Saturday, November 26, 2005

Why Do We Praise God?

This is not a rhetorical question. I would like to hear from people why they think we should praise God. I am not questioning the need to praise God. Praise of God is everywhere in the Bible, including the Lord’s Prayer.

I am one of those people that don’t like doing things unless they understand why. For most of my life I never understood why we should praise God. In Thomas Merton’s book, Praying the Psalms, (follow the link and scroll down for my review) he says that we need to praise God in order to condition ourselves to be able to feel loved by God. This makes sense to me. This sounds similar to an idea that I heard about petitioning God, that even though God knows what we need, we should petition God in order to condition ourselves to receive his gifts. From my own sense, I wonder if we need to praise God in order to remind ourselves that He loves us. But this is the same as what Thomas Merton says.

I want to hear what others have to say. I am as interested in "catechetical" type anwers as much as any other, as these are often good jumping off points for insight.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

A Quote from Elizabeth Lynn R.

"If we allow Him access to our hearts, our imperfections don't even matter."

- taken from her journal entry titled "purpose", on November 20, 2005, posted on her XANGA site and her deviantART site.

my own ruminations...

(which may or may not be related to her post)

Forgiveness is love. Love is forgiveness.
Whether between humans or between humans and God.

To feel loved by God, we must feel loved by ourselves.

To love ourselves, we must forgive ourselves.

To forgive ourselves we must deposit our broken selves at His feet. The concept of brokenness is far broader and more inclusive than the idea of sin or sinful condition. Brokenness includes everything. The temptation of the word sin is that we can use it in a way that is reductionist, jargon, or legalistic.

God is everywhere, including in our hearts; the problem is we avoid and hide from Him, not Him from us. There is at least a spark of the Divine in everyone's hearts, however small or hidden it may seem.

It is we who are separated from our (true) selves, and therefore, separated from God.

"Know thyself" - the point is that the more we know ourselves, the more we find ourselves in God, who is our origin and, hopefully, our final destination.

To reunite our alienated selves with God, we must seek out those secret and no-so-secret ruined and broken places in our hearts, break down all the doors and widows, let the fresh air in, and hopefully a spark of the Divine spread within and kindle into a purifying, loving flame.

Oh, kick the soapbox out from under my feet! Moreover, where is my heart: I can take something simple, analyze it, and make it so intellectual and complicated!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Compassion Fatigue

In light of the Tsunami; the hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma; the earthquake in the Pakistan area; plus numerous smaller disasters; not to mention the poverty in our own backyards; and the fact that Thanksgiving and Christmas are coming up, the gospel reading at last Sunday’s mass couldn’t have been timed better.

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?' And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.' Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.' Then they will answer and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?' He will answer them, 'Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.' And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

- The words of Jesus, from Matthew 25:31-46

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Autumn Leaves - Naive Thoughts on a Fall Day

This past Sunday was gorgeous with a clear sky, cool air, and low humidity. I drove my two sons to my parent’s place in Suffern, N.Y. and then further upstate N.Y. to my sister’s house in Mountainville. The reason for the trip was to leave my wife alone so she could study for her CPA exam. The peak of the foliage season has just passed, but it was still wonderful. The reds and particularly the yellows are exceptionally bright this year. Just enough leaves have fallen so that the ground was covered with yellow, read and brown; yet, the tress still have most of their leaves on. We went to see my niece’s basketball game, at St. Thomas of Canterbury in Cornwall. In town we stopped at a place called Prima Pizzeria, where we ate at a table outside. A gargantuan, old maple tree towered over the whole eating area like an umbrella, while yellow leaves and winged maple seeds cascaded down and around on us, as we drank and ate our iced tea, pizza and calzones. There was only one other party eating outside with us. They were four West Point cadets, in uniform, including two girls. (West Point is close by). The unsurprising surprise is they looked and acted so much like children. Everyone knows the formal, public relations image of disciplined West Pointer cadets, but it is refreshing to see them off base, acting like adolescents, which is what they are. One of the girls, who could have passed for a 13-year-old, whined that she hoped no one from the school sees her not wearing her uniform hat. One of the guys was wearing a long dew rag with his uniform, which was quite a sight! He was taking an even bigger risk than the girl, in the event an officer caught him. I couldn’t help but picture these young people against the images of the war in Iraq, of truck bombs and bullets, of the butchered flesh of once beautiful bodies, of amputees in rehabilitation, of coffins arriving at Dover Air Force Base, and of grief stricken mothers. These cadet’s peers and seniors are getting killed and maimed overseas, and soon they will be in harm’s way themselves--the crème de al crème of American youth. Other cadets were passing on the sidewalk, including a group of Chinese-American cadets. Some teenaged boys and girls from the town, in spiked and purple hair, were milling around, and the punks and cadets got along like leaves from the same tree. I sensed some jealousy and envy on the part of the cadets towards the punks, plus a sense of respectful fun at the cadet’s expense on the part of the punks. The two groups are, in reality, peers after all, members of a shared culture of youth. The boy cadets were happily interacting with the girl punks and likewise between the girl cadets and the boy townies. I loved the peaceful, loving humanity of it all. Moreover, I must be abrupt and ask: How we can send beautiful children such as these off to war?

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Blue Like Jazz, by Donald Miller

The Author's Note from the book-

I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn't resolve. But I was outside the Baghdad Theater in Portland one night when I saw a man playing the saxophone. I stood there for fifteen minutes, and he never opened his eyes.

After that I liked jazz music.

Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way.

I used to not like God because God didn't resolve. But that was before any of this happened.

[end quote]

Such a powerfull metaphor for Christian witness! It's not about musicology, going to the right clubs, being in-the-know, or somehow being genetically endowed with soul. It's about an Encounter! I am tempted to quote Louis Armstrong in jest: "If you don't understand it, I can't explain it to you!"

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Why I am a Catholic

Someone on another website asked me the following question. Do you feel reconciled to some of the things your chosen faith has said/done? Do you feel a struggle? How do you feel about that shared religious experience?

There are so many ways to answer this question! There are also so many ways to challenge one's own religion. I could probably write 10,000 words on the subject. I will try and be brief and I can only be brief due to time constraints. I'm sure I won't do the question justice. If I didn't answer something or didn't answer to your satisfaction, pester me!

I was born and raised as a strict Roman Catholic. I remain one, I suppose, because I haven't found anything better to replace it. But one could say simple inertia is another reason I remain a Catholic. I do want to say that I have a number of friends that I love who are of the born-again/evangelical Christian persuasion who are profoundly real and authentic Christians and who I would take a bullet for. Repeat: take a bullet for.

Real Christians are the most joyful people. Real Christians are also the most loving people around. Unfortunately, Catholics, as opposed to other groups, can be a miserable lot, me included.

We Catholics know we are hypocrites. That's why we go to church--to get saved! We're also the church of the unwashed masses; no elitism here.

I think that despite all the criticism and failings, that on the whole the Catholic Church has done more good for the world than any other institution. I think that today, the Catholic Church is the greatest force for good in the world.

We Catholics like being Catholics. The historian and journalist Garry Wills, although very critical of the Catholic Church and the Papacy has written a whole book titled, Why I am a Catholic.

It is a very balanced religion that accommodates human differences and failings comprehensively. It has a large, long and rich tradition of art, music, literature, philosophy, and spirituality.

Most people are confused, believers and unbelievers alike. Religion and worship are not primarily about the imposition of rules and morals. True religion is about one's relationship to ultimate reality. Call it God or Jesus, if you will. Any rules, morals or customs, etc. must be derived from, or flow from that relationship. Historically and in practice, especially in the Roman Catholic Church, sometimes the message gets taken for granted so that it becomes a cliché or pious platitude that no one thinks seriously or critically about. Praising God becomes as unauthentic as saying Good Morning to an acquaintance you pass on the street. Sometimes the message gets obscured, overwhelmed by other concerns or drowned out in all the noise.

I admit some of what I choose to believe and adhere to is done on faith.
I do not think that I am one who you could say has unqualified blind faith. I am of the "faith seeking understanding" type. However, if I do not understand something, I often defer and take the path of mere faith. I trust in God and my church.

Existentially, the truth is, men and women are lonely. We try to numb that loneliness in our activities, good and bad: self-illusion, politics, drugs, sex, art, money, busy-work and ideologies, etc. In their attempt to have a relationship with reality, the true man or woman of faith experiences even more loneliness than the rest. This propels us into trying to cultivate an even deeper relationship with that reality. Ultimate reality, that is, God, is totally other, but with the Incarnation, God gave us a companion.