together. Eating together is too intimate an act to be shared with strangers. It is too important. It is holy somehow.

This “eucharistic” view of eating and drinking, which stands at the heart of Scripture, must be seen as defining for people of faith. It should shape a Christian-inspired culture that wishes to welcome God’s ongoing desire to extend his tent-pitching Incarnation and divinize the whole of creation — through us. In every meal, humans, who are the priests of nature, ingest the created order and raise it up, as a sacrifice of thanksgiving, to God — and, in Christ, with God.

I remember when I worked at a Jewish nursing home in Connecticut back in 1989, a resident named Golda once said to me, “You know when you Catholics went all wrong? When you stopped your meatless Fridays. See, when you take God out of the kitchen and dining room, everything falls apart. It’s why we Jews are so fixated on kosher laws. It keeps us always mindful that God is in food.”

It’s why family meals are a non-negotiable for those who wish to mesh their family with divinity. It’s also why, when people want to speak with me about matters of significance, I prefer not my sterile office, but the coffee shop, the brewery, or a dining room table.

Cinderella

Patti and Catherine

“Last forever!’ Who hasn’t prayed that prayer? You were lucky to get it in the first place. The present is a freely given canvas. That it is constantly being ripped apart and washed downstream goes without saying.” ― Annie Dillard

Last night was our youngest daughter’s Junior Prom. How did it happen? How did those years pass by?

After it was over, she went for a sleepover with her friend group but discovered she’d forgotten her overnight bag at home. She texted Patti and me, “Could someone please bring my bag to [her friend’s] house? Thanks!” I took it, and when I pulled up outside the house I texted her and walked up to the front door. She came out, looking so beautiful and happy, and said, “Thank you, Dad. I love you,” hugged me and went back inside.

Excruciating.

It was a moment when I wanted only one thing, for time to freeze, to cease its ruthless march. I prayed, “God, may that moment be held forever in the world to come.”

It’s funny, just this last weekend my 92 year old Mom, after we’d spent the day with her by the lake — one of her favorite things — said to me, “I used to say, ‘time stand still,’ but now I just say thank you. You’ll never know how much these days mean to me.”

No, I can’t ever know how much any of these moment mean, whether joyous or tragic or dull. This, indeed, will be the vastest gift of God’s plan to “make all things new” (Rev. 2215), as the Living will abide in all the moments of our history — each wholly redeemed by Christ’s Pass-over. Having passed through Judgment, they will be unveiled in all their truth and beauty and goodness and glory for all ages, the wellsprings of joy for all creation to share.

So live each moment now as an Offering worthy of that immortal Age.

Steven Curtis Chapman wrote the song “Cinderella” about his 5 year old daughter Maria. Several months after writing the song, little Maria died in a tragic car accident. After her funeral, he said he was sure he could never sing the song again, but later changed his mind as he sensed a mission from God to bring hope to others. His wife said, “And that’s — you know, that’s what I want people to know is I want Maria back. But because I know that she is completely whole, because of my faith, I know that she’s completely whole and completely OK and I’m going to see her again. As a mom, I have to shift that grief to go.”

For after we have obeyed the Lord, and in His Spirit nurtured on earth the values of human dignity, brotherhood and freedom, and indeed all the good fruits of our nature and enterprise, we will find them again, but freed of stain, burnished and transfigured, when Christ hands over to the Father: “a kingdom eternal and universal, a kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice, love and peace.”(24) On this earth that Kingdom is already present in mystery. When the Lord returns it will be brought into full flower. — Vatican II

There, the dance awaits him. Awaits me. Awaits us.

“Go!” Yes, Fathers…

Today I will post a brief talk I gave to the graduating class of Notre Dame Seminary on Wednesday, which was our last day of class. That was also May 1st, the feast of St. Joseph the Worker.

These men will soon be ordained priests, and many of them I have known now for 6 years. It was very emotional for me, as I have developed a real connection with many of them. These are some absolutely extraordinary men.

I wrote it as a stream of consciousness reflection on our semester course on the lay vocation, and wrote it that morning as I prayed for them and their future. For that reason, it’s flowy and meandering. Like my mind. It’s a bit long for this blog, but just for today. Promise, I’ll get back to short.

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“At the workbench where he plied his trade together with Jesus, Joseph brought human work closer to the mystery of the Redemption.” [John Paul II]

Happy feast of the small business owner, the tektōn craftsman, Joseph. He was called by Israel’s God to apprentice his Only Son, Himself the master craftsman and artisan of the whole cosmos, Yeshua bar Miriam.

Happy feast of Joseph the Dreamer

of Joseph the royal son of David

of Joseph the refugee

of Joseph the layman

of Joseph the husband

of Joseph the father

of Joseph, the embodiment of [John Paul II’s] Christifidelis laici 17: “The eyes of faith behold a wonderful scene: that of a countless number of lay people, both women and men, busy at work in their daily life and activity, oftentimes far from view and quite unacclaimed by the world, unknown to the world’s great personages but nonetheless looked upon in love by the Father, untiring laborers who work in the Lord’s vineyard. Confident and steadfast through the power of God’s grace, these are the humble yet great builders of the Kingdom of God in history.”

Yes, these humble and great builders of the Kingdom are the saints you will foster in your ministry. Ours is the mission you will serve, the calling you will preach and teach into, celebrate sacraments for, grow weary over, rejoice in, love to the end.

You will apprentice us in how to build a Kingdom out of rubble, built in harmony with the grain of God. A City built of chrism-stained Christ-wood.

You will be sent to teach us Christ-faithful of the beauty and grandeur of this world; the sacred destiny of the saecula, the secular; the majesty of the mundane; the transcendence of the temporal; the immense dignity of each human person stamped with the image of a holy Communion that is our God. Father, Son, Spirit.

Help us so-love the world

You, other-Christs, will empower us to face our world’s broken, distorted features with the severe mercy of redeeming grace. Show us by example how to live our daily white martyrdom

At every Mass you will pattern for us how to call down Heaven’s Dew on earth’s fleece [Judges 6:36-40], then how to lift earth Upward through, with and in the Son of Man to glorify of God the Father. And how to feed the world with our offering

You will enlighten us on how to consecrate what has been desecrated by sin, realigning creation’s twisted contours to flow with the features etched into the Face of Christ crucified

You will show us that words of consecration are to be spoken over crushed, kneaded, fermented and baked sacrificial gifts, cultural artifacts wrought in our toil and labor. Symbols of our bodies, blessed, broken and given up for the life of the world

I beg you to banish forever the anemic, pallid, weak, narrow language of vocation that has a stranglehold on our Catholic culture. Only when we hear Him call our name will we, Christ’s lay faithful, “have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth” of our personal vocations that commenced the very moment we came into existence

Amo, volo ut sis, “I love you: I want you to be” [St. Augustine]

A vocation infinitely enriched by Baptism. Tell us often of our Baptism, of how it casts us into the labor and delivery room of God himself. For we are the ones who have been “born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). Remind us it is for us that all of creation is waiting so it might be set free.

Vatican II says, “The Church will receive her perfection only in the glory of heaven, when will come the time of the renewal of all things. At that time, together with the human race, the whole universe itself, which is so closely related to man and which attains its destiny through him, will be perfectly re-established in Christ.”

That. Is. Mind. Bending.

Cry out to us our mind-bending vocation:

To be sons and daughters of the Most High God

To be temples of the life-giving Trinity, each of us a hinge, a nexus of heaven and earth, the pivot on which creation returns to God

To be priests of nature and of grace, trembling mediators commanded by His Highness to bring the world to God and God to the world

To be prophetic bearers of truth

To be the ongoing Incarnation of the Word, begotten not made

To be kings and queens co-reigning over a vast and forever peaceful Kingdom built on the foundations of sacrifice

I could go on for hours extolling the super-abundant riches of our Baptismal vocation, which we — and here, brothers, is a great tragedy – which we faithful bear unknowingly

“Do you not know?” (1 Cor. 6:19). No, we do not. Tell us!

In Hosea 4:6 God speaks to us, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”

It should not be so!

I say it again, proclaim to us the world itself is destined for re-creation, and WE are its prime locus of transformation. We are its transactors and co-builders. We are its priestly servants, co-effecting the transfiguration of time and space, of marriage and family, of culture and economics, of business and politics, of the environment and education, of the past, the present and the future.

Say, O lay faithful, “all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God” (1 Cor. 3:22).

And be sure to look at our hands — and kiss them — when we bring up our bread, wine and alms, and do not make us feel ashamed that our hands are marked, injured and filthy from our toil

ONLY then, when we finally learn Christ, learn to know and pray and labor and love and repent and suffer within this titan vocation – ONLY then will we be able to discover which state in life offers us the finest opportunity to complete this ONE and already-complete vocation

Yes, the only one, complete vocation necessary: to have become the saint I alone can be

To become a plot of consecrated earth, a relic

Then, and only then, can the new evangelization begin

Only when you, Fathers, convince us laity of our dignity will you finally carry out your apostolic mandate from the God-made-flesh

Be the men Christ is now asking you to be, for us men and for our salvation. “Feed my sheep” (John 21:17)

Cast Heaven’s Pentecostal Fire everywhere you go, enact God’s scorched-earth policy by empowering God’s holy people to do the same

At the end Mass, command us:

GO! BE SENT! Go to cast fire on the earth! In the world!

Go out into a world that secularizes without God, we don’t need you to effect a Catholic withdrawal into enclaves. We need missionaries, and missionary minded families, who relentlessly love the world more than the world, as God does – the God who so-loved the world that he handed over his only begotten Son so that this world might live.

Go out and be the best secularists around, not leaving the worldly world to the atheists while we remain in church

Go out and incarnate our vision of a world made of love, built on justice, overflowing with mercy

The vision’s name is Jesus, the Lion of Judah, and He who was slaughtered on the altar of the world, for the world, longs to be let out of His cage into the world

In you

Satisfy the longing of the Lion to see the Burning Bush — His divine Heart — finally overtake the whole of creation, consuming all in a death-destroying holocaust, as an eternal offering cast into the Furnace that burns forever in the hearth of New Jerusalem

In these ways, form a laity who can finally bring to pass these prophetic words of the Book of Revelation: “Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever’”

[Then I showed them these two videos and said, diagnosis, remedy. If I had not run out of time, I would have shown a third video, prefaced by this von Balthsar quote: “And the saints are humble, that is to say, the mediocrity of the Church does not deter them from
expressing once and for all their solidarity with her, knowing well that without her they could never find their way to God. To bypass Christ’s Church with the idea of making their way to God on their own initiative would never occur to them. They do battle with the mediocrity of Christ’s Church not by protesting but by enkindling and encouraging the better. The Church causes them pain, but they do not become embittered and stand aside to sulk. They form no dissident groups but cast their fire into the midst.”]

 

 

Catholic Competitors

weddbook.com

My wife and I were talking last weekend about some of the strange and campy competitions that can develop in a Catholic culture. Who are the real Catholics? The serious Catholics? The radical Catholics? The über Catholics? Sometimes it’s subtle, like that quiet internal judgy or defensive flinch that flares up when you’re with someone who seems of a superior or inferior caste. Other times, it’s more explicit, finding its way into social media hate speech or segregating “us and them” social habits. In truth, it’s really a human problem, Catholicized.

We spoke of a range of comparative games that are played out between individuals or groups, that include:

Who excels more in piety and devotion? Who prays more? Who engages in the most radical 40 day, 90 day, choose-your-marathon-length spiritual boot camp? Who fasts more? Who has more religious articles on their body or in their home? Who has more children? Who trusts God more: fertility charters who space children or non-charters who just let it be? Who has suffered more? Been through worse hardships? Is worse off? Better off? Poorer? Has done more good deeds? Gives more? Works more? Sleeps less? Knows more? Reads more? Is more pro-life? Is more dedicated to the poor? Who are the best parents with children that provide best bragging rights? Or maybe, who is the greater sinner with the best ‘amazing grace’ story? Who is more orthodox? More liturgically pure? More faithful to (or than?) the Pope?

The list could extend into volumes and out into many ideological directions. It’s really unhealthy, really strange, really real and totally exhausting.

While some may get a momentary dopamine flush from this game, others are brought low into self-loathing, anger or envy. But all end as losers in these unholy competitive games that take noble, true and good things and debase them. All the while promoting disdain, discouragement, mistrust and division, amplifying an already sufficiently joyless, loveless world.

What to do? Let me share a selection from a post from last year as a start. But first, the answer in short?

Love is patient;
love is kind;
love is not envious or boastful
or arrogant or rude.
It does not insist on its own way;
it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice in wrongdoing,
but rejoices in the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails. – 1 Cor. 13:4-8

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…this came to mind as I was reading the other day from a book by an Eastern Orthodox spiritual author, Hieromonk Gregorios. He discusses a great mistake often made by a spouse who is “more fervent in the spiritual life” than the other. In seeking to change their spouse and make them “better,” they can easily become motivated by angry zeal, frustration, impatience, arrogance or a condescending self-righteousness. They become stumbling blocks instead of stepping stones to God’s kindly grace.

Drawing from the tradition of the Desert Fathers, Gregorios says that a person with faith in Christ always views others as “greater than himself” (Phil. 2:3). The virtuous person, he adds, “places little importance on his own deeds” and intensifies the commitment “to bear the other’s weakness as his own.” He continues,

In the same spirit, St. Isaiah writes, “If you are going along your way and there is a sick person with you, allow him to go ahead of you so that if he should want to take rest he is able to do so.” This attitude of journeying together must be applied to those who wish to run with great speed in the spiritual life but who have a spouse who is unable to keep up with them.

To approach such situations spiritually, we should view ourselves as responsible for the spiritual weakness of the other person, perhaps because we have not shown ourselves to be the image of a true Christian and a real struggler. Not only should the weaker one determine the speed of the couple’s common journey, but additionally the one who thinks they are stronger must believe that they are the cause of the spiritual slowness of the other.

When we move to the beat of love, we may appear to be lagging behind spiritually while in fact we are leading the way. When we live in this way within the bonds of marriage, all problems will be faced quietly, peacefully and with discernment — because we face them with love.

Joseph the Silent laborer

onepeterfive.com

[re-post from 2016. Sorry I can’t write new ones. Soon!]

I prefer the monotony of obscure sacrifices to all ecstasies. — Saint Thérèse

It’s St. Joseph the Worker’s Feast today. Joseph the Silent laborer, who is loathe to draw attention to himself. Joseph is all about FAMILY, forget about me I love you.

In our culture that cultivates and celebrates attention starved people, desperate to be liked, noticed, applauded, affirmed, it becomes more and more difficult to imagine the hidden happiness of a self-forgetful life of quiet and unsung work done for God’s honor and others’ welfare.

There’s a priest in Louisiana my wife and I know who, to me, embodies Joseph’s homely holiness. Even as he’s quirky and sometimes cantankerous, he’s tireless, generous, dedicated to lifting up and not bringing down. And he’s all about things not being about him, but so naturally, never awkwardly. He makes my wife’s cool description of humility real, “Humility is being sufficiently unaware of yourself to be able to listen to others.”

He also embodies a favorite saying by my grandfather (in one of its many declensions), “The sign of a great man is not that you leave his presence thinking much of him, but better of yourself.” Like the Providence of God, greatness prefers anonymous, all-about-others do-gooding.

Once when I told this priest how much I appreciated his ready warm greeting, he shared Mother Teresa’s “Let us always meet each other with a smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.” He added, “Most people carry heavy burdens. Life’s about lightening burdens, not adding them.”

When I first came across an article by Dennis Prager on “doing justice” in the Jewish Talmud, I immediately made a copy for him, underlining these words:

In decades of lecturing, writing and broadcasting on the subject of happiness, my two central premises have come from this Jewish teaching that behavior is what matters most. The first premise is that if we act happy, we are far more likely to feel happy. The second is that we all owe everyone in our lives not to inflict our unhappy feelings on them. With few exceptions, no matter how we feel, we have a moral obligation to act with a happy disposition.

In the margin, I wrote: “That’s you, Father.”

Mama Caterina da Siena

“…the eternal Father said, ‘Do not presume to choose your own way of serving instead of the one I have made for you.'” — St. Catherine of Siena

A man in our neighborhood, whose life is dedicated to caring for his home-bound and bedridden wife since she had a massive stroke, said to my wife Patti, “God is so good to make clear to me how He wants me to love her ’til death do us part. It’s not what I wanted, but it’s what she needed.”

My step mother found a piece of paper my dad had written on not long before he was overtaken by dementia. It said, “Do you want to know God’s will? Look around you, take a deep breath, and there is His will waiting for you. Don’t rebel, be faithful.”

The Ghost of you is close to me…

[A re-post from 2017]

It is mercy, not justice or courage or even heroism, that alone can defeat evil. — Peter Kreeft

“I try and fail,” she said to me. “I look at others who do so much, seem to believe with such conviction. I feel I can barely muster a prayer when I’m discouraged or hold my tongue when I’m angry. I can’t stand being around my mother, I get frustrated with my husband and am impatient with my children. I’m not raising my kids to be super devout. We do Sunday Mass. I say meal blessings and bedtime prayers with them. But when I’m around these seemingly super Catholic families, well it all makes me feel like crap.”

We sat together in silence for a while in the coffee shop. Then she said, “But I have to believe that there’s a place for people like my family in God’s plan. Help me out, am I wrong? Am I just being a whiner?”

I shared with her a quote from Pope Francis, “A small step, in the midst of great human limitations, can be more pleasing to God than a life which appears outwardly in order, but moves through the day without confronting great difficulties.” I added, “This is the logic of divine mercy, and it’s why comparison is such a dangerous game. Scratch beneath any family’s polished surface, and there’s rust and rot. It’s the human condition. Any seeming exception to that is a facade. The key is, stop living in a Facebook world, pray as often as you can for help, never give up your journey, and believe mercy defines life. And spread it around.”

Then I spoke about the little way of St. Thérèse, saying, “She believed that mercy was the perfection of God’s justice, and saw weakness as the place God perfects His power. For those of us who cannot scale the heights or muscle our way to greatness, God descends down into our depths to meet us and lift us up. That takes humility on God’s part and ours.” Then I pulled up this blog and shared with her these Thérèsian gems I posted a number of years ago.

If God wants you to be as weak and powerless as a child, do you think your merit will be any less for that? Resign yourself, then, to stumbling at every step, to falling even, and to being weak in carrying your cross. Love your powerlessness, and your soul will benefit more from it than if, aided by grace, you were to behave with enthusiastic heroism and fill your soul with self-satisfaction.

It is needful to remain little before God and to remain little is to recognize one’s nothingness, expect all things from the good God just as a little child expects all things from its father; it is not to be troubled by anything. Even among poor people, a child is given all it needs, as long as it is very little, but as soon as it has grown up, the father does not want to support it any longer and says: “Work, now you are able to take care of yourself”. Because I never want to hear these words I do not want to grow up, feeling that I can never earn my living, that is, eternal life in heaven. So I have stayed little, and have no other occupation than of gathering flowers of love and sacrifice and of offering them to the good God to please Him.