Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Photography, Light & Divinization

an ethereal clump of moss
Photography is all about light.

I know very little about photography but one of my friends said this to me recently and it has changed the way that I take pictures. Now, I look for the right light, and take pictures over and over, contorting myself into strange positions until the object I am photographing is illuminated just right. 

One day recently, as I did my strange little photographic light dance around a small clump of moss, I thought about the application of this lesson to my spiritual life.

I entered religious life intent on living a radical life like Jesus: poor, chaste and obedient. I want to live religious life faithfully so that Christ is formed in me, as St. Paul tells us is possible in his letter to the Galatians (4:19).

This is a lofty goal, but I want to preach Jesus to the world - what better way than through my life? But I have quickly found this to be much more easily said than done. Community life quickly dispels any illusions one might have that they are good at loving other people. 

I have found that I am particularly bad at imitating Jesus' love for others. I am bad at pretending in general. If I feel something, chances are you will see it written on my face. I have tried my best to act like I think Jesus would but I have come to accept that I am just like a poor photograph: dull, bad light, someone’s thumb in the corner. Yup, that is pretty much me. Because I know myself, I try my best to catch the light just right so that I can be lit up by God's light and act like Jesus. I dance around on one foot, turn upside down, and do all kinds of crazy things, trying to imitate or capture God’s light in my life, if only for a fleeting moment.

But here is the thing that God helped me to understand: I have already captured the light, (or it has captured me).

a community of mushrooms
The light, the entire blessed Trinity, God himself, DIVINITY itself is inside of me. This is not some hokey, New Age nonsense. This is possible because Jesus’ incarnation brought our humanity as close as possible to the Godhead. The second person of the Trinity has a human body! Jesus' humanity is like an extension cord, plugging us into the power of the God. 

Through our baptism, God has made a dwelling place inside of us. Not because we are the bee’s knees, but because He loves us and wants to act through our lives. Christian theology is the only theology that accepts our humble creaturehood, our very limited, finite nature, but at the same time, precisely through accepting this reality, it acknowledges that we are able to become like God.

This is key to living out the power of our baptism.

When we cannot love, when we cannot forgive, when we cannot follow Jesus’ commandments to love our neighbor as ourselves, we have direct access to God living right within us. God can love through us. God can forgive through us. God can turn the other cheek through us.

This deeper realization of the gift of my baptism has changed my approach to love. Instead of gritting my teeth and trying to fake it, I just ask God to love for me. In a way, I feel a huge burden has been lifted from my shoulders. I had been trying my best to love like Jesus, but it was truly impossible. Only Jesus can love like Jesus. So now, when I am feeling like I cannot love someone else, I ask Jesus to do it for me because I know he is much better at loving than I am.

I still sin, I still fail. This is not the silver bullet to sainthood. But I am more confident knowing that the responsibility is not mine. God, who is right inside of me, can others love for me.

These are all things that we may have known intellectually but in order to really live the power of the indwelling of the Trinity within us, it must become something we know on a deeper level.
 Here are some things that I am going to do to grow in my understanding of this mystery:
1. Meditate on the gift of baptism using paragraphs 1213-84 in the Catechism.

2. Take some time to pray with the presence of the Trinity inside of you using the words of Jesus in the Gospel of John (14:23).

3. Pray with the words of the Saints:
  • St Elizabeth of the Trinity's  prayer asking the Trinity to act in her
  • Blessed James Alberione's prayer invoking the Trinity dwelling within us
  • St. Augustine's prayer for the indwelling of the Spirit
4. Go to confession. When we commit mortal sin, we have asked the indwelling of the Trinity to leave our souls. In confession, we show sorrow for our sins and invite the Trinity to once again dwell in our soul. Even if we are not in a state of mortal sin, confession helps unify us ever more to the Trinity.

5. Receive the Eucharist with greater frequency. Through sanctifying grace, we can attain greater union with the Trinity when we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, (for more information on the theology behind this check out this webpage)
Feel free to try it out with me! 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Support a Catholic Speaker Month 2012: Dr. Tim Gray

Some Catholic speakers dazzle with their amazing intellect. Others draw you in with tales that make you feel like you are there. And still others astonish their listeners with surprising ideas never fathomed before.

Then there are the Catholic speakers who are all of the above, plus more

The best of the best Catholic speakers are the kind of people who see their work as a service, not as a form of self aggrandizement. They humbly love God and strive to help others grow closer to Him. They have unique insights and knowledge, but they see their talents and skills as gifts meant to be shared. They also have the rare ability to inspire their listeners to believe they are capable of similar insights and holiness, through the power of being in relationship with God. 

September is Support a Catholic Speakers Month and over 11,000 people voted and came up with a list of the top 100 Catholic speakers. I don't know if everyone on the list fits my criteria above. 

But I can definitely vouch for one: Dr. Tim Gray 

Tim is one of the foremost Scripture scholars in the Catholic world. He holds a PhD in Biblical Studies from Catholic University of America. After receiving offers from prestigious universities to teach Scripture, he opted to become president of the newly established Augustine Institute in Denver at the invitation of then Bishop Chaput. He has written several books on Scripture on the popular and academic level. He is also the co-developer of The Great Adventure Bible Timeline Series, which has been a hugely popular program for learning Scripture in parishes around the country.

Tim Gray giving a teaching by the River Jordan
When Tim Gray speaks, the audience does not walk away thinking, “Wow that guy is smart, I am so impressed and dazzled by his intellect,” (although this is certainly true). But rather, people walk away inspired to grow closer to God and thinking in new ways about Scripture.

I speak about Tim Gray's ability to inspire from experience; I spent two weeks last summer on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land listening to him delve into Scripture as our group guide.  

I started out the trip as a typical Catholic. I knew Scripture well enough, but, to be frank, the Bible bored me. Been there done that. When I would read passages that I had read recently or that I felt I knew well, I would inwardly groan, “Again?!” 

But by the end of the trip to the Holy Land, my attitude had drastically changed. After listening to Tim Gray bring alive Scripture in a way that was filled with reason, faith, texture and vibrancy, I felt like running and signing up to get a graduate degree in Scripture. Every day, he would tell us something I had not known. Many of the things he would point out, he had unearthed in Scripture himself using the ancient form of prayer, Lectio Divina, (a prayerful academic is worth a thousand academics who do not pray). After each talk, I would feel excitement about studying and praying with Scripture and I truly started to see that the layers of meaning are endless. 

We can never be done with Scripture, just as we can never be done with God. There are always things that have not been unearthed, that remain hidden and buried. And one thing that Tim Gray taught me that I will never forget is that there are treasures in Scripture for every single one of us. There are things waiting to be discovered by each person’s unique eyes and insight and then shared with others.

Are you going to let these treasures remain undiscovered?

Do you want to become excited about praying with and exploring Scripture?

Here are some ways you can learn from Tim Gray:
1. Check out his books:

Praying Scripture for a Change: An Introduction to Lectio Divina
Walking with God: A Journey Through the Bible

2. Book Tim as a speaker at your parish by contacting the Augustine Institute

3. If you are into free things you can listen to the show he did for EWTN on the Gospel of Mark

4. Watch this video he did for FOCUS on the ancient form of prayer with Scripture known as Lectio Divina

5. Download radio programs he has done for Catholic Answers
Whether you buy his books, listen to him speak or take advantage of one of the free options above, I guarantee you that you will walk away feeling more excited about Scripture. 

Reading God's Word is truly an adventure. 

Tim Gray can help you make the first steps.