Tuesday, September 30, 2014

St Thérèse and the Terrifying Joy of Vulnerability

It is no secret that I was a devout non-fan of St. Thérèse for many of my Catholic years. Everyone was all "St. Thérèse this" and "St. Thérèse that," and I just simply could not warm up to her. In fact, she was the only saint that I felt a particular aversion towards.

My aversion was rooted in my ignorance, and my ignorance was fed by the tiny bit of knowledge I had about her. She was sweet, humble, simple, joyful, trusting.... and childlike.

Ok, let's be honest. Another factor in my aversion is that I really thought she simply was these things naturally. And, the heart of all my aversion was that I knew I am not those things.

But of course no saint comes by her virtues naturally. Not every saint goes through the dregs of sin, but no saint comes by virtue except by walking the way of the cross. I missed that about St. Thérèse.

But now, I have to admit, I am beginning to grasp St. Thérèse's profundity and why she is a Doctor of the Church, and perhaps some of why she was given to our age. And, particularly, why I need her so dang much.

St. Thérèse was the one who famously summarized her vocation, the Carmelite vocation, thus: "In the heart of the Church, I shall be love." She knew that love encompassed everything that she wanted to be -- Carmelite, spouse, mother, warrior, priest, apostle, doctor, martyr -- because love is the essence of all these things.

God is love, and the love of the Father is made manifest in Christ. If you want to see the ultimate in love, behold the Crucified One.

It is true, what Freud says. We are never so vulnerable as when we love. St. Thérèse embraced this call to be love, as she says, with "delirious joy." But vulnerability like that of the Crucified One is no weakling's task, nor it is anything akin to natural to any mere human.

St. Thérèse had made of herself an oblation to Divine Love, asking that all the pent-up mercy of God's heart be poured out upon her. Mercy is for misery. It seems to me that there is a connection between this offering and the fact of her tremendous spiritual and physical suffering she endured in the last phase of her life, offered all for the conversion of sinners. For example, she had no feeling of certainty that there was a heaven, or anything beyond death except nothingness. She desired to experience this type of suffering for the conversion of atheists and all manner of souls who had separated themselves from God. This is heavy-duty, tough-slogging intercession.

The essence of what I could never appreciate about St. Thérèse earlier is that I did not understand what it takes for the human heart to be made child-like, vulnerable, loving, and sweetly self-giving. It takes the cross. It takes death to self. It takes the spiritual night, where the light faith gives becomes like darkness. The mystery of the cross is in that moment where Christ cries out "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" There is something so child-like in this mystery of experiencing being deeply alone when in reality, we are not.

In my experience, vulnerability is terrifying, but then it is freeing. The experience of the cross is terrifying, and then it is freeing. The terror comes from our darkness being purged from us, from losing that which binds us, like the young men in the fiery furnace. But instead of knowing our bondage as bondage, we tend to think it is what is "keeping us together."

The joy and childlike abandon of St. Thérèse is not a natural state. It is the fruit of the cross going deep. When I look at her now, I realize that in Christ there is hope for me, a newcomer to joy, innocence, and trust. The more I open myself to God's mercy, the more I too can become little and know how fiercely I am loved.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Gift of Vulnerability

"[God] will not find us at the center of our certainties. That is not where the Lord looks. He will find us on the margins, in our sins, in our mistakes, in our need for spiritual healing, for salvation; that is where the Lord will find us”.

This quote from Pope Francis is one to which the preacher on my recent silent retreat referred several times.

The "margins" of our hearts are the places where we stand in need of God's mercy, and we know it, but dang, we don't really like it.

Ironically, these are the places most people expend enormous energy in order to hide from others, from their own meditation, or hope they can hide from God. Our sorry stock of shame is exactly where God is attracted, exactly where He is hoping most to be admitted. It's where we are most painfully in need.

The margins of our hearts are where we are vulnerable.

I've had an interesting and varied relationship with vulnerability in my almost-47 years. But currently I realize that I have both a natural propensity for it, and I've also exercised it to the point where I am OK with being vulnerable. What is most interesting to me is that I have only now realized that this not something to hate about myself; is a gift, and something to be desired for growth in the spiritual life.

I've certainly spent a lot of time hating myself for getting in vulnerable situations and feeling needy. Of course, it hasn't helped that a lot of normal things make me feel that way! I have beaten myself up over how much it seems everything in my life has required courage. Everything! It has always seemed that things that came so easily to everyone else made me feel so terribly vulnerable.

A few decades ago I lived in an old apartment building that grew gigantic icicles in the winter. One day I watched one of these glisten on my fire escape: snow, melting from heat escaping from the poorly insulated roof, dripped down the icicle's side and hovered at the tip and froze there. I mused that its point of greatest vulnerability to breaking was also where it was growing and becoming what it was.

We are people, though, not icicles. The only way vulnerability can become a moment of growth is when you choose to step forward into that vulnerable state and find that not only are you not crushed, but you are safe. Completely safe. And the only way to step forward, I have found, is a combination of trust or faith in God (more-or-less specifically) or in the goodness inherent in the unknown factors involved. There is also something to be said simply for cumulative experiences of risk-taking. You leap across a rickety bridge, and each sure step gives you the courage to take another that you hope will also support you long enough to keep hopping.

And you know what? There are times when one steps out in faith into a vulnerable position and you free fall for a little bit. It doesn't feel safe at all. You have to seriously consider whether you just made a terrible, awful mistake. There is no immediate reward of a sense of safety. There is only faith, and the assurance faith gives you can be like a vaguely flickering light. This might last for weeks, months, or years. It kinda sucks.

But then the pieces come together, the lights come on, and you see all the risk and faith was perfectly reasonable.

I think if I were to watch my life like a movie running from God's perspective, I might see the action  differently. I think I would see the Holy Spirit orchestrating opportunity after opportunity to answer my desire to be drawn close to God. To God, the lights are always on. And He constantly sends the message: Trust Me. Be brave. Step forward. Yes, you feel all a mess because, in places, you are a mess. But I madly love you, and want to enter all that mess, all those margins, with My mercy. And then you can go and be My mercy to others so they might receive it, too.

When we feel accompanied in a place of our vulnerability, our hearts open wide. God's mercy is able to enter, and tremendous things result. Old pains are healed. We realize we are lovable and we can start to bask in being loved. Our thinking and our actions change as a result. We experience conversion.

But something else can happen when third parties witness experiences of vulnerability in others. This stirs up their own sense of vulnerability, from which they are busy hiding themselves. When these people start to feel their vulnerability, instead of feeling accompanied by witnessing God's mercy to a soul, they feel alone and left out. They shut down. They harden. They hunker down in their position of rejecting God's mercy and love or snap themselves out of any faint stirrings they felt towards openness and receiving. They push others away with layers of whatever they protect themselves with. They may resort to expressions of hatred, ridicule, and violence, or more respectable responses like indifference, eye-rolling, or the pursuit of distractions. Anything but the courage to believe that God's mercy is for them, too.

Sometimes I struggle to respect the delicate space where others hide their vulnerability. I have exercised so much courage, sometimes rather gruffly, for myself, that I forget that I cannot come ramming at full steam into the heart and life of another. And perhaps more often than not, fear of my own "full steam" will cause me to stall out before I get to the place where I can actually be of help to someone who desires it from me.

Because surely God has not tutored me with this bizarre gift that I railed against and rejected for so long just for the fun of it. Everything God gives to each one is for everyone.

So show me, Lord, how you gave me this for someone else. Or, at least make it a benefit for someone else, whether I see it or not.

Monday, September 15, 2014

My Word in Silence: Apostolic Love

This last weekend I was on a silent retreat whose theme was mercy. This was a genuine experience of God's grace for everyone I spoke with (and there were about 60 of us there). There is much that I will be able to bask in and meditate on and practice with for months to come. But I also came away with a word, a phrase really, that wasn't so much a part of the theme or the preaching, but it was simply from God for me. Really, yes, it has everything to do with God's mercy for me.

There is a reality that I have experienced and grown in for years, and have been able to identify, to feel, to mourn the lack of, to long for, to be called to -- and yet I never had a word for it. It wasn't, I think, because I lacked the creativity or the intelligence to know what to call it. It was more like God wanted it to stay in the realm of the ineffable for me. So it could do its work in me without my being able to communicate about it with any precision. But now He has given me the word.

And the word is this: apostolic love.

No, not Christian love; not spiritual love; not spiritual friendship; not apostolic zeal.

But apostolic love.

This is a love that is born from the cross of Christ in the hearts of those who share in it. It is a love that wants to stand shoulder-to-shoulder and move out into the world to bring Christ's love to those who do not know Christ's love. It inspires risk and work and joy and pain. It creates a bond that is not about cementing people to each other, but about a common drawing to the cross of Christ, which is the freeing unity of becoming His bond-slaves. It means giving one's life for Christ by giving it to Christ's people. It is the bond of unity in the Holy Spirit -- the person's unity with Christ and unity with fellow-Christian.

It takes incredible faith to move into this, because there is tremendous personal cost involved. This experience of unity with Christ and other souls requires the experience of Christ's cross.

It is what the Bishop-martyrs testify to: St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. John Chrysostom, St. Paul with the Ephesians in Acts 20.

When Christian life is calculated on the basis of intellectual assent to dogmatic or moral norms and lame "moral choices" made while ensconced on the comfortable couch of one's luxuries, all this zealous vigor of apostolic love gets drained and we are left with lifeless, fruitless, motionless religiosity that, I believe, is the essence of what made Jesus want to spew the Laodiceans out of his mouth.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Detachment and the Prophetic Vocation

Several months ago I started to feel sort of spiritually stalked by the prophets of Scripture. Actually, truth be told, I've always felt an affinity to them, especially to Elijah. But roughly a year ago it was like they were closing in on me, tugging on me and speaking to my heart.

At first this made me feel self-conscious and strange, mostly because prophets seem weird and awesome. Whenever I've heard a reading proclaimed at Mass from a prophet or about a prophet, I've always been intrigued more about how the message impacted the prophet than the impact of the message on the people. My fascination always took that shape. So, this tugging I felt troubled me a bit.

Slowly I have realized the obvious: God has called me to be a Carmelite. The Carmelite vocation is prophetic. Well, duh.

Actually, the Christian vocation is prophetic. But the Christian vocation is everything. It used to scandalize me that within the Catholic Church there were unique paths for individuals. I was scandalized because I only knew how to think in terms of being "right." How could both Franciscans and Jesuits be "right" about their spirituality?! One may as well ask how blue and yellow can both be "right." "Blue is blue and must be that, but yellow is none the worse for it" the poem goes.

And I have learned, am learning, that to follow in the footsteps of our holy father Elijah, I need all this stuff that God has been investing Himself into teaching me in these last years: courage, detachment, obedience, detachment, a listening heart, detachment, freedom of tongue, detachment, fearlessness, detachment. And detachment. Did I mention detachment?

Detachment is not about aloofness. It is about having my whole orientation governed by dependence on and union with God, and not by my own preferences and tastes, fears or obsessions. It is learning to go when God says go, to stop when God says stop, to speak and be silent whenever God says speak or be silent. It seems also to mean not to put my expectations in myself, and to accept my own limitations and frailty. But it also means to never, ever excuse myself from following through on what my conscience tells me to do, even though I'm aware my conscience is fallible. God throws His voice sometimes. He might very well plant a directive that, at the time, seems to have no use at all. But faith responds and the light comes later.

Mostly, I guess, detachment teaches me that I belong to Christ and His Body, which are much bigger than I am. When I do what is mine, others can function. And yet, I'm not a cog. I also grow in freedom and self-possession when I give myself to God and others. I give, and I become more, not less.

Inside me, being prophetic seems to be about asking the Lord to speak, move, live, love, minister and be present through me. Sometimes the Lord does that in ways that feel a bit freaky. But mostly the Lord works quietly, peacefully, and humbly, and this is the part I struggle to master. So much to let go of. So much truth to welcome in and allow to penetrate. Such a great Mystery to adore.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Unnatural Attachment to Chaos

Today is the feast of St. Rose of Lima. This morning I read this from her writings:

Let all men know that grace comes after tribulation. Let them know that without the burden of afflictions it is impossible to reach the height of grace.... This is the only true stairway to paradise, and without the cross they can find no road to climb to heaven.

We cannot obtain grace unless we suffer afflictions...

No one would complain about his cross or about troubles that may happen to him, if he would come to know the scales on which they are weighed when they are distributed to men.

Last year when I read this same thing on her feast day, I remember being struck by this truth that graces come to us through our crosses, or rather through our experience of Christ's cross.

But this morning, something rather different struck me.

Yes, there's the natural shrinking from what is unpleasant. But I believe in this generation there is another problem as well: there is sometimes an unnatural gravitation towards chaos, turmoil and self-inflicted pain.

There's something in the psyche of one who has experienced childhood chaos, turmoil and pain that has taught us that somehow these are where to seek comfort. No, it doesn't make sense, and I think those who repeat this cycle have some level of awareness of its absurdity. The mixture of this kind of mentality with religion is terribly toxic and, I believe, deceptive. One could read St. Rose's words and glory in reproducing or mentally wallowing in life's pains, making them worse than they need to be. For the non-religious person, the reproduction or the wallowing will be there anyway, but not so much the glorying. The saint might give this religious person an excuse to keep living in bondage to injury.

The key to breaking out of this cycle is detachment from one's own will, even the will to "endure pain." St. Rose makes it clear that the cross she describes is something that happens, something given to us, not something created by us. If I have a dreadfully messy house in which I can never find anything, that is not a cross given to me by God; it is something I have created. If I bemoan the fact that no one ever calls me, that is something I can remedy by reaching out to others. It would be wrong for me to sit at home and feel despised and glory in this, thinking I am winning souls to God this way. The gift God makes of suffering, and salutary penances I can choose have absolutely nothing to do with twisted self-punishment.

Sometimes we cling to the only security blankets we have ever known. If pain or generalized discomfort is life-long, it can actually become a crutch, something we don't know how to live without. Submission of our will to God will need to take the form of welcoming and receiving His love, peace, and joy. "Be loved!" and "be happy!" can, for some souls, be the hardest commands to which to respond "Yes, Lord."

Monday, August 11, 2014

Reflections on the Walking Pilgrimage to Czestochowa

Yesterday my two kids and I returned from a four day walking pilgrimage from Great Meadows, NJ to the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa. I was really excited about it, with more than a little apprehension about whether I could physically handle it, or whether my kids would either be crushed or complain bitterly against me for suggesting we do this.

They both loved it. My asthmatic daughter had not one breathing problem. Everyone was tired, but no one complained. I don't want to use the cliche "it was amazing," because really, it was walking. And praying. And sleeping in tents with a couple thousand people doing the same within inches of you. And lining up for porta potties. And eating more wheat than I have in a long time. And being in the hot sun. And no longer caring what you look like. And thinking a chance for both water AND soap in significant quantities is luxurious. And remembering the pain of not understanding the language at Mass, but experiencing how rich it actually makes you feel to suck all the life out of the one bit you do understand.

The whole thing was a grace, and an offering of love.

Things confirmed to me:

i) The key to joy in life is penance. Penance is suffering experienced and offered back to God out of love for Him and for someone else. Like King David said in 2 Sam. 24:24, offering something to God that doesn't cost you anything doesn't cut it. If you want to tell God you love Him, let it cost you your comfort. If you want to tell God you love someone and you want Him to work in them, let it cost you your comfort. Love costs and love seeks to give of itself. When we habitually live for our comforts our lives become grey and empty.

ii) Witnessing to Jesus means telling Him we love Him, in public, so someone else sees and hears. Maybe it isn't the literal act of walking through the streets and singing "I love you Jesus," like we did, but doing that literal act makes it all the clearer in my mind that corporal and spiritual works of mercy are simply ways we tell Jesus we love Him. It is possible, of course, to do right things for wrong reasons, and going through the streets singing about how we love God is a great way to hose out dead stuff.

iii) Other people are really, really important, but they aren't God. And if "people" take up positions in our hearts that need to be filled by God, they are idols and we are idolaters. Only God can purify our hearts and make them at home with Him so that we do not have to bend to whatever our culture demands as the social idolatry du jour. Only God gives us freedom to love people authentically. And true love calls for courage to be different.


There was a moment when I felt grace ripping through my heart right towards the end of the pilgrimage. We were getting ready for our last turn up to the Shrine, and the CFR friar musicians who were leading us with music broke out into this, sung to the tune of "Sweet Home Alabama":

Sweet Home Czestochowa
Where the Lady's dressed in blue
Sweet Home Czestochowa
Mom, I'm coming home to you

Now, doing this sort of thing, changing words to pop/rock songs, was the first real way I prayed as a kid. It's just sooo liturgically incorrect! But it's such a pure expression of joy and love, in a nitty-gritty and childlike way for me. I just wept with the joy of being able to be me, asserting *me* into relationship with the Blessed Mother, and by extension, with God, just as I am with all my uniquity. It was like I realized I am fulfilling a desire of God when I am fully me. And that is mind blowing.

The bottom line is: you should do this pilgrimage thing, too. Follow the Lord in penance with people proclaiming how much they love God. It isn't about doing anything perfectly. It's about doing it. And you know what they say about how God is never outdone in generosity. That part's true.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Fasting and Humility

I really could have said that the three themes for fasting this week (instead of gratitude, right submission of authority and humility) are humility, humility, and humility. Because fasting really only boils down to that.

When I first associated with people who fasted regularly (as a non-denominational charismatic) and I started fasting with them, I had no one who taught me what it meant. They only vaguely swept me along in what we did: refrain from eating. Now, by nature I stop eating when I'm stressed. So I vaguely formed myself in fasting with this thought that what God really wanted from me was to inflict some kind of misery upon myself, some kind of deprivation, so that I would get brownie points from God. I didn't articulate it so clearly to myself, but I see now that's what I believed as I tried to imitate the people I saw around me.

The same mentality stayed with me after I became a Catholic and actually started fasting more often.

The fact that I never got cozy with this vague notion seemed both to fit my idea of what fasting is, and fight against it.

And then I had this moment of revelation that involved Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery." I realized that, like the people in her fictitious town, I was trying to make a sacrificial offering of myself to buy something spiritual. The bullhorn of spiritual correction from the Lord to me was that Jesus had already done that, and my attempt to substitute myself for Him for the salvation of the world was prideful, death-wishing spiritual masochism.

Fasting is not about that.

Fasting is about humility.

Fasting is about acknowledging that I am needy and that I cannot fill myself with what I most need; I must receive it. I am a beggar before God, but I am a deeply loved beggar who tends towards deafness when my Lover calls to me. Fasting is not about getting God to hear me. It is about acknowledging that He always hears me... every excuse, every doubt, every over-confident assertion. It is about my coming back to Reality, which is where God dwells.

It is about opening my eyes to see. It is about opening wide my mouth, so that God may fill it.

So let's pray. Let's fast. Let's turn to God and wait for Him to act. Let's let Him change us.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Few Thoughts on Fasting and Parental Authoriity

The second thing on my mind about Friday's day of fasting is this matter of a check-up, a little moment of reckoning, where my handling of parental authority is concerned.

Becoming a parent is a little bit like becoming a child all over again, or at least it was for me. There's the newness, the excitement, the ease in recognizing the sacredness of it all. But there is also the cluelessness, the hardheadedess, the perfectionism, the heeding of any voice that sounds remotely authoritative. There is so much we have to learn, especially if we did not spend our youth caring for an assortment of babies and children.

Learners though we must be, parents also have authority.

Yesterday as I was walking I witnessed a doe carefully checking out the road before she and her fawn quickly shot across it to the woods on the opposite side. Somehow, the intelligent instinct she demonstrated reminded me of that fact that holy authority must not only lead, but follow. The parent out in front is all the child sees, but that parent must operate not only by knowledge, wisdom and that famous parental "instinct," but also by consciously following the grace of God, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the example of Jesus Christ.

Jesus said that worldly leaders lord it over their subjects, but that it must not be that way with His followers. We lord it over others when we mistake ourselves as the ultimate and others as essentially unequal to us.

So in this fast I feel called to lay my call of authority in my children's lives down before God, to remember again that I follow Him, that He (not my comfort or my ego) is my ultimate desire for myself and for them. I can do what I can do, and I cannot do what I cannot do. And 99.9% of the time, I'm a bit murky on exactly what falls into which of those two categories. That's why I must follow.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Few Thoughts about Fasting and Gratitude

Some Encounter. parents are embarking on a day of prayer and fasting for our families, and in light of that I'm sharing a few thoughts on fasting and gratitude.

Someone recently sent me this:

And ain't that the truth. There's our ideal world of how we think we'd like life to be, and then there's reality. Reality is messy because nature is messy, and reality is also messy because we are sinners in a sinful world. For 20 years it has blown my mind to contemplate the Incarnation for this very reason. God came to live in the midst of our messy reality, and in doing so, He redeemed it. It's amazing.

The gratitude I feel called to in this fast is the gratitude that looks at messy reality and accepts it. With a smile. And not because I'm some stupid Pollyanna or Stepford Wife that keeps smiling in the face of the craptitude of life. But because God proved His love for us in the person of Jesus Christ, who was born homeless and poor, whom others judged by their standards, and who died a violent death for no other reason than my eternal benefit. My life ain't perfect. I bear scars, my kids sin, my marriage is not St. Teresa's 7th mansion. God knows it. I know it. I accept it. And I thank God for all He does in my life, not in spite of the fact that I am a mess, but because of it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Elijah and the Widow

The daily Mass readings currently feature the prophet Elijah, legendary founder of the Carmelite order and my favorite Old Testament figure.

Here is a link to today's readings.

I always hear readings involving prophets as if from the shoes of the prophet. A lot strikes me about this exchange between Elijah and the widow. First off, of course one could look at God's provision, but think about it: Elijah faces death from drought, but God has a plan! An extremely poor woman (read: with no ability to economically support herself or anyone else) is going to provide for his needs! It's almost funny if you can hear the humor in it. The point is that the prophet must rely completely on God, and put no trust in "the normal way things work."

And not only that. Elijah also has to convince the widow of this. Yeah, lady, so you have nothing, and you are afraid of death. Well, God promises you provision. (Wait, I thought it was Elijah who had to believe that. I guess now we know why: he's supposed to call others to faith, too.) And she is so poor that she has nothing to lose, and she acts in faith. I'll bet Elijah was relieved. But the audacity of that request! Sure, you have a young son to care for, but hey, take care of me first! Why does acting on the Word of the Lord make the prophet appear like such a jerk? He was not egotistical; rather he knew that her response to him was her response to the Lord. And the Lord wants that total surrender because He wants to give Himself totally. He teaches Elijah this by demonstrating it in double layers to both him and the widow.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Meditations on the Pentecost Sequence

I'm putting into one place my novena's worth of meditations I wrote on the Pentecost sequence, Veni Sancte Spiritus. Here are the links, in order:

Come, O Father of the Poor
Sweet, Comforting, Refreshing Guest
Labor, Heat and Woe
Fearing the Light of the Holy Spirit
Nothing Without You
Wanting to "Look Good" for God
Scary Changes
Why Ask for the Gifts of the Holy Spirit
Give Us Virtue's Sure Reward

In short, what I've gleaned from reflecting on this Sequence is this: The entrance of the Holy Spirit gives light, but that light reveals sin, disorder, attachments, things that need healing and purification, further enlightenment, and an even greater need for the Holy Spirit's work. (Once upon a time I thought it was all about spiritual bling.)

The Holy Spirit's role is to transform us into other Christs. This is not only about inner purification, but also about real fruit born in ministry. But, it is also not only about outward fruit and ministry, but also about inner purification.

I have more to muse on regarding all this, but I'll save it for a future post.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Give us Virtue's Sure Reward

The final piece of the Pentecost sequence:

Give us virtue's sure reward
Give us your salvation, Lord
Give us joys that never end.
Amen. Alleluia.

Da virtutis meritum
Da salutis exitum
Da perenne gaudium
Amen. Alleluia.

Give reward of virtue, give us salvation at our passing on, give us eternal joy. Amen. Alleluia.

Just based on the feeling of words, I like that the word used for virtue (virtutis) is so close to the word for miracles (vertutis). I also like how the "Amen. Alleluia" is sung in chant so much that I've typed it three times. (Actually, four!) Some prayers are just so awesome that you can't conclude them any other way.

This prayer ends with the ultimate cry of faith. If we live in step with the Holy Spirit, undergoing purgings, prunings, choosing against selfishness and for love, choosing spiritual poverty and not living for sense gratification, I think we come to a point where we either rethink it all and revert to living in and for the flesh, or we bet everything on the way of Christ. And these concluding words are what is in the heart of those who have bet all. Sometimes we experience no evidence at all that choosing for God has a reward. But we are promised it. So we have hope for it. We cannot see what is on the other side of death, but we have come to know and love the One who has gone there. So we have faith in Him. And ultimately after living in Him we can imagine no other joy than to be with Him. That love will finally reach its pure fulfillment when we see His face in eternity.

These are the things that sustain martyrs and witnesses to the daily Yes to God. And when you and I add our Yes to their resounding chorus of Yeses, this is how the Church moves forward to our ultimate home.

Like I said, AMEN, ALLELUIA!

Friday, June 06, 2014

Why Ask for the Gifts of the Holy Spirit?

Today's piece of the Pentecost sequence:

On the faithful who adore
And confess you evermore
In your sevenfold gift descend

Da tuis fidelibus
In te confidentibus
Sacrum septenarium

Give to the faithful who trust in you the sacred sevenfold gifts.

This puts me in mind of a very basic truth of Christianity that was lost on me as a Protestant. I mean, I had been taught the concept, but I found too many (theo)logical loopholes in the rest of what I was taught so that this truth had no ability to grip my heart and convince my life. And that is simply that the point of living on earth as Christians is to live as Jesus did.

In fact, just a few days before I met the people who were to become instrumental in my experiencing the Holy Spirit in His charismatic dimension, I wrote a song called "We See But Darkly." And in the song I asked the question that plagued me in those days:  "If Jesus is my Lord, and God my Father/Why should I have to even bother with this earthly life?/Why can't I just go to heaven now?/What difference would it make, anyhow?"

The answer to that question is in what we beg for in this piece of the sequence.

We beg for the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit primarily because our life in Christ before entering heaven is about practicing love, and getting used to Divine Love. That entails being sanctified. Being sanctified has to do with embracing God's will, so that all of our energies are trained on what God most desires for us: Love of God and love of neighbor.

When wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, fortitude, piety and the fear of the Lord fill us, we are true to our name: Christian. Jesus is the Christ, the Anointed One, because He is in perfect union with the Holy Spirit, making visible the invisible God. We as His Body are called to do the same: make visible the invisible God.

God forms a people to live in the world and make Him known. That's what I missed as a Protestant, and that's why we ask for these gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Scary Changes

Today's piece of the Pentecost sequence:

Bend the stubborn heart and will
Melt the frozen, warm the chill
Guide the steps that go astray

Flecte quod est rigidum
Fove quod est frigidum
Rege quod est devium

So, sorta like this: Bend that which is rigid, warm that which is cold, make true that which has gone wrong.

I don't know about you, but I have been Queen of Rigid, Cold and Wrong. Empress, really.

Sometimes there is nothing scarier than the Holy Spirit bending you when you are rigid. Because really and truly, if you are actually able to discern that it is the Holy Spirit who is acting, you really think He is completely messing up your life. That rigidity is security. It's a standard. It feels so righteous. Well, except for the joyless, pained and isolated parts. Butthosearesoeasytoignore! Because, security!

When we trade our humanity for security, we are in big trouble.

And when God warms us? Another potential for confusion! Warmness entails nearness, and, dear me, nearness activates all sorts of puritanical fears. Too much warmness, and there might be a fire! We might really get purified!

What if our steps leave the path we are used to, even if our normal is just a weenzie bit wrong? Heck, we could end up anywhere if we open up to course correction. See earlier complaint about security.

But in this prayer we beg for the changes we might not even recognize we need. For Jesus to be Lord of my life means that I put my life at the disposal of the Holy Spirit to be refashioned until I look like Jesus. That will require a lifetime of course corrections, meltings and bendings. This is where trust come in. We've got to trust God's perspective. This is also where meditating on Scripture comes in! We need to know what Jesus looks like, so that shock of what the Holy Spirit sets out to do doesn't blow us out of the water. This is also where prayer comes in, so we can discuss with the Lord all the anxiety that sanctification provokes.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Wanting to "Look Good" for God

Today, I want to think about this piece of the Pentecost Sequence:

Heal our wounds, our strength renew
On our dryness, pour your dew
Wash the stains of guilt away

Lava quod est sordidum
Riga quod est aridum
Sana quod est saucium

The Latin is a bit more blunt: wash that which is dirty, water that which is dry, heal that which is wounded. I like that, perhaps because with use, the English has lost some of its punch for me in these lines. Jesus did not come for the (self-) righteous, but for sinners, and the better grasp we have on our need for God's mercy, the better shape we are in for receiving it. I'm not sure where we get this goofy religious idea that we have to try to "dress up nice" to present ourselves to God so that we will be acceptable to Him. Where's the logic there? God knows all (or He wouldn't be God) and can see through me and understand me better than I know myself. If I were perfect without God, I would be God myself. And last I checked, I am not uncaused being.

Quite often, when I am in the communion procession at Mass, I think of the hymn "Just As I Am."
Just as I am, without one plea
But that Thy blood was shed for me
And that Thou biddst me come to Thee
O Lamb of God, I come....
I come to Jesus because He asks me to come. He desires me to come. It isn't because I have something He needs or because He's going to put me in a line-up to choose someone who is good enough to be in His company. He wants me to come to Him because that is who He is.

And this bit of the Pentecost sequence reminds me of who I am: wounded, parched (unable to sustain or produce anything of life), and stained by my sin. But the Holy Spirit, Lord and Giver of Life, who binds Father and Son and sends the Son into the world, desires to come to me and change me into the very image of Christ: Whole and healing, with a stream of living water that brings life wherever it goes, made pure and bringing purity.

That's awesome.