Lent – You Have Stood By Me with Dr. Anthony Lilles – Discerning Hearts Podcast

From Dr. Anthony Lilles’ blog “Beginning to Pray”

You have stood by me in my trials and I am giving you a Kingdom.”  This solemn declaration was made by the Lord even as He faced betrayal, denial, and abandonment – suffering these unto death. To enter into His Kingdom, we must follow Him down this same pathway.  This means that we will face what He has faced. To enable us to follow Him, He must purify us and strengthen us to remain standing with Him even after our sin. To the degree that we are afraid of death, suffering, and sin, we are afraid also of His mercy. But His merciful love overcomes our fear.  Accepting His mercy, we learn to see in our own life experience that sin, suffering and death ultimately do not stand between us and the love of God. Indeed, He has made of them a pathway.

“You have stood by me.” We hear these words knowing full well how often we have failed Him. Yet, He does not focus on that. He sees what is good. He chooses to be conscious of what we have done in our devotion and so He directs us to also acknowledge what He sees.  It is not that He is not aware of our sins. It is only that He chooses not to allow them to define our relationship with Him.  Thus, He said this in the presence of the Twelve: the betrayer, the nine would abandon Him and the most trusted who would deny Him. He says it also to us now.

“You have stood by me” unveils his decision to see past our failures to a deeper mystery about us that we cannot know on our own. He gazes with hope on the possibilities of the human heart. This is because we are not in his eyes friends who fall short of His expectations. Instead, we are each a gift of the Father to Him – and so He treasures our faithfulness no matter how weak or fleeting it might be.  Thus, He confirms all that is good, noble and true. The the gaze in which he holds us never breaks – He suffers this regard of the deepest truth of our existence unto death and will search hell to rescue it.  Here, the basis of hope no matter how often we have fallen, a truth He repeats today in our presence too: “You have stood by me.”

“I have prayed that your faith will not fail and once you have turned back, you must strengthen the faith of your brethren.”  Love requires many difficult purifications and painful healings before we can stand before the face of the One who loved us to the end. No unaided human effort can endure these trials of love. Yet, we never face these alone, but always in the Church with Christ’s gentle presence and His mighty prayer. His prayer that our faith should not fail does not mean we will not fall.  It means that if we fall, no matter how far or hard or for how long, we can turn back – convinced that the power of His love is greater than the power of our sin.

What we do not see but what Christ sees is the splendor of His Bride – a splendor in which we have already been implicated from before the foundation of the world. Despite the sinfulness of her members and even the failures of her shepherds, she knows from the vantage point of eternity the way to the Bridegroom in both life and death. She knows this path to love even as it leads through the difficult ambiguities of our lives. She knows it by love and She knows it for love even when we have long stumbled away from it. She knows even as it disappears from our sight at the last moments of this life. And so, if we listen to the voice of the Bride, she teaches us to find it even when we feel farthest from it. Indeed, the Good Shepherd Himself will pick us up and place us there – for He has abandoned everything to find us.  Though we cannot see it, the Body of Christ knows the passage that crosses from the gates of hell to the very threshold of heaven. Christ Himself bridges this abyss – and He suffers it in His mystical body so that we might become immaculate and holy in His presence.

Dr. Anthony Lilles is the author of “Hidden Mountain, Secret Garden”, which can be found here

Lent – Praying from the Heart with Dr. Anthony Lilles – Discerning Hearts Podcast

From Dr. Anthony Lilles’ blog “Beginning to Pray”

During Lent, we dedicate ourselves to prayer, fasting and almsgiving.   These practices are simple ways of expressing our gratitude to Jesus for what He has done for us.  This in fact is the very nature of penance.  Penance is love which responds to mercy – and this love is not content with words, thoughts and feelings.  This love needs to express itself in a prayer the cries from the heart, in sacrifice that really costs, and in little hidden acts of kindness which comfort those who most need it.

Why do we allow God to implicate us in the plights of others, especially during Lent?  God’s love suffers the personal plight each of us.  He does this because He does not want us to suffer alone.  So He seeks us out in our suffering – the suffering that we have brought on ourselves and the suffering that others have brought on us.   He is concerned about our dignity and He is ready to do whatever it takes that we might be rectified and stand with Him who is Love Himself.  The extent to which He enters into our misery for this purpose is revealed on the Cross.  If we are to be His disciples, we must pick up our cross and follow Him.  This is how the Lord extends His saving mystery through space and time – He loves us so much He implicates us in this great work of His Love.

No matter how many times we fail, no matter how great our weaknesses, no matter how inadequate we are to the demands of love — He is there with us, loving us, providing exactly what we need in the moment, and this because He really loves us that much.   How can we not respond by offering Him food and drink when we recognize Him in the disguise of those who hunger and thirst?  How can we not respond by forgoing a little comfort and convenience when He has already suffered so much discomfort and inconvenience for us?  How can we not respond by praying for those who need the love of God when He has never forgotten us in His love for the Father?

When prayer, sacrifice and generosity come together in thanksgiving to God for His goodness to us, deep places of the heart are purified and we rediscover the joy humanity was meant to know from the beginning.  Lent is all about this joy – a joy God’s love allows us to know, the joy of being sons and daughters of God, the joy of heart so beautiful it would be wrong not to share it with those who need a little joy as well.

Dr. Anthony Lilles is the author of “Hidden Mountain, Secret Garden”, which can be found here

Lent: St. Bernard’s Vision of Humility and Pride – Dr. Anthony Lilles – Discerning Hearts Podcast

Lent: St. Bernard’s Vision of Humility and Pride

by Dr. Anthony Lilles

We waste a lot of time thinking something is owed us.   We brood over injury.  We are not self-contained.  Lent helps us remember the real truth about ourselves and our situation.  The wisdom of the saints, like St. Bernard, helps us see our actual situation.  His teachings suggest we can be free of brooding and find a new kind of self-possession when we allow the Lord to preoccupy us with his immeasurable love.   We are, in fact, loved so much more than we deserve, but we can only see this as God leads us out of ourselves and into Him.

For St. Bernard, conversion happens when we allow God’s love for us to cause a constantly expanding desire for Him in our hearts.  We allow God to stir this growing desire whenever we act on what God’s love prompts us to do in our hearts.  Growing in love in this way is infallible because God’s desire for our conversion never changes.   The result is as we desire God more, our freedom to act and to love grows ever stronger.

This next statement is a little paradoxical.  Our freedom reaches its fullness in mature humility.  The paradox resolves itself, at least partially, if we bear in mind the kind of only kind of freedom Bernard believes in – the freedom to love.  Mature humility is like a mountain top of self-possession or self containment for St. Bernard.  Love demands this kind of self-containment because to really love freely takes the full force of our being.  In mature humility, the heart rests content in God’s bountiful love.  It is a strange contentment because it demands constant vigilance, ongoing conversion.   Bernard calls this spiritual warfare.  It involves a constant struggle against our former way of life, against the gravitational pull of our big fat egos.  Another way he looks at it is that this kind of contentment to be sustained in the Lord must keep vigil against them movements of pride.

For those who want to climb to union with God, Bernard teaches that there is one great truth of which we must come to complete acceptance.  In his Ladder of Pride, he explains how we constantly work to fully accept God’s love for us.  This love is not commensurate with anything we think we have done to earn it.  The moment we start thinking we are owed something is the exact instant we climb the ladder of pride and fall out of the heights of humility.

There are probably a lot of people who think that this is psychologically unhealthy to think about.   They would probably conjecture that any awareness one has of being loved more than he deserves is really just poor self-esteem.  But humility is the virtue that regulates self-esteem.  It is singularly unhealthy to esteem one’s self more or less than the truth about who one is.

St. Bernard would say that in truth, each of us is uncommonly loved by God, eventhough we have done nothing to deserve such love.   We do not know why we are loved in this way.  But we are, in all our unworthiness.  It is humility to accept this.  Paradoxically, progress is made in the spiritual life through the growing awareness of our own unworthiness in the face of God’s incalculable love.

In the heights of humility, however, we must fight against one uncharitable preoccupation which, while not seeming to be vicious, can uttlerly destroy our ability to learn to love.  He calls it curiousity, but what he means seems to be closer to ambition.    Biblically, it is the pursuit of “making an name” for oneself.  Think of Babel or the history of Israel.  The ambition to lord over others and to draw attention to oneself always leads away from God.  St. Bernard, pride begins with the way that we look at our brothers and sisters, and it ends in a total rejection of God.  His bottomline is that the heights of humility are a protected place as long as we we are humble in our dealings with one another.  But the gravity of pride constantly pulls at us and, he explains, this pull can only be resisted through prayer, fasting, and humble acceptance of those trials which come our way.

Prayer, fasting and the acceptance of trial helps us realize that our true value is in God’s love for us and in his love for those he has entrusted us.   Real self-esteem is rooted in this realization.   Our lives are meant to co-inhere: to co-inhere in God and to co-inhere in one another.   This means the joys and sorrows of God and my brothers and sisters belong to me, are the proper place for my heart to dwell.  Preoccupation with making a name for myself takes my heart out of this kind of self-possession.  For Bernard, the self does not fully exist isolated from God or from others.  The self, the human “I,” ought to be in communion with God and others, or it is less than itself.   Thus, to be self-contained, means for Bernard, that our only concern has become communion with one another in Christ.

An interesting application with the observance of Lent presents itself.   Traditionally, Lent is a time of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.   In other posts I hope to address the connection of Bernard’s insight with Lent’s prayer and fasting.   Here, just a word on almsgiving which is not unconnected with the importance of bearing the trials that come our way.   In giving alms to those in desparate need what we are really doing, according to Bernard’s perspective, is containing ourselves in a very small way.  Our gift is a kind of sharing in the struggles of our brothers and sisters.  Think of the poor plight of those in Chile or Haiti or even the homeless mentally ill on our own streets.  Their sufferings are always connected to us because of who they are, and humility, knowing the truth about ourselves and how we are connected to them, does not afford us the luxury of ignoring their plight.  Their plight is ours.   For St. Bernard, to see it any other way is just pride.

Anthony Lilles, S.T.D. is an associate professor and the academic dean of Saint Patrick’s Seminary & University in Menlo Park, California. For over twenty years he served the Church in Northern Colorado where he joined and eventually served as dean of the founding faculty of Saint John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver. Through the years, clergy, seminarians, religious and lay faithful have benefited from his lectures and retreat conferences on the Carmelite Doctors of the Church and the writings of St. Elisabeth of the Trinity.

That Great Silence in Storms Midst – Dr. Anthony Lilles – Discerning Hearts Podcast

That Great Silence in Storms Midst

by Dr. Anthony Lilles

The beauty of these 40 days of Lent is that every hardship and trial can be made into an offering of love. If we keep our course, whether anxiety or frustration, disappointment or heartbreak, hidden in the exigencies of the moment is a sacrament, a visible sign of grace, inviting the response of faith, opening to a deeper encounter with the one who longs for our freedom. The challenge is to focus on the Lord’s presence in the midst of the wind and the waves. Turn off every screen and speaker, silence the cell phone in all the talking heads, enough of the candid music and arguments, eyes open, attentive ears, ready heart, abstain, fast and be silent. This is the life vest to put on.

Seek an icons glow until heaven finds you for it is not we who make our way to Him so much as He who is set out to rescue his pilgrims in the threatening storm. Days of darkness when nothing makes sense, when evil would seem to have the upper hand, these are taken into account in the gospel in God’s plan. If this is chastisement, then it is long deserved by me more than anyone else. Save the innocent Lord who my own silence has left so vulnerable. It is challenging to walk under the shadow of glory for we must forsake those earthly lights on which we too long relied. Under that shadow, are less for power and gluttonous appetite are unveiled, and we feel the sorrow of not being in control or having the instant gratification to which we feel entitled. And then finally, we face that lonely alienation that has been driving us, and a certain painful emptiness that we too long sought to evade.

It is good to be sobered and to face the truth. Here, even social distancing can occasion compunction. And the piercing of the heart unleashes a sudden torrent and healing’s faith first hint whispers truth. All that once appeared good no longer does so. And what is really good, we have not yet learned to see. So dark, alone, and vulnerable, and in need, we finally begin to pray. Lighted candle on the kitchen table as night descends. Such simple joys are filled with meaning As the beads of the rosary slip through the fingers, and the Bible passages echo out loud what memories of grace and of friendship fill the silence? All of this only directs the heart and to even deeper places towards depths that the memory cannot go or the intellect glimpse, but every word of the Word is drawn there. Meaningful silence is resound when the heart speaks to heart. And an astonishing secret is shared between creator and creature for in that ardent furneness of love, what bright warmth welcomes the Pilgrim soul and the Pilgrim God.

Anthony Lilles, S.T.D. is an associate professor and the academic dean of Saint Patrick’s Seminary & University in Menlo Park, California. For over twenty years he served the Church in Northern Colorado where he joined and eventually served as dean of the founding faculty of Saint John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver. Through the years, clergy, seminarians, religious and lay faithful have benefited from his lectures and retreat conferences on the Carmelite Doctors of the Church and the writings of St. Elisabeth of the Trinity.

The Redeemer and the Gift of Lent – Dr. Anthony Lilles – Discerning Hearts Podcast

The Redeemer and the Gift of Lent

From Beginning to Pray 

Each of us has a great task … that of becoming who God made us to be. Were we without sin, this task would still be impossible for us, left to our own resources and abilities. For indeed, the Lord created us in His Image and Likeness. This means that we are made to be the praise of God’s glory, living icons of His hidden life and love in His visible creation. What creature could ever attain to such holiness and splendor? Yet, we are made, though a little less than the angels, the very crown of God’s creative action.

The great purpose entrusted to each one of us was long ago made subject to futility because of the mystery of sin. From the very origins of humanity, the envy of Satan and the sin of our first parents has threatened our existence. Though we want to do what is good, noble, and true, without Divine help, we are inclined to fall into an abyss of self-contradictions. Our desire to praise God, to make known His glory, never leaves us, even if it is utterly forgotten or resisted. Our restlessness and death remind us of our downfall and pride, but sin and its consequences are not the last word about humanity. Something more beautiful defines the mystery of our humanity, and every man and woman is invited to freely accept this calling if they will listen to the voice of God.

The Father, whose thought of us delighted Him so much that He summoned us into existence, could not bear that we should perish without hope. As He promised, He sent us a Redeemer who would enter into our plight and rescue us from sin and death. This Good Shepherd did not fear the wolves that threaten our existence and he did not allow the distance that we had strayed to discourage Him in His search for us. A physician of the body and spirit, His words of truth are the remedy for the wounds we bear and the mistaken judgments that have driven us into myths and alienation. He does this moreover by entering into our misery so deep that in the face of our hostility, He patiently remains and will not forsake us, anxious that we should not suffer alone.

Call to Him. He actively works, holding nothing back, until our dignity is restored and our every humiliation redressed. Indeed, all that is most precious to Him – His obedience to the Father and His own devotion to His Mother, He freely offers as a gift to all those who ask. Most of all, by his passion and Crucifixion, He merited for our sake that Divine Gift whose presence not only remits our sins and consecrates us in holiness, but infuses us with the love that the Father has yearned for us to know. An inexhaustible fountain, this sanctifying Gift infuses every moment with treasures too precious for this present life to hold, but imperfectly, for a time, if only we ask and accept what He offers us.

Because even the most imperfect beginnings of this New Life offer so much hope to the world, we must also welcome Lent as a gift won for us by the Shepherd who laid down His life for His sheep. Lenten observance is no more than a participation in the graces already won for us — and they point somewhere beyond the here and now, to mysteries so sacred and tender, even the greatest joys of this life are as nothing in comparison. We step into an arena because the life of the Risen Lord in us enables us to be contestants in the battle for all that is good, noble and true. We fight with confidence against all that threatens not only our own integrity but that of our brothers and sisters too because Christ gives us a sharing in His confidence. We do not fear our weaknesses but surrender them in prayer and repentance as occasions for the power of God to be made perfect. We run the race because the Spirit of the Lord quickens us on our way until nothing can hold us back from the prize.

The Lenten Discipline invites us to embrace in our own lives the victory won for us at such a great price. If we practice self-denial, it is because in the blood and water that flowed from His sacrifice we have already received all we really need. If we fast, it is because we already feast on the Bread of Life who sustains us with truth that no earthly bread can provide. If we are merciful to those to whom the Lord sends us, it is only because it is His mercy in us that compels us. If we sorrow over our sins and imperfections, we are also compelled by Christ to share our joy with others at any cost.

We die to our earthly dreams so that Christ’s dream for us might unfold in our heart and our spirit might finally awaken to love. In hours spent silently listening to the Word of the Father, we anticipate a reality too great for this world to contain, a fulfillment long ago yearned for by God and whose shadow calls to our existence even now. We offer our bodily existence in spiritual sacrifice because united to Christ in the Holy Spirit, our whole being finally begins to become what the Father predestined us to be: the praise of the Trinity’s glorious grace.

Anthony Lilles, S.T.D. is an associate professor and the academic dean of Saint Patrick’s Seminary & University in Menlo Park, California. For over twenty years he served the Church in Northern Colorado where he joined and eventually served as dean of the founding faculty of Saint John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver. Through the years, clergy, seminarians, religious and lay faithful have benefited from his lectures and retreat conferences on the Carmelite Doctors of the Church and the writings of St. Elisabeth of the Trinity.