Sunday, November 29, 2009

Fire in the Hole

How gently and lovingly you wake in my heart, where in secret you dwell alone; and in your sweet breathing, filled with good and glory, how tenderly you swell my heart with love. - St. John of the Cross, Living Flame of Love I seriously doubt that God's dream for us, the reason He created us male and female and called us into a life-giving, ecstatic union of soul, mind, and body in a Garden Paradise at the beginning of the human story was so that He could eventually "lord" it over us with a list of oppressive rules and commandments. We were not made for law, we were made for love. However, when it comes to living out our eros, our God-given passion for all that is good, true, and beautiful, it seems many of us don't even equate it with Christianity anymore. We feel that eros is less than holy, and are content with continence not consummation - so we divorce passion from purity and just tough it out, trying to stay clean, in a kind of legalistic contract with God that will keep us on the "Big Guy's" good side. This is a sad existence to say the least; a life lived in quiet desperation. Truth is, we are here in this visible world to make the invisible, incredible love of God manifest! And until we open up heart, mind, and body to the power of Divine Love and let God have His way with us, the Kingdom of God is not within us. The dream of God for humanity is unrealized. Until we learn to break out of the paradigm of niceness, of merely following the rules just enough to stay out of hell, there will be no revolution. God does not want us to be nice. God wants us to be madly in love. "We who have received the grace of believing in Christ, the revealer of the Father and the Savior of the world, have a duty to show to what depths the relationship with Christ can lead. The great mystical tradition of the Church of both East and West has much to say in this regard. It shows how prayer can progress, as a genuine dialogue of love, to the point of rendering the person wholly possessed by the divine Beloved, vibrating at the Spirit's touch, resting filially within the Father's heart..." - Pope John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte, 33 Wow. I never heard that one in Sunday School! The pinnacle of our prayer life is possession by the Divine? Amazing! And this is in a letter written not only for cloistered religious, but for all Christians! "It is a journey totally sustained by grace, which nonetheless demands an intense spiritual commitment and is no stranger to painful purifications (the "dark night"). But it leads, in various possible ways, to the ineffable joy experienced by the mystics as "nuptial union". How can we forget here, among the many shining examples, the teachings of Saint John of the Cross and Saint Teresa of Avila?" - Pope John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte, 33
The spirituality of Carmel has its roots deep in the Old Testament. In figures like Moses and Elijah, Hosea and Isaiah, we see souls climbing up the holy mountain, not content with living a kind of suburban, comfortable distance from the City of God. These mystics plunge into the Mystery of the Heavenly Jerusalem, and they toss out ropes and life-lines for us to scale the holy mountain too. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux, Edith Stein... all invite us beyond mere legalism into the Love that fires the heavens.
Carmelite spirituality influenced the work of Pope John Paul II. It's fragrance broke into his heart and he has allowed that odor of sanctity to permeate his letters, addresses, and most especially, deep into his teaching on the Theology of the Body.
Yes, dear brothers and sisters, our Christian communities must become genuine "schools" of prayer, where the meeting with Christ is expressed not just in imploring help but also in thanksgiving, praise, adoration, contemplation, listening and ardent devotion, until the heart truly "falls in love."
- Pope John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte, 33
A famous and very learned Catholic theologian was once asked about the most profound thought he had ever had. He said it was simply "Jesus loves me."
I think I'm just starting to see the real Jesus and to feel His love for me. According to Pope Benedict XVI (God is Love, 10), this Sacred Heart, this Bridegroom, in fact has an eros for us, for me! Sometimes the thought comes like a blast of wind through the old dusty alleyways of my own interior castle; Jesus loves me. I get the sense that He is knocking on more doors than just one. That from the moment that I first let Him in, He's been exploring other rooms; deeper levels of me than I ever knew I had. Jesus comes to love us in every one of them, and always as a gentlemen; He knocks first. I think this love then, elicits our response.
Will I let Him in? And how far? Beyond the foyer, past the pews of our Sunday "obligation?" Right into the tabernacle of His Presence among us? St. Edith Stein, a Carmelite, knew the passion of our God for her heart. She found the flames burning brightest in the Eucharist. She said: "In the heart of Jesus, which was pierced, the kingdom of heaven and the land of earth are bound together. Here is for us the source of life. This heart is the heart of the Triune Divinity, and the center of all human hearts... It draws us to itself with secret power, it conceals us in itself in the Father's bosom and floods us with the Holy Spirit. This heart, it beats for us in a small tabernacle where it remains mysteriously hidden in that still, white host." This heart has become our food! And why? The Carmelite mystics knew why; because this is the very nature of love, to be poured out, to be consumed and to consume! Many of us have grown up hearing that God loves us, but have we heard that God wants to consume us? Be consumed by us? For many of us, I fear, that kind of love doesn't fit with our image of God. Perhaps those old images we have need to be smashed at the base of the holy mountain...
Giving a talk this summer, I was approached by a woman in her late 50's. "I'm really struggling with the image of God as a lover." But this is Who He Is. He is an "eternal exchange of love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and He has destined us to share in that exchange." (CCC, 221)
God is More than a Lawgiver, or a Judge, or a Friend.... "Our God is a consuming fire..." (Hebrews 12) He wants to be the Burning Bush at the center of our interior castle. Will you let Him in? Will you give Him your heart?
Originally published on The Publican
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