Thursday, May 31, 2012

Adventures in Social Media II

Well, I am one week in to my experiment with Twitter. I have to admit, I'm still not sure exactly what Twitter is for, what its utility is. Obviously, people find it useful, but I have to be honest--I don't quite see it yet.
Just so you know what I'm doing over there, besides sending links to my blog there (which obviously is of no use for those of you who are regular blog readers), I am posting two or three tweet-size excerpts from the writings of Catherine de Hueck Doherty, foundress of my community of Madonna House, under the hashtag #CatherineDoherty.
She was a master of the 'pithy quote', and hopefully it's a way of putting her words out into the social media stream where they can find a way to those who may benefit from them. And so... the experiment continues...

2 + 2 = 4 -- Really!

Previously human beings could only transform particular things in nature; nature itself was not the object… of their activity. Now, however, it itself has been delivered over to them in toto. Yet as a result they suddenly see themselves imperiled as never before. The reason for this lies in the attitude that views creation only as the product of chance and necessity. Thus it has no law, no direction of its own.

In the Beginning, 51

Reflection – Ratzinger, writing here at the height of the Cold War, is referring here to the threat of nuclear extinction. The very structure of physical reality—the ‘atomic’ level of matter—has been made accessible to physical manipulation, and in consequence destructive forces have been unleashed that could destroy us all.

Of course this is still true today, even though the specific political configuration has changed. The dangers of nuclear weaponry are still with us. I wonder, though, if Ratzinger is not touching on an underlying spiritual problem. There is, it seems to me, a fundamental crisis that has beset humanity over the past several centuries.

I would call it a crisis of humility. Where is our humility? Humility is the virtue of limitations, the virtue that constrains us to live within our true boundaries. ‘Humility is truth’, goes the somewhat clichéd formula these days. Humility is about choosing to live within reality, and not trying to shape reality according to our wishes, as if we were God.

For example, 2+2=4. We may want it to equal 5 or 3, but it really does equal 4. The looming global economic collapse is a result of all sorts of people deciding that we can pretend 2+2=5 and just keep juggling the books and shuffling the papers until it magically does so. I do realize that it’s more complex than that, but that’s precisely the problem.

2+2=4 is not complex, and a global economy based on real numbers and real goods and services being exchanged for real money is not so complex. We’ve failed in humility, and tried to create a fantasy economy based on funny math and imaginary money. We are not God, and our efforts at creation ex nihilo are failing.

The same holds true with human sexuality. Man and woman come together in sexual union, and nine months later, perhaps, a child is born. There is union, and there is pro-creation. There is a beautiful, radiant simplicity about the whole thing, and a clear conformity between that which is given (bodily structures of genitalia and reproductive organs), what is manifestly good (the creation and raising of children in a safe, secure environment) and what is done (pro-creative sex, in a stable committed relationship).

But we know better! We have all sorts of ideas about what sex is, how children should be created and raised, and so on and so forth. And so we disregard our bodily structures and combine, mix and match as we please. Now – be clear! I’m not talking about the weakness of all flesh here, and the struggle for sexual purity and chastity that is the lot of fallen man. I’m talking about ideologies—rewriting the moral law to suit ourselves.

A crisis of humility—and the same holds true with nuclear weapons. We seem to have thought that it was wise and good for some human beings to hold in their hands the ability to destroy the human race. Somehow, we thought we were strong enough, good enough, pure of heart enough for this. And now we have a terrible mess on our hands, a dangerous terrible mess, the details of which I hardly need to lay out here.

Humility—knowing our limits, knowing that we are not God, and that God has made the universe with ordered structures, with a purpose and a goal. And committing ourselves to listening, to praying, to seeking out the truth of things and serving the end of things. This is our human vocation, and humility is at the core of it.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Bless the Children, Save the World

I shall never forget the devotion and heartfelt care with which my father and mother made the sign of the Cross on the forehead, mouth, and breast of us children when we went away from home, especially when the parting was a long one. This blessing was like an escort that we knew would guide us on our way. It made visible the prayer of our parents, which went with us, and it gave us the assurance that this prayer was supported by the blessing of the Saviour.

The blessing was also a challenge to us not to go outside the sphere of this blessing. Blessing is a priestly gesture, and so in the sign of the Cross we felt the priesthood of parents, its dignity and power. I believe that this blessing which is a perfect expression of the common priesthood of the baptized, should come back in a much stronger way into our daily life and permeate it with the power of the love that comes from the Lord.
Spirit of the Liturgy, 184

Reflection – A rare personal autobiographical reference from the Pope! And an extraordinarily beautiful one, at that. One senses both with Joseph Ratzinger and Karol Woytla, when you read their childhood reminiscences, that they sprang from a deep Catholic culture. Their parents were people of profound faith, prayer, practice, and the world they came to adulthood in, rent apart as it was by war, terror, rampaging ideologies, and death, was nonetheless a, Catholic  world, to a degree that we secularized ones of the 21st century have a hard time picturing.

So, parents blessing their children. You parents out there reading this—do you do this? Do you know that you are priests in your home, not in some tortured metaphorical way, but really and truly? You have spiritual authority, you know, to bless, protect, govern and guide your families, and to entreat the help of God for them. This is what priesthood means, fundamentally.

How to rebuild a Catholic culture—this is the question on so many people’s minds and hearts. How are we to re-sacralize our world? How are we to re-introduce belief in God and spiritual depth into this horrible flat secularity that swamps us constantly? How is salvation to come to the world today?

Catherine Doherty knew how. Domestic rituals, customs, traditions, tied to the liturgical year, special foods and songs and prayers suitable for this or that time or occasion—this is the raw material of Catholic Christian culture. And this is what she taught us, and what we strive to create and foster at Madonna House - Christian culture through a rich blend of liturgical customs and practices.

So... blessing children. Having a ‘special meal’ because it is May 31 (say), and the feast of Our Lady’s Visitation. Putting flowers in front of her statue (surely you have a statue or icon of Mary in your home somewhere, right?). Doing something ‘three-themed’ this Sunday because it is Trinity Sunday. Binding up the day with morning and evening prayers. Praying the Angelus at .

On and on and on. Catholic culture takes work, but it is fun, too. It’s this whole business of faith permeating our days in simple, beautiful ways. Parents, bless your children. And you non-parents out there, you too have the priesthood of the baptized. You can bless your neighbourhoods, workplaces, schools (you may have to be stealthy!).

It’s important to have good theology, to have intellectual understanding of faith and Church teachings. It’s important to have good liturgy, to be faithful to Sunday Mass. And it is important indeed to practice virtue and loving service of neighbour.

But our Catholicism has to get worked into the fabric of our daily lives, has to engender a whole way of life, or it is not really complete. And it is ritual, custom, tradition that achieves that working in, that way of life. Catholic culture—it’s not easy to achieve in a sea of secularity and disbelief, of ironic detachment and indifference to God. But we gotta start somewhere. Parents, make the sign of the cross on your children’s foreheads, mouths, and breasts when they leave the house. And have something nice for supper tomorrow – it’s Our Lady’s feast day! Start there.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Reasonable Faith

No one knows everything, but all of us together know what it is necessary to know; faith constitutes a network of reciprocal dependence that at the same time is a network of mutual solidarity, where each one sustains the other and is sustained by him. This fundamental anthropological structure can also be seen in our relationship with God, where it finds its original form and integrating center.

 Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, 102

Reflection – Ratzinger is making a very basic point in this little section, one that is rather obvious once pointed out, but which helps clarify much in the ongoing debates about ‘faith vs. reason’.

Namely, everyone moves in faith. Faith is accepting the truth of something that you have not personally verified, something of which you do not have absolute and perfect knowledge. Faith is accepting the truth of things based on the word of another. Faith, therefore, is built into our most daily human affairs.

The man who claims to live by pure reason is deluding himself. Nobody can possibly navigate the world only accepting the truth of those things he has personally proven. We cannot drive down a road, fly in an airplane, eat in a restaurant, get married… the list goes on and on. All day every day, constantly, we act on things we accept by faith.

Now, none of this proves the existence of God, of course. And Ratzinger is not advancing it as such. What he is doing here is showing how the very structure of human life in the world is precisely ‘faith’ – as he puts it ‘a network of reciprocal dependence… of mutual solidarity… each sustains the other and is sustained by him.’ This is the fundamental anthropological structure of our life together.

The idea of the self-made man, or of the purely reasonable scientist who lives without faith, has little basis in reality. And so, this connects to God (it seems to me) in the following way:

People who are hostile to religious faith often object to it on grounds of human dignity. It is childish, primitive, contrary to a mature and sober human way of life to accept faith in God. We must put away all these childish superstitions and irrational notions and enter the adult world. Ratzinge shows here, then, that ‘faith’ is constitutive of any human life, that it is impossible to live without faith, that nobody is ‘faith-less’, that it is utterly normal to move and act on information that is given to us from another, that everyone does it and we cannot not do it, in fact.

So… while it doesn’t prove the existence of God in any way, shape, or form, this universal phenomenon of faith does show that believing in God’s existence is not an outrage to our mature humanity. Why would we, after accepting freely that we rightly go through our days living by faith in all sorts of people we do not know and believing all sorts of things we haven’t proven, stop short at the notion of God as an outrageous imposition on our reason?

It doesn’t seem reasonable to do that. And (I believe) it’s not reasonable. Atheism itself, atheism qua atheism, may be a rationally attained position. But this New Atheism (TM!) which scorns and scoffs and attacks and sneers at faith—this is not a rational phenomenon. Its roots lie elsewhere than in the reason, an elsewhere that is perhaps best left unexplored at this time.

Religious faith is, if not mandated by reason, perfectly in harmony with reason and with everything we know about how human beings live in the world, always have lived in the world, and always will live in the world.

Monday, May 28, 2012

All That I Have is Yours

The concept of being God’s children [has] a dynamic quality: we are not ready-made children of God from the start, but we are meant to become so increasingly by growing more and more deeply in communion with Jesus. Our sonship turns out to be identical with following Christ. To name God as Father thus becomes a summons to us: to live as a ‘child’, as a son or daughter. ‘All that is mine is thine,’ Jesus says in his high-priestly prayer to the Father (Jn ), and the father says the same thing to the elder brother of the Prodigal Son (Lk ). The word father is an invitation to live from our awareness of this reality.

Hence, too, the delusion of false emancipation, which marked the beginning of mankind’s history of sin, is overcome. Adam, heeding the words of the serpent, wants to become God himself and to shed his need for God. We see that to be God’s child is not a matter of dependency, but rather of standing in the relation of love that sustains man’s existence and gives it meaning and grandeur.
Jesus of Nazareth 1, 138-9

Reflection – As we ponder the gift of the Holy Spirit, celebrated yesterday in the feast of Pentecost, we recall that it is by the Spirit that we cry out ‘Abba Father’ to God (cf Gal 4:6). So it is good to reflect on this whole business of being children of God, the ‘divine filiation’ that is at the heart of Christian life. It is what Christ came to offer us: that His own relationship as Son to the Father in the Divine Nature would be extended to us by grace. What He is in Himself, we become by participation in His life, a participation that is effected by the gift of His Spirit.

This whole business of being a child of God is a very deep one. We can be a bit facile about it, if we’re not careful. ‘Oh, we’re all children of the one God, after all!’ we can say a bit breezily perhaps, as if merely saying that waves aside all the difficulties of ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue and the call to work for the unity of the human family.

It is true, of course. We are all created by God, and loved by Him. That is indisputable. But as Pope Benedict describes in the above passage, there’s a lot more to being a child of God than that passive reception of being and love. It is a dynamic reality, and being a dynamic reality, engages our freedom.

In other words, we all start off being created and beloved of God, his ‘children’ in this minimal (but very real) sense. But the choices each of us makes today either make us more deeply ‘filiated’ to Him or less so. And Jesus—our living communion with Him and following of His Gospel—is the very heart and soul of these choices. He shows us what it means to be a Son of God, to be the one Son of God, in fact, the only-begotten One.

And so our dynamic growth into deeper and deeper ‘sonship’ is typified by our deeper and deeper conformity to Christ. Deeper and deeper obedience; deeper and deeper abandonment to the Father; deeper and deeper trust in His goodness and love.

‘All that I have is yours.’ The pairing of this saying of Jesus’ in both the priestly prayer in John’s Gospel, Jesus’ last words before entering his passion, and the parable of the Prodigal Son, where it stands as the Father’s invitation to each one of to enter into his merciful love, is no accident.

Jesus in the parable shows us what we are made for, to receive the merciful love of God and to extend that merciful love to everyone. Jesus in his Passion and death shows us what that path of merciful love looks like, what it demands of us, the depths into which it calls us.

And the Risen Lord Jesus comes to us, of course, to assure us that this path of merciful love is the path of life, not death, of triumph, not defeat. And the Spirit lives in our hearts to teach us all these things, remind us of all Jesus said and did, and give us the Spirit of Jesus so that we can do what He did, and live as true children of God in the world.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

If Only We Knew the Gift of God

Certainly we cannot “build” the Kingdom of God by our own efforts—what we build will always be the kingdom of man with all the limitations proper to our human nature. The Kingdom of God is a gift, and precisely because of this, it is great and beautiful, and constitutes the response to our hope. And we cannot—to use the classical expression—”merit” Heaven through our works. Heaven is always more than we could merit, just as being loved is never something “merited”, but always a gift.

However, even when we are fully aware that Heaven far exceeds what we can merit, it will always be true that our behavior is not indifferent before God and therefore is not indifferent for the unfolding of history. We can open ourselves and the world and allow God to enter: we can open ourselves to truth, to love, to what is good. This is what the saints did, those who, as “God's fellow workers”, contributed to the world's salvation (cf. 1 Cor 3:9; 1 Th 3:2).

We can free our life and the world from the poisons and contaminations that could destroy the present and the future. We can uncover the sources of creation and keep them unsullied, and in this way we can make a right use of creation, which comes to us as a gift, according to its intrinsic requirements and ultimate purpose. This makes sense even if outwardly we achieve nothing or seem powerless in the face of overwhelming hostile forces. So on the one hand, our actions engender hope for us and for others; but at the same time, it is the great hope based upon God's promises that gives us courage and directs our action in good times and bad.
Spe Salvi 35

Reflection – Happy Pentecost Sunday! It is good to reflect on this day on the whole notion of ‘gift’. In the medieval church, the primary title of the Holy Spirit was Donum Dei – the gift of God. The whole dynamic of this day, and this mystery is gift and reception, the Spirit coming down and our hearts opening to receive Him. "If only you knew the gift of God..." (Jn 4)

We of North America are deeply rooted in an economy and culture of production and accomplishment. The gift of the Spirit, the dynamism of God which we see in this feast, which is the true story of the world and of salvation, leads us to build our life on something very different.

Before we ‘do’, before we ‘accomplish’, before we produce—we are. We are constituted, made, blessed, given, conformed, shaped, empowered by the action of God. All nice passive verbs, and how important that proper passivity is for us.

The great project of modernity in all its manifestations was about man taking hold of the world, taking absolute charge of it, and making it exactly what he thought it should be. The Great March of humanity, as I read in a rather brilliant newspaper column this weekend (sorry I can't locate the link)—the triumphant procession towards the glorious kingdom of man where we finally stretch to our full height of power and majesty.

Well, the Great March led to the Gulag, to Auschwitz, the Killing Fields, and the abortion clinics of our society. It was no march at all, but a lemming-run off the cliffs of war, terror, and death.

Gift, reception, listening to the Spirit, letting God unfold His kingdom, opening up to cooperate in that Kingdom—this is the desperate and urgent need of our times. We are running out of money, running out of virtue, running out of patience. Young people are rioting in our cities; the world is writhing and twisting under the knife of want and austerity.

God has a way out for us; God has a plan. And He has a gift for us—the life of God, the power of infinite love and generosity, the ability of God to penetrate our hearts, wash them clean, set them on fire and strengthen them to live and die for love’s sake. That is the Kingdom of God; that is the Holy Spirit; that is what God wants to give you and me today.

Happy Feast Day.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Adventures in Social Media

Well, with the permission of my lawful ecclesiastical superior, I've decided to try out Twitter. It is, definitely, an experiment. If it turns out to be pointless or time-consuming I will drop it - the blog is getting good traffic as it is.

The Madonna House community is slowly learning about social media and feeling out its apostolic possibilities. I am one of our digital pioneers, tracking the e-regon Trail in my covered cyber-wagon, herding my stray thoughts along down the trail (get along, little dogies! Yah!).

Anyhow, my Twitter name is Fr.Denis Lemieux, if you want to 'follow' me. Now, I know nothing - nothing whatsover - about Twitter (hence the experiment). If anyone reading this knows anything that might help me, and wants to give this poor techno-Luddite a helping hand, feel free to comment below.

Learning to Listen

In silent contemplation, then, the eternal Word, through whom the world was created, becomes ever more powerfully present and we become aware of the plan of salvation that God is accomplishing throughout our history by word and deed. As the Second Vatican Council reminds us, divine revelation is fulfilled by “deeds and words having an inner unity: the deeds wrought by God in the history of salvation manifest and confirm the teaching and realities signified by the words, while the words proclaim the deeds and clarify the mystery contained in them” (Dei Verbum, 2).

This plan of salvation culminates in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the mediator and the fullness of all revelation. He has made known to us the true face of God the Father and by his Cross and Resurrection has brought us from the slavery of sin and death to the freedom of the children of God. The fundamental question of the meaning of human existence finds in the mystery of Christ an answer capable of bringing peace to the restless human heart. The Church’s mission springs from this mystery; and it is this mystery which impels Christians to become heralds of hope and salvation, witnesses of that love which promotes human dignity and builds justice and peace.
Word and silence: learning to communicate is learning to listen and contemplate as well as speak.

This is especially important for those engaged in the task of evangelization: both silence and word are essential elements, integral to the Church’s work of communication for the sake of a renewed proclamation of Christ in today’s world. To Mary, whose silence “listens to the Word and causes it to blossom” (Private Prayer at the Holy House, Loreto, 1 September 2007), I entrust all the work of evangelization which the Church undertakes through the means of social communication.

Message for World Communications Day, May 20, 2012

Reflection – So we wrap up this little document, which took us a full blog-week to get through. ‘Learning to communicate is learning to listen,’ leaps out at me as a good sentient to ponder in this, although the whole passage is very beautiful.

There is such an anguish in the world today—at least I experience it as such—of miscommunication, failure to communicate. In matters political and moral, opposing camps generally talk past one another. Slogans are chanted. Invective is hurled. Straw men are constructed and destroyed in such volume one wonders where all the straw is coming from.

‘Learning to communicate is learning to listen.’ And this is important for those engaged in the task of evangelization. Certainly this is so because many of the Church’s teachings these days are hard ones for people to hear, and also because people have terrible misunderstandings and deep wounds around authority, the Church, ‘law’, that make it difficult if not impossible for them to sit still for a catechism lecture. We have to get where people are coming from and how they are hearing us if we are to be able to put our Catholic teachings into better language that has a chance of being heard.

But I think there’s something even deeper than those very real considerations. Learning to listen is vital to the New Evangelization for a more central reason. When I choose to listen to you, really listen to you, what I am communicating to you is that you are important to me. You matter. You are not just a passive audience for my doctrines and ideas; you are not just a scalp for me to hang on my convert belt; you are not a thing for me to manipulate and control by force of argument or personality.

You are a person. At the moment I am really listening to you, I am communicating in that listening that you are the most important person in the world to me. And this is a vitally evangelical act.

Because that’s how God is with each one of us, all the time. We have no idea, really, just how much God loves us, each one of us—you, me, your spouse, your neighbor, your best friend and your worst enemy. How much He loves us! And this love has to be communicated—that is the heart of the New Evangelization, without which all the doctrines and dogmas and moral laws are (literally) heartless.

We communicate God’s love by loving people, and it seems to me that to truly love people we have to listen to them. So we communicate love, the Gospel, and God Himself in a primary and indispensable way by listening to people. Learning to listen is learning to communicate

And so much happens in that listening. The Word blossoms in the other—God is already present there in that person, you know, somehow, in some fashion. It is our silent listening that fosters the life of God in that person—love grows, God grows in them. The Word becomes flesh—my flesh, your flesh, the flesh of the other person. It happens; I have seen it happen. And this is what we must do, it seems to me, if we want the Gospel to truly find a home in the hearts of men and women today.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Adult Conversation

If God speaks to us even in silence, we in turn discover in silence the possibility of speaking with God and about God. “We need that silence which becomes contemplation, which introduces us into God’s silence and brings us to the point where the Word, the redeeming Word, is born” (Homily, Eucharistic Celebration with Members of the International Theological Commission, 6 October 2006). In speaking of God’s grandeur, our language will always prove inadequate and must make space for silent contemplation. Out of such contemplation springs forth, with all its inner power, the urgent sense of mission, the compelling obligation to communicate that which we have seen and heard” so that all may be in communion with God (1 Jn 1:3). Silent contemplation immerses us in the source of that Love who directs us towards our neighbours so that we may feel their suffering and offer them the light of Christ, his message of life and his saving gift of the fullness of love.
Message for World Communications Day, May 20, 2012
Reflection – Yesterday we looked at how God’s deepest revelation of Himself came to us, not in words, but in silence. Today we look at how our deepest coming to God is as well a silent, not a spoken one.
This has always been the movement in prayer, throughout all the strands and traditions of Christianity. I suspect it is so in other religions, too.

In lectio divina (for example) the movement is from the lectio, to the ruminatio, to the meditatio, to the contemplatio. In other words, from reading and pondering and thinking about a passage to the silent contemplation of the received truth. The latter stages of oratio and actio—prayer and action—are simply what the Pope mentions above, that out of silent contemplation springs urgency of mission, movement outwards towards God in loving surrender and neighbor in loving service.

My own experience of silence in prayer, such as it is (I make no claims to mystical depth, and I sure ain’t no Carthusian monk) is that a certain leap of faith is required in it. It’s not like this time of contemplatio in prayer is uniformly and assuredly filled with all sort of deep sentiments and soul-shaking revelations. It can be pretty empty, sometimes. Pretty dry, often. Pretty boring, even.

And so to stick with it takes a certain amount of self-discipline, for sure, but even more a certain degree of faith. What is really happening to us when we pray occurs at such a depth of our soul and inmost heart that both our conscious mind and our emotions are left in the dust, so to speak.

They are kind of like small children present while adults are having a serious adult conversation. They get bored, they get fractious, they want to go out and play and run around. God and the human soul are the ‘adults’ having an encounter that is truly beyond words; our minds, emotions, and bodies are restless toddlers.

So faith and self-discipline are needed here. And giving your mind something to do, like a mother might give her toddler a toy or game to distract it so she can talk to her Visitor. So… the rosary! Or… the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner”). While the mind engages in some simple repetitive prayer, the heart, the soul can expand to meet its God.

Adult conversation. And out of that adult conversation, the capacity for truly mature adult engagement with the world: loving without counting the cost and bearing the joyful burden of the Gospel to the ends of the earth, according to what God has given us to do.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Words Fall Away When Truth Itself Comes

Attention should be paid to the various types of websites, applications and social networks which can help people today to find time for reflection and authentic questioning, as well as making space for silence and occasions for prayer, meditation or sharing of the word of God. In concise phrases, often no longer than a verse from the Bible, profound thoughts can be communicated, as long as those taking part in the conversation do not neglect to cultivate their own inner lives.

It is hardly surprising that different religious traditions consider solitude and silence as privileged states which help people to rediscover themselves and that Truth which gives meaning to all things. The God of biblical revelation speaks also without words: “As the Cross of Christ demonstrates, God also speaks by his silence. The silence of God, the experience of the distance of the almighty Father, is a decisive stage in the earthly journey of the Son of God, the incarnate Word …. God’s silence prolongs his earlier words. In these moments of darkness, he speaks through the mystery of his silence” (Verbum Domini, 21).

The eloquence of God’s love, lived to the point of the supreme gift, speaks in the silence of the Cross. After Christ’s death there is a great silence over the earth, and on Holy Saturday, when “the King sleeps and God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages” (cf. Office of Readings, Holy Saturday), God’s voice resounds, filled with love for humanity.
Message for World Communications Day, May 20, 2012

Reflection – First, I have to note: Pope Benedict XVI endorses my blog! Wooo! After all, what else do I do here but “help people today to find time for reflection and authentic questioning.” That’s my bag! That’s what I’m all about! Thanks, Holy Father!

It is interesting that he dives right from this somewhat prosaic matter of what websites we should frequent into a deep and powerful meditation on the role of silence in the giving of revelation. One minute we are talking about the excessive verbiage of the information age and its impact on our social life, and then all of the sudden we are at the foot of the Cross, with Christ crying out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” and in the silence of the tomb.

Clearly the Pope is calling us to really deepen this understanding of silence. It is not simply a matter of taking a break from TV, music and the Internet so as to process things. It is a question of God and how He comes to us, and our ability to receive Him in totality and in depth.

God spoke so much to His people: through the patriarchs, the prophets, through his Only Son. Words of wisdom and light, words of admonition and rebuke, words of consolation and hope. We have a whole Book full of the words of God, right?

But the deepest revelation of God was not done in words, but in deed and in silent suffering. God entered that realm of pain and death where words fall away and all that remains is love. And this is the fullness of revelation of God to us, the showing of his love to the end (cf. Jn 13). Both in Christ’s own silence in the face of his persecutors, his agony on the Cross, and in the tomb’s deep silence, and in God the Father’s unfathomable silence as his human children kill his only begotten Son, there is a deep—beyond deep!—revelation of God’s love for the world and exactly how far that love goes to save us.

And indeed these are not events of the distant past. The Eucharist, our most intimate encounter with Christ in this world, is given to us in silence. Jesus comes to the altar, enters our human body and soul in Holy Communion, is adored and worshipped—all in a totality of silence.

All this tells us that words have their place, words are necessary, words surround and cradle the Truth of things, but the heart of it all is silence. Words have their place, but their place is limited and partial. When Truth comes, words fall away, and silent adoration and loving union is all-in-all.

And with that, I will follow the Pope’s recommendation and stop writing now, so as to invite you to “make space for silence and occasions for prayer” today – right now, if you can.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Looking Into the Maelstrom

The process of communication nowadays is largely fuelled by questions in search of answers. Search engines and social networks have become the starting point of communication for many people who are seeking advice, ideas, information and answers. In our time, the internet is becoming ever more a forum for questions and answers – indeed, people today are frequently bombarded with answers to questions they have never asked and to needs of which they were unaware. If we are to recognize and focus upon the truly important questions, then silence is a precious commodity that enables us to exercise proper discernment in the face of the surcharge of stimuli and data that we receive.

Amid the complexity and diversity of the world of communications, however, many people find themselves confronted with the ultimate questions of human existence: Who am I? What can I know? What ought I to do? What may I hope? It is important to affirm those who ask these questions, and to open up the possibility of a profound dialogue, by means of words and interchange, but also through the call to silent reflection, something that is often more eloquent than a hasty answer and permits seekers to reach into the depths of their being and open themselves to the path towards knowledge that God has inscribed in human hearts.

Ultimately, this constant flow of questions demonstrates the restlessness of human beings, ceaselessly searching for truths, of greater or lesser import, that can offer meaning and hope to their lives. Men and women cannot rest content with a superficial and unquestioning exchange of sceptical opinions and experiences of life – all of us are in search of truth and we share this profound yearning today more than ever: “When people exchange information, they are already sharing themselves, their view of the world, their hopes, their ideals” (Message for the 2011 World Day of Communications).

Message for World Communications Day, May 20, 2012

Reflection – You know, it takes a great man to see into the maelstrom of the Internet and its ceaseless chatter and recognize the fundamental human restlessness, seeking for truth, looking for meaning, hunting for answers.

Underneath the opinionating, the endless debates,  and the wrangling lies the quest for what is real, what is valuable, what is good and will make our lives good. It can be hard to see this basic and deep human drive in the midst of the tremendous noise, the sound and fury of our information culture, not to mention its sillier and more superficial aspects.

This is where silence enters in. The work of sorting through the surfeit and excess of words and data, the work of determining what is the truly essential matter and what is distraction, the work of getting to the bottom of a question to reveal its deepest implications and extensions—all of this is work that requires silence, contemplation, a rest from the constant in-flow of fresh stimuli.

And this is precisely what is lacking in the current information technology culture. The tendency of so many, especially the young, to get on-line and stay on-line, to live constantly surfing the digital wave, to be surrounded with noise stimulus from morning to night, precisely robs us of the ability to make any sense of any of it, to understand anything.

When we lack this necessary silence, this stepping aside from the onslaught of words and ideas to process and ponder, I think that’s when the terrible polarization, tribalization into ‘camps’, knee-jerk reactions, and re-hashing of slogans and shibboleths takes over, as opposed to real conversation.

Real communication requires silence. It requires deep listening to the other, to what they are saying and what they are really saying, but it also requires a thoughtful and careful inner work by the speaker, so that what he or she says comes out of real engagement and effort towards the true, the good, and the beautiful.

Our neighbors to the South (who make up most of my readers – hi, Americans!) are engaged in an election year. In Canada, political wrangling and posturing is a permanent reality. I have no idea how political discourse flows in the rest of the world.

We need silence, Lord. ‘Shut us up,’ so that we can delve under the surface of our words and come to understanding and even wisdom, so that our words serve not just our egos and desires, but the task and mission of loving the truth and of loving one another in the truth, so that we can shape our world according to your truth. Amen.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Of Avalanches and Sheep

Silence is an integral element of communication; in its absence, words rich in content cannot exist. In silence, we are better able to listen to and understand ourselves; ideas come to birth and acquire depth; we understand with greater clarity what it is we want to say and what we expect from others; and we choose how to express ourselves. By remaining silent we allow the other person to speak, to express him or herself; and we avoid being tied simply to our own words and ideas without them being adequately tested.

In this way, space is created for mutual listening, and deeper human relationships become possible. It is often in silence, for example, that we observe the most authentic communication taking place between people who are in love: gestures, facial expressions and body language are signs by which they reveal themselves to each other. Joy, anxiety, and suffering can all be communicated in silence – indeed it provides them with a particularly powerful mode of expression. Silence, then, gives rise to even more active communication, requiring sensitivity and a capacity to listen that often makes manifest the true measure and nature of the relationships involved.

When messages and information are plentiful, silence becomes essential if we are to distinguish what is important from what is insignificant or secondary. Deeper reflection helps us to discover the links between events that at first sight seem unconnected, to make evaluations, to analyze messages; this makes it possible to share thoughtful and relevant opinions, giving rise to an authentic body of shared knowledge. For this to happen, it is necessary to develop an appropriate environment, a kind of ‘eco-system’ that maintains a just equilibrium between silence, words, images and sounds.

Message for World Communications Day, May 20, 2012

Reflection – Well, the Pope says it here all so very well and so very clearly that there’s not too much for me to add, frankly!

It strikes me here that silence serves to deepen our communication. So often we can bob along at the surface of life: stimulus and response, the latest news and buzz, music blaring, the chattering classes chattering away in our ears. Mass culture and its products can easily fill every waking hour if we choose.
And in all this, we can so easily substitute thought with recycled talking points, slogans, catch phrases, and clichés.

Without becoming paranoid or conspiracy-theorist about it, it seems to me that at least some people in high places are undoubtedly quite happy to have us in that state, sheep being herded from one distraction to the next in an avalanche of media words and images while they do whatever they please (wait, do sheep get herded by avalanches? Mixed metaphor alert… oh well, it will make for a good title for the post!)

We have to find silence in our days. We need to be able to think, to sort out, to evaluate and analyze. We cannot do that with music and media of all kinds blaring away at us constantly.

People will often say that silence is impossible in our modern urban world. They might say that it’s easy for me, sitting in a religious community in the Upper Ottawa Valley, where three cars in a row is heavy traffic and our main ‘noise’ is the birds singing at , to expound on silence.

But… we all have all these gadgets and gizmos and noise-making machines in our lives, don’t we? And… as far as I know, there’s no federal law so far that mandates they be turned on all the time, right? We have choices, in other words, and we can choose towards silence, even if some noise in our world is not ours to silence.

Our world today, both on the big macro-level, and on the level of your life and mine, has serious problems. Serious problems need serious people to do serious reflection on them. And it is in silence that this reflection occurs, and we can become the kind of people our times require.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Word and Silence

As we draw near to World Communications Day 2012, I would like to share with you some reflections concerning an aspect of the human process of communication which, despite its importance, is often overlooked and which, at the present time, it would seem especially necessary to recall. It concerns the relationship between silence and word: two aspects of communication which need to be kept in balance, to alternate and to be integrated with one another if authentic dialogue and deep closeness between people are to be achieved. When word and silence become mutually exclusive, communication breaks down, either because it gives rise to confusion or because, on the contrary, it creates an atmosphere of coldness; when they complement one another, however, communication acquires value and meaning.

Message for World Communications Day, May 20, 2012

Reflection – Well, as suggested by commenter Fr. John Flynn, I am going to spend the next several posts discussing this excellent address of the Pope’s for World Communication Day, which is today, in fact.
It is a few years now that I have, by God’s grace and my superior’s permission, been able to spend at least some of God’s time allotted to me working as a writer. I am four books (two published, one coming out soon, one still looking for a publisher), numerous articles, and over 300 blog posts into this little mini-career within my larger and far more important priestly and Madonna House vocation.

So communication is something rather dear to my heart. ‘Words’ matter to me, intensely. Those who know me well know that few things pain me more than when communications break down, when words go awry and wrong messages get communicated.

The connection the Pope makes here of ‘word’ and ‘silence’ is a key one, well worth pondering, and we are going to ponder it together on this blog over these next days. In our own community’s history, Catherine Doherty our foundress presented to us in the 1960s the Russian practice of poustinia. The word means desert; the practice means (in our MH translation of it) taking 24 hours of silence and solitude, prayer and fasting. Only the Bible to read, in a plain sparsely furnished room or cabin. You and God and nothing else, no rules, no horarium—just silence.

In MH we have experienced in the 40+ years that poustinia has been part of our life precisely what the Pope is talking about here. Silence and word complement each other; they are necessary for each other. He will talk about all this at some depth and beauty in the days ahead, and I don’t want to be redundant.
Instead I will offer, below the ‘jump’, a sneak preview of book number four (the one that doesn’t have a publisher yet… say a wee prayer that it will find one, OK?). The book is about technology and its effects on our life and our humanity, and this is from the chapter “Becoming a Person”, which is about, well, silence and our need for it. It’s also nice to find out that the Pope and I are on the same page about something. Anyhow, here it is:
We need silence. Silence is that dark hidden place...

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Limits of Agape

Eros and agape—ascending love and descending love—can never be completely separated. The more the two, in their different aspects, find a proper unity in the one reality of love, the more the true nature of love in general is realized. Even if eros is at first mainly covetous and ascending, a fascination for the great promise of happiness, in drawing near to the other, it is less and less concerned with itself, increasingly seeks the happiness of the other, is concerned more and more with the beloved, bestows itself and wants to “be there for” the other. The element of agape thus enters into this love, for otherwise eros is impoverished and even loses its own nature. On the other hand, man cannot live by oblative, descending love alone. He cannot always give, he must also receive. Anyone who wishes to give love must also receive love as a gift. Certainly, as the Lord tells us, one can become a source from which rivers of living water flow (cf. Jn -38). Yet to become such a source, one must constantly drink anew from the original source, which is Jesus Christ, from whose pierced heart flows the love of God (cf. Jn ).
Deus Caritas Est 7

Reflection – So we continue our reflection on love, on the two loves of eros and agape and how they relate to each other.

Yesterday I wrote quite a bit about the tragedy of eros when it is cut off from agape, especially in the current crisis of epidemic pornography. The Pope refers to this here: how eros only remains itself as it is met by and grows and deepens into agape.

He goes on, though, to show that agape alone is not enough. Our own commitment to agape has its limits. To live a life of selfless love requires receiving selfless love from another. To be a shepherd we must be shepherded ourselves, must be that sheep carried on the shoulders of the Good Shepherd.

To care we must be cared for, and to love, really love, we must first be loved. All of this points to the basic need of the human person for prayer, for worship, for sacramental gift, for spiritual food. No matter how ‘good’ you may be (and I don’t mean that sarcastically – there is genuine goodness in the world!), you do need to drink from the source of goodness which is Jesus Christ.

This is one of those areas of spiritual peril that ‘good people’ are especially prone to encounter. When you have heavy responsibilities, many people seeking your time and energy, and a fundamental disposition to be of service to God and neighbour, the first thing to get crossed off the list generally is prayer time or other forms of spiritual refreshment.

The mother with a house full of kids, the priest covering three or four parishes, the father working long hours to support his family, the child caring for his or her aging parents—all of this can eat up every minute of waking life.

This is both difficult and dangerous. Bitterness of spirit can enter in, or cynicism; faith can be weakened to the point of extinction; joy and peace can flee. ‘Man cannot live by oblative, descending love alone. He cannot always give, he must also receive.’ We have to look for the possibilities in our own lives – clearly general advice cannot be given here, as everyone’s circumstances are so different.

We cannot give what we do not have—if love is not filling you, you will run out of love sooner or later, and probably sooner. If any of this is resonating with you, but you’re really not sure how or what you can change in your life to be ‘filled’ a bit more regularly, ask the Holy Spirit to show you. God must want to come to each one of us to give us what we need, right? So there must be a way in your life, in my life, in every human being’s life where He can do just that. So be simple and childlike and ask Him, that’s all.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Tragedy of Eros

We began [this encyclical] by asking whether the different, or even opposed, meanings of the word “love” point to some profound underlying unity, or whether on the contrary they must remain unconnected, one alongside the other. More significantly, though, we questioned whether the message of love proclaimed to us by the Bible and the Church's Tradition has some points of contact with the common human experience of love, or whether it is opposed to that experience.

This in turn led us to consider two fundamental words: eros, as a term to indicate “worldly” love and agape, referring to love grounded in and shaped by faith. The two notions are often contrasted as “ascending” love and “descending” love. There are other, similar classifications, such as the distinction between possessive love and oblative love (amor concupiscentiae – amor benevolentiae), to which is sometimes also added love that seeks its own advantage.

In philosophical and theological debate, these distinctions have often been radicalized to the point of establishing a clear antithesis between them: descending, oblative love—agape—would be typically Christian, while on the other hand ascending, possessive or covetous love —eros—would be typical of non-Christian, and particularly Greek culture. Were this antithesis to be taken to extremes, the essence of Christianity would be detached from the vital relations fundamental to human existence, and would become a world apart, admirable perhaps, but decisively cut off from the complex fabric of human life.
Deus Caritas Est 7

Reflection – Well, it’s been quite awhile since we’ve visited this encyclical on this blog. The passage cited here picks up its themes admirably, and tomorrow we will continue those themes.

Eros and agape. The Pope has earlier made clear that by eros he does not simply or even primarily mean sexual attraction, although the English word ‘erotic’ means precisely that. It’s much broader in Greek—the whole experience of love as desire, as longing, as the will to possess and be united with the beloved. Sex, yes, but clearly more than that. There can be eros for knowledge, for all manner of worldly goods, and even a proper eros for God. At times religion is spoken of as sublimated sexuality, as a pathology emerging from repression even, but it is just as likely and maybe more so that disordered sexuality is sublimated religion. ‘A man entering a brothel is looking for God,’ saith Chesterton. We could well update this to ‘A man surfing the internet for pornography is looking for God’.

The Pope takes great pains in this encyclical to show exactly how eros and agape are related; how the human reality of desire in all its forms is met by, completed by the love that comes from God who is perfect and desires nothing from us.

I’m struck by the tragedy of eros cut off from agape, symbolized by the epidemic of pornography today. The love of desire is meant to blossom into a genuine love of the person. What begins as a basically chemically driven, primitive selection and movement towards the other is meant to grow towards a genuine inter-personal relationship. What begins with hormones is meant to end with commitment, with self-gift. What begins with attraction and delight is meant to end with sacrifice.

When eros and agape get separated, while agape can become a bit frosty and lofty, eros has an even more calamitous fate, disintegrating into lust, into a fruitless, futile, demonic parody of itself. And this is the tragic situation of countless men today.

Casanova conquered his thousands of women but he did not know a single one of them, and he emerges a tragic and pathetic figure. How much more pathetic and tragic are the millions of cyber-Casanovas with hundreds of thousands of digitized women available at the click of a mouse… yet knowing none of them, going nowhere, eros utterly frustrated from its true end of agape, desire sundered from relationship, commitment, and sacrifice.

It is a human, psychological, spiritual crisis of (if I may wax dramatic) civilizational proportions, a rot that strikes at the very heart of essential human realities, our capacity to love maturely and well, to grow into the fullness of love and gift. There is much questioning today of ‘what’s wrong with the men?’ A sense is widely afoot that something has gone very badly awry in the male of the species. I believe that the tragedy of eros cut off from agape is at the heart of this problem, and until society effectively addresses this tragedy and the epidemic of pornography that is its cause and effect, we will continue to flounder. And that’s enough for one day!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Setting the Stage

No matter how evident an atheistic interpretation of the universe may appear, it will never lead to the scientific certainty that God does not exist. No one can carry out experiments on the totality of existence or its preconditions. This brings us in a very straightforward manner to the unsurpassable limits inherent in the ‘human condition’ and in man’s capacity for knowledge qua man, that is, not merely with regard to his present-day circumstances, but in terms of his very essence.”

Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, 85

Reflection – Well, I have blogged this terrain before, more than once (click the atheism tag at the foot of the post for details). So I’m not going to go down the same path again, showing the logical absurdity of the atheist position, the impossibility in atheist materialist positivist terms of actually claiming a ‘knowledge’ of the non-existence of God. Been there, done that, and it’s a little too easy. Shooting fish in a barrel may net you some good eats, but it’s still not very sporting.

Instead, let’s explore what Ratzinger says about these ‘unsurpassable limits inherent in the human condition’. We find ourselves in a strange seeming paradox here. We are, by the normal and most sure processes of knowledge (namely scientific experiment and rigorous logical analysis of immediate experience) unable to penetrate to the most urgent core of human existence and life. What is it all about, really? What is the essence of humanity, really? How, then, are we to live in such a way that serves and is in harmony with this meaning and essence, really?

All of this is profoundly elusive to us, at least in that faculty of the intellect which seems to give us the most certainty. And yet, the urgency of the question remains. Some people, it is true, do not instinctively ‘feel’ the urgency of that question. There will always be those who just shrug off deep questions about life and just crack open another beer (literally or figuratively). Not everyone is of a philosophical bent.

But it seems to me, in answer to that, that it’s not a question of feelings and bents. Objectively, it is a question of fundamental responsibility to ourselves and our neighbor that we have some idea of who and what we are, what reality is about, and how this is to shape our choices and mode of life.

And yet we run up against the ‘unsurpassable limits’ of human knowledge right here, precisely where we most need it, where we need to know how we are to live and what we are to do. It seems to me that this dilemma sets the stage, existentially, experientially, for the granting of revelation from outside our human frame of reference.

At the very least, our experience of limitations to reason and the frustration of a real objective human need that brings to us shows that ‘revelation’ is not something alien or arbitrary or imposed upon us in some artificial way. We need help!

And indeed, when we look back into the history of religion, the notion of revelation or enlightenment pops up everywhere. The Buddha’s enlightenment, Mohammed’s reception of the Koran from the angel Gabriel, Moses and the burning bush and many more—there is a deep sense, a deep intuition in humanity that ultimate truth is received, not achieved, taught and not discovered. Reasoning can precede this revelation and inform our decision to receive it as genuine or reject it as spurious; further reasoning can flow from this revelation and expand on its implications and meaning, but the revelation is necessary nonetheless.

I realize here that I raise as many questions as I answer, and I do try to keep these blog posts to a nice manageable length which I am rapidly approaching… so to wrap things up for today, my main point in this is not to ‘prove’ the truth of Christian revelation or to evaluate the merits and demerits of various revelations given to the founders of various religions and worldviews, but to establish that in our experience of normal human life we do in fact run into a need or at the very least a real situation in which divine revelation makes sense, in which God does come out to us to do in us what we cannot do for ourselves, and which we urgently need to have done—to reveal to us the deep truth of our life and its meaning and value, and from this deep truth how we are to live today.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What Does Not Pass Away

Christianity promises that what has transpired on this earth will be eternal. Nothing of what is precious and valuable to us will be lost… this final and abiding world will be the fulfillment of this earth of ours.

Dogma and Preaching, 117

Reflection – There is a persistent belief about Christianity that turns at least some people away from it. Namely, there is an idea that to have heaven as the goal of life makes us indifferent towards or ineffective in addressing the problems of life on earth. There is a sense that Christian hope in eternal life leads to passivity in the face of injustice or suffering and a sort of retreat into a comfortable world of fairy tales and pie-in-the-sky fantasy.

That this persistent belief flies in the face of all known historical facts about Christians and their actual behavior over the course of 2000 years has done little to discredit it. After all, it seems logical: if all our energies are exerted towards some other world why spend time and resources improving this one?

That Christians have, by and large over 2000 years, fed the hungry, cared for the sick, clothed the naked, taught the ignorant, and so forth is passed over in silence. That Christian Europe developed the principles and methodologies of modern science in the very heart of what are now called the ‘Dark Ages’, invented the university, built up a system of law and the theory of universal human rights, and in general produced a flourishing of art, music, architecture and literature is largely forgotten. We are not taught history in our schools, generally, and the little history we are taught is grossly unreliable on this point.

In fact, if any charge could be credibly laid at the door of Christianity, particularly in its Western European and North American forms, it would be that of worldliness, a too practical and utilitarian approach to the question of how one is to live in the present age and engage in its needs and problems.

No, the charge that Christianity makes us indifferent to the problems of the world is unsustainable on the historical record alone. And this quote from Ratzinger explains why it fails on logical grounds, too.

Namely, heaven and earth are not hermetically sealed compartments from each other. Our life here on earth, our choices, the good we do, the services we render, and on a deeper level the love we carry within ourselves, the true embrace of the good and the beautiful here and now—all of this somehow becomes taken up into heaven, becomes part of the life of eternity.

Tomorrow is Ascension Thursday, although in many parts of the world the feast is shifted to Sunday. The whole movement of Christianity as we see it in this event of the Ascension is precisely this: that Jesus carries our humanity, his Incarnate being, his whole embrace of the human, the earthly, flesh and blood and all they hold, to the Father.

And as with the Head, so with the Body. Heaven has taken earth to itself, and so the earth matters tremendously. The world, its beauties and its woes matters tremendously. The earth and all within it is passing away, but heaven has bent down to earth in solicitude and compassion to bring into it that which does not pass away.

And what does not pass away is Love. And so Christianity, if it is lived properly, expresses itself in love for the world, in service, in compassion, in alleviation of suffering, in a pouring out of gifts and strength to make the world reflect the beauty, goodness, and truth of the One who made it and loved it and came down from heaven to share in its life.

And this is precisely what we see in those exemplary Christians who we call ‘saints’, and this is precisely what you and I are called to do today. So—let’s get cracking!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

All You Need is Love (Da da da da da)

It is not science that redeems man: man is redeemed by love. This applies even in terms of this present world. When someone has the experience of a great love in his life, this is a moment of “redemption” which gives a new meaning to his life. But soon he will also realize that the love bestowed upon him cannot by itself resolve the question of his life. It is a love that remains fragile. It can be destroyed by death. The human being needs unconditional love. He needs the certainty which makes him say: “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38- 39). If this absolute love exists, with its absolute certainty, then—only then—is man “redeemed”, whatever should happen to him in his particular circumstances. This is what it means to say: Jesus Christ has “redeemed” us. Through him we have become certain of God, a God who is not a remote “first cause” of the world, because his only-begotten Son has become man and of him everyone can say: “I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20).

Spe Salvi 26

Reflection – Well, it turns out the Beatles were right: all you need is love (da da da da da). And all the cheesy love songs are right, after all: all that jazz about love lifting us up where we belong and lighting up our life and… well, name your tune.

The Pope is clear: love redeems, and the Church is very clear that this applies to the most human, earthy experiences of love. But the obvious question arises: what does it mean to ‘be redeemed’? It seems to me that in this context, what the Pope is describing is life being given meaning, beauty, goodness. We all labor under a burden of futility, a sense that the world is not a good place, not going anywhere, not happy.

This is what science, which can be understood in the broadest sense of the word as mastery, as taking control of the world and life, cannot redeem us from. We can attain an utter technological or some form of control of our world, and not be one step closer towards an experience of well being, of joy, of life to the fullest.

Ah, but that moment of falling in love! Suddenly the world is Technicolor, charged with energy, life, meaning, purpose. Suddenly it is all very important. People experience this when they fall truly in love with another; they also experience it at the birth of a child. One minute ago you were just an ordinary guy living an ordinary life, then your holding this little baby in your arms and the mystery of love enters your world in a whole new way. Suddenly everything is so much more important than it was one minute ago.

The Pope’s genius here, of course, is to point out that, beautiful and redemptive as all this is, it is not enough, really. Not because there’s something terribly wrong with human love, but because it is so very, very fragile.

We all know this. Love can fail. People die. Relationships founder. Things just don’t work out. And if ‘love’ is the redemptive power in the world, the one thing in our experience that gives life meaning, beauty, goodness, then an experience of  love that can fail and often does is a pretty shaky redemption indeed.

And without something a bit more solid, life becomes ultimately a tragic affair. No matter how blissful the love affair, how solid and fruitful the marriage, how wonderful and perfect your children are, in the end it all comes crashing down. Death—and ‘bye bye love, bye bye happiness, hello loneliness’, to quote another cheesy song.

We need a love that is stronger than death and that cannot fail, if our need for redemption, our experience of life is going to be not tragic, but (in the deepest sense of the word) comic. And this is what Jesus has given us – the love of the Father, poured out upon the whole human race, with a strength and consistency and unconditional power that comes directly from God.

And so, we are redeemed. Good news, eh?

Monday, May 14, 2012

My Vocation

The idea that another will, the will of the Creator, calls us and that our being is right when our will is in harmony with his will is an idea that is foreign to most people.

A Turning Point for Europe? 28

Reflection – ‘To thine own self be true.’ ‘Nobody can tell you what is right for you.’ ‘Listen to your heart.’ These are the secular maxims for the pursuit of happiness in our post-modern world. To discover what is ‘right’ for one’s own being means looking inward and deciding based on what is found there.

While there is certainly an element of truth to this, maybe even a large element of truth, the quote from Ratzinger above sheds light on what is missing here. Namely, the whole reality of dialogue, of our being ‘from another’, and of this Other standing before us, above us, surrounding us, and calling to us from His own being.

Of course part of this calling, this Divine shaping of us and forming us according to His will comes through his fashioning of our inward being in a certain way, his making us to be a certain person with a unique experience of reality. And that is the measure of truth in all ‘the answer lies within your heart’ approach to personal happiness and fulfillment.

But it’s not enough. Our hearts are tricky, prone to lead us astray, as anyone with any adult experience of the world knows very well. And our hearts are not always so easily read. I can’t remember the name of the singer or the song, but I remember a song lyric: You talk about your needs as if you know just what they are/When in fact to really know them is like traveling to a star/It takes so long you die along the way.

No, our hearts are prone either to lie to us or to speak to us in such cryptic terms that we cannot easily decipher their messages to us. Today happens to be the anniversary of my first arrival at Madonna House, the community which would prove to be my vocation, in 1986. It was a beautiful May day, much like today is here – sunny, warm.

I was 19 years old, already plenty bruised and battered by life and its calamities. When I walked into this place about which I knew very little, I realized very quickly that the life I found here was exactly that for which my heart had been crying out for many years, exactly what I was made for. Now, 26 years later, I know a little better what that means, what it would ask of me, where it would take me, what is involved with making and sustaining a serious life commitment, the sacrifices and death to self it demands.

And certainly at times in the past 26 years my heart has quailed or rebelled at those demands to greater or lesser degrees. If I had gone on simply listening to my heart and its cries without any other source of information I would have left decades ago, and my life would have been disastrously impoverished.

It is this ‘other will’, this mysterious One who somehow is present, always veiled, always hidden, who has met my heart through all these years. And I think most people of faith who have committed their life to a marriage or priesthood or religious life or some dedicated life in the world know what I’m talking about.

Our hearts have their intuitions, their desires, their dreams… but the real happiness and fulfillment comes only when those interior desires and dreams are met by this strange Other, this God, this Will that is not our own. Dialogue, encounter, a love affair with God—it is in this alone that the true happiness and ‘rightness’ of our being is found. The externals almost cease to matter at a certain point (not entirely –we’re only human, after all!). What matters really is to be with Him, to follow Him, to let Him shape us and make us and remake us and if need be break us according to his perfect plan for our life.

This brings us to the Cross, of course. If need be break us... His will and our own will eventually meet at the sign of the cross. Sooner or later there are nails and wood involved, and blood, and piercings. But this too is part of the great love affair of God and man. This strange union of will and Will, of heart with Heart, comes to its consummation on the wood of the Cross.

And this is where we are Resurrected in Him and with Him. And in that mysterious resurrection, we begin life anew in His love and will, and this life is the life of Nazareth, of communion with God in the ordinariness of daily life. And this is my Madonna House vocation (poorly as I live it out), which by God’s grace He gave to me 26 years ago today, on a beautiful sunny warm day in May. Thanks, God.