Monday, September 29, 2014

Through A Glass Darkly

"For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face.  Now I know in part, but then shall I know even as I am known." 1 Corinthians 13:12

One of the most famous passages in modern thought is from the great sociologist Max Weber.  He laments that a de-enchantment of the world--a virtual "iron cage"-- has followed the progress of science, industry and the technocratic efficiency of the modern world.  In many ways what Weber was describing was the historical eclipse of a deeply Catholic culture that united the bonds of the past, the wonder of the natural world and the ever-present sense of the supernatural.

Max Weber's "iron cage"

While Weber was undoubtedly describing something tangible about the "feel" of life in the modern world, we must never lose sight that we stand with St. Paul, and can still peer "through a glass darkly".  As St. Paul would urge us: the world is still enchanted, and all of our actions reverberate into the future and even into eternity.  We are only dimly aware of the true value and meaning of our words and actions, but there are breath-taking things going on around us.  This is most apparent in the case of the powers entrusted to the Church and her sacred ministers.  Jesus Christ really does come down onto our altars at the mere words of consecration during Holy Mass, and He is always attended at the altar by angels who join us in proclaiming the thrice-holy God, "Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus".  These are every day miracles, and yet we don't see them.  Every day men and women are freed from the grasping clutch of demons, as a good confession absolves sin and the power that the sin had given demons against the poor sinner.  The demons were once attached to the sinner, even intimate, and now they stand far off.

Now there are some wonders that only come around once a year.  Did you know that on Good Friday the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is halted and there is a great hush between heaven and earth?  The unimaginable graces that flow from the re-presentation of Calvary at Holy Mass are paused as the Church and the heavenly host commemorate the death of our Lord.  For a brief time the great Jacob's Ladder between heaven and earth is seldom travelled.  How humble is our God to honor the great feasts of the Church calendar even in Heaven!

The Great Ladder between Heaven and Earth

If we could only see in our own lives how our choices are pregnant with meaning.  If we could only see as the heavenly host do, we would see that every thing is magnified beyond our dim apprehension.  When we see a mother on the street with her baby, we may feel gratified to see her motherhood, but imagine the delight that our Lord takes when she loves as a mother should.  When we go hiking in the woods we may sing the Ave Maria or Gloria, and feel comfort even if it's poorly sung, but you would be shocked if you knew how delighted our blessed forbears are in observing such simple acts by their progeny. Finally, a man just beginning this ministry may feel that his time has been in vain if he doesn't have any meaningful encounters with passers-by, but what is the view of Heaven?  Is he a fool for walking the streets like that?  Are his prayers and sacrifices wasted?  No, he's a faithful son who should trust in divine providence, and know that the gentle gaze of Heaven follows his very step.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Mary, Angels and Human Sin, Part Two

In the last post I considered some painful truths of our faith, but it is better to grapple with them and internalize them now rather than wait till death and finally see our sins as God sees them.  Despite our obstinacy and self-conceit, God has an unimaginable love for us, and a wish to pour his mercy upon us.  In fact, his mercy is super-abundant precisely because he knows our weakness and that the deck is stacked against us.  If we didn't have an uphill climb due to the weakening effects of original sin, the manipulations of demons and the lures of a disordered world then God's mercy would not be so great.  Just ask the demons, who did not have the refuge of God's mercy once their powerful angelic nature preferred rebellion and evil.

God's love and mercy is our source of hope, but there is yet another reason for joy.  God's providence so governs the world that He brings about his kingdom even in the midst of our weakness.  Two years ago I was walking through my hard-scrabble neighborhood, and I apologized to my guardian angels for having to accompany me day-by-day as I give in to sloth, gluttony and a spirit of judgment.  I've often repeated that refrain in the past, but this time the angels answered! In a tone of gentle correction, they said, "Oh no!  There's nowhere we'd rather be!"  Then I felt their deep delight and joyful zeal in serving as my guide.  I was floored.  It was a wonder: how could they have such delight in accompanying me, and in this neighborhood?!?  There's a lesson there.  Weakness and evil do not have the last word.  While it is a mark of the blessed to have sorrow for sin, there are also greater things at work.  The angels see the workings of grace that are all around us while we only see scattered fragments.  Angels haven't seen the whole story of the future, but they have seen God's perfect plan unfold in countless eras and across countless cultures.  They see how God has his hands on all things, and if we could only see it we would marvel at God's wisdom and perfection.  Blessed be the Lord!

Mary, Angels and Human Sin, Part One

When I first began the ministry I would come home to my wife and share my sorrow over the state of the streets.  A street looks different close-up, especially when in the attitude of prayer.  There are the condom wrappers, drug paraphernalia, endless cigarette butts and graffiti, and then the advertisements that offer an easy paradise if you just buy the right product.  As I'd pass the strip clubs and sex shops I'd pray with greater fervor, and when I'd pass bars and pubs I'd marvel that they had so many customers when many of our masses and adoration chapels are poorly attended.  I would even recoil sometimes at the shabby smell or clothes or red sores of some of the people I would meet, but I soon found those things endearing since Christ yearned to dress them and bind up their wounds.  Nevertheless, I wasn't surprised when I read that it was difficult for the Blessed Virgin Mary to visit Massabielle in Lourdes.

St. Bernadette Soubirous

According to St. Bernadette Soubirous, it was a sacrifice for the Blessed Virgin to visit amidst the throng of crowds, and she would always look with sorrow and distress when she would look over little Bernadette's shoulder into the crowds. Presumably she saw their poor spiritual state, and the muddied state of their soul was a dismal contrast with the glory and perfection of heaven.  The ugliness of our sins is not a fashionable thing to reflect upon, but it only takes a moment to confirm the truth.  One need only take a close look at the crucifix: it is our sin in the bruises and gashes that cover our Lord.  Or one could read the mystics on purgatory, and consider the soul's painful journey after death to reflect the pure love of our Lord.

A few years ago our Lord twice poured his love into me, and I rejected it, "vomited it" back up after a brief moment.  The point was to show me how little room I had in my heart for divine love.  We are often very shallow vessels. Once while exiting the church after confession at The Grotto (the Shrine of or Lady of Sorrows in Portland), God gave me an interior vision of the state of my soul prior to confession.  Needless to say, it was a shock.  My soul appeared like a ship that had become unrecognizable because it had been out to sea for too long.  It had become an oblong mass that was discolored with rust and brine and covered with barnacles.  I was too long from the harbor, and after that I dedicated myself to daily mass and frequent confession.

So what is one to make of the sorry state of our own sins, how little divine love we can bear in our hearts?  Or even the sins of our communities or Holy Mother Church?  Do we give in to despair, doubt our divine inheritance or forsake the "narrow way" as unrealistic?  By no means!  To be continued in the next post...

Friday, September 19, 2014

Two Kinds of Love Built Two Cities

"For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance of life to life." Corinthians 2:2

This scripture verse was recently featured in the Office of Readings for the Liturgy of the Hours (the daily prayer of the Church), and reminded me of a remarkable aspect of this ministry.  There is something about this street ministry that prompts a reaction--whether for good or evil--from passerbys.  Perhaps the "fragrance" of Christ comes forth in the public witness to the faith, or in the image of a heart with a crucifix emerging from it or even in a peaceful, prayerful presence. In any event, "all hearts are revealed", or some anyway, and what is revealed can be a pleasant or sorrowful surprise.

There have been many small acts of kindness, the "fragrance of life" that bring us to Christ, the source of life itself.  On both very cold and very hot days, I've had tired mothers stop to kindly urge me to wear a coat or a lighter tunic as they wrangle their children at the bus stop.  A simple thing for sure, but their eyes said more than their words.  On another occasion a tavern-goer at Pappy's on 82nd harmlessly teased me asking, "Which of the twelve apostles are you?"  But his ex-convict friend couldn't bear the teasing, and intervened, "You can't say that!  Shhh, what are you saying?!"  The gruff, tattooed ex-con had zeal for the Lord's house, and wouldn't brook even the smallest slight.  Nowadays the tavern-goer sings gospels tunes as I pass and we have a good laugh.  On another evening a young man in a souped-up Honda Civic with an over-sized muffler waited at a stop-light alongside of me.  He fidgeted with his smart phone and rocked back and forth to the pounding beat of his stereo.  Then he noticed me praying next to him and turned off the stereo.  When the light changed to green he sped off and turned the music back up again once he crossed the intersection.  I was surprised and touched by his little gesture of respect.  Now there have also been many little acts of malice, and often from unexpected quarters, but they are not worth dwelling upon.

So what does it all add up to?  Everything we do either builds up the kingdom of God or the kingdom of Satan.  Or as St. Augustine wrote of it, there are two cities that were built by two loves: the love of self even to the contempt of God, and the love of God and neighbor that loves even to the contempt of self.  Our small acts often reveal what city we belong to.  Often times we seem to pass from one city to the other as we struggle to "run the race".  Some seem to be squarely in the wrong city, as I once was.  But even if we set many bricks building the wrong city, Christ loves and seeks after the poor sinner--though ultimately the choice is ours.  As Christ once asked me several years ago, "How much do you love me?"  We answer that question with our lives, and it can either be a glorious affirmation or a sorrowful indictment.

The Tower of Babel, a city built by self-love