Sunday, April 21, 2013

Wrestling Out What I Want

Pope Francis strikes again.

Our deacon asked a simple question in his homily today. Basically it was "what do you want from the Lord?" and the challenge to bring that to Him as we received the Eucharist. I was not feeling that great this morning for various physical and non-physical reasons, and so it took me more than an instant to have all my thoughts tumble toward that very basic question.

And long after Mass ended and I was home, I remained pondering that question, trying to make my answer presentable to the Lord. Then I thought, heck, since when have I gone back to trying to package my heart to make it look presentable to the Lord? After all, it really isn't Him I'm trying to tidy up for, it's me. I'm the one who generally can't handle the raw state of my heart. The Lord knows it already, before I assemble any packaging.

But I've also learned that what I blurt out to the Lord in prayer as the raw state of my heart is sometimes not nearly as awful as I first feel it is. If you're not a vegetarian at least, a raw lump of meat might look unappetizing, while a nicely cooked steak might be very enticing. Same thing, only different level of preparation.

So as I lay there, trying to will my head to stop hurting, my phone alerted me to some incoming message, and I read this quote from Pope Francis: "Jesus wants to establish a relationship with his friends that is a reflection of His relationship with the Father, a relationship of mutual belonging in full trust, in intimate communion."

And I thought, well, isn't that nifty. Just take out the word "Jesus" (and His) and replace it with "Marie," and there you have it. That's exactly what I wanted to say to the Lord this morning in communion.

Have I mentioned I'm not having the greatest of days? I should create named-categories for not-great days, because this one certainly isn't a terrible not-great day. It's more like a 4 or 5 on a scale of 1 to 10. And for that I am grateful.

Tomorrow I have a meeting which will hopefully have a significant impact on the evangelization of my town. It's a convergence point for several spiritual developments that have been happening in and through not only my life, but the lives of several others. Many people's prayers are accompanying me into that meeting. Just before the last meeting like this, something that doesn't seem directly connected (but, duh, it's all God-stuff) blew up at me and I immediately wanted to respond, "oh, forget all this evangelization stuff." The thing that blew up actually served to help the cause along. It was an obvious temptation.

And what I'm muddling through today seems an obvious sort of down-pulling too.

See, I couldn't help but think that I can't ask the Lord for anything any more, at least not for me, because I only seem to want impossible things. Just give up. Stop praying. Listen to people who tell me it is all hopeless. Focus on all the sin, the problems, the never-ending weakness/mistake/imperfection muck that we all live in and around. Seems the only thing I could think of that would make me happy is being in heaven. Even that, in my head, I know is a prideful cop-out. 

Was just having one of those oh crap, I'm so sick of it all waves.

And then I read this thing the Pope said today. Probably is homily in tweet form again, like last week. "Jesus wants to establish a relationship with his friends that is a reflection of His relationship with the Father, a relationship of mutual belonging in full trust, in intimate communion."

That really is what I want, too. I want relationships with people that reflect the Trinity. I know it is possible for mere humans. It only takes dying to oneself, and living through Christ. That's all. 

What other real fruit is there of evangelization? Because we are human beings, holy relationships mean that we all have to help each other. We are allowed imperfections, but we are not allowed to wallow in them. I want to be able to turn to someone and be corrected by them, with the same love that I correct them. I am allowed to bemoan my own weakness and cry out to God for help. We need to acknowledge to ourselves and to each other our need for God. If we can't do that, we stay fake and useless and prideful. But we also absolutely need to stop pretending that God hasn't bestowed His life and His gifts on us for the good of other people, even if we feel like crud. Believe what God says, not what you feel. It is crucial to me that you believe and bear witness to Christ. It is crucial to you that I believe and bear witness to Christ. Belonging to each other isn't some emotional luxury, some warm-n'-fuzzy. It is how we survive life. It is how they will know we are Christians. It is the only proof of God to the world that there is. God designed it that way. What a horrendous work of Satan when people run from opening their hearts in any meaningful way to the Lord, to their fellow Christians. Because if you think you are open to the Lord when you are closed to other people, I mean like unable to open yourself, you are living in delusion. 

So open wide the doors to Christ. May it be so in my life, in my parish, in my town, and despite the opposition.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Run With Me through the Little Rabbit Trails...

While I am still very much with the Pope's Sunday homily on what it means to worship, along with other must-blog bits, I also wanted to run through the rabbit trails leading to how a certain homily struck me today. (I have a purposeful, but energetic rabbit, by the way. We aren't going nowhere, but we might go everywhere.)

I was once very legitimately asked, in spiritual direction, "When you say 'God told me...', how is it that you know God told you something?

It's a very good question, because it isn't like I have a broadcast receiver inside my head, picking up audible or telegraphed messages from God. I do believe that heaven communicates to people very frequently, far more frequently than we generally realize. If we a) knew how to listen and b) wanted to know, and believe we would realize this is true.

I also believe that people can get very, very goofy with this, to the point of gross self-delusion. I knew a woman in her 50s who had had hysterectomy who was convinced God told her she was pregnant, and I've heard claim of a "prophetic sweat stain." I have plenty stories of my own stupid and painful mistakes like this, too. I admire the courage it takes to go out on a limb to share what one believes has been "a message," but alas, some limbs climbed out upon only make one plummet to terra firma below. And that, really, is a mercy.

Because there is validity to God directing us in subtle and more direct ways, and mistakes serve the purpose of teaching us to discern the valid from the invalid. God does direct! In the Catholic tradition there is the term "actual grace." This is a gift God gives that tells us, in a particular situation "go there, do that, say this, give these." One might "just have a feeling" one should do something, and then later discover that it was one link in a chain of events that was very significant. It generally takes humility to respond to something like that; it seems there is always a hint of "I might look stupid if I follow through with it" involved. Sometimes we reason ourselves into comfort and safety -- and then wonder why our lives are so dull and unsatisfying. God will take you on an adventure if you give yourself to Him without reservation.

Ok, so meandering back to the point I began with: how today's homily struck me.

This morning, I got up before dawn to pray the Office of Readings. The fact that I did this is a grace in and of itself, and I'll explain why. First, in the fall when I was in a particularly bad way and I was inspired to ask the Lord for specific direction, one of those directions was to get up early. Yeah, great. I've only struggled with getting up in the morning my entire life. But then, several weeks later, I specifically sensed the Lord say to me at Mass to pray and fast for X for a certain amount of time, and I knew right away that the fast that was fitting was that I would get up earlier than normal. The following day, I learned of the huge need that X had on their hands, that I didn't know about the day before. A couple weeks after that time was finished, a friend commented in passing on Facebook about the Benedictine rule of getting up the moment one wakes in the morning. My conscience was pricked, and I knew I was being called to embrace that. The following day, I lazed around in bed, mulling over that call (and not getting up). It was an awful day; I felt like God allowed me to go through that day devoid of all sense of consolation. The following day I got up at 6 to pray, and (with the exception of one very bad day that I went on strike) I have gotten up early to pray every day since then. That was over four months ago.

So I was up early and praying. That was a gift right there. After I finished those prayers, I simply drew into silence for a few moments. My mind went to Bl. Titus Brandsma. He is a Carmelite martyr, and that much I knew, but since I haven't yet met everyone in my new Carmelite family, I didn't know much more of him. Yesterday, however, when I was with my kids in Pittsburgh, I happened to come across a picture of him. I thought about this, and then about how I'd read that sometimes when God wants to communicate something to us through the life of one of his saints, they'll just show up in our paths like this. So, I paid attention to that, and made a mental note to check into his writings. And since my mental notes often get lost, I jumped right on it and googled him on my phone while waking my kids up. I read a letter he wrote to his sister a few days before he was executed while in Dachau, being beaten daily, and having medical experiments done on him. It was filled with friendly and polite inquiries into the well-being of his fellow priests, and ended with "Not too much worrying about me." As if he were on a summer beach holiday. Another account told how he would ask all his fellow prisoners to pray for the guards and Nazis, that they would be converted.

Then, I read that he would shout out "Not my will but yours be done!" while he was being tortured and experimented upon.

Immediately upon reading that it hit me that God's will, in these circumstances, is for a huge and mysterious good that is far beyond human comprehension. The Lord did not say this, and saints do not say this in a sense of being a doormat to a vengeful God who is full of blood lust who demands and loves to watch suffering. Masochism is sick, not saintly. Saints know that, having been created by God, the safest and most glorious place for their lives to hide is in His will, even if it means the ultimate physical loss.

I was mulling this over while I prayed Lauds with my friends. The Scriptures spoke to me (constant theme) of the anawim: those who humble themselves to the dust, know they are powerless, and who put all their hope, trust and confidence in God who alone is all powerful.

Then I went to Mass, still with the scent of these thoughts surrounding me. The homily was on doing the will of God, and how it generally is easy to do, and obvious. Frankly, I was a bit disappointed. I found myself praying for the priest (who is not my pastor!) to be roughed up and graced with some new challenge to his spiritual life. Does that sound harsh? But honestly, no. For us to do God's will always involves some true giving of ourselves, and true giving brings on at least a bit of hurt, a bit of sacrifice. That ain't always easy. Because when we do God's will, it is only by God's grace. When we do stuff by God's grace, we do it like He would do it. We sacrifice. We extend. We give ourselves, and because we live in this same world of sin into which the Lord is constantly pouring Himself, sometimes what we give gets refused, gets ignored. When we love with Jesus' love, we experience some of the pain Jesus receives, too, even if it is mild. But sometimes an act of grace is met with torture and execution, even.

And I thought back to a dream I had in Japan that was very instructive to me. I was in my 6th grade classroom (quite a symbol of suffering!), and at the head of the room was Jesus on His cross. First I saw Mary looking at Him and asking others to look at Him. Then I was with her, doing what she was doing. Most people were not looking, but chatting with each other, laughing, or just otherwise busy. Occasionally someone would look up, and their demeanor would change. It made Mary suffer greatly that so few would pay attention.

I think sometimes we sail through our Christian lives thinking we are being morally great. But if we aren't looking at Jesus, if we don't contemplate why He suffered, if we don't consider that love hung Him there -- we are missing everything. If we miss love, we miss everything. If His crucified love does not grip our hearts and draw our affection and our wills to Him, to love and give to the point of ouch, then damn our do-gooding.

So, that's my little homily comment, and the path that brought me there.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

What it Means to Worship God

I feel like I have been hanging on every word coming from Pope Francis in the month since his election. Just about everything I read intensifies a heavy, sweet, throbbing, bursting longing in my heart. As is common for me when this intensity hits, at the moment I can't really explain how I know this ... but this Pope means something for my life's moving forward. It's not just his nice words that grip me. This is about moving my life forward, or it has to be about that, "or I will die." I think I've come to know by now that when this phrase spontaneously erupts from me it is because God is leading me somewhere, and, yeah, eventually there is some form of death involved. Well, heck, that's Christianity. So yeah, somehow God is calling me.

What I read this morning (a papal tweet of all things!) was this: "Worshiping God means learning to be with him, stripping away our hidden idols and placing him at the centre of our lives." It struck me at once that this was both profound and obvious, once it was said.

But it also struck me that I have spent a lot of time in the last four years blogging my little heart out trying to discern in my own life and define just as pithily what "worshiping God" means for me. And so Pope Francis has given me a tremendous, monumental insight into my own life. Profound, and obvious. In other words, naru hodo. Big fat naru hodo.

Ok, brain, let's put these thoughts in order.


Way back when, back in my 20s in my pentecostal days, twice I received a prophetic message (meaning people prophesied to me) that God had called me to teach people to worship. "Worship" in those days meant (on my radar screen) mostly to sing to God in church. I was sometimes a Sunday night worship leader, and also a home fellowship worship leader, so in the context that I understood what it meant to lead worship, I was already doing that. But it always sort of stuck out of my heart like a nail out of wood that you catch stuff on when you go past it that the phrase was "teach people to worship" not "lead worship."

But after I became a Catholic, a lot of my pentecostal experiences sort of went to one side in a "yes, but I'm not really sure anymore what that was about" pile. 

Starting about six years ago, I started rediscovering, shall we say, communal music. Then one Sunday after Mass it occurred to me that I should become a cantor. About a year later there was that Epiphany day that I fell backwards into my parish choir. Strange and powerful things started happening to me. I'm frankly used to powerful and strange things happening in my life, but that doesn't mean that each new thing isn't a complete shock to me. What I realize now is that God was teaching me to worship Him, even while I was learning how to lead in worship in a Catholic liturgical setting.

Learning to be with God. I knew how to be silent. I knew how to be introspective. I knew how to be alone and have my relationship with God. But I did not really, really know how to experience God in the midst of His people. Being in the midst of people was always kind of hard for me, a big risk, something I didn't know well how to do without bartering away my soul. And to be honest, I was always afraid that I would discover that it just wasn't true -- that God could not be found in the lives of normal Catholics. That's why I went 16 years as a Catholic without joining a choir. I was afraid that I would knock and find nobody home. 

But instead, God inundated, walloped, overwhelmed, flooded my soul with a knowledge of His Church being my family. My real and only place of belonging. And how? Because I couldn't sing random harmonies as I felt like it. Mundane concrete detail; profound, life-altering spiritual exchange.

Stripping away our hidden idols. Ok, ouch. Idols are things we give ourselves to because we believe they will make us happy, but instead they ensnare us. And they basically hide within the recesses of our unexamined minds, souls, and lives. I learned quickly in this process that a big idol for me was certain friendships where I did not, or felt I could not, exercise the freedom to be myself. To be the person God created me to be. It was this nasty trap of sabotaging my own dignity, and again, in this choir context God quickly showed me that respect of personal dignity was not only what God demanded of people in relationship with each other, but also what He expected me to accord myself.

I also had a gargantuan hidden idol of my own self-estimation as a wonderful, upright and holy Catholic woman. Well that one sure got shot all to hell. God probably expended most of his energy on this lesson right here. For one thing, in this whole ordeal I went through no less than three periods of temptation to atheism, seriously questioning whether this God I struggled against even existed. Probably the only commandment that didn't get a serious temptation workout was the honoring your father and mother bit, but probably only because I had trashed that one so much as a child I didn't need to go over it any more. Stinking, reeking pride cannot worship God.

Placing Him at the center of our lives.  This part was interesting. I've written a lot about a spiritual ordeal of the last year, and now I see that this was what that part was all about. It was connected to what I've written above, and so much that I haven't written. After all the powerful and strange, the blessing, the healing, the peace that came after wrestling free of hidden idols, the Lord wanted to see who I would choose Lord of this new place He was opening up in my life, this deeper-than-before center of all. Would it be Him? Or would it be me? It's easy to assent to the Lord with one's words and one's will, but it is another thing entirely when that cross starts messing with you. Because the real Lord Jesus always comes with His real cross. Therefore real worship means a surrender of one's life, a dying to oneself. Jesus at the center means the Lord is the one with the power, not me. It means being anawim. It means dying and being buried and knowing that I, in my person, do not have the power of resurrection. Only God can do that. He will, but I must wait and trust. 

So, in reflecting one little papal tweet, I can summarize the most dramatic spiritual odyssey of my life to date. Pretty powerful stuff. Yet another gift God has given me. God's gifts always have such interesting timing, too...


P.S.  From the Holy Father's April 14 homily, here's the expansion on that tweet:

You, I, do we worship the Lord? Do we turn to God only to ask him for things, to thank him, or do we also turn to him to worship him? What does it mean, then, to worship God? It means learning to be with him, it means that we stop trying to dialogue with him, and it means sensing that his presence is the most true, the most good, the most important thing of all. All of us, in our own lives, consciously and perhaps sometimes unconsciously, have a very clear order of priority concerning the things we consider important. Worshiping the Lord means giving him the place that he must have; worshiping the Lord means stating, believing – not only by our words – that he alone truly guides our lives; worshiping the Lord means that we are convinced before him that he is the only God, the God of our lives, the God of our history.

This has a consequence in our lives: we have to empty ourselves of the many small or great idols that we have and in which we take refuge, on which we often seek to base our security. They are idols that we sometimes keep well hidden; they can be ambition, a taste for success, placing ourselves at the centre, the tendency to dominate others, the claim to be the sole masters of our lives, some sins to which we are bound, and many others. This evening I would like a question to resound in the heart of each one of you, and I would like you to answer it honestly: Have I considered which idol lies hidden in my life that prevents me from worshiping the Lord? Worshiping is stripping ourselves of our idols, even the most hidden ones, and choosing the Lord as the centre, as the highway of our lives. Dear brothers and sisters, each day the Lord calls us to follow him with courage and fidelity; he has made us the great gift of choosing us as his disciples; he sends us to proclaim him with joy as the Risen one, but he asks us to do so by word and by the witness of our lives, in daily life. The Lord is the only God of our lives, and he invites us to strip ourselves of our many idols and to worship him alone. May the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Paul help us on this journey and intercede for us.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

He Passed the Trial by Fire

Last night I saw Michael Nesmith in concert in Pittsburgh. It was a surreal experience in many ways. My husband and I approached the venue (70 minutes before the concert started, with all the other fans with OCD. Well, there's only so long you can eat dinner, right?). The first thing I spotted was two ladies wearing green wool hats. They and another friend were loudly discussing the Video Ranch website (Mike's merch outlet) and Monkees aps. Another woman wore her First National Band t-shirt. I then realized I was not the only geek, as I was also wearing my (vintage 1986) Nez t-shirt. As we were split into ticket-haves and ticket-have-nots, a man in front of me commented on my t-shirt, and showed me his Headquarters CD he proudly carried with him. I was amused, and just a little freaked out, over these and other proofs of the sort of instant bonding geekdom creates. It didn't matter that none of us knew each other. We all smiled a bit at each other because we all knew him. And obviously some people wanted it really known just how much they belonged in this fellowship.

So we sat there (yes, mere spouses of fans stood out a bit) waiting for the concert, and I was a bit awash in the humanity of it all. That doesn't happen to me real often.

I admit that when he walked onto the stage, I cried. Not cried like those videos of screaming teens at Beatles concerts. I mean cried, like a breath of anticipation that you've held in for, oh, maybe 35 years and finally exhaled. There he is. He is real.

See, I was a Monkees fan as a kid, but something about Michael Nesmith pierced more deeply into my soul than being a fan. I'm a fan of Paul McCartney, too, but if I would happen to see him in a similar concert (and I'm not even sure I'd bother going), there would be no comparison to the meaning last night's event held for me. You could say that I had a crush on him as a kid, I guess, but (as is my constant refrain), it really was more complicated than that. It was more that I wanted to be him. Intensely.

Whatever I understood about that desire in the past, I have come to understand it better after last night.

It seems to me that the reality of purgatory means that everything must be tested by fire. Fire does not mean destruction; fire in this case means Love. I had more than a moment's trepidation about buying tickets for this concert because I think I was afraid that this soul-piercing meaning would not stand the test any better than when I went to a Monkees reunion concert in the 80s. That was when I realized that the childhood fun the Monkees provided me was rooted in nothing much. The three silly young men (Mike did not do that tour with them) had grown into three silly old men who were still trying to turn a buck based on the antics of their youth. So, without thinking it through rationally, my emotions braced themselves for being disappointed in what I would perceive when finally seeing this influential figure in person. I prepared myself for my childhood dream going up in smoke. Nope, there was nothing special there after all. Stop dreaming, and live in reality.

So when he walked on the stage and I cried, the tears were perhaps trying to figure out whether they were saying hello or goodbye.

He did a slew of songs, most of which I knew, though some were new to me. And he introduced each one with a story, painting a scene like a movie vignette so you could picture the "he" and "she" characters. He used correct grammar, complete sentences with no slang, and lots of big words. Yep, I knew it was him. His lyrics, and the stories he shared, communicated profound meanings, of people accepting loss, facing difficulty, being brave, kind, gentle, honest, spiritual. He respectfully honored the very talented musicians who were his band. During the show I found myself internally yelling: I still want to be Mike Nesmith!!

A three-second gesture at the close of his final encore made my eyes and heart go wide for a moment. For a moment it seemed maybe I was Mike Nesmith. Acknowledging his audience's applause, he did about a nose-high namaste hand gesture. I do that, but (I suddenly realized) in reference to only one person, now that I don't live in Japan, and usually only at the sign of peace at Mass. (Although that usual got pretty unusual in the last several months.) But I know from the inside out what that means when I do it. It was a little unique, to say the least, to see him do the same thing.

I came home saturated with the experience, and mulled it over in that highly sensitive state my brain is in when it is near either side of sleep. And then, early this morning like every other, I headed to my friend Iwona's home for Lauds. For our opening hymn we sang a new praise chorus she had introduced for the first time just the day before. When I heard it Tuesday, I thought, well, that's a banal, generic praise chorus. This morning, my humanity feeling far more absorbent than usual, the song soaked in quickly, went deep and forced out the tears, and my understanding. The part that bit was this:

Constant through the trial and the change
One thing… Remains [repeat]

Your love never fails, never gives up
Never runs out on me [3x]

On and on and on and on it goes
It overwhelms and satisfies my soul
And I never, ever, have to be afraid
One thing remains

There is one thing that has always been true, even when I didn't realize it: God loves. God loves me. I am loved, me, by Him.

It's personal. Persons love persons, if love is real, that is. I've had every factor in that simple equation wrong, but one of the hardest things for me to take in in my life is that God calls me to be myself. I have been aware of it since my 20s, when I started toward the Catholic Church. But now I realize that my fascination with Mike Nesmith was, in ways I didn't even understand, an inclination towards God's desire for me to be me. I'm not Mike, but there are things about who he really is that resonate with who I really am. Without being really aware of it, I see now that I recognized in him someone who was showing me how to aspire to be truly human in a way that befits me. Humanity is a beautiful creation of God. We all fall short of God's full glory, but there is something powerful that can happen when we honor the gifts God has given us, and take the risks that put those gifts at the disposal of others.

One of those things is that the real me, I, can experience love. The real thing. The One Thing that never changes. The One Thing that is more real than I am. When I'm faking, I'm also closing myself off from love, from God. But when I'm real, without fear I can reach to you and say, you know what? One Thing is true for you, too. You are loved. The real you is loved by the real me, because of the One Thing that is more real than any of us. A fellowship is born that is much bigger than what forms around a musician. There is a fellowship that is born around Love. It's where real happens.

Wasn't it St. Catherine of Siena who said "Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire"? Mike is still honoring the gifts God has given him. Those gifts have resonated with me, and sparked a hope in our Creator before I could even put my finger on it.

So thank you, Lord, for your gift, and thank you, Michael, for your faithfulness to your gifts and for sharing them. Your special place in my heart is reasonable, and has passed the trial by the fire of love.

One Thing Remains

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Divine Mercy Sunday -- KABLAM!

There just ain't nothin' like Divine Mercy Sunday. God constantly finds ways to be awesome.

Since yesterday I was mulling over how it was time to go to confession. Thought about doing it yesterday, but I just wasn't in the zone. I figured I would jump in the long line this afternoon at the major Divine Mercy event at our Cathedral.

Ok. So, starting this morning I did more mulling. If you are anything like me, sometimes your prep for confession is bitingly obvious, and sometimes it is more of a spelunking challenge. Like, most of the challenge is "going in there." I am still, frankly, a bit messed up by my Lutheran upbringing when it comes to confession. Oh, sit back down, Lutheran friend. I just mean that I was so over-formed on the one hand on how everything I did was completely rotted out by sin so that I could not do one good thing, and on the other hand on how complete God's forgiveness is, that I am sometimes left feeling like I can't even breathe without sinning, but it doesn't really matter since God has already forgiven me. In short: I'm a wretch, but who cares!?

So it was kind of interesting today, of all days, how confession went. It was priest-pot luck at the Cathedral event, since you basically went to whichever one happened to be open at the moment you were next in line. I ended up with a priest whom I know (of), but had not confessed to in years. I started out with my planned lines, but then he started asking me things. My normal confessor almost never does that. And all of a sudden I moved away from the "I'm a wretch (but who cares)" mode I had kind if started out with, and started talking about that. I mean this mysterious path God has led me on for a year. I hadn't really intended to talk about that, although I had some references to it in my laundry list. And in a few short minutes, the priest still asking me things, we talked through the multiple steps of this arduous journey as if we were discussing driving directions to a place we both knew well. And then the priest tells me of an image the Lord is showing Him, and it is precisely how the Lord has given it to me to understand myself in this situation for several months. It was as if the Lord wanted to affirm through the mouth of his representative all the silent conversation we've had for months. And I just kept thinking, "I didn't mean to talk about this at all!" But the Lord knows exactly what my heart needs. And apparently, the Lord knows my heart needs to feel totally understood, enveloped, affirmed, accompanied, and sure that He's completely the boss of that.

So the upshot, the directive: stay with the joy. Examine it, delight in it. Play with God.

Which immediately reminds me of this: (Br. Neven Ivan, how I miss you!)

What is required to enter the kingdom of God is to become like a little child. Little children don't worry over understanding things, because they know to whom they look with trust and confidence. I don't care what else goes on, as long as I can see Your face. And even when I can't see It, I know where You are. Keeping myself safe and cared for is not my job, on this intensely internal spiritual level. You, Lord, are more present to me than I am to myself. Safe in Your embrace, I can do or say or risk anything You call me to. Anything.

Even holding a joy I can't explain. 

Friday, April 05, 2013

Theological Virtue of Faith

Excerpts drawn from "Theological Virtue of Faith" in the January/March 2013 Carmel Clarion. The article has no author attribution, but the editor is Fr. Regis Jordan, OCD. To request a subscription, see Carmel Clarion Communications.


God speaks; man responds. But man is not forced to respond. He can respond to the world instead; as if it were the only reality, as if it were his supreme value. He can respond to himself; as if his own ego is the central frame of reference, the sun which lights up and gives value to every other thing in his life. And yet a man is human, real and alive only to the extent that he respond first and foremost, above and through all other things, to God who speaks to him personally, calls him by name, loves him, and by His love creates and sustains him in being, and leads him unerringly to human fulfillment, divine union, vision, beatitude.

How can fallen man respond to the infinitely perfect love of God, the devastating demands of God? There is only one being who can respond adequately to God the Father's Love -- and that is the Word, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, from whom all eternity sings His canticle of love in the bosom of the Godhead.

But the Word was made flesh. All right then: here is the single instance in the history of humanity when one man was caught up fully into the divine life -- one Man in Whom there was absolutely nothing to impede or trammel His total, immediate, and irrevocable response to God. The natural human creature in Him was taken up fully into the divine Son. Thus, in one instance humanity had, so to speak, arrived: had passed into the life of Jesus Christ.

But the life of this one Man, this God-Man, has been prolonged and extended. This is mysteriously and wondrously achieved by His Mystical Body. So if we want to respond to God the Father Who loves us, the first thing we have to do is get into the Mystical Body, into Christ, to share His divine life, and to utter His Word -- the perfect response.

The "getting in" bit is done, as St. Thomas Aquinas says, by faith and the sacraments. And then the who divinizing process (transformation into Christ; putting on His mind, coming to think like Him, love like Him, and act like Him) which must follow is he development of faith.

The Primacy of Faith

Scripture says that we cannot even begin to approach God except by faith; we are children of God by faith; the just man lives by faith.

And this is why our Lord insisted above all other things on faith, on knowing Him. The crime of the Jews was no that He was unloved, but unknown. "He came unto His own and they did not know Him." ... This is what it means to live by faith: to be clued in by Christ, to be led right into the heart of Trinitarian life -- the family life of God, and to share the Son's secret knowledge of the Father....

What is Faith?

The act of faith, according to St. Thomas, "is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth at the command of the will by the grace of God." While grace is a formal participation -- created but real -- in the divine nature, faith is a participation in the divine life considered as divine knowledge. It is, says St. Thomas, "a light divinely infused in the mind of man, a certain imprint of the First Truth." It is a constant aptitude to know God as He knows Himself, to receive -- according to the limited measure of created grace, it is true -- but really to receive the light from the dazzling Sun that is God Himself. It is the sight of supernatural life.

The act of the virtue of faith is, above all, a supernatural act that goes far beyond the ordinary and limited field of the activity of the intellect. It reaches out to God Himself, to whom it adheres and makes the intellect and the whole being of man adhere in an attitude of self-oblivious, adoring assent. By an act of faith, the soul is borne into "a direct exchange, an intimate union with the interior Word of God... (Scheeben, Dogmatik, I, 40, n. 681) This contact with the Deity itself gives to the human person, in the words of St. Paul, "the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that are not seen" (Hb 2,1). It makes things real. It makes us real; keeping us, as it does, in touch with ultimate reality....

St. John of the Cross is so emphatic about faith giving us God Himself. Beneath "the silvered surfaces" of the articles of faith, he says there is the "gold of its substance." By this means, alone, faith, God reveals Himself.

A Personal Encounter

We must be very careful about depersonalizing the whole concept of faith. ...

St. Bonaventure's definition of faith saves us from the abstract: "it is the habit of the mind whereby we are drawn and captivated into the following of Christ." We do not believe in a creed, we believe through a creed in a Person. The ultimate object of our faith is always a personal encounter with a living God. This will always involve a unique kind of adventure and exploration. The articles of faith, therefore, are not meant to arrest our vision but to direct it....

So faith means much more than simply assimilating a theory, reciting a history or tying together a number of syllogisms. Without the creation -- personal, free, and deliberate -- of a world of mystical values, there can exist a systematic and conceptional pseudo-faith; but there will be no vital faith, that which touches God in His Person from out of the fumbling formulas of man's search.

Faith, though rooted in the intellect and oriented toward knowledge of God, is a response of the whole man; not just an activity of his isolated intellect. In fact, the most intimate, experiential knowledge of God is more an effect of love than of reasoning. This is mystical knowledge or contemplation: "a pure intuition of God born of love." Remember how the disciples on the way to Emmaus recognized the risen Lord -- not by reason -- but by an act of love: "in the breaking of the bread."?

Faith is not only an act: it is an attitude. It's the way we look at the world: seeking everything against the background of eternity; seeing the will of God unfolding in mysterious ways; seeking the brilliant countenance of Christ or the Man of Sorrows looking up at us from every creature; seeing oneself cradled and enveloped in God's personal love. It's a long view, diametrically opposed to notions that are petty, narrow or shortsighted. It's a divine sort of sense of humor that sees through people, things, events and situations into the plan of God.

If, therefore, a person lives by faith, he becomes rooted in God. Then, no matter how seething and turbulent the surface of life, he remains, undisturbed, firmly fixed, as he is, in ultimate reality.

Faith is not only an act and an attitude; it is a commitment -- an irrevocable commitment to Christ who said with such irresistible magnetism, "if I be lifted up I will draw all things to Myself." Since then, persons of faith have been drawn by the infinitely attractive personality of Christ. He is the Pied Piper of human hearts -- old and young. He makes people become like little children and suddenly turns the world in which they live upside-down because they have been enchanted and overwhelmed by Him....

Just because a person is committed to God by faith he should not take himself too seriously. In fact, he ought to take God so seriously that he regards himself quite lightheartedly. He must make as little fuss as possible, bearing with himself and others patiently, good-humoredly. He must remember that regardless of his faith he is still a child of Adam.

Commitment implies renouncement. To live by faith is to live for Christ; and it is harder to live for Christ than to die for Him. Living one's faith to the hilt involves a daily death (to all forms of selfishness). One can actually revel; take great delight at the thought of being hanged, drawn, and quartered. But if God makes no revelation, no spectacular demands, but just goes on letting a person fulfill his life of faith in an ordinary, unpretentious, routine sort of way, that will require a greater kind of heroic commitment than being persecuted.

Growth of Faith

Faith is not static, but dynamic. It must grow or else stagnate. A person is as alive as his faith. Even our Lady had to grow in faith.

To grow in faith, which is the "only proximate and immediate means of union with God," involves the necessary pain of being weaned away from purely human and sensible ways of knowing and loving Him -- imagining, reasoning, feeling.

To grow in faith means, from the standpoint of the senses, a person must welcome darkness. Although he has consecrated his life to a reality that he cannot see or feel, he is constantly solicited by the call of his senses and of his passion -- the enticing mirage of the glittering beauty of the world of his senses.

To grow in faith means to live progressively in the spirit -- by the intelligence and the will; and one cannot hope to do this except by mortifying the senses. Even the spirit's human mode of activity (intellectual concepts and purely human aspirations) cannot unite a person to God who is infinitely above and beyond all human modes of knowing and loving.

And so there will come a time in every person's life, if he is generous to God and faithful to grace, when the creatures that spoke so wonderfully of God will become silent; and the concepts that were like manna for his meditations will cease to feed his mind. It is here that God infuses into the soul a knowledge of Himself that is general and obscure, but far superior to his own former clear and precise ideas of God. St. John of the Cross expresses it in these terms:

... there is no ladder among all created, knowable things by which the intellect can reach this high Lord. Rather, it should be known that if the intellect desired to use all or any of these objects as a proximate means to this union, it would be encumbered by them. Not only this, but they would become an occasion of many errors and delusions in the ascent of the mount. (2A8,7)
To abandon this dark but sure way of contemplation, this "happy night" which the healthy, normal development of faith involves, would be to replace the real thing with a series of fabricated and human illusions Did not our Lord say, according to St. John of the Cross: "I will lead you by a way you do no know to the secret chamber of love?"

In faith there is only light; its obscurity is an effect of the transcendence of the light that shines upon the intellect when it searches into God and His Mystery.

(The article concludes with three sections: How to Grow in Faith: Thinking, Reading, Praying.)

Monday, April 01, 2013

Resurrection -- 2013

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

No, I mean... really.

It is always so hard for me to put into words what I take away from the celebration of Lent, the Triduum, and the Resurrection. But it is so necessary to bear witness, so I try even though saying the ineffable almost self-contradicts.

I will try snap shots.

Early last week I was leaving a store with my daughter, waiting for cars to go past so we could get to our car in the parking lot, and it suddenly struck me with great force that God's holy interactions with us have nothing to do with the thoughts and reflections we can drum up. He reaches into our very concrete human reality in His way, in His time, and He does stuff. We couldn't make it happen and once it is going we couldn't stop it if we tried. God is sovereign, and it is precisely our grotty humanity to which He wants access. When we "open wide our mouths," He will indeed fill them (Ps. 81:10).

Next one....

Only God makes my life make sense. Oh, I can try. My goodness, I know how to expend all sorts of energy in explaining and figuring out and ruminating and making connections. But there's something in that that God wants me to leave behind for something much better. God, after all, is a personal being, and as a personal being He is also a relational being. What is more, He has a will. That means He has certain things He desires for me. It is not only His right as my Creator, but it is also to my great benefit to choose according to His will, because His will is nothing but love and mercy towards me. This requires that I trust. It is perfectly logical to trust an almighty, omnipotent and loving God. However, it also requires my death, and that ain't always so cool in the way it feels. God doesn't, like, explain everything to me in advance. I, like, generally don't have a clue what He is doing and sometimes He leads me in ways that make me feel like a complete idiot. Sometimes I get really, deeply scared by how He leads me. Sometimes it requires me to humble myself to the point where I think I can't go any lower without dying. (Hah hah -- guess what! Then He says "Go lower!" because my dying is exactly what He's after! Dying to self.... remember that one?)

But all of a sudden, it all comes together. All of a sudden, the Lord says, "Marie, look. Look at Me." And I do, and all of a sudden it all makes sense. But it isn't about "it." When the Lord makes Himself visible to the soul, the soul suddenly realizes that it can bear anything in union with Him. And all the walking in the dark and the scary trust and tears and struggle and dying.... well, seeing the Lord makes it all bearable. It even makes me say "thank you, Lord, for all that. It was worth it."

And then....

God does not play with us. I know St. Therese said she wanted the Child Jesus to treat her like a plaything that He could pick up and drop as He chose. That makes sense to me on the level of our experience of our lives; that's abandonment to God's will. But what I mean is that God does not act without purpose and design. Hebrews tells us God treats us as sons. I fear sometimes that our culture can make no sense of that phrase at all. But I believe the point is that He trains us to do His work in maturity, just as a father would train a son to learn his trade. So the crosses that God sends have many subjective reasons and purposes, but objectively speaking, they are so that the life and ministry of Jesus Christ can be perpetuated in time and space now, through us. In other words, I don't die to myself just because God loves to subjugate people, or because I am part of some oppressive religious system that believes in self-subjugation. God imparts power this way. God unleashes His power to transform life this way. We die so that others can live. The power and transformation is for others. This is the way He works. This is what our crosses are for. We bear the cross so that someone else can experience God's miraculous healing power. Then they are set off on the same cycle of loving God, learning to follow, learning to suffer, and unleashing graces for others. This is Christianity.

I've written a lot about a difficult spiritual trial I have undergone for the last year. Yes, I'm vague on purpose about it. Maybe some day I won't be. But I know it has been the work of God all along (starting way before the difficult part started). Every difficulty has been worth it. And after this year-long Lent, I know there is a Pentecost to come. God has been the instigator and navigator of this journey, and He won't stop now. He is absolutely faithful, and my experience tells me to proclaim that you can and should trust Him to death and beyond.