Friday, December 28, 2012

The Facts of God

The basic form of Christian faith is not: I believe something, but I believe you... faith is not primarily a colossal edifice of numerous supernatural facts, standing like a curious second order of knowledge alongside the realm of science, but an assent to God who gives us hope and confidence.

Faith and the Future, 20-1

Reflection – Well, here I am in Halifax, after 30 hours of marathon traveling by car, train, cab, train, and car. The highlight of the trip was our train running out of gas in Montreal (I didn’t know they could do that!), and a wild cab ride through the city to (barely) make our connecting train to the East coast. The CCO Rise-Up conference begins this afternoon, so as promised, here I am resuming regular blogging in the meantime.

When Ratzinger writes the above reflection on the nature of faith as opposed to science, we have to be careful that we understand him rightly. There is a whole approach to faith, which in this same book he explicitly rejects, where religion has nothing to do with facts or historical events, but is simply a matter of emotion or ethics or aesthetics. All the dogmas and creedal formulations are mere symbols that help us towards an ethical or beautiful way of life.

No – God has indeed communicated to us certain things about Himself, and these are essential to faith. His triune nature, His action of incarnation ex Maria virgine, and all that Jesus said and did in His life, the whole historical fact of Jesus’ death and resurrection and its effect on humanity, the reality of the ascension and the gift of the Spirit to the Church—all of these are facts, not mere symbolism or myth. The human language we are necessarily required to us to express these facts is, of course, inadequate to the nature of God, but nonetheless, the revelation is real and the facts are facts.

Ratzinger’s point here is that all of these facts are not merely given to us in the sense that scientific data is given to us, as bare statements about the world which we either find useful or not, but which are nonetheless given to us as information about reality.

This is not the dynamism of faith. Faith is all about making a choice about this core relationship with this One who reveals Himself to us. God reveals Himself as Father—my choice is to trust Him and base my life on His love. God reveals Himself as Son—my choice is to recognize in the Son the way to the Father and the pattern of my own life as a son of the Father. God reveals Himself as Spirit—my choice is to cry out ‘Come, Holy Spirit’, to know and live my life out of the surety of God’s action and gift to me of His own self.

And so it goes. Every little bit of the facts, the data God reveals to us is for the sake of eliciting a response of trusting love and joyful obedience in us. Now at this point a voice from the peanut gallery can perhaps be heard. ‘Yeah, right!’ it seems to say.

Because of course it is the feast of the Holy Innocents today, isn’t it. And with that feast, right in the heart of all the joyful facts about baby Jesus and mother Mary and the noble awesome doctrine of the Incarnation—God becoming man, the Word taking flesh—well, suddenly we have a lot of other facts to contend with.

Dead babies. Murdered children. Lots of them. A violent, brutal world in which the weakest and most innocent, the vulnerable and the small are run over and torn apart by the cruelty of wicked men and the selfishness of our modern ‘civilized’ way of life. We look to our Church, where the facts tell us the Spirit has been poured out, and alas! More abused children, a betrayal of trust, and deep sorrow and rage.

These are all facts, too. And so we have the facts of God and the facts of man. That which God has shown us, and that which humanity shows us. And of course world and church are full of goodness and kindness and sympathy—it’s not all wicked cruelty. But there it is, and we all know it.

It seems to me that in the face of what we all know about the world and what happens to people, especially the small and weak in the world, we can choose to despair in God, in the ‘facts of God’ which at any rate do not seem to be strong enough to stop human evil from propagating. Or we can choose to take our stand on these facts of God, the promises of God, the action of God, the love of God in the world. Ally ourselves to it, commit our lives to receiving it, following it, and imitating it, and so become ourselves a ‘fact of God’ in the world. A saint, in other words.

Or we can cry and scream and curse the darkness and curse or deny God. We may need to cry or even scream at times, in the face of terrible evil and suffering. But always we are confronted with the choice to love, to turn to God, to take up the task, the burden, and the glorious mission of love in the world, and so be one with the One who bore that burden in full and has carried the whole world—all the suffering children, all the abused and the abusers who make them suffer—in his Sacred Heart to the heart of the Father, to be healed and raised up with Him in a new world where such things are no more, and every tear will be wiped away.
Happy feast day, holy innocents, and all us less-than-innocent ones, too.

Update: It appears that wifi access is going to be very limited this week, and the schedule rather full. I am currently working from a nearby Tim Hortons! So... talk to you all in the New Year, and meanwhile keep CCO Rise-Up in your prayers.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Tonight in This Stable There is Peace

The great men and women of prayer throughout the centuries were privileged to receive an interior union with the Lord that enabled them to descend into the depths beyond the word. They are therefore able to unlock for us the hidden treasures of prayer.

And we may be sure that each of us, along with our totally personal relationship with God, is received into, and sheltered within, this prayer. Again and again, each one of us with his mens, his own spirit, must go out to meet, open himself to, and submit to the guidance of the vox, the word that comes to us from the Son. In this way his own heart will be opened, and each individual will learn the particular way in which the Lord wants to pray with him.

Jesus of Nazareth 1, 133

Reflection – I have set myself the challenge this week of relating every post and the randomly generated passage I select from Ratzinger’s writings to the Christmas mystery. This rather beautiful passage about prayer lends itself to this in a strange kind of way.

Christmas for most people can become a frenetic time. Lots to do—decorating, cooking, shopping, traveling perhaps—and lots of activities and events: parties, meals, caroling, family rituals, maybe even the odd church service.

While that is the nature of festivity and as such is right and proper (if a bit fatiguing), it can get us a bit out of balance if we are not careful. Prayer is needed at all times to put us back into reality and into interior peace and stability.

To pray at Christmas, in the midst of all the noise and rush and celebratory fuss—this is a great gift. And I think there is a special grace of prayer at this time of year, if we look for it. God comes to us with such delicacy and beauty at Christmas, the little baby lying on straw in the manger, his lovely mother hovering over him, the star shining and the angels singing, the kings and shepherds adoring.

There is trouble and fuss beforehand—getting to Bethlehem was a terribly busy rush for Mary and Joseph. There will be great trouble and fuss and much worse—tragedy and loss—afterwards. The flight into Egypt with a newborn baby must have been a great suffering for them. But here and now, this night, in this stable, there is great peace, great beauty, great silence, deep prayer. And I think this silence and prayer is waiting for us in the Christmas season, perhaps at the crèche set, perhaps before the Lord Himself in the tabernacle, perhaps in the silence of your own heart. Sometimes we do need to step away from all the noise and fuss of the feast to find that silence.

So, while I wish you all a most merry Christmas, I also want to wish you a prayer-y Christmas (ouch). After all, He came for this, that each one of us could find Him readily and certainly and come into this deep and total union of love with Him, and so be conformed to His life and love in the world, and be happy with Him forever in the next world.

This will be my last blog post for at least a couple of days. My own Christmas will have a different kind of ‘fuss’ to it this year. On Boxing Day (that’s December 26 for you Americans), myself and two of the Madonna House lay staff will board a train for Halifax to attend the Rise-Up event hosted by Catholic Christian Outreach, a wonderful Canadian university evangelization group. Since I have no idea whatsoever what will be the schedule, the accommodations, the internet access, or much else indeed about what the next week has in store, I don’t know when regular blogging will resume. Might be December 27, might be January 3!
So I do indeed wish you all a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year, beg your prayers for me and mine and assure you of my prayers for all of you. I look forward to another year of German Shepherding with you all!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas, Calvary, and Holy Communion

The life of the liturgy does not come from what dawns upon the minds of individuals and planning groups. On the contrary, it is God’s descent upon our world, the source of real liberation. He alone can open the door to freedom. The more priests and faithful humbly surrender themselves to this descent of God, the more ‘new’ the liturgy will constantly be, and the more true and personal it becomes. Yes, the liturgy becomes personal, true, and new, not through tomfoolery and banal experiments with the words, but through a courageous entry into the great reality that through the rite is always ahead of us and can never quite be overtaken.

Spirit of the Liturgy, 168-9

Reflection – Well, the Christmas hits just keep on coming here at LWAGS, from all kinds of unexpected directions. Yesterday modern mistaken notions of freedom took us right to the foot of the cradle, the cross, and the tabernacle. Today a wrong notion of liturgy and creativity therein leads us to this luminous statement: ‘it is God’s descent upon the world [that is] the source of real liberation. He alone can open the door to freedom.’

This idea of the ‘descent’ of God upon the world is so charged with meaning and beauty. We think of the Holy Spirit overshadowing Mary, and the hidden invisible life beginning in her womb, soon to come forth in radiance and wonder. We think of the hills of Bethlehem and the angelic choirs giving those shepherds the shock of their lives, of the running to the stable, the silent adoration, the marvel of it all.

We think of stars leading the wise and kings being disturbed and frightened for their power as this new and strange power arises in the land. We think of their lashing out with intensity by the murder of children—a terrible and heart-breaking Christmas resonance this year. We think of so many things, all in this phrase, the descent of God into the world.

God has come; God is coming; God is perpetually descending, perpetually entering into our human sphere, like a pirate on a raid, an invading army landing on our beaches, a colonization program perpetually subduing the natives—us—and bringing the divine culture and ways into our savage humanity.

It is Sunday, and most of you readers will go to church some time today, I hope. There is God, coming, descending, invading, raiding, conquering: on the altar, and in your heart as you receive communion. This constant reality that is always greater than us, always surpassing us, always more than what we bargained for, more than what we thought would happen.

God always give us more for Christmas, which is every day, than we asked for. Most of us want a peaceful content life, largely pain-free, with some outlet for creativity perhaps, and at least a few people around to love and who love us. This is the normal desire of roughly decent human beings, and indeed it is a faint echo of the longing for heaven.

We have to realize, though, that God brings us to the heavenly life, not by giving us a nice little content life here and now, but by pouring his Spirit upon us here and now, filling us with his divinity here and now, summoning us into the adventure and grandeur of divine charity here and now, beckoning us to love the world as he loves the world here and now, even though that love will break our hearts at times and certainly never allow us to relax into complacency and ease.

God comes into the world, into the liturgy, into our hearts, and bursts all of it open into true freedom which is the life of love in the world. That is his constant desire and his constant action. That is what Christmas is for, and Calvary, and Communion. In the face of this strange and overwhelming action and love of God, what are we to respond? With tomfoolery and banal improvisations, bringing all our ‘brilliant’ human ideas to God to improve his divine program? This can happen in life as well as in liturgy, you know. Or are we to essentially fall down and worship and adore him, and surrender all our ideas, our words, our hopes, our plans, our dreams, our cleverness, our relationships, our culture—everything, everything, everything to Him.
To the One who has come, is coming, and will come perpetually descending upon the world to bring the world of man up into the life of God. Come let us adore Him, and come let us do whatever He bids us do.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Baby Jesus and Modernity

The implicit goal of all modernity’s struggles for freedom is to be at last like a god who depends on nothing and no none, and whose own freedom is not restricted by that of another. Once we glimpse this hidden theological core of the radical will to freedom, we can also discern the fundamental error which still spreads its influence wherever such radical conclusions are not directly willed or are even rejected.

“Truth and Freedom,” Communio 23 (Spring, 1996), 28

Reflection – We had a major blizzard here last night, along with (apparently) a significant swath of North America, which of course knocked power out and generally wrought chaos of various winter-themed varieties. In consequence, this post will be a bit on the short side—we are all a bit boulversé at the moment.

Here, though, we see another Christmas-themed reflection from Ratzinger. Eh? What’s that, you say? You don’t quite get the connection with this abstract philosophical statement about freedom and modernity and the baby Jesus? Haven’t you been paying attention here?

The whole thing is our human idea, not just modern, but human, that freedom means being unbound by any restriction, unfettered, uncontrolled, unconstrained whatsoever. This is our great grand idea of what it means to be free.

We don’t know what we’re talking about. God shows us what true freedom is, and he shows us that by being bound in swaddling bands, being carried around by Mary like a package (a beloved, cherished package, but still!), being nailed to a cross and immobilized, lying dead in the tomb, and even now in his risen ascended flesh handing himself to us in the Sacred Host, placing himself at our disposal.

Not a lot of ‘unfetteredness’ there, eh? Fetters as far as the eye can see. And this is God, and this is the perfect man.

Freedom means being unfettered in one thing and one thing only, and that is the unbound freedom to love and to pour oneself out in a constant gift of love, in truth and in justice. Every other freedom—all the freedoms we rightly cherish and wish to preserve as members of a free society—are only fully good, only fully realized if they are at the service of love and of truth.

This, by the way, is why we are such dire straits in our society today. Some value our ‘freedoms’ more, some less, but few indeed understand that true freedom and true human life only is secured by the gift of love and a passion for justice which is truth. Because there is precious little of this happening in the modern world, society is falling apart, and this is why there is so much violence, killing, madness, evil. Sorry to be so blunt and plain spoken, but there it is. The blizzard made me do it.

The baby Jesus has a deep secret, a deep truth to tell us about all these matters. What is it to be free, what is it to be human, what is it to have a good life, what is it to fulfill our destiny? Look at the little one lying on the straw, the baby at the breast, the man on the cross, the host in the tabernacle. The answer lies there, and until we find that answer and make it our own, we will lurch from one abortive effort at freedom to another which truly make us less and less free all the time.
Happy Christmas to you all—let’s all make sure we come to the manger and stay there, so He can give us the Christmas present we most deeply need at this time and in our world. Love, and from love, freedom, peace, and joy.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Season of Matter

The essence of modern materialism… consists in the way in which the relationship between matter and spirit is conceived. Here, matter is the first and original element; it is matter, not the Logos, that stands at the beginning. Everything develops out of matter in a process of contingencies that becomes a process of necessities. Spirit is never more than the product of matter. If one knows the laws of matter and can manipulate them, then one can also change the course of the spirit.

A Turning Point for Europe?, 83-4

Reflection – Well, it is the season of matter, isn’t it? Christmas time, shortly, and hence the great feast of the Incarnation. God becoming flesh; God, pure spirit, assuming to himself matter, taking a body from the flesh of Mary to carry our human flesh to the very heart of the godhead in his suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension.

But at Christmas we contemplate the baby, this little creature of flesh lying in the straw, warmed by the animals because he can be cold now, fed by his mother’s breasts because he can be hungry now, soon to be fleeing with Mary and Joseph to Egypt because he can be killed now.

This rather dry (perhaps) philosophical reflection from Ratzinger directly relates to the Christmas mystery, this central dogma of the Incarnation, God become flesh. Matter without spirit, a strictly material universe, is locked wholly into a series of laws and rigid patterns of motion and rest. Even if those laws are complex in their interactions, and so we have things like chaos theory which means we cannot predict the movements of bodies in complex systems accurately, nonetheless matter is entirely constrained by unbreakable laws. You canna’ defy the laws of physics, Captain!

It is only spirit, and Spirit, that brings freedom into the material picture. It is only a person who can make a free decision for or against a course of action. The stars in their courses and the atoms in their vibrations are set, determined.

And it is materialism that more and more yields determinism of various kinds. We are controlled by our genes… or by our environments… or by our brain chemistry. Personal identity is more and more determined by factors outside our choice and control, like sexual orientation or race, and those things we have chosen for ourselves, like our religion, are more and more marginalized as significant considerations for our choices or meaningful human rights to be respected.

The Incarnation—the Spirit overshadowing the flesh of Mary, the very Logos of God becoming flesh in her womb, the very life of God embracing and transforming the whole material universe in this mystery—this is the permanent Christian answer to materialism and determinism. God, in a sense, became man so that man could be liberated eternally from the determinations of matter.

Not so that we become free from matter itself—the resurrection of the body means that we will be physical material creatures for eternity. But we are free from matter’s limits, its exigencies, its finite mortality, its locked-in-to-itself quality. Because of what God did to matter in Nazareth, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem, all of matter is made into a vehicle of God’s grace and God’s life.

All the material universe is made into a vessel for love and communion. It was made to be so from the beginning, but sin and failure frustrated this divine plan. Christ opens the door again, and the divine presence, mercy, love, grace flows forth from his risen body into the life of the Church and its sacraments, and through the Church into the whole cosmos.
Well, that is our answer to materialism: O come let us adore him. God became matter, and so matter is permanently disposed to receive the life of God. And this is the true meaning of Christmas.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Gamble For Life

Our journey starts from Baptism, the sacrament that gives us the Holy Spirit, making us become children of God in Christ, and marks our entry into the community of faith, into the Church: one does not believe by oneself, without the prior intervention of the grace of the Holy Spirit, one does not believe alone, but together with one’s brethren. From Baptism every believer is called to new life, and to make this confession of faith his or her own, together with the brethren.

Faith is a gift of God, but it is also a profoundly free and human act. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says so clearly: “Believing is possible only by grace and the interior help of the Holy Spirit. But it is no less true that believing is an authentically human act... contrary neither to human freedom nor to human reason” (n. 154). Indeed, it involves them and uplifts them in a gamble for life that is like an exodus, that is, a coming out of ourselves, from our own certainties, from our own mental framework, to entrust ourselves to the action of God who points out to us his way to achieve true freedom, our human identity, true joy of the heart, peace with everyone. Believing means entrusting oneself in full freedom and joyfully to God’s providential plan for history, as did the Patriarch Abraham, as did Mary of Nazareth. Faith, then, is an assent with which our mind and our heart say their “yes” to God, confessing that Jesus is Lord. And this “yes” transforms life, unfolds the path toward fullness of meaning, thereby making it new, rich in joy and trustworthy hope.

General Audience, 24 October 2012

Reflection – Well there’s a lot going on in this text. I want to highlight the Pope’s wonderful exposition of the faith’s involvement with freedom and reason: faith is “contrary neither to human freedom nor to human reason… Indeed, it involves them and uplifts them in a gamble for life that is like an exodus, that is, a coming out of ourselves, from our own certainties, from our own mental framework, to entrust ourselves to the action of God who points out to us his way to achieve true freedom, our human identity, true joy of the heart, peace with everyone.”

This is the constant dynamic of faith. The daily Mass readings this last week of Advent show us example after example of people confronted with that ‘exodus’, that gamble for life. Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zechariah—each in his or her own way grappling with the deep mystery of God, the action of God leading them to truth, freedom, joy, peace.

It is one thing to see it in these historical biblical figures. It is quite something else to recognize it in one’s own life, or the lives of those we love. When our life does not quite go according to plan, when some affliction or setback or turmoil besets us and bests us, when illness or bad finances or broken relationships or some personal or collective failure throws everything in our life into question, it is far from easy to entrust ourselves to the action of God in this. Yet this is precisely what He would have us do, if we are to ‘achieve true freedom, our human identity, true joy of the heart, peace with everyone.’

It is the life and faith of the Church, the whole body of Christ extended through 2000 years of history and to the ends of the earth, that permanently beckons us on this exodus, this journey out from ourselves into the life of God. This is why, you know, we cannot just cut and paste the Church’s faith into whatever pattern we like or happen to agree with. As soon as we do this, it is no longer a challenge to us calling us out of ourselves. It is ourselves—what we happen to like and find agreeable.

No exodus there, then. Just a collapsing back into our own self. It is the constant surrender of our own certainties and cultural-individual mores to the deposit of faith and morals presented us by the Church that draws us into this deep encounter with God working through his Church, into this deep liberation from our own self-will and self-assuredness.

It is always and at all times a matter of encounter with love, of encounter with the Other who loves us and so tells us the truth about life and about ourselves and how we are to live. A painful and difficult aspect of this for many, I know, is that this Other comes to us through the imperfect and messy human medium of the Church He founded and which he animates and enlightens with the gift of His Spirit. But this is our Catholic faith. And in this, too, we are called to a deep trust that the divine wisdom is at work here, too, healing our human isolationism and division by asking us to surrender to a human institution and its God-given authority.
Well, that’s quite enough for one day (a double helping today, since yesterday’s computer glitches largely silenced me!). Peace to you all as we ponder the great mystery of surrender and faith, in Mary, in all these others, and in our life in the Church and in God.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Blogger Up...

My laptop seems to have resurrected from the cyber-dead (no irreverence meant... well, not much!). Back with regular blogging ASAP.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Blogger Down...

Well, blogging may be just a wee bit sporadic these next days, as my laptop (which has been a bit sickly lately) appears to have given up the ghost... or the hard drive, as the case may be.
It is my main tool for blogging, and it will be most difficult to blog without it, so there may be a hiatus of a couple days or so before I can get something else figured out (or buy a new laptop...). Talk to you all later!

Good Seed, Good Soil

Trust in the action of the Holy Spirit must always impel us to go and preach the Gospel, to the courageous witness of faith; but, in addition to the possibility of making a positive response to the gift of faith, there is also the risk of rejecting the Gospel, of not accepting the vital encounter with Christ. St Augustine was already posing this problem in one of his commentaries on the Parable of the Sower.

“We speak”, he said, “we cast the seed, we scatter the seed. There are those who deride us, those who reproach us, those who mock at us. If we fear them we have nothing left to sow and on the day of reaping we will be left without a harvest. Therefore may the seed in the good soil sprout” (Discourse on Christian Discipline, 13,14: PL 40, 677-678). Rejection, therefore, cannot discourage us. As Christians we are evidence of this fertile ground. Our faith, even with our limitations, shows that good soil exists, where the seed of the Word of God produces abundant fruits of justice, peace and love, of new humanity, of salvation. And the whole history of the Church, with all the problems, also shows that good soil exists, that the good seed exists and bears fruit.

Yet, let us ask ourselves: where can man find that openness of heart and mind to believe in God who made himself visible in Jesus Christ who died and Rose, to receive God’s salvation so that Christ and his Gospel might be the guide and the light of our existence? The answer: we can believe in God because he comes close to us and touches us, because the Holy Spirit, a gift of the Risen One, enables us to receive the living God. Thus faith is first of all a supernatural gift, a gift of God.

General Audience, 24 October 2012

Reflection – Well, last time I took the Pope’s invitation to stop and ponder the reality of the rejection of the Gospel in the modern world. Now we have his own short reflection on the matter in this general audience.

So the key point for him is hope. Yes, many people have decided, for whatever reasons, that Christianity or religion is unnecessary or unacceptable to them. But many have not. Many are searching for some deeper meaning in life, some deeper purpose to what is going on around us in the world, some way of engaging life in its tragedies and challenges.

Christianity has, for 2000 years, provided a rich and life-giving way of doing just that. And many people are, all over the world, coming to receive the Good News as if it is fresh news, a new revelation of God, undiminished and unfaded by the centuries.

This is one of the great joys of life in Madonna House. We have the great privilege of journeying with hundreds of people, mostly rather young, as they learn or rediscover the truth, beauty, and goodness of the Gospel of Christ and of the Catholic faith. So we do get to see here that the seed is good indeed and that there is indeed good soil in the world.

In other words, the Spirit is still moving over the face of the earth, and it is lovely to see. It is lovely to see new hope, new joy, new life, new love being sparked in the eyes and faces of so many young people from all over the world who come to share our MH life for a week, a month, a year.

And of course we have to remember that what we experience in North America and Europe—a growing tide of secularism and indifference or hostility to religion—is not the global picture at all. Christianity has exploded in Africa in the past century, and continues to do so today. China has more baptized Christians now than America. There is good seed and good soil all over the world in this year of 2012; we have no reason to be discouraged.
So, let’s keep putting the Gospel out there, each according to our gifts and station in life. Personal friendship, works of mercy, words of truth and hope, commitment of life to the love of God and neighbour—all the ordinary-extraordinary ways of casting the seed to the four winds, to the One Wind of the Spirit who alone can make our lives fruitful and bring faith into the hearts of men today. So let’s do our little part for and with Him.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

It's a Mystery to Me

I think we should meditate more often — in our daily life, marked by problems and at times by dramatic situations — on the fact that believing in a Christian manner means my trusting abandonment to the profound meaning that sustains me and the world, that meaning that we are unable to give to each other but can only receive as a gift, and that is the foundation on which we can live without fear. And we must be able to proclaim this liberating and reassuring certainty of faith with words and show it by living our life as Christians.

However, we see around us every day that many remain indifferent or refuse to accept this proclamation. At the end of Mark’s Gospel we heard harsh words from the Risen One who says: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mk 16:16), loses himself. I would like to invite you to reflect on this.

General Audience, 24 October 2012

Reflection – The Pope is going to go on here in the audience to reflect himself on this reality of proclamation and rejection of the Gospel of Christ, but since he invites us to reflect on it ourselves, I thought I would stop here and do just that.

The wide-scale rejection of Christianity in the modern world is a deep mystery to me, I must say. I have never quite understood why so many people have turned away from the Christian faith, its practice, its beliefs. I suppose my own experience of Christianity, at least ever since I came to have a true apprehension of it around age 17 or so, has been so thoroughly positive, my understanding of what it means to be a follower of Christ and to really plunge into the demands and promises of the Gospel is so radiant and joyful even as it is far from easy and my fidelity to it far from perfect, that I find it difficult to connect with the popular image of the Church and Christianity that so many reject.

It seems to me that what so many people reject—harsh, censorious, hypocritical, joyless, boring, lifeless religion—is simply not the Gospel. Much of the apostasy of our day is not actually (I believe) an apostasy from the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the salvation it offers, but an apostasy from a bizarre caricature of that gospel, a parody Gospel which in fact is an anti-gospel, bad news all around for humanity.

Now I really don’t know where people get this anti-gospel from – that is the mystery to me. The parish life I grew up in was, perhaps, a little boring, the preaching not exactly stirring, the music rather tedious, and the parish life in general not exactly bursting with enthusiasm. But there was certainly no hellfire and brimstone or obsessing over sexual sin or any of the (frankly) ridiculous pictures of Catholicism the popular media like to project. Maybe some of that was true in an earlier era, but I am 46 years old, and I simply do not believe that very many people my age and younger were exposed to that kind of Catholicism.

The wide-scale rejection of faith in our day is mysterious to me. There is an entire generation now whose parents and perhaps even grand-parents were the ones who walked away from the church and from Christ, and for whom the whole thing is simply an utterly alien reality. Meanwhile this same generation are increasingly sub-literate, unlikely to have the attention span to even read (say) this short blog post. The new evangelization has deep challenges.

It seems to me that those of us who do believe and who do see the beauty and joy of Christianity need to reflect deeply on how to communicate this joy and beauty to the world. Social media, yes, but personal encounter more so. Reasoned explanations and elegant formulations, yes, but works of mercy and compassion more so.

Christianity and the Gospel are all about love—God’s passionate personal love for you and me and each human being, our entry into that mystery of love. We need to make love our focus, our priority, the main work to which we give our lives. Otherwise, people will simply never know who God is, and never know the fullness of life He is offering.
We have to do it. It is our job, and no one else can do it for us.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Protection and Shield

The sign of the Cross is a confession of faith: I believe in him who suffered for me and rose again; in him who has transformed the sign of shame into a sign of hope and of the love of God that is present with us. The confession of faith is a confession of hope: I believe in him who in his weakness is the Almighty; in him who can and will save me even in apparent absence and impotence.
By signing ourselves with the Cross, we place ourselves under the protection of the Cross, hold it in front of us like a shield that will guard us in all the distress of daily life and give us the courage to go on… The Cross shows us the road of life—the imitation of Christ.
Spirit of the Liturgy, 177-8
Reflection – I write this realizing that many of my readers, particularly in the States, have been saturated this past day with media coverage of the tragic school shooting in Newtown CT, the brutal slaying of 22 children and six of their teachers by a disturbed young man. In MH we had a silent day of recollection and prayer yesterday, and so only heard of this terrible event at supper. We don’t really have TV here, and limited internet access, and so are somewhat insulated from the incessant over-stimulation of horrific images and morass of painful details that accompany this kind of event; nonetheless we are all mindful of the grief and horror that many are carrying today.
It is a sign of the Cross kind of day. Time to confess our faith in this one who came to plunge precisely into the world’s madness and horror. Time to confess our faith precisely in the one who came to be a victim with the victims, who saved the whole human race and renewed the cosmos precisely by embracing the helplessness and seeming futility of a random violent death.
It is the sign of the Cross we need to turn to, the Cross we need to cling to, the reality, the fact of God’s love and presence penetrating to the very heart of darkness, descending to the very bowels of hell, bringing into the worst of our humanity the best of his divinity.
Coming right before Christmas lends this tragedy in Connecticut a particular poignancy, a particular shade of sadness. Some will say, understandably, that Christmas will simply not happen in that town this year.
Of course it will not be a ‘merry’ Christmas there, with parties and laughter and fun. But I do hope Christmas happens there, nonetheless. It is for this that Jesus was born into the world, that God became that little baby, that child, that helpless one. To save all the children, the babies, the helpless ones, the victims, all those who are run over, crushed, swept away by the tides of life and the evils of man. He came to open a door to something else, to another way of living, another place where such things cannot happen.
It is no accident that the feast of the Holy Innocents comes right on the heels of Christmas. In every century, every age, in every nation across the earth innocents have been slaughtered by ruthless and twisted men. The blood of the innocents cries out from the ends of the earth.
God came to save them, and to save us who may not be quite so innocent, but who cry out, too. And he saves them and us by becoming one of us, by entering into the passion of the innocent, by enduring the same hatred and violence and horror they endure. And this is our hope, and our saving grace.
So we pray for the poor people convulsed with grief and terror in this little town in New England. We pray for the dead, for their eternal rest and peace with God. We pray, yes, for this poor twisted young man who did this terrible act, for God’s mercy upon him. And we pray for our world, that all of us may turn to the Crucified One more deeply, more firmly, more absolutely, and allow his love and his mercy flowing from the Cross to wash over us, to penetrate us, to transform us, to become our own source of life and the pattern of our own actions, thoughts, words, being. To imitate him, and so be his love in our broken world.
It is a sign of the Cross kind of day.

Friday, December 14, 2012

More and More Luminous

Catherine de Hueck Doherty
It is December 14. In Madonna House, that date holds one signification and one only: it is the anniversary of death of our foundress, Catherine de Hueck Doherty. 27 years ago she had her birthday into eternity—if she is ever by God’s grace beatified or canonized, this will be her feast day. Meanwhile, it is a special solemn festive day in MH, a day of gratitude, prayer, and joy.

Last year I began the tradition (doing something two years in a row makes it a tradition!) of handing the blog over to Catherine on December 14. The blog exists, as you can see on the sidebar, because of my concern that Pope Benedict’s writings are ill-read, that due to media caricatures or perhaps a reluctance to tackle hard theology, people shy away from his inspired and inspiring words.

But I have a second concern, and that is that Catherine de Hueck Doherty’s writings, and her life and spirit in general, are largely being forgotten in the Church today. She was a well-known figure in Catholic circles in her life, particularly in the 60s and 70s, but in the ensuing decades has gone into something of an eclipse.

This is a great loss. She has a spirit, a depth, and a beauty in her writings that is truly unique in the Church, a warmth, a tone, a poetic passion that is quite her own.

And so, my annual challenge to my readers: if you read the below passage, and you like it, would you consider sharing it on your Facebook page or Twitter feed? It’s those little buttons that say ‘F’ or ‘t’ at the bottom of the post. Pope Benedict may be ill-read, but he is not likely to be wholly forgotten, being pope and all. Catherine is in danger of being forgotten, and I would like that not to happen.

So without further ado, here is the woman herself, talking about faith for this Year of Faith:

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Great Alleluia and a Greater Amen

Of course, this adherence to God is not without content; with it we are aware that God has shown himself to us in Christ, he has made us see his face and has made himself really close to each one of us. Indeed, God has revealed that his love for man, for each one of us, is boundless: on the Cross, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God made man, shows us in the clearest possible way how far this love reaches, even to the gift of himself, even to the supreme sacrifice. With the mystery of Christ’s death and Resurrection, God plumbs to the depths of our humanity to bring it back to him, to uplift it to his heights. Faith is believing in this love of God that is never lacking in the face of human wickedness, in the face of evil and death, but is capable of transforming every kind of slavery, giving us the possibility of salvation. Having faith, then, is meeting this “You”, God, who supports me and grants me the promise of an indestructible love that not only aspires to eternity but gives it; it means entrusting myself to God with the attitude of a child, who knows well that all his difficulties, all his problems are understood in the “you” of his mother. And this possibility of salvation through faith is a gift that God offers all men and women.
General Audience, 24 October 2012
Reflection – Running through all the Pope’s writings and talks about the Year of Faith has been this recurring theme of the relationship between the act of faith (joyful entrustment to God) and the content of faith (the Creed, the doctrines of the Church.) I think here he draws the connections very well.
It is precisely the contents of our faith that give us bold confidence to entrust ourselves to this God of ours. Because God in Christ became a man, he understands our human condition. Because God in Christ died for us, we can begin to believe in the depths of his love. Because God in Christ rose from the dead, we can confidently lay our lives before Him, knowing that He will work this same gift of life and victory in us.
Because Christ ascended into heaven, we know that this man Jesus is present everywhere, has broken the bonds of time and space to ascend to the divine sphere. We also know that He holds out for us the promise of this same transcendent ascent. Because God in Christ sent the Holy Spirit, we know that the power of God has been given to us to follow Him and live His love in our lives.
All this—which is the core content of our Christian faith—directly and immediately leads to our being able to make the deep act of faith, which is to wholly entrust our lives to this God and to do whatever He tells us. To live the ethos of the Gospel, an ethos of sacrificial love and utter generosity. To stay united with the Church he established to be his sign of communion and channel of grace in the world. To constantly seek him in prayer and serve him in our neighbour.
All of this is really hard to do much of the time. If the contents of our faith are not really true, if Jesus is not really God, did not really die, really rise, really ascend, and really give us his Spirit, then why would we bother, or how could we even think, of doing all this hard stuff he asks us to do?
So the content of our faith directly and essentially relates to the path of faith, the life of faith.

Furthermore, the contents of our faith make the living of our faith a joyful thing, a beautiful thing.
We can just go through life gritting our teeth and white-knuckling it in terms of trying to do what is right and just. There are times when that may indeed be all we can do. But God wants it to be a little better than that for us. He does want us to have joy in the battle, to see the beauty of the Gospel and communicate it to others. And it is a firm and solid, deep and penetrating grasp and being grasped by the truths, the dogmas, the creedal statements of our Christian faith that sets us on a path of joy and beauty.

He has come. He is risen. His Spirit is moving in our hearts. The battle is won. Victory is ours. A great alleluia is rising up from earth to heaven, and a greater yet amen is resounding from heaven to earth. It is all true, and so we can know a measure of joy and peace even in the present state of struggle and travail. Amen, alleluia.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Rough Piece of Fabric

What is life’s meaning? Is there a future for humanity, for us and for the generations to come? In which direction should we orient our free decisions for a good and successful outcome in life? What awaits us beyond the threshold of death?

From these irrepressible questions it becomes clear how the world of planning, of precise calculation and of experimentation, in a word the knowledge of science, although important for human life is not enough on its own. We do not only need bread, we need love, meaning and hope, a sound foundation, a solid terrain that helps us to live with an authentic meaning even in times of crisis, in darkness, in difficulty, and with our daily problems. Faith gives us precisely this: it is a confident entrustment to a “You”, who is God, who gives me a different certitude, but no less solid than that which comes from precise calculation or from science. Faith is not a mere intellectual assent of the human person to specific truths about God; it is an act with which I entrust myself freely to a God who is Father and who loves me; it is adherence to a “You” who gives me hope and trust.

General Audience, 24 October 2012

Reflection – Happy feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe! Our Advent season just keeps lurching from feast to feast, doesn’t it? Hard to have a great penitential spirit when the whole Church keeps breaking out in joyful songs of celebration and general festivity.

Oh well. I don’t know if all my readers are entirely familiar with the story of Juan Diego and the Lady with the roses on Tepeyac hill. It is a beautiful, tender story of a mother, a son, a bishop, and a rough piece of cloth which received a radiantly beautiful image of a woman clothed with the stars and standing upon the moon. The poor, coming to pour out their troubles to this mother; the mother, abiding in her beautiful church in Mexico City, receiving millions of pilgrims each year; the image, still radiantly beautiful on that rough piece of cloth that has no earthly reason to still exist, let alone bear a radiant image of the Mother of God upon its fibers.

Something about the story speaks very deeply to this faith business the Pope is reflecting on these days. We do not need only bread, we need love, hope, meaning. The poor Mexican people in the 16th century were beleaguered, a conquered people, harried and oppressed, lost on the way.

I am sure there was hunger in Mexico—there is always hunger, everywhere. But God knew the deeper hunger in them and in us. He knew they needed a Mama; He gave them one. They needed to know God was with them; He sent them this woman who was one of them, clothed in symbolic garb of a queen, a pregnant mother, and a virgin, her skin and features matching theirs.

And they came to this woman, to this shrine, and to the little man Juan Diego who spent his life telling the story over and again, and they became Catholics by the millions. It is a story unlike any other in the 2000 years of Church history that I am aware of.

Faith—we need to encounter a person, a love, something solid we can build our life on. We all have our beleaguered times; we all get conquered by life, by sin, by our own frailty or by the travails of the world; we all go into darkness, doubt, confusion, sorrow at times.

Human certainties and scientific-technological mastery offer us very little at those times. We have to know that we are held by a deeper wisdom, a stronger love, truth that surpasses our human intellect and its limitations.
At Guadalupe a woman brought this truth and this love to one poor man, and a nation was converted to Christ. Let us abide in our poverty today and ongoing, so that God may find His own way of coming to us ‘over the hills’, so that faith may shine forth from our homes, churches, and the rough fabric of our own hearts, so that our nation, too, might be converted to Christ again.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Beginning of Wisdom

Today I would like to reflect with you on a fundamental question: What is faith? Does faith still make sense in a world in which science and technology have unfolded horizons unthinkable until a short time ago? What does believing mean today? In fact, in our time we need a renewed education in the faith that includes, of course, knowledge of its truths and of the history of salvation, but that is born above all from a true encounter with God in Jesus Christ, from loving him, from trusting him, so that the whole of our life becomes involved.

Today, together with so many signs of goodness, a certain spiritual desert is also developing around us. At times we get a sort of feeling, from certain events we have news of every day, that the world is not moving towards the building of a more brotherly and peaceful community; the very ideas of progress and well being have shadows too. Despite the greatness of scientific discoveries and technological triumphs, human beings today do not seem to have become truly any freer or more human; so many forms of exploitation, manipulation, violence, abuse and injustice endure.... A certain kind of culture, moreover, has taught people to move solely within the horizon of things, of the feasible, to believe only in what they can see and touch with their own hands.

Yet the number of those who feel bewildered is also growing, and searching to go beyond a merely horizontal view of reality they are prepared to believe in everything and nothing.

In this context certain fundamental questions re-emerge that are far weightier than they seem at first sight. What is life’s meaning? Is there a future for humanity, for us and for the generations to come? In which direction should we orient our free decisions for a good and successful outcome in life? What awaits us beyond the threshold of death?

General Audience, 24 October 2012

Reflection – First, I have to confess to a certain dark humour at Pope Benedict’s deliberate (I believe) mildness of expression at times. ‘We get a sort of feeling… that the world is not moving towards a more brotherly and peaceful community.’ No, it certainly does not seem to be doing quite that, Holy Father! As Syria continues to  blow up, Egypt riots, rockets rain on Israel, China and its neighbours rattle sabres over territorial claims, and prospects of economic ruination fill the airwaves in North America, that peaceful community of man is increasingly elusive today.

So… faith. All our cleverness and technological mastery does not seem to be yielding wisdom. And this is a very real problem, a very real challenge. To know how to do stuff, to be able to manipulate matter so that it is wholly pliable to our designs does not seem to move us one millimetre in the direction of knowing what we should do, what is the good we are to achieve.

It may well be that the failure of our technological culture to confer wisdom upon us may be the very thing that opens the door of faith for us human beings again. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, the Scriptures tell us. This fear of the Lord has its own beginning in the core conviction, the core realization of one simple thing: God is God, and I am not God. The sharp brutal encounter with one’s own limitations, one’s own incapacity, one’s own utter failure to solve the mystery of existence, to find a peaceful and sustainable way of life—this may be what drives us poor post-moderns to our knees to seek God with renewed humility.

So when we look around at the world and see its many many problems, perhaps we can see in the midst of the real sufferings and horrors of our time a work of God’s mercy in them all. There is much failure in the world today—so many things are crumbling, and the future is so very uncertain for us all. Advent—our faith in the coming of God into the world—bids us to be not afraid, stand erect, hold our heads high, and look for the deliverance of God, the saving power of God in the world and in our lives.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Pope of the Moment

Everywhere in the history of religion, in various forms, we encounter the significant conflict between the knowledge of the one God and the attraction of other powers that are considered more dangerous or nearer at hand and, therefore, more important for man than the God who is distant and mysterious. All of history bears the traces of this strange dilemma between the non-violent, tranquil demands made by the truth, on the one hand, and the pressure brought to make profits and the need to have a good relationship with the powers that determine daily life by their interventions, on the other hand.

Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures,  98

Reflection – Well, on this Second Sunday of Advent we are focusing on John the Baptist and the call to repentance. We are meant to live in a holy longing for God’s coming, in a state of vigilant watchfulness, expectant hope, constant zeal for the kingdom of God and its growth in the world.

We have to take into account the sad reality that we do not always live like that. And Ratzinger pin points, I think, exactly what goes on in our hearts and minds when we allow our desire for God to grow cold and our longing for the kingdom to become a remote abstract notion.

It’s all these other powers and principalities, so to speak, who seem to be offering us a better deal, I guess. At least we sure are in a hurry to take the offer! It’s like all those shady operators who offer suspiciously good discounts and payment schedules and interest rates (No payments due for the first twelve months! No interest charged! Absolutely free!).

Well, we bite on that. And of course, besides the carrot of easy money and immediate returns on investment, there is the stick of coercion—social coercion and ostracization, ‘going along to get along’—all the ways the world uses to enforce whatever rigid orthodoxy the powers that be decide we should subscribe to today.

All of these things, if we let them have sway over us, are the immediate powers that can drown out the voice of God in us and quench the desire of God in us.

The ancient Gnostics posited a universe where God was ‘up there’ somewhere in the highest heavens, but separated from us by layers upon layers of hostile archons ringed around the earth. Liberation consisted of getting past these encircling archons by obtaining secret esoteric knowledge, so as to attain union with the One.

There is a thread of truth in this Gnostic cosmology. We do experience that ‘all that stuff’ gets between us and God, that the lure of riches and the fear of humiliation, rejection, persecution can pose a formidable barrier between God and us. And many seem to allow their lives to be ruled by the ‘archons’ of this present age.

Where the Gnostics went wrong was that their god was passive one, distant and removed, not really personally engaged in this battle. Our God has come down from the heavens and is with us, in us, around about us, continually. Yes, as Ratzinger points out, he is tranquil, non-violent, respecting of our freedom. But He is with us, nonetheless.

And it is not some esoteric knowledge or secret wisdom that wins the battle for us. We are not saved by knowledge, but by love. The call to love, to selflessness, to service, to laying down our lives for those around us—this is the constant call of Truth to us, the constant call countering the clamorous voices of the world, the flesh, the devil.

God may be, and often is, silent, hidden, mysterious. But the call to love in this moment is always here, always evident if we choose to give it our attention, the vicar of Christ in the present moment, we may call it. The Pope of the moment, so to speak.
And it is this call to love and our radical choice to pursue it that frees us from the degrading slavery to concupiscent desire and cringing fear in this world, free to open our hearts to the God who comes, who is here, who desires to establish his kingdom in and through us.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Mirror Mirror of Us All

The Church learns concretely what she is and what she is meant to be by looking at Mary. Mary is her mirror, the pure measure of her being, because Mary is wholly within the measure of Christ and of God, is through and through his habitation.

Mary, the Church at the Source, 66

Reflection – A very happy feast day to you all. The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, alleluia!

Isn’t it beautiful to think of Immaculate Mary as a mirror of our being, as Ratzinger suggests above? Beautiful… and perhaps a bit hard to embrace.

I… am not immaculate. Don’t know about you, but I can definitely say that I am not preserved from original sin from the moment of my conception, and free of all actual sin in my life. Uh, no. I leave it to you to figure that out for your own case, but me, I’m a sinner.

But nonetheless, Mary is my mirror, and this fills my heart with joy and gratitude to God. Mary is like the opposite of a funhouse mirror in a carnival. Those mirrors ripple and distort, stretching out and fattening up and twisting for comic effect. They show us precisely what we are not.

Sin is a funhouse mirror, the distortion of our humanity in a million lying shapes—and the effect is anything but comic. Mary is just the opposite. The undistorted image, the pure and perfect reflection, the real picture of humanity before God.

And this is what I really am, what you really are. We are not made to rebel and run away from God, to dissipate our being in a thousand empty pleasures, to spend our money on what fails to satisfy. We are not made to die. We are made to go home, and this home is our radiant communion with the Father in the grace of Christ.

This is where Mary lived every moment, every second of her existence, and where she lives now. And so it is only by looking at her that we see what a human creature really is. And what do we see? Total openness to God, through a total gift of herself, which takes the shape of a total fiat, a total act of obedience and love.

And then… a quiet, simple disposition to follow Christ wherever he goes. Mary is sort of always there in the Gospels, but almost always in the background, a quiet presence, a silent witness. But there nonetheless—and she never leaves him, not to the very end.

This is what we are called to be individually and as a Church. The Church can only learn what She is to be and do by turning to Mary who was and did exactly what God pleased. There are so many questions—so dreadfully many questions—about the Church, its struggles, its failures, its scandals, its mission, its inability to do its mission—on and on and on. None of those questions can be solved by human cleverness, bold pastoral programs, decisive leadership, and a good social media presence (ahem).

All of those have their place, but it is the way of Mary that is the way of the Church, now and always and forever. Only that way, the way of living ‘wholly within the measure of God and of Christ, of being through and through his habitation’, will bring the light of God and the beauty of the Gospel alive in the world.

Well, I don’t have all the answers, not that that stops me from writing every day like a lunatic. But I know we need to go to Mary very simply, like the little children of hers that we are, and beg her to show us how to let Christ in as she let him in, how to let God take possession of our lives as she let God take possession of her life, and how to become free of all spot and stain of sin as she was, so that the radiant vision of redeemed humanity can shine forth from the Church and from our own faces and hearts, so that the world can come to know and believe in the One who loves us and has come to save us and bring us to glory with Him
A very happy feast day to you all.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Home Invasion

The preconception that what is most improbable in the world is also impossible for God conceals the tacit presupposition that it is impossible both for God to reach into earthly history and for earthly history to reach him. His field of influence will be limited to the realm of the spirit. And with this we have landed back in pagan philosophy such as Aristotle elaborated with a singular logic; prayer and every relation to God is, in his view, ‘cultivation of the self.’ If in the final analysis this is reality, nothing but the ‘cultivation of the self’ can remain.
Daughter Zion, 60

Reflection – This passage from this wonderful little book is from a section discussing the virgin birth of Christ from Mary, and the modern scepticism that such a thing could be possible, the ridicule heaped on the idea or the flat refusal to admit the prospect of such a thing happening that is fairly normal today.
It is both Advent season and the eve of the Immaculate Conception, when we celebrate Mary’s own beginnings in her mother’s womb free from the stain of original sin. It is this whole business that Ratzinger so ably brings out here in a few short phrases: is God acting? Can God act? Does He want to intervene in our human affairs, or does He just let them go, let us go our own natural way?

It is in Jesus and his miraculous conception and birth, and the singular grace given Mary to prepare her for this, that we are asked to believe in a God who does reach down into human history, does intervene, does act in time and space on our behalf.

And this is not just some interesting historical curio—oh, didja hear about that one time a virgin got pregnant? Amazing! It is not just some vague hope on our part that God might some day maybe perhaps you know intervene in our lives, if we really happen to need this at some point.

God is radically intervening in your life and my life today. Maybe not in a ‘miracle’, such as we finite human beings can recognize. But the whole point, the whole order of things, the whole structure of reality—and it is really is only Jesus and his Mother who reveal this to us—is that humanity is constantly responding to the intervention of God, the action of God, the reaching down, breaking in, ‘interference’ of God into our affairs.

A home invasion—from our fallen human condition, that’s what it seems like. God is constantly kicking in the door, surging in on us with power and might, shock and awe. An incursion, an assault, like that strange wrestling match Jacob had with the ‘man’ who was an ‘angel’ who was ‘God’ (Gen 32).

I was a little snarky about Santa Claus yesterday in my post (‘bloated wreck’ was the offending phrase, I believe). But actually there is something about the tubby elf that corresponds to this—the annual burglar coming down the chimney of every home, not to steal and despoil, but to leave gifts and joy. God is the house breaker, the heart breaker, the life breaker—but he comes not to rob and ruin, but to bless and bestow.

He comes to make our homes, our hearts, our lives bigger than they were. We see this so clearly in Mary, the virginal young girl of Nazareth. She becomes Mother of God, Queen of heaven and earth, hailed by a thousand titles and adorned with every honor and blessing the human race can give her and the divine favour as well.

But… God wants to do something similar with you and me, too. Mary is unique and most highly favored, but God is busting in on us today, too. And He busts in on us through the call to love, to pray, to listen, to surrender, to abandon our lives to Him. To abandon all other concerns but to please Him, follow Him, serve Him, love Him, and to earnestly seek the way to do this in the love and service of our brothers and sisters.
God comes to us in all this, and makes it all so much bigger than we could conceive, as Jesus in Mary’s womb was so much greater than what she could conceive. And this is the hope, and the desire, we are to cultivate in Advent, and Mary stands ready to help us stir up this desire, deepen this hope, and open our hearts, homes, and lives to the saving power of God.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Legend of St. Nicholas

[In the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector we see] that there are two ways of relating to God and to oneself. The Pharisee does not really look at God at all, but only at himself; he does not really need God, because he does everything right by himself. He has no real relation to God, who is ultimately superfluous—what he does himself is enough. Man makes himself righteous.

The tax collector, by contrast, sees himself in the light of God. He has looked toward God, and in the process his eyes have been opened to see himself. So he knows that he needs God and that he lives by God’s goodness, which he cannot force God to give him and which he cannot procure for himself. He knows that he needs mercy, and so he will learn from God’s mercy to become merciful himself, and thereby to become like God.

Jesus of Nazareth 1, 62

Reflection – Happy St. Nicholas Day to you! You know, he really is an important saint in Christian history—it is actually of great value to rescue him from that bloated wreck Santa Claus who has devolved truly into basically a shill for consumerism and materialism—a living vending machine for more and more ‘stuff’ every year.

The saint is actually of great significance, even though we know almost nothing about him as documented historical fact. He lived in the turn of the 3rd and 4th centuries; was a bishop in Myra, now part of Turkey, and attended the council of Nicea where he is alleged to have socked the heretic Arius in the nose.

However that is not his claim to holiness, actually. What is significant in Nicholas is the legend of goodness and mercy he left behind him. He is known as the giver of gifts, the lover of the poor, the defender of children, an abundant overflowing fountain of mercy and generosity that resounds through the centuries. And this is of crucial historical significance for the Church.

Prior to Nicholas, saints had been in two categories: martyrs and ascetics. To be a saint, you had to die for the faith or you had to starve yourself in a cave in the desert. Nicholas was neither, living past the age of the Roman persecutions and serving as bishop. And so he revealed a new path of Christian holiness which countless others have walked in the following centuries.

This is the path of mercy, of charity, of loving without counting the cost. We don’t have to die a martyr’s death or leave everything for the deserts of Egypt, so to speak. We do have to love to the point of laying down our lives for our brothers and sisters and leave everything behind that is not love. Sanctity is never easy, but St. Nicholas shows us that it is available for everyone, since everyone can choose to love and be merciful as he did.

And so this beautiful passage from Pope Benedict resonates, doesn’t it? What does it take to be a man or woman of mercy? To know our need for mercy, and to turn to God to receive his mercy.

The Pharisee remains himself, locked in his own person, limited to his own stock of virtue and goodness. Undoubtedly he wasn’t any great villain—the Pharisees in general were the upright decent people of their day, the sort of folks you would see in Church every Sunday and maybe even during the week. But he is stuck being just himself, just a very small, very decent person.

This is not what we are made for. We are made to burst forth from the limitations of our own human flesh and human frailty and even human goodness. We are meant to be St. Nicholas, loving and giving with such a spirit of total generous mercy that the legend of it echoes down the millennia. We are meant to be so open to God that God makes us into lovers of men as He is the Lover of Man.
Well, this is the only way for us. To simply turn to God, to look to God, to cry out to God for mercy, and to have expectant longing hearts that know God’s mercy is real, is given, is here, is for us.

Receiving it, we can give it. Knowing it, we can live it. It is our true home, the home we are made to live in, and living there, we can love there, and so show the world that true joy comes not from ‘Ho Ho Ho’ and a bag full of goodies, but from being, becoming God’s love extended to the world, his mercy acting in the heart of the world for all people, the naughty, the nice, and everyone in between.