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Posted by on Jun 14, 2018

Fun Resources for Learning Serious Psychology

Fun Resources for Learning Serious Psychology

 

Disney Pixar and Erik Erikson’s Eight Stages of Development

Discerning God’s Will – God’s dream for us requires an in-depth knowledge of how people grow and develop. In particular, if we are going to understand ourselves, which is our first step in responding to God’s grace, we need to know where we are in our development. We also need to see what went right and what went wrong in our own growth and development.

James Fowler’s Stages of Faith Formation

Our faith also has stages of development based on our human development. Many adults can reject their faith because they don’t realize that their faith formation is still that of a small child. On the other hand, there are many people who are religious churchgoers that are still clinging to a childhood faith for a variety of reasons that are not healthy.

 

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Posted by on Jun 11, 2018

Finding God’s Dream for Us

Finding God’s Dream for Us

The expanded treatment of St. Ignatius Loyola’s Examen that follows is meant to show the richness of this format of prayer for incorporating spiritual / psychological learning and insights for closer union with God through a genuine repentance of our sins and freedom from shame, so that we can “praise, reverence, and serve God Our Lord.” For St. Ignatius, that is what life is all about: life to the full for the Glory of God.

Given our linear style of thinking in the West, it can be easy to look at the Examen of St. Ignatius as a set of check boxes. However, it is an ongoing dynamic spiral that moves us closer to perfect freedom and love or moves us away into the realm of shame and darkness.

God has a dream for each of us. As we journey through each day of our lives, we move towards or away from that dream. We move freely into  God’s life and dream for us or we move away from God

How can we move freely and fully into God’s life every day? How do we know if we are on track or headed in the right direction? Once again Jesus has shown us the way and even explicitly told us to pray and to listen attentively with our heart, soul, and mind. Becoming aware of God’s activity in our lives, intuitively and consciously, is the act of theological reflection. According to Donald D. St. Louis, the Examen of St. Ignatius Loyola can be a method for theological reflection on one’s ministry. It can also be a method of reflection on one’s daily life that can help us focus on the Way of Jesus, the path of our calling that is God’s Dream for Us.

St. Ignatius shows the way in the five points of the Examen.

The Examen can take on many forms while following this general pattern.  Theologian Susan Mahan presents her own adaptation in Seeking God – Decision Making and the Ignatian Examen.

“Taking time each day to practice centering in God for the direction of our day and our lives is necessary. There are many ways to do this: journaling, walking a labyrinth, and having a spiritual counseling session are ways to think and pray through where I am in my life, where I feel drawn, and what God sees in me that I might benefit from.  Another way to have an experience of being counseled by God is the Ignatian Examen.

Very briefly, sit quietly and think of or imagine things you are truly grateful for. They can be big or small: Clean sheets, good food, your dog, ways you have been loved, accomplishments, a family member or friend, your house or job etc.  Tell God what you are grateful for. See, if God has given you things you are grateful for: a rescue in life, money you needed, safety, a trip you took.  Then think of the things in yourself or your life which you have chosen that have harmed you, undermined your wellbeing, or side-tracked you.  These can also be big or small: being resentful, feeling superior, or not being willing to do something new that you need to do. Ask God to help you with these fears or hurts that have held you away from Him. Lastly, ask God how you can spend the next part of your day or life doing what is best.  You will get answers. You can surrender to what is best and see how much more peace-filled you are. I do this every day, sometimes more than once. I act on what I hear, and I am much more at peace”

The core of the Examen is discernment, which is all about growing in awareness and freedom. Susan Mahan provides a succinct over-view into the spiritual psychology of discernment.

The desire to be closer to God requires letting God tell me what would please him.  That sounds very old fashioned and odd.  But, there’s no way around it.  Knowing God is knowing what is best — best for me and best for the world.  I cannot eat sugar and refined carbohydrates and feel good.  I just can’t.  I love that stuff!!  Knowing God and growing in holiness means that I would like to know which actions in my life would help me to be happy.  Discernment is the skill with which I can learn to evaluate what is the best choice at any juncture in my road every day, all day long.  There are certain feelings and thoughts that characterize good decisions and others which characterize poor decisions.

The End is the Beginning

Certainly, St. Ignatius never intended for the Examen to be a long exercise – perhaps 10 or 15 minutes. It was part of his view of being a contemplative in action. We see and experience God all around us every day in everything. The Examen, in my view, was meant to reinforce a fundamental behavior and mindset that action for the Kingdom of Heaven is contemplation. Clearly, prayer and contemplation are prominent in the Spiritual Exercises.

As we move through our daily lives, the Examen offers a quick opportunity to check our direction through the day’s activities. It should not take a long time. It is simply a tool, like a road map, to help us stay on the road, on the Way of Jesus to God’s dream for us.

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Posted by on Jun 11, 2018

Psychology, Spirituality, and the Glory of God

Psychology, Spirituality, and the Glory of God

Spirituality

Spirituality is often seen as something separated from the everyday. It is something for the life beyond according to many. Holiness is sometimes seen as something not related to the physical. It is above the emotions and promises a respite from the messiness of daily life. From the earliest years of Christianity, we have a very different view.

We enter the mystery of God by following the grace and example of Jesus. In one of the earliest songs we have from the Christian community to whom St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians, the way of Jesus is complete self-giving in freedom.

Although He existed in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil 2:6-8)

St Irenaeus writes around the year 185 that the human person fully alive is the glory of God. As we grow and develop in our new life in Christ, we become like unto God through the mystery of God’s death and resurrection. We become “divine-ized” or more properly “divinized.” Like Jesus, we become truly human and truly divine in the gift of God’s Holy Spirit. The divinity of Christ raises humanity to its highest manifestation in the Word Made Flesh.

Many times, there can be an apparent tension between “human fulfillment” and complete self-giving in freedom. There can be the mistaken notion that we are supposed to be miserable in this world and happy in the next. The more we “deny” ourselves, the holier we become. St. Irenaeus and the early followers of Jesus saw it differently. Our complete human integration in happiness is God’s dream for us. This doesn’t mean that life is without striving, suffering, and confusion. It does mean that being true to the person God intended us to be from all eternity is our purpose. Being “real” or authentic, being the person that we really are at our core, can cause serious problems if we deny it. On the other hand, being true to our calling, to be who we are, can cause serious problems as it did for Jesus.

There are also the negative forces of people not following God’s love and inflicting their pain and hurt on newborns and small children. Despite their best intentions, their hurts and wounds, whether they are parents, grandparents, or caregivers, “infect” the most vulnerable little ones and even strong adults. This is what we call original sin. It helps us to explain or come to terms with a world that is messed up, relationships that are toxic, and why things seem to never work out.

Our baptism is God’s way of pulling us out of this mess through His death and resurrection and placing us squarely in the triune God, that is, the relation of love itself. The Three Persons welcome us to their eternal dance of the Speaker / Creator, the Word / Redeemer, and the Spirit of Infinite, Unconditional Love – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are blessed and anointed in Confirmation in the Trinity and enter into that ever-present joy of Thanksgiving called the Eucharist when we attend Mass and share in the banquet that celebrates and renews all creation.

Psychology

So, what has psychology got to do with it? All we need to do is to believe, obey the commandments, and say our prayers. Right? Shrinks are for people who are sick and messed up. I don’t need a padded cell! Then again, maybe each of us has built our own custom padded cell to keep away the hurt and pain we suffer.

St Augustine in his study

Often we think of psychology as something secular. Actually, the study of the soul, psychology is a key part of western philosophy from Greek times to the present. St. Augustine (354 – 430) is considered to be one of the great psychologists of the west. His autobiography, The Confessions shows a depth of insight into the conflicts within his own personality. St Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556) was also known for his spiritual psychology as seen in his Spiritual Exercises. Freud and other 20th century secular psychologists talked about the way we use religion, saying that it is an illusion. Carl Jung and Erick Erickson took psychology in a more spiritual direction. Catholic philosophers and theologians in the 20th century, such as Bernard Lonergan and Karl Rahner, used many of these insights to give us a deeper insight into the study of the soul. There is an entire area of study in Catholic and secular philosophy that focuses on how we perceive things.

Common Ground

Contemporary psychology – both secular and spiritual – provides a framework for pastoral counseling and spiritual direction. These powerful tools can bring physical and mental wellness through profound spiritual insights and healing: “the glory of God is man fully alive.”

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Posted by on Oct 7, 2016

Pope Francis’ Pro-Life Agenda – Beyond Clinton and Trump

Pope Francis’ Pro-Life Agenda – Beyond Clinton and Trump

pope-francis-celebrity-backgrounds-28521Like many of you, I received a chain email from a friend about the moral imperative to support pro-life candidates. The email was basically an endorsement of Donald Trump including the statement that no Catholic could in good conscience support Hillary Clinton.

Dear Friend,

There is a good article in the National Catholic Register (a more conservative Catholic publication) about Trump’s pro-life position.

http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/catholics-grapple-with-a-trump-candidacy

Pope Francis reaffirmed his opposition to abortion in his address before a joint session of Congress while he also re-affirmed immigration, poverty, and gun violence as pro-life issues. These views were also echoed by American archbishops and bishops.

How Pope Francis shakes up what it means to be 'pro-life'

While the Secretary Clinton’s policy is definitely pro-choice (in favor or legalized abortion), Mr Trump’s policies are opposed to Catholic teaching on immigration, income inequality, torture, refugees, and ending the death penalty.

This brings us to our usual election dilemma in which the Democratic Party is generally aligned with then Church’s teaching on social justice issues and the Republican Party is aligned with Church teaching on birth control, abortion, same sex marriage, and euthanasia.

Pope Francis has come out publicly against building a wall between the US and Mexico which is one of Mr. Trump’s signature initiatives.

http://www.ewtnnews.com/catholic-news/Vatican.php?id=13305

Voting for pro-choice candidate is morally possible according to Pope Benedict.

“When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.”  (emphasis added)

With regard to reducing and eliminating abortion which should be a major priority for Christians we know that re-criminalizing it forces it underground and leads to the deaths of many young poor women. We also know that increasing education and economic subsidies for women makes it easier to choose life for the unborn. Many pro-life politicians also oppose paid maternity leave and longer term welfare for mothers. The Bill Clinton welfare reform in the 90’s gained bi-partisan support since it was aimed at “welfare mothers.” This decrease in aid tends to push women toward abortion.

Most people, according to many national polls are not happy with either candidate. However, if we are going to safeguard the unborn we need to have policies that support women, child welfare, and the family. While abortion is a tremendous evil, making it illegal will not stop it. We need to change the social incentives which push women toward abortion and create a social safety net that supports mothers and families.

By taking the broader approach that Pope Francis is recommending we can build a political consensus to support and grow a pro-life culture in the United States. The Church’s primary social teaching is the respect for human dignity and self-determination. This comes out of the fundamental Gospel challenge of charity for all. As reflective and prayerful Catholics we should focus on the theological virtues of faith,hope, and love in our thoughts, our words, and our deeds in this political season.

Peace and blessings,

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Posted by on Jan 17, 2015

Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? – The Gift of Inquiry

Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? – The Gift of Inquiry

 

Hubble's View of NGC 5584Vatican astronomers, Br. Guy Consolmagno and Fr. Paul Mueller have penned this provocative question as the title of their new book. Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? deals with the most common questions they receive. Generally the questions assume a conflict between science and faith. Their first task is to reduce the assumption of conflict and to look at the information in an analytical and thoughtful way.

For example, they take on the star of Bethlehem and rule out many of the scientific explanations. It was most likely not a supernova as Kepler had proposed. It may have been a conjunction of planets as proposed by Molnar in his 1999 book, The Star of Bethlehem: The Legacy of the Magi. However, limiting the question to how it occurred and which laws of nature were violated can miss the point. According to Fr. Mueller, miracles don’t always mean a suspension of the laws of nature. The point of the star of Bethlehem is that God gave a great sign. According to Fr. Mueller, miracles, whether they accord with the laws of science or not, are some great sign of the coming of the Kingdom of God.

Br. Consolmagno defines science as an ongoing conversation about facts. It is not a book of rules. Likewise religion is conversation we have within our church, among ourselves, and with God. He concludes, “One of the joys of science and philosophy is learning how to live and enjoy a mystery.”

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Posted by on Nov 17, 2013

“Life, the Universe and Everything”: The Ultimate Question and Jesus the Christ

“Life, the Universe and Everything”: The Ultimate Question and Jesus the Christ

Christ the King - From Annunciation Melkite Catholic Cathedral

Christ the King

What is the most fundamental question in my life? For what personal “ultimate concern” does the statement “Jesus is the Christ” provide the answer? Is this concern peculiar to me or can it be generalized to others? Do we ask this question about Christ differently today than people have asked it in the past because of any elements of our present situation?

These questions, asked as part of a class in Christology, bring to mind a novel by Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In one part of the story, Adams tells of an ancient people who decide to create a computer that will give them the answer to the question of “life, the universe and everything.” The computer, known as Deep Thought, takes millions of years to ponder the question, finally coming up with the answer: forty-two.  When challenged by descendants of the people who had commissioned the work to explain why the answer was simply a number, Deep Thought explains that the problem is that perhaps they don’t really know what the question is.

“Jesus is the Christ”

In order to identify an ultimate concern for which this statement would be the best answer, the first question that must be addressed is what is meant by “the Christ.” As in Deep Thought’s response, to a very real degree, the meaning of “the Christ” depends on what concern is being addressed.  Literally and historically, the term “Christ” refers to the one who is anointed with oil: a ruler, an athlete, or a messiah/savior.  The anointing sets the individual aside for a special role.  Yet today, in industrialized societies, this meaning is generally not understood. “Christ” is all too often used as if it were the surname of Jesus rather than the title that explains who he is for us. The simple notion that the Christ will come and restore an earthly monarchy or re-establish a people in a powerful and independent homeland is not particularly relevant to most of us today. The notion that the Christ will come at the end of time to punish sinners and reward the good offers only slight consolation to those who are suffering from today’s injustice. While this vision may seem to fit with the story of the Last Judgment – Jesus was very clear in teaching that the criterion for admittance to the presence of the Father was having cared for the least of his brothers and sisters – the implication remains that something more than simply waiting for the end of time and space is at stake here. Even the notion of “savior from our sins” does not move many contemporary hearts – hearts that demand to know how a god who is supposed to be a loving parent could demand the bloody sacrifice of an innocent victim to make up for the sins of others.

“Where have you been, Lord?”

The question of ultimate concern in my life that is answered by the question, “Jesus is the Christ,” is this one: “Where have you been, Lord?” Coming from a Catholic family, nurtured in faith in the traditions of that family, and having experienced the presence of God in my life from a very early age, I still found myself asking God that question with great sadness and not a little anger one night following the loss of a long-desired pregnancy.

The response came immediately. My mind was flooded with images of the care-givers who had been so kind to me as they told me of the baby’s death; the woman at the local family planning clinic who made the appointment for me to have a D&C; the nurses and doctors at Kaiser who ended up performing the D&C when I began bleeding a few days before my clinic appointment; the nurse who reassured me that losing this child did not mean we would never have another because she too had miscarried but later had a successful pregnancy; my mother who sent flowers (she rarely ever does that); the babysitter who stayed with us and helped take down the Christmas tree that first awful day when I knew I was carrying a dead child; the friends who remained after our son’s birthday party so we wouldn’t be alone with our pain; another  child’s teacher (a young widow) who dropped by one afternoon to share a cup of tea and be with me; the husband who held my hand through it all and matter-of-factly cleaned up the blood that splashed on the floor when I stood up to dress to go home from the hospital; the friends who had cared for our children after school; and so many others who had cried with me and supported me in that first week. I understood then where the Lord had been. He had been with me in all of those people – his Body here and now. It was not any easier to have lost that child, but I knew I was not alone. And perhaps more importantly, I knew that God cries with us in such moments and wants nothing more than to hold us close, as a parent holds and comforts an injured child.

How does this relate to Jesus as the Christ?

Through the incarnation, God became truly one of us. As a result of the incarnation, Jesus is the most human of all human beings who have ever lived or will ever live. Jesus’ life is the most authentically human life ever lived. Because God entered totally into human existence and experience through the life of Jesus, our human experiences have become part of God’s being in a very real way. God did not demand that we suffer or that Jesus suffer in order to bring us back to the unity of love overflowing from which all of creation sprang in the first instant of creation. Suffering can bring us to the point of noticing that we do not really control much in our lives and that we need to be part of a greater reality, but in and of itself, suffering is not what God wants for us. Sometimes suffering comes as a result of our own choices, but often it comes because of forces outside our control. Sometimes suffering even comes because we choose to remain authentic to who we are and what we are called to bring to the world. In the case of Jesus and many other good men and women through the ages, that choice resulted in death – a death that was/is the entry into eternity and a different degree of life. Jesus, in his life, death, and resurrection, is the Christ, the one “anointed” or called and set aside by God to open our eyes to this wondrous reality of a God who is Love and who cannot be anything other than Love. In this, he is our savior from the more common notion of a deity that is angry, vengeful, rejoicing in the misfortune of its subjects, and eager to punish them severely. His coming, and the sharing of his experience, is truly good news for the world. He is the one through whom Love enters directly into our lives, including the times of pain and suffering. He is the one who reaches out through each of us to ease the pain and suffering of others. He is the one who turns tears into dancing as healing comes to battered hearts at his touch.

Does our present situation change how we ask this ultimate question?

To the extent that we are more aware of the suffering of people around us and around the world, we may find ourselves asking this ultimate question more frequently than did people of past ages or people in non-industrialized communities. Why do children get killed at school by a person who should never have had access to guns? Why do people get blown up by suicide bombers? Why do humans so quickly resort to wars, both with physical weapons and with words and actions in our homes and workplaces? Why do bad things happen to good people? Shouldn’t becoming a Christian mean that everything should be fine and dandy from here on out? How can good Christian people lose their homes and savings and livelihoods as a result of bad decisions by investment bankers or real estate speculators?

Our access to news and information on a 24/7 basis is a blessing and a curse. We hear far too much of the suffering humans inflict on each other, whether directly or indirectly. We also hear too much about the suffering that results from natural disasters. The simple formula that promises happiness once they have died to those who suffer (“Life is hard and then you die”) rings hollow. We become numb to the suffering of those in other lands or those whose experience of life and faith even in our own nation is different than ours. We still cry out in sadness, anger, fear: Where have you been, Lord? How can a loving God let such things happen?

Into this reality, Jesus continues to come as the Christ, the anointed one. Jesus is the one who understands the pain of human life from the inside. Through the incarnation, through Jesus’ life, God too understands the pain of human life, as well as the joys and wonders of it. In Jesus, God reaches out and touches each of us and all of creation in a new, deeply intimate way. The everlasting, ever-living, all-powerful One can touch and raise up the created ones to share in the divine life of Love, to become fully human. The light of Love shines in the darkness, a darkness that cannot overcome it. So for this age and the ages to come, “Jesus is the Christ” still answers the ultimate question(s) of human existence.

 Image from Annunciation Melkite Catholic Cathedral

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Posted by on Aug 8, 2013

St. Dominic’s Insight and Evangelization Today

St. Dominic’s Insight and Evangelization Today

St. Dominic

Insights from Conversing with an Innkeeper

Dominic Guzmán (1170-1221), a Spanish priest traveling with his bishop in southern France, spent an entire night talking with an innkeeper who was a believer in Catharism, a dualistic religious cult that originated in the East. He discovered that the man had not really rejected Catholic teachings but rather was ignorant of them. This discovery led to the founding of the Order of Preachers (the Dominicans), a group dedicated to learning theology and other disciplines and communicating the beliefs of the Church to all they met, while living as beggars and travelers on the highways and byways of Europe. Many great theologians and prophets, both men and women, have served the church through the centuries as followers of Dominic and his early companions.

Moving into a Changing World

Dominic’s insight that the Gospel must be taught both with words and through the lives of the ones proclaiming it in the contemporary world with all of its challenges holds as true today as it did some eight hundred years ago. In many ways, we as a community of faith had, until recently, settled into an almost self-satisfied attitude that all of the answers to the questions of faith and  moral behavior had been resolved by theologians of the Middle Ages and/or at the Council of Trent. As Tevye (of “Fiddler on the Roof”)  might have expressed it, “Everyone knows who he is and what God expects him to be!”

Yet such an attitude of self-confident satisfaction with who we are and what we believed did not serve us well. The world’s people continued to discover new truths in science and new understandings of human behaviors and cultures. Industrialization brought changes in family life and opportunities. Education of both boys and girls has become a given in Western societies and increasingly this is also the case in non-industrial societies around the world as well. More strikingly, perhaps, we did not as intelligent inhabitants of this planet learn how to live together in peace, with the common good as our highest concern. Instead, we set about conquering each other, with the nations having the strongest military plundering the regions they had conquered. Somehow the old teachings no longer answered the new questions about God, life, and the reality of evil in the world.

Evangelization Today

Pope Francis and his recent predecessors have called the Church to a new focus on evangelization. The teachings of the Church, including new insights from theology, philosophy, anthropology, psychology and other disciplines, must be presented to the world and lived out joyfully by Christian believers. Pope Francis repeatedly stresses the importance of going out into our communities and meeting people where they live and work. We are to work to alleviate poverty and suffering. We are to serve without judging others whose lives and values differ from ours. We are to be true to the traditions of our community, but recognize that those traditions may need to be presented in different words and explained using different images. Some of those traditions may need to be stretched so they express the lived experience of a new generation of believers. This is the age of the Holy Spirit in salvation history and we must recognize that God is so much bigger and more amazingly wonderful than we could ever imagine, that no human formulation could ever totally express the full reality of who God is.

Like the times of Dominic Guzmán, there is a great need in today’s world for people of faith to learn about God, about our Christian beliefs and traditions, and about the newly emerging insights of our living faith community. The days when the catechism lessons of childhood sufficed for an adult life of faith are long since gone, if they ever truly existed. We are all called to continue to learn, to study Scripture, to reflect on God’s active presence in our lives, and to share what we have learned with others. And we do this not just at Church or in catechism classes, but also in our daily activities on the highways and byways of our lives. The People of God are once again called to be proclaimers of the loving presence and activity of our God.

And that innkeeper with whom Dominic spoke all night? He returned to the Catholic faith once he understood what the community really believed.

St. Dominic, Pray for us!

Image: St. Dominic by Fra Angelico, Side panel of the Altarpiece in Perugia

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Posted by on May 26, 2013

A Fundamental Mystery of Our Faith: The Trinity

A Fundamental Mystery of Our Faith: The Trinity

orion nebula space galaxy

The first Sunday after Easter (the whole season) is Trinity Sunday. We celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection at Easter for fifty days, beginning with Easter Sunday and finishing with Pentecost. Before we move ahead with the counted Sundays known as Ordinary Time, we pause to celebrate the mystery of the interior life of God, the mystery of the Holy Trinity.

With our Jewish and Muslim sisters and brothers, we Christians believe in one God. However, as Christians, we believe that God is a very complex Unity. We speak of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit: three persons yet still one in being. Efforts to explain this reality in any sort of logical fashion always fall short. God is so much more than we can conceive. Nevertheless, through the centuries, Christians have offered many models and analogies to help each other appreciate the wonder of our God’s life — a life which we are gifted to share. Some early models speak of the Trinity as a dance. Some speak of a God who is Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. Some speak of the Father as knowing “himself” so totally that the divine self-knowledge becomes the Son, with the Father and Son so accepting of their relationship of knowing and being what is known that that acceptance itself becomes the Holy Spirit. We are told that God is Love, with the Holy Spirit then being the Holy Spirit of Love. Add in the notion — a fundamental belief of the Church — that God became a fully human being in Jesus and we have even more to ponder. How can the Divine One become human? What is it to be human and divine? How does divinity make a human even more fully human? How can it happen that through the life and death of the man Jesus, who is fully human and fully divine, God pours out God’s own life into the lives of all humans?

Fr. Ron Shirley suggests that our efforts to understand the Trinity are much like those of the proverbial blind men who try to describe an elephant based on feeling only one aspect of the animal. Each of us has a unique experience of God and brings that experience to the community to share. God is bigger than any one of us can comprehend and none of us can put God into a box and tie it up with a ribbon of satisfied comprehension. God will always burst out from our boxes and surprise us with another facet of the reality of what it is to be God.

For a scholarly consideration of the Trinity, the history of development of our understandings of the Trinity, and the importance of understanding God as a community of being inviting us to enter into the Divine community, Catherine LaCugna’s work, God for Us: The Trinity and Christian Life is well worth reading. For a thought-provoking exploration of the Trinity in the life of individuals today, William P. Young’s novel, The Shack, offers a compelling vision of the Trinity and the divine perspective on human life, death, suffering, and forgiveness. C.S. Lewis’ novels of Narnia offer yet another vision of the relationship between God and all of creation, including the insight that the divine is not tame. Jose Antonio Pagola’s work, Jesus: An Historical Approximation, offers an engaging look at Jesus’ life in the context of his culture and religious tradition, with the contemporary scholar’s eye distinguishing among factors such as known historical facts, the probability of accuracy in quoting Jesus’ words, and the theological reflections that combined to form the Gospels as we know them today.

Regardless of how we try to explain the interior life of God, we are continually invited to enter into that life. May we have the courage to step forward and let ourselves be drawn into the wild dance of Love.

Orion Nebula – Space Galaxay – NASA image

 

 

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Posted by on Apr 2, 2012

Providence/Grace and Free Will

We live in a world where we often feel pressured to prove that God exists and then we can be at a loss in explaining where God is.  Out in the world of work, everyone is supposed to pretend that they are very objective and scientific.  But, as we have said, empirical data is only one modality of space-time reality.  Experience is a valid category by which we learn and make decisions.  Following my gut feeling about how to approach a worry or a situation with a person can be very useful.  Trying things like prayer and finding out that something new, unexpected and helpful outside my usual “bag of tricks” is happening, can send me down a good path towards surrender to the ways of God.   No one can define exactly how this universe is set up in terms of cause and effect.  No one philosophy or great intellect can tell us definitively a way to control outcomes.  I can be as intelligent, mature, ethical and unselfish as possible and that will not guarantee certain results.

Why is that?  From the secular point of view, we come into our lives with many predetermined factors.  Our physical lives, ethnicity, time in history, birth order, family system, religion, and socio-economic situation dictate a great deal of how we will develop.  There will also be many influences along the way.  The choices parents make, teachers we have, opportunities, illnesses, choices we make, etc. will be part of the mix of who we become.  But, from the spiritual point of view, there are other factors that intervene and open up possibilities.  If one has the perspective of faith, one will see the action of God in his life in varying ways.

Why in “varying ways?”  Therese of Lisieux said that “Everything is a grace.”  Ignatius of Loyola said that we can and should “Find God in all things.”  Everyone will observe and interpret the action of God in the external world and the motions of God within ourselves in different ways.  Many people will be very conservative in believing that God is active at all in their lives.  Others will see God and God’s care in many events big and small throughout the day or week.  The most challenging context in which to affirm the presence of God will be in the experience of suffering.  It can be challenging to see God or any value in any experience of pain or difficulty.   Hurt, inconvenience, failure, addiction, and loss can all seem pointless and to be avoided.

How can suffering be okay or how can God allow it?  How could failure be a grace?  Why aren’t resources that I discover just something I did on my part?  And, further, why see God in my circumstances at all?  If my sister dies at a young age, how can that be okay?  If I spill breakfast cereal on my pants, how can that be a good thing?  Didn’t I figure out which graduate school to go to on my own?  Does God do my tax return?  Isn’t it important to take control of my life?  These questions are at the heart of the daily grind of our lives.  If God is here, what is he doing and why or how is this mess of a world okay?

The theology or meaning of Christ on the cross is at the center of this question.  What Christians believe is really strange but poses a answer that confounds all other interpretations of reality.  How can surrender in obedience and helplessness to a divine Father who loves him, be the apex of salvation — THE solution to the problem of evil and suffering?!  Look at the other solutions.   First, if we believe in God, that is a reality which encompasses and surpasses the immensity of the universe by definition.  So, scientific laws are included within the reality of God who is intelligent and complex beyond anything we can understand.  Second, things we think are bad because they feel painful may not be bad in an objective sense.  If my overall desire is to realize my potential fully, I may not even see what that is.  If I have desires to be happy in a certain way, I may not know  how to get there.  I may not see what is in the way.

With faith, one believes in a Sacred Reality that is close but also beyond my limitations.  I believe that this Reality is loving and personal.   At some point I may take a chance on this God and let him guide me.  My life may take me through suffering.  It may be at the hands of crude, misguided people.  I may get beaten up one way or the other.  I may make bad choices too.  With guidance I could learn to discern better decisions.  From the hurt of the past I can gain several things.  I may see that I am compassionate because I know what hurt is.  I may be an exquisitely good at setting limits and yet being generous.  I may know how to express myself clearly because I have had to protect myself.  I may see through the games of others. The suffering was in no way a waste or distraction — it was all good.

This learning, maturity, holiness is not something I can insert into myself.  It is part of a great mystery.  Something greater has made itself available to me.  The key resources are beyond the components of daily life.  I can go to yoga, the chiropractor, analysis, the health food store, school, have a great job and body, and be rich, and still not be on my true path.    If one is a person of religious faith, the only way to real happiness is surrender to God.  It is that blunt and simple.  This is so totally uncool that saying it is like marketing cat poop.   Okay, so we could say “Higher Power” and it might sound less “Churchy.”  The bottom line is that dependence on any authority figure is totally  unacceptable.  We are supposed to grow into greater and greater independence.  God is a weird old guy wearing white gowns who is out of touch and judges people.  So, that’s for later — when we die.  Admitting that I have a relationship with God, experience his presence on a daily basis and make decisions in relation to the inner motions of the heart is unusual for most people.

Yet somehow, a sizable segment of the Catholic/Christian population does have this experience.  They are middle of the road believers who know that they are being guided by God and still have their free will intact.  They surrender their inclination to demand that God explain it all.  They trust the mystery of how providence and freedom work, but they know the balance is real.  They base this trust on experience.  The care and challenge they feel from this divine reality is consistent, rational, reliable, helpful to them, and beyond their own abilities.  They would have abandoned their faith in God a long time ago if the results had been destructive.    They know when they “bump” into someone they need to see, that it is a gift.  They realize that the thought to travel down a certain road helped them avoid a pileup on the freeway.  When they lose a job they eventually see that it moved them out of a situation which was undermining their health.

Mystery, yes.  Surrender, yes.

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Posted by on Dec 23, 2011

Requiem for Christopher Hitchens the Anti-Theist

Requiem for Christopher Hitchens the Anti-Theist

Christopher Hitchens went to his reward on December 15, 2011. The question of the eternal fate of such a vitriolic foe of faith and religion has received two responses. Douglas Wilson – Hitchens’ theist debating partner – in Christianity Today said that since we cannot assume that Hitchens called on God, we must assume that he is lost forever.

Eric Reitan, philosopher and author of Is God a Delusion? A Reply to Religion’s Cultured Despisers focuses on Hitchens’ search for truth. Reitan sees Hitchens’ motto “religion poisons everything” as an exaggerated reaction to the truth that there “is much that is poisonous in the religions of the world.” As such, Hitchens’ wasn’t necessarily anti-God as much as he was repulsed by the evil practice of religion. Reitan sees salvation for Hitchens because of his dedication to truth. Reitan cites Simone Weil’s famous statement:

I still think so today, that one can never wrestle enough with God if one does so out of pure regard for the truth. Christ likes us to prefer truth to him because, before being Christ, he is truth. If one turns aside from him to go toward the truth, one will not go far before failing into his arms. – Waiting for God, Simone Weil 1951 page 69

Reitan’s view is much more Christian in the sense of Jesus own concern with truth and sincerity over the sham invocation of doctrine or religious law.

The words of the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer come to mind: “…  remember now all for whom we make this sacrifice: … those who take part in this offering, those gathered here before you, your entire people, and all who seek you with a sincere heart.”

Another passage from Simone Weil comes to mind regarding death:

I always believed that the instant of death is the center and object of life. I used to think that, for those who live as they should, it is the instant when, for an infinitesimal fraction of time, pure truth, naked, certain, and eternal enters the soul. I may say that I never desired any other good for myself. I thought that the life leading to this good is not only defined by a code of morals common to all, but that for each one it consists of a succession of acts and events strictly personal to him, and so essential that he who leaves them on one side never reaches the goal.

Perhaps, those of us who feel comforted in faith and the promise of Heaven should not rely so much on dogma but on a life of truth – a life of authenticity.

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him. – Matthew 21:31-32

Image: Orion Nebula Galaxy – Courtesy of NASA In the Public Domain

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Posted by on Mar 16, 2011

Where Two or More Are Gathered … Los Angeles Religious Education Congress

Where Two or More Are Gathered … Los Angeles Religious Education Congress

Los Angeles Religious Education Congress 2011

Tonight and through the weekend, thousands of Catholics and members of other faiths will be converging on the Anaheim, California Convention Center for the largest annual gathering of Catholics in the United States. The Los Angeles Religious Education Congress begins with Youth Day on March 17. The theme for Youth Day is “Godbook: Everyone Invited.” Speakers address topics of interest to teens, including prayer, sharing faith, social justice, and interpersonal relations. Youth Day includes workshops, liturgies at three locations within the Convention Center and and concerts with artists including Jesse Manibusan and Pedro Rubalcava. Several of the workshops also feature music.

Congress for adults begins with Opening Prayer on March 18 and continues through a final liturgy on Sunday afternoon. This year’s theme is “Hold Firm … Trust.” Like Youth Day, the days are filled with opportunities for prayer and learning. Speakers from around the world come to Congress, many with  large groups of fans who look forward to hearing them each year. Workshops are offered in English, Spanish and Vietnamese. Opportunities abound for prayer, reconciliation, learning, sharing, enjoying contemporary music, and just generally enjoying the presence of the Lord in the community of the faithful.

Knowing that many people would like to be among the approximately 40,000 present at Congress but must instead attend to family and work responsibilities elsewhere, Congress planners have arranged for live internet streaming of events on Youth Day and during the rest of the weekend. Naturally, the majority of events will not be available live, but recordings of many presentations can be purchased through the Congress website.

I hope many of you will join in the fun and inspiration of Congress through the internet. I’ll be there too!

 

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Posted by on Aug 24, 2010

Eve – God’s Gift to All

Eve – God’s Gift to All

Michelangelo's "Creation of Eve" from the Sistine Chapel

One of my long term interests has been the field of the physical sciences – all branches including biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, etc. As an anthropologist, I’m always watching for new information about humans as a species (the physical science side) and as beings with meaning systems that help them make sense of the world around them (the social science side).

A few years ago, (OK so it was a lot of years ago – 1988), I read about the discovery in central Africa of the remains of a woman who seems to be ancestral to all current living human beings. The folks who found her remains and were studying them dubbed her “Eve,” or “Mitochondrial Eve.”

“Eve” came to my attention again this week because of this headline on www.msn.com, “Age confirmed for ‘Eve,’ mother of all humans.” The article explains that mitochondrial DNA from a woman living approximately 200,000 years ago is shared in an unbroken line by all living humans today. This report of the study confirming the age estimates of the original researches explains how the age estimate was reached and notes that “Eve” was not the first or only woman living at the time. It’s just that for whatever reason, only her mitochondrial DNA has survived in unbroken succession to contemporary humans. All other lines ended at some point when women of the line had only sons. Mitochodrial DNA is found only in human ova (eggs), so passes only along the female line. (Mitochondria are organelles present in human cells, serving as the powerhouses that produce the energy needed for life.)

For folks who come from a religious tradition in which the first woman was also called “Eve,” (“mother of all the living” Gn 3:20), the choice of name for this ancient woman resonates on many levels.

As school is starting again in the US, the question of how the origins of the human species occurred will almost inevitably be raised again in school districts and perhaps even courts. Bishop James Ussher (1581-1656) calculated that according to the Bible, creation occurred the night preceding October 23, 4004 BC according to the Julian calendar. Some very deeply earnest people believe that his timeline is correct. They are very concerned that their children are being harmed by educational programs that teach otherwise.

The purpose of this post is not to open that whole can of worms.

Our Catholic tradition does not insist that the early accounts of the creation, the great flood, or even the lives of the Patriarchs and other Biblical figures were literally, historically true. We have no problem with the idea that creation could have occurred over a period of billions of years, or that it could still be on-going. So it really doesn’t matter whether all descended from one woman and one man around 6,000 years ago or 200,000 years ago or 1 million years ago.

This is where it gets to be fun to be an anthropologist. The issue is how we explain the world around us. How did we all get here? Why do we do things differently from the way others do them? Are they human too? Why do we do things that hurt others? Why is it so hard to do what we know is right? Is it really right?

Teasing out the strands of meaning that bind together the members of a culture takes a long time. Meaning is embedded within the fabric of social relations. It seems so obvious to a member of a culture that theirs is the only way to understand life and social interaction that folks who don’t share that system of meaning may be seen as less than human. It’s a problem shared  by groups of people (or “peoples”) around the world, and is at the root of a lot of the larger problems we have today as citizens of a global community.

The thing that makes the dating of the life of “Eve” so exciting for me is that it makes so clear the reality that despite the myriad ways we humans have found for explaining the world around us, within us, and between us, we all share a common biological heritage. We are all sisters and brothers. Our explanations of reality are often different. Even within one country, culture or family, we may explain things differently. But underneath all the diversity, we are one family.

As we move forward, we must remember this reality. We are sisters and brothers. Muslims and Christians and Jews, and Hindus and Buddhists and Taoists and those of tribal faiths and those of no faith at all — all are brothers and sisters. May the Lord bless us with a deep awareness of this gift and the faithfulness to live in peace and justice and love on this world we share.

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Posted by on Jul 15, 2010

Saint of the Day – St. Bonaventure, the Athiests and the NeoPagans

Saint of the Day – St. Bonaventure, the Athiests and the NeoPagans

Forest, by mohan p

There is a growing cottage industry of books attempting to prove or disprove the existence of God. Today, on this spot on the Church calendar devoted to St. Bonaventure (July 15), reflection on his blending of the rational and the spiritual is even more important than when he formulated it seven centuries ago.

Unfortunately, we live in a time of two simplistic approaches. One claims that religion is literally a superstitious hangover from the time of Bonaventure – the late Middle Ages – and has no basis in rational scientific thought. The inhumanity to which we have been reduced by the rational technological world destroys our spirit just as surely as the dogma of the religious. The scientific rationalists show that there is no empirical proof for the existence of God and the literalist acceptance of the Bible only heaps on further irrationality. The spiritualists of the New Age, on the other hand, are concerned about energy flows, the design of built spaces and the sacred diffuse life force emanating from the planet, with its animate and inanimate manifestations.

As much as we might like to think that these debates are new, they are as old as recorded civilization. Christianity is unusual in the sense that it holds and affirms the supra-rationality of faith in the unknowable and then elaborates the faith experience and its doctrinal content in a rational manner. To say it in more simple terms, the Christian experiences and creates reality within the faith experience itself. Given the inherent order of creation itself, this experience reveals and elaborates that core capability of the human, which is critical reason. Creation is sacred and diaphanous and faith enlightens our minds and leads them to the perfect knowledge revealed in Christ.

These view are presented mystically, poetically, and rationally in St. Bonaventure’s Itinerarium Mentis Ad Deum (The Mind’s Road to God). This small book is in many ways a meditation on the the vision of Christ by St. Francis on Mount Alverno, in which the saint becomes so identified with the Risen Christ that he receives the stigmata and the five wounds appear on his body.

How can thinking people believe is the post modern question. How can people with systematic rationalized collections of belief be spiritual is the New Age question. In the post modern age, empirical science is truth. In the New Age there is my truth, my karma, and your truth, your karma. No faith is required. No revelation is possible. There is no enlightenment and encounter with the Divine – a Divine that we cannot control with mathematical models or the arrangement of crystals.

Bonaventure provides a guide to living for the post-modern / New Age Christian – delightfully encountering the “vestigia Trinitatis,” the footprints of the Trinity in creation, learning and understanding in enlightenment, and caught up in the wonder of the divine.

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Posted by on Apr 21, 2010

Quote of the Day – St. Anselm of Canterbury

Quote of the Day – St. Anselm of Canterbury

St. Anselm of Canterbury

April 21 is the feast of St. Anselm of Canterbury, Doctor of the Church and the first scholastic philosopher of Christian theology. For Anselm faith and reason were not mutually exclusive. In fact, they went hand in hand. The following quote sets forth his approach to faith and its exploration.

“Nor do I seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand. For this, too, I believe, that, unless I first believe, I shall not understand.”

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Posted by on Dec 1, 2009

Excavating Jesus: The Real Christ?

Excavating Jesus: The Real Christ?

excavatingjesus

John Dominic Crossan, the co-founder of the Jesus Seminar, is well known for his iconoclastic views on the historical Jesus. Excavating Jesus, written with archaeologist Jonathan Reed, is stimulating and challenging. Crossan’s argument that Jesus was a Galilean peasant who engendered a Kingdom movement after the murder of John the Baptist is compelling to me as an anthropologist, but it doesn’t seem to be the whole story.

The blending of archaeology and exegesis is intriguing. The use of ancient historical sources, such as Josephus and Pliny, and literature not included in the Bible, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Gnostic Gospels, weaves a colorful and variegated tapestry. Is this the actual Jesus of history?

I’m not entirely convinced. To me it seems implausible that such a movement could arise from so unremarkable a prophet. The number of Jews killed by Rome for posing as popular leaders is very large. Why would one be singled out for such an inflation into the Word made flesh? If the Gospel stories are to be taken as parables or mythic metaphors about a deeper meaning, who created this literature and for what reason? If Christianity were created in this way, it would be a social and cultural process without parallel. Zoroaster (the Persian priest who founded Zoroastrianism), Sidartha Gauthama, (the founder of Bhuddism), and the Prophet Mohammed (the founder of Islam), are remarkable historical figures – but none of them according to their followers claimed to be God.

If somehow the peasant founder or spokesman for a resistance or “terrorist” movement is magnified by his followers, why would devout Jews be so blasphemous as to make him into the messiah and a god? Somewhere there is a missing link between this peasant of history and the Christ of history.

It is very curious how Crossan holds the Gospel accounts up to the measure of Josephus’s history. Crossan then compares the claims of other contemporary religions as part of a general magical mentality. Somehow, Josephus could write from an historical perspective of relating true events but the Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus are to be seen as parable and allegory? That isn’t to say that various oral and written sources weren’t involved in the development of the Gospel accounts. In fact Crossan goes to some effort to stress that the early Christian community took them to be true and those involved in their composition believed in their veracity.

All in all, there is still a core of speculation in this fascinating book. It is an attempt to put many puzzle pieces together. It seems, though, that the Jesus he finds would not be capable of inspiring a Jesus movement that would grow into Christianity. In many respects, Crossan’s Jesus of history could inspire a movement, but it does not seem plausible that it would endure, let alone become a world religion.

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