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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Universal Prayer

I think it is fair to say that the universal prayer given to us by Our Lord is the Our Father, for Christ teaches his disciples how to pray. But this prayer attributed to Pope Clement XI is very beautiful, and I wanted to share it. (Taken from St. Raymond of Penafort's website, 

(attributed to Pope Clement XI)

Lord, I believe in you: increase my faith.
I trust in you: strengthen my trust.
I love you: let me love you more and more.
I am sorry for my sins: deepen my sorrow.

I worship you as my first beginning,
I long for you as my last end,
I praise you as my constant helper,
And call on you as my loving protector.

Guide me by your wisdom, correct me with your justice,
Comfort me with your mercy, protect me with your power.

I offer you, Lord, my thoughts: to be fixed on you;
My words: to have you for their theme;
My actions: to reflect my love for you;
My sufferings: to be endured for your greater glory.

I want to do what you ask of me:
In the way you ask,
For as long as you ask,
Because you ask it.

Lord, enlighten my understanding, strengthen my will,Purify my heart, and make me holy.

Help me to repent of my past sins
And to resist temptation in the future.
Help me to rise above my human weaknesses
And to grow stronger as a Christian.

Let me love you, my Lord and my God,
And see myself as I really am:
A pilgrim in this world,
A Christian called to respect and love
All whose lives I touch,
Those under my authority,
My friends and my enemies.

Help me to conquer anger with gentleness,
Greed by generosity,
Apathy by fervor.
Help me to forget myself
And reach out toward others.

Make me prudent in planning,
Courageous in taking risks.
Make me patient in suffering, unassuming in prosperity.

Keep me, Lord, attentive at prayer,
Temperate in food and drink,
Diligent in my work,
Firm in my good intentions.

Let my conscience be clear,
My conduct without fault,
My speech blameless,
My life well-ordered.
Put me on guard against my human weaknesses.
Let me cherish your love for me,
Keep you law,
And come at last to your salvation.

Teach me to realize that this world is passing,
That my true future is the happiness of heaven,That life on earth is short,
And the life to come eternal.

Help me to prepare for death with a proper fear of judgment,
But a greater trust in your goodness.
Lead me safely through death to the endless joy of heaven.

Grand this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Principle of Unity

To be honest, I believe the topic of the unity of the person is a book-sized discussion. I have not-book-sized-space and not-book-sized-time, so therefore I hope this is not a disappointing reflection.

For what it's worth, consider metaphysics.
(Highly brief tutorial for those who haven't been taught certain terminology:)
Metaphysics - the branch of philosophy that considers the nature of being in the world.
Ontology - the study of being, of existence.
Cause - the principle or purpose of a thing.
Form - Aristotle's sense of animation that is given to matter to be a thing. Wood takes the form of a desk or the material of man takes the form of a person. More specifically, it is the form that is given and in-forms matter. In truth, Aristotle covers potentiality and actuality in this discussion, so that there is the potenial in the seed to become the tree, and the actuality is the taking up of that form or the form of the tree being revealed. There is much more to say but you'll need to read on your own.
Matter - The material that holds the potentiality that will be actualized by the form.
Substance - A combination of matter and form.
Esse -  St. Thomas Aquinas explains esse as the existing of a thing, the being of a being. It is the to-be-ness. Essence is like the substance, the material, the creature itself, which is not animated or in existence until esse is given.
Essence -  For St. Thomas Aquinas, this is the what-ness of a being, in a sense, the substance of a creature. Analogously, it would be similar to the material if analogously Esse is the form, though his way of understanding them is more complex and therefore these are only analogous and not the same.
Ens - The unity of esse and essence. The point that St. Thomas makes is that while essence is nothing without esse, likewise esse cannot make anything be without the essence. Therefore, both are a gift from God, and must happen together, as one great gift.

Tutorial ends here. If you are more confused than ever, that is what google is for. :)

The importance concerning the unity of the person is found in Aristotle and Aquinas' understanding of the interrelatedness between form and matter and essence and esse. Cognitively, we can separate the mind from the body. We can think of our bodies as functioning organic centers of nerve synapses and intercommunication taking place so that we are able to maintain proper homeostasis. We can likewise think of our consciousness or our spirits as not affected by the body or not affecting the body. Yet, simply because we can think of this separation does not mean that in any real sense the separation is experienced. At least not while living. In all honesty, when the soul leaves the body, or if these two were truly separable, you no longer have life present. Not to say that those who are unconscious for years are dead. Clearly they are not. Comatose does not mean that the two are separated, but that the manifestation of their relationship has changed. Death is the only real experience of separation of these two, and therefore, while living, our experience is of them in unity.

But what does this mean? What does it mean to say that there is a profound and specific unity of mind and body or body and soul that cannot be removed in the lived experience of being? What does this imply for us who live?

Primarily it must mean that what is interior will always inform and manifest in the exterior, and that what comes to the exterior will inform and affect the interior. This is, perhaps, more obvious than imagined. It is everyone's lived experience that when stressful situations occur, the body feels it. Knots in the back, loss of the voice, susceptibility to colds, nausea, nervousness, headaches... you name it. Whatever way you interiorize and exteriorize what goes on around you, there's certainly no denying that you feel it in both manners. Likewise, the opposite is also apparent. If you are relaxed, happy, enjoying yourself, free from certain burdens or responsibilities, on vacation or with those you love, you will be less tense, more prone to smile or laugh, more likely to be spontaneous, less agitated, more comfortable with plans changing or different circumstances, etc... Why? Because we one. We are not only a body or only a mind. No matter how dualistic of an upbringing our education may have been, life teaches us otherwise as we experience it everyday.

This unity should mean something very specific to the one who takes time to think. If you don't normally mull over things, consider it. Mull over the potential mulling over of life. Mull over what it might mean, what consequences might be anticipated, good and bad, from the total unity of the person. If you are so integrated, so united, so intrinsically bound, so inexorably one, how will this affect the way you live? Your decisions, your actions, your thoughts, your fears, your joys, your hopes, your injuries, your health, your relationships... all of these things will be directly impacted. Virtue, value, ethics or morals will all be a necessary component of considering this wholeness of being. One cannot exist as if things which are immoral or unethical or simply not good are ineffective. Nor can one live as if those things will not impact and affect him or her. In the same fashion, one cannot pretend that the good, beautiful, powerful, and true will not also affect them.

For example, the loss of a loved one. The sudden illness of a friend. The loss of a job by a family member. The gift of a new baby in a family. The success of a student who graduates with honors. The witness of grandparents who still love one another after fifty years of marriage. We are human and these things touch us. The proximity of the relationships and our own personal experiences change the power of the affects on us, but we do not live as rocks. Waves of life do not wash upon us and simply coat our harsh skin with some film. We do not have an outer shell, a bubble which allows our skin to tan or wrinkle or stretch or burn but not touch our souls. We are not souls trapped in bodily prisons and we are not mere animals who just happen to have rational souls. We are unique and beautiful precisely as creatures will intellect, reason, free will, a soul and a body. We are the unity and compilation of these, the whole and the totality. To say anything less to to lie to oneself and to sell our being short of its truth.

Therefore, I urge us all to meditate on this wholeness. Whether it is certain tendencies to some behavior that is not good for us, some evil or some sin or something that is simply making us ill (in mind, body or spirit), we need to reconsider our actions. Likewise, the habits of the mind, our tendencies to evaluate or judge or doubt or fear or be anxious...these too need to be dealt with. Sin, above all, is divisive. It will sink itself into the little cracks in your foundation, in your bedrock, until all it takes is one more tap on the head of the nail until the crack breaks the whole foundation apart. You will wonder how on earth you lost that close friend, or how your marriage is where it is, or why you suffer from guilt or why fear haunts you, or why you feel enslaved to something you know you should have power over... sin will convince you that it is trivial, a minor thing. Sin always wants to be hidden away, safe and sound. Sin wants you to be sure it is only a scratch on your arm, barely skin deep. Sin isn't a bruise welling up from deep in the muscle, it's just this little knick on the exterior. It won't really hurt you, or those you love. Yet this is the lie in its fullness, that you could be unmoved, unchanged, unhurt by what is evil. You cannot be. Just as those things which are beautiful and good, like prayer, service to those you love, charities, time at Mass or in adoration, reading the Scripture, laughter, activities that lighten the soul and bring thanks to your lips, also move you and change you and cannot go without affecting you.

Consider what it is to be a whole, an ens, to have received your essence and esse from God. Consider what it is to live in our world today as this unity as person. 

What Matters

I want to take just a moment to reflect on what matters in life.

My cat needing to be fed is important, but my roommate needing to talk is more important.
My bathroom needing cleaned is important, but making food for my friend is more important.
My bills need to be paid, but a friend in need is more important.
My life may need to be organized or reordered, but that order must begin with prayer first.

What matters are these two things: relationship with God our Father, and relationship with all those we love.

Nothing ought to stand in the way of those as the order of our lives.

Recently I had a day that was not a day of proper ordering. I did not make it to mass as I had wanted, I did not remember to pray certain prayers I wanted to pray, and I did not make certain quiet time happen that I felt I needed. Likewise, I found that I was distant and irritable around those I love, especially my boyfriend, who so generously loved me that day, despite my failure.

Why is that? What is it that gets to us, that can attack from within? Christ himself told us that what defiles comes from within, from within a man's heart. ("But what comes out of a person, that is what defiles. From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile." Mk. 7:20-23) Why is it that when my heart was being offered so many blessings, I was unable to receive them? For, in not receiving them, I left myself unable to recognize the good things I had and unable to be thankful. And in that state of ingratitude, I had nothing to give to anyone else.

I find that to live a life where we love one another, where we lay down our lives and sacrifice in love for our neighbors, our brothers and sisters, our families, and our Church, we must first and foremost know the love we have received. We cannot forget from whom we came from. We cannot forget that our existence is a gift! We cannot forget that our Father in heaven created us from nothing (ex nihilo). We must impress upon ourselves the truth of our state. We cannot call ourselves into being! We do not have the power over life and death. Before we are masters, we are servants. Before we are in control, we are at the mercy of the world. We have a God who is all Mercy, all Love, all Generosity, all Forgiveness. We have received an invitation to eternal life, to eternal participation in the mysterious joy that is the Love of the Trinity! Yet, we cannot accept this invitation unless we know, in all humility and truth, our littleness, our frailty, and in light of that, the totality of gift that the invitation is! It is not deserved. It was won for us by the sacrifice of the Life of the Son of God.

If we live this life with a prayer to know our state of being in truth, our being-as-gift, we will simultaneously recognize the depth, height, breadth and magnitude of God's mercy and love, and our own indebtedness which calls to us to participate in and imitate that same humble love. We ought to turn to our brothers and sisters, friends and coworkers, bosses and cab drivers, and place them first. Clearly, the heroism that Love requires is a grace given to us, and we must always pray to have it. Yet, we should not allow ourselves to be dis-ordered from the truth if we can help it. We should not let satan find ways of screwing up the order so that before God's gift and love comes our own power or our own weakness. How often men find themselves lost in their sin, unable to forgive themselves some flaw, even when others forgive them. Likewise, how often men are lost in their pride, unable to accept that they do not have the power in life they desire or think they have. How often we are wrapped up in our own little world, whether its self-pity or self-loathing or self-doubt, and are unable to see the person standing right in front of us.

Consider how often in Scriptures it is a blind man who reaches out to Christ saying, "Lord, I want to see." If only this could be our prayer. Jesus, help us to be un-blinded. To shake off the scales that cling to our eyes. It all comes back to the order of our lives. Who is first? Do we worship before we work? Is the credit of any good offered back to the giver of all good things? Do we adore before we desire to be adored? We will not learn how to serve one another unless we see we have already been served, by the one whose service is the greatest act of Love and Sacrifice the world has ever known.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Empty and Beautiful

Of late I have been struck with the immense blessings in my life. Many things I have received undeserved and even unlooked for. I certainly have not merited some of the gifts that have been given.

I was praying during the graduation mass for my school in thanksgiving to the Lord for an accomplishment that I am still slightly in disbelief over, and I cannot explain the emptiness of my being. It was joyful, and free. It was an emptiness that began in sorrow but ended in life. It was a miniature death of the self. I recognized many things in a few moments of prayer about my own littleness. I felt, very dramatically, my mortality and all of its frailty. Simultaneously, I sensed the power that is God's presence in our lives. I knew His strength in a new way. I saw in the Eucharist the true Bread that is Life for the world. I sensed how absolutely in need of the food of God I was, above and beyond all other forms of nourishment. I understood that though my stomach might hunger, my soul hungered in a way that was stronger and louder. I do not know if I have ever sensed the same level of poverty within myself that I did at that mass.

I beg us to consider poverty anew. Poverty does not need to be a material state, although I believe very firmly that if one is in a material state of poverty it is easier to reach a spiritual state of poverty. Yet, what does it mean to be "poor in spirit"? The Lord said that those who were poor in spirit were "blessed" and that "theirs is the kingdom of heaven." There is much to think on here. The Lord could easily mean both an earthly poverty and a spiritual one, and he could also easily have meant both an earthly experience of the Kingdom and the Heavenly one. For those who live a life here on this earth understanding their own meekness before the King, their indebtedness to their Father, will certainly be living a life that testifies to the Kingdom while on earth. Likewise, those who live that form of humility will most certainly be close to the Kingdom of Heaven when it is their time to depart from this life. We would not deny that this is what we receive in the Eucharist each day, and what the many readings surrounding the Eucharist during the Easter Season emphasize; we receive the Lord, the Giver of Life. We receive the Bread of Life.

St. John recounts the Bread of Life Discourse in Chapter 6, saying:
"So Jesus said to them, 'Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.' So they said to him, 'Sir, give us this bread always.'
Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst'" (6:32-35). 

It seems so simple, I think many of us (especially in our contemporary culture) do not know how to receive such an invitation. Was this not the fault and crime of the pharisees of Christ's own time? They were blinded by their expectations, by what they were accustomed to. They could not bring themselves to learn a new way of life, to accept a new teaching. Yet, we have the invitation to let go of our former sight. We have the invitation to ask that we might be able to see, like the blind man who pursues Jesus until he is healed. We have the invitation to ask to be able to receive that which is being offered. Christ's own disciples said that his teaching was hard. Further into John's Gospel Christ informs them that his very flesh and blood is the life that he offers them:

"'I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.'

The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, 'How can this man give us (his) flesh to eat?'

Jesus said to them, 'Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.'

Then many of his disciples who were listening said, 'This saying is hard; who can accept it?'

Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, 'Does this shock you?'" (6:48-61)

Where do we begin to consider this? Christ raises an immense challenge, and yet, a beautiful invitation. "Does this shock you?" Perhaps we can assume that after God has given so much to us, our very beings over to us, we should not be surprised that He would feed us with His own flesh. Yet, our natural sensibilities seem to be repulsed at the concept. Not only is the idea strange to us, but the fact that Jesus explains this gift while being alive, and neither His flesh nor His blood being poured out yet, make it hard to understand. Yet, consider his words! "The one who feeds on me will have life because of me." 

This is the key to living in the Kingdom while still on earth! This is the secret to poverty of spirit, to being little and knowing our indebtedness. This is where we take up our cross of indentured servitude and simultaneously receive the adopted sonship given to us in Christ! It is feeding on Him, truly taking His life into ours, that enables us to see with true sight, and receive and understand all that the Lord gives to us while on earth. 

This is why the joy of blessings in life must come hand in hand with the sorrows and pains. One cannot truly understand what a gift life itself is if he does not know the truth of death. Once we realize what we have been ransomed from, what true mercy it is that we have been preserved, we can truly rejoice. God's gift to his children is that simple. We have but to acknowledge our lowliness and be thankful for it all the same. We have but to offer thanks, to celebrate that we do not have to merit our salvation, this true life, for we could never do so. No, we have been purchased at a cost, the price of the Life of the Son of God. In Him we are set free, free to live in Him and love according to His love. This ought to be our strength and drive for every minor death to self or death to sin that we suffer throughout each day. To join in the kenosis, the self-emptying, the pouring out that Christ made on our behalf; this is to know what eternal life is like while still on earth!