For millennia, faith-based principles have attempted to guide the forces of war and peace between powers and nations. I challenge any Catholic or other Christian – or any person of good will, for that matter – to educate yourself on some of these philosophical and theological principles. We do not subscribe to any version of “might makes right” or “my country, right or wrong.” We must hold our leaders and military to strict standards that reflect our deepest values.
What we have been given is not to be kept and hoarded for ourselves, but to be passed on freely and shared, so that it may bring life to others. In my work as a therapist, it is usually the questions I ask, rather than the statements, suggestions, or “advice” I offer that are the most helpful means of effecting this sharing and the new life that rises from it.
Today is Ash Wednesday (as well as Valentine’s Day!). It marks the beginning of the Season of Lent, a “very acceptable time.” This year I choose not to “give up” some “goodie” or “treat,” but rather to make my Lenten practice one of asking questions — not of others, but of myself.
- How am I open to the Presence of God today?
- in myself?
- in others?
- in nature and all Creation?
- What lesson is God asking me to learn from the people God brings into my life?
- In what ways might I be “missing the mark” (which is really the Hebrew definition of ‘sin’) in my love and care for others?
- Where are kindness, compassion, understanding, and self-sacrifice in my life today?
- Am I truly listening to God, speaking to me in the depths of my heart — in the midst of trouble and distress, as well as in silence and calm?
The second reading (2 Cor. 5:20-6:1) from today’s Liturgy reminds us:
“Working together, then,
we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.
For he says:
In an acceptable time I heard you,
and on the day of salvation I helped you.
Behold, now is a very acceptable time;
behold, now is the day of salvation.”
When one of my favorite authors titles a blog post with the same title of these pages, how could I not share it? In part, Franciscan Fr. Richard Rohr notes a fact of history and human experience that reinforces a fundamental and false belief underlying all dualistic, all-or-nothing perspectives:
“Christianity has far too easily called individual, private behaviors sins while usually ignoring or even supporting structural and systemic evils such as war, colonization, corporate greed, slavery, and abuse of the Earth. All of the seven capital sins were admired at the corporate level and shamed at the individual level.”
Here’s his full post: How can everything be sacred?
If you’ve ever been in a Catholic church, you’ve surely noticed the tabernacle. It’s a small box-like structure on an altar, and usually there’s a candle nearby, burning 24/7. Inside the tabernacle is reserved some of the bread that was blessed and consecrated at Mass, the liturgical celebration of what we call Eucharist. Because we believe that Jesus is somehow present in the elements of bread and wine blessed in his name, Catholics refer to this reserved Eucharist as the Real Presence. I like that term a lot. Whether you hold to Catholicism’s sacramental beliefs or not, there’s something very powerful and meaningful about Presence. The Present, really, is all we ever have. What, then, am I doing with it? How am I using the gift of this present moment right here, right now? Fr. Rohr offers some thoughts:
Only the false self easily takes offense. The false self can’t live a self-generated life of immediate contact with God. It defines itself by the past, which is to live in un-forgiveness. Forgiveness is the only way to free ourselves from the entrapment of the past. We’re in need not only of individual forgiveness; we need it on a national, global, and cosmic scale. Old hurts linger long in our memories and are hard to let go. We must each learn how to define ourselves by the present moment—which is all we really have. I will not define myself by what went wrong yesterday when I can draw upon Life and Love right now. Life and Love are what’s real. This Infinite Love is both in us and yet it is more than us.
In a recent Daily Meditation (July 17, 2017) from Richard Rohr, OFM guest writer Brian McLaren makes this statement: “Jesus and Paul were not denying their religion . . . ; they were faithfully extending it [emphasis added], letting it grow and flow forward.” McLaren’s point is that Christians in every age must overcome the tendency to let their faith be just another ossified institution of rules, power structures, and laws that fail to fully meet the needs of the contemporary world. To do this, Christians must always look to Jesus. There, McLaren asserts, is where we see the overarching teaching of Jesus on the supremacy of love. “The new commandment of love meant neither beliefs nor words, neither taboos, systems, structures nor the labels that enshrined them mattered most. Love decentered [and] relativized everything else; love took priority over everything else.”
I remember first pondering the supposed conflict between my own sense of self as a gay person and the “long-held teaching of the Church” that homosexuality was sinful. How could this be?, I wondered. How could the Church’s teaching on the purpose and place of human sexual expression be so very different from my own growing understanding of myself as created “in the image and likeness” of God, of someone who is flawed, yes, but who is fundamentally good? I fed my reflections not only with my own lived experience, but with a knowledge base of philosophy and theology expanded throughout my college and seminary years.
The word that eventually came to mind to describe this tension was incomplete. As far as the Church’s main and positive notions about human sexuality were concerned, this made sense to me. The basic relational values of mutual respect, faithfulness, commitment, and openness to new life seemed spot on. But the other notions — those that are negative or proscriptive and which have the effect of being more burdensome than liberating — these did not seem to fit with the radical message of Jesus to “love one another as I have loved you.”
Knowing that the Church holds to a belief in the Development of Doctrine — that the richness of the Gospel can yield new insights and greater understanding in every generation — could it be that our understanding of human sexuality was also growing, deepening, and extending as we became more aware of the natural (i.e. God-given) diversity in this dimension of human experience?
Take, for example, whether a committed same-sex relationship could be licit, valid, even sacramental. Church teaching holds that the two “ends” of marriage are its unitive and procreative ends — a loving union between two persons who are open to new life. However, the Church recognizes and accepts as fully sacramental those heterosexual unions where there is absolutely no possibility of “new life” in the form of biological children. Think of those with significant health conditions or couples who marry in advanced age. Here, a more generous theology is called for. A theology which sees “procreative” as more than just the begetting of biological children. This more generous theology recognizes how such unions can be procreative by the ways such couples extend themselves, give of themselves, and share their life with family, friends, community. Why could the same generous theology not also recognize the validity and sacramentality of similarly-committed same-sex couples?
Clearly the institutional Church is a long, long way from recognizing not only the sacramentality of same-sex unions, but even their civil legitimacy. All that notwithstanding, is it possible for us, in love, to be like Paul and countless others who have gone before us in faith? Can we lovingly, not fearfully, “read the signs of the times” and — with open ears, eyes, minds and heart — be willing to see the ways in which the Spirit might be challenging us to extend our faith, so that the joy of the Gospel might be known to all peoples and in every generation?
Today's post from Bondings 2.0, On the USCCB's Fifth (And Hopefully Final) "Fortnight For Freedom", prompted me to re-read Dignitatis Humanae [DH], the Second Vatican Council's Declaration on Religious Freedom. After all, if the bishops or others think that religious liberty and the free exercise of religion are under attack in the US, one would think we should be looking to this important document for guidance.
DH clearly and strongly promotes the rights of individuals and social groups "… to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits."
The bishops' concern that religious persons and institutions might be forced by the government to act in a way that is coercive and violates their "own beliefs" clearly finds some support here. However, that nasty 3-word phrase at the end puts a different slant on things: "within due limits." Several times DH references the "just order of society" and the "due limits" on one's religious freedom. Perhaps the clearest statement is in Article 7, which begins:
"The right to religious freedom is exercised in human society: hence its exercise is subject to certain regulatory norms. In the use of all freedoms the moral principle of personal and social responsibility is to be observed. In the exercise of their rights, individual men [sic] and social groups are bound by the moral law to have respect both for the rights of others and for their own duties toward others and for the common welfare of all. Men are to deal with their fellows in justice and civility."
While the bishops and other "religious freedom" advocates look with limited vision to the US Constitution, they seem to have forgotten the teachings of their own Tradition. DH reminds us of the "due limits" and "regulatory norms" which a just and civil society must enact to ensure the "rights of others" are respected. The bishops' original concern related to healthcare, though quickly was extended to the area of LGBT rights. The US Supreme Court has decided to hear a case from Colorado about the refusal by the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Jack Phillips, to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. Phillips cited his disapproval of same-sex marriage, which he claims to be rooted in his Christian faith, as the reason.
From a Catholic teaching perspective, it'd be quite a stretch to say that the baking of a wedding cake rises to the level of a "religious act" worthy of protection. If it did, then where would it end? In theory, no end would be in sight. After all, any religious person who takes faith seriously would try to express his/her religious values in all aspect of life, right? If that's true, what's to stop said religious person from hiding behind such "religious freedom protections" for any and all acts in which he engages?
As the bishops of Vatican II rightly recognized, civil society has the obligation to impose due limits and appropriate regulatory norms on the exercise of religious freedom. Such limits and norms must respect the rights of ALL citizens. As we celebrate today 241 years of independence from political tyranny, may we be always strive to be free from tyranny of all stripes, even when wrapped in red, white and blue.
Yesterday’s meditation from Richard Rohr, OFM provides more historical reference to the tradition of the “third eye.” Spiritual traditions of both east and west know that there is a middle way, beyond the dualistic, either/or way of seeing. One must find this third eye in order to move beyond “us and them” seeing toward deeper insight and wisdom where everything and everyone belong.
I could not help but think of both the current US president as well as the bishop of Springfield, IL Thomas Paprocki (currently in the news for issuing guidelines that prohibit Catholics in same-sex marriages from receiving a Church funeral) when I read Rohr’s words below.
“One wonders how far spiritual and political leaders can genuinely lead us without some degree of contemplative seeing and action. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that “us-and-them” seeing, and the dualistic thinking that results, is the foundation of almost all discontent and violence in the world… It allows heads of religion and state to avoid their own founders, their own national ideals, and their own better instincts. Lacking the contemplative gaze, such leaders will remain mere functionaries and technicians, or even dangers to society,” [emphasis added].