Bonhoeffer on Advent

A prison cell like [the one I’m in] is a good analogy for Advent. One waits, hopes, does this or that—ultimately negligible things—the door is locked and can only be opened from the outside.”

—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, letter from Tegel Prison, Novembwer 21, 1943

What did Bonhoeffer, who ultimately lost his life to the evil of Nazism, mean by this? We wait in the darkness of our world and personal lives for the darkness of Evil, Sin, and Death to be finally and fully overcome. We are powerless to bring about this victory. Only the power of God is capable of such a mighty feat. That is our Advent hope as Christians. It is a hope based on the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus and his promise to return to consummate his initial victory won on the cross and in his resurrection. Such a hope requires faith as we await the Master’s return—the focus of Advent. But It is the only hope that can fully satisfy because it is the only hope that addresses the evil of Death in bringing about God’s perfect justice. Is this your hope? If not, why are you wasting your time on a lesser, false hope that must ultimately fail you?

All Saints’ Day 2018: St. Augustine Muses on the Saints of God

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With humans this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”— Matthew 19.25-26

The saints are those who are moved by God’s grace to do whatever good they do. Some are married and have intercourse with their spouse sometimes for the sake of having a child and sometimes just for the pleasure of it. They get angry and desire revenge when they are injured, but are ready to forgive when asked. They are very attached to their property but will freely give at least a modest amount to the poor. They will not steal from you but are quick to take you to court if you try to steal from them. They are realistic enough to know that God should get the main credit for the good that they do. They are humble enough to admit that they are the sources of their own evil acts. In this life God loves them for their good acts and gives forgiveness for their evil, and in the next life they will join the ranks of those who will reign with Christ forever.

–Augustine of Hippo, Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, 3.5.14

One of the reasons I love Augustine is that he was never afraid to be real. As you read his description of the saints, you cannot help but wonder how these folks can be enjoying their rest with their Lord. I mean, look at their flaws Augustine is pointing out!

Here’s the answer. They have died with Christ and so are raised with him (Romans 6.8) They were buried with Christ in the waters of baptism so that they might rise with him in his resurrection (Romans 6.3-5). And when they were alive in this mortal life, this treasure of life eternal was hidden with Christ (Colossians 3.3-4), i.e., this hope and promise of resurrection and eternal life is based on their relationship with the risen Christ, who remains hidden from us in this mortal life from his abode in heaven, God’s space.

For you see, it is not about the saints or our worthiness. None of us is worthy to stand before God in God’s perfect holiness! Rather, it is about what God has done for us in Jesus so that through his death we might enjoy real peace and reconciliation with God (Romans 5.111). In Jesus, God condemned sin in the flesh so that we might be equipped to live with God forever, both here on earth in the power of the Spirit and in God’s promised new creation (Romans 8.3-418-25). This is what Jesus reminds us in the passage above from Matthew and that’s why we have hope for the Christian dead and ourselves on All Saints Day. Jesus is Lord, even over death!

Is this your hope or are you clinging to something less which is bound to fail? On this All Saints’ Day may God grant you the grace, wisdom, and courage to embrace the hope offered to you in Jesus. Come celebrate our victory over death in Christ this Sunday as we celebrate the communion of saints!

All Saints 2018: Bernard of Clairvaux: Why All Saints’ Day?

Why should our praise and glorification, or even the celebration of this feastday mean anything to the saints? Do they care about earthly honors when their heavenly Father honors them by fulfilling the faithful promise of the Son? What does our commendation mean to them? The saints have no need of honor from us; neither does our devotion add the lightest thing to what is theirs. Clearly, if we venerate their memory, it serves us, not them. But I tell you, when I think of them, I feel myself inflamed by a tremendous yearning. Calling the saints to mind inspires, or rather arouses in us, above all else, a longing to enjoy their company, so desirable in itself. We long to share in the citizenship of heaven, to dwell with the spirits of the blessed, to join the assembly of patriarchs, the ranks of the prophets, the council of apostles, the great host of martyrs, the noble company of confessors and the choir of virgins. in short, we long to be united in happiness with all the saints. But our dispositions change. The Church of all the first followers of Christ awaits us, but we do nothing about it. The saints want us to be with them, and we are indifferent. The souls of the just await us, and we ignore them.

Come, let us at length spur ourselves on. We must rise again with Christ, we must seek the world which is above and set our mind on the things of heaven. Let us long for those who are longing for us, hasten to those who are waiting for us, and ask those who look for our coming to intercede for us. We should not only want to be with the saints, we should also hope to possess their happiness. While we desire to be in their company, we must also earnestly seek to share in their glory. Do not imagine that there is anything harmful in such an ambition as this; there is no danger in setting our hearts on such glory.

When we commemorate the saints we are inflamed with another yearning: that Christ our life may also appear to us as he appeared to them and that we may one day share in his glory. Until then we see him, not as he is, but as he became for our sake. He is our head, crowned, not with glory, but with the thorns of our sins. As members of that head, crowned with thorns, we should be ashamed to live in luxury; his purple robes are a mockery rather than an honor. When Christ comes again, his death shall no longer be proclaimed, and we shall know that we also have died, and that our life is hidden with him. The glorious head of the Church will appear and his glorified members will shine in splendor with him, when he forms this lowly body anew into such glory as belongs to himself, its head. Therefore, we should aim at attaining this glory with a wholehearted and prudent desire. That we may rightly hope and strive for such blessedness, we must above all seek the prayers of the saints. Thus, what is beyond our own powers to obtain will be granted through their intercession.

–Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermon 2

Chris Pappalardo (CT): Don’t Worry, There Are More Demons Than You Think

A very thoughtful meditation on Halloween (and beyond) with which I wholeheartedly agree. We don’t take the powers seriously, and this is to our peril.

All of this might sound like bad news. But it’s really good news that only sounds like bad news. You see, when we face an evil institution, we are facing more than an evil institution (that’s the bad news). But we are facing a problem we know how to overthrow (that’s the good news). We do not overcome spirits through better techniques or wiser social strategy. That way lies the way of the Dragon.

Instead, we overcome the powers of darkness in systemic evil the same way we grow in the mundane work of individual sanctification—through humble reliance on the power of Christ’s Spirit. And we do so with hope, because God has promised that he will not start a work unless he intends to finish it (Phil. 1:6). The cross of Christ proves to us the lengths that God will go in redeeming his creation. And the resurrection of Christ proves to us that no power of darkness, however strong, gets the final say (1 Cor. 15:22–24, 51–55).

There are still spirits of darkness at work in this world. And they do not limit their activity to one evening in late October. But God has armed us with a stronger Spirit, and it is not a spirit of fear (2 Tim. 1:7). So when we consider the enduring problem of racism in our society, or the political fracturing our nation is undergoing, or the prevalence of abuse in our own churches, we need not be naïve to be resolutely hopeful. The dark spirits at work in this world are bigger and stronger than we usually think. The battle we wage against them will take time. There will be losses and casualties along the way.

But we cannot forget that the verdict on the ultimate battle has already been declared. The powers and principalities may continue to wreak havoc, but the apostle Paul reminds us that they are flailing in the death throes of defeat. The powers were put to open shame by our Savior, who triumphed over them on Calvary (Col. 2:15). So we do not fight for victory; rather, with the cross at our back, we fight from victory.

Read it all.

July 2018: The Power of the Gospel

We sat down to table and the officer began his story: “I have served in the army ever since I was quite young. I knew my duties and was a favorite of my superiors as a conscientious officer. But I was young, as were also my friends, and unhappily I started drinking. It went from bad to worse until drinking became an illness. When I did not drink, I was a good officer, but when I would start drinking, then I would have to go to bed for six weeks. My superiors were patient with me for a long time, but finally, for rudeness to the commanding officer while I was drunk, they reduced my rank to private and transferred me to a garrison for three years. They threatened me with more severe punishment if I would not improve and give up drinking. In this unfortunate condition all my efforts at self-control were of no avail and I could not stay sober for any length of time. Then I heard that I was to be sent to the guardhouse and I was beside myself with anguish.

“One day I was sitting in the barracks deep in thought. A monk came in to beg alms for the church. Those who had money gave what they could. When he approached me he asked, ‘Why are you so downcast?’ We started talking and I told him the cause of my grief. The monk sympathized with my situation and said, ‘My brother was once in a similar position, and I will tell you how he was cured. His spiritual father gave him a copy of the Gospels and strongly urged him to read a chapter whenever he wanted to take a drink. If the desire for a drink did not leave him after he read one chapter he was encouraged to read another and if necessary still another. My brother followed this advice, and after some time he lost all desire for alcoholic beverages. It is now fifteen years since he has touched a drop of alcohol. Why don’t you do the same, and you will discover how beneficial the reading of the Gospels can be. I have a copy at home and will gladly bring it to you.’

“I wasn’t very open to this idea so I objected, ‘How can your Gospels help when neither my efforts at selfcontrol nor medical aid could keep me sober?’ I spoke in this way because I never read the Gospels.

“‘Give it a chance,’ continued the monk reassuringly, ‘and you will find it very helpful.’

“The next day he brought me this copy of the Gospels. I opened it, browsed through it, and said, ‘I will not take it, for I cannot understand it; I am not accustomed to reading Church Slavonic.’

“The monk did not give up but continued to encourage me and explained that God’s special power is present in the Gospel through his words. He went on, ‘At the beginning be concerned only with reading it diligently; understanding will come later. One holy man says that “even when you don’t understand the word of God, the demons do, and they tremble”; and the passion for drink is without a doubt their work. And St. John Chrysostom in speaking about the power of the word of God says that the very room where the Gospel is kept has the power to ward off the spirits of darkness and thwart their intrigues.’

“I do not recall what I gave the monk when I took the copy of the Gospels from him, but I placed the book in my trunk with my other belongings and forgot about it. Some time later a strong desire to have a drink took hold of me and I opened the trunk to get some money and run to the tavern. But I saw the copy of the Gospels before I got to the money and I remembered clearly what the monk had told me. I opened the book and read the first chapter of Matthew without understanding anything. Again I remembered the monk’s words, ‘At the beginning be concerned only with reading it diligently; understanding will come later.’ So I read another chapter and found it a bit more comprehensible. Shortly after I began reading the third chapter, the curfew bell rang and it was no longer possible for me to leave the barracks.

“In the morning my first thought was to get a drink, but then I decided to read another chapter to see what would happen. I read it and did not go. Again I wanted a drink, but I started reading and I felt better. This gave me courage, and with every temptation for a drink I began reading a chapter from the Gospels. The more I read, the easier it became, and when I finally finished reading all four Gospels the compulsion for drink had disappeared completely; I was repelled by the very thought of it. It is now twenty years since I stopped drinking alcoholic beverages.

“Everyone was surprised at the change that took place in me, and after three years I was reinstated as an officer and then climbed up the ranks until I was made a commanding officer. Later I married a fine woman; we have saved some money, which we now share with the poor. Now I have a grown son who is a fine lad and he also is an officer in the army.”

—The Way of a Pilgrim

What a wonderful story of the multifaceted ways in which Christ works in our lives! The issue here is alcoholism, but don’t restrict the lesson to that. Christ can heal any affliction if we let him. Notice first how Christ uses human agency (the monk) to introduce the young soldier to his Gospel. Notice the monk’s persistence and the faith he has in the transformative power of the Gospel in people’s lives, a faith based, in part, on past experience.

Next, pay attention to how Christ used circumstance instead of understanding to stay the young soldier’s hand from drinking. He read the Gospel without understanding it, but was prevented from going on a drinking binge because he had lingered in his quarters to read it.

Finally, mark how understanding occurs—through persistent reading. Ask anyone who reads the Bible regularly and systematically and you will hear this same answer. God grants understanding to humble minds willing to submit to his word (as opposed to trying to make his word submit to their agendas) through our persistent reading of his word. God doesn’t beat us over the head to make us learn (usually). Instead he uses ordinary people and circumstances along with our own efforts to speak to and transform us. That may not be sexy enough for some of us but it is much more effective over the long haul

If you are struggling with your faith, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest this story and its lessons. Here is indeed balm for your soul!

Fr. Carlo Carretto Dishes on the Mystery of Knowing God, Pt.3

And are there not those who, when faced with his silence, convince themselves that he does not exist? And are there not others who are scandalized merely by the way the world goes?

If God exists, why evil? If God is love, why sorrow?

If God is a Father, why death?

If I have knocked, why has he not opened to me?

I used to think all this and more, when I was new to this school.

But then, walking patiently, not allowing myself to become frightened off by the first difficulties, hounding his door with the determination of a man on a hunger strike, and, above all, believing his gospel true and unrelenting, I began to see the way things are, I began to discover how God goes about what he is doing, I began to distinguish his stealthy footsteps. . .

It was for him to open it, not me, always in a hurry.

Sin lies in Adam’s haste, and my lust for possession is stronger than my true love for him. Wait! Oh, the anguish of that “wait,” the emptiness of that absence!

But then, little by little, I began to understand, as never before, that he was present in the emptiness, in the waiting.

—From The God Who Comes

If you’d prefer to read the whole reflection at once, click here.

Fr. Carlo Carretto Dishes on the Mystery of Knowing God, Pt.2

God is not only jealous in his love. He is tragic. Before making you his, before letting himself be possessed, he tears you to shreds-—rather, he makes history tear you to shreds…

For much of my life, I asked myself why God acted in such a strange way.

Why is he silent so long? Why is faith so bitter?

He can do everything, so why does he not reveal himself to us in a more sensational way?

What would it cost him to come out into the streets, among those who cry ”God does not exist,” give a hard slap to the noisiest, and say—better still, shout—”Don’t believe these fools! I am here indeed! To convince you, let’s make an appointment to meet tomorrow evening in Leningrad’s museum of atheism. You’ll see what I’ll do! I’ll crush you and reduce you to souvenir envelopes!”

But it seems that God does his best to remain silent, as if to demonstrate that he does not exist, that it is useless for us to follow him, that we would do better if we went all out to possess the earth.

—From The God Who Comes

Fr. Carlo Carretto Dishes on the Mystery of Knowing God, Pt.1

Then we come to understand the dimensions of heaven; then we see things as they really are, and we see God as really God!  

But then, too, we realize that this cannot last, that in order to keep its gratuitous quality, the fragrance of that hour must be paid for in a harsh and severe way.

Perhaps because it would all be too beautiful?

Perhaps because contemplation would destroy the roots of action?

Perhaps because you would never again get anything done, as though you were on too perfect a honeymoon?

Perhaps because heaven would start here and now, whereas the way is still long, and possession of the Beloved is feeble?

Yes, all this and many other things are true

But there is one other thing which  seems to me still more true, and I understood it only very late:

You would not be free any longer.

And God is terribly concerned about your freedom in loving him. 

He knows that you can be suffocated by the greatness and the quantity of his gifts.

It is difficult to make a marriage between two persons who are in such different circumstances.

[God] brings you his all, while you can only bring him your nothing.

How can one set about reconciling such differences?

How can he be certain that you are not seeking him out of self-interest?

That you are not going to him only because you have found no one else?

That you are not going to him for the pleasure you get out of it?

That would be too easy and too shallow a love.

When the Bible says that God is a jealous God, it is speaking truly.

But God’s jealousy is not like ours. He is jealous because he is afraid that, instead of loving him in his naked being, we love his creation, his riches, his gifts, the joy he bestows, the peace he brings, and Truth he makes us a present of.

—From The God Who Comes

Pope Francis Muses on the Meaning of the Ascension 2018

From here.

“In the Creed,” noted the pontiff, “we confess our faith in Christ who ‘ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father’. … What does this mean for our lives? While he ‘ascends’ to [Jerusalem], where his ‘exodus’ from this life will take place, Jesus already sees the goal, Heaven, but he knows well that the path that will take him back to the Father’s glory passes through the Cross, through obedience to the divine plan of love for humanity. … We also must be clear, in our Christian lives, that entering into God’s glory demands daily fidelity to his will, even when it requires sacrifice, when it sometimes requires us to change our plans.”

The Pope explained the Ascension in light of St Luke’s Gospel, which gives a short version of it. “Jesus led his disciples ‘as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them. As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven’. .. This is the first important point: Jesus is the only and eternal Priest who, by his passion, has traversed death and the grave and is risen and ascended into Heaven. He is with God the Father, where he always intercedes in our favour. As St. John affirms in his First Letter: He is our Advocate.”

He then added: “How wonderful it is to hear this! When someone is called in front of a judge or goes to court, the first he does is look for a lawyer to defend him. We’ve got one who always defends us, who defends us from the devil’s snares, defends us from ourselves, from our sins! Dear brothers and sisters, we have this Advocate. Let us not be afraid to go to him and ask forgiveness, to ask for blessing, to ask for mercy. He always forgives us. He is our Advocate. He defends us always. Never forget this!”

An excellent piece. Please do take the time and read it all. There’s lots to chew on and give you hope.

Pope Leo the Great on the Ascension of Jesus 2018

With all due solemnity we are commemorating that day on which our poor human nature was carried up, in Christ, above all the hosts of heaven, above all the ranks of angels, beyond the highest heavenly powers to the very throne of God the Father. And so our Redeemer’s visible presence has passed into the sacraments. Our faith is nobler and stronger because sight has been replaced by a doctrine whose authority is accepted by believing hearts, enlightened from on high. This faith was increased by the Lord’s ascension and strengthened by the gift of the Spirit.

Lent 2018: Prayer, Fasting, Mercy

There are three things by which faith stands firm, devotion remains constant, and virtue endures. They are prayer, fasting and mercy. Prayer knocks at the door, fasting obtains, mercy receives. Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. Let no one try to separate them; they cannot be separated. If you have only one of them or not all together, you have nothing. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others you open God’s ear to yourself.

When you fast, see the fasting of others. If you want God to know that you are hungry, know that another is hungry. If you hope for mercy, show mercy. If you look for kindness, show kindness. If you want to receive, give. If you ask for yourself what you deny to others, your asking is a mockery.

—Peter Chrysologus, Sermon 43

W. David O. Tayler (CT): When Jesus Doesn’t Calm the Storm

Yep.

As I think back to that moment, with a mass of primeval waters rushing by us on either side of I-10, I still can’t make moral sense of Hurricane Harvey. Not today; not in the middle of it. But I do find myself profoundly grateful for the people of God and the countless good citizens who choose to be with us, and with my hometown, in the middle of the storm.

If Jesus weeps over the death of a friend, gone too soon from this earth, then Phaedra is right to weep too for all that has gone wrong in Houston. If Jesus offers his Spirit so that his disciples might be a renewed people, then the only reasonable thing for us to do as God’s people is to somehow, someway become Christ’s wounded healers to a hurting world.

For now, that’s the only way I can figure out how to cope with Hurricane Harvey.

Read it all.