Monday, May 27, 2013

The Meaning of Memorial Day

This morning my eleven year old niece informed me that the word of the day was "Memorial".   Being a cunning linguist who hopes to inspire others into appreciating etymology, I innocently asked what that meant.  She was stumped at giving an off-the-cuff definition.  So I tried another tact by asking "So what are we memorializing?"  thinking that she would instinctively know.  She responded "The Presidents?".  That was a big no as even the colloquially called "Presidents' Day" is actually still Washington's Birthday (Observed).

Sadly, so many in our society simply see Memorial Day as the unofficial kickoff of the summer season.  Or as the occasion to hold the Indy 500.  Such a schoolgirl could be lead to think that it is just another day off of school.  No wonder why Ruben Blades laments that we may be the best informed society that dies of ignorance. 

These illustrations are graphic reminders of the depth of gratitude we should have for those in the Armed Services who fought and sometimes gave their lives to protect the freedoms we have to remain blissfully ignorant of their sacrifices for society.

So when pause to give our blessings at the afternoon picnic, I don't care if I interrupt Popes, Presidents, impresarios or impostor, I will insist that we thank heaven for those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for their brothers and sisters to live in freedom and aspire for peace. 

The Face of Prayer in America

Sunday, May 26, 2013

St. Philip Neri on Temperament

St. Philip Neri

 According to a website explaining the St. Philip Neri Award Program, "St. Philip Neri was selected as the Patron Saint of Special Forces in 2002 because he embodied the traits of the ideal Special Forces Soldier, Selfless, Superb Teacher, and Inspirational Leader."

  Saint's Prayer

O holy St. Philip Neri, patron saint of joy, you who trusted the Scripture promise that the Lord is always at hand and that we need not have anxiety about anything, in your compassion heal our worries and sorrows and lift the burdens from our hearts. We come to you as one whose heart swells with abundant love for God and all creation. Bear us, we pray, especially in this need (make your request here). Keep us safe through your loving intercession, and may the joy of the Holy Spirit which filled your heart, St. Philip, transform our lives and bring us peace. Amen.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Lt. Gen. (ret.) William Boykin on Religious Freedom

Is the so called Military Freedom Religious Foundation encouraging the freedom of faith in the foxhole or is it a stalking horse for secular chaos in the armed services?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Acts of Unorthodox Episcopal Exegesis

Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori

During a sermon given at Saints Church in Curaçao, US Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori offered an interesting interpretation of St. Paul’s encounter with a demonic slave girl described in Acts of the Apostles.

Jefferts Schori prefaced her scriptural commentary by noting the history of slave trade by the Dutch on the Caribbean island which did not see the beauty in others’ skin color or the treasure of culture that they did not value or understand.  She waxed philosophically:

Human beings have a long history of discounting and devaluing difference, finding it offensive or even evil.  That kind of blindness is what leads to oppression, slavery, and often, war.  Yet there remains a holier impulse in human life toward freedom, dignity, and the full flourishing of those who have been kept apart or on the margins of human communities.

Jefferts Schori argued that just as the forces of historical inevitability lead to the end of slavery, the march of progress will also liberate attitudes towards homosexuality.  For Jefferts Schori, just because something is different is not the same thing as wrong.

As interesting as this weltanschaaung is, Jefferts Schori sought to illustrate her point through exegesis on the slave girl of Phillipi in Acts 16:16.   The Presiding Bishop pontificated:

There are some remarkable examples of that kind of blindness in the readings we heard this morning, and slavery is wrapped up in a lot of it.  Paul is annoyed at the slave girl who keeps pursuing him, telling the world that he and his companions are slaves of God.  She is quite right.  She’s telling the same truth Paul and others claim for themselves....
But Paul is annoyed, perhaps for being put in his place, and he responds by depriving her of her gift of spiritual awareness.  Paul can’t abide something he won’t see as beautiful or holy, so he tries to destroy it.  It gets him thrown in prison.  That’s pretty much where he’s put himself by his own refusal to recognize that she, too, shares in God’s nature, just as much as he does – maybe more so!

The New Testament account shows that St. Paul was imprisoned after exorcising the demons from the slave girl.  Bishop Jefferts Schori argued that the Apostle realized the error in his ways of casting out the spirit of divination.  She claimed that St. Paul reaching out to his frightened captor was an act of compassion instead of annoyance (with the spiritual girl) and “expands the company of Jesus’ friends to include a whole new household.”

The Presiding Bishop ended her lesson with a last paean to diversity.  “Looking for the reflection of God’s glory all around us means changing our lenses, or letting the scales on our eyes fall away.  That kind of change isn’t easy for anyone, but it’s the only road to the kingdom of God.”

So let’s discern the messages from Jefferts Schori’s sermon: 1) The inevitability of ending slavery is like being freed of the shackles of homophobia 2) St. Paul is a misogynist who was fiercely protective in guarding male superiority 3) Despite traditional scriptural teaches and practices of exorcisms, we should embrace the many forms of divination 4) Diversity reigns over the Gospel of Jesus (whose name means "Yaweh saves").

In case this Episcopal exegesis sounded eschew to some of the faithful, they were chided to   "If human beings are going to flourish on this planet, we’ll need to learn to see the glory of God at work in all its parts.”   St. Ignatius of Loyola’s charism is to find God in all things, however it requires a discernment if those influences draw one toward or away from God.  What Jeffert Schori seems to be saying as it connected to St. Paul and the Slave Girl  it is worship diversity lest one be bereft of the Holy Spirit. No matter what the genesis of the difference, even if the Church for two millennia considering the action an exorcism of demonic spirits.

But this is not the first time that Jefforts Schori has demonized those who do not agree with the Episcopal Presiding Bishop.  During a special convention held in Charleston, South Carolina in January 2013, Jefferts Schori denounced her opponents as terrorists and murderers and those who opposed her vision of church order as “wolves in sheep’s clothing”.

No wonder so many bible believing Episcopalians have become Anglicans under traditionally minded African bishops (sometimes at the cost of their physical church), swam the Tiber and reunited with the Catholic Church under Pope Benedict XVi's motu propio  Anglicanorum Coetibus   or even converted to Orthodoxy. This sort of sermon epitomizes why the Episcopal Church in America has radically dwindling membership. 

Religion is a not always a feel good proposition.  Sometimes preaching the Good Word of the Gospel can challenge the faithful.  But judging from the comments from the right reverend’s official website, this message does not even seem tangentially connected with traditional scriptural understanding.

Since the Presiding Bishop gave us so much to think about, allow an attentive listener to offer a challenging conundrum– Is an empty church diverse?   How about a church that is empty of biblical virtues?

Monday, May 20, 2013

It Took a Cannonball...

[Detail of mosaic at St. Ignatius of Loyola Church, New York City]

On May 20, 1521, a 30 year old soldier named Inigo de Loyola who was serving in the Viceroy of Navarre's army to defend against an attack by the French on the city of Pamplona. Although the Spanish army was outnumbered, the vain and haughty Inigo wanted to fight on. But a cannonball shattered one of Inigo's legs and broke the other and he needed to be carried home to his family castle in Loyola. 

 It was a long convalescence over several months, and Inigo had nothing to do but read. Inigo preferred the Sixteenth Century version of soap operas--Romance novels, but there were none to be had. All his familial castle had was a book on the life of Christ and a hagiography (book on Saints' lives). Inigo had complications with his convalescence. His leg was set but did not heal, so it was necessary to break it again and reset it, all without anesthesia. The procedure was unsuccessful and attempts to make Inigo battle ready failed and left him with a permanent limp that ended his military career. Moreover, Inigo's health declined and doctors told him to prepare for death. Ignatius grew worse and was finally told by the doctors that he should prepare for death.

 Desperate, Ignatius began to read the religious books. This vulnerable state made the once haughty Inigo to be open to the Holy Spirit and the Kingdom of God. The more Inigo he read, the more he considered the exploits of the saints worth imitating.

 Inigo noticed that  that after reading and thinking of the saints and Christ he was at peace and satisfied. Yet when he finished his long daydreams of his noble lady, he would feel restless and unsatisfied. The Society of Jesus (a.k.a. Jesuits) consider this to be the beginning of Ignatius of Loyola's conversion and his techniques of spiritual discernment which he later incorporated in the the Spiritual Exercises.

 So it could be said that it took a cannon ball to get Ignatius of Loyola's attention.

Personally, I am satisfied for less dramatic experiences of the divine than being struck by lightning, a cannonball or other such theophanies. But the Spirit works in mysterious ways. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Discerning Forgiveness For Infidelity

Recently a viewer of ABC Family's 700 Club asked a trying moral query for a Bring It Online segment. Ivy asked:  

I've been trying to forgive my husband for cheating on me.  We have gone to counseling, but I can't seem to forgive, nor can I trust.  How do you let go of the anger? How do you trust again?  God says to forgive, but it's so hard to do.  I want to forgive, so we can get on with our lives. 

Co-host Christi Watts noted:  “I think forgiveness can be one of the most difficult things in the whole wide world to do, and especially when it comes to a spouse, because that’s one of the ultimate betrayals.”

Longtime 700 Club host Pat Robertson looked into the camera and  responded: "Here's the secret:  Stop. Talking. About. The. Cheating."  

Among the right reverend's analytical approach to infidelity, Pat Robertson suggested that men have  a tendency to wander a bit so the goal is to  make a wonderful home so your husband is not tempted to roam. He noted that there is a lot of pornography out there, which entices men every day. 

The 82 year old Robertson also counseled that the betrayed spouse ought to remember why she married him in the first place.  Other considerations should be: 1) Is he handsome?; 2) Does he provide food, shelter, clothing; 3) and is he nice to the children.  Robertson asserted that the betrayed spouse should give him honor and fidelity.   Robertson ended his monologue by proclaiming:  “Thank God you have a marriage that is together, that you live in America, and that good things are happening. Okay, next question.”

This advice seems strange and less than spiritual than pragmatic. Christians believe that forgiveness is intrigral to our salvific history.  Jesus taught: " If you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." (MT 16:15).  

Forgiveness is difficult and a divine virtue but it does not necessitate forgetting the sin.  Catechesis which tried to explain how God treats sin suggests that forgiveness is like a wound healing on the body--the individual is made whole through healing yet a scar remains.   In fact, if we could forget, we would not need to forgive.

The challenge is forgiveness without forgetting and being embittered by the experience. Perhaps that is where Robertson's ramblings about remembering the good things can be put in context.  

I would take more of an Ignatian approach and observe about the virtue of detachment.  St. Ignatius of Loyola had recognized the charism of "Finding God in all things"  but discerning what things draws you away from God and what things draws you closer to divine virtues. 

This is not the first time that Pat Robertson has made controversial pronouncements on the intersection of faith and the real world.  This observation about overcoming unforgiving impulses about fidelity sounds in sync with  Iranian imam Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi, who divined fault lines with the fairer sex, only without the burka.  

With such special counsel from Pat Robertson about forgiving infidelity, it is important to remember that the 700 Club name dates back to 1962 when the fledgling televangelist sought to find 700 members who would contribute $10.00 a month to keep him broadcasting on the air in Hampton Roads, Virginia.  It does not refer to the number of times to forgive or levels of infidelity.

h/t: The Blaze

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Reflecting on the Special Role of Mothers

Few pangs of pain compare with childbirth. Carol Burnett tried to explain labor pains to blissfully ignorant men by suggesting that they pull their lower lip over their forehead. 

 But rather than ruminate over what is anatomically impossible, a couple of Dutch guys had this pangs of life electronically stimulated. (Nota bene-- Use the Close Caption button in the video to get an English translation of the guys feeling  their pain).

Yet as a Doctor of the Church, St. Therese of Lisieux pointed out: "The loving masterpiece of the heart of God is the heart of a mother." Billy Graham took great solace that his mother was always praying for him.

While the Evangelist Extraordinaire may not have a Marian devotion, Catholic scholars such as Dr. Scott Hahn, Dr. Edward Sri and Steve Ray note that Mary as the Queen Mother and Queen of Heaven would have some special sway in the Kingdom.

 So on this day that we take the time to reflect on the blessings of our mothers, I am thankful that my maternal unit bared my pain, as it was a manifestation of the love of God on Earth.

Billy Graham on Mothers

St. Thérèse of Lisieux on Theology

St. Thérèse of Lisieux

Friday, May 10, 2013

Discerning Little Known Jesuit Virtues

Now that the College of Cardinals have elected Pope Francis as the first Jesuit pontiff, people have been discerning the Society of Jesus’ contributions to building the Kingdom of God.

Some wags defined Jesuits as: An order of priests known for their ability to found colleges with good basketball teams.”
There is some truth to that observation as Gonzaga, Marquette, Georgetown, Creighton and  St. Louis all were participants in the 2013 edition of NCAA March Madness.  In the  new look Big East (which really should be called the Conclave Conference) four of the nine Catholic members are Jesuit.   This S.J. hoops tradition is so strong that when Marquette contemplated changing its mascot and team moniker in the early 1990s, one of the seriously considered suggestions was the "Jumpin' Jesuits". 

However,  Fr. James Martin, S.J. insists that Jesuits ought to be known for more than prowess on the parquet floor.

  So we should raise a glass of Gin and Tonic to the explorers, the linguists, the scientists, the educators, the artists, the thespians and the theologians who have been part of the Jesuits’ proud 472 year history.  

We should not ignore the recent miracle in the election of the former Fr. Jorge Bergoglio as Pope Francis– there is such a thing as a humble Jesuit! ;-)

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Understanding the Ascension Through Art

Ascension Thursday is the close of the forty day celebration of Easter.  Some dioceses have moved marking this Solemnity of this feast to Sunday.   To better celebrate the wonder and mystery of this event of salvific history, we can turn to art.

The Seventeenth Century poet John Donne tended to take an intellectual approach to spirituality in La Coruna. (1618).  The section dedicated to the Ascension offers conceits which prepares the person for acting in faith:

Salute the last, and everlasting day,
Joy at the uprising of this Sun, and Son,
Ye whose true tears, or tribulation
Have purely wash’d, or burnt your drossy clay.
Behold, the Highest, parting hence away,
Lightens the dark clouds, which He treads upon;
Nor doth he by ascending show alone,
But first He, and He first enters the way.
O strong Ram, which hast batter’d heaven for me!
Mild lamb, which with Thy Blood hast mark’d the path!
Bright Torch, which shinest, that I the way may see!
O, with Thy own Blood quench Thy own just wrath;
And if Thy Holy Spirit my Muse did raise,
Deign at my hands this crown of prayer and praise.
While Donne was raised as a Catholic, he converted to Anglicanism in his adulthood.  The verses reflect this sentiment as it uses quitessential Catholic symbols,such as light and dark, as well as the sacrifice of the innocent lamb.  But the final verse emphasizes the personal rather than communal aspect of faith.

Another distinctive feature of Donne's literary style are his metaphysical conceits. which uses imagery in an extended metaphor to combine vastly different ideas into a single notion.  Hence, the ascension is likened to both a strong Ram to break down the door of faith to heaven and as a mild lamb in a blood sacrifice to show the path.

Three hundred and fifty years later, Salvador Dali painted "The Ascension of Christ" (1958) as Jesus is rising toward an energized and electrified heaven.

Dali's surreal style of juxtaposing images one would not ordinarily associate in order to create a deeper meaning requires going beyond a rational exposition of faith.  But Dali's depiction is not devoid of reality, as the prominent feet would have been the last thing that the Apostles who witness the Ascension would have seen.

Dali attributes the inspiration for "The Ascension of Christ" to a cosmic dream that he had in 1950 full of vivid color where he saw the nucleus of an atom.  Dali was an ardent atheist but he later re-embraced his Catholic faith (perhaps after an exorcism) but Dali often fused his conceptions of Christianity  with science. Dali realized that the nucleus was the true representation of the unifying spirit of Christ.  This nuclear mysticism is meant to connect everyone.

Dali's "Ascension of Christ" does have some incongruities.  Dali was inspired by the atom but it looks like a sunflower or perhaps a stylized depictions of the sun.  Dali was often intrigued with continuous circular patterns like a sunflower floret as it followed the law of logarithmic spiral, which Dali explained to  Mike Wallace in 1958 was associated with the force of spirit in chastity.

While the dove ready to descend from the clouds seems like an allusion to the Pentecost liturgically celebrated in 10 days.  But why is Gala (Dali's wife and artistic muse) peering out from the clouds?  In other Dalian religiously inspired paintings, Gala represented the Virgin Mary. Historically, the dormition of the Theotokis happened long after Christ's ascension into heaven.  However,  Mary is often considered the Queen Mother of Heaven and as the resurrection transcended time and space, it could show the Mother of God weeping at her son's departure from the Earth from her prospective place in heaven.

Other  aspects to appreciate in Dali's depiction of Christ's glorified body ascending to heaven is his hands and feet.  Aside from the positioning of the foot, notice how the soles of his foot were soiled, as reminders that our Messiah walked among us.  Also the Jesus' fingers are curled, which lends some visual drama to the painting but combined with with electrified heavens hints at power.

Whether we are spoken to by Donne's metaphysical conceits or dazzled by Dali's depictions of nuclear mysticism, the Ascension of Christ into heaven is a foretaste of what the faithful may expect in our eventual heavenly home.

h/t:  Salvador Dali Society

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Vivisecting the Church of Nice

Although Michael Voris's klaxon calls for traditional Catholic culture at can often sound strident, this special edition of "The Vortex" which excoriates "The Church of Nice" seems  right on target.

Whether it is a parody of "The Boretex" or the regular "Vortex",  Michael Voris styled coif seems quite reminiscent of Stuart Smalley sans the cardigan sweater.  If he follow a similar path, he could find himself in the U.S Senate ala Al Franken (D-MN).

Monday, May 6, 2013

Divining Fault Lines With the Fairer Sex?

Several years ago, Iranian imam Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi, a rival to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadejad, gave a special sermon for the Friday Noon prayer.  Kazem Sedighi criticized women for dressing immodestly and behaving promiscuously for causing earthquakes   and that Iranian women needed to adopt their lives to Islamic codes lest they be buried in the rubble. 

This  unusual intellectual interruption inspired some satire in the belly of the beast of Iran's arch-nemesis --America.

"Boobquake" agitator Jen McCreight in 2010
Sedighi's  inflammatory opinion about feminine wiles widening the fault lines for tectonic temblors also shook up Western feminists.  In 2010, Jennifer McCreight was a skeptical atheist senior at Purdue University, who suggested organizing a "Boobquake" in reaction to the imam's sermon.  

 McCreight urged readers of her blog to dress in immodest clothing on April 26, 2010 to represent "Boobquake".  It was postulated that so much concentrated female immodesty would either trigger a trembler or that "...Sedighi can come up with a rational explanation for why the ground didn't rumble." Well the ground did not rumble despite an estimated 200,000 women world-wide participating.   At Purdue, the male spectators outnumbered the women with risque couture. 

Pat Robertson
Sedighi is not the only prominent religious figure who have been blowhards which equate natural disasters with divine retribution. In 2011, Pat Robertson said on the 700 Club  that the massive earthquake in Haiti was prompted by voodoo doctors who enlisted Satan's help to be liberated from French rule two centuries before.  Robertson also claimed that God sent super-storm Sandy in 2012 to prevent America from electing a Mormon. 

Atheists are unmoved by scripture and Islam tends to take a different tact of Judeo-Christian eschatology, but perceiving God as a hairy thunderer is counter to my understanding  salvific history of a God of both divine justice as well as mercy that is unfathomable for humans.

There is the Noahic covenant, when Yahweh promised not to destroy humanity in a flood, especially to eradicate sin as man is born with a wicked heart.  This would seem to cover a hurricane or even a super-storm as an instrument of divine justice. 

Also consider how scripture conveys how Moses eased the divine wrath after the Golden Calf incident.  Of course, there was some consequence for diverted sin sentences. God's chosen people had to wander in the desert for 40 years (which symbolically seemed like an eternity), and Moses was never able to set foot in the Promised Land.  And man's sin had to be redeemed in a blood sacrifice where the innocent blood of God's only son was shed to buy our eternal freedom. 

Perhaps it is easier for Fire and Brimstone preachers of many faith persuasions to attach calls to piety with natural disasters or claim divine wrath.  Moreover, targeting the fairer sex as the cause for sinful behavior which sparks divine retribution seems primitive.

As  believers of "The Way", we should make the Earth shake with the love of Jesus. But the heaven wrath motif makes punchier copy and better laugh lines for cynics.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

National Day of Prayer -- Praying for America

For the last 62 years, the first Thursday in May has marked the National Day of Prayer Observance designated by Congress when people are asked to turn to God in prayer and Meditation. With the help of 30,000 volunteers, there are tens of thousands of events held across the country to turn our attention to the eternal.

 The theme for the 2013 National Day of Prayer is “Praying for America”. The organizers for the National Day of Prayer have suggested several techniques to raise our prayers to heaven. Keeping with the Praying for America theme, it is suggested that prayerful people follow a 7x7 prayer for Americas seven centers of power seven times a week. Namely, Americans are encouraged to pray for: 1) the government; 2) the military; 3) the media; 4) business; 5) education; 6) church and 7) the family.

Father, we come to You to pray for our nation, the United States of America.      
How You have blessed us through the years, Lord! We rightly sing, “America, America, God shed His grace on thee.” Yet we see trouble in our culture today. We see the breakdown of the family, crippling addictions, and random acts of horrific violence.

Lord, we need Your help in America. In recent days, we have done our best to remove Your Word and Your counsel from our courtrooms, classrooms and culture. It seems, as President Lincoln once said, that we have “forgotten God.” But Lord, You have not forgotten us! You can bless and help and revive our country again.
Scripture tells us that “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs14:34). Lord, in Your mercy, we ask that You would exalt our country again. We have had a number of great awakenings in America. We have experienced times of refreshing, and revivals that changed not only the spiritual but also the moral landscape. As the psalmist said, “Will You not revive us again, so that Your people may rejoice in You?” (Psalm 85:6)

That is our prayer for America today, Lord. Send a mighty spiritual awakening that will turn the hearts of men and women, boys and girls back to you. You have told us if we will humble ourselves and pray, and seek Your face and turn from our wicked ways, that You will forgive our sins and heal our land. (2 Chronicles7:14)

Forgive us today, Lord, and heal this troubled land that we love so much.

We ask all of this in the name of Jesus Christ.

But May 2nd is only the beginning of the ministry to Pray for America. During Memorial Day weekend, the organizers will launch the first Pray for America Rally Tour, with a specially decked out bus to promote fervent prayer in the communities where they will visit.

As an outreach to social media, the organizers of the National Day of Prayer are highlighting a video by Santus Real "Pray".

In trying times like this, we need all the prayer that we can get.

h/t:  National Day of Prayer
      Pray for America