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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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Eat, Drink, and Be Thankful!

There are precious few things that slide through the culture untouched by commercialism and glitz and glam. Thanksgiving is one of them. Today is about family, food, being together, and after everything's been prepared, doing nothing.
So let us all be thankful for the gifts that surround us, big and small. God is good... and pass the gravy!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Adult Stem Cells More Promising than Embryonic

Science Proves Adult Stem Cells More Promising than Embryonic, Says Vatican Official Rome, Italy, Nov 22, 2009 (CNA).- "The president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, said this week that the work by two scientists has shown adult stem cells to be much more promising for medical treatment than embryonic stem cells. The use of adult stem cells poses no ethical difficulties and has already contributed to advancing treatments for degenerative diseases such as Parkinson's. In an article published by L'Osservatore Romano, the archbishop cited the work of two scientists, James Thomson of the United States and Shinya Yamanaka of Japan. Yamanaka was able to create adult stem cells in rats and later using human skin, which he called induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, constituting a significant scientific development...." Read the rest of this EWTN article here:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

She Ain't Heavy, She's My Sister

Feast of St. Agnes of Assisi – Born 1197 – Died 1253 Some people have such a fire in them, such determination, that they cannot be stopped. Like a rock of faith in the midst of a stormy sea, they stand firm and cannot be moved. Sometimes…. literally. St. Agnes was the biological sister of the famous foundress of the Poor Clares, St. Clare. Agnes was Clare's "first" follower. But like anything as bold as discipleship, it met with some resistance. Some felt that Agnes, like her sister Clare, was wasting her life in this devotion to prayer and poverty. When she left home just two weeks after Clare's exodus into the desert of contemplation, the family tried to fetch her back. They had tophysically drag her out of the monastery, but suddenly she became so heavy that several big armed knights could not budge her. The will of the soul made steel of her body, it would seem. When her charming uncle Monaldo tried to strike her, he was temporarily paralyzed. They left Agnes and Clare in peace. Smart move. The Moral? Don't mess with the desires of the heart; don't try to force a soul so uniquely called to fit into your little paradigm of what happiness is. And know this: we need contemplatives like Agnes and Clare in the world. They rest in the eye of the storm in perfect stillness. They draw down graces innumerable by their constant gaze into the Heart of God. We need them, and should never hinder their call into the white hot furnace of silence. "One solitary God-centered, God-intoxicated person can do more to keep God's love alive and His presence felt in the world than a thousand half-hearted, talkative busy people living frightened, fragmented "lives of quiet desperation." - Fr. McNamara

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The End is Here!

How many times have we seen a movie or a TV show with the iconic "crazy" person on a street corner wearing a placard with "The End is Near" scribbled on it? And how many times have we quickly dismissed that person as extreme, ludicrous, ultimately sad? But have you ever gotten the itch that invites you to scratch and see below the surface? What if it was true?
It seems Hollywood has the itch.... really bad. She can't make the budgets big enough for these gloom and doom dramas about the End of All Things, from Armageddon and Deep Impact to The Day After Tomorrow and last weekend's latest installment "2012."
The box office seems to be saying something as well; people love it. People want to see it. It may be out of a morbid desire to see historic landmarks crumple under a 900 foot tsunami, but behind that, I think there's a bit of good 'ole fashioned Catholic spirituality at work.
Memento mori, as the saying goes. "Remember death."
As creepy as it sounds, we're invited to reflect on our death many times throughout the liturgical year. We're actually entering into the season for this right now. Advent is beginning, and it is more than just a glance backwards to the Birth of Jesus two thousand years ago. It's a glance to the future, to the End, when we believe He will return. This story, History, will indeed end... and simultaneously.... begin.
The readings from this week's Mass matched up quite perfectly with the debut of "2012." (I wonder if Hollywood was reading the lectionary?)
Jesus said to his disciples: "In those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in the clouds' with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.
- Mark 13:24-32
The twist however is that Christians look to this End with, now get this, joyful expectancy. "Lift up your heads, Scripture tells us, for your redemption is near at hand!" Now this doesn't mean we sit around with hands up high like kids waiting for Daddy to pick them up and take them to his warm chest and carry them home. (Although that sounds like the orans position of prayer and a great way to live to me!) It means we keep our feet on the ground and keep working. And we whistle while we work, too, like little dwarves, keeping the Palace of our hearts clean for the arrival of our King and Queen. St. Francis was once approached by a nervous brother friar, who was a bit stressed about the End and perhaps more so, about his conscience. Francis looked up from the patch of earth he was tending in the garden. "Brother Francis, what if our dear Savior were to return this very day. What would you do!"
"I would keep gardening, until He found me" smiled the saint. Now that's peace.
For the believer, the End is not at some remote or proximate point, not a number like 2012, or 3012 for that matter. The End is... here, now. The Kingdom of God is within you, here, now. It is already, and not yet. All of the world that we see is simply a veil pulled over the Eternal Now where God abides. Why should we be afraid?
Can the unborn child in its dark and watery womb imagine the vibrant life that moves about just past that veil of mommy's flesh? Can it be so near and yet seem so distant? Perhaps our End is closer than we think. Maybe our true birthday is about to begin, as it has for the saints. Their death is remembered as their feast day, their birthday into Eternal Life.
In the meantime, as we close off another liturgical year, and step closer to 2010, 2011, and 2012 (wink wink), let's not panic, let's pray.... and keep smiling, with our heads and hands busy in the garden of this world, preparing a harvest of good deeds and much love for the World to come.

Monday, November 16, 2009

This Week's Mission Moment - November 16, 2009

A world that is "beyond good and evil," in which nothing is either genuinely good or genuinely bad, and no truth, goodness, or beauty are revealed, is a world in which nothing is either intrinsically desirable or detestable. Such a world affords no possibility of seeing and using things as holy, which means to some degree letting them be, because in such a world there can be no holy things. Boredom is therefore the defining condition of a people uniquely in danger of losing their capacity to love, that is, a people uniquely in danger of failing to grasp "the mystery of [its] own being" and losing its very humanity. - Michael Hanby

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Martin of Tours and the Veiled Temple

Today’s saint, Martin of Tours, saw the Man behind the curtain, and it changed his life forever.
He lived and breathed, sweat and struggled on this earth in the 4th century. He was born in Hungary but was raised in Italy, forced into military service at the age of 15. He became a Christian and was baptized at 18. Martin was known to be more of a monk than a soldier. At the age of 23, he made his great leap of faith, refusing a war bonus and making this request of his captain: "I have served you as a soldier; now let me serve Christ.” Newly welcomed into the faith, he saw a beggar on the outskirts of the city. Still in his military garb, moved to compassion, he took out his sword and cut his cloak in two pieces, covering the poor man and, to the scorn of onlookers, awkwardly covering himself in the cold with the other half. That night he had a dream. A man appeared to Martin, clothed with the garment he had torn in two. It was Christ himself. After all of these centuries, the disguise of Jesus remains the same – and the saints can see through it. Like a veil covering the Holy of Holies, Jesus walks among us in the broken, the neglected, the forgotten, the uneducated, the awkward. What will we do before this beautiful face? Turn away, walk to the other side of the street, change the conversation? Or shall we let our prejudices, rash judgments, and fears be torn in half, like the Temple Veil, and reveal Jesus to the world?

Monday, November 09, 2009

This Week's Mission Moment - November 9, 2009

Music, great music, distends the spirit, arouses profound emotions and almost naturally invites us to raise our minds and hearts to God in all situations of human existence, the joyful and the sad. Music can become prayer. - Pope Benedict XVI

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Better Not Bitter - St. Martin de Porres

There’s a patron saint for everything and everyone, you know… African-Americans, Barbers, Hairdressers, Race relations, Social justice. In fact, for all of these, it’s the same saint – Martin of Porres.
"Father unknown" is the cold legal phrase sometimes used on baptismal records. "Half-breed" or "war souvenir" is the cruel name inflicted by those of "pure" blood. Like many others, Martin might have grown to be a bitter man, but he did not. It was said that even as a child he gave his heart and his goods to the poor and despised.” (
Martin was the son of a Panamanian woman, probably black but possibly Native American, and a Spanish man of Lima, Peru. Having inherited his mother’s dark complexion, Martin was not acknowledged by his father until his eighth year. Talk about a “father wound!” After his sister was born, the father abandoned them, and the family grew up locked in deep poverty. But rather than become bitter about his circumstances, Martin became better. He gave his heart to his fellow poor, served as a Dominican helper and later a brother, pouring himself out tirelessly for people’s welfare, both temporal and eternal. What a shame that Martin’s father, consumed with his own image, missed the image of God stamped in the beautiful body and soul of his son Martin. Where is that father now? What choices he must regret and what opportunities are now lost! Or perhaps the prayers of the son turned the heart of the father? May we imitate Martin’s humility, for the humble shall be exalted. And may we not miss in the ordinary, small, and obscure things in life, the mark and the mystery of the Divine.

Monday, November 02, 2009

REPOSTED - A Dream for All Soul's Day

(Hope you don't mind the repeat, but I think of this dream every year on this day!)
In November of 1993, my grandfather died. Over the short time he spent in the hospital, the family was given the grace to come and see him. It was a chance to speak our goodbyes, but Grandpa was speechless. He could see us, his eyes could pierce our own with a sorrow and pleading that I never saw in him before that day, but he could not speak. The stroke had robbed him of words. So we gathered, and prayed. We told him we loved him, and he was given the Anointing of the Sick. In that month of the Holy Souls, my family hoped that he would make his peace with God, that he would be able to trust, to rest. A scapular was placed on the bed post. My father saw Grandpa try to make the Sign of the Cross once or twice, but those frail arms would not obey. Frustrated, locked in silence, this man of the Old Sod who fought in World War II, worked as a welder for over 30 years, raised ten children, and loved his John Wayne movies, gave up his last breath on a Saturday, Our Lady's Day, wearing the scapular. His spirit moved free and strong again over those patchwork fields of Donegal, out into the West, through the thin veil of cloud that divides time and eternity. At the funeral, in a military chapel on a misty morning, a lone piper played Amazing Grace and we wept in our soft, subdued Irish way. We had grown silent too. But it was not uncommon for my grandfather to be silent. Frank was never much of a talker. He was a quiet man of action, total and uninterrupted, as he kept the family going and growing all those years. There are so many stories, and in all of them it seemed Grandpa's silence was the thing that spoke the loudest, in the lessons he taught his children. The year moved on, and many rosaries and masses were offered up in his name, as we prayed he would be in the Father's House. Then, over a year after his death, and the night before Ash Wednesday, Grandpa gave us a word. My Aunt Margaret, the eldest daughter, had a dream... She was in a white kitchen, an empty kitchen it seemed, all bathed in a white light; she couldn't make out any details. There were no appliances, just a sink and a window, and a lone figure stooped over the sink, stirring a cup of coffee. It was Grandpa. When he turned around, Margaret saw his face, young and strong, smiling. He was wearing his Irish sweater. "Daddy, what are you doing here? You look so good." Margaret said in the dream, perplexed, knowing he was dead. "Margaret, I'm all right." And he hugged her close. A few nights later, my aunt was on the phone with Grandma Donaghy. "Ma," she said, "I had a dream the other night. I saw daddy in a kitchen..." "Was he wearing that Irish sweater?" my Grandmother whispered. "Yeah, he was holding..." "A mug of coffee.... stirring it." Margaret's face paled as her mother relayed the very dream she had on the very same night. "Frank," my grandmother said in her dream, "what are you doing here? You look so good." "Nellie, I'm all right." He put his arms around her and the dream ended. There are coincidences, and their are God-incidences. How can two people have the same dream, with the same setting and the same dialogue, miles apart on the same night? This seems to me to be the work of angels, a pulling back of the veil, a gift and a glimmer of that silken web that binds us all and forms the web of being that is suspended above and around us all. For the Mystery of Providence, thank you God! For Your tender care of each of us, thank you Father! I believe Grandpa is home. For those who doubt, no explanation would suffice. For those who believe, no explanation is necessary.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

God "Loves" Me?

Simply saying this three letter word can conjure up different thoughts for different people these days. Thoughts that perhaps are hard to wrap our heads around, let alone our arms: A Bright Light, billowing clouds, a booming disembodied voice, a Force that is distant and yet somehow accessible, or even a kind of Cosmic Grandpa who some say actually hears us through a thing called prayer.
For others today, the word GOD seems small, antiquated, and irrelevant. Hasn't science disproved all that supernatural stuff? "We've evolved as a species and feel it no longer necessary to have a psychological crutch like GOD to get us through this life."
Finally, for others, (and this one perplexes the unbeliever to no end) GOD is as close and intimate and personal as, well, a person. God, they say, is above all a Lover, in fact, and He is crazy about us measly humans! So crazy that He came among us and has now and forevermore, a human face, a human heart! These folks believe Divinity married humanity in Jesus, forever.
Our first experience of God is so important, we either experience Him as the police guard that wants to punish or as Creative Love that awaits. - Pope Benedict XVI
I think in our American culture, so focused on ME that we too often forget about the OTHER, the idea of an objectively real and personal God somehow feels like an affront to our freedom, our reason, and individuality. God? Oh, right. Him again? The Big Landlord? Believing in Him means joining the rank and file and stifling the fun. It means losing your spontaneity and intellectual freedom because every Sunday you have to blindly "pay the rent." Or pay for "fire insurance," as some glibly joke. But this is ridiculously simplistic.
In our deepest being we all know that we were not made for laws. We were made for love.
I think this fear of losing ourselves in a love relationship with God is actually keeping us from true freedom. After all, when we close the door to the transcendent, we fail to become fully human. A caged, clipped bird can forget it was designed to fly.
Humans by nature are religious beings, made for the Infinite, made for the Bottomless Mystery of a God Who loves us. We have a longing for this unending love, truth, and a beauty that does not fade. Need proof? Just listen to your own heart's desires! (or the music of Journey or Foreigner, heh heh). We long to give ourselves to the Infinite, to lose ourselves in Love, but when we close our minds to the idea of it being really real, transcendent, responsive, immanent through grace, then we clip our own wings. Consequently, we discover that we cannot give ourselves fully to anyone.
“Once God is forgotten... the creature itself grows unintelligible.”
- Gaudium et Spes
When we deny or dismiss the Infinite as unreal or irrelevant, we end up eventually stagnating in a pool of boredom. or narcissism, or egocentrism. What is the meaning of life if the source of that Life is dead? We then fall back on ourselves, but without the real power to love, to get beyond ourselves, to transcend. Then we settle on giving part of our hearts but not all, or worse, we go through relationships grasping instead of trusting that love will be given to us.
So where is the truth that will set us free? How can we know if God is real, and really loves me? Read Scripture.
When we're quiet and alone with that book, we can get some pretty deep thoughts. You might even catch a thought like the one Augustine whispered to himself way back in the 4th century when he cracked open the Scriptures. "The deepest desire of my heart is to see another and to be seen by the Other." Is God Love? Is it just Law? Well, ask God. Let Him in, and you'll discover you have an infinite capacity for Him. And if God is truly a Person, a Communion of Persons, in fact, then how else could we actually know Him unless we let Him into the heart? I don't think my way through relationships with people, I don't reason out the issues at stake, mentally prep myself to fall in love. "On September 24, 2009 at precisely 9:37am I will fall in love." No, I reach out and speak words. I open the mind and let down the guard a bit with the one standing before me. I listen, wait, gaze long and let myself be looked upon. That look builds a relationship. Why should this be any different with God?
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. This is the lived experience of Christ's promise: "He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him."
- Pope John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte 33
Originally published in The Publican

Wanna Be

Do you wanna be happy, whole, integrated, joyful, successful, at peace, part of something amazing, purposeful, powerful, confident, loved, loving, redeemed, relaxed, realized, real? Then you wanna become a saint.
Do you wanna be a person in touch, in truth, inspired, desired, magnetic, magnanimous, moved, and moving? Then you wanna become a saint.
There is only one tragedy in the end - not to have been a saint. - Leon Bloy
So save yourself all the yogi guru self-help hullabaloo. Wholeness is simpler than that - it's found in holiness! Let's cut through all the plaster cast, plastic past, Campbell's Soup Kid lookin' holy card pictures of saints for a moment. What does it really mean to become a saint?
It means to become vulnerable. To be open. To receive all things from the Hand of God in trust and in love. A saint is synonymous with what's sane. A saint is the ultimate realist, for there is nothing more real than the Cross and the Broken Body stretched upon it. And there's no place for vanity. The hollow of the heart is open to the Mystery, the metal of the mind is sharpened by this Truth.... We are small, we are creatures, but we are made for the Infinite, and nothing in this finite world can satisfy us. And our deepest dignity lies in this longing...
I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same. - C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Talking to Your Little Ones About the Big Topic of Sex

A much repeated sentence we hear at our Theology of the Body retreats and courses is "I wish I heard this when I was younger!" ...