Friday, December 31, 2004

Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People?

Today, five days after the Tsunami, an acquaintance at work, a man in his fifties, told me that on the afternoon of 9/11/01, he opened the Bible to the book of Habakkuk. He said that once he read it, he saw the parallel to 9/11 clearly and immediately became a believer in the word of God.

He pointed out this passage near the end of the book:

"Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyfull in God my Savior."

Habbakkuk 3:17 - 3:18

Next to the first six of the above above verses, my friend wrote the word, "Dead." He is an immigant from a country that was all agricultural and understands full well, more than any native born American would, that if you don't have those things, you are dead!

About that passage in Habakkuk, I asked my friend, "But then why do they rejoice?"

"Because they are saved," he said.

"The Christian understanding of evil has always been more radical and fantastic than that of any theodicist; for it denies from the outset that suffering, death and evil have any ultimate meaning at all. Perhaps no doctrine is more unsufferably fabulous to non-Christians than the claim that we exist in the long meloncholy aftermath of a primordial catastrophe, that this is a broken and wounded world, that cosmic time is the shadow of true time, and that the universe languishes in bondage to "powers" and "principalities"--spiritual and terrestial--alien to God.
In the Gospel of John, especially, the incarnate God enters a world at once his own and yet hostile to him--"He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not--and his appearence within "this cosmos" is both an act of judgement and a rescue of the beauties of creation from the torments of fallen nature.

"Whatever one makes of this story, it is no bland optimism. Yes, at the heart of the Gospel is an ineradicable triumphalism, a conviction that the victory over evil and death has been won; but it is also a victory yet to come."
"When confronted with the sheer savage immensity of worldly suffering--when we see the entire littoral rim of the Indian Ocean strewn with tens of thousands of corpses, a third of them children's--no Christian is licensed to utter odious banalities about God's inscrutible counsels or blaphemous suggestions that all this mysteriously serves God's good ends. Wwe are permitted to only hate death and waste and the imbecile forces of chance that shatter living souls, to believe that creation is in agony in its bonds, to see this world so divided between two kingdoms--knowing all the while that it is only charity that can sustain us against, "fate," and that must do so until the end of days."

- David Hart, Wall Street Journal, Dec. 31, 2004; a quote from the Houses of Worship collumn; titled, "Tremors of Doubt."

"I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adaption as sons, the redemption of our bodies."

[Romans 8:18 - 8:25]

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

On Evangelization

I extracted the following excepts from the November, 2004 issue of the magazine Traces, which is published by an international Christian youth group called Communion and Liberation.

The occasion of the two articles that I drew these excerpts from was the 50th anniversary of the founding of Communion and Liberation, the "Movement" referred to below.

"...the genius of the Movement that I saw being born is in having felt the urgency of proclaiming the need for going back to the elementary aspects of Christianity, in other words, passion for the Christian fact as such, in its original elements and nothing more."
"Firstly, we have to correct the usual conception of faith. The whole new beginning of a Christian experience--and therefore of every relationship--is not generated by a cultural point of view, as if it were a discourse to be applied to things, but it happens precisely as an experience. It is an act of life that sets everything in motion. The beginning of faith is not an abstract culture but something that precedes this: an event. Faith is taking note of something that has happened and continues to happen, of something new from which everything starts off, really. It is a life and not a discourse about life, because Christ has begun to "leap" in the womb of a woman.

Yes, it's this perception of Christianity and the Church that has been lost in recent centuries, and with it we have lost the possibility of the beginning of an answer to the questions of the youth. If the beginning is missing, there is no tackling the problem posed by man's nature: the need for an answer to the demands of his reason. So, to speak of faith to the youth, but even to adults, is to speak of an experience and not to repeat a discourse on religion, however correct it might be."
"Thus to the brutal loneliness to which man calls himself, as if to save himself from an earthquake, Christianity is offered as an answer. The Christian finds a positive answer in the fact that God has become man; this is the event that surprises and comforts what would otherwise be a misfortune. It's inconceivable for God to act toward man unless as a "generous challenge" to his freedom. The modern objection that Christianity and the Church reduce man's freedom is nullified by the adventure of God's relationship with man. Whereas thanks to a limited idea of freedom, it is inconceivable for man today that God should commit Himself in a straitening relationship with man, as if denying Himself. This is the tragedy: man seems more concerned to affirm his won freedom than to acknowledge this magnaminity on God's part, that alone fixes the measure of man's participation in reality and thus really frees him."

- Fr. Luigi Giussani, founder of Communion and Liberation

"The discovery of Christ becomes the fact that unsettles our life, which works, grows and continually renews itself, sustained by the power of the Spirit and enlightened by the presence of the Risen Christ."
"...Fr. Giussani...wanted to communicate the the youngsters the beauty and the reasonability of the Christian event..."
"The Movement wanted and wants to indicate not a road , but the road for the solution of the existential drama of human existence. The road is Christ!"
"We will not be saved by a formula, "the Holy Father wrote in Novo Millenio Ineunte, but by a Person and the certainty that he gives us: I am with you."
"How many times though, even in the Christian announcement, this essential truth is taken for granted, reducing it to its ethical and social consequences, or relativizing it..."
"Animated by this awareness go on with your Movement, announcing to everyone the beauty and the joy of the encounter with the Redeemer of man..."

To see the full text, go to and clock on the November issue. The above extacts were taken from the article-interview, "God's Commitment with Man's Brutal Loneliness," by Guido Vecchi and from , "Be It Done To Me According to Your Word," the printed version of an address by Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe.

The Communion and Liberation website can be found at:

Monday, December 27, 2004

God is with Us

In the days before Christmas, I read something that reminded that the meaning of Christmas cannot be understood unless we also understand the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord.

On Christmas Eve, I went to a midnight Mass at a nearby parish. The priest who said the Mass was a slightly older, very jolly, very down-to-earth guy who happened to be from the Philippines. In his sermon, he said one thing which stuck hard with me:

Jesus did not come to take away our sufferings but to give meaning to them.

Chew on that one for a while. Indeed, one could spend one's entire life reflecting on it with the greatest profit.

Friday, December 24, 2004

The Incarnation

Behold the night sky this Christmas morning.

Behold the heavens and the silent night
of galaxies, stars, and planets beyond,
embedded in the dark of the cosmos.

Behold the gargantuan gods of old,
those mummified constellations of myth
frozen so brightly in play, love and war.

Behold the sciences, philosophy,
mathematics, and all theology.

Behold your own heart. Reflect upon its
vast purgatorial seas of hope, pain,
passion, loss, and unrequited desire.

The only sounds are the stampeding ghosts
of raw winter wind, the mournful rocking
and muted wooden murmuring of trees.
Each shivering limb mocks my loneliness.

I am an atom, a mere iota,
an infinitessmal of space-time,
journeying through the trough of an abyss.

Yet I reject the void. It is not my end.
It was this way, on the road for Joseph,
the shepherds, and the magi of Zoroastor.

But who am I? What am I? Why am I?
The Virgin embraces and consoles me
against my pitiful insignificance.
And behold, this night I am born again.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

The Theatre

I love live performances—music, plays, and everything in between. When I was single and lived in Manhattan, I did not avail myself of the opportunities to see top-flight theatre (although I did of Jazz music). During the 80’s, there was much solo performance art and small company theater work going on in New York. I regret not making a point of seeing any of it. One of my pipe dreams is to someday be able to go to the theatre on a regular basis.

The following is from the program notes, from the Black Friars Repertory Theatre production of Infant Holy, December 9, 2004 at Carnegie Hall:

To BE HUMAN is to be caught up in the human
drama. "The basic human drama is the failure
to perceive the meaning of life, to live without a
meaning" (Pope John Paul II) . Where can we
go to find it? We have to look outside ourselves
for something to provoke our passion, to
propose an answer.

We live each day confronted by needling
questions leading in their way to the Ultimate
Question. At the core of it all is the inescapable
conflict that scores our moments…yet strangely
keeps us always seeking. All drama is about
conflict; it is what enables a play to be a play.
Conflict is the relationship between a
protagonist and an antagonist. Conflict engages
us, engrosses us, makes us curious, makes us
care. In the characters’ dramatic struggles we
recognize our own. According to William
Faulkner, the one thing worth writing about is
"the human heart in conflict with itself."

That is why the theatre will always be appealing.
For there we experience, not some impersonal
dissertation of ideas, but rather the living,
breathing presence of persons passionate about
their purpose.

Drama is the lived relationship between a "you"
and and "I." In letting ourselves experience that
relationship via the stage we somehow become
more human, more alive. This can be the only
reason for eschewing the digital perfection of a
pre-recorded concert in favor of being here in
this hall to hear this performance.

Nothing else explains why we go to the theatre
and, there with our imaginations, for awhile
willing suspend disbelief. The beauty that us
the theatre helps us to believe in life’s meaning.
It makes us certain that the human drama is
really a comedy. For its ending is a happy one.

-Peter John Cameron, O.P.

The Blackfriars Repertory Theatre Prayer

the fullness of your humanity
leads to the fullness of your divinity.
Help me to bring all of my humanity
to the company in which you have placed me,
that our hearts may burst with wisdom
and our hearts with insight,
that "with parables and harps"
we may communicate your Presence
to all who will listen.
May our work exalt all that is human,
that our world may be touched by the divine.
We ask this in your holy name.

I am not a trained actor or a dramatist; yet, we are all featured actors (and actresses!) in the drama that is our life. May we make the most of it.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

A Letter From The Principal

On Mondays, my sons’ Catholic grammar school sends home a school newsletter, plus a motley collection of notices, announcements, sign-up sheets, etc. This past Monday, the last sheet that was stapled to the pack was titled, "Letter to Parents."

Dear Parents,

We see times in history and even today the terrible and terrifying acts that can result from a lack of respect for differences among nations, among groups, and between individuals. While we accept in theory the idea that multiculturalism adds richness to our lives, our daily actions often negate that acceptance. We see stereotypes rather than individuals. We view with suspicion those who are "different" in any way.

As parents and teachers, we have an obligation to stop the spread of negativism in our relationships with others. We are the models our children follow. We must forgo the ethnic jokes, racial slurs, and tendency to categorize groups. Just as we treasure our own identity, customs and beliefs, we need to respect those of others. Mutual respect is important in dissolving disagreements on an international as well as a personal basis.

A sense of fairness and the knowledge that all people are God’s children will help us avoid making wrong judgements. To keep Christ in our hearts requires that we also look for him in others. If we demonstrate our own love and respect for those who are different from us, we will be models who show our children that diversity can enrich the flavor of America’s melting pot. We will have taken one more step toward that peace on Earth that must begin with us.

Yours in Christ,

Sr. Kathleen, CR

Monday, December 06, 2004

Advent: The Passion for Peace

In Mel Gibson's film, The Passion of the Christ, I was struck by the beauty of the opening image which consists of a black screen with the words:
He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; by his wounds we are healed.  -  Isaiah 53
In the version of the Bible that I have, there is another phrase inserted between the last two phrases:
The punishment that brought us peace was upon him.
At Mass this past Sunday (11/28/04), which happened to be the first Sunday of Advent, the scripture readings included:

In the last days... He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plow shares and their spears into pruning hooks.  Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.  - Isaiah 2

I guess we are a long way from the last days!

Yet, in our personal lives, and in our souls, we don't have to wait for the second coming of the Prince of Peace to get started. One of the messages of the Man of the Cross was to take the swords and spears that we carry within our hearts and forge them into instruments that sow the good news of love and compassion.

Just about everyone these days is familiar the Arabic word "jihad," and I assume that most people associate it with actions of violence by militant Moslems to further the cause of Islam. But the word jihad is accurately translated to mean "struggle" with a continuum of meanings depending on the context. In Islam the most common usage of the concept of jihad is about the struggle in the heart and mind of the believer against sin and evil.

I was listening to a sermon by a priest (Fr. Corapi) on the Catholic TV channel the other day. He described how when he travelled, especially when he was in the south, after seeing his collar, someone will often say something to him like, "Are you saved brother?"

The priest says he always answers, emphatically, "No! I am not saved!"  He explained that neither he nor anyone else can say they are saved until after they are in heaven.  Jesus fought the Big Jihad for us. Satan and despair are defeated. But each of us carries around own personal jihad within our hearts.

I was a child during the social uproar of the 1960's. (I entered high school in 1969). Through the media I observed the struggle for civil rights, the struggle to end the war in Vietnam, and the the struggles against many unjust social and institutional restrictions. Much of this was inspired or influenced by Christian ideals. Though a child, I understood that the Christian way was one of non-violence and transformation of the heart. I was totally perplexed by the statements and actions by a small minority who advocated violence. For the life of me, I couldn't understand how they could advocate violence as a way of protesting for peace and justice. I was raised to believe that if you wanted to change the world, you had to begin by changing yourself. There seemed to be a huge, gaping canyon between between the morality of a few in the "movement" and the morality they wanted for society. Christian witness requires that one set an example, that one attempts to live-out as much as possible the ideals of morality and justice that one works for in society.

I remember from the 1960's (or maybe it started in the 1970's) that some ideological people on college campuses academic would throw-out certain phrases to rationalize insults and vitriol on other people : "the personal is political" or " the political is personal." These sound like excuses to hate people who have different opinions of you.

The New Yorker magazine recently ran an article about the issue in France where Moslem School girls have been forbidden by law to wear veils to public schools. The article said that teenage Moslem girls have been spit upon and cursed while appearing in public wearing veils. This is in self-righteous France, which likes to think of itself as a highly civilizednation. Some articles in the press referred to France as "Catholic" France. Given the this behavior of the French, I don't see how France could possibly be considered a Catholic or Christian nation. Calling France "Catholic" makes me feel ashamed to call myself a Catholic. It seems that France, in the veil issue is behaving like those student protesters for peace and justice that commit violence and hate to further their cause.

The situation in Holland isn't too different, in the fallout of the murder and dismemberment of the filmmaker Van Ghough. In Holland, prior to the murder of Van Gough, the law was that one was free to say anything, with two exceptions: 1) You can not without reason and without proper founding insult a person or a group, and 2) You can not instigate hatred. Now in the fallout of the murder,there is discussion of adding a third exception: One can not say that the religion of another is wrong.

Both the French and the Dutch have taken the same ineffective approach. They want to simply outlaw that which could gives offense.They make no attempt teach or cultivate respect of others. There is no attempt at changing people's hearts and minds. The idea that all human beings have dignity and should be treated as such is one of the roots of Judeo-Christian (surprise--Western!) values. (The idea of universal human dignity comes from the book of Genesis, btw.) It seems that the course of "progress" is turning Europe's value back to the days when they were barbarians.After WWII, Pope Pious XII commissioned and published an analysis to answer the question of how the Holocaust could have occurred in "Christian" Europe. The conclusion was that Christian values had never penetrated very deeply into European society.

Fr. Oldfield (O.A.R.) in Madrid says that while America has a society that is substantially Bible based, Europe is still living on the ideals of the Enlightenment. It would seem to me that the Enlightenment hasn't been very enlightening!

Now I know that there must be many good and sincere Christians in France and the Netherlands, and I am certainly not condemning individuals. But the issues coming out of Europe provide great fodder for social criticism and good examples to discuss. (and by the way, France and the Netherlands have had a radically different history than we have had in the U.S.A-- a history loaded with religious wars and persecutions.

We will never have world peace or personal peace unless we forgive others. If we sit around passively assuming that only world leaders and governments can do something about world peace, we are wrong. We can all work to bring peace in the world, however small the effort, by working for peace in our own lives, in our interactions in thoughts, words, and deeds with others. the hymn goes, "Let it begin with me."