GOG!

“In this Music the World was begun; for Iluvatar made visible the song of the Ainur, and they beheld it as a light in the darkness.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion

The same day I’d written yesterday’s post on fatherhood, my daughter Maria shared with me a “music video” she and her friend made. When they came back to our house after making it, they yelled: “It was a total GOG!” At my daughter’s high school, that means, “Glimpse of God.” They were referring to the bright “sky art” that appeared around them as they recorded.

So today I, shamelessly proud dad, thought I would share it with you. I would share more of my children’s work here, but I am usually banned with severe looks of “don’t you dare.” But I am working on that.

If this is an emailed post, click on the post-title above. My daughter is the one with the hat. And if you “like” the youtube, or leave a comment, I am sure it would elicit a smile. Watch here:

 

Shabbat

from sd.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk

Re-post from April, 2014. Just because it was a favorite to write.

Today is the Jewish Sabbath — in Hebrew, Shabbat — a day of ceasing from all servile labor. Today God’s people inhale the sweet fragrance of Torah and exhale a new song of praise and thanks to the Creator, who called all things from non-existence into being; and to the Redeemer, who “brought Israel out from the midst, for his love endures for ever” (Psalm 136:11).

The Sabbath is first commanded by God, in memory of creation’s seventh day, to unfetter sinful man from his idolatrous enslavement to work that he might worship the Creator. It opens a free space in time to joyfully receive the sheer gift of existence itself afresh from the Hand of God and offer it back to Him in thanksgiving. Sabbath observance also creates a sacred space for us to remember the mirabilia Dei, “the wonderful works of God” that have taken place in history as the eternal God, again and again, breaks into time to save mankind and establish an everlasting covenant of mercy.

For Christians who celebrate the fulfillment of the Sabbath on Sunday — the eighth and final day of creation when the Spirit-breathing Christ rose from death — it is a day consecrated to liturgical worship and prayer. The Liturgy, by which Christ structures time and space, opens to each man and woman the gates of entry into the Sanctuary of Paradise, the eternal Sabbath that ever abides in the Heart of Christ (cf. Matthew 11:28-30). On Sabbath we are not just invited to come near to God, but to plunge (baptizein!) into Him, to eat and drink His Flesh and Blood and so share even now in the wedding banquet of the Bridegroom and the Bride (cf. Matthew 22:1-14). Sunday is our weekly foray into the Unthinkable, our raid on the Unspeakable. Holy Mass is where God runs to embrace us and lead us into the nuptial chamber of His Son’s Mysteries, only then to at-once send us out to “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” (Luke 14:13) — the “treasure of the church” — to the Supper of the Lamb.

Not a bad reason to plan into your Sunday the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as the heart of your day “set apart” for God.

To-be

An aside. Regarding the character of Sabbath as a day to be joyously grateful for the gift of existence, I had an insight recently that I’d like to share here. Here’s my journal entry from February 7, 2014:

I was praying this preface to the Sanctus in the “Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom” today, and it overwhelmed me with gratitude:

It is meet and right to sing of Thee, to bless Thee, to praise Thee, to give thanks to Thee and to worship Thee in every place of Thy dominion. For Thou art God ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible, ever-existing and eternally the same, Thou and Thine only-begotten Son and Thy Holy Spirit. Thou it was who brought us from non-existence into being, and when we had fallen away, didst raise us up again, and didst not cease to do all things until Thou hadst brought us up to heaven and hadst endowed us with ‘Thy Kingdom which is to come. For all these things we give thanks to Thee, and to Thine only-begotten Son and to Thy Holy Spirit; for all things of which we know and of which we know not, whether manifest or unseen.

Such language leaves me breathless, overwhelmed with a terrible sense of unworthiness “for all things,” that resolves into a Mass text: laudámus te, benedícimus te, adorámus te, glorificámus te; “We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you.” Hound of Heaven comes to mind, the stanza where God says:

And human love needs human meriting:
How hast thou merited—
Of all man’s clotted clay the dingiest clot?
Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.
All which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
Rise, clasp My hand, and come!’

Here’s an an insight it seems that the Lord has given me about the “all things” for which we give thanks in that Orthodox prayer. It was for me an opening into a certain — can I call it? — “mysticism of being” (or maybe an “ontological mysticism”) that has claimed within me an irrepressible and moment-by-moment joying gratitude over … the “surplus of meaning,” the superabundant beauty that impregnates Genesis 1:31’s καλά λίαν, “very good.” I am. The raw fact of existence itself, that I even exist at all, is utterly astounding. When I was a boy, I would lay in bed at night and think, with wonder and not despair, “Why do I exist? Why am I me?” Heidegger taught me, Why something rather than nothing. I break into thanks even before I see particular values, meanings, goodnesses or discernible purposes embedded within the āctūs, “act” of being. So, before I ever see any particular goods like my health, the birth of our children, a lovely dew-drenched rosebud, the Passion of Jesus … already meaning, goodness and purpose — wholly worthy of praise — are found. Simply and without qualification, there in that very fact of esse, “being” itself, is cause for praise:

Laudate Dominum omnes gentes
Laudate eum, omnes populi

O praise the Lord, all ye nations:
praise him, all ye people. — Psalm 117

Even if there is more, who needs more? “If only for the fact that I am, O Lord, I need nothing more to voice praise!” Regardless of particular existential colors that life presents in any given moment, just “to-be” suffices to evacuate all boredom and meaninglessness from every moment. I am the reception of pure-gratuity, of God’s self-diffusing, creating Act. I earned nothing of it as I was called into being. Every moment of my be-ing must be received by a “eucharistic heart.” Sursum corda! Lift heartfelt thanks on high! It is right and just. Better: simply the return of love. “…et de plenitudine eius nos omnes accepimus et gratiam pro gratia,” John 1:16. Worship, liturgy is nothing other than creation reflecting back the glory shone, mixing our voices with the ceaseless Seraphic hymns — holy! holy! holy! May I be caught up into imperishable eternity, deathless liturgy. Liturgy is Christ, He who is the Creator-creature in an immortal act of eucharist. The Lord said Eucharistēsas, Luke 22:19, once in old Jerusalem, but forever now for us in New Jerusalem. @ Divine Liturgy Christ utters this twice to the Father: for his eternal generation, genitum non factum, “begotten not made;” and on behalf of ex nihilo, “out of nothing” creation which he took on ex Maria Virgine, “of the Virgin Mary” when he became flesh. This, for me, breaks open Meister Eckhart’s devastatingly simple saying: “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is ‘thank you,’ it will be enough.” 

It’s become in me a revolution within a revolution within a revolution; an eternal return to the first moment of Genesis 1:3 — fiat lux, “let there be light…” 

How appropriate it was a Jewish professor of Talmud at the University of Hartford who first introduced me to this thought: “How can you young people be bored, when all around you is a world that didn’t have to exist at all, but does? ‘Something rather than nothing.’ Living at the threshold of G-d speaking the world into life – that’s enough to get you stuck on ‘wow’ for a thousand years! Or get stuck with Jeremiah [1:6] stuttering, ’ă·ḏō·nāy ’ă·hāh!”

At every moment, in every breath, to re-receive the primordial gift I was given. The foundation of every other gift: my existence. The self-subsistent Eternal, who could in an instant annihilate the entire cosmos with a word, sustains me in being at every moment and has pledged me, in his unfathomable mercy, immortal existence in a new creation. This first creation would have been enough, O Lord.

How lovely now to me are these words of Bl. John Paul II: “Our existence is already a gift, the first gift of the Creator to the creature.”

Cahill’s Shabbat

I recall reading Thomas Cahill’s fascinating book, The Gifts of the Jews, and being deeply moved by his insights on the Jewish Sabbath. It made me more keenly aware of the tragedy that Christians have largely abandoned this “pearl of great price” they have to offer the world. Listen to what Cahill says:

No ancient society before the Jews had a day of rest. The God who made the universe and rested bids us do the same, calling us to a weekly restoration of prayer, study, and recreation (or re-creation). In this study (or Talmud), we have the beginnings of what Nahum Sarna has called ‘the universal duty of continuous self-education,’ Israel being the first human society to so value education and the first to envision it as a universal pursuit – and a democratic obligation that those in power must safeguard on behalf of those in their employ. The connections to both freedom and creativity lie just beneath the surface of this commandment: leisure is appropriate to a free people, and this people so recently free find themselves quickly establishing this quiet weekly celebration of their freedom; leisure is the necessary ground of creativity, and a free people are free to imitate the creativity of God. The Sabbath is surely one of the simplest and sanest recommendations any god has ever made; and those who live without such septimanal punctuation are emptier and less resourceful. Those people who work seven days a week, even if they are being paid millions of dollars to do so, are, in the biblical conception, considered slaves.

JP2, We  You

This post has become obscenely long.

Did you know? John Paul II wrote a whole letter on the meaning and celebration of Sunday (click here). It’s a mini-catechism on Sunday and is well worth reading. And it’s filled with many practical ideas for keeping the Sabbath “holy.” I’d like to end today with my favorite two paragraphs. It’s a tad long, but, I believe, worth your time. Imagine the seismic impact of 2+ billion Christians living this out every seven days. Pledge to take just one small step to move from imagination to reality…

The Eucharist is an event and programme of true brotherhood. From the Sunday Mass there flows a tide of charity destined to spread into the whole life of the faithful, beginning by inspiring the very way in which they live the rest of Sunday. If Sunday is a day of joy, Christians should declare by their actual behavior that we cannot be happy “on our own”. They look around to find people who may need their help. It may be that in their neighborhood or among those they know there are sick people, elderly people, children or immigrants who precisely on Sundays feel more keenly their isolation, needs and suffering. It is true that commitment to these people cannot be restricted to occasional Sunday gestures. But presuming a wider sense of commitment, why not make the Lord’s Day a more intense time of sharing, encouraging all the inventiveness of which Christian charity is capable? Inviting to a meal people who are alone, visiting the sick, providing food for needy families, spending a few hours in voluntary work and acts of solidarity: these would certainly be ways of bringing into people’s lives the love of Christ received at the Eucharistic table.

Lived in this way, not only the Sunday Eucharist but the whole of Sunday becomes a great school of charity, justice and peace. The presence of the Risen Lord in the midst of his people becomes an undertaking of solidarity, a compelling force for inner renewal, an inspiration to change the structures of sin in which individuals, communities and at times entire peoples are entangled. Far from being an escape, the Christian Sunday is a “prophecy” inscribed on time itself, a prophecy obliging the faithful to follow in the footsteps of the One who came “to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to captives and new sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Lk 4:18-19). In the Sunday commemoration of Easter, believers learn from Christ, and remembering his promise: “I leave you peace, my peace I give you” (Jn 14:27), they become in their turn builders of peace.

 

Healing put to the test, Part II

Taken from meetville.com

As a follow up to yesterday’s introduction to Mario Sacasa’s blog posts on various faith-based healing ministries, I wanted to share some (hopefully) relevant personal experiences with evaluating some of the claims associated with these healing ministries — claims to private revelation, mystical graces or out-of-the-ordinary charismatic experiences. There’s so much to say, so many issues at stake! But I will limit myself to whatever comes to mind as I sit here in the Denver airport waiting for a delayed plane. I will take my inspiration from a woman across from me who just said to her child after he knocked over a drink: “Wise up and learn from your mistakes!”

I broke my thoughts into 2 parts. I will post the other part tomorrow. They are really unorganized thoughts which I do not have time to tidy up, but hopefully they will offer some light.

A personal story

Beginning in 1987, I became involved with prayer groups that identified themselves with the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. My early experiences were overall positive, mostly associated with humble parish-based prayer groups that would meet weekly for praise, worship, intercessory prayer and fellowship. Back then, I would have echoed St. John Paul II comment on the Renewal:

How many people have rediscovered their faith, a desire for prayer, the power and beauty of the Word of God, which is expressed in generous service for the mission of the Church! How many lives were deeply changed! For all of this I wish to praise and thank the Holy Spirit with you today.

But over ensuing years, I also have gotten involved with elements of the Renewal that are not so balanced, and some of them did me (and others I know) harm. In particular, those people who claimed to have gifts of prophetic knowledge and clairvoyant insight simultaneously asserted a certain divine authority to command unearned trust and wield unaccountable power. While there are certainly some saintly people out there who legitimately bear God’s power and authority for good, these people were not that. As a result of these troubling experiences, somewhere back around 1989, I received my first “wake up call” to the need for learning and practicing disciplined discernment in the face of such bold claims. By God’s grace, I had at the same time just begun gong to a first-rate spiritual director. 

After I shared with him what had happened, he asked me to immerse myself in St. John of the Cross’ two classic treatises on the spiritual life, The Ascent of Mount Carmel and The Dark Night (which are really one book in four parts). He said to me, “John offers you a safe path, Tom. If you embrace him he’ll teach you the secure and simple way of faith, hope, charity and the royal way of the cross.” That was a defining moment for me. Over the next several years, he walked me through St. John and taught me how to apply it. 25 years later, John’s vision has come to dominate my approach to matters of faith and discernment. Indeed, my journey into John’s works eventually led me to write a PhD dissertation on the Ascent-Night. As I have said before, I  see my theological vocation to be translating John’s spiritual vision for all walks of life. But I have so far to go! My thinking continues to evolve daily under St. John’s tutelage, and I will, hopefully, remain under his sway the rest of my life.

Testing

As a direct response to my bad experience, the first thing my director gave me to read was St. John’s letter to Nicholas Doria, who was at the time to superior of the Discalced Carmelite Friars. The letter draws on the doctrine John articulates in detail in the Ascent-Night regarding how one should discern the origin and meaning of extraordinary spiritual experiences, i.e. visions, locutions, special “prophetic” knowledge and so on. The letter was written after John had, in response to a request from Doria, completed an investigation of a Discalced Carmelite nun claiming to be the recipient of extraordinary spiritual experiences.

For John, the bottom line is that extraordinary experiences in the spiritual life are an inherently ambiguous affair, both in terms of origin (where they come from) and reception (what they mean, what one is to do with them). As Denys Turner memorably words it, for John most mystical phenomena are at best “experiential feedback” from the encounter of the soul with God, and are not God himself. They are like “distant echoes of the Word” that require decoding, and are not worth much fuss. John argues that even when these experiences are genuinely “of God,” answers to how one is to understand them, why they are given, or what one is to do with them once they happen are simply not self-evident. Mystical phenomena are easily distorted, misunderstood, misapplied or misused by credulous recipients who lack proper discretion and judgment; or by those who are still too fragile and immature to resist placing them in the service of their un-redeemed and needy ego. For example, he says in the Night 2.3.2:

This is the stage in which the devil induces many into believing vain visions and false prophecies. He strives to make them presume that God and the saints speak with them, and frequently they believe their fantasy. It is here that the devil customarily fills them with presumption and pride. Drawn by vanity and arrogance, they allow themselves to be seen in exterior acts of apparent holiness, such as raptures and other exhibitions. They become audacious with God and lose holy fear, which is the key to and guardian of all the virtues.

While it is of course true, John says, that God does grant extraordinary graces to his servants, it is also true that the same God commands us to put those gifts to the test — placing them in service to unseeing faith (cf. John 20:29) and subordinating them to the “still more excellent way” of love of neighbor (1 Cor. 12:31).

Diagnosis and Prescription

In the letter, John reviews his investigation and judges the nuns claim to gifts of a supernatural origin to be false. Among the signs of distortion, he highlighted four in his letter.

First, she had mucha golosina de apetito, “a very greedy appetite” for extraordinary experiences, and being attached to such experiences is, for John, an wise open door to deception. Second, she was overly confident in the truth of her interior experiences and was averse to submitting them to the judgment of others. “She has too much confidence,” he said “and too little caution about erring internally, which is not the sign of a good spirit. Everything she says about ‘she said to God and God said to her’ seems nonsense [parece disparate].” Third, she lacked discretion and was overly eager to speak and convince others of the goodness and truth of her extraordinary experiences. She was also eager for more such experiences which is, he says, a very dangerous thing. Finally, she was very resistant to John’s critical inquest into of her claims. Humility, he said, is infallibly the fruit of genuine spiritual experiences that have been rightly received. When the humble “receive great favors” they are always eager to submit to being tested by others, anxious to be exposed, by faith and sound reason, to the light of truth.

At the end of his letter, John recommended to Doria a “test” for this nun. She must not, he said, write about or publicize these experiences any longer or even speak about them with her confessor. Rather, pruébenla en el ejercicio de las virtudes a secas, mayormente en el desprecio, humildad y obediencia, “test her harshly in the exercise of the virtues, particularly in self-contempt, humility and obedience.” “And,” he added, “the tests must be good ones because there is no devil who will not suffer anything for the sake of his honor.” He says of the humility he hopes this test will produce in this nun,

Yet these humble souls, far from desiring to be anyone’s teacher, are ready to take a road different from the one they are following, if told to do so. For they do not believe they could ever be right themselves. They rejoice when others receive praise, and their only sorrow is that they do not serve God as these others do. They have an inclination to seek direction from one who will have less esteem for their spirit and deeds. Such is the characteristic of a pure and simple and true spirit, one very pleasing to God. Since the wise Spirit of God dwells within these humble souls, he moves them to keep these treasures hidden, and to manifest only their faults. God gives this grace to the humble, together with the other virtues, just as he denies it to the proud.

More tomorrow…

Healing put to the test, Part I

Taken from amazon.com

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. — 1 John 4:1

Whether these charisms be very remarkable or more simple and widely diffused, they are to be received with thanksgiving and consolation since they are fitting and useful for the needs of the Church. Extraordinary gifts are not to be rashly desired nor is it from them that the fruits of apostolic labors are to be presumptuously expected. Those who have charge over the Church should judge the genuineness and proper use of these gifts, through their office, not indeed to extinguish the Spirit but to test all things and hold fast to what is good — Lumen Gentium 12

I wanted to share with you today a series of blog posts written by a friend, Mario Sacasa, LMFT (found here: https://mariosacasa.wordpress.com/). Like the recent letter published by the Fathers of Mercy (here), these posts address important concerns related to certain Catholic faith-based healing ministries. These ministries Mario refers to in his posts variously blend elements of psychology, demonology and mysticism/spirituality into a set of strategies for seeking healing from God. The concerns Mario raises I also share, and I am grateful he has made a serious contribution to a very important conversation.

Over the years, I  have had numerous interactions with Catholic faith-healing movements like the ones Mario describes. I have grown increasingly concerned over the last 20+ years with some of the directions that have been taken in those movements. I am grateful that Mario chose to engage publicly in a respectful and honest conversation, as these movements have public import in the Church as they continue to grow in influence. They require serious and ongoing discernment based on solid considerations drawn from both faith and science. Mario welcomes comments and dialogue on his blog.

I will share a few of my own related reflections tomorrow.

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 classicalchristianity.com

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?’

Amen.

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

Therapeutic happy-talk and admonishing sinners

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

Taken from bp.blogspot.com

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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Taken from timeslive.co.za

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 communio.stblogs.org

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

Taken from chaldean.org

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.