Tuesday, May 31, 2016


Mary said, "All generations will call me blessed,
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name" (Luke 1:48-49).

Sunday, May 29, 2016

For Corpus Christi: "What is this Love?"

What is this Love?

What is this Love,
this Love inexhaustible
broken into crumbs,

poured out in earthen vessels?

What is this Love?
Love Creator of the burning stars;
Love Creator of the angels—
     those great, gigantic, magnificent, comprehending spirits.

Love Creator of the human being….
     The glorious human being:
     master of the earth and its things,
     yet a tiny speck under the sky;
     image of God,
     dust and ashes.
     great and miserable,
     hungry humanity, hungry with a thousand hungers….

This is Love's impossible gift;
Love inexhaustible,
     broken into crumbs,
     poured out in earthen vessels.

Love beyond all measure
become a morsel of food and drink
     in our tiny mouths.

Given and given, poured out and broken,
Love to the end, scattered
     beyond the edges of all wandering,
     finding, filling
     the hidden empty starved spaces
     of the most distant secret silent cries.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Value of Work

What is the value of our work? Are we merely part of a vast process for the production of things and the attainment of quantifiable "results"? Surely this is not adequate. There is more that must be said about the real worth of our efforts.

Every kind of human work requires the investment of ourselves, and therefore the "return" on that investment doesn't find its ultimate value in the realm of external things we can measure. That doesn't mean there aren't measurable results from our work, and that we shouldn't seek them; it just means that those results will never be greater than our value as human beings engaging our world and impressing upon it the distinctive mark of our own intelligent action.

We promote careers and education and using our talents and doing this and that--these things are important; they are factors of real life. But no one should feel dehumanized because of the particular work they do, however humble it may appear to be. Every worker is an acting person addressing his or her world in freedom.

There's really no such thing as "unskilled" labor pure and simple. Human action is the original "skill" that not only shapes the material world but also constitutes it as an "environment" of personal achievement.

Ultimately, however, work is a way of loving. It is shaped and aimed by particular constructive needs, and so of course it seeks results. But the dignity of human work is not measured by the results. It is something more than a material value.

The dignity of work consists in the self-giving of human persons. As a gift of the person, as love, work cannot be bought or sold for any price. The only adequate response to love is love.

Work is the way we build up our environment by giving and receiving love. Thus the world is personalized, it becomes a place where human persons dwell together, a place of community.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Only From You

Jesus, I feel within me 
a great desire to please You
but, at the same time,
I feel totally incapable of doing this
without Your special light and help,
which I can expect only from You.
Accomplish Your will in me
 – even in spite of me. Amen.

~Saint Claude de la Colombiere

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Everything is Changed

In the difficulty and awkwardness and apparent impossibility of mundane life, there God is present.

And this is not some abstract mysticism.

This is something that is really true, in every moment, because God became a Crucified Man and penetrated the depths of every sin, every moment of misery, and even the dull tedium of every day.

Everything belongs to His merciful heart, everything is changed, and filled with the hidden possibilities of love, because everything can be offered.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Sky Blue, Cardinal Red

The rainy season appears to be at an end, and Spring is rapidly turning to Summer. The mornings are bright but still cool, with clear blue skies and birds everywhere.

This Cardinal seems to be marking his turf and eyeing Reepicheep. A nest must be in the making.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Suffering and Solidarity

We are all suffering in various ways. It's true.

Some endure greater trials than others at any given time, but we can't really judge the measure of each other's sufferings. Our responsibility is to stand together and help one another in whatever ways we can, to remember that we belong to one another as children of God and brothers and sisters in God's family.

All of us are called, ultimately, to give everything: to pour ourselves out in the complete surrender by which we will truly find ourselves forever through the total and definitive gift of ourselves. God knows the paths that each person needs to travel to make that gift. Everything remains in His hands.

One of the ways God embraces us is through our compassion for one another. Some people are in situations where there is no way to provide them with any immediate comfort, but we must share one another's sufferings and be present to one another nevertheless. To those of us who try to console others, it's important to remember that we never know how we might be helping someone even if he or she doesn't seem to gain some "practical" benefit, or appears unaware of our efforts. Much more important than how a suffering person reacts to what we say or do at a particular moment is how much love and solidarity are really contained in our gestures.

Let us try to think of ways, even very small ways, that we can "stay with one another" in the painful and dark places of our lives.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Power and the Freedom of Faith, Twelfth Century Style

The Great Conversion Story for May 2016 focuses on the drama of a king named Henry and his best friend Thomas. I have reproduced it below. To see this column every month (and many other terrific aids to prayer and the Christian life) please subscribe today to the wonderful MAGNIFICAT magazine. Available in print or digital forms.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

It Rained, And It Rained, And It Rained...

Pictures from these wet days of May:

Wet buttercup blooming.

It's pretty muddy out there.

One crow, against the world.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Water and the Spirit

"Jesus stood up and exclaimed,
'Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink.
As Scripture says:
Rivers of living water will flow
from within him who believes in me.'
He said this in reference to the Spirit
that those who came to believe in him were to receive"
(John 7:37-39).

Our Easter has been fulfilled at Pentecost. Come Holy Spirit, fill us with Your gifts and dwell in our hearts!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Saint John Paul II, Confessor

The blood of John Paul II is honored as his chief relic.
Today is the anniversary of momentous events in the history of the twentieth century.

It is the 99th anniversary of the first appearance of the Blessed Virgin Mary to the shepherd children at Fatima. In the ensuing months these three small children were given a mysterious glimpse of the drama and the horror that awaited the Christian people and the whole world in the years to come. The Virgin Mary also reaffirmed her special closeness to the Popes, whom, she said, "would have much to suffer."

Thirty five years ago, on May 13, 1981, that suffering reached a climactic moment that touched all of us. Thirty five years ago today, Saint John Paul II shed his blood for Jesus Christ and His Catholic Church.

In the early history of Christianity, people who endured persecution for Christ, who were afflicted with the wounds of torture and imprisonment but not put to death, were styled "Confessors." Sometimes they returned to their communities, where their ongoing witness encouraged others in difficult times.

John Paul II's body was pierced through by the bullet of a professional assassin from Turkey, Mehmet Ali Agca. It was the perfect execution of an operation that had been planned for months by various criminal organizations headed, allegedly, by agents of the Bulgarian secret service.

It is likely that Bulgarian agents were carrying out orders from the Soviet Union.

John Paul's 1979 visit to his native Poland had shaken the foundations of the totalitarian atheistic Communist system. His witness to the faith and to the dignity of the human person lit a fire in the hearts of the Polish people, a fire that grew bright the following year in the rise of the independent trade union Solidarity.

The Soviets and their minions had "motive," certainly, to desire to be rid of this meddlesome priest. They had plenty of opportunity to access the young Pope who was so accessible to the people everywhere he went. It would not have been difficult for them to arrange the hire of a professional gunman with obscure connections and set in motion a plan to kill the Pope.

In fact, the Agca plan was a success by every standard of human evaluation. He was able to fire a perfect shot at close range.

But there remained one inexplicable fact: John Paul II didn't die.

Miraculously, the bullet did not pass through any major organs, though it did significant damage to his intestines.

The Pope underwent hours of surgery as the faithful and people of all religions and viewpoints prayed and hoped and worried desperately.

He survived. He would later insist that "one hand pulled the trigger, but another hand guided the bullet." He was convinced that the Mother of God had protected him and saved him on that day. He had shed his blood in the exercise of his office as successor of Saint Peter. But he remained with us for almost 24 more years.

They were years of eloquent witness, years that gave us courage.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Challenge of Peacemaking

Cross for the "Kiss of Peace"
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God" (Matthew 5:9).

How can I be a "peacemaker"? This is a question that I bring before the Lord in my heart, especially in these days. How does this question affect my thoughts, my writing, my relationship with my neighbor?

I know that being a peacemaker does not mean avoiding all human conflict. If we don't engage seriously and deeply the character and the root causes of conflicts between people, we cannot possibly understand what is broken, where forgiveness and healing are needed, where people need to be challenged to convert and change their lives, where restitution is due and also where generosity and sacrifice can be transforming.

There is no peacemaking without realism. A Christian realism (the only fully adequate, "integral" realism) sheds the light of the Gospel on a world of people who can be changed by Jesus, but who also continue to be "on the way," traveling the journeys of their lives from many (often mysterious) places; people who remain weak and confused about many things, and still thwarted by evil and deception. This is true of all human beings in this world. This is true of Christians. This is true of me.

When we join together to work for "peace in the world," we must not think that somehow we can bring about a utopia, a permanent end to all human conflict. This kind of "World Peace" is at best a dream or an abstraction, and at worst a sinister ideology masked by idealism, but that really seeks to impose a depersonalizing control that crushes human freedom, making "peace" by making everyone slaves or corpses.

Ultimate peace will come only at the fulfillment of all things. We await in hope the glory of the New Jerusalem from on high, a new creation. As long as the present age endures, however, there will be evil in the world, and with it the ongoing task of overcoming evil with good.

Still, here and now we desire peace, work for peace, pray for peace--at least as much peace in as many places as frail human nature will bear. Not the abstract utopia of a peace that would bring the drama of history and freedom to an end. But real peace among real people, in real circumstances, for a certain time (precious time) --this is within the reach of human efforts aided by the God of peace.

Another beatitude contains the key to our task of being peacemakers in the present time: Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Mercy is the key to peace.

Peace with God, which is where it all begins. Peace within the family, in the parish, in the community, in work relationships, on the Internet...Peace in my world. Peace can radiate out from me, if I am a man of mercy, if I do the works of mercy.

What does this mean? It means a whole new way of looking at human weakness, human frailty, human failure, in myself and in those I encounter. The weakness of others, the faults of others, the capacity that others have to cause us pain by their failures and above all in their actions toward us--all of these things give birth to conflict, estrangement, and separations. They wound and break relationships. They divide us. They take root and establish the foundations of rivalry and the partisan spirit that so often afflicts our common endeavors.

Mercy changes everything. Mercy sees the weakness in others as a possibility to help, to give, to forgive, perhaps to endure through love. Mercy gives "space" to the other person for growth in love; mercy gives encouragement, extends empathy, seeks to build up--always--unity in truth and love. Sometimes, mercy must have the courage to fight, to break down resistance, to seek out those who are lost--but mercy never fights against the person; it always fights for the person, for their true good and against what hinders it.

Mercy seeks, especially in the face of human weakness and failure, for the constructive possibilities of love, of rebuilding what is human, of healing. Mercy is love's response to weakness, indifference, and even rejection. It does not take offense. It keeps on loving. It loves more.

But I cannot be merciful by my own power. I have received, and continue to receive, mercy from God. He is healing me, and it is only through Him that I can hope to be an instrument of mercy to others. It is only through Him that I will find the courage to suffer that weakness and failure in others and in myself that remains, for as long as it remains.

This is what builds peace: persons, families, communities, environments where mercy is given and received. This is the hope of peoples and nations: forgiving and moving forward, bearing one another's burdens, working together toward a common goal. Solidarity. Mercy. Even on the political level, the Christian proposal is the only reasonable and practical hope for human community: a "politics of mercy."

All mercy flows from the Cross, where Jesus responds to all our violence and all our resistance by enduring it in His own body and giving it back to us as a gift of love.

Let us begin by opening our hearts to receive this Gift.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

"Ask and You Will Receive"... But WHEN? How Long, O Lord?

Jesus said to his disciples:
"Amen, amen, I say to you,
whatever you ask the Father in my name

he will give you.
Until now you have not asked anything

in my name;
ask and you will receive,

so that your joy may be complete"
(John 16:23-24).

But wait, Jesus. It doesn't seem to work quite like You seem to be saying here. I've asked for tons of things that I haven't gotten, at least not according to the specifications implied by "whatever you ask...He will give you."

I understand, of course, and I'm grateful that He hasn't given me everything I've asked for, because I've asked for things in the past that I now know were pretty dumb. In fact, the Father answered my prayers more deeply by protecting me from my own stupidity. Thank you, Father! Thank you!

Really, seriously, thank You!

Thank You for doing Your will and not mine. You know what truly corresponds to my needs and what will really fulfill me. You have saved me from disasters that I would have gotten into if You had given me my own way.

And yet, there are still things that I don't understand. Sometimes it seems like the deepest begging, the most ardent cries of my heart to Him, the most fundamental and desperate prayers are met by... Silence.

What is this awesome, agonizing, mysterious Silence?

I want to know God's will. Silence. I want to understand. Silence. I want to grow in faith and virtue and witness and good deeds. I want to build up the good in the world, be a peacemaker, bring people to salvation and the fullness of the faith in Him. Silence, Silence, Silence.

Where are you, O God? Why have you forsaken me?

And here is where I begin to really learn what it means to pray "in the name of Jesus." Invoking His name is not some conjuring trick to get God to do my will. It means uniting my prayer to the heart of Jesus and letting Him take over my hopes and desires and sufferings, letting Him find me and carry me from within the silence of my own helplessness to the Silence of His Love.

He wants to shape me through the cross to the resurrection of that Love which answers all my needs beyond the boundaries of my own asking. To ask "in His name" is to ask all the way to the depths of everything and my own self, and to receive Him for whom I have been created and who sums up all things in Himself.

The road to the fullness of joy is a road of unconquerable hope, because Jesus has promised that He is with us in the deepest darkness and the greatest silence. He is transforming our suffering through His own suffering into the joy that can never be taken from us.

Lord I believe! Help my unbelief! Jesus, help me. I don't understand. I am so broken, so much in need of healing. Father I beg you to carry me in Jesus, in His name, in His heart, in the Holy Spirit who awakens joy.

With all I have been given, why do I so often feel so terribly alone? Why, O God?

You are in the depths of the depths, in the Silence beyond all things and myself and everyone, You. And so I hurt and endure and wait... in hope, in trust, in the name of Jesus.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

We Must Remember Who We Are...Now More Than Ever!

No matter what happens in the world during this strange year of 2016, those of us who have encountered Jesus Christ living in His Church and have been given the grace of a new life in Him must remember who we are.

Let us not be distracted from this new life. Let us rather return again and again to the Source who has brought us together, opened up the meaning of our lives, and given us the courage to face the whole of reality with all its possibilities and all its problems.

And let us remember that He empowers us to look at one another in a new way, to see one another as brothers and sisters, to love one another with all our differences, peculiarities, mistakes and weaknesses. We are called to "bear with one another through love" and to "strive to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:2-3).

Together through this unity, we become free to build up the beautiful and the good, and a passion is born within us, a passion to look at each and every human being in this new way, to see them and open our hearts to them as they really are: a child of God, a brother or sister, a person worthy of love.

"Live in a manner worthy of the call you have received,
with all humility and gentleness,
with patience,
bearing with one another through love,
striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit
through the bond of peace:
one body and one Spirit,
as you were also called to the one hope of your call;
one Lord, one faith, one baptism;
one God and Father of all,
who is over all and through all and in all"
(Ephesians 4:1-6).

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Can Intellectuals Be Saved?

The ruins of Athens.

Today's first reading from Acts presents that wonderful moment that could be called the founding of Christian Philosophy as Saint Paul engages the intellectuals of Athens. In four verses (Acts 17:24-28) Paul presents a summary of the heights and depths of what human reason can know about the Mystery, about "the Unknown God" that they "unknowingly worship" (see Acts 17:23).

These words must have resonated with his listeners even as they strike us today. 

The God who made the world and all that is in it,
the Lord of heaven and earth,
does not dwell in sanctuaries made by human hands,
nor is he served by human hands because he needs anything.
Rather it is he who gives to everyone life and breath and everything.
He made from one the whole human race
to dwell on the entire surface of the earth,
and he fixed the ordered seasons and the boundaries of their regions,
so that people might seek God,
even perhaps grope for him and find him,
though indeed he is not far from any one of us.
For 'In him we live and move and have our being,'
as even some of your poets have said,
'For we too are his offspring.'

Someone gives us our being, our life and our breath and everything. Someone places us together on this journey of life and makes us brothers and sisters. We are the children of this God who is beyond the whole universe while also being the source and goal of all things, the One who is "nearer to us than we are to ourselves" (as Saint Augustine says in his Confessions) and is also our fulfillment. We seek Him, "even perhaps grope for Him and find Him."

Isn't this what the human adventure is all about: Searching for the Mystery?

We can imagine that Saint Paul had the attention of the Athenians through all of this magnificent discourse. But then came something different. Saint Paul was not interested in a theory. He was making a proposal.

The Unknown God, the Mystery, the source and fulfillment of our being has entered history. He has come to give Himself to us, and He is calling us to follow Him.

...now [God] demands that all people everywhere repent
because he has established a day on which he will 'judge the world
with justice' through a man he has appointed,
by raising him from the dead.

What words are these in Acts 17:30-31? Saint Paul is proclaiming that something has happened, something that calls us (and empowers us) to turn in a new direction, to change, convert, repent. God has "appointed" "a man" in the most profound way possible: He has Himself become "a man" and has defeated sin and death. He offers us healing, freedom from sin and death, the justice that He alone can bestow, a new life.

The Athenians realized that this was not just a conversation. It was an invitation, a moment of grace, a moment that could change the history of their own lives if they freely chose to adhere to the truth about the event that Saint Paul had proclaimed.

Time to decide. This is a provocative moment, and it can be a scary moment. We search for the Mystery, not really knowing what it might mean to find Him. And then, suddenly, He finds us. Saint Paul here represents the proposal that Jesus makes so often in the Gospels: "If you want eternal life, follow Me."

This sudden, dramatic possibility is at the same time a unique challenge to our freedom, a challenge to let go of ourselves. We are called to relinquish our imaginary self-sufficiency and enter into a concrete relationship with this mysterious Other who reveals Himself through a human face. We know from Paul's letters that he understood the living reality of Jesus in the Church; indeed, it was central to his own encounter with the Risen Christ who identified Himself with His disciples.

Paul was saying, "If you want to know the true God, come and stay with us!"

The intellectuals of the Areopagus, no doubt, were taken aback by this wild Jewish rabbi and his ragtag bunch who insisted that the way to find the truth was to follow this man who has been raised from the dead.


Intellectuals haven't changed much in two thousand years. For some of them (and us) this was just plain bad manners. Or worse, it was irrational, crazy, impossible.

Still, the intellectuals must have realized, somewhere deep down inside, that Paul had just said the most beautiful, the most compelling, the most important thing that had ever been said in all the hundreds of years of talking in that famous place.

They were struck. They had a taste of what they had been searching for all their lives. Wild, humble, passionate Paul was offering them a chance for eternal life... part of them wanted to trust him but part of them held back because of all the pretexts and difficulties that intellectuals invent to tie themselves in knots.

We're talking about Saint Paul here. The Athenians who didn't dismiss him as crazy were fascinated and drawn to this amazing proclamation and the man who made it. But they were also afraid... afraid to let go....

So they did what intellectuals always do, what we still do today. They stalled.

“We should like to hear you on this some other time."  They said. (Acts 17:32)

We like this, they said. Can we keep talking about it? Can we talk some more, ask more questions, theorize more, put off making a decision?

Paul gained a few followers for Jesus that day. There was at least one philosopher, Dionysius "the Areopagite" (who would become famous centuries later for theological treatises that he didn't write). There was a woman named Damaris. What was her story? "And others...." A few followers.

I wonder what happened to the philosophers who wanted to keep talking. There's no indication that Saint Paul ever returned there. The Apostle knew he would be wasting his time. He wanted to preach the Gospel. They wanted to dilly-dally.

They still do. We still do. We, philosophers, and even (especially!) theologians. We the intellectual elite. Beneath all our learning and skill there is a great poverty, a weakness, a failure of courage that keeps us trapped between the fascination of truth and the fear of losing ourselves.

From the anxiety of this condition of hesitation many words are born. Volumes of words. Our erudition is a cover for our secret awkward awareness that we are afraid to follow Him. We don't want to let go of our self-love, our petty ambitions, our grudges, our possessions, our self-image and status. Behind the erudition we know we are as helpless and grubby and sinful and needy as everybody else.

Our real hope, our only hope, is the same as that of the simple people who followed Saint Paul on that day: God's grace and mercy. We need the love of Jesus Christ to break through our resistance and save us. We need Him to change our hearts, to win us, to raise us from our deep death. We need the Holy Spirit to humble us and make us silent within ourselves so that we can hear His voice. We need Jesus in the Church, in her teaching, her ministry, her sacraments, and her presence to us through our brothers and sisters.

Don't be fooled by us philosophers, theologians, intellectuals. We need mercy. We need your attentiveness and your patience because we can be very stubborn and very slow. We need your love.

The heart of Jesus is full of love and mercy even for intellectuals. We can be so proud and so selfish and so terrified. But He can work miracles.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Saint Athanasius, Incarnation, and Solidarity

"Through this union of the immortal Son of God with our human nature, all humans were clothed with incorruption in the promise of the resurrection. For the solidarity of humankind is such that, by virtue of the Word's indwelling in a single human body, the corruption which goes with death has lost its power over all."

~Saint Athanasius, On The Incarnation 2:9