Pascal’s Wager – The Quandary of Faith

Pascal Wager

An opinion article in the NYT times entitled “Can We Learn to Believe in God?” by Agnes Collard takes a surface dive into the infamous Pascal Wager.[i]” 

Childhood morality and imagery of heaven and hell underlie this equation.  The means and the ends of faith do not fall neatly into this theoretical trap.  To seek God (or seek to learn to believe in God) is to accept an invitation to explore faith.  The article takes a look at “aspirational faith” and draws a parallel to other areas of aspirational goals.  It hints at if you aspire to believe you will come to believe.  In essence we often take leaps of faith pursuing the selves we want to become.  Aspiring followed by action often is a model for success.

Success

The path to becoming a lawyer, for example, requires many steps and skills be acquired prior to being an actual lawyer.  Hopefully apprenticeship and the means of becoming a lawyer give one a sense of good measure that actually being a lawyer and what “type” of lawyer at the end of the pursuit.  Pursuing a law degree is a huge gamble of faith.  Investment of several years of study, expensive tuition, and a highly competitive and political post-bar market, assuming you are able to pass the bar, is certainly a concrete gamble.  If you are not enjoying the “means” of the journey your predisposition for being a lawyer should be questioned, or at least the education you are being provided.  The means are as important, if not more important than the end.  If you get your law degree by mail order, evade detection, achieve practice and wealth, at the end of the day despite the shingle and the outward vestments of success you are still only a pretender.  Inside your victory is hollow.

Faith follows a similar and more abstract path.  Like law schools, there are countless religious institutions that can provide you their unique understanding of divine laws and provide various religious dictates and customs that may or may not bring you any closer to true faith.  Like law school you can studiously study these texts, laws, and institutions and weigh them with prudence against natural laws, history, internal consistency within the religious system, rationale human experience, and ultimately how well does any set of beliefs guide people to act and live in a manner that stands up to a divinely imagined (or interpreted) litmus test?    This is perhaps a bit of a challenge as well and probably best explored with a spiritual adviser.  Choose wisely.

Pascals-Wager-Ra-Sun-God

Whatever your faith, humility and openness to questioning and testing your beliefs and actions is vital. Despite the humorous depiction above, within each religion of the three monotheistic religions are clearly people acting contrary to God’s law under the banner of faith creating much suffering and damage in God’s name.   There are many “false prophets” claiming ownership of “the way” for purely human motives and perhaps even more than a few genuinely passionate religous believers who simply may have got it wrong – with firm belief that they are divinely inspired.  At the end of the day you are responsible for what you do in this world in real time and, if God exist, in God’s time!    Responsibility cannot be laid off on blindly following a charismatic leader (religiously or politically!).     Pascals wager does not factor in false prophets and evil committed in God’s name.

There is perhaps another disturbing caveat.  Similar to being accepted to a law school, obtaining faith is not something you can achieve on your own.   God alone through grace can give you faith regardless of your efforts or in spite of your lack of effort!    Without God’s grace and gift of faith your efforts are reduced to being a philosophical journey – not necessarily a bad journey, but not imbued with the divinely inspired grace of God.

To further aggravate our human grasp of faith, we may face a seemingly insurmountable obstacle of profound disbelief accentuated by personal suffering and lack of any intuitive or direct consolation from God.  Other’s in our sphere maybe alive with faith and prayer, beaming with an internal light, while our spirituality is akin to the metaphysical “dark night.”   No formal letter of acceptance comes in the mail.    This can easily create an existential spiritual crisis (perhaps even several times over).

Darknight

My opinion is a genuine desire to seek God and pursuing opportunities to understand and find personal evidence of God will not go unanswered. However, answering the call to find God based on what is “good” for you as opposed to what is spiritually and divinely designed is perhaps not the best starting point.  What’s in it for me is probably contrary to a desire to transcend the human experience.   There are many paths for exploration.  (It is time for me, for example, to find a retreat to retrench soon.  Spiritual retreats can be very moving and helpful).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has a rich description of man’s calling to faith (Profession of Faith) and the historical barriers believers and non-believers must face.[ii]   The profession of faith encapsulates what believer’s hold to be true – but must be a dizzying document for the non-Catholic.   I have included a reference to Catholic Church doctrine on theological constructs as I am only a wayfayer on my own journey without the authority to define faith as crystallized by 2000 years of Christine traditions.

Faith is a life long journey.  It is a never-ending study of the written word, examination of the living word (how do our actions or the actions of our religion hold up to a spiritual litmus test), and what does belief mean to me for everyday living and decisions.

When I encounter an entrenched atheist how can I explain the unexplainable?    I do not and cannot explain or prove the existence of God the same as the atheist cannot disprove the same.  I can share my journey and experiences in belief, in periods of non-belief, in struggles, and in times of consolation.  I can validate the mystical nature of my Judaism roots and the radical transformation of the living word provided by Jesus Christ.   I can acknowledge the failures of men and the failures of men of the cloth and grieve human suffering.  I can seek out common ground on shared moral beliefs.   I can offer the journey of seeking God and is never-ending and always being refined both intellectually and within my heart.   I can even share trivial coincidences that I take as divinely inspired guidance despite knowing others will see them as mere con-incidence.  I can write and express my readings.  Share my thoughts.  Most importantly I must strive to live according to my faith without dictating my faith to others.

Their path is their own!  At the end of the day, whether our spiritual pursuits leads to experiencing divine inspiration or not, it may bring us a little closer to being able to answer the following question:

meaning

When I am grounded in my spiritual beliefs I am closer to knowing the answer to this question.  When I am adrift, which has been sadly often in my life, I am easily consumed by activities and distractions that take away from living a truly “Holy Life.”  Glad there already is a St. Joseph – this Joseph has too many earthly affections to rise to the calling of the priestly or saintly cast!

If you have unquestioning faith and never have experienced the dark night – I am envious of your strength and gift of faith.  If you have no faith and/or cannot even fathom how or why to aspire for faith – I have no judgement or condemnation of your circumstance.  I pray for the mystery of God’s grace to unify us all, professed believers and atheist, to support us to act now in concert with divine his grace for the good of all humanity.     The problem of evil is still present and need be combated by believers and atheist alike.   Let us start with our own hearts and attentions.   Aspire to transcend oneself today!     It is a worthwhile journey.

aleksandrsolzhenitsyn1

[i] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/08/opinion/belief-aspirational-faith.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&version=Moth-Visible&moduleDetail=inside-nyt-region-4&module=inside-nyt-region&region=inside-nyt-region&WT.nav=inside-nyt-region

[ii] http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p1s1c1.htm

 

Letter to my Son

My Son;

It is January 1, 2018.  I am comfortably seated in my recliner.  Mozart is playing in the background thanks to my new music companion Alexa.  God willing I will be 54 years old later this year.   There is not much I need or want for myself today.  I am neither rich nor abjectly poor.  It is difficult to put to paper what I most want to see in this world before I go without telling you briefly about my journey.

I was born and raised as the youngest of seven in an enclave of working class families in Bronx, NY.   Catholic Irish, Germans, and Italians pre-dominated my community.  Racism and hatred were present but through the grace of God and being the youngest I was never indoctrinated into this evil – and was from a very early age against all that it stood for from my child’s eyes.

My childhood home would be ravished by alcoholism, domestic violence, and premature deaths.  The dreams and hopes of my parents dissolved as both parents sank into alcoholism and poverty.  All seven children were impacted in profoundly different ways influenced by our developmental ages as the family fabric of normality unraveled with the progression of the disease of alcoholism.  None was spared abnormal and terribly sad events.  To capture each sibling ruptured youth would require many pages and perhaps we would be none the wiser together with the intent of this letter.

Suffice it to say that we experienced great shame, tragedy, and loss together as a family.   My father would pass while I was in middle school.  My Mom when I was finishing graduate school.  My two closest brothers in age would suffer early deaths.

Amidst our family troubles, like soldiers in a fox hole, great love, compassion, and understanding were always present.  The expression of these wonderful loyalties was not always apparent amidst damaged self-esteem, developing addictions of our own, and the normal sibling rivalries that are present in any large family.  One thing was certain.   Getting out was a goal for everyone despite the contradictory yearning for love and kinship.    And one by one siblings left as the family continued to dissolve.

Amidst this destruction love and caring was still provided in ample reserve.   Both parents made efforts, grandparents provided a shared home, and aging siblings (young adults) helped at every turn.  Thirteen years of Catholic schooling (many of the earlier years not paid and the high school years paid for by eldest brother and sister) helped ferment both my character and a modicum of educational ability.

Alcoholic drinking was not foreign to me in youth and into sophomore year of college and later in life.  This too, is another chapter that would take too many pages and tertiary to the intent of this letter.   However, it introduces the first request for God’s help.     In high school on a cold winter evening I wandered away from my friends in Pelham Bay Park and leaned against a fence and pleaded with God to help me find a way out of this life in the Bronx.   Alcohol was my thing at that time and my friends were into that and heavier drugs of different varieties.   In God’s time I was accepted into Stony Brook University and had the ability to attend due to a combination of loans, grants, student work-study and some family help.   This was an answered prayer.

There were many situations than and afterwards where I could have had a very different path in life and not be where I am today.  I reflect on an unnamed boy who lent me one of his gloves when we were sleigh riding in the Bronx.   He was older and gave me kindness this one winter day.  The following day he was murdered by strangulation behind a local bowling alley for money.  I think of Chucky, a childhood friend whose father used to beat him.  I helped him run away once before he did for good.  His father strangled me on the side of my house until I finally pointed in the direction Chucky had gone.   I had given Chucky my bike and he should have been gone – but he wasn’t gone, he had nowhere to go.   He did eventually run away and visited a year or two later, dirty and beat up some, telling me a Tom Sawyer like story of throwing rail road ties onto the third rail.  My story is not as seeped in tragedy as others.

College gave me an avenue out of the Bronx and philosophy and psychology gave me the tools to examine life from a different perspective.  Before long, armed with Nietzsche and alcohol God was dead.   I was not necessarily any happier a person.   However, I was an armed and an angry man with a little enough wisdom to espouse my hold on reality.   There could not be a God with all the suffering in this world, in my life.  And if there was a God, he would not accept me.

Reality progressively got worse quickly.  I will pass over the personal failures here.  Existential meaninglessness was taking hold as drinking increased.   Behaviors and grades deteriorated.  This period was short-lived.     One morning about 4 a.m. a born again African-American women cleaning lady came onto my college hall and saw me sitting quietly in my literally trashed college room.  She helped me clean it up without any judgement or lecture and peacefully went on with her arduous day.  I wanted what she possessed. Several other factors including threatened with eviction from campus life and mandated counseling led me to turn away from alcohol and dive into true study.

I met my wife to be not long after this transformation and she would be my strength in the years to come.   My career was steady and fulfilling.  I was provided great mentors at different points in life and my family grew.   My wife’s family was also blessed with deep faith and their faith seeped into my hardened heart.

I am however a dense man.  Let me throw out a few co-incidences and let you decide if God seeped into my life or crashed the door down.

  • Chess piece: While driving my caprice classic upstate New York on Taconic parkway at top speed (100 miles per hour) as I was truly testing how fast I could get it to go, my dashboard ornament, a glued on chess piece, loosened from its felt base, and fell to the floor as I was cresting a mountain top.  I bent over and in so doing came of the gas pedal as I reached for the piece, grabbed it, and came back up.  Just over the hill, a car in my land (left hand lane) was standing still, hazards on.  I missed it by inches swerving right.  If not for the chess piece falling to the floor the caprice would have been my coffin.
  • Blind men: I took ill for several weeks and could not work.  The doctors and disease specialist could not find the cause of my weakness.  At the end of it all it was discovered I had mononucleosis that the original test failed to capture!   That is not miraculous.  I had taken to force myself to walk to the deli and get a coffee and egg sandwich.  On this day, on my return trip, a blind man was waiting to cross Lefferts Boulevard in Queens.   I offered assistance and he accepted.  The elder gentleman interviewed me as we traversed crossing two streets and at the end of the cross walk told me it was time to go back to work and that I did.   I returned to work and within two to three days I had the Manhattan work pace going in full force.  As I left from one meeting to the next I ran into a man’s Seeing Eye dog, almost fell, and dropped papers.  The dog did not budge nor did the blind man.  He simply and calmly advised me to take things easy and not be so rushed.      I had another encounter with a third blind person within that two-week period who gave me less memorable guidance.   Three blind people in my path in a two week period where I was feeling physically and psychologically at my lowest – due to misdiagnosed mononucleosis!
  • GPS: I was planning to attend a Buddhist meeting.  It started at 7 P.M.   I typed in address.  The GPS went squirrely and then took me north, than west, and then south and bought me right past my catholic church.    Why the hell did it take me this way around for in the totally wrong direction?  I am going to be late.   I speed up a bit and am heading down State Street.  The road is closed off.  A telephone pole is down.  Does that awaken me to maybe I should not go?    I divert and force myself to still get to the location.  No offense to the people searching for the God of their understanding, but this particular group of three Buddhist did not offer “meditation” techniques guidance or balanced Buddhist teachings that warranted my presence.  Only afterwards did I recognize my obtuse lack of insight that I was never meant to go to that meeting.
  • Car Skid: One winter storm day my closest brother called me telling me about how he lost control of his car and had a close call.  I asked the time.  5:27 P.M.  I had skidded in my car some 90 miles away on a highway off-ramp at just about the same time!
  • Drinking: I resumed casual drinking after September 11, 2001.  November 10, 2001 in Chicago I had my first drink since 1986.  In the 15 years that followed I cannot detail here the mistakes I have made and the risky situations I have put myself in while drinking.  Not a single bone broken or person hurt physically by my poor judgement over the years.  No jobs lost.  However, a general decline in the peace in my life followed each successive year.  My drinking also had a negative impact on my elder siblings drinking – whom I professed to try to help stop drinking.   Giving up drinking is not as easy a decision for me as it maybe for some who have suffered heavier consequences with legal involvement, medical crisis, and losses (families or jobs).  Even without these I have suffered soulful injuries that bruise deep and have hurt others in the same manner.  It is a spiritual miracle for a guy like me with my family history and personal sense of mastery to be able to not be drinking today.  This too is another chapter but nevertheless for many recovering alcoholics being sober is a miracle.
  • Career: For a youngster with a significant stutter that still emerges from time to time, having a career on social work, a master’s degree, and 27 years serving people with words in homeless services, disaster services, and mental health services defies logic.    I had aimed to be a city employee (Sanitation or bus driver).  I had taken the civil service test.  I was accepted and a letter sent to my house with an appointment for bus driver in NYC.  I was away in college.  I called home and asked Jimmy if there was any mail for me.  He answered no.  I discovered the letter two weeks after the appointment date and my bus career was over before it started.  I would not have had my career, my wife, or my kids if Jimmy had told me of the letter and the job.  I would have had a city job and a bar stool along with other Bronx kids.

These little mysteries do not in and of themselves prove a God.  They do for me as I have felt the grace of God in little and small things.   When it comes to purpose in life and the million different directions and decisions that transpire and intended and unintended consequences that follow it is difficult to define divine purpose.

None of the above accurately defines and answers the mystery of God and the challenge of the question of suffering.   In the life of Jesus Christ much can be explained if one looks hard enough.

I have investigated the atheistic perspective, the agnostic perspective, and the religious tenets of the three great monotheist religions.  I have looked at other faiths as well as well as those basing life purely on scientific mathematical concepts.   At the end of the day each has kernels of wisdom that can benefit mankind as well as potential for treacherous acts of evil including my own religious faith.

Putting aside the humble attempts by man to define God, the utter inadequacy of our words, the terrible application of our well-intentioned religions distorted by man, there is a higher purpose than our sense of self.

I cannot define the impact I may have had in my social work career, in my family life, and in the lives I have had the opportunity to influence directly or indirectly.  I know I have mentored many that went on in social work with genuine passion and commitment to help people.  I know that there are many people out there with greater talents than I that are natural leaders that seemingly effortlessly live selfless and holy lives.  The vicious game of relativity to thy neighbor’s accomplishments has no end.

So Son, I am almost there with being ready to tell you what I most want to see in this life before I go.  First, what must it have been like to be John the Baptist?  Imagine ostracizing oneself into the hills to preach and baptize people under threat of execution knowing one who is to come is greater than thou?  In essence John knew he was limited and could not be the Messiah.  He was able however to witness the Messiah.  What was the purpose of John the Baptist?  Did he prepare the way?  Sometimes in life we are meant to be preparers or people behind the scenes that perform the unseen acts of kindness or assistance that helps others is the saints or leaders of tomorrow.

I am “no John the Baptist.”  I have done okay by myself and my family and by those I serve.  Sometimes I want to have done more or have been more influential.  Sometimes I have been aggrieved of my limitations and challenges in life that may have limited by personal and professional ambitions.

Today that is not the case.  I can recognize others carrying out work and life in a manner that demonstrates their natural calling, ability and purpose.   There is the Mother Theresa of Kent General Hospital who works in Palliative care.  The work she is doing daily with the dying and people living with chronic disease processes is nothing short of awe-inspiring.  It is clearly God’s work.   The more I can help her or help others who help people the greater I am fulfilled and aligned with God’s purpose today.   In my own work today my major role is to help people who do the work be able to do the work and problems solve when barriers prevent that work.  It is unseen drudgery!

There is a theme here.  There were countless decisions that happened prior before “Mother Theresa” of Kent General came to Delaware, studied nursing, got her RN degree, got her Nurse Practitioner degree, and started this role.  No one knew.  I gave up a significant career in NYC at the time without the knowledge of what was to come.   Now it is purely a work of spiritual inspiration in action.

What do I want to see before I go?  I have a desire for my son to know God.  Not in a zealous manner loaded with religiosity and ambiguity, tied to theological text, and preaching on the corner.  In a humble way where my Son knows his purpose in life and when it is in question can sit and reflect and find the answers.  When confronted with suffering can withstand the pain and do what he has to do with God as a partner.   If my son has that the many pitfalls of this world he will be able to withstand and some maybe even avoid some (think Alcoholism).

Who is my Son?  He bares my name.   But I have daughters as well, and nephews and nieces.  I desire for everyone I know to have a spiritual grounding with the God of their understanding.   In that vein this letter is not just for my Son, it is for anyone who reads this letter, for all my brothers and sisters here on earth.

So Son, there you have it.  I am sending you two books with this letter.  Understanding the Scriptures, A Complete Course on Bible Study by Scott Hahn, Phd and Jesus A Pilgrimage by James Martin, SJ.    The first explains every book in the bible and time-lines in an easy to read fashion.   The second is written by a Jesuit priest that I find to be amazingly intuitive on Jesus Christ and on finding faith and belief in your life if you look for it.  This book has him reflecting on the life of Jesus as he visits the historical sites were Jesus Christ and the apostles lived and preached.  The combination gives both archeological and spiritual insights that truly bring together why so many people can believe in a guy that dies on a cross over two thousand years ago.

I have only touched briefly on highlights of my spiritual struggles and graces.  Life is messy and I am far from a theologian or ambassador for the word of God.  I have read several books of James Martin, SJ including The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything.   He is of the same ilk as Pope Francis.  I have found him to be quite controversial to some staunch Catholics as his views are similar to Pope Francis.  He has been attacked by some very conservative religious groups.     He is no Martin Luther.  This is how James Martin finishes the book and is an apt way to finish this letter:

“What I want most for you is to meet Jesus.  You have met my Jesus.  Now meet your own.”

 

 

 

 

Jewels of Confession (Personal Reflection)

I am in my mind’s eye an amateur, a novice, a man sentenced to be an apprentice for life.  It is the epitome of grandiosity to believe anything else.  There are just too many barriers for me to join the ranks of those considered by men to be held as examples of a devout man, much less than to even consider judgement by God’s expectations to respond to living a life aligned with his desires.

Theological, sociological, psychological, and genetic realities have reinforced my understanding of my imperfections and inability to obtain or much less so maintain sanctification – to be set apart for God’s work, to be truly live a spiritual life in everything I am.  I can expound on original sin, on my socio-economic status, my troublesome youth, and my genetic disposition ad infinitum for “causation” of my falling short, for my mediocre, for my deepest failings.  At the end of the day excuses, rationalization, or deflection is not mine to give.   My apprenticeship does not absolve me from full responsibility for “my thoughts, my words, for what I have done or what I have failed to do this day.”[i]

My greatest accomplishments and must evil acts do not afford me special status in the ledgers of holy acts or Hades hall of fame.   I have not been called by God or by Satan to champion the ideological battle of Good versus Evil.  I am humbled by many.  Everywhere I turn there are people with greater faith than I when I choose to truly look for the warriors of God.   I can see and feel the vibrancy of interior peace in many faithful, the unquestioning tranquility of those who have truly surrendered, and the energy of those who perform many acts of service with seemingly tireless commitment.  It exhausts me and replenishes me simultaneously.

I have been blessed with a vocation of helping people oppressed by circumstances, homelessness, by poverty, by addiction, or by severe and persistent mental health disorders for 29 years (including two years of graduate school).  I have equally been blessed with the vocation of the sacrament of marriage and three beautiful and healthy children.  I have also been blessed with personal struggle and immense suffering from an age that included the devastating impact of addictions, family violence, premature deaths, and utter chaos in a very confusing youth.  The blessing of suffering has humbled me to be sensitive and compassionate with every human being I encounter.

Without a portrait of my background it is difficult to give weight to the jewel of confession.  In essence, what does it matter if I bring my sins to a confessor given my sins and my accomplishments relative to others would not move the Richter scale of human morality in any meaningful measurable direction?  I am no St. Augustine or Stalin.  I am neither rich nor poor.  I am neither exceptionally intellectual, exceedingly dim, or an idiot savant.    In an existential sense, I am “being and nothingness” exemplified as is most of humanity.

There is nothing I can bring a priest that he has not heard.  There is nothing I have bought to a priest that my God does not already know.  And to make matters worse, in my belief, although my actions are important, I cannot achieve any holiness on my own merit without God’s justification or saving grace.[ii]

Furthermore, I dare to say that I have had many a confession that was ill-conceived or perhaps even ill-received!  The confessor and the penitent cannot enter into the confessional without grounded intent and inspired purpose.  How many confessions of my youth was coerced ritual? How many confessors were limited by systemic rituals from practicing true teaching in the confines of the confessional time and space allotted?

Does any of it matter?  Yes.

In the hands of Martin Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino my life story could be transformed onto the big screen into something unrecognizable to me by mere condensing of timelines, sharpening of dramatic events, and adept usage of poetic license to create an inspiring story of coming into one’s own or a depressing comedy of errors and sadness or both.   In other words, we do not truly know the impact we have on others during the arc of our short tenure of life.  Our stories cannot accurately be portrayed without capturing the offshoots and trajectories of other people’s lives that have been influenced by intersections with our own – for better or for worse.  Scorsese, Tarantino, and our very own self-defined sense of our own lives cannot accurately capture and define the individual lives we have led with any degree of certainty.

I remember an old man living in an “SRO” (single occupancy unit) on 28th street in NYC.  I saw him daily for a certain number of years before he passed.   His name was Eli.  Our conversations were never long or deep.  There was eye contact and a smile with each conversation that transcended words.   I was called one day when he had a coronary heart attack in the hall way.   I went and held his hand and looked into his eyes until the paramedics came.  I will never know what I meant to that man.  I know I knew him and he knew me as if we had a secret club, an unsaid bond.   He passed and I never fully knew his life story or how he came to be alone in New York City.

Meaningfulness:  The first principle of confession is that we have meaning beyond ourselves and our sense of self-importance or lack thereof.  What did I do for Eli or not do for Eli in those years preceding his death?  Were my actions aligned with God’s will?  How would I know it then or now?   When we accept we have a purpose and a meaning beyond our own definition we also must accept a challenge as to how we use our body, our minds, and our soul to fulfill our mission(s) in life.

There are many definitions of sin.  Most of them can be simply be defined as taking us away from our purpose in life – from what we are meant to do.   And each micro-aggressions (examples of seven deadly sins:  gluttony, lust, greed, pride, despair, wrath, glory, or sloth) against our purpose in life wears us down, deflate our strength, and weakens our resolve.  For some of us, the depletion is so complete that we are left with seeking refuge in synthetic intoxications of the worldly life as an end to themselves.

Acceptance:  The second principle is that in our fallibility we can easily be consumed and distracted from our source of purpose in this life by both external challenges and internal decay.  Where our attentions are our hearts will follow.  How many minutes, hours, days, months, or even years of our lives are spent attending to inconsequential or damaging activity that takes us away from our purpose or mission in life?  When is our pleasure or joy turned into selfishness or sin by direct action or omission of action?

Right now 1.6 billion people are estimated to have inadequate shelter, 795 million people are suffering from hunger, 208 million people are using illegal drugs, and 450 million affected by Mental Illness.  Let’s estimate I have directly or indirectly helped 1300 families achieve permanent housing, 14000 people with access to or support of treating mental illness or addictions, and gave occasionally to various charities and causes.    In this context, how much of my life’s activity should be directed at my own pleasure?  How much charity should I give?  What change opportunities have I shied away from during my life?   To put it simply, my work is never done if my true calling was homelessness, world poverty, and serving people with mental health issues.  The second principle is accepting my fallibility and even if I was to practice total self-denial I would not be able to end the misery associated with these conditions.  Balance and humility is called for at all times.

Informed confession (ACTION):  Accepting I cannot live a life of total self-denial, that our collective “sin” currently and historically is beyond my ability to reconcile, and that I still desire to pursue a holy life I have found that self-reflection and informed confession can help alleviate the wounds of our individual and collective failures so that we may continue on to do what we can within our sphere of influence.

An informed confession can lead to “a radical re-orientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away of evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed.  It entails the desire and resolution to change one’s life.”[iii]

Confession is an opportunity for education and healing.  It is a time out to meet with another human being who is skilled in spiritual discernment (Priest) and bring your troubles (thoughts, words, deeds) to God for examination in a manner that allows you to seriously “repent, revoke, and replace” unwanted behavior, actions, or thoughts.

It is different from spiritual direction.  It is bringing to God a request to forgive your transgressions, heal your wounded self (as each transgression weakens your purpose), educate and enlighten your actions, and strengthens your resolve and commitment to continue along the road toward sanctification.   It can get down to the nitty and gritty of what is in your circle of influence to change.   A confessor help ensure you are not deceiving yourself or misguided in your application of theological applications – often to your benefit.

Scorsese and Taratino can take an inconsequential action and transform a characters destiny – imagine what God can do with a sincere and committed confession, however minute the conviction to change.

The third principle is with informed consent going to confession and partnering with a priest and God to make true amends and genuinely commit to ACTION to change as needed with the humble understanding that penance will probably be required sooner than later for similar offenses or new revelations of further refinement is required!

Spiritual DirectionThe Jewel of Confession is it informs one’s spiritual direction.  What endeavor in life does not require correction, improvement, refinement, and adaptation?  Ideally we would all have a spiritual director.

Confession and spiritual direction are not in vogue today.   Not every confessor or spiritual director is equal.  The Catholic Church holds this sacrament to be vital:  “Those who approach the sacrament of Penance obtain pardon from God’s mercy for the offense committed against him, and are, at the same time, reconciled with the Church which they have wounded by their sins and which by charity, by example, and by prayer labors for their conversion.”[iv]

The theological and Catholic doctrine on Penance is quite in-depth.  As a lay person I have always had mixed feelings about the sacrament of Penance.  Today I do not have the same reservations – my reservations today is on what I can bring to the confessional box or room and what the confessor can help with as we are both in dialogue with the Trinity.   Alas, it is not confidential.   The weight of my faults, the collective weight of our societies failings, and all the messiness of pursuing a holy life can be supported and guided by a thoughtfully and genuinely prepared confession that is meant for sincere dialogue with God.

Done with reverence both the confessor and penitent can benefit and be guided by the mystery of the sacrament and better serve God’s plan on leaving the ancient confessional booth.

We are meaningful in God’s eye and plan despite the existential threats that surround us in the world today.  Accepting that each human being is special including ourselves and accepting our fragility as individuals and as a collective we are dependent on both our own actions and God’s saving grace.  Knowing this we seek informed correction through confession and pursue sanctification through ongoing spiritual direction despite the immense suffering in the world, in fact, because of the immense suffering in the world!

confessional

 

[i] http://www.catholic.org/prayers/prayer.php?p=1780[ii] http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s1c3a2.htm[iii]

7 Secrets of Confession by Vinny Flynn

[iv] http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p2s2c2a4.htm

 

 

 

the maid a novel of Joan of Arc by Kimberly Cutter

emma-thompson-as-joan-of-arc-by-annie-leibovitz

What would it be like to hear the voice of God or his emissaries?   Not an intuitive prayerful dialogue and raised spiritual consciousness but an actual thundering voice or even an apparition.   What lengths would you go to experience this grace if you could?  What lengths would you go to deny ever having had such an experience?  The Hollywood portrait above is inspiring.  But how about this version:

Joan at the end

Hearing the voice of God or seeing an apparition is perhaps the highest form of Mysticism.  Catholics practice mysticism every day.  An interesting Blog (the Main Event) describes our mystical beliefs in a review of the “war” between reason and mysticism.[i]  The blog interest me as its intent is to provide a forum for the proponents of each camp and sets up a dialectic that is very real in today’s world.   It presumes you cannot be both a person of reason and mysticism.   There is a cultural war to deny the existence of a “God” and all forms of mysticism on one side and to assert the existence of a God on the other.  The more extreme the mystical experience – the more extreme the attacks become by non-believers – and in some cases rightly so.   Authentic spiritual revelation is claimed by many in the course of history under many different names for many different purposes.

The story of Joan of Arc (Jehanne of Arc) exemplifies the difficulties in receiving a “Personal charism to witness god”[ii] and follow the message you have received.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church accepts people are chosen for such revelations.  They are chosen to share God’s word and vision – often at great expense to their own worldly status.

Pope Benedict the XVI excellently depicted her persecution by the Church itself as he stated on January 26, 2011 that the trial of Joan of Arc as a “is a distressing page in the history of holiness and also an illuminating page on the mystery of the Church which, according to the words of the Second Vatican Council, is “at once holy and always in need of purification” (Lumen Gentium, n. 8).” [iii]

This is interesting given a current controversy in the Church.  Certain Bishops have taken umbrage with the Pope on statements like “The contemporary world risks confusing the primacy of conscience, which must always be respected, with the exclusive autonomy of an individual with respect to his or her relations.” Pope Francis went on to say priests must inform Catholic consciences “but not replace them.”[iv]  What does he mean?

My opinion is that he recognizes the church has a rich tradition and is the defacto representative of authentic scripture and revelation but it is still up to the individual to follow their consciences and free will accepting the consequences according to their own spiritual discernment and God’s grace.  The Church is a guide but you remain an apostle and responsible for your own actions whether you live within or external to church doctrine.  In essence, if you seek God and  truly use spiritual discernment including using the gifts of sacred tradition and revelation, prayer and consult, you are yourself a mystic – perhaps not on the level of Joan of Arc – but a mystic nonetheless called to pray, act, and yes, sometimes suffer.

Joan of Arc canonization process started in 1855 and culminated in Sainthood in 1920.  A peasant who opposed the Church teachings and doctrines, defied papal authority, is made a saint 489 years after her death.   Saint Joan did not receive consolation from this world but from God.   Declaring her a Saint is our consolation for our miserable attempts with wielding “Scriptural Authority” and power over the centuries and a need for continual purification with our application of Holy Scripture.  The Church has that challenge.  However, what is your challenge to be a mystic?  Do you have a charism?

As for the book, the author has successfully provided a fictional account that includes a high degree of historical accuracy combined with spiritual imagination to see the events from the eyes of a fifteenth century peasant girl called by God to perform unthinkable heroic acts.

St. Joan has a rich prayer life.  If you are interested in seeking God I find Ignatian Spiritual exercises helpful at times when prayer is difficult.[v]   One contemplative method is to take any Gospel scene of interest and place yourself in the crowd or in the shoes of one of the characters and really explore your visceral response to the scene, to the words, and how you would respond if you were actually there than or how you would respond now is similar circumstance.  Now more than ever women are called to stand strong.    Men should help when they can as they would help anyone of either gender fight for what is right and just.

joan

[i] http://reasonversusmysticism.blogspot.com/2014/02/what-is-catholic-catechisms-view-of.html

[ii] http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p4s1c2a3.htm

[iii] https://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/audiences/2011/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20110126.html

[iv] https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2017/11/11/pope-francis-reaffirms-primacy-conscience-amid-criticism-amoris-laetitia

[v] https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-spiritual-exercises

 

Revisiting my Jewish Ancestry in a time of Hatred (as a Catholic believer)

Today a growing number of Jews are returning to Israel.[i]  In 1948 Israel became a nation in one day and had 800,000 citizens.  Now there are over 6 million Jews in Israel.  Many Jews across the world feel like it is 1939 all over again.  Anti-semetism is on the rise in the United States and across the world and Israel itself lives in threat of annihilation.  Returning from where?  The Jewish diaspora is the dispersion of Jews dating back to 8th century and 6th century BCE and countless migrations after that as a people without a land.   The actual end of the Jewish state some might say was around 70 A.D.[ii]  Prominent Influential Jews[iii] are ensuring that the Jewish state and Jewish people living outside Israel are supported and their ancestry and persecution are not forgotten.

250px-Jerusalem-sacked

Without a fundamental understanding of the Old Testament dating from roughly before 10,000 B.C. from Genesis through Abraham, Jacob, The Exodus, the re-establishment of Israel under David, Babylonian Captivity, the Greek period (Hellenism), and the Roman period (37 B.C to 324 AD) and all the prophets, kings, and various sects within in Judaism it is hard to give current day “Jewishness,” or for that matter Christianity, meaning and context.

The average American Catholic today lacks heart-felt knowledge of the Jewish tradition and experience beyond didactic learning from a pre-adolescent era of learning that relied on historical teaching and painful memorization.   Many would criticize the average Catholic today lacking “infused knowledge” of Christianity itself – that is knowledge that includes teaching of the known facts of Christian tenets but guided by connection to God within us, to Jesus Christ, to the Holy Spirit.  That is knowledge greater than our intellect or individual efforts can provide.    If we had this infused knowledge the prevalence of hypocrisy today would greatly be diminished.  The hypocrisy of white nationalism today and xenophobia globally would not be able to represent mainstream thought.[iv]

What does it mean to reconcile with my Jewish heritage?  The Old Testament stories in various literary forms repeats a common theme of the Jewish nation turning away from God:  adopting pagan ways of neighbors, directly performing unholy and sinful acts, using priestly status for personal power and wealth, and placing worldly goods above God.    These moral and theological principles did not disappear with the arrival of Jesus Christ, if anything; they were stripped of formulaic ritual and laid bare in stark truths with “The great commandment is not to judge one’s neighbor but rather to love one’s neighbor, for judgment is God’s alone.”[v]

great_commandment

We have also through time developed many ritualistic additions as well that have a tint of man-made institutions rather than divinely inspired gifts.

I cannot miss the modern-day peril of Christianity and America with the history of Judaism and Israel.  As Christians we live on a pluralistic society among atheist, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and within these large religious systems countless denominations or sects.  Additionally the idols of modernity of money, prestige, power, worldly possessions, and pursuing excess human comforts leave little room for living a holy and spiritually infused live style.  To reconcile with our Jewish ancestry we must first reconcile what it means to be Christian in a pluralistic society.  Our Jewish brethren struggled with this issue than and now as well.

Our Christian leaders today are too easily manipulated into being pawns of political machines under the cover of trying to advance our religious beliefs.  We try to mobilize our votes to support a party to legislate values rather than our values legislating behavior based on attraction, love, and living a holy life by example.    Losing sight of our own calling to live spiritual lives we turn to others to enforce spirituality.  We look outward rather than inward at what is wrong with society today.  Sometimes we find reasons to not look at how to think about excess wealth.

progressive

We give power to charlatans who are all too willing to find villains for us – at a price that is often opposed to the greatest commandment.   They capitalize on our fears of alienation and loss of identity.  Some are petrified of diaspora from within – a displacement of our white Christian dominance within the United States and globally.  This fear has us resorting to tribalism under the name brand of patriotism or nationalism.    As recently demonstrated in Charlottesville Jewish hatred was on display.

KKK

How can we Christians actively hate our own brothers by Old Testament biblical definition?  The entire Old Testament in our religion foreshadows Jesus Christ coming for all Jews and all people.

When our Jewish brothers are threatened we are threatened as well.  Our morality has already condemned us once before in history when we as a nation and as a religion were passive as the Holocaust was underway.   Our morality is condemning us daily today as we passively accept a war on immigrants, on minorities, on Jews, on Muslims, on Women, and on the poor of all nations through our narrow sited policies that are aimed at enriching the wealthy and powerful at the expense of, at a minimum, 4/5ths of the world’s population.

When nations and religions start running for bunkers of isolation and extreme humanely defined purity of what it means to be on the right side of holiness and humanity – we have fallen prey to a dialogue with the Devil – not God.

Within all of our nations, our religious groups, our socio-economic classes, our gender identity groups, our racial and ethnic groups lay some very evil people.  They must be contained and made visible without resorting to the must villainous instincts of our predatory natures, of our human nature.  For as evil as our enemies are, we have the capacity within us to fall prey to being evil ourselves.

Ask yourself when listening to dinner conversation, lunchroom banter, newspaper by-lines, social media memes, and our political class – is the aim aligned with the greatest commandment?

Very few Christians are called to live in isolation and prayer (Monastic life).  We are called to live with and next to people of all cultures and beliefs. We are called to love our neighbors and not to judge our neighbors.  We are called to evangelize in a prescribed fashion – not by sword, not by law, not by coercion, not by manipulation – but by living examples of mercy, compassion and love.

As a nation America will have its challenges and will continued to be attacked for its beacon of light and freedom.  We will have to defend ourselves for our world is still ruled by men’s laws and not God’s law.  Our defense of country and our freedoms should always be carried out in a manner that reflects sober and rationale actions that respect our appropriate use of nation’s power, wealth, and principles.

Just as we are called to exercise appropriate evangelism without judgment – we are called as a nation to use our wealth, our democracy, and our military in a manner that is good for all nations and people.  Without the moral imperative applied both domestically and internationally we are bound to suffer the fate of the Israelites.

Our enemies, specifically Russia, recognize that if they can spurn division and hate within our society and between our partners globally they can diminish our freedoms and strength without firing a shot.  We have other enemies as well, many of which are reactionary to our economic and political dominance that they feel is abused to the detriment of the world’s poor and oppressed.

Until recently America understood the principle of “Much is given, Much is expected.”  Our stewardship of global priorities aligns with our nation’s interest.

Unless our nation continues to use its wealth, power and status to improve global interest we will continue to be a top target of aggrieved toxic terrorist groups from within and outside our invisible walls.

The plight of the Jewish people should enlighten nations today on the dangers of being oppressed, of oppressing people, and putting wealth and power above human interest.  The Jewish problem is our problem – and it extends way beyond what it means to be Jewish.  It is about humanity itself.

To write about this is in and of itself an insult to all the veterans of WW II and all the victims of the Holocaust.     If the Holocaust and WW II could not provide a lasting lesson for humanity we are a purely pathetic species.  Is it no wonder we needed a messiah and a paraclete[vi] after he departed?   If only we would listen to the image and imprint of the divine that lives sometimes too deeply within our clouded souls.

7-gifts-of-holy-spirit-lg

Unlike the Jews returning to Israel we can return to true Christianity within our own homes, our own communities, within our own hearts.  Pope Francis is doing his part to effect the arc of spiritual progression and revelation of the Catholic Church.  Now we have to continue to do our part.

[i] http://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/insideisrael/2015/December/Operation-Exodus-Prophecy-Fulfilled

[ii] http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-diaspora

[iii] http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/50-most-influential-Jews-403742

[iv]  “Anti-Semitic and xenophobic movements did not disappear from Europe after the liberation of Auschwitz, just as white supremacist groups have lurked beneath the surface of American politics ever since the Emancipation Proclamation. What has changed is that these groups have now been stirred from their slumber by savvy politicians seeking to stoke anger toward immigrants, refugees and racial minorities for their own benefit. Leaders from Donald Trump to France’s Marine Le Pen have validated the worldview of these groups, implicitly or explicitly encouraging them to promote their hateful opinions openly. As a result, ideas that were once marginal have now gone mainstream.” https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/12/opinion/sunday/white-nationalism-threat-islam-america.html?_r=0

[v] https://rlp.hds.harvard.edu/life-and-teachings-jesus

[vi] Holy spirit or counselor

 

Praying the Psalms, Merton, Thomas[i]

A tight rope walk with Thomas Merton on one side of the chasm and King David (and several lesser known authors) on the other still leaves me struggling with the wisdom of the Psalms.  Our busy lives present many valleys to ponder.  Thomas Merton short book explores how the Psalms can be used in prayer to traverse chasms in life.

chasm

The barriers for me I believe is the context of King David’s time and the Old Testament language and experience being applied to modern times in modern vernacular.  More than that the Psalms are not meant to be read – they are meant to be sung in praise and celebration.  Experience any psalm played by talented musicians at the Psalm Project.[iii] Surely this how King David envisioned the Psalms to be used to praise God.

You can really feel the power of the psalms when attending charismatic churches that embrace full musical choirs.  It can be a powerful experiential spiritual journey.  Yet, even alongside hundreds or perhaps thousands of believers (mega churches), you can be left with only fleeting grace, fading before you exit the parking lot.  What is missing is substance.  Your substance:

The problem is therefore not to learn from the Psalms a totally new experience, but rather to recognize, in the Psalms, our own experience lived out and perfected, orientated to God and made fruitful, by the action of loving faith. Ultimately we do this by uniting our joys with the joys of Christ in the Psalms, our sorrows with the sorrows of Christ, and thus allowing ourselves to be carried to heaven on the tide of His victory.[iv]

 20150218-theme-verse-psalms

[v]

Merton knows just how to state things so plainly, so intuitively that you may miss the depth of what such a simple statement implies.  The substance of the Psalms applied to our own life with sincere contemplation (meditation), shared devotion (songs of praise at church or temple), and action (a continual awareness of God’s presence and ability to have all of our actions and decisions be guided by humble discernment).

This is not as hard as it sounds.  Merton describes it as merely only listening and acting to what we already know:

  “I delight to do Thy will, O my God, and Thy law is in the depths of my heart.” [vi]

But there are real human barriers for us all to content with every day:

Obedience:  It is interesting how people struggle with the idea of obeying an omniscient God.  I ask where people think their sense of right and wrong is derived from as individuals and as a collective.  When we are at our best are we not intuitively listening to “something” instilled on our nature, something profound, something universal that we have all come to recognize that all humans share across nations?  Call it the human spirit.  We know when the human spirit is distorted.  We recognize it immediately in our guts whether wrong actions are committed by the individual (Charles Manson), by extreme religiosity (ISIS today, The Crusades, and other religious wars), or by nation states (Hitler’s Germany).

Politics:  Nation states are particularly frightening today recognizing that charismatic leaders can bring their nations down the road of evil through fear, intimidation, and false patriotism with massive arsenals at their disposal. We live in and have a responsibility to be engaged in society.  You can be deceived into believing you are fighting for goodness.  In America we believe we stand for righteousness.  One TV interviewer had a Trump supporter saying whatever Donald Trump says is what God wills. This is a distortion of epic proportions.  Some other nations believe we have it deadly wrong.  Our current President has shaken the world’s confidence that we can stand for moral principles in times of turbulence.  Internally our nation is divided and torn by both politics and race.  We have put our faith in men and parties rather than our minds on truth and God.

Discernment:  It is not political.  It is not a party.  It is not a nation.  It is an individual responsibility.  It is to be actively lived and to be actively engaged with the world.

Selfishness:  How often our own self-interest is put ahead of the world’s poor.  How often are we challenged by our own desires or simply to avoid boredom?

Estrangement:  As a nation gone astray we can especially feel estranged from discernment, feeling isolated and definitively alone with our struggles where we may exclaim something akin to Psalm 12:

 “How long, O Lord, wilt thou utterly forget me? How long wilt thou hide Thy face from me?”[vii]

It can be grueling when as believers we have a “feeling” of spiritual dryness, a struggling moment or many moments piled high days on days on days on end?  Some refer to this as the dark night.  I cannot say I have experienced the “Dark Night.”  I have had many dark nights and times of misery — though I fear experiencing the depth that some saints have experienced before me or even the dark nights that others are experiencing tonight as I sit hear contemplating God and writing about psalms.

All of the above challenges and many more can take us away from truly knowing God or having a proximity to conscious awareness of God’s way from which to draw on for support and guidance.  It is a terrible lonesomeness.

“As the hind pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants after thee, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God: when shall I come and see the face of God? My tears have become my bread day and night, whilst they say to me daily: Where is thy God?”[viii]

Many great mystics and believers feel this same way often.  Many priest.  It is not something we can demand – it is a gift to have even a passing fragrance of God’s presence.

It is easier to fight man’s wars with man’s tools.   We can easily join the noise and fight fire with fire, anger with anger, violence with more violence — especially when we cannot “feel” God’s presence.  How weak are we that we need or year for that presence on demand when we are suffering? If we always felt God’s presence discernment and living God’s will certainly be a great deal easier.

Why turn to God’s way when revenge or counter attack seems called for and perhaps even on its surface, morally the right thing to do?

The reason why we submit entirely to His will is because He is good. We do not obey merely for the sake of obedience, but as a testimony to the supreme goodness of God Himself.[ix]

Again, Merton nails it with simplicity above.  Not with the nails of the cross, but with the reality of the majesty and unknowable goodness of God himself.  Meditating on why we should surrender to God’s way and continue to seek God’s way can be guided by spending serious time with different Psalms.  Doing so can prepare you for any circumstance every day, including the final circumstance, when our physical body surrenders to mortality.

 The Lord is my shepherd: I want for nothing; he makes me to lie in green pastures. He leads me to waters where I may rest; he restores my soul. —Psalm 22: 1-2.[x]

 We cannot by mere human ingenuity or talent exhaust all that is contained in the Psalms. Indeed, if we seek only to “get something out of them” we will perhaps get less than we expect, and generous efforts may be frustrated because they are turned in the wrong direction: toward ourselves rather than toward God.

God knows you – Psalm 139[xi]

psalms

[xii]

End notes:

[i]               Citation (APA): Merton, T. (2015). Praying the Psalms [Kindle iOS version].

[ii] https://www.google.com/search?q=chasm+definition&rlz=1C1TSNJ_enUS718US718&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiwiq-Fh_vVAhVG64MKHQigAtsQ_AUICigB&biw=1366&bih=589#imgrc=-gYZF55lwKu83M

 

[iii]              http://thepsalmsprojectband.com/

[iv]              Page 25 · Location 161

[v]               http://overviewbible.com/psalms/

[vi]              Page 31 · Location 208

[vii]             Page 32 · Location 224

[viii]             Page 36 · Location 253

[ix]              Page 39 · Location 277

[x]               Page 41 · Location 287

[xi] Psalm 139New Living Translation (NLT)

Psalm 139

O Lord, you have examined my heart
and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too great for me to understand!

I can never escape from your Spirit!
I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
if I go down to the grave,[a] you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning,
if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
and your strength will support me.
11 I could ask the darkness to hide me
and the light around me to become night—
12     but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
Darkness and light are the same to you.

13 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
15 You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
16 You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed.

17 How precious are your thoughts about me,[b] O God.
They cannot be numbered!
18 I can’t even count them;
they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up,
you are still with me!

19 O God, if only you would destroy the wicked!
Get out of my life, you murderers!
20 They blaspheme you;
your enemies misuse your name.
21 O Lord, shouldn’t I hate those who hate you?
Shouldn’t I despise those who oppose you?
22 Yes, I hate them with total hatred,
for your enemies are my enemies.

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

Footnotes:

  1. 139:8 Hebrew to Sheol.
  2. 139:17 Or How precious to me are your thoughts.

New Living Translation (NLT)

Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

 

[xii] https://www.google.com/search?q=book+of+psalms&rlz=1C1TSNJ_enUS718US718&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiG4Ljqo_vVAhWIxIMKHQkbBowQ_AUIDSgE&biw=1366&bih=638

 

The Art of Loving God by Francis de Sales

“Discover the secrets to growing holier through the simple things in life work, play, and rest. Learn to avoid the distractions that trouble and weary your soul and you’ll soon be able to focus your energy simply on loving God!”[i]

I encountered this little book in two visits to an adoration chapel spanning the last two weeks.   The pursuit of God’s presence is really human folly.  He is present, here, now and always.  We have to actively work to run from this presence – and have been doing so, both individually and collectively since Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden.[ii]

main-qimg-3004b4e2902f594a2633885ec3a8e7d0-c

From that moment on we have spent our time seeking and desiring things of this world that could recreate the joy and peace of being one with the father.  Nothing made by man has come close.  Not to say that we have not destroyed ourselves and others trying to achieve something akin to being Godlike or obtaining the feeling of worthiness of being in God’s presence.   Great wealth, waging war, addictions, personal achievement, devastating failures, adrenaline seeking, and many other human desires and experiences serve as cheap, transitory substitutes for the real presence of God.

That is not to say all of these desires are evil or bad in and of themselves.  Some are admirable, some are necessary for self-defense, and others are testaments to the human imagination and great gifts we possess as God’s creation in areas like vocational life, arts, sports, music and literature.  And others are perhaps just evil and bad (think seven deadly sins – last post).

There is a great mediator for this if we can learn to be still.  In stillness we can listen to and be guided by the Holy Spirit. With willingness, commitment, humility and healthy desire we can learn to listen and are open to the presence of God while we are performing every action worthy of being God’s work.  God’s work is any work that is done sincerely and genuinely in his name, his true name, as driven by prayer and proper discernment, as by Providence.   This work we can do if we are careful with how we treat and love each other as we are in the presence of God — for somewhere, sometimes deeply hidden, the presence of God is written deep inside everyone you encounter.   To encounter another Human being is to encounter God.

When you achieve living in this manner, no matter the turbulence and suffering around you, the interior of your being remains calm and steadfast in the storm.  Tremendous success, miserable failure, or just plain old mediocre cannot bring you down.  You know intuitively all of these things are temporal and none of them are yours – you live for one thing and one thing only and everything else is but a means to that end.

Olympic champions like the 1936 – 9 man row American Row boat champion’s new what surrender was in action when they gave all they had and then some to each other –in blind trust and being – to transcend the sport and become legendary to this day.  Prayer and the spiritual life can be like that sometimes.  It can take great effort and provide seemingly little return for many a day.   Life can impose serious obstacles to one’s faith.  The boys in the boat faced many as well to just get to Germany – and then many more before they crossed the finish line to win the gold.   By the time they won – most of them knew they had won something far more dearly than a man-made medal and the spectacle of the 1936 Olympics.

cedar

 

I cannot tell you what that one thing is you can live for after reading St. Francis de Sales work or what the boy’s in the boat found in pursuit of excellence.  You have to read for yourself.  The Boys in the Boat Book is by Daniel James Brown.  One read in prayer and the other in leisure – I can say these books can inspire and change you.     The world will look and feel a little different.

Among other things, St. Francis de Sales spends sometime in this book on modesty of bearing, interior modesty, and modesty of speech.   One does not become Olympic rowing champions without excessive practice.  One does not approach a holy life without effort either.   There is a chapter on patience as you seek perfection and also a subtle tricky piece on suffering and surrendering.  The latter can potentially upend your understanding to see both suffering and surrendering being gifts we cannot afford to give away.

This little book makes things that seem very complicated very simple.   All the greats make it look that way!  It is simple if you are willing – greatness will come – though you may become to modest to show it to anyone else!

george

[i] https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/332748.The_Art_of_Loving_God

[ii] https://www.google.com/search?rlz=1C1TSNJ_enUS718US718&tbm=isch&q=adam+and+eve&chips=q:adam+and+eve,g_3:forbidden+fruit&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjuor6LkPTVAhVESiYKHR6ZACcQ4lYILSgA&biw=1366&bih=638&dpr=1#imgrc=NDGuIGCeKADTjM: