Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

23 April 2016

Let's Go Reasonably Crazy

2016 is becoming notorious for the barrage of celebrity deaths, especially musicians. Artists as diverse as Keith Emerson and Merle Haggard have arrived at the "double bar" that signals the end of their symphony. This past week, it was Prince Rogers Nelson, known alternately by his given name and his unique symbol.

I noticed by way of this weekend's readings a connection between Prince and the second-century bishop and martyr Irenaeus, who famously said, “The glory of God is man living.” I will do my best to illustrate, before you report me either to the Chancery or to the local Behavioral Health Unit.

The Holy Trinity abides in perfect and ever greater splendor. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit communicate to Each Other the fullness of Love. Such Love moved the divine Persons to create all things outside of themselves as diverse reflections of Their splendid goodness, truth, and beauty. Every created entity--mineral, vegetable, and animal--reflects God's glory by virtue of its existence and through its particular nature. 

Chief among earthly realities is the human person, whose passions, understanding, and freedom enable him to cooperate in creation and indeed love with the depth and breadth nearest to God’s love—that is, when we choose to do so. In such moments and spans we are fully alive, firing on all cylinders: physical, emotional, spiritual, and moral, and thus we radiate God's glory in the most marvelous manner.

Our optimal operation can never be a solitary pursuit of self-fulfillment, simply “becoming who we were meant to be” just for our own sake. Even our solo acts materialize only in communion with our fellow children of God. As we exercise our priestly dominion over other created entities, they thereby  follow our lead, though creation, by being what it is, does a fine job of glorifying God without our help. Yet it always it happens in communion. 

Upon the sudden death of the musician Prince, a line from his 1985 anthem “Let’s Go Crazy” has resurfaced with extra force: “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.” Now, as with any celebrity, if we dug deeper into Prince’s entire library of works and his life, we’d find enough reasons not to admire him--or for that matter, anybody. 

Isn't there a faint echo of the Apostles' admonition in the first reading: "It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God"? Trials of our own making, trials of others' making, trials that come from God-knows-where: all are unavoidable.

To “get through this thing called life,” our well-known artist clearly considers crucial both communion and craziness. There is the unhelpful sort of craziness that subjugates our human capacities, which of course we want to avoid. But if by “craziness” we mean intentional enthusiasm, he’s on to something.

Anyone who has ever attended a wedding reception knows how communion and craziness conspire. The Beloved Disciple, himself a kind of Crown Prince in the heavenly court, describes the eternal scene in terms of a nuptial banquet. In his grand vision he sees the “new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” Something to look forward to, but also to look around for.

Purified by this life’s trials, moved by repentance for our sins, and galvanized by our sacrificial obedience to Jesus’ twofold commandment of love as-He-has-loved-us, we are invited to “go crazy” with an all-consuming joy. The joy of heaven doesn't render this life meaningless, but rather floods it with value and purpose. As channels of the fullness of living, we become signposts of the Gospel, inspirations to change and growth, radiations of God’s glory.

02 April 2016

Divine Mercy: The Treatment For Spiritual Sclerosis

In the 1930s, a Polish nun by the name of Maria Faustina Kowalska experienced numerous revelations from Jesus, the most important of which stressed God’s mercy by two means: a special prayer called the “Chaplet of the Divine Mercy,” and the institution of the Sunday in the Easter Octave as “Divine Mercy Sunday.” 

The chaplet’s use began to take off stateside in the 80s, no doubt catalyzed by the efforts of the late Mother Angelica. In 2000, fellow Pole Saint John Paul II acknowledged Sister Faustina’s revelations by canonizing her—the first saint of the new millennium—and by instituting “Divine Mercy Sunday.”

Whatever one might believe concerning the particulars of the revelations, and whether or not one might pray the chaplet, one simply cannot dispute the centrality of divine mercy in the Christian faith. This is true even in the Hebrew Scriptures, which people traditionally, though wrongly, accuse of presenting a grim and ruthless God, as prone to pettiness as we humans are. Consider, among other places, this day’s responsorial psalm, where the sacred speaker praises the Lord’s saving action on his behalf: “I was hard pressed and was falling but the Lord helped me” (118:13). In another psalm, “His mercy endures forever” is the refrain that runs throughout. 

You may retort, “I thought the line was, ‘His love is everlasting’?” Well, what do the Dutch say: “Macht nichts" (Makes no difference)? Indeed, mercy and every other divine quality—even justice—is a reflection of the single, simple ray of Love, such that the only difference we make of it is but a reflection of our human complexity.

Mercy is the decision not to define us entirely according to our instances of unloving. As the second half of the Latin word misericordia suggests, mercy is a matter of the heart, which, according to Scripture, is not the place of feeling, but of identification and decision. It’s where we are. In our wretchedness and lack, God will be all. 

Contrary to classic Lutheran doctrine, we are not totally corrupt. Insofar as God created us, we are good; we can never lose that identification with God and goodness, even though grave sin may harden our arteries to the point where love has no apparent way to flow. In such a sad soul, hell has begun well before physical death. If we identify our need and our desire for love and present ourselves to the Divine Physician, God can put in a stent or even bypass our spiritual sclerosis.

What is both mysterious and consoling is the supreme trust God has placed in His holy Catholic Church to dispense Divine Mercy primarily through the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, as well as Eucharist and Anointing of the Sick. From the time of Peter and the other Apostles, the Lord entrusted us fallible, human priests with the authority and command to forgive sins. The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles depicts the many physical healings that took place at the Apostles’ hands. Peter’s shadow continues to fall upon the penitent who approaches with faith and reverence to be renewed in Christ’s abundant life.

Mercy further flows through the actions and words of the disciple who knows that forgiveness personally. “As the Father has sent me,” Jesus says, “so I send you. And when he had said this,” Saint John tells us, “He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” to forgive and retain sins. And by the way, the only sins that are “retained” are those for which no forgiveness has been sought. In such a case, genuine forgetfulness to confess is not the issue; shameful pride is the real “silent killer.” 

Do not, then, define yourself or anyone else in terms of sin, as “drunkenness incarnate” or “spitefulness incarnate” or “unbelief incarnate” or “pornography incarnate” or “theft incarnate” or “abortion incarnate,” for that is not who you are. Always, always, trust that you remain “God’s beloved,” one whom God desires to forgive, heal, and restore to His love and life.