Peace in Our Day

A gargoyle statue is seen among a property smoldering rubble in Paradise, north of Sacramento, California on November 09, 2018. (Photo credit JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)

During my silent Ignatian retreat four weeks ago I made and long and intense face-to-face confession with a retired priest and confessor. I confessed my sins and then as I confessed to the sin of anger I found myself unloading my anger about the sins of those priests, bishops and cardinals who undermine the faith of so many in their participation and covering up of the abuse of young boys, men and women. When the newest outbreak began to be reported this summer I was seething…OUTRAGED! I considered leaving, but to go where? This wasn’t of Christ. It wasn’t of His bride, the Church. This was sin and wrongdoing as old as Cain and of the sort that resides inside the deepest recesses of our fallen human nature. To leave Christ’s bride would be like abandoning my own spouse or closest friend or family member in a time of great need, one in which they needed to be defended while under attack. It would be my scurrying like a coward over the old city walls and escaping into the night when outside the ramparts the enemy was preparing for the final siege and rape of the city. What kind of man would I be to do this? The sacraments themselves are still valid. I’ve read too much, studied too much, and experienced too much to ever abandon the Church. But I have zero problem at all in the handing of those traitorous vermin who are to be her most ardent protectors and teachers over to authorities and to justice. I do not envy them the Divine Justice they will one day experience.

I closed by telling him that when asked at the start of the retreat to write down an answer to Christ’s question In Luke 18 “What do you want me to do for you?” I had written the following:

I want Jesus to release me from this anger.
And from my desire to control the uncontrollable
To make me a better husband and father
To make me more selfless and serving
To guard me from my own cynicism
To make me a better man

And when asked to read and meditate on Isaiah 55 and then to write what it is I hunger and thirst for, I had journaled:

For the Truth
For Beauty
For the Good and the Holy
For Peace

“The bottom line Father,” I said. “is that I long for peace.”

When I was finished the old priest looked up at me with a sense of fatigue that I cannot know. For he is likely pained by his brother priest’s betrayal moreso than I. After talking through it with me he gave me my penance: “Go, and search for peace until you find it.”

He completed the rite by absolving me of my sins and sending me on my way with a blessing.

The magnitude of what he said didn’t hit me until after I’d returned to my seat in the chapel. At first I laughed to myself at such a seemingly flippant and silly penance. But as I recalled the wry smile that he wore while saying these words to me and began to consider the magnitude of what he had assigned to me I was no longer laughing. I considered rushing back into the confessional and begging him to give me something else. “Can’t I just recite 100 Hail Mary’s instead? Or 100 Our Father’s?”

Go, and find peace. He just as well asked me to pick up Mount Everest and move it onto the plains of central Nebraska near Kearney. Finding peace would be as easy as that.

I say this as one who tells you that you would have to truly be blind to not see the increasing unrest and chaos in our world today. Events have picked up in intensity and volume at a pace that is destined for a crashing explosion. I do not have the time nor the inclination to attempt to document or list said events here. I don’t say these words as a “prepper” or one hiding behind his armory in a mountainside bunker in Montana. But I can see it with mine own eyes. I can feel it in my bones. Many times recently I’ve found myself uttering these words by Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings to myself:

There is a well-known song, and I’ve even seen it in meme form, that says “Let there be peace on earth.” Too many times we recite the first six words and overlook the six that follow: “…and let it begin with me.” This is the key, I think, for my quest to find peace. I have to start with myself. With my own mind. With my own heart.

As such I have decided to at long last eliminate the noise and distraction of social media from my life by greatly reducing my access. I posted to Facebook for the final time today (though I may include this blog post), a thank you for a baseball-related favor done for my son by a friend of mine. I’ve eliminated anything reeking of the stench of politics from my Twitter feed. I’ve had to do this because as much as I love and value my friends I simply cannot stomach the vomit of politics that goes on there every day. Yes, it still creeps into Twitter and recently I found myself responding in this manner to a question posed by someone sneering at Catholics:

Why shouldn’t I expect them to sneer? It’s what they’re taught to do by our educational system, the media, and our own politicians. Senators Harris (D-CA) and Hirono (D-HI) are now suggesting requiring a religious test for being considered for a federal judgeship as they deem membership in the Knights of Columbus to be “extreme”. Yes, those of us who assist the elderly with their moves, or serve at their funerals, or cook the flapjacks at the pancake breakfasts and Lenten fish fries across the world are now to be looked upon with suspicion. And then I log onto Facebook and see friends of mine, ardent and blindly partisan supporters of all things Democrat, cheering these so-called “leaders”. In a world too full of senseless, screeching identity politics these women are two of the worst.

Just typing that paragraph removed my peace and made my blood boil, and for no reason. After all I cannot control the actions of those moronic and evil politici-…”

See? I was about to lose it again.

So I logged off. Removed the app from my phone. I did so not only for my peace, but for the peace of others. Because I don’t know how much longer I could have remained there and not begun to tell people what I really thought of their politics. I was about to pull up broadside, light the cannon fuses and blow it all to Kingdom Come. Enough is enough.

But that, of course, would help no one. No peace.

I give you peace, my peace I give you

At 4:30pm on December 31st, I drove to the Pink Sisters chapel. Flurries were beginning to fall on the cold, gray New Year’s Eve. Once inside I settled in to pray a rosary before the sisters would arrive to sing Vespers at 5pm. On this night I prayed the Joyful Mysteries because despite what I feel is ahead in the coming year it is, afterall, Christmas and in a transcendental sense I do in fact feel joy. I also felt my strength nourished inside this sanctuary, safe and secure while the darkness descended outside the stained glass windows and the wind howled outside.

My rosary finished as I was able to hear the sisters assembling behind the screen for Vespers. I had brought my breviary so I could pray with them and turned to the page marked by the first ribbon. For the next twenty plus minutes I again felt buoyed by a sense of calm and of strength. I was not praying alone, nor was I praying with just the nuns. In those moments I was praying along with thousands of Catholics around the world who participate in the Divine Office every day in every time zone. And I knew I was praying with not just the Church Militant here on earth, but with the Church Triumphant in Heaven itself, the Communion of Saints. This is how I’ve chosen to live my life, and this is how I prepare myself for my days upon the earth. In this way I know I do not walk alone.

The Sentinel

After Vespers was finished the nuns shuffled out of the sanctuary and back into their living space. But a lone nun stayed behind, kneeling in silent prayer for a time in front of the altar before which the Blessed Sacrament was stationed. She eventually settled back into her chair, a vigilant sentinel of prayer. I left shortly after, walking back outside into the dark night where the flurries had increased their intensity. The old year was in its death throes; the new year would ring into existence in six hours.

I thought of that sister again the following morning when I woke up to the new year and my birthday with Lauds. The image was still very fresh in my mind and brought back into focus as I prayed these words from Psalm 63 that morning:

So I gaze on you in the sanctuary
to see your strength and your glory.

Lauds, January 1, Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

During the Catholic Mass we hear these words from John 14:27 during the Rite of Peace, which directly follows The Lord’s Prayer:

“I give you peace, my peace I give you…”

The full verse containing the words of Jesus is as follows:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

Let there be peace on earth.

Let it begin with me.

[Written this 10th day of Christmas, on the Feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton]

A little of this and a little of that

So you think that it’s just a tale of days gone by?

This has been on YouTube since 2009 but I just saw it this week and loved it. Very clever.

A Dangerous Firebrand

We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him “meek and mild,” and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies. To those who knew him, however, he in no way suggested a milk-and-water person; they objected to him as a dangerous firebrand. True, he was tender to the unfortunate, patient with honest inquirers, and humble before heaven; but he insulted respectable clergymen by calling them hypocrites; he referred to King Herod as “that fox”; he went to parties in disreputable company and was looked upon as a “gluttonous man and a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners” . . . when confronted with neat dialectical traps, he displayed a paradoxical humor that affronted serious-minded people, and he retorted by asking disagreeably searching questions that could not be answered by rule of thumb. He was emphatically not a dull man in his human lifetime, and if he was God, there can be nothing dull about God either.

Dorothy Sayers (essayist, playright and translator of Dante’s Divine Comedy) “The Greatest Drama Ever Staged is the Official Creed of Christendom.” The Sunday Times, April, 2, 1938

Flannery and The Hillbilly Thomists

This was one of my favorite passages from Flannery O’Connor’s prayer journal, published a few years ago:

You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon. The crescent is very beautiful and perhaps that is all one like I am should or could see; but what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing.

O’Connor was the original “hillbilly Thomist” and she referred to herself as such. So what exactly is this type of individual?

In 1955, the southern author Flannery O’Connor said of herself, “Everybody who has read Wise Blood thinks I’m a hillbilly nihilist, whereas. . .I’m a hillbilly Thomist.” She said that her fiction was concerned with the ways grace is at work among people who do not have access to the sacraments. The Thomist (one who follows the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas) believes that the invisible grace of God can be at work in visible things, just as the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, in the person of Christ. (source)

A group of Dominicans calling themselves The Hillbilly Thomists released an album this week and it sounds very cool. I love the old-timey pose they struck for the album cover.

From C.C. Pecknold at First Things:

But after nearly four years of performing, they’ve now produced their first album, and it is a veritable feast of Bluegrass banjo bliss! The twelve-song album includes nineteenth- and twentieth-century bluegrass classics, such as Jefferson Hascal’s “Angel Band” (prominently featured in the Cohen Brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou?), as well as original bluegrass arrangements of hymns such as “Amazing Grace” and “What Wondrous Love Is This.”

Many of the songs chosen for the album emphasize the theme of pilgrimage, and the vocal harmonies of songs like “Angel Band” remind us of our heavenly destination. From the opening track, “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” we learn about how sweet it is to walk “in this pilgrim way.” The beautifully produced music video that promotes the new album features Br. Simon Teller’s pitch-perfect rendition of the pilgrim’s ballad, and the fourth track, “Poor Wayfaring Stranger,” which hints at the way Dominicans have understood their witness as a joyful sign of contradiction in a world that is passing away.

I’ve sampled a few tracks on iTunes and liked what I heard. While I’m not an avid bluegrass fan, thanks to Alison Kraus I listen to my fair share. They’ve already sold out of their physical inventory of CDs, but it can be ordered in digital format by way of iTunes and Amazon by visiting their page here.

Speaking of St. Thomas, how about a pint?

Matt Fradd recently began a podcast that has become quite successful called “Pints with Aquinas”. As I spend most of my social media time on Twitter these days that is where I first stumbled across his new podcast venture. I’ve not yet had time to listen to any but have a few downloaded and plan to give a listen this weekend. I’m a huge fan of “The Dumb Ox” as Aquinas was known, and have dipped my toes into his Summa Theologica a few times from their place on my bookshelf. You may find him on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or the world wide web.

I first noticed him when I saw a few cartoons retweeted that made me laugh out loud. A few of my favorites are below.

Prayer Time > Free Time

Having logged off Facebook until after New Year’s in order to avoid Star Wars spoilers, and cutting way back on Twitter, I’ve got some more time on my hands. We are at the halfway point of Advent and Christmas will soon be here (no matter how much Madison Avenue tries to convince you that it’s already here…it’s not.) So what am I doing with that extra time each day?

How much time do Catholics spend in prayer? Prayer is a great gift that one should find joy in. The cultivation of virtue—which is the outcome of habit (habitus)—requires striving. It requires time. It demands that we set aside time for God in the midst of our daily lives. To have an active prayer life is the result of the habit of prayer.

To this end the Rosary embodies the call to a virtuous prayer life better than most prayers because of the time it takes to pray the Rosary. Time is the one thing we can never get enough of according to some people. And the more time spent reading, praying, or contemplating God, the less time one is “making something of themselves” in the material world. For all the wonders that God has done for us it would be fitting of our appreciation and understanding of God’s wonders and love to devote time to him throughout the day. From small things greater things come. (source)

Happy Advent! And I wish for you all a very Merry and Blessed Christmas!

The Reception

Staring contest

Staring contest

A moderate rain all morning should have given us our white Christmas but for the temperature being 39+ degrees. It did get cold enough to provide some wet snowflakes as I was exiting the Pink Sisters chapel today where I’d listened and prayed with the cloistered sisters as they sang Midday Prayers. Last year on a day much like today a squirrel eyed me cautiously from a tree, and today another squirrel did the same as I caught him foraging for nuts in the wet, snowy grass as I walked back into the cold. He scaled the tree and chirked at me, but only a little. I wonder if it was the same little guy?

I have to be honest: this year marks the coldest, driest, emptiest Advent heading into Christmas that I can remember. I just have not been able to “get into the spirit” at all this year. But sitting in the darkened chapel today and praying the psalms of this morning’s Office of Readings began to thaw me out a bit. There’s still time, and I’ve plans for Midnight Mass this year since we’ll be home this Christmas instead of on the road. The five block walk home afterwards, while crisp, is always my favorite walk of the year.

The second reading in today’s Office of Readings from the Divine Office comes from a treatise against the heresy of Noetus by Saint Hippolytus. It’s a mini-lesson on the Holy Trinity and as we approach Christmas tells of the Word entering His creation in the flesh.

The last line is one of the saddest ever written.

*****

The manifestation of the hidden mystery

There is only one God, brethren, and we learn about him only from sacred Scripture. It is therefore our duty to become acquainted with what Scripture proclaims and to investigate its teachings thoroughly. We should believe them in the sense that the Father wills, thinking of the Son in the way the Father wills, and accepting the teaching he wills to give us with regard to the Holy Spirit. Sacred Scripture is God’s gift to us and it should be understood in the way that he intends: we should not do violence to it by interpreting it according to our own preconceived ideas.

God was all alone and nothing existed but himself when he determined to create the world. He thought of it, willed it, spoke the word and so made it. It came into being instantaneously, exactly as he had willed. It is enough then for us to be aware of a single fact: nothing is coeternal with God. Apart from God there was simply nothing else. Yet although he was alone, he was manifold because he lacked neither reason, wisdom, power, nor counsel. All things were in him and he himself was all. At a moment of his own choosing and in a manner determined by himself, God manifested his Word, and through him he made the whole universe.

When the Word was hidden within God himself he was invisible to the created world, but God made him visible. First God gave utterance to his voice, engendering light from light, and then he sent his own mind into the world as its Lord. Visible before to God alone and not to the world, God made him visible so that the world could be saved by seeing him. This mind that entered our world was made known as the Son of God. All things came into being through him; but he alone is begotten by the Father.

The Son gave us the law and the prophets, and he filled the prophets with the Holy Spirit to compel them to speak out. Inspired by the Father’s power, they were to proclaim the Father’s purpose and his will.

So the Word was made manifest, as Saint John declares when, summing up all the sayings of the prophets, he announces that this is the Word through whom the whole universe was made. He says: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Through him all things came into being; not one thing was created without him. And further on he adds: The world was made through him, and yet the world did not know him. He entered his own creation, and his own did not receive him.

Left: “Nativity: Birth of Jesus” (1306); right: “The Road to Calvary” (1305), both by Giotto.

Left: “Nativity: Birth of Jesus” (1306); right: “The Road to Calvary” (1305), both by Giotto.

The lukewarm blindness of “I’m Christian, but I’m not…”

By now you may have seen this video produced by BuzzFeed. I saw it late last night when I read this story by Mollie Hemingway on Twitter. Then today I was sent this piece written by Matt Walsh.

I can only say that two passages from Scripture immediately came to mind as I watched the video and followed this story. The first is from Luke 18:9-14:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, `God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, `God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The second is from Revelation 3:15-17,19-20:

“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. … Those whom I love, I reprove and chasten; so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”

As I wrote to a friend of mine while we discussed the video, this world is filled with too many lukewarm Pharisees, but too few tax collectors. None of the lukewarm relish the thought of being chastened by Jesus or having to repent. That would mean having to admit to sin and we can’t have that.

In his latest book Hints of Heaven Father George Rutler writes about the parables of Jesus, including the one above from Luke. In his commentary on this parable Fr. Rutler writes:

The Pharisee went to the Temple to boast, like those who go to funerals to praise the dead and by so doing smile at death with nervous bravado. The Temple was the Pharisee’s sounding board and its arches a frame for his virtue. … The Pharisee “trusted in himself and despised others.” He thanked God that he was better than the publican. It was not gratitude. It was self-canonization, and self-canonization ends with the self, for the self has not the metaphysics to haul itself up to the holy altars.

Of the publican (tax collector) Fr. Rutler continues:

The publican dares not raise his bloodshot eyes to the blinding glory of heaven. … He is a sinner, and he knows it, sensing a splendor that the miniature mind of the puffed-up Pharisee missed. Both have souls, but only the publican knows what his soul can yet be. The Pharisee’s charade of holiness struts like Napoleon who, as Victor Hugo said, “embarrassed God.” Sins hurt the Divine Mercy, but the chief sin of pride is immeasurably worse, for it embarrasses the Divine Majesty.

I won’t go so far as others I’ve read and say that those in the video aren’t Christians, but if they are they have almost no idea what being a Christian truly means and are bringing scandal upon themselves and the rest of the Church by saying such inane things.

The martyrs did not lay down their lives for warm and fuzzy platitudes. They gave their lives for Christ because of their zeal, their knowledge of themselves as sinners, and because of the One whom none of these misguided kids could bring themselves to name in the video.

For example look no further than the saint whose feast we celebrate today, St. Peter Claver. While not a martyr, can you imagine any of those in that video (or using a trending hashtag on Twitter to pat themselves on the back) giving of themselves the way Claver did?

St. Peter Claver (1581-1654)

St. Peter Claver (1581-1654)

Along with Father Sandoval, Pedro (Peter Claver) would go down to the docks to meet the arriving slave ships, keeping an eye out for them from a watchtower. The ships came from all over West Africa, and the slaves spoke many different languages. The spectacle of what they saw being offloaded was shocking: a terrible smell, half-starved men, women and children chained in groups of six, having not seen daylight nor washed for months. It was usual for a third of the poor souls to die en route. The slaves were extremely frightened when they came ashore, convinced they were about to be sacrificed. Pedro tried to put them at ease with his retinue of interpreters, and gifts of blankets and fresh fruit. Sometimes Pedro would not wait for the ship to offload, but paddle out in a canoe.

Pedro began to show strength where other priests showed weakness. He would often kiss the open and infected wounds of the slaves, telling them that God loved them. … He would baptize the dying first, then the sick.

Brother Nicholas was his companion for many years, and recalled there were times that he could not cope with Pedro Claver’s work. Many times he went to see dying slaves, held in stinking dungeons in the slaveowner’s houses, where others could not enter due to the stench of death and sickness. … In 1633, they both went to see a slave girl dying of smallpox. Brother Nicholas took one breath of the foul air in the girl’s room, fell down, and could not continue. Pedro gave the negress his crucifix to kiss, cleaned her wounds, and prayed for her. The girl recovered.

[snip]

The last 4 years of Pedro’s life were very tragic. He was afflicted by a degenerative disease that slowly made him bedridden. He was given his own slave, Manuel, who was charged with feeding and helping him. Manuel is known to have mistreated his master, pushing him roughly when helping him get dressed. (Source)

As you would imagine, Claver was not a popular person with the slave traders or even other priests. But to this saint it was never about popularity or the accolades of this world. He would not have been interested in making videos extolling how accepting he was. Like most saints, and those to whom Christianity is not a popularity contest or something worn on their sleeve one hour a week, he was too busy getting things done.

From today’s Office of Readings, a letter written by the saint:

Yesterday, May 30, 1627, on the feast of the Most Holy Trinity, numerous blacks, brought from the rivers of Africa, disembarked from a large ship. Carrying two baskets of oranges, lemons, sweet biscuits, and I know not what else, we hurried toward them. When we approached their quarters, we thought we were entering another Guinea. We had to force our way through the crowd until we reached the sick. Large numbers of the sick were lying on wet ground or rather in puddles of mud. To prevent excessive dampness, someone had thought of building up a mound with a mixture of tiles and broken pieces of bricks. This, then, was their couch, a very uncomfortable one not only for that reason, but especially because they were naked, without any clothing to protect them.

We laid aside our cloaks, therefore, and brought from a warehouse whatever was handy to build a platform. In that way we covered a space to which we at last transferred the sick, by forcing a passage through bands of slaves. Then we divided the sick into two groups: one group my companion approached with an interpreter, while I addressed the other group. There were two blacks, nearer death than life, already cold, whose pulse could scarcely be detected. With the help of a tile we pulled some live coals together and placed them in the middle near the dying men. Into this fire we tossed aromatics. Of these we had two wallets full, and we used them all up on this occasion. Then, using our own cloaks, for they had nothing of this sort, and to ask the owners for others would have been a waste of words, we provided for them a smoke treatment, by which they seemed to recover their warmth and the breath of life. The joy in their eyes as they looked at us was something to see.

This was how we spoke to them, not with words but with our hands and our actions. And in fact, convinced as they were that they had been brought here to be eaten, any other language would have proved utterly useless. Then we sat, or rather knelt, beside them and bathed their faces and bodies with wine. We made every effort to encourage them with friendly gestures and displayed in their presence the emotions which somehow naturally tend to hearten the sick.

This is the type of example we celebrate, remember and honor with our actions…and this is just ONE DAY out of 365! The lives of the saints inspire us to give our all as they did to…I dunno…Voldemort? At least you’d think that was his name, since none of those in the video could bring themselves to utter the name of Jesus Christ.

In the Buzzfeed video one of the participants says: “A lot of people think Christianity ruins people, but to me I think it’s people that are ruining Christianity, you never really see the good that happens, you only see the hypocrites, and the people who put themselves on a higher pedestal.”

To this I reply as Matthew Henry did when in his commentary on Psalm 82 he wrote: “A gift in secret blinds their eyes. They know not because they will not understand. None so blind as those that will not see. They have baffled their own consciences, and so they walk on in darkness.”

To miss the good and the beautiful in Christianity and its adherents each and every day you truly must be willfully blind. Those who have eyes that see what God sees find ways to help the helpless and imitate Christ like St. Peter Claver. They don’t participate in naval-gazing passive-aggressive self-congratulatory exercises for BuzzFeed.

Reflected in Our Faces

I read this today and it profoundly connected with my own musings and observations of late.

It was a spiritual kinsman of St Isaac, the Father Zossima of The Brothers Karamazov, who showed how our direct responsibility for our own bodies and for dumb creatures may indirectly stretch yet further. In his final conversations father Zossima describes how our very faces may indireclty produce momentous consequences. He asks us to think of a child walking down a street, rather bewildered by the evil in the world and searching for signs that life has meaning. If we have over the years allowed our hearts to become embittered, that will be reflected in our faces. So when the child has seen our face the image that will remain in his heart will be of evil and meaninglessness. It may turn out that our face has sown a seed of evil in the child which will one day overgrow his whole heart. On the other hand, if we have over the years filled our hearts with love, that also will be reflected in our faces and the passing child in the street will be encouraged by what he sees to find meaning in life.

Nor is such an illustration by any means imaginary. We have from the pen of Olivier Clément a moving account of how a face saved his life. It as in the days when he was an atheist, though an unhappy one. He was so unhappy, in fact, and so oppressed by the meaninglessness of human life that he was seriously thinking of committing suicide. Then one day as he was walking depressed beside the Mediterranean sea-shore his attention was riveted by the face of someone who was passing by. The person’s face was radiant with meaning, full of such goodness as can only come from years of cultivating a loving heart. In a twinkling Clément’s suicidal thoughts were dispelled and a seed sown in his heart that was eventually to transform him into an ardent believer. Not surprisingly, Clément asserts with warm conviction that there is a branch of theology that is properly described as a ‘theology of faces.’ Donald Nicholl, Holiness (New York: Seabury Press, 1981), 48-49.

Source: Shirt of Flame

*****

I wonder how much of the unrest, protests and violence today is caused because those committing these acts feel they are invisible. I suspect much of it is. Have you looked around lately when you’re in a crowd? How many sets of eyes actually raise up to meet your own? How many are staring at their shoes or more likely…at a digital screen?

How many lash out because it’s the only way they can think of anymore to get someone…anyone…to pay them attention? When I see a rioter or a protester I see my toddler (when I had a toddler) lashing out in order to get my attention.

I see a lot of things these days through the tired eyes of a parent.

We don’t look at each other in the eyes anymore as a species. I think that is one of the greatest problems we face today. Comments are entered on the internet in anger or biting sarcasm as we viscerally cut those whom we cannot see.

One of the great miracles of the Incarnation of God made man was his desire to enter into His creation and to look us in the eye. When we peer into the manger at the child wrapped and fragile in human flesh we look into the very Creator of the universe. Time and eternity meet our humanity in a glance.

Don’t be quick to look away this Christmas. You are made in the Imago Dei. The image of God. Your eyes contain the power to change someone’s life.

Your eyes show them they matter.

Tell them that they are not invisible.

Demonstrate that they are indeed seen by someone else.

No longer alone, two-dimensional and empty. But surrounded by love, hope and joy, three-dimensional and full of the Spirit and able to do the same for others.

This Christmas I’m grateful for a God whose eyes are much older than my own, but that are never tired.

I’m thankful that He came for me.

He sees my face.

Even when my eyes are closed to His presence, He sees me.

Thank you for those in my own life who look me in the eye when I feel unworthy, lost and alone. I needed that.

We need each other.

face_reflected_in_eye

*****

My Jesus, I forever thank You for allowing me to see You.

I thank You for being visible in all the grandeur of nature, in the mountains, the streams, the oceans, the trees. I thank You for being visible in the beauty of the stars, the sky, the magnificence of the sun.

I thank You for being visible in every beating heart, in every created life. I thank You that I am able to see the gift of love, instilled in every human being, and so often abused, crushed, neglected by the world.

My Jesus, You are visible in every act of charity and compassion, in the forgiveness of every hurt, in every sacrifice offered for another. I thank You for allowing me to see You in the pain and suffering of all people in their struggles.

My Jesus, You are visible in every baby’s smile, in every mother’s caress, in the innocence of every child and the willingness of every mother to say “yes” to life. I thank You for being visible in every miracle, in every healing, in every conversion, in the joy of every soul who has suddenly accepted Your existence.

I thank You for being visible in the faith and trust of countless millions, in the perpetual existence of Your Church in the face of centuries of persecution. I thank You for being visible to me now, in my prayer, in my trust. In every day of my life, in every need, in every way.

Jesus, You died for my sins and I thank You for allowing me to see that sacrifice perpetually before me in the Eucharist. Jesus, I especially thank You for being so visible to me through Your forgiveness and love in the midst of my failures and sins. The world never has.

From An Hour With Jesus: Volume II.

C’mon…laugh.

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Photo credit

Enrolling in the School of Prayer

With age comes experience, and with experience comes wisdom. I’ve lived long enough to know that my hope lies not in political answers being provided to solve the ills of this world. Indeed I no longer believe man is himself capable of solving them. He simply is not capable of getting out of his own way.

As Msgr. Charles Pope wrote on September 30th:

At the end of the day, government cannot remedy our fallen tendency to be obtuse, rebellious, greedy, and licentious. It is really more the role of culture and the presence of a strong, prophetic, organized, and effective Church that must, by God’s grace, work to remedy the worst of the ills we face. The notion of a large government role in creating a just society is too easily a form of utopianism.

Monsignor Pope goes on to say that

“Fulton Sheen once remarked  that we have tried every means to change the world but one: holiness. Government cannot save us; only God can save us. And God works through grace and the transformation of the world—one soul at a time.

As one commenter in that article said: Caesar gives us license; only God grants us liberty. It is in wisdom that my experience has also taught me that I am, in fact, a Catholic first and am American second. I love my country very deeply. But if push comes to shove (and it appears that shoving is an integral part of the political landscape nowadays) I will stand with Christ and not with Caesar, no matter what political party he or she belongs to. I’m in full agreement with Heather King when she wrote:

I’ve hitch-hiked across my country; our country. I’ve driven back and forth across it twice. I’ve camped, hiked, and walked its mountains, deserts and streets. I’ve prayed on its freeways, wept at its beauty, grieved at its struggles. But, bound by the First Commandment, I don’t worship a flag. I don’t kneel before a political system. I don’t adore a military power.

I kneel before the altar in a Catholic church. I worship Christ.

I don’t believe that it’s a reactionary hyperbole to say that what I just wrote above can or will be used against me or my loved ones one day. In this age of endless war, unfettered government surveillance and drones flying over our heads can we honestly say otherwise? When the full force of the government can be used to force otherwise innocuous bakers into the courtroom where they will lose not only their business but their freedom by ordered into “sensitivity training” can we seriously say that there is no longer a risk to hold certain positions in this country and give voice to them? That is a world of “political truth”, which means only that the truth can change depending upon the zeitgeist of the day and whatever political party in power.

There are no political solutions man is capable of to alleviate the ills and injustices of our world. There is only holiness. There is only God. I can’t tell you for certain when I realized this. In fact, it was many years ago. But I didn’t accept it until the last year or two. It was then that my interest landed fully in the school of prayer. It was also then that I came to realize and accept the fact that living and professing a lifestyle of prayer will involve my learning to be more selfless and in a way selling myself out to this end. There is no other way to go but “all in”.

As I’ve written before I’ve been reading many books and articles on prayer for the past year. But I’m also doing it. Not just reading, thinking, understanding, planning or imagining myself praying. I am participating in prayer. In his book Prayer for Beginners (Ignatius Press, 2000) Peter Kreeft warns us to “not be like the theologian who after death was given the choice between going to Heaven or going to a lecture on Heaven and chose the lecture.”

I choose Heaven.

Too often anymore we say to someone who is in pain things such as “sending positive thoughts your way.” Or “sending you positive vibes.” Or “my thoughts and prayers are with you.” Of the three, the last one is the worst in my opinion because the first two are New Ageist poppycock, but if you tell someone you are sending prayers their way you should at least make an attempt to follow up on it. But we cover ourselves in a security blanket by adding “thoughts” to that phrase. We won’t pray for you, but we’ll think of you. Or at least we will until we scroll down to the next headline or social media post.

Then again, perhaps that’s why so many revert to the “positive vibes” nonsense. They don’t want to be held responsible for their actions or to get involved. It’s easier and less incriminating to type a flippant bit of folderol and move on.

The very definition of prayer is a conversation with the Creator of the Universe. If you tell me you are going to have that conversation on my behalf shouldn’t you at least follow through? Besides, every time I see someone is sending out positive vibes I imagine them doing this:

aquaman

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Below are some quotes I underlined in just the first four chapters of Kreeft’s little book. The pictures are from my visit yesterday afternoon to the Holy Family Shrine near Gretna, Nebraska on I-80. As you can see it was a rainy, overcast day. I’ve never been there during a sunrise, but I can tell you from experience that the sunsets can be nothing short of spectacular from that vantage point.

HF shrine01

Eating keeps your body alive, and prayer keeps your soul alive. Praying is more important than eating because your soul is more important than your body. Your soul is more important than your body because your soul is you, your personality, your self. You will get a new body after death, in the resurrection at the end of the world. But you will not get a new soul; you will only purify and sanctify your old one, because you are your soul. The “you” that will get a new body is your soul. (p.11)

HF shrine02

Why pray? Because only prayer can save the world. … nothing else can ever cure our sick world except saints, and saints are never made except by prayer. (p.14)

[Prayers] correspond to our three deepest needs, the fundamental needs of the three powers of our soul: prayer gives truth to our mind, goodness to our will, and beauty to our heart. (p.15-16)

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Prayer gives truth to our mind because it puts us in the presence of Truth itself, the divine Mind who designed our minds and our lives and our whole universe. …we need to rehearse now for what we will be doing forever in Heaven, if we want to be utterly practical and realistic. (p.17)

HF shrine05

Praying is like gardening: the growing of something alive—in this case, alive for eternity. It is gradual, and it is invisible, but it is the difference between life and death. … Prayer is plant food. This plant—your soul—is going to be transplanted at death into an immortal, eternal garden. (p.18)

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Brother Lawrence says, in The Practice of the Presence of God, “There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful than that of a continual conversation with God. Those only can comprehend it who practice and experience it (Letter 5). (p.18)

Prayer is the only way to spiritual progress. (p.21)

HF shrine08

We must pray in order to grow, and we must grow because Infinite Love will not, cannot, settle for less than the greatest joy of which his beloved creature is capable. Even good earthly fathers want the very best for their children; why do we expect our Heavenly Father to be any less demanding and leave us alone? That is what uncles do, not fathers. Christ did not teach us to pray, “Our Uncle who art in Heaven.” (p.22-23)

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Prayer is necessary because without it we cannot attain the meaning of life, the end and purpose of our existence. Becoming saints is the meaning of life. It is why we exist. It is why God created us. (p.23)

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Prayer is our first step in becoming saints. The second step is charity, a life of love, the ecstasy of giving ourselves away over and over again forever, as each of the Persons of the Trinity do. (p.24)

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The single most important piece of advice about prayer is one word: Begin! (p. 25)

Life contains many hardships and pains, but prayer is not one of them. (p.26)

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Prayer is love. To love anyone is to seek his presence, to seek intimacy and union. (You do not love someone if you do not want to spend time with him). Love is also communication. (You do not love someone if you do not want to talk with him and get to know him better.) (p.26-27)

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It is true, as John Bunyan said, that God infinitely prefers a heart without words to words without a heart when we pray. (p.28)

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The familiarity of prayer is wonderful because it is familiarity with God. (p.29)

HF shrine20

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All photos taken by the author with an iPhone 5s.

“We submit to every demand of Love.”

Have you ever felt as if God is speaking to you? Leading you? Directing you? That He is trying to get your attention in some way by constantly bringing to your attention a subject, item or idea? This is how I’ve felt recently with regards to the Divine Liturgy – the Catholic Mass. While my work continues on studying and creating an outline about the Divine Office (more on that another time) the Mass has come to the fore. Most likely because the Divine Liturgy and the Divine Office are so closely related and fit so neatly hand in hand. It may be to awaken me from my malaise and to remind me of what I bear witness to each time I attend Mass; to shake me from complacency that may be setting in and succumbing to what Father Richard Heilman referred to as spiritual lethargy.

It could also be that God is answering the prayer that I have prayed each day for the last three weeks, brought about by my recklessly immersing myself in and internalizing the overwhelming horrors from Syria and Iraq as I prepare for my own son’s departure into the Marine Corps. Each day I pray for Fortitude, Wisdom and Hope. That has become my mantra, and I believe God is showing me where the answers await.

“I am convinced that the crisis in the Church that we are experiencing today is to a large extent due to the disintegration of the liturgy, which at times has even come to be conceived of etsi Deus non daretur (as though God were not there): in that it is a matter of indifference whether or not God exists and whether or not He speaks to us and hears us.” – Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI)

Lord, grant me the gifts of Fortitude, Wisdom and Hope. Make me salt, and make me light. Let me never be indifferent to Your presence in this world and in my life. Amen.

Below are two passages about the Mass from books that I am currently reading. Or finished, as I completed my journey with Christopher late last night.

There was no indifference or complacency to be found at Iwo Jima at this Mass.

There was no indifference or complacency to be found at Iwo Jima at this Mass.

The first passage is from David Athley’s Christopher. It is from an email written to the book’s protagonist by his long-time love. She is a devout and practicing Catholic. He, while Catholic, will only attend Mass and not receive Communion. Somewhat of a mystic, he refuses because he recognizes Holy Communion for what it is, and is not confident that he would be able to withstand the consuming of Christ’s body and blood, soul and divinity. It is a beautiful summation of the Mass.

The second passage is an excerpt from The Portal of the Mystery of Hope by Charles Péguy.

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Dear Christopher,

Despite all the damage done by sinners in the Church, the Mass is the hope of civilization.

The Mass is the pinnacle of philosophy. Our minds approach the Holy Gifts in fear of God, the beginning of wisdom. Our hearts accept the Holy Gifts in love of God, the end of wisdom.

The Divine Liturgy is the epitome of language and poetry. It is the most powerful form of drama, a play that appears to descend into tragedy, yet ends in the height of heavenly bliss.

The Mass is housed in the most glorious architecture ever constructed. Not all churches are grand, but the world has been given the supreme cathedrals to remind us of the majesty of the Maker, who appears on the altars.

The Divine Liturgy is the grand unified theory of physics. Beyond all of the quarks, multiple dimensions, and dark matter is the greatest gift to science: Transubstantiation.

The Mass is the quintessence of agriculture – the simply fruits of the earth transformed into spiritual nutrition.

The Mass is the bloodline of the best art. From icons to stained glass to mosaics to statuary to all of the variations of paintings, the Sacrifice enlivens creativity.

The Divine Liturgy is a perfect education. It is reality. We kneel. We bow. We give up our rebellions and embrace the hierarchy of the created order. We submit to every demand of Love.

The Mass gives voice to the music of angels, the chant of nine choirs and seven heavens. It culminates in the most noble act of physicality. We accept into our bodies the Creator of all flesh, in whom we live and dance and have our being.

The Mass is the most personal relationship that one can have with God.

The Mass is the most heavenly occurrence on earth, and the most viciously attacked – from within the Church and without.

The Mass has produced the humble, superhuman saints, multitudes of heroic men and women, from the beginning of the Church to the end, miracle workers from every walk of life – patrons for every holy passion.

The Divine Liturgy of Heaven gathers the most purposeful community in the world, the assembly of Communicants. Beyond the goodness of human friendship, the friends of Heaven are perfected in the Feast.

The Mass makes life worth living. It is the gateway out of our self-inflicted pain, to fully enter into the death and resurrection of Christ.

Will you, in the name of Love, become a Communicant?

TheMass

Photo credit: catholicbible101.com

I am so resplendent in my creation.
In all that happens to men and to people, and to the poor.
And even to the rich.
Who don’t want to be my creatures.
And who take refuge.
From being my servants.
In all the good and evil that man has done and undone.
(And I am above it all, because I am the master, and I do what he has undone and I undo what he has done.)
And unto the temptation to sin.
Even.
And all that happened to my son.
Because of man.
My creature.
Whom I had created.
In the conception, in the birth and in the life and in the death of my son.
And in the holy sacrifice of the Mass.

In every birth and in every life.
And in every death.
And in eternal life that will never end.
That will overcome all death.

I am so resplendent in my creation.

That in order really not to see me these poor people would have to be blind.

*****

“Hear Mass daily; it will prosper the whole day. All your duties will be performed the better for it, and your soul will be stronger to bear its daily cross. The Mass is the most holy act of religion; you can do nothing that can give greater glory to God or be more profitable for your soul than to hear Mass both frequently and devoutly. It is the favorite devotion of the saints.” – St. Peter Julian Eymard