Radical Transformation: Part IV

Dietrich Von Hildebrand: Transformation in Christ (Chapter 8)

On “Confidence in God”

Many Christians have been waiting for the second coming of Jesus Christ.  It has been over two thousand years since he walked, preached, died and was resurrected.  Our Jewish cousins have been waiting perhaps as much a four thousand years for the first coming.  Jesus did not pass their mustard test of divinity.  Christians utilize prophesies in the Old Testament as predictions that Jesus fulfilled the first prediction.[i]  Regardless of this seismic division we still share a Messianic faith: 

The term “Messianic prophecy” refers to a compilation of over one hundred predictions (conservative estimate) in the Old Testament regarding the Messiah. They have undeniable accuracy even though these prophecies were recorded by numerous writers into various books over 1000 years. We are assured that these prophecies were not conspired after the fact due to the Dead Sea Scrolls and Septuagint. These items are existed prior to Jesus’ time on earth.[ii]

The idea of “Confidence in God” given our shared four thousand year period of “waiting for God” and our collective confusion and divergent interpretations of historical events, scripture, prophets, and the understanding of the historical life of Jesus Christ is intellectually mind-boggling.  It is in this context I am hesitant to write about “Confidence in God.”

With genuine humility and intellectual honesty I can assuredly say I cannot define a personal path for anyone to come to believe and share my faith and confidence in God.  My own faith I judge to be far too fragile and temperamental.   

I can however provide testament to having common concerns and doubts about God with my fellow man that have run deep in my life and come out of the darkness with a greater faith after many trials and divergent paths.  Challenges afforded to me have included philosophical existentialism, unexpected losses of family members, experience with personal failures and traumatic situations, a deep seated wrestling with the meaning and nature of suffering, criticisms of our religious institutions practices and beliefs (past and present), alternative explanations for spiritual experiences, psychological principles of individual development and sociological explanations for religiosity,  and personal “isms” of a less lofty nature. 

How can we ask anyone to have faith in God when facing a four thousand year waiting period for a messianic coming that we cannot define with any certainty while living in a secular world driven by temporal and material goals (ranging from basic survival to unimaginable wealth)? I cannot ask you to have faith.  I can share mine.  I cannot even give faith away.  It is not mine to give.  My journey is not even my own. 


I have an oar.  It is a very small oar.  All I can do is row and aim for the greater good.   I do not know what rivers I will face, what rapids lay ahead, or when my boat will rest on calm waters.  Sometimes I will have other rowers by my side and sometimes I will be utterly alone.  God is always there but sometimes in my fear or in my self-possession I will not see him or be aware of his presence.   In the poem below it is easy to forget the line “I thank whatever God’s maybe for my unconquerable soul.” Invictus[iii]   

And yet I am writing about “Confidence in God” for myself and I hope for you the reader.  Faith, like sports, is a full contact activity.  It requires participation, determination, and perseverance. It also requires transcendence past human abilities.  That is where “Confidence in God” comes into play.

I am still daunted by this release of myself into his hands without trembling.  The willingness to accept the consequences and responsibilities of a true and on-going transformation in Christ and Confidence is beyond my spiritual imagination.  Like my middle name, I still have bouts of doubt that arise at the most unfortunate times. I do not have the luxury presented to doubting Thomas:


The apostles who lived with and followed Jesus Christ struggled to believe in the entirety of Christ message.   How can we be expected to claim that faith any better than those who lived by his side?

I believe there is an answer here to part of the mystery of Jesus Christ death and resurrection.  We are called to be active and open to a spiritual life, open to living a spiritual life guided by the Holy Spirit and his teachings, and to do so without his physical presence and performance of miracles in our presence. 

I cannot define the messianic second coming.  I cannot defend if Jesus Christ should or ought to be accepted by the Jews as the first Messiah.  I cannot debate if we are living in the Messianic period or are still waiting for the Messianic period.  These are theological concepts beyond my pay grade!  However through my Catholic faith I am taught the following:  

In him human history and indeed all creation are “set forth” and transcendentally fulfilled.551”[iv]  

I am not to wait for the second coming.  I am to live a spiritual life now, every day, every moment and to strive, within the limits of my humanity, for “spiritual perfection.”

Dietrich presupposes you have bludgeoned these obstacles and are reading his work and searching and deepening your faith.  He delves right into God being omnipotent, omniscient, truly merciful, and a personal loving God.    Perhaps your head is nodding and you are saying “Ah yes, Dietrich I readily agree that God is all powerful, ever present, and that through our prayer the Eucharist, and our church that we have a personal relationship with God.  Dietrich you are the master of the obvious!”  Dietrich answers your thoughts with a warning about some of us who may fall into never being “roused into a full awareness of man’s metaphysical situation” and being truly cognizant of being in God’s hands (which can evoke appropriate awe, fear and trepidation):

“This pitfall of a comfortable smugness masquerading as religiosity we must studiously avoid; in full awareness of the gravity of our metaphysical situation, in penitent humility we must lift our eyes to God, and in constant effort work for our sanctification.  At the same time, we must bear in mind that it is not on the basis of our nature but through Christ and in Christ alone that a real victory over our sinfulness can be obtained.”   

Dietrich after throwing the above punch, recognizing our human limitations, jumps into God’s infinite love and mercy for each of us and then takes on the intrinsically sad things and intrinsically bad things (evil) and how we are to understand them and come to terms with feelings of being abandoned by God.  

It is dizzying to recognize that in a moment of prayer I am connected to the sins of humanity past and present and to the healing and saving grace of God.    It is overpowering to consider my part or lack thereof in righting the wrongs of today (poverty, injustice, violence, abuse, murder).  My prayers for the many suffering and for cessation of the countless evils being perpetrated are somehow seemingly irrelevant in the vast tide of human misery.    

Dietrich acknowledges the “impenetrable mystery of why God permits such a passing trial of evil at all.”    How many times have we heard or asked ourselves – God, how can you let this happen?  Or as it is said in the bible: 

my god

“And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, KJV). 

Jesus was not accepted by the Jews as the true Messiah as they expected the Messiah to be a new King to restore the Jews as a nation (among other reasons).  There was an expectation of immediacy.  Jesus Christ was not the Messiah the Jews expected.  Not even the apostles were prepared for his death or resurrection.  Jesus Christ perhaps modeled a response for on accepting suffering: 

“My father, if it is possible, let this chalice pass from me, Nevertheless, not as I will but as Thou wilt.”  (Matt. 26:39)

There is a teaching here for our prayer.  We can pray out loud to the father and call him by name. We can ask for what we want in our hearts (even though we know he knows our intentions and desires already).  And we can reaffirm our desire is to do or accept God’s will, not our own will.       

Dietrich presents a compelling case for accepting suffering while maintaining confidence in God’s design no matter how incomprehensible the situation is or how reprehensible our actions have been in the past.   Our confidence must also be free of false expectations for repairing harms we have done to ourselves, providing us what we ask for when we want it, or even providing us an “enlivening touch of his grace.”  On this point I am spiritually impoverished.  I pray that I am not tested by long periods of spiritual dryness.  I beg for on-going support and revelation.  I announce my weakness and frailty at every opportunity in this regard. 

Like Thomas, I fear the loss of grace.  I fear the dark night of loss of faith.  I cannot imagine the trials and tribulations of the martyrs and saints that have went days, weeks, months, and even years without spiritual consolation. 

There is an absurdity here.  Who am I to demand spiritual consolation at all?  Who am I to take myself so seriously?     

I am a doubting Thomas – a man who believes in God but who is struck by fear and doubt.  In a moment of agony or pain I can easily forget the many graces I have received, demonstrate a lack gratitude for all that I have been given, and have a penchant (or petulance) for anger when disillusioned by a negative outcome that I perceived as not aligned with my manifest destiny.  In essence when life is going my way God is great – but let the boat rock a little and desperation can evaporate my sense of grounding and confidence.  This is not confidence in God.   Confidence in God is constant no matter what our circumstances are – no matter how dire our situation. 

When Jesus was resurrected he left us with a calling card:    

“What Jesus longs for in this post-resurrection encounter with Thomas is that we all might believe in him by handing over our hearts and our hopes that he might bring them to the fullness of joy.”[v]

Poor Thomas today still takes a chiding for what was only a natural skepticism.   If not for his skepticism how could we be taught to manage our own?    Sometimes it is simply better to just move on and take formative action or if I may say – trans-formative radical action.  Be confident in God and active in your journey no matter what your circumstance today.  


[i] http://www.clarifyingchristianity.com/m_prophecies.shtml

[ii] https://www.messianic-prophecy.net/

[iii] https://www.pinterest.com/pin/121949102384989926/

[iv] http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p1s2c2a7.htm

[v] https://www.christiancentury.org/blogs/archive/2013-04/doubting-thomas-didnt-doubt


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.”





Mercy? Self-Compassion?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

The Holy Spirit

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus I Trust In You

[i] Hallelujah ANYWAY by Anne Lamott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Is your God Dead by George Yancy[i]

“Open your eyes and look within. Are you satisfied

with the life you’re living?”[ii]

On June 19, 2017 George Yancy challenged you via New York Times opinion piece to consider is your God Dead?

What does it mean to believe in a “Living God?”  My belief is in a living God.  However, I cannot attest to having seen him in person, to have heard his voice, or felt his touch.  My God is not available to me with the realm of the five senses.  I have experienced my God with a subjective sixth sense, a spirituality that relies on intuition, faith, and the grace of God.  My belief, however, is useless to the seeker of God who has no access to the presence of God within him.

We do have traditions, manuscripts, and archaeological evidence for much of the scriptural text that have been preserved and passed down to us.    Still that is a dead letter as well without something more.

Dead letter dept.

Yancy argues that your God, or at least the God of many is dead.   The evidence is all around us as we collectively accept the poverty and inhumanity of the Human condition.  He makes his point very personal.  Raises it on an individual level as to what do you represent as the living word of your God.  In the end, belief without action is not belief at all.   He quoted Friedrich Nietzsche’s observation:

“There was only one Christian and he died on the cross.”

A very pessimistic view indeed amidst all the suffering and chaos we see today.  That being said, our biblical ancestors were not free of terrible suffering, oppression, and sin either.  Our religion has evolved and progresses with our progression as a human species.

We are at a turning point in America that is stunning.  We profess outwardly belief, but when pressed our convictions can be witheringly weak, our actions hypocritical, and our proximity to a conscious understanding and unity with God shattered.    Yet many will wear their affiliation on their sleeve.  Affiliation and baptism alone will not alleviate our guilt. What guilt?  You go to church.  You pay your taxes.  You voted pro-life.  You even gave to charity! You pray often.  Perhaps this is not enough:

After all, prayer and rejoicing can also function as forms of narcissism, as ways to drown out the screams of the poor, the oppressed.

It is not enough if we walk by our neighbor in distress, if we support global poverty and oppression, if we stand idly by as our democracy turns its back on both local and global responsibilities. This can and should be a nightmare for us as Christians and other faiths as well:

“The prophet’s word is a scream in the night.” I wait to be awakened by that scream. I have not yet heard it. It is that scream, that deep existential lament, that will awaken us to the ways we are guilty of claiming to “love God” while forgetting the poor, refusing the refugee, building walls, banning the stranger, and praying and worshiping in insular and segregated “sacred” spaces filled with racism, sexism, patriarchy, xenophobia, homophobia and indifference.”

If we are at all spiritual, the prophet’s words must be ringing in our souls during quiet contemplation.  Perhaps it is a simple as a Marley song, open our eyes, look within, and examine if we are satisfied with the life we are living?

Yancy concludes the article with the following quote:

“I await the day, perhaps soon, when those who believe in the “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob” will lock arms and march on Washington, refusing to live any longer under the weight of so much inhumanity.” 

 god of

If your God is not dead, reveal him to others in your actions and words.  Keep your prayers to yourself – but let the light of your God shine brightly in compassion and love of all people.

[i] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/19/opinion/is-your-god-dead.html?action=click&contentCollection=Middle%20East&module=Trending&version=Full&region=Marginalia&pgtype=article

[ii] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nv584jRwh0s


Spiritual Direction and Meditation by Thomas Merton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John 14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Untethered thoughts cascaded into pleas:

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

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

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

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

merton on life

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

[ii] Luke: 14:27

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


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


Trump and Terrorist

Ruminating on the Evils of War and Fighting an Invisible Enemy


St. Michael

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes we are left with only prayers:

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

However, faith also demands action.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

  • Pentatonix:  

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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