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Thursday, February 11, 2016

They sought to destroy whom they feared

Then there came to power in Egypt a new king who knew nothing of Joseph. ‘Look,’ he said to his subjects ‘these people, the sons of Israel, have become so numerous and strong that they are a threat to us. We must be prudent and take steps against their increasing any further,’ ... Accordingly they put slave-drivers over the Israelites to wear them down under heavy loads. In this way they built the store-cities of Pithom and Rameses for Pharaoh. But the more they were crushed, the more they increased and spread, and men came to dread the sons of Israel. (Exodus 1:1-22)

This reminds me of the eugenics that drove the Nazis to try and destroy the Jews, or drove any group to genocide. Could there be a parallel as well with attempts to destroy Christianity in countries which were once Christian kingdoms, where now they proclaim proudly, at least many of those in political power, that they are secular nations? 'We have no king but Caesar', they might as well be saying.

But for Christians and Jews, we know this: "No sword of their own won the land; no arm of their own brought them victory." For to God we declare: "It was your right hand, your arm and the light of your face; for you loved them." -- Psalm 43 (44)

This does not mean timid acquiescence to secular masters, of course, but it does mean recognizing the real power behind our victory: Christ, crucified and risen. And so our struggles for justice and the spread of the gospel has meaning beyond this passing world. In these days of Lent, let us remember: we are at war with the Enemy, and our King has already won, not with blades and bullets, but, as by missionaries of centuries past, with the Cross.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Happy Lent has come: taking stock in the silence

Bishop Robert Barron, in his video series, Catholicism, noted that Christ on the cross was, one might say, a happy man. The context was the Beatitudes, and those words all applied to him like no other. That turns the meaning of happiness on it's head because we in the 21st century have equated happiness with emotional or physical pleasure, perhaps more than anybody else in the past.

Today, Ash Wednesday, we begin the season of Lent. We hopefully remember that the Christian cross, and the doctrines on holy suffering and denying oneself or mortification, is essential to our salvation. Firstly. That is how Christ redeemed us, but that is how we, in our turn, abide in him. A lot of people don't realize that, while we have breath in or bodies, we continue to be at war with our concupiscence, our tendency to sin. It's like gravity that pulls us down. Like a bird in flight, if we stop flapping our wings, we gradually allow down and lose altitude. If that goes on further, at some point we land altogether. We have to keep going, perhaps pacing ourselves, but never stopping, avoiding slowing down. That way, we make better use of our momentum and avoid the bother of taking off again. Of course, there will be times when we do crash and fall. Not a problem, as long as we keep our resolve of faith. Lent helps is there, too.

Lent reminds us why we bother, keeping our eyes on the target rather than getting distracted by the sights along the way. It trains us for battle, too, because there will be moments when great sacrifices alone will win the day, for ourselves or for others.

Happy Lent! Onward!

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Is there an End to God's Mercy?

'And if any place does not welcome you and people refuse to listen to you, as you walk away shake off the dust from under your feet as a sign to them.’ (Mark 6:7-13)

Is it only a romantic notion that Jesus' mercy and patience is boundless?

For some time now, I have this growing awareness that misunderstanding Time, or omitting it from all considerations, is a key element in much that goes wrong in one's life. I think this is no different. Two things come to mind in this context of closed hearts. First, there is likely to be tomorrow, which means, as a general rule at least, it ain't over 'til it's over. What's the point in leaving a sign as directed above? It wouldn't be a petty, pointless gesture. Sometimes we need to be jolted by a warning, such as the threat of time running out someday, and the offer being forfeited. Second, yes, there is time, and as we know, time waits for no one, it proceeds despite out darnedest wishes to the contrary. With it comes change, for ill or nil, and the true danger is not that God's mercy will end, but that any desire for mercy will be stifled by vice. It sticks like tar and builds up until it becomes incredibly difficult to scrub off.

C. S. Lewis thinks of Hell as being locked from inside, and that's how mercy comes to an end - not from God's end but from Man's.

Friday, January 29, 2016

What do we know?

Jesus said to the crowds, ‘This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man throws seed on the land. Night and day, while he sleeps, when he is awake, the seed is sprouting and growing; how, he does not know. Of its own accord the land produces first the shoot, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the crop is ready, he loses no time: he starts to reap because the harvest has come.’... (Mark 4:26-34)

How much do we really know about anything? It does seem likely that we know less than we think we know, and if we think we've plumbed all the depths on the subject, it's probably because we have simply stopped short of going deeper or further. But who has the time, patience and capacity to go all the way down to the limits of one subject, or several, much less all possible subjects? I've a PhD and I haven't gone all the way down my topics, and certainly not all other topics of interest. If I lived to be a thousand, there'd still be too much for me to cover. I think this is the first step to being wise: I don't know as much as I think I know. In academic circles, we realize by experience that, the more we learn, the less we seem to know relative to everything there is to know. That "everything" doesn't even begin to cover God, and appreciating that is one aspect of "the fear of the Lord", I think. It was never about terror, of course, but about appreciation, grounded in reality.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Venerating the saints: what it means for the venerator

It came to mind after having started to pray this novena I found via the app, Laudate: as the prayer proceeded, the virtues of the saint interspersed with my petitions for assistance, and then it hit me: I sure wish I was virtuous in the same way myself.

It's a novena to Saint Joseph, and it starts "Saint Joseph, you are the faithful protector and intercessor of all who love and venerate you." -- Do I likewise protect those who love me, like my family? "I have special confidence in you." Do I inspire such confidence? "You are powerful with God" -- am I a just man, righteous and therefore whose prayers are indeed powerful? ".. and will never abandon your faithful servants." Have I never abandoned my family? How many opportunities to spend time with or give assistance to them have I rejected or neglected? "By the love you have for Jesus and Mary.." How much have I loved Jesus or Mary by my actions?

And so on it went, making me realize that there is this aspect to prayer where what we say or express is actually addressing us as we pray. I think it was Saint Paul who wrote that it is the Holy Spirit alone who can lead us to that deeply intimate level of prayer, where the groans in our soul are too profound for wordsmithing (by my paraphrasing). This same Spirit teaches us even as we pray through the words of the prayers themselves, addressing us with the words we use, or, in the flesh, addressing us with the lives of the saints we follow.

And so I stumble into one reason why the treasury of prayers in the Church are invaluable rather than useless.  The saints must have known this for centuries, and so came up with monastic and similar rules that revolved around prayer. A pity we no longer emphasize such prayers in even Catholic schools. These troves of intimate prayer have rather been labelled rote, with a subtle or direct emphasis on crafting one's own prayers spontaneously.

I think it's the Catholic both/and principle that makes sense of this. We need these traditional prayers because they are instructive, alongside intimate quiet prayer alone with God in our own words or without any words at all. The words of the prayer are like vehicles in which the concepts are delivered. Once in, it's in, and the Spirit can nurture that into fruitfulness.

Let's bring back those prayers in schools: the Rosary, the Angelus, prayers to particular saints, and novenas. Bring them back and let them work wonders.

Monday, January 18, 2016

New routine needed

'New wine, fresh skins!' (Mark 2:18-22)

Recently, I fell into the bad habit of staying up really late to enjoy streaming video. It was a free one month so I'd been indulging while it lasted. Unfortunately, it comes with other costs, such as sleep, and the toll from lack of sleep. Trying to stop myself once I get started after midnight has been incredibly difficult. It's one of those habits so hard to break because it falls into a routine which, once I start with Step 1, I can't step off easily. It's that first step, I think. I need a completely new routine (at night). I think it's the same principle in the new life, a distinctly different life, of a Christian, as against a non-believer.  They can't resemble each other too much because the routines of the old life will.. remain entrenched in the old life. It's just how it is.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

What god is like our God?

My soul, give thanks to the Lord all my being, bless his holy name.
My soul, give thanks to the Lord and never forget all his blessings.

It is he who forgives all your guilt,
who heals every one of your ills,
who redeems your life from the grave,
who crowns you with love and compassion,
who fills your life with good things,
renewing your youth like an eagle’s.

Psalm 102 (103)

It's not about the power to dominate kingdoms or in spectacular signs and wonders, but the power to redeem, heal, and renew to perfection. Down the centuries we've come to understand the heights of our achievements and the depths of depravity, so we understand that there is a difference. Jesus Christ remains entirely about empowering us to the fullness of human potential, beyond anything we can achieve without his help. The battle is and has always been in the human heart, in the core of our being, where Love - Caritas - makes us live a truly and perfectly human life.