Is God Dead? – Part Three

Angry with God today?

Is anger understating your feelings towards God? Or if not today have you ever been enraged, hateful, irate, indignant, or resentful? Perhaps you have been accusatorial of God’s benign presence in the midst of suffering or even assign him direct responsibility for evil or pain that has afflicted you?resentment

Denying God today?

Or you are by now beyond God, you have no anger or hatred with God, for you have come to deny the existence of any deity at all.  If you have reached this point, then yes, God is Dead to you.  You are not alone in your position:

“”According to the latest international survey data, as reported by Ariela Keysar and Juhem Navarro-Rivera in the recently published Oxford Handbook of Atheism, there are approximately 450-500 million non-believers in God worldwide, which amounts to about 7% of the global adult population. And according to the Pew Research Center, if we broaden the category to include all non-religious people in general — those unaffiliated adults who do not identify with any religion — we’re talking 1.1 billion people, which equals about 16.5% of the global adult population. As such, “non-religious” is actually the third largest “religion” in the world, coming only behind Christianity (in first place) and Islam (in second). Thus, there are more secular men and women on planet earth — many of whom are atheists and agnostics — than there are Hindus, Buddhists, Mormons, Sikhs, Jains, or Jews.”

The Decision to abandon Faith

If you are among the people who have never had a dark night of questioning God’s existence, count yourself as truly blessed.  Your experience is not the norm.   Understanding this will prepare you for helping those unfortunates who do not hold your gift of grace and cross your path in a state of disbelief.

For the rest of us mortals who have had experiences with great anger or outright disbelief, I believe the root of our malevolent state of being to be the conundrum of pervasive suffering and evil.  And it sometimes leads to people quietly leaving the faith or leaving with thunder and wrath.  What to we really offer people who suffer the unjust misery and suffering?  Do we condemn their lack of faith?  Their lack of trust in God?  What decisions they have made or actions they failed to take to avoid such suffering and misery?

What have we done? 

When you have experienced suffering, visible for all to see or hidden from public view, who did you turn to for help?  Did you turn to God and find silence?   Perhaps you turned to friends in times of great strife?  Did your friends offer you platitudes or condolences? How many times have you heard or even offered yourself these traditional phrases:

  • “I will pray for you and your family”
  • “I am so sorry for your loss”
  • “He was so young. God must have called him home”
  • “You will get over this in time, God is at your side, have faith”
  • “God heals all, you have to have faith”
  • “No one truly knows God’s plans”

Hit with deep personal pain or witnessing unexplainable tragedy – these responses from people of faith are simply insufficient unless accompanied by other more tangible actions.  Often they are not accompanied by more than a passing smile and perhaps a sympathy card.  These responses, despite being well-meaning and genuine, come off as shallow and incongruous with the situation. This is not enough.

The mass shootings in the United States highlight the issue.  People don’t want prayers – they want action.  Family members with a loved one in the throws of addiction don’t want prayers, they want help and recovery for their loved one.  People who have lost a child to evil don’t want condolences, they want their child back.

If not you personally, the global suffering we witness every day is so overwhelming that we become numb to human tragedy. We are so often powerless to effect change in the constant stream of misery that we witness everyday – if not suffered personally.

Are we not secretly at times separated from the suffering person and cognitively distancing ourselves mentally for our own sanity – hoping we cannot or will not suffer the same fate?  If not would we not be in a perpetual state of immense grieving and uncontrollable sobbing?

Our approach to coping with suffering, evil, and even death itself is the greatest “cleaver” of faith that our society faces today.  We have attempted to white wash life in an illusion of control of our destinies.  We have come to expect a life where we are entitled to certain possessions, status, health, and other temporal acquisitions if only we work for it and others are not irrationally cooperating!

We are unprepared for the crushing blows of major disappointments, grave injustices, personal failure, violence, and other soul shattering experiences.   And when they strike us our spiritual foundation is often found wanting and unable to sustain us through the storm – we blame God or deny him.  Or we blame others and deny them.

We mistakenly believe if we do everything right, if our government does its job, if our doctors are practicing good medicine, if all the “others” would only do their part – we would be safe from tragedy.   And yet we see everyday innocent people swept up in tragedy.  How do we maintain the illusion of suffering that it only comes to “others” until it comes for us?

We should be yelling from the roof tops and in the streets about the injustices we see daily.  We should be consoling the poor and the suffering not with platitudes and prayers but with blood, sweat, and tears.  We can pray too – but let that be quietly and in private for our strength and perseverance in the midst of immense suffering.  We cannot be blind to suffering.  We cannot be numb to evil actions.  We cannot ignore our neighbors near or far.  We should be listening and hearing voices of disbelief and anger towards God and embracing these voices with understanding and love.   We can only do that genuinely if we do so prepared and with spiritual grounding – spiritual love that transcends the human experience.

Spiritual Foundation?

This denial of suffering (and our mortality) coupled with a weak a spiritual foundation leaves us vulnerable alienation from fellow man and God.  We are unprepared for genuine response to the suffering of others or for when it visits us uninvited.

God is not dead when suffering strikes us – our spiritual immaturity has left us unable to reach out to God or hear his whispers.  We are dependent on temporal things and human affections before God.  When these human possession are threatened we become unmoored.  We are unable to cope with the slightest inconveniences, never mind great misery and suffering.

Analyze your own Suffering? 

I know a little about suffering – though not enough to claim martyrdom. My family was engulfed by alcoholism. My parents, whose hearts and souls were contradictorily of pure intention and love, were compromised by their disease progression, domestic violence, the onset of poverty, and eventually premature death for my father. Myself, and my six older siblings took in more than our share of hidden and not so hidden emotional and spiritual bruises. Two of us would go to our deaths in a state of great suffering.  Our suffering was both visible and invisible.  We were Catholic and all attended Catholic School.  The church, nor our community, had answers for the particular flavor of suffering that afflicted my family.  My accounts of shame, pride, fear, failure, success, and struggle to cope with the meaning of life and the presence of God exceeds this post.  I however knew God from an early age and my relationship with God and the Catholic Church was complicated from the beginning.

Suffice it to say I had good reason to doubt in a merciful and loving God.  And yet after several rounds of a contentious relationship with God – I am in the camp of God is alive and well and it is our souls that are asleep and dead to God.   My suffering bought me to places that I would rather not go.  At the same time, it liberated me from certain preconceived notions about myself and about humanity.  My suffering, and witnessing suffering in others, has bought me closer to God and closer to mankind.  That is  where I am today.  How did I get here back with the God that I once declared he was dead?

Rediscovering God? 

gratitudeFirst, let me give you the cliché answer that Catholics will tell you – by God’s grace.  I say this as I by myself have created nothing.  Any revelation or spiritual consolation that sustains me is not of my own making.    There have been countless books, several priest consults, spiritual books, spiritual retreats, and many hours of contemplation that have restored my faith.  Beyond that there were everyday people that beamed with God’s grace that had something I once thought was naivety but later I came to understand was hard earned wisdom.  And there were periods of turning my back on God, of self-destruction and self-absorption that in my case, were necessary to help me expand my horizons.

Transforming Suffering?

Rediscovering God has not eliminated suffering for me.  Rediscovering God has transformed suffering into something meaningful beyond comprehension.   I almost feel like my cross to carry is insignificant relative to others (and it is) and yet feel like it is too much for me.  The truth is I am not able to manage pain and suffering with any dignity unless I do so through God.  Some greater than me in spirit pray for God to give them more suffering if it is his will.  I can barely manage “God’s will, not mine, be done” before my mind’s eye is fixed on my next human affection (or affliction!).

I have been discussing suffering that is undeserved (in my view) and unjust.  Unexplainable suffering.  There is another kind of suffering.  Some people are angry as they have come to recognize their lives are built on fraudulent temporal things like power, greed, selfishness, lust, and other human desires that at the end of the day leave them empty and miserable.  There is simply not enough human pleasure to satiate the human spirit or feed our narcissistic self-importance when we are living contrary to the laws of God.

Transforming Love?

Rediscovering God transforms love as well as suffering.  I mentioned people who are suffering require “tangible actions.”  Expression of selfless love to a person who is suffering can take many forms.   It is given without expectation, carefully, and thoughtfully.  It is devoid of any expectation of returns.  It just is living to do the next right thing.  It knows no boundaries.   Receiving love as well is an art of willful gratitude and openness without ownership.  We cannot possess it and freeze it in time.  It is also limitless and infinite if we respect its true God given essence.

Integrating Love and Suffering:

God is present no matter the temporal reality that we are experiencing at any moment.  Our cooperation in the moment with acceptance of what is, intentional spiritual consciousness of how we are called to act in any given moment, persistence and patience while in the throws of darkness, and immense gratitude when experiencing love and joy, are all fluid and one with God’s will.  If only I was always on this spiritual high.  If we all lived this way no suffering would shake our faith.

Wait a minute – you don’t know what I have been through?  

I have known death of loved ones.  I have known personal failure.  I have known sickness and poor health.  I have witnessed many people suffering.  And yes I have no idea what you the reader have been through.

I know of your suffering as I know intimately of global suffering all over the world.  In my prayers I can be bought to tears by our inhumanity to each other.  In contemplation I can become overwhelmed with emptiness and lack of understanding. In moments of   confusion and helplessness, I like Job, want answers now.

I believe that a thoughtful and open minded journey exploring one’s faith, one’s suffering, and one’s life long loves or joys can restore and strengthen lost faith.  I also believe finding genuine faith that is well discerned will improve us and the people around us.

This three part series on “Is God Dead” was ignited by a new reading of the Book of Job.  I have learned that you and I should challenge our faith, ourselves, and those around us when faith is in question or when we or a neighbor is suffering.  It is a call to universal arms that we fight suffering, love one another, and embrace spirituality.  Mine just happens to be Christianity in form.

God by another name?

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The name on the shingle of the church is secondary to the actions of people inside the temple. What we do with love and suffering outside the temple is also testament to the fidelity of the shingle holder’s ability to carry the word of God. Those without a shingle (without a church) are not off the hook either. The 1.1 billion people have a shared social contract with us based on moral evolution as a species that shares many of the values shared by our religious institutions.  That being said, I would be remiss and lacking an authentic voice if I did not say find a catholic spiritual advisor, preferably a Jesuit, to explore the faith and your objections to Christianity today, gently and with love.

thCELJAR0P

 Secular benefit?

There is evidence out there that faith is good for your general well-being and happiness.  Review the science if you are skeptical.  Many “well-being” models of therapy employ techniques that are borrowed from religions with rich spiritual practices and traditions.  Mindfulness, Yoga, Tai Chi and many forms of meditation can trace portions of their practices to religion.  They can be helpful in and of themselves – but let me say they are also temporal and missing the main ingredient, genuine spirituality and connection to a higher universal meaning.  Some orthodox religious believers see these practices as dangerous and even heretical in nature.  I do not prescribe to this assertion but can see their point that practices aimed solely at self-soothing, avoiding pain and discomfort, and seeking personal peace can be misapplication of effort and ultimately spiritually limiting.

How can I return to God?  

I firmly believe you cannot “crowd source” faith.  It is helpful to have company of faithful people – but ultimately faith is an individual responsibility.  Without individual responsibility religious institutions and your faith run the risk of becoming human created cults operating on superficial clichés of dead letters quoted in ancient text.   The institutions and their believers can become enveloped in the very evils that faith preaches against.  My church as well as every religious institution has to reconcile this threat everyday.  No one individual or set of individuals owns the faith of any great religion.  Study history and you will find grave errors by every religious institution  known to mankind executed in God’s name.

This by the way is what I take Nietzsche meant when he said “God is Dead.”  Individuals ceded personal responsibility for their faith to rigid religious institutions and became docile in their beliefs.  Ironically his philosophy was used by Nazi Germany to let a charismatic leader lead a docile people into being partners in one of the greatest evils of all time.

Simply stated:

Love your neighbor as yourself and help alleviate suffering whenever you see it. Simple. As for God’s role and responsibility, pre and post Christ, I believe it is still up to us to live up to his expectations, not the other way around.

The Longer Path:

I was struggling to bring this three part series to a close.  I was keenly aware that the pain and suffering that people are experiencing cannot be relieved by my writing alone.  I am deeply saddened by our collective isolation and alienation from God.  I am aware that as long as I am mortal my search for proximity to God and spiritual transcendence will never be fulfilled.

Suffering remains a part of our experience – both in human misery and in spiritual distance from our creator.

I went to retire last night and was provided closure to this post by para phrasing Pope Francis:

“….we must love God and our neighbor – and this is not comfortable. It is demanding, and requires us to strive, which means having a decisive and persevering will to live according to the Gospel.”

“the Lord will not recognize us on account of our titles, but only on account of a humble life, a good life, a life of faith that results in works.”

“Spending our lives for the good of our brothers and sisters for Christians means that we are called to restore a true communion with Jesus, praying, going to Church, approaching the Sacraments and nourishing ourselves on His Word. This maintains us in faith, nourishes our hope, revives charity.”

“In this way with the grace of God, we can and must spend our life for the good of our brothers and sisters, struggling against every form of evil and of injustice.”

I mentioned earlier comforting those who suffer with tangible actions.  The sufferer may also be ourselves.  Faith is not a passive activity.  It is not waiting at a bus stop for the God bus to arrive.  It is inside us and all around us to be lived and participated in every moment.

Strive to understand suffering and faith today

Make a e decisive and persevering will  to live a holy life today 

Restore a true communion with God (through exploration of your faith)

Join the struggle against every form of evil and of injustice

Find time for spiritual contemplation daily to make sure you take full ownership of your faith and your works and that they are truly aligned with your greater purpose here on earth, consciously and actively  

May this post find you in a good spiritual place ready to embrace love and suffering with resolve and appropriate intentional living.  Thank you for visiting my site today.

Suffering and Providence

The Sad Joyous Truth:

Finally, you have found my blog page; you itinerant idiot.  For those of you who have been here before do not pat yourself on the back.  In all likelihood, you are much worse off now than when you last visited.  Tell me it isn’t so, honestly, can you do that today?   I don’t think so.

Catherine has written to me about you.  She says you live in such wretchedness, stinking of death, beclouded and darksome for want of light, going about singing and laughing, spending time on vanities, pleasures, and indecency.  I did try and defend you and your honor.  No sooner had I responded to her a new letter arrived detailing your actions.  Oh, how I wish I could rescind my letter.  You all are indeed lustful, drunkards, and gluttons, so much so that you make a God of your belly.  You cannot pass the hour without being hateful, spiteful, or proud.  And despite the unnatural protrusion of your belly, the incessant clutter in your homes, the unyielding thoughts, and desires swirling around in your head and perhaps even your soul, you walk around singing and dancing.  I will not detail here what she has said about you, we both know it will only be used as gossip by the others or turn into unnecessary denials or minimizations by you to save a little face, lessen the shame.  stampsDon’t be ashamed by my knowledge. Catherine felt it necessary to send me my very own letter.  The envelope had excessive stamps covering over to Catherine’s return address on the envelope.  No, I don’t know why she still does not use e-mail.

I could not stand her viciousness against you all, and especially the contents of my letter.  I visited her.  It didn’t go as intended.  I knocked on her door, perhaps a little too loudly, and it opened of its own.  She calmly said the door was unlocked as she was expecting me.  I tell you I was disarmed right there and stupefied.

On my honor, I tried to take up her attack on your honor.  She would have none of it.  Let them speak for themselves she said, we both know you came here as it is you I have offended.  I tell you now that this is not so, I was there for you as well as me.  We had it out.  Well not really out, I would start in with any number of justifications and excuses and fall into silence by her one or two-word convictions that belaid the truth of this situation.    It got so, I would start a sentence, and she would be smiling, and my sentence would crumble mid-way.  Eventually, I crumbled in a heap onto her couch.  And then she said, okay, now you are ready.

This was an unexpected turn.  My self-righteous anger was indeed quelled.  Catherine calmly went about her way, describing in detail how all of my body’s senses had become corrupted and utilized for my very own self-fulfillment.  My eyes see the world with a possessive intention, my ears listen for opportunity or threat to my self-worth, my touch craves the love of another to fulfill my sense of being loved, and my sense of smell draws me to the kitchen to provide me momentary pleasure that is never satisfied.  It was a long afternoon – but I tell you I did not notice the hour arm on the clock spinning towards evening.

It was not all bliss this time spent.  My anger welled up at my God as well as at my self in torrents.    Why does God provide me so many trials and temptations?  Why does not everything come labeled with directions and intentions?  Why is this devil that I cannot see at the door of my soul?

I cannot detail all she said, but I am sure she will be willing to meet with you.   In a matter of hours, I came to see and feel my imperfections.  Despite entering into her house hours before feeling overly confident in my morality and justified in my martyrdom at the injustices her letter incurred on my psyche, I was indeed slipping into an unconscious false sense of self-mastery.  I was the master of my ship, so to speak as if Iship had built the damn boat myself and controlled the winds and the seas.  Let the boat rock a little, or the skies turn dark, and I was apt to hurl invectives at the unfairness of it all and my hopeless situation being far worse off than any others on the sea.

Catherine explained to me that through a daily re-orientation, I would come to experience joy through my senses in a way that provided me glimpses of God’s providence for me.  She said, “the imperfect soul comes to perfection by fighting these battles, because there he experiences my divine providence, whereas, before this, he only believed in it.”  She then listed the perceived injustices and suffering I have experienced in life (death of loved ones, failures, humiliations, desires denied) as well as the good times (successes, family, catastrophic near misses, and other blessings).  I came to understand that when I am truly living in a state of piety, humility, and holiness that Joy and Suffering are the same.

I cannot believe I have written these words together:  Joy and Suffering are the same.  Catherine helped me see there is nothing wrong with “singing and dancing” when it is properly ordered in celebrating God and our human relationships on a spiritual level.  And on the suffering, no matter how terrible the tragedy up to and including the loss or imminent death, each instance of suffering is an opportunity to deepen our faith.  Catherine took my hand and said if you truly understand the nature of human suffering and divine providence you would pray for more suffering to be put on your plate – and I believed her as I trembled at the idea of carrying more, despite how light my burden is today.

In life, for Christians at least, we are waiting for momentary consolations and ultimate revelation when the time comes to an end of our world as we know it.   Catherine says God gives us this great weigh of labor (suffering) lest the virtue of patience grows rusty waitwithin us.  Impatience, she says, will corrode our soul.  How often do I pray “Gods will, not mine, be done” but am secretly hoping God’s will matches my timeline and my outcomes?  If he sends me suffering and delay am I open to it in a joyous and spiritual matter as an opportunity to deepen my faith and fulfill providence as only God understands it?

I am in one of those transition points in life where success is not guaranteed (is it ever?) and my anxiety and attachments to what I have today is at odds with the journey that lay ahead.  This worry is contrary to truly following God’s direction, praying for discernment, accepting joy and suffering as they may come, and completing the actions and responsibilities that are my charge, in God’s name and not my own,  without any ownership of worldly or spiritual experiences being of my design.

Catherine whispered to me that God would purge me of my selfish and disordered love, whether temporal or spiritual and prune me, employing many trials so that I may produce more and better fruit.  If I am open to God, I will come to care equally about trial and consolation.  I will not be seeking my consolation or fulfillment – but rather to honor, glory, and praise of the God that I seek.

I know some of you have met Catherine, and some of you have not.  I am saddened to inform you she will not be home if you visit her in Siena.  She did, however, jot down some notes for you not only on Suffering and Providence  (pg. 297 to 307) but on the contemplative spiritual life as she experienced it.  She called these notes left for you, “The Dialogue.”

If you cannot lay your hands on her notes in Siena, I can refer you to a seller nearby who has taken the time to make many copies of her notes.  She apparently has written to others besides me.  Oh, and before I go, let me apologize for calling you an idiot, although that was Catherine’s word, I should not have used it against you seven centuries later.

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Noa

I am up too late tonight.  I am somewhat in the valley of my mood range despite having no outward claim to be disgruntled, angry with my creator, or otherwise disenfranchised.    To the contrary, I have many gifts to be grateful for, including among them adversities that have ensured I am well grounded in humility and empathy for my fellow man and sometimes even for myself!  These adversities have also demanded I have it out with my conception of religion, of people of faith, of spiritual seeking people, and ultimately of God.

At pivotal points in my life, psychic pain and suffering pitted against belief in a merciful and personal God have come into sharp contrast and confrontation.  I like to think “I” have come through these events stronger and better prepared for suffering, yet I know that alone I would not last a second in some of the valleys I have traversed or may have to face down the road apiece.

What if I chose not to face those valleys?  What if life was so unforgiving and so merciless in my perception, in my reality for me, that it became unworthy living?   Most would not judge me well.  On the outside, I have all the “trappings of normalcy” sprinkled with my unique madness that makes everyone a little different, a little more mysterious.    Would you be in any position to judge me?  Can we ever really know the sufferer beneath the smile of the ones we love or the stranger next door?

Intellectually I can hold court with rational support for both sides of this debate.  I have no interest in doing so.  We would have to prioritize the issue on several levels:  societal values, individual rights, medical cost, impacted loved ones, moral and spiritual weights, philosophical underpinnings, and perhaps basic ethics.

There is a higher measure here — deep sorrow. Noa Pothaven died young and incited a Euthanasia debate that she did not want.  Her story and suffering will be a book a film no doubt – but will we learn and change anything?

Neo

Noa Pothoven

Noa suffered repeated trauma at the hands of others.  The stories referenced below do not focus on justice for Noah or efforts to prevent future traumatic events to girls and women.  Our professionals were not able to provide “trauma-informed care” to save this woman from the demons of her past experiences and the presence of deep psychic pain today.   Two major systemic failures leap out here in criminal justice and mental health fields.  Timely and effective prevention of sexual exploitation and violence and swift justice for acts of same is not an accepted or supported norm in our societies.  The mental health systems are not built to provide surround care and nurturing when these horrible acts transpire in a manner that truly embraces recovery.  Of course, this is an overgeneralization.

There are a wonderful therapist and crisis counselors doing awesome work and interventions out there.  They are just not armed with the resources to provide the system of care required to insulate and care for victims of horrendous crimes care.  We will never know where Noa would be if either of these two systems were fully and appropriately able to combat sexual violence and treat victims promptly and for as long as necessary with comprehensive care in a culture that does not allow for victim blaming and shaming.  Even in the absence of assault, we have to be responsive to people with mental health conditions that lead to self-harming behaviors.  Our observations cannot grasp the reality and suffering present within the mind of the person contemplating self-harm or suicide.  Eating disorders, major depression, bipolar disorder, addictions, alcoholism, and countless other maladies defy common understanding unless you experience it or are clairvoyant.   Help and provide hope rather than judge and run away.

I cannot type a word against Noa or even the “End of Life Clinic” pictured below.  They have a team of nurses and doctors that help people legally take their own life.  I wonder what they charge – rather callously, this post deserves no humor.

120307070200-netherlands-euthanasia-clinic-story-top

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/mar/17/assisted-dying-euthanasia-netherlands

The article above details their work.  To do the work they do I imagine they are a deeply caring lot that faces pain, controversy, and death every day. Taking on that duty of trying to reasonably provide an option to people living with unbearable pain while ensuring full faculty of mind is a terrible endeavor, not to mention morally confounding. 

deathIf we were doing our work well, they would not have a lot of business.  We are failing our youth in areas of education, nutrition, poverty, safety, civility, spirituality, and overall universally, global respect for all people (women, men, children, of every race, of every nationality, of every sexual orientation).  It is not just a Netherlands problem or an American problem, but a universal moral and spiritual failure.   

Hats off to our hospice and palliative care specialist as well that help people make informed choices, access treatments and define advanced directives that speak for them when they can no longer speak for themselves.  I owe this field an apology of sorts as I often make jokes about their grim reaper role, underneath it all they give care when it is most needed and most complex.  They are not at all “End of Life Clinics” despite many people they see are heading towards death’s door with dignity and respect.  palliative care

Euthanasia is a serious question, but can we first treat people with dignity and respect before they reach death’s door or before they reach such immense suffering that they are asking to kick the door in?  Hopefully,Phil_GatesOfHell they are not by this act kicking in the Gates of Hell as Catholic doctrine teaches voluntary suicide is contrary to church law.  Again can we work with what we know to be true and attempt to create heaven on earth by acts within our ability here and now on earth. 

Can we start with praying for Noa and her family and then go out and act on the greater good in each of our communities?  Prayer if well informed, can lead to noble and honorable action here and now supported by the grace of God.  The photo is of Rodan’s Gates of Hell.  I do not believe suicidal gestures and actions doom one to enter these gates.  I do believe we have to wrestle more earnestly with issues of human dignity, come to understand human suffering and expand our access to the mystery of the divine nature within all of us.  

Euthanasia is happening here in America legally, illegally, and in-between the two with a nod and an extra push on the morphine button.   Are we much different than the Netherlands?

“Death by euthanasia is 4% of all deaths in the Netherlands. Is that a slippery slope? I don’t think so,” said Pleiter. Much of the demand was coming from the baby-boomer generation, he added. “They are thinking differently about the way life ends. God and religion are less dominant in their lives. They want more autonomy. But every case is unique.”  In 2017, some 6,585 people chose euthanasia to end their own lives in the Netherlands, about 4.4 percent of the total number of more than 150,000 registered deaths in the country, according to the Regional Euthanasia Review Committee which strictly monitors all cases.

In the U.S., suicide is the tenth leading cause of death.  This number, representing only about 1.3 percent of all deaths, does not accurately account for deaths due to underreporting, intentional deaths by overdose, alcohol-related deaths, and suspicious deaths (with hidden motive and intentions). Legal or not, we have too many people successfully taking their own lives.

Additional Facts About Suicide in the US

  • The age-adjusted suicide rate in 2017 was 14.0 per 100,000 individuals.
  • The rate of suicide is highest in middle-age white men in particular.
  • In 2017, men died by suicide 3.54x more often than women.
  • On average, there are 129 suicides per day.
  • White males accounted for 69.67% of suicide deaths in 2017.
  • In 2017, firearms accounted for 50.57% of all suicide deaths.

https://afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics/

https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/mortality/lcwk9.htm

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/06/world/europe/noa-pothoven-instagram-euthanasia.html

https://nypost.com/2019/06/04/netherlands-teen-raped-as-child-legally-euthanized-due-to-unbearable-pain/

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7103019/Dutch-girl-17-legally-ends-life-euthanasia-clinic.html

Anyone want to join me on vacation to the Netherlands?  Pack light we can save on baggage fees and return airfare.    Okay, maybe the post needs a little dark humor.  

It is quiet now.  Three-twenty a.m. in the morning.  It is the most trying time for people who are struggling with mental health – no one to call and silence and quiet all around.  Spiritually it is a great time to pray and can be an equally challenging experience in times of desolation.  Woe is the person who faces both at the same time (sickness and desolation), yet they often come hand in hand.  Find solace in prayer and if nothing else works wake everyone the hell up – people love a little drama in the middle of the night!

darkness

Tears

She passes through this Word, enduring with true gentle patience every pain and trouble that I permit her for her own good.  She accepts it courageously, choosing my way over her own.  And she suffers not only patiently, but gladly.”  Pg. 163

At first glance, my human instinct is to repel this idea with many objections:

  1. What word?
  2. Gentle patience with every pain?
  3. Someone permits the pain for her own good?
  4. She accepts it courageously?
  5. And gladly?

And it only gets worse.  The someone who allows these tragedies to unfold for this women is God the Father, and the word is his words as revealed to her.  My child, you are going to suffer significantly, I could alleviate your pain this very moment, but I will not.  You will come to understand and be glad that I have given you such troubles.

Most of us do not have such direct revelations as this women.  But if we did would we not protest grievously?  Do we not protest today our major sufferings much less our mild nuisances in life?  Do we ask for more suffering gladly? Should we ask for more suffering?  I dare say not!  And her suffering was extreme.

This quote is from The Dialogue, Catherine of Siena, in the chapter called Tears.  The concept of accepting suffering, meaningless, accidental, or purposefully inflicted suffering by another, is not new for Christian contemplatives.  file-20171016-21977-1jxc9twOur role model and Savior Jesus Christ taught us with the ultimate sacrifice.    Yet I struggle with the concept to ask for more.  Despite how little suffering I have carried relative to others and the vast potential to suffer greater indignities and pain, I do not dare to ask for more.  Much less to be happy to receive more pain – and not to glorify me but to it praise God!  A silent sacrifice devoid of any intent of self-promotion or seeking selfish spiritual consolations.  Yes, send me more?

These two sentences almost passed me by as an absurdity for anyone but the saints.  And then a wave of the confrontations I have experienced in life with misery, pain, and suffering overtook me.  o-WIPE-TEAR-570My childhood adversity score is quite high (google ACE study and test yourself).  My adulthood included a few self-inflicted wounds as well as externally inflicted losses.    By all accounts, I have pretty good reason to question the existence of an all-powerful and personal God.  Accepting one also necessitates reconciling that God “allows” my misery and much worse atrocities to exist.   And still, I believe.

In retrospect, human free will, and their decisions contributed to my pain.  Other pains are built into our lives by genetics, nature, accidental causes, and human mortality.  Amid these life events a combination of personal resiliency and many supportive people, I have been able to experience the highs and lows of a volatile life and catch glimpses of angels in our midst at work.  I have also in retrospect seen my evolution transformed many times over, and I say this with minimal ego, in fact, as sometimes I am rowing the other way as the forces of good carry me onwards.

How has pain and suffering shattered or nourished your faith?  I have experienced both in my journey.  It is sad to admit, but my sense of faith has been most robust under two conditions:

  1. When I am in the midst of personal failure, loss, or witnessing unfathomable suffering, and
  2. When I am in the presence of holy people, in meaningful pray, or reading the saintly works.

I would like to believe my faith grew in leaps and bounds by my own works and by my sincere gratitude of the favors granted me in life.  They have provided me with the strength and resources to practice compassion, empathy, and love for others.  While these things do strengthen my faith – they have not jettisoned me into serious contemplation and soul-searching as the first two conditions have nurtured.

The first two conditions have given me a base of humility that transcends human definitions.  My ability to handle misery and pain in the face of adversity is undoubtedly wanting.     Any received praise and platitudes, individual achievements, or other standard measures of the worthiness of a man fail me when held in comparison to the lives of the genuinely saintly or the gold standard of holiness.

All is not lost though.  The tears that we experience can be transformed.  Have you ever had tears silently and sadly flow gently as you experienced a melancholy understanding of both crushing loss and joyous peace?  I have learned through suffering more than I have learned through successes. man

I am still unable to ask God for more.  In my prayers, I do express, “Your will, not mine, be done.”  Sometimes I add I trust in you to give me what I can handle, but God I myself am incapable of handling anymore.  I am keenly aware of being careful what I ask for from God.

To accept my lot with patience, courage, and a happy disposition calls for significant growth!  And I have been working at this for a very long time.  As I reread this passage, it is no longer foreign to me.  You and I have lived it whether we recognize it or not.  This is like one of those films that never closes the chapter, only ignites the mystery and leaves you wanting the sequel, yet you know only you can write the ending.

LaSaletteTears

“The picture above represents a most unusual apparition in which Our Lady of La Salette was seen by two children Melanie Mathieu and Maxim Giraud, in the small French village of La Sallette, located near Grenoble, on September 19, 1846. She first appeared emerging from a globe of light, weeping over our sins.”

 

 

Human Suffering – The Answer?

The first words to greet me this morning:

You are wretched wherever you are and no matter which way you turn –

This was not the inspiration I was seeking this morning from morning prayer.  I have a moderately stressful job of which sometimes I feel ill-suited for, financial woes as most everyone else, and loved ones near and far facing illness, stress, and mortality.   Most of us are able to carry on, sometimes in silence, and sometimes with much complaining and perhaps even cursing.  I am cognizant of our wretchedness as a human race – but reading this first thing in the morning was a spear into my heart and renewed revelation of worldly concerns versus striving for a holy life.  In the latter realm we are pretty wretched.

“Now is the time for good works, now is the time to fight, now is the time to make reparation for sins of the past.” 

 I met a regular guy yesterday who said he fears nothing nowadays, he gives it all to God, his faith is stronger than his fears, and he expects things to go wrong all the time.  He simply said that is life.

These references are from chapter 22 of the Imitation of Christ which you can get free at many different resources (pdf. or for kindle)  http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1653.

I don’t generally have time to write in the a.m. but this chapter “nailed” the meaning of suffering, no pun intended.  It is part of our life as mortals the more we become spiritually aware.  Thomas A. Kempis and the regular guy yesterday are onto something.

images

Contemplative Life

On a dark night, Kindled in love with yearnings—oh, happy chance! —
I went forth without being observed, My house being now at rest.[i]

John of the cross

Two friends, 27 years apart, united in “their ardent desire to embrace the primitive Rule of Carmel, their longing for a deeper prayer life, their practice of poverty of spirit in the simplicity of their lives, the compassion evident in their love for others, active reformers, and yet mystics” wrote the first two of the first three books below.   The third, a young girl who seemingly since childhood was destined for the religious life, died a torturous death at the hands of Tuberculosis.  The latter born two centuries after the first two.  What do these authors from the 1500’s and late 1800’s have to tell us that is in anyway relevant today?

Teresa of Avila – The Interior Castle[ii]

St. John of the Cross – Dark Night of the Soul

Sister Therese of the Child Jesus – Story of a Soul

These three saints have left behind numerous writings of which the above three were put in my path to read.    I had actually delved into Dark Night of the Soul prior – with my head and not with my heart.  Both are required!

A tremendous weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. It has been replaced with a greater weight that pulls me up rather than weighs me down.  The multifarious activities of my daily life are reoriented, redefined, and right sized.

Reorientation:  Rather than my activities being saddled on my shoulders they remain present as water buckets I must prioritize and move from point A to point B as my position in life and responsibilities dictate.

Redefined: These responsibilities as oriented to the good of others remain vitally important as they always have been in my life.  However, removed from them is the anxiety of expectations of others as well as expectation of myself.   The intricate and intertwined forces of providence, man’s will, man’s limitations and my own, accidental or natural misfortune, and evil at play render me powerless to understand and ultimately control my destiny or that of my neighbor.   You may as a reader be thinking “No shit Sherlock, you are not God.”  I understand this sentiment deeply.  Yet, when we are fully committed and dedicated to our responsibilities and passions it is easy to get lost in the emotions of the ego driven, goal-oriented actions and lose sight of the true nature of our purpose within a larger context of both current day forces of evil and good and as measured within historical time.

Right Sized: These buckets cover a football field.  There are the buckets of necessity:  routine chores, self-care, medical appointments, food acquisition, earning money for required daily expenses, budgeting, and countless other nuisance activities.  Yet each of these if handled with spiritual care and gratitude are elevated above the mundane.  The bucket of your personal callings in life carried out with utmost care and discipline to the best of your ability:  family, career, volunteer activities, and living within a community as a humble and integrated member.  Then there are the buckets of higher good that call for demonstrating mercy, seeking social justice, defending the poor, promoting peace, and living the word of God.  The latter will make all the former activities more complicated and more important.  They will come into conflict with social mores and accepted practices.  Our actions in each and every activity, in moving each and every bucket of water, must be our testament before we utter even a single word about our beliefs.  And the highest calling, seeking proximity to the Living God by carrying each bucket the way we would expect Jesus to do the same activity.  Consciously choosing which buckets deserve carrying and when.   Spending significant time in contemplation and prayer.  Accepting with an open heart our spiritual consolations and gifts, periods of spiritual aridity, and suffering in its manifold forms.

Thorns:

Proper orientation, proper definition and right sizing are spiritual habits to be well practiced.  Measure them against the beatitudes.  We are human by nature and live in society driven by other values.  Many thorns can thwart our intended practices.

Evil Buckets:  There are so many on the football field calling for attention.  If only they were properly labeled:  bucket of pride, bucket of greed, bucket of anger, bucket of lust, bucket of gluttony, bucket of sloth, and bucket of envy.  They are not labeled and often disguised and often quite ingeniously.  They are present in all the domains of our responsibilities: our routines, our personal callings, our integration in the community, and our spiritual aspirations.   One moment you can be carrying a bucket labeled social justice.  The next moment the label falls off to reveal it is a bucket of pride and gluttony fueled by self-righteousness, pride, and other indignities not worthy of proximity to the divine.  The bucket we are carrying was being carried to meet our needs – not the intended greater good.  Our intellectual and self-righteous ego co-opts a good cause.  Our bucket of fiscal responsibility transforms into gluttony and pride at the expense of other values.  Our attention and main focus in life becomes our monetary wealth, accrual of material things, and constant pursuit of what we don’t have or keeping what we do have today.  Sometimes they are even labeled properly and we pick them up anyway out of pure human desire unworthy of higher morality.

Suffering:    

Suffering Dog

Alberto Giacometti (1901–1966)

We recognize suffering when we see it.  Giacometti used his art to capture suffering.  His most famous works “include a series of elongated standing women, striding men, and expressive busts, that resonated strongly with a public grappling with the extreme alienation and anxiety wrought by the devastation of World War II. Giacometti was unflinching in his portrayal of humanity at its most vulnerable.”  Out of suffering we learn our true humanity and ability to transcend our misery as well.

Sister Therese of the Child Jesus (also known as the Little Way or Little Flower) states her “soul has matured in the crucible of exterior and interior trials.”[iii]  She goes further in her prayers to ask God for increased suffering:

“O Jesus, unspeakable sweetness, change all the consolations of this earth into bitterness for me.”[iv]  

And towards the end of her short life she indeed receives spiritual and physical suffering:

“I felt I was alone in the garden of Gethsemane like Jesus, and I found no consolation on earth or from heaven; God himself seemed to abandon me.”[v]

I lack the courage to ask God for more suffering for fear I will crumble under the duress!

St. John of the Cross in his treatise “Dark Night of the Soul” speaks of a self-purifying journey (putting to death sinful nature) which can never fully be realized as we remain in our human flesh.  The journey though is remarkable in its spiritual dissection of seeking an enlightened life.

And Teresa of Avila brings us to the existential place of Carmel, which is hidden within ourselves and accessible to each and everyone of us if we pursue and are open to the spiritual life.

Between the three, the essence of accepting and embracing suffering can transform suffering of its evil power regardless of its causation (accidental, natural, medical, human malfeasance, and outright evil).  Suffering becomes a bucket to be carried and shared with the mystery of the Trinity and the redemptive act of Jesus dying on the cross for our sins.

Historical Time:

clock

Longing for or mourning our past is not a bucket we should be carrying.  In the 19,861 days of this life I have had spiritual consolations in the past that I yearn for, actions that I regret, and decision points that I sometimes cannot but help wonder “what if” I had chosen another path.  If the actuaries are right and I die on time should I really waste any 8401 days left on desiring or regretting the past?  No.  In my mind I am living on borrowed time of at least 12 years and in reality, I have been living on borrowed time since inception.  It is valuable to recollect our past to inform our present and future, but not to go back for perceived glories or live in martyrdom with past miseries.

Mysticism: 

Josep_Benlliure_Gil43

The belief and pursuit of union with God with an understanding that true knowledge of the absolute God is beyond our intellectual grasp and inaccessible through direct means and the will of man.  Contemplation and self-surrender through prayer is essential to living a holy life.   This is not heresy to the catholic church:

Vatican II and in the new canon law repeatedly takes it for granted that “contemplation”, “mystical treasures”, ”an abundance of contemplation”, “the experience of divine things” and “an assiduous union with God in prayer” are meant for each and every person in the church.”[vi] Father Dubay (Fire Within)

There is great fear of mysticism and mystics as there is ample room for birth to self-delusion, misguided believers falling prey to occults, and obfuscation of true beliefs and representation of the word of God as stated in the bible.  These fears are true.  At the same time the bible is not a dead historical document.  There is a reason why we use the phrase the “living word of God.”  The Church moves very slowly, and not without error, vetting its faithful and its traditions, sacraments, and Saints.  So, we too must move slowly with our interior prayer life, our investment in readings, traditions, and other spiritual endeavors and have sources outside ourselves for validation and confirmation.  We have individual responsibility.

I belong to an on-line contemplative group whose leaders maintain a list of what they consider dangerous authors.  Two authors include Thomas Merton and James J. Martin, SJ.  The first they site the authors later life and potential Buddhist influences and the latter they site pieces of his liberal acceptance of people with life styles contrary to church teaching.  Thomas Merton would definitely fit the classic definition of accepted Church Mystic.  His life is definitely not error free.  James Martin, SJ is living his faith embracing everyone (believers, non-believers) and teaching mercy and acceptance while maintaining the eternal truths of the faith internally.   His outspoken defense of groups of people, specifically the LGBTQ community, has earned him vitriolic hatred by conservative branch of Catholicism.  He is not labeled a mystic.  I raise this as being exposed to these two writers leaves me with the responsibility of discerning through prayer and contemplation what is the right orientation of their writings to my beliefs, the responsibilities implied and defined, and the appropriate weight I assign them (tiny bucket, large bucket, no bucket?).  All five of these authors are drawing from the Gospels.

Mysticism and our own infused contemplation and prayer must always be tested by the source validation of our core spiritual beliefs as found in the Gospels and talked out with at least one more seasoned believer, perhaps a spiritual adviser.

The contemplative group is right to ban these writers from their forum as their forum is dedicated to Carmelite Contemplatives.  They pursue advanced discussions and growth on what they see as the safest and truest way to seek closer union with God.  By avoiding writers that inspire controversy they have created a safe haven devoid of controversy for like-minded Carmelites.    It comes down to temporal time and how best to use the moments you have left before your human mortality comes to an end.

We are all called to be responsible mystics!    We should aim to be saints in our own right without claiming to be saints out of misguided hubris.

Addictions and 12 step groups:  At the heart of all 12 steps groups is both a primary purpose (to abstain from source of addiction and help others to do so) and a higher purpose to live a spiritual life.  The 12 steps are in fact a secularized “Dark Night of the Soul” experience.  It is spirituality without religiosity.  The original program was very much based on Christianity. Just take a look at the Serenity prayer, steps prayers (4th, 7th, and 11th steps), and The Promises.[vii]   A person in recovery who truly actualizes the 12 steps in their daily lives will have a Dark Night of the Soul experience! They enter the program knowing suffering and misery and will come to know a God of their understanding (often accompanied by a return to their religious roots as well).  They will realize the PROMISES of AA and shed their old lives and become new men both in abstinence of the addiction that initially sort help for and in living life with a new spiritually enriched purpose.  People in recovery embody conquering suffering caused by both addiction to substance or behaviors and spiritual maladies.   As St. John of the Cross says, “God is pleased to strip them of this old man and clothe them with the new man.”

Abandonment:

Leap

Henri “Papillon” Charrière leaps to escape prison in Papillon (2018).

Faith in times of struggle or times of great success can be difficult to maintain.  Sometimes as in life we must take a leap of faith.  The situation we are in, favorable or must unfortunate, can blind our spiritual and moral compass without us even noticing we have gone adrift.  Sister Theresa described her situational challenges eloquently:

“Now, abandonment alone guides me.  I have no other compass!  I can no longer ask for anything with fervor except the accomplishment of God’s will in my soul without any creature being able to set obstacles in the way.”[viii]

“Knowing it is cowardly of me to enter into a duel, I turn my back on my adversaries without deigning to look them in the face; but I run toward my Jesus.”[ix]

We live in this world, not in the eternal world.   We will be tempted to be driven by worldly pressures and fight unnecessary duels sometimes even invoking the name of God and higher morality.   While we must never be silent we must always check our intent and which master we are serving.

Contemplatives:

The history of Discalced Carmelites[x] is a good starting point for the uninitiated in contemplative traditions.   They do not own contemplative prayer but have an orientation that is directly focused on the Trinity as well as Mary, the mother of the Redeemer, Jesus Christ.  Seeking God in Catholicism is not seeking an abstract unknowable God.  It is seeking Jesus Christ, seeking the advocate (Holy Spirit), seeking the Father with the spiritual gifts that we have been provided (the Gospels, the Sacraments, the lives of martyrs and saints, and our rich traditions) while acknowledging we are God’s mercy for revelation.

It is profoundly deeply humbling with every perceived elevation of my spiritual journey I am simultaneously falling through a what I perceived to be a firm foundation under my feet to a new floor beneath.  At once my faith is strengthened with each morsel of revelation and yet my hunger and desire inflamed.  The more I come to understand the less I know.

All three books sited above if read without adequate preparation will present less spiritual value to the reader and hide inherent wisdom within the writings.  I do not say this with any sense of condescension.  I have myself read the Dark Night of the Soul prior years ago and on reading it today, have come to know how shallow my reading was prior.  I also presume that if I were to reread this text in merely a few months from now, more would be revealed.

Oh, by Happy Chance may my writing find you and may it inspire you to find your contemplative soul.  By Happy Chance may your suffering be transformed and your purpose in life enriched.  Oh, by Happy Chance may we all live in greater unity with God. I am torn between Fitzgerald’s humor an Campbell’s synopsis of the Dark Night of the Soul:

STANZAS OF THE SOUL

  1. On a dark night, Kindled in love with yearnings—oh, happy chance!— I went forth without being observed, My house being now at rest.
  2. In darkness and secure, By the secret ladder, disguised—oh, happy chance!— In darkness and in concealment, My house being now at rest.
  3. In the happy night, In secret, when none saw me, Nor I beheld aught, Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart.
  4. This light guided me More surely than the light of noonday To the place where he (well I knew who!) was awaiting me— A place where none appeared.
  5. Oh, night that guided me, Oh, night more lovely than the dawn, Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover, Lover transformed in the Beloved!
  6. Upon my flowery breast, Kept wholly for himself alone There he stayed sleeping, and I caressed him, And the fanning of the cedars made a breeze.
  7. The breeze blew from the turret As I parted his locks; With his gentle hand he wounded my neck And caused all my senses to be suspended.
  8. I remained, lost in oblivion; My face I reclined on the Beloved. All ceased and I abandoned myself, Leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies[xi]

[i] https://www.ourladyswarriors.org/saints/darknite.htm#CHAPTER%20VIII

[ii] https://catholicstrength.com/tag/the-seven-mansions-of-teresa-of-avila/

[iii] Story of a Soul The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux pg. 15

[iv] Story of a Soul The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux pg. 77

[v] Story of a Soul The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux pg. 109

[vi] Fire Within by Father Dubay

[vii] Serenity Prayer: God, grant me the Serenity, to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference. 

Third Step Prayer: God, I offer myself to Thee – to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of Life.  May I do Thy will always!

Seventh Step Prayer: My Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows. Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do your bidding.  Amen.

Eleventh Step Prayer:  Lord, make me a channel of Thy peace; that where there is hatred, I may bring love; that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness; that where there is discord, I may bring harmony; that where there is error, I may bring truth; that where there is doubt, I may bring faith; that where there is despair, I may bring hope; that where there are shadows, I may bring light. that where there is sadness, I may bring joy. Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort, than to be comforted; to understand, than to be understood; to love, than to be loved.  For it is by self-forgetting, that one finds. It is by forgiving, that one is forgiven. It is by dying, that one awakens to Eternal Life. Amen.

The “Promises”: From pages 83-84 in “The Big Book”: If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. Are these extravagant promises? We think not! They are being fulfilled among us – Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.

[viii] Story of a Soul The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux pg. 178

[ix] Story of a Soul The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux pg. 213

[x] http://www.carmelitaniscalzi.com/en/who-we-are/storia/history-of-discalced-carmelites/

[xi] http://www.carmelitemonks.org/Vocation/DarkNight-StJohnoftheCross.pdf

 

Transformation in Christ: Part VIII

 Dietrich Von Hildebrand (DVH):  Chapter 14

Mansuetude

Meek

Mansuetude or Holy Meekness is carefully defined, expounded on, and repackaged into a spiritual bullet of wisdom in this writing by Dietrich.  He then fires it into my soul and into my heart before letting it rebound on an outward trajectory into my aspirations for worldly and spiritual acquisitions.   The grand journey of Transformation in Christ is shattered with a call for fierce self-appraisal and seated contemplation.  How many of us have refined our attitudes and disposition to be able practice the following aesthetic daily:

“To disavow within ourselves any inchoate impulse of anger, to be intensely aware of its ugly disharmony, to have it shattered by the contact of Christ before the need could even arise to curb it – this is what constitutes true meekness.” DVH

This sentence needs deconstruction to unveil the expansive nature of its import on our daily attitudes and actions.

  • To disavow I swear off and commit to allowing any remnant of anger to be present.
  • I do this before anger even takes form, while it is just beginning (inchoate) to develop.
  • I am so well-practiced in patience and inward peace that such disharmony is not provided entry into my heart.
  • I do not have to even restrain anger as my conscious contact with Christ eviscerated my impulse to respond with anger (or hatred) to things not of my liking.

Is the latter not the cause of most of our anger – simply stated?  Rational anger for misfortune of being a victim of gossip, slander, robbery, or other insults to one’s personage does not stir your fury?  How about irrational anger like experiencing unrequited love, job loss, or promotion denied?  Do these not stir an anger cord or a taste for revenge?   Some of us may be able to clain our expressed anger is purely righteous anger, fueled soley by God’s intentions for us, devoid of any selfish motivation.  Most of us are ill-advised to be that confident that we have mastered this virtue.

Who among us has achieved this near state of perfection with this singular aesthetic of Holy Meekness?  And yet the most infamous preaching of Christ comes from the Sermon on the Mount call us to Holy Meekness:  BLESSED are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.  Matthew 5:5[i]

Any serious Christian must examine this virtue in its depth. There are countless interpretations and teachings on living meekly![ii]  Dietrich’s work places this pursuit well towards the end of his book cited above and rightly so. 

I mentioned to a colleague, sort of under my breath, okay let’s practice holy meekness.  He burst out laughing at the idea of me living meekly.  I can be rather assertive (some may say overly demanding or aggressive) when it comes to work demands and expectations of project outcomes – often with unrealistic timelines.  My intentions are generally very noble and aimed at the greater good.  However, when they are demonized, sabotaged, overruled, corrected, or otherwise sent into a tailspin I can become mildly disenchanted and dam it, angry.  

hulk

Where is the line between appropriate disappointment and anger?  Is it not human to experience anger, to harness its primal call to action as the neural architecture of our frontal cortex recognizes the dismal failure of our desired ends being propelled by incompetency or worse yet just outright indifference?  The Hulk personafied righteous anger for a generation.   Some of us, just like the Hulk, cannot afford the luxury of being angry – even our percieved justified anger at a situation or a person.   Anger and resentment are toxins for the soul.  

It is human, all too human.  Sadly our society continues to promote anger and aggression even in the absence of direct physiological danger.    There is no place for it in my heart if I am to aim for perfecting our living meekly. If Dietrich was here I might challenge him with how can we portray Jesus Christ as living meekly? 

table flip

The cleansing of the temple and its apparent contradiction with humility and non-violence[iii] is an example of a culminating breaking point where Jesus’s anger is seen in striking disharmony to many of his teachings.  This scene however is a striking forshadowing of things to come.  Some might relate the above to an example of righteous anger (See The Deeper Meaning of Jesus and the Money Changers[iv]).

You can see by his actions to be meek is not to be without action.  However, ultimately Jesus chose to lead a meek life and accept his place at Golgotha and painful crucifixion for our redemption.  Yet his life was a life of action (teaching, healing, and dying on the Cross).  Even as he was being tortured and preparing for death he said “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

“In him who has attained to true meekness, there no longer remains any field of sensitivity to his treatment or appraisal by others except one:  a heart warmed and made happy by the enlivening ray of pure love.” DVH

Achieving living a meek life requires nothing short of self-abandonment, shedding our sense of self-importance and pride, a total surrender to God’s will.  The latter will provide us with the wisdom to act when facing adversity, transform suffering into mystery of experiencing human tragedies and carrying our crosses without complaint, and to embrace the beauty and majesty of life’s every treasure (human, animal, and even inanimate objects). Everything in our domain is deserving of our utmost respect and care.   

Living this way presents a contradiction of ideas.  We are acknowledging a certain disillusionment of our personal sovereignty while simultaneously becoming infinitely free to live a truly holy and harmonious life – without retreating from life and all its grandeur. 

Today our expressions of human arrogance are exercised in social media, snapchats, and lunch and dinner gatherings of like-minded groups of people sustaining a narrative that promotes their own perceived identity at the expense of vilified others.   Many of these gatherings are like-minded Christians co-opted away from the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount and subsumed by artificial Christianity.   

Where is my Christian attitude today?     

Sebastiano-Ricci-TheSermonontheMount-1912018T15598

[i] https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/august/10.48.html

[ii] https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/blessed-are-the-meek

[iii] https://catholicexchange.com/deeper-meaning-story-jesus-moneychangers

[iv] https://catholicexchange.com/deeper-meaning-story-jesus-moneychangers

 

Letter to my Son

My Son;

It is January 1, 2018.  I am comfortably seated in my recliner.  Mozart is playing in the background thanks to my new music companion Alexa.  God willing I will be 54 years old later this year.   There is not much I need or want for myself today.  I am neither rich nor abjectly poor.  It is difficult to put to paper what I most want to see in this world before I go without telling you briefly about my journey.

I was born and raised as the youngest of seven in an enclave of working class families in Bronx, NY.   Catholic Irish, Germans, and Italians pre-dominated my community.  Racism and hatred were present but through the grace of God and being the youngest I was never indoctrinated into this evil – and was from a very early age against all that it stood for from my child’s eyes.

My childhood home would be ravished by alcoholism, domestic violence, and premature deaths.  The dreams and hopes of my parents dissolved as both parents sank into alcoholism and poverty.  All seven children were impacted in profoundly different ways influenced by our developmental ages as the family fabric of normality unraveled with the progression of the disease of alcoholism.  None was spared abnormal and terribly sad events.  To capture each sibling ruptured youth would require many pages and perhaps we would be none the wiser together with the intent of this letter.

Suffice it to say that we experienced great shame, tragedy, and loss together as a family.   My father would pass while I was in middle school.  My Mom when I was finishing graduate school.  My two closest brothers in age would suffer early deaths.

Amidst our family troubles, like soldiers in a fox hole, great love, compassion, and understanding were always present.  The expression of these wonderful loyalties was not always apparent amidst damaged self-esteem, developing addictions of our own, and the normal sibling rivalries that are present in any large family.  One thing was certain.   Getting out was a goal for everyone despite the contradictory yearning for love and kinship.    And one by one siblings left as the family continued to dissolve.

Amidst this destruction love and caring was still provided in ample reserve.   Both parents made efforts, grandparents provided a shared home, and aging siblings (young adults) helped at every turn.  Thirteen years of Catholic schooling (many of the earlier years not paid and the high school years paid for by eldest brother and sister) helped ferment both my character and a modicum of educational ability.

Alcoholic drinking was not foreign to me in youth and into sophomore year of college and later in life.  This too, is another chapter that would take too many pages and tertiary to the intent of this letter.   However, it introduces the first request for God’s help.     In high school on a cold winter evening I wandered away from my friends in Pelham Bay Park and leaned against a fence and pleaded with God to help me find a way out of this life in the Bronx.   Alcohol was my thing at that time and my friends were into that and heavier drugs of different varieties.   In God’s time I was accepted into Stony Brook University and had the ability to attend due to a combination of loans, grants, student work-study and some family help.   This was an answered prayer.

There were many situations than and afterwards where I could have had a very different path in life and not be where I am today.  I reflect on an unnamed boy who lent me one of his gloves when we were sleigh riding in the Bronx.   He was older and gave me kindness this one winter day.  The following day he was murdered by strangulation behind a local bowling alley for money.  I think of Chucky, a childhood friend whose father used to beat him.  I helped him run away once before he did for good.  His father strangled me on the side of my house until I finally pointed in the direction Chucky had gone.   I had given Chucky my bike and he should have been gone – but he wasn’t gone, he had nowhere to go.   He did eventually run away and visited a year or two later, dirty and beat up some, telling me a Tom Sawyer like story of throwing rail road ties onto the third rail.  My story is not as seeped in tragedy as others.

College gave me an avenue out of the Bronx and philosophy and psychology gave me the tools to examine life from a different perspective.  Before long, armed with Nietzsche and alcohol God was dead.   I was not necessarily any happier a person.   However, I was an armed and an angry man with a little enough wisdom to espouse my hold on reality.   There could not be a God with all the suffering in this world, in my life.  And if there was a God, he would not accept me.

Reality progressively got worse quickly.  I will pass over the personal failures here.  Existential meaninglessness was taking hold as drinking increased.   Behaviors and grades deteriorated.  This period was short-lived.     One morning about 4 a.m. a born again African-American women cleaning lady came onto my college hall and saw me sitting quietly in my literally trashed college room.  She helped me clean it up without any judgement or lecture and peacefully went on with her arduous day.  I wanted what she possessed. Several other factors including threatened with eviction from campus life and mandated counseling led me to turn away from alcohol and dive into true study.

I met my wife to be not long after this transformation and she would be my strength in the years to come.   My career was steady and fulfilling.  I was provided great mentors at different points in life and my family grew.   My wife’s family was also blessed with deep faith and their faith seeped into my hardened heart.

I am however a dense man.  Let me throw out a few co-incidences and let you decide if God seeped into my life or crashed the door down.

  • Chess piece: While driving my caprice classic upstate New York on Taconic parkway at top speed (100 miles per hour) as I was truly testing how fast I could get it to go, my dashboard ornament, a glued on chess piece, loosened from its felt base, and fell to the floor as I was cresting a mountain top.  I bent over and in so doing came of the gas pedal as I reached for the piece, grabbed it, and came back up.  Just over the hill, a car in my land (left hand lane) was standing still, hazards on.  I missed it by inches swerving right.  If not for the chess piece falling to the floor the caprice would have been my coffin.
  • Blind men: I took ill for several weeks and could not work.  The doctors and disease specialist could not find the cause of my weakness.  At the end of it all it was discovered I had mononucleosis that the original test failed to capture!   That is not miraculous.  I had taken to force myself to walk to the deli and get a coffee and egg sandwich.  On this day, on my return trip, a blind man was waiting to cross Lefferts Boulevard in Queens.   I offered assistance and he accepted.  The elder gentleman interviewed me as we traversed crossing two streets and at the end of the cross walk told me it was time to go back to work and that I did.   I returned to work and within two to three days I had the Manhattan work pace going in full force.  As I left from one meeting to the next I ran into a man’s Seeing Eye dog, almost fell, and dropped papers.  The dog did not budge nor did the blind man.  He simply and calmly advised me to take things easy and not be so rushed.      I had another encounter with a third blind person within that two-week period who gave me less memorable guidance.   Three blind people in my path in a two week period where I was feeling physically and psychologically at my lowest – due to misdiagnosed mononucleosis!
  • GPS: I was planning to attend a Buddhist meeting.  It started at 7 P.M.   I typed in address.  The GPS went squirrely and then took me north, than west, and then south and bought me right past my catholic church.    Why the hell did it take me this way around for in the totally wrong direction?  I am going to be late.   I speed up a bit and am heading down State Street.  The road is closed off.  A telephone pole is down.  Does that awaken me to maybe I should not go?    I divert and force myself to still get to the location.  No offense to the people searching for the God of their understanding, but this particular group of three Buddhist did not offer “meditation” techniques guidance or balanced Buddhist teachings that warranted my presence.  Only afterwards did I recognize my obtuse lack of insight that I was never meant to go to that meeting.
  • Car Skid: One winter storm day my closest brother called me telling me about how he lost control of his car and had a close call.  I asked the time.  5:27 P.M.  I had skidded in my car some 90 miles away on a highway off-ramp at just about the same time!
  • Drinking: I resumed casual drinking after September 11, 2001.  November 10, 2001 in Chicago I had my first drink since 1986.  In the 15 years that followed I cannot detail here the mistakes I have made and the risky situations I have put myself in while drinking.  Not a single bone broken or person hurt physically by my poor judgement over the years.  No jobs lost.  However, a general decline in the peace in my life followed each successive year.  My drinking also had a negative impact on my elder siblings drinking – whom I professed to try to help stop drinking.   Giving up drinking is not as easy a decision for me as it maybe for some who have suffered heavier consequences with legal involvement, medical crisis, and losses (families or jobs).  Even without these I have suffered soulful injuries that bruise deep and have hurt others in the same manner.  It is a spiritual miracle for a guy like me with my family history and personal sense of mastery to be able to not be drinking today.  This too is another chapter but nevertheless for many recovering alcoholics being sober is a miracle.
  • Career: For a youngster with a significant stutter that still emerges from time to time, having a career on social work, a master’s degree, and 27 years serving people with words in homeless services, disaster services, and mental health services defies logic.    I had aimed to be a city employee (Sanitation or bus driver).  I had taken the civil service test.  I was accepted and a letter sent to my house with an appointment for bus driver in NYC.  I was away in college.  I called home and asked Jimmy if there was any mail for me.  He answered no.  I discovered the letter two weeks after the appointment date and my bus career was over before it started.  I would not have had my career, my wife, or my kids if Jimmy had told me of the letter and the job.  I would have had a city job and a bar stool along with other Bronx kids.

These little mysteries do not in and of themselves prove a God.  They do for me as I have felt the grace of God in little and small things.   When it comes to purpose in life and the million different directions and decisions that transpire and intended and unintended consequences that follow it is difficult to define divine purpose.

None of the above accurately defines and answers the mystery of God and the challenge of the question of suffering.   In the life of Jesus Christ much can be explained if one looks hard enough.

I have investigated the atheistic perspective, the agnostic perspective, and the religious tenets of the three great monotheist religions.  I have looked at other faiths as well as well as those basing life purely on scientific mathematical concepts.   At the end of the day each has kernels of wisdom that can benefit mankind as well as potential for treacherous acts of evil including my own religious faith.

Putting aside the humble attempts by man to define God, the utter inadequacy of our words, the terrible application of our well-intentioned religions distorted by man, there is a higher purpose than our sense of self.

I cannot define the impact I may have had in my social work career, in my family life, and in the lives I have had the opportunity to influence directly or indirectly.  I know I have mentored many that went on in social work with genuine passion and commitment to help people.  I know that there are many people out there with greater talents than I that are natural leaders that seemingly effortlessly live selfless and holy lives.  The vicious game of relativity to thy neighbor’s accomplishments has no end.

So Son, I am almost there with being ready to tell you what I most want to see in this life before I go.  First, what must it have been like to be John the Baptist?  Imagine ostracizing oneself into the hills to preach and baptize people under threat of execution knowing one who is to come is greater than thou?  In essence John knew he was limited and could not be the Messiah.  He was able however to witness the Messiah.  What was the purpose of John the Baptist?  Did he prepare the way?  Sometimes in life we are meant to be preparers or people behind the scenes that perform the unseen acts of kindness or assistance that helps others is the saints or leaders of tomorrow.

I am “no John the Baptist.”  I have done okay by myself and my family and by those I serve.  Sometimes I want to have done more or have been more influential.  Sometimes I have been aggrieved of my limitations and challenges in life that may have limited by personal and professional ambitions.

Today that is not the case.  I can recognize others carrying out work and life in a manner that demonstrates their natural calling, ability and purpose.   There is the Mother Theresa of Kent General Hospital who works in Palliative care.  The work she is doing daily with the dying and people living with chronic disease processes is nothing short of awe-inspiring.  It is clearly God’s work.   The more I can help her or help others who help people the greater I am fulfilled and aligned with God’s purpose today.   In my own work today my major role is to help people who do the work be able to do the work and problems solve when barriers prevent that work.  It is unseen drudgery!

There is a theme here.  There were countless decisions that happened prior before “Mother Theresa” of Kent General came to Delaware, studied nursing, got her RN degree, got her Nurse Practitioner degree, and started this role.  No one knew.  I gave up a significant career in NYC at the time without the knowledge of what was to come.   Now it is purely a work of spiritual inspiration in action.

What do I want to see before I go?  I have a desire for my son to know God.  Not in a zealous manner loaded with religiosity and ambiguity, tied to theological text, and preaching on the corner.  In a humble way where my Son knows his purpose in life and when it is in question can sit and reflect and find the answers.  When confronted with suffering can withstand the pain and do what he has to do with God as a partner.   If my son has that the many pitfalls of this world he will be able to withstand and some maybe even avoid some (think Alcoholism).

Who is my Son?  He bares my name.   But I have daughters as well, and nephews and nieces.  I desire for everyone I know to have a spiritual grounding with the God of their understanding.   In that vein this letter is not just for my Son, it is for anyone who reads this letter, for all my brothers and sisters here on earth.

So Son, there you have it.  I am sending you two books with this letter.  Understanding the Scriptures, A Complete Course on Bible Study by Scott Hahn, Phd and Jesus A Pilgrimage by James Martin, SJ.    The first explains every book in the bible and time-lines in an easy to read fashion.   The second is written by a Jesuit priest that I find to be amazingly intuitive on Jesus Christ and on finding faith and belief in your life if you look for it.  This book has him reflecting on the life of Jesus as he visits the historical sites were Jesus Christ and the apostles lived and preached.  The combination gives both archeological and spiritual insights that truly bring together why so many people can believe in a guy that dies on a cross over two thousand years ago.

I have only touched briefly on highlights of my spiritual struggles and graces.  Life is messy and I am far from a theologian or ambassador for the word of God.  I have read several books of James Martin, SJ including The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything.   He is of the same ilk as Pope Francis.  I have found him to be quite controversial to some staunch Catholics as his views are similar to Pope Francis.  He has been attacked by some very conservative religious groups.     He is no Martin Luther.  This is how James Martin finishes the book and is an apt way to finish this letter:

“What I want most for you is to meet Jesus.  You have met my Jesus.  Now meet your own.”

 

 

 

 

Jewels of Confession (Personal Reflection)

I am in my mind’s eye an amateur, a novice, a man sentenced to be an apprentice for life.  It is the epitome of grandiosity to believe anything else.  There are just too many barriers for me to join the ranks of those considered by men to be held as examples of a devout man, much less than to even consider judgement by God’s expectations to respond to living a life aligned with his desires.

Theological, sociological, psychological, and genetic realities have reinforced my understanding of my imperfections and inability to obtain or much less so maintain sanctification – to be set apart for God’s work, to be truly live a spiritual life in everything I am.  I can expound on original sin, on my socio-economic status, my troublesome youth, and my genetic disposition ad infinitum for “causation” of my falling short, for my mediocre, for my deepest failings.  At the end of the day excuses, rationalization, or deflection is not mine to give.   My apprenticeship does not absolve me from full responsibility for “my thoughts, my words, for what I have done or what I have failed to do this day.”[i]

My greatest accomplishments and must evil acts do not afford me special status in the ledgers of holy acts or Hades hall of fame.   I have not been called by God or by Satan to champion the ideological battle of Good versus Evil.  I am humbled by many.  Everywhere I turn there are people with greater faith than I when I choose to truly look for the warriors of God.   I can see and feel the vibrancy of interior peace in many faithful, the unquestioning tranquility of those who have truly surrendered, and the energy of those who perform many acts of service with seemingly tireless commitment.  It exhausts me and replenishes me simultaneously.

I have been blessed with a vocation of helping people oppressed by circumstances, homelessness, by poverty, by addiction, or by severe and persistent mental health disorders for 29 years (including two years of graduate school).  I have equally been blessed with the vocation of the sacrament of marriage and three beautiful and healthy children.  I have also been blessed with personal struggle and immense suffering from an age that included the devastating impact of addictions, family violence, premature deaths, and utter chaos in a very confusing youth.  The blessing of suffering has humbled me to be sensitive and compassionate with every human being I encounter.

Without a portrait of my background it is difficult to give weight to the jewel of confession.  In essence, what does it matter if I bring my sins to a confessor given my sins and my accomplishments relative to others would not move the Richter scale of human morality in any meaningful measurable direction?  I am no St. Augustine or Stalin.  I am neither rich nor poor.  I am neither exceptionally intellectual, exceedingly dim, or an idiot savant.    In an existential sense, I am “being and nothingness” exemplified as is most of humanity.

There is nothing I can bring a priest that he has not heard.  There is nothing I have bought to a priest that my God does not already know.  And to make matters worse, in my belief, although my actions are important, I cannot achieve any holiness on my own merit without God’s justification or saving grace.[ii]

Furthermore, I dare to say that I have had many a confession that was ill-conceived or perhaps even ill-received!  The confessor and the penitent cannot enter into the confessional without grounded intent and inspired purpose.  How many confessions of my youth was coerced ritual? How many confessors were limited by systemic rituals from practicing true teaching in the confines of the confessional time and space allotted?

Does any of it matter?  Yes.

In the hands of Martin Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino my life story could be transformed onto the big screen into something unrecognizable to me by mere condensing of timelines, sharpening of dramatic events, and adept usage of poetic license to create an inspiring story of coming into one’s own or a depressing comedy of errors and sadness or both.   In other words, we do not truly know the impact we have on others during the arc of our short tenure of life.  Our stories cannot accurately be portrayed without capturing the offshoots and trajectories of other people’s lives that have been influenced by intersections with our own – for better or for worse.  Scorsese, Tarantino, and our very own self-defined sense of our own lives cannot accurately capture and define the individual lives we have led with any degree of certainty.

I remember an old man living in an “SRO” (single occupancy unit) on 28th street in NYC.  I saw him daily for a certain number of years before he passed.   His name was Eli.  Our conversations were never long or deep.  There was eye contact and a smile with each conversation that transcended words.   I was called one day when he had a coronary heart attack in the hall way.   I went and held his hand and looked into his eyes until the paramedics came.  I will never know what I meant to that man.  I know I knew him and he knew me as if we had a secret club, an unsaid bond.   He passed and I never fully knew his life story or how he came to be alone in New York City.

Meaningfulness:  The first principle of confession is that we have meaning beyond ourselves and our sense of self-importance or lack thereof.  What did I do for Eli or not do for Eli in those years preceding his death?  Were my actions aligned with God’s will?  How would I know it then or now?   When we accept we have a purpose and a meaning beyond our own definition we also must accept a challenge as to how we use our body, our minds, and our soul to fulfill our mission(s) in life.

There are many definitions of sin.  Most of them can be simply be defined as taking us away from our purpose in life – from what we are meant to do.   And each micro-aggressions (examples of seven deadly sins:  gluttony, lust, greed, pride, despair, wrath, glory, or sloth) against our purpose in life wears us down, deflate our strength, and weakens our resolve.  For some of us, the depletion is so complete that we are left with seeking refuge in synthetic intoxications of the worldly life as an end to themselves.

Acceptance:  The second principle is that in our fallibility we can easily be consumed and distracted from our source of purpose in this life by both external challenges and internal decay.  Where our attentions are our hearts will follow.  How many minutes, hours, days, months, or even years of our lives are spent attending to inconsequential or damaging activity that takes us away from our purpose or mission in life?  When is our pleasure or joy turned into selfishness or sin by direct action or omission of action?

Right now 1.6 billion people are estimated to have inadequate shelter, 795 million people are suffering from hunger, 208 million people are using illegal drugs, and 450 million affected by Mental Illness.  Let’s estimate I have directly or indirectly helped 1300 families achieve permanent housing, 14000 people with access to or support of treating mental illness or addictions, and gave occasionally to various charities and causes.    In this context, how much of my life’s activity should be directed at my own pleasure?  How much charity should I give?  What change opportunities have I shied away from during my life?   To put it simply, my work is never done if my true calling was homelessness, world poverty, and serving people with mental health issues.  The second principle is accepting my fallibility and even if I was to practice total self-denial I would not be able to end the misery associated with these conditions.  Balance and humility is called for at all times.

Informed confession (ACTION):  Accepting I cannot live a life of total self-denial, that our collective “sin” currently and historically is beyond my ability to reconcile, and that I still desire to pursue a holy life I have found that self-reflection and informed confession can help alleviate the wounds of our individual and collective failures so that we may continue on to do what we can within our sphere of influence.

An informed confession can lead to “a radical re-orientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away of evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed.  It entails the desire and resolution to change one’s life.”[iii]

Confession is an opportunity for education and healing.  It is a time out to meet with another human being who is skilled in spiritual discernment (Priest) and bring your troubles (thoughts, words, deeds) to God for examination in a manner that allows you to seriously “repent, revoke, and replace” unwanted behavior, actions, or thoughts.

It is different from spiritual direction.  It is bringing to God a request to forgive your transgressions, heal your wounded self (as each transgression weakens your purpose), educate and enlighten your actions, and strengthens your resolve and commitment to continue along the road toward sanctification.   It can get down to the nitty and gritty of what is in your circle of influence to change.   A confessor help ensure you are not deceiving yourself or misguided in your application of theological applications – often to your benefit.

Scorsese and Taratino can take an inconsequential action and transform a characters destiny – imagine what God can do with a sincere and committed confession, however minute the conviction to change.

The third principle is with informed consent going to confession and partnering with a priest and God to make true amends and genuinely commit to ACTION to change as needed with the humble understanding that penance will probably be required sooner than later for similar offenses or new revelations of further refinement is required!

Spiritual DirectionThe Jewel of Confession is it informs one’s spiritual direction.  What endeavor in life does not require correction, improvement, refinement, and adaptation?  Ideally we would all have a spiritual director.

Confession and spiritual direction are not in vogue today.   Not every confessor or spiritual director is equal.  The Catholic Church holds this sacrament to be vital:  “Those who approach the sacrament of Penance obtain pardon from God’s mercy for the offense committed against him, and are, at the same time, reconciled with the Church which they have wounded by their sins and which by charity, by example, and by prayer labors for their conversion.”[iv]

The theological and Catholic doctrine on Penance is quite in-depth.  As a lay person I have always had mixed feelings about the sacrament of Penance.  Today I do not have the same reservations – my reservations today is on what I can bring to the confessional box or room and what the confessor can help with as we are both in dialogue with the Trinity.   Alas, it is not confidential.   The weight of my faults, the collective weight of our societies failings, and all the messiness of pursuing a holy life can be supported and guided by a thoughtfully and genuinely prepared confession that is meant for sincere dialogue with God.

Done with reverence both the confessor and penitent can benefit and be guided by the mystery of the sacrament and better serve God’s plan on leaving the ancient confessional booth.

We are meaningful in God’s eye and plan despite the existential threats that surround us in the world today.  Accepting that each human being is special including ourselves and accepting our fragility as individuals and as a collective we are dependent on both our own actions and God’s saving grace.  Knowing this we seek informed correction through confession and pursue sanctification through ongoing spiritual direction despite the immense suffering in the world, in fact, because of the immense suffering in the world!

confessional

 

[i] http://www.catholic.org/prayers/prayer.php?p=1780[ii] http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s1c3a2.htm[iii]

7 Secrets of Confession by Vinny Flynn

[iv] http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p2s2c2a4.htm

 

 

 

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

“Find your own Calcutta.”

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

boat

My reflections – applying this book to my journey with God

“Find your own Calcutta”[ii]

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

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

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[iii]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

mylittlewayistheway

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

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

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

Are we not all fallible perfectionists at heart?

perfection

Don’t Despair – find a Daily Prayer routine:  

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

 

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

[ii] Mother Teresa pg 85

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

[iv] Pg. 30

[v] Pg. 57

[vi] Pg. 86

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

 

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