Time is Life

“The saying ‘time is money’ is familiar, but a more correct version of it would be ‘time is life.’ Our life is measured out in time. What we spend time on is what we spend life on. Père Ghislain Lafont applies this truth to prayer:

I remember that one day a novice came to ask me: ‘But what does it mean to give oneself to prayer? What is praying?’ I proposed to him this definition: ‘To pray is to give time to God.’ Time, that is, a quantity measurable on one’s watch, because I believe that time is life. A man who uses his time to pray . . . truly shows to what point this activity directly ordered to God is important to him. It is a manner of laying down one’s life.”

—Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, Reclaiming Our Roman Catholic Birthright: The Genius and Timeliness of the Traditional Latin Mass

Like a Thief in the Night

This reflection was given at Morning Prayer at St. Mary’s Parish, Eugene, OR on the feast of St. Monica, August 27, 2020. The audio is available here.


“Behold, I am coming like a thief,” says the Lord to St. John. “Blessed is the one who watches and keeps his clothes ready, so that he may not go naked and people see him exposed” (Rev 16:15).

And again: “If you are not watchful, I will come like a thief, and you will never know at what hour I will come upon you” (Rev 3:3).

How striking, that Our Blessed Lord now compares Himself to a thief! Let us take care to understand him rightly. The thief of souls, after all, is the Devil, who climbs into the sheepfold “to steal and slaughter and destroy” (Jn 10:10). He comes in the dead of night while the hired men are sleeping; they leave the sheep and run away at his approach (v. 12). But Our Lord, the Good Shepherd, comes so that His sheep “might have life and have it more abundantly.” He “lays down his life for the sheep” (v. 11).  

It should surprise us that our Shepherd now tells us He is coming “like a thief.” Indeed, the whole point is to surprise us. St. Augustine says, “The Lord comes in two ways. At the end of the world he will come to all generally; likewise, he comes to each man at his own end, namely in death … and he wished both to be uncertain.” St. Jerome adds, “The Lord wished to set down an uncertain end … so that man would always be awaiting it.” “Stay awake! For at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come” (Mt 24:42,44).

“Christ, therefore, compares Himself to a thief, not as regards the act of stealing, but as regards silence and secrecy” (Cornelius a Lapide). 

But why does the Lord will to keep us in suspense? Why will “neither the day nor the hour” be revealed until the Son of Man appears (Mt 25:13)? Why will the rightful King of Heaven and Earth return at His Second Coming to claim His kingdom “like a thief” rather than the conqueror He Is?

One possible answer, proposed by the great Scripture commentator Cornelius a Lapide, is so “that the uncertainty may be a keen and never-failing stimulus to us in the practice of every virtue. For … if men knew when they were most likely to die, at that time only would they seek to repent, and they would make a show of diligence around that hour. Therefore, in order that they might be diligent, not only at that time, but continuously, throughout their lives … God caused them not to know the day or hour.”

This is true, and profitable to remember. “Time flies; keep death before your eyes.” As a wise old priest I know told me not long ago, “I don’t have any more time to waste.” Neither do I. Neither do you, no matter our age, our health, our plans for the future. In the same vein, a traditional Catholic prayer worthy of daily meditation reminds us:

“Remember, Christian soul, 
that thou has this day, and every day of thy life: 
God to glorify,
Jesus to imitate,
A soul to save,
A body to mortify,
Sins to repent of,
Virtues to acquire,
Hell to avoid,
Heaven to gain,
Eternity to prepare for,
Time to profit by,
Neighbors to edify,
The world to despise,
Devils to combat,
Passions to subdue,
Death, perhaps, to suffer,
Judgment to undergo.”

But something, perhaps, is missing from this sober interpretation. Let us consider one small detail, easily overlooked, from the Lord’s revelation to St. John: “Blessed is the one who watches and keeps his clothes ready.” Recall the parable we heard last week about the man who comes to the marriage feast without his wedding garment. This garment represents nothing other than charity, that garment which every Christian is to put on over all his other virtues and good works, which binds them all together. 

We cannot enter eternal life if we are not clothed in charity. Therefore, the Lord reminds us again today of the urgent need not only to stay awake and keep watch “with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12), but to remain in His love (Jn 15:9), dressed in the spotless white garment of salvation, ready for the summons to the wedding feast! 

This, in fact, is the difference between the anxious fear of the servant, striving for perfection because he is afraid that his Lord will catch him in some fault and reject him when He comes, and the longing of the Bride for her Bridegroom, who seeks to make herself pure and spotless for her Beloved—not because she fears rejection, but because her love for Him spurs her on to nothing less. 

She it is who cries out with such wild joy in the Canticle of Canticles: “The voice of my beloved! Behold, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, skipping over the hills. Behold, he stands behind our wall, looking through the windows, looking through the lattices!” (Cant 2:8-9). 

And this is the voice of the Lord, who comes “like a thief,” peering in through her window in the dead of night: “Arise, make haste, my love, my dove, my beautiful one, and come. For winter is now past, the rain is over and gone …  Show me thy face, let thy voice sound in my ears: for thy voice is sweet, and thy face is beautiful” (Cant 2:10-11, 14). 

Why does the Lord keep us in the dark? To spur us on to practice virtue and seek perfection, yes, but perhaps also to inspire in us a greater desire for His coming. 

“At the end of life,” says St. John of the Cross, “we will be judged on love alone.”

Listen to the words of Saint Monica at the end of her earthly life. “Son,” she said to her dear Augustine, whose conversion she had won by many tears and long years of suffering, “as far as I am concerned, nothing in this life now gives me any pleasure. I do not know why I am still here, since I have no further hopes in this world. I did have one reason for wanting to live a little longer: to see you become a Catholic Christian before I died. God has lavished his gifts on me in that respect … so what am I doing here?” (Confessions, IX, 10) 

In my short time here at St. Mary’s, I have met already several faithful, older people who have asked me the same question. Just five days after she posed it, Saint Monica passed from this world into the eternal life to come. Perhaps the Lord was waiting only for this last, most perfect sigh of the saintly mother’s heart: the realization that she wanted nothing now but Him alone.

“After telling about her death, her sorrowing son adds: We did not think that hers was a death which it was seemly to mark with repining, or tears, or lamentations, seeing that she died not sorrowfully … because we knew what her life had been, her faith unfeigned, her sure and certain hope.” (Roman Breviary at Matins, third lesson on the Feast of St. Monica)

Let us, then, dear friends of Christ, taking Saint Monica as our model, stay awake, and wait upon the Lord, clothed in the garment of charity and fired by love’s urgent longings, so that when He comes and knocks, at a day and hour we cannot now predict, we may be ready at once to open the door and go away with Him. “Truly, the LORD is waiting to be gracious to you; truly, he shall rise to show you mercy. For the LORD is a God of justice: blessed are all who wait for him!” (Isa 30:18) 

The Wedding Garment

This reflection was given at Morning Prayer at St. Mary’s Parish, Eugene, OR on the feast of St. Bernard, August 20, 2020. The audio is available here.


“The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son” (Mt 22,1). There is “a great mystery” echoing in these words: do you hear it? “I speak in reference to Christ and the Church” (Eph 5,32), the great mystery of the love of the Bridegroom and the Bride thrilling through the very heart of God and down through the history of creation and salvation. For who else can this beloved son of the king be, the Son for whom His Father prepares a joyful wedding feast, but Our Lord Jesus Christ? And who else can His bride be but the Church, whom He “loved” so much that he “handed himself over for her to sanctify her … that he might present to himself the Church in splendor” (Eph 5,25-26), St. Paul says, as His own spouse?

In his magnificent poem, “Romance of the Creation,” St. John of the Cross, the great poet of divine love, imagines an eternal dialogue between the Father and the Son:

“I wish to give You, My dear Son,
To cherish you, a lovely bride,
And one who for Your worth will merit
To live forever by Our side.

And she will eat bread at our table
The selfsame bread on which I’ve fed:
That she may know the worth and value
Of the Son whom I have bred,
And there enjoy with Me forever
The grace and glory that You shed.

‘Thanks to You, Almighty Father,’
The Son made answer to the Sire,
‘To the wife that You shall give Me
I shall give My lustrous fire,

‘That by its brightness she may witness
How infinite My Father’s worth
And how My being from Your being
In every way derived its birth.

‘I’ll hold her on My arm reclining
And with Your love will burn her so
That with an endless joy and wonder
Your loving kindness she may know.’

‘Let it be done, then,’ said the Father,
‘For your love’s surpassing worth.’
And the moment he pronounced it
Was the creation of the Earth.”

The poem continues to describe in dazzling splendor the creation of the heavens and the earth, the stars, the oceans, the heavenly hierarchy of angels – last of all, the human race. And this is the wedding which the eternal Father has prepared for His Only Son: the union of our humble human nature with His own divine glory:

“Then, to a deathless music sounding,
Bride to Bridegroom will be pressed,
Because He is the crown and headpiece
Of the Bride that He possessed.

To her beauty all the members
Of the just He will enlace
To form the body of the Bride
When taken into His embrace.

Tenderly in His arms He’ll take her
With all the force that God can give
And draw her nearer to the Father
All in one unison to live.

There with the single, same rejoicing
With which God revels, she will thrill,
Revelling with the Son, the Father,
And He who issues from Their will,

Each one living in the other;
samely loved, clothed, fed, and shod.
She, absorbed in Him forever,
She will live the Life of God.”

Dear friends of Christ, realize the height of the glory for which you were made, and to which we are all invited! The Father sent His servants, the apostles and prophets, and in the end His Son, to gather us in to the feast – not only to witness this union – but to become the Bride. Little and lowly though we are, we were made from all eternity for union with God. 

It was for this that you were clothed in white on the day of your baptism and instructed to “keep it spotless until you arrive at the judgment seat of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you may be rewarded with everlasting life” (Rite for Baptism of Children).  And this white wedding garment signifies nothing else than charity, as the Apostle says: “Over all these [virtues and good works] put on love, that is, the bond of perfection” (Col 3:14). Love is a bond; it unites the lover with the beloved. And it is love, and only love, which will unite us to God. 

Now we understand why this poor man who came improperly attired to the wedding is punished so harshly by the king. It’s not a matter of violating the dress code. “He [who] enters in to the wedding feast, but without the wedding garment,” says Gregory the Great, “has faith … but not charity” (Catena Aurea). I’m sure it will not come as a surprise to you to hear that there are many in the Church, in the pews, even in the seminaries and the holy priesthood, who have faith, but lack love. Faith is good and necessary, indeed indispensable—by faith we come to believe in the love God has for us—but as the Apostle teaches, “if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing“ (1 Cor 13:2). Faith is a means to an end; it is a stepping stone to charity. In heaven, faith and hope will pass away; love alone, “the greatest of these,” remains forever, because love alone unites us to God.

“Many are called, but few are chosen,” says the Lord. All are invited, we might say, but some do not wish to come. Others come only so far, but lack the resolve to come all the way: “I will answer the invitation and come into the hall, into the Church, but I will not put on the garment of charity which Our Lord offers.”  Why? 

Here Saint Bernard, whose feast we celebrate today, may be of some help to us. The Church honors Saint Bernard with the title of “Doctor Caritatis,” the Doctor or teacher of charity. Saint Bernard distinguishes four stages of the growth of love in us; we might call them four steps in putting on the garment of charity.

In the first stage, which he calls “carnal love,” we are drawn to the love of Our Creator simply by considering all the gifts He has freely given us, His creatures: free will, self-awareness, hearts capable of loving, an intellect to comprehend the truth, the beauty of the world, the love of our families. One need not even be a Christian to love God with this kind of love. But it is more about the gifts than the Giver.

In the second stage, as we come to know God better by faith, we begin to love Him for what more He can do for us. This is the way children in the faith love the Lord. Saint Bernard calls this stage “mercenary love” because it remains self-interested: “It is weak, for if this hope [of gain] is removed, the love may be extinguished, or at least diminished. It is not pure, as it desires some return.”

But gradually, over long experience and many trials and failures, our love is purified. We begin to love God with what St. Bernard  calls “filial love,” that is, as sons and daughters love their Father, for His own sake, because He is good and beautiful, trustworthy and true. This is more and more an unselfish love, indeed a self-forgetful love, for the more our hearts are occupied in loving God, the more they expand and take on the dimensions of His love. This is the love that regards our neighbors and even our enemies as ourselves. This is the love of great martyrs and saints. 

Yet there is even a fourth stage of the growth of love in us. Saint Bernard simply calls it “pure love.” The characteristic of the fourth and most perfect stage of love is that we “learn to love ourselves for God’s sake. This is to love the self that God desires, to love God’s will for the self: and so it means the final purging of the will from self-aggrandizement and desire for control. It is ‘to be emptied out of oneself, to be brought almost to nothing’ (X. 27), to accept the reality of God as entirely definitive of one’s identity. The self has no other will than God’s. Its only prayer is: Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Dr. Margaret Turek, Notes on Monastic Spirituality)

You may notice this is precisely the opposite of our culture’s present obsession with self-care and self-esteem. The wisdom of the world holds that we must love and provide for ourselves before we can love anybody else. So long as we continue to make the anxious cravings of our hearts the primary object of our concern, our love remains weak and imperfect. The wisdom of God, which is folly and a stumbling block to the world, but to us our salvation and our hope, is that if we are ever to learn to love ourselves in truth, we must first fall in love with God in a quite absolute way, such that we abandon everything to Him. In the beauty of His eyes, we will see ourselves reflected, and come to love ourselves there, as He loves us.

“This is a hard saying. Who can accept it?” Yes, the ideal is high, and this is why many refuse. It is one thing to believe, another to surrender oneself to a love as demanding and all-consuming as this. But if we strive to advance in love and place our trust in Him, throwing ourselves confidently on His mercy as often as we fail, the Father looks on our feeble efforts with great tenderness and will soon lift us up to the heights of perfection. And the reward for which we strive is the greatest of all, the only reward any lover worth the name has ever sought: to possess the Beloved and to be possessed by Him forever. 

Lord Jesus, in your Most Holy Name, grant that every one of us gathered here today in your Church may come to the wedding banquet clothed in the garment of pure love. May all of us, whom you have called, find the way to light, to love, to life. 

Spiritual Resources for the Coronavirus

Dear friends,

Praised be Jesus Christ!

I know our lives have all been turned upside down by this growing pandemic. For my part, the seminary was shut down last week and all of us students sent home to our various dioceses. Public Masses have been cancelled nearly everywhere. In my archdiocese, they are suspended all the way through Holy Week. Our familiar routines have been put on hold; friends and family are separated as we shelter in our different places; freedoms long taken for granted are curtailed, and even our lives of faith can be shaken by the absence of the sacraments and the closing of churches.

It is a time of great uncertainty and fear for many. But for that reason, it is also a time of great spiritual opportunity. It is no coincidence that this is all taking place during Lent!

And make no mistake, friends. God is very near us!—more so than ever in this time of suffering and distress. The mercy of His heart reaches to the depths of the abyss of our misery to raise us to the heights of divine love.

The bishops and priests of the Church are doing great work throughout the world to remain spiritually close to the faithful: live-streaming Masses, hosting parish groups online, hearing confessions in parking lots or on porches behind glass. In addition to uniting myself to their prayers and remaining faithful to my own prayer, especially of the Divine Office and the rosary for the salvation of the world, I feel called during this time to make a little offering of my own for the spiritual benefit of those who are cut off from Mass and the sacraments.

Therefore, in addition to my usual weekly podcast, I will be offering daily reflections on the Gospel read at the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite for as long as Masses are suspended here in the Archdiocese of Portland. These will be short spiritual reflections of 5-10 minutes each, intended as food for your own meditation and life of prayer, and as inspiration to live extraordinary lives of love in the midst of suffering and hardship! The reflections will be published as part of the normal In Your Embrace podcast. If you are already subscribed, they will show up in your podcast player as usual, beginning today. If not, please subscribe to get the latest updates.

I will also be hosting a weekly contemplative Bible study called Song of Ascents online through Zoom, a video-conferencing platform. We will be reading the Mass readings assigned for the coming Sunday in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite on Saturday nights at 7pm. It is “contemplative” study in that we are listening together for the movements of the Holy Spirit and for the Word which God is speaking to us in our particular circumstances through the treasury of readings selected by the Church. These readings are layered atop one another as a kind of “compound lens” through which we can read anew the mystery of His love. All are invited to join, and you don’t need any special equipment or software: just a computer, phone or tablet with a camera. Click here to join the video chat.

Let us keep one another very close in prayer and draw near to the heart of the Trinity, the fount of divine love.

Yours in Christ crucified and risen,

Matthew

Lector Installation

Praised be Jesus Christ! I was blessed to be installed as a lector last week, along with eight of my classmates here at St. Patrick’s, by Bishop Robert Christian of San Francisco. Please pray for me and my brothers, that we may proclaim the Word of God with dignity, attention, and devotion in the liturgy and in our lives.

See the official story from St Patrick’s Seminary website here!

On Worship ‘Ad Orientem’

“It was much to the devil’s advantage to turn the priest around to the people, creating a charmed circle of neighborly affirmation that brought the experience of the Mass down to the level of a horizontal exchange, a back-and-forth in everyday speech. There is nothing transcendent about that; on the contrary, God is domesticated, tamed, manipulable — not a recipient of sacrifice but a subject of conversation.”

Source: www.newliturgicalmovement.org/2018/11/how-contrary-orientations-signify.html

The Tension

“I was hiking in the Adirondacks. I was standing on the bank of a wide, tumultuous river. The water was moving with incredible speed and ferocity. It looked dangerous, mighty, and much more powerful than I. Yet it was exactly as it should be, and in that, it possessed some kind of restfulness. As I watched it flow by, I felt a tinge of sadness, almost like envy but without the weightiness: how I wished to know my part in all of it, to move with that same confidence and serenity, unafraid of the gifts God has given – unafraid of letting his power crash its way through my life.

I have often felt that way when I’m in nature. I’ve never seen a tree going through an existential crisis –  It must be nice to be so rooted, physically and metaphysically. But God became man, not a tree; so I’d rather take the tension.”

—Alanna Marie Boudreau

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A Fallen Rose

Jesus, to aid thy feeble powers
     I see thy Mother’s arms outspread,
As thou on this sad earth of ours
     Dost set thy first, thy faltering tread:
See, in thy path I cast away
     A rose in all its beauty dressed,
That on its petals’ disarray
     Thy feet, so light, may softly rest.
Jésus, quand je te vois soutenu par ta Mère,
     Quitter ses bras,
Essayer en tremblant sur notre triste terre
     Tes premiers pas,
Devant toi je voudrais effeuiller une rose
     En sa fraîcheur
Pour que ton petit pied bien doucement repose
     Sur une fleur!…
Dear Infant Christ, this fallen rose
     True image of that heart should be
Which makes, as every instant flows,
     Its whole burnt-sacrifice to thee.
Upon thy altars, Lord, there gleams
     Full many a flower whose grand display
Charms thee; but I have other dreams—
     Bloomless, to cast myself away.
Cette rose effeuillée, c’est la fidèle image,
     Divin Enfant,
Du coeur qui veut pour toi s’immoler sans partage
     A chaque instant.
Seigneur, sur tes autels plus d’une fraîche rose
     Aime à briller.
Elle se donne à toi… mais je rève autre chose:
     “C’est m’effeuiller!…”
Dear Lord, the flowers that blossom yet
     Thy feast-day with their perfume fill;
The rose that’s fallen, men forget
     And winds may scatter where they will;
The rose that’s fallen questions not,
     Content, as for thy sake, to die.
Abandonment its welcome lot—
     Dear Infant Christ, that rose be I!
La rose en son éclat peut embellir ta fête,
     Aimable Enfant;
Mais la rose effeuillée, simplement on la jette
     Au gré du vent.
Une rose effeuillée sans recherche se donne
     Pour n’être plus.
Comme elle avec bonheur à toi je m’abandonne,
     Petit Jésus.
Yet those same petals, trampled down,—
     I read the message in my heart—
In patterns here and there are blown
     That seem too beautiful for art:
Living to mortal eyes no more,
     Rose of a bloom for ever past,
See to thy love a life made o’er,
     A future on thy mercy cast!
L’on marche sans regret sur des feuilles de rose,
     Et ces débris
Sont un simple ornement que sans art on dispose,
     Je l’ai compris.
Jésus, pour ton amour j’ai prodigué ma vie,
     Mon avenir.
Aux regards des mortels, rose à jamais flétrie
     Je dois mourir!…
For love of Loveliness supreme
     Dying, to cast myself away
Were bright fulfillment of my dream;
     I’d prove my love no easier way;—
Live, here below, forgotten still,
     A rose before thy path outspread
At Nazareth; or on Calvary’s hill
     Relieve thy last, thy labouring tread.
Pour toi, je dois mourir, Enfant, Beauté Suprême,
     Quel heureux sort!
Je veux en m’effeuillant te prouver que je t’aime,
     O mon Trésor!…
Sous tes pas enfantins, je veux avec mystère
     Vivre ici-bas;
Et je voudrais encor adoucir au Calvaire
     Tes derniers pas!…
—Tr. R. A. Knox (1888-1957) —Ste. Thèrèse de l’Enfant Jésus
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To Proclaim the Word of God

Praised be Jesus! Today, my patronal feast day, I took one more step along the path to ordination as a priest. I wrote and sent to my Archbishop my formal petition to be installed as a Lector. If His Excellency accepts my petition, then I will be “installed” at a Mass with my classmates on November 15th—the commemoration of All Carmelite Souls.

In a way, installation as a Lector is the first official recognition on the part of the Church of a candidate for Holy Orders. In the olden days, before Vatican II, there were 7 minor orders which a man would receive successively each year throughout his formation:

orders

When a candidate was accepted into the seminary, he would receive “tonsure” (clipping of a lock of his hair), which marked his entrance into the clerical state. However, Pope Paul VI eliminated first tonsure and the minor orders of porter and exorcist, as well as the subdiaconate, with his apostolic letter Ministeria quaedam in 1972. The remaining minor orders of lector and acolyte were renamed “ministries,” in part to better express the fact that, with the elimination of the rite of tonsure, those who receive these ministries remain laymen. (Entrance into the clerical state now takes place with ordination to the diaconate.)

Thus there are now 4 “steps,” with associated liturgical rites, on this staircase: institution first as a lector, then an acolyte, and ordination first as a deacon, then a priest!

Please pray for me, that I “may be faithful to the work entrusted to [me], proclaim Christ to the world, and so give glory to our Father in heaven” (De institutione lectoris, 4).

My petition:

21 September 2018
Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle & Evangelist

Your Excellency,

In accordance with Canon 1035, §1, of the Code of Canon Law, which requires those seeking Holy Orders to have received the Ministry of Lector and to have exercised that ministry for a suitable period of time, I do hereby petition to be installed in the Ministry of Lector.

I am aware of the responsibilities of the ministry I am requesting, namely, to proclaim the Word of God with reverence, attention, and devotion in the Sacred Liturgy. I therefore promise to meditate daily on Sacred Scripture, “that Christ, by faith, may dwell in my heart” (Oratio ante S. Scripturae Lectionis).

Furthermore, I resolve to make every effort and employ all suitable means to acquire that living love and knowledge of Scripture which will make me a more perfect disciple of the Lord. I firmly intend to exercise this ministry in faithful service to God and the Church, for the glory of the Blessed Trinity and the salvation of sinners, of whom I am the first.

I make this request for installation in the Ministry of Lector freely and in my own hand.

With all filial devotion, I am

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Matthew Knight

A homily of St. Jerome, Priest

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“Out of respect and honor for Matthew, the other Evangelists did not wish to give him his usual name. They called him Levi; for he had two names. But Matthew (according to the saying of Solomon, ‘The just man is the first to accuse himself,’ and again, ‘Confess your sins that you may be justified’) calls himself Matthew and a publican, to show his readers that no one need despair of salvation if he is converted to better things, since he himself was suddenly changed from a publican into an Apostle.”