Monday, October 16, 2017

SHARDS OF GLASS


                                                                


I close my eyes, to shut out the images,

the noise, of the culture of darkness and

death and once deep inside my soul

allow my heart to travel the world,

neither time, distance, nor heat of day, or cold of night,

inhibits the heart from traveling.

Eyes wide open, ears attentive, seeking, seeing,

listening, I arrive in a huge city, filled with

minarets,

while hot desert winds blasts sand against my face, as though

a legion of furies is afoot.

I looked towards those towers, hear the call to prayer,

sounding like a howl, a howl of millennia voices,

seeking God, yet aware of loss of Christ.

Walking through crowded bazars, down alleys,

hearing explosions as various sects slaughter-bomb each other,

the cries of mothers overpowering all other sounds,

the ocean of their tears turning sand to earth,

as their tears become within my heart as

shards of glass.

My prayer O Jesus that You

reveal Yourself to them, comfort them for they are

huddled before You like the women who cried out

to You at Your eighth station on the via dolorosa.



Whirl of prayer wheels, clinking of thumb cymbals,

sound of bells, air heavy with incense and dampness

permeates my body, high amongst mountain clouds,

my unshod feet sense the cold of stone hallways as

towards me on the air comes the relentless guttural

chant of robed monks, seated amongst huge statues of

Buddha and dragons.

My cheeks wet with tears, my soul trembles, as in this

place of angry, dark spirits I feel the pain of unrequited

yearning, see You bent over, weeping with Your longing to shatter the darkness,

to illumine these hearts.

I embrace another onslaught of shards of glass,

for unknowing yet knowing,

they seek Your pierced open heart, gateway to love and mercy.

How I yearn my own heart, for all who cry, who seek,

be opened as passageway to You.



There is no tiredness, no hunger, no thirst, save a participation

in Your sitio, when heart-traveling.

No sense of passage of time,

rather wonderment and, be there any burden, it is the bearing of

burdens weighing upon those we see, hear, meet,



Suddenly, it is heat and humidity of amazon jungle depths,

amongst a people so isolated there is no awareness of You or

of others, persons like themselves,

but there is a hunger, deep-relentless-hunger, for within

each man, woman, child, longing for the True Bread, seeking for

a guiding star, such that each time a newborn is gazed upon

tears of longing flow, for some how they know that this is not yet

the expected Child – and these tear-shards are luminous and enter

my heart as gift.



There are places hidden from public view and media scrutiny,

peopled with millions of our brothers and sisters, men, women,

children.

They have names soaked in blood, hatred and despair: gulag,

death camps, labour camps, concentration camps, refugee

camps, prisons: max, super-max, minimum, or the seemingly

less harsh: jails.

Other such places of suffering have names supposedly to

assure ourselves the suffering are not forgotten: homeless shelters,

soup kitchens, emergency shelters for the battered and abused,

hospices, hospitals of all varieties, nursing homes – yet,

yet, in all these places, move dark shadow-spirits of fear, loneliness,

and death.

There are too dark alleys and steam grates, tents among the thick

trees of city parks,

I must walk within all these places, must smell the smells, hear the screams,

gather the tears – for human tears, like Christ’s, are the most

precious droplets of water upon the earth – for tears flow as sadness, as

cry that someone might hear me, see me, and tears sometimes flow as

joy for a human being has been born, a love offered, a dawn unfolds,

snow caresses the cheeks of laughing humans skiing, snowboarding,

watching a child gamble about – but the places I am in now are places of

pain’s tears while echoes within these places, as from the depths

of a spatial black hole, a voice hateful and harsh, angry

because the darkness spews forth with each word – for

satan is the bearer of despair and cannot choose blindness for the

brightness of Christ dwelling within all who suffer, are wounded,

alone, shreds all darkness,

yet the voice is that of a Dostoyevskyian Grand Inquisitor,

demanding Christ leave, abandon the very ones He so loves,

loves so every tear is His, every pain is His, and must be for me.



I touch the shards of glass that have so filled my heart it

is as if my heart is made of glass – become a prism -

of His light that ever more,

as I go where human beings are,

wherever human beings are,

His Light will shatter the darkness,

restore life, wipe away all tears.

For now, a rest from the journey that

at His altar lifting the paten there be a

place within the bread for everyone who has

no place, lifting the chalice that all blood shed,

every tear wept, be comingled therein with

the wine,

and once I have spoke His words and Bread,

Wine become Him and I am nourished,

my heart has room for more shards and

the journey begins anew.

Alleluia!














Monday, September 04, 2017

DUNKIRK: A MEDITATION


                                                       

Long before the film, Dunkirk, was even released my son said we should go see it, so a day was set, once the release date was advertised.

Then weeks went by as family obligations, his client obligations, kept the plans about the movie being delayed.

Then it was his annual father and his sons’ week camping in the mountains. I knew he and my grandsons would be back late on a Friday evening, so did not expect we would see the film for some time yet, as no doubt he would be rather worn out after the trip.

Well, bless him, my son phoned on his cell once they were far enough down from the mountains for the call to get through and set things for Saturday after a brunch together.

Dunkirk is called a film but it should rightly be called an epic.

In one of the closing scenes in the film THE QUEEN, we hear the Queen say: “Duty first, self second. That is the way I was brought up. That is all I have ever known.”

Following Jesus’ teaching for we Christians there is more than duty, there is choice: God first, my brothers-my sisters second, I am third.

Jesus tells us: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends.” [Jn.15:13].

We all love dramatic hero stories, starting with Christ Himself, where the one who makes the self-gift to other pays the ultimate price, as have done through the centuries the martyrs, such as St. Maxmilian Kolbe, and then, representing the whole spectrum of humanity, those on the front line: the military, the police, the firefighters who often within the daily laying down of their lives also pay the ultimate price for us.

This self-gift is not shown the way we might expect in this ‘war’ film.

While this is a film rooted in an event in a war, it is much more a film about human beings trapped in time and place, in unrelenting uncertainty, where some do lay down their lives to the death, yet most are simply trying to get out of the trap they are in, to survive.

Because my son not only treated me to the movie but to a nice brunch beforehand, followed by a stroll and a chat, when we got to the theater neither of us wanted the usual popcorn and drinks or candy.

It was only a few minutes into the film when I realized what a distraction from taking in any film munching away is.

Granted given the low calibre of 99% of films, munching is almost a necessity, when taking in an epic best not to be distracted.

There are two verses from John Dryden’s poem: Wounded But Not Slain, that kept coming to mind after taking in the film.

I use deliberately the expression ‘taking in’ because while we might view/watch most films, this Dunkirk epic must be taken in because it is a lesson our so angry, hate filled, violent, at enmity with one another human family needs to learn.

From Dryden:

I’m wounded now, but I’m not slain

I’m bruised and faint they say

Just let me lie and bleed awhile;

I’ll not be long this way……………

………..I’ll bind these wounds; I’ll dry these tears;

I’ll close this bleeding vein;

I’ll not lie here and weep and die;

I’ll rise and fight again.

The exhausted thousands shown on the beach, are more than just background for the few characters who are fleshed out somewhat – not with long minutes of dialogue, for any of the characters zeroed in on to reveal the terror of the unfolding evacuation use words sparingly, as if each word were one of a few remaining cartridges for weapons no longer of much use.

The thousands are, in many ways than just from the bleeding holes in their bodies, ‘wounded but not slain’.

They, like those manning the small boats, are ordinary human beings.

Like most of us a mixture of strength and weakness, courage and fear, generosity and selfishness.

Which of those dominates has as much to do with our early life formation as the immediate situation which confronts us and, unless we are alone like deep in the bush confronted by a wolf, how we choose to act, with courage or cowardice, is often determined by the mood and choices, the behaviour of those around us.

True courage is not the absence of fear.

Fear is a type of life preserver.

True courage is acting selflessly, laying down our lives, frightened as we may be, for the other.

Cowardice is not so much a lack of character as it is being overwhelmed by the interior tsunami of fear.

We see all of that, have the chance to take in all of that and more when focused on the unfolding of Dunkirk.

In his poem SONG OF THE INEXHAUSTIBLE SUN, St. John Paul states: Can I ever repay my gratitude to the sea whose quiet waves come out to seek me as I am led astray, day after day?

Once you view the film the power of the Saint’s words will penetrate.

Since discussing the film after we had viewed it, and reflecting on what my son said flowing from the film, a few final points about how it is a teachable film for the current situation[s] the human family is confronting, for today in many ways we are surrounded by an unseen enemy, trapped between what was and cannot be returned to, and the far shore of where we yearn to be.

In a real sense, like the enemy beyond the dunes of Dunkirk, North Korea and its ever more dangerous nuclear-war threat, ISIS and assorted Islamic terrorists, or wildfires smoldering deep in the forest, hurricanes forming thousands of kilometers away, what threatens us often is experienced before being seen.

What we do see in the first instance is the violent hatred of Islamists when ordinary, innocent people, men, women, children are slaughtered in the streets; suddenly what was smouldering has become a conflagration consuming homes, businesses or destructive winds are raging, waters rising, devouring everything in their paths.

This is when, in far greater numbers than soldiers on a Dunkirk beach, or first responders in our communities, are surpassed in number by the ordinary, yet extra-ordinary, choice of courage and selflessness of human beings who choose to lay down their lives and rescue, shelter, tend to the needs of others.

“Action speaks louder than words” is a truism precisely because it is true.

North Korea and Islamists spew hate and no amount of chatter will overcome such diabolical hatred.

Love is stronger – not ‘love’ words, as important as they may be – love is stronger when it is active.

Most of our heroes are hidden love actors: moms and dads caring for their children, the men and women who keep the lights on, the water drinkable, the grocery stores stocked, the streets clean, keeping vigil with the alone throughout a hospice night and countless others who only become visible when the bombs go off or vans are driven into a crowd, or flames lick at the door or the waters rise, or the call goes out for little boats to venture forth towards a far away beach.

When stressed by wars and rumors of wars, by anything that is moving towards us as a threat, we have a choice to make: we can turn towards the dunes, behind which the enemy is advancing, unseen save for the dead and wounded around us, give into inaction, despair, or we can look towards the horizon, trusting our neighbours, our brothers and sisters are on their way to rescue us.



More, the critical choice for each of us to make, who are not among the wounded on whatever beach it is: will we be love in action, go forth even to laying down our lives or will we sit on our own version of Dover cliffs and just watch?







  

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

THE CLUTURE OF BLAMING AND DISPUTED QUESTIONS=PART 2



                                   CHARLOTTESVILLE: INTO THE ABYSS
What has happened, is happening in Charlottesville, seen repeatedly on newscasts around the globe and burning its way through Twitter is tantamount to that old saying: “Two wrongs do not make a right.”
More and more governments, pandering to the culture of blame, when it comes to monuments or building names, seeking to appease aggrieved groups constantly demanding a re-dress, often a re-write of history, are fuelling anger and hatred by those who feel they are endlessly blamed for the sins of past generations and see, legitimately, no end to the demands for re-dress.
Racism, hatred, these are anathema to the Gospel, contradict Christianity, have caused rivers of blood to flow, especially in the past century.
Yet there is a scary mirror image of removal of statues and place names, not just in the USA, increasingly in Canada as well, and ISIS and the Taliban blowing up, destroying monuments they deemed unacceptable to their beliefs.
When governments, usually of the left, seek to appease the blamers by acts such as destruction of monuments, removal of names from buildings and other places you begin to wonder not only where will it end, but what about those equally guilty of historical malfeasance, whose memory the left dare not mess with?
Such as: George Washington who was a slave owner or Louis Riel who was a rebel and a murderer?
We cannot change the past and whitewashing history through acts of destruction satisfies no one and only adds fuel to the fire.
Human history is complex because human beings are complex.
Seeking to re-dress, for example, events of the 19th century by applying 21st century appreciation of human rights is not only a fool’s errand and disingenuous but is the coward’s way to avoid the tough work: dialogue, with attentive respect to the notions and feelings of other and the tireless dedication to the hard work of walking together, with patience, understanding, compassion, the genuine road of reconciliation.
When both the right and the left seek by any means to silence the other there is no dialogue, only the evil of oppression and free speech be dammed.
When both the left and the right, in the various ways, seek to re-write or deny the rawness of history that guarantees that history will repeat itself.
Examples of the latter are the unending divisions within Christianity, the unending divide between Israelis and Palestinians, and yes, the racial divisions in the US, Canada and around the world.
In this climate of anger and blame, of chosen deafness to the pain and confusion, the anxiety and frustration increasingly more and more people experience daily, we need to, as people of faith from every religion, pray for the grace to all take a deep breath, calm down, take a hiatus both from blaming and reflexively giving into irrational demands for a re-structuring of history.
During the hiatus from blaming we need to, with mutual respect and attentiveness, begin to re-discovery what we, white and non-white, Catholic and non-Catholic, male and female, young and old, rich and poor, strong and weak, hopeful and discouraged have in common.
We might begin with a few realities: we are all children of the One True God, whether we know Him or not, we all breathe the same air, we all have blood of the same colour, we all can communicate, though this latter requires a willingness, whether we like or do not agree with what we might hear, to listening without interrupting or seeking to silence other.
Unless we begin again and end this ceaselessly angry blaming, by both sides, of the other, we will rip our nations apart.
Civil wars are never civil.
That is a misnomer.
They are fratricide wars.
After the bloody fratricidal wars in both England and Spain, in both cases ostensibly to remove the monarchy, both nations now have constitutional monarchs.
Clearly the fratricidal war in the US between the north and the south remains an unhealed wound.
Words of anger and hatred, of us versus them, as labels, wound hearts and invariably precede the use of weapons which wound bodies, which kill.
Words matter, words have power, words can be vessels of peace or vessels of war, chalices of love or goblets of hate.
We must choose which words, what our hearts commit to, what we will work for before it is too late.
Like the ancient story of the blind men and the elephant, who never having encountered an elephant, when they do, each only touches a part of the beast and from that one touch assumes to have an idea of the entire creature, yet when, based on their limited experience, assert unequivocally theirs is the right description, each becomes suspect to the others who assume, since “I” am right the others must be untruthful.
The result is they begin beating each other.
The moral of the story is clear: as humans, we tend to assume we have the whole truth and others are ignorant of the truth because their version is not like ours.
It is the tendency to be subjective.
To be objective and know actual truth means having an open and listening mind and heart, attentive and welcoming of what aspects of the truth of the thing the other can offer, but which we have not yet discovered.
Unless we stop blaming and screaming at each other, all of us will become blind, wandering in darkness, bumping into each other, recoiling in the utter terror of vulnerability to whomever, or whatever, shall overpower us with murderous rage, falling into the cold, dark abyss, where we will be so far removed from Christ we no longer recognize our very self, nor other as person, as my brother and sister.





Friday, July 21, 2017

CULTURE OF BLAMING AND DISPUTED QUESTIONS


                                          
PART 1



During the traditional singing of the national anthems of Canada and the United States at the opening of baseball’s All-Star game, while singing the Canadian anthem, the singer is heard to giggle slightly.

The Twittersphere went nuts with harshness about disrespect and some even suggesting banning anthems at games.

Really?

Who among us has not giggled nervously when under stress at the worst possible moment?

I’ll let well-funded sociology and psychology departments at universities figure when we became a culture of blaming and seemingly have forgone any capacity for compassionate understanding.

Since the so-called ‘Age of Enlightenment’ began in the 18th century, for all our progress in terms of free speech, democratic development, religious tolerance, etc., as a human community we have been on a trajectory to the proverbial ‘vanishing point’.

No wonder the other day a young adult said to me they have no hope and see nothing but the end of all things approaching at a frightening speed.

Bloody as they were, especially the French revolution in which hundreds of non-combatants were summarily executed, and the American revolution, which had its own various acts against so-called Loyalists, many of whom fled to Canada, nonetheless it did appear for a time that democratic forms of government would prevail. However, we must keep in mind that universal franchise of the vote did not happen for almost two centuries, during which time France went through a series of upheavals, including the Bonaparte era, the Americans had a civil war, those deep wounds not totally healed in either country.

Slavery and the so-called “Indian Wars’, actual wars against the Indigenous people by the American government, one post-confederation brief rebellion in Western Canada, another not yet healed wound, by the dawning of the 20th century primarily France, Canada, Great Britain and the USA were moving towards actual democratic systems and, though not until after WWI, supported by universal franchise.

However the profound bloodletting of two world wars, the Great Depression in between, has resulted in several paradoxes: international forms to govern world affairs, such as the UN, but it is largely ineffective because, and will remain so, five nations alone have veto power in the security council, the price for which is paid in blood by people subjected to genocide, such as in Rwanda; while Canada has very strict laws regarding boundaries for seats, known as ridings, in parliament, decided by independent commissions in each province based on population numbers after each decennial census, spending on elections is tightly controlled and financed in the main by tax payers, while individuals may contribute to a party or candidate, the amount is strictly limited: for example in the last federal election less than 2,000$, while corporations and trade unions are forbidden by law to contribute to parties or candidates.

I mention the above against the background of the, as yet, unfinished project of maturing democratic systems.

With extension of the vote first to non-landowning men, but well into the beginning of the 20th century before the franchise was granted to women, and even longer before women as government leaders or ministers became the norm, democracy began spreading across the globe, after WWII, until recently.

In our day once more the powerful and elites, of both the right and the left, an ever smaller, more powerful number of people, have seized control and push their own agenda.

No surprise then since after the US Supreme Court decision in ‘Citizens United’ money, not the voice, the votes, nor the concerns and needs of the common people, i.e. all the rest of us, has a wit to do with power, governance, elections, for when ballots are cast the outcome is virtually pre-determined because of the influence of hard, cold, cash.

On this point, I highly recommend Jane Mayer’s seminal work DARK MONEY.

Neither major party in the last US election listened to nor heard the people.

One man did, himself hardly the forgotten, common man, but shrewd enough to listen to and become the voice of ordinary Americans.

Brexit happened in Britain because of the same arrogant deafness and the country remains in a blaming lather with still nothing resolved.

France has deep divisions and anger, Canada likewise, while so-called, or formerly, democratic countries, Venezuela and Turkey being just two examples, have more and more oppressive regimes and a very angry and divided populace.

The Canadian Prime Minister, frequently an immature flip-flopper, prevents passage of a bill which would have protected police officers from being slaughtered by criminals granted bail because their violent past cannot be revealed at bail hearings, participates in the relentless blaming by Indigenous people of the rest of us for all their past trauma, some of it truly horrific and needing to be addressed, but the way his government handles things is beyond rational comprehension.

Things on most reserves are ‘third world’, but no one in his government seems willing to follow the money!

With millions upon millions poured annually into reserves over decades where has it gone? Not into adequate housing, for example and neither are governments willing to clean up the secretive way in which chiefs and councils, often with every one of the same family, are chosen.

The removal in the US of Confederate monuments, of objectionable building names or monuments in Canada because of what the colonial powers did is, frankly, revisionist history at its most grotesque and heals no one, reconciles no one.

Why?

Unless groups such as ‘Black lives matter’ or the Assembly of First Nations in Canada, and their counterparts around the world, are willing to look in the mirror, government placations are akin to the famous story of St. Augustine strolling along the shore trying to comprehend the mystery of the Trinity. Seeing a boy running between the sea and a hole dug in the sand with a shell in which he carried water, St. Augustine asked the boy what he was trying to do and the boy replied: “Put the ocean in the hole.” Augustine explained the impossibility of the task, to which the boy asserted: “I will put this ocean in this hole before you understand the mystery of the Trinity!”

Yes, black lives, but all lives, do matter, and yes injustice must be re-dressed, reconciliation worked towards, but with objective truth.

Yes, some police officers do kill minorities, but there are more, black on black murders per weekend in Chicago than police shootings, and yes Indigenous women and children should not be murdered, but excusing violence against them by their own, or ignoring it, because of past history, is disingenuous.

A prominent Indigenous recently stated how welcoming his people were when the British and French first came. Really? How traditionally Indigenous people have always been peaceful. Really?

So much for brushing out the wars between the tribes through millennia in North, Central, South America – much like the Jesuits did years ago at the shrine of the Canadian Martyrs, painting over beneath the clouds on which the martyrs stand, the depiction of their martyrdom.

Guess the Jesuits figure the martyrs were assumed into heaven!

A brother priest told me of his experience as parish priest of a large reserve when the feast of the martyrs was at hand and how nervous he was about preaching on the feast. So he went and asked one of the Elders what advice she had. The wise woman took his hand, looked him straight the eye and said: “Why worry, we did them a favour!”

Indeed.

This is truth speaking.

We know the molten core of the earth triggers earthquakes and volcanoes, neither of which we can accurately predict, both occurring with frequent destructiveness.

Both governments and elites of the left and the right, live on top of a seething, ever more hot and angry core of forgotten men and women.

Who knows when this core will erupt or what the consequences will be.

Erupt it will.

Blaming those who never had, nor have, any responsibility for the actions of previous generations, as terrible and destructive as those actions were, has become itself a form of discrimination and oppression and contributes more and more to angry resistance as minorities, finding every newer ways to blame and re-write history and making ever more extreme demands, trigger reactions which have both sides using ever more intemperate language.

This cycle will eventually stop reconciliation dead in its tracks.

We cannot rationally apply to previous eras of history, and human behaviour therein, our modern understanding of our common humanity, of intrinsic human dignity and rights.

That is a fool’s errand.

More and more it appears minorities’ understanding of reconciliation is: gimmee, gimmee, and there is no amount of money, no number of building name changes, nor monument destructions, which will ever satisfy.

Reconciliation must be mutual, or nothing is reconciled, nor will it ever be.

Reconciliation is impossible without mutual understanding, mutual forgiveness, mutual love.

Currently there is within societies, both national and international, such a dearth of understanding, forgiveness and love that the volcano of violent chaos is bubbling ever closer to the surface and the whole human family is at risk.

Thus, the first disputed question is: Are we willing to embrace objective truth and move away from blaming so that both just re-dress of wrongs and reconciliation can become forward moving within the context of authentic government of, by and for the people? Are we willing to become a people of attentive listening, reconciliation without vitriolic blaming, using instead love’s maturity?

Or is the chasm between the blamers and the blamed, the blamed who did NOT enact the evils of the past, so immense that for all the shouting back and forth no sound can carry that far and so each side becomes ever more distanced from and incomprehensible to the other?

We need to dispassionately, compassionately, find a way to bridge the chasm, find a meeting place, see each other as one like myself and begin to love one another.

Little time remains before the volcano erupts and the whole earth becomes a new Pompeii.












Monday, June 05, 2017

new blog added

https://hopeforpriests.blogspot.ca/2017/06/a-chronos-zig-and-kairos-zag.html


Thursday, March 16, 2017

THE UNEXPECTED JOURNEY


                                               

Yesterday, during the prayers for the dead, a section of each Holy Mass before the Our Father, a beloved-priest monk, deceased some years ago, a dear friend, retreat-master and someone with whom I often exchanged letters filled with spiritual richness – from him I stress – came powerfully anew to my heart and I reflected with come confidence that he is face to face with the Beloved of his life.

After Mass, however I realized I am now deep into, perhaps further along than I suspect, an unexpected journey.

About to face, sometime in the future, as yet totally unknown to me, of not just the journey’s end, but the final stage of a battle I have been engaged in for over seventy years!

In many ways the entire journey through life, what is actually a pilgrimage to the Absolute, is, if not purely an unexpected journey, certainly a journey filled with, sometime fraught with, the unexpected.

From the moment in chronological time the Holy Trinity breathes life into us, with the cooperative love of a man and a woman, who co-create new life with the Trinity, we have begun the journey.

The first door we pass through, the first complete stage of the journey is through the door from within our mother’s heart and womb out into the birth-reality from the, as it were, enclosed universe within her, into the ever-expanding universe from life at home, to life away from home, on a planet itself but one place within an even greater universe.

Change, movement, experience, growth, aging, joys, tears, success, failure, love, love lost, hopefully found again, the ebb and flow of friendships and perhaps encounters with enemies – yes the journey is one of constant discovery, of learning, of choosing.

For we human beings created in the image and likeness of God with the immortal soul breathed into us, our body, with its senses, mind, will, imagination, emotions, is not the sum of being:  being is who we are, mindful the soul gives form to the body and the body itself is a temporary abode.

We are in a sense nomads on the journey carrying the ‘tent’ of our bodies wherever we go.

For us then death is but the final and greatest doorway which when passed through allows us to step into the reality of true being, into an immensity greater than the entire created universe, a place of no more tears, neediness, nor lack of love and beauty because it is our true home, which is the place of everlasting communion of love with the Holy Trinity: the real purpose of our being.

That said these more than seventy years death and I have been in a battle wherein mostly I have used my wits and energies, and since ordained, my priestly power to frustrate death at every turn.

I realize now that death at some point, I know not when exactly, will turn and no longer flee from me the pursuer but will come towards me and this time – though I admit as yet I lack enough faith and trust to do so – I will stop, stand, wait and, if granted the grace of absolute faith and trust, surrender to death’s embrace, confident the embrace is not my being overcome or destroyed, rather death’s embrace is actually the door being flung open!

Two passages come to mind at this juncture. The first from the Holy Gospel:

Then Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? [cf. Mt.16:24-26]

And from St. Paul:

Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God. He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began, but now made manifest through the appearance of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. [2 Tim. 1:8-10]

There sure are lots of ‘heroic’ ways to deny ourselves and some are called to do so, such as those who voluntarily give up all the security of marriage, family etc., to embrace the monastic, religious, priestly life.

However, I would argue the true heroic way is to embrace what Jesus is asking by being faithful to the duty of the moment, as moms do when their baby needs to be fed at two in the morning, as dad’s do when going to work each day, what they both do at day’s end by giving the children all the attention they need during supper and bedtime rituals. THAT is self-denial in spades!

Self-gift to other, in marriage, parenthood, priesthood, in military service, policing, teaching, shelf-stocking in a grocery store, etc., etc. – the fullness of what Christ asks is not to be found in any particular vocation or profession, rather it is within our vocation/profession living out the simple principle: God first, the other second and I am third.

This is also how we live out what St. Paul is asking through the strength we get from God: when it seems we are just way too fried to carry on, way too ‘giving’ empty to spare another drop, we can draw upon the strength of the very grace Jesus asked for in the Garden: “Not my will but Yours be done”, the grace of strength is the very grace we ask in the Our Father: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Again, it has taken more than seventy years of the unexpected journey for me to barely begin to embrace the above, much less live it out!

Death, in my experience through most of my life, is a sneak, a thief, arbitrary, sometimes cruel, occasionally as unexpectedly quick with the speed of a striking snake, at other times lingers for no apparent reason, and throughout human history is often in league with pandemics, warmongers and terrorists and not infrequently a co-conspirator with people who hate.

That said my first experience of this sneakiness of death was when I was a small child just after the war, during family supper when suddenly my Grandmother moaned, clutched her chest and fell to the floor.

She was dead.

In those days, deceased family were waked in the home and so within hours there she was in the open casket, cold, stiff to the touch and my battle with death had begun – death the sneak, death the quick, death the thief.

Within seemingly quick succession over the next couple of years my Great Uncle, who in many respects was dead in body and spirit from his First World War wounds, was gone, quickly at the end, and then my Grandfather, with him death lingered cruelly and his death filled me with both anger and a grief, I admit, which sometimes these sixty plus years later still pains.

First in the newspapers, then in magazines, and books, in the years immediately after the Second World War, pictures of the concentration camps, and the victims of death’s abode piled like tossed debris, as well as pictures of emaciated survivors, men, women, children, were rather common both because of the Nuremburg trials, and because everyone was trying to do the impossible: understand how this could have happened.

I remember my first perusal of a book about the camps, likely I was by then five or six and already possessed with a mind of keen observation, analysis and memory. I asked the Aunt whose home I was visiting: why the people were naked, that it was wrong for people to have their picture taken when they had no clothes on.

She gently re-opened the book which I had slammed shut in disgust and explained things to me.

This did two things within me: made me from then on fiercely opposed to war, discrimination, hatred and made me see death even more as the enemy.

Some years later death as the cruel co-conspirator with disease was brought home to me and seared me deeply emotionally during the polio epidemic.

Many children, including classmates, died, and an awful lot of those afflicted ended up in what were called iron lungs.

I remember when we were given the polio vaccine after the epidemic sensing this battle death had now lost!

When I was sixteen the seductive sneakiness of death tried to overpower me.

I was working, having left home two years before, high in the rafters of a barn replacing the rotted boards of a catwalk and could look down from my perch, through the immense and empty hayloft, it was the beginning of summer and the cattle were on pasture, down all the way to the cement floor and this idea took hold, telling me how easy it would be just to let myself fall and then all the adolescent angst, the pain, the confusion, the disenchantment with life would be over.

At the time, when eventually I completed the job and got down to the barn floor the normal way, by the ladders, I had no idea why I did not let myself fall, did not surrender to death.

Today I know it was grace.

Not a grace I was consciously aware of or said a clear yes to at the time, but a grace nonetheless.

The grace of the power of the constitutive passion to live placed in all of us at our creation.

In life each moment of each day is preparation for life forever with Him, if in each moment, no matter the particular pain or darkness, we choose life!

As we know the repercussions of WWII rippled throughout the remainder of the 20th century with a seemingly endless series of civil wars and revolutions from China to Iran, extending even into the 21st century, as well what became known as proxy wars extended from Korea to  Vietnam to Afghanistan; civil rights movements and other struggles, sometimes indirectly, sometimes deliberately, increased assassinations of political and civil rights leaders, opponents of oppressive regimes; plagues from AIDS to Zika unfolded along with terrorism from the Red Brigades to Al Qaeda to ISIS, while even today famine is death’s chariot to move among whole nations.

Within such chaos comes another type of death: that of rational morality, common sense and social cohesion unravels.

There are today, since the end of the 20th century fewer democratic governments around the world, a growing gap between rich and poor, an angry clamoring for ‘rights’, without an equal voice for personal responsibility, and finally people who actually believe and practice, for example their Catholic faith, are becoming a remnant, while others gather on the edges as either extreme fundamentalists or as cafeteria Catholics.

In religions without a solid base of central wisdom and guidance, such as Catholics have in the person of the Pope, extremists misuse sacred texts to justify their death-dealing angry illusions.

Our greatest concern should not be the debated impact on climate by human activity, rather it should be the persistent de-humanizing of the human family, a far greater and more immediate unfolding of death with the spread of abortion, euthanasia, the dismantling of the family as a sacred relationship between a man and woman and the children issued from their love.

I will admit I went through a period overly influenced by the above matters and did not lose but decidedly rejected and walked away from Catholic faith and praxis.

It was in the midst of those dark years, before my conversion  of return to Catholic faith and practice, that death showed me its cruelty and claim to power in the work I was doing, always I might add on the graveyard shift.

No irony there!

One night the homicide detectives asked everyone on that shift to find time to go to the morgue and see if we could recognize, as a person with a name, a body dragged out of the river.

Since my own duty required me, while on patrol, to answer calls across the whole city it was not until two in the morning that I had time to respond.

There in the morgue was the body of a young man, perhaps in his mid-twenties, who had been severely tortured before being executed.

I stood there, not able to make an identification, but lingering, wondering if a mother or father, a wife or children, a lover or friend was wondering where he was, what had happened to him?

It seemed to me, as anger welled within me about the way humans cooperate with death in the brutal way this man’s life had been taken, that maybe death was too powerful, maybe I should stop trying to beat death.

Then, inside of my mind or heart or…….somehow I heard yet not hearing as in when someone else is speaking, but heard in a depth of my being I’d been ignoring for decades: “You will remember him in your first Mass and pray for his soul and he will be granted peace.”

Terrified, I fled the morgue.

Fifteen years later during my ordination Mass I remembered him, prayed for him, and continue do so each anniversary of my ordination for more than thirty years already.

During my years serving as a parish priest, as is true for all priests, death and I met often: in hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, family homes, at scenes of highway accidents.

The prescribed prayers of the Church within the Sacrament of the Sick administered to the dying make it clear death’s victory is illusory for Christ is greater, the same within the prayers for the deceased during the wake and funeral Mass where the emphasis is that life has not ended but changed, changed because Christ IS risen!

While intellectually I believed all the truth Jesus and the Church teach about the resurrection of the body and life forever in communion of love with the Most Holy Trinity, deep within my being there remained doubt.

Until one year when I was on sabbatical I was able to participate in a Byzantine liturgy commemorating the burial of Christ.

 
Known in Greek as the Epitaphios this, and similar, cloth icons are very sacred and used throughout the extended Vespers of Good Friday.

At the end of Vespers, as I experienced it almost twenty years ago, four acolytes held the icon high enough that, led by the bishop and priests, followed by the congregation, we processed under it, having to bend low, as if to enter the tomb in which Christ was buried.

But unlike the enclosed tomb, we came out on the other side!

My entire being experienced, finally without doubt or hesitation, the truth of entering death with, in, through Christ as the unexpected final steps of the journey.

"Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" [1 Cor. 5:55]

In the late 90’s Jean Vanier gave the lectures in the CBC Massey Lectures Series, which talks were eventually published in a book called BECOMING HUMAN: “We human beings are all fundamentally the same. We all belong to a common, broken humanity. We all have wounded, vulnerable hearts. Each one of us needs to feel appreciated and understood; we all need help.”

That word from Jean Vanier serves me as a reminder this unexpected journey will someday be not the symbolic bending, entering, emerging from a liturgical gesture of death, burial, resurrection, but the actual entering and emerging.

Therefore I, and all the elderly, must embrace a humble willingness to risk others, the younger, stronger in particular, seeing our brokenness, woundedness, vulnerability, neediness and reach out for any help needed.

It also means, in union with the often rejected and lonely Christ, peacefully accepting the response to our need may not be instantaneous.

If we love those we need, then we will trust their love in return and be patient.

Jesus tells us: Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come…….So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. [cf. Mt.24:42&44]

However, there is no need to fear the last footsteps of the journey for Jesus promises us: Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. [cf.Jn.14-16]

At journey’s end, in the most unexpected moment, we will not be alone, He will be with us.











 



                                               

Monday, February 20, 2017

NOT MY PRESIDENT!


                                                           

In my plus seventy years of life I have lived under 7 Popes, 2 Monarchs, 11 Governor Generals, 14 Prime Ministers and during the same period the United States has had 14 Presidents.

Except for the Popes, the Monarchs, the Governor Generals, [the Popes we believe and trust are chosen by the Holy Spirit, the Monarchs are hereditary, the Governor Generals appointees of the reigning monarch, and like the monarch herself forbidden constitutionally to meddle in politics or be partisan], Prime Ministers and Presidents are creatures of the people.

In other words, democratically elected, of differing political persuasions and thus vulnerable in a radically different way to public opinion than those others mentioned such as popes.

When it comes to Prime Ministers of Canada I am batting 50/50 so half the time my choice has been elected and mostly I have been pleased by how they have governed the country. With the ones, I did not vote for, including the current office holder, I have been/am, decidedly disappointed.

However, it has never occurred to me to go around and declare that the duly elected prime minister is not mine, nor have I ever experienced tens of thousands of Canadians, from the very night of the election and continuing virtually unabated post-election, filling the streets and declaring: NOT MY PRIME MINISTER!

Feelings can/do run deep in this country when it comes to political parties, of which we have usually at least four in parliament, but there is also a deep sense that, if you will, ‘this too shall pass’, because there is always another election.

What I, and people around the world, are observing happening in the United States is not only dangerous for the future of the republic but allows authoritarian regimes around the world, and worse terror groups, to point to the chaos and argue it reveals a fundamental weakness in democratic countries, namely that when push comes to shove the people who see themselves as on the losing side neither respect the results nor the new head of government, actually in the USA, the new head of state since both aspects are in the one presidential office.

The Second Vatican Council in its document on the Church In The Modern World stresses the need for community, participation in same, and the development of what is commonly called politics noting that the political community exists for the common good, stressing then that the resulting state/government which results itself must be directed towards the common good and that we as citizens must obey – so long as the government does not abuse its authority. [cf. op. cit. para 74]

The latter of course – abuse of authority – unless as blatant as happens in non-democratic societies – can be very subjective, hence the importance of transparency in government and of a free press and the absolute protection of freedom of speech.

Pope Francis stressed in his speech to congress during his visit to the United States that everyone in every country has a mission which is both personal and social and stressed that “A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all is members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk. Legislative activity is always based on care for the people.” [Sep.24.15]

In many countries citizens and even legislative assemblies ever since the recent American election have been extremely vocal in their attitude towards the current President – leaving one to wonder how those people and governments would feel if Americans were trashing their head of state or government?

Human history is a long and not yet completed journey from the autocracy of tribal leaders, to kings, until finally, starting with the Magna Carter, little by little the difficult, and at times very bloody, process of representative government began to take root and still we have not achieved its full, and necessary, potential.

Unless we learn anew some basic principles of democracy and communal living we will regress, perhaps so far back truly democratic societies will if not disappear, certainly be in extreme peril.

I will note the first principle last.

The second principle is to honour the fact everyone else has the same right to choose for whom they vote, for which party, as I do and the Golden Rule applies here. IF there are legitimate, objective concerns post an election about the way the elected are leading the country or legislating then the right to protest, sacrosanct as it is, MUST be exercised with peaceful respect and avoiding words and actions which divide rather than unite.

The third principle is to temper extremism when it comes to freedom of speech. When, be they university students or members of a political action group, make it impossible by shouting or rioting for someone or some group to speak because their ideology is objected too then those shutting down that speech are, frankly, liars when they assert belief in free speech – in truth what they mean is ‘my speech’ alone is allowed.

Such antics increase the angry division-wounds in democratic societies and if the current trend continues we will be walking ever closer to increased totalitarianism, perhaps not immediately, but inevitably, of government or certain segments of the population who are no different than those historical groups of the past who marauded by night wearing white sheets.

Here, most critically the American media, also that of other countries, not to mention the so-called social media, which as a blogger I am a tiny part of – all who use modern forms of communication need to temper adjectives and rash ad hominem statements.

Classic media – newspapers, radio, television – seem to spend less time reporting factual events and more time rounding up panels of so-called experts to blather on about the foibles and outrages of the current President, thereby exacerbating the ever deepening, and dangerous, divisions within the society which has not yet truly healed from their civil war of more than a century ago.

Those of us who use social media likewise have a common-good responsibility to fact check what we write and to assure while exercising the free speech right of dissent to do so in language that is tempered by charity.

Now the first principle: Then Jesus said to them, "Give back to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's." [Mk. 12: 17]

Be subject to every human institution for the Lord’s sake, whether it be to the king as supreme or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the approval of those who do good. For it is the will of God that by doing good you may silence the ignorance of foolish people. Be free, yet without using freedom as a pretext for evil, but as slaves of God. Give honour to all, love the community, fear God, honor the king. [1Pt.2:13-17]

Let every person be subordinate to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been established by God. Therefore, whoever resists authority opposes what God has appointed, and those who oppose it will bring judgment upon themselves. [Rm. 13:1,2]