Fighting the Inner Scribe, the Inner Pharisee

The words you just heard are from the Sermon on the Mount. A sermon Jesus gives to His disciples, which others get to listen to. A sermon that begins with Jesus describing the blessed life. His life. The life, not of pride or self-serving, not of doing what you think is best, not of feeding your disordered passions so that anger gets the best of you, affection turns to lust, and my truth denigrates Truth Himself. Rather, the blessed life, the Lord’s life—the life His life describes, and shows, and gives us for authentic living. That blessed life is to deprive yourself in order to live in obedience to God, no matter how much it hurts. That blessed life is to give up who you think you should be in order to become the human God designed you to be. That blessed life is to sacrifice whatever you hold most dear within your being, in order to attain heaven.

Our Lord says that we are truly capable of this blessed life. That we are the only creatures specially designed to embrace, and be fully filled with this blessed life. If only we can begin to be what we truly are: children loved to life by God our Father, men and women knitted to Christ’s glorified body, people animated and renewed with a right life-giving Spirit.

This blessed life is not an impossible dream. When we hold to the gift He is, and the grace He gives, then that blessed life is ours. When we let go of all the things we think we must hold with both hands, then Our Lord fills us with hope to live through our fears, with intimacy that dissolves our loneliness, with mercy that overwhelms whatever threatens us, and with a love that completes us in ways we never could imagine.

The worst enemy of the blessed life is not anarchy or atheism. The worst enemies are the Scribes and Pharisees. Not those guys from back then. But the scribe and the pharisee that lurks in the dark corners of our heart and mind. The scribe in our mind that looks for the loopholes, and seeks a work-around so that we can still get what we want while looking Christian. And the Pharisee in our heart that is more concerned with judging others than with looking critically at ourselves; more concerned that they do what they should and not mistreat me, rather than working on the amendment of life that strips away our fake niceness and false layers.

The Scribe and Pharisee in us works hard to bend and constrict, massage and manipulate the Lord’s commands. Then we’re not intent on rejoicing and living the spirit of the Lord’s Word, but rather aimed at sticking others with the letter of the law. And then we’re more intent on displaying our self-chosen identity while not caring who we damage or grind down or dismiss or oppress.

To our inner Pharisee, nothing matters except that I am heard. To our inner Scribe, a little part of us dies every time we say about someone, “I really don’t care.” The hurting, the confused, and the weak—no matter how loudly we dispute this, they are not our deep-down concern. We are too often concerned mostly with letting everyone know how right we are.

To call us to our senses, and to help us see how much we are hurting ourselves, Our Lord says that the blessed life depends on a righteousness which exceeds the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees.

What does that mean?

Consider this law: thou shalt not kill. For the scribe in you, that’s all about intent, and degree, and motive. And then you work the loop-holes in order to prove to yourself that you’ve kept the law. And for the Pharisee in you, killing is fine if you’re avenging, or defending someone’s rights, or making a better outcome. And then you work the logic to see if the ends justify the means.

But Our Lord reveals the lie within this thinking. He shows that anger kills more than a knife. Words wound more deeply than a gun. Name-calling and unfounded assumptions and hateful posts and tweets are more damaging than any other weapon.

Others are harmed when I’m angry. But the greatest destruction is to my soul. My words typed in rage, while the bile rises, are hurtful to others. But I ruin my soul more than theirs.

And that’s why Christ Jesus points to anger, rather than something else. For anger kills a part of you, and so leads you away from the blessed life—the life He wants for you, the life He plants in you, the life He sacrificed all to give you.

And what anger does, so does lust. And so does shaping my own narrative, making my own truth. Like anger, lust and truth-manipulating wound and threaten me more deeply than someone else. Because anger, lust, and truth-shaping are all about me living for me; about me not facing the fears which are running me; and about me caring about everything but my soul. So when I’m filled with anger, lust and the denial of Truth Himself, I hunger and thirst, not for righteousness, but for revenge, or gratification, or looking good.

Not restraining the temper, giving into unsacramental sexual desires, manipulating truth’s reality—all of these lead us into temptation, and deliver us into evil. For every time we feed them, we are going our own way, and not living within the Way that Christ says He is.

Christ Himself is the life we truly desire. And Christ Himself exceeds the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees—not for His sake, but for ours. And He does this by His humility, by His willing sacrifice, by His refusal to be run by His passions.

In a mercy and kindness that surpasses and outstrips any generosity we know, Christ pours into us His humility, His sacrifice, His self-restraint; together with His intimate and affectionate love which truly can chase away all isolation and loneliness when we let Him fill us.

And that’s the key: to let the righteousness that Christ is fill us fully. Or, to say it another way: to get out of our own way, and to truly lay down our fear, and then let Him, in His grace, carry us to the heights of heaven.  

St Paul says it this way: our Lord Jesus is ‘The grace of God that brings salvation.’ And that grace, which He pours over us and feeds into us—that is what truly exceeds the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, even as it also helps us achieve holy living.

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Facing the Lord: Pentecost IV homily

When we stand before the holy God, when we are confronted with the superabundance of His mercy and love, then

  • everything that we think matters so much
  • everything that we say God and others should accept about who we are
  • everything that scares or overwhelms
  • everything that draws our attention and captures our imagination
  • even every joy and happiness

everything else fades away and dissipates.

That’s what it means to rest. To be at rest. To put to rest our fantasies for how things should be. Not because our thoughts, hopes, fears, imaginations and desire are unimportant. But because we are single-minded. We have fixed our hearts on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who having joy set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and now sits on the right hand of the throne of God.

Notice how Our Lord perfects, how He completes us: by leading us through our crosses, our anxieties, our fears—which we get through both because He lead us, and because He shows us joys that give us the strength to live through these heartaches. And so the things that seem so important to us, truly pale in comparison to Our Lord and His relentless compassion.

This is our hope, now and in all times: that Our Lord sees, and knows, and has experienced trials like the ones we now endure; and that He has constructed the way of escape. A way that is not like the ways we currently see—from frustration to turmoil, from anxiety to despair. The way Our Lord builds, the way He leads us through, the Way He is—that is a way where everything that divides is united, every disease is healed, every hatred is overcome, and every death is atoned—for those who love Him and align themselves with His commandments.

This way of escape does not require us to carry the weight of world, or the oppressed, or our families cares on our shoulders. The cross of Christ holds all those things. He shoulders our burden. And He simply asks us to take a splinter or two of that cross while we walk with Him in the way that leads to salvation.

This way of escape does not mean that we evade our responsibility to love by putting the needs and lives of others before our own. Our Lord Christ holds in His arms all who are poor, neglected, oppressed, abused, and ignored. And He simply asks us to be aligned with Him in a love that trusts that He knows what He’s doing and with an obedience that sacrifices our desires.

This way of escape does not require us to be Übermenschen, with an indomitable will to power through the wrongs that needs to be righted. Our Lord Christ is the True Man whose humility and self-denial and sacrifice have already made all earthly powers an illusion. And He simply asks that we have confidence that His way of humility and self-offering is not just the best way, but the only way that actually leads to a lasting good.

All of this comes clear as we stand with the Holy Apostle Peter before Our Lord, cognizant of His mercy. Peter stands facing Our Lord who just relieved him of the burden and apprehension of how Peter will care for his family. For spending all night not catching fish greatly depresses and deprives the income of a fisherman—and so, how he will provide for his family and business. But the miraculous catch of fish not only makes his income whole, but also helps Peter see that his family will be taken care of by a Father who never forsakes the righteous, nor lets his descendants beg for bread.

Peter stands facing the Lord. And we stand facing that same Lord in this place when we behold the Lamb of God, Christ present in His body and blood, physically as well as spiritually. With Peter, we see Our Lord with our eyes. And with Peter, we are invited to share in His divine nature.

But it doesn’t seem right to stand before the holy God, as He presents us with the superabundance of His mercy and love. It doesn’t seem right because we know who we are. We are made of dust and ashes. We do not order our lives aright, but rather follow our disordered, misplaced, self-loving desires. We put ourselves forward and take on what Our Lord carries, because we believe the lie that nothing gets done unless we make it happen. And we give in, more and more, to our fear that time is running out, and that we’ll miss our chance at whatever.

When we really confront ourselves, when we truly explore our motives, when we look at what draws our eye away from Christ, our ears away from His life-giving commands, and our attention away from His beauty—when we see who we truly are, then it doesn’t seem right to stand before the Lord whose mercy exceeds our imagination.

And so, with Peter, we should be on our knees. Kneeling because the Lord’s love engulfs us and moves us, not to fear nor despair, but to see that only Christ and His love matters more than any and everything else. And, as we should, we echo St Peter’s words: “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man. Depart from me, because I fear that Your kindness is too much. Depart from me, for I don’t have enough words to say, and enough things to give in order to truly give thanks. Depart from me, because this unholy person cannot stand or kneel in the presence of the Holy God.”

Yet here is the best thing of all. Even though we are right; even though Our Lord should depart—He stays put. He does not leave us, He does not forsake us. He does not say, “You’re on your own.” He does not tell us to figure it out. Instead, Our Lord relieves and lessens our load, and eases our fears, and increases our hope. By drawing us closer to Him. And by inviting us to partner with Him as He, in humility and love, changes the world.

To partner with Jesus. Not to be in the lead, but to follow His lead. To team with Him, as if we are equals. Yet to realize that this is His movement, His way, not ours. And that He is the head and we are the members of His body.

That’s an astounding summons—not just for Peter, but for each one of us when Jesus says, “Take up your cross, the cross that I’m carrying for you, and follow me. For I know the way. And I know the best means to get there. Because I’ve done this already once for you.”

To be sure, we think we know better. And our pride kicks in and says we need to do what we need to do. But that’s not how love responds to Love Himself. True love responds with trust and obedience: with confidence that Christ knows best, and heeding whatever rules He gives—no matter how much they hurt or seem wrong.

True love responds as Peter, James, and John did: by forsaking our foolish ways, by laying aside all earthly cares, by sacrificing our pet ideas, by putting to death our carefully crafted identity—in order to be all in with Him, who is All in All.

May God give us strength to be who we are baptized to be: children who stand enraptured with the love of God.

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The Heart of Love: A Homily

Blood poured from the Most Sacred Heart of Our Lord Jesus Christ. That blood was shed not to validate my truth or your truth; for these versions of truth participate in a false truth, which cries out for an answer to Pilate’s maddening question: What is truth? It’s a maddening question because—as Pilate sees it, as we too often see it—there is no answer. For we think that truth is like leaves blowing in the wind; fragments which you can catch if you work hard enough while many more vexingly fly quickly away. What is truth? He stands before Pilate. For truth is not a belief of what I am cocksure is true. Truth is the person. And the blood that pours from the Most Sacred Heart of Truth Himself asserts that only one Truth is real: that His blood is shed to raise us from the death-blows we continually inflict upon our own selves and thereby upon His holy body.

Blood poured from the Most Sacred Heart of Our Lord Jesus Christ. That blood flowed not to confirm my narrative or yours, but to proclaim that there is only one narrative. And we don’t need to get behind it. We need to be within it, and it within us. Which means we need to give up the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, and then insist that others listen. These stories, because they are mine and come from me, are rooted in pride: and so they are not, and cannot be aligned, with the Passion of the Christ. That story is the only real story. It is the story of the Son of Man determining to take all our brokenness, all our disordered passions, everything that labels, and misidentifies, and drives a wedge between you and me, between us and them—and, as a result, between God and humans—that story of Our Lord healing us by urging us to trust

  • that His self-sacrifice is the only way love works;
  • that His asceticism gives strength to our self-denial;
  • that He sits at our table to speak mercy tenderly into our ears;
  • that He is willing to embrace, and then die for, those who hated Him.

That story, His story, His narrative to put away the sword and then heal the man who persecuted Him when He persecuted Christ’s body;

  • That story of dying to give life, of long-suffering which revitalizes, of being wounded to heal, of becoming my worst self and your worst self, to forgive me and you,
  • That, and that alone, must be our story.

Blood poured from the Most Sacred Heart of Our Lord Jesus Christ. That blood poured forth to give birth to something new: a society never before imagined because our societies are always built from fear and are maintained only by power or threats. This new society eschews every tribalism, and every attempt to re-create a new world made after our image and according to our likeness. Instead, this new society, which poured from the pierced Heart of Our Lord, is the society of all nations, all races, all languages, all people whom God seeks in His justice; which is

  • the unfairness of His mercy given to those who turn to Him
  • the determination of paying the cost in His blood to return His own
  • the diligence of doing whatever it takes to win us back, not by intimidation or self-serving pity, but by honoring our free will while loving us into His heart.

Gushing out of Our Lord’s Most Sacred Heart was the water and blood which were the full measure and public demonstration of His love for us. For at one and the same time, the price of our salvation coupled with the strength of His sacraments issued from the hidden and unending fountain of His compassion. This saving bath from which the new society was born; this holy drink which satisfies those who gather together to taste God’s truth and justice—this is poured over us, and into our lips, to give us the ability to love with the same heart which first loved us.

To love all as Christ first loved us is

  • to castigate none;
  • to push away none;
  • to demonize none;
  • to ridicule none;
  • and never to condition your love on others accepting you.

For that is not the way of Christ. And so it ought not be our path.

To love with the heart of Christ is to see that we are the shepherd. When Christ, the Good Shepherd, leaves the ninety-nine, He is leaving all that is secure, all that is peaceful, all that is as it should be, in order to enter the scariest places and do battle with the meanest forces just to rescue us. And in doing this, He thinks nothing—not one thing—about Himself, His desires, His needs. Instead, He willingly leaves the ninety-nine, which are the angelic choir who will not be full-throatedly rejoicing until all of humankind joins them in this new society, this heavenly kingdom.

To love with the heart of Christ is to see that we are the woman. She frantically searches not because she is obsessed with shiny, glittering gold. Rather, she wishes to return into her purse everyone stamped with the image of Christ the King; everyone made according to His likeness; everyone redeemed at the price of His life. So consider this: the one lost coin does not realize that it is lost, but the Holy Spirit, as this woman, will search every crevice so that the purse is filled in this new society where every soul is valuable and priceless.

And to love with the heart of Christ is to see not only that the Father stands at the window, eagerly awaiting our return. More importantly—and too often missed—is this: that when the Son leaves the Father, this is also the Father making Him, who knew no sin, to be sin for us:

  • to live in our disordered world;
  • to experience our self-degradation;
  • to endure our pitilessness;
  • and to sit in our filth.

The Son does this so that He might return us, in His own flesh, to His Father, so that “we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

Do you see what really pours from the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus? Not the demand to be loved. Yet also not blaming or shaming. And no vitriol or hate-filled words. Certainly, no name calling or labeling 0r boxing-up others.

What also does not come from Christ’s heart is saccharin, or the idea that nothing needs to be done, and the ostrich-hope that the bad will go away.

What pours forth from the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus is Jesus Himself. The patience, the mercy, the sweat, the blood. All that is He. All that He has. All for the good of me. For the benefit of you. For the well-being of all.

Thy Heart, O most dear Jesus, is the good treasure, the pearl of great price, which we find by digging in the field of thy body. Who would cast aside this pearl? I will rather give all my pearls, I will exchange for it all my thoughts and everything I hold dear in my story—so that I may purchase this one pearl for myself, and expend every effort and turn my every thought to the Heart of the Jesus who, without fail, supports me. O most sweet Jesus, so that my heart may align with thy good Heart; so that I may find my heart secured within thine—I implore thee to accept my prayers and ever more draw me into thy holy and sacred heart. For with thee is the fountain of life: and in thy light shall we see light.

St Bonaventure (paraphrased)

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Enjoy This Blessing!

We are, right now, in the kingdom of God; and Christ is in our midst, speaking to us, inviting us to partake of a great banquet, a great feast! So this is not a gathering of people who think the same way, who agree on everything, or have the same tastes and interests. And this is not an event like we are used to, where we need to be stimulated, and our emotions manipulated, and our needs satisfied. We are in God’s court. Our Father is presiding. The Holy Spirit is drawing us nearer and nearer to Our Lord so that we might draw nearer to Him and each other.

This is a great blessing—to be invited by God to be here; to be a member of His body; to be attached to our Head. This is a great blessing—to be welcomed, not because we demand it or deserve it, but despite our flaws and short-comings. This is a great blessing—to not be labeled or judged by anything except that we have been washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.

And the greatness of this blessing sits on the altar. It’s a banquet, prepared by Christ, for which He paid dearly. It’s a feast where He gives back to us the flesh and blood He took from us so that He might transform us by His love and sacrifice.

This banquet doesn’t look like much because our eyes clouded over with the cataracts of materialism, which are informed by our physical desires. We seek physical delights—something that feeds our passions—the passions of gluttony, lust, envy, and pride. That’s what we want to see—a great spread, a feast for the stomach, something that pleases and whets our appetite.

When that is all we see, when that is all we want, then anything else can draw us away. Then we come to this altar only when it’s convenient; or to assuage some guilt; or to fulfill some duty. Otherwise, we’d rather be somewhere else. We’d rather be indulging our senses—because this doesn’t look like much.

And so the excuses pour in. “I cannot come to this banquet. Don’t bother me now. There are so many other things that demand my attention. Helping others, seeking justice, protecting my stuff, meeting my needs, making sure I don’t miss out—all of that is more important than standing here, with my brothers and sisters, standing before Christ, heeding His invitation to partake of His divine nature.”

What is offered here in this place is something no angel will ever taste. The food offered here, thousands before Christ’s death never received. But it’s given for us. It’s given to you. And for your good.

If you miss out on this, you miss out on eternal life. You can eat other food and live, for a time. But if you turn up your nose at this food; if you believe your feelings, your thoughts, your fears, your wishes are more important; if you think this food is yours to take whenever you’re good and ready, and when everyone and everything is as it should be—then you run the risk of pushing aside life Himself; and you jeopardize your soul. For here, surrounded by saints and angels and this family of ours, however disagreeable we may sometimes be—here Christ’s flesh and blood are served to you. And not just to you as individuals, but to all of us together. And He says clearly: ‘everyone who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.’

Enjoy this blessing, then! Let nothing stand in the way. Not your fears. Not your disordered passions. Not your desire to control. Not your inability to see what’s really going on. Instead, in faith and love, draw near.

And while you approach, and when you receive this tremendous godsend, guard yourself. Guard your impulse to be overcome by anger or pride. Guard your tendency to give into your lustful desires. Guard your inclination to speak your mind. Rather, consider how ennobled you are; how much respect and dignity our Savior shows to you by letting you kneel here with others who are so different from yourself, and taste not just His kindness but also His very flesh and blood. And let that truth, Truth Himself, restrain every unruly stirring, and every presumptuous yet hurtful judgment that you feel entitled to speak.

For who has taken on every hurt, every abuse, every brutality, every crime? Isn’t it Our Lord Jesus in His Passion and Death? Let’s not add to them, then, by our hate-filled words or our violent and extreme accusations. Who has taken all hatred into Himself and transformed it into life-giving, life-restoring, life-renewing love? Isn’t that also Our Lord Jesus? Let’s believe that what He gives us here, can give us the courage to withstand every evil impulse, and the boldness to speak not my truth or your truth but Truth, which Our Lord truly is.

Take to heart that the power and grace which changes the bread and wine also converts and transfigures whoever receives this Holy and Blessed Sacrament with true faith. Believe, and hold fast, and trust, that what is really given is really here; and as you give thanks more and more for this astounding kindness and generosity—then you’ll know that Truth tells the truth when He says that you will live because of Him.

The only thing you should fear, then, is saying the horrid words spoken in today’s Gospel: “I cannot come. I will not come. I don’t wish to come.”

Instead, lift up your heart, and draw near, looking only at Our Lord and His Supper. “Believe me, this Sacrament drives away not only death but also all diseases. For when Christ abides in us, He calms our sinful urges; He strengthens piety; He extinguishes the passions; He heals our wounds; and He raises us up after every fall.” (St Cyril of Alexandria)

To this Lord Jesus Christ, whose flesh is food indeed and whose blood is drink indeed, together with His all-holy Father and His life-giving Spirit, belongs all glory, honor, and worship: now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

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Ponder the Mystery: Corpus Christi Homily

Take a minute to consider the honor your heavenly Father bestows on you; the respect He shows you; the kindness and thoughtfulness He has for you; the gift He offers you.

What the Father suggested when He told the children of Israel to eat the Passover; what the Son of God celebrated with His Apostles at the Last Supper—this is the table, the feast, the altar that the Spirit brings to you, and sets before you, and urges you to join.

Abraham, King David, the Prophet Isaiah, Ruth, the prophetess Deborah, the Queen Mother Bathsheba—none of these holy men and women, these matriarchs and patriarchs—not one of them tasted what is so readily served to you.

No angel will ever get what the Lord gives you. What we are given drove Lucifer insane with jealousy. And it creates an unquenchable desire within Michael and Gabriel.

Those children whom Christ held; the men and women who felt His healing hand; the little girl Jesus raised from the dead by gently lifting her up—as much as they were blessed, none of them received at that time the blessing, the boon, the miracle that is right before your eyes, ready to be placed in your mouth.

Sometimes we pine to hear His voice, to see His face, because we think the people who heard and saw Christ Jesus before His passion had it better than we do now. But while you wonder what it was like for them, they envy you.

For you and me—each one of us that gets to draw nigh and take the body of the Lord, each one of us that gets to consume the Lord so that His blood mingles with ours, His flesh is knit to our flesh—each one of us, when we receive the Blessed Sacrament—only we know what it was like to be the Holy Mother of God.

For she carried in her womb Him whom the world cannot contain. She felt growing within her the God through whom all things were made. This young teen-aged girl was blessed by the Father’s Spirit to be able to say, “His blood is intermingled with mine; Christ’s flesh is united with my flesh.”

You and I can speak the same way. The Lord’s blood flows through our veins. The Lord’s flesh feeds our life. Jesus’ own Self is conjoined to our self.

That is the gift we celebrate today. Not that God is nice to us. Not that Jesus loves us. Not that the Holy Spirit inspires and moves us. But that God’s own nature unites with our nature. That the Holy Trinity actually, truly, undoubtedly, and without hesitation makes a home within our very being: in our soul as well as our mind; in our body as well as our heart.

Ponder the reverence the Most High God shows you. Marvel at the attention He pays to you. Meditate upon the mystery that is both held before your eyes and then placed in your mouth.

And as you do, as you draw near believing that what I hold in my hand is actually what Jesus said it is; as you behold no longer some piece of bread but Christ’s body and blood, together with His soul and divinity—understand, then, and take to heart that this conversion, this change, this miracle happens for only one reason: so that you might partake of the divine nature. So that the Lord God might actually permeate your nature with His; and imbed Himself within you.

This happens not because of anything I have done. A priest does not cause the offered bread and wine to become the Body and Blood of Christ. This is the work of Christ Himself, who was crucified for you. I simply say the words obediently; but their power and grace are God’s. (St John Chrysostom)

And that power and grace which changes the bread and wine also converts and transfigures you. Slowly, if you resist. To your harm, should you deny the mystery. But as your faith in this sacrament grows; as you own the gift, embracing and depending on it; as you begin to see, and believe, and hold fast, and trust that what is really given is really there; and as you give thanks more and more for this astounding kindness and generosity—then you’ll know that Truth tells the truth when He says that you will live because of Him.

The life you live from this Holy Eucharist—it is a life no longer lived with fear because you have seen that, however things go, the Lord’s goodness prevails. And life lived from this Blessed Sacrament is a life no longer lived wanting more or different, because you know that nothing can match or exceed this Holy Gift. And life lived from this Holy Communion is a life no longer lived pursuing other goals because there is nothing else, except to live in the kingdom of heaven, surrounded by the saints and angels, sitting at the Lord’s Table.

As you taste the Lord in His Sacrament and see what He gives you from this altar, you will realize true justice and righteousness; complete beauty and authentic love; and a unity that exceeds all other intimacy.

Only this, then, can cause you pain and grief—if you are deprived of this heavenly food, either because your sin requires you to abstain, or because your neglect and selfish desires have kept you away, or because our Father, in His wisdom, has prevented you.

But if none of these are the case, do not deny yourself this food. Do not think up reasons to stay away. And do not let your pride or pity keep you at home. Instead, with all that you have, hasten with gladness to receive the blessing Christ offers you in His holy chalice. For you want eternal life; and here it is. You want to know that you are safe and protected; and the blood on your lips drives away the devil, and the flesh you consume brings you through the grave.

Lift up your hearts, then, and draw near with an earnest heart, focusing on Our Lord and His Supper. “Believe me, this Sacrament drives away not only death but also all diseases. For when Christ abides in us, He calms our sinful urges; He strengthens piety; He extinguishes the passions; He heals our wounds; and He raises us up after every fall.” (St Cyril of Alexandria)

To this Lord Jesus Christ, whose flesh is food indeed and whose blood is drink indeed, together with His all-holy Father and His life-giving Spirit, belongs all glory, honor, and worship: now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

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The Trinity in Action

Perhaps it feels like the Feast of the Holy Trinity celebrates one of those cold, impersonal, esoteric doctrines that has very little to do with what’s going in the world. We might think it’s part of the ‘ivory tower’ or elitist or ‘head in the clouds’ concepts that we love to deride. Or we might believe that faith in the Holy Trinity is good but impractical; that it’s a fine conviction that we must hold, but that holding it doesn’t really make a real and useful difference right now.

Right now, we should be focused on more down to earth things. Right now, we should be doing deeds more than creeds. Right now, our care for humanity and the problems of society doesn’t give us the room or the luxury of fine theology. That’s what we feel. And it frustrates us.

My frustration, and perhaps yours, can lead to that conclusion because, deep down, we believe in God. That’s all. Just ‘God.’ The idea. The comfort. The hope.

But God is not an idea. God is not even a name. The word God is nothing more than a title; a word that describes. Like the word ‘farmer’ or ‘mayor’ or ‘chairperson.’

If we see God only as God, then we are right to think that doctrines about Him are impractical, because we see Him as impersonal.

But our heavenly Father, with His Son, in the Holy Spirit are not impersonal, uninvolved, detached; or cold and uncaring about what’s going on with us now.

Our heavenly Father, with His Son, in the Holy Spirit are persons. Persons who truly care for us, especially in ways we cannot see, and in ways we cannot always understand. But in our arrogance, we not only want to understand, we insist that we must understand, we must see, we must grasp what God is doing, and why, and how it will all work out. And when we can’t, then we take matters into our own hands, because we feel not that God has failed us, but that the creed doesn’t fit the deed we are sure needs to happen.

But there we go again. Seeing only God. Talking only about God. But if we can wave aside the idea of God, we will see more clearly our heavenly Father, with His Son, in the Holy Spirit. Persons. Persons we can talk to. Persons who present themselves to us. Persons whose presence warms our hearts and soothes our spirit and calms our nerves. And, above all else, Persons who love us by giving themselves entirely for us and into us.

Love as a person. Not a feeling. Not a concept. Not even an action. But Love as a person. For the Father is love. The Son is love. The Holy Spirit is love. Not three different kinds of love. Not three different loves. But Love. The Love that creates, that sacrifices, that reaches out, that embraces—not for itself, but for you; for me; for us.

I’m sure you noticed what I just did. You noticed that love is not an idea, but action. Love never sits still. Love is never inactive. And Love Himself—the love that is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—that Love always works for our benefit.

The Three Persons are constantly on the move—not to be busy within doing something, or to put themselves out there, or to be involved. The Three Persons are constantly on the move in order to draw us closer to them. But they act in ways we might not always comprehend.

  • The Father is Love on the move by standing at the window waiting for us to see the wisdom of returning to His warm embrace.
  • The Son is Love on the move by seeking us diligently, offering to carry us and heal us and feed us.
  • And the Holy Spirit is Love on the move by renewing willing hearts, by reviving our person, and by transforming our lives from the core outward.

To transform hearts—to convert them from fear-filled abuse, self-serving control, impersonal indifference, and frantic busy-ness—to transform takes time. And effort. And, in the end, only love. Not the word love or the demand to love, or the hope of love. But the Persons who are Love. And most especially, the Holy Spirit who pours the Father’s Love generously and abundantly into cold or dehydrated hearts in order to warm, bend, moisten, and enliven them.

It is this Love in action, this Love that is administered by the Father’s Spirit, this Love that only the Holy Trinity is and can truly give—it is this Love, and none other, that changes meanness into mercy; that moves fear toward trust; and that transforms self-serving individuals into a healthy, caring community.

This Love which is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—this is the only love that truly exists; the only love that is truly loving; and so the only love which can be offered through us to another. All other loves fail. But the love that God is, is the love that He gives to heal us—us, as in you and me; and us, as in the world.

When we are exasperated and impatient, we hurry love, forcing our needs on love, trying to make love do what we want. But we are warned: “do not stir up or awaken love until it pleases.” For the Love who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—He knows when best to act, and how best to warm indifference, and where best to shape our fervor. The Love who is Three Persons—they are most willing to place their left hand under your head and embrace you with their right hand. (Song of Songs 8)

Such loving embrace, a high-minded theology and an impersonal God cannot give. But a Person welcomes, accepts, supports, and holds with care those who seek Him, those who are drawn to Him, those who truly wish to rest in Him. And in that Love of the Father given by His Spirit—in that Love we truly are enabled to transform others even as we attract them by our holy lives, just as we have been attracted in love to the Holy Blessed Trinity; to whom belongs all glory, honor, and worship: now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

14 June 2020

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Prayer is Not Nothing: Pentecost Homily

For nine days the Holy Apostles and 120 others are in the upper room praying. From the outside, it looks like the ascension of Christ has left them bewildered, lost, and timid. It looks like they’ve withdrawn, that they are isolating themselves from the world and the world’s events. From the outside it looks like the Holy Apostles and the 120 others are doing nothing.

But prayer is not nothing. In fact, gathering to pray is what Christians do when they are waiting on God. Waiting not on God’s special word or guidance, or for Him to reveal His will. That sounds too much like God being our server, our waiter. But when we pray to our Father, we are children waiting for Him to know and see and do what is best.

“I waited patiently for the Lord.” That is Our Lord’s prayer, penned by King David. “I waited patiently.” In prayer. And here’s what we say: “O Lord, let it be thy pleasure to deliver me: make haste to help me, O Lord.” We’re not making demands, but entering into a conversation in love, asking our Lord, when He sees that it is good, to act for the benefit of all others. In our impatience, we beg our Father to make haste, to act quickly. But we are also content with the timing and the means He chooses.

Ask the faithful who gathered in Otranto or Lepanto in the 15th and 16th centuries. These cities were under attack. The soldiers and men of the city acted boldly to defend the city. And the rest did not cower in fear. They went into their churches to pray. For prayer is not nothing. And prayer does not have to be an act of fear. It can be an act of courage. In Otranto, the courage of prayer led to the martyrdom of all those praying in the church. The Lord acted by embracing the sacrifice and prayer of the faithful. In Lepanto, more than the tactics and bravery of the soldiers, more than human power and might, the courage of prayer led to the defeat of the Ottoman army.

Prayer does not give us the excuse to do nothing. Because prayer is not nothing. And, more than we believe, prayer accomplishes greater things than our voices or our actions.

True prayer. Prayer that is not an act of desperation or an act of last resort. But prayer that is an act of faith and love. The trust that God does care and will act. And the love which sacrifices our ideas of how things oughta go as we wait patiently for the Lord to act.

Not a one-off prayer. Not a quick ‘help me Jesus’ prayer. But a true, earnest, from the heart prayer. A prayer that begins with, and borrows the words of Jesus in the Psalms, and then builds on them both to ask God to help us see and understand what He is doing; and then also waits patiently for the Lord to act. Confident that He knows both the means and the time better than we, in our short-sighted view.

That’s what the Holy Apostles and 120 others are doing for nine days in the upper room. They’re not wringing their hands, unsure what to do next. They’re not indifferent. They are praying. They are patiently waiting for the Lord to act.

And Our Lord hears our prayers. And He acts. On His timetable, not ours. When He has arranged persons and events to the greatest advantage. Our Lord will not be pushed by our pushiness, or persuaded by our demands. Which is why prayer is an act of faith. And love. The faith that is sure God will come through when He determines; and the obedient love which follows where He leads.

The Apostles and faithful saw this prayer of faith and love, this patient waiting, when they looked back on the Passion of the Christ. In that moment, as Christ was being brutalized and executed, the Apostles could see nothing but their fear. And their impatience drove them away from their Lord. And led to despair and apathy. “They forsook Him and fled.” Not just physically. They also fled emotionally, mentally, and spiritually; into themselves, into their own fears. For these Apostles could not believe, they would not believe, that Jesus’ prayer in the garden had led Him (and them) to that moment. But now more than 40 days later, with the hindsight of faith, immersed in conversation with their Lord for nine days—now they saw where the prayer of faith and love leads; that the dark struggle of faith emerges into the light when immersed in prayer.

These days of prayer; these days of patiently waiting for the Lord to act; these days which seemed over-long—these days give the Holy Apostles and the 120 others the courage and boldness they needed. Not just to speak, but to keep speaking in the face of threats. Not just to stand up for a truth or principle, but to stand within Truth Himself, within the One whose outstretched arms on the cross embraced even these men and women who had fled when He most needed them; who had doubted and wouldn’t see His deliverance; and whose unbelief and hardness of heart He rebuked just before He ascended.

The answer to these serious prayers of the 12 plus 120 led trembling men to acts of great boldness. The answer was the Holy Spirit who gave girls as well as boys, the married and the unmarried, the slave as well as the free,  the courage to demonstrate, even in the face of hostility, their faith in the risen Christ which was active in their love for all humans, whether old or young , male or female, Jewish or gentile, slave or free, rich or poor. For the gospel does not speak only to certain people. It points out sinful actions, but it does not condemn. It judges right from wrong, but it does not seek vengeance. The gospel seeks to welcome all—all—into the embrace of the holy church.

The unity this Spirit delivers invites and urges us to bear with one another in love. Which means to bear with the bearable; to stand, sit, and kneel beside those whose views we can’t embrace. Because the Holy Spirit unites us, not in an agreed set of propositions or ideals or viewpoints. Rather, the Holy Spirit is given to unite us together in Christ Himself. And, since we have received that Spirit—since the Lord’s Spirit testifies to our spirit—this then should also be our goal: “bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

The prayers of many have led us to today. Perhaps your prayers, like mine, have faltered during this long Lent. Perhaps we have been so caught up in ourselves and our own emotions that we’ve wasted this 80-day gift that the Lord has given us to draw nearer to Him.

Whether diligent or lax, whether faithful or apathetic, today let us lean without hesitation on the prayers of the Holy Apostles and the other 120. They prayed for the Spirit to gather Christ’s Church. And now, even with limitations, we are gathered.

Let all of us enter, therefore, into the joy of the Lord. Whether first or last, whether wavering or confidence—receive your reward. Those that have fasted and those that have disregarded the fast, today all is forgiven. Those that have been judgy and those that have been compassionate: today Our Lord welcomes you. The table is rich-laden. Feast royally on the Lord who gives His Body and Blood to unite, to sanctify, and to increase your faith in Him and your love for all humankind.

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Truth’s Spirit: A Homily

What we are tempted to see as defeat, is really victory. What we tend to believe is the end, is really the beginning. What we are sure will undo us, really hides our salvation. The grave that announces the end is really the gate to unending and more abundant life. And the overwhelming darkness that we fear, truly can usher in the splendor and warmth of the true Light. This true Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overwhelm it; for this true Light gives light to everyone coming into the world.

This is the Spirit’s testimony. It is not his truth, or a truth. Truth Himself is conveyed and delivered to us by Truth’s Spirit. The Spirit of Truth reveals, unmasks, and presents the One who is Truth. That is what Jesus means when He speaks both of Himself and of His Spirit by saying, “The Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.”

Yet Truth’s Spirit’s testimony is not mere words. Just as it is not mere propositions. For the Spirit is also called the Comforter: the One who comforts.

The Spirit comforts us by declaring forthrightly that the victory in this combat stupendous remained with Life; the reign of death has ended.

But more than just declaring and proclaiming and preaching, this Spirit comforts us also by giving—by giving into us the Life that death tried to kill; and by giving into us the Love that hatred wanted to murder.

In their historical context, the disciples need to hear these words. Jesus is about to be betrayed, tried, tortured, and executed. “These things will also happen to you,” says the Mentor to his followers. “The world will do to you what they are doing to me. Because the world hated Me before it hated you. And so it’s hatred of you is continued hatred of Me.”

Jesus needed to make sure His disciples understood this so that they would not be taken by surprise; so that they could see the context of their own suffering; so that they could maintain, endure, remain, and persevere.

Jesus needs to make sure that we hear these same words. Not because torture and execution are imminent. Not because people are out there trying to keep us from being Christian. But because we sometimes revert to a persecution, martyr complex. When we do, we lose heart and our love grows cold as frustration and adversity and hardship arise.

Most importantly, like the disciples, we need to hear about the Comforter, and the Truth He delivers into us, because we tend to believe that death is gaining the upper hand; that life is tenuous and frightening; that there is so much to be fearful about; that the ground keeps shifting beneath us; and that things will never get to better.

Our minds go there too quickly. And our spirits too often follow—or sometimes lead us—to the point of despair or indifference or rebellion.

It’s not that we need to be reminded that there will be a better day. It’s that we need hope—the hope the Spirit gives, the hope that is within the Spirit’s comfort, the hope that is tangible and authentic and digestible—we need that hope once again. If our bodies are frail, these days our spirits also seem more frail. They seem too ready to collapse, believing that God has forgotten us or that we don’t matter or that no one cares.

The Spirit’s comfort, the Spirit’s hope, is that we do not fight alone. In fact, we do not fight at all. The fight has been fought. The victory has been won by Another, and He has given that victory completely to us. So there’s really nothing to fear. Life has defeated death, so death cannot and will not end us. Christ Himself has undermined anything that can cause death. And Our Lord has paid for and redeemed everything in us our devils claim we’re guilty of.

Knowing this, for me—and perhaps for you—the frustration and tension remain. The anxiety and nervousness still rise. The feeling of unworthiness still sits heavy.

The Spirit’s comfort, the Spirit’s hope does not dismiss these feelings, these thoughts. Truth’s Spirit counters them with the Truth that Love Himself embraces us at our worst, welcomes us when we can’t welcome ourselves, and holds us when we are undone. And, while doing that, Love Himself then covers and chases away all the demons that frighten, all the passions that beset us.

Truth’s Spirit comforts us by speaking Truth Himself into us. Truth’s Spirit comforts us by speaking Hope Himself into us. And the hope is this: that God’s got us. That His Son has trampled down the path that we now get to trod. And we get to tread this path because this is how we follow in the footsteps of Christ; and this is the path we need to walk so that we attain that heavenly joy that our loved ones and forebears are now tasting.

To re-speak this comfort, this Truth, is the Spirit’s role. To help us believe Truth by continually bringing Him to our remembrance: that is also the Spirit’s role.

And our role is both to believe, and then to permit the Spirit to align ourselves with Christ, who is Truth. Not to proclaim ‘my truth,’ but to discard it knowing it’s incomplete, feeble, self-serving. To embrace Truth in place of ‘my truth’: that the Holy Spirit helps and guides us to.

Of course, we can fight back and resist. But the Spirit will continue to return, gently and lovingly, leading us back to Truth.

This loving, comforting Spirit—this is the Spirit who comes to us; the Spirit we have received. Having Him, we can support each other in suppressing the urge to strike back, to give into our worst self, and to lash out at those we love.

By our prayers for one another, we can support each other to let Christ live through us. Then will we be enabled and empowered to be good stewards; to minister to each other with kindness and graciousness; and to find the peace that subdues our frustration.

And it works the other way also: the more we help each other pursue compassion and benevolence; the more we use hospitality without griping or blaming; the more we sacrifice the way we think things ought to be—the more we will see Christ and the Truth that He is.

That we might be strengthened and comforted against the spirit of dread, let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering; and let us consider one another, and encourage compassion and kindness in ourselves as well as in others; comforting one another with the Spirit of Truth; to whom, with the Father and the Son, belongs all glory, honor and worship, throughout all ages of ages.

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He Gave Gifts: Ascension Homily

Ascension Day Homily

Our bodies are frail. That is why the Holy Sacraments are vital and necessary and essential to our well-being—especially the Sacraments of Private Confession and the Holy Eucharist.

For our bodies are frail. They are easily overwhelmed by stress, harmed by accidents, undone by the unexpected, and overcome by tiny microbes. To think or even speak of our frailty makes us anxious and fearful because, to be quite honest, we want and plan for and expect a long life.

Our frailty is a result of our unhuman condition. ‘Unhuman’ because it was not what Our Father originally designed or wanted for us. But fragility, together with the certainty of death, was passed down to us as a consequence of our tendency to go our own way, think chiefly of our convenience, and focus mostly on our material and bodily desires. Ironic, isn’t it: the more we concentrate our efforts on length of days and quality of life in this world, the more we lose sight of and endanger never-ending life and the possibility of greatest joy and bliss.

Perversely, we prefer the unhuman. Partly because we can’t imagine life without our mis-ordered affections. And because we won’t consider what humanity beyond this life can be.

Yet the purpose of Our Lord’s Ascension is to reverse this inclination to look only at what we can see, and base our behaviors on materialistic science, and believe in our own self-satisfaction, and thereby continue in fear and increased anxiety.

This feast is often overlooked because we can’t see what it means. We naively think it’s the anticlimax to Our Lord’s life on earth. Or the crown jewel of His battle against Satan and evil.

But Our Lord does not ascend to impress us. And He doesn’t ascend for His sake. He does nothing for His sake.

Our Lord ascends to help us see what better really is. To see what our bodies can truly be, and what heights they can attain. Our Lord ascends to lift up our eyes. So that we see that our fear is misplaced, and our anxiety is misleading. Our Lord ascends not just to give us hope, but to locate our hope. Not in some ethereal, indistinct beauty. But in the concrete, physicality of His own glorified, transformed, human nature. A nature that He took from us, so that He could restore and renew our nature.

So when Jesus ascends, it not just Jesus ascending. It is us ascending—now, in Him actually and spiritually in heart and mind. And then later, in Him actually and completely, in body and soul.

By ascending, Christ is raising our human nature—everything who we are, all we can be in Him, the whole of what we are designed to be with God—He is raising our human nature to sit in heavenly places, in the glory that He shares with His Father.

That sounds lofty. And it should. For lofty, exalted, admired—that’s exactly where the Lord aims us when He pulls us out of the font and says, “I have called you by name; you are mine.” Not mine, as in ‘my property.’ But ‘you are mine’, as in ‘my love, my beauty, my beloved, the one dear and the one close to my heart.’

Those loving words, and the true love they reveal—like all true love—ennoble, dignify, and empower us—to live better than we believe, apart from our lusts and desires, completely for another.

We demean those words when we determine that our identity is tied not to Jesus but to our self-chosen narrative and truth. We diminish our baptism when we live as if we matter more than the Lord’s will and more than others. And we devalue our Lord’s ascension when we let our fears govern how and whether and when we will receive the Lord’s gifts.

For when He ascended, not only did our Lord lead into captivity Satan, our cravings, and our guilt—all of which sought to scare us into hell. When He ascended, Our Lord also gave us gifts. The sacramental gifts. The gifts where our salvation is most certainly located. The gifts which give us not the hope of hope, but Christ Himself; not the idea of deliverance, but the One whose deliverance we can taste, and share, and claim as our own.

Our Lord, in His Ascension, gave us these Sacred Mysteries, so that faith does not fail, hope is not shaken, charity does not grow cold. This is the strength of our life. It is light that intensifies the spirit of those who believe—so that we put unhesitating faith in what is not seen with the bodily eye; so that we fix our desires on what is beyond our sight. Such fidelity could never be born in our hearts, nor could anyone be justified by faith, if our salvation lay only in what was visible. For this reason, our Redeemer’s physical body both ascended into heaven while, at the same time, is delivered into the sacraments to be distributed to you. (cf St Leo the Great)

These sacraments mock our human frailty, not because we think we cannot die but because we are now sure that our anxiety is counter-productive and actually harms us more than we believe. At the same time, these sacraments increase our faith in what we will be, what we will have in fullness, even as they increase our desire for the life to come.

With faith nourished by these holy Sacraments, our forebears have lived “unshaken through oppression and imprisonment, through exile and hunger, fire and ravening beasts, and the most refined tortures ever devised by brutal persecutors. Throughout the world women no less than men, tender girls as well as boys, have given their life’s blood in the struggle for this faith. It is a faith that has driven out devils, healed the sick and raised the dead.” (St Leo the Great; Sermon 74)

Let us, therefore, drive away all fears of what might be or of what we might miss out on. And do not let earthly desires hold down our soul which is called upward to greater living. Instead, let us come quickly and often to receive our ascended Lord as He now comes to us, for us, and within us in His Holy Sacraments. These, and these alone, will lift up our hearts and minds. These Sacred Mysteries will give us the strength to travel safely through whatever lies ahead. And these Blessed Gifts will give us the courage to bypass fleeting experiences so that we might embrace the certain pleasures that Our Lord gives us in overflowing abundance.

With such faith we will be unafraid to help the downtrodden, and unconcerned with what others may say or do. And we will be committed to live not for our own gain, but so that the lover, the friend, the co-worker, the stranger, and the enemy may seek to join us because they see, by our words and deeds, the hope that the Sacraments have enlivened within us.

Nothing is stronger against worries and apprehension of what will be; nothing is stronger against the fear of our mortality—than the kindness of mercy and the generosity of love which Our Lord has lived for us, plants in us, and lives through us. And all that is demonstrated in His Ascension through which we are enabled to taste and see the Lord’s goodness; to whom belongs all glory, honor, worship: now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

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Aiming Your Prayer: An Rogation Homily

In the nine days following Our Lord’s Ascension, the Holy Apostles and the disciples spent their time in prayer. St Luke tells us that they self-quarantined for their spiritual well-being, not in fear but in preparation, not to keep away from others but to enter into a deeper, closer communion with God.

That’s what prayer is. Entering into a deeper, closer communion with God. Taking our relationship with our Father beyond the wanting and asking stage, beyond seeing God as the one who is supposed to sort out our life, make things better, and fulfill our requests.

Yet too often, my prayer, perhaps like yours, is a list of things that we want God to do, or a list of people we want God to bless. So when we pray, we lay out a series of asks or appeals or even sometimes some demands.

It’s okay to give God a list. But when we do, we’re having a one-way conversation. A monologue, where we say stuff and don’t expect to hear anything back. That is, if we actually say our prayers out loud. But how many times do I pray not aloud but simply in my head? How many times is my prayer to my Father a mental activity; me thinking my requests?

Jesus meets us at this very basic and simple level in today’s Gospel. And He wishes to nudge and lead us into better prayer. He begins where we’re at when He says, “Whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”

Asking. With the expectation of getting. Perhaps that’s why our prayers lag. Why we find them a chore. Why praying isn’t enough. Because we see them as transactional, me approaching God and expecting some kind of payoff. As is God is nothing more than a sugar daddy.

When we see God that way, then we think praying is about getting results. Either I should feel differently, or I should see some change (in me, in my situation, in others). And when we don’t get that, we think that prayer is not being heard and not working.

The key to prayer, however, is not the word “Ask.” The Holy Apostles and the disciples did not spend 9 days pestering the Holy Trinity with repeated, mantra-like, petitions and requests. They did not think they could pray themselves out of their difficulties, or pray away the stress, or be prayer warriors for good against evil. The Holy Apostles and the disciples spent 9 days both listening to Our Lord, and then aligning their will and desire with His.

That’s a more mature type of prayer. One that I truly need to work on, and perhaps you as well.

That’s a notion of prayer that begins not with me and my fears and desires and goals for myself or others. Rather, that’s a notion of prayer that begins with taking in and taking to heart Our Lord’s desires, His fears about us, and His vision of what we can truly be in Him.

And that prayer begins with these words: “In my Name. Ask in my Name.”

What does it means to ask in Christ’s name? Two things. First, we’re setting aside, in fact casting off, what we want and think is best in favor of whatever Our Lord Jesus gives, offers, and bestows on us. And second, we’re focused on things that go beyond today’s inconveniences, frustrations, and hardships; and instead are zeroing in on the things that make for our unending peace and joy.

In prayer, that’s what we really should be after. Not temporary fixes or momentary relief. But uninterrupted peace, and the joy that cannot fade. In Jesus’ own words, we’re praying ‘in that day,’ for His day—His day which we get a glimpse of at Mass, and which the angels and saints by their prayers support us in attaining fully after the grave.

So not just getting through life. But getting into the abundant life. That’s the goal of our prayer. So our prayer is aimed at a life where our first thought each day is no longer “what shall I eat, what shall I wear, what shall I do.” Rather, our life is focused on living completely and without reservation for another; and living without limiting our Father to a giver of stuff.

Living life fully. We can do that now, even if we are restricted and limited. Heaven knows that holy men and women did that—in gulags, in concentration camps, in isolation units. And apart from the extremes, they lived life fully in monastic cells, in simple homes, in uncluttered lives—by living in relationship, in communion, in the joy of their heavenly Father.

Living life fully, even though we are now restricted; living unencumbered by the clutter in our heads and the many things we think we must have; living the life to come, now in the present—that is where our prayer should lead.

Our prayer, then, ought not be based on what we can get from God. Instead, our prayer should be entering into a conversation with a person. In fact, with the three Persons who speak with the same united voice.

That the Three-in-One speak implies that we hear. In fact, that our prayer begins with hearing. That we listen when we pray.

So much noise gets in the way. In our heart. In our head. In the stuff swirling around us. So much noise, which distracts, frightens, worries, and creates doubts.

To quiet the noise means that we begin simply: by saying aloud the words that Our Lord Jesus prayed. Words that speak to our anxieties and hopes. Words that chase away the noise, as we listen attentively.

The listening, then, is not listening for something inside our hearts or minds. The listening is picking up and reading aloud the words of the Psalms. And thinking through how they fit. And asking the Spirit to help us see what is hard to see.

Starting with the Psalms is starting with the Prayer Book Jesus wrote and used. Those prayers are less about asking or telling God what to do, and more about talking to our Father and His Son about what angers or frustrates, what scares or worries, and what excites and encourages us.

That’s the kind of conversation that builds and maintains a relationship. And that’s what the Holy Apostles and the disciples were doing, isolated from all others, for nine days. They were laying open their hearts by borrowing words that Jesus Himself had loaned them in His Psalms.

And then we progress in our prayers from asking—to saying, “We are sure that You know all things, and have no need that anyone should ask You” anything. On account of this, we will be with You, O Lord, regardless of how our life now is; we will take up Your words and make them our own, so that Your way and will truly becomes our will and way of life.

To this Lord Jesus, who prays the Father for us, together with His all-holy Father and live-giving Spirit, belongs all glory, honor, and worship: now and ever and unto the ages of ages.

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