I am writing at 3:00 on Good Friday, the hour Jesus died, in the little chapel upstairs in the parish center, sitting here with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and a statue of the Holy Family and a ghastly greenish-brown carpet and, for an unknown and potentially unknowable reason, several small ornamental cacti.
Today very much just has a desolate feeling to it. It’s not that I personally feel that way, either, it’s just this sense of … emptiness, and shared loss, like a family bereavement, or when you’re with a friend who’s in pain, and though you are not, personally, in pain, you can feel theirs. The narrow strip of sky I can see over the hilltop is utterly grey, the very definition of a bleak horizon.
The most important event in the whole created universe is the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, and his raising from the dead. Everything in the created order is changed by the fact of the Resurrection. Everything is played in a new key, joys and sufferings, transformed into a song that will sound forever in the presence of God.
The power of Hell is undone by the death and the Resurrection. The hour of Jesus’ death is an hour that will not pass away.
The Father fills with his breath the corpse of His son. The son breathes on his disciples—passing on what He was given, immediately.
The resurrection of Jesus is inseparable from the birth of the Church—the outpouring of the same gift that raised Jesus from the dead upon us.
We are the evidence.
The most intimate moment is a paradox.
It must be time for church.
A line of men from two buildings
converges on a third.
Straggling like sheep
They walk like sheep
straggly line with the whole meadow wide open before them
or like a four year old’s line
gone crooked despite her screwed-up eyes’ effort
the tightness of her little fist on the pencil.
They walk alone in twos and threes
some from one building
all converging on a third.
Two hands lift up a heavy golden chalice.
Sheep-eyes, feet wander, hearts go astray.
I desire to desire what You desire
because you desire it
for as long as you desire it
in the way that you desire it,
not to desire more than you desire,
not to desire anything other than you desire,
but that Your desire may be my desire,
for I desire you, Lord.
My heart burns for you.
All other desires are as dust and tasteless food compared with you.
But in you all my lesser desires meet and come to fulfillment.
Grant, then, I beg you,
that I may long only for your sweetness,
so that one day my longing may be satisfied.
In the way that lovers know their lover’s mind
Like an acorn knows the warm earth
like a window knows the sky
like a votive candle knows
the vastness and the breadth
of its smoke
and where it goes
so I know you.
Like a lover knows his beloved’s mind
a father, his son’s
a brother, his brother’s
Like a glance between brothers bears volumes of
whether you are paying attention
and whether you slept well
the night before
Like a lonely heart knows moonlight
Like St. Francis knows the sunrise
Like a starving man knows…
Like an iceberg knows the cold unchilding unfathering depths
Like a question not asked
and not answered
which just hangs there
sucking all the air out of the room
The love of the Father is our home. Mercy creates for us a home in our hearts. The cycle of mercy consists of healing, restoration, and elevation—to a place higher than we were had we not fallen.
In mercy we experience being found, coming home.
“Mercy may be called love’s second name.”
The love of God is the guarantee of man’s happiness!
The mercy of God washes over a soul like a rotting corpse and returns it to life, washed white as snow in the blood of the Lamb.
“Do not suppose the interior of a soul is empty! Oh, if only we would remember what a guest we have within us … I would not have let his dwelling place get so dirty.” —St. Teresa
The role of a caregiver for a person with Alzheimer’s is similar to the role of the Christian in the world. Even when others forget who (and whose) they are, the Christian does not forget. Acts toward them w/solicitude but keeps in mind who they are.
God: the one who does not forget.
When you hear “fishers of men,” you can’t think of it like a lazy Sunday afternoon. You have to think Moby Dick.
The Church is the body of Christ, but not a sleek, trim body—it is the broken body, the bleeding body, the body on the Cross.
He found me in a first floor hallway reading a series of framed articles on the nine ways of prayer of St. Dominic, and asked where I was from. “Come to check us out, eh?” he wheezed. “I hope you like what you see.”
He then directed me to a photo on his door. “That’s me,” he said, pointing to a friar at least 25 years younger, holding a dog, and named the other two men in the picture as well. “He’s dead now,” he added, pointing to the third. “And the last time I saw that dog, he had arthritis. And for that,” he finished triumphantly, “you pray to St. Arthur!”
He went off chuckling, arthuritically, and left me bemused.
I feel a little more alive now that I am outside and defining my thoughts and sensations in ink on paper. Wandering these empty halls, I felt a sense approaching desperation, reminding me of when I would be home alone as a kid with nothing to do in an empty house as silent as the grave, and try to fill my time with the internet and video games, all the while aware of a crushing ennui, the meaninglessness of my activity. Perhaps the silence and the stillness is my invitation to contemplation. Perhaps prayer is just what is needed to fill it. Very well—I will pray.
Michael likened my discernment to a relationship and pointed out that everyone learns new things about themselves over the course of a relationship. I certainly am. I also drew the point from his comment that Love tends toward Truth, because both are transcendental goods, so being in Love, giving and receiving and participating in the inner life of Love, “living Love,” so to speak, tends to lead to Truth. What this tells me is what I already know. I need to perfectly surrender my will here. I need to open my heart more fully, more than ever before, to the love of God so that I can encounter the truth of his vocation to me.
I’m also thinking about how I’ve been reflecting on and retelling the story of my own conversion lately. I’ve long characterized it as a search for truth, and while it was that, that wasn’t enough. It was coming to Mass that converted me, changed my heart, “marked my life forever,” to use Fr. Gerardo’s phrase. It was the liturgy. It was beauty. Beauty and Truth and Love are all ordered to one another, but they’re not interchangeable. They all brought me into the Church—they all played into my conversion—but I think I can say Beauty was the crux of the thing, the turning point, the “clincher” … The fact that it was Beauty for me says something about my personality, who I am and how God made me.
I guess all I can say as of yet is “I don’t know.” But I’m trying to be at peace with that, because God knows, and that’s what matters. I’m not trying to make a decision here by carefully comparing several equally good alternatives. My job is just to listen to Him speak in still, small ways and go wherever He is leading me. And in that there is true peace.
Tonight, praying my rosary in this silent chapel surrounded by shadows and white habits, I felt myself transported—engaged in the dislocation which is operative in the intentional act of recollection—back to the chapel of the little parish near where I stayed in Mexico City, where Nana and I went for a holy hour. I felt the Holy Spirit there and I felt Him here tonight, too. His peace is as unmistakeable as His joy.
I need to be careful to remember that “I am not called to be a seminarian,” and the life I am currently living at Mt. Angel is not forever. Diocesan life is quite different from diocesan seminarian life. But I don’t feel I should settle for a future which is a pale imitation of my present. That is not seeking God’s will; that is trying to hold on to something which is transitory and missing out on something greater He wishes to give me.
Woke up for Matins at 6:30, breakfast with the brethren, a nice run Br. Thomas recommended (though he could not join me due to Finals), got pleasantly lost along the way—prayed the rosary in the darkened chapel with five or six brothers, leaning back and closing my eyes and hearing their prayers wash over me like the sea lapping at the shore, and feeling, as if in a dream, the choir stalls tilting backwards and seeing them teetering over a vast and fiery abyss, so that the solid wood at my back was all that was keeping me from plunging to Gehenna—midday prayer, a lively lunch, a day trip to Benicia, visiting all the dead at the provincial cemetry, coffee with Fr. Stephen Maria and Br. Gregory Liu—Vespers, evening Mass, a fraternal embrace at the sign of peace, a rowdy game of Scrabble played by “fourth floor rules,” a relaxed dinner, Compline, adoration by candlelight, ran into Br. Thomas wearing a headlamp in the hallway. This place no longer seems dull. It just took a little while for its character to reveal itself, as anything worth knowing does.
On this feast day of St. John of the Cross, I’m also reminded of Pat Tresselle, who said to me years ago, “I think you would make a really good Carmelite, you’re so quiet and pious!” and pressed the brochure of their California-Arizona Province into my bemused hands.
What do I know? Nothing, but that God loves and me and I love him (although He loves me perfectly and my heart oft goes astray). I trust you, Lord. En ti confío. I give you thanks and praise for my blessed time here so far, and I will praise you wherever you call me to live out my days on earth. I need to keep my eye on the long game, which is Heaven.
“God withholds himself from no one who perseveres,” says a stern-faced icon of St. Teresa of Ávila on the wall above me. Grant that my spirit may never falter, Lord, but that I may always long after you et esse tecum.
I spent the last couple of hours baking cupcakes with Br. Andrew Dominic, which is truthfully not something I ever expected to be doing on this retreat, but I guess that is what happens when you surrender to the Holy Spirit—surprises, I mean. Not specifically cupcakes.
First day of our winter silent retreat here at Mt. Angel. It is extremely, even unnaturally cold and icy—last night when I arrived I had to abandon my car at the base of the hill and trek up in the frozen dark, lugging my suitcase, messenger bag, and pillow, because Abbey Drive had frozen into a solid sheet of ice. I joked later that I had started my retreat off with the Stations of the Cross. Msgr. Betschart this morning asked me drily “how was the walk?” and I told him “purgative.” But it really was!
There are a few lessons God wants me to learn, and I am trying to be patient with myself and not be unduly frustrated, despite how long it seems to be taking me to learn them.
We are constantly facing the choice: my will or yours? Sometimes the two are aligned. More often not. But we know where one path leads: the path of God’s will leads to our perfection, to our good, our joy, our fulfillment, our ultimate end: eternity. There may be suffering along the path, but it is bearable, even sweet suffering in light of the destination of which we are assured. If we choose the path of our own will, we have no such assurance. Our will is disordered and confused, clouded by worldly desires, corrupted by sinful self-indulgence and a thousand temptations.
Surrender is becoming more and more like second nature to me because when I surrender to His will, things just seem to work out. When I do not, the road tends to get rough.
But I am not learning my other lessons so well. “Oh, humility, humility!” St. Teresa bemoans in her Interior Castle. She writes of people who, despite leading virtuous lives, become stuck in their spiritual development because they are too concerned with what other people think of them, and I find myself nodding along. And charity. In the same chapter, she writes of the very same people who tend to look too much to the faults of others while ignoring their own inadequacies which keep them from progressing further in the spiritual life, and I wonder, how much time have I spent fretting these past weeks over others’ failures, and what advice to give them, and how to get through to them and bring them back to God, while the rooms of my own interior castle are in disarray because of my own failures to put my love of God above sinful and passing pleasures?
Humility, charity, and chastity, those are the 3 big areas of growth for me right now. (By which I mean the 3 areas in which I most need to grow, not in which I seem to be growing very quickly.)
In silence, everything seems sanctified. My brothers tramping up the stairs from the chapel and down to the dining room is no longer just movement; it is a procession. Mealtimes become times of reflection and contemplation, as profound as a holy hour. Cleaning my room even is pregnant with the presence of God.
Praying the rosary tonight before Compline, I had a strange experience of what might be called “disembodiment”—I know I was seated, looking down, but felt like I had almost a second body, and it was standing and looking up, and I could feel my head tilting up and almost see a great light like the sun. I was conscious of both at once, but in a strange way, almost conscious of neither—like my consciousness was suspended dreamlike between the two. And I heard Dr. House’s voice in my head saying “homo incurvatus in se,” Augustine’s great definition of sin. Pride is man turned in on himself, hunched over. Humility, true beautiful blessed humility, is man standing up straight, head tilted back, gazing at God. That is the key, I’m sure. Keeping my gaze fixed firmly on him. I need to be ever more conscious of Him, daily, hourly, minute to minute.
A sacrament is a sign that effects what it signifies. I’ve been pondering that in my heart today in terms of my vocation. The priest is not just a symbol of Christ—where he is, there Christ is. (“I’m a walking sacrament!” as Fr. Manuel jubilantly declaimed to me and Katie Chandler after Christmas midnight Mass.)
I pray to God that I might be a sacrament of love. So often I am afraid, I am concerned with how I look or what others think of me rather than with the Other him- or herself. Bishop Burns said of fear this morning that “it makes the throat close up and the apostle cease to bear witness.” Yes! Fear is the anti-sacrament, the opposite of love: love’s antimatter.
I committed a sin this morning, around 8:30 am. I had thought I was going to resist the temptation until the moment when, suddenly, I didn’t.
After I sinned, I cried out inwardly to God in shame, and he told me: “I have let you stumble so you remember your weakness, but do not be afraid—I am your strength.”
After I sinned, I also noticed I was impatient and frustrated and cursed aloud when I knocked some things over, and inwardly passed judgment on a brother when I walked by his room, and all in all felt as if a dark cloud had descended over my eyes and heart. And He told me: “What did you expect? Sin begets sin,” like a cancer replicates itself again and again until the body is consumed.
And after I sinned, I tried to live out my day normally and even found joy in it, and love, and peace, but I carried my sin around with me like a weighted chain around my waist until finally, after Compline, I sidled into the confessional and spoke all my miserable failures of the last two weeks to the walking sacrament behind the curtain. “For your penance,” he told me, pronouncing each word slowly, deliberately, “pray the fifth sorrowful mystery … the crucifixion of Our Lord. And I absolve you of your sins…”
I wonder if fear is not the root of all our sins, or at least of mine. I am afraid of people judging me. I am afraid of rejection, of loneliness, of failure. I am afraid of not being good enough, maybe never being good enough. I’m afraid even now of vulnerability, as much as I long for surrender. (It is the things we desire most deeply of which we are most afraid.)
But there is no fear in love, because perfect love casts out fear. My love is achingly, terribly imperfect and yet I pray it might be made perfect in the crucible of your Sacred Heart. Lord, make me a sacrament of love in the fire of Your love and may that fire consume all my fears and insecurities, leave me confident and unafraid, free to love them as You love them, amen.