Contemplatives in Action

Homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

http://www.lifeissues.net/writers/mcm/mcm_375homily7.24.2022ordinarytime16.html

Deacon Doug McManaman

This gospel reading on Martha and Mary has often been misinterpreted over the centuries and has given rise to a kind of dualism, a false dichotomy between the active life on the one hand, and the contemplative life on the other (Martha representing the active life, Mary the contemplative life), as if the two are mutually exclusive. But of course, the two are not mutually exclusive. Even someone like St. Theresa of Avila, who founded 17 religious houses in her efforts to reform the Carmelite order in the 16th century, was a contemplative in action. Mother Teresa also referred to herself and her sisters as contemplatives in action. A contemplative life without action would soon dry up and become lifeless, but an active life without contemplation is without ultimate purpose and quickly becomes neurotic and fanatical. 

All work, all labor, is to be ordered towards the contemplation of God, and of course, our entire life is really a preparation for the eternal contemplation of God with the entire communion of saints. That is the basic message of the 6-day work week which we inherited from the Jews, from the first story of creation in the book of Genesis. The creation allegory depicts God creating in 6 days and resting on the 7th. So, God is both active–He is always creating–, and He is contemplative; He beholds the goodness of what He creates. What is interesting about this story is that after all His work was done, “God saw all that he had made and indeed, it was very good”. That’s what an artist does when he finishes his work; he stands back and takes it all in, contemplating it. If he’s a good artist, he is pleased with it. The sabbath, in other words, is primarily a day of contemplation, which is the highest kind of activity. But, in that same chapter of Genesis, God also sees what He creates after each day of creation, and after each day, the scriptures indicate that “God saw that it was good”. So, there is a contemplative element weaved throughout the week. 

For the Jews, the work week is an imitation of God, in which we co-create, we share in God’s perpetual creation of the world, but it also includes a contemplative element every day. After each day, we are called to reflect upon the goodness of the day, to reflect upon the hand of God present in our daily life, how God has manifested himself during the course of the day. In the end, at the end of our lives, we enter into his rest, symbolized by the 7th day, to delight in his supreme goodness forever. 

The more we love something, the more we think about it. Those people who are “in love” usually can’t think of anything other than the one they’re in love with. They see the beloved’s face everywhere. And of course, the purpose of this life is to grow in the love of God, to prepare for an eternal life of contemplation of God, to behold His face forever. God loves each one of us as if there is only one of us–as if we are the only person who exists, and we have his undivided attention at every instant of the day. The purpose of our life here is to come to know that love, to experience it. If we really knew it, not much in life would trouble us, and we’d be thinking of God all the time. And just as the one who is “in love” sees the beloved’s face everywhere, so too, we’d see the Lord everywhere, in all things and in all situations. And then life becomes more and more ecstatic, like the experience of being in love. When God looked upon all He had made and saw that it was very good, He saw Himself in His creation. Creation is good and beautiful because God is the Supremely Good and Beautiful. A work of art always reflects the personality and character of the artist, and the cosmos is one large and continuous hymn to God–that is actually one of the titles of a great book by Jesuit priest and scientist, Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Hymn of the Universe¾there’s nothing like scientists who have a deeply religious and contemplative spirit; for they see parables everywhere in creation. Teilhard writes: “Blessed be you, universal matter, immeasurable time, boundless ether, triple abyss of stars and atoms and generations: you who by overflowing and dissolving our narrow standards of measurement reveal to us the dimensions of God.” 

But of course, not everyone is a scientist. Mother Teresa certainly was not, but she was a contemplative in action, and she could see the Lord in the concrete situations that she found herself in, which enriched so much of her writings. She saw the Lord in the faces of the poor and she saw the Lord in the faces of her Hindu and Muslim brothers and sisters in India. Wherever we are called to be, the Lord is there, and if we are reflective enough, we will begin to see Him there. 

Our own unique active life, whatever that is, provides us with unique experiences, and when we reflect deeply upon those experiences, we begin to know God from a unique angle. At that point, we have something unique to offer the Church, because our experience is unique. And so the active life with its rich and diverse experiences provides material for the contemplative life, and the contemplative life in turn enriches the active life. 

But as we get older, we begin to feel the body slowing down. Old age is supposed to be more and more contemplative, more and more reflective. One could say that after retirement, life becomes less active, and as our age increases, our life becomes increasingly less active, but this may not be entirely true. The activity we are called to in our old age is of a different sort. When my daughter was a little girl, after the 5 o’clock Mass, she’d always go out for coffee with “the ladies”. These were seniors of the parish whom she really liked and clicked with. Some have died, and the rest are shut-ins who can’t get to Mass–although Mass can come to them. But I recently told one of the ladies just how significant that friendship and those moments at Tim Hortons were for my daughter and her growth as a person. She didn’t really know what I was talking about; she didn’t see that just her presence, her being there, was a great work of mercy. But it was.

Also, as we get even older, we may get to the point where we can barely take care of ourselves anymore. In this case, we are still called to serve others actively by allowing others to take care of us. That’s how we are of service to others at the end of our lives. 

And so our life in the Person of Christ is both active and contemplative at the same time. A contemplative habit allows us to discern what activities really amount to nothing in the end¾and there are many¾, and which ones are significant and have eternal value. And a genuinely active life provides us with the experience that allows us to continually grow in the knowledge and understanding of God, who is always infinitely more than what we currently understand Him to be. 

Proclaiming the Kingdom

http://www.lifeissues.net/writers/mcm/mcm_374homily7.3.2022ordinarytime14.html

Homily for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Deacon Doug McManaman

            What today’s gospel reading reveals is that we are a missionary Church. The word missionary, like the word “mass”, comes from the Latin word “missa”, which means sent (mitto: I send). At the end of Mass, the deacon says:  “Go forth…” We come here to worship, to praise God, to listen to His word addressed to us, and to consume his body and blood, but there is a purpose to all of this, and that is “to be sent out into the world”, to walk in the power of the cross, and to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God, that the kingdom is at hand, that is, within reach. 

            But what does it mean to be sent out into the world to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is at hand? The way some people behave, it would appear they take it to mean being “preachy” and having all the answers to all religious questions; they are audacious, which to others usually comes across as obnoxious and pushy. Of course, that’s not what it means to proclaim the kingdom. The key to this question is in the Second Reading. Paul says: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither does circumcision mean anything, nor does uncircumcision, but only a new creation.”

            It’s this last line: “but only a new creation” that I would like to focus on. In baptism, we have become a “new creation”; we entered into his death, symbolized by immersion into the waters of baptism, and we rose from that tomb with the life of grace infused into our souls, symbolized by the lifting up out of the water. Everyone who is baptized is a different person leaving the Church than when he or she first arrived at the Church. He or she is a new creation, an adopted son or daughter of God, deified, filled with the life of divine grace. This is significant, for we are not born in a state of grace; we are born in need of a savior. In baptism, we become Christ, so to speak; for we are anointed with sacred chrism, and the Greek word for “anointed one” is Christos. We become “little Christs”. That is why St. Paul says: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me”.  

            Immediately after baptism, we enjoy a baptismal innocence; we are completely and utterly innocent, free of sin. But we still carry the wounds of Original Sin, so it does not take long to tarnish that innocence–if it is adult baptisms that we are talking about. And our battle, for the rest of our lives, is to overcome the effects of Original Sin, in particular concupiscence (our tendency to sin and self-seeking). And we do that, of course, by allowing ourselves to become Christ more fully. As John the Baptist says: “He must increase, I must decrease”. It’s about becoming Christ increasingly, daily¾not about becoming a preachy and obnoxious religious bugaboo. It’s about carrying in our bodies the death of Christ so that the life of Christ may be made manifest to others (2 Cor 4, 10). 

            What this means is that to the degree we achieve this, those who come in contact with us will come in contact with Christ, without their knowing it. If the atheist, or the Muslim, or the Sikh knows you, and loves what he sees in you, then he loves Christ without necessarily knowing it explicitly. If he is influenced by your charity and humility and even begins to emulate you, then he is following Christ without necessarily knowing it explicitly; and such people will find themselves with the sheep on the right side of Christ on the day of judgment, asking the Lord: When did we see you hungry, naked, thirsty, etc. 

            The kingdom of God is the redemptive presence of God in the world, through the power of the reconciling Spirit. Christ himself said the kingdom of God is within you (Lk 17, 21). That divine presence is within us, especially after receiving him in holy communion. 

            We have tremendous power when we are transformed into Christ. The spirit is far more powerful than matter, far more powerful than sounds and sights. When I was in the hospital back in 2003 to have a cancer tumor removed, lying in bed like a fileted fish, I noticed that I had an increased intuitive sense. When a nurse walked into the room, I knew immediately what kind of person she was, whether she cared, didn’t care, whether she was smart or incompetent, kind or indifferent, etc. It was a very interesting experience. When people are in a weakened and vulnerable state, something in them compensates, like we see with those who are blind; their sense of touch and hearing compensates and becomes far more acute. Something similar happens on the level of spirit. Some people know almost immediately what kind of person you are; they know it through their spirit, because your spirit radiates who and what you are, and they have the capacity to pick up on it. So, the more you and I die to ourselves and allow Christ to increase within us, by growing in charity and humility, by growing in faith, hope, and a very devoted prayer life, the more we influence others quietly but effectively. That’s what it means to proclaim the coming of the kingdom, and that’s how we move this world forward towards the fullness of the kingdom. In doing so, we are curing the sick and driving out demons. So much of human illness is psychosomatic. It begins in the soul and manifests in the body. But if the sick–and this includes the emotionally sick, those who are not well psychologically, as well as physically–, are in your presence and you have become Christ to a significant degree, you will bring healing to their souls, their emotional lives, and that can heal the body as well. And if you are full of light, you will drive out the darkness, because light chases the darkness, not the other way around. And so those who live in darkness, whose lives are entangled in the diabolical, will feel the difference in your presence, and they will either reject you in favor of darkness, or they will begin to escape the clutches of the evil that oppresses them. You become an exorcist without even knowing it. 

            You have that power. Christ said it in this gospel: Behold, I have given you the power to ‘tread upon serpents’ and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you.” The disciples he sent out discovered they had that power. However, they began to delight in it: “The seventy-two returned rejoicing, and said, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.” That delight can be dangerous, which is why Jesus said: “…do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”

            This is the reason why for the most part we are unaware of the good we accomplish in this life as a result of our insertion in the person of Christ. If we knew, we’d likely take pleasure in it, and then we would stop decreasing, and if we stop decreasing, he no longer increases in us. And so we have to trust in the power of the cross. Our task is to reform ourselves first and foremost, to work for the increase of the kingdom of God within our own selves; if we do that, the Lord will provide everything else.

I have come not to abolish the law and the prophets

Deacon Doug McManaman

The ethics of redemption is very different from the ethics of law, but the one does not cancel out the other. The ethics of redemption of course refers to the ethics of the New Law, which is written on the heart. It is an interior law, because in the New Covenant we have become a New Creation; human nature has been transformed. Divine grace is a sharing in the divine life, and it transforms everything we are and everything we do. Divine grace makes it possible for us to rise above our own inclination to sin and actually fulfill the demands of the law. 

What makes New Age religion so popular today and within the past 40 years is that it promises “salvation” or happiness (fulfillment) without moral reform, that is, without the moral law. It is religion without moral reform, religion without personal conversion and sacrifice. And in fact many of our protestant brethren have begun to drift into that mindset–a 90 year old Baptist woman I recently visited in hospital was complaining about just that: make no moral demands on the congregation, don’t talk about morality, the moral life, especially on a personal level; the idea is that if you are going to talk about a moral issue, make sure it is one that everyone can agree on, and that usually involves issues that are rather obvious, like racism, unjust oppression, or poverty. 

The problem is that these evils begin on the level of the human person, and so if individual human persons are not challenged and called to personal moral reform, as we see in the Commandments, then we are going to continue to see racism, unjust oppression and poverty, because evil does not begin nor exist on the level of the system, it begins and exists on the level of individual human persons. 

The Commandments go even further. You’ll notice that the first three have to do with God, the last seven have to do with our neighbour. What this implies is that if we do not fulfill the first three commandments (You shall have no other gods besides the Lord your God; Do not take the Lord’s name in vain; Keep holy the Sabbath), we won’t be able to fulfill the last seven having to do with our neighbour (Honour your mother and father; You shall not kill; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal, bear false witness and envy). We’ll end up violating those if we deem it necessary for our own personal happiness, because we’ve essentially made ourselves the center of our own lives, not God. 

So New Age religion is really a false promise, and it’s a false promise that makes money every ten years or so–makes money for publishers, that is, which is why every 5 or 10 years we see a new one on the bestseller list. It’s sort of like new diets that promise that we’ll lose weight without having to give up the foods we like. Take it from someone who has a lot of extra pounds on him to lose: they don’t work. There’s only one way to lose weight: stop eating so much and exercise; it’s the same with the spiritual life. The first words out of Jesus’ mouth were “Repent and believe in the gospel”. Confession, Eucharist, prayer, that’s the road to salvation. 

The New Eve

http://www.lifeissues.net/writers/mcm/mcm_373new.eve.html

Standing near the Cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

In this gospel reading, the Cross is the New Tree of Life, the New Tree in the center of the universe. Just as the First Eve, standing next to the tree “in the middle of the garden”, reached out her hand and took the fruit from that tree, which was a choice to taste independence from God–the tree representing self-sufficiency–, the Second Eve, who is Mary, standing next to the tree of the cross, through her fiat–let it be done to me according to your word-, surrendered the fruit of her womb and grafted that back onto the New Tree of Life. The First Eve brought death into the world through her own disobedience, infecting every member of the human race, the Second Eve brought life and light into the world through her own obedience and humility, affecting every member of the human race. We live in a different world now, one that has been deified. The Second Person of the Trinity became flesh, his feet touched the earth, he entered the waters of the Jordan, he breathed the same molecules that we breathe in every day, his blood dripped from the wood of the cross onto the ground, he made matter holy by his union with it, and the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles, giving birth to the Church, Christ’s Mystical Body. The Kingdom of God is truly within, it is immanent, in the heart of the world, hidden in the heart of each man. And all this began with Mary’s absolute surrender to the will of God: ‘let it be done to me according to your word’. That Word, the Second Person of the Trinity, joined a human nature in her womb. He received his body and blood from her, and so when we receive His body and blood in the Eucharist, she becomes our Mother. We become his body, and his blood runs through our veins, and so she is really and truly our Mother. Hence, she knows us intimately, as a mother would know her own child. She does not suffer the same limitations that she did here on earth, and so she really can know each one of us, and love each one of us, as if we are her only child, because she knows each one of us in the Beatific Vision. She knows us individually, but it is very important that we come to know and experience her gaze upon us, that we become aware of her knowledge of us. And we do that by praying to her and opening ourselves up to her, to her intercession, her guidance, and her concern for us.

Humanity: God’s “Other Self”

Homily for the Solemn Feast of the Ascension
http://www.lifeissues.net/writers/mcm/mcm_372ascension2022.html

Deacon Doug McManaman

At Christmas, we celebrate the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity: God the Son descends and joins his divinity to our humanity. But today, on this solemn feast of the Ascension, God the Son takes that humanity and ascends to the right hand of the Father. At Christmas, divinity is humanized; today, that divinized humanity is raised and glorified.  

This is interesting because God the Father loves God the Son; the Son is the Father’s “Other Self”. But the Son joined himself to a human nature, and in doing so, he joined himself to every man. If this is the case, then our humanity has become the Father’s “Other Self”. The result is that when the Father looks upon humanity, he sees his Son, His ‘other self’, and when He beholds His Son, he beholds our humanity and every individual who shares in that humanity.  

And so, there is a tremendous dignity in being a human person. But the point I want to emphasize is that there is a real dignity associated with all that belongs essentially to humanity, namely the limitations imposed by matter, and the wounds and scars that our material nature makes us vulnerable to. 

First, the human person is both spirit and matter, and because of the spirit’s union with matter, the human person is profoundly limited: we depend upon the environment, we depend on one another, human intelligence is profoundly limited by matter and sense perception, we learn very slowly throughout our lives, etc., but the problem is we still have an aversion to our limitations. The first sin was fundamentally a rejection of the limitations that constrain us. The first parents of the human race desired to be more than human; they chose to taste independence from God, to be their own God; they rejected their status as “child” of God, dependent upon God. That choice has affected each one of us; for each and every one of us has a propensity to reject the limitations that constrain us, we have an inclination to self-sufficiency, an aversion to that child-like status, which is why Christ said: “Unless you change and become as little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”. In Christ we become that original child. In him we choose to depend upon God. We become entirely his, to be used by him in whatever way he wishes. Christ’s ascension is the glorification of our humanity, and so it is the glorification of those limits. We should not be ashamed of those limitations, but at ease with them. The glory of man is not intelligence–intelligence is the glory of the angels; the glory of man, on the contrary, is humility, the total embracing of our limitations and radical dependency upon God and upon one another. 

The next point I want to make has to do with the wounds of Christ. He still had his wounds when he rose from the dead. He invited Thomas to touch them. But those wounds that he touched were glorified wounds; they were not ugly scars, but they reveal the glory and beauty of his love. They became badges of glory. 

All of us have wounds of one sort or another. Some of those scars are physical, and some are invisible. If we have no physical scars, we all have invisible scars, to some degree or another. We cannot live in this broken world without acquiring these invisible wounds. And some of us have even had to go through life battling mental illness of one kind or another, to one degree or another, and you might carry deep but invisible scars that this illness has left–whether that is clinical depression, or bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, paranoia, etc. What is so remarkable about the ascension is that Christ’s humanity, with all his scars, has been raised and glorified, placed at the right hand of the Father. And so those invisible scars that you might carry will achieve that glorified status, and those scars, even the invisible ones, will become badges of glory that will reveal the depth of the friendship that your illness has helped to establish between you and the suffering Christ. Whatever scars we possess from the battle of earthly life will, in the end, glorify us and reveal who we really are before God. 

A Mountain of Treasure

Homily delivered to the Confirmandi of Blessed Trinity Parish, North York, Ontario. 2022

https://www.lifeissues.net/writers/mcm/mcm_371mountainoftreasure.html

Deacon Doug McManaman

I just want to say that I really had a great time teaching you all this year. Of course, the two candidates that really stood out were ______ and ______. I do want to say how much I appreciated their thorough participation, raising their hands so often. I do want to extend my congratulations to all the parents for the good work that you have done, but I do have to offer a special congratulations to _______’s parents, because you certainly taught him the faith–I’m assuming it was you. 

But it is always frustrating teaching a course like this because there is just so much more to do, so much more to cover, and there just isn’t the time. We barely scratched the surface, and all we were able to do is open a few doors for you and hope that you’ll walk through those doors into this inexhaustible treasure house that is ours. When I speak about the rich heritage that is ours in the Church, I often think of the movie The Hobbit, the scene where Bilbo finds himself in this massive cave of treasure, walking on a mountain of jewels, gold and silver coins, diamonds, and precious stones, etc.; the camera moves to a panoramic angle, and you see how tiny he is in this massive cave. Of course, there is a huge dragon underneath all that treasure that Bilbo slowly awakens. The scene is spectacular. The Catholic heritage that you were born into is like that cave, but so much more, and our hope is that you explore that limitless cave for the rest of your lives. 

During the Winter and Spring, I teach adults, prospective Catholic teachers, at Niagara University, and the reflections I get from the students very often speak about the regret they feel that they had left the faith in their youth, that they allowed themselves to drift away, and they almost always point out that they had no idea how deep, meaningful, and beautiful the Catholic faith is. They seem to have come to the realization that it is so much larger than they thought, and they do genuinely feel regret for dismissing it. 

Recently I met an elderly woman, close to 90 and who is in a nursing home, who said to me that the greatest blessing that she’s received in her life was the stroke she had that paralyzed her. She said that her biggest regret in life is that she’s spent most of it without thinking about God, without thanking God, living as if God does not exist. She said she had money, her husband had a very good job, she had a very good job, and they would often have dinner parties for their friends. But one day her husband asked her to go downstairs to the cellar and get some more soft drinks to bring up for the guests, and when she opened the fridge, she felt funny, and then fell to the floor. Her husband wondered what was taking her so long, so he sent a guest down to check on her. When he saw her on the floor, he called 911 immediately. She had a stroke. Her life would never be the same again, and lying there in a hospital bed, paralyzed and in despair, she thought to herself: my life is over. But she remembered the Our Father from her youth, and she started to pray that prayer for the first time in decades. She told me she suddenly felt a profound sense of peace come over her. And she just continued to pray that same prayer every day. And of course, all she could do at that point was develop her spiritual life, which she had neglected. And developing a spiritual life is very much like physiotherapy, which can take a long time to restore the strength to the injured part of the body. The spiritual life is like that, but she kept at it, and she is a woman of great faith and charity. Her husband died and now she is in a nursing home, not a very luxurious one I’ll tell you, but she says she’s happy. Joyful. And I see how much she brings to the lonely and suffering residents every day. She is a remarkable woman. But what struck me is that she told me she’s profoundly happy, but at the same time feels regret that most of her life was wasted on the pursuit of wealth and luxury. The stroke was her greatest blessing, because it was as a result of that stroke that she returned to God. 

That’s sort of been the recurring theme in my life this year; I’ve met so many people who have discovered this boundless cave of treasure that they didn’t know was under their very noses, the spiritual, intellectual, philosophical, theological, literary, and artistic heritage of the 2000-year-old Church that Christ established. 

One of these great treasures of the Church is Julian of Norwich, who was a great mystic who lived in the 14th century and died in the early 15th. And she says this about heaven.  She writes: 

Every man’s age will be known in heaven, and he will be rewarded for his voluntary service and for the time that he has served, and especially the age of those who voluntarily and freely offer their youth to God is fittingly rewarded and wonderfully thanked. 

That’s such a great line: “…those who voluntarily and freely offer their youth to God are fittingly rewarded and wonderfully thanked.”  

As you know, most people, the vast majority, do not offer their youth to God, and have not offered their youth to God. Most people usually keep their youth for themselves. Only much later on in life do they come to the realization that the things they’ve been pursuing in life are just empty bubbles with very little substance. So only a small minority offer their youth to God. We really hope that you will offer your youth to God, that you will hang on to the faith in which you have been baptized, that you survive your teenage years with your faith and morals intact.  

It was easy to be a Catholic in the 1950s; everyone agreed with you if you were a Catholic who embraced Catholic principles. The problem is the 50s did not produce many heroes. But today, in 2022, it is not easy to be a Catholic at all. It is very difficult. If you don’t know that now through experience, you will when you enter university, because virtually everyone disagrees with you if you are a serious Catholic who lives and breathes the faith. And so, unlike the 50s, the early 21st century will produce many heroes, because if you do survive the next 10 years of your life with your faith intact, you are a hero. This is the age of Christian heroes. You’ll be up against some serious opposition: ridicule, cancel culture, and you’ll be made to feel like a hateful bigot for the views you hold. But if you survive those years with your faith intact, you will be especially rewarded in heaven and wonderfully thanked by God, as Julian of Norwich says.  

In my 35 years of teaching, I will say this: the happiest students that I have every year are those who practice their faith, who live and breathe the faith, who study it, and who develop a strong spiritual life. These are the ones who exhibit the greatest mental and emotional health, who radiate a real spirit of joy and who have the strength to endure the sufferings and difficulties that life brings to each one of us. 

So, I beg you to continue to pray, to grow in a love for the Eucharist, to take advantage of the sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) by going regularly, at least once a month, but more than that if you can, to develop a real devotion to Our blessed Mother, to pray the rosary. Stay close to God and give Him permission to do with you what He wants to do with you. If you give God permission to take over your life, to use you, to do with as He pleases, you are going to live a life that will be profoundly rich in meaning.