31 Mar

Secrets of the Interior Life

Dear Parishioners,

In his classic spiritual text from the middle of the 20th Century, Secrets of the Interior Life, Archbishop Luis Martinez refers to "the Divine Paradox."  To reach God, we have to lower ourselves.  To ascend, we have to descend.  He writes,

It seems to me that God in His own way feels the dizziness of the abyss: our miserableness, when it is acknowledged and accepted by us, exerts an irresistible attraction on Him. What, save misery alone, can attract mercy? What, save emptiness, can appeal to plenitude? Whither shall the infinite ocean of Goodness pour itself except into the immense abyss of our nothingness?
24 Mar

God is Fire

Dear Parishioners,

I'm like a Neanderthal when it comes to fire.  I'm mesmerized by it.  Now, I'm not saying I'm a pyromaniac.  All you firefighters in the parish, don't give me the evil eye when you next see me.  I'm just saying there is something so primeval and fascinating to me about a burning fire.  Am I that crazy? I'm sure you all enjoy sitting in front of and staring at a fire in your fireplace.  I know the Boy Scouts enjoy making fires--they did so at their Webelos Crossover Event (when Cub Scouts enter Boy Scouts) last week. 

I don't think I'm in horrible company with this fascination with fire.  Moses liked it too. See the burning bush from the first reading (cf. Exodus 3).  This theophany ('appearance of God') had to be incredibly fascinating. Not only is God fire, which is intriguing in itself, he is fire that does not consume. 

This is more than just a fake fireplace (I hate fake fireplaces by the way...I want to build my own fire!).  This is something 'remarkable', as Moses himself commented. 

God is fire.  He is mesmerizing, appealing, and heartening.  And he does not consume.  There is nothing we lose when God comes more fully into our hearts.  We only gain. 

Firefighters should love this image of God.  Think of a fire that does not destroy.  What more could you want!

17 Mar

The Contemplative Life

Dear Parishioners,

There are some who think there is no place for the contemplative life in Christianity.  Quiet, interior prayer is an aberration.  To be a Christian, they would say, means to serve our brothers and sisters.  Jesus did remark, after all, "whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me" (Matthew 25:31-46).  When we are just praying like monks, we are not serving anyone.  Hence, there is no room for recollected prayer.  That takes us away from the mission of Christ.  Such is the claim.

I brought up this argument in my first talk on prayer a couple weeks ago.  There are many flaws in that argument; many ways to rebut it.  The Transfiguration, which we read about this weekend, is one such way.

Jesus climbs Mount Tabor with his apostles, Peter, James and John (the three whom he will take apart with him in the Garden of Gethsemane). He is elevated and experiences a mystical encounter with Moses and Elijah.

Yes, Moses represents the Law and Elijah represents the Prophets, but they also both represent interior, contemplative prayer.  Moses for 40 days was on Mount Sinai, communing silently with God.  He was immersed in a sort of luminous cloud, which the Hebrews called the shekinah.  When Moses comes down the mountain after 40 days, his countenance is changed.

10 Mar

Accept Your Discipline in Life

Dear Parishioners,

A 12th-Century Cistercian spiritual writer, William of St. Thierry, wrote this of us:

O image of God, recognize your dignity,

allow the imprint of your Maker to shine out from you.

To yourself you may appear mean

but in fact you are precious.

To the extent that you have fallen short

of him whose image you are

you have become stamped with foreign images.

But if only you begin to breathe again

to live as you were created,

if only you accept a discipline of life,

then you will quickly shed and part company with

those adulterous images

which are like stains clinging to the surface.

I read this recently and find it to be a fitting reflection as we begin the season of Lent.         

The first two lines: we are made in the image of God and have inherent and invaluable dignity.  Pause on that truth.  We've heard it before, but let it sink in.  We are made in the image of God.  God is good.  We are good.  Yes, we may sin and do things that are ungodly, but that does not change our fundamental identity.

03 Mar

Be Aware

Dear Parishioners,

"For every tree is known by its own fruit" (Lk 6:44).  A simple, but powerful statement from our Lord from today's Gospel!

This is so important to help with our discernment.  We can judge a tree by its fruits.  That is, we can judge an activity by the resulting experiences.  I tell this to the children all the time.  How do you feel after playing video games for a long period of time?  Are you irritable, impatient, disobedient, quarrelsome, edgy until you can get back to playing?  If so, those would be "bad fruits" and the "tree", then (playing video games excessively) is probably bad as well.

This applies for adults equally.  TV shows, use of the phone, some other addictive behavior leaving you with an empty feeling or not putting you in a place of love and peace?  Then that would be a bad tree and we should probably limit our interaction with it.

The key to utilizing this little discernment trick from our Lord is being aware.  We have to be attuned to our inner state.  We need to catch ourselves when we're in a bad mood.  Only then can we determine what perhaps is the source of that bad mood and take steps to correct it.  Remember, Jesus doesn't want us to feel bad, but fulfilled.  He knows what is best for us.