The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton

The beginning of a new personal spiritual chapter can bring me anticipatory eagerness and anxiety.  Eagerness to deepen my personal relationship to God, to enrich my faith, and to provide me needed sustenance and perseverance in the face of daily adversities.  Anxiety about the time required, the demands presented, and the worthiness of the venture.

Pope Francis gave a nod to Thomas Merton as he cited Merton as being one of four representatives of the American people to turn to for examples of faith and standing up for social justice, equal rights, liberty, and peace.

By Merton’s account he was no saint or model of purity.   Perhaps that he is why valuable as an example;

‘I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers.’ [i]

In an instant you can google Merton and find detractors regarding his motivations to enter the religious life (draft dodger) or his human fallibility pre-monastic life or later in life with a woman named Maggie.[ii]  How do we pair the human side of Thomas Merton with the body of work that he left behind after his accidental electrocution in Thailand in 1968? The irony of death paired with this statement in “The Seven Story Mountain” is perhaps co-incidental, yet unnerving:

“That you may become the brother of God and learn to know the Christ of the burnt men.[iii] 

The book has controversy as well regarding attacks that it was highly edited.[iv]   This was also Thomas Merton’s first major work and later in his life he reflected that it would not be the same today if he was to write it again.  How can I not read his later works to see where his spiritual maturity bought him after such an esteemed start?

My read of this classic was easy going.  He tells his early life story and journey with simple language and clarity within the context of a world driven by strife and a world at war (WW II).   Some compare his conversion story to that of St. Augustine.  His use of Dante’s purgatory mountain for his title is telling.  The battle with human affectations (pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed, and sloth) is a battle for Monks as well as laymen. The duality of action and contemplation in harmony is mindfully present in this story.

ll_purgatory

Seeking God for any of these reasons is bound to fail.  The fragility of seeking spiritual perfection is a path of eagerness and anxiety.  The price is high, the path narrow, and time is short (at least for me).

Merton’s introductory work was worth my investment.  There are too many quotes and insights to re-post here.  Hopefully my Merton journey is providential!   Maybe one day I will visit Kentucky.  If you are familiar with the Thomas Merton Society, The Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, or have a favorite Merton work, please comment and give your insights!

[i] http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/09/24/443126027/in-pope-francis-congress-speech-praise-for-dorothy-day-and-thomas-merton

[ii] http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/thomas-merton-the-hermit-who-never-was-his-young-lover-and-mysterious-death-1.2422818

[iii] Page 462, Seven Storey Mountain

[iv] http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/10/11/bookend/bookend.html

[v] http://www.monks.org/

[vi] http://www.christianhumanist.org/2010/08/dante-2010

 

An Incomplete Unified Theory of the Universe? 

Stephen Hawkins, Thomas Merton, the Grand Canyon, and Ballet bought to me what Science could not deliver alone – A unified theory of existence.   One week in Phoenix provided me with ample time to watch many ballet dancers, see the Grand Canyon south rim (one day), read Hawkins and Merton, and reflect on the meaning of life.

Reflections:

Perhaps the greatest destroyer of faith is science?  No, science by itself is a testament to the order of things – or disorder of things through the application of human ingenuity and genius to all things requiring study and testing.  The meaning of its findings – the application of science is the greatest destroyer of faith.

Religious institutions, political figures, scientist, philosophers, and human beings of all trades have tried to integrate spiritual and scientific evolution since the dawning of time. The human footprint on explaining knowledge (spiritual, philosophical, or scientific) sadly has been corrupted time and time again by savvy soothsayers – some meaning well and some not so well – claiming superior intellect or position with every new revelation.

The study of metaphysics by philosophers used to couple both science and language. Theology also utilized science and language as well to reveal ancient truths and current religious beliefs.

Today, science evolution is beyond the expertise of the philosopher or the theist.  The degree of speciality on every nook of our universe and the changing theories on everything from genetic discoveries to the Big Bang theory and the origin of the universe is beyond the scope of the professional philosopher and theist – never mind layman.

Science:

In Stephen Hawkins classic book, A Brief History of Time, one can have a pretty good glimpse at both the genius of scientist and the incredible leap of imagination they must use to reach theoretical rules of the universe.  Reading Stephen’s review of gravitational forces, electromagnetic forces, and nuclear forces as they relate to the origins of the universe is mind-boggling.

The dynamic tension between the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics is awesome.  It is clear our greatest minds have a depth of knowledge of infinite magnitude relative to the layperson, yet in scope of the universe their collective knowledge fits metaphorically on a quark, the smallest molecular structures they have identified.  Scientist, by ascribing human nomenclature to pre-existing mass within our world, claim ownership of something they did not create.  By naming discoveries that they find, they provide a sense of security and order to a chaotic world.  Stephen’s book is an excellent example of science grappling with the origins of time and theories about our universe.  Three things that leapt out from his writing for me were the following points:

1) The insignificance of our planet relative to the universe is substantial,

2) “We see the universe the way it is because we exist” (the anthropic Principle), and

3) “admit in print when you were wrong.”  (The latter maybe easier for him than for the rest of us as he is not often wrong).

These points speak to our collective lack of humility as a species, our ego-centric view of the universe, and our tendency to hold to our firm beliefs despite presentation of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  The evolution of scientific thought has had many twist and turns and revisions that we excuse as a natural evolution of the scientific method.  Errors are expected and built into the scientific process – as built into its core theoretical constructs.  Many advancements in science are built on creative imagination and human error!  Yet, many are willing to jettison the concept of a “Creator” or a “Godhead” based on scientific revelations. 

Stephen addresses in one chapter three Arrows of time:  Thermodynamic, Psychological, and Cosmological.  He states all three are going in the same direction.  They represent increasing disorder, human memory of the past, and the expanding universe.  Within these paradigms he speaks to religious types response to evolving evolution.  Perhaps a better and more integrating model might include the fourth arrow of time:  the evolution of human spirituality?

Stephen could not provide a unified theory of the universe.  One of our greatest minds leaves us with more questions when it comes to the basic existence of the universe.  His book projected possible ideas.  He even quipped about there being perhaps a “cosmic censorship hypothesis” where “God abhors a naked singularity.”  Meaning the secrets of the universe are hidden in things like black holes.  We cannot seem to find knowledge on what happened before the “big bang” or what would happen after a massive contraction of our universe into a black hole (which would mean our extinction as we know it).

black-hole

Science is amazing and deserves much more respect than what we apply to it these days. At the same time, science should be applied in a manner that is consistent with our philosophical and moral beliefs (theological?).  In essence Science should serve the greater good of humankind and being based on units of “mass” that we did not create – respect the substance of what we are working with in every endeavor.  How should science be serving us?  Can science guide our moral and social mores?

Science cannot answer all:

“Even in the purely natural order, a certain amount of purity of heart is required before an intellect can get sufficiently detached and clear to work out the problems of metaphysics.  I say a certain amount, however, because I am sure that no one needs to be a saint to be a clever metaphysician.  I dare say there are plenty of metaphysicians in hell.” (Page 104 Merton reference)   

Spirituality:

The order and chaos of the universe, scientific advancements, and all the theoretical models of great thinkers do not prove or disprove God.  You are left with your own intuitive senses – your sixth sense, malnourished and under-utilized in today’s frenetic Information Age.  Your sixth sense requires contemplation and the ability to integrate and seek out the meaning of life, utilizing all the scientific and theological advancements at your disposal within an Arc of an Arrow’s flight that matches your fundamental beliefs as a human being.

Thomas Merton’s “The Seven Story Mountain” weaves a path of disbelief to spiritual conversion (Catholicism) in its deepest and most contemplative mystical form.  He is no lightweight in the world of christian spirituality. His writing, thus far, builds on my experience with other great spiritual writers. Spirituality is a lived experience, an unfathomable search and inquiry into the unseen depths of the human spirit.  Some Catholic references are reserved when handling Merton’s material due to his contact and experience with Buddhism.  I look forward to exploring Merton further and there are Thomas Merton Societies worldwide interested in his contemplative spirituality and exhaustive writings.

My measure of spirituality is action and results.  It’s only proof of application is the ability of its practitioners to achieve holy actions and to attract followers by natural magnetism devoid of any coercion, psychological manipulation, linguistic somersaults, or intellectual trickery.

“A soul is an immaterial thing.   It is a principle of activity, it is an “act,” a “form,” an energizing principle.” (Pg 109)

Reading Merton, my experience is deepened that there exist an ability to live in God’s presence, a conscious presence available to you, by willingly sifting through “almost” incomprehensible meta data, sorting the useful knowledge from the useless knowledge, and then applying it judiciously.

I am not blessed with the faith of others whose belief on the outside appears unfaltering and forever constant.  I have not had burning revelations, visions, or thundering voices. I have had moments of grace, unexplained coincidences, and direct prayers answered – not on my timeline, but answered nonetheless.

And as for suffering, suffering has remained in many areas of my life in the past and today.  Our collective suffering today is unbearable for me to contemplate and sit with for any significant amount of contemplation without deep despair overcoming me.  And yet I believe.

My subjective experience cannot prove this to you as Stephen’s metaphysical scientific theoretical constructs cannot nail down the origin of the universe.  It is a Kantian nightmare, an unsolvable dilemma.  The more we know, the less we know, the more questions we have nonetheless.

Like science, theologians have their own language and application of history to paint a picture of God.  Whatever religion or theologian you encounter, aside from historical human events and historical archeological finds, at the end of the day they are left with spiritual imagination and some would say divine inspiration to define and share their understanding of God.  The intersection with science is that great theologians at the end of the day are left with great questions and mysteries as well.

Looking into the Grand Canyon on this trip I was awed at the immensity of the lifeless canyons and depth below my feet.   Science attempts to explain the Grand Canyon and date the rock layers.  Artists paint it.  Story-tellers bring it to life.  Yet, nothing is like standing on the edge and looking out into the canyon.


We hold our positions as Atheist, Buddhist, Christians, Muslims with vehemence despite our hold on absolute truth being narrower than Science, and Science, despite having great gains, at the end of the day is always left with theoretical metaphysics similar to existential philosophy.   I am Catholic.  I believe in judicial use of Science.  I believe my knowledge of science and of the “ultimate” being is wholly inadequate!

What does this mean for me?

“This means, in practice, that there is only one vocation. Whether you teach or live in the cloister or nurse the sick, whether you are in religion or out of it, married or single, no matter who you are or what you are, you are called to the summit of perfection: you are called to a deep interior life perhaps even to mystical prayer, and to pass the fruits of your contemplation on to others.”

The evolution of human spirituality is ongoing.  Today wars are being fought literally and metaphorically in the name of God.  These are man-made, not God-made.  These are of this world, not of the spiritual world.  They are for power, revenge, justice, anger, pride, and many other distorted human needs.

They are not fueled by divinely inspired spiritual imagination, harnessed by serious contemplative prayer, tested by collective human experience, and distilled for authenticity, overtime, stripped of human inserted fallacy.

Ballet:

The Regional Dance Alliance had two thousand aspiring dancers at the Phoenix convention center taking technical classes during the day and performing each night for 6 consecutive days.  I was given the gift of being a parent chaperone.

Ballet demonstrated that soul is “a principle of activity, it is an “act,” a “form,” an energizing principle.”  

Ballet takes the human spirit and expresses it with music and body movement that defies the eye.  The Ballerina is always approaching perfection, and in her imperfection reaches as closely to the heavens as humans can reach.

As I watched these adolescents work out human relationships at the height of performance anxiety or in the tediousness of dance repetitions, the verb of the soul leaped out.  They replicate human experience without words.  Their entire being is given to the art form.  Their collective creates an energy that exceeds the individual contributions.  The successful companies are soul-filled on and off the Marley floor.   At the end of their performance they have given away everything in a moment of time to the audience.  It is no longer their work.  It has either moved the audience or not.  There is relief, but only momentarily, as ballet is a verb, and next performance is already being prepared to build on the experience of the last and the work of countless practices to come.  Permeating all is love of dance.

The Ballet teacher was walking the floor, observing, pointing, correcting, and vocalizing to the dancers, she paused, and yelled out to all:

“Head Reach the Ceiling and Feet Reach the Floor.”


As she demonstrated, it was clear, dancers must remain grounded and yet seek elevation to the heavens.  They are at once respecting gravity and seeking to elevate themselves and the audience.  Everything in between must be attuned to as well – and that requires both muscle memory and contemplation.

The Spiritual Imagination and Science provide us the ceiling to strive for and the floor to ground us.  They are not mutually exclusive and one without the other is folly.  What happens in the middle is Dance.  The Dance of life with all its joy and pain.

In one week, science, spirituality and dance merged for me into a unified theory of the universe in one moment of time.  With the speed of light it has already changed within me and is no longer the same – but nor am I.

 

Trump and Terrorist

Ruminating on the Evils of War and Fighting an Invisible Enemy

Despair 

St. Michael

On the Eve of Battle
God of power and mercy,
maker and love of peace,
to know you is to live,
and to serve you is to reign.
Through the intercession of St. Michael, the archangel,
be our protection in battle against all evil.
Help me [us] to overcome war and violence
and to establish your law of love and justice.
Grant this through Christ our Lord.

Under Donald Trump our nation may be killing more civilians than our Russian adversaries.[i]  This is important, aside from the tragedy of killing innocent people, it undermines our moral high ground.  I cannot see Archangel St. Michael interceding in such actions.  It also arms the enemy with propaganda.

It minimizes the sacrifices our sons and daughters are making every day.  Their sweat, courage, valor, and in too many cases, long-lasting physical and psychological harm cannot be taken for granted.  And that is if they are lucky.

Three troops passed away on foreign soil serving our country last month in Syria, Iraq, and Iraq (Al Anbar Province):  Sgt. 1st class Robert Boniface, Staff Sgt. Austin Bieren, and PFC Brian Odiorne.

data=RfCSdfNZ0LFPrHSm0ublXdzhdrDFhtmHhN1u-gM,uwB_vHK9vIbtQ5tf-iWeDcYaxw2MSRM0f43QBVUZdqE5IZlaocouqHAjJLkfjfCQ5qSITCyO3oy7GqhOK2sSVV9a15_j3DZKN0Fh-88OXeAyZHd6fRwnrQupX57mpdSTXUIwnezQvi0IH

All three are listed as non-combat related by the military times.[ii]  All three have died young in a foreign land.  I felt it important to note the location.  It should not be anonymous.  They should not be anonymous.  For them, their families, and loved ones it does not matter the designation.  We owe them gratitude and support for the ultimate sacrifice.  We owe them more than that as well.  We have to understand and know what war is and why we are at war.  And how we are fighting the war.

Our nation is ramping up war rhetoric on many fronts as we also limit our diplomacy, distance our allies, and create economic tensions that will only elevate the potential for war.  I am not hearing a commander-in-chief stand before the American people and inform us of where we stand.  I am not confident that he is attuned to or has the knowledge of military interventions and strategy necessary to do right by our country and by our troops.   We must demand accountability in a bipartisan manner – not to divide – but to unite a country that is absent a leader.

What do we owe our soldiers?  Their families?  How do we honor them?

Where is the news and accountability for stewardship of our Armed Forces? 

I do not want a country divided when it comes to supporting our troops.  I do not want a single soldier sacrificed unnecessarily.  When they do go to battle I hope people are actively praying for them and for the innocents in harm’s way.    I cannot quite brig myself to pray for the terrorist propagating evil – but I can pray for would be terrorist to not be recruited and curret terrorist to seek a true spirituality not of their own making.

Vietnam was not all that long ago.  A hallmark of Vietnam was not telling the American people the truth of what was happening on the ground. This non-transparent presidency, shrouded in mystery, hidden away behind a golf club wall and twitter account is not honoring our soldiers.

Sometimes we are left with only prayers:

For Hope in the Midst of Destruction
God of mercy,
you know the secrets of all human hearts,
for you know who is just and you forgive the repentant sinner.
Hear my prayer in the midst of destruction;
give me patience and hope,
so that under your protection and with you as my guide,
I may one day be reunited with my family and friends
in peace, tranquility, and love.
Grant this through Christ our Lord.[iii]

However, faith also demands action.

How can we maintain our humanity and spirituality in the midst of political chaos, world-wide proliferation of violence and war, and a nation succumbing to hatred and division?  How do we be defenders of freedom without becoming villains of capitalism and self-interest?  How do we not arm our enemies with yielding the moral high ground and losing our moral authority as a nation that stands for freedom and truth?

Our nation has been at war before our soldiers headed for the battlefield.  We are at war within our own borders for justice, truth, and equality.  We are at war to maintain democracy. And we are at war with international players all too willing to exploit our lack of leadership, antagonize and foster our divisions, and drain our resolve to be engaged in the world.  America cannot afford to be disengaged from the world.

Demand the truth.  Do not be misled by blind nationalism or rhetoric.    Be patriotic by making sure our leaders are exercising prudence and due diligence when sending our sons and daughters to battle.

President Trump is battling to many demons, both real and imagined.  We need leadership in the house, in the senate, in the press, in the military, in the pews, in our living rooms and neighborhoods to demand honesty and transparency from our government.  Without it we will succumb.

[i] https://www.thenation.com/article/under-trump-the-united-states-may-now-be-killing-more-civilians-than-russia/

[ii] http://thefallen.militarytimes.com/

[iii] http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/prayers-and-devotions/prayers/prayer-for-troops.cfm

 

Providence, Powerlessness, and Purpose

April 1, 2017

Today I find myself in control of my destiny.  My will and determination is paramount and the world is at my disposal.  If any frustration arises in me at their denseness, I recognize that not all can be blessed with the wisdom that I have attained and patience is the rule of the moment when faced with brothers who remain obstinate to my will and my ideas.  I am kind in all my ways, compassionate when called to be, selfless in all my actions, and next to my fellow-man, as perfected in spiritual attainment as near perfection any human may achieve.  I need not pretend to enunciate how I have achieved this elevation, for to do so, would be contrary to my deep seated humility.  Suffice it to say, I have arrived at my pre-destined place, at one with God’s will, forgiven and renewed in the spirit, never to stray again on the path of un-holiness.   And this I do of my own free will and sheer determination as gifted to me by grace of God.

“In all ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”[i]

Today is April 1, 2017, by some it is called a national holiday for all atheist.  I do not begrudge atheist or humanists that are able without the aid of a higher power to live a life as close to moral perfection as humanely possible.  I am a humanist by nature, a philosopher by spirit, and an amateur theologian by self-appointment.    That is not enough for me to live the life that I believe mankind is destined to pursue.  Left to my own devices and self-deception I will fail to my own subliminal definition of self that although not as grandiose as the first paragraph, nonetheless is elevated above the reality of my actions and in defiance of my inherited and self-created limitations.    The chasm between the two will create a separation between me and my fellow man, between me and my God, that ultimately will bring chaos and failure to fruition if left to my own devises.

In earnest I am speaking about the dynamism of Providence versus Free Will.  We are powerless in the face of forces of nature, manmade circumstances beyond our control, and the limitations within our genetics and psychological make up that provide us certain strengths and limitations.  For us believer’s, we are also aware of a certain sense of pre-determination, which ultimately if some outcome is God’s will it will be done.  In the face of Providence and Powerlessness that is undeniably present in the human condition it could be easy to lose all hope and drive to pursue individual and collective action to fulfill a calling or life purpose.    When confronted with suffering on so many existential levels and deep rooted soul felt pain, it is easy to abandon Providence or Free Will or both.

The reality is today, April 1, 2017, I find myself in doing everything in my power to do God’s will, not mine.  My will and determination is important but only if it is informed and aligned with God’s will.  Patience is the rule of the moment when faced with brothers who remain obstinate to my will and my ideas while allowing for the possibility and in many cases the likelihood, that it is my own obstinacy that creates frustration and disappointment. I strive to be kind in all my ways, compassionate when called to be, and selfless in all my actions – but I am far from spiritual attainment and perfection.  Pride and humility are a constant dance in my head that color my actions in shades of hue that cannot be defined with any self-assurance of accuracy.

In the face of adversity we are called to make informed decisions and act on these decisions with a ferocity and commitment commensurate with the challenge before us.    What challenges are you facing today?  What is God’s will for you with this challenge?  What is your decision?  What actions do you have to take today?  Who can help you validate your thinking and your plan are in-line with your reality or with God’s intentions?

If you are facing a challenge today, may you find the help you need, the resources at hand, a decision to act in accordance with your destiny, and find serenity in your life:

serenity

[i] Proverbs 3:6

Saints

Pope Francis has taken steps to canonize Fatima Siblings (https://nyti.ms/2mW3nYl) according to New York Times article.  Do you believe in Saints?  The Devil?  The Fatima Siblings had visions and drew thousands of Christians to the Village of Fatima.  There is even a mystery of prophecy by Sister Lucia – the one to escape an untimely death – providing three predictions that many believe came to fruition – one of which may have saved Pope John Paul’s life.  I have sought counsel on modern-day visionaries – and the best advice I got seemed to be focus on Christ – if a message helps me focus more on Christ as a tool, okay, but don’t get lost seeking modern-day miracles – the Miracle was given to us on the Cross.

None the less there remains in Christology messages about the end of times (Eschatology) and the final battle.

Final Battle

Sister Lucia spoke to that as well.  Let’s place the word “Saint” aside.

Have you ever met a person who exudes humility and spirit?  Have you read about great martyrs and sacrifices?

There are heroes among us living their lives so close to the image of God, as imprinted deep within their souls, that we can be rendered speechless by their devotion, steadfastness, and courage.  They are all around us if you look, performing small and large miracles, invisible to the unsuspecting eye, silently passing you on the street, perhaps with a smile or merely a focused precision walk that announces purpose and fiery determination.    They are humans with their heart and soul given fearlessly to be used by their God to heal, to love, to serve others.  Some of them may have been blessed with visions or moments of grace that defy imagination.

I don’t know about prophecies, or mystics, or saints.  What I do know is people among us have the power of the Holy Spirit within their core and are preparing for the final battle now, preparing the  battlefield for us all.

The spiritual imagination and contemplative life can bring you places you never thought possible.

“Catholics are not required to believe in even the most approved and venerated private revelations, but many of us choose to do so. Does this battle relate to the famous discourse Pope Leo XIII was alleged to have heard in a vision between Christ and Satan, which led him to compose the prayer to St. Michael? How long the final battle will last, and what will come after? (http://www.onepeterfive.com/sister-lucia-final-confrontation-between-the-lord-and-satan-will-be-over-family-and-marriage/)”

Thanks for reading my mystical rambling.

The Benedictine Option

st-benedict2

On February 17, 2017 the Wall Street Journal printed a story by Ian Lovelett entitled:  “Wary of Modern Society, Some Christians Choose a Life Apart.”[i]  There is a movement here in the United States that mirrors monastic communities of early Christian times.  The actual rules of a Benedictine Monastery are quite exhaustive.  However, these families are choosing to set up Christian communities near Monasteries and model life on Christian values absent the temptations of secular life found in American communities.

What are these families seeking in pursuing the Benedictine Option?  St. Gregory described St. Benedict this way:

“the model of a saint who flees temptation to pursue a life of attention to God. Through a balanced pattern of living and praying Benedict reached the point where he glimpsed the glory of God.”[ii]

If you have never escaped to a spiritual retreat that provides solitude and prayer I recommend you read and consider an Ignatian retreat center.  An excellent book I have recommended (link below) prior can provide an at home retreat for 8 weeks.[iii]  How many of us can pick up, purchase land near a monastery, and find it possible to live the agrarian lifestyle successfully?

We do not need to flee from the United States, from our communities, from other Christian denominations, from Muslims, Jews, Atheist, Progressives, Liberals, and Conservatives.  Living in a secular society, if you have not been called to the priesthood or monastic lifestyle, is a calling in and of itself.  We live amongst non-believers and fellow believers to perform our calling while simultaneously living our faith as witnesses to Christ.

How do we do that as today’s gospel (February 19, 2017) calls for us to “reprove your fellow-countryman firmly and thus avoid burdening yourself with a sin.”[iv]  We have been far from flawless in this regard.  We have stepped way past reprove to being judge, jury, and hangman on many occasion – thus committing countless sins in the name of Jesus Christ.

ingnorant-reprove

Globalization trends, extreme politics, and scarcity of resources are leading people to make superficial decisions.  Today a segment of our society driven by Christian evangelization is attempting to codify via civil law our beliefs and to impose them on others rather than “reproving” sinners by preaching our beliefs (our churches and leaders) and living our beliefs as witnesses thru “a balanced pattern of living and praying.”  At a high level our policies are not supporting our beliefs and our trust in faith and God’s intimate knowledge of each one of us.  If we did we would not have our current President in chief be able to retain the modest popularity he has based on his “wall plans,” anti-immigration plans, lifestyle, and a host of other issues best left unmentioned here.

If we were confident in our faith we would be able to humbly reprove without the insecure need to demonize and attack non-believers.   As we have seen time and time again, when we are living the true faith non-believers will rise in insecurity to demonize our actions.  We must be prepared to not fall into the trap of committing the same sin.

reprove

We do need to reprove our politicians and fellow citizens.  I reprove abortion in general (not women) though I do not pretend to know the circumstances (medical, spiritual, psychological, economic, rape) or the depth of God’s mercy and intentions.  I reprove our nation’s decision to dismantle health care that helps the poor, to apply indiscriminate and harmful immigration actions for votes, to build a wall when we can be building humanity, and many other systemic injustices.   I reprove policy and presidential actions and words that through either active collusion or incompetence continue to promote racism, sexism, and religious intolerance.  I reprove our highest public servant directing his energies at serving the wealthy and his associates despite campaigning to do the opposite to help the poor and middle class.

However, at a deeper level, spiritual pursuit starts with me – not with the elected class.  Do I know that I am God’s temple and that God’s spirit dwells in me?[v]   How many times have I poisoned by body with alcohol or other acts of gluttony?  How many times have I filled my mind with other sins of the spirit (pride, greed, lust, glutton, wrath, and sloth)?

Take a look at Dante’s Inferno archetype descriptions art for each of these trap doors.  Or better yet take this fictional test:  http://www.4degreez.com/misc/dante-inferno-test.mv

dante

Now, Dante’s work is one of literary imagination- not spiritual or religious dogma.  But if you dared take that test – did it get you thinking a little more objectively about your balanced living and pray life?

How many of us put our own desire for status, financial security, power above the needs of people less fortunate than us through the arms of our nation’s wealth and might?  To be honest, in the short-term, Donald’s plan may benefit me financially in net pay.  However, it is devastating my spiritual beliefs in protecting the vulnerable in our society and the immigrants seeking refuge or already here.  Perhaps a 30 day Benedictine Monastic Month would be good for our nation!  That not being possible – all change starts with the smallest unit.  Me.

However, the family unit is a monastic unit of faith.  It is a calling.  Within our communities if the family units are living the faith, we will have a society and market that caters to that faith without the need for coercion or mandate.  By faith and individual and family action of living the word of God within our own walls we can carry the word of God.  And in our communities we can be replenished and supported by the church.  How many house hunters prioritize visiting the church before evaluating the schools, transportation, crime rates, and other factors that make communities important to us?

We know these things.  That our faith is dependent on our individual lives, family lives, and church being in order. Yet we look to our government, education system, and media to make it easy for us.  We expect them to do the hard work while we hypocritically are consuming the very things we rally against.  Fleeing to another land will not eliminate the turmoil within our own souls or within our church.

flight

So we find ourselves in a secularised community here in the United States.  Internationally people are dying today for their beliefs in Jesus Christ.  Our human inclination is fight or flight.

fight-or-flight

Today’s gospel has some advice on this topic:

“You have heard that it was said, `An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, `You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.[vi]

The magnitude of seeking perfection in a secular society is the hardest challenge of mankind.  It is what we are called to do with humility and steadfastness.  We may not be able to escape to a hermitage and probably have not been called to do so.  However, nothing wrong with taking refuge for a minute, an hour, a weekend in contemplative prayer when the seven temptations are at the door.

contemplatative

[i] https://www.wsj.com/articles/communities-built-on-faith-1487349471

[ii] http://www.osb.org/gen/benedict.html

[iii] http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-spiritual-exercises/an-ignatian-prayer-adventure

[iv] 1 Corinthians 3:16-23

[v] Corinthians 3:16-23

[vi] Matthew 5: 38 to 48

 

Cathedral Basilica, Philadelphia

alter

A minor Basilica located in the heart of Philadelphia, originally built for 75,000 , now is facing a roof repair that cost upwards of 14 million dollars! It is a national historic landmark, a museum, and soon to be home of a shrine for St. Katherine Drexel (http://www.katharinedrexel.org/), and is also an active but aging parish.  
After mass today my wife and I enjoyed a tour of the church.  What a wonderful and instructive tour.  The church, aside from its own splendor, is also a repository of sculptures and artwork from smaller churches that have ceased to be.  As the Catholic church as seen diminishing numbers and the cost of maintaining churches has sky rocketed, valuable and impressive church artifacts are found new homes, including moving saints crypts.   

The mass was classical in style and included beautiful music played on the fourth largest organ in the city:  

organ

Afterwards the artwork and many alcoves tell so many stories of our faith.  Historically art was a way of storytelling and communicating the faith – etched in glass, ceramic, or painted on walls and ceilings.   

ceiling

 

I was also able to sit in the same chair as Pope Francis did when he visited and said Mass on Ben Franklin Parkway.  I think it’s the robes that gives him the air of authority and grace!    
A common theme in my writings always returns to a principal.  A principal I try to teach to up and coming social workers as well.  Often, it is not the words or the glamour of the presenter, the oration or eloquence, the skill level or technique – but genuine compassion, demonstrated empathy, and consistent authenticity.   How are we living today.  Are the American people and our elected leaders practicing genuine compassion, demonstrated empathy, and consistent authenticity?   Pope Francis has challenged us on several fronts as individual Christians and as a nation that we are not living or acting as a Christian nation in the areas of compassion, economic stewardship, social welfare, environment, and many other intrinsic values of Christianity.  Christianity is so much more than Pro-Life – and he has criticized us on that too in many dimensions regarding the value of life on all fronts.  
The church has frequent homeless individuals hiding in the confessionals to get some sleep and un-harassed peace.  The a.m. mass before ours had a homeless person taking one of the contribution baskets and fleeing out with a few dollars in the middle of mass – a common problem in this church that has its share of homeless and impoverished people in the community.   One statue requires a rosary bead to be present – it is replaced daily as it is always taken by visitors to the church. People are desperate and hungry for grace and for food, housing, shelter.  
My thoughts and prayers to the immigrants we are shunning, to the homeless we are ignoring, to the poor who are hungry, and to the spiritually starved who have lost faith in humanity and in God.   I pray with tears in my eyes that we as a nation find humility in our hearts, courage to accept the risk of being true leaders, and strength to demand we treat all people with dignity.   

Here is one of today’s readings.  Read and Reflect if you have time:

Reading 2, First Corinthians 1:26-31
26 Consider, brothers, how you were called; not many of you are wise by human standards, not many influential, not many from noble families.
27 No, God chose those who by human standards are fools to shame the wise; he chose those who by human standards are weak to shame the strong,
28 those who by human standards are common and contemptible — indeed those who count for nothing — to reduce to nothing all those that do count for something,
29 so that no human being might feel boastful before God.
30 It is by him that you exist in Christ Jesus, who for us was made wisdom from God, and saving justice and holiness and redemption.
31 As scripture says: If anyone wants to boast, let him boast of the Lord.

 http://cathedralphila.org/about/about-the-cathedral/

 
http://cathedralphila.org/