Cousins: Immortal Enemies?

A sibling rivalry between half-brothers began when the youngest received his father’s birth-right and the eldest went off to a foreign land with a different blessing to prosper as well.

Generations later great religions would wage holy wars claiming true authenticity to a covenant with God.  To put it another way, 3.6 billion people (54% of the world’s population) belong to one of three Abrahamic religions:  Christianity (33%), Islam (16%), and Judaism (.2%).[i]

Abrahamic religions are religions that derive their lineage from the original covenant God had with Abraham.  There were covenants before with Adam and Eve, with Noah, and later with Moses.  However, Abraham had a formal unwavering Covenant from God.  The Old Testament mentions the word covenant 280 times!  The Covenant with Abraham was a lasting promise where God promised land and success to all of Abraham’s descendants.

Much of our law and our societies are based on agreed covenants between people, states, and nations that it is worth defining the term here:

Definition of covenant

  1. 1: a usually formal, solemn, and binding agreement :  compact… international law, which depends upon the sanctity of covenants between rulers. — George H. Sabine
  2. 2a:  a written agreement or promise usually under seal between two or more parties especially for the performance of some action the deed conveying the land contained restrictive covenantsb :  the common-law action to recover damages for breach of such a contract[ii]

These three religions all believe in one God but have very different and clashing views.  The half-sibling connection?   Abraham had two sons:  Ismael the first son and Isaac the second.  Ismael went off to a land that would become Muslim and predominately Arab.  Islam claims lineage from Ismael while Judaism and Christianity from Isaac.  It is not as simple as I have stated here – but this enough detail for the purpose of this writing.

Portions of the nation of Islam are at war with non-Muslims today.   The Koran and other teachings of Islam have plenty of Holy Scripture references from their prophet Muhammad that legitimize violence in the name of God.  You either live within the “Abode of Islam” or “Abode of War.”  Mohammed’s early years in Mecca and later years in Medina saw a military shift in both his actions and his revelations (114 Suras) that were not written down until about 118 years after his death in 750 Common Era (CE)!   His prominent preaching occurred from 610 CE until his death in 632 CE.  The move to Medina marks the end of “The Era of Ignorance” in 622 CE and is called the Year of the Hegirae!

Death to the Pope

Christianity, a little bit older than Islam had its periods of violence as well.  However, it is difficult to attribute Christianity’s Crusades with the writing and teaching of Jesus Christ.   Their folly into violence I place squarely on human beings misusing scripture and being all too human.

Crusades

Judaism is the oldest and is accepted by both Christianity and Islam!   However, Judaism does not accept the Prophets Jesus Christ or Mohammad.  Christians do not accept Mohamad!  Both believe their Prophets were the last messengers from God.  The Old Testament has many different references to violence and war.  To be fair, most of the references are from the Jewish people seeking relief  from oppression or slavery.

violence

All three religions have roots in helping the poor and being oppressed in different epochs of time.  By sheer numbers alone, and if one is not a Holocaust denier, the Jewish people have endured the brunt of religious oppression.

To put this time period into perspective let’s look at time along a continuum with the Creation of the World being the year 1 and today being the year 5777 if time were linear without the B.C. and C.E.

Day 1:  Creation of the World

Day 6:  Adam and Eve – Garden of Eden (say 3500 – 3900 BC)

Year 1656:  Noah and the Great Flood

Year 1812:   Abraham (The Covenant)

Year 2240:  Moses

Year 2494:  David unites the Israelites!

Year 2594:  Israel finds itself in-between Egypt and Assyria – two great powers that would overrun them many times.

Year 3490:  Jesus Christ is born.

Year 3525:  Jesus is crucified at age 34 (say 30 CE).

Year 3565:  Earliest writings begin somewhere from 40 to 60 years after Christ death.

Year 3815:  Emperor Constantine adopts/converts to Christianity.  This is troublesome in the long run.  The church that started out as non-political gets wedded to the state.  Pope Urban the II and Pope Innocent the IVth would condone force for converting non-believers down the line.   Nowhere is this in the writings and preaching of Jesus Christ or in his actions.

Year 4100:  Mohammad is Born (say 610 CE).

Year 4132:  Mohammad Dies (say 632 CE).

Year 4236:  Koran written capturing Mohamad’s revelations (Suras).

Year 5777:  The actual year is now 2017.

If each generation passed every 40 years on average we have only been around 144 generations.  How far back does your family tree go?  How far back does your oral tradition go?  How knowledgeable are your kids regarding the history of your family, your nation, your faith?

There is plenty room for error in almost 6000 years of human existence.

The three religions

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam:  The Monotheists Course Guide by F.E. Peters, PHD (A Modern Scholars Course) attempted to provide an objective viewpoint of the similarities and differences between these three religions.  I enjoyed his detailed views on Abraham, Jesus Christ, and Mohammad and the traditions and sacred writings that later formed the three great religions.   I am Catholic and hence a subjective reader.   The history of Islam here and the life and times of Mohammad were very troubling in this course.

The degree to which Jihad is ingrained in the prophet’s actions and the religions sacred writings is utilized today to justify ISIS and other violence.

The history of Judaism has war and violence as well both in actions and in scripture.  However, their beliefs and practices have had many reformations over the last 6000 years and they account for only .2 percent of the world population.

Christianity does not have the scriptural or the prophet example to justify violence accept it does accept the Old Testament.  However, Jesus Christ is a redeemer who gave us a new covenant that for all practical purposes abolished many old ways.

If you are a Muslim reading my post please reply and explain how the “Abode of War” and Muhammad’s violent history is not applicable today?  If you are Jewish, please explain to me where and when the second coming will be here and how a God is only here for the “Chosen People.”  If you are a Christian, it has been a longtime since Christ death.  When exactly is the end of the world?   There are too many questions!

E Peters covered an excellent review on how people pursue an understanding and achieving a proximity to God: Direct revelation (thru no effort on our part – as revealed to our ancestors and given to us in scripture), Theology (formal study and pursuit of knowledge), Asceticism (self-denial of worldly things and pursuit of God’s way), and Mysticism.   The latter is the most intriguing and dangerous.  We have very few true mystics in our history.  How many of us have truly heard the voice of God talk to us? Too often men of this world purport to be mystics for evil purposes or believe they are mystics without having a true relationship with the God of Abraham.

I raise these avenues of pursuit of a higher understanding of a spiritual transcendence as religion as it is today cannot be static.   People of the word of God, of the Abrahamic line, are not acting and promoting a lifestyle that portrays a transcendent God.

To be Holy in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is to aspire to live a holy life.    If F.E Peter’s description of our religions being cousins is at all close to reality, we have in 6000 years destroyed our sense of kinship.   In the name of man alone each has claimed moral authority without legitimate sanction over the other.

As a member of the Christian faith, I am saddened by the lack of evidence and historical verification that is present for Islam and its founder.  Much of what is written cannot be verified by other sources.  My inclination is Islam cannot be an extenuation of the Abrahamic line.  The Jews feel about Jesus Christ.

Yet, I know many Muslims that are peaceful people and follow a reformed set of Islamic principles.   But they cannot define for me the justification for deviation from the Koran and the more orthodox Islamic scholars.  There is a bridge between me and Muslim beliefs that escapes my yearning for ecumenical thinking and bridging our faiths on our commonalities.   I know the orthodox Jews may feel the same way about Christians – but at least I can understand their disbelief in Jesus Christ and my church.

I am living in a glass house as well.  I cannot throw rocks at my cousin religions as my own house is in a state of disrepair in many ways.

Are we Immortal Enemies?  Have we created a hatred and suspicion so deep that we cannot possibly approach a transcendent God?

Let us assume, that tomorrow was the day of reckoning.  And we were called to be accountable for our actions in threes.   Together, three cousins we are with Three faiths o facing a transcendent God together.   And we are asked to explain just how is it that the three of us, cousins by descendants, linked by the covenant, stand before God without working out our differences before this day?

Or even without the messianic end of the world coming in our time, how are we living up to being holy, to striving to create heaven on earth, to preparing ourselves and our brothers to live in harmony now?

If the age of Ignorance was truly over as proclaimed by Islam would we not be farther along at this time in our history?

transcendent

[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abrahamic_religions

[ii] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/covenant

Are we keeping our part of our covenant with God as we understand him, whether we be Jewish, Catholic or Muslim?

broken

Spiritual Direction and Meditation by Thomas Merton

Seeking a greater union with God through prayer and meditation I sought out the works of Thomas Merton.  This very tiny book, Spiritual Direction and Meditation, after much discourse and examination of the benefits of pray informed meditation, enough to provide a course of action and reassurance, takes aim at our human ego just after cresting the mid-way point of the book:

 “Knowing at the same time the weakness and imperfection of my own soul fettered by attachments, I will above all pray earnestly and humbly for the grace without which I can never hope to conquer my impatience, irritability, aggressiveness and self-righteous impulses to judge and punish other men.”[i]

Irrevocably drawn in by the power and beauty of seeking greater unity with God by this point, flight from my own human failings is not an option.   But what if the book started off this way?  Would I have continued to read it with the same investment?  Would you?

I adore many of my worldly attachments to the point of constant distraction from unity with God.  Many of these attachments are perfectly healthy and rational affections that could even be defined as my calling and my duty (family, work, friends, and writing).   Others not so much like chess, poker, political junkie, sports and other adrenaline inducing activities.  Not so long ago the allure of the dark side of alcohol as well.  Aside from the latter, I have no intention of divesting myself from these attachments!

As for my impatience, irritability, and aggressiveness – is this not a normal response to the insanity we are faced with every day?   Some of these attributes drive innovation and success in my life.   Do I have a self-righteous impulse to judge and punish other men?  No, I have a self-directed mission to be an advocate for the oppressed and underserved.  I have an obligation to be decisive and to act.  God did not give us ability to have it buried in the ground hidden away.

It is easy to fall into the trap of arrogance with only a droplet of spiritual attainment being granted to the individual soul.  But note the last part of the quote – “to judge and punish other men!”  How often do we judge other men?  How often do we punish others based on our judgments?  Do not rule this out.   Punishing another can take many different forms that may not be obvious initially and be far from a benevolent act despite one’s intention to right a wrong.

How many fervent Catholics go astray with judging and condemning women walking into Planned Parenthood?  Are they inspired by true compassion and love when they are walking the pavement with murder signs held high?  Are they doing it for the glory of God, to defend the unborn, or to raise their own sense of righteous indignation?  How many are ready to punish these women regardless of any circumstance?

worthy

But what are we to do when confronted with the many evils of today?  This is our suffering.  This is our cross.  Thomas Merton says we are “obliged” to follow the example of Jesus Christ and to reproduce in ourselves his patience, meekness, and tranquility.  “He who does not take up his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”[ii] What an order.  All “I” wanted was meditation, prayer, and peace!

No wonder Mystic St. John wrote “The Dark Night of the Soul”[iii] that captures what can be a violent confrontation.  It is easy to get ahead of oneself and get lost in “false mysticism.”  Let’s take a step back.

Hence, entering into prayer and meditation I must pray humbly for grace to guide my meditation, my prayers, and my actions.  Thomas Merton’s book is packed with singular lines that can be expounded on ad infinitum.  However, the true intent is to inspire spiritual meditation that brings one closer to God, but here and now, and at the end of times.

Only way to evaluate the writing is to apply the knowledge.  On completing the book, I decided to apply Merton’s writings to my adoration hour.

“This implies trust in God and a sincere abandonment to the Holy Spirit, from whom we can at any time rely on the light of divine Counsel, provided that we are conscientious religious and try to be men of prayer.” 

This is another metaphysical challenge to jump with for complete abandonment and rely on the Holy Spirit for divine counsel.  I don’t know about you, but most believers, even the most devout, have had the grace of direct revelation from the Father, The Son, or The Holy Spirit.  And the latter is the most challenging concept.  Merton does not pause on this and presents simple direction on practical matters (no one can meditate for you) and principals that can guide (seeking union with God, having patience, having humility, having faith*, and with sincere searching and love ask for guidance).

*“We cannot possibly bring our souls to renounce our most powerful natural desires unless we somehow have a real and conscious appreciation of our contact with something better.”

But where do I begin.  Merton recommended “Lectio Divina” as a normal foundation for an interior life of meditation and prayer.  I am somewhat familiar with this from the influence of St. Ignatius spiritual practices.  Simply stated read sacred scripture deeply and sit with it meditatively or with spiritual imagination.

I placed myself in a sacred space (adoration chapel).  I prepared myself for prayer.  I humbly asked for grace and guidance for the time I was to be present and praying that evening. A large bible was within arm’s reach.  The gospel of John, chapter 14, on Last Supper Discourses was the scripture that presented itself.[iv]

John 14

Spiritual imagination transformed me to being in the room.  Disciples Thomas, Philip and Judas were struggling to accept Jesus’s plan to depart.   Anger, fear, disillusionment permeated the room.  I myself could not accept having travelled so far with Jesus, to have such an abrupt end.  Truth be told I did not think an end would come once I saw his miracles with my own eyes. But now, everything is upside down.  Outside these doors are enemies that I cannot stand up too without Jesus.  I do not hear the word of the father the way he does.  I do not trust my fellow disciples to stay.  My friends and family from my past will ridicule me on return – not listen to me preach the words of Jesus.  Jesus speaks to me.  At this point meditative prayer is broken with the hilarity that I could summon up the words Jesus would say to me!  His words to the other apostles sufficed.

And then, after clearly detailing the inevitability of his departure, Jesus tells me about the advocate he will give us:

The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you.

This is important to me.  I have been delving for a week or to now into prayer seeking greater understanding of the Holy Spirit and not quite getting it. And hear, Jesus was telling me directly about the advocate.  My complaining about following Jesus all this way above in my spiritual imagination became my complaining about my life journey and its hardships.

In a crack of silence, the journey and providence of traveling from Pelham bay in the Bronx as a child to the middle of Delaware was filled with the unseen hand of God at different turning points in my life.  And still in my obstinacy, despite all the graces I have been given, I question God…..Dela Where?     In an instant the worry and hindsight on how I arrived at where I am today were insignificant.

Significance is that ultimate truth lies within us if we pursue listening to our spiritual consciousness and are open to the mystery of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  The advocate is there for us within us if we ask for it and we look for it with pure intention and sincerity to want union with God.

That sincerity will acknowledge the weakness and imperfection of our fettered souls with a desire to seek him. I do not know about conquering my imperfections.  I can only humbly ask God’s grace to eliminate those that can be ameliorated, help me carry those imperfections that are my cross bear, help me to not hurt others as a result of my weaknesses, and empower me to live loving as Jesus Christ exemplified.

Untethered thoughts cascaded into pleas:

I am no saint.  I am not a bible thumper or theologian.  I am damaged by my own fears and desires. I am engulfed in humanity and vulnerable to the attractions of the seven deadly sins. I cannot possibly meet God’s expectations or even my own!  I am in need of help and forgiveness every day for myself and for brothers.

Solemnity settled into the still room.  Neither elation nor despair was present.  As the disciples knew, challenges awaited them when they left the last supper.  So too challenges awaited me as I exited the chapel – not of course on the grand magnitude of those by Jesus’s side.

The night air was peaceful.  The Moon was bright.  Unseen I departed from the quiet place with my thoughts.   Perhaps I can conquer many things that create distance between me and God with the advocates help and prayerful meditations and actions.  it is not that complicated to pray.

“Meditation is almost all contained in this one idea:  the idea of awakening our interior self and attuning ourselves inwardly to the Holy Spirit, so that we will be able to respond to His grace.”

merton on life

[i] Thomas Merton, Spiritual Direction and Meditation (Action and Union)

[ii] Luke: 14:27

[iii] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21Rwj9sPBTc

 

[iv] http://www.usccb.org/bible/john/14:1

 

Saints

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

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

Final Battle

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading my mystical rambling.

Zealot THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JESUS OF NAZARETH by Rena Aslan

Two thousand plus years and Jesus the man (revolutionary, rebel, bandit) and Jesus “The Son of Man” (The Jesus Christ of Christian believers, the son of God, sent to save mankind from eternal damnation, died on the cross for our sins than and now) live in a historical reality much as we do today.  Aslan delves into the historical Jesus Christ and the context of how and by whom the New Testament came to be.  Regardless of how you define Jesus Christ, both the man and the Jesus Christ our savior, challenged government and priestly authorities to stop abusing privilege and care for the poor, reform and create a just society that is reflected in the Sermon on the Mount. Do we believe in that message today?

The destruction of Jerasulem in 70 C.E. is marked by Aslan as the true birth of Christianity separating from Judaism and fully accepting Paul’s theological framework that sees the Torah and the rules of Judaism as a “ministry of death, chiseled in letters on a stone tablet” that must be superseded by a “ministry of the spirit come in glory.” (2 Cor 3: 7-8) Very strong words.  Indeed Christianity did rid itself of many rituals – but not of its theological roots and scripture of the Torah.

A key critism of this book is Aslam attributes authorship of Gospels to be penned after 70 A.D. whereas many scholars date Gospels “no later than 59 AD” which is only 29 years after Jesus’s death.  This is a major blow to Aslan’s carefully built assertion that Jesus was more a political rebel or revolutionary than Prophet and Divine son of God.  It is not affirmative who is right on timelines.  Here is another source:  http://catholic-resources.org/Bible/Four_Gospel_Chart.htm

The oral and written traditions that superseded the New Testament we have today, the influence Jewish Authorities, competing Messianic movements, and divisions within the Christian community had a profound impact on the narratives and literary devices used to capture the life of Jesus Christ.  Aslan takes a look at contrast between the earliest written gospel (Mark) versus gospels written later (Matthew, Mark, John, and Q sources) and other historical references that bring to light the distinctions between the historical Jesus and the theological Jesus that evolved over time by his apostles preaching the word and the word enventualky taking form under Emperor Constantine in 325 C.E.

Imagine if Christians did not blame the Jews for the Crucifiction, but the Romans? Perhaps two thousand years of antisemitism could have been avoided. The early Christians though, may have chosen to avoid that fight with the Romans.  Look where it got the Jews of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.

The relationships amongst the 3 original apostles (James, Peter, and John) and Paul (Saul, convert self-proclaimed apostle who had an a vision of Jesus Christ while encounter to persecute Christians) who never met Jesus Christ and outreached to gentiles and Jews a message quite different than the apostles (casting off Jewish law).  This is somewhat contentious as Aslan is basically saying Christianity represents Paul’s vision – not the thinking and vision of Jesus Christ the man.  He has a kernel of truth here.  Paul championed Christianity for gentiles and liberal Jews.  He was not preaching in the land of Jerusalem, the heart of Orthodox Judaism.

A major theme in Aslams book is how commonplace healers, magicians, and messiahs were in Jesus time.  He does note that Jesus was remarkably different in several ways – but his intent is a revisionist attempt to make Jesus more human.  I did find his information on other rebels and bandits fascinating:  

The Fourth Philosophy led by Judah’s the Galilian and later chef Hazekiah were famous bandits that espoused freeing Israel from foreign rule and serving no one but one God.  A legendary group named the Sicarri by the Romans (or daggerman) had a “penchant for small, easy to conceal daggers, called sicae, with which they assassinated the enemies of God (Romans or more likely wealthy priestly aristocracy who did Romes bidding).  In 56 C.E the Sicarri managed to kill the Jewish high priest in the temple, in broad day light, slit his throat with a dagger and slipped back into the crowd. Some depict the group as equivalent to modern day terrorist.  Murder justified under religious edict and fervor….or Zeal. There were many Jewish messiahs before and after Jesus Christ prophesying.  Other claimants of messiah included Simon of Perea, Athronges the Shepard, Menahem (also a Sicarri), Simon son of Giorgio,  and Theodas the wonder worker.  John the Baptist himself proclaimed a messianic message but did not claim himself a messiah.  Jesus refrained from calling himself messiah, he befuddled the Romans and Jews by using the term “the son of Man.”

Getting back to Jesus Christ, he did not accept money or titles.  He had a message and a direction that differed from previous messiahs.  The Beatitudes (Luke 6: 20 to 24) capture the messianic message of the day, a vision that promotes both an internal transformation of Judaism but also a promise of deliverance from sub-servience and foreign rule.  The evaluation of Jesus Christ on previous expected messiahs failed by measures of re-establishing Kingship or Kingship line, liberating the Jews from Roman rule, or bringing the end of days.  These three themes of messianic beliefs and preachers who espoused them were commonplace as were their deaths for threatening sedition from Rome as well as attacking the power of the priestly elite.

Jesus understood the risk of preaching any of the above and avoided naming himself the messiah.  He let others do that until the end.  The author refers this to the messianic secret, a strategy employed most likely by Jesus, to use  parables and ambiguity until the very end.  However, Jesus also knew, as countless messiahs and others who challenged Rome, were crucified at Golgotha.

In the end, I have to agree with the critics that Aslan has created a biography that leans towards historical imagination (some would say fiction) and personal beliefs.  Nonetheless the book was very enjoyable and the politics of the time bought to life.

The messy evolution of Christianity as a theology and its massive break from Jewish tradition in a time of great political turmoil invites believers, atheist, and skeptics to explore and express intriguing questions.  As Christianity today forwarns, beware of assertions made in this book.  

In fact, I say beware of anyone asserting their interpretation of the logos (or the eternal being, the Godhead, and all the other nomenclature we use as humans to capture the unknowable, unimaginable, existence of a supreme being) is right and yours is (fill in adjective).  If they have to sell or attack they are probably not in line with divinity.  A divine soul need not pretend to be divine or to sell – they just do.  They do not have to assure themselves or others nor deminish others beliefs.  Pure divine souls humbly attract believers to them by their actions and words of love, compassion, and mercy.

Christianity Today criticism of book captures a few errors and potential exaggerations.  Little provided on the substance of the historical and theological mix of the times:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2013/august-web-only/zealot-reza-aslan-tells-same-old-story-about-jesus.html?share=

The National Catholic Register also hammered it’s oversimplification, errors, and timelines.  It is a good idea to read what others write outside the bubble of your own political or religious perspective. It not only challenges and refines the “kool aid” you drink, but enables you to grasp why others may find your beliefs incredulous to the rationale eye!  

Rating:  9 of 10 for religious imagination and exploration.  6 if treated as historically or theologically accurate.

Jesus Freaks: Martyrs: Stories of Those Who Stood for Jesus: The Ultimate Jesus Freaks by DC Talk

“There are more Christian martyrs today than there were in ad 100–in the days of the Roman Empire. Now in the twenty-first century, according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, more than 150,000 Christians are martyred around the world every year.”

When I think of modern-day martyrs I think of burning monks who set themselves afire as more than a 140 Tibetan monks have set themselves on fire (gently called self-immolation).  The first historic “burning monk” was a photograph taken 53 years ago on June 11, 1963, depicting the dignified yet horrific death by fiery suicide of Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc in Saigon by photographer Malcolm Wilde Browne:

downloadBurning Monk

In recent years these Buddhist Monks have won my admiration for their pro-active self-sacrifice.  Their oppressors try to oppress without visibility to deny martyrdom – so these Monks denied them invisibility.  Our Christian culture does not teach self-immolation.  It does teach being prepared to sacrifice for your faith as the greatest Martyr known to mankind did for us.  And many are paying with their lives.  This is just so depressing (after anger jolts thru the veins).  How have we not learned anything from the Holocaust?  How do we not make the same mistakes in our own outrage and fear?

Jesus Freaks is written for teenagers and raises awareness of scripture and history of Christian Martyrs up to and including current day Christian Martyrdom.   As a book it gives short, easy to read stories of past and present Martyrs – mostly past.  It is also short on evidence and written more in an oral tradition manner.  It finishes with a call to pray and advocacy and, as it is a christian book, a call to Jesus Christ. It spiked my interest in just how bad is the world today for Christian believers.

Our Christian understanding in America is limited to perceived oppression that we may have with secular law and the blurry division of church and state.  However, the Pew research center reported in 2014 that “Christians continue to be the world’s most oppressed religious group, with persecution against them reported in 110 countries.” Open doors reports that 322 christians are killed each month for their faith.

Can this be true?  Every month?  If so. every Christian must “Remember the Lord’s people who are in jail and be concerned for them. Don’t forget those who are suffering, but imagine that you are there with them.”  Hebrews 13:3

Two links below track Christian persecution.  Other sites track all religious persecution across the globe.  The killings and torture are persistent and to disturbing according to these sites.

“According to The Pew Research Center, over 75% of the world’s population lives in areas with severe religious restrictions (and many of these people are Christians). Also, according to the United States Department of State, Christians in more than 60 countries face persecution from their governments or surrounding neighbors simply because of their belief in Jesus Christ.”

We are anesthetized to the violence by repeated exposure both to our own violence within our country and to international horrors as well.   How do we stop these atrocities I do not know.  One answer to stopping persecution and violence, both home and abroad, starts with each of us having a voice and not being silent.   Another answer is…….

pray

Pew research link:  http://cnsnews.com/news/article/barbara-boland/pew-study-christians-are-world-s-most-oppressed-religious-group

Voices of Martyrs Link:  http://www.persecution.com/public/aboutVOM.aspx?clickfrom=%3d6d61696e5f6d656e75

Charity rater link:  http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summary&orgid=4700

Open Doors:  https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/

 

 

Revelation?

revelation_chart1

Defining revelation for me is very challenging.  I have broken it down into four levels and one huge spiritual barrier. It is more personal and real.  It is not driven by the “Book of Revelation.”  I am not a mystic – though I sometimes wish I could be.  Than again, be careful what you wish for – you may get what you ask!

The first level that comes to mind is revelations that others have had (fathers of the church, the original apostles, martyrs, saints, Popes, and theologians).  Their experiences hover above and out of reach.

The second level is the New Testament and the parables of Jesus Christ serve as a basis point for reflections.  Interpretations by others help as well.  These are more educationally inspired and didactic in nature.  Scripture readings and the liturgy come into play here.  As well as celebrating the Sacraments.

The third level has been times in my life where I believe the hidden hand of God or the Holy Spirit has gently or not so gently knocked me on the head.  There have been fewer times when grace seemed overpowering.   Those very rare moments that dim with time and are susceptible to later doubts and criticisms of authenticity.     These have come at times of great turmoil or at times of extended and disciplined prayer life.  On the latter I am a light weight and drift in and out of prayer filled life.  The connectedness to an existential presence beyond my comprehension has been so fleeting and so rare that I can only call it a subjective spiritual journey.

Spiritual warfare comes into play for any revelation.  The dimming of a grace filled experience or increase of self-doubt.  There are many barriers to a sustained faith and openness to revelations.  Both the Old Testament and the New Testament are riddled for me with the challenges of historical context, biblical interpretation, purpose of literary devices, and the spiritual arc of development of people at the time of these revelations.   The wealth of Catholic dogma that has come after these revelations challenges me as well, both in its scope and in its accuracy.  Perhaps atheists are not born atheist – perhaps we create atheist with distorted scripture and over-zealous religiosity, institutionalized rigidity, and all too human leaders demonstrating unseemly hypocrisy?  (Presumptuous as not all atheist are atheist as a direct reaction to over-reaching believers – but in many ways we do not make it an easy bridge for others to find faith).  I contend with these contradictions by taking courses, reading, praying, and when I can get away on a retreat.    The Catechism also has this disconcerting guidance:

“The Christian economy, therefore, since it is the new and definitive Covenant, will never pass away; and no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ.”28 Yet even if Revelation is already complete, it has not been made completely explicit; it remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries.[i]

For this we need the fourth level, outside all the above and guided by the unseen:   revelations in the eyes of children, hidden in the sounds of music, in a stroke of paint on a canvass, in nature, in love and compassion between people, and in acts of selflessness that exceed any hint of personal motivation or glory.   These are where I am most apt to find spiritual strength.

[i] http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p1s1c2a1.htm

 

Christian De Cherge of Tibhirine excerpts of last testament

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May 24, 1996, a group of Islamic terrorists announced that they had “slit the throats” of seven French Trappist monks whom they had kidnapped from the monastery of Tibherine. Father Christian de Chergé, had left with his family this testament “to be opened in the event of my death.”

Christian’s entire letter can be read anywhere on the web.  The story of Christian’s death and six other monks is now a novel and a movie.

While the book and movie provide serious entertainment, the value of human life, spirituality, humility, and martyrdom is called into the spotlight.  Interfaith dialogue also has a significant role.

Christian, and his fellow monks, had given their lives to follow Christ.  When danger was near they gave their actual lives, their flesh and body, they had passports and chose not to leave. As Christ chose to accept his destiny so did these Cistercian Monks. How have I accepted or not accepted my destiny?  How many ways has God worked around me, inspite of me, and through me to deliver providentially his plans?   Surely my failures and folly have at least served a few who can learn from my ways!  I like the closing line, and may we find each other, happy good thieves, in paradise.  Is any grace we receive not an aspect of thievery, for what do we have of any worth to purchase God’s blessing.  Nothing at all in our possession can lay claim to entitlement.  We are at the mercy of God’s good will and intentions being provided despite our inclination to turn towards evil or at least earthly, temporal things.

Below are some excerpts from Christian’s last letter:

If it should happen one day—and it could be today—that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to encompass all the foreigners living in Algeria, I would like my community, my Church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to this country. I ask them to accept that the One Master of all life was not a stranger to this brutal departure. I ask them to pray for me: for how could I be found worthy of such an offering? I ask them to be able to associate such a death with the many other deaths that were just as violent, but forgotten through indifference and anonymity.

My life has no more value than any other. Nor any less value. In any case, it has not the innocence of childhood. I have lived long enough to know that I share in the evil which seems, alas, to prevail in the world, even in that which would strike me blindly. I should like, when the time comes, to have a clear space which would allow me to beg forgiveness of God and of all my fellow human beings, and at the same time to forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down.

I could not desire such a death. It seems to me important to state this. I do not see, in fact, how I could rejoice if this people I love were to be accused indiscriminately of my murder. It would be to pay too dearly for what will, perhaps, be called “the grace of martyrdom,” to owe it to an Algerian, whoever he may be, especially if he says he is acting in fidelity to what he believes to be Islam.

And you also, the friend of my final moment, who would not be aware of what you were doing. Yes, for you also I wish this “thank you”—and this adieu—to commend you to the God whose face I see in yours.

And may we find each other, happy “good thieves,” in Paradise, if it pleases God, the Father of us both. Amen.

Translated by the Monks of Mount Saint Bernard Abbey, Leicester, England.