Category Archives: Finding Peace

Finding Post-Election Peace

We humans are political beings just as much as we are spiritual beings, so there are times and places where the spiritual and political realms overlap. Our political lives affect our spiritual lives, and vice versa. It is impossible to live either one completely isolated from the other. If we are losing peace because of political issues, that is going to affect us on the spiritual level.

The respite that we were hoping for after a long and contentious campaign season has not come; instead, we have seen only seen an intensification of polarization that has manifested itself in unprecedented post-election protests and riots. (Here in New York,  the section of Fifth Avenue near the Trump Tower is currently blocked off due to demonstrations, as it has been throughout the week.) Regardless of whom you were going for in the election, the past week has been a stressful one.

As Christians, regardless of our political views, we must be channels of peace and bearers of calm whenever we encounter the mass frustration that has exploded since Tuesday. In this regard, I was inspired by what Eric Metaxas, a Christian radio show host in New York City, wrote a couple of days ago:

I have dear friends who thought a Trump presidency would be the worst thing ever. At this time, I feel that it’s important to say them, “If you are upset, then I’m upset.” One friend actually emailed me: “You helped make this happen. Our friendship is over.” That hurt. But then I thought about how much he must be hurting to have written that.

For a Christian, the first thing to do after something this divisive is to pray for those who disagree with you and show them love…We need to assure those we disagree with that they are loved and respected as fellow Americans and, more importantly, loved by God. This is the work of being a Christian. It’s not extra-credit Christianity. It’s the guts of the faith at its most basic level.

We Christians are citizens of the City of God even more than we are citizens of the City of Man. In the City of Man, power dominates and governs, but in the City of God, charity does. In an America that is experiencing the worst division since the Civil War, we Christians must lead the way in bridging the divide through charitable actions and peaceful demeanors.

But before we can bring peace to others, we must find peace ourselves, and there is no better when to do this than by spending time in prayer. Giving the tense situation of our nation, I suggest setting aside an extended period of time (perhaps 15 – 30 minutes) at some point over the next couple of days during which you place yourself before God and ask Him for peace. Whether you are upset by the results of the election or upset by people’s reaction to it, place it in God’s hands. Tell Him your concern and frustration, and beg Him to pour His peace upon you so that you may communicate it to others.

I found inspiration in the entrance antiphon in the Roman Missal for today, the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time: “The Lord said: ‘I think thoughts of peace and not of affliction. You will call upon me, and I will answer you'” (Jeremiah 29:11-12).

As we begin another week, let us Christians resolve to face it with the peace and charity that come with knowing that we are citizens of the City of God, en route to Heaven.

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Finding Peace in “the City of Man”

Here is an excerpt from a tour I gave of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City on June 23, 2016:


Two of the most striking buildings in New York City face each other on opposite sides of 5th Avenue: St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Rockefeller Center. The contrast between the two is iconic of the difference between “the City of God” (all that is ordered towards God) and “the city of man” (all that is ordered to man without reference to God).  

Rockefeller Center is a massive monument to the achievements of man. It contrasts starkly with the Cathedral because it is imbued with secular humanism and its art is tinged with the theme of pride and defiance. The overriding emphasis is on man and what he can achieve on his own.

Two of Rockefeller Center’s most prominent works of art – Atlas and Prometheus – are both Greek mythological figures who represent defiance of and freedom from divine power. They were Titans who rebelled against the Olympian gods. Atlas led a war against the Olympians and was punished by being forced to hold up the heavens from the earth for all of time. Prometheus gave man access to the divine secret of fire, contrary to the will of the Olympians, and was punished by being chained to a rock and having his liver eaten for all time by massive eagles.

Statue of Atlas before Saint Patrick's Cathedral. New York City, New York, USA.
Statue of Atlas before Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. New York City, New York, USA.

Rockefeller Center is certainly an impressive place, but its art celebrates something problematic. While it rightfully memorializes laudable achievements of man, it does so with a tone of defiance and hubris. What happens when man is celebrated without reference to God? The Tower of Babel happens: confusion and dissipation. When the proper of hierarchy of being is overturned, peace and order can never be fully achieved.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral offers the antidote for the disorder that is  embodied by the art of Rockefeller Center, and by much of New York City for that matter. Throughout the city, we find proud testaments to the achievements of man, and the enticement of promises of what we ourselves can achieve. We are bombarded by noise, confusion, and distractions, but inside this Cathedral, this place of God, we experience harmony and peace – we experience silence in the city. Outside we experience the dysfunctional city of man; in here we experience the ordered and harmonious City of God.

Outside these doors, the city of man celebrates the emancipation of the ego and idolizes personal freedom. However, inside these doors, the City of God, all things are celebrated in their relationship to God. Contrary to contemporary thought, the ego can only find true fulfillment when it looses itself in God. By allowing itself to be dependent on God, for Whom he was made, the person finds true freedom as  all of his energies and capacities are directed toward their natural end.

The effect of this Neo-Gothic cathedral is to de-center the ego of the person by causing him to reflect upon a cosmos that is greater than himself. Everywhere we look, we see celebrations of the beauty of creation: everything from plants, to humans, to angels. This cathedral thus encourages what Bishop Barron calls a “cosmic consciousness” – an awareness of the whole of creation and our relatively small place in it.

This de-centering of the ego may be disconcerting at first, but it ultimately leads us to peace and tranquility. We slowly begin to realize, contrary to the message that is blared at us outside, that if we trust in God and depend on Him, we will find true happiness. We do not need to grasp and shove and run the daily rat race. All we need to do is center ourselves on God, order ourselves around Him, and everything else will find its place. As Our Lord tells us: “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy-burdened and I will give you rest.”

We cannot escape the fact that we live in a city of man full of noise and disorder, but we should take heart in knowing that within this great city of man, the City of God is present and growing. It is present here in this Cathedral and in every church where the Eucharist is present.

I would like to close with this passage from Chapter 21 of the Book of Revelation:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth…I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God as a bride adorned for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them [as their God]. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.”

The one who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” 

When the city of man becomes too much for you, make your way here and allow yourself to find silence and peace in God. In this beautiful building, we experience an architectural foreshadowing of the City of God, the New Jerusalem, that awaits us in Heaven.

Come here, remember that you are a citizen of the City of God, and then bravely go back out into the city of man, knowing that wherever you go, you bring the City of God with you.

“The Hound of Heaven”: God’s Pursuit of You

We often hear about our deep need for God, but I don’t think that we hear enough about His intense desire for us. Our relationship with God is a two-way street: we yearn for Him, but He yearns for us even more.

The relationship between God and a soul is revealed to us in Scripture as being like that of a lover and the beloved. The Song of Songs, a biblical love poem charged with the intensity of romantic feeling, gives us a reflection of the intensity of God’s love through the symbolic search of a man for the woman he loves. As the man pursues the woman, so much more does God seek us. As beautiful as human love may be, every marriage and romantic relationship is just an image of the love God for each of his children.

Francis Thompson’s autobiographical poem, The Hound of Heaven, provides another powerful image of God’s desire for each of us. Using the image of a hound pursuing a hare, Thompson describes how God sought him through the years despite his own resistance and fear:

I FLED Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him

He describes how he continuously fled from God, who never stopped calmly and lovingly pursuing. No matter where he went, Thompson could hear

…those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat—and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet—
‘All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.’

He runs and runs, seeking happiness in other things, until desperate and exhausted, he gives up, and surrenders to the persistent pursuit of God, who says to him,

‘And is thy earth so marred,
Shattered in shard on shard?
Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!

Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
Save Me, save only Me? 
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.
All which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
Rise, clasp My hand, and come!’

We should never forget that God’s love for us is as intense as that of the lover in the Song of Songs, and as persistent as the the hound in The Hound of Heaven.

St. Augustine once wrote, “Our hearts are restless, Lord, until they rest in Thee.” We should remember that God Himself is restless for us as well.

Christ said, “I have come to set the world on fire, and how I wish it were already kindled!” (Luke 12:49)

These are the words of a God who loves you intensely,  and who will not rest until your heart is kindled with the fire of His love.

 

Finding Peace in the Liturgy of the Hours

The Liturgy of the Hours may only be required for priests and religious, but it is beautiful source of peace for all who take the time to pray it. Here’s why.

Before I moved back to New York last summer, I did a personal retreat at Benedictine monastery in British Columbia. Five times a day, the bell would toll and all of the monks would silently make their way to the chapel to chant the Liturgy of the Hours, as Benedictines have been doing for centuries.  I loved following the monastic rhythm, albeit for a short period.

After returning to the East Coast, I decided to get into the habit of praying the Liturgy of the Hours on my own. This form of prayer, also known as the Divine Office, is an ancient part of the Church’s liturgical life. It consists of seven daily sets (or “hours”) of prayer. (Priests and religious are required to pray five of the seven hours.) Each hour includes an opening hymn, Psalms, a spiritual Canticle, a reading from Scripture, and intercessory prayers.

Even though it is a time commitment to keep up with the Divine Office, I love it. It provides a beautiful framework for the day: each hour is a small oasis in the midst of hectic daily life, and an opportunity to refocus on “the things above” (Col 3:1).

But the Liturgy of the Hours is more than an opportunity for finding quiet time during the day. It is an essential part of the life of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ: it is her participation in the eternal priesthood of the Son of God. The Second Vatican Council put it like this:

For he continues His priestly work through the agency of His Church, which is ceaselessly engaged in praising the Lord and interceding for the salvation of the whole world. She does this, not only by celebrating the Eucharist, but also in other ways, especially by praying the Divine Office. (Sacrosanctum Concilium # 83)

In other words, the Divine Office is one of the ways in which the Church joins Christ in his priestly role of praising God the Father and offering prayers on behalf of all creation. How awesome it is that we can be a part of this!

The Liturgy of the Hours is a temporal expression of eternal prayer of Jesus Christ. It is the endless praise of the Son of God translated into human words. Again, the Vatican Council put it well:

Christ Jesus, high priest of the new and eternal covenant, taking human nature, introduced into this earthly exile that hymn which is sung throughout all ages in the halls of heaven. He joins the entire community of mankind to Himself, associating it with His own singing of this canticle of divine praise. (Sacrosanctum Concilium       # 83)

When we commit ourselves to the ongoing rhythm of the Liturgy of the Hours, we unite ourselves to eternal praise of the Second Person of the Trinity, and in so doing we get away from the hectic and feverish pace of our daily lives. The Liturgy of the Hours provides us with a moment to go to the border between time and eternity and, in some way, cross it.

In praying the Liturgy of the Hours, we leave the horizontal dimension of the here and now and enter a vertical spiritual dimension that transcends time; we join the ancient tradition of Psalmic praise that stretches back to the Babylonian exile; we become a part of the Church’s never-ending praise of God that will continue until the end of time; we enter into the very life of the Trinity by becoming part of the Son’s praise of the Father in the Holy Spirit.

It may be not possible for you to pray all of the hours, but it is worth it just to pray Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, the two “hinges” of the whole Office. You will find the Liturgy of the Hours to be an excellent investment of time. Whether you are in the car or at Starbucks, commuting to work or waiting for your kids to finish soccer practice, taking ten minutes to join in the eternal praise of the Son will be more than worth it! Let yourself fall into the calming rhythm of the Liturgy of the Hours and experience the peace it brings.


To get more details on how to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, I suggest checking out Coffee and Canticles. You can always buy the hard copies, but I it is good to start with the Divine Office app, which offers audio as well as text.

Finding Peace in the Liturgy

I have been busy this past week with final exams, so my post is a little shorter than usual. Nevertheless, I hope that you find it to be helpful!


Peace is not easy to find in our modern world because our it does not encourage us to look upwards towards our eternal and unchanging God. Rather, it constantly drags our attention downwards, towards the here and now, towards success and accumulation of goods. Everything around us is changing and fleeting: if we keep our attention downward, we will not find the peace that can only be found in what is eternal and stable.

This is why the liturgy, in particular, weekly Sunday Mass, is so important. When we participate in the liturgy, we make a necessary disconnect from the ever-hectic and constantly fluctuating world that drains so much of our energy.  We raise our hearts and minds to “seek the things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 1:3). The liturgy gives us the time and place to do what we are told  in Psalm 46: “be still and know  that I am God.”

The liturgy is a place of peaceful rest. As Romano Guardini put it, “the soul needs that spiritual relaxation in which the convulsions of the will are stilled, the restlessness of struggle quietened, and the shrieking of desire silenced.”

It can be hard to take time to go to Mass, and, even if we go, it can be hard to stay focused. However, if we make the effort to be there, both in body and mind, that is the first step – God will take care of the rest. Go to Mass and allow the liturgy to raise your mind to the eternal and unchanging God, in whom you will find peace.

Five Keys to Peaceful Discernment

God-Lights

Life is complicated, and the course we should follow is rarely presented to us clearly.

It can be difficult to discern just how much we need to stand aside and let God act, and how much we ourselves should be making things happen. We have to balance between two extremes: on one hand, doing absolutely nothing and expecting God to put everything in our lap,  and, on the other hand, running ourselves ragged trying to do everything ourselves.

When discerning major changes in our lives, we need to have complete trust in God. Sometimes, trust in God will require action, other times it will require peacefully waiting on Him. In this post, I would like to propose five criteria for discerning whether to take a proposed course of action or not. (These criteria are based on the Five Steps to Peace series that I wrote in the spring.)

  1. Make sure the action…

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The Spiritual Value of Sleep

Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,/ Chief nourisher in life’s feast. – Macbeth

We all know that sleep is a physical need, but I think that few  of us realize that sleep is just as much a spiritual necessity. When we sleep, we not only allow our bodies to regenerate, but we also allow our souls to rest. Sleep has spiritual value.

Scripture confirms the fact that God often does important things during sleep. For example, in Genesis 2, God made Eve after placing Adam into a deep sleep. In Genesis 15, God make’s his covenant with Abram while he is in a deep sleep. On numerous occasions, from Jacob to St. Joseph, God spoke through dreams to people in their sleep. The greatest work of God, the salvation of mankind, took place in and through the “sleep” of Christ upon the cross and in the tomb.

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Jacob’s Dream, Jose de Ribera

Throughout Scripture and Western literature, sleep has been compared often to death, and when you stop to think about it, the similarity between the two is indeed striking. Every night, when we lie down to sleep, we become, in a way, dead to all that is around us. We lose consciousness and we give up our power to react immediately to whatever may happen. We also give up our ability to work and to make money, so perhaps this is why so many of us avoid sleep or consider it, at best, as a necessary inconvenience.

Sleep does not fit with the self-image that many of us have, especially those of us with Type-A personalities who yearn for success. We hate to be out-of-control, so we deprive ourselves  of sleep and strive to be like Tim Cook (CEO of Apple) or Howard Schultz (CEO of Starbucks) who apparently do just  fine with only 4 – 5 hours of sleep a night.

While there is in fact a very small portion of humanity (1 – 3% of the population) who actually can function on only four hours of sleep a night, the rest of us need to accept the reality that we need 7 – 9 hours a night, and this is not a bad thing. In fact, our need for sleep is an opportunity for spiritual growth. Here is what I mean.

When we allow ourselves the sleep that we need, we accept the fact that we cannot always be in control. This simple admission of truth is the pre-condition for a deeper spiritual act: ceding control to God and abandoning ourselves to His Divine Providence. We can turn the simple act of going to bed into a moment of trust by saying a repeating the prayer of Jesus Christ on the cross, before he entered the sleep of death: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23:46) By doing this, we make our acceptance of the physical needs of our bodies coincide with an acceptance of our dependence upon God. The more we do this, the more we grow in trust, a virtue that is indispensable for growing in union with God.

When we trust in God, we give Him the freedom He needs to do great things in our lives. Just as He created Eve for Adam as he slept, so will He do great things for us when we accept our personal limitations and trust completely in Him. The fact is that sometimes the best way to accept your personal limitations and trust in God is simply to go to bed and get a good night’s sleep.

Try it out: the next time you are exhausted but feel the need to keep working, resist the temptation to be Superman. Put everything into God’s hands, sleep on it, and try again the next day. You will be surprised out how much more effective you will be.

How to Fight the Temptation to Self-Loathing

Of the twelve images that I spoke about on my tour at the Metropolitan Museum of Art last Saturday, I received the most positive reactions to Jusepe de Ribera’s Tears of St. Peter. In this painting by the 17th-century stylistic descendant of Caravaggio, we see a remorseful Peter against a dark Good Friday sky entreating Heaven for his denial of Christ. The light and the composition focus on the repentant face of Peter, but there are some details that remind us of the hope and forgiveness that he is bound to receive: he leans against a rock, a reminder that he is still the Rock upon which Christ will build his Church, and the Keys of the Kingdom lie next to him – despite his sin, his dignity and responsibility remain.

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The Tears of St. Peter, Jusepe de Ribera

Two people betrayed Christ on the night of Holy Thursday and both regretted what they had done: Peter and Judas. Peter denied Christ three times, but when the cock crowed, he realized what he had done and wept bitterly. Judas betrayed Christ to the chief priests and elders, but when he saw that Jesus was condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver that he had been paid for the betrayal. Both hurt Christ, and both were remorseful. However, there is a big difference between the two of them: one despaired and the other did not. Peter repented and was eventually forgiven by Christ; Judas, on the other hand, did not trust in God’s mercy and ended up killing himself.

The devil tempts us in two different ways, both before and after we sin. Before the sin, he entices us with pleasure or gain. If we break down and sin, he employs a new type of temptation: he tempts us to hate ourselves for what we have done and to think that God would never forgive us.

The devil’s only goal is to destroy us and to take us away from God’s love. He uses whatever is at his disposal to accomplish this, be it enticement to sin or temptation to self-loathing. Sometimes, the latter can be harder to resist than the former. Even when we do repent and ask God for forgiveness, the guilt and self-loathing may linger. It is very important that we calmly and peacefully push away such feelings. Self-hatred never comes from God.

We have to realize that God’s love is so intense that nothing we can do can make His love for us any less. Jesus made that very clear to us in His Parable of the Prodigal Son. To resist the temptation of identifying ourselves with our past sins and of hating ourselves for them, we have to return to God’s love again and again. We have to put ourselves in the presence of Our Lord and bask in his unconditional love for each of us.

During the rest of this Holy Week, take time to attend the liturgies at your local in parish in which Christ’s Passion, Death, Resurrection – the ultimate manifestations of his love – will be sacramentally actualized and re-presented. As you participate in the liturgies, remember that Christ went through his Passion for you, and he would have done it even if you were the only one who needed it. As Peter did, you may feel intense remorse for your sins, but allow that sorrow to be gradually displaced by Our Lord’s intense love for you. Let His love and peace fill your heart.

Finding Peace During Holy Week

This Saturday, I am giving a tour in the European Painting section of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The theme of my tour will be Divine Mercy and the first half will be dedicated to depictions of Jesus Christ, the “Face of Mercy.”

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“Christ Crowned with Thorns,” Antonello da Messina

I will be speaking about a number of beautiful paintings, but one in particular fascinates me: Christ Crowned with Thorns by Antonello da Messina (1430–1479). There is something about this painting that portrays the suffering of Christ more powerfully than the others. Antonello chose to highlight Christ’s emotional suffering, and perhaps this is what is so poignant about it. The sad and penetrating gaze of Jesus grabs the viewer and allows no room for indifference.

His pained and supplicating eyes captivate and draw us into his suffering. His face is swollen and his beard is plucked, and he presents himself to the viewer in a moment of complete weakness. The Christ of this painting is exposed and vulnerable, just as the words of Isaiah’s Suffering Servant foretold: “I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheek to those who tore out my beard.” (Isaiah 50:6)

In the midst of his suffering, Jesus looks at the viewer and pleads for mercy. He looks out at us as if to ask for some respite from his torment. Paradoxically, our merciful God is asking us for mercy. The same loving eyes that looked with mercy upon the Samaritan woman, the humiliated adulteress, and greedy Zacchaeus, now look out at us begging for us to return his love.

The two tears on his face say more than anything else in the painting. Yes, Jesus is suffering physically, but he even more intense is his emotional suffering. Thorns have drawn the drops of blood, but his friends have caused the tears. Abandoned by his closest companions, he looks out at us if to say, “Will you leave me as well?”

In this portrayal of Jesus Christ, we see our God in a disconcerting position of weakness. Yet, while he is completely exposed and vulnerable, his gaze remains firm. Even as his physical strength wains and weakens, his love for us remains strong. He will not waver as he bears the punishment of our sins: his love for each of us is too intense for that.

This Holy Week, take time to go to the local church or to a quiet place in your home and peacefully contemplate the face of Christ. Use this image or any other one that moves you. Look at him and ask him for one grace: to understand how much he loves you. He always answers that prayer, and in one way or another you will experience the peace that comes with knowledge of his love.

Resting in God: Finding Peace in Divine Love

A few years ago, I developed a talk on Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son, so I am taking advantage of this Year of Mercy to give the talk as much as I can. I have found that the painting offers an excellent way to unpack the beauty of Christ’s famous parable about God’s infinite love and mercy. Every time I give the talk, there is always some detail that strikes me in a new way. Most recently, it has been the way in which the prodigal son’s head rests in the bosom of his father. There is something very peaceful about it.

After so much time spent desperately seeking security and meaning in the fleeting attention of the world, the prodigal son has finally returned to his father and to the paternal love that was always there for him. With this beautiful image, Rembrandt gives us an icon of the peace to which each of us is called.

72newtesLike the prodigal son, we are all allured by what the world has to offer us. We all yearn for attention and love, and all too often we enslave ourselves to the unrealistic expectations of others as we search for this love and attention. Just as the prodigal son ran off to a faraway city, so do we flee to the virtual cities of TV and the internet to gaze at the dazzling riches and pleasures awaiting those whom the world favors. We watch the lives of celebrities and frustrate ourselves longing to be as loved and appreciated as them. We dissipate our time, energy, and peace striving to somehow get our own scraps of fame and recognition.  We model ourselves on those famous people and spend too much time and money trying to look like them.

All the while, God the Father is waiting for us with arms wide open. The love that we desire so much is actually available with unimaginable intensity in God. The love of the world is always conditional and fickle, but God’s love is infinite and eternal.

It is very important to rest in God’s love. We need to form the habit of withdrawing our thoughts and imagination from the distractions of the world and instead focusing on God. We have to allow ourselves to bask in his love for us. This requires time, but it will always be time well spent. Even if it is only 15 minutes a day spent in prayer or reading of Scripture or sitting before the Eucharist, God will respond generously to our efforts to rest in him.

Lent is a time to disconnect from distractions and to rest in God. Take advantage of these last few weeks of this holy season to ensure that you are spending time daily to calmly rest in the beauty and love of God the Father.