Monday, February 26, 2018

Transfigured Humanity, Transfiguring Divinity

The Transfiguration by Giovanni Bellini
"For it was for this end that the Word of God was made man,
and He who was the Son of God became the Son of man,
that man, having been taken into the Word,
and receiving the adoption,

might become the son of God." 
+St. Irenaeus, Adversus Heareses III/19

Transfiguration, disclosing Christ's divinity:
self-manifestation of the Blessed Trinity.

Moses and Elijah honor his obedience;
three Apostles witness his imminent Risen Presence.

Jesus' glory reveals each person's destiny,
and so restores humankind's tenuous sanity.

No longer meaningless toil till death does come calling;
eternal life shines through each day's rising and falling.

Emptiness and suffering and woe do not laugh last;
they become portals to a future freed from the past.

Self-giving love becomes self-emptying gift;
Life pours forth for all, healing the original rift.

Christ points to the end before his suffering does start,
 with existence's "Why" shining through his Sacred Heart.

Healed humanity, taken up into the Word:
God calls all to adoption, thus transforming the world!

Monday, February 19, 2018

Spiritual Warfare in the Face of our Fears

A couple months ago when I went to Confession, the priest asked, "What are your strategies for resisting temptations?"  I didn't come up with a particularly impressive answer, given where I was sitting.

His pointed advice was threefold:
  1. there is an Enemy who wants to draw us away from the peace and joy and the confident trust which we can experience living in right relationship with God; 
  2. the sooner we recognize the Enemy's tactics, the quicker we can push back against them; 
  3. we need to have a few "go to" resources in our spiritual repertoire.

He recommended naming the specific temptation and then casting it out, either by invoking the Holy Name of Jesus or by asking for the intercession of Mother Mary.  (The prayer to St. Michael the Archangel also came highly recommended!)

As a nation, we continue to lose spiritual battle after spiritual battle because we continue to fail to acknowledge that we are in a state of spiritual warfare.  St. Paul reminds us that "our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens" (Eph 6:12).  We must recognize this basic fact and start identifying the Enemy's tactics, so that our resistance can be prompt and unwavering.

One of the greatest temptations of this historical moment is to allow fear to control us--whether we allow ourselves to be swallowed up by it or justify lashing out at others because of it.  We must remember that the Father of Lies is the aboriginal Fearmonger.  Satan knows that the antithesis of faith is not doubt but fear.  To best drive out faith in a God whose providential Love holds us in existence, moment by moment, the Enemy wants to paralyze us in our fears or to allow our fears to drive us to irrationally target some convenient scapegoat(s).

To identify and respond to potential threats is, of course, a natural reaction rooted in legitimate self-defense and protection of innocent life.  It is ultimately motivated by healthy love of self and love of neighbor.  But the fear which renders us inert or apoplectic is the subtle poison against which we must find a personal antidote.

So let's explore this spiritual exercise today:
  1. identify the specific fear which most controls or drives me;
  2. name it;
  3. then cast it out by invoking Jesus, through the intercession of our Blessed Mother, at whose names the demons recoil in fear.
The only way to win a spiritual battle is by employing the superior spiritual resources which are always at our disposal.  Let us never forget, "...perfect love drives out fear" (1 Jn 4:18).

O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you--

Monday, February 12, 2018

Repent, Pharisee Within: Jesus "Don't Play"!

Jesus Christ is clearly "the face of the Father's mercy," yet he doesn't fool around when it comes to hypocrites.

"Oh, you Pharisees! 
Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish,

inside you are filled with plunder and evil.  You fools!
Did not the maker of the outside also make the inside?"
(Lk 11:39-40)

This Lent, it's time to ask how my often pharisaical ego exasperates the Lord.  Jesus clearly has no patience for hypocrites who hide behind appearances or worldly conventions.  , So what are my true motives when I give alms or perform pious acts publicly (Mt 6:1-6, 16-18)?  The "optics" may work as show for outsiders, but Jesus asks the more fundamental question of where I am really standing in relation to the Maker of my inmost self.

If my heart is conflicted, divided, even hardened by ego-centered motives, the Lord himself says that I have already received my reward--that is, I'm stuck with me, myself, and I.  Dare I pray the words of the penitential Psalmist this Lent, "A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me" (Ps 51:12)?

The Lord doesn't expect me to clean the inside on my own, let alone heal myself of my original wound.  But the question is whether I will encounter the merciful Savior as one who admits that I need mercy, as one who acknowledges my own brokenheartedness.

The simple reminder here is that Jesus wants me to be more honest about my motives.  He wants my intentions to be more pure.  This way, I can better conform my life to him--better align myself to his Person:
  1. When I share the material goods which I have on loan from God, will I do so in response to Jesus’ mysterious presence in my neighbor?  As Pope Francis observes, “our brothers and sisters are the prolongation of the incarnation for each of us” (EG,n. 179).
  2. In my daily prayer conversation with our heavenly Father, will I unmask my various false selves and allow myself to be vulnerable--sharing my joys and sorrows?
  3. In my sluggish efforts to fast from various forms of self-indulgence, will my approach be one of embracing a spiritual exercise rather than another self-help initiative?  

As long as I "don't play" with deceptions of self-importance and worries about the opinions of others, I trust that my "Father who sees what is hidden" will repay me (Mt 6:1-6, 16-18)!

Monday, February 5, 2018

Why we must pursue Jesus in a deserted place

"Rising very early before dawn,
Jesus left and went off to a deserted place..."

(Mk 1:35)

Why does Jesus repeatedly head off to a deserted place?  Because that is "...where he prayed" (Mk 1:35), where the Son of God himself went:
  • to bask in the eternal embrace of perfect Love
  • to absorb the anointing presence of the Spirit
  • to restore and rejuvenate his healing powers
  • to prepare to preach with other-worldly authority
  • to discern the will of the Father

Son though he was, Jesus "did not regard equality with God something to be grasped" (Phil 2:6).  Rather, he retreated from the tumult of his public mission to reclaim his deepest identity and to commune with the source of life itself.

Amid the disorienting days in which we live, let's look for a deserted place--or perhaps a desert of sorts:
  • To bask in the eternal embrace of perfect Love who holds us in existence; to foster a grateful awareness of this moment-by-moment gift.

  • To absorb the anointing presence of the Spirit who ignites the charisms of our callings; to allow the full array of our baptismal gifts to bear fruit by asking that they not remain dormant.

  • To restore and rejuvenate Jesus' healing power within us, so we can then carry it to others; to drive out the demons of isolation and despair which haunt so many with our healing presence.
  • To prepare us to proclaim the Gospel to every creature (Mk 16:15), with the authority and compassion of Christ; to become missionary disciples who can speak the Word born out of personal friendship with the Lord.
  • To discern the will of the Father who is the source of "all good giving and of every perfect gift" (1 Jas 1:17); to make Jesus' work our life work, namely, willing the will of the One who sends us.

In a special way, let's pursue Jesus anew in a deserted place because--as Peter explained to the Lord--"Everyone is looking for you" (Mk 1:37)!