“Jesus died for my sins.”
We are taught from a young age our faith and taught in the language of grade school children. This language, perhaps condescendingly, often crashes into a series of ‘”you” and “I” dialogue. At that age, we are taught our place first, often wrongly, within the larger church. The larger context, of social responsibility and collective unity of all human beings, is often overshadowed by the lesson of the day. Catholicism does recognize collective ownership as represented by collective guilt, we do that very well.
However, our unity understanding, through the prism of our western culture which stresses individualism, and through the culture of multi-faith societies, has created a sense of helplessness when considering the magnitude of grave sin amongst believers, never mind the actions of non-believer or people of other faiths. We have default human response to attend to the controllable, to the “I.”
When we do that we are at crossroads with the basis of our faith. Jesus Christ came not for one individual or one cast of people, but all people, sinners and saints alike. The mystery of the bride of Christ (saints, the church, wayfarers) joining Christ in preparing for union as one is often lost as our multi-faith society and multi-nation society, often indistinguishable from each other, battle for earthly and religious superiority. Is this not reminiscent of the tower of Babel?
The entire bible addresses not relationships with individuals, but a call to all people. Some individuals are chosen to lead, but to lead for all, not for the self, the “I.”
The story of the greatest sacrifice and atonement for our sins was for all people (the Jews, the Christians, the romans, the pagans, their forefathers and all the generations to come). It is a new day.
Atonement means that Jesus sacrificed for all of our “lawlessness” and sins and united us as one, believers and unbelievers in solidarity. How incredibly frustrating this is for us Catholics. Aside that we are always seemingly sub par relative to the chosen (Saints) or even to the guy next door, we are on a team with murderers, rapist, child abusers, kidnappers, terrorist, atheist, Jews, ISIS, capitalist, communist, and every type of person who acts contrary to God’s nature.
In the face of overwhelming evil, how critical is it that we model, each according to our ability, the “visible communion as a visible solidarity” among those of us who have accepted Jesus Christ? Without the scripture, without the liturgy, without the Eucharist, without all the symbolism and signs of our faith, we are powerless to attract people to join us in salvation. The emptiness of soulless lives will require the constant feeding of temporal needs of which we will have no alternative to offer but our judgement and condemnation? How often do we see condemnation from our religious and political representatives without any visible solidarity with those they condemn?
Through the visible actions (not words) of attending church, praying, receiving the Eucharist, all the sacraments, helping the poor and living the word we can achieve greater peace (mind you we will still suffer) that can project the glory of God, with the grace of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, to all people. By merely acting and living like Catholics we can do more than by any acts of condemnation of our brothers in Christ.
Jesus did not die for my sins, although they are many, he died for all of our sins that we all maybe redeemed.
Like a very long a parable, the bible presents scripture from Genesis to Revelation. Ask ourselves questions that simplify following the thread of connectivity through the lens of God (well perhaps not as clearly!) through these historical time periods. Genesis establishes the “foundation” of the earth (creation account). The Old Testament provides testimony to man’s journey and disappointments to God thru repeat grave sins against creation, himself, and God despite numerous prophets sent to provide instruction. We live in empires (think St. Augustine City of men) driven by power (think Lucifer the beast of the earth).
Enter stage left, the lamb of God, begotten of the father, one and the same, Jesus Christ from the very foundation of the world, the one of God, is sent as truly man, to be slain for our sins. God provides us his only son so that we may “see” his glory and his compassion, his grace, and his never-ending majesty. Meaning, Jesus Christ, in his death conquered death for us. The blood of Jesus Christ, if we wash our robes in the blood of the lamb, opens the kingdom of heaven for us eternally despite our shortcomings while living in the kingdom of men.
Jesus, symbolically the bridegroom, is courting us the bride (wayfarers here on earth). The church, the saints, and each of us committed to God and Jesus, are the bride. The book of revelation discusses this betrothal period (preparation period) highlighting different degrees of readiness of the churches and their people. The Saints, exercising greater holiness and righteousness than the rest, wear the robes of the bridegroom as they help move us towards unity with Jesus, the true bridegroom, that we will join as one. Easy enough said, just read revelation, it’s as clear as day! The betrothal period is getting long!
Christological Ontology is a mystery before even selecting a subject of study. It delves into the philosophical study of Christian beliefs, metaphysical concepts, and existential applications of said beliefs. The early church recognized deviating teachings from well-meaning Christian believers that were taking on different aspects or definitions of three incarnational truths regarding Jesus Christ are simultaneously maintained:
- Jesus is the Son of God who is man with full divinity (of the father).
- Jesus is truly man that the Son of God is here on earth, experiencing full humanity (birth, hunger, thirst, doubt, pain, and death).
- Jesus, although having two natures (that of man and that of Son of God) is one being – he is the son of god existing in man.
Thomas Weinandy, OFM., CAP presented these truths as coming out of three councils (Nicaea 325 bc, Ephesus 431 bc, and Chalcedon 451 bc). The above three truths do not strike me as controversial, however, the early church had real challenges and accusations of heresy lodged at fellow believers over the essence of who Jesus Christ represented within the context of the Trinity. How could he be both man and God at the same time? If he is man, he cannot be God and vice a versa.
The Council of Chalcedon, the last of the three councils above, solidified the above three ontological truths for the Catholic Church. Not all churches followed suit and to this day questions are raised by these assumptions. How can I explain the unexplainable? As a catholic we have a difficult task of explaining our beliefs as they are based on a rich tradition, history, and lived experiences. They become self-referential and from the outside become even more mysterious than we may feel as believers.
Jesus Christ was incarnate by the Holy Spirit in Mary, the Mother of God. From the very beginning he is different than prior prophets. He is spirit and divinity by getting life through the Holy Spirit and Human by being born like you and me from the Virgin Mary. As he fulfills his redemption and salvation journey, he performs miracles and experiences fully as a human being. He is man. Yet he is not separated from his divinity and his divinity is not tainted by or changed by his sacrifices. God gave us his only son temporarily, to experience and sacrifice for our redemption. His son “emptied himself” of his divinity to be made man while simultaneously still being one with the father. The council of Chalcedon demanded that we recognize Jesus full humanity (which authenticates his descending to earth and sacrificing for us wholly and completely) and that we recognize that he remains the son of God while temporarily giving himself up totally to being man. Hence, after the ultimate sacrifice, being crucified for our redemption with the body of man (and all that entails in pain and suffering), he is called back to the father thru the resurrection to fulfill the majesty of scripture and the word of God.
The practicing catholic need not get caught up in metaphysical existential philosophy and Ontological Christology. We have to only strive to think and act like Jesus Christ (easier said than done). However, if we are to be messengers of the word of God, we have to be able to provide a story or an account of the mystery of the trinity, that although not entirely explainable as it is a mystery, has essential truths that define Jesus Christ and Christianity.
My Personal Creed
July 18, 2015
Saturday Evening excercise
Retreat “Priest, Prophet, King”
Loyola Retreat House on the Potomac
I have come to know you as The Father, The Almighty. I have come to know your son, Jesus Christ, through tradition, and Mary the Mother of Jesus, saints and martyrs, priest and religious people through the church, through life, and hopefully by your grace. Still, despite two thousand years of history since the last prophet, the son of God, has walked the earth, you are unknowable as an infinite being to my finite flesh. You have given me quite a treasury of role models, mediators, and false prophets from which to test what is truly your way or your desires. The tool chest is vast, but the master mechanics are few. I am afraid I will spend much time breaking what is not broken and little time reflecting on what needs repair. I know this from my human experience with worldly things; imagine my bewilderment with approaching your direction, your will? I must throw myself at your mercy and pray for divine providence and grace.
In the meantime, you have given me my bodily form with which to by trial and error, attempt to live a holy and virtuous life. It has been a disaster from the start, and only more so as I have matured. I have not achieved greatness in Satan’s den of thieves but nor have I achieved much more than perhaps an honorable mention, or perhaps only an asterisk for good attempt at a holy life. I have, surely not by my will and individual merit, had great blessings with the sacrament of marriage, three beautiful children, fourteen years of serving the homeless, ten years serving the mentally ill, and the gift of other helping acts over time. I have interrupted these blessings with periods of excess alcohol consumption, bouts of worry and anxiety, and general self-destruction tendencies. I had crosses mind you, but mine were light and airy, like say carrying the cross as Simon of Cyrene did, knowing only physical exercise was required, and that at the end of the journey, the hard work would be done by your son. You would not know it though if you listened to my tale of woes, because I had only my internal experiences, my misery, and my grief from which to judge. I judged you a lousy referee on many occasions of the game of life.
The reality is all I can do is pray daily to “overcome myself and to order my life” in so far as I can shy of your divine providence, your grace, and my tendency for human folly. May my decisions be self-aware, aligned with your desire, and be demonstrated by my action.
Lucifer may have something to say here as he is “seated on a throne of fire and smoke, in aspect horrible and terrifying.” He is reading the playbook, the scouting report of my weaknesses to his minions and yes, he is also reading to me when he is not seated on the throne of fire, he whispers so low, that I think it is me thinking aloud.
It isn’t really complicated. All he has are the tools of things not God, things contrarian to God, worldly things! The things you gave me God, to through trial and error, seek your divine will.
Here are some places where I request your help:
When suffering is at hand, may my integrity, my authentic self, and my character be supported by your grace to respond virtuously and willingly to my cross, however small or large is the crisis. May I say and believe: “Jesus, I trust in You.”
Let not my pride surge or my soul dive into “morose self-pity” when confronted with successes or failures. They are two sides of the same coin, egotism on a rollercoaster of human design. These are driven by all our human passions: belonging, love, friendship, money, food, leisure, power, and other worldly goods. In and of themselves, these “things” are not evil; they become evil when they supersede you. They enslave my soul. Shame is perhaps the most crippling of all. Is shame not a representation of lack of trust in the forgiving and healing power that you provide! Help my faith be strong so I may be open to your healing.
Desolation and Consolation of the spirit:
Oh how lowly I am, I am most in need of your love? Or, I need your presence, I need your grace, I need to speak tongues, I need a sign? My mood, driven by my earthly desires, can ricochet into depression, anxiety, listlessness. My distorted thinking can elevate my circumstances, with help from Lucifer, into a spiritual crisis, or at the very least, a damaging moral crisis. (Note to self: this is not addressing medical anxiety and depression that many people suffer without distorted thinking). The prayer I need to recite is what do you desire for me? Am I answering your divine will if I am too busy seeking your constant consolation? If I cannot shoulder brief moments of desolation, how can I help others who have sustained grief? Please help me find prayer in times of desolation.
Knowledge of you is wonderful. “The World is Charged with the Grandeur of God” when we are open to your ways. However, experiencing you, in everything, and finding you in our own image can be overpowering whenever we are blessed with a glimmer of the divine nature that is your way. Did not the apostles struggle with who is the greatest? I am no preacher. My calling has been family man, social worker, and court jester. The latter ensures I am never too pious. My human nature, though, is competitive. Guide me to use that competitiveness in your service.
The nation of Israel wanted a king. They knew not what they wanted. Your nation is nation less. Your kingdom calls for us all to be priest, prophet, and king. The laws of our nations are failing miserably as well as the houses of worship (at times). We are in disarray God. Seven times seventy is not enough.
Judged on my accord, I am fearful of my frailties and under achievement. Judged on our collective actions, without the saving grace of your son, we are doomed. Please help me to seek confession often for myself, for my church, for the society of believers with Jesus Christ and the aid of any intercessor or mediators that are beyond my comprehension. Help me to use the “examen” exercise often and meaningfully.
Eucharist and the Church:
Help me to receive the Eucharist at every opportunity and join the Holy Spirit and fellow believers in your home.
May I receive your mercy and forgiveness at every turn and hence forth the same compassion to others who have committed offenses against me, my family, or you.
Please guide my prayer life and let my prayer life infuse my ability to see the image of God in my fellow people.
New View of Family Life in the North American Nebula02.10.11
An Extended Stellar Family This swirling landscape of stars is known as the North American nebula. In visible light, the region resembles North America, but in this new infrared view from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, the continent disappears. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
› Full image and caption
› Browse version of image
Pasadena, Calif. — Stars at all stages of development, from dusty little tots to young adults, are on display in a new image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope.
This cosmic community is called the North American nebula. In visible light, the region resembles the North American continent, with the most striking resemblance being the Gulf of Mexico. But in Spitzer’s infrared view, the continent disappears. Instead, a swirling landscape of dust and young stars comes into view.
“One of the things that makes me so excited about this image is how different it is from the visible image, and how much more we can see in the infrared than in the visible,” said Luisa Rebull of NASA’s Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif. Rebull is lead author of a paper about the observations, accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series. “The Spitzer image reveals a wealth of detail about the dust and the young stars here.”
The new image is online at http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/spitzer/multimedia/pia13844.html .
Rebull and her team have identified more than 2,000 new, candidate young stars in the region. There were only about 200 known before. Because young stars grow up surrounded by blankets of dust, they are hidden in visible-light images. Spitzer’s infrared detectors pick up the glow of the dusty, buried stars.
A star is born inside a collapsing ball of gas and dust. As the material collapses inward, it flattens out into a disk that spins around together with the forming star like a spinning top. Jets of gas shoot perpendicularly away from the disk, above and below it. As the star ages, planets are thought to form out of the disk — material clumps together, ultimately growing into mature planets. Eventually, most of the dust dissipates, aside from a tenuous ring similar to the one in our solar system, referred to as Zodiacal dust.
The new Spitzer image reveals all the stages of a star’s young life, from the early years when it is swaddled in dust to early adulthood, when it has become a young parent to a family of developing planets. Sprightly “toddler” stars with jets can also be identified in Spitzer’s view.
“This is a really busy area to image, with stars everywhere, from the North American complex itself, as well as in front of and behind the region,” said Rebull. “We refer to the stars that are not associated with the region as contamination. With Spitzer, we can easily sort this contamination out and clearly distinguish between the young stars in the complex and the older ones that are unrelated.”
The North American nebula still has a mystery surrounding it, involving its power source. Nobody has been able to identify the group of massive stars that is thought to be dominating the nebula. The Spitzer image, like images from other telescopes, hints that the missing stars are lurking behind the Gulf of Mexico portion of the nebula. This is evident from the illumination pattern of the nebula, especially when viewed with the detector on Spitzer that picks up 24-micron infrared light. That light appears to be coming from behind the Gulf of Mexico’s dark tangle of clouds, in the same way that sunlight creeps out from behind a rain cloud.
The nebula’s distance from Earth is also a mystery. Current estimates put it at about 1,800 light-years from Earth. Spitzer will refine this number by finding more stellar members of the North American complex.
The Spitzer observations were made before it ran out of the liquid coolant needed to chill its longer-wavelength instruments. Currently, Spitzer’s two shortest-wavelength channels (3.6 and 4.5 microns) are still working. The composite image shows light from both the infrared array camera and multiband imaging processor. Infrared light with a wavelength of 3.6 microns is color-coded blue; 8.0-micron light is green; and 24-micron light is red.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA. For more information about Spitzer, visit http://spitzer.caltech.edu/ and http://www.nasa.gov/spitzer .
Whitney Clavin 818-354-4673
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
The Confession of the Pope Who Came From Afar
In an interview with the magazine of the Jesuits of Rome, Jorge Mario Bergoglio unravels the enigma of his silence on the anthropological revolution taking place. Which involves birth, death, procreation, the entire nature of man
by Sandro Magister
ROME, September 20, 2013 – In the twenty-eight pages of his interview with the director of “La Civiltà Cattolica” Antonia Spadaro, published simultaneously in sixteen other magazines of the Society of Jesus all over the world, there are two passages in which Pope Francis unravels one of the biggest enigmas of his pontificate.
That is, he explains why he has been so taciturn on questions on which his predecessor popes have clashed more vivaciously with the dominant culture.
The first of these passages is the following:
“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the Church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the Church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.
“The dogmatic and moral teachings of the Church are not all equivalent. The Church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus.
“We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the Church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.
“I say this also thinking about the preaching and content of our preaching. A beautiful homily, a genuine sermon must begin with the first proclamation, with the proclamation of salvation. There is nothing more solid, deep and sure than this proclamation. Then you have to do catechesis. Then you can draw even a moral consequence. But the proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives. Today sometimes it seems that the opposite order is prevailing.”The homily is the touchstone to measure the pastor’s proximity and ability to meet his people, because those who preach must recognize the heart of their community and must be able to see where the desire for God is lively and ardent. The message of the Gospel, therefore, is not to be reduced to some aspects that, although relevant, on their own do not show the heart of the message of Jesus Christ.”
The second revealing passage is sparked by this observation of pope Jorge Mario Bergoglio:
“Ours is not a ‘lab faith,’ but a ‘journey faith,’ a historical faith. God has revealed himself as history, not as a compendium of abstract truths.”
Father Spadaro writes:
“So I ask the pope if this also applies, and how, to an important cultural frontier which is that of the anthropological challenge. The anthropology to which the Church has traditionally referred and the language with which it has expressed it remain a solid point of reference, the fruit of age-old wisdom and experience. Nonetheless, the man to whom the Church addresses itself no longer seems to understand it or consider it sufficient. I begin to reason on the fact that man is interpreting himself in a manner different from that of the past, with different categories. And this also because of the great changes in society and a broader study of himself.
“At this point he gets up and goes to get the breviary from his desk. It is in Latin, now worn from use. He opens to the Office of Readings for Friday of the 27th Week in Ordinary Time and reads me a passage from the Commonitorium Primum of St. Vincent of Lerins: ‘Ita etiam christianae religionis dogma sequatur has decet profectuum leges, ut annis scilicet consolidetur, dilatetur tempore, sublimetur aetate.’ (Even the dogma of the Christian religion must follow these laws, consolidating over the years, developing over time, deepening with age).”
The pope continues:
“St. Vincent of Lerins makes a comparison between the biological development of man and the transmission from one era to another of the deposit of faith, which grows and is strengthened with time. Here, human self-understanding changes with time and so also human consciousness deepens. Let us think of when slavery was accepted or the death penalty was allowed without any problem. So we grow in the understanding of the truth. Exegetes and theologians help the Church to mature in her own judgment.
“Even the other sciences and their development help the Church in its growth in understanding. There are ecclesiastical rules and precepts that were once effective, but now they have lost value or meaning. The view of the Church’s teaching as a monolith to defend without nuance or different understandings is wrong.
“After all, in every age of history, humans try to understand and express themselves better. So human beings in time change the way they perceive themselves. It’s one thing for a man who expresses himself by carving the ‘Winged Victory of Samothrace,’ yet another for Caravaggio, Chagall and yet another still for Dalí. Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning.
“Humans are in search of themselves, and, of course, in this search they can also make mistakes. When does a formulation of thought cease to be valid? When it loses sight of the human or even when it is afraid of the human or deluded about itself. The deceived thought can be depicted as Ulysses encountering the song of the Siren, or as Tannhäuser in an orgy surrounded by satyrs and bacchantes, or as Parsifal, in the second act of Wagner’s opera, in the palace of Klingsor. The thinking of the Church must recover genius and better understand how human beings understand themselves today, in order to develop and deepen the Church’s teaching.”
From these arguments one gathers that Pope Francis is far from seeing in the modern-day cultural revolution the tremendous transition of civilization forcefully denounced by the popes who preceded him.
What prevails in Bergoglio is the idea that the new man who is moving forward, rather than harshly putting the Church to the test, is instead helping it to grow in understanding of the truth and to get rid of “ecclesiastical rules and precepts that were once effective, but now have lost value or meaning.”
How do we as Catholics weigh science, knowledge, and gained wisdom against our historical text which are arguably 1900 years old to 3600 years old? If we listen carefully to Pope Francis and our own intuitive prayer we recognize the bible may have been closed to edits, but our living interpretation of the bible, in light of revelations given to us by the sciences, arts, and experience, is indeed a living document. “Humans are in search of themselves, and, of course, in this search they can also make mistakes. When does a formulation of thought cease to be valid? When it loses sight of the human or even when it is afraid of the human or deluded about itself.” The attached article, if it teaches us anything, is humility and compassion when confronted by social issues that do not immediately conform to our understanding. Of course, it would be nice if non-catholics treated us the same way, but alas, catholics everyday face small and large persecution for our beliefs. Yet we are called to reach out beyond our insular catholic identity with love. Any contemplative theologian will tell you we know far less than we think we do about the ways of G-D, Jehovah, the Absolute Being. It is not easy being Catholic, but it can be easier if one is open to the challenges to our faith and our beliefs as the church grows in understanding. Of course, I can’t say it as concisely as Pope Francis says below:
The complete text of the interview with “La Civiltà Cattolica”:
The Canticle of Mary
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.
The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him.
He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.
He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly.
The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy,
according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.
The Mystical City of God by Venerable Mary of Agreda portrays the most holy Mary, child of Joachim and Anne, is given to prophetess Anne for teaching and preparation for providence, unknown at the time, that she would bear a child, the son of God, Jesus Christ . Historically, we have no idea of the names of Mary’s parents. The names are passed down to us by legend and tradition. Mary of Agreda gives a testimony in “Ciudad de Dios” of Mary’s preparation for conception some 1600 years later based on visions from Our Lady. The book has received the Imprimatur (blessing to be printed and nothing in it is opposed to Catholic teaching) and has been praised by many religious. The contemplative prayers of Venerable Mary of Agreda and writings can serve to bring us closer to God in our own prayers. May my imagination bring to life in prayer the lives of saints, martyrs, and villains so I may fully understand the spirit and way of holiness in my epoch of time, however brief my mortal self contains its presence and journey.
Chapter XIII of the Ascent of Mount Carmel details extreme detachment guidelines for entering the dark night for preparing for communion or union with God. Complete detachment is impossible, however, God’s mercy and love can bypass the gap. I must do what I can, however, and not abuse my status as guest in God’s house. “In this detachment the spiritual soul finds its quiet and repose; for, since it covets nothing, nothing wearies it when it is lifted up (by God’s grace), and nothing oppresses it when it is cast down, because it is in the centre of its humility; but when it covets anything, at that very moment it becomes weakened.”
This is a mortification of desires. In this chapter it deals with natural and unnatural desires as well as levels of desires (mortal sin, venial sin, habits that are lawful) that may take us away from spirit or are contrary to spirit. Even spiritual pursuit, if not conducted with humility and true intention can fall into trivial desires and folly. St. John says “The world is the enemy least difficult to conquer, the devil is the hardest to understand, but the flesh is the most tenacious, and its attacks continue as long as the old self last.”
Hence, many saints and religious have taken to, in addition to defeating internal desires, performing external mortification of the flesh. The safest and most effective form of this is fasting. For any pursuit, however, we most guard against seeking glory and martyrdom by public demonstration of such sacrifices. The articles below though council take care of your interior desires and prayer first! For most of us, that will take a life-time. http://www.religious-vocation.com/penance_and_mortification.html#.VZ70fflViko
May 24, 1996, a group of Islamic terrorists announced that they had “slit the throats” of seven French Trappist monks whom they had kidnapped from the monastery of Tibherine. Father Christian de Chergé, had left with his family this testament “to be opened in the event of my death.”
Christian’s entire letter can be read anywhere on the web. The story of Christian’s death and six other monks is now a novel and a movie.
While the book and movie provide serious entertainment, the value of human life, spirituality, humility, and martyrdom is called into the spotlight. Interfaith dialogue also has a significant role.
Christian, and his fellow monks, had given their lives to follow Christ. When danger was near they gave their actual lives, their flesh and body, they had passports and chose not to leave. As Christ chose to accept his destiny so did these Cistercian Monks. How have I accepted or not accepted my destiny? How many ways has God worked around me, inspite of me, and through me to deliver providentially his plans? Surely my failures and folly have at least served a few who can learn from my ways! I like the closing line, and may we find each other, happy good thieves, in paradise. Is any grace we receive not an aspect of thievery, for what do we have of any worth to purchase God’s blessing. Nothing at all in our possession can lay claim to entitlement. We are at the mercy of God’s good will and intentions being provided despite our inclination to turn towards evil or at least earthly, temporal things.
Below are some excerpts from Christian’s last letter:
If it should happen one day—and it could be today—that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to encompass all the foreigners living in Algeria, I would like my community, my Church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to this country. I ask them to accept that the One Master of all life was not a stranger to this brutal departure. I ask them to pray for me: for how could I be found worthy of such an offering? I ask them to be able to associate such a death with the many other deaths that were just as violent, but forgotten through indifference and anonymity.
My life has no more value than any other. Nor any less value. In any case, it has not the innocence of childhood. I have lived long enough to know that I share in the evil which seems, alas, to prevail in the world, even in that which would strike me blindly. I should like, when the time comes, to have a clear space which would allow me to beg forgiveness of God and of all my fellow human beings, and at the same time to forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down.
I could not desire such a death. It seems to me important to state this. I do not see, in fact, how I could rejoice if this people I love were to be accused indiscriminately of my murder. It would be to pay too dearly for what will, perhaps, be called “the grace of martyrdom,” to owe it to an Algerian, whoever he may be, especially if he says he is acting in fidelity to what he believes to be Islam.
And you also, the friend of my final moment, who would not be aware of what you were doing. Yes, for you also I wish this “thank you”—and this adieu—to commend you to the God whose face I see in yours.
And may we find each other, happy “good thieves,” in Paradise, if it pleases God, the Father of us both. Amen.
Translated by the Monks of Mount Saint Bernard Abbey, Leicester, England.
Mission statement: “I am created to praise, love, and serve God.” Disordered loves and preoccupations clutter our lives. The grace we seek is indifference.
Prayer for the week: “I pray for the following graces: a deepening awareness of my fundamental vocation to praise, love, and serve God and others, a desire for greater indifference in my life; a willingness to embrace who I am before our loving God.”
It is against my nature, against man’s nature, to desire a greater indifference in our lives. I am goal directed, even in spiritual pursuit, I am goal directed with an individual will to achieve. Achievement is measured by attachments, sense of belonging, and yes, desires of the heart.
The grace I pray for is the grace of acceptance. The acceptance of my temporal existence in the flesh, of my lack of certainty of everlasting life in the spirit, my frailties and over attachment to things not worthy of such adoration, my clinging to sensations of the five senses that cloud achieving true openness to the divine.
I am here writing, seeking, with a lived experience of successes and failures in everyday life. They serve as an aide and a hinderance to this pursuit. I overvalue my own importance (whether narcissistic pride in accomplishments or grand martyrdom in failure) when reflecting on the past and overshadow my future with anxiety on where to go from here.
A willingness to embrace who I am before our loving God and accept divine providence and present moment, accept forgiveness and embrace, and seek discernment of God’s will going forward, leaving anxiety in the ashes of prayer will allow me to praise, love, and serve God.
My work is my vocation of serving God. My family is my vocation of serving God. My writing helps me examine my thoughts and attentions. My reading keeps me humbled and striving. Religious people, mass, Holy Communion, Pope Francis, and the mysteries of grace help me. Concretely, the things I can do daily is read scripture, pray, journal, and try to see the image of God within everyone I interact with, especially those who engender my worst cynicism and nature.
Other readings: Book of Genesis: Jacob and man/demon fight all night: Turns out to be God he wrestled with all night. In day he gets God’s blessing and a new name…Israel. He saw the face of God and lived. Have you ever wrestled with God? Today’s refection speaks about the humility and blessings of wrestling with one’s vocational discernment. Gn: 32: 23-33. MT 9:32-38.
The tight rope between Ezekiel’s description of dancing bones (37:7) as a “rattling of bones came together bone to bone” to the resurrection of Jesus Christ in the Lucan Gospel, although laced together with scriptures all throughout the Old Testament and the Gospels, defies the imagination. Ezekiel prophesized a vision as follows: “So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.” This was to his people who were exiled and needed hope and vision of a glorious return. The improbability of the original vision is perhaps as challenging as the delivered savior: a suffering savior who dies to give us life and is resurrected corporately (for everyone), body and all. The faith of the exiled Israelites expecting a savior and the faith of the disciples when presented with a savior is not a given despite tangible “miracles” and visions.
In the Lucan gospel, the visitation to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, cannot discern Jesus Christ has joined them on the road in conversation. They do not recognize him until the act of breaking bread, which was preceded by scripture (revelation by Jesus though not discerned). The Gospel discusses that not all can see. Several accounts are given of the disciples themselves being in disbelief.
How than, can we in modern day believe? Is it not so much harder? The answer is no as we have the same tools of discernment as the disciples: scripture and breaking bread (receiving Jesus Christ). Scripture prepares the self with knowledge of God, breaking bread is accepting God’s gift of Jesus Christ sacrifice, and union with God is perfected in our pursuit of proximity to God and God’s providence. Man cannot discern God alone, in the past or in the present.
“He must increase, but I must decrease.” Imagine having the choice to be baptized by John the Baptist on one side of the lake and Jesus of Nazareth on the other. Aside from this trivial imaginative dilemma, how can I diminish myself so that the spirit and grace of God may flourish within me? Self-preoccupation that I am susceptible to include excessive entertainment (desire for leisure, food, drink, vacation, gaming), anxiety about family well-being, finance and work projects. All of the latter are important – but in the end will my anxiety change anything more so than putting my faith in God’s hands and trusting in providence. Freeing myself for God’s will internally (reducing attachments) and externally (being available to others but guided by God’s intentions) requires a great deal of spiritual discernment and prayer.