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Monday, January 26, 2015

United in prayer for Muslim people on Earth

As I read Pope Francis’ address to diplomats on the occasion of our Christmas celebration of the Nativity of Jesus and of the Holy Innocents whose deaths helped save Jesus, and his call for the Muslim world to unite in opposing those who falsely perpetrate violence in the name of religions, it occurred to me that what is happening in the Muslim world, in countries where Muslims are in the majority, is similar to what in the past happened in Germany as the National Socialist Party slowly rose to power.

The Nazis, from the first even when they were but a minor and almost insignificant party and they could have easily been snuffed out, they expertly and strategically employed harsh brutality to radiate an aura of irresistible power. With time they became increasingly audacious and dangerous; so that citizens quickly withdrew into silence, hoping that if they remained quiet and unnoticed they might escape becoming victims of that violence.

Well, they were wrong and no one escaped suffering the dire consequences of the Nazis rising to power. It seems to me that something similar is happening now, first in Muslim nations, but also on the world stage. The tactics of these new brutes employing terror to impose their agenda on others are much the same: pound to a pulp anyone who gets in the way, speaks up, or opposes, or simply kill them, and brutally, for maximum effect. Legitimate laws are abused and employed for such dishonest motives as to eliminate business competitors, or neighbors one doesn’t like, or people of another faith, or just on a whim… and those accused often don’t get a chance to get to court because the simple fact of the accusation stirs up the mob into fury and vigilante terrorist acts are perpetrated.

Lest we fall into a “holier than thou” attitude we need to remember that in our own European past, in the Middle Ages there was a practice known as the “hue and cry”. If someone raised the alarm and shouted out “thief” or “murder” or “fire” or some such trouble the people of the village or town would drop everything and come running to the sound. Once a few details were given about the alleged perpetrator, the newly excited mob would go on a rampage and seek out the party accused of the wrongdoing. It was known to happen that once the unfortunate accused was found, depending on how they appeared to the crowd, they were found to “look guilty” and beaten or even killed on the spot. It was too bad if later it was discovered that the truth was not quite as presented.

Such social mechanisms can be exploited as convenient ways to get rid of people you don’t like. In a society of law and order the truth can at some point be established and those guilty of making false accusations taken to justice. However, when a society is a theocracy – not unlike Middle Ages Europe – the power or order and justice can be wielded by those deemed to have religious authority.

In some places on Earth at this time it seems sufficient for a person to claim to speak for a god or his representative for them to enjoy the blind and total following of crowds or mobs of those well disposed to experience the “rush” of carrying out extreme actions for ideological reasons.

Even if this view of things is only partially true, don’t you think, dear reader, that our brothers and sisters, especially Muslims, living in theocratic nations, are in need of our prayerful support before God, that He may give them the light and grace they need to resist the terror tactics of this new breed of ideological power hungry fanatics?

“Father in Heaven, we pray for all those of our brothers and sisters living on Earth in our generations who are subject to fear at the sight of brutal acts carried out against neighbors or under the growing influence of individuals and groups using brutality in the name of religious ideology to eliminate those they want to get rid of, especially those of other faiths. You are the only true God, and all power is Yours, and You have given all power to your divine Son, incarnate in Jesus Christ, Risen from the dead and Judge of the nations. Have mercy, we pray on all those in fear of their lives in the face of brutality: fill them with your light and the strength of your Spirit to oppose the darkness and stand for goodness and truth. Pour out your Spirit once again upon all mankind for the humiliation of all doers of evil and for the raising up of your true children, in the holy Name of Jesus, your Son, our Lord. Amen!”

“O Mary, Our Lady of Good Counsel, Help of Christians, pray for us and for all mankind. Amen.”

You are Unique

This reflection was first posted in October 2014

You are UNIQUE
From the world’s beginning there has never been, nor will there ever be, anyone like you. No one else has your eyes, your smile, your hands or hair. Nobody in the whole universe can see things like you. You are unique.

Blessed be God our Creator who formed you from the first moment you existed in your mother’s womb. He knew half of you when your mother was being formed with all her eventual eggs in her mother’s womb – at her birth your mother already carried millions of eggs – these diminished to 40,000 by her puberty of which only 400 matured from puberty till menopause, and among them all, God picked you.

God knew the other half of you among the millions of spermatozoa – each existing for only 60 days before being reabsorbed – developed and carried over and over since puberty by your father. One unique egg developed since conception by your mother and one unique sperm briefly existing among millions in your father – each containing 23 unique chromosomes, half of you – had only 60 days to join. God saw them, He wanted you, and He brought them together to make you.

You are different from any other person who ever lived in the history of the world; you are the only person on this earth who has your specific collection of abilities.

In the whole world there will be nobody who can walk, speak, think or do things like you can. Your need to imitate somebody else is absolutely wrong because you are rare and this is your value, to be you, and with God, to become you fully.

You are unique and your life was not a mistake; please realize that God created you for a specific reason – for your own good, for the good of others, and for God.

He has a mission for you, which nobody can do as well as you can.

There are millions of activities which can be done in this world, but God has the right one for you. This is because you are unique and have the right combinations which God needs. Your life – your suffering, your love, your joy – is all in God.

That is you, an outstanding person created by an outstanding God. Love Him.

Is truth opposed to compassion?

“If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” This statement has been used in varying forms for a century or so and has become a modern idiom. We can imagine the Scribes and Pharisees employing it to criticize Jesus for showing compassion to people who had a reputation as public sinners. The tension between standing for the truth and treating with compassion and understanding those in the wrong is not a new one.

There is no doubt that we human beings need to know, respect, and be guided by the truth as it is to be found throughout creation – truth about the way things are designed by the Creator – and the truth about ourselves as creatures among others who enjoy the distinction of being endowed with intellect, conscience, a capacity for compassion, and free will. It is only logical that we live in harmony with all truth, but the human condition shows plainly that from the beginning humanity wandered away from the truth as well as from God in an attempt to take to oneself the highest authority and the prerogative of absolute or final judgement and decision making.

The dilemma and struggle of human beings is that we seek to be self-sufficient when in fact we are contingent beings, dependent on a higher power that coincides with both our origin and our destiny. The consequences of alienating ourselves from the truth is nothing less than devastating. Much if not almost all human suffering is the direct or indirect result of living in defiance of the truth and of the nature of things, as well as of our own nature. Despite our pitiable condition, there is something in us that recoils at the thought of admitting that we fall short of the idealized image we have of ourselves, which is simply an expression of our desires for higher meaning and purpose for our lives.

And so it happens that there develops a disconnect between our life as it truly is – which is generally visible to others if not to ourselves – and our life as we want it to be. We can congratulate ourselves on having attained certain measures of order, discipline, health, success, and any other quality while at the same time denigrating those who manifest lesser measures of those same qualities. We can judge others and attribute to them motives and dispositions that would make them blameworthy and fit for punishment or deserving of the host of unhappy circumstances that may be theirs.

The alternative to such attitudes and treatment of others is to consider instead not so much the other’s circumstances, faults, failures, or sin, as rather their value as a person, their dignity in God’s eyes, and their potential for excellence and perfection. This is the approach Jesus of Nazareth took towards all others from the poorest to the richest, from those in authority to those of no status or consequence, and He formed his disciples to treat everyone equally, in the same way, in accord with instructions given by God in the Old Testament to Moses to judge without partiality of any kind.

It is true that in his teaching, Jesus was firmly in harmony with his Jewish Tradition and with the Jewish Scriptures. In fact, his enemies could never fault Him and when they wanted to put Him to death they needed to produce false witnesses to mount a fictitious and malicious case against Him. 

 It is also true that Jesus seemed to put aside concern for debating the truth when He was faced with a sinner, public or private. With real people before Him, Jesus shifted his focus away from defense of the Law to the value of the person and treated them in a way coherent with their dignity in God’s eyes. Jesus respected each person's responsibility to direct their own life and to allow God to form their conscience, and He evidently respected the time frame that is unique to each person.

He did not belabor the person’s faults even when these were blatantly apparent, but rather took into consideration the humiliation the person may have already suffered. He gave people the benefit of the doubt that they hoped to stop sinning and reform themselves and did not make any demands of them, nor do we have much evidence that Jesus followed sinners up to assure that they were holding up their end of the bargain after having been forgiven, with perhaps the exception of the man He healed whom He met again in the Temple and whom He warned not to sin again lest something worse befall him. So Jesus took seriously public declarations and teaching about the truth, but then He manifested God’s own respect for human freedom and patience with our behavior.

There are two primacies at work here: the primacy of the truth and the primacy of the freedom of conscience and free will. Truth and free will are not in opposition, nor do they trump each other in any way. Conscience and will are on a journey to enter into perfect coherence with truth, and that is the work of a lifetime. Human beings do not have the absolute power of divine will to once and for all make themselves perfect by a sheer act of will.

Instead, we must carry the cross of our weakened will and disturbed conscience, and come to grips with the reality that God clearly intends to allow our suffering and sin to drive us back into his loving arms. Divine Mercy is the only lasting solution to our agony.That God forgives does not give us license to do anything without regard for value or consequences, for that would be folly, and it would be self destructive and offensive to God, and therefore injurious to our relationship with our Creator. Each person must accept to carry their own cross, their own burden of responsibility for the freedom and dignity bestowed upon them by God, and no one can or should meddle with that freedom and responsibility.

The one major exception to this is the case of public wrong or scandal or of the abuse or harm of others, especially minors, the handicapped, or other persons in conditions of vulnerability. We as a whole community are responsible, and those in authority all the more responsible, to intervene in cases of sin where one is injuring others, scandalizing the innocent, or abusing those unable to come to their own defense. A quick stop must be immediately put to violence and abuse of any kind that exploits the vulnerable and innocent among us, especially children and those in a position to expect respect from those having authority over them at their service. Relations involving fiduciary trust, such as the trust given to clergy, medical professionals, teachers, coaches, parents, and others who because of their role must acknowledge that those putting trust in them are put in a vulnerable stance by virtue of that trust, that fiduciary trust, the trust of one accepting to serve another.

At all times, like Jesus, we have responsibility to care for others, to do our part in upholding the truth, accept to journey with one another, to give and to receive formation and mentoring, and to do it all with an attitude of charity and compassion, which, as the Apostles taught, truly considers others to be better than oneself. I am the sinner that I know the best; so it stands to reason that I am the worst sinner that I know. As for other sinners, I don’t really know what is inside them and what manner of struggles or efforts are theirs; so only God is competent to judge.

For this reason no one is entitled to “jump on another” on the basis of observable behavior, with the exception of cases of abuse or exploitation of vulnerable persons as mentioned above. For all other cases not involving the obligation of public intervention for the protection of the vulnerable, Jesus gave us a protocol in Matthew 18:15-20 for fraternal correction. 
We are to speak to the other privately first so that we can try to reach some understanding in complete mutual respect. If the person refuses to listen, we can return with a few witnesses and try again to reach some understanding about the apparent fault. If they still refuse to listen, then we can approach them with and through the community leadership, and try again to achieve reconciliation for the good of all. If the parties still refuses to listen, Jesus says, we are to treat them as Gentiles or tax collectors. This doesn’t mean to treat them like dirt, but rather, to treat them like potential seekers that are temporarily lost.
The Jewish Temple had a Court of the Gentiles so that Gentile seekers could come in and chat with devout Jews and find their way to God. This is why Jesus cleansed the Temple, to restore the Court of the Gentiles to its original purpose in God’s plan. Tax collectors too were simply lost children of Israel, as shown by Jesus’ treatment of Zacchaeus when this man gave a little sign of interest in Jesus.

Pope Francis calls us to adopt and practice the same attitudes as Jesus and consider strangers and sinners simply as children of God who are temporarily lost, who are potential seekers of God. This is why he constantly calls us to go to the “peripheries” of life, where such people live, and make ourselves a neighbor to them and open ourselves to friendship with them. In telling the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the question Jesus put to the lawyer who was trying to entrap Him was, “Which of these men made himself a neighbor to the man beaten by thieves?”

When our interlocutors agree that our discussion is a debate about the truth, then we can give ourselves wholeheartedly to vigorous debate and highlight all that we can muster from creation to the Sacred Scriptures to persuade those who in our view may be in ignorance of certain elements of the truth. However, when the people we meet or are chatting with have no intention or desire of debating the truth but are merely struggling with the truth in the circumstances of their life, they are not at that point in need of debate or eloquent defenses of the truth, but like the people Jesus met, they are in need of someone willing to make himself or herself a good neighbor, a friend, someone who can put aside obsession with ideal truths and activate human compassion for the truth embedded in a suffering fellow human being.

People all have an innate capacity to discern the light shining from the Holy Trinity, and a willingness to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit. When the troubles of life and the confusion caused by sin, suffering, and human frailty impede a person’s progress in seeking God, the Holy Trinity are counting on our compassion to touch people in pain and trouble.

Our willingness to accept them as they are and to love them as they are – as God constantly does for us – is the instrumentation that God needs to continue doing his work in souls. The Holy Trinity are constantly at work, 24 / 7, and we are merely workers of the last hour. When we touch other people’s lives, we are merely arriving at the last moment after God has already been working in their lives for years, decades….
For this reason in approaching others we need to tread lightly, with great humility and consideration, and the faith that holds and respects that the primary work in other souls is being done by God. If God has needed forty years to bring a certain truth to my attention, who am I to attempt to shove such a truth down another person’s throat NOW, just because I decide they should adhere to it now?