Aquinas Shorter Summa: Part I: Introduction, God, and the Holy Trinity: 1-63
Compendium of Theology (1273 AD)
(Compendium theologiae ad fratrem Reginaldum socium suum carissimum)
I am embarrassed to admit I have chosen to read a compendium of Saint Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologica. It represents only about 10% of the full version above. “He has reduced to a brief compass for the sake of those whose time is taken up with the cares of daily life.” This shorter Summa is only 370 pages. I am only 63 pages into this abbreviated text.
Now more than ever though I call on Catholics to read about and own our faith. Aquinas has it right that you cannot effectively teach people by authority alone. Sooner or later the authority will lose its human authority over its subjects, or become tarnished, or simply rebelled against. Aquinas died before completing the Compendium for everyday man – but he clearly knew laity needed to be provided knowledge, guidance, and proofs of the existence of God only 1200 years or so after Christ death. So much so that he set out a shorter version for us.
Our church authorities are not only tarnished, but thoroughly ensconced in the sexual predatory actions of priest worldwide sustained over decades and covered up by many – making the church and its institutions complicit in these depraved acts. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops shared with Pope Francis the situation in the United States and “how the Body of Christ is lacerated by the evil of sexual abuse.” Pope Francis is under siege now from the Catholic right and now from people demanding answers for his own culpability in this ever-unfolding scandal. A year and a half ago, he enjoyed an 83 percent favorability rating among U.S. Catholics, but that’s dropped to 63 percent, according to CNN.[i]
The church in its magnificence cannot escape this evil within its own cloistered walls. As much as priests of honor, who have never violated their basic vows – never mind committing these atrocious acts, the tendency is to retreat and immerse oneself in pastoral work, prayer, and seeking God. While these things are needed, simultaneously these priests must fight evil within their own sanctuaries. The introductory remarks of the Short Summa described Saint Aquinas’s apologetic work as follows:
“The theologian has had to interrupt his proper task, which is the contemplation of the supernatural universe in the light of God’s own knowledge, in answer to the call of more pressing needs. He has had to descend to the level of God’s enemies and take up the battle against them on many fronts.”
If we are to descend we must be prepared. We must descend from our safe prayerful lives and from our immersion in contemplative prayer to deal with the hemorrhaging on the ground. If we have been blissfully ignorant of suffering both within the church and outside the church by being thoroughly absorbed in “the cares of daily life” we must rise above the mundane and seek greater unity with our God. To do so we must have exposure to the great mystics or Doctors of the Church. They have faced evil within their walls in the past as well as evil from outside the church walls. We must, as laity, ascend as well.
Most importantly, if your faith is shaken, what better way than to go back to the basics. What do we as Catholics believe anyway?
First 63 Pages Review:
For me to live a holy life I must know truth or the way to live a divine life. “Man’s salvation consists in knowing the truth.” Through knowing God’s words and intentions we have a choice to not “besmirch” ourselves “with a multitude of vices.” We can simplify our lives by truly living by the guideposts of faith, hope and charity.[ii] I am reminded here of St. John’s Dark Night:
“The soul, then, touched with love for Christ, her Spouse, and aspiring to win his favor and friendship, departs in the disguise that more vividly represents the affections of her spirit.1 Her advance in this disguise makes her more secure against her adversaries: the devil, the world, and the flesh. The livery she thus wears is of three principal colors: white, green, and red. These three colors stand for the three theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity, by which she not only gains the favor and good will of her Beloved but also advances very safely, fortified against her three enemies.”
Three enemies: the devil, the world, and the flesh. We see and identify evil every day. It is carried out by man. We are less apt to see it as demonic, though at our worst suffering most are reduced to bargaining with God for relief, even if only briefly. The battle against evil is real. Responding to it, without becoming it, requires divine inspiration and divine mercy – for we surely fall short.
If we are living these virtues we will not need to preach them from the rooftops or the pulpit. Our actions will do the talking. Although we seek perfection, we never reach perfection as only the Godhead is perfect. For us Catholics, that is the divinity of the Trinity and the humanity of Christ.
Our God is the first mover – incorruptible, unalterable, immutable, infinite, and yet simple. Our God is unity of perfection. We have the word of God as brought to us by Jesus Christ and the prophets, the rich history of the church, and all the saints and martyrs. Still we recognize there is truly an “inherent impossibility of defining God.”
Thomas Aquinas provides us with definitions and descriptors of God’s essence anyway. God is innascibility: Incapability of being born, self-existence. The word is not distinct from the Father in time, space, or nature. The word of God must be absolutely perfect. He then describes how the Holy Trinity is one being despite the son (and the word of God) and the Holy Spirit being one and yet relational different notions for us when we are seeking understanding and guidance. How much time do you have? Do you have time for Summa Theoligica coming in at 3500 pages?
To live a divine life, we must truly know our nature, our intellect, and our capacity to love (and what we direct our love to!). Our essence is in our nature, our intellect, our love. To live truly freely we most reconcile our divine essence with who we are now and with our potency to strive for perfection: To be, to know, to love is our challenge in whatever calling we have taken on in life. Thomas Aquinas lived his life teaching about the essence of God and the essence – while defending God during the Renaissance period – not by force but by logic, reason, and example. Still we have a responsibility to carry our own water and search out the truth of living a divine life. We cannot give away what is most precious to us in this life time to the authorities – our soul is our responsibility to cultivate and to be open to God’s presence. All mankind will disappoint us – sometimes grievously. The evilness of men should not shake our faith – even if they are wearing white collars.
Whether you pick up the compendium or the full Summa is irrelevant, even though they may benefit your spiritual journey. What is relevant is to ask yourself – are you truly open to the word of God and the Holy Spirit? Do you know yourself and where you stand today? Do you have an eschatological framework to serve as your daily compass?
“The voice Paul (then Saul) heard from heaven asked him why he persecuted “Me”. Saul had never met Jesus in the flesh. He had, however, persecuted the Church. Jesus is identified with the Church and her members. He is really, truly present in His Body on the earth. In the words of St. Augustine, the “whole Christ” cannot be separated, “the body as a unity cannot be separated from the head.”
The Church is an encounter with that whole Christ, the Risen Lord. He is their Head and the Church is the Body. It is an entrance through Him into the Trinitarian communion. That encounter and the relationship it supports is spoken of throughout the Christian Tradition as being ‘nuptial’, this is wedding language; the Christian vocation is to be espoused to Jesus Christ as a bride to a bridegroom for all eternity.”
It is hard to reconcile our current day church with this vision. The suffering within our church is immense. Our suffering as one body is deserved. We have grossly failed and harmed many children. As a whole body we have accounting to do. As a whole we must have dramatic and divinely inspired change. As a whole we must not be asleep and passive with our faith.
[ii] 1 Cor. 13:13
On a dark night, Kindled in love with yearnings—oh, happy chance! —
I went forth without being observed, My house being now at rest.[i]
Two friends, 27 years apart, united in “their ardent desire to embrace the primitive Rule of Carmel, their longing for a deeper prayer life, their practice of poverty of spirit in the simplicity of their lives, the compassion evident in their love for others, active reformers, and yet mystics” wrote the first two of the first three books below. The third, a young girl who seemingly since childhood was destined for the religious life, died a torturous death at the hands of Tuberculosis. The latter born two centuries after the first two. What do these authors from the 1500’s and late 1800’s have to tell us that is in anyway relevant today?
Teresa of Avila – The Interior Castle[ii]
St. John of the Cross – Dark Night of the Soul
Sister Therese of the Child Jesus – Story of a Soul
These three saints have left behind numerous writings of which the above three were put in my path to read. I had actually delved into Dark Night of the Soul prior – with my head and not with my heart. Both are required!
A tremendous weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. It has been replaced with a greater weight that pulls me up rather than weighs me down. The multifarious activities of my daily life are reoriented, redefined, and right sized.
Reorientation: Rather than my activities being saddled on my shoulders they remain present as water buckets I must prioritize and move from point A to point B as my position in life and responsibilities dictate.
Redefined: These responsibilities as oriented to the good of others remain vitally important as they always have been in my life. However, removed from them is the anxiety of expectations of others as well as expectation of myself. The intricate and intertwined forces of providence, man’s will, man’s limitations and my own, accidental or natural misfortune, and evil at play render me powerless to understand and ultimately control my destiny or that of my neighbor. You may as a reader be thinking “No shit Sherlock, you are not God.” I understand this sentiment deeply. Yet, when we are fully committed and dedicated to our responsibilities and passions it is easy to get lost in the emotions of the ego driven, goal-oriented actions and lose sight of the true nature of our purpose within a larger context of both current day forces of evil and good and as measured within historical time.
Right Sized: These buckets cover a football field. There are the buckets of necessity: routine chores, self-care, medical appointments, food acquisition, earning money for required daily expenses, budgeting, and countless other nuisance activities. Yet each of these if handled with spiritual care and gratitude are elevated above the mundane. The bucket of your personal callings in life carried out with utmost care and discipline to the best of your ability: family, career, volunteer activities, and living within a community as a humble and integrated member. Then there are the buckets of higher good that call for demonstrating mercy, seeking social justice, defending the poor, promoting peace, and living the word of God. The latter will make all the former activities more complicated and more important. They will come into conflict with social mores and accepted practices. Our actions in each and every activity, in moving each and every bucket of water, must be our testament before we utter even a single word about our beliefs. And the highest calling, seeking proximity to the Living God by carrying each bucket the way we would expect Jesus to do the same activity. Consciously choosing which buckets deserve carrying and when. Spending significant time in contemplation and prayer. Accepting with an open heart our spiritual consolations and gifts, periods of spiritual aridity, and suffering in its manifold forms.
Proper orientation, proper definition and right sizing are spiritual habits to be well practiced. Measure them against the beatitudes. We are human by nature and live in society driven by other values. Many thorns can thwart our intended practices.
Evil Buckets: There are so many on the football field calling for attention. If only they were properly labeled: bucket of pride, bucket of greed, bucket of anger, bucket of lust, bucket of gluttony, bucket of sloth, and bucket of envy. They are not labeled and often disguised and often quite ingeniously. They are present in all the domains of our responsibilities: our routines, our personal callings, our integration in the community, and our spiritual aspirations. One moment you can be carrying a bucket labeled social justice. The next moment the label falls off to reveal it is a bucket of pride and gluttony fueled by self-righteousness, pride, and other indignities not worthy of proximity to the divine. The bucket we are carrying was being carried to meet our needs – not the intended greater good. Our intellectual and self-righteous ego co-opts a good cause. Our bucket of fiscal responsibility transforms into gluttony and pride at the expense of other values. Our attention and main focus in life becomes our monetary wealth, accrual of material things, and constant pursuit of what we don’t have or keeping what we do have today. Sometimes they are even labeled properly and we pick them up anyway out of pure human desire unworthy of higher morality.
Alberto Giacometti (1901–1966)
We recognize suffering when we see it. Giacometti used his art to capture suffering. His most famous works “include a series of elongated standing women, striding men, and expressive busts, that resonated strongly with a public grappling with the extreme alienation and anxiety wrought by the devastation of World War II. Giacometti was unflinching in his portrayal of humanity at its most vulnerable.” Out of suffering we learn our true humanity and ability to transcend our misery as well.
Sister Therese of the Child Jesus (also known as the Little Way or Little Flower) states her “soul has matured in the crucible of exterior and interior trials.”[iii] She goes further in her prayers to ask God for increased suffering:
“O Jesus, unspeakable sweetness, change all the consolations of this earth into bitterness for me.”[iv]
And towards the end of her short life she indeed receives spiritual and physical suffering:
“I felt I was alone in the garden of Gethsemane like Jesus, and I found no consolation on earth or from heaven; God himself seemed to abandon me.”[v]
I lack the courage to ask God for more suffering for fear I will crumble under the duress!
St. John of the Cross in his treatise “Dark Night of the Soul” speaks of a self-purifying journey (putting to death sinful nature) which can never fully be realized as we remain in our human flesh. The journey though is remarkable in its spiritual dissection of seeking an enlightened life.
And Teresa of Avila brings us to the existential place of Carmel, which is hidden within ourselves and accessible to each and everyone of us if we pursue and are open to the spiritual life.
Between the three, the essence of accepting and embracing suffering can transform suffering of its evil power regardless of its causation (accidental, natural, medical, human malfeasance, and outright evil). Suffering becomes a bucket to be carried and shared with the mystery of the Trinity and the redemptive act of Jesus dying on the cross for our sins.
Longing for or mourning our past is not a bucket we should be carrying. In the 19,861 days of this life I have had spiritual consolations in the past that I yearn for, actions that I regret, and decision points that I sometimes cannot but help wonder “what if” I had chosen another path. If the actuaries are right and I die on time should I really waste any 8401 days left on desiring or regretting the past? No. In my mind I am living on borrowed time of at least 12 years and in reality, I have been living on borrowed time since inception. It is valuable to recollect our past to inform our present and future, but not to go back for perceived glories or live in martyrdom with past miseries.
The belief and pursuit of union with God with an understanding that true knowledge of the absolute God is beyond our intellectual grasp and inaccessible through direct means and the will of man. Contemplation and self-surrender through prayer is essential to living a holy life. This is not heresy to the catholic church:
Vatican II and in the new canon law repeatedly takes it for granted that “contemplation”, “mystical treasures”, ”an abundance of contemplation”, “the experience of divine things” and “an assiduous union with God in prayer” are meant for each and every person in the church.”[vi] Father Dubay (Fire Within)
There is great fear of mysticism and mystics as there is ample room for birth to self-delusion, misguided believers falling prey to occults, and obfuscation of true beliefs and representation of the word of God as stated in the bible. These fears are true. At the same time the bible is not a dead historical document. There is a reason why we use the phrase the “living word of God.” The Church moves very slowly, and not without error, vetting its faithful and its traditions, sacraments, and Saints. So, we too must move slowly with our interior prayer life, our investment in readings, traditions, and other spiritual endeavors and have sources outside ourselves for validation and confirmation. We have individual responsibility.
I belong to an on-line contemplative group whose leaders maintain a list of what they consider dangerous authors. Two authors include Thomas Merton and James J. Martin, SJ. The first they site the authors later life and potential Buddhist influences and the latter they site pieces of his liberal acceptance of people with life styles contrary to church teaching. Thomas Merton would definitely fit the classic definition of accepted Church Mystic. His life is definitely not error free. James Martin, SJ is living his faith embracing everyone (believers, non-believers) and teaching mercy and acceptance while maintaining the eternal truths of the faith internally. His outspoken defense of groups of people, specifically the LGBTQ community, has earned him vitriolic hatred by conservative branch of Catholicism. He is not labeled a mystic. I raise this as being exposed to these two writers leaves me with the responsibility of discerning through prayer and contemplation what is the right orientation of their writings to my beliefs, the responsibilities implied and defined, and the appropriate weight I assign them (tiny bucket, large bucket, no bucket?). All five of these authors are drawing from the Gospels.
Mysticism and our own infused contemplation and prayer must always be tested by the source validation of our core spiritual beliefs as found in the Gospels and talked out with at least one more seasoned believer, perhaps a spiritual adviser.
The contemplative group is right to ban these writers from their forum as their forum is dedicated to Carmelite Contemplatives. They pursue advanced discussions and growth on what they see as the safest and truest way to seek closer union with God. By avoiding writers that inspire controversy they have created a safe haven devoid of controversy for like-minded Carmelites. It comes down to temporal time and how best to use the moments you have left before your human mortality comes to an end.
We are all called to be responsible mystics! We should aim to be saints in our own right without claiming to be saints out of misguided hubris.
Addictions and 12 step groups: At the heart of all 12 steps groups is both a primary purpose (to abstain from source of addiction and help others to do so) and a higher purpose to live a spiritual life. The 12 steps are in fact a secularized “Dark Night of the Soul” experience. It is spirituality without religiosity. The original program was very much based on Christianity. Just take a look at the Serenity prayer, steps prayers (4th, 7th, and 11th steps), and The Promises.[vii] A person in recovery who truly actualizes the 12 steps in their daily lives will have a Dark Night of the Soul experience! They enter the program knowing suffering and misery and will come to know a God of their understanding (often accompanied by a return to their religious roots as well). They will realize the PROMISES of AA and shed their old lives and become new men both in abstinence of the addiction that initially sort help for and in living life with a new spiritually enriched purpose. People in recovery embody conquering suffering caused by both addiction to substance or behaviors and spiritual maladies. As St. John of the Cross says, “God is pleased to strip them of this old man and clothe them with the new man.”
Henri “Papillon” Charrière leaps to escape prison in Papillon (2018).
Faith in times of struggle or times of great success can be difficult to maintain. Sometimes as in life we must take a leap of faith. The situation we are in, favorable or must unfortunate, can blind our spiritual and moral compass without us even noticing we have gone adrift. Sister Theresa described her situational challenges eloquently:
“Now, abandonment alone guides me. I have no other compass! I can no longer ask for anything with fervor except the accomplishment of God’s will in my soul without any creature being able to set obstacles in the way.”[viii]
“Knowing it is cowardly of me to enter into a duel, I turn my back on my adversaries without deigning to look them in the face; but I run toward my Jesus.”[ix]
We live in this world, not in the eternal world. We will be tempted to be driven by worldly pressures and fight unnecessary duels sometimes even invoking the name of God and higher morality. While we must never be silent we must always check our intent and which master we are serving.
The history of Discalced Carmelites[x] is a good starting point for the uninitiated in contemplative traditions. They do not own contemplative prayer but have an orientation that is directly focused on the Trinity as well as Mary, the mother of the Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Seeking God in Catholicism is not seeking an abstract unknowable God. It is seeking Jesus Christ, seeking the advocate (Holy Spirit), seeking the Father with the spiritual gifts that we have been provided (the Gospels, the Sacraments, the lives of martyrs and saints, and our rich traditions) while acknowledging we are God’s mercy for revelation.
It is profoundly deeply humbling with every perceived elevation of my spiritual journey I am simultaneously falling through a what I perceived to be a firm foundation under my feet to a new floor beneath. At once my faith is strengthened with each morsel of revelation and yet my hunger and desire inflamed. The more I come to understand the less I know.
All three books sited above if read without adequate preparation will present less spiritual value to the reader and hide inherent wisdom within the writings. I do not say this with any sense of condescension. I have myself read the Dark Night of the Soul prior years ago and on reading it today, have come to know how shallow my reading was prior. I also presume that if I were to reread this text in merely a few months from now, more would be revealed.
Oh, by Happy Chance may my writing find you and may it inspire you to find your contemplative soul. By Happy Chance may your suffering be transformed and your purpose in life enriched. Oh, by Happy Chance may we all live in greater unity with God. I am torn between Fitzgerald’s humor an Campbell’s synopsis of the Dark Night of the Soul:
STANZAS OF THE SOUL
- On a dark night, Kindled in love with yearnings—oh, happy chance!— I went forth without being observed, My house being now at rest.
- In darkness and secure, By the secret ladder, disguised—oh, happy chance!— In darkness and in concealment, My house being now at rest.
- In the happy night, In secret, when none saw me, Nor I beheld aught, Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart.
- This light guided me More surely than the light of noonday To the place where he (well I knew who!) was awaiting me— A place where none appeared.
- Oh, night that guided me, Oh, night more lovely than the dawn, Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover, Lover transformed in the Beloved!
- Upon my flowery breast, Kept wholly for himself alone There he stayed sleeping, and I caressed him, And the fanning of the cedars made a breeze.
- The breeze blew from the turret As I parted his locks; With his gentle hand he wounded my neck And caused all my senses to be suspended.
- I remained, lost in oblivion; My face I reclined on the Beloved. All ceased and I abandoned myself, Leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies[xi]
[iii] Story of a Soul The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux pg. 15
[iv] Story of a Soul The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux pg. 77
[v] Story of a Soul The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux pg. 109
[vi] Fire Within by Father Dubay
[vii] Serenity Prayer: God, grant me the Serenity, to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference.
Third Step Prayer: God, I offer myself to Thee – to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of Life. May I do Thy will always!
Seventh Step Prayer: My Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows. Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do your bidding. Amen.
Eleventh Step Prayer: Lord, make me a channel of Thy peace; that where there is hatred, I may bring love; that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness; that where there is discord, I may bring harmony; that where there is error, I may bring truth; that where there is doubt, I may bring faith; that where there is despair, I may bring hope; that where there are shadows, I may bring light. that where there is sadness, I may bring joy. Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort, than to be comforted; to understand, than to be understood; to love, than to be loved. For it is by self-forgetting, that one finds. It is by forgiving, that one is forgiven. It is by dying, that one awakens to Eternal Life. Amen.
The “Promises”: From pages 83-84 in “The Big Book”: If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. Are these extravagant promises? We think not! They are being fulfilled among us – Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.
[viii] Story of a Soul The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux pg. 178
[ix] Story of a Soul The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux pg. 213
I want to be in Rome. I want to be by his side supporting and demanding a naive brand of Christianity with a firestorm of change that will create yet another schism in the church. Pope Francis, listen to me, but just five minutes, and act swiftly with your Papal Authority. After contemplation Pope Francis, tell me how foolish is my thoughts:
- Zero tolerance: Immediate and public defrocking of any priest with 1 verified transgression of children or any sexual abuse of anyone, period. If in Christian spirit you deem the church cannot turn them out into the street, offer them monastic pasture, walled away for a life of contemplation, care for, and fed. Should they leave those walls, they are free to do so – but not to come back. We must demonstrate Mercy even to those who have betrayed the faith. Perhaps we only accept care for them if they turn over their wrong-doings to the appropriate civil authorities as well and serve whatever prison time is required. (See number 2).
- Turn-over: Any information to civil authorities and let justice be served.
- Timeline: Remove said priest from office by December 2, 2018.
- Withdrawal: Declare our beliefs and faith independent of any government or institution. Let Secular society set their laws by secular standards without our judgement or misdirected evangelizing. “May we not think of ourselves more highly than we ought” by taking criminalizing values and actions that are contrary to our beliefs. As an example, our marriage is a sacred one within the Catholic Church and should be separated and distinct from any “legal” or “contractual” societal definition of marriage without any judgement passed on the latter. Issue by issue, flash-point by flash-point we must remove ourselves from enforcing our faith by institutional mandates and laws (whether of the church or of our beliefs being encoded in law) and share our faith so that it is desired and followed out of love of God and from our souls. Live by the virtues we stand for and attract by that measure only.
- Atonement: By December 2, 2018 have a detailed plan for a week of prayer in every church – 24 seven for all priests and parishioners set to re frame our dedication and belief as one body: “With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives,” he wrote in the 2,000-word letter. “We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.”
- Clericalism and Pharisaic practices: The Conservative wing of our church that opposes you on so many fronts is fearful, and rightly so, of losing control of our identity and core beliefs. They prefer to maintain these views by fiat rather than by faith and mercy. Sinners of every brand, sexual identity issues that we fail to understand, and the depravity with which we treat the poor and the oppressed are to be handled by action and love, not by what we think others “should do.” More priest may take a note from Reverend James Martin and Bishop Robert Barron and be appointed leaders to see your work through in the decades to come.
- Liberalism and Relativism: To include and to love is not the same as to condone and deny. Our faith has lost site that very few of us measure up to divine expectations and fall short daily of stated principles and beliefs. In America our wealth, hubris, pride, death penalty, and countless other issues condemn us everyday.
- Mysticism and prayer: Without depth of prayer and deep dives into the history of the saints and founding fathers of the church, without knowledge of ethics and philosophy, our congregation are truly sheep among wolves – both wolves external to the faith and wolves within the faith and even with a white collar.
- Institutional change: The pastoral vision and gentle and humble leadership you provide are refreshing. If time were on our side I would say continue to lead by example and let change come in the Churches time. We do not have time. It needs to be in God’s time supported by your brave leadership and a new, time limited Vatican III.
- Tears: When you are attacked, I am attacked. When the church is attacked, I am attacked. When children are abused by Catholic priest, I am harmed and devastated.
- 2019: The trial and the test of Catholicism. Rapid transformation and renewal post fire and brimstone house cleaning, repentance, and several structural changes are the beginning. Vatican III moves forward ambitiously and aggressively.
- Discipleship: A smaller church maybe necessary – not through exclusion but by re-organization, de-institutionalization, reparations. At the end of this brutal process every member has a refined role and sober pride to be able to stand testament in a secular society to living as a body of believers a holy life.
3For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
The Pope has better advisers than me – so no need for me to go to Rome or mail this letter into the abyss of the Holy See administration.
A tweet will do to express my sorrow and advocacy for dramatic and timely change.
Tweet to the Pope: 8/26/2018
@Pontifex I share our collective shame and pain of the state of our church. I trust in you and God’s providence. I hope for radical change that I cannot detail in a tweet. I pray for the victims of abuse and tragedy at the hands of misguided and criminal priestly actions.
In March of 2010 I visited my local parish priest and we discussed suffering, spiritual desolation, periods of dryness, the absence of spiritual consolation, and Providence. Whatever troubles I had at the time I truly cannot remember. But I left him with work to do on my own and with God.
This priest was an artist himself and truly appreciated the masters. Shy of going to Europe, he advised me to visit and spend some time at the Philadelphia Museum of Art Baroque exhibit. Spend sometime there and meditate on the great paintings and pieces in this wing, he said. He seemed to be saying if the majesty of these works cannot move your spirit – no one can help you my son. Well, perhaps he didn’t go that far.
The art museum was and always has been inspiring for me. I had visited this wing as a tourist before – but not with the unrushed eye of a believer. That visit enriched my spiritual imagination and meditation as well as my appreciation for other great works of art. This advice was easy to dispatch and I have visited that wing a few times since. I must get myself to Europe as well someday.
He also recommended I read “The Betrothed (I Promessi Sposi)” by Alessandro Manzoni and was astonished I had not heard or read of one of the most famous Italian novels. If he were still in my parish he would be astonished it took me 8 years and 5 months to read this famous literary work. I started this book on March 26, 2010. In this novel I am familiar with its characters despite it being set in Italy in 1628 and not published until 1842.
The lovers Renzo and Lucia are pelted by injustices, a hypocritical priest, great sufferings, and a particularly gruesome depiction of the plague that struck Milan in 1630. It is not too unlike our disappointment and great anger towards our fallen clergy today, our failing politicians, and the countless injustices committed every day in plain sight. Renzo’s journey introduces us many characters and troubles with his flight from his persecutor and consequent separation from Lucia. A chain of events ripples through the novel with vicious commentary on the human mind and condition.
When our preferred path in life is diverted, when we do not get what we want or become who we aspire to be, it may be a blessing in disguise. Our imagination may paint a glorious fantasy of what could have been had it not been for this tragedy, that one, or some other misfortune. We tend not to think that if not for that tragedy, that one, or some other misfortune we could of suffered great misery unforeseen by our limited vision of the fragility of the human experience and journey. We may even be blinded to the many gifts and opportunities that we have today by our resentment on whatever fictional grandiosity we hold as to how things should be.
Eight years later I have further insight into the meaning of suffering, spiritual desolation, periods of dryness, the absence of spiritual consolation, and Providence. There are things I desire that I cannot have or demand. No, I am not talking about man made desires – but they apply as well. Who am I to covet spiritual consolation more so than what gifts I have already received? Who am I to not accept the little crosses I carry? Who am I to be dissatisfied with the woeful adversities I have faced or may face down the road?
Is there any Providence in that it has taken me 8 years and five months to finish this novel? I think so. A lot has transpired and changed during these 8 years and five months and perhaps during several of those years I would not of had the presence to be fully appreciate completing this work of literature.
What if Jesus were to reveal himself to me and say “What do you want.” Let us say I have the courage to say I want to be close to you and do what you say. Would I be ready to give up everything and do what he says, to follow his directions after he has departed? Would I have the courage to accept suffering and fear at whatever I was called to do for receiving such a visitation? I hope so but dare not say so. However, that is exactly what we have been asked to do. He has departed and we have been left with his teachings, sacred tradition, the sacraments, and the advocate (Holy Spirit). And yet as a faith we have great difficulty applying these teachings to our daily living. In our personal journeys we tend as a faith to be risk averse, have little tolerance for inconvenience no less suffering, and more inclined to define our identity by human standards (which are sorely low) than by divine standards.
How little we understand of divine providence and suffering in general. When the mythical Renzo was faced with yet another obstacle, he “extricated himself as he could, without impatience, without bad language, and without regrets; consoling himself with the thought that every step, whatever it might cost him, brought him further on his way, that the rain would stop when God should see fit, that day would come in its own time, and that the journey he was meanwhile performing, would then be performed.”
At the end of the day though, it is still a love story. In May 2015, at a weekly general audience at St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis asked engaged couples to read the novel for edification before marriage. This is not a small ask for newly engaged couples. It is 720 pages long.
Sometimes it is enough to just love people to the best of your ability and leave the rest to God’s mercy. I would like to say we need that today more than ever, but after reading the depiction of the plague I am not so sure. And for inspiration we have great art, architecture, music, and literature to inspire and ignite our imaginations (not to replace our seeking God with images that become idols in themselves). Our focus should be on living a saintly life – aim for the ideal knowing we will all fall short (at least most of us) and have faith in God’s mercy and providence for us all.
“And for this reason, adds he, we ought to aim rather at doing well, than being well; and thus we should come, in the end, even to be better.”
What better way to participate and aim to have your life aligned with God’s providence?
Generally today might be a day for recollection of St. Tarcicius, a martyr at the age of 12, or recollections of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In a.m. masses or Noon, a small segment of the faithful may have joined together in Catholic Mass. Others may have had some solitude and prayer dedicated to this aspect of Catholic tradition and doctrine among their other prayerful moments and daily devotionals. Most are not evangelist or skilled orators ready to defend the defenseless actions of priests. The brutal and devastating history of sexual abuse that has traumatized uncountable victims. It is a time for crying.
The Holy See, despite having Pope Francis, is unable or unwilling to have an ecumenical council like no other before it, with radical change. Change at the level that may significantly, at least initially, drastically further reduce the numbers of the faithful, the number of priests, and its global financial and political clout. Change at the level that might even cause a great schism. Change that is not only a reminiscent of the great fathers of the church and the saints, but also bravely facing where our traditions and history have failed us.
The guiding principle being devoid of hubris and posturing and grounded in the true simplicity of Christ. A turning inward, away from the demanding secular society come to understand the mystery of the Trinity (despite our limited ability to understand it ourselves, embracing on our own hearts contemplation and deep mystical thought, and vigilante to remain humble in all our actions. No words or apologist can speak for the Sex Abuse scandal. Only actions across a life span, heroic acts of selflessness, and God’s merciful guidance can help the Catholic Church establish its rich tradition of apostolic successors.
Our richness has to be in our poverty. Our faith needs to embrace our suffering and the suffering of others in the name of Jesus Christ. Not from the power of the Holy See or from the pulpit garbed in robes, but silently and quietly in prayer and personal action.
Seeking proximity to the divine will always be filled with moments of great joy and great suffering – sometimes simultaneously as long as we are spiritual beings living in a physical world.
It is not only an examination of conscience on sex abuse that the church must face. As a religious organization it must examine every aspect of orthodoxy to root out our human error that has seeped into and become codified in canon law. Nothing can be left off the table as being unchecked for fallacy and human hubris not aligned with the teachings and words of Jesus Christ.
Perhaps a period of mourning for the atrocities committed in the Churches name – and a period of seeking mercy from God. How long – a day, a week, a month? No time will suffice, but some time must be given. And than radical change. Not for change sake, not for progressives or conservatives, but as response to the evidence and tragedy of our many failings as the apostolic successors of Peter. Monetizing, Politicization, and using the word of God and Christ for social status and moral condescension of others must end.
And for any perpetrators of such acts, there can be no sanctuary in our Church. They must face the full breath of justice and penalty as allowed under our secular laws. Their ultimate judgement will also await them. And as an institution, our Churches may also need to further divest itself of excessive property or financial wealth and make restitution where possible as well, perhaps with a globally historic commitment.
It is a dark time to be a Catholic. I do not blame the critics, the atheist, and others that mock our faith. We have made it difficult to get anywhere near the complexity of the Resurrection and what it means for us to be Catholic. We have been conquered by traitors and sickness from within our own congregation. No matter how saintly we may be, we are not blameless ourselves.
We cannot turn away from the ugly truth of this history. I do not have a road map – but do not deny the reality of the transgressions and demand change, significant and overreaching change. The pain of reading about the abuse is nothing compared to the pain of being abused.
To Light a Fire on the Earth:
Proclaiming the Gospel in a Secular Age
I am not and never have been an Evangelist. My own path and journey has been too rocky, my criticisms to jaded, my mistrust too high. And yet if asked I would defend the main precepts of deep theological thinking of Catholicism – not the garden variety type superficial institutional media presentation of the human side of Catholicism (or perhaps in many cases the lack of humanity that is expressed by fellow believers in God’s name).
I do not know Bishop Barron. This book fell into my orbit from a reference from one of my meanderings in theological and prayer seeking Catholic literature and forums. Apparently he has many books and a large social media imprint.
Below is an excerpt review portraying Barron as a torch holder apologist. Fascinatingly Christian Apologist is a branch of theology whose mission is to defend the faith – not apologize for it which in current day can easily be misconstrued. This book takes a rather easy high road view on how to be an effective evangelist – of which I have no interest! However, it in the process lingers just enough on every criticism and caveat of controversy the church faces today and expounds on a deeper theological understanding, the superficial errors of both modern-day clergy and lay people, and the history of human tragedies that have so scarred the church.
There was a lot to like in this book even though it was heavy on his broader mission for “Word on Fire” series. Sometimes a light read without a very deep dive into theological documents, church history, interfaith comparisons, and ethical implications while living in a secular society is the way to go. Don’t worry, when you emerge out of the bubble all the tragedies, evils, and suffering will be awaiting you – if not interrupting your read.
Two lessons he stated I think we could all take a close look at and reflect on our own search for continuing to grow towards a sanctified life. He stressed no one can defend the faith without reading, lots of reading. The second was he used a phrase that intrigued me – post liberal. No that is not meant to be a liberal turned conservative! I will leave it there for us to ponder if we have become enslaved to superficial political parties (democrat or republican) or even within the church conservative or liberal and how damaging our loss of an internal compass contrasted against christocentric doctrine.
Perhaps a third lesson is the Catholic Church aim is to provide what it thinks is the road to living a sanctified life – to being a saint! The cultural wars of today are so out of alignment and amplified with self-pious believers, money driven false prophets, and political influences that the core of Christianity gets lost in the shuffle. Every one of us will fall short of the mark (at least everyone I know already has).
Our country would benefit from a cultural revolution that demands intelligent and thorough ethical, moral, secular, philosophical, religious, economical, and political analysis that goes beyond the “self” interest and expands past geographical borders. Catholicism is only one angle that is in active reform – and much-needed reform as an institution.
Here is a review on-line of this book:
“He’s opposed to what he calls a “beige Catholicism,” a bland and watered-down faith that he says becomes virtually indistinguishable from the “beige” versions of other religions. He firmly believes that if people are attracted by the beauty of Catholicism or by the goodness of the lives of its saints, they’ll begin to look for the truths that underlie this beauty and goodness. Allen and Barron also cover debates about the relationship between religion and science and how Catholicism must confront a sexualized culture. They demonstrate the ways that the beauty, goodness, and truth of the faith fit in with modern science, but take a predictably conservative approach to dealing with sexual impulses. These illuminating, easy-to-read, and genial conversations reveal Barron’s passion for his faith and zeal for introducing it to others. (Nov.)”
Seeking to live a holy life has many sojourners. Great care, discipline, and commitment is required to shape and mold our interior response to God. The paths to enlightenment and living a divinely inspired life have consumed many for a life time. Prayer, scripture, spiritual direction, the lives of martyrs and saints, heroes of the day, inspiring mentors, reading, and countless reflections of God’s majesty can be found in everyday moments.
There is a place for the monastic life and solitude in seeking deeper connection and proximity to God. For most of us though, this is only our preparation and retreat place. We are called to be active in our vocations and personal life to live by example the virtues of our belief (reference Sermon on the Mount).
Silence in the face of evil is not an option for those of us seeking alignment of our interior spirituality with our human existence. They cannot be partitioned or used at convenient times that suit our purpose.
In the heartland of America a cultural war must be fought. A culture of fear, hatred, and toxic nationalism (mixed with racial prejudice) has been unleashed and re-ignited. The pinnacle of this evil is the recent tragedy of our zero tolerance policy and the forced separation of children from their parents. Underneath this pinnacle have been countless other attacks on the poor, on freedom, on the press, and on basic values of humanity.
Are you silent? Are you actively doing anything to fight evil?
Today I stood with a minority of protesters at a rally in back of Legislative Hall, Dover, Delaware, to add my voice against the atrocious policy of zero tolerance, children still separated from families, and no movement on compassionate and reasonable immigration policy.
Too many are silent today. Too many are supporting this administration’s vision of a redefined America that vilifies, excludes, and promotes hatred rather than exercising democracy, inclusion, and compassion. Even the pinnacle of the separated refugee children was not enough to separate some from the egocentric Trump-ism ideology that is so blatantly built on lies and distortions of the truth. The marginalized and vulnerable in our society are at imminent and long-term risk of the damaging erosion of American values today – much less Christian values.
This is not an anti-republican message. Trump and his administration are not republicans, at least what republicans used to stand for, in values or even by fiscal policy standards. Is this post anti-Trump? Yes and No. I am saddened by the personal tragedy of Donald Trump’s lived experiences and world view of himself and others based on his history of narcissism and personal statements. I struggle with how a person of such great wealth has not had the deep experience, as far as I can tell, of being touched by God and called to use his wealth and political influence to make a difference in the lives of the marginalized and vulnerable. In this manner I am not anti-Trump the person. I am anti-Trump the politician who is championing ideology that is being used to turn a blind eye to Truth, used to promote hate (anti-foreigner attitudes, anti-LGBQT attitudes, anti-poverty, anti-press, anti-democrat, anti-government, anti-environment, anti-allies), and ultimately anti-Christian.
It is easy to become disenfranchised and fall into a state of apathy with the momentous failure of our politicians (blue and red) to act on immigration, stand against the blatant lies and abuses of power of this administration, and the horrendous hypocrisy is displayed daily.
We do not have a Trump problem or a politician problem. We have a morality problem that we as a collective are inverting values:
- materialism over morality,
- egoism over universal compassion,
- hatred over love,
- alternative facts over truth,
- distorted nationalism over God.
Prayer, religious affiliation, participating in a sacramental life, church attendance, and countless other spiritual activities (Christian or not) are valuable compasses for life. What good are they if we keep them in a closet? Act and have your message heard commensurate to your ability and position in life.
We may not all be saints – but we can aim for a saintly life. It would be like buying a motorcycle and never taking it out of the garage. Go for a spiritual ride today and everyday.
Catholic Reference: Being wholly unqualified to be the voice of Catholicism below are two links on Catholic views on Immigration:
Thanks for visiting.
It has come to an epic confrontation for all American Catholics and Christians. Politicians, families, friends, religious affiliations, and work associations once in comfortable silos have been shattered by a crisis of conscience over immigration. They have to face each other across the divide of rich and poor, red or blue, pro-Trump or not.
There is real fear out there for the American middle class. We cannot deny that global poverty is driving a refugee crisis across the globe. Still we need the labor force as well, both skilled and unskilled:
Unfortunately our nation wants the labor without the responsibility. These are complicated issues. The above caption could be mistaken for drugs being sold over the border or for our demand for cheap labor. America demands both from our southern neighbors. Right now Delaware is short workers for our Crab industry.
However, for Catholics and Christians it is not complicated. We do not have that luxury for an excuse to be overwhelmed by complexities. There is a moral issue here that we are well-versed in defending – Right to Life.
“There are no single-issue saints.”
Charles Camosy, a theology professor at Fordham University, presents the case for Right to Life supporters to stand up against the inhumane treatment of refugees seeking asylum and their children: “https://www.americamagazine.org/politics-society/2018/06/22/pro-life-groups-have-obligation-call-out-trump-immigration.” We cannot remain silent on immigration while claiming to be pro-life. Charles makes a detailed case above on this so let’s focus on immigration.
Prior to Donald Trumps 2000 dollar a day per child tender age shelter system, some of us were comfortable being arm-chair politicians, flag wavers, moral voices, fiscal hawks, healthcare advocates, and various other forms of prognosticators. Yes, Red and Blue clashed and dug in on various issues with vigor and hubris. And yes Red and Blue alike took hypocritical stances on practically every issue. This issue below has risen above that standard to our government being the actors committing the separation of children and parents and then trying to deny responsibility.
Today we have a President who is blaming the democrats for lack of a comprehensive immigration reform policy when the GOP defeated bi-partisan compromise bills under Bush and Obama Administrations and recently told congress to not bother trying until after November. Wait for the red wave as 1800 of 2300 children remain separated from their parents. His followers and supporters are looking for cover under any rock: blame Obama, blame Clinton, blame Mexico, blame judges, blame democrats, blame South America, blame mothers with children fleeing violence, blame M3, and anything that will divert from a Stephen Miller idea to up the ante on immigration by changing strategy and separate children from their parents. This cannot go on.
So it is with a heavy heart that I write to democrats, republicans, family, friends, and anyone who reads this article to oppose the current administrations stance towards our southern neighbors. I do not ask you to oppose Trump, or strong borders, or comprehensive immigration policy.
I ask you to not be silent on the practice of separating children from parents and to denounce the politics of hate and deceit by any party or elected politician. Camosy spoke out, and despite his Catholic “pedigree”, was attacked by fellow Catholics and Evangelical Christians. He is aware that this is required of him, to stand-fast for the truth. You too may have to risk leaving the comfortable bubble of Trumpian identity politics just on this one issue.
Our first fight is with each other on the sole narrow issue of is it wrong to separate children from their parents in the vast numbers and manner conducted by this administration.
Our second fight is with government on passing a comprehensive immigration bill that is based on real numbers, economic needs of our country, safety, and Christian compassion.
Our third fight extends past our borders into the geopolitical reality of world poverty and violence that is driving the immigration crisis world-wide. Donald Trump is not our fight, as he has said he inherited this issue. He does not have the staff around him to develop and create a reasonable and compassionate solution.
The Tempation of Jesus in the Desert · “The Human Temptations of Our Divine Lord”
Ultimately we all have a confrontation in front of us that looms much larger: A confrontation with Christ and God the almighty. As Jesus had to fight off Satan we must fight off evil in our midst as well and confront it when it is uncomfortable to do so.
It is not at our deathbed where we have this confrontation but in the million decisions we make before we get there. This confrontation supersedes all of the previous confrontations above – though each of those are important. Without love for our neighbor in the midst of a national crisis we will only perpetuate the culture of hate and division. I may not reach you in this issue. Yet I recognize inside you a person to be loved who shares the suffering of every sojourner on this earth with me. I am not free of error or obstinancy myself. May the Holy Spirit guide me and our Nation to do the right thing.
We must confront the policy – not the people. We must not accept distraction and obfuscation.
The refugee crisis is larger than we can fathom in the long run. Vilifying the desperate will not solve our dilemma. I could quote bible scripture here – but do not need to present that to this audience. If you are Christian you know our roots as immigrants and Christ teachings. If you are not Christian, presumably you have read this far as you have a conscience and are curious how a nation of Christians can support such a stance. The answer is we cannot without compromising our faith:
“The pope, who has placed the issues facing migrants at the center of his papacy, also stepped into the issue, saying in an interview with the Reuters news agency that he agreed with statements by U.S. Catholic bishops, who called the separations “immoral” and “contrary to our Catholic values.” He added that “populism” and “creating psychosis” are not the way to resolve migration problems.
In this policy we create the action and the separation. We tore children away from their parents. Sometimes we try to impose laws for the good of others (i.e. abortion for the unborn and those who perform or choose an abortion) even though (I hope) we are not or have been in the position to consider this action. In this case we are fighting for a law against what we do as a nation – not what others might do. We are responsible.
This is our mugshot together.
We cannot remain divided. I have heard people ask what would Jesus do? Or could we in all honesty defend this policy with a “Christ stamp of approval.” If you are not Christian, can you stamp this policy as being humane?
Please write your representatives with prudence and compassion, especially if you are republican. The party in power needs to hear from there base. They do not fear democrats – they fear Donald Trump’s core base. Without them they have seats in jeopardy. Be there for them in November but be there for the immigrant children today. Of course Democrats and independents you cannot idly watch and not act as well. Our hands are as dirty as the rest – if not more so – who am I too judge?
A letter from the heart is best. However, if you are not the letter writing type here is a sample: https://ignatiansolidarity.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Sample-Letter-to-Congress-Immigration.pdf.
Perhaps e-mailing is more expeditious? Find your representative here: https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative.
Godspeed that this read may move you to advocate for the defenseless children at our southern border (while maintaining your political ideology). No images of children or mass refuges behind Nazi concentration camp fences in this post – just a direct appeal to your sense of humanity for families fleeing one horror and finding themselves in another at our southern border.
“We are now witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record. An unprecedented 68.5 million people around the world have been forced from home. Among them are nearly 25.4 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. There are also an estimated 10 million stateless people who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement.” UNHCR
Think we have our unfairshare?
Final Chapter: True Surrender of Self (Chapter 18)
The final chapter of Transformation in Christ by Dietrich Von Hildebrand begins by informing us “at the beginning and at the end of the road we travel in the process of our transformation in Christ.”
Dietrich starts off with defining this act as an “eminently personal act.” While this personal act may be within the vessel of a larger community and shared with over 1 billion people wide, it is still an individual decision to take this leap. There is surrender with consent. That consent is always ours to give or not give ensuring an element of freedom and responsibility that surpasses many people’s sense of a direct and true self-surrender to Christ:
“We must really push our skiff from off the shore; burn the boats behind us.”
Dietrich goes on to quote Plato: “….all great things are somehow done in a state of madness.” The dual tension of desiring to soar with the calling of God while wanting security and safety within our comfort zone by maintaining a sense of human security. The latter we have “established for ourselves and on which we have built an ordinary life.”
Who among us cannot identify with seeking order in our profession, financial safety and security, good health, longevity, good social standing and reputation, and a web of family and social supports that we desire to maintain? These things or values are inherently good things. It is often how we define our lives and each other.
Transformation in Christ re-orders these values with love of God and love of others transcending all of our prized possessions. We become truly in the possession of God.
This possession by God, however, has a hand brake. Remember consent above? We can at anytime reject God with our free will. In these cases we have as individuals caved in for some other good that pleases us now or perhaps removes pain we see as unnecessary. We will own our individual responsibility at the “end of times” and perhaps count on God’s mercy and the redemptive power of Jesus Christ. In these instances we are perhaps aware of our shortcomings.
A greater danger lies in giving ourselves over to passion of religious belief (or other causes) without a hand brake. The dangers of being “swept off our feet” by a charismatic person, caught up in a river of religious rapture that creates a certain mass psychosis, or unchecked nationalism that allows us to demonize other nations and their people and justify the ends above the means.
Many an individual gives up their sense of personal responsibility when cloaked in the dress of a higher cause and comforted by the charismatic leader, the masses of fellow believers, or both. This is not an active Surrender of Self to God – but the opposite. It is a negation of self-will, self-responsibility, and your God-given freedom to sanction or not sanction both your actions and the actions of entities that represent you by decree.
Seeking transformation in Christ by total True Surrender of Self is to impose on ourselves that every action and thought has an additional mirror of scrutiny. We will be able to look at our actions and thoughts through the eyes of Christ – requiring each thought to be “imprinted with the Christ Stamped” as worthy of actualizing our thoughts into action. The accuracy of our perceptions will always be suspect. We are merely seeking, searching, and striving to live a holy life in God’s possession:
“We can never bring about of our own volition this state of being possessed by and lost in what is greater than ourselves.”
The complexity of seeking transformation in Christ is as stated in earlier chapters dialectically complex and simple at the same time. One must start somewhere:
“The index to our transformation in Christ consists in the measure of our participation in his love for God and for men.”
Do you have a spiritual index of your personal standing with God and with your fellow-man? That question will probably stump most of us. We will probably have some vague notions of our general state of being but fall way shy of the detailed self-assessment that we may have akin to our financial indexes or retirement accounts!
Before you start creating a spiritual index of all your virtues and good deeds, perhaps a word on intention will suffice. Transformation in Christ calls us to “help the divine life unfold within us.” If we truly surrender to Christ and pursue christian values and attitudes (think Sermon on the Mount), God will loosen “the fetters of our trivial system of petty self-protection and invite us to an act of ultimate audacity and freedom.”
If days were miles, my humble journey of 19,778 days traveling this earth represents the latest leg of our spiritual journey after Jesus Christ’s death. It is quantifiable. The journey represents about 3% of the total journey of time since Christ’s Death (723,711 days).
Imagine a finite relay of Christian migrants traveling in a secular world. We are but the latest leg carrying what is essentially an apostolic message. The journey for our spiritual brothers of Judaism is quite longer as they reject Jesus Christ being the promised messiah. The length of our journey infinitely expands if we include our B.C. years and the rich of the old testament. In Catholicism we call this apostolic succession.
Apocalyptic and Apostolic Faith:
Judaism and Christianity share a belief in the “end of times” culminating in a final end to Humanity as we know it. It can get theologically confusing as the Jewish tradition is waiting for the first messiah and Catholics have accepted Jesus Christ as fullfilling the prophecies of the old testament as being the messiah and we are already in the end of times awaiting the second coming or “final judgement.”[i] Read Revelation and the Epistles of John for biblical references. Muslim tradition as well have an apocalyptic vision of an end of times and some are trying to hasten his coming.[ii] I raise this as a key barrier to living a life truly “transformed” in Jesus Christ.
Christians can become lost in the eschatological existential nature of the end of times:
- romanticizing the rich writing of revelation,
- postponing taking care of the immediacy of living a spiritual life today,
- falling into prophesying the immediate and pending end of times to others,
- and battling with other religions on their version of prophecy.
Spiritually having a road map of our Apocalyptic biblical liturgy informs our journey and if heeded, prepares us for the end of the journey. However, an extreme focus on an event that is beyond our horizon is probably not our best use of our apostolic faith if we have not thoroughly grounded ourselves in what it is to be an apostle.
There is no better way to share the faith than to live our lives transformed in Christ. Living in the now as apostles of Christ by living the faith and being conscious of spiritual virtues competing with everyday secular life. Utilizing a threatening end all prophecy of an event we are theologically unprepared to interpret and have been in a state of perpetual waiting for centuries has been proven ineffective. There is an immediacy of need now for apostolic living. The evidence is all around us. Our faith is in constant conflict with accepted secular norms and human desires. We will not conquer either by threatening apocalyptic visions or by legislating our will on others. We can neither be quiet nor assume the authority to be God.
An audacious and bold life filled with great joy and great suffering is at our fingertips that rises above a life dictated by autonomous habits and passive acceptance of secular and other norms that have evolved and that are beneath our understanding of being divinely acceptable.
The easiest steps of transformation lay within our hearts to ensure our personal indexes are clean. Our actions and motives are pure. The difficult chaos is untangling the weeds of insincere religiosity, institutionalized injustice, extreme nationalism, and other misaligned values that drive our country.
I share 3% of the journey with over 1 billion Catholics worldwide. We share this journey with the Holy Trinity. A proper Christian Attitude and informed conscious can prepare us to be ready to receive God’s graces and presence. The elements of a deep-seated Christian Attitude were covered in this 500 page book by a Catholic convert who denounced Hitler and Nazi Germany at the risk of his own life.
“We have envisioned the countenance of “the new man who is renewed unto the knowledge, according to the image of him that created him.”
Dietrich advises that if we pursue this course we will succeed on the great ascent towards God. Reading this book took 153 days of reading, deconstructing, validating, and reconstructing the content. The reading has expanded the depth of my understanding of suffering, redemption, and surrender. It has also raised the alarm bells of many pitfalls of humanity (and me) that are present as we strive for spiritual perfection.
These pitfalls will trip us up along our journey. We will face great evils as well. Chaos will reign and life and death will continue to present us with incomprehensible human misery. Only in God will we find refuge.
The beach yesterday, pictured in the background of the book below, has cold June tides. The summer months have not yet warmed the waters for casual swimming. In my middle age I generally ease my way in to cold waters. Yesterday, after finishing this book, I threw myself in to the ocean’s grasp in one fluid motion.
It felt audacious and bold!
Holy Sobriety (Chapter 17):
Therefore, let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch, and be sober. (1 Thess. 5:6)
Thessalonians, a letter perhaps authored by Paul the Apostle, specifically invites us to be sober.[i] Dietrich Von Hildebrand uses this letter of Paul to start his chapter on Holy Sobriety.
Sobriety & Holy Sobriety:
Sobriety for most people immediately conjures up that alcoholic seeking recovery and attempting to achieve sobriety. In the scripture above Dietrich is speaking about not only sobriety for the alcoholic, but sobriety of the “heart, the mind, and the soul”[ii] of all men. He takes the comprehensive definition of a higher level of spiritual sobriety that men not become ensnared with worldly excesses in anything. To partake in excesses is to devalue the inherent good of things by assigning them more value that what they are inherently worth, placing these things before other higher level values such as friends, family, self, or perhaps even God.
We can become equally inebriated with pursuing many substitutes for fulfillment that we are missing from the absence of a deep spirituality (connection to God) and love of things (animate and inanimate) with proper context and care. In our material world this is evident in addictions (gambling, substance use, and alcohol, food, sex, and risk takers), wealth and status (cars, homes, watches, gold chains, money), power, competitions, sports, work, and just about any human endeavor (hobbies) that can be abused to satiate our human hunger or help us escape pain.
To review this chapter I cannot separate the two concepts though many readers would like a greater distance between their attachments to worldly things and the down and out alcoholic or drug addict or sometimes even super heroes:
The above depiction has super heroes (like Tony Stark) in an A.A. meeting. We tend to exaggerate, romanticized, glamorize or vilify addictions. It keeps it safe and distant from the every day man. America now knows it is in every community – addictions by various names are reaping misery, spiritual devastation and death.
For this post we are all one and the same with a spiritual malady that has manifested itself in symptoms and sickness in various forms of human misery that separate us from God or from our fellow human beings. To simplify I will use the term alcoholic to stand in for all addictions or excessive attachments we may gravitate to in life.
It is Noble to Abstain:
Premise One: It is noble to abstain (ascetic self-denial) of alcohol for both the non-alcoholic and the alcoholic. For the non-alcoholic it is a luxury to be weighed along with all other life’s pleasures and assigned a proper context and value in their life. For the Alcoholic there is no choice. They do not have the luxury to imbibe under any circumstances to truly live a holy life. The risk is simply too high. To borrow from Alcoholics Anonymous – this is my suggestion!
Premise Two: This post may attract non-Catholic readership that are interested in sobriety and attend self-help groups. The concepts discussed by Dietrich on Holy Sobriety are wholly compatible with recovery 12 self-help groups sense of living a sober life and having a “spiritual awakening” or “spiritual experience.” These groups primary purpose is to not drink (or not use, not gamble, etc). However, through a slow process of working a step program and fellowship the groups are a spiritual program. They stay away from the “religious” affiliations but hit on many of the core values that one might find in the Sermon on the Mount and many other biblical references. Countless writers have over-laid the spiritual principles of 12 step groups with the bible. This post of course is written by as a review of “Transformation in Christ” so the author would love to have every reader has what he has – belief in Jesus Christ as your higher power. If you are in the early throes of recovery – and are religious adverse, work your steps with a more liberal definition of your higher power. Things can have a funny way of working out later if you stay sober.
Premise Three: All addictions are not equal. Addictions do not discriminate. Addiction recovery may require medical intervention. Addiction recovery may require self-help 12 step groups. Addiction recovery may require surrendering to a “higher power of your understanding.” Addictions are complex and often have physical, emotional, situational, spiritual, psychological, genetic, and other causal influences or drivers that are beyond our ability to address or judge here. Get professional help if you have an active addiction and if you have a religious affiliation consider pastoral counseling as well.
Premise Four: Holy sobriety is all-inclusive and if practiced conquers physical sobriety as well. Despite seemingly giving up some “isms” in the form of addictions, limiting dependence on human attachments, and practicing a sobriety in all things Holy sobriety is “compatible with a life inspired and sustained by faith.” It can and will be joyous even in the face of adversity and suffering.
What does Dietrich say about Holy Sobriety? It is marked by a life style that embraces genuineness, simplicity, blunt truthfulness, humility, meekness, patience, mercy, love of God and our fellow-man. One sentence and we are good to go! No, of course it is not that simple. There are barriers and of course our inherent weaknesses as a species and our own individual failings and limitations. We are as a collective and as individuals maturing spiritually and we alone cannot rush this process:
“There are certain successive stages which must be traversed; certain stages which must be actually covered. If we ignore this rhythm which is the law of being; if we attempt to skip over the proper course of things and to secure the final result in one blow, if we even try to force some great plan – we fatally deprive that great thing of its depth and its inward weight, and substitute for it a mere counterfeit, bearing the stigma of flat artificiality. It is only the paths that God has marked out for us that we can reach the high peaks of spiritual being.”
I have to soberly strive for ascetic practices that do involve certain self-denial practices or even combat with excessive habits, attachments, or outright addictions. These actions will require me to have a pretty good sense and awareness of my values and where they may be distorted or out of alignment with a higher order of values. The removal of these barriers or at least intention to limit their choke hold on me doesn’t even address living a holy sober life – it only addresses eliminating a behavior.
The successive stages above speak to a slow process of spiritual awakening and elevated sense of our true metaphysical situation (size of gulf that separates us from God) including our blind spots, misaligned aspirations, real limitations, strengths and other graces that we may have been granted. Living soberly is more than not just eliminating a negative aspect of our behaviors.
It is living a positive, meaningful, zealous and energetic life that strives for holiness while remaining grounded in the reality that our two feed are grounded here on this earth. We are limited by our mortality, our own dispositions, and the random accidental nature of life and its problems. The latter presupposes that our emotional response is always centered in the duality of our human limitations and spiritual aspirations. There is an acceptance of evil while we still do what we can to fight evil. We are still called to hunger for justice and to be peacemakers in this world.
Okay, I am sober physically and emotionally. I have turned my will and my desire over to the God of my understanding. I am joyously celebrating life’s graces and the world’s natural beauty. I am loving my God (meditation, prayer, liturgy and mass). And yet this is still not enough.
Holy Sobriety has an element of total surrender to God, an element of acceptance of our status in our lives today and crosses we have to bear, a profound awareness of our separation from God, a deep belief in God’s redemptive powers, and yet living life on an even keel despite our humanly traits to perhaps exaggerate our own personal experiences (our great crosses, heroism, humility or other grandiosity). We will delve neither into great pessimism or optimism and yet not become a slave to rigid rules or totally be divorced from our personality and unique gifts!
There is a dynamic of Holy Sobriety that both contains immense energy and yet sublime peace and containment. It is deceptively simple and complex.
Dietrich gives many examples of what Holy Sobriety is not as a measure of guiding the reader’s awareness of the many pitfalls of human aspirations and awareness. Here is an example of his description of one such danger.
The Natural Idealist:
“Thus, his lofty mood involves a certain divorce from reality; his bold perspectives are never free from a trait of anemic thinness and of reckless illusion-ism. He would storm the skies by flight, like Icarus – instead of humbly ascending step by step the narrow, steep, and laborious path that leads to eternity. His attitude has something forced and high strung about it. His enterprise is doomed to failure, for it rest on a gigantic illusion concerning human nature, whose dismal abysses he hardly suspects. He fails, in a word, owing to his ignorance of man’s need of redemption.”
Perhaps even a greater danger is falling into the abyss religious illusionism. In our zeal to attain and live a holy life we fall into a trap of believing certain private illuminations is definitively the voice of God. Without thorough contemplation and due diligence of testing our “illuminations” against other possible explanations (like natural phenomena, our very own spiritual imagination, or co-incidental events) we act on our belief without even running it past a spiritual director for external validation.
Pursuing a spiritual life whether for genuine desire to be closer to God or because your life may depend on it (Alcoholics, Heroin/Opiate addictions, etc) remains an honorable path that requires patience and persistence. Most importantly it requires increasing humility with each step up the ladder. In my view the higher you climb the smaller you become relative to where you are going.
“The root of all ‘mystical illusionism lies in pride.”
“Holy Sobriety, on the contrary, implies a humble admission of the fact that we, too, must pay our tribute to universal human weakness.”
If we were to apply the standards of “alcoholism” to man’s reliance and hunger for earthly things above mature spiritual living we would have an explosion of adults confronting countless dependencies that distract us from living truly spiritually driven lives.
A powerful chapter on living in Holy Sobriety that has universal value beyond people in recovery from an “ism.” If none of this grabs you, perhaps this can enliven your spiritual imagination:
For me, seeking to live an holy life is not driven by fear of a vengeful God or the gates of hell. I cannot begin to know nor trust in my ability to discern evil or holy doers in my midst. I can barely keep my own motivations and intentions aligned with the virtues I hold to be proper and good for mankind. If you believe in God however, you probably also believe in the opposite, an existence without God or worse yet an eternity with the devil.
The only true glimpse we have of this however, is our daily actions and faith today to provide us a scent of the future’s potential, both here on this earth and after we depart. For most of to spend an inordinate amount of time on the eschatological matters is as abstract as the word eschatological itself. The latter is important – but what we do while in seemingly eternal perpetuity of the end of times is more important. We only have a limited time to contribute our being to human kinds spiritual development and ascension while hopefully working for the betterment of fellowman in real time, here on earth, today.
Our eschatological destiny (death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind) is something we gamble with everyday. Our destiny will probably not be revealed to us within our mortal lives. In the meantime we have the pursuit of Holy Sobriety!
I have a pair of spectacles from my deceased brother that remain powerful to me long after his death. His death and the premature death of others close to me have challenged my faith in God as a pre-adolescent well into adulthood. Unexpected, unfair, violent, and premature deaths jolt our very core of an all-powerful God. I have been at times defenseless to cope with senseless loss and tragedy. I certainly did not accept these adversities with a Christian attitude of God’s will be done – much less embrace my pain and suffering with the courage and dignity of carrying my Cross.
Dietrich Von Hildebrand He knew Sorrow by the millions and evil by its first name (Adolf). There were millions of glasses on the ground.
There is no doubt that his theology and philosophy was influenced and perhaps formed his deep-seated faith and Catholic writings. Dietrich is our author of Transformation in Christ and he fought Hitler with his pen and his mind. Here is a quote on one of his books:
“In My Battle Against Hitler, covering the years from 1921 to 1938, von Hildebrand tells of the scorn and ridicule he endured for sounding the alarm when many still viewed Hitler as a positive and inevitable force. He expresses the sorrow of having to leave behind his home, friends, and family in Germany to conduct his fight against the Nazis from Austria. He recounts how he defiantly challenged Nazism in the public square, prompting the German ambassador in Vienna to describe him to Hitler as “the architect of the intellectual resistance in Austria.” And in the midst of all the danger he faced, he conveys his unwavering trust in God, even during his harrowing escape from escape from Vienna and his desperate flight across Europe, with the Nazis always just one step behind.[i]
This is a man who knew suffering, injustice, and sorrow. It is not surprising that he is able to deftly handle its mystery of Holy Sorrow in Chapter 17 of Transformation in Christ. It is also not surprising that this chapter is near the end of this work leaving only two remaining chapters. Human suffering and sorrow is as real today as it was in Nazi Germany. It is not orderly, it is not fair, and it exceeds the ability of the written language to capture horrors past and present:
You don’t need to go back to the Holocaust to see grief, starvation, and genocide. We are confronted with 3 billion people today living on less than $2.50 cents a day, 15 countries war-torn countries have United Nations inspectors and others ranking and tallying fatalities,[ii] and the refugee crisis created by these conditions is wreaking havoc on the rest of the world. Nations are turning back the clock on humanitarian aid and intervention. Walls are being built. Refugees are being depicted as animals and monsters unsafe for any nation to help.
And this does not even address our personal suffering from losses of those we love, material devastation, declining health, serious physical, psychological, and soulful injury at the hands of another, and perceived or real alienation from God.
Dietrich takes on the issue of suffering in 23 brief pages. Here are some highlights for consideration:
Irreconcilable Opposites: Our human metaphysical situation calls on us to be able to hold irreconcilable opposite forces at the same time like having patience combined with zeal for social justice.
Tension of becoming: We are at once actualized and still developing holiness, continually hopefully being drawn closer to Holiness through joy and suffering.
Act and potency (or potential): This tension is always present between what we are today and what our potential is to become until we humanly no more.
Valley of Tears: Despite the gift of redemption given to us by Jesus Christ we are still “Wanders in the valley of tears” with all its suffering, diseases, and calamities.
Running: Deniers of evil, escapism in materialist gains, hopeless optimist or hopeless pessimist, addictions are forms of evading the reality of our metaphysical situation, the reality of suffering, and the answer to handling sorrows with dignity and strength and celebrating life joyfully.
Duality: The duality joy evil and good, sorrow and joy, and all the deviations of life’s situations we continue to challenge us as long as we remain mortal.
Redemption: Despite redemption these dualities still exist. And Jesus’s sacrifice for us redeems our sins today and tomorrow as it did two thousand years ago.
Overlook hope: We can overlook hope in God’s omnipotence, omnipresence, and mercy in the midst of our greatest suffering. We know only our human pain and loss, not the greater picture of a spiritual design beyond our capacity to grasp any good that can come from our misfortunes.
React inadequately: When confronted with duality of life we are often ill-prepared to confront evil, bear loss and mourning, or on the positive side appropriately use graces given to us (wealth, intellect, power, artistic talents, etc.) for the advancement of God’s will. We collapse into our ego-centric vision, detached from our spiritual core, and are set adrift on a raft of misery or self-inflated sense of being the master of our own destiny. If we were spiritually grounded and truly living in proximity to our God, neither great success nor great tragedy would take us away from our faith.
Mourning: The greatest thief of our internal harmony. We are a death-defying culture despite it being rampant around us from heroin use, drunk driving, cancer, heart disease, natural disasters, war, and countless other means. As of 2014 the actuaries have my life expectancy as 2040. Anything short of 2040 upset me greatly. But life and death is not an actuary table. I have only this moment. My two brothers died way before their life expectancy charts as did my Mom and Dad. And yet others that I thought would surely have died a thousand deaths continue to live on. I am unable to comfort the parent who has lost a child with any degree of true compassion. As I read this section on mourning I felt the echoes of many people who have lost loved ones before their time. Only a few were able to truly carry their cross, at least initially, with God as their guide with utmost confidence and security in an eternal life for their departed and a sense of harmony for their own loss. The faith that we carry our whole lives can sometimes be lost of found with the death of a loved one.
Blessed are they who mourn: Aside from developing a deeper relationship with God during times of great mourning and loss we are in a state of mourning continually as long as we are living as we have not achieved the beatific vision of being one with God. The more we become aware of God, the greater our thirst becomes. I cannot have enough grace and consolation. The Sermon on the Mount beatitudes in their simplicity are impregnated with a greater wisdom that escapes the eye.
Spiritual awareness and scripture: In a leisurely fiction book I am reading the author mentioned there are two types of Christians: the first reads the bible to check off superficially they are meeting the required standards of a holy life while the second reads between the lines diving in and looking for their personal failings. This is not from Dietrich’s book, but the moral applies as to how one line from the bible can consume hours of contemplation and soul-searching.
Love so little loved: The greatest gift we have is to love and receive Christ love and we as people, regardless of denomination and faith, do not cherish this capacity to love and be loved with the respect it deserves.
Mourn the suffering Jesus: As followers of Christ we are called to mourn his life and suffering, to understand his sacrifice for us.
Mourn suffering humanity: We cannot ignore the suffering of humanity even if we ourselves are relatively left unscathed.
To evade our cross is to evade Christ: Take up the cross without being a martyr, Take up the cross properly and with God-given strength and perseverance.
Rejoice in Gods redemption: Rejoice in redemption, in God’s grace, and in all the gifts and natural beauty you experience in this life. Rejoice more than you suffer.
These are tall task that Dietrich presents on Holy Sorrow. They can defy human logic and are perhaps unexplainable to the non-believer. I equate Dietrich’s statement that “All suffering when we pick up the cross rightly is transformed to a ray of light” with the mysterious transubstantiation (turning of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ). They are linked these two ideas through the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Christians must interweave life with true sorrow and even greater joy.
May you find God in your times of sorrow and times of great joy. May you confront evil and show mercy whenever you are afforded the opportunity to do so. May you have the strength and fortitude to persevere when it seems as if God is absent and no one is there for you.
Never forget those in need and our calling to fight injustice:
Two men in suits rang my bell today. There was no chime as the battery is dead. In a moment of weakness I ducked my head under a blanket and considered if they were politicians, Jehovah’ Witnesses, or unusual door to door sales men? I peered back out and the two were conversing casually patiently. Now the lead unwanted intruder into my Saturday a.m. peace knocked at the door.
Reluctantly my Christian attitude kicked in and my juvenile inclination to avoid this encounter subsided. Baptist preachers they turned out to be inviting me to their 53rd Anniversary tomorrow. Several steps below my anathema for Jehovah Witnesses these two would be simple to dispatch.
The main doctrinal differences with the Catholic Church are significant but not opposed to the central tenets of our mutual belief in Jesus Christ. Baptist believe in baptism for adults (people ready to fully accept God) versus Catholics that perform infant baptisms. Baptist has a strong message of salvation through faith in God alone whereas Catholics have the same and the rich traditions of the Holy Sacraments. Many Baptist are Catholics who have been re-baptized as adults. There is a further theological split in history between Baptist and Anabaptist. There is no end to the divisions and splinters of Christianity from the great schism in 1054, to the Protestant Reformation, and the very history of the formation of the Roman Catholic Church itself.[i] Our shared history beyond the historical life of Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection is often muddied and convoluted by century’s old theological and religious interpretation – not to mention political influences and outright co-opted churches and religious leaders.
Sometimes people do not want to hear your version of Christianity!
Warm greeting, gratitude for their visit and evangelism to the community, acceptance of pamphlets and wish you a good day was not enough to dispatch these two gentlemen.
The opener debate was do you believe your eternal life (going to heaven) is certain? No, I answered. He answered it is certain if I believe and quoted John 3:17. I knew enough of the bible both old and new to advise him it would be foolish of me to assume with certainty my belief that I had a spot in heaven with certainty and I would deem anyone proclaiming this with certainty foolish as well.
He returned to his certitude for which I am sincerely joyful for him and for his neophyte, if not outright jealous of their confidence. He did acknowledge he could not know but the bible tells him it is so and again quoted John 3:17. On his way the two left I presume feeling somewhat purposeful on having educated and delivered a nugget of salvation to this misinformed Catholic.
Perhaps it is a good thing Catholics generally do not go door to door.[ii] The greatest blemishes of the Catholic Church, aside from pedophile, includes the dark history of persecuting heretics, the holy crusades, inquisitions, anti-semanticist positions, and other grave errors as an institution. Lest we forget we must never error to assume that we possess alone the self-righteous authority to impose our will on others under the name of our God. We remain with at least one solid foot grounded in this earthly existence and with that equal opportunity to perform evil actions contrary to what is divinely defined as living a holy life.
These two were lucky I did not invite them in to my home with my faith’s religious history of addressing non-conformist! Now that they have left safely, I can’t but help take a look at John 3:17:
17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”
Not to compelling with that little word “might” at the end of the sentence. Maybe I should see if they still are on the block? Let me not blot their day and impinge on others receiving a nugget of confrontation with the Baptist and bible scripture.
Holy Mercy: (Chapter 15)
I was not inspired this morning to write on “Holy Mercy,” continuation of my review of “Transformation in Christ” by Dietrich Von Hildebrand (DVH). However, this morning interlude with the door knockers awoke me to the distinction between showing Mercy and Receiving Divine Mercy.
Human Compassion and Mercy:
Dietrich defines for us, to keep things clear, the distinction between mercy and compassion. Compassion presupposes we are equal with the person we are giving comfort and aid to and we are demonstrating we too are like them, we understand and could very well be in their shoes.
Mercy by its nature says I am greater than you! It implies a power differential that simply cannot be ignored. It is the elephant in the room. The fate of one is at the mercy of the other. It can be an uncomfortable situation for both parties.
How do you know if you are even in the position to perform Acts of Mercy? Mercy is to give only if we have the power to effect change in the subject we give our Mercy to and we do so humbly without benefit to ourselves.
It is a unique situation where we do something we are not obligated to do like forgive a debt (unconditionally), feed the poor (without a tax break, social status credit, or other self-interest motive), or forgive a personal injury at the hands of another (like not to prosecute a thief).
It is in its nature pretentious and condescending as we are the sole driver of the action and we in essence take pity on the recipient by showing mercy.
Through these actions, if we demonstrate Mercy towards others, we can get a glimpse of divine mercy.
Active Acts of Mercy and Charity:
“Whenever we have to deal with a person laboring under any kind of inferiority, whether it is moral depravity or intellectual debility, vital deficiency or lack of culture, a misshapen body or grievous poverty, or any sort of social disability – we must not only not enjoy our advantage but painstakingly avoid letting our partner feel his inferiority in any fashion. In charity we must draw him to ourselves so as to extinguish in him all sense of oppression and inferiority.” (DVH)
What is your true instinctual response when confronted with abject poverty, disease, moral depravity, or physical deformities that are neither your responsibility or within your personal or professional calling in life? Do you consider acts of Mercy as often as you can? The Catholic Church in its year of mercy provides 14 examples of works of Mercy:
Now back to the question of the door knockers: Can we be certain of our own eternal life? Without witnessing acts of mercy, receiving mercy, or performing acts of Mercy the path to certainty of eternal life by divine mercy through faith alone is a steep climb.
The Baptist Pastor and I are saying the same thing – without a grounded faith (which if true and genuine beyond throwing coins into the offering plate) we are apt to have no reference to truly believe in eternal life.
The pastor appears on the surface to have greater certainty than me in his redemption and in all likelihood will be judged more favorably than I with regards to his unwavering faith. His evangelical work no doubt re-enforces his faith. He has the knowledge that faith includes deeds and action. For him it is one and the same. Still I believe his certainty is taking for granted the limited nature of human understanding of how God may interpret our worthiness.
I have to turn to James to expand on the “may” term above and put caution to relying on faith alone:
14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food,16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good[a] is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” James 2:14-17
It seems to me faith alone not only short changes one’s long term eternal prospects but also ones immediate sense of purpose as well. What are we without actions and deeds? Our actions and deeds are perhaps the only capital we have to give. Everything else is given to us including our corporeal bodies, the air we breathe and the water we drink.
This is not such a tall task. What if we were to feed many tomorrow? Are we in good standing? The act of feeding the masses can be a noble act, but if done with wrong intention is perhaps worse than doing nothing at all.
Feeding the masses with the purpose to demonstrate to all who could see how good we are while also putting those we have fed in a position of indebtedness to us at the same time? Would this act be showing Mercy?
A criminal can be set free through no action of his own by a presidential pardon. Does President Trump’s string of pardons ring of genuine Mercy?
As it turns out dispatching Human Mercy turns it can be both extremely simple to carry out and equally simple to distort it’s holy purpose. “Mercy is an unmerited act of kindness to someone in need.”[iii]
In some cases to demonstrate Mercy may not benefit the one shown mercy or the one giving it and perhaps even harm others in the process. Mercy by definition contradicts our human measures of justice.
And yet we know it is called for and is honorable to perform acts of mercy when we find ourselves in the position to be able to effect a positive change. Dietrich retells the parable of the prodigal son returning home as an act of Mercy. How much more powerful is mercy when we show it to complete strangers?
Selig sind die Barmherzigen, denn sie werden die Barmherzigheit erlangen by Ernst Barloch, 1916 Lithograph
“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.”[v]
You have signed on and accepted faith and acts are necessary for living a peaceful and holy life. On deeper examination our actions are still hollow if not linked to our understanding of Jesus Christ, the redeemer of our souls, who wiped away original sin and made possible, if we accept through faith his redemption, forgiveness of our multiple sins committed today, yesterday and tomorrow. In essence, if are so fortunate to be able to perform an act of mercy, we are doing so imitating Jesus Christ and the Holy Father, who gave his only son to redeem our souls. And if we were able to imitate Christ in this fashion we would surely perform such acts by “painstakingly avoiding letting our partner feel his inferiority in any fashion.” We ourselves, acting as we think Jesus Christ would want us to act, would by that very framework recognize humbly that our work is not ours, but the divinely inspired plan of God. We would be actualized in holy transformation. And by demonstrating mercy ourselves we open up ourselves to God’s mercy as well.
Our act of mercy would carry with it the power of the holy trinity infusing the act with a ray of love and purity of intent that would be truly transcendent.
If I have learned anything from seeking God, from reading transformation in Christ, from prayer and contemplation it is that I am imperfect and so comprehensively not saintly material. Without Divine Mercy I am hopelessly condemned by original sin (theologically) and by own folly in things trivial and serious. With God’s mercy and forgiveness and my faith and actions in earnest, Mercy is not guaranteed but highly likely if you share my view of God being a loving and personal god.
Dietrich spares only a little ink on God’s mercy. His intent is on how we transform our actions, not presuming to detail God’s infinite omnipresence and mercy in this chapter. However, we are not without guidance from the bible:
With God All Things Are Possible
23 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
25 When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?”
26 But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”[vi]
It would seem that this passage is similar to the message of the door knockers. Despite my actions all things are possible if it is God’s will.
The door knockers, Dietrich’s chapter on Holy Mercy, Sacred scripture, and the various footnoted references have emboldened me to say we can as imperfect people live our lives close to holiness today. Guided by the Sermon on the Mount, open to the Holy Spirit, practicing our faith through prayer and action, and refining ourselves through experiencing both joy and suffering we may be at peace when we lay our heads down in prayer, at day’s end, or life’s end, and have a confrontation with God. We can ask for Mercy tonight and every night before that final day. Hopefully we are not asking for Mercy for the same missteps night after night!
Still there is the nuisance of what it means to receive Mercy. It reminds us that Mercy is totally up to the entity that has the power to give us Mercy. For some of us the act of surrendering to God totally for what is his will (after having done our part to the best of our ability) is not easily done – especially when the outcome involves pain, suffering, loss, or even just minor inconveniences. The book of Job may have a lesson for us or even Jesus’s words on the cross: “Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matt 27:46.
At that the end of the day God may treat us as we have treated others. Perhaps now is the time more than ever to know where to put your trust? And than you will not have to ask me or the Baptist Pastor if we think eternal life is a certainty for the faithful.
Update: 1 John 5:13-15 New International Version (NIV). The Pastor also quoted this to me again the next day…..which is more direct!
13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.
Better yet, where in your life do you have the opportunity to practice Mercy?
It is mildly infuriating that we act and believe we are a merciful people and then as a nation we support politicians, policies, and social agenda’s that are contrary to any vestige of allowing for merciful treatment of arriving refugees or illegal immigrants here in the United States. Our current healthcare and safety net programs are also under vicious attack. We will have our confrontation with God if we seek him in prayer and in our final days. Even if we do not seek him confrontation awaits us at every turn in the immediacy of our every day life and at the end of times. We can choose to move closer to or farther away from God.
In the interim we are called to confront evil and fight for justice wherever we are given a platform and the tools to do so in a manner aligned with our beleifs. The latter baffles many. Too many are rendered silent or misguided in their actions – despite heart felt good intentions. God, have Mercy on us all.
Thank you for visiting my blog. Have a blessed day.
Addendum: I would be remiss to not mention Sister Faustina and her journal in which she records receiving divine revelations: “The message of The Divine Mercy is simple. It is that God loves us – all of us. And, he wants us to recognize that His mercy is greater than our sins, so that we will call upon Him with trust, receive His mercy, and let it flow through us to others. Thus, all will come to share His joy.[vii] Sister Faustina is modern day for us (1930s) relative to other respected Saints and mystics. You could pray for Divine Mercy with the Divine Mercy prayer written by Sister Faustina Kowalkska.[viii]
There is a national shrine of Devine Mercy in Massachusetts carrying her message today. However you need not join the Marians of the Immaculate conception who are seeking to make Sister Faustina a doctor of the church. It is probably safer to stick with the words of Jesus Christ and as close to bible as one can for interpretation and discernment of God’s will. That being said it is difficult to ignore mystics and saints that have had special callings and lived lives that far exceed our imagination as sources of spiritual affirmation and growth.
[v] Matt: 5:7
[vi] Matthew 19:23-30 New King James Version (NKJV)