Monday, April 23, 2012

Mexico, Volcanos, and the Scope of Human Love

It was a grace last week to travel to Mexico and share Pope John Paul II's teaching on "human love in the divine plan." This teaching commonly called a theology of the body has been interpreted by some as a teaching specifically intended for the married, as it touches so beautifully on the relationship between spouses and the intimacy of human love. But I spoke last week in Mexico to over 120 consecrated women... Women who have freely chosen to sacrifice the intimacy of married affection, children, and all the "joys" the catechism says God gives spouses "as a foretaste of Heaven" for something more (CCC 1642). So what did this "Theology of the Body" have to say to them? Everything.

The Theology of the Body holds within it the full truth and meaning of sexuality and therefore conjugal and consecrated love. After all, it is a reflection rooted in Scripture offered by a celibate man and priest of God, Pope John Paul II, grounded in his prayerful dialogue with those celibate, married or aspiring to marriage over the course of his entire life. It is an understanding of human love in the Divine plan; in other words, it is Christianity reloaded, and reincarnated for the modern world. It's not something new, as much as it's something renewed for modern man. In essence, it addresses the human ache for the infinite, and in this regard can speak volumes to the hearts of every man and woman on the planet; single, married, celibate, widowed, divorced, disenchanted and dysfunctional (which is actually all of us).

Fr. Cantalamessa once wrote... "The primary object of our eros, of our search, desire, attraction, passion must be Christ." 

 The God-given desire for intimacy, expressed so beautifully in the marital embrace is really a kind of foreshadowing of a Love that will and already can fill every hole in the heart. Ask any married person and in all honesty they should answer you that their spouse isn't their savior. We really can't, in our fallenness and imperfection, fully "complete each other." We must look for a Higher Love, one that can flood every human vessel with Divine Mercy. A Love which can lead us up and out of ourselves, through others to the Source of all Love. Think how often human couples speak of "falling in love" as if it actually is a separate reality, distinct from the two of them. And marital love not only can create a third person, but it truly IS the presence of a Third Person. Love is the Holy Spirit, Eternal Bond of the Father and the Son! Love is truly a Trinity. And the Catechism again reveals to us this connection of the human to the Divine: God has revealed his innermost secret: God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange. - CCC, 221

In Mexico, we pondered these truths, in a beautiful retreat center, nestled in a mountainous gap between two massive volcanos. One was aptly named for a warrior (still actively spewing plumes of ash like a smokey sword into the sky) and the other called the "Sleeping Maiden" - the warrior's treasured beloved, a reclining snow-covered range of mountain peaks. In their shadows, we pondered the significance of masculinity and femininity in the world. We saw just as the ancient indigenous of the region did in those mountains, something cosmic in man and woman, something that earthly signs were here to point towards. In our separate and distinct vocations, we taught each other and learned from each other. I prayed that my marriage witnessed the tenderness and service needed to make love present in the family. And for me, I learned from these beautiful, consecrated spouses of Christ, that my married love must open itself to the tenderness and service poured out in the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Such is the sweet complimentarity of the calls to conjugal and consecrated love. One day when the Spirit comes to flood the world again and return us all to the Father, we shall all be wrapped up in that heavenly embrace where "totality embraces totality." (Pope Benedict XVI) And in Heaven it is said that all men and women will "rejoice one day with your Beloved, in a happiness and rapture that can never end." (St. Teresa of Avila)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Mystical Body Of Christ: Sacred Art and the Theology of the Body

This masterpiece is one of surrealist Salvador Dali’s best known works. Completed in 1955, "The Sacrament of the Last Supper" was commissioned by art collector Chester Dale. It is a shimmering, symmetrical feast of translucence, crisp edges and imposing angles. In the fashion of one of his inspirations, Leonardo da Vinci’s own Last Supper, Dali has Christ positioned in the center of the painting so that our eyes, while free to explore the air of reverence surrounding Him, are always drawn back to Christ in the end.

The Apostles appear around him as if in adoration, cloaked in glimmering robes, heads bowed. The bread and wine appear set in a triangular formation, pointing off center to the place where Christ’s side will be pierced by a soldier’s lance. Above and embracing the entire scene is another body, massive, encompassing the whole celebration. This is the feast of the Body of Christ, and the Theology of His Body has become, to the utter amazement of the cloaked men around Him, the gateway to Infinity. Wrapped in contemplation, we can imagine them, like us, pondering this mystery. Jesus’s very chest is now translucent; it has become a portal allowing us access to the Father! Dali has the enigmatic symbol of this journey of faith well represented; a boat appears waiting for us, behind or perhaps through the Heart of Christ.

In this holy season, this Easter season now dawning in the month of April, we are invited to see with this new light. A divine and diaphanous light has now penetrated and permeated into the cracks and dark spaces of each and every human experience. If we choose to turn our faces towards Him, open these spaces before Him, He will fill us up with that same light. Let us heed the words of Blessed John Paul II:

“To contemplate the face of Christ, and to contemplate it with Mary, is the “program” which I have set before the Church at the dawn of the third millennium, summoning her to put out into the deep on the sea of history with the enthusiasm of the new evangelization.” - Ecclesia de Eucharistia, #6 

And in this post-resurrection feast of love and light, in the breaking of this bread, we will truly see “each other, as if through the mystery of creation, man and woman see each other even more fully and distinctly than through the sense of sight itself...” (Blessed John Paul II, TOB, Jan. 2, 1980)

Originally published for the Theology of the Body Institute April 2012 newsletter.

Touched by Touch

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? 
- C.S. Lewis 
How many times in your life have you heard people say “Everything happens for a reason”? Countless times, I’m sure. 

People say it when something goes wrong, like the untimely death of a child or in the case of a person diagnosed with cancer. “Everything happens for a reason.”

But many struggle with this cold assessment of events that cut us to the core. “God’s will” they’ll say. But what a seemingly cruel force to be at work in the universe flicking switches in people’s lives that say “off” and “on.” Good luck, bad luck. Blessed, cursed.

I don’t suppose there is a reader right now looking at these words who has not felt that knot in the center of their chest at some point in this life. Is there anyone who has not experienced first hand that suffocating “cloud of unknowing” the mystics speak of in their writings? I know we have, in the brief and incredibly heart-breaking experience of the life and death of our daughter Grace. She lived for just 10 hours, cradled in our arms and kissed by our family members over and over again until her tiny heart stopped beating. 

“Everything happens for a reason” they said, and “God has a plan.” A priest visiting the hospital, well meaning I suppose (but clueless nonetheless) coldly said to us “You’re young. You’ll have others.” We were stunned.

This question of a deeper meaning and plan in life remains at the heart of our post 9/11 world. It’s a world appearing at times as a tapestry of beauty, grace and serendipity, and yet when life takes a turn, it reveals tangled knots of senseless violence, suffering, and random accidents that defy any meaning or purpose or plan. Is there a connection? A reason? Is there an Author of this Play called Life or not? This ultimate question is taken up in a powerful new series called “Touch.” 

Kiefer Sutherland, the acclaimed star of the hit series “24”, returns to television as Martin Bohm. The show debuted in late January and at the writing of this review had only shown its pilot episode. The story revolves around Sutherland’s character, a widower and single father, and his young son Jake. Martin has had his share of tragedy - his wife was killed in the North Tower during the attacks of September 11, and he has spent the last decade frustrated by his inability to connect to his 11-year-old son (played by David Mazouz). Jake, for reasons as yet unknown, has never spoken a word. He reacts violently when touched, even by his own father, and the one thing that seems to consume his attention and time is numbers. The Fibonacci sequence to be exact. It’s the Golden Ratio, the mystical meandering set of integers that has mesmerized mathematicians, astronomers, artists, and naturalists for centuries, all the way back to the ancient Greeks some say. Young Jake has discovered the sequence on his own.

The numbers appear as patterns in nature from seashells to spiral galaxies, in pine cones and pineapples, sunflowers and in the design on the wings of dragonflies (for more on the Golden Ratio and what has been called “God’s Fingerprint,” you’ll just have to visit your local search engine and carve out three hours to explore. It is fascinating stuff). 

“Touch” posits the idea that Jake is a gifted child who can see these patterns in nature and how they spill into the affairs of men and women all over the globe. “The world is connected. But only his son sees how.” So runs the tag line for the series, and its first episode did not fail to impress. It was a pilot full of promise, and though it certainly has strong elements of sci-fi, it’s filled with so much heart. There are moments when you’ll need to turn off the disbelief that too often comes with years and let yourself believe. What we loved about the show was the harmonious blend of science and spirituality, and the diagnosis that our digital age, as amazing as it can be, still leaves a hollow space in the soul. As the voiceover from Jake says at the end of the pilot: 

“Today we'll send over 300 billion e-mails, 19 billion text messages. Yet we'll still feel alone. The average person will say 2250 words to 7.4 other individuals. Will these words be used to hurt or to heal?”

The Catholic author Caryll Houselander once wrote that “We are only syllables of the perfect Word.” The Church teaches us that we are part of the Mystical Body of Christ, spanning not only the globe but time and history as well. We are all connected, and we are all threads in this great tapestry of existence. Why some of those threads are dark and knotted, twisted and seemingly clashing with more pleasing colors remains a mystery. A mystery we certainly can’t untangle in this article. But this truth remains: The threads touch, and the tapestry hangs together, and the final work when the Master Weaver is through, I have no doubt, will leave us speechless in awe and wonder.
A show like “Touch” contains that yearning within it to find this communion that faith gives. In this age of Facebook and FaceTime, as wonderful as those tools can be, we know nothing can replace the real face of the loved ones around us. We crave that connection.

Today it takes no great stretch of the imagination to envisage the earth as an interconnected globe humming with electronic transmissions - a chattering planet nestled in the provident silence of space. The ethical question is whether this is contributing to authentic human development and helping individuals and peoples to be true to their transcendent destiny.

- Archbishop John Foley

“Touch” may be a show that gets us back in touch with that question again. By living the questions, we put ourselves on a quest. In light of our own sorrows as parents who have lost a child, we know the quest isn’t just a chase after numbers to help us make sense of it all, though there may be such comforts and “coincidences” (we had our share with our Gracie). No, we seek not numbers but a Name to make sense of it all. The Name means “God is with us” - and He entered into our mess, our fallen history, and He made it His Story. He confronted evil and suffering and he too lived the questions when He cried out on that Cross of contradiction “My God, My God, why have You abandoned me?” Psalm 22, which Jesus quoted, ends not in agony, however, but trust. His blood is now the silken red cord that ties all things together! By His wounds we are healed.

The pilot of “Touch” ended with Martin climbing a tower to a dark and rainy height where his son has placed himself, looking down on the pain around him. Martin cries out finally with understanding, “I can hear you now. I can hear you!” And for the first time the two embrace in a cathartic climax that had us weeping. I believe our pain and confusion in life will end in a similar embrace with Our God... in the embrace of a Father and Son with all of humanity. “The world is connected. But only His Son sees how.”

This article was originally published in Phaith Magazine, Archdiocese of Philadelphia, April Issue 2012

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Beyond the Blue

Welcome to "Beyond the Blue," one of my favorite new musical romps through the human experience by Josh Garrels, an incredibly gifted young man from Portland, Oregon. The lyrics hit the ground running and take you on a journey deep into the heart and through it beyond the blue! Enjoy!

Beyond the Blue 

Stand on the shores of a site unseen
The substance of this dwells in me
Cause my natural eyes only go skin deep
But the eye’s of my heart anchor the sea
Plumbing the depths to the place in between
The tangible world and the land of a dreams
Because everything ain’t quite it seems
There’s more beneath the appearance of things
A beggar could be king within the shadows, Of a wing

And wisdom will honor everyone who will learn
To listen, to love, and to pray and discern
And to do the right thing even when it burns
And to live in the light through treacherous turns
A man is weak, but the spirit yearns
To keep on course from the bow to the stern
And throw overboard every selfish concern
That tries to work for what can’t be earned
Sometimes the only way to return is to go,
Where the winds will take you

Read the rest here!

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!" ...