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Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Too many thoughts have been dancing through (and colliding within) my mind, and at this point its fair to say the pinball machine is ready to break down.

My friends, mercy. Mercy, mercy, mercy! Divine mercy, real mercy, living and generous, form-taking mercy. Mercy alive and breathing. Mercy as a child. Mercy as a man. Mercy on a cross. Mercy as King.

I was reflecting on what true charity is. On the mountain that we all have to ascend to reach that unbelievable challenge uttered by Christ, "Be perfect as my heavenly Father is perfect." That journey is uphill. That journey is full of sharp rocks and steep ascents. That journey is also filled with beautiful landscapes and invigorating experiences! Oh! The colors. The breaths of air that seem to have been saved for your lungs alone. The intoxicating scents of mountain air that teach you about a way of living that our little world has forgotten. You pant for more. Nothing ever tastes as sweet again. You are lost to it. These are woods you will happily wander into, map left behind, rejoicing at the idea of being lost. This is a trail your feet know without being told. This is a way that is clearly marked, simply by the desire in your heart. Follow the love inside of you! Run when you cannot bear to walk, and you will gain ground. Sing when you are stirred within, laugh at everything. Smile because it is too ridiculous not to.

Do not allow yourself to get over it. Never get over it. There is never room enough in you to exhaust all that you can take it! There will always be more beauties, more glories! Hans Urs von Balthasar says that glory is the fullness of beauty revealed. That means that glory is what you experience when your heart is too captivated to do anything else but adore what you have been captured by. And the mountain, the ascent to charity... it captivates. Not only the mountain, but the journey itself. Every step! Every breath. Every stone that digs into our feet. Every inch of dirt we move through. Every drop of rain or dancing stream or fierce wind or starry night or great oak. Not just these things in and of themselves, but our participation in them. Our encounter with them. Our harmonies to their symphonies. It is the moments of "them being" and "us coming to them" and "together, it being better." And forgive me for all the mountain imagery because this is just as applicable to the eyes of one meeting the eyes of another, or a still moment shared between old friends, or the explosion of a family reunited with one another (at least, that's the caliber of sound when my family is together), or the smile of teammates when the goal has been accomplished or the pride in a professor's eyes at the student who has excelled. All of this is what is part of our climb into the heights and depths of charity.

Today at mass the priest said, "Humility is not putting yourself down or thinking less of yourself, it is simply the truth." This is the epitome of true charity - mercy. The truth is our littleness, and the truth is also God's benevolence. The truth is our pitiful infidelity and the truth is his UNFAILING CONSTANCY. He is always there. Always. Never leaves us. Never gives up. Never ceases to love. Gosh! Do we have ANY idea of what the words "never" and "always" really mean? How could we? Look at our society, at our culture, at our world! Everything is so quick, so instantaneous, and sadly, so inconsistent. If there is any quality that is most endearing and most healing to me in the merciful love of God it is certainly his perfection made manifest in his unstobbable and eternal and infinite and constant being. Never means, never. There is simply no time, no space and no place that you could be that he will not already be there and will not follow you to. Just waiting to pick you up again, waiting carry you back home. "What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it? And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, 'Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep" (Lk. 15:4-6). And this is Mercy.

Who among us can turn to our brother after he has insulted us and genuinely love him, forgive him, even get up and make him something to eat because he is hungry? Who among us wouldn't consider this complete foolishness!? He didn't even apologize! He might do it again! Will he learn nothing? Are we to be so poorly treated? Oh, but was this not exactly the life of our Lord? Is this not the entire love story of the Scriptures, of the Hebrew people and God, of the Bride (the Church) and the Bridegroom? When have we ever given him true cause to lavish the grace upon us that he does? The justification that we could never earn for ourselves has been generously supplied by the life, death and resurrection of the Son of God. This is mercy. The truth is mercy. Humility is acknowledging the truth of the mercy of God.

Everything is mercy. The grace to have our hearts stirred by the beauty of the ascent to charity throughout our lives, even the sorrows and the darknesses and the freezing cold nights... that is mercy! The grace to see, that is mercy. Just to open our eyes is mercy; to have ears to hear, that too is mercy. He is embodied Mercy. Love made flesh is mercy. The Eucharist is Mercy.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

This is a Great Mystery

I'm going to be honest here (not that I am ever not "pointedly honest" with this blog) -
this semester has been, without a doubt, my least productive. I have managed to work 20 hours nearly every week, write and present the "God's Vision of Love" talk series and organize and fundraise for a mission to Haiti this December... but despite my deep gratitude to the Lord for all of these good works, the truth is that I have certainly slacked on my actual school work, which really should be my priority.

So, my firm resolve is to dive back into my wonderfully nerdy self as soon as is physically possible (and that is probably not until Christmas break). Until then, seeing as how I am already behind in all of my reading, I might as well go ahead a write a blog post :)

I wanted to talk about touch.

Touch, I feel (haha), is one of the more neglected senses.
Certainly not in all areas of life, but I'm speaking in a universal way. Sight is often harped on, or spoken highly of, or at least observed, whether it is the way we look at some one, or the way we are perceived, or more obviously the things to be observed such as color and shape. Our ability to hear is possibly even more practiced (if your ipod isn't playing, music from the computer will be, let's not deny it.) Smell... well, ok, smell gets the shaft. Taste is certainly appreciated in our culture, I don't think that needs explanation (although many settle for tastes that are mediocre).
But touch.

Much of my thought is coming from all that has been discussed on this blog from the "Adequate Anthropology" series and the "God's Vision of Love" series, and those points are basically drawing on John Paul II's understanding of anthropology, of the human person. This anthropology is necessarily a theological one. You cannot have the gift without the giver.

But before Christ, the encounter with the Lord was very typically a spiritual one only. Of course, the prophets and those who were chosen to establish covenants with the Lord such as Abraham and David certainly encountered him while being in-body, or embodied, and so they heard him with their ears even if he was not physically before them (and I am not going to go further into that although there is much to be thought about). But with Christ came an entirely new revelation of God, and entirely new encounter...most importantly, an entirely new meeting place.

Christ is the place for encounter God, for seeing him face to face. And this is in a body, through a body. In the spiritual sense, this Body is the Church. In a physical sense, this Body is the Eucharist, given as the source and summit of the very life of the Church. But this Body was also a man who walked this earth for thirty-three years and spoke to people, was heard by people, was seen and was touched.
(Maybe you had forgotten I was writing about touch... I almost did.)

No, Christ brings this element of God's love to us in a new and dynamic way that we could not have comprehended before. The imagery of nuptiality that St. Paul uses to draw the analogy of God's love for man and the love between a husband and wife summarizes this. "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the Church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word..." (Eph. 5:25-26, emphasis added). And, "Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord" (Eph. 5:22, emphasis added). He says, "This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the Church" (Eph. 5:32).

Again, books have already been written on this mystery (many beautiful ones, by people much wiser and more learned than myself) and my point is not to enter into them here. Rather, I want us to reflect on the beauty and mystery of touch.

Touch is an encounter. It occurs at a place, on a body, that a person experiences. Whether it is a hand on your shoulder to encourage you before you face a crowd, or a quick hug to say goodbye, or a sure kiss from the one you love, touch says something, it signifies something. If nothing else, it is a more comforting promise of the meaning revealed in the touch, a deeper communication of what was meant to be made known. I can smile at you and you will understand my pleasure, but I can hug you and leave no doubt. The intensity behind our touch, positive as well as negative, communicates a level of our whole self that is embedded in the action.

To be perhaps less-than-tactful, if I have someone shake my hand at the sign of peace during mass who barely wraps their fingers around my hand and leaves enough space for all those germs that are inevitably jumping from my palm to theirs... well, let's be honest here, I don't feel like the touch they gave truly signified much wishing-of-peace to me. And I feel even less that someone wanted me to know the Lord's peace if I just get the head-nod of acknowledgement. Does this make the point? The firm grip of someone who says, "Peace be with you," or, "Christ's Peace," leaves me assured that they truly desire me to know that peace.

Perhaps a different analogy? When you meet someone you haven't seen for many months (or years) and embrace as if old friends, but you are given the "burp-the-baby" pat on the back rather than a friendly embrace... what is the encounter? One that communicates a less-than-comfortable knowledge of the other person. It says that there is not the same understanding that once existed. And if you were hugging someone you just met for the first time that day, you probably wouldn't be embracing them as you would a friend of five or ten years.

Interestingly enough, a point that is made by Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae, albeit indirectly, and also a point that is then taken up by John Paul II in The Theology of the Body, this time directly, is the way that condoms and contraception also make a drastic change to the communication behind a touch. In the most intimate of human touch, within the bond of sexual union, the communication of the full love and desire of both lovers for one another is necessary and apparent. Much like the "not-quite-peace" or the "not-sure-hug," contraception is the barrier between the two that signifies a "not-quite-total-love." Again, this is not the point of this post so we'll have to return to this later, but I wanted to make that analogy. Touch, what you say through it and signify with it, means something!

Christ comes to us in the Eucharist as his very body. He allows us to approach him and touch him and to receive him into us. I think it is fair to say that if the source and summit of our faith revolves around the body of God, touch matters.

We therefore have a responsibility as people of faith to consider more deeply the touch we give and receive, and to recognize what we mean and signify with our actions, in hopes that we will come to better reflect the "glory of God [that] is man fully alive" (St. Irenaeus).