Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Christian Unity Comes from This

It is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, O.C.D., describes very well what is necessary for Christians to experience the unity that Jesus prayed for:

The intimate dispositions of Jesus toward God and His relations with Him are of the utmost importance to us. Jesus is the Son of God; herein lies all His greatness and holiness. By His very nature, He is the only Son of God; we who are made to His image, have become children of God by His mediation. This divine sonship, which belongs to Him by nature, is communicated to us by grace; hence, like Him, all our greatness and holiness consist in our living as true children of God. Therefore, as far as is consistence with our human nature, we should try to reproduce in ourselves the interior attitude of Jesus toward His heavenly Father.

First of all, we note an attitude, or rather a state, of intimate union. It is as the Word that Jesus declares, "The Father is in Me, and I in the Father" (Jn. 10:38). He is referring, of course, to the substantial, incommunicable union of the Word with the Father, which no one can ever imitate; this union is the prerogative of the Son of God alone. But He also made the statement as Man, because, as Man, all His love is concentrated on the Father and dominated by the Father. His whole mind is directed toward Him in an effort to please Him. This union of Jesus with His divine Father is the mode for our union, precisely because it is a union of grace. Grace in Jesus is "infinite," in the language of the theologians, and in this respect it differs from ours; yet even the grace we possess enables us to keep our souls directed toward the Father and our affections centered in Him. Jesus gives us the example Himself, and asks of the Father this close union for us: "As Thou, Father, in Me and I in Thee; that they also may be one in Us" (Jn. 17:21)....

O Jesus, what great treasures are hidden in Your words: "As Thou, Father, in Me, and I in Thee; that they also may be one in Us!" It is not enough for us to imitate Your exterior life; You want more than that. You want us to imitate, as far as mere creatures can, Your interior life, Your intimacy and Your unceasing union with the Father! It would be folly and arrogant temerity even to think of doing this, had You not commanded us to do so. But You have commanded it, and these words of Yours are particularly sacred because they form part of Your last prayer to Your Father, a prayer which contains Your spiritual testament.... (Divine Intimacy, pp. 169, 171)

The key to Christian unity is the all-consuming desire for union with God our Father. When our desire is fixed on God, seeking only Him, and giving Him permission to go into those areas where we can't even discern our own intentions and desires, and mess with us, then we are on the path of being one in Christ with other believers who also are inflamed with this same desire. And those believers who are not yet aflame, but who struggle with weeds and rocks and beaten-down paths? Jesus calls them too and we all journey up the mountain of holiness. Who desires God wholeheartedly who once did not desire Him but half-heartedly?

In this week of prayer for Christian Unity, let's allow ourselves to be caught on fire by one another, with the fire of desire for God and God alone.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Great Patience with One's Own Humanity

I've had a life-long struggle with separating, in my mind, what is human from what is sinful.

My religious formation growing up emphasized that "all our righteous acts are as filthy rags (Is. 64:6), that all persons were made totally depraved by the sin of Adam, and that Christ's righteousness imputed to us is everything we must hope for. In and of ourselves, we are sinful, unclean, and worthy of condemnation.

The theological corrective is that the image of God in us was broken and damaged, but not destroyed. When God created the world, He said it was good, and when He created human beings, He said it was very good. Grace does not only cover us; it really does purify what was broken and damaged, and elevates our nature, and infuses God's very life into us. Sanctity really is a possibility in this life for human beings, and our our willingness to cooperate with grace is a significant factor there.

The theology is indeed dreadfully important, but when you live life, the theology has to get practical.

And when I read this quote this morning, it all got practical.

"Because the Lord wills to reveal His power in our weakness, growth in contemplative prayer requires great patience with one's own humanity, a patience that comes not from surmounting one's frailties, but rather in offering those to God in love. This means that mood swings, fluctuations in pious affections, boredom and even struggles with distractions do not ultimately define our prayer, if through it all we never lose trust in God"
See, I have frailties. Another word for that is needs. I am incomplete. I feel my humanity, my needs, my vulnerabilities, my drives, my desires. And somehow I used to think that I would serve God best by killing these off. I've written a few posts about times that I went for really long without water or food, not on purpose, but because I was too timid to tell anyone that I was thirsty or hungry. I was too afraid of my need putting someone out. I saw my humanity as a nasty bother not just to myself but to the entire universe.

My son as a toddler started pointing me to liberation from that. He would feel a need and immediately start insisting it be met. I remember one night blurting out "I wish I felt like I could just demand my needs to be met like that!" And slowly, I began to realize that this is part of what it means to have a heart of a child. To freely admit needs and seek to have them met.

Sometimes we have needs that are more complicated than a glass of water. Sometimes we have frailties we don't really know how to handle. Having patience with them is part humility to recognize the need, part trust to know God cares and is powerful, and part detachment from the urgency of having it all resolved NOW. It is about accepting that I am a work in progress, and that since I did not make me to begin with, it is ok that I can't see how it will all turn out just yet. Just because two notes clash doesn't mean they don't both belong in the song.

So I don't like it when people use the term "human" as a synonym for sinful, messed up, wrong. It should be a synonym for weak, but with potential to be filled with grace; incomplete, but able to be raised to sonship. To be human is to be one in whom God wills to reveal His great power.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Onething2015: My Initial, Personal Report

I have just returned from the Onething2015 conference where for the first time ever there was a Catholic track. And here I am in my very own verbal workspace to try to start to share what is in my heart about this. This may not turn out neatly.

So, I was there to intercede and to gather intercessors. During the course of conversations before the event, I realized that I had an aversion to going basically because I have an aversion to suffering. From the promo ad copy I had my sense that there was something about this I just wouldn't like. And I can't say I was mistaken. It wasn't a dislike in the sense of "oooh, bad," just in the sense of "this really isn't my personal preference." I don't like loud music that I feel in my chest (for more than about three minutes). I don't like my ears to ring and I don't find that particularly healthy. And as much as I love music and I love to sing and as much as worshipping God in song is central to my life, I just don't like praise music that much anymore. I used to love it, love it, love it and found myself instantly at a fountain of overflowing healing. And I just don't, anymore. That was actually something I began to find happening just a bit when I first left my non-denom fellowship. It began to be the sort of thing were I had to fix my mind to really dig into the words being sung to meditate and suck the marrow out of them, and often it felt I was sucking dry bones. Sometimes it could be easier, especially if it was a song I knew and had developed a "meditative history" with. But I realized I have as much difficulty really praying with praise music as others do praying with the rosary and its repetitions.

I was also reminded, before and during, of things I experienced in my exodus from the charismatic fellowship world into the Catholic Church. I remembered how shocked I was when I first started attending daily Mass, which lasted 20-30 minutes, when I had been used to a 3 or 3.5 hour service. On the one hand, I realized I had to walk in to Mass ready to concentrate and pay attention to everything. Before, I was used to a lot of "warm up" time and a generally less intense approach. But on the other hand, I was stunned and amazed in those days, day after day, of how efficient God could be. Like a laser beam, He penetrated my soul with far deeper spiritual experiences in this short time than I had ever experienced in those long church services (although I had lots of powerful and needed emotional experiences in the former days, and these required more time. Sometimes I really needed to cry through 75 minutes of worship music.) So when at Onething, the sessions or preaching went on for hours, I sometimes longed for them to discover this efficient nature of God. :)

But the important lesson in all of this for me is that I do not live for myself. Sometimes I really want to. But if I live for God, I must also live for His people. Jesus lived for His people by serving them, not to expect to be served. Sometimes serving someone means to relent and do it their way, when it is really a matter of preference. Preferences can become passions pretty easily, and we start to think we can't live without our passions being fulfilled, that our passions are really divine urgings, when really they are just our desires with a strong upper hand in our soul's functioning. And sometimes that putting to death of our passions is exactly the type of service, and living for God and neighbor that God asks of an intercessor who feels interior things deeply. I was a little surprised at the intensity of the death and the struggle and the temptation I felt surrounding all this. Which shows me how weak and inexperienced I am at serving this way.

So, there was this big huge thing that happened about unity. I mean, it was big and huge on a spiritual level. I kept saying to our host friends how this type of gathering with Catholics just probably wouldn't have happened back in my charismatic days, at least not in the circles I moved in. My evangelism training had a slide that depicted non-Christian groups like Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons, and there was a significant point made about how the guy just couldn't decide whether to add Roman Catholics to that list, and his hesitation about it seemed almost scandalously generous to some people. That was my world. So for Catholics to be welcomed as equal Christians, and for one speaker to publicly (though he didn't use the name Catholic) apologize for past statements of arrogance to a particular Catholic present, it was profound. And there were other profundities.

I know I experienced something of a personal call, although I can't articulate all of it, or maybe even much of it, in any meaningful way right now. The first order of the day is in my own family. The second order of the day has to do with me being a Carmelite. Each day I always ask my prayer team of saints to intercede for me, and one morning I had forgotten to do so until a certain point during one of the sessions. Immediately I remembered, as if St. Teresa spoke it to me, "Four centuries ago I sat in my convent and prayed for a return of the 'Lutherans' to the Church. Yes, of course you are called." (See the very end of The Interior Castle).

From my young childhood, even what I count as my pre-following-Jesus childhood I have had a sense that my life is oriented towards a Church that would become pure and serious.

When I was a brand new Catholic, I had a profound blow-me-away experience of being called by God into His plan to raise Catholics, and me with them, from the dead. Read it here: When Confirmation Received Me. When you read it, you see this experience had to do with John Michael Talbot. A few years ago during a new season in my life I went to a mission of his in Pittsburgh. Now, JMT has very piercing eyes. And as he preached through the crowd, his piercing eyes made contact with mind as he said "Fan into flame the gift God has given you." BAM. It resurrected the earlier experience and, though I couldn't understand it at the time, that moment alerted me to the fact that I was stepping forward in this plan. Now, just when that thing from years ago makes some sense, I have this new thing that is just as persistently urgent and just as inscrutable. I guess I really aught to get used to this and realize that not knowing is part of how I get to know things.

So, there you have it. I have returned from Onething2015 with a heart full of something I can't explain or understand, and I know that today and tomorrow I need to pray and live faithfully, just like every day, but I also need to intentionally forsake the vast tracts of selfishness and misery I yet find within.