Today is the 20th Anniversary of My Entrance into The Divine Life

Today is the 20th Anniversary of My Entrance into The Divine Life

For I have learnt for a fact that nothing so effectively obtains, retains and regains grace, as that we should always be found not high-minded before God, but filled with holy fear. –St. Bernard

Yesterday, I had one of those experiences of God seeming to shout at me to get my attention. No audible voice of God, but a profound sense that He was speaking to my heart in a profound way, and I ought to listen. God was telling me to get at that book I have been working on, off and on (mostly off), for the past 18 months. Then I asked, “Why are you after me today?” The answer came, “Do you realize tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of your awakening in Rome?” WOW!! I had not realized that, until now.

Here’s what happened, 20 years ago, today …

It was 20 years ago today, on February 2, 1998, that I had the experience of a lifetime, in more ways than one. It was a Papal Mass (my first Papal Mass) with Pope John Paul II, on the Feast of the Presentation. It was my 10th anniversary sabbatical, and I was studying in Rome for three months, at the time. The priests studying received a beautiful engraved invitation, and we were thrilled to be going. We were told that we should go two hours ahead of time, if we hoped for a good seat. I joked that I don’t go that early for anything, even for the pope.

We arrived about 30 minutes before Mass, and they were right … there was no hope for a seat, and we were destined to stand in the back (which was about a city block away, in that huge Basilica). With five minutes to go, an usher looked over at a priest friend and me. Now realize, there were 100s of priests there. He signaled for us to come over to him. He proceeded to take us up the aisle. He kept going and going and going, until we got to the two front rows reserved for Bishops and Cardinals … the only rows with velvet kneelers. He motioned for us to sit there. To this day, I have no clue why he singled us out, amongst the 100s of priests in attendance, to sit in front with the Cardinals.

There we were in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome (see photo above), about to pray with the Vicar of Christ. As Mass began, glorious “sacred” music filled the Basilica … and my soul. Of course, being a Papal Mass, there was great attention given to precision (like a military Honor Guard), which struck me as “beautiful order” and honor due to the Majesty of God. But, it was more than that. While I had always loved the Mass, I felt, maybe for the first time, that we were truly “glorifying” God. On that day, February 2, 1998, I was truly changed.

I began to ask myself, “What have I been doing?” I had spent the first ten years of my priesthood buying into the common notion that, if we create all kinds of trendy nuances to the Mass, while we kept the Mass as whimsical and entertaining as possible, people would hear about how “cool” and “fun” and “with the times” we were, and come running. We were treating the Mass as a commodity that we needed to somehow market to the world. Worse than anything, I realized we were all but throwing out any sense of divinity; any sense of the supernatural. Where, in all of this, was any sense of awe and wonder in God’s presence? Where was the sense of God’s glory and majesty?

Saint Francis of Assisi said, “Man should tremble, the world should quake, all Heaven should be deeply moved when the Son of God appears on the altar in the hands of the priest.”

What happened to me that day, February 2, 1998? That day I was awakened to the most important battle of our times, which Dr. Alice von Hildebrand eloquently describes …

In that very same year, Dr. Alice von Hildebrand would clearly identify the epiphany I received that year, twenty years ago today.

In a speech given on 13 June, 1998, entitled, The Secular War on the Supernatural, Dr. Alice von Hildebrand spoke of a private audience in 1965 she and her husband, Dietrich von Hildebrand, had with Pope Paul VI. She confided how her husband “shot from the hip,” as he usually did, saying, “Your Holiness, you realize that the Church is going through the worst crisis in history, worse than the Protestant Reformation” (which I usually refer to as the Protestant Deformation). The Pope seemed to be surprised and my husband continued: “What has taken place is that people have lost sight of the supernatural.”

In this same speech, Dr. Alice von Hildebrand said,

Now let us abolish the terms “conservative” or “liberal”, the terms “left” and “right” which are secularistic. I suggest that we say from now on “those who have kept the sense of the supernatural and those who have lost it”. That is the great divide, that is the essence.

 

Do you look at the Church and her teaching, whether dogmatic or moral, with a supernatural eye, or do you look at it with secular lenses? That is the divide. Left and right confuses the issue. Let us re-discover the greatness and the beauty of the supernatural and I claim that it is so difficult in the polluted world in which we live, that if we don’t pray for it every single day, we are going to be infected. It is the air that you breathe, the newspaper that you read, the television show that you see, time and again you will see this is a fight and attack on the supernatural.

My temptation is to write a very long article here, but I am fighting this. I have so much I want to write, but I fear great length will lend itself to fewer readers. So, let me conclude with this …

Yesterday, as God was shouting at me, I read this scripture reflection by Bishop Robert Barron that, precisely, pointed to the essence of what I have been writing and speaking of, since that “deepening” I had, twenty years ago today.

Here’s what Bishop Barron wrote yesterday:

You need fear of the Lord, which does not mean that you are afraid of God. It means that nothing to you is more important than God, that everything in your life centers around and is subordinate to your love for God. And your equipping needs to include piety. That means that you honor God above everything else, that you worship him alone. These spiritual gifts enable you to find true balance; they allow you to know what your life is about.

 

Equipped with these gifts, you are ready for mission. Having received the fire of the Holy Spirit, you are ready to set the world on fire.

YES!! I’ve come to understand that we have (actually, I believe this is the work of the devil), by and large, removed the very gateway into the Divine Life. I happen to agree with Pope St. Gregory the Great who, wanting to capture the spiritual dynamism of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, posited the following order:

“Through the fear of the Lord, we rise to piety, from piety then to knowledge, from knowledge we derive strength, from strength counsel, with counsel we move toward understanding, and with intelligence toward wisdom and thus, by the sevenfold grace of the Spirit, there opens to us at the end of the ascent the entrance to the life of Heaven” (“Homiliae in Hiezechihelem Prophetam,” II 7,7).

As you can see, the entry point is “Fear of the Lord.” THAT’S what happened to me on February 2, 1998. I was given this “Gateway Gift of the Holy Spirit” that brought me into the “Upper Room” where all of the rest of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit are found. I entered the Divine Life.

Without this “trigger,” we are prone to reduce our faith/religion to merely another organization that has a sense of social responsibility. Jesus is then reduced to an historic figure to emulate. Mass is just a social gathering that many may say (without saying), “It had better have good entertainment if you are going to make me endure this for an hour.” Again, all of the supernatural is stripped out and the belief in miracles and the power of supernatural grace is mocked as the ignorance of our ancestors.

So, we can see why Satan is winning. He is in the supernatural realm using supernatural weapons, while we have surrendered ours. You can read more of what I wrote about this, some 18 months ago, HERE.

Then, today, Bishop Barron writes about, what I believe, is the reason God chose this Feast of the Presentation, to point out to me the very essence of our battle today:

Friends, today’s Gospel tells the story of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. The Temple was, in practically a literal sense, the dwelling place of the Lord. In the Temple, divinity and humanity embraced, and the human race was brought back online with God.

 

But the sins of the nation had, according to the prophet Ezekiel, caused the glory of the Lord to depart from the Temple. Therefore, one of the deepest aspirations of Israel’s people was to reestablish the Temple as the place of right praise so that the glory of the Lord might return. When Joseph and Mary bring the infant Jesus into the Temple, therefore, we are meant to appreciate that the prophecy of Ezekiel is being fulfilled. The glory of Yahweh is returning to his favorite dwelling. And this is precisely what Simeon sees.

This year, I also celebrate my 30th anniversary as a priest. Every day, it becomes more and more clear to me that this is the primary cause or battle of our day: “To heal the sins of our nation, and restore the glory of the Lord to his Temple.”

This, or something like this, will be the beginnings of the book I am writing. Stay tuned!

Here’s an interesting addendum. Last Fall, I was getting ready to speak to a men’s group. I planned to tell the story of my conversion at the Papal Mass on the Feast of the Presentation, February 2, 1998. I figured they were all Green Bay Packer fans, so I thought it would be fun to show them the Packer stock certificate I received that same year. It was then that I looked closely at the date on the stock certificate. Look for yourself. It wasn’t just the same year, but ….  WOW!!!!

GBPackerStockCert

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