A new year begins. A year that will be filled with grace freely offered, seeking only hearts open to receive it.
People dance in the streets, celebrating this outpouring of divine life into our daily reality. Enemies embrace. The fearful step out with undaunted courage. Young men and women move confidently into their unknown future and old ones see visions of great hope.
What if this were the reality of our transition into this new year? How could it come to be? Dare we ever hope for such a gift? It seems too good to be true, especially as we confront the turmoil and dangers of today’s world.
Yet this is the promise to which we are called. Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah (Is 61:1), “I come to bring glad news, ….” He echoes Tobit’s instructions to his son Tobiah (Tob 4:16): “Share your bread, clothe the naked ….” He goes one step further even and tells us that this is the basis on which our faithfulness is to be evaluated. To the degree we do this to the least among us, we do it to him (Mt 25:40).
This is the reality, unseen though it may be, to which we are called. The great mystery of the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord has come to pass in our human history. They continue to be a living reality in our Eucharist and in our daily lives. Peter’s words to the crowds on that first Pentecost are a call to each of us. Open your eyes. God is doing something fantastic here. Yes, the empires remain. Yes, powerful people continue to bully and oppress the poor. Yes, the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer and greater in number.
But do not lose hope! Grace has burst into our world. It flows into each of us and out into that world. So dance with joy. See the sun, the moon, the flowers, the smiles of children and old ones. Smile with the beggars and give thanks to the Lord for sharing his abundant life with us!
Then roll up your sleeves and move out into this wonderful world. Be the eyes and ears, the voice, hands, and feet of the risen Lord, the Word made flesh, God with us. And let’s get busy caring for our sisters and brothers who need a hand, our Earth, our communities, refugees at our borders, and our families. Let’s do it in joy, peace, cooperation, and hope.
Peace be with you, now and always.
Photo: “Plum Flower” by Dario Sabio – Public Domain Images
Being grateful and spreading the message is the 12th step of recovery. If we look at recovery from addiction in its many forms – drugs, alcohol, food, sex, or work – it seems like starting with gratitude is starting at the end and not the beginning. To the extent that the 12 steps are an ongoing process jumping on the recovery wheel at Step 12 not only represents a transformation but also occasions a deeper one. Gratitude connects us with God directly because we can see beyond the world of “want and need” to the riches around us and in our souls. You can’t be grateful without feeling good to some degree about yourself and your sobriety.
Gratitude is the acceptance and return of love’s expression as complete self-giving. Hip Hop is often a style of dancing that can be foreign and off-putting for older generations and yet it is the common world language of youth culture today. “Clean Love” speaks to the dynamic of Love / Gratitude and Gratitude / Love.
It is easy in some ways, to think of the Examen as something for people who already have things figured out. We can think that the Examen is for people without any problems. They always make good choices and it is merely a question of discerning a better choice. Once we have really entered the presence of God, there can only be gratitude. If there isn’t, there is something between us and God. Clearly, that is why the regular sequence of the 12 steps is necessary. For St. Ignatius Loyola, the key problem or sin is ingratitude toward God. “Godspell” the 70’s musical reflects a take on Love / Gratitude and Gratitude / Love that reflects a divine naivete and fearless authenticity.
Since gratitude is a positive socio-emotional-physical experience, it can heal those deep wounds and injuries from early in our lives that pain us into various methods of non-feeling expressed in addiction. It is important to be grateful for ourselves and our talents. Having appropriate self-esteem is to acknowledge that God gave us certain gifts and talents. This is acknowledging the truth and it can help us to affirm other people in their gifts and talents.
Our thankfulness can take many forms, but it is rooted in God’s love for us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and what that means for us. From the earliest times we enter the divine presence in song and dance.
Let them praise His name with dancing and make music to Him with tambourine and harp. For the LORD takes pleasure in His people; – Psalm 149: 3-4
Responding fully to God’s grace is far from intellectual. It requires a joyful choreography of mind, body, and spirit. What is it like to be fully alive, to be an integrated human being, to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord? These young dancers give us a glimpse of what this feels and looks like. We see the person fully alive. A little too “young” for you? Remember, just sitting in your chair and moving with music evokes all of those wonderful physical and emotional movement of the dancers in your own body and soul. This is the basis of culture, society, and dance therapy.
Okay. So how about something more traditional?
Entering God’s presence is not a “head trip.” It is a leap into the profoundly unknown and unknowable. Come, enter the dance!
Drs. Randolfo and Kathleen Pozos are graduates of Gonzaga University and are members of the Jesuit honor society Alpha Sigma Nu. They received their doctoral degrees in anthropology with concentrations in religion, health care, and social inequality from UC Berkeley
In addition to their professional work in healthcare services including wellness programs, Randy and Kathy have integrated wellness, positive psychology, and spirituality into this program. As educators and catechists, they have presented programs in English and Spanish for many years.
Randy and Kathy have been members of Resurrection Catholic Community in Aptos, CA for 28 years. They have three children and two grandchildren. Randy is a deacon candidate for the Diocese of Monterey and has been assigned to Holy Cross Parish in Santa Cruz for his pastoral internship
Pope 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.)
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.
Jesse Manibusan has posted a new promotional music video “The Life You Live”. Jesse has taken the usual meaning of life as something that we live as something that is ours alone and turned it on its head. “The Life You Live” is all about the life of the Risen Christ. Jesse echoes the theme of St. Paul in his address to the elite of Athens. “For in him, we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28)
Te Deum Laudamus — We Praise You O God — is a traditional song of thanksgiving in the Church that is used on special occasions outside of the liturgy or in formal worship.
The videos below are of the ancient chant version dating from the fifth century, followed by Mozart’s version 12 centuries later.
The Te Deum window by Christopher Whall, from the church of St Mary the Virgin in Ware, England is an example of a physical structure depicting the church community joining with the heavenly realms in praise and thanksgiving.
We cannot find peace if we are arguing with God in whatever form we perceive the sacred. The Divine Reality loves us without reservation. We cannot find happiness and peace in any other place. Even non-believers will only find peace in the Reality that has created the universe and encloses all of it within Itself. God has given everything in the universe love and freedom. God’s love is total. It encompasses everything that promotes our growth and transformation. We have been created for union with this sacred reality, so we learn and experience during all our lives ways to be like God: to be knowing, understanding, wise, discerning, reverent, courageous and in awe of the transcendent. Everything in the universe has degrees of freedom. The nature of everything determines the degrees of freedom. I cannot flap wings and fly. I cannot breathe under water just as I am. I will always be a middle child. But, there are many ways in which I can determine my course in life, work with limitations or with strengths.
As I live my life I have many possibilities before me. I also have a certain amount of freedom. If I believe in the reality of God, I see myself in a relationship with God, a God who is close or distant. All religious and spiritual traditions have concepts of the relationship of human powers and divine powers. These relationships involve change, improvement, decision, freedom, human failure, consequences and divine intervention. The theological terms often used for these phenomena are: conscience or consciousness, grace, nature, discernment, acts, harm or sin and moral good, and judgment or karma. If I am thinking about getting more money I have a number of reasons as to why I want more money, what I possibly want to do to get money, and what the pros and cons are with various options. I can look at the decision from many angles. I can line up my ideas and come up with what I think will work the best. I can talk to others or read various sources. I can also present this to God in prayer and say: “Please tell me what You see as best for me.”
This is not easy to do because most people feel that God does not think of my little side to things; God is only interested in the Bigger Picture and saints or martyrs. In fact, God is very interested in individuals. God as most Westerners conceive of God is a personal Reality who sees us fully and knows exactly what would make us happy. We are still not too sure about that because it sounds too mature for us. Attending to our health and saving money may sound difficult, so long term happiness planning may seem very hard. I am the first to say that buying something new sounds like fun. But, wanting to surrender to God as our source of wisdom and a guide is the only way to have peace. We are also very rational in the West and often think God is so intangible or un-provable as to be neither reliable nor a reality with which we can have a two-way communication.
Time for Centering
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 well being, 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.
Image: Three Candles by Alice Birkin, public domain
When I stare at the night sky, especially if I am out in the country, I get almost overwhelmed at the immensity of the universe. I am in awe of the beauty of the stars and then amazed at a God who can create and manage such an enormous and complex reality and yet be with me personally. One billion galaxies! Possibly two billion.
Even if a person does not believe in God as the reality defined in traditional religious terms, the beauty of the night sky, the roar of water down a canyon, the amazing chatter of birds and animals can take the breath away — almost bring one to tears.
The gift of AWE AND WONDER helps us to know and to feel that God is the fulfillment of everything we desire. That there exists perfect love — perfect knowledge, goodness, power, action, discretion, justice, healing. With this gift we perceive the mystery that God is. We realize that there is an aspect of the Sacred, the transcendent, that we cannot know on this side of death, but that we get glimpses of such majesty and glory. We see that God can know, interact with, and sustain billions of people. It’s amazing. You either believe it or you don’t. If you believe in such a possibility then it is mind blowing. My particularities matter. I am fully known. Nothing is impossible.
In 1974 When Annie Dillard published Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, it made two inaccessible worlds available to an entirely new audience. The first world was the natural world known in a scientific way. All of a sudden cells and their biochemistry, ecosystems, the interdependence of species, and the rhythms of nature were explained in lay terms and could be understood and celebrated. Secondly, this joy and excitement was not just intellectual but also solidly spiritual. There was no separation of the secular from the sacred. The world was whole and we felt whole in it. How nice! My body and the whole physical realm was God’s love and creativity writ big in the awesome processes of life in mitochondria, chloroplasts, T cells, blood, genes, the periodic table, and atomic particles.
Dillard took all the lovely words, images and sounds of a poet like Gerard Manley Hopkinsand showed us the genius of God, down to the most minute details. Hopkins’ dramatic words: grandeur, greatness, ooze, dearest freshness, dappled, brinded, original, spare, and strange now showed the grandeur of God as Dillard explained the incredible scientific reality of ooze and freshness, dappled and brinded. She also opened up very wide the whole subject of suffering and death and gave the reader a new perspective on the meaning and purposes of both. As a spiritually anemic graduate student, I soaked up the theology of Dillard’s book and saw for the first time the consistency of God in the natural and supernatural realms. How could God have a cycle of growth, disintegration and integration in the natural realm and not have one in the spiritual realm? What was all that talk of planting, pruning, cultivating and harvesting in the Bible all about if God was not also doing it in society and in my soul? And was God a genius in nature and then mindless and distant in the spiritual world? No, we can and do find God in the wonder of the universe and in the many parallel things we know in our lives.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning speaks of awe when she says, “Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees takes off his shoes.” Having Awe and Wonder is not automatic. It is a gift. We can be so over-indulged or over-stimulated that we miss beauty or grandeur. Last Sunday morning I saw a small fox trot by a glass door of a building where I was in a meeting. It was very close. The sun was shining through its translucent tail all colorful and fluffy. What a pointy nose and whiskers! Wonderful round dark eyes. Such a lovely animal. So light on its feet. I couldn’t dismiss it. It made my day. God is near.
The fox looked back at us as he or she trotted on. I wanted to go with it as it ran into the woods. In Psalm 139 it says that we are wonderfully made. Yes, we are. Sometimes squirrely and difficult; other times sleek and dolphin-like. But we are all wonderfully made, “The work of his hands.” And, awe, wonder and gratitude are our best response. Hopefully we can at times “Take off our shoes” at the thought of all this splendor. Maybe we can shake off the darkness of this world a little as we drink in “all this juice and all this joy”!
Image of the fox from wpclipart.com – public domain.
Image of Baby Galaxies from NASA – public domain.
Stepping carefully as she crossed the intersection, the older woman, wearing a warm coat and knitted hat despite the unseasonably warm weather and carrying a shopping bag of groceries, stopped suddenly, a look of delight on her face. She stepped back and slightly to the side, shifted her purse and bag, and bent to pick up a coin from the street. From my vantage point in the car waiting for the light to change, it appeared to be a quarter — just twenty-five cents. Yet the delight I saw in her face could not have been greater if it had been a thousand times more valuable. She had found something of value, just laying there on the ground in plain sight, waiting for someone to notice it. She picked it up carefully and placed it into her purse. Then she continued to make her way across the intersection on her way home to her apartment down the street.
As she walked on her way and I went on mine, I reflected on what I had seen. A very ordinary item, found in the course of a very ordinary activity, brought great delight to a seemingly very ordinary person. Yet she was a person who was alert and aware of her surroundings. She noticed what was going on, despite the ordinariness of the day and its activities. She saw more than many saw who crossed that intersection on that afternoon, and when she saw, she acted on what she had seen.
Perhaps this anonymous woman has something to teach us as we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, a feast also known as Candlemas and/or as the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Just as Anna and Simeon recognized Jesus when his parents brought him to the Temple to offer the traditional sacrifice required for a first born son, so we are called to be alert and aware so we will recognize Jesus when he comes into our lives. No one was expecting the Christ to come as the infant son of a normal, non-wealthy, non-royal family from Nazareth. Just a carpenter’s son! The Christ was to be a military hero who would drive out the Roman conquerors and establish a new kingdom like that of David. Yet, Anna and Simeon recognized him and blessed God for the gift of seeing him before their deaths. Indeed, Anna went around happily telling everyone she met that the Messiah had been born and had been presented at the Temple … and she herself had seen him!
The challenge each of us faces, I believe, is to see the Christ in the people with whom we share our lives, as well as in the people who formally represent the Christian community, and to celebrate that coming into our lives. The fellow who sits begging on the street downtown, the woman who stops joyfully to pick up a coin in the middle of the crosswalk, the guy who laughingly dances down the street, flirting with all the ladies as he goes to round up some buddies and head off to dinner before the cold night catches up with them, the frightened teen who finds she’s pregnant and is certain her parents will beat her and throw her out on the street if they find out, the doctor who cares for a child without charge when the parents don’t have insurance and can’t pay for the care, the little boy who delightedly strips off all his clothes because he’s learned how to do it and revels in the freedom of being alive and unfettered. Each of these is Christ coming to someone. How do we respond?
Thank God for His mercy and grace. If not for His grace and mercy, I would have been so lost in drugs and alcohol and misery. He sent His son to die for each of us. What I have now is peace that passes all understanding, and His Spirit that lives in me to give me actual joy in life. finally joy and peace that I thought was in pain killers and booze. That wasn’t joy, that was being numb. Not now! Not anymore! Thank God for His grace. – blog comment on “Your Grace Is Enough for Me” by stormyweather
This testimony is a beautiful example of true reconciliation. It involves a transformative healing and could have come right out of the pages of the Gospel – The Good News.
Confession, or the Sacrament of Reconciliation, is high on St. Ignatius’ list of priorities for the First Week of the Exercises. The challenge for most cradle Catholics is focusing on a long Church approved check list of sins, as opposed to focusing on the person of Christ. The things that bother us the most are obvious if we are honest with ourselves. Often we can become neurotically obsessed with our own behavior in terms of small things, without facing major issues like alcoholic parents; sexual, physical, or psychological abuse; refusing to forgive. People in lifestyles or marriages that don’t meet Church standards can feel that somehow God is not interested in them; somehow He died only for the good people.
Most of the detailed lists cover symptoms of some type of break-down in our relationship with God as codified in the Ten Commandments or the Seven Deadly Sins: pride, avarice, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and sloth. However, this can lead to a denial of our own feelings and cause damage in other areas of our lives. If my anger is always close to the surface, it is not really helpful to keep confessing it and beating myself up over it without looking more deeply at what its cause is. My marriage can be problematic and my sex life unsatisfying. However, if I just keep focusing on the symptoms instead of these deeper issues, I am wasting time and energy and building up to something that will be very bad for everyone concerned.
Sin, guilt, and remorse can be very complicated. Returning veterans from the Middle East have not sinned when they killed people if you believe in the just war theory of morality. That doesn’t mean that they don’t carry a great burden. When they lash out in destructive ways as part of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, marriages are lost, children are harmed, suicide can follow. Going down a checklist doesn’t even begin to offer the healing we all need in these and most situations. Let us look at ourselves, our loved ones, and all others with honesty and compassion as we embrace the forgiving Christ. We are worth everything to God. Perhaps the greatest sin when we don’t see ourselves as worth saving. God does not make junk.
Examination of Conscience
Place yourself in God’s presence and know that you are with a trusted friend. Put out of your mind all thoughts of an avenging father figure or some tyrannical authority figure. You are with the God who came to dwell among us and shared all things we endure except sin. Jesus was open and frank with people who came and spoke with him. He expects no less from you. If you are upset or confused, listen for the healing voice of your Friend. Open your heart and listen.
Start with a thank you for being redeemed and saved and for protection. Ask the tough questions. Why did my child die? What do I do with my alcoholic husband? My heart is broken. Can you mend it? I tampered with evidence to get innocent people convicted. I fought for tax laws that would protect me and take food, healthcare, housing, and education from the poor. I did my best to be careful, but I killed women and children in that village. I think the Church is wrong when it says we should get rid of the death penalty.
Be open to finding out the facts. Have I brought these issues to a counselor? How do I start to change things and to make amends. What is the deeper issue here?
Talk with Jesus. Accept His forgiveness. When he says “Go in peace and sin no more,” what will I do to make that a reality? If you are glum or downcast, something is wrong. You have been pardoned. Stretch, breathe, cry for happiness. Break out in song. Jump for joy. This day salvation has come to your house.
St. Ignatius, you signed your letters “pobre de bondad,” poor in goodness, and called yourself a pilgrim. Please pray for me to be open to what God is calling me to do to announce and build up the kingdom. Transform my petitions into questions of discernment and pray for us to remember that all of our true needs and desires are already known to God. Pray that I be taken beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.
In your writings and by your example we are reminded to pray for the Church and the Holy Father, for all who dwell in darkness and for the millions lacking food, water, and other necessities. We join our prayer with yours for true openness so that we can contemplate the Divine presence in all things and praise, reverence, and serve God Our Lord in action.Pray for us to have the courage to meet and to serve the Lord Jesus in the poor and the suffering.
Praise be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
Now and Forever. Amen.
Religious freedom is not the exclusive patrimony of believers, but of the whole family of the earth’s peoples. It is an essential element of a constitutional state; it cannot be denied without at the same time encroaching on all fundamental rights and freedoms, since it is their synthesis and keystone. It is “the litmus test for the respect of all the other human rights”. While it favours the exercise of our most specifically human faculties, it creates the necessary premises for the attainment of an integral development which concerns the whole of the person in every single dimension.
In his homily, Fr. Cyprian reflected on the number of groups which observed peace vigils New Year’s Eve and that the growing number showed, perhaps, an increase in consciousness and enlightenment. He went to some pains to point out that many of the groups from diverse traditions did not agree on everything and probably never would. However, it is only through the free exercise of religion and the building of bridges of good will that these tensions can be recognized, managed, and appreciated.
In fact Fr. Cyprian’s life as a troubadour of peace has bridged many of these divides through the dialog of contemplation and world music. (For wonderful and challenging reflections, subscribe to Fr. Cyprian’s blog.)
As we approach the end of one liturgical year and the beginning of a new one, it’s good to stop and be grateful for the gifts we have received. As it happens, in the United States we do just that on the 4th Thursday of November, our Thanksgiving Day.
Tomorrow, as we share meals, prayer, board games, football games, outdoor fun and indoor visiting, may we remember the wonders we have seen. The sunrises and sunsets. The sunny days and the rainy, stormy ones. The days of gentle breezes and the days of gale force winds. If we have been through great storms, may we be grateful for having come through them to safer days. If this has been a peaceful year, may we be grateful for the gift of peace and pray for strength to continue to trust the Lord when next we face challenges and hard times.
In this year, people have been born and people have moved on to the next stage of their lives with the Lord, the one we don’t yet share with them. We have seen children growing and parents aging. We hope to be growing ourselves in wisdom, age and grace – always growing in grace and graciousness, a sign of God’s presence in our lives overflowing into our dealings with other people.
We thank our readers for spending time with us here at Theologika.net. It is truly a blessing to be a part of a worldwide community and to share hopes, dreams and visions with all of you.
This song by Mary Chapin Carpenter from “Come Darkness, Come Light: Twelve Songs of Christmas” is a reminder of the gift of community we share.
November 11 is the day Americans know as Veterans Day. It was originally called Armistice Day, the day the War to End all Wars simply stopped – brought to a close by the signing of the Armistice between the Allies of World War I and their German enemies. It was neither a treaty nor an unconditional surrender, but it did mark the total defeat of Germany and her allies in the war. The war stopped at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. The peace treaty that officially ended the war was not signed until January 1920, but the fighting ended November 11, 1918.
Negotiations to end the war began in late September and continued through October and into November 1918. Even after agreement on the armistice had been reached, the armies continued to fight – each hoping to be in the best possible position should the hostilities resume. A total of 2,728 men died on the last day of the war, including one German soldier killed minutes after 11 a.m. by American soldiers who did not know the war was over. He was an officer approaching them to tell them his troops would be vacating the houses in which they had been billeted. The last American who died was killed as he was charging the German line 60 seconds before the fighting was to stop.
We look at these kinds of historical facts today and shake our heads. How arbitrary it all seems. What a waste of lives.
Yet human history is replete with tales of wars, conquests, roaming warriers, warlords, robber barons, etc. Why do they do it? Why do we do it? Do we do it ourselves, at home in our own little worlds?
I’m afraid I’d have to say that Yes, we do commit similar acts ourselves within our small circles of family and friends. We may not do it physically, but our words and actions can be ruthless and cut deeply.
When I was in high school, I was part of an experimental program in which we had a “block class” that included instruction in English and Economics/US Government. One of the portions of the class included the class becoming a city. We were all citizens of this city and had to deal with issues that cities and their citizens face. That included having elections to select our leaders. We were divided into differing socio-economic groups. Certain areas of our city were prosperous and others were not. Some of the challenges involved how to provide the services needed for the health and well-being of city residents without breaking the budget.
I ran for Mayor and won. It was the last office I expect ever to try to attain. I had no idea how difficult it could be to meet the needs of so many different people fairly. My hat is off to those folks who are willing to struggle with these issues on local, state and national levels. It’s a thankless job, despite the prestige one gets.
A few of us from the Block were selected to participate in another “game” at a local college. In this game, we were divided into two nations sharing a common border. As fate would have it, a skirmish broke out on the border. Each team/nation was given a set of information about the skirmish – what had happened, who had fired first, how many had been injured, where the troops were currently located, etc. Some were designated as the military who were engaged in defending our borders. Others were part of the political and diplomatic teams who were supposed to find common ground and get the war ended.
I was one of the persons sent to the United Nations to try to settle the issue. We had been told that the other nation had started the war. They had moved onto our territory first and we were simply defending ourselves. So I argued that they were the agressors. We were the innocent victims. They should withdraw and pay compensation for the cost of the war, etc. To my surprise, my counterpart from the other side had exactly the same argument! As the “game” drew to a close, we were informed that both sides had been given exactly the same information. The actual facts of the case would never be known by any of us. We had all been making speeches and arguing our cases based on information that had a 50-50 chance of being untrue.
I learned something from those two games played as the Vietnam War raged outside our classroom. Nothing is as clear-cut as it seems. There is always the possibility, indeed the probability, that at least part of the information on which a course of action is to be based is incorrect. Whether those providing the incorrect information are doing so knowingly or not does not change the fact that it is incorrect. The culpability for causing harm to others, of course, depends on the degree to which one is aware that the information is not true and spreads it anyway. However, it doesn’t hurt to assume as a general rule that at least some of what I “know” is not really true! If nothing else it lends a bit of humility to the equation.
That doesn’t mean that individuals should not take stands supporting basic human rights or not call a spade a spade when governments or others in positions of power are abusing their power or harming the innocent. That’s part of the call to prophetic witness within our Judeo-Christian tradition. However, we are called to do so recognizing our own complicity in the system and knowing that there is always more to any story than at first meets the eye.
On this Veterans Day, may we be filled with a sense of gratitude for the efforts and sacrifices of those who have given their lives to ensure that life would be better for those who came after them. May we thank those who went to war and returned alive for the gift of freedoms they have protected. May we be grateful to those who serve in other ways than militarily to foster human rights and protect human dignity. May we reach out to those whom we consider to be enemies and to those who consider us to be enemies, hoping to find common ground on which we can move forward in peace. And may we respect those who dissent when those around them call for aggressive action or war, recognizing that there may be realities about which we are unaware that would lead to totally different conclusions if they were known.
Most importantly, may we be peacemakers – ever willing to listen, to seek common ground, to build a sturdy foundation for the future. As sisters and brothers sharing one earth, as human beings, we can do no less and be true to our calling as children of the Most High.
What a delight it was to chat with you by phone a few minutes ago. I’m very proud of you both and your dear family.”
Armand Nigro, S.J.
Society of Jesus, Northwest Province
January 14, 2008
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There's so much more to say, but I would rather let the silence speak more what can't be spoken. Suffice it to say that for you both, I am grateful.
Two By Two Ministries
January 3, 2009
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