At the inner most core of all loneliness is a deep and powerful yearning for union with one’s lost self.

Brendan Francis

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We know loneliness most in the boundaries, when we are shunned – in exile factually or figuratively, when we lose one who loves us, when we face aging or serious illness, or our mortality and a world that inevitably moves away from us when we come to our latter decades.

Yet, ironically, we love deepest when we are alone.  Memories fill our mind, haunt us with warm smiles and tears of joy and for what has passed.

It is in the boundaries – those barren places and time, with images of flat plains and us silhouetted against an empty sky – that alone meets love/Love.  There is where we meet God – where alone meets Love, temporal life meets eternal life, the mundane meets the Divine.

Yes, life is a journey in which alone lingers in the social being, drives our thirsts for others, need for another, for connections – yet, what we seek is self and God, God and self.  It is eternal Love that subsumes alone.  This is for what we hunger.

All our intermediate longings are but hints of what we seek.

The end of life cures us of the intermediate.  Our lives are a changing view of time and self.  We travel from alone to “unalone,” from the lonely crowd to Love eternal.

Dante told us this in the Divine Comedy.  He began his journey lost in the dark and ended in the love that moves the sun and the stars.  Amen.

Shalom.

” … they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means,”God is with us.”

Mt 1:23

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We fill our heads and lives with all sorts of things we must remember: our social security number, password to this and password to that.  We carry each day a seemingly endless number of things in our head – an agenda of “to do’s,”  things to remember – the purchase of a birthday card for someone living far away that “must” be sent soon to arrive on time, the need to pick up this or that, or him or her at an appointed hour, to call for an appointment here for then, and there for then …

But do we remember the most important things?  The simple things that change entirely how we live?

You ask: “Like what?”

I answer: “Emmanuel” and its meaning – “God is with us.”

Judging from the loneliness we feel and see around us, it seems we forget the most important thing – that we are NOT alone – – – ever.

We miss the obvious.  In a demanding secular culture we rarely think “Emmanuel.”  We rarely think in a given day that “God is with us.”  Yet it has a value and place as the foundation of our life.  It gives us stability.  With this what can throw us off stride, shake our confidence? Nothing.

Yes, loneliness is a part of the human condition, a sense of it is part of the fabric of a human person – the under side of our search for God, and the mediation of God in relationship, loving relationship.

Emmanuel: God is with us.

Why that thought, this name?  This designation assigned to Jesus, the Messiah?

Does this not say something to us of prime importance, a multiplicity of significant things?  Does it not say that once alone, we now are loved into never being alone – lonely no longer, alone never?  Forsaken not?  Is this not the triumphant side of life itself, our existence?

Is God not saying in this and in Christ – I give you what you need, no longer to be alone, estranged, overlooked, left out?

The world is a place in which we are easily forgotten, rejected, left, dismissed, discounted.  But, alas, in Christ – God is with us.

Do not forget the most important thing.  Remembering all else will not suffice … remembering one thing will – Emmanuel.

Shalom.

Our age … does not have a very sharp eye for the almost imperceptible intrusions of grace …

Flannery O’Connor

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A young Jewish wife suffers a punishing illness and her husband becomes a better Christian.  An infant deserted by his father lands in the arms of a mother who was for him a better father than any mother or father could be.

Grace.

Yes, grace.  The grace of God.

There are no ways to explain how something can be more than we have any right to expect.  There is no psychology, no biology, no sociology or what-have-you to account for such things.

How does one explain the goodness of the one who rises from neglect or parental hostility?  The phoenix from the rubble, up from the ashes.

Only a carpenter’s son.

Rising above is not explained by qualities of the mind.  No, rising above rests with the Spirit and, in that, with God – the grace of God.

Despite the reductionist nature of intellectuals, there is grace – the unquantifiable “something” that rises above circumstances and shows itself in the unsuspected, at the right time.  A touch of God’s hand.  Grace.

See it or be among the blind.  It is faith that gives us sight.

Shalom.

Put not your trust in princes …

Ps 146:3

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Ebola?  Are the vast offices of the federal government capable of uttering a coherent word on this?  Benghazi?  Can the central government respond to citizens in need or defend our legitimate sovereign interests overseas?  ISIS.  Can anyone in the government read an intelligence report and take appropriate steps as to those who wish us ill?  Heck, can we lock the door to the White House?

Why the constant fawning over the state and those who occupy its officers?  Have they not shown their considerable limits?  Is this not liberating?  Does this not suggest that growth in government size and tasks exceed our capacity and competence?

Is the age of the Liberal not now passed?  The death of the state as Great Benefactor come to pass?

Even in failure, especially in failure, we learn valuable lessons.  Putting trust in princes?  Passe, at best.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understandings.

Prov 3:5

Trust in God, not yourself without God.

Shalom.

Don’t you believe that there is in man a deep so profound as to be hidden even to him in whom it is?

St. Augustine

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Reading Rev. Robert Barron’s book Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of Faith makes me aware of what a huge mistake we make by not reading, remembering and guarding the genius of those who made the Christian church.

Thanks to Fr. Barron, I think, in particular, of the genius of St. Augustine in the 3rd and 4th century.

I illustrate by recounting what Fr. Barron observed about St. Augustine and the Trinity.

St. Augustine wrote a book entitled De Trinitate (About the Trinity).  In it he explained the Trinity, how three persons can exist in one God. Augustine was inspired to do so by thinking about the human person “made in the image and likeness of God” and proceeding to explain what he understood about the human person as a way to understand and explain the Trinity.

He focused on how the human knows what he or she knows.  He recognized that humans have the intellectual ability to contemplate, to wonder who he or she is. From this he discerned that the same human person who thinks reflectively can gain knowledge of who they are.  Then he recognized that this same person, through this self-examination and the knowledge it yields, can become aware as to why they do what they do.

He reasoned that one person can undergo three distinct personal functions without being divided into three distinct people.  He reasoned further that God can be three distinct entities yet remain one God.  The genius of St. Augustine.

In particular, Augustine concluded that God can “self-other,” make that which God is to be in another, the Son.  Likewise, he concluded that God can gaze in love upon the Son and the Son upon the Father in that same loving manner and he reasoned that the two are One and that a mutual love that exists between them is a third manifestation of the God who is Love: the Holy Spirit – the active love of Father and Son embodied in the Holy Spirit.  Fr. Barron reminds us that in one God we have the Lover, the Beloved, and the shared love (the Holy Spirit).  Three iterations, or personifications, in One.

In a time when popular thought is far less informed about these things, we had best return to these cornerstones of belief and living, return to the beginning, learn from the past and those who built Christianity and Western Civilization.

At present, many function without knowledge of what we possess: our inheritance. It is unwise to discard wisdom. Preservation of it is itself the wiser thing.

Shalom.

We know more than we can tell.

 Michael Polanyi, in The Tacit Dimension

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How can we know more than we can tell?  Words are too small to hold experience.

How is this?

Experience goes to the heart and the Soul – each a plain beyond the senses, words but whispers.

The silent interior is sacred and personal, the place of greatest intimacy where Love and Wisdom live.  There, there is God and you, and you in God.

Life fully lived is experience passing from word – to Word, where silence speaks best.

Shalom.

 “… makes a tremendous emotional and practical difference to one whether one accept the universe in the drab discolored way of stoic resignation, or with the passionate happiness of Christian saints.”

William James

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A lovely review of William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience written by Joseph Epstein in a recent edition of The Wall Street is a timely reminder of a classic book and its value in today’s exclusionary secular culture.

At a time when religion is treated as a hostile presence in culture, it is smart to review James’ short 1902 classic for the ageless wisdom it contains.  Indeed, I am motivated to re-read this gem and prosper once again by doing so.

In Varieties, James focused not on religious institutions but rather the individual person’s experience of religion.  James, a philosopher and psychologist, recognized that religious experience addressed the mysteries in life, things real and experienced but not explained.

He saw that humanity in action produced truth, error and experience – that tell of the larger, constant, unseen domain.  He knew that religious experience produced “our highest happiness” and had the power “to charm and to command.”  He knew that with those who were open to religious experience a “paradise of inner tranquility” was made available.

Likewise, he knew that relationship with a personal God awakened in us aspirations that we held in the depth of our heart and our soul.

Ironically, he saw the orthodoxy of science which imposed on us contemporary “certainties” of an ever-articulating quest for physical truth.  And, he knew that truth and fact lived in us and was experienced in and by us in unspeakable ways – the ways of faith and religious experience in the life of the human person.

As a culture, we are far from knowing what James said.  Yet, we are not far from experiencing what he described and attested to – for human beings are still human beings.

Far?  Yes, far.  We live in the time of “selfies,” of me experiencing me.  Shallow. Shallow is not deep, image is not experience.  A faithless culture that scorns religion, scorns human experience.  We are, without religion, humans who cannot experience being human.  Such a state breeds conflict and far from “the passionate happiness of Christian saints” and the “paradise of inner tranquility.”

Return to James and re-think who and what we have become.

Shalom.

Virtue exalts a nation, but sin is a people’s disgrace.

Prov 14:34

This blog is dedicated to Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Weeks and Glen Doherty – good and brave men all – who died at Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012.

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I began driving east from Notre Dame to Washington, D.C. last Sunday at 7 a.m. The hour was dark and without sound.  Few cars.  Nothing astir.  A peaceful predawn day.

As I drove slowly the sun began to show.  Just a hint of light on the horizon.  I was listening to 13 Hours in Benghazi as I drove.

Bit by bit the recorded book recounted how a security detail of experienced and highly skilled brave men, a short drive from the besieged American compound in Benghazi, rapidly and fearlessly prepared to respond to their colleagues in danger.

As the narrator took me though each detail of the preparation, day began to appear in northern Indiana.  The sun’s light painted its diffused pinks and outlined the tree-lined horizon across silent farm fields while the book told of men ready for battle and waiting for orders to traverse a short distance to defend their colleagues and America by engaging a murderous, rag-tag mob with lethal weapons intent on killing our brothers and destroying our scarcely guarded buildings in Benghazi.

As the sun rose to bless a new day, the narrator told of anxious men in waiting ready to fight and cell phone transmissions from their trapped colleagues urging their response and saying bluntly ” … we’re gonna die.”

While I entered a new day, those trapped men were looking at their last night, a night of violence and buildings afire, and no authorized government response … as brave men in waiting stood incredulously, in anger and disbelief, without orders to engage.

Virtue exalts a nation, but sin is a people’s disgrace.

Events allow us to judge the direction we are going and how we are living.  Are we moving with virtue or disgrace?  Each of us has a voice to give answer to this question.  In a free society elections offer us speech – time to speak, to answer the question posed: virtue or disgrace?

To live in sin is to die many deaths.  To live in virtue is to live forever.  Which do you choose?  Who are we?

Shalom.

In acceptance of the chalice of his existence, man shows his obedience to the will of his Father in heaven; in rejecting it, he rejects God.

Johannes B. Metz, in Poverty of Spirit

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My father deserted my mother and me when I was an infant.  I saw him twice in my life.  The first time was when I was about 4 years old and he walked right by me and never said “hi.”  I remember it still to this day.  I went to my darkened bedroom and cried.  Yet, through the grace of God, I accepted what was.

In life there are disappointments and hurts, more than a handful – some go to our core.  Amid this do we accept the chalice of existence?

I often hear from people of their longings, those things that stem from rejection, abandonment – real deep and basic hurts, cracks in their very foundation.  These injuries are hard ones.  They strike at the human heart, at the soul.

Many wounded people long for something in this life to compensate for the loss they have known. Many carry that loss, that deep hurt through decades.  They search for an answer to the loss.  Or they suffer by compounding their loss with alcohol, or anger.  Some try endlessly to right what is wrong by getting a better result from the people who have hurt them.  Others look for a prince or princess to fill the deep void they feel. Others seek fortune or status to compensate and protect against the hurt.

In any loss and any hurt God is offered to us.  What do I mean?

In a loss or injury or injustice things that might obscure our vision are vacated.  In loss, God remains – easier to see, easier to experience.  In loss He stands there with the chalice of existence in His hand, stretched out to us so we may drink and go on, so we might live in Him, live to do His will.  In loss, we are closer to Christ – who lost also in this world, but who did the Father’s will.

Life is messy. Bad things happen. Injustice is part of living.  We alone cannot right what is wrong.  We can however be made whole and human by God.  All we need do is this: accept the chalice of existence.

Accept life by accepting God, letting your happiness blossom because you trust in God, and drink from the chalice He offers – a life given to draw closer to Him and know contentment.  He raises us above our injuries and lifts us past our plans for fullness, in favor of a fullness He made in us right from the beginning, losses notwithstanding.

Take the Chalice.  Live what you have been given.  Find The Way in God.

Shalom.

But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day (is) with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.

2 Peter 3:8

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One of the most significant ways we are called away from God in secular culture is by time.  We are always “on the clock,” always in a hurry – just think of traffic in a densely populated city, or driving on a well-traveled interstate highway.  Everyone is rushing, anxious to get somewhere by some particular time.  Or think about the day you live and how the clock dictates the many things in a day that you “have to do,” and do “on a timely basis.

What does the above say to you?  Are you trapped by time as the secular world uses it, and uses you?

Peter is reminding us of God, God’s time, of the difference between sacred time and secular time, between temporal time and eternal time – eternity.

At this very moment you occupy eternal time and there is no escaping that reality, no more than you can escape that you are created and called into being by God or that you are designed to know and desire both God and eternal reality.

When I return to Washington, I attend daily Mass at a wonderful Catholic parish in a comfortable neighborhood.  Each morning at the nine o’clock Mass 40 or more men and women, even school age students, come to worship.  I notice that some of  these faithful, good people engage the prayers with great rapidity.  These dear people proceed with speed, a breathless dash many times.

They are, without knowing it, bringing temporal time and its qualities and demands into sacred reality, what is eternal.

But temporal time is not eternal time.  It is but a slice of eternal time.

Imagine a 200 pound man trying to fit into a suit of clothes made for a 90 pound 12-year-old boy. Our 200 pound man is unlikely to get so much as a leg in the trousers made for the 90 pound boy.  Something larger is not something smaller; and besides a man with nary one leg in a pair of pants made for someone smaller looks out of place.

My point?  When you pray, remember you are engaging what is sacred – something larger.  Be reverent.  Slow down.  Savor what is said.  Pause from the rush of the mortal world.  Preserve what is eternal.  Do not be captured by what is secular and temporal.

Shalom.

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