Sunday, 19 October 2014

Secrets of the Heavenly Kingdom on Earth

The Parable of the Sower
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake.  Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore.  Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed.  As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.  Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow.  But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.  Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.  Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”  - Matt. 13:1-6

As a student of the Blessed Edith Stein Institute I clearly recall our Carmelite teachers emphasising the great importance of the Parables.  Parables represent a key part of the teachings of Jesus, forming approximately one third of his recorded teachings.  Christians place high emphasis on these parables; since they are the words of Jesus; they are believed to be what the Father has taught, indicated by John 8:28[1] and 14:10[2].   The key theme, motive and purpose behind these stories can be found in the following response from Jesus to his disciples in Matthew 13:10,
 The disciples came to him and asked, "Why do you speak to the people in parables?" He replied,
"The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. This is why I speak to them in parables:
Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand."

Richard Rohr writes ‘This is how I read this enigmatic passage: “You disciples have already made the breakthrough, so I can talk to you straightforwardly and you get it. But for those who are still enclosed and over-defended, I’ve got to tell little riddles and stories to undermine their usual and comfortable way of thinking, so that they’ll re-frame both the question and the answer.’
Referring to the same passage from Matthew; note that Jesus talks about the ‘kingdom’ as it having already been given to us, not as something that is to come in the future.  Nor is Jesus talking about a kingdom as something that appears only after our death.  Although In one sense, the kingdom of God has always existed.  However in the present sense I believe that the primary purpose of parables is to teach us how to become and live like kingdom people here on earth.  For example the secrets to this kingdom can be found wherever the values of this kingdom – as expressed in the parables -are accepted in the hearts of human kind.

While most Christians are probably quite familiar with the parables as ‘The Prodigal Son’ and ‘The Good Samaritan’, others such as ‘The Workers in the Vineyard’ are often dismissed as impractical and unfair. But if we were to look for the deeper treasure contained in each story we would find that they require we step outside our known and immediate world. Kingdom values represent the upside down values of the world.  They are contradictory, paradoxical, confusing, disorderly, and inconsistent.

Nowhere are the upside values of God’s Kingdom better expressed then when we speak about justice. In his blog,  ‘Disordered Parables [3], Br. Robert L’Esperance  recently eloquently wrote “It’s always important for us to remember that Jesus showed us that God’s justice and human notions of justice are two quite different things.  Not only different but sometimes at complete variance with one another.  The judgement that Jesus shows us points to a new way; judgement in the kingdom is measured, deliberate and never afraid to reverse itself.  The kind of judgement that we all long for in that moment of grace when we recognize our own need for mercy and forgiveness. Judgement grounded not in knowledge but in wisdom.”  I have come to understand it as ‘God’s restorative justice’ - Justice that is based on redemption not punishment. Think about that while contemplating the often mistaken idea of God’s last judgement.
Like the future, parables can seem frightening and even threatening.  Some parables are comforting, heart-warming, humorous, earthly, we might even say, picturesque, but always in some way or another, challenging.  I think that much of their power is in the fact that they are in so many ways like how we experience life itself.  But unless we are prepared to accept these Kingdom values in our daily lives we cannot enter that narrow gate or door to this Kingdom.  Not because God doesn`t constantly invite us but because we are more likely to depend on our own selfish ego`s.  Whenever we choose to refuse God`s gift of freedom and rely strictly on our ego`s to satisfy our own personal needs, well then you and I both know where that will get us.  And as a result we will experience much weeping and gnashing of teeth until we finally recognize how our sins for have caused so much pain for others and ourselves.   

When we struggle to understand Jesus’ parables we need to listen, look and try to perceive them with the God’s wisdom - not our own. And only then will we understand the secrets of the Kingdom of heaven, with a new heart and turn to receive his healing touch.  For, blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.  Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it. (Matthew 13:11-15). Jesus explains The Parable of the Sower following verse 17 of Matthew in your own bible.  But for those like the rest of us who continue to struggle with other Parables, remember in God's Kingdom here on earth there cannot be any right or wrong answers only better ones.

Note: for an excellent study guide to The Parables of Jesus click here.

[1] 28 So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things as the Father instructed me.
[2] 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Pope Francis and pastoral care of remarriage & divorce

Upon his return from World Youth Day in July 2013 Pope Francis surprised his followers by making reference to the predicament of divorced and remarried Catholics.  He told reporters that the next synod (October 2014 and now in session) would explore a "somewhat deeper pastoral care of marriage," including the question of the eligibility of divorced. At the same time Pope Francis added that church law governing marriage annulments has to be reviewed, because ecclesiastical tribunals are not sufficient for this.  Such problems, he said, exemplified a general need for forgiveness in the church today. The church is a mother, and she must travel this path of mercy, and find a form of mercy for all, the pope added.  This did not sit well with many traditional Catholics.

More recent public disagreements over whether the Roman Catholic Church can change its teachings on Communion for remarried Catholics are growing sharper with conservatives led by U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke making another push against loosening the rules.  Burke said allowing Communion for the divorced and remarried would complicate the Church’s pastoral outreach and that better strategies are needed.   The church currently holds (with some exceptions) that divorce and remarriage without a proper annulment is considered 'a grave offence against natural law' and such individuals cannot therefore receive communion.

It is in this context that I recently found myself taking exception.  Withholding communion (in Catholic terms ‘the real presence of Christ’) seems to be a complete contradiction to how God works among his people.  The church appears to be saying “first you must repent and admit your sin, before you can come before God”.  Whereas Jesus said "When he [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world, and show where right and wrong and judgement lie. He will convict them of wrong..." (John 16:8). At this point the question that needs to be asked is simply:   ‘Who convicts our heart, God or the institution?  While the Church will no doubt refer its members to the various official Vatican documents including "Concerning the Reception of HolyCommunion by Divorced-and-Remarried Members of the Faithful” as submitted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in a letter to the world's bishops on October 14, 1994. Others may search for a personal and compassionate answer by looking for a more merciful God within.  Guess what - here again the church claims its ruling has primacy over ‘personal conscience’.

While debating the issue on-line with a conservative Catholic news source I was surprised to learn that some Christians believe that have a duty to support their church which includes publically shaming divorced and remarried couples who, according to their definition, have not received the necessary sanction from the church to receive communion.  Reminding them about the biblical story of Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well  (John 4:8) did little to diminish their demand for proper ‘old fashioned’ justice and punishment.    Did Jesus turn away from this adulteress or did he change her heart to the incredible degree the story ends for her?  Remember this woman would probably not have had access to a bible and definitely not the Roman Catholic Catechism. 

Of course in Matthew 5:29 we hear Jesus speaking to the Pharisees when asked by them “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?”  And Jesus responds “whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”  But did Jesus walk away from them?  The Eucharist was instituted to bring people together ‘in communion with one another and God’  - not for the purpose of judging others. 

Is should be obvious to readers that Jesus never shunned sinners in fact he is often seen surrounded by them.  So why then do some members of the clergy insist that the Eucharist should be publically withheld from the divorced or remarried? Yet we continue to use vengeful punishment language all the time. 

Jesus often used hyperbole and in the case of remarriage used it to underscore its sacredness.  However a few individuals prefer a literal interpretation.  O.K. then when was the last time you attended Mass and you were greeted with a parish full of one eyed sinners?  Because Jesus, again using hyperbole, said this in Matthew 25 about adultery, “If you’re right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into hell. Let us not get caught up interpreting everything at the expense of Jesus’ call to love and not punish our neighbour. The role of the Church is simply to walk with sinners and lead them to discover the God within – not outside. 

It cannot be the role of the Church, and that includes the laity, to DETERMINE the sins of others.  We may have a role to play in teaching people about sin, but in the end only God can convict a heart.  And the only way to the heart is through Jesus.  Why then would some Catholics insist on taking away his ‘real presence’ through the sacrament of the Eucharist?  Isn't that the place where Catholic hearts are renewed?  Church rules demand that only when sin is acknowledged and the person is truly repentant may Catholics celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation and finally receive communion.  But must that now be preceded with punishment?  When Jesus spoke about sin did he really turn his back on the sinner and demand some form of revenge or punishment?  Do we still believe that God is vengeful and far more interested in our sins then our potential?

Anyone familiar with Jesus’ actions and teachings, especially his Parables, would understand that he defied the ways of the world again and again.  It can thus be said that Jesus presents the ‘upside down values of the world’.  From the point of view from the world they are always seen as ludicrous.   The problem with a lot of Roman Catholic issues today, is that some of the teachings are presented and understood by some as being in legal and ABSOLUTE terms.  If only life were that simple.  That is not how God deals with his people as unique individuals.  Remember, God promised he would never leave us orphaned.  Thus, for Jesus to withhold himself i.e., the Eucharist – for whatever reason – cannot in any way express what he does for any sinner.  Think again about the woman at the well, the sinners he surrounded himself with.  It is important to understand that Jesus was not the least bit interested in PUNITIVE JUSTICE.  He always choose the more demanding and difficult path of RESTORATIVE JUSTICE.  


Perhaps we are still stuck on a religion based on reward and punishment.  Only by making the distinction between punitive and restorative justice can we begin to understand God’s redemptive justice.  Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, one of my favourite spiritual teachers, suggests that for many God’s love or grace is sadly based on a false sense of justice which demands that sin must be punished and followed by a lengthy period of repentance.  Fr. Rohr calls this a religion based on meritocracy.  But Rohr provides the following beautiful illustration of God’s intended grace pattern as follows:

As some of us still understand it: 

Sin - - -  >punishment - - - >repentance - - - > transformation

But the actual grace pattern is:

Sin - - - >unconditional love- - - >transformation - - - >repentance

Note how this pattern is perfectly mirrored in the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the  well. Here you will not find the slightest hint of punishment, only redemption in the form of God’s healing and restorative justice. Perhaps by seeing divorce and remarriage in this new light may we finally bring the necessary compassion and understanding to this controversial issue  thus fulfilling Pope Francis’ desire to bring a deeper pastoral care of marriage and divorce.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Living in Sin? Divorce & Remarriage

Note: The following true story by Daniel C. Maguire Professor  of Ethics at Marquette University appears in his very concise & recommended book  'Ethics - A Complete Method for Moral Choice' (2010)  will help many Catholics to better understand the Christian ethics benind divorce and remarriage. Reprinted here with kind permission from Professor Daniel C. Maguire. 

Living in Sin?  

"I'll call them Jim and Sally, though those are not their names. Members of Jim's family called me and told me this story. Jim, they said, was not an icon of generosity or considerateness, but surprising things were happening to him. After their Tuesday night bowling, Jim's family gathered as usual for pizza and beer. Suddenly Jim was insisting that they sit at the table waited on by a young woman named Sally, and the usually tight-fisted Jim was insisting on huge tips for her. Love was in the air, but there was also pain. Sally had been married to a violent man. She had three children. She stayed in this marriage because she was a strict Catholic who had promised to take that man "for better or for worse? She got the "worse" but felt bound by her vow. When the last child was born with problems related to beatings Sally had sustained from her husband, Sally finally took the children and left. Life was difficult. She had to work, get help from friends and family to look after the children, and ward off unfriendly visits from her husband.

During this time she met Jim, and both fell deeply in love. They could not marry in the church and could not consider marrying anywhere else. They would tearfully decide to stop seeing one another, but one or the other would break down shortly thereafter and check in to see how the other was doing. Finally they decided to marry in a civil ceremony. Life immediately got better for the little family. Jim took on these children as though they were his own. He was offered and accepted a job in Los Angeles, and now Sally's ex-husband, left behind in Phoenix, was no longer a problem. A year later Sally became pregnant. They were thrilled that they would have their first child together, but their happiness was clouded by church teaching at the time that said they were "living in sin:'

Two months into the pregnancy, doctors told Sally that she had a tumor that required surgery. Sally was in a panic. Her life was in danger and she was "living in sin:' It was at this moment that her family contacted me.

At Catholic University we were in our final week of class. I went in the next day and told the story to the class. Applying what I had taught them in theory, I told them what I thought should be done. I said, "Given what I have told you, that first marriage had failed. The second marriage was a success, a great success, one that brought healing and beauty into the lives of Jim and Sally and their three children, who had their first experience of a peaceful home. A priest should go out there and tell Jim and Sally that he could marry them in a private Catholic marriage in their home. This would be strictly forbidden by the church hierarchy, but it is the right and moral thing to do, because of new developments in Catholic theology. The priest should celebrate a private liturgy for them to wrap the moment with all the reassuring symbols of their faith tradition. Then, with their minds at peace, and feeling themselves truly husband and wife, Sally could proceed to surgery:'

Exorcising Demons of Habit

When I finished my evaluation, the bell rang, ending class. I wondered how my transfixed class of nuns and priests would react. The answer came quickly. A nun who had been in the convent for some twenty years approached me with a red face. I expected a rebuke. Instead, she said with impatience: 'Don't just tell us about this. Get a priest out there to do it!" I told her I planned to. Next in line, and speaking softly, was a priest who had never spoken a word during the class. He said, "I am a priest in Los Angeles, and I will be going there tomorrow after your exam. I would be glad to do that for Jim and Sally:'

This priest could not tell anyone he was going to do this because his archbishop was one of the most rigid of Catholic hierarchs and would reject him from ministry. So the next morning in our last class, before the afternoon test, I announced that a priest from this class was going to go to Los Angeles to take care of Jim and Sally in the way I had suggested. The class rose in a standing ovation for this unknown priest. The priest himself, with his face bright scarlet, rose and clapped, with only he and I knowing he was clapping for himself.

When the class settled down, I completed the theoretical teaching on the right to remarriage after a failed first marriage. I said the ideal of a permanent, faithful marriage cannot always be realized. When such an ideal is realized in a second marriage, that marriage is not to be called unholy. Not a single doubt about that was raised in that class or in the exam that followed.

The story had a happy ending. The operation on Sally's tumor was successful and did not interrupt the pregnancy.

Now to the role of Gemut in this incident: Did my theoretical and historical lectures on marriage and divorce do the main teaching? Or did the intense feelings act like an exorcism to drive out the demons of habit in the minds of my hearers? Was affect or reason the main teacher? The answer is not an either/or matter, but more in the realm of reciprocity. The affections played a critical role, but the teachings that had been poured into the minds gave some freedom to the heart. Better yet, both routes to truth, reason and affect, aided and abetted one another. Of such stuff are we knowers made."

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Recovering Our Religious Freedom


1.            What is meant by religious freedom?

This term relates to the personal freedom:

  • Of religious belief,
  • Of religious speech,
  • Of religious assembly with fellow believers,
  • Of religious proselytizing and recruitment, and
  • To change one's religion from one faith group to another -- or to have no religious affiliation -- or vice-versa.
The individual believer has often been the target of oppression for thinking or speaking unorthodox thoughts, for assembling with and recruiting others, and for changing their religious affiliation. Typically, the aggressors have been large religious groups and governments. Freedom from such oppression is the meaning that refers to any of the four terms: religious freedom, religious liberty, freedom of worship and freedom to worship.

2. How can Canadians and others claim protection of religious freedom?
 The "Fundamental Freedoms" section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states:
Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
(a) freedom of conscience and religion;
(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
(d) freedom of association.
Canadians are therefore free to have their own beliefs and opinions, are free to practise religion or refrain, and are free to establish media organizations with or without religious content. Canadian religious institutions generally benefit from charitable organization status, which allows supporters to benefit from tax credits or deductions for their financial contributions.
According to the Charter’s preamble, Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God. This portion of the preamble has not been accorded legal effect in Charter jurisprudence. The constitutional recognition of God has been criticized as conflicting in principle with the fundamental freedom of conscience and religion guaranteed in section 2, as it would disadvantage those who hold non-theistic or polytheistic beliefs, including atheism and Buddhism.
It should be noted that at this time Canadians do not enjoy a clear Separation of Church and State as is the case of its southern neighbours and other countries.

3. Why do some in Roman Catholic Church claim they do not enjoy the benefits of Religious Freedom?

According to the Religious Tolerance Org. website "a rapidly emerging new meaning of religious freedom: the freedom to discriminate and denigrate:

In recent years, religious freedom is taking on a new meaning: the freedom and liberty of a believer to apply their religious beliefs in order to hate, oppress, deny service to, denigrate, discriminate against, and/or reduce the human rights of minorities.

Now, the direction of the oppression has reversed. It is now the believer who is the oppressor -- typically fundamentalist and evangelical Christians and other religious conservatives. Others -- typically some women, as well as sexual, and other minorities -- are the targets. This new meaning is becoming increasingly common. It appears that this change is begin driven by a number of factors:
  • The increasing public acceptance of women's use of birth control/contraceptives. This is a practice regarded as a personal decision by most faith groups, but is actively opposed by the Roman Catholic and a few other conservative faith groups.
  • The increasing public acceptance of equal rights for sexual minorities including Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgender persons and transsexual, Transgender persons and transsexuals -- the LGBT community (); and
  • The increasing percentage of NOTAs in North America. These are individuals who are NOT  affiliated with an organized faith group. Some identify themselves as Agnostics Atheists, secularists, Humanists, free thinkers, etc. Others say that they are spiritual, but not religious.

    The media often refer to NOTAs as "NONES" because they are affiliated to NONE of the faith groups. However, the words Nones and Nuns are homophones: words that sound alike but are spelled differently and which hold very different meanings. To avoid confusion, we recommend against this practice and recommend the unambiguous term "NOTA."
One interesting feature of this "religious freedom to discriminate" is that it generally has people treating others as they would not wish to be treated themselves. It seems to be little noticed among those who practice or advocate "religious freedom to discriminate" that this way of treating people is a direct contradiction to the Golden Rule, which Jesus required all his followers to practice. See Matthew 7:12, Luke 6:31, and the Gospel of Thomas, 6".

Many citizens of countries other than Canada may have their religious freedom limited due to certain agreements between Church and State.  For example, Concordant Watch reports that historically the Roman Catholic Church signed agreements called CONCORDATS with numerous countries which obliges the signatories to obey specific rules/restrictions beneficial to the Vatican but not necessarily to the advantage of that countries citizens.  According to Concordant Watch, once implemented, Concordats can never again be reintroduced without the consent of the Catholic Church. 
Canon Law represents the official collection of church laws for the Roman Catholic Church Canon (or church) law is the Christian counterpart of Hindu law, (Jewish) halakha and (Muslim) sharia. Vatican concordats often require Catholic canon law to be used in providing social services that are run by the Church, but funded by the state. Polls show that most Catholics do not agree with many of these Church rules.
Roman Catholic canon law can only be accepted inside the Vatican and inside institutions of the Roman Catholic Church. Canon law gives the rules for running one of the most successful institutions on earth. Despite its name, however, this complicated set of rules has features that no democratic legal system would tolerate. It enjoins "obedience" (Latin, obedientia) to a person, rather than to a set of legal principles, which turns the notion of the rule of law on its head. And it also makes use of the cynical concept of "scandal" (Latin, scandalum) to excuse clerics from following the rules, if doing so would cause the Church bad publicity. As a result, canon law enjoins secrecy. In practice, canon law is applied whenever the church wants to keep the state out. 
"A just laicism allows religious freedom.  The state does not impose religion but rather gives space to religions with a responsibility toward civil society, and therefore it allows these religions to be factors in building up society"  – Pope Benedict XVI  
There is little doubt that the conflict between Canon Law and Civic or State Law is responsible today for creating increased tension between the Vatican and many other Christian and democratic countries.  This tension was especially evident in the United States and Obama’s health care program. Similarly the Vatican is pressuring its bishops to advance its concerns worldwide on such controversial subjects as abortion, status of women, contraception, birth control, euthanasia, remarriage, homosexuality (LGBT), same-sex marriage, etc.

It is interesting to note that while the Vatican is eager to promote these controversial subjects on its Roman Catholic members of its institution everywhere, at the same time influencing countries to act similarly on many of these issues on all non Catholic members as well. This fact did not escape member countries of the United Nations of which the Vatican has been a full member since 2004.  It now appears that the worldwide endeavours of the Church may have back-fired to some degree.   During the fall of 2013 the Vatican was called upon to give detailed information on its record on child sexual abuse to a United Nations panel. The Geneva-based U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child has asked the Vatican to “provide detailed information on all cases of child sexual abuse committed by members of the clergy, brothers and nuns.” 

 While the Vatican was among the first countries to ratify the treaty it has since claimed that the treaty to protect children could only be ratified by them when it is applied in line with Church teaching.  By insisting the Holy See should enforce compliance of Catholics all over the world it forced the Vatican to change direction. Now it says its signature only commits it to protect the children in the (virtually childfree!) Vatican city.  This reflects a statement made in May 2012 when the Italian Bishops' Conference (CEI) said in its child protection guidelines that under Articles 2.1 and 4.4 of this concordat its priests have no obligation to report suspected abuse to the police.  No doubt the Vatican likes to play both sides of the fence.  All the while continuing to enjoy an immunity (as a independent statehood) that places them above the law.
The influence of the Vatican in the U.N. as reported by Catholics for Choice, involving human rights treaties remain as follows:

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
Has not ratified.
Convention on the Rights of the Child
Signed, with reservations.Did not comply with reporting requirements. Its 2nd periodic report was due in 1997. The report was finally made available on-line as of late 2012, listing numerous reservations, including language related to family planning.
Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Acceded to treaty: “The Holy See, in becoming a party to the Convention on behalf of the Vatican City State, undertakes to apply it insofar as it is compatible, in practice, with the peculiar nature of that State.” Did not comply with reporting requirements.
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Has not ratified.
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
Has not ratified.
Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court
Has not ratified.
Convention relating to the Status of Refugees
Ratified, with reservations.
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
Ratified. But see the diplomatic cable “Vatican Opposed to Brazilian Sexual Orientation Resolution,” which says, “One does not then see how one can include 'sexual orientation' among the causes of discrimination."

Geoffrey Robertson QC, a distinguished human rights lawyer and judge, evinces a deep respect for the good works of Catholics and their church.  But he argues unless the Holy See can divest himself of the beguilements of statehood and devotion to obsolescent Canon Law, the Vatican will remain a serious enemy to the advance of human rights.

What has been said of the Roman Catholic Church and freedom of religion can also be said about any other dominant religious institution especially in those countries where religion is Law.  God's gift of life respects every human being as being equal and the freedom to choose.     

In conclusion, it should be no surprise to anyone that more and more people are demanding freedom of religion.  Freedom of religion in Canada is a constitutionally protected right, allowing believers the freedom to assemble and worship without limitation or interference. 

There were rules in the monastery, but the Master always warned against the tyranny of the law.
"Obedience keeps the rules," he would say. "Love knows when to break them."

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Origins of Evil

Cover painting: Giotto, Kiss of Judas 
The myth of Satan as a separate entity has figured prominently in Christian thought, literature, and art over many centuries. However what is even more surprising is that many Christian people today still believe that Satan, Devil or fallen angel is a separate entity responsible for unleashing all evil upon the world. 

 Several months ago a well-known U.S. University student group unsuccessfully planned a "black mass" which was quickly identified as a ‘satanic ritual’ by several conservative church officials.  Almost four months later this prompted an equally conservative Catholic on-line newspaper  to examine and inform readers what the Church actually teaches about the Devil.  

It appears that the official definition of Satan as contained in the Roman Catholic Catechism (1994) has done little to guide people to a more positive understanding of the Devil.  The current teaching still leads many of its believers to stick to the image of the devil as a creature sporting two horns, evil eyes, a hairy tail and brandishing a heavy pitch-fork.  Many Christians still cling to the notion of Satan as an invisible force which is constantly on the warpath looking for innocent victims whom he will lead on a path from which there is no return and redemption.  But is this true?  And why does it cause so many Christians to regard this ‘adversary’ or ‘prince of darkness’ as an entity separate from humankind?

In the Hebrew Bible, as in mainstream Judaism to this day, Satan never appears as Western Christendom has come to know him, as the leader of an “evil empire,” an army of hostile spirits who make war on God and humankind alike.  As he first appears in the Hebrew Bible, Satan is not necessarily evil, much less opposed to God.  On the contrary, he appears in the book of Numbers and in Job as one of God’s obedient servants – a messenger, or angel sent by God for the specific purpose of blocking or obstructing human plans and desires.  As one scholar put it “If the path is bad, an obstruction is good.” 

Demonizing people is an attempt to take away their God created humanness and substituting them for grotesque animals or figures.  In that way we can feel justified in saying that they are beyond God’s redemption.
Elaine Pagels author of ‘The Origin of Satan’(1995)  concludes her scholarly book with:
 “Today not a few self proclaimed Christian individuals carry with them a cosmic vision involving forces of good contending against forces of evil.  This fatal and dualistic approach would suggest that future conflict is not only possible but necessary if we are to rid ourselves of all evil.   
Many Christians, from the first century through to Francis of Assisi in the thirteenth century and Martin Luther King, Jr., in the twentieth, have believed that they stood on God's side without demonizing their opponents. Their religious vision inspired them to oppose policies and powers they regarded as evil, often risking their well-being and their lives, while praying for the reconciliation—not the damnation—of those who opposed them.
For the most part, however, Christians have taught—and acted upon—the belief that their enemies are evil and beyond redemption.  The struggle within Christian tradition is between the profoundly human view that "otherness" is evil and the words of Jesus that reconciliation is divine.”

It seems all too easy to condemn and demonize others for the evil in the world while forgetting to first look within ourselves.  When we are ready to look within we might actually discover the real truth and answer to the question who Satan really is.  

To begin with we are all probably familiar with the response to the question: “where did Satan decide to hide so that no one would ever find him? And, the surprising answer is “in the hearts of human kind – the only place where no one will ever look for him.”
For those who can accept this answer it is perhaps only a small step to recognize that Satan represents nothing more than the human ego. Here’s how one wise author describes Satan and his story
  •    I am that little voice within you that makes you doubt, including doubting   my existence.
  •      I am depression, anger, jealousy, worry, fear, false pride, and selfish         behaviour.
  •      I thrive on neediness and disappointment, negativity and cynicism. etc.

For those who still believe in Satan as a separate entity remember, be it the Devil, Lucifer or fallen angel, take heed from the words of 60’s comedian Flip Wilson who used to say “the devil made me do it!”  If indeed the devil, as a separate entity, is the agent behind our evil actions, than it can be argued that ultimately we cannot be held responsible for any of our sins.  More importantly this attitude tends to distance us from the place and source where all evil takes root.

Led by the Spirit, the very first action Jesus took before he began his public mission was to enter the desert to be tempted by the devil.  Here Jesus clearly rejected some of the typical ego temptations we are all faced with everyday.  Without darkness would we recognize light?   Without pain would we recognize peace?   Without an ego would we recognize God?  While we depend on God’s gift of the ego he also gave us the freedom to recognize how overpowering and self serving it can become.  For that reason the ego acts as our adversary to help us overcome evil.

We may now thank God for the ‘obstacle’ he has presented to us. For only when we stop fearing to look inside will we stop projecting blame on others and then will we become his Kingdom people.  

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Sufism - as an end to sectarian violence

In response to the growing Middle East crisis, especially that promoted by the Islamic group ISIS,  a Muslim body on Sunday (Sept. 8) urged India’s Prime Minister to promote Sufism as a counter to terrorism.

While some the Western countries are urging a military solution perhaps a more peaceful means such as the one suggested above by the Muslim group in India should be considered. It maybe the only bridge that could lead to mutual trust and understanding between the major Islamic sects in the Middle East and bring an end to the growing religious extremism.
Sufism is an Islamic Mystical tradition which is above barriers of religion, caste, creed or region. It teaches love and humanity and non-violence while terrorism teaches hate and violence.

Today’s headlines are filled with the politics of Islam, but there is another side to the world's fastest-growing religion. Sufism is the poetry and mysticism of Islam. This mystical movement from the early ninth century rejects worship motivated by the desire for heavenly reward or the fear of punishment, insisting rather on the love of God as the only valid form of adoration. Sufism has made significant contributions to Islamic civilization in music and philosophy, dance and literature. The Sufi poet Rumi is the bestselling poet in America. But in recent centuries Sufism has been a target for some extremist Islamic movements as well as many modernists. The ‘Garden of Truth’ (2007) presents the beliefs and vision of the mystical heart of Islam, along with a history of Sufi saints and schools of thought.

In a world threatened by religious wars, depleting natural resources, a crumbling ecosystem, and alienation and isolation, what has happened to our humanity? Who are we and what are we doing here? The Sufi path offers a journey toward truth, to a knowledge that transcends our mundane concerns, selfish desires, and fears. In Sufism we find a wisdom that brings peace and a relationship with God that nurtures the best in us and in others.
Noted scholar Seyyed Hossein Nasr helps you learn the secret wisdom tradition of Islam and enter what the ancient mystics call the "garden of truth." Here, liberate your mind, experience peace, discover your purpose, fall in love with the Divine, and find your true, best self.

Many Christians will be surprised to discover the similarities between the two religions contained in the following quotes from the great Suffi master Rumi: 

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” 

“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” 

 “Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion.” 
― Rumi

 “What you seek is seeking you.” 
― Rumi

“Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form.” 
― Rumi

  “You were born with wings, why prefer to crawl through life?” 
― Rumi

“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.” 
― Rumi

 “Forget safety.
Live where you fear to live.
Destroy your reputation.
Be notorious.” 
― Rumi

 “Knock, And He'll open the door
Vanish, And He'll make you shine like the sun
Fall, And He'll raise you to the heavens
Become nothing, And He'll turn you into everything.” 
― Rumi

“Don't be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.” 
― Rumi

I want to know the joy 
of how you whisper 
― Rumi

 “Ignore those that make you fearful and sad, that degrade you back towards disease and death.” 
― Rumi

 “My soul is from elsewhere, I'm sure of that, and I intend to end up there.” 
― Rumi

 “In your light I learn how to love. In your beauty, how to make poems. You dance inside my chest where no-one sees you, but sometimes I do, and that sight becomes this art.” 
― Rumi

 “silence is the language of god, 
all else is poor translation.” 
― Rumi

“Raise your words, not voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.” 
― Rumi

 “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” 
― Rumi

 “Where there is ruin, there is hope for a treasure.” 
― Rumi

 “Let yourself be drawn by the stronger pull of that which you truly love.” 
― Rumi

“I want to sing like the birds sing, not worrying about who hears or what they think.” 
― Rumi

 “Everything in the universe is within you. Ask all from yourself.” 
― Rumi

 “Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.” 
― Rumi