On September 30, 1943, 18,212 days after Pope Leo XIII’s “The God of all Providence,” Pope Pius XII issued “Inspired by the Divine Spirit” known as Divino Affante Spiritu. [i] This encyclical built on “The God of all Providence,” which is listed by Catholic Exchange as one of 7 Papal Encyclicals that changed the world.[ii]
Pope Pius XII need not be insulted not being listed in the top ten as he did pen 42 encyclicals. Today, 26,505 days later, six Popes later (and only 34 encyclicals amongst them[iii]), the power of “Inspired by the Divine Spirit” is almost taken for granted. The text promoted and encouraged Catholics to partake in “genuine biblical scholarship”[iv] Catholicism struggled with unleashing its followers to apply historical and textual criticism to the sacred test or divine books.
However, these two encyclicals combined advanced the call to lay people to think critically, explore scripture diligently, and discern God’s revelations within the text with discipline. Catholics were called to understand their faith on a deeper level, and to not just accept the surface presentation, but to delve deep into the text, the context, the literary devices, and the overall intent of every word passed down to us by our traditions.
It opened up the flood gates for believers to transcend a perception of the divine books as being dead letters confined to history, to meaningful, living guidepost to a modern world. This encyclical may have paved the way for Vatican II and for St. John XXIII, St. John Paul II, and even our current Pope Francis.
It is no longer anathema to question teachings, to dialogue on interpretation, to seek out guidance and to apply rigorous analysis to our beliefs. Pope Pius XII walked a tight rope here. They did not give up the reigns on biblical interpretation and maintained the perfection of God’s message (inferring any error found in the text is an error of our own misinterpretation or application):
“On important issues of biblical interpretation and the growth of tradition, Dei Verbum remains dialectical, reflecting its origin as a document combining traditional perspectives with cautious openings to more progressive thought. The text states simultaneously that the “magisterium,” the teaching office, is not above the Word of God but serves it, and continues: “The task of authentically interpreting the Word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office [magisterium] of the church” (No. 10). Thus the teaching office is simultaneously the servant of the Word and its authentic interpreter. An important and often overlooked passage states that the apostolic tradition develops in the church with the help of the Holy Spirit, “through the contemplation and study made by believers who treasure these things in their hearts; through an intimate understanding of the spiritual realities they experience, and through the preaching of those who through episcopal succession have received the sure gift of truth” (No.8). Study, religious experience and community discernment are thus an important part of the development of tradition. Episcopal teaching is part of a larger process of growth rather than its sole agent.”
Chew on those words for a while! In human speak it says to me the church welcomes historical and contextual criticisms of the divine word. It also calls on believers to throw themselves into the wealth of traditions and scripture passed down to us. At the same time, it calls for the church to make sure its clergy are well educated, well trained, and at the forefront of guarding and interpretation divine text. It further maintains a circular authority of the church being in the service of the word and at the same time guided by the Holy Spirit, making the magisterium the final arbiter of all things theological. None the less at the same time it elevates the community to practice discernment. The latter will influence the magisterium and the magisterium the former, and if truly divinely inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit, true discernment will deliver and reveals God’s intent.
The end is a powerful, dialectical, living church that is not at odds with itself, with its progressive and conservative legacies. A church that is dynamically entrenched in the spirit of the word and is applied to the present moment and discerned through a spiritual lens that utilizes all the tools that modernity has to offer while embracing the unfolding mysteries of our faith. That is what people thought Vatican II would bring about and yet the Church is struggling today. Education in history, religion, and prayer is not sufficient today to promote Catholics to be prepared to embark on the very journey the encyclicals speak about wayfarers embracing.
We have a poverty of time (in addition to food, housing, education, healthcare) that undermines our ability to distil genuine and authentic spirituality from the synthetics that spring up on every street corner (serving as tax shelters for residentially depressed areas) or the politician promising deliverance from evil doers.
44717 days since “The God of All Providence” and we still have internal contentious debates on the religiosity of all things big and small rather than on stillness and silence to deliver us discernment on the critical issues of the day. Our Popes have issued nearly 300 encyclicals and a number of them are on social justice issues and a call to action. The combination is challenging when the pews are filled with people with short attention spans and facing a poverty of time and ambition. Without these encyclicals I would probably not have the benefit of reading and interpreting scripture historically or contextually. If you are Catholic, patience is a virtue.
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.
Excerpt from “The Edge of Sadness” by Edwin O’Connor:
“We all share in a shattering duality — and by this I don’t mean that soggy, superficial split that one so often sees: the kind of thing, for example, where the gangster sobs uncontrollably at an old Shirley Temple movie. I mean the fundamental schism that Newman referred to when he spoke of man being forever involved in the consequences of some “terrible, aboriginal calamity”; everyday in every man there is a warfare of the parts.”
Although a work of fiction, this thought is a powerful image of our human condition, individually and collectively. What duality? Historically, we boil it down to Good and Evil, driven from original sin of Adam and Eve, and from Satan’s fall from the heavens. How we continue to reach for these archetypes and depict “others” as evil without consciousness of our own religious, cultural, political and nationalist bias is a greater calamity.
Friedrich Nietzsche challenged us to get beyond ourselves with his work, “Beyond Good and Evil.” Unfortunately, part of his views, were co-opted by Adolf Hitler and used in declaring the Aryan Race as superior. A failed artist with an imaginative idealism, armed with philosophical distortions, created one of the greatest atrocities known to mankind.
Trust not the religous scholar, the philosopher, the poet, the educator, the media, the political apparatus and certainly not the politician. How can we continue to fall for this fallacy of thinking.
Each of us have a responsibility to demand intellectual honesty, human dignity and human decency, and nothing less. And when tempted to claiming moral superiority, delve deep first into our own duality of intent. Is our intent truly for good for all humanity? Is this intent based on reasoned and relative morality supported by logical evidence? And if based on a higher spirituality, does the expression of our spirituality generally voiced by our religious traditions and dogmatic beliefs, consistently demonstrate goodness?
In the face of recent tragedies and historical residue of evils being resurrected, we need an epic revolutionary leap in human evolution. Today’s NY times opinion demonstrates our shallow resolve:
For my catholic readers it is all about freedom: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s1c1a3.htm
In 1934, at the age of 28, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a letter to a friend about an upcoming conference that would involve members of churches from several countries and denominations. In this lette…
“This virtue of the great and the small, which always makes us look at the horizon. What does magnanimous mean? It means having a great heart, having greatness of mind; it means having great ideals, the wish to do great things in response to what God asks of us. (It means also)……..to do well the routine……daily actions, task, meetings with people –doing the little everyday things with a great heart open to God and to others.” Pope Francis, June 07, 2013
Today’s entry inspired by reading: the Church of Mercy by Pope Francis. Rating: 10
Surely your head is nodding yes to a life of Magnanimity guided by your spiritual, religious, or philosophical ideals. Meaning, even if you are not Catholic, you can draw from the Pope’s message to apply everyday actions to your idealism while keeping your eye on the larger picture. It is not that easy in practice. Is your personal creed grounded and guiding you daily? Is it pliable enough for self-correction as your wisdom grows yet rooted enough to remain focused on the horizon of your life journey? Where do you draw meaning from in your life today? Tomorrow?
In a recent training on the DSM V (Diagnostic Statistical Manual – the bible of Mental Health disorders) Dr. Karnik, Ph.d spent an inordinate amount of time on the human condition. The eleven major organ systems (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nnjmrrQ6xOs) of your body and the inner psychological internal world and its conflicts immersed in a world of 7.3 Billion people with a history of 6000 to 7000 wars make it hard to pinpoint the cause of mental anguish and discontent without even touching the spiritual dimension. Perhaps though, our evolution has brought us to a place where spiritual awareness should and can be the guiding principle? (This sidesteps religiosity and its abuses, misinterpretations, and all too human application). Can life’s real meaning be solely derived from our limbic system primal drives (survival, seek pleasure, and avoid pain)? Dr. Karnik applies these drives to addictions and the addicted person seeking the “right thing in the wrong place.” Addiction, at its heart is a person seeking to obtain and maintain the Cortical lottery: bringing the brain to its peak pleasure point, as much as it can stand, and staying there (http://www.happinesshypothesis.com/beyond-gethappy.htm).
Unfortunately the thin line between that point and death is very fine and the pursuit of that goal ultimately leads to the opposite result – abject misery. The treasure chest of addiction can be quite broad: substance use disorders (including ETOH/Nicotine), Gambling disorders, Behavioral disorders (sexual addiction, work addiction, gaming, Facebook, fantasy, stealing, risk taking, coin collecting, etc). Fortunately we can enjoy pleasure in many of these areas legally and without negative repercussions if they remain in their respective place and time commitment relative to your life’s purpose! Back to being Magnanimous!
Everything you do small and large should in some way support your purpose and your view of the horizon. Defining that purpose takes time and perspective and the shape of its expression may change over time. Your job will probably change many times over in your life time. You may even change your career a few times. Your hobbies and entertainment will vary as well. Underneath all this distraction is the real you that relates to other people, to animals, the planet, the unknown existential spiritual realm, and yourself.
This is where mindfulness and spirituality come into play. It is easy to suffer and be discontent amidst the distractions of life, the limits of our physical body, and the pulls of the limbic system drives without being mentally ill or disturbed. You can still be pretty unhappy. You do not need to be an addict to find unhappiness. Spending time on being aware of yourself and your motivation for life can distil life imposing on you anxiety, misery, and suffering. You will still have anxiety, misery and suffering! However, these experiences will be relegated to their respective place and time commitment relative to your life’s purpose. Sound familiar?
Where your time is spent and is it spent wisely? I turn my worries over to action (if some action is available) and to prayer when events are outside my sphere of influence. I am not an evangelist, though I am Catholic. I am not purporting to tell you “the way” to spiritual enlightenment. I am saying to find a “way “to avoid the entrapments of the meaningless, of materialism, habituation, and other frivolities of life. I have wasted a great deal of time in my life on such things and pray others do not have to endure the same mistakes.
The metaphysical term love is the goal I have found sustains me. Appreciating others and the gift of love in all its shapes, colors and sizes is profoundly rewarding. Reading of heroic acts of love and self-sacrifice of others is inspiring. Avoiding self-contempt is also worthwhile when falling into the trap of comparison to the truly gifted. And forgiving self and others is a compassionate, mindful practice. I often self-deprecate myself which could be mistaken for seeking approval or a reverse lack of humility! The truth is I have an awareness of my faults and misgivings of which there are many, and I am sure, many of which I may not be aware of or have yet to commit.
I pray for anyone who reads this that you live a magnanimous life filled and informed by your personal purpose, surrounded by people of like mind, and blessed by God’s grace.
Catholic reference on prayer and meditation: http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p4s1c3a1.htm
P.S. Catholics do not own the market on mindfulness. There is the rich tradition of buddhism and secular mindfulness meditation practices as well. Personally I think they all lead to the same place….but of course, being Catholic I recommend my faith!
In 1973, Justice Harry M. Blackmun (appointed by Republican President Nixon) wrote the following:
“the restrictive criminal abortion laws in effect in a majority of States today are of relatively recent vintage.” Providing a historical analysis on abortion, Justice Harry Blackmun noted that abortion was “resorted to without scruple” in Greek and Roman times. Blackmun also addressed the permissive and restrictive abortion attitudes and laws throughout history, noting the disagreements among leaders (of all different professions) in those eras and the formative laws and cases. In the United States, in 1821, Connecticut passed the first state statute criminalizing abortion. Every state had abortion legislation by 1900. In the United States, abortion was sometimes considered a common law crime, though Justice Blackmun would conclude that the criminalization of abortion did not have “roots in the English common-law tradition.”
The furor (not to be mistaken with fuhrer though it sounds like it listening to some) over Obama picking a justice is outright flawed on the main issue for the religious right. Justice Blackmun turned out to render many “liberal decisions.” (Perhaps that is because our constitution is wary of conservative driven law?) Five of the seven Majority Justices were appointed by Republican presidents (Douglas and Marshall were appointed by Democratic Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson, respectively). What’s more, take the two Democratic-appointed judges out of the Majority, and you are still left with all-Republican majority of the Court that legalizes abortion. The vote on this legislation was 7-2.
I do not want to verge into here the morality issues and rights of the unborn versus the mother. Let me state what is probably common territory for most: abortion is harmful psychologically and physically to mothers, it ends a potential or an actual life depending on your stance, and many issues beyond the act of abortion itself contribute to unwanted pregnancies and abortion. Action on access to education, employment, prevention, cultural, and meaningful life activities do more to prevent abortion than bible thumping and judging others.
The greatest percentage increase of abortion was under republican President Ford as established by the Conservative court ruling of Abortion versus Wade of a 58.38% jump. President Carter, next up, did not slow the rate jump much but it did increase 31.76% from Ford’s last year. Abortion growth stabilized under President Reagan. And then the greatest reduction in abortions happened under President Clinton 11.4% and 3.33% and President Obama (12.69%). The Guttmacher Institute has the best numbers around that are used by Pro-life advocates. The CDC numbers are below as well.
What I am saying is fighting poverty fights abortion more so than focusing on criminalization. That is not even getting into the majority of justification for opposing abortion biblically comes from the Old Testament and not from the life of Jesus Christ who did not address abortion at all. Let’s agree for argument sake that abortion is wrong, which I believe and Pope Francis and all the great popes believe. The answer to reducing abortion is in love, compassion, opportunity, prayer and fighting poverty. Democrats understand fighting abortion takes resources and education. Democrats understand the medical experts are there for a reason. If you are a Republican how can you defend that a conservative court set this in motion and biggest reductions are under Democratic presidencies? A big conservative value is on outcomes. There is no funny math on a 7-2 decision and the numbers below. If you are voting republican tell me what your candidate will do to fight abortion other than criminalization and raising public furor (again to not mistake for Fuhrer). Listen carefully to all the candidates, Dems and Republicans, and see if they are addressing the big picture or are using the rhetoric of a Fuhrer. Hate is not the way to go. (I am a Choose Life voter and Democrat politically. I understand no party owns this issue and has the answers. We do in our homes and in our communities by supporting people that need support).
|YEAR||GI||CDC||Percentage leaps contrasting last year of previous President abortion using GI numbers.|
“The natural was ever without error;
But err the other may by evil object,
Or by too much. or by too little vigor.”
The above quote in canto XVII humanizes existence in purgatory. Purgatory does not move far enough away from the horror of the Inferno and the disproportionate time assigned in purgatory is a hell in and of itself. Still a vivid and dramatic literary book expressing Dante’s imagination of what purgatory maybe like as opposed to any biblical underpinnings.
The above canto is Virgil’s discourse of Love. In our layman understanding we often see sin as the antithesis of love. To sin is to deny love or act contrary to love of oneself, other people, the almighty, the Godhead. However, if everything in our human world is created by the creator, our love for things of this earthly existence is quite natural. However, when our love becomes distorted, outside the appropriate measure (too much or too little), it results in living in a state of Sin. The scary aspect of this distortion of love is we can easily slip on this slope by willing and conscience affectations or be completely unawares of said distorted affectations due to normed deviations over time to desensitized values and ignorance of the purity of love when spirit infused and directed.
The exit of purgatory returns to a violent confrontation with Beatrice where Dante stands in front of Beatrice’s condemnation. This is only a trial run for Dante; a tour so to speak, yet the blazing inquiry be Beatrice and procession of symbolic images is overwhelming in meaning and depth.
In Book II of the Divine Comedy I remained outside of the depth of Dante’s poetic imagination. The value of Wyoming Catholic Distance Learning Course on this book is apparent. Without it the words would wash over me and return to the pages without so much as dampening my understanding. (The course has several lectures not yet posted yet so I may find my initial thoughts of the three books changed over time).
Purgatorio is a semi-relief after visiting the inferno. Adding to the experience of bringing this work to life are artistic depictions of scenes (see Arachne below) and descriptions of beautiful music.
For more on music check out http://www.worldofdante.org/music.html. The World of Dante is sponsored by the Institute for Advanced Technologies in the Humanities, University of Virginia. Excellent companion to the read.
Why did Pope Francis recommend this book? Dante was not a theologian. His work was intended to be literary in form. The three works together though present an imaginative reflection on spiritual themes and musings that are timeless and defy the test of time as his work remains a classic. There are ample resources devoted to this text that I cannot add to or claim any ownership here of new ideas.
Catholic Herald article on Dante and Pope Francis support reading: “Dante is ‘a prophet of hope’ and ‘herald of the possibility of redemption’, says Pontiff
Dante’s Divine Comedy is more than a literary masterpiece, it is an invitation “to rediscover the lost or obscured meaning of our human path and to hope to see again the glowing horizon on which the dignity of the human person shines in its fullness,” Pope Francis has said.
As the Italian government formally celebrated the 750th anniversary of Dante’s birth on May 4, Pope Francis sent a message saying that while the centuries have passed Dante “still has much to say and to offer through his immortal works to those who wish to follow the route of true knowledge and authentic discovery of the self, the world and the profound and transcendent meaning of existence.”
Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, read the Pope’s message at the celebration in the Italian Senate where Oscar-winning actor Roberto Benigni read from Dante’s Paradise.
Paradise is the final portion of the Divine Comedy, an epic poem written between 1308 and 1320, recounting Dante’s allegorical journey through hell, purgatory and heaven.
“We are able to enrich ourselves with his experience in order to cross the many dark forests still scattered on our earth,” the Pope said, “and to happily complete our pilgrim story, to reach the destination dreamed of and wished for by everyone: ‘The love that moves the sun and other stars.’”
Pope Francis said he hoped that as Catholics prepare to celebrate the extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy they would pick up Dante’s work and allow it to be a spiritual guide.
Dante, he said, is “a prophet of hope, herald of the possibility of redemption, liberation and the profound transformation of every man and woman, of all humanity.”
Donald Trump Divides God’s Voters?
An opinion piece in the NY Times had this catchy title.[i] I had a visceral reaction of disgust to this piece as I did the night before watching the GOP political debate (notably absent Trump). I felt as if I was waking up to a news story of a church sacristy being robbed of its vestments and sacred vessels and being worn by imposters on the world political stage. Hopefully voters will reward the politicians that stand on that stage in their true garments of genuine belief and chosen calling (politics as opposed to religious orders). When I need religious instruction I turn to the bible, prayer, theologians, and leaders in my chosen faith. I have never turned to a politician. Have you?
The article mainly addresses the fight for the evangelical vote. Disingenuously the title implies this represents “God’s Voters.” The evangelical vote has no distinct claim to God’s way though I do not disparage their beliefs and journey pursuing a holy life.
I do disparage politicians claiming to represent the holy way and believers that fall for such rhetoric. Andrew Sandlin in Jesus and Politics says “it would be totally in error to hold that Jesus’ life and teaching had nothing to do with politics. All to the contrary, a politics that does not issue from a proper understanding of Jesus’ teaching will be a seriously misguided — and ultimately dangerous — politics.”[ii] The contemporary political theatre has several presidential politicians that are either seriously misguided or represent dangerous antisocial traits by knowingly claiming to be what they are not. Neither the misguided nor the imposter should get your vote regardless of your spiritual affiliation or lack thereof.
The article does beg the question of where does the division lay if at all between religious beliefs and political activism. Andrew Goddard, in an article entitled “Thinking Christianly About Politics”[iii] gives an excellent review of theology, biblical references, and Jesus Christ in politics.
I take Goddard’s view that Jesus “chose humility, powerlessness and execution as his path” and “although politics has a role, this is always secondary and limited to the fallen world’s preservation.” What a powerful statement. Politics is for the fallen world’s preservation. And finally Goddard say “Third, any politics which effectively claims a redemptive role and demands religious devotion (which is quite possible even in a secular liberal democracy) thereby opposes God’s redemptive work in Christ and, at its extreme, could be said to represent the biblical Antichrist.” Is Trump the Antichrist? Or Ted Cruz? I don’t give them that much power. Taken to the extreme however, how do we separate out the difference between fundamentalist Christians (bombing abortion clinics) and fundamental Muslim extremist (ISIS terrorist)? Or are they no different? Certainly if you are of a different sexual orientation you are very afraid of religion driving politics to extremes and appropriately so. The same maybe said if you have a different faith or even not the same denomination of the faith that is in power.
Jesus is often portrayed as a revolutionary. “Yet, Goddard says, Jesus is not presented as a political opponent seeking to wrest political control from those currently holding power. Indeed, for most of his public ministry he remains detached both geographically (in Galilee not Jerusalem) and ideologically from the centre of Israel’s political life.” His views however threatened political life and economic disparity much as Pope Francis’s views do today.
No candidate up on the political stage today (or ever) has the authority to assert to being God’s messenger. Nor does any party have that claim. Nor does any religious sect have the claim to representing God’s vote. Go to the source of biblical references and reclaim your religion from the politicians and the media.[iv]
Politicians need to retreat from the pulpit and charge into being what they are, masters of the study of rhetoric. I do not mean that in a negative fashion. They are elected on their ability to effectively communicate and build strategies and consensus to address the worldly problems we have today. If they want to lead theologically, they can do as St. Augustine did and abandon political work and rhetoric for the calling to wearing genuine vestments.
- [i] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/28/opinion/campaign-stops/donald-trump-divides-gods-voters.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&version=Moth-Visible&moduleDetail=inside-nyt-region-3&module=inside-nyt-region®ion=inside-nyt-region&WT.nav=inside-nyt-region
- [iii] http://www.theologynetwork.org/theology-of-everything/starting-out/thinking-christianly-about-politics.htm
This is the chapel of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy located in Stockbridge, Ma. My family and I have visited this shrine many times. The grounds are beautiful and services are daily, small, and intimate. The Marians of the Immaculate Conception and Marian helpers are custodians of the shrine. The shrine venerates “Blessed Virgin Mary.” Other titles for Mary include Holy Queen and Mother of Mercy. To confuse things a little more, the congregation sponsors the work of John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy which restores a focus on devotion to Mary. Addititionally, the devotions draw from the diary of St. Maria Faustina Kowalski, who was beatified by Pope John Paul II. Saint Faustina led a life of prayer and sacrifice that culminated in her recieving a message of mercy from the lord in the 1930s that she was told to spread around the world. For skeptics this is hard to accept, including some priest. Experiencing God in prayer is truly a subjective experience that defies words. And rarely do the faithful experience transendent messages. Nor does it need to! Only a few are called to a life of prayer while most of us have other callings, hopefully supported by prayer.
“The truth is not grasped as a thing; the truth is encountered. It is not a possession; It is an encounter with a Person.” Pope Francis, May 15, 2013 General Audience
One word: Truth. We assume and lay claim to the truth everyday. We defend our sense of the truth as if it was absolute, irrefutable, and natural. We take for granted that our edifices of education, cultural facades, and treasury of historical traditions (oral and written) have bestowed upon us sensibilities that can be relied on to define the world we live in according to our particular understanding.
Fifteen minutes with a skilled philosopher or theologian can overwhelm a defined set of “truths,” whether elaborate or simple constructs of human design. Politicians rely on the art polemic all the time as do false prophets. It is uncomfortable to consider our framework is perhaps, not as solidly based on a foundation of truth and natural order as we proclaim.
Pope Francis is defining truth in the ultimate spiritual sense as an encounter with Jesus Christ – the “Person.” I cannot have that encounter literally in the flesh and am left with remnants of his words and deeds as passed down by oral and written tradition. I am also left with according to this tradition, the Holy Spirit, the “Paraclete,” or one who comes to our aide.
What a glorious remnant. A moment of grace, whether in consolation or desolation, when informed by proximity to the spirit, is beyond our sensibilities. It is at once craved for and avoided. I want it on my terms: controllable, dispensable, demonstrable, and maintainable. To have it for a moment and then not is inconsolable. To have it for a significant duration opens me up to the immense suffering and pain existent today and to the depravity of my own inconsequential existence and sinful ways.
Is it no wonder we run from spiritual truth and build our own edifices of truth in politics, in religion, and in law? If only they could all be spirit informed and aligned with a greater truth.
“All hope abandon, ye who enter in!”
The Inferno, constructed in “Terza rima” poetic verses, has unyielding descriptions of hell clothed in “live actors” of people in Dante’s time and other historical figures. Depressingly he fills the rafters of hell with politicians, poets, clerks, warriors, and popes. Seemingly no one escapes the gates of hell in this horrible imaginative creation of Dante. To be fair, I have had two “passes” at the Inferno. The first a direct read and the second a review by Wyoming Catholic College distance learning course below. Still, I am like a tourist on a trolley, having only skimmed the avenues of a great city, taking in only glimpses of its intensity. Nonetheless, the horrors of Dante’s imagination plunge us into the depths of hell and painstakingly make real the physical and grotesque forms of various sins – lived by the residents of hell in eternity. Wretchedly, aspects of our nature and Dante’s Inferno surround us everyday. Pope Francis encouraged Catholics to read the Divine Comedy in preparation for the year of Mercy. Hopefully the Purgatorio and Paradiso will be more uplifting and provide hope that the imagination and spirituality of the latter two books offer more in the arena of redemption and salvation.
Side bar on Mohammed and Muslims: “Consistent with medieval Christian thinking, in which the Muslim world was viewed as a hostile usurper, Dante depicts both Mohammed–the founder of Islam–and his cousin and son-in-law Ali as sowers of religious divisiveness. One popular view held that Mohammed had himself been a cardinal who, his papal ambitions thwarted, caused a great schism within Christianity when he and his followers splintered off into a new religious community. Dante creates a vicious composite portrait of the two holy men, with Mohammed’s body split from groin to chin and Ali’s face cleft from top to bottom (Inf. 28.22-33). According to tradition, the prophet Mohammed founded Islam in the early seventh century C.E. at Mecca. Ali married Mohammed’s daughter, Fatima, but a dispute over Ali’s succession to the caliphate led, after his assassination in 661, to a division among Muslims into Sunni and Shi’ite. Still very much part of the collective memory in Dante’s world were the crusades of the 12th and 13th centuries, in which Christian armies from Europe fought–mostly unsuccessfully and with heavy losses on all sides–to drive Muslims out of the “holy land” (Jerusalem and surrounding areas). In the Middle Ages, Islam had great influence in Europe in terms of both culture–particularly in medicine, philosophy, and mathematics–and politics (e.g., complete or partial Muslim control of Spain from the 8th through 15th century).”
“Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself within a forest dark For the straightforward pathway had been lost.”
“Which many times a man encumbers so, It turns him back from honored enterprise, As false sight doth a beast, when he is so shy.”
“These have no longer any hope of death; And this blind life of theirs is so debased, They envious of every other fate.”
“Tell me, my Master, tell me, thou my Lord, Began I, with desire of being certain Of that Faith which o’ercomenth every error,” “Came anyone by his own merit hence, or by another’s, who was blessed thereafter?
“The infernal hurricane that never rest Hurtles the spirits onward in its rapine; Whirling them round, and smitting, it molest them.”
“New torments I behold, and new tormented Around me, whichsoever way I move, And whichsoever way I turn, and gaze.”
“And he to me: “Vain thought thou entertainest; The undiscerning life which made them sordid Now makes them unto all discernment dim.”
“Let him return alone by his mad road; Try, if he can; for thou shalt here remain, Who hast escorted him through such dark regions.”
“My Master, what are all those people Who, having sepulture within those tombs, Make themselves audible by doleful sighs.”
“As soon as I was at the foot of his tomb, Somewhat he eyed me, and, as if disdainful, Than asked of me, “Who are thine ancestors?”
“And there, by reason of the horrible Excess of stench the deep abyss throws out, We drew ourselves aside behind the cover Of a of a great tomb….”
“All the first circle of the Violent is; But since force may be used against three persons, In three rounds ’tis divided and constructed. To God, to ourselves, and to our neighbor can we Use force; I say on them and on their things, As thou shalt hear with reason manifest.”
“But fix thine eyes below, for draweth near The river of blood, within which boiling is Whoe’er by violence doth injure others.”
“Broad wings have they, and necks and faces human, And feet with claws, and their great bellies fledged, They make laments upon the wondrous trees.”
“And he said to me: “If thou thy star do follow, Thou canst not fail thee of a glorious port, If well I judged in the life beautiful.”
“Athwart that dense and darkness atmosphere I saw a figure swimming upward come, marvelous unto every steadfast heart.”
“Then was I still more fearful of the abyss; Because I fires beheld, and heard laments, Whereat I, trembling, all the closer cling.”
“I saw a people smothered in a filth That out of human privies seemed to flow.”
“I would make use of words more grievous still; Because your avarice afflicts the world, Trampling the good and lifting the departed.”
“And yesterday the moon was round already; Thou shouldst remember well it did not harm thee From time to time within the forest deep.”
“Ah, how ferocious was he in his aspect! And how he seemed to me action ruthless, With open wings and light upon his feet!”
“Whereat each one was suddenly stung with shame, But he most who was cause of the defeat, Therefore he moved and cried: ‘Thou art o’ertaken.”
“Hardly the bed of the ravine below His feet had reached the hill Right over us.”
“Among this cruel and most dismal throng People were running naked and affrighted.”
“The one transfixed looked at it, but said naught, Nay, rather with feet motionless he yawned, Just as if sleep or fever had assailed him.”
“Within the fires the spirits are; Each swathes himself with that wherewith he burns.”
“The machinations and the covert ways I knew them all, and practiced so their craft, That to the ends of earth the sound went forth.”
“By the hair it held the head dissevered, Hung from the hand in fashion of a lantern, And that upon us gazed and said: “O me!”
“Such a stench came from it As from putrescent limbs is wont to issue.”
“And after the two maniacs had passed On Whom I held mine eye, I turned it back To Look upon the other evil-born.”
“For where the argument of intellect Is added unto evil will and power, No rampant can the people make against it.”
“Thou thou strip off my hair, I will not tell thee who I am, nor show thee, If on my head a thousand times thou fall.”
“Then hunger did what sorrow could not.”
“Thence we came forth to rebehold the stars.”