Narek, the Marginal Doctor

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A new Doctor of the Church! I was so excited when I read the news yesterday I wanted to shout for joy (but it was 6:00 a.m. and I thought better)! Narek rocks.

Let me throw together a few thoughts, joining the online chorus that is swelling.

Pope Francis named the 10th century Armenian monk, St. Gregory Narek, the 36th Doctor of the Church. I love the writing of St. Gregory! He’s a poet to the core, and demonstrated amply, like the Hebrew prophets, that beauty is the truest form of divine discourse. Many of his theological and mystical-ascetical works are written as a colloquy — a dialogue with God — as was St. Augustine’s autobiography, the Confessions. Theological colloquy offers such a deep insight into the nature of theological discourse which must always be, in the first instance, a dialogue with the revealing God himself. God reveals to us not mere data for speculative consideration, but Himself for consummating union. Here’s a sample of Narek’s writing from his famous Speaking with God from the Depths of the Heart:

The voice of a sighing heart, its sobs and mournful cries,
I offer up to you, O Seer of Secrets,
placing the fruits of my wavering mind
as a savory sacrifice on the fire of my grieving soul
to be delivered to you in the censer of my will.

Compassionate Lord, breathe in
this offering and look more favorably on it
than upon a more sumptuous sacrifice
offered with rich smoke. Please find
this simple string of words acceptable.
Do not turn in disdain.

May this unsolicited gift reach you,
this sacrifice of words
from the deep mystery-filled chamber
of my feelings, consumed in flames
fueled by whatever grace I may have within me.

As I pray, do not let these
pleas annoy you, Almighty,
like the raised hands of Jacob,
whose irreverence was rebuked
by Isaiah, nor let them seem like the impudence
of Babylon criticized in the 72nd Psalm.

But let these words be acceptable
as were the fragrant offerings
in the tabernacle at Shiloh
raised again by David on his return from captivity
as the resting place for the ark of the covenant,
a symbol for the restoration of my lost soul.

And, true to Pope Francis’ pastoral style, this doctor is chosen from the “margins” of the suffering church [incidentally, in 2012 Pope Benedict named a “marginal” medieval woman as Doctor of the Church, 12th century Abbess Saint Hildegard of Bingen. A genius. Sadly, so little fuss was made subsequently. Some time I will write on her]. The Armenian Apostolic Church (great documentary here), that traces its origins back to the 1st century, has a rich monastic, liturgical and theological tradition, and a rich history of saints and culture. But Armenian Christians also have a long history of oppression, climaxing in the horrors of the “Armenian Holocaust” genocide of 1915, carried out by the Ottoman Turks who slaughtered more than 1 million Armenian Christians.

The Armenian Divine Liturgy is magnificent in its poetry, sense of mystery and theological depth. One of the most cherished hymns of the Liturgy is called Khorhoort Khoreen, “O Mystery Deep.” I heard a lecture on it back around 2005 by an Armenian Orthodox priest and it b-l-e-w m-y m-i-n-d. Here are the words:

O Mystery deep, inscrutable, without beginning. Thou hast decked thy supernatural realm as a chamber unto the light unapproachable and hast adorned with splendid glory the ranks of thy fiery spirits.

Wow. If you don’t feel you have stepped onto terrifyingly holy ground when that is chanted, I don’t know if there’s hope you ever will.

I will end with a recited prayer for healing by St. Gregory. Through his intercession, may we all be healed unto the divine charity that is eternal life:

Open Wide


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In today’s Gospel Jesus teaches the disciples how to pray. He counsels not to babble on, mindlessly thinking the mere multiplication of words will gain a divine hearing. Then he gives the disciples a model for prayer that I will take a few moments to reflect on with you today. Here’s the traditional English translation of St. Matthew’s version of this prayer we all know by heart,

Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us,
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

In many respects, this prayer Jesus teaches is a highly compressed summary of the Psalter (the 150 psalms). A Scripture professor of mine in grad school once called it the “peasant’s Psalter.” He said that Jesus’ primary audience was the am ha’aretz, the uneducated “people of the land,” and because they would not have had the luxury of being able to learn the Hebrew Psalter by heart He gave them a beautifully compressed synthesis. St. Augustine made the same point this way:

Run through all the words of the holy prayers [in Scripture], and I do not think that you will find anything in them that is not contained and included in the Lord’s Prayer.

And not only does the Lord’s Prayer contain the summary of the whole Old Testament’s teaching on prayer, but it also organizes the “right order” of prayer. St. Thomas Aquinas says,

The Lord’s Prayer is the most perfect of prayers. In it we ask, not only for all the things we can rightly desire, but also in the sequence that they should be desired. This prayer not only teaches us to ask for things, but also in what order we should desire them.

What order is that, you ask? Well, I’ll offer a few thoughts on these seven perfectly proportioned petitions.

“Let it be done to me according to your word.” — Luke 1:38

As Fr. Tom Hopko said in a talk on prayer, “We cannot forget that prayer is not in the first place about me — my feelings, my benefits, my needs — but about God. God’s glory, God’s will, God’s work. Prayer is about God, starts with God, ends with God; and that’s the point.”

The Our Father’s first three petitions (hallowed be, kingdom come, will be done) are actually three ways of saying the same thing: God, “do your thing.” They call us to embrace the way Mesiter Eckhart succinctly defined prayer, “Prayer is nothing other than letting God be God; saying, ‘Thy, not my will be done.'” In other words, the first three petitions are a threefold unqualified consent for God to do as He wills with us. I say “with us” because God’s way of “doing” always invites the cooperation of His free creatures. But, as Fr. Tom said, it is God who is the operator, the do-er, and we who are the co-operators by means of our ora et labora, “prayer and work.”

Note further that these three petitions do not simply offer an unqualified consent to the will of some “generic” heavenly Deity. Rather, they consent to a heavenly God who is Father. And not just “any” father, but precisely as Jesus reveals Him to be Father. For Jesus consent to the heavenly Father requires absolutely no qualification — no “Thy will be done, as long as You…” — because God is a Father who already loves humanity (cf John 16:27) and wills only good and never ill (see also Matthew 6:25-34; 7:9-11). One need not bargain with the Father of Jesus, but only turn to Him in trusting, surrendering, consenting prayer.

[As an aside it’s important to just mention that the willing of humanity’s good by the Father of Jesus includes the cross and resurrection. In theological speak, God’s provident care is a paschal mystery.]

“Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.” — Psalm 81:10

As I write, I imagine the those praying this prayer to be like baby birds in a nest begging for food with beaks wide open. What an extraordinary image of trust in the natural order! Those of us who pray in the supernatural order should imitate these baby birds and open ourselves up with supreme vulnerability to God, with absolute trust that He will respond to our petitions, and respond with only good things. God always has the ultimate good of us beggars in mind. Thomas Merton’s famous prayer (here) unfolds this wide open trust beautifully with these concluding words,

…Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

The final four petitions (give us, forgive us, lead us, deliver us) beautifully unfold the first three petitions’ unqualified consent to God “doing His thing.” In them, Jesus bids us ask His Father to feed us, forgive us and free us from all that leads us to final harm, i.e. all things a child would naturally seek from a loving, powerful and provident father. In fact, it’s clear that the whole logic of the prayer flows from the first words, “Our Father.” The rest is commentary.

“With the measure you use, it will be measured to you” — Matthew 7:2

Note, though, that there is one glaring exception to the character of the Our Father as an extended consent to God’s provident will. After we ask the Father to forgive us our sin-debts (or “trespasses” as we say in English), we make this astounding aside — “…as we also have forgiven our debtors” (or “as we forgive those who trespass against us”). In other words, Jesus gives a prayer that contains only one promise of human action — what we will do — that conditions the reception of the divine gift: we must forgive if we are to be forgiven. And just in case we missed the novelty and radical character of this brief insertion, Jesus ends this prayer not with “For the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory…,” but with,

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

So next time you feel tempted to breeze through the Our Father, be careful to be attentive to what you say to the heavenly Father. He’s listening…

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Kyrie eleison

Today I will share with you a loosely strung set of quotes that came to mind as I prayed over this morning’s Gospel…

Taken from

Today’s Mass readings turn our minds to Lenten almsgiving. Etymologically, the word “alms” comes from the Greek word eleos, which means “pity, mercy.” So, to give alms is to give mercy to those who need mercy — and mercy, simply put, is love encountering human misery and overcoming it. Think of the Latin word for mercy, misericordiamiser, “misery,” and cordia, “of the heart.”   Mercy is both a response to human misery and the compassionate empathy of one’s heart toward the suffering of another. As St. Thomas Aquinas would say, mercy, to be fully virtuous, must be affective and effective, moving me with emotive empathy and toward effective action.

We also know what Jesus says in the Beatitudes about mercy-givers:

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

Today’s Gospel reveals the shocking truth that our salvation, the gift of God’s undeserved mercy, is itself dependent on the quality of our mercy-giving to the deserving and undeserving (cf Luke 6:35).

On the “undeserving” recipients of alms, St. John Chrysostom famously said,

You must not demand an audit of a person’s life – just correct the poverty and supply the need (Homilies on 1 Corinthians 21.5).

Shakespeare says of mercy in The Merchant of Venice:

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes

St. John Bosco captures this saving dynamic when he says,

An effective but often neglected means of gaining Paradise is almsgiving. By almsgiving I mean any work of mercy exercised toward one’s neighbor for the love of God.

Along those same lines Dr. Nathan Eubank, a biblical scholar and colleague of mine at the seminary, once made this comment to me:

If one were to do even a cursory read of the Synoptic Gospels [Matthew, Mark, Luke], one would get the immediate impression that we are saved by giving alms.

Saving alms. The hands of the needy are the gift-receiving altar of God.

We are not saved by mere faith, but saved by merciful faith that stoops down to the needy and suffering. St. James says it with sharp clarity:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

Clearly for James saving works=almsgiving, good Jew that he is. Sounds like a Hebrew prophet or some such:

Is this not, rather, the fast that I choose:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking off every yoke?
Is it not sharing your bread with the hungry,
bringing the afflicted and the homeless into your house;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own flesh?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
Your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. — Isaiah 58:7-8

Or maybe a Hebrew sage:

Give to God as he gives to you with a good eye and a large hand; for he who gives to the poor, lends to God; for who is a repayer if not he? For he is God who repays and he will repay you ten thousand times the thousand.” — Sirach 35:10–11

Again, St. Augustine comments on almsgiving,

Study the money lender’s methods. He wants to give modestly and get back with profit; you do the same. Give a little and receive on a grand scale. Look how your interest is mounting up! Give temporal wealth and claim eternal interest, give the earth and gain heaven. ‘Whom shall I give it to?’ did you ask? The Lord himself comes forward (in the form of the poor person) to ask you for a loan, he who forbade you to be a usurer. Listen to the Scripture telling you how to make the Lord your debtor: ‘Anyone who gives alms to the poor is lending to the Lord.’

A moral theology professor I had in grad school once said on our Catholic social ethics class,

In Scripture, those are most like God who choose to override the natural slouch of fallen humanity toward self-interest in order to lift up the fallen; or who resist the sloth that prevents us from exiting our comfort zones and attending with mercy to the more unpleasant realities of human suffering and need. God is most at home among the homeless, building them homes; among orphans, adopting them; among widows, taking them into his care. And he’s always looking for laborers to join his cause.

St. John of the Cross says that one who is possessed with divine charity senses the sweet aroma of Christ in the stench of the sick or the poor, while those who are attached to pleasant odors are incapable of allowing the love of God to fully enter and free them to love as God loves, i.e. with a merciful love.

Mercy, which Aquinas argues is God’s greatest attribute, is therefore the supreme manner for human beings to image God. As such, being merciful is the truest use of human freedom and the greatest sign that we are truly free. I think here of the words of holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl:

There were enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability suppressed. Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress. We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread… Dostoevsky said once, ‘There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.’ These words frequently came to my mind after I became acquainted with those martyrs whose behavior in camp, whose suffering and death, bore witness to the fact that the last inner freedom cannot be lost. It can be said that they were worthy of their sufferings; the way they bore their suffering was a genuine inner achievement. It is this spiritual freedom — which cannot be taken away — that makes life meaningful and purposeful.

A volunteer at Good News Ministries, an ecumenical outreach to the poor and needy in Tallahassee, once said to me:

I’m always asking God questions about the suffering I encounter every day. But there’s one question you will never find me asking Him: ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’


Samuel Aranda‘s winning image of a woman in a niqab comforting an injured man in Yemen. Taken from

Of Floods and Deserts

Taken from

Today’s Mass readings are fascinating. How so? Well, other than during Easter season and certain feasts, there is always a typological logic that links the first reading and the Gospel, i.e. the Old Testament reading contains in some way a prefiguring of what is revealed in the Gospel. As St. Augustine worded it,

[God’s] grace hid itself under a veil in the Old Testament, but it has been revealed in the New Testament according to the most perfectly ordered dispensation of the ages, inasmuch as God knew how to dispose all things.

So at Mass the Gospel is meant to unveil Christ hidden in the Old Testament Scriptures.

Looking at the first reading today, which is the conclusion of the Noah story in Genesis, and the Gospel, which is Mark’s terse account of Jesus’ 40 days in the desert, I wondered what the link was. Here’s just a tiny thought, flowing from my overactive imagination.

First, I wondered why the Lectionary Gospel text leaves out a word at the very beginning of the sentence. The Lectionary begins, “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert,” but in the biblical text itself the sentence begins with the Greek word, euthys, which means “at once” or  “immediately.” So the text actually reads, “Immediately, the Spirit drove…”

Why does it matter? Well, the “immediately” refers back to the previous scene in Mark’s Gospel, the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. Recall that as soon as Jesus comes up out of the water and heard the voice of the Father thunder, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased,” the Holy Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert. So the word “at once” makes me think something about the baptism of the spotless Lamb into John the Baptist’s filthy waters of repentance leads inexorably toward His Spirit-driven desert confrontation with the ancient Tempter of humanity, Satan.

In the Jordan, Jesus sanctifies all waters, readying them for their true vocation: to rescue, wash clean and re-birth humanity as sons and daughters of God. In the water-starved desert for 40 days, Jesus is thrust out to conquer the ancient Serpent who, at the beginning of human history, led humanity from the Garden into a ruinous wilderness. Or again, like the scapegoat driven into the wilderness (cf Leviticus 16:10) bearing the sins of Israel, Jesus, still soaked with the sin-laden waters of repentance, is driven by the eternal Spirit into the desert to face directly and defeat the primal origins of evil. The desert — a symbol for death, temptation, sin, the haunt of demons — becomes, paradoxically, the very place Jesus first inaugurates the kingdom of God, making springs of life-giving water flow from the desert (cf Isaiah 41:18) into all who “repent and believe” in this astonishing Euangeliō — this Good News that comes from the mouth of the New Adam, the New Noah.

Allow Jesus to face the Tempter for you today. Repent and believe, i.e. renounce the Destroyer and cling to the Conqueror!

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Therapeutic happy-talk and admonishing sinners

Today I would like to share with you two pieces for reflection.

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First, after posting on Monday about a mother’s struggle with the challenges of social media to family life, I came across an article on Tuesday in The New Atlantis (here) by Professor Peter Lawler on the tensions between Christian orthodoxy and American social doctrine. As I read these lines here, I found myself thinking about that Mom:

The Canadian philosopher George Grant, influenced by Heidegger, claimed that the United States has wholly given itself over to technology, defining human purpose as nothing more than the acquisition of power. All genuinely political life — and all philosophy, theology, and other forms of contemplation — have disappeared from America. For these not-entirely-friendly foreign critics, the United States is the country mostly wholly in the thrall of the technological “how” at the expense of any reflection on the “why” of humanly worthy purposes.

If, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn claimed, it is characteristic of the modern West to have “ceased to see the purpose” that should be the foundation of human life, it is perhaps in America that the lonely and demoralizing consequences of modern emptiness are most advanced. Beneath our therapeutic happy-talk and technologically optimistic pragmatism, a critic like Solzhenitsyn can hear the howl of existentialism. Americans have “nothing” — nothing but inarticulate anxiety with which to resist the “something” — the measurable effects — of technological progress.

Fortunately, we have technological remedies for our anxiety. There are, of course, those of the pharmacological variety. But there are also the diversions of the screen — from the smartphone to the laptop, from social media to video games to Internet porn. The complacently honest libertarian Tyler Cowen points to the dark side of our hyper-meritocratic future, where those individuals not clever and competent enough to succeed will lead marginally productive lives, contented by screen-based entertainment and other cheap high-tech diversions made by those at the top. But neither class, in this vision of the future, will include many who will be distinguished by the heart-enlarging traditional virtues of generosity or charity.

The genuinely countercultural philosopher-comedian Louis C.K. denies his daughters smartphones so that they might not find an easy way out of the anxious sadness that overwhelms us all from time to time for no good reason. We are more and more satisfied with the predictable, minimalist emotion that comes from being diverted from both one’s own solitary emptiness — one’s misery without God or without the communal and intimate attachments of a rich relational life — and from the empathy that comes from closeness to others.

Second, let me share this Lent-appropriate challenging quote from Pope Benedict XVI’s 2012 Lenten address. It came to mind after a colleague of mine very recently corrected me on a poor decision I had made, and I found myself so appreciative for his forthrightness. It reminded me of St. Gregory Nazianzen’s comment on his friendship with St. Basil, “We followed the guidance of God’s law and spurred each other on to virtue.” B16:


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Here I would like to mention an aspect of the Christian life which I believe has been quite forgotten: fraternal correction in view of eternal salvation. Today, in general, we are very sensitive to the idea of charity and caring about the physical and material well-being of others, but almost completely silent about our spiritual responsibility towards our brothers and sisters. This was not the case in the early Church or in those communities that are truly mature in faith, those which are concerned not only for the physical health of their brothers and sisters, but also for their spiritual health and ultimate destiny. The Scriptures tell us: “Rebuke the wise and he will love you for it. Be open with the wise, he grows wiser still, teach the upright, he will gain yet more” (Prov 9:8ff). Christ himself commands us to admonish a brother who is committing a sin (cf. Mt 18:15). The verb used to express fraternal correction – elenchein – is the same used to indicate the prophetic mission of Christians to speak out against a generation indulging in evil (cf. Eph 5:11). The Church’s tradition has included “admonishing sinners” among the spiritual works of mercy. It is important to recover this dimension of Christian charity. We must not remain silent before evil. I am thinking of all those Christians who, out of human regard or purely personal convenience, adapt to the prevailing mentality, rather than warning their brothers and sisters against ways of thinking and acting that are contrary to the truth and that do not follow the path of goodness. Christian admonishment, for its part, is never motivated by a spirit of accusation or recrimination. It is always moved by love and mercy, and springs from genuine concern for the good of the other. As the Apostle Paul says: “If one of you is caught doing something wrong, those of you who are spiritual should set that person right in a spirit of gentleness; and watch yourselves that you are not put to the test in the same way” (Gal 6:1). In a world pervaded by individualism, it is essential to rediscover the importance of fraternal correction, so that together we may journey towards holiness. Scripture tells us that even “the upright falls seven times” (Prov 24:16); all of us are weak and imperfect (cf. 1 Jn 1:8). It is a great service, then, to help others and allow them to help us, so that we can be open to the whole truth about ourselves, improve our lives and walk more uprightly in the Lord’s ways. There will always be a need for a gaze which loves and admonishes, which knows and understands, which discerns and forgives (cf. Lk 22:61), as God has done and continues to do with each of us.

The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” — Genesis 4:10

A priest in his Ash Wednesday homily this week said, “St. Paul tells us to ‘be reconciled to God!’ But remember, my dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, most practically this means to us: be reconciled to one another. It’s easy to be reconciled to God. He’s easy to get along with. Not so easy is my difficult neighbor.” Considering the stories of global violence, I will share with you today three global witnesses of reconciliation that came to mind this week, two Christian, one Muslim.

St. Sudan

St. Bakhita. Taken from

Sold in the markets of El Obeid and Khartoum, in the Sudan, as a slave, St. Josephine Bakhita endured constant beatings, starvation and humiliation. The trauma of her abduction was so profound it caused her to forget her own name. The name she is known for as a saint was the one given to her by slave traders — bakhita, Arabic for lucky. Over the course of twelve years (1877–1889) she was resold again three times and then given away to an Italian merchant who eventually gave her her freedom. The kindness of this Catholic family led her to embrace their Catholic faith and eventually to enter religious life.

Near the end of her life, a young student once asked her, “What would you do if you were to meet your captors?” Without hesitation she responded, “If I were to meet those who kidnapped me, and even those who tortured me, I would kneel and kiss their hands. For, if these things had not happened, I would not have been a Christian and a religious today.”

That’s a vantage I can only bow low before in awe.

“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their life, and imitate their faith.” — Hebrews 13:7

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Here is a letter (from Zenit) written posthumously to Father Ragheed Aziz Ganni by a Muslim friend of his who is also a professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. Father Ragheed and three deacons were shot and killed in Mosul, Iraq, on Sunday after Mass back in 2007.

In the name of the compassionate and merciful God,

Ragheed, my brother,

I ask your forgiveness for not being with you when those criminals opened fire against you and your brothers. The bullets that have gone through your pure and innocent body have also gone through my heart and soul.

You were one of the first people I met when I arrived to Rome. We met in the halls of the Angelicum and we would drink our cappuccino in the university’s cafeteria. You impressed me with your innocence, joy, your pure and tender smile that never left you.

I always picture you smiling, joyful and full of zest for life. Ragheed is to me innocence personified; a wise innocence that carries in its heart the sorrows of his unhappy people. I remember the time, in the university’s dining room, when Iraq was under embargo and you told me that the price of a single cappuccino would have satisfied the needs of an Iraqi family for a whole day.

You told me this as if you were feeling guilty for being far away from your persecuted people and unable to share in their sufferings …

In fact, you returned to Iraq, not only to share the suffering and destiny of your people but also to join your blood to the blood of thousands of Iraqis killed each day. I will never forget the day of your ordination [Oct. 13, 2001] in the Urbanian University … with tears in your eyes, you told me: “Today, I have died to self” … a hard thing to say.

I didn’t understand it right away, or maybe I didn’t take it as seriously as I should have. … But today, through your martyrdom, I have understood that phrase. … You have died in your soul and body to be raised up in your beloved, in your teacher, and so that Christ would be raised up in you, despite the sufferings, sorrows, despite the chaos and madness.

In the name of what god of death have they killed you? In the name of which paganism have they crucified you? Did they truly know what they were doing?

O God, we don’t ask you for revenge or retaliation. We ask you for victory, a victory of justice over falsehood, life over death, innocence over treachery, blood over the sword. … Your blood will not have been shed in vain, dear Ragheed, because with it you have blessed the soil of your country. And from heaven, your tender smile will continue to light the darkness of our nights and announce to us a better tomorrow.

I ask your forgiveness, brother, for when the living get together they think they have all the time in the world to talk, visit, and share feelings and thoughts. You had invited me to Iraq … I dreamed of that visit, of visiting your house, your parents, your office. … It never occurred to me that it would be your tomb that one day I would visit or that it would be verses from my Quran that I would recite for the repose of your soul …

One day, before your first trip to Iraq after a prolonged absence, I went with you to buy souvenirs and presents for your family. You spoke with me of your future work: “I would like to preside over the people on the base of charity before justice” — you said.

It was difficult for me to imagine you a “canonical judge” … And today your blood and your martyrdom have spoken for you, a verdict of fidelity and patience, of hope against all suffering, of survival, in spite of death, in spite of everything.

Brother, your blood hasn’t been shed in vain, and your church’s altar wasn’t a masquerade. … You assumed your role with deep seriousness until the end, with a smile that would never be extinguished … ever.

Your loving brother,

Adnam Mokrani
Rome, June 4, 2007
Professor of Islamic Studies in the Institute for the Study of Religion and Culture,
Pontifical Gregorian University

“Love your enemies” — Luke 6:

Undoubtedly you have heard of the gruesome beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians by ISIS, but maybe you have not heard of the testimony of the family of two of the men murdered, who were also brothers. A friend sent me a video from an Arabic Christian television interview with a brother of these two men. He offers his gratitude to ISIS for allowing the name of Jesus, spoken by some of the men before their execution, to remain in the video of the mass beheading. He also shares his/their mother’s astonishing sentiments in the face of such brutality. If you have 4 1/2 minutes it will be worth your time. Chick on the blog post title if you are reading an emailed version.

If you axe me….

photo 2

My girls, looking lovely for Mardi Gras 2014; and me, pitifully trying to look local.

Re-post from 2014. :)

It’s Lent now, but I wanted to take a quick retrospective and remember Mardi Gras day!

Now that we have been in New Orleans for nearly 2 years, I can confidently say, along with my wife, that I have fallen in love with this cultural island. Really. Truly.

I told someone up North how much I loved NOLA (New Orleans, LA), and they said with a slight hint of sarcasm in their voice, “Why?

It’s hard to say exactly why. Mostly it’s intangible. It certainly has to do with the good friends we have made here, but it also has something to do with the tangled mix of religion and culture. Like a good Bond martini, they’re shaken together, not stirred. Vice and virtue, wealth and poverty, race and genders cohabit in inexplicable ways. When I think of my brief experience here thus far, I think of a great menagerie of sumptuous food, plenteous drink, dazzling colors, meandering rivers, lazy bayous, irreconcilably diverse personalities, Cathedral square voodoo, mirror-hanging rosaries, the breastbone relic of Blessed Seelos, messy beignets, to-die-for Po’Boys, cultic football, devoted extended families, street corner jazz, Mardi Gras parades, abundant feasting, sudden fasting, crisscrossing canals, random gators, CC’s coffee, local accents that I simply cannot replicate, smooth Abita Amber beer, a mean Sazerac and oh so many other things. Local Catholicism can truly be defined the way James Joyce did in “Finnegans Wake,”

Catholic means ‘Here comes everybody.’

American author and devout Catholic Walter Percy aptly described NOLA’s island-like identity:

New Orleans is both intimately related to the South and yet in a real sense cut adrift not only from the South but from the rest of Louisiana, somewhat like Mont St. Michel awash at high tide. One comes upon it, moreover, in the unlikeliest of places, by penetrating the depths of the Bible Belt, running the gauntlet of Klan territory, the pine barrens of South Mississippi, Bogalusa, and the Florida parishes of Louisiana and ending up in the French Quarter.

But it was after reading Earl Higgins’ very funny The Joy of Y’at Catholicism that I was confirmed in my love. His book plays wonderfully on these irreconcilably reconciled elements that constitute what Flannery O’Connor would call this Christ-haunted, though not necessarily Christ-centered, Catholic culture. And there’s just something about this culture that, if you let it, pulls you in no matter who you are or where you’re from. As Higgins says it, “In New Orleans even the Jews are Catholic!”

Since I am a born and bred New Englander, steeped in a more or less pragmatic, sacrcastic puritan ethos, maybe my greatest joy here is simply reveling in quelle différence!

Someone sent me this fun and upbeat music video reflecting on the local character of New Orleans. For fun, I’ll share it with you today: