Friday, February 15, 2013

“The life of men is made up of many and varied activities. Deep in the heart of men is the longing, fitfully glimpsed and but half realized, to gather up all these strivings into an intense pursuit of one all-embracing objective worthy of the toil and tears and devotion of the human heart.  Such is the half-shaped dream; but the reality is a picture of heaped-up activities, where the trivial jostles the less trivial, and the less trivial elbows the important things, and there is no unity of design, nor any intensity of single, concentrated purpose.”-Karl Rahner, “On Prayer

            During this time of lent we are reminded of our brokenness, and dependence on the love of God.  It is often easy, as Rahner points out, to find ourselves worrying over that which does not matter and caring little over those things which matter the most.  In this way we become broken and fragmented in various number of activities which occupy our day; trying to search for that which is meaningful in that which lacks meaning and neglecting that which give meaning to that which lacks meaning.  The reason we lack the one object which is worthy of the human heart is because we fail to look at the goal of the human heart, which is to rest within the love of God.  This consists in nothing less than responding to the love of the cross with our own gift of self.  “You stir us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you.” (St. Augustine, Confession 1).  This is the ultimate goal of the human person, to love God with his whole being, “Hear, O Israel!  The Lord is your God, the Lord alone!  Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-6). 

            When we begin to integrate this love for God, which is only possible after we recognize God’s love for us, it fills every moment of our day with meaning and purpose. The purpose is to express the fruits of love that flow from the cross, recognizing it as a gift to all.  Sometimes this dependence can harden up our hearts for we desire to save ourselves, to give ourselves our own purpose and fulfillment.  In short we desire to make ourselves into gods.  This leads us to trying to absorb the other into our being instead of giving ourselves to the other.  This attitude fills the heart with vices which do not belong to our nature. 

“Pride for instance—even pride apes sublimity, whereas you are the only God, most high above all things.  As for ambition, what does it crave but honors and glory, while you are worthy of honor beyond all others, and eternally glorious?  The ferocity of powerful men aims to inspire fear; but who is to be feared except the one God?  Can anything be snatched from his power or withdrawn from it—when or where or whither or by whom?  Flirtatiousness aims to arouse love by charming wiles but nothing can hold more charm than your charity…Sloth pretends to aspire to rest but what sure rest is there save the Lord?  Lush living likes to be taken for contented abundance, but you are the full and inexhaustible store of a sweetness that never grows stale…Envy is contentious over rank accorded to another, but what ranks higher than you?  Anger seeks revenge, but who ever exacts revenge with grater justice than yourself?...Sadness pines at the loss of the good things with which greed took its pleasure, because it wants to be like you from whom nothing can be taken away.” (St. Augustine, Confessions).

As St. Augustine points out in this passage, no matter how we act, we must either conform to the will of God and find rest within him by recognizing who we are, or we must turn away from God and attempt to take his place.  This is because we are made in the image and likeness of God and we cannot escape the reality of participating with God or attempting to become gods. 

            When we decide to become gods ourselves the human heart begins to feed upon itself.  “It becomes like the welter of vanities, a sour well of bitterness and despair, a prison from which there is no escape.” (Rahner, On Prayer).    Some modern philosophers say that this is the dignity of man, a life of despair as if they were to say, “I shall calmly despise my whole existence because it does not make me a god.” (Rahner, On Prayer). 

            The dependence of man on God and on others is not something that degrades man but something that exults his nature. “there is nothing degrading about dependence when it takes the form of love, for then it is no longer dependence, the diminishing of self through competition with others.” (Benedict XVI).  We are not in competition with God, but we are to unite to Him.  When we think of ourselves in competition we become full of pride and we love our own ego in replace of God.  We try to make others love us by making ourselves dominate and fulfilled within ourselves and by doing so we invoke others to love our characteristics, not us in our entirety.  Also we block love off because to accept love is to respond to love.  Without humility we cannot respond to love because our pride will keep us from expressing vulnerability necessary to open our heart to love.  Therefore our attempt to make others love us through pride is in vain and leads us to internal isolation.  “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” (Jn. 12:24).  It is within this realization of dependence that the power of God can well up within us.  Even within the situations we find difficult to pray within or difficult to have faith, we must all the more cry out “Lord I believe help my unbelief or Lord my heart is heard, please soften it.”  There is nothing insincere in this humble admission of one’s own weakness.  It is only an invitation to the power and love of God.
Karl Rahner (left) and Joesph Ratzinger
(right), also known as Benedict XVI, at the Second Vatican Council together. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

If the Lord does not build the house in vain do its builders labor. (Ps, 127:1)

               How many times we are taught to create our own path in life as if we knew what could bring us happiness, by fulfilling whatever shallow desires come across our path.  We search these desires out and once they are attained we look to have more, never becoming satisfied, never becoming full.  Instead we are like a fire, ready to consume, and the more wood that is thrown onto the fire the greater the fire of consumption and appetite grows.  Once the wood is burnt, instead of going out like a normal fire, we stay the same size but without food.  This is why if we search out our own path without seeing what will truly satisfy us we grow into a state of wondering the meaning of all this toil which gives us no rest and serves no goal except the goal of pain relief from lack of satisfaction.

                Even if we find something that seems meaningful it is only because of those we see ourselves benefiting in the future.  We act as though the viewpoint of this world is the same viewpoint as the eternal, for once we are in front of the face of God we will be concerned with how we fulfilled God’s will for us not we fulfilled our own will.  Therefore, even if we see our life as meaningful at that time, it will lack all meaning at the point of death except for Christ and His eternal kingdom.

                Even to look back on history we can see a difference between the Saints, and those who were great emperors or inventors.  The emperors and inventors are remembered for what they have given us materially, what will disappear with our death, but the Saints are not just remembered but become a person within our lives who lead us into a life of fullness, love, happiness, and meaning, with persecutions and sacrifices.  How could we truly express our love towards God without making sacrifices for Him, for otherwise our actions are not so much an act of love but an act of desiring.  That is one of the reasons why God does not grant us everything we ask for in the way that we want it, for it would make God into nothing but a ‘wish fulfiller’ instead of an Infinite Being who desires to have a relationship of love with us.  A relationship of love means there will be sacrifices, and God leads by example by allowing His innocent Son to take on the sins of the world and become crucified.  We became redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.  This is not something that God needed to do for he is complete within himself.  This was an act of total love, needing nothing from us yet humbling himself, obediently accepting even death, death on the cross! (Phil. 2:8).   Therefore the only appropriate response becomes an act of selfless love in return. 

                This act of love is our purpose, this act of love is what we have been made for, this act of love is the only action that will lead us to meaning, fulfillment, and blessedness.  Within this act of love there is a desire to do what God wills in our lives and if we do so we still may become great inventors, or political figures; we may also become a loving janitor or construction worker.  However no matter how great our accomplishments are in the viewpoint of the world, they will become next to nothing compared to our response to God’s love.  We will not only be remembered for this response but we will build relationships from above with generations to come, pointing towards God and praying for them to become closer to Christ.  Then we will become a house not built in vain.

Monday, November 5, 2012

We do not achieve holy recollection by Receiving but by denying-St. John of the Cross, "Sayings of Light and Love."

                This may seem like an odd thing to say when we consider that we rely on God’s grace to do good works because of our fallen nature.  However, at the heart of this saying is the implication that God will give us the grace to overcome all sinful difficulty, for God never gives us something that we cannot handle.  The greater the difficulty, the greater the grace, and the greater the blessing, because these are the times that we realize our own weakness and are given the opportunity to pour our faith and hope into God and rely on his strength.  This is what St. Paul means when he writes, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.  I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.” (2 Cor. 12:9).  The great question is why do we not overcome every sin with such graces from God?  The reason is because we are not open to receive them for our hearts are focused and poured out into what is not God.  This makes our souls like a dirty window on a sunny day, the Sun shines equally on the window whether it is clean or dirty, but a clean window allows the room to be fully open to the Sun’s light whereas the room that has the dirty window is only partially open to the light of the Sun.  This dirt is caused by sins and any sinful habit that we have formed.  Until we deny those sins and sinful habits we will not be able to open up our hearts fully to allow for God to have his light shine completely through us, so those in the room no longer see the window, but only the Sun shining through the window.  This happens  because the window has no dirt to interfere with the light of the Sun.  So how do we clean our windows? We clean them by going to the sacrament of Reconciliation and confessing our sins fully and honestly, for if we are not completely honest and open then we are not giving Christ permission to heal us.  Christ will not impinge upon our free will and only comes where he has been invited by a sincere heart, but once invited he will waste no time on arrival just sometimes his arrival is not in the form that we expect.  That is why when we are not honest in confession and sorry for our sins, we are not fully inviting Christ to clean the windows of our soul.  It is after we have been cleansed through the sacrament of reconciliation that we can experience the weight of sin lifted off our shoulders and have a fresh start once again of denying sin and allowing the divine light to enlighten our soul.  It is important to realize that after we go to confession we will have to go again for we are sinful by nature, but in-between each visit we need to strive for improvement in the denial of sin.  Often Christ will tug at our hearts to work on one imperfection at a time, for if he was to ask us to work at all of our imperfections at the same time, we would easily become overwhelmed and fall into the great sin of despair.  Also it is important to realize, Christ will often use other people to help us overcome our struggles so that we can deepen our humility and our sense of being a part of the Body of Christ.  Let us give thanks to God today for giving us the gift to be able to aspire to such a relationship with the One True God, which is the one gift that is worth dying to ourselves so that it may no longer be I who lives but Christ who lives in me (Gal. 2:20).

Friday, October 5, 2012

“We should not wish to become a Saint in four days but step by step.”-St. Philip Neri

                Often when we decide to start living our lives more fully for God and less for ourselves we begin to think of the great deeds of the saints, the sufferings and love they show for Christ.  When we think of them we aspire to become like them, not over the course of our lives but overnight.  When this approach is taken we always fail for we see our Love for God as something we create and not something we respond too. 

                As the angelic doctor, St. Tomas Aquinas says, “The Christian moral life is simply a response to God’s incredible love for us.”  It takes patience and humility for us to more fully accept His love in our hearts that are in need of softening and respond with charity.  This is why it is always sooner rather than later that we should begin to accept God’s love and respond to it appropriately, for the sooner in life we do, the more time we have to grow in love towards God and fulfill our purpose. 

                Often our mistake is trying to become great in holiness overnight.  We do not understand that it is not us producing the love that leads to holiness but instead we return the love that has already been given which leads to holiness.  Then when we fail by falling into old habits of sin, we beat ourselves up out of pride.  We want to do it alone, independent of God and when this cannot be done we get discouraged.   We fail to remember that even Christ depended upon his Father for otherwise we would not hear him saying, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.” (Lk. 22:42).   This discouragement is never from God who is our hope, but always from ourselves, and/or an evil spirit.  If the discouragement is not leaving or is reoccurring, we may be lead back into old habits because “I can’t do it.”

                Well of course we cannot do it if we try by ourselves just as a three year old child cannot survive without dependence on adults.  This is why Christ ask us to be like a child.  This does not mean that we should be immature and ignorant but dependent to whom we receive all things from.  It is only in this dependence that we can reach the heights of perfection and holiness because only in complete dependence we fully be accepting of God’s grace. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

He opened the book of nature before me, and I saw that every flower He has created has a beauty of its own, that the splendor of the rose and the lily’s whiteness do not the deprive the violet of it’s scent nor make less ravishing the daisy’s charm.  I saw that if every little flower wished to be a rose, nature would lose her spring adornments, and the fields would be no longer enameled with their varied flowers.-St. Therese of Lisieux, The Story of a Soul.

            In this beautiful analogy the type of flower seems to symbolize the type of vocation given to a person by God and the detailed differences between two flowers of the same species shows the difference between people with the same vocation lies with the details.  Each one of these flowers are supposed to bloom in holiness and show God’s greatness though them. Just as a flower cannot grow and bloom without the sun and the rain neither can a person grow and bloom in holiness without the Son and showers of His grace.  It is up to the flower to accept the Rain and Sunlight and if it is unwilling to accept these things because of the desire to become a different kind of flower or not become a flower of holiness at all, then it will wither up and die and shall be cast into the fire.  The weeds of worldly desires may choke up the flower and prevent its growth or the rocky ground that does not allow the flower to deepen its roots of faith and humility will be become burnt up by the sun.

            The lily should not try to become a rose nor a rose a lily.  Each one is beautiful in their own way and cannot be compared, for sometimes the Gardener desires to look upon the daisy and sometimes the lilies and sometimes the rose.  “I tell you again and again, my brethren that in the Lord’s garden are to be found not only the roses of the Martyr.  In it there are also the lilies of the virgins, the ivy of wedded couples, and the violets of widows.” (St. Augustine, Sermon on Feast of St. Lawrence).  If the ivy tries to become the lily how will it survive for each needs to grow in its own environment that suits the purpose of the plant in order to grow and glorify the Gardener. 

            It does not make one less perfect because they are something different than their brothers and sisters for the happier one is to be as Christ wills him or her to be, the more perfect they become (St. Therese of Lisieux, The Story of a Soul).  How could perfection lie outside of what makes us grow, the Son and showers of grace?  Just as the sun shines equally on the cedar and the little flower, so the Divine Sun shines equally on everyone, great and small (St. Therese of Lisieux, The Story of a Soul). 

Then when we do bloom we should not try to be humble and say that we are unattractive and without scent (St. Therese, The Story of a Soul).  Only someone who exalts themselves could say something like this because only they would think of humility as speaking poorly of the gifts God has given them.  The truly humble soul has no reason to say that they are unattractive and without scent for they know that they are not the source, so instead of insulting Gods gifts to them there soul magnifies the Lord (Lk. 1:46).  

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

“Let us not imagine that we obscure the glory of the Son by the praise we lavish on the Mother; for the more [Mary] is honored, the greater is the glory of her Son.”-St. Bernard of Clairvaux

                It seems as though many times people, especially non-Catholics, question the honoring and praise of Mary, the Mother of God.  This is a terrible mistake that is led by the fear that we are giving worship to Mary and not to Christ because we honor her even though the fourth commandment says honor your father and your mother, yet no one worships their parents, at least I hope not.  When we give honor to Mary not only are we worshiping Christ in a more perfect way but we are also imitating Him because Christ never sinned and therefore never broke the fourth commandment.

                On the cross Christ seeing his mother and the disciple he loved standing near her, He said to His mother, “Woman, this is your son.” Then to the disciple he said, “This is your mother.”  And from this moment the disciple made a place for her in his home (The Jerusalem Bible, Jn. 19:26-27).  Some people today interpret this as being said only for John and not for the rest of the faithful, however from the beginning of the Christianity it has been understood that she is the mother of the whole body of Christ.  We are all members of the Body of Christ because Christ did not say to St. Paul on his road to Damascus why are you persecuting my followers but said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts, 9:4).  St. Paul latter confirms this in by writing, “Now you together are Christ body.” (1 Cr. 12:27).  How can the body of Christ have a separate mother from the head?  In addition to this Mary is the new Eve and just as Eve was the mother of all men and women, now Mary becomes the mother of all that are born anew  by water and the spirit (Jn 3:5).

How do we pray to Mary?

                Lets look at the most common Marian prayer, the Hail Mary.  The opening line is “Hail Mary, full of Grace. The Lord is with thee” (Lk. 1:28).  Gabriel greeted Mary with these words. This in effect made her become our mother since she chooses to be the mother of Christ and we are his body.  Could there be a better way to greet and ask our mother to ask the favors of her son, than the greeting in which she was asked to become our mother by becoming the mother of Christ?  Also there is no one that was, is, or ever will be as humble as Mary, with the exception of her Son, for there has been no one more highly exulted then Mary besides her Son.  Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be exalted (Mt. 23:12).  Therefore when Mary hears the words of Hail Mary she turns to the Holy Trinity and gives more and better thanksgiving then we could ever merit for the graces which God has bestowed on her.

                The next line is “blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus” (Lk. 1:42).  This is what St. Elizabeth says to Mary when she greets her at the visitation and notice that Mary responds with the Magnificat saying:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
My spirit rejoices in God my Savior
For he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.

From this day all generations will call me blessed:
The Almighty has done great things for me,
And holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him
In every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,

He has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
And has lifted up the lowly.

He has fill the hungry with good things.
And the rich he has sent away empty.
 He has come to the help of His servant Israel

For he has remembered his promise of mercy,
The promise He made to our fathers,

To Abraham and his children for ever (Lk. 1:46-55) 

                This whole saying is about Mary praising the Lord for the gifts that he has bestowed upon her and this is the same type of praise is given every time we imitate St. Elizabeth at the visitation.  How much sweeter are these words than any words that we could say to Christ, for they come from His sinless mother who is the greatest of all His creation.   When we humble ourselves to have Mary speak to Christ for us, our prayer becomes greater than any prayer we could marit on our own, for it is not just about the words that we speak but also what love that abides in our heart for Christ.  What person loves Christ more than His mother who has never sinned against Him and had a mothers love for Him?  What person does Christ love more than Mary?

The next line is “Holy Mary, Mother of God.”   Mary became the mother of Christ humanity which cannot be separated from his divinity, because Christ is one person with two natures, one divine and one human which was given to him by Mary.  He is not two persons with each having its own nature.  Therefore Mary is the mother of God even though his divinity created Mary and precedes time.  If anyone does not agree that holy Mary is Mother of God, he is at odds with the Godhead [St. Gregory of Nazianz, Letterto Cledonius the Priest 101 (A.D. 382)].  It is because of Christ being one person that His words may be fulfilled, “Father, may they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you.” (Jn. 17:21).  How could we become one in the Father and the Son if the Son is not one in himself but two?  Since Christ humanity and divinity cannot be separated, Mary must be the Mother of God if she is the Mother of Christ in the flesh.

                The final line of the prayer is “Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death Amen.”  This shows how we always direct our prayer towards Christ and realize that Mary in not the source but the instrument in which Christ has chosen to use.  If we can become instruments to pray for one another, how much better is it when the Mother of God and our spiritual mother prays for us especially at the hour of our death when there may be no one else to pray for us?

                As we can see praying to Mary is not something that takes away from Christ but makes our prayers more fitting for Christ to receive them and glorifies Him more.  Mary, Queen of Heaven and of Earth, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death Amen.


Monday, August 27, 2012

I have been extremely miserable in adolescence, miserable from its very onset, and as I prayed to you for the gift of chastity I had even pleaded, “Grant me chastity and self-control, but please not yet.”  I was afraid that you might hear me immediately and heal me forth with of the morbid lust which I was more anxious to satisfy then to snuff out.-St. Augustine, Confessions, Book 8, Chapter 7
(St. Augustine and his mother St. Monica.  Augustines feast day is August 28 and Monica's is the 27th)

Oh Lord how insightful this passage is to the human person.  So often we are attached to something that is sinful in our lives and we hate the enslavement or need to satisfy ourselves, having our happiness subject to it.  However, we love to satisfy the desire but once the desire is satisfied we become empty once again and wish to be released into something lasting.   It is this anxiousness to satisfy rather than to snuff out that makes us call out like St. Augustine, “Lord, grant me to be released from my sinfulness, but not yet.”  We wonder-if we are released, where will we find our happiness?  We will find it in the love of God shown to us on the cross.  There is no greater love than this: that a person would lay down his life for the sake of his friends (John 15:13).  It is only when we find this love that we can look back at our sinfulness and see how miserable we really were by knowing how happy we are now, just as Augustine did when he wrote about his adolescence.  If he knew how miserable he was during his adolescence he would not have waited till his thirties before he seeked his happiness in God and said, "Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!" (St. Augustine, Confessions).  If we completely understood our state of misery, then we would waste no time trying to escape our state of misery.   Augustine shows us that it is never too late or too early to turn to the Lord and ask him to help us love Him as He loves us and receive the  joy and peace of the Lord. 

            The reason why we become so happy when we turn to God for our happiness is because we do what we were made for, a loving and faithful self-giving relationship with God.  It is only when we do what we are supposed to by nature that we receive the peace and joy our nature longs and searches for.  You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you (St. Augustine, Confessions, Book 1, Chapter 1).  St. Augustine and his mother St. Monica, who wept over his soul until he was converted, pray for us.

New movie going out about St. Augustine. To find out how to get it in your hometown click on the following link The Restless Heart.