Saturday, September 9, 2017

Asking after God

The first thing I believed in was God. I inquired after God, pestering my parents with questions about God - who is He, what is He, why does He exist - before I was old enough for school. My questions were met with good-natured confusion until I was allowed to attend a sort of art class in the basement of a church, I forget the denomination, where I produced the first work of art I can recall, a large, gouache portrait of an angel, wings and all.


I remember the angel but I was never catechized. In time I went to school and life went on.


A person who inquires after God will not be satisfied until they have found Him. There is no substitute for God though we are bound to do any number of things while looking for Him or awaiting answers to our questions about Him. In time, the things we do while waiting to understand God will become a kind of religion that takes the place of understanding, and therefore worshipping God. If we are lucky, and many of us are, I believe, we will not become so attached to these things that we stop searching for God altogether, or are incapable of recognizing Him when he taps us on the shoulder, so to speak, to announce His arrival.


We do however tend to equivocate. We allow ourselves - no, we invite our hearts - to understand only as much as we can while holding onto the things that we allowed as substitutes for God in the first place. We do this two ways. The most popular way is to blame circumstance for having had to accommodate the things that took the place of God. When we do this we say, I believe in God, insofar as....; or, I believe in God, except that....; or, I believe in God, not religion. After these introductory phrases or notions, the person makes a separate belief statement about something important, something that has taken the place of God in the person’s life, perhaps for many years. It could be something that is very like what God wants for us, or it could be something quite different. It is difficult to maintain God and the things we love in place of God. And the line demarcating the two can seem like it is shifting almost every day. It is a wonderful thing to grow tired of the shifting line demarcating the world and God, to weary of patrolling the borders of our consciousness to say what is right and what is wrong, of having to weigh in the balance every fact or item of large or small importance; to reach a point where one says, All is God’s, and be done with the false god of opinion. At such a point, circumstance is rightly seen as having led us to God rather than as an excuse, a reason not to understand Him. Blame and equivocation however feel good. They substantiate the ego, they stoke the fires of resentment and feed a vision of the self that holds itself as the point that distinguishes between truth and error - as history counts in its ledgers so many billion selves. Equivocation leads to equivocation, error fosters error, but we bear onward, each in our own way, toward that which has no substitute and which cannot be contained.


The second way in which we try to understand God while holding on to the things we took on in lieu of understanding God is to forego God altogether while pretending that the substitutes for God are in fact as important (or more important, I suppose is the viewpoint) than God. Most people would call this atheism, but I don’t. I think genuine atheism is really pretty rare, if by atheism we mean not believing in God (and therefore not searching for Him). Denying God acknowledges His being, which is counter to atheism. Further, many people who start off saying that they do not believe in God shortly take to criticizing religion, so that God is really not the issue, but the conflict that is perceived between the values as expressed or rendered by religion versus the things of this world which that person took on in lieu of God.

So, we equivocate. We delay and doubt, we withhold and withdraw, but we do not stop living because it is difficult or seemingly impossible, and we do not stop inquiring after God.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Considerations for those who proclaim Christ by the written Word

We will not change the world, we who find it sufficient to write stories, poems, articles, books, and blogs. We mill about adjusting, faxing, featuring, declining. Hesitating and suddenly (inspired) vaunting.

We are weak and partial creatures, make no mistake. The Lord of heaven and earth loves us just the same as if we were saints, which we can be, by his Grace.

Who is the good Christian other than the man or woman who says, I am a Christian, and feels it in his or her heart? Who other than than the child of God who, doubtful of His Church, acknowledges the wisdom and grace of Christ, even as that person may not acknowledge His supremacy. Who? Is there a clear answer? Of course not. Oh, how sad would be a clear answer, but how I love to hear someone say they are drawn to Christ, or to the Pope. What happiness can compare?

And yet. And...yet.

Do I move mountains by my faith? I have not seen seen a mountain moved or a fig tree bear fruit or a world altered. I am assigned my portion and I am grateful for it. Well, this is the natural disposition of a man or woman who has survived their failures, great and small, you say. Even so - even by dint of such recognition - how sad it would be to arrive at a simple formula or principal, an equation that translates: I am a good Christian. As if being Christian makes one somehow an expert on life!

Who yearned more for exactly that the title of "Good Christian" than the Apostle Peter, and who failed more miserably than he when he denied our Lord? Poor Peter.

And yet. And...yet. Was he not appointed chief of the Apostles? Blessed is he or she who fails in their ambition to be all that God asks of them, when only God can grant that such be true.

All that is true will be granted by God, make no mistake. All that is true is of God. We who write - so partially, such fragile, incomplete, fractured sentences - can afford to be grateful, on the one hand that it has been given to us to test ourselves and others with words, and on the other hand to acknowledge that eternal truth resides in the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ.

Amen.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Of Origins and Purpose in Conclusions

It strikes me that one of the key points in a definition of religion, or what constitutes the religious, is the notion of perfect, non-personal origins. An origin is by definition a beginning, but origins also grant recourse. Origins are an anchor. As a Catholic I am confident that my origins are shared by all Christians that ever have been, are, and ever will be.

This is not a consolation, it is a truth, and a profoundly appealing and challenging one at that (I should point out that I am not much drawn to ideas that do not challenge me, personally). One does not turn to religion because reality is too much to bear. One turns to religion because reality - pragmatic, empirical, scientific - is insufficient. Reality fails to satisfy. Reality fails to answer. Reality is unaccountable. Reality - and this is no surprise - is largely under our control, or so we like to pretend.

There is no reason to trust reality, for there is no reason not to trust it. Reality has no voice, no face. Reality does not and cannot suffice to bear our trust, our hopes, our belief, but God does.

It is a difficult concept to bear in mind that reality proceeds from truth but is not truth in and of itself. If one is of a pragmatic frame of mind then religious belief may seem arcane, sentimental, and pathetic, and it will continue to appear that way unless or until (for we must hope) one realizes that religion is the only thing worthy of belief in the first place. An opinion, even one based on solid scientific evidence, is only that: an opinion. It is not a belief. As much as we are capable of belief we are drawn to the religious, we are compelled to seek God. One can of course believe in God, allow that reality proceeds from the truth of God, and thereby allow both frames of reference to work together, but this essay is not about science or how scientists should spend a part of their Sunday mornings.

In Christianity the non-personal origin has a perfect, personal face: that of Jesus Christ, for whom and through whom all things were made (John 1:3). We can stop here and render a fair account of Catholicism, for if you allow that Jesus Christ is the source and summit of life, as willed by God the Father, then everything falls into place, and Catholicism makes perfect sense, centered as it is on the Holy Eucharist.

Whatever our personalities or politics, the color of our skin, our mortal history, all that we are is focused and attuned the point of origin that is made real in the Holy Eucharist. Whether at Mass or Adoration, and in all the writings of the old and new testaments and in sacred writings and the lives of the saints since then, all our efforts are drawn from the person of Jesus Christ as source, and all are directed toward Christ as the summit.

This perfect, eternal, shared origin - that incredibly knows each of our names and cares that we be saved, which is almost more than one can bear with equanimity - is non-topical, unabridgeable, and inexhaustible. Once fixed in your heart, once realized as truth, you cannot "move on" from Jesus Christ. There is nowhere to go, except to consider and adore the Holy Trinity in its perfect completeness, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Three persons, one God. One origin. One purpose.

Now all this may sound very serious (or silly, if you are devoted to a merely empirical basis for truth-gathering) and it is serious. We endeavor to adore God in a suitable manner; we hope to emulate Christ. But more than that, all this is a cause of terrific interior thanksgiving and joy. I think we have Catholics who are challenged to take their own religion seriously, and we have ones who do not appear to be enjoying it at all. More commonly, every Catholic experiences some part of favoring obedience over ecstasy and vice versa one time or another. One therefore has to be wary of entrenchment, of becoming devoted not to God but to one's feelings in the matter of religion.

This can be challenging, but the error is as old as Adam & Eve, in that pride allows one to turn one's eyes aside from God (the source, the Holy Eucharist) and toward one's interior desires. "If God (my religion) makes me feel or think a certain way" one says to oneself "then that must be right." Well, maybe not quite. One is not right except as one does His will. We know this too. So, we are all bound by our humanity to make mistakes, to be distracted and nervous, taken up with thoughts and feelings that veer wildly hither and yon, etc. And all that is a great source of thanksgiving and joy too, I think, for it is how we are made.

There is nothing better for the soul than the search for truth, the discoveries and failure all mixed together. It shows a willing heart, a "natural heart," and what more could a father ask of his child?

Our origin is fixed, our purpose clear. The future unfolds bit by bit. Regardless of the news of the day, the origin remains unaltered and unalterable, yet alive to our present desires in fulfilling our purpose. An academic view of origins, or religion, is bound to miss this point, that the text is not yet concluded, that its resolution has yet to occur. I like an origin that does not stop at merely being. I like an origin that calls each of us, our personal selves, to participate its perfect conclusion.

PAX

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Catholic (and Open) to Oneself

OpenCatholic. I see a problem in this term. While it supposes openness (a good thing) it also presumes Catholicity. Can I claim being "Catholic" so as to somehow represent it? Of course not. I can claim openness, and I can say I am Catholic (I am) but I have no authority to offer, rebuke, extol, beyond what's granted any person by dint of being Christian insofar as one (I) understand that term.

I suppose being open with being Catholic enjoins one to proclaim the Gospel in line with Catholic teaching. This I have done to the best of my ability. More so, being open seems to me to drive the issue: precisely because I am not inclined to merely recite dogma I am prompted to abide by a human heart.

If I were merely human I would be concerned with everything. Because I am Christian (as delineated by the Church) I am concerned that I love God and His creation above any other consideration, material, political, or personal. This is an abiding concern, the kind of deep, implicit feeling that underwrites lifetimes.

God is, however, a great humorist. I fall into worry and diligence (much lighter matters than real concern) and grow self-conscious. I pray the Rosary but I hesitate to write poems. I doubt myself and do nothing. I handle routines less and less happily as the well of Charity drains to muck and mire.

God is, happily, a great ironicist. I am granted fedupedness. I am allowed escape, and I write. The brain is untapped and the truth of who I am and where I am is made apparent on a computer screen as I write it out.

And so we are made alive again. OpenCatholic. Open to who we are, ourselves. Catholic, as confirmed by the Church, a living grace.





Tuesday, June 13, 2017

OpenCatholic: The Third Stage (including qualified insights and personal exhortations!)

There is a great danger in writing about the Catholic faith in that it is easy - very easy - to slip into heresy, or at least to make a colossal fool of oneself.  I don't know if the same danger applies to other religions - I suppose it would. Though what a Protestant heresy in our informed Age would look like passes me by somewhat...but I (purposefully) digress.....

Still the point is that heresy is bad. Very bad. It is a misdirection of the mind and the heart, of oneself and potentially anyone within earshot (or who reads blogs). Embraced, heresy is a mortal sin. So - in my religion, at least - that means eternal damnation, and I am not inclined to want to damn myself or others, you'll be glad to hear. You might say I am sensitive to heresy. So sensitive in fact that I have written very few blogs over the past several months as....well, let's back up a bit.

From my present perspective I perceive three stages in my life as a Catholic. In the initial stage I was filled with the Holy Spirit and battered about the world free of guile or worry or concern. I allowed myself to be led by the nose, as it were, by a renewed and uplifted heart. This is not the time to review the writings from that era, except to say: I apologize for whatever was stupid, and I take no credit for whatever was worthwhile.

In the second phase (now mercifully concluded. trust me.) I took care that my writing should conform to the precepts of the Church. I mean I took care to the point that I did not write much at all except to concern myself with the precepts of the Church. For this writing I again apologize. Not for what was wrong (though plenty was, I'm sure) but for sententiousness, pretentiousness, etc., while again taking no credit for what might have been not utterly damnable.

The third phase commences now.

I am happy and relieved that the third phase opens with an apology:  I wish I could do more right now than write this silly blog. But I am called to write as a beaver is called to gnaw on harmless trees, as the rain is called to moisten the earth to help grow harmless trees, etc., so I will do what I can to make all our time reading this profitable, but I will not over-concern myself with endeavoring to prove one point or another that has been proven already.

Rather than ratify, I will write. Those are two very different things, even for a Christian.

Without stating what others have stated better than I can ever state it (St. Paul, anyone?), without belaboring duty, mission, sacrifice, and truth, we can say with confidence that Christ charges us to live our lives transformed to his image, his form, his Way. Whatever one's precondition, one can scarcely glance at the parables and not wish to emulate the Lord. Well, what do I say to this? As a layperson, I say I have been granted as a pure, unmerited gift this very urge, to live my life, to be who I am, and yet in the image of God.

Pause a moment to consider this point. It is perhaps the most incredible assertion a person is capable of making. I mean that by the power of the Holy Spirit my life once lived for itself is lived for God and that by His grace I may be sanctified in this life and merit eternal life. Okay then!

But, what does this mean for OpenCatholic?

For one thing it means no fear. It means that if you believe in Christ then there is nothing to prevent you from opening yourself to the world, exactly as it is formed, to its culture, its politics, and throwing yourself at your life without the slightest hesitation. DO. NOT. FEAR. In practical terms, I have found that the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) is an excellent guide for negotiating social and political issues. If you can't get to the CCC then trust the Pope or your priest. Ask questions! And when in doubt, GO WITH YOUR GUT! Your gut, your instincts, are transformed in Christ. You will make mistakes. So, confess those mistakes and ask God's forgiveness. You will do good. So, THANK GOD for his kindness.

TRUST GOD. If I wrote nothing else in my life than those two words I would consider my writing career justified. TRUST GOD. Who or what else merits your complete personal confidence?

Science? Oh, you mean that branch of human understanding that has been constantly evolving and still is every day? Hurrah for science (gift of God that it is) but it's nothing in which to put your trust.

Politics? HA HA HA HA OH MY GOD YOU MUST BE KIDDING. Sorry. I mean, yes, embrace politics for what you can do for yourself and others politically. But trust? Ummmmm, no. Recognize and employ, sure. But keep one hand on the trigger of prayer. (That my expression , by the way. If you use it I want credit. JUST KIDDING!)

Art? Okay, that's not fair. Really, you're hitting below the belt. Yes, you should trust yourself in art, or the occurrence and manifestation of art as a transformative, sublime experience. Buuuuut, you have got to delineate, right? The Brady Bunch ain't Band of Gypsies. I THINK I HAVE MADE MY POINT!

Family? Well that's a funny one. God is family, at least in my religion. We have a Father, a Son, and a presiding Spirit of Truth. And we have a Mother, give to us by God, from the Cross, The Blessed Virgin, Mary. So, yeah. Believe in family. Believe HARD in family.

And in everything, pause and reflect. The big picture does not fail. Reach for it, then reach higher, and when in doubt ask for help from the saints who surround you or from the source and summit. It's your call. Live, love, move, and do not be dissuaded from the truth.

The peace of Christ be with you.











Saturday, April 29, 2017

Union and the Political Heart

Fifty-eight years on earth and five years in the Church and I've learned some things.

There is nothing wrong with being politically conservative. The challenge is to be merciful as well as obedient.
There is nothing wrong with being politically liberal. The challenge is to be obedient as well as merciful.

We can't say that obedience and mercy are at odds because they are unified and perfected in the person of Jesus Christ. We can't say that in our time they are impossible to reconcile, not unless we wish to rid ourselves of the promise and the reward of being Christian: eternal life.

Can we ask, what is eternal life? Put another way, can we view eternal life in the light of conflict or at least challenges in our daily life? We can say that eternal life, when merited, is union with the will of God in whom mercy and obedience are perfectly reconciled. Because we know that God is perfect and has promised us eternal life if we are obedient to his will and merciful as He is merciful, we know that mercy and obedience, obedience and mercy, are reconcilable.

This gives one pause or it should. It certainly puts our political and reactive/reactionary tendencies to shame.

Or it should.

Or maybe not.

There are worse things in life than living it well, in fighting for what you believe in, making mistakes along the way. Apologizing, learning, fighting some more. Erring yet again. Carrying on. trying harder. Falling. Picking yourself up. Saying you're sorry. Arguing some more. Et cetera....

Christ fell three times on the way to Calvary. We can expect to fall, fall, and fall, again and again. So this blog is not a lesson about how easy to reconcile mercy and obedience. It isn't easy at all, and we have political parties that prove getting everyone to agree is a very difficult task. But that is no reason to despair. Our faith is nothing if not dynamic, a living faith, a whirlwind of joy and sadness, epiphany and despair.

So be merciful that you may come to question your obedience. Be obedient that you may wonder at mercy. Strive that you may live to fall, fall again and again. And never lose faith in the will of God. Never lose your heart.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Writing, content

Occasionally I have an idea for a blog entry, an essay, or a poem. I think about the idea, toss it around mentally, but I never sit down to write it out. After a while, a day or two, the idea submerges or slides off stage - pick your metaphor for quiet disappearance - and life goes on. I am aware that I am letting an idea pass. I watch myself letting the idea dies out, "at least for the time being," I say to myself, and I am unconcerned. There may be a tinge of regret as I recall when my life seemed to hinge on the next thing written, but those days are past. I no longer depend on what I write.

I've taken to believing that a thing, if true, written or not, remains true. I have always held that only true things matter for writing and that writing matters for revealing the truth. I still believe this, that the effort of writing is a critical one for for the well-being and salvation of the human race and of ourselves as individuals. I believe this. I also believe that all truth is connected at the source of truth which is God. So, the truth that is writing is connected to the truth that is love, to the truth that is kindness, to the truth of eternal law.

I have worked hard over the last several years to live in truth; for my behavior and dealings with others and toward myself to be truthful. I've had to understand and change some things about myself. This is an ongoing process. And there are times when I recognize thoughts and feelings I have not had for many years, even since I was a child.

I am happier now than I have ever been. Writing is different though. Writing is not, as it was for many years, even decades, the solitary device which saved my life and brought me to the world. All parts of my life have this value now. In light of this, what should my writing be? What can it do to justify itself?

I would like to write in such a way that maintains silence. I would like to write is such a way that the reader is affected but not swayed. I want the reader to think first and foremost about themselves. I would like the reader, while he or she is reading this writing, to be able to think about themselves better, more clearly. I would like the reader, when they have finished reading, to be thinking about themselves rather than me or my name. I would like a kind of writing where I disappear from the reader.

I do not know what this writing would look like or even whether it exists or can exist, but that is what my writing would have to look like for me to want to create it. That is what it would have to be to make an impression on me in the life I currently live, if I'm going to be honest about it.

And why not be honest about it? Until I am capable of writing that makes sense for where I am now, am I not bound to be content with my life as a whole? And even if I were able to produce this writing, would not the same conditions apply?

I no longer depend on what I write but on how I live my life as a whole. I think this frees me up as a writer, whether I write or not. It certainly frees me up as a reader. I read more and with less concern for myself (as a writer) than as a person receiving another's work. I enjoy hearing new work at poetry readings. Anything is fine with me. But I like also reading old favorites, Robert Lowell in particular. Walking familiar roads and seeing things afresh, with a more generous, open heart.

I really have no idea what's next for me in writing, or painting, or anything of that nature. I am strangely content (and a little excited) waiting to see, turning ideas over in my mind only to watch them fade and disappear. It's a pleasant sadness, the notion that does not adhere, this qualified peace.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Seriously Catholic: Seriously Open

This Easter I will have been five years in the Church. In August of 2012 I set up and published my first blog for OpenCatholic and have been publishing steadily since then. The OpenCatholic idea boils down to sharing something you love with people you love and it has remained steady in that focus even as I and the world have changed. This blog is after all a form of evangelization. I use this platform to declare the Christian faith. There is nothing special or different in what I do here. I am not remarkable; my faith is. And so I use this platform to show evidence of how my faith works upon me and the world in various ways.

Faith is experienced in two ways. One can write about one's interior experience or one can write about exterior experiences. Interior experience might go under the heading of Personal Revelation, or Conversion; exterior experiences under that of Good Works. These modes of operating as a Christian often inform each other, such as when one is called to perform good works, or when an experience leads to conversion. I am interested in how we travel from the interior to the exterior and back again - that is, in what we do with our Christianity; and more so, I am interested in the ways we reach out from ourselves to others, either by helping or allowing ourselves to be helped. This is where OpenCatholic places itself, in the space between the Catholic and the non-Catholic while attempting to cover what is exclusive to both individuals as well as shared ground. OpenCatholic is therefore both evangelical and inclusive, or it aims to be so.

It's a tricky proposition, but a Christian one, I believe. One must reach out to spread the news. One cannot speak unless one is willing to listen. One cannot listen without respecting what a person has to say. What we say of persons applies to cultures. If we generalize negatively about culture then we have no standing to object when others generalize negatively about the Catholic Church. There is no point to stating various truths if all it does is make us feel good about ourselves for having issued those statements. Hearts must be opened, but if our hearts and minds are closed to the world around us - then who, pray tell, is in need of conversion?

The answer, some might say, is that all are in need of continuing conversion, but that position does not quite suffice if one holds that the Catholic Church should lead the way. The Catholic Church must demonstrate and continue to demonstrate care and concern for all people. That is the message of Pope Francis, the Pope of Mercy, and it is one I agree with wholeheartedly. It is interesting that I entered the Church and started the OpenCatholic blog before Francis became Pope. Perhaps there was something in the wind (or in the Spirit) at the time. Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic Church, offers an inclusive, non-judgmental approach to the world, its people and its cultures. By the grace of God I hope I do the same here in these pages and in my life. It was always my intention to do so at least. Over the past couple years I have focused on the faith itself in order to better understand it, and that has been rewarding. But now, given the turn of the world and our nation, the intent of OpenCatholic has been made practically relevant. There is no conceivable defense for isolationism or protectionism in our faith. We must  go forth and announce in word and deed the Gospel of the Lord to a chaotic, confusing, heart-rending, yet joyous, jubilant, wonderful world where the only promise is our eternal salvation. With that promise come obligations.

And those are obligations I take quite seriously.