Thursday, April 30, 2015

Praying with Scripture

In my post on Monday I mentioned that I am best able to avoid the various distortions or reductions of the faith by means of a regular (daily) prayer life, and in particular, a prayer life centered on prayerful reading of the Holy Bible.

In fact, one of the most powerful of the many forms of prayer in the Christian tradition is reflection and meditation on the words of the Bible. And even within this form of prayer are a variety of specific ways of doing so.One form of praying with Scripture that’s very ancient but has also seen a resurgence among Christians over the last few decades is called lectio divina (LEK-tseeo dee-VEE-na), which is latin for divine reading. This is the approach that I (attempt to!) use, and I'd like to explain it a bit here.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="397"] Antonello da Messina, St. Jerome in His Study, 1460-1475[/caption]


Having originated in the sixth century A.D. particularly within the early monasteries founded by St. Benedict, lectio divina consists of four (or five) steps. Entire books have been written on this process (here’s a helpful blog post), and I’ll have more to say in future posts, but in summary, here are the steps:

  • Reading: a slow reading of a passage from Scripture

  • Meditation: a prayerful reflection on the passage

  • Prayer: one’s attention now turns from the passage to God, addressing Him in light of the passage

  • Contemplation: now instead of addressing God in prayer, one simply rests in His presence, contemplating Him

  • (Some add Action: a resolution to a specific action based on this time of prayer)

Over the last four years lectio divina has been an important part of my own personal prayer, helping me listen more and talk less (a topic on which I have much to say, pun intended  ;-).

What forms of praying with the Bible have you found helpful?

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Who Worships False Idols These Days?

In yesterday’s post I referred to doctrine, morality and piety as (potential) false idols. One might have rightly asked, “Really? Who worships false idols these days? I haven’t seen any golden calves around in quite some time.”

That’s certainly true: we no longer build statues made out of precious metals and worship them as deities. But that doesn’t mean that idol worship has gone completely by the wayside… it’s simply become more subtle and sophisticated.

I’d like to take a short post to briefly explain.

In short, we commit idol worship anytime we place at the center of our lives anything but God. Yesterday’s post was focused on some of the ways that those who are striving to follow Him can unwittingly fall into idol worship by placing some good things at the center.

And that gets to an important point: a false idol isn’t necessarily a bad thing that we “worship”: it can be a good thing, too. It’s simply giving anything -- good or bad -- greater centrality in our lives than we ought to.

So idol worship could be drugs, alcohol, pornography, etc., but it can also be good things that we actually overvalue: our work, our hobby, or even our relationships… it’s possible to replace God at the center of our lives with our friends or family, even our spouses or children.

We are both called and empowered to live an integrated life, in which we give everything its due. When we fail to do so, when we over- or undervalue anything significant... we run into problems. And that's not to say that an angry old guy with a white beard "up there" is going to shake his finger at us... it's to say that when we misprioritize anything of significance, the result is dis-order in our lives... dis-integration.

Like it or not, we are hardwired by God, for God. In the oft-quoted words of St. Augustine, "Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee." When we get the center right, everything else falls into place. But when we don't...

Yesterday I mentioned that one of my temptations is to overvalue doctrine; another of my temptations is to overvalue technology, to give it greater due than I ought. I tend to do this by having my cell phone at hand and obsessively checking my email -- work & personal -- when I might be spending that time being fully present to my wife and my children.

I find it helpful to reflect regularly on this: what are the things in my life that I overvalue? What are the things that I’m giving more time or effort to than is due them? In short… what are my personal false idols?

Monday, April 27, 2015

The False Idols of Doctrine, Morality and Piety

How’s that for a title? As counterintuitive as it may seem, it’s entirely possible for a Christian to make false idols out of certain teachings (doctrine), certain behaviors (morality) or certain prayers or ways of praying (piety). How? By putting them at the center of his faith in place of what belongs there: Jesus of Nazareth. As odd as it may seem to you, I know that it’s possible… I’ve done it.

I need to be absolutely clear here: in no way am I saying that doctrine, morality and piety are bad or even unimportant. On the contrary, they are both good and essential.

What I am saying is that they are not the beating heart of our faith. No, that place belongs only to Jesus Christ. Right doctrine, morality and piety flow from Him… they cannot replace Him. As soon as we elevate any of them to the center of our faith we have erected a false idol and have reduced Christianity to something else: ideology, moralism or pietism, none of which is authentic Christianity.

I’m reminded here of the opening of Pope Benedict’s first encyclical, God is Love, wherein he wrote this: “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”

According to this brilliant german intellectual and profoundly good man, being a Christian is not first about what I do or decide -- i.e. about right ethics -- or about what I think -- i.e. about right ideas, right doctrine -- but is about something that happens to me: an encounter with an event -- an event! -- an event that is not merely something but someone: Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, the Word Made Flesh.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="504"] Caravaggio, The Incredulity of St. Thomas, 1601-02[/caption]


It is because of this encounter with Him that everything changes -- my life has a new horizon and a decisive direction. It is because of this encounter that I think and act differently: I believe in His words and follow His example, i.e. I believe in certain doctrines and accept a certain morality and embrace a certain piety.

As I noted above, I know that it’s possible to reduce or distort Christianity in this way because I’ve done it: in my case, my temptation is to ideology, to making Christianity fundamentally about certain ideas or doctrines. At times I have become so fascinated, so entranced by what Jesus teaches in and through His Church that I came to value those teachings more than Him.

Again, I’m not saying that doctrine is bad or irrelevant… it’s most definitely a great gift from God. But doctrine itself is not God Himself. It’s the gift, not the gift-Giver. And apart from Him, it cannot, does not and will not transform my life.

The same is true with morality: moralism is not authentic Christianity; but a facsimile of the real thing: a close copy, but not the real deal. For some, it might be right sexual morality; for others, social justice. Both are good, necessary and crucial, but neither is what ultimately defines us a Christians.

And the same is true with piety: pietism is just as inauthentic as ideology or moralism. For some it might be the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (the Traditional Latin Mass), for some it might be Contemporary Christian worship music and for some it might be praying in tongues. All of these things are good and can lead us closer to Him, but they are not Him, and it’s possible for us to subtly replace Him with them and in so doing to distort our Christian faith.

One might rightly ask… if it’s so easy to reduce our faith in these ways, if it’s so easy to distort Christianity into ideology, moralism or piety, then how do we maintain an authentic Christian faith in which we hold Christ in the center without doing away with doctrine, morality or piety?

To this, I can only speak for myself: I have found that I’m more able to avoid these distortions by renewing that encounter on a daily basis, that is by regular contact with God every day through a prayer life that is more about listening, meditating and simply being in His presence (contemplating) than about talking. If being Christian is the result of an encounter with the Word, then it is by encountering that Word on a daily basis that I deepen my Christian faith.

But what about you? What are the ways that you have found to keep Christ at the center of your own faith?


Thursday, April 23, 2015

New Foundations


In Monday’s post I discussed the importance of faith impacting every aspect of one’s life. Many people agree with that sentiment, but it can be challenging to actually implement it, beyond the basics of living rightly. How to we build our entire life on our faith?

In other words, faith-impacting-life is about more than morality… it goes deeper than that. But how? How am I to bring my faith to bear on my life in a deep and substantial way? How am I accomplish living in a way that is thoroughly structured by my faith instead of by the world?

One important answer is this: by saturating myself in the liturgical life of the Church, by allowing the rhythm of the liturgical day, week and year to form and shape my life.

To that end and to get some specific proposals, I’d recommend this post on “Living Liturgically”. The author, Michael Bradley, gives some examples on how he strives to “live liturgically”:
I try, now, though so far with little success, to orient my instinctive reactions to days of the week or weeks of the month or seasons of the year more toward the liturgical calendar and away from secular calibration. I try to reflect on the sorrowful mysteries even amid the excitement of an impending Friday night. I try to work more on Saturdays so that I can stay away from the computer on Sundays, or maybe plan to socialize on Saturday evening so that I can dedicate my Friday night to something other than a major social event. I try to greet solemnities with the same general excitement that the Fourth of July elicits in me.

A personal example: for a number of years now I’ve tried to take seriously the Church’s expectation that we perform some penance on each Friday of the year. I do this in part out of a desire to shape my life by my faith: because Jesus died on the Cross for me and for all on a Friday, I try to offer some act of penance, in union with His ultimate self-sacrifice.

Another (one-time) example: a couple years ago my family organized a Pentecost Party to observe this great solemnity that has essentially no significance in our culture.

In this and other examples, my desire is that observing and celebrating the liturgical calendar will -- over time --shape my life "Christianly," to make it... cruciform.

Again, this is a theme to which I will return repeatedly, but for now, this will suffice as a short introduction, to hopefully whet your appetite.

What about you? How have you used the liturgical calendar to bring your faith into your life?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Good News, Not Good Advice

Christians in the First World today have a serious image problem, one which cripples our attempts to share our faith with others, and -- sadly -- one which is in many ways our own doing. As the Anglican scholar N.T. Wright has noted, the unfortunate reality is that many people -- including many Christians! -- have fundamentally misunderstood the Gospel of Jesus Christ as Good (or Not So Good) Advice.

To put it another way, many people -- again, including many Christians -- see the essence of Christianity as a moral code, as a set of rules and regulations which require certain behaviors and forbid others, as a bunch of "Thou Shalt Not's".


We’ll dive deeper into this topic in other posts, but for now I simply want to note that while Christianity certainly entails a morality, it is not, at its heart, defined as a morality. Rather, it is the proclamation of Good News: of something that has happened, that is happening, and that will happen.


What are these things, these events, that have happened, are happening, and will happen? They are

  1. the coming of Jesus Christ into the world 2000 years ago and the redemption which He accomplished and initiated then;

  2. the encounter with Him which is offered to each and every human being in the midst of their lives, and encounter which has the capacity to slowly but surely transform them and their lives; and

  3. He return at the end of history, at which point the transformation which began 2000 years ago will be fulfilled, completed and accomplished.

Let me conclude this “teaser” post which this quote, describing the essence of Christianity: “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” Google the quote… you might be surprised at who wrote it.

The encounter with the Risen Jesus can transform your life now... today.

Do you believe this is possible? Why, or why not?


Monday, April 20, 2015

Tom Cruise, First-Rate Philosopher

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="290"] Theatrical Poster[/caption]

Okay, maybe not.

But one of his characters was more intellectually- and existentially-consistent that many (or even most) Americans of any religious affiliation, including Catholics, living his life in a way that corresponded with his belief-system.

I’m talking about the hitman Vincent in the 2004 film Collateral, starring Cruise and Jamie Foxx and directed by Michael Mann.

Read on…

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Prayer & Babysteps

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="417"] Jean-François Millet, The Angelus, 1857-1859[/caption]

If someone were to ask me what the most important thing is for growing as a disciple of Jesus Christ, among my first answers would be a regular, deepening prayer life. Not a perfect prayer life, mind you, nor a profound one -- at least initially -- but a regular and deepening one.

I can personally testify to the utility of a “babysteps” approach to prayer: if you don’t pray regularly right now, start with thirty seconds… maybe one Our Father, said slowly and attentively. Then bump it up to a minute or two, maybe with some prayers of thanks for the gifts of the day and/or intercessions for someone -- maybe you -- who is in need. Then maybe five minutes… then ten. Read the Scripture readings read at Mass that day, prayerfully and carefully. Listen for the word, phrase or sentence that jumps out at you, and meditate on that.

You’ll probably plateau at some point, but that’s okay… like any relationship, the time spent together is more about quality than quantity. But also like any relationship, don’t let that become an excuse either.

As I said, I've found this to be a helpful way to consistently improve my prayer life; what about you? What's worked for you in your own prayer life?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

It Looks Better on the Inside


At the Easter Sunday Mass one of the options for the reading from the Gospels is John 20:1-9, in which we read about how Mary Magdalene told Peter and John (the disciple whom Jesus loved) that Jesus’ body was missing from the tomb and about their response: they ran to the tomb.

We’re told that Peter and John both ran to the tomb, and that although John reached the tomb first, he did not go in until Peter arrived.

Note what happens after Peter has arrived, entered the tomb and examined the scene: “Then the other disciple [John], who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed” (verse 8).

John -- who’d reached the tomb first -- goes into the tomb, sees, and believes.

He goes in, and then he sees and believes.

It is only when he has entered in that he is able to see and to believe.

In the experience of many people who’ve embraced Christianity in general or Catholicism in particular, there comes a point at which further investigation "from the outside” yields diminishing results: a decision has to be made to “enter in,” and once that happens… seeing and believing.

Have you had that experience? Are you in that position now? Enter in, that you might see and believe.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Strife is O’er, the Battle Done… Do You Believe It?

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="609"] The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans Under the Command of Titus, A.D. 70, David Roberts, 1850[/caption]


Catholics and other Christians living in the United States today often feel as though they are under assault, but the deeper reality is just the opposite: they are the ones who should be confident of their victory. Why? Because that’s what their Captain promised in the sixteenth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel.

Before getting to His words, though, let’s set the table by looking at the cultural context in which we find ourselves today.

Thursday, April 09, 2015


As I'm diving into Wordpress as I get Cruciform up and running, I'm struck by how much blogging has changed since I started Veritas back in 2002... the ease with which you can insert images... videos...

Blogging has come a long way!

Unexpected Lessons

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="277"] Rembrandt, The Return of the Prodigal Son, c. 1668[/caption]


You know what was one of the most surprising things about this Lent for me? The unexpected lessons from the Father, the bearhugs He gave me that have been both a little painful and a lot heart-warming.

He’s shown me some hard truths… some of the dirt I’ve missed -- or frankly, ignored -- but He’s been pretty gentle in how He’s done it. In my case, it was a good dose of humility... just when I think I'm well on my way to having this pride thing licked, He shows me that it's a lot bigger onion than I realized!

But even more than pointing the dirt out to me, He’s shown me how much better I look when I get cleaned up!

I used to be afraid of that kind of Fatherly discipline, but now I thank Him for it. If I remember.  :-)

What are the unexpected -- but good! -- lessons that He's taught you?

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

What to Expect When You're Reading (Cruciform)

As I’ve mentioned before, this isn’t my first blog… the first go was pretty rant-heavy and all across the board, topic-wise.

It was also very across the board in terms of frequency of posting, due to the fact that most of my posts were in response to the news of the day, oftentimes political (hence the ranting).

With Cruciform, my intent is to be more deliberate in both topics and frequency. I’ve already spoken to the focus of this site; in terms of frequency you can expect to see one lengthy post per week and two to four shorter posts.

But this is also an experiment, with the results determined in large part by the preference of you, the reader… so please… let me know what you think as we go forward. And to that end, expect me to see questions every so often about what is most interesting and helpful to you, including the regularity of my posts.

Thanks for journeying with me!

Monday, April 06, 2015

What is Truth?

“What is truth?” Those are the words of that great postmodern philosopher Pontius Pilate, uttered nearly 2000 years ago (maybe postmodern isn’t as postmodern as we thought).

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="490"] Mihaly Munkacsy, Christ before Pilate, 1881[/caption]


While many today share Pilate’s skepticism, many others have found the Truth. Not just truths, mind you, but the Truth: the truth about themselves, about their lives, about their destiny. And with it they have found peace, joy and purpose.

You can find it too.

Are you ready?

Sunday, April 05, 2015


One thing that continues to strike me is the way that deep truths both have a certain beauty to them and provoke a beautiful response. The latter has certainly been the case with the Christian tradition and the multiple forms of artistic beauty that it inspires.

To that point, the other day I read this post listing ten classical music pieces for Easter. The author notes that he's leaving off the most well-known Easter-inspired piece, which leads us down another road...

Many Christian traditions are known for the spiritual practice of giving something up for the six week-plus season of Lent, leading up to the celebration of Easter. Catholics, for instance, give up meat on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent.

Perhaps less well-known is the practice of "giving up" the Alleluia...

As with many Christian worship services, the Catholic Mass always includes a reading from one of the four Gospels. Immediately prior to the reading comes the Gospel acclamation, typically a verse or two from the Bible, which is "bookended" by the singing of the word "Alleluia." This word is a variation of the Hebrew word Hallelujah, which is an exhortation to give praise to God.

During the seasons of Advent and Lent, however, Catholics "give up" the Alleluia, not singing it from Ash Wednesday through Good Friday. It is only at the Easter Vigil after sundown on Holy Saturday that this word is sung again.

Now that Lent is over and Easter has begun, this word -- both an exhortation to give praise to God and itself a means of giving that praise -- returns full force.

As such, it only seems appropriate to listen to what is probably the most well-known composition around this biblical word of praise: the "Hallelujah Chorus" from George Handel's 1741 work The Messiah.

So... turn the volume up to 11, click the Play icon below and listen to the Royal Choral Society's stirring performance of this classic:


Saturday, April 04, 2015

New blog!

Well, I went and did it: I bought my own domain:  :-)

I'll keep Veritas around for posterity's sake, and to post off-topic when it suits my fancy, but expect me to be blogging primarily -- and more often! -- at Cruciform (I reserve the right to change the name!).

Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed!

Happy Easter!

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="281"] The Resurrection of Christ, Paolo Veronese, c. 1570[/caption]


Thirteen years after I started blogging (to the liturgical-day: it was late on the Easter Vigil of 2002) and six years after I unintentionally took a hiatus from said blogging (kids will do that to you!), I figure it’s time to get back in the saddle again. Well, I didn’t so much figure it out as succumb to the pressure accept the encouragement of some people near & dear to me… ;-)

I see this blog as having a bit of a tighter focus that my first go… I plan to keep things focused on topics pertaining to Christian discipleship and living it out in the culture(s) of twenty-first century America.

I’m grateful to have you along for the ride… check out the About... page for more about me and this blog, and please join in the conversation by commenting or reaching out to me by email ( or twitter (@chrisburgwald).