Choosing the better part

Choosing the better part

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Awe and Anguish at the Mystery of Love: Receiving an Unheard-of Gift

Has our familiarity with the gift made us lose this awe and anguish; awe at the beauty and mystery of a love beyond imagination and anguish at seeing it poured out so freely and extravagantly?

The disciples of the Lord "receive the unheard-of gift but are expected to accept it, not only to satisfy their hunger but in obedience of faith. How far will this faith go?

There is . . .the anguish of John: the anguish that does not know itself, anguish of love on behalf of love. He sees that the Lord is squandering himself anew; he does not understand how; he sees only that this extravagance points symbolically forward to his death. He is accustomed to his Master's love going far beyond him and always inventing more fantastic ways. He finds it incredible enough that he has been invited at all to share in the whole work. Now he knows that it surpasses everything he could have imagined.

Theology had a long time, two thousand years, to make the abrupt and crude aspect of the event acceptable to us. The contemporaries were confronted suddenly with the stark and unprecedented fact: bread is flesh. John feels as if he is admitted into a madness of love forever inaccessible to reason. Until now the Lord's body was to him the guarantor of his spirit; leaning on the Lord's breast, he is receptive to the embodiment of this spirit and feels the Master's love flow over to him from it, feels his whole teaching contained in his body as in a vessel. If he now has to see this body as bread and eat it as such, in order to partake of the body, he feels that the spirit will be transmitted to him in this way. But the whole process presents a new leap of faith, which, however, comes easier to John than to the others because John's faith has already always lived by this surpassing quality of the Lord. In order to receive the spirit of the Lord through his body in the bread in the right way, he needs only to keep hold of his faith, his grace of faith. Until now he has been used to asking the Lord whenever he felt unsure. Now he has to find his answer in being fed by this bread. For he knows too well that the Lord's body is the vessel of his spirit for him to suppose that the Lord would give his body without his spirit."

(Adrienne von Speyr)

Mysterium Tremendum et Fascinans

How often do we really think about what is really happening as we receive Communion?  What is taking place not only in our minds and hearts but what is the experience of Our Lord in every Communion?  What is the nature of the sorrow and pain He experiences in our weakness, sin, our hesitation, our withdrawal?  Where are we taken in that Communion, to what place in the Lord?  What is the joy that the Lord experiences and what is it that we receive in His Eucharistic surrender?  Again, von Speyr shares with us her insights into and experience of the Mysterium Tremendum et Fascinans.

"Only a few grasp that there are things in the Lord's life and in their life with him that are unique even when they are repeated.  Every communion with the Lord is the only one.  Every Communion is given in the shadow of the Cross to which the Lord makes his way from the Upper Room.  Most of them think: The Cross will come later, just now the Lord is still here.  He sees and feels all this.  And these thoughts of the disciples awaken in him now a certain impotence of his own.  A weakness, a sense of incapacity.  Not a localized pain as later on the Cross, but something general, diffuse, reaching to his whole bodily sensitivity.  It is an uncertainty, not of the mind, but experienced in his body, an effect, so to speak, rebounding back to him from the recipients.  He feels their failure as personally directed against his body.  There is no anonymity here, only the immediate impact of their person on his embodied person.

Formerly, in his public life, for example, he felt compassion with their hesitation, their shortcomings, their withdrawal, limited as they were by their weak human nature.  Now it is different - and this belongs essentially to his mission: he has to feel each one's failure in his body.  Everything in them that is directed against God is now directed against his body.  In him lies the strength to overcome their failure; the effort comes from his innermost center.  In every Communion, he does not enter into a peripheral relationship with them, but rather, he is engaged with what is most intimate and central to him, there where his most central and intimate relationship with the Father is located.  It is there he allows them to communicate; it is there he admits the restlessness of human sin.

And yet is also joy for him that through him men enter into communion with the Father, that the Father allows him to open his inner being and let them participate in eucharistic communion with the Father: he gives to human beings, not only 'the little finger' or a hand or an arm, but the whole and the best.  He shares with them the best he has by giving away the best of himself.

Something of the spent energy of the eucharistic body is also retained by the risen body of the Lord.  But the surrendered state of his body before the Passion is more easily understood by men than the surrendered state of the risen body.  The situation of the Last Supper will better equip them to receive Communion later than the situation of the Resurrection.  The Lord's eucharistic surrender is the beginning of his Fiat on the Cross.  The eucharistic state endures as experience for the risen Lord.  It is something he knows, something belonging to him.  It cannot be said that he suffers from it - the Passion ends at Easter - but there is a quality of sensation that remains.  And, after all, we continue to offend God through our sins.  But the Father is ready to bear with us and forgive us by reason of the Son's perfect surrender."

(Adrienne von Speyr)

Friday, November 23, 2012

Christ gives us Himself so that we may suffer with Him

The Eucharist as the Self of Christ.  What does this mean to me?  Can I celebrate this Mystery every day and yet comprehend so little?  Do I understand it at all?  

Recently, I have been reading Adrienne von Speyr's work "The Passion from within" where she shares her profound and unique insights on the suffering, loneliness and loss Christ endured for love of us during His Passion.  I have been most struck by her meditations on Christ's mysterious presence in the Eucharist.  They have made me think of the Eucharist as never before, but more than that; shown me that we must allow ourselves to be taken hold of by a Truth greater than ourselves and to be led into a mystery that seeks to envelope us completely.  Few are willing to be led in such a way, to let go of their narrow conception of things and to be guided by the Spirit.  

Von Speyr is not a theologian but a mystic and her words will not immediately bring clarity but rather perhaps  a confusion of the deepest sort. Yet consider if you will a few of her thoughts:

"It is a breathtaking moment, when the Word that was with God from the beginning and became flesh and incarnated into humanity suddenly becomes again only words, audible words standing by themselves alone.  The words are 'This is my body.'  The new and eternal covenant, the whole of Christianity, everything that has inaugurated it and everything that is still to come, all this recedes into the simple words: 'This is my body.'  

. . . the words stand there completely isolated.  And at the moment of their being spoken, they are completely accomplished.  They sum up everything.  They are spoken by the Lord who now stands 'beside' his body.  On the right the Lord, on the left the bread, preceded by the Incarnation, followed by dying and death; in the center of it all these words."

Already, the mind begins to swirl as she leads us into what is often taken for granted.  The Lord himself, she tells us, is startled and shudders at these simple words and how they sum up the whole of his mission and present it to the Father.  

"The whole of the Passion is already anticipated in these words; all that was and is and will be is gathered into them and receives from this center its ultimate place; all the states of the Passion . . . The world receives a new center.  The speaker of these words has to experience this incredible transition, which is a sacrifice.  He had in the same way experienced the strangeness of the Incarnation.  Having become flesh, he now becomes bread.  Having become bread, he becomes Church.”

She quickly sweeps us into the implications of this mystery before we pause to think.  Christ “gives the character of timeless duration to his earthly body.  Lying beside him, but containing him totally, this bread has become his body, and the word uttered has been given to the Church, and in distributing the bread to her members, in multiplying his body, the Church will be formed into his body.”

With the institution of the Eucharist, Christ demands that our understanding rise beyond its limits toward his incomprehensibility.  Questions with no clear answer about the nature Christ’s very self, the humanity he embraced, begin to arise at the moment of the meal.  

“If he becomes bread that we can eat, does his life end with this meal?  And since bread can be produced repeatedly: Does he come to an end when we eat his bread?  Is it a symbolic death, or do we perhaps really kill him when we receive him into ourselves?  Was all his human life ordered toward this ultimate reality of bread that is being eaten?”

Further still we are confronted with questions of how this bread is connected with the Passion and again what implications this has for us.  

“Could it be that this goes so far that through this, his transformation, his whole divinity passes from him over into us?  What manner of being is he taking on himself?  The most ordinary one as pure bread, or the most extreme and absurd?  . . . Is it perhaps very risky to eat of this bread?  What are the consequences?"  

Everything rest on this clear and simple statement, ‘This is my body” but if taken to mean what it says its surpassing extravagance leads us back into utter incomprehensibility - to the connection between the bread and the Passion.  

Again, Von Speyr prompts us to ask: 

“Where will he now suffer?  In the body we see?  In the bread?  Will we cause him to suffer by eating him? " 

Yet, as the questions still linger in our minds, it is as if a light penetrates the darkness and incomprehensibility of it all and provides Von Speyr with the necessary insight: 

“The Church receives the body of Christ before he suffers the Passion; only afterward will he go and deliver his body up to death.  The Church therefore can suffer together with him only because she has already received his body so that it lives already in her.  Had she not received his body beforehand, she would not be able to suffer with him.  And if the Lord had suffered first and then instituted the Eucharist, she would not be able to share in his Passion; she would be at once the triumphant Church with the Lord’s death lying behind her.  The Eucharist would only be the risen body of Christ.  But the Church is made up of sinners, so this is impossible.  The Lord could institute this sacrament only during his life before the Cross . . .The Eucharistic body gives the Church access to participation in the Cross.  The Cross, not as completed fact, but as something lying ahead of me.”

The personal implications of this reality are terrible as they are beautiful:

“If I reject this sacrifice, if I do not accept His Communion, I stand outside and cannot suffer for him.  He has to institute the Eucharist also before he himself can suffer.  He has placed his whole divinity into this bread, so to speak, in order to be able to suffer freely as man.  It even looks as if this bread receives and retains his strength increasingly in direct proportion to his increasing impotency.  The Church will continue to celebrate his supper after his death; his power is left in these words and outlives the Lord’s death.  The bread disappears; the faithful have eaten it.  But the words remain in their full divine power undiminished and outlast his death; out of this power the Church will be able to make the Lord’s body present at any time.  It will be the same body, but inserted into the fruit of the Cross.”

The Self of Christ that we receive in the Eucharist is the Incarnate Love of God crucified for us and with whom we now are crucified.  With the words, ‘This is my body’, the Lord gives a new mode of existence to humanity.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Approaching God Through the Sacred Humanity of Christ

As one final reflection before our Saturday evening Schola Christi gathering, I thought it might be helpful to consider the question of approaching the presence of God through prayer.  For the Christian this approach is distinctive in light of the Incarnation of our Lord and no one teaches us about this better than St. Teresa of Avila.  She came to understand that our prayer not only should expressly reflect and be shaped by this mystery but it must be so.  Fr. Kiernan Kavanaugh, OCD explains Teresa’s view and its development as follows:

“Everyone who sets out on the spiritual journey to God faces the same problem, How can I come into touch with God who is infinite and pure mystery to all creatures. The Buddhists might say: with reference to God we cannot even speak; you must sit in the silence, and you might begin by counting your breath. Or a Hindu might give you a sacred word, a mantra, techniques and methods of prayer. Moral and ascetical life have been devised to answer this question.

Teresa, of course, approached this problem as a Christian. Now the Christian believes that God Himself has entered our world and provided us with the way to Himself through Jesus Christ. . . . She goes directly to the person of Christ in His humanity: she brings Him to her consciousness as either within her or beside her. This was her manner of entering prayer.  But because of her fragile nature and a mind that was so susceptible to digression, so alert and active, as the reading of her writings demonstrates so clearly, she felt torment over her inability to concentrate her attention. As a result she resorted as well to other supports and strategies in order to be present to Christ.”

This Kavanaugh tell us Teresa did in a number of ways.

“First, Teresa had a great natural capacity for friendship and for conversation. She used this gift as a means of approaching Christ. Friendship became a major factor in her understanding of prayer and the spiritual life as she worked it out in her writings. Her definition of prayer involves being alone with a friend and sharing intimately. And God in taking on our humanity in Jesus offers us a human as well as a divine friendship by which we may approach Him.

Secondly, Teresa related to Jesus out of her life situation and particular mood at the time of prayer, She discovered that Christ through His early experiences, His earthly mysteries, was always ready to adapt to our situation. ‘They say,’ Teresa writes, ‘that for a woman to be a good wife toward her husband she must be sad when he is sad, and joyful when he is joyful, even though she may not be so.’ It is the Lord who acts this way with us. ‘He submits to your will.  Behold Him on the way to the garden.’  

Thus, an intimate and familiar relationship with Christ must be sought and developed.  We cannot ignore the humanity of Christ without hobbling ourselves in our prayer and severely limiting our knowledge of Him.  This familiarity goes both ways.  Teresa was not inhibited, nor should we, in sharing our struggles and feelings with our Lord.  When words are lacking, Teresa tells us, the Lord has given us means to express what is needed at the moment.    

Kavanaugh explains: 

“Speaking to Christ, spontaneous prayer, was not too great a problem for Teresa. She often in her writings will be carried away into prayer speaking to the Lord in familiar ways, praising His attributes and lamenting her miseries. ‘Since you speak with other persons, why must words fail you more when you speak with God?’ But if we don't have words of our own, there is the Our Father ‘that He taught us, and continues to teach us as to its meaning. We may recite it slowly and take even a whole hour to recite it once.’ 

Teresa would also draw close to and find Christ by entering into the very events described in the Scriptures:

“Another strategy that came easy to Teresa was to relive the Gospel scenes by relating to Christ as did certain persons in Scripture accounts of the Samaritan woman or Mary Magdalene or St. Paul at the moment of his conversion or St. Peter in tears or the Virgin Mary at the foot of the Cross. The story of Our Lord's life provided her with many ways by which she could approach the person of Christ and experience the power of His words and the actuality of His divine influence. At the center always was Jesus Christ.”

This is important for us to grasp in our own approach to Christ.  He is the Lord and governor of history and through the gift of his Spirit continues to exert his influence in our lives:

“Jesus Christ became the Master of history through His earthly life, death, and resurrection. It is through the mysteries of His earthly life that Christ now exerts, through the work of His Spirit, His influence upon the life of the Christian. All the mysteries of Jesus' earthly history, from the cradle to the grave, have been mysteriously endowed in His glorified humanity with an entirely new, enduring actuality.”

This is not simply an intellectual exercise, but something that leads us into the very heart and life of Christ.  Through this means we are able to relate to Jesus and it is here that he can touch us most profoundly and where we need healing and grace.

“How can I relate in a most intimate and personal fashion to the risen Christ so far above and beyond my reach? I can only relate to Christ on the level of the spiritual life at which I now find myself. It is through His human experience His childhood, and public life, with His temptations, triumphs, frustrations, and disillusionment, that I am offered the possibility of relating to Him. Thus it was through the various mysteries of His earthly existence (perpetually real and actual in Himself) that Christ touched Teresa in the innermost recesses of her being and so can touch each of us.”

This, for Teresa, is the preeminent means through which we encounter and experience Christ.  We must not undervalue his humanity or we jeopardize our ability to participate fully in His life and the life of grace.  

“From her experience she had to stress strongly that in any Christian spirituality ‘the most sacred humanity of Christ must not be counted in a balance with other corporeal things.’  Why is this so? First, it is important to remember that Christ in His risen body is no longer subject to the space and time context in which we live. Vatican II says: ‘Christ is now at work in the hearts of men through the energy of His Spirit.’ There is, then, a fullness of graces, a plethora of gifts of the Spirit and of infused virtues which exist in the sacred humanity of the only-begotten Son and of which He desires to make all His brethren participate. The Holy Spirit enfolds the humanity of Christ, glorifies and spiritualizes it, in such a way that the fire and the kindled coals appear to be one and the same. In St. Paul it is revealed that the risen Christ will in turn raise up all the just through love for them and for His Father. The glorious resurrection of the just will be a visible manifestation of the overflowing love that the human will of the Risen Christ bears them.”

All of this is perhaps best captured in Teresa’s own words in her work Interior Castles:

“If Christ Jesus dwells in a man as his friend and noble leader, that man can endure all things, for Christ helps and strengthens us and never abandons us. He is a true friend. And I clearly see that if we expect to please him and receive an abundance of his graces, God desires that these graces must come to us from the hands of Christ, through his most sacred humanity, in which God takes delight.

Many, many times I have perceived this through experience. The Lord has told it to me. I have definitely seen that we must enter by this gate if we wish his Sovereign Majesty to reveal to us great and hidden mysteries. A person should desire no other path, even if he is at the summit of contemplation; on this road he walks safely. All blessings come to us through our Lord. He will teach us, for in beholding his life we find that he is the best example.

What more do we desire from such a good friend at our side? Unlike our friends in the world, he will never abandon us when we are troubled or distressed. Blessed is the one who truly loves him and always keeps him near. Let us consider the glorious Saint Paul: it seems that no other name fell from his lips than that of Jesus, because the name of Jesus was fixed and embedded in his heart. Once I had come to understand this truth, I carefully considered the lives of some of the saints, the great contemplatives, and found that they took no other path: Francis, Anthony of Padua, Bernard, Catherine of Siena. A person must walk along this path in freedom, placing himself in God’s hands. If God should desire to raise us to the position of one who is an intimate and shares his secrets, we ought to accept this gladly.

Whenever we think of Christ we should recall the love that led him to bestow on us so many graces and favors, and also the great love God showed in giving us in Christ a pledge of his love; for love calls for love in return. Let us strive to keep this always before our eyes and to rouse ourselves to love him. For if at some time the Lord should grant us the grace of impressing his love on our hearts, all will become easy for us and we shall accomplish great things quickly and without effort.”

Monday, October 29, 2012

Day of Recollection November 17th

"Love is Reparation.  Reparation is Love."  

The Theology and Practice of Reparation

As we look into our hearts we must humbly confess that truly, we have sinned, sinned often, sinned deeply, sinned willfully.

But God is good. He gives us the privilege of not only expiating what we have done wrong, but actually becoming more pleasing to Him by our penance and reparation.

It was no pious statement that St. Paul gave us when he said, "Where sin abounded, grace has even more abounded." In other words, in God's providence, He allows us to sin so we might repent and become saints.

The Schedule

9-9:45am           Sacrament of Confession 

9:45 am              Benediction

10:00am             Mass

10:45-Noon       Conference

Noon-12:45pm  Lunch with break out group discussions and final comments 

To explore the theology and practice of reparation in light of the Alliance of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, developing four fundamental perspectives:

1.the reparation offered the Father by the Heart of Jesus
2.the reparation or “consolation” which we are called to   offer to the Heart of Jesus
3. the reparation offered the Father by the Heart of Mary
4. the reparation or “consolation” which we are called to offer the Heart of Mary

Seeing all the misery in which the world has enmeshed itself we, in the words of Pius XI, “endeavor to expiate (our) own faults and those of others, to repair the honor of Christ, and to promote the eternal salvation of souls.” We offer ourselves as victims of love to shield the Sacred Heart from the sins committed against him at every moment. “Love is Reparation and Reparation is Love.”

Please RSVP at (412) 681-3181 or at

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Heart of God, Womb of Mercy

When faced with our own suffering and the sufferings of others, we often ask "Where is God?"  Such pain and suffering in this sense is an obstacle to life, love, happiness and intimacy.  We see it as something to be avoided at all costs and we do our best to disassociate ourselves from the reality of it as much as we can.  "We often shut down in the face of human misery because we feel our helplessness, our weakness, our inability to act.  It is easier sometimes not to show emotion than to join in the human valley of tears" (I. Delio, The Humility of God, 89).   Yet, in this avoidance of pain and suffering, are we not only avoiding these feelings but also avoiding the fullness of life and avoid the presence and approach of God?  

Ilia Delio challenges this limited perception of things: "If we could only realize that suffering and death are parts of the greater fullness of life, we would run to embrace them for that is what we seek, the fullness of life.  If we could only realize that suffering and death are part of God's creation, we would accept them, for we desire to become a new creation.  If we knew that pain and suffering touch the heart of God, we would allow them to touch us as well, for what we seek is God's heart of love.  But since we have closed our minds to these truths, pain and suffering prevail" (Ibid., 90).

They prevail, she tells us, in the sense that they make us immune to God by making us doubt his presence and goodness.  Thus, our God becomes the God of the deists and of modernity - disinterested, uninvolved, impotent.  In this pointed critique, Delio reminds us that the God of St. Francis and St. Bonaventure, the God of the saints, is one "who is so bent low in love for every creature and all creation that God goes to the depth of human suffering - the cross - to show his love and to bring all those in darkness to the embrace of love.  To live in relation to  . . God, to be God-like, is to participate in the sufferings of the world, to be compassionate" (Ibid., 90).  While we often view pain and pleasure as psychic opposites, the saints viewed suffering as a participation in the suffering of God.  To stand outside of the suffering of our age, to stand outside of our own suffering, is not to live.  It is to stand apart from God.  Love and suffering are the pathway into God and if we are to understand God's involvement in the world of sorrow we need to consider how love intertwines with suffering in the crucified Christ (Ibid., 91).   Only when we approach and allow ourselves in our own suffering to be touched deeply by the compassionate God in His Sacred Suffering, in Christ Crucified, will we become the compassion of God in the world.   

Delio captures this beautifully: "Compassion is so deep and closely connected to others that the truly loving person breathes in the pain of the world and breathes out compassion.  The compassionate person identifies with the suffering of others in such a way that she or he makes a space within the heart, a womb of mercy, to allow all suffering persons inside and to embrace them with arms of love.  What we see . . . is that the compassion begins with God who is humbly bent over in love in the cross of Jesus Christ.  Love is the power of God that embraces fragile suffering humanity and transforms death into life" (Ibid., 92).  

The Heart of God is a Womb of Mercy and our hearts must become so.  This is where we must approach and meet God; in the reception and giving of compassion.  To discover this God of passionate love is to discover and understand the Trinity of love.  

Again, Delio beautifully writes: "The self-gift of the Father to the Son reflects a self-emptying already within the heart of God in such a way that we may think of the cross first in the heart of God before it is in the heart of creation.  The very act of creation reflects something of a 'divine crucifixion,' for in creation God reveals his power to be his unconditional love for the world.  The act of descending into what is nothing (creation) in order to express Himself . . . is God's humility, his condescension, his going outside his own riches to become poor.  The cross is key not only to sin and human nature, but to God himself.  The cross reveals to us the heart of God become it reveals the vulnerability of God's love. . .  .That is why the mystery of cruciform love of the Son leads us into the very heart of the mystery of God.  For the Trinity of love is poured out in the mystery of the crucified Christ and only through the mystery of Christ do we enter the heart of the Trinity" (Ibid., 94).  

This love is more than a "presence" that we can approach with confidence, but rather God betrothes himself forever to us precisely in and through suffering and death.  St. Bonaventure, in a letter to Poor Clare nuns, describes the nuptial relationship as follows: 

"Indeed, no sorrow was ever comparable to Yours, O Lord Jesus Christ!  Your blood was shed so abundantly that Your whole body was soaked with it . . .why did You let Your blood pour forth in a river when a single drop would have sufficed for the redemption of the world?  I know, Lord. I know in all truth that you did this for no other reason than to show the depth of Your love for me.

Christ on the cross bows his head waiting for you, that he may kiss you; His arms outstretched, that he may embrace you, his hands are open, that he may enrich you; his body spread out, that he may give himself totally; his feet are nailed, that he may stay there; his side is open for you, that he may let you enter there" (Ibid., 94).

With arms outstretched, the kiss and embrace of Christ in a broken world is the fullest expression of the vulnerable love and mercy of God.  We can approach this infinite Love, because God takes the risk in loving us and invites us into his love.  "This is a God who gets so 'foolishly close' that the boundaries between what is human and what is sacred become blurry.  Suffering . . . is a door by which God can enter in and love us where we are, in our human weakness, our misery and pain.  When we let go of our defenses, our egos, and our walls of separation, God can embrace us in the fragile flesh of our humanity. . . God bends down in the cross to share our tears out of a heart full of mercy and love - and we are caught up in his embrace" (Ibid., 96).

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Of Love's Embrace: God Humbly Bends Down

The topic for November's Schola Christi is "A Presence We Can Approach."  As I have prayed about this and considered Fr. Cameron's reflection among others, what stands out in my mind is that we can approach God because he has made it possible to do so - not only in and through the Incarnation and the Cross but through the act of creation itself.  He has made us for himself.  There is a distinct connection between the mystery of creation and the mystery of the Incarnation of our Redeemer.  St. John writes: "In the beginning was the Word . . . Through him all things came to be, not one thing had its being but through him" (John 1:1-3).

Franciscan theologians, especially, have emphasized this point - that the Incarnation is too great a mystery simply to remedy a defect in humanity.  According to the philosopher Duns Scotus, for example, from all eternity God has willed to come in Christ solely for the reason that God willed to love creatures who would respond and could respond fully in love.  In fact, all of creation is an expression of the Word of God.  Ilia Delio, O.S.F., in her work, The Humility of God writes: "we might say that Incarnation has been happening for a very long time; indeed, ever since God uttered the eternal 'yes' to a finite lover.  All of creation is incarnational.  That is why when Jesus, the Word made flesh, came among us, there was a 'perfect fit' because all along creation was prepared to receive the fullness of the Word into it.  As Bonaventure reminds us, Christ is not ordained to us but rather we are ordained to Christ.  Christ is the noble perfection of creation.  Scotus, too, would say that Jesus Christ is the blueprint for creation because Christ is first in God's intention to love.  To think that from the very 'beginning' (whatever that beginning may be) Christ and creation were destined to be co-lovers of God! " (p. 58).   Thus, we can approach God because from all eternity God has said "yes" to us in love and desired us to love Him in return.

It is this love, that is the reason for the Incarnation, that St. Francis also saw as the reason for God's humility.  Similar to how Pope Benedict XVI describes, in his encyclical Deus Caritas est, Divine Eros as the supreme expression of his Agape, so God's humble love is a love that goes out of itself toward the other for the sake of the other.  God makes himself completely approachable in this sense.  St. Bonaventure wrote: "'The Word was made flesh'.  These words give expression to that heavenly mystery . . . that the eternal God has humbly bent down and lifted the dust of our nature into unity with his own person.'  For Bonaventure, Incarnation signifies a God who humbly bends down to lift us up.  Humility means that God is turned toward us just as the Father turned toward the Son in love.  Because we are finite creatures, God bends over in love to embrace us. . .  .  The humility of God is something like the baby in the crib.  God is at once the small helpless infant who lies quietly in the crib of the universe, and also the strong one who can raise up a fragile human being and draw that person into the embrace of infinite love.  God is Most High and Most Humble. . .  . the Incarnation is the profound bow of God stretching forth the divine arms in a wide embrace of love.  God not only loves creation profoundly but the 'bow' is holy and reverential, as if God loves us to such an extent that he reverences every aspect of creation.  God bends low so that God can meet us exactly where we, finite, fragile, created human beings, creatures and all living things, are" (Delio, p. 51).

We are able to approach this Divine Presence because God has immersed Himself in our humanity.  Again Delio writes: "When Bonaventure speaks of the humility of God, he is saying that God not only meets us where we are but God meets us where we are in our sinfulness, our ugliness, our violent tendencies and selfish behaviors.  The humility of God means that God's love is so abundant that God is willing to plunge into the darkness of humanity to bring us into the fullness of life" (p. 52).

It is for these reasons that we can make that step of faith from the fear and poverty of our humanity across the threshold into the mystery of God life and the embrace of His Love.    

Monday, October 15, 2012

Future Days of Recollection

Now that we have had a couple meetings of the Schola Christi, I thought that we could begin to consider some additional things we might offer for adults and young adults who come to the Oratory.  Whatever we choose to do, I would hope that it could be done in the same spirit of prayer and familiar discussion of the faith and in our mutual attraction to and love for Christ.  

One possibility that came to mind was to offer Days of Recollection.  This might work best with people's busy schedules and would not necessitate limiting the size of the group.  My thought is to offer such mini-retreats quarterly on a Saturday morning beginning with an opportunity for confession at 9am, Mass at 10am, followed by a longer and more developed conference that could either be broken into two (one hour) sessions or one (two hour) session.  The day would conclude with lunch and an opportunity to socialize and to get to know one another a bit more.  

I would be open to any suggestions, but the topic for the first Day of Recollection could be "The Theology and Practice of Reparation."  Here we would consider the meaning of reparation for our sins and the sins of others against the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary and how practically this might be embraced in one's spiritual life.  

Also, in the spirit of St. Philip Neri, I would like to consider ways that we could quietly and lovingly serve those in our community that they might know the presence of Christ and his tender compassion.  St. Philip, as many of you know, was especially attentive to the sick and those in the hospitals of Rome.  Certainly, in Pittsburgh, there is no lack of a need for such a loving presence in our many hospitals or even simply being attentive to the needs of those here in our own immediate community and among our family and friends.  Again, I am open to suggestions and look forward to hearing your thoughts on these possibilities for the group.  Please feel free to comment either here or, if you prefer, send me a private email to share your thoughts.  Even better - - perhaps we can try things the old fashioned way and actually talk to one another directly ;-)

These first meetings of the Schola Christi have been a great joy and I look forward to seeing you in the future.

God bless, Fr. David.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

November Schola Christi Scheduled!

Loving Father, in the darkness of my misery and fear let me hear the tender voice of your Son.  Let me draw close to him, calling him, "Lord."

Friday, October 5, 2012

He Desires All to be Saved Through Him

Having just celebrated the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, it seemed fitting to consider his reflections on the desire of God as we prepare for tomorrow's meeting of the Schola Christi.   As one so closely configured to Christ in his sufferings, bearing on his body the marks of the cross, Francis provides us, not only in word but in his very being, an insight into the depth of God's love for us.  His poverty and suffering gives rise to the same question that should come forth from our depths as we gaze upon the cross: "What wondrous love is this, O my soul?"  As one might expect, in his own words, St. Francis answers with all simplicity: This is a Love that "desires all of us to be saved through him," and to this purpose Jesus makes himself a willing sacrifice on our behalf and for our sins.  This passionate and sacrificial love must become the focus of our actions - for it was intended to be an example for us to follow.  Our first response to this desire must be to receive it with a pure heart and chaste body; to give God our whole self, heart and soul, and to love our neighbor as He has loved us.

St. Francis notes below that this is God's particular desire: that we adore Him in spirit and truth.  He yearns that our love would mirror, would be a reflection, of his own.  Indeed, this is the only way that we can fittingly respond to such a Holy Desire and the only way that our worship can be true.   

This, of course, is done in the shadow of the cross.  Our love must, St. Francis tells us, be formed by penance; we must die to self as well as to sin in order to truly live for God and others.  The Desire that saves must mark our actions and shape our life, making them pure, simple and humble.  We are to become, like Christ, the servants of all.

Thus, in a letter to his brothers, Francis writes:

"It was through his archangel, Saint Gabriel, that the Father above made known to the holy and glorious Virgin Mary that the worthy, holy and glorious Word of the Father would come from heaven and take from her womb the real flesh of our human frailty. Though he was wealthy beyond reckoning, he still willingly chose to be poor with his blessed mother. And shortly before his passion he celebrated the Passover with his disciples. Then he prayed to his Father saying: Father, if it be possible, let this cup be taken from me.

Nevertheless, he reposed his will in the will of his Father. The Father willed that his blessed and glorious Son, whom he gave to us and who was born for us, should through his own blood offer himself as a sacrificial victim on the altar of the cross. This was to be done not for himself through whom all things were made, but for our sins. It was intended to leave us an example of how to follow in his footsteps.

And he desires all of us to be saved through him, and to receive him with pure heart and chaste body.

O how happy and blessed are those who love the Lord and do as the Lord himself said in the gospel: You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart and your whole soul; and your neighbor as yourself. Therefore, let us love God and adore him with pure heart and mind. This is his particular desire when he says: True worshipers adore the Father in spirit and truth. For all who adore him must do so in the spirit of truth. Let us also direct to him our praises and prayers saying: Our Father, who art in heaven, since we must always pray and never grow slack.

Furthermore, let us produce worthy fruits of penance. Let us also love our neighbors as ourselves. Let us have charity and humility. Let us give alms because these cleanse our souls from the stains of sin. Men lose all the material things they leave behind them in this world, but they carry with them the reward of their charity and the alms they give. For these they will receive from the Lord the reward and recompense they deserve. We must not be wise and prudent according to the flesh. Rather we must be simple, humble and pure. We should never desire to be over others. Instead, we ought to be servants who are submissive to every human being for God’s sake. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on all who live in this way and persevere in it to the end. He will permanently dwell in them. They will be the Father’s children who do his work. They are the spouses, brothers and mothers of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Sunday, September 30, 2012

I Thirst For You

As a final post before our next meeting of the Schola Christi, I thought it would be appropriate to share with you a reflection based on the Spiritual Teachings of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta written by the Missionaries of Charity.  It captures beautifully, I believe, the desire of God's heart - His desire to heal and forgive us, to console and strengthen us, to give us His love and receive ours in return:

"Behold I stand at the Door and Knock… (Rev 3:20)

It is true. I stand at the door of your heart, day and night. Even when you are not listening, even when you doubt it could be Me, I am there. I await even the smallest sign of your response, even the least whispered invitation that will allow Me to enter.

And I want you to know that whenever you invite Me, I do come – always, without fail. Silent and unseen I come, but with infinite power and love, and bringing the many gifts of My Spirit. I come with My mercy, with My desire to forgive and heal you, and with a love for you beyond your comprehension – a love every bit as great as the love I have received from the Father; ‘As much as the Father has loved Me, I have loved you…’ (Jn 15:10)

I come – longing to console you and give you strength, to lift you up and bind all your wounds. I bring you my light, to dispel your darkness and all your doubts. I come with My power, that I might carry you and all your burdens; with My grace, to touch your heart and transform your life; and My peace I give to still your soul.

I know you through and through. I know everything about you. The very hairs of your head I have numbered. Nothing in your life is unimportant to Me. I have followed you through the years, and I have always loved you – even in your wanderings. I know every one of your problems. I know your needs and your worries. And yes, I know all your sins. But I tell you again that I love you – not for what you have or haven’t done – I love you for you, for the beauty and dignity you have often forgotten, a beauty you have tarnished by sin. But I love you as you are, and I have shed My Blood to win you back.

If you only ask Me with faith, My grace will touch all that needs changing in your life, and I will give you the strength to free yourself from sin and all its destructive power. I know what is in your heart – I know your loneliness and all your hurts – the rejections, the judgments, the humiliations. I carried it all before you. And I carried it all for you, so you might share My strength and victory.

I know especially your need for love – how you are thirsting to be loved and cherished. But how often have you thirsted in vain, by seeking that love selfishly, striving to fill the emptiness inside you with passing pleasures – with the even greater emptiness of sin. Do you thirst for love? ‘Come to Me all you who thirst… (Jn 7:37). I will satisfy you and fill you. Do you thirst to be cherished? I cherish you more than you can imagine – to the point of dying on the cross for you.

I thirst for you. Yes, that is the only way to even begin to describe My love for you. I THIRST FOR YOU. I thirst to love you and to be loved by you – that is how precious you are to Me. I THIRST FOR YOU. Come to me, and I will fill your heart and heal your wounds. I will make you a new creation, and give you peace, even in all your trials. I THIRST FOR YOU.

You must never doubt My mercy, My acceptance of you, My desire to forgive, My longing to bless you and live My life in you. I THIRST FOR YOU. If you feel unimportant in the eyes of the world, that matters not at all. For Me, there is no one more important in the entire world than you. I THIRST FOR YOU. Open to Me, come to Me, thirst for Me, give Me your life – and I will prove to you how important you are to my heart.

Don’t you realize that My Father already has a perfect plan to transform your life, beginning from this moment? Trust in Me. Ask Me every day to enter and take charge of your life – and I will. I promise you before My Father in heaven that I will work miracles in your life. Why would I do this? Because I THIRST FOR YOU. All I ask of you is that you entrust yourself to Me completely. I will do all the rest. Even now I behold the place My Father has prepared for you in My Kingdom. Remember that you are a pilgrim in this life, on a journey home.

Sin can never satisfy you, or bring the peace you seek. All that you have sought outside of Me has only left you more empty, so do not cling to the things of this life. Above all, do not run from Me when you fall. Come to Me without delay. When you give Me your sins, you give Me the joy of being your Saviour.

There is nothing I cannot forgive or heal’ so come now, and unburden your soul. No matter how far you may wander, no matter how often you forget Me, no matter how many crosses you may bear in this life; there is one thing I want you to always remember, one thing that will never change. I THIRST FOR YOU – just as you are.

You don’t need to change to believe in My love, for it will be your belief in My love that will change you. You forget Me, and yet I am seeking you every moment of the day – standing at the door of your heart and knocking. Do you find this hard to believe? Then look at the Cross, look at My heart that was pierced for you. Have you not understood my Cross? Then listen again to the words I spoke there – for they tell you clearly why I endured all this for you: ‘I THIRST…’ (Jn 19:28). Yes, I thirst for you – as the rest of the psalm verse I was praying says of Me: ‘I looked for someone to console me and I found none…’ (Ps 69:21). All your life I have been looking for your love – I have never stopped seeking to love you and be loved by you. You have tried many other things in your search for happiness; why not try opening your heart to Me, right now, more than you have ever done before.

Whenever you do open the door of your heart, whenever you come close enough, you will hear Me say to you again and again, not in mere human words but in spirit: ‘No matter what you have done, I love you for your own sake. Come to Me with your misery and your sins, with your troubles and needs, and with all your longing to be loved. I stand at the door of your heart and knock. Open to me, for I THIRST FOR YOU…"

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Jesus' Burning Passion for Our Presence

If someone wanted to know our deepest longings and desires, then they would retrieve and study a transcript of our prayers. In particular, they would need a copy of our private prayers, since that is where we all freely and openly pour out our hearts to God. And by looking at what we seek and cry our for to God, they would learn what is truly near and dear to our hearts.

In the Gospel of John, chapter 17, the night before his death, Jesus opens the window of his heart in this prayer to his Father.  And what do we see? We see an ardent yearning for our presence as he prays: “Father, I desire that they also whom you gave me may be with me where I am.”
Although the Greek word is sometimes translated “will,” the words “desire” or “want” convey the meaning better. For the Greek word does not just express determination, but also pleasure, delight and aspiration.  Therefore, Jesus is articulating his heart’s desire to his Father. This is what he wants: he longs for you and me to be where he is. 

Jesus goes on express the reason that he wants us to be with him: “that they may behold my glory which you have given me; for you loved me before the foundation of the world.”  Our Lord's desire for us to share in this glory is reflected in David’s hope as he wrote: “As for me, I will see your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in your likeness” (Ps. 17:15). “One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord” (Ps. 27:4).

It is true that the world has not known the Father, and so it has no right to be in his presence. But Jesus is not praying for the world (John 17:9); he is praying for his disciples and for all that the Father has given him.  “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you did send me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth.”  And to them he has made the Father known, and he will continue by His Spirit to do so. In other words, he will not just bring them to faith; he will also fully sanctify them.

The result, then, of Christ’s work is twofold - the love the Father has for Jesus will be in us; and Christ will be in us (John 17:26).  Jesus will make sure that we know the Father so well that we will love one another with the same love that the Father has for Jesus. In addition, the heart of the covenant will be realized in us, for God in Christ will dwell among us and be our God. The law of this covenant is written on our hearts and through His Spirit and the gift of Sacraments we are given the grace to keep the commandments.  One with Christ, it becomes our very nature to do so.  He will make us holy as he is holy.  And this he will surely do because of his desire that we be where he is!

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Vulnerability of Passionate Love: The Desire of Christ Meeting Our Desire

How is it that we are to understand and more importantly enter into the desire of our Lord?  What is it that makes it concrete and real for us and what is it that will allow it to take hold of our hearts in such a way as to be transformative?  The answer to these questions is probably not what we want to hear; but hear and embrace it we must if we are to taste and experience the depth of God's infinite love for us.  We must make ourselves or rather allow ourselves to be vulnerable in our love and desire for God; like Him we must stretch ourselves out in a loving embrace and in that radical vulnerability allow ourselves to be broken and poured out in love for Christ and others.

There is a profound resistance within us to such vulnerability and we fear the shame of it.  But it is in the very wounds of Christ - it is in uniting our wounds, our brokenness to His, that we experience the deepest and most profound intimacy.

In his work, The Passion of the Lamb, Fr. Thomas Acklin, OSB reminds us that "Jesus did not come to make human desire irrelevant or to abolish desire; he came to fulfill it.  Yet in fulfilling it he shows us much about ourselves, about human desire and about human love."

Fr. Acklin explains that it is important to recall "that the Latin verb patior, besides meaning 'to suffer or feel deeply,' also means 'to lie open or be vulnerable.'  The word vulnerability comes from the Latin noun vulnus, vulneris, meaning 'wound.'  To be vulnerable is to lie open, to be exposed to being wounded, and the wounds of Christ crucified are the emblems of his passion."

"Not only our passion but also our vulnerability is a very important and personally intimate place of contact between Christ's life and our human lives, as well as between Christ's death and our own approach to death. . .  . We see the vulnerability of the divine Son - of the infinite, divine Person - in his taking on a finite human form or nature, become one of us.

In the vulnerability of our own passion, we marvel at and share in the infinite vulnerability of his passion.  We embrace our passion in embracing his, pressing our wounds against his. . . . This means realizing that the desire to share in his passion is already the union with him we are seeking.  Somehow the blood of my wounds and of my desire is already flowing into his wounds, and the blood of his wounds into mine.

If we are to love him here, we must become vulnerable in the vulnerability of the passion.  If we wish to receive him and adore him in the abiding fruit of his love and his passion in the Eucharist, where the infinite Son of God lets himself be exposed and gives himself with unlimited vulnerability under the appearances of bread and wine, we must ourselves become vulnerable and live the passion of our vulnerability in the vulnerability of his passion.  This is how all things will be made new, how every tear will be wiped away" (Passion of the Lamb, pp 7-10).

The Lord's Desire to Remain with Us

"And, lo I am with you, to the close of the age" (Matthew 28:20).  The Incarnation itself expresses God's profound desire to be present to us.  Jesus is Emmanuel, that is "God with us" (Matthew 1:23).  This presence of God does not cease at the Ascension of Our Lord but continues, as He promised, in the most profound of ways; above all through His sacramental presence in the Most Holy Eucharist.  It is here that we encounter and receive His love in all its fullness.  This is captured beautifully by Bl. Angela of Foligno who writes:

"O God, O Creator, O Spirit of Life overwhelming Your creatures with ever new graces! You grant to Your chosen ones the gift which is ever renewed: the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ!

O Jesus, You instituted this Sacrament, not through any desire to draw some advantage from it for Yourself, but solely moved by love which has no other measure than to be without measure. You instituted this Sacrament because Your love exceeds all words. Burning with love for us, You desired to give Yourself to us and took up Your dwelling in the consecrated Host, entirely and forever, until the end of time. And You did this, not only to give us a memorial of Your death which is our salvation, but You did it also, to remain with us entirely and forever."

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Mutual Attraction Between Jesus and the Souls of Men

The Beloved longs for us and to give us His love and forgiveness.  Our poverty, weakness and sin does not lessen His desire to give Himself to us or weaken His longing to bring us healing and wholeness.  What Fr. Faber puts forward below we must acknowledge especially when responding to the Church's call to evangelize.  It is Christ and His grace - - not human eloquence, learning or controversy - - that lures the soul.

..."The Blessed Sacrament is the magnet of souls. There is a mutual attraction between Jesus and the souls of men. Mary drew Him down from heaven. Our nature attracted Him rather than the nature of angels. Our misery caused Him to stoop to our lowness. Even our sins had a sort of attraction for the abundance of His mercy and the predilection of His grace. Our repentance wins Him to us. Our love makes earth a paradise to Him; and our souls lure Him as gold lures the miser, with irresistible fascination, . . . 

He draws us to Himself by grace, by example, by power, by lovingness, by beauty, by pardon, and above all by the Blessed Sacrament. Every one who has had anything to do with ministering to souls has seen the power which Jesus has. Talent is not needed. Eloquence is comparatively unattractive. Learning is often beside the mark. Controversy simply repels... All the attraction of the Church is in Jesus, and His chief attraction is the Blessed Sacrament."
- from "The Blessed Sacrament", by Fr. Frederick Faber, C.O.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Heart Consumed by the Living Fire of Love

The saints have long held out the value of meditating upon the Passion of our Lord as a means of deepening our desire and love for God.  Here is the lesson, as it were, that we can reflect upon endlessly.  The Sacred Heart of Jesus is consumed with love for us and His desire for our salvation and is the crucible in which our sins are purged.
"The Passion and Death of Christ involved his whole body.  They were effected through all the wounds which he received during the Passion.  However they were above all accomplished in his Heart, because it agonized in the dying of his entire body.  His Heart was consumed in the throbbing pain of all his wounds.    In this despoliation the Heart burned with love; a living fire of love consumed the Heart of Jesus on the Cross.
This love of the Heart was the propitiating power for sins.  It overcame and overcomes for all time all the evil contained in sin, all estrangement from God, all rebellion of the human free will, all improper use of created freedom which opposes God and his holiness.
Jesus is the willing victim because he offered himself "freely to his passion" (Roman Missal, Eucharistic Prayer II), the victim of expiation for the sins of mankind (cf. Lev. 1:5; Heb. 10:5-10), which he purged in the fire of his love.
Jesus is the eternal victim.  Risen from the dead and glorified at the right hand of the Father, he preserves in his immortal body the marks of the wounds of his nailed hands and feet, of his pierced heart (cf. Jn. 20:27; Lk. 24:39-40) and presents them to the Father in his incessant prayer of intercession on our behalf."  (Blessed John Paul II)

The School of Christ is the School of Charity

As we have begun to gather together for what we call the "Schola Christi" or School of Christ, it is good to remind ourselves about who and what we are seeking in and through our discussions.  Indeed, we have sought to emphasize from the start that we come to sit at the feet of Christ prayerfully and to listen to the word that He desires to speak to our hearts.  From this silent and attentive listening we then seek to speak and tell the world of His goodness and love.

Today is the feast of St. Robert Bellarmine who directs us toward this same purpose: "The school of Christ is the school of charity.  On the last day, when the great general examination takes place, there will be no question at all on the text of Aristotle, the aphorisms of Hippocrates, or the paragraphs of Justinian.  Charity will be the whole syllabus. . . . If you are wise, then know that you have been created for the glory of God and your own eternal salvation.  This is your goal: this is the center of your life; this the treasure of your heart."

Sunday, September 16, 2012

God's Desire for Our Salvation is Infinite

 Confession: manifestation of God's mercy

"The soul also receives Baptism in another way, speaking in figurative terms, by special providence of my divine love. I was well aware of human fragility and weakness, that leads human beings to offend me. Persons are not constrained by this nor by any other thing to commit the fault, if they do not wish, but being weak they commit mortal sins, thus losing the grace they received in holy baptism by virtue of the Blood. For this reason it was necessary that Divine Love should make available a continual baptism of the Blood. This baptism comes about through a contrite heart and through confession of sins to a priest, when possible, for they have the keys of the Blood, the Blood the priest pours upon the soul when he absolves the person. If some one is unable to confess, contrition of heart is sufficient. Then my mercy bestows on you the fruit of this precious Blood, but if you can confess I want you to do so, and whoever being able does not confess, will remain deprived of the benefit of the Blood. However, it is true that whoever, at the moment of death wants to confess and is unable to do it, he likewise shall receive the fruit of the Blood. But let nobody be so foolish at life's end, hoping to set his soul in order, because it is not certain that I, due to his obstinacy, may say in consonance with my divine justice: "You did not remember me during your life, when you had time. I do not remember you now at the point of death!"

Let no one procrastinate it, but even if there should be somebody who has wilfully done so, he ought not omit baptizing himself with hope in the Blood even if it were the last day. You see then how this baptism is continual and the soul must be baptized in it until life's end, as I have indicated. Through this baptism you can understand that the torment of the cross ended, but the fruit of this torment, which you received from me is infinite. This is due to my infinite divine nature, united to finite human nature. This human nature suffered in me, Word, clothed with your humanity. Since one nature is joined and kneaded with the other, the eternal divinity brought upon itself the torment which I bore with such ardent love.

That is why this my action can be said to be infinite, not because the torment suffered bodily is infinite, nor the torment of my desire of accomplishing your redemption, which really finished and came to an end on the cross when the soul was separated from the body. But the fruit that sprang from that torment and the desire for your salvation are infinite. That is the reason why you can unsparingly receive this fruit. If it had not been infinite then humanity would not have been redeemed: people of the past, the present and the future. It would not have been possible for persons who sin to be purified from their sins, if this baptism of blood had not been offered without measure, because the fruit of the Blood is infinite.

I showed you this in my open side, where you discover the secret of my heart: namely, that I love you much more than what I could show you with the finite torment. I have shown you that my love is infinite. In what way? With the baptism of the Blood, joined to the fire of my charity, that out of love was poured out; and through baptism, understood in the common sense, given to Christians, to whoever wishes to receive it, baptism of water joined to blood and to fire, in which the soul is kneaded with my blood. To show you all this I wanted blood and water to flow forth from my side. Now I have answered your request."

St. Catherine of Siena, Doctor of the Church: The Dialogue LXXV