Tali Lowenthal: ‘Can Sin Be Forgiven?’

Dr. Tali Loewenthal was born in Haifa and directs the Chabad Research Unit, lectures in the University College on Jewish Spirituality, and he has authored “Communicating the Infinite, the emergence of the Habad School” and many scholarly and popular articles. Here’s his reflection on Moses in the cleft of the rock, titled “At The Highest Level.” I found in it deep wisdom for Lent.

“Can sin be forgiven? Can it be erased? Can it even be transformed into good? In the book of Exodus we read about the events relating to the making of the Golden Calf. This was an unfortunate transgression in which large numbers of Jews took part, combining idolatry, immorality and murder. Wisely, the women in the community kept away and so did the Levites.

After this mass betrayal of G-d and His teachings, Moses had to plead with G-d in order to prevent the Jewish people from being destroyed. For forty days he pleaded, alone on Mount Sinai, and was finally successful. G-d would bring the Jewish people to the Promised Land, and the broken Tablets of the Law would be replaced.

The interesting thing about this revelation, is that it comes in the form of a prayer At this moment we are introduced to another aspect of Moses: the person who seeks the deepest level of contact with G-d. He asks: “Show me Your Glory.” Moses wanted to reach the closest intimation of G-dliness possible for a human being.

G-d answered that He will put Moses in the crevice of the rock and grant him a vision of something of the Divine Glory. However, not everything can be revealed, for “man cannot see Me and live.”

Then comes the promised revelation. This is one of the most remarkable moments in the life of Moses and in the entire Torah. The interesting thing about this revelation of G-d, is that it comes in the form of a prayer. G-d teaches a prayer to Moses, a prayer which we recite in the synagogue. It is called the “Thirteen Attributes of Mercy”:

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Richard Rohr: ‘In the Economy of Grace, Nothing is Wasted’

“We only become enlightened as the ego dies to its pretenses, and we begin to be led by soul and Spirit. That dying is something we are led through by the grace of God and by confronting our own shadow. As we learn to move into a Larger Realm, we will almost naturally weep over those sins, as we recognize that we are everything that we hate and attack in other people. Then we begin to become and to live the Great Mystery of compassion.

God’s one-of-a-kind job description is that God actually uses our problems to lead us to the full solution. God is the perfect Recycler, and in the economy of grace, nothing is wasted, not even our worst sins and our most stupid mistakes.” –Richard Rohr, ofm

From A Lever and a Place to Stand:The Contemplative Stance, The Active Prayer , pp. 39, 42

Franciscans on 9/11: ‘Actions based solely on fear are rarely fruitful, and frequently destructive.’

At Mass today at St. Camillus, newly minted Franciscan friar Erick Lopez preached a powerful sermon. Drawing on the prescient lectionary readings from Sirach, Romans, and Matthew, he reminded us of the great compassion that we have all felt toward the victims of the al-Qaeda attacks.

He also read a letter from an Afghan third-grader to her American counterparts, in which she also expressed her compassion for those who had suffered in the attacks. This kind of unjustified violence is something her country has experienced for more than 30 years.

He laid out the path that one must walk to follow the Prince of Peace. A path that is paved with our human brokenness and that leads toward healing when we make a decision – every morning when we wake up – to choose to forgive. He concluded with a thundering voice from the pulpit: “We must NOT look for our security in flags, but in the cross of Jesus Christ.” The congregation responded with thunderous applause.

Below is a letter signed by representatives from eight Franciscan provinces in the U.S. and U.K. addressing the Sept. 11 memorial.

As the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks approaches, the friars of Holy Name Province and seven other Franciscan provinces — six American along with one in England — have released a statement urging Catholics in the United States and around the world to stay informed, to stand firmly against all forms of prejudice and discrimination and to find responses that “can unlock the full potential of the human imagination for good.”

In this message, distributed last week to Holy Name friars, the collaborating provinces recommend five ways that friars and partners-in-ministry can “live the Gospel in the way of St. Francis.” The statement is also available in Spanish.

As we remember and honor, may we move away from fear and toward “the other”

Throughout the liturgical year, as Catholics and Franciscans we are called to remember events in the life of Christ, the Church and the holy men and women who served the Church. Likewise as Americans, we annually remember those individuals and events that have significantly shaped our nation. These days of remembrance — both religious and civil — invite us to examine where we’ve been as a Church and as a nation, where we are now, and where we need to go.

For the past 10 years, since Sept. 11, 2001, we have remembered the men, women and children — our family members, our friends and co-workers — who lost their lives on that tragic day. For many, the process of healing from that trauma continues to this day. In addition to summoning us to solemnly honor the dead and gratefully remember the many compassionate “first responders,” these annual commemorations also have underscored the urgent need to understand the complexity of our world in terms of politics, economics, culture and religion, particularly that of Islam.

To this end, many of our ministries have developed close relationships with local Muslim communities in order to learn from one another, to address common concerns, and to stand in solidarity with one another. The desire to know “the other” as friend is an essential challenge and a necessary aim for those who endeavor to follow Christ in the manner of St. Francis. We need only recall Francis’ encounter with the Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil in which he chose to engage Muslims peacefully and respectfully in a time of violence and hatred.

Seek Patience and Discipline. Such an effort on the part of friars and their partners-in-ministry is needed now more than ever, for while 9/11 has generated an interest in Islam for some, it has engendered excessive fear and hatred for Muslims in others. Left unanswered and unchecked, these fears can lead to prejudice, racism, hate-speech and even violence against our Muslim brothers and sisters. In the past decade, this has sometimes taken the form of attacks on Muslims in the U.S., their houses of worship and their Scriptures.

Many of these fears are based on perceived differences of values and faith. Yet, if the recent revolutions and uprisings in the Middle East are any indication, the vast majority of Muslims in the world fervently desire many of the rights and privileges that we enjoy under the U.S. Constitution.

These “spring uprisings” in the Middle East highlight for us a second challenge since Sept. 11, 2001: the urgent need to develop effective policies and strategies to deal with global violence and international terrorism through non-violent means. Ten years ago, the dominant belief was that the only way to respond to the attacks of Sept. 11 was by means of military force. We lacked the non-violent tools of robust diplomacy and crisis resolution which, coupled with an internationally shared strategy for police action, might have brought the perpetrators of the attack to justice without massive military intervention and additional loss of lives.

Regrettably, seeking the non-violent tools of robust diplomacy and crisis resolution is not an easy road to follow, but we must always seek the patience and discipline to pursue this path as a first option. We remain challenged to find responses that can unlock the full potential of the human imagination for good.

Be Not Afraid. As we move into the second decade after the tragedy of Sept. 11, we must, as people of faith, remember the words of Jesus who tells us: “be not afraid.” Actions based solely on fear are rarely fruitful, and frequently destructive. We are at a crossroads as a nation and world. We can choose to remain primarily on a path of excessive fear and the use of force, or we can choose to find new ways of building communities of respect and cooperation across faith traditions and national boundaries.

As brothers and sisters committed to living the Gospel in the way of St. Francis, we encourage you, your partners-in-ministry, and your families and friends to:

• Increase and deepen your efforts to understand and build relationships with our Muslim brothers and sisters, and indeed with all those from faith traditions different from our own.
• Stand firmly against all forms of prejudice and discrimination, including Islamophobia.
• Stay informed about world events through reliable sources of information in order to better access American foreign policies and their impact on others.
• Call for deeper investments in diplomacy and development so that options beyond military violence are employed.
• Take time for prayer, both private and communal, asking God for peace in your hearts and minds, for wisdom and understanding, for healing and forgiveness.

Followers of the Gospel — in particular followers of St. Francis — must never be timid or satisfied with lesser “solutions” born of fear and prejudice. Rather, let us be inspired by the bold example of our brother Francis who, obeying Jesus’ new commandment to “love one another,” reached out to the Sultan and thereby created new paths of peace.

Joan Chittister: Psalms, Psyche, Healing

Joan Chittister, OSB

“I kept my sin secret and my frame
wasted away. Day and night your
hand was heavy upon me.”
– Psalm 32

This psalm is a piece of very good psychology about the burdens we carry within us, our unforgiven sins.

When we don’t face our faults, our problems, our weakness, our angers, our sense of inadequacy — worse, when we blame them on others, or deny them, or need to be perfect, or become defensive — we refuse to accept ourselves. Every doctor and psychologist in the country sees the effect of that in their offices every day.

We all have things we need to forgive in ourselves or face in ourselves. We have things we know we ought to ask forgiveness for from someone else, but pride and stubbornness hold us back.

These things become a barrier between us and the community, a hot stone in the pit of the stomach, a block to real happiness. And nothing is going to get better until we face them.

Forgiveness occurs when we don’t need to hold a grudge anymore: when we are strong enough to be independent of whatever, whoever it was that so ruthlessly uncovered the need in us. Forgiveness is not the problem; it’s living till it comes that taxes all the strength we have.

Some people think that forgiveness is incomplete until things are just as they were before. But the truth is that after great hurt, things are never what they were before: they can only be better or nothing at all. Both of which are acceptable states of life.

“Life is an adventure in forgiveness,” Norman Cousins said. You will, in other words, have lots of opportunity to practice. Don’t wait too long to start or life will have gone by before you ever lived it.–Joan Chittister, OSB

From Songs of the Heart: Reflections on the Psalms by Joan Chittister (Twenty-Third Publications)

Photos from South Sudan: Celebrating a New Country

In a remarkable move at the close of a Sudan’s national referendum on secession, Salva Kiir, the political leader of Southern Sudan, called on his people – from inside a Catholic Church no less – to forgive the national government of Sudan for its decades of violence again Southerners. “May we, like Jesus Christ on the cross, forgive those who have forcefully caused their deaths,” Kiir reportedly said.

David Berrian with the international Nonviolent Peaceforce put together a great slide show celebrating the elections in Sudan.

South Sudan Votes from David Berrian on Vimeo.

The oil-producing south, now called South Sudan, seceded after 99 percent of the people voted for independence in hopes of ending the bitter cycle of civil war, as well as the horrendous genocide in Darfur. Read more about Sudan’s election here.

Joan Chittister: ‘Mercy Is What God Does for Us’

Sr. Joan Chittister and the folks at Benetvision have just released a new book on forgiveness. As we seem to live in a culture that promotes “mercilessness,” rather than a “quality of mercy [that] is not strained” (as Shakespeare put it), this book is a good one to use with small groups and for summer meditation. (Also listen to the podcast with Sr. Joan below.)

Mercy is what God does for us. Mercy discounts the economic sense of love and faith and care for a person and lives out of a divine sense of love instead. Mercy gives a human being who does not “deserve” love, love. And why? Because, the Scriptures answer, God knows of what we are made.

The fact is that we are all made of the same thing: clay, the dust of the earth, the frail, fragile, shapeless thing from which we come and to which we will all return some day. We are all capable of the same things. Our only hope is that when we are all sitting somewhere bereft, exposed, outcast, humiliated and rejected by the rest of society, someone, somewhere will “reach out a hand and lift us up.”

Mercy is the trait of those who realize their own weakness enough to be kind to those who are struggling with theirs. It is, as well, the measure of the God-life in us.

Beware those who show no mercy. They are dangerous people because they have either not faced themselves or are lying to themselves about what they find there. “We are all sinners,” we say, and then smile the words away. But the essayist Montaigne was clear about it: “There is no one so good,” he wrote, “who, were they to submit all their thoughts and actions to the laws, would not deserve hanging ten times in life.”

It is our very weaknesses that enable us to understand the power, the necessity of mercy.

The Sufi mystic Mishkat al-Masabaih reminds us, when we are overwhelmed by our own inadequacies, our own diversions from the straight paths of life, that the mercy of God is always greater than the sin of being too humanly human. He writes: She who approaches near to Me one span, I will approach near to her one cubit; and she who approaches near to Me one cubit, I will approach near to her one fathom; and whoever approaches Me walking, I will come to her running; and she who meets Me with sins equivalent to the whole world, I will greet her with forgiveness equal to it.”

The mercy we show to others is what assures us that we do not need to worry about being perfect ourselves. All we really need to do is to make the effort to be the best we can be, knowing we will often fail. Then, the mercy of others, the mercy of God is certain for us, as well. “The only thing we can offer to God of value,” St. Catherine of Siena said, “is to give our love to people as unworthy of it as we are of God’s love.” –Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB

Excerpt from God’s Tender Mercy: Reflections on Forgiveness by Joan Chittister

Listen to a podcast with Sr. Joan on forgiveness and the conversation about the controversy about the Cordoba Center at Ground Zero in New York.

‘Defensiveness and Self-Protection Are Not Gospel Values’

benedictOn Saturday’s Weekend Edition, NPR host Scott Simon talked with John Allen, who reports on the Roman Catholic Church as a senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter on the Vatican facing renewed pressure amid charges that Pope Benedict XVI mishandled priest sex abuse cases while serving as archbishop of Munich in the 1980s. Allen calls the scandal “unprecedented” and a “global crisis.” (Listen to the interview here.)

When Simon asked how this scandal has affected Mass-going, financial donations, or dioceses spinning off from the Roman church, Allen responded:

From the beginning of this crisis there has always been the fear that this is going to cause some kind of fundamental rupture that is that it will cause the large number of people to stop going to Mass, it will cause large numbers of Catholic to stop making financial contributions to the church, and that some of them may decide to opt out of the system all together and create a parallel church.

To date the empirical evidence that we have is that really has not happened. At the end of the day the reason for that is fairly simple: Most typical Mass-going Catholics learned a long time ago to make a distinction between what their faith is really based on — which is God, the encounter with Jesus Christ, the supernatural dimension of the church — to distinguish between that and the very fallible human beings who at any given time may be running the show.

Additionally, Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. wrote How the Catholic Church Could End Its Sex Scandal in which he said:

The church needs to show it understands the flaws of its own internal culture by examining its own conscience, its own practices, its own reflexives when faced with challenge. As the church rightly teaches, acknowledging the true nature of our sin is the one and only path to redemption and forgiveness.

Of course, this will not be easy. Enemies of the church will use this scandal to discredit the institution no matter what the Vatican does. Many in the hierarchy thought they were doing the right thing, however wrong their decisions were. And the church is not alone in facing problems of this sort.

But defensiveness and institutional self-protection are not Gospel values. “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.”

The church needs to cast aside the lawyers, the PR specialists and its own worst instincts, which are human instincts. Benedict could go down as one of the greatest popes in history if he were willing to risk all in the name of institutional self-examination, painful but liberating public honesty, and true contrition.

Read Dionne’s whole article here.