Sunday, October 11, 2015

Compunction: the gift of tears.

Stemming originally from bitter repentance, weeping develops into tears of rapture with Divine love.  And this is a sign that our prayer is heard and through its action we are led into new imperishable life. (Coniaris, “Philokalia: Bible of Orthodox Spirituality”, 175).

We know that the English language is very limited in some ways. Think, for example, of the word love. In Christianity, one of these over used words is gift. Sometimes we use the word gift to refer only to the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in Isaiah 11:2-3. Other times we use the word gift to refer to the charisms discussed by St. Paul in his letters (e.g. the gifts of tongues, interpretation of tongues, prophecy, healing and discernment of spirits). And often we use the word gift for the various blessings that the Lord has given us.

At Catholic Charismatic Renewal events, one often hears of the gift of tears. I suspect that this term is borrowed from the Pentecostal tradition, perhaps without enough scrutiny. Charismatic Christians will often include the gift of tears in the list of possible charisms, although this term won't be found in Scripture. However, we know that the Holy Spirit gives various charisms to various people and that St. Paul's list of charisms is not complete. (Consider, for example, Padre Pio's supposed gift of bilocation.) The Holy Spirit is infinitely creative. So the fact that I can't find a certain charism in Scripture doesn't necessarily mean that it's bogus. But St. Paul does say that the charisms are given for the building up and the edification of the Church (Ephesians 4:12, 1 Corinthians 14:5), which means they can be used in service of the rest of the community. I haven't been able to think of a way that my tears, which may be useful for my own edification, can be used to support the rest of the community.

However, if one were to say that the Holy Spirit gives to some individuals the special grace of healing tears (or better yet healing through tears) then I would say there is a basis for this gift in both Scripture and Tradition. We need only to look to the woman who bathed Jesus' feet with her tears to better understand this grace, which has traditionally been referred to as tears of compunction. (Luke 7:36-38, 44-47). (A far better discussion of this topic is available HERE. In fact, please please please read it. I found it after writing most of this post and it's AWESOME!)
One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house, and took his place at table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. […] Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house, you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

I have been to charismatic events with many stoic people (myself included), emotion bottlers who don't know how to experience emotions in a healthy way. Maybe as a small child someone was repeatedly told "if you don't stop crying you're going to get a spanking" (I don't remember that happening to me…) and learned at a very young age that negative emotions are something to be ashamed of and to hide and ignore. Whatever the reason, many of us while growing up in this culture underwent a certain hardening of the heart. This can cause all kinds of problems including a lack of compassion for others who are suffering. Even many secular psychologists say that those bottled up emotions are not gone, but rather still present in the bottle and waiting for something to open that bottle so that they can be dealt with. Until those emotions are handled in a healthy way the person may suffer from anxiety and other emotional problems. When finally addressing the situation very intense emotions are felt and, although the process can be painful, it brings inner healing. At charismatic renewal events the Holy Spirit often opens this bottle and begins the process of softening the heart.

It's certainly possible to have such an experience of softening in silence and solitude. But for whatever reason, for many of the stoics I know, the initial trigger was the charismatic renewal. Often I have seen a friend open his/her heart a tiny bit and experience, for the very first time, an emotional connection with God. This is why the charismatic renewal boasts of helping people have a personal relationship with God, because so many people are feeling that relationship for the very first time and such an experience transforms a person's spiritual life, from an intellectual faith to a living faith. For the stoics I know, this healing has always been accompanied by a flood of tears. I'm no expert, but experientially I know that the shedding of tears greatly enhances the healing that I experience. And it's a beautiful thing, since we are washed clean by water in Baptism.

But what does this have to do with tears of compunction? I believe this flood of tears is a precursor to the true tears of compunction. Note that compunction is the healthy feeling of guilt that comes from the Holy Spirit. It might better be understood as sorrow for one's sins and the collective sins of the world. The Blessed Virgin Mary, who we believe never committed any sins, has the greatest sorrow for sin. And so we see that as a person grows in holiness his/her compunction only increases. But for us beginners, it makes sense to me that the Lord would preferentially give this grace of supernatural sorrow to those who have difficulty processing emotions in their natural life.

This compunction is very different from the anxious and neurotic guilt that we often feel, which comes from pride. Because so many of us suffer from neurotic guilt, which is actually sinful, we are sometimes encouraged to refuse to feel guilty about previous sins once they have been confessed. It's true we should realize that God has completely forgiven them and we will no longer be charged with them on judgement day. God is so merciful! But unless we have the grace of perfect contrition for our sins, we're still marked with the stain of sin and will need to be cleansed of this stain through temporal punishment*. Back in the Baltimore Catechism days, penitents confessing venial sins were encouraged to call to mind some previous (and already confessed!) mortal sins in order to stir up greater contrition for the cleansing of the remaining stain of sin.

St. Anthony the Great and St. Paul of Thebes
of the Desert Fathers

Compunction also strengthens our faith. In the book The Noonday Devil, written on the topic of acedia which is spiritual boredom or despair, there is a section on the Desert Fathers. The book describes one particular incidence in which a young hermit asked his spiritual director what to do about his horrible spiritual desolation. He just wanted to give up and go back to the world. His spiritual director's advice was to "go back to your cell and weep for your sins". Shedding tears of compunction is an act of hope, the antidote to acedia, and an act of praise of God's mercy. It's a paradoxical experience of joy-filled sorrow. In fact, according to St. John Chrisostom: "These tears do not bring sorrow; they bring more joy than all the laughter of the world can gain for you." It is a sweet sort of suffering. This ability to go to my room and weep for my sins is certainly a gift that only God can give. Without a special grace, I will simply beat myself up about previous sins and fuel my low self-esteem which, ironically, is a type of pride.

In conclusion, we all need this gift of tears and should ask for it. Compunction will heal our hardness of heart, stir up in us true contrition and facilitate our complete union with God. In Don Ruotolo's book Come, O Holy Spirit! he shares the following prayer 'to obtain the gift of tears' which was supposedly printed in a Missal:
Omnipotent and gentle God who, to slake the thirst of thy people, didst make a fountain of living water gush forth from the rock, draw from our hard hearts tears of compunction, that we might weep for our sins and, by thy mercy, merit to gain their forgiveness. 
Kindly pour into our hearts, Lord God, the grace of the Holy Spirit which, with cries and tears, will blot out the stain of our sins and, by thy generosity, obtain for us their long sot pardon. Through Christ our Lord.

*Some people will be uncomfortable with my use of the word punishment. Why would we be punished for a sin that has been forgiven?? Ok, perhaps a better word is purification or purgation. The sin has been forgiven but whatever defect that allowed the sin to happen in the first place is still present unless I have perfect contrition. I need to be freed from that defect in order to be perfect like my Heavenly Father is perfect. My mother always said "If you were really sorry, you wouldn't do it anymore!" She was both right and wrong about that. She was right because, if I truly understood the wrong that I was doing (i.e. perfect contrition) and, therefore, was truly sorry for doing it, then I would not do that thing anymore. However, my mother was wrong in the sense that we are fallen human beings with imperfect contrition and therefore I never truly see the evil and fully turn from it until the day that the Lord gives me perfect contrition. And, hopefully, that will be the moment that the Lord takes me from this life!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Healing of families.

A couple of weeks ago I attended a one day retreat with some friends. This was led by Fr. Philip Scott who founded the Family of Jesus community. Above is a link to a talk by Fr. Philip that covers some of the material he mentioned that day. It was extremely helpful to me and, since I took lots of notes, I have included my summary here. Of course this is just a sketch of what he actually said, but retreat DVDs are available HERE.

Father Philip's retreat focused on father/mother wounds from growing up under less than ideal family circumstances. Since my father was totally absent growing up, Father Philip and many other spiritual leaders and psychologists would say that certain developmental issues were virtually inevitable. Unfortunately, a mother cannot impart a father's blessing and a father cannot impart a mother's blessing. The complete lack of a father/mother's blessing also weakens the blessing of the remaining parent who is now almost inevitably emotionally wounded and physically/mentally taxed by single parenthood. Also, Fr. Philip says there is something special about the biological connection between father/mother and child. Other male and female role models can certainly have a tremendously positive impact on a child's development, but cannot completely protect the child from suffering the lack of the biological father/mother's blessing. This is not so hard for me to believe, considering that in so many cases, even the most loving and understanding adoptive parents can't relieve their children of the desire to be known and loved by their biological parents.

The mother's blessing has the greatest impact on our social interactions, i.e. nurturing. The father's blessing is most important for stability, courage, self confidence (i.e. protecting and providing).

The father/mother wound comes from an absence of the father/mother's blessing in the child's life. With the blessing, the heart of the child knows that it is loved. Without the blessing, the child is faced with two primary challenges:

1.) The one who has not received the blessing feels that he has to be strong.

This often manifests in stoicism, a coldness and inability/fear of showing emotions externally, suppression of emotions, independence and insistence that I can take care of everything on my own and don't need help from anybody else. The problem is that we are weak. Life gives us plenty of opportunities to discover that we are not actually in control of external situations or even in control of our own feelings. The person who has not received the blessing often gets angry and/or discouraged easily and feels intense shame when things go wrong. "When they sin, the world falls apart. They may confess, but continue to feel guilty."

2.) The one who has not received the blessing does not have a clear sense of his own identity.

The person who has not received the blessing creates his own identity. He has to invent who he is because he does not know who he is. This can manifest itself in eccentricity, rebelliousness, lack of direction or motivation, depression and feeling that life has no meaning, a lack of understanding of one's mission and purpose in life.

One who has not received the blessing struggles intensely with loneliness. He compares himself with others, feels frustrated, powerless and lacks peace. He has a lot of noise inside his head, negative self-talk.

According to Fr. Philip, there are 5 necessary components of the father/mother blessing.

1.) Touch
This is especially important for children because they don't understand concepts. Children touch everything, put everything they can into their mouths!, and need to feel things to know that they are real. Touch that conveys love is necessary for the child to feel loved. A child that does not receive this aspect of the blessing continues to need that love as he/she transitions into adolescence and adulthood and usually seeks it in the wrong places, through sexual experiences.

2.) Words
Love also needs to be expressed in words. Time and again I would hear from the men in prison something along the lines of: "I don't care if my father is still an alcoholic and making all the wrong decisions. I just wish that at least once in his life he would tell me that he loves me." Words have power and the blessing builds up the child. Words spoken in anger kill love. A person who has not received this component of the blessing, or has experienced the father/mother's curse, is often hypersensitive. Some families don't share their feelings at all. The parents' inability to express feelings in a healthy way is transmitted to the children who feel that they are not free to express feelings. There are often a lot of secrets in families that do not communicate openly.

3.) Time
Parents need to show their love by spending time with children. Not only should the parents be around, but time should be spent entering into the child's world and communicating at the child's level. It is important to make the effort to really know the child, that he may feel understood. Again, "in a healthy family you are allowed to have feelings and to share them".

4.) If my mom and dad really knew me, they could help me discover my calling.
An important way in which the father/mother blesses the child is to help him discover his unique identity as a child of God and the path to which the Lord is calling him. Without this the child has a poor sense of identity and feels he is facing life alone.

5.) Discipline
The father/mother loves the child even when disciplining him when these occasions of stress are treated as teaching moments. The parents again enter the child's world to understand why he is behaving in such a way and to help the child feel loved, accepted, and understood.

Men who have not received the blessing typically try to impress (e.g. blaring radios from jacked up cars with monster truck tires). Women who have not received the blessing tend to dress immodestly in order to attract attention.

With God there is a way out!
It is necessary to realize we are weak. God will send us plenty of opportunities to acknowledge this. In order to avoid despair upon realizing that we are weak, we must call upon God to be our strength. We must leave every problem in His hands to resolve as He sees fit. (This is the basis of the 12 step programs.)

It is necessary to feel our feelings! And therefore it is necessary to go back and feel the feelings that we did not allow ourselves to feel before (suppressed emotions). This time we go back knowing that Jesus is there with us. As we progress along this path of healing, God will begin to help us see the reality of our situation, so that we can distinguish our true selves from the selves we have invented. We will be adopted into the perfect family of the Holy Trinity where we know without a doubt that we are completely understood and completely loved.

Note that feelings in and of themselves are a natural human response to the circumstances of our lives and therefore are not sinful. So we should not try to ignore and control our emotions but rather allow ourselves to recognize them. It is the way that we behave in response to our emotions that can be sinful. Attempting to smother our feelings often can make them grow stronger. For example, trying to smother anger can increase it and cause our angry outburst to become even more violent. Instead, we must immediately acknowledge the feeling of anger and that we are blinded by it (strong emotions impair our ability to reason), call upon God to handle the situation, and enter into prayer. Fr. Philip recommended praying the name of Jesus on the rosary beads.

I plan to watch the DVDs and look forward to learning more about the healing process. We got a detailed overview of the problem but kind of ran out of time toward the end of the day. I got the message that we need to accept the fact that we are weak and depend on God instead. And we need healing of memories and to stop smothering our emotions. That's enough to work on for now!

The day after the retreat I was at Mass and listening to our priest's homily. He said that in our society we are taught jealousy from a very young age and that our materialistic society with all of our advertising trains us to covet our neighbors' goods. If our neighbors have a nicer house or car or phone, we wish we had something better. We feel driven to succeed and have the highest paying job so that we can have the most and the best goods, everything that money can provide. We are also taught to be ambitious. This is a less obvious danger because it is a good thing to be motivated. However, we're taught that we need to accomplish more and more things, bigger and better than ever before. In school we should be getting the highest grades, in our workplace we should be making the highest salary. We are very accomplishment driven. At high school and college graduations, speakers exhort us to go out and save the world and make our mark on history. Many of us are now SO exhausted by trying to move mountains. I feel this also happens in the spiritual life. At the very beginning of the spiritual life, when turning away from the world, exhortations to bigger and better acts of charity can be useful to get us off of our butts and into ministry opportunities. However, eventually these same exhortations can make a person spiritually ambitious in a way that is exhausting. God needs to teach us that even in our spiritual lives we are weak. Like Sister Nirmala said and Fr. Philip was explaining, the proper spiritual perspective is that of littleness and spiritual childhood, total weakness and dependence on God, recognizing that He is the one who saves the world and anything that I can do is the tiniest drop in the bucket.

Friday, September 18, 2015

7QT: churches, shrines and basilicas galore!

In which I finally meet my dear Brother Andre Bessette.

--- 1 ---

I've been traveling to Boulder a lot for work and my favorite place to attend Mass is at University of Colorado, but their Mass is in the evening and usually our work day doesn't end in time to make it for Mass. Instead, I usually go to Sacred Heart Church in the down town area. The church itself has a really modern feel but once there was an awesome priest who may have been hispanic (anyway he had an accent) who gave a great homily about seeing paradise and knowing that it's real and asking the Holy Spirit to put that conviction in our hearts.

--- 2 ---

In the spring we had a science meeting in Boston and a friend recommended St. Clement Eucharistic Shrine with perpetual adoration!! It's rare that I get to go to Eucharistic adoration on these work trips. My first day there my flight got in way too early so I took a walk to the shrine. I wrote down walking directions but still managed to miss it and get super stressed out. I almost gave up but on the way back saw the right street and gave it another shot. As I stepped into the church, I felt so exhausted that I thought I would just take a peak and return the next day. But the atmosphere was so peaceful that I stayed a while to recharge and happened to catch the recitation of the rosary by the seminarians of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary. The Oblates purchased St. Clement in 1976 and house their seminary here. I was blessed a couple of mornings to attend the chanting of the Divine Office followed by Mass and adoration.

--- 3 ---

On my last day in Boston I decided to visit a different church, called The Mission, with its own beautiful and traditional style, at least architecturally speaking. The inside too is quite beautiful although I was confused when I walked in about fifteen minutes before Mass to find the interior empty save for a man buffing the floors. Coincidentally another newbie walked in behind me and the two of us asked the man about Mass. He sent us down the hall to a chapel where the Redemptorists would celebrate their daily Mass. It seems like a lot of the Boston churches are occupied by Religious Orders! Unfortunately, the Redemtorists say their Divine Office privately in the chapel and let the lay people in for Mass so we had to wait on benches just outside of the chapel. A group of regulars, local older ladies, were discussing how much they love the new pope who is so different from the previous popes and finally setting priorities straight. "Personally, I think we should focus on social justice." So I wasn't surprised when the style of the Mass was rather creative. After Mass the very sweet man next to me asked if I'm a nun, because of my LMC crucifix. All of this made me think, perhaps uncharitably, that this parish probably distributes free copies of the National Catholic Reporter (or as Fr Z calls it, the National Schismatic Reporter).

--- 4 ---

This summer I attended a science conference in Montreal meaning that I could finally visit St. Joseph's Oratory and the tomb of one of my most favorite Saints, Brother Andre Bessette. I arrived early again so I went straight to the oratory. Unfortunately, it was a gorgeous summer day. I say it was unfortunately because the grounds, which were objectively very beautiful, were covered in indiscreet college couples, screaming and running kids and strange other sights like a man smoking a cigar on the oratory steps. As I went toward the area near Brother Andre's tomb I was caught up in a current of moving people as though it were a busy shopping mall. When Brother Andre was alive he was known as a miracle healer (although he attributed every healing to the intercession of St. Joseph) and the walls of this hall are lined with the crutches that were left by those claiming to have been healed.

Fortunately, Brother Andre's tiny living quarters and shrine behind the oratory was less crowded. The upstairs room was boiling hot and appeared to be without running water. It was also fairly small but not as cramped as I would have expected. When I returned to the parking lot some guys were blaring profane music and I knelt on the sidewalk to pray a Memorare in reparation. Then I went back inside to see the upstairs of the oratory and eventually made my way to a hidden area with a little bench in front of a reliquary containing Brother Andre's heart, which had been removed from his body. I remembered thinking how gruesome and strange it was for them to remove it, especially with the heart and the body now being housed in different parts of the same building. But at this point I felt discouraged and overheated and had a nasty headache and I was extremely grateful to be able to sit in peace and quiet in front of Brother Andre's heart. Eventually a family with children came clanking through, talking in loud voices, but fortunately I had been energized enough to work my way onward to the hotel.

--- 5 ---

The Cathedral-Basilica of Mary Queen of the World (and St. James the Greater) was just across the street from our hotel and less plagued by tourists and poorly behaved students. The Mass was in French but they held Eucharistic adoration afterward starting with the chanting of O Salutaris in Latin. After understanding almost nothing of the Mass I was so excited to be able to sing the familiar Latin hymn with everyone else. It was a moving experience of unity to sing a song in the language of the Church when I couldn't understand the local vernacular, and it gave me a new respect for the Traditional Latin Mass. This Cathedral was the location of Brother Andre's funeral. It contains many beautiful paintings including a depiction of the North American martyrs, also among my favorite Saints!

--- 6 ---

One day we paid to visit the Basilique Notre Dame de Montreal. I thought it was a very weird situation. We didn't just pay a visit. We paid to visit. The website indicated that if I wanted to come to the church to pray I could do so for free but if I just wanted to look then I needed to pay. I wasn't sure just how much praying was required for free admission so I decided to pay like everybody else. At least maybe it supports the community or art restoration. It's a beautiful church, although not in the style I prefer. It does have an amazingly awesome pipe organ!

--- 7 ---

Sister Nirmala, who succeeded Mother Teresa as the superior general of the Missionaries of Charity, died on June 22. The Sisters at Gift of Hope needed a ride to a memorial Mass at the contemplative house in DC so I was put to work. It was pouring rain to the point that I couldn't see the road so the Sisters decided to pray one of Mother Teresa's quick novenas (i.e. 9 Memorares plus 1 in Thanksgiving). As if on cue the rain stopped and the Sisters managed to lead me to the right place, even without GPS! We were given handouts with the music for the Mass, which are never songs I've ever heard, and the following quote of Sister Nirmala: "Remember who we are. The little ones. The poor ones. Don't despise littleness. Accept it, surrender. These are the channels through which God comes to us."

Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let the perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in peace.

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain't the Lyceum!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Valle de los Caidos (Valley of the Fallen)

I have a piece of loose leaf paper from high school with a paragraph of text written in pencil. I jotted down some thoughts one day in 1999 while reminiscing on a trip to Valle de los Caidos in Spain. My friend Emily and I had gone on a summer study abroad in Madrid during which we made weekend trips to various monuments. We saw so many amazing Catholic sites and yet I was largely unmoved. St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila held no interest for me. However, God works in mysterious ways and it was the much more modern and controversial Spanish Civil War memorial housing Francisco Franco's tomb that finally had me praising God, if only on paper. My sense of awe lasted only a short while and I completely forgot about this experience until going through stacks of papers many years later. Looking back, it seems I was having troubling finding appropriate adjectives and I'm appalled by my evident lack of knowledge of world history. Franco died in 1975 which may have seemed like long ago to a 17 year old; however, the Spaniards of his time were certainly dealing with modern world problems. These were not simple times in Spain. But one thing is clear, that the Lord has been calling me for a very long time. And boy, do I remember those Archangels! The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard delay, but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9

"While we were in Spain we went to Valle de los Caidos. It was pouring rain when we arrived but the huge white cross on top of the rocky mountain was one of the most beautiful things that I have ever seen. It was amazing and breathtaking to see such a wonder in person. A great presence is felt when looking up upon the brilliant cross that glows even in the darkness. The atmosphere gives a sense of stepping back in time where none of the modern world problems even exist. Everything is blanketed with a gentle but almost disturbing feeling of closeness. It is like being in the presence of the Almighty. Around the side of the rock slope is a sort of chapel whose walls are hung with beautiful, story-telling tapestries depicting certain aspects of the Bible. Inside rooms are tombs of important figures long since deceased and huge dark statues of archangels. The angels stare down with horrifying looks of warning for the souls which may be led astray. But the most magnificent thing of all happened upon leaving the building. When approaching the gigantic doors at the perfect moment when the sun is setting, the middle of the dark building is filled with a tunnel of light. The light is so beautiful and pure that it creates an enormously moving experience."

Saturday, July 4, 2015

An unblemished sacrifice.

October 19, 2011

Mother Teresa would say that we must be empty of self so we can be filled with God. One night at prison ministry, we were reading a scripture passage from 1 John Chapter 1 that says that anyone who sins is not of God. (We tend to use the Good News Translation, which may not be the most literal but it is the most comprehensible for the people we're working with.)
Now the message that we have heard from his Son and announce is this: God is light, and there is no darkness at all in him. If, then, we say that we have fellowship with him, yet at the same time live in the darkness, we are lying both in our words and in our actions. But if we live in the light—just as he is in the light—then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from every sin.
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us. But if we confess our sins to God, he will keep his promise and do what is right: he will forgive us our sins and purify us from all our wrongdoing. If we say that we have not sinned, we make a liar out of God, and his word is not in us.
We discussed the obvious fact that in our human weakness we do still sin, even though our Baptism cleansed us of Original Sin and any previous sins we have committed. So we have the Sacrament of Penance and Reconcilliation to free us from our subsequent sins and reuinite us fully with the Mystical Body of Christ--which is probably part of why we instantly feel so great after being absolved of mortal sins, because we're plunged back into the Body of Christ.

To be full of grace means to be filled with the Holy Spirit which means that Christ is in me and I am in Christ. Just like Original Sin resulted in shame and a lack of trust that inhibited openness and perfect communion between men and women (and between humans and God), venial sin weakens our communion with the Mystical Body of Christ and mortal sin completely ostracizes us from the Communion of Saints.

This reminded me of a dream I had about confession--I woke up and wrote that the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation "cures our imperfect sacrifice with Christ's perfect sacrifice". At the time, I thought that was half-sleep nonsense. Since then I've come to understand that the Passion of Christ took away the sins of the world and we are granted access to that destruction of sin through the Sacraments of Baptism and Reconciliation. These Sacraments allow us to unite our sacrifices to Christ's perfect sacrifice in order to be in Him and to dwell in the Kingdom of Heaven--to be resurrected and ascend with Him after death. This is absolutely not something we can do by our own power.

In Baptism, we are Baptized into His death and spiritually undergo our own mini-death. We are meant to understand our life after Baptism as the beginning of our eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven. We will not die again, rather at the end of our earthly life we will enter into full union with God. This is why the early Christians were fearless when facing death. However, until we are completely separated from worldly attachment through our earthly death, we will gradually journey in that direction through a series of crosses by which we undergo suffering, dying and rising. Through each mini-resurrection our union with God increases. We are emptied of self and filled with God.

I remember the moment during my adult conversion when I was put to the test. I had to decide between the only way of life I knew and an unknown Life in Christ. This happened to me after my first RCIA class. Until then I had simply been learning about the faith and more or less going through the motions. I remember understanding that I had to die to my old life and, as best I can, give everything to God. I remember struggling with the decision and attempting to rationalize that I could decide later, but God demanded an answer right then and there. I fell into a sort of weepy despair--I was afraid. I was afraid that I would give up and that I wouldn't be able to finish the race, as St. Paul would say. Surely it would be better to never have known God than to love God and lose Him. But God insisted that He would help me if I let Him, and that there is no reason to be afraid. I was still afraid but hopeful--now I wanted to accept this offer and to give myself to Him. But as has happened so many times since, I felt too weak to respond. I told God that I want to do this but I can't, I need help. "Lord, I have the desire but you have to give me the strength to do this." I pleaded and began to feel stronger. I made the commitment and all of my fear and anxiety melted away.

We really do have to emulate Christ in giving ourselves over completely to the Will of God. We do have to, as much as possible, give ourselves as sacrificial victims to God--united with Christ's perfect sacrifice. We renew this sacrifice during every Mass and should approach the Eucharist with this in mind. Thinking back to the feelings of trepidation leading up to my initial sacrifice to God (although I had not yet been Baptised) I am reminded of the seriousness of the sacrifice. When I walk up to receive communion am I really ready to give everything to God and to comply with whatever he asks, always trusting that he is asking out of love? Am I willing to sacrifice my job and my financial security? Am I willing to sacrifice my health? Am I willing to suffer the loss of a loved one? Am I willing to be humiliated through no fault of my own? To be unjustly persecuted? Would I be ready to give my life? This is what I'm telling Him when I receive His body and blood--that I am ready to take up my cross and follow Him even unto death.

It's important to realize what 'taking up my cross' means. In general it means that I will suffer nothing more than what I would have suffered anyway but with a spirit of abandonment and trust in God. It amounts to accepting each difficulty, and sometimes even tragedy, knowing that in my suffering I can either be for God or I can be against Him. Suffering with God is always the easier way. However, in our weakness and pain we tend to say, "I know better than God. He has made a mistake." Meaningless suffering is transformed into an priceless sacrifice when we willingly accept it and offer it back to God in faith, believing that somehow God's way is best for everyone.

In Three Ages of the Interior Life, Fr. Garrigou-LaGrange suggests that we should always approach Holy Communion with our death in mind. With infinite trust, I should praise the Father for His goodness in determining the perfect manner and moment for my death, although at the time I may not understand it. I should accept my death in advance (right now) and offer it to the Father, in union with that of His Son, in atonement for my sins and those of the whole world. I should offer my death in thanksgiving for His Mercy and for all the blessings and graces I have received thus far and will in the future. And I should offer my death in petition that we all will be in a state of grace at the time of death. We should welcome each mini-death along the way with the same spirit of trust, sacrifice, thanksgiving, and hopeful petition. We may not all be called to persecution and martyrdom, but we are all called to take up our crosses and follow Him even unto death.

Saturday, May 16, 2015


Like the deer that yearns for running streams,
so my soul is yearning for you, my God.
My soul is thirsting for God, the God of my life;
when can I enter and see the face of God? [Psalm 42]

The Missionaries of Charity Sisters and Brothers (members of the Order founded by Blessed Teresa of Calcutta) describe themselves as 'walking contemplatives'. As part of the formation period for the Lay Missionaries of Charity I'm reading the book M.C. Train, which contains many letters by Fr. Sebastian Vazhakala, M.C. He explains that the Missionaries of Charity Brothers Contemplative spend several hours per day gazing upon Christ in the Eucharist and the rest of the day serving Christ in the poorest of the poor. Mother Teresa described the poorest of the poor as "Christ in his most distressing disguise". She believed that seeing Christ in the Eucharist (under the mysterious disguise of bread) would help the Brothers and Sisters of her Order to see Him more clearly in the poorest of the poor. Likewise, serving Christ in the poor would lead them to a closer union with Christ in the Eucharist. Through the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, we can come to see and adore God in all created things, especially in human beings who are created in His image and likeness.

In Three Ages of the Interior Life, Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange states: "to see God in souls is a grace that must be merited. It requires a particular clear perception which is gradually obtained by detachment from self and a more pure and strong love of God, which makes us discover those who love Him and those who are called to love Him, those from whom we can receive and those to whom we can and should give for love of Him."

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2560) describes prayer as "the encounter of God's thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for him." Mother Teresa often spoke about Jesus' infinite thirst for souls. In some sense, the Missionaries of Charity vocation is founded on the words "I thirst" which Jesus spoke from the cross. Mother Teresa insisted that every Missionaries of Charity chapel would have these words placed next to the crucifix above the altar. The Missionaries of Charity refer to themselves as Victims of Love, as a reminder that they are willing to make any sacrifice necessary to bring souls (including their own) to closer union with God, thereby striving to quench Jesus' infinite thirst for souls. "These desires to satiate the longing of our Lord for the souls of the poor--for pure victims of His love, goes on increasing with every Mass and Holy Communion."

The Lord Jesus thirsts not only for us to bring other souls to Him, but he thirsts for each person individually. Mother Teresa heard his words "I thirst" as an expression of his yearning for union with each one of us, a yearning symbolized in the Song of Songs. Pope Benedict XVI explained in the encyclical Deus Caritas Est that God's love for his people is both passionate and selfless. "God is the absolute and ultimate source of all being; but this universal principle of creation—the Logos, primordial reason—is at the same time a lover with all the passion of a true love. Eros is thus supremely ennobled, yet at the same time it is so purified as to become one with agape." He is the Bridegroom and a lover to each and every one of us.

"Whoever has grown from infancy to manhood and attained to spiritual maturity possesses the mastery over his passions and the purity that makes it possible for him to receive the glory of the Spirit. He is that perfect dove upon whom the eyes of the bridegroom rest when he says: One alone is my dove, my perfect one."
--St. Gregory of Nyssa--

Sweet Lord, Thy thirst for souls,
I satiate with my burning love all for Thee, 
my chalice will be filled with love,
sacrifices made all for Thee.
Ever more I will quench Thy thirst, Lord,
ever more I will quench Thy thirst, Lord, for souls,
in union with Mary our Queen,
I will quench Thy thirst.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

My body pines for You.

O God, you are my God, for you I long;
for you my soul is thirsting.
My body pines for you
like a dry, weary land without water.
So I gaze on you in the sanctuary
to see your strength and your glory. [Psalm 63]

We are often told to listen to God and it makes sense to me that my time in prayer shouldn't be entirely taken up with my spoken prayers (either vocally or in my mind) but that I should spend some time in silence waiting for God to speak, if He so chooses.

It seems that God doesn't speak to each person in the same way, and rarely ever in an audible voice. God can speak through the circumstances of our daily lives (e.g. God speaks to one of my friends through license plates), through the words of others around us (even by overhearing a stranger's conversation), or through intuition (like the person who would have died in a plane crash but never boarded because she just didn't feel right about it). These types of messages from God typically come outside of our regularly scheduled prayer time, highlighting the importance of maintaining interior silence and recollection throughout the day. With experience, I can learn how God speaks to me.

There are ways in which we can facilitate the conversation with God and hear his voice more clearly. One commonly used method is called Lectio Divina and involves reading the Bible (the Word of God), meditating on it, praising God, and opening oneself up to contemplation (in which God speaks directly to the soul in a mystical way). Many Religious Orders practice this method daily.

But what of my time sitting in silence and actively listening? Why can't I just hear God's voice during the rest of the day, maybe in the ways mentioned above? Aren't I wasting me time sitting here listening if God apparently doesn't have anything to say right now? Why all of the emphasis on prayerful silence?

One thing I've noticed is that my time actively listening to God bears fruit throughout the rest of the day. So even if I feel like God is not very talkative during my prayer time, I see a direct correlation between my faithfulness in 'listening' and my perception of His presence throughout the rest of the day. Because I am giving God my undivided attention and listening right now, I may hear him speaking later. However, how do I get the most out of this period of listening? Is it a sort of meditation during which I try to keep my mind clear of any thoughts? Am I still praying? I think we can understand better what it means to listen to God when we expand our definition of what it means to pray, beyond the level of human conversation.

Ralph Martin has said that prayer is "paying attention to God". This is a good definition (and explains how one might pray always) but does not describe the attitude I should have toward God. A few months ago one of my housemates told me "prayer is nothing other than a desire for union with God." He leads a youth group at our church and tells the young people that, in order to develop a deeper prayer life, they should sit quietly for some time each day and desire God. "You desire all sorts of things like pizza, video games, money, and so on. Just sit down for a while and try to desire God." It will become easier and, meditating on God's love for us, we can begin to desire God above other things.

There are several different types of prayer including (but probably not limited to) Liturgical prayer (in community), vocal prayer (e.g. the Our Father), mental prayer (meditation, e.g. the rosary), and contemplative prayer. Infused contemplation (which includes mystical prayer) is considered the highest form of prayer because we are acting as docile recipients of God's grace. This doesn't have to be an extraordinary experience like spiritual ecstasy. Some Saints have described the experience of infused contemplation (which is true union with God) as being like a fish immersed in water. I am the fish and God is the water. Many of the early Christians considered infused prayer to be the "pearl of great price" mentioned in the Gospel.

One can practice meditation and, for example, become less prone to distractions. And one can decide that today I will for the first time pray the Divine Office (a form of Liturgical prayer). But one cannot wake up in the morning and decide that "I'm going to try infused contemplative prayer and practice it for the next several weeks." God is the one who initiates every instance of infused contemplation.

However, some refer to 'acquired contemplation' as a form of prayer that can prepare one to have the appropriate disposition for infused contemplation. It seems to me that this acquired contemplation is nothing other than 'listening to God'. I have seen acquired contemplation referred to as casting a loving gaze toward God. I think we can all stir up an image in our minds of the loving mother gazing at her sleeping infant, or the grown man watching over his dying mother. Seeing a loved one in a vulnerable state makes our feelings of love grow stronger. Similarly we can direct our spiritual eyes in a loving gaze toward the infant Jesus or the crucified Christ.

Lovingly gazing upon Christ on the cross with the eyes of my body (knowing that this plaster crucifix is obviously not God) can help me to direct more easily the eyes of my soul to the living God. In the Eastern Churches, it is believed that an authentic religious icon (produced according to a particular method involving periods of prayer) serves as a portal to Heaven. For example, by looking at an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary, my gaze is directed through the portal of the icon and I truly look at Holy Mary. (That's my beginners understanding of this mystery of faith.) As an aid to prayer, images and icons are an indispensable tool for acquired contemplation.

Spending time with God, paying attention to Him, loving Him, and desiring Him is how we drink from the ever flowing stream of living water. We become more docile to the Holy Spirit who wells up within us and sets our hearts aflame. It can be extremely difficult to force oneself to sit in silence with God. In fact, it sometimes seems impossible. But the reward at the other side of the desert is the gift of infused contemplation, the pearl of great price.

"Taste God's love. Give God permission. Stop fighting him. Desire God and he will come. Desire more and you will receive more. Every single second God loves you infinitely. This is reality. Everything else is a lie."
--Msgr. John Esseff, Building a Kingdom of Love

Friday, March 6, 2015

7QT: A Birthday trip to Wisconsin.

In which I visit mom in Wisconsin, we celebrate my birthday with grainless mug cake, and I start mom on Dr. Ellie's mouth care regimen.

--- 1 ---

Mom showed up at the tiny La Crosse airport with a festive Christmas pin that she had forgotten to take off of her coat. That was fitting since this was our post-Christmas Christmas celebration. I brought my white sweater with black polka dots and, coincidentally, mom has a white jacket with black polka dots! So we decided to be twins for church on Sunday. Later in the week, we made grain free, microwave mug cake in celebration of my birthday and took a trip to Mall of America to get the Minnesota experience. The most remarkable part of my Mall of America trip was seeing ashtrays on sale for the first time in over ten years. And there was such a huge selection!

--- 2 ---

I brought a bunch of little bottles of liquids with me since I have been using Dr. Ellie's Complete Mouth Care System for the past two months. It uses a combination of three mouthwashes and regular Crest toothpaste. After my other experiments with oil pulling and using baking soda toothpaste without fluoride my teeth had become extremely sensitive, one of them chipped, and they started to look translucent making me think my enamel was probably pretty thin. Not trusting modern dentistry to solve my problem without additional pain and major medical bills I turned to my trusted friend Dr. Internet. This turned up Dr. Ellie and another tooth self-help resource called Cure Tooth Decay. The latter is based on the Weston A. Price Foundation diet that is suppose to cure just about anything. So far my family has been really good about driving me to yuppie grocery stores for food that I'm allowed to eat on my 'tooth diet'. According to this diet, grains should only be eaten after being sprouted in a particular way and all nuts need to be soaked before eating. And of course, no more eating sugar, among other things. Since my visit, mom decided to give Dr. Ellie a try too!

--- 3 ---

Because of my grainless and sugarless diet, mom and I had to get creative in celebrating my birthday. We ended up making this grainless mug cake that 'bakes' in the microwave for two minutes. The primary ingredients are coconut flour, eggs, and maple syrup. As far as I can tell, anything Paleo fits the WAPF diet. It turned out better than I expected but one mug would have been enough for both of us.

--- 4 ---

We went to Sunday Mass at the Cathedral of St. Joseph the Workman which has some strange modern kaleidoscopic windows that reminded me of the Richter window at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany. There is also a gorgeous, 14-ton pipe organ that led me to this interesting website for Pipedreams which is apparently a show on public radio.

--- 5 ---

Later in the week we visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe which I had not realized was built while Cardinal Burke was Archbishop of La Crosse. We went to a Mass celebrated by a Franciscan with an extremely deep voice and an accent. I could only understand part of what he was saying and thanked God that I was able to catch the part about communion always being received while kneeling at the altar rail. On the way back down we stopped at a memorial for the unborn and a prayer chapel with a huge tower of prayer candles. The setting is lovely, perched on a hill where we saw a group of deer relaxing in the brush.

--- 6 ---

We had quite a prayerful week. Mom had agreed to lead the Wednesday night prayer service at her church. We were the only ones to come that night but we decided to stay because "wherever two or more are gathered…" On my last day in La Crosse we went to Mary of the Angels chapel at the convent of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. This awesome picture is from a Wisconsin photography blog. We watched a little video and then went on a tour led by Sister Fran who must have been a school teacher because she quizzed us on the various icons throughout the chapel. Mom and I made it out without suffering too much from public school PTSD. We finished just in time to make a quick trip to Grandad Bluff and walked out toward the observation deck but it was windy and FREEZING! So we gazed at the nice view for about 35 seconds and then turned back.

--- 7 ---

Because of the ridiculous amounts of snow that came down yesterday, our Stations of the Cross were cancelled today. So I'm taking the opportunity to go through the Liam Neeson narration of St. Alphonsus Liguori's version. I'm not sure if this intro comes from St. Alphonsus, but it's pretty intense. Happy Lent everybody!

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain't the Lyceum!

Friday, January 23, 2015

7QT: All that jazz!

Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and all that jazz!

--- 1 ---
"I'm dreaming of a warm and rainy Christmas! Unlike the ones I used to know." Back home the weather was unseasonably warm at Christmas, but we did have a White Thanksgiving. Enlisting the cousins, we were able to do tons of cleaning. I've never seen so much cat hair in one place and we ran out of porcelain cleaner, something I didn't expect to occur within our lifetimes (gramma bequeathed to us a panoply of household cleaners). We Skyped with mom who is away "on assignment" and opened the gifts she sent which, for Andy, included 60 pounds of ferret litter. So even if he decides to adopt 12 more ferrets, he shouldn't have to buy any more litter. ;-) I also got a free hair cut! My thirteen year old cousin who is quite a fashionista studied on Youtube and gave me a better hair cut than the last one I paid for.

--- 2 ---

My 2014 New Year's Resolutions consisted of the Heroic Minute and meal planning. The latter was a  complete failure. The former was pretty successful as far as New Year's Resolutions go. I'd say I succeeded on roughly one out of three days. Unfortunately, those 240ish unsuccessful days leaned pretty heavily toward the end of the year. While there are plenty of things I should do, like exercise more, I haven't formulated any concrete resolutions for 2015. However, I am pretty excited to try these inverted rows using a bed sheet pinched in a door. I can envision it now--a loud crash and my bruised body lying on the floor holding a knotted sheet and squashed under the bedroom door. Like I said, I can't wait to try it.

--- 3 ---

One of the highlights of 2014 that I haven't mentioned in a previous post was my brother's visit in October. I don't know that it was a highlight of his year but hey, we all have different standards. We went to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History on a mission to find Cher Ami (Dear Friend), a war pigeon who lost his leg in service to our country. He received a medal for heroic service and his taxidermied body is on display in the museum. We also saw a doggie veteran that I think was named Stubby or Stumpy or something like that.

--- 4 ---

The pics above were taken on our trip to the Maryland Science Center. I got to pose next to the rocket! We also got to see FrC at one of his favorite diners. After he sat drinking some ice water and chatting for about twenty minutes he rushed off to attend to some other poor soul. But first we heard a story about his hitchhiking experiences "back when that was safe". Last time my brother visited, FrC told a story about  his near death experience when a young Italian gang member held a gun to his head during a skirmish. The guy backed down when young FrC said "Jesus wouldn't want you to do this." He ended the story with: "You know how they say that your whole life flashes before your eyes? That's true!"

--- 5 ---

Merry Christmas: Part 2 was a visit to see mom in Wisconsin in mid-January. I'll quick-take on that next time, hopefully next Friday, because a whole lot happened in those six days. Hint: much impromptu pilgrimaging occurred. So stay tuned!

--- 6 ---

A friend sent me this Youtube audio from a talk called True Worship. It starts with an explanation of the Catholic understanding of the Holy Eucharist (aka Communion), which is the absolute most important belief of Catholicism. But the best part is a story about a 10 year old Chinese girl who puts her life on the line to protect Jesus from the Communists. Please please please listen, it's well worth the 18 minutes.

--- 7 ---

March for Life 2015 took place on Thursday and unfortunately I missed it, although my seminarian friend says it was attended by an estimated 600,000 other people. Fortunately, this year I'll actively participate for the first time in 40 Days for Life, which is an ecumenical prayer campaign. This means I'll be spending some Saturdays praying my rosary outside of one of the local abortion clinics. Sounds easy enough although I've heard of items getting thrown at prayer groups by people in passing cars--once a 9V battery! I'm pretty sure nothing like that has happened to the group I'll be with.

But it all reminds me of chaperoning the Steubenville Youth Conference last summer. During some off time, one of the other chaperones took me on an unofficial tour. Eventually we made it to the Tomb of the Unborn Child. On the tomb were plaques with first names and dates. There weren't many, maybe about seven, but there was a story behind the names. Some of the Franciscan University undergraduates routinely pray outside of the local abortion clinic. I was told that on one occasion they found two pairs of tiny arms and tiny legs (among other body parts) in the dumpster outside the clinic. At any rate, whoever found the remains brought them to the University for burial. A ceremony was held on Jan 22, 1987, initiating the Tomb of the Unborn Child. Based on the number of appendages found, they gave names to the two children (Francis and Clare) who would never be born. These names and the date, along with five added since, are inscribed on the memorial plaque.

No one likes this type of gruesome story. But sometimes it's true. And there is a reason we're uncomfortable with it.

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain't the Lyceum!