Where the Waves Grow Sweet

“To be stories at all they must be series of events: but it must be understood that this series—the plot, as we call it—is only really a net whereby to catch something else… No net less wide than a man’s whole heart, nor less fine of mesh than love, will hold the sacred Fish.”
—C.S. Lewis

There are moments in our lives when grace can act like a certain slant of light cutting through a dim room at dawn. Providential conversations, series of events, and even the worst of trials can suddenly fall into place like the threads of a story at its close—and the strands of those memories can seem to gleam like liquid gold, pointing directly back to Christ, the master Storyteller. Yes, He knew what He was about. Yes, He knew what He was doing. Yes, it’s true, He was with you the entire time, fitting and attuning your heart to His own heart—even if you could not see Him through eyes filled with salty tears. Have you ever heard it? Can you remember—?

In this Gospel reading, we find the apostles back where their story began, before they embarked on the adventure of living with and learning from Christ. How the familiar creaking of the timbers, the gentle lapping of the waves, and the dappled moonlight on the deck must have consoled them—and yet, not have consoled them, for these men were not the same fishermen Jesus had called years ago. At the end of a three-year spree of miracles in which their hearts were transformed and prepared for Something by Someone, the last miracle—the greatest miracle—must have seemed just out of sight, hidden by a veil of confusion and hope. It is the point in the story when each page feels like an eternity, where, as Fr. Jean-Pierre De Caussade writes, “ordinary human common sense, seeing no way out of it, realizes all its weakness and shortcomings and feels completely baffled.”

It is at this very moment that the story—particularly Peter’s—comes full circle. At dawn, Christ appears “to those who belong wholly to him and disentangles them from all their troubles far more easily than novelists, working away in the peace of their rooms, extricate their heroes from all their dangers and bring them to a happy and successful end” (De Caussade). At the start of his adventure, when the nets are empty, Peter does not seem to trust when instructed to put out into the deep (Luke 5:1–11). Now, the nets are lowered without delay, and on the right side of the boat. Before, the nets are tearing, unable to contain what Christ is sending them. Now, they remain whole, receiving the entire gift. Before, Peter falls at the feet of Jesus and begs Him to depart from him, for he is a sinful man. Now, in the light of the Resurrection, in the light of Merciful Love, he immediately jumps from the boat to go to Jesus, despite his sins, just as he did to walk on water with Him—perhaps inspiring C.S. Lewis’s valiant mouse who vowed to sail, paddle, or swim until reaching Aslan’s country or sinking with his nose to the sunrise.

Most importantly: the Last Supper becomes the first breakfast, in which Christ is revealed in the breaking of the Bread, the edible Light. By this new charcoal fire, far from the crowds and crowing birds, Peter’s three denials turn to three affirmations of love, as Jesus sets his life on a new course. While Peter’s heart had torn earlier and could not follow Christ to the cross, his new heart would not tear as he laid down his life for the early church, as seen in the first readings this week. Every moment, every seemingly insignificant detail, led and would continue to lead Peter to love with a love more like Christ’s, a love with a decisive direction and courageous trust that the gates of hell would not prevail against. This was a moment where the threads of Peter’s life gleamed like gold, pointing to Christ—almost like the ends of stories in which hobbits grow up and save the Shire, children return to England and learn to love Aslan by another name, and boy-kings go on alone (and at once) to lead their kingdoms. Can you remember seeing such flashes of gold, and feeling your heart sing, safe in His own heart—in the folds of His Mercy?

Still, Peter’s life goes on past this moment, just like ours do. Events continue to happen, and we again find ourselves in the dark, being led where we might not have chosen to go—for all hearts being conformed to Christ’s will be led to the cross. Peter is crucified far from home. We are enduring isolation and illness, desolation and death. In the stories, the hobbits say farewell to their dearest friend, the children lose their lives in a British railway accident, and the grown king is parted from his wife and only son—going on yet again alone (and at once). But, these events are not the end of the story. “God has His pen and an open book before Him, and in this book He writes a blessed story which will end only when the world ends.” Along the way, there will be wounds that words like these cannot heal—only the Word can heal. There will be times when we don’t understand why something happened, like the apostles, like Mary Magdalene, weeping by the tomb. And there will moments when He is revealed to us at dawn, and our hearts sing in the sunrise.

This Sunday is Divine Mercy Sunday. Even if we cannot see the streaks of gold amid the gloom and each page feels like an eternity, we can try to remember and remind others of the radiant light of His resurrection. He is our greatest Friend, who desires nothing less than our whole hearts, is always with us, and weeps with us along the way. Every moment we allow Him to take, bless, break, and share us is precious, for His grace heals and elevates our hearts if we unite our sorrows to His sorrowful passion, even if our eyes are filled with tears. Yes, He knows what He is about. Yes, He knows what He is doing. Yes, it’s true, He is with you the entire time, fitting and attuning your heart to His own heart—you can trust Him, even in the dark, especially in the dark. And, from the diary of St. Faustina, “You will not be alone, because I am with you always and everywhere. Near to My Heart, fear nothing… Know that My eyes follow every move of your heart with great attention. I am bringing you into seclusion so that I Myself may form your heart according to My future plans” (797). In other words, “Take courage, dear heart” (Lewis).

Jesus, I trust in You. Amen.

 

Reading & Listening Suggestions
Fr. Jean-Pierre De Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence
St. Faustina, Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul
C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, On Stories
Peter Kreeft, The Worldview of C.S. Lewis and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader
His Own, Remember

The Most Blessed of All Dwellings

“Come, lady, die to live: this wedding-day
Perhaps is but prolong’d: have patience and endure.”
– William Shakespeare

A great dark wave seems to be covering the earth, hiding us in the shadows of grief and unrest. Each morning brings us the reality of illness and isolation, desolation and death, as we endure what seems to be a darkness unescapable. In a time when we cannot see or even touch many of our loved ones, we also cannot remain untouched by a communal sorrow which words can barely express. And as we are called to fast from sacramentally receiving Christ—our Bridegroom, Love, and greatest Friend—in the Eucharist, it can seem like the remaining lights are slowly flickering out.

How could we not weep all this while, joining our tears with those of Mary Magdalene outside the tomb? “The ‘sincere gift’ contained in the Sacrifice of the Cross gives definitive prominence to the spousal meaning of God’s love. As the Redeemer of the world, Christ is the Bridegroom of the Church. The Eucharist is the Sacrament of our Redemption. It is the Sacrament of the Bridegroom and of the Bride” (St. Pope John Paul II). When we receive the Eucharist, we receive Christ’s Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity in the most intimate manner. “God’s whole life encounters us and is sacramentally shared with us” (Pope Benedict XVI), and we become little tabernacles of the Indwelling God.

It is strange: these days of fasting and mourning are not necessarily “when the Bridegroom [has been] taken away” (Matthew 9:15), like Good Friday—but when the Bride has been taken away. Unlike Mary Magdalene, we know where He has been laid. We can even see Him through the livestreaming of Mass and Adoration! Instead, it is we who have been taken, who must remain hidden, and who are called to fast from the foretaste of the wedding banquet, dying to self and holy desires in acts of love so that we and others might live. Fortunately, “both spiritual and physical hunger can be a vehicle of love” (Pope Benedict XVI). We can receive Christ through spiritual communion, which, as St. Thomas Aquinas describes, “comprises the desire or yearning for receiving this sacrament” (III, Q. 80, Art. 11, co.).

While the Eucharist is the source and summit of our life, and a mystery of trinitarian love that shows the “indissolubility to which all true love necessarily aspires” (St. Pope John Paul II), we have yet more reasons to hope. “The entire Christian life bears the mark of the spousal love of Christ and the Church. Already Baptism, the entry into the People of God, is a nuptial mystery; it is so to speak the nuptial bath which precedes the wedding feast, the Eucharist” (CCC 1617). It is “in Christ, dead and risen, and in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, given without measure (cf. Jn 3:34), that we have become sharers of God’s inmost life” (Pope Benedict XVI). Through Baptism, we receive the Holy Spirit, who comes to dwell in our souls—and through the Holy Spirit, the entire Trinity, since the Holy Trinity is indivisible: “He is One” (Mark 12:32).

We are baptized into His death so that we may have life—His life—dwelling in us (Galatians 2:19-21). So long as we remain with Him in a state of grace, He remains in us. As St. Elizabeth of the Trinity explains, “Realize that your soul is the temple of God, it is again Saint Paul who says this; at every moment of the day and night the three Divine Persons are living within you. You do not possess the Sacred Humanity as you do when you receive Communion; but the Divinity, that essence the blessed adore in Heaven, is in your soul; there is a wholly adorable intimacy when you realize that; you are never alone again” (L273). Even “in the most difficult hours, when He sometimes seems very far away, [He] is in reality so close, so ‘within’ us,” (L160) hidden in the little cells of our hearts. “It seems to me that I have found my Heaven on earth, since Heaven is God, and God is [in] my soul” (L122).

In today’s Gospel, we are all called to love this trinitarian God more than we love each other—with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30)—and we are called to love each other very much indeed, loving our neighbor as our self (Mark 12:33). When Christ sees that the scribe understands this, He tells him that he is “not far from the Kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34). This is true for us as well, as we are not far from the hidden life of the Trinity in the kingdoms of our souls. And with this Love, we can love Him and our neighbors as best we can, all while remaining hidden ourselves. Perhaps there is no better saint to show us this than the one whose feast we celebrated yesterday—St. Joseph, who could be called the patron of the hidden life. “St. Joseph performed no single brilliant act of holiness… What did he accomplish? He loved. That alone is what he did and that alone was enough to glorify him. He loved God with an incalculable and undiminishing love, and he was loved the same way in return” (Bl. Jean-Joseph Lataste).

We may not know what is happening. Our reason may point to what we can see: inescapable waves of darkness, fear, loneliness, and suffering that in turn point to the end of days, or at least to the end of life as we know it. But His grace points to what we cannot see: the divine Life dwelling in our souls, an Indwelling most blessed—and a divine Light, “the true light that enlightens every man” (CCC 1216), even in the midst of darkness and suffering. As Tolkien writes, “in this hour, I do not believe that any darkness will endure.” Instead, Love will endure, a Love which “endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7). So too must we hope and “endure with patience these hours of waiting.” And in that hidden, faithful waiting for the wedding feast of the Lamb here and in Heaven, where we will again see our loved ones, receive Christ, and sing for joy, let us dwell in Him and Him in us, letting Him love us and others through us in the House “of all dwellings the most blessed.”

“Don’t be afraid, be completely in God’s peace, He loves you, He is watching over you like a mother over her little child. Remember that you are in Him, that He makes Himself your dwelling here below; and then, that He is in you, that you possess Him in the most intimate part of yourself, that at any hour of the day or night, in every joy or trial, you can find Him there, quite near, entirely within you. It is the secret of happiness; it is the secret of the saints; they knew so well that they were the ‘temple of God’ and that in uniting ourselves to this God, we become ‘one spirit with Him,’ as Saint Paul says; so they went forth to everything in His radiance” (L175).

St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, pray for us. Amen.

Reading & Listening Suggestions
Pope Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis
Fr. Eugene McCaffrey OCD, Let Yourself Be Loved
St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, The Complete Works: Volume 2
Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC, Consecration to St. Joseph
Fr. Marie-Dominique Philippe, O.P., The Mystery of Joseph
John Oliver, The Heart of Père Lataste
Jackie Francois Angel, New Creation
Daily Mass, Rosary, and Divine Mercy Chaplet live streams: St. Vincent Ferrer & St. Catherine of Siena

Beneath the Starry Mantle

“Do whatever he tells you.”
—John 2:5

On a cold February evening many years ago, a Dominican friar at my university’s parish handed me a copy of True Devotion to Mary by St. Louis de Montfort. As a spiritual father who made our Catholic community feel like a home away from home, he had taken it upon himself to lead us, a ragtag group of college students and community members, through the total consecration to Jesus through Mary. This 33-day period of prayer would culminate on March 25, the Annunciation—the day Christ entrusted himself to Our Lady in her womb.

Our friar explained that this consecration involved formally entrusting ourselves to Our Lady, who would always lead us to her Son. “As in the order of nature a child must have a father and a mother, so likewise in the order of grace, a true child of the Church must have God for his Father and Mary for his Mother” (The Secret of Mary, 11). Because her heart is so conformed to the heart of Christ, as seen in her fiat, she would be the “safest, easiest, shortest and most perfect way of approaching Jesus,” for “the more one is consecrated to Mary, the more one is consecrated to Jesus” (True Devotion, 55, 121). As a tender mother, mama bear, and tiger mom whose own heart was pierced by a sword of sorrow, she would take responsibility for us as her spiritual children and lovingly intercede for us to be formed into little Christs, into the men and women we were called to be.

Over the course of 33 days, we spent time in prayer and penitence, preparing for the season of Lent. Then, we spent time reflecting on ourselves, on Mary, and finally on Jesus. Our friar told us not to get discouraged if we didn’t understand the writing style, to keep going if we missed a day, not to be afraid of loving Mary too much, since we could never love her more than Jesus did (St. Maximilian Kolbe), and to watch out—for if we let her into our lives in this way, she would act! Also, we shouldn’t be too surprised if this path led to the cross—for all hearts longing for Christ are called in some way to the path of thorns and briars to become a little more like his heart, to be able to love with a love a little more like his love. Perhaps we would even wish that we had suffered more as we accepted our crosses, carried them to the heights, and let our own hearts be pierced and poured out for others in a sacrifice of praise. 

The consecration described in this one little volume is beloved by many saints and popes. St. Pope John Paul II says, “The reading of this book was a decisive turning-point in my life. I say ‘turning-point,’ but in fact it was a long inner journey. . . This ‘perfect devotion’ is indispensable to anyone who means to give himself without reserve to Christ and to the work of redemption. . . It is from Montfort [whose own motto was ‘God Alone’] that I have taken my motto: ‘Totus Tuus’ (‘I am all thine’).” It was a turning point in my own life as well, changing the arc of my story both through immediate graces and through deeply-rooted ones I am only just beginning to discover. I am so grateful to that friar for sharing his profound love for Our Lady—and through her, Christ, particularly in the Eucharist—with us.

Today is the day we begin this year’s 33-day period of prayer to entrust ourselves yet again to the spiritual motherhood of Our Lady on the Solemnity of the Annunciation. If you don’t have a copy of the book just yet, you can use these online resources. And if you miss a day, don’t give up! Just take courage, keep going, and keep your eyes on Christ—even if your feet are led to the foot of the cross or if your heart is pierced by a shining sword of sorrow. If you’re unsure or don’t completely understand everything right now, just take a chance, do the consecration anyway, and try not to be afraid to let Our Lady love you and intercede for you. And watch out: for if you let her into your life in this way, she will act!

Perhaps St. Bernard of Clairvaux says it best:

In dangers, in doubts, in difficulties, think of Mary, call upon Mary. Let not her name depart from your lips, never suffer it to leave your heart. And that you may obtain the assistance of her prayer, neglect not to walk in her footsteps. With her for guide, you shall never go astray; while invoking her, you shall never lose heart; so long as she is in your mind, you are safe from deception; while she holds your hand, you cannot fall; under her protection you have nothing to fear; if she walks before you, you shall not grow weary; if she shows you favor, you shall reach the goal.

So, come—let us run “further up and further in” to Love, to Jesus through Mary, and take the adventure that comes to us under her starry mantle!

Totus Tuus.

 

Reading & Listening Suggestions
St. Louis de Montfort, True Devotion to MaryThe Secret of Mary
Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC, 33 Days to Morning Glory
Matt Fradd and Fr. Gregory Pine, O.P., Marian Consecration with Aquinas
Jackie and Bobby Angel, Consecration to Jesus Through Mary
Total Consecration Text

A Rose from Our Lady

To listen to the song while reflecting on these words inspired by Our Lady of Guadalupe, please click here.

Dry your eyes; calm your fears.
Look up and see; yes, I am here.
You’ve come so far, and you’re not alone.
Just take that step—one shaking step—
And know that I’m leading you home,
Because:

I am your mother, do not be afraid.
I am your mother, are you not my own?
You are my loved one, I’ll lead you to my Son.
You are my loved one—safe in the storms,
I’ll keep you warm in the folds of my mantle,
The crossing of my arms.
What else do you need?

Just wait for Him, just wait for Him, just wait for Him now.
Seven more days, in the house of healing: take courage, my dear one.
Be satisfied—oh, be satisfied! He’s the destination of your whole life.
Let Him love you—oh, let Him love you! Fall in love, stay in love.
Let Me love you—oh, let Me love you, and heal your precious heart.
So know that:

I am your Father, do not be afraid.
I am your Father, are you not my own?
You are my loved one, I’ve given you my Son.
Rest in my Spirit—saved from the storms,
You’re in my arms, in the folds of my Mercy,
The Cross shows I have won.
What else do you need?
What else do you need?
What else do you need?

IMG_20200123_183346257

Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us. St. Joseph, pray for us. Amen.

Music & lyrics © 2017

Let Him Love You

“I have only to love Him, to let myself be loved, all the time, through all things: to wake in Love, to move in Love, to sleep in Love, my soul in His Soul, my heart in His Heart, my eyes in His Eyes.”
–St. Elizabeth of the Trinity

As the sun sets, a soft, rosy glow from the Christmas tree fills the silent room. The dying light just catches on small flecks of gold in the sparkling ornaments, the star above the crèche, and the glittering cards from loved ones that line the mantle. On them, simple words written with paper and ink wish you a merry Christmas from across the country. The words seem to come to life with the thought of seeing someone’s sweet smile or hearing another’s joyful laughter, especially if they are far from home this year.

In the beginning, another Word, the Word, was with God, and was God—but this Word did not stay still. Knowing our sins and miseries, this unchanging and creative Word reached into the silence, “became flesh, and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). As St. Augustine explains in today’s office of readings, “In this way, what was visible to the heart alone could become visible also to the eye, and so heal men’s hearts. For the Word is visible to the heart alone, while flesh is visible to bodily eyes as well. We already possessed the means to see the flesh, but we had no means of seeing the Word. The Word was made flesh so that we could see it, to heal the part of us by which we could see the Word.”

But, it was not enough for the Word to simply be seen, for Love to just appear to the beloved: our Love went into action, “springing across the mountains, leaping across the hills” (Song of Songs 2:8). In becoming visible, he became vulnerable, as an innocent newborn baby hunted by Herod. He became a servant, healing the sick, shepherding the lost sheep, and washing the apostles’ feet. He became the man of sorrows, carrying our sins and miseries to the end, when his heart was pierced, letting blood and water flow forth for the world. “We love because he first loved us,” (1 John 4:19), and he loved us from a cross on a hill in a faraway country, even when we were so very far from home.

It was still not sufficient for the Light to die and rise, for Love’s very heart to be pierced—for Love mingled with grief, and grew all the greater. During the Last Supper, Love took, blessed, and broke His own heart to be shared with the apostles and those to come, instituting the Eucharist and finding a way to be with us “always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). In his last moments on the cross, he broke his mother’s heart and placed us in the folds of her mantle through the beloved disciple, St. John. “Woman, behold your son… Son, behold your Mother.” His birth in a stable under a star “cost her no sorrow, but this birth of John and the millions of us at the foot of the Cross brought her such agony as to merit the title ‘Queen of Martyrs’” (Sheen). Her lifelong union with Love’s cross led her to loving us in the crossing of her arms, arms filled with roses.

Loving Someone like this takes courage. But, sometimes it takes far more courage to let ourselves be uncommonly loved by Someone who “moves the sun and the other stars,” a Love we receive under the visible appearance of bread and wine, forms of gold that do not glitter but are Light itself. Just as Christ names us as gifts from the Father (John 17:24), he gives us the gift of himself, calling us to arise and run to him, for “the winter is past, the rains are over and gone” (Song of Songs 2:11). As the Son is unveiled in our hearts and we come face to face with this “excess of love,” we can hesitate, one step away from being closer to home than we’ve ever been.

We know all too well our miseries and sins; we all know how vulnerable hearts can be “wrung and possibly broken” by imperfect people, or by stories that end far too soon. We know the way of Love is also the way of the Cross, filled with thorny branches and briars that will piece your heart as well as heal it. Even so—let yourself be loved more than this, by more than you think you could be loved. Even if your heart feels frozen under a bitter frost, or hidden inside a silent tomb, do not be afraid of love that is the gift of one who is “meek and humble of heart” (Matthew 11:29). For, as St. John Paul II says, “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of His Son Jesus.”

Let yourself be loved by the Love who can heal your precious heart this Christmas and always. Take courage, and “may the Lord of heaven grant you joy in place of your grief” (Tobit 7:17). For the Word was not content to simply use paper and ink to come across the world and bring us home. He came to us in a stable that held Someone “bigger than the whole world” and comes again each day in the breaking of the bread, in the breaking of his heart, so we may have joy, and our joy may be complete—our soul in His Soul, our hearts in His Heart, our eyes in His Eyes as we too are taken, broken, blessed, and shared with others. We have only to receive Him—and to let ourselves be loved.

Reading & Listening Suggestions
St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, Let Yourself Be LovedLetters
Fr. Jean C. J. d’Elbée, I Believe in Love
Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., Knowing the Love of God
C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
Josef Pieper, On Love
Fulton Sheen, The World’s First Love

Here at the End of All Things

“In all that ruin of the world for the moment he felt only joy, great joy.”
–J.R.R. Tolkien

Today is the day after Thanksgiving. The table has been cleared, the extra chairs have been returned to the basement, and what is left of the turkey dinner (not much!) has been tucked into the fridge. The faint echo of last night’s laughter and chatter has faded into silence, following the taillights of cars that slowly disappeared into the darkness outside. Something you cannot quite place has ended, and something you cannot quite name has been lost—even if plans are already in place to put up Christmas trees, bake cookies, sing songs, and ring in the new year.

In those unattended moments, our hearts ache for something we cannot quite describe. Maybe we wish those happy times with loved ones could have lasted just a little while longer. Maybe we think of past holidays and grieve for those who would have filled the empty seats at the table this year. Or, maybe we tell ourselves that just one more smile or just one more hug would have been enough to stave off this feeling of an ending. For God “has made everything appropriate to its time, but has put the timeless into [our] hearts” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). However much we may long for the timeless, or even for just one more page in the chapter, all adventures, seasons, and stories upon this earth must come to an end.

The recent apocalyptic readings let us linger in that ache as we come to the end of the liturgical year, weeks before the crowds fill Times Square—but not for long. We hear about the passing of the world, the end of time, and stories we may wish would end quickly: terrifying beasts, kingdoms falling, people dying of fright, and even heaven and earth passing away! Much as Tolkien describes, “Towers fell and mountains slid; walls crumbled and melted, crashing down; vast spires of smoke and spouting steams went billowing up, up, until they toppled like an overwhelming wave, and its wild crest curled and came foaming down upon the land.”

Yet, even amid the chaos and ruin of the world, and even in the sorrow we face in our own lives, these readings also give us an anchor to cling to: Christ the King. He promises us the permanence our hearts long for now and in those end times, saying that “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Luke 21:33). “He received dominion, glory, and kingship; nations and peoples of every language serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:14). In a sudden turn that makes our breath catch and our hearts lift, there is something—Someone—that lasts.

In the upcoming weeks of Advent, we will wait for the fulfillment of this promise: for Christ’s coming at Christmas and in the last days. It is a period of joyful expectation, steadfast preparation, and patient endurance while awaiting “the point of intersection of the timeless with time” (Eliot). As Tolkien again writes, “The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy.” Each day we receive the Eucharist—or, thanksgiving—this joy comes from being with our beloved, our king. Even if our world is in ruin and our hearts yearn for more in ways we cannot quite describe, no one can take this joy, for our God is with us. And with him, we are called to watch and wait for the day we will see him as he is, beyond the appearance of bread and wine—for the day after thanksgiving, at the end of all things.

Reading & Listening Suggestions
Scott Hahn, Joy to the World
C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the KingOn Fairy Stories
Fr. Gregory Pine, O.P., The Xmas Soundtrack: Rudolph, Frosty, and Man’s Search for Meaning
Fr. Mike Schmitz, Joy to the WorldThe Promise

The Scent of Unseen Roses

“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now… Come further up, come further in!”
– C.S. Lewis

The world is our ship, and not our home. Surely you have felt it: in the good desires that do not satisfy, even when they are fulfilled, in the deep stirrings of your heart when faced with the numinosity of true beauty, or in the grief of being parted from loved ones as they pass from this world, emptying us with “the loss and the silence.” We are haunted by “the scent of unseen roses, and the subtle enticements of ‘melodies unheard’” (MacDonald) that come from a home we were made for but have never truly seen. As Lewis says, “All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it—tantalizing glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest—if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself—you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say, ‘Here at last is the thing I was made for.’”

Today, we celebrate the Feast of All Saints—those pilgrims who have made that journey home and now see God face to face, as he is. Now, they know: the echo has swelled into the song of praise we hear in today’s first reading, and they are part of the greatest music there is. We remember all of our patron saints, from Our Lady and St. Joseph to the well-beloved St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Francis of Assisi, and so many others. As C.S. Lewis says, “How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been; how gloriously different are the saints!” There are great scholars and teachers, heroic priests and religious, selfless parents and friends, holy mystics and martyrs, little children, steadfast souls who helped the poorest of the poor—and ordinary people who lived ordinary lives in extraordinary ways. What they all had in common was the longing to see the face of God, “to press on to that other country, and to help others do the same” (Lewis).

Though we can hear the echo of that song, are surrounded by this great cloud of witnesses, and even receive Christ in the Eucharist, we are not home yet—we are here in the valley of tears, in the state of the “not yet,” pressing on to that other country as best we can. How can we respond to this inner tug, this state of anticipation? What will our song be? Tempted at times by despair and presumption, we must turn to the virtue of hope. Generally speaking, “in hope, man reaches ‘with restless heart’, with confidence and expectation… toward the arduous ‘not yet’ of fulfillment” (Pieper). As St. Augustine describes it, “God’s praises are sung both there and here, but here they are sung by those destined to die, there, by those destined to live forever; here they are sung in hope, there, in hope’s fulfillment; here they are sung by wayfarers, there, by those living in their own country.”

This kind of hope, the hope of heaven, is a theological virtue, along with faith and love. It is “the confidently patient expectation of eternal beatitude in a contemplative and comprehensive sharing of the triune life of God; hope expects from God’s hand the eternal life that is God himself” (Pieper). Hope depends on a person: Christ. As trust extended into the future, it is much deeper than natural optimism; it is an act of the will. Hope is a fighting virtue that inspires one to keep stepping forward even when all seems dark—and the saints did take these steps, as they journeyed through any and every kind of persecution, loneliness, and grief, through God’s grace. When faced with the problem of pain, “in sorrow [they went], but not in despair” (Tolkien). For, just as Christ describes in the Beatitudes from today’s Gospel, “we are not bound for ever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory… Estel, Estel!” (Tolkien). Hope, hope!

We must hope, and “the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting” as we press on towards Christ. Yet, “the greatest of these is love.” Hope helps lead one from an imperfect love of God—desiring him only for our own sake, and for the sake of our loved ones—to the perfect love of friendship, caritas—affirming God for his own sake. This kind of love, another theological virtue, “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7). This is the kind of love we see in the saints, especially in Our Lady, who believed what was spoken to her by the angel would be fulfilled, bore the son of God in her womb, endured the death of her son for the sins of the world, hoped against hope for Christ’s resurrection, and longs to lead us home to her son, interceding for us from heaven. Who knows how many “unseen roses” come from the loving intercession of Our Lady!

All of the saints intercede for us in this way, loving us as we stumble forward. We are not alone in running this race; they have valiantly kept the faith and now help us on our way. So, let us take courage, run in their footsteps, come out of ourselves, and draw others after us! Let us persevere in hope that our faith will yield to sight, and our hope will yield to possession after a lifetime of self-surrender. That, as we behold the face of Love, all will be well, and all of our questions will die away as the echo swells into the sound itself and we join in the glorious praise of God by those living in their own country—not as wayfarers, but as children home at last. The term will be over, and the holidays will have begun. The dream will be over, and it will be the morning, on the first page of the most beautiful story that never ends, and “in which every chapter is greater than the one before” (Lewis). At last, we will never doubt again, and there will never be a need.

 

Reading & Listening Suggestions
C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle, Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, The Weight of Glory
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King, Letters
Peter Kreeft, The Philosophy of Tolkien
Josef Pieper, On Hope
St. Augustine, Sermon 256, 1.3.4.
Fr. Mike Schmitz: Homesick, The Fighting Virtue, Kingdom Come

Eucharistic Hearts

“Oh humble sublimity! Oh sublime humility! That the Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles Himself that for our salvation He hides himself under the form of Bread. Consider, brothers, the humility of God and pour out your hearts before him.” -St. Francis of Assisi

The chapel is bare, except for the San Damiano cross, the Our Lady of Guadalupe image, and a tiny vase of yellow flowers. A single sunbeam falling across the room seems to make the tabernacle glow with an inner light. In front of our small group of volunteers, gray-cloaked sisters and friars vowed to Lady Poverty kneel in prayer, quietly saying the words we say each Mass when we lift our hearts up to the Lord.

Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest…

Faithfully joining with the angels and the saints and the sounds of the city streets, we behold our Love, who is love, and who daily descends to be with us, even to the end of the age. “And as He appeared in true flesh to the Holy Apostles, so now He shows Himself to us in the sacred Bread; and as they by means of their fleshly eyes saw only His flesh, yet contemplating Him with their spiritual eyes, believed Him to be God, so we, seeing bread and wine with bodily eyes, see and firmly believe it to be His most holy Body and true and living Blood” (Admonitions). The priest standing before the altar begins to raise his hands. It is the “the point of intersection of the timeless with time…the gift half understood.”

Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my Body, which will be given up for you…

Hundreds of miles away, a little girl stares up at the same cross with folded hands and wide eyes. Her gaze darts from the cross to the priest, and then to the tiny host in his hand. An even smaller boy kneels beside her, squirming slightly and leaning against their mother, whose head is bent over clasped hands. As the white-cloaked priest genuflects, their father catches her eye and smiles slightly. She can’t help but smile back, gently putting an arm around her son and holding him close.

Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me…

The family then proclaims the mystery of their faith: their Lord and Love has died and risen from the grave. He sets them free, breaking open their stony hearts and slowly giving them natural hearts—hearts that pour themselves out little by little in “service, love, sacrifice, and courage” (Admonitions). United with our friends in gray, they see Christ in the breaking of the Bread and are given strength for early morning holy hours, first steps and last days of school, and unspoken hopes and murmured prayers. It is “a lifetime’s death in love, ardour and selflessness and self-surrender.”

Repair My house which, as you can see, has fallen into ruin…

Finally, we kneel in silence, having received the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In those precious moments, our hearts—having fallen into ruin—are also changed, are transformed and repaired by Love. As St. Thomas Aquinas says, “The Eucharist is the Sacrament of Love; It signifies Love, it produces love. The Eucharist is the consummation of the whole spiritual life.” For “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). And for this reason, staring up at the San Damiano cross, “we call [that] Friday Good.”

For our Lord is here, hidden under the forms of Bread and Wine, the “one great thing to love on earth.” He is with us; he has not and will not abandon us. Even if we leave and follow our own devices, even if it feels like we are held in captivity and only prayers for deliverance can escape from our lips. He is here, and he is waiting to bring us home. Oh humble sublimity! oh sublime humility!

Oh loving mercy, oh merciful love…

St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us!

 

Reading & Listening Suggestions
St. Francis of Assisi, Admonitions
Scott Hahn, The Lamb’s Supper
Catholic Underground Music

The Very Wine of Blessedness

“Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
serve the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful song.”
—Psalm 100:1–2

Almost nine months ago, we celebrated the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which commemorates when Mary was conceived without the stain of original sin. Having journeyed through many liturgical seasons since then, we are now quickly approaching her nativity on September 8. What a day of great joy that must have been for her parents, Sts. Joachim and Anne, for “a woman’s greatest joy is when she brings a child into the world” (Sheen). What a day of great joy it should still be for us, the beloved children of Mary, though we live in a very different world.

From the start, “the melody of [Mary’s] life [was] played just as it was written,” Fulton Sheen writes. Blessed among women and prepared from conception to receive the Lord, she heard the song of Christ, the very Word of God, and observed it, singing back with all her heart. Her fiat began with the Annunciation, continued in the Visitation, and lasted her whole life, even when her heart was pierced by a sword of sorrow. As St. Louis de Montfort says, “Mary is of all creatures the one most conformed to Jesus Christ.” Her own immaculate heart—taken, blessed, broken, and shared with us, much like her son’s—remains perfectly in the sacred heart of her son, the true bridegroom and the new Adam.

Mary is the new Eve, the new Ark of the Covenant, chosen by God to be the vessel through which Christ comes into the world. She is “the new wineskin brimming with contagious joy,” Pope Francis writes, as we hear in today’s Gospel. “Her ‘contagious fullness’ helps us overcome the temptation of fear, the temptation to keep ourselves from being filled to the brim and even overflowing, the temptation to a faint-heartedness that holds us back from going forth to fill others with joy.” Her joy is already complete in her son, but it overflows to the children given to her at the foot of the cross. She always leads us to her son and longs for us to remain in his love, to bring us home to heaven, so that our joy may be complete in him for all eternity.

The days have come when the bridegroom has been taken away from us. Jesus has ascended into Heaven, Mary has been assumed after him, and we remain here, “mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.” We fast, we pray, and we long to see the source of our love face to face, even as we adore him in the Blessed Sacrament. For now, our joy, as Lewis describes it, “is never a possession… [it is] always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still ‘about to be.’” But, when we remain with him in silence, pondering these things as Mary did, he sings to us and makes us into new wineskins, ready to receive him and those he sends us. Over time, “[our] hearts, wounded with sweet words, [overflow], and [our] joy [becomes] like swords, and [we pass] in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness” (Tolkien). Our hearts become new creations in Christ, ready at last to pass from death to life.

O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

 

Reading Suggestions
De Montfort, True Devotion to Mary
Lewis, Surprised by Joy
Sheen, The World’s First Love
Tolkien, The Return of the King

In the Folds of His Mercy

O inconceivable and unfathomable Mercy of God,
Who can worthily adore you and sing your praises?
O greatest attribute of God Almighty,
You are the sweet hope of sinners.
—The Diary of St. Faustina

One of the largest thorns in the crown of Jesus is the distrust of souls, a lack of trust first sown when Adam and Eve were tempted to doubt God’s steadfast love for them. Unable to see or understand the plans of their father, they grasped at a way to protect themselves, hardening their hearts. This original lack of faith was passed on through salvation history, as we see in today’s readings. In the first reading, the Israelites panic when they cannot see any water in the desert and seem to forget how God had just led them out of slavery. Even Moses comes to a breaking point as their leader. In the Gospel, Peter recognizes Jesus as the Son of God, the living water, but even he resists God’s plan when he cannot understand why Jesus will have to suffer.

Still, this “truly necessary sin of Adam” sparked the greatest story ever told: the story of redemption and merciful love. God did not give up on the grumbling Israelites, who were stuck in their own circle of misery, or on Peter, who later abandoned Christ during the passion and was left in bitter tears. As Robert Stackpole, director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy, writes, “Saint Thomas Aquinas defined mercy in general as ‘the compassion in our hearts for another person’s misery, a compassion which drives us to do what we can to help him’ (ST II-II.30.1). Divine Mercy, therefore, is the form that God’s eternal love takes when He reaches out to us in the midst of our need and our brokenness. Whatever the nature of our need or our misery might be—sin, guilt, suffering, or death—He is always ready to pour out His merciful, compassionate love for us, to help in time of need.”

St. Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers, and whose feast we celebrate today, poured out his life to show people the truth of the love of God as our merciful father. He had a great love for souls, for the suffering Christ, for the doctrines of the Church, for Mary, and especially for the Mass and the Blessed Sacrament, and relied on Divine Providence, even when he could not see or understand what God’s plans were. He was known to be moved to tears of contrition and love in the presence of the Eucharist, overwhelmed by this ultimate sign of God’s mercy. He was filled with sorrow for his own sin and an intense longing for others to come home to the love of God, which came through in his joyful, indefatigable preaching and in the love and kindness with which he cared for all he encountered. Instead of hardening his heart, he allowed it to be broken and shared it willingly.

Blessed Jordan of Saxony, O.P., puts it best: “Whilst he thus laboured to make his own soul pleasing to God, the fire of divine love was daily more and more enkindled in his breast, and he was consumed with an ardent zeal for the salvation of infidels and sinners. To move the divine mercy to regard them with pity, he spent often whole nights in the church at prayer, watering the steps of the altar with abundance of tears, in which he was heard to sigh and groan before the Father of mercy, in the earnestness and deep affliction of his heart; never ceasing to beg with the greatest ardor, the grace to gain some of those unhappy souls to Christ.”

Is it any wonder that St. Dominic had a special, ardent love for Mary, considering that her trust in God’s love is meant to counter the distrust of Eve, and that she also longs to lead us to Jesus, her Son, the new Adam? As the Nashville Dominicans note, “His life, his work, his Order were placed under her protection, and he invoked her in every difficulty and danger… The Blessed Mother filled him with heavenly favors, watched over him with motherly care, and gave him the habit of his Order. A tradition cherished in his Order… ascribes to him the first teaching of devotion to the recitation of the Rosary. His disciples were called ‘Friars of Mary,’ and have carried her Rosary and scapular to the uttermost parts of the earth.”

St. Dominic wasn’t just known for his tears, for his lifetime of studying, and for his preaching: he was also known for his joy. Just as Mary burst into song with her Magnificat, St. Dominic sang, even in the midst of darkness. Since he knew God as his merciful, loving father, how could his heart not overflow? Let us then follow their example, as the psalmist says today, and “sing joyfully to the Lord.” Light of the Church, teacher of Truth, rose of patience, ivory of chastity. You freely poured forth the waters of wisdom. Preacher of grace, unite us with the blessed. St. Dominic, pray for us! Amen.

Reading & Listening Suggestions
Fr. Guy Bedouelle, O.P., In the Image of St. Dominic
Kentucky Thomism podcast, The Tears of Dominic
St. Dominic novena
St. John Paul II, Dives in Misericordia
Robert Stackpole, What Does Divine Mercy Actually Mean?