Book Review: Face to Face with Jesus

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To join the discussion about Face to Face with Jesus, A Former Muslim’s Extraordinary Journey to Heaven and Encounter with the God of Love, or to buy a copy, go here

Face to Face with Jesus is a book for our time. Not because it deals with a Muslim girl’s conversion to Christ, but because it teaches every Christian about our own call to faithfulness.

Samaa Habib met Jesus in a powerful conversion experience. I know from my own conversion experience that, once you meet the living Christ in this way, you will never be the same again.

Every convert who has walked a path outside Christ will be forced to choose Jesus again and again as the tentacles that link them to their other life are amputated one by one. My advice to all Christians is to read this book and do it like Samaa did it. Don’t do it in the step-by-step, trying-to-cling-to-the-people-of-your-other-life way that I did it.

Samaa never stopped loving her Muslim family, even when they beat her for her faith in Christ and tried to force her to renounce Him. Instead, she prayed and fasted for them. It took much tragedy and suffering, but in the end, her entire family came to know Jesus.

Instead of hiding her light under a bushel as most of us do, she spoke of her faith to everyone she met. This resulted in threats to her life, shunning and persecution. But she never stopped speaking of Jesus.

As I said, this is a book for our time. We are under attack here in America. This attack is relentless and it is gathering steam. Samaa’s witness is for us, as well as all the rest of the world.

I don’t have the native courage that Samaa has. From what I’ve seen, most other American Christians do not have it, either. But in Christ, we can do all things.

The keys to Samaa’s walk with faith are worship, prayer, study and fasting. She went to worship services, even when it meant risking her life. She prayed deeply and often. She studied Scripture. And she employed fasting as a means of intercession for the conversion of others.

Her route to God was through a charismatic congregation. She was introduced to Jesus by charismatic missionaries who had left the safety and comfort of America to go to her country and evangelize for Him.

Even when jihadists bombed their church and many people were wounded and killed, they did not stop. Samaa was terribly injured in this bomb attack. She experienced a near-death experience in which she made a choice to give up her martyr’s crown and come back to bring more people, her family in particular, to Christ.

Reading this book inspired me to pray more. The ever-growing evil in our society saddens me deeply. I need to talk about this sadness with Jesus.

I recommend Face to Face to Jesus to all Christians. It is an inspirational story that teaches courage in Christ for our times.

Rush Limbaugh is a Cigar-Chomping Idiot

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I know. I tell everyone not to call people names.

But there comes a time when “idiot” isn’t a pejorative; it’s an excuse.

Mr Limbaugh is doing his the-pope-is-a-marxist-communist-not-a-corporatist-like-me thing again. After reading this latest rather bizarre attack against the Holy Father, I am faced with three possibilities.

1. Mr Limbaugh has relapsed into his drug problem.

2. He’s an idiot.

or

3. He is deliberately baiting the Vicar of Christ for ratings, despite the fact that a grade-school child could read the interview he’s referencing and know that he’s misquoting and miscasting what the Holy Father said.

Given the choices, I’ve decided that, in charity, I will give Mr Limbaugh the benefit of the doubt and assume that he’s an idiot. I don’t, for instance, think that the fact that he makes at least $70 million per year in salary, or that his net worth is approximately $400 million, has in any way messed with his mind.

What set Mr Limbaugh off on another of his attack-the-Holy-Father spiels is an interview Pope Francis gave to Il Messaggero on Sunday. Rather than try to untangle the web of misquotes and confabulation that Mr Limbaugh has spun, I’m going to quote a couple of highlights, then put Pope Francis’ entire interview below and let you read it for yourself.

Here are what I think of as the lowlights from Mr Limbaugh’s latest attack piece on my spiritual leader, Pope Francis. 

“The 77-year-old pontiff gave an interview to Il Messaggero, Rome’s local newspaper, to mark the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, a Roman holiday. He was asked about a blog post in the Economist magazine that said he sounded like a Leninist when he criticized capitalism and called for radical economic reform.”

Oh, yeah, some obscure blog post in the Economist said he sounded like a Leninist, that got everybody riled up.  We remember that.  Don’t you?  I don’t remember.  Anyway, he said, “I can only say that the communists have stolen our flag. The flag of the poor is Christian. Poverty is at the center of the Gospel.  Communists say that all this is communism. Sure, twenty centuries later. So when they speak, one can say to them: ‘but then you are Christian’,” he said, laughing.

I don’t know if the pope is saying that Jesus was a communist.  I mean some people could read it that way.  He says the communists stole our flag, and if our flag is rooted in solving poverty, and the communists want to claim that’s what they did, I mean, you connect the dots if you wish.

What Mr Limbaugh is doing here is quoting a misquote from an article headlined “Pope Says Communists are Closet Christians,” and then responding to it with the assessment,  I don’t now if the pope is saying that Jesus was a Communist. I mean some people could read it that way.”

Ok, so he doesn’t know if Pope Francis is saying that Christ the Lord is a Communist? Are we supposed to believe that he’s serious?

Maybe he’s an idiot.

Or maybe this was an attempt to be sly and clever by  attacking with innuendo.

You decide.

Me, I’m going with idiot, because, as I said, it’s the kindest interpretation I can come up with.

Here, for those of you who would like to see it, is what the Holy Father actually said. It’s the whole interview, without cuts or edits.

I highlighted the part about Communism so you can want go straight to it if you want. If you can find the place where the Pope Francis said or implied that Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is a Communist, let me know. Frankly, I think that all you have to do to understand what Pope Francis is talking about is to remember that he’s from a country where children live in garbage dumps and scavenge for survival; a country where Communists have tried to take over by appealing to these poorest of the poor and offering them help.

That, and read the interview yourself instead of miscasting misquotes in order to make a coarse point.

From Vatican Radio:

(Vatican Radio) The Rome daily “Il Messaggero” on Sunday published an interview with Pope Francis made by journalist Franca Giansoldati. In his responses to questions on a wide range of issues, the Holy Father focused, among other things, on the challenges of change in the current “era” and “culture,” which has consequences for political, financial, and social life. The Church, along with various civil and social institutions,  must respond to these challenges by protecting the common good and defending human life and dignity.

“Always protecting the common good, which includes “defending human life and dignity” is “the vocation of every politician,” the Holy Father said. Today, the problem of politics – which Pope Francis called a “worldwide problem” – is that it “has been devalued, ruined by corruption, by the phenomenon of bribery.” This “moral decay, not only in politics but also in the financial or social” sector, is driven by “change of epoch” that we are experiencing today, which is also “a change of culture.” In this context, our anxieties about poverty are not concerned solely with material poverty.

“I can help someone who is hungry, so that they are no longer hungry,” the Pope said. “But if someone has lost his job,” he is involved in another kind poverty. He no longer has his dignity.” Helping families in need, then, requires a “joint effort.” Pope Francis recognized that this is an “uphill” journey, but insisted it must be undertaken, working above all for the good of children. “Starting a family is an effort,” he said, because of economic difficulties that “social policy does not help.” Commenting on the very low birth rates in Europe – which makes it seem “as if she were tired of being a mother, preferring to be grandmother,” the Holy Father noted that the causes of this phenomenon lie not only in a “cultural drift marked by selfishness and hedonism,” but also in the current economic crisis.

Pope Francis was asked how he would respond to being called “a communist.” “I would only say that the Communists have stolen the banner… The banner of the poor is Christian; poverty is at the heart of the Gospel.” The cause of the poor is pre-eminently a Christian cause.  The Gospel cannot be understood “without understanding real poverty.” At the same time, the Pope said there is also a “very beautiful ‘poverty of the spirit’,” being poor in the sight of God because God fills you up. The Gospel, in fact, is addressed indiscriminately to the poor and to the rich and “does not at all condemn those who are rich,” but rather condemns their riches when they become the objects of idolatry.

To the question “Where is the Church of Bergoglio headed?” Pope Francis replied, “Thanks be to God, I don’t have any church – I follow Christ. I didn’t found anything.” He went on to say “my decisions are the fruit of the meetings before the conclave. I have done nothing on my own.”

The Church in Asia “is a promise,” he said, turning to his upcoming trips to Korea, in August, and to Sri Lanka and the Philippines, in January. He also spoke about China, saying it represents “a great, a very great pastoral challenge.”

During the interview, Pope Francis also took up a number of other themes already addressed during his pontificate, such as the place of women in the Church. Without an understanding of femininity, the Pope said, one “cannot understand the Church herself.” Women “are the most beautiful thing God has made. The Church is a woman.” He said that in doing theology, one must take account of this “femininity,” and that the Church must continue to work on and develop a “theology of the woman.”

Pope Francis spoke also about the corruption and the economic and sexual exploitation of children. The Pope speaks of incidents of child prostitution that were reported to him when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, involving even elderly men. “For me,” the Pope said, “people who do this to young girls are paedophiles.”

Finally, on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, the patron saints of Rome, Pope Francis spoke about the everyday life and traditions of the City of which the Pope is the bishop. This role, the Holy Father said, is “the first service of Francis.” Pope Francis said Rome shares many of the problems of other cities “such as Buenos Aires.” He said a conference dedicated to the theme of “the pastoral care of the great cities” will take place in Barcelona in November. Pope Francis expressed his hope that the citizens of Rome, the inhabitants of a city “that should be a beacon in the world,” would not lose “joy, hope, confidence, despite difficulties.”

(From archive of Vatican Radio)

Archbishop Carlson’s Deposition Reveals a Painful Truth: He’s Just Like Us

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It’s a bitter pill for Catholics, watching the videos of Archbishop Carlson’s testimony.

I understand and share the emotions it raises.

But we do not serve ourselves or our Church by pretending that it ain’t so. We’ve got to face this because it is reality. It doesn’t change in any way the simple fact that Jesus said “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

What it changes is the blind notion that many Catholics have — that we all want to have — that our religious leaders are sinless Christ figures themselves.

They’re just people, just like us. They are conduits of the graces of the sacraments. God can and does reach through them and into us when we go to them for support and help in our troubles.

But the miracle in that is all on God, not on them. They don’t create the miracle, they don’t control the grace. I know from personal experience that God can reach out and touch anyone, anytime. I believe that all that’s needed on our parts is a willing heart. All we have to do to receive God’s healing grace is say yes to it.

Why, then, a priesthood? If God can reach directly into us Himself then why do we need priests who are conduits of grace?

Because the priesthood is God’s instrument for bestowing this grace in an understandable, predictable and accessible way. I think that the emotionalism that is sometimes exhibited in some churches is an attempt to re-create that first transforming moment of grace when they originally said yes. It is an attempt to touch God and feel it again by using our own emotions to elevate ourselves to that level.

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The Eucharist gives us that healing moment of grace, that experience of touching God, of feeling Christ, without any effort on our part. All we have to do is say yes and partake. It is the same with confession. Confession bestows healing grace. So much so that there have been times, including long periods when I was feeling especially challenged, that I went to confession every week, even though my sins were not so grave, because I needed that encounter with Christ, that healing grace that confession gives.

Sacramental confession strengthens us in an almost unfelt way. The more often we go to confession, the stronger we are in resisting evil. In fact, my experience has been that if I confess something on a regular basis, I stop wanting to do it. It takes a bit of time, but that’s what happens.

These graces, as well as the graces of the other sacraments, flow through the priest in a way that is simple for those of us who receive it. We don’t have to understand theology. We don’t have to work ourselves into an emotional high. All we have to do is say yes and accept the grace that is freely given to us.

The crowning moment of grace is always the Eucharist, which is direct contact with Christ. So far as I’m concerned — and I’m not a theologian, so this applies only to me and my understanding — the Church is the Eucharist. And we are the eucharist. Because the Eucharist is Christ. The priesthood exists to bestow grace. Priests are conduits of grace, and it does not matter what kind of hooligan they are personally, the graces of the sacraments flow through them to us, regardless.

Which brings me back to Archbishop Carlson. I wouldn’t call him a hooligan. In fact, I’m not sure how to label him. I don’t want to label him and his faults. It is enough for me that this is the situation in which we find ourselves, him and us. Because at this point, that’s what it’s about: Him and us.

Not, Jesus and us, or even the Church and us. But poor, messed up Archbishop Carlson and us. We don’t have to decide what to do about Archbishop Carlson. What we are tasked with is determining how we are going to relate to our dear Church in the light of the obvious fact that our leaders are ordinary people.

They can be cowards. Just like us.

They can be craven. Just like us.

They can lie, cheat, steal and run away when they get in trouble. Just like us.

They can gossip and betray confidences, hold grudges and be spiteful. Just like us.

They are not Christ.

What they are is men who have consented to be the conduits of grace to Christ’s Church, which is us. There is a moment when heaven comes to earth and the Eucharist becomes His Body, His blood, in which the divine flows through them.

The fact that a few of them become callous about this and begin to devalue it and even start thinking that it is all about them and not Jesus, does not change the impact it has on us. The Eucharist is still real, even if the priest is a messed-up welter of confusion and sin.

Archbishop Carlson reveals himself to be a lawyered-up citizen who ducks and covers under oath in an act of self defense. I have no idea why he didn’t do the obvious thing and exercise his right to take the Fifth Amendment. It would have been far less damaging to his credibility than this performance.

You can find the full text of his deposition here. Many of the salient comments are highlighted to make them easy to find.

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There really isn’t any point in trying to find an “out” for Archbishop Carlson in this. The deposition speaks for itself. Besides, it’s not our job to judge Archbishop Carlson. Our job is the much tougher one of working out how to be a faithful Catholic in a world of fallen leaders, including our leaders in the Church.

How do we follow these men when they are so nothing special as this deposition reveals them to be? Not, mind you, worse than us. Most of us would duck and cover in a deposition like this one, just like the Archbishop. Any of us who have brains would get the best legal counsel we could and do exactly what that attorney told us to do.

Archbishop Carlson doesn’t reveal himself to be a fiend in this deposition. He reveals himself to be no better than the rest of us.

Which brings us back to the task that faces us. We are fallen people, served by a priesthood that is composed entirely of fallen people, living in a fallen world.

Yet we serve a risen Savior, Who is God Incarnate. We are called to be “perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect.”

But we can’t do it. We. Can. Not. Do. It. We don’t get through a single day without at least one and usually many sins of one sort or another.

We want heroes who will give us the illusion of the possibility of human perfection. But human perfection is always just that; an illusion.

To put it bluntly, we are all — priest and parishioner alike — down here in the pits together. As Jesus said, “There is none good except God.”

So how do we solve this conundrum of answering a call to be “perfect” while we are certain that there is “none good” among humankind?

We solve it by getting up every morning and giving our day to Jesus and His Mother. We solve it by availing ourselves of the certain graces of the sacraments. We solve it by forgiving each other and sustaining one another in our weakness.

How does this apply to the Archbishop Carlsons in our clerical leadership? More to the point, how does it apply to us and our response to the Archbishop Carlsons in our leadership?

My answer — and this is just me, talking about me — is that we need to cherish these men and help them as we can. At the same time, we need to stop pretending that they are anything other than fallen human beings. When they stand behind that altar and lift up the host, they are conduits of God’s grace. When they come down from behind the altar and scald us with a fit of rage or lie in a deposition, they are just people, wallowing around in the pit of failed good intentions along with the rest of us.

This is difficult for Catholics. It’s difficult for me. I am still working out how to deal with wounds inflicted by clergy. Some days I don’t do so well with it. Protestants can just dismiss their clergy as fallen people and be done with it. But Catholics are part of a hierarchical Church whose entire governance is built on the administration of these fallen men.

How do we, as Catholics, remain faithful when we see by their actions that we must be judicious about how and when we follow our clergy?

This is a tough one. It’s not always or even mostly about big public dilemmas like Archbishop Carlson’s dipping and dodging deposition. It is usually more personal, and because of that, far more damaging to us as Christians and Catholics.

How do we, say, disregard things a priest or spiritual director says to us in a fit of rage? How do we decide what to believe and what not to believe about the things they say to us? How do we overcome the sense of betrayal when a priest gossips about our deepest hurts? These are more the kinds of things that most Catholics must overcome in their walk of faith. The big public falls from grace seem easy to me compared to those much deeper personal dilemmas. How do we live together as Catholics in this fallen world?

These are hard questions with no easy answers. I’m going to leave it open for discussion and see what the rest of you think. In the meantime, take a look at Archbishop Carlson’s deposition. It’s clearly not a case of dementia or anything like it. He’s dipping and dodging and doing it quite well. Just like us.

Book Review: The Cross and Gendercide

To join the discussion on The Cross and Gendercide, or to order a copy, go here

It is not often that I read a book that I could have written.

It’s even more rare when I read a book that is somewhat similar to one that I intend to write.

But that is what happened when I read The Cross and Gendercide, A Theological Response to the Global Violence Against Women and Girls.

I have devoted much of my adult life, beginning when I was barely out of my teens and going right through to this afternoon, to two majors issues: The way we treat our elderly, and a search for an end to violence against women.

Elizabeth Gerhardt, the author of The Cross and Gendercide, sounds like my sister from another mother. The differences between us are obvious, of course. She’s an academician/theologian and an administrator of shelters to protect and help women who are victims of violence. I have worked almost exclusively through the political arena.

She evidently has clung to her Christian faith throughout her career. I, on the other hand, left Christianity and God altogether for most of my early adulthood. My reason, ironically enough, was violence against women.

That leads me directly to the subject of Dr Gerhard’s book. I walked out of Christianity and spent around 17 years seething with anger toward Christ and his followers precisely because of the indifference and often the hostility I witnessed within the church toward women who were victims of violence. In particular, I was almost destroyed spiritually by the response I saw in one church toward a rape victim.

Dr Gerhard approaches this topic from a more scholarly perspective than I can muster. Even today, that old rage kicks off when I think about these things.

I think Dr Gerhard’s more measured approach is needed. But I also know from experience that my take-no-prisoners way of doing things has its place is this fight, as well. We are agreed on the topic of her book. The Church does not have an adequate theological response to violence against women. And that adequate theology is not difficult to find. It is right in front of every Christian in the cross of Calvary.

There is a reason why victims of human trafficking cry for hours after seeing The Passion of the Christ. The God they encounter in that movie is a God Who can understand them.

Watching Jesus being reduced to an object and then beaten, tortured and murdered resonates with them in a way that it does not with people who have never experience these things themselves. The cross changes God from a frowning figurehead off in the distance into a brother God Who understands and shares their anguish in a way that goes beyond words and does not need them.

Through the miracle of salvation, Christ dignifies their own dehumanization and lifts them out of the shame and loss of self that scars them.

That is the miracle of the cross. It is the message of Christianity.

The other miracle, and one which the Church ignores at its peril, is that these women from all over the world, including our own neighborhoods, who are victims of savage violence are our Jesus. They are Christ crucified, right in front of us. If we ignore them, we ignore Him.

That also is the miracle of the cross. It also is the message of Christianity.

I didn’t see this for a long time, for two reasons. First, I sought solutions in creating social responses such as rape crisis centers, and in changing laws. Second, I had x-ed both God and the church off my list of possible allies. I believed they did not care about violence against women, that in many circumstances, they promoted it.

My conversion experience was mostly an encounter with the living God. It was not intellectual. But it forced me to reconsider almost everything in my life, which was, many times, a deeply thoughtful and prayerful process. The first thing I had to learn is that my understanding of the nature of God and especially my understanding of His reaction to violence against women was wrong.

I learned, through prayer mostly, the depths of God’s love for womankind. I also learned the degree of depravity that violence against women really is. To call it a human rights violation does not touch it. Our God is Jesus Christ, Who was born of a woman. Everything that is human about Him came from His mother. She is the only human being who has ever or who ever will be elevated to the status of Queen of Heaven.

Violence against women is a direct sin against Our Lady.

After decades of starting organizations and passing laws and still encountering violence against women and indifference to that violence at every turn, I had a sort of epiphany. I had been too angry to see it before. In fact, it took me a long time to be able to think about it at all. And that epiphany was simply that the Church owes Jesus and Mary more than they have given where violence against women is concerned.

The victims of egregious denial of their basic human rights change from clime to clime. The group of people singled out to suffer varies from one location to the next. But no matter where you go, the one group who always has a firm grip on second place, and who is always subjected to violence and degradation of many sorts, is girls and women.

Women are bought and sold, marketed like chattel, all over the globe. With the crime against humanity that is egg harvesting, their bodies are harvested to be sold on the internet. With surrogacy, their bodies are rented out as incubators. With prostitution, trafficking and porn, they are sold and used as if they were appliances.

Women are subject to the most brutal violence imaginable in every country in the world. Women must fear being attacked for no reason wherever they go.

This is not random violence. It is a universal, global, culturally-sanctioned human rights violation that in terms of scale, persistence and ubiquity outweighs all others.

Where is the Christian outrage over violence against women? I’m not talking about a few seminars and a couple of tut-tut speeches scattered around. Where is the Christian response to this degradation of half the human race that the Cross demands?

The Church cannot sit idly by while Christ is crucified over and over again in His sisters all around this globe of ours. The Church does not dare be silent when Our Lady is degraded by this degradation of the female.

The Church needs to stand up on the whole issue of violence against women. Violence against women is a historic, endemic, universal human rights violation that spans humanity from dateline to dateline, pole to pole. It is the universal human rights violation of humanity.

The Cross and Gendercide raises the serious question of how we should develop a theology against violence against women. The author correctly points us to the cross in our search for this theology.

The Cross and Gendercide is is well worth reading. I recommend it.

 

 

Choose. This. Day.

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Evidently, there was an internet hate-off while I was off unpacking my office and getting acquainted with The Precious.

I won’t go into the details because I don’t know the details, and also because I can see from a distance that the details are rife with petty malice, self-righteous viciousness and lies.

It seems that Pope Francis kissed somebody’s hand and one of my colleagues said something about heresy and, of course, the money changer christians are all in a big kerfluffle because the Pope, once again, spoke out in favor of the poor. What’s more, he did this in direct violation of their true theology.

That theology is the self-serving, greed-driven Ayn-Rand-derived neo-con economic theory/theology that is being put on the altars of a lot of Christians’ hearts these days. It is being blessed and promoted in direct contradiction to the teachings of the law and the prophets and Christ the Lord by sin-sick clergy who are twisting the Scriptures to suit the politics of the destructive wing-nuts on the right of the political spectrum.

I’ve written extensively about the wing-nuts on the left of the political spectrum and their Gospel-twisting clergy. But from what little I know, this particular hate-off was fueled and carried forth by the right-wing-nuts of today’s culture/politics-worshipping fallen (little c) christianity.

I’m quite certain that a lot of Public Catholic’s readers are going to come at me with pitchforks and torches for saying this, but my friends, you have got to choose. Follow Christ, or follow the apologists of your political party. You can not serve them both and you cannot follow them both.

On the one hand, we have the arguments of those who buttress claims that Jesus really supports abortion, gay marriage, euthanasia, etc. They use distorted lying interpretations of Scripture to support what is in fact, anti-Christ. On the other hand, we have those who claim that Jesus really supports transferring the wealth of the people into the hands of a few greedy campaign donors and impoverishing the people of this great nation in the process. They use their own distorted, lying interpretations of Scripture to support what is also and in fact, anti-Christ.

What is the difference between them?

Nothing.

They are two sides of the same coin. And they both are leading people down the wide path that goes straight to a hell that exists on this earth and in the next life simultaneously. We are making a hell of this heaven with our politicized christianities.

You cannot — can not — follow either of these heretical (there’s that word) — self-serving, false and evil wing nut christianities and follow Jesus. It is not possible. It cannot be done.

Choose this day, people. Choose who you will serve. Will you walk down the wide road of political expedience and ez-pz morality crafted by the lying liars of politicized little c christianity? Or will you and your house serve the Lord?

The christianity being taught by the wing nuts on both sides of the political spectrum is not the Christianity that leads to eternal life. This bastardized christianity is from the pit, and it leads straight back to the pit. There is no life in these teachings; no Gospel, no Jesus. They come from people who have sold their souls to the political store. Their words are justifications of evil. They are teachings for and about themselves, their greed, and their fallenness. They are not in any way about Him.

Which is why their fruit is lynch mob carrying-on on the internet and in other places. Their fruit is death, dissolution, impoverishment of the many for the few and destruction. They lead people into self-righteousness and crazy viciousness. They fuel slander, malice, envy and an endless cycle of cruel, hate-filled attacks that resemble a debauch more than a discussion.

The internet is full of what amounts to verbal orgies of hatred, directed in the name of Christ — in the name of Christ — at anyone who disagrees with the gospel of wing-nut political christianity.

I looked over the rim of my week off and saw the destructive hate-off. I saw it and I thought, there they go again. I can tell you that from that safe distance it was clear to me that satan was running the show. We are living in times when our world is falling away from Christ. The exhortations and temptations to fall with it are varied and many. But the most sinister come from fallen christians who try to induce us to live by the world’s lights while proclaiming that we are following Him.

Is that heresy? I don’t know. I’m not theologian enough to say. But it is blasphemy. It is taking the Lord’s name in vain. Of that I am entirely certain.

Here, for your delectation, are a few random quotes, pulled from my rather spotty memory. Read them and think. And stop supporting fallen religious leaders and political demagogues who have the temerity to lecture God on morality.

Cboose. This. Day.

Who said that?

Money is the root of all of evil.

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.

Do not store up treasures on earth … store up treasures in heaven … for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

If you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to me.

You cannot serve both God and money.

My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers.

But the deceitfulness of riches and desire for other things enter in and choke the word and it becomes unprofitable.

What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his own soul?

Who said that?

Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied.

The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.

Do not be hard hearted or tight fisted toward your poor brothers and sisters.

You have hoarded wealth in the last days. The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you.

If a man shuts his ear to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.

He who mocks the poor shows contempt for his maker.

The righteous care about justice to the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.

He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord.

A fortune made by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor and a deadly snare.

Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the Lord will take up their case and will plunder those who plunder them.

Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath.

I’ve Got a Lot of Past, and Not All of It’s Good

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Like everybody my age, I’ve got a lot of past.

Not all of my past is good.

In fact, a portion of it is seriously miserable.

I try to forget.

And forgive myself for the things I’ve done.

I try to forget.

And forgive others for the things that have been done to me.

But there are days when that load of past can get heavy. Especially in church. My miserable past includes a couple of bad times with church. I’ve experienced the rejection of unforgiveness. Even though I forgive as best I can, the memory still comes back from time to time, like an ache in an old break in a bone when the weather changes.

The two greatest challenges this poses are a loss of trust and a deep feeling of unworthiness. The bad opinions of others can imprint on a person and leave their ugly image. Trust, once it’s cut away, doesn’t re-grow. It callouses over, but the nerves are dead.

I have periods of time in my life when the hardest thing I have to do is go to mass. Not because of any latent anger, but because of the deep sense of unworthiness. I have no right to be there in the presence of the Presence, and I know it.

I had an exceptionally rough bout with this recently. I actually left the church during mass, left my husband there, holding the hymnal and looking at me with uncomprehending eyes as I left, driven away by the unworthiness that is branded into me.

I used those moments away to gather myself to myself and then I went back in. But it wasn’t easy. I got through that mass by looking at the tabernacle and talking to Him.

Because it’s true, you know. I have no right to be there, in the presence of the Presence. I am unworthy, as John the Baptist said, to untie His sandal. Yet the reason, the only reason, that I am there is that He invited me.

In the final analysis, the Presence does not belong to any priest, or even to the Church itself. They are its guardians, and the conduit by which God graciously consents to dwell among us in the Eucharist. But the Presence is God Himself, and as such, that Presence belongs to no human being. It is It’s Own Self.

I came to the Catholic Church and asked to come into full communion because Christ in the Eucharist called me to Himself. It was a call that was so clear, persistent and patient, that, in the end, it worked its way past all the obstacles to what was at the time a rather bold step of faith.

Jesus called me to Himself in the Eucharist. That is why I am Catholic.

And on that day when my own unworthiness flared into a blistering flame inside me, when I wanted to run away, to paraphrase St Peter, because I am a sinful woman, He was there, not to call, but to strengthen me past my focus on me and bring me into a fresh focus on Him.

I kept looking at the tabernacle, at Jesus, present in our midst. I don’t know if it was a prayer, or a conversation, or a vow of a sort. I only know I spoke directly to Him and He heard me.

“You are my Lord,” I told Him. “You are the reason I am here. You are the One I trust. You and only You.”

There was more. But that’s the gist of it. Shattered trust is like an amputation. It can’t grow back. We can never undo the things we’ve done or forget the lessons of the things that are done to us. Forgive, yes. But forgetfulness would be to unlearn the life lessons and forego the spiritual depth these things give us.

If you live long enough and do enough hard things, you will lose your trust in people, in fate, in your own good luck. The illusions of personal invincibility die a hard death, but Christ can and will raise up a new trust and a new invincibility from the ashes on that pyre of self-sufficiency.

“You are my Lord,” I told Him, and it was as much vow as prayer; an open acknowledgement of the truth of things, bound up in a promise. “You — and You only — are my Lord.”

“You are the reason I am here.” I said, not because I enjoy the liturgy or find affirmation in the friendships, but “You — and You only — are the reason I am here.”

“You are the One I trust,” because You have proven Yourself trustworthy time and time again, because You loved me first and because You forgave me and walk with me and endure me and keep forgiving me over and over again.

“You and only You,” because people, even the most lovable and precious of people, will let you down. Because, I, you and everyone, will let ourselves down. We will betray one another and we will also betray ourselves. Only Christ will never fail us.

I was not the only wounded person in the church that day. I am never am. We are all wounded, in one way or another. We shatter our self-righteousness by the things we do, and we face the terrible isolation and aloneness of the things that are done to us.

The many cruelties people practice against one another — our gossip and slanders, violence, lies, betrayals and deliberate degradations — are all at base an isolation of the other person, a way of putting them outside while we remain inside.

We draw lines around ourselves and our group, whoever that group may be, and then we push everyone outside that line into a sub-class of one sort or another. This hurts and maims all of us.

So many times on this blog I see angry, harsh comments, coming from people who at base are just trying to express their sense of isolation and rejection. The truth is, no one of us, not a single person of us, has the right to stand before God.

But He is our Lord. And He has invited all of us — ALL of us — to His table. No one of us has a right to be there. But, by the miracle of His love, no one of us is too wounded, too sin-sick, too disreputable, too female, too gay, too poor, too fat, too ugly, stupid or lost to be refused a place at that table. We are all welcome.

He is always with us, even when others fail us or turn us away. He is always ready to accept us and forgive us. We don’t have to stop sinning and get perfect to come to Him. He accepts us just, as the old hymn says, as we are.

We may have to jump through more hoops that we can manage to find surcease and acceptance from other people. But all we ever have to be or will ever have to do with Him is put our hand in His and say “Yes.”

“You are my Lord,” I told him. It is as simple as that.

Why Did Jesus Have to Die, and Why Does the Resurrection Matter?

Resurrection

Calvary is the fulcrum of history.

Everything changed on that hill called Golgotha 2,000 years ago. Three days later, when the stone rolled away, God put His final redemptive imprimatur on the story of our salvation.

Before that Day in the garden outside the empty tomb, when He looked at the woman and said, Mary!,  Solomon’s ancient wail of “Vanity, vanity; all is vanity,” was the summation of the reality of human existence.

But Calvary and what He did there, the garden and Who the woman met there, changed all that forever.

Do not eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, for you will surely die, God told them.

“You will not die,” Satan countered, in one of the deceptive lies disguised in a seeming truth that he uses so often against us.

They ate.

And they did not die.

Then.

But death was born into the world with that first bite of disobedience. The scales fell from their eyes and they knew. They fouled their primal innocence with willfulness, and they knew shame; first the shame of their nakedness, and then the shame of their fallenness.

Their first action was to hide from God because, as they told Him, “We were ashamed because we were naked.”

God’s answer illuminates their changed condition, Who told you that you were naked?

Their second action was to blame one another.

Primal innocence was gone in a single bite of the apple of disobedience, replaced by primal love of self.

Humankind denied this loss throughout its history, denies it even to this day. Self-will battles with God’s will in each of us every moment of our lives. And yet, there is in each of us, encoded in our souls, a haunting memory of who we really are, and an inchoate longing that will not be silenced for what we have lost.

“Our hearts are made for thee,” St Augustine said. And so they are.

God-longing is a part of the human condition, as is a hunger for transcendence and lost innocence. Separated as we are, this longing festers into resentment and denial, while the hunger congeals on our souls as hubris and self-worship.

The curse of lost innocence drives us to rageful disobedience. It ensnares us in our own desires and, if we let it, murders us with the excesses those desires breed in our lives.

Throughout human history this pull of longing for God and lost innocence has played against the push of the hubris of our self-aggrandizements and twisted desires. The tension it creates drives us into a universal acceptance of insanity. We kill one another and we kill ourselves in as many ways as the human story can devise. Our blood-soaked history of suffering and misery has one message: We cannot save ourselves.

The God-hunger encoded in us and the God-image inside of us, drive us to seek propitiation. From moloch to corporatism, we feed our lives and the lives of our children into the empty maw of false gods of our devising. We seek our lost transcendence in debauchery and achievement; in doing good and doing bad; in war making and peace making; in causes and rights and laws.

We try to achieve a lost immortality by looking as Ted Bundy did, into the eyes of those we kill and persuading ourselves that in that moment when the light of life fades we are like gods. We attempt to overcome our finite hopelessness by doing good works, and advancing humankind through the achievements of our efforts and our minds.

But in the end, we are but dust. Vanity, vanity, all is vanity.

God does not force us. He doesn’t reach down and re-invent us back to our lost innocence.

That is not cruelty as some claim. It is love and longing. Love, to be love, must be freely given. Our love for Him must be ours to give or withhold, or it is not love at all.

So God led us gently over long years and slow changes to the moment when He stepped into our history as one of us in order to offer us a Way. Jesus had to die because by dying He became the ultimate sacrificial lamb, the complete propitiation for our sins. He made it right by offering Himself in lieu of us on the altar of life and death.

He was our Passover lamb and Calvary was the ultimate and final Lord’s Passover.

If that is true, then what is the meaning and the necessity of the Resurrection? Wasn’t dying on the cross enough to redeem us?

The answers people give are all true. The Resurrection demonstrates that Jesus is God. The Resurrection is a sign of the resurrection that awaits all of us who accept Him and go through the open doorway of redemption that He represents. He is the Way in a literal and absolute manner. We enter into the Kingdom through Him.

But I think there is another ultimate meaning to the Resurrection. Calvary wasn’t the only way that God could have restored us to Himself. It was the only way He could do it and leave us free.

The Resurrection was the great undoing of that curse we cursed ourselves with in the garden. If you eat of the tree of knowledge, you will surely die. 

You will not die, Satan told us, and left out the word “today.”

We believed the lie, and the curse of death, real death that is separation from the Light, entered humanity.

The Resurrection broke that curse. God Himself entered into death, took on the curse, and experienced its depths. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me, Jesus cried from the cross as He experienced the cold annihilation of The Alone in its absolute form.

I’ve have written about The Alone that we inflict on one another with our cruelties. But that Alone, which is a foretaste of the pit of hell, is nothing but a foretaste. The real hell, the true Alone, is complete separation from God.

We experience shades of this hell in the bitter blackness of our sinfulness. I have lived a bit of it, both in things I’ve done and things that have been done to me. The pleasure people take in hurting other people is a dark thing that swallows their own humanity.

We can cast other people into The Alone with our rapes, tortures, murders, greed, gossip and pretentious claims to superiority. Every time we do this to another person, we experience a bit of the cold blackness that such actions come from.

The curse of the fall is our daily experience, and that curse is death. The Resurrection broke that curse. God entered into our cursedness and experienced its shattering consequences. He, Who knew no sin, became sin for our sakes.

Then, on the third day, He shattered the curse like a glass by breaking death itself. He cast off death and arose from the grave.

This was different in every way from miracles such as raising Lazarus or the little girl or the young man who was being carried to his burial place. The difference is that He didn’t stand outside death and undo it for a time, He entered into death and dissolved it for all time.

Physical death is a huge thing to us. But to God it appears to be almost trivial. Jesus raised people from the dead as easily as taking a drink of water. Little girl arise, He said. He took pity on a mother’s grief at her son’s funeral procession and raised the young man with a word. Lazarus, come forth He commanded and Lazarus walked out of his tomb.

Physical death isn’t the great divide that it is to us to One who sees both sides of the experience, to the One Who created life in the first place.

The Resurrection isn’t another casual raising of someone from the dead so that they will die again in a few years. The Resurrection is an everlasting casting off of ultimate death altogether.

Eat, and you will surely die. 

You will not die … today.

I am the Way … all who believe in Me will never die. 

The Resurrection is the end of death. It is the Way out of getting what we deserve.

And it leaves us free. We can accept Him and love Him … or not.

Love is not love unless it is freely given.

Holy Saturday: The Sign of Jonah

 Then, the scribes and pharisees demanded a sign from Him. But He answered them,

An evil and adulterous generation seeks a sign. But no sign shall be given to it but the sign of Jonah. 

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Good Friday

 

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At Gethsemane

 

Gethsemane is far more than the physical garden where Jesus prayed the night He was taken.

Gethsemane is a place in the human heart, a destination we all reach. Some of us will go there many times in our lives.

Gethsemane is what I call The Alone. It is that stripped-bare moment when the pretenses and self lies that sustain us in our illusion of invincibility and significance are taken from us. Gethsemane is the realization that we are alone in a way that the glad-handing niceties of human interaction hide from us.

Emotions such as loneliness and even despair are trivialities when contrasted with the stark solitary helplessness of The Alone. It is a stunning thing to look into the eyes of another human being and see satan looking back at you. It is a soul-scouring reality to face the insignificance we really are to other people.

That is Gethsemane, and it is what Jesus faced for you. And for me.

Can you not wait with me one hour? He asked the disciples, and the question vibrates with the isolating aloneness that prompted it.

He had to face the awfulness of what was coming without human succor or understanding. When they came, when Judas struck Him to the heart with a kiss of betrayal, when He looked into the pitiless eyes of Satan, staring at him from another human face, He was alone.

That was Christ’s Gethsemane. Our Gethsemane, even though it will differ, is in some ways like it.

My friend Linda Caswell is director of All Things New, a ministry that shelters and redeems women who have been trafficked and prostituted. These women know The Alone, not as an event or passage, but as the whole of their lives. They have inhabited The Alone the way you and I inhabit our jobs, families and lives, because it has been their lives.

Most of these women have had very few positive contacts with people of faith. They avoid churches because the men who have bought them are also in the churches. Their only safety is in Jesus, but they do not understand that at first.

When Linda shows them the movie that Mel Gibson made, The Passion of the Christ, it inevitably breaks through the hard shell of their defenses. Women who do not understand the Gospels as anything but a lie told by lying liars who buy and sell them break down and sob uncontrollably when they see Jesus humiliated, beaten, tortured and disregarded.

This Jesus, the One who prayed “let this cup pass” in Gethsemane, they understand. And by the miracle of the grace of the cross, they believe that this Jesus understands them.

Their lives, which have been an unending Gethsemane, open to this Brother God who was beaten, tortured, humiliated and disregarded as they have been.

Because He understands. Because He does not disregard them. Because He is the only One who can go with them into The Alone of their personal Gethsemanes.

Jesus Christ suffered for us to redeem us from our sins, from the things we’ve done. He also suffered to redeem us from the things that have been done to us. In this cruel world, the things that are done to us can cut deeper and leave us less able to see the Divine than our sins.

We put people outside the bright circles of acceptability that we draw around ourselves and those we deem worthy. We cast them into the hell of unending Gethsemane where no one keeps vigil with them and no one cares that they are alone.

Only Jesus, Who has been there, can penetrate The Alone of our lives. He is the One, the only One, who can draw people back from the man-made abyss of life lived in The Alone where we cast so many of the people that He died to save.

It is important to remember this at all times, but especially today when we re-enact the Last Supper. Jesus was becoming Christ on this night when He gave us the Eucharist and the servant priesthood. He was teaching us how to love with a love that passes all human understanding and how to live the life of the Kingdom in this world. He was showing us that even in our Gethsemane, even in the deepest pit of The Alone, we are never alone, for He is always there.

And he will keep watch with us, not just for an hour, but for the whole of this life and into the one beyond.

 


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