No Man is an Island by Thomas Merton

If only we could be an Island onto ourselves the realities of our personal, financial, and socio-political situation would be but just a minor annoyance no greater than an industrious fly begging for our attention.  We could be lost in the solitude of spirituality – one with God in a romantic monastery living a simple life – provided physical and spiritual sustenance by God’s providence.  Unless called to this lifestyle with irrefutable thunderous revelations – for most of us this would be benign spiritual selfishness, perhaps malignant if at the expense of some greater calling that we have ignored.

That luxury is not afforded to ordinary man – and I have an intuition that the solitude and serenity comes at a greater price than most of us are willing to pay.  For most of us, spirituality and oneness with God comes from how we deal with others.  In a word, love for our fellow man.   And even this is easily corruptible if we fall prey to self-sanctification by our self-sacrifice for others.  How saintly am I today?   Shall I give everything I have for the other?

“Heroism in this sacrifice is measured by madness:  it is all the greater when it is offered for a more trivial motive.”  Pg. 15

It is easier to be heroic when it is romantic to do so; the reward is great, or simply the accomplishment self-affirming. There is a place for this heroism.  It still has a measure of honor and not to be substituted for cowardice or simple indifference in the face of another’s adversity.

The spiritually heroic abandon themselves to the “economy of Divine Providence.”   What the hell is Divine Providence?

“I must let faith elevate, heal, and transform the light of my mind.  If he is merciful, and if my freedom is a gift of His mercy, I must show my trust in his mercy by making use of my free will.  I most let hope and charity purify and strengthen my human liberty and raise me to the glorious autonomy of a son of God.” Pg. 16

This is where heroic actions get very tedious.  They may not be well received, acknowledged or noticed.  Worse yet they may be noticed and denounced and attract great trouble and discontent.  They act without an expectations or ownership of being the creator of the action – for the hero is simply acting on what he knows has to be done as a result of sincere contemplation and rigorous honesty with himself (or herself) and his/her God .  It is a way of life that is applied to every action – big or small, and yet humbly completed without drawing attention to one self, unless called to do so.

What is not heroic?  We are given so many decisions to make daily in our personal, financial, and socio-political spheres of influence.  Should not our actions and voice be heard and informed by our conscience?   Our actions are not heroic if we take moral short-cuts – if we fail to dive into the complexities and moral conundrums of our time, knowing that we will inevitably fall short of attaining perfection or even near perfection.  How often have we fallen to the following moral short-cut:

“The immature conscience is not its own master.  It is merely the delegate of the conscience of another person, or a group, or a party, or a social class, or of a nation or of a race. Therefore it does not make real moral decisions of its own; it simply parrots the decisions of others.  It does not make judgements of its own, it merely “conforms” to the party line.” Pg. 27

How often have good people been led astray by powerful nation states, charismatic leaders, political party, or religious fanaticism?    How holy is our current president’s actions (United States), beliefs, and policies?  There is a contingent in the United States that stand by this man for their sense of self-righteousness and for perceived gains in their own economic being and sense of power.  Could they really support this President of their conscience allowed them to do a truly deep dive into his behavior and his policies?  I think not.  In situations like this, let me quote Merton again:

We must withdraw ourselves, to some extent, from effects that are beyond our control and be content with the good will and the work that are our expression of our inner life.”  Pg. 118

This does not mean withdraw entirely or to assume without a pause that our position is the right and holy position.  While we maybe sanctified in truth we are equally at risk to use our knowledge to be proud:  “knowledge puffeth up” our sense of importance.

It is with humility that we most find our way.  We have guidepost all around us.  Thomas Merton says, “We judge the invisible reality of His Will by the visible and sometimes contemptible signs which show us where His will is found.”

There are simply too many good quotes in this book to capture in this blog.   Merton goes to great depth to depict the balance between interior purity (pursuit of) and external attention.   He finishes with a startling foray into the moment of our death.  If it comes to us as an unwelcome stranger we have probably failed to manage the balance between interior purity and external attention.  (Pg. 263)

A great primer for understanding prayer, conscience, gratitude, sincerity, humility and pursuit of being in the proximity of a holy life.

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Cathedral Basilica, Philadelphia

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A minor Basilica located in the heart of Philadelphia, originally built for 75,000 , now is facing a roof repair that cost upwards of 14 million dollars! It is a national historic landmark, a museum, and soon to be home of a shrine for St. Katherine Drexel (http://www.katharinedrexel.org/), and is also an active but aging parish.  
After mass today my wife and I enjoyed a tour of the church.  What a wonderful and instructive tour.  The church, aside from its own splendor, is also a repository of sculptures and artwork from smaller churches that have ceased to be.  As the Catholic church as seen diminishing numbers and the cost of maintaining churches has sky rocketed, valuable and impressive church artifacts are found new homes, including moving saints crypts.   

The mass was classical in style and included beautiful music played on the fourth largest organ in the city:  

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Afterwards the artwork and many alcoves tell so many stories of our faith.  Historically art was a way of storytelling and communicating the faith – etched in glass, ceramic, or painted on walls and ceilings.   

ceiling

 

I was also able to sit in the same chair as Pope Francis did when he visited and said Mass on Ben Franklin Parkway.  I think it’s the robes that gives him the air of authority and grace!    
A common theme in my writings always returns to a principal.  A principal I try to teach to up and coming social workers as well.  Often, it is not the words or the glamour of the presenter, the oration or eloquence, the skill level or technique – but genuine compassion, demonstrated empathy, and consistent authenticity.   How are we living today.  Are the American people and our elected leaders practicing genuine compassion, demonstrated empathy, and consistent authenticity?   Pope Francis has challenged us on several fronts as individual Christians and as a nation that we are not living or acting as a Christian nation in the areas of compassion, economic stewardship, social welfare, environment, and many other intrinsic values of Christianity.  Christianity is so much more than Pro-Life – and he has criticized us on that too in many dimensions regarding the value of life on all fronts.  
The church has frequent homeless individuals hiding in the confessionals to get some sleep and un-harassed peace.  The a.m. mass before ours had a homeless person taking one of the contribution baskets and fleeing out with a few dollars in the middle of mass – a common problem in this church that has its share of homeless and impoverished people in the community.   One statue requires a rosary bead to be present – it is replaced daily as it is always taken by visitors to the church. People are desperate and hungry for grace and for food, housing, shelter.  
My thoughts and prayers to the immigrants we are shunning, to the homeless we are ignoring, to the poor who are hungry, and to the spiritually starved who have lost faith in humanity and in God.   I pray with tears in my eyes that we as a nation find humility in our hearts, courage to accept the risk of being true leaders, and strength to demand we treat all people with dignity.   

Here is one of today’s readings.  Read and Reflect if you have time:

Reading 2, First Corinthians 1:26-31
26 Consider, brothers, how you were called; not many of you are wise by human standards, not many influential, not many from noble families.
27 No, God chose those who by human standards are fools to shame the wise; he chose those who by human standards are weak to shame the strong,
28 those who by human standards are common and contemptible — indeed those who count for nothing — to reduce to nothing all those that do count for something,
29 so that no human being might feel boastful before God.
30 It is by him that you exist in Christ Jesus, who for us was made wisdom from God, and saving justice and holiness and redemption.
31 As scripture says: If anyone wants to boast, let him boast of the Lord.

 http://cathedralphila.org/about/about-the-cathedral/

 
http://cathedralphila.org/

 

A Monk In The World: Cultivating A Spiritual Life by Wayne Teasdale

“The homeless live in virtually every city and town around the globe, representing a sixth of humanity — or about a billion souls.  Like ghost, they haunt the busy thoroughfares of the world.”

If you read nothing else in this post except this quote that is okay.  Please contemplate and pray for these billion souls in whatever spiritual tongue you possess and cherish.

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Teasdale doesn’t get to the homeless until chapter six:  “Light in the streets:  The urgent call of the homeless.”  The first five chapters he spends on spirituality, mystical experience, the church, friendship, world order, preciousness of time, sacredness of work, and the value of money.  A decent read on challenges of everyday life to the spiritual life.   But most of us are not called to the monastic life and have to “make due” in an environment that is sometimes outright hostile to your beliefs.

Homelessness is only a small portion of the book that is examining how to live a contemplative and spiritual life amidst the chaos of living in the real world (as opposed to a monastery or a hermit in the desert.  However, the epic issue of homelessness and our aversion to the problem is an epitome of the failure of globalization and extreme capitalism.

Teasdale explains through his own life experience the labor of belief, both vertical and horizontal life challenges, internal and external challenges, mortality, and earthly limitations.  He goes a step further to address the commonalities of religious and the calling to unite ecumenical movements to address poverty in our times.

In the U.S our current administration is focused on recovering a perceived lost edge in the global economy and focus on removing protections that may hinder capitalism’s acceleration while also instituting protectionism for corporations in the U.S, reducing oversight that protects the safety and fair wages of the working class, while targeting immigrants and other countries as villains to support a political message and a rallying call to desperate Americans.   At the same time, the administration itself is at war with the free press and unapologetically creating alternative facts without regard for truth in the slightest.  The irony is the leadership had or has (I don’t know which) the support of bible belt believers, if not,publicly, than secretly.

Nowhere in our administration’s current platform is a call for social justice, a call to help the poor of this nation and/or other nations, responsible stewardship of the planet, and other callings that Christians worldwide, including the Pope of the Catholic church, hold as core values.  Instead we have a militant and protectionist mantra of “America First.” And a minority of the population is okay with the absence of compassion and outright villainizing of anything or anyone that opposes the administration’s viewpoint.  I do not know how this adheres to our Christian heritage in the manner in which America’s voice is being heard today in the world.  Our current political establishment is putting profits of the super elite above community and pitting the community against each other internally and externally through inflammatory language and almost messianic message about doom and gloom.

It is and has been my life’s calling to work with the impoverished and under-represented “sentient beings.”  I use this phrase to bring to life that the poor, the disenfranchised, the homeless, the immigrants, the LGBTQ individuals are not labels but real, spiritual beings with a consciousness and share of our collective resources and our God.

It is possible to be this horrific in the political sphere when the public is distanced from spiritual grounding and meaningful caring of thy neighbor and all sentient beings regardless of race, color, creed, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, or nationality.

If our nation was as spiritual and committed to Christianity as many report – our politicians would not have the license they do today to lie outright time and time again without repercussion.

The book aptly ducks the big questions and focuses on individual tools and pray for cultivating the spirit in the face of such adversity and calls on religious institutions to show more courage in standing up for moral convictions.  The church has failed in this area before — in Germany and in other places and times.  I pray we do not fail again.

The immensity of the issues often give way to powerlessness and despair for believers. That is why an interior pray life and mindfully living in a spiritual manner is so critical for believers today now more than ever.

One believer at a time.  

One good deed at a time.  

One letter of advocacy.  

One voice in the crowd.

You decide where you can make a difference.

 “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26

Book Review:  7 of 10 (not one of my favorites but a decent read)

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