The end of a Chapter

A quick farewell to all of you who have read or followed my posts since 2015. There are enough spiritual writers out there and influencers to carry on the task of promoting living the holy life in a humble manner in the midst of a secular society that my written word is redundant.

I leave this venue of spiritual expression, not in despair, but in retreat to my own private prayer

and solitude. I am sure God will inspire me to bring it outward when necessary, through prayer, through the written word, or by direct action. For now, I return to my reading, meditations, and the folly of the ink well!

Your voices are needed in every sphere of advocacy for calling for peace, for respect of human life, and promoting human dignity.

The calling is high. In the midst of the Ukraine war in Europe, with human freedom challenged by autocracies, the rise of populism worldwide, and an increase in hatred, division, and tribalism – individual inner-spiritual strength is needed. Only the light within each of you can sustain and move the tides of humanity to aim for the greater light of love and compassion for all people.

I look forward to reading your blogs and contributions in the different venues that influence and the causes you support! I am sure our efforts will not be in vain – they are mystically tied beyond the written word.

Thank you and Godspeed to you in your work and spiritual calling.

Joseph

Photo borrowed from Godspeed Institute

Poverty

The Catholic Church declares this month Poverty Awareness month: https://www.usccb.org/committees/catholic-campaign-human-development/poverty-awareness-month.

The call to all Catholics is for “solidarity with the poor.” It is an honorable goal. The site above has information and links to sites where you can take action.

A contrarian critical mood has gripped me regarding “solidarity with the poor.” We are the poor. No I am not saying I or you can claim abject poverty. The average American has about 8000 dollars cash available. Net worth medians vary by age from 13000 to roughly 200,000 dollars. By global standards this is not poverty.

Poverty awareness however is a difficult sell. That 8000 dollar savings account can be wiped out with one or two financial blows. The net worth median in real dollars keeps shrinking for most Americans.

Fear of economic failure is a realty for many Americans. It is not a comfortable subject. COVID 19 has wiped away a lot of wealth and moved many from green to red. The balance sheet of debt, the pending bills, and the employment outlook is not something our neighbors want to share with each other.

In that position, it is hard to answer the call for poverty awareness. The reality is, in my view, if one among us is living in unnecessary poverty, we are all poor. We must answer for our indifference to human suffering caused by poverty.

A good deal of Americans, however, have been reduced to worrying about their own survival in these harsh economic times. This threat has shaken Catholic Americans and narrowed our awareness and support of the broad Catholic Social teachings regarding the poor. Many have joined the ranks of the poor anonymously.

What to do? Whatever you can! Any act of kindness, small donation, or prayer will do. Whether you are rich or poor you are part of the solution to world poverty.

All is not gloom. If the world poverty clock is right, more people are exiting poverty than joining the ranks of the poor: https://worldpoverty.io/. That does not help the 20,000 who crossed over the poverty line today or the other 743,800,000 living in poverty.

This is not an existential threat. It is real and current. Raising awareness is simply not enough.

This Stanford review article entitled “Stop Raising Awareness Already” has some powerful points: https://ssir.org/articles/entry/stop_raising_awareness_already.

Raising awareness campaigns can fail to create any meaningful action or in some cases create backlash that can even make the problem identified worse.

Jesus Christ entire active ministry was about three years. He did not just raise awareness. He taught. He served. He followed a strategic plan to transform the world. He enlisted others. And finally, he made a grand sacrifice to redeem us all.

You know what is wrong today with humanity. Social media, news media, community issues, friends, family, and perhaps our own actions testify against us in real-time. You are aware. You also know what you have to do. It is radical.

This January, go beyond aware. Create a strategic plan and act today.

Morning Dews # 6

old_testament_stories_abraham_isaacPoor Isaac asks his father, Abraham, “look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering.”[i]  Think of the trauma Isaac must have felt as his father a short time later bound him up and prepared to kill him with a knife and burn him on the altar.  There is no mention of Isaac’s response to his near-death experience or if he heard the angel of the lord that directed Abraham not to lay a hand on the lad and provided a lamb in to stand in place of his Son.  The Church of the Latter-Day Saints provides this beautiful resolution to the story pictorially:

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I am not buying their version of these events.  They may have it right, all I am saying is that boy should not be smiling the way he is just after his father almost killed him like that sheep in the background smoldering on the altar.

My trusted Jewish scholar[ii] tells me that Abram (short for Abraham) was called by the one true creator to leave his family, and God would make him a great nation.  This was called a b’it or covenant between mankind and God.  The contract required rights and obligations on both sides, and the oral traditions captured in scripture for us capture Abram’s departing from home and ten tests of faith, including sacrificing his Son Isaac.  The fact is that biblical Hebrew was hardly aware of a distinction between simile, metaphor, parable, and allegory.[iii]  The story bought to us has only the slimmest of details.

Let’s leave the literal versus the allegory interpretation to the scholars.  Abram reportedly smashed his family many idols in the house, and when the parents returned home, he said the more prominent idol broke the smaller ones!

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How true is it today that often adolescence and young adults leave home by way of conflict rather than peacefully without ever having to break free from parental protections by defiant statements of independence?

Abram is the story of a young man finding his way in the world with only God as his overseer.  He is tested all along the way.  The almost sacrifice of his Son demonstrates a pinnacle of trust that he developed in his faith that he was ready to do the unthinkable.

In our times, we find both Abram’s actions and God’s test implausible.  However, if told the same story within our cultural norms and context, the narrative would not be so peculiar.  A young adult leaves his childhood home on not so good terms.  Within him still resides the embers of faith to guide his lonely journey into adulthood.

At some juncture, he is faced with a spiritual crisis that calls on him to take a considerable risk, or stands up for the oppressed, denies himself something he loves, or makes a decision between to evils, trying to pick the lesser of the two we imagine.  In making these decisions, he leans on the one thing he has close, his God.  The narratives we hear today are mostly not as grandiose as about to murder one’s own Son.    We are ordinary people, not Abraham of Genesis! If you are not challenged, you are not looking.

Still, today the message is if we put our trust in God, he will not ask us to do things we cannot handle.  He will offer us alternatives at critical times if our eyes of open to experience the presence of God in our midst.

My morning read did not get any more comfortable with the leap to Matthews Gospel 400 plus years later, when Christ told the disciples:

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth.  I did not come to bring peace but a sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother, and a mans’ enemies will be those of his own household.”   (Matthews 10:34)

We are not four centuries removed from this writing as Matthew was from Genesis, but 18 plus centuries.

In Matthew 10, Christ prepares the Disciples to be carriers of the message and word of images (38)God.  He prepares them for the hostilities that they will face, even amongst their people and their families, perhaps even more so among the Jewish peoples than the gentiles.    They were being sent out into the world like Abram to face social, political, and religious divisions without any power or legitimacy other than Christ’s word.

Where are we today?  In America today, we have the most divisive president in the history of the United States, shy I guess of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis as the leader of the confederate losing side during the civil war!

We are a nation divided politically.  Religiously there are about 4300 religions in the world.  Seventy-five percent are represented by the top five religions:  Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism. And within each of these five are many divisions.  Our nation-states have never stopped warring with each other.  Check out a history of war entitled “Population control, Marauder style.”

We have been killing each other since the dawn of time.  What are we to do in the face of such division?  Jesus proclaims:

“He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.”

I am pretty confident that the five major religions above can accept this teaching as a reflection of sacrifice to God.  To put one’s trust solely in God and God’s teachings above politics, religiosity, social norms, and even family is perhaps equal to the challenge of Abram and the disciples.  While our task is presumable a thousandfold less challenging, must of us have not seen a burning bush, healed the sick with a prayer, or spoke to Christ directly in the flesh.  If you have, please contact me!  I have a favor to ask.

We are even amongst our family and friends divided, sometimes vehemently and without any trace of humility.  There is not an inch of hope of the “other” genuinely switching sides.  At best, as happens in so many families, they agree to disagree without finding the time to ground out the truth in all things.  The truth will not be all good for either side.

Twenty-two centuries ago, Abram was tested in his faith.   Eighteen Centuries ago, the apostles were tested as well.  Today we are on God’s testing ground.  We have the advantage of centuries of traditions and written scripture.  We have advancements in philosophy, the sciences, communications, and data points on the smallest nuances of human behavior normed, evaluated, and examined.  We have at our disposal the ability to command almost all of the earth’s resources, and wealth in a manner that could tend to every human being’s need and have minus our mortality and human struggles, real peace on earth.

time

I personally feel like roughly 20 centuries is enough time to actualize the teaching of Christ or have God return and provide us further direction!  And if not Christ, then the fulfillment of any of the other world great religions.  I said 18 plus centuries before regarding the Gospel of Matthew as scholars disagree no when the gospel was authored specifically.  Our Gregorian Calendar is pretty accurate that Christ lived and died twenty centuries ago.

What if God said to you today, I can visit tomorrow and come and judge you and all the men and women on this earth.  I will weigh each according to his deeds and actions.  I nowwill take the righteous with me to heaven, and the rest will get their due elsewhere, I will leave that to your imagination.  So, do you want me to come tomorrow at your calling to judge the living and the dead?  Or, you can defer my arrival to a time of my choosing as I had intended to on my time?    I know my answer.  What would yours be?

Before I go, let me return to Isaac.  It appears as if he did okay and maintained his be46144e84c3fa4540bc88df707e2d85relationship with his father, Abram.  Two chapters later, Abraham provides Isaac at God’s direction, a beautiful virgin wife named Rebekah from the distant land of Mesopotamia as directed by God.  I can say he did not see that coming when he was the awkward boy smiling above having just escaped being sacrificed.

Do you have any blessings today in your life that you did not see coming 20 years ago, 10 years ago, 5 years ago, or even last week?  My blessings are too many to count.  Sometimes they are obscured by my own blindness, contemporary challenges, and human suffering beyond my own suffering.   Perhaps I could learn a little more from my Buddhist brothers and their pursuit of mindfulness meditation practices?  And they perhaps can learn from the ultimate suffering of God’s only Son, Jesus Christ?

What if all the religions of the world had a piece of the puzzle?  I do not encourage polytheism or anyone to stray from their religious beliefs unless the fruit of those beliefs are showing you they cannot truly be holy.  In both the old and the new testaments Idols were smashed – sometimes they were religions and sometimes they were just material things man valued above God or above human relationships.  Ultimately you have to own responsibility for your actions as measured by something greater than yourself and hopefully greater than contemporary man!

Are you ready to meet these five today if they were sent back here by God?    

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Thanks for visiting and may this post find you humble in God’s words and vision…

[i] Genesis 22:8

[ii] https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/abraham

[iii] https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/allegory

Morning Dews – #5

Where was I again since I last wrote, someplace in Genesis with Abraham and his descendants making a mess of things and their covenants with God and with each other.  Yes, that is right, I said you were dammed.  Unfortunately, your fate has not changed since then; we are all still heading for a date with death.  Our human flesh and our earthly existence have no defined time.

images (36)This fatalistic reality only further illuminates the valuable time we have this moment.  It is of great value whether we are “joyous, happy and free” or suffering, miserable, and confined physically or mentally by some variation of human tormentors, real or imagined.  Our state of being is always moving in one direction or another, always temporal.

But where is our compass to direct our purpose and mission in life?  Our human state of affairs reasonably and appropriately must command our due respect.  To disregard care for ourselves or others is easily seen by even the simplest minded among us to be pure folly.  And then there are those among us that with very bright thinking, run with this hedonismmotto to the extreme, pursuing every greater emotional bliss regardless of how these emotions are obtained.  Who could blame them running hard and fiercely to avoid at all cost any taste of suffering, miserable mood, pain, or some other human calamity?   This activity, although important, is rubbish and meaningless if not grounded in a higher transcendent meaning.  Perhaps seeking Nirvana is the answer?

Inner-Peace-Help-Me-God (1)The great mystics of history invariable point out the only unchangeable is the absolute, unknowable one, the one we call God. Today we don’t see stodgy bearded men out in the wilderness or working with the poor in the streets.  We are more likely to see mega-church preachers or self-help books with covers like the above.  I dare you to go find a rock like that and sit on it for 30 minutes the way that lady is sitting.   I have a feeling you will not be the picture of Nirvana at the end of the prayer session.   That being said, she may indeed have developed a sesne of prayer and stillness that it matters little where she sits, in nature or in the middle of a highway.

Read the great religions and prophets, and they will, as did the old testament, describe man’s search for God and his graces.  The languages and literary devices may vary, but at the end of the day, man (and woman) is found seeking God and most often found wanting.  Amid this yearning, he is most unfairly plagued by human calamity even when blessed with great fortune.  Nothing is ever enough.  Seeking God is admirable, but if you are seeking God for spiritual gluttony you will probably be searching in the dark or fall prey to profit driven preachers.

The Gospel of Matthew (chapters 6-9) has some of the answers to these riddles for me.

  • Do good to please God (no other, expect no reward here on earth)
  • A form of prayer, converse with God, and the provision of the Lord’s prayer
  • Lay up your treasures in heaven
  • Do not worry about your life
  • Ask, and it will be given to you, seek, and you will find, knock, and it will be opened for you
  • Build your house on a rock

Matthew repeated these words of Jesus and many more in rapid-fire succession in three pages.  No back and forth or interpretation.   A grave warning to those who choose not to listen that Jesus will declare, “I never knew you” when it is their time.

Today in the public sphere, our eyes roll at the mere mention of any theoretical framework like existential philosophy, transcendent morality, or cross-societal ethical considerations.  Most of the time, if someone is raising this, it is because they are trying to cleverly tell us why we can’t or shouldn’t do something.  We would probably not listen if not for the rule of law that has developed over the centuries to codify what little humanitarian gains we have made over the centuries.

tinaI can see the eyes rolling now if a man without credentials or status told us the things Jesus told the crowds.  They had perhaps an advantage over us.  God knew their hearts were hardened, so he gave them signs again in rapid-fire from Matthew’s account, a leper was cleansed, a servant healed, and Jesus even saved Peter’s Mother in Law.  I am unsure if Peter appreciated the last miracle.  Other miracles would follow as Jesus marches towards his suffering and crucifixion.

These miracles and the written scripture handed down to us have meaning and value to guide what little time we have left on this earth.  Despite this, the disciples still panicked even with Jesus present when the “great tempest arose on the sea,” threatening to capsize the boat.  Jesus awoke with disappointment, “Why are you fearful, o you of little faith.”

Jesuit Paul McCarren describes the disciples being as puzzled by Jesus Christ’s indifference to the storm as Jesus was disappointed by their fear and lack of faith.

In four pages of scripture, I am presented with a guide to prayer, evidence of the credentials of the prophet being able to perform miracles, validation that faith is not easy as even the disciples who saw with their own eyes struggled, and Jesus Christ response when they shoe their weakness.

desicplesDid this “great tempest arise on the sea.” It is highly possible given the geographical area and the routes that Jesus and the disciples traveled.   However, more importantly, most of us don’t make our living on the seas.  Very few of us have life-threatening events flash before our eyes while having a spiritual prophet at our side.  What does it mean?

Let’s put it all together as to why I think these chapters in Matthew give you the solution to being damned to suffering and death.

First, the Bible (old testament and new), lets sets the framework that you and I are not very special in the sense of the challenges and tribulations we will face.  Our ancestors before us have seen it all.     The wisest among them were ready for when their time came.  If you have ever known someone truly ready when that time comes, you are truly blessed.

Now, Matthew first lays out how to pray and communicate with God.  In essence, he focused our attention simultaneously on the eternal and how to live a holy life now.  The words of Jesus Christ, as captured by Matthew, lay down straightforward guidance on how to develop a relationship to permanence no matter what our temporal state of affairs is today.

  • Act now: Do what Christ says above, and no matter what storm comes your way, you will be okay.  He did not promise storms will not come.  As we know from the Bible, a series of storms came that could not have been imagined by any of the disciples.
  • Prepare now: Prepare for storms by living rightly today.  Sadly, I have known human beings to say things like, as long as you follow the policy and blah, blah, I will support you.  You have all probably had a time when someone said something like that, and when the going got tough, all of a sudden, you were alone.  The lesson for me is trust in God as the only permanent trust one can have.  That is not as sad as it sounds.  I trust in many people today.  I love many of those same people.  Some of them will, at some point, disappoint me.  I will be hurt to the degree that I trusted them.  My feelings, though, will subside as I reconcile that I gave them trust for good reason, and I see they’re coming up short is just what it is a sad and disappointing outcome.  This is perhaps the most common type of storm when people do not do what we expect them to do!
  • Living rightly: What does that mean?   In my view, it means pursuing doing the next right thing now with the right intentions all the time and having an on-going dialogue with the God of my understanding to discern those intentions for what they are.  Find a way to still live and ground it in unchanging principles that transcend you.
  • Professional Help: Authors note, not all human conditions and suffering can be handled by prayer and good intentions and behaviors alone, some of us need a little help from professionals in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, psychiatric crisis, economic wisdom, or spiritual guidance.  Nor reason why anyone has to go through human toil alone (keeping in mind social distancing).  Self-help groups can be very beneficial, like Alcoholics Anonymous or other 12 step groups.
  • Compassion: No matter where you are on the journey, have compassion for yourself and others without putting yourself in harm’s way unless necessary. Let’s face it; we are not all called to be martyrs or saints.  Most of us have other callings.  It is improbable. I hope that we will be asked to deny God or be executed, go on a starvation protest, or say take my life in place of the child!  Seek to do the most good without treating yourself poorly.  We can have compassion for an addicted gambler without giving him a loan.  We can forgive a person who violated our trust or hurt us without inviting them back in to do the same again.  Letting that happen again not only hurts us but hurts the gambler or the one who cannot responsibly manage trust given to them.

Jesus saw a great need for compassion and love.  This was not reserved for those who were perfect.  It was for all of us.

These steps match the steps for any profession.  Find the manual and start working (act now).  Prepare for setbacks, you can never have enough knowledge and will learn by trial and error (Prepare for storms).   Do the best you can with the tools you have now and keep adding tools (live rightly).  Know when a project is over your head and get help fast, be humble (Professional help).  Have compassion for everyone you meet, including yourself.

There is so much in these few pages and this post.  How can you translate this into anything worthwhile?  Build on what you have now (strengths).  Develop a routine (schedule) and stick to specific times for prayer and reflection.  Throw in extra time when needed.  Journal, read, and be curious.  Let others in that will support you.

images (37)On the surface, it looks all pretty straight forward and easy.  I remember my brother Jimmy out in front of the house with a unicycle.   About the only joy that bike bought us was  watching him crash.  The Bible (and many surface teachings) can look deceptively easy until you have to take the “things” out of the box and start building the damn thing.  Trying to live a holy life can meet the same end and people will also enjoy watching you crash.  Seeking God requires great humility internally and externally.

Everyone wants a cheat sheet.  The bible does not lend itself to be a cheat sheet.  Centuries after its formation it is still be deciphered and argued about by theologians and historians.  If you wait for them you will probably miss out on the most famous book ever written.  Sometimes you can only be helped to get on the bicycle and get a good shove.  The rest is up to you.   I don’t recommend a unicycle!

The answers are not only in the bible.  Fifteen percent of our population is 65 years or older.  A good number of them, certainly not all, carry wisdom and solemnity in their final years.  They not only have six decades of lived experience, but they also have what was passed onto them from their ancestors sifted through and weighed against current times.

My chariot is built on the teaching of Jesus Christ.   His followers are far from being free of error.  There are many examples of “living right” that I can model from around my current day and in history.  I am not limited to models from Christianity as well.  Buddhist monks and meditation practices examine and handle the red hot embers suffering and impermanence by literally being able to walk barefoot over them.  They are not free from error either.  At the end of the day, we are all too human, imperfect vessels, seeking transcendence.

I have not mentioned 25% of the world who are followers of Allah.  The Muslim faith’s true essence alludes me in the chaos of the middle east.  Subsumed in that chaos is also orthodox Jewish traditions as well and the state of Israel.

Whatever faith we find to guide our lives, we become living testaments to an ideal higher authority.   Our faith and our religious affiliations will be judged in real-time by our actions.  Writing a blog on how to pray and seek a sanctified life is useless if after I close the browser I leave my house and treat people with ill-will or are driven by selfish motivations.  Any great religion is judged by the actions and lives of its followers.

You can have glimpses of transcendence every day if you look for it.  It is all around you in nature, in the acts of other people, and hopefully present in most of your actions and thoughts.  This has been a hard post to finish.  My prayer life is up against needless human suffering and death compounded by an unforgiving political and economic system that thrives on uninterrupted growth.   Sometimes my prayers leave me feeling empty and drained rather than consoled and restored.  I am not a mystic or a priest.  Just a working family man trying to make sense of tragedy and suffering.

Regardless of the external turbulence, you can be a beacon of calm, humility, love, compassion, strength, and peace to others, if within your heart you are building on a solid rock that is greater than our temporal desires.   Your faith or religious identity may provide you a vehicle for life’s journey, but at the end of the day, it is your responsibility to learn to ride it.  No religious leader, sermon, or homily can define you.   They too can make errors.

To what end is this post.  It is written for all of you who everyday strive to be responsible, work hard, and are in general morally upright people.  You toil and work hard for your self and your loved ones.  You have faced constant changes and pivoted and acclimated to changing times.  Although not perfect or faultless, you count yourself as generally a good person, like Job from the Old Testament.  And now, tragedy strikes beyond your control even though you practiced spiritual and ethical decision making daily.

If your eye is set on the absolute and the infinite God, all troubles and joys will be minute in comparison.  If your faith is made strong by your commitment, actions, and God’s grace, any storm that envelops you will be faced with calm and strength regardless of the outcomes.   You will posses a new reality to be able to sit with uncertainty and mystery while still working to do what you can in the face of exterm adversity, upto and including death.    Sure, you may have moments of trepidation and angst, but like the disciples, you will find your way back to your core.

covid deathToday, three thousand people will perish from COVID.  An estimated 50 million people will be pushed into extreme poverty.  Upright hard working people just like me and you.  Political and economic forces beyond our control will lessen or amplify the pain and suffering we have already experienced.

In my view, we only have one answer.  Still the storm and take refuge in prayer.  Take stock in your circumstances.  Find acceptance for what is today.  Ask God for what you think you need and ask him for the strength to handle whatever he gives you!  They maybe two different things.  Pray a little more to sit with the suffering of others.  Pray for them.  Contemplate what you can do now, today or tomorrow, to do God’s work in whatever is your calling in life.  Leave your refuge of prayer and carry it with you as you go back into the storm to face whatever life has instore for you.

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Morning Dews – #4

rabbiI am need of Rabbi in my study.  Still wandering in the book of Genesis, Abraham denies his wife, Sarah, saying she is his sister, and she does the same, claiming to be his brother.  Abraham concocted this scheme to keep himself self while they journeyed into other kingdoms.  He believed he would be killed so that others could take his beautiful wife.   And so it happened, when they were passing through the land of Gerar, Abimelech took Sarah.

Abimelech, according to the Jewish Virtual Library, is afforded a lesser status as merely a “king” and not one of the Judges of Israel.  He had the same encounters with the Patriarch Issac as he did with the Patriarch Abraham above regarding deceit (representing their wives as their sisters and squabbles over well water).  The Jewish Virtual Library states that critical scholars assign all these narratives to a variant of a single tradition.  Without delving into Abimelech’s life, the themes in the Old Testament, the sources, and a greater depth of the interwoven nature of politics warring tribal disputes, and religious institutions as defined at that time, how could we ever pass any judgment or claim to understand of the bible?

I am dumbfounded that Abraham and Issac would present their wives as their sisters.  I could see denying my wife to save her life, but not to save my own.  Who knows what we would do if presented that awful choice should we be faced with forced migration due to natural disaster or war and encounter a terrible immoral choice.  I say to you, not as a Jewish scholar or Christian mystic, but as an ordinary lay Christian, you face this choice every day.

Patriarch’s Abraham and Isaac denied their wives for their safety.  To do so in their minds gave them an advantage in a disadvantageous situation where they lacked power in the face of greater forces.  They did not rely on faith or on God to protect them.

On an individual level, you probably have not denied that your wife was your sister.  On a simpler scale, however, you perhaps have been deceived by others and acted in a manner or supported things that were unfair or wrong.  Abimelech took another man’s wife, but he was deceived.  He was still wrong.

images (26)Suppose I support legal abortion as a Democrat for all the ethical reasons.   There are many.  I suspect I have been deceived as I have inherited a culture that devalues life with such overwhelming immensity that women are put in situations where they face an impossible choice.  Our culture does not embrace or support the full integrity of all human beings.  For some, having a baby will endanger their own lives or condemn to a life of poverty and struggle.  I do not support abortion.  But I am unwilling to be the judge of a woman who faces societal oppression and injustice where her life is devalued, and she decides that, in my view, is contrary to God’s law.  I will fight for all life to be valued so that fewer women have to face this horrible choice, legally or illegally.  How will I be judged?

Suppose as a Republican, and I support the death penalty, massive deportation, and 33economic policies that support my wealth at the expense of increasing world poverty and misery.  I support these things with righteousness and good intentions.  I must stand up for the rule of law, protect my family and our jobs from illegal immigration, and put our economy above other people’s lives or over other nations.  I am right that all three of these issues present an “existential threat” to my well being and the well being of my friends and families.  I suspect that I have been deceived here as well as I have inherited a culture that devalues the “other” and puts nationalism, wealth, and power ahead of humanity.

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In both cases above (right and left), I am likely to accept the binary choices and choose a side.  In both cases, I am inclined to make grave errors in intellectual honesty when I try to advance my righteous thinking and, in some cases, will make grave errors against humanity and my God.  In both cases, I see the opposing views as existential threats to what I hold to be necessary.   As Americans, we are not likely to own feeling existentially threatened.   That requires serious insight and vulnerability that runs contrary to our culture.

download57When we are thinking right and left, we have probably already lost the battle of not being deceived and acting in a manner that supports evil.  We can fall into a reactive position making choices within the well of rigid political and religious paradigms that, on closer examination, crumble under their hypocrisy.  Logicalness and openness to facts go out the window.  Ad Hominem attacks, a fancy word for attack the messenger, is a typical playbook on the political stage today.  The press, scientists, and government servants are under ruthless attacks.   People whose livelihoods and health are at stake are acting on misinformation and real threats to their lives that are no longer so existential.

People deny their faith, their political affiliation, their beliefs all the time when to do otherwise will cause the loss of what they cherish (material goods, status, friendship, employment, or merely uncomfortableness).  Silence is denial as well.

lyiengI see this happen all the time in the workplace as people jockey for favor and position.  The worst in humanity plays out every day:  gossip, slander, lies, manipulation, and sometimes outright evil intent.  These deceits can lead a righteous and well-meaning manager down a path of destroying a person’s career based on false information.  Sometimes it plays out on the national level as well, and a whole nation can do harm globally.    As our current President states, China hurt world health by limiting the magnitude of the pandemic issue.  We, in turn, did the same thing, and to an extent, still are making the same errors.

We have in our midst pathological liars as well without our notice.  They can be humble 0617ba6e0d560b25a7f9ad0fd870064e-truth-and-lies-quotes-lies-and-deceit-quotesand friendly in the community or hold positions of great power in political, business or religious institutions.

Each of us is in our own way, Abimelech and Abraham.  In our hectic and busy lives, we are driven by instinct and competitive values to ward off existential threats to our way of life. Hopefully, we are not driven by false information.

We are prone to error by being deceived or by acting out of fear for our safety and overall well-being, denying minor or major hypocrisies within our hearts and behaviors – by conscious public presentation or even merely silence and consent.      My friend, you are damned.

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That is not so encouraging!  In my morning meditation, Richard Rohr discussed the “Bible as an Alternative History.” He stated the history of the terms “right and left” came from the Estates-General in France.  On the left sat ordinary people and, on the right, sat the nobility and the clergy.  The left represented mostly the poor and the oppressed and the right the status quo.  His point was the left sought to reform, and the right sought to preserve their wealth, status, and power.  Today we have the same dynamic with the buoy of the middle class torn between alliances, desiring the identity of nobility and the clergy without turning their backs on the poor and the oppressed.  It is not a binary choice.

We need prophets for sure to guide us to transcend these binary choices and allegiances.   The Old Testament is rife with Jewish prophets that struggled to transcend religious divisions and sects in favor of the “inner God experience and the outer work for justice and truth.” It gives us a history that we can learn from about the worst and best of humanity and spiritual lessons for interpretation today.  The journey through the old testament is leading someplace both narratively and in real-time history.  It evolved and was passed down to us from generation to generation.

As a Christian, I believe it bought us to Jesus Christ, the last of the prophets in my view.  The New Testament captures his fulfillment of the Old testament and a road map on how to live a blessed and fulfilling life.  Doing that, the same as in the old testament, is rife with conflict with rigid political and religious systems, existential threats to our survival and identity, deceitful actions of others, and selfish motivation.

In the next post – I will turn to Matthew chapters 6-8, which complimented my morning reading and provided for me at least a solution to feeling overwhelmed and damned. I have some thoughts that deserve their own post.  However, I cannot leave you with you are damned!

Within you lies a higher self that can transcend adversity, deceit, pain, and worry.  It can bring out your inner strength and peace even when you fail.  It can allow you to share and love others around you more magnificently than ever before. Also, if you have this already, and you are blessed if you do, it can always be more profound and more vigorous with every breath you take.

Transcending the self is never easy regardless of your spiritual or existential orientation – but it is worth the journey.  How Abraham and Abelimech bought me here I cannot say, but the mystery of life lessons can humble us all.  Find some time to still the world’s business and gently notice your “existential fears,” jot them down, name them, and put them aside for later.  Contemplate whatever you appreciate right now.  have gratitude for what you have and if someone special to you is close by, give them gratitude as well.  When the time is right, pick up one of those existential threats and simply think about three things that you can do that may minimize or help with that worry.   Make a plan to do those three things and enlist help if you can.  Give the rest to God and ask for the strength and peace to be able to handle what comes next.   Try not to tell people your wife is your sister to others or some other avoidance behavior!    You will have an easier path if you defeat avoidance behaviors and avoid supporting fallacies you know to be wrong.

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The way home

My page is dark. I have travelled deep into the forest while remaining in the company of others, working, toiling, loving. The silences between my writings are not absences of thoughts, only absences of thoughts worthy of the toil of exploration and expression.

Momentary emptiness, aloneness, silence screaming. Peace. The sentiment is I have gone as far as I can go. The path back to secular concerns is necessary as is the suffering, joys, and bewilderment that is our human condition.

Back to mundane task, simple prayers, reading the spiritual insights of others, and living in and of this world as I turn the corner towards home.

Tired.

This moment will pass and may prove to be pure folly, but for right now, everything is insignificant other then doing the next right thing over and over again on the journey back home.

Perhaps that was always the principle hidden by my distance from the quietness of the forest.

Pope Francis under Siege, We are under Siege (and rightly so)

I want to be in Rome.  I want to be by his side supporting and demanding a naive brand of Christianity with a firestorm of change that will create yet another schism in the church.  Pope Francis, listen to me, but just five minutes, and act swiftly with your Papal Authority.  After contemplation Pope Francis, tell me how foolish is my thoughts:

  1. Zero tolerance:  Immediate and public defrocking of any priest with 1 verified transgression of children or any sexual abuse of anyone, period.  If in Christian spirit you deem the church cannot turn them out into the street, offer them monastic pasture, walled away for a life of contemplation, care for, and fed.  Should they leave those walls, they are free to do so – but not to come back.  We must demonstrate Mercy even to those who have betrayed the faith.   Perhaps we only accept care for them if they turn over their wrong-doings to the appropriate civil authorities as well and serve whatever prison time is required.  (See number 2).
  2. Turn-over: Any information to civil authorities and let justice be served.
  3. Timeline:  Remove said priest from office by December 2, 2018.
  4. Withdrawal:  Declare our beliefs and faith independent of any government or institution.  Let Secular society set their laws by secular standards without our judgement or misdirected evangelizing.  “May we not think of ourselves more highly than we ought” by taking criminalizing values and actions that are contrary to our beliefs.   As an example, our marriage is a sacred one within the Catholic Church and should be separated and distinct from any “legal” or “contractual” societal definition of marriage without any judgement passed on the latter.  Issue by issue, flash-point by flash-point we must remove ourselves from enforcing our faith by institutional mandates and laws (whether of the church or of our beliefs being encoded in law) and share our faith so that it is desired and followed out of love of God and from our souls.  Live by the virtues we stand for and attract by that measure only.
  5. Atonement:  By December 2, 2018 have a detailed plan for a week of prayer in every church – 24 seven for all priests and parishioners set to re frame our dedication and belief as one body: “With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives,” he wrote in the 2,000-word letter. “We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.”
  6. Clericalism and Pharisaic practices:  The Conservative wing of our church that opposes you on so many fronts is fearful, and rightly so, of losing control of our identity and core beliefs.  They prefer to maintain these views by fiat rather than by faith and mercy.  Sinners of every brand, sexual identity issues that we fail to understand, and the depravity with which we treat the poor and the oppressed are to be handled by action and love, not by what we think others “should do.”  More priest may take a note from Reverend James Martin and Bishop Robert Barron and be appointed leaders to see your work through in the decades to come.
  7. Liberalism and Relativism:   To include and to love is not the same as to condone and deny.  Our faith has lost site that very few of us measure up to divine expectations and fall short daily of stated principles and beliefs.  In America our wealth, hubris, pride, death penalty, and countless other issues condemn us everyday.
  8. Mysticism and prayer:  Without depth of prayer and deep dives into the history of the saints and founding fathers of the church, without knowledge of ethics and philosophy, our congregation are truly sheep among wolves – both wolves external to the faith and wolves within the faith and even with a white collar.
  9. Institutional change:  The pastoral vision and gentle and humble leadership you provide are refreshing.  If time were on our side I would say continue to lead by example and let change come in the Churches time.  We do not have time.  It needs to be in God’s time supported by your brave leadership and a new, time limited Vatican III.
  10. Tears:  When you are attacked, I am attacked.  When the church is attacked, I am attacked.  When children are abused by Catholic priest, I am  harmed and devastated.
  11. 2019:  The trial and the test of Catholicism.  Rapid transformation and renewal post fire and brimstone house cleaning, repentance, and several structural changes are the beginning.  Vatican III moves forward ambitiously and aggressively.
  12. Discipleship:  A smaller church maybe necessary – not through exclusion but by re-organization, de-institutionalization, reparations.  At the end of this brutal process every member has a refined role and sober pride to be able to stand testament in a secular society to living as a body of believers a holy life.

3For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

The Pope has better advisers than me – so no need for me to go to Rome or mail this letter into the abyss of the Holy See administration.

A tweet will do to express my sorrow and advocacy for dramatic and timely change.

Tweet to the Pope:  8/26/2018

I share our collective shame and pain of the state of our church. I trust in you and God’s providence. I hope for radical change that I cannot detail in a tweet. I pray for the victims of abuse and tragedy at the hands of misguided and criminal priestly actions.

 

Transformation In Christ: Part XII

Final Chapter:  True Surrender of Self (Chapter 18)

The final chapter of Transformation in Christ by Dietrich Von Hildebrand begins by informing us “at the beginning and at the end of the road we travel in the process of our transformation in Christ.”

Dietrich starts off with defining this act as an “eminently personal act.”  While this personal act may be within the vessel of a larger community and shared with over 1 billion people wide, it is still an individual decision to take this leap.  There is surrender with consent.  That consent is always ours to give or not give ensuring an element of freedom and responsibility that surpasses many people’s sense of a direct and true self-surrender to Christ:

“We must really push our skiff from off the shore; burn the boats behind us.”

Dietrich goes on to quote Plato:  “….all great things are somehow done in a state of madness.”  The dual tension of desiring to soar with the calling of God while wanting security and safety within our comfort zone by maintaining a sense of human security.  The latter we have “established for ourselves and on which we have built an ordinary life.”

Who among us cannot identify with seeking order in our profession, financial safety and security, good health, longevity, good social standing and reputation, and a web of family and social supports that we desire to maintain?  These things or values are inherently good things. It is often how we define our lives and each other.

Transformation in Christ re-orders these values with love of God and love of others transcending all of our prized possessions.   We become truly in the possession of God.

handbrakes

This possession by God, however, has a hand brake.  Remember consent above?  We can at anytime reject God with our free will.  In these cases we have as individuals caved in for some other good that pleases us now or perhaps removes pain we see as unnecessary.  We will own our individual responsibility at the “end of times” and perhaps count on God’s mercy and the redemptive power of Jesus Christ.  In these instances we are perhaps aware of our shortcomings.

A greater danger lies in giving ourselves over to passion of religious belief (or other causes) without a hand brake.  The dangers of being “swept off our feet” by a charismatic person, caught up in a river of religious rapture that creates a certain mass psychosis, or unchecked nationalism that allows us to demonize other nations and their people and justify the ends above the means.

Many an individual gives up their sense of personal responsibility when cloaked in the dress of a higher cause and comforted by the charismatic leader, the masses of fellow believers, or both.   This is not an active Surrender of Self to God – but the opposite.  It is a negation of self-will, self-responsibility, and your God-given freedom to sanction or not sanction both your actions and the actions of entities that represent you by decree.

Seeking transformation in Christ by total True Surrender of Self is to impose on ourselves that every action and thought has an additional mirror of scrutiny.  We will be able to look at our actions and thoughts through the eyes of Christ – requiring each thought to be “imprinted with the Christ Stamped” as worthy of actualizing our thoughts into action.  The accuracy of our perceptions will always be suspect.  We are merely seeking, searching, and striving to live a holy life in God’s possession:

“We can never bring about of our own volition this state of being possessed by and lost in what is greater than ourselves.”

The complexity of seeking transformation in Christ is as stated in earlier chapters dialectically complex and simple at the same time.  One must start somewhere:

“The index to our transformation in Christ consists in the measure of our participation in his love for God and for men.”

Do you have a spiritual index of your personal standing with God and with your fellow-man?    That question will probably stump most of us.  We will probably have some vague notions of our general state of being but fall way shy of the detailed self-assessment that we may have akin to our financial indexes or retirement accounts!

Before you start creating a spiritual index of all your virtues and good deeds, perhaps a word on intention will suffice.  Transformation in Christ calls us to “help the divine life unfold within us.” If we truly surrender to Christ and pursue christian values and attitudes (think Sermon on the Mount), God will loosen “the fetters of our trivial system of petty self-protection and invite us to an act of ultimate audacity and freedom.”

The Journey:

If days were miles, my humble journey of 19,778 days traveling this earth represents the latest leg of our spiritual journey  after Jesus Christ’s death.   It is quantifiable.  The journey represents about 3% of the total journey of time since Christ’s Death (723,711 days).

Imagine a finite relay of Christian migrants traveling in a secular world.  We are but the latest leg carrying what is essentially an apostolic message.  The journey for our spiritual brothers of Judaism is quite longer as they reject Jesus Christ being the promised messiah.  The length of our journey infinitely expands if we include our B.C. years and the rich of the old testament.  In Catholicism we call this apostolic succession.

Apocalyptic and Apostolic Faith:

Judaism and Christianity share a belief in the “end of times” culminating in a final end to Humanity as we know it.  It can get theologically confusing as the Jewish tradition is waiting for the first messiah and  Catholics have accepted Jesus Christ as fullfilling the prophecies of the old testament as being the messiah and we are already in the end of times awaiting the second coming or “final judgement.”[i]  Read Revelation and the Epistles of John for biblical references.  Muslim tradition as well have an apocalyptic vision of an end of times and some are trying to hasten his coming.[ii]      I raise this as a key barrier to living a life truly “transformed”  in Jesus Christ.

Christians can become lost in the eschatological existential nature of the end of times:

  • romanticizing the rich writing of revelation,
  • postponing taking care of the immediacy of living a spiritual life today,
  • falling into prophesying the immediate and pending end of times to others,
  • and battling with other religions on their version of prophecy.

Spiritually having a road map of our Apocalyptic biblical liturgy informs our journey and if heeded, prepares us for the end of the journey.  However, an extreme focus on an event that is beyond our horizon is probably not our best use of our apostolic faith if we have not thoroughly grounded ourselves in what it is to be an apostle.

There is no better way to share the faith than to live our lives transformed in Christ.  Living in the now as apostles of Christ by living the faith and being conscious of spiritual virtues competing with everyday secular life.  Utilizing a threatening end all prophecy of an event we are theologically unprepared to interpret and have been in a state of perpetual waiting for centuries has been proven ineffective.  There is an immediacy of need now for apostolic living.  The evidence is all around us.  Our faith is in constant conflict with accepted secular norms and human desires.  We will not conquer either by threatening apocalyptic visions or by legislating our will on others.    We can neither be quiet nor assume the authority to be God.

 

Implications:

An audacious and bold life filled with great joy and great suffering is at our fingertips that rises above a life dictated by autonomous habits and passive acceptance of secular and other norms that have evolved and that are beneath our understanding of being divinely acceptable.

The easiest steps of transformation lay within our hearts to ensure our personal indexes are clean.  Our actions and motives are pure.  The difficult chaos is untangling the weeds of insincere religiosity, institutionalized injustice, extreme nationalism, and other misaligned values that drive our country.

I share 3% of the journey with over 1 billion Catholics worldwide.  We share this journey with the Holy Trinity.  A proper Christian Attitude and informed conscious can prepare us to be ready to receive God’s graces and presence.  The elements of a deep-seated Christian Attitude were covered in this 500 page book by a Catholic convert who denounced Hitler and Nazi Germany at the risk of his own life.

“Sequere me”

“We have envisioned the countenance of “the new man who is renewed unto the knowledge, according to the image of him that created him.”

Dietrich advises that if we pursue this course we will succeed on the great ascent towards God.  Reading this book took 153 days of reading, deconstructing, validating, and reconstructing the content.  The reading has expanded the depth of my understanding of suffering, redemption, and surrender.  It has also raised the alarm bells of many pitfalls of humanity (and me) that are present as we strive for spiritual perfection.

These pitfalls will trip us up along our journey.  We will face great evils as well.  Chaos will reign and life and death will continue to present us with incomprehensible human misery.  Only in God will we find refuge.

The beach yesterday, pictured in the background of the book below, has cold June tides.  The summer months have not yet warmed the waters for casual swimming.  In my middle age I generally ease my way in to cold waters.  Yesterday, after finishing this book, I threw myself in to the ocean’s grasp in one fluid motion.

It felt audacious and bold!        

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[i] https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2012/12/20/the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it/

[ii] https://www.thecatholicthing.org/2016/06/11/how-it-all-ends-muslim-and-christian-versions/

 

Transformation in Christ: Part XI

Holy Sobriety (Chapter 17):

Therefore, let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch, and be sober. (1 Thess. 5:6)

Thessalonians, a letter perhaps authored by Paul the Apostle, specifically invites us to be sober.[i]  Dietrich Von Hildebrand uses this letter of Paul to start his chapter on Holy Sobriety.

Sobriety & Holy Sobriety:

Sobriety for most people immediately conjures up that alcoholic seeking recovery and attempting to achieve sobriety.   In the scripture above Dietrich is speaking about not only sobriety for the alcoholic, but sobriety of the “heart, the mind, and the soul”[ii]  of all men.  He takes the comprehensive definition of a higher level of spiritual sobriety that men not become ensnared with worldly excesses in anything.  To partake in excesses is to devalue the inherent good of things by assigning them more value that what they are inherently worth, placing these things before other higher level values such as friends, family, self, or perhaps even God.

We can become equally inebriated with pursuing many substitutes for fulfillment that we are missing from the absence of a deep spirituality (connection to God) and love of things (animate and inanimate) with proper context and care.    In our material world this is evident in addictions (gambling, substance use, and alcohol, food, sex, and risk takers), wealth and status (cars, homes, watches, gold chains, money), power, competitions, sports, work, and just about any human endeavor (hobbies) that can be abused to satiate our human hunger or help us escape pain.

To review this chapter I cannot separate the two concepts though many readers would like a greater distance between their attachments to worldly things and the down and out alcoholic or drug addict or sometimes even super heroes:

tony-stark-and-carol-danvers-in-an-aa-meeting-1

The above depiction has super heroes (like Tony Stark) in an A.A. meeting.  We tend to exaggerate, romanticized, glamorize or vilify addictions.  It keeps it safe and distant from the every day man.  America now knows it is in every community – addictions by various names are reaping misery, spiritual devastation and death.

For this post we are all one and the same with a spiritual malady that has manifested itself in symptoms and sickness in various forms of human misery that separate us from God or from our fellow human beings.  To simplify I will use the term alcoholic to stand in for all addictions or excessive attachments we may gravitate to in life.

It is Noble to Abstain:

 Premise One:  It is noble to abstain (ascetic self-denial) of alcohol for both the non-alcoholic and the alcoholic.  For the non-alcoholic it is a luxury to be weighed along with all other life’s pleasures and assigned a proper context and value in their life.  For the Alcoholic there is no choice.   They do not have the luxury to imbibe under any circumstances to truly live a holy life.  The risk is simply too high. To borrow from Alcoholics Anonymous – this is my suggestion!

Premise Two:  This post may attract non-Catholic readership that are interested in sobriety and attend self-help groups.   The concepts discussed by Dietrich on Holy Sobriety are wholly compatible with recovery 12 self-help groups sense of living a sober life and having a “spiritual awakening” or “spiritual experience.”  These groups primary purpose is to not drink (or not use, not gamble, etc).  However, through a slow process of working a step program and fellowship the groups are a spiritual program.  They stay away from the “religious” affiliations but hit on many of the core values that one might find in the Sermon on the Mount and many other biblical references.  Countless writers have over-laid the spiritual principles of 12 step groups with the bible.   This post of course is written by as a review of “Transformation in Christ” so the author would love to have every reader has what he has – belief in Jesus Christ as your higher power.   If you are in the early throes of recovery – and are religious adverse, work your steps with a more liberal definition of your higher power.   Things can have a funny way of working out later if you stay sober.

Premise Three:  All addictions are not equal.  Addictions do not discriminate.  Addiction recovery may require medical intervention.  Addiction recovery may require self-help 12 step groups.  Addiction recovery may require surrendering to a “higher power of your understanding.”  Addictions are complex and often have physical, emotional, situational, spiritual, psychological, genetic, and other causal influences or drivers that are beyond our ability to address or judge here.  Get professional help if you have an active addiction and if you have a religious affiliation consider pastoral counseling as well.

Premise Four:   Holy sobriety is all-inclusive and if practiced conquers physical sobriety as well.  Despite seemingly giving up some “isms” in the form of addictions, limiting dependence on human attachments, and practicing a sobriety in all things Holy sobriety is “compatible with a life inspired and sustained by faith.”   It can and will be joyous even in the face of adversity and suffering.

Holy Sobriety:  

What does Dietrich say about Holy Sobriety?   It is marked by a life style that embraces genuineness, simplicity, blunt truthfulness, humility, meekness, patience, mercy, love of God and our fellow-man.  One sentence and we are good to go!   No, of course it is not that simple.  There are barriers and of course our inherent weaknesses as a species and our own individual failings and limitations.  We are as a collective and as individuals maturing spiritually and we alone cannot rush this process:

“There are certain successive stages which must be traversed; certain stages which must be actually covered.  If we ignore this rhythm which is the law of being; if we attempt to skip over the proper course of things and to secure the final result in one blow, if we even try to force some great plan – we fatally deprive that great thing of its depth and its inward weight, and substitute for it a mere counterfeit, bearing the stigma of flat artificiality.  It is only the paths that God has marked out for us that we can reach the high peaks of spiritual being.”

humble

I have to soberly strive for ascetic practices that do involve certain self-denial practices or even combat with excessive habits, attachments, or outright addictions.  These actions will require me to have a pretty good sense and awareness of my values and where they may be distorted or out of alignment with a higher order of values.  The removal of these barriers or at least intention to limit their choke hold on me doesn’t even address living a holy sober life – it only addresses eliminating a behavior.

The successive stages above speak to a slow process of spiritual awakening and elevated sense of our true metaphysical situation (size of gulf that separates us from God) including our blind spots, misaligned aspirations, real limitations, strengths and other graces that we may have been granted.  Living soberly is more than not just eliminating a negative aspect of our behaviors.

It is living a positive, meaningful, zealous and energetic life that strives for holiness while remaining grounded in the reality that our two feed are grounded here on this earth.  We are limited by our mortality, our own dispositions, and the random accidental nature of life and its problems.  The latter presupposes that our emotional response is always centered in the duality of our human limitations and spiritual aspirations.  There is an acceptance of evil while we still do what we can to fight evil.   We are still called to hunger for justice and to be peacemakers in this world.

Okay, I am sober physically and emotionally.  I have turned my will and my desire over to the God of my understanding.  I am joyously celebrating life’s graces and the world’s natural beauty.  I am loving my God (meditation, prayer, liturgy and mass).  And yet this is still not enough.

Holy Sobriety has an element of total surrender to God, an element of acceptance of our status in our lives today and crosses we have to bear, a profound awareness of our separation from God, a deep belief in God’s redemptive powers, and yet living life on an even keel despite our humanly traits to perhaps exaggerate our own personal experiences (our great crosses, heroism, humility or other grandiosity).  We will delve neither into great pessimism or optimism and yet not become a slave to rigid rules or totally be divorced from our personality and unique gifts!

There is a dynamic of Holy Sobriety that both contains immense energy and yet sublime peace and containment.  It is deceptively simple and complex.

Dietrich gives many examples of what Holy Sobriety is not as a measure of guiding the reader’s awareness of the many pitfalls of human aspirations and awareness.  Here is an example of his description of one such danger.

The Natural Idealist:

icarus

“Thus, his lofty mood involves a certain divorce from reality; his bold perspectives are never free from a trait of anemic thinness and of reckless illusion-ism.  He would storm the skies by flight, like Icarus – instead of humbly ascending step by step the narrow, steep, and laborious path that leads to eternity.  His attitude has something forced and high strung about it.  His enterprise is doomed to failure, for it rest on a gigantic illusion concerning human nature, whose dismal abysses he hardly suspects. He fails, in a word, owing to his ignorance of man’s need of redemption.”   

Perhaps even a greater danger is falling into the abyss religious illusionism.  In our zeal to attain and live a holy life we fall into a trap of believing certain private illuminations is definitively the voice of God.   Without thorough contemplation and due diligence of testing our “illuminations” against other possible explanations (like natural phenomena, our very own spiritual imagination, or co-incidental events) we act on our belief without even running it past a spiritual director for external validation.

Pursuing a spiritual life whether for genuine desire to be closer to God or because your life may depend on it (Alcoholics, Heroin/Opiate addictions, etc) remains an honorable path that requires patience and persistence.  Most importantly it requires increasing humility with each step up the ladder.  In my view the higher you climb the smaller you become relative to where you are going.

Humble: 

“The root of all ‘mystical illusionism lies in pride.”

 “Holy Sobriety, on the contrary, implies a humble admission of the fact that we, too, must pay our tribute to universal human weakness.” 

 If we were to apply the standards of “alcoholism” to man’s reliance and hunger for earthly things above mature spiritual living we would have an explosion of adults confronting countless dependencies that distract us from living truly spiritually driven lives.

A powerful chapter on living in Holy Sobriety that has universal value beyond people in recovery from an “ism.”  If none of this grabs you, perhaps this can enliven your spiritual  imagination:

quote-be-sober-be-vigilant-because-your-adversary-the-devil-as-a-roaring-lion-walketh-about-seeking-bible-281303

For me, seeking to live an holy life is not driven by fear of a vengeful God or the gates of hell.   I cannot begin to know nor trust in my ability to discern evil or holy doers in my midst.   I can barely keep my own motivations and intentions aligned with the virtues I hold to be proper and good for mankind.  If you believe in God however, you probably also believe in the opposite, an existence without God or worse yet an eternity with the devil.   

The only true glimpse we have of this however, is our daily actions and faith today to provide us a scent of  the future’s potential, both here on this earth and after we depart.  For most of to spend an inordinate amount of time on the eschatological matters is as abstract as the word eschatological itself.  The latter is important – but what we do while in seemingly eternal perpetuity of the end of times is more important.  We only have a limited time to contribute our being to human kinds spiritual development and ascension while hopefully working for the betterment of fellowman in real time, here on earth, today.  

Our eschatological destiny (death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind) is something we gamble with everyday.   Our destiny will probably not be revealed to us within our mortal lives.  In the meantime we have the pursuit of Holy Sobriety!

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[i] https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/gills-exposition-of-the-bible/1-thessalonians-5-6.html

[ii] https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/gills-exposition-of-the-bible/1-thessalonians-5-6.html

 

Rejoice and be Glad

Rejoice and be Glad.[i]

The Vatican has just released “APOSTOLIC EXHORTATION GAUDETE ET EXSULTATE
OF THE HOLY FATHER FRANCIS ON THE CALL TO HOLINESSIN TODAY’S WORLD.”  (End note 1).  I recommend any serious Catholic read it now before reading any further here!

What could I possible write that would be better stated or more informed than the Holy Father?  Yes, that is a rhetorical question.  No answer needed please.  If you are not a serious Catholic I would advise the same direction if you are interested in living a holy life.  I would also advise the same for the curious or the atheist – 1.2 billion people, many of them your neighbors, are Catholic.

I have read the document hot of the press this evening as an alternative to the latest Donald Trump news cycle.  It is short and to the point.  It covers many of the themes covered in my ongoing review of Dietrich Von Hildebrand: Transformation in Christ 300 plus page thesis in simple layman’s language.  I had to break from this review to provide this timely piece from our Holy Father.  His work speaks to our foundational spiritual formation and may intuit spiritual direction and reflection along the way.

It celebrates the anonymous spiritual warriors, the saint’s next door, and their invisible acts of love, kindness and mercy that may never be validated or honored in our worldly view.   It calls you to live and pursue a sanctified life while acknowledging the impossibility of achieving in the smallest act of holiness without God’s grace.

Unfortunately the vast majority of Catholics will not read the original and practically no non-believers.  Yet all will see the “document” described through a secular lens of our newspapers and media.   The Washington Post today sensationalized it with excerpts of the value scale of abortion relative to other Catholic Social values and places the piece squarely in the political scene of both American politics and internal church divides:

“The document, titled “Gaudete et Exsultate” (Latin for “Rejoice and Be Glad”), is Francis’s latest major publication in his five-year papacy, following works on the environment and the family that each made waves in the church. This apostolic exhortation takes up a broader theme, holiness, but some church scholars quickly read the new work as an implied response to the pope’s conservative critics.”[ii]

The surface review, however accurate about the human side of our religious institution and political landscape, misses the mark on the authenticity and call to Holiness detailed in this remarkable document.  I am happy that the Pope’s publication receives front page press attention and coverage.  It is up to the readers to take the next step and dive into the source document!

The signs of Holiness in today’s world are especially insightful. One of my many takeaways is sharing “Joy and a Sense of Humor.”  Radiating a positive and hopeful spirit is sometimes an area where I can do more to reflect my faith accurately and the blessings I have received!   The second take away as it may challenge your beliefs and comfort level – our faith is not a closed system but a living and growing faith.

The beatitudes are not easy to apply in today’s world all the time.   Sometimes the pain and sacrifice called for will challenge us to the core.  Other times the mystery and unfairness of life will strain our faith.

Rejoice and Be Glad

Thanks for visiting my blog.  Pope Francis exhortation below.  Feel free to leave comments and have a peaceful and insightful read of the exhortation!

[i] https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20180319_gaudete-et-exsultate.html

[ii] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2018/04/09/pope-franciss-latest-guidance-caring-for-migrants-and-the-poor-is-just-as-important-as-protecting-the-unborn/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.bf0803fa045d

 

 

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