Willing the good of the other, as other.

Yesterday, while walking through the grounds of the Shrine of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, in Munster, I was struck with the thought that amidst all the beautiful trees and lovely paths there were monuments of horror: a memorial of St. Maximillian Kolbe with barbed wire on representations of concentration camp fence posts.  A monument to Blessed John Paul the Great that showed him kneeling with a rosary and as if he were painfully carrying the problems of the world on his shoulders.  The Stations of the Cross; the Tomb – all representations of either pain, horror, destruction, or cruelty.  And yet we are to believe that this faith we hold dear, this path of Christ is the way to love, indeed is love.  How?  How can we absorb this and make it our mission as well?  How can these representations lead us to understanding?

Last night, while listening to the first episode of Fr. Barron’s New Evangelization series, I caught a phrase he used in a discussion with an auxiliary bishop of Sydney Australia.  He was discussing what our mission, as followers of Christ is, and they were talking about the banal vision that many have about Christ and his mission – specifically what is love.

Father Barron said ‘love is not a feeling or a sentiment, a private subjective conviction. Love is willing the good of the other, as other.’  And his discussion pointed out why dogma, why what we believe is so important to how we live.  And his discussion, indeed dogma, is reinforced by the statues and memorials we place in our houses of worship and other sacred sites, even our homes.  We are reminded that when we ‘will good of the other, as other’ we are stepping outside of ourselves and offering, unconditionally, to someone else what Christ offered to us.  If we allow ourselves to turn away from these beliefs, these dogmas, the truth our actions become in fact what Fr. Barron said love wasn’t: ‘a feeling or a sentiment, a private subjective conviction’ and our actions become first and foremost about me.

Our mission in life is to radiate the joy of faith; faith in a God that loves purely, and by doing so offered everything he had to help us, for no other reason than it would be for our good.  When we go about the world, we need to bring the faith to those we meet, the full faith, not a warm, fuzzy, happy faith without the challenges of pain and suffering.  We bring the actions of Christ, and we celebrate those actions by imitating them, making them our own actions.  We don’t echo modern thoughts that as long as you view yourself as loving you are loving person.  Because love, true and perfect love has a face, it has a logic, it is the logos, it is God.

The monuments that we hold dear show horror, pain, cruelty to those who are still within themselves.  If we allow God to enter our hearts then a vista opens up before us, a vista of clarity, opened with the key of dogma; that brings us the true meaning of these monuments, a vista of love;   not the love of sentiment, but of will – the will of God.

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Forgotten

Walking through Las Vegas you can get a real understanding of why it is called ‘Sin City’. Of course the obvious reasons are right there in front of your face; gambling, gluttony, overt sexuality, drinking. All of these done in the appropriate and moderate way are not sins – but the casinos will help you step over the boundary; but that isn’t the real issue.

As I was looking out of my room window at Caesars Palace, this past Thursday, (we were there for a reunion of my wife’s friends) towards the great fountain display at the Bellagio, and past that, down the strip with all the immensity of buildings and lights and electronic displays, it dawned on me. I had just spent the past few hours walking around taking this all in; being bathed in man’s great architectural and technological achievements, being amused and amazed. But now, in the quiet of my room I realized that throughout all of this you forget about God. The only place I saw something that reminded me of our Creator was when I noticed some artistic crosses at a Goth jewelry shop.  God is forgotten (of course I am generalizing).

His holiness Benedict XVI has mentioned in some of his writings that mankind is losing its sensitivity the about our creator; that was once stronger with those in an agricultural culture and environment.  Seasons don’t mean much anymore, we can minimize the effects of winter and summer and we don’t notice the different things that each season brings because we can attain their gifts throughout the year.  We can extend daylight – it doesn’t have to be dark anymore; if we happen to look up at night sky we don’t see the fullness of God’s creation in the stars because they aren’t very noticeable anymore.  His premise is that we lose the cosmic evidence of the eternal because we are insulated from it.

People are just withdrawn into themselves and their achievements, Las Vegas is a great example – but is everywhere.  What we create is neutral; neither good nor bad; why it was created and what it has numbed within us is the problem.  This is probably the greatest challenge to the New Evangelization; getting people to be aware of the transcendent reality that is God – have people open their eyes to the wonder of true creation and not the flash-bang excitement of man’s creations.

This is what came to me looking out of the window towards the glitz and glamor of the Vegas Strip, but what also came to me was Psalm 144: ‘Lord, what is man that you care for him, mortal man, that you keep him in mind; man, who is merely a breath, whose life fades like a shadow?

God answered this question with his Son – we are everything to Him.

The great question for each of us is (reworking Psalm 144):

‘Man, what is God to you that don’t you care for Him, Eternal God, that you push Him from your mind, God who is the animator of all creation including yourself, who life never fades but who died for you.

May each of us dig deep into our hearts to answer this question and then take to the streets of man’s great achievements and bring our answer to everyone we meet.

Capax Dei

What do five Phds (from Notre Dame, Franciscan University of Stubenville, Dominican House of Studies in Washington DC, Providence College, & Benedictine College in Atchinson Kansas) and one slow deacon have in common?  Though not really a joke there were times when my presence a workshop at the Liturgical Institute his past Friday made me think I was the punch line; but by the end of the workshop, friends were made and knowledge did sink in, I think.  I would like to give special thanks up front to Fr. Andrew Hofer, OP from Dominican House of Studies for his talk.

There is a prayer during the Mass said by the deacon, or priest if there is no deacon; that, if said in accordance with the rubics, is not heard by the congregation.  It is a prayer that if heard by the congregation might broaden the horizons of their understanding of the Mass and even the idea of why God came among us.  Behind it is a theology that is more understood by the Eastern Churches who are well versed, studied and comfortable with its idea but is embraced totally by our church as well.

While adding a little water to the wine in the celebrant’s chalice the deacon prays:‘By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.

What this prayer to our heavenly father is asking for is nothing less than that we share in His divinity: divinization is the term, or deification.  As St. Athanasius said: God became man … not for his own sake, but that he might make us gods through grace. ‘ut nos per gratiam faceret deos’ there is no apostrophe in gods – we are to be made god. Not in the sense of Mormon belief, where we each get a planet.  The word ‘gods’ is a small ‘g’: as Fr. Andrew Hofer, OP said in the seminar this past weekend, divinization doesn’t mean ‘Father, Son, Holy Spirit and Andrew’.  No, we share, in the most intimate way in the divinity of our Triune God by gift.  And though the word adoption has been used for this nexus it tends to fall short, it is too juridical therefore too limited. What God is naturally we become through grace!

But we have heard said ‘grace builds upon nature’ – rarely does God come and slam a holy 2×4 across someone’s head and bam! the fullness of His gift is attained. St. Thomas Aquinas states in De Veritate ‘only the rational creature is capax Dei, because it alone can know him and love him’. ‘Capax Dei’ Capable of God, or Fit for God.  We have the capacity for God’s revelation and His graces, God has made sure of this; but it is up to us to give this gift a large enough home to reside.  If we were to hold the graces given to us by God in a bowl – it is through knowledge and love that we can make this bowl bigger, be able to retain more of the grace.

So how do we stretch our limitations on the reception of grace, so that we can be more Capax Dei, capable of God? How do we make ourselves ready for this knowledge and love that expands our capacity. I would offer three helps,

Desire
Our earthly desires interfere with the desire of our soul.  We are made in the image of God, within us is our soul that though never separate, until death, and never superior to our body is most closely linked with our Father. Its desire is divinization, is to be as close to God as God will allow.  We need to work to suppress our earthly desires, or better, change our earthly desires to be one with the desire of our soul.  True happiness follows when these are in union.

Eucharistic Participation
Our ability to reprioritize and modify our desires is strengthened by our proper reception of the Eucharist.  Fr. Andrew quoted St. John of Damascus, from St Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae in this regard ‘The fire of that desire which is within us, being kindled by the burning coal’ i.e. this sacrament, ‘will consume our sins, and enlighten our hearts, so that we shall be inflamed and be deified.’  He went on to discuss St. Thomas Aquinas use of St. Greogry of Nazianzus statement ‘God’s love is never idle; for wherever it is it does great works.’  The Eucharist is a participation in the greatest act of love, we share in Christ’s act at Mass and we receive the body, blood, soul and divinity of He who is love.  We are strengthened and cured of things within us that prevent us in sharing God’s life.

Evangelization
The keynote speaker Dr. David Fagerberg from Notre Dame commented that divinization is participation in the energies not the essence of God.  And to me these energies must be used, they must be transmitted forward.  This energy, which is a participation in the energy of the Holy Trinity, is energy of self-giving love, and by its nature must be given out.  In a talk to catechists in 2000, the then Cardinal Ratzinger said “How does one learn the art of living? Which is the path toward happiness? To evangelize means: to show this path—to teach the art of living.”  This is our conduit for the grace of sharing in the energies of God.  Our gift becomes our cause for living, because it not only helps others, self-giving also brings the happiness to us as well because it teaches us the art of living along with those we are evangelizing.

Three helps that enlarge our bowl, allow us to attain more of the grace offered to us, and ultimately bring us more deeply into God’s own life – to be deified, divinized.  To bring us closer to the reading we just heard from the Letter to the Hebrews.

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You have drawn near to Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to myriads of angels in festal gathering, to the assembly of the first-born enrolled in heaven, to God the judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood which speaks more eloquently than that of Abel. (Heb 12:22-24)

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Mom

When I was in junior high school, or middle school as we called it, my best friend lived up the hill.  His family had 3 boys of which my friend was the youngest.  I used to go there and participate in their family life, and he would come down and participate in ours.  I can remember the good times of birthday celebrations and holidays, the bad times such as watching the draft lottery and his older brother’s lottery number was 105 – knowing that he would be drafted (during the Vietnam War), the normal life times of school and summer and just being together. We treated each other’s mother as an extended mother, and we would tease them, help them, honor them, bring them things on their birthday, and play jokes with them.  Mother’s especially like that, when they are in the middle of family activity, it gives them fulfillment.

This memory came to me the other day as I was reading about the Holy Father’s trip to Brazil – it was a much documented trip in the press.  However, what was less known was that on the way to the Airport in Rome to attend World Youth Day Pope Francis stopped by the Basilica of St. Mary Major and prayed in front of the icon Salus Populi Romani, which is at around 1,600 years old. He teased with the people who were there saying that the Rector was smiling because he is winning the bet – Pope Francis has spent more time at this Basilica than any other (except of course St. Peter).  In truth – he came to be with His Mother, Blessed Mary.  He prayed for the success of his ministry and in particular WYD.  And then on his way back from Brazil, before he got back to the Vatican he stopped again at St. Mary Major, to be with His mother and give thanks for the successful trip; he placed in front of the icon a WYD beach ball and a Brazilian flag given to him by the youth.  It is an amazing photograph, this wonderful altar, a masterpiece of artwork in itself and of course the icon and on it a green and yellow beach ball and flag.

The first thing Pope Francis did coming back to Rome was to stop by and leave a gift for his mother.  Pope Francis’ relationship with the Blessed Virgin Mary, and with God Himself is one of an extended family, and I believe he views this relationship as we do with our experiences from our extended families.  Constant dialog, living with them through the good times, the bad times, birthdays, celebrations, and yes maybe even teasing.  His relationship with Our Mother, St Joseph and Jesus is a very real and human relationship, not one of abstract and transcendent dynamics; but one very human.  It is, of course, the only way to build a stronger love for them, the relationship needs to be intimate and familial it needs to be tangible and immediate – it needs to be the real love that is created and nurtured within a family.

In a few short minutes we are going out to our Grotto Shrine of the Immaculate Conception to celebrate with our Mother. Some of us have taken the initiative to make Mary’s garden even better, and our sincere thanks go out to them.  They have given our Mother a gift of their time and adorned her view with natural beauty.  We want our Mother to feel appreciated and loved, we want to show her how we feel about her, how important she is to us.  The Pope has his beach ball, we have our garden.  As we are participating in the blessing of this new garden let each of us dig deep into our past and remember those familial times with our other mothers, our birth mom and those extended moms in our lives and bring that warm family feeling forward to now; let’s renew our relationship with our Blessed Mother in the most intimate and familial way we can.

Lenses

Friday, Pope Francis made headlines with an action that shocked the world of protocol. ‘Pope breaks with protocol by bowing to Queen Rania of Jordan’ was the headline on one news site.  It seems the King and Queen of Jordan met with the Pope at the Vatican and the Pope bowed to the queen as he received them.  In international protocol it is supposedly unheard of that a host leader, political or religious, bows to the visitor, especially the pope.  In fact it was only in the 19th century that visitors stopped kissing the shoes of the Holy Father.  Some of Vatican observers and followers of these types of events were scandalized – the pope, they thought, was now diminishing the Vicar of Christ on earth.  By his actions Pope Francis lowered the papacy below the dignity it should have as Christ’s visible presence.

But it depends on which set of lenses you are looking through that you would see this action in that way.  Through the lenses of ‘power’ (as modern society knows power) it is a scandalous action.  He has allowed himself to be lowered; indeed he himself did the lowering.  The power and prestige of the papacy was eroded by this action.  By this lens power is lording over people; I am more important than you and you need to know it.  I will make sure that I am viewed as more important and that you interact with me in that dynamic so everyone can see.  I will take the higher seat.

But these lenses are not the lens of God.  True power is not something that man attains and keeps.  True power is not something that man can create.  True power is not of man at all.  Man can walk up to the front the feast and sit in a prominent position and declare himself important – or so he thinks.  But as Christ tells us today and Pope Francis demonstrated a few days ago – mankind’s true power, his true prestige comes from being a child of God.  Our greatness is that we aren’t great at all, we are frail, fragile sons and daughters of God; we are loved by God.  God alone is great, and when we realize this and live our lives accordingly we have no need of fanfare, accolades and displays of power. We come to realize that we are poor in spirit, and by this realization we become both free and powerful.  We do God’s work and rely on God’s help.  We accept the truth and we live accordingly – we are humble.

Pope Francis shows us in action what Sirach tells us in the first reading
My child, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts. Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.

The Pope’s action on Thursday, though a little scandalous at first glance, demonstrates his gift of living in humility. That Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio shied away from the Papacy was apparent from the second day in the position.  When discussing how he chose the name Francis he said:  ‘During the election, I was seated next to the Archbishop …Cardinal Claudio Hummes: a good friend, a good friend! When things were looking dangerous, he encouraged me.’  When things were looking dangerous! He knows himself and he knows the demands of the Papacy.  A few weeks later a little girl asked him whether he wanted the job and said no.  He continually asks people to pray for him because he needs it.  He understands that what God called him to is beyond his capability – but together with God he can meet the challenges.  To understand what is truly important and prestigious, to understand where power comes from isn’t weakness.  This is humility, the ability to realize who we are and what we can do.  No self-defacement, no cowering, just honest understanding.

Pope Francis, as is now well known, starts his day celebrating Mass with the staff of the Vatican City state.  His congregation are cardinals, bishops, and priests; as well as gardeners, maintenance staff, security personnel, clerical staff.  There are quite a few photos of him praying before Mass starts and they are profound.  He is sitting in the back of the chapel by himself.  The rows in front of him are filled with the people I just mentioned.  The Pope is sitting at the back.  It is God, the host, who 4 months ago called him to take the seat up front, but he does this only when he is doing God’s work.

Ask any clergy about their desire to be God’s helper and they will tell you it is strong.  Ask them of their worthiness and whether they are confident in their abilities; and the truthful ones will tell you they have doubts about both, but with God’s help they know that He can do all things through them.  To a man, their story will start out sitting in the back and being asked to move to the front.  Am I saying that clergy are humble?; sometimes, but it is a daily struggle to keep our minds focused on the truth about our abilities.

May each of us realize in our lives what Pope Francis demonstrates, what God through Sirach proclaims; and what St. Paul tells the Corinthians and us: “I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.