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]








Saturday, February 04, 2017

HATE MUCH?


                                                                  

Several years ago news came out about the discovery of human remains at the bottom of a deep rock shaft in Spain.

Some thirty skeletons were found, with clear indications of murder.

The remains have been dated as being some 400,000 years old.

In his book, HOMO DEUS, Yuval Hararai notes that: “From the Stone Age to the age of steam, and from the Arctic to the Sahara, every person on earth knew that at any moment their neighbours might invade their territory, defeat their army, slaughter their people and occupy their land.”

Perhaps those thirty human beings, whose remains were found in Spain, died in such an invasive battle, or perhaps they simply belonged to the wrong tribe or clan or worshipped some deity not accepted by their killers.

While certainly in the 20th century we experienced wars on a massive scale, of the type Hararai speaks of, within those wars the greatest acts of hatred-murder were committed by the Nazis in the death camps, and only since the Second World War have we discovered irrefutable evidence of other mass murders such as throughout the gulag and even more recently have we been confronted with 9/11 and every terrorist act since then.

Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman once noted that: “Prejudice, after all, is superior to facts, and lives in a world of its own.”

In the 4th chapter of Genesis, the story of Cain and Abel, we are confronted with the first recorded instances of self-pity, jealously, rage, fratricide, murder in Sacred Scripture.

Since God alone sees the truth within every human heart, thus the Sacred text points clearly to Cain’s heart being deeply infected with self-centered-self-pity, jealous rejection of his brother Abel.

Thus within Cain an infection spreads from the heart to the mind to angry, hate-filled murder.

Cain’s sarcastic lie, when challenged by God after the murder, about having no idea where his brother is and rejecting his responsibility as the elder brother to lovingly, protectively care for his sibling, is summarily dealt with by God who informs Can that Abel’s blood cries out from the very earth.

“This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister. For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous.” [1Jn.3:10-12]

Recent elections, notably in the United States, but elsewhere in the world, have been marked by profound anger, divisions, violent protests and we are witnessing around the world, in democratic countries in particular, increased anger and extremism and acts of hatred against those deemed for a plethora of reasons to be, if not outright enemies, at least a threat because their economic status, colour, political position, gender, sexual orientation, religion are rejected because they are not ‘ours’!

Hate is the most insidious of diseases of the heart and like all fatal infections has two definitive aspects: 1] ultimately it kills the host and 2] is in a sense an air-borne disease spread by word of mouth.

ISIS is nothing less than an epidemic of hate, but alt-right and alt-leftist Christians, Jews, peoples of any religion, likewise are spreaders of this same pandemic which is sickening the whole human family, weakening democracies, and may well lead to a third, and given modern weapons of mass destruction, unwinnable world war, except perhaps by the very machines, nuclear, chemical and biological weapons which will destroy us.

Words have intrinsic and extrinsic power.

Genesis repeats throughout each stage of creation, including the creation of the human person: “God said....”.

Each spoken ‘word’ results in the ‘and there was’.

 The Holy Gospel, according to St. John, reminds us that in the very beginning was ‘the Word’.

The interior dialogue which stirs darkness in the human heart itself reveals the power of words.

Eventually the words spoken interiorly, churning within the ever-destructive poison of prejudice, rejection, hatred, become the emotions of anger, even murderous rage.

It matters not a whit to the innocent victims of the murderous hate to which extremist group, or the lone-wolf, hate-filled murder[s] belongs: for they are dead, just like those found in that pit in Spain or in the mountainous debris of 9/11.

However, it does matter much to those who survive a hate-filled attack, such as occurs all too frequently, sometimes by Islamic extremists, such as in Europe, or by rightist/leftist extremists such as occurred in the lone-wolf terrorist attack in Quebec City where Muslim men at prayer were murdered and wounded.

The interior dialogue of people who hate begins with words of self-hatred, self-rejection.

Sometimes this so poisons the heart that the person takes their own life, for the poison has so permeated their minds, souls, they can no longer stand the darkness and pain.

Other times the impact of the interior poisoning morphs into an extended dialogue of blaming, such as Can did of Abel, and the process begins of refusing to see other as one like myself, a human being, and constructing a list of reasons as to why they cannot possibly be one like myself, an acting person, and therefore must be a thing, an object.

Like the boiling cauldron of Shakespeare’s witches anger heats to the point of hate-filled rage and we have a 9/11, a Charlie-Hebdo, a Quebec City massacre.

Words have power.

Words are active, never passive.

Words can shred another’s dignity, hurt and shame them, reject them.

More powerful are words which affirm, welcome, accept, love, forgive, reveal mercy and compassion.

There was a story repeated often years ago after a pastoral visit by St. John Paul II to a country suffering under a military dictatorship which, admittedly I have not been able to verify, yet is, true or not, illustrative: The Pope was celebrating Holy Mass before tens of thousands of people in a stadium when into the crowd came soldiers, agents of the dictatorship, who began assaulting people and panic started.

The Holy Father stopped the Mass and repeated over and over in an ever-firmer voice: “Love is stronger! Love is stronger!”, until the bishops and priests, then the assembled choir joined him in repeating “Love is stronger!” Little by little those powerful three words moved through the crowd until it was the spoken word of everyone and the soldiers slinked away.

In Auschwitz in 1941 the Nazis choose a group of men for execution by starvation when one of the men, rather young, pleaded for his life for he was a husband and father. Before the Nazis could react, a priest stepped forward and offered himself, his life, in exchange.

Miraculously his offer was accepted.

That priest is known throughout the world as St. Maxmilian Kolbe and the young man did survive that day and the longs days after until he was among the liberated survivors.

Love IS stronger.

Each of us can, must, choose which words we speak to ourselves, and if we find we are speaking dark and hurtful words to ourselves then before the infection becomes fatal we must use our words with someone we trust – spouse, friend, priest, doctor – who can help us change the interior dialogue.

Each of us can, must, choose which words we speak to others, starting with those closest to us and extending outward to our neighbours and to strangers. If an understandable thing such as shyness makes it difficult for us to speak with strangers we can always use the non-verbal words of our eyes, so powerfully expressive and our smiles. Smiles, though in a sense wordless, nonetheless speak volumes of recognition that the one passing by upon whom I smile is a person like myself.

Constitutive of our humanity is the reality we are endowed with emotions/passions, which in and of themselves are neutral.

It is the choice we make in response to their movement within us which differentiates between a choice for good or evil, virtue or vice.

Thus, an act of terrorism may well trigger intense emotions of anger, rejection towards the person[s] who commit the act.

If we allow those emotions to remain unchecked we may well become a hater of not only the terrorist but holus-bolus of the very group, culture, religion they belong to.

That is to choose evil, indeed to become a type of emotional terrorist ourselves.

If we choose not to allow the emotion to master us, but embracing the pain and sorrow over lives lost, persons wounded, communities in upheaval, and choose to embrace, to live out the teachings of Christ then we are acting virtuously, righteously.

We all know some, like ISIS, but also Christian and Jewish extremists, seek to justify their hatred and violence by appealing to their interpretation of sacred texts.

This is obscene, disingenuous, insults God, and indeed rather than receive some illusory blessing here or in the hereafter, when such murderous-haters do appear before the awesome judgement seat of God, as He asked of Cain, so shall be asked of them: “Where is your brother?”

While it should be equally self-evident for adherents of all religions, it is constitutive of Christianity, that we the baptized are not simply expected, but commanded by God, in the words of the Incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ, to love and not to hate.

 “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.” [Mt.5:22] “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” [5:44-45]
















Wednesday, November 02, 2016

THE AMERICAN ELECTION: AN EXERCISE IN SELF-MUTILATION


                          

A couple of months ago, during what seems an exhausting, stressful, never ending American election cycle, friends from the USA wrote begging prayer for their deeply troubled, self-mutilating country.

Ever since then this essay has been on and within my heart but every idea I came up with was rejected as being either finger wagging, vitriolic, smug, partisan – even though as a Canadian, obviously, I am not among the American electorate – or, I confess, pietistic.

Then unexpectedly yesterday clarity because not only the Gospel was the Beatitudes but I encountered someone who embodies the fundamental weakness both within left leaning and right leaning political parties/governments in modern democracies and why democratic governments, having caved and continuing to cave into the entitlement mindset, which poisons everyone and everything it touches, is devouring democracy as fiercely as terminal cancer devours human beings.

I had just left the light filled, warm, joyful rectory of a brother priest where we had enjoyed cake and coffee to celebrate the parish secretary’s birthday.

Stepping out into the cold wind and heavy wet snow, I walked the couple of blocks to the bus stop, noticing as I approached a middle-aged woman, not dressed for the weather, sitting in a wheel chair.

She motioned to me to come closer begging for money and a smoke as “It is my birthday.”

Taking care of the material request was simple but I could tell by her eyes what she truly hungered for, and so wished her a Happy Birthday and gave her a blessing.

Suddenly she was beaming and radiated with her smile gratitude she had been spoken with, seen as a real person.

That illuminated my heart about why I see the United States in this election cycle as self-mutilating, why I am profoundly concerned this will not end on November the 8th and why I am equally concerned modern democracies are eroding from within, irrespective if the governing party be from the left or the right, and see increasing and extremely dangerous anger and ballot box – for now – rebelliousness among the populations.

The clear majority of modern democracies trace their history back to a time when the world was divided between Christendom and that part of the human family where the Gospel had yet to penetrate.

Since WWII there has been, and continues to be, a determined rejection of and assault upon all things Christian, in Europe and North America as a matter of government policy, aided and abetted by media in all its forms and the so-called intelligentsia.

Those elites have become tone deaf to the Vox Populi because such elites are incapable of authentic recognition that every human being is one like myself.

Granted, what follows right here is an over simplification, but stresses the point:  for the rightist people are incapable of……..[put your own word here if you are a rightist]…………..for the leftist people don’t know that this…………..[again if a leftist insert your own label]…is best for them.

Democracy is only authentic and effective if it is centrist, via media, the middle way which, for example, neither imposes a religion NOR deliberately attacks religious belief and expression.

It is only in the mature centre, where can be a found a balance between the Gospel of Life and the exercise of authentic freedom of choice in all matters of faith and morals [this presumes a maturity that accepts responsibility for the consequences of choosing] that the clear voice of the people, as individual persons and the communal Vox Populi can be heard and what is being said discerned and responded to.

The current election cycle in the USA, with each contender for president seemingly inexhaustible in their capacity for other bashing and lying, has a cacophony of angry voices, megaphoned by profit driven and agenda driven media on both sides, creating an atmosphere scarily reminiscent of the lead up to the original American Civil War.

The woman, minus warm clothing, sitting in her wheelchair on a cold and wet snowy afternoon of her birthday, simply wanted to be heard, seen, recognized as a human being.

When governments, politicians, indeed any of us, fail to see other as one like myself, fail to respond to the basic need to be recognized as, and spoken with, listened to, as a person worthy of love, dignity, irrespective of race, religion, status, political leaning, then the heart of such of our brothers and sisters is wounded ever more severely by such rejection and our failure to see them, hear them, deepens the wound.

Increasingly so wounded some retreat into despair, depression, addictions, while others become extremists of all sorts.

Beneath the veneer of a democratic election, and dangerously so, within the American population is an ever-increasing segment of the population alienated to a dangerously explosive juncture, not least because both political parties have chosen as candidate someone clearly unable to stop by our sister in her wheel chair and see her, hear her, speak to her love’s code word: Happy Birthday!



  




Friday, July 08, 2016

HIS BLOOD, THEIR BLOOD, OUR BLOOD


                                            

Until sunlight hits raindrops at the right angle the drops are translucent. A simple fact.

Once sunlight hits them at the right angle we marvel at the beauty of rainbows.

Another simple fact.

Why then do seemingly so many human beings fail to embrace the simple fact pigmentation is ONLY skin deep?

Within the external covering is the same red blood and the simple fact is that within the depth of our humanity each and every one of us IS the same colour.

Racism is a choice to be ensnared in prejudice, hatred, willful blindness as refusal to see other as one like myself.

No one can claim to be a true Christian or Jew or Muslim, for example, if our hearts are cesspools of hate towards another human being, for to hate my brother or sister is to choose to hate God Himself who sent His only begotten Son as one like us to shed His Blood for us, to redeem us, commanding us to love one another as He loves us.

The Dallas snipers, the Orlando terrorist, the 9/11 terrorists, the Ottawa shooter/terrorist, those around the world such as ISIS and Boko Haram, are willfully blind haters.

 When they appear before the awesome judgment seat of God He will hear the voice of their brothers’ blood crying out from the earth. [cf. Gn. 4: 10,11]

The blood of every human being whether murdered by abortion, by gun, by bomb, one on one or in the darkness of concentration camps is the blood of God become man, Jesus Christ: is the blood of each one of us.

Soaking the earth over the millennia with the blood of our brothers and sisters we human beings would go insane from the unremitting screaming of the oceans of blood which have, which do, saturate the earth and unless a greater soaking had/does occur, only the crying of their blood would/will be heard by our heavenly Father.

We would be forever imprisoned in our sin, forever without hope and this earthly existence would be cruel, pointless, devoid of hope, remaining forever unredeemed.

“As I passed by I saw you in your blood. So I said to you, ‘Let there be life out of your blood…’” [Ez. 16:6]

Who passed by?

The same who said/says: “…..make haste, come down, for today I must stay at your house.” [Lk. 19:5] and “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come into him and dine with him and he with Me.” [Rv. 3:20] and “This is My Blood of the new covenant which is shed for many” [Mk. 14:24] and it is said of Him: “And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became as great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” [Lk. 22:44] and “….one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear and immediately blood and water came out.” [Jn. 19:34]

It is Jesus who passing by sees us writhing in our blood, up in the tree of our own pride, fears, sins, who knocks constantly at the door of our being that we might allow Him to enter and cleanse our hearts of all hatred and violence, who offers His own life-giving Blood to us in the Holy eucharist that mingled with our own His Blood might dominate our beings that we would love one another as He loves us from whom the earnestness and intensity of His agonizing prayer for us causes His blood to fall to the ground, also falling from His pierced side.

His Blood seeps into the earth and mutes the cries of all the blood shed since Cain until the end of time from a cry for justice into His cry for mercy from the Father upon us, for forgiveness and the chance in each of our lives, in our communal life on this earth in each moment in Him to begin again.

His Blood cries hope, mercy, redemption.

St. John XXII in an Apostolic Letter from 1960 on devotion to, and confidence in, the Most Precious Blood of Jesus reminds us that: “Unlimited is the effectiveness of the God-Man’s Blood – just as unlimited as the love that impelled Him to pour it out for us….”

Hatred breeds violence, the violent hatefully shed blood.

Love engenders understanding, compassion, clear eyes which, like raindrops kissed by the sun see the beauty of diversity knowing the essence of each raindrop is the same one to another.

IF we allow the light of Christ, Christ Himself who shed His Blood for us, to illuminate our souls, hearts, conscience, thoughts, then we shall see each other as He and the Father sees us and we shall love one another.

From the litany of the Most Precious Blood of Jesus:

Blood of Christ poured out on the Cross….price of our salvation….stream of mercy…victor over demons…help of those in peril…relief of the burdened…solace in sorrow….consolation of the dying….peace and tenderness of hearts….SAVE US!




Tuesday, November 17, 2015

WHAT PARIS PROVES


                                                              
It has been done before in New York, London, Spain, Ottawa, this evil you the haters claim to be doing in the name of, fulfilling the will of, God and in the name of a religion whose faithful adherents reject you.

The greater rejection is the very God whose name you blaspheme by your words and actions wants nothing to do with you, He rejects you, and for a Father to reject His child means that child has closed their hearts to love, mercy and truth.

You have always failed, will always fail.

Yes you kill and maim but you have not and will never win.

You seek to instill fear.

Look around you!

Our reaction is to become more loving, caring, tolerant, forgiving, FREE, bolder and courageous.

You move us to prayer, we who, unlike you, do indeed know God our Father and His holy will.

True, we may fail, often, to be as holy as He asks us to be, but so utterly confident are we in His merciful love we can always repent, and do, try again, and do.

You will always fail because He asks of every human being to love our enemies, to do good to those who persecute us, and we do love and we do forgive, but our love and forgiveness also gives us that strength to fight, and we are mighty warriors through our military, and you will loose.

Love is stronger than death and hate, for love is life and truth.

We Christians allow that Christians worship in various ways in different denominations, and that’s okay, we love one another, respect each other.

You, so filled with hate, so filled with darkness, are blind to the dignity and beauty of all other human beings because you have chosen to hand your souls over to the prince of darkness, the blinder of souls.

You claim to be on a mission to impose – yes impose for your greater fear is the God-given freedom of human beings – yes impose what you claim is His law, but His law is that we love and care for one another.

It is satan’s kingdom of hate and death and no other you are imposing.

You do not know, nor us, nor your very selves.

If you knew you are human you would know Him and would drop your weapons, forego your hate, rush to Bethlehem, and adore Him who comes among us as a baby, a child, as every human being starts life – for He is truly God and truly one of us, Prince of Peace, the all-merciful.

He would smile upon you, forgive you, ask you to become lovers and agents of peace.

We know Him and His love, which is why you can never overcome us for we are His.

We see Him and love Him in every other human being. He comes disguised sometimes as a prostitute or homeless person, as a Jew or Buddhist,  as male or female, elderly or young, hungry or thirsty and every way we welcome another human being and care for them we are touching and being touched by Him, disguised as He may be.

Thus we cannot, will not ever hate you: so when you claim we do once more you are deluded and liars.

Give it up. Your hatred is pointless and is dragging you into hell.

We will pray He be merciful to you and likely this will anger you too.

Nothing is sadder than seeing human beings choosing to be forever wandering the endless deserts of hatred and darkness.

Come, meet the Holy Child, let Him love you, let His radiant light free you from eternal darkness.

 

 

 

Friday, October 16, 2015

LAUDATO SI': A COMMENTARY


                                                    


                                                                        PART 2

Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties? “If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of the new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away”. [para.120]

Frankly it is beyond dumb to advocate saving rain forests if we continue to murder the unborn children in the millions as we do each year.

Rachel Carson’s famous SILENT SPRING, may well come to pass because within the saved rain forests no sound of a human voice, to replace the absent birdsongs of evening, will be heard either.

The primary target of the culture of death is no whale nor tree, but specific individual pre-born human beings or human beings deemed, because of perpetual disability or so-called terminal illness become targets for those advocating euthanasia.

There is a 1990 essay from Walker Percy, published in the collection SIGNPOSTS IN A STRANGE LAND, Percy notes that: Americans are the nicest, most generous, and sentimental people on earth. Yet Americans have killed more unborn children than any nation on earth. Now euthanasia is beginning….

 

Pope Francis: Human ecology… implies another profound reality: the relationship between human life and the moral law, which is inscribed in our nature and is necessary for the creation of a more dignified environment. Pope Benedict XVI spoke of an “ecology of man”, based on the fact that “man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will”. It is enough to recognize that our body itself establishes us in a direct relationship with the environment and with other living beings. The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation. Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology. Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment. It is not a healthy attitude which would seek “to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it”. [para.155]

In a lecture given at Cornell in 1985, Walker Percy has this to say, as quoted also in the book: SIGNPOSTS IN A STRANGE LAND: Every age, we know, is informed by a particular belief or myth or worldview shared in common by the denizens of the age…..the consciousness of Western man, the layman in particular, has been transformed by a curious misapprehension of the scientific method….It….takes the form of a radical and paradoxical loss of sovereignty by the layman and of a radical impoverishment of human relations – paradoxical I say, because it occurs in the very face of his technological mastery of the world and his richness as a consumer of the world’s goods. [op.cit.p.210]

Ever since Adam and Eve fundamentally betrayed each other with the blame game and denial around their mutual act of disobedience, stress and conflict became part of the most sacred vocation of marriage; once Cain slew Abel, jealously, hatred, poor self-image, violence, murder seeped into family life, and so on throughout the entire Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament, everything we contend with in daily personal, family, communal, body politic, religion, global relationships is all there, right in our face, all the time.

Only if we are steeped in the Gospel, live the Gospel with our lives without compromise, in a word follow Jesus and do as Jesus would have us do, is there any hope of our rediscovering and reclaiming personal, familial, communal sovereignty.

The prime purpose of business, of labour unions, of government at all levels, of common law, constitutional law is to form community.

NOT communities but community.

This community, this one global family, this great tree if you will of humanity, will by its very nature have branches:  not every family member  sings the same, dances the same, prays the same yet, please God, everyone WILL know that they are, we are, one family, a common-unity: community.

The global anxiety, restlessness, estrangement from other which nations experience daily, as do workers in the same office, on the same factory floor, students in the same university class, people in the very same pew in church, comes from the loss of sovereignty living in a world dominated by science and technology, relativistic mind sets in universities and the media, and an increasing xenophobic furtive glancing at other, be they living down the street or across an ocean.

We live in fear.

We are right to be afraid.

But we fear the wrong things.

We fear the vagaries of the economy, terrorists, climate change, self-serving politicians, being labelled by those whose disdain for people of faith cloaks an overall disdain for human beings in general.

We refuse to embrace the only fear we should have, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit and without embracing His gift, without living in the light of His gift, none of what Pope Francis is asking of us: to be converted, to love one another, to live as one human family and care for our common home, will ever come to pass and those other fears will drive us, lemming like, over the cliff into the abyss of oblivion.

Archbishop Luis Martinez in his book THE SANCTIFIER teaches: There is fear…that is called filial…This is the gift of fear which is directed by the Holy Spirit…It is a filial fear, a noble fear, born from the very heart of love…the beginning of wisdom, because, in order to possess divine wisdom, we need to unite ourselves so closely to God that nothing can separate us from Him. The gift of fear unites us with God in this way. It hinders us from ever separating ourselves from the Beloved….[op.cit.pp.130/131]

In our over medicated, so-called politically correct, relativist society the most common neurosis is chronic anxiety, in a word we are running scared because we lack a proper openness to another gift of the Holy Spirit: understanding.

This refusal to understand, and accept, the truth we are creatures – albeit endowed with immortal souls as children of the Divine – who are called to live and move and have our being in Him who created us, Love Himself, to be His beloved – this refusal imprisons us in bondage to ignorance.

Everything in the cosmos, every cloud, breeze, raindrop, snowflake, every blade of grass, tree, creature of the plains, the forests, the seas and most especially every other human being testifies we have originated in the creative act of love by Someone:

The heavens declare the glory of God; the firmament shows the creation of His hands. Day to day utters speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voices are not heard. Their proclamation went forth into all the earth, and their words to the end of the world……The fear of the Lord is pure, enduing unto ages of ages…[Ps. 18(19)vs. 1-5 & 10]

Our pilgrimage through life is the opportunity to be in right relationship with Him, with self, with other[s] hence the true antidote to anxiety, restlessness, and discombulation in life is this holy, filial fear, loving awe and communion of love with Him.

This pervasive anxiety and fearful restlessness, this daily discombulation erodes the moral fibre of our lives, increases self-centeredness and deafens us to the cries of our suffering brothers and sisters, blinds us to the conditions in which millions are forced to live.

Thus Pope Francis cries out: Our difficulty in taking up this challenge seriously has much to do with an ethical and cultural decline which has accompanied the deterioration of the environment. Men and women of our postmodern world run the risk of rampant individualism, and many problems of society are connected with today’s self-centred culture of instant gratification. We see this in the crisis of family and social ties and the difficulties of recognizing the other. Parents can be prone to impulsive and wasteful consumption, which then affects their children who find it increasingly difficult to acquire a home of their own and build a family. Furthermore, our inability to think seriously about future generations is linked to our inability to broaden the scope of our present interests and to give consideration to those who remain excluded from development. Let us not only keep the poor of the future in mind, but also today’s poor, whose life on this earth is brief and who cannot keep on waiting. Hence, “in addition to a fairer sense of intergenerational solidarity there is also an urgent moral need for a renewed sense of intragenerational solidarity”. [para. 162]

If we look at recorded human history what is striking is how rarely do human beings consider the impact of choices and actions much longer than a few days ahead, indeed frequently rarely beyond the immediate moment!

Yet choices and actions have real consequences for ourselves, those we are in relationship with, whatever our state in life, and even greater are those of nations upon human beings within and beyond our borders.

When we make career choices/vocation choices, such as when we proclaim ‘I do.’, during sacramental marriage or ‘Here I am.’, during ordination, as but two examples, no one can see far enough in the future to foresee what the challenges of living out commitment will entail.

Thus our yes to other, to vocation, needs be renewed daily.

However, as Pope Francis is stressing, we do have a certain capacity to see and understand the impact of some choices in life.

A simple example: if we disregard others, indeed our own welfare, and drive drunk there is a extremely high probability we will crash into another car and injure or kill, possibly self, certainly others.

In a sense we ‘drive’ economy, politics, culture, environment, among others, by our choices and actions today and Pope Francis is asking us when making decisions to look beyond the self, beyond the narrow confines of our own nation, city, etc., and to consider the impact on our brothers and sisters elsewhere in the world today – but not only today, the impact tomorrow and all remaining tomorrows of human history.

The Gospel intends us to attain to true simplicity: simplicity in the sense of an inward unity of life. Such simplicity contrasts, in the first place, with the disunity of in the soul of those who lives are filled, now by one thing, now by another; who lose themselves in the motley variegation of life, who do not seek for an integration of their actions and conduct by one dominate principle. [ from Dietrich von Hildebrand’s TRANSFORMATION IN CHRIST]

What is the one dominate principle we should live by?

This in My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. [Jn. 15.12]

Only if we live by the above dominate principle will we be able to take to heart, to implement in our daily lives and relations with others the urgent appeal by Pope Francis: …..our planet is a homeland…humanity is one people living in a common home. An interdependent world not only makes us more conscious of the negative effects of certain lifestyles and models of production and consumption which affect us all; more importantly, it motivates us to ensure that solutions are proposed from a global perspective, and not simply to defend the interests of a few countries. Interdependence obliges us to think of one world with a common plan. [para. 164]

In the section where Pope Francis tackles the issues of governance and political and other choices about facing the challenges in our care for our ‘common home’ he states: A politics concerned with immediate results, supported by consumerist sectors of the population, is driven to produce short-term growth. In response to electoral interests, governments are reluctant to upset the public with measures which could affect the level of consumption or create risks for foreign investment. The myopia of power politics delays the inclusion of a far-sighted environmental agenda within the overall agenda of governments. Thus we forget that “time is greater than space”.... that we are always more effective when we generate processes rather than holding on to positions of power. True statecraft is manifest when, in difficult times, we uphold high principles and think of the long-term common good. Political powers do not find it easy to assume this duty in the work of nation-building. [para. 178]

The oft quoted in literature and song, often used in funerals oddly enough, words from Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8 is a powerful statement about the mystery, indeed the grace of time.

Each of us is given the optimum allotment of time necessary for us to become saints, to live out our vocation in life, both the general vocation of all human beings to at least live faithfully according to natural law with charity towards all others, and for the baptized to live out our primary vocation to preach the Gospel with out lives without compromise,  within the sacredness of the particular vocation to Holy Marriage, Priesthood, Religious Life or the hidden but equally powerful vocation as a consecrated single person.

The teaching on time begins: To everything there is a season, and time for every matter under heaven. [Ecc.3:1] and there follows the long list of just what there is time for: birth, death, sowing, harvesting – all the way down to: A time to love and a time to hate; a time of war and a time of peace. [v.8]

Obviously there are times we should not make use of such as to kill or hate. The permissive will of God may allow time for evil but we should reject using time that way and always choose to protect and love.

Truly that is time well spent!

Time is ours to use well, or to waste.

Time is fast paced as we all know.

A moment is just that, a moment.

As the saying goes: use it or loose it!

Reminding us that the fullness of time is actually eternity St. John Paul in TERTIO MILLENNIO ADVENIENTE para.10, teaches: ….that Christ is the Lord of time; He is its beginning and its end; every year, every day and every moment are embraced by His Incarnation and Resurrection, and thus become part of the “fullness of time.”

What strikes me within the teaching of Pope Francis is it moves me to look at just how environmentalists, for example, have been using time in recent decades, along with governments, enormous amounts of time spent on conferences about how things are and what we ought to do, on projecting this or that reduction of pollutants etc., etc., and in all this time it sure seems all that conferences and governments do is all agree things are rather awful and then they push the goal posts further away.

Makes one want to scream: STOP! – and to pose the question: How about taking the time NOT to jet around the world to another conference but to walk along a river bank and clean it up?

Just seems we are blathering time away to the point of catastrophe rather than being humble enough to stop, look closely at the place in time we live and what little thing can be done to repair our common home right here, right now.

To borrow from Ed Sheeran’s powerful song for the film THE HOBBIT THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG: “I SEE FIRE”, a song which is truly a lament: ….

Prepare as we will

Watch the flames burn auburn on

The mountain side

Desolation comes upon the sky…..

….I see fire

Hollowing souls….

I hear my people screaming out…..

The overriding lesson, there for all to see and act upon or not, in the LORD OF THE RINGS and HOBBIT books and films is a stark one, echoed in the song above and stated clearly in this encyclical: when we are in bondage to self interest our hearts become cold and hard, our ears deaf to “my people screaming out.”

We are fickle.

After years of our brothers and sisters being brutalized in Syria, Nigeria and other places suddenly one photo – it should be noted not the first such photo – of a drowned child has the world in guilty uproar.

What about the screams of the unborn being aborted, of women and children in our own neighbourhoods being abused,  the often muted cries of the homeless, etc., etc.?

Time is short.

Evil triumphs when good people are deaf and, frankly, lazy in the face of cruelty and injustice.

We will never heal the environmental wounds of our common home so long as our hearts are not healed and our ears not open to our screaming brothers and sisters exhausted and hopeless in their immediate pain.

These days to waste time that should be spent protecting the unborn, helping the expectant mother, feeding the hungry, and yes caring for migrants and refugees, as our priority, our first step towards caring for our common home – such waste is evil and in the end one wonders who will there be to live in the common home?

To borrow from the artist Enya from her poem-song ONLY TIME:

Who can say where the road goes

Where the day flows, only time

And who can say if your love grows

As your heart chose, only time.

Because time is God’s gift to us it is we who determine what time ‘says’ by how we use the time allotted to us.

Abortion, hatred, terrorism, extremism, displacement of innocent people, growing unemployment and resulting domestic stress, self-centeredness and innumerable other things which so hurt human beings, all these we can and must take the time to face and work towards overcoming and healing.

Only then will we be able to truly care for our common home because we will make those who live within our common home our first priority, something Pope Francis clearly understands.

The two are interconnected at their core: The majority of people living on our planet profess to be believers. This should spur religions to dialogue among themselves for the sake of protecting nature, defending the poor, and building networks of respect and fraternity. [para. 201]

Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change. We lack an awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and of a future to be shared with everyone. This basic awareness would enable the development of new convictions, attitudes and forms of life. A great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge stands before us, and it will demand that we set out on the long path of renewal. [para. 202]

Yet all is not lost. Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start, despite their mental and social conditioning. [para.205]

…..In the face of the so-called culture of death, the family is the heart of the culture of life”…. we also need the personal qualities of self-control and willingness to learn from one another….since the teachings of the Gospel have direct consequences for our way of thinking, feeling and living…..Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience….. In calling to mind the figure of Saint Francis of Assisi, we come to realize that a healthy relationship with creation is one dimension of overall personal conversion, which entails the recognition of our errors, sins, faults and failures, and leads to heartfelt repentance and desire to change. [cf. paras. 213 to 218]

The ‘personal conversion’ urged is not an intellectual exercise, though likely there will be a degree of learning, reflection, even study to enable a change of intellectual assessment of things.

However true conversion is, literally, conversion of heart, as Pope Francis stresses: We are speaking of an attitude of the heart, one which approaches life with serene attentiveness, which is capable of being fully present to someone without thinking of what comes next, which accepts each moment as a gift from God to be lived to the full. Jesus taught us this attitude when he invited us to contemplate the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, or when seeing the rich young man and knowing his restlessness, “he looked at him with love” (Mk 10:21). He was completely present to everyone and to everything, and in this way he showed us the way to overcome that unhealthy anxiety which makes us superficial, aggressive and compulsive consumers. [para. 226]

A few days ago I went to the local shoe repair shop in the nearby mall. I had not been there before but I needed to replace my belt which was worn to the breaking point. I picked out a simple black leather belt and went to pay for it.

While making change for me the cobbler, a man elderly like myself, uninvited I should stress, leapt into a tirade against certain groups of human beings that caused me to feel I was in the presence of if not an actual Nazis certainly someone filled with the same hatred.

So long as human hearts are polluted with hatred, discrimination, violence no amount of effort, policies, laws, etc., can possibly impact damage done to our common home through polluting air, water, earth.

Love alone is stronger than hate and death.

A pure heart alone is strong enough to restore right balance and order between earth, air, water, other creatures and one another as persons.

Thus Pope Francis notes: Care for nature is part of a lifestyle which includes the capacity for living together and communion. Jesus reminded us that we have God as our common Father and that this makes us brothers and sisters. Fraternal love can only be gratuitous; it can never be a means of repaying others for what they have done or will do for us. That is why it is possible to love our enemies. This same gratuitousness inspires us to love and accept the wind, the sun and the clouds, even though we cannot control them. In this sense, we can speak of a “universal fraternity”. [para. 228] We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it. [para. 229]

The priority of the human person is and must always be the foundational stance in any discussion of the environment, indeed of economics, politics, and all aspects of shared life on/in our common home and Pope Francis consistently connects the Divine, the natural, the human: The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face. The ideal is not only to pass from the exterior to the interior to discover the action of God in the soul, but also to discover God in all things. [para. 233]

Manifestations of God’s actions in the material world, and consequently in human souls who are open to His loving and sanctifying action, can be contemplated within the reality of matter:  a human being, water, and oil as sacred Chrism, in Baptism and Confirmation,  bread and wine in Holy Eucharist, blessed oil in the Anointing of the Sick, a baptized, confirmed man, Sacred Chrism in ordination in Persona Christi, a baptized man and a baptized woman in Holy Marriage and a human being in sacramental confession – these are the external elements, matter if you will, necessary for sacraments which become real and sanctifying, effective by the action of the Holy Spirit: The Sacraments are a privileged way in which nature is taken up by God to become a means of mediating supernatural life. Through our worship of God, we are invited to embrace the world on a different plane. Water, oil, fire and colours are taken up in all their symbolic power and incorporated in our act of praise. The hand that blesses is an instrument of God’s love and a reflection of the closeness of Jesus Christ, who came to accompany us on the journey of life. Water poured over the body of a child in Baptism is a sign of new life. Encountering God does not mean fleeing from this world or turning our back on nature….For Christians, all the creatures of the material universe find their true meaning in the incarnate Word, for the Son of God has incorporated in his person part of the material world, planting in it a seed of definitive transformation. “Christianity does not reject matter. Rather, bodiliness is considered in all its value in the liturgical act, whereby the human body is disclosed in its inner nature as a temple of the Holy Spirit and is united with the Lord Jesus, who himself took a body for the world’s salvation”. [para. 235]

It is striking, when the Holy Father speaks about the Holy Eucharist, if we take the time to step back and reflect, the extent of  divine and human activity necessary for the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and reception of Holy Communion: a farmer must prepare a field, plant the seed, harvest the wheat which the labour of others gets to the mill, grinds into flour, bakes and shapes while still others labour to produce the linens, vestments, liturgical books, candles, paten, a priest is needed, altar servers and readers and, critical, the active participation in the liturgy of the communicants.

This whole process of divine and human activity the Church recognizes in prayer at the Offering of the Gifts in Holy Mass: Blessed are You, Lord God of all creation, for through Your goodness we have received the bread we offer You: fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life. [Roman ritual]

Pope Francis reminds us: It is in the Eucharist that all that has been created finds its greatest exaltation. Grace, which tends to manifest itself tangibly, found unsurpassable expression when God himself became man and gave himself as food for his creatures. The Lord, in the culmination of the mystery of the Incarnation, chose to reach our intimate depths through a fragment of matter. He comes not from above, but from within, he comes that we might find him in this world of ours. In the Eucharist, fullness is already achieved; it is the living centre of the universe, the overflowing core of love and of inexhaustible life. Joined to the incarnate Son, present in the Eucharist, the whole cosmos gives thanks to God. Indeed the Eucharist is itself an act of cosmic love: “Yes, cosmic! Because even when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world”… The Eucharist joins heaven and earth; it embraces and penetrates all creation. The world which came forth from God’s hands returns to him in blessed and undivided adoration: in the bread of the Eucharist, “creation is projected towards divinization, towards the holy wedding feast, towards unification with the Creator himself”....Thus, the Eucharist is also a source of light and motivation for our concerns for the environment, directing us to be stewards of all creation. [para. 236]

Again I am struck that fundamentally the heart of this papal teaching about our common home and call for better care of our common home is his recurring emphasis on the ecology of the human heart, of profound priority for respect for human life, of care for the vulnerable pre-born child, the poor, the hungry and thirsty among us, also a constant reminder to all of us that neither we nor the earth nor anything in the cosmos is self created: The Father is the ultimate source of everything, the loving and self-communicating foundation of all that exists. The Son, his reflection, through whom all things were created, united himself to this earth when he was formed in the womb of Mary. The Spirit, infinite bond of love, is intimately present at the very heart of the universe, inspiring and bringing new pathways. The world was created by the three Persons acting as a single divine principle, but each one of them performed this common work in accordance with his own personal property. Consequently, “when we contemplate with wonder the universe in all its grandeur and beauty, we must praise the whole Trinity”. [para. 238]

While reflecting upon this encyclical I have been reading Harper Lee’s novel GO SET A WATCHMAN, which led me to re-meditate upon the scripture source of the novel’s title which is drawn from Isaiah 21:6: For thus the Lord said to me: “Go set a watchman for yourself and declare whatever you see.”

When cities were walled and gated, such as Jerusalem at the time of Christ, a large part of the effectiveness of such a defence depended upon the eagle eyes of the watchmen, usually stationed in high towers or along the ramparts.

In a sense Pope Francis is acting as a watchman for the whole human family, calling out as warning what he sees as the approaching enemy, if you will, when it comes not only to the environment but to the whole economic, moral and social order of the human family.

While the Holy Father is in a unique position to be such a watchman every human being should be a watchman, especially the baptized being watchful as St. Peter urges: Stay sober and alert. Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, solid in your faith. [1 Peter 5: 8-9]

Many communities have groups such as neighbourhood or rural watch, while many postal carriers, for example, are aware of the elderly and watch out for them especially in times of extreme heat or cold. In a sense the meteorologists, more commonly known as the weather forecasters on television, also stand watch as do our military and police.

Each of us should ask ourselves how we stand watch not only over our common home but especially over one another with true charity and compassion.

As God asked of Cain so He asks each one of us where is your brother, your sister? In all of Sacred Scripture there is only one detailed account of the Last Judgement and it is all about how we loved, watched out for one another by the way we care for, or not, for each other. [cf. Mt. 25:31-46]

I am reminded of the words from Walt Kelly, placed in the mouth of his character Pogo, from the comic strip of the same name, and used on an Earth Day Poster in in 1970: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

When we fail to watch out for, to care for one another, to stand for life, truth, charity, compassion, justice, we become disconnected from one another and society becomes riven with discrimination, anger, despair and people living in such turbulence become disconnected as well from our very selves, bent towards ourselves in an egotistical, darkening mood which leads to the kind of greed that has no respect for human life or any other creature and our communion with God frays and eventually ruptures completely.

It is then we discover what true loneliness is.

The Father is the ultimate source of everything, the loving and self-communicating foundation of all that exists. The Son, his reflection, through whom all things were created, united himself to this earth when he was formed in the womb of Mary. The Spirit, infinite bond of love, is intimately present at the very heart of the universe, inspiring and bringing new pathways. [para. 238] The divine Persons are subsistent relations, and the world, created according to the divine model, is a web of relationships. Creatures tend towards God, and in turn it is proper to every living being to tend towards other things, so that throughout the universe we can find any number of constant and secretly interwoven relationships. This leads us not only to marvel at the manifold connections existing among creatures, but also to discover a key to our own fulfilment. The human person grows more, matures more and is sanctified more to the extent that he or she enters into relationships, going out from themselves to live in communion with God, with others and with all creatures. In this way, they make their own that Trinitarian dynamism which God imprinted in them when they were created. Everything is interconnected, and this invites us to develop a spirituality of that global solidarity which flows from the mystery of the Trinity. [para. 240]

Pope Francis in chapter IX, the final section of the encyclical uses the expression BEYOND THE SUN as its title.

It is very evocative and hearkens back to a time when, we were not hampered in our ability to be awed by the beauty of sunrise and sunset by having discovered it is not the sun which moves up and down but the earth itself. On the other hand the knowledge that our common home is in motion has led some to refer to it as ‘spaceship earth’! Not such a bad expression when you think about it for a ship is a type of home both for passengers and crew, humanity is renewed after the flood by those who had been kept safe in the ‘ship’ of Noah, when the little ship of the apostles was about to be overwhelmed by the sudden storm on the sea Jesus calmed the wind and the waves and the Church is still referred to as the bark of Peter:  At the end, we will find ourselves face to face with the infinite beauty of God (cf. 1 Cor 13:12), and be able to read with admiration and happiness the mystery of the universe, which with us will share in unending plenitude. Even now we are journeying towards the sabbath of eternity, the new Jerusalem, towards our common home in heaven. Jesus says: “I make all things new” (Rev 21:5). Eternal life will be a shared experience of awe, in which each creature, resplendently transfigured, will take its rightful place and have something to give those poor men and women who will have been liberated once and for all. In the meantime, we come together to take charge of this home which has been entrusted to us, knowing that all the good which exists here will be taken up into the heavenly feast. In union with all creatures, we journey through this land seeking God, for “if the world has a beginning and if it has been created, we must enquire who gave it this beginning, and who was its Creator”. Let us sing as we go. May our struggles and our concern for this planet never take away the joy of our hope. God, who calls us to generous commitment and to give him our all, offers us the light and the strength needed to continue on our way. In the heart of this world, the Lord of life, who loves us so much, is always present. He does not abandon us, he does not leave us alone, for he has united himself definitively to our earth, and his love constantly impels us to find new ways forward. Praise be to him! [paras. 243-45]

May we all take to heart the fundamental call from Pope Francis to be converted, to love each other as Christ loves us in the right order of fullness of human life: God first, next my brother/my sister, and I am third.

From such love and humility will come the triumph of the Gospel of life and when the ecology of the human heart is in right order the way we interact with the natural environment of our common home will be transformed.