In his homily at morning mass, Pope Francis described the Church this way: The Church is a widow, seeking her bridegroom. He went on to say some beautiful things about our mother and how we should seek her,
To join the discussion about Atchison Blue, or to order a copy, go here.
Life is hard.
Life for Americans is not only hard, it is usually frantic.
We are frantic, almost driven, people. I did not realize this until I went to a country where people live by a different internal clock. The contrast was stunning.
Americans are certainly not the only people who race from deadline to goal to commitment to task. And we have a sense of self about how we do it that is our special grace among the driven places on this earth. But living here is a tough boogie.
Life is hard and it is fractured and in some ways desperate. Our nation is divided between the drop outs who just sit, and the doers who never sit at all. In both cases there is a kind of desperation and overwhelmed thing going on. In the case of the drop outs, overwhelmed is where they live and what they do. But for the doers, overwhelmed is the demon they fight every day.
Judy Valente, the author of Atchison Blue, is an overwhelmed fighter. She is an astonishingly high achiever who has managed to carve out a flourishing career for herself in two competitive worlds: free lance writing and human interest broadcast reporting.
Her private demons are a nagging dread of death and the great bugaboo of everyone; family problems. The major betrayal of her life was being laid off from her job at the Wall Street Journal the year after she was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Based on what she writes in this book, losing this job was an earthquake for Ms Valente, a wake-up call about trusting career to be the all-in-all of life.
Her solution for her human woes is to seek the thing we lack in our American society: Wholeness.
It is a simple fact that the abundant life that Christ offers us is based on a spiritual and emotional wholeness that the larger society (any larger society) can never provide. Anyone who wants to be whole must find a way to retreat at intervals from the squabbling bitterness of our workaday lives. Without these retreats, we slide into a kind of fractured insanity without being aware of it. I see this insanity quite often in the exceedingly fractured world of politics. In fact, there was a time, back before Jesus rescued me, when I was pretty sick with it myself.
There is no permanent cure for this fractured-ness. It’s causes are so thoroughly woven into this fallen world and the way it treats people that no one anywhere can completely escape its pull. However, for overworked, over-stimulated Americans, it is particularly ubiquitous. We are a driven people. The fact that we in large part drive ourselves does not change this.
Without retreats, stopping places, we become so fractured that the insanity of life becomes our own insanity.
My retreat is simply going home. When I walk into my house and shut the door behind me, I leave the frantic outside world. Nobody inside those walls is going to attack me or betray me or go on the internet posting lies and accusations about me. Inside these walls, I am free of that.
Ms Valente sought something akin to this when she went to the Benedictine monastery, Mount Scholastica, in Atchison Kansas.
I’m beginning to think that monasticism is a particularly good fit for writers. After all, writers are already contemplatives by nature and avocation long before the monastery bug bites them.
For someone like Ms Valente, who is a poet and human observer writer, walking into the monastery must have been something akin to what I feel when I walk into my house. She must have known at some level that this was home.
Atchison Blue is a lovely book written by a journalist-poet whose writerly skills enable her to tell the story without letting the poetry overwhelm it and still keep the romance of the contemplative life in the midst of the story. It’s a delicate balance; the kind of writing that probably comes naturally to a journalist-poet.
Reading this book makes me want to pack my bags and head off to Atchison myself. I imagine it will do the same thing for many of its readers.
Love stories are like that. They make you want a love of our own.
In the final analysis, that’s what Atchison Blue is; the love story between one woman and monasticism. It is the tale of her homecoming to wholeness in the contemplative life at a Benedictine monastery.
The oblates of Mount Scholastica, Benedictine Monastery. Ms Valente is the one on the bottom right.
European pro life people have successfully gathered the 1 million signatures needed for a petition to protect life. This is only the second time in history that any group has achieved this.
The video below gives details.
If you don’t like gay marriage, then don’t get gay married.
That’s how the slogan goes.
But … who really believed they meant it?
Not, evidently, the Church of Scotland. The Kirk, as it’s called, is considering a move to discontinue performing marriage services “rather than face a slew of lawsuits from homosexual couples demanding to be wed.”
Read about it here.
An Italian atheist I’ve never heard of published an open letter to Pope Francis with a string of questions (challenges, is probably more like it) to the Pope.
The Holy Father astonished everyone, including, I am sure, said Italian atheist, by answering him.
The letter Pope Francis wrote is, like so much else he does, deeply pastoral. It’s clear when you read it that he was responding as a pastor of souls.
However, there was one paragraph that has gotten the whole internet in one of its kerfluffles. The atheist had evidently asked one of the usual atheist questions about can they, with their unbelief, go to heaven. For all I know, this question with its unadmitted longing for grace, was what caught the Holy Father’s attention in the first place.
I know, based on the large number of similar comments I get both here and in my public life, that this particular question is almost ubiquitous among atheists. They ask it — or rather, they use it as a means of denunciation — almost constantly. I’ve often thought that there was an underlying hunger for all the things that Christ offers — forgiveness, grace, peace that passes understanding and eternal life — in the way they fling this particular challenge down so reptitively.
Maybe the Pope saw the same thing I do and his Pastor’s heart reached out to this man in response.
I don’t know if that’s true. I only know that I often have an impulse to comfort them when they do this, but I do not have the pastoral tools to do it.
The Pope obviously was trying to tell this man one of the great truths of the universe with his answer: Christ’s grace and love are for everyone. He loves us all. He loves us every one. And yes, that includes atheists, unbelievers and people who spit on Jesus’ name.
The beautiful parable we call the Prodigal Son is Jesus’ way of telling us this. God loves us, even when we don’t love Him. He yearns for us, even when we turn our backs on Him.
So of course atheists can go to heaven. Heaven was made for them, just the same as it was every other human being.
The question is not can they, but will they?
Pope Francis comments in his letter that “God’s mercy has no limits if he who asks for mercy does so with contrition and a sincere heart.” This is something every Christian knows and has experienced. I can attest from my own life that God’s mercy is indeed limitless.
But the Pope adds something else after that and this has set the internet on its ear all day long.
“… the issue for those who do not believe in God is in following their own conscience,” he wrote.
This one sentence has set the bells ringing since it sounds for all the world like a direct admonishment to practice self-referencing moral relativism by the Pope himself.
After all, if all that’s necessary is to never violate your own personal code of conduct, then a universalist understanding of heaven and the Almighty become (excuse the pun) absolute. We go to heaven in just the way that the punsters and social experimenters have been telling us we do: By “self-actualization” and following a self-referencing, self-promoting, self-idolizing version of morality that is a-ok because it checks with our “own conscience.”
The question is, did Pope Francis really mean that?
Is he telling us that heaven is a slam-dunk for everybody, so long as they don’t cross their own conscience? Considering the messy and highly personal things that consciences are, I certainly hope not. If the unrepentant self-worshipping are going to heaven, then heaven would be pretty much like the world we have now: Mean, selfish, ego-driven, bloody and cruel.
More to the point, it would be a place where God Himself would be most uncomfortable.
Let’s go back to the question I asked a moment ago. Atheists most assuredly can go to heaven. The question I asked, and I think it’s the salient one, is, Will they?
If someone has never heard the name of Christ, then they have to function by the light they are given, and the Church teaches that they are judged according to that light. However, even for them, their only hope is through this Jesus they do not know. There is one Way, and that is Jesus Christ and the atonement he bought for us with his shed blood on Calvary.
But if someone who knows of Christ and has heard of Him all their lives, openly and dramatically chooses the darkness over the light, is God going to throw a net around them and drag them to heaven?
Did the father chase down the prodigal son, hog-tie him and drag him home?
In my opinion that pretty much describes folks who defame Christ while they abort, euthanize and plunder their way through life.
So what did the Pope mean?
I don’t have a full answer for that, although I’m sure one is coming. I am also not a theologian. But I think what he meant is that someone who does not believe in God still has a responsibility to follow the inherent dictates of right and wrong that are planted in every heart. We call this natural law. It’s what tells everyone, everywhere, that murder is wrong. It’s how we know, without complex moral reasoning, that killing innocents, rape, and cruelty in all its forms are wrong.
This runs deeper than any commandment. It is written by the hand of God on each individual heart.
Even an atheist knows these things, and when they use their verbal skills to frame arguments denying these basic truths of moral existence, they are denying, in fact and in truth, their own God-given consciences. When they replace the truth of God that is encoded into their souls, with their own self-referencing anti-God, anti-life morality, there is no second chance for them without repentance and contrition.
At the least and at the beginning, every person must heed this internal voice, which is, whether they will admit it or not, the voice of the Divine. That is the beginning of our lives as moral beings.
Which of course we are. Human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, which means that we are also moral agents — free moral agents — acting in the universe.
We know what is right and wrong. We know it because it is part of our very being to know it. But we also have the verbal skills to weave mental sophistry that we claim exempts us from accepting these dictates of our true nature.
That is the beginning of sin, the first and primary rebellion against the God Who made us. It’s only remedy is to go back where Pope Francis began his discussion on this topic; to the point where we approach God through the open doorway of Christ’s sacrifice with true contrition and ask forgiveness, which, as the Pope says, He is always ready to give us.
I don’t think there are any lambs in this particular gathering, but it appears as if the lions may decide to, if not lie down together, at least make war another day.
Presidents Putin of Russia, Rouhani of Iran and Assad of Syria have been talking about a proposal to remove chemical weapons from Syria to Russia for several days now. I first read about this before the weekend, but didn’t write about it because the sources were publications inside Russia that I didn’t know anything about.
Haaretz, an Israeli news outlet, has also been running stories about it. The proposal became quasi official yesterday and today the New York Times wrote that President Obama has “tentatively embraced” the idea.
I expect that the war-promoting members of the press (which is a substantial portion of the press) will react to this with an analysis that President Obama has been “weak” and went to Congress “looking for a way out,” etc. I want to say, in anticipation of that, that if this compromise works, a good portion of the reason why is that this president made the decision to involve the American people, through their representatives, in this debate.
I’ve been critical of this attempt to take this country into another unnecessary war from the outset. I expect that I am going to be equally critical of the inevitable future attempts to do the same thing. Our press has become a powerful lobby for armed intervention all over the globe. There is one cable news network in particular that never stops agitating for war. The place where they want this country to use armed force changes, but the demand that we do it is almost constant.
I am not a pacifist. I believe in self-defense.
I am most definitely a patriot. From the soles of my feet to the hair of my head, I am an American.
I believe without equivocation that if we do not take an honest and critical look at this situation, we are dooming ourselves. I’ll write more about this, but we are spending ourselves into bankruptcy to finance a war machine that is out of touch with reality. Then, we are being sold on wars and “military actions” one right after the other to use it and justify it.
War has become our major industry.
This cannot go on if we are to survive. We need an economy that is based on manufacturing the goods and services of the people of this country, not an economy that is based on manufacturing weapons.
As I said in the title of this post, Don’t stop Praying.
We are not out of the woods on this yet.
And the peacemakers in this situation are hardly peaceable people.
But it looks as if there is a real possibility that we will be able to avoid firing Tomahawk missiles at the people of Syria. There may even be a possibility that we can let them work out their own civil war without shedding American blood.
We need to continue praying for peace, and for our Christian brothers and sisters who are so very vulnerable in this war. I’ve read that President Assad has treated the Christian minority in Syria with tolerance and that the rebels have targeted Christian villages for attacks and attempts at forced conversions to Islam. Again, this information has come largely from the Russian press and the Russians have a stake in this war, so I’ve been slow to write about it.
But, the Christians in Syria who have contacted me have said much the same thing.
I am grateful to the Holy Father for his powerful leadership in this matter. I am also grateful to President Obama for making the decision to allow Congress to vote on it.
I hope that is a precedent-setting move that future presidents will take seriously.
Don’t stop praying. It appears to be working.
I pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet every Friday. I also pray the main prayer after Communion. It is a beautiful prayer of atonement and Christ’s unending mercy towards us.
EWTN will carry full coverage of Pope Francis’ Vigil for Peace today, beginning at 1 pm, Eastern time.
The schedule for the Vigil is below.
God bless Pope Francis.
(Vatican Radio) On Saturday, 7 September, Pope Francis will preside over an evening of prayer in Saint Peter’s Square as part of the international day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria and the world. The evening will include Eucharistic Adoration, recitation of the Rosary, and a period of silent meditation. Priests will also be available during the evening for those who wish to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
See below for the full schedule of the evening vigil:
5:45: Priests will hear confessions under the colonnade of Saint Peter’s Square.
6:30: Pope Francis’ appeal for peace will be read aloud.
7:00: The Pope begins the prayer service as Veni Creator Spiritus is sung. The icon Salus Populi Romani will then be processed into the Square, carried by four Swiss Guards.
Pope Francis will then lead the recitation of the Rosary, followed by a meditation.
After a period of silent meditation, the Holy Father will then preside over Eucharistic Adoration, during which there will be readings from Scripture and responsorial prayers.
Following the guided period of Adoration, there will be the recitation of the Office of Readings from the Liturgy of the Hours.
10:15: A period of silent prayer will be held before the vigil concludes with Benediction.
Text from page of the Vatican Radio website
The Holy Father Pope Francis has called on all Catholics to pray and fast for peace tomorrow.
What exactly, other than “peace,” are we praying for?
The video below gives a few ideas, and I think they are good ones. What if the president used his considerable powers to convince other leaders around the world, beginning with our great ally Great Britain, and moving onward through the list of nations, including Russia to come together to demand a negotiated peace in Syria?
I don’t see, how, if everyone got together, that they could resist.
That would save lives, and it would prevent this nation of ours from enmeshing itself further in the cycle of violence that is tearing the Middle East apart. I am mindful of what President Dwight Eisenhower said:
Crises there will continue to be. In meeting them, whether foreign or domestic, great or small, there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties.
America has reached the point where we seem to react to every problem around the globe with an almost automatic call to arms. There are teens in this country today who have never lived in a peacetime nation. We can not continue to try to solve every problem by firing off missiles.
The Holy Father is absolutely right: We should give negotiation an all-out effort.
War should be the last option we consider when faced with a crisis, not the first.