“There are more Christian martyrs today than there were in ad 100–in the days of the Roman Empire. Now in the twenty-first century, according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, more than 150,000 Christians are martyred around the world every year.”
When I think of modern-day martyrs I think of burning monks who set themselves afire as more than a 140 Tibetan monks have set themselves on fire (gently called self-immolation). The first historic “burning monk” was a photograph taken 53 years ago on June 11, 1963, depicting the dignified yet horrific death by fiery suicide of Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc in Saigon by photographer Malcolm Wilde Browne:
In recent years these Buddhist Monks have won my admiration for their pro-active self-sacrifice. Their oppressors try to oppress without visibility to deny martyrdom – so these Monks denied them invisibility. Our Christian culture does not teach self-immolation. It does teach being prepared to sacrifice for your faith as the greatest Martyr known to mankind did for us. And many are paying with their lives. This is just so depressing (after anger jolts thru the veins). How have we not learned anything from the Holocaust? How do we not make the same mistakes in our own outrage and fear?
Jesus Freaks is written for teenagers and raises awareness of scripture and history of Christian Martyrs up to and including current day Christian Martyrdom. As a book it gives short, easy to read stories of past and present Martyrs – mostly past. It is also short on evidence and written more in an oral tradition manner. It finishes with a call to pray and advocacy and, as it is a christian book, a call to Jesus Christ. It spiked my interest in just how bad is the world today for Christian believers.
Our Christian understanding in America is limited to perceived oppression that we may have with secular law and the blurry division of church and state. However, the Pew research center reported in 2014 that “Christians continue to be the world’s most oppressed religious group, with persecution against them reported in 110 countries.” Open doors reports that 322 christians are killed each month for their faith.
Can this be true? Every month? If so. every Christian must “Remember the Lord’s people who are in jail and be concerned for them. Don’t forget those who are suffering, but imagine that you are there with them.” Hebrews 13:3
Two links below track Christian persecution. Other sites track all religious persecution across the globe. The killings and torture are persistent and to disturbing according to these sites.
“According to The Pew Research Center, over 75% of the world’s population lives in areas with severe religious restrictions (and many of these people are Christians). Also, according to the United States Department of State, Christians in more than 60 countries face persecution from their governments or surrounding neighbors simply because of their belief in Jesus Christ.”
We are anesthetized to the violence by repeated exposure both to our own violence within our country and to international horrors as well. How do we stop these atrocities I do not know. One answer to stopping persecution and violence, both home and abroad, starts with each of us having a voice and not being silent. Another answer is…….
Pew research link: http://cnsnews.com/news/article/barbara-boland/pew-study-christians-are-world-s-most-oppressed-religious-group
Voices of Martyrs Link: http://www.persecution.com/public/aboutVOM.aspx?clickfrom=%3d6d61696e5f6d656e75
Charity rater link: http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summary&orgid=4700
Open Doors: https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/
I cannot imagine caring for patients with “St. Anthony’s Fire” in the 1500s. Our medicines have come along ways and palliative care nurses are by the sides of those facing unremitting symptoms, torment, and anguish. Nevertheless, patients with serious conditions are faced with their own mortality and the instinctual drive to defy our destiny with ashes.
When to fight on, what medicines to accept, when to let go, how to reach an integrated decision reflective of the self, of the spirit, and of your loved ones amidst uncertain medical prognosis.
The painting above captures the agony of the crucifixion, the friends and family by Christ side, saints on the side panels, and the release from earthly suffering on the bottom panel. It served the patients at the Monastery of St. Anthony four centuries ago who were facing certain death by providing hope and faith.
Yesterday I prayed the twenty-third psalm in a hospital chapel for a patient I did not know. The chapel was far removed from patient care and barely adorned. A janitor in the backround drove a wax floor cleaner maintaining the appearance of cleanliness and order in the corridors of acute care. The sanitization of death, illness, and suffering somehow only increases suffering.
A corridor or two away my wife, a palliative care nurse, spent two hours that evening being present to acknowledge agony, clarify prognosis, and guide a family to reach an integrated decision. Some recover from the immediate health crisis, some postpone its inevitable outcome, and some prepare for the end without further recourse. Theresa brings the artwork to life in practice despite its absence in the hospital santuary. It is a calling. We all have one. What is yours?
In the artwork above is something for each of these trajectories. None of us escape this earth without suffering and without dying. If we are lucky we will be connected to life’s depth of mystery and spirituality. If we are lucky, when we are facing our own mortality, we will have an angel of mercy at our side guiding our decisions, alleviating our suffering where possible, and sharing our pain. If we are lucky this will provide us enough peace to face whatever crosses we have to bear today and the remaining days we have on earth.
Post inspired by Theresa’s work and NY Times article on Altarpiece. References below.
A psalm of David.
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
“Sculpted by Niclaus of Haguenau and painted by Matthias Grünewald in the 1550s, the altarpiece was made for the Monastery of St. Anthony in Isenheim, which had a hospital that treated, among other ailments, the skin disease known as St. Anthony’s fire. (Today the altarpiece is on view at the Musée Unterlinden in France.)
The altarpiece, Mr. Atkins said, spoke to both the hospital’s often terminally ill patients and those who treated them. On the panels, Jesus’s Crucifixion is depicted as especially grisly. His skin is riddled with blemishes, and his fingers are grotesquely curled. On the ground, witnesses to his death are anguished.
“Many of us can relate to this on an individual level, or knowing someone who has fallen ill and had to grapple with all the pain,” Mr. Atkins said.
But the altarpiece also shows Jesus’s ascension into heaven. And therein lies salvation. “The pain is temporary,” Mr. Atkins said. “There is release.”
NYT article with illustration commentary: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/07/travel/isenheim-altarpiece-musee-unterlinden.html?contentCollection=weekendreads&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=c-column-middle-span-region®ion=c-column-middle-span-region&WT.nav=c-column-middle-span-region
History of the art piece: http://www.stanleymeisler.com/smithsonian/smithsonian-1999-09-grunewald.html
A 600 plus page fictional story of an Irish family and Father Kennedy’s pastoral life. Fascinating use of Irish humor and Russian pessimism from an American author. I would like to say a hidden gem of American literature – but it was published in 61 and won the pulitzer prize in 62….so perhaps only hidden from me. Captures a generation of relationships thru the eyes of Father Kennedy, including the shallowness of a Seinfeld character to the depths of life’s search for meaning.
Rating: 10 of 10 for Catholics (must read). 8 of 10 for everyone else.
June 26 marks the birthday of one of the great pioneers of liturgical reform in North America: Virgil Michel, OSB (he was born in 1890— happy 126th, Virgil!). He made a great many contributions to the liturgical movement throughout his career, but arguably the most significant was the connection he relentlessly drew between liturgy and […]
A renowned Vietnamese Zen master dicusses the power of prayer and meditation and its impact on the self. Draws from all religions (Budhism, Christianity, Islam) and secular taught meditation. Hammers and chisels away at the limiting words we use to define the creator, the ultimate absolute being and where we may direct our prayers: G_d, Yahwey, Buddha, Allah.
Regardless of your chosen faith he makes the case for deep, conscientous, practiced prayer and meditation. He even at one point reviews The Lords Prayer line by line to pullout mindful and insightful thought on each line. The three great religions are monothiestic. Lets assume they are all right. Our paths to a universal absolute being may vary, but our aim the same. In the end, compassion, love, and present moment awareness and action reign supreme. How to live this way takes practice. Rating: 8
“Odi ergo su.” is a quote from Umberto Eco, author of The Prague Cemetery (I book and author I do not know). It is easy to see how extremist in our society and around the world thrive on hatred. Below is a critical and biased view of Islam based on several readings I have read the last two days. It summarizes I believe why and how non-muslims fear (and sometimes hate) Muslims. It is biased and raises questions that when raised people accuse the questioner of being prejudicial. I accept that risk and ask that if you respond please do so with kindness, compassion, and information that can help all readers understand Islam. I also request that non-muslims reading this not use it to promote hatred as well. It is an amatuer review. A starting place. Is Islam a religion of peace or of violence?
The Story of Mohammed Islam Unveiled by Harry Richardson is a 99 cents purchase that I bought by error while attempting to buy another book (The Sealed Nectar | Biography of Prophet Muhammad) which is only 3.99. Unfortunately the latter book is quite long and may take me awhile to review. Perhaps the easiest review of Muhammad and Catholics is “Understanding Islam: A guide For Catholic Educators[i]. Obviously not an unbiased source but I am obligated to provide it given my own faith.
Richardson’s book is a compilation of attacks on the origins of the Prophet Muhammad. He provides a two prong attack that is quite successful despite a somewhat amateurish presentation (that also can entice unprepared readers to accept his positions uncritically). His premise is if the world was educated on Muhammad’s true biography they would understand better the threat Islam presents to society and freedom. Prong one looks at Muhammad’s use of warfare and Jihad. Prong two looks at present day Islam and it’s conundrum of moderates being silenced by the actual scripture of the Koran and other books and the Prophets teaching. I do not recommend this book, however, it has ignited my interest in how society in general and Muslims in particular, can explain and detail the life of the Prophet Muhammad. The book also cites multiple examples of how Islam and the Prophets name are utilized to promote conquest, violence, oppression and other atrocities. If I were looking to be anti-muslim this is the book. One reviewer put it this way:
“Now, if you are however an Islamophobe, you will LOVE this book, because it will give you what you want to believe, even though the information in it is contrary to the truth of what Islam is and Muslims are. This book succeeds in making Islam the enemy, and for people who need an enemy to reinforce their identity, this book will make Muslims as morally repugnant as is Islamophobically possible. Odi ergo sum- I hate therefore I am – really sums up this book.”[ii]
For a counter check I watched a 42 minute video on Muhammad that treats him as a Prophet. This film is clearly an apologist pro-Islam film. Angel Gabriel visited Muhammad and gave a new message of hope and serenity.[iii] Born in 570 0f the Common Era according to history channel video on Muhammad? Note the dropping of 570 AD. He was raised as an orphan within a culture of Arab spiritual beliefs that honored many Gods. He officially became God’s messenger in the year of 610 as a father of 5 daughters. He received several revelations from God. From his received revelations came the Koran – God’s Holy Book. Armed with the Koran and Muhammad, the poetry of the Koran began to win followers from other tribes. The words became music. Muhammad claims return to one true God – Allah, the God of Abraham, of the Jews, the God of Jesus Christ. The video describes him a mild mannered merchant! Monotheism is back. Islam as an act of surrender to God’s will.
Muhammad faced criticism from the clerics of the day. Violence and torture ensued. Arabs were divided. His wife and uncle died. His followers were being persecuted. On a night in 620 he received another vision of all previous prophets (a unifying vision) that led him to leave Mecca. He fled just as the other sects agreed to assassinate him. Medina is born. A community bound together by a faith and by agreement. The Torah and the gospels have become distorted. Pray towards Mecca not Jerusalem.
Now, the new prophet, Muhammad, serves as messenger of God for Islam and as head of state. The video at 24 minutes in gently prepares why and how Muhammad became to lead an army for the defense of Islam. Jihad is born. Justice and armed defense is now back. It is used as a struggle for the survival of Islam – to establish peace. Respond as necessary with financial, military, whatever is needed to defend Islam. For Muhammad, having left Mecca with his followers and going to a new land without resources, he (by decree of Allah), turned to Jihad of attacking and raiding other tribes as a “defense” of Islam! The battle of Badr Muhammad shows both military strength compassion at the same time! Muhammad reportedly prayed:
“God this is Quraish. It has come with all its arrogance and boastfulness, trying to discredit Thy Apostle. God, I ask Thee to humiliate them tomorrow. God, if this Muslim band will perish today, Thou shall not be worshipped.[iv]
Islam uses this battle today as part of their foundation of being predestined, being the truth, the one way. It seems to sidestep the idea that they were not being attacked but were attacking a caravan with intent to plunder and steal resources. Medina and Mecca would war for a few more years – and the video presents this as Medina struggling for its survival. Again it ducks the issue that it is Medina that was the aggressor against Muhammad’s former home. In the year of 630 Islam marched on Mecca. He destroyed 365 Idols and vanquished falsehoods. He brought peace to Arabia. Islamic enlightenment and the word of Islam spread and blossomed! Muhammad’s life remains the ideal for Islam. The video ends with how extremist misuse verses of the Koran for violence and leave out Muhammad’s message for compassion and forgiveness. However, the video ducks the question of a vision of Islam that only allows for compassion and forgiveness for those that accept Islam?
“If they were polytheists they could resist and be executed or enslaved, or they could accept the message of monotheism and recognize Muhammad as the prophet of God. Jews and Christians, since they were monotheists whose prophets were recognized as forerunners of Muhammad, were given the possibility of submitting to Muhammad’s authority and paying a special tax, the jizyah, based on the qur’anic verse in Surah 9:29, in return for the freedom to practice their religions within certain limits. This became the practice of Muslim conquerors in the centuries following Muhammad’s death.”[v]
That being said:
“The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth,(5) who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.[vi]
And Muslim leaders have responded in kind with a “Common Word. “[vii]
Despite these overtures of our leadership in both theological paradigms, there remains the conflict of Islam’s actions and development as a nation of peace and compassion. Our own Pope is limited between the olive branch and the reality of Islam today.[viii] At the root of Islam is a drive to conquer and establish Islamic rules that promote a just and peaceful society as defined by Islam. The ends justify the means. While Christians made the same error at times thru the Crusades and other acts – they did not have justification from the Gospels. Islam has justification built into the Koran and the life of Muhammad.
As for it being the religion of peace “The Quran contains at least 109 verses that call Muslims to war with nonbelievers for the sake of Islamic rule. Some are quite graphic, with commands to chop off heads and fingers and kill infidels wherever they may be hiding. Muslims who do not join the fight are called ‘hypocrites’ and warned that Allah will send them to Hell if they do not join the slaughter.[ix] And its early growth was based on armed conquest.
Islam does not have one leader or one body and cannot address this conflict of presentation. I believe most Muslims are peaceful and compassionate people and are taught the fundamental peaceful aspects of Islam – but lurking underneath is this fundamental oppressive theology that drives belief on repression, conquest, and limiting freedom. Non-Muslims are treated as the enemy.
Perhaps “The Sealed Nectar” will provide me greater insight into Islam. Perhaps educated theologians or Muslim believers will provide response that enlightens this contradiction.
[ii] Review by ReemK10 @ good reads
On a trip to MercyHurst University in PA for a Dance festival for pre-professional dancers I was able to get some reading time and prayer time in on the beautiful campus in different nooks and crannies on the campus, mostly unobserved and left alone. The Joy of Love On Love in the Family tackles a broad range of difficult Catholic teachings (Secular society, Abortion, Marriage, Sexuality and Gender, Euthanasia, Racism, Social Inequality, and other challenges of our day) and lays out the Catholic position in its most idealistic form in a manner that simultaneously defends the doctrines of faith while also embracing the humility, compassion, and mercy that are evident in the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Chapel off to side of main church
“There is not family that does not know how selfishness, discord, tension and conflict violently attack and at times mortally wound its own communion: hence there arise the many forms of division in the family life.” Pg. 84.
“We have to realize that all of us are a complex mixture of light and shadows.” Pg. 87
How do we contend with the varied individual forces, societal forces, our own limitations and dare I say “Devil’s” influence?
The Blessing statue
Faith and prayer, Trust in the trinity of Jesus Christ, The Holy Spirit, and The Father. The first two are within us and the latter three are things we may seek and things we may be open to receive. That blend of seeking and being open to receiving is a simple conundrum. Catholic teaching is clear that God is there all the time – all we need to do is open our eyes and our hearts.
It is not that easy to do for some of us or perhaps most of us.
Pope Francis delves into detail on the vital importance of Love in the family, Love in the community, and in the Church.
He does so with the full expectation that we will all fall short in many areas of spiritual ascendency. He teaches on resiliency, on forgiveness, on support, on pastoral caring, on mercy.
We should embrace “even those who have made shipwreck of their lives.” Pg. 148. “Let us not forget that the church’s task is often like that of a field hospital.” Pg. 219. How depressing! And, am I on the gurney or helping carry one? Probably both.
The importance of self-reflection and discernment are discussed. The latter in detail on page 229. Perhaps some time with Mary will help?
Grotto at Student Union
We can be quick to judge when we get a taste of our own spirituality or an ounce of spiritual blessing. Very rapidly this can be turned against us as we encounter moral outrage at perceived ungodliness or evil of the “other.” There is no other. In everyone there is somewhere the face of Jesus Christ. That is not to say evil does not exist – it does – but people are not black and white. “The imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors.” Pg. 230. How is that for taking every situation into context when contrasting people’s actions with the ideal to the context of their everyday lives? Pope Francis clear to not change dogma for relativism, but he is equally clear to use pastoral wisdom, judgement, and mercy when encountering the less than ideal.
Pope Francis returns to the theme of social love (pg. 252) and all its meaning in our interactions within the family and outside the family and the symbolic and literal relationship to the blessed trinity.
If you can pass this on to others – and they can hear you – and join Christ – you have Kerygma. “It is not great knowledge, but rather the ability to feel and relish things interiorly that contents and satisfies the soul.” Pg. 157.
However, our end goal is not satisfaction or renunciation of satisfaction. Our end goal is being closer to God. We may not understand our dissatisfaction or challenges. We may doubt our ability to meet them. Yet we cannot be passive. We cannot be silent. We most strive while always taking time to reflect – is this striving the path that God has intended – and ask – in prayer – is this the way?
Thursday, Friday and Saturday I enjoyed an abundance of food, of performed dances (27 performances), and countless youth being youth – laughing, striving, performing. We drove over 600 miles including a pretty massive storm. We arrived at our destinations safely to and fro and everyone to my knowledge experienced personal success and growth.
The dances were imbued with artistry and passion. Infused with life. And with mystery. We did not speak about God or religion. That does not mean the Trinity was not present. What a gift I have had this weekend.
Book Review: A collection of anecdotal stories, parables, or sayings from the Hermits of Scete as collected by and scribed by Thomas Merton. The Hermits formed an important thread in the fourth century by capturing Christian contemplation and prayer as they sought out solitude in the desert.
The humility and passion of these Hermits exceeds current day monasteries. I like the story where one elder says “I have put out the flames of lust, and avarice, and vainglory.” The second elder says really? After a series of questions about how how he has come to this conclusion, the second elder is able to say, after each inquiry, “You see, the passion is alive. But it is bound.”
The latter draws out the challenges of living a holy life within our secular society today where we are bombarded with materialistic values or status pyramids that are devoid of any relation to our spiritual beliefs.
The book is really brief and has multiple very short entries that are worthy of contemplation and thought. In its simplicity it boils choices down to does this action bring me closer to God?
Thomas Merton says “We need to learn from these men of the fourth century how to ignore prejudice, defy compulsion, and strike out fearlessly into the unknown.” Merton is not recommending we return to the desert and live as hermits. He is recommending we return to the Gospels, to contemplation, to prayer, to discernment, and transcend from where our elders have left off.
I am not a Merton scholar. Mysticism is often avoided by lay Catholics as a term, yet our faith is based on mystery of the trinity and the importance of prayer and contemplation.
His early writings are considered quite Orthodox. His later writings are viewed a little more suspiciously as he was exposed to Buddhist monks and found their prayer and his prayer had many similarities in depth and meaning.
This is why Catholicism, while embracing theologians, scholars, philosophy, and science always returns to its sacred roots of the the Gospels for guidance. Does it bring you closer to God?
My answser for this book is yes. Yours maybe different!
Here is a link to his multiple writings:
The Father gives us life, Jesus gives us salvation, and the Holy Spirit gives us love.[i]
In an article entitled The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity Loyola press presents the Trinity in simple and easy to grasp language. Catholics, agnostics, atheist, and cynics can easily over complicate Christianity by delving into our religiosity, our application of our beliefs, and our explanation theologically and historically of the life of Jesus Christ.
The latter is evidence of our frailty and humanness as conveyors of spirituality as opposed to evidence of the non-existence of a God. St. Augustine words put it this way when referencing philosophers and the natural world: “This in turn leads them into an extreme blind perversity, where they will even ascribe to you what is theirs, blaming you, who are the Truth, for their own lies, and changing the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of corruptible humans, or birds or four-footed beast or crawling things.”[ii] It is easy to get lost in mankind’s rhetorical madness.
Take out the Catholic semantic language and description of the “Godhead,” three entities that are metaphysically one. What would be left is a universal spirituality that defies definition (mystery), that man attempts to understand and convey through language and acts (religion and practice), and an on-going relationship that is dynamically present (love). But all we have is our human faculties? We are limited by our language, our mortality, and our comprehension. I would argue that we have the Trinity. We have its simplicity in the Gospels. And if through reductionism we avoided instilling them with our political or personal driven egos, we would have a clear vision of truth that could be nurtured to have a more compassionate, merciful, and spiritual world. Our world is not simple.
New Horizons NASA satellite has provided us photos of Pluto.[iii] It took ten years to reach. In the face of the magnitude of our limitations it is easy to retreat to convolutedness, helplessness, and abject failure to obtaining and nurturing a cohesive unity of spirit.
Dietrich Von Hildebrand spent a chapter on “True Simplicity”[iv] where he paradoxically points out that “The character of simplicity (in the sense of a condensation of being) grows along the ascending hierarchy of the cosmos until it culminates in the one eternal Word of God, in quo est omnis plenitude divinitatis (“in whom all plentitude of divinity”) that illuminates the face of Christ. He makes a very strong case that you can live a spiritually unified life, driven by the simplicity of Jesus Christ’s message, while living in a complex world and cosmos that we barely have a thimble of knowledge of it breadth, depth and scope.
The Loyola press article is below. Read its simple message on the Trinity while recognizing the avalanche of complexity that awaits the unprepared wayfarer.
[ii] The confessions, St. Augustine, pg. 117.
[iv] Transformation In Christ by Dietrich Von Hildebrand
“In fashion then as of a snow-white rose
Displayed itself to me the saintly host…”(Canto XXXI)
In Canto XXXI, the Glory of Paradise, the snow-white rose is portrayed. It struck me immediately as being a representation of the Eucharist[i], though Dante’s depiction defines it as pedals of ancient believers (pre-Christ) and believer’s post-Christ. The snow-white rose presents a symbol within the larger poetical allegory of the continuity of our faith over the centuries as captured by innumerable references that Dante draws in from his many mentors, history, and theology of that time period. The power of the image was transformative for me, though not in the way Dante intended.[ii]
Why the complete work (The Divine Comedy: Inferno, Purgatory, Paradiso by Dante Alighieri) was recommended by Pope Francis for the Year of Mercy was a mystery for me personally. As I plowed through Inferno and Purgatorio, although impressed with the poetic masterpiece, I was rather under the impression of the Divine Comedy being a comedic joke on our ill-fated human temperament and meager attempts at holiness seemingly lacking in any humility. It is comedic if we are not blinded by tears of pain as we witness our lack of humanity every day.
However, The Divine Comedy is about stories that start poorly and end well. In Paradiso, Dante is able to bring his imaginative poetic license to life in his vision on the order and essence of heaven. Critically, it is limited by his humanity and human reference. The heavens he describes are staffed by saints and patrons that will be familiar. The unfolding of revelations and the struggle to comprehend what he sees and hears is meticulously detailed..
The three stories play with time. You can read them and see current day tragedy and comedy. You can read them and meditate on the past or the future or the celestial. Bishop Robert Baron wrote an article in The Catholic World Report on the work called “The Spiritual Master Pope Francis wants you to Read.”[iii] It is clear in that article that he supported the Pope’s recommendation. Gerard Korson wrote a similar recommendation in the Catholic Pulse.[iv] In that article he quotes Pope Francis:
“The aim of the Comedy is primarily practical and transformative. It does not only seek to be beautifully and morally good poetry, but effectively able to change man radically leading him from chaos to wisdom, from sin to holiness, from poverty to happiness, from contemplating the horrors of hell to the beatitudes of paradise.”
The expression of desire and human frailty, the yearning for the divine, the searching for eternal truths, and the quest for perfection is so beyond my reach that no human defined need can quench my hunger. They are bound to disappoint if I anoint them with idol power to define my happiness or being.
Love resides within me and outside of me, elusive and tangible, translucent and transparent, is mine and not mine. When it is truly authentic and divinely inspired, the odds are, I had very little to do with it except being able to receive it or give it away, for it was never mine to begin with since the beginning of time. It runs through you quicker than human recognition can grasp, leaving only an imprint of warmth, that something special has just touched your heart and your soul.
In the end, my review of the work will be a direct quote from Paradiso:
“The universal fashion of this knot
Methinks I saw, since more abundantly
In saying this I feel rejoice.” (Canto XXXIII)
[ii] Who defines the image: the writer or the artist, the viewer or art teacher, or perhaps even revelation individually defined?
A gem of a presentation by Rev. Jerome Murphy O-Connor that in 11 brief pages or about 25 minutes of lecture tackles the slippery slope of historical criticism of scripture, its history, and impact on the current day church. Rev. O’Connor describes the descent of the validity of scripture in light of literary and historical criticism and the re-emergence of scripture, or the ascent, using the same constructs to validate the historical experience of Jesus Christ.[ii]
The gap between the historical life of Jesus Christ and the nailing down of the four accepted gospels relied on oral tradition, on followers and witnesses to the life of Jesus. As the early church spread Paul said “Do not despise prophets,” but he says, “test everything.” In other words, prophets spoke in the early church in the context of suspicion.” Rev. O’Connor provided a neat little presentation that integrates the historical life of Jesus Christ, oral tradition, synthesis of scripture, and answers to several avenues of criticism to the biblical text that is refreshingly accessible to the average reader.
Of course, simplification may leave other questions unanswered. However, an excellent presentation that avoids delving into the tedious distinctions and overlap of disciplines and perspectives of theologians, epistemologist, archeologist, literary scholars and other disciplines of rigorous analysis.
The battle between science and religion are often ideologically driven by unnecessary separation due to the distinction between the “knowable and the “unknowable.” However, each can guide each other and support each other whether analyzing the life and times of Jesus Christ and the origins of scripture or the application of science and medicine to human life today.
Just Friday (4/29/2016) Pope Francis urged integration and connectedness between morality and science:
Today more than ever we see the urgent need for an education that not only develops students’ intellectual abilities, but also ensures integral human formation and a professionalism of the highest degree. From this pedagogical perspective, it is necessary in medical and life sciences to offer interdisciplinary courses which provide ample room for a human formation supported by ethical criteria. Research, whether in academia or industry, requires unwavering attention to moral issues if it is to be an instrument which safeguards human life and the dignity of the person. Formation and research, therefore, aspire to serve higher values, such as solidarity, generosity, magnanimity, sharing of knowledge, respect for human life, and fraternal and selfless love…….. when the mechanism of profit prevails over the value of human life. This is why the globalization of indifference must be countered by the globalization of empathy.[iii]
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.