Choosing the better part

Choosing the better part

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."