Mark 16:15

Aristotle and Plato in “The School of Athens,” by Raphael, c. 1511. thefederalist.com

Re-post 2013

Give Me Jesus

As I have been of late studying early Christianity and its meteoric rise in the ancient world, what stands out — as sociologist Rodney Stark points out — is that its rapid expansion resulted from a courageous, consistent and person-to-person witness of faith in the Risen Jesus. The gradual conversion of the Empire prior to the Edict of Milan, you might say in sum, was effected by the word of mouth and shedding of blood.

And Christians brought with them a very specific worldview, and ethos that flowed from a Jewish heritage read through the Gospel of Jesus. A second century Christian author described this remarkable and radically new ethos:

…there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives.

They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they, rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred.

Reason informed by faith

As I thought about this, I realized how important it is to affirm that many of the moral ideals Christians are presently fighting to defend as true (e.g. monogamous and heterosexual marriage, sexual acts as marital acts, abortion as homicide) have a history, and are intimately linked to the distinctive theological worldview that emerged from a specifically Christian history.  Early Christians largely operated under the assumption that the best way to convince others of their moral beliefs was to expose them to the life-giving power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and invite them to receive the Holy Spirit in a community of faith laden with grace-filled sacraments and divinely revealed teaching. And while reasoned arguments in support of the truth of their claims could help pave the way for others to receive this Gift, there could be, for Christians, no substitute for the the reception of Gift itself; for to receive the Gift was to receive both the whole truth (divine revelation) and the means to live the truth (the gift of grace).

I guess what I’m saying is that while the use of persuasive reasoned arguments about the natural moral law in regard to marriage, sexuality and abortion are an absolutely Catholic approach to cultivating a culture of life and a civilization of love, we can’t rely on this approach to the marginalization or exclusion of what is the Church’s most fundamental mission: to evangelize. Living faith, Christians affirm, not only clarifies, affirms and grounds in us what is true and good, but gives us the inner resources to do what we know is true and good. Or as Ezekiel 36:26-27 would have God say it:

I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you so that you walk in my statutes, observe my ordinances, and keep them.

Let me offer an example of the importance of this “distinctive,” the gift of faith. While she was suffering terribly at the end of her life, St. Therese made this astonishing admission: “Yes! What a grace it is to have faith! If I had not any faith, I would have committed suicide without an instant’s hesitation.” Her caretaker, after Therese’s death, said:

Three days before she died, I saw her in such pain that I was heartbroken. When I drew near to her bed, she tried to smile, and, in a strangled sort of voice, she said: “If I didn’t have faith, I could never bear such suffering. I am surprised that there aren’t more suicides among atheists.”

Let us embrace our faith, give thanks for our faith, and share with others around us the hope that is within us: Jesus Christ, dead and risen! Alleluia!

Undefeated 4th

channelnonfiction.com

Happy Fourth of July! Let me share today St. John Paul II’s prayer for the U.S. back in 1995. Please join me:

Mary Immaculate, conceived without sin: Patroness of the United States! From the first moment of your existence you were called by God to be the Mother of His Incarnate Son. Model of our faith, you watched over the Incarnate Son of God as He grew in wisdom, age and grace. Look upon the people of this great nation, so richly blessed by God with material and spiritual resources. May they draw fresh inspiration from the highest ideals of their democratic tradition and contribute to the building of a world of solidarity, justice and peace, a world in which everyone is welcomed as a fellow-guest at the great banquet of life.

Mary our Queen, you stood beside your Son at the foot of the Cross and rejoiced in His Resurrection from the dead. Model of our hope, you awaited the fulfillment of Christ’s promises at Pentecost and now share the fullness of life in His eternal Kingdom. Look upon all who are united to your Son in Baptism and are called to share in His royal mission. May they be a leaven of the Kingdom of God in American society, humbly serving the needs of their brothers and sisters and bearing faithful witness to the splendor of Christ’s truth and to the saving power of His Gospel.

Mary, Mother of the Church: Mother of Christians! The Lord has entrusted all His disciples to you, to be our Mother (cf. John 19:27). Model of Christian love, you contemplate your Son in glory and intercede for the members of His Body on earth. Look upon the Church in the United States at the approach of the Third Christian Millennium. Through penance, prayer and active charity, may Christ’s followers meet the challenges of the new evangelization and work for the authentic renewal of human society in accordance with the truth of God’s Word. As they work together with all men and women of good will, may they be joyful heralds and servants of the Gospel of Life!

Today, I’d also like to encourage you to watch the documentary, Undefeated. It’s about a losing football team turned around by the uncommon leadership of coach Bill Courtney. My wife and I watched it last week, and both said in unison at the end of the credits, “Wow.” It’s truly a testament to the power of sports to forge — or better, reveal — moral character and to allow great leaders to influence (in the case of this movie) young men’s lives for the better. The core message of “team first” is a magnificent witness to the heart of Christ’s teaching on love as the guardian of the common good.

The song that played at the end, Let the Redeemed of the Lord Say So (hear here), beautifully captured the essential theme of the movie: the redeemed reveal that goodness is the soul of greatness, and that the soul of goodness is love.

I will definitely be encouraging the seminarians I serve at Notre Dame Seminary to learn from coach Courtney’s exemplary style of fatherly leadership, moral character and selfless love.

Here’s info on the documentary: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1860355/

Religion-free Zone

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Repost from 2012. Seemed timely. I did not have time to edit it down, so sorry for the untidiness I am sure it contains.

The following reflection came as a result of a question my wife asked me the other day about the Democrats’ debate over the words “God-given.” I had taken a few moments to email her my response, but since then I have been thinking more and more about what’s at stake in this debate. My thoughts are a bit tangled and dense and partial, but it seems worthwhile to toss in my 2 cents as it becomes increasingly important to shed more light than heat in these pre-election days.

DNC and Secularism

The vigorous debate during the Democratic National Convention over whether or not to remove “God” from its platform is related to the Party’s more general adoption of a certain conception of what role religion should/should not play in a secular State. Their position, regardless of one’s  judgment of its truth claims, is an attempt to intelligently respond to an unavoidable and complex question: How does a religiously diverse and pluralistic democracy negotiate among seemingly irreconcilable differences while preserving social and political unity?

In highly simplified form, the liberal democratic view argues that creating a political context for religious pluralism to flourish requires faith-based reasoning (i.e. arguments drawn from the sacred texts or the worldview of a religious tradition) to be considered as a non-public form of reason which, therefore, cannot serve as the basis for the laws that govern public life. In this view, faith-based arguments are disqualified from possessing any publicly binding force by the very fact that they arise from a distinctive theological tradition. Within in a pluralistic society, they argue, this would allow the part to determine the whole.

This premise, carried to its logical conclusion, leads to a progressive excision within the socio-political order of all explicit forms of “religious reasoning” in defining rights and duties. What replaces such religious reasoning?  A secular form of reason that is considered to be truly rational, critical and objective, freed from the irrational/supra-rational biases religion is said to bring. Here “secular” means a God-sanitized worldview devoid of any transcendent or theological meaning. Such a God-sanitized view of justice and human fulfillment is to be based, the argument goes, on a “reasonable consensus” funneled through a legislative or judicial process. Such prevailing consensuses are understood to be invested with the binding force of “public reason,”arrived at by a thoroughly secularized, and therefore reasonable people.

It is this last claim to a truly rationally grounded justice that really becomes for secularists the sticky wicket, as it begs the question (as Alasdair McIntyre phrased it), whose justice and which rationality gets to be considered the enforceable one, as there are many competing claimants to these titles. Do majority groups claiming reason on their side determine truth claims?

Naked Zone

This version of the secular State attempts to solve the challenges found in a religiously pluralistic democracy by cleansing the temple of public life from all vestiges of religious reasoning and rhetoric and putting in religion’s place an alternative ideology that — it is argued — is capable of bearing a sufficient neutrality to allow for a peaceful and fair coexistence. Religion is privatized and hemmed in by the truth claims of “public reason,” punished when it transgresses its carefully traced out ghetto walls. Such secularists argue that their approach alone is capable of negotiating the seemingly irreconcilable differences among religious traditions by leaving, as the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus called it, a Naked Public Square where all are welcome to engage in non-religious reasoning without distinction or judgment (sic).  In the religion-free zone, tolerance, the Queen of the Virtues, allows religious people to be themselves in the privacy of their own heart and personal opinion.

Imposing Faith?

In a culture dominated by this form of secularism, the social-psychological effects tend, as I said, toward the radical privatization of religion, cultivating a mindset among religious practitioners that religiously-based language and worldviews are to be seen as a strictly personal and private affair. Such a culture levies stiff social sanctions on anyone who attempts to proclaim or argue for truth-claims that arise from reason informed by faith. Evangelization becomes proselytizing, and faith-inspired arguments are deemed intrusive, aggressive and intolerant impositions of private and non-binding reasoning on the naked public square. Religious truth is seen as a threat to the inviolable integrity of pluralistic worldviews that are, by their very diversity, the soul of a truly democratic society. Truth, it is argued, transgresses the neutral safe-zone that buffers a rival Church and State. Because it makes universal and binding claims on reason, truth makes those who’ve rejected it feel unfairly “judged” by its purveyors. Only the contemporary incarnations of secular reason, garnered by a democratic consensus, can claim authority to judge.

I’d argue that this nearly invisible cultural air we breathe is far more important in effecting the progressive elimination of religion from public life than is the highly visible political/legal battle. Cultural revolutions precede and empower political and legal revolutions.

It’s About Morality

In addition, it is the moral dimension of religious traditions’ reasoning that comes to the fore in the struggle for dominance in the public square, especially in regard to the Big Three moral battlegrounds: life-issues, marriage, sexuality. Moral questions serve as the prime subjects of the naked public square’s ravenous appetite for total control. That’s an important point to make, as the moral assertion of the inviolable dignity of all human life or of marriage as heterosexual, indissoluble and monogamous historically originates in the Judeo-Christian tradition and its belief in a God who created humanity in the divine image and established a determinate moral order that is known both by divine revelation and right reason. So anyone who wishes to deconstruct these moral arguments in favor of, for example, abortion or same-sex marriage knows they must contend with their theological associations.

Now, these arguments can, a Catholic would say, be persuasively made apart from theological sources because faith and reason are harmonious. But because our culture usually abhors such fine distinctions it’s usually quite easy for critics of faith-associated moral arguments to make a slam dunk, guilt-by-association argument, bringing a swift end to the hegemony of Judeo-Christian morality in America. Throw a “fanatic” epithet here, “fundamentalist” there and “bigot” over there, and the case is closed. Genuine dialogue is over.

This point reminds me of an interesting perspective a seasoned priest once shared with me. It went something like this:

A Catholic parent recently pleaded with me to speak to her son who had returned from his first year of college claiming to be an atheist. My first question to him was, “What’s the name of the girl you’re sleeping with?” In my experience, the rejection of organized religion or the idea of God is often arrived at through the back door of a morally dissonant life. My chosen lifestyle is incompatible with my faith, so I can either give up my immoral behavior, live in guilt or reject the faith. Not a tough choice for many. I say that many atheists or agnostics begin not as atheists but as amoralists who need atheism to sustain their desire to be unhindered.

Final Vatican Thoughts

I will end my considerations with a quote from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome that weighs in on this debate with some keen insights:

In democratic societies, all proposals are freely discussed and examined. Those who, on the basis of respect for individual conscience, would view the moral duty of Christians to act according to their conscience as something that disqualifies them from political life, denying the legitimacy of their political involvement following from their convictions about the common good, would be guilty of a form of intolerant secularism. Such a position would seek to deny not only any engagement of Christianity in public or political life, but even the possibility of natural ethics itself. Were this the case, the road would be open to moral anarchy, which would be anything but legitimate pluralism. The oppression of the weak by the strong would be the obvious consequence. The marginalization of Christianity, moreover, would not bode well for the future of society or for consensus among peoples; indeed, it would threaten the very spiritual and cultural foundations of civilization.

St. Ignatius, Pebbles and Bam Bam

onsugar.com

Re-post from 2012

He did not consider nor did he stop to examine this difference until one day his eyes were partially opened and he began to wonder at this difference and to reflect upon it. From experience he knew that some thoughts left him desolate while others made him consoled, and little by little he came to perceive the different spirits that were moving him; one coming from the devil, the other coming from God (St. Ignatius of Loyola, Autobiography, no. 8).

For those of you who, like me, found the Flinstones to be a cartoon-staple as a child, you’ll appreciate this.

For whatever reason, a tune from one of the episodes popped into my head today. It was the episode where Pebbles and Bam Bam get to sing at the Hollyrock Palace. I played it for my kids on youtube this morning at breakfast, and they (mostly) loved it. Every day at breakfast I play random songs and sing, to try to bring some levity to the morning. As I listened to the words, which I had not heard since the 1970s, I realized that the author of that song must have been a thoroughly Ignatian thinker. No, really, seriously. I tried to explain that to one of my sons, but he objected that I had a knack for ruining perfectly good things by overthinking them. I could not deny it.

Okay, to speak Iggy-speak, their song, Let the Sun Shine In, talks about shooing away shadowy diabolic desolation by clinging to luminous divine consolations given through prayer. Too awesome.

Below are the lyrics, but listen here for yourself:

Mommy told me something a little girl should know
It’s all about the Devil and I’ve learned to hate him so
She says he causes trouble when you let him in the room
He will never ever leave you if your heart is filled with gloom

So, let the sun shine in, face it with a grin
Smilers never lose and frowners never win
So, let the sun shine in, face it with a grin
Open up your heart and let the sun shine in

When you are unhappy, the Devil wears a grin
But oh, he starts a-running when the light comes pouring in
I know he’ll be unhappy ’cause I’ll never wear a frown
Maybe if we keep on smiling he’ll get tired of hangin’ around

If I forget to say my prayers the Devil jumps with glee
But he feels so awful, awful, when he sees me on my knees
So if you’re full of trouble and you never seem to win
Just open up your heart and let the sun shine in

So, let the sun shine in, face it with a grin
Smilers never lose and frowners never win
So, let the sun shine in, face it with a grin
Open up your heart and let the sun shine in

4:00 a.m.

February 8, 2015

Journal entry

 

At an inner city New Orleans parish today.

After Mass an elderly black woman comes up to me and speaks with me.

“Good morning, young man. Are you a visitor?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“So nice to have you here. And your children. Not many families left in church these days.”

“True.”

“I’m Edna, nice to meet you.”

“Tom, nice to meet you as well.”

“Tom, do you need anything prayed for? I’m part of a prayer chain. We get on the phone every morning, starting at 4:00 a.m.. We get on the phone and we pray together for the intentions folks give us. So many things to pray for! My own family’s enough to keep me busy 24/7. You got that? There’s always trouble out there. Trouble. What’s wrong with this young generation? Lord have mercy.”

“Wow. That’s really remarkable you pray every day at 4:00 a.m.”

“But son, don’t think it’s remarkable. It’s not. It’s just what the Lord wants. He wants us to turn to Him in trouble, to lift up our voices for others. Early in the morning, the Bible says, we must rise and lift our hands in praise and petition. Don’t you think that’s what we supposed to do?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Yes, Lord. Yes, we rely on His grace. Mercy, Lord. We rely on your mercies. Everlasting, Jesus. Your kindness is everlasting. Isn’t He awesome? Yes! Now what you need prayin’ for?”

“My family, my job. . .”

“Oh, yes, Lord. Lord, hear your son Tom. His family, God, his family needs your blessings. Take his beautiful children in your loving arms. Help him be the father you made him to be, God. The husband his wife deserves. And Jesus, make him a godly man in his work. Hard workin’, honest, just, like St. Joseph. Keep him in gainful employ, O Father. . .Okay, now I’ll be praying for you with my prayer team tomorrow morning. Alright?”

“Yes, thank you.”

“Alright. Amen. You’re welcome. It’s why we’re here, right? To rely on each other. To lean on one another. To rely on Jesus. [she starts singing…] Oh, what a friend we have in Jesus. . .[she sang the whole thing]”

“Wow, Edna, I want your faith.”

“No, son, you want your faith. We each got our special way of loving God. Be the man you’re made to be. God bless you.”

She made the sign of the cross on my forehead and walked off.

Wow. Listen to what she sang for me:

Sleeping in Mercy

“Calming the Storm” by Maria Jesus Fernández. israeltours.files.wordpress.com

An excerpt from a Lenten talk on mercy I gave this year:

I received a great grace back in 2012 in Confession during an Ignatian retreat. At the end of my confession the priest offered me some advice. Here’s how I summed it up later in my journal:

The greatest marvel of God’s mercy is that it allows us all at once to strive for a perfection we can never fully achieve in this life and not be tortured by shame or despair. Why? Because God is the God of the “happy fault.” The mercy of the God who calls us to “be perfect as he is perfect” makes our every fall into a new resurrection; our every sin a new reconciliation; our every alienation a new embrace; our every dissonant note the first note of a new movement in a divine symphony first intoned on the Cross. No need to rationalize my failings and sins away and make myself “self-righteous” in the process. In a world where God’s mercy is absent, people either live in a perpetual cycle of shame and guilt, hurt and anger, resentment and un-forgiveness, or they rationalize away their sins, dismantle the truth of God’s commandments and create a new moral order wherein mercy is unnecessary because all is permitted. But we who have faith in Jesus’ Cross have no problem facing our broken lives as broken, in need of repair.

God makes all things work together for the good of those who love him. God takes a special joy in drawing out unexpected good things from our sins and weaknesses and failures. That’s why He wanted His Son to be named Jesus, which means “God saves.” It’s always seemed to me that to show His exceeding joy God likes to make the redeemed goods much more spectacular than unredeemed ones. Don’t you think that the Resurrection of Jesus was just God’s irrepressible excitement that He had brought out of the ruins of the first creation something that far surpassed what He had made in the beginning?

Knowing this makes me bold! Not bold to sin, as Luther mistakenly thought, but bold to dare for perfection and holiness; to hope against hope every day that everything in my life, given over to Jesus, can be made perfect. Perfect in the way the Passion was perfected into the Resurrection.

Many have said a Christian can be defined as one who falls and gets up again and again. That’s good. But even better, the Christian is one who falls and allows himself to get picked up again. Picked up by God. Again and again. Jesus’ name could also be translated, “God picks up.” You’ve heard the phrase, “The sleep of the just.” It means the a good person sleeps well on account of their clean conscience. That’s good, and true. But I prefer, “The sleep of the pardoned.” I’d choose any day to sleep not on a self-made righteous bed — which is mostly a bed of nails — but on the peaceful ocean of God’s infinite mercy. Imagine yourself at night at rest on a stormy sea at once made calm at the voice of Jesus saying, “Quiet! Be still!”

Ever since then, I have slept consistently better.

Let me share with you Pope Francis’ thought on this:

God’s patience has to call forth in us the courage to return to Him, however many mistakes and sins there may be in our life. … It is there, in the wounds of Jesus, that we are truly secure; there we encounter the boundless love of His heart. The Apostle Thomas understood this. Saint Bernard goes on to ask: But what can I count on? My own merits? No, “My merit is God’s mercy. I am by no means lacking merits as long as He is rich in mercy. If the mercies of the Lord are manifold, I too will abound in merits.” This is important: the courage to trust in Jesus’ mercy, to trust in His patience, to seek refuge always in the wounds of His love.

In Summary…

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This icon, when I posted it in 2013, was by itself (with no commentary) a complete daily Blog post titled, In Summary. The day after I posted it, I received an email from a long time friend. His reaction so moved me that I asked if I could post his email anonymously. I felt his reaction demonstrated eloquently the very point I was trying to make: the image of Jesus crucified surpasses all of my words, because it is truth, goodness and beauty perfectly fused into the one “word of the cross” (1 Cor 1:18).

Here’s what my friend’s email said:

My dear friend!

I habitually open your blog when I feel hungry for inspiration in the morning. This morning I am preparing for a hard meeting amid a series of other difficulties that have made me cry out to God, “Basta! Enough!” out of dryness.

When I saw your simple post of the cross this morning my raw reaction was to let out an an expletive.

Then I started laughing. Then I started crying.

Ave crux, spes unica! Hail the cross, our only hope!

Keep teaching me from afar!

His email brought to mind the Peruvian St. Rose of Lima’s impassioned proclamation of the word of the Cross. She taught me through her words that the Cross is not only to be the supreme beauty that informs our contemplative gaze, but is to become the beauty that informs our whole existence. Here are her words, taken from the Divine Office for her Feast Day:

Our Lord and Savior lifted up his voice and said with incomparable majesty: “Let all men know that grace comes after tribulation. Let them know that without the burden of afflictions it is impossible to reach the height of grace. Let them know that the gifts of grace increase as the struggles increase. Let men take care not to stray and be deceived. This is the only true stairway to paradise, and without the cross they can find no road to climb to heaven.”
When I heard these words, a strong force came upon me and seemed to place me in the middle of a street, so that I might say in a loud voice to people of every age, sex and status: “Hear, O people; hear, O nations. I am warning you about the commandment of Christ by using words that came from his own lips: We cannot obtain grace unless we suffer afflictions. We must heap trouble upon trouble to attain a deep participation in the divine nature, the glory of the sons of God and perfect happiness of soul.”

That same force strongly urged me to proclaim the beauty of divine grace. It pressed me so that my breath came slow and forced me to sweat and pant. I felt as if my soul could no longer be kept in the prison of the body, but that it had burst its chains and was free and alone and was going very swiftly through the whole world saying:

“If only mortals would learn how great it is to possess divine grace, how beautiful, how noble, how precious. How many riches it hides within itself, how many joys and delights! Without doubt they would devote all their care and concern to winning for themselves pains and afflictions. All men throughout the world would seek trouble, infirmities and torments, instead of good fortune, in order to attain the unfathomable treasure of grace. This is the reward and the final gain of patience. No one would complain about his cross or about troubles that may happen to him, if he would come to know the scales on which they are weighed when they are distributed to men.”