Christian Life/Personal Holiness: March 2007 Archives

Morning Prayer Thoughts

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The antiphon for the first psalm for today's Morning Prayer is My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready.

I read the antiphon this morning and my immediate reaction was a recoil. "No, it isn't. Not even close. My heart is no where near ready." There are too many things in it, on it, around it. At best it is a divided heart, not a simple heart--a singular gift for a Simple God.

I couldn't pray this in all honesty. But also in all honesty, I could say, "I want my heart to be ready, O God, make my heart ready." That, I could say because it true at the core, at the very marrow of bones. I want to be ready, I know I am not. My heart is half hard, half missing--a rocky field fit only for weeds and dodder--a shadow life thrown into relief by the season in which shadows are drawn more sharply and light is more visible.

So even though I needed to pray a different antiphon, my whole heart was captivated by the second line of the psalm--so much so that I spent the rest of the prayer there and carry it forward into the day--

I will sing, sing your praise.

in the hopes that

Awake, my soul

I will wake from my deliberate slumber and see, if only for a moment--a moment is that that it takes for a God as magnificent as the one we stand before every moment. Blind and deaf though I am, He will save me.

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A short trip to the local Borders reminded me of why I so cherish the blogging world.

Sometimes I'm in the mood for a bite, not for an entire roast, cake, or sandwich, but a tidbit to tide me over. I glanced over the racks of magazines and saw specialties for sailing, gender issues, computers, finance, beadworking, photography, sodoku, kakaro, vacations, "gender issues," commentary, news magazines, and eastern religions and practice, among other things. Not a single Christian oriented magazine (except Sojourners) peeped around any rack or shield to wag a finger at me. Not a single periodical with some tantilizing small article on . . . well who knows what.

But pick your blog-world stops well and you can get theology as mathematical equation, mathematical equation as theology, satire, book review, serious commentary on issues of the day, nonserious comment on issues of the day, comment on issues of yesterday and WAAAAAAAY before, commentary and insight into almost anything you can begin to imagine in the way of Christian thought and practice. Some better written, prettier, and more civil than others, but all available just for stopping by.

We are gift to each other in this way, and I am most grateful for the gift of each day. Thank you all.

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In a comment below TSO quite rightly notes that for many Orthodoxy ends at the pocketbook or at the bedroom door. And often orthopraxy never begins. We might say yes with our lips, but our lives are a vivid diorama of the exact opposite.

I thought it apposite to take his example of adoption. And it might be that some people would readily take to the idea of the adoption of children saved from abortion, even the forced adoption. But let's do a little thought experiment. Let's say that the government proposed legislation that would allow a citizen to "buy" a disenfranchisement from abortion. That is, a citizen pays a fee, and the person coming into the clinic is sent home to have her baby, the supposed right revoked. This fee would be a monthly payment, enough to support the child until the age of 18 and then through college. However, the person buying the disenfranchisement would NOT be permitted to visit the child or speak with the child.

Now, assuming money wasn't an obstacle, would we be willing to put our money where the protest signs are? That is, would we be willing to support the children and the mothers for whom we pray? That's a really tough question for me. Sure, if money weren't an obstacle, I'd be willing to do so, but in the absence of any tangible reward?

Let's say that you could protest at a clinic for the cost of taking home one mother and child and supporting them through the child's educational years. Once again, how many would do it, assuming money were no object? Adopting a child, there's some return--supporting another person's child and that person?

Our desire to curtail abortion has consequences--sometimes severe social consequences if a mother has to drop out of school because her family no longer supports her. Are we willing to take on those consequences outside the fatherly welfare state? In other words, we cannot say, "Are there no prisons? Are the workhouse still in order?" Say we have to take personal responsibility for our stands. Where is our orthopraxy. We may still adhere to the orthodox line, but this orthodoxy has real, practical, tangible consequences--consequences that will impact us for a lifetime and beyond.

When we can make this choice without thinking about it, without pausing to say, "No more vacations to Virginia, the Everglades, Cancun, the Bahamas," then we will have begun to walk the road of orthopraxy. But I know I'm not there yet.

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St Augustine said that the child of God's enemy is the one who is God's enemy; We therefore pray in Ps 104 "Destroy Thou mine enemy" with the understanding that God destroys His enemies by making them His friends.

--Mark (yet another Dominican--praise God!)

What a joyous revelation--God destroys His enemies by making them His friends--you may all have already known it, but I admit that to this foggy mind today, it comes as welcome news.

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Something really interesting about the human condition:

Of the two "extremes" of discipline, Orthodoxy is by far the easier. It's the easiest thing in the world to read through a list of propositions and simply say, "Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes." But the sheer tortuous involution of our nature make this nearly impossible for us to attain, while orthopraxy seems to come, if not naturally, at least much easier. How much easier it is for us to hold, feed, or care for a suffering child, to become incensed and outraged by harm done to the little ones, than it is to acquiesce to a proposition like, "The Death Penalty is, for the most part in the present day, entirely unnecessary to assure justice." One almost never hears of someone arguing against feeding the poor or caring for children, but birth control incites a veritable firestorm of argument and counter-argument. And given the mechanisms of love, perhaps that too is part of God's merciful provision. He has made it easier for us to do as we ought to do that to think as we ought to think, because no matter what we think, so long as we serve His Son, we are His children.

Later--you know, I have to take part of this back, because while one hears few objections to feeding children who have had the advantage of partum, one gets a panoply of arguments pre-partum. And I suppose that is also part and parcel of the human nature. If I don't see it, it doesn't exist and I don't have to acknowledge it. Part of the reason that sonograms and films and photographs so outrage supporters of abortion--by them we make real what they prefer to treat in abstract and in theory.

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Nations and People

from Morning Prayer

(Isaiah 40)
Lebanon would not suffice for fuel,
nor its animals be enough for holocausts.
Before him all nations are as nought,
as nothing and void he counts them.

I know this was not meant as a political treatise, but reading it today something occurred to me that had not in all my other times of reading. "all nations are as nought." God cares absolutely NOTHING for these strange aggregations of society that we call nations. Even the "nation" of Israel is nothing--another mere human construct. What God cares for is people, individuals, souls. He cares deeply and completely about each one of us--but for the entire country of the United States, it is an incidental, dust on the scales, nothing at all. Because of our prayers and because of our love for the society we have, He will honor our prayers and assist us in become what we should be before all people. But His interests are not the interests of the United States, and His concerns are not the concerns of China, North Korea, or India. His interest is in Liu Wenjin, and Sumitra Chakarpanda, and Joseph Smith. His love is for persons, for the reality of souls, a reality that does not aggregate in nations. His love is personal, abiding, and deep.

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Okay, before we even get fully started, yes, we can say both/and.

However, one of the statements Father made during the retreat caused a great deal less controversy than I had anticipated and it has been the food for much thought for the last several days. He pointed out that Judaism and Islam are religions of Orthopraxy, whereas Christianity tends to be a religion of orthodox.

Now, before I continue down this path, I should make very clear my own stand and the stand that I believe was held by Father Patrick, although I cannot speak for him. Orthodoxy is very important--doctrine defines the boundaries and contours of faith. As such it is the road-map, the landscape, and the surroundings for anything we do within the faith. Improper articulation of the truths of the faith can lead the faithful astray and dissuade those who might otherwise be attracted by the Splendor of the Truth. So I have no gripe with orthodoxy and would like to think that I try to remain clearly within the bounds of those attempting to think with the Church. (Even saying this I realize that I often fail, but I pray to be more successful even in those instances.)

However, the focus on orthodoxy often leads us off-track. If we're so concerned about whether or not someone is holding hands during the Our Father (which, I guess properly is a matter of orthodox orthopraxy) that we fail to make that person welcome in the Church, we have failed in our mission as a Christian. If we stand so firm on doctrine that we tend to drive off all visitors, we're doing something wrong.

When you think about it, as important as doctrine is, it is not in itself salvation. It can lead to salvation--but it is no guarantee.

I think about the parable of Jesus in which he talks about the two sons told by their father to go out and work the fields. The one son says,"No, I won't do it," and then either repents his hastiness or overcomes himself and goes out to work. The other son says, "Yes, I'll be right there," and never shows up. Who has done the Father's will?

As a former Baptist I used to fret about doctrine a lot; but then I was reminded of the final exam. We won't be asked to define hyperdulia and its proper object, nor to give details of the hypostatic union. But we will be separated into the sheep and the goats on a question not of doctrine but of practice: "When I was hungry, you gave me to eat; thirsty, you gave me to drink; naked, you clothed me." God isn't going to be too worried about how we interpret the Vatican documents on Ecumenical dialogue nor its fundamental teachings on interreligious dialogue with nonChristian faiths. These are all important matters. But more important is that if we see our Muslim brother ill, hurting, or wanting and we can do something about it, do we? If we see our Catholic sister in need, do we help her, or do we quiz her first about how Catholic she actually is?

I personally can't imagine any Catholic I know administering some sort of grueling orthodoxy test as a prerequisite for aid. Nor any Christian I know for that matter. But sometimes if you hear us talk among ourselves, we sound as though we would.

I don't need to work on my orthodoxy. But I will admit that I often fail in my orthopraxy and I fail most often because of my lack of compassion and my lack of comprehension of what can be done and what part I can play in it. I hide my head in the sand and pretend not to know what to do. You all may be aware that we have a major problem with citizens of other countries occupying American Domiciles without proper authorization. I struggle with the political question of what we need to do about these people. And yet I consistently refuse to vote for any measure that would deprive them of health care or access to education for their children. I support the organizations that visit them with medical care and food and clothing. But I have never helped one of these people myself--perhaps because the opportunity has not presented itself. But I often think--perhaps I would not do so because I haven't the depth of courage to live out the convictions of my faith in the face of the hostility of my neighbors. And yes, I think my faith would call me to see to it that regardless of the status of their paperwork, these people are treated with the dignity of human beings. Now, this does not prevent me from holding whatever view I care to hold with regard to how we "deal with" such people--I haven't made my mind up on this matter yet. The Bishops clearly teach that we have a right and an obligation to protect the interests of the people of our own country by whatever laws we should happen to make.

My point is not to challenge political boundaries here. I don't know what to do about people who are in this country illegally--except what compassion demands from one human being to another. Should they be returned home? I don't know. What I do know is that so long as they are here they should be fed and their children educated to the best of our ability to do so. Is it a drain on our resources? Yes. But I heard (and haven't yet confirmed) that most of us in the blog world are among the top 5% of the richest people in the world. Perhaps we have resources that could be shared. Perhaps we could live with a little less so that others who have not had our advantages might have a little more. This is an opinion, not a teaching of the Church,but it is an opinion born out of compassion. Every time I look at my son's face, I think about the children of Dafur or the horrendous picture I saw the other day of the children of Zimbabwe picking through the garbage to collect enough to eat. Are they any less precious than we are?

So suddenly, I find myself thinking about compassion and the demand and necessity for me to share in the suffering of others--share in it so as to alleviate it, not simply to make myself miserable as well. That, it seems to me, is the sacrificial love we are called to.

Do we give away everything? No. Do we give away what we are not entitled to give away--the security of our neighbors and of our children's children? No. There are bounds and reasonable bounds. But is there more we can do for others. I think yes, and I don't think it necessarily has to do with money.

Orthopraxy--do I share in the sorrows and the toils of my brothers and sisters in the Lord in such a way as I carry part of the burden? In this Lenten season I realize that I do not do nearly enough. This is a place for transformation that comes only with transformation of the heart,

As I said, nothing provocative, nothing controversial, but much very challenging to the way I presently live my life. Giving money is not enough. Who would be first in the kingdom of heaven must be last among the sisters and brothers on earth--the servant of the servants of God. Now there's a goal to strive for--to allow myself to become such a servant.

Only through prayer. Prayer alone can make so distant a goal even a remote possibility. And when I see that I see how far I am from the Father's love. Not that He is distant from me, but I place the distance between us because like the rich young man. . .

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The Paleness of Words

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from the First Psalm Prayer for Wednesday Week Three of Lent

God of mercy and goodness, when Christ called out to you in torment, you hear him and gave him victory over death because of his love for you. We already know the affection you have for us; fill us with a great love of your name, and we will proclaim you more boldly before men and happily lead them to celebrate your glory.

It's actually for the third Wednesday of the Psalter, but that's a detail.

Notice the oddly attenuated language of the second sentence. We have the horrible details of the agony of the crucifixion and then we have, "We already know the affection you have for us." This sounds like something a deist might write about God. He is affectionate. Affection is what I have for my dog and it hardly does justice to:

Song of Songs 8:6-7

Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame.

Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it: if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned.

That is not "affection," something that might well be shared amongst 70 year old retired colonels in an Edwardian Men's Club. This is love. This is the love of Christ--stronger than death, reaching out beyond the grave and demanding the resurrection on the sheer strength of the love for God and for all humanity--for God BECAUSE OF the love for all humanity--loving us so much that He desires to incorporate each of us in all of our diverse ways and forms into His body and thus make His body a patchwork of the nature of love, stronger for its many facets--stronger for the passion of the Scholar and defender, stronger for the passion of the Servant, stronger for the deep devotion of the mystic, stronger for the deep devotion of the missionary.

God's love for us is not affection, nor is it mere fondness. It is a love that burns in cleansing flame, a love that transforms, a love that utterly changes what it touches while leaving it exactly the same. His love is an unquenchable fire that He wants to burn in our own hearts it is the exact image of the love any good parent bears a child, taken beyond the limits of our ability to understand because the Triune, Uniate, Simple, Infinite Being that is God is all Love.

So when we read the wan and etiolated synonyms for the yearning of God toward us, the desire for us, the will for us to join Him eternally, let us recall for a moment the Song of Songs and remember what those words are standing for. The unquenchable, eternal, brilliant, transforming, all-encompassing flame of love whose burning exalts us, lifts us up, and changes us into the One who loves us--if we say only "Let it be done unto me as you will."

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The Retreat

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First, thank you all for the prayers. The retreat for a variety of reasons was a grueling, penitential, and refining experience from which I derived a bounty of graces. I won't go into those details here because they aren't of universal or even of a minority audience interest. However, there are several reflections that I think may be worth sharing because they caused such a stir.

Our retreat leader was Father Patrick McMahon. Father Patrick is the O.Carm Vatican expert on the Brown Scapular and with Fr. Sam Anthony Morello (OCD) wrote the current brown scapular catechesis. For anyone who knows what this is about, it is enough to set the scene. Fr. Patrick is a very scholarly, very orthodox man--his political opinions tend toward the liberal side of things--a volatile mix easily subject to misinterpretation and misrepresentation. While I did not agree with some of his opinions, I found his teaching solid, interesting, and . . . transforming.

Let's start with something startlingly uncontroversial, that begins with a controversial proposition. It is Father Patrick's opinion (one with which I concur) that politicians who support abortion should not be denied communion. I understand that there is a variety of thinking on the matter and I respect the positions of those who differ from me on the matter. But what Father Patrick derived from this I found most interesting. Reflecting particularly on the Carmelite vocation he stated that it is not the Carmelite vocation to sniff out heresy, expose, and denounce it. He said there was a perfectly good Order for those who wished to do so and recommended all such to look into the Dominicans. Now, it is part of the vocation of all Christians in good standing to correct error in love--but what I appreciated here was the laser sharp focus on the parameters of the Carmelite vocation.

(For those who are interested, his ultimate conclusion was that all Carmelites participate in the vocation that St. Therese identified; that is, Carmelites are called to be love at the heart of the Church. This proposition led readily into certain aspects of social justice and mercy, but also into some unexpected side streams that were quite rewarding.)

I like the idea of not being a heresy hunter. Heaven knows, I'm not qualified for one thing. For another, I'm far better equipped to aid those with the reason and argumentation through my prayers than I am to leap into the fray and muddle the whole thing. I want to welcome those who do not understand or who have a different understanding of Church teaching. I want to pray for them and be their companions on the journey because I started there myself. Drawn by a deep hunger for the real presence that I understood even through my Baptist upbringing, I came into the Church with an enormous amount of fundamentalist protestant and secular liberal baggage. If it hadn't been for those who loved me into the Church I could never have completed the journey. I was completely turned off by the attitude of the apologists who thought they knew it all and who were more seemingly more rigid, unbending, and uncaring than the most rigid Calvinist I had ever encountered. This was my judgment on them and it condemned me; however, there were those who did not argue with me, but gently prayed with me and corrected some of my misapprehensions about the Church.

We need both. We need the strength of reason, of right doctrine, of correct understanding. Those people support the church in reason and in faith. They are probably instrumental in many conversions. But we also need to have those who meet us at the door, broken, dirty, confused as we are; those who show us to seats beside them and who spoon-feed and pray for us as we are gradually healed by the wisdom of the Church, by Love Himself who comes to those of us who are willing. I want to be one of that army, incapable as I am of it--that is my desire to pray and counsel and listen and be with those who really desire the truth. I leave to others the intricate explanations of the details. I know enough of the faith to be a general guide--when they wish to know about the hypostatic union and the exact moment of transubstantiation, I'll send them on to the better informed. Even if I sometimes know those kinds of things, they flee from my head at a moment's notice. In my life, I need to rely entirely upon the Holy Spirit to speak the right words and to be the right person for the people who come to me. Ultimately, they don't matter that much to me, because I don't think that serving Jesus is in those details for me. Indeed, I have been given a clear preview of the final exam--"When I was hungry, you gave me to eat; thirsty, you gave me to drink; naked, you clothed me. . ."

Any way, it served once again as a profound confirmation of my vocation.

If I have time later, I'll write a bit about another really remarkable statement that will probably stir much more controversy than this one.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Christian Life/Personal Holiness category from March 2007.

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