The fallible Army of God

Arise each morning as if prepared for war.  Your foe is admirable in strenght, in numbers, and persistence.  Cleverer than most and evasive when needed, confrontational when least expected.   You are keenly aware you cannot fight this war alone – but nor can you control your brothers in arms actions, the soildiers you may lead, or the superiors above you to make the right decisions as well as commit to action with determination.   Your army and your discipline will carry you through the day.  

There will be losses and pain.  There will be some amongst you who are traitorus, cowardly, or simply incompetant.  Some rare men will rise above your measure of men and carry those who cannot carry themselves.   You will, if you look honestly enough within yourself, may find your own actions wanting when compared to the most bravest and noblest amonst us – the self-less, natural warriors of our cause.              

Today our war is an internal war.  Our Holy Army is filled with imperfect and outright immoral men embedded in our ranks from the church pew upwards into the highest offices of the catholic church.    

The news and relevations of our church’s  misuse of power and abuse of women, children, nuns and others is symbolically and literary a spear in the side of Jesus Christ, our church, and our faith.  Many are walking away from God as the vessel of his living word is so abused and tarnished by the actions of the faithful – that any spiritual or theological truths cannot be grasped through the burning fire of our Sodum and Gomorrah.  

I met with a priest this week and was provided the mercy and grace of the sacrament of confession.   On the issues of the Church crisis the providence and direction of the church was less clear as Pope Francis and the 190 church leaders meet today.   Our leaders have more than stumbled badly – they have given away vast tracts of any semblance of moral authority.  our congregation is badly battered, beaten, and tired. 

With this emotive experience, two readings fell into my hand this morning.  

Thomas kempis, from the Imitation of Christ said “I am so weary of all that I read and hear and see, for only in you is that I will or can desire (pg. 19).”  How true is this writing from the 1400s today. 

And yesterday a book arrived as recomended by a family member out of the blue, the Dialogue by Catherine of Siena.  The introduction and prologue alone directed by attentions:

“how storm tossed and offensive to God the world is….page 26” 

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and her 4 petitions that set up the as of yet unread book: prayer for self, prayer for the Holy Church, prayer for the whole world (especially for Christians that have rebelled), and prayer for divine providence for a particular certian case.   

Today and hopefully everyday I rise armed with prayer of my 4 petitions, perhaps slightly altered in style and verbiage, but nonetheless, armed to face the days external challenges, my own self-conquest when my very own desires are too heavily weighted with worldly concerns, my trust in an ultiamte divine providence no matter how many actions we take to subvert god’s ultimate will, and openness to a living and merciful god.   We are colelctively fallible through our own free will – our immorality and transgressions are our way, not Gods. 

Whether you are fighting yourself, fellow man, or the Devil himself – do not go to battle alone, unprepared or unarmed.  Everyday is an opportunity to seek greater perfection through prayer, discipline, and action no matter what battlefield is demanding your attention.  

“Here the Cry of the Little Ones” Pope Francis

Today 190 Church leaders are meeting with Pope Francis to address the Sexual abuse crisis. Hidden underneath it is the patriarchal structure of the church.

At least three NYT articles today are discussing current immorality of church leaders with abuse of Nuns, Children, and other related legacies and current day abuses.

A recent NYT article[i] exposes hypocrisy of Southern Baptist presenting rapist as men of God.  One even served time and is now on the pulpit despite being a sex offender.  The material here is incendiary.  Any incidence of sexual abuse, rape, child molestation, child predators coupled with clergy of any religious denomination hits people deep in their souls – believers, atheist (yes, atheist have a soul), parents, and anybody with moral conscience.  The article takes a shot across the bow of all male run religious institutions of Christianity with both theological reference and historical and current day clergy immorality:   

“Underneath it all is this patriarchy that goes back millennia,” Serene Jones, the president of Union Theological Seminary, told me, noting the commonality of the Catholic and Southern Baptist Churches: “They both have very masculine understandings of God, and have a structure where men are considered the closest representatives of God.”

The paradox is that Jesus and the early Christian church seem to have been very open to women. The only person in the New Testament who wins an argument with Jesus is an unnamed woman who begs him to heal her daughter (Mark 7:24-30 and Matthew 15:21-28).

The indifference to criminal behavior is an echo of what has been unearthed in the Roman Catholic Church over the decades. The latest sickening revelations are of priests getting away with raping nuns and with assaulting deaf students.

The author raises Mary of Magdalene as a leader in the church and given a teaching role by Jesus Christ.   In this gnostic gospel, Mary Magdalene appears as a disciple, singled out by Jesus for special teachings. In this excerpt, the other disciples are discouraged and grieving Jesus’ death. Mary stands up and attempts to comfort them, reminding them that Jesus’ presence remains with them. Peter asks her to tell them the words of Jesus which she remembers. To his surprise, she does not reminisce about past conversations with Jesus, but claims that Jesus spoke to her that very day in a vision.[ii]  Being a Gnostic gospel by definition however, places this outside traditional Christian and Catholic fundamental beliefs. 

Putting celibacy aside and child predators as a different category of disorder altogether, what if our conception of God was more feminine and/or Women had equal footing in God’s work?  What if we got it wrong in early Christianity and male disciples was necessary at that time purely due to our primitive social and cultural norms of the time? 


[i] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/20/opinion/clergy-sexual-abuse-southern-baptist.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage

[ii]https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/maps/primary/mary.html

Close the Catholic churches?

The average priest and typical lay person cannot defend the Catholic church’s positions on homosexuality without retreating to insular theology that ignores scientific, sociological, psychological, and priestly realities.  Yet these same individuals lay claim to absolute truth on God’s judgement of homosexuality and promote a culture of denial, hatred, and persecution.  We have a theological construct that is disordered in and of itself:

“From the standpoint of the psychology of personal constructs we may define a disorder as any personal construction which is used repeatedly in spite of consistent invalidation.”  George Kelly

Cross-cultural similarities evinced by the Lethbridge study offer further evidence that being gay is genetic. The etiology of homosexuality, biological or otherwise, should have no bearing on gay individuals’ right to equality.[i]  In a prior post I went in-depth on the hypocrisy of our teachings and morality on this issue: An incomplete look at Homosexuality and Catholicism (unfiltered).[ii]  As lay people and priest we are making statements that fly in the face of science and the experiences of our own priest:

“…..gay men likely make up at least 30 to 40 percent of the American Catholic clergy, according to dozens of estimates from gay priests themselves and researchers. Some priests say the number is closer to 75 percent.”[iii]

The NYT times article quotation is well researched and ample evidence exist via other investigations and common knowledge that a significant percentage of Catholic Priest are Gay men that have chosen to be servants of God, and like heterosexual men, have chosen celibacy.  The article link below gives indepth accounts from our priest. How can we as an institution continue to deny the existence of Homosexuality as a given both in society and in the clergy?

“Insanity Is Doing the Same Thing Over and Over Again and Expecting Different Results.”[iv]

Whether it was Einstein or others that coined this phrase it is applicable to our church today.   The public rightfully so is just not accepting our arguments on homosexuality just because we keep saying it is immoral.

The commentary section in this article has calls for utilizing the RICO act to condemn and ban the Catholic Church.  This is not unheard of and has happened multiple times in human history – often in conjunction with violence and murder.  Significant portions of society see the Catholic Church as a safe haven for sexual predators, advocate for discriminatory practices, and a history of sinful and murderous actions.  As an institution we have both directly committed atrocious actions and indirectly supported or were silent when nation states committed the same.

The churches response to institutional crisis has been woefully shameful and amateurish simplistic approach:  ignore, deny, accept, promise change, apologize, retreat behind the walls of our human nature to be sinful, repent, rinse, wash, repeat.  Our public, our faithful, and our educated youth are not accepting this non-responsibility.     Pope Francis understands this and is wearily challenging the conservative church to move forward without sacrificing our fundamental beliefs:

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   The weariness of hope (that) comes from seeing a Church wounded by her own sin” and of a Church “which so often failed to hear all those cries”.[v]

Pope Francis is hemmed in by Church tradition thinly supported by selected pieces of scripture to maintain theological stances on celibacy, women’s roles in the church, and Homosexuality and LGBTQ issues.  A significant portion of remaining believers will not support shifting traditions in these areas despite our clergy’s significant failure to live up to these espoused standards and volumes scientific and even scriptural support to have tradition evolve and be more in alignment with the Triune of God (God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit).    The teachings and actions of the Catholic Church, its priest, and congregation are simply not living up to the spirit of the laws.  Countless parables are available where Jews condemned and challenge Jesus for breaking Judaic law when he carried out his father’s work.

Tradition can change and should change when we come to know that its basis is unfounded and misguided:

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“On June 22, 1633, the Church handed down the following order: “We pronounce, judge, and declare, that you, the said Galileo… have rendered yourself vehemently suspected by this Holy Office of heresy, that is, of having believed and held the doctrine (which is false and contrary to the Holy and Divine Scriptures) that the sun is the center of the world, and that it does not move from east to west, and that the earth does move, and is not the center of the world.”

The church and its believers rely on short memories and the adage this too will pass.  And it very well may albeit a diminished and tarnished Church.  But should it pass by quietly?

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At the end of the day our faith is best rooted in the Triune and not in the individual actions of priest.  In five days, Pope Francis will lead the institution in addressing the sexual abuse crisis in the church.  There will be a call to blame it on homosexual priest as disordered individuals as the cause. Numbers and studies prove this is a fallacy.  Homosexuals are no more likely to abuse children than heterosexuals.  But there is no scientific basis for asserting that they are more likely than heterosexual men to do so.  Child predators are fixated on children and should not be characterized by their sexual orientation but by their preoccupation with children regardless of sexual orientation.

If the church goes this route, aside from persecuting Homosexuality (and LGBQT people in general) the church will ignore the root of ingrained practices and traditions that may leave child predator in place, continue to promote an unhealthy life style for our priest (lack of transparency, isolation, and dwindling numbers), and a closed toxic institutional approach.

Pope Francis requires our prayers and the grace of the Triune to lead our church out of the middle age definitions of human sexuality and human relationships in general.  How can we return to our roots as a faith without falling prey to grave errors?  How much more grave can the errors be than those we have already committed in God’s name or while wearing the vestiges of the priesthood?  Retreating from the public spear, reducing our public footprint is not the answer. The answer is humility, compassion and change by all us in the pews, in the clergy, and at the Vatican – from the janitor to the Pope let no stone be upturned and left unchanged.  We need to transcend our human traditions and return to divine transcendence.

Einstein

[i] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/cross-cultural-evidence-for-the-genetics-of-homosexuality/

[ii] https://wordpress.com/post/retsamsghost.com/4150

[iii] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/17/us/it-is-not-a-closet-it-is-a-cage-gay-catholic-priests-speak-out.html?action=click&module=Top+Stories&pgtype=Homepage

[iv] https://quoteinvestigator.com/2017/03/23/same/

“Alle Shalle Be Wele!”

I woke up bone tired today.  The task ahead felt like aimless drudgery.  I cannot see the whole of my efforts supporting people who help people suffering from addictions or mental health.  Nor can I see the progress of those in recovery as the clinician’s fallacy continues – as those that do recover leave and others are ready and waiting to take their seat leaving the professional with an unending procession of people in desperate need.  

In Delaware and nationally there is a focus on the Opioid epidemic.  The tragedies and pain suffered by families and the community is often turned into anger and rage at the professional provider community (sometimes warranted) and even the self-help community.  Missing in this dynamic is a true understanding of the dynamic and evasive monster that addiction can be in its various forms and how difficult it can be for the “addict” or “alcoholic” to use and maintain the recovery tools provided by either or both groups above – sometimes leading to death shrouded in mystery.  Throw into this mix serious and persistent mental illness and we have a ship in a great storm.

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My role professionally is one of many and my Oar is tiny in the great sea of human misery.  I trust in my fellow oars men (and women) are pulling with equal vigor and some through natural talent and sheer determination are carrying the greater weights.  I do not possess at times the vision of God’s hand guiding our plight as the apostles did on the fishing boat.  If in my own vocation my sight is limited – how obscure is my vision of God’s way? Without this vision and never-ending work within and outside my vocation – I am ripe for burnout and disappointment. This is especially so when my faith is under attack, my spiritual adviser has taken ill, and my nation is abandoning the poor and downtrodden in troves.  

At my fingertips in a Catholic book club on-line this a.m. Veronica Mary Rolf mentioned her article that was published in the UK at a site named “Transformation: Where love meets social justice.”    The article tells of the life of Julian of Norwich and her theological teachings despite herself being “unlettered” – meaning lacking formal training back in 1390!   

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Veronica captures the trial and tribulations of those who serve others perfectly below based on her readings about Julian:

“What has Julian to tell us about the process of transformation? How can we work to make ‘all things well’ in our world without losing heart? Anyone who has ever served the poor, the persecuted, or the marginalized knows that the two greatest dangers are disillusionment and burnout. The problems are so vast and our efforts so small. In our frustration, we may try to dictate solutions instead of eliciting creative collaboration. We become exhausted, infuriated, and sometimes feel betrayed. We question how we can continue when the odds seem stacked against us.

Julian would tell us that we must go into the “ground” of our being in order to “live contemplatively.” Like her, we must develop a daily practice in which we learn to rest and breathe in silence and stillness, becoming aware of the turbulence in our minds, releasing thoughts and letting go of our emotional attachment to those thoughts. We need to become ever more aware of being aware, in order to experience the deep interconnectedness of our own awareness with divine awareness. And then we must rely on divine awareness working in us and through us if we are to make a difference. We cannot do it alone. And we cannot do what others must do for themselves. We can only evaluate, advise, encourage, and empower.”

Whenever we are tired or downtrodden – if we look for it, strength and inspiration is all around us.  I have yet another writer to explore….and reminder to find strength in God at all times, good and bad.

“And all shall be well. And all shall be well. And all manner of things shall be exceeding well.” 
― Julian of Norwich

Please visit Original source for Veronica’s article below.    A must read:

https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/veronica-mary-rolf/alle-shalle-be-wele-julian-of-norwich-and-process-of-transformatio

 

 

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Murderer?

February 10, 2019

A letter to a man accused of Murder;

Today Reverend Mano Salla gave a homily on his definition of prayer.  I may write him to get the words verbatim.  However, for now my brief interpretation will have to do.

  • Know thy self: Take time out to become aware of one’s self in quiet reflection.  Recognizing our creatureliness and propensity for sinful acts.  Presenting privately between you and God alone the great divide as you understand it and the specific action(s) or lack of action(s) that you would be weary of presenting to God (or a fellow human being) today.
  • Mercy and Gratitude: After reflecting on your shortcomings and being intimately and honestly aware of your desires and propensities for good and evil thoughts or actions, seek God’s mercy and express gratitude and acceptance of whatever may come if only we can be closer to his presence.    Radically give to God all that you are (Good and Bad) and pray for his saving grace and guidance in every moment.
  • Alchemy: Through action and prayer live seeking a transformation in Christ, through his redemptive powers and your humble actions and discipline to go forth in whatever situation you are in, with reverence, acceptance, and praise for God.  To allow God into your heart and soul and be open to the mystery of faith, that God can do what humans alone cannot achieve.

How can this help me when all is lost and the dead cannot be made un-dead?

We:  I say to you we do not understand death or afterlife.  Yes, the murdered are no longer with us – we have taken them even though only one maybe convicted of the singular action.  We have a collective guilt as human beings where each of us can and should be doing more to promote a cultural of valuing and humbly believing it could have been us that wielded a bloody knife if circumstances had been different for us, we could be the accused or the guilty murderer.    No one can judge us by God’s measure but God. We do not know the outcome of the lives we have taken by human hands (genocide, abortion, war, murder, allowing starvation and poverty, and general apathy for others).  We can pray that a merciful God has received them.

You:  Nonetheless, as we are mortal and of the earth you will be judged fairly or unfairly by man’s justice and opinion.   You cannot alter history or bring the dead back to life.  You can pray for forgiveness, pray for the dead and for the families that grieve, and pray for God’s mercy.  You can pray to use the remainder of your life, whether behind bars or outside the prison walls, living according to God’s will in thought and in action.  Perhaps by the time death’s door comes to you God may have provided you with the opportunity to become transformed and redeemed through his saving grace alone and your humble actions from now until the day for your death comes as well.

Anguish: 

I cannot imagine the anguish of living in prison awaiting condemnation for murdering another.  Rage and anger for an innocent man and remorse and guilt for a guilty man.  You are alone regardless of your proclamation of innocence or guilt – you are condemned as guilty unless proven otherwise despite our judicial systems declaration – “the law presumes all innocent of crime until proven guilty.”  Many an innocent man has been found guilty and many a guilty man set free.  Your predicament is a brutal one.  I in my heart know only God can see you through your suffering and loneliness – no man, fellow accused, or even priest can help carry your suffering and anguish.  Only God can help with your willingness to transform pain and suffering into a holiness born out of tragedy.

Hope: 

Things will never be the same as before you found yourself behind those walls.  Relinquishing the past and accepting the current trajectory – whatever it maybe – is the beginning.  Finding God or letting God be your freedom to transcend the physical walls, bars, and demeaning existence of prison life is in my view your best hope for peace now and salvation later.

Prayer for you and those around you: 

We pray, our Father, for those whose freedom has been taken from them: for all who suffer imprisonment, whether for crime or for conscience’ sake; for all whose vision of your world is seen through bars, and in whose heart the lamp of hope burns low. God of mercy, give them help, according to their need, and hear our prayer for Jesus Christ’s sake.  (Timothy Dudley-Smith)

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Don’t go it alone:

Find the prison chaplain and use your time wisely.  Nationwide Christians are reaching out to bring inmates faith and possible redemption like Behind the Bars in Delaware  (https://www.behindthebars.org/).

Stay safe: 

May this letter find you safe from physical and psychological harm.  May my writing not offend you or be taken as any form of judgement of you directly.  Accept my letter as a written prayer and expression of God’s love for you.  I am deeply saddened by all those whose lives have been cut short by murder and all those who sit in judgement (guilty or innocent) of such crimes. 

Alchemy defined:

1: a medieval chemical science and speculative philosophy aiming to achieve the transmutation of the base metals into gold, the discovery of a universal cure for disease, and the discovery of a means of indefinitely prolonging life

2a power or process that changes or transforms something in a mysterious or impressive way

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If you are reading this and are not an inmate – please consider giving to a prison ministry in your area or to Delaware Prison ministry above.  If not out of the goodness of your heart and charity – how about just recognizing most inmates will be your neighbor soon!

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Aquinas’ Shorter Summa (Part III:  The Humanity of Christ – The Second Treatise on Faith)

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The sins of Adam, the first parent, have been transcended to us as his descendants including suffering and death.  It is not that God has punished us by an addition – but merely withdrew his blessing and left us with our base selves.  Is this “Original Justice” for eternity until the end of time anyway for a just God to act?   Did it really take 4000 years for God to figure out how to reach mankind by sending his only son, the great Redeemer, Jesus Christ?  And why did not the great Redeemer not only lift “Original Sin” but lift and restore us to original mint condition – with eternal life and an end to suffering?

I cannot answer my own critique of this biblical narrative successfully with resounding confidence – no less explain the faith to the unbeliever.  Christology has answers within its theological system – which Thomas Aquinas thoughtfully described before he gave up writing all-together, perhaps recognizing the impossibility of truly representing the Holy Trinity with human language.

The take away of this second treatise on Faith is the Incarnation of Jesus Christ (human body, true rational soul, and perfect deity), born of the Virgin Mary, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born, suffered and died for our salvation.

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Aquinas delves into the heresy’s and errors of his time and painstakingly answers and clarifies the mystery of the faith amid much controversy.  The questions raised back than are just as pertinent today. As cradle Catholics we may fall into error in just accepting or taking for granted our beliefs as we have been taught by tradition and scripture.   This is a grave error and risk.  Our living faith is not meant to remain at the level of an infancy narrative or elementary school rote memory of church history.  We are called to progress within our life times as well as from generation to generation.  But are we ready for his calling?

“My Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me.  Never the less, not as I will, but as thou will.”

If you pray what Jesus prayed, with awareness of its potential consequences and full commitment to integrating God’s will as best you can discern, life at once is exponentially more joyful and frightening.  Spiritual enlightenment comes with both joy and suffering.

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I could answer the questions above – but they would only invite more questions, and the answers to those the same, and so on to eternity.  It is unfathomable.   That does not mean God and the Holy Trinity do not exist much the same as atoms and particles exist despite that I cannot discern them with the naked eye.  It is just as difficult to disbelieve as to believe in God – both require a leap of faith at the end point of human inquiry (after exhausting all scientific, philosophical, theological, and historical artifacts at our disposal).   It is an unbearable reality that the more we know, the more we become aware of how much we do not know.  Yet, we have a natural calling to pursue and have intimate knowledge of all that is knowable and unknowable.

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This “dumb ox” named Thomas Aquinas, was born about 1225 A.D.  He is recognized as one of 35 Doctors of the Church.  “The whole basis of his thought is this:  If it is wrong to give up the Faith for the sake of reason, it is also wrong to give up reason for the sake of the faith.”

In public dialogue it is nearly impossible to dialogue on the essence of our faith as we see it through the eyes of man today and by the sins of our fellow man, sadly our clergy, and our own shortcomings.  The volumes of debris we have littered amidst our holy traditions and teachings is strangling the true essence of our faith.   So sometimes we have to reach back in time in addition to reading scripture.

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The final take away:  Thomas Aquinas was known to pray before he wrote and to ask God’s guidance.  Whatever your calling in life, this sounds to me like a great take away before you go off to perform your calling each day and as you retire at the end of the day.    Knowing your calling requires knowing your faith – both theologically and through a personal relationship with God.

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Thanks for visiting.

Profit driven economies

If we were purely driven by animal instinctual needs and life and death were solely driven by survival of the herd decisions this would only be a sad consequence of natural selection and unfortunate gene mutation. It is a significant financial drain on the family and society to provide for a person with Down’s syndrome over a lifespan. It is evident, however, whether you acknowledge a God or not, that we are superior to the animal kingdom and have the capacity to love and nurture beyond the narrow scope of survival instincts.

The story below is evidence of an entire nation deciding to end life before it starts based on avoiding emotional hardship and financial inconvenience. The reality is our society and the global economy has financial markets that are written and codified to serve profits, not people. If our markets were designed to serve people — the poor, the medicallly compromised, the disabled, and other vulnerable groups would not be seen as hardships but as equals among us. It is easy to condem an individual that aborts a life. I believe we all are condemned by failing to have a market driven system that works to serve all humanity rather than the few. It is not a utopian ideal.

It is individual and societal selfishness and conceit that continues to perpetuate the myth that we are better than the “other.” That our status in life is somehow driven by our own individual accomplishments forgetting the graces bestowed on us that may have fostered our success.

If given arbitrary power over who lives and who dies where does the line get drawn? If given arbitrary power to to say who has access to healthcare, food, housing, and clean water – who decides. We have that power today and are failing as individuals and as a society to wield our superior morality and human capacity by drawing the line in favor of our own perceived wealth. You know it in your heart – but are besieged by justifications, beholden to tribal beliefs of your political party and social status, driven by fear of loss, and to cowardly oriented to face the immensity of our collective failures. I have been down the road of self-justification. I have also been down the road of “it is beyond my control.” Both are unacceptable options as human beings with a moral conscience. Especially Christian Republicans and Democrats.

Most do not grasp the arbitrary nature of our market economy despite historical lessons of wealth being wiped out overnight. Without safety nets for built into our markets people’s hearts close up in fear and shun the vulnerable, sometimes in mass. Where do you draw the line?

https://www.americamagazine.org/politics-society/2017/12/04/patricia-heaton-iceland-isnt-eliminating-down-syndrome-they-are-just

Aquinas’ Shorter Summa (part two through page 211: on death, heaven, hell, purgatory, providence)

For a man’s desire comes to rest in the knowledge of God Alone (pg. 121)

 

I seek safety in certainty while existentially acknowledging the folly of assuming any permanence or security in my immediate state of being.  And yet with all my force of will, well to be honest not all my force of will, perhaps not even the majority of my will, maybe even a little less than a minority stakeholder position?  Sorry, I am on a tangent of self-condemnation on the amount of my time spent on habitual activities that I take for granted, omissions of actions that may be pleasing to God, and overall expenditure of my will towards worldly goods and achievements.  What was I saying?

With good intentions I set out each day to avoid being “evil” and to be as closely as possible living up to my God-given potential to be good.   In essence Aquinas points out that if we successfully do not allow evil to impinge our good character – evil is non-existent.  A little tongue twister of Aquinas puts it this way:

 

“To be evil, however, is not good, in fact,

not to be evil is included in the notion of good.  

Therefore no nature is an evil.” (pg. 126)

 

Thomas spends page after page on Good and Evil laying out that no human being is essentially evil.  At our core every human being is good.  It is the “privation” of good that allows evil in and gives life to evil actions – but at our core we are all in God’s image.  Much time is spent on this as it is core to understanding our predicament as a human lot.  We cannot simply condemn a man as pure evil or pure other despite his evil actions – no matter how horrendous and apparently evil they may be.  This inclination is so very tempting.  In the shadows of a Jeffrey Dahmer, Adolf Hitler, fallen priests who have abused their vows, and countless other predators, surely my little transgressions are invisible in the scheme of humanity.  

No, they are not invisible to God or to me.  They condemn me here in this life and if I don’t stand up and try to cleanse them here they will condemn me for eternity.  We create our own mental prisons and misery here on earth and we prepare our eternity at the same time.  

In the midst of my battle with striving to be good enters in the whirlwind of living in a mortal body, within a secular world, alongside believers and unbelievers, striving to live a holy life, while being battered by the defects of my nature and that of my fellow-man.  

Throw on top of that Seraphim, Cherubims, Thrones, Principalities, Powers, and Archangels seeking to support and ensure Divine Providence and I am reduced to a molecule within a teardrop adrift in the oceans of man’s misery.   Thomas Aquinas demonstrates for me how terribly inept man’s language is at deciphering free will, fate, and Divine Providence within the contraries of Good and Evil lurking within our beings.

 

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There is much talk of God’s angels working with things that must necessarily happen and things that are contingently actionable.  In other words, God has great respect for our free will – and hence allows the permission of evil.  I am of course skimming over a few droplets of the Saints painstaking proofs and philosophical treatise on Catholic thought and actions. Wrap your head around this dialectical pearl:  

 

“If evil were completely excluded from things, much good would be rendered impossible.  Consequently it is the concern of Divine Providence, not to safeguard all beings from evil, but to see to it that the evil which arises is ordained to some good.”

 

A morally right man right now is facing pain and the rigors of old age.  The suffering he has is not due to an individual defect of character by my estimation, but by our souls being connected to our corporeal bodies.   We by original sin have forfeited life free from suffering. A man I do not know named Mark made his wife a walking stick.  His wife was at the Dover Nascar race just but a few days ago.  I was drawn to the walking stick as I have made a few in my day.  I complimented the stick and its size, strength, and artistry and said tell your husband a man who has made many sticks admires his work.  She looked to her friend and smiled as her eyes glazed.  They both turned to me, still smiling, but eyes watered, and told me he had passed.  I promised to say a prayer for Mark after getting his name and they disappeared hand in hand into the crowd a little bit lighter than before stopping by the trailer I where I was selling Nascar merchandise.  

We by original sin have also forfeited eternal life as mortals.  I struggle with the reality of original sin, suffering, and death raining misery on me and my fellow-man centuries after the creation story.    

And in these two cases, pain and death, it is not evil per se even though we may error in calling it so, but merely a defect of nature that our mortal bodies slowly give way.  I pray and ask you, the reader, to pray for the morally right man to have the strength to face his pain or for God to alleviate it according to God’s plan.  I pray and ask you to pray for Mark and for his widow with the walking stick.  In my heart I truly believe both men have “arch angels” watching over them, guiding them along divine providence’s path.  It is hard to draw good out of these real situations, but I know good comes out of the suffering caused to these men and their loved ones.  Yet I cannot explain it to you.  I diverged here into real life, right now.  It is easy to get lost in the words of Thomas Aquinas as a theological and intellectual exercise.  Our faith is not a faith of dead letters.  There is application and meaning today as much if not more so than there was 2000 years ago.  

And then there is the greater evil of man renouncing his goodness by accepting evil into his heart and acting on such inclinations.  Whether it be me acting in an evil manner or me being the recipient of evil acts I have struggled as well with God’s seemingly passive presence.  I remember my anger as a kid when I was losing a fight with three boys.  After sometime I eventually got pinned to the floor.  I looked across the street and saw my grandfather just standing there watching with my dog Butchie (or rather his dog!).  Only then did he signal and my dog from a sitting position ran across the street and rather gently knocked off my attackers.  Does God passively watch what we can handle first?  

We simply do not have the ocular vision of God.  I know what my Grandfather was doing.  He believed men must be men and must learn from every situation.  He let me learn until there was nothing else left to learn before freeing my dog to help.  This is an innocent boyhood story.  The suffering of man at the hands of others is too gruesome and horrific to detail here.  It is beyond my spiritual imagination to easily accept a passive God in the face of such atrocities.  Why, I do not know.  I should know as his only son for our redemption died a death by crucifixion and lived a life where his closest allies would betray him.    

I do not have to worry about unjustly being condemned for original sin – I have acquired my own list of blights on my essential goodness that call for God’s mercy as well.  Aquinas deftly defines the intersections of Sin, Grace, and Eternity.  It frightens me to think I will receive justice for my actions as fixed by Divine Providence either here on earth or in the hereafter!  

 

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My reading of Aquinas stresses to me the logic and passionate need to make amends for my sins now as best I can if I have not already done so and to avoid to the best of my ability future transgressions.  If I am open to assistance, Aquinas says “rational creatures are given divine aids that are not merely proportionate to nature but transcend the capacity of nature.”  Thank goodness, for my nature and my intellect are woefully shorthanded in the fight between good and evil.  It is not that I am a woefully evil man that frightens me – it is the mere sense of powerlessness over any suffering that awaits me!  

And now Thomas Aquinas addresses Death and Bodily Resurrection.   Again words I believe fail us.  Nevertheless he depicted for me a philosophical and theological treatise in fifteen pages that details the logical conclusion of the reunification of the corporeal body, our intellect, and out soul.  

He draws from the Creed, from the bible, and from philosophy and describes our essential essence rising and being united – no more, no less, according to a count predetermined by Divine Providence.  This section ends with final consummation of man in eternity – where are found to be in perfect repose, integrated and arrived in a state of immobility – no longer vulnerable to human desires, but fully at rest and peace in God’s eternity.    But when will this day come?

 

“So, once the number of men who are to be bought into being for eternal life is filled out and they are actually established in the possession of eternal life, the movement of the heavens will cease, just as the motion of any instrument ceases after a project has been carried through to completion.” (pg. 195)

 

In the meantime, Saint Aquinas gives us a picture of Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory.  In my spiritual imagination, despite having read the Dante’s Divine Comedy, I have always struggled with the spiritual concept of purgatory, much less hell.  The latter is for other people, not I says my inner voice.  

I imagine myself being acceptable to God relatively speaking to the history of mankind – with ample expectation of God being a loving and merciful God.   Aquinas seems to imply it is not necessarily how we started the journey towards our end, but where we finish the race:  

 

“Accordingly, the soul will remain perpetually in whatever last end it is to have set for itself at the time of death, desiring the state as the most suitable, whether it is good or evil.”  (pg. 201)

 

The after-death life is difficult to convey and perhaps indefinable for mankind beyond glimpses of grace or revelation as provided to us by prophets, saints, and inferences from the scripture.  Much has been written about the book of Revelation as well as the end of times.  I find it most useful to have utmost reverence for what I cannot understand (eternal life and timeless God) and to focus on what is most attainable here on earth as evidence of spiritual truths.  

It is evident to me that no amount of worldly possessions, power, or praise can fill man’s desire to know and be in proximity to God.   Everything we touch here on earth is temporal.  Almost everything we accomplish or come to own immediately begins to depreciate once obtained or create anxiety at fear of loss.  

I say almost everything as we live mostly according to worldly concerns and driven by worldly measurements.  It does not have to be so.  When we are able to see the essence of things according to their proper value relative to our desire and pursuit of holiness everything becomes aligned with Godliness.  

Examine your life and your possessions through the eyes of God and eternity and weigh your spiritual assets as closely as your material wealth.  How does your balance sheet weigh today?  Wait – how can we measure ourselves through the eyes of God?  We cannot.

We can however meditate on the beatitudes and how open we are to living our lives in concert with the Holy Spirit and the essence of each beatitude.  The challenges posed by each of the statements following “Blessed are” can be an eye-opening experience, a reflecting pool if you will, of our openness and cooperation with God’s graces.  True happiness can be found in them here on earth – while acknowledging human suffering will remain with us as long as we remain mortal.  

This ends my import and reflection on the “First Treatise on Faith” from the Shorter Summa by Saint Thomas Aquinas.  (Pages 9 – 211 in two parts).      Before I could finish this post the man suffering from pain was called home by a God. His family has come together to mourn and celebrate his life.

While sadness and tears are abundant they are for our loss. He is in a good place. As we work, live, play, and love, our obituary is being prepared, our place after death being reserved.  It is hard to fathom this in our human perspective as it was hard to believe that Jesus could raise Lazarus from the dead.  This is the nature of our suffering here on earth – a search for connection to the eternal truth, to God, and to our place in eternity.  We cannot fully realize this mystery until death comes for us as well.

 

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Human Suffering – The Answer?

The first words to greet me this morning:

You are wretched wherever you are and no matter which way you turn –

This was not the inspiration I was seeking this morning from morning prayer.  I have a moderately stressful job of which sometimes I feel ill-suited for, financial woes as most everyone else, and loved ones near and far facing illness, stress, and mortality.   Most of us are able to carry on, sometimes in silence, and sometimes with much complaining and perhaps even cursing.  I am cognizant of our wretchedness as a human race – but reading this first thing in the morning was a spear into my heart and renewed revelation of worldly concerns versus striving for a holy life.  In the latter realm we are pretty wretched.

“Now is the time for good works, now is the time to fight, now is the time to make reparation for sins of the past.” 

 I met a regular guy yesterday who said he fears nothing nowadays, he gives it all to God, his faith is stronger than his fears, and he expects things to go wrong all the time.  He simply said that is life.

These references are from chapter 22 of the Imitation of Christ which you can get free at many different resources (pdf. or for kindle)  http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1653.

I don’t generally have time to write in the a.m. but this chapter “nailed” the meaning of suffering, no pun intended.  It is part of our life as mortals the more we become spiritually aware.  Thomas A. Kempis and the regular guy yesterday are onto something.

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An incomplete look at Homosexuality and Catholicism (unfiltered)

An open letter to LGBQT people and Catholics at large;

It is my belief that sexual orientation is predominately biologically determined.    It is my belief that the church has arrived at the position that they accept people are born with sexual orientations that do not conform easily to the church’s teaching.   I will at the outset apologize to the LGBQT community as I will focus here on homosexuality knowing full well this term does not capture the differentiation and complexities of the LGBTQ community.

The historical presence of homosexual beings before and after Christ and its prevalence in cultures throughout the world cannot be denied.  The church has taken the position that sexual orientation is not in and of itself evil or sinful.  The church does teach that to act on such orientation is to commit a sin and further defines such actions as being due to a “disordered condition.”

Most readers will not get to the end of this post.  LGBTQ are often subject to discrimination and sometimes outright violence.  We are entrenched in a cultural war that often muddies the essence of humanity and the incarnate word.  It is important that our faith not contribute to discrimination and violence against LGBQT people and that we stand up for social justice for all oppressed peoples.  Two Church leaders have raised controversy by preaching greater openness and embracing LGBQT people.

Perhaps some aspects of the writings and references below will open up a new window of opportunity for us all.

Science:  Psychology, Psychiatry, Biology

Our two highest scientific entities in the United States on human behavior are the American Psychological Association and American Psychiatric Association.  Both have arrived at the conclusion after decades or research and empirical study that homosexuality is a normal form of human sexuality.  The APA writes “Same-sex sexual attractions, behavior, and orientations per se are normal and positive variants of human sexuality – in other words they do not indicate either mental of developmental disorders.”

The puzzle of sexual orientation from a biological position still remains unclear, however evidence points to genetic factors predetermining orientation across cultures.  So, one can reasonable understand that being homosexual is actually quite natural both psychologically and biologically speaking.  If you have evidence to the contrary that is scientifically proven and peer reviewed please share it with my readers.  The church recognizes there is much it does not understand and cannot speak to regarding homosexuality and the variances of sexual orientation.

That does not alleviate the moral question.  We have natural instincts that sometimes serve us very well – and sometimes not so well when applied in the wrong situation.  Primal drives and meditating primal drives are what somewhat separates us from the animal kingdom.  Unfortunately, we as individuals and as a collective society grossly fail to moderate our primal individual drives or our collective herd mentality (sometimes today referred to tribalism).  The more sophisticated among us can dress up the latter in socially acceptable terms and code words, but underneath it all, have fallen into a secretive attack on “others” not like us for the preservation of our sense of self-worth or actual worth.

Biblically speaking: 

Rightly so, the church has moved on to sexuality and acts of sexuality.  The biblical references of the Old Testament for the purposes of this writing I am throwing out altogether.   As Christians we should be able to define our traditions and beliefs as originating from the New Testament.  It is the most recent and last word of God provided to us from his Son, Jesus Christ.

The number of direct writings in the New Testament are very few and often they are right there with many other sins including the various forms of lust exercised by non-LGBQT people.  The essence is LGBTQ and straight people performing acts of sexuality out of lust or other disordered ideas is sinful.

Ideally, we would all be chaste and living the lives of saints here on earth.  Furthermore, our chaste lifestyles would not hinder procreation or result in other unwanted or disordered secondary issues (mental health, isolation, loneliness, self-harm, harm of others, etc.). This is in its purest form pursuit of Catholic beliefs and living a holy life.  Shy of that by an inch or by miles and we are on the path of imperfection, and yes sometimes grave sin.

Consider that 3% of Americans wait until marriage to have sex (successfully).  Three percent of the US population may seem like a small number, but that represents nearly 10,000,000 people.  We need to recognize what we are facing when we recommend a chaste lifestyle – and now consider recommending a lifetime of chastity if the person happens to be homosexual.

It is overwhelming to write on this subject despite my sexual orientation being congruent with my faith.  Too many fellow Catholics have outsized rage and prejudiced against LGBTQ individuals without having any understanding of LGBQT as a biological manifestation.  Some have denied their own orientation as well – often at the expense of their psychological health.  The church understands this and goes as far to acknowledge this reality.

The church’s answer is to encourage LGBQT persons to be chaste.  It is a leap of faith that the church maintains that even though biology dictates orientation it still says attraction and action on one’s biological orientation is unnatural when it comes to LGBQT people.  The premise is any sex that is not for the purposes of procreation is not natural or at least of higher order.  Sexual intimacy is not factored into human partnership as an integral part of what we call love between two people.

It pains me as I have known to many good people that have been harmed by anti-LGBTQ sentiments often under the protection of so-called Christianity.  Most often it is by believers who are not chaste themselves or living up to the other virtues of the church.

How anybody in our church can express out sized condemnation of LGBQT people while we are facing the largest institutional sexual abuse scandal in history.   Before we leap to saying that the church problem is a Gay problem please note that a study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, released in 2011, concluded that gay priests were no more likely than straight priests to abuse minors.

Let’s take a leap back in time:

Saint Thomas Aquinas: 

Saint Thomas Aquinas was a great father of the church and he knew that teaching by authority alone was not enough.  He set out to use philosophy and theology to defend the faith and apply logic and rationale thought to address the main principles of the Catholic faith in his famous Summa.  If we are to proclaim a theological truth we most be able to humbly teach it and point to the biblical source for our beliefs as well as have a thorough contextual understanding of the times, the nuances of biblical writing, and application to our spiritual and scientific progression.[i]  Saint Thomas Aquinas did not endorse homosexuality.  However, he defined unnatural sexual acts much more broadly in the Summa, II-II, 154:

“I answer that, As stated above (A6,9) wherever there occurs a special kind of deformity whereby the venereal act is rendered unbecoming, there is a determinate species of lust. This may occur in two ways: First, through being contrary to right reason, and this is common to all lustful vices; secondly, because, in addition, it is contrary to the natural order of the venereal act as becoming to the human race: and this is called “the unnatural vice.” This may happen in several ways. First, by procuring pollution [i.e. masturbation], without any copulation, for the sake of venereal pleasure: this pertains to the sin of “uncleanness” which some call “effeminacy.” Secondly, by copulation with a thing of undue species, and this is called “bestiality.” Thirdly, by copulation with an undue sex, male with male, or female with female, as the Apostle states (Romans 1:27): and this is called the “vice of sodomy.” Fourthly, by not observing the natural manner of copulation, either as to undue means, or as to other monstrous and bestial manners of copulation.”

The idea of lust has many of us, not just LGBQT individuals, in the cross hairs of biblical teaching.  If we have outsized indignation it should be aimed at the entirety of our humanness and actions in this regard.  I do not have to list these here.

Pope Francis: 

Much of what we hear from priest and lay Catholics lacks the depth and understanding of the history and source of where our beliefs originate from and have been expounded on in the centuries since.  There is a large degree of controversy on “what constitutes right reason” as well as what the actual phrases in the bible meant when utilized in biblical context – not to mention difficulties of translation.

Pope Francis, while not changing any church doctrine, has the wisdom to recognize our response to LGBTQ issues is not healthy or Christ-like. He has urged the following:

“A pastor cannot feel that it is enough simply to apply moral laws … as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives,” Francis writes in a sweeping paper outlining his stance on family matters.[ii]

“By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and growth,” he writes.

“If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?” he said, after his first foreign trip as pontiff.

Father James Martin, SJ

Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest, has stepped on a conservative landmine with his work entitled Building a Bridge.   He was even invited to speak at the world meeting of families.  The reality is the church and its believers has homophobic beliefs.  He did respond in good time to his critics.[iii]  He has several other wonderful books that have aided my prayer life.  I have not read this book yet – but in conservative circles he is treated by Catholics that have never read a word of his writing aa a heretic to the faith.  Some of these same critics think the same of Pope Francis.

Before we leave Pope Francis and Father Martin, neither of them denied what they hold to be the truth about homosexuality and heterosexuality lust.  They have upheld traditional church doctrine while stressing mercy, understanding, God’s mystery, pastoral care, and ultimately our total lack of understanding as to how and why we have LGBQT differentiation.    The church still maintains very strong and negative language aimed at homosexual orientation:

“While the Catholic Church does not consider “homosexual orientation” sinful in and of itself, it does have a very negative attitude toward it. The 1986 Letter states, “Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.”[iv]

A great deal of our beliefs in this area are cherry picked from a few biblical phrases that under different circumstances, if the early church fathers knew what we knew today, may have written down things with a bit more detail and clarity either way.

Lived experience by Matthew Vines on the Bible and Homosexuality:  Loneliness

“The Bible never directly addresses, and it certainly does not condemn, loving, committed same-sex relationships. There is no biblical teaching about sexual orientation, nor is there any call to lifelong celibacy for gay people. But the Bible does explicitly reject forced loneliness as God’s will for human beings, not just in the Old Testament, when God says that “[i]t is not good for the man to be alone,” but in the New Testament as well. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul writes about marriage and celibacy. He was celibate himself, and he says that he wishes that everyone else could be celibate as well. But, he says, each person has their own gift. For Paul, celibacy is a spiritual gift, and one that he realizes that many Christians don’t have. However, because many of them lack the gift of celibacy, Paul observes that sexual immorality is rampant. And so, he prescribes marriage as a kind of remedy or protection against sexual sin for Christians who lack the gift of celibacy. “It is better to marry than to burn with passion,” he says. And today, the vast majority of Christians do not sense either the gift of celibacy or the call to it. This is true for both straight and gay Christians. And so, if the remedy against sexual sin for straight Christians is marriage, why should the remedy for gay Christians not be the same?”[v] 

Catechism of the Catholic Church[vi] excerpts:

2336 Jesus came to restore creation to the purity of its origins. In the Sermon on the Mount, he interprets God’s plan strictly: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”122 What God has joined together, let not man put asunder.123  The tradition of the Church has understood the sixth commandment as encompassing the whole of human sexuality.

2337 Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman. The virtue of chastity therefore involves the integrity of the person and the integrality of the gift.

2352 By masturbation is to be understood the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure. “Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.”137 “The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose.” For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of “the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved.”138
To form an equitable judgment about the subjects’ moral responsibility and to guide pastoral action, one must take into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety, or other psychological or social factors that lessen or even extenuate moral culpability.

2353 Fornication is carnal union between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman. It is gravely contrary to the dignity of persons and of human sexuality which is naturally ordered to the good of spouses and the generation and education of children. Moreover, it is a grave scandal when there is corruption of the young.

2354 Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials.

2355 Prostitution does injury to the dignity of the person who engages in it, reducing the person to an instrument of sexual pleasure. the one who pays sins gravely against himself: he violates the chastity to which his Baptism pledged him and defiles his body, the temple of the Holy Spirit.139 Prostitution is a social scourge. It usually involves women, but also men, children, and adolescents (The latter two cases involve the added sin of scandal.). While it is always gravely sinful to engage in prostitution, the imputability of the offense can be attenuated by destitution, blackmail, or social pressure.

2356 Rape is the forcible violation of the sexual intimacy of another person. It does injury to justice and charity. Rape deeply wounds the respect, freedom, and physical and moral integrity to which every person has a right. It causes grave damage that can mark the victim for life. It is always an intrinsically evil act. Graver still is the rape of children committed by parents (incest) or those responsible for the education of the children entrusted to them.

Chastity and homosexuality

2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,140 tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”141 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

It is clear by the Catechism of the Catholic church that homosexual acts are sins.  However, so are countless other forms of sexual expression and lust included in the same category.  The church cannot explain exactly how and why homosexuality has been present forever.  While it carefully says to avoid discrimination it also maintains that they are objectively disordered without defining why it is so.  The reality is our church traditions and beliefs simply did not understand biological differences and sexual orientation centuries ago (think Eunuch’s) and still today lack an empirical ability to address the science of this issue.

Without getting to thick into the weeds, I would agree that the highest form of dedication to God is living a chaste life – assuming one is able to do so without harming others or oneself in the process and dedicate oneself to his/her spiritual calling.

However, must of us are not called to be Saints or Priest.  Must of us are not called to live a monastic life.  Most of us, if we are so blessed, are called to love another and share our life’s calling and spiritual work with others.  With the exception of procreation – some homosexual couples can and do act as virtuously, if not more so, than many heterosexual couples.

The essence of our traditions and teachings are driven from scripture.  As our knowledge of science evolves as does our spiritual development as a people of God (which we pray is more linearly ascending rather than descending) we can expect through our own efforts and more importantly through revelation to understand the word of God at deeper levels as well as constantly be challenged by applying concepts of the word of God to today’s world from a culture over two thousand years ago. Here is a look at a debate between two people on opposite sides of the issue:

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Scripture and Interpretation: 

Scriptural debate[vii] reported in NYT

  1. ROMANS 1:26-27

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.

CALEB KALTENBACH

Lead pastor of Discovery Church in Simi Valley, Calif.

In this passage, Paul, who was quite familiar with biblical and secular views of sexual orientation, says that having sex with someone of the same gender is a sin. Some interpret this passage as a reference to heterosexuals who exchanged their natural sexual orientation for that which was not natural to them. The word that Paul uses for “natural” is not referring to what is natural to a specific person, but rather what is natural in light of God’s intent for the sexual design of humanity. Ultimately, the passage serves as an introduction to verses 28-32, where Paul lists many other general sins that ultimately show our need for the Gospel.

MATTHEW VINES

Author of “God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships.”

Paul is explicit that the same-sex behavior in this passage is motivated by lust. His description is similar to the common ancient idea that people “exchange” opposite-sex for same-sex relations because they are driven by out-of-control desire, not because they have a different sexual orientation. And while Paul labels same-sex behavior “unnatural,” he uses the same word to criticize long hair in men in 1 Corinthians 11:14, which most Christians read as a synonym for “unconventional.” Christians should continue to affirm with Paul that we shouldn’t engage in sexual behavior out of self-seeking lustfulness. But that’s very different than same-sex marriages that are based on self-giving love, and we shouldn’t conflate the two in how we interpret this text today.

  1. LEVITICUS 18:22

Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.

  1. CALEB KALTENBACH

God’s prohibition always has positive intentions. While no longer under the Law, Christians see the Law as a moral compass with principles for holy living. The Bible doesn’t have middle ground on same-sex relationships, monogamous or not. God reserves sex for marriage between a man and woman, because sex is a unique foundation of intimacy. Imagine all the evils, struggles and pain that could be avoided in relationships if we really followed God’s principles. When sex is only seen as a benefit for individuals rather than a foundation of social structures, it becomes selfish and manipulative.

  1. MATTHEW VINES

Christ fulfilled the Old Testament law, and the New Testament teaches that Christians should live under the new covenant rather than the old one. Consequently, this verse has never applied to Christians. For a man to lie with a man “as with a woman” violated the patriarchal gender norms of the ancient world, which is likely why Leviticus prohibited it. But the New Testament casts a vision of God’s kingdom in which the hierarchy between men and women is overcome in Christ. So not only is Leviticus’s prohibition inapplicable to Christians on its own, the rationale behind it doesn’t extend to Christians, either.

  1. MATTHEW 19:3-6

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh?’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

  1. CALEB KALTENBACH

Jesus says that marriage is between a man and a woman by quoting Genesis 1:27. He affirms that God created sexual distinction between man and woman and this distinction serves as part of the foundation for marriage (helping to make Adam and Eve suitable partners). Spiritually, this distinction ultimately points to Jesus and the cross, where Jesus (the bridegroom) would pledge his love for his church (the bride) on the cross. As Jesus’ words are binding for today, remember that there was no individual in the Bible called to be celibate that was not honored by God, including Paul, John the Baptist and Jesus himself.

  1. MATTHEW VINES

Jesus responds to a question about divorce by emphasizing the permanence of the marriage bond. He was asked about a man and his wife, and he responds accordingly, by referring to male and female. Same-sex marriage wasn’t on the radar screen in the biblical world, so it’s not surprising that neither Jesus nor any of the biblical writers addresses it. Therefore, Christians today have to ask whether gay relationships can fulfill the core principles of Scripture’s teachings about marriage. Based on Jesus’ teaching here and other texts like Ephesians 5, the essence of Christian marriage involves keeping covenant with one’s spouse in order to reflect God’s covenant with us through Christ. That’s something same-sex couples can and do live out today.

  1. 1 CORINTHIANS 6:9-10

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

  1. CALEB KALTENBACH

These words are found in the Greek translation of Leviticus 18 (which is what Paul would’ve used as a source when writing this letter). His phrase “men who have sex with men” is the Greek word arsenokoitai. It’s a compound: arseno means “a male,” and koitai means “bed.” The word means “male bed”—or homosexuality. Though what Paul says might be offensive, he never intended to impose these values on non-Christians. In the current debate of same-sex marriage, there’s an imposition of a meta-narrative being imposed from non-Christians to Christians. Should we violate our conscience and teachings of Scripture because of an agenda that labels us narrow-minded? That seems like an unfair expectation to me.

  1. MATTHEW VINES

In this text, Paul uses two Greek words—malakoi and arsenokoitai—that likely refer to some forms of male same-sex behavior, but not the modern concept of homosexuality. The predominant forms of same-sex behavior in the ancient world were sex between masters and slaves, sex between adult men and adolescent boys, and prostitution. In all those cases, men used sex to express power, dominance and lustfulness, not self-giving love and mutuality. Committed same-sex unions between social equals represent very different values than the types of same-sex behavior Paul would have had in view in 1 Corinthians 6.

At the end of the day I cannot tell you why I am straight and others have an LGBTQ orientation.  I cannot tell you how I would manage if I had an LGBTQ orientation.  I cannot say how our God fits this issue into divine providence or whether we have taken the written word, especially the New Testament, and appropriately applied it to our living understanding of our faith and of science.

I can say it is to safe to say to live a holy life we all should not be mastered by lust or any other worldly attractions.  If God is our first love, from their we will be able to discern what is right.

I do not see gay or straight people with affections for their partners that exceed the desire to procreate as objectively disordered people.  Whether they act on their affections outside the scope of procreation and if that is sin.  I am past procreation age – what does that mean for marital intimacy?  I leave all of this to the mystery and mercy of God.

You have the Gospels, the Catechism, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Pope Francis, thoughts from a young man fighting for dignity and inclusion (Matthew Vine), a Jesuit author, and a field of psychological and scientific advancements that would give most wise people cause for pause before passing judgement. Before your go consider our greatest sins as an institution:

Hypocrisy:

Our greater sin is not following the greatest commandment to love one another.  In “The Joy of The Gospel, Evangelii Guadium, several weaknesses are enunciated quite well including warring among ourselves (98), saying no to spiritual worldliness (94), and so many other areas of calling (poverty, right to life, social justice). As an example, Pope Francis warns of those who “feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past.”  Alarm bells go off here of apparent heresy.  That is not his message here.   Estimates of the number killed by the Spanish Inquisition, which Sixtus IV authorised in a papal bull in 1478, have ranged from 30,000 to 300,000. Some historians are convinced that millions died.  We have a responsibility to look closely at what our church says is God’s word, what our teaching mean, and how they are applied.

If anything is disordered and intrinsically evil it is the sexual abuse history and cover-up in the Catholic Church.  Two men expressing love and tenderness for a life time, and yes sexual intimacy and a woman and a man doing the same without intent to procreate are living in sin by Catholic doctrine standards.  The degree and ultimate judgement of such is really beyond our understanding.  What is the intention of these lover’s intimacy?   Is it lust and evil or human companionship and lifelong commitment?

Worldwide people with LGBQT sexual orientations is persecuted and subjected to horrendous abuses, sometimes in the name of Christianity.  While we have an obligation to be faithful to our beliefs we also have an obligation to not persecute or support persecution of others that are not like us.

Now, we can still recognize evil when we see it.  A priest violating his vow and preying on children or others while doing God’s work deserves our outrage.  It is evil.

Perhaps the greatest flaw we have is the more we know the less we know about God’s divine plan for us.  And yet, with a little bit of knowledge we are ready to condemn others in God’s name.

Athena

Give us a letter written in 51 A.D in a different language and culture, transform it over two centuries into a broader teaching, enshrine it in traditions and rituals of the Catholic Church, water down its true essence and meaning in simple lessons to the lay public, turn it loose and watch it get misapplied in ways that are anything but Christian.  Armed with a few people of similar beliefs, a document on parchment paper, and an over-inflated sense of our own intelligence and authority on God’s way, we can easily fall prey to being a self-righteous and prideful people rather than a faithful and humble servant of God.

But for the grace of God, go I:

“There but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford”, when seeing criminals being led to the scaffold. He didn’t enjoy that grace for long, however. He was burned at the stake in 1555, although, by all accounts he remained sanguine about his fate and is said to have suggested to a fellow victim that “We shall have a merry supper with the Lord this night”.[viii]

[i] https://ronconte.wordpress.com/2011/04/02/catholic-teaching-on-homosexuality-3-saint-thomas-aquinas/

[ii] https://www.cnn.com/2016/04/08/europe/vatican-pope-family/index.html

[iii] https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2018/04/06/what-official-church-teaching-homosexuality-responding-commonly-asked-question

[iv] https://www.hrc.org/resources/stances-of-faiths-on-lgbt-issues-roman-catholic-church

[v] http://www.matthewvines.com/transcript/

[vi] http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P84.HTM

[vii] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/06/05/us/samesex-scriptures.html

[viii] https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/there-but-for-the-grace-of-god.html

Descend to the level of God’s enemies?

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Aquinas Shorter Summa: Part I: Introduction, God, and the Holy Trinity: 1-63

Compendium of Theology (1273 AD)

(Compendium theologiae ad fratrem Reginaldum socium suum carissimum)

I am embarrassed to admit I have chosen to read a compendium of Saint Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologica.  It represents only about 10% of the full version above.  “He has reduced to a brief compass for the sake of those whose time is taken up with the cares of daily life.”  This shorter Summa is only 370 pages.  I am only 63 pages into this abbreviated text.

Now more than ever though I call on Catholics to read about and own our faith.  Aquinas has it right that you cannot effectively teach people by authority alone.  Sooner or later the authority will lose its human authority over its subjects, or become tarnished, or simply rebelled against.  Aquinas died before completing the Compendium for everyday man – but he clearly knew laity needed to be provided knowledge, guidance, and proofs of the existence of God only 1200 years or so after Christ death.  So much so that he set out a shorter version for us.

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Our church authorities are not only tarnished, but thoroughly ensconced in the sexual predatory actions of priest worldwide sustained over decades and covered up by many – making the church and its institutions complicit in these depraved acts.   Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops shared with Pope Francis the situation in the United States and “how the Body of Christ is lacerated by the evil of sexual abuse.”  Pope Francis is under siege now from the Catholic right and now from people demanding answers for his own culpability in this ever-unfolding scandal.  A year and a half ago, he enjoyed an 83 percent favorability rating among U.S. Catholics, but that’s dropped to 63 percent, according to CNN.[i]

The church in its magnificence cannot escape this evil within its own cloistered walls.  As much as priests of honor, who have never violated their basic vows – never mind committing these atrocious acts, the tendency is to retreat and immerse oneself in pastoral work, prayer, and seeking God.  While these things are needed, simultaneously these priests must fight evil within their own sanctuaries.  The introductory remarks of the Short Summa described Saint Aquinas’s apologetic work as follows:

“The theologian has had to interrupt his proper task, which is the contemplation of the supernatural universe in the light of God’s own knowledge, in answer to the call of more pressing needs.  He has had to descend to the level of God’s enemies and take up the battle against them on many fronts.”

If we are to descend we must be prepared.  We must descend from our safe prayerful lives and from our immersion in contemplative prayer to deal with the hemorrhaging on the ground.  If we have been blissfully ignorant of suffering both within the church and outside the church by being thoroughly absorbed in “the cares of daily life” we must rise above the mundane and seek greater unity with our God.  To do so we must have exposure to the great mystics or Doctors of the Church.  They have faced evil within their walls in the past as well as evil from outside the church walls.  We must, as laity, ascend as well.

Most importantly, if your faith is shaken, what better way than to go back to the basics.  What do we as Catholics believe anyway?

First 63 Pages Review:

For me to live a holy life I must know truth or the way to live a divine life.  “Man’s salvation consists in knowing the truth.”   Through knowing God’s words and intentions we have a choice to not “besmirch” ourselves “with a multitude of vices.” We can simplify our lives by truly living by the guideposts of faith, hope and charity.[ii]  I am reminded here of St. John’s Dark Night:

“The soul, then, touched with love for Christ, her Spouse, and aspiring to win his favor and friendship, departs in the disguise that more vividly represents the affections of her spirit.1 Her advance in this disguise makes her more secure against her adversaries: the devil, the world, and the flesh. The livery she thus wears is of three principal colors: white, green, and red. These three colors stand for the three theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity, by which she not only gains the favor and good will of her Beloved but also advances very safely, fortified against her three enemies.”

Three enemies:  the devil, the world, and the flesh. We see and identify evil every day.  It is carried out by man.  We are less apt to see it as demonic, though at our worst suffering most are reduced to bargaining with God for relief, even if only briefly.  The battle against evil is real.  Responding to it, without becoming it, requires divine inspiration and divine mercy – for we surely fall short.

If we are living these virtues we will not need to preach them from the rooftops or the pulpit.  Our actions will do the talking.  Although we seek perfection, we never reach perfection as only the Godhead is perfect.  For us Catholics, that is the divinity of the Trinity and the humanity of Christ.

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Our God is the first mover – incorruptible, unalterable, immutable, infinite, and yet simple.  Our God is unity of perfection.  We have the word of God as brought to us by Jesus Christ and the prophets, the rich history of the church, and all the saints and martyrs.  Still we recognize there is truly an “inherent impossibility of defining God.”

Thomas Aquinas provides us with definitions and descriptors of God’s essence anyway.  God is innascibility:  Incapability of being born, self-existence.   The word is not distinct from the Father in time, space, or nature.  The word of God must be absolutely perfect.  He then describes how the Holy Trinity is one being despite the son (and the word of God) and the Holy Spirit being one and yet relational different notions for us when we are seeking understanding and guidance. How much time do you have?  Do you have time for Summa Theoligica coming in at 3500 pages?

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To live a divine life, we must truly know our nature, our intellect, and our capacity to love (and what we direct our love to!).  Our essence is in our nature, our intellect, our love.  To live truly freely we most reconcile our divine essence with who we are now and with our potency to strive for perfection:  To be, to know, to love is our challenge in whatever calling we have taken on in life. Thomas Aquinas lived his life teaching about the essence of God and the essence – while defending God during the Renaissance period – not by force but by logic, reason, and example.  Still we have a responsibility to carry our own water and search out the truth of living a divine life.  We cannot give away what is most precious to us in this life time to the authorities – our soul is our responsibility to cultivate and to be open to God’s presence.  All mankind will disappoint us – sometimes grievously.  The evilness of men should not shake our faith – even if they are wearing white collars.

Whether you pick up the compendium or the full Summa is irrelevant, even though they may benefit your spiritual journey.   What is relevant is to ask yourself – are you truly open to the word of God and the Holy Spirit?  Do you know yourself and where you stand today?  Do you have an eschatological framework to serve as your daily compass?

“The voice Paul (then Saul) heard from heaven asked him why he persecuted “Me”. Saul had never met Jesus in the flesh. He had, however, persecuted the Church. Jesus is identified with the Church and her members. He is really, truly present in His Body on the earth. In the words of St. Augustine, the “whole Christ” cannot be separated, “the body as a unity cannot be separated from the head.”

The Church is an encounter with that whole Christ, the Risen Lord. He is their Head and the Church is the Body. It is an entrance through Him into the Trinitarian communion. That encounter and the relationship it supports is spoken of throughout the Christian Tradition as being ‘nuptial’, this is wedding language; the Christian vocation is to be espoused to Jesus Christ as a bride to a bridegroom for all eternity.”

It is hard to reconcile our current day church with this vision.  The suffering within our church is immense.  Our suffering as one body is deserved.  We have grossly failed and harmed many children.  As a whole body we have accounting to do.  As a whole we must have dramatic and divinely inspired change.  As a whole we must not be asleep and passive with our faith.

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[i] https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/09/catholic-sex-abuse-pope-francis/570208/

[ii] 1 Cor. 13:13

Contemplative Life

On a dark night, Kindled in love with yearnings—oh, happy chance! —
I went forth without being observed, My house being now at rest.[i]

John of the cross

Two friends, 27 years apart, united in “their ardent desire to embrace the primitive Rule of Carmel, their longing for a deeper prayer life, their practice of poverty of spirit in the simplicity of their lives, the compassion evident in their love for others, active reformers, and yet mystics” wrote the first two of the first three books below.   The third, a young girl who seemingly since childhood was destined for the religious life, died a torturous death at the hands of Tuberculosis.  The latter born two centuries after the first two.  What do these authors from the 1500’s and late 1800’s have to tell us that is in anyway relevant today?

Teresa of Avila – The Interior Castle[ii]

St. John of the Cross – Dark Night of the Soul

Sister Therese of the Child Jesus – Story of a Soul

These three saints have left behind numerous writings of which the above three were put in my path to read.    I had actually delved into Dark Night of the Soul prior – with my head and not with my heart.  Both are required!

A tremendous weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. It has been replaced with a greater weight that pulls me up rather than weighs me down.  The multifarious activities of my daily life are reoriented, redefined, and right sized.

Reorientation:  Rather than my activities being saddled on my shoulders they remain present as water buckets I must prioritize and move from point A to point B as my position in life and responsibilities dictate.

Redefined: These responsibilities as oriented to the good of others remain vitally important as they always have been in my life.  However, removed from them is the anxiety of expectations of others as well as expectation of myself.   The intricate and intertwined forces of providence, man’s will, man’s limitations and my own, accidental or natural misfortune, and evil at play render me powerless to understand and ultimately control my destiny or that of my neighbor.   You may as a reader be thinking “No shit Sherlock, you are not God.”  I understand this sentiment deeply.  Yet, when we are fully committed and dedicated to our responsibilities and passions it is easy to get lost in the emotions of the ego driven, goal-oriented actions and lose sight of the true nature of our purpose within a larger context of both current day forces of evil and good and as measured within historical time.

Right Sized: These buckets cover a football field.  There are the buckets of necessity:  routine chores, self-care, medical appointments, food acquisition, earning money for required daily expenses, budgeting, and countless other nuisance activities.  Yet each of these if handled with spiritual care and gratitude are elevated above the mundane.  The bucket of your personal callings in life carried out with utmost care and discipline to the best of your ability:  family, career, volunteer activities, and living within a community as a humble and integrated member.  Then there are the buckets of higher good that call for demonstrating mercy, seeking social justice, defending the poor, promoting peace, and living the word of God.  The latter will make all the former activities more complicated and more important.  They will come into conflict with social mores and accepted practices.  Our actions in each and every activity, in moving each and every bucket of water, must be our testament before we utter even a single word about our beliefs.  And the highest calling, seeking proximity to the Living God by carrying each bucket the way we would expect Jesus to do the same activity.  Consciously choosing which buckets deserve carrying and when.   Spending significant time in contemplation and prayer.  Accepting with an open heart our spiritual consolations and gifts, periods of spiritual aridity, and suffering in its manifold forms.

Thorns:

Proper orientation, proper definition and right sizing are spiritual habits to be well practiced.  Measure them against the beatitudes.  We are human by nature and live in society driven by other values.  Many thorns can thwart our intended practices.

Evil Buckets:  There are so many on the football field calling for attention.  If only they were properly labeled:  bucket of pride, bucket of greed, bucket of anger, bucket of lust, bucket of gluttony, bucket of sloth, and bucket of envy.  They are not labeled and often disguised and often quite ingeniously.  They are present in all the domains of our responsibilities: our routines, our personal callings, our integration in the community, and our spiritual aspirations.   One moment you can be carrying a bucket labeled social justice.  The next moment the label falls off to reveal it is a bucket of pride and gluttony fueled by self-righteousness, pride, and other indignities not worthy of proximity to the divine.  The bucket we are carrying was being carried to meet our needs – not the intended greater good.  Our intellectual and self-righteous ego co-opts a good cause.  Our bucket of fiscal responsibility transforms into gluttony and pride at the expense of other values.  Our attention and main focus in life becomes our monetary wealth, accrual of material things, and constant pursuit of what we don’t have or keeping what we do have today.  Sometimes they are even labeled properly and we pick them up anyway out of pure human desire unworthy of higher morality.

Suffering:    

Suffering Dog

Alberto Giacometti (1901–1966)

We recognize suffering when we see it.  Giacometti used his art to capture suffering.  His most famous works “include a series of elongated standing women, striding men, and expressive busts, that resonated strongly with a public grappling with the extreme alienation and anxiety wrought by the devastation of World War II. Giacometti was unflinching in his portrayal of humanity at its most vulnerable.”  Out of suffering we learn our true humanity and ability to transcend our misery as well.

Sister Therese of the Child Jesus (also known as the Little Way or Little Flower) states her “soul has matured in the crucible of exterior and interior trials.”[iii]  She goes further in her prayers to ask God for increased suffering:

“O Jesus, unspeakable sweetness, change all the consolations of this earth into bitterness for me.”[iv]  

And towards the end of her short life she indeed receives spiritual and physical suffering:

“I felt I was alone in the garden of Gethsemane like Jesus, and I found no consolation on earth or from heaven; God himself seemed to abandon me.”[v]

I lack the courage to ask God for more suffering for fear I will crumble under the duress!

St. John of the Cross in his treatise “Dark Night of the Soul” speaks of a self-purifying journey (putting to death sinful nature) which can never fully be realized as we remain in our human flesh.  The journey though is remarkable in its spiritual dissection of seeking an enlightened life.

And Teresa of Avila brings us to the existential place of Carmel, which is hidden within ourselves and accessible to each and everyone of us if we pursue and are open to the spiritual life.

Between the three, the essence of accepting and embracing suffering can transform suffering of its evil power regardless of its causation (accidental, natural, medical, human malfeasance, and outright evil).  Suffering becomes a bucket to be carried and shared with the mystery of the Trinity and the redemptive act of Jesus dying on the cross for our sins.

Historical Time:

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Longing for or mourning our past is not a bucket we should be carrying.  In the 19,861 days of this life I have had spiritual consolations in the past that I yearn for, actions that I regret, and decision points that I sometimes cannot but help wonder “what if” I had chosen another path.  If the actuaries are right and I die on time should I really waste any 8401 days left on desiring or regretting the past?  No.  In my mind I am living on borrowed time of at least 12 years and in reality, I have been living on borrowed time since inception.  It is valuable to recollect our past to inform our present and future, but not to go back for perceived glories or live in martyrdom with past miseries.

Mysticism: 

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The belief and pursuit of union with God with an understanding that true knowledge of the absolute God is beyond our intellectual grasp and inaccessible through direct means and the will of man.  Contemplation and self-surrender through prayer is essential to living a holy life.   This is not heresy to the catholic church:

Vatican II and in the new canon law repeatedly takes it for granted that “contemplation”, “mystical treasures”, ”an abundance of contemplation”, “the experience of divine things” and “an assiduous union with God in prayer” are meant for each and every person in the church.”[vi] Father Dubay (Fire Within)

There is great fear of mysticism and mystics as there is ample room for birth to self-delusion, misguided believers falling prey to occults, and obfuscation of true beliefs and representation of the word of God as stated in the bible.  These fears are true.  At the same time the bible is not a dead historical document.  There is a reason why we use the phrase the “living word of God.”  The Church moves very slowly, and not without error, vetting its faithful and its traditions, sacraments, and Saints.  So, we too must move slowly with our interior prayer life, our investment in readings, traditions, and other spiritual endeavors and have sources outside ourselves for validation and confirmation.  We have individual responsibility.

I belong to an on-line contemplative group whose leaders maintain a list of what they consider dangerous authors.  Two authors include Thomas Merton and James J. Martin, SJ.  The first they site the authors later life and potential Buddhist influences and the latter they site pieces of his liberal acceptance of people with life styles contrary to church teaching.  Thomas Merton would definitely fit the classic definition of accepted Church Mystic.  His life is definitely not error free.  James Martin, SJ is living his faith embracing everyone (believers, non-believers) and teaching mercy and acceptance while maintaining the eternal truths of the faith internally.   His outspoken defense of groups of people, specifically the LGBTQ community, has earned him vitriolic hatred by conservative branch of Catholicism.  He is not labeled a mystic.  I raise this as being exposed to these two writers leaves me with the responsibility of discerning through prayer and contemplation what is the right orientation of their writings to my beliefs, the responsibilities implied and defined, and the appropriate weight I assign them (tiny bucket, large bucket, no bucket?).  All five of these authors are drawing from the Gospels.

Mysticism and our own infused contemplation and prayer must always be tested by the source validation of our core spiritual beliefs as found in the Gospels and talked out with at least one more seasoned believer, perhaps a spiritual adviser.

The contemplative group is right to ban these writers from their forum as their forum is dedicated to Carmelite Contemplatives.  They pursue advanced discussions and growth on what they see as the safest and truest way to seek closer union with God.  By avoiding writers that inspire controversy they have created a safe haven devoid of controversy for like-minded Carmelites.    It comes down to temporal time and how best to use the moments you have left before your human mortality comes to an end.

We are all called to be responsible mystics!    We should aim to be saints in our own right without claiming to be saints out of misguided hubris.

Addictions and 12 step groups:  At the heart of all 12 steps groups is both a primary purpose (to abstain from source of addiction and help others to do so) and a higher purpose to live a spiritual life.  The 12 steps are in fact a secularized “Dark Night of the Soul” experience.  It is spirituality without religiosity.  The original program was very much based on Christianity. Just take a look at the Serenity prayer, steps prayers (4th, 7th, and 11th steps), and The Promises.[vii]   A person in recovery who truly actualizes the 12 steps in their daily lives will have a Dark Night of the Soul experience! They enter the program knowing suffering and misery and will come to know a God of their understanding (often accompanied by a return to their religious roots as well).  They will realize the PROMISES of AA and shed their old lives and become new men both in abstinence of the addiction that initially sort help for and in living life with a new spiritually enriched purpose.  People in recovery embody conquering suffering caused by both addiction to substance or behaviors and spiritual maladies.   As St. John of the Cross says, “God is pleased to strip them of this old man and clothe them with the new man.”

Abandonment:

Leap

Henri “Papillon” Charrière leaps to escape prison in Papillon (2018).

Faith in times of struggle or times of great success can be difficult to maintain.  Sometimes as in life we must take a leap of faith.  The situation we are in, favorable or must unfortunate, can blind our spiritual and moral compass without us even noticing we have gone adrift.  Sister Theresa described her situational challenges eloquently:

“Now, abandonment alone guides me.  I have no other compass!  I can no longer ask for anything with fervor except the accomplishment of God’s will in my soul without any creature being able to set obstacles in the way.”[viii]

“Knowing it is cowardly of me to enter into a duel, I turn my back on my adversaries without deigning to look them in the face; but I run toward my Jesus.”[ix]

We live in this world, not in the eternal world.   We will be tempted to be driven by worldly pressures and fight unnecessary duels sometimes even invoking the name of God and higher morality.   While we must never be silent we must always check our intent and which master we are serving.

Contemplatives:

The history of Discalced Carmelites[x] is a good starting point for the uninitiated in contemplative traditions.   They do not own contemplative prayer but have an orientation that is directly focused on the Trinity as well as Mary, the mother of the Redeemer, Jesus Christ.  Seeking God in Catholicism is not seeking an abstract unknowable God.  It is seeking Jesus Christ, seeking the advocate (Holy Spirit), seeking the Father with the spiritual gifts that we have been provided (the Gospels, the Sacraments, the lives of martyrs and saints, and our rich traditions) while acknowledging we are God’s mercy for revelation.

It is profoundly deeply humbling with every perceived elevation of my spiritual journey I am simultaneously falling through a what I perceived to be a firm foundation under my feet to a new floor beneath.  At once my faith is strengthened with each morsel of revelation and yet my hunger and desire inflamed.  The more I come to understand the less I know.

All three books sited above if read without adequate preparation will present less spiritual value to the reader and hide inherent wisdom within the writings.  I do not say this with any sense of condescension.  I have myself read the Dark Night of the Soul prior years ago and on reading it today, have come to know how shallow my reading was prior.  I also presume that if I were to reread this text in merely a few months from now, more would be revealed.

Oh, by Happy Chance may my writing find you and may it inspire you to find your contemplative soul.  By Happy Chance may your suffering be transformed and your purpose in life enriched.  Oh, by Happy Chance may we all live in greater unity with God. I am torn between Fitzgerald’s humor an Campbell’s synopsis of the Dark Night of the Soul:

STANZAS OF THE SOUL

  1. On a dark night, Kindled in love with yearnings—oh, happy chance!— I went forth without being observed, My house being now at rest.
  2. In darkness and secure, By the secret ladder, disguised—oh, happy chance!— In darkness and in concealment, My house being now at rest.
  3. In the happy night, In secret, when none saw me, Nor I beheld aught, Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart.
  4. This light guided me More surely than the light of noonday To the place where he (well I knew who!) was awaiting me— A place where none appeared.
  5. Oh, night that guided me, Oh, night more lovely than the dawn, Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover, Lover transformed in the Beloved!
  6. Upon my flowery breast, Kept wholly for himself alone There he stayed sleeping, and I caressed him, And the fanning of the cedars made a breeze.
  7. The breeze blew from the turret As I parted his locks; With his gentle hand he wounded my neck And caused all my senses to be suspended.
  8. I remained, lost in oblivion; My face I reclined on the Beloved. All ceased and I abandoned myself, Leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies[xi]

[i] https://www.ourladyswarriors.org/saints/darknite.htm#CHAPTER%20VIII

[ii] https://catholicstrength.com/tag/the-seven-mansions-of-teresa-of-avila/

[iii] Story of a Soul The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux pg. 15

[iv] Story of a Soul The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux pg. 77

[v] Story of a Soul The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux pg. 109

[vi] Fire Within by Father Dubay

[vii] Serenity Prayer: God, grant me the Serenity, to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference. 

Third Step Prayer: God, I offer myself to Thee – to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of Life.  May I do Thy will always!

Seventh Step Prayer: My Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows. Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do your bidding.  Amen.

Eleventh Step Prayer:  Lord, make me a channel of Thy peace; that where there is hatred, I may bring love; that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness; that where there is discord, I may bring harmony; that where there is error, I may bring truth; that where there is doubt, I may bring faith; that where there is despair, I may bring hope; that where there are shadows, I may bring light. that where there is sadness, I may bring joy. Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort, than to be comforted; to understand, than to be understood; to love, than to be loved.  For it is by self-forgetting, that one finds. It is by forgiving, that one is forgiven. It is by dying, that one awakens to Eternal Life. Amen.

The “Promises”: From pages 83-84 in “The Big Book”: If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. Are these extravagant promises? We think not! They are being fulfilled among us – Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.

[viii] Story of a Soul The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux pg. 178

[ix] Story of a Soul The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux pg. 213

[x] http://www.carmelitaniscalzi.com/en/who-we-are/storia/history-of-discalced-carmelites/

[xi] http://www.carmelitemonks.org/Vocation/DarkNight-StJohnoftheCross.pdf

 

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