The Present is all we have – and why we must forgive

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Myakka River State Park, Florida

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.

From Daily Meditation for Aug. 1, 2017

Faithfully Extending Faith: Will the Church ever recognize same-sex unions?

Monarch Butterfly

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?

The Truly Catholic Vision of Religious Freedom

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.

 

Leadership and Vision

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].

Trusting that All Will Be Well

Demonstrators in front of US Capitol (Dec. 2012)

Demonstrators in front of US Capitol (Dec. 2012)

This week has been hard.

Taking a brief 3-day cruise that began last Sunday, we were at sea and “off the grid” for the final days of the recent election. I did not sleep Tuesday evening, tossing and turning and praying all night. By 6 am we had arrived within sight of Port Everglades and cellular service was returning. While following my morning routine of going to the Deck 5 coffee shop, I was able to get a ful cellular signal. I opened the Washington Post app on my phone and saw the words, “Trump Triumphs.” I felt ill; I sat down for a few moments in the empty lounge I was passing through. I returned to our stateroom (sans cappucino) to share the news with my partner. I don’t think I’m revealing too much when I say that we cried. It remains unfathomable to me how anyone — including some family and friends — could have voted for a man who seems to be without moral compass and whose campaign brought out the worst in the human spirit. This Huffington Post commentary expresses what I and so many millions of Americans are feeling. As commentator Jennifer Sullivan writes, “The entire Trump/Pence ticket’s platform revolves around making other individuals be made to feel less than. It is divisive. It is harmful. And it stands in stark opposition to every ideal this country was founded upon.”  For me, the enduring feeling — as someone on Facebook stated — is as if my neighbors, my family, my friends voted against me.

It Is What It Is

One of the essential elements of mental and spiritual health is the ability to live in reality. And so I recognize and accept what is. Tuesday cannot be undone. Our quirky Electoral College system that allows someone who came in 2nd to be named the winner cannot be retroactively changed. One hundred million voters who decided their vote didn’t count cannot now cast their ballots and have their voices heard, too.

The only option we have is to move forward, reminding ourselves daily of the values we hold most dear and how those values impact our daily lives and daily choices. Like the demonstrators above who were not afraid to demonstrate for peace on the grounds of the US Capitol, we too must find ways of ensuring that our voices are heard in the public square — whenever and however we can.

julian-of-norwichAgain, this has been a tough week. But I took comfort this morning from this passage in Richard Rohr’s Everything Belongs (p. 132).

“Again I quote beloved Julian of Norwich in her famous thirteenth Showing. ‘In fear and trembling,’ she asked Jesus, ‘O good Lord, how can all be well when great harm has come to your creatures through sin? And here I wanted, if I dared, to have some clearer explanation to put my mind at rest.’ And he said, ‘Since I have brought good out of the worst-ever evil, I want you to know by this; that I shall bring good out of all the lesser evils, too.'”

Or, as Julian is famously quoted:  “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

 

Trump Supporter? Our votes say more about US than about him (or her)

“‘I Alone’: Trump’s Dangerous Authoritarianism” (Commonweal Magazine Editorial)

Do you support Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump? Do you plan on giving him your vote when you enter the voting booth come November? If you do, do yourself and your fellow Americans a favor. Take five minutes and read the editorial from Commonweal linked above. As you do, ask yourself if you really and truly believe in the ideals and principles of American Constitutional Democracy. Ask yourself if you believe in the principles that distinguish the United States from monarchies and oligarchies and theocracies and dictatorships. Ask yourself if you understand what separates American Constitutional Democracy from Fascism, Nazism, and even from anarchy. Ask yourself if “justice for all” and “checks and balances” and “E Pluribus Unum” are more than slogans, but have real meaning for this country we all cherish. Ask yourself these questions, because at some point, this presidential election becomes not about him (or her), but about us. Your vote, my vote, will say more about ourselves than it will about the person for whom we vote.

Please read the full editorial. But if you don’t read the full piece, the last paragraph sums it up:

I alone. That is how Trump promises to govern: as an authoritarian who trusts his instincts and refuses to be bothered by Washington’s outdated constraints, otherwise known as checks and balances. And that is exactly what too many of his supporters seem to want. During Trump’s speech at the convention, as he shouted his way from one grandiose promise or ominous threat to another, the assembled delegates—whipped up into a braying mob—could be heard chanting ‘YES YOU CAN!’ This is not what democracy looks like.”