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

Mercy? Self-Compassion?

“And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  Micah 6:8

A simple calling that many of us aspire to practice in all our daily affairs.  Micah is ancient, from the Old Testament, 686 B.C., telling us the importance of justice, kindness, and humility.

We may secretly believe we are doing a fine job – or may even boast of our temporal success!  The latter instantaneously crashes our spiritual intentions before our vocal cords cease vibrating, before the words form, before sounds from the air on our God given breath escape our mouth, our humility is lost.

If only we had errors of omission to be concerned about perhaps we could get a pass for these transgressions.  What about our active permission or even execution of unjust acts, meanness, a simple claim of moral superiority or self-righteous indignation.

We are a long way from Micah’s days and have had generations to lose our sense of spirituality, of universal truths, of a desire to have and maintain a conscious contact with God.  So far removed are we as a people that we are numb to micro and macros transgressions we see every day — hunger, poverty, oppression, violence, and the many forms of the seven deadly sins.  Even if we were to claim that we are powerless over the society in which we live, we still have our own individual actions which no doubt fail not only God’s standards, but our very own watered down standards, which at the slightest provocation, can be adjusted to meet our sense of our grandiose circumstances.  Our afflictions are so high even Job would tremble to be in our shoes.  Sometimes I think he actually might be trembling for our human condition these days.  All is not lost.

Author Anne Lamont presents a solution for our miserable actions in her book Hallelujah Anyway.  As far as I can tell Anne has had plenty of challenges herself (mental health, alcoholism, and trauma) in her life and has come out the other side with a career of multiple successful books.

This book takes a look at the “lingering effects of Trauma and Paralyzing Fear” on people’s ability to live a holy life and maintain a conscious contact with God – or even to maintain a conscious contact with their own sense of self.  Mercy and forgiveness are foundational:[i]

Practicing Mercy towards others and towards yourself is the answer she defines for all the broken souls that are seeking peace.  Anne Lamott says “Mercy is radical kindness.” This is not a unique concept for excellent health – it has many authors from many different fields promoting its value.

Kindness

Starting with oneself is almost always a good idea.  I know several of my weaknesses can be captured by Thomas Merton’s broad stroke of a pen:

“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.”[ii]

I have not lost these negative traits since reading his book, though I like to believe, I have arrested and entangled their freedom to run rampant without circumspection, constraint, or outright arrest!  And what about all the resentments of others past – and those current, that show no restraint or awareness at all of the harms they are committing?

How am I to cope with my own fallibility while also contending with historical “trauma and fear,” current stressors and insecurity, and outright insanity of other people?

Mercy

It is not just the old man Micah that recommends Mercy.   The Bible has many references to a Merciful God.[iii]  Understanding the importance of mercy and forgiveness is a lifelong journey and can cover quite a broad terrain of concrete action.[iv]    If you prefer a psychological look at Mercy and Forgiveness perhaps “The Enright Process Model of Psychological Forgiveness” can shed some light on the power of Mercy or at least the how to approach Mercy for self and others.[v]  Or checkout the International Forgiveness Institute[vi].

I prefer for this writing to stay focused on the spiritual calling to practice Mercy in all our affairs.

“We do not have a God Who is incapable of understanding and sharing our weaknesses. Quite the contrary! Precisely because of His mercy God became one of us: ‘For by His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man. He worked with human hands, He thought with a human mind, acted by human choice and loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, He has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin’. In Jesus, therefore, we are able not only to touch the mercy of God with our hands, but we are inspired to become instruments of His mercy. It is easy to speak of mercy, yet more difficult to become its witness. This is a path that is lifelong and which should not be interrupted. Jesus has said to us that we must be ‘merciful as the Father”. It is a lifelong endeavour.”

Pope Francis:  Vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday, April 2, 2016[vii]

And thankfully we are not alone in seeking and providing Mercy:

It is love which takes the first step, which does not depend on human merit but on immense gratuitousness. It is divine solicitude that nothing can impede, not even sin, because it is able to go beyond sin, to overcome evil and forgive it.[viii]

The Holy Spirit

Practicing Mercy while being just, demonstrating kindness, and maintaining humility is a way of life that is difficult to maintain in today’s world.  While there are many psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits to living this way that is not why we should live this way.

We should live this way as it is God’s will and to live in accordance with God’s will is right and just.  But how do I know what is God’s will?   You cannot trust your own sense of providence alone.  Too many people are deceived by false shadows of religiosity that are far from holy.

If you are Catholic perhaps some reflection on the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.[ix]  Depending on the immensity of the decision you are facing – having others (spiritual advisors, friends, professionals) maybe a good adjunct to your spiritual journey and practicing discernment.

I would be remiss to not mention Saint Faustina Kowalska, an uneducated Polish nun who, in obedience to her spiritual director, wrote a diary of about 600 pages recording the revelations she received about God’s mercy.[x]       I have a preference for non-formulaic prayer and conversation – meditative and/or Lectio Divina.    Sometimes the readings of Saints or theologians can spark the spiritual imagination.

Perhaps the best advice I have is pray, strive, and do not take yourself too seriously if you are putting your best self out there.  We are imperfect creatures.  Trust in something higher!

Jesus I Trust In You

[i] Hallelujah ANYWAY by Anne Lamott

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

[iii] 2 Samuel 24:14, Psalm 86:5, Psalm 145:9, Luke 6:36, Ephesians 2:4, Titus 3:5, Hebrews 4:16, 1 Peter 1:3, Matt 9:13, Psalms 51:1-2

[iv] http://www.stamadison.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Fr-Zyg-handout.pdf

[v] https://couragerc.org/wp-content/uploads/Enright_Process_Forgiveness_1.pdf

[vi] https://internationalforgiveness.com/about-us.htm

[vii] https://www.ncronline.org/blogs/francis-chronicles/popes-quotes-mercy-god

[viii] https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/audiences/2016/documents/papa-francesco_20160113_udienza-generale.html

[ix] http://www.stpatpv.org/rcia/gifts_of_the_spirit.pdf

[x] http://www.thedivinemercy.org/message/

 

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

 

The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ll_purgatory

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

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

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

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

[iii] Page 462, Seven Storey Mountain

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

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

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

 

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.

Cathedral Basilica, Philadelphia

alter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
http://cathedralphila.org/

 

The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus by Lee Strobel

Most of us Christians do not have the resources or time to complete a pilgrimage dedicated to exploring our historical faith, visiting holy places close and far, interviewing experts on both our theology and the historical accuracy of the bible.  A majority of us have the luxury of being raised in the faith which provides a solid foundation for belief, hopefully re-enforced by lived actions and a faith driven life-style.  However, sometimes being born and raised in a tradition is a disservice.  The religion of our heritage goes untested, the theology taken for granted, and the believer reduced to being a passive recipient rather than an active and engaged believer testing the word inside and outside the bubble of our community of believers.

Throughout history from the apostolic age to present Christians have faced criticism from Judaism, Secularism, Atheist, other world religions,  philosophers, and others.  Generally educated and ethical critics have not been a threat to our existence of safety.  They have refined and tested our faith.  We continue to develop our believers and message in-line with Jesus Christ while ensuring our institutions are teaching and being held accountable for preserving the word of true Christianity.  If Christ were to return today I am confident that more than a few teachings would be upended and many a tabernacle laid bare and empty.  The many splinters of Christianity today demonstrate the enormity of the task of humans preserving the message and striving to be close to the divine.   I worry more about the safety of our faith and the safety of Christians at the hands of blowhards with shallow understanding, politicians with a political motivation, and mobs instigated by fear and hate.  These are real and ever-present realities.  Having critics and apologist debate sincerely and with intentional benevolence is divine pursuit.   Having an uneducated and fear driven populous acting on mis-informed secular representations or false prophets rhetorical call to violence is our real enemy.

About the author:  Lee Strobel is commonly called a Christian apologist today despite once being atheist.  I see him as a mass market/motivational speaker, not necessarily a theological source.  He has a history in journalism which he utilized to explore his found faith.  At the end are links to his web page and a documentary on this book.

I hate the word “apologist.”  It sounds too much like apology!  “Apologetics is about rationally defending a position or view whose truth is challenged.”

apologist

Strobel does this by interviewing expert Christian Apologist and challenging them on the most common attacks from modern-day critics of Christianity.  In one book he has covered the vast majority of criticisms that you will hear from people who have not had the time to delve deeply into investigating each new age or old age attack on Christian identity and theology.  It is an “inside baseball” book as it is a dialogue of a Christian convert  interviewing Christian apologist.  However, having read many criticisms of Catholicism and christianity, listened to countless uninformed representations of the faith, and having a background in philosophy/psychology/social work – it is refreshing to read an unapologetic, easy to read, defense of the faith.  It is not error free and clearly not exhaustive.  The review I provided on Zealot prior covered many of the same points – in some cases reaching different conclusions.  These are the types of books that everyday people are reading.  Who these days goes and reads comphrehenisve documents from Antiquities in the native language of the day?   However, if you are exploring the faith and the ongoing attacks on the christian faith – every Christian needs to understand the arguments for and against Christianity.  This book is an excellent primer on the subject.  No believer should take their faith for granted.  We are all apologist!

That being said, we have no need to sell one version of the divine, to convince others of our beliefs, or to denigrate others not in the faith.   Faith sharing will not be one by theological arguments  but by lived faith and the grace of God.  We are not here “to win” but to serve the faith and our shared God.

Book rating:  10

http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/the-case-for-christ/

http://leestrobel.com/

resurrection

A Monk In The World: Cultivating A Spiritual Life by Wayne Teasdale

“The homeless live in virtually every city and town around the globe, representing a sixth of humanity — or about a billion souls.  Like ghost, they haunt the busy thoroughfares of the world.”

If you read nothing else in this post except this quote that is okay.  Please contemplate and pray for these billion souls in whatever spiritual tongue you possess and cherish.

homeless

Teasdale doesn’t get to the homeless until chapter six:  “Light in the streets:  The urgent call of the homeless.”  The first five chapters he spends on spirituality, mystical experience, the church, friendship, world order, preciousness of time, sacredness of work, and the value of money.  A decent read on challenges of everyday life to the spiritual life.   But most of us are not called to the monastic life and have to “make due” in an environment that is sometimes outright hostile to your beliefs.

Homelessness is only a small portion of the book that is examining how to live a contemplative and spiritual life amidst the chaos of living in the real world (as opposed to a monastery or a hermit in the desert.  However, the epic issue of homelessness and our aversion to the problem is an epitome of the failure of globalization and extreme capitalism.

Teasdale explains through his own life experience the labor of belief, both vertical and horizontal life challenges, internal and external challenges, mortality, and earthly limitations.  He goes a step further to address the commonalities of religious and the calling to unite ecumenical movements to address poverty in our times.

In the U.S our current administration is focused on recovering a perceived lost edge in the global economy and focus on removing protections that may hinder capitalism’s acceleration while also instituting protectionism for corporations in the U.S, reducing oversight that protects the safety and fair wages of the working class, while targeting immigrants and other countries as villains to support a political message and a rallying call to desperate Americans.   At the same time, the administration itself is at war with the free press and unapologetically creating alternative facts without regard for truth in the slightest.  The irony is the leadership had or has (I don’t know which) the support of bible belt believers, if not,publicly, than secretly.

Nowhere in our administration’s current platform is a call for social justice, a call to help the poor of this nation and/or other nations, responsible stewardship of the planet, and other callings that Christians worldwide, including the Pope of the Catholic church, hold as core values.  Instead we have a militant and protectionist mantra of “America First.” And a minority of the population is okay with the absence of compassion and outright villainizing of anything or anyone that opposes the administration’s viewpoint.  I do not know how this adheres to our Christian heritage in the manner in which America’s voice is being heard today in the world.  Our current political establishment is putting profits of the super elite above community and pitting the community against each other internally and externally through inflammatory language and almost messianic message about doom and gloom.

It is and has been my life’s calling to work with the impoverished and under-represented “sentient beings.”  I use this phrase to bring to life that the poor, the disenfranchised, the homeless, the immigrants, the LGBTQ individuals are not labels but real, spiritual beings with a consciousness and share of our collective resources and our God.

It is possible to be this horrific in the political sphere when the public is distanced from spiritual grounding and meaningful caring of thy neighbor and all sentient beings regardless of race, color, creed, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, or nationality.

If our nation was as spiritual and committed to Christianity as many report – our politicians would not have the license they do today to lie outright time and time again without repercussion.

The book aptly ducks the big questions and focuses on individual tools and pray for cultivating the spirit in the face of such adversity and calls on religious institutions to show more courage in standing up for moral convictions.  The church has failed in this area before — in Germany and in other places and times.  I pray we do not fail again.

The immensity of the issues often give way to powerlessness and despair for believers. That is why an interior pray life and mindfully living in a spiritual manner is so critical for believers today now more than ever.

One believer at a time.  

One good deed at a time.  

One letter of advocacy.  

One voice in the crowd.

You decide where you can make a difference.

 “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26

Book Review:  7 of 10 (not one of my favorites but a decent read)

monk-in-the-world

 

 

October 31, 1517:  Martin Luther and The Day That Changed the World by Martin E. Marty

Five Hundred Years ago Martin Luther nailed his 95 Thesis to a Chapel Door in Wittenberg, Germany.  The Catholic Church and Lutheran church have Reconciled a battle that ignited the reformation, divided the Catholic Church including the 30 years war between Protestants and Catholics (1618-48), and contributed to fractures within the Catholic Church and a splintering of the Christian faith into many denominations.  

This little book is an easy quick read on the this day in history and the aftermath. Today we have the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.  My take is Martin Luther, a gregarious and loud fellow, possessed a charismatic personality and a wonderfully flawed character that led him to challenge the authority of the time on an issue that he was justifiably accurate with his position (abuse and questioning the theological basis of indulgences).  However, he lacked the power and influence to engage the church from within and had the zeal and arrogance to attack the faith from the outside.  The times were ready for change and he lit the match on the priestly culture of the period that left believers scorched by a spiritual drought that was ready to burn.  The church and the unity of the Christian faith was never the same again (for better or worse).  

I grossly over simplified the 95 Thesis – but the heart of the matter is to what extent can man atone for his sins and God’s grace and mercy is primary.  The ecumenical healing and unification of Christianity, understanding our human limitations at defining divine absolute truths throughout history, calls for us to have rich dialogue, religious tolerance, and an abundance of compassion and mercy.

There is a legitimate question as to whether or not he ever literally nailed the 95 Thesis to the church door.  I have it fixed in my mind that he penned the Thesis in a tavern, marched to the chapel with the prodding of some mates and the disapproval of others, and nailed the Thesis with a hammer borrowed from the bartender who had listened to his fury on many a night.  No one thought much would come of it, just something that needed to be done and Luther was up to the challenge.  We all should have a little bit of Luther in us!


Recent News Story on Reconciliation:

 http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/01/world/europe/pope-francis-in-sweden-urges-catholic-lutheran-reconciliation.html?smprod=nytcore-ipad&smid=nytcore-ipad-share

Advent Adventure

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“We interrupt this broadcast to report unprecedented dramatic events.  World leaders have closed communication with the press and have unexpectedly cancelled events.  The White House, Bellevue Place, Kirribilli House, Elysee Palace, Zongnaihai, Buckingham Palace, the Kremlin, and the Vatican have been confirmed by our News Agencies to have shuttered their doors and key staff retreated to interior corridors of powers.”

An unprecedented notification like the above would create quite apprehension.  Most would suspect we are on the verge of war, a terrorist attack, or an assassination of a world leader has disrupted our world view once again.   Some survivalist would consider stocking up on water, bread, milk, canned goods, generator, ammunition, and cash.  Governments encourage you to be prepared.[i] Conspiracy groups count on people’s fears and market extreme survival strategies.

You should be prepared for at least three days.  Natural and man-made disasters are on the increase.   Help may get to you in hours or days.  What if the disaster was not man-made or a natural disaster?  What if help was not hours or days away – but an eternity for the unprepared?

Everyone will not escape this earth without facing this demon – either individually (alone) or with the great company of the masses at the end of time.  Given that the earth is 4.5 billion years old and we have only inhabited it for a fraction the latter possibility is not without some degree of risk, especially given how ungrateful we are as stewards of the planet.  Check out our Grant Earnhart’s 4.5 billion year review for perspective.[ii]

The demon of our mortality is a given with 100% certainty!  Actuaries calculate your probability of death every day, not because they don’t like you (I believe), but because they can profit by tilting the mortality scales in favor of a getting a few shillings from you.

Are you prepared for either eventuality – facing mortality alone or facing it at the end of time?  Dying is not something you can prepare for when you are at death’s door.   It is something you live for and prepare for all your life.  Our mortality gives our lives meaning.  Every moment is a treasure of untold value as we do not know when no more moments will be afforded us.

The Catholic Season of Advent can be an invitation to “sobriety, to not be dominated by the things of this world” and “an invitation to vigilance, because, not knowing when He will come, we must always be ready to depart.”[iii]

What would we do if the news event that started this post out was announcing a man has descended from the heavens proclaiming the second coming?  Or as Orson Wells did in 1938 predicted the War of the Worlds and potential certain death. Or closer to home, a doctor’s call informs you nothing can be done?  

We need not wait for these eventualities.  Do not wait for the bell to toll for you. Take care to be rid of regrets now.[iv]  You can easily tackle many worldly concerns now or at least attempt to so you can to your final resting place without having tried. 

Preparing to meet God is a higher order task.  Negatively speaking people often slip into existential rubric measurements of past shame and counterpoints of sincere goodness, like the actuary above, tilt the scales in their favor for that final meeting. The Bible reminds us that “it is appointed for men to die once, and after this the judgment.” [v]

Positively speaking practicing living well will do more than rubrics calculation.  The Sermon on the Mount and St. Augustine’s is a good starting point:[vi]

Therefore, whosoever hears these words of mine, and does them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.”

The Sermon on the Mount can be found here from the United States Catholic Conference Bishops website with annotations here:  http://www.usccb.org/bible/matthew/5

After having read this chapter – living “Christian Living” is not about perfection.   Jack Mahoney gives a good review of living the Sermon on the Mount that is not so imposing:[vii]

“Christian morality must be understood as part of an embracing love of God as well as of neighbor. Both the Decalogue and Sermon on the Mount begin with the gift of God and his covenant, and sketch the response of members of the chosen people, the ancient and then the new Israel, as they attempt to live with God’s gift and grace in their lives.”

When read with careful thought and sincere prayer the complexity of the beatitudes and the Ten Commandments melt into a simplicity that is congruent with rational human ethics that include a spiritual mandate of authenticity and authority.   Given that we are bound to be imperfect, the writings are a guide to strive for perfection, while recognizing human infallibility and the grace of God go hand in hand. 

You have a blueprint for preparing for the next “We interrupt this broadcast” regardless of cause:  man-made, natural disaster, or spiritual crisis.    The next 28 days is an advent adventure for me. Thank you for joining me by reading this post.  Advent is perfect for a self-directed retreat adventure.   

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[i] https://www.ready.gov/build-a-kit

[ii] http://www.npr.org/2016/11/22/502920622/watch-earths-history-play-out-on-a-football-field

[iii] Pope Francis, November 27, 2016

[iv] http://thedailypositive.com/top-10-regrets-dying/

[v] http://www.justforcatholics.org/06.01.pdf

[vi] http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/16011.htm

[vii] https://catholicismpure.wordpress.com/2012/02/07/living-the-sermon-of-the-mount/

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