Anthony Lilles, a founding faculty member of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, Co., now serves in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles as Academic Dean for Saint John’s Seminary in Camarillo, CA and as academic advisor for Juan Diego House in Gardena, CA. He was instrumental in founding the Avila Institute of Spiritual Formation and provides podcasts for DiscerningHearts.com. His forthcoming publications include Fire from Above, a treatise on contemplative prayer by Sophia Institute Press and 30 Days with Saint Therese of Lisieux, by Emmaus Press, co-authored with Daniel Burke. Lilles is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville. He completed his graduate and post-graduate studies in Rome at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas, and his dissertation researched Blessed Elisabeth of the Trinity. Read more from Anthony here.
What is the secret of joy in these days of Advent? Even before apostolic action, the Holy Father’s latest teaching invites us to a deeper contemplation — a prayerful gaze that sees the poor from God’s perspective.
Pope Francis wants a Church that is “poor and for the poor.” He believes the poor have much to teach us, that we need to be evangelized by them, and that they should be in the heart of the Church’s pilgrim way.
“We are called to find Christ in them, to lend our voice to their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them,” writes the Holy Father.
For us, entering into the holidays, our hearts are filled with the expectation of all kinds of merry reunions with friends and family. We know, however, there will be moments when we are surrounded by heavy hearts — sometimes brooding in resentment, in anxiety, in loneliness.
In these currents, the shoals of mindless superficiality and heartless cynicism are difficult to navigate if we rely on ourselves. This is always the case and the very reason why the Holy Father wants us to know and share the joy and the Gospel.
For the Holy Father, soup kitchens, shelters and turkey dinners fall short of the love of God and real concern for the poor. He is not calling for new efforts at “unruly activism” or any other new program. The poor are afflicted enough by our ideas and solutions for their problems. They need us, together with them, to face the reality that entraps us all and to begin with the real brokenness in the way we relate to one another. He speaks of a deeper bond, a solidarity based in a real contemplation of our brothers and sisters, a contemplation of God in our brothers and sisters that implicates us in their plight — so that their plight becomes our own.
If the poor can become special messengers of the Gospel, it is because of what the Holy Father refers to as the art of spiritual accompaniment in evangelization. This effort to accompany another in their encounter with Christ connects with the way the Pope is inviting us to reach out to those less fortunate. In both cases, we learn to listen with the heart to the heart of another.
Catherine de Heuck spoke about listening another into existence and she felt the Lord call her to boldly go into the hearts of others. It takes courage, patience and humility to wait for someone to invite us into the truth of who they are.
When we take time to listen to those who suffer and when we allow ourselves to fully understand their hardships, we have already begun to enter into solidarity with them and help them find their dignity. We have already begun to discover our own dignity — for to truly listen to another is to allow them to purify and intensify our own humanity.
This solidarity of poverty, this social friendship that shares one another’s burdens, is never convenient but always fulfilling. It is out of this kind of social friendship that we learn to cooperate together to do something beautiful for God and worthy of our faith. It is in this that evangelization is born. Friendship with those in difficult circumstances occasions the blessedness of the poor in spirit in our personal lives.
Pope Francis wants us to see the most vulnerable not as outside of our own world, but as one with ourselves, so that we truly appreciate their life experience, their culture and their piety. He writes: “True love is always contemplative, and permits us to serve the other not out of necessity or vanity, but rather because he or she is beautiful above and beyond mere appearances: ‘The love by which we find the other pleasing leads us to offer him something freely.’”
Even in the midst of all the commercial confusion of this time of year, the mind can be made open to wonder and the heart can be freed to be astonished. This path of liberation is not a trek for the self-satisfied and those who do not otherwise need salvation. Only by poverty of spirit can one sojourn into the mystery of God who has chosen human poverty as the vehicle through which He ever discloses Himself anew.
Pope Francis is acutely aware of this beatitude that reigns in the midst of all kinds of modern ambiguity. Only the wisdom of discernment glimpses this blessedness, a splendor that hides in all kinds of distressing disguises. This is a mysterious beatitude, which Christ holds out to us if only we will choose not to go with flow, but to stand firm in our faith and look at the world the way God sees it.