Tag Archives: Sacramental life

The Power of Silence Amidst the Noise of the World – September 12, 2017

Saint John tells us in the Book of Revelation “when the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.” (Rev. 8:1) The silence of heaven rests above the great din of the world. Before the immensity of the Infinite, there are no words, only wonder, adoration, and silence. We have a foretaste of this eternal silence in the Divine Liturgy, which is the liturgy of the Church. Rivers of living water and sanctifying grace flow not only about the heavenly Throne, but also into the sacramental confines of hearts and flesh. Yet, as Cardinal Sarah says in his book The Power of Silence, if we, who are made in the image of God, are to approach him, “the great Silent One,” we must first quiet ourselves and enter into his silence.

But, the world today is raging against the silence of eternity. “Modern society,” Cardinal Sarah tells us, “can no longer do without the dictatorship of noise.” Postmodern man engages with hellish noise in “an ongoing offense and aggression against the divine silence.” Humanity has lost its sense of sin, and no longer tolerates the silence of God. He poignantly describes the current sad state of man: “He gets drunk on all sorts of noises so as to forget who he is. Postmodern man seeks to anesthetize his own atheism.” Even within the Church there is a noisy undercurrent of idolatrous activism. In this wonderfully written book with so many striking passages, the African Cardinal seeks to re-proselytize the increasingly secularized and debased West; the new evangelization rises from south to north.

Why silence? Silence is the chief means that enables a spirit of prayer. “Developing a taste for prayer,” he confides, “is probably the first and foremost battle of our age.” In modern techno-parlance, if our “interior cell phone” is always busy, how can God “call us”? Without silence, there is no prayer; and without prayer, there is no supernatural life in God.

Silence is not necessarily not speaking, but rather, it is an interior condition of the soul. “God is a reality,” he tells us, “that is profoundly interior to man.” God resides within the heart of man. The path to God is a path of interiority. At the Carthusian monastery of La Grande Chartreux in the French Alps, where they observe the vow of silence, interiority is a way of life. But, as wonderful and as holy as an exterior vow of silence is, it is not really an option for most people. Most lay people live amidst of the noise of the world. Cardinal Sarah understands this, and recommends a solution: “each person ought to create and build for himself an interior cloister, a ‘wall and bulwark’, a private desert, so as to meet God there in solitude and silence.” Man must learn to live in an interior silence, ‘an interior cloister,’ which we can bring with us wherever we go.

This silent interiority lends itself to a sacramental vision of the world. The silent and invisible Spirit of God dwells within the physicality of our bodies. We are a temple of God. Cardinal Sarah tells us that God gave us three mysteries to sanctify and grow our interior life with Jesus, namely: the Cross, the Host, and the Virgin. We are to contemplate these continually in silence. They are incarnational and sacramental by nature, where the heavenly is mingled with the mundane, and the divine lies hidden within the ordinary. So it is with our interior cloister, where the divine comes to rest silently in our human nature. In this sacramental vision of reality we participate directly in the mystery of God and impart it to the world.

Our primary focus should always return to the silence of Jesus. The divine silence entered the world as the “all-powerful word leaped from heaven”(Wis. 18:14-16) to be conceived and born of a woman, the Virgin. Mary is nearly silent in scripture, though she echoes over the ages “Do whatever he tells you.” Few words are recorded from the Holy Family, including not one word from St. Joseph, his silence reflecting his saintliness. Divine silence and humility came first as a baby in Bethlehem. Cardinal Sarah reminds us of this first scandal, “God hid himself behind the face of a little infant.” No stage of human life is deemed unworthy of Christ.

Then, for thirty years Jesus lived a hidden and silent life in Nazareth. So much so that his neighbors question at the beginning of his public ministry “where did this man get all this?” His divinity was veiled in everyday life, even though his mission of redemption had already begun from the ordinary woodworking in the carpenter’s shop to the mundane sweeping of its floors. Our interior silence is of upmost importance because it allows us to imitate the Son of God’s thirty years of silence in Nazareth. Jesus recapitulated within his “holy and sanctifying humanity” all the ordinariness of our human natures and vocations. By doing so, “the hidden life at Nazareth allows everyone to enter into fellowship with Jesus by the most ordinary events of daily life.” (CCC 533) Our interior cloister should be animated with the knowledge that, no matter where we are or what we are doing, Christ is there with us in the silence of Nazareth.

In the Cross, Cardinal Sarah reminds us that “the mystery of evil, the mystery of suffering, and the mystery of silence are intimately connected.” This trinity of mysteries is summed up in Jesus’ cry from the Cross quoting Psalm 22, “My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?” Modern man likes to see the silence of God in the face of horrible, tragic events as proof of his non-existence: “if evil and suffering exist, there can be no God.” Yet, as Cardinal Sarah points out, the infinite and absolute love of God does not impose itself on anyone: “his respect and his tact disconcert us. Precisely because he is present everywhere, he hides himself all the more carefully so as not to impose himself.” In creating man and the world, God had to, in effect, “withdrawal into himself so that man can exist.” In allowing for human freedom and freewill, God would necessarily appear silent.

Man’s freedom, and ultimately sin, would leave God disappointed in man, and make God himself vulnerable to suffering, as a Father suffers for his child. The suffering of man leads to the suffering of God. God is with us in our suffering. The mystery of suffering and God’s silence will never be fully understood in this life, but must be viewed from the lens of eternity. God’s time is not like our own where “a thousand years are like one day.” Our brief sufferings on earth disappear forever like drops of water into the immense ocean of eternity. Even now, the person who prays often can “grasp the silent signs of affection that God sends him” as noticeable only by those who are lovers. Jesus has revealed, however, that bearing our crosses and silent sufferings can be redemptive and sanctifying. We can complete what is “lacking in Christ’s afflictions” for the sake of the Church. Our interior cloister should be united with the redemptive sufferings of Christ in his Passion and Crucifixion.

Jesus remains with us now, most silent and most humble and most small in the Eucharist. As the bread and wine become the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, “the miracle of transubstantiation comes about imperceptibly, like all the greatest works of God.” There is no extravagant burst of light and power at each Eucharistic consecration, only silence before the Real Presence of God in the Host and the Mass. Cardinal Sarah laments the lack of silence and adoration today in much of the modern liturgy, declaring bluntly “The liturgy is sick.” He continues: “The liturgy today exhibits a sort of secularization that aims to ban the liturgical sign par excellence: silence.” Rather, reception of Holy Communion should be a moment of intimacy with the Lord, when we “receive the Lord of the Universe in the depths of our hearts!” Our interior cloister should be continually fortified by the words of Jesus: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” (Jn. 6:56)

In every manner in every mode of everyday life, silence is necessary. Silence is necessary because it predisposes us to a life of prayer, a life of interiority and a sacramental vision of reality. Through the seven sacraments, the channels of dispensation of the divine grace of Jesus Christ to the world, we are recapitulated within Christ – a holy priesthood making spiritual sacrifices. We are spiritualized and divinized, made into children of God. Jesus adjures us not to leave the way of the sacramental life, for “apart from me you can do nothing.” Our prayers and sacrifices are “like the fragrance of incense that ascends to God’s Throne.” Each of us can become, as Saint John Paul called, a “contemplative in action.” Our practice in the virtues of silence and prayer are “an apprenticeship in what the citizens of heaven will experience eternally.”

Silence is needed most urgently now, even for those in the Church who would subsume social activism ahead of the worship of God. Cardinal Sarah proposes “a spiritual pedagogy” as illustrated by Mary and Martha in the gospel. Jesus does not rebuke Martha for being busy in the kitchen, but rather for “her inattentive interior attitude” towards Christ, as shown in her complaint about the “silence” of Mary. Mary remained at the feet of Jesus in silent contemplation and adoration. Cardinal Sarah warns, “All activity must be preceded by an intense life of prayer, contemplation, seeking and listening to God’s will.” We should be Mary before becoming Martha. Man can encounter God only in interior silence. The active life must be harmonized with the contemplative life. Silence must precede activity.

Silence is a form of resistance to the noise of the world. There is a danger today of being lost in “unbridled activism,” where our interior attitudes are diverted from Jesus towards social justice and politics. In the field hospital of the Church, the social aspect does have its place, but as Cardinal Sarah says, “the salvation of souls is more important than any other work.” This vital effort entails evangelization, prayer, faith, repentance, mortification and embracing the sacramental life, in short, living a liturgical existence. Before venturing out into the noise of the world, Cardinal Sarah’s The Power of Silence encourages us to remain firmly grounded in our interior cloister, adoring God in silence.

The Extraordinary in the Ordinary – 24 August 2015

The hidden life at Nazareth allows everyone to enter into fellowship with Jesus by the most ordinary events of daily life.” (CCC 533)

Jesus spent the majority of His life in relative obscurity, in family life, growing, learning, working and manual labor. Jesus did not come to Earth and immediately set the world ablaze with His divine power and majesty. On the contrary, Jesus came in obscurity, humility and poverty; being born as a baby, completely dependent and helpless, to a poor family in a small village placed in an animal manger. God came as the least among us. How few recognized the extraordinary baby in the midst of that most ordinary scene? How often do we fail to see God in our ordinary circumstances each day? Following His birth, Jesus then spent His childhood, adolescence and early adulthood in continued obscurity. Or, in other words, the God-man, the divine Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, spent the vast majority of His earthly life in a very ordinary, everyday existence; a seemingly average person. Christ lived as one of us in every way, but sin. As the Catechism teaches, “During the greater part of His life Jesus shared the condition of the vast majority of human beings: a daily life spent without evident greatness, a life of manual labor.” (CCC 531) This is truly an amazing thing to contemplate. Jesus, the divine being, spent most of His life, or approximately thirty years, living a private, ordinary life just like ours. But why? He worked in Joseph’s workshop as a carpenter. He lived an existence in humble obedience to Mary, His mother, and Joseph, His step-father. Little else is said of this time period in the Bible. Of course, when we think of the life of Jesus, we think most often about the last three years of His life, His public life, as recorded in the Gospels. These were the all-important years when Jesus gathered His disciples, preached the kingdom of God and the repentance of sins, worked miracles, healings, instituted the Sacraments, founded His Church, and of course, offered Himself to the Father with His Passion and Crucifixion. There seems to be a huge dichotomy between the ordinariness of His first thirty years and the extraordinariness of His last three years. One can imagine at the beginning of His public ministry the astonishment of His neighbors when they asked, “Where did this man get all this?” (Mk. 6:2) They only recognized the “ordinary” Jesus, and were incredulous at seeing and hearing the divine Jesus.

This begs the question then, why did Jesus live these two almost separate, distinct stages in His life? Why was there seemingly such a difference between the first 90% of His life versus the last 10% of His life?  In part, I think the answer lies in the focus of those stages. Jesus’ mission was to do the will of the Father.  As Jesus said, “For this is the will of My Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.(Jn 6:40) Jesus was born into the world in order to save and bring to Heaven as many human souls as possible. This was clearly accomplished by Jesus in His Passion and Crucifixion. The reason for the Incarnation was the Redemption. (CCC 607) In the midst of Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” (Mt. 26:39) Jesus accomplishes His Father’s will in the redemptive act of His Passion. This was the culmination of His public ministry, the culmination of the Incarnation. Yet, to state the obvious, Jesus was God even before His public ministry. For the first thirty years, in His private, ordinary life, He was God. He was already accomplishing the will of the Father in perfect obedience. As the Catechism states, “From the first moment of His Incarnation the Son embraces the Father’s plan of divine salvation in His redemptive mission: “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to accomplish His work.”” (CCC 606/Jn 4:34) Jesus’ whole life was lived accomplishing the will of the Father. From the first moment of His Incarnation into the womb of Mary, to His birth in Bethlehem, to His childhood and adolescence, to His young adulthood in Nazareth, Jesus accomplished the will of the Father. The two distinct periods of Jesus’ life, the private and the public, were not at odds with each other. They were one continuous redemptive mission along the spectrum of Jesus’ life. The mystery of redemption was at work throughout His life. As the Catechism states, “Christ’s whole life is a mystery of redemption. Redemption to us above all through the blood of His cross, but this mystery is at work throughout Christ’s entire life.” (CCC 517) Thus, Jesus was fulfilling the will of the Father to redeem and save, even in His private life as an ordinary person.

Then, what was the mystery of redemption at work through the thirty or so years of Jesus’ private life? How did this mystery of redemption permeate Jesus’ ordinary existence? Part of Jesus’ mission was to restore mankind to its original dignity and vocation. Jesus could have descended from the clouds of Heaven and begun His life in His public ministry. Yet, that is not what He did. Instead, He followed the same path that we all follow of being born into this world, growing up, and laboring as an adult. Jesus took on all of our circumstances, and lived our daily, ordinary lives. And not only that, He lived in the most humble and extreme of circumstances so as to encompass the breadth and depth of human experiences. He came intentionally to live through all these various stages of life. The Catechism says, “Christ’s whole life is a mystery of recapitulation. All Jesus did, said, and suffered had for its aim restoring fallen man to his original vocation.” (CCC 518) Jesus recapitulated within Himself all of our ordinary human actions, our ordinary human vocations, and in fact, our very ordinary human nature. The Catechism quotes St.Irenaeus in this area, “For this reason Christ experienced all the stages of life, thereby giving communion with God to all men.” (CCC518) Within Jesus, all aspects of human life, from birth until death, were sanctified. All of the material nature of man was subsumed in the vastness of His divinity. The infinite efficaciousness of His divine nature was infused into human nature. As such, human nature was raised up, restored, and divinized in the person of Jesus Christ. When the God-man lived our stages of life and our ordinary actions and vocations, He infused them with His eternal grace. Thus, the Catechism can state, “The obedience of Christ in the daily routine of His hidden life was already inaugurating His work of restoring what the disobedience of Adam had destroyed.” (CCC 532)

Christ was indeed the “perfect man” (CCC 520), the new Adam, who lived a perfect life, but He did not live it for Himself. Rather, Christ lived it for us and for our salvation. Moreover, “All Christ’s riches ‘are for every individual and are everybody’s property.’” (CCC 519) Taking on human nature, all of humanity was recapitulated within the God-man Redeemer (CCC 518) St.Paul uses the perfect phrase to illustrate this idea; that is, in order “to sum up all things in Christ.” (Eph.1:10) This captures it succinctly. Jesus is all that we are and all that we live. The divine man Jesus, lived the ordinary life of each of us, suffering the mundane work and trials of each day, so as to redeem our lives, consecrate them, and divinize them by His own divine life. Jesus cares about us in our poverty. He lived it. He offers eternal meaning to our poor lives. Christ, by living an ordinary life like ours, consecrated our ordinary vocations. The effects of His Spirit are not limited by time or space. We can be united with Jesus in our humanity, in our ordinariness. Our ordinariness should not worry us. We don’t have to do extraordinary things or live extraordinary lives. We can be content in our simplicity. Christ summed up all that we are within Himself. We can live within Him, and He will live within us. In a certain way Christ Himself is united with each man. Christ saves us individually. Being united as one with Jesus – as a part of the Mystical Body of Christ – we continue within ourselves the mysteries of His life, making Him present in the world. (CCC 521) In Nazareth, Jesus lived a quiet, humble and obedient life. He lived in communion with His family. He worked in the carpenter’s workshop. Jesus is our perfect example. We should imitate Him by consecrating to God our family life, our work life, and our everyday activities. We do this through the intentions of our thoughts and prayers. Part of the reason Jesus lived His private life of 30 years was so we could be united to Him in everything we do. Our ordinary lives can have extraordinary meaning. After His Resurrection, Jesus repeatedly shows up to His disciples, sometimes unawares; once walking with them on the road to Emmaus; another time fixing breakfast for them at the Sea of Galilee. What’s to stop Jesus now from being with us as we drive to work? Or, as we sit down for dinner with our family? Or, at anytime in our daily routine? This should be our intention every day: union with Jesus. Whether in family life or at work or in leisure, we should unite ourselves with Him. Then the ordinary will take on the extraordinary. This is our true treasure.

The Common Priesthood of the Faithful – 18 August 2015

Do you know that you are a priest? Many of us Catholics are unaware of our own priesthood. Yet, this office of priesthood was conferred upon us in the Sacrament of Baptism, and later again, reaffirmed in the Sacrament of Confirmation. Of course, most of us are far more familiar with the first aspect of the Baptismal rite. That is, when we are immersed into the baptismal water, or the water is poured over our heads – and we’re blessed three times in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. By this sacred rite, we are made into “a new creation” (Rom.5:17), our sin forgiven, and “grafted into the paschal mystery of Christ.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 6) For as Jesus said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” (Jn 3:5) However, there is a second aspect to the Baptismal rite, in which we are anointed with the holy chrism oil. Then, as the holy unction is applied to our heads, the priest or deacon prays over us, “As Christ was anointed priest, prophet and king, so may you live always as a member of His holy people, sharing everlasting life.” And with that anointing, we become sharers in Christ’s threefold offices of priest, prophet and king. In particular, a share in the eternal priesthood of Christ is stamped upon our souls. This is not a metaphorical or allegorical priesthood, but a true priesthood; Christ’s priestly character is indelibly marked upon our souls. We should absorb this idea to the very core of our being: You are a priest!

The priesthood of the faithful is not an obscure idea. The Magisterium itself spells out the priestly nature of our Christian vocation. The Catechism refers to the “whole community of believers” that “through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation” are “consecrated to be ..a holy priesthood.” (CCC 1546) We, as Catholics, are definitely use to thinking of a strict separation of powers between the ecclesiastical hierarchy and the laity; the former, with priestly powers, and the latter, without. Part of this is from the emphasis, and perhaps over-correction, by the Church and the Council of Trent in response to the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther and the Protestants of the 16th century rebelled, of course, against the Catholic hierarchy and the validity of the Sacraments, among other things. In defense, and rightly so, of Apostolic succession, the Priesthood and the Sacraments, some of these ideas, such as a priestly community of believers, were somewhat forgotten. Now, centuries later, this is part of the spirit of Vatican II in trying to recover these long-faded notions and empowering the laity. Documents such as Lumen Gentium, the “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,” and later, Pope John Paul II’s Christifideles Laici, or “The lay Faithful,” are attempts, partially, at retrieving this common priesthood of the faithful.  Of course, this idea goes back way beyond the Middle Ages too. It goes all the way back to the Apostles and the Bible itself. Even St.Peter, the chief Apostle, passionately implores us as if we could hear him now, “..and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet.2:5) Later, he again tries to impress upon us, and emphatically so, the ontological nature of who we truly are, “But you are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation..’” (1 Pet.2:9) This is unequivocal and direct. It should really shake us to our foundation, and awaken us from any stupor that there’s nothing special in being a Christian. We should remind ourselves often of our dignity through Christ. Clearly, this was not a foreign concept to the Apostles then or to the Magisterium now. It is a consistent dogma understood throughout the history of the Church: all baptized believers are priests of Christ.

But then, what does it mean to be a priest? And how do we, as the laity, exercise this common priesthood today? The Protestants of the 16th century clearly committed a grave error in dismissing the ecclesiastical priesthood. As the saying goes, they threw the baby out with the bath water, or in this case, they gutted the Church to undo some Clericalism. Yet, in a sense, as bad as that is, they helped to restore, perhaps indirectly over time, the charism of the lay faithful. Now, there are two participations – which we Catholics understand to differ, in essence – in the one priesthood of Christ: One being the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood of bishops and priests; and the other, the common priesthood of the faithful. The ministerial priesthood is at service to the common priesthood by building up and leading the Church, and administering the Sacraments. Moreover, the ministerial priest, by virtue of Holy Orders, acts “in persona Christi Capitis.” (CCC1548). That is, Christ Himself – in the priest – is present to His Church. Yet, we the laity, are also priests. We participate in both the one, eternal priesthood of Christ as well as the salvific mission of the Church. But, how to do this? As the New Evangelization is calling us, we have to rediscover, if you will, the way the first apostles and disciples lived this common priesthood. As priests, we are to offer praise and sacrifice to God in intercession for ourselves and for the salvation of others. We are to be charitable. And so, in a very real way, we can offer mediation for the sins and unbelief in ourselves and members of our family, our friends, or really anyone in the world, or in purgatory for that matter. Our lives should be a dynamic interaction of presenting ourselves to God through holiness, prayer and sacrifice. St.Peter’s instruction should be our mantra; to be a “royal priesthood,” by building up ourselves as “spiritual houses,” and offering “spiritual sacrifices.” This is the key to our common priesthood of the faithful.

Bearing in mind the priestly nature of our Christian vocation as well, St.Paul exhorts the Romans, “to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.” (Rom.12:1) We should consecrate our ordinary, daily lives to God. We should offer up all that we do each day as a sacrifice to God on behalf of ourselves and for each other. The Magisterium again points the way. Lumen Gentium and the Catechism exhort the laity, “For all their works, prayers, and apostolic undertakings, family and married life, daily work, relaxation of mind and body, if they are accomplished in the Spirit – indeed even the hardships of life if patiently borne – all these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (LG 34/CCC901) Our priesthood is a priesthood of the ordinary. Our sacrifices are spiritual ones, offered up and borne within the daily routines of our ordinary lives. The beauty of the priesthood of the faithful is that we can carry out our sacrifices in the midst of whatever situation we are living in. Our priesthood does not require an altar or a temple per se, but only the simple moments of our ordinary lives, consecrated within the temples of our bodies and souls. Our family life, our jobs, our commutes, our joys, our stresses, our relaxation, even our simple actions, walking, breathing, all can be consecrated and offered to God. As many as the varied activity of a person’s life – no matter how small or how mundane – so can be offered up as a spiritual sacrifice pleasing to God. We can exercise our priesthood in cooking dinner and cleaning the house. Indeed, we should consecrate to God all of our activities for the whole day – each day – starting first thing in the morning and until we go to sleep. Our priesthood is simple. It’s lived out in the ordinary implements and raw materials that we find in each day in the midst of the world. But, in order for our priestly actions to be efficacious they must be united with the one, true priest, Jesus Christ, and His life and culmination in the sacrifice of the Cross. For as Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches… because without Me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5) We simply must offer the intention of living these – our daily lives, actions, thoughts, deeds – for God.  This is the mission of the laity, in the common priesthood of the faithful, to unite our lives – wherever we may be and whatever we may be doing – with that of Jesus Christ, and by virtue of our priesthood, offer up ourselves as spiritual sacrifices. In this way we can build up the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church, and plead for the salvation of others. For as the Magisterium teaches, “And so, worshipping everywhere by their holy actions, the laity consecrate the world itself to God.” (LG34/CCC901)

Prayer in the events of each day and each moment

“Prayer in the events of each day and each moment is one of the secrets of the kingdom revealed to ‘little children,’ to the servants of Christ, to the poor of the Beatitudes. It is right and good to pray so that the coming of the kingdom of justice and peace may influences the march of history, but it is just as important to bring the help of prayer into humble, everyday situations; all forms of prayer can be the leaven to which the Lord compares the kingdom.” (CCC 2659-2660)