“She passes through this Word, enduring with true gentle patience every pain and trouble that I permit her for her own good. She accepts it courageously, choosing my way over her own. And she suffers not only patiently, but gladly.” Pg. 163
At first glance, my human instinct is to repel this idea with many objections:
- What word?
- Gentle patience with every pain?
- Someone permits the pain for her own good?
- She accepts it courageously?
- And gladly?
And it only gets worse. The someone who allows these tragedies to unfold for this women is God the Father, and the word is his words as revealed to her. My child, you are going to suffer significantly, I could alleviate your pain this very moment, but I will not. You will come to understand and be glad that I have given you such troubles.
Most of us do not have such direct revelations as this women. But if we did would we not protest grievously? Do we not protest today our major sufferings much less our mild nuisances in life? Do we ask for more suffering gladly? Should we ask for more suffering? I dare say not! And her suffering was extreme.
This quote is from The Dialogue, Catherine of Siena, in the chapter called Tears. The concept of accepting suffering, meaningless, accidental, or purposefully inflicted suffering by another, is not new for Christian contemplatives. Our role model and Savior Jesus Christ taught us with the ultimate sacrifice. Yet I struggle with the concept to ask for more. Despite how little suffering I have carried relative to others and the vast potential to suffer greater indignities and pain, I do not dare to ask for more. Much less to be happy to receive more pain – and not to glorify me but to it praise God! A silent sacrifice devoid of any intent of self-promotion or seeking selfish spiritual consolations. Yes, send me more?
These two sentences almost passed me by as an absurdity for anyone but the saints. And then a wave of the confrontations I have experienced in life with misery, pain, and suffering overtook me. My childhood adversity score is quite high (google ACE study and test yourself). My adulthood included a few self-inflicted wounds as well as externally inflicted losses. By all accounts, I have pretty good reason to question the existence of an all-powerful and personal God. Accepting one also necessitates reconciling that God “allows” my misery and much worse atrocities to exist. And still, I believe.
In retrospect, human free will, and their decisions contributed to my pain. Other pains are built into our lives by genetics, nature, accidental causes, and human mortality. Amid these life events a combination of personal resiliency and many supportive people, I have been able to experience the highs and lows of a volatile life and catch glimpses of angels in our midst at work. I have also in retrospect seen my evolution transformed many times over, and I say this with minimal ego, in fact, as sometimes I am rowing the other way as the forces of good carry me onwards.
How has pain and suffering shattered or nourished your faith? I have experienced both in my journey. It is sad to admit, but my sense of faith has been most robust under two conditions:
- When I am in the midst of personal failure, loss, or witnessing unfathomable suffering, and
- When I am in the presence of holy people, in meaningful pray, or reading the saintly works.
I would like to believe my faith grew in leaps and bounds by my own works and by my sincere gratitude of the favors granted me in life. They have provided me with the strength and resources to practice compassion, empathy, and love for others. While these things do strengthen my faith – they have not jettisoned me into serious contemplation and soul-searching as the first two conditions have nurtured.
The first two conditions have given me a base of humility that transcends human definitions. My ability to handle misery and pain in the face of adversity is undoubtedly wanting. Any received praise and platitudes, individual achievements, or other standard measures of the worthiness of a man fail me when held in comparison to the lives of the genuinely saintly or the gold standard of holiness.
All is not lost though. The tears that we experience can be transformed. Have you ever had tears silently and sadly flow gently as you experienced a melancholy understanding of both crushing loss and joyous peace? I have learned through suffering more than I have learned through successes.
I am still unable to ask God for more. In my prayers, I do express, “Your will, not mine, be done.” Sometimes I add I trust in you to give me what I can handle, but God I myself am incapable of handling anymore. I am keenly aware of being careful what I ask for from God.
To accept my lot with patience, courage, and a happy disposition calls for significant growth! And I have been working at this for a very long time. As I reread this passage, it is no longer foreign to me. You and I have lived it whether we recognize it or not. This is like one of those films that never closes the chapter, only ignites the mystery and leaves you wanting the sequel, yet you know only you can write the ending.
“The picture above represents a most unusual apparition in which Our Lady of La Salette was seen by two children Melanie Mathieu and Maxim Giraud, in the small French village of La Sallette, located near Grenoble, on September 19, 1846. She first appeared emerging from a globe of light, weeping over our sins.”
My God is the most exceptional partner. My God, Jesus, Mary, Saints, and Spiritual writers are my bedrock of sanity. From the unimaginable to the tangible written word I have spiritual guidance and solace. While they are within me and outside me, I still must actively seek union between my corporal body and thoughts and my soul’s wisdom and guidance. The tools for me include daily prayer, Ignatian Examin, spiritual direction, and the sacraments of the church. I was not called to be a hermit, yet I have been invited to live a holy life.
My meditation practices are for my peace. Meditation is required of me to tame my anxious mind and unforgiving nature towards myself. Without it, I tend to become overly enmeshed in human desires, fear-based thinking, pain avoidance, and the utter hopelessness of the human condition. I place my actions in overdrive and even when in a state of non-activity remain hypervigilant to maximize achieving my ideas and pursuit of coveted ends and control of my destiny. A mind on overdrive leaves little room for any partners of the spiritual or human variety.
You can find many ancient proverbs and biblical writing on “self-mastery” before attempting any external endeavors. Whether you turn to the philosophical world or spiritual for reference, the aim is the same. Here is a modern day writer and blogger that I have never read, but whose quote seems to capture the balance of integration of action and restraint:
“As a rule, we must not be the slaves of passion; rather, we must be the possessors of great passions. Through passion commences power, but passions should not direct our paths; rather, passions should be our bridled horses, with us commanding whence and to they be directed. Our passions must not take their own courses; but they must be directed by us into which course they ought to take. Modern day people blindly follow the notion that to be slaves to their passions is to be free! But for one to be the Master of one’s passions is to be not only free— but powerful.” ― C. JoyBell C.
My body deserves its due. It is the only vehicle I have, and it comes with no warranties. I am fortunate enough to have access to healthy food, clean water, a gym, and subject matter experts on both nutrition and exercise. I have no excuse to not treat my body like a temple that hosts my soul and carries out my spiritual and meditation practices.
My human partners are where the rubber hits the road. My spiritual metal, mindful practices, and overall physical health will be severely tested and nourished by the relationships I keep as well as the relationships imposed upon me by happenstance. The vastness of this partnership network is too exhaustive to nail down here, but each requires nurturance and respect commensurate with demands, sometimes reciprocal and sometimes vastly unequal. Involvement with family, friends, acquaintances, colleagues, strangers, church groups, spiritual director, fraternal organizations, self-help groups, charities, clubs, political groups, and anyone you come into contact must be treated with dignity and respect regardless of circumstance.
An imbalance or neglect of any of these four partners (Spiritual soul, mindful awareness, physical health, and human relationships) collapses the whole. Sometimes a fifth partner is needed as well.
Professional help is also a potential partner. For some of us, we need additional partners that although considered of the human variety, take on an unnatural essence as their services must be sought out and provided compensation for their expertise. Physical or psychological conditions have overwhelmed our capacity to resolve the presenting issue. Regardless of origin, these conditions have caused sufficient damage that requires rehabilitative interventions and support of the professional type. While these professionals are of the human variety, the relationship is not reciprocal. They are there for a price to meet your needs when they exceed your resources. They have dedicated their lives to being prepared for helping people that fall into suffering and need help accepting or alleviating said conditions.
I write this for myself as I embark on another chapter in my life, not disconnected from the previous episodes or discontinuous, but an extension and expansion of purpose. It is time to take stock and realign my actions and intentions with my beliefs and mission. Some call it a personal inventory or taking stock of where you are today as opposed to where you want to be. Perhaps call it the State of the Union of the four partners. The fifth partner if you have any, will graciously be considered a part of the human partners! They often demonstrate a higher possession of humanity and humility than the average person by their exposure to immense suffering in the people they help. I have some work to do! How about you?
The majority of readers of this post will stumble under the assumption that their “State of the Union” is strong. It is my opinion that this cannot be. The evidence is all around us. We witness heinous acts of violence, abuse of power, incessant gossip, lies, greed, power mongering, and other senseless and selfish actions every day. If we look closely, we may be the ones committing the acts or by our silence contributing to a culture that supports an unprincipled and unholy life. By relativity standards, I could make the case that the state of my union is strong. But if I hold the state of my union up against the full human capacity to live a holy and disciplined life, conscious and aware in my every action, I am far from being strong. What is the state of your union? Is it in any of the four partnerships lacking? Do you need a fifth partner?
Others will fail by being overwhelmed by the immensity of feeling, emotions, and responsibility that emerges by taking stock. Procrastination and avoidance to preserve a sense or actual comfortableness with our adequacy or even inadequacy. Unifying all the partners requires specific effort and discipline. They are frequently co-existing in contradiction. It takes effort to live in opposition, yet we do it all the time. We are at the end of the day human and incapable of perfecting harmony of the four partners and unified self.
And finally, a lack of knowledge and specific action plan to pursue greater integration and unification of the whole will defeat many to relying on autopilot in a state of status quo. A self-justifying rationalization will support leaving some areas of the partnership underdeveloped. Through neglect, we neglect to maximize living our lives to the full potential. Excessive activities will create enough fog and chaos to keep any uncomfortable reflections recessed and buried under the clutter of our very sense of self-importance and necessary goal-driven actions. Who has the time for contemplation and self-care?
Without proper self-care, I believe the integration of mind, body, spirit and human relationships is unnecessarily hampered and ruinous to living our ideal selves. While my perfect person spiritually may differ from yours (Christianity), the bulk of ancient philosophical treaties, eastern and western thoughts, and significant religions will converge on the principals of integration of mind, body, spirit and direct application to every human relationship we encounter.
Where are you today in your practice of self-care:
- Spirituality (of any faith) and nurturance
- The consciousness of your thoughts and mindful decisions (fully informed and not auto-pilot)
- Nutrition and Excercise (and perhaps add appropriate sleep!)
- Healthiness in relationships (and any negative relationships that need to be restored or healed)
- Do you need professional help (from often great humanitarians!) for any spiritual, psychological, or physical conditions that are impeding you from living to your full potential?
You deserve to be the best you can be and if that is not enough for you, the people around you deserve and need the best You! This is a life long process, never-ending and always unfolding new and deeper wisdom. Never too late to start or restart wherever you left off and never time to stop until you are no more. Seeking to perfect our selves is an infinite process within an infinity of life that we cannot ever fully comprehend.
You know you can name a few people that come to mind. Wickedness or evil by another name is alive and well. We can name it, identify it, codify it in our laws and social norms, and perhaps even struggle intimately with our very own wicked thoughts and actions. Also if we are free of the latter are we not prone to judge the former? Today I invite you to contemplate our relationship with others and yourself in the context of the existence of wickedness and evil:
“The wicked in this life serve the promotion of virtue in my servants, just as the devils in hell serve as my executioners and promoters.” (The Dialogue, Catherine of Siena, pg. 150).
Initially deconstructing this sentence in my head was difficult as my heart had an immediate aversion to its implications. I leaped to an insinuation that all wickedness and evil was explainable and to be accepted as somehow part of a higher divine test. Alas, after sitting with this a bit, I pulled back to a more exact deconstruction of this sentence. Wicked people allow us to deepen our faith and our virtue just as Christ expressed the greatest sacrifice for our sins at the hands of his executioners.
The greatest mystery of our faith would not have been possible without a plethora of evil acts that prepared for and ultimately led to an authority sanctioned crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ. The execution was not a single act of evil. It was a campaign of evil and wicked plotting carried out by many and eventually supported by enough people to allow for both the Jewish and Roman authorities to let the travesty proceed. The attacks were perpetrated with lies, slander, gossip, calculated test, and traps set all throughout Jesus’s ministry. And then the ultimate betrayal by Judas of Iscariot for 30 shekels of silver.
It is worthy of taking a divergence here on Judas’s role in history. We despise traitors in American culture. Loyalty and commitment are expected as a form of our patriotism, in our religious institutions, social circles, and even allegiance to sports teams. Yet we see traitors and departures at every level of our society. Minor defections often occur with sports fans as their team takes a significant dive or they relocate to a new area. To some this is not a small issue – it makes you unworthy of being a sports fan at all! Nationally we have had some very famous defections (Alrdick Ames, the Rosenbergs, Robert Hansen, and Benedict Arnold). Spiritually how often do we defect from our cause by our actions or by failing to stand up against the social injustices of today? Judas did not defect without reason.
It was not just greed for 30 shekels of silver. Perhaps his faith was never really authentically sealed to sustain him for the sacrifices pending if he had remained loyal to his apostleship. Maybe he saw that Jesus and the apostles were losing the campaign to win the hearts of the Jewish people. He saw the end was near as forces coalesced. Judas recognized the inevitable and could not see any other path except Jesus’ demise. They would find Jesus whether he participated or not. He would have nothing left after his sacrifice of following and supporting Jesus, only to be crushed by his own people. Thirty shekels does not sound like much but in real dollars today could equal to about four months of wages!
Now let’s apply the Judas principle today in a less dramatic fashion. The Lord’s church (Ekklesia) remains as the apostleship of Christ to preach the good word and the faith to all people and all nations. Its enemies are numerous in nature.
There are well-intentioned secularist, agnostics, and competing religious denominations countering Catholicism’s theology and role in society with reasoned and principled arguments. Catholics have provided this group with legitimate concerns as our actions collectively have presented a pervasive practice of moral evils (clergy sex abuse crisis), consent by our silence on multiple social justice issues (poverty, capital punishment, equality, extreme nationalism, immigration, and war), and dwindling church pews in developed nations. These issues challenge any legitimacy our church claims on religious and spiritual grounds.
And then there are the not so well-intentioned critics that attack the church by any means necessary to promote or preserve their own interest. American politicians, dictatorships, extreme capitalism proponents protecting their individual wealth, authors and media outlets feeding on controversy, and individuals who live and practice with wicked intentions and actions for personal satisfaction. Members in this group may alternately support the church when it pleases their cause and attacks it convenient. This is evident today with the multiple attacks on Pope Francis by faithful that do not appreciate Catholicisms role to love the poor.
And then there is you. Every day your loyalty to the church is tested when confronted with poverty (homeless in your streets), politics (think immigration and death penalty), individual decisions (consider gossip, greed, intentions), and overall alliance and commitment to God in your every action. What if I offered you 30,000 dollars to write a negative opinion op-ed piece on how your parish and church has disappointed you? Could you see some Catholics accepting this offer, perhaps even justifying it by rationalizing everything they have to say is already known and will only help raise awareness and promote the church reform? Afterall we do have a responsibility to stand up to evil whether it is within our own congregation or not! The latter is actually noble and if done without the intention of personal gain may even be saintly. Don’t forget Jesus Christ himself was the original rebel standing up against rigid Judaism.
I say to you that even Judas is worthy of our forgiveness and that we are unqualified to judge Judas or any other sinners and evil ones amongst us. I say to you evil or wicked actions committed against us provide us the opportunity to deepen our faith and our good works. I go a step further and advocate that even accidental harms or natural demise (diseases) present us with an opportunity as well to deepen our faith.
First, we can turn to Matthew ‘s gospel (7: 1-5) on judging others:
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
Living with these unnecessary transgressions against us or with human suffering experienced at the hands of diseases, nature, or other accidental situations is not for the faint of heart. Where do we turn for help? Perhaps Matthew 7: 7-12:
7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
This little entry from Christ teaching not only teaches us to ask for help but at the same time calls us to “in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.”
Here we are presented with another challenge. The evil and wicked amongst us are sometimes living by a standard of doing to others what they believe you would do unto them if afforded the opportunity. Many a vile and evil person has had many evils perpetrated against them. They may lack the moral conscience from which to even contemplate making an ethical decision when choosing to commit wicked or evil actions. It is reduced to purely a primal act of survival or self-serving effort to further their individual interest. It is neither right nor wrong. Just necessary. This is scary as hell, no pun intended. It is literally hell on earth.
When our social conscience as a society or our individual conscience is alienated from our inner calling to God (by any name) the propensity for evil and wickedness is magnificent. You may be averse to the use of adjective magnificent here. But I assure you that individuals achieving personal success or collective success by evil or wicked actions can often be seen boasting of their great feats of obtaining immense wealth or power by dubious or in their minds brilliant means. In there lives the means justify the ends. We participate in this as well when we allow, for example, our political leaders and parties to outright lie and shade the truth to achieve political power and influence. In essence, we may justify supporting a candidate because they will win anyway and cast our vote as they have some policies that will benefit us. We may be silent when they lie and manipulate or even when their policies hurt us as our social identity will suffer if we admit any wrongdoing. In this case, we would be loyal to a party and disloyal to our spiritual values. We may even benefit a few shekels in our weekly paycheck.
Hopefully, if you are reading this blog, you indeed have an active conscience. I fear that many of us have an active conscience that is on autopilot. We are generally good people. Raised on sound values and adopted most social norms. On the surface, we are mostly in alignment with the ten commandments. I believe we are at risk here of failing to subject our conscience to daily spiritual examination to ensure our intentions and actions are aligned with God as opposed to purely human social norms or even religious institutionalized spirituality.
An Alethia and WordPress Blogger, John Burger, did a piece on John Henry Newman’s definition of the conscience. He blogged the following two paragraphs that I chose to include in its entirety verbatim as I cannot summarize it any better!
“Newman described conscience as “the aboriginal vicar of Christ.” What he meant is that it is through our conscience that we first hear the voice of God speaking to us. Building off this point, Newman was insistent that we are compelled to follow our conscience at all times. Doing otherwise would undercut the ability to live a coherent moral life. The Church, Newman argued, would be foolish to attack the importance of the following conscience. In doing so, the magisterium would be in effect sawing off the very branch that it sits upon because it is precisely through heeding conscience that persons can recognize the truthfulness of Catholic moral theology and follow the path to sanctity.
All that being said, Newman also warned against a false understanding of conscience, which understands conscience as “the right of self-will”—the prerogative to define right and wrong for oneself. In this light, it’s not enough to talk about the primacy of conscience without addressing the importance of having our consciences properly formed. Those who pit conscience against Church teaching fail to see how God has providentially ordained the Church as a trustworthy guide in the moral life. Conscience and Church authority exist in a reciprocal, not competitive relationship.”
To live and co-exist with wicked among us while also experiencing accidental suffering we are called by God to listen to our conscience. Forgive our oppressors (evil and wicked people), ask for God’s help (Ask, See Knock), and “in everything we do” love others as we would like ourselves to be loved. This includes the wicked who serve as antagonists to deepen our faith. Oh, I forgot, when the chips are low don’t be like Judas!
How do we avoid the errors of Judas, dramatically or in minor actions? Pray.
A two-dollar book bargain from a flea market vendor in Florida provided me with an exploratory look at “The Gospel of Mary Magdalene” by Jean-Yves Leloup originally published in 2002. You have not heard of the Gospel of Mary Magdalene? Surely you have heard of Mary Magdalene though?
Leloup makes a convincing case that Mary Magdalene was indeed a major player in the early church and the discovery of the Gnostic Gospel of Mary in Cairo in the year 1896 unveils a new perception on just how powerful Mary of Magdalene’s role was both during Christ life and at the time of his death.
US Catholic has an article entitled “Who Framed Mary Magdalene” and validates many of the central points that Leloup articulates
“Now that scripture scholars have debunked the myth that she and the infamous repentant sinner who wiped Jesus’ feet with her tears are one and the same woman, word is trickling down that Mary Magdalene’s penitent prostitute label was a misnomer. Instead, her true biblical portrait is being resurrected, and this “apostle to the apostles” is finally taking her rightful place in history as a beloved disciple of Jesus and a prominent early church leader.”
Pope Francis agrees. “Pope Francis took the biggest step yet to rehabilitate Mary Magdalene’s image by declaring a major feast day in her honor, June 22. His 2016 decree put the woman who first proclaimed Jesus’ resurrection on par with the liturgical celebrations of the male apostles.”
Leloup takes a deep dive into the actual fragment of writing found that are attributed to Mary of Magdalene and then expounds on them both for their originality and complimentary agreement with the accepted canon Gospels, but only after giving you the actual text without commentary. You can read the entire fragments of the gospel here: http://gnosis.org/library/marygosp.htm.
Leloups style is very interesting and promising. He does not attack the canonical gospels and they by far are our most complete and most historically accepted documents.
Instead, he accepts the ambiguity of authenticity and controversies and leaves that for you the reader to explore. He leaps off with the words of Mary of Magdalene and places them in context with a codex of the cannon Gospels. He then expounds on what it means for us today in light of the revelations of not only this document – but others as well. He does a deep dive into the metaphysical realities of spirituality that we often find missing or stifled by religious instruction. The Gospel of Mary he portrays as a Gospel of teaching that ignites the spiritual imagination to be able to live the faith after Jesus in the flesh has left us.
And it was she who was first to see Jesus post-resurrection. There is not much left of this fragment of writing, but it is enough to ignite your spiritual imagination. It also may you leave you wondering if the church is ready to admit and act on the falsity of our male-dominated institution.
Deeper than that though, how about Pope Francis’s reflection that “Her tears at Christ’s empty tomb are a reminder that “sometimes in our lives, tears are the lenses we need to see Jesus.”
“Archbishop Roche explained that in giving St Mary Magdalene the honor of being the first person to see the empty tomb and the first to listen to the truth of the resurrection, “Jesus has a special consideration and mercy for this woman, who manifests her love for him, looking for him in the garden with anguish and suffering.”
Drawing a comparison between Eve, who “spread death where there was life,” and St Mary Magdalene, who “proclaimed life from the tomb, a place of death,” the archbishop said her feast day is a lesson for all Christians to trust in Christ who is “alive and risen.”
“It is right that the liturgical celebration of this woman has the same level of feast given to the celebration of the apostles in the general Roman calendar and highlights the special mission of this woman who is an example and model for every woman in the Church.”
The morning of day 4 of our Lenten Journey that I share with 2.19 Billion Christians? It cannot be. A century ago there were only 600 million recorded. Yet it can feel like we are only 600 million strong.
And even that number does not capture the loneliness of being a believer. Yes, having belief and faith in God can be a very lonely experience today. Yesterday at noon I was able to get to church. There is the consolation of the redeemer in the sacrament of the Eucharist, the comfort of the rituals, the wisdom of the liturgy, and a scattering of believers in the pews. Yet the experience for me was a very lonely experience.
Each of us carried into church the weariness of our sufferings and challenges of our deeply oriented secular world, spent sometime receiving graces and giving prayer, and left quietly 45 minutes later to return to an indifferent world. Sometimes the saintly most walk alone.
Once outside of the believer bubble we face unrelenting bombardment of human suffering, horrific clerical failures, negative news cycles, systemic injustices, and wide spread corruption on a national and global scale. Personally we may see these injustices directly affecting us or our loved ones. And on a deeply personal level we must also contend with our relationship with others and how they are treating us as well as how well we are living our the Christian ethos in our daily relationships.
Doing so with humility and in most secular circles without any reference to our spiritual principles can be daunting. Even with fellow believers, raising our shared beliefs when it is inconvenient is an easy way to kill a communication and possibly even a friendship. Many individuals do not hold the spiritual and moral norms of our faith despite perhaps espousing to do so and or even have been in the pew besides us Sunday past.
Belief has become a deeply personal experience that is not welcome in the public sphere. Genuine and non-ostentatious effort to raise our Christian voices are seen as hypocritical and ostentatious. To put it blatantly, our society including many Christians believe living Christian ideals as a nation is impractical, in-achievable, and idealistically naive. This is evident in our political representation (and votes) where we have anti-immigration, anti-social justice, and anti-poor poverty legislation. It is evident in our congregations as we have deep suspicions of the “other” on many different levels. And yet we believe and strive.
How do we persist? How do we grow? There are many tools of faith that exceed this post scope. Today I will share one from my morning reading from a Lenten guide (called the Little Black Book) that I picked up while traveling few weeks back when I visited a lovely church that had an open and warm greeting atmosphere as well as juice and cookies in the foyer for after church mingling. (I did not feel alone that day in Church despite being among strangers!).
The reading raised the idea of there are days when I think I am useless. There are days when I can’t seem to do anything worthwhile. The author challenges us to look at by what standards are we judging ourselves?
Are we judging ourselves by our individual standards or by the standards of others? Are we judging ourselves or others by material standards? Are we assuming we understand our role within the larger framework of good and evil or our role within the mystery of Divine Providence?
The author suggest that “God measures our worth by the love in my heart, the prayers on my lips, the faith deep within, the hope that never fails, the suffering patiently endured and offered to God.” I can certainly do better with the latter.
Saint Therese (the little flower) and other Saints have actually prayed to God to send them suffering so they may better serve him! I imperfectly in my prayers say “God, I don’t think I can handle anymore, but your will, not mine, be done.” Perhaps we should not be so focused on what we accomplish? This is so antithetical to western thought.
I so desire to write everyday to share my Lenten journey. Day two was wonderful and God provided me several living affirmations as I served others. Day three was quietly circumspect and day four just underway.
That being said I am living a Lenten journey while doing what God calls me to do. I cannot retreat from the world for forty days and live a contemplative life or writing blog post!. I am where I should be today. I do not know where I will be tomorrow or what sufferings or blessing will come my way. I do not know how my actions will serve God or serve as a vehicle for divine providence. I have only gratitude and surrender to God’s will.
This can be a very lonely experience, especially in times of spiritual aridity. This little sacrifice is feebly humorous when contrasted to the pain and suffering of others or to the greatest sacrifice ever given by the Son of God to redeem us before the father.
Perhaps let me simplify my message today with words from St. Catherine of Siena:
Have a wonderful and contemplative Lenten experience!
A.M. seemed days ago when my day began with a reading on Lent. The ashes on my head from the morning Mass to start the day is a faint memory. Mine seemed to be a cross over between the Franciscan and the one stroke above. I have decided on a sacrifice that I do not need to name here name here. Omission of an activity that brings worldly satisfaction is not that hard to do.
Action on the other hand requires effort. Day 1 of lent this year was planned for me before I awoke with the groundwork laid perhaps before I was born. The efforts I made were not overly demanding today and yet they were more so than I ever imagined myself doing.
There was opportunity today to look into the eyes of others struggling with greater misfortune than eye, and by both compassion and comparison, revelations of my life’s journey, good and bad, times past were revealed to me as if I was watching a movie, standing outside myself, life in a Charles Dickens novel. The past can be hard enough, but not as threatening as the future!
I am a little wary of where Lent will bring me like when Ebenezer Scrooge was told he will be visited three ghost, he replied simply “I’d rather not!” How often do we turn away from personal revelation into busy activity by turning outward to the world rather than inward to the spirit?
Not much time today for self-reflection or significant prayer time. Soon I will retire to my nightly prayer. It will not be long before my eye lids fall from days exhaustion and my mind departs to the mystery of dreams.
Hopefully this first day of Lent called you to reflect some, make minor or major adjustments where you could, and gave the rest up to God once you were exhausted with what could be done by your hands as guided by the Holy Spirit.
Until tomorrow, in the words of Tiny Tim, God bless Us, Everyone!
P.S. If you are not sure how to approach Lent this year, perhaps a Jesuit guide to Lent can guide you: https://www.americamagazine.org/lent
Wednesday cannot come too soon. Join me in reflection and preparation for a Lenten journey. If it were within my power everyone I know and everyone they know and so on would prepare now as if this were the last chance to prepare ourselves for eternity. So dramatic and out of reach. It is it really?
The song Shallow resonates with us. We know it to possess hidden spiritual truths. This lent fill that void with spiritual permanence. In the movie “A star is born” Jack was so close to the answer, and but one dissenting voice took him away from the road forward.
Tell me something, boy, do you ever get tired of tryin’ fill that void….
Arise each morning as if prepared for war. Your foe is admirable in strenght, in numbers, and persistence. Cleverer than most and evasive when needed, confrontational when least expected. You are keenly aware you cannot fight this war alone – but nor can you control your brothers in arms actions, the soildiers you may lead, or the superiors above you to make the right decisions as well as commit to action with determination. Your army and your discipline will carry you through the day.
There will be losses and pain. There will be some amongst you who are traitorus, cowardly, or simply incompetant. Some rare men will rise above your measure of men and carry those who cannot carry themselves. You will, if you look honestly enough within yourself, may find your own actions wanting when compared to the most bravest and noblest amonst us – the self-less, natural warriors of our cause.
Today our war is an internal war. Our Holy Army is filled with imperfect and outright immoral men embedded in our ranks from the church pew upwards into the highest offices of the catholic church.
The news and relevations of our church’s misuse of power and abuse of women, children, nuns and others is symbolically and literary a spear in the side of Jesus Christ, our church, and our faith. Many are walking away from God as the vessel of his living word is so abused and tarnished by the actions of the faithful – that any spiritual or theological truths cannot be grasped through the burning fire of our Sodum and Gomorrah.
I met with a priest this week and was provided the mercy and grace of the sacrament of confession. On the issues of the Church crisis the providence and direction of the church was less clear as Pope Francis and the 190 church leaders meet today. Our leaders have more than stumbled badly – they have given away vast tracts of any semblance of moral authority. our congregation is badly battered, beaten, and tired.
With this emotive experience, two readings fell into my hand this morning.
Thomas kempis, from the Imitation of Christ said “I am so weary of all that I read and hear and see, for only in you is that I will or can desire (pg. 19).” How true is this writing from the 1400s today.
And yesterday a book arrived as recomended by a family member out of the blue, the Dialogue by Catherine of Siena. The introduction and prologue alone directed by attentions:
“how storm tossed and offensive to God the world is….page 26”
and her 4 petitions that set up the as of yet unread book: prayer for self, prayer for the Holy Church, prayer for the whole world (especially for Christians that have rebelled), and prayer for divine providence for a particular certian case.
Today and hopefully everyday I rise armed with prayer of my 4 petitions, perhaps slightly altered in style and verbiage, but nonetheless, armed to face the days external challenges, my own self-conquest when my very own desires are too heavily weighted with worldly concerns, my trust in an ultiamte divine providence no matter how many actions we take to subvert god’s ultimate will, and openness to a living and merciful god. We are colelctively fallible through our own free will – our immorality and transgressions are our way, not Gods.
Whether you are fighting yourself, fellow man, or the Devil himself – do not go to battle alone, unprepared or unarmed. Everyday is an opportunity to seek greater perfection through prayer, discipline, and action no matter what battlefield is demanding your attention.
Today 190 Church leaders are meeting with Pope Francis to address the Sexual abuse crisis. Hidden underneath it is the patriarchal structure of the church.
At least three NYT articles today are discussing current immorality of church leaders with abuse of Nuns, Children, and other related legacies and current day abuses.
A recent NYT article[i] exposes hypocrisy of Southern Baptist presenting rapist as men of God. One even served time and is now on the pulpit despite being a sex offender. The material here is incendiary. Any incidence of sexual abuse, rape, child molestation, child predators coupled with clergy of any religious denomination hits people deep in their souls – believers, atheist (yes, atheist have a soul), parents, and anybody with moral conscience. The article takes a shot across the bow of all male run religious institutions of Christianity with both theological reference and historical and current day clergy immorality:
“Underneath it all is this patriarchy that goes back millennia,” Serene Jones, the president of Union Theological Seminary, told me, noting the commonality of the Catholic and Southern Baptist Churches: “They both have very masculine understandings of God, and have a structure where men are considered the closest representatives of God.”
The paradox is that Jesus and the early Christian church seem to have been very open to women. The only person in the New Testament who wins an argument with Jesus is an unnamed woman who begs him to heal her daughter (Mark 7:24-30 and Matthew 15:21-28).
The indifference to criminal behavior is an echo of what has been unearthed in the Roman Catholic Church over the decades. The latest sickening revelations are of priests getting away with raping nuns and with assaulting deaf students.
The author raises Mary of Magdalene as a leader in the church and given a teaching role by Jesus Christ. In this gnostic gospel, Mary Magdalene appears as a disciple, singled out by Jesus for special teachings. In this excerpt, the other disciples are discouraged and grieving Jesus’ death. Mary stands up and attempts to comfort them, reminding them that Jesus’ presence remains with them. Peter asks her to tell them the words of Jesus which she remembers. To his surprise, she does not reminisce about past conversations with Jesus, but claims that Jesus spoke to her that very day in a vision.[ii] Being a Gnostic gospel by definition however, places this outside traditional Christian and Catholic fundamental beliefs.
Putting celibacy aside and child predators as a different
category of disorder altogether, what if our conception of God was more feminine
and/or Women had equal footing in God’s work?
What if we got it wrong in early Christianity and male disciples was
necessary at that time purely due to our primitive social and cultural norms of
The average priest and typical lay person cannot defend the Catholic church’s positions on homosexuality without retreating to insular theology that ignores scientific, sociological, psychological, and priestly realities. Yet these same individuals lay claim to absolute truth on God’s judgement of homosexuality and promote a culture of denial, hatred, and persecution. We have a theological construct that is disordered in and of itself:
“From the standpoint of the psychology of personal constructs we may define a disorder as any personal construction which is used repeatedly in spite of consistent invalidation.” George Kelly
Cross-cultural similarities evinced by the Lethbridge study offer further evidence that being gay is genetic. The etiology of homosexuality, biological or otherwise, should have no bearing on gay individuals’ right to equality.[i] In a prior post I went in-depth on the hypocrisy of our teachings and morality on this issue: An incomplete look at Homosexuality and Catholicism (unfiltered).[ii] As lay people and priest we are making statements that fly in the face of science and the experiences of our own priest:
“…..gay men likely make up at least 30 to 40 percent of the American Catholic clergy, according to dozens of estimates from gay priests themselves and researchers. Some priests say the number is closer to 75 percent.”[iii]
The NYT times article quotation is well researched and ample evidence exist via other investigations and common knowledge that a significant percentage of Catholic Priest are Gay men that have chosen to be servants of God, and like heterosexual men, have chosen celibacy. The article link below gives indepth accounts from our priest. How can we as an institution continue to deny the existence of Homosexuality as a given both in society and in the clergy?
“Insanity Is Doing the Same Thing Over and Over Again and Expecting Different Results.”[iv]
Whether it was Einstein or others that coined this phrase it is applicable to our church today. The public rightfully so is just not accepting our arguments on homosexuality just because we keep saying it is immoral.
The commentary section in this article has calls for utilizing the RICO act to condemn and ban the Catholic Church. This is not unheard of and has happened multiple times in human history – often in conjunction with violence and murder. Significant portions of society see the Catholic Church as a safe haven for sexual predators, advocate for discriminatory practices, and a history of sinful and murderous actions. As an institution we have both directly committed atrocious actions and indirectly supported or were silent when nation states committed the same.
The churches response to institutional crisis has been woefully shameful and amateurish simplistic approach: ignore, deny, accept, promise change, apologize, retreat behind the walls of our human nature to be sinful, repent, rinse, wash, repeat. Our public, our faithful, and our educated youth are not accepting this non-responsibility. Pope Francis understands this and is wearily challenging the conservative church to move forward without sacrificing our fundamental beliefs:
The weariness of hope (that) comes from seeing a Church wounded by her own sin” and of a Church “which so often failed to hear all those cries”.[v]
Pope Francis is hemmed in by Church tradition thinly supported by selected pieces of scripture to maintain theological stances on celibacy, women’s roles in the church, and Homosexuality and LGBTQ issues. A significant portion of remaining believers will not support shifting traditions in these areas despite our clergy’s significant failure to live up to these espoused standards and volumes scientific and even scriptural support to have tradition evolve and be more in alignment with the Triune of God (God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit). The teachings and actions of the Catholic Church, its priest, and congregation are simply not living up to the spirit of the laws. Countless parables are available where Jews condemned and challenge Jesus for breaking Judaic law when he carried out his father’s work.
Tradition can change and should change when we come to know that its basis is unfounded and misguided:
“On June 22, 1633, the Church handed down the following order: “We pronounce, judge, and declare, that you, the said Galileo… have rendered yourself vehemently suspected by this Holy Office of heresy, that is, of having believed and held the doctrine (which is false and contrary to the Holy and Divine Scriptures) that the sun is the center of the world, and that it does not move from east to west, and that the earth does move, and is not the center of the world.”
The church and its believers rely on short memories and the adage this too will pass. And it very well may albeit a diminished and tarnished Church. But should it pass by quietly?
At the end of the day our faith is best rooted in the Triune and not in the individual actions of priest. In five days, Pope Francis will lead the institution in addressing the sexual abuse crisis in the church. There will be a call to blame it on homosexual priest as disordered individuals as the cause. Numbers and studies prove this is a fallacy. Homosexuals are no more likely to abuse children than heterosexuals. But there is no scientific basis for asserting that they are more likely than heterosexual men to do so. Child predators are fixated on children and should not be characterized by their sexual orientation but by their preoccupation with children regardless of sexual orientation.
If the church goes this route, aside from persecuting Homosexuality (and LGBQT people in general) the church will ignore the root of ingrained practices and traditions that may leave child predator in place, continue to promote an unhealthy life style for our priest (lack of transparency, isolation, and dwindling numbers), and a closed toxic institutional approach.
Pope Francis requires our prayers and the grace of the Triune to lead our church out of the middle age definitions of human sexuality and human relationships in general. How can we return to our roots as a faith without falling prey to grave errors? How much more grave can the errors be than those we have already committed in God’s name or while wearing the vestiges of the priesthood? Retreating from the public spear, reducing our public footprint is not the answer. The answer is humility, compassion and change by all us in the pews, in the clergy, and at the Vatican – from the janitor to the Pope let no stone be upturned and left unchanged. We need to transcend our human traditions and return to divine transcendence.