Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Some Important Words for Every Catholic at the Present Moment

St. Paul Writing His Epistles
Whether in conversations, social media posts, public statements, or essays, there are many words being exchanged about the Catholic Church these days. I also would like to share some words. 

These words deserve the serious attention of every Catholic. Every Catholic--bishop, priest, deacon, religious, seminarian, lay man, lay woman--would do well to spend significant time reflecting on these words and examining his or her own life. There is, I would say, something for all of us in these words. They are not my words. They were written by St. Paul and are found in the Fifth Chapter of his Letter to the Galatians.  

"For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another" (Galatians 5:13-26).

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Reflection on The Divine Office and the Changing of Volumes

When the weather is mild and pleasant, I prefer to pray on the porch of my rectory. Most mornings when I arrive, a retired priest who lives in our rectory is already there. We briefly exchange pleasantries and then he returns to his prayers and I begin mine. It is a ritual remarkably consoling and profoundly fraternal. We enter into the Church's Divine Liturgy, sanctifying time and place, offering to God on behalf of humanity the praise and worship that is His due. 

The Divine Office is prayed throughout the day, from morning until night. It marks the passing of the hours, of the days, of the seasons, of the years, and of the centuries. In the praying of the Hours, we enter into and live the memory of Salvation History. Hour by hour, day by day, season by season, we preserve and carry within us truths that save us. 

This evening as I was changing from Volume III to Volume IV of the Divine Office, I felt the significance of the passing of time. This is the thirtieth time in my life that I've begun Volume IV. As my fingers turn its pages, my mind turns the pages of memories. Life has been lived in so many places and with so many companions. Whether it was in chapels or courtyards, on boats or high in the Alps; whether with college students, brother priests, or alone, the hours are all lived near to the Lord. Even when alone, they were prayed with others, especially our companions. Even when physically far away, in the Divine Office, we meet one another in prayer. A passage, a saint, a prayer brings to mind a loved one. Even those who have departed this life who were with us along some part of the way, we meet them in the Divine Office. The hours spent with them in this life are offered to the Lord in our prayers.

The language of the Divine Office shapes us and makes us more familiar with the ways of God. They anchor us and increasingly tether us to Him. The perpetual repetition of the cycle of prayers and psalms gradually frees us from being slaves to the ephemeral. As the years roll on, we become increasingly aware of our shallowness. Words we've prayed thousands of times before suddenly strike us as entirely new and stop us in our tracks. We discover within the pages of these volumes the patience of God. All of these years He has been teaching us to grow in gratitude, to advance in praise, to bow humbly under the weight of our guilt, to confidently seek mercy, to advance steadfastly along the path of hope. 

The words of the psalms and the canticles become the words of our heart. We desire to enter into His rest, to listen to His Voice, to not grow stubborn, but to bow down and worship Him. We long for Him to create within us a pure heart and to have mercy on us. Our heart seeks to join all creation and to bless the Lord. We yearn to live entirely for Christ, that awake we might keep watch with Him and asleep rest in His peace. 

With the passing of time, we also recognize how many hours we have squandered; so many events, be they joyful or sorrowful, that could have been taken up in the Divine Office and offered to God in worship. The passage from one volume to the next can feel as though the record book has closed and what's done is done. And yet, a new volume opens and all that was wasted or squandered before may be added to our offering now. With each new hour, the Lord provides a new opportunity to present not just this moment, but all moments to Him. He is the Alpha and the Omega, all time belongs to Him, and all the ages.

At the end of every day, we entrust ourselves and the whole world to the maternal love of the Blessed Virgin, our life, our sweetness, and our hope. Every moment of her existence has been an offering of praise and worship to God. Her presence beside us as we conclude each day encourages us to offer everything in our life to to the Father, through her Son. She stood by Him in His perfect offering on Calvary. Her standing near to us in the Divine Office gives us hope that our offering will be made acceptable. Her presence at our side fills our offering with a glorious sweetness. Our weak offerings--and even the offering of our sins and failures--become sweet by her presence. As we close our eyes each night, with each passing volume, and at the hour of our death, the presence of Our Lady assures us that a new day and new life always awaits us.