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.

merton

Spiritual Direction and Meditation by Thomas Merton

Seeking a greater union with God through prayer and meditation I sought out the works of Thomas Merton.  This very tiny book, Spiritual Direction and Meditation, after much discourse and examination of the benefits of pray informed meditation, enough to provide a course of action and reassurance, takes aim at our human ego just after cresting the mid-way point of the book:

 “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.”[i]

Irrevocably drawn in by the power and beauty of seeking greater unity with God by this point, flight from my own human failings is not an option.   But what if the book started off this way?  Would I have continued to read it with the same investment?  Would you?

I adore many of my worldly attachments to the point of constant distraction from unity with God.  Many of these attachments are perfectly healthy and rational affections that could even be defined as my calling and my duty (family, work, friends, and writing).   Others not so much like chess, poker, political junkie, sports and other adrenaline inducing activities.  Not so long ago the allure of the dark side of alcohol as well.  Aside from the latter, I have no intention of divesting myself from these attachments!

As for my impatience, irritability, and aggressiveness – is this not a normal response to the insanity we are faced with every day?   Some of these attributes drive innovation and success in my life.   Do I have a self-righteous impulse to judge and punish other men?  No, I have a self-directed mission to be an advocate for the oppressed and underserved.  I have an obligation to be decisive and to act.  God did not give us ability to have it buried in the ground hidden away.

It is easy to fall into the trap of arrogance with only a droplet of spiritual attainment being granted to the individual soul.  But note the last part of the quote – “to judge and punish other men!”  How often do we judge other men?  How often do we punish others based on our judgments?  Do not rule this out.   Punishing another can take many different forms that may not be obvious initially and be far from a benevolent act despite one’s intention to right a wrong.

How many fervent Catholics go astray with judging and condemning women walking into Planned Parenthood?  Are they inspired by true compassion and love when they are walking the pavement with murder signs held high?  Are they doing it for the glory of God, to defend the unborn, or to raise their own sense of righteous indignation?  How many are ready to punish these women regardless of any circumstance?

worthy

But what are we to do when confronted with the many evils of today?  This is our suffering.  This is our cross.  Thomas Merton says we are “obliged” to follow the example of Jesus Christ and to reproduce in ourselves his patience, meekness, and tranquility.  “He who does not take up his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”[ii] What an order.  All “I” wanted was meditation, prayer, and peace!

No wonder Mystic St. John wrote “The Dark Night of the Soul”[iii] that captures what can be a violent confrontation.  It is easy to get ahead of oneself and get lost in “false mysticism.”  Let’s take a step back.

Hence, entering into prayer and meditation I must pray humbly for grace to guide my meditation, my prayers, and my actions.  Thomas Merton’s book is packed with singular lines that can be expounded on ad infinitum.  However, the true intent is to inspire spiritual meditation that brings one closer to God, but here and now, and at the end of times.

Only way to evaluate the writing is to apply the knowledge.  On completing the book, I decided to apply Merton’s writings to my adoration hour.

“This implies trust in God and a sincere abandonment to the Holy Spirit, from whom we can at any time rely on the light of divine Counsel, provided that we are conscientious religious and try to be men of prayer.” 

This is another metaphysical challenge to jump with for complete abandonment and rely on the Holy Spirit for divine counsel.  I don’t know about you, but most believers, even the most devout, have had the grace of direct revelation from the Father, The Son, or The Holy Spirit.  And the latter is the most challenging concept.  Merton does not pause on this and presents simple direction on practical matters (no one can meditate for you) and principals that can guide (seeking union with God, having patience, having humility, having faith*, and with sincere searching and love ask for guidance).

*“We cannot possibly bring our souls to renounce our most powerful natural desires unless we somehow have a real and conscious appreciation of our contact with something better.”

But where do I begin.  Merton recommended “Lectio Divina” as a normal foundation for an interior life of meditation and prayer.  I am somewhat familiar with this from the influence of St. Ignatius spiritual practices.  Simply stated read sacred scripture deeply and sit with it meditatively or with spiritual imagination.

I placed myself in a sacred space (adoration chapel).  I prepared myself for prayer.  I humbly asked for grace and guidance for the time I was to be present and praying that evening. A large bible was within arm’s reach.  The gospel of John, chapter 14, on Last Supper Discourses was the scripture that presented itself.[iv]

John 14

Spiritual imagination transformed me to being in the room.  Disciples Thomas, Philip and Judas were struggling to accept Jesus’s plan to depart.   Anger, fear, disillusionment permeated the room.  I myself could not accept having travelled so far with Jesus, to have such an abrupt end.  Truth be told I did not think an end would come once I saw his miracles with my own eyes. But now, everything is upside down.  Outside these doors are enemies that I cannot stand up too without Jesus.  I do not hear the word of the father the way he does.  I do not trust my fellow disciples to stay.  My friends and family from my past will ridicule me on return – not listen to me preach the words of Jesus.  Jesus speaks to me.  At this point meditative prayer is broken with the hilarity that I could summon up the words Jesus would say to me!  His words to the other apostles sufficed.

And then, after clearly detailing the inevitability of his departure, Jesus tells me about the advocate he will give us:

The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you.

This is important to me.  I have been delving for a week or to now into prayer seeking greater understanding of the Holy Spirit and not quite getting it. And hear, Jesus was telling me directly about the advocate.  My complaining about following Jesus all this way above in my spiritual imagination became my complaining about my life journey and its hardships.

In a crack of silence, the journey and providence of traveling from Pelham bay in the Bronx as a child to the middle of Delaware was filled with the unseen hand of God at different turning points in my life.  And still in my obstinacy, despite all the graces I have been given, I question God…..Dela Where?     In an instant the worry and hindsight on how I arrived at where I am today were insignificant.

Significance is that ultimate truth lies within us if we pursue listening to our spiritual consciousness and are open to the mystery of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  The advocate is there for us within us if we ask for it and we look for it with pure intention and sincerity to want union with God.

That sincerity will acknowledge the weakness and imperfection of our fettered souls with a desire to seek him. I do not know about conquering my imperfections.  I can only humbly ask God’s grace to eliminate those that can be ameliorated, help me carry those imperfections that are my cross bear, help me to not hurt others as a result of my weaknesses, and empower me to live loving as Jesus Christ exemplified.

Untethered thoughts cascaded into pleas:

I am no saint.  I am not a bible thumper or theologian.  I am damaged by my own fears and desires. I am engulfed in humanity and vulnerable to the attractions of the seven deadly sins. I cannot possibly meet God’s expectations or even my own!  I am in need of help and forgiveness every day for myself and for brothers.

Solemnity settled into the still room.  Neither elation nor despair was present.  As the disciples knew, challenges awaited them when they left the last supper.  So too challenges awaited me as I exited the chapel – not of course on the grand magnitude of those by Jesus’s side.

The night air was peaceful.  The Moon was bright.  Unseen I departed from the quiet place with my thoughts.   Perhaps I can conquer many things that create distance between me and God with the advocates help and prayerful meditations and actions.  it is not that complicated to pray.

“Meditation is almost all contained in this one idea:  the idea of awakening our interior self and attuning ourselves inwardly to the Holy Spirit, so that we will be able to respond to His grace.”

merton on life

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

[ii] Luke: 14:27

[iii] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21Rwj9sPBTc

 

[iv] http://www.usccb.org/bible/john/14:1

 

The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton

The beginning of a new personal spiritual chapter can bring me anticipatory eagerness and anxiety.  Eagerness to deepen my personal relationship to God, to enrich my faith, and to provide me needed sustenance and perseverance in the face of daily adversities.  Anxiety about the time required, the demands presented, and the worthiness of the venture.

Pope Francis gave a nod to Thomas Merton as he cited Merton as being one of four representatives of the American people to turn to for examples of faith and standing up for social justice, equal rights, liberty, and peace.

By Merton’s account he was no saint or model of purity.   Perhaps that he is why valuable as an example;

‘I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers.’ [i]

In an instant you can google Merton and find detractors regarding his motivations to enter the religious life (draft dodger) or his human fallibility pre-monastic life or later in life with a woman named Maggie.[ii]  How do we pair the human side of Thomas Merton with the body of work that he left behind after his accidental electrocution in Thailand in 1968? The irony of death paired with this statement in “The Seven Story Mountain” is perhaps co-incidental, yet unnerving:

“That you may become the brother of God and learn to know the Christ of the burnt men.[iii] 

The book has controversy as well regarding attacks that it was highly edited.[iv]   This was also Thomas Merton’s first major work and later in his life he reflected that it would not be the same today if he was to write it again.  How can I not read his later works to see where his spiritual maturity bought him after such an esteemed start?

My read of this classic was easy going.  He tells his early life story and journey with simple language and clarity within the context of a world driven by strife and a world at war (WW II).   Some compare his conversion story to that of St. Augustine.  His use of Dante’s purgatory mountain for his title is telling.  The battle with human affectations (pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed, and sloth) is a battle for Monks as well as laymen. The duality of action and contemplation in harmony is mindfully present in this story.

ll_purgatory

Seeking God for any of these reasons is bound to fail.  The fragility of seeking spiritual perfection is a path of eagerness and anxiety.  The price is high, the path narrow, and time is short (at least for me).

Merton’s introductory work was worth my investment.  There are too many quotes and insights to re-post here.  Hopefully my Merton journey is providential!   Maybe one day I will visit Kentucky.  If you are familiar with the Thomas Merton Society, The Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, or have a favorite Merton work, please comment and give your insights!

[i] http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/09/24/443126027/in-pope-francis-congress-speech-praise-for-dorothy-day-and-thomas-merton

[ii] http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/thomas-merton-the-hermit-who-never-was-his-young-lover-and-mysterious-death-1.2422818

[iii] Page 462, Seven Storey Mountain

[iv] http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/10/11/bookend/bookend.html

[v] http://www.monks.org/

[vi] http://www.christianhumanist.org/2010/08/dante-2010

 

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

Saints

Pope Francis has taken steps to canonize Fatima Siblings (https://nyti.ms/2mW3nYl) according to New York Times article.  Do you believe in Saints?  The Devil?  The Fatima Siblings had visions and drew thousands of Christians to the Village of Fatima.  There is even a mystery of prophecy by Sister Lucia – the one to escape an untimely death – providing three predictions that many believe came to fruition – one of which may have saved Pope John Paul’s life.  I have sought counsel on modern-day visionaries – and the best advice I got seemed to be focus on Christ – if a message helps me focus more on Christ as a tool, okay, but don’t get lost seeking modern-day miracles – the Miracle was given to us on the Cross.

None the less there remains in Christology messages about the end of times (Eschatology) and the final battle.

Final Battle

Sister Lucia spoke to that as well.  Let’s place the word “Saint” aside.

Have you ever met a person who exudes humility and spirit?  Have you read about great martyrs and sacrifices?

There are heroes among us living their lives so close to the image of God, as imprinted deep within their souls, that we can be rendered speechless by their devotion, steadfastness, and courage.  They are all around us if you look, performing small and large miracles, invisible to the unsuspecting eye, silently passing you on the street, perhaps with a smile or merely a focused precision walk that announces purpose and fiery determination.    They are humans with their heart and soul given fearlessly to be used by their God to heal, to love, to serve others.  Some of them may have been blessed with visions or moments of grace that defy imagination.

I don’t know about prophecies, or mystics, or saints.  What I do know is people among us have the power of the Holy Spirit within their core and are preparing for the final battle now, preparing the  battlefield for us all.

The spiritual imagination and contemplative life can bring you places you never thought possible.

“Catholics are not required to believe in even the most approved and venerated private revelations, but many of us choose to do so. Does this battle relate to the famous discourse Pope Leo XIII was alleged to have heard in a vision between Christ and Satan, which led him to compose the prayer to St. Michael? How long the final battle will last, and what will come after? (http://www.onepeterfive.com/sister-lucia-final-confrontation-between-the-lord-and-satan-will-be-over-family-and-marriage/)”

Thanks for reading my mystical rambling.

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.   

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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

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“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.   

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[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/

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