Reconciling Resurrection

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” — John 21:15

“Forgiveness breaks the chain of causality because he who ‘forgives’ you–out of love–takes upon himself the consequences of what you have done. Forgiveness, therefore, always entails a sacrifice.

The price you must pay for your own liberation through another’s sacrifice is that you in turn must be willing to liberate in the same way, irrespective of the consequences to yourself.” ― Dag Hammarskjöld

To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable. Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless. ― G.K. Chesterton

“To every person of good will, eager to work tirelessly in the building of a new civilization of love, I say once more: Offer forgiveness and receive peace!” — Bl. John Paul II

Hatred is not a creative force. Only love is. — St. Maximilian Kolbe

Grace in Rwanda

In case you did not see this article, I beg you to read it. This story is precisely why Christ died and rose from the grave.

Click here.

Duty Bound

The other day I came across a line in Matthew Henry’s Evangelical biblical commentary that really struck me (note, it’s not a commentary I generally would recommend). In expounding on Philippians 2:12, which counsels us to “work out our salvation,” the commentator said,

Do your duty without murmurings.

I thought, how very simply put, but how much of life one could gild with Gospel gold just by faithfully executing this terse phrase in each and every moment!

To imagine a life characterized by loving attention to the innumerable procession of small details that constitute the existential contours of one’s vocational state in life is to imagine a life burgeoning with limitless opportunities for unsung heroism. Think of the rich and diverse opportunities afforded you for acts of patience, kindness, meekness, forgiveness, peacemaking, courage, temperance, chastity, prudence, justice, hope, faith, charity and a near-endless variety of other deeds of excellence! How terribly spoiled we are by a life overflowing with so many chances, daily offered to us in excess, to share in God’s greatest work of making us saints! It’s really quite embarrassing.

Liturgical Love Life

Even if I often live far from it in reality, I have come to think of life’s details as so many fragments of sacred ritual that fill out the bodily liturgy that is my daily life.

Therefore, I beseech you brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies in living sacrifice, holy, well pleasing unto God, which is your rational worship. — Romans 12:1

St. Paul rightly calls this liturgy of life a “sacrifice,” which involves aspirants to holiness in a manner of living that is wholly-other focused. A self-less life, i.e. less self, more God-neighbor. Holiness is perfected Christ-like loving, and loving is willing the other’s good or the Other’s glory. For the disciple of Christ, love is not a laudable extra but an expected duty. Our duty is to love, which makes duty a noblesse oblige, the sweetest of obligations, an obligation that even God himself cannot escape!

O eternal, infinite Good! O mad lover! And you have need of your creature? It seems so to me, for you act as if you could not live without her, in spite of the fact that you are Life itself, and everything has life from you and nothing can have life without you. Why then are you so mad? Because you have fallen in love with what you have made! You are pleased and delighted over her within yourself, as if you were drunk with desire for her salvation. She runs away from you and you go looking for her. She strays and you draw closer to her. You clothed yourself in our humanity, and nearer than that you could not have come. — Catherine of Siena

Feelings, so much more than feelings

I might add here that it is enough at times to simply will to carry out faithfully the details of our daily duty, even when within our emotions rage against our will, though it is good to aspire and pray for the grace to do one’s duty out of heartfelt love; for the redemption of our passions. For me it’s a tremendous relief to know that fidelity to God’s will does not demand of me the harmonious cooperation of my emotional life. How often I must choose to love those around me when I am not “feeling it.” In fact, fidelity can actually be more meritorious when it’s carried out in spite of our emotions’ unruly or irrational rebellion. Certainly Jesus’ emotionally agonizing choice to embrace the Father’s will in the Garden of Gethsemane offers us an extravagant model of faithful obedience in the face of an inner riot.

St. Josemaría Escrivá expressed this balance of desire beautifully,

Put your heart aside. Duty comes first. But when fulfilling your duty, put your heart into it. It helps.

Hidden Martyrdom

I know someone who shared with me a beautiful insight in this regard, and thankfully they gave me permission to anonymously share it. This person, who has a sound character and deeply loves God, had long searched for radical ways to offer his life to God. He wanted God to give him the chance to suffer a painful martyrdom to witness to his love for Christ and bear the fruits of redemptive suffering for his loved ones’ salvation. Whether that would mean a bloody death or a terrible illness, he was willing to accept whatever hardship might come from the Hand of God. He expressed this desire to me with such a beautiful, childlike and disarming sincerity of love that it made me feel uncomfortable for its convicting power. “But,” he said,

once, when I was sharing this desire with a wise and trusted friend, she said to me, “You’re looking for big things here. You don’t need to ask for such extreme things. Just do your duty and that will suffice. God wants the sacrifice of a faithful will, not your pain. If pain comes, then offer it; but don’t overlook the treasure you already have to offer right in front of you.”

How insightful is that? Greatness in God is far more often homely than comely, unseen than obvious. Ever since he shared this story with me, “Do your duty” has become my prayer’s antiphonal refrain. But now I also add to it the coda stolen from Matthew Henry, “without murmuring.”

Bloom where you’re planted

I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes on sanctity through fidelity to daily life’s present demands from St. Francis de Sales. It’s found in the Breviary’s Office of Readings on the day of his Feast, and it never ceases to thrill me as often as I read it. He speaks here of “devotion,” which for him means not escapist piety, but love of God in the form of radical fidelity to the demands of one’s state in life.

When God the Creator made all things, he commanded the plants to bring forth fruit each according to its own kind; he has likewise commanded Christians, who are the living plants of his Church, to bring forth the fruits of devotion, each one in accord with his character, his station and his calling.
I say that devotion must be practiced in different ways by the nobleman and by the working man, by the servant and by the prince, by the widow, by the unmarried girl and by the married woman. But even this distinction is not sufficient; for the practice of devotion must be adapted to the strength, to the occupation and to the duties of each one in particular.

Tell me, please, my Philothea, whether it is proper for a bishop to want to lead a solitary life like a Carthusian; or for married people to be no more concerned than a Capuchin about increasing their income; or for a working man to spend his whole day in church like a religious; or on the other hand for a religious to be constantly exposed like a bishop to all the events and circumstances that bear on the needs of our neighbor. Is not this sort of devotion ridiculous, unorganized and intolerable? Yet this absurd error occurs very frequently, but in no way does true devotion, my Philothea, destroy anything at all. On the contrary, it perfects and fulfills all things. In fact if it ever works against, or is inimical to, anyone’s legitimate station and calling, then it is very definitely false devotion.

The bee collects honey from flowers in such a way as to do the least damage or destruction to them, and he leaves them whole, undamaged and fresh, just as he found them. True devotion does still better. Not only does it not injure any sort of calling or occupation, it even embellishes and enhances it.

Moreover, just as every sort of gem, cast in honey, becomes brighter and more sparkling, each according to its colour, so each person becomes more acceptable and fitting in his own vocation when he sets his vocation in the context of devotion. Through devotion your family cares become more peaceful, mutual love between husband and wife becomes more sincere, the service we owe to the prince becomes more faithful, and our work, no matter what it is, becomes more pleasant and agreeable.

It is therefore an error and even a heresy to wish to exclude the exercise of devotion from military divisions, from the artisans’ shops, from the courts of princes, from family households. I acknowledge, my dear Philothea, that the type of devotion which is purely contemplative, monastic and religious can certainly not be exercised in these sorts of stations and occupations, but besides this threefold type of devotion, there are many others fit for perfecting those who live in a secular state.

Therefore, in whatever situations we happen to be, we can and we must aspire to the life of perfection.

 

Spent Love Wins

“Wastefulness is the original Christian attitude…The entire Passion occurs under the sign of this complete self-wasting of God’s love for the world.” — Hans Urs von Balthasar

A few scattered thoughts on a Lenten Friday.

I was recently talking to some seminarians about how Catholics view the Gospel of Prosperity, which (in caricature) essentially affirms that following Jesus leads to temporal surplus and worldly/physical well-being.

The Catholic view, which of course cannot be justly summarized in a quick phrase, might sound like this: following Jesus means that we will be given all that is necessary to carry out our personal vocations, to become the sort of saint God made us to be, and that any temporal surplus and well-being that may come our way is an evident sign of His love for all those whom He has placed in our sphere of beneficent influence. In a word, following Jesus means the Cross, which is the supreme symbol of human and divine life broken and poured out “on behalf of all and for all.”

The saint says with gut-level conviction: “My life is not my own. It belongs to God ‘and the children that God has given me’” (Hebrews 2:13), and those “children” refer to any and all whom God places under our care.

St.Paul refers to the blessings of prosperity this way,

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich…You are being enriched in every way for all generosity. — 2 Cor. 8:9; 9:11

Unworthy

Let me share a story that Fr. Tom Hopko referred to in a lecture he gave once on the Cross. It makes my point in a very startling way.

Mother Teresa was being interviewed by a reporter who complained that she (Mother) was healthy, while those she served were sick. The reporter said, “If God supposedly loves them so much, how is that fair that they are sick and you are well?” Mother replied, “If I am blessed with health, it is so that I can spend my health in caring for the sick.” The agitated reporter then went on to argue the unfairness of the general human plight of suffering. Mother attempted to respond by averting to the Christian story of the tragedy of sin and suffering, and God’s compassionate desire to share our sufferings in Jesus. “But,” the reporter interrupted her, “you, you yourself do not suffer. How is that fair? Why do they suffer but you do not?” Mother replied, “Yes, you are right. I am not worthy to suffer so near to Jesus as they do, but I have been made worthy to be near the suffering and love Jesus in them.”

Gasp.

Spent Love Wins

Worthiness. Suffering. Love. Compassion. Health, Sickness. All is gift, inscribed with a law of love and received in order to be given. All. Even the darkest elements of life, the worst of the worst, because of the Cross, the Tomb and the Resurrection become worthy offerings as darkness has been re-purposed by God and filled with a love stronger than death; a light blazing from the Body of Christ rising from death. God is love, and it is love alone that grants enduring worth to all things. Love, which is to will the good of another, “wins” in those who choose to love with the very love with which God loved us in Christ crucified.

The choice to love thus, super-human as it is, must always be preceded by the consent to be loved by the God of Jesus Christ. In fact, God desires to be allowed to love us. To turn a phrase from the old Baltimore Catechism, God made us so that He might “know, love and serve us in this life and be happy with us forever in the next.” Pray on that for a time. And only those who really and truly believe in, or, better, into this God can look and act like Him. As 1 John 4:10 says it,

In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another.

Ignite

On this Lenten Friday, when we reflect on the infinite lexicon of love compressed into the “word of the Cross,” a lexicon we are called to master and employ by the eloquence of our lives, let me leave you with these words of Saint Ignatius of Loyola:

If God gives you an abundant harvest of trials, it is a sign of great holiness which He desires you to attain. Do you want to become a great saint? Ask God to send you many sufferings. The flame of Divine Love never rises higher than when fed with the wood of the Cross, which the infinite charity of the Savior used to finish His sacrifice. All the pleasures of the world are nothing compared with the sweetness found in the gall and vinegar offered to Jesus Christ. That is, hard and painful things endured for Jesus Christ and with Jesus Christ.

Matthias Grünewald, 1510

Truth Shock

“One way to prevent conversation from being boring is to say the wrong thing.” – Frank Sheed

Well, toward morning the conversation turned on the Eucharist, which I, being the Catholic, was obviously supposed to defend. Mrs. Broadwater said when she was a child and received the Host, she thought of it as the Holy Ghost, He being the ‘most portable’ person of the Trinity; now she thought of it as a symbol and implied that it was a pretty good one. I then said, in a very shaky voice, ‘Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.’ That was all the defense I was capable of but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside of a story, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.” — Flannery O’Connor

There was a priest in western Iowa who was kneeling in prayer in front of an abortion clinic, and when the police came to escort him away for some technical violation of the law, he said to them:

Thank God you came — there are babies being killed in there!

In a culture grown weary and worn over seemingly intractable abortion debates, the shrill pitch of a voice panicked in the face of a forgotten tragedy sometimes serves well to awaken our drowsy consciences; even if but for a moment.

Quelle est la différence?

Gallup poll 2002

I once heard a homily at a legislative Red Mass that I will never forget. It was thoroughly Socratic in approach, first seducing us into a thought world through provocative questions before detonating the prophetic bomb in the depths of our conscience.

The Gospel that day was Matthew 25:31-46, the parable of the Last Judgment. Here was his message as I recall it:

Only the holy get into heaven, right? What does that mean? To be holy is to be ‘set apart,’ to be different, other. What sets us apart, makes us different and other? What’s our Christ-difference? How do we look different from our non-Catholic neighbors? What do the Gallup polls say? If people who worked with us were interviewed and asked, ‘What sets this person apart?’ what might they be able to say?

We should think like this. We should examine our consciences at night by saying, ‘What set me apart today; what made me identifiable as a son or daughter of God? As a disciple of Christ? Would people encounter Christ in the way I speak? By the way I act? By the way I spend my money? By the way I spend my time? By the way I respond to suffering and hardships? By the way I respond to insults or accusations or gossip? By the way I approach my sexuality?  By the way I pray before a meal in public? By my work ethic? By the way I choose to love, or refuse to hate? By the way I am faithful to my spouse? By the way I tell the truth with courageous love?’

There must be some discernible difference! If not, we are dead in faith and a scandal to the world.

Years ago I was in Ethiopia at the Catholic Cathedral in Addis Ababa, visiting as an envoy of solidarity from the U.S. representing the Catholic community. Just before a big Mass celebrated in honor of us visiting clerics from America, I was walking across the large public square in front of the Cathedral. There was a mass of pathetic humanity lining the path along which I walked, all of them begging and pleading for alms as I walked by; emitting a terrible chorus of grunting groans. I was told they were saying “mercy, mercy.” I was so uncomfortable and, I admit, fearful, that I walked in great haste past them, refusing to make eye contact for fear of being drawn into this vortex of human need. I quickly vested for Mass inside and we began the celebration in great splendor, with ethereal chant, the church filled with colorful garments and ornate vestments. The stench of body odor outside was forgotten in the deliciously sweet myrrh-laden incense that filled the church.

But it was the homily that crashed on me like an oak tree falling, or a thunderbolt crashing into my mind; into my inner conscience. The homilist, a native Ethiopian priest, quoted St. John Chrysostom at length. It was nearly his whole homily, and it was in that moment a devastating indictment on my own inhumanity. It ran like this:

“Do you want to honor Christ’s body? Then do not scorn him in his nakedness, nor honor him here in the church with silken garments while neglecting him outside where he is cold and naked. For he who said: This is my body, and made it so by his words, also said: ‘You saw me hungry and did not feed me, and inasmuch as you did not do it for one of these, the least of my brothers, you did not do it for me.’ What we do here in the church requires a pure heart, not special garments; what we do outside requires great dedication.

Let us learn, therefore, to be men of wisdom and to honor Christ as he desires. For a person being honored finds greatest pleasure in the honor he desires, not in the honor we think best. Peter thought he was honoring Christ when he refused to let him wash his feet; but what Peter wanted was not truly an honor, quite the opposite! Give him the honor prescribed in his law by giving your riches to the poor. For God does not want golden vessels but golden hearts.

Now, in saying this I am not forbidding you to make such gifts; I am only demanding that along with such gifts and before them you give alms. He accepts the former, but he is much more pleased with the latter. In the former, only the giver profits; in the latter, the recipient does too. A gift to the church may be taken as a form of ostentation, but an alms is pure kindness. Of what use is it to weigh down Christ’s table with golden cups, when he himself is dying of hunger? First, fill him when he is hungry; then use the means you have left to adorn his table. Will you have a golden cup made but not give a cup of water? What is the use of providing the table with cloths woven of gold thread, and not providing Christ himself with the clothes he needs? What profit is there in that? Tell me: If you were to see him lacking the necessary food but were to leave him in that state and merely surround his table with gold would he be grateful to you or rather would he not be angry? What if you were to see him clad in worn-out rags and stiff from the cold, and were to forget about clothing him and instead were to set up golden columns for him, saying that you were doing it in his honor? Would he not think he was being mocked and greatly insulted?

Apply this also to Christ when he comes along the roads as a pilgrim, looking for shelter. You do not take him in as your guest, but you decorate floor and walls and the capitals of the pillars. You provide silver chains for the lamps, but you cannot bear even to look at him as he lies chained in prison. Once again, I am not forbidding you to supply these adornments; I am urging you to provide these other things as well, and indeed to provide them first. No one has ever been accused for not providing ornaments, but for those who neglect their neighbor a hell awaits with an inextinguishable fire and torment in the company of the demons. Do not, therefore, adorn the church and ignore your afflicted brother, for he is the most precious temple of all.”

That liturgy changed me. As I walked back across the plaza toward the car that would take us to the episcopal residence, I must have spent 30 minutes greeting these beggars; no, these men and women; no, these most beloved sons and daughters of God. I had nothing material to give them, but like Peter in Acts 3:6, what I could give them was Jesus; the healing love of Jesus that comes through eye contact; through touch; through my priestly blessings; through treating each of them as a human being, a child of God, infinite in worth and made in His image and likeness. Though I had come to bring from America the promise of material support for these people, I had forgotten love.

At the end of my pilgrimage through ‘beggar alley,’ I was a changed man. Humbled to the dust, but filled with ethereal joy, and not hellish shame. As Mother Teresa said so well, ‘The poor teach us how to love. They are our masters and we their servants.’

This amazing homily reminded me of the Aidan Kavanaugh quote I so often reference,

The liturgy, like the feast, exists not to educate but to seduce people into participating in common activity of the highest order, where one is freed to learn things which cannot be taught.

Quelle est la différence?

I will round out this powerful message with the text of a report given by a pagan Roman official, Aristides, to the Emperor Hadrian somewhere around the year 120 A.D. He was carrying out an investigation on the early Christian communities seeking justification to outlaw Christianity. Here’s the difference he found:

They never fail to help widows; they save orphans from those who would hurt them. If a man has something, he gives freely to the man who has nothing. If they see a stranger, Christians take him home and are happy, as though he were a real brother.

They don’t consider themselves brothers in the usual sense, but brothers instead through the Spirit of God. And if they hear that one of them is in jail, or persecuted for professing the name of their redeemer, they all give him what he needs. If it is possible, they bail him out. If one of them is poor and there isn’t enough food to go around, they fast several days to give him the food he needs.

This is really a new kind of person.
There is something divine in them.

Chosen to Suffer

As I have noted before, I have a special love for the work of Professor Albert Raboteau. Today I would like to share with you a quote from one of his writings that deeply struck me when I first read it, and it came back into mind after I went with my wife to see that exceptional, awful and Oscar winning movie, Twelve Years a Slave. I thought I would share it with you today for your reflection during this season when we especially reflect on our call to co-suffer with Christ.

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“James Baldwin’s first novel, Go Tell It On The Mountain, in a passage redolent with allusions to scripture, the spirituals and gospel music, eloquently captures the paradoxical history of suffering and triumph of slaves and their descendants. The novel focuses on one day in the life of John Grimes, a black adolescent in Harlem, who seeks to escape the squalid tenements, the racial oppression and desperate poverty of his people. On his 14th birthday John is cast down upon the dusty floor of a storefront sanctified church, “astonished under the power of God.” There he experiences the rebirth of a conversion experience. In his trance he confronts an army of people and is engulfed by a company of the suffering. Struggling to flee, he realizes there is no escape. And suddenly their suffering becomes a sound, a sound John not only recognizes but internalizes:

And now in his moaning … he heard it in himself — it rose from his … cracked-open heart. It was a sound of rage and weeping which filled the grave … rage that had no language, weeping with no voice — which yet spoke now to John’s startled soul, of boundless melancholy, of the bitterest patience, and the longest night; of the deepest water, the strongest chains, the most cruel lash … and most bloody, unspeakable sudden death. Yes the body in the fire, the body on the tree.

He struggles to flee, but there is no escape. He must go through this suffering of his people’s past to viscerally experience the paradox that it is precisely these wretched who are the chosen ones of God.

No power could hold this army back, no water disperse them, no fire consume them. One day they would compel the earth to heave upward, and surrender the waiting dead. They sang where the darkness gathered, where the lion waited, where the fire cried and where the blood ran down … No, the fire could not hurt them, and yes, the lion’s jaws were stopped; the serpent was not their master, the grave was not their resting-place, the earth was not their home. Job bore them witness and Abraham was their father. Moses had elected to suffer with them … Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had gone before them into the fire, their grief had been sung by David, and Jeremiah had wept for them. Ezekiel had prophesied upon them, these scattered bones, these slain, and, in the fullness of time, the prophet, John, had come out of the wilderness, crying that the promise was for them. They were encompassed with a very cloud of witnesses … And they looked unto Jesus, the author and the finisher of their faith, running with patience the race He had set before them; they endured the cross, and they despised the shame, and waited to join Him one day, in glory, at the right hand of the Father.”

I promise to love you and honor you all the days of my life…

An acquaintance of mine once shared with me his conversion story to Christianity (he’s now a devout Catholic), and, though the whole story was fascinating, he had a particularly compelling story buried in the middle of his longer tale of encountering Christ. As he has given permission for me to tell the story, I will share it.

Only weeks after his faith-awakening, he was at work at break-time with his male co-workers. “That day had come,” he said, “when, even though I was changed inside, I had to find the courage to ‘go public’ and face the discomfort of being a changed man.” His co-workers were engaging in what had become a weekly Monday morning “guy” tradition, a tradition of which he was always very much willingly a part: a graphic sharing of their weekend “sexcapades and score stories” — sexual conquests with hook-ups, girlfriends or even wives. It was a combo of “whoa!” and “haha!” stories.

It was his time to tell-all, and he panicked, then said a simple prayer: “Help.” He decided, instead of condemning their present behavior (and his past) outright, he would tell a weekend story about his wife to honor her; something complimentary about her that had nothing to do with sex. After he finished, they all laughed awkwardly and one guy said, “Damn, man, that’s a downer. What’s that all about?”

He went on to share in a simple way his recent change of heart and immediately faced some mild ridicule sprinkled with “Jesus-freak” comments. But one man, he said, came up afterward and asked him more in private. “What’s up, man? What’s your new thing about?”

That “one man” eventually became Catholic and, more pertinently, joined his co-worker in choosing to honor his wife among his co-workers. They both helped bring about a long-term change in a business’ micro-culture. Its effects still endure to this day.

It’s how all genuine revolutions begin: one courageous heart at a time.

Another Tale of Honor

Here’s another awesome like-story that I happened last year. It’s worth the read.

“My wife is just such a pain in the ass!” he said, as we were changing in the gym locker room.

“You know how it is…” he finished.

Blankly, I stared at him, cocking my head sideways like a befuddled mastiff.

“No. I really don’t,” I replied. Read  more…

Red State, Blue State?

You absolutely have to look at this “cartography of the 7 deadly sins.” It’s based on the mapping of various types of demographic data (i.e. # of violent crimes, thefts, etc) and offers a color coded look at the distribution of sin-related behaviors.

My pix above contrast Iowa and New Orleans. You see, it appears that our moving from Iowa to SE Louisiana, according to the demographic data, should put an extra “oomph” into our praying, “lead us not into temptation”! I wonder if during the 58 days of Mardi Gras this year the red got even darker.

On the flip side, it appears from these maps that we should be getting a big batch of canonized saints from Iowa soon. The man in the photo appears to have already been canonized.

MAPS OF SEVEN DEADLY SINS IN AMERICA

Geographers from Kansas State University have created a map of the spatial distribution of the Seven Deadly Sins across the United States. How? By mapping demographic data related to each of the Sins.

Below are screenshots of the maps in standard deviation units; red naturally is more sinful, blue less sinful.

Click here to see!

1/22/73

The Pregnant Virgin, c. 1410 A.D.

In all the dioceses of the United States of America, January 22 (or January 23, when January 22 falls on a Sunday) shall be observed as a particular day of penance for violations to the dignity of the human person committed through acts of abortion, and of prayer for the full restoration of the legal guarantee of the right to life. The Mass “For Peace and Justice” (no. 22 of the “Masses for Various Needs”) should be celebrated with violet vestments as an appropriate liturgical observance for this day. –General Instruction of the Roman Missal, no. 373

In an annual recognition of the Roe v. Wade anniversary, our U.S. Bishops have made January 22 to be a penitential “Ash Wednesday” of sorts in which we are required as Catholics to wrap our prayer in penance as we beg for God’s mercy to pardon the slayers of the pre-born, to awaken the consciences of all to the inviolable dignity given by God to each human being at the moment of conception and, as the quote above says, to restore legal protection that guarantees the right to life.

We pray for the hastening of the day when a prominent civil rights activist will write in an article marking the anniversary of this court decision,

As we recall that there once was a time when we, under the pretext of civil liberties and human rights, defended the chemical burning, dismembering, evacuating and poisoning of pre-born human beings, let us reaffirm this day our unrelenting commitment to be a voice for the voiceless and a defender of the defenseless. Let us reassert our resolve to labor and give birth to a world wherein every child conceived is welcomed by their mother, their father and — even if such is not the case — by the human family united by the bonds of love, compassion and justice. May we never again fail to see in each pre-born human life a living witness to the fragile web of our interdependence and the primordial sign that we are our brother’s and our sister’s keeper…

Two vantages, one reality

I will leave you with two quotes — one that reflects on the need for truth and the second on the need for compassion. The first quote is by a pro-choice feminist Naomi Wolfe, written in the October 16,1995 edition of The New Republic, in an article called “Our Bodies, Our Souls: Rethinking Pro-choice Rhetoric.” The second quote is by Bl. John Paul II, and is taken from his March 25, 1995 Encyclical, Evangelium Vitae #99.

“So what will it be: Wanted fetuses are charming, complex, REM-dreaming little beings whose profile on the sonogram looks just like Daddy, but unwanted ones are mere “uterine material”? How can we charge that it is vile and repulsive for pro-lifers to brandish vile and repulsive images if the images are real? To insist that the truth is in poor taste is the very height of hypocrisy. Besides, if these images are often the facts of the matter, and if we then claim that it is offensive for pro-choice women to be confronted by them, then we are making the judgment that women are too inherently weak to face a truth about which they have to make a grave decision. This view of women is unworthy of feminism. Free women must be strong women, too; and strong women, presumably, do not seek to cloak their most important decisions in euphemism.”
- Naomi Wolfe

“I would now like to say a special word to women who have had an abortion. The Church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced your decision, and she does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed. Certainly what happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly. If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. To the same Father and his mercy you can with sure hope entrust your child. With the friendly and expert help and advice of other people, and as a result of your own painful experience, you can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone’s right to life. Through your commitment to life, whether by accepting the birth of other children or by welcoming and caring for those most in need of someone to be close to them, you will become promoters of a new way of looking at human life.” — Bl. John Paul II

MLK & St. Basil the Great

Archbishop Iakovos of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese
and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I am a huge fan of the scholar of religion in the U.S., Albert Raboteau, whose work on African slave religion in America had a deep impact on me in my grad school years. When I taught a course in the history of Christian thought/culture at Florida State University, I would use his collection of essays  on the history of the African-American religious experience, A Fire in the Bones, to think about the intersection of faith and culture. He is a convert to Eastern Orthodox Christianity, and you can read the enlightening story of his journey to Orthodoxy here.

Professor Raboteau

In honor of MLK Day, I will share with you a portion of one of his essays and maybe whet your appetite for seeking out more of his work.

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Martin Luther King Day memorials tend to celebrate King the Civil Rights leader, stressing his activism on behalf of interracial equality and reconciliation. We slight his emphasis on the link between racism and poverty and so neglect King the advocate of the poor. At the time of his assassination King was participating in the Memphis Sanitation Workers’ struggle to achieve a decent wage while simultaneously planning the Poor People’s Campaign. King’s sermons, speeches and writings echo ancient Christian teachings on poverty and wealth, which may still serve as a resource for the contemporary struggle to overcome economic inequality. He was a 20th century exemplar of a very old tradition.

Princeton Historian Peter Brown argues convincingly that “a revolution in the social imagination occurred between 300 and 600 C.E. closely associated with the rise to power of the Christian bishop. For the Christian bishop was held by contemporaries to owe his position in no small part to his role as the guardian of the poor. He was the ‘lover of the poor’ par excellence.” The 4th century bishops, St. Basil of Caesarea, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Gregory of Nazianzus elucidated this novel virtue and its centrality to the community life of Christians. In 369 a severe drought followed by famine prompted Basil to preach a sermon on the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:16-18), the man who decides to tear down his barns and build new ones to hold his surplus grain. “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be? So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” Basil elaborates:

“Who, then, is greedy? — The one who does not remain content with self sufficiency. Who is the one who deprives others? The one who hoards what belongs to everyone. Are you not greedy? Are you not one who deprives others? You have received these things for stewardship, and have turned them into your own property! Is not the one who tears off what another is wearing called a clothes-robber? But the one who does not clothe the naked, when he was able to do so — what other name does he deserve? The bread that you hold on to belongs to the hungry; the cloak you keep locked in your storeroom belongs to the naked; the shoe that is moldering in your possession belongs to the person with no shoes; the silver that you have buried belongs to the person in need. You do an injury to as many people as you might have helped with all these things!”

Basil enacted the Christian social vision he preached by establishing a hospice and soup kitchen for the famine victims and later developed a large complex to house the poor, tend the sick, and where the poor who could work were employed or trained in various trades. Around 369, St. Gregory of Nyssa preached on almsgiving: “Do not look down on those who lie at your feet, as if you judged them worthless. Consider who they are, and you will discover their dignity: they have put on the countenance of our Savior; for the one who loves humanity has lent them his own face, so that through it they might shame those who lack compassion and hate the poor.” In a sermon on the Last Judgment scene in Matthew 25:31-46, in which care for the poor is the standard of judgment “for in as much as you did it [or did it not] to the least of these you did it to me.” St. Gregory of Nazianzus warns that we should fear condemnation if we “have not ministered to Christ through those in need … Let us take care of Christ, then, while there is still time: let us visit Christ in his sickness, let us give to Christ to eat, let us clothe Christ in his nakedness, let us do honor to Christ in his needy ones, in those who lie on the ground here before us this day.” .

In 1956, King preached a sermon that echoed Basil’s condemnation of greed: “God never intended for a group of people to live in superfluous, inordinate wealth while others live in abject, deadening poverty. God intends for all of His children to have the basic necessities of life, and He has left in this universe enough and to spare for that purpose. So I call upon you to bridge the gulf between abject poverty and superfluous wealth.” In 1962, King preached, “I see hungry boys and girls in this nation and other nations and think about the fact that we spend more than a million dollars a day storing surplus food. And I say to myself ‘I know where we can store that food free of charge – in the wrinkled stomachs of the millions of people in our nation and in this world who go to bed hungry at night.’”

In 1961, preaching on the same text from Luke as Basil, King linked racism and poverty, “You see this man was foolish because the richer he became materially the poorer he became spiritually…. This man was a fool because he failed to realize his dependence on others… Now this text has a great deal of bearing on our struggle in race relations… For what is white supremacy but the foolish notion that God made a mistake and stamped an eternal stigma of inferiority on a certain race of people; what is white supremacy but the foolishness of believing that one race is good enough to dominate another race?…And there was a final reason why this man was foolish. He failed to realize his dependence on God…because he felt that he was the creator instead of the creature.”

Read other essays at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/albert-raboteau