24 February 2009

A Novina of Years

Lent! Quadragesima! The 40 days! What a delight to the spirit it is to prepare yet again for the coming of Our Lord in Easter.

For me Lent is the most Catholic of times. The prayers of the Liturgy, the hymns, the chants the penance that is done in this time in many ways seems to define what it is to be a Catholic. Even thought the Council of Nicaea affirmed that we are a Risen People in Christ it has always been this time that brings about the identity of Catholicism. It is not that the faith is dower and that we are spiritual masochists but rather it is that the Resurrection cannot be in any way separated from the Cross of Christ. We are indeed risen but that rising is with our eyes firmly fixed on the Cross for it is that contradiction of Life in Death that our Salvation is poured forth.

As a Dominican this time takes on an even more special meaning. Perhaps it is most exemplified by the ancient practice in Rome. Every year the Holy Father processes from San Anselmo to Santa Sabina where the Mass is celebrated with the imposition of ashes. Santa Sabina is an ancient Basilica and it is also the seat of the Dominican Order. This church is known for its striking difference from many of the other Roman churches and Basilicas in that it is unadorned and mostly preserved in its Roman simplicity. It is a church of Marble and Light. It is austere in the way that the life of a Dominican is to be. It is a life that is to be simple and hard like the marble that adorns our church but it is to be filled with the joy of the Light of Christ flowing into it from above. It is no mistake that it is in Santa Sabina that Lent truly begins.

For me this year marks a special milestone in my life as a Catholic. This is the ninth year of my reception of our Blessed Lord in the True Presence of the Most Holy Eucharist. This day is always a day of reflection on the great mysteries that are the Sacraments. These moments, moments of encounter with the Living Lord are so precious. It is indeed easy to forget how precious these moments are. Today most people, at least in the western world, tend to receive Communion on a very frequent basis. This was not always the case. The reception of Communion was only done on special feast through the year and only before many acts of penance and most importantly the reception of the Sacrament of Confession. In that culture the Sacramental encounter seemed to be more pronounced than today. People yearned with hunger in their hearts at the thought of consuming the Holy Mystery of the Eucharist. It seems that it was a true case of absence making the heart grow fonder. Since the request of St. Pius X that Catholics receive communion on a more frequent basis me must recapture the awe of the Sacraments in new ways. We must relearn how sacred a moment it is for the God of all creation to come to us in an act of utter humility offering Himself to be our food. What great a God have we! To enter into this august mystery is to enter into the very heart of the Blessed Trinity. We should always remember what it is that we receive and who it is that we receive.

With this in mind Lent is a time to remember. We recall the sin of Adam, Abraham and Isaac, all the Patriarchs of Israel, Sinai, the Wilderness, the Prophets. We remember the Incarnation, the mission, the garden, the Condemnation and the Death of our Savior. We remember. To remember is for us not merely to recall something in the past but it is to bring to this very moment that which once was and always is. It is to re-live, to make present the mystery of our Salvation. This is not an artificial act but we truly enter into that time where there is no time. When Christ took flesh of the virgin womb he shattered the barrier between time and eternity. He made His earthly presence one with His divine presence extending through all time and all space and in this way we may ever enter into this eternally present moment of His life, death and resurrection. We do not remember passively but rather we actively remember and as we bring these moments of Christ's earthly existence before us we are in turn remembered in His salvific actions. He is born for us. He preaches to us. He sweats blood for us. His flesh is torn and His blood is spilled for us. He meets us on His way to Golgotha. He looks upon us standing with His mother from His Holy Cross. This is what it means to enter into the season. We take our place in the Psacal Mystery and are raised up with Him in both Cross and Glory. And gazing upon his Blessed and beautiful countenence we say with St. Dismas, "Remember me, O Lord, when you come into your Kingdom." And then, looking upon us in love; we are remembered.

18 February 2009

Walking like Trees

The story about the blind man of Bethsaida, to me, has always had a special place in my heart. This is for two reasons. First, as one of the "vision-impaired" people of the world; if I remove my glasses, people do, in some way, look like walking trees. So, the image is not lost on me. And second, it is one of the most curious stories in all of the Gospel. It is one that I can't seem to ever fully wrap my mind around. Yet, today at Mass I may have been gifted an insight into at least one of the senses of this particular reading. Daringly I would like to share this "fruit of contemplation."

The Gospel reading today is Mark 8:22-26 and it recounts the blind man who is brought to Jesus and is healed in part and then healed in full. There are many curious aspects surrounding this passage of Sacred Scripture. Why does Jesus have to heal the man in a two part action? Why does Jesus use spit and dirt in the partial healing and the laying on of hands in the completion of the healing? Why do the people look like trees who are walking? Why does he tell the man to go home but not to enter the village? It is definitely a tremendously perplexing passage for one that is so short. This ever reminds me of the great complexity of Scripture and the many aspects of the Revelation it can impart in so few words. Yet, there is always a key, a hint, a clue that helps to unveil the mystery that it is trying to impart. Here, I believe at least one of the keys is Creation and Re-Creation.

If viewed from the right perspective this short passage is a retelling of the whole of salvation history. This blind man is not named, as Bartimaeus is (which is curious in itself). So in a way, this blind man is each one of us born in sin. He is everyman. As is well known, those with natural afflictions were thought to have committed some offense to God and the ailment was a just punishment for sin. Thus this man is blinded because of sin. In this respect he is Adam and all his progeny after the fall. He is a beggar before the Lord like all of Israel yearning for the touch of God. For man recalls his very creation - the creative touch of God that formed him from the mud of the earth; he is like the Patriarchs of the Old Testament, yearning for God. And like in the time of Noah when the deluge wiped clean the earth so too does Christ baptise earth, He makes it clean, so that it is once again like that primal earth from which He formed Adam. And so, with this "new earth" he repairs the sight of the man who now sees partially as creation was repaired after the flood - partially. But he does not yet see Christ, rather, he sees "men as trees, walking." He sees, as it were, through the eyes of the Old Covenant. He sees not falsely but he only sees partially, blurily, because he has not been fulfilled - he does not yet "see everything." He does not yet have full sight because he has not yet become a new creation in Christ.

But then, something new happens. Christ lays His sacred hands on the blind man and he "sees everything." What was blurry is now clear, what was dark is now light. He does not just see the Lord nor does he see people walking like people as would be the natural progression. He does not see something or some things but instead he sees everything. He is now fulfilled, made whole, finished, re-created - divinized. He is now not seeing through the Old Covenant, he now sees from the perspective of the New. Everything makes sense. The law is fulfilled in this man's sight. Christ commands him not to go into the town because cannot return to dwelling place of men who only see partially. Their palce is with the land, the inheritance of Israel, but he has no share in the land - his portion is now the Lord. He is no longer of the same kind of creation as those in the town. He no longer has a town or a single people to call his own. He does not belong to the world. He belongs to God fully, perfectedly.

This is the drama that is the Christian. Through Baptism we are re-created. We are grafted onto the Body of Christ. We are all Levites of the New Covenant. Unlike the rest of the tribes of Israel the Levites had no share in the Promised Land for their portion was the Lord alone. The Early Church Fathers understood this well. We are Christians! No longer are we slaves or children but free and men grown to full stature in Christ. We are not of the same kind as the inhabitants of the world. By and through Sanctifying Grace we are divinized: we partake of the Divine Nature. We enter into Christ the Door through whom we pass into our true home that is the inner life of the Holy Trinity. It is from the clear windows of this home were we are able to see all - clearly, fully, fulfilled. Through Baptism we are made radically different in kind than the rest of humanity. "O Christian know your dignity!" Before divinization we had a home in a town in a country on a planet in a cosmos. After baptism we have none of this. We become homeless. Or rather, we become home-bound. We become like the Son of Man who has not a rock upon which to rest his head. He is in the world but does not live in it. He is a soujorner, a traveler, a pilgrim who passes through on way to his true home. He tells us this much when he says that His Kingdom is not of this world.

"O Christian know your dignity!" None have seen the Father except the Son for when a man sees God he cannot but die. But, when a Christian sees God he cannot but live! For, on the sixth day God created man in His own image and likeness, and breathed into him a soul so that he might live. On the seventh day He lay down His tools and rested from His work. But on the eighth day God picked up the tool of the Cross and by it He re-created man in the image and likeness of the Son, who breathed into him the Holy Spirit so that he might have life - and by the Light of this new life within him; he may now, truly see.

16 February 2009

Leper! Unclean!

It seems fitting to me that my first venture into the noisy world of the blog-o-sphere is a reflection on the readings from the Mass this past Sunday concerning Leprosy; since I am pretty sure this blog will be on the fringe of the blogging community as the leper was to Israel.

Perhaps there is a reason why most people know about the times that Christ healed the lepers. Even non-Christians and even those who have not read anything in Scripture seem to know about the lepers. They know that they were segregated from the people in the Old Testament and they know that Jesus healed them in the New Testament. But just knowing these facts doesn't explain why it has left such an imprint in the minds of all who have heard about this reality. It seems to me that in this image of the Leper more than any other image in Scripture we see ourselves, as if in a mirror, in a way that is, on the one hand, disturbing and, on the other hand, intoxicatingly hopeful.

In the Leper we most clearly see ourselves in the words of Scripture. This is the secret of the Leper. Hidden within the folds of his tattered and torn garments, rent by his own hands we find our true selves. Not the selves that we display to the world, but, rather, the afflicted person behind the mask of the persona. He unveils us. He is a revelation of ourselves to ourselves. He is the weakness that we meet in our own eyes when we give sufficient time for self reflection. He is the inner yearning of our very human heart who feebly raises spotted, unclean hands to the heavens burning for a salve - a savior. The Leper is burned into our minds because he disturbs our self-disregard. He forces us to confront our weakness in the face of torment and surrender to that very weakness for which there is only one response - the response of hope.

Hope is such a fragile thing. Hope is in the Leper because he has no power over his plight. He is doomed to a sorrow not of his own making. He was born of health and then one day we was born again into corruption. We know this. We feel this in our very fiber of being. We have no control and so seek to control all that we may not. Seeking satisfaction in denying our leprosy by bringing others into the foul reek of our sickness. But we have no power to save and since we yearn to be like God we strive for this mastery of others and self not for ill but for what we conceive to be good. But each time our weakness denies our strength and we collapse under the weight of our own good intentions. Hope is fragile because it is so easily lost. Hope can be shattered into a thousand pieces by a mere glance, a single word. It can be buried by the avalanche of responsibilities placed upon us or stolen by the theft of mortality. Hope is not as stable as charity nor as firm as faith but is like a crystal bobble in the hands of an infant. It is something we know not how to preserve. But yet every Leper hopes!

The Leper who has lived long enough in his own demise has mourned the loss of the perception of his own power. He cannot control is ill. He cannot will his skin to health. He has not the beauty to abide his own reflection and is bitter toward the health he perceives in others. But he hopes for an anointing of his flesh by some yet unknown power that will condescend to him, an outcast, and do that which he himself cannot do. He has no cause for hope but yet he hopes. He hears rumors of the possibility of health and he hopes. When Christ heals the Leper we catch a glimpse of our own hope of salvation as his hope, our hope!, becomes a reality. This is the rumor of our own possibility of hope and so we are transfixed by the healed Leper and yearn. This is why the Leper cannot contain himself though the Lord enjoined him to remain silent. That which was impossible was done - hope was realized. The world is not large enough for his response!

Hope is fragrant oil and Christ is the burning flame that gives it its own purpose. The Leper cannot heal himself but he is healed by the unfathomable flame of Divine Love. This is why we can't place our hope in other things or people because they have to power to heal our inner weakness. They cannot reach into our heart and reform it into living flesh. They did not fashion, so too, they cannot refashion. It is the Lord who both makes and remakes, reproves and heals, brings into being and brings into fullness of being. King David cries out: "Put not your trust in princes, but in the Lord." He knew. If our hope lies in the hands of princes it will shatter or be stolen but if our hope is in the Lord it will be elevated and brought to realization. This too is why Christianity and Christians fail people so often. Those who seek see in Christ the hope of healing but that hope, that fragile thing is so easily broken. We destroy the hope of these little ones who come seeking hope in their own way by trying to be their hope instead of being their guide to Him who is our only Hope. We must say, "I too am a Leper in need of an Anointed Anointer." I cannot realize my own hope by my own work. Why then do I think that I may realize the hope of others? The Leper sought out Christ and Christ healed the Leper. Gather, then, the Lepers in their despair and hope and lead them to the Lord who will anoint us all with the oild of gladdness and fulfill our one true hope.