“To make visible the marvels wrought by God”

Yesterday, November 21, is usually observed as the Feast of the Presentation of Mary in the Temple.  (This year it was superseded by the Feast of Christ the King.)  The Presentation of Mary is always a special day for consecrated religious.  Fr. Peter John Cameron, in his book Mysteries of the Virgin Mary,  explains it this way:

The Presentation of Mary in the temple is an act of consecration.  This feast hold special significance for those persons called to consecrated life in the Church; at the same time it moves all people to reflect on the meaning of consecrated life for the Church.

He goes on to cite a quote from John Paul II that I have also found very encouraging for myself, as one called to consecrated life:

What Pope John Paul II says about consecrated life in his apostolic exhortation Vita Consecrata is revealed first and foremost in the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, especially as Our Lady is presented in the temple:

The first duty of the consecrated life is to make visible the marvels wrought by God in the frail humanity of those who are called.  They bear witness to these marvels not so much in words as by the eloquent language of a transfigured life, capable of amazing the world.  To people’s astonishment they respond by proclaiming the wonders of grace accomplished by the Lord in those whom he loves . . . . It is the duty of consecrated life to show that the Incarnate Son of God is . . . the infinite beauty which alone can fully satisfy the human heart.

Please pray for us that we may fulfill this duty wholeheartedly, that God’s marvels may be manifest “in the frail humanity of those [of us] who are called”.

The measure of a father’s love

For the last week and a half I have been pondering a piece written by Fr. Peter John Cameron for this month’s Magnificat.  Perhaps you’ve seen it as well?  For those who haven’t, I would like to include a few sections because he brings together two passages that it never would have occurred to me to juxtapose.  The first is the gospel reading for this coming Sunday, the story of the prodigal son.  The second–well, read on. He begins:

What was it that turned the prodigal son against his father (see Lk 15:11-32)?  Maybe the father was like the famous landowner in the parable of the workers hired late (Mt 20.1-16) who goes out five different times in the course of a single day to employ laborers for his vineyard.  At five o’clock in the evening he hires yet more workers.  And even though these men toil barely an hour, the landowner pays them the usual daily wage–the same salary as all the other laborers.  This sparks an outcry among the workers who have labored all day long bearing “the day’s burden and heat.”  Perhaps the prodigal son was among those who bitterly grumbled against the landowner.  Maybe it was the father’s extravagant display of generosity that provoked the son to demand, “Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.”  As if to say: “If you want to be so foolish and wasteful with your money, then give it to me, because I can’t stand being around here anymore if this is the way you want to act.”

And as Fr. Peter goes on to say: “What can the father do?”  What can we do when someone rails against our generosity? What is our Father to do when we rail against His generosity?

What can the father do?  If he refuses his son, the son will grow sullen and resentful, harboring a grudge that would wreak havoc on the household.  But to give his son the sum and let him go would be like setting the boy on the path of his own self-destruction.  Ironically, the prodigal son forces his father to become a kind of Abraham on Mount Moriah, where God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac (see Gen 22.1-14).  In order not to sin against heaven, the father had to put his son in peril: “Then [Abraham] reached out and took the knife to slaughter his son” (Gen 22.10).  Commenting on the father of the parable, the Venerable John Paul II wrote, “The love of the son that springs from the very essence of fatherhood in a way obliges the father to be concerned about the son’s dignity.  This concern is the measure of his love.”  Thus the father hands over the inheritance and lets his son go.

We know the ending, a happy one.  It’s always a risk, but a risk the Father is willing to take–because that’s how much He loves us. When our life seems to be going badly, perhaps it is a result of the Lord letting us go our own way . . . because that is the measure of a Father’s love.

What to give up for Lent

I realize that Lent is well underway and numbers of you have already pondered this question: “What should I give up for Lent?”  and well on your way into Lent, giving that thing up as you decided. At the same time, there are probably some of you that are either behind in answering it . . . or perhaps you had an answer, but are not really doing what you set out to do.  Any of those is a good excuse for me to share my favorite answer to that perennial question–and probably one of the most important answers.  It comes from a Magnificat article written by Fr. Peter John Cameron a few years ago.  I do not have time to quote the whole article (which is always dangerous because what you read will be edited), but I hope–especially those of you who despair of ever giving up what he suggests we give up–that you will find some hope in what he says:

Here’s what to give this Lent: the doubt that goes, “I can never get closer to God because I’m too sinful, too flawed, too weak.”  This is a lethal attitude, for it based on the false presumption that we can possess something of our own–that does not come from God–by which we can please God.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Only what is from God can please God.  But as long as such error persists, we estrange ourselves from God.  Lent is not about lamenting our inadequacy.  Rather, it is a graced moment to receive from God what he is eager to give us so that we can live the friendship with him that he desires. . . .

He goes on to describe how often we try to substitute self-sufficiency for the lack that we find in ourselves–and this usually leads to an experience of darkness in our lives–“we may even wonder if God hates us.”  He allows the darkness in order to draw us back to him.  “The most reasonable thing we can do when that feeling strikes is “to renew our act of love and confidence in God’s love for us.  The Lord allows the darkness precisely to move us to unite ourselves all the more closely to him who alone is the Truth.”

Still–we panic!  We feel as if we are obliged to do for God what we know we are unable to do.  But the point of the pressure is to convince us to receive everything from God.  We can be sure that God himself is the one who, in his mercy, moves us to do what is not within our power.  This is the Father’s way of opening us a little more to himself by making us a little more in the likeness of his crucified Son.

For nothing glorifies God like the confidence in his mercy that we display when we feel indicted by our frailty and inability.  The experience of our hopelessness is a heaven-sent chance to exercise supremely confident trust.  God delights in giving us the grace to trust him.

Sadly, for those who refuse God’s gift of confidence, the darkness can turn to despair.  Yet even in despair the miracle of mercy is at work.  Father Jean-Baptiste Henri Lacordaire, the nineteenth-century Dominican priest who was responsible for the revival of the Order of Preachers in France after the French Revolution, makes this astonishing remark: “There is in despair a remnant of human greatness, because it includes a contempt for all created things, and consequently an indication of the incomparable capacity of our being.”  In our darkness, the incomparable capacity of our being will settle for nothing less than the embrace of the Infinite.  Like nothing else, our helplessness moves us to cry out for that embrace in confidence and trust.  The cry of forsakenness that Jesus emits from the cross is just this.

Saint Paul wrote, “We were left to feel like men condemned to death so that we might trust, not in ourselves, but in God who raises from the dead” (2 Cor 1.9, NAB).  That’s the point.  That’s the challenge of Lent.  God wants us to have the strength to believe in his love so much that we confidently beg for his mercy no matter how much we feel the horror of death in ourselves. . . .

Let us this Lent, in the face of all ours sins, our limitations, and our weakness cry out with Jesus, “My God, why have you forsaken me?”  And let us do so with certainty–not doubt or desperation–because our union with Christ crucified has given us the Way to approach reality.  In our asking we hold the Answer.