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A Contribution to the Spirituality of Dealing with Trolls

Nearly a month ago I traveled to Boston for the Catholic New Media Conference. I have my initial reflections here, but a few things in particular required some further thought. No matter the session or group I was in, over the course of the day, one thing continued to pop up, trolls.

In the roundtable discussion I gave my initial, analogical reflection. We need to be like Bilbo Baggins (I’m not in any way partial to hobbit wisdom). In dealing with the three, rather hungry and slow witted trolls on the way from The Shire. Bilbo, figuring out that they turned to stone at day’s break, continued to engage them in conversation until the sun rose. I made the comparison that when speaking to trolls engage them until the Son rises. It was more comical than terribly helpful especially when five very vocal trolls take over your combox and each has differing views attacking you or each other. Your combox turns into the halls of Moria during the invasion of the goblins, loud, intense and no way out. Engaging them as such per comment would consume your time, your patience, and your charity.

Well, when I arrived back into my hotel room that afternoon, I was catching up on the Liturgy of the Hours before going out for good company that evening. It just so happened that that Saturday was the memorial of the French Jesuits who were martyred in Southern Canada. The Office of Readings was a letter from St. Jean de Brebeuf. He’s writing to his fellow Jesuits on the European continent about the relative nearness of his own martyrdom. Towards the end of the letter he said this,

“My God, it grieves me greatly that you are not known, that in this savage wilderness all have not been converted to you, that sin has not been driven from it. My God, even if all the brutal tortures which prisoners in this region must endure should fall on me, I offer myself most willingly to them and I alone shall suffer them all.”

Now my mind immediately went to trolls who are above all influenced by some sinful inclination, of different varieties and with different circumstances but all with lack of charity. They are an opportunity for those of us in new media to participate in Christ’s cross, to receive with him the buffets and slanders and misunderstandings. The combox can be a walk up Calvary. A means for us to grow in holiness. Then, trolls are a gift, a means to sanctify us, and when one person is truly sanctified, others around him/her are invited to deeper sanctity (I call this the equation of sanctity. Think of Monica and Augustine, Andrew and Peter, Albert and Aquinas, Ignatius and Francis Xavier.)

Then, in the next ‘hour’ one of the psalms was Psalm 141 which held the title, “A Prayer When in Danger.” I found the first nine verses pertinent. It can be a prayer on our lips when dealing with trolls.

I call upon thee, O LORD; make haste to me!
Give ear to my voice, when I call to thee!
Let my prayer be counted as incense before thee,
and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice!

Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD,
keep watch over the door of my lips!
Incline not my heart to any evil,
to busy myself with wicked deeds
in company with men who work iniquity;
and let me not eat of their dainties!

Let a good man strike or rebuke me in kindness,
but let the oil of the wicked never anoint my head;
for my prayer is continually against their wicked deeds.
When they are given over to those who shall condemn them,
then they shall learn that the word of the LORD is true.
As a rock which one cleaves and shatters on the land,
so shall their bones be strewn at the mouth of Sheol.

But my eyes are toward thee, O LORD God;
in thee I seek refuge; leave me not defenseless!
Keep me from the trap which they have laid for me,
and from the snares of evildoers! 

“Keep a guard over my mouth, O Lord” what a great prayer in speaking with a talking to trolls! And I couldn’t have made a better connection to the Biblo analogy if I tried! The psalm does two things: 1) it brings the Lord into the equation and 2) it allows for us to separate ourselves ever so briefly from the frustration of a troll.
I hope these paltry insights are helpful to you. And continue on in your proclamation of the gospel.

Wandering About God

I have long maintained that it is not a high level of intelligence, but a high level of interest, that makes for good scholarship. One indeed needs to be a good thinker, but as Socrates demonstrated in the Theaetetus , anyone can exhibit even the most basic signs of intelligence. As a teacher, I can also testify that none of my students are unintelligent. But many of them are lazy and disinterested. If you want to know which ones, just looks at the names that correspond to the F’s in my gradebook.

Having a sustained and mature interest in a subject is far more valuable than being able to wax eloquent on it. At least, such is my hope, because I know that there are far better speakers & writers than I, yet I do trust that I have been called to a life of scholarship. This weekend, I had a strong moment of affirmation that accentuated this paradox: the fact that I love studying theology but am hardly qualified to articulate. My realization of this irony came as the result of an even more stunning revelation that I will attempt to relate here. Once more, I must ask that you trust to my interest in the matter more than you trust my ability to do justice in communicating it.

I spent this weekend looking into the historical hypotheses surrounding the Exodus story. While many scholars consider it a fruitless venture to attempt to corroborate archeological evidence with the Biblical account, most laymen hardly understand the difficulty entailed. From their use of the word ‘fruitless,’ we might suspect that the uselessness of the search is due to a lack of evidence. In fact, it would be more true to vouch for the opposite stance. There is simply too much evidence buried in the sands of Egypt to use any one article of it to trace the Exodus story. Below I list a few of the general facts that Archeology has yielded:

—It is well attested that a large group of Semitic people were dwelling in northern Egypt in the area of Goshen from the years 1800 BC to 1500 BC. The native Egyptians called them the ‘Hyksos,’ meaning ‘foreign rulers’ (sometimes mistranslated ‘Shepherd Rulers.’) and they left several graves and monuments in Egypt with Hebrew names and writing.

—These people worshiped a single deity that the natives identified as ‘Yahu’ or ‘Yahwe.’ Some scholars say that the 14th century BC Egyptian references to Yahu are the oldest written accounts of Yahweh. For some reason, he later became associated with the Egyptian storm god Seth.

—There was a massive exodus of the Hyksos under Pharaoh Ahmose I of the Upper Kingdom, whose monuments attributed their leaving to a relentless military campaign. According to his account, they were victoriously driven back to the land of Canaan where they became distant Egyptian vassals.

—Later Egyptian sources, however, complained that the Hyksos had caused an upheaval in the social order by usurping the weaker Lower Kingdom of it power. There are literary & poetic sources that associated unwanted upward mobility of resident aliens with the Hyksos Ascendency, attributing to them all sorts of natural and economic disasters.

—Greek historians also made references to the Hyksos, but they seemed to be dubious about whether the Hyksos were forced out by a military campaign or left peacefully. Though many of the Greek accounts are given a millennium later and might have been subject to redaction, the very fact that they mentioned the Hyksos is interesting.

—Finally, there are murals in the city of Pi-Ramesses depicting Hebrew slaves building bricks. Although these slaves are identified as POWs, and are pictured along side Nubian slaves, this art makes it clear that these cities were indeed built under Semitic slave labor, just as the Bible attests.

None of this evidence is conclusive, of course. Nor can we draw any further evidence from it than the fact that some sort of “exodus” or “exiting” of Hebrews took place during the 2nd millennium BC. It is futile to use this kind of scant evidence to ‘prove’ the Biblical account beyond stating that its historical roots can be traced deeply back into the history of Hebrew Yahweh worship. Still, all of this was not nearly as telling as what happened to me on Sunday evening.

Pondering over these facts as I walked to Mass, I found myself thinking over and over again of the wandering history of the Hebrews, who carried their strange Monotheism with them across the globe. Never seeming to have a home, yet promised one by their God, I thought of all the names they gave Him to emphasize His singularity to foreign peoples. Yahweh: I AM. Elohim: The Divine. El Shaddai: God on High (Mountains). Adonai: The LORD. And for some reason I started saying to myself that phrase from Tolkien, “Not all who wander are lost.” And here is where things become difficult to describe, so I will try to relate them just as they happened.

—At Mass, the priest addressed us on the awkwardness of a God who reaches out to us where we are. He said it was odd to think of a Deity chasing after His own people where-ever they went, and then concluded with this words: “Just because Jesus wanders after us doesn’t mean he is lost.” My heart skipped a beat.

—On the way home, I thought of God following after me like some kind of benevolent stalker, seeking to steal my soul unto himself.

—Feeling myself not yet drowsy, I read a series of articles from a journal before going to sleep. None of them were on the subject of Sacred Scripture.

—I did not sleep for hours. My mind went in and out of a dream-like state, yet I was always aware of the noises in my room: the AC and the hum of the hot water heater. Though I could barely keep my eyes open, I never once dropped off.

—The whole time, my mind was filled with these names: El Shaddai, Yahweh, Elohim, Adonai, and behind them all I heard the voice of One like a Son of Man acknowledging Himself in all these names. He said he had allowed Himself to be praised under these titles until the time came when He would show Himself fully. Each name was a stepping stone closer to this ultimate Revelation.

—I feel asleep sometime in the late morning. My dream was about snuggling with a warm, soft pillow. It had nothing to do with God or theology.

None of this evidence is conclusive, of course. Nor can we draw any further evidence from it than the fact that some sort of concurrent thought process took hold of me last night. But perhaps it does means something, after all…

OMG! St. Paul Endorsed Slavery! (Or, Why Hasty Political Exegesis Shouldn’t Alarm Us)

Recently, many highly public Christians have endorsed gay marriage by citing the concept of the ‘development’ of Christian theology since the time of Scripture’s authorship. Kevin Rudd, an Australian politician, gave the most recent example when asked by a pastor why he didn’t believe the words of Scripture on this topic; “Well mate, if I was going to have that view, the Bible also says that slavery is a natural condition…because St. Paul said in the New Testament, slaves should be obedient to (their) masters. And therefore we should have all fought for the Confederacy in the US Civil War.” (BBC News, Sept 3, 2013). I cannot in so small a place do justice to so wide a topic as the Christian theology on human sexuality. However, since there is some precedence for blogs being used for Bible Study, I can quickly address the strange ignorance of Scriptural theology that the above statement represents.

To do justice to Mr. Rudd’s position (a position he shares with our very own Barack Obama and Chris Christie), the logic seems to follow this path: St. Paul, as a man of his day, presented Christianity in a world where both slavery and homosexuality fell into certain social categories, the former acceptable and the latter unacceptable. In order to present the Gospel in such a way so as to be palatable to the people of his time (and perhaps to be presentable to his own conscience), St. Paul merely presumed upon the necessity of these social mores and neglected to fully challenge their legitimacy in the light of the gospel. Therefore, it has taken millennia for the Christian people to ‘progress’ beyond the original inhibitions of St. Paul and the Apostles in order to fully realize their gospel of love. With the aid of contemporary psychological science and liberal democracy, we are now able to overcome these prejudices of the first Christians.

First off, this bland version of ‘progressive theology’ hardly does justice to the story of Scripture itself. Did St. Paul, as a devout Jew, look approvingly on the social institution of slavery? Most certainly not! The whole story of the Jewish faith is of a God who saves the Children of Israel from the “cruel slavery” of Egypt.(Ex 1:13, 6:5, 20:2; Dt 6:12, 7:8) The Jewish law, whom Paul was an expert in, is composed in light of a mercy toward slaves “for you were once slaves in the land of Egypt.” (See Lv 25:39-42, Dt 5:15; 15:15, 23:16, 24:18-22) And while it is true that the Old Testament fails to challenge slavery as a social institution, it would be incorrect to assume that it thusly taught to embrace slavery as such. St Paul knew that the the Old Testament theology, speaking “in partial and varied ways,” (Hb 1:1) could not in-and-of-itself end all injustices. Remember: it is not until the New Testament that God’s people are ordered to spread the morality of Monotheism beyond the borders of Israel. Until the coming of Christ, the assumption was the Polytheists experience “conflicting thoughts in their hearts” yet failed to repent were to be judged accordingly. (See Rm 14-16) Therefore, if St. Paul did indeed endorse a “theology of slavery,” then, Scripturally speaking, it indicated that a retrogression and NOT a progression had occurred from Old to New Testament!

Yet, St. Paul (and St. Peter, for that matter) happily and repeatedly called himself a “slave of Christ Jesus.” (Rm 1:1, Gal 1:10, Phil 1:7; Titus 1:1) This would be a radical thing for a Jew to say, and not the least because 1st century Pharisees were fond of pointing out that they had “never been enslaved to anyone.”(See John 8:33). Even a cursory glance at St. Paul’s writing reveals his strange affinity for the state of slavery. Beyond begging slaves to be “subject to their masters” (Eph 6:5; the phrase ‘subject to’ is difficult to translate from the Greek. It seems to indicate “a loving acceptance of” or a “filial obedience to”), St. Paul also asks for children and wives to act the same way towards the head of the family (Eph 5:22, 6:1; Col 3:20), for Christians to be “subject to one another out of reverence for Christ”(Eph 5:21) while always remaining respectful of the presbyters, bishops and leaders. (See Rm 13:7; 1 Thess 5:12; 1 Tim 5:19 Heb 13:17[not written by St. Paul, but in his tradition]) In fact, it seems that, according to this reading, St. Paul wanted everybody to be slaves to everybody else!

One could argue, however, that the above examples simply represent St. Paul’s pastoral zeal. Accordingly, he didn’t envision the Church entering into an official state of mutual slavery so much as a Christian love that takes the form of interdependent servitude. Such a pastoral exhortation only reveals that Paul, like Christ, was willing to use profane metaphors to make spiritual points. (See Matt 12:29, Luke 14:31) That line of thought may be true. However, the most glaring exception to that rule would be the short but terribly important letter to Philemon, in which Paul explicitly sends Onesimus, an escaped slave, back to his master. Both Onesimus and Philemon are Christians, and therefore equal in the eyes of the Church. Nonetheless, St. Paul orders Onesimus to return to his master rather than asking for his release. This must be taken as, in the very least, a passive acceptance of the social institution of slavery itself. However, when we look beyond the action itself and read the words of St. Paul, something strange appears. St. Paul begs for mercy from Philemon, seeming to place the blame on himself as a “prisoner of Jesus Christ.” (Phm 1:8-10) Next, he states that his ‘usefulness’ is now characterized by the relationship of love in Christ (v 11) and that Onesimus is Paul’s very heart (v. 12). Finally in verse 17, St. Paul entirely self-identifies with Onesimus, asking Philemon to accept him not as a slave but as a ‘partner’ in Christ. One could call this the first example of a theology of ‘solidarity,’ a very progressive stance indeed!

So is St. Paul’s theology ‘progressive’ or ‘traditional?’ Was it open to further development? And as it regards ‘social ethics,’ does it represent the final word of Christian theology?

Such questions, though popular, hardly seem as important in the light of the questions we could now raise: What is mutual subjection? What is ‘slavery in Christ?’ How am I to live so as to be ‘the heart’ of my fellow Christians? Such speculation represents a very brief look at St. Paul’s theological perspective on slavery. It is by no mean exhaustive, but it should at least be unsettling. I leave you with no direct answers, but only with a warning: it is a terrible mistake to assume that the ancient Christian Saints knew less about love than we do. To try to read Scripture in light of contemporary morals and cultural change is to become guilty of the very thing you accuse the Scriptural author of being: namely, a close-minded child of the current age. In contrast, wouldn’t it be better for a Christian to assent to the truth our teaching on human rights has remained solidly on the side of charity since the time of St. Paul? From that perspective, we take his words and actions as an example. We are called to ‘self-identify’ with all people without ever using political or social powers as a means to override the Gospel.

One final word on St. Paul’s theology. Far from being a personal reflection of a learned Christian, it is an essential part of the Deposit of Faith and, along with the words of Peter, John, James and Jude, represents an inexhaustible treasure of Christian truth. To dismiss or defend it with mere soundbites is to do an injustice to Divine Revelation, and to Jesus Christ himself. If this blog represents the briefest of reflections that can occur in good conscience, we should neither be inspired or upset about the off hand comments of an upset politician. Their ‘theology’ is as nothing compared to the vast Revelation that is offered us in the Gospel of Christ. It would be wise to look to Him before looking anywhere else.

Passionate Repeat Viewing

I’m watching “The Passion of the Christ” 5 times through this week. Maybe six. It’s what comes of being a high school religion teacher and wanting each of your classes to be exposed to one of the most historically accurate depictions of the crucifixion and death of Our Lord.

I do believe that it is historically accurate but, even if it weren’t, it is psychologically and spiritually accurate. The way the torturers treat Jesus, the way Pilate tries to worm his way out of the act, the way the crowds persecute and the way that the Sanhedrin prosecutes: it is all real to human life. As for spiritual accuracy, the fact that the script only departs from Scripture when showing extra-Biblical events is a testament to its depth and sublimity.

In any event, I’m not writing to argue the accuracy of the movie. I am confident that most anyone who has stumbled upon these words will agree. What I do want to reflect on is, in general, the sheer power of remembering the Passion event. When I was young, before I put aside childish things, I used to reason thus; “Why go to the Stations of the Cross? Why read the Passion readings twice during Holy Week? Why pray the Sorrowful Mysteries so much during Lent? I get it: Jesus died for me. Looking at it again and again and again: isn’t that just a bit over-indulgent? Why not have one big Passion liturgy every year and then have done with it?” It wasn’t just the Catholic guilt that intimidated me: it was the Catholic logic. It wasn’t just the shame and disgrace: it was the theology. Over and over again being hit with the Crucifixion, I felt like there was nothing more to see or learn. I knew that I should accept the Crucifixion as true and salvific, or I was a bad person. Once convinced of its power and meaning, was there any real reason to keep witnessing it, meditating on it, praying over it, etc?

All this I thought while still a child. Then I became a man and learned about love. I learned that love is not a matter of being ‘satisfied’ or doing something ‘enough.’ (It is interesting that the Latin word satis occurs so often in “The Passion.” So frequent is its use that my students even asked me “Why do they keep saying satis and what does it really mean?”) I am slowly learning that love, Christian love, is a matter of never drawing a line. It is a matter of seeing things through regardless of personal consequences.  It is about giving to the other at not just great, but total, risk to the self. It cares not for what is “necessary” but about what is best for the beloved.

As I watch Jesus die again and again and again over this week, culminating in the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion on Friday, I feel that this is really what I need to remember. God’s Infinite generosity is what we see modeled in the Crucifixion. Given the status of the world and, more importantly, the status of my heart, I do not think I can look on this model often enough:

The Exponential Power of Vocation (or, An Exegesis on Matthew 28)

What follows is a section of exegesis taken from a book that I am writing on Vocation Formation & Discernment. It discusses the nature of the Church’s vocation in light of the Ascension. Its brief enough to act as a momentary diversion.

Matthew 28:18-20: And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations,baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”


Notice three things:
1. This verse represents a vocation, a calling, a commissioning by Our Lord. It is an imperative AND a gift, an order and a grace.

2. Jesus associates all the power that He has with the communion of the Trinity. This is the only time in Matthew’s gospel that Christ explicitly mentions His place in the Threefold Godhead. It’s not because he was shy about. Its because He was saving the best for last. It’s because the Trinity’s own communication is the most powerful thing he can offer to his disciples! Christ is saying, “All power has been given to me. And from among all those powers, the one that is most important, the one that I give to you, is the power of Gods own communio personarum” Talk about setting priorities.

3. This power is meant for all “the nations,” a phrase that was the Jewish code word for Jews and Gentiles alike. In other words, this gift of the Trinity’s own unity, this love and prayer power that the disciples are given is meant to bring the Jews together with all those Gentile nations that had always given them so much trouble (the Egyptians, Babylonians, Philistines, Greeks, Romans, etc.) so that everybody in the world can have the opportunity to worship the one true God. That’s a mighty tall order and Jesus doesn’t give the disciples a clue as to how they’re going to get that power out there! After all, after finishing these words, He quite literally flies away.

If Adam awoke in the garden of Eden with his vocation lying right next to him, the Church awakes at the ascension to an even more stupendous vocation flying off into the sky. The surprise and shock of all this is caught up in the fact that our vocation is NOT about our selves and what we have to do. It isn’t even concerned just with the other! When Adam knew Eve, they begot Cain and Abel, who end up apart. When Jesus was fully known by his disciples, He left them standing on a mountaintop with the challenge of bringing two brothers together. Our communio is never simply between two parties because love can never be limited. It grows exponentially. Just as the communio of God overflows into creation, so also the communio of husband an wife overflows into their children, just as the love of Father and Son spirated another Divine person, the Holy Spirit, so also does our prayer and discernment necessarily extended beyond whatever limitations are imposed on it. We know not how this works, but we rest certain that it does work in this way because the very foundation of our Christianity, the sacrament and communio of baptism, overflows into the nations. And wherever unexplained exponential growth is involved, there is mystery. The reason why God doesn’t bother trying to get the details of our vocation into our heads is because vocation is never about trying to fit everything into yourself. It’s about abundance and rush and overflow and generosity. When God doesn’t respond when we ask Him to tell us directly about our vocations, it’s not because He doesn’t like telling us things. It’s not even because He doesn’t like telling us things directly. It’s because our vocation is not about us. His Eternal silence on this matter is the loudest reminder that vocation is about gift, that callings are about communio. His message is that, at the heart of the matter and at the center of God, is the strange and terrible mystery of the Other. And we must never objectify the Other by trying to fit him into our own pre-conceived notions about what vocation should be. If the the vocation given at the Ascension indicates anything, its that the sky’s the limit.

What Do I Need to Know to Discern?

This is a selection from a longer work on prayer and discernment. It reflects on the question “How much do we need to know in order to discern our vocation?”
When it comes time for God to fulfill Adam and give him the greatest grace yet, he doesn’t leave him conscious for it. Maybe it is because Adam had already been so disappointed by all the gifts that he had seen while awake. Maybe it is because God is one of  those cheesy parents who force their kids to close their eyes before they pull out a birthday gift from behind their back. Or maybe, just maybe, it is because God’s graces are more valuable than sight and experience can ever reveal, though not so incomprehensible that sight and sound can’t make them apprehensive. 
Here it would be important to point out the distinction between apprehensive and comprehensive knowledge. It’s a distinction that is rarely mentioned in normal conversation, but it is terribly important, especially in the grace-knowledge relationship. To comprehend something is to understand it through-and-through, to know it in its deepest essence. When teachers talk of  reading comprehension, when lawyers talk of  comprehension of  the law, when politicians claim (falsely) that they can comprehend the economic situation, when scientists  claim (often truly) that they can comprehend a phenomena, they all mean this sort of knowledge. It’s a knowledge characterized by knowing the black and white, the ins-and-outs. It not only means that we know the thing itself, but that, using this knowledge, we can then predict exactly what will happen when we apply it. This type of  knowledge can only be applied to purely objective situations. However, we can never know God, or even each other for that matter, with a purely objective knowledge. In personal relationships, we are given a subjective knowledge of  the other, a partial (but still real!) knowledge of  the other. When they go to give us something of  themselves, our knowledge about them increases, but in a qualitatively different  way. In fact, as long as we try to comprehend (Latin for “to seize” or “grab”) others, we are never in a position to receive them as a gift. Just as a wrapped present can only be received with apprehensive knowledge, the wrapping paper obscuring the full nature of  the gift, so too must we receive each other, and God, as dignified subjects. The lack of  comprehension in no way decreases the nature of  the gift. In fact, by making it personal through apprehension, our knowledge is lifted to a higher plane, one in which the person who we know is a being beyond our grasp but still within full sight of  our vision. 
So before entrusting Adam with his first purely creaturely personal relationship, God makes sure that Adam is unconscious (“casts a deep sleep”) when He pulls woman from man’s side. And like a kid on Christmas morning, Adam wakes up to find a gift waiting for him. Only, this gift isn’t some plastic action figure or Barbie doll, but a living, breathing and beautiful woman. This moment is so moving, that the author of  Genesis has Adam recite the world’s first love poetry: 
“This one at last is bone of  my bones 
and flesh of  my flesh. 
She shall be called ‘woman’ for out of  
man she has been taken.” 
There’s a lot more from this passage
(Not too bad for Man’s first try at romantic verse. I can just picture a Lion King-esque scene with Adam rapping out this poem and all the animals of the Savanna making cool African sounding riffs in the background.)

There’s a lot more from this passage that needs to be discussed. For our immediate purposes, however, I would simply like to point out that Adam did not need to be conscious when Eve was  being made, even though the process was quite an intimate one. This is how God handled the first gift giving.  It is a standard He will set from this point forward. Whether its the Hebrew slaves asleep as the angel of  death passes over, or Samuel asleep in the temple before receiving his vocation, or Jonah in the belly of  the whale, or Jacob asleep at the base of  Jacobs ladder or Joseph asleep when he is told the marry Mary, Scripture makes it overwhelmingly clear that God makes a habit of  dispensing both graces and vocations while people are asleep.

Friday Thoughts – A Sorrowful Thanksgiving Can Be Full of Hope

Psalm 42
Like the deer that yearns for running streams,
so my soul is yearning for you, my God.
My soul is thirsting for God, the God of my life;
when can I enter and see the face of God?
My tears have become my bread, by night, by day,
as I hear it said all the day long: “Where is your God?”
These things will I remember as I pour out my soul:
how I would lead the rejoicing crowd into the house of God,
amid cries of gladness and thanksgiving, the throng wild with joy.
Why are you cast down, my soul, why groan within me?
Hope in God; I will praise him still, my savior and my God.
My soul is cast down within me as I think of you,
from the country of Jordan and Mount Hermon,
from the Hill of Mizar.
Deep is calling on deep, in the roar of waters;
your torrents and all your waves swept over me.
By day the Lord will send his loving kindness;
by night I will sing to him, praise the God of my life.
I will say to God, my rock:
“Why have your forgotten me? Why do I go mourning oppressed by the foe?”
With cries that pierce me to the heart, my enemies revile me,
saying to me all day long: “Where is your God?”
Why are you cast down, my soul, why groan within me?
Hope in God; I will praise him still,
my savior and my God. 
Thanksgiving is normally a time of joy and celebration. We, as a nation, give thanks for what we have, tangible and intangible, material and immaterial, property and family. As Catholics, we remember that every gift comes from the Lord. Thanksgiving for many is a time of sorrow. It comes with the thought, ‘is there anything I really have to give thanks for this year?’ Unemployment has continued. The divorce rate is still unnecessarily high. Many, who in previous years where able to provide a Thanksgiving meal, will have to rely on the generosity of others.

Psalm 42 provides great comfort. It shows to us, joyful and not, that no matter our situation we can sing with “cries of gladness and thanksgiving.” Our soul can be downcast even depressed and the Lord can seem so far away and we can still sing to Him at night. Our desire for him is like that of deer for water. Without him we will die. All around us advertisements, TV shows, novels, et al, cry out “Where is your God!?” They taunt us day and night reviling our faith as infantile. “Hope in God; I will praise him still, my savior and my God.” That reviling is no matter. It is the crying our of faithless souls desiring for the same that we desire, the font of living water.

During this time of thanksgiving, let us be thankful for our faith and hope.

The Visitation: The Revelation of Humanity at Conception

“In those days Mary arose and went with haste, into the hill country to a city of Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.  And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filed with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb!  And why is this granted me, that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?’  For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy.  And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” – Luke 1:39-45

This might seem a bit out of place in the liturgical calendar, being that we are in Easter and not in Advent, but bear with me.  I have been reading Dr. Edward Sri’s book Dawn of the Messiah which goes through the infancy narratives of Luke and Matthew.  As we got to the above passage, Sri writes

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth has prophetic insight into the uniqueness of Mary’s motherhood.  Not only does she realize that Mary is pregnant, but she understands hat Mary has become the mother of Israel’s Messiah.  In awe over the mystery taking place in Mary’s womb, Elizabeth, in extraordinary fashion, honors her younger kinswoman and acknowledges her as the ‘mother of my Lord’ and ‘blessed … among women.’ (emphasis added)

As I was reading, some struck me like an anvil on my foot.  Elizabeth recognized the baby in Mary’s womb.  Of course, most would be, like, duh, Kyle, of course.  Think about it though.  Mary was told that she would conceive and bear a son; this would occur when the Holy Spirit would overshadow her.  We understand this as occurring at the Annunciation.  Then it says, “In those days Mary arose and went with haste.”  Another way to translate the Greek would “at that time” or even “on that day.”  In any way, she left Nazareth soon after conception.  Being that Elizabeth lived in a town of Judah, Mary lived about 60 miles from her older cousin.  That would account for a few days travel.  At most, then, Mary was a few weeks pregnant when she arrived at the house Elizabeth.  She probably wasn’t even showing, at least not enough for anyone to notice that she was pregnant, and yet, Elizabeth cries out in full faith, “Blessed is the fruit of your womb!  Who am I that the mother of my Lord.”  Notice she doesn’t say the one to be the mother of my Lord.  She speaks in the present tense.  

Fetus at Four Weeks

What does this have to do with anything?  Well, Jesus was just a few weeks old.  No more than about the size the fetus to the right.  And yet, both the child in Elizabeth’s womb, who is not even cogent and reasoning yet, and Elizabeth herself recognize that the human nature and the divine person are present in their midst.  There is no questioning whether this is a human life or not.  There is no question whether the mass of tissue is worth anything.  It is worth everything.  This verse implicitly supports human life from conception on.  There would be no reason to give praise over a bunch of cells.  No, this was a divine person united to a human nature manifesting himself as Son of God and Son of Mary before there was little to no brain tissue.

Advent: Becoming a Worthy Vessel of the Coming Christ

Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  I figured it would be a good day to continue the series on learning from Mary how to wait for Jesus.  We hear in the Gospel the Annunciation.

It was here at the Annunciation, the Church understands, that Christ was conceived in the womb of Mary (this is not the Immaculate Conception, mind you.  The Immaculate Conception was Mary being conceived in the womb of Anne).  The Holy Spirit came upon her and overshadowed her.  She became a virgin mother.  This image of a virgin mother is very important in her waiting. 

If we look in the Old Testament, Israel was seen to be the spotless bride of God.  She was his beautiful and magnificent bride adorned with costly jewels and fragrant perfume.  We hear in the prophets, especially Hosea and Isaiah, how Israel prostituted herself to other gods.  Idolatry was connected with adultery.  Here we have Mary, a virgin mother, who is singularly devoted to God.  She is “his handmaiden,” (Lk. :38).  Her singular focus to God prepared her to receive Christ in her womb.  No other god was before her.  She was His alone.  She was not divided or distracted.  She was ready to give herself as the Bride of the Holy Spirit.

Where is our focus?  Do we solicit ourselves to things, worshipping our car, or our computer, or our smartphone?  Do we prostitute ourselves out to false ideas like Communism, which denies the dignity of each individual or an unchecked free market that canonizes greed?  Do we set ourselves up to be worshipped, trying to direct all attention toward ourselves while neglecting the needs of others?  No longer are pagan gods the objects of idolatry, like they were in Israel.  The aforementioned things are our modern day ‘gods.’  Our focus and singular devotion, should be like Mary, on God alone.  Advent is a time we can rid ourselves of these idolatries and be singularly focused on making our house ready for the coming of our king, preparing the womb of our hearts.  Confession provides us with an opportunity to start anew, alive with God’s grace and His indwelling.  After confession, He dwells in a more worthy vessel.  If we could only mirror the vessel that Mary provided for Him!

Advent: Prayer as Preparation for the Coming of the Lord

The Annunciation by Philippe de Champaigne

We are coming to a close on the first week of Advent.  I thought I would share some insights I had preparing (pun not intended) for an Advent mission focused on learning from Mary how to wait for Jesus.

Most images of the Annunciation have Mary kneeling and praying when the angel Gabriel appears.  This is most curious since Luke never mentions either prayer or kneeling.  He just says, “he came to her,” (Lk. 1:28).  These artists’ imaginations are guided by the Tradition of the Church, which says Mary was a woman who was often in prayer.  From whom do you think Jesus learned how to pray?  Especially in the Gospel of Luke, one can read Jesus going off and praying.  It seems likely that she could have been praying at the time Gabriel appeared. 

Gabriel came to her to deliver the message that she would be the mother of the “Son of the Most High God,” (Lk. 1:32).  She was not prepared for his presence nor his message.  He came to her suddenly and without warning, and startled her so much so he had to say, “Do not be afraid,” (Lk. 1:30).  Yet, in the images the Church has given us she is praying, humbly kneeling before the God she cannot see.  Her prayer prepared her heart to say, “Let it be done unto me according thy will,” (Lk. 1:38).  Prayer prepares our hearts to say yes to God, to answer his call.  I heard my call to the priesthood in prayer, but that is another story.  Indeed, prayer should a great part of our day.  It builds up for us treasure in heaven.  It prepares us for the coming of the Lord, which will come like a thief in the night.