Saturday, November 28, 2015

Open Heart, Open Mind, Open Life

The individual who is Catholic is not the point of his religion. To be Catholic is not merely to be able to say, I am Catholic. To be Catholic is to believe and act in ways established by the Catholic Church, in accordance with the scriptures.

One does not feel one's way into Catholicism, though Catholicism places as high a value on feeling as it does on thought. Neither can one simply work out being Catholic, or think one's way into it. If one could do so, then Catholicism would be a merely a solution to the problem of not-being-Catholic. Being Catholic would be an accomplishment, a milestone, a club. Of course, thoughts and feelings can operate independently of each other, but they find common ground in the function of belief. Better yet, belief requires both. A person must know what it is they believe and is even driven to know it better; one feels belief, as a lover is drawn to the beloved. Religions aim, after all, to prepare and support individual persons in exalted experiences. Combining catechism and worship, a Catholic might both know and adore God. The depth of this experience should increase over time, as one functions as a Catholic, first in having chosen to be Catholic, then learning to live as a Catholic.

I have been thinking about what the Open of OpenCatholic signifies. I do this slightly nervously, as the notion of the blog and platform came to me quite early in my Catholicism. Over the first year or two, I engaged in my fair share of wrestling with the faith, though looking back at posts I am surprised by their orthodoxy. What I have learned since those early days has informed my decision but does not point out any critical errors of how I became Catholic, or how I lived at that time. I am glad for that.

But the term "Open"...well, I think I understood that term somewhat simplistically. I viewed the Open of OpenCatholic in linear fashion, as both a point or juncture of confession of one's obligation to serve others; or as a kind of potential sacrifice to the views of others. My analogy by Parable is the Good Samaritan of Luke 10:25-37. The Samaritan opens himself to the needs of the robbery victim while opening himself to possible danger and distress. This is what I read and what was explicated. And while I was relatively new to the Catholic Church, I was old to life, and felt I should advance my commitment  to the Church and the way of life she had shown me.

The Church is open to anyone who is inclined to follow the teachings of the Church. The one who follows those teachings must commit to being open, likewise. That commitment s realized in love of one's neighbor as oneself.  In sharing what is of value, regardless of the cost. One should share with one's neighbor and one should sacrifice to God. One owes, in both directions, as it were, and that owing is not a mere debt to be paid once, but is a perpetual state, or way of being, endemic to the way of the Lord. In this interpretive model, one exists at the center, God to one side, one's neighbor to the other, and oneself serving both in equal measure.

But, as I said, I think my understanding of Open was simplistic in that I understood the listening aspect in advance of exactly how I could help, or better still, how I should. If I am open to another, and that person seeks help, how do I respond? What do I go on? Do I respond from feelings and life experience, or do I respond as I understand the Church would respond? What it means, to be open about who one is, is pretty clear, or is it? If what one is, as I say above, is a way of being rather than a simple point of view, then being open about oneself, about what it is to be Catholic, means clearly, visibly, obviously, to 'act in ways established by the Catholic Church, in accordance with the scriptures.'

And, to be open to others, a person's hopes, thoughts, and beliefs, is not merely to listen. To advertise oneself as an "open" person, a student, a sympathetic ear. a nice guy, but to engage, respond, assist and act, again, 'in ways established by the Catholic Church, in accordance with the scriptures.'

Viewed from this perspective, being Open does not seem like much fun, or very interesting. It seems self-conscious and not really "open" at all. Why is that?

I think that, when confronted with the sight of the robbery victim at the side of the road, the Good Samaritan did not stop to consult a checklist, or worry how he should respond. We can be sure that is how the Priest and Levite reacted. They judged that they were not under an obligation to help. They recognized the situation, the man's predicament. They were "open" to the facts, but not to give of themselves. Neither to act with charity, nor to open themselves to whatever dangers and distress and cost might be occasioned. But the Samaritan "was moved with compassion" at the sight. And because the Samaritan was willing to be open to the promptings of his own heart, we approached the man, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. He was not done. He took him to an inn and cared for him, staying the night. The next day, he gave the innkeeper to silver coins to pay for his care, promising to repay any expenses incurred when he came back after his travels.

So far, so good. The linear model is intact, with the Good Samaritan at the center. The heart, the conscience of the Samaritan clearly prompted him to be Good, while his understanding and intelligence assisted him in actions purely to the benefit of the robbery victim.

But what led the Samaritan to possess an open heart, a good and active conscience? It can only have been God. But this is not the easy-to-locate God at the end of a linear model where the Christian stands at the center dispensing Goodness, albeit by the Grace of God. No, it is a God that encompasses the model itself, and all persons represented there.

It is an instructive marvel of scripture, and one much overlooked, that the Parables include good, kind, God-fearing persons, like the Samaritan, whose faith is not in communion with Judeo-Christianity. The lesson to be drawn underlies the concept of Openness as a moral position, and as a means and way of life: an open heart, an attitude of welcoming; an enthusiastic, unwavering commitment to help others, especially those unknown to oneself, is not an option for a Catholic. We are instructed to follow the example of the Samaritan, to "do likewise."

We are led to an inevitable conclusion. That good behavior is its own reward, regardless of the basis or grounds that led one to act. I think that the Open of OpenCatholic withstands investigation only as my understanding of the implications deepens, to move beyond the two-way street of being Open with who I am, and Open to others.

Openness is more than this. It contains a vertical measure of depth, and that depth is God. As the Parable of the Good Samaritan teaches, we should recognize in others the good they do as a good in itself, however it arises. We do not exist only to announce our faith and serve others, but to be served. To be open to the intelligence, the service, the good of others, especially those we do not know.

There are two heroes in the Parable. The Good Samaritan, to be sure, and also the robbery victim, who by his circumstance drew from the Samaritan such a measure of goodness that it should serve as a golden mean for all time. We wonder at those occasions that draw from us acts of charity - someone in need, an accident, perhaps a beggar's outstretched hand. Catholics are taught to see the work of God in these occasions, and so they should. God is not a point we turn to but is an encompassing being that envelops all states of being, past, present, and future.

The depths and aspects revealed to us by the Parable of the Good Samaritan should prompt in us an ecumenical response. Ecumenicism is not a response to the world as it is, but is written into the Catholic faith. It would dismay any Catholic, I assume, to suggest that God maintains a list of Haves and Have-Nots. That mere belonging to the Catholic Church was a ticket to paradise.

God, I suggest, likely has a rather more liberal view of what constitutes the Universal Church than any we might construct in our minds. To all such notions and suggestions, I trust in an open view. That I confess who I am. That I acknowledge who you are. That I accept what is Good as being from God, regardless of source, pretext, or the person responsible. And in all I am immersed in the being of God, as was the Good Samaritan, to whom I open myself as one in need of care. I am prompted therefore to give thanks not merely for what is but for what I do not and cannot know. There is much, to be sure. I hope I am open to that aspect of living in my faith.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

You are the Peace

The terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13 took the breath out of body continually exhausted from worldwide violence. I found myself unwilling or incapable of commenting or responding to the comments of others, however wise and well-informed. Praying was the only thing I could do with a clear conscience, though prayer did not help to make sense, to form the chaos into a recognizable shape.

At Vigil Mass last night, I found sense in the form of the Tabernacle. Not relief, but form. The house of the Lord seemed somehow to dispel the mists from my mind, or at least presented a kind of blank surface on which I could organize my thoughts.

This morning, with news of yet another terrorist attack, this one in Kenya, it occurred to me that humanity has betrayed itself and will continue to do so until it recognizes that it can be saved only with the help of God. This is a defensible statement, but only that: a statement. There is nothing in the statement that suggests anything more than that the writer thinks he knows something that others do not. Even as the statement focuses on God, it is a critique of humanity, and therefore inherently flawed, for I am not qualified to criticize humanity and can only be a hypocrite when I do so.

But before I got to this point, I recalled that Jesus never speaks of humanity. He speaks to individuals. He speaks to you. He speaks of himself, and the Father, and he speaks to persons individually. Even in a group address, He speaks to the individual. The only instances I can recall of group generalization are his condemnation of pharisees, etc., but even there he is addressing individuals in a group that are there before him, and who surely recognize themselves under that title.

Jesus speaks from God, the Father. We are called to do the same. Not to speak merely of God, but from God. This guiding principal should guide all our speech on matters great and small. Certainly it should mark the spot from which we speak on important matters, those which concern life and death.

Now, these statement give the impression that wisdom is simply a matter of switching one's focus from "of God" to "from God" and behold the Truth. If only that were so! We can never be sure from where we speak, and we can not know the wisdom of our words. The heart moves in a distinct yet subtle orbit. What I write here in this blog is after the fact of having offered the only observation I am capable of with respect to the recent terrorist attacks. That observation, which I posted to Facebook, was this:

You are the solution. What you do. What is in your heart. What you give, whom to, and whom for. You are the solution, only you. That has never changed and will never change. That is the gift and the glory. That is the price you must pay for life. The world needs you and you alone, today. We need you now.

 This statement is not one I would be capable of speaking from myself as an observer or critic of the human condition, whatever perspective I might choose or labor under. It is not a clever observation. It is a personal plea and an affirmation of the person to whom I offer the plea.

That person is, of course, you.

That person is the same one we encounter in scripture, especially in the words of Jesus Christ. That encounter made a Christian out of me. I am not particularly concerned, in the statement above, that you be Christian or not. I do not speak to qualifications. I speak, at the reach of  this moment, to solutions in a crisis, as humanity bends to destroy itself, and hate poisons the air.

We all have the experience of crisis in family, of watershed moments after which a general understanding is achieved, and peace reigns. Humanity is in need of such an experience, but it cannot happen unless or until you are open to exactly that experience. This means speaking from your heart to others, sharing your gifts, with faith, hope, and charity. This means abandoning pretense, putting aside mere opinions and theories and
proud metaphors, and making yourself available, now, today, to heal others, one at a time.

To bring someone - anyone - to the point of knowing that that one person is the solution, too.

Peace to all.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Of Easter Repairs and Writing in the Faith

I am working, slowly. Oh so slowly, on the third book for OpenCatholic, titled Easter Repairs. So far, it is constituted of five pages of what amount to aphorisms. I wrote today this:

Writing
is the first thing one does
when what one wants to do
is impossible.

Reading this after having written it, it seems to invite conditions or improvements, which is good, as it resists conditioning as well. I would not say "good writing" as I prefer that the reader supply the modifier; I would not say "seems impossible" as seeming deflates the act and makes the experience disingenuous. We do not act on seeming needs. They are genuine as nothing else quite is. The aphorism is good. The center holds, even as it vibrates.

***

I love the religious life, and I am capable of dwelling within it. I am as capable of dwelling in the parameters of my faith as many who call it their life. I act as a minister at Mass - as Server or Lector. And I observe my faith, literally, as the fount of my existence. I would die for the Lord as surely as I live for Him. I would die, too, for you, who read these words, or who pass them by....

To die, for all, that they might be saved, would be impossible for anyone but God, who did exactly that, at an historic point in the life of the universe, about two thousand years ago on a hilltop in Jerusalem.

I digress, but I do not circumvent. My point is not that I find it impossible to be right, and so I write. I find it impossible to do all that is before me as a priority, and so I write. Sometimes, I pray. But tonight I write.

I learned to write before I learned to pray. I wrote before I was married, had a child, or became Catholic.

I started writing at that age, late teens, when a young man or woman who has no politics or belief to which they can turn instead turns outward with their heart, in the best words they can find, in poems or song, or story, to be confirmed and understood.

So, yes. Writing is a form of prayer. There is no mystery that St. Paul should be considered a great writer, and an Apostle.

***

I said, I love the religious life. And that is true. I ask nothing of it. I have no requests or ambitions or thoughts of anything other than what is before me. I will confess that I would like to be less visible than I am now, but that is a silly, hypocritical looking thing to say as I post it in a blog! haha. Maybe it would be better to say, I am happy to see others do the things I do, knowing that I will pass from this life and that the foretaste of this passage is sweet. Sweeter than life itself.

Amen


Saturday, October 24, 2015

Confession and Care

It has been on my mind, to confess. To confess anything I do that varies from the teaching of the Church. It has been on my mind, because I have it in my power not to be a hypocrite. All I needed to do was lay aside my pride in opinions. I have now done so. I am immensely relieved.

I have no argument with anyone, least of all the Catholic Church. There. I said it. I have no abiding, legitimate interest in what passes for many as critical issues of individual rights. I care for legal equality, it is true, but I do not carry the yardstick. I am not who you should turn to for a bright opinion of who has been wronged and by whom. No, that is not my concern. I care, but by a measure I cannot claim for myself, except as I acknowledge it.

I care, as the Catholic Church cares, for a truth that is reflected first and last in the life of Jesus Christ. In his divine origin, his ministry on earth, his Passion and death on the Cross, his Resurrection, and in the promise of His return.

That is my social agenda. That is my commentary on men, women, marriage, abortion, war, homosexuality, poverty, art, business, you name it. If you want to know what I believe, ask the Vatican. Phone the Pope. Check the Catechism. 

If you want to know how I feel about you, personally, I have a ready answer for that as well.

I love you more than life itself, and I would give my life to save you in the eyes of the Lord.

I pray for the strength to continue to confess the truth of my life to my Church, and to others the truth of my love for them.

Amen.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Mindful, Write

I am a terrible writer. I don't do any good at all. I have nothing good to offer. I sow confusion and dismay. I should never write again.

I have thoughts such as these. I have thoughts like these and feel like they are good humble thoughts. And I know other writers have similar thoughts.

To simply live as Christians.
To eschew writing and art as being unworthy of the example of Christ.

Do these statements seem humble to you?

They seem like good, humble thoughts when I think them, but when I write them out, they appear stupid, vain, and absurd.

There is nothing worse for a writer than not to write. 

Not writing is not to one's credit. It is an act of supreme judgement of oneself and condescension toward others in that, by not revealing oneself - in not being honest about what one is - one somehow helps them.

I can save no one, and I can damn nobody. 

I can only be who and what I am, to the best of my ability.

What is faith?

To live as oneself in full knowledge and acceptance that one's life belongs to God. Besides that, there are no rules. We know that painting, music, poetry, dance, in all forms past present and future are reflections of the spirit. We know this, and yet we doubt ourselves.

What can I add?

That I am no more inclined toward sorrow for overreaching my station - by doubting myself - than I would be by never questioning my habits, practices, or purpose. Every day is a fresh life and, more than that, every moment. Can we doubt this, who take communion? 

Write, mindful. Trust God.

Lord, give me the strength to make a fool of myself as an artist, or, God willing, to make sense, here and there, as the Spirit allows.

Amen.


Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Catholic Writer - Why Bother?

It seems to me both Right and Just to wonder sometimes why I bother writing about Catholicism or myself in Catholicism at all. Not because of the usual authorly insecurites, but simply and patently obviously because, What have I to offer?

If a Catholic, or near-Catholic, or non-Catholic - if my son, for Pete's sake - were to ask me where to go to read about my faith I certainly would not point them here. To write about "religion" in any way strikes at my heart as the greatest possible imposition and display of lack of faith. What. Scripture isn't enough? The Gospel, the letter of Paul, et al. The Roman Catholic Catechism doesn't suffice? Really. You don't say?

So. Let's do this. Let me say that this entire blog, all columns, postings, opinions, relations, and assertions are offered in the way of prayer. That is all. I can testify that I have written nothing without close thought and consideration of the Church, to be sure. But after all, my errors are many. My presumption is clear as day. I mean no disrespect. God forbid that I should negate or seem to want to erase his Word. Though, to be sure, I am guilty of confusion.

How can one write about God and not confuse?

At best, one who writes about religion or from their experience might - might - provide a kind of personal support or maybe - maybe - prompt a heart to come closer to God in that person's experience. All this is of course by the Grace of God through the Holy Spirit, that proceeds through God the Father and the Son.

Who am I, as a writer, except what I am by the grace of God?

In this light, writing about God is a form of modeling. Just like service at Mass. Our priest, Father John Boyle, insists that men serve in part that they may model reverence for the Lord. Is this not why we kneel for the consecration? Is it not why we bow our heads at the mention of His name? Of course it is. And so, we who write, write in the same frame of mind, to model engagement with God in the sphere of the written word.

I think that writing of this sort should be something like, when you go to Mass, seeing someone you know and trust in the pews, who you see just about every Sunday, who does a bit of this or that as a volunteer, who sings and prays out loud, who you want to talk to after Mass because they know your name and have a sense of humor.

In truth, thinking this way, I would give anything to attend Mass with every person who has even clicked on this blog. Of course, I believe that one day I will do just that.

Thank you, all. And may the Lord have mercy on all of us. Amen.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Intersect: Now: Faith and Art

It is interesting to me where the water flows in a life. Or decisions, the manner of viewing and deciding. What form of person individuals become, choosing this or that, or having been chosen by nature/nurture, by a force higher/lower than nature.

I am interested in this pattern where one lives, produces this or that, then dies. Such behavior is not exclusive to anyone. We are judged saviors or fools by those we likewise assess according to aspects of their effect.

My method concerning form is, by this time, something other than a means or end. It is the thing I breathe into. Like my belief in God, I was born for this and in this I will die. It has been paintings and poems. It is now more often prayers and service. I am not one to distinguish without discernment.

It never gets old, does it. Watching people and wondering. Hemingway did this, and Proust. The Lord did this, though with the disarming habit of knowing the person before or in the moment of speaking with them. I recall in particular Matthew (the tax collector) and the Samaritan woman at the well. So, we say God knows us like this. As we are. And loves us as we are. I say this with respect to my life and my work. I often know it as I encounter it, or before. And I am not surprised in light of the injunction to love others as myself. I read "love" as "know."

The task is the goal: pure empathy.

Is this factored by age? I guess. It is certainly factored by living. Hard. And by the belief that naught is for aught. Early on I perceived that end results might serve a purpose not one's own. Thank you, Richard Nixon.

God bless you, Dr. Martin Luther King. God bless you, Robert Kennedy.

I tip my hand. Born in 1959 I was witness to the best and brightest shot down by hate. And I wept, a ten-year old in Atlanta, Georgia. That I grew up in a family that eschewed religion will surprise no one of my generation. That I should eventually come to the Catholic Church should surprise even less.

This posting is about art and God, I guess. If asked, I would say I hope I have not abandoned my youthful belief in Great Things - for poetry, art, life. And religion. I think that my friends must wonder sometimes, for I have accomplished nothing "great" in the arts. My life appears to be very conventional, with family and career and church.

I do not routinely rage against the dying of the light. Not in public anyway. In fact, I rather pity the sentiment.

Rage? Me? Why?

As an artist, I look around and am simply delighted at the activity, and exploring, and inclusiveness, and sheer quality and diversity of work. I do not think poetry and art has ever been better served than it is right now. Add music to that portfolio while we are at it.

And, as a Catholic, I know that when I die I will fall into the arms of our Lord, Jesus Christ, to do with me what He will. And I'm okay with that.

So, what would you think about me if I complained? Fighting for the rights of self-hood is the prerogative of the young (and the under-privileged/under-represented), who need to fight to claim the truth of their time! No one profits by a middle-aged white man complaining, either about art, culture, or religion. May my peers take note!

But maybe I am weak. Perhaps I should rage, as Dylan Thomas suggested. I will take that charge to heaven too, along with all the others, both what I have done and what I failed to do. I make that choice though, ultimately, the water may flow one way rather than the other.

Peace to all.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

New to What is Old

I am new to what is old, a kind of intruder, though I have been here before. Under other guises. As student, poet, artist, person, but that was not enough. It is never enough simply to be oneself, to be what has been handed to you, the easy gather of life, without having reached for what is universal to all, to what is true.

So I am new to what is old in living rather than simply being. Living, as knowing, being "in relation to" what is old.

What is old? What is true.

I wonder, I smile, at efforts and actions to recapture what was as being somehow more true than being as is. I wonder how a person can know God while holding opinions of what was as anything more authentic than what is.

What are we if not that person who listens to the heart? We could only be interpreters, or magicians, or performers.

Christ was present. We know this. We are called to be Christ. Be present.

I am new to what is old, for what is old is true. So I am new to Christ, who is present. What is merely passed is not present. But Christ is present.

All things are made new, through Christ. There is nothing old that is new except that is it is Christ.

This is the Mass, where He is real and present.

And so we are compelled to leave opinions and presentiments behind, as the fruit sheds the husk. In Church, mountaintop, or battlefield, in the midnight hour, in the bright light of noon on a summer's day, we are new to what is old when we lay our self aside, that fugitive clothing, and enter into the body of Christ as He enters us.

This is life. The true life. And it occurs now at this very present moment, in you.

There are no preconditions. How could there be? Why would there be? What tests would a father propose to a child who asks only to be understood.

Recall those who encountered the Lord. Say what is in your heart and follow all who are true as they allow what is true in their heart.

  • Listen, who has ears to listen.
  • See, who has eyes to see.
  • Know, who has the heart to allow what only the heart can confess.

Amen

Saturday, July 4, 2015

What, this Day, is Religion?

What is religion? Let’s answer this question in as few words as possible allowing, first ,that God exists. Religion is the means of placing oneself in proportion to all things. By “placing” I mean understanding, comprehending, one’s self as one defines that term. The meaning of “self” can be perfectly flexible in this definition.

In a religion, one has the ambition, the hope, and, with a certain effort, the experience of knowing oneself in relation to the universe. This is a strong claim, but it is the promise of religion, its ultimate allure.

The stipulation that this definition assumes that God exists is established for this reason, that those who do not profess that He exists tend, strongly, to view religion in terms of secondary effects or even those further removed from its ultimate purpose. Religion is not ritual. Ritual prompts awareness and placement. Religion is not this or that social effect. Religion, as I have defined it, has only occasional interest in society.

Religion and society intersect, react, and part. Society, or the political (these are interchangeable terms) offers, like religion, a means of placing oneself, as one is placed in society, in its various modes, but one is not defined by society. One cannot make that choice. But in worship of God, one can make that choice. One can know oneself in proportion to all things.

Education, for instance, is an element of society. Through education one can know the world (in its own material terms), or parts thereof, in proportion to one’s capacity for knowledge and interest in knowing. One can know oneself to this or that extent, in material terms. But one cannot locate one’s place in proportion. Education is absent on the issue of value, except to neutralize that category by assigning all things equal importance as they inform the assumption that the universe is, principally, a material enterprise.

If religion did not offer what I suggest, why would it exist? We would have knowledge of the world and leave it at that. Some religions, or their adherents, are a bit uncomfortable with the ultimate power of God, or His non-assignability, and try mightily to give Him only a portion of the ultimate perspective that is His. Perhaps this phenomenon, which is recent to the last few hundred years, is an effect of the promises of education being taken too literally. I couldn’t say. I do know that the surgeon who saves a life likely could not fix the instruments he used to repair you, so perhaps that’s all there is to it.

Art is another element of society that offers great promise. Like religion, one can assign proportions to the world. Unlike education per se one cannot know oneself however. Art offers no avenues for self-knowledge except as one is aware of oneself producing art (and assigning those proportions). The random, often poor behavioral choices of artists support this analysis. Self-knowledge in art is an accident just as societal correspondence in religion is occasional.

It is not the business of religion to be important. It need only be true to itself in order for the individual to assume knowledge of him or herself in proportion to all things. The importance of this relationship relies on the values assigned faith. More on that later.

Naturally, one sees religion in societal aspects, and it is there that religion fails time and time again. One cannot be complete in society without being a crushing bore. But then one should not feel compelled to be complete in society if one is true to one’s religion.

Being a Roman Catholic, any illustration of these points would rely on the words and actions of the Lord, Jesus Christ. Panning over the events of the Gospels, the Lord, who we can allow is perfectly proportioned with respect to all things, takes little interest in anything outside the purview of God. To the point, he takes no notice. He appears colossally indifferent to the classes, genders, or jobs that persons embody or occupy. The burning social issues of his days on earth appear largely to have focused on the Roman occupation. In the one instance where he is called to comment on any aspect of this local, temporal social occurrence, he comments thus: Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s. This statement we can hold to apply, indeed, to any aspect of the social/political. The statement would not be there unless we were expected to draw exactly that inference.

Again. Unless God were the center of all things, where we are called to know HIm and ourselves in perfect proportion to all things, including each other, then why would he exist?

One can believe oneself to be right, but that is not the same things as knowing oneself.

What I have written here was done so to lead to this point, this question and concern. If religion can offer such a powerful means of knowing oneself, then why is it failing? I mean, why do fewer people call themselves religious, or go to Church? If religion is so great, what about the Catholic clergy pedophilia abuses? If religion is so terrific, why is it so out of touch on human rights, including the rights of women and homosexuals?

I offer a response.

While religion offers the means of placing oneself in proportion to all things, not everyone takes advantage of this truth. Most people who practice religion do so for a variety of reasons, some of them based on society/politics. Their motives, like their lives, are mixed. They follow a religion, and are positioned to know themselves in relation to God, to the infinite, the perfect. To know themselves in relation to the unknowable - that is, in proportion to all things, but they know too much else, or interact with too much that is other, or have difficulty separating what is Caesar’s from what is God’s not to make fools of themselves. That is, to be perfect hypocrites.

Religious hypocrisy is the result of a heart for God and mind for the world. It is the sign of a split, of a very imperfect faith. Our Lord saves his most scathing comments for the hypocrites, the Pharisees who pretend to serve God while advancing their very material, societal/political interests. And we see this kind of behavior in the religious as they worry over society. And when those who do this are leaders (priests, etc.) then others are drawn to feel that they should do the same. They take their eyes off God.

So, here is my point.

If religion is the means of placing oneself in proportion to all things, then religion is the only way to counter the problems of the religious, just as it is the only way to know oneself in proportion to the social/political. The self is ultimately founded on this principle: that we are granted free will. We are each called to exercise our will in obedience to God.

One can choose to know God. I would say that we are born with this knowledge and that even as society/education may suggest alternatives to the religious, that even as we deny God, He hears our denial as a prayer. I believe that any thought or sentence that includes “God” serves as a call to God, who knows all and loves us as a father loves a child.

At this point, I offer another definition, which is that religion is the practice of faith, and that the expression of faith is the practice of religion, however slight or faint. I will also say that an honest sentence or utterance that invokes God in any light - in supplication, fear, anger, or in any attempt at understanding (even a reducible attempt) - is of equal importance than church attendance, etc.

In short, the utterance of one’s heart is the only voice God hears.

I believe that nothing written here is heretical in any way or contradicts principal tenets of any religion. But I am not really writing about religion, am I? Religion is not my concern, because I believe in God. I have no problem with religion, and I have no problem with society. After all, there is nothing wrong with society being, well, social.

So, what do I say, ultimately? I can say nothing that my religion does not say, and my religion says this:

  • Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.
  • Pray constantly.

We do this, who live hard. We who love society and who love God. Who exhaust ourselves at our job, our family, ourselves. Who hope for understanding. We do this. We have nothing to be ashamed of, even as we make mistakes and ask for forgiveness from those we hurt.

We do this, who care, and choose to act on that care.

Is religion in trouble? If you define religion as church attendance, then you are in trouble, because you misapprehend the purpose of religion. Is society in trouble? If you define the social/political as all-encompassing then you are in trouble, because you misunderstand what it is to be human.

I have nothing to say that has not been said. I say, Live well and be humble and in that find the strength to love, forever.

Amen.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

SCOTUS Reflections after Mass

I am not a fighter. I was taught to fight, but I had to be pushed, and I have fought, out of frustration and anger and ignorance. But I am a lousy fighter. Actually, that's not true. I won my fights, but I have no more understanding of fighting, now, than I ever had before.

I may, now, argue for or defend others, but I do not have it in me to argue with those who are not angry. I do not argue, though perhaps I should. I admire people who argue well. They do a lot of good in this world!

So I do not argue for Christ. That must seem pretty lame, but it's true. I take exception to acts of exclusion and disregard, true, but I can't carry on a discussion. Or maybe that's not true. I think, in some ways, my behavior conducts argument and discussion, but I don;t want to try and explain that right now.

I'm thinking about the SCOTUS decision on marriage being allowed gays, and how lovely it is. A day later, I serve at church and enjoy and admire my priest's "natural law" arguments. Afterwards, I am not conflicted or confused. I do not feel right or wrong. I am simply happy.

Why is this?

My impression is that I have come to think with my heart, and to trust that fact, and my heart knows no conflict. My faith is entire, but my intellect - the scope of my understanding - is limited in certain respects to the here and now. I say to myself, All is God's. All that is good. I recall thinking that some of the so-called "contradictions" of the Bible are there in order to test us in exactly this point, that we should believe rather than merely arrive at faith as through a logical puzzle.

I feel I have been blessed with a strong faith, not merely in points of doctrine, but in the body of Christ as doctrine. I know my life is forever. What happens politically has no more weight, I believe in my heart, than the effect of a falling leaf. Joy today, sorrow tomorrow, and joy yet again. Our personhood is a vessel by which our soul leaves home on a testing journey only to return again, intact or tattered, for mercy's sake.

Therefore, in an important sense - maybe THE important one - I have a choice. I can stand on my pride and celebrate my warm ethical/moral feelings and look down on the statements of my priest or the Church, or, I can be grateful for the peace God has granted me and wish the same for all.

After Mass I found myself uttering a short prayer for our wonderful priest, Father John Boyle. This is right and just, from a Catholic perspective. So, if you are gay, I am happy for you. May you know great joy! But I am no less happy for Father John. I count every moment I spend with him a blessing and in that my heart is sure.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Pure Love: a Challenge (or, Exhortation) to Catholics

The Church has its obligations, which I addressed in part in my last blog, and Catholics have theirs, which the Lord makes clear. That we are to pray and gather in prayer. That we commemorate his death and resurrection, as one. That we pray for each other and worship God, the Father.

That we gather and give of our hearts, as one.

Revolution is a fine idea. Perhaps the finest idea of all when we seek universal good. But that good does not stop at the door of the church. A person who leaves the Church for political reasons has, in effect, confessed non-belief, that God does not care for the Church. That the Church, the faith, are abandoned, first by God. That is the underwritten statement in non-attendance.

But I do not believe that people who do not go to Mass believe this. I think people feel the weight of their convictions, moral, intellectual, and religious, and are compelled by the Spirit to live accordingly. When there is conflict a person must ultimately live with themselves. A person who refuses to attend Mass because of the political/moral practices of the Church can, it is true, point fingers, but it would be disingenuous not, at the same time, to admit one's own moral failings.

A person who does not attend Mass has his or her reasons, and those reasons are likely founded in an interior conflict between the moral law of the church, as preached and practiced, and the moral truth that person has come to understand and accept in their heart. And to these people - and we are all these people, at one time or another - I ask a question.

Who put that truth in your heart?

If you have the courage of your convictions, you will live those truths in your life, and as Catholics our lives include in large part the church. You should bring yourself, your prayers, to Church. You should confess your fears and desires unabashedly to the Lord. And you should tell your priest too, while you are at it.

There is no ultimate, controlling reason for fear or mere discontent to allow one to lapse in one's obligations to the church, to the body of Christ. If the Church is obligated to carry the meaning of the Mass - that pure love - to the streets, to all humankind - then we are obligated as well to bring ourselves - the persons God created, formed and compelled by the Spirit - to church.

A lapsed Catholic is a confused Catholic, and a confused Catholic has immediate recourse. Get up next Sunday morning and join us. We are your neighbors, many of whom share your concerns, to be sure! We are always here, even at the point of death.

The Church will not change if the only people who go to Mass are the ones who do NOT object. No, we need everyone. We are Catholic. We are universal. We want it all. We need it all. Life and love, now and forever.

We need your prayers. And we need YOU.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Why not Mercy? A Challenge to the Church

We incline to write as we speak, and we speak as we live. We live as others live, in a society composed of many parts. One of those parts is the religious, but when we write about religion from the perspective of our social selves, we lose something, we put something to the side, and the discussion suffers for that loss.

The purpose of religion - any religion, I would say, though I will speak in examples of Roman Catholicism - is to place oneself in exact proportion to all things. It is to live in the knowledge of one's creator, God, who made all things. Religion offers self-knowledge of a form not found in society otherwise. Religion does not rely on outcomes, as our outcome is promised and perfect. Religion does not depend on contingencies, but on the dictates of the conscience and the heart, through faith.

Religion cannot fail and religion does not surprise. It teaches. Everything I know of God is known by billions of others, present now and in time eternal, the past and future. What I experience is known to God but is not mine alone. I am not an exception. I am the rule, but the rule is not mine to claim as my own.

Religion cannot fail anymore than faith can fail, but society fails us constantly. And the social institution of religion fails, time and time again. It does not have to, but it does. Even as religious texts show us examples of intelligent intercourse between the religious and the social/political, our religious institutions fail.

And the reason they fail is lack of faith.

Two incidents from the Gospels come to mind here as background for this discussion. First, from Matthew 22:20-22.

And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard it, they marveled; and they left him and went away."

This bit of instruction concerns, on the face of it, payment of taxes, but there is no reason to stop there. As always, Jesus is telling us more, with respect to the matter of proportions and assignment of duty. One has an obligation to God and to the state, or to the social/political. One should not treat God like the state, nor the state like God. They are both important. The construction of this passage, where God and Caesar are allowed parallel though divided fealty, is pretty astonishing, and challenging.

Few are the priests or faithful who rush from church into the arms of meaningful contemporary discourse; and fewer (and fewer...and fewer) are the socially engaged who rush to church to worship God. Division is the rule, and division is not the Way. Far from it. Where religious institutions fail is in treating social issues like religious ones. The hypocrisy ascribed to religious institutions (and, by extensions, to their members) is founded on this fundamental misconstruction and misassignment of obligations.

This is a strange inversion of the errors of the Pharisees in Jesus' day, who treated religious issues like social ones. Time and time again, Jesus cautions us, chastising hypocrisy, warning against material rewards, as in this second incident, from Luke 11:37.

“While he was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him; so he went in and sat at table. The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of extortion and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But give for alms those things which are within; and behold, everything is clean for you."

Again, Jesus is teaching that the religious and the social are both valid and deserve our balanced respect and attention. The Pharisees neglect the interior, or God, while attending to the exterior, or social - that is, what is Caesar's. Religious institutions founded on the Gospels take due note of the Pharisees' errors and serve God passionately. Their error is a perfect inversion. They view society through the lens of religion - not faith, I believe, as I will demonstrate soon - but religion. They apply religious conventions and reward systems to social matters. They ask that Caesar be more like God, and that society conform its practices to religious ones. The interior of their cup is lovely, but the exterior is a muddled mess.

They do all this, because it is very difficult to serve one master and respect another. Not serve another master, mind - we know that is not possible - but merely respect. But, as Christians, we have no choice, do we, leading us to the third and final passage of scripture I will quote today, from John 13:34-35.

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

What does this mean? What can it mean, except what it says? When know that God is love, and that love is perfect. It is unconditional. "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." (1 Cor 13:7). One cannot simply love God, but one must love others. One must engage, work, and respect socially and religiously.

*****

Returning to definitions, the purpose of religion is to place oneself in exact proportion to all things. God gives us this, and we need only accept it to know ourselves in perfect relation to God and each other. There is no conflict where both the religious and social are approached through faith in God. A person who approaches society with skepticism or in judgmental fashion is one who lacks faith. I would say they run a greater risk than the socially responsible person who is skeptical of religion, simply because religion should know better. A religious institution that fails God and society has no one to blame but itself.

One can believe in God and not go to church. God and church are not the same thing, but faith is perfect in itself. The atheist who decries God has a friend in Job, but the church that neglects or abuses the powerless or marginalized has no friends.

Why do educated persons across all cultures continue to leave the church? Because the church does not love society, it objectifies it, and in doing so it objectifies its individuals and often condemns them. Fearing the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, it founded its own hypocrisy instead. If the church loves as it has been commanded to love, if it attended equally to the social and the religious, if it rendered unto Caesar what is Caesar's, no such errors would occur. It would allow that people do what they do, in the social sphere, and it would love them regardless.

  • Are you gay? Fine. I hope you are happy. Don't forget to come to church where we gather together to worship God. Our God, your God. Every one's God.
  • Are you divorced? Sorry to hear it. That must be tough. Say, why don't you come to church. We have a system in place where you can confess your errors and be forgiven. Then you can celebrate God with us and receive communion because, well, not one of us is without error. 
  • Have you had an abortion or are you considering one? That's pretty intense. You should come to church and talk it over with the priest. We want you to know your options. But, if you have the abortion, please come back and ask God's forgiveness. He will give it to you.
  • Do you use birth control? Uh, why are you telling me this? That's really your business, not mine. See you at church.

If the purpose of religion is to place oneself in exact proportion to all things, then the purpose of a church is to grant to any and all God's children a sanctuary where they can practice this truth. The church should be the one place where this opportunity is guaranteed, for all persons, regardless who they are. That is where the church's obligation to society begins and where it ends. Mercy in the pews, mercy in the streets.

Why not. Why not love. First, last, and foremost. Why not.

In order to be perfect faith must encompass both the social and the religious, equally, giving unto God and Caesar alike what is theirs. Loving God and each other as we love ourselves. We must bears all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things. Where society transfixed itself in quarrelsome debates, we should shine forth in perfect faith - understanding, caring, loving. The church should not take sides in any social debate, except to proclaim mercy for all.

Mine is not a personal aspiration. I do not own it, but I share it. I share what is not mine but what belongs to all. I share it because it is already not mine, it is already the property and the right of all. Even more perfectly than the guarantee of liberty and social equality, that imperfect form, I share mercy, from God. The church has the exact same obligations as I do, in the same proportion, and I challenge it to fulfill those obligations.

Amen.

Next, I will issue a challenge to Catholics, specifically, those who avoid the Church. 'til then!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Your Life Forever

Live your life, and live forever. That is the promise. Your life. Not mine, or your neighbor's, or that of your priest, or the Pope. Not even that of Jesus Christ.

Live your life forever.

Do you think your life is not good enough? Do you think God made you as a joke? Wrong. He made you as you are to live your life, and in the name of Jesus Christ you will have eternal life.

So get used to being who you are. You have a long way to go.

Now, I understand the temptation to be someone else, the allure of saintliness. The desire to put one's self aside. I know all this and I have practiced this. And in doing so, I have become reacquainted with who I am and learned to accept who I am the better to live my life.

But Christianity is not a matter of mere training to live. We are directed to go forth and preach the good news in word and deed. How will you do this unless you first accept who you are?

All you are, so-called strengths and weakness, must be lived in prayer and service. All for others, in service, yes - but be sure you accept who you are as you serve. Give of yourself, not in imitation of another.

Do not serve in order to escape who you are.

Think of the saints, those strong-willed men and women, many with patchwork lives, redeemed in service. But you will not have life unless you are willing to offer the life God gave you.

Husband or wife, son or daughter. Priest or parishioner. Doctor, vagrant, street car conductor. Artist, baker, student, law maker. These are roles - not who you are or who I am, in our hearts, as God made us. Be true to you, your conscience. Live the arc, the full narrative, the entire passage. Live your life.

Whether or not - fill in the blank. Whether or not you preach, pray, hope, curse, love or live in fear. Live out your life, as God hopes you will, the life given that you might have eternal life.

Live now that you might live forever. Do not be a hypocrite, making of yourself a paper angel. Follow your thoughts to their conclusion. Live in that truth that you might live forever.

Deny the Holy Spirit - your conscience - at the peril of eternity. To lose eternity, promised, simply by losing yourself, God's gift.

In mirror aspect of the sacrifice of his only begotten son, our Lord, live your life as it was given you. Take God into you, as the Holy Spirit holds your heart, and live your life. Forever.

Amen.




Sunday, May 24, 2015

Silent to Prepare

An angel came to me in the form of silence. I had not prayed for this angel, but it came to me nonetheless. I had prayed for words but I got this angel. The angel took up residence in my life and it sent me its message, and it waited.

The angel waited patiently, as angels are wont to do. I too was patient, in my silence, for I knew I had earned it. Any visitor is a blessing, especially angels, and this one was no exception.

When I had waited long enough, the Lord came to me and told me to speak to the angel, to the silence I had allowed myself. I asked the Lord for the words I should speak, but He too was silent, which I took to mean that I had the words I needed to speak.

And so, on this Pentecost, I speak the words that are in me. And the words are these.

The world all all who are born to it, who are born and die, all belong to God. And God's will is the will of the world. And the will of God is that we love each other until death, and that we must let nothing stand in the way of that love.

Those who live and suffer, even in silence, if they have the energy and will and ability to write, should write for those who live and suffer who do not or cannot write. You cannot know the end of your words or any kind act except to be kind, to write, to love, and in doing so except that you have done the will of God.

What is silence? Silence is death to love. To be silent is to know and share in death. And we are no more expected to be silent than we are required to die before the appointed time.

As I pray, I seek communion with God in order to prepare to speak to you. If God is silent, then I have failed to love.

What is love? It is the eternal word.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Liturgy Me

I have spent some time in ordinary and extraordinary Mass ways lately. I have helped to serve and been served. I have seen a lot that you and others have seen, in a space of days, these days, these last several ones.

One gets in the habit of thinking, evaluating. Or one falls that way. I know judgment is fatal, at least to ordinary men, like myself, and now I am sure of it the way I am certain of my beating heart. The difference is that some day my heart will stop, but I will be no closer to passing true judgment.

Against the miracle of transubstantiation we place time in the commonly employed sense, and with time come thoughts and things. We lose the moment, or we lose our lose of self for the surety of considerations, both local and universal. An opinion is born. In the next moment, turned inward, we form to support our thought.

Off hand, I cannot recall the Lord saying, "This is what I think...." He says what God wills, and in doing so he does His will. But he pays close attention to the thoughts and words of others. Yes, I suppose the Christian should listen, and listen closely. And pray. And in doing these things, in doing the will of the Father, live well.

What is time in all this? It is suddenly clear to me that time has no meaning independent of the eternal in the instant. We say that for God the eternal is an instant. But until this moment I have not understood this point. But, like so much that is God, only this view really makes sense. If I were to take time at face value I would never escape the here and now, would I?

If I thought time meant anything, anything at all, except that it is the one pure moment of God, of Love, I would forever be comparing the Word with the world. I would wonder at deliverance. I would look for signs. I would care for realities as posed against truths. In short, I would live as I often have, and am tired of, so very tired of at this point in my life.

Breathe a breath and give life to a hypocrite. We cannot be pure, for now, but we can listen for the word of God, made manifest in any number of ways, and admit to ourselves those things that we otherwise would be loathe to grant ourselves. I mean relief, and peace, and joy - but especially peace.

I ask this question. If we are ready to grant that the angels and saints attend our every Mass, at any given moment, how can we stoop to believe that time is anything but this moment, now, realized in the perfect, suspended, quality of exact feeling, without doubt?

That time is this moment, forever, that it is faith itself seems as clear to me now as that the tree follows the seed as it gives way to dust.

This now is it. That eternal is now. This is the invitation to grace, to kindness, to love for the other, that knows no bounds. What boundaries would there be in the eternal now? What need have we of limitations? Our life is the invitation to that moment, this now, the eternal where we dwell, forever.

Mary, blessed Mother, pray for us.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Open This, Open That

I haven't written much since January. That's almost 4 months of not writing much, not feeling like I had anything to say and, besides, feeling just out of my skin. Part of this was Lent, which I was able to go into fully this year, abstaining form alcohol, cigarettes, video games and that other pernicious habit (as I told my wife), writing.

Writing, pernicious? That's an odd notion for a writer. But not for the writer I was in January and since then, until today, that is. I was uncomfortable writing and I was uncomfortable with writing - both my writing and that of others. Almost all writing, in fact, except the occasional factual text, the Bible and the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church.

Okay, that sound like bragging, but it's not. A Catholic writer - moreover, a writer who in the mid-stream of life becomes Catholic - is bound I think at some point to ask him or herself Why bother in a fresh and challenging way. If the Word is truth, and the Word is the Lord, what can I add but confusion or, at best, redundancy? Ultimately, or essentially, does not all personal writing arise from a desire to be known as a writer; that is, as a feature of ego? This notion was supported in encountering Lent, a time of abstinence, where we enter the desert with the Lord and commemorate his passage and becoming as well as our own.

There is no juncture of the Catholic experience that I have not found to be life changing. Just wanted to mention that.

So I stopped writing both blogs and poems, and I thought of myself as a former writer, quite sincerely, in the same breadth of belief that encompasses St. Paul's call that we empty ourselves and become slaves to the Lord, to serve Him and each other as He served us. This was hard for me, but right.

It was right to forgo art. And I was ready to accept that the rest of my life would be more of the same, an ever deeper engagement with self-forgetting and self-renewal, in the name of Jesus Christ, while attending dutifully to life's material precincts: family, church, and job.

But you know God. His plan encompasses the here and now as surely and in the same moment that all eternity is present. I do not pretend to understand God the way a man knows himself, but I worship God as a man who believes He is truth.

In this time, since January, it happened that our priest, Father Petrus Hoang, was relieved (to be reassigned) and a new priest appointed, Father John Boyle. Father John is many things, among those being a priest who is dedicated to the dictates of the Church in matters of liturgy. We have experienced changes in the celebration of the Mass that I will likely discuss another time, To the point of this essay, on the past Monday evening I attended an extraordinary Mass. My first.

Now, I agree with the Church that all Masses are, well, Masses. They matter the same, the same supreme sacrifice is commemorated...well, I won't try to go into an explanation of the Mass here, as I am not a priest.

I am not a priest, but Father John is, as is Father Petrus.

I am a layperson - salt and light, as Father John mentioned in a long, cozy chat he was kind enough to grant to me one day, just as Holy Week was upon us. There were things I wanted to discuss. Not questions, so much, as matters of the parish and of the self that I felt I needed to present to Father. Things that needed talking outside the confession booth.

I digress. Back to the Extraordinary Mass, which was fine and lovely, and so like our Church, which can be depended upon to have its ears open to our present spiritual needs even as the past is alive and the future promise equally present. "If I were a priest," I thought to myself, "I would celebrate the new Mass and the Extraordinary Mass." 

With that thought, the bars on writing were suddenly lifted. I realized what I had been wanting and what had held me back. The underlying premise of my OpenCatholic project was that of person proposing that Catholics be open to others about what it means to be Catholic and equally open to the beliefs and experiences of others. My assumption was that "OpenCatholic" was, at heart, a progressive stance. But it's not. It really very traditional. Very, meaning utterly. I mean, I have always felt I was acting in accordance with the Law, of course, but the perspective I assumed was, at the very bottom, personal. I had a point of view I wanted to share. Thus my skepticism of its real worth.

But I am no longer skeptical of my writing, or of myself. I am dead certain that the Catholic Church, in the new liturgy and the old, worships God as He has instructed us, and in a way that is pleasing to Him. I am open with what I am, as God in in me, and I am open to any and every person as a child of God, not as they think they are, but as their belief compels them to be. I love this life, this journey. I ask everyone to make good, hard choices and to be open to the Holy Spirit who will speak to them of the present and the eternal moment. Of now, as known, and now, as realized through the Word.

I will never put a term of judgment to any one's choices, except as they insult the Holy Spirit, the voice of God.

Put another way, let those who have ears listen, those with eyes, see.

I do not know that any writing, any public or personal act, could add to that admonition. Live fully, openly, that you may have life eternal.

In His precious name, Amen.



Saturday, April 4, 2015

Post to Vigil

Draw nearer, love made perfect.

There was before and now there is after. I would know the difference in my heart.

If I knew that moment as I know my desire to know that moment, I would radiate something more than desire.

Faith is not an aspiration. It is being.

Desire is a leaf of the tree. It is not the tree, immovable, perfect in its place, thrusting out from the solid ground. Necessary, inevitable, fleeting, seasonal, my desires swirl within. I am a steward, a father to my desires.

Outward, I see only you. You and what I cannot know.

The crowd, the procession, the sound of a hammer.