Wednesday, May 29, 2013


   This week we commemorated Memorial Day, the day we gratefully remember and honor all those who died for our country in war.  For Christians, Memorial Day is our national Good Friday.  As Christ died to bring us the fullness of eternal life, beginning here on earth, we believe that our service men and women died to protect our freedom so we could enjoy our version of the pursuit of happiness.

   We owe Christ and our fallen brothers and sisters more than gratitude.  We owe them a life worthy of their sacrifice.  We owe them a serious and mature look at what it means to pursue the fullness of life and happiness today.  The Christian pursuit of happiness pertains to fulfilling the joy of abundant life in the grace of Christ, e.g., by fulfilling our personal vocations to work for an ever closer relationship in peace, justice and love among ourselves, all others, nature and God, as we move forward toward the conscious wholeness of love.  The American pursuit of happiness pertains to getting the things we want, which government leaders often refer to as "peace and prosperity."
   We owe our fallen heroes our best efforts to fulfill our country's motto, E Pluribus, Unum. Out of Man, One.  We should work to build a community of love by balancing and enriching our individual freedoms with strong families, a strong moral sense, and a strong sense of public obligation.  While we wisely keep the institutions of church and state apart, we can just as wisely combine our spiritual and national goals in the three ways I just mentioned.

   Unhappily, there is trouble on all three fronts.  The high divorce rate shows that family life cannot be said to be strong.  The radical, almost pathological individualism that marks our culture today militates against the need to create a viable family.  The interests and needs of others can easily become secondary to our individual interests, and at times even a troublesome burden.  Marriage can be a shallow "relationship" that lacks true and deep oneness.

   Many of us have lost sight of any ultimate, unifying moral reality in our lives.  For years, of course, the churches,with their organized religion, have stood for the ultimate unifying force of society.  Today, the ultimate unifying source has to be something less imposing and dogmatic than way organized religion can present itself.  For Christians it can be the one, all-embracing faith in Jesus Christ, a faith that binds everyone and everything in the world in a living, everyday community of  wholeness and love.   For all Americans, it can be a deep respect for others, which moves us to help others become who they are, even if it costs us some sacrifice, which would echo the sacrifice of those who died to protect our freedom to believe as we wish.

   A fragmented, self-directed life-style, politics, economics, or education, is an obstacle to a strong sense of public obligation.  The divide between the rich and poor, is an economic/moral disgrace.  A frightening number of politicians are engaged in a militantly aggressive campaign of ignorance and disunity.  A fragmented education that stresses technology and specialization over community and humanity only adds to the problem.  Yet to our credit, we are at least, a crisis-oriented society.  We will stop and run to help people after an accident, a natural disaster, or a terrorist attack.  And many of our young people still feel the call of altruism and the need for meaning greater than themselves.  There is cause for hope.

   Spiritual maturity calls for us to reach beyond our present self and today's negative cultural values and work to become more open and understanding, more embracing, more peace-making--more luminously human in the grace of Christ.

   So in honor of our fallen brother and sisters, I can expand the sub-title of this blog:  People are suffering.  Christ and our fallen heroes are waiting for the true honor they deserve, a country working seriously and hard toward the wholeness of love.  


Tuesday, May 14, 2013


   In April, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. after disobeying a court ordered injunction, was put in jail in Birmingham, Alabama for leading nonviolent sit-ins and marches for social justice.  The local authorities were using fire hoses and police dogs against the peaceful demonstrators.

   Eight white clergy leaders, including a local Catholic bishop, wrote a letter to King, referring to him as an "outsider."  Noting that while "hatred and violence have no sanction in our religious and political tradition," they added, "actions that incite to hatred and violence, however technically peaceful those actions may be, have not contributed to the resolution of our local problems."  They ended by appealing to law and order and common sense.  In sum, they blamed the victim.

   At the same time, Vatican II was issuing a call for Catholics and all people of good will to "read the signs of the times."  Soon afterwards, Catholics in Latin America launched the Liberation Theology movement.  Dr. King, of course, was already correctly reading the signs of the times and practicing true, North American, Pentecostal liberation theology.

   In response to the eight clergymen, King wrote his famous, "Letter from a Birmingham Jail."  At Pentecost, the Spirit of Christ broke into history in a new, evolutionary way.  King's letter is worth re-reading today in light of the general struggles within the Catholic church, and of our challenge to be prophetically active, "Pentecost" Christians within our personal area of influence in our own society and culture.

   Here are some quotes from King's letter--in black.  My comments are in red.

   Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily.  Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.
   There is no need to wait for the clergy and hierarchy to give up their privileged status in the church.  We are all "Pentecost" People of God, all sharing equal spiritual dignity and all called to be discerning, prophetically active expressions of Christ here and now.

   One may well ask, "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?"  The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws:  just and unjust.  I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws.  One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws.  Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.  I would agree with St. Augustine that, "an unjust law is no law at all."
   A church law that is not received by all the people must be investigated since it may possibly not be a just law.  We must follow our well informed conscience and act upon our discerned moral responsibilities for peace and justice in our church and in today's society now.

   ...I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate.  ["pay-pray-and-obey" Catholic].  I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's [church's] great stumbling block in his [its] stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku klux Klan, but the white moderate [the "pay-pray-and-obey" Catholic] who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice, who constantly says:  "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action:" who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom [for church reform and obedience to all its teachings]; who live by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro [the prophetically active Catholics and Catholic reform groups] to wait for a "more convenient season."  Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.  Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.  [I know your works:  I know that you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish you were either cold or hot.  So because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.  Rev. 3:15-17.]

   Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless effort of men [and women] willing to be coworkers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social [spiritual] stagnation.  ...Now is the time to lift our national [church] policy from the quicksand of racial [spiritual] injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

   ...I have not said to my people, "Get rid of your discontent."  Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of non-violent [discerning, peaceful, healing and loving] direct [world-changing, prophetic] action.

   In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church.  But be assured that my tears have been tears of love.  There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love.  Yes, I love the church.  ...Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ.  But, oh!  How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

   So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound.  So often it is an archdefender of the status quo.  Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent--and often even vocal--sanction of things as they are.
   But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before.  If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth [twenty first] century.  Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

   Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner church, the church within the church as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world.  But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom.  ...Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times.

   As the sub-title of this blog states:  People are suffering.  Waiting is not an option.    

  P. S.  I just read that a newly published book, Blessed are the Peacemakers:  Martin Luther Kings, Jr., Eight White Religious Leaders and the, "Letter from Birmingham Jail," by Jonathan Bass, reports that the Catholic bishop I mentioned in this post, Joseph Durick, was deeply influenced by King's letter and, against strong opposition from many Catholics, became an active advocate for racial justice.


Tuesday, May 7, 2013


   Images of God can be misleading.  For example, early Biblical images describe the world as flat and pie shaped (Gen. 1:6-8) covered by a blue dome, which the Biblical writers called the firmament or the heavens.  The universe was surrounded with water, not unlike a baby in a mother's womb.  The blue dome had water gates that opened from time to time to let the water fall through as rain.  People lived on the face of the earth and God lived up above the water above the dome. (Psalm 104:3a).  People looked "up" toward God, and God looked "down" upon the earth.  As the Biblical writers matured spiritually, they saw God coming closer and closer to the world.  And yet, Jesus, who was God-with-us-on-earth, "ascended" into heaven.  In sum, God and heaven were "up there" outside the world.

   From early on, mystics told us that God was closer to us than we are to ourselves.  Yet, our misleading images of God continued.  For example, when we discovered that the world is round, we realized that if someone in America and someone in Australia pointed "up," they pointed in opposite directions.  "Up" got lost.  But if "up" got lost, then God could get lost.  So people started pointing to God, who was now, "out there." 

   Our philosophical view of God didn't help.  We said God was the Supreme Being or Prime Mover, first in the line of reality, which implied that God is Someone outside the world.  Science contributed its own troublesome image.  Newton gave us a mechanized world, whose workings we could scientifically understand.  As a result, many fascinated people began to view the world as closed in on itself.  Science could now explain the world, therefore there was no longer a need for God.  Christians tried to expand people's view by saying something like, "But science understands only so much about the world.  God is still 'out there,' beyond science's understanding."  When science learned more about the world, Christians simply moved God a little farther out, and then a little more, etc.  Little wonder that when the first Soviet cosmonaut orbited the earth, he reported back that God was nowhere to be found.

   In the 18th century, the Enlightenment replaced faith with reason, which became the new "savior" of the world.  Many of America's founders were educated in the Enlightenment tradition.  Some were also Deists, which gave us a reasonable, absent God.  Deism says that God created the world and then returned to heaven, leaving the world alone to develop itself by using its own ingenuity.  Just about every American political speech tells us what great things we can do, down here under God, by using our own ingenuity.  Then at the end, the speaker adds, "God bless America."  An old Pat Boone song speaks of God watching us "from a distance."

    A 21st century understanding of God gives us a new and more valid image of God.  This understanding is based on a spiritual view of evolution, with emphasis of the evolving energy that makes up the universe and keeps it going.  (Cf. An Evolution Story, in this blog.)  This evolving, sustaining, creative energy is not God, but is a pregnant, 21st century image of God.  God is Love, and we will look at universal energy as created love.  Created love is the living energy of the world, constantly birthing forth and creating new energy-relationships that become manifest as the visible expressions of the world, e.g., a galaxy, a planet, trees, plants,animals, people.  

   Today we can see God as the universe/world's "energy field."  By "energy field," I mean the energy that is giving the world and everything and everyone in it their existence, shape and form, and moving the world and everything and everyone in it forward toward their completion and wholeness.  (Teilhard deChardin called this energy field, "Omega," the ultimate unity of love.)  

   Here's an example of an energy field that we're familiar with.  When we sprinkle iron filings on a sheet of paper, under which we have placed a magnet, the filings form themselves into the shape dictated by the magnet's energy field.  By looking at the organized pattern into which the filings formed themselves, we can see their underlying energy field.  To add an obvious point, we will not see their energy field by looking  "up there," or "out there," away from the iron filings.  Likewise, we will not see God, our "Divine Energy Field," by looking away from the universe/world and everything and everyone in it.  If we look away from the world to find God, we will find, at best, an idea of God, disconnected from the "flesh and bones" of everyday reality.  Since this idea is disconnected, it will quickly become sterile.  It can also become dictatorial.

    In 21st century terms, then, God may be seen as the Eternal, Creative Energy Field of Love, who is creating the universe/world from within it, healing it where necessary, and moving it forward toward its completeness.  With the eyes of faith, we can discern God, present and active, by looking at a flower, a tree, an ocean, a cloud, a sunset, a vegetable, an animal, and especially, a person or a loving family, community, nation.  

   It is important to note that God is not under all the universe/world's things and people, as the magnet is under the paper and iron filings, but within them, lovingly shaping and forming them and is moving them forward from within, giving them not only their existence, shape and form, but also their meaning, purpose and destiny.  Everyone of them, in their own particular shape and form, and in the loving dynamics of their own life, is showing us what God, who is Eternal Creative Love, "looks like," and what God is actively doing in today's world.   

   Further, as Thomas Merton pointed out, we can see a tree, a flower, an animal, a mountain, etc. as "saints."  They are saints because they are exactly what God intends them to be.  Thus they are clearly showing forth the excellence of God's creative and sustaining love.  Our spiritual goal concerning ourselves and the world is to do in our human way what these "saints" are doing in their way.

   Here we can note that mystics like Meister Eckhart saw all images as obstacles to God.  Eckhart prayed to God to remove from him all his images, so he could relate to God directly.  But this prayer, understandable in a great mystic, yet was bound to remain unanswered. Only in eternity, shall we see and relate to God directly.  Here in space/time, we can see and relate to God only in and through all the created expressions of God in the universe/world. 

   When Christ returns, he will transform our world beyond all our imagination.  Then, Jesus' prayer, "Thy kingdom come...on earth," will be ultimately fulfilled. In this world transformed by Christ, we will spend eternity with God, who is already here, waiting for us to relate to him in love here and now, in today's terms. 



Wednesday, May 1, 2013


   Happily, Pope Francis is giving us almost daily examples of true spiritual discernment.  We too, by the power of our baptism, are called and responsible to discern the presence and intentions of God in today's world.  True religious discernment leads to creative, healing and world-transforming prophetic action that moves our society and culture forward in the grace of Christ.

   But discernment can also be false and lead to violent and even murderous actions.  So it's very important that we remind ourselves of some of the bases for today's false discernments.  These bases are not completely separate but overlap one another.

       An ideology is a comprehensive worldview that constitute's and energizes a person's or group's expectations, goals, motivations and actions.  Spiritually mature discernment can be said to be the result of a positive spiritual ideology.
   Negative ideologies arise from radical individualism and isolation, biases, fears, greed, anger or hatred, and are therefore narrow and broken.  People with negative ideologies reach preconceived conclusions, dismissing all facts that might refute their ideology and conclusions.
   Negative ideologies result in, e.g., racism, sexism, homophobia, maximizing profit to the detriment of full employment and the environment; uncaring separation of the rich from the poor; extreme/fringe political views, and rigidly obstructionist political behavior.
   They beget false religious discernments such as strict fundamentalism, pay-pray-and-obey passivity; paternalistic and suppressive religious leadership; extreme/fringe and terrorist religious views.

       Paranoid-type people have delusions of grandeur, which causes them to believe they have superior, inside knowledge or understanding.  They are suspicious and sometimes hostile toward others, and they critically judge and attack those who disagree with them.  They can see plots and hoaxes that don't exist.
    Some of today's TV and radio personalities and Internet users thrive on fostering paranoid-type anger and false discernment among their viewers and listeners.  A severe spiritual problem arises when people believe and act upon these false views.
     In Religion, paranoid discernment occurs, for example, in people who establish and join cults; in those who condemn believers of other faiths to hell; in people who constantly see apocalyptic signs that the world is about to end; in people who "know" that the pope or some other world leader is the anti-Christ and is working to set up a Satanic, one-world government; and in those who know that Vatican II has destroyed the church.

        Today's culture fosters shallowness of many kinds.  For example, we prefer noise to thoughtful silence; we tend to process data, to "cut and paste," instead of thinking deeply; we're constantly looking for the next new thing; our use of smart phones, texting, tweets, Facebook, etc., can reduce our attention span to a few words and a few seconds.  
   Many of our schools are seriously remiss is forming our children to be thoughtful persons who can effectively appreciate the deep value of their human gifts of reason, dignity, integrity, spirit and purpose.  One result is that many of us cannot see and appreciate our own true worth and the true worth of our work, sciences, arts and entertainment, etc., all of which are, however imperfectly, images and expressions of God.  Also, many of us cannot prayerfully and thoughtfully use social principles to discuss politics or government, but rather fall into angry, propaganda-style talking points and partisanship.
   Many Catholics are ill informed about our faith, which can beget impaired discernment that hampers our ability to elevate and correct our society and culture in the healing, loving, world-transforming grace of Christ.

   The power of our baptism obliges us to work to remove all obstacles to clear and true discernment.  We can do this by prayerfully educating ourselves in our faith and using the light of our faith to fully see and appreciate our education, work, and all the gifts of this world.  We can then see more clearly and effectively into and through the dark obstacles, and see the Spirit of God calling to us in and through them, as indeed, God is calling to us from within the entire world.