Loving God: February 2004 Archives

Speaking to a very dear friend yesterday, I was inspired to take one of two paths that seemed to lay before me in Lent. This path wanders down the road of certain classics of a mystical bent. And a good start to this wandering is a small reflection of the first chapter of the first book of Thomas á Kempis's classic The Imitation of Christ. In the first few chapters he is attacking overblown and puffed-up and pretentious knowledge--that is knowledge absent a love of Christ.

In that first chapter we find this reminder for Lent:

"It is better to experience contrition than to be able to define it."

Contrition--" And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil." (Joel 2:13)

Contrition is perhaps the first turning of repentence. Regret what you have done, the time you have wasted putting a space between yourself and the Lord. And more than mere regret, act upon the knowledge of what you have done. Now is the appropriate time, now is the acceptable season--not merely because it is Lent, but because the present is the only moment we have to make any changes. We cannot walk the path alone, but we can be steadfast in our determination to walk it no matter the cost.

The season of Lent is a gift given to remind us of the necessity and value of walking close to God and speaking with Him frequently. Too often we put everything off for this season and we spend forty days in a workout. (Better forty days than none at all.) But what is the point of Lent if you start a good work and at the end of the time let it go? Lent is about changing your life, not merely for forty days but for all of eternity. It is a time to take a step closer to God and to hold your gains against the ebb and flo of the world. Don't take on the discipline of Lent with a grim determination that you'll make it through these forty days and then it will be over. Take on Lent as a joyous garment, as a coat of many colors, a gift from your Father in Heaven. Dance before the Lord in joy and hope, knowing that He wants nothing more (and nothing less) than all that you are and all that your will ever be. He wants your unstinting love, your total gift of self and in return you will get . . .

Everything. Everything. Everything that the creator of all can bestow upon you--all the love in the outstretched arms of His son, all the love of a true Father's heart, all the Love that gave rise to the Holy Spirit. You will become the true temple of the Lord's delight. You will be the palace of celebration and a sign of joy to all the world. You will be a vessel of the light of Salvation and the apple of your Father's eye.

Reach out in Joy to the Father who reaches out in joy to you. Rend your hearts, not your garments, regret the time together you could have had and let that fuel your desire to come ever nearer. Rejoice that the season of invitation is upon us once again and make good use of that season. Rejoice in the God who loves you and let that love lead to a permanent and obvious change in the way you conduct life. Nothing less is an acceptable return for the wonderful gift God gives us every day.

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Lent Is in the Air


I see already the signs of Lent upon St. Blogs. Comments are slowing down, posts are drying up. I haven't heard anyone swear off blogging, but I know that is just around the corner. (Or perhaps I've simply overlooked it in my rounds of the day.) Well as usual, I will redouble my efforts in Lent and will attempt to share some of the things that God brings to my attention. I will dedicate myself to using the blog to foster a prayerful approach to God and a joyous reception of Him wherever we may find Him. And I want this to be a constant reminder of his unrelenting love-- a spring-tide that knows no neap, a flo that has no ebb. His love is a torrent, a rushing, raging, ravenous, all-consuming embrace of endless delight and joy. It is this fire that makes the greatest mind of Christendom say, "All my words are as straw." It is this that draws us to say, "My God and My All."

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Q. So who is called to this union with God anyhow?

A. You are.

Q. What do you mean me? That stuff is for the Saints.

A. And by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ you are among them.

Q. Yes, I'm one of the saints but I'm not one of the Saints. I can't do what they did.

A. True, you cannot because you are you and they are who they were. But you can't get around the call to the kingdom. "Strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leads unto salvation." The strait gate and narrow way are Jesus Christ Himself. Contemplation of God is the road to union. Contemplative prayer opens the gate--the way is open to all, but few choose to follow it.

Q. But I can't be a contemplative, I'm too busy.

A. Yes, you can. You need to decide to do so and then lean completely on grace. We are nothing of ourselves, what we do we do through Jesus Christ.

Q. Okay, back to union with God. Why is this so important?

A. Precisely because it is what God has ordained as your destiny. Either in this life or in the next you will be in union or not. And not being in union is like being perpetually unmade and at sixes and sevens with all around you. We call it Hell. Heaven is divine union where the body of Christ functions as a body.

Q. Yes. But isn't union with God something only special people can do?

A. No. It will happen to the faithful who die in God's grace. Some of these lived the life while on Earth. Some will come to live it only after a time of conforming to God's will--a place called purgatory. But all who die in His good grace will get there, one way or another.

Q. Well, I can just wait and let my firends and family pray me out of purgatory.

A. Yes, you could do that. But think of what you are missing now. You could be living in heaven itself while on Earth. You could know how deeply and completely God loves you. You could be the instrument of salvation of thousands of lost souls. You could be the teacher of many who lack any substance whatsoever in thier lives. Union is not a thing to fear and avoid, but a destiny to be pursued relentlessly. "As a deer panteth after running streams, my heart panteth after thee O my God."

Q. Okay. But isn't it a lot of hard work and difficult thinking?

A. Not at all. Is it hard work and difficult thinking to talk to your son or daughter. Is it hard work to meet a friend for coffee and listen to her pour out her heart about her current trials and afflictions? God longs for this from you. He loves you as though you alone were the whole Earth and his desire for you is more fierce than Satan's and more fervent. The difference is that He loves you enough to ask you to come home by your own will. Satan will gladly drag you wherever he'd like you to go.

Q. How do I start?

A. In two words--shut up. Longer, "Be still and know that I am God." And yet more, go to prayer with the expectation that the Lord will communicate as He sees fit, and say it to him, "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening." Fifteen minutes a day--ten minutes to start--go and wait upon the word of God. Don't expect miracles--it didn't take a week for you to become so mired in the world as you are, it won't take a week to escape from its trappings.

Q. But how do I know it is working?

A. You don't. But it is. Remain faithful to your meeting time and if nothing else happens, simply offer up the time in love and quiet. At the end of it say a short prayer of praise and thanksgiving.

Q. What if I get distracted?

A. Ah, a question for another time. Right now, don't worry about it. Go and wait. Send out love and love will return.

(By the way--I'm in the same place as a great many in St. Blogs--no further along, and perhaps even trailing a lot of you. What I report here I do not report from the fullness of my own experience--I report it from the depth of the experiences of the saints. So do not be disheartened and above all else do not dare to compare yourself with another--the heart cannot be the lungs, the hand cannot be the feet. Rejoice in what the Lord has granted you and live it to the fullest. Aspire like St. Thérèse to return to God empty handed, having given out and passed back all the graces you have been granted. God will see the lowliness of your estate and rejoice in the love you have shared with all.)

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St. John of the Cross in The Ascent of Mount Carmel (book II, chapter 6 to be precise) tells us that faith is the dark night of the intellect. It took me a great many readings to begin to understand what St. John meant by this statement. Faith accepts and integrates in a supernatural way what the intellect can only assent to.

For example, we know by faith that Jesus is fully human and fully God. We know this only by faith because, while the intellect may parse the sentence and be able to make a comprehensible statement of the individual words, the statement itself is not resolvable within the intellect. We can make all sorts of tortured analogies and metaphors, but the intellect "knows" that what is 100% one thing cannot be 100% something else. It is inconceivable that something might be 100% dog and 100% cat at the same time. So too, it is not possible to apprehend with mere intellectual prowess the means by which the truth is accomplished in Jesus. Nevertheless, we know it is. We know this by faith--the intellect assents to it, and thus seems to know it--but if we really grappled with the statement with mind alone we would not be able to resolve it. In the darkness of faith we assent and know this as part of the reality around us. It is truer than many things that we can prove, and more a part of our world. (For example how many people care about Euclid's hypothesis of parallel lines and points extraneous to them? How relevant is that for the majority of us.)

In the end, it is not what we know. We start by knowing, but eventually the understanding must be darkened because it is constantly looking for explanations and God will choose to perfect us in faith, where the understanding is rooted so deep that we have no need of proofs. The proofs are the breathing we do every day.

So, when wrassling with theological imponderables or Christological controversies, take heart. It little matters what the outcome, so long as the will continues to follow and seek out God, because our imperfect understandings will be perfected in the Dark Night of Faith.

(Yes, I know this is a horrific thought to the Jesuits and Domincans among us, but both St. Ignatius and St. Dominic eventually testify to its truthfulness. St. John of the Cross didn't come up with anything new, he simply stated it for all to see and read.)

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He Said It--On Holding Hands

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Mark at Minute Particulars has summed up what I've always thought about holding hands during the Our Father. And while it may not be in the rubrics, I am quick to point out that frequent confession was not always the practice either and a groundswell of popular opinion moved it into the realm of the blessing that it is.

Too often we cut ourselves off. The very gestures we use in prayer tend to indicate a closed circle, an isolated fortress, a Man alone Before God. I like the connectivity of holding hands, and even if I hold no other hands, I must be connected to the family I love, my lifeline and my tangible, visible, constant, gift from God. But holding a stranger's hand is good as well--perhaps even better because it indicates a willingness to unite our fates, to both go willingly where the Lord leads, and to some extent to help one another. The gesture forces us to break the closed circle of our prayer and to momentarily step into community.

Now, I'm not for forcing this on anyone who is not so inclined. But I have to say that I am always favorably impressed with the congregation, if not necessarily the liturgy in the place where I see this done. I enter into the gesture willingly because it is only in each other that we receive the tangible sign of God's love.

However, not all are comfortable with this, and each must have the freedom of his or her conscience. It is not up to me to impose rules, and I do try to obey those imposed by the Bishops. However, this one always overcomes any qualms. Sometimes it is necessary to express what is in the heart and move forward with it--perhaps the Bishops might perceive what is being silently spoken there and recognize both its worth and its necessity. Perhaps not. But I suppose one of the advantages of not being raised Catholic is I don't have the burden of the past to deal with. I can go with my heart.

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Someone It Would Be Better Not to Know


from The Spoils of Poynton
Henry James

It was hard to believe that a woman could look presentable who had been kept awake for hours by the wallpaper in her room; yet none the less, as in her fresh widow's weeds she rustled across the hall, she was sustained by the consciousness, which always added to the unction of her social Sundays that she was, as usual the only person in the house incapable of wearing in her preparation the horrible stamp of the same exceptional smartness that would be conspicuous in a grocer's wife. She would rather have perished than have looked endimanchée.

It would be better not to know this person, and yet too often we ARE this person. Perhaps not in matters of attire or anything so seemingly superficial. But it seems to be a quality of the human animal that we must make us/them distinctions. "Oh, we would never go to THAT restaurant, they make lima bean souffle with lard." "Oh we couldn't worship at that church, they hold hands during the 'Our Father.'" "We couldn't consider a mass in the vernacular--it is so completely ordinary and devoid of the majesty and true worship of our Lord and King." And so on. This internal riving is ugly and unbecoming no matter what justification we drum up for it. Yes, it's perfectly fine not to care to hold hands during the 'Our Father.' (In fact, it appears to be the "rule.") Yes, preference for the Latin Mass is perfectly legitimate. It is in making a point of these distinctions that we are becoming like the woman in James's passage. We harden and abrade. We choose our own and exclude those who do not toe the line. We ridicule the One who would dine with tax collectors and prostitutes.

It is very difficult to see sometimes. But perhaps a little time could be spent profitably seeing where we build fences rather than bridges. We do our Lord no justice in supporting an idea or artifact, no matter how good, by hurting people. We do ourselves no good if our self-esteem is erected on the thousand little cuts we need to give those around us.

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from The Hidden Life--"Before the Face of God II"
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

"Through him, with him, and in him in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all honor and glory is yours, Almighty Father, for ever and ever." With these solemn words, the priest ends the eucharistic prayer at the center of which is the mysterious event of the consecration. These words at the same time encapsulate the prayer of the church: honor and glory to the triune God through, with, and in Christ. Although the words are directed to the Father, all glorification of the Father is at the same time glorification of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, the prayer extols the majesty that the Father imparts to the Son and that both impart to the Holy Spirit from eternity to eternity.

All praise of God is through, with, and in Christ. Through him, because only through Christ does humanity have access to the Father and because his existence as God-man and his work of salvation are the fullest glorification of the Father; with him, because all authentic prayer is the fruit of union with Christ and at the same time buttresses this union, and because in honoring the Son one honors the Father and vice versa; in him, because the praying church is Christ himself, with every individual praying member as a part of his Mystical Body, and because the Father is in the Son and the Son the reflection of the Father, who makes his majesty visible. The dual meanings of through, with, and in clearly express the God-man's mediation.

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from The Hidden Life, "Before the Face of God"
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Carmelites can repay God's love by their everyday lives in no other way than by carrying out their daily duties faithfully in every respect all the little sacrifices that a regimen structured day after day in all its details demands of an active spirit; all the self- control that living in close proximity with different kinds of people continually requires and that is achieved with a loving smile; letting no opportunity go by for serving others in love. Finally, crowning this is the personal sacrifice that the Lord may impose on the individual soul. This is the "little way," a bouquet of insignificant little blossoms which are daily placed before the Almighty perhaps a silent, life-long martyrdom that no one suspects and that is at the same time a source of deep peace and hearty joyousness and a fountain of grace that bubbles over everything we do not know where it goes, and the people whom it reaches do not know from where it comes.

What more need be said?

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The Meaning of Prayer in Work


from The Hidden Life
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

But we have the Savior not only in the form of reports of witnesses to his life. He is present to us in the most Blessed Sacrament. The hours of adoration before the Highest Good and the listening for the voice of the eucharistic God are simultaneously "meditation on the Law of the Lord" and "watching in prayer." But the highest level is reached "when the Law is deep within our hearts" (Ps 40:8), when we are so united with the triune God whose temple we are, that his Spirit rules all we do or do not do. Then it does not mean we are forsaking the Lord when we do the work that obedience requires of us. Work is unavoidable as long as we are subject to nature's laws and to the necessities of life. And, following the word and example of the apostle Paul, our holy Rule commands us to earn our bread by the work of our hands. But for us this work is always merely a means and must never be an end in itself. To stand before the face of God continues to be the real content of our lives.

How then do we pray always? We do so when we have invited God to be with us always, when we have reached a level of unity with Him, when we have surrendered everything to Him.

Praying always is something like a marriage of long duration where it is sufficient to be present together. You needn't jabber each other's ears off with protestations of your love and devotion. Your presence together speaks volumes that no words can speak.

However, that comfortable marriage comes only after years of work and of saying the things that must be said and of doing the things that must be done. One does not achieve unity by ignoring one another--nor by simple toleration. There is always a growth in love fostered by the blessings of the Holy Trinity present at the heart of the sacrament of matrimony.

So too, the union with God doesn't just happen. You must take what pains you can to express your love to God, and perhaps more importantly, (and much more difficult), you must allow God to love you. In this grace alone works to open you up to the love of God--an active, invigorating, growing love. You cannot perceive it by trying to do so.

The only way to receive this love is to be obedient to God's commandments and rely upon His Grace, present powerfully in the sacraments, but also present in "the sacrament of the present moment." We live only in the present, and it is only in the present that we can experience God. God's love is eternal, but its expression is in time, in each moment of each day. Every breath is a gift, everything that comes to us in a moment is a love-letter. We need to refocus our vision to find God in the gift of the moment, and open our wills to accept that grace.

Only in this way is it possible to grow in love. His grace opens us up to His grace. The best we can manage is to not get in the way. And so, when we are in a hurry and stuck in the world's largest parking lot, regard that as a moment from the Lord, the gift of the present moment and thank Him for it. No matter what happens, resolve, with His help, to accept it and to converse with Him about it. In this way, you grow toward that union that requires no conversation to complete it because it is a continual conversation in itself. Like those grown old together in marriage, words become unnecessary because there is a communion and communication of being. Much more so then with our Beloved Father, Spouse, and Comforter. All Earthly marriage is a reflection of the true Divine marriage of God to the individual Soul. All that is good in marriage is expressed in this Union and because God is simple in Good, the Divine Union, unlike the human state, can have no shadow of evil in it. It is pure, holy, and good--the transcendant and encompassing marriage. Moreover, it is a gift, waiting for anyone who is willing to open it. God invites us to come and partake,

And the Spirit and the bride say, "Come." And let him that heareth say, "Come." And let him that is athirst come; and whosoever will, let him take the Water of Life freely. (Rev 22: 17).

And more, the message is repeated and repeated throughout the Bible and probably most profoundly accented in the Song of Songs.

I would lead thee, and bring thee into my mother's house, who would instruct me; I would cause thee to drink of spiced wine of the juice of my pomegranate. His left hand should be under my head, and his right hand should embrace me. I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that ye stir not up nor awake my love, until he please." (Song 8:2-4)

Of enormous interest is that this image suggests at once marital union and the embrace of a father supporting the head of the smallest infant. The other day T.S. O'Rama was commenting on the need for us to become little children. And I would say amen to that--very little children indeed. For little children are simple, they accept what comes to them and, in their way are thankful for it. So too we must learn to be thankful for what comes to us from God who holds us tenderly as a Father holds an only child that he has waited years and years to see. His embrace at once protects, strengthens, and comforts us. He is at once Father and Mother to us combining the very best of both human roles to be truly our All in All.

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Entering the Dark Night

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I haven't even begun to, and I won't make any pretensions of the sort. I have read much about it, but from experience have no inkling. Although I may have started understanding in a more profound way. All these fine thoughts and sentiments must be crucified and go the way of all flesh until what I desire is entirely and only what God desires for me. Even desiring Him is of my own making and so that desire must be transformed into His desire for me. That is, presently my longing is MY longing. In that dark night, MY longing for Him will be transformed into Jesus's longing on the cross. There will no longer be an I but it will be God within me speaking back to God. I will truly become His servant because I will have become His house. He will dwell in me in a substantial way for all to see. Assuming of course I will to stay the course.

But I ask, and not rhetorically, what other course is there? Where else is there to go? You, Lord, have the words of eternal life--only in you may I be transformed in such a way as to enter eternal life.

All of these are intellectual recognitions. So with the grace of God I must start up again that slippery slope of Mount Carmel, relying entirely on grace, and more on the pull of love that wishes me up that slope. I cannot detach from things around me by my own will. Even the notion of detachment, of leaving behind, of moving upward becomes in its own way an attachment. So I must look at the Father with the intensity of love that I have for the son He gave me and receive that love back. I must dwell in His love and take the elevator to the Father--the elevator of His loving embrace. Because I know for certain that He desires all of His children to ask and to be invited into the circle of His arms. They are open for us all, and His great heart aches and bleeds so long as there is a single one of us outside that loving embrace.

Look at your children and realize the intensity of what is there in your heart and turn that gaze to your Father, loving Him beyond the limits you thought possible. Ask and it shall be answered, seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened. Or better yet, the Father awaits the return of the prodigal, watching with careful eye for any sign of his return. And as we make the slightest turn, He bounds out from his palace from the greatness of His throneroom to embrace us and bring us home.

And so I hope I see a sign of turning, and I pray this heart of stone becomes a heart of flesh for Him to do with as He wills. I start by wanting to give all to the Father all the intensity of who am I and what I am capable of doing and feeling, I will to be His. And next, I wait and fast and pray. I thank God for the season almost upon us. Perhaps this awakening or partial awakening is a small indication of what He wants for me this Lent. Please pray for me.

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Warning: What follows is intensely personal, and I trust not offensive to all. However, I give fair warning knowing that some may be uncomfortable reading it. If so, I apologize, but I also respectfully point out that you were warned.

Unusually for me, I am awake in the night. I don't often wake up or at least I don't often feel compelled to get up. But tonight overwhelming ickiness brings me to light and to the heart of this community, dreams of which awakened me.

And so I wonder how do I best render service to the Lord. Surely not by sitting here and typing. And yet sitting and typing helps all that is within to spill out, to begin to make sense.

Perhaps I am hearing echoes of Barbara Dent's book, which I finished tonight. Perhaps I fear growing closer to the Lord even as I am drawn closer. Nothing is clear except the impulse to say "I love you" to God. I want to make that love known to all the world. And I feel impotent to do so. No words say what is in my heart. No ideas convey the weight of God's love for me and the yearning I have to requite that love--to return kind for kind. I cannot love Him as He loves me and yet that is all that I desire to do.

Here in the late night, in the early morning, I raise my eyes to God on high and I thank Him among all the peoples letting them all hear the good He has done for me. He calls me and I find myself powerless to answer and I am devastated by my weakness. Only He can answer the call He issues and it can happen only in His time.

But here I am naked before Him and offering all that I am, all that I have, all that I can do. Take me Lord and use me for Your glory. Let me see you and let me take you to those who do not know you. Let me love with Your love. Let my heart be Your heart.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Loving God category from February 2004.

Loving God: December 2003 is the previous archive.

Loving God: March 2004 is the next archive.

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