Tuesday, September 1, 2020

If The Love Of The World Is In You


Sometimes you forget the things you take for granted as a Christian. It seems hard to remember a time before the life of faith when I would catch myself at a party or watching Saturday Night Live with my friends thinking, “is this all there is?” 

For many converts, the nudging towards the eternal, the curiosity towards “something more” beyond what is in front of us, is that wide part of the funnel that narrows as we move towards the Truth. Just as the Lord Christ used Samaritans and other foreigners to bring about the Kingdom of God, and just as St. Paul writes about Gentiles who have the eternal law written on their hearts (Rom 2:14-15), my own journey to faith began on the impetus of those outside the walls of Christendom.   


In high school I had gotten my hands on some lectures of a Hare Krishna devotee. In one of the recorded tracks, an interviewer is asking about his iconic robe and shikha (a tuft of hair at the back of head specifically kept by Vaishnavas and Brahmanas to signify renunciation of the world). “Do you ever go to a movie? To a football game?” the reporter asks. “No,” the devotee answered. “We experience our pleasure on...a higher realm. The purpose of life is to please God, Krishna.” 


“A priest,” the reporter noted, “would not find it sinful to go to a sporting event.”


“It’s not so much that it is sinful,” the devotee noted. “But if, in watching the event--the configuration of colors on a pasture doing this or that, I forget my eternal purpose, it becomes...quite a serious matter of eternal consequence. After all, Jesus Christ said, “If any man love the world, the charity of the Father is not in him”” (1 Jn 2:15).


The world and its lures are subtle and pernicious. Horror vacui--”Nature abhors a vacuum,” as the saying in Physics goes. The Lord bestows upon us the gift of work and leisure, but both can become an end in themselves rather than a means to an end; that is, our eternal end. This is why work on the Sabbath is such a serious violation of the Law. The great St. John Vianney saw the people of Ars working on Sundays as if it were any other day and it was one of his first spiritual admonitions he made upon his arrival in the small wayward village. We have six days to work, and on the seventh we are commanded--not given a suggestion--to rest. In doing so, we honor the Sabbath and, by extension, God Himself.


Likewise, leisure can become idolatrous when we place the acquisition of goods and pleasures above that which belongs to God and the poor. There is no sin in enjoying the things of God, but we must remember St. Paul’s warning, in Romans 1:25: “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator--who is forever praised.” The consequence of idolatry--that is, prioritizing things outside of right order, putting created things before God, forgetting our eternal purpose and trusting in made-made creations--is that our thinking becomes foolish and our hearts become darkened (Romans 1:21). 


Such descents into idolatry and disruption of the eternal order do not happen overnight. Like unconfessed venial sins, which deposit layers of spiritual soot and silt upon our souls and prevent the light from penetrating, our susceptibility to the temptation to more serious sins increases in proportion to the extent which we forget our eternal purpose, our spiritual raison d’etre. “They forgot the God who saved them, who had done great things in Egypt” (Ps 106:21)


When it is written, “If any man love the world, the charity of the Father is not in him”” (1 Jn 2:15); and “You cannot serve both God and mammon” (Mt 6:24); and “In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples” (Lk 14:33), we find a dichotomous inverse relationship--the more you love the world and the things of the world, the more the world claims you for its own. When we forget who it is we serve, who put us here and for what purpose, we start to slip. When we become unbalanced and shelve prayer and due worship in favor of catching up on things we have prioritized instead to get ahead in the world at the expense of what we owe God in justice, we lose our spiritual equilibrium. Our Lord is clear--we cannot serve two masters, for the God of Hosts is a jealous God (Ex 34:14).


And so, we must admit, when we neglect mental prayer and due worship, meditation and recollection of what the Lord has done for us, we have become idolators and blasphemers. We gravitate and expend our energy on what we value; we make time for what matters to us. Like setting off on a spur that takes us farther from our destination the longer we traverse it in a state of forgetfulness, we can wake up and realize we are far from home. We become like fools, lost and without a map or rudder. We realize we have put our faith in perishable things thinking they are of the utmost importance in the moment; things that rot and are temporal. “And the world passeth away, and the concupiscence thereof: but he that doth the will of God, abideth for ever” (1 Jn 2:17).


But thank God when we do “wake up” from our spiritual slumber, finding ourselves like prodigals far from home, even when we have not committed heinous sins but simply drifted too far from shore. We can find our way home again, for the Father stands waiting like a beacon on a hill, a lighthouse on a shoreline. We tune back in to the right frequency, the divine wavelength, by rededicating ourselves to prayer, in order to hear the way we must go. We find our map in the pages of Scripture. We recommit our time, dropping it in the basket of eternal reward. And we confess our waywardness in the Sacrament of Confession, which is more powerful than an exorcism. 


“Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Deut 8:12-14). Whereas the Devil does everything he can to make us forget what we have been ransomed from, the Lord urges us to remember--to set memorials on the ascent that we revisit. When we slip into forgetfulness of our eternal purpose and favor the temporal, God reminds us by grace through any means necessary to wake us up. And when the Devil urges us to remember our sins and failings in light of God’s omnipotent perfection, our God forgets them. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Ps 103:12). 


The next time you forget your eternal purpose, what your ransomed life is for, use it as a barometer for your spiritual state. If you are far from home, call out for help in prayer. If you don’t know the way, go to Scripture and the tradition of the fathers. If you have sinned, confess your faults and ask for forgiveness. Recommit yourself to the works of penance. Take time to be alone, and give the Lord the oblation of a broken spirit (Ps 51:17). In doing so, you will recall your eternal destination, and your status in the world as merely a pilgrim. As St. Catherine of Siena said, “Everything has a purpose and it is vast beyond our ability to comprehend.”


Friday, July 10, 2020

The Law of Unintended (Liturgical) Consequences

A phenomenon that has long fascinated me is the oft-referred to "Law of Unintended Consequences." It is a socio-political/economic theory of sorts that dates back to Adam Smith but was popularized in the twentieth century by sociologist Robert K. Merton. In his theory, Merton stated that often unanticipated consequences or unforeseen consequences are outcomes that are not the outcomes intended by a purposeful action. In some cases, the law of unintended consequences could create a perverse effect contrary to what was originally intended and ultimately making the problem worse.

Merton refers to the “relevance paradox”, whereby decision makers think they know their areas of ignorance regarding an issue, obtain the necessary information to fill that ignorance void but intentionally neglect other areas as its relevance is not obvious to them.

I have no experience in economics, politics, or sociology, but in the past few years I have been paying attention to the issues surrounding liturgical reform. Why?  As an American I am indirectly affected by economics, politics, and sociology. As a Catholic who has made faith the cornerstone of my life, however, I am directly affected by both my interior prayer and external worship.

For much of the past twenty years since I became a Catholic, I have been looking from the inside-out. My personal conversion of heart in the wilderness of upstate Pennsylvania at the age of seventeen constituted an inner metanoia or "born-again" experience which demanded a vessel to house it. That vessel of deposit was the Catholic Church, into which I was grafted when I made my first Confession, Communion, and Confirmation a year and a half later. Although Byzantine by rite, for twenty years I was more or less fed by the standard-fare of the Novus Ordo, as it was the only thing on the menu in college and beyond. I attended daily Mass often, and always on Sundays. I never gave much thought to how I was being formed from the outside-in: that is, how the liturgical expression of the Mass that I attended affected my inner spiritual disposition.

A.J. Jacob, the secular agnostic journalist who wrote an account of his guinea-pig attempt to live the Judaic biblical mandates to a 'T' in his book The Year of Living Biblically, noted that "Judaism has a slogan: deed over creed.' There's an emphasis on behavior; follow the rules of the Torah, and you'll eventually come to believe." Perhaps it was because I had such a strong interior conversion--recognizing my sinful nature and need for a Savior--that such a focus on the external locus (ie, "deed over creed") seemed foreign and Pharisaical. Religion was, and should be, a matter of the interior, the heart.

When I got married and my wife and I began having children, we continued to attend the local suburban parish as a matter of convenience. Built in a circular configuration in the 1990's, we were accustomed to the more or less anthropocentric experience of being "gathered around the table of the Lord" without giving much thought to it. We exchanged the Sign of Peace, took Communion in the hand from Eucharistic Ministers, and dressed more or less casually.

Little things were beginning to chafe over time, however. The applause by the congregation, the prominence of the music ministry, the creative license of the words of consecration by the priest. I was bothered, but couldn't put my finger on what it was that was bothering me.

We eventually switched parishes in large part because I was trying to get a street evangelization team off the ground and the parish we were attending was not interested in supporting one. The parish we ended up at had a pastor who was excited about claiming this endeavor and adding it to the roll of activities that marked a "vibrant parish." The church building itself was over one hundred years old, and maintained the architechural integrity of that era. There was an altar rail, though it was not utilized. The altar servers used a paten at Communion, but were still composed of boy and girl servers. The music was more traditional, though using the same hymnbook as our old parish. Again, these things began to chaff after a while, though they were in a parish more or less devoid of blatant liturgical abuses.

By happenstance, a local friend extended an invitation to attend a Latin Mass in the city. I decided to scout it out alone and report back to my family. I do not remember being overwhelmed by its beauty or reverence, but I do remember feeling a little disoriented and lost. But a seed was planted, and when we discovered a Latin Mass closer to our home we began to attend once a month, while attending the Novus Ordo the remaining Sundays. When it became too schizophrenic, we eventually made the jump to attending the TLM full time, and registered at the parish.

We were worried about our children's behavior initially, since they could be rowdy. But surprisingly, the more we attended, the quieter and better behaved they became. We began to realize we were somewhat under dressed, and I began to wear a tie and blazer like the other men and my wife, a dress. Ironically, the first Mass I attended as a Catholic in the university auditorium I dressed up for (because I thought that's what you do for church), but felt out of place among the shorts, tank tops, and flip flops of the other students. We found the Latin Mass itself to be more physically demanding with all the kneeling, but found eventually that it to be fitting for worship. Mass ad orientum reminded us why we were there--to offer worship, not primarily for fellowship. Eventually, the little pieces started to fall into place.

What does all this have to do with the law of unintended consequences? As someone who feels led to evangelize, and was attracted to the idea of a "New Evangelization" in order to share what I have received "like a beggar showing other beggars where the bread is," I found that our Latin Mass community was growing bigger each week with more and more families, despite the lack of programs, school, or formal efforts geared towards evangelizing. It was as if the Mass of Ages itself was drawing people in with no real advertising and no established program to do so. There was no welcoming committee, no greeters, no established outreach--and yet, people heard and came.

When I learn about the history of the liturgical reforms, it seems as if the efforts of drawing in people by making things less demanding, less mysterious, more accessible, and more anthropocentric has had the opposite effect. In relegating traditional communities in many dioceses to the "bad parts of town" and having them few and far between to seemingly discourage traditional worship as non-normative, another unintended consequence takes place--people drive far distances, sometimes upwards of an hour or more, to attend, even when they have a church 10 minutes from their house in a safe neighborhood.

This all presupposes that there was no nefarious intent in the reforms of the 1960's and that the attempts to "open the windows to the world," in the words of Pope John XXIII were indeed intended to evangelize the world. The argument could also be made that "correlation is not causation" and that the turbulent times of the sixties and seventies had as much to do with the plummeting attendance at Sunday Mass and the loss of belief in the Real Presence rather than the result of the liturgical reforms themselves. This is a topic which I am not prepared to tackle here.

Suffice it to say, however, when viewed through the lens of "unintended consequences," there seem to be many that have resulted from both the reforms themselves (decline), and the marginalizing of traditional worship (increases in attendance and devotion, as well as vocations). Could this be a so-called "paradox of relevance," whereby decision makers think they know their areas of ignorance regarding an issue, obtain the necessary information to fill that ignorance void but intentionally neglect other areas as its relevance is not obvious to them? It may be worth considering, and may even prove the old adage I still remember from my college retreat days: "Want to make God laugh? Tell Him your future plans."

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Adrift and Untethered

I read The Brothers Karamazov for the first time while staying in a shed on a horse farm in New Zealand.

I had returned to Wellington to visit a Samoan girl I had fallen for the year before while at university, but the relationship was on the rocks and she kicked me out of her apartment after a few days. With a month to kill before my flight home, and more or less adrift, I took the ferry over to Picton and began hitchhiking the 1,000km to Invercargill, on the southernmost tip of the South Island. I spent a few nights in a Trappist monastery, and a hostel here and there. At one point I slept in the doorway of a public bathroom on the beach, cooking my dinner on a small alcohol stove to escape the wind. I remember a small child going to use the bathroom being startled that there was someone lying there. I was, for all intents and purposes, a vagrant.

I spent about a week on the horse farm somewhere between Christchurch and Timaru. Most people in New Zealand are very laid back and friendly, and after I encountered the farmer she invited me to stay in a shed on her property. I would sit on the porch and drink tea, hang my laundry, walk into town for the newspaper, and read books. I was more or less alone, and more or less adrift. Yes, I was traveling, but I was also searching. I had been Catholic for about three years and had struggled to leave my old life behind. I still remember lying in bed, the light of dusk coming through the one window of the shed, and reading Dostoevsky's words in The Grand Inquisitor:

“I tell you that man has no more tormenting care than to find someone to whom he can hand over as quickly as possible that gift of freedom with which the miserable creature is born. But he alone can take over the freedom of men who appeases their conscience. With bread you were given an indisputable banner: give man bread and he will bow down to you, for there is nothing more indisputable than bread. But if at the same time someone else takes over his conscience - oh, then he will even throw down your bread and follow him who has seduced his conscience. In this you were right. For the mystery of man's being is not only in living, but in what one lives for. Without a firm idea of what he lives for, man will not consent to live and will sooner destroy himself than remain on earth, even if there is bread all around him. That is so, but what came of it? Instead of taking over men's freedom, you increased it still more for them! Did you forget that peace and even death are dearer to man than free choice in the knowledge of good and evil? There is nothing more seductive for man than the freedom of his conscience, but there is nothing more tormenting either. And so, instead of a firm foundation for appeasing human conscience once and for all, you chose everything that was unusual, enigmatic, and indefinite, you chose everything that was beyond men's strength, and thereby acted as if you did not love them at all - and who did this? He who came to give his life for them! Instead of taking over men's freedom, you increased it and forever burdened the kingdom of the human soul with its torments. You desired the free love of man, that he should follow you freely. seduced and captivated by you. Instead of the firm ancient law, men had henceforth to decide for himself, with a free heart, what is good and what is evil, having only your image before him as a guide - but did it not occur to you that he would eventually reject and dispute even your image and your truth if he was oppressed by so terrible a burden as freedom of choice? They will finally cry out that the truth is not in you, for it was impossible to leave them in greater confusion and torment than you did, abandoning them to so many cares and insoluble problems. Thus you yourself laid the foundation for the destruction of your own kingdom, and do not blame anyone else for it.”

Kornelije Kvas wrote that Bakhtin’s theory of "the polyphonic novel and Dostoevsky’s dialogicness of narration postulates the non-existence of the 'final' word, which is why the thoughts, emotions and experiences of the world of the narrator and his/her characters are reflected through the words of another, with which they can never fully blend." Though Dostoevsky was influenced by his Orthodox Christian upbringing, and was pious in his own right, the polyphony that is evident in his work laid the groundwork for his influence on Existentialists like Sartre and Nietzsche. Though fond of the Christ of the New Testament, he described himself as a "child of unbelief and doubt up to this moment, and I am certain that I shall remain so to the grave." He also wrote that "even if someone were to prove to me that the truth lay outside Christ, I should choose to remain with Christ rather than with the truth." He essentially created his own belief system that was not tethered to dogmatic constructs, and he idealized the loving Christ in the way a modern day (though much more childishly) Joseph Girzone has in the Joshua books.

Was it any wonder Dostoevsky spoke to me at this untethered point in my life? I was in a foreign country, thousands of miles from home, and I couldn't even tell you why or what I was doing. Like Dostoevsky, I was probably sympathetic to Christian Socialism at that point, seeing in the monastic ideal the embodiment of what was possible. If Christ came back to earth, as he did in The Grand Inquisitor, he would be cast out once again, and then the question would become--would I follow him off the Barque.

An interesting event happened after I resumed my journey southwards, though. I eventually met a family in Dunedin, a Catholic family, who took me into their home. They were devout and joyful. They were a little puzzled by my listlessness, but lovingly 'adopted' me for a week or so and I got a glimpse of the "order" that family life prescribes to those in it. You live under a roof, with expectations, and a bond of cohesion. You go to Mass together, you eat together, you sign on to what the Church teaches. You are a domestic church in and of yourself, and you are one of millions across the globe with a common creed, common prayer before meals, common goal to get one another to Heaven. You love one another in a communion of persons, just as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are a communion of Persons. Family life mirrors that of the order of the Universe.

There is a loneliness in cobbling together your own belief system, whether quasi-Christian/anti-dogmatic, syncretist, universalist, or otherwise. When your 'beliefs' are idiosyncratic, you become a church of one. You are like a traveler adrift, not part of a community, a sarabaite or gyrovague, "the most detestable of all monks" as St. Benedict said,

"who with no experience to guide them, no rule to try them as gold is tried in a furnace (Prov 27:21), have a character as soft as lead. Still loyal to the world by their actions, they clearly lie to God by their tonsure. Two or three together, or even alone, without a shepherd, they pen themselves up in their own sheepfolds, not the Lord’s. Their law is what they like to do, whatever strikes their fancy. Anything they believe in and choose, they call holy; anything they dislike, they consider forbidden...who spend their entire lives drifting from region to region, staying as guests for three or four days in different monasteries. Always on the move, they never settle down, and are slaves to their own wills and gross appetites." (Rule, Ch 1)

In the narrative in the Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky inverts the temptations of Christ, so that The Grand Inquisitor (the Church) said that Christ should have given people no choice, and instead taken power and given people security instead of freedom. That way, the same people who were too weak to follow Christ to begin with would still be damned, but at least they could have happiness and security on Earth, rather than the impossible burden of moral freedom. The Grand Inquisitor says that the Church has now undertaken to correct Christ’s mistake. The Church is taking away freedom of choice and replacing it with security. Thus, the Grand Inquisitor must keep Christ in prison, because if Christ were allowed to go free, he might undermine the Church’s work to lift the burden of free will from mankind.

Obviously Dostoevsky was critical of the (Catholic) Church, and imagined a Christ freed from the constraints of dogmatism (ie, his idealization of Christian Socialism). Of course, I am not a literary scholar, and much of the history of Russia in the 19th century makes any analysis I can make inadequate. Dostoevsky had an immense respect for freedom and wrestled with it his whole life. But in a kind of ignostic way, this greatest gift (of God, on which love in its truest sense is dependent) was also his greatest burden.

But my takeaway is this: You can only do your own thing for so long before you realize that your adrift-ness is the result of your refusal to sign on to something where you can grow, not any great misunderstood martyrdom or idolized man viz-a-viz the world. To refuse to subject your will, your freedom, and your conscience to something greater than yourself--be it dogmatic constitutions or the permanence of family life--you will always be asking the existential questions without answers.

Friday, July 3, 2020

"The Time For Preaching and Teaching Is Over"

I asked a friend this evening, "Do people read books anymore?"

"No. They don't," he replied.

"What's the point, then?" I asked.

"The people who read books like those that you or I or anyone of like mind might write have all read what we have to say by better people. And the thing is, nobody who needs to read your words ever will. The target audience is immune." 

I thanked him for the reality check, and confirming what I already suspected.

"Everyone is over exposed and over "published." The like-minded end up having conversations with the same pool of people. It's all been heard." 

This friend of mind, I know, has eyes that see--maybe too much sometimes. But I know I can turn to him to get it straight. Then he went on to say something that stopped me dead, because I had been thinking it for a long time without the words to express it:

"I once had a vigorous disagreement with a religious, who was absolutely right. He said, "The time for preaching and teaching is over.""

"I was shocked by that, but...he was profoundly right."

"What did he mean by it?" I asked, still reeling a bit from the cold stiff truth.

 "He meant it on a large scale, a metaphysical scale, a historical epoch scale. Not that one couldn't teach and such...but that the preparations now are not evangelistic. They are one hundred percent witness and prayer."

I had to take this to prayer. I crawled on my hands and knees into the "hidden room" (which is really just a three foot by twelve foot pipe closet) where I had moved my kneeler and crucifix and icon, to have a little bit more hidden-ness to finish my rosary. I joke with my priest friends that it can double as a priest hole if things get bad, or a kind of spiritual entombment where no one would even know where you were in the house if you wanted to to be so hidden. Though I crawl in in the middle of the night for late night prayer, I could probably make better use of it. It's like a writer's desk--you get the perfect desk, and then you find yourself with writer's block all of a sudden. 


What did this religious mean, "the time for preaching and teaching is over?" My first reaction when my friend mentioned it was YES. But then, why? Haven't the Word on Fire videos brought many spiritually curious people to intellectual assent of the faith? Haven't we been learning to make "intentional disciples" in parishes and through workshops and conferences and retreats? Haven't we been DOING something to address the "failure of catechesis"by LEARNING more about what the Church professes, TEACHING more about the truths of the Faith, EVANGELIZING by having discussions on social media with non-believers? Haven't we been preaching the good news to the poor, the imprisoned, as a kind of spiritual product to be considered to improve one's life, gain eternal life, attain peace?

I'm sorry to be so negative, but I'm in a bit of a stripped down state of being right now. The words my friend shared by the erudite religious--the time of preaching and teaching is over--point to a harsh and unsettling reality we are faced with as followers of Christ in war.

In fighting off demons of despair shooting arrows in my back, another wise friend also sent me a scripture that made me exclaim, once again, "Wow":

"And the places that have been desolate for ages shall be built in thee: thou shalt raise up the foundations of generation and generation: and thou shalt be called the repairer of the fences, turning the paths into rest" (Is 58:12).
But we are not in this state yet either, I suspect. We are in an in between. The well-produced teaching and catechetical materials, the preaching to a pagan culture--I have lived through these endeavors and been a part of them myself. I don't know how effective they are, or if they are making wrong assumptions about things. I do have a friend who makes rosaries and plants them for people with instructions on how to pray it; he does is clandestinely. Someone he knew even picked one up and considered it a sign to come back to the faith. So you never know. 

But we are not saving masses here, we are pulling stray bodies on the ark who, I'm sure, are ultimately grateful to be there. Like writing a book these days, it is, I'm afraid, ultimately futile. Not to those who have been saved, who would consider it anything but. And there is it's place--of course, we need to preach and teach when called for, one on one. But we are not going to convert the world by well-produced series on the history of Catholicism, or using any of the tools of the modern age. Those going to the front lines are getting mowed down by the culture because they are ultimately going alone with no shepherds to have their back, no critical mass to support them long term. The Steubenville degree and Thomistic defenses of Natural Law in a disordered society, I'm afraid, may not hold their weight against the breaches. 

"We are living in the age of witness and prayer." Bold witness and confident prayer, the kind that works miracles. What does this mean? What does it look like? 

I attended First Friday Mass this evening and there was a new face, a young woman who has fallen away from the faith and somehow found the Latin Mass in the state (the only one) and showed up. She seemed moved, hungry, but just mostly willing to recognize it as an outpost in an otherwise harsh wasteland, one that she seemed especially grateful for. We made small talk after Mass, and I told her we all hope to see her again and when Mass times were, that she was welcome, that it is a respite from the war. I think she will be back. "That some might be saved," as St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, being all things to all men. 

Do we really need more books? More blogs and podcasts? More catechetical materials? More parish programs? Everything is being stripped down around us, maybe it's time to strip our faith down to the essentials as well, the powerful essentials rather than tepid peripheries. To pray well, to witness boldly. To strip out what is not needed, to enter into the loneliness of stepping outside the kind of 'matrix-esque' mirage of technical engineering and just get back to square one. Then count the cost and do the work ahead of us, but knowing that our time is running short and things are ramping up--a time in which teaching and preaching may very well fall on deaf ears, and in which prayer and witness is all we have. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

The Dead of Night

A friend recently sent me a conversion story of a woman who had come to the faith. She wrote down her story after her confirmation as an adult. This friend of mine had simply planted a seed in a mom's group, somewhat innocuously, for her to consider the Catholic faith. This was in the midst of the other moms badmouthing the Church.

What I see time and time again, for those who come to the Faith, is that those stray seeds that may have been cast in off-moments--a word here, a book there, a conversation or an experience of grace--tend to sprout during those times in which they are alone. Self-reflection--when it is used as a end in itself--we can probably do without if it doesn't lead us somewhere deeper than the here-and-now. But for those who are open and searching, even just a little bit--these are the ones our Lord can use.

Our Lord uses the analogy of leaving the ninety-nine to search out the one sheep that was lost. I think that's a pretty good ratio of those who come into the Faith--1:99. In my experience, the Lord draws us away from the crowds to speak to us, just as he himself communed with the Father alone.

We've been hearing a lot about mobs, and there is something frightening about a group of people who have lost their autonomy and sense of reason. It's akin to being swept up in a riptide. Whether you want to or not, you are being pulled out to sea. 

Jesus may have preached to the masses (Mt 5), and he may have permitted the crowds to lay palms at his feet (Mt 21:8), but he also had to deal with the mobs that sought to put him to death (Lk 23). There was no reasoning with them, for nothing but blood would appease them.

But perhaps one or more went back to their clay house after this would-be Messiah had expired, and thought. They lay in their bed in the dark of night, and could not get his words out of their head, "forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Lk 23:34).

It can be a high bar when we think of the great evangelists like St. Francis Xavier converting not tens or hundreds, but thousands of people to the true Faith. In a post-Christian pagan country such as our own, it would be no small miracle to have a large crowd convert on the spot at the preaching of a disciple of Jesus today. Usually, conversion is more of a gestation than a spontaneous birth. It steeps and it marinates, it forces us to question things. I believe it is reserved for those willing to look at themselves as they truly are, and who recognize there is something missing.

Not always, but often, this happens in the solitary places--the back pew in an empty cathedral, the lonely apartment after a night on the town, the emptiness after a one nigh stand, the car on the way to work when there is no one to counter the innocent questions: "Why am I here? Why am I not happy? What is really true?" If we never visit these places in which we find ourselves alone, responsible for our own thoughts and not subject to mob rule, when the air is quiet enough for the waves of discontent to lap at our innermost parts--we may never truly find ourselves willing to not only ask the questions, but take the steps to seek the answers.

Thankfully, for those who open themselves to seeking truth wherever it leads, who recognize their inadequacy, and who find themselves unable to be dissuaded by detractors and the mob--whether its a group of moms or cowards masked for destruction--they may just find the answers they are looking for. Like Nicodemus, they may come to Christ in the dead of night, speaking against the mob even when they are drowned out, because of a ray of spiritual perception that transcends it's brutish fury.

Because grace moves in to fill the space between, to gently whisper in one's ear, to introduce friends and even strangers into our paths who either plant the seeds or help them grow. They sprout in the dead of night, watered by a silent din, and eventually take root and can no longer be contained by the vessel of our intellect or culture. It's a precious time in the life-cycle of faith, these tender formative years, and we must shield it from the mob like a mother hen shields her young. When faith is full-grown, it needs its own pot; it can no longer be contained. It must go forth, bearing seed, reproducing itself, one person at a time.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Throw Her Out

If I could urge dads young and old to do one thing this day moving forward, it's this: if you watch/buy/use/consume pornography--stop.

If you work in the fields, you don't walk in the house with your mud-caked boots. That's what you do when you view porn--you track it into your home. And it doesn't scrub out as easily from the carpet as mud does.

You may have sons. You may have daughters. It affects them both. It affects your spiritual state, and as a result it affects theirs and those of your household. It affects how you treat your wife, and as a result how you treat their mom. It affects your mind, your body, and your soul. It's like voluntarily infecting yourself with a disease.

Porn--and by extension, lust--is a four-fold Alinsky-esque tactic of the Devil. It perverts man's natural engine for procreation (which Satan cannot stand, as he is anti-life), and he whispers the play-by-play in the ear of man of how to carry out his revolution of degeneration:

ISOLATE IT
OBJECTIFY IT
USE IT
DISCARD IT

Man and women are a unity of parts. In isolating body parts for the purposes of lust--parts made beautiful and in the image of God himself--to meditate on for the purpose of fantasy, he attempts to dismantle the very essence of the Incarnation itself.

In objectifying the parts, he treats them as butcher would. But women (and men) are not animals, but children of the Creator.

Just as the Devil uses us for his own purposes, lust (and its specific tool, porn) causes us to use others with no care for their welfare. That is why young girls/women (and young boys/men) are depersonalized in a rote, utilitarian mechanization that is the very antithesis of holy love and tender sex.

When you are done using something, what do you do with it? You throw it out. Like a paper towel after you have dried your hands with it. That is why after Amnon rapes Tamar and his unholy desire is sated, he hates her (2 Sam 13:15). What does he say after the deed is done? "Throw her out." (2 Sam 13:17)

Is this man you want to be? Used by the Devil, like a pawn that benefits you nothing? Like a cliche-radical rebelling against your Father?

Sin is boring. Addiction is boring. It always promise a different ending and the ending never changes. Just stop it. Get off the horse. Reclaim your manhood, and put on the armor of chastity. Quit tracking mud into your house. Do whatever you need to do. Be the man, the father, the husband you were meant to be.


Fatherhood In The Age Of Witness

Of all the modern (hopefully, soon-to-be) saints, Fr. Hardon speaks to me the most about the perils of the modern age and the witness of what he calls the Martyrdom of Witness (ie, "White Martyrdom"). He knew from personal experience.

On Father's Day, every man who provides for his family knows the dangers wrought of taking on such a role--to provide, to protect, and to live by his convictions so that his children might live this witness in his footsteps. He knows words are cheap, and catechism means nothing without its lived-out expression in a life of faith.

The Lord Christ prepares and exhorts us to count the cost.

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples." (Lk 14:28-33)

The loss of employment by way of white martyrdom may seem like a first-world problem, but it is a real martyrdom nonetheless, especially under the temptation to offer "just a pinch of incense." We must be wise as serpents and innocent as doves, and live our lives in a way that gives no scandal or ammunition to those who would have us stand accused.

Probably the most trying part of such martyrdom of witness is that it seems to be for naught, to stand for something and accept the punishment of injustice for doing what is right--for not lying, not conceding to falsehood, for standing firm against a tide of humiliation and accusation when it is met with a shrug by onlookers, or quickly forgotten and to be written off as a fool. There is real suffering involved, and it is most pertinently felt by men and fathers who bear the weight of and responsibility for their family's livelihood. While 99 turn and shrug as termination papers are drawn up, there may be 1 that sees such a stand for what is right and is moved by it to wonder, at least, the cause for such conviction.

Of course, one does not take such stands lightly, and certainly not to be cast in any kind of limelight for accolades among allies. But simply, they take such stands because they can do not other but what is right, and witness to the truth of things no matter what the cost. They do so in the pall shadow of eternity, for they know the tribunals they face in their places of employment in this life will be turned to dust in a matter of decades, whereas the choices to concede to falsehood, or betray their children's confidence in what is right at any and all times, will set them up for eternal damnation by the Judge who will sit on his throne until the end of time.

If wives and children want to give a true and lasting gift this Father's Day, it would be to stand with their husbands and fathers during these inevitable times of trial, when men will be put to the test, and share in the cost of such a witness should it arise--for they themselves, if what they value is vacations and trinkets and the things which a salary can provide, can weaken his resolve. But if he knows his family will stand behind him--in poverty, in sickness, in the loss of security we have grown so accustomed to--they become his Veronica, wiping his face on the way to his personal Calvary to pay the price for the wager of faith. If a man has the love and support of his wife and children, and the assurance of doing what is right, and the grace of perseverance, he can endure almost anything.


"Not all the faithful who suffer for Christ also die for Christ. Opposition to the Christian faith and way of life does not always end in violent death for the persecuted victims.

Consequently, it is well to distinguish between what may be called martyrdom of blood and martyrdom of opposition, which is bloodless indeed, but no less--and sometimes more--painful to endure.

Not all the victims of persecution die at the hands of a godless government. Millions more are ostensibly free to walk the streets and live in a home. Yet they are, in effect, deprived of every human liberty to practice their religion and to serve Christ according to their Faith. If they teach their children catechism, the parents are prevented from enjoying such privileges as decent living quarters or any kind of skilled job. If they are seen attending church, they are first warned, then threatened, and finally penalized – even to the loss of their possessions.

So the sorry tale goes on, and has been going on for years, in spite of the conspiracy of silence in our American press.

But that is not the whole picture. We need to shake ourselves into awareness that our country is going through persecution. It is no less real for being subtle, and no less painful for being perpetrated in the name of democracy.

What do I mean? I mean that any priest or religious, any married or single person in America who wishes to sincerely and fully live up to his Catholic commitment, finds countless obstacles in his way and experiences innumerable difficulties that accumulatively demand heroic fortitude to overcome and withstand.

All we have to do is place the eight beatitudes in one column and the eight corresponding attitudes of our culture in another column, and compare the two. Where Christ advocates poverty, the world despises the poor and canonizes the rich. Where Christ praises gentleness, the world belittles meekness and extols those who succeed by crushing anyone who stands in their way. Where Christ encourages mourning and sorrow for sin, the world revels in pleasure and the noise of empty laughter. Where Christ promises joy only to those who seek justice and holiness, the world offers satisfaction in the enjoyment of sin. Where Christ bids us forgive and show mercy to those who have offended us, the world seeks vengeance and its law courts are filled with demands for retribution. Where Christ blesses those who are pure of heart, the world scoffs at chastity and makes a god of sex. Where Christ tells the peaceful that they shall be rewarded, the world teaches just the opposite in constant rebellion and violence and massive preparation for war. And where Christ teaches the incredible doctrine of accepting persecution with patience and resignation to God's will, the world dreads nothing more than criticism and rejection; and human respect which means acceptance by society, is the moral norm.

On the bloody side, our century has had more Christians who were martyred for Christ than in all the centuries from Calvary to nineteen hundred included. I should know because not a few of my own relatives behind the iron curtain have shed their blood for Christ rather than deny their Catholic Faith.

To this day, innumerable Catholics are dying for their faith at the hands of Muslims who are told by the Koran to either convert Christians from their idolatry of adoring the man Jesus as though he were God, or put them to death.

But my focus here is on our own country. Call it an unbloody martyrdom. But have no doubt that to live an authentic Catholic life in America today is to live a martyr's life.

This is my fiftieth year in the priesthood, and I can testify to every syllable of the following sentence: Only heroic bishops and heroic priests, heroic religious, heroic fathers and mothers, heroic faithful, will survive the massive persecution of the Catholic Church in our country today. We call ourselves the Land of Liberty. But the only liberty that is given freedom is the liberty to do your own will. Pro-choice is not just a clever phrase. It is the hallmark of a culture in which millions have chosen to do what they want and make life humanly impossible for those who choose to do what God wants.

Martyrdom of Witness We still have one more type of martyrdom to reflect on, and it is, in a way, the most pervasive of all because no follower of Christ can escape it. This is the martyrdom of witness.

What do we mean by martyrdom of witness and how does it differ from the other two? It differs from them in that, even in the absence of active opposition--the imitation of Christ must always face passive opposition. From whom? From those who lack a clear vision of the Savior or who, having had it, lost their former commitment to Christ. All that we have seen about the martyrdom by violence applies here too, but the method of opposition is different. Here the firm believer in the Church's teaching authority; the devoted servant of the papacy; the convinced pastor who insists on sound doctrine to his flock; the dedicated religious who want to remain faithful to their vows of authentic poverty, honest chastity, and sincere obedience; the firm parents who are concerned about the religious and moral training of their children and are willing to sacrifice generously to build and care for a Christian family--natural or adopted--such persons will not be spared also active criticism and open opposition. But they must especially be ready to live in an atmosphere of coldness to their deepest beliefs.

Sometimes they would almost wish the opposition were more overt and even persecution would be a welcome change. It is the studied indifference of people whom they know and love, of persons in their own natural or religious family, of men and women whose intelligence they respect and whose respect they cherish.

This kind of apathy can be demoralizing and, unless it finds relief, can be devastating.

To continue living a Christ-like life in this kind of environment is to practice the martyrdom of witness. Why witness? Because it means giving testimony to our deep religious convictions although all around us others are giving their own example to the contrary.

It means giving witness twice over: once on our own behalf as the outward expression of what we internally believe and once again on behalf of others whose conduct is not only different from ours but contradicts it.

Wherein lies the martyrdom? It lies in the deprivation of good example to us on the part of our contemporaries, and in the practice of Christian virtue in loneliness, because those who witness what we do are in the majority--numerically or psychologically--and we know they are being challenged and embarrassed by the testimony. We witness to them, indeed, but they are not pleased to witness who we are, what we stand for, what we say, or what we do.

Notwithstanding all of this, however, it behooves us to look at the positive side of the picture. We must remind ourselves that this witness of ours is not so sterile as we may suppose; quite the contrary. Although we may be, or at least feel, often quite alone, we are not alone at all. Not infrequently our severest critics can become our strongest admirers. In any case, witness that we give by living up to the conviction of our Faith is surely demanding on human nature. That is why we call it martyrdom. But it is a witness to the truth and God's grace is always active in the hearts of everyone whose path we cross.

If we would know the power of this martyrdom of witness we have only to read the annals of the early Church. The handful of believers whom Peter baptized on Pentecost Sunday were as a drop in the immense culture surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. Yet see what happened. This small group of convinced faithful were able, in less than three hundred years, to turn the tide of paganism in the Roman Empire. For a long time they were deprived even of the basic civil rights accorded other citizens. They were often hunted like animals, and the catacombs tell us that they had to hide when celebrating the Liturgy and hide the tombs of their revered dead.

But their patience and meekness finally prevailed. Yes, but only because it was supported by unbounded courage, born not of their own strength, but of the power that Christ promised to give all His followers that shall witness to His name everywhere. This promise is just as true today. All that we need is to trust in the Spirit Whom we possess, and never grow weary in giving testimony to the grace we received.

This is what Christ was talking about when He told us not to hide our virtues but to allow them to be publicly seen, like a candle on a candlestick or a city on a mountaintop. We should not be afraid that by such evidence of our good works we shall be protected from vainglory by the cost in humiliation that witnessing to a holy life inevitably brings. There will have to be enough death to self and enough ignoring of human respect to keep us from getting proud in our well-doing. God will see to that. On our part, we must be willing to pay the price of suffering in doing good, which is another name for being a living martyr, that is, a courageous witness to the life of Christ in the world today."

--Fr. John Hardon, SJ

Saturday, June 20, 2020

The Immolation of Christ

In June of 1963 a Buddhist priest, Quảng Đức, doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire on the streets of Saigon to protest the treatment of Buddhists during the presidency of the Roman Catholic President of South Vietnam, Ngô Đình Diệm. Since Quảng Đức's act of self-immolation, a handful of other Westerners and U.S. peace activists followed suit and burned themselves alive to protest the war in Vietnam. The photograph has become an iconic symbol of political resistance. I first saw it on the cover of a Rage Against the Machine CD in the late nineties.

What's interesting is that the first time I heard the term 'immolation' in a Catholic context was in reading a book, The Latin Mass Explained, in which Christ's sacrifice and the sacrifice of the Mass are spoken of using this term. "[Christ] immolates Himself by freely delivering Himself into the hands of His executioners. His Will thus became operative in the external slaying." The lamb is killed and complete destroyed in sacrifice.

The word sacrifice is derived from the two Latin words sacer, meaning "sacred," and facere, "to make."

"Sacrifice is the highest form of religious worship. It is the outward expression of man's entire dependence upon God. This absolute dependence of man upon his Creator is expressed in the destruction, or change, of the thing offered."

During these periods of political and social protests in the U.S., we see this kind of resistance in perhaps less extreme ways. In lieu of self-immolation, the toppling of statues and the burning of American flags in DPZs is a kind of symbolic destruction--the goal being to completely raze the nation and rebuild it in their anarchistic likeness. It is hardly a sacrifice, in the true sense of that term, however, since it costs these destroyers nothing.

Christians do not self-immolate because the body is sacred and belongs to God alone. To do so for political purposes renders such destruction of Temples even more profane.

However, the Christian seeks to immolate his self-will--through prayer, penance, and mortification--through a dying to self so that he may more closely imitate Christ. Martyrs are made in the Christian tradition by dying for the Faith. While it is true, zealous early Christians in the patristic era desired to run headlong into martyrdom and seek it out and achieve the crown early, it is more the case that martyrdom finds us, not that we go looking for it.

We see a kind of cheap and easy posturing among Christians today for political purposes, to make political statements--whether it's blacking out a social media profile or holding signs in protest. But to lay down one's life for their friends, as Christ did--I don't think this is a step many are willing to take in the current climate for political change. The zealots in the first century desired to see Christ leveraged for this purpose as well, but the Savior made it clear that His kingdom was not of this world.  "Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:6-8)

We cannot discount the political, as we are political animals. We cannot even discount either the dying for political purposes--that is, those in the armed forces, police, etc--for the preservation of the nation-state. But acts of self-immolation for the Christian are reserved for the subjection of the will, not the ultimate destruction of the body in suicide, and for the spiritual, not the political.

Because the body is sacred, we do not destroy it of our own volition, especially not for the temporal or political. Christ's sacrifice on the Cross was for our sanctification, out of true love for us--not to make a political statement or to exact political change. He did not rage against the machine (the Roman Empire), but set the example for us of immolation of his life so that we might gain Heaven which is beyond this-or-that temporal regime.

We should reserve our deaths for what counts, since we only have one life in this world. We cannot live apart from the political, but we cannot and should not die apart from the spiritual.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Don't Fear The Heart

I think there is a tendency for men to eschew the heart in favor of the mind, because the heart has feminine connotations. "The heart of the home," "I feel in my heart," etc. Men hold aloft great intellects, great minds, but the heart makes us...squirmy. We're afraid if we talk about it too much we might end up like a Henri Nouwen or something.

The heart goes beyond feelings and intuitions, though. The Dominican Fr. Thomas Joseph White said that the “heart and intelligence go together. The mind is reason’s instrument, but the heart its seat.” We know that to love is to will the good of another. We don't simply send "positive thoughts and prayers," but exercise love concretely in acts.

'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" our Lord exhorts us in Mt 22:37. Love him with all your heart. Love him with all your soul. Love him with all your mind.

Being human is an exercise in synthesis. We are not all heart, or all mind, or all soul, but all things through the one who created us. We have a skeleton to hold up the body and give us form (right doctrine); we have blood to carry oxygen to our organs (prayer); we have muscles (the will); we have organs themselves that all serve a function for the body (gifts of the Holy Spirit); we have a brain, but beyond the physical organ, the metaphysical--the mind; we have a soul. To be human is one of the most remarkable things, the crowning achievement of God's creation.

One should have a lifetime of contemplations in the Incarnation of Christ, and never run dry. For the God of the Universe to take on flesh, to be given a human heart, a mind, and to debase himself to function as we do: eating food, using the latrine, needing sleep. To have infinite love for man constrained by skin. When his heart was pierced by a lance, it could not help but gush forth the life within it.

"I will give them a new heart," says the Lord God. (Ez 36:26). On this Feast of the Sacred Heart, we must learn how to love as our Savior loved. He died for all men and all women. He lived as a man, but embodied the tenderness of a mother (Mt 23:37) and the strong protection of a father (Jn 2:13-16). He was both strong and tender, unafraid to weep when moved by emotion (Jn 11:35) but stoic in the face of temptation (Mt 4:1-11).

It is not effeminate to feel, to be bruised, to make oneself vulnerable, anymore than it is not too masculine to use logic and reason to temper emotionalism. It is a healthy, whole human being who can embody heart, mind, and soul and direct it to love of God and neighbor.

The Sacred Heart teaches us to temper a cold, removed intellectualism--of doing "all the right things" like the older brother--with the love of a father rejoicing over his lost son who has been found. It sheds its cloak and runs undignified out to meet him in order to forget all things. It embraces and slaughters with abandon, it cloaks and hides faults in itself. This heart burns with love, in order that all men be drawn to himself (Jn 12:32). It sears everything it touches.

When we learn to love as Jesus loved, when we conform our heart and model it on the Sacred Heart, we find soon that such love cannot be contained. It must go out from itself, be pierced, and drench the ones who foist the lance with the blood and water of redemptive love. It must love. It can do no other.


Wednesday, June 17, 2020

In Desperate Need Of A Friend

Each morning my wife and I have been praying and reading Carmelite meditations on the interior life. Since the Feast of Corpus Christi, the meditations have been focused on the Real Presence and the Eucharist miracle.

It was on Monday early this week that I realized the little chapel near us--a historic mission church, the oldest in our state--had Perpetual Adoration on Mondays. We had just gotten home from the beach that day, where we were blessed with the opportunity to have a similar kind of "mission Mass" at the home of a couple downstate in the country on Sunday not unlike this first mission near our house that was started at a family's home in the 18th century. A priest came to offer Mass and a handful of faithful families attended. It was good to be around our people, and we had a potluck afterwards as the kids ran around teasing the sheep in the adjacent field. The weekend prior I was in St. Louis and got to attend High Mass three days in a row for First Friday, First Saturday, and Trinity Sunday at the magnificent St. Francis de Sale Oratory. I felt spoiled almost, this being the first time since the pandemic I had been able to freely attend Mass. Whether we are in a magnificent cathedral or worshiping with other families on a sheep farm, Jesus is truly present in the most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.

But it had been months since I was able to go to Adoration, and I wasn't sure what to expect. Would the chapel be overflowing with people who had so desperately missed being near our Lord and able to gaze on His Face that there would be no available pews? Would parking be an issue? Surely the months of being separated from Him physically would have created in people a hunger for spiritual bread with the need to be sated.

I should have laughed at my idealism. When I arrived at the small chapel, it was completely empty save for one woman in a pew. I entered through the back, and dropped to both knees at the sight of the Lord in the monstrance on the altar. I took a seat in a pew where I would spend the next hour.

Adoration is my favorite type of prayer, because I am not scripted by nature. To be able to be myself, with all my sighing and gesticulations and to be able to collapse and be myself before the Lord of Hosts is a great source of comfort. When I lived in Philly and would visit the Lord in Adoration in my poverty of spirit, I would lie on the pew, though completely undignified, since I would spend sometimes the better half of a day there. I was once taken for a vagrant. "I look at him, He looks at me," as St. John Vianney recalled a peasant telling him. This is the essence of Eucharistic Adoration, distilled.

When the only other person present left after about twenty minutes and I was now alone in the church, I moved to the Prie Dieu near the altar, a few feet from the Lord, to get closer to him. I couldn't believe the privilege--a private audience with the King of Kings, undisturbed before His Majesty, with no one around or waiting even to take my place.

And then I became sad thinking of the Lord left alone were I not there.

For more than three months, we have hardly had access to the sacraments apart from a few exceptions. Where are all the people? After the French Revolution had gutted the life of faith in France in the 18th and 19th century, the Cure d'Ars upon arriving in his new assignment found the little church "cold and empty as the hearts of the worshipers." Has the pandemic made our hearts cold? Fearful? Has Satan sifted us even now? Even after taking for granted what we have had for so long within our means, there was no line to get in the church, no overflow or standing-room-only. I was alone in a church with the Lord in his poverty.

As a newly assigned parish priest, St. Manuel González García dreamed of how welcoming and communal the experience of being a pastor on his first assignment would be, “of having a Church full of souls eager to listen to his sermons, of people fervently praying the Rosary with him each day, and of organizing a beautiful procession in the streets. He pictured crowds hastening to Sunday Mass.”

The reality when he arrived, was a Church poorly attended, where only those getting married or baptizing their children came, and a population that was not a community, but a cluster of human beings who worked side by side, and never invested in the Church or each other. The building itself was dirty, almost abandoned, and the altar cloths torn and burnt. The neglect included the tabernacle covered in dust and cobwebs. He considered begging for a different assignment, fleeing. He wondered how he could fulfil a mission, any mission in such a place, but kneeling before the tabernacle, pondering how impossible the task before him, he felt someone looking at him “in desperate need of a friend.”

He writes,

"The Evangelists are the ones who taught me the word “abandonment.” I decided to use this word, not to speak of the hatred, envy, or persecution of the enemies of Jesus, but rather in reference to the disloyalty, coldness, ingratitude, inconstancy, insensitivity, indelicacy, and cowardice that Jesus experiences from his friends. This leaving him at the moment when they should all have been with him, this failure to assist him with their presence and their unconditional loyalty when he needed it most is what the Evangelists call abandonment and flight. “And they all forsook him, and fled” (Mark 14:50). 
There are two ways in which the tabernacle is abandoned. One, exterior: the habitual and voluntary absence of Catholics who know Jesus but do not visit him. I am not speaking of unbelievers, or of the irreligious, or of uncatechized Catholics, from whom Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament will feel persecuted, hated, slandered, or unrecognized, rather than abandoned. I am speaking of Catholics who believe and know that Our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and true Man is really present and alive in the Blessed Sacrament. But they do not receive him in Holy Communion, nor visit him, nor have a friendly relationship with him—even though they live close to a Church, and otherwise have time and energy for recreational activities. 
The second way is by interior abandonment. It is to go to him but not to really be with him. It is to receive him with the body, but not with the heart. It is to go to him saying words, bowing our heads, kneeling down, but not performing these acts of piety with our hearts. It is when we do not meditate on what we are receiving. It is when we do not prepare ourselves to receive him with a clean heart and with great spiritual hunger. It is when we do not taste and give thanks for the Food we have received. It is when we do not talk to or listen to the Guest who is visiting us. It is when we are not open to receive and keep the graces he brings us, the warnings he gives us, the example he teaches us, the desires he reveals to us, the love he shares with us. How many times will the Master have to repeat to some communicants and visitors to the Blessed Sacrament: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Mt 15:8). 
Jesus, alone, abandoned in the hearts of his friends! Jesus visits souls and lives in the “homes” of his friends (through Holy Communion) without being understood or listened to or assisted or asked his opinion or even taken into account! This interior abandonment is repeated in alarmingly great proportions."

The empty church, the foot of the cross at his death, the garden in which he sweat drops of blood--these are the places his friends go to meet him. The masses jeer before his trial and drop branches of palms upon his entry into Jerusalem and are nowhere to be found in his hour of need. And yet for these masses He came too, longing to gather them under his wings..."and you were not willing" (Mt 23:37).

Will the many be saved? How few the saved. How empty the churches when men's heart grow cold in those last days. It is these moments when I am alone with the Lord offering this small gift of an hour when I cannot hide anything, that I recognize my own poverty. I have nothing to bring, nothing to give, but a contrite heart and a broken spirit.

We must console the heart of Jesus. Our audience before the Lord is an unspeakable privilege, one that we even now can do at all hours and days. If we cannot, we can make a tabernacle for him in our hearts upon receiving Holy Communion--room at the inn for him to dwell in our impoverishment. We can come to him, see him, whenever we want. And yet we don't. We find something of more importance. But "The time is coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it" (Lk 17:22). Go while you can, to sit at his feet, to learn his commands, to listen in the privileged silence of empty churches and neglected tabernacles. Console him while he is still able to be found.