Third Sunday in Advent

“Christ used the flesh and blood of Mary for his life on earth, the Word of love was uttered in her heartbeat. Christ used his own body to utter his love on earth…In this the Christian life is a sacramental life. This Advent God invites you to touch, and taste, and smell. Listen to your body this Advent. Stretch your senses and taste and see that the Lord is good.”Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

“When John heard in prison of the works of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to him with this question, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?’ Jesus said to them in reply, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.’”Matthew 11:2-6

This is Guadete Sunday. We light the third Advent candle as a sign of joy. It is to remind us that when we dream like God dreams—wild visions flowing over with grace, and justice, and mercy—then our road will be lit by this third candle.

Sometimes it is hard for us to feel the scriptures in our bones until we see them acted out. In Venezuela I met a nun who for twelve years had worked in a poor neighborhood located on a steep hillside high over Caracas. Her name was Sr. Begoña. She had been a religious Sister of the Sacred Heart for many years in Spain before moving to Venezuela.

Sr. Begoña talked about the change that she had seen in the self-image of the poor since the government began prioritizing social programs for “the least of these.” Initially, she was very skeptical of the Venezuelan president. He had a military background and she’d grown up in Spain under General Franco. She had no use totalitarian leadership. She was also skeptical of how successful government programs could be in helping the poor. Would they create dependence? What happens when a new administration comes into office? “But,” said Sr. Begoña, “I have lived in this neighborhood for a long time and the poor were for the government programs and for the president. I decided that I would take my chances with the poor, with the people. They were first to understand the new national project.” She said that if the government programs were a mistake she would still rather err with the people than against them.

Not long after making this decision, the neighborhood people invited her to a big march in support of the national agenda to give preferential option to the poor. The day arrived and hundreds from her neighborhood walked the two hours down the hillside into the Caracas city center. Along the way they were joined by thousands of other very poor people from the slums that ring Caracas. There was singing and chanting and laughing—a palpable energy of joy, hope, and possibility. “I always wondered what it meant in the Gospel that the blind saw, the deaf heard and the lame walked,” said Sr. Begoña, “but on that day I was walking with poor people who were blind and deaf and lame. Suddenly, I began to understand—because they were seeing and hearing and walking.”

Where do you see the gospel brought to life?

Ad……vent. A d v e n t (slowly breathe in on the “Ad” part and out on the “vent” part)…There! You prayed today. Keep it up!

With gratitude to Pax Christi USA where some of these reflections first appeared in print.

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Video: Privacy, Surveillance, Arendt, and Gandhi

“A life spent entirely in public, in the presence of others, becomes shallow.”–Hannah Arendt

Roger Berkowitz (Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities at Bard College) and Uday Mehta (professor of political science at CUNY) discuss “private” and “public” life in the context of Hannah Arendt’s writing and Mohandas Gandhi’s writing. They discuss the “virtue of reticence” and the importance of public-private boundaries in order to allow for public judgement and standards as well as for the development of individual or communal “spiritual depth.”

Length: 1 hour (first 25 minutes are Berkowitz’s and Mehta’s presentation)

My notes:

When the right to security becomes a transcendent right, rather than one right among many that need to be balanced, then other rights become subservient to it. But for Christians, security is never a transcendent value. Our “security” comes from God.

Uday Mehta: For Gandhi, privacy mattered to him but not as a “right” provided to you by the state or anyone else. Gandhi does not think his bedroom life is “private” but there are somethings that are so important that they are only between the individual and God and this is private. But the state cannot infringe on this.

Arendt’s things that should be private:
1. Goodness can’t exist in the public sphere. If people know about your goodness then it dies. Friendship can be public, but love should always be private.
2. Birth and Death cannot exist in the public sphere. When you become of age as a public citizen, then the public should not ask about who you were beforehand.
3. Opinion/personal conversations should be kept private.

Uday Mehta: Gandhi’s perspective was that one should say nothing in private that one would not say in public. Because of this he never develops some of the pernicious aspects of “vanguardism.” Gandhi’s commitment to openness did not lead him to violate confidences.

Arendt: If privacy matters, then the only reliable safeguard for privacy is the right to private property, which might not be defensible on economic grounds, but is on privacy grounds.

If you try to balance privacy and security, privacy will always loses, because people will always choose security, convenience, and transparency. People don’t think that invasion of privacy takes away their dignity or autonomy and so they freely give privacy up.

Gandhi wanted to have a conversation between the Indian civilization and Western civilization (and he thought that Indian civilization was superior), but he did not want it to be a nationalist political struggle for sovereign rights.

Is the Christmas Story Midrash on Our Own Times?

Iraqi children bring Christ Child to Creche on Christmas
Iraqi children bring Christ Child to Creche on Christmas

Karen Armstrong is a former Catholic sister who is now an authority on religious history.  Armstrong has a very nice commentary in the LA Times on the true meaning of the Christmas story in the Bible.

She says, if we study the Christmas story carefully we are left with a disturbing sense that the world’s future lies with the very people cast to the margins. Read an excerpt below:

For the rabbis, scripture was not an arcane message from the past but a miqra, a summons to action in the present. Similarly, Matthew and Luke designed the Christmas story as a program of action for their mixed congregations of Jews and Gentiles, who were attempting the difficult task of living and worshiping with people hitherto regarded as alien. Their Gospels make it a tale of inclusion: From the very beginning, Jesus broke down the barriers that divided people, so Jesus’ followers must gladly welcome outsiders into their midst.

If, therefore, we read the Christmas story as commentary, as Midrash, it becomes a miqra for our own time, and for circumstances the evangelists would recognize. We might, for example, reflect on the fact that Matthew’s Magi probably came from Iran. Or note that in our multicultural societies, we must come to terms with people who are different from ourselves and whose presence in our lives may challenge us at a profound level. Moreover, as a species, we are bound tightly to one another — electronically, financially and politically. Unless we manage together to create a just and equitable global society, in which we treat all nations with respect and consideration, we are unlikely to have a viable world to pass on to the next generation.

The Gospels paint a picture that is very different from the cozy stable scene on the Christmas cards. They speak of deprivation and displacement. The Messiah himself is an outsider. There is no room in the inn, so Mary has to give birth in the 1st-century equivalent of an urban alleyway. As victims of Herod’s tyranny, the Holy Family become refugees; other innocents are slaughtered. If we attend carefully to these parts of the story, the specter of contemporary suffering — within our own society and worldwide — will haunt our festivities. And we are left with the disturbing suggestion that the future, for good or ill, may lie with those who are currently excluded.

For Luke, the pregnant Mary becomes a prophetess, proclaiming a new order in which the lowly will be exalted and the mighty pulled down from their thrones. At the beginning of his story, he reminds his readers of Caesar Augustus, who, like the Roman emperors who succeeded him, described himself as “God,” “Son of God,” the “Savior” and “Lord” who would bring peace to the world. Official proclamations and inscriptions throughout the empire announced “the good news” (Greek: euvaggelion) of Roman rule to the subject peoples. Luke’s readers would have noticed that the angel who proclaims “good news” to the shepherds applies all those imperial titles to a child born in a hovel.

Read the full commentary here.

Armstrong’s most recent book is The Case for God. In November 2009, she launched the Charter for Compassion, a global initiative to bring compassion back to the center of religious, moral, public and private life.

First Monday in Advent

“Advent is a season of silence and rest with God. Take time to focus and examine your conscience. What is the shape of your emptiness? How are you still connected to God’s abiding beauty? This Advent, how will you fulfill the work of giving Christ life?”Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

“When Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him and saying, ‘Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.'” Matthew 8: 5-6

Advent is a time of ambiguity. It invites us to embrace conflicting images. Not to harmonize them into one, but to simply let our soul be tempered and strengthened by the fire this conflict creates.

In the story of the centurion asking Jesus to heal his servant, we have the warrior and the weak. Our imagination expects several things.

First, since Jesus has just healed a leper, one of the least of these, maybe he’s tired and doesn’t need to heal again.

Second, Jesus isn’t a collaborator with the Romans. Why would he even speak with a centurion—storm trooper of the state?

Third, we expect the mighty centurion to ask for something for himself or one of his family—not to act with compassion for a servant.

Finally, we don’t expect the Roman commander to become an occasion for Jesus to be amazed, saying, “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.”

Today, pay attention to your response to ambiguity.

Breathe in. Breathe out. It’s Ad…..vent.

With gratitude to Pax Christi USA where some of these reflections first appeared in print..

December 2, 1980: Maura, Ita, Dorothy, and Jean

“When a woman is carrying a child she develops a certain instinct of self-defense. It is not selfishness; it is not egoism. It is an absorption into the life within, a folding of self like a little tent around the child’s frailty, a God-like instinct to cherish and, some day, to bring forth life. A closing upon it like the petals of a flower closing upon the dew that shines in the heart. This is precisely the attitude we must have to Christ, the wellspring of Life within us, in the Advent of our contemplation.”Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

“Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of Abba in heaven.”Matthew 7:21

On December 2, 1980, Maura Clarke, Ita Ford, Dorothy Kazel, and Jean Donovan—Catholic missionaries from the United States—were murdered by National Guardsmen in El Salvador. Dorothy and Jean were driving to the airport outside San Salvador to pick up Maura and Ita.

On the way back from the airport, they were pulled over at a roadblock by National Guardsmen. The four women were taken to an isolated location, raped, tortured, and shot. Then they were buried in a shallow grave beside the road. The National Guardsmen were also “good Catholics.”

These four women died in the same manner as many of the poor Salvadoran people they served. They are martyrs because they laid down their lives in love for the poor—just as Jesus calls all Christians to be prepared to do. The witness of these four women teaches us about listening to the call of Christ, taking up the cross and following Jesus, and being born again.

A stone cross and small plaque mark the country road where the four women were buried. It reads: “Receive them Lord into your Kingdom.”

With gratitude to Pax Christi USA where some of these reflections first appeared in print..

Richard Rohr: Start With a Foundational ‘Yes’ to Life

“If you asked me what it is I know, I would be hard pressed to tell you. All I know is that there is a deep “okayness” to life—despite all the contradictions—which has become even more evident in the silence. Even when much is terrible, seemingly contradictory, unjust, and inconsistent, somehow sadness and joy are able to coexist at the same time. The negative value of things no longer cancels out the positive, nor does the positive deny the negative.

Whatever your personal calling or your delivery system for the world, it must proceed from a foundational “yes” to life. Your necessary “no” to injustice and all forms of un-love will actually become even clearer and more urgent in the silence, but now your work has a chance of being God’s pure healing instead of impure anger and agenda. You can feel the difference in people who are working for causes; so many works of social justice have been undone by people who do all the fighting from their small or angry selves.

If your prayer goes deep, your whole view of the world will change from fear and reaction to deep and positive connection—because you don’t live inside a fragile and encapsulated self anymore. In meditation, you are moving from ego consciousness to soul awareness, from being driven by negative motivations to being drawn from a positive source within.”–Richard Rohr

Abbot Philip: The Spirituality of Easter

Abbot Philip

From Abbot Philip at Christ in the Desert Monastery in New Mexico:

“Part of the spirituality of Easter is learning to believe in the presence of God in all that happens. All we need do is think of the earlier followers of Jesus who were so discouraged and disheartened when He was crucified. From a human point of view, that was the end. All of the hopes of His followers were dashed and broken. So a challenge of spirituality is to believe that God is always present and always bringing about a good in every situation. We don’t always see the good. Perhaps even often we don’t see the good. Yet we are called to believe.

At the heart of all spirituality is this deep and unfailing belief that God is God, that God is present and that God is involved in all that happens. Immediately this takes us to a different level of belief. Our world today, to an enormous extent, believes that there is nothing after death. So many Christians even believe that now. Jesus is a good figure and a good man, but surely Jesus was not God! Once a Christian no longer believes that Jesus is God, then such a person really can no longer be called a Christian. Such a person may well live in a way that brings him or her to heaven, but in this life there is a huge lack of faith.

How different our lives are when we believe that there is another life after death! In the past, of course, some would say that we Christians use the idea or even the reality of heaven to avoid living the realities of this life! For sure, when we believe that this life is not the whole meaning of human reality, then our understanding of how to live changes incredibly. It is more important to be good than to achieve a lot of money or have a lot of sexual relationships or to have power over others. What matters is living in Jesus Christ, living as He did and trying to love others and serve others. Continue reading “Abbot Philip: The Spirituality of Easter”

Abbot Philip: Change is part of our Spirituality

Abbot Phillip
Abbot Phillip

“Changes are part of normal life but are also a part of our spirituality. I dislike changes very much and prefer that everything goes on without change. I dislike it when people leave the community. I dislike it when we have to discuss how to change various parts of our life. I dislike it when I have to make personal changes. And so on and on and on. Yet I recognize that my likes or dislikes never stop the need for change and adaptation. Over the years I have come to see the positive side of changes and the challenges that changes put in front of all of us as humans.Appreciating the value of change does not mean that I like change! Part of my personal spirituality has come to be accepting things that I don’t like, appreciating things that I don’t like, and being still and silent and not reacting about things that I don’t like. This has served me well over the years.

I was sharing with one of the brothers the other day that when I was a young superior … who was almost 30 years older than I, kept telling me this: don’t write or speak when you are angry! Over the years I finally learned that he was correct. Not writing or speaking when I am angry could become a way to avoid an issue, but that is not what it is supposed to be. Rather, it is a way of remaining in peace so that I can truly see before I act. Anger is only one of the ways in which we can be blinded. All of our natural desires can pull us away from this inner place where we see things as they truly are. As I continue to grow older, I find some solace in still learning how to be peaceful and to see what is happening, rather than just reacting to what is happening.

Sometimes I laugh to myself when I look back at how impulsive I was as a young monk and then a young superior. My temper can still flare, but much less than when I was young. The last three meetings that I have been at have been so peaceful for me because of learning to be still. One of the Italian abbots asked me: what is wrong with you, Philip? You haven’t commented on anything.
I replied to him that finally I had learned to be still and just to listen. Most of the time any views that I have are expressed by others and I don’t need to say them. I still speak up if something is clearly unacceptable to me, but most of the time, if I just wait, everything turns out well enough. The few decisions that I would disagree with are usually not important at all.

Someone told me that I was avoiding responsibility by not speaking out. From my point of view, this is simply not true. If there is something that I totally disagree with and which is set to become the norm, then I do speak out. Others listen to me more, the less I speak. I see much of this way of thinking expressed in the wisdom literature of Scripture.”–Abbot Philip, Christ in the Desert Monastery

Read Abbot Philip’s complete reflection.

Joan Chittister: God Doesn’t Want to Hold Women Back

chittisterWith the release of the new Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink, we learned that “if women received pay equal to their male counterparts, the U.S. economy would produce $447.6 billion in additional income.”

On FaithStreet, Sr. Joan Chittister also put out a great short essay on why God doesn’t want to hold women back and never has wanted to. It’s our human sin that keeps us from humility before God and equality among humanity.

“Don’t believe what they’re saying. The world is not in upheaval in our era because radical feminism has gotten out of hand.

No, our world is being shaken to the core and will never again be the same because its old systems are being challenged, its old certainties being rethought.

The political world has had to give up its reliance on the securities of the old geography. The social world has had to give up its notions of the natural privileges of class. The White West has had to give up its ideas of racial preeminence. And men are having to give up the old theology of male superiority.

In that old world, whole classes of people could be underdeveloped, abused, enslaved, oppressed, and disenfranchised — all with impunity. Unknown and unchallenged, local potentates, all male, declared their autocracy, and all-male institutions of every system institutionalized it. It was a world of nobles over peons, the powerful over the powerless, freemen over slaves, men over women. And all of them insisting to the oppressed that such stratified systems were, ironically, for their own good.

Most serious of all, religious people argued that God wanted it that way.

In the West, they said that the Judeo-Christian creation story taught that God designed, defined and created a hierarchical world that developed from one stage to another, from the dust of the earth to the crown of creation, Adam, the male agent of a male God.

In this world, women were not “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh,” equal partners in the human enterprise, as those words imply. Instead, women were labeled “help-mates” rather than, as David Freedman points out, ”a power equal to,” as the corresponding Hebrew term is translated in other places in scripture. …”–Joan Chittister, OSB  Read the rest.

Richard Rohr: ‘The world, the flesh, and the devil’

world-the-flesh-and-the-devil-original-1959-lobby-card-

“With the spiritual “gift of discernment” (1 Corinthians 12:10) you can understand on a whole new level what we mean when we say “God saves you,” because now you see with wisdom and truth. It is the birth of subtlety, discrimination, and compassionate seeing. You move beyond any notion that this or that correct action will get you to heaven. It means that when “your eye is single [or ‘sound’], your whole body will be filled with light” (Luke 11:34). When you see things non-dually, in their wholeness, and do not split between the false “totally good” and “totally bad,” you will grow up spiritually and begin to live honestly and wisely in this world.

Recognizing “the world, the flesh, and the devil” as the classic three sources of evil (and also the source of the “spiral of violence”)—(1) the world’s agreed-upon systems of self-congratulation and self-protection; (2) our individual sin, which is then inevitable; (3) the demonic legitimization of oppressive and destructive power by governments and institutions—can be a primary tool to help you discern what is truly good and what is often evil. Without discernment, many of us end up calling good evil and evil good, just as Isaiah predicted (5:20) and the murder of Jesus revealed. The proper sequencing is very important: if you nip the disguise of evil in the first stage of socially agreed-upon evil, the next two largely lose most of their power to fool you. The “flesh” and the “devil” are exposed for what they are.”–Richard Rohr, OFM

Adapted from Spiral of Violence: The World, the Flesh, and the Devil. Support the Center for Action and Contemplation.