Becoming Who You Are:  Insights on the True Self from Thomas Merton and Other Saints by Martin SJ, James

Father James Martin is a priest-author that I find writes in manner that leads one to understand the mystery of Christ and provides tools that help the believer (or unbeliever) deepen their faith.[i]  In a mere 90 Kindle pages (90 minutes) he makes the case to invite you to become a saint!  This book is a great way to skim the surface of pursuing a deeper faith.

boat

My reflections – applying this book to my journey with God

“Find your own Calcutta”[ii]

Inevitably we will suffer in this life from spiritual, physical, and mental anguish.  Our own suffering and perhaps more importantly the suffering of others, left unattended can take us away from God.  When Mother Teresa says above, find your own Calcutta, she is speaking about helping others who are suffering.  Helping others is a powerful spiritual experience but likely will fall short of providing a sustained peace unless we have been attuned to our own suffering and our response to these trials as well.

My own suffering took the form of alcoholic parents, addictions in the family, untimely deaths, shattered confidence and self-esteem as a youngster and young adult, varying degrees of speech fluency, micro personal defeats, and my struggle with alcohol, periods of crisis of faith, and numerous bouts with the seven deadly sins.  The latter I shall define as self-imposed suffering as these biblical sins drive pain and misery in human kind.

77bfa26a-7aeb-434b-8aa9-ea8f783c5610_560_420

[iii]

My faults are not glamorous or dramatic enough to warrant an Augustinian biography.  My suffering is not uncommon to many.  Relative to others my ability to claim martyr status is pathetic.  They are enough though to deflate pursuit of seeking a holy life – never mind being a saint.     The dialectic of suffering imposed by external uncontrollable events and suffering self-imposed is a surgical cleaver that separates many from faith.  Not to mention failing at to carry such little weight (suffering) relative to what the Saints have carried is very crushing indeed.  How can Father Martin invite the likes of me to be a Saint?

“But no one leads that proverbial “charmed life.”  Everyone’s life is a full measure of graces and blessings, as well as struggles and challenges.  And if we consistently compare our own complicated reality with the supposed perfection of another’s life, is it any wonder that we wish we were other than who we are?”[iv]

It is easy to forget this when in the throes of life.  Father Martin mentions that Merton and Nouwen had the following in common:

“… a lifelong process of self-examination and self-criticism and self-revelations had a point; it was not simply a narcissistic quest for self-knowledge.  Rather, it was a discipline undertaken to allow them to become more loving and more centered on God.”[v]

It is here where I can take refuge, in contemplation.  In contemplation I can take stock in my calling and have gratitude for my many blessings – including my struggles.  In many ways my struggles and suffering have defined who I am today:

“More often than not, those very weaknesses are the most important paths to holiness, because they remind you of your reliance on God.”[vi]

They have provided me with humility and strength that have fueled my passion in the field of social work.  I have had, to date, an excellent career with 14 wonderful years serving homeless families and 13 years serving consumers living with severe and persistent mental illness.  The work I have done with them within my limited role and skill set is not mine.  It has been built on the struggles I have had, suffering experienced, education provided, and skillful people that have surrounded me that both enabled me to lead and provided leadership when needed.  It is daunting work and continues to evolve and call me to serve a different role – none of which has been natural to me. Yet time and time again I am provided with alliances and intelligent people that support the calling I have – to advocate and provide services to vulnerable populations in the most respectful and passionate way possible.  My vocation is one calling.  Interestingly my faith and beliefs are not on stage in my work.  I work alongside people of different faiths and no faith at all.  In a way, I am a “hidden contemplative,” in plain sight doing God’s work (provided I am doing it well).  I also have a calling as a husband, a father, and a community member.  Each of those comes with responsibilities and challenges as well.

mylittlewayistheway

Father Martin quotes St. Therese of Lisieux to make the point that living a saintly life within your calling in life is indeed possible.  “The Little Way” is in doing what you do, whatever that maybe, doing it well.  Whatever you do it is indeed difficult to consistently and persistently do it well over a long period of time – especially if it is deemed a little thing!   How many of us secretly want to be great writers, mystics, or the best in our fields – to do great things worthy of public admiration?  We are all not called to live the life of a hermit, to be great authors, to be priest, martyrs, or the best in our fields.  Thank goodness for that as we cannot be what we are not – we can only be ourselves.  Our strength is in our diversity and our interdependence.

Seeking a contemplative daily prayer can be very simple.[vii]    I have recommended before and will recommend again here the “Daily Examen” below from St. Ignatius.   All of the above is based on a firm willingness to seek God, and for this writer, to seek Jesus Christ.

Take a look today at all your actions and thoughts.  If you had the opportunity to change any of them by applying “What would Jesus think, say or do” would you have acted differently?  And if your answer is yes, do you have the courage to do so and the perseverance to continue to refine your being to be aligned with spiritual calling?    And if you found nothing to be changed – are you truly honest with yourself – or are you not taking on a greater calling that will present you with even greater challenges?

Are we not all fallible perfectionists at heart?

perfection

Don’t Despair – find a Daily Prayer routine:  

  1. Become aware of God’s presence. 
  2. Review the day with gratitude. 
  3. Pay attention to your emotions.
  4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
  5. Look toward tomorrow.

 

[i] https://www.facebook.com/FrJamesMartin/

[ii] Mother Teresa pg 85

[iii] https://www.google.com/search?q=seven+deadly+sins&rlz=1C1TSNJ_enUS718US718&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwicu5WE5-bVAhVJ34MKHeNSCo0Q_AUICigB&biw=1366&bih=589#imgrc=SMCez42iRpEcPM:

[iv] Pg. 30

[v] Pg. 57

[vi] Pg. 86

[vii] http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-examen

 

Mercy? Self-Compassion?

“And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  Micah 6:8

A simple calling that many of us aspire to practice in all our daily affairs.  Micah is ancient, from the Old Testament, 686 B.C., telling us the importance of justice, kindness, and humility.

We may secretly believe we are doing a fine job – or may even boast of our temporal success!  The latter instantaneously crashes our spiritual intentions before our vocal cords cease vibrating, before the words form, before sounds from the air on our God given breath escape our mouth, our humility is lost.

If only we had errors of omission to be concerned about perhaps we could get a pass for these transgressions.  What about our active permission or even execution of unjust acts, meanness, a simple claim of moral superiority or self-righteous indignation.

We are a long way from Micah’s days and have had generations to lose our sense of spirituality, of universal truths, of a desire to have and maintain a conscious contact with God.  So far removed are we as a people that we are numb to micro and macros transgressions we see every day — hunger, poverty, oppression, violence, and the many forms of the seven deadly sins.  Even if we were to claim that we are powerless over the society in which we live, we still have our own individual actions which no doubt fail not only God’s standards, but our very own watered down standards, which at the slightest provocation, can be adjusted to meet our sense of our grandiose circumstances.  Our afflictions are so high even Job would tremble to be in our shoes.  Sometimes I think he actually might be trembling for our human condition these days.  All is not lost.

Author Anne Lamont presents a solution for our miserable actions in her book Hallelujah Anyway.  As far as I can tell Anne has had plenty of challenges herself (mental health, alcoholism, and trauma) in her life and has come out the other side with a career of multiple successful books.

This book takes a look at the “lingering effects of Trauma and Paralyzing Fear” on people’s ability to live a holy life and maintain a conscious contact with God – or even to maintain a conscious contact with their own sense of self.  Mercy and forgiveness are foundational:[i]

Practicing Mercy towards others and towards yourself is the answer she defines for all the broken souls that are seeking peace.  Anne Lamott says “Mercy is radical kindness.” This is not a unique concept for excellent health – it has many authors from many different fields promoting its value.

Kindness

Starting with oneself is almost always a good idea.  I know several of my weaknesses can be captured by Thomas Merton’s broad stroke of a pen:

“Knowing at the same time the weakness and imperfection of my own soul fettered by attachments, I will above all pray earnestly and humbly for the grace without which I can never hope to conquer my impatience, irritability, aggressiveness and self-righteous impulses to judge and punish other men.”[ii]

I have not lost these negative traits since reading his book, though I like to believe, I have arrested and entangled their freedom to run rampant without circumspection, constraint, or outright arrest!  And what about all the resentments of others past – and those current, that show no restraint or awareness at all of the harms they are committing?

How am I to cope with my own fallibility while also contending with historical “trauma and fear,” current stressors and insecurity, and outright insanity of other people?

Mercy

It is not just the old man Micah that recommends Mercy.   The Bible has many references to a Merciful God.[iii]  Understanding the importance of mercy and forgiveness is a lifelong journey and can cover quite a broad terrain of concrete action.[iv]    If you prefer a psychological look at Mercy and Forgiveness perhaps “The Enright Process Model of Psychological Forgiveness” can shed some light on the power of Mercy or at least the how to approach Mercy for self and others.[v]  Or checkout the International Forgiveness Institute[vi].

I prefer for this writing to stay focused on the spiritual calling to practice Mercy in all our affairs.

“We do not have a God Who is incapable of understanding and sharing our weaknesses. Quite the contrary! Precisely because of His mercy God became one of us: ‘For by His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man. He worked with human hands, He thought with a human mind, acted by human choice and loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, He has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin’. In Jesus, therefore, we are able not only to touch the mercy of God with our hands, but we are inspired to become instruments of His mercy. It is easy to speak of mercy, yet more difficult to become its witness. This is a path that is lifelong and which should not be interrupted. Jesus has said to us that we must be ‘merciful as the Father”. It is a lifelong endeavour.”

Pope Francis:  Vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday, April 2, 2016[vii]

And thankfully we are not alone in seeking and providing Mercy:

It is love which takes the first step, which does not depend on human merit but on immense gratuitousness. It is divine solicitude that nothing can impede, not even sin, because it is able to go beyond sin, to overcome evil and forgive it.[viii]

The Holy Spirit

Practicing Mercy while being just, demonstrating kindness, and maintaining humility is a way of life that is difficult to maintain in today’s world.  While there are many psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits to living this way that is not why we should live this way.

We should live this way as it is God’s will and to live in accordance with God’s will is right and just.  But how do I know what is God’s will?   You cannot trust your own sense of providence alone.  Too many people are deceived by false shadows of religiosity that are far from holy.

If you are Catholic perhaps some reflection on the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.[ix]  Depending on the immensity of the decision you are facing – having others (spiritual advisors, friends, professionals) maybe a good adjunct to your spiritual journey and practicing discernment.

I would be remiss to not mention Saint Faustina Kowalska, an uneducated Polish nun who, in obedience to her spiritual director, wrote a diary of about 600 pages recording the revelations she received about God’s mercy.[x]       I have a preference for non-formulaic prayer and conversation – meditative and/or Lectio Divina.    Sometimes the readings of Saints or theologians can spark the spiritual imagination.

Perhaps the best advice I have is pray, strive, and do not take yourself too seriously if you are putting your best self out there.  We are imperfect creatures.  Trust in something higher!

Jesus I Trust In You

[i] Hallelujah ANYWAY by Anne Lamott

[ii] [i] Thomas Merton, Spiritual Direction and Meditation (Action and Union)

[iii] 2 Samuel 24:14, Psalm 86:5, Psalm 145:9, Luke 6:36, Ephesians 2:4, Titus 3:5, Hebrews 4:16, 1 Peter 1:3, Matt 9:13, Psalms 51:1-2

[iv] http://www.stamadison.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Fr-Zyg-handout.pdf

[v] https://couragerc.org/wp-content/uploads/Enright_Process_Forgiveness_1.pdf

[vi] https://internationalforgiveness.com/about-us.htm

[vii] https://www.ncronline.org/blogs/francis-chronicles/popes-quotes-mercy-god

[viii] https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/audiences/2016/documents/papa-francesco_20160113_udienza-generale.html

[ix] http://www.stpatpv.org/rcia/gifts_of_the_spirit.pdf

[x] http://www.thedivinemercy.org/message/

 

Trump and Terrorist

Ruminating on the Evils of War and Fighting an Invisible Enemy

Despair 

St. Michael

On the Eve of Battle
God of power and mercy,
maker and love of peace,
to know you is to live,
and to serve you is to reign.
Through the intercession of St. Michael, the archangel,
be our protection in battle against all evil.
Help me [us] to overcome war and violence
and to establish your law of love and justice.
Grant this through Christ our Lord.

Under Donald Trump our nation may be killing more civilians than our Russian adversaries.[i]  This is important, aside from the tragedy of killing innocent people, it undermines our moral high ground.  I cannot see Archangel St. Michael interceding in such actions.  It also arms the enemy with propaganda.

It minimizes the sacrifices our sons and daughters are making every day.  Their sweat, courage, valor, and in too many cases, long-lasting physical and psychological harm cannot be taken for granted.  And that is if they are lucky.

Three troops passed away on foreign soil serving our country last month in Syria, Iraq, and Iraq (Al Anbar Province):  Sgt. 1st class Robert Boniface, Staff Sgt. Austin Bieren, and PFC Brian Odiorne.

data=RfCSdfNZ0LFPrHSm0ublXdzhdrDFhtmHhN1u-gM,uwB_vHK9vIbtQ5tf-iWeDcYaxw2MSRM0f43QBVUZdqE5IZlaocouqHAjJLkfjfCQ5qSITCyO3oy7GqhOK2sSVV9a15_j3DZKN0Fh-88OXeAyZHd6fRwnrQupX57mpdSTXUIwnezQvi0IH

All three are listed as non-combat related by the military times.[ii]  All three have died young in a foreign land.  I felt it important to note the location.  It should not be anonymous.  They should not be anonymous.  For them, their families, and loved ones it does not matter the designation.  We owe them gratitude and support for the ultimate sacrifice.  We owe them more than that as well.  We have to understand and know what war is and why we are at war.  And how we are fighting the war.

Our nation is ramping up war rhetoric on many fronts as we also limit our diplomacy, distance our allies, and create economic tensions that will only elevate the potential for war.  I am not hearing a commander-in-chief stand before the American people and inform us of where we stand.  I am not confident that he is attuned to or has the knowledge of military interventions and strategy necessary to do right by our country and by our troops.   We must demand accountability in a bipartisan manner – not to divide – but to unite a country that is absent a leader.

What do we owe our soldiers?  Their families?  How do we honor them?

Where is the news and accountability for stewardship of our Armed Forces? 

I do not want a country divided when it comes to supporting our troops.  I do not want a single soldier sacrificed unnecessarily.  When they do go to battle I hope people are actively praying for them and for the innocents in harm’s way.    I cannot quite brig myself to pray for the terrorist propagating evil – but I can pray for would be terrorist to not be recruited and curret terrorist to seek a true spirituality not of their own making.

Vietnam was not all that long ago.  A hallmark of Vietnam was not telling the American people the truth of what was happening on the ground. This non-transparent presidency, shrouded in mystery, hidden away behind a golf club wall and twitter account is not honoring our soldiers.

Sometimes we are left with only prayers:

For Hope in the Midst of Destruction
God of mercy,
you know the secrets of all human hearts,
for you know who is just and you forgive the repentant sinner.
Hear my prayer in the midst of destruction;
give me patience and hope,
so that under your protection and with you as my guide,
I may one day be reunited with my family and friends
in peace, tranquility, and love.
Grant this through Christ our Lord.[iii]

However, faith also demands action.

How can we maintain our humanity and spirituality in the midst of political chaos, world-wide proliferation of violence and war, and a nation succumbing to hatred and division?  How do we be defenders of freedom without becoming villains of capitalism and self-interest?  How do we not arm our enemies with yielding the moral high ground and losing our moral authority as a nation that stands for freedom and truth?

Our nation has been at war before our soldiers headed for the battlefield.  We are at war within our own borders for justice, truth, and equality.  We are at war to maintain democracy. And we are at war with international players all too willing to exploit our lack of leadership, antagonize and foster our divisions, and drain our resolve to be engaged in the world.  America cannot afford to be disengaged from the world.

Demand the truth.  Do not be misled by blind nationalism or rhetoric.    Be patriotic by making sure our leaders are exercising prudence and due diligence when sending our sons and daughters to battle.

President Trump is battling to many demons, both real and imagined.  We need leadership in the house, in the senate, in the press, in the military, in the pews, in our living rooms and neighborhoods to demand honesty and transparency from our government.  Without it we will succumb.

[i] https://www.thenation.com/article/under-trump-the-united-states-may-now-be-killing-more-civilians-than-russia/

[ii] http://thefallen.militarytimes.com/

[iii] http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/prayers-and-devotions/prayers/prayer-for-troops.cfm

 

Providence, Powerlessness, and Purpose

April 1, 2017

Today I find myself in control of my destiny.  My will and determination is paramount and the world is at my disposal.  If any frustration arises in me at their denseness, I recognize that not all can be blessed with the wisdom that I have attained and patience is the rule of the moment when faced with brothers who remain obstinate to my will and my ideas.  I am kind in all my ways, compassionate when called to be, selfless in all my actions, and next to my fellow-man, as perfected in spiritual attainment as near perfection any human may achieve.  I need not pretend to enunciate how I have achieved this elevation, for to do so, would be contrary to my deep seated humility.  Suffice it to say, I have arrived at my pre-destined place, at one with God’s will, forgiven and renewed in the spirit, never to stray again on the path of un-holiness.   And this I do of my own free will and sheer determination as gifted to me by grace of God.

“In all ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”[i]

Today is April 1, 2017, by some it is called a national holiday for all atheist.  I do not begrudge atheist or humanists that are able without the aid of a higher power to live a life as close to moral perfection as humanely possible.  I am a humanist by nature, a philosopher by spirit, and an amateur theologian by self-appointment.    That is not enough for me to live the life that I believe mankind is destined to pursue.  Left to my own devices and self-deception I will fail to my own subliminal definition of self that although not as grandiose as the first paragraph, nonetheless is elevated above the reality of my actions and in defiance of my inherited and self-created limitations.    The chasm between the two will create a separation between me and my fellow man, between me and my God, that ultimately will bring chaos and failure to fruition if left to my own devises.

In earnest I am speaking about the dynamism of Providence versus Free Will.  We are powerless in the face of forces of nature, manmade circumstances beyond our control, and the limitations within our genetics and psychological make up that provide us certain strengths and limitations.  For us believer’s, we are also aware of a certain sense of pre-determination, which ultimately if some outcome is God’s will it will be done.  In the face of Providence and Powerlessness that is undeniably present in the human condition it could be easy to lose all hope and drive to pursue individual and collective action to fulfill a calling or life purpose.    When confronted with suffering on so many existential levels and deep rooted soul felt pain, it is easy to abandon Providence or Free Will or both.

The reality is today, April 1, 2017, I find myself in doing everything in my power to do God’s will, not mine.  My will and determination is important but only if it is informed and aligned with God’s will.  Patience is the rule of the moment when faced with brothers who remain obstinate to my will and my ideas while allowing for the possibility and in many cases the likelihood, that it is my own obstinacy that creates frustration and disappointment. I strive to be kind in all my ways, compassionate when called to be, and selfless in all my actions – but I am far from spiritual attainment and perfection.  Pride and humility are a constant dance in my head that color my actions in shades of hue that cannot be defined with any self-assurance of accuracy.

In the face of adversity we are called to make informed decisions and act on these decisions with a ferocity and commitment commensurate with the challenge before us.    What challenges are you facing today?  What is God’s will for you with this challenge?  What is your decision?  What actions do you have to take today?  Who can help you validate your thinking and your plan are in-line with your reality or with God’s intentions?

If you are facing a challenge today, may you find the help you need, the resources at hand, a decision to act in accordance with your destiny, and find serenity in your life:

serenity

[i] Proverbs 3:6

The Benedictine Option

st-benedict2

On February 17, 2017 the Wall Street Journal printed a story by Ian Lovelett entitled:  “Wary of Modern Society, Some Christians Choose a Life Apart.”[i]  There is a movement here in the United States that mirrors monastic communities of early Christian times.  The actual rules of a Benedictine Monastery are quite exhaustive.  However, these families are choosing to set up Christian communities near Monasteries and model life on Christian values absent the temptations of secular life found in American communities.

What are these families seeking in pursuing the Benedictine Option?  St. Gregory described St. Benedict this way:

“the model of a saint who flees temptation to pursue a life of attention to God. Through a balanced pattern of living and praying Benedict reached the point where he glimpsed the glory of God.”[ii]

If you have never escaped to a spiritual retreat that provides solitude and prayer I recommend you read and consider an Ignatian retreat center.  An excellent book I have recommended (link below) prior can provide an at home retreat for 8 weeks.[iii]  How many of us can pick up, purchase land near a monastery, and find it possible to live the agrarian lifestyle successfully?

We do not need to flee from the United States, from our communities, from other Christian denominations, from Muslims, Jews, Atheist, Progressives, Liberals, and Conservatives.  Living in a secular society, if you have not been called to the priesthood or monastic lifestyle, is a calling in and of itself.  We live amongst non-believers and fellow believers to perform our calling while simultaneously living our faith as witnesses to Christ.

How do we do that as today’s gospel (February 19, 2017) calls for us to “reprove your fellow-countryman firmly and thus avoid burdening yourself with a sin.”[iv]  We have been far from flawless in this regard.  We have stepped way past reprove to being judge, jury, and hangman on many occasion – thus committing countless sins in the name of Jesus Christ.

ingnorant-reprove

Globalization trends, extreme politics, and scarcity of resources are leading people to make superficial decisions.  Today a segment of our society driven by Christian evangelization is attempting to codify via civil law our beliefs and to impose them on others rather than “reproving” sinners by preaching our beliefs (our churches and leaders) and living our beliefs as witnesses thru “a balanced pattern of living and praying.”  At a high level our policies are not supporting our beliefs and our trust in faith and God’s intimate knowledge of each one of us.  If we did we would not have our current President in chief be able to retain the modest popularity he has based on his “wall plans,” anti-immigration plans, lifestyle, and a host of other issues best left unmentioned here.

If we were confident in our faith we would be able to humbly reprove without the insecure need to demonize and attack non-believers.   As we have seen time and time again, when we are living the true faith non-believers will rise in insecurity to demonize our actions.  We must be prepared to not fall into the trap of committing the same sin.

reprove

We do need to reprove our politicians and fellow citizens.  I reprove abortion in general (not women) though I do not pretend to know the circumstances (medical, spiritual, psychological, economic, rape) or the depth of God’s mercy and intentions.  I reprove our nation’s decision to dismantle health care that helps the poor, to apply indiscriminate and harmful immigration actions for votes, to build a wall when we can be building humanity, and many other systemic injustices.   I reprove policy and presidential actions and words that through either active collusion or incompetence continue to promote racism, sexism, and religious intolerance.  I reprove our highest public servant directing his energies at serving the wealthy and his associates despite campaigning to do the opposite to help the poor and middle class.

However, at a deeper level, spiritual pursuit starts with me – not with the elected class.  Do I know that I am God’s temple and that God’s spirit dwells in me?[v]   How many times have I poisoned by body with alcohol or other acts of gluttony?  How many times have I filled my mind with other sins of the spirit (pride, greed, lust, glutton, wrath, and sloth)?

Take a look at Dante’s Inferno archetype descriptions art for each of these trap doors.  Or better yet take this fictional test:  http://www.4degreez.com/misc/dante-inferno-test.mv

dante

Now, Dante’s work is one of literary imagination- not spiritual or religious dogma.  But if you dared take that test – did it get you thinking a little more objectively about your balanced living and pray life?

How many of us put our own desire for status, financial security, power above the needs of people less fortunate than us through the arms of our nation’s wealth and might?  To be honest, in the short-term, Donald’s plan may benefit me financially in net pay.  However, it is devastating my spiritual beliefs in protecting the vulnerable in our society and the immigrants seeking refuge or already here.  Perhaps a 30 day Benedictine Monastic Month would be good for our nation!  That not being possible – all change starts with the smallest unit.  Me.

However, the family unit is a monastic unit of faith.  It is a calling.  Within our communities if the family units are living the faith, we will have a society and market that caters to that faith without the need for coercion or mandate.  By faith and individual and family action of living the word of God within our own walls we can carry the word of God.  And in our communities we can be replenished and supported by the church.  How many house hunters prioritize visiting the church before evaluating the schools, transportation, crime rates, and other factors that make communities important to us?

We know these things.  That our faith is dependent on our individual lives, family lives, and church being in order. Yet we look to our government, education system, and media to make it easy for us.  We expect them to do the hard work while we hypocritically are consuming the very things we rally against.  Fleeing to another land will not eliminate the turmoil within our own souls or within our church.

flight

So we find ourselves in a secularised community here in the United States.  Internationally people are dying today for their beliefs in Jesus Christ.  Our human inclination is fight or flight.

fight-or-flight

Today’s gospel has some advice on this topic:

“You have heard that it was said, `An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, `You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.[vi]

The magnitude of seeking perfection in a secular society is the hardest challenge of mankind.  It is what we are called to do with humility and steadfastness.  We may not be able to escape to a hermitage and probably have not been called to do so.  However, nothing wrong with taking refuge for a minute, an hour, a weekend in contemplative prayer when the seven temptations are at the door.

contemplatative

[i] https://www.wsj.com/articles/communities-built-on-faith-1487349471

[ii] http://www.osb.org/gen/benedict.html

[iii] http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-spiritual-exercises/an-ignatian-prayer-adventure

[iv] 1 Corinthians 3:16-23

[v] Corinthians 3:16-23

[vi] Matthew 5: 38 to 48

 

Cathedral Basilica, Philadelphia

alter

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:  

organ

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/

 

The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus by Lee Strobel

Most of us Christians do not have the resources or time to complete a pilgrimage dedicated to exploring our historical faith, visiting holy places close and far, interviewing experts on both our theology and the historical accuracy of the bible.  A majority of us have the luxury of being raised in the faith which provides a solid foundation for belief, hopefully re-enforced by lived actions and a faith driven life-style.  However, sometimes being born and raised in a tradition is a disservice.  The religion of our heritage goes untested, the theology taken for granted, and the believer reduced to being a passive recipient rather than an active and engaged believer testing the word inside and outside the bubble of our community of believers.

Throughout history from the apostolic age to present Christians have faced criticism from Judaism, Secularism, Atheist, other world religions,  philosophers, and others.  Generally educated and ethical critics have not been a threat to our existence of safety.  They have refined and tested our faith.  We continue to develop our believers and message in-line with Jesus Christ while ensuring our institutions are teaching and being held accountable for preserving the word of true Christianity.  If Christ were to return today I am confident that more than a few teachings would be upended and many a tabernacle laid bare and empty.  The many splinters of Christianity today demonstrate the enormity of the task of humans preserving the message and striving to be close to the divine.   I worry more about the safety of our faith and the safety of Christians at the hands of blowhards with shallow understanding, politicians with a political motivation, and mobs instigated by fear and hate.  These are real and ever-present realities.  Having critics and apologist debate sincerely and with intentional benevolence is divine pursuit.   Having an uneducated and fear driven populous acting on mis-informed secular representations or false prophets rhetorical call to violence is our real enemy.

About the author:  Lee Strobel is commonly called a Christian apologist today despite once being atheist.  I see him as a mass market/motivational speaker, not necessarily a theological source.  He has a history in journalism which he utilized to explore his found faith.  At the end are links to his web page and a documentary on this book.

I hate the word “apologist.”  It sounds too much like apology!  “Apologetics is about rationally defending a position or view whose truth is challenged.”

apologist

Strobel does this by interviewing expert Christian Apologist and challenging them on the most common attacks from modern-day critics of Christianity.  In one book he has covered the vast majority of criticisms that you will hear from people who have not had the time to delve deeply into investigating each new age or old age attack on Christian identity and theology.  It is an “inside baseball” book as it is a dialogue of a Christian convert  interviewing Christian apologist.  However, having read many criticisms of Catholicism and christianity, listened to countless uninformed representations of the faith, and having a background in philosophy/psychology/social work – it is refreshing to read an unapologetic, easy to read, defense of the faith.  It is not error free and clearly not exhaustive.  The review I provided on Zealot prior covered many of the same points – in some cases reaching different conclusions.  These are the types of books that everyday people are reading.  Who these days goes and reads comphrehenisve documents from Antiquities in the native language of the day?   However, if you are exploring the faith and the ongoing attacks on the christian faith – every Christian needs to understand the arguments for and against Christianity.  This book is an excellent primer on the subject.  No believer should take their faith for granted.  We are all apologist!

That being said, we have no need to sell one version of the divine, to convince others of our beliefs, or to denigrate others not in the faith.   Faith sharing will not be one by theological arguments  but by lived faith and the grace of God.  We are not here “to win” but to serve the faith and our shared God.

Book rating:  10

http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/the-case-for-christ/

http://leestrobel.com/

resurrection

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.

homeless

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)

monk-in-the-world

 

 

Advent Adventure

we-interrupt-this-broadcast-2

“We interrupt this broadcast to report unprecedented dramatic events.  World leaders have closed communication with the press and have unexpectedly cancelled events.  The White House, Bellevue Place, Kirribilli House, Elysee Palace, Zongnaihai, Buckingham Palace, the Kremlin, and the Vatican have been confirmed by our News Agencies to have shuttered their doors and key staff retreated to interior corridors of powers.”

An unprecedented notification like the above would create quite apprehension.  Most would suspect we are on the verge of war, a terrorist attack, or an assassination of a world leader has disrupted our world view once again.   Some survivalist would consider stocking up on water, bread, milk, canned goods, generator, ammunition, and cash.  Governments encourage you to be prepared.[i] Conspiracy groups count on people’s fears and market extreme survival strategies.

You should be prepared for at least three days.  Natural and man-made disasters are on the increase.   Help may get to you in hours or days.  What if the disaster was not man-made or a natural disaster?  What if help was not hours or days away – but an eternity for the unprepared?

Everyone will not escape this earth without facing this demon – either individually (alone) or with the great company of the masses at the end of time.  Given that the earth is 4.5 billion years old and we have only inhabited it for a fraction the latter possibility is not without some degree of risk, especially given how ungrateful we are as stewards of the planet.  Check out our Grant Earnhart’s 4.5 billion year review for perspective.[ii]

The demon of our mortality is a given with 100% certainty!  Actuaries calculate your probability of death every day, not because they don’t like you (I believe), but because they can profit by tilting the mortality scales in favor of a getting a few shillings from you.

Are you prepared for either eventuality – facing mortality alone or facing it at the end of time?  Dying is not something you can prepare for when you are at death’s door.   It is something you live for and prepare for all your life.  Our mortality gives our lives meaning.  Every moment is a treasure of untold value as we do not know when no more moments will be afforded us.

The Catholic Season of Advent can be an invitation to “sobriety, to not be dominated by the things of this world” and “an invitation to vigilance, because, not knowing when He will come, we must always be ready to depart.”[iii]

What would we do if the news event that started this post out was announcing a man has descended from the heavens proclaiming the second coming?  Or as Orson Wells did in 1938 predicted the War of the Worlds and potential certain death. Or closer to home, a doctor’s call informs you nothing can be done?  

We need not wait for these eventualities.  Do not wait for the bell to toll for you. Take care to be rid of regrets now.[iv]  You can easily tackle many worldly concerns now or at least attempt to so you can to your final resting place without having tried. 

Preparing to meet God is a higher order task.  Negatively speaking people often slip into existential rubric measurements of past shame and counterpoints of sincere goodness, like the actuary above, tilt the scales in their favor for that final meeting. The Bible reminds us that “it is appointed for men to die once, and after this the judgment.” [v]

Positively speaking practicing living well will do more than rubrics calculation.  The Sermon on the Mount and St. Augustine’s is a good starting point:[vi]

Therefore, whosoever hears these words of mine, and does them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.”

The Sermon on the Mount can be found here from the United States Catholic Conference Bishops website with annotations here:  http://www.usccb.org/bible/matthew/5

After having read this chapter – living “Christian Living” is not about perfection.   Jack Mahoney gives a good review of living the Sermon on the Mount that is not so imposing:[vii]

“Christian morality must be understood as part of an embracing love of God as well as of neighbor. Both the Decalogue and Sermon on the Mount begin with the gift of God and his covenant, and sketch the response of members of the chosen people, the ancient and then the new Israel, as they attempt to live with God’s gift and grace in their lives.”

When read with careful thought and sincere prayer the complexity of the beatitudes and the Ten Commandments melt into a simplicity that is congruent with rational human ethics that include a spiritual mandate of authenticity and authority.   Given that we are bound to be imperfect, the writings are a guide to strive for perfection, while recognizing human infallibility and the grace of God go hand in hand. 

You have a blueprint for preparing for the next “We interrupt this broadcast” regardless of cause:  man-made, natural disaster, or spiritual crisis.    The next 28 days is an advent adventure for me. Thank you for joining me by reading this post.  Advent is perfect for a self-directed retreat adventure.   

13-06-30-thebeatitudelife_v2-1024x576

[i] https://www.ready.gov/build-a-kit

[ii] http://www.npr.org/2016/11/22/502920622/watch-earths-history-play-out-on-a-football-field

[iii] Pope Francis, November 27, 2016

[iv] http://thedailypositive.com/top-10-regrets-dying/

[v] http://www.justforcatholics.org/06.01.pdf

[vi] http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/16011.htm

[vii] https://catholicismpure.wordpress.com/2012/02/07/living-the-sermon-of-the-mount/

advent2016

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

“The moment that you can live here comfortably in these absolutely irreconcilable conflicts is in this moment is when you embrace it all and say:  Look, I don’t understand a “%#$%!#!*^%” thing at all – Hallelujah!  That’s the only moment we live here fully as human beings.”[i]  Leonard Cohen

Leonard traveled the world and had good instincts regarding political turmoil, civil unrest, government chaos, and people.  Our best musicians can turn a phrase and a cord into an expression that defies definition yet ignites passion or feelings that otherwise may lay dormant.  Think of your favorite musicians and the feelings they may evoke (spiritual peace, political outrage, sensual desire, compassionate love, melancholy despair, pure joy).   How true is the above quote today?

The song Hallelujah is based on scripture translations of ancient Hebrew bible and has found a home in religious text of subsequent versions of the bible.   The term in the respected King James Bible (rendered as “Praise ye the lord”) is present in ten psalms of praise and Rev. 19:1, 3,4,6.[ii]

hallu

The story lines jump off from the life of King David and other bible figures with their life struggles intertwined into the song.[iv]  How many times the lyrics or the musical cords and not connected the scriptural references.  Leonard might tell you that the scriptural references became less important over time – as the song is an emotive song that draws on your spirituality as opposed to your religiosity (or degree in divinity)?

I have heard from a few people about preferences for this song.  My daughter prefers the Pentatonix group.  A colleague (musician and friend) sent me Jeff Buckley Live in Chicago.  Even Bob Dylan performed this piece (Cohen spoke to Bob in the early days about his struggle to write it).  I did not include Dylan’s rendition below despite an affinity for his work.  There is also an instrumental version only below.

I have never listened to peace with the intensity as I have the last few days.  Every rendition at a different time has different meaning and impact on the cords of my heart.

Do you have a favorite version?  Is it one of the artist below?  Can you feel their transformation?  Do you think they are carried away with the spirit of the song or are somehow reaching for heavens?

  • Pentatonix:  

http://www.littlethings.com/pentatonix-cover-hallelujah/?utm_source=jesus&utm_medium=Facebook&utm_campaign=singing  5:05

http://damnbored.tv/violin-play-piano-hallelujah/  3:44

The ancient songs of seeking God are alive and living in our world today.  The stirrings of spirit and meaning of life and death remain an unraveling mystery that sometimes are made visible, ever so briefly, in moments of artistic excellence.   Prayer takes many forms. Do you have enough time in your life for theological, spiritual, musical adventures?

hallelujah-preview

Hallelujah Chorus from Messiah by G. F. Handel (1685–1759)[v]

 [i] http://itsallaboutall.com/leonard-cohen/hallelujah-meaning/

[ii] http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/Hallelujah.php4

[iii] “After this I heard what sounded like the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying: Alleluia! Salvation, glory and might belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments….. A voice coming from the throne said: “Praise our God, all you his servants, and you who revere him, small and great.” Then I heard something like the sound of a great multitude or the sound of rushing water or mighty peals of thunder, as they said: Alleluia! The Lord has established his reign, our God, the almighty. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory…”Rev. 19

[iv] https://www.bibleodyssey.org/en/people/related-articles/leonard-cohens-hallelujah.aspx

[v] http://www.mutopiaproject.org/cgibin/piece-info.cgi?id=459