Sunday, June 21, 2009

He Knows... And Still He Calls... Wow!

My summer spiritual reading has sort of moved on from 'I Believe in Love'. I say 'sort of' because I'm often right back in the pages of that book - reflecting with it on events of the day, or something that hit me in my prayer time. I'm mindful that if I can find a heart soaked in 'the little way' of St. Therese, I can be a man in service of the Father, His Son, and His Church.

My current read (though I can't quite call it a read, its more like a prayer journal, guided meditation, or something like that, as my spiritual reading becomes more and more) is "Christ: the Ideal of the Priest" by Blessed Columba Marmion. Our new Vocation Director recommended this to the seminarians of the diocese - and it appeals to me because of Dom Marmion's Benedictine roots.

Now remember - with my spiritual reading, I don't aim to go fast. My goal isn't to finish the book quickly and move on to something else, but rather to use it frequently thoughout the day to invite me to prayer, to help me see how God is living and working in my life, and to bring me back to center. So don't laugh when I say that after starting last week, I'm only on page 44.

Just now, with the masses and parish celebrations concluded for the day, I took a few moments to re-center before relaxing this afternoon. And wow... I found more than I knew I was looking for. Here's what Dom Marmion had to say that bowled me over:

But I do recommend you strongly - for it is of the utmost importance - to try to walk in the way of sanctity which God has chosen for you. He alone knows your weakness..., and in His wisdom, He has measured exactly what you are capable of, and what is the power of the graces desgined to support your progress. [It is by the] acknowledgement of [your soul's] powerlessness and in [your soul's] expectation of the help of grace, [that you open yourself] to the influence of the Lord, and increase [your] capacity for the divine.

Wow. He knows. I mean, of course He does, but I don't think I ever quite paid attention to it in this way. God knows my every weakness - all the areas in which I struggle. My shortcomings and sins that are known to my family and friends, spiritual directors and priests... the one's that are obvious with just a few minute's observation. And He knows the ones that are more internal, that are sometimes hidden from view, or much more private. He knows even those I don't know clearly myself, haven't discovered or found a way to see and acknowledge myself. He knows them all...

...and yet He still calls. He calls me forward first and foremost into love and service to Him whatever that may mean. Each day, there is a growing sense on my part that He calls me forward into service of the Church as a priest. We won't know that for sure unless/until the day the Lord speaks with my bishop's voice to call me to Holy Orders - but even if that isn't the path, I see and know and accept and surrender as fully as I can to this reality: He knows, and yet He calls me to Himself.

Wow!

And not only does He know, but He knows EXACTLY. And He ALONE knows. And yet He calls. And He calls - with the specific, and exact, and tailored graces I need - not to accomplish my own will or plans or dreams or goals - but to accomplish that which he has intended for me to accomplish from the beginning of time.

I'm amazed at such intimate love - I'm amazed at being so intimately known, and accepted. One of the Eucharistic Prayers (II) includes these words, led by the priest, that we pray to the Father:

"We thank You for counting us worthy to stand in your presence and serve You."

How amazing that - being as unworthy as we are, we are nevertheless counted as worthy enough to even stand in God's mighty presence and serve Him - not our merits, but truly the only merit ever to exist that could make such a thing possible is that of Christ Himself.

There's a lot of water to travel under the bridge before I know with certainty whether the Father calls me to the priesthood - but if I am one day ordained to stand at the altar acting in the person of Christ, and speak those words to the Father on behalf of and with the community... 'thank you for counting us worthy to stand in your presence and serve you...' - I hope I never forget that for each one of us, this is no generic statement.

God knows - ONLY God knows - my weakness, my unworthiness, my shortcomings... He knows, and yet He still calls. I acknowledge my powerlessness - and with joy and assurance, I rest in expectation of the graces that God will provide.

Wow!

Monday, June 15, 2009

I Believe in Love...

My good friend and fellow seminarian from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis (Jerry Byrd) started the formation year last fall at St. Meinrad with this strange glow in his eyes. I'd come to know Jerry as a great guy, often with a smile on his face, and with a very 'real' spirituality marked by a good sense of humor and a willingness to share with others the struggle that seminary formation can be. But there was something different in his demeanor - there was something new, something going on. And he said, literally ad nauseum - so much so that I began to tease him - that he was coming to believe in love. I told him he said it so much that I was starting to hear Cher singing in the background ('Do you believe in life after love....' or whatever that song was) everytime he opened his mouth.

He kept talking about some book. Said it had 'rocked his world'. Said it was all about love. Said he was really starting to believe in love. Well, OK folks - of COURSE he believed in love. I did too. After all, we were both in seminary. God is love. I've known the love of God. I've known the love of family. I've known romantic love, the love of good friendship, the love of the Church. I believed in love, too. And yet I wasn't running around SAYING it all the time... And it wasn't 'rocking my world' to the point that I was gleaming. And Jerry was.

I figured he'd just bumped into something good for him, and like so many times when that happens, it settles down - perhaps leaving its mark on us in some way, but we sorta' 'move on' from. Trouble is, two months into school, and this wasn't a passing thing with him. Hrm.... (I thought to myself...) what's this about?

Now, if there's one thing I know about myself, its that I'm jealous of growth. Not jealous in a bad way. At leat I don't think its bad. Jealous like - wow! That worked for you, huh? I want me some of that, too. I think that's a good kind of jealousy. Its an attraction to growth, development, progress that has often led me down a good path. And so finally one day, after I had teased Jerry with my horrible Cher imitation, he said something like, 'Look here - keep teasing if you want - but this book rocks. You should check it out for yourself. Maybe it'll rock your world.' Well - if there's another thing that I am, its willing to accept the gauntlet once offered. So I bought this book. "I Believe in Love" by Fr. Jean C. J. d'Elbee - its a book of retreat conferences that this priest had given for years and years based on the simple spirituality of St. Therese of Lisieux, known as the Little Flower.

And it has been rocking my world ever since, too.

Yep - I believe in love, too. And now I laugh at myself - because sometimes in a conversation, or in my prayer time, or in my writing or reflecting, I end up back at the example of the little way of St. Therese, or at a profound understanding or reflection on love... well, so often that I'm now teasing myself. The Cher background music (which, by the way, has nothing much to do with the book) plays in my head several times a day. I guess that's good payback for all the teasin I gave Jerry.

What it is about this concept - this book - the spirituality of little Therese - that has rocked my world so much? Oh wow - there's no way to lay it all out here. You wouldn't read it, and I don't have the time to type it. But I can give you the golden nugget in just a few words: It's all about love. Nothing matters but love. Following God means following love. Cultivate love - real love - in your vocation, in your apostolic work, in your discernment, in your prayer...and that true love will guide you with more certainty than bright polaris guides the sailor to wherever else you need to go, to whatever else you need to do.

And, perhaps more profoundly, I'm beginning to really see in my heart of hearts that no matter what your (my) vocational undertakings, discernment, apostolic work, or prayer goes and does, if its not guided at its heart by love, it will go nowhere. At least nowhere supernatural, nowhere beyond my own ability, nowhere profound, lifechanging, future altering.

And there's a little miracle in all of this, too: An awakening to love that has been there all along. When I look back over my life at what was good, and (as close to) perfect (as possible), and of value that I've ever accomplished, I see that it was so in direct proportion to love.

But there's something even more profound that I'm left with as I finish this book - yes, that's right, I'm just now finishing it...there's so much on each page that I didn't (couldn't) read it straight through as for a class, but rather have been reading it a page at a time - sometimes a paragraph at a time, since about October...

...there's something even more profound that still resonates throughout all of my being these days... Christ's love makes all things new, Christ's love makes me enough for him (if I will surrender to it), Christ's love - if I can dive in over my head with no hopes of a safe place to find solid ground below, and let myself fall into the bottomless abyss of that love... well, if I can abandon myself completely in it, it will take all of my try, and all of my fail... all of my effort... all of my weakness... all of my sinfulness... it will take all of that, and make it perfect.

I don't have to do anything but love more purely and perfectly, and abandon myself more completely to Pure and Perfect love... and as I do that, the rest will - by supernatural means - be made as it should be.

Little Therese discovered a great truth that is lost in our day: We don't have to be great among men, we don't have to be skilled and talented and competent. There's a danger in those things: we become like Peter who, once he discovered he'd taken a few steps on the water perhaps began to misunderstand that HE actually had (himself) taken those steps, and began to sink. I don't - can't - shouldn't - rely on my skills, talents, abilities... I don't need to be a great man, accomplish great things, speak well, learn to preach or preside well... I don't need to be bishop, or archbishop, or dean, or vicar... I don't need to do anything but see and daily give myself more and more to total abandonment to the infinite love of God. And if I can learn to do that small thing, and do it well, and do it motivated by love and nothing more... then, whatever I do or don't do, succeed or fail at, become or don't become - well, then it will be OK.

I can do that. I can learn to love more. I can make love my journey. And trust that all the rest will be as it should.

(Hahaha - cue the Cher track....)

So far, this summer assignment here in Corbin has done nothing but confront me on a daily basis with how much joy and peace and 'rightness' what I perceive the life of the diocesan priest creates in me. It is my desire to continue on this path. But more and more, too, what I MOST want to do is just love more purely, more perfectly - and surrender completely to God's love. If I can do that one thing well, if I can truly abandon myself to love... all the rest will fall into place.

Deus caritas est. God IS love. I believe in love.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi - Learning From the Prayer of the Church

My liturgy professor at St. Meinrad (Fr. Godfrey Mullen, OSB) caught my attention one day when he said (I'm paraphrasing - and hope I don't miss the point he was making or misrepresent him), ‘Really pay attention to the words of the liturgy—as the official and public prayer of the Church, these words carry with them great treasures of understanding the theology, teaching, and tradition of the Church.” He had written the phrase Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi on the board. Over the last year, I’ve begun to pay particular attention to the prayers of the liturgy, and have found amazingly beautiful and deep meaning and insight that deepens my faith, and always provokes a sense of wonder at the infinitely knowable mysteries of our faith. This is certainly true of the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ we celebrate this weekend.

For example, consider the words of the alternate Opening Prayer for this celebration:

Lord Jesus Christ,
We worship you living among us in the sacrament of you body and blood. May we offer to our Father in heaven a solemn pledge of undivided love. May we offer to our brothers and sisters a life poured out in loving service of that kingdom where you live with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.


There’s more depth, faith, theology, and mystery in those two sentences than we could ever completely grasp in a lifetime. And yet, if we give ourselves to it in prayer and reflection, we can forever grasp more and more Truth from it. (I think this is what our Rector at St. Meinrad means by an 'infinately knowable mystery'...)

Surely we are reminded this Sunday that our sacramental and liturgical acts recognize the faith we hold that our Lord, the same Jesus Christ who first celebrated the Eucharist the night before he was betrayed truly lives among us in His body and blood made present in the Mass.

But what solemn pledge of undivided love do we have to offer to the Father? There are at least two that this prayer points us toward:

First, we know that we have nothing to offer the Father except that which God himself gives us through the perfect offering of the Lamb of God. We bring gifts of bread and wine, themselves gifts to us from God, and through the action of Christ who is both our offering and our high priest made present through the ministry of Fr. Joe at the altar, we are able to make the only acceptable offering to the Father: the body and blood of our Saviour.

But notice, too, that this prayer reminds us to unite with this another important gift: a "life poured out in loving service” to our brothers and sisters. Christ is our model, and the Eucharist teaches us every time we celebrate it a key (perhaps the key) trait we must learn: He poured out His very life for his brothers and sisters, even before they had reconciled themselves to Him.

How do we begin to live this example in our lives? What opportunities do you have this week to pour out your life to the people in our parish, in our local community even outside the Church?

If we can make this question a part of our daily lives, we can truly offer our Father in heaven the pledge of undivided love He asks of us.

This is important: after all, since its part of the ‘law of prayer’ - the Church teaches it is also part of the ‘law of our faith’.

Amen.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Let Them Be One, Father

(A reflection for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. Readings: Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40; Psalm 33; Romans 8:14-17; Matthew 28:16-20)

I use several missalettes each week to pray and reflect on the coming Sunday’s mass texts—including the popular Magnificat. For the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, the Magnificat invites us to reflect on paragraph 221 of the Catechism which teaches that “by sending his only Son and the Spirit of Love in the fullness of time, God has revealed his innermost secret: God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange.” Taken in the context of the fullness of our faith, this reality—this understanding of God as a communion of persons—has much to teach us, much to challenge us. Indeed, the two Opening Prayers available for our celebration of the Mass remind us it is through the Most Holy Trinity that “we come to know the mystery” of God’s life, and are reminded that we are a people “formed in [God’s Trinitarian] image”.

There are two pieces, really, to understanding this Trinitarian mystery. The first—which is perhaps the most often reflected upon—is understanding as much as possible what this means about God. Three Persons—and yet complete and perfect Unity as One God. Indeed, as we contemplate such wonders, we could find ourselves exclaiming like Moses in the first reading, “Did anything so great ever happen before? Was it ever heard of?” Certainly, like him, with the fullness of God’s mystery now revealed through the Incarnation of Christ and the sending of the Holy Spirit celebrated at least week’s Pentecost, our faith is assured and our hope secured so that we, too, again like Moses in the first reading, can exclaim this is how we ‘must now know and fix in our hearts that the Lord is God in the heavens above and on earth below, and that there is no other.’

It is the second understanding of this Trinitarian mystery, however, that has been foremost in my prayer this week: what it teaches us about ourselves to understand that we are created in the image of a Trinitarian God. Paul, writing to the Romans in our second reading, takes this one step further by reminding us that in addition to being created in the image of a Communion-Of-Divine-Persons–Who-Are-One, through Christ we have become adopted sons of God, “and joint heirs with Christ.”

If the God we worship is a communion of persons so closely interrelated that there is no separation among them, so united that they are Perfect Unity Itself, and if we are created in that image, then we must accept something fundamentally true about our very nature that is challenging: we are meant to be persons of communion. Communion with our Lord, communion with our parents and children and family, and certainly communion and unity as the Body of Christ represented by and made present in our parish family.

Indeed, why is it in the Gospel for today that Christ Himself commanded that the disciples “Go...and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”? Perhaps it is at least in part to remind us of two important things: One: that the God we serve is mighty, wondrous, and unlike any imitation god that man tries to create. His glory is in part because His very nature is a communion of Three Persons in such perfect Unity that they are completely One. And two: that, baptized in the name of that Most Holy Trinity, we are called to live together as the Body of Christ on earth—and in our parish family—as a communion of persons together in perfect unity.

As the Prayer Over the Gifts in today’s liturgy suggests, let all of us pray that the words we say, and the things we do, promote a unity among us that we know through faith is the very nature of the Most Holy Trinity who is One God in the heavens above and the earth below. Only in this way can we hope to become the “perfect offering” to God we pray He makes us in this sacrifice of the Mass… for this we rely on the sanctifying power of the Eucharist. Amen.

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“I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in my through their word, that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory which you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23)