Saturday, May 28, 2011


Ready, get set, GO!
It's been a long week.  You know the kind.  The ear-worm won't go away.  The gout that awakened you on Monday imposes itself on you for the whole week, no matter what you do. The dear friend who got evicted with a three day notice calls every day.  You make three wrong number calls in the same week, each one for the same number.  You change an important password, write it down, hide it and the day after you can neither remember it nor find it.  Finally, you make a public statement and get called out on it as being false, the moment after you made it.  In the heat of the moment you hesitate and in frustration you say, "I'll look it up."  Three hours later you should be in bed, but you're still thinking, "Yeesh!, I have to be more careful not to get carried away."  To make matters worse, every hour of every day of the week you construct a positive teaching from your mistake in order to give your sincere, yes, sincere,  apology some positive value.  So, that's the kind of week it has been.  This is the end, and you get this thought.
I start by saying that in the middle of the week, a "rock-star", You Tube entertainer who pushes his religious views on the world made a statement that really fell right in line with my Bad Week life.  He talked for four and one-half minutes about why the "Truth" is divisive.  Then, for thirty seconds he ended by saying that it is only in the acceptance of Truth that we can be united.  Here it is:
      "Our job as Catholics is to do everything .. EVERY .. THING we can do to      help people see the truth.  Only by everyone agreeing to the same authentic truth will division come to an end.  And not a split second sooner.  Not on this earth."  
I said to myself,  "I didn't fall off a cliff this high in my mistake."  I happen to believe that the absolute truth is ONE, and that in and of itself it causes unity, not divisiveness.  Human beings cause the division, not the truth itself.  Let's take a moment to consider other parts of the title of today's thought.
SWORD:  A good sword has two edges.  
It has the edge of aggression and and punishment and the edge of protection.  In the Bible we are shown several aspects of the sword.  Michael the Archangel uses  the sword according to God's will and drives the evil dissident into the eternal fire of damnation.  God's people get to claim the Promised Land by the sword.  Saul, the first king, and a bad one, uses the sword against the wishes and the commands of God.  David,  the chosen one of God uses the sword according to the will of God and actually saves Saul's life by not using the sword against Saul, his enemy.  Jesus teaches that He has not come to bring peace but to bring the sword.  The sword of St. Michael, the sword of Joshua, the sword of Aaron, the sword of David, the sword of salvation.  In the teaching of Jesus, Love, Mercy and Reconciliation are the sword that He brings.  It is with this spiritual sword that we are meant to to conquer the Evil one and gain the Kingdom of Heaven, as the Israelites gained the Promised Land.
FIRE: In the tradition, fire is punishment and damnation.  Fire also has two edges.  In our relationship with God, we have a two edged relationship with the reality of fire.  We traditionally hold that fire is bad and that it is the tool of punishment at worst and of purification at a mitigated stage.  In our natural lives we know that fire is a very dangerous ally.  It plays a big role in our struggle for survival and even contributes to our progress as a civilization.  In our Church lives we also have an appreciation of fire as a picture of ardent zeal, and all sacrificing love.  We use the color of fire to celebrate martyrdom as well as the infusion of the Holy Spirit.  
WATER: As we are reminded during the celebration of the escape of the Israelites from Egypt, water too is a dangerous ally. 
We are conceived in water and water remains an essential part of our physical lives at every moment.  We are also around water and its life-giving properties all during our spiritual lives.  Beginning with the story of the punishing deluge being also the very medium that supported those who survived it, we come through the ages and see Moses saved by the waters of the Nile and the Land of Milk and Honey having an abundance of fish and water to support the Chosen People.  That central source of life support provided the water which John used to cleanse the Chosen People of their past and take upon themselves a new life in the Messianic age.  Jesus took it further and bequeathed His Baptism in water and in the fiery love of the Spirit to those who would follow Him in the renewed Kingdom, the renewed Chosen Land, the Church.
St. Paul would give us a deeper appreciation for the mystery of the saving water when he said, 
"are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.  5  For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection." [Romans 6:3 - 5]
So it is that we live in a world where we occupy both sides of the coin.  We constantly strive to live on the bright side and shine in the loving sunlight of the God who created us and who guides us through our earthly existence.  It is our call to always choose the life giving qualities of the sword, fire and water for the power of the unifying truth is always to be found in the pureness of our discipleship with God.

You can read what caused my disconcerting week by clicking here.  Put your good humor suit on.  I'm going to approach the subject in a more light-hearted way.  It has a happy ending, so you don't have to cry at my funeral.


Hellfire and Brimstone.
I have put up this picture of hell because the traditional picture of fire, Lucifer's forked tail and three pronged pitch fork doesn't translate the reality of hell.  Mostly because like heaven, hell is not a place.  it is a mode of being.  Traditionally, fire has been the suffering of choice in descriptions of hell.  This serves us well on the level of our imagination concerning the worst possible way to suffer, but is does nothing to make the reality of hell more understandable to us.  No matter what we say or think, hell remains a mystery of faith.  This does not make it any the less real, it just says that we will not understand its existence fully as long as we exist here on earth.  Last week, in public, during a teaching session on purgatory and limbo, I said that the suffering in hell was caused by the absolute absence of God.  One of the listeners in the audience promptly called my attention to the fact that if what I had just said were true, then hell would not exist, since God is the one who IS existence and who therefore maintains what IS, in existence.  I was caught off guard, was a little  surprised at myself.  So, when you have your grass cut, you have to hope that the sun will shine and help you turn it into hay.  Right?  So that's what I've been trying to all week, all the while living with my mistake.  One day, out of the blue, came the answer.  Believe me, it was out of the blue.  Someone in a room was talking about Beelzebub and someone else said, "Yeah, even he believes in God.  Why isn't he saved?"  Hey, I didn't get distracted by the undertones and overtones of that challenge.  I had just found some consolation to my sadness.  Now I had two proofs that I had made a real error.  Not only was God present in some way in hell itself because of His support of its existence, but He was present there in the minds of those who are condemned to suffer forever.  Let me say that if you ever make an error, it is always a good feeling to discover that you were only half wrong.
Allow me therefore to present you with the catechetical statement of the Catholic Church about the nature of suffering in hell:  " Hell's principal punishment consists of eternal separation from God in whom alone man can have the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs." [1057 Catechsim of the Catholic Church]  So now I know that I was only 1/3 wrong.  God is in hell in some way because He supports its existence, he is known by those being punished and their punishment is caused by the fact that the longing that have for him in their hearts will never be fulfilled.  In any and all events, and all things being equal, wrong is wrong and I stand corrected.  I am now about to catch up on the sleep that I lost before bringing myself to this sincere apology.  It really feels good.  Therefore, no crying at my funeral.

Monday, May 2, 2011


The news about the demise of Osama bin Laden has certainly shaken the world.  It is rather impressive that such an action could be kept secret in this day and age.  My personal reaction to the news touched me more on the moral side rather than the political.  I will then take the liberty of presenting you these very personal considerations. 
Is there anyone among you who would like to stand on a street corner and interview pro-lifers about their moral reaction to the taking of bin Laden's life?
Is there a "pro-lifer" among you who would be willing to admit that sparing bin Laden's life would have been the morally better thing to do?
I am on record as being "pro-choice" and having the opinion that "pro-lifers" are single issue activists who do not appreciate the profound meaning of "choice."  The kernel of my thesis is that if we take "choice" away from ourselves, we deviate from the Will of God who created us with the freedom of choice.  In so doing, we make ourselves less than human.  Therefore, I have always said, and still do, that I am "anti-abortion."  Furthermore, I have, over the years, become "anti-capital punishment."  Yes, even for bin Laden.  Why?  In very few words, here's why.
It makes the world poorer by his absence.  The evil that he represented is after all, not absolute evil.  That means that he did have something good to offer to the rest of humanity, not matter how little.  I am of the opinion that someone, somewhere and at some time could have gotten something valuable from his continued existence in life, even behind bars.  I am so sure of that that I dare say, that it is undeniable that that is true
It diminishes our ability to feel secure in our own virtue.  We now have given ourselves a taste of what it feels like to take the life of another human, for whatever reason.   By participating in that corporate action, from the safety of our comfortable abode, we have participated in a act of revenge, not an act of justice.  An act of justice would be a virtuous act.  True virtue would dictate otherwise. True virtue would make us grow in the Spirit.  Revenge makes us more comfortable in our humanity standing alone, not in relationship with the God that we love and to Whom Jesus introduced us by His Passion, Death and Resurrection.
Finally, it does nothing to diminish the power of evil in the world.  By taking bin Laden's life, we did nothing to cleanse the world of evil.  In fact, we participated in the evil ways of the world by answering cruelty with cruelty.  We all know that there will be more evil engendered by our act of so-called "virtue."  In our post Jesus Christ life, the lex talionis (law of equal retaliation) has been replaced by the law of forgiveness and restitution.  True that bin Laden owes us restitution, but we do not practice virtue by exacting our form of "restitution" on him by violently taking his life.  Besides, his is but one against 3,000.  On top of all this, let's not forget that there are lieutenants of his who will visit us and others with evil acts in return for our vengeful behavior.
I end this altogether too short essay by reminding you once again that you now know why there is to be No Crying at my Funeral.