Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Union with God

Ignoring the imperfections of others, preserving silence and a continual communion with God will eradicate great imperfections from the soul and make it the possessor of great virtues. (St. John of the Cross, The Sayings of Light and Love, 118)

Someone asked Abba Anthony, 'What must one do in order to please God?' The old man replied, 'Pay attention to what I tell you: whoever you may be, always have God before your eyes; whatever you do, do it according to the testimony of the holy Scriptures; in whatever place you live, do not easily leave it. Keep these three precepts and you will be saved.' (Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Abba Anthony, 3)

That we should establish ourselves in a sense of God's presence by continually conversing with Him. That it was a shameful thing to quit His conversation to think of trifles and fooleries. (Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, First Conversation)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

St. Francis de Sales

A colleague of mine gave me a copy of St. Francis de Sales' Philothea, or An Introduction to the Devout Life. I have heard a little of St. Francis' work, but not much. I am enjoying The Devout Life. I'm trying to go through it slowly, prayerfully, but I am like a leashed dog who wants to run ahead of its owner.

There are many passages I have liked. Here is one:

Recount all the mercies He has bestowed upon you, and how you have in return abused them; above all how many inspirations you have despised, how many good impulses you have neglected. How many Sacraments have you received and where are their fruits? where are those precious jewels with which your Heavenly Spouse adorned you? with what preparation have you received them? Think over all this ingratitude, and how God has ceaselessly sought you to save you, whilst you have always fled from Him that you might lose yourself. (Part First, Chapter XII [Meditation IV - Sin])

So much wisdom in this short passage. St. Francis is big on gratitude (what saint was not?). Not only does he have us focus on our sins of comission, but he has us reflect on our sins of omission as well. Recall all the times God has been calling us to do something, and we didn't do it, either because we didn't want to, or because we were "too busy" to even hear the call in the first place? St. Francis' attention to how we approach the sacraments is critical. How many times have we gone up to receive our Savior's body and blood, soul and divinity as though we were in line at a cafeteria ordering fried fish! Do we prepare for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass by praying over the readings of the Mass beforehand? Do we come to church early to pray before Mass begins? If we go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation at all, do we take time for a thorough examination of conscience, or do we just "get it over with"? The sacraments offer infinite grace to us, but we only receive as much grace as we are open to receive. Jesus warns us about false prophets, saying: "You will know them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:16). We can tell how little we have been open to the grace of the sacraments by our pitiful fruits. Do we think of the sacraments as "precious jewels from our heavenly spouse"? Most of all, do we think about how God is the "Hound of Heaven" and how we run from Him towards our own destruction, a destruction which we clothe in the guise of "freedom" or "self-actualization" or "free-thinking"? I know I have so often fallen short in these ways, and in many more.

So let us all pray for St. Francis de Sales' intercession that we will stop running from God, that we will open ourselves to His ocean of grace, that we will seek out His sacraments with humility, gratitude, and preparation. St. Francis, pray for us.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Mercy, Resurrection, and Reconciliation

Today is Divine Mercy Sunday, the Second Sunday of Easter. We will pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet as a family for the first time. Today is a good day to reflect on mercy, on reconciliation, on resurrection.

Yesterday my daughter and I went to confession. I have been trying to get to confession more often - every 2 to 4 weeks or so. Going to confession more often has helped relieve the anxiety that I have long felt about confession ever since I was a child. Fortunately, my daughter has almost no anxiety about confession. As I was waiting in line for confession, I realized that the One who waits for me in the tabernacle to be with me is the same One who waits in the confessional to show me mercy. That connection between the Eucharist and Reconciliation helped me to both be less anxious about confession and to see more clearly the connection of the two sacraments.

We attend a couples Bible study each month which I lead. We have been studying the Acts of the Apostles since September. We read from Acts when Paul is before King Agrippa, testifying that he lived as a Pharisee, which was the sect of Judaism that believed in the resurrection of the dead, as opposed to other sects of Judaism, such as the Sadducees:

And now I stand here on trial for hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king! Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead? (Acts 26: 6-8).

Old Testament references to the hope to which Paul refers can be found in Ezekial 37:1-14 ("I will open your graves and have you rise from them") and Hosea 6:1-2 ("He will revive us after two days; on the third day he will raise us up, to live in his presence").

In his work, The Resurrection of the Dead (210 A.D.), Tertullian links resurrection and reconciliation:

Therefore, the flesh shall rise again; certainly of every man, certainly the same flesh, and certainly its entirety. Wherever it is, in the safekeeping with God through that most faithful agent between God and man, Jesus Christ, who shall reconcile both God to man and man to God, [and]the spirit of the flesh and the flesh to the spirit (63:1).

The resurrection reconciles the body with the soul. Confession reconciles people with God. On this Divine Mercy Sunday, let us remember that Jesus, who conquered Death, waits for us to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation to receive His mercy so that we may be united with Him in the life of the Trinity through grace.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Quote of the Day

The true sense of the teaching authority of the pope consists in his being the advocate of the Christian memory.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, "Conscience and Truth" in Catholic Conscience: Foundation and Formation (Braintree, MA: The Pope John XXIII Medical-Moral Research and Education Center, 1991), 22.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Holy Week and Vulnerability

I was thinking about vulnerability during this Holy Week. A human being is usually vulnerable through power or intimacy (or both). The poor or the uneducated can be vulnerable to the power of those who exploit their situation. A spouse can be vulnerable to the words or actions of the other spouse in the most intimate of relationships. The word vulnerable comes from the Latin word vulnus, which means wound. It makes me think of Original Sin and our wounded human nature. Because of that wound, we needed a Savior, and because we needed a Savior, we needed a Sacrifice, since only love could save us, and real love is self-giving. Another meaning of vulnus is disaster, and it certainly seemed a disaster on that first Good Friday and Holy Saturday. However, what appeared to be a disaster became our salvation.

Even God makes Himself vulnerable. In the beginning, He gave us free will because love cannot be compelled. God allowed Himself to not be loved, so that we could know love. When He became a man, he made Himself a vulnerable baby: God needed the protection of a lowly carpenter and his teenage wife to protect Him from the murderous King Herod. Jesus made Himself vulnerable to betrayal from His closest friends. Judas turned Him over to the power of the the religious authorities. Peter denied knowing Him. All the apostles except John abandoned Him at the Crucifixion. Jesus subjected Himself to the power of the Roman Empire in His scourging, in the mocking, in His march with the cross, and in His crucifixion. There is speculation that He was naked on the cross, which is about as vulnerable as one can be. From the cross, Jesus voiced the great prayer of vulnerability, Psalm 22: "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me!" The five wounds of Christ are the marks of His vulnerability. The beautiful prayer, the Anima Christi, reminds us that Christ's vulnerability can be our stronghold: "Within your wounds, hide me."

From the vulnerability of the Crucifixion came the strength of the Resurrection. From Christ came two very intimate sacraments with great power: the Eucharist and Reconciliation. In the Eucharist, Jesus makes Himself vulnerable to us. He opens Himself to neglect, to sacrilege, and to indifference in exchange for giving us the opportunity for the intimacy of receiving Him into our bodies. In Reconciliation, we make ourselves vulnerable, exposing our most embarrassing, our most humiliating, and our most degrading sins in exchange for the the opportunity for the intimacy of receiving His vast mercy. From both of these sacraments we encounter the tremendous power of grace.

Vulnerability can lead to strength. Such a paradox. Holy Week is a time for contemplating paradox, for contemplating the contradiction of the cross.