Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Say! I'm Adventure Bound!

It was 25 years ago today that I stood up in the St. Mary’s chapel and, along with my seven classmates, promised to live in ‘poverty, chastity, and obedience, according to the Madonna House spirit and mandate.’

While the MH community will celebrate our jubilee later in the summer (today’s focus being those making their promises now), this is the actual anniversary of my commitment to this community and spirit.

And it was nearly five years ago that I began this blog, first as a vehicle to bring the writings of Pope Benedict to a larger audience, later taking other forms.

Today’s blog post is my final one, due in an indirect way to the promise of obedience that I made 25 years ago. I have not been put under obedience to stop blogging, but I have been given a new assignment in MH that will require me to stop this particular apostolate for the sake of what I am being asked to do now.

The day after tomorrow, I will be moving from the priest staff house where I have lived off and on for the past 15 years, into the poustinia of Our Lady of Combermere on Carmel Hill. (For those reading this who know MH well, this is the poustinia built for and occupied for many years by Fr. Patrick McNulty.) I am going to be a poustinik, and this, simply, changes everything.

What is a poustinik, some may ask? The Russian word ‘poustinia’ literally means ‘desert’; a poustinik is a ‘desert-dweller’. A Russian style poustinia is a simple one-room house, sparsely furnished and minimally adorned, where one goes to pray and be fast and be silent before the Lord. 

Many MH members make a weekly poustinia; some are called to live in poustinia and dedicate themselves to this way of prayer and silence more completely.

Practically, this means I will be completely in prayer and solitude three days each week. The remaining four days of the week will begin and end in poustinia (I will be living there full-time, in other words) but be otherwise spent out in the community doing my usual priestly ministry—spiritual direction, celebrating Mass, preparing talks, and the like.

When I was given this new assignment, which factually is an entirely new way of life for me, it was immediately clear that I could not enter into the kind of silence and prayer I am being asked to do and still be writing and interacting in the public sphere of social media as I have been. So in addition to my blog ending, I will also shortly be deactivating Facebook and Twitter and essentially leaving all of that behind.

As someone pointed out to me, the author of the book I-Choice on the perils and challenges of technology is now, well, choosing! I have come to believe for some time that the real and necessary work of our times with all their challenges and anguish is to be fundamentally spent on our knees before the Lord, and not before a computer monitor. Now I am being asked to act on that conviction.

I realize that there are many who will miss this blog sorely—I have been told as much by the few people I have mentioned all of this to. Well, I am sorry about that, and I am very grateful that my writings have been of some help to some people. But, ya gotta go where the Lord sends ya, and do whatever He tells ya, right? And I have absolutely no doubt that this is God’s will for me right now.

I am very happy and excited about this move into poustinia—it has been my heart’s desire for some years, but in all honesty I did not expect it to happen for many years yet to come. When my director general told me that this was his assignment for me, it came as an absolute shock… and a great joy.

What is on my deepest heart about all of this can be best expressed in verses from the mystical poetry of St. John of the Cross that I have always cherished, that probably, when I first read them many years ago, planted the seeds of this new life in my heart. I do not claim the lofty heights of these lines for myself—I am no John of the Cross. I am a lot closer to being a mistake than a mystic!

Nor do these lines entirely apply to me—I will still have flocks and work, for example, still have priestly ministry and directees and such. But these verses are nonetheless the deepest aspiration of my heart. They capture for me the scope, the ambit, the goal of what I am being called to in becoming a poustinik priest in Madonna House. Here they are:

Forever at his door
I gave my heart and soul. My fortune too.
I've no flock any more,
No other work in view.
My occupation: love. It's all I do.

If I'm not seen again
In the old places, on the village ground,
Say of me: lost to men.
Say I'm adventure-bound
For love's sake, on purpose, to be found.

And so, as I am (please God) found at last by Love in the silence of God in the poustinia, I pray that I will find all of you there, too, in the mysterious communion of the Mystical Body of Christ. Please know that I will be praying for all of you, and for the whole world, and offering my life daily there for that intention.


Sunday, June 5, 2016

This Week in Madonna House - May 29-June 4

This week in Madonna House began with the great feast of Corpus Christi. In MH we do many of the traditional practices associated with this day. After a festive Mass honoring the gift of the Eucharistic Lord to the Church, we had exposition and adoration for the whole day.

At the end of the afternoon we had the traditional procession with the Blessed Sacrament, beginning at the St. Mary’s chapel, going to the parish church, the statue of Our Lady of Combermere, having Benediction in each of those stations, and ending at Our Lady of the Woods chapel with a final Benediction.

Many of our neighbors and friends from the surrounding parishes join us for that event, including lots of families with young children. It is a really joyful and beautiful thing, which we all look forward to (even with the black flies!).

I had to leave the procession early myself, as I had to scoot down to Maynooth for their Corpus Christi event at which I spoke on ‘The Eucharist and the Year of Mercy’.

The other event around which the week revolved is the annual pre-promise retreat. In Madonna House we have seven years of making temporary promises before making final promises for life. All those making their first promises for one year (thus receiving the Pax-Caritas cross), renewing for two years at a time, or making finals have a three day retreat beforehand, which we are square in the middle of as I write this.

In fact, I am the retreat master this year, and am writing this from the building we use for such purposes, Loreto House. The theme I chose for the retreat is “The Little Mandate: The Treasure at the Heart of Our Life”. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned on this blog that 2016 is the 50th anniversary of Catherine bringing forth the MH Little Mandate as a public document. She had received it as words in prayer from God 35 years previously, but had considered them God’s mandate to her personally. It was in 1966 that she came to realize that these were words for the whole community.

So we have different MH staff coming in and sharing with the retreatants their own sense of the Mandate and individual lines of it. I spoke to them myself about the word that has resonated largely for me lately, which is ‘Arise-go – sell all you possess, give it directly, personally to the poor.’ Others have spoken or will speak on ‘Go into the marketplace’, ‘Go with fears into the depths of men’s hearts’, ‘Go to the poor, being poor’, and ‘Pray always – I will be your rest.’

Our MH retreats are not all prayer, silence, and austere living, mind you. It is a celebratory joyful retreat. We are being feted with delicious meals, beautifully decorated tables, and much love and care from the community. Pray for the young men and women who are preparing to either make or renew their commitment to this family by their promises of poverty, chastity, and obedience. This Wednesday, June 8, will be our promises day.

Beyond that, the big push these days is planting the vegetable gardens at the farm (this week, carrots, broccoli, squash, and probably a few more crops I didn’t hear about). Also, the woman in charge of Cana Colony is very busy indeed getting the camp set up for the families who will start coming for that experience in less than a month. We will shortly be having an ‘all hands on deck’ work bee to clean the place up from top to bottom.

The shops are busy with the early summer tourists, and the men are very busy getting the massive renovations of the women’s guest dorm, St. Germaine’s, finished before the summer program begins.

It has been an extremely dry spring so far, but as I write this a beautiful rain is pouring down from the heavens – a welcome gift for the earth and all that grows therein. We also have had quite an influx of men guests this past week – another welcome gift from the Lord

So as we move through these busy days filled with much work and much beauty, be assured of our prayers for you and for the whole world at this time.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Freedom, With Consequences

I want to follow up on yesterday’s post with the next part of the Mass commentary. There is a unity between what I wrote about yesterday—the impossibility of receiving the Eucharist in a state of mortal sin—and what comes next in the Mass.

After the Lord’s Prayer, the praying of which signifies the fundamental union with God made possible by Jesus Christ which will be brought to perfection in the rite of communion, comes the ritual Sign of Peace in which we express to those immediately around us some gesture of peace and good will.

This has rich scriptural significance. We can think of the Gospel passage where the Lord tells us to be reconciled with our neighbor before we can offer our gifts on the altar.

The Eucharist not only brings to perfection our union with God, but also brings to perfection our union with one another in the communion of Christ’s Body, the Church. And as we cannot receive communion if we are in a state of mortal sin (and hence not in union with God to start with), so we cannot receive communion if we are not in union with the Catholic Church, either.

This is a painful subject—disunity always is, isn’t it? But we cannot wish painful subjects away. Now there is a difference between these two types of union. The question of being in a state of sin is something only the person can answer—conscience is inviolable, and only God and the soul can make that discernment.

Union with the Church, on the other hand, is a matter of the outer forum, visible to anyone who knows the facts of a situation. If a person has made choices in their life that remove them from communion with the Catholic Church, not only should they themselves not receive the Eucharist, but the pastors of the Church have a duty to inform them of this fact.

So, someone who is simply not Catholic, but belongs to some other religion, or who has left the Church for some other system of belief and way of life. People who have made moral decisions that publicly declare that they are not bound by or under the authority of the Catholic Church in any regard. Couples co-habitating without any form of marriage, or people doing intrinsically evil things in their work lives (the Mafia, for example, or the owner of a strip club). People who not only struggle with a homosexual orientation but who are publicly living as gay men or women in a same-sex relationship. People who have taken a public stand opposing the Church in its moral or dogmatic teachings—politicians, say, advocating laws that directly oppose the moral teachings of the Church.

And yes, (since this is the controversy of the day) people who have not only been divorced but have entered into a second marriage without having gone through the annulment process for their original one. Any one of these people in any of these categories may or may not be in a state of subjective sin—I would never dream of flatly stating that—but they have indeed objectively removed themselves from the communion the Church.

This is painful, yes. We are all free to choose what we will believe and what we will do in our lives. But our choices bear consequences. If I freely choose to, say, write a blog post where I flatly deny some basic matter of Christian doctrine, I am indeed free to do so. But I am not free to do so and then continue to exercise my ministry as a Roman Catholic priest. Freedom yes, but freedom without consequences? No.

So if someone has chosen to reject Catholicism, they may do so. But they really must not present themselves in the communion line, then. Reception of the Eucharist is not only about our union with God; it is also about our union with Christ’s Body on earth, the Church.

It is not a question of having to be some perfect Catholic who gets every answer right on a catechism test and never asks a question or struggles with a doctrine. Of course not. It is a matter of the public and manifest stands we have taken in our words and in our actions.

For example, you can really struggle with the Church’s flat statement that sex outside of marriage is wrong. You can not be at all sure that’s quite correct, and still choose not to move in with your girlfriend because you nonetheless want to live your life as a Catholic. But if you and your girlfriend do move in together, you have made a choice to publicly reject the Catholic faith. See the difference?

And so in the Mass before we go to receive communion we ritually express all this, first in our praying to God as our Father and then turning to one another to express our unity as a body of believers. And only then, in a spirit of deep humility and knowledge of our unworthiness, do we come forward to receive the Holy Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, at which point the Mass and all it has signified becomes our own mystery, our own life, and we are drawn into it in fullness and in truth.

Let us pray to receive the Eucharist knowing what we are doing and being vigilant to receive it worthily and well, so that it’s fruits may be shown forth in our lives.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Don't Get Cocky, Kid

Our Thursday stroll through the Mass has taken us through the Eucharistic Prayer and into the Communion Rite. This is the part of the liturgy when those who may do so come forward to receive the Eucharist.

‘Those who may do so’ – now that is a phrase redolent with the controversies of our day. What do you mean, ‘may’? Do you mean to suggest that there are people who may not receive the Eucharist? What kind of an outfit are you running, Lemieux? Who do you think you are, telling anyone what they can and cannot do?

And so on. And so forth. Look, I get it. The worst thing any North American can imagine is being told that they are not allowed to do something. We’re North Americans and we can do anything we want, right? ‘No right, no wrong, no rules for me, I am free’ – such is the ethos of our culture (thanks, Elsa, for summing it up for us so tunefully!). Oddly, at the same time as we angrily cast off anything the Church may have to say to us about what we can and cannot do, we easily consent to be harried and bullied on all sides by petty bureaucrats who churn out bushel-loads of regulations covering just about every aspect of life… but I am getting distracted here.

Yes, there are people who may not receive the Eucharist (whether they do so or not is really up to them, as it is not the place of the priest or other minister in the Communion line to correct people on their decisions). And the Communion Rite actually gives us a pretty good resume of who may or may not do so—the rite itself can serve as a good examen for whether or not I should go up the aisle to receive.

The rite begins with the Our Father. In other words, the reception of Communion brings to perfection something that already exists, and that is our unity with God. There is so much to say about the Our Father itself—I have blogged an entire series about it in the past, in fact. It is crucial to note that we don’t just take our relationship with God as Father for granted here—it is only ‘at the savior’s command, and formed by divine teaching’ that we pray this prayer. Our relationship with God is a gift, not a given.

And so, if we are in a state of serious sin, if we through a serious free choice to reject the moral law, have broken our relationship with God, then we may not receive communion. You cannot bring to perfection what does not exist, and mortal sin has precisely that effect. In a state of mortal sin we may remember our past relationship with God, we may grieve over having lost it, and we may truly desire to have it back  (all human beings desire God, whether they know it or not) but we do not in that state of being have it.

Now the only person who can discern if you are in a state of mortal sin is you yourself, and even that, only imperfectly. Nobody else can examine your conscience for you. But it is a very good thing not to be presumptuous about these things, not to blithely assume you’re OK with God. Are you sure about that? Really sure?

This is why frequent confession has always been recommended by all the spiritually wise, and why a fundamental attitude of humility of heart and contrition of spirit for one’s sins, mortal or not, is the true mark of a disciple. ‘Don’t get cocky, kid’, in short (thanks, Han Solo, for putting it so pithily!).

So this is the first principle for whether one ought or ought not receive communion—are you in a state of sin? Have you committed adultery, for example (i.e., you are married, and having sex with someone besides your spouse, and yes that word does indeed apply to people who have divorced and remarried)? What about theft? Told a lie? Have you been violent? Abusive, physically or verbally? Fornicated (that is having sex with someone you’re not married to, for those unclear on that word)? Missed Mass on Sunday without a good reason (i.e. illness or physical impossibility)? Blasphemed? You know – basic Ten Commandment stuff. It’s not rocket science.

If you want to be in Communion with God and you have fallen into one of these areas of serious sin, the Church does not leave you without resource. There is available to us the wonderful Sacrament of Reconciliation—go to Confession, dummy! And then receive the Eucharist!

If you don’t want to leave off your serious sin, and you don’t want to go to confession, then you really don’t want to be in communion with God, at least not as we understand these things in the Catholic religion. In which case… why do you want to receive the Eucharist in a Catholic Mass?

There is whole other aspect that pertains to whether or not one may receive the Eucharist, but that is for next time.