Aquinas’ Shorter Summa (Part III:  The Humanity of Christ – The Second Treatise on Faith)

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The sins of Adam, the first parent, have been transcended to us as his descendants including suffering and death.  It is not that God has punished us by an addition – but merely withdrew his blessing and left us with our base selves.  Is this “Original Justice” for eternity until the end of time anyway for a just God to act?   Did it really take 4000 years for God to figure out how to reach mankind by sending his only son, the great Redeemer, Jesus Christ?  And why did not the great Redeemer not only lift “Original Sin” but lift and restore us to original mint condition – with eternal life and an end to suffering?

I cannot answer my own critique of this biblical narrative successfully with resounding confidence – no less explain the faith to the unbeliever.  Christology has answers within its theological system – which Thomas Aquinas thoughtfully described before he gave up writing all-together, perhaps recognizing the impossibility of truly representing the Holy Trinity with human language.

The take away of this second treatise on Faith is the Incarnation of Jesus Christ (human body, true rational soul, and perfect deity), born of the Virgin Mary, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born, suffered and died for our salvation.

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Aquinas delves into the heresy’s and errors of his time and painstakingly answers and clarifies the mystery of the faith amid much controversy.  The questions raised back than are just as pertinent today. As cradle Catholics we may fall into error in just accepting or taking for granted our beliefs as we have been taught by tradition and scripture.   This is a grave error and risk.  Our living faith is not meant to remain at the level of an infancy narrative or elementary school rote memory of church history.  We are called to progress within our life times as well as from generation to generation.  But are we ready for his calling?

“My Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me.  Never the less, not as I will, but as thou will.”

If you pray what Jesus prayed, with awareness of its potential consequences and full commitment to integrating God’s will as best you can discern, life at once is exponentially more joyful and frightening.  Spiritual enlightenment comes with both joy and suffering.

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I could answer the questions above – but they would only invite more questions, and the answers to those the same, and so on to eternity.  It is unfathomable.   That does not mean God and the Holy Trinity do not exist much the same as atoms and particles exist despite that I cannot discern them with the naked eye.  It is just as difficult to disbelieve as to believe in God – both require a leap of faith at the end point of human inquiry (after exhausting all scientific, philosophical, theological, and historical artifacts at our disposal).   It is an unbearable reality that the more we know, the more we become aware of how much we do not know.  Yet, we have a natural calling to pursue and have intimate knowledge of all that is knowable and unknowable.

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This “dumb ox” named Thomas Aquinas, was born about 1225 A.D.  He is recognized as one of 35 Doctors of the Church.  “The whole basis of his thought is this:  If it is wrong to give up the Faith for the sake of reason, it is also wrong to give up reason for the sake of the faith.”

In public dialogue it is nearly impossible to dialogue on the essence of our faith as we see it through the eyes of man today and by the sins of our fellow man, sadly our clergy, and our own shortcomings.  The volumes of debris we have littered amidst our holy traditions and teachings is strangling the true essence of our faith.   So sometimes we have to reach back in time in addition to reading scripture.

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The final take away:  Thomas Aquinas was known to pray before he wrote and to ask God’s guidance.  Whatever your calling in life, this sounds to me like a great take away before you go off to perform your calling each day and as you retire at the end of the day.    Knowing your calling requires knowing your faith – both theologically and through a personal relationship with God.

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Thanks for visiting.

Profit driven economies

If we were purely driven by animal instinctual needs and life and death were solely driven by survival of the herd decisions this would only be a sad consequence of natural selection and unfortunate gene mutation. It is a significant financial drain on the family and society to provide for a person with Down’s syndrome over a lifespan. It is evident, however, whether you acknowledge a God or not, that we are superior to the animal kingdom and have the capacity to love and nurture beyond the narrow scope of survival instincts.

The story below is evidence of an entire nation deciding to end life before it starts based on avoiding emotional hardship and financial inconvenience. The reality is our society and the global economy has financial markets that are written and codified to serve profits, not people. If our markets were designed to serve people — the poor, the medicallly compromised, the disabled, and other vulnerable groups would not be seen as hardships but as equals among us. It is easy to condem an individual that aborts a life. I believe we all are condemned by failing to have a market driven system that works to serve all humanity rather than the few. It is not a utopian ideal.

It is individual and societal selfishness and conceit that continues to perpetuate the myth that we are better than the “other.” That our status in life is somehow driven by our own individual accomplishments forgetting the graces bestowed on us that may have fostered our success.

If given arbitrary power over who lives and who dies where does the line get drawn? If given arbitrary power to to say who has access to healthcare, food, housing, and clean water – who decides. We have that power today and are failing as individuals and as a society to wield our superior morality and human capacity by drawing the line in favor of our own perceived wealth. You know it in your heart – but are besieged by justifications, beholden to tribal beliefs of your political party and social status, driven by fear of loss, and to cowardly oriented to face the immensity of our collective failures. I have been down the road of self-justification. I have also been down the road of “it is beyond my control.” Both are unacceptable options as human beings with a moral conscience. Especially Christian Republicans and Democrats.

Most do not grasp the arbitrary nature of our market economy despite historical lessons of wealth being wiped out overnight. Without safety nets for built into our markets people’s hearts close up in fear and shun the vulnerable, sometimes in mass. Where do you draw the line?

https://www.americamagazine.org/politics-society/2017/12/04/patricia-heaton-iceland-isnt-eliminating-down-syndrome-they-are-just

Aquinas’ Shorter Summa (part two through page 211: on death, heaven, hell, purgatory, providence)

For a man’s desire comes to rest in the knowledge of God Alone (pg. 121)

 

I seek safety in certainty while existentially acknowledging the folly of assuming any permanence or security in my immediate state of being.  And yet with all my force of will, well to be honest not all my force of will, perhaps not even the majority of my will, maybe even a little less than a minority stakeholder position?  Sorry, I am on a tangent of self-condemnation on the amount of my time spent on habitual activities that I take for granted, omissions of actions that may be pleasing to God, and overall expenditure of my will towards worldly goods and achievements.  What was I saying?

With good intentions I set out each day to avoid being “evil” and to be as closely as possible living up to my God-given potential to be good.   In essence Aquinas points out that if we successfully do not allow evil to impinge our good character – evil is non-existent.  A little tongue twister of Aquinas puts it this way:

 

“To be evil, however, is not good, in fact,

not to be evil is included in the notion of good.  

Therefore no nature is an evil.” (pg. 126)

 

Thomas spends page after page on Good and Evil laying out that no human being is essentially evil.  At our core every human being is good.  It is the “privation” of good that allows evil in and gives life to evil actions – but at our core we are all in God’s image.  Much time is spent on this as it is core to understanding our predicament as a human lot.  We cannot simply condemn a man as pure evil or pure other despite his evil actions – no matter how horrendous and apparently evil they may be.  This inclination is so very tempting.  In the shadows of a Jeffrey Dahmer, Adolf Hitler, fallen priests who have abused their vows, and countless other predators, surely my little transgressions are invisible in the scheme of humanity.  

No, they are not invisible to God or to me.  They condemn me here in this life and if I don’t stand up and try to cleanse them here they will condemn me for eternity.  We create our own mental prisons and misery here on earth and we prepare our eternity at the same time.  

In the midst of my battle with striving to be good enters in the whirlwind of living in a mortal body, within a secular world, alongside believers and unbelievers, striving to live a holy life, while being battered by the defects of my nature and that of my fellow-man.  

Throw on top of that Seraphim, Cherubims, Thrones, Principalities, Powers, and Archangels seeking to support and ensure Divine Providence and I am reduced to a molecule within a teardrop adrift in the oceans of man’s misery.   Thomas Aquinas demonstrates for me how terribly inept man’s language is at deciphering free will, fate, and Divine Providence within the contraries of Good and Evil lurking within our beings.

 

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There is much talk of God’s angels working with things that must necessarily happen and things that are contingently actionable.  In other words, God has great respect for our free will – and hence allows the permission of evil.  I am of course skimming over a few droplets of the Saints painstaking proofs and philosophical treatise on Catholic thought and actions. Wrap your head around this dialectical pearl:  

 

“If evil were completely excluded from things, much good would be rendered impossible.  Consequently it is the concern of Divine Providence, not to safeguard all beings from evil, but to see to it that the evil which arises is ordained to some good.”

 

A morally right man right now is facing pain and the rigors of old age.  The suffering he has is not due to an individual defect of character by my estimation, but by our souls being connected to our corporeal bodies.   We by original sin have forfeited life free from suffering. A man I do not know named Mark made his wife a walking stick.  His wife was at the Dover Nascar race just but a few days ago.  I was drawn to the walking stick as I have made a few in my day.  I complimented the stick and its size, strength, and artistry and said tell your husband a man who has made many sticks admires his work.  She looked to her friend and smiled as her eyes glazed.  They both turned to me, still smiling, but eyes watered, and told me he had passed.  I promised to say a prayer for Mark after getting his name and they disappeared hand in hand into the crowd a little bit lighter than before stopping by the trailer I where I was selling Nascar merchandise.  

We by original sin have also forfeited eternal life as mortals.  I struggle with the reality of original sin, suffering, and death raining misery on me and my fellow-man centuries after the creation story.    

And in these two cases, pain and death, it is not evil per se even though we may error in calling it so, but merely a defect of nature that our mortal bodies slowly give way.  I pray and ask you, the reader, to pray for the morally right man to have the strength to face his pain or for God to alleviate it according to God’s plan.  I pray and ask you to pray for Mark and for his widow with the walking stick.  In my heart I truly believe both men have “arch angels” watching over them, guiding them along divine providence’s path.  It is hard to draw good out of these real situations, but I know good comes out of the suffering caused to these men and their loved ones.  Yet I cannot explain it to you.  I diverged here into real life, right now.  It is easy to get lost in the words of Thomas Aquinas as a theological and intellectual exercise.  Our faith is not a faith of dead letters.  There is application and meaning today as much if not more so than there was 2000 years ago.  

And then there is the greater evil of man renouncing his goodness by accepting evil into his heart and acting on such inclinations.  Whether it be me acting in an evil manner or me being the recipient of evil acts I have struggled as well with God’s seemingly passive presence.  I remember my anger as a kid when I was losing a fight with three boys.  After sometime I eventually got pinned to the floor.  I looked across the street and saw my grandfather just standing there watching with my dog Butchie (or rather his dog!).  Only then did he signal and my dog from a sitting position ran across the street and rather gently knocked off my attackers.  Does God passively watch what we can handle first?  

We simply do not have the ocular vision of God.  I know what my Grandfather was doing.  He believed men must be men and must learn from every situation.  He let me learn until there was nothing else left to learn before freeing my dog to help.  This is an innocent boyhood story.  The suffering of man at the hands of others is too gruesome and horrific to detail here.  It is beyond my spiritual imagination to easily accept a passive God in the face of such atrocities.  Why, I do not know.  I should know as his only son for our redemption died a death by crucifixion and lived a life where his closest allies would betray him.    

I do not have to worry about unjustly being condemned for original sin – I have acquired my own list of blights on my essential goodness that call for God’s mercy as well.  Aquinas deftly defines the intersections of Sin, Grace, and Eternity.  It frightens me to think I will receive justice for my actions as fixed by Divine Providence either here on earth or in the hereafter!  

 

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My reading of Aquinas stresses to me the logic and passionate need to make amends for my sins now as best I can if I have not already done so and to avoid to the best of my ability future transgressions.  If I am open to assistance, Aquinas says “rational creatures are given divine aids that are not merely proportionate to nature but transcend the capacity of nature.”  Thank goodness, for my nature and my intellect are woefully shorthanded in the fight between good and evil.  It is not that I am a woefully evil man that frightens me – it is the mere sense of powerlessness over any suffering that awaits me!  

And now Thomas Aquinas addresses Death and Bodily Resurrection.   Again words I believe fail us.  Nevertheless he depicted for me a philosophical and theological treatise in fifteen pages that details the logical conclusion of the reunification of the corporeal body, our intellect, and out soul.  

He draws from the Creed, from the bible, and from philosophy and describes our essential essence rising and being united – no more, no less, according to a count predetermined by Divine Providence.  This section ends with final consummation of man in eternity – where are found to be in perfect repose, integrated and arrived in a state of immobility – no longer vulnerable to human desires, but fully at rest and peace in God’s eternity.    But when will this day come?

 

“So, once the number of men who are to be bought into being for eternal life is filled out and they are actually established in the possession of eternal life, the movement of the heavens will cease, just as the motion of any instrument ceases after a project has been carried through to completion.” (pg. 195)

 

In the meantime, Saint Aquinas gives us a picture of Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory.  In my spiritual imagination, despite having read the Dante’s Divine Comedy, I have always struggled with the spiritual concept of purgatory, much less hell.  The latter is for other people, not I says my inner voice.  

I imagine myself being acceptable to God relatively speaking to the history of mankind – with ample expectation of God being a loving and merciful God.   Aquinas seems to imply it is not necessarily how we started the journey towards our end, but where we finish the race:  

 

“Accordingly, the soul will remain perpetually in whatever last end it is to have set for itself at the time of death, desiring the state as the most suitable, whether it is good or evil.”  (pg. 201)

 

The after-death life is difficult to convey and perhaps indefinable for mankind beyond glimpses of grace or revelation as provided to us by prophets, saints, and inferences from the scripture.  Much has been written about the book of Revelation as well as the end of times.  I find it most useful to have utmost reverence for what I cannot understand (eternal life and timeless God) and to focus on what is most attainable here on earth as evidence of spiritual truths.  

It is evident to me that no amount of worldly possessions, power, or praise can fill man’s desire to know and be in proximity to God.   Everything we touch here on earth is temporal.  Almost everything we accomplish or come to own immediately begins to depreciate once obtained or create anxiety at fear of loss.  

I say almost everything as we live mostly according to worldly concerns and driven by worldly measurements.  It does not have to be so.  When we are able to see the essence of things according to their proper value relative to our desire and pursuit of holiness everything becomes aligned with Godliness.  

Examine your life and your possessions through the eyes of God and eternity and weigh your spiritual assets as closely as your material wealth.  How does your balance sheet weigh today?  Wait – how can we measure ourselves through the eyes of God?  We cannot.

We can however meditate on the beatitudes and how open we are to living our lives in concert with the Holy Spirit and the essence of each beatitude.  The challenges posed by each of the statements following “Blessed are” can be an eye-opening experience, a reflecting pool if you will, of our openness and cooperation with God’s graces.  True happiness can be found in them here on earth – while acknowledging human suffering will remain with us as long as we remain mortal.  

This ends my import and reflection on the “First Treatise on Faith” from the Shorter Summa by Saint Thomas Aquinas.  (Pages 9 – 211 in two parts).      Before I could finish this post the man suffering from pain was called home by a God. His family has come together to mourn and celebrate his life.

While sadness and tears are abundant they are for our loss. He is in a good place. As we work, live, play, and love, our obituary is being prepared, our place after death being reserved.  It is hard to fathom this in our human perspective as it was hard to believe that Jesus could raise Lazarus from the dead.  This is the nature of our suffering here on earth – a search for connection to the eternal truth, to God, and to our place in eternity.  We cannot fully realize this mystery until death comes for us as well.

 

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Human Suffering – The Answer?

The first words to greet me this morning:

You are wretched wherever you are and no matter which way you turn –

This was not the inspiration I was seeking this morning from morning prayer.  I have a moderately stressful job of which sometimes I feel ill-suited for, financial woes as most everyone else, and loved ones near and far facing illness, stress, and mortality.   Most of us are able to carry on, sometimes in silence, and sometimes with much complaining and perhaps even cursing.  I am cognizant of our wretchedness as a human race – but reading this first thing in the morning was a spear into my heart and renewed revelation of worldly concerns versus striving for a holy life.  In the latter realm we are pretty wretched.

“Now is the time for good works, now is the time to fight, now is the time to make reparation for sins of the past.” 

 I met a regular guy yesterday who said he fears nothing nowadays, he gives it all to God, his faith is stronger than his fears, and he expects things to go wrong all the time.  He simply said that is life.

These references are from chapter 22 of the Imitation of Christ which you can get free at many different resources (pdf. or for kindle)  http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1653.

I don’t generally have time to write in the a.m. but this chapter “nailed” the meaning of suffering, no pun intended.  It is part of our life as mortals the more we become spiritually aware.  Thomas A. Kempis and the regular guy yesterday are onto something.

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An incomplete look at Homosexuality and Catholicism (unfiltered)

An open letter to LGBQT people and Catholics at large;

It is my belief that sexual orientation is predominately biologically determined.    It is my belief that the church has arrived at the position that they accept people are born with sexual orientations that do not conform easily to the church’s teaching.   I will at the outset apologize to the LGBQT community as I will focus here on homosexuality knowing full well this term does not capture the differentiation and complexities of the LGBTQ community.

The historical presence of homosexual beings before and after Christ and its prevalence in cultures throughout the world cannot be denied.  The church has taken the position that sexual orientation is not in and of itself evil or sinful.  The church does teach that to act on such orientation is to commit a sin and further defines such actions as being due to a “disordered condition.”

Most readers will not get to the end of this post.  LGBTQ are often subject to discrimination and sometimes outright violence.  We are entrenched in a cultural war that often muddies the essence of humanity and the incarnate word.  It is important that our faith not contribute to discrimination and violence against LGBQT people and that we stand up for social justice for all oppressed peoples.  Two Church leaders have raised controversy by preaching greater openness and embracing LGBQT people.

Perhaps some aspects of the writings and references below will open up a new window of opportunity for us all.

Science:  Psychology, Psychiatry, Biology

Our two highest scientific entities in the United States on human behavior are the American Psychological Association and American Psychiatric Association.  Both have arrived at the conclusion after decades or research and empirical study that homosexuality is a normal form of human sexuality.  The APA writes “Same-sex sexual attractions, behavior, and orientations per se are normal and positive variants of human sexuality – in other words they do not indicate either mental of developmental disorders.”

The puzzle of sexual orientation from a biological position still remains unclear, however evidence points to genetic factors predetermining orientation across cultures.  So, one can reasonable understand that being homosexual is actually quite natural both psychologically and biologically speaking.  If you have evidence to the contrary that is scientifically proven and peer reviewed please share it with my readers.  The church recognizes there is much it does not understand and cannot speak to regarding homosexuality and the variances of sexual orientation.

That does not alleviate the moral question.  We have natural instincts that sometimes serve us very well – and sometimes not so well when applied in the wrong situation.  Primal drives and meditating primal drives are what somewhat separates us from the animal kingdom.  Unfortunately, we as individuals and as a collective society grossly fail to moderate our primal individual drives or our collective herd mentality (sometimes today referred to tribalism).  The more sophisticated among us can dress up the latter in socially acceptable terms and code words, but underneath it all, have fallen into a secretive attack on “others” not like us for the preservation of our sense of self-worth or actual worth.

Biblically speaking: 

Rightly so, the church has moved on to sexuality and acts of sexuality.  The biblical references of the Old Testament for the purposes of this writing I am throwing out altogether.   As Christians we should be able to define our traditions and beliefs as originating from the New Testament.  It is the most recent and last word of God provided to us from his Son, Jesus Christ.

The number of direct writings in the New Testament are very few and often they are right there with many other sins including the various forms of lust exercised by non-LGBQT people.  The essence is LGBTQ and straight people performing acts of sexuality out of lust or other disordered ideas is sinful.

Ideally, we would all be chaste and living the lives of saints here on earth.  Furthermore, our chaste lifestyles would not hinder procreation or result in other unwanted or disordered secondary issues (mental health, isolation, loneliness, self-harm, harm of others, etc.). This is in its purest form pursuit of Catholic beliefs and living a holy life.  Shy of that by an inch or by miles and we are on the path of imperfection, and yes sometimes grave sin.

Consider that 3% of Americans wait until marriage to have sex (successfully).  Three percent of the US population may seem like a small number, but that represents nearly 10,000,000 people.  We need to recognize what we are facing when we recommend a chaste lifestyle – and now consider recommending a lifetime of chastity if the person happens to be homosexual.

It is overwhelming to write on this subject despite my sexual orientation being congruent with my faith.  Too many fellow Catholics have outsized rage and prejudiced against LGBTQ individuals without having any understanding of LGBQT as a biological manifestation.  Some have denied their own orientation as well – often at the expense of their psychological health.  The church understands this and goes as far to acknowledge this reality.

The church’s answer is to encourage LGBQT persons to be chaste.  It is a leap of faith that the church maintains that even though biology dictates orientation it still says attraction and action on one’s biological orientation is unnatural when it comes to LGBQT people.  The premise is any sex that is not for the purposes of procreation is not natural or at least of higher order.  Sexual intimacy is not factored into human partnership as an integral part of what we call love between two people.

It pains me as I have known to many good people that have been harmed by anti-LGBTQ sentiments often under the protection of so-called Christianity.  Most often it is by believers who are not chaste themselves or living up to the other virtues of the church.

How anybody in our church can express out sized condemnation of LGBQT people while we are facing the largest institutional sexual abuse scandal in history.   Before we leap to saying that the church problem is a Gay problem please note that a study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, released in 2011, concluded that gay priests were no more likely than straight priests to abuse minors.

Let’s take a leap back in time:

Saint Thomas Aquinas: 

Saint Thomas Aquinas was a great father of the church and he knew that teaching by authority alone was not enough.  He set out to use philosophy and theology to defend the faith and apply logic and rationale thought to address the main principles of the Catholic faith in his famous Summa.  If we are to proclaim a theological truth we most be able to humbly teach it and point to the biblical source for our beliefs as well as have a thorough contextual understanding of the times, the nuances of biblical writing, and application to our spiritual and scientific progression.[i]  Saint Thomas Aquinas did not endorse homosexuality.  However, he defined unnatural sexual acts much more broadly in the Summa, II-II, 154:

“I answer that, As stated above (A6,9) wherever there occurs a special kind of deformity whereby the venereal act is rendered unbecoming, there is a determinate species of lust. This may occur in two ways: First, through being contrary to right reason, and this is common to all lustful vices; secondly, because, in addition, it is contrary to the natural order of the venereal act as becoming to the human race: and this is called “the unnatural vice.” This may happen in several ways. First, by procuring pollution [i.e. masturbation], without any copulation, for the sake of venereal pleasure: this pertains to the sin of “uncleanness” which some call “effeminacy.” Secondly, by copulation with a thing of undue species, and this is called “bestiality.” Thirdly, by copulation with an undue sex, male with male, or female with female, as the Apostle states (Romans 1:27): and this is called the “vice of sodomy.” Fourthly, by not observing the natural manner of copulation, either as to undue means, or as to other monstrous and bestial manners of copulation.”

The idea of lust has many of us, not just LGBQT individuals, in the cross hairs of biblical teaching.  If we have outsized indignation it should be aimed at the entirety of our humanness and actions in this regard.  I do not have to list these here.

Pope Francis: 

Much of what we hear from priest and lay Catholics lacks the depth and understanding of the history and source of where our beliefs originate from and have been expounded on in the centuries since.  There is a large degree of controversy on “what constitutes right reason” as well as what the actual phrases in the bible meant when utilized in biblical context – not to mention difficulties of translation.

Pope Francis, while not changing any church doctrine, has the wisdom to recognize our response to LGBTQ issues is not healthy or Christ-like. He has urged the following:

“A pastor cannot feel that it is enough simply to apply moral laws … as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives,” Francis writes in a sweeping paper outlining his stance on family matters.[ii]

“By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and growth,” he writes.

“If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?” he said, after his first foreign trip as pontiff.

Father James Martin, SJ

Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest, has stepped on a conservative landmine with his work entitled Building a Bridge.   He was even invited to speak at the world meeting of families.  The reality is the church and its believers has homophobic beliefs.  He did respond in good time to his critics.[iii]  He has several other wonderful books that have aided my prayer life.  I have not read this book yet – but in conservative circles he is treated by Catholics that have never read a word of his writing aa a heretic to the faith.  Some of these same critics think the same of Pope Francis.

Before we leave Pope Francis and Father Martin, neither of them denied what they hold to be the truth about homosexuality and heterosexuality lust.  They have upheld traditional church doctrine while stressing mercy, understanding, God’s mystery, pastoral care, and ultimately our total lack of understanding as to how and why we have LGBQT differentiation.    The church still maintains very strong and negative language aimed at homosexual orientation:

“While the Catholic Church does not consider “homosexual orientation” sinful in and of itself, it does have a very negative attitude toward it. The 1986 Letter states, “Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.”[iv]

A great deal of our beliefs in this area are cherry picked from a few biblical phrases that under different circumstances, if the early church fathers knew what we knew today, may have written down things with a bit more detail and clarity either way.

Lived experience by Matthew Vines on the Bible and Homosexuality:  Loneliness

“The Bible never directly addresses, and it certainly does not condemn, loving, committed same-sex relationships. There is no biblical teaching about sexual orientation, nor is there any call to lifelong celibacy for gay people. But the Bible does explicitly reject forced loneliness as God’s will for human beings, not just in the Old Testament, when God says that “[i]t is not good for the man to be alone,” but in the New Testament as well. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul writes about marriage and celibacy. He was celibate himself, and he says that he wishes that everyone else could be celibate as well. But, he says, each person has their own gift. For Paul, celibacy is a spiritual gift, and one that he realizes that many Christians don’t have. However, because many of them lack the gift of celibacy, Paul observes that sexual immorality is rampant. And so, he prescribes marriage as a kind of remedy or protection against sexual sin for Christians who lack the gift of celibacy. “It is better to marry than to burn with passion,” he says. And today, the vast majority of Christians do not sense either the gift of celibacy or the call to it. This is true for both straight and gay Christians. And so, if the remedy against sexual sin for straight Christians is marriage, why should the remedy for gay Christians not be the same?”[v] 

Catechism of the Catholic Church[vi] excerpts:

2336 Jesus came to restore creation to the purity of its origins. In the Sermon on the Mount, he interprets God’s plan strictly: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”122 What God has joined together, let not man put asunder.123  The tradition of the Church has understood the sixth commandment as encompassing the whole of human sexuality.

2337 Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman. The virtue of chastity therefore involves the integrity of the person and the integrality of the gift.

2352 By masturbation is to be understood the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure. “Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.”137 “The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose.” For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of “the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved.”138
To form an equitable judgment about the subjects’ moral responsibility and to guide pastoral action, one must take into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety, or other psychological or social factors that lessen or even extenuate moral culpability.

2353 Fornication is carnal union between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman. It is gravely contrary to the dignity of persons and of human sexuality which is naturally ordered to the good of spouses and the generation and education of children. Moreover, it is a grave scandal when there is corruption of the young.

2354 Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials.

2355 Prostitution does injury to the dignity of the person who engages in it, reducing the person to an instrument of sexual pleasure. the one who pays sins gravely against himself: he violates the chastity to which his Baptism pledged him and defiles his body, the temple of the Holy Spirit.139 Prostitution is a social scourge. It usually involves women, but also men, children, and adolescents (The latter two cases involve the added sin of scandal.). While it is always gravely sinful to engage in prostitution, the imputability of the offense can be attenuated by destitution, blackmail, or social pressure.

2356 Rape is the forcible violation of the sexual intimacy of another person. It does injury to justice and charity. Rape deeply wounds the respect, freedom, and physical and moral integrity to which every person has a right. It causes grave damage that can mark the victim for life. It is always an intrinsically evil act. Graver still is the rape of children committed by parents (incest) or those responsible for the education of the children entrusted to them.

Chastity and homosexuality

2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,140 tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”141 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

It is clear by the Catechism of the Catholic church that homosexual acts are sins.  However, so are countless other forms of sexual expression and lust included in the same category.  The church cannot explain exactly how and why homosexuality has been present forever.  While it carefully says to avoid discrimination it also maintains that they are objectively disordered without defining why it is so.  The reality is our church traditions and beliefs simply did not understand biological differences and sexual orientation centuries ago (think Eunuch’s) and still today lack an empirical ability to address the science of this issue.

Without getting to thick into the weeds, I would agree that the highest form of dedication to God is living a chaste life – assuming one is able to do so without harming others or oneself in the process and dedicate oneself to his/her spiritual calling.

However, must of us are not called to be Saints or Priest.  Must of us are not called to live a monastic life.  Most of us, if we are so blessed, are called to love another and share our life’s calling and spiritual work with others.  With the exception of procreation – some homosexual couples can and do act as virtuously, if not more so, than many heterosexual couples.

The essence of our traditions and teachings are driven from scripture.  As our knowledge of science evolves as does our spiritual development as a people of God (which we pray is more linearly ascending rather than descending) we can expect through our own efforts and more importantly through revelation to understand the word of God at deeper levels as well as constantly be challenged by applying concepts of the word of God to today’s world from a culture over two thousand years ago. Here is a look at a debate between two people on opposite sides of the issue:

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Scripture and Interpretation: 

Scriptural debate[vii] reported in NYT

  1. ROMANS 1:26-27

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.

CALEB KALTENBACH

Lead pastor of Discovery Church in Simi Valley, Calif.

In this passage, Paul, who was quite familiar with biblical and secular views of sexual orientation, says that having sex with someone of the same gender is a sin. Some interpret this passage as a reference to heterosexuals who exchanged their natural sexual orientation for that which was not natural to them. The word that Paul uses for “natural” is not referring to what is natural to a specific person, but rather what is natural in light of God’s intent for the sexual design of humanity. Ultimately, the passage serves as an introduction to verses 28-32, where Paul lists many other general sins that ultimately show our need for the Gospel.

MATTHEW VINES

Author of “God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships.”

Paul is explicit that the same-sex behavior in this passage is motivated by lust. His description is similar to the common ancient idea that people “exchange” opposite-sex for same-sex relations because they are driven by out-of-control desire, not because they have a different sexual orientation. And while Paul labels same-sex behavior “unnatural,” he uses the same word to criticize long hair in men in 1 Corinthians 11:14, which most Christians read as a synonym for “unconventional.” Christians should continue to affirm with Paul that we shouldn’t engage in sexual behavior out of self-seeking lustfulness. But that’s very different than same-sex marriages that are based on self-giving love, and we shouldn’t conflate the two in how we interpret this text today.

  1. LEVITICUS 18:22

Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.

  1. CALEB KALTENBACH

God’s prohibition always has positive intentions. While no longer under the Law, Christians see the Law as a moral compass with principles for holy living. The Bible doesn’t have middle ground on same-sex relationships, monogamous or not. God reserves sex for marriage between a man and woman, because sex is a unique foundation of intimacy. Imagine all the evils, struggles and pain that could be avoided in relationships if we really followed God’s principles. When sex is only seen as a benefit for individuals rather than a foundation of social structures, it becomes selfish and manipulative.

  1. MATTHEW VINES

Christ fulfilled the Old Testament law, and the New Testament teaches that Christians should live under the new covenant rather than the old one. Consequently, this verse has never applied to Christians. For a man to lie with a man “as with a woman” violated the patriarchal gender norms of the ancient world, which is likely why Leviticus prohibited it. But the New Testament casts a vision of God’s kingdom in which the hierarchy between men and women is overcome in Christ. So not only is Leviticus’s prohibition inapplicable to Christians on its own, the rationale behind it doesn’t extend to Christians, either.

  1. MATTHEW 19:3-6

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh?’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

  1. CALEB KALTENBACH

Jesus says that marriage is between a man and a woman by quoting Genesis 1:27. He affirms that God created sexual distinction between man and woman and this distinction serves as part of the foundation for marriage (helping to make Adam and Eve suitable partners). Spiritually, this distinction ultimately points to Jesus and the cross, where Jesus (the bridegroom) would pledge his love for his church (the bride) on the cross. As Jesus’ words are binding for today, remember that there was no individual in the Bible called to be celibate that was not honored by God, including Paul, John the Baptist and Jesus himself.

  1. MATTHEW VINES

Jesus responds to a question about divorce by emphasizing the permanence of the marriage bond. He was asked about a man and his wife, and he responds accordingly, by referring to male and female. Same-sex marriage wasn’t on the radar screen in the biblical world, so it’s not surprising that neither Jesus nor any of the biblical writers addresses it. Therefore, Christians today have to ask whether gay relationships can fulfill the core principles of Scripture’s teachings about marriage. Based on Jesus’ teaching here and other texts like Ephesians 5, the essence of Christian marriage involves keeping covenant with one’s spouse in order to reflect God’s covenant with us through Christ. That’s something same-sex couples can and do live out today.

  1. 1 CORINTHIANS 6:9-10

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

  1. CALEB KALTENBACH

These words are found in the Greek translation of Leviticus 18 (which is what Paul would’ve used as a source when writing this letter). His phrase “men who have sex with men” is the Greek word arsenokoitai. It’s a compound: arseno means “a male,” and koitai means “bed.” The word means “male bed”—or homosexuality. Though what Paul says might be offensive, he never intended to impose these values on non-Christians. In the current debate of same-sex marriage, there’s an imposition of a meta-narrative being imposed from non-Christians to Christians. Should we violate our conscience and teachings of Scripture because of an agenda that labels us narrow-minded? That seems like an unfair expectation to me.

  1. MATTHEW VINES

In this text, Paul uses two Greek words—malakoi and arsenokoitai—that likely refer to some forms of male same-sex behavior, but not the modern concept of homosexuality. The predominant forms of same-sex behavior in the ancient world were sex between masters and slaves, sex between adult men and adolescent boys, and prostitution. In all those cases, men used sex to express power, dominance and lustfulness, not self-giving love and mutuality. Committed same-sex unions between social equals represent very different values than the types of same-sex behavior Paul would have had in view in 1 Corinthians 6.

At the end of the day I cannot tell you why I am straight and others have an LGBTQ orientation.  I cannot tell you how I would manage if I had an LGBTQ orientation.  I cannot say how our God fits this issue into divine providence or whether we have taken the written word, especially the New Testament, and appropriately applied it to our living understanding of our faith and of science.

I can say it is to safe to say to live a holy life we all should not be mastered by lust or any other worldly attractions.  If God is our first love, from their we will be able to discern what is right.

I do not see gay or straight people with affections for their partners that exceed the desire to procreate as objectively disordered people.  Whether they act on their affections outside the scope of procreation and if that is sin.  I am past procreation age – what does that mean for marital intimacy?  I leave all of this to the mystery and mercy of God.

You have the Gospels, the Catechism, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Pope Francis, thoughts from a young man fighting for dignity and inclusion (Matthew Vine), a Jesuit author, and a field of psychological and scientific advancements that would give most wise people cause for pause before passing judgement. Before your go consider our greatest sins as an institution:

Hypocrisy:

Our greater sin is not following the greatest commandment to love one another.  In “The Joy of The Gospel, Evangelii Guadium, several weaknesses are enunciated quite well including warring among ourselves (98), saying no to spiritual worldliness (94), and so many other areas of calling (poverty, right to life, social justice). As an example, Pope Francis warns of those who “feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past.”  Alarm bells go off here of apparent heresy.  That is not his message here.   Estimates of the number killed by the Spanish Inquisition, which Sixtus IV authorised in a papal bull in 1478, have ranged from 30,000 to 300,000. Some historians are convinced that millions died.  We have a responsibility to look closely at what our church says is God’s word, what our teaching mean, and how they are applied.

If anything is disordered and intrinsically evil it is the sexual abuse history and cover-up in the Catholic Church.  Two men expressing love and tenderness for a life time, and yes sexual intimacy and a woman and a man doing the same without intent to procreate are living in sin by Catholic doctrine standards.  The degree and ultimate judgement of such is really beyond our understanding.  What is the intention of these lover’s intimacy?   Is it lust and evil or human companionship and lifelong commitment?

Worldwide people with LGBQT sexual orientations is persecuted and subjected to horrendous abuses, sometimes in the name of Christianity.  While we have an obligation to be faithful to our beliefs we also have an obligation to not persecute or support persecution of others that are not like us.

Now, we can still recognize evil when we see it.  A priest violating his vow and preying on children or others while doing God’s work deserves our outrage.  It is evil.

Perhaps the greatest flaw we have is the more we know the less we know about God’s divine plan for us.  And yet, with a little bit of knowledge we are ready to condemn others in God’s name.

Athena

Give us a letter written in 51 A.D in a different language and culture, transform it over two centuries into a broader teaching, enshrine it in traditions and rituals of the Catholic Church, water down its true essence and meaning in simple lessons to the lay public, turn it loose and watch it get misapplied in ways that are anything but Christian.  Armed with a few people of similar beliefs, a document on parchment paper, and an over-inflated sense of our own intelligence and authority on God’s way, we can easily fall prey to being a self-righteous and prideful people rather than a faithful and humble servant of God.

But for the grace of God, go I:

“There but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford”, when seeing criminals being led to the scaffold. He didn’t enjoy that grace for long, however. He was burned at the stake in 1555, although, by all accounts he remained sanguine about his fate and is said to have suggested to a fellow victim that “We shall have a merry supper with the Lord this night”.[viii]

[i] https://ronconte.wordpress.com/2011/04/02/catholic-teaching-on-homosexuality-3-saint-thomas-aquinas/

[ii] https://www.cnn.com/2016/04/08/europe/vatican-pope-family/index.html

[iii] https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2018/04/06/what-official-church-teaching-homosexuality-responding-commonly-asked-question

[iv] https://www.hrc.org/resources/stances-of-faiths-on-lgbt-issues-roman-catholic-church

[v] http://www.matthewvines.com/transcript/

[vi] http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P84.HTM

[vii] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/06/05/us/samesex-scriptures.html

[viii] https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/there-but-for-the-grace-of-god.html

Descend to the level of God’s enemies?

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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.

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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.

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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?

divine-timing-672x372

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.

.ch

[i] https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/09/catholic-sex-abuse-pope-francis/570208/

[ii] 1 Cor. 13:13

Contemplative Life

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]

John of the cross

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.

Thorns:

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.

Suffering:    

Suffering Dog

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.

Historical Time:

clock

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.

Mysticism: 

Josep_Benlliure_Gil43

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.”

Abandonment:

Leap

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.

Contemplatives:

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

  1. On a dark night, Kindled in love with yearnings—oh, happy chance!— I went forth without being observed, My house being now at rest.
  2. In darkness and secure, By the secret ladder, disguised—oh, happy chance!— In darkness and in concealment, My house being now at rest.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Oh, night that guided me, Oh, night more lovely than the dawn, Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover, Lover transformed in the Beloved!
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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]

[i] https://www.ourladyswarriors.org/saints/darknite.htm#CHAPTER%20VIII

[ii] https://catholicstrength.com/tag/the-seven-mansions-of-teresa-of-avila/

[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

[x] http://www.carmelitaniscalzi.com/en/who-we-are/storia/history-of-discalced-carmelites/

[xi] http://www.carmelitemonks.org/Vocation/DarkNight-StJohnoftheCross.pdf

 

Pope Francis under Siege, We are under Siege (and rightly so)

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:

  1. 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).
  2. Turn-over: Any information to civil authorities and let justice be served.
  3. Timeline:  Remove said priest from office by December 2, 2018.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.”
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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

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.

 

Providence: 8 year and 5 month journey

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.

christ

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.”
renzo

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 SquarePope Francis asked engaged couples to read the novel for edification before marriage.[8]   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?

Apologist

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.

1528106205_crying-mary

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.

church

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 by Robert Barron and John L. Allen (Book Review)

 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).

stone

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.)”

Publishers Weekly

Silence is Consent – Action is Required

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.

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Catholic Reference:  Being wholly unqualified to be the voice of Catholicism below are two links on Catholic views on Immigration:

http://catholichawaii.org/media/647505/twim-3-46-factoffaith-english.pdf

http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/immigration/catholic-teaching-on-immigration-and-the-movement-of-peoples.cfm

Thanks for visiting.

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