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