Sunday, February 28, 2016

Revelation of Merciful Love

Our choir enclosure grille, designed by our Sister Pius, depicts the burning bush, God’s revelation to Moses that we heard in today’s first reading at Holy Mass.  Indeed, the sanctuary is the daily place of encounter with the living God where He again “comes down” to rescue us from the slavery of our sin.  Poor Clares walk barefoot, not only to keep faith with Lady Poverty, but because we tread on “holy ground”, contemplating the mystery of God’s abiding presence in His Eucharist, and pondering His Word in the Sacred Scriptures.
When Moses asked of God His name, he was given the answer:  “I AM”.  God simply IS, and for the moment, Moses had to be content with this enigmatic name.  But, by the time Moses had led the Israelites out of Egypt, he was on more familiar terms with his divine Friend and asked for a deeper revelation.  Then it was that God completed His self definition: “The Lord passed by him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord,(HE IS, HE IS), a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” (Ex. 34:6).  The responsorial psalm celebrates God’s mercy and the Gospel presents Jesus as the living incarnation of merciful love.

It is Jesus who is the gardener of His parable, eager to “fertilize” languishing, unfruitful souls.  Now every gardener knows that REAL fertilizer does not come in a bag of sanitary granules, but from the odoriferous waste products of animals and plants, duly composted and worked by our friend the lowly earthworm  Jesus, in His Passion, calls Himself “a worm and no man, scorned by men, despised by the people” (Ps. 22).  On the Cross, Jesus took all the garbage we threw at Him and transformed it by loving mercy, into that which would make our lives fertile and fruitful.  When we too must suffer, we too bring new life to the world if we take the pain as He did, with obedient and trusting love.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Face of Christ

Tibi dixit cor meum, quaesivi vultum tuum, vultum tuum Domine requiram:  ne avertas faciem tuam a me. 
To you my heart has spoken, I have sought you face, your face, O Lord I seek, do not turn away your face from me. Ps 26:8-9 (from the Intoit of 2nd Sun. of Lent)

Today the Church bids us contemplate the Face of Christ, radiant with the Father’s glory.  We are not alone.  Moses, who during his earthly life begged to see the face of God and was granted only a glimpse of His back, gazes now with us on the human face of the Incarnate Word.  Elijah, that fiery prophet who recognized the voice of God in a small whispering sound, looks upon the beloved Son and hears the Father proclaim Him as such.  Peter, James and John, who like us have scaled the mountain of prayer to be with Jesus, awaken from their sleep to behold His divine light.  Yes, indeed, this is a mountaintop experience!

But not every mountaintop is like Mt. Thabor.  It will not be long before the three privileged Apostles will awaken from a very different kind of sleep to see the face of Jesus bedewed with a bloody sweat, illuminated first by the glow of the Paschal moon and then by the torches of approaching soldiers on the Mount of Olives.  John will be the only one to witness that beloved face disfigured by thorn, lash and spittle, in the fading light of the eclipsed noonday sun on Mt. Calvary.

Contemplatives learn quickly that Mt. Thabor moments are fleeting spiritual joys meant to strengthen us on the journey to Jerusalem where the Paschal Mystery is to be accomplished.  We might be tempted to try to prolong the moment like Peter who suggested to Jesus they camp out with Moses and Elijah.  But soon we must move on, cherishing the memory, so that when we inevitably climb to the dark heights of sorrow and pain, we will remember and hope for the glory that will never end.  As St. Clare assures us, “If we suffer with Him [Jesus] we will reign with Him”.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Perfect Love

St. John tells us in his first letter that “perfect love casts out fear”.  Ever since our first parents ate the forbidden fruit, fear has plagued all our relationships, particularly the most intimate.  Is there really such a thing as perfect love which would do away with every form of anxiety forever?  Let us define our terms (as the scholastics would say) so that we can understand exactly what we are saying.

First of all, perfect comes from the Latin perfectus (done all the way through—in other words: complete)  So we are talking about a love that is complete:  fully given and fully received.  Love is relational, so in order for any kind of completeness to exist, there must be at least two lovers who both give and receive.  And what kind of love are we speaking about?  It is charitas, defined as that love which wills the good of the other as other.  So this is not the warm feeling we get when we are in the presence of a person who pleases us.  This is not that desire for the pleasure that someone else can give to us.  It is not even the loyalty and affection we feel for our family and our friends.  Rather, the love we are speaking about here is that generous impulse to do good for someone for their sake no matter what the sacrifice it may cost us.  In fact, suffering for this kind of love is looked upon as a golden opportunity to really give everything to the beloved, to prove unequivocally the depth of love.

Finally, what is fear?  St. John tells us that “fear has to do with punishment”.  We are also told by theologians that fear is that emotion which we feel when we are faced with evil.  What would be the ultimate fear for the lover, the unbearable punishment for the beloved?  What worst evil could be imagined than separation, abandonment, rejection?

Now that we have defined our terms, we can restate our question without ambiguity:  Does there exist a completely given and received, absolutely generous love which would cast out the horrible feeling at the core of our being that we are abandoned and rejected?  YES!  This is the good news that needs to be shouted from the housetops.

God is this kind of love.  It is His very nature.  He cannot love or be otherwise than this.  Jesus came to prove this love to us by sacrificing Himself in His life and especially in His death on the Cross.  Jesus and His Father share this ultimate, generous love with each other and they call us to participate in it.  Adam and Eve rejected this love in paradise and so became afraid, estranged from God and one another.  Yet God did not reject them, nor abandon their children.  Instead, He sent His Son to call all of us back into intimacy with Him.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus, filled with the Father’s love, the Holy Spirit, goes into the desert to be tempted by the devil who tries to persuade Him to deviate from the path of love.  But Jesus will not follow the evil one’s suggestions to egoism, self-indulgence and glorification.  He comes forth from the desert in the power of His faithful love, to live, suffer and die for us.  He could do this because He had fully received and fully responded to His Father’s love.

It is said that we cannot give what we do not have.  St. John tells us that “if God has loved us so, we should have the same love for one another”.  If we are to love as God loves, we have to first receive that love ourselves.  Lent is the time to get serious about removing the obstacles to receiving this love in our hearts.  .  On this Valentine’s Day, the best gift we can give to our beloved is to open ourselves to God’s all generous love  Then we will be able to love Him in return and those whom He has given to us to love.  And if it happens that our beloved does not return our love, we will not be destroyed.  Like Jesus, we will forgive and offer peace, for we are secure in the perfect, everlasting love of the Father.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

I am who I am

Today, as lector for the 2nd reading at Holy Mass, it was my duty to proclaim St. Paul’s ringing assertion:, “…by the grace of God, I am who I am.” But at the same time I did so, my mind flashed back to my childhood, and I heard my favorite cartoon hero sing, “I am who I am: I’m Popeye the Sailor Man!”  Restraining the laugh that came to my throat, I managed to finish the reading soberly enough.  Afterwards, I reflected that all of us, including apostles, and prophets, along with sailors and even Poor Clares, have to be clear on who they are and act out of that conviction.  Although her feast day is superseded today by the Sunday liturgy, St. Colette of Corbie is devotedly remembered by the daughters of her reform movement.  She was a contemporary of St. Catherine of Siena and St. Joan of Arc, though not as well known to the general public as they.  It was not hers to restore a king to his throne or to urge the pope to return to his city of Rome, but to revitalize the life of contemplative prayer in the Franciscan Order which would call down God’s blessings upon all political and ecclesiastical initiatives for reform and make them lasting and fruitful.  Like Isaiah in today’s first reading, St. Colette was a reluctant prophet, and had to struggle to come to terms with God’s will.  Paradoxically, her call was to travel incessantly in order to found monasteries of strict enclosure where women would stay forever in one place to pray.  She would be impelled to speak continually with nobles and churchmen for her nuns given to a life of silence.  But all that was secondary.  She knew who she was and who she wanted her daughters to be:  women given over to the love of God for His glory and the good of His Church and His world.