Tag Archives: Scripture

On The Value of Twitter

Fr. Dwight Longenecker over at “Standing on My Head” has an interesting series he is beginning on twitter.  It is, essentially, short spiritual quotes from spiritual masters of the Christian tradition.

This got me thinking about some of the potential value of twitter, if used appropriately.

Many, nay, most people use twitter for linking, saying that they are in line at a coffee shop, and, well, mostly mundane things.  But it need not be that way.  Fr. Longenecker’s series got me thinking about how even things like Twitter – which, I must admit, I am not the biggest fan of – can be used for great spiritual good with the use of spiritual aphorisms.

First, for those who don’t know what Twitter is, it is a communication service in which you communicate thoughts, 140 characters at time.  It is, in short, meant for brief, quick, and easy communication.  Unfortunately, what is on Twitter is mostly mundane and not worth the little bit of time we would be putting into it.

Yet, what Fr. Longenecker is talking about is something that the Church can do to use it for the good of promoting the spiritual growth of others and contributing to adding a soul to the internet.

Essentially, Fr. Longenecker is using the great ancient tradition of spiritual aphorisms and using a medium that is actually quite adept at communicating these aphorisms.  Many of us have very busy days, where a million requests, activities, and actions are required of us.  Many people do not have the luxury that, for example, priests do in sitting down and doing spiritual reading.  Life makes too many demands of most people to make such time impossible.  Yet, the beauty of spiritual aphorisms is that they can be an aid in our day.  We can take these little quotes as guides for the day, as words that will strengthen us in our daily tasks, as words that will slowly challenge us to continue on our work of holiness.

Most people, too, cannot remember long, extensive quotes.  We are no longer a culture that depends on memory (though, I think this is actually a negative thing because memory and human/spiritual formation go hand in hand, but that is for another post one day).  So, unless it is short, sweet, and to the point, we have no time for it.  We scan, skim, and get on to the next bit of information.  This is not good, but we must also meet people where they are at and so can use things like Twitter to get small, substantial, and conversion-ended messages across to people to help them in their day.  Small aphorisms can be the small seed that results in an abundance of growth.  Then, as people begin to hunger for more, we point them to places, people, and books that can help them at the deeper level they desire.  If you will, Twitter is akin to the first stage of the spiritual life, and so those who are looking to start there, Twitter can be helpful.  It can even be helpful for those who are more advanced spiritually: they can take these small bits and pray with them constantly each day?  Heck, why can’t we use Twitter to aid in Lectio Divina with short scriptural passages.  Because the passage/saying is short, it becomes easy to memorize and to pray on it over and over again.  And thus we can even use Twitter as a means of aiding people to come to the deeper spiritual sense of Scripture, to help them memorize the Scripture, and to bring them to a deeper encounter with Jesus Christ through the Scriptures and the holy sayings of His saints.

Yet, at the same time, we must always be critical of things and not accept them as “new = good”.  This is not always the case.  I think Twitter can be good, but I do find a lot of Catholics, in trying to reach the culture, end up using it in the same mundane manner as the culture, thus losing opportunities of evangelization and growth.  We must use these tools, but with the Christian soul permeating through our use of them.  Otherwise we are not evangelizing, but are bringing the Gospel and watering it down with the soul of the world.  Rather, the Gospel ought to be enlivening the dead flesh of the world and bring it to a newer and more profound life.

Fr. Longenecker’s venture has got me re-evaluating the importance of Twitter.  While I do see it too easily used for the mundane, for the fast-paced world we live in, a short shot of scriptural passages and spiritual maxims can aid us to bring a soul into the busyness of our lives.  Twitter, too, can be used for the good of the Gospel, in so far as we are willing to use it as a means to ever-greater spiritual growth.

On that note, I do have a twitter feed and hope to use it more often, following the great example of Fr. Longenecker.  You can follow me on Twitter @christian_state.

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John 17 Reveals the Heart of Prayer

Today, I did my weekly preaching in the parish and preached on the Gospel (for those concerned about liturgy, fear not!  I do it before the sign of the Cross, thus outside the bounds of the liturgy, a place and time anyone can say anything 🙂 ).

I decided, first, to approach it differently.  Instead of focusing on the whole text, I focused on a little.  Instead of writing it out, I sat with the text a lot, I wrote down a couple points I may wish to say, and attempted to preach from the heart.  All in all, I will say, it was a successful strategy.

It began with the statement that “as the hour approached for Him to pass from this world to the Father.”  This “Hour” is the time of His atonement, it is the fulfilling of the will of His Father.  He fulfills this will by passing from the world to the Father.  The way by which He passes is the Cross.

We too can enter into Christ’s hour.  If the hour is to fulfill the will of the Father, then it is our duty to seek out His will and participate in Christ’s hour.  We do so by seeking out the Cross in our lives, for it is the Cross that is a gift to us and aids us in being saved and bringing salvation to others.  Jesus says in Luke 9:23 “Unless you take up your Cross daily and deny yourself, you cannot be my disciple.”  But what is the Cross we are called to carry, how do we seek it out?

The next part of the opening verse gives us a hint: “Jesus looked up to heaven and said.”  Does it mean that Jesus looked up with His head?  No.  It is something deeper than that.  He resides in the heart of the Father, and the Father resides in the heart of Jesus.  The heart is where they give themselves to each other in an intimate dialogue of love.  So, Jesus looked into His heart.  It is the “Room” He speaks about where we are to go to speak to our Father in secret.  Yes, we can go to places which are private, but the most private, intimate room we have is our heart, where we can speak to the Father in the intimacy that only He can know.

Now, how do we pray?  If we pray in our hearts, if it is the place of communion between us and the Father, what do we do next?  The rest of today’s Gospel gives us a hint.  Jesus uses words in the imperative: Make them, sanctify them.  He is asking, but it is an asking that tells: Do this.  Do we do this in prayer?  Do we involve our will in prayer, or do we simply rattle off the words necessary?  When you start paying attention to prayer, you start noticing that, in fact, prayer expresses itself in demands.  St Paul says in one of his letters that God is always faithful, even if we are unfaithful, for He cannot deny Himself.  God gives us Himself in a covenant and to refuse the “terms” of the covenant is to refuse Himself.  God will not do that.  He has made a promise, He will keep it.

If you begin listening to prayers of the Mass: the Collects, the Our Father, the Confiteor, the Eucharistic Prayers, etc., you will notice that there is a demanding tone to the prayers.  Father, send forth your Spirit, lead us not into temptation, deliver us from evil.  Just as a child has a boldness in demanding what it needs, so are we to be bold when approaching our Father in Heaven as His children.  And we must remember: this is how Jesus prayed.  In fact, this is how all of Scripture prays!

This means, ultimately, using our will in our prayers.  The will is the place where the act of faith happens.  We cannot say “I believe” unless we involve the “I”.  Sure, we can say the words, but they are not coming from the will, from our hearts, and thus have no effect in our lives.  Plus, in this case, prayer becomes dry, boring, and burdensome, whether spontaneous or formal.  We must involve our heart in prayer.  When we do, it becomes effective in our lives because we are using the will that God has graced with His redemptive love.  Our will has been sanctified, but for too many of us, we let it sit there, motionless, uninvolved.  When we begin to use the will, things change.  I recall one priest saying that in prayer we do not say “God, look how big my sins are” but rather “sins, look how big my God is!”  Do we believe?  If we do, God will work in our lives.  This is not pelagianism, because it is not our work: God’s grace is always primary.  But we must cooperate with it, we must answer the call of grace in our lives.  To do so means to involve our I, to wake it from it’s sleep, and to bring it into the “I” of Christ.

So, let’s start to use our will in prayer.  It is only this way that we can give ourselves to God, when we actually involve our whole self, and that includes the will.  This makes prayer come alive because we are finally starting the life God wishes us to live, we are finally answering to His call, we are finally living in the life of grace.

in Christ

-Harrison

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The Cloud of the Ascension

As I have been reflecting on the readings for this Sunday, something suddenly burst forth in my mind when I read the following passage from the Acts of the Apostles:

When he had said this, as they were looking on,
he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.

I don’t know about you, but I know that when I have read this in the past, I have always thought of some white fluffy cloud either taking Jesus out of sight, or Jesus being lifted up on some fluffy cloud.  Don’t ask me why, but I think part of it is because we only tend to think of clouds that way.  So, when we see the word, we immediately associate that concept of the cloud to the passage.

Yet, what hit me was that, perhaps my concept of cloud is not what is meant in this passage.  You see, the image of the cloud has a rich history both in the Old Testament and in the Gospels.  This site has a good overview of the various passages in Scripture that use the image of the cloud.

The images that use a cloud, however, that were most prominent in my mind were the image of the cloud that descended on Mt Sinai and the Mount of the Transfiguration.  In Exodus 19:19, the Lord God says to Moses that he will descend upon him in a thick cloud.  In Luke’s Gospel, we find that a cloud overshadowed Jesus and the disciples, with a voice speaking from the midst of the cloud “this is my beloved Son, listen to Him.”

Thus, when I heard the reading from Acts, it dawned upon me that the cloud by which Jesus disappears is not a cloud as we understand it.  It is the cloud of the presence of God: the Father has come to bring the Son back to His rightful place in Heaven.

The descent of the cloud is a sign of the presence of God.  It is a mysterious cloud.  Many Church Fathers see the cloud, for example, as the mysterious presence of God, a presence that creates a darkness in the minds, for we are unable to comprehend God.  It is a sign of God, too, enacting a new promise with His chosen people.

The cloud “took Jesus from their sight”.  It does say that Jesus was taken up, and we do call it the Ascension.  Yet we cannot look at it in spatial terms.  We must look, rather, at the Ascension as Jesus’ ascent to His throne in Heaven, which is not a spatial event, but rather relational and greater than the three dimensional world we live in.  Jesus was taken from the sight of the disciples in the clouds.  What was clear has now passed over into the liturgical, scriptural, and sacramental life of the Church (what St Leo the Great calls the Mysteries).  Jesus is removed from our sight, but not from our hearts.  What was seen, is now seen by faith.  What was known through the senses is now known by the soul.  What was heard from the lips of Jesus now comes to us through the Scriptures and the teaching of the Church.  The cloud darkens the heart because it is lifting the heart of the disciples into a more intense, more intimate relationship with the Lord, a relationship that is realized at Pentacost.  The darkness of the cloud is really the light of faith acting in our lives.

When you then begin to think about it, you begin to realize that the darkness that is experienced in faith (not the darkness of suffering, but the darkness of insight, the darkness of not being able to grasp God and His inner life) is really only the start of the spiritual life.  Just as the disciples receive this darkness just prior to their mission of preaching, so we as disciples of Jesus, through the darkness of not seeing Jesus in our prayer, in our inability to grasp God despite our intense desire to do so is not an abomination of faith, but rather the fulfillment of faith.  We see that we are not on the wrong path, but on the right path, because we become purified, like the disciples.  Just as they mistakingly looked up and were corrected by the angels, so too does God correct us in our darkness about our desire to grasp Him.  Our darkness reminds us that we are unable to grasp God, and once we accept that in our lives we are able to receive the Holy Spirit fully in our hearts, thus being able to be moved to proclaim the Gospel to the whole world.

As we can see, the event of the Ascension is very important to us as Christians.

in Christ

-Harrison

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The Glory of Scripture

I just returned from a wonderful retreat in which we had Fr. Dominic Borg as our retreat master.

I had encountered Fr. Borg when I lived and worked at the Cathedral prior to entering the seminary.  I remember liking him, but forgot about just how good he really is until I heard him this week.

What made him so good was that Scripture simply flowed from his heart.  He knew so much Scripture, but it simply flowed from his heart.  He was convicted by the Word, by the Church, and, most importantly, by Christ.  It simply came from him and it was contagious, you wanted what he had.  That is, to me, the sign of the saint: they have Jesus, and they let him flow out of them, and you want the Jesus that they love.

It has inspired me to really begin to immerse myself into the life of Scripture, to let the Word permeate my being in my prayer.  I have experienced in the past that when I allow the Scriptures to flow into me through quiet prayer, I begin to be transformed and it is no longer me, but Christ who lives in me.  I am planning on redoubling my efforts to allow Scripture to form my life, I hope others will as well.

I do find, however, that many people in the world have a hard time accepting Christian beliefs, or they have a hard time being obedient to the teaching of the Church, or living a particular aspect of the moral life, etc.  What I have discovered, though, is that many people in the world do not have a listening spirit: they are unwilling/unable to open up their hearts to let God speak to them.  They have made up their minds before encountering their Maker, and refuse to be docile to God’s Spirit in their lives.

I have, myself, in the past, entered into arguments.  Many people, for example, will find that the Church’s belief in the Eucharist is weird and crazy (though, first off, they tend to completely misunderstand the doctrine of the Eucharist).  But I have realized that it is totally pointless to enter into such arguments.  It is not a knock against said people, but in order to understand the Catholic doctrines, one needs to have a docile spirit, a receptive soul, a listening ear.

I am becoming more and more a believer in the idea that the best argument is sanctity: the best argument is a heart convicted by the love of Jesus Christ.  The heart convicted allows Christ to take form in you, and the best means to do that is to read Scripture and to spend time with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.  These two elements of the spiritual life are so important, so central, and they are the means through which we allow Jesus to be formed in us.

In Scripture, the words and actions of Jesus take form in our soul, while in adoration, in reception of the Eucharist, we allow the very Person of Jesus to radiate upon us: we are “tanned” by the rays of Jesus.  By these two means, we allow Jesus to take us over completely, thus becoming most ourselves.  Thus, we no longer speak with our own words, but the words of Scripture, the words of Jesus, become our words.  When people call us crazy, we can show through our lives, by which the Scriptures and the Eucharist have become incarnated in us, that we are not crazy, but living a life fulfilled.

So, let us become Saints.  Let us spend time with Jesus, in the Eucharist and in the Word, and allow Him to take form in our lives.

In Christ

-Harrison

 

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