Welcome to A Franciscan View

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace . . .

27 March 2015

Who am I to judge? part deux

The important thing about this statement by the Pope for us to understand is not that one can just do what they want as I wrote about in the previous entry, but that, as the Pope is following the Lord's example, grace is abundant and free for the taking.  The whole judging thing is tied up in a couple of statements made by Jesus:
 
1"Do not judge so that you will not be judged. 2"For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.…
Luke 7 
 
"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?
Luke 6:41

 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her."
John 8:  7
In this context then, one who "is seeking God" (and how do we know the heart of another person) and is a "person of Good Will", is probably working out their own situation with the LORD God.  Most of us have enough of our own problems to be concerned about, so we really don't need to be overly concerned about someone else who is trying to resolve their issues.  Pray for them and focus on cleaning out our own closets!
 
God's grace is plentiful for everyone.  His love is great, expansive and generous.  All each one of us has to do is to recognize that we have made mistakes in judgment, action, speech, and interactions enough that we ought to be seeking some kind of remission for what we have done or failed to do to others.  God forgives the repentant heart.  God loves you.
 
I have found this to be very much true.  In my own case, I have had a number of serious illnesses and surgeries some of which were nearly fatal.  But I am still here and am quickly approaching the beginning of my seventh decade.  I am still here!  Those are real comforting words for me, because I could have died during my senior in high school.  I firmly believe that the LORD God has kept me alive to accomplish something good for Him.  I am hoping that through these frequent messages that someone will be inspired to open their hearts as well to his love as we discuss some of our more important national issues. 
 
In any event, I know that His love has been working in my life and I try to rejoice each day with that knowledge.  Does that mean that everything if always peachy?  No way!  Because we still have the freedom to choose, we often choose unwisely and turn our backs on His intended way.  But that's why we have reconciliation in the Catholic Church - to return to Him and make another effort.  I think that as long as we are honestly trying that's what's really important.  AND - I believe that's what the Pope was talking about in his statement:  "If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?"  There is a lot more there than meets the eye.
 
So, we forge ahead trying to find solutions to our issues and we trust in the LORD God to provide us with His wisdom and grace to aid our journey.  As we begin the 2015 Holy Week, may God give all of your His Peace!

18 March 2015

Who am I to judge?

"If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?"                 -- Pope Francis
Boy, did the media pounce on those last five words. Suddenly, the Church has changed its entire position on everything.  Even though this was quite some time ago, it seems to still carry traction with those wishing for the Church to approve all of the modern ideas about relationships and freedom.  Well, I hate to be the one to disappoint, but I don't think that is going to happen.
 
The problem that everyone seems to ignore (except Church commentators) is the first part of that sentence:  "If a person. . . seeks God and has good will. . ."  I left the specific  word out on purpose, because one could put any of the common issues that are hot topics today, e.g., gay, pro-choice.  You see, the big issue is what does it mean to "seek God".  The Pope's, and certainly not the Church's, definition of "seeking God" has not changed, just the response to it.  More on that later.
 
The media, and much of the world, is so hoping that the standards of the Church will loosen so that many of the practices of today's society will suddenly become acceptable.  Part of the problem is that everyone else's idea of freedom means license; but, the Church still holds to the idea that
1731    Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one’s own responsibility. By free will one shapes one’s own life. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude.                            --Catechism of the Catholic Church

That doesn't mean you can do what ever you like or whatever "feels good".  Actually quite the opposite:
1740    Threats to freedom. The exercise of freedom does not imply a right to say or do everything. It is false to maintain that man, “the subject of this freedom,” is “an individual who is fully self-sufficient and whose finality is the satisfaction of his own interests in the enjoyment of earthly goods.”33 Moreover, the economic, social, political, and cultural conditions that are needed for a just exercise of freedom are too often disregarded or violated. Such situations of blindness and injustice injure the moral life and involve the strong as well as the weak in the temptation to sin against charity. By deviating from the moral law man violates his own freedom, becomes imprisoned within himself, disrupts neighborly fellowship, and rebels against divine truth. (2108, 1887)              --Catechism of the Catholic Church
But, this is exactly what so many folks want.  People seems to forget, as well, that Jesus sort of had something to say about this concept as well.  His first words are reported in Mark 1
 15“This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
When he cures the beggar at the pool of Bethesda,
14After this Jesus found him in the temple area and said to him, “Look, you are well; do not sin any more, so that nothing worse may happen to you.”  --John 5
After the folks left the woman accused of being a prostitute,  
11Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, [and] from now on do not sin any more.”   -- John 8
The words "repent" and "do not in any more" are kind of important in the whole scheme of things, you know.  Interestingly, I think that Pope Francis is being the kind of pastor that Jesus emulates in that last quote from John: loving, caring, forgiving, but still with the admonition of "do not sin any more". 

Of course for modern authors to even understand what this is all about, they will have to return to the days when folks actually knew what sin meant.  God forbid that they remember the Gifts of the Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord; or the Capital Sins: pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth, or even the list of virtues from Paul's famous treatise on Charity: 
4* Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated,d 5it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,e 6it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.f                                         --1 Corinthians 13
 Yes, the concept of SIN is critical to fully understanding what all of this is all about.  And, one must remember that Jesus didn't say that he was replacing the Old Testament Law found in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. What he actually said is a little scary:
17* “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.
18Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.
19Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
20I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.     --Matthew 5
 So all of those things considered sin are still relevant folks; but, what Pope Francis is trying to tell us is that we are not the judge and we are required to be open, honest, loving, caring, graceful, and, most importantly, forgiving.  WE DO NOT KNOW THE HEART OF ANOTHER PERSON!!!!!

All of us who want to become Christian have a lot of responsibility to try to live this way of life: Beatitudes, Gifts of the Spirit, Capital Sins (avoid these), definition of love by Paul and a whole host of positive concepts by which we can live our lives.  And we must do that by actually living the life, not just talking about it.  Not easy, but it's the right thing to do!

So, during this Lenten season, buck up and go to Confession.  Clear the air and move on.  Remember God loves you very much and will forgive you.  (Luke 15:  11-32 - The Generous Father)

16 March 2015

Wealth and the world

Psalm 73

1A psalm of Asaph.
How good God is to the upright,
to those who are pure of heart!
2But, as for me, my feet had almost stumbled;
my steps had nearly slipped,
3Because I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.a
4For they suffer no pain;
their bodies are healthy and sleek.
5They are free of the burdens of life;
they are not afflicted like others.
6Thus pride adorns them as a necklace;
violence clothes them as a robe.
7Out of such blindness comes sin;
evil thoughts flood their hearts.b
8They scoff and spout their malice;
from on high they utter threats.c
9*They set their mouths against the heavens,
their tongues roam the earth.
10*So my people turn to them
and drink deeply of their words.
11They say, “Does God really know?”
“Does the Most High have any knowledge?”d
12Such, then, are the wicked,
always carefree, increasing their wealth.
13Is it in vain that I have kept my heart pure,
washed my hands in innocence?e
14For I am afflicted day after day,
chastised every morning.
15Had I thought, “I will speak as they do,”
I would have betrayed this generation of your children.
16Though I tried to understand all this,
it was too difficult for me,
17Till I entered the sanctuary of God
and came to understand their end.*
18You set them, indeed, on a slippery road;
you hurl them down to ruin.
19How suddenly they are devastated;
utterly undone by disaster!
20They are like a dream after waking, Lord,
dismissed like shadows when you arise.f
21Since my heart was embittered
and my soul deeply wounded,
22I was stupid and could not understand;
I was like a brute beast in your presence.
23Yet I am always with you;
you take hold of my right hand.g
24With your counsel you guide me,
and at the end receive me with honor.*
25Whom else have I in the heavens?
None beside you delights me on earth.
26Though my flesh and my heart fail,
God is the rock of my heart, my portion forever.
27But those who are far from you perish;
you destroy those unfaithful to you.
28As for me, to be near God is my good,
to make the Lord GOD my refuge.
I shall declare all your works
in the gates of daughter Zion.*

We consider for a moment the nature of today's society: the large difference between those who hold much wealth and those who have little.  In fact, in 2010, the top 1% in the United States held 35.4% of the net worth (Wealth, Income, and Power by G. William Domhoff - 2015).  The article is quite interesting because it shows a large number of comparisons of income, wealth, and the commensurate power that comes with this status in today's world.
The disturbing thing is that this information shows the great disparity between the top and bottom of today's society.  I wrote a long time ago, near the beginning of this blog, that it seemed to me that the Middle Ages are, in fact, alive and well.  Huffington Post wrote in 2013:
Today, as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, it seems we are approach a new Middle Ages in America, as inequality increasingly spreads through the land. It is as if the super-rich are like the new royalty and the top 1 percent are living in mansions like the old castles of kings in the kingdoms that eventually melded into Europe and the U.K. Meanwhile, the media wields the power of the medieval church, placing its blessing on those with wealth and celebrity, who are protected by their retinue of publicists, handlers, lawyers, chauffeurs, and servants. They are much like the landed nobility who were part of the king's court, who formed a protected and privileged enclave far removed from the much larger class of peasants who worked their land and paid their taxes, which supported the royalty and monarchy in their grand style.
So, we see that this condition exacerbates as life continues on in the US today. The concerning thing is that the leadership of our states and nation seem to have turned their back upon the poor.  Congress is mired in political intransigence.  State governors are hailed for gutting past progress in labor and retirement benefits.  More and more people are struggling to get by and are blamed for their own situation while companies reward their CEO's with more and more benefits, even when they fail and are fired.  All is completely out of proportion.  Sanity appears to have left the country.  Callousness toward the poor is rampant.  People are blamed for their laziness despite the fact that many are faultless for having lost their jobs due to their company moving either out of the country or thousands of miles away.  Where is the voice of reason?
 
The Psalmist writes about this situation.  The rich seem untouchable but have received their reward.  The poor have the LORD God and unending joy forever.  But, we have the power to change the situation here and now  and make things more equitable.  Our country's premise was not based upon the Middle Ages governance of Europe. 

All we need are a few courageous people. The common folk need to demand that their leaders either rectify the situation or we need to change the leaders.  It will take courage for this to happen and until someone steps forward it probably will not happen.
 
What I don't understand is how so many ordinary folks are so comfortable with this situation and don't seem to recognize that the leadership of their chosen party will only continue to support this system that favors the corporate leaders and the rich and powerful - because it keeps these leaders in power to do essentially nothing except continue the status quo.  But I guess as long as folks pay less taxes and have their guns they will be just happy with that.
 
Unfortunately, the moral decay of this country will eventually be its undoing.

12 March 2015

Logan Act

The Logan Act states:
§ 953. Private correspondence with foreign governments.
Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.
This section shall not abridge the right of a citizen to apply himself, or his agent, to any foreign government, or the agents thereof, for redress of any injury which he may have sustained from such government or any of its agents or subjects.
 Recently, a group of US Senators wrote a letter to the Supreme Leader of Iran stating among other things, that if this "executive agreement" is not approved by the Senate, then the next president could reverse its terms with the "stroke of a pen."  Well, from the new stories (The Daily Mail called these Senators traitors), this is an very unusual step for citizens of the US to take.  The Logan act specifically prohibits US citizens from interfering with discussions with foreign nations, especially with the intent to "influence the measures or conduct" of a foreign nation.  It appears that these Senators, in fact, broke this law.

The Daily Beast reports:
But even among Republicans whose offices have signed the letter, there is some trepidation that the Iran letter injects partisanship into the Iran negotiations, shifting the narrative from the content of the deal to whether Republicans are unfairly trying to undercut the president.
So, they wrote this letter, sent it, a big uproar ensued, and now some are privately saying, "Oops".

The acrimony is so bad in DC!  The GOP from the very beginning of this Presidency has wanted to do everything in its power to discredit this man as President (See Robert Draper book) that it has finally stooped to potentially breaking a federal law.

Now, the Supreme Leader of Iran, the Ayatollah Khamenei has made fun of the US.  The NY Times reports:
"All countries, according to the international norms, remain faithful to their commitments even after their governments change, but the American senators are officially announcing that at the end of the term of their current government, their commitments will be considered null and void,” Mr. Khamenei wrote. He said the letter was a “sign of declining political ethics."
So, now what?!  Not only have these Senators embarrassed themselves, they have brought ridicule from the International Community upon the United States.   How can we hold our head high as a nation now?  

Today's OT reading is from Jeremiah.  In part it says:

   This is the nation that does not listen
      to the voice of the LORD, its God,
      or take correction.
   Faithfulness has disappeared;
      the word itself is banished from their speech.
 
These Senators hold such contempt for the man who is President that they will do anything to discredit his efforts here and abroad.  These "Christian" men and women certainly affirm the passage from Jeremiah today.  Their hatred for the man who is President is so great that they betray their own "Christian" belief and, in so doing, appear to betray their country as well.
 
Now
Republican aides were taken aback by the response to what they thought was a lighthearted attempt to signal to Iran and the public that Congress should have a role in the ongoing nuclear discussions. Two GOP aides separately described their letter as a “cheeky” reminder of the congressional branch’s prerogatives.
The Daily Beast; 11 MAR 2015
 
So, now it's King's X, I was just kidding around.  Well, that doesn't show a lot of maturity!  Forty-seven Senators signed this Joke.  Some of these guys are quite old enough and have been there long enough to know better.  One senior Senator (29 years in Senate) remarked,
 It was kind of a very rapid process.  Everybody was looking forward to getting out of town because of the snowstorm.
 I saw the letter, I saw that it looked reasonable to me and I signed it, that's all.  I  sign lots of letters.
 I am sorry, but I think that this whole thing was the wrong thing to do.  It demonstrates a clearly political motivation that has nothing to do with peacefully resolving issues at home or abroad.  Out of someone's deep seated disregard for the President, they have crafted this missive to embarrass the President and in the process have brought dishonor to our country.
 
There is even a theory that some ultra conservative groups are behind this letter and provided favorable advertising to Mr. Cotton to the tune of nearly 1 million dollars prior to this letter being written.  (See Mondoweiss article)  If this is true, then this further shows the unfavorable impact of unlimited political contributions favoring big business.    
 
Our whole purpose in the Iran negotiations is to prevent them from achieving nuclear weapons.   This should be done in a peaceful and diplomatic way. Feedback is achieved through regular updates by the Administration to the appropriate Senate committee, responsible for eventually ratifying the treaty.   Whatever happened to get this letter to see the light of day was inappropriate, self-serving, and just plain wrong.  I thought that we were better than this, but it appears that our country is getting ready to head down the tubes and fast.
 
I can hardly wait to hear the acrimony during the next two years as we face, yet another, presidential campaign.  It's started already.  Walker and Bush are already taking pot shots at each other.  When will we end the insanity?

 

09 March 2015

Goodness

Psalm 145

8The LORD is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in mercy.f
9The LORD is good to all,
compassionate toward all your works.g
 
Psalm 19
 
8The law of the LORD is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The decree of the LORD is trustworthy,
giving wisdom to the simple.b
9The precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart.
The command of the LORD is clear,
enlightening the eye.
10The fear of the LORD is pure,
enduring forever.
The statutes of the LORD are true,
all of them just;
11More desirable than gold,
than a hoard of purest gold,
Sweeter also than honey
or drippings from the comb.c
 
These Psalms really say everything for one who is a believer.  The LORD God, who made everything and is still in control, has showered us with so many gifts that they are countless.  I just look at the wonders of the world and the human body, especially after the last three months of illness, and cannot help but be amazed.  I have a really hard time wondering how anyone can say that there is not someone above all of this who set it all into motion - who created this complex universe.  How everything works in the body is simply amazing.  And we still know so little about it all.
 
The quality of pride cause so many of us to believe that we are in charge of everything.  But when you step outside and look up, especially here in the rural parts of the world, you can see just how insignificant each of us are.  How can anyone not be humbled by that experience.?!
 
Much of the problems in our country, with Congress, state legislatures, administrations, police, citizens, has to do with this one obsessive quality - and its relative envy.  Pride means we are totally in control and envy means that we are really worried about someone else having more power and being in control.  If we could all realize just how little we are, recognize that the LORD God is really in control, and just step back one or two steps, much could begin to heal.
 
This may sound rather simplistic to the sophisticated person, but if each person would just begin this process, wouldn't it begin to spread.  Look how the Church began in the first place.  Twelve guys went out and began to tell about their experience with Jesus of Nazareth.  Why couldn't we begin this process again.  Re-commit ourselves to the Jesus Way and begin to broadcast it to everyone who we meet.  Wouldn't that humility and service catch on?  I think so.  Isn't is worth trying?  Sure couldn't hurt.  Look how bad everything is right now.  Maybe this is just the ticket to a different society.
 
Again, recognize our humble origins, the nature of our sinful behavior, repent and believe in the original message of Jesus and just start over.  I think that is what Pope Francis is trying to get us to do.
 
So, why don't we just try it?!!!

Immigration

The first few verses of Chapter 20 of Exodus provide for us what is know as the Ten Commandments.  Many places in our country have argued, sued, and protested about whether these ten commonsense rules should be displayed in the public arena.  Many folks really believe that these ten rules are the basis of their idea of essence of our country.  But just like those who pounce upon verse 22 of the 18th Chapter of Leviticus to forbid homosexual activity, ignoring the other 29 verses that deal with all sorts of other sexual activity that is prohibited, few people recognize that these first 10 rules are only part of what Exodus 20 has to say about moral conduct.  Folks ought to read Chapters 21 - 23 as well to get the full effect of the rules for life provided by the LORD God to the Israelites at Mount Sinai. 
 
I find it interesting, if not amusing, that folks who clamor for the posting of the Ten Commandments are the most vocal about our current situation of immigration in the country.  The point that I'm trying to make is that  Exodus 20-23 provide a whole lot of rules from the LORD God about how to conduct ones life, individually and in society, and actually touch upon this issue of immigration.  Here are a few select verses from Exodus that relate to this topic:
 
Exodus 22
 
20You shall not oppress or afflict a resident alien, for you were once aliens residing in the land of Egypt.
 
Exodus 23
 
9You shall not oppress a resident alien; you well know how it feels to be an alien, since you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.
 
 As one reads all of these four chapters, one gets a better understanding of the purpose of these Commandments.  One readily can see that relationships and concern for the less fortunate are extremely important part of this new Covenant with the Israelites.  It suggests to us that if we believe that the first 17 verses of Chapter 20 are so important, the remainder really should carry the same weight, simply because all four Chapters are included in the instruction provided to the tribes of Israel for their betterment.
 
How we apply this to our current situation as Christians is really a simple matter.  The first emotion should be mercy.  Many folks are distraught about how these immigrants take away American jobs.  Part of the problem is that we blame the wrong people.  These needy folks wouldn't get the jobs if they weren't hired in the first place.  So, the problem is not the folks looking for work, it's the people hiring them in the first place and the rest of us demanding very low costs for our food, housecleaning, construction, and a whole host of items. 
 
It seems that everyone wants to look the other way about these employers who actually are violating US employment laws.  So, the solution begins with shutting down the supply of jobs in the first place.  Do you really think that folks would flock here if there were no jobs for them and no governmental assistance as a result? 
 
But, more importantly, the Commandments cautions us to "not oppress" the immigrant.  We must provide a sane policy for people to immigrate to our country and with a compassion and mercy that to this point has been ignored - especially all those whom we have allowed to come here to take those "illegal" jobs. 
 
What are you going to do - send back 11 million people to their countries?  I don't think that anyone in their right mind can think that this government will pay for such a reverse migration.  Besides, unless we deal with the source of the jobs, it won't do any good. 
 
Let's be fair to all of those people:  they are not illegal people, the jobs they have are illegal - and we have allowed, even encouraged,  this to happen.  We must find a compassionate and merciful way to allow those folks to incorporate themselves into this society.
 
Now, for those "cheap" jobs.  So, if "they" are taking those jobs, then our society has to figure out how to stop it. 
  • First, those jobs need to made legal by at least conforming to the employment laws of the states and nation. 
  • Then, we would need to provide some means for relocating those citizens on welfare to those jobs or find some other way to get the millions without work and the available jobs together. 

I suppose that we could implement a "Great Depression" style migration policy.  But part of the reason for many of our governmental program was because of the disaster that befell so many people in the 30's.  But some compassionate means of getting the two together must be managed.

And let's face it, some people really ARE disabled and can't work.  Jawing on about their unwillingness isn't going to change the status of a paraplegic or a stroke victim.  Remember - mercy and compassion!!!

Not a comprehensive plan, but a recognition that WE (the entire US society) have caused the problem ourselves and the folks who are here are not at fault for doing what we do every day:  try to improve our economic future for ourselves and our children.



 

05 March 2015

Who's your boss?

A popular TV program years ago was Who's the Boss.  It was a popular program in its day and, I suspect, would still have a following on those channels that play the old (good) programs from yesteryear.  Amongst the setting of this contrived family, we saw the various situations develop, but always with a pretty good ending.
 
Today, I'm not sure many people really understand who their boss ought to be.  In the free-for-all of today's society, a person can be influenced by many others and, in a way, become their boss.  I think that a lot of people allow the desire to acquire wealth, power, prestige, and influence become the ruling factor and these things become the "boss" of their lives.  I suggest that the ending of these lives will not be a pretty, funny, or positive as that old TV show.  Many may very well be surprised at the end of their lives if they don't make changes. 
 
They could even end up like the rich man is today's Gospel message (the story of Dives (rich man) and Lazarus.  Well, old Dives ends up in a pretty nasty place and begs Father Abraham to help.  But, alas, no help can be provided.  In his final plea he asks for Lazarus to be allowed to return to earth to haunt his brothers, who are enjoying the fruits of their labors in a rather lavish way, and warn them of their impending doom.  But,
 
31Then Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.
Luke 16
 
Oops!  That didn't work out to well for old Dives, or his brothers presumably.  These parables really are frustrating for us because we believe that success is found in the lavish lives of the rich and famous and powerful.   Jesus tells several stories like this throughout the Gospels.  The ending is always the same:  bad news for the selfish, rich guy. 
 
That bad news is because of their selfish, excessive consumption which permeates their nature.  In all of these stories, these folks don't bother with the poor guy sitting on the front door step.  They are unaware of his existence and overlook him completely - much to their own and eventual demise.
 
I suggest that our society is in big trouble if this trend continues.  Watching the old movies about ancient Rome, one cannot but reflect upon much of what goes on today and just wonder if that will be our fate as well.  Things got pretty well out of hand toward the end and, well, let's just say that everything fell apart pretty rapidly.  Will that be our end as a country as well?
 
I know how difficult it is to try to live a life following a code of conduct not of your own making.  But, each of us must choose how to live our lives by some standard; better a standard that challenges us to be better than to just follow our animal instincts. 
 
A long time ago I chose to become a Franciscan, living the life of St. Francis in the secular world as a lay person.  This has been a large challenge for me, because I know that I am far from being a sinless person.  I have recognized, as I have grown older, that I personally have many faults that others have had to deal with through my 69 years.  But, I persist in trying to follow the LORD God, Creator of the Universe and the code of conduct that he established -- especially the one given to Moses, passed on through the Prophets of the Old Testament and finally the example of his incarnate Son, Jesus of Nazareth. 
 
I do know that this LORD God is present in my life, because from early on I had this important realization that something was calling me to a better life.  When I discovered that I had Hodgkin's disease right before my senior year in high school, I held onto my faith and I believe that it paid off.  Some forty years later the treatments for Hodgkin's came home to roost and I ended up at Mayo Clinic having an Aortic valve replaced. It was my faith that carried me through that experience.  Now some 12 years later, I am still here trying to figure out what it is God wants for me, but I AM still alive making the effort. 
 
I know in my heart that the LORD God wants me to keep trying to live the right way and to tell others about how important it is to try to live this kind of life.  That is one of the major reasons that I began this blog months ago; because I believe that through this life together we can find solutions to our problems in this country together and keep it going a while longer. 
 
Two scriptures for today highlight that emphasis of the LORD God on my life:
 
          Jeremiah  17

           7Blessed are those who trust in the LORD;
            the LORD will be their trust.d
            8They are like a tree planted beside the waters
            that stretches out its roots to the stream:
            It does not fear heat when it comes,
            Its leaves stay green;
            In the year of drought it shows no distress,
            but still produces fruit.e
 
          Psalm 1
 
            1Blessed is the man who does not walk
            in the counsel of the wicked,
           Nor stand in the way* of sinners,
            nor sit in company with scoffers.a
           2Rather, the law of the LORD* is his joy;
           and on his law he meditates day and night.b
 
 The LORD God comforts and nourishes me.  He cares for me.  He loves me as one of his children.  He shows me that we all are His carefully created brothers and sisters and that we should, no must, love each other as He loves us.
 
That is why so many of my entries ask and plead for a saner approach to human relationships in our country today.  I certainly hope that this message will inspire even a few people to try to move beyond their selfish attitude and help someone else have a better day, every day.
 
No one has joined this blog since I began it many months ago.  I don't even know if anyone is reading it.   I only hope and pray that eventually someone will see these messages and begin a group in their own community dedicated to changing how we relate with each other.  Only through these small beginnings can we change the direction of our country. 
 
May God Give You Peace!
 

03 March 2015

Repent for the Kingdom is at hand

Isaiah 1

10* Hear the word of the LORD,
princes of Sodom!
Listen to the instruction of our God,
people of Gomorrah!
16Wash yourselves clean!
Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes;
cease doing evil;
17learn to do good.
Make justice your aim: redress the wronged,
hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow.j
18Come now, let us set things right,*
says the LORD:
Though your sins be like scarlet,
they may become white as snow;
Though they be red like crimson,
they may become white as wool.k
19If you are willing, and obey,
you shall eat the good things of the land;
20But if you refuse and resist,
you shall be eaten by the sword:
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken!
 
Psalm 50
 
Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you,
your burnt offerings are always before me.
9I will not take a bullock from your house,
or he-goats from your folds.e
“Why do you recite my commandments
and profess my covenant with your mouth?
17You hate discipline;
you cast my words behind you!
21When you do these things should I be silent?
Do you think that I am like you?
I accuse you, I lay out the matter before your eyes.
23Those who offer praise as a sacrifice honor me;
I will let him whose way is steadfast
look upon the salvation of God.”I
 
In the United States today, much happens that could easily remind one of Rome, circa 32 A.D., or Sodom and Gomorrah referred to in the reading from Isaiah.  We have widespread denial of any higher power that could provide moral guidance.  Instead, the prevailing philosophy appears to be a relative secularism, in which the individual decides what is right and wrong.  Although this philosophy is convenient, because no one has to think about guilt, it generates a moral decay that, like Rome, will lead to oblivion.  In general, our society appears to tolerate a libertine view of relationships, antagonism toward the natural pairing of a man and woman, no value for the individual as demonstrated by the death of millions of pre-born babies, the acceptance of legal suicide, no respect for the less fortunate people, outright antagonism toward aliens, a general acceptance of torture as a weapon of war, and the list goes on.  This condition generates an internal decay of the foundation of our society, denigrates our moral standing in the world, and makes us weak.
 
Many do not even believe in a God who provides moral guidance.  Many do not believe in the concept of sin.  Many do not believe in a moral structure to society.  As long as "my ego" is fulfilled, then everything is just fine.  That is the problem outlined by the passages cited at the beginning of this reflection. 
 
Our society needs to re-discover a consistent moral basis for our lives, one that challenges us to be better than our animal instincts upon which we currently rely for guidance.  As the scripture notes, God is merciful.  Had Sodom and Gomorrah repented they would have been saved just like Nineveh was in the Book of Jonah.  Even the Psalmist promises salvation for "the one who remains steadfast" in following the covenant.
 
This is what we need in the United States today: good old fashioned repentance.  A recognition that there is a code of moral conduct that challenges us to operate on a higher plane and that we have individually and collectively turned our backs on that code - we have sinned.  We need our society to renew its commitment to uplift each person's value as an special creation of a generous, gracious God.  We need to return to our ideals that all are created equal and deserving of equal participation in the liberty and pursuit of happiness that our form of government was created to provide.
 
No, it's not right that a few should control most of the wealth in this country.  No, it's not right that a few should be able to influence the elections in this country.  No, it's not right that millions of people are without decent housing, food, or health care in this country.  No, it's not right that our mentally challenged are left to wander the streets or be confined in our prisons.  No, it's not right that our returning military veterans are treated like second class citizens.  No, it's not right that millions are left without work or substandard work because our tax laws encourage companies to relocate their operations to other countries.  No, it's not right that a few benefit greatly from the economy and return very little, and in some cases nothing, in support of our government that makes their success possible.  No, it's not right that the budget for the Defense Department is increased so much that social programs have to be dropped.  No, it's not right that certain political parties are trying to destroy all of the social advances that we have seen over that last 100 years. e.g. voting rights, equality in education, security for our seniors. 
 
We are better than this!  But, alas, unless citizens take their responsibility for shaping this government by their active participation in the political and electoral processes, then we will experience a return of a ruling oligarchy - a Middle Ages society of kings, princes, and serfs; and, this once wonderful experiment that we call democracy will become as ethereal as the spring morning's fog.

02 March 2015

Society

Daniel 9
4“Ah, Lord, great and awesome God, you who keep your covenant and show mercy toward those who love you and keep your commandments and your precepts! 5We have sinned, been wicked and done evil; we have rebelled and turned from your commandments and your laws. 6We have not obeyed your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, our ancestors, and all the people of the land. 7Justice, O Lord, is on your side; we are shamefaced even to this day: the men of Judah, the residents of Jerusalem, and all Israel, near and far, in all the lands to which you have scattered them because of their treachery toward you. 8O LORD, we are ashamed, like our kings, our princes, and our ancestors, for having sinned against you. 9But to the Lord, our God, belong compassion and forgiveness, though we rebelled against him 10and did not hear the voice of the LORD, our God, by walking in his laws given through his servants the prophets.
Gaudium et Spes
9.b. Since all these things are so, the modern world shows itself at once powerful and weak, capable of the noblest deeds or the foulest; before it lies the path to freedom or to slavery, to progress or retreat, to brotherhood or hatred. Moreover, man is becoming aware that it is his responsibility to guide aright the forces which he has unleashed and which can enslave him or minister to him. That is why he is putting questions to himself.
10. The truth is that the imbalances under which the modern world labors are linked with that more basic imbalance which is rooted in the heart of man. For in man himself many elements wrestle with one another. Thus, on the one hand, as a creature he experiences his limitations in a multitude of ways; on the other he feels himself to be boundless in his desires and summoned to a higher life. Pulled by manifold attractions he is constantly forced to choose among them and renounce some. Indeed, as a weak and sinful being, he often does what he would not, and fails to do what he would.(1) Hence he suffers from internal divisions, and from these flow so many and such great discords in society. No doubt many whose lives are infected with a practical materialism are blinded against any sharp insight into this kind of dramatic situation; or else, weighed down by unhappiness they are prevented from giving the matter any thought. Thinking they have found serenity in an interpretation of reality everywhere proposed these days, many look forward to a genuine and total emancipation of humanity wrought solely by human effort; they are convinced that the future rule of man over the earth will satisfy every desire of his heart. Nor are there lacking men who despair of any meaning to life and praise the boldness of those who think that human existence is devoid of any inherent significance and strive to confer a total meaning on it by their own ingenuity alone.
Nevertheless, in the face of the modern development of the world, the number constantly swells of the people who raise the most basic questions or recognize them with a new sharpness: what is man? What is this sense of sorrow, of evil, of death, which continues to exist despite so much progress? What purpose have these victories purchased at so high a cost? What can man offer to society, what can he expect from it? What follows this earthly life?
The Church firmly believes that Christ, who died and was raised up for all,(2) can through His Spirit offer man the light and the strength to measure up to his supreme destiny. Nor has any other name under the heaven been given to man by which it is fitting for him to be saved.(3) She likewise holds that in her most benign Lord and Master can be found the key, the focal point and the goal of man, as well as of all human history. The Church also maintains that beneath all changes there are many realities which do not change and which have their ultimate foundation in Christ, Who is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever.(4) Hence under the light of Christ, the image of the unseen God, the firstborn of every creature,(5) the council wishes to speak to all men in order to shed light on the mystery of man and to cooperate in finding the solution to the outstanding problems of our time.
The passage from Gaudium et Spes if from SAT Office
and the passage from Daniel is from today's Mass.
 
The point of this great text (Gaudium) is to highlight the critical issues that we face in this modern world and to propose a solution.  In retrospect, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council were very perceptive about the challenges of modern times and, interestingly, these issues remain relevant for us some fifty years later.  So does the solution!
 
We have lost touch with the reality of what the Church offers for the good of all.   Daniel's passage proclaims the great mercy of the LORD despite us not understanding and following the important Covenant of the LORD with His people.   Of course the key issue is that we must recognize our error and admit that we have sinned - we have turned our backs on the grace and love of our Divine Creator.

 In the United States today, more that ever before, we emphasize the individual rights of people: their individuality, their uniqueness, their diversity.  While understanding the diversity of our nation is good, when taken to the extreme, as has been done, it reveals just how inward and selfish our society has become.  When rights are emphasized above all other things, folks individual rights become more important than others situations and bitter conflict results.  Recently, this conflict has been apparent in our major cities between certain populations and law enforcement.  Each person is so worried about their own rights, but ignores the discussion of taking responsibility for what is required to maintain those rights.
 
When we understand that God is asking of us, we realize that we must emphasize Community above all other things, i.e., how we are alike, how we care for each other, how we serve each other, how we bring our own unique traits to care for each other.  We become "other" centered and focus on our responsibilities for each other and our own personal responsibility to make the community work better. 
 
Both the Fathers of the Vatican Council and Daniel before them understood this important distinction.  In the passages opening this reflection, they have outlined for us the statement of the problem and simply suggested a better way to proceed.
 
Today, our "leaders" can't seem to even find a way to work together because everyone is so committed on pressing their personal agenda that they don't or won't take the time to even listen to the other persons views.  Too often this agenda is preserving their position in government and related in no way to actually serving the population who elected them to office in the first place.  Segments of society pit themselves against other segments and proclaim their rights and won't even discuss how to get along.  What a perversion of the original idea upon which this country was founded! 

We have proclaimed diversity so much that we have forgotten the richness of cooperating with others to use the best of our diversity to create a society that takes care of all to the exclusion of none.  Our Faith proclaims that we must learn to live in community by sacrificing our individual rights to the benefit of others.  When we do that, I believe that we actually enhance the rights and freedom of all because we understand that when we take responsibility for all we protect all -- and there is great freedom in that.  How do we broadcast this message in such a way that all who have chosen not to cooperate in this great experiment we call the United States will change?  That is the key question for our time.

Unfortunately the concept of "melting pot" that was part of my early schooling has been set aside for "individual rights".  When one considers what happens when one makes a stew, the real idea of "melting pot" is realized.  All of the unique flavors of all of the things that one puts into the stew creates a wonderful, savory recipe for success: the uniqueness of the individual ingredient is given for the betterment of the whole.  The process doesn't deny the diversity of the ingredients, but it combines them into something much better that each ingredient could never be by itself.  So does our society work this way when it is working properly.  It is time to return to this concept of our system.  So, we invite the diversity of the world in to improve our flavor, rather than refuse them or return them to the storage bin.

If we continue to emphasize our differences to the exclusion of community, we will see this nation fall to ruin.  If folks continue their selfish pursuit of things of this world, then we stay on the slide into oblivion.  I still hope and believe that it's not too late for this country to find its way out of this mess that we gotten ourselves into.  To break this progression, all citizens must take the responsibility to create a better society.  They must demand that their "leaders" work together for the common good - something that hasn't been done for some time now.  Folks must go to the polls in droves to vote.  Folks must strenuously express their dissatisfaction with the current campaign strategy of shouting, yelling, and denigrating everyone who doesn't believe in lock step with the candidate.  We must have a civil discussion of our problems and work together for solutions.  But only when the general population says "Enough!" will any of this change happen.  Now is the time to begin the process in preparation for the 2016 Presidential elections.