Saturday, May 31, 2014

Sweet, Comforting, Refreshing Guest

Today's bit of the Pentecost Sequence to consider:

You of all comforters best
You the soul's most welcome guest
Sweet refreshment here below

Consolator optime
Dulcis hospes animae
Dulce refrigerium

So, we are calling the Holy Spirit: best comforter, sweet guest of the soul, sweet refresher.

What comes to mind, I think because of that word that is like "refrigerator" is how when you are kind of hot and weary from working, say, in a kitchen with little moving air, and you just don't really want to trudge much further, but there isn't any way to cool off. And then it rains. Ahhh.... so refreshing. Making you feel energized again, giving you the ability to keep on. That Presence which I cannot cause but I welcome with great joy.

I also think of how, in the spiritual life, how we can feel weary and dull because of the sameness of sin, even if we convince ourselves we only have little sins in our life. When we live according to the flesh, according to natural inclinations, we get to feel dull and heavy. The Spirit of God challenges us, shakes us up, calls us to repent, to dig deeper, to reject complacency and couch-potato-hood.

Guests have a way of doing that, don't they? We clean our house with amazing diligence when someone comes to visit. Everyone gets along well and speaks politely when a guest is here. Everyone pays a bit more attention to how they act.

The Holy Spirit reminds us that, in Christ, we do not live our lives for ourselves, and that when we do, we become sad. We are made glad by the daily dose of the cross He brings to us -- that stirring that brings us life and bends us again to truth and love. Our openness to Him teaches us to be open to all people, and especially to other believers.

Sweet Holy Spirit, come

Friday, May 30, 2014

Come, O Father of the Poor

Come, O Holy Spirit, come! And from your celestial home/Shed a ray of light divine

In these nine days before Pentecost, we pray for the the Holy Spirit to come to us. To ask intelligently, we also meditate on His person, who it actually is we invite. All of this is contained in the Veni, Sancte Spiritus, or the Pentecost Sequence, which is prayed in the Latin Catholic liturgy on the feast of Pentecost.

Today I'm thinking about this chunk: 
Come, O Father of the poor! 
Come, source of all our store!
Come, within our bosoms shine!

Veni pater pauperum
Veni dator munerum
Veni lumen cordium

My almost non-existent Latin skills and a dictionary tells me that the more literal translation into English would be "Come, father of the poor/Come, giver of gifts/Come, light of our hearts."

Speaking of the literalness of things, St. Teresa of Avila had to remind me (in her discussion of the Our Father that I recently read) of the depth of the word "father." My barren computation of this word tends to stop with the sense of "sire." A father, however, is far more than a man who contributes his seed to begin life and then absents himself. To father, as a verb, St. Teresa reminds, is to take on the responsibility for, to provide what is necessary for life, and at sacrifice.

We call on the Holy Spirit here as Father of the poor. The sense is that we seek His fatherhood for ourselves; we desire this poverty of spirit. He is indeed the one who gives life to this desire for poverty. It is His nature, and He imparts His nature to those who share His life. Spiritual poverty clings to nothing, and possesses everything. The Holy Spirit is the bond of the love of the Trinity which fills the Church and makes Her supernatural while still on earth.

And the Holy Spirit is also the provider for the poor in spirit. We have nothing of ourselves; we look to Him for everything and acknowledge every gift He sends as we employ it in living. We are to think of ourselves always as children of the Holy Spirit. That He lives within us explains who we are and how we appear to others: the light of our hearts shining in a dark place.

We pray the novena to meditate more deeply on this reality, drawing its fruit into our souls.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

St. Teresa of Avila and the Problem of Nobility

In The Way of Perfection, St. Teresa of Avila addresses at length the need for her nuns to avoid all attachment to social rank and the sense of entitlement to honor and prestige that came with it. This was a very big deal to those women of that day, because thought of social position was deeply engrained in everyone's thinking. But St. Teresa understood that those devoted to Christ must not persist in being mentally formed by the world.

And at first blush, this seems completely irrelevant to me as a modern American. I don't live in a world of lords and ladies and peasants, of titled and untitled families. So the temptation is to skip over her admonition as something meant for them, not me.

Well, not quite. Human culture changes constantly, but not so human nature. We all will always have those things inherited from our generation of cultural upbringing that form the basis of our need for the "renewal of our minds."

So for me, I look at my Gen-X, divorced-family-of-an-alcoholic baggage, and see plenty that has taught me to think in worldly ways that my culture supports, but is clearly not the mind of Christ. St. Teresa of Avila, as a nun, kept a title of nobility (as was the custom) until her deeper conversion leading to the reform of the Carmelites caused her to go all counter-cultural and leave it behind. I wonder if she didn't feel it every time she signed a letter or used all the high and flowery titles in addressing others. She had to. It would have reminded her of the love of her Spouse, who called her simply to be Teresa of Jesus, and no longer Dona Teresa Sanchez Cepeda Davila y Ahumada.

It is just as dangerous to cling to the ignoble as to nobility, and perhaps easier to deceive oneself that to do so is Christian. Rather than "I deserve to be served by those of lower station," it is "If anyone is guilty of something here, it must be me." Instead of expectations of honor and consideration, it is a cringing, fawning, and servile heart. Jesus teaches one to serve, and another to receive honor because the Lord resides in the temple of one's soul. In reality, He teaches both (and far more) to all.

The key is that our being freed from worldly ways not remind us so much of those worldly ways that we get stuck in analysis. When anyone fixes his eyes on Jesus, he will see all He needs, regardless of what the need is. To be human is to be a big, gaping need for God. And blessedness is to be filled by Him who is all we need.

You shall be called by a new name,
 pronounced by the mouth of the Lord our God
Isaiah 62:2

Monday, May 12, 2014

When I Learned to Believe in a Personal God

I've often said that there is something in my Christian testimony that will offend the theology of just about everyone. Blessed, then, are those with no particular theology!

Today I wanted to share about the very first time I realized that the Christian God is a personal God who desires a personal response from each one of us.

Oddly enough, when I realized this I had already considered myself a committed Christian for almost nine years. I had indeed sensed God calling to me by the gospel, by the knowledge that Jesus Christ had died on the cross so that my sin could be paid for and I could gain access to God and to heaven through Him. I had even sensed God calling me to bring this gospel to others, and I had given the response of my heart -- a resounding "yes."

But my yes was sort of a yes to the gospel, to God's program. I spent time reading the Bible and praying as best as I could figure it out. I was Lutheran at the time, and I used the Lutheran liturgical pieces of Lauds, Matins and the suffrages. I limped through this, partly because my first response to God came at age 10, and partly because I really had no people in my life to mentor me. But limping, my hunger for God did lead me forward.

But then when I was 19 my life took a definite turn that felt like I had gotten into a roller coaster for which I'd been standing in line for years.

Though normally I never associated with anyone apart from one or two close friends and people at work, I fell in with a group of Christians whose doctrinal positions were different from mine. At the time, doctrine meant everything to me, so the fact that I maintained openness to these people felt very liberal of me, indeed.

One thing these friends had in common, I discovered, was that they were charismatic. I had had an experience that backhandedly opened me to this phenomenon at a youth gathering I attended a couple years before that presented a recording of people singing in tongues. The intention of those presenting this recording was to say "isn't this ridiculous." I didn't really know what it was, but it struck me, and I walked away that night open to the possibility that I'd just heard something that had come from God.

So when these friends got me reading the book of Acts and told me that God still intended for His Holy Spirit to operate now as it did then, I thought well, maybe they are right. In fact, the more they read the Bible, the more I became convinced they were right. I felt so progressive. One of these friends even was from my Lutheran church. She said she would pray for me to speak in tongues, and I was open. Nothing happened, but I didn't really know anything was supposed to happen.

This all happened during the summer before my Junior year of college. Late August came, and I was back in school, in a different city from where all this took place. Then just a couple weeks into the semester, one of these friends called to tell me his girlfriend had "received the baptism in the Holy Spirit."

And I was depressed.

I didn't feel proud about it, but I spent a good couple of days seriously moping that God had decided to give her some kind of gift, but not me. I was seriously dejected at this apparent act of rejection of me by God. Because that's all I could see -- if God had gifted another person it must be because he loved her and disregarded me.

Somewhere in there I think I may have resorted to prayer. And somehow it became impressed on me that there was something I was maybe missing. Maybe it was summarized in that verse from James: "Ye have not because ye ask not."

This was a whole new spiritual contortion for me. My relationship with God, up to this point, pivoted on believing true things. The Bible taught me what was true, and I believed it. I knew God gave me good things, but I took for granted that He gave stuff the way my mom did -- without my asking for it. To think that I had to believe what He said and then act in faith, asking, and believe that He would answer -- this was making my brain twist.

But somehow, I knew I had to be in pursuit.

The day after this realization, it seemed I had to be on a mission. I scrupulously finished all of my homework and then made my way to the Christian bookstore, where a book called Handbook on Holy Spirit Baptism by Don Basham literally fell off the shelf at my feet. I bought it, brought it home, and after a quick dinner I sat alone in my dorm room and read the whole thing (my roommate providentially went away that night).

At the end of the book, it explained step by step how to pray for this gift for yourself. (This is where I offend all the pentecostal/charismatics who insist this can only be ministered to you by having others lay hands on you and pray!) When I finally prayed the prayer, I felt an immediate surge go through me like a bolt of lightning, and I began to praise God in tongues. I have no idea how long I prayed like this, but it was a good long time. It was like being bathed in radiance. In fact, the next morning when I went down to breakfast in the cafeteria (wearing my best dress -- because I was so aware of the glory residing in me), one of my professors saw me and said, "My, you look... radiant this morning!" I beamed a bright smile back at him (this was 7 freaking AM!) and I'm sure he figured I was newly and profoundly in love.

Oh, but it was way better than that.

And this was all because I had realized that I had to ask God, personally, for His action in my life. And I had to believe God had willed it to be that way. This was the act of faith that activated my baptism and released tremendous graces into my experience. God was no longer a force standing behind truth; He was a person interacting with me. I had opened the box He had given me long before at my baptism. Those graces had always been mine, but I had never received them, because I had never really personally interacted with Him, expecting Him to respond.

My life has never been the same.

Just today I read this extremely helpful theological explanation of the baptism of the Holy Spirit by Fr. Cantalamessa, the preacher of the papal household. If what I've written leaves you with questions, I recommend that you give that link your attention. Realize that God wants to personally respond to your invitation to Him as well!

Monday, May 05, 2014

Stopping to Sing the Praises of St. John of the Cross

I have been making extremely slow progress through the book John of the Cross for Today: The Ascent by Susan Muto. It has nothing to do with it being a difficult book or an uninteresting book; really it has more to do with the busyness of life and the fact that I have five or six books going at any one time.

But it seems wherever I dip into this book, I find St. John (as presented by Muto) explaining my life to me. This was my experience with the book Impact of God, which I wrote about here. That book was the first inkling to me that it was time to re-investigate the Carmelite charism that had fascinated me for so long from a distance. While I have done very little reading of St. John's writings directly, that book, like this one, made so much sense out of my faith journey that it felt shocking. I've written elsewhere about how St. Teresa of Avila's writings made me feel an immediate affection for her as a mother. Well, St. John of the Cross's wisdom strikes me as a fatherly sort -- direct, no sugar coating, always with a loving sense that austerity is good for the soul, AND, giving a secure sense that even the scariest things will be all right in the end. A set of spiritual parents is a beautiful gift to me.

For example, today I was reading a section on the purification of the memory, and how an unpurified memory can destroy the virtue of hope, and how a purified memory even of painful events can "foster supernatural remembrance." I have experienced these things, although I was tempted to see the process not as a purification of my memory, but perhaps as evidence as something wrong with me. There is just so much wisdom in understanding the need to step out of the addictive cycle of what the emotions stir up, to let it be "silenced by hope," and to stand in that place where all the expectation is in God. Dr. Muto gives the example of thinking of the death of one's child: at one point, the anguished memories need to be relinquished and God's love, goodness and mercy remembered and embraced and rested in. My solution to this kind of problem has always been to dump out the cup in which I find the stirred-up emotions, or to try to pretend they don't exist or never got stirred in the first place, instead of acknowledging the reality and letting hope be stronger.

So the fact that what this little Spanish priest wrote centuries ago can make sense of these nuances of my soul that I could hardly put words to is amazing to me.

Another example of life-saving advice from St. John hinges on the apophatic nature of God, when to stop the mind from working things over. This reminds me that the Carmelite charism is Eastern in origin and nature. And coming upon this truth is sometimes such a relief that it moves me to tears.

I have miles to go before I even read all the works of St. John of the Cross, let alone know anything about them or live them. But everything I read of him only makes me hungry to read more.

Friday, May 02, 2014

A Labor of Love

Recently some friends of my family were hit with a need that required a lot of physical labor to be done in a short time. So they and my kids and I and some other friends got together over the course of a couple days and did a bang up job of it. And in the midst of all this work, someone described what we were doing as "a labor of love."

I mulled that over for several days. First I realized simply how true it was. It is hard to capture my surprise at this realization, but it seems akin to how shocking it was to me that after being pregnant for nine months, a baby emerged from my body -- and she actually looked like a human being. It's a real, tangible proof of an actual miracle that a has brewed for such a long time. Any time I see love expressed through me, I know it is a miracle.

Another thought arose as the Lord and I looked at this. I began to wonder, what if everything I did were a labor of love? What if I were conscious, always, of undertaking actions to express the love resident in my life? What if I simply thought about loving God with everything?

This scrapes up against something I read recently from St. Therese that keeps impacting me more and more. Basically she was differentiating between love and joy. She says that joy is what is promised us on the other side of the cross, or in the next life. But this life is for love. I'm sure I'm not doing that justice, and of course right now I can't quote it. But what struck me so profoundly is how it seems I've always mistakenly believed that love actually is joy. That if I "love" someone, it means I am feeling joy. And if there's no feeling of joy? Where can love be? But on the cross, Jesus was certainly showing the depths of His love. He didn't do it for the "joy of the moment," but for the joy that lay ahead of him. Later. There is a definite connection, but, timing.

Mothers should get this pretty well. Loving our children often means needing to correct them or train them in the midst of them complaining against us. Family life often means serving when we don't feel like it. "Give until it hurts," Mother Teresa famously said. That's love. It's common to psychologize away this reality until we've convinced ourselves that it is healthy to be selfish and seek comfort at any price, or for others to treat us as means to their selfish kingdom of comfort.

So what if everything I did were for me a labor of love? I think I would have a tremendous command of freedom and self-donation.

Another day went by with me and the Lord looking at this together. Another thought came to mind: So, what do you suppose it is that stands in the way of everything being about love of God? Ew. The answer arose with the question: idolatry. Clinging to not-God and expecting it to fill you up, even without realizing it. (You see, God's first step in healing anything is revealing it to you.)

In reality, I'm just like my children when they complain against my training because they can't see the wisdom of it or just ignore me because of how much they like what they are doing. I get the feeling that I ignore God's directives sometimes because what I'm doing is old, familiar, and known. It seems comfortable, even though it really isn't. Sometimes, in fact, I desperately want out of the old way, but it would require me to take a step (and perhaps another, and another) into hard work that will take time and effort, and put me at risk of .... discomfort! But wait, I'm already in discomfort. Doesn't wisdom tell us to take God's version of discomfort over our own? You know, maybe God's leads somewhere, like to fulfillment, instead of smack into our pit of desire where we can dump every finite thing imaginable and still have nothing but an empty pit.

After step one (God revealing the problem), we have step two: I hand the problem over to God. And I keep doing that and keep doing that, asking for His grace, His wisdom, His direction, His consolation. And He gives it. Thanks be to God. And on we go.

Living in God's love is what we have been designed for. Another name for that is heaven. We can begin to live in heaven here, when we repudiate all that is not God and embrace every person and all of creation with love because God lives in and through us. We will have joy on this earth, but it will be a joy that shines through suffering. And that, I think, is the contagion that causes faith in Christ to spread like wildfire.