Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Human freedom is not about sex but the nature of love

There is worldwide interest in the Synod of Bishops taking place at the Vatican in Rome. News outlets seem rather obsessed with the issue of the admission to Holy Communion of the faithful who are civilly divorced and remarried without having first been declared free to remarry by Church authorities. The vexing principle at work is Jesus' clearly reported teaching on marriage and divorce in the Gospels. The Church's challenge is how to apply Jesus' teaching in the lives of the faithful. However the bishops in Synod are studying together the much bigger picture of the call and challenge of the family to follow Jesus and live and proclaim the Gospel with our lives in our world today.

For many the issue is about a claim to unrestricted freedom to engage in sex and cut loose from historic and cultural definitions and taboos to the point even of redefining marriage and family. I believe that the true issue at work here is not so much sex but rather the true nature of love. Jews and Christians believe there is only one God, the Creator, who revealed to his Chosen People something of his nature and of his purpose in creating us human beings. He loves his creation and He loves us and simultaneously offers us and expects of us a genuine and reciprocal relationship of authentic love, which manifests itself in a paramount desire for and dedication to the good of the other. God's good is to be known and loved widely as He is and our good as human beings is to live in harmony with God and with each other. This is the heart of the Jewish faith and their specific vocation is to give witness to God in the world.

Jesus fine tuned the understanding of this revelation in his person, teaching, and example to the point of laying down his life for the glory of God and for the salvation and sanctification of sinners. Jesus has given to all of humanity a clearer and more readily understandable teaching and example of authentic love, both divine love and human love. Authentic human love is a living and true reflection of divine love, a love which pours itself out, gives itself completely to the other, holding nothing back and yet losing nothing of itself in the giving. Actually, it is only in giving oneself wholeheartedly to the other that one attains the fullness of authentic love and in a true sense fully becomes a person. In contrast, it is in the self seeking, the obsessive grasping for one's own pleasure and satisfaction, that love is distorted and reduced to a destructive counterfeit that destroys life, people, families, and society itself and that a human being shrinks and shrivels as a person.

After listening to several reports on the Synod and interviews with several bishops and Pope Francis himself, it seems increasingly clear that no one at the Synod is showing any desire to change what God has revealed as this is transmitted in Church teaching or for that matter to compromise the Gospel. A primary factor at play is that the bishops under the influence and example of Pope Francis are becoming more aware and hence also more preoccupied that for quite some time the Church has in many places and at various times been more likely to wield the truth as a club rather than show compassion and pastoral concern for the state and suffering of the faithful. This is the kind of failure of authority to truly serve for which Jesus reproached the religious leaders of his day.

The focus then is not so much on dogma but rather on the attitude and behavior of pastors - bishops and priests - towards the faithful. What comes to mind is Jesus' reproach to the religious leaders of his day that they did not keep the law in their heart, and what is worse, they did not lift a finger to ease the burden they as religious leaders imposed so harshly on the faithful in all that had to do with the observance of religious laws. "You do not enter the kingdom yourself and also prevent others from doing so." They were not faithfully representing God to the people but were in effect only serving themselves. They did not love the faithful as God does.They were obsessed with external observance of religious law but not with the restoration of the people to an obedient and loving worship of God and service of the neighbor.

The principles at work in reviewing the Church's pastoral care of the faithful are several.

1.  God alone is the judge. Jesus made it clear we have no right or authority to judge because we are incapable of acting out of both divine justice and divine mercy simultaneously. Moreover, only God knows truly the condition of souls and He alone is qualified to judge. He alone truly loves each soul and perfectly desires its good.

2.  When Jesus gave authority to the Church to bind and to loose, He did so in order to extend and widen in time and space the exercise of divine mercy which He had inaugurated, not to restrict access to the blessings and new life of the kingdom. The binding is for dealing with sinners' unwillingness to turn away from sin and with hypocrisy and hardheartedness as when Jesus dealt with the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes.

3.  The bishops are considering how they and all the pastors of the Church are to exercise the pastoral ministry more faithfully to Jesus and his example. They desire as successors to the Apostles to remain faithful to the truth given to us in the person of Jesus and at the same time to the divine revelation contained in Jesus' person, teaching, and example. The Pope and the bishops are to help us learn and follow the ways of the Lord.

Reactions to the work of the Synod come from at least two extreme positions or views.

As the whole Church, all Christian churches and faithful, and people in the world at large observe the Synod fathers in their collective study and deliberation, there are people who are disturbed and react out of fear perhaps because they need the security of "black and white" answers. Not unlike the religious leaders in Jesus' day, such people try to find their security in setting themselves apart from all those whom they judge to be sinners or guilty of breaking some law. At the other end of the spectrum there are those who look for freedom from any law, from any restriction on their thought, speech, and behavior. They claim to love and to defend the truth, but they are not open to the whole truth, nor do they have any love, true love, for others.

Some of these people go so far as to qualify the RC Church as oppressive, not realizing that they misinterpret the Church's stance as some kind of fascism or dictatorship. Through the centuries the Church has always been composed of people of their own time. When society was such that authority was imposed by force, the Church tended to do likewise. The Spanish Inquisition was a reflection of medieval society in which the rule of law coincided with the rule of force, but today the Church has changed as has the society in which it is embedded. In our world today there are still societies that rely primarily on the rule of force but most western societies rely on responsibility and compliance from their citizens. Similarly, the RC Church no longer imposes or enforces its teaching by physical force or punishment. Even centuries ago when Church authorities did use the harsh methods of the times they were ostensibly seeking the good and eternal salvation of those souls, those people they deemed to be in error and in sin.

Currently, the bishops are remembering that the Church's only authority is that of Jesus in his person, his teaching, and his example to the point of laying down his life. They realize and remind us that our Church, in its ways and practices, comes from the historical process of its development. The laity, such as married couples and families, are witnessing that in many situations pastors treat them harshly rather than with the compassion and kindness with which Jesus treated people. There has been too much insistence on the law and too little on the patience and mercy of God. Church authorities have not only been teaching the truth but at times they have been employing ways of imposing the teaching on people to the point of dictating their behavior and applying punitive sanctions and social pressure. The bishops are trying to recover Jesus' approach, which in any age is a difficult challenge but possible with the help and the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Not unlike today then, in Gospel times the Scribes and Pharisees and Sadducees were constantly trying to pin Jesus down to clear and unequivocal answers that would clearly condemn sinners and cast them out while establishing themselves as "the pure ones", but Jesus consistently resisted this approach and attitude, saying He came for mercy not sacrifice. Those Jesus called hypocrites live their lives on the basis of appearance whereas God looks at the heart, mind, and intentions of the soul.

Jesus was killed for his merciful attitude toward sinners, which threatened all those who sought their security in the letter of the law, and the more the bishops try to approach Jesus' own attitude and pastoral care today and at any time the more they too will be resisted, judged, and rejected. It remains an incredible challenge for pastors to care for souls, to receive them and guide them through the mercy of God, while at the same time striving to increase and perfect the formation of their conscience, to care for the truth while also loving the sinner.

The temptation is great to "take over" the sovereignty of the individual conscience and "dictate" to others their behavior, but that was not Jesus' way. He spoke the truth as clearly and eloquently as He could but left people free to govern themselves, knowing that God alone could judge rightly. When anyone came to Jesus with a request He responded to them, often granting their request, but also warned them to sin no more. We are frightened and severely challenged by the patience and respect God shows each person and expects us to show one another and we continue to seek our security in the letter of the law rather than in a true and living relationship with God.

Only the tyrant refuses to respect others, to grant others the right to make mistakes. It was only with the hardhearted, hypocritical, and tyrannical that Jesus took the tough approach. Our purpose in life is to walk towards the light and none of us accomplishes the journey overnight. If it took me thirty years to come to a point of true conversion, who am I to demand that others make that jump on demand? It is not my concern. Even then, I have not arrived once and for all in safe harbor and must continue to struggle for perfection to my final breath.

God is ever just but simultaneously merciful, kind, and patient. He suffers not the shepherds who lead the sheep astray by letting them do whatever they want without warning them of the dangers they face and ignore at their peril. Shepherds must constantly teach the truth and warn the faithful of the dangers of misusing God's many gifts to us and then in their dealings with the faithful they must present to them the kind, patient, and merciful face of God in Jesus. Not only shepherds but all of us believers must be ever vigilant to confess our own sins and failure to love truly, and only by daily confessing our own sinfulness can we avoid sitting in judgement on others. Those who taste the goodness of the mercy of God can in their turn be empowered by God to show mercy to others. Those who refuse mercy and the humility of self confession and seek to justify and rationalize living in sin are at risk to harden their hearts, which was the overriding condition of many if not most of the religious leaders in Jesus' day. Hardened hearts ever need to justify themselves at the expense of others by accusing others and finding fault in them.

Perhaps what contributes to the intensity of contemporary concern about our Church's approach to moral issues and pastoral care is the nature of our culture and society in this age of instant communication and social media. This setting may be abused by those who harbor a hypocritical attitude and seek to exploit the situation in order to justify themselves in their hardheartedness. I remember a class in high school religion when the teaching brother, Bro. French, was giving a class by having us read the text book out loud. The topic was human sexuality and the desirability of chastity. A student stopped reading and questioned the teaching and, finding the brother's responses unsatisfying, asked "But Brother, how far can we go?" This is an adolescent attitude focused solely on pursuing pleasure with no preoccupation whatsoever about true love. The selfish pleasure seeking attitude does not desire true good both for oneself and for the other, but shows total disregard for the will of God and God's intention in our regard. Rather than accept to allow God to lead us to true and complete happiness, we prefer to grasp for caricatures of happiness as the world promotes them.

It is the role of the Church to bring light to such consciences and to insist on the truth, all the while striving to allow Jesus as the Divine Mercy to continue to speak to souls today. Morality is a drama that plays itself out between the individual soul and its Creator, and we cannot avoid suffering the consequences of our collective choices and behaviors. We all share in the collective responsibility to serve the common good and our common need for order. The tension between individual freedom and the common good is a balancing act which requires ongoing discernment on the part of pastors and unrelenting patience, the patience of the loving parent who knows how to be firm with kindness.

That high school adolescent was a sort of Pharisee, an immature one, but a Pharisee nonetheless. Jesus did not hate them but loved them and the love they needed from Him was a firm hand and this is what Jesus showed them. He won some of them over but the others were not yet ready to welcome the light, but perhaps they would later.

Today, with the social media, people from differing points of view are quick to pounce on every word that comes out of the Synod, from the Pope or from bishops. The bishops need resolve and trust in God to be firm and resolute in attending to and following the guidance the Holy Spirit is giving them. They must continue to deepen their study of this complex situation of the Church as mother and shepherd as well as the condition of souls living in our time because we are all called to develop and deepen our humanity. The bishops and pastors are very much in need our prayers.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

True dialogue on moral issues for developing public policy in a democracy like Canada

There are many issues and considerations driving election campaigns. May I put a suggestion for more open and respectful dialogue among citizens and politicians, among political parties and in government, and also for a more effective development of policies for the common good?

Over the years on several occasions I would have liked to vote for one party or another but at times I didn't because on certain ethical issues I could not find in that party's platform sufficient distinction between policy and ideology. Whenever I tried to communicate with party representatives it turned out that significant dialogue was not to be had. Perhaps everyone was too busy. I am referring to various elements of life in society that touch on moral issues. Please allow me to be specific.

I grant that in a democracy each citizen, each person has the right to their own view on moral issues and both social and personal matters, but for the sake of democracy and effective dialogue in view of striving together for the common good, we need to be able to get beyond ideology to a level of policy, where dialogue and even compromise are more possible than with ideology alone. Ideology has value because without clarity about what we think and believe true dialogue becomes impossible. However, when we are driven by ideology alone it is difficult when not impossible to remain open to different points of view. At worst, we end up with dictatorships, fascism, marxism, communism, and other forms of totalitarianism where only the authorized view is permitted.

I and most Roman Catholics today readily admit that even our own Church went through periods when ideology so dominated public order that there resulted a form of totalitarianism wherein lives were snuffed out in the interest of defending the truth, without realizing at the time that the greatest damage was being done to freedom of conscience. As difficult as it is for us moderns to understand such a divergent point of view, the expressed motivation of the Church at the height of repression known today as the Spanish Inquisition, the institutional motivation was the salvation of souls. Yes, that's right. There was such a fear of eternal damnation that when someone was discovered to hold a belief or manifest a behavior that was perceived to be evil or a perversion of all that is good and held to be true, all means were deemed acceptable to try to persuade that person to reform their beliefs and behavior and embrace the truth as it was to be found in Sacred Scripture and Church commandments.

Tragically, what was lacking to officials of the Church at that time, as in other times and in other public institutions, was a deeper understanding of God and the "ways of the Lord". In God is to be found perfect justice, that is true, but also perfect mercy. Christians believe that in God we find both divine justice and divine mercy and a perfect balance in their application. Another biblical principle is that judgement belongs to God alone and that Jesus is given God's authority to judge.

God is the judge: "There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you--who are you to judge your neighbor?" James 4:12. Jesus shows He has God's authority to judge: “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned. By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me." Matthew 5:28-30. See other references in Deuteronomy 32:39; Psalm 75:7; and Hebrews 10:30. 

Jesus commanded us not to judge, for we are incompetent to judge. Unlike God, we are necessarily biased and lack the full knowledge and wisdom which God alone possesses. Jesus gave a teaching about how we are to avoid judging one another in Matthew 7:1-6. In 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 Paul advised the Corinthians "not to associate with immoral people" which requires a form of judgement or at least observation of behavior. He declares that "outsiders" come under God's judgement but that the faith community must "put outside" the evil doer from within their midst. In other words, those who believe in Jesus and try to be his disciples must love and support one another and, regarding those who insist on doing what is declared evil by God, those who are unrepentant are to be put out of the assembly of believers and not to be associated with.

This is a form of judgement oriented to preservation of self and of the common good; yet it actually respects the choices of those who disagree or want to behave in ways that are unacceptable. This is a form of respect for the freedom of conscience. When the bishops of the universal Roman Catholic Church met in Rome from 1962-65 four years in a row for a month or so in October at the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, they robustly declared the universal right to freedom of conscience with the obligation to inform and form well one's conscience (sections 1776-1802) as well as the freedom and responsibility to hold, practice, and live in accord with one's own faith or beliefs (1730-1748).

The extreme measures of the Spanish Inquisition are no longer possible in the contemporary Church given that those practices arose in the context of a medieval society where they understood public order to include all that could impinge on the eternal destiny of individuals and they believed they were under the obligation to impose right order and right belief by force. Throughout the world there remain cultures, civilizations, peoples, and nations where the rule of force is still employed. We have only to watch the evening news to verify how true this is.In a sense, many societies and pockets of societies are still locked into medieval outlooks by which rule can only be maintained by force.

In contrast to those individuals and societies that mistakenly think that it is up to them to impose public order and belief, when the followers of Jesus as individuals and as institutions are well aligned with Jesus' teaching and example, they fearlessly proclaim Him and the truth He taught and conduct themselves as Jesus did. They do so fearlessly even to the point of laying down their lives as so many countless thousands and millions have done throughout the centuries down to our own day. Christ and his followers are bold to give witness to the truth but leave those who hear them free to embrace that truth or not; they don't impose anything.

As a Roman Catholic Christian it is true that I am committed to promoting by my words and actions the value of human life, from conception to natural death. However, I can still respect the right of others to hold different views. I also entertain the hope that through open and respectful dialogue we can progress together in our understanding of the issues and develop ever better policies that truly serve the common good as well as allowing for individual differences. The irritating thing about freedom of conscience is that life lived under this principle is not monolithic, with whole populations walking in locked steps.

The human conscience is ever in a process of being formed as it considers ever more widely and deeply the various elements that need to enter into any moral consideration. The human person needs to have access to ever more complete information as well as to ever better understand itself and to discern what importance to give to various considerations. The links between facts and views need to be ever updated so that our views remain firmly anchored in the facts.

In addition, there are other sources of truth beside the visible and manifest facts. The human sciences may not be able to measure interior or spiritual human experience; yet that experience remains no less real and its impact on human life and society is undeniable and great. All who acknowledge the existence of God, the Creator of the universe, come to understand more about reality through the truths revealed by God to people who have received such communication and recorded it for general distribution. One truth held by adherents to the Judeo-Christian religious traditions relates to the inalienable value of a human life. Because God is the giver of life, only He has authority over it, as it is set down in the "ten commandments" in the Torah or first five books of the Jewish Scriptures.

It is evident to everyone that belief in God contributes to the differences of view on moral issues, given that those who don't believe in God would tend to dismiss God as a viable and legitimate source of knowledge about the full truth regarding human life and all life in general. In the absence of God, any given human being can then lay claim to superiority of view and policy on moral matters, with the result that policy is set in such a godless universe by courts, legislatures, and any other authority with the conviction it has the power to impose its view on the general population. We are not strangers to such dictations of moral policy from above throughout human history, including from church authorities. The difference today is that church authorities appeal to consciences rather than attempt to impose by any show of whatever force.

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For example, on the issue of abortion and the right of people, women in particular, to exercise freedom of choice, I support those people admittedly pro-life who try to offer thoughts in favor of life to the prospective clients of abortion clinics simply in the hope that their presence there might open up more options for those who, in going to an abortion clinic, often are oppressed by the fatalistic impression that they "have no other choice".

It is ironic that many who claim to be PRO CHOICE actually seem not to want to allow people in such desperate straights to even know about all their practical options, to truly be able to make a well-informed choice. In addition, many women who have abortions suffer all manner of painful consequences that either manifest themselves immediately or only later in various forms of guilt. For that reason alone it makes perfect sense that those contemplating an abortion should take the possible consequences into consideration. Alas, all too often the abortion procedure is promoted quite intensively as a "consequence-free procedure" through such statements as "the abortion will solve your problems" and "you'll be able to go back to the way you were before getting pregnant".

Those who identify themselves as PRO-CHOICE tend to believe that there is no guilt associated with the abortion procedure but that, if there is any guilt following the abortion, that feeling of guilt is entirely and exclusively caused by the repressive and dictatorial declarations of people whom they consider against choice and against abortion. In this view, all those who identify themselves as PRO-LIFE are actually ANTI-CHOICE. Nothing could be further from the truth. Pro-lifers recognize from personal experience that far too many women who get an abortion are under duress and pressure from their entourage and actually feel like they have no choice, that there are no other options.

Not all guilty feelings are artificially provoked by other people and ideologies. An abortion actually does kill an unborn infant human being and when guilt feelings manifest themselves, these feelings follow directly upon the action that has been taken independently of whatever others may say about it.

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Dear fellow citizen, there are other moral issues - such as palliative care and euthanasia - that similarly touch on complex human life situations that require on our part and certainly on the part of government to remain open to dialogue, to the complete findings from scientific and medical research, and that seek above all in the interests of the common good to promote open and honest dialogue and that also allow elected members of Parliament to vote in accord with their own conscience as well as in dialogue with their own constituents.
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Husbands are the best people to share secrets with. They'll never tell anyone, because they aren't even listening. OR Further insight into how we are different.

The above title may very well reflect the feelings of many married women or women in non marriage partnerships with a man. It would be most unfortunate should the sentiment expressed in these two short sentences become a judgement which would then harden the stance and attitude of women towards their men with the inevitable reactions and results in these men. We men may be different but we are neither stupid nor insensitive and it would be contemptuous for women or other men to draw such a conclusion when a man is reluctant to "let it all hang out" all the time. 

As we age and accumulate experiences, observations, and feelings from both our own life and also the lives of others, we cannot avoid realizing that it is our mortal human condition to interpret all we observe, sense, feel, and think about the world around us through the very narrow lens of our own self. We cannot avoid this in a sense because due to the original sin this is now our mortal human condition for all of us. However, we can be more aware of this automatic inclination within us to see things "my way" and decide to deliberately not limit ourselves to approaching in such a narrow way life, others, the world, and even to God - through only our own eyes, mind, heart and experience.

God has given us sufficiently fine faculties that we have the capacity and ability to allow ourselves to imagine the perspective of others and attempt to view situations through their eyes, mind, heart, and soul, through all that we know of them, as well as through our own. We can also actually take genuine interest in the other and show the other that we are interested in hearing more about how they perceive any given situation. Of course, this requires at the very least a willingness to accept in others their differences of thought, feeling, experience, and views, and also, what is far more difficult on our part, a willingness to consider the possibility of changing our own views.

For the sake of true dialogue, we can "tailor" our approach to others to try to ensure better reception. Jesus said something about how difficult it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God... it is like a merchant trying to pass his heavily laden camel through the eye of a needle, an expression used to designate a little gate in city walls no bigger than a tall man. A camel could be squeezed through but first it would have to be unloaded. A rich man can enter the Kingdom of God, but he must first unload himself of all his riches and all the attachments those riches have on his mind, heart, and soul. This principle also applies in the human experience of dialogue. 

For true dialogue to take place, for an authentic exchange of thoughts and feelings to take place, people need to be willing to lay aside as it were the "full load" of their own thoughts, feelings, boundaries of experience, beliefs, convictions, motivations, and all that makes them who they are at this moment in time. To put it differently, to engage in truly open dialogue, we need to be willing to listen, to hear the other "as other", and to try to understand the other through her or his own views and experience. It is like being willing to have sympathy or compassion. 

When I accept to "enter into" the views and experience of another human being, it may feel like going into a foreign land and I may find it unsettling and be tempted to hold onto the security of all that is familiar in my own thoughts, feelings, and experience. However, as I "visit" in the landscape of the other, I don't become the other nor do I lose my own thoughts, feelings, and experience. I lose nothing but gain all that is to be learned and acquired during such visits. During such visits and at the end of each visit I become more familiar with the other and then I can go back on my own ground and be in a far better position to appreciate the other and give careful consideration to what is to be done in this relationship about the difference as well as the convergence of our views.

As we try to sincerely improve our communication with others, especially that between women and men, it is good to keep in mind that women and men are physiologically different. In our brains we have a little organ called the "corpus callosum" which is like a hub handling different kinds of traffic in the brain: data coming in, observations being made, tasks in the process of being done, thoughts about what is coming next, emotions, and so on. There's a lot of traffic all the time. In men it is the size of a dime and in women the size of a quarter. 

As a result when women "think out loud" all the processes going on in them men can only perceive all of that as information overload. It has nothing to do with our attentiveness or caring. It comes quite naturally for a woman to process what is happening within her as the day goes on and women's natural inclination is to "think out loud" with others. This is a good fit with other women who in general also share this inclination and are at home with it. However, it is not such a good fit with men. Men also like to connect with others but they are much more particular about doing it and may only feel comfortable connecting in this way with a coworker or long time friend or other men with whom they don't experience the "information overload" reaction. 

It seems natural for a married woman to expect to think out loud with her husband, but it may not be so natural for him to do so with her. This would be particularly true when the woman consciously or unconsciously embeds in her chatting one or more of her expectations. The chatting may at times also contain hidden but undeniable emotional content non-verbally communicating such things as "I expect you to do such and such" or "you must do this within such and such time frame" or "I am very disappointed in you" or any number of such issues. 

What happened at the dawn of time is that the first humans turned away from the plan for their life and happiness that God had shared with them. They began to disbelieve God - having been fooled by the stranger, the devil - and they stopped putting their trust in God and decided to do things "my way" - including "I will decide for myself what is right and wrong, good or evil". The consequences were nothing short of disastrous. Now separated from God they also found themselves separated from each other, refusing to take responsibility for their own decisions and actions, blaming others instead

The original sin or what we could call our mortal human condition gives us a "natural" inclination, which is not natural at all but a dysfunction because God didn't create us like this, and it makes us insecure. If we turn to God for guidance constantly He leads us safely through the labyrinth or our human condition. When we try to handle things on our own we inevitably try to exert control over others, nature, and life. We even try to control God. 

This is the primary source of irritation among human beings, not only between wives and husbands, but also in the family generally, at work, at school, in the marketplace, in any group or movement, in government and other public institutions, and among nations. The only solution possible is to adopt a stance that is humble - acknowledging my own insecurity and neediness - and respectful of others - accepting them for who they are and as they are without any inclination to change them. Of course, only divine love can motivate us to live humbly and respectfully, because only divine love is fully preoccupied with the good of the other, with no fear or concern about oneself.

When we want to really connect with another being we need to connect in a way that can allow for a real exchange to take place. For this we need to take into consideration the nature of the one with whom we want to connect and communicate. For women in their relationship with their husband or other men, this is a real drag I realize, but we cannot change or reverse engineer biology. We men also have our challenges and can be equally dismissive and contemptuous of women. 

God must have a good intention in designing us so differently. Our Roman Catholic Christian faith informs us that part of God's design is that our differences can beneficially provoke us to go beyond our own natural inclination to want to control and transform the other into a mirror image of our own self so that we deliberately embark on the great adventure - which at times may feel perilous - of a never ending discovery of the other, who will forever remain somewhat elusive and mysterious. When we discover that this other actually loves us and shows it in concrete ways, there is no greater joy.

You can check the following Google search page.... for links on the biological information regarding the corpus callosum. Peace to you.... 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Living and praying as Jesus did

LET'S DISCUSS LIVING CONTEMPLATIVELY AS JESUS DID - FOR TO THIS HE CALLS US

Jesus lived a contemplative life, that is, He always remained aware of his heavenly Father and in union of mind and heart and soul with Him. As our Lord, Jesus offers us the same way of living, in the Holy Spirit. In order to live in a contemplative way all the time during our very active lives, it is helpful to pray regularly in a contemplative way. God uses the moments of our daily prayer in order to bring about the same order in our way of being aware of ourselves, of Him, and of life and of living our life, our will, our awareness of God and of everything, including our way of living our thoughts, feelings, body awareness and sensations, and of course our will.

For centuries many among faithful Roman Catholic Christians found they could follow the Lord's guidance by contemplating with Mary the Mysteries of the Rosary - for the most part Gospel moments, events, experiences, or encounters of Jesus - allowing one to experience and enter into the reality and presence of God in the here and now by pondering Jesus Son of God in the Gospels. As one ponders these Mysteries of the Rosary, the murmuring of the associated prayers these are spaced with silent pondering on Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in the mysteries allows one to keep personal thoughts and feelings gently in the background while continuing in the foreground to focus on the Presence of God.

All the while one allows the body to breathe quietly, to relax, and rest in the Lord. Praying regularly - such as twice a day - like this allows our body, mind, heart, and spirit or soul to acquire the same dispositions more and more consistently all day long and in time even into the night during our sleep without the daytime wakefulness and awareness. The process of giving all our attention to the Lord involves a form of suffering and surrender, which for any believer is a precious form of adoration.

During prayer as during all our waking moments our mind with its imagination and other rational faculties is continuously boiling with thoughts, some organized and coherent and others helter-skelter or chaotic, which can become quite stressful and tiring. As if that were not enough, our psyche also includes our heart with all its emotions below the surface which become feelings as we are aware of them, and these too are continuously rising up without our will necessarily, and when these become more intense or chaotic or unruly or troubling, then between the mind and the heart life can become almost unbearable.

So, in order for the Lord to teach us how to live as He did on Earth all our waking moments and in time even during our sleep, our "training ground or time" is when we meditate. Whether we meditate during the Holy Rosary or during what is called silent meditation, we are able to follow simple instructions such as those above and other variations on this theme, to retain our attention from the boiling thoughts and feelings and gently offer our attention to the Lord, to Him as personally present to us.

While pondering the Mysteries of the Rosary we focus while alternating back and forth now on the mystery and then on the words of the prayers, not straining the brain or heart at all, but gently yet firmly focusing our inner lens on the real presence of God at this very moment, and the next moment, and the next, in a flowing stream of attention and adoration with some discrete currents of suffering or enduring this process and of surrendering ourselves to the Lord in this flowing.

While praying in silent meditation, one focuses the attention on the Lord present to us at all times, and one focuses by sitting upright and still, being aware of the body and one's breathing but not thinking about them nor brooding over any feelings or thoughts that may arise, and murmuring the Name of the Lord, as in "Jesus Christ", or the Russian Pilgrim's phrase "Jesus Christ Son of the living God have mercy on me a sinner", or Dom John Main OSB's phrase from the end of the Book of Revelation "Maranatha", or some other such holy phrase. The body awareness and stillness, the calm breathing with the Name or word associating with the breath, and the act of surrender and trust involved are also an act of adoration which allow the Christian to focus all attention on the Holy Trinity in the Person of Jesus in a personal and living, loving connection.

Obviously, doing this, continuing to make the gentle effort to give all our attention to the Lord Jesus present with and in the Holy Trinity is something we cannot accomplish by our own efforts alone. Because it is God's will, the Holy Spirit inspires, motivates, strengthen, leads, and guides us in our efforts and allows us to slowly become like Jesus and remain ever aware and mindful of the Father's love. God is ever present now in the Person of Jesus and is ever actually touching us and sustaining us in life from within while we in a true way "touch" Jesus with our focusing attention, however it may waver and seem chaotic or troubled.

Our poor efforts though carried by the grace of the Holy Spirit may seem to us to be sporadic, chaotic, focused then dispersed, succeeded by efforts to focus again, then distracted and so on... but we don't worry about the quality of our efforts, because this too would be giving our attention to thoughts and feelings, whereas we want to give ALL of our attention to Jesus and his love, not to our own self in all its poverty and self obsession....

So, as we go along and thoughts and feelings seize our attention, we simply acknowledge what's happening as it happens, seeing our thoughts and feelings for what they are without judgement, accepting what we're thinking and feeling at the moment. We neither approve nor disapprove of our thoughts and feelings but merely acknowledge them as real, as ours, and as present in us at this moment. Then in the very act of accepting thoughts and feelings as ours and simply allowing them to be as they are, we refuse to brood over them or to react to them or to give them any more attention in any way. Instead, we take our inner awareness and capacity to focus our attention and offer it all to the Lord and try to remain focused on Him. This is what makes such silent meditation an act of worship and adoration, giving God the first place.

As we do, we allow Jesus to exercise his lordship in our life and to work on the thoughts and feelings bouncing around inside us. While we try to remain focused on Jesus, those thoughts and feelings may clamor for our attention and we simply suffer them to be there but consign them to the background. We accept to endure them increasingly from a distance as we refuse them any more attention after having briefly noticed and accepted them as ours and let them be as they are without any fuss. It is while we engage in this process of suffering and surrender and remain focused on the Lord that He can deal with our thoughts and feelings and bring order, peace, and healing to us moment by moment. This entire process is a very personal and intimate form of adoration which is very pleasing to the Lord and surrenders to Him all lordship and indeed our very self.

It is very important to understand that there is infinite value through the work of the Holy Spirit in our accepting to suffer all this unwanted activity and inner turmoil . In this suffering the Holy Spirit gives us intimate communion with Jesus in his saving Passion. In our ongoing act of will - acting as gently with ourselves as we can - to surrender our will and attention to the Lord Jesus and in Him to the Holy Trinity, what is happening is that we are surrendering our will to the Father's will as Jesus did Himself.

SUFFERING our condition and offering it together with our ongoing SURRENDER of will with Jesus to the Father in the Holy Spirit, this is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian, to carry our cross, though the cross takes many forms in the course of our life of faith and hope in the love of God. It is in the course of our suffering and surrender in the Holy Spirit that the same Spirit of God can deal with our thoughts and feelings and slowly put his order, justice, and healing into them, give us rest in Jesus and strengthen our bonds of unity with the whole Body of Christ in the peace of the Holy Spirit and the love of the Father.

We can remain interiorly focused on the Lord Jesus by letting our body keep us aware of the present here and now (sitting still and quiet and being conscious of our joined hands and our breath for example) and repeating a prayer or holy phrase such as indicated above: "O my Jesus I trust in You!" or "God please help me." or "Jesus Christ Son of the living God have mercy on me a sinner." Perhaps the most powerful word is simply repeating the Name of Jesus as in "Jesus Christ"... sounding or "hearing" inside us on our out breath "Jesus" and then on our in breath "Christ".

This particular form of silent meditation is taught by Fr. Franz Jalics in his book "Contemplative Retreat" which is available at the Ignatian Center in Montreal or online at a reasonable price. His instructions are quite practical spread out over 10 days for those taking a closed retreat and over 20 weeks for those taking a retreat in the course of daily life, or simply as a reading companion for those taking it slowly by themselves. In all three of these ways of learning and practicing this way, it is good for one to meet regularly with a priest to discuss how it's going and obtain clarity with any difficulties or confusion.

In time dear friend in the Lord Jesus, as you try this and find that contemplating this way is helpful and you'd like to learn more about how to do this, you could obtain the book describing this way of being and of living our faith to connect with God. As I just described it was written to allow people to enter into a practical learning process either during a full time 10 day retreat, or on a retreat in daily life which extends a few hours a week over 20 weeks, or simply as a book to read slowly and to try to practice on your own time and according to your own rhythm.

In attempting any of these three methods, it is good to seek accompaniment and direction from a competent and well formed guide, prayer companion, or spiritual director. Such a helper must be committed to recognizing and acknowledging that the Holy Spirit is the only true Director of Souls, and that their role is only to help the one seeking guidance to be attentive to the voice of the Holy Spirit orienting them from within. Regularly Christians as well as all people of good will need help to distinguish the voice of the Holy Spirit from other voices that would mislead us away from God.

There is the voice of the ways of the world which is under the power of the "prince of this world, the devil". We are also misled by the inclinations of our flesh obsessed as it is with its own will, its own ways, and its own satisfactions. Finally, there is the tempter, Lucifer or Satan and his host of rebellious angels turned into demons, who would try to lead us astray and away from Jesus who alone is the way, the truth, and the life.

Peace and all blessings from God to you as you journey in faith and try to follow Jesus in living a contemplative life in both prayer and action.

Monday, June 22, 2015

At a wedding a priest sings a secular song with adapted lyrics

A good friend recently sent me a YouTube link showing a priest singing adapted lyrics to the tune of "Hallelujah"... written I believe originally by Leonard Cohen. I too have enjoyed listening to this tune until I could discern the lyrics, which with all due respect to Mr. Cohen I did not find necessarily inspirational....

As much as I find the music hauntingly beautiful, still, I regret to say that this performance by a priest from the Altar makes my skin crawl.... I understand that our culture has gone over the top in blissfully identifying with what we could all "performance mode"... in our fast changing pleasure driven culture even at the high points and meaningful moments of life everyone wants to perform.

However, a priest in chasuble in the sanctuary behind an altar stands not in his own name nor according to his own sentiments, however noble they may be and however much he may want to demonstrate caring for the engaged couple about to be or just previously joined in holy Matrimony, but that priests stands there first and foremost in the Person of Jesus Christ.

This is not a performance but a real time event that has its counterpart in eternity before the throne of God the Father... or however we can understand the eternal and glorious Presence of the Holy Trinity surrounded by myriads of angels and saints.... You've doubtless heard the expression "a Marriage made in Heaven"? Well that's what the Sacrament of Marriage, or Holy Matrimony, is - a couple joined simultaneously on Earth and in Heaven before God.

The chasuble is the garment in which the priest most solemnly represents Jesus at the Last Supper, with the Risen Lord bringing us now present to that moment and experience of his self offering at the Last Supper and and simultaneously to the moment of his self offering on the Cross on Calvary. Because Jesus is risen from the dead He is not a past historical figure but the Living One present at this very moment both on Earth and in Heaven and everywhere simultaneously in the universe and beyond it....

Jesus is both fully human, a man, and the Son of God; so that his offering of Himself at the Last Supper and on the Cross is a perfect offering of divine love, and as such, it is a self offering that is ongoing, not yet finished, until the very last human being will have lived and died and the last day has arrived and the Lord will come in final triumph of divine love over evil.

Even if the Marriage Rite were celebrated without Eucharist and so not in a chasuble for the priest but in alb and stole or alb and cope, this would still not be an appropriate time for a priest to perform. It is dignified, meaningful, and appropriate for other people to play music and sing to accompany in a meaningful way parts of the Liturgy, again with the entire focus of both lyrics and music on the Lord Jesus, the Word being spoken by God, and the High Priest who joins the engaged couple in the Sacrament of Marriage. A church sanctuary built around an Altar, which represents Christ the Rock upon whom we are lifted up to offer our lives also with Him to the Father; it may resemble a stage but it is never a stage for performance only.

If my comments offend anyone's sensibilities, I am sorry for that, but the truth must be told. Even if the entire world decided to do whatever "feels right" with the sacred Mysteries of our faith, I hope and pray the Lord will give me the strength to defend these Mysteries in accord with God's will as expressly manifested in our tradition and the Church's teachings, to my dying breath.