Saturday, September 28, 2013

Five Finger Prayer

Recently, Fr. James Martin, S.J. had dinner with a family which had several children.  The tweens taught the Ignatian what they called Pope Francis's "Five Finger Prayer".   It is dubious that the Five Finger Prayer originated with Pope Francis.  But considering the pastoral sensibilities which Pope Francis has displayed during his six months sitting on the Petrine See, the five finger prayer shows Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio's sensibilities. 

It would not be surprising if the now Pontiff used this tactile theological explanation himself in Buenos Aires. But the Holy Father's prayer gained traction on Facebook on September 5th.

1. The thumb: The thumb is the closest finger to you. So start praying for those who are closest to you. They are the persons easiest to remember--your family and your friends. They are the persons easiest to remember. To pray for our dear ones  is a "sweet obligation."

2. The next finger is the index finger. Pray for those who teach you, instruct you and heal you. They need the support and wisdom to show direction to others. Always keep them in your prayers.

3. The following finger is the middle finger, which is the tallest. It reminds us of our leaders: the presidents, kings, governors, mayors, and all those who have authority. They need God's guidance.

4. The fourth finger is the ring finger. Even though it may surprise you, this is the weakest of all your fingers. It should remind us to pray for the weakest, the sick, the poor, or those who face many problems. They need your prayers.

5. Finally you have your pinkie which is the smallest finger--the smallest of them all. Your pinkie should remind you to pray for yourself. When you are finished praying for the other four groups, you will be able to see your own needs, but in the right perspective, and also you will be able to pray for your own needs in a better way.

This handy conceit is superb for catechesis for children.  But thinking about the deeper meaning within the Five Finger Prayer should lend insight to everyone.  

h/t: Fr. James Martin, SJ

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Rock Solid Perspective on Evil

An Uncomfortable Meditation on a Buddhist Killer

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting at the Navy Yards which killed twelve innocent NAVSEA employees and the shooter, people tried to make sense of the tragedy and instill a sense of calm.  Some chose prayer.  Others invoked the knee jerk reaction to grab guns.  It was also tempting to point to a sick society as manifest by violent video game, a societal devaluation of the worth of human life or the rash of untreated mental illness circulating throughout society.

As more details about gunman Aaron Alexis  became public, a contradictory character sketch emerged.  There were plenty of reports of the shooting having having a series of serious mental health and anger management issues.  But this mercurial mien was contrasted by the fact that Alexis allegedly also became a Buddhist.

The Washington Post published a provocative meditation on this intellectual congruity which sought to grapple with the notion of a Buddhist mass murderer.   Clark Strand, a former Buddhist monk, noted Buddhism can seem attractive to “mentally unbalanced people seeking to right the ship of their lives, to self-medicate, to curb their impulses, or to give them a firmer grip on reality.”

One can speculate that the nascent gunman turned to Buddhism for coping meditation techniques but did not delve deeper into the spirituality.   The Daily Beast reports that Alexis was into Buddhism for the Thai women.    Alexis was reportedly dumped by a Thai crush when he traveled to Thailand in April 2013 and asked for a woman's hand in marriage. 

Obviously, killing contravenes the Eightfold Path, but the acquaintances from the Buddhist Meditation Center in Fort, Worth, Texas noted that  Navy Yard killer also had issues with theft, drinking and having too much sex.  It would be safe to say that Alexis was a bad Buddhist. But short of seeing a manifesto from the shooter, we will never know the depths of his Buddhist religious journey. 

Buddhist Ethicist Julian Whitacker postulated that   the meditation opened up a deeper level of pain which had been effectively repressed. This state seems to mirror  the desolation phase of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises. 

In the Catholic tradition, Jesuits have the Spiritual Exercises which traditionally involved a thirty  day silent retreat which one meditates by placing oneself with scriptural reflections and discerning what God is telling you.  These meditations are punctuated with daily meetings with a spiritual director.  It took a cannonball injury for St. Ignatius of Loyola to develop this form of meditation, which stemmed from his prolonged convalescence from wounds on the battlefield.  

After Vatican II, the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) heeded the call to rediscover their roots and shared the Spiritual Exercises more with the laity on Annotation 19 Retreats in Daily Life, which can occur over a week or over the course of a year.  St. Ignatius structured the Spiritual Exercises somewhat like a boot camp, so the first “week” breaks a spiritual solider down and really reminds them of their sinfulness.  This is why meditation along with a spiritual director in this tradition is key. Eventually, a retreatant learns to discern what gives desolation (takes one away from God) and consolation (what draws one towards God).   Many have proclaimed that these meditations transform their lives as they realize the depths of the Lord’s love for them and how they can put their revitalized faith into practice.

An anonymous member of the Wat Busaya Dhammavanaram Buddhist congregation in Fort Worth said in regards to Alexis after his killing spree: 

Wat Busaya Dhammavanarm congregation in Fort Worth Texas (photo: Tim Sharp/Reuters)

If it’s a person we knew and we loved, we pray. I have a sadness for what happened. But he wasn’t open enough. If he had talked more about [his problems], we could’ve helped him. The monks could have helped him.

The spokesperson from the Wat Busaya Dhammavanarm Buddhist Center underlines the point that making one's spiritual journey in conjunction with others, particularly when it is filled with suffering and agony, can help.

It will take time to discern the causes of the Navy Yard shooting and what courses of corrective action ought to be taken. The Washington Post meditation on a Buddhist killer is an interesting data point.  It is a reminder that religion is important touchstone for spirits in the material world, but it is not a panacea for mental illness.  Religion can lift spirits and help a soul to think beyond oneself, but it should not be a total substitute for mental health treatments.  

h/t: The Washington Post
  The Daily Beast 

A Bit on Choosing Between Christ and Government Cheese

[L] Kay Daly, Executive Director of Christian Family Ministry (photo: Suwaunee Valley Times)

Fox News Radio's Todd Starnes reported how Christian  Service Center of Lake City Florida is being forced between choosing Jesus or Government Cheese.  For 31 years, this north  Florida ministry had been providing food the the hungry without controversy.  But when a state government worker showed up to negotiate  an agreement , Christian Service Ministry Executive Director Kay Daley was told that a "slight change" in the contract.  Now the governmental guidelines about where USDA food is distributed, there can be no religious information under the premise of "the separation of church and state". 

The Executive Order for Equal Protection of Faith Based and Community Organizations is supposed to allow governmental assistance as long as the religious activity does not create a barrier to individuals receiving their governmental assistance.   Yet the Christian Service Center was told that they were prohibited from distributing Bibles but this ban religious information that included  religious decorations, like "Jesus is Lord" banners and a copy of the Ten Commandments, where ever  USDA food is distributed.  Hence Stern's characterization of choosing Jesus or government cheese.

The organization asked if they needed to change their name from the Christian Service Ministry to comply and they were told no, but no praying, mentioning of chapel, distributing Bibles or beign around religious decoration.  The Christian Service Ministry chose to forgo USDA assistance in their ministering to the hungry.  Kay Daly mused:

“If God can multiply fish and loaves for 10,000 people, he can certainly bring in food for our food pantry so we can continue to feed the hungry.”

The Christian Service Ministry decided that they were a Christian ministry, which included helping people in need by praying with them, providing the Good News, worshiping and providing physical nutrition without government "help" and interference.  Other churches are reportedly pitching in the fill the void from the governmental help in feeding the hungry was withdrawn.  


So the Christian Service Ministry was probably within their legal rights to conduct their social service ministry in their own space, but since a federal functionary did not probably interpret the lawcorrectly (and understands this Administration), it would cost big bucks to litigate to keep federal funds flowing to feed the hungry. No wonder why the Christian Service Ministry chose to forgo their cut of the Government Cheese.

Nevertheless, as Bob Dylan put it: "You don't need a weatherman to tell which way the wind blows." The Obama Administration has been hostile for respecting the free exercise of religion, as has been seen in the HHS Qualified Health Plan(Contraception) Mandate arguing that the Freedom of Religion means the Freedom of Worship--so believe whatever you want in the pews but that respect ends at the church doors. Ministers are now routinely barred from mass casualty situations like the Boston Marathon bombing, for fear of the separation of church and state.  This is a fundamental misunderstanding of Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Church of 1802 and is a reaction to aggressive atheism in small segments of the American polity.


Monday, September 16, 2013

Prayers for the Navy Yard Shooting Victims

Rev. Rob Schenck praying around Navy Yard  (pis this hoto WTOP)

Living in the District of Calamity (sic), I watched coverage of the Navy Yard shooting in which twelve NAVSEA workers were killed as well as the gunman with rapt attention, because this violence both terrorizes the Nation's Capitol and because I know people working in that building. 

While the low flying helicopters which circled the Navy Yard while the shooting situation was active was remarkable, the image that really struck me was of an evangelical minister praying on the sidewalk near the Navy Yard.  WTOP reported that Rev. Rob Schenck lived in the Navy Yard neighborhood and was preparing to fly out of town when he heard the news of the shooting when he turned around to minister to those who were wounded and frightened.  As Schenck told Bob Madigan "At times like this you ask yourself what can you do? As a minister what I do is pray."

Another memory occurred while the media was waiting for the initial press conference from law enforcement, a priest walked nearby.  When St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church Pastor Fr. Andrew Royal passed nearby the media scrum, he asked if he could help.  Royal also offered comfort and prayers for those in shock, but he thought it important to also conduct the noon liturgy.

I join people of all faiths, across our community in praying for the people killed and wounded in the attack on the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C.. I also pray for the family members of the victims, as well as the first responders and emergency workers at the scene.  While many facts are now still unknown, our most powerful tool right now is prayer. The Church always calls us to prayer, particularly in moments of crisis.  It is what we do best because it is what the Lord asks us to do. 

Cardinal Wuerl's message, along with the on scene ministering by Rev. Schenck and Fr. Royal highlights the importance of allowing ministers access to mass casualty situations. 

h/t: WTOP

Down But Not Out

This happy child conveys the inconvenient truth that nine out of ten mothers abort their unborn children when they learn that they pregnant with a Down Syndrome fetus. This is despite research which gives hope to "chromosome therapy" to silence the extra chromosome in Down Syndrome patients.  

Lifenews carried a story which many mothers maintain that they terminated the pregnancy not because they wanted a "perfect child", but because the world is a hard place for a person with intellectual disabilities.  So this is a protective killing, so that the nascent child is not harmed in the future?

In the United Kingdom, there is a non-invasive Ariosa Harmony test which claims a 99% accuracy for predicting Down Syndrome for single babies and 98% for twins with a simple blood test.  The fear is that the National Health Service would use the Ariosa Harmony information to pressure even more mothers to end their Downs Syndrome pregnancy.  

This pressure from society and government to avoid the expense and exasperation of having a Down Syndrome child should not be dismissed as something from afar.  In the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare)  HHS Qualified Health Plan provisions which allow for "free" abortifacients.  Moreover, the IPAB (a.k.a Death Panels) may decide that treatments associated with dealing with Down Syndrome people are no longer covered. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A Different Approach to Come My Way

Fr. Austin Litke, O.P. singing "Come My Way" at NYC Grand Central Station 

Pope Francis in Rio, 2013
During the 2013 World Youth Day celebrations in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Pope Francis exhorted the youthful pilgrims to “I want you to take to the streets. I want the Church to take to the streets.”  BlackFriar Films, a project of the Dominican Friars based in New York City, interpreted this call to the New Evangelization by taking a different approach to the Christian patrimony and take it to the streets.

In the "Come My Way, My Truth, My Life" video, Fr. Austin Dominic Litke, O.P. sings the traditional Anglican hymn on the streets of Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge while donned in his medieval Dominican habit.

The initial juxtaposition of ethereal beauty with the backdrop of the frenetic city which seemingly never sleeps underlines the timeless message which the George Herbert poem (1633) is based.

George Herbert (1595-1633)
Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a way as gives us breath;
Such a truth as ends all strife,
Such a life as killeth death.
Such a way as gives us breath;Such a truth as ends all strife,Such a life as killeth death.
Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Such a light as shows a feast,
Such a feast as mends in length,
Such a strength as makes his guest.
Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:Such a joy as none can move,Such a love as none can part,Such a heart as joys in love.

By exposing youth to the beauty and truth to Christian tradition, Dominicans have experienced a boom in vocations.  Moreover, breathing life into tradition by taking it to the streets makes it contemporary and contemplative. 

G.K. Chesterton on Faith


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

On Ministering in Tragedy

As America commemorates the 12th anniversary of the jihadist terror attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon, one of the iconic images which personalized the atrocity was the photo of Father Mychal Judge, OFM.   Fr. Judge was a 68 year old Franciscan Friar who was the pastor at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Manhattan as well as being a chaplain for the New York Fire Department since 1994.

After the World Trade Center was burning from the plane bombs which were deliberately flown into the office towers, Fr. Judge rushed to the scene of the attacks to minister to those in need.

 After administering last rites to an injured firefighter, Fr. Judge was struck by falling debris and killed.  Fr. Judge was the first recorded fatality following the terror attack. Some have dubbed the image of five emergency workers carrying the remains of the fallen Fr. Judge as the "American Pietà"

Fr. Judge's example of heroic ministry to those in their time of need is an excellent counter-example to the trend of barring clergy at mass casualty events.  After the Boston Bombing on Patriots Day 2013, priests in adjacent parishes rushed to the scene of the Boston Marathon Massacre to anoint the dying, but  police refused  them access to the bomb victims. As eight year old Martin Richard lay dying from shrapnel from the pressure cooker bomb, two priests were denied access to the scene, which may have prevented him from receiving Last Rites.

While Fr. Tom Curzon, OMV, who was one of the priests turned away from the Boston Marathon Bombing, later said that he understood that:

They [law enforcement] were trying to keep safe a very unstable, chaotic area. Even the police who were there on the perimeter, they had no idea what was behind them. All they knew was that they needed to clear out the area, and they had no idea how much they themselves were standing in harm's way.

The clergy who rushed to minister to the bombing casualties resorted to set up a table to distribute fruit and water to those who approached them.

While safely securing a perimeter by law enforcement makes sense, it is premised on the presumably unimpeachable "safety" provision.  This ignores decades of tradition where ministers worked side by side with what we would today call emergency workers to do their spiritual work. Asymmetrical warfare and terror  tactics may provoke some caution in emergencies, but priests and ministers have long heeded Christ's exhortation that: “No greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15: 13), especially in emergencies.

Sixty years after his death,  Fr. Emil Kapaun, an Army Chaplain was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery on the battlefield and in prison camp during the Korean War.  When his commanders ordered an evacuation of their position, Fr. Kapaun stayed with the wounded, comforting the injured and the dying.  In prison camp, his comfort and ministering, Fr. Kapaun's faith was instrumental.  As President Barack Obama put it during the presentation of the medal:

That faith -- that they might be delivered from evil, that they could make it home -- was perhaps the greatest gift to those men; that even amidst such hardship and despair, there could be hope; amid their misery in the temporal they could see those truths that are eternal; that even in such hell, there could be a touch of the divine. Looking back, one of them said that that is what “kept a lot of us alive.”

Even though Fr. Kapaun was ministering to the military on the battlefield, the virtues of giving hope to those in their time of despair and caring for the spiritual health of their souls at a time of trauma. 

 While there certainly is a security element in the impetus to bar ministers from mass casualty circumstances, it may also be an imposition of secular civics, either out of political correctness or atheist over-expansion of the "separation of church and state".

On September 10th, 2001, Fr. Judge gave what turned out to be his final homily to firefighters. Fr. Judge's  peroration  was focused on firemen, but his words ring true to ministers in a mass casualty situation:

What great people.  We love the job.  We all do.  What a blessing that is.  A difficult, difficult job and God calls you to it.  And then He gives you a love for it so that a difficult job will be well done.  Isn't He a wonderful God?  Isn't He good to you?  To each one of you?  And to me!  Turn to Him each day.  Put your faith and your trust and your hope and your life in His hands, and He'll take care of you and you'll have a good life.
Fr. Judge embodied that exhortation.  A prayer was found in the pocket of the fallen New York Fire Department's Chaplain which has been put on plaques and prayer cards and epitomizes the call of ministry.

Mother Teresa's Divine Desiderata

People are often unreasonable and self-centered.
     Forgive them anyways.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives.
     Be kind anyways.
If you are honest, people may cheat you.
     Be honest anyways.
If you find happiness, people may be jealous of you.
      Be happy anyway.
The good you do day may be forgotten tomorrow.
       Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have and it will never be enough.
       Give your best anyway.
For you see, in the end, it is between you and God.
       It was never between you and them anyway.
                         ~ Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Harvesting Pope Francis's Call for Peace

Italian artist Dario Gambarin took six hours to plow the likeness of Pope Francis in his parents field in Castargnaro, Italy.

The artist chose Pope Francis as a subject as Mr. Gambarin was inspired by the Pontiff's call for a worldwide day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria on September 7th

Field Artist Dario Gambarin 
Gambarin relies on his innate sense of proportion and his tractor driving capabilities to create his field art.   The image can only really be appreciated when flying near Verona. 

This type of art is deleted after a few days so the field can be cultivated for the new sowing of seed. 

May this act of artisinal agriculture remind us that "Love Liberates" as the world prays for peace in Syria. 

h/t: The Telegraph

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Pope Francis Calls for Peace in Syria

In his Angelus, Pope Francis proclaimed  September 7th a day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria, the Middle East and the world. 

"Anguished" pope call for Syria prayer day by reuters
Today, dear brothers and sisters, I wish to make add my voice to the cry which rises up with increasing anguish from every part of the world, from every people, from the heart of each person, from the one great family which is humanity: it is the cry for peace! It is a cry which declares with force: we want a peaceful world, we want to be men and women of peace, and we want in our society, torn apart by divisions and conflict, that peace break out! War never again! Never again war! Peace is a precious gift, which must be promoted and protected.

There are so many conflicts in this world which cause me great suffering and worry, but in these days my heart is deeply wounded in particular by what is happening in Syria and anguished by the dramatic developments which are looming.

I appeal strongly for peace, an appeal which arises from the deep within me. How much suffering, how much devastation, how much pain has the use of arms carried in its wake in that martyred country, especially among civilians and the unarmed! I think of many children will not see the light of the future! With utmost firmness I condemn the use of chemical weapons: I tell you that those terrible images from recent days are burned into my mind and heart. There is a judgment of God and of history upon our actions which are inescapable! Never has the use of violence brought peace in its wake. War begets war, violence begets violence.
With all my strength, I ask each party in this conflict to listen to the voice of their own conscience, not to close themselves in solely on their own interests, but rather to look at each other as brothers and decisively and courageously to follow the path of encounter and negotiation, and so overcome blind conflict. With similar vigour I exhort the international community to make every effort to promote clear proposals for peace in that country without further delay, a peace based on dialogue and negotiation, for the good of the entire Syrian people.
May no effort be spared in guaranteeing humanitarian assistance to those wounded by this terrible conflict, in particular those forced to flee and the many refugees in nearby countries. May humanitarian workers, charged with the task of alleviating the sufferings of these people, be granted access so as to provide the necessary aid.
What can we do to make peace in the world? As Pope John said, it pertains to each individual to establish new relationships in human society under the mastery and guidance of justice and love (cf. John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, [11 April 1963]: AAS 55, [1963], 301-302).
All men and women of good will are bound by the task of pursuing peace. I make a forceful and urgent call to the entire Catholic Church, and also to every Christian of other confessions, as well as to followers of every religion and to those brothers and sisters who do not believe: peace is a good which overcomes every barrier, because it belongs all of humanity!
 I repeat forcefully: it is neither a culture of confrontation nor a culture of conflict which builds harmony within and between peoples, but rather a culture of encounter and a culture of dialogue; this is the only way to peace.
May the plea for peace rise up and touch the heart of everyone so that they may lay down their weapons and be let themselves be led by the desire for peace.
To this end, brothers and sisters, I have decided to proclaim for the whole Church on 7 September next, the vigil of the birth of Mary, Queen of Peace, a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, the Middle East, and throughout the world, and I also invite each person, including our fellow Christians, followers of other religions and all men of good will, to participate, in whatever way they can, in this initiative.
On 7 September, in Saint Peter’s Square, here, from 19:00 until 24:00, we will gather in prayer and in a spirit of penance, invoking God’s great gift of peace upon the beloved nation of Syria and upon each situation of conflict and violence around the world. Humanity needs to see these gestures of peace and to hear words of hope and peace! I ask all the local churches, in addition to fasting, that they gather to pray for this intention.

Let us ask Mary to help us to respond to violence, to conflict and to war, with the power of dialogue, reconciliation and love. She is our mother: may she help us to find peace; all of us are her children! Help us, Mary, to overcome this most difficult moment and to dedicate ourselves each day to building in every situation an authentic culture of encounter and peace.  Queen of Peace, pray for us!

h/t: Vatican Radio 

Pope John Paul II on Work

JPII  Pope John Paul II