Saturday, June 21, 2014

What's it all for?

What is it all for anyway?

“The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint.” –Leon Bloy

To put it another way, the only great tragedy in life is not to become who you really are created to be (which is exactly what we want deep down inside - to fulfill our purpose.)

Matthew Kelly says it well when he speaks of becoming "the best version of yourself."

I would like to introduce that person to my wife some day.  I would like my kids to know the best version of their father so that they, in turn, will be inspired and enabled to become to best versions of themselves i.e. exactly who God created them to be.

God shows us how to become authentically human.  He shows us because He did it Himself.  The first Adam, our first "father" fell away and chose not to live in God's perfect image but rather out of his own selfish desires (a good definition of sin is simply that - selfishness.)  But Jesus Christ is the "New Adam."  He is the eternal Son of God become human so as to show the sons of men how to be their true selves - sons of God.

The son of God became a son of man so that sons of men might become sons of God. 

God wasn't content to leave you where you're at.  He wants to enter in your life right here, right in the place where you are so that you would enter into the place where He is.

Christianity is a religion based on a relationship with God bent on getting us to become Saints (read "exceedingly happy people who want to help others to become exceedingly happy people.")  Fulfillment, joy, peace etc. can only truly be found when we ourselves are found.

"For this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found. (from the parable of the prodigal son, Luke 15:24)

(Rembrandt's "Return of the Prodigal Son."  See how calm the son is when he's back where He belongs: resting on the Father's Heart.  What jumps out at you in looking at this picture? What stirs your heart and what could God be trying to say to you through this piece of art?)

He's been looking for us ever since to Garden of Eden, "The Lord God called to the man, 'Where are you?'" (Genesis 3:9)

So where are you?

If you're not in a good place you don't have to stay there.

You don't have to stay there.

"I will get up and go to my Father..." (Luke 15:18)

That's where you belong: home.

Life lived in relationship with Christ is meant to be a homecoming, a process is "coming into ourselves," our true selves and finding out that God our Father has been waiting for us in the truth of our being all along.  He is not where you are not.  He is where you are -where the real you is.  When you discover who you really are (His child) then you will, at the same time, discover Who He is - your Father.

Because the only real tragedy in life is not to become a Saint - and a Saint is someone very much at home.


Friday, June 20, 2014

Standing on the Truth

Have you ever seen "American Ninja Warrior"?

I was talking with a friend of mine yesterday and she asked me if I watched any particular tv shows.  My honest answer was "no" (I tend to avoid tv.) I was, however, with my sister and brother in law the other day and we were watching American Ninja Warrior - or something like that.  I liked it because its about Americans acting like Ninja Warriors (hence the name.)  Contestants go through physically challenging obstacle courses all for the sake of hitting the red button at the end which means "All done!"

It must be a good feeling hitting that red button.  

However, in this episode of "American Ninja Warrior" in order to hit that red button you had to make it through a particular obstacle which I will call "The Unstable Springy Things."  It was a series of springy things which had rounded tops each with its own unpredictable level of instability.  Some people fell off when they hit those Unstable Springy Things - others did not (kudos to them.)

Life can be pretty unstable sometimes.

"Finally, the point!"

Yes, faithful blog reader - here comes the point.  It's a stable point.

Life can be pretty unstable sometimes.  At least it can seem and feel unstable.  For the Christian, however, how things seem to be are not necessarily how things are.  

"What do you mean, Matt?"

I mean that we're not always very good at attaching ourselves to reality.  The experience of our current life may feel unstable, unpredictable, or as if we have no direction (like a train which is moving along some tracks only to continue on into a field after having the tracks removed.  Things can certainly feel that way but the reality may be something all together.  

God is the rock which our lives are founded on.  His revealed truth, especially given through Sacred Scripture, is the stable point which our lives rest upon - if we let it rest there.  How things feel or seem to us can at times not at all be the true reality.  

The true reality of our lives is not what we feel it is but it is what God says it is and He invites us to live in that reality rather than from our mere feelings.  Don't get me wrong - feeling ARE important.  If we're down in the dumps or confused about what direction our lives should take then we should take that seriously by bringing it to prayer and seeking wise counsel from others.  However, in seeking peace with our situation what are we seeking if not but to accept reality as God sees it?

In other words, peace is found when we say yes to reality.  As fallen and wounded human beings (redeemed, yes, but still in a long process of healing) we are very good at not trusting that God really does have everything under control, that he really does have our best interests at heart.  The key to searching for and maintaining peace is accepting reality according to God's point of view.  This can be a painful process at times because we are very attached to our own ways of seeing things.  

The truth is, though, that God really does have a wonderful plan for each of our lives and desires to "ween us off" our own vision of things so that He can give us His light.  We've been stuck in the dark in a lot of ways - which is very unstable -but God wants to illumine our hearts and minds to what is really going on. Life, from God's point of view, is not like "American Ninja Warrior" (even if we may feel like we're standing in a very unstable spot!)  He holds us in the palm of His hand - we're safe there, we are stable.  He knows what he is about.

"For I know the plans I have for you.  Plans for welfare and not for woe; to give you a future full of hope." - Jeremiah 29:11 

"God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments. Therefore, I will trust Him, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still, He knows what He is about." - John Henry Cardinal Newman  

He knows what He is about.  You can trust Him.


Saturday, June 14, 2014

The "Bread of the Face" of God

Today's psalm at Mass was taken from Psalm 27.  The line that stuck out for me?

"Your face, oh Lord, do I seek.  Hide not your face."

A line before that has the Lord commanding (His commands always have the urgency of love:)

"Seek My face."

So why did His face draw my attention?...

Why did His face draw anyone's attention?

I think that's what the face is supposed to do (especially a beautiful face.)  Its supposed to draw one's attention.

God is perfect truth; yes.  He is also perfect love.  We can't forget, though, that He is also perfect beauty.  It is, after all, impossible to forget a beautiful face (ask any guy who has been wide eyed at the site of a beautiful girl - he remembers her beauty.)

Beauty is a memorable thing.  It draws our attention not only in the present but it also continues to hold our attention in the future because, while we remember the beauty we've beheld and do, in a sense, behold it in our memory, we long to behold that beauty again with our vision!  I think this is the incredible effect which Saints and Mystics experience in encountering the Lords beautiful love - the experience of God is so powerful precisely because He is so beautiful; it makes the Saint/Mystic long and need to be near Him Who is Beauty Itself (a mystic is, after all, simply a person who has experienced reality in a deeply transformative way.  Reality is extremely attractive.)

The face of Christ - He Who is Beauty Incarnate - is the most beautiful of all things to be seen because it is the face of our deepest desire; namely, salvation and unconditional love. Jesus IS exactly what the heart craves and His face draws the heart to remember the deeper things which we long for.

"Your face, oh Lord, do I seek" and I beg you "hide not Your face."

Moses begged to see God's Beauty.  He said to God "Show me Your glory!!" (Exodus 33:18)  Theologically, glory is understood well as "beauty."  This is the ultimate longing of our souls, "Lord, show me Your beauty!  Let me see You! I want to see You!"

Beauty IS in the eyes of the beholder in the sense that we truly do possess something of the beauty which we perceive.  The beauty perceived is literally impressed upon the mind through what the eyes see - the beauty perceived is inside the beholder's eyes so to speak, inside the mind: permanently.

"Seek My face."

In the Eucharist we see Jesus' face through faith (which is how we see God in this life - faith is a real vision of the intellect allowing us to see what our limited human reason can't fully grasp.  It is a spiritual vision which allows us to see what God sees.)  So the Beautiful One is enthroned before us in that Eucharistic Adoration chapel and we are priveleged to gaze upon Him in order to satiate our hearts for what it so craves.  Job 23:3 says "If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling!" But WE do know where to find Him.  We CAN go to His dwelling among us - He is there in the Eucharist; the Beautiful One.

In the Old Testament there was a role for the priests to offer a sacrifice of bread and of wine (which foreshadowed the sacrfice of the Eucharist.)  The word used for that bread is sometimes translated as the "show bread" or better the "bread of the Presence" (God's Presence that is.)  The bread signified the presence of God which is one more reason why the Church discerned and understood the extraordinary significance of reserving the Eucharist which was, in fact, the real presence of Christ, Who is God in the flesh.  He is The Bread of Heaven from John 6)

I learned the other day while listening to a talk by Dr. Brant Pitre called "The Jewish Roots of the Eucharist" (available from Lighthouse Catholic Media) that there is a more precise translation of that term signifying the Old Testament bread of sacrifice.  

The "Bread of the Face."

The Eucharist is the true "Bread of the Face" of God because the Eucharist literally IS Jesus gazing back at us in love.  In the Eucharist is contained all the beauty of the face of the One Whom we seek.  "Your face, oh Lord, do I seek." The Eucharist is the Beauty which we desire, the "face" we seek.

"Your face, oh Lord, do I seek."

In Eucharistic Adoration the heart can rest in a sort of "beatific vision" through faith.  The heart can fill up on what it longs for even though the sensible experience of that beauty will have to wait until the Beatific Vision of God's Face in Heaven.

And when we're there we'll strangely remember that we've seen this Face before.  We will remember the beauty which once impressed itself upon us by faith in the "Bread of the Face" and we'll experience that final satisfaction in knowing that we never have to leave the Presence of the Beautiful One.  We'll rest in Beauty.

And what a beautiful rest that will be!


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Why I don't think Protestantism is true

Hear me out my Protestant friends! Charitable dialogue is welcome.

Here's some thoughts on the difficulties I have with Protestantism. Protestant Pastor A and Protestant Pastor B can disagree on essentials about Jesus' teachings but how is it possible for a third party to know who is right? What authority should he/she turn to in order to learn the truth of the matter? Simply saying "My reading of the Bible is such and such and that is the truth" doesn't mean that it actually *is* true - that's just a personal interpretation.

What is needed is an *authoritative* interpretation. Simply saying, "I have the Holy Spirit, and He guides my interpretation. He is infallible" doesn't mean He actually *is* guiding you. After all, how many other Christians say the same thing and end up disagreeing on major points? 

Yes, the Holy Spirit is infallible but your friend at the next Church can claim the exact same thing with equal (if not stronger) sincerity and conviction. Again, what authority can Christians turn to and say "THAT is what the Holy Spirit meant in this or that passage" or "THIS is the correct doctrine on what baptism does to a person or whether the Apostles had successors with actual authority."  

How did the Holy Spirit intend for us to learn *His* "interpretation" of things? Was it through personal study and prayer alone? Did the Holy Spirit establish in the Church a *visible* authority to make clear His *invisible* authority (so to speak)? That's precisely what the Apostles were there for - to make Christ's teachings and the Holy Spirit's revelations absolutely clear.

Jesus is Divine and human. His Body, the Church, has a Divine (guided by the Holy Spirit in its teachings) and a human side (that's us.) God became flesh in Jesus Christ because He wanted to be visible and easily known. The Church (Christ's Body, He Himself living and acting through its members) is not just an invisible reality. It is to make the teachings of Christ visible and easily known. The early Christians simply needed to ask an Apostle if they had a question (they didn't have the New Testament defined until the late 300's and even then they *still* needed someone to properly interpret it for them) but how much *more* do WE need such great clarity today amid all the division and discord? God never abandoned His Church when it came to ensuring infallible teaching. He WANTS to be accessible (hence His Word became flesh.) He taught infallible then and still does so today. All Christians agree about how He did it in the beginning but did His saving truth become less accessible somehow when we became even more in need of it? We *need* an infallible Church to tell us "This is what Jesus meant" or "That is morally wrong." After all, you can find a Christian church or pastor who teaches exactly what you want them to teach - you just have to look hard enough. But we don't need more division, we need to *assurance* of infallible Christian teaching.  

We have that in the Catholic Church. Even the Bible itself, who declared *those* 27 New Testament books were God's Word? There had to be an outside authority to declare it so. An outside authority which said "Yes, these 27 books are in line with the oral teaching tradition which has been handed down." The Bible doesn't have an inspired table of contents. An outside authority recognized "These 27 books (the New Testament) are God's Word." The successors to the Apostles declared that. Historically, it was the Bishops in the Catholic Church who made that declaration. If you trust them with such a huge decision like that, well... why not everything else?

The Apostles really did have successors and those in turn had their successors. What good would Apostolic authority be if it wasn't destined to be handed down to the next generations which, progressively, would have even *greater* need of its guiding assurance? The Holy Spirit really did work through the Apostles and protect their teachings and He really does protect those teachings today through the Bishops. When you're in line with the Apostolic teaching handed down you necessarily have the correct doctrinal interpretations of the Bible. With no visible authority through which God could teach through then anyone (and everyone does this) either has to say either "My church is truly guided by the Holy Spirit" and then hopelessly defend that position with absolutely no historical link to the early Church or "These differences don't *really* matter; we all love Jesus anyway and that's what matters!" But I mean does the Bible really teach that anyway? Were Jesus' teachings not all essential? Can we get through with just some of the truth or don't we need all of it? Don't we *want* all of it??

But I suppose if that's *your* interpretation... In the end though I don't want *your* interpretation - I want the Holy Spirit's "interpretation" - I.e. the truth. Either He works through a visible authority here on earth to reveal His "interpretation" and give infallible teaching or He works through your local pastor to give infallible teaching...maybe. Except when I disagree with him. But then why is your Baptist (or Lutheran) pastor or church more right than the Presbyterian (or Pentecostal or Methodist etc. etc.) pastor or church? And why did it take 1500 or more years for the truth to finally "resurface"? Was the fruit of the Reformation (division after division and split after split due to one personal interpretation after another) really what God wanted? After all, even Calvin and Zwingli differed with Luther on essentials and condemned each other's teachings. But on what authority did they even do that? It was just their interpretation of the Bible. Thousands since have disagreed with them and so on and so on. All the while everyone claims to have the true interpretation and authentic biblical doctrine because they all say more or less

"Because WE have the Holy Spirit!" or "We are being guided by the Spirit on this."

But the fruit of division speaks for itself. "By their fruit you will know them." But where the Holy Spirit is there is unity (yes, even in doctrine!) Or is that a miracle that the Holy Spirit just stopped working perhaps 50 years after Pentecost?  

The greatest scandal against Christianity's claim to truth is that Christians are so divided - but it doesn't have to be so. Read the early Christian writings, read the Church Fathers and you'll see such a remarkable continuity with the Catholic Church of today (and throughout history) that you'll realize with the Anglican Convert, John Henry Cardinal Newman that "To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant."

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

New Evangelization - What was wrong with the old one??

Nothing was really wrong with the "old" evangelization.  

In fact, my blog title is a trick question!

Evangelization is always "new" in the sense that in various ways we as Christians are presenting the "newness" of the Gospel to minds and hearts that need to revitalized by the Truth - The Truth Who is in fact a Person to be encountered.  There is always something "new" to be discovered in relationships (especially in our relationship with God!)

St. John Paul the Great called for a "New Evangelization" which would "re-present" the Gospel to a modern culture which has, by and large, detached itself from the Christian faith which birthed it.  Just as a child can pull away from it's mother's teachings and try to "make it's own roots" so our culture has left aside Christ in order to try and "recreate" itself in a new image. 

All of its efforts are failing.

Look at the suicide rate, the terrible rise in school shootings, the depression, anxiety, the hungry search for spirituality of various kinds, the brokenness from all too common divorces, the rate of abortion and how this effects men and women, etc etc and on and on.  

Our culture, our hearts are broken.

We have the solution and a ready made remedy for healing available.  It has been presented to our culture in the past but the present culture chooses to keep it there - in the past.

Here is where Christians, especially Catholic Christians, enter in.  They enter into the present moment to re-present in "new methods, new ardor, new expressions" the eternal truths which God has revealed through His Son and through that Son's Church (Jesus' "body" on earth.)

The Bible says that Jesus, Who is God's eternal Word, "became flesh and dwelt among us." That same Word, that same "Good News" from the Father speaking of hope, and life, and healing and forgiveness continues to be "enfleshed" through Christ's Church; through Christians who bring Christ into the now of every day life.  Christians are to represent Christ to the world, they are to re-present Christ in the present time in order to lift those who allow themselves to be encountered by Christ into eternity with Him and with the Father.

Say what?

In other words, Jesus is alive and He lives and can be encountered in many ways but especially wherever the Gospel is proclaimed and lived.  

St. Joan of Arc once remarked about Christ and the Church, "I only know that they are but one thing; and we shouldn't complicate the matter."

He speaks to you through those Who listen to Him: "Whoever hears you (disciples) hears Me."  That is because the message of the Father to the world - Jesus - lives  in the truth proclaimed because He IS the truth proclaimed.  God enfleshed.  God here and now.

Emmanuel.  God-with-us.

One way, one medium through which to listen to this message is through great talks on the faith connected to relevant topics for today. If you click on the "Lighthouse Catholic Media" icon on the right side of my blog you'll be linked to talks from some of the best and most gifted speakers in the Church today (to see it you may have to first switch the view to the "PC Version" of my blog by clicking the PC Version link at the bottom of the page.

There are Young Adult Downloads, Cd-of-the-Month Clubs, books, individual cd's.  You could even ask your pastor to get a "Lighthouse Kiosk" for your parish.

Wherever truth is encountered there is Christ.  For today's world that is something which needs to be brought back.  We need to remember our roots in Christ and so be "re-membered" into the Body of Christ, the Church.  The world is 
desperate.  Thank God there is a Savior.  Thank God, too, for Christians who can re-present the Gospel to a broken, fallen culture and start putting things back together again.

(That's Humpty Dumpty.. he's the one who "sat on a wall" and "had a great fall."  Unlike him, however, WE can be put back together again.)


Friday, June 6, 2014

I hope for hope

When it comes to trials sometimes perseverence is all you think you can do.

But that doesn't mean it's all God can do.

He wants us to hope.  To hope in Him moving in our lives.

Maybe you think you're running out of hope.

You can pray for hope.  Ask for greater hope.  Ask for the grace to persevere in hope.

It's always worth it; hoping.  

Just so long as what you are hoping for is God's Will to be fulfilled in your life. Anything else is not worth hoping for.  It will leave you unsatisfied and still needing God's Will in the end.

That is, after all, the best thing and it is also the only thing worth desiring.  It is the only thing which satisfies in the end because it is the end for which the human heart is hard wired to desire.

So ask for hope when you're struggling with life.

"Commit your way to the Lord.  Trust in Him and He will act." (Psalms 37:5)

He will act.


I really like the image of the "handmaid" from Biblical times.  The Blessed Virgin Mary refers to herself as the "handmaid" of the Lord.  What was a handmaid? As I underatand it this refered to a servant who stayed at her master's feet and kept her eyes on the master's foot or hand; at the slightest, indicating movement from the master the handmaid would immmediately get up to fulfill the master's desire which was made known through a simple flick of the hand or a movement of the foot.

Mary delighted to be this "lowly" servant; perfectly patient and attentive to her Lord's slightest indication.  She was a woman filled with hope because she kept her eyes transfixed on God and listened for His Word.  With her whole being she waited and listened.  When God desired to speak His eternal Word into the center of her feminine being - her womb - she was able to humbly consent:

"Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  Let it be done to me according to your word." (Luke 1:38)

God intends to bring us to a point of making a deeper "fiat" (Latin for "let it be") to His Will through helping us grow in hope.  He allows that we are brought to a point of greater dependency on Him; a greater need for His intervention.  He wants us to lovingly sit at His feet and wait for the slightest indication of His Will not out of fear but out of LOVE.

Where else could you possibly want to be if not sitting at His feet listening to his Word?

"How beautiful upon the mountains are the feed of him who brings good news." (Isaiah 52:7)

And if He seems silent for a time is there anything that could hold your attention better than the love in His eyes?  If you are looking for and hoping for something other than Him; if you THINK God isn't enough for your heart right now; if your attention is diverted away from Him... maybe God just wants you to refocus and be an attentive "handmaid" again.

"For hope does not disappoint." (Romans 5:5)

Because true hope is always fulfilled in God.  Always.  So don't give up.  Go to Him and wait for Him to act.

"For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay." (Habakkuk 2:3)

It will certainly come and will not delay.

"Wait for the Lord, take courage; be stouthearted and wait for the Lord." (Psalm 27: 14)

Meditate on Psalm 27 and receive the gift of hope.


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Why, oh why, didn't I take the blue pill?

Why is life hard sometimes?

I think partly it is because we have choices to make and desires which long to be fulfilled.

The Budda would say that suffering comes into our lives because of our desires.  If we had no desires then we wouldn't suffer.  The idea is that when we suffer it is then that we desire not to suffer.  Suffering with a hungry tummy? Buddhist philosophy says it's because you desire food. Get rid of the desire and you'll have no suffering. Suffering from grief? It is because you desire what has already bee lost.  That's the basic idea as I understand it from the Buddhist perspective.

Christ's view of the matter is different.  Christ is God and sees the truth of things; how they really are.  

I think (this is just me though) that we suffer because we don't see the truth of things.  We don't see the real world and don't always live in reality.  Our desires are good oftentimes but we don't see how to properly fulfill them according to how God sees things (a.k.a. according to reality.)  So we suffer in ways that we wouldn't have to if we just lived according to the light God offers on our situation (faith is a real illumination of our intellect.) 

The Buddha wanted to remove suffering so as to enter into bliss.

But the Christ is different.  He's always different.  He's utterly unique.  God is wholly "other."

Christ wanted to enter into our sufferings (not avoid them or get rid of them) so that He might lead us out of our narrow existence (read "self-seeking") into the broad vision that God has of things.  Christ takes us from where we are (suffering in our selfishness) to where He is (perfectly free in the Father's love.)

All we want is to be in the Father's love.  It's not that we just want to be suffering-less.  We want love.  In this life the only way to learn love, to become love, is to sacrifice your whole self for Love's sake.  That is a suffering.

But for the Christian suffering isn't a waste.  It's the pathway to exactly what our hearts crave, namely, not us.  We want God but we're so acquainted with ourselves.

May we suffer His coming into our lives and suffer the death of our selfishness so as to experience the bliss of selflessness.  Love forgets itself and sees it's beloved.  

I'd much rather gaze at God for all eternity than myself.  

Satan chose the latter.  That's why hell is so terrible.  That's why it's such suffering.

It's all about you.