Saturday, December 31, 2011

Ecclesial Warfare

Is there not a vigorous and united movement in all countries to cast down the Church of Christ from power and place? Is there not a feverish and ever-busy endeavor to get rid of the necessity of Religion in public transactions? … An attempt to educate without Religion? —that is, by putting all forms of Religion together, which comes to the same thing… An attempt to make expedience, and not truth, the end and the rule of measures of State and the enactments of Law? An attempt to make numbers, and not the Truth, the ground of maintaining, or not maintaining, this or that creed, as if we had any reason whatever in Scripture for thinking that the many will be in the right, and the few in the wrong? … An attempt to supersede Religion altogether, as far as it is external or objective, as far as it is displayed in ordinances, or can be expressed by written words — to confine it to our inward feelings, and thus, considering how variable, how evanescent our feelings are, an attempt, in fact, to destroy Religion? Surely, there is at this day a confederacy of evil, marshalling its hosts from all parts of the world, organizing itself, taking its measures, enclosing the Church of Christ as in a net, and preparing the way for a general Apostasy from it.  –– Bl. John Henry Newman

Giving to God

"We have received not the spirit of this world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. The only way that he can be worthily honored by us is by the presentation to him of that which he has already given to us." – From a sermon by Saint Leo the Great

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Birth of Christ - The Death of Stephen

From a sermon by Saint Fulgentius of Ruspe, bishop
(Sermo 3, 1-3, 5-6: CCL 91A, 905-909)

The armament of love

Yesterday we celebrated the birth in time of our eternal King. Today we celebrate the triumphant suffering of his soldier. Yesterday our king, clothed in his robe of flesh, left his place in the virgin’s womb and graciously visited the world. Today his soldier leaves the tabernacle of his body and goes triumphantly to heaven.

Our king, despite his exalted majesty, came in humility for our sake; yet he did not come empty-handed. He brought his soldiers a great gift that not only enriched them but also made them unconquerable in battle, for it was the gift of love, which was to bring men to share in his divinity. He gave of his bounty, yet without any loss to himself. In a marvellous way he changed into wealth the poverty of his faithful followers while remaining in full possession of his own inexhaustible riches.

And so the love that brought Christ from heaven to earth raised Stephen from earth to heaven; shown first in the king, it later shone forth in his soldier. Love was Stephen’s weapon by which he gained every battle, and so won the crown signified by his name. His love of God kept him from yielding to the ferocious mob; his love for his neighbor made him pray for those who were stoning him. Love inspired him to reprove those who erred, to make them amend; love led him to pray for those who stoned him, to save them from punishment. Strengthened by the power of his love, he overcame the raging cruelty of Saul and won his persecutor on earth as his companion in heaven. In his holy and tireless love he longed to gain by prayer those whom he could not convert by admonition.

Now at last, Paul rejoices with Stephen, with Stephen he delights in the glory of Christ, with Stephen he exalts, with Stephen he reigns. Stephen went first, slain by the stones thrown by Paul, but Paul followed after, helped by the prayer of Stephen. This, surely, is the true life, my brothers, a life in which Paul feels no shame because of Stephen’s death, and Stephen delights in Paul’s companionship, for love fills them both with joy. It was Stephen’s love that prevailed over the cruelty of the mob, and it was Paul’s love that covered the multitude of his sins; it was love that won for both of them the kingdom of heaven.

Love, indeed, is the source of all good things; it is an impregnable defence, and the way that leads to heaven. He who walks in love can neither go astray nor be afraid: love guides him, protects him, and brings him to his journey’s end.

My brothers, Christ made love the stairway that would enable all Christians to climb to heaven. Hold fast to it, therefore, in all sincerity, give one another practical proof of it, and by your progress in it, make your ascent together.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Sermon by Saint Leo the Great

From a sermon by Saint Leo the Great, pope
(Sermo 1 in Nativitate Domini, 1-3: PI, 54, 190-193)

Christian, remember your dignity

Dearly beloved, today our Savior is born; let us rejoice. Sadness should have no place on the birthday of life. The fear of death has been swallowed up; life brings us joy with the promise of eternal happiness.

No one is shut out from this joy; all share the same reason for rejoicing. Our Lord, victor over sin and death, finding no man free from sin, came to free us all. Let the saint rejoice as he sees the palm of victory at hand. Let the sinner be glad as he receives the offer of forgiveness. Let the pagan take courage as he is summoned to life.

In the fullness of time, chosen in the unfathomable depths of God’s wisdom, the Son of God took for himself our common humanity in order to reconcile it with its creator. He came to overthrow the devil, the origin of death, in that very nature by which he had overthrown mankind.

And so at the birth of our Lord the angels sing in joy: Glory to God in the highest, and they proclaim peace to his people on earth as they see the heavenly Jerusalem being built from all the nations of the world. When the angels on high are so exultant at this marvellous work of God’s goodness, what joy should it not bring to the lowly hearts of men?

Beloved, let us give thanks to God the Father, through his Son, in the Holy Spirit, because in his great love for us he took pity on us, and when we were dead in our sins he brought us to life with Christ, so that in him we might be a new creation. Let us throw off our old nature and all its ways and, as we have come to birth in Christ, let us renounce the works of the flesh.

Christian, remember your dignity, and now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return by sin to your former base condition. Bear in mind who is your head and of whose body you are a member. Do not forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of God’s kingdom.

Through the sacrament of baptism you have become a temple of the Holy Spirit. Do not drive away so great a guest by evil conduct and become again a slave to the devil, for your liberty was bought by the blood of Christ.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Meaning of the Incarnation

This is the meaning of the Incarnation.  God became tangible in order to teach us to find him in all that we touch and see and feel; for we are necessarily bound to the senses in this life.  Jesus did not do away with these external contacts; what he taught us is not to stop at them.  He taught us to find his Father in everything: in the flowers, in the lilies of the field, in the birds, in sorrow – in everything, because everything comes from his love, and must return to it.  "That while we acknowledge him as God seen by men, we may be drawn by him to the love of things unseen." 

We must endeavor, therefore, to cultivate this spiritual "second-sight."  It is the secret of the saints, for whom this world is not an obstacle between their souls and God, but a living image, a resplendent mirror of his goodness and beauty.  It is this great Reality, so utterly beyond our conception, that the Incarnation made possible: that by loving and imitating Jesus incarnate, we love and imitate God himself.  (Dom Augustin Guillerand, O. Cart.)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Knowledge of the Mysteries of Christ

A Spiritual Canticle of St John of the Cross
Recognising the mystery hidden within Christ Jesus

Though holy doctors have uncovered many mysteries and wonders, and devout souls have understood them in this earthly condition of ours, yet the greater part still remains to be unfolded by them, and even to be understood by them.

We must then dig deeply in Christ. He is like a rich mine with many pockets containing treasures: however deep we dig we will never find their end or their limit. Indeed, in every pocket new seams of fresh riches are discovered on all sides.

For this reason the apostle Paul said of Christ: In him are hidden all the treasures of the wisdom and knowledge of God. The soul cannot enter into these treasures, nor attain them, unless it first crosses into and enters the thicket of suffering, enduring interior and exterior labours, and unless it first receives from God very many blessings in the intellect and in the senses, and has undergone long spiritual training.

All these are lesser things, disposing the soul for the lofty sanctuary of the knowledge of the mysteries of Christ: this is the highest wisdom attainable in this life.

Would that men might come at last to see that it is quite impossible to reach the thicket of the riches and wisdom of God except by first entering the thicket of much suffering, in such a way that the soul finds there its consolation and desire. The soul that longs for divine wisdom chooses first, and in truth, to enter the thicket of the cross.

Saint Paul therefore urges the Ephesians not to grow weary in the midst of tribulations, but to be steadfast and rooted and grounded in love, so that they may know with all the saints the breadth, the length, the height and the depth – to know what is beyond knowledge, the love of Christ, so as to be filled with all the fullness of God.

The gate that gives entry into these riches of his wisdom is the cross; because it is a narrow gate, while many seek the joys that can be gained through it, it is given to few to desire to pass through it.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Dominion Is Our Salvation

A discourse "On the Contemplation of God" by William of Saint-Thierry
He loved us first

Truly you alone are the Lord. Your dominion is our salvation, for to serve you is nothing else but to be saved by you!

O Lord, salvation is your gift and your blessing is upon your people; what else is your salvation but receiving from you the gift of loving you or being loved by you?

That, Lord, is why you willed that the Son at your right hand, the man whom you made strong for yourself, should be called Jesus, that is to say, Saviour, for he will save his people from their sins, and there is no other in whom there is salvation. He taught us to love him by first loving us, even to death on the cross. By loving us and holding us so dear, he stirred us to love him who had first loved us to the end.

And this is clearly the reason: you first loved us so that we might love you – not because you needed our love, but because we could not be what you created us to be, except by loving you.

In many ways and on various occasions you spoke to our fathers through the prophets. Now in these last days you have spoken to us in the Son, your Word; by him the heavens were established and all their powers came to be by the breath of his mouth.

For you to speak thus in your Son was to bring out in the light of day how much and in what way you loved us, for you did not spare your own Son but delivered him up for us all. He also loved us and gave himself up for us.

This, Lord, is your Word to us, this is your all-powerful message: while all things were in midnight silence (that is, were in the depths of error), he came from his royal throne, the stern conqueror of error and the gentle apostle of love.

Everything he did and everything he said on earth, even enduring the insults, the spitting, the buffetting – the cross and the grave – all of this was actually you speaking to us in your Son, appealing to us by your love and stirring up our love for you.

You know that this disposition could not be forced on men’s hearts, my God, since you created them; it must rather be elicited. And this, for the further reason that there is no freedom where there is compulsion, and where freedom is lacking, so too is righteousness.

You wanted us to love you, then, we who could not with justice have been saved had we not loved you, nor could we have loved you except by your gift. So, Lord, as the apostle of your love tells us, and as we have already said, you first loved us: you are first to love all those who love you.

Thus we hold you dear by the affection you have implanted in us. You are the one supremely good and ultimate goodness. Your love is your goodness, the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son! From the beginning of creation it was he who hovered over the waters – that is, over the wavering minds of men – offering himself to all, drawing all things to himself. By his inspiration and holy breath, by keeping us from harm and providing for our needs, he unites God to us and us to God.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Seeking God

From the Proslogion by Saint Anselm, bishop
(Cap.1: Opera Omnia, Edit. Schmitt, Secovii, 1938, 1, 97-100)

Desire for the vision of God

Insignificant man, escape from your everyday business for a short while, hide for a moment from your restless thoughts. Break off from your cares and troubles and be less concerned about your tasks and labors. Make a little time for God and rest a while in him.

Enter into your mind’s inner chamber. Shut out everything but God and whatever helps you to seek him; and when you have shut the door, look for him. Speak now to God and say with your whole heart: I seek your face; your face, Lord, I desire.

Lord, my God, teach my heart where and how to seek you, where and how to find you. Lord, if you are not here where shall I look for you in your absence? Yet if you are everywhere, why do I not see you when you are present? But surely you dwell in “light inaccessible.” And where is light inaccessible? How shall I approach light inaccessible? Or who will lead me and bring me into it that I may see you there? And then, by what signs and under what forms shall I seek you? I have never seen you, Lord my God; I do not know your face.

Lord most high, what shall this exile do, so far from you? What shall your servant do, tormented by love of you and cast so far from your face? He yearns to see you, and your face is too far from him. He desires to approach you, and your dwelling is unapproachable. he longs to find you, and does not know your dwelling place. He strives to look for you, and does not know your face.

Lord, you are my God and you are my Lord, and I have never seen you. You have made me and remade me, and you have given me all the good things I possess and still I do not know you. I was made in order to see you, and I have not yet done that for which I was made.

Lord, how long will it be? How long, Lord, will you forget us? How long will you turn your face away from us? When will you look upon us and hear us? When will you enlighten our eyes and show us your face? When will you give yourself back to us?

Look upon us, Lord, hear us and enlighten us, show us your very self. Restore yourself to us that it may go well with us whose life is so evil without you. Take pity on our efforts and our striving toward you, for we have no strength apart from you.

Teach me to seek you, and when I seek you show yourself to me, for I cannot seek you unless you teach me, nor can I find you unless you show yourself to me. Let me seek you in desiring you and desire you in seeking you, find you in loving you.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Prayer for Today

On Black Friday, part of a prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours:  "Our lives are surrounded with passing things; set our hearts on things of heaven, so that through faith, hope and charity we may come to enjoy the vision of your glory."

Monday, October 31, 2011

Food for Thought

I'm thinking and praying more than writing these days.  This blog caught my sentiments in the wake of "Reformation Sunday."

Monday, October 3, 2011

Conspicuous Christians

The following is the full presentation for a workshop I was asked to give at the Brothers and Sisters of Charity General Gathering at Little Portion Hermitage in Berryville, Arkansas.  Time constraints caused me to do a large edit, so I offer it here especially for Community members who asked for it.  (Thanks for your support and encouragement!)
Conspicuous Christians: Being Different for Jesus’ Sake (Peter n’ Paul Style)
Dr David L. Hall, BSCD & General Minister, Heart for God, Ltd.
When I was a child I grew up in an ecclesial community that focused on holiness (my nurturing context could have been far worse!).  There were many good things planted in my heart and mind from those years –– especially the sin of pride and our deep-seated tendency to be selfish, so that everything revolves around our own convenience and comfort. I was taught early on that these these things are odious to God and deadly to spiritual life.  It was a pleasant surprise when I found the fullness of this emphasis in the Catholic Church, plus a focused quest of godliness within the BSC).  There was one thing in general, though, that was an obstacle in my childhood church.  It was an obstacle for those in our church because it was hard.  It was an obstacle for those on the outside looking on because it often looked ridiculous and sent the wrong message.  It was based on the old KJV reading of 1Pet 2:9 –– But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light...  That word “peculiar” implanted the idea that we should seek ways to be weird and embrace them, and this would contribute to our holiness. The “life” (lifestyle) was often reduced to moralism, and it was reinforced by legalism.
Now it’s not that there is no truth there at all. I know Catholics and Christians from other traditions who have been seared with what they understand as legalism. One of the criticisms “the world” makes against the Church is self-righteousness. This is because facets of morality are inherent in holiness, and there are some legitimate do’s and don’ts –– and this does often appear weird in the eyes of the world-spirit.  Christians are, indeed, to live distinctive lives in this world (that’s a good, practical way to understand personal holiness). Paul told the Corinthians that the natural person does not accept what pertains to the Spirit of God, for to him it is foolishness, and he cannot understand it, because it is spiritually judged (1Cor 2:14).  There may be many things we do as Christians seeking to be holy that make no sense to unbelievers, but if the details –– dare I say, our eccentricities –– are the primary focus of our witness, then spiritually hungry people may not see Jesus in us. This is certainly a problem when we desire to be part of the New Evangelization promoted by Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.  In this context I want to offer a way to think about the primary focus of our witness.
We should remember that everyone is spiritually hungry.  The business man working long hours to get to the “top”.... the sports fan who doesn’t miss a game.... the couple making huge sacrifices to get their “perfect” house.... the young man or woman trying to achieve the “perfect” body.... the wounded soul seeking solace through substance abuse.... the lecherous old goat leering at young women (live or using porn).... even the dedicated worker going far beyond what is required, hoping to receive a few strokes of affirmation....  People like these, and far more, are spiritually hungry.  They want something to fill up the empty space inside.  They’re seeking a reason to hope for another day.  They want to experience something that says “life is worth living.”  Most do not understand this is spiritual hunger, and many would deny it if they were told in some straightforward “fusillade” of truth.  We need to be more discreet.  One spiritual writer who has been significant to my formation uses the image of being subversive.
Instead of badgering people with our religion (which is how so many in our culture see it if we go on any offensive endeavor to share our Faith  –– the meaning of “offensive” gets changed!), we need to work at having people come to us with real questions.  This is surely what St Peter has in mind when he writes:  Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope... (1Pet 3:15).
How are others to discern that we have “hope” in any distinctive way?  One way I can illustrate this is by a negative: if Christians are anxious and greedy and angry and obsessed with trivial things just like those who make no profession of faith, then how can there be any distinctive witness of Christian hope?  We are called to be holy –– different for Jesus’ sake.
I’m afraid this easily gets skewed among too many people professing Christian Faith in our congregations. The little sectarian community that first nurtured me does not have exclusive rights to moralism and legalism.  It is easy for people who go to church to be smug about it (since so many others today do not attend church regularly).  Most regular church attenders are likely to see themselves holding a higher standard of morality than non-attenders.  Many who go to church are very concerned with “churchy” things; there can be a nasty territorialism about who gets to do what, and even which pew is “mine.”  Church can get reduced to a repetitious form, and then something insidious and deadly happens: people start comparing their own perceived goodness alongside others they see both in the church and in general culture.  Then they conclude that they are pretty good –– at least better than average. St Paul warned the Corinthians: When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise (2Cor 10:12, NIV)  It is easy to look at others and rationalize in a way that can make ourselves look pretty good.  That is not the standard for Christians.
What is the standard?  It is expressed in different ways in the New Testament.  St Paul told the Philippians (2:5ff), Your attitude must be that of Christ ....and then he goes on to exalt Jesus’ example of not clinging to being God, but humbling himself to the point of becoming human and dying on the cross.  The preceding verses of that passage (2:1–4) are bathed in language of selflessness, humility and servanthood. Those are terms found often in our BSC literature, and it seems to take a dedicated community for that emphasis to be normative (which is one reason to be part of the Community; we need to be challenged and held accountable beyond what is normative in the average parish).
Of course, all Christians are called to be like Jesus because we have been incorporated into Jesus by the Spirit through the Church. And to round out the Trinitarian context, it is all the Father’s plan.  The dynamic of love that has existed eternally in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is made available to us.  So the mark of the Christian is love. It is right that we are the Brothers and Sisters of Charity. Our name is our calling, and that too is right, because unless our focus and direction are set properly we cannot be the people God has called us to be.  St Paul’s words should be our own:  I for my part do not consider myself to have taken possession [of perfect maturity in Christ]. Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus (Phlp 3:13,14).
Now, the subject here is our witness, and our primary focus.  We have been called by the Church to a New Evangelization, and our Community embraces this. Actually it is simply a refreshing of what all Christians are called to “merely” by being in Christ Jesus, but our weak humanity needs freshening times.  As people affected by culture, we need to think strategically what it means to witness to Jesus in our own time and place.
Some things are relative. Cultures change, and as they change people see and hear in different ways.  A simple illustration would be that one might not begin talking about Jesus using the Lamb of God image in a culture where they have never seen sheep.
We also have intellectual cultural issues. Western culture has been affected by the hyper rationalism of Modernism, yet moved beyond that to a Post-Modernism that has despaired of knowing Truth in anything but the analytical sciences –– things that can be measured and repeated.  This means things like relationships, morals and even beauty are up for grabs.  Religion has been abandoned to the realm of the subjective (to the degree that religion is considered seriously at all; it’s permissible only if it helps you personally as a strictly inner-individual experience.  Organized religion is supposedly on the way out.  Liturgy is valuable only as it helps someone have a “nice personal experience.”  [We even need to be careful with Protestant Evangelical language of “a personal relationship with Jesus”; while it expresses a great truth, it can also play into the thought-patterns of what Benedict XVI has called “the dictatorship of relativism” by emphasizing “personal” in such a way that truth in religion is reduced merely to what is individually “meaningful.” ]
This calls for great carefulness. The church cannot live totally separated from the world and still do its job.  Thus we have the practice of accommodation –– going to the world on its own turf, so to speak –– willing to identify with the world in any way that does not involve moral or spiritual compromise.  There is a word for that in modern missiology; it is called contextualization.  Contextualization means we recognize that the gospel is always shared and, we hope, accepted in a certain cultural situation, and those situations should always be considered in evangelism.
While there is this positive, contextual side of accommodation, there is also a negative side: syncretism.  That means losing sight of the conflict and becoming one with whatever is around you. It is an accommodation that embraces compromise and, in the context Christian Faith, causes witness and message to be lost. This a huge part of our battle in the “Christian West.”  It is the siren call of seduction. It is a dumbing down and blending what is called “faith” to a common denominator that is little more than a pool of the best (or maybe the worst) of human “wisdom.”
There are indicators of this at work in the Church.  A recent (Sept 25, 2011) OSV report gave statistics on how the USCCB guidelines on political issues has been received.  Catholics who have heard of it came in at 16% while 3% of the faithful had actually read it.  A whopping 71% said it would have made no difference to them even if they had heard of it.  The New Evangelization needs to reach those who call themselves Catholic.
So, how are we who desire to be faithful to give witness to what Jude’s letter calls the Faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints (Jude 3)? How can we embrace the calling of our Lord to be “fishers of men”?  How do we respond to the call for a New Evangelization? How do we live “in the world, but not of it?”  What does it mean to be distinctive so that some hungry soul will ask us the reason for our hope?
I think the answer is simple (though not so simply done).  We do not become good witnesses by focusing on our witness!  Witness is a by-product.  The New Evangelization is actually the “old time religion” of Peter and Paul in the New Testament texts (there’s an old bluegrass gospel song, Gimme that old time religion.... it was good for Paul and Silas, and it’s good enough for me...)  The heart of the BSC will take us there if we follow our Rule.
Here are a few Scriptures to point us in the right direction:  First we have Jesus saying,  A new commandment I give you:  Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  Everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another (Jn 13:34,35).  How is this new? The Old Testament said to love your neighbor as your self; Jesus says his disciples are to “love as I have loved you.” The command to love is new with Jesus in the sense that only in Jesus do we fully see what love really is. Jesus makes love a new thing. Until we see Jesus, we cannot comprehend love. John says it succinctly in his first letter: This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1Jn 4:10).
Jesus did not give his disciples a badge to wear to show their loyalty.  There is no uniform you can put on that will, in so doing, automatically place you among the faithful.  A heart-tau and and tunic will not, by themselves, make us like Jesus. Remember the words of our Lord, All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another (Jn 13:35).  That is what marked Jesus off from the world.
So, how is the world going to see God's kind of love now that Jesus has gone to sit at the right hand of the Father? Isn’t that the issue of evangelization? There is a logical progression here. Jesus says, As I have loved you, so you must love one another. Actually there is more than that here. We lose something in the translation. Jesus is telling his disciples that he has loved them in order that they can love one another. Jesus is not merely giving a command here; love is greater than a commandment. A commandment cannot by itself contain love. Jesus is making possible a gift. As love personified, Jesus is giving himself –– the gift of love. As his disciples take Jesus into their lives, as they receive him as Love and they too are enabled to love.
As I give this, it is the Memorial to St Theresa of the Child Jesus (Thérèse of Lisieux). Today’s Office of Readings from the Proper of Saints gives an excerpt from her autobiography and I find the following to be so pertinent:
Love appeared to me to be the hinge for my vocation. Indeed I knew that the Church had a body composed of various members, but in this body the necessary and more noble member was not lacking; I knew that the Church had a heart and that such a heart appeared to be aflame with love. I knew that one love drove the members of the Church to action, that if this love were extinguished, the apostles would have proclaimed the Gospel no longer, the martyrs would have shed their blood no more. I saw and realized that love sets off the bounds of all vocations, that love is everything, that this same love embraces every time and every place. In one word, that love is everlasting.
Can we be like Jesus? No! –– not if we try to do so only in response to a bunch of commands. Can we be like Jesus? Yes! –– if we live in response to him being inside us as we give ourselves to him. This is what we see modeled so well in St Paul. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me..... May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world..... For me, to live is Christ.... 
When Paul admonishes Christians no longer to conform to the pattern of the world he is not just adding laws on top of laws.  He calls believers to a renewing of [the] mind (Rom 12:2), but the way that happens is for us to become like Jesus –– and not through self effort!  We are called to embrace the spiritual metamorphosis described to the Corinthians: we.... are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (2Cor 3:18). We are to go into the world with our way of thinking changed to be like that of our loving Lord as we nurture his life within us.  Then, in our values, our relationships, our personal integrity and our moral chastity, we will bear witness to our Lord and his kind of love.
It will also mean being Christian is the very ways the world around is least like Jesus!  That heightens the spiritual warfare. The Spirit of Jesus who indwells us –– the Holy Spirit of God –– desires to reveal the beauty of our Lord: love instead of hate or vengeance.... joy instead of circumstantial happiness.... peace instead of worry and retaliation.... patience instead of thinking I should always be first (or at least not have to wait long).... kindness apart from a person “deserving” it.... goodness as a basic character trait, with no fears that it is a mere facade.... faithfulness in a world where it seems nothing is any longer stable or permanent.... gentleness in a way that we become places of personal refuge to those who are hurting.... and self-control instead of grabbing and possessing. Nor are these things only for our own benefit –– we are not filled with the Spirit just to be trophies on a shelf; they equip us to serve from the heart. Or course, these things are the fruits of the Spirit –– the very things we can expect to be worked into us as we invite Jesus to live in us.  Today’s selection in the Office of Reading from the Ordinary (Saturday, Week Twenty-Six) was by St Gregory of Nyssa.  The whole reading is wonderful and applicable here, but for now I quote only the last sentence: “If you try to outdo one another in showing respect, your life on earth will be like that of the angels.”
Someone might ask, "What will this look like?" Consider what could happen if one Christian does not laugh at a cruel or crass joke. Could that not be the salt to season those standing around?  What could happen if one Christian practiced forgiveness in an office that is poisoned by intrigue and enmity? Could that become a catalyst for healing? What could happen if one Christian stood up for his faith where it is hard to do that?  Might there not be a hungry heart there ready to hear of something that is worth a commitment of personal risk?  Or what if some of us (this one would maybe need a special calling) are blissfully ignorant of who is doing what in the sports and entertainment world, so that when our ignorance surfaces we are asked, “Well what do you do (implied: for entertainment/fun)?  Then to try to find a catchy way to reply, “I enjoy praying.” Maybe truly radical Christian living is the way to witness (it hasn’t been tried a whole lot!).
What could happen if one Christian, maybe in a group that is shaken by fear as they worry about financial collapse or other terrors that might befall the world.... or maybe with people who have resigned themselves to a hopeless future.... what could happen if one Christian radiates the peace of God which is beyond the reason of the world, and thus communicates something of God's peace to others?  Could that not be the light of the world shining in the darkness of panic and terror?  And isn’t it plausible to think that some will ask, Why are you so.... different?  And what if many Christians give this kind of witness?! This is the New Evangelization.
I hope we catch a bit of the thrill of our calling, but it will mean conflict. Satan does not want our lives to give glory to our Lord.  I’ve always remembered a quote from Francis Schaeffer early in my ministry formation back in the early 70s:  “If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little part which the world and the devil are at the moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ.  Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”  I believe the war today is against those who believe in Special Revelation, that God has spoken. God speaking into our world shatters the myth of relativism, and we are among those who embrace the opening words of the writer to the Hebrews: In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power.  So our witness is about Jesus, and this name is a cause of offense in our world today.  Almost anyone can generally talk about religion and spirituality, even meditation and prayer, and not get much flak, but Jesus will cause the offense of exclusivity to flare. This is not some small happenstance.
When Peter extends this scenario of being asked about our faith he prefaces it with a phrase that captures all I have tried to say here: But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.... (1Pet3:15a).  It’s all about Jesus. We are people who believe the greatest thing that has ever happened in this word happened in and through Jesus Christ. God shows himself to us in Jesus. God loves and sustains and saves us through Jesus.  Every hope for anything good in our world has its source in Jesus.  The reason we are Christians is Jesus.  The reason we gather as Brothers and Sisters of Charity is Jesus. The reason we pray and study and serve is Jesus. The focus of our witness is Jesus.... always Jesus.
Jesus himself gave the "formula" (if we can call it that) for life-changing witness through both his words and example. Can you think of a recorded instance where Jesus confronted the social injustices of his day head-on? He preached the standard of the kingdom of God (the contrast with the world of his day was obvious), and he boldly confronted the sinfulness of human hearts. He said it was from within the human spirit that such things as evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, and slander break into our world (Matt. 15:19). The one antidote to that, he said, was for people to come to the Father God through him. He said, If I be lifted up, I will draw all people to myself. The message Jesus gave, both in his words and actions, was Himself  –– that with his coming, the kingdom of God had come to earth, and it was up to each person to seek that kingdom and live in it's ways.
It seems that so few people want to hear that. The "experts" today keep repeating the worn out prescriptions of classic liberalism –– that people are basically good, and if they have enough material goods and education they will be wonderful citizens. It is said the violence in our land stems from the frustration of poverty and ignorance. Have you ever wondered why there weren't riots and untold personal violence during the depression of the 1930's? That was poverty and hopelessness beyond anything today, but the culture at large back then still held enough inherent values based on the pervasiveness of God’s laws to hold the chaos under control. Today we try to enact gun control, put metal detectors in schools and call for a war on drugs, but little or nothing is being done to address what Jesus said about the cancer in the spirits of human beings.
One person who changed the course of history is certainly the Apostle Paul. How did he do that? He knew and exalted Jesus. Writing to the Corinthian church he reminded them I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified (1Cor 2:2). Paul's message was Jesus. It wasn't how to be successful.... it wasn't how to be happy in adversity.... it wasn't how to have good family life.... it wasn't how to create a new social order.... it wasn't how to win friends and influence people.... it wasn't twelve steps to stop addiction.... it wasn't ten basic steps to church growth. Paul's message was Jesus Christ, and in that he helped lay the foundation for what has come to be known as Western Civilization for nearly the past two thousand years.
Now do not misunderstand. It is not that Paul would not have cared about any of the things I just mentioned. Of course he was concerned that Christians have joy even in adversity. Of course he wanted families to live in a way that honored God. Of course he wanted the power of addiction to be broken in people's lives. Of course he wanted church growth. But Paul knew it came through Jesus.
As the world around us asks for change, and as politicians promise it, Christians today need to remember the difference between cause and effect. The change most people focus on is good effects. Good effects do not happen without an appropriate reason. Christians know that the only reason to expect good things in this world is through the grace and mercy that comes from Jesus Christ. Before we can hope for good effects –– before we can even work for good effects –– we must get our cause in right priority. Christians are people who know, and are committed to, one cause. Jesus Christ is our reason for existence.
That means we do not work for justice apart from a justice understood and proclaimed as coming from Jesus. We do not merely try to save the unborn from abortion; we proclaim Jesus as the one who gives meaning to life, both for mother and child. Violence is not an issue which stands alone. Neither are family values, educational goals and economic issues. Those are things Christians can speak to only as they first of all direct attention to the King whose kingdom can make a difference.  There are many facets to Christian faith, but there is one basic ministry. Writing to the Corinthians a second time St. Paul said, All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them. And he has committed to us the ministry of reconciliation.
When we stand against violence, against abortion, against sexual immorality, against economic oppression, against racism and all the other things which war against us in our world, we must remember we are not against those things nearly as much as we are for our Lord Jesus enabling people to be reconciled with God and one another. Jesus gives an inner motivation not to be violent, not to be immoral, not to be selfish and prejudiced. That is how true change can happen, not because any politician has a personal agenda of societal change. I want to affirm today the common belief that the world does need to be changed. I also want to call us to the one kind of change that can work. If you have your favorite issue, go for it; but go in the Name and power of Jesus.
One way to change the world is to start with a person the Lord has brought into your life –– a neighbor, a co-worker, a long-time friend who may not understand why you've changed. Most people are as troubled and anxious about the way things are going in the world as we are, and if they're not in the church they have little to trust in and no reason for hope. Jesus is the only one who can give that.  What would happen in our country if every Christian led one other person to Christ this year? Well, one thing that would happen would be that the number of Christians would double. Another thing that would happen would be a slow but steady change in the values and practices of people in our society. Our world would change just a bit for the better.
The one thing we have to offer is Jesus Christ. Paul knew that –– and he practiced it. Hear what he told the Colossians through the translation of J.B. Phillips:
So naturally, we proclaim Christ. We warn everyone we meet, and we teach everyone we can, all that we know about him, so that, if possible, we may bring every [person] up to full maturity in Christ Jesus. This is what I am working at all the time, with all the strength that God gives me.
  ....How I long for you to grow more certain in your knowledge and more sure in your grasp of God himself. May your spiritual experience become richer as you see more and more fully God's great secret, Christ himself! For it is in him, and in him alone, that [people] will find all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Do you hear this call to the New Evangelization?  Do you want to change the world? God has already done it. He has made all things new through his Son. All it takes to unleash it is for people to believe it. Do you believe it? Are you ready to let Jesus be the ultimate passion of your life? It’s the only way to change the world.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

"Feeling" Relativistic

For those who can see and perceive, this article is an illustration of what happens when a Christian world view no longer sustains our culture. It is hard to imagine the long-term implications of the erosion that has happened since the shift from the 60s that turned self-restraint into self-actualization. Thinking has, indeed, been replaced by "feeling."

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

An Image and a Prayer

The following is from today’s Office of Readings and Morning Prayer.  There is such tragic imagery in this first sentence by Thomas a Kempis.  Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy...
“I have seen those who once were fed with the bread of angels take comfort in the husks of swine.

There is no holiness where you have withdrawn your hand, O Lord; no profitable wisdom if you cease to rule over it; no helpful strength if you cease to preserve it. If you forsake us, we sink and perish; but if you visit us, we rise up and live again. We are unstable, but you make us firm; we grow cool, but you inflame us.”  (from the Imitation of Christ)
O send forth your light and your truth;
let these be my guide.
Let them bring me to your holy mountain
to the place where you dwell (Psa 43)
And finally, part of a prayer from another morning’s office that is one of my favorites:
Our lives are surrounded with passing things; set our hearts on things of heaven, so that through faith, hope and charity we may come to enjoy the vision of your glory.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


The analysis is pitifully true, but the true Reformed tradition is all but a trickle of backwater in today's Christian Faith. There is one Catholic Church and it continues to stand against the syncretistic slide so prevalent in "popular Christianity."

Monday, August 22, 2011

No Offense?

A friend raises a most pertinent issue here.  I often think of Bonhoeffer's line: When Jesus calls a man, he bids him come and die. Pop-Christianity seems to have forgotten that. Historic, orthodox Christianity has been, is, and always will be (until the Consummation) offensive to those whose minds and hearts are closed to God's Truth.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Passing on another's blog

Lew is a long-time friend and the one who introduce me to The Liturgy of the Hours.  His reflection here on tradition is wonderful.  Add his blog to your reading list!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

A Classic Sermon for the Transfiguration

Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration.  I love this occasion in the earthly life of our Lord and the following is wonderful reflection from today's Office of Readings in The Liturgy of the Hours:

It is good for us to be here
From a sermon on the transfiguration of the Lord by Anastasius of Sinai, bishop
Upon Mount Tabor, Jesus revealed to his disciples a heavenly mystery. While living among them he had spoken of the kingdom and of his second coming in glory, but to banish from their hearts any possible doubt concerning the kingdom and to confirm their faith in what lay in the future by its prefiguration in the present, he gave them on Mount Tabor a wonderful vision of his glory, a foreshadowing of the kingdom of heaven. It was as if he said to them: “As time goes by you may be in danger of losing your faith. To save you from this I tell you now that some standing here listening to me will not taste death until they have seen the Son of Man coming in the glory of his Father.” Moreover, in order to assure us that Christ could command such power when he wished, the evangelist continues: Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter, James and John, and led them up a high mountain where they were alone. There, before their eyes, he was transfigured. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light. Then the disciples saw Moses and Elijah appear, and they were talking to Jesus.
These are the divine wonders we celebrate today; this is the saving revelation given us upon the mountain; this is the festival of Christ that has drawn us here. Let us listen, then, to the sacred voice of God so compellingly calling us from on high, from the summit of the mountain, so that with the Lord’s chosen disciples we may penetrate the deep meaning of these holy mysteries, so far beyond our capacity to express. Jesus goes before us to show us the way, both up the mountain and into heaven, and – I speak boldly – it is for us now to follow him with all speed, yearning for the heavenly vision that will give us a share in his radiance, renew our spiritual nature and transform us into his own likeness, making us for ever sharers in his Godhead and raising us to heights as yet undreamed of.
Let us run with confidence and joy to enter into the cloud like Moses and Elijah, or like James and John. Let us be caught up like Peter to behold the divine vision and to be transfigured by that glorious transfiguration. Let us retire from the world, stand aloof from the earth, rise above the body, detach ourselves from creatures and turn to the creator, to whom Peter in ecstasy exclaimed: Lord, it is good for us to be here.
It is indeed good to be here, as you have said, Peter. It is good to be with Jesus and to remain here for ever. What greater happiness or higher honour could we have than to be with God, to be made like him and to live in his light?
Therefore, since each of us possesses God in his heart and is being transformed into his divine image, we also should cry out with joy: It is good for us to be here – here where all things shine with divine radiance, where there is joy and gladness and exultation; where there is nothing in our hearts but peace, serenity and stillness; where God is seen. For here, in our hearts, Christ takes up his abode together with the Father, saying as he enters: Today salvation has come to this house. With Christ, our hearts receive all the wealth of his eternal blessings, and there where they are stored up for us in him, we see reflected as in a mirror both the first fruits and the whole of the world to come.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Comfortable Christianity

I want to be clear that I say this facetiously:  It is easy to be a great Christian when I am comfortable and everything is convenient.
I’ve thought of this in the context of our society’s obsession with comfort and convenience.  People do not commit road rage when they have the road to themselves.  There is no complaint in the fast food line when an order is given and handed over within the posted “90 Second” goal.  I do not fuss about the weather when it is nearly perfect (to my own tastes) or even when I can stay in air conditioned comfort.  It is easy to be happy when one’s favorite team has won the game.  Parents can be so kind and patient with their children when the kids are constructively engaged.  The whole world can seem to be rightly ordered to a person who is being treated to a multi-course meal at a 5-star establishment.
St Paul says the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22,23).  He also tells the Philippians (4:11) I have learned how to be content with whatever I have.  This was written after he had described some of his circumstances to the Corinthians (11:24–27):  Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked.
How easy it is to complain when things are not comfortable and convenient!  This is part of the seduction of this world.  The awful thing, though, is that “popular Christianity” does not confront such.  We have the “health and wealth gospel” (which is no gospel at all) enticing people to place their faith on false hopes which are rooted very much in this passing world.  We have congregations trying to attract new people on the basis of the conveniences they offer (easy parking, casual dress, exceptional child care, etc), explicitly owning the idea of “marketing the church.”  St Paul reflected on his initial coming to Corinth by saying, When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God (1Cor 2:1–5).  It seems pop Christianity has decided preaching is now outdated, especially if it proclaims Truth which is “uncomfortable.”
St Teresa of Avila once observed, "Our body has this defect that, the more it is provided care and comforts, the more needs and desires it finds."  I face this in myself.  I grew up without air conditioning in my South Carolina home; today I find myself thinking it is a “necessity.”  It surely is NICE, and I am deeply thankful for it (especially as I write this with a 74° dewpoint outside).  Yet, it is when things are not so “nice” that the Christian disciple is able to witness to the indwelling power of Christ.  After confessing his struggle with a certain weakness St Paul told the Corinthians:  Therefore I am content with weakness, with mistreatment, with distress, with persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ; for when I am powerless, it is then that I am strong (2Cor 12:10).
Jesus said it was easy to love those who love us. The test is how we respond when our circumstances are not comfortable and convenient.  In his second solo Christian album, before his entrance into Catholic Christianity, John Michael Talbot wrote these lyrics in the opening suite of his New Earth recording:
When the fields yield full harvest it’s easy to share, 
And when you’re insured this world’s friendship it’s easy to care.
But when every nation has crumbled to dust, 
Will you still reach to give the Lord’s mercies 
or will you kill if you must?
I do not want to be a “comfortable Christian.”  I am not sure such a thing is ultimately possible.  At some point we must choose to serve ourselves or take up the cross and follow Jesus.  I try to keep in the mind the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Christian who was killed by the Nazis in the closing days of WWII:  “When Jesus calls a man, he bids him come and die.”  And so I pray the words of St Paul to the Galatians (6:14) – May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.  That takes us far beyond a “comfortable Christianity.”

Thursday, July 21, 2011

St Lawrence of Brindisi

Today the Church remembers St Lawrence of Brindisi, a Capuchin Friar (b. 1559).  We would do well to heed his advice:

....let us keep our last end ever before us.  Let us always remember that we shall die, and recognize the world's deceitfulness; then we shall live holy and upright lives.

Jesus, make me holy!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Absolutes: A Fixed Point

The symbiosis of authority found in Scripture and the historical continuity of the Church is necessary for assessing current issues and discerning "progress." Someone who has no fixed points to guide him and no goal cannot make any progress, but at best just wanders around.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Foundation of Truth

Early in his theological and priestly formation Joseph Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI) faced and processed the issue of truth. He states it so clearly and succinctly here:

In the course of my intellectual life, I have experienced very acutely the problem of whether it is not actually presumptuous to say that we can know the truth– in view of all our limitations. I also wondered to what extent it might not be better to suppress this category. In pursuing this question, however, I was able to observe and also to grasp that the renunciation of truth solves nothing, but leads, on the contrary, to the tyranny of arbitrariness. All that can then remain is actually merely what we have decided and can exchange for something else. Man is degraded if he cannot know truth, if everything, in the final analysis, is just the product of an individual or collective decision.

This comes from Peter Seewald's Benedict XVI: An Intimate Portrait (Ignatius Press), p189. The whole book is worthy of one's time. What a gift our Lord has given the Church in the person of this current Vicar of Christ.

Site Meter