Today, for me, is the holiest of holy days. I cannot speak to this before I talk to all my brothers and sisters – Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Agnostics, other religions of the world, and Athiest alike.
I also invite those whose lens is oriented by a political identity – Republican, Democrat, Independent, Unaffiliated, Socialist, Communist, and other political ideologies.
Let me not forget my favorite people, good-natured and hardworking, honest citizens of the world (mostly) who leave religion and politics at the curbside. They do their part in the labor of their chosen trades, in the trenches of community work, and in the toils and joys of routine family life. They are in the best position to witness the good and the bad of how the religious and political among us serve or disserve humanity.
Message to all on the Holiest of Holydays (for me) – Five words:
We share life and death together. About Three hundred Thousand people will be born today, and about One Hundred and Fifty Thousand will die today. That is about 4 births and 1-2 deaths per second. Worldwide Co-Vid 19 Virus has taken One-Hundred Thousand people.
These two events are goal posts that define our lives. Regardless of our identifies and affiliations above (three camps), we all share perennial wisdom that we have accumulated from our historical traditions, philosophies, and hard-learned lessons (wars, famine, disease, poverty, natural disasters). There is collective wisdom found regardless of perspective or religiosity that author Richard Rohr calls foundational wisdom. They are a calling to us in my view to live our lives as one family on the “common ground of tolerance, understanding, and love.” Each of these simple words comes with great responsibility.
Co-Vid 19 has forced us to acknowledge the fragility of our economic systems, our mortality, and the interconnectedness of the world.
America, for example, a nation that prides itself on individual responsibility and self-determination. We sometimes forget our humble roots and lessons that our forefathers took for granted. We have come face to face with the reality that personal responsibility and self-determination are not sufficient in the face of adversities that overwhelm families. We have been humbled by a temporary force grater than our us. The nation has enacted the most significant individual and corporate welfare act (called a stimulus package) to attempt to alleviate some of the pain felt by individuals and businesses whose very survival is threatened by this event.
As a nation, we are not willing to look at events every day that crush family during non-national emergencies (business closings, industries dying, addictions, medical crises, unexpected deaths). We have a haphazard safety net that is laden with arcane rules and negative social stigma. We blame the individual rather than the economic system that we have that does not ensure the fundamental dignity of life for all inclusively. In regular times, we practice the opposite of what we practice in times of great tragedy. Our nation needs to reconcile this contradiction. We are a great and resourceful nation. We can do better by our citizens and the citizens of the world.
Other nations have similar challenges built into their ideological systems. Geopolitically our shared international relations on trade, global affairs, and mutual understanding are and have been a tinderbox of violence igniting war, famine, and other terrible calamities throughout history. We will not fix this today.
The error of our time is Ideology is seldom humble. In our religion, our politics, and sometimes in our individualized thinking we can take positions with utmost absolutism because they are necessary to serve our self-interest, sometimes at the expense of our brothers and sisters’ well-being.
“When you truly know, the giveaway is that you do not know.” This contradiction presented by a daily meditation provided by spiritual writer Richard Rohr has truth in all spheres of life. Any field that requires extensive mastery teaches practitioners that learning never stops. Take the fields of medicine, engineering, or computer science. When learning stops and the practitioners become resolute and unmoving, they are on the descent to malpractice or malfeasance! They will not be at the top of their fields for long. If we do not see “Humility and Patience” in our behaviors, we are probably not on the right course.
The message for all regardless of orientation is to practice this collective wisdom actively with others and with oneself:
- Practice Tolerance, Understanding, and Love towards others and oneself
- Practice Humility and Patience towards others and oneself
- Recognize where these five simple words apply in our daily life
I choose this aspect of the Resurrection story as it highlights the challenges and responsibilities of being Christian as well as the challenges of the “common wisdom” mentioned above.
This Holiest of Holydays for Christians and me around the world was first revealed to Mary of Magdaline and other women who went to visit Christ Tomb. They are first addressed by an angel who reveals Jesus is not in the tomb, he has risen. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus himself meets them on the road and says: “Rejoice!” In their awe and shock, they fall at his feet in worship, and he tells them to “Do not be afraid, Go and tell My brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
The women did just that, and the disciples were skeptical. The Gospel of Luke describes the Apostles response:
“And their words seemed like to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them.” (Luke 24:11).
The Apostles, the most intimate and closest followers of Jesus Christ, instinctively demonstrate a lack of humility, tolerance, and love. Understanding and patience is not their collective first response. Peter rose and left the room and ran to the tombstone to verify for himself that the body of Jesus Christ was gone.
The Apostles themselves had plenty of foreshadowing and knowledge of what was coming, and yet they, the most prepared to receive the revelation of Jesus’s resurrection, were unprepared to believe what is held to be the central tenant of Christianity.
A common form of enriching prayer life is called “Lectio Divina,” which is in short – Read, Meditate, Pray, Contemplate. Without this practice, it may be hard to fully grasp the Apostle’s reaction without imagining yourself in their shoes.
As an engaged reader of both spiritual writing and works of fiction, I can join the narrative wholly in what is written and in my experiential reactions to what is happening in the story.
Placing myself into the inner circle of the Apostles, perhaps the unmentioned 13th Apostle, I was much confused and fearful after Jesus Christ’s death brutal death. I, along with others, am in hiding. Mobs of Jews and others have unleashed hatred and fury at anyone following Jesus Christ. I am abandoned and disbelieving that the man who performed so many miracles before my eyes died a week ago. I am not even sure what day it is today, we have been on the run for several days. I know I am not first among the apostles, but why would Jesus reveal himself to Mary and the other women before revealing himself as risen to any of the Apostles? I should have been there when he was crucified. I should of went to his tomb and saw for myself. Nobody will believe us even if we accept this as real. How can I, on the word of these women, say Christ has risen without any proof other than his body is missing from the tomb?
The Apostles got there proof later in the four gospel accounts. Each Gospel narrates the life and times of Jesus Christ from a different perspective, as great movies often replay scenes from the eyes of different characters within the film. Each character brings a more in-depth understanding and perspective to the evolving plot.
Mary of Magdaline was both within and outside the Gospels. She had the freedom to travel with the Apostles and outside of their circles as well. She had the privilege and courage to witness Jesus Christ’s execution. Burial and resurrection.
Unlike the Apostles or Mary of Magdaline, most of us do not have personal revelations of an Angel or Jesus Christ appearing before us visually and audibly. If we do, we are apt to chalk it up to massive spiritual imagination or perhaps brief psychosis!
Our words seem like idle tales to non-Christians when we speak about the resurrection, transubstantiation, and other beliefs and traditions that our faith holds sacred. If we were honest with ourselves and others, we would acknowledge that our knowledge of God is minuscule, and we have the same access to experience as they do regarding God’s ways. We have history. We have a sacred text. We have traditions and rituals. And we have collective wisdom that we all share.
Our practice of Tolerance, Understanding, Love, Patience, and Humility will serve our carrying the message of Jesus Christ far better than any preaching or theological explanation of our faith can. How we act towards everyone, on all matters big and small, is the measure of our faith.
As Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection bought revelation and redemption to all Christians, the suffering and deaths we are experiencing today bring us the opportunity to understand each other and seek redemption where appropriate from our fellow man and from God.
John Donne, Ernest Hemingway, or Metallica?
John Donne, a Catholic poet (late 1500s), concluded a poem with the same title above with “Therefore, send not to know For whom the bell tolls, It tolls for thee. Besides this famous poem, his last sermon was called “Deaths Duel,” pictured above.
Hemingway uses this title for the story of Robert Jordan, an idealist demolitions expert who fought as a volunteer in the Spanish Civil War. Hemingway’s father took his own life to allegedly escape a painful uncontrolled battle with diabetes. Hemingway himself accidentally shot himself with a shotgun one early morning. Most call it a suicide. By the way, the Catholic Poet above once wrote a piece defending suicide.
“Take a look in the sky just before you die, It is the last time you will, Blackened roar massive roar fills the crumbling sky, Shattered goal fills his soul.” Metalica music has to be heard, not explained: https://youtu.be/S93yQjQyVko. This rendition is with the San Francisco Symphony.
Death I am afraid of is all around us before we recognize we are on our own deathbed. It is alluded to in poetry, literature, music, and all of the arts. The obituary pages hold on even today despite declining ads and sales in the Newspaper industry. It frames our lives and gives value to our every passing moment.
I took a walk outside my house last night and glanced at a supermoon. My son had mentioned it earlier in the evening via phone as something to take in during this quarantine. Metalica’s song was on my mind. Thankfully, it was not my last viewing of the evening sky.
The peak rush is hitting my area now of people preparing to leave this earth unexpectedly. Emotions are raw and numb at the same time. Towns are ghostly. People are isolated. The Bell is Tolling for all of us, if not today, then tomorrow.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
I am not ready to say those words. I believe in God, but I do not have any grounding in the multitude of scriptural references that describe life after death. The mystery is despite the New Testament promises and the allure of other sacred text and many vivid depictions, still great.
It is natural to cling to the known and what we have when faced with the possibility of it all ending momentarily. When confronted with the potentiality of death, I, at least, conceptualize it all ending. That is a grave mistake! The demise of my flesh is imminent, but all those around me and the activities that surround me will continue on. And my faith captures it as a new beginning, with God’s grace, someplace other than Dante’s Inferno. And if I do not die, there is still this, the people I love or have loved have been killed or will die regardless. Loss awaits us all without an itinerary.
There is no escaping death. We must turn and face it together with the poets, the authors, musicians, and any others who give meaning to life by defining end.
It is common and unceasing, and yet each one of us that crosses that threshold is unique and essential in a way we all will never understand while we remain behind.
How do we face it? Know it is coming and value today. Do not dwell in the past or in the future. Celebrate the life of those around you while they are here to enjoy your company and laughter. Care for the poor and the sick. Eat, live, and pray. Say meaningless cliches! Let others anger roll off you and help them carry the weights that cause their rage and sorrow. We share everyone’s losses, tragedies, and suffering.
Let no trivial matter on your mind occupy space it does not deserve. Give appropriate weight to meaningful things. Act with intention and without delay, yet without the rush. Destiny is here. Right now. Cherish it even with its struggles.
If someone you know is going off to the hospital to fight for their lives, make sure to say your piece before they go. Not everyone gets to come home. And while we all wait at home for this to pass, if we are so lucky to do so, let us make amends and care for each other, as if tomorrow is not guaranteed. Perhaps words need not be exchanged, just little gestures or actions.
The sun is shining bright, and the sky is blue. The streets are empty and the shops mostly closed. The few people I saw on my bike ride were, like me, taking a walk or a bike ride, waving friendly hellos while maintaining social distance.
Sequestered again with the “work from home day over,” I hear my daughter teaching ballet virtually to youngsters in the other room. She is 17 and forgoing college this fall to pursue dance. If ever I doubted this passion, hearing her teach eliminated any doubts. She has a gift of purity of purpose and talent. She has to supply the discipline and hard work. And yet she knows there are no guarantees.
In my sanctuary within my home, I have several bibles, spiritual writings of church fathers, religious symbols, and candles. I light the candles when I purposefully set time aside to reflect, read, pray, and if the spirit moves me, write.
All the praying, reading, writing, and reflection are meaningless if I am not open to truly listening and seeking to understand how they apply to me when I leave this room. Richard Rohr writes, “All the stories of healing, transformation, awareness, and enlightenment that we find in the Bible come to people moving beyond the usual definitions of power (such as false power, temporary power, dominative power, or cultural power). He goes onto say that sacred text is not an end in themselves, but they must insert you into new and larger realities.
What is the true meaning of “trust in me” or “he who is first shall be last” as it relates to us right now in the reality of a pandemic? It can raise some fascinating questions when we go beyond the superficial verbal acceptance of scripture to its litmus test of how we face suffering and tragedy.
Scripture comforts us (trust in me) and challenge us (he who is first) with parables and contradictions that confound the best theologians. Some of them have been deemed heretics only later to be redeemed as more was revealed to humanity.
My daughter was all in next door, teaching a class via zoom. She is all in seeking to be a professional ballet dancer knowing the field is brutal and offers few opportunities. Some call it youth. I call it faith, not that she will make it, but that she is invited to take the journey. Ballet, like faith, gives us plenty of opportunities to come up short. It also offers young dancers plenty of opportunities to succeed in life, whether in performing arts or otherwise.
The path of faith is not about achieving sanctification or sainthood. The way is about living our calling and our destiny wherever that may lead us. Actively and consciously making small and large decisions in alignment with a discerning spiritual conscience can be both spiritually uplifting and spiritually demoralizing simultaneously. We do not know where the path will take us. Some holy people have demonstrated an ability to equally ride both uplifting graces and debilitating suffering with gratitude and humility as if they were the same.
They accept what comes to them unquestionably and toil to work with what they are given – bad or good. Today as a nation, we have plenty of suffering and struggle. It is easy to be faithful in good times, not so much in bad times.
St. Theresa of Lisieux went as far as to write, “It’s true that I wanted to suffer much for God’s sake, and it’s true that I still desire this.” Her suffering and seeking of suffering defy’s imagination.
How many of us are all in when it comes to faith? What does that look like alongside your secular career, community involvement, family life, or political orientation? There has to be alignment and clashes. We live in a secularly driven society with minor influences from multifaith communities and significant impacts from international political and economic drivers. Some of these forces, although perhaps well-meaning in the pursuit of progress or presence, can be hostile to our spiritual beliefs and values.
Our calling for most of us is a secular job, family chores and activities, community involvement, and other human relationships. These are our works of faith when carried out with the purity of purpose, talents developed, and hard work. Most of all, they are the most successful and meaningful when carried out as an act of spiritual practice and faith. As the dancer becomes one with the music and choreography, the worker becomes one with the spiritual grace bestowed on him and the task at hand.
This abstract jpeg above is available at the Wallpaper (thewallpaper.com) in the Abstract section. I am not a fan of modern abstract artwork. However, this one captures the thoughts I have been trying to convey.
A true work of Art is but a shadow of divine perfection in the background.
We are all artisans in our craft, whatever that is from the simple to the grandest. Our faith does not need to be on display. If it is in the background, it will show itself in the results, not as yours, but as something grander.
The churches are closed. Now, more than ever is a time to turn to the God of your understanding. Prepare a room, a corner, or a closet, and seek your spiritual self. It need not be complicated or lengthy. Simple, frequent, and genuine. Leave the rest to God.
Below is an idea for a war room for project management! What better project than reuniting with your soul during the quarantine. If you’re like me, cutting out 1/3 of the Co-Vid 19 news coverage will not hurt. Prayer, a simple conversation, a little reading, an openness to receive, and a little discipline to open the door to your heart. You need not go far.
Whether confronting suffering, loss, and death or dealing with the franticness of life, now is a good time to ground yourself in finding your spiritual self.
I am seeing a mix of responses to Co-vid 19 including the following behaviors:
- Rationale activation of personal resources, avid reading of scientifically-based information on Co-Vid, and preparing for the worst (acceptance and action)
- Denial and avoidance, superficial engagement with information, cavalier approach with social media memes or biased information sources with political spin
- Selfish isolationist view on how Co-vid 19 is negatively impacting social life, employment, and one’s own health without concern in thought or action to the national challenge and suffering or sacrifice of others
- Fear and dramatic expressions of outrage driven by lack of control of our environments, of our government’s response, and inadequate timely information
I hope the majority of us are living in Rationale Activation. This is difficult even for the most healthy and stoic amongst us. The reality of job loss, health threats, and social disruption are real. Death of loved ones is real. They are overwhelming real. There is good reason to be fearful.
This reality mixed with misinformation, political subterfuge, and delayed communications from employers, local government, and the federal government creates a sense of lacking knowledge that others have already. This is real too. Government officials at the Federal level had actionable information but did not inform us or act in time to minimize the threats we face today. This is a violation of the public trust given to our elected officials.
In the face of this, it is hard to tell you “do not be fearful.” Six million people applied for unemployment last week. They will suffer and have legitimate worries. In Delaware, the Co-Vid curve is just now accelerating. We cannot see it, but it is literally in the air all around us. None of us are immune from imminent tragedy and suffering.
And yet as FDR said, “there is nothing to fear but fear itself.” Our former President is right. He, however, joined the American people by initiating the New Deal to rescue American Workers abandoned by the reality of the crushing depression. We face the same challenge now economically and medically. We have to act collectively.
For the non-spiritual among you, perhaps meditation can provide some self-care. Try Tara Brach’s free rain series (https://www.tarabrach.com/facing-pandemic-fears/). I cannot fully recommend it as I have fallen into a deep peaceful sleep with some of the meditations. You can be spiritual as well – I only raise this as sometimes when we say turn to God, people can become very angry with our suggestion.
And yet, I ask you to turn to God. That is the only thing in our reality that is constant. That is the only place where we can find true peace. But don’t stop there. Return to Rationale Activation with spiritual discernment in your heart, prepared for what may come, as you join your family, friends, and community to facing suffering head-on collectively and together.
The reality is we are in for a long haul of personal and national tragedy. It is a wake-up call for us to transform our lives to what really matters, transform our society to be better prepared to serve all people, and prepare our souls for the present day and for the day when we have no tomorrows.
We instinctively may turn to “Fight, Flight, Freeze and Fawn responses” in the midst of overwhelming tragedy. We do not need to stay there. We can transcend our instinct and rise to demonstrate our courage, our compassion, and caring for neighbors, the sick, the poor, and the dying. We can share a tear now for those suffering that we cannot see. We can pray. And we can act.
We may not have the time to prepare as we sometimes do with other serious illnesses like the educational chart aimed at helping families prepare for potential loss of life due to cancer. I write to you to plead if you have not done so, to take the time out to feel and prepare for the immensity of this national tragedy. There are things you can do now to prepare yourself and your family for the unexpected or expected loss. You may not get the opportunity to prepare later. (https://psychcentral.com/lib/preparing-for-grief/). Do not fear – Act now. Call the ones you love. Write a letter. Prepare a will or advanced directive. Cleaning the garage can wait.
Know the facts: https://covid19.healthdata.org/projections is an interesting site that is providing data projections and supplies by state. Below is a CDC graph:
Over 1100 pages from 4 paperback books accompanied my journey in life the last few weeks amid Co-vid 19 news coverage. Routine readings also included educational readings, daily Washington Post stories, Jesuit America Magazine, spiritual readings, ancillary readings from other sources, and the morass of social media. I am not retired. I have a full-time consuming job, outside community commitments, and family the same as most. To what end do I find pleasure in reading books with so much available via other formats?
Detective Carl Morck was tracking a kidnapper/murder in the Nordic regions who have evaded notice for years (Conspiracy of Faith by Adler-Olsen). At the same time, Nathan Blum, a Polish American Jewish Immigrant who escaped Nazi purge, goes on a mission to break into Auschwitz and find a scientist for Bill Donovan and the American Manhattan Project (The One Man by Andrew Gross).
The Venerable Fulton J. Sheen evangelized from the grave through his book “The Mystical Body of Christ” as Jack Reacher landed in another town and ended up in between two to rival gangs controlling the city as he protects one old couple from financial ruin.
All four books, to an extent, have embedded the struggle between Good and Evil and man’s role in society in the face of great adversities. All four embrace imperfect people challenged to rise to be hero’s in their narratives and fight for a more significant cause than themselves.
The books provide me an escape from the realities of the struggles I face today while unearthing eternal truths hidden the fictional and spiritual writings of these authors.
Fulton describes in mystical language the unity of humankind: “The basis of the supernatural unity is Love, as is the basis of natural unity is being. What Being is to Metaphysics, that Love is to Theology—though we have not yet built our manuals around that central truth.” Detective Carl Morck, Natham Blum, and Jack Reacher all in their characters confront evil, explore suffering, and reveal Love as the end-all principle.
The real question, though, is, what was the best read among the four? I would love to say it was “The Mystical Body of Christ.” Sadly, it finished third! The One Man by Andrew Gross took first with sadly Jack Reacher Blue Moon finishing second. If any of you have read one Jack Reacher novel, you have read them all. The novel itself is several classes below the other three on the literary scales of depth, research, and innovative thought. That being said, I started it after the other three were well underway and finished it in three or four days!
Unlike the other three books, Jack Reacher novels simplify things and make things right by obtaining immediate justice by applying bone-crushing violence. Always the underdog saving the oppressed in some town before moving on to the next town, free and independent of any ties, intense and complicated in a typical American durable stereotype mold. His character speaks to our ability to solve things independently and directly – one bloody body at a time.
Preferable, I hope I am more like Nathan Blum if I ever get to be the hero in my own story. Detective Carl Morck just does not appeal to my nature, and Fulton Sheen is too dogmatically exacting for me to embrace fully.
Reading teaches us to look at the narrative arc of our lives and see if we are truly living up to the heroines or heroes, we would like to be when the time comes for someone else to write our epithet.
Get a good book online and spend some time reading while quarantined. Spiritual, Great literature, Fiction, or a page-turner, no matter. Be a hero or heroine today and stay home, isolate, and read a book!
“This is a random universe,” Reacher says. “Once in a blue moon things turn out just right.”
In the Catholic faith, we take Holy Communion very seriously. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops details the “Norms for the Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion under Both Kinds in the Dioceses of the United States of America“[i] at there website if you want to get a sense of just how serious we are about Holy Communion.
Our treatment of Holy Communion, amongst other things, separates us from many Christian denominations. We hold that through transubstantiation, the bread (Eucharist) and wine at Church are transformed into the actual body and blood of Christ – not just a symbolic recreation of the last supper. For many Christians and most Catholics, this mystery of the Catholic Church borders on insanity. It is a human belief and ritual, more so than real metaphysical transformation given to us by Christ himself. A recent Pew survey[ii] found to my surprise that only one-third of Catholics believe in transubstantiation.
I would be remiss and intellectually dishonest to say I do not have my reservations despite being a person who takes his Catholicism seriously. What I can declare is that the act of going to Mass and receiving Holy Communion demands utmost reverence, whether you see the sacrament as symbolic or the literal body and blood of Christ. The theological argument, although important, only would detract us from Christ’s message and the purpose of this post.
Before Co-Vid 19, I stopped taking the wine at Church and only receive the Eucharist. The idea of drinking from the same chalice as hundreds of other people at some point became unpalatable to me. The advent of Co-Vid 19 many others have joined me, and additionally, people have stopped shaking hands.
Now, America’s President has Declared a National Emergency and Delaware, my state, has declared a State Emergency. Delaware has six confirmed cases. Schools in Delaware are canceled for two weeks. Other institutions are canceling training, workshops, and events. Church, as of 11:38 P.M., is still scheduled tomorrow.
A prominent Jesuit Catholic Magazine contributor in America Magazine[iii] recommended Mass be canceled globally. I disagree. I believe the Pope should announce the obligation to attend Mass is lifted, and everyone is encouraged to attend Mass virtually. However, for the sick, the suffering and those in need, the doors are open. And then practice safety as best as possible in each parish, including changing how Holy Communion is distributed.
There are a lot of intelligent people out there trying to make the right decision in all sectors of society. Perhaps attending Church is a holy obligation regardless of risk and accept the risk as many martyrs before we have accepted their fate? Others may, in the depths of their soul, believe that true transubstantiation will take any germs out of the bread and wine through transubstantiation? On the flip side, it is not just our health that is at issue but that of our neighbors and society. Where is our responsibility there to limit unnecessary social contact until we know more or have successfully flattened the curve?
I am tired, stressed, and allergy-prone. The three of these combined can mimic the flu or co-vid virus early symptoms without much effort. Should I attend Church being in a state of lack of confidence that I could be coming down with the flu or Co-Vid 19? I have no idea. I had no idea on Friday and decided to go to work because I don’t like those people anyway. No, I am only kidding. I went to work after my allergy pill started working, and I felt great. We didn’t share wine and bread – though work would be a lot better if we did.
Co-vid 19 has made us all aware of how much we depend on small and large gestures and contact to remain and be connected in meaningful ways. A handshake, closeness that invites healthy intimacy, hugs, sharing food, laughter, and so many other rituals and customs unite us. Co-vid has shattered them in one mad dash across the globe. Everything we do has significance only as much as we can share it with other people. Co-vid 19 has allowed us to know what is essential in our lives as we are losing things we take for granted, and for some of us, we are losing people we love or our own health.
If it comes to that we stop worrying about toilet paper and job stress, about money and status, or other human concerns. We come to question the ultimate meaning of life in the face of its meaninglessness as an unseen virus takes what is most important to us.
We come face to face with suffering and fate. We come to grips with powerlessness. If we come out the other side of illness still here – as many who have conquered near-death experiences, we have an opportunity to be changed human beings through a spiritual awakening.
An unpleasant thought Ephiny just came to me. There are two ways to find God. We can by God’s grace have increased spiritual connectedness in life by seeking God out through prayer, mediation, and action. I believe this is the preferable path in my experience. I have taken another path as well where I have had an absence of faith. On that path, I found great suffering and meaninglessness that through God’s grace bought me back to path one, the preferable path. Don’t get me wrong, suffering exists on both paths, but I promise you the suffering on path one is superior in every shape and form to the hell on path two. Facing suffering without God is truly a miserable waste of time and a waste of ensuring pain. Faith transforms suffering no matter its cause. We know by experience adversity and struggling can bring families and nations together or break them apart. The same holds through for our relationship with God.
Let’s get uncomfortable together. How much pride and security do we get from the size of our paychecks, savings, and the things we own? It would be easy for me here to attack the one percent that have an outsized influence on global poverty and income inequality. I cannot affix blame on them uniquely as we support an economic system that legally sanctions and supports income inequality. Let me dial this back closer too home.
I am by my own spiritual measure, failing in the area of desiring more wealth and security. I aspire to productive principles of economy that are supported biblically to apply my trade honestly, work hard, and not be slothful. These are admirable and desirable traits that not only serve me and my family but serve society. This is not my sin or point of spiritual failure.
My lack of perfection is driven by my desire for financial security, my pride in what little wealth I may have, and my stinginess driven by fear of economic collapse. Again, to a degree, none of this is necessarily sinful as prudence and avoiding gluttony or wasteful behaviors is admirable as well.
It takes a negative turn though when my own financial security becomes more important than, well, what it should be! How much is enough? How much do I trust in God’s grace, God’s guidance, and God’s providence when it comes to money and material goods?
I fear economic failure. I am in my 50’s and have been provided for all throughout my life despite living below the poverty line in my youth – I was never left wanting. I have always had viable employment and never had any break in employment history – not even a week. And yet I am fearful of letting my family down or at not having provided my family enough. This fear is driven by the history of my own youth, insecurity, love, pride, and selfishness. The latter is not wanting to lose what I have or being covetous of what I do not have relative to others. Don’t get me wrong, for the most part, I have made my peace with material wealth and desire – but I am still not immune from fear and worry. The latter can influence my politics, my career choices, my charitable dollars, and my behavior for good or bad.
There is an exclusionary group that I cannot join called Resource Generation[i]. I am too old and too poor to join! I do not have the problems they have to face today. They are Millennials born to wealth that are uncomfortable with class privilege and committed to giving back wealth. The Washington Post[ii] reviewed this non-profit group that’s helping young rich people give away their money today. This article takes a cleaver to philanthropy and may challenge you to consider your affection for wealth. A line that caught my eye from Resource Generation guidance on giving:
“Give enough that it feels risky — if you feel comfortable, you’re probably not stretching enough. If you feel destabilized, it might be too much.”
If any of you have ever gambled with any seriousness you may recognize this philosophy. Professional gamblers that are successful play at stakes where they can temper a losing streak without going bust but not too low a stake that they cannot make enough profits to value their time and skill.
Problem gamblers will edge towards and past the point of betting that can “destabilize” their economic life. Both the professional gambler and the problem gambler use both prudence (hard numbers) and feelings (situational awareness and enjoying gambling). However, the problem gambler will put more emphasis on feelings and sensation than on hard numbers and prudence. If you feel your gambling is destabilizing your life consider calling the National Gambling hotline[iii] for education and support.
Should not our charitable dollar principle follow the same path? I don’t think I have ever walked into a church ready to lose 300 dollars as I have walking into some casinos or horse racing venues. Come to think of it, should I ever be wagering an entertainment dollar on a poker hand or a horse when that same dollar can be directed at a better cause than my own gambling sensation or my desire to increase my wealth (the latter is unlikely!).
How much is too much? I mentioned one-percenter earlier. In the United States, you need an individual income of about 328,000 dollars or a family income of 475000 dollars to be in the top one percent. However, must of us live in the top one percent globally, at least income-wise according to investopedia[iv], which by the way can sell you a course on how to invest to reach the worldwide 1%!
- An income of $32,400 per year would allow someone to be among the top 1% of income earners in the world.
- To reach the top 1% worldwide in terms of wealth—not just income but all you own—you’d have to possess $770,000 in net worth.
- The bar to enter the top 1% wouldn’t be this low were it not for the extreme poverty that so much of the globe endures.
Considering wealth and society is a moral and ethical responsibility for every society regardless of spirituality even without spiritual or religious affiliation attached.
My nation (United States) boasts a strong moral high ground of which 70% of our nation proclaims a Christian orientation with another 6% having affiliation with other religious traditions. That is 3 in 4 Americans hold religiously oriented values.
Christianity, Wealth, and America
President Jefferson[v] made his own bible by cutting out and pasting the words of Jesus Christ. I raise this as the Red Letters in the bible apply to all Christian denominations. There is no doubt that Christianity plays a major role in United States elections and policy formation. We all see politicians including the current Commander in Chief seeking the Christian base. Do our politicians, our policies, our economic system, and our Christian base support Christ’s teachings?
Today a group in Philadelphia called the Red Letter Christians[vi] focuses on Jesus Christ’s message and what it implies. Here is an excerpt from one of their articles on wealth by Shane Claiborne:
“In the radical economics of the early Christian church, it was said that God doesn’t look at how much you give, but how much you have left. They went so far as to say that if a Christian keeps more than they need while their neighbor has less than they need, the Christian is a thief. If we have two coats, we’ve stolen one. Or, as the apostle James put it in the New Testament, “True religion is caring for the widow and the orphan and keeping ourselves from being corrupted by the world.”
“Mark tells us [that] just as Jesus was setting out on a journey again, a man ran up to him, knelt before him, and asked, “Good master, what must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus answered, “Why do you call me good? Nobody’s good, but God alone. But you know the commandments: Do not kill; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not bear false witness; do not cheat; honor your father and mother,” and the man replied, “I have obeyed all these commandments since my childhood.”
Then Jesus looked steadily at him and loved him, and he said, “For you, one thing is lacking: Go, sell what you have, give the money to the poor, then come and follow me.” On hearing these words, [the man’s] face fell, and he went away sorrowful, for he was a man of great wealth.”
The NCR article explains this passage and Blessed are the Poor passage in depth. The article in my judgment seems to support we need not give away everything to be holy, but we do need to change our outlook on wealth and on the poor if we are to hold ourselves up to be Christian. Could we be more like Zacchaeus:
“When Zacchaeus the tax collector encountered Jesus, he immediately repented, pledging to give half his money to the poor. And, if he had defrauded anyone, he would pay him back fourfold. (See Luke 19:1-10.) Another author noted that Jesus rejoiced in this act, recognizing the reality of Zacchaeus’s conversion. He did not say, “That’s not good enough! You need to give away all your wealth!”
As an aside here, the recovery communities like Alcoholics Anonymous practice amends both materially and spiritually while recognizing limitations as well. They practice spiritual pursuit, not spiritual perfection. Financial matters are a serious component of recovery and spiritual happiness. The same applies to Gamblers Anonymous and other self-help groups. You do not need to be in recovery or have an active addiction though to be chained by financial gluttony and materialistic driven gluttony. You can still borrow from the recovery communities, practice spiritual pursuit, not spiritual perfection.
The questions still for me is heavy. How much of my excess earnings should go to my emergency fund, to my savings, to my children, to my debt reduction versus to my church, to the homeless, to poverty, to social justice causes, or other common good causes?
As long as I have any debt, and I have sufficient obligation, I am not comfortable with giving enough that feels risky even if it will not destabilize my economy! My debt does not stop me from giving to my church or causes, but it does limit my giving. What is your risk tolerance?
Let’s talk about debt. Our nation is a debtor nation. Under our current Commander in Chief, our deficit ballooned to nearly $1 trillion in 2019. Our individual debt is bad as well. See where you standard relative to your peers at debt.org (link below). Do you know what your DTI is today? The median household income hit $61,372 in 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s almost $20,000 more than it was in 2000. But the typical American household now carries an average debt of $137,063. That is not spoken about at parties. Americans do not honestly discuss financial struggles. They do vote out of fear though on messages of economic hope.
While most Americans have idealistic views on fairness and equality, at the end of the day most are struggling to make ends meet behind the white picket fences and cars with kids college stickers affixed. Throw in a layoff or medical scare and many families are thrust into financial crisis. Present a platform that raises taxes and speaks to other people’s needs and their vote might not be Christian-centric.
Am I willing to vote for politicians or support policies that will hurt me financially but help the common good locally or internationally? I have voted this way, and it is never a clean slate as no candidate meets the Jesus Christ standard, but sometimes I do have reservations.
Selfishly – why should up and coming kids get free college education when others still have college loans? Will raising minimum wage deflate my earnings by dollar inflation, making my purchasing powerless? Seen from a selfish perspective, there are many local and international policies that I would not support – but from a humanitarian and spiritual perspective, I should be advocating for actively. Are any of our leaders today champions for the common man or for the oppressed? Do people even recognize these figures today?
The current second choice for the Democrat nomination is a Jewish candidate whose policies mirror the Beatitudes of caring for the poor and addressing economic inequality. The Christian base is apt to call him socialist and radical as Jesus was labeled in his time. The front runner Christian Democrat has more centrist policies shying away from “risk” and “stretching” policies to change toward a more humane nation but nationally and internationally. The Commander in Chief’s economic policies are in direct opposition to the Beatitudes as are many of his other policies. Three choices, all fallible, none nowhere near perfection. The debate also includes how much can our nation give and stretch without jeopardizing our “destabilization” risk to our country? Americans are worried and are driven by fear economics.
Let me give you a little secret if you have read this far – you deserve it. Every time in life I have weighed giving money that was risky for me (not in my budget or a loan that I would probably never get back) and still gave it I was always repaid in ways I would never have foreseen but financially and spiritually.
If I give only what is comfortable is it really giving or only feeding my own sense of moral righteousness? What portion of my check should go to taxes that make America a greater place for everybody? How should America support and lead the world on issues of world poverty and income inequality? These are Christ-centric questions. It is easy to answer the ten commandments and thou shalt not kill. After that – things get interesting.
You and I are the 1 percent by world wealth standards or by proxy as we support income inequality worldwide. Standing up to this will and is risky and a stretch. In the meantime, we have the opportunity to give our time and money to good causes. Before you do that though, balance your own books as well! In the end everything is connected.
The Coronavirus (Co-vid 19) has already influenced my personal life, financial well-being, work stress, political outlook, and spiritual life without a sniffle. Personally, do I want to attend this event with twenty or so people, young and old, spreading the common cold like candy? Is eating out the thing to do? The gym, a cesspool of germs before Coronavirus, is now a gauntlet of anxiety. This week’s market drops have hurt my college savings and retirement funds. Thousands of dollars wiped off the ledgers.
Employment jitters as we have forced contact with colleagues and the public in tight settings, and almost always, someone has the remnants of illness on display. How will an outbreak affect our business operations? Our health? All of these things speak to life’s temporal nature and our vulnerability to forces greater than ourselves.
The spiritual life is our only constant – or is it! It is our constant but not perhaps in the manner we may think. While God may remain unchanged, the way we seek God and relate to God and each other is always changing. The rituals and traditions are constantly influx as more is revealed to us. As humanity, our spiritual arch continues to grow and develop, albeit in dynamic tension with irresponsibility and inhumanity toward each other. Little things can change the rituals and traditions as subtlety as they became mainstays in our lives.
Today the handshake tradition is under assault. In the middle of the Catholic mass, it is used to express “Peace be with you” to those around you in the church. When expressed in its deepest meaning, infused with the sharing of the mystical body of Christ and combined with a gentle or firm handshake and eye contact, it can be a powerful spiritually reaffirming moment of unity.
Today the moment passed without comment as people universally expressed the phrase verbally with perhaps a gesture or a wave. This is not uncommon for some to bypass the handshake. It was obligatory if you knew you had a cold or sometimes medically fragile people would smile and exchange the verbal substitute. Today though, touch was universally avoided without announcement or decree. Today may be the death of the handshake. If it is, it is a sad day. Touch is a primal need we have from infancy to our time on our deathbeds and everything in between. This, too, may pass and return to normal, but I fear it is not so.
Less surprisingly, the shared wine was also left untouched by many, opting only for the Eucharist wafer. Theologically the body and blood of Christ (bread and wine) are one – so if you have only one, you have received the other. Still, the celebration and the transformation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ (Transubstantiation) is perhaps the key ingredient of what distinguishes Catholicism from other Christian denominations. Regardless of the definition of the merits of is the wine the actual blood of Christ or a symbolic connection to the last supper, it is another ritual or tradition under assault.
Attendance was also a little lighter for this Lenten period. A town a little south of my home actually has a drive-in church. Perhaps their attendance is virus-proof! Let us watch mass from our homes on the big screen and have amazon deliver the host and wine by drone!
The Co Vid 19 has made me aware of the subtle power of traditions and rituals and what could be lost if they were not present. It also has heightened my awareness of our shared mortality. These inconveniences are good problems to have to wrestle with today.
I am not quarantined on a cruise ship wondering when I will get the virus or if I already have it. I am not in intensive care playing through my life memories and wondering what I will miss if I am called home. No one I know personally right now is on their imminent deathbed from this virus or other life-threatening concerns, though many of us are but a whisper away.
What can we do? Pray, buy good hand sanitizer, have gratitude for today, and leave the rest to God!
An appeal to Catholic Right to Life Republicans to join the Democrat Party
How is that for a non-starter lead-in statement. Right off the bat 70% or more Catholic Right to Life Republican readers have turned to stone, their ears have been covered, and eyes closed. I understand. The issue of abortion is too painful, and the position staked out too entrenched. I am not, however, asking any Catholic Right to Life advocate to give up the issue of Human Dignity, including Abortion. I am asking you to fight harder for human dignity for all people.
Victor Hugo’s Prisoner 24601 in the infamous Les Misérables stole a loaf of bread to feed his nephew[i]. Theft seen as a singular act with or without context is wrong. Amplify the sin a thousand-fold, abortion with or without context is wrong. The challenge, however, is do we judge and apply justice blindly without context solely informed by the moment the crime was committed or do we own our social responsibility and address the entirety of the issue that led to an individual being in a position to feel the need to steal that loaf of bread or obtain that abortion (legally or illegally).
It is cheap grace to stop at labeling the offender a criminal or murderer and not addressing the issues that put millions like them in the position to consider committing a crime that we may see as unfathomably. We cannot throw the first stone until we have done our due diligence to eradicate the conditions that shape our inhumanity to each other.
Catholic Social Thought requires seeing, judging, and action. These are ideas are core Catholic ideas that the Jesuits practice today. Pope, after Pope, has turned to the Jesuits for fighting the intellectual and theological battles of Christian thought since the inception of the order and during the counter-revolution (fighting for the Catholic Faith’s authenticity with the rise of Protestant ideas, Martin Luther, and the enlightenment secularization of society). Catholic Social Thought is broken up into four distinct areas of study and action and supported by 40 concept papers here on every aspect of modern-day life today:
- The Principle of Human Dignity
- The Principle of the Common Good
- The Principle of Subsidiarity
- The Principle of Solidarity.
Pick any hot button topic of American politics and culture and go to this Jesuit site:
My fellow Republican Catholics, consider the concept paper on Catholic Social Thought and Human Dignity. It addresses not only Human Life, but Human Rights, Human Development, and Empowerment. Without the latter three, we will not eradicate the lack of respect for the value of every Human Life, with or without laws supporting our beliefs. Alienated, impoverished, and oppressed people who are treated with a lack of dignity and lack of access to societal resources are apt to value life in the same way society values them. I do understand that even if we correct our systemic and cultural mores that devalue life that there will still be those that will choose to devalue life despite being given every respect and access to Human Dignity that our society has to offer. They would be the exception, not the norm. Let us have strong laws commensurate with one’s ability to follow those laws.
My fellow Republican Catholics, consider the concept papers on Hunger, Health Care, Global Financial Systems, Distributive and Restorative Justice, and others. The Democratic Party needs your strength and faith to bring these social teachings to life in addition to the teachings on Human Dignity. These teachings are not the teachings of the Democratic Party, Socialism, or Bernie Sanders. These teachings are “Rooted in the Scriptures and the teaching of the Catholic Church. Catholic Social Teaching represents a developing tradition which includes organic and systematic reflection on social realities, ethical principles, and application of those principles to current circumstances.” 1
The truth is the Democratic party is paralyzed with the abortion issue. They cannot address with any substance improving Human Dignity issues as they recognize social realities prevent them from simply criminalizing actions that are often acts of human desperation and misery. They seek a remedy put forward to address the causal agents of societal indecency and inhumanity. Without the strength of Republican minded individuals who possess both a strong Catholic ethic and business ability to transform systems, the Democratic party may continue to pursue unobtainable social change. They need you. We need you. The Republican party will not support the bulk of Catholic Social teachings. Read the papers and you will agree.
At the end of the day, after you have read, you may still be immobilized or unconvinced to switch your vote or your party. I understand that sometimes our identity can chain us past what is good for us even if we recognize our party has lost its way. If you can’t join the Democratic party, maybe you can transform the Republican Party to its former integrity and make the party the pallbearer for all Catholic Social Teaching.
If that is too much to ask, as I have been amongst strong republican supporters where dialogue is unwelcome, perhaps quietly pushing a different lever or not voting at all will send a temporal message that you do not support a presidency or a party that does not support Catholic Social teachings in action or policy.
We still have had only one Catholic president. No worry – these Social Teachings to Christian theology as well!
Make the party of Lincoln, Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Reagan, and Bush (the father) come alive again and bring ethics back to the White House. Bring Christian and Catholic decency and ethics to public discourse and policy. Bring back the scientist and the informed vote. Bring back America fighting for global issues and global humanity. You can do it, my fellow republicans – within your party or in mine.
At the end of the day, we are all for Human Dignity.
A bishop advised his priest to not vote in primary in Minnesota. The stated reason is not that priest should not exercise their vote but that others may become aware of their vote. The latter could cause controversy and attract or push people away from the church?
Following that logic as mini priest, for we all are called to live our faith and love God before mans laws, would it not be best we left the political arena as Christians? Could we not spread our Christian ethos by attraction, by our actions, and by God’s divine mercy and divine providence?
Is my vote worth the distance it puts between me and “the other half.”
I have drawn a conclusion that I must vote. One vote thrown into the sloppy abyss competing visions with neither vision embracing a Christ centric platform.
In politics I must settle for candidates that represent the most practical advancement of all Christian Social Teachings. It is not sufficient to be pro-life if you than ignore the dignity of life once born or as our elders face the vicinity of deaths door. Nor is it sufficient to rally for social justice and ignore the unborn or death row criminal.
In life, I do not have to settle how I respond to the call of a Christ centric life. I may have to moderate my actual accomplishments and current status versus my god given potentiality. In all likelihood there is a significant gap between who I am now versus God’s desire for my spiritual actualization.
At the same time, humbly accepting I am not martyr material. I am not destined for sainthood. I am not fit for the monks life or priestly cast. I am not a charismatic leader of the masses or an intellectual theologian who has yet to be discovered!
There still remains a nagging desire to withdraw from secular society that is increasingly, sometimes with legitimate cause, anti-catholic or theism of any kind. A recent book entitled the Benedictine Option captures the essence.
Christians must learn to live the a Christian life in a anti-Christian society. Simply withdraw into communities within communities. Live and love a Christ centric life with a smaller audience. Change the world by changing ourselves. The rest will come by attraction if we even only achieve 1% of our potentiality to live a sanctified life.
Only I have not been called to withdraw from secular life. I have not been called to be silent either. Perhaps my voice and my vote is by divine providence joined by others to serve as a ballast of Christian values within the larger vessel of secular life?
Withdrawing is not an option. But nor can I skewer and judge those I perceive to be anti-humanity, anti-God, and most importantly, anyone disagreeing with my wisdom!
Ah, don’t we all want to be captains in the bridge? Or perhaps sailing a small vessel? There is no refuge while we are bound by our self-will and the will of the “other,” no matter how misinformed they maybe!
Together we must learn to row in troubled waters.
My page is dark. I have travelled deep into the forest while remaining in the company of others, working, toiling, loving. The silences between my writings are not absences of thoughts, only absences of thoughts worthy of the toil of exploration and expression.
Momentary emptiness, aloneness, silence screaming. Peace. The sentiment is I have gone as far as I can go. The path back to secular concerns is necessary as is the suffering, joys, and bewilderment that is our human condition.
Back to mundane task, simple prayers, reading the spiritual insights of others, and living in and of this world as I turn the corner towards home.
This moment will pass and may prove to be pure folly, but for right now, everything is insignificant other then doing the next right thing over and over again on the journey back home.
Perhaps that was always the principle hidden by my distance from the quietness of the forest.