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Posted by on Jun 14, 2018

Resolving to do Better – Looking Forward – Examen: Fifth Point

Resolving to do Better – Looking Forward – Examen: Fifth Point

This seems like the easy part. I simply tell myself that I will do better next time. That’s okay as far as it goes, but how will I change? How can I change?

It’s all about hope.

Fr. Gregory Boyle, SJ is known to Los Angeles gang members as “Father G” or simply “G”.  Fr. Boyle sees all their problems as arising from a “lethal absence of hope”. His response is to provide them with hope and jobs in Homeboy Industries. Terry Gross’s NPR interview with Fr. Boyle tells the story of how empathy renews and restores hope.

In his most recent book Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship, Fr. Boyle tells the story of what miracles empathy can work since it confers hope.

 

In God’s Presence, Conquering Addiction through Dance is the title of Elizabeth Delancy’s dissertation. It is a study of how black women have surmounted addiction by moving in God’s presence. Although, it is a little technical, it documents how this works. Resolving to do better is the key dynamic of reconciliation. It is the celebration of a brighter future. It is the combination of hope and optimism.

Hope conveys a certain practicality of steps that can be taken to move forward through crisis. Optimism is more expressive of a personality style. It expresses itself in positive emotions and actions. Hope and optimism are key foundations for our internal dialog, the messages we consciously hear and repeat within ourselves.  Sacramentality in dance, movement, writing, gesturing, and conversing is fundamental to the reunion of friends, the healing of relationships, and our life in God.

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Posted by on Jun 13, 2018

Asking for Pardon / Getting Rid of Shame – Examen: Fourth Point

Asking for Pardon / Getting Rid of Shame – Examen: Fourth Point

According to Brené Brown

Shame is a focus on self, guilt is a focus on behavior. Shame is, “I am bad.” Guilt is, “I did something bad.” How many of you, if you did something that was hurtful to me, would be willing to say, “I’m sorry. I made a mistake?” How many of you would be willing to say that? Guilt: I’m sorry. I made a mistake. Shame: I’m sorry. I am a mistake.

One of the key challenges in even looking at our behavior and our relationships is not guilt, but shame. Our thoughts and feelings can run off the rails and we think, “I did something bad. That means that I am bad.” Guilt becomes confused with shame. That’s why shame is such a big part of addiction, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and bullying. According to Brene Brown, shame for women is, “Do it all. Do it perfectly and never let them see you sweat.” For men, shame is, “Do not be perceived of as weak.”

Shaming is something we see often with pets. When a dog misbehaves we are tempted to say, “Bad dog!” We don’t say,” You chewed my slipper. You did something wrong, but you are a good dog.”  However, that can be very confusing and threatening for the dog. According to animal behavior specialists, it is much clearer if we say, “No chew!” when the dog is chewing a slipper. “Good dog” should be an ongoing message that is conveyed by the way we handle the dog.

Invalidating or shaming others is a fundamentally evil act, since it contravenes God’s view of us and all creation as fundamentally good. For someone to take on the view that they are bad is to identify with evil, to identify with non-being. Some people can reject the notion that they are bad but respond by defining the people who are shaming them as fundamentally bad. Through this fundamental rejection of a person, we make them something completely apart from us. They are the other. This unfortunate behavior in ourselves and other primates makes it possible for us to destroy members of our own species and even our own families. David Eagleman explains in an episode of The Brain how genocide occurs when we turn off our empathy.

Asking for God’s pardon is an acknowledgement that we have not lived up to what we actually are. Yes, we have done something wrong, and we feel bad about what we have done, but we know that we are loved and good because God sees all that he has made and says that it is good.

The important thing in this step is not to get overwhelmed. Pick one area that you would like to work on in consultation with your spiritual director and reflect on it over time – or not.

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Posted by on Jun 13, 2018

Asking for Clarity about my Sins and Feelings – Examen: Third Point

Asking for Clarity about my Sins and Feelings – Examen: Third Point

Pia Mellody, in her post on “Honesty and Accountability in Relationships,” underscores the core dynamic of human relationships that is also the core dynamic for our relationship with God.

If I am honest and accountable, I will keep my word and commitments, accepting responsibility for my behavior without trying to justify it based on another’s behavior. It is, of course, appropriate to confront the other’s behavior and to own our feelings about that behavior. It is very different to say, “When I witnessed this behavior, I had this feeling,” than to say, “Your behavior caused me to feel this or caused me to behave in this manner.” Inappropriate behavior is inappropriate. If my boundary system and self-discipline are so poor that I rage, demean, call names, etc., it is my responsibility to protect you from me. My emotional reaction to you or to a situation does not lessen my responsibility to be appropriate. Blaming and whining are close relatives. It is manipulation if I try to affect the outcome by blaming others or by trying to evoke pity so that I am not held accountable and consequences disappear.

Mellody provides a good check list for personal integrity and healthy relationships. Very often it is easy to look at various “failings.” I was rude. I was impatient. I had too many doughnuts. Yet, what is it that gets in the way of my being the person God made me to be? What keeps me from being whole, happy, and healthy?

Most of the time we focus on our individual actions or failures to act. However, the question is really about the nature of my relationship with myself, others, and God. A few of us can behave “perfectly” in terms of our manners and speech. But what is in our hearts?

Sometimes we focus on the notion of sacrificing our self for others. After all, didn’t Jesus do that? Aren’t we supposed to do that?  As the Divine Word Made Flesh, Jesus has his being in the healthiest of all relationships – pure relation. Jesus gives of himself by having compassion and empathy and serving others because of their own inherent dignity. He set limits and boundaries. Jesus took time for Himself. Jesus did not try to impress or control others. He was at peace within Himself and had close friends.

If we look carefully, we find that our unhappiness has to do with our relationships. Some types of dysfunctional relationships are called codependence. Mellody describes five symptoms of codepedence. They are signs of these unhealthy ways of relating to other people that keep us from realizing God’s Dream for Us.  These types of dysfunction can be very minor in ourselves and our relationships. However, most of our problems in life are all about relationship.

 

Wait a minute! Shouldn’t I be examining my conscience keeping the Ten Commandments and the Laws of the Church? That’s the big difference between going through a checklist of failings and offenses and understanding how I hang onto sin and misery that are the causes of these “listed” sins. I can focus on bad acts or good things left undone. The only problem with that approach is that I am not working on a healthy relationship with God and people in my life.

If we don’t pay attention to the health of our relationship with God and with others, we can become bitter, resentful, holier-than-thou, or worse. We can become self-satisfied and cut ourselves off from love and happiness. This is what Hell is. In the fire of our pain and hurt which we keep receiving and inflicting, all kinds of problems and addictions are rooted. Tragically, we often do this to our children and perpetuate the cycle. How holy, and righteous am I if I observe all the details of the religious law outwardly but all of my relationships are suffering, and I am cold and alone in my self-satisfaction? I am rejecting Christ.

St. Ignatius talks about temptation in the “guise of good.” In other words, people who are living fairly good lives can be tempted to do things that look good. St. Ignatius always advised moderation and encouraged people to take a closer look at their motivations and the effect of their outcomes. It may look like we are doing something good for someone, but are we really? Dysfunctional behavior can be motivated by the best of conscious intentions, but something else can be at work.

In an article in Psychology Today, Dr. Shawn M. Burn lists six signs of dysfunctional or codependent behavior:

  1. Have an excessive and unhealthy tendency to rescue and take responsibility for other people.
  2. Derive a sense of purpose and boost your self-esteem through extreme self-sacrifice to satisfy the needs of others.
  3. Choose to enter and stay in lengthy high-cost caregiving and rescuing relationships, despite the costs to you or others.
  4. Regularly try to engineer the change of troubled, addicted, or under-functioning people whose problems are far bigger than your abilities to fix them.
  5. Seem to attract low-functioning people looking for someone to take care of them so they can avoid adult responsibility or consequences or attract people in perpetual crisis unwilling to change their lives.
  6. Have a pattern of engaging in well-intentioned but ultimately unproductive, unhealthy helping behaviors, such as enabling. (This means helping people by making it easier or possible for them to engage in harmful behaviors such as helping an alcoholic get liquor.)
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Posted by on Oct 3, 2016

Finding God in All the Wrong People – A Look at the Emerging Church

Finding God in All the Wrong People – A Look at the Emerging Church

Accidental Saints

 

Seeing the Underside and Seeing God: Nadia Bolz-Weber with Krista Tippett at the Wild Goose Festival from On Being on Vimeo.

Nadia Bolz-Weber is a Lutheran Minister who is described as “not your mother’s minister.” This is a marvelous interview with the woman who is the pastor or “pastorix” as she jokes of the House of  Sinners and Saints in Denver. Raised in the Church of Christ with no drinking, dancing, and no instruments in church Nadia has gone through many years of addiction and stand up comedy. In her Denver church,  she has incorporated the four part a capella singing of her childhood and focuses her preaches on the ongoing death and resurrection of Christians.

Before meeting her husband she had not found a Christianity with a care for the poor and a liturgy. Her getting clean and sober she describes as a “completely rude thing for God to do.” In Lutheranism she discovered a long articulation of belief that she “did not have to get rid of half her brain to accept.” She found an emphasis on God She doesn’t feel responsible for what her congregants believe but she feel responsible for what they hear and experience in the preaching and in the liturgy. they are anti excellence but pro participation. She calls her liturgy “high church and tent revival.”

For a fresh take on traditional Christianity in contemporary language enjoy this interview.

 

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Posted by on Aug 30, 2016

Holy Year Pilgrimage – Ave Maria – Carly Paoli

Holy Year Pilgrimage – Ave Maria – Carly Paoli

The Holy Year of Mercy can seem a little abstract. Here is a wonderful video with a beautiful adaptation of the Ave Maria. What struck me was the emphasis on recovering lost dreams and hopes not so much for ourselves but those on the street, those seeking justice, the suffering. This is contrasted with the faith of the pilgrims and the churches and sites of Rome.

This is a moving presentation of the core belief of Christianity that we cannot say that we love God whom we do not see when we ignore our neighbors whom we can see. It is consolation and a challenge that persists in the proclamation of the Gospel from generation to generation. Today it comes in a beautiful  voice, a beautiful song, and the faith of beautiful people.

 

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Posted by on Aug 17, 2016

Mission: Peacemaking and Muslim Christian Relations

Mission: Peacemaking and Muslim Christian Relations

Peace Flows Like a River

Water in the Desert

What I’ve discovered … is that when we show up for people in need — when we seek their well-being, flourishing, and justice, whether they ever convert to our religion or not — we might just see the transformation we long for in ourselves and in hard-to-access places around the world. – Jeremy Courtney

Baptist missionary Jeremy Courtney, his wife, and two children found themselves in the middle of the Iraq War.  In today’s attempt by some Moslems and Christians to demonize the other in a continuation of centuries of bloody warfare, Courtney has founded the Preemptive Love Coalition.

Courtney and his movement represent a broadening of the Protestant Evangelical notion of mission to one that is more in keeping with the Vatican II Catholic notion of the Christian missionary. Courtney’s approach is to pursue peace one heart at a time. “Love first and ask questions later.” became the theme of Courtney’s approach as he started helping Iraqi children to obtain life-saving and life-changing heart surgery within Iraq by increasing the capacity and capabilities of the country to care for its own children.

Courtney opens his web page, JeremyCourtney.com, with a compelling quotation from C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity about how our failure to accept and embrace people we see as opponents corrupts us and our relationship with God because it leads us to a universe of pure hatred.

Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, ‘Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything — God and our friends and ourselves included — as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Although C.S. Lewis wrote in the context of World War II and the Nazi regime, his words are especially relevant in our moral challenge of relating to Islam and to Islamic extremists.

Courtney focuses on the need for authenticity, since many Protestant missionaries pose as aid workers or teachers in countries that are hostile to Christianity. In an OpEd for CNN’s Declassifed – Untold Stories of American Spies – “Three Arguments Against Christian Covert ‘Spycraft'” Courtney decries this practice as dishonest, harmful to religious freedom, and because it “puts a target on the backs of local Christians”.

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths.But you, be self-possessed in all circumstances; put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry.

2 Timothy 4:1-5

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Posted by on May 6, 2016

An Eye for an Eye … A Whole World Blind?

An Eye for an Eye … A Whole World Blind?

Milkau_Oberer_Teil_der_Stele_mit_dem_Text_von_Hammurapis_Gesetzescode_369-2“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” was an important advance in human relations at the time of Babylonian ruler Hammurabi around 1754 BCE. In earlier ages, particularly in small tribal societies with large extended families, the norm was that family honor demanded extreme reaction/retaliation for wrongs committed against any member of the family. Of course, some members were more highly valued, so retaliation for wrongs against them was more extreme, but even for those with lower status, some sort of response was necessary. Otherwise the next offense might be more extreme. No family could affort to appear weak. This approach is still all too common among tribal peoples today. Honor killings have not disappeared from the face of the earth.

However, as larger groups of people/families began to live in towns and cities, feuds between families, with ever escalating degrees of violence, wrecked havoc on social order and stability. Something had to be done. The Code of Hammurabi, like the codes of other ancient rulers, served as a guide for dealing with conflict and setting levels of responsibility or punishment for offenses.

Legal Codes Limit Revenge

Under the terms of the Code of Hamurabi, wrongs could not be avenged with actions more extreme than the original offense, though what was considered extreme varied by social class, with offenses against the poor or slaves meriting smaller degrees of punishment. Nevertheless, limiting the scope of acceptable response/retaliation was absolutely necessary for human social progress.

Mount Sinai by El GrecoThe Mosaic Law, which undergirds much of Western Civilization, incorporated many of the features of the Code of Hammurabi. In contrast with the codes of monarchies, such as that of Hammurabi, Hebrew law was seen to come from God and included care of widows, orphans, and outsiders (“strangers”) in its scope. The concept of mercy and inclusion of forgiveness of debt were also part of the Mosaic Law.

All of this comes to mind as headlines scream that government forces have bombed a civilian hospital in rebel-held territory one week and the next week another civilian hospital in government-held territory is bombed by rebel forces. Terrorists kill theater-goers. Bombs explode near airports and in subways. Politicians speak of excluding all members of a world religion or all people from certain countries from entry to their more privileged country. Refugees are turned away from country after country. And women and girls who have been victimized by warring men are shunned by their families or killed for bringing dishonor on their families.

Where will it all end? When will it all end? How can it all end?

Jesus was not joking when He told those who came out to hear Him teach that they were to love their enemies, pray for those who persecuted them, and treat others the way they themselves wanted to be treated. (Mt  5:1-7:29 and Lk 6:27-38) They were to be compassionate as the Father is compassionate. These words were meant for us too. They challenge us today. Are they just for individuals or are they for communities and nations?

Forgive and Forget?

We sometimes hear the phrase, forgive and forget. It is so commonly heard that it’s become a platitude, a phrase that is somehow expected but without anticipation that it can actually happen. I suggest that it would be better to say “forgive but don’t forget.” Don’t forget the pain, the shame, the humiliation, the embarassment. But do forgive it and resolve not to pass it on. Take necessary steps to protect the vulnerable from harm. Be reasonably careful yourself, but forgive. Don’t carry the weight of hatred or of seeking vengence through the days following an injury or injustice. That only hurts the one who carries it. Passing on the pain doesn’t take away pain either. Passing it on just gives pain new energy, draining the energy of the one who harbors and holds on to it.

I don’t know how to solve the world’s problems. I don’t know whether we’ll ever see a time when wars will stop. I know that religious conflicts are among the hardest to end, in part because of their confusion with a desire for power and control that masquerades as a search for orthodoxy or conformity in religious belief and practice.

Nevertheless, I do believe that each of us is called to do what we can to stop the bloodshed, both literally and figuratively. We must forgive. We must find ways to hold ourselves and others accountable for our actions. We must learn how to teach our children to love rather than fear or hate those who differ from us and our ways. We must welcome people from other lands. We must resolve to share the goods of the earth, even if that means we must live more simply ourselves. We must go beyond “an eye for an eye,” because as Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.” None of us is perfect. No country is entirely innocent on the world stage. But it’s time for all of us to grow up and stop passing on the pain. Time to forgive and remember and resolve, “Never again.”

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Posted by on Mar 5, 2016

What is Mercy?

What is Mercy?

The Prodigal Son

The Prodigal Son

On December 8, 2015 Pope Francis called the Church and the World to a Year of Mercy. This virtue is very prominent in the Pope’s preaching and teaching. Many have embraced this call; but, what is mercy?

Mercy is the attitude or action of someone who could justifiably be uninvolved, superior, insensitive or disdainful. It implies that the person extending mercy goes out of her or his way to ignore whatever differences there may be between the self and others. Sincere mercy is expressed by a person who has moved beyond self-preoccupation or fear to equanimity and even magnanimity. Mercy is inclusive. There is no judgment in mercy as to who deserves it or not. Mercy   knows that the one extending mercy also needs it.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, “hesed” and “rachamim” are both translated as mercy. “Hesed” is a holy, giving love. It is a love which reaches out. It is a love that is steadfast and dependable. (Joshua 2:12-14) “Rachamim” comes from “racham” which is a mother’s womb. (1 Kings 3:26) This is a love that is tender, compassionate, and responsive.

Mercy in Jesus’ Life

Jesus spoke of mercy often. His life often called him to go beyond the law, the rules, and social norms. He pulled to himself those who were unacceptable — the dirty, leprous and sinful: outcasts, women, the old. The widow of Nain, Matthew and Zacchaeus (tax collectors), the woman with the constant bleeding, the man born blind, the woman caught in adultery, and the Samaritan woman at the well — all are examples of Jesus’ extending mercy and often incurring the wrath of the respectable authorities. Jesus crossed the gaps of separation between people to demonstrate the joy of unity. The parable of the prodigal Son is a wonderful example of this. Jesus showed us that fear of the other is unnecessary and destructive of authentic humanity. Mercy’s goal is happiness rather than just legal fairness. Doing mercy is helping people flourish. This is much more than just not hindering people. Jesus let us know that we all need each other’s mercy — and God’s most of all.

Jesus also offered mercy to the powerful. He had openness to the Scribes and Pharisees and encouraged dialogue as long as they were civil. But they could not imagine engaging with someone who associated with outcasts, nor that they themselves might need mercy. These authorities saw the perfect following of their laws as a sign of their righteousness and their separation from outcasts as a good thing. (Never mind that the poor did not have the finances to do the symbolic washing, eating, dressing, tithes, rituals, and travel to be perfectly observant,) Jesus was looking at the heart and its intentions. The elite enjoyed power coming from superiority and were looking at appearances

Mercy in the New Testament and Today

In the New Testament one can also find “eleos” translated as mercy. The root of “eleos” is “oil that is poured out.” Thus God’s love is poured out to us. The generosity of God’s care fills the Scriptures. It is one of St. Paul’s themes.  ( Romans 5:5, Titus 3:6 and 1 Timothy 1:14) God’s mercy does not imply that God is weak. It does say that God knows well our circumstances and His love overflows for us.

Many people have experienced God’s mercy for them. In the most trying circumstances there are those who have leaned on God and found much solace and help. It is not easy to hit a wall and trust God. Coming up against those in power when they show no mercy is also a difficult, if not frightening thing.

In recent years those like Bishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, Mother Teresa of Kolkata, and Dorothy Day in the United States have shown amazing humility and mercy. The examples of their lives speak to us as we deal with the challenges of our times and the call to give and receive mercy.

 

 

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Posted by on Jun 18, 2015

Treat Them with Tenderness – Pope Francis

Treat Them with Tenderness – Pope Francis

father_piggy_backPope Francis celebrated Mass for the Third Worldwide Retreat for Priests on June 12, 2015, the Feast of the Sacred Heart. In his homily for the priests he spoke of God’s tenderness — a tenderness like that of a father or a mother teaching a child to walk. A tenderness that binds his people in freedom, attracting them “with bonds of love, with ties of love.” He explained that God then tells us and his people, “For you I am like one who lifts a child to my cheek and kisses her as I bend down to feed her. Considering this tenderness of God how would it be possible for him to abandon us to the enemy?” When we find ourselves in difficulty or insecurity, the Lord tells us, “If I do all of this for you, how can you even think that I would leave you on your own, that I would abandon you?”

Referring to the Coptic martyrs of Libya, Pope Francis noted that they died with the name of Jesus on their lips, entrusting themselves to the love of God. God promises,“How can I treat you as an enemy? My heart rises within me and arouses all my tenderness.” It is not a day of wrath that awaits you but a day of pardon for sins and the tenderness of a Father, the Holy One in our midst. This love and tenderness is the gift of the Father to all of his children, for each one of us.

A lot of the time we are afraid of the tenderness of God and we refuse to let ourselves experience it. In these moments “we are hard, severe, punishers” of our neighbors (and even of ourselves). Although he was speaking to priests, the message is something that we should all hear, as it applies to us as well. He also explained that that we should not be like the shepherd who cared for only one sheep and left the other ninety nine sheep to wander about, lost.

The Pope explained, “the heart of Christ is the tenderness of God. This is the way that pastors (and the people of God) should shepherd each other – with the tenderness of God and they should leave the whip in the sacristy (or in the cabinet) and be tender shepherds even with those who are the most troublesome.”

Finishing his homily, Pope Francis said “We do not believe in an ethereal God. We believe in a God who became flesh, who has a heart, and this heart today tells us, ‘Come to me if you are tired, worn out, and I will refresh you, but treat my little ones with tenderness, with the same tenderness with which I care for you.’ This is what the heart of Christ is telling us today and this is what I am praying for you today at this Mass and for myself.”

(Pope Francis’ homily was written for a priests’ retreat, but the ideas he expressed are important for all of us, the People of God. Accordingly, I have included mention of the rest of us in parentheses.)

 

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Posted by on Jun 13, 2015

The Sacred Heart of Jesus: Source of Limitless Love

The Sacred Heart of Jesus: Source of Limitless Love

Sacred Heart by David Clayton Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus originated as a meditation on the love that Jesus has for humanity.  In the 1500s, Jesuits and Franciscans promoted devotion to the wounded heart of Jesus. However, they did not stress the physical bleeding heart of Jesus crowned with thorns that has come down to us. This common  image does not necessarily help people feel closer to Jesus today. Presenting Jesus with a heart with flames of love and a face full of love and light emphasizes his limitless divine love in a very human way.

A Physical Organ or A Symbol of Love?

Sacred Heart - Pompeo BatoniThe devotion to the Sacred Heart has not always  included a focus on the suffering of Jesus and his actual physical heart. During the first ten centuries of Christianity, devotion to the humanity of Christ did not include honoring the wounded Heart of Jesus. From the 1200s to the 1500s devotion to the Sacred Wounds increased. However, it was private, individual, and of a mystical nature. The thorn crowned heart shows the change from honoring Jesus’ love for humanity to humans making reparation for sin. In the 1670s, the apparitions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to  Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque,  moved the devotion into the public life of the Church and it became centered on sorrow for sin. Popular piety continued this emphasis and eventually promoted worship of the physical heart of Jesus to such a point that Pope Pius XII had to correct this. The pope explained that the Sacred Heart belongs to the “Divine Person of the Eternal Word” and is a symbolic image of his love and our redemption. (See Haurietis aquas). Eastern Catholicism promotes some devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. However,  the devotion is controversial because of the mixing of the theologies of divine love and human reparation for sin within it. Eastern Catholics do not share the Western preoccupation with the physical heart of Jesus.

Devotion to Love

SacredHeart Fanelli 1994Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a devotion to His love. It is a response to the extravagance of Jesus.  His suffering and human sin are important for our consideration in other ways. However, this focus is not suitable for a devotion which focuses on love. This is particularly true today when addressing young people in first world cultures in which few symbols are shared. A heart in flames is a direct and simple symbol.

It is interesting that one of the main resources of devotion to the Sacred Heart, the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (1899), is anything but human, warm, or loving. The Litany is formal, monarchical and transcendent. There is little sense of the human heart of Jesus reaching out to humanity to give consolation, peace or special graces. The prayer is true to its historical context, a time in the Church of formality and a sense of distance from the divine.

Despite the turn towards human individual experience and emotion in the 20th and 21st centuries, many Catholics do not feel personally close to God or have a warm experience of God’s love for them. Many still relate to God as a judge and an enforcer of rules.  Contemplating Jesus in the Gospels gives us a richer mystical image of the truly divine and truly human Jesus Christ full of warm friendliness, compassion, and humility with a heart full of love.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, by David Clayton – used with permission
Sacred Heart, by Pompeo Batoni –  public domain
Sacred Heart of Jesus, by Joseph Fanelli – used with permission

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Posted by on May 18, 2015

Pope Francis – Three Words for Family Harmony

Pope Francis – Three Words for Family Harmony

Dome of St. Peter's Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica Dome – Public Domain CCO

On Wednesday May 13 at his General Audience in St Peter’s square Pope Francis gave a short address on the three words that are key to family happiness and well being. The three words in Spanish that are essential for health relationships are permiso, gracias, y perdón. In English they are phrases: “May I”,”Thank you!”, and “Forgive Me.”

The Pope said that sometimes in our culture these expressions are seen as a sign of weakness as opposed to a true statement of our respect and affection in our intimate relationships. He stressed the need for this respect for the dignity of our spouses, children and other family members as central to living our faith. Without this underlying bedrock respect and affection, these key relationships can rupture and damage everyone in the process.

Asking for permission is key to affirming others and makes our relationship more intimate and strong. Expressing our thanks is more than a social formality. It is a recognition and validation of our loved ones and an expression of our appreciation for their love. Most importantly, we are showing that we are aware of how important our loved ones are to us. The most difficult, according to the Pope, is “Forgive me.” Conflicts and disagreements — even arguments — are part of any honest relationship. Pope Francis even alludes to serious incidents in which “plates fly.” What is key is to ask forgiveness. Pope Francis advises us to be reconciled with each other before the end of the day. This might not always be possible since we might need more time to cool down. However, Pope Francis is making the point that being reconciled has to be done sooner rather than later to demonstrate that the strength of our love is greater than any disagreement or frustration we may have with each other.

A note on cultural differences may be helpful here. Latin cultures tend to deal with stress by externalizing it. Italian opera is a good example of this. Generally, upset and irritation are not internalized. Voices rise, arms start waving, and everything seems over the top by North Atlantic English-speaking standards. For non-Latin cultures, the expression of stress is usually more muted.  The feelings are not necessarily less intense. Sometimes they are more intense since they are being internalized. This type of culturally conditioned response to conflict requires a different, more low key response. The three expressions still apply but we need to be attentive to the way our families perceive and deal with conflict. Anger, dissension, and disillusionment provide opportunities to uncover and resolve deeper conflicts. Professional help from a skilled counselor can be very useful to avoid undermining and destroying our bonds of love and affection. Politeness, courtesy, and respect are important in our speech, but they also have to be accompanied by changed behavior. As St. Ignatius Loyola says in the Spiritual Exercises “Love is shown more in deeds than in words.” These three expressions are important deeds. They are much more than words and can open the door to improved behavior and the mutual acceptance and loving response to challenges that are central to being happy and making a happy home.

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Posted by on Apr 16, 2015

Easter and “Eastering”

Easter and “Eastering”

Icon of the ResurrectionEaster is a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection and what that means for all human beings and the whole of creation. It is an event which gives us hope; a time to remember that good is stronger than evil and death is not the end of life. But the resurrection also has divergent interpretations. For some, Jesus never really died but instead was revived. Some say that he died but his body was stolen and buried somewhere else. For some, it is a question of the resuscitation of a corpse so that Jesus had a revived human body and had to die completely at a later time. For others, it is the return of Jesus in a transformed body. Still others believe that Jesus came back as a vision, seen either interiorly or externally but in a ghostly form.

Catholicism (and most of Christianity) teaches that Jesus returned as fully human and fully divine in a transformed body. He could walk through walls, yet he could eat (Lk. 24:36-23). He could vanish in a moment but had wounds that were of flesh and could be touched. The story of the encounter with Thomas the Apostle (Jn. 20:26-29) is one example. The people closest to him did not recognize him at first. Both Mary Magdalene in the garden (Jn. 20:11-18) and the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk. 24:13-35) mistook him for someone else, a gardener or a fellow traveler respectively. Only through his words and actions did they come to recognize him.

Various traditions of Christianity also emphasize different aspects of Easter. A few focus primarily on the symbolic nature of this miracle, i.e. that all human beings can experience a new life in Christ at the time of death. Most Christians, however, believe that the entire Paschal drama (the Paschal Mystery) from Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday to Easter cannot be separated into parts. With Easter, in this understanding, creation was made fundamentally new in the here and now. It also means that the risen Christ manifested an existence that all will share in in the future Eschaton (the last days) — the reconciliation of all to God.

Because of the entire Paschal Mystery, the Holy Spirit and grace are understood as active in the day-to-day world, inviting and drawing people to God in very tangible ways. According to St. Paul all of us are recapitulating in our lives the life, death and resurrection of Jesus (Phil. 3:10-11). The famous Catholic paleontologist, geologist, philosopher, and theologian, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. saw this movement of human history towards its fulfillment in Christ as taking place in everything in the entire universe. As he examined every level of creation from the most basic subatomic (as much as he could know in the 1950s) to the macrocosmic realities of the galaxies, he saw a movement toward greater unity (communion) and consciousness.

What Jesus did at the Last Supper was to place himself as a unique offering of love to the Father, an offering that is shared by us. His self-giving and adoration, and their rejection by those in power, became a historical event on the cross the next day. But, out of the sacrifice of his life came the triumph of God over death and sin for all humanity. No evil or tragedy is beyond the reach of God’s love and redemption. Easter is the absolute promise that the human condition and the way the world currently is is not a meaningless lonely journey to oblivion. Jesus “Easters” us every day when we let his love and guidance into ourselves and our lives as we struggle with our crosses of loss, hurt, or disordered living. We live Easter here and now imperfectly, but this Easter will be fully realized in the future in the Kingdom of God.

Icon of the Resurrection, by Surgun. Public Domain

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Posted by on Mar 16, 2015

Metanoia — Transformation and Change

Metanoia — Transformation and Change

 

What does “Metanoia” Mean?

 “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you may judge what is God’s will, what is good, acceptable and perfect.” (Rom 12:2)

Many of us have a desire for closeness to God and the realization of all that we can be. Those goals inevitably call us to change. But, change is hard. And often we feel that we cannot make it happen. In fact, we cannot and do not make it happen. As Christians we realize that God makes it happen. We can let  desire in. We can say “yes” to change even if it feels like an unknown path. We can push back fear and see the new possibilities as freedom from the past or as an adventure.  But even these are with God’s support. Left on our own, we humans fall into fear, laziness, and even anger that there is work involved in finding true happiness.

Why is growth toward happiness so much work? Is there a point to work? Why doesn’t God just give us feelings of happiness or all the material goods that would meet normal needs?

Created for Transcendence

In his love, God has created us to transcend our natural selves. He has built into his creation a sense of beauty and  love that goes far beyond the need to survive. As humans evolved from an un-self-reflective consciousness  to an ability to be self-reflective, they developed the ability to choose consciously and to know if an act is harmful to self or others.  This is a good and basic moral accomplishment, but the bigger task for humans has been to distinguish accomplishments from our fundamental orientation. Many of us work very hard at doing important and helpful things. We build our legacy goal by goal.

In the middle of all of this striving we inevitably hit such things as disappointment, tragedy, loneliness, thoughtlessness, health problems, and set-backs. We ask ourselves if all the effort is worth it. Do I matter? Does my life matter?

I can react with anger or ego and wrap myself up in accomplishments, money, or an attractive body. I often yell at God about why I have to work so hard to get things done. I always get back the same reply, “Because I love you.”  God loves me enough to invite me to work with my fear and my feelings of inadequacy and to let him help me through all the moments of planning and work. No one is going to hand me good relationships. But, my prayerful reflection on my relationships can improve them. I can let God calm me down. I can hear an inner voice suggesting a better way to talk or listen.

All of this hope and growth can happen if my fundamental orientation is to God. The desire to depend on God happens because I surrender to God and to God’s ways. The Bible speaks of the turn in fundamental orientation as “metanoia.”

Repentence or more?

The term “metanoia” appears 58 times in the New Testament.  It is usually translated as “repentance.” But, the translation as “repentance” is controversial. It can be traced back to a choice that had to be made when the text was translated for early Latin Christianity. There was no equivalent in Latin to the earlier Classical Greek meaning. Classical Greek understood it as a change of mind. Even if one narrows the word to repentance, it never in Greek usage had a sense of sorrow or regret. “Meta” means beyond or after and “noia” means mind.  Why is this search for precision important?

It is important because “metanoia,” even if translated  as repentance, is in the broader context of Jesus’ intention to announce the coming of the kingdom of God. There is a process in the Gospels by which people come to the Kingdom and salvation. It is a process of evangelism, encounter with God, enlightenment, conversion, repentance, decision, and a new self-identity which includes a change of belief and social structure.  Sorrow for sins is important and good, but the encounter with God and commitment to him is the only enduring basis for belief, change and perseverance. We see examples of this in the story of St. Peter’s responses to Jesus after the Resurrection (Jn 21:15-21) or the call of the disciples (Jn. 1:35-39).

Christ and Zacchaeus - Niels_Larsen_Stevns-_ZakæusA lasting “metanoia” or change happens because of an experience of God.

No one can define the nature of that experience. It is different for each person. It can be a sense of closeness such as that experienced by Mary, Martha and Lazarus (Lk. 10:38-42, Jn. 11:1-44) or an answer to prayer or the knowledge that one has been saved from a threat or entanglement as in the experience of Zacchaeus the tax collector (Lk. 19:1-10).  Some people have visions, others experience healings. For some a particular passage in Scripture sets their hearts on fire or they experience a feeling of consolation after receiving communion.

Metanoia: A gift for the entire community

Some Christian groups make a distinction between the metanoia and pursuant faith commitment of someone raised in the faith and the startling experience St. Paul had on the road to Damascus. There is no difference. People raised in a faith tradition can grow from learned traditions and rules to an experience of God. It can be quite eye-opening. Many are not counting on knowing Christ. The practice of prayer can provide strength and guidance, but experience of God is the possible and expected point of prayer. This is not just for the canonized saints. God can re-frame our accustomed ways. This is metanoia. It is a turning or conversion which takes our consent, but it is a gift.

Give God some time to meet you in prayer. Read the Gospels and put yourself in the stories. Consider giving your life to God and let him lead you to your experience of him, to your metanoia.

 

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Posted by on Apr 19, 2013

Forgiveness Requires a Response

Forgiveness Requires a Response

Beach at the Sea of Galilee

Beach at the Sea of Galilee

Easter season is a time when we rejoice in Jesus’ Resurrection. We celebrate God’s great love in becoming human, living a totally human life, and being faithful in obedient love even through torture and a shameful death on the cross. We speak of salvation for all resulting from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Yet sometimes we also beat ourselves up for our sinfulness and responsibility for Jesus’ sacrifice and death. But beating ourselves up is not what Jesus wants for us. Jesus comes bearing forgiveness and that forgiveness requires a response. The evidence is clear in Scripture and we need to remind ourselves of it regularly.

Jesus’ disciples did not expect that he would be raised from the dead. In those first hours and days after the crucifixion, they must have been terribly upset with themselves. If only I had …   If only I hadn’t …  We should have …. We should never have allowed him to … What will I say to my family when I go home? I’ve been such a fool. I should have known it was all too good to be true. They all said I was chasing a dream. On and on their thoughts must have raged. When the first reports came in regarding the resurrection, from the women of all people, their response was natural. The women must be hysterical. Such a thing could not happen.

Nevertheless, throughout that first day of the week, the risen Jesus came to them. They did not recognize him at first. He looked like a gardener. He looked like a fellow traveler on the road and potential dinner companion. Once they recognized him, — when he came into the room despite locked doors it was pretty clear who  he was, — but the feared they were seeing a ghost. Always, however, Jesus reassured them. “Peace,” he said to those hiding behind locked doors.  “Do not be frightened,” he said to the women in the garden who first found the empty tomb. “What little sense you have! How slow you are to believe all that the prophets have announced!” he said to the travelers on the road to Emmaus. Then at supper with the travelers, he took the bread, blessed it, broke it and shared it and they knew it was the Lord. Immediately they walked back to Jerusalem to tell the others.

As the days passed, the disciples left Jerusalem and returned to Galilee as he had told them to do, through Mary Magdalene and the other women. They had been fishermen and so they went fishing. Anything to bring some sense of normality again! Yet early in the morning, after fishing without luck all night, a man in seen on the shore. The man calls out to them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. They do and the nets are filled. “The disciple Jesus loved” told Peter, “It is the Lord” and Peter threw on some clothes and jumped into the water to swim to the Lord. The others brought in the boat with its marvelous catch. Jesus may not have looked like the man with whom they had lived for the past three years, but this time they knew it was he. He cooked breakfast for them and then spoke directly to Peter, three times asking “Do you love me?” Each time Peter responded that he did and Jesus instructed him with slightly different words each time, “Feed my lambs; tend my sheep; feed my sheep.”

Each time Jesus appears, he reassures his friends and he reassures us as well. All is forgiven. All is OK. We need not dwell on the past. We must move ahead and tell others what we have seen and experienced. We are not to beat ourselves up about what we have done wrong or the times we’ve failed to do the right thing. We must recognize those times as having happened and accept forgiveness for them. Forgiveness is always offered to us. Then we must move forward rejoicing — carrying that peace, love, and forgiveness that comes from our Lord God into our world.  There’s plenty of bad news there already. Our job is to carry the Good News, spreading it far and wide through our actions and our words.

Alleluia! He is Risen!

 

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