“Snow Day!” These blessed words have electrified the souls of half-sleeping children across the country for generations. If we recall our own time in school, we can probably remember the feeling of anticipation of a day-off as the snow storm neared. Just the thought of going from the stress of homework assignments, tests, gym class, sports practice, and riding the bus to a leisurely day in my pajamas still sends a jolt of excitement through my veins! I wonder if this is what grace is like: the unexpectedness, the giftedness, and the positive emotions. Perhaps a snow day approximates the sheer joy and freedom of resurrected life, a shocking revelation after the weight of the preceding days. We might even compare such a radical shift from tediousness into rest to our salvation which is nothing more than passing over from the drama of this life to the eternal sabbath of the next. However we choose to celebrate a day off from school, or any other welcomed surprise, let’s not forget to offer a prayer of gratitude for the constant goodness that flows from the divine hand into our human experience. May we, indeed, have the wisdom to identify daily snow-day-moments and be reminded of the miraculous nature of life. Ave Crux, Spes Unica!
Closeness is the language spoken by the “one whom our hearts love” (Song 3:1), while feeling is the way that we listen to those welcomed words. How easy it is to get lost in the super-structures of religious categories and theological concepts. Indeed, spending our days in the safe domain of intellectually-deduced definitions and abstractions, our hearts slowly grow weary and we become dissatisfied with the caricature of the divine that our minds have produced. Nevertheless, when the time is right – and we will know when! – we shall make the turn into the one who wants to be close, we shall become willing to take the risk of feeling at the deepest level of our souls. This “inner room” and “secret place” (cf. Mt 6:6), where closeness and feeling meet in a definitive way (Ps 85:10), is our salvation (Ps 27:1). Let us therefore ask for the grace to remember what it is like to feel close and the courage to move toward that fire. Ave Crux, Spes Unica.
The asymmetry of the two hemispheres of the brain provides a helpful analogy for the human person. Left and Right are not rivals competing with one another for control of the body, but distinct dimensions of consciousness that need one another for full participation in reality. Indeed, the perception of the whole through the Right is validated when all of the texture and detail is articulated and grafted on by the Left. At the same time, the Left is stuck in an endless cycle of grasping at and latching onto random stimuli until the Right offers the big picture as the blueprint for sensory engagement. While dualistic thinking and living is the default position of our fallen condition – a constant “versus” mentality – we come away again and again dissatisfied. We are thus called to a life of Left and Right (cf. Gal 3:28), where, through the crucible of reconciliation and the process of integration (cf. Col 1:20), a single Christic experience emerges in us. Let’s therefore learn to be comfortable with our Left brain not knowing what our Right brain is doing (Mt 6:3) in the hopes of developing a beautiful interior partnership that images the trust and love of the one who sits on both right and left at one and the same time (Mk 16:19). Ave Crux, Spes Unica!
There is a little man, or maybe a little woman, who sits on the throne of our minds as we try to make our way through life. Filled with all sorts of messages, this little person, like a broken record, tries to call the shots: you’re too fat, you’re too old, you’re not smart enough, do this, do that, go here, go there, etc. Inevitably and unfortunately, we find ourselves cowering in some corner of our souls, allowing our vital exigence to be extinguished while the little person grows fat at our expense. Nevertheless, Jesus invites us again and again to exit this pattern (Mk 1:17, Mt 9:9), and when we do make the decision to respond to the voice of the one who actually cares for us, instead of the false one who works in fear and shame, we move in a direction that confers life and holds that little person accountable. Indeed, our willingness to take a risk and allow ourselves to be led into uncertainty – as intense and difficult as that may be – forces our inner throne to pledge allegiance to some greater entity. In this way, we shall serve as humble and loving levers for the conversion and salvation of even our enemies (Mt 5:43-48). Ave Crux, Spes Unica.
“And Samuel hacked King Agag to pieces…” (1 Sam 15:33). While this historical episode may sound barbaric, the passage functions in an allegorical way to convey the necessity of bringing spiritual tasks to their rightful ending point (cf. Jn 19:30). How often do we instead let things slide? How often do we hold back? How often do we nurture a false hope that things will just magically change on their own? Indeed, if we are serious about living an authentic spiritual life, we will not be afraid to lay the ax to the root of our inner habits and trust that some new reality will grow forth in our souls. The more we naively play with those invasive interior species, however, the more susceptible we will become to their cunning and deceptive ways. Let’s therefore heed the call to repentance (Mk 1:15) and, in doing so, cultivate weed-free hearts where all obstacles to love are hacked away (Mt 13:24-30). Ave Crux, Spes Unica!
Please, Lord, make me humble. Take me to that low place. Help me to see the way you see and feel the way you feel. Give me the grace to accept the slow process of becoming the person you call me to be. Teach me to be patient with myself on this journey of discovery. Enlarge my heart so that authenticity and truth prevail in all of my relationships and in all aspects of my life. When old messages play in my brain, make me self-aware. When painful memories are triggered, keep me grounded. Fill me with the courage to bury the past and be excited about the possibilities that lie ahead. You are my protector, my redeemer, my mother, my father, my brother, my sister, my friend, my life. I love you and need you in the new year. Ave Crux, Spes Unica.
Let’s spend today contemplating the inner-Bethlehem of the human soul. While there is lots of activity and fanfare constantly going on up there in that nearby religious metropolis, Bethlehem is a quiet and out-of-the-way place. Literally meaning, “house of bread,” this town invites us into and nourishes us with a secret communion that the world does not see and cannot understand. When we do discover how this deep place meets our deep needs, we shall learn to return to it again and again, allowing the intimacy of the-one-who-speaks-directly-with-us to unfold in the recesses of our hearts. Perhaps this is in fact the meaning of the Word-made-flesh, that is, those eternal whispers taking on real contours and texture in our generous and trusting reception, born into history and time through us. May this Christmas season therefore be a graced opportunity to remember that the glorious life, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus began in an anonymous village and that our lives will only thrive when they have first been rooted in our inner-Bethlehem. Ave Crux, Spes Unica!
I was once sitting on a park bench across from a young woman who was patiently waiting for someone. With a nervous smile on her face, her eyes looked off into the distance. She conversed with a friend but her mind was obviously somewhere else. When he finally arrived – it was her beloved – she erupted with joy, jumping up and down, embracing him, showering him with kisses, squeezing his face, totally elated. Isn’t my heart constantly searching for this kind of contact? Doesn’t this encounter sum up the meaning of my own existence? Aren’t my various attachments in life just awkward ways of trying to get this vital need met? Pause. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Indeed, this is the drama that is playing out within our souls this very moment. Let’s therefore quiet down, grow attentive, wait patiently, and be prepared to endure the nervous tension on whatever bench we find ourselves. Then, when the time is right – AND IT WILL HAPPEN – we shall run out to meet our lover and rejoice (cf. Song 3:4, Jn 20:4). Ave Crux, Spes Unica.
Here’s an interesting image to meditate upon during this time of year: pieces of popcorn being slid down a needle and thread in an effort to decorate the Christmas tree. Each kernel locks into place with a kind of precision and certainty that can remind us of how to proceed when holiday drama arises. This person pushes our buttons, this person puts the bait out there, this person with the slight of hand, and this person is just plain belligerent. If we are attentive to our spiritual lives, our inner thread will be a sure path for us to keep aligned and our affairs moving forward with logic and consistency amidst it all. One day at a time, one step at a time, one thing at a time, our focus will prevail and we shall be left with a coherent experience while the world spins around us. One has to think that this is how Jesus operated – those long nights in prayerful solitude paired with a clear mind and an uninterrupted sense of purpose (cf. Lk 6:12, Mt 14:23, Mk 6:46). Let’s therefore spend the coming weeks being faithful to our personal paths to holiness, and in doing so, allow our thoughts, words, intentions, memories and emotions to be strung together in an elegant way worthy of decorating the Tree of Life (Rev 22:2). Ave Crux, Spes Unica.
Did you ever think about the fact that Jesus was neither a Sadducee, nor a Pharisee, nor a scribe? He had been anointed by the very Spirit (Lk 3:22) – seemingly in private (v.21) – and lived out the deep feeling of being called by name by the living God without the trappings of institutional life (Lk 4:18). Are we comfortable with our identity at this level? Do we hold onto the illusion of power because we are insecure? Do titles and rankings and outfits facilitate or obstruct our purpose in the world? The next time we go to pronounce a judgment or pontificate, let’s pause, and, like Jesus, listen for that same Spirit. We shall be led on paths we do not understand (Is 55:8-9), and perhaps mocked for not having official credentials (Jn 1:46), but we shall nevertheless live authentically and invite those who are lost in the world of religious symbolism to encounter the reality which they so ardently seek. Ave Crux, Spes Unica.
The word “abomination” is a serious biblical term that sometimes gets thrown around carelessly in public religious discourse. It might be best translated as “horrifying” or “disgusting” and is most often aimed at same-sex-attracted people (cf. Lev 18:22). Nevertheless, a more rigorous exploration of the scriptural text reveals that there were lots of abominations in the ancient Jewish mind: eating shellfish (Lev 11:12), shaving (Lev 19:27), and getting a tattoo (Lev 19:28) to name a few. In one way or another, each of these activities jeopardized the growth of the fledgling covenant community whose sole purpose was to establish a nation that could survive in adverse geopolitical conditions. As the story of salvation has unfolded, however, the dignity of each person (Gen 1:26), beyond national identity or ethnic purity, has emerged as the focal point of authentic human living. It has thus become increasingly clear that the real abomination is a heart that is “fat and gross” (Ps 119:70), when we choose pietism over communion with our sisters and brothers (Lk 10:31-32), or any other behavior that keeps us from our deepest identity as children of the living God (1 Jn 4:19). Let’s, therefore, have the courage to relinquish the moralism that has us obsessing about “specks” when there is a “beam” obstructing our own vision of things (Mt 7:3). Ave Crux, Spes Unica.
Repression is such a pitfall! This desire scares me so I’ll push it back down. This memory haunts me so I’ll just avoid it. This emotion is painful so I’ll pretend it’s not there. How long can this go on? How much energy will we spend fighting against ourselves? How does one live like that?! The juxtaposition of the lost son with his repressed brother (Lk 15:11-32) says it all: yes, living by the spirit may cause us to go astray for a period of time, but the alternative is a self-imposed prison that keeps us stuck for life. Our willingness to feel our feelings and be vulnerable to the spirit – as messy as that may seem – is sufficient. The living God will rejoice in our openness and draw us down paths that will align us and allow us to be integrated. The next time, therefore, we are tempted to prove our “holiness” by tamping down our longing for life, let’s remember that Jesus specifically identifies prostitutes – not the self-controlled religious leaders – as the ones entering the kingdom (Mt 21:31). Ave Crux, Spes Unica.
Do you stand outside the fire? It is an obvious place to be, especially if we have been through the painful experience of getting burned in the past, but it is not a long-term vision for human living. I think of the angel with the fiery sword placed at the entrance to Eden (Gen 3:24), a purifying force that we must have the courage to eventually pass through as we, lost to sin, make the journey back to our inner gardens. I think of Moses, a man who was scarred by the red-hot identity issues of his day, but who nevertheless returned to his raging homeland after the flaming bush taught him how to “burn without being consumed” (Ex 3:2). I think of Christ crucified, his life “consummated” at the moment of death (Jn 19:30), sending down literal bursts of fire from beyond to remind us of our spiritual destinies (Act 2:3). Let’s therefore not be contented with a lukewarm life on the outside (Mk 14:54), but instead have enough faith to enter into the “fiery furnace” of our present circumstances (Dan 3:19-30). Having been transformed by this trial, we, alongside Jesus, shall “set the world on fire” (Lk 12:49) with a blazing love that “cannot be quenched” (Song 8:7). Ave Crux, Spes Unica.
We think our first kiss will be awkward and stress out about how to pucker our lips, what to do with hands, or whether to close our eyes, but in the moment we discover that we are built for such an encounter all the way down to the subatomic level of our being. Indeed, everything that is was kissed into existence by the mouth of our loving God who spoke and brought forth all of life (Gen 1:1-31) in a big-bang kind of kiss. We human beings have the special honor of coming into consciousness with those divine lips still fresh on our faces, as we received the breath of life (Gen 2:7) from the one who constantly makes all things new (Rev 21:5). It should thus be no surprise that one of the most commented on verses of the Bible is “let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth” (Song 1:2), and it is fitting that Jesus was betrayed with a kiss from a person who was spiritually confused. The next time we find ourselves in a kissing situation, let’s rejoice in our shared capacity for connection. May every word that escapes my mouth be a kiss that anoints others with the good news, and may every movement of my heart be an act of worship of the one who kissed me first (1 Jn 4:19). Ave Crux, Spes Unica.
Imagine, if you will, Jesus waking up in the middle of the night, in a cold sweat, because he had just had a nightmare. Imagine Jesus, shovel in hand, walking out to a nearby field, digging a hole, squatting and going to the bathroom. Imagine Jesus getting a whiff of the perfume of a local beauty as they pass one another in the center of town. Imagine Jesus alone, hurt and confused because he overheard a friend talking badly about him. Imagine Jesus too tired to finish a journey and needing to make it a two-day trip. Imagine Jesus getting second place as he raced other boys when he was a kid. Imagine Jesus not hungry for what his mom cooked for dinner. Imagine Jesus having a hard time falling asleep at night. Imagine Jesus talking to his dad about sexual reproduction. Imagine Jesus home from work fighting off a cold. Imagine Jesus limping around the kitchen after accidentally jamming his toe into the table. Imagine Jesus craving something sweet after dinner. Imagine Jesus trying to stay composed as he fields complaints from a customer about some piece of furniture he had hand-crafted. The more comfortable we are imagining Jesus in these scenarios, the more we will be able to accept that we too are children of the living God who brought us into existence and loves us just the way we are. Ave Crux, Spes Unica.
We human beings are “need machines.” While there is some truth to the hierarchy of needs – starting with food and shelter moving all the way up to self-actualization and purpose – our existential need is so much more profound. Indeed, we need to be conceived in the mind of our maker, we need to be brought into history and time, we need to be born, we need to be situated in a culture, we need to be sustained, and we constantly need that next breath. The image of the crucified Christ is an icon of authentic human need. Vulnerable yet trusting, he exclaimed, “I thirst” (Jn 19:28), as if to say that when everything else is taken away, it is “need” that remains. If we are not in touch with this core and vital exigence in ourselves, perhaps it is time to do some soul-searching: Are we sitting on a cushion of false-security? Has an accumulation of money prevented us from needing the living God? Have we grown complacent after reaching our so-called goals in life? Are we under the delusion that we have power and control? Whatever the case may be, taking a risk on need will ground us, humanize us and help us to become ourselves, and any anxiety we have about our hierarchy of needs will give way to the sheer excitement of resurrected life. Ave Crux, Spes Unica.
I used to work with a guy who had a sign on the wall of his office that said, “Be Human.” What was interesting to me is that the sign was posted in the spot where there had been a crucifix. I initially wondered if it was some kind of political or ideological statement, but the more I pondered the sign, the more I came to understand how profound it really was: Jesus, vulnerable, literally nude upon the cross, misunderstood and beaten up, yet perfectly at peace and trusting that all things do in fact work together unto good (Rom 8:28), is what my life looks like at its best. It is therefore no coincidence that Jesus was crucified on the day before the Sabbath, the sixth day of the week, as if to symbolize the re-creation of human beings who were created on the sixth day (Gen 1:26-31). At the moment of his death, Jesus exclaimed, “It is finished” (Jn 19:26), as if to signify that our human nature is not a finished product until it has been marked by the bold risk of surrender that is death. The next time we are tempted to blurt out the phrase, “I’m only human,” after we stumble in life, let’s pause, look within, and remember that, by our humanity, we have been “crowned with glory and honor” (Ps 8:5) and that it actually takes a lifetime to “Be Human.” Ave Crux, Spes Unica.
Is Attention Deficit Disorder really a fair way to label a person? While many children are scolded for not paying enough attention in school or medicated so that they can be like the others, we seldom consider why their focus is withheld in the first place. Could it be because the lessons are boring? Or because the personalities are not engaging? Or because the conversations are not interesting? Or because the conclusions lack depth? Indeed, if we allowed these prophets to speak – instead of scapegoating them in order to maintain the status quo – we would stand to learn much about the beauty and complexity of life beyond our comfortable societal parameters. Perhaps Jesus, who set out on a meandering journey from his hometown to Jerusalem – absorbed in a combination of preaching, teaching and healing all along the way – would be the poster-child for ADD today. Nevertheless, it is precisely his unwillingness to adhere to a legalistic system that privileged conformity to the law above all else that enabled him to reveal the mystery of it all. Let’s therefore demand meaning and wonder in our human experience. Let’s allow our senses to be filled with people, places and things that capture the imagination and remind us of life’s essential goodness. Let’s make poetry, play and dance our way into eternity. Ave Crux, Spes Unica!
Consolations can be a stumbling block in the spiritual life: things just keep working out my way, look how blessed I am, the fortunes are raining down, this special rosary of mine, these sweet feelings, but when the winds of life change – and they will – what is underneath? Indeed, while the living God has a thousand little ways of getting us excited about our human journeys and nudging us toward the infinite, there is no substitute for that glorious risk and act of faith that actually gets us to step out into the unknown (Mt 14:22-33). Our heavenly mother is constantly engineering opportunities for us to take flight. Initially, we may feel comfortable in the consolation nest and indifferent to any other version of life. Nevertheless, we will get to the point where either interior dissatisfaction or external circumstances will demand a decision of us, and when the time is right – oh how patient she is! – we will spread our wings and we will fly (Is 40:31). She will thus become the wind beneath our wings and, as such, the one true consolation that lasts. Ave Crux, Spes Unica.
What’s the relationship between your “I” and “me”? When our souls are confused, we end up in that classic inward-caving-of-the-self situation where our desires are constantly directed back toward the psychological projector screen. This life of shadows amounts to desperately grasping after things that we think we need paired with the inevitable anguish when those things fail to satisfy. This closed-off system is a recipe for a suffocating human experience. The Christian life is an invitation to put the “I” and the “me” back in right relationship. Indeed, when we die to self, the system is broken open and that fear-based clinging is transformed into a partnership where the “I” thinks critically, understands and knows, while the “me” feels deeply, longs for and receives. Starting tonight, do this: Instead of vegging out in front of the television for an hour, which simply supports the status quo, go to a quiet place (Mt 6:6) and let the “I” and “me” mess begin the untangling process. Beyond the intensity of the interior jungle, we will discover a mind that is starving for reality and a heart that thirsts for the truth (cf. Mt 25:35). These two sides of the same coin (cf. Lk 10:35) are together the essence of our spiritual health which will allow us to say things like “I love you” and “Please help me” in a way that reveals the glory of our shared humanity. Ave Crux, Spes Unica.
Have you drunk the Kool-Aid? This provocative question is of course a reference to a tragic event that resulted in a significant loss of life, but it is nevertheless an invitation for each of us to be honest about what motivates us in our depths. While we may consider ourselves to be squeaky-clean independent thinkers who would never adopt someone else’s agenda, we should consider the subtle way that indoctrination actually happens. Indeed, just as Jesus indicated in his public teachings (Mt 13:24-30), the Kool-Aid more typically comes to us and if we are not intentional about guarding the door of our minds and hearts, we will unknowingly consume it: all of a sudden we are wearing fancy clothing, paying attention to the latest trends, getting obsessive about our weight, worrying about our financial standing, and desperately trying to keep up appearances. Perhaps we do not practice vigilance (Mt 26:40) because we are afraid of intimacy, unwilling to experience life without interference from the outside. Whatever the case may be, when we become aware of our hidden cravings and learn how to be nourished from the inside (Rev 3:20), we shall deal eucharistically with the Kool-Aid (Mt 26:26), inviting would-be enemies and manipulators into the spiritual communion that they are actually seeking. Ave Crux, Spes Unica.
Happy feast of Our Lady of Sorrows! Ave Crux Spes Unica!
When we were growing up, my brother and I were outstanding backyard football players. We could throw the deep ball, kick field goals, run through any defense, return punts, block linemen, and tackle anybody who came our way. Yet, when we entered high school and tried to play football with twenty pounds of equipment on our one hundred pound bodies, we lost both our agility and our passion for the game. I wonder if this is an analogy for our spiritual lives, that is, when we are young and carefree our relationship with God is so natural, but as we grow older and get weighed down by religious, intellectual and emotional baggage, we find it increasingly difficult to operate as spiritual people. Perhaps we have forgotten what it is like to live by the Spirit and have settled for lukewarmness, or maybe we’re just stuck with no end in sight. Whatever the case may be, we will always have the choice, like Jesus, to put out our hands and be led to new places (Jn 21:18), and it is this willingness to walk in the direction of the living God, into open spaces (Ps 119:45) and new horizons, that allows our burdens to be scraped away and our hearts realigned to the truth of things. My brother and I eventually found the soccer and rugby pitches – what new fields are awaiting you (Mt 13:44)? Ave Crux, Spes Unica.
A famous playwright once observed that “all the world’s a stage” and we are “merely players.” If you have ever worked for a corporation, taught in a school, held public office, or been a member of a family, you understand exactly what he meant, namely, that unwritten rules cause much of our lives to feel like a show. Such assumptions include: profit is the most important thing, kids just naturally misbehave, image is everything, we’re better than other families, etc. While our first instinct when we become aware of the fakeness of it all might be cynicism (Ecc 1:1), we should be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Indeed, the complex web that constitutes society and culture is a necessary apparatus for the Kingdom of God to be realized and for us to enter into our full human potential. To live in a state of renunciation and isolation serves no one! The key is to practice humility, to go low and to live as authentic persons in the midst of the drama, actors whose script is the one written on the human heart from the beginning of time (Rom 2:15). May these various venues, therefore, become liturgical spaces where we are constantly re-presenting the Christic pattern until all people are gathered onto that one true stage which no longer imitates but confers life (Rev 19:1-10). Ave Crux, Spes Unica!
Chew on this cud: A cow only eats grass yet becomes a nourishing and protein-packed feast for others. This is a great analogy for the spiritual life. Indeed, while it can be easy to develop a sensationalized spirituality that is constantly on the lookout for fireworks and ticker-tape parades, it is the simplicity of prayer, quiet time spent with the Father, and attentiveness to our most inward longings that actually makes our lives fruitful and capable of sustaining others on their own journeys of faith. This is definitely the story of Jesus, the “slain lamb” (Rev 5:6), whose hidden life in Nazareth eventually gave way to Jerusalem where eucharisitc nourishment flowed from his side and has been feeding people across cultures and time periods ever since. Why not, therefore, experiment for a year? One hour every night, or first thing in the morning. Uninterrupted time with our heavenly Father, renewing our inward spirit, being fed with grace on the inside so that our personalities, our thoughts, our intentions, our work, our words, and our very lives might become prime rib for starving souls on the outside. Ave Crux, Spes Unica.
BONUS POEM, AN ORIGINAL COMPOSITION
Intentionality replaces sentimentality in a mature adult faith. When we are young, our religious imaginations tend to be caught up in the heroic stories of saints, our hearts in the fervor of devotion, our minds in the beauty of ecclesiastical logic, and our senses in the rich symbolism of the liturgy. As time goes on, however, our souls grow wary of being caught up in anything at all and long instead to stand on something that lasts. To be intentional is a decision, a firm act of the will that draws us out of our comfort zones into the deep (Lk 5:4) where the one whom our hearts love (Song 3:3) actually dwells. Perhaps this is the essence of Jesus’ entire ministry, that is, taking a risk on his heavenly Father as he encountered the poor and proclaimed the truth over the predictable rubrics and emotional highs of temple worship (Mt 12:6-7). Perhaps we ourselves need to be honest about our affinity for all the fanfare, outward appearances and spiritual consolations. Whatever the case may be, wallowing in sweet religious feelings is not enough. We must cultivate a deep intentionality which at some point will allow us to get up from the tax table (Mt 9:9), extend our hands in trust (Jn 21:18), and follow wherever he leads us (Jn 8:12). Ave Crux, Spes Unica.
“We Shall Overcome” is a famous song that just seems to touch the hearts of all people no matter the culture. It has been used in many political contexts, but always in a way that links the heaviness of the world’s demands with the hopefulness implicit in human nature. The song offers a constructive way to deal with the natural tension of living as individuals in society, and thus invites us to celebrate the paradox of a weight that is powerless to crush us when we confront it with our vulnerability. The image of Jesus before Pilate comes to mind: the full force of the Roman Empire juxtaposed with a single man, bound and beaten, who does not say a word (Mt 27:14). One can almost hear “We Shall Overcome” playing in the background, as Pilate, standing in amazement (Mt 27:14), dumbfoundedly asks himself, “What is truth?” (Jn 18:38). The next time, therefore, a colleague takes aim at us, a family member slights us, someone cuts us off in traffic, or we simply feel the pressure mounting with each peek at our phone screen, we can choose to be like Jesus by standing tall and holding the line. With our faces set like flint against stone (Is 50:7), we will in fact be in the constant mode of overcoming any obstacle that prevents us from realizing our deep dignity as children of the living God. Ave Crux, Spes Unica.
It is not entirely clear why subatomic particles behave the way they do, but they tend to gravitate toward one another, share space together, and interact in unexpected but profound ways. This so-called “entanglement,” however, collapses when one tries to measure it, perhaps a defense mechanism which helps to preserve the intimacy and dignity of the particular particle relationship. It seems to me that this is the meaning of the resurrected Christ: Jesus is capable of being entangled with all sorts of different people – breakfast on the beach (Jn 21:1-13), breaking bread with two strangers (Lk 24:13-35), passing through a locked door (Jn 20:19-29), a great commision from the mountain top (Mt 28:16-20) – but he escapes containment. In fact, he literally tells Mary Magdalene, “Do not hold on to me!” (Jn 20:17), as if to say that true communion with our heavenly Father and all of creation falls apart the moment it gets captured and becomes a spectacle. Let’s therefore follow Jesus into a world of cosmic entanglement by dying to the fear-based clinginess that keeps our spiritual lives pinned to old and unenlightened laws of physics. Indeed, we shall one day be caught up in the clouds with him (1 Thes 4:17) in a relationship that needs no validation other than the immeasurable dignity we possess together as children of the living God. Ave Crux, Spes Unica!
Has anyone ever accused you of having a Messiah complex? It might have been intended as a criticism – unnecessary interventions, over-involvement in other people’s affairs, or doing for somebody what they could do for themselves – but the real damning statement would be to say that you lack a Messiah-complex. Indeed, the drama and anguish of a life that cares about other people, however imperfectly, is infinitely better than a lukewarm heart, for the only thing to come out of indifference is death to the human soul. We must therefore learn to be like Jesus, who found appropriate ways to befriend his adversaries (Jn 3:1-21), uplift the oppressed (e.g. Lk 17:11-19), speak truth to the powerful (Jn 18:28-40), and even offer consolation to his persecutors (Lk 23:24). If we join Jesus on that slow and intentional journey to Jerusalem, filled with many prayerful nights of trying to sort things out on the mountaintop, the barnacles will be scraped from our personalities and our otherwise disordered need to interfere, fix and control will give way to some new and life-giving way of being. We will thus become co-redeemers with Christ (Col 1:24), forming together a single Messiah capable of bringing healing to a broken world and renewing the face of the earth. Ave Crux, Spes Unica!
“Little things with great love.” This was the spiritual mantra of the Little Flower, adopted by a certain mother of the poorest of the poor, which makes the bold claim that the all is contained in each individual thing. How easy it is to constantly stay at the level of the big picture, mentally moving around concepts about strategic planning, obsessing about how to successfully rebrand our organization, crunching numbers and data to improve our financial footing, all the while forgetting the texture and concreteness of life at an ants-eye level. To do little things with great love is, in some ways, a humble admission that our limited minds could never really figure things out, but that we can get glimpses of the meaning of it all by living creaturely, with our boots on the ground, embracing the simple daily realities offered to us within our modest slice of the big picture. Let’s therefore take a lesson from the disciples who, having sequestered themselves in the literal “upper room,” surrendered their need for perfect understanding and allowed their feet to touch the earth (Acts 2:41-42). In this way, we shall become sacramental, like the Little Flower, spending our days doing little things with great love exactly where we stand, celebrating the beauty and goodness of life in the details. Ave Crux, Spes Unica.
Have you ever seen the image of Jesus in an icon? He is definitely staring at you, but he also has these inner eyes that are looking somewhere deep. The result is the feeling of being drawn in, invited into something going on inside of him. Jesus’ interior life has something to do with the one whom his heart loves (Song 3:3): a gazing upon his beloved, a constant act of trust, a deep and abiding feeling of peace. Even though the old warning to maintain “custody of the eyes” seems like old-fashioned advice in our modern times, there really is something to being disciplined about where we look. Indeed, if we, through our eyes, are giving ourselves away to the various alluring objects in our surroundings or on our phone screens, we forfeit the inner intimacy that we are actually desperate to find. Let’s therefore have the humility to use our eyelids as natural shields that guard our souls. Let’s get into the habit of sitting quietly in a chair in the morning or evening, with our eyes closed, looking inward, remembering what it is like to be with the beloved. Let’s, like Jesus, become people who learn to love others by simply looking at them (Mk 10:21). Ave Crux, Spes Unica.
“The Power of Now” is the title of a trendy book on spirituality that has captured the imagination of a popular audience. It speaks to the average modern person who lives a screen-to-face kind of life and who is thus bombarded with psychological stimuli almost every moment of the day. In this highly addictive situation, all time collapses as one is left with a bowl of images, ideas and emotions that just get pushed around ceaselessly in the mind. What if, however, we shifted the focus from mind to heart? What if we directed our attention to some deep place in the soul? What if we found a still point around which the rest of our lives could be structured? This is the power of “now,” and it is above all else an act of trust in the invisible one who simply is (Ex 3:14, Jn 8:58) and who invites us to be with him (Jn 15:4). Therefore, the next time we catch ourselves obsessing about the future or living in the past, let’s return to the “now.” All it takes is a deep breath, an act of intentionality, or looking down at our feet to recall where we are. In this way, we shall realize that the hour is constantly upon us (Jn 12:22) and discover that a life rooted in the present moment has time for absolutely everything (Ecc 3:1-8). Ave Crux, Spes Unica.
“Holding life with an open hand” is the most memorable line that I have ever heard in a homily. It awakened something deep in me, the desire to trust, to be vulnerable and to choose a posture of receptivity despite being in a world that is full of dangers. How easy it is indeed to say no, to shut down, to withdraw, to hide, to jockey for position, to manipulate outcomes, in a word, to try to be in control. That’s all fear-based stuff, a clenched fist that becomes sore and does not lead to life. We can, however, practice living with an open hand by literally extending one of our hands outward…gradually releasing it to an open position…then breathing….again….and again….and again….gazing upon the mystery….of a power….that is made perfect….in weakness (cf. 2 Cor 12:9). What if we learned how to navigate the contours of family life, the workplace, political and religious spheres like that? We would probably feel peace in our guts and start believing that existence really is coherent and that ours is simply to cooperate. Let’s therefore go back to the garden and, with our praying Lord (Mt 26:39), overcome that grabbing instinct (Gen 3:6), by making the firm decision for hands and hearts and feet and ears and minds and bodies and souls that are constantly open to the gift of life. Ave Crux, Spes Unica.
Self-image can be very confusing terrain to navigate. Lodged deeply in our psyches is that principal idea of who we think we are, but who knows how such an image gets planted there in the first place and to what degree it is even truthful. Thus we all experience the need to escape into one addiction or another to cope with the impossible standard of the idol that has been constructed in our minds. What if instead of being slaves to this vicious cycle, however, we became serious about our life of prayer, a place where we might get some breathing room and perspective? What if we worked with another person or a group of people in counseling, recovery or spiritual direction to assess the validity of our self-image? What if we took risks and made daily decisions that challenged the mental concept of ourselves? We, who are “made in the image of God” (Gen 1:28), would begin to again taste the freedom of living as children of God (cf. Rom 8:21), gradually remembering that there is one and only one authentic self-image, Jesus (Col 1:15), who desires to expose all of the posers and take his rightful place on our psychic throne. With order restored to our souls, we shall simply spend our days in that eternal pattern of walking happily and dancing joyfully with the Lord (cf. Gen 3:8, 2 Sam 6:14). Ave Crux, Spes Unica.
“Just imagine that everyone in the audience is naked” is the advice given to many first-time public speakers. This may sound odd initially, but there is a real spiritual logic here: the unknown arouses fear in us; fear is a primal emotion; and it is impossible to see clearly or speak effectively when we are ruled by emotions. The nakedness advice is thus an invitation to demand transparency in our lives, not because we want to know everybody’s secrets and business, but because we want to know where we stand with them as a starting point for a real connection and durable relationship. While there are certainly rightful occasions when we, as fragile creatures who are in-process, ought to obscure or hide our deepest self, we are nevertheless relationship-animals and must not be satisfied with a life that falls short of the radical availability and openness modeled by the crucified Christ. Let us therefore get into the daily practice of allowing ourselves to be stripped by the circumstances of our lives (cf. Mt 27:28), of learning to long for the living God from our most vulnerable place (cf. Song 3:1), of presenting our true selves to the Lord (cf. Lk 2:22), and of being known perfectly in return (Ps 139:1). In this way, we shall become constant prophets whose lives proclaim the truth no matter how intimidating the audience may seem (cf. Jn 18:33-40). Ave Crux, Spes Unica.
BONUS RECORDING (a poem by Rumi)
In the Zen Buddhist tradition, a person goes on a very focused interior journey, sitting for hours at a time, asking deep existential questions, and striving for authentic self-understanding. While it would be easy to dismiss such a religious practice, from a Christian point of view, as too intellectual or too self-centered, these spiritual seekers just might teach us something about what it means to be a follower of Jesus. How many of us are really concerned about the meaning of life? How many of us are willing to look within ourselves? How many of us actually wrestle with the fact of suffering in the world around us? Perhaps, indeed, we just go through the liturgical and ecclesiastical motions without ever being honest about the way we feel underneath it all. Siddhartha lived hundreds of years before Jesus and did not claim to have any special revelations. How human he was, though, in his unwillingness to accept both pleasure and renunciation as a way of life. Instead, he listened attentively in long periods of meditation and responded to the call to a life of integrity. He thus became enlightened precisely by pairing the profound inner awareness of reality with compassion for and love of others (cf. Mk 12:28-31). If only we had this kind of desire for kenosis (cf. Phil 2:7), we too might be bearers of light (cf. Jn 8:12). Ave Crux, Spes Uncia.
There once was a man who experienced a reawakening of his religious faith. He quit his job and traveled thousands of miles to seek spiritual counsel from a famous rabbi. When he arrived at the rabbi’s apartment, he knocked on the door, and the rabbi answered, asking him, “Who are you?” The man replied, “I am a spiritual seeker who has come to learn about God.” He then looked inside the apartment and noticed how few things this famous rabbi had: a desk, a chair, a bed, a dresser. So the man said, “Where’s all of your stuff?” The rabbi looked at the man’s suitcase and retorted, “Where’s all of your stuff?” The man said, “I’m just passing through.” The rabbi replied, “So am I.” As disciples of Jesus, we have received a very direct vision of the meaning of life, so direct, in fact, that most of our minds cannot bear it. Indeed, instead of living soberly in the transitoriness of this life, as we await the trial of death, we find all sorts of ways to bury our anxieties about existence so that they can hardly be felt. Let us therefore take the words of our Lord to heart, “Do not worry about tomorrow” (Mt 6:34), and in doing so, learn how to relinquish our stuff and partner with the living God, which is nothing less than a rehearsal for eternal life. Ave Crux, Spes Unica.
The word schizophrenia literally means “a broken mind.” It is classified as a lifelong mental illness that a person must simply learn to endure: the delusions of grandeur, the emotional distance, the feeling of being out-of-touch with reality, the lack of personal relationships, the anxiety about daily living, and the trouble communicating effectively. Yet, if you ever did meet such a person, beyond the pity, you would probably feel, somewhere deep, that this was an honest human being, that this person’s brokenness was the actual nature of things, and that the only thing wrong with this person was her or his inability to hide their suffering. Indeed, while most of us find socially acceptable ways to medicate our pain and addictions to keep ourselves together, the schizophrenic person is a living reminder that life, underneath it all, is truly perilous and that we have a desperate need for both the love of God and neighbor to remain intact (Mk 12:28-31). Let us, therefore, look to Jesus who was himself crushed and broken (Is 53:5), but who nevertheless lived with utter integrity, especially crucified, nestled safely between the arms of his loving Father and carried along by the wings of the Spirit (Ex 19:4). May we have the courage, with our schizophrenic sisters and brothers, to dig deep and learn to walk this same narrow path that leads to life (Mt 7:14, Gal 2:20). Ave Crux, Spes Unica.
Francis of Assisi appears in gardens and front lawns around the world. Holding a dove in one hand and a bird bath in the other, he is a symbol of good will who enjoys a unique universal appeal. Indeed, people from all sorts of cultural and religious, or non-religious, traditions are attracted to his loving version of humanity. Yet, do we see that beneath the gentle and sentimental exterior, there is the spiritual man, painfully aware of his capacity to sin and unapologetically dependent upon the living God. Francis kept vigil, slept on the ground, fasted, prayed with Scripture, preached, reached out in service to the poor, and respected the authority of the Church. His ability to connect with people and capture the imagination was thus not just some kind of natural charisma, but a firm decision, a constant commitment, to make Christ the center of his life (so much so that he bore the very wounds of Christ in his hands and feet!). You and I would be agents of reconciliation and ambassadors of peace if we too allowed Christ, especially crucified, to be the point of reference for each and every one of our relationships (cf. Eph 2:13-22). We would attract others like Francis if we too imaged the invisible God (Col 1:15) with bold risk-taking and unhesitating generosity. May we become like Christ precisely by becoming like his Francis. Ave Crux, Spes Unica.
I have a friend who, when she’s having a rough day, says, “I need to get down from the ladder!” All of us probably know this ladder well – it is that interior capacity to stand above everyone else – in all of our ego-glory – or to go low and live a grounded life. There is no in-between. From the time we are children, indeed, the world sweeps us up to the top of the ladder (cf. Mt 4:8), and insists that it is the natural place to be. The paparazzi blind us with their flashbulbs and the roaring crowds deafen us. We begin to think that this is what life actually is! Nevertheless, a still, small voice continues to whisper to us in what’s left of our hearts (1 Kings 19:12), and we, as my friend indicates, have a decision to make: Will we take that first step of descent? Yes, there is both spiritual paralysis and complacency to deal with, but a single decision in that moment will in fact become the seed that will bring forth a lifetime of authentic human living. Let us, therefore, look to Jesus whose last act on earth was to go down from the ladder of the Cross into the very dirt of the earth (Jn 19:38-42), and let us, here and now, commit to only ever ascending the ladder to invite our sisters and brothers into that same low place (cf. Jn 1:51). Ave Crux, Spes Unica.
Wall of Love, you allow me to be happy, joyous and free! You are that blessed and good darkness that constantly upholds my inner light (cf. Gen 1:3-5). You are that thick and fruitful brush that guards the way to my inner room (cf. Gen 2:9, Mt 6:6). You are that awful trial – the call to sacrifice my only child – that separates out all that is not the risk of faith (Gen 22:9-19). You are that monument of trust which rises up from the waters and allows safe passage from worldliness into open spaces and new life (cf. Ex 15:19, Ps 119:45). You are the stone tablets which discipline my heart and guide me ever into experiences of grace and truth (cf. Ex 20:20-21, Jn 1:14). You are the bricks around my holy city, as you engineer space in me for a “land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex 3:8). You allow my beloved to “peer through the lattices” and see me as I am (Song 2:9). You are the wings, the shelter, the fortress, the pinions, the buckler, the shield and the refuge (Ps 91) that provide a private place for me to be with “the one whom my heart loves” (Song 3:3). Wall of Love, you are the Cross, my only hope, and through you I shall find life. Ave Crux, Spes Unica.
Have you ever been overwhelmed by the waves of life? Calm to choppy to nerve-wracking to terrifying to absolutely unbearable, we get swept up by the waters in an instant! Nevertheless, as our human lives unfold, we come to see that we do in fact have choices. Maybe we begin with the macho mindset that instead of being a victim of the big wave we will take it head on. We, of course, get crushed and must go back to the drawing board. Perhaps we then think that we can avoid the waves altogether by diving underneath them and coming out unscathed on the other side, but we realize that the massive energy under a wave will beat us up and pull us dangerously deep underwater. What if, instead of attacking or escaping, we tried to befriend these giant walls of water? What if we learned to dance on their edges and move with them? What if by riding them we could harness their power and do something beautiful with it? May we who beg God, “Save me, for the waters have come up to my neck, and the flood sweeps over me” (Ps 69:1-2), have courage to “put out into the deep” (Lk 5:4) and discover, within those very waves, “streams of living water” (Jn 7:38) that save. Ave Crux, Spes Unica!
Fertile soil makes for a fruitful soul. When we invest time in prayer, talk with spiritual companions, find creative ways to worship God, and pay attention to that still small voice within, something beautiful happens to our inner earth. Indeed, our soil becomes capable of nourishing life, and when we least expect it, we blossom forth from the inside out (cf. Mk 4:26-27). The fruits we bear allow us to feed others eucharistically, while our roots testify to our deep trust in the living God and the way God chooses to sustain us from within. In this way, we discover that our vocation truly is nothing more than the Greatest Commandment (Mk 12:28-31), where we, with Jesus, spend ourselves cultivating the relationships of this life and the next. Let’s therefore get excited about our spiritual fertility. Let’s make a plan to clear away the brambles, do some weeding, and listen attentively to the needs of our soil. Let’s look forward to that moment when the miracle does in fact happen. Ave Crux, Spes Unica!