I wonder if I’ve been thinking about this all wrong. If I’ve had a false image in my mind all this time. Maybe I don’t have to be roasted on a spit or kneel all day in a shaft of light. Maybe I don’t have to stop being human and stop living my life. Maybe I do get to live my life, but slowly. Quietly. Maybe to surrender to God means to walk in the woods with a clear mind. Maybe to surrender to God means to walk in the woods with awareness. To feel the road beneath my feet. To hear the woodpecker drumming in the top of a tree. Maybe to surrender to God—to say, Your grace and Your love are wealth enough for me; give me these, Lord Jesus, and I ask for nothing more—maybe that means, Lord, give me this moment. Lord, help me slow down. Lord, help me be myself. Fully myself. God created all these things in Christ, God loves all these things in Christ, all these things continue in being in Christ. I continue in being in Christ. Do I really think that He cares less about me than He cares about anything else? That’s blasphemy! There is no place where Christ is not, even in me, right now. I am walking down a gravel road. I glimpse the valley in the distance, then the mountains. My dog bounds away in front of me. I am surrendering myself to Christ. Christ has given me His grace and His love. He has given me the day. He has given me my life. I ask for nothing more.
Though we were all expecting it, I was still shocked when I got the archbishop’s email cancelling all public masses until after Easter. I still can’t quite believe it.
It makes me realize how much I love the Eucharist. How much I need the Eucharist.
It makes me think of the Jesuit scientist and theologian Teilhard de Chardin, how there were times in his life when he wasn’t able to celebrate the mass—when he was a soldier in the French army during World War I, in the middle of battle—or later, when he was leading scientific expeditions, often by mule train, into the remote deserts of Western China.
What he celebrated then is what he later came to call the “Mass of the World”:
Since today, Lord, I your Priest have neither bread nor wine nor altar, I shall spread my hands over the whole universe and take its immensity as the matter of my sacrifice. Let creation repeat to itself again today, and tomorrow, and until the end of time, the divine saying: “This is my body.”
What moves me here is Chardin’s sense of unity with the natural world, and also with all of humanity. In fact, it was exactly in the trenches, in the midst of the horror of war, that he first felt this faith and this joy welling up in him, this solidarity with his fellow soldiers and this confidence that Christ is in all things. Even in the midst of war. Even as the shells were flying.
It’s very much the faith at the heart of what the Church has always called “Spiritual Communion” and that the archbishop has recommended for all us, until we can come together again. “I love You above all things,” we pray in part, “and I desire to receive You into my soul.”
And this communion happens, it truly happens, if we pray for it sincerely.
We will be in communion with Christ. We will be in communion with each other.
Maybe in our hunger for the Eucharist in the next few weeks and months we can come to better understand its depth and breadth and scope. Maybe in our hunger for the Eucharist we can come to understand the way that the Risen Christ is continually transforming all of matter into spirit, drawing all things to Himself. Maybe when we finally return from our exile, when we are finally standing together at the Eucharistic Prayer, we can feel more powerfully than before what really happens then–that when the priest elevates the host, when he holds the Body of Christ in the air before us, he is holding the world. He is holding the universe.
A day or two ago, after a sleepless night, I looked out the window and saw the moon shining through a gap in the clouds. Still the moon, coming through the bare branches of the trees. Everything was quiet. Beautiful.
The moon, a symbol of Mary, reflecting the light of Christ.
I think of all the saints we know and all the saints we don’t, serving in famines and serving in wars and serving in plagues. The courage that comes from faith, and the calm. I think of Our Lord on the cross, and Our Lord in the tomb, and the joy of Mary Magdalene when he calls out her name.
Even during the total eclipse last year, when the moon blotted out the sun, all that happened was the coming of the prettiest violet light. A few soft stars. It was like a quiet summer evening. We sat in our lawn chairs in the front yard drinking our second cup of coffee.
And then it was morning again. An ordinary summer morning. The dishes to do. The lawn to mow.
Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Nothing. Neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers. What has come into being in him is life, and the life is the light of all people, and the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will never overcome it.
Tuesday, March 3, 2020
There’s a beautiful line in the psalm today that I haven’t noticed before: “Look to him that you may be radiant with joy / and your faces may not blush with shame.” I like that. It’s nicely balanced. It’s almost a kind of pun.
My wife is a redhead and she blushes easily, and I blush easily, too. The blood just rises up into my face when I’m angry or embarrassed. I can feel it happening, and everyone can see it.
What the psalm tells me is that my face should be glowing with joy. My face should be turned towards God, reflecting his light.
We all know a few people like this, people with faces that seem to shine, who seem to radiate something healthy and good. They’re persuasive not because of what they say but because of who they are. We all know people, many more people, with faces full of worry or anger or shame. People with drawn faces. Tight faces. Or I think of my students, who are good kids but who after growing up with smart phones don’t have the same expressions I’m used to, don’t have faces I know how to read anymore. When they’re not looking down, their faces are often blank.
This Lent let’s look at ourselves in the mirror, and if we can’t see that joy, let’s reflect on why not. Let’s connect again with our only true source. And when we do, let’s show it. Why are we such “sourpusses?” as Pope Francis asks. We’re at mass–we’re in the presence of the Eucharist—Christ is giving himself to us!
Think of the difference it makes when someone smiles at us. It lifts us.
At one point in the Paradiso, as Dante and Beatrice are flying up into the light of heaven, Beatrice even has to turn away from Dante, her smile is so radiant. If Dante saw it, he’d be burned to ash.
It all depends on what we’re looking at. That’s what our faces reflect.
Are we looking at God—at what’s healthy and right and good?
If we’re not, what are we looking at? What have allowed to capture our gaze?
February 23, 2020
Jesus says “be perfect as your Father is perfect,” and my heart sinks. I panic. Because I can’t do that. I’m incapable of doing that.
I could say the obvious and point out how terrible our public discourse is and how we’re all striking cheeks, not turning them: Republicans hate Democrats and Democrats hate Republicans, and Democrats hate Democrats, and Republicans hate Republicans, and we’re always saying so, outright and without any filter, in public, online–and it’s even worse in our hearts, interiorly, where we’re always judging and blaming and dismissing.
But that’s just the point. Whenever I get fixated on what’s wrong with the world, whenever I find myself obsessively reading The Washington Post and The New York Times, looking for something else to get upset about, it’s because I don’t want to face my own inner politician, my own personal hypocrisy.
The other day I saw someone texting and driving, and I swear if my car had had missiles, like in a James Bond movie, I would have blown her to kingdom come. We had some people over recently and when I wasn’t bored I was infuriated. They drove me crazy. I had to make up an excuse and leave the room, and I thought, why can’t I rise above this? Why can’t I feel compassion for these people? Why don’t I have any patience?
Because I don’t. Because I can’t. And this is the key. Because it’s only when we realize our own lack of love, it’s only when we accept our own limited capacities, that we can turn to God and ask for his grace to flow through us.
It’s only when we admit that we’re not perfect, when we acknowledge who we really are, that we feel our solidarity with all the other imperfect people in the world. We’re all in this together.
“In this is love,” the First Letter of John says,” not that we have loved God, but that he loved us.” And later: “We love because he first loved us”
And we have to keep this in mind when things are going well, too, when we get the compliment or the raise and we’re feeling good about ourselves, as if we’re pretty special, which in a way we are but in another way we’re not. “The sun rises on the bad and the good,” Jesus says, “the rain falls on the just and the unjust,” which is as good a rebuttal to the Gospel of Prosperity as I can think of, a rebuke to anyone who thinks the people who are suffering deserve to, that we’ve earned what we have by being so holy. True holiness never makes us feel set apart. True holiness begins in humility.
There’s this wonderful advice from the poet William Stafford, “when in doubt, lower your standards.” Just write. Do what you can and stop trying to win the Nobel Prize, and this is just as true in the spiritual life. “When you feel the temptation to dwell on your own weakness,” Pope Francis says, “raise your eyes to Christ crucified and say: ‘Lord, I am a poor sinner, but you can work the miracle of making me a little bit better.” This is wonderfully freeing, and it’s also very challenging. For one thing, I don’t have any excuses anymore. I have to get going. For another, to be holy doesn’t mean making grand and noble gestures that will get me a lot of attention. It means slogging along day-to-day.
The Pope talks, for example, about the holiness of our next-door neighbors, those he calls “the saints next door,” people quietly taking care of their families and doing their jobs as best they can. Trying not to gossip. Trying not to get mad. Being open to the stranger. Generous. Kind. Being the best parents they can be or the best programmers or the best salespeople. “We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love,” the Pope says, “and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves.”
The other day when I brought my car in for an oil change, they found that I needed a new seal on the right front axle. But when I picked it up and drove it for a while, the brakes were soft and there was this humming, like I was driving on studded tires. So I brought it back, and they checked it out again, and they said, well, you need a new wheel bearing now, on the right side, and that’s going to cost you, hundreds of dollars.
I thought this was odd—I hadn’t had this problem before—but I don’t know much about cars and so I said, OK. Go ahead.
But here’s the thing. The woman who was helping me at the desk, who could have let this go—I was ready to pay, I wouldn’t have known—this woman went back to the mechanics and asked around and found out that it was their fault, that in replacing the seal they’d set the brakes wrong, and this had caused the problem with the bearing. Or something.
All I know is that this woman called me back, and said it was their fault, and said they wouldn’t charge me for the work.
I don’t know if this woman was a Christian. All I know is that she saved me a lot of money. All I know is that it was easy to love my neighbor as myself that day, because she first loved me. All I know is that this woman was a model of what it means to be a Christian in the world, of how we do the work of the Spirit by doing our jobs well and with integrity, of how being Christian isn’t just a matter of how we act in church but also of how we act when we leave it.
We need the Eucharist, it’s our life and our hope, but then we have to go out and be the Eucharist, in the world. The mass is never ended.
“The truth is devastatingly simple,” Sister Ruth Burrows says, and “we are tempted to shirk it”:
the stark, overwhelming reality is that God is giving himself to us in the stream of the ordinary, mundane events of our ordinary, mundane life. This is where he is for us, here and not elsewhere. Here, precisely here, must we hallow his name.
And later Burrows goes on to make an even more striking statement—that though we long to be “masters of our lives, in control, strong and beautiful,” though we long in effect to be God, the Gospel message is just the opposite. We must be human. We must be small. “Our poverty is blessed,” she says, “because it opens us to God and makes us realize our need for a Savior.”
This is the work. There is no other. And it’s heroic work, and it’s hard work, harder than any work we will ever do: to continually strive to be loving and compassionate, and to continually admit that we can’t be, and to continually be open to grace, to goodness, to the saving action of the Lord Our God.
For He is always present. He is always with us. All is grace. Everything.