Homily: Blessed Virgin Mary on a Saturday

Today is given to Our Lady in the Church's calendar. Reflect on who she is for us. For the Church. For Jesus and in the situation of womanhood today, the world we live in. The European Constitution doesn't even mention God. Our society is one of secularization; the powers that be want to create a world without God; moreover, in opposition to him. It is profoundly unnatural. This is why, I think, that gay marriage is so heavily pushed as a right; its the institutionalization of something that is unnatural. It is an effort to make reality whatever we say it is. It's not a matter of perversion but of un-, even anti-naturalness. You can see it even going to the WalMart at Atlantic, the way people dress. It's just unnatural. It started with the fall of the angels--the rebellion, and has deeply infected the human community. And yet, there is still much good in it. The Chinese character for good is a woman with a child; (and home is a house with a pig in it). Much of the world's problem today is ego. Children get in the way of egos and so there is abortion. The world wants to define personhood based on achievements, on one's CV, one's accomplishments. And women are pushing to make every achievement that men have, good or ill. We must get out of our egos. The world's view has nothing to do with God.
My imagination, my fantasy, is that God loves babies. The purpose of life is two year olds. Life is about being a two year old. Not 18, 21, 50, but two. That becomes clearer with looking in the mirror each passing year. We're called to play like a two-three-four year old. It's really all about children. We're called to be like little children.
We're called to divinization in a way that the angels are not.
Look at the women in power these days. Hilary Clinton. Is that what women are called to be like? That contrasts with the call of Christians. Turn on the tv, and you'll just see pride. Where do we see humble service?
Think on heaven. It is more real than earth. Its the source of all consolation. We seek that his will be done as it is in heaven, not as it is in the powerful board rooms of the earth.
Think about God's irony. He takes a lowly virgin to work his salvation.
We need to be healed, purified.
In your ministry you'll be serving, reaching out, to people at many different levels. But they've been raised in unnatural milieux. Priests must be in touch with the heart of God, desiring to be with people, reaching out in different ways to different people and different sexes. And remember the people you deal with are on drugs; my doctor friend in Denver said now most people are on drugs to alter their mood.
It is so important to say yes to God. Find him in the places of creation, in dreams, in memories.
Mary is the real hope of the human race. She is real today. She was assumed into heaven and is queen of the angels. She is radically different from all other women. Jesus Christ comes from her. She pre-eminently has that woman's gift of a light touch. She invites mirth into heaven. She is our solitary boast. She is our life, our sweetness, and our hope. She was the best pray-er because she was always listening for God. She is totally pure. Her fertility came through the intensity of her belief coupled with the power of the Holy Spirit. You should go to Nazareth to her home, and have a cup of tea with Our Lady.
You know converts, especially from the evangelical world, will ask me "What does one do with the rosary?" Well, you can just rattle off the Hail Marys ten at a time, you don't have to do anything. Just spend time with Our Lady.
Mary really is the embodiment of the beauty of woman. She is the beauty of woman that God had in mind. Eve is the mother of all the living, and they seek their own ego, and ambition, and power. Mary is the mother of the Church, of the humble.

Homily: Pentecost

One of the greatest aims of this retreat is to come to know the Lord's peace. Unfortunately, to know this we must also know dis-peace. The world's idea of peace, so bandied about when I was a youth, is rather cowardice, laziness, "getting along". It was very easy then to have peace if you were a blond-haired surfer.
The Lord's peace has much to do with forgiveness. If we forgive, we have peace. This text, "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them" is often used as a proof-text for the sacrament of confession. But this is a power, no, a command, to all Christians. All of us are commanded to bring forgiveness into the world.
This really is part of the good news: we all are sinners, every last one of us. All people are sinning all the time, well almost all the time. The world feels screwed up, because it is screwed up. You feel screwed up, because you are screwed up. The greatest thing about the Catholic Church is that it reminds people of their sinfulness. The Church is very concerned with reality. There's a Zen proverb, not Christian, but wise, that says, "Life is like going out on the ocean, in a boat you know is going to sink." The world tries to deceive itself, saying everything's all right. People tell themselves, "Well, my boat is bigger is bigger than your boat"...but still, it's going to sink. The world is so deluded. A few weeks ago on the front page of The Denver Post there were hundreds of people in front of the Capitol Building getting stoned off their gourds. One of my friends, a medical doctor, said most people are on mood-altering drugs for depression or mental illness. Well, that's what the Chinese did in the 19th century: "let's give everyone opium". That will bring peace. This is just another one of my hair-brained theories, but I think much mental illness is caused by a lack of forgiveness.
So part of the good news is the good news of original sin. We're all subject to it, so there's no need to hide it, pretend it doesn't exist. Admitting something's wrong seems to be a cardinal sin here in the midwest. "How's it going?" "Oh, it's fine, just fine."
This pace that Jesus gives us is realistic, it acknowledges that much may be wrong without us, but I have peace despite this because Jesus is the Lord of my life.
Confession is my favourite Sacrament; that's why I became a priest. I love being able to absolve people, bringing them forgiveness. I love hearing confessions; well, not hearing them, but giving absolution.
We are forgiven sinners, bringing forgiveness to a world of sinners.

Homily: Tuesday of the seventh week in Easter

So much of life in the world is about having fun. High speed, loud, out in a blaze of glory. This is far different from the life God wants us to have. Something that happened here reminded me of it. [This homily, and the rest for a month's worth, were delivered on the 30day retreat in a little town in Iowa.] A bunch of kids around here have gotten ATVs and have torn up down around the river. I don't know why they would do that, it's so beautiful. Well anyway, one of these kids had an accident on one, and is now paralyzed for life. Like this, we so often get to see just snapshots of others' lives. That's true of advertising too. We see a snapshot of such happy people. But like Yeats asked, how often does this kind of life come to a happy end? It looks good in a snapshot, but how often does it end in divorce, or being paralyzed? Misery creeps in. Life in the world is bound for death and destruction. I tried to live that life in Hawaii when I was young. But I saw these people in their 40s and 50s who had lived their lives partying all the time, and they had scary faces.
The world does not deliver what it promises. So many people live with illusions, and it leads them to heartbreak. God has a plan for us: to give us eternal life, to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he has sent. This is for all of us.
Each year at the Easter Vigil we renew our promise to oppose the glamour of Satan and declare war on the world and on sin. We do this not because we are ornery, but because we love God.
True life comes from faith in God. How do we live this way? St Paul today says, "You yourselves know how I lived among you." We have come here to live together to deepen profoundly our love and knowledge of God and his son Jesus Christ. By the Holy Spirit we enter into the events of the life of the divine person, Jesus. Here we are seeking intimacy with God and with Jesus. This is not possible in the world without a special grace. So beg God the grace. Beg the grace of gratitude, especially for getting to know God. He will form us so we can return to the world and help people from slavery to illusions, and bring them to eternal life--to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he has sent. Ask God for gratitude and patience. Rome wasn't built in a day. Patience and humour are needed.

Homily: Tuesday of the fifth week in Easter

This is the last time this year I will get to preach to our deacons. You have much to do as priests. The Church has its share of problems, but it is in a good state. No pant-suit nuns will be trying to con-celebrate with you at your first Mass. Your mission is to go out to proclaim to the world the good news, that "God is alive and well. I am here staking my life on it."

Homily: Ss Philip and James

We need to learn to accept ourselves. Do away with idols. Deal with yourself as you are, not as you should be. You'll get absolutely nowhere doing that. Is, and not should. Should is an enemy of the spiritual life.
In the gospel today Jesus says to Philip "Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me?"
I hope you're appreciating the blossoms that are out and about, which I noticed on the way over here to your new chapel. Gratitude is so important in the spiritual life.

Homily: Tuesday of the fourth week in Easter

Acts 11:19-26 Ps 87:1b-3, 4-5, 6-7
John 10:22-30

I want to talk today about fatherhood, since Jesus says today, "The Father and I are one." Kids, and boys especially, go through a phase where they want to be just like Dad, and do what he does. Then later they want nothing to do with him and certainly not to be like him. Still later, they wake up and realize, with resignation, that they are like him.

Homily: Mary, Queen of the Society of Jesus

I want to preach today about heaven; I don't think we do that enough. Jesus calls us to heaven; to be miners for a heart of gold. But in speaking of heaven we have to talk also about sin, because sin is what keeps us from heaven. Sin is ugly, and it disfigures us. It gets us down and we see things in an ugly way. But then by God's love something of beauty breaks in, and we are moved to God.

Tuesday of the third week in Easter

Acts 7:51-8:1a Ps 31:3cd-4, 6+7b+8a, 17+21ab
John 6:30-35

It seems that so much of the Gospels, as here, and of life, are vignettes. So I have a vignette to share with you. While I was in Rome I went to say Mass at St Peter's, and I saw a Jesuit there whom I dread. He's the most arrogant man you'll meet. He has dragged men forcibly from the altar when he thinks they're not doing things right, and yells at them as well. Somehow I've managed not to be accosted by him thus. So I was just in dread while I was there; this is the man whom Jesuits talk about: "O yes, I know that one"; and I've talked about him all over. While I was there he did this, dragging another priest off the altar. Now the next day in the sacristy, he approached me and apologized for the behaviour he had shown in front of me. He really made a sincere apology. I realized that he knew of his problem, and it was a struggle for him. This is probably something he's been confessing for 60 years. And this is my point: hell is other people. Living with others is the biggest challenge in our life.

Homily: Tuesday of the second week in Easter

Well I've come back from my pilgrimage to Fatima and Rome. I really have three different homilies I want to give, so I'm going to give three homilies. I hope it isn't too much of a kaleidoscope of images.
So, homily #1: This will be about my time in Rome. I was going the way of the cross with the Holy Father on Good Friday at the Coliseum. It was a typical Italian/Roman crowd. Lots of pushing and shoving to get to the front. I did not want to deal with that. So I left and went to a parish, where they were doing the way of the cross as well. Being an American I kept to myself, but close by was a man who noticed I didn't have a program. Throughout the stations he inched closer to me, until he was sharing his program with me, and we exchanged niceties and 'happy easters'.
And while I was there I went to a bakery I frequented long ago, and the old Italian lady behind the counter, who was just as old then, remembered me. She's always so nice; she is a saint. Imagine dealing all day with inane tourists, and still being kind. I asked her one day what her secret is, and she said, "I let it go." That, I think, will make us saints: let it go.
Homily #2: Poland. This Saturday the president of Poland died when his plane crashed. He was going to visit a commemoration of the massacre of Polish officers by the Soviets in World War II.
Homily #3: We are living in a great time in the Church. This weekend a priest of this archdiocese was accused of sexual abuse. The world has mounted a great attack on the Church, and we are called to be saints through this time.

Homily: The Annunciation

I have a great joy being here praying with you this feast day. Now I like St Joseph, but I think the Annunciation is a greater feast so we're doing something special for it.
That's such a striking line in the Collect: "the beauty of your power". Our world is obsessed with power. You can see it on the interstate with the SUV fleets--and they do not respect my little car. We just had a huge political battle, which is seemingly going to have a huge impact on our life. Some are saying it is the biggest blow to the pro-life movement since Roe v. Wade. As I was watching all this about the health care debate, the politicians seemed incredibly ugly. They were dead to goodness and beauty. Lord Acton said power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. We have such appetites for power: of intellect, will, influence, friends. But the power of God is in greatest contrast to this: the motherhood of the barren Elizabeth, and the virgin mother Mary. The power of God is opposite our human expectations. We are told cursed is he who trusts in man; but blessed is he who trusts in the Lord. In the midst of the world's lust for power, we here are an oasis of God's work in the world today. But the Church is not free from the desire for power; the Church has made monsters. I hate to say it, but Hitler was never excommunicated. It [the Church] suffers sinfulness and weakness.
But the kingdom of God is not about earthly power. God works in ways we cannot imagine, especially in the darkest of nights. It is fortuitous that so often the Annunciation falls in Lent near to Holy Week. These two mysteries are intertwined. And what do you do when Good Friday falls on March 25? I once visited a Byzantine monastery when this happened. They celebrated both Offices in full. We were never out of the chapel. When Mary gave her fiat, she said yes not only to the Incarnation but to the crucifixion as well. She gave God a blank check.
What does it mean that Mary is virgin? Above the physical aspect, her strength was in the Spirit, and not in man.
Behold the beauty of her yes; the beauty of this yes, which has captured our hearts for two-thousand years. You men are here because of your yes. Maybe because of the food, but you gave an inital yes to God. Build your vocation on your yes. When its tough going, dig in and hold on. Call on God, he won't abandon you. The yes or no is yours; it is not for your bishop or your vocation director or your family to say yes, but you alone. You are invited to participate in the Annunciation, and bring forth Jesus Christ in the flesh.

Homily: Tuesday of the fourth week in Lent

Ezek 47:1-9, 12 Ps 46:2-3, 5-6, 8-9
John 5:1-3a, 5-16

Sabbath. How do we enter into the Sabbath?
I want to read you one of my favourite poems, by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

God's wilderness. Enter into God's wilderness, the wilderness he created. Such a bit part of the US is the wild west. I grew up in New York City, so for me the wild west was across the river, the Jersey shore. That's how it was, until I went to Berkeley. The wilderness is such a part of America. Europe is very different. The Native Americans have had a big impact on us. I've never met a Native American, except for Archbishop Chaput, but nevertheless, they've influenced the US. Everyone has been a Boy Scout, and has gone camping. Not so in Europe. Studying over there, I went camping with one of my friends to the Black Forest of Germany. It sounds so wild, doesn't it? The Black Forest. But when we got there it was like a KOA. The tents right next to each other and everyone had coffee together in a sort of cafe.
We're so lucky to be here. The mountains are right out there, and the sky is blue. Most people do not get to see the sky this blue. How fortunate we are.
Later after camping in Germany I went to the Arctic Circle in Scandinavia. That too was so beautiful, and nice, in autumn.
The only way you're able to sit here now, attentive, is because you spent 6-7 hours asleep, resting, a type of Sabbath. Sabbath is rest. So, this week, you have a free weekend. Go, spend it exploring God's wilderness.

Homily: Thursday of the third week in Lent

Jer 7:23-28 Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
Luke 11:14-23

"If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts."
And a mute demon is in the gospel. The Pharisees use their logic to Jesus is working with the devil, and have hardened their hearts.
We like our logic too much. We think that if our logic is right, then we're airtight. We need to look at the fruit of our thoughts, not the logic behind them.

Homily: Friday of the second week in Lent

Gen 37:3-4, 12-13a, 17b-28a Ps 105:16-17, 18-19, 20-21
Matt 21:33-43, 45-46

I'm going to preach today on the Resurrection. The resurrection is so much more than we expect or hope for; we only expect resuscitation. Once at a wake my cousin said, "They did such a good job on her. You'd expect her to sit up at any moment." (She was from Staten Island.) She said the woman would wake up and say "Surprise!" The resurrection is far more than I can say. The women and the disciples didn't recognize Jesus. The glorified body is the same, yet different. "Ain't none of us seen one of them." We are not so alive as we'd like to think; not like the living God; we're just cadavers in the making. The resurrection is the goal and summit of the Creator. Only the Holy Spirit can show us how it looks. The resurrection demonstrates the generosity of Jesus: For Don Corleone, there's only justice; but with Jesus, there is love and forgiveness.
You've heard of Fr Drendel, the old Jesuit who was here so long, a holy man. This is one of his sayings that I really don't like, but I think it's true: "God is tricky." Just look at Matthew 25. Be prepared for all your expectations to be turned upside down--the plan God has is infinitely better. All we can do is proclaim: "Give thanks to the Lord, for his is good".
The part of us we have the biggest problem with, the most sinful area of our life, is where God wants to work with us. Remember, he came here and spent his time with the prostitutes and tax collectors (like the mafia). He didn't go to the Pharisees. They were the holy ones. And they were holy. The problem was that they knew it. It is so often that the greatest people are the worst sinners. You know, the nuns told us all to be good, but they really liked the troublemakers better. They told us about hell and how we'd go there if we were bad. I wasn't a bad kid in school; I was terrified, and I was good. They had us read Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn in school, but if I ever did that...
We must let love penetrate us. We must remember our righteousness is not our own. We have/there is no holiness apart from love. God will surprise us with the Resurrection.

Homily: Thursday of the second week in Lent

Jer 17:5-10 Ps 1:1-2, 3, 4+6
Luke 16:19-31

Looking at these different religions [Catholicism and Buddhism] brings to mind, in California, two monasteries next to one another: Catholic and Theravada Buddhist. "Love one another." The Buddhist monastery was not compassionate, not Mahayana. The monks must never lie down--they sleep in the lotus position. They're terribly ascetic. If you masturbate, even once, you have to go before a group of 12 elders for pardon. If you commit a sexual impropriety, you're banished from the among the monks forever. They are hospitable, gracious, and aware--they spend all their time being aware of themselves and their thoughts--and they are proud. Humility is not a part of Buddhism. An ex-Trappist monk is staying with them, and when he leaves and needs a ride, they refuse him. "We're not Christians." It is not obvious that love is the most important thing. The world is all concerned with luv; but not with love. The love of Christ is so utterly different; so radically different. In our human love we have some idea: marriage, friendship, the love of parents. But Christ's love is a love that leads to death, and is raised up. He first loved us.
A second story: My grandmother, my grandfather's second wife, had no children of her own. So she fiercely loved her grandchildren. An adoptive parent almost always loves more than a natural parent. She was so loving, had such incredible goodness. She would come up behind you and embrace you, and with such love the tears would fall upon your head. She lived in Brooklyn, where I grew up. When I was in high school, we moved to the suburbs and she stayed there. Her husband had died and it was just her. When I was in grad school, I was with the hip intellectual types, but felt lost. I visited my family for Easter, and we went for Mass at their parish in the suburbs. It was post-Vatican II, and as uninspiring as you'd expect. The Easter Vigil was in the late afternoon. We decided to go to our old parish in Brooklyn. We went to the pre-dawn, Easter Sunday Mass. It was beautiful! It felt right. This was the ghetto. If you could get out, you did. So the only people left were the rather unattractive ones. But this old man led the Eucharistic procession with such happiness. There was something charming about it all. It is the ghetto though. It looks bombed out, looks like Detroit. We decided to visit Grandma, driving through block after block of ghetto. When we rang the doorbell she answered, and was so ecstatic at our arrival that she was jumping up and down. She had everything set up for a big fancy Easter dinner, ham, the works. And no-one had been to her home for Easter for years. But that was what she did for her family. She loved, even when that love was so rarely reciprocated. He role in the family, as a matriarch of sorts, was to make the Easter dinner. She made it, even when it was only her. I think this is what it means, "love one another". Hold people in your heart, be there for them, and do the best you can.

Homily: Tuesday of the Second Week in Lent

Isa 1:10, 16-20 Ps 50:8-9, 16bc-17, 21+23
Matt 23:1-12

It's hard to preach on hell on such a beautiful day, but I'll try...
Hell is created by a hardening of heart; this often happens under the facade of softening of heart.
Sodom and Gomorrah were the most depraved places. I have two stories.
First story. I was a taxi driver in Honolulu once--that was Sodom and Gomorrah. At a hospital, I picked up an old man and a younger. The nurse told him not to go. He was cursing, blaspheming up a storm. When I pulled up to the hotel, he got out, cursing and blaspheming, and dropped dead. I drove off; I'm not a medic. The hotel manager seemed unconcerned. This man was in a homosexual, pederastic relationship that undoubtedly started off in a loving way.
Story two. Back in the day, one of my friends went to grad school in Berkeley. I went to visit him, and he was in a homosexual relationship with a professor. Then as a novice, I wrote him to tell him that I thought what he was doing was wrong. I never heard back. 30-some years went by, and in a Berkeley bookstore I saw a book of his and his friends called "The Love of Men", or something to that effect. So I looked him up, got in contact with him, and the man had nothing but hatred for me. Now he's a big shot professor in the U-Cal system. He had love for men, but certainly not for this one. Not for the Catholic priest. This man said many Hail Marys when younger, and hopefully God will get through. When I called him later in life, he was still with his partner.
The practice of vices makes us vicious. Vices, especially sexual ones, poison the soul. We all have these poison darts which have wounded us. But if we don't heal these wounds the poison will spread. It's certainly not just homosexuals with this, it's everyone. Heterosexuals who practice contraception and abortion, same thing. Vices, especially sexual vices, make us less capable of love.
This is how hardening of our heart appears under the guise of love, of a softening: this torrid passion we have, which seems so hot, so hot, is actually cold: it is like pouring ice cold water on the fire of love; taking ice water, and dumping it on the fire of love.
Who loves more passionately, who loves more, than did Christ? Let us be agents of love, of purification, most especially of hope. Bring this healing balm of Christ's love to the world's woundedness.
Chastity is not so we can be a pretty daisy in the field, but to be a red rose, full of life, with passion for all.
Isaiah is addressing the people as Sodom and Gomorrah: hedonism. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though red like crimson, they shall be like wool." This is the gospel, the good news for humanity.

Homily: Second Sunday in Lent

Gen 15:5-12, 17-18 Lk 9:28-36

Trust in the Lord. I presume we're here [at the seminary] because we've had an encounter with God. Maybe it's because we like the food; and God will work with whatever motive. But probably, we had an encounter with him and we responded.
The readings are appropriate: Abram and Jesus going up high on the mountain to have an encounter with God.
I don't know about the fire stuff, I've never seen a smoking fire pot.
As dusk is here Abram goes into a trance; and the apostles fall asleep; their sleep isn't a normal one.
Abram is discomforted--deep, terrifying darkness.
Clouds are a symbol of God, and not just a symbol, but a symbol. This is true for other traditions as well--go to Boulder, and the Buddhists have clouds all over.


I'll be posting homilies from one of my favourite priests. I've been recording them as best as I can remember since Ash Wednesday this year. Any imperfections or errors should be attributed to me, and not him.

Ash Wednesday:
It's odd that we hear no sackcloth and wash your face in the readings today, and then spend the day with ashes on our head.

Thursday after Ash Wednesdsay:
I couldn't remember anything from this, except that our priest quoted the Doors, saying "break on through to the other side". It's always a treat to catch eyes with the other guys who notice when he makes references to the Doors or Neil Young.

Tuesday of the first week in Lent:
Don't bother giving up food for Lent. Go to Walmart or wherever's close, and get a five pound back of M&Ms. We need conversion of heart, and far too often giving up food doesn't do it. Knowledge without love is useless--I've known some rude, conceited professors in my time.

Wednesday of the first week in Lent:
(Jonah 3:1-10)
We need to embrace what we do not know; it's very freeing, especially for a Jesuit, to say 'I don't know'. People want to know how profound the talk in Jesuit houses is, to be a fly on the wall, but it's really bland.
How would sheep look in sackcloth--how do you get it on them?


Lectio Divina: Lk 19:28-40

And having said these things, he went before, going up to Jerusalem. And it came to pass, when he was come nigh to Bethphage and Bethania, unto the mount called Olivet, he sent two of his disciples, Saying: Go into the town which is over against you, at your entering into which you shall find the colt of an ass tied, on which no man ever hath sitten: loose him, and bring him hither. And if any man shall ask you: Why do you loose him? you shall say thus unto him: Because the Lord hath need of his service. And they that were sent, went their way, and found the colt standing, as he had said unto them. And as they were loosing the colt, the owners thereof said to them: Why loose you the colt? But they said: Because the Lord hath need of him. And they brought him to Jesus. And casting their garments on the colt, they set Jesus thereon. And as he went, they spread their clothes underneath in the way. And when he was now coming near the descent of mount Olivet, the whole multitude of his disciples began with joy to praise God with a loud voice, for all the mighty works they had seen, Saying: Blessed be the king who cometh in the name of the Lord, peace in heaven, and glory on high! And some of the Pharisees, from amongst the multitude, said to him: Master, rebuke thy disciples. To whom he said: I say to you, that if these shall hold their peace, the stones will cry out.

My reflection wasn't really related to the reading, I think I must have ended up just focusing more on the tabernacle. I wrote: "think of person, not bread or body: you suffer the indignity of being stuffed in a box b/c you love me." This is a good reflection on the Eucharist. God, the infinite creator of the universe, impassable, chooses to come to us, because he loves each of us so much, looking like a piece of bread. Not only that, he lets us put him in a box. It's a nice, ornate box, but it's still a little metal/gold box. He has humility down pat. And he does it all because he loves you and me.

Lectio Divina: Jn 8:1-11

And Jesus went unto mount Olivet. And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came to him, and sitting down he taught them. And the scribes and the Pharisees bring unto him a woman taken in adultery: and they set her in the midst, And said to him: Master, this woman was even now taken in adultery. Now Moses in the law commanded us to stone such a one. But what sayest thou? And this they said tempting him, that they might accuse him. But Jesus bowing himself down, wrote with his finger on the ground. When therefore they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said to them: He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again stooping down, he wrote on the ground. But they hearing this, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest. And Jesus alone remained, and the woman standing in the midst. Then Jesus lifting up himself, said to her: Woman, where are they that accused thee? Hath no man condemned thee? Who said: No man, Lord. And Jesus said: Neither will I condemn thee. Go, and now sin no more.

The first striking thing about this is the Pharisees. They have no sense of compassion, care, or concern for her. They treat her not as a person, but as an object to get to Jesus.

The morning of this episode, the woman was probably at least conflicted about her sin. She knew it was wrong. She was a Jew, went to synagogue, listened to the law and the prophets. Maybe she wanted to quit sneaking around with her guy, but you know how hard it is to quit sexual sin. While carrying on her affair, she was terrified of being found out and stoned, and finally this day it happened. She was dragged out of bed, half-naked. She thought she would have stones thrown at her til she dies. But she encountered God, and he is Merciful. He doesn't want to condemn us--he delights in our conversion, and wants us to share in his own blessed life. This man she encounters created her personally to share in his very Life. He doesn't want to throw a rock at her head. He doesn't want blood. In fact, he wants to spill his blood for her. He wants his head enclosed in thorns for her. He wants his flesh flayed off his back for her sake. He loves her. He loves her more than her lover loves her. He loves her more than her mom loves her. He knew she was going to choose to fornicate, and still he willed to create her. She would not exist if he did not choose to love her. This man takes no pleasure in the death of the sinner...he did not want, with even an ounce of his being, to stone her.

I think of this episode as an analogy for confession. We go and tell the priest what we did, and he never condemns us. Jesus is ever waiting in the confessional to hear our faults and has zero desire to condemn us. He's in the confessional waiting for us to come to him. He is patient; he lets us repent all the way until our death.

He wants to heal her. This was assuredly a healing moment for her with nothing to hide behind, probably wearing little, and with admission of her helplessness and sinfulness, she came to the Lord as she was. This is how I must approach him: openly admitting my faults, not hiding behind anything; vulnerable to him.
He does give her one heck of a penance: go, and sin no more. But he did give her the grace to do as he commanded. She was finally free of her sin to which her passion had enslaved her, because she encountered the living God.

Lectio Divina: Lk 15:1-3, 11-32

Now the publicans and sinners drew near unto him to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying: This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. And he spoke to them this parable, saying: A certain man had two sons: And the younger of them said to his father: Father, give me the portion of substance that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his substance. And not many days after, the younger son, gathering all together, went abroad into a far country: and there wasted his substance, living riotously. And after he had spent all, there came a mighty famine in that country; and he began to be in want. And he went and cleaved to one of the citizens of that country. And he sent him into his farm to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks the swine did eat; and no man gave unto him. And returning to himself, he said: How many hired servants in my father's house abound with bread, and I here perish with hunger? I will arise, and will go to my father, and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee: I am not worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. And rising up he came to his father. And when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and was moved with compassion, and running to him fell upon his neck, and kissed him. And the son said to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, I am not now worthy to be called thy son. And the father said to his servants: Bring forth quickly the first robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it, and let us eat and make merry: Because this my son was dead, and is come to life again: was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. Now his elder son was in the field, and when he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing: And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. And he said to him: Thy brother is come, and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe. And he was angry, and would not go in. His father therefore coming out began to entreat him. And he answering, said to his father: Behold, for so many years do I serve thee, and I have never transgressed thy commandment, and yet thou hast never given me a kid to make merry with my friends: But as soon as this thy son is come, who hath devoured his substance with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. But he said to him: Son, thou art always with me, and all I have is thine. But it was fit that we should make merry and be glad, for this thy brother was dead and is come to life again; he was lost, and is found.

The reaction of the Pharisees and scribes show that they don't want the sinners and tax collectors to get better; they have no compassion, and don't want sinners to come into the kingdom and be blessed. In the parable, the tax collectors and sinners are represented by the prodigal son, and the Pharisees and scribes by the elder son.
For each of us, the inheritance analogous to that of the sons' is our relationship with the Father.
That the father saw his son when he was still a ways off shows the love of God the Father--watching, waiting, seeking his sons. His being moved with compassion contrasts with the behaviour of the Pharisees preceding the telling of the parable. The father doesn't prefer the prodigal to the elder son, though. When the elder son won't come in to the festivities, the father comes out to talk with him. He always seeks out both his sons.
The prodigal's confession to his father is for me a reminder of the Confiteor.
There was already a party going on for the son's return when the elder son comes back to the house. This shows he clearly hadn't been concerned for his brother, as was their father. The father saw him when he was a long ways off, and the brother didn't know he was home even when they had already started a party for him. His response to his father is sour and very bitter. He sees himself as a servant or slave, and not as a son. In our spiritual life we must work at not being like the elder son; we need to see ourselves as sons of God, with great dignity.

Lectio Divina: Lk 9:28-36

He took Peter, and James, and John, and went up into a mountain to pray. And whilst he prayed, the shape of his countenance was altered, and his raiment became white and glittering. And behold two men were talking with him. And they were Moses and Elias, Appearing in majesty. And they spoke of his decease that he should accomplish in Jerusalem. But Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep. And waking, they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him. And it came to pass, that as they were departing from him, Peter saith to Jesus: Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles, one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias; not knowing what he said. And as he spoke these things, there came a cloud, and overshadowed them; and they were afraid, when they entered into the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying: This is my beloved Son; hear him. And whilst the voice was uttered, Jesus was found alone. And they held their peace, and told no man in those days any of these things which they had seen.

In the NAB, rather than "his decease" it reads "his exodus". I went into typology with this. What's my exodus?
The Exodus: escape from slavery in Egypt.
Jesus' exodus: death, which is salvific.
My exodus: letting Christ free me from sin; I need to trust God's promises lest I spend 40 years wandering in Purgatory. I must face, embrace suffering. This all starts in an encounter with God--parallel to the encounter with God here where they went up into a mountain to pray.


Lectio Divina: Luke 6:17, 20-26

And coming down with them, he stood in a plain place, and the company of his disciples, and a very great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem, and the sea coast both of Tyre and Sidon. And he, lifting up his eyes on his disciples, said: Blessed are ye poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are ye that hunger now: for you shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for you shall laugh. Blessed shall you be when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man's sake. Be glad in that day and rejoice; for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For according to these things did their fathers to the prophets. But woe to you that are rich: for you have your consolation. Woe to you that are filled: for you shall hunger. Woe to you that now laugh: for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you when men shall bless you: for according to these things did their fathers to the false prophets.

How can I be poor and find consolation in the kingdom? I came up with a couple answers. The first is Bernard's poverty of concupiscence: our poverty is our inability not to sin (without grace's aid). The second is by not seeking affirmation in improper ways.

Lectio Divina: Zephaniah 3:14-18

Give praise, O daughter of Sion: shout, O Israel: be glad, and rejoice with all thy heart, O daughter of Jerusalem. The Lord hath taken away thy judgment, he hath turned away thy enemies: the king of Israel the Lord is in the midst of thee, thou shalt fear evil no more. In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Fear not: to Sion: Let not thy hands be weakened. The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty, he will save: he will rejoice over thee with gladness, he will be silent in his love, he will be joyful over thee in praise.

I read this in a Marian light, as it was the first reading for Gaudete Sunday. Daughter of Zion is a Marian title. I composed a Marian prayer using the imagery from this reading, to be a sort of expanded-upon version of the Hail Mary:

Lord God of Israel, and of the nations, in the son of Mary you have wonderfully fulfilled that which your Spirit spoke by the prophet Zephaniah. "Hail, daughter Zion, hail, daughter Jerusalem, hail, O you who among man is singularly able to exult with the whole of your heart, to magnify the Lord with your soul. O you who are the Immaculate Conception, truly the Lord has removed judgement against you, preserving you in the state in which man was meant to be. Your loving heart cooperated wholeheartedly with this singular, plenary grace. O mother Mary, the King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst. In a singular way you have ever heard and kept the words of the Word your Son. Blest is he in having so magnificent a mother, in whom he can rejoice and whom he can renew in his own love.
O Mary, you who's only fear is at the same time the beginning of wisdom, in whose midst the Lord God has been with unique profundity, in the midst of your joyful song to your Son, we beg you beg him to remove the judgement against us, as he has so removed it from against you. Amen.


Lectio Divina: Mark 13:24-32

But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light. And the stars of heaven shall be falling down, and the powers that are in heaven, shall be moved. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds, with great power and glory. And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven. Now of the fig tree learn ye a parable. When the branch thereof is now tender, and the leaves are come forth, you know that summer is very near. So you also when you shall see these things come to pass, know ye that it is very nigh, even at the doors. Amen I say to you, that this generation shall not pass, until all these things be done. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my word shall not pass away. But of that day or hour no man knoweth, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father.

This gospel was for the penultimate Sunday of ordinary time, when we are particularly mindful of the four last things. I was looking at this on a personal level, and saw the tribulation as the daily trial of sin.
The Son of Man coming, I saw as confession; confession is God coming to seek me out. This shows the priority of grace. The Jesus who absolves me is the Jesus who is coming again.
He is at the doors of my soul--let him in by confession.
As not even the Son knows the day of his second coming, nor do I know when I'll die--live each day as my last.

Lord, I desire to be with you.
I feel desolate now, having meditated on your word.
Lord I receive this invitation to be with you.
Yet, how can I be with you?
I am in darkness, cut off from the light of Sun and Moon.
To be with you I will confess to you.
You are always there in the confessional, waiting for me to come to you.
And yet it is not I who come to you,
But you who come to me.
For is it not true that your grace has priority?
My very act of seeking you is preceded by the movement of your grace towards me.
You who will come in the clouds, with power and might,
Are he who comes to me full of mercy, wishing to heal me and grant me shrift.
Jesus, help me not to squander your mercy.
Seeing as how I know neither the day nor hour when I will come to you in death, grant that I often come to you for shrift.

Lectio Divina: Ps 24:1-6

The earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof: the world, and all they that dwell therein. For he hath founded it upon the seas; and hath prepared it upon the rivers. Who shall ascend into the mountain of the Lord: or who shall stand in his holy place? The innocent in hands, and clean of heart, who hath not taken his soul in vain, nor sworn deceitfully to his neighbour. He shall receive a blessing from the Lord, and mercy from God his Saviour. This is the generation of them that seek him, of them that seek the face of the God of Jacob.

Lord, grant me clean hands and a pure heart. Grant me constancy of spirit, and aid me with thine own Spirit. I resolve to fill my time with worthwhile things, that my desire for worthless things will diminish.


Lectio Divina: Mk 10:46-52

And they came to Jericho: and as he went out of Jericho, with his disciples, and a very great multitude, Bartimeus the blind man, the son of Timeus, sat by the way side begging. Who when he had heard, that it was Jesus of Nazareth, began to cry out, and to say: Jesus son of David, have mercy on me. And many rebuked him, that he might hold his peace; but he cried a great deal the more: Son of David, have mercy on me. And Jesus, standing still, commanded him to be called. And they call the blind man, saying to him: Be of better comfort: arise, he calleth thee. Who casting off his garment leaped up, and came to him. And Jesus answering, said to him: What wilt thou that I should do to thee? And the blind man said to him: Rabboni, that I may see. And Jesus saith to him: Go thy way, thy faith hath made thee whole. And immediately he saw, and followed him in the way.

Bartimaeus' crying out to Jesus demonstrates that he had a lot of trust in him. And Jesus' asking him what does he want him to do for him shows he has a radical interest in each us, and care for us. When Jesus here says "thy faith hath made thee whole", the NAB translation we used had "your faith has saved you". This led me to the question, if we trust Jesus we'll be saved? Connecting that with Bartimaeus' trust (ie faith) in Jesus led me to: maybe boldly asking for what we want is just a manifestation of trust, which is how we are saved.

Jesus told him to go his way, and instead he just followed him. I found this endearing; he was so happy and thankful that he followed Jesus anyway; I can imagine Jesus being bemused by him.

Jesus asking Bartimaeus "what do you want me to do for you" led me to see this in light of vocational discernment. I had a lot of reflection on my vocation, and one of the things I wrote was: "vocation as means to holiness; what state do you need to save your soul". This is what vocation is about. What vocation will let you get to heaven, and help other souls along the way?

Lectio Divina: Mk 10:35-45

And James and John the sons of Zebedee, come to him, saying: Master, we desire that whatsoever we shall ask, thou wouldst do it for us. But he said to them: What would you that I should do for you? And they said: Grant to us, that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory. And Jesus said to them: You know not what you ask. Can you drink of the chalice that I drink of: or be baptized with the baptism wherewith I am baptized? But they said to him: We can. And Jesus saith to them: You shall indeed drink of the chalice that I drink of: and with the baptism wherewith I am baptized, you shall be baptized. But to sit on my right hand, or on my left, is not mine to give to you, but to them for whom it is prepared. And the ten hearing it, began to be much displeased at James and John. But Jesus calling them, saith to them: You know that they who seem to rule over the Gentiles, lord it over them: and their princes have power over them. But it is not so among you: but whosoever will be greater, shall be your minister. And whosoever will be first among you, shall be the servant of all. For the Son of man also is not come to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a redemption for many.

James and John show us we need to purify our intentions--don't be a glory hog, or seek accolade. I need to be doing what I'm doing because Jesus wants me to be here, not anybody else.
In this episode they show that they are very impulsive, and jump into things they can't yet handle. How do I develop a constant will? a continuing desire for martyrdom, not one that ebbs and flows? By constant/continual acts of dying to self, so taht that attitude becomes internalized.

Lord Jesus Christ, grant me, your servant, a constant desire to drink deeply of your cup. May this desire in my heart be strengthened by continual, daily acts of death to self. May I serve my brothers in small ways, especially those ways distasteful to me, so that one day I will not recoil should you tell me: "You will indeed drink deeply of my cup." Please grant me humility, which I so sorely lack, that I might truly be your servant. I know I can't be magically made humble, so please provide me humiliating moments, even though I recoil from them even as I pray you for them. Lord Jesus Christ, through all these means, grant me to become like you, who so resolutely embraced the cup of service, the cup of giving your life for the many, despite your natural recoil from this cup of martyrdom.

Lectio Divina: Mark 10:2-16

And the Pharisees coming to him asked him: Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him. But he answering, saith to them: What did Moses command you? Who said: Moses permitted to write a bill of divorce, and to put her away. To whom Jesus answering, said: Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you that precept. But from the beginning of the creation, God made them male and female. For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother; and shall cleave to his wife. And they two shall be in one flesh. Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. And in the house again his disciples asked him concerning the same thing.And he saith to them: Whosoever shall put away his wife and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if the wife shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery. And they brought to him young children, that he might touch them. And the disciples rebuked them that brought them. Whom when Jesus saw, he was much displeased, and saith to them: Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of God. Amen I say to you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, shall not enter into it. And embracing them, and laying his hands upon them, he blessed them.

Jesus' answer shows that he is really focused on the telos--he isn't satisfied with laws adapted to our weakness. He wanted us to be in Eden; he's saying that's the standard. His goal for us, that he never stops thinking of, is heaven. That's why he deepened the sense of the Commandments. Before his fulfilment of the law, they weren't going to get us there; we need more. Thank you, God, for always wanting to get us into heaven.

Lectio Divina: Mark 9:30-37

One of the practices at SJV is that each Monday we have the gospel for the coming Sunday proclaimed to us, and we then have 30-45 minutes of lectio with it. In this series of posts I'll be including portions of my lectio.

This the text, from the Douay-Rheims translation:

And departing from thence, they passed through Galilee, and he would not that any man should know it. And he taught his disciples, and said to them: The Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise again the third day. But they understood not the word, and they were afraid to ask him. And they came to Capharnaum. And when they were in the house, he asked them: What did you treat of in the way? But they held their peace, for in the way they had disputed among themselves, which of them should be the greatest. And sitting down, he called the twelve, and saith to them: If any man desire to be first, he shall be the last of all, and the minister of all. And taking a child, he set him in the midst of them. Whom when he had embraced, he saith to them: Whosoever shall receive one such child as this in my name, receiveth me. And whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me.

What struck me about this was the line "he asked them: What did you treat of in the way?" He's God, he knew what they were talking about. So why ask? He wants us to come to him with our issues, even though he already knows them.


Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity's Heaven in Faith

Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity was another Carmelite, a rough contemporary of St Therese. We read her "Heaven in Faith", a retreat she wrote for her sister. It is a ten-day retreat, which I would really like to make someday. It is about being a contemplative in the world, useful for the vast majority of us who will never be monks or cloistered nuns.

Bl Elizabeth impresses on the reader the mystical nature of the Mass: just as priests consecrated bread into Jesus, they ought to consecrate their people into Christ. The consecration at Mass makes the Church realize who she is; it builds up the Church, and is the power to help the Church become what she's supposed to be. The Mass participates in the inner life of the Holy Trinity: God is offered to God. Bl Elizabeth asks priests to offer her with Jesus at the altar. God lets men be priests so that grace can go out into the world from the consecration; the priestly vocation is for the sake of everyone's sanctification. The more you are identified with Christ, the more you give glory to the Father, and the more you participate in Jesus' salvific work in the world--he can save the world through you.

Bl Elizabeth teaches that you need self-knowledge so as to get more closely united to Jesus. You need to accept your limitations, the resistance in you to God, that Christ is not in parts of your heart as he should be. You need to encounter these suffering and privations. This isn't excusing your sins, but accepting that it's really part of you. Doing this will help you to realize how much Jesus loves you--he's been suffering it with you, longer than you have. He became incarnate and suffered your hurts, it isn't beneath him. Thus self-knowledge leads you to know the mercy of God. Have confidence in his mercy, so that you'll face your imperfections. Face the truth of what's in you, and know that Jesus suffers with you every time you hurt. The abyss of God's mercy is always, always deeper than the abyss of your misery.

Bl Elizabeth has a gift to build up priests and seminarians, sustaining them in their vocation: in friendship with her, she will teach you to pray; she'll teach contemplative prayer; she helps you get out of yourself so God can fill you. She shows the fruitfulness of suffering, and keeps us rooted in prayer. She reminds us that priestly vocations don't come about because the people called are better than everyone else. God chooses shipwrecks, so that at the end of the day they'll know the work was not theirs.

Heaven in Faith starts off with Scripture: "Father, I will that where I am they also whom You have given Me may be..." Her retreat starts with the movement of Jesus' heart. Jesus' prayers are always heard. The Father doesn't say no to the Son. My hope lies in Jesus' prayer for me--right now we need confidence in God's mercy. I need confidence in his mercy to me, not just other people. Remember, I live right now in the bosom of the Father. Jesus' deepest desire, that we might be where he is, begins right now; it is not a future state, not starting at death. Already in time, we can have a real being in God's presence that is not just psychological. Make a movement of faith; choose to live as if in the Father's bosom right now. How will that affect your identity, decision making, trust, confidence? Already we are in the bosom of the Father; we can't comprehend this except by faith.

The end of the first prayer of the first day of the retreat quotes St John's Gospel: "The slave does not remain with the household forever, but the son remains there forever." I need to choose which I want to be--slave or son.

The second prayer of the first day opens with "Remain in me". Be attentive to Christ, spend time with him. This remaining with him makes us able to hear his voice, speaking to us. Do try not to get distracted in Adoration, it keeps you from hearing him. In this prayer she exhorts us to her theme of confidence,trust in God's mercy.

St Therese's Story of a Soul

This work is St Therese of Lisieux's autobiography; I had this translation. She was a Carmelite nun in the late 19th century who had wanted to be a missionary. She is now a Doctor of the Church.

Her "little way" is all about living by love and making sacrifices which are completely hidden. This takes incredible strength of character. Her asceticism is much more difficult than physical asceticism: it is interior. But God does put noble desires in your heart, and gives you the ability to fulfil them. When you do find yourself joyfully making a sacrifice, thank Jesus for that grace; his attributes are lifting you up to be like him.

Therese had an incredible confidence in God's love and mercy towards us. I didn't really connect with her writing much; she seemed saccharine to me. I think a bit of it was based on my own life, not knowing how to relate to someone so ridiculuously nice and perfect as Therese seems. She is very encouraging, though. She was so focused on God's love and mercy that she though of his justice in terms of his making allowances for our weaknesses, given how frail is our nature. She wrote that "charity consists in putting up with all one's neighbour's faults, never being surprised by his weakness, and being inspired by the least of his virtues."

This was my favourite paragraph in her whole book:
It is not because I have been preserved from mortal sin that I fly to God with loving confidence. I know I should still have this confidence even if my conscience were burdened with every possible crime. I should fling myself into the arms of my Saviour, heartbroken with sorrow. I know how He loved the prodigal son, I have heard His words to St. Mary Magdalene, to the woman taken in adultery, and to the woman of Samaria. No, no one could frighten me, for I know what to think about His love and His mercy. I know that a host of sins would vanish in the twinkling of an eye like a drop of water flung into a furnace.

For Therese mercy is love that suffers the misery of another so as to affirm their dignity. And penance is love that sees the suffering love of another on one's own behalf and desires to make a return. The love of Jesus isn't a mere nice feeling; it conforms us to him crucified. Jesus' mercy enables us to make such sacrifices. Jesus will transform you into himself if you let him, and your personality will actually become more full. This was echoed by Pope Benedict in the close of his homily at his inaugural Mass as Pope:
Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? And once again the Pope said: No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life. Amen.
Only in realizing how pathetic and weak you are, can you meet Jesus and can others meet him through you. People who don't know God haven't felt his yearning love for them; the only way for them to experience his love is through you. When someone comes to the Lord through you it isn't because of your intellect, but through your weakness and brokenness.

She is a very sweet saint, and was a good friend to seminarians and priests in her earthly life. It is good to develop a friendship with her. Ask her, "Teach me your little way. Be my friend." You have to do something concrete with your life to develop your friendship with the saints. For Therese, it is the little way. Seminarians, allow her to be your novice mistress.

John of the Cross' Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book Two

This book of St John's work Ascent of Mount Carmel is about the dark night of spirit, whereas the first book was about the dark night of the senses. It starts out as a commentary on the second stanza of the poem, but goes into great great detail about it.

In darkness and secure,
By the secret ladder disguised
- oh, happy chance! -
In darkness and in concealment,
My house being now at rest.

This is learning to live by faith alone. God is healing the roots of your soul. (In the dark night of the senses, he was healing involuntary movements that were controlling your life, which are the symptoms of the diseases being healed here.) This night is much more painful and filled with suffering than is the dark night of the senses.

But you gain a real knowledge of God: the knowledge of him that he has of himself; it is an interpersonal, relationship, friendship knowledge of God. He makes you to find your joy in him alone. These dark nights are essentially relational events, between you and God. Priests need to pursue this friendship with God in a particular way.


John of the Cross' Dark Night of the Soul

The Dark Night of the Soul is a second commentary on the same poem from Ascent of Mount Carmel. Here is the translation we read. It is about the passive nights of the soul, whereas Ascent is about the active nights.

One dark night,
fired with love's urgent longing
--ah, the sheer grace!--
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled.

The dark night in the first stanza is "purgative contemplation", which passively causes the the soul to leave love of self and things for union with God.

John begins by describing the imperfections of beginners in the spiritual life, in the areas of pride, spiritual avarice, lust, spiritual anger, spiritual gluttony, spiritual envy and sloth.
Pride is seeking to be esteemed by others for your achievements; seeking gratification in how others think of you. Humility is the virtue that regulates self-esteem: regulate according to God's esteem for you. When we regulate self-esteem independently of this, we esteem ourselves wrongly. The way you see yourself sets up how you act: if you don't see yourself as a son of God, you'll act beneath your dignity. Try to laugh at your vanity: the Enemy hates humour, so laugh about it when you are humiliated. When someone purposefully, cruelly humiliates you, then you are especially Christlike. Pride can follow all of us into the confessional, where we might not clearly relate our sins. But it is so much more important to get your sin forgiven than what the old man thinks of you. St John describes some persons who are "anxious that God removes their faults and imperfections, but their motive is personal peace rather than God." We should desire peace, without being anxious. To counter what John describes, thank God for your faults, because they keep you humble. Do not be so foolish as to think that holiness is within your grasp; the only way to get it is to receive it from God. Another way to regulate pride is to learn to be in God's presence without consolation. Let God be the master of your prayer time. To heal your big fat ego, waste time with God. Keep going to daily holy hours even if they are un-consoling and boring. A big lesson in humility for seminarians is to lovingly and eagerly accept formation: "Yet these humble souls, far from desiring to be anyone's teacher, are ready to take a road different from the one they are following, if told to do so."
Spiritual avarice is when a person sees spirituality as the acquisition of teachings, religious articles, or a preoccupation with the externals of liturgy. This can cause the person to seek satisfaction in liturgy which appeals to his personal preferences, rather than in praising God. The antidote for this is spiritual poverty, produced by the Holy Spirit in contemplation.
Lust will get worse before it gets better. It can lead us to union with God, as can pride, if we have tears of compunction for our sinful instincts. When you have an instinct to lust, just pray "Lord, have mercy."
Anger is discussed as anger at yourself over not becoming holy quickly enough; St John says, "they do not have the patience to wait until God gives them what they need". The cure is spiritual meekness, learning to be patient with God.
Spiritual gluttony is a craving for consolation in prayer. St John says that when these persons receive Communion, they are more concerned with getting "feeling and satisfaction rather than humbly praising and reverencing God dwelling within them." Our first prayer after receiving Christ should always be praise and worship of the Trinity and particularly Christ.
Spiritual sloth is a reluctance or refusal to pray, when it is not consoling.
A good rule of thumb with regards to these imperfections: if there is a passage you can't relate to or identify with, it's a safe bet that that is such a huge problem for you that you don't even see it, it's so permeated into you.

St John says that God delivers beginners of these imperfections through the dark night, through "pure dryness and interior darkness".

The dryness of the dark night is given to the soul so that you will become free to rest in God alone; he won't let anything else console you while you're in the dark night. In the dark night God is not communicated by senses or thought, but by "simple contemplation", "in which there is not discursive succession of thought." The soul has to abandon itself to this process, accepting that it can't do anything, and in prayer just waste time with God.

Entering the dark night, the soul is "attracted by the love of God and enkindled in it". Pss 73 and 43 describe this longing.

In the dark night, prayer feels like a waste of time and scripture passages won't seem meaningful. At these times make an act of faith that God is present, and attend to God; stop distracting yourself with reading, emotions, or imagination.

St John of the Cross says that the benefits of the dark night are: self-knowledge, about our lowliness; knowledge of God, of his grandeur and majesty; humility; and love of neighbour.

John of the Cross' Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book One

The Ascent of Mount Carmel is a poem with a treatise explaining it. It describes how to reach divine union, described as Mount Carmel, through love.

This is the first stanza:

On a dark night,
Kindled in love with yearnings
- oh, happy chance! -
I went forth without being observed,
My house being now at rest.

St John says that if we are attracted by earthly or heavenly goods, we won't get to Mt Carmel. But following John of the Cross doesn't mean forsaking all goods; just don't put them ahead of God. He wants us to take a path of nothingness to God alone. In the end, only the desire for God saves you. It is necessary to get rid of the things that dissipate or weaken your desire for God; you must be focused.

Having the virtue of chastity rooted deeply in the faith allows for you to develop deep, close, intimate friendships in your life.

St John teaches that dark nights are essential to the spiritual life, and that there are two forms of them: the dark night of the senses, which is the way to get from the purgative stage of the spiritual life to the illuminative; and the dark night of spirit, which takes you from the illuminative stage to the unitive. The dark night of the sense is both active and passive; there are things you can actively do, such as a media fast, to dispose yourself to it. The dark night of spirit, however, is passive. The dark nights are so called because in them we must live by faith; then we must persevere in trust of God. The dark nights are purifications of the soul.

The means of entering the night of sense, the things that dispose you to the night, are based on this principle: "have habitual desire to imitate Christ in all your deeds by bringing your life into conformity with his. You must then study his life..." Spend time with Jesus in the Gospels and by adoring him in the Eucharist. This principle is what keeps John from being like Buddhism, however similar as the rest of his 'nada nada' path to Carmel is to the natural religion.

Steps to carrying out this principle include: having a discipline of life ordered to the love of God, renouncing sensory satisfactions that are not purely for the glory of God. Be inclined not to the easiest, but to the most difficult; not to the most delightful, but to the most distasteful; not to the highest and most precious, but to the lowest and most despised; not to wanting something but to wanting nothing, etc. St John advises us to earnestly embrace these practices and try to overcome our will's repugnance toward them. You can train your senses to delight in difficult things for the Lord and his glory. These steps conquer your appetites; they change how you take in sensory stimulation.

Are your senses given to pursuit of self, or of God? When they are pursuing self, you are inconstant--you have moments of devotion to God, but then you fall back into sin.

What do I do in my free time? Fix this, and you'll have tranquility and more energy.

The reason so many of us, in particular Americans, are not able to love freely, is because we're addicted to comfort. Addiction to comfort retards our ability to love. Renounce comfort, the easy chair or the La-Z-Boy, to play basketball [or any other distasteful sport] with your brothers. That is how your heart will be able to love with freedom. To get rid of your addiction to comfort, incline yourself to the most difficult, as John said. This doesn't mean always do the most difficult; but free yourself so that you can choose the most difficult and aren't enslaved to comfort.

We need to choose, day by day, to be completely vulnerable to the Lord and to his will. Asceticism can't take away the deep-seated, involuntary contempt for my brother; the wounds, dark things in my heart; involuntary movements in the heart. Self-knowledge is the first step in opening yourself to what God wants to do for you. He wants to re-order your wounds so that instead of tearing you down they lead you to God. Surrender to God in prayer. Just sit there and be attentive to his love. Attend to him in darkness and silence.

Seminarians need to learn to be anonymous: the more anonymous you are, the more fruitful your ministry for God. This relates back to F.X.N. Van Thuan's idea of following God and not the works of God. We need to be the man that people want to follow to God.


John of the Cross' Living Flame of Love

This poem and its commentary describe a "very intimate and elevated union and transformation of the soul in God". "The soul...is so inwardly transformed in the fire of love and elevated by it that it is not merely united to his fire but produces within it a living flame." The translation we used is actually available here.

This is the poem:

O living flame of love
that tenderly wounds my soul
in its deepest center! Since
now you are not oppressive,
now consummate! if it be your will:
tear through the veil of this sweet encounter!

O sweet cautery,
O delightful wound!
O gentle hand! O delicate touch
that tastes of eternal life
and pays every debt!
In killing you changed death to life.

O lamps of fire!
in whose splendors
the deep caverns of feeling,
once obscure and blind,
now give forth, so rarely, so exquisitely,
both warmth and light to their Beloved.

How gently and lovingly
you wake in my heart,
where in secret you dwell alone;
and in your sweet breathing,
filled with good and glory,
how tenderly you swell my heart with love.

Stanza one: The living flame is the Holy Spirit, to whom a soul at this stage is intimately united. The soul is wounded in fulfillment of the sense in which one is wounded by Cupid's arrow. The soul is dying of love, is changed forever, is living for God, and is driven by the love of God. This love transforms your very centre. The soul's deepest center is where the heart rests; and "my heart is restless until it rests in you, my God". So the more you embrace, hold on to your faith, the more yourself you become; the more your heart rests in God. In asking the living flame to consummate, the soul is asking the Spirit to let her experience the fulness of union with him, i.e. mystical contemplation.

Stanza three: St John of the Cross says the lamps of fire are God's attributes. This poem is his attempt to describe the soul's transformation in God, in which "the soul becomes God from God through participation in him and in his attributes".
In commenting on "the deep caverns of feeling",St John of the Cross says,
Likewise, when the soul has reached such purity in itself and its faculties that the will is very pure and purged of other alien satisfactions and appetites in the inferior and superior parts, and has rendered its "yes" to God concerning all of this, since now God's will and the soul's are one through their own free consent, then the soul has attained possession of God insofar as this is possible by way of the will and grace. And this means that in the "yes" of the soul, God has given the true and complete "yes" of his grace.
Reading this, I thought of it as an explanation for the Immaculate Conception. All the imagery of the soul saying "yes" to God puts in my mind Mary's fiat.
3.34 "Since God, then, as the giver communes with individuals through a simple, loving knowledge, they also, as the receivers, commune with God through a simple and loving knowledge or attention, so knowledge is thus joined with knowledge and love with love. The receiver should act according to the mode of what is received, and not otherwise, in order to receive and keep it in the way it is given." This spoke to me of docility, which was definitely a theme for me in the spirituality year.
The passivity of prayer is expressed when John of the Cross says that "contemplation lies in receiving". This most intimate form of prayer is a sort of shutting down of yourself, what you're doing, and receiving what God has to give you.


St John of the Cross' Spiritual Canticle

Back to the series on the works we read in our spiritual classics class. We five weeks with St John of the Cross, (in this edition) and the Spiritual Canticle was the first work we read. We read the poem, plus the commentary on the first three stanzas, and the twelfth.

Dr Lilles recommended that we read St John's "Romances" to understand the Spiritual Canticle. They are very good in and of themselves, and I used them on the Spiritual Exercises to pray over the Incarnation and Nativity.

The Canticle is like the Song of Songs, and is a dialogue between bride (the soul) and bridegroom (Christ). In each of these stanzas, it is the bride speaking:

Where have You hidden Yourself,
And abandoned me in my groaning, O my Beloved?
You have fled like the hart,
Having wounded me.
I ran after You, crying; but You were gone.

O shepherds, you who go
Through the sheepcots up the hill,
If you shall see Him
Whom I love the most,
Tell Him I languish, suffer, and die.

In search of my Love
I will go over mountains and strands;
I will gather no flowers,
I will fear no wild beasts;
And pass by the mighty and the frontiers.

O crystal well!
Oh that on Your silvered surface
You would mirror forth at once
Those eyes desired
Which are outlined in my heart!

First stanza: The soul is waking up and realizes this world is passing, and has a sense of indebtedness to God. Most parishioners haven't really experienced God, and don't have this sense of indebtedness to him. They are at the stage of loving themselves for their own sake. The preaching of the Gospel therefore needs to be aimed at waking them up. This waking up is a holy fear, realization that I've wasted my life, and wanting to pursue God. In the Canticle the soul is on a passionate pursuit to find Christ; he woke her up.
I need to ask God when I've made a cry to him like this poem. What characterized my experience? "God, help me understand my experience with you."
O Lord My spouse, show me where you are hidden.
St John says that Christ is hidden in the innermost being of the soul. We need to seek for him in ourself with all the strength of our being. The core of your being is a trysting place for the living God. Encountering God in your inmost being points to the primacy of prayer that needs be in our life. To find the hidden God, we must also hide. To hide is to live by faith: don't calculate, don't rely on your natural gifts, your intellect. Rely rather on your faith knowledge. If you life by your intellect, you won't find the hidden God. The only way to serve God is by faith. Trust him, let him carry you, no matter what you see, no matter the things wrong you see. Don't calculate, or be anxious; look to him alone. Be faithful to what the Lord has for you to do here and now, rather than being anxious for your future. This living by faith alone is essential to self-renewal, and to the renewal of the Church.
St John of the Cross recommends an "emptying" sort of prayer, experiencing God though a via negativa. "Individuals who want to find him should leave all things through affection and will, enter within themselves in deepest recollection, and let all things be as though not." This has garnered him comparison with Buddhist meditation, and they can be rather similar. One priest I greatly respect has said that Buddhism is the best natural religion; ie the best that men have come up with, without divine revelation. The difference between John of the Cross and the Buddha is that John instructs us to make the Lord the desire of your heart, to place him first, while the Buddha teaches one to desire nothing at all. There is a lot of emptying in John of the Cross, but the desire for God must remain.

Second stanza: The shepherds are the soul's desires and affections for God; they may also be angels.

Third stanza: "In search of my love" is the soul's leaving her own will and satisfaction, so she can seek Christ. The mountains are virtues and the contemplative life, and the strands are mortifications and the active life. The flowers not gathered are the temptations of the flesh. The mighty are demons. The Lord allows demons in our life to teach us to rely on him. None of us can beat demons on our own; we have to rely on Christ. A demon who leads you to a habitual sin is allowed so that you will go to confession and realize you have to rely on Jesus. The frontiers are the natural rebellions of the flesh against the spirit.

Twelfth stanza: Seeing Jesus' face reflected in the water is mystical prayer. In this you aren't initiating anything; it's all the prompting of the Holy Spirit. This contemplation, attentiveness to the Holy Spirit, is the only thing that will make a man a good priest. Without it, he is limited to himself.