Sunday, August 29, 2010

Glenn Beck vs. Christ the Liberator

By Rev. James Martin, S.J.
Catholic priest and author of 'The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything'
The Huffington Post | AUGUST 29, 2010

After his colossal "Restoring Honor" rally in Washington, D.C., Glenn Beck took aim at one of his favorite targets, Barack Obama, but in a novel way. Beck regrets saying a few months ago that President Obama was a "racist." What he should have said, he now realizes, was that he didn't agree with Obama's "theology." And what is Obama's theology, according to Beck? Liberation theology.

Here's Beck's definition of the arcane area of study known as liberation theology:

I think that it is much more of a theological question that he is a guy who understands the world through liberation theology, which is oppressor and victim....That is a direct opposite of what the gospel is talking about...It's Marxism disguised as religion
As Ronald Reagan used to say, "There you go again." A few months ago, Beck decided to demolish the idea of "social justice," by telling Christians that if their priests, pastors or ministers use that buzz word on Sundays they should leave their churches. As he may or may not have known, the tenets of "social justice" encourage one not only to help the poor, but also address the conditions that keep them poor. He called that "communist."

That approach didn't work out that well for Beck since so many Christian denominations these days, particularly the Catholic Church, espouse social justice explicitly. So he backed off. But liberation theology? Really?

A little history: Liberation theology began in Latin America in the 1950s and 1960s, and was later developed more systematically by Catholic theologians who reflected on experiences of the poor there. The term was coined by the Rev. Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian priest, in his landmark book A Theology of Liberation, published in 1971. Briefly put, liberation theology (there are many definitions, by the way) is a Gospel-based critique of the world through the eyes of the poor. Contrary to what Beck implies, the liberation theologian doesn't see himself or herself as victim; rather proponents call us to see how the poor are marginalized by society, to work among them, to advocate on their behalf, and to help them advocate for themselves. It has nothing to do with seeing yourself as victim. It is, like all authentic Christian practices, "other-directed."

It also sees the figure of Jesus Christ as the "liberator," who frees people from bondage and slavery of all kinds. So, as he does in the Gospels, Christ not only frees people from sin and illness, Christ also desires to free our fellow human beings from the social structures that keep them impoverished. This is this kind of "liberation" that is held out. Liberation theologians meditate on Gospel stories that show Christ upending the social structures of the day, in order to bring more--uh oh--social justice into the world. Christians are also asked to make, as the saying goes, a "preferential option for the poor."

It's not hard to see what Beck has against "liberation theology." It's the same reason people are often against "social justice." Both ideas ask us to consider the plight of the poor. And that's disturbing. Some liberation theologians even consider the poor to be privileged carriers of God's grace. In his book The True Church and the Poor, Jon Sobrino, a Jesuit theologian wrote, "The poor are accepted as constituting the primary recipients of the Good News and, therefore, as having an inherent capacity of understanding it better than anyone else." That's pretty threatening for any comfortable Christian. For not only do we have to help the poor, not only do we have to advocate on their behalf, we also have to see them as perhaps understanding God better than we do.

But that's not a new idea: It goes back to Jesus. The poor, the sick and the outcast "got" him better than the wealthy did. Perhaps because there was less standing between the poor and God. Less stuff. Maybe that's why Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew, "If you wish to be perfect, sell all you have, and you will have treasure in heaven, and follow me." Like I said, pretty disturbing, then and now. It's hardly "the opposite of the Gospel," as Beck said. The opposite of the Gospel would be to acquire wealth and fail to work on behalf of the poor.

In its heyday, liberation theology was not without controversy: some thought its emphasis on political advocacy skirted too close to Marxism--including Pope John Paul II. On the other hand, John Paul didn't shy away from personally involving himself in direct political activism in Poland. It was the Latin American version of social action that seemed to bother him more. But even John Paul affirmed the notion of "preferential option for the poor." "When there is question of defending the rights of individuals, the defenseless and the poor have a claim to special consideration," he wrote, in his great encyclical Centesimus Annus, which celebrating 100 years of--uh oh--Catholic social teaching.

Liberation theology is easy to be against. For one thing, most people don't have the foggiest idea what you're talking about. It's also easier to ignore the concerns of the poor, particularly overseas, than it is to actually get to know them as individuals who make a claim on us. There are also plenty of overheated websites that facilely link it to Marxism. My response to that last critique is to read the Gospels and count how many times Jesus tells us that we should help the poor and even be poor. In the Gospel of Matthew, he tells us that the ones who will enter the Kingdom of heaven are those who help "the least of my brothers and sisters," i.e., the poor. After that, read the Acts of the Apostles, especially the part about the apostles "sharing everything in common." Then let me know if helping the poor is communist or simply Christian.

I have no idea if President Obama espouses liberation theology. But I do. And for me it's personal. Between 1992 and 1994, I worked with East African refugees in Nairobi, Kenya, and participated in Catholic parishes who tried to help poor parishioners (i.e., all of them) reflect on their daily struggles through lens of the Gospel. And the Gospel passages that spoke of liberation for the poor were a lifeline to me and to those with whom I worked. Oh, and it's not only Jesus. His mother had something to say about all that, too. "He has filled the hungry with good things," says Mary in the Gospel of Luke, "and sent the rich away empty."

Liberation theology has also animated some of the great Christian witnesses of our time. Several of my brother Jesuits (and their companions), some of whom wrote and taught liberation theology, were assassinated at the University of Central America in 1989 by Salvadoran death squads, precisely for their work with the poor, as Jesus had encouraged them to do. Archbishop Oscar Romero, the redoubtable archbishop of San Salvador who was martyred in 1980 after standing for the marginalized, also heard the call of Christ the Liberator. So did the four courageous Catholic churchwomen who were martyred that same year for their work in El Salvador.

These are my heroes. These are the ones who truly "restore honor."

It's hard to ignore the fact that Jesus chose to be born poor; he worked as what many scholars now say was not simply a carpenter, but what could be called a day laborer; he spent his days and nights with the poor; he and his disciples lived with few if any possessions; he advocated tirelessly for the poor in a time when poverty was considered to be a curse; he consistently placed the poor in his parables over and above the rich; and he died an utterly poor man, with only a single seamless garment to his name. Jesus lived and died as a poor man. Why is this so hard for modern-day Christians to see? Liberation theology is not Marxism disguised as religion. It is Christianity presented in all its disturbing fullness.

Glenn Beck's opposition to "social justice" and "liberation theology" is all the more difficult to understand because of his cloaking of himself in the mantle of devout believer. "Look to God and make your choice," he said during his rally on Sunday.

If he looked at Jesus more carefully he would see someone who already made a choice: for the poor.

James Martin is a Jesuit priest, culture editor of America magazine, and author of The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything. This essay is adapted from a post on America's In All Things

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Exalting the humble


A man, down on his luck, went into a church which catered to the wealthy and powerful. Spotting the man’s dirty clothes a deacon, worried about the churches image, went to the man and asked him if he needed help. The man said, “I was praying and the Lord told me to come to this church.” The deacon suggested that the man go pray some more and possibly he might get a different answer. The next Sunday the man returned. The deacon asked, “Did you get a different answer?” The man replied, “Yes I did. I told the Lord that they don’t want me in that church and the Lord said, ‘I know how you feel; I’ve been trying to get into that church for years and still haven’t made it.”

We heard in our reading from Sirach today, “Conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts. Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.”  Perhaps one of the greatest struggles in all of life – especially if we seek our eternal glory in Heaven – is this struggle between humility and pride. God’s message to us is clear – humble yourself in My sight. And yet, our world cries out sometimes even more loudly – be number one – be the richest, the most famous, the most powerful. As the bumper sticker proclaims, “The one who dies with the most toys wins!” As St. Paul reminds us, the wisdom of the world is foolishness to God.

Our Gospels today teach us that as Christians we should give priority to the poor in the way we dispense our resources. We are given these parables today about dinner parties today through which Jesus is teaching us the basic Christian virtues of humility and solidarity with the poor.

The first parable, on the One Invited to the Wedding Feast, is addressed to Christians as those who are invited to the feast of the Lord’s Supper. Irrespective of social status and importance we all come to the Eucharist as brothers and sisters of equal standing before God. This is the only place where the employer-employee relationship, master and servant distinctions, rich or poor, popular or unpopular, dissolve and we recognize one another simply as brothers and sisters in the Lord. Jesus challenges His followers to abolish such distinctions and recognize and treat one another as true and equal brothers and sisters before God; no matter their position in the world. “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

There is a story from the American Revolution of an officer in civilian clothes who rode past a group of soldiers digging a foxhole. Their commander was shouting instructions, but making no attempt to help them. Asked why, he replied with great dignity, “Sir, I am a Corporal!” The stranger apologized, dismounted, and proceeded to help the exhausted soldiers himself. When the job was completed he turned to the corporal and said “Corporal, next time you have a job like this, and not enough men to do it, go to your commander in chief, and I will come and help you again.” It was only then that the corporal recognized General Washington. “The one who humbles himself…”

The second parable, on the One Giving a Great Dinner, is addressed to Christians as those who invite others to the feast of the Lord’s Supper. “When you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be.” In this second part of his teaching Jesus goes beyond removing distinctions and calls even for a preference for the poor, the disabled and the marginalized among us. He calls us to give the first place to those most in need in our communities. He reminds us that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. That is why priority of attention is to be given to the weakest members of our society. You’ve probably heard the adage, “The true measure of a society is in how it treats its weakest members.” This is equally true of the Christian community. It is in the best interest of the Christian community to give priority to the poor and needy in our midst. Listen the next time you hear people argue about poverty or health care or immigration. Where is the care, the preference, for the poor?

Jesus points to what is really of value, and that is caring for those in need of our help. And isn’t this what so many of us do already? We care for family members and friends and neighbors; we offer our time and whatever resources we can to soup kitchens and clothing drives; we join walks and runs in support of worthy causes. We are just ordinary people attentive to others in ordinary ways that are really extraordinary. In such situations, we do not claim places of honor; we do not insist on special recognition. Rather, we genuinely conduct our affairs in humility.

Let us pray today and every day that we have an ever-growing awareness of those in most need in our midst and that we may reach out to them in charity and love – not as “other” or “unworthy”, but as our brothers and sisters, members of one family in Christ.

“Blessed indeed will you be…you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

May God give you peace.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

New York mosque controversy echoes anti-Catholicism of another era


By Patricia Zapor
Posted: 8/24/2010

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The controversy over plans to build an Islamic cultural center and mosque a couple of blocks away from ground zero in New York is but the latest manifestation of a historic cycle of distrust of immigrants -- and their faith.

Public outcry erupted this summer over plans to convert a former Burlington Coat Factory store, located a little more than two blocks from the World Trade Center complex, into a nine-story Islamic cultural center, with a mosque included. The area's Muslim community already uses the vacant retail space for worshippers who overflow from the al-Farah Mosque, about a dozen blocks north of the trade center property, according to The Associated Press.

Critics in New York and beyond have decried the project as an insult to the memory of those who died in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center towers and as an attempt by radicals to "triumphally prove that they can build a mosque right next to a place where 3,000 Americans were killed," as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a likely Republican candidate for president in 2012, put it.

Supporters of the project argue that the right to religious freedom means the Muslim group is entitled to build on the site and point out that the proposed building is not within sight of the trade center property, and is in fact about six blocks from the nearest of the two towers destroyed in 2001.

At its core, the mosque furor is not unlike what Catholics experienced in the United States for more than 100 years, according to Georgetown University theology professor Chester Gillis. He also is dean of Georgetown College and the founding director of the program on the Church and Interreligious Dialogue within the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. While there are a wide range of political, philosophical and even zoning arguments about the Islamic center plans, Gillis sees anti-Muslim sentiment -- based in misconceptions and xenophobia -- at the core of the debate.

"The neophytes in society are always on the outside," Gillis said. "With Catholics, people feared they would have loyalty to a foreign power, the Holy See." With Muslims, he added, people fear a possible connection to an Islamic government or to a terrorist organization.

At an impromptu news conference Aug. 18, New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan noted that "as Catholics, we ourselves are somewhat touchy about this issue because in the past we have been discriminated against." He said he would be happy to participate in efforts to negotiate a compromise over the Manhattan mosque as part of "a very civil, rational, loving, respectful discussion."

President Barack Obama has said that as a matter of religious freedom, Muslims have a right to build a mosque on the site, though he has declined to weigh in on whether it's a good idea for this one to proceed.

Survivors of those who died in the 9/11 attacks have diverged into two groups, those who oppose the mosque project as a desecration of the area, and those who say it could become a place for "healing, reconciliation and understanding."

The issue has inflamed some political campaigns, talk shows and Internet discussion pages.

Meanwhile, from New York to Tennessee, Wisconsin and California, communities are having similar debates about plans to build Islamic centers or mosques.

On Staten Island, the board of St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church voted in July not to sell a former convent to the Muslim American Society, which wanted to use it for a mosque. People opposed to the sale said a mosque would cause traffic and parking problems. Many also expressed fear that the society was linked to a terrorist group.

One small Protestant church in Florida has scheduled a public burning of copies of the Quran, the Islamic scriptures, for Sept. 11. The Dove World Outreach Center, which has only about 50 members, has nevertheless captured worldwide attention. Its leaders said they intend to hold the Quran burning despite being denied a burn permit by the city of Gainesville.

Gillis noted that the "No Irish Need Apply" signs common in Massachusetts early in the 19th century were rooted in fears over how American society might be changed by immigrants, but particularly by their Catholic faith and culture.

The fear of Catholics extended beyond the refusal to hire Irish immigrants.

The Catholic Encyclopedia describes mobs descending upon a cathedral in Cincinnati in 1853, on churches in New Jersey, New York, Maine and New Hampshire the following year. It tells of a Maine priest who was dragged from his church, robbed, tarred and feathered; of Ohio churches being blown up and convents burned in Massachusetts and Texas.

The development of Catholic schools, hospitals and organizations for writers, physicians, teachers and so on all happened because Catholics were not allowed in counterpart entities, Gillis explained. "CYO, for example, was intended as a counter-organization to the YMCA, where Catholics were not allowed."

It took more than 100 years after the large waves of Irish and Italian immigrants from Europe arrived for Catholics in the United States to become enough of a mainstream part of society that the prejudices and hurdles they experienced began to fade, said Gillis.

"The tipping point for Catholics was post-World War II, with the GI Bill," he said. "Catholics signed up in large numbers for the war and when they came back they went to college in larger numbers than ever in the past, because of the GI Bill."

From that point on, Catholics were a more dominant part of business, politics and fields such as law and higher education.

It may not take 100 years for Muslims to be similarly accepted in the United States, Gillis said, but it will take time.

Until then, he suggests, "it may sound simplistic, but you really need to know Muslims as people."

FT NOTE: The one thing that has really stunned me about this debate is the way that everyone is conflating Islam with terrorism. We were not attacked on September 11th by Islam, we were attacked by Al Qaeda.  This local Muslim community has nothing to do with that and it is insulting to say otherwise.  Just my two cents.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Compassion Deficit

The New York Times

August 20, 2010

The Charitable-Giving Divide

With the battle over whether to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy shaping up as the major political event of the fall, opponents of repeal were handed a bounteous gift this summer when Bill GatesWarren Buffett and 38 others announced that they formed a pact to give at least half their wealth to charity. After all, what better illustration could there be of the great social good that wealthy people can do when the government lets them keep their hard-earned dollars to spend as they please?
The problem is that the exceptional philanthropy of the superwealthy few doesn’t apply to the many more people defined as rich in the current debate over the Bush tax cuts — individuals earning over $200,000 and couples with revenues over $250,000. For decades, surveys have shown that upper-income Americans don’t give away as much of their money as they might and are particularly undistinguished as givers when compared with the poor, who are strikingly generous. A number of other studies have shown that lower-income Americans give proportionally more of their incomes to charity than do upper-income Americans. In 2001, Independent Sector, a nonprofit organization focused on charitable giving, found that households earning less than $25,000 a year gave away an average of 4.2 percent of their incomes; those with earnings of more than $75,000 gave away 2.7 percent.
This situation is perplexing if you think of it in terms of dollars and cents: the poor, you would assume, don’t have resources to spare, and the personal sacrifice of giving is disproportionately large. The rich do have money to spend. Those who itemize receive a hefty tax break to make charitable donations, a deduction that grows more valuable the higher they are on the income scale. And the well-off are presumed to have at least a certain sense of noblesse oblige. Americans pride themselves on their philanthropic tradition, and on the role of private charity, which is much more developed here than it is in Europe, where the expectation is that the government will care for the poor.
But in the larger context of “the psychological culture of wealth versus poverty,” says Paul K. Piff, a Ph.D. candidate in social psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, the paradox makes sense. Piff has made a specialty of studying those cultures in his lab at the Institute of Personality and Social Research, most recently in a series of experiments that tested “lower class” and “upper class” subjects (with earnings ranging from around $15,000 to more than $150,000 a year) to see what kind of psychological factors motivated the well-known differences in their giving behaviors. His study, written with Michael W. Kraus and published online last month by The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that lower-income people were more generous, charitable, trusting and helpful to others than were those with more wealth. They were more attuned to the needs of others and more committed generally to the values of egalitarianism.
“Upper class” people, on the other hand, clung to values that “prioritized their own need.” And, he told me this week, “wealth seems to buffer people from attending to the needs of others.” Empathy and compassion appeared to be the key ingredients in the greater generosity of those with lower incomes. And these two traits proved to be in increasingly short supply as people moved up the income spectrum.
This compassion deficit — the inability to empathetically relate to others’ needs — is perhaps not so surprising in a society that for decades has seen the experiential gap between the well-off and the poor (and even the middle class) significantly widen. The economist Frank Levy diagnosed such a split in his book “The New Dollars and Dreams: American Incomes and Economic Change,” published in the midst of the late-1990s tech boom. “The welfare state,” Levy wrote, “rests on enlightened self-interest in which people can look at beneficiaries and reasonably say, ‘There but for the grace of God. . . .’ As income differences widen, this statement rings less true.” A lack of identification with those in need may explain in part why a 2007 report from the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University found that only a small percentage of charitable giving by the wealthy was actually going to the needs of the poor; instead it was mostly directed to other causes — cultural institutions, for example, or their alma maters — which often came with the not-inconsequential payoff of enhancing the donor’s status among his or her peers.
Given all this, it’s tempting to believe that there’s something intrinsic to the rich or the poor that explains their greater or lesser generosity and empathetic connection to others (i.e., rich people get rich because they like money more and are less distracted from their goals by the relational side of life), but Piff’s research points in a different direction. Piff found that if higher-income people were instructed to imagine themselves as lower class, they became more charitable. If they were primed by, say, watching a sympathy-eliciting video, they became more helpful to others — so much so, in fact, that the difference between their behavior and that of the low-income subjects disappeared. And fascinatingly, the inverse was true as well: when lower-income people were led to think of themselves as upper class, they actually became less altruistic.
“These patterns can be changed,” Piff says. What this means is that whatever morality tale can be spun by the giving patterns for rich people and poor people, it shouldn’t turn on the presumed nobility of the needy or essential cupidity of the fortunate. Instead, we should look at what has pushed rich and poor (or, more accurately, the rich and everyone else) to such opposite extremes of existence. A generation of political decisions — regarding big business and labor, the deregulation of the financial industry and, yes, tax cuts for the wealthy — have brought our society to this sharply divided, socially and economically polarized place we now find ourselves, says the political scientist Jacob Hacker, co-author, with Paul Pierson, of the coming book “Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer — and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class.” And, just as with the behavior of Piff’s subjects in the lab, political decisions can be changed. “Runaway inequality,” he says, has led to “a pulling away of the very wealthy from the rest of American society. Do we believe the rich should be trusted to tithe, or should we have a society with a basic taxing-and-spending structure that ensures a modicum of economic security for all people?”
In a more equitable society, the very well off might indeed have less cash to give. But if a rising tide lifts all boats, that may not matter so much.
Judith Warner is the author, most recently, of “We’ve Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication.”The Medium: What ‘Fact-Checking’ Means Online

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The most wonderful time of the year!


I don’t know if you’ve seen the Staples commercial that involves a parent and children shopping for school supplies. The children are walking along like they’re in a funeral march depressed at the concept of heading back to school, while the parent dances through the aisles singing, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year”? This is indeed for many a conflicted time of year – for parents, rejoicing; for the kids, dread – but I think today we can learn something valuable from it in terms of our faith.

Summer is such a wonderful time. Summer is a busy time for most of us, but filled with so many different and fun events – vacations, cookouts, baseball games, camp outs, the beach, the lake, and so on. Especially at this time of year, we really want the fun and relaxation and adventure of summer to go on forever. It is just so carefree. But, the reality is that we know we must return to the orderliness, the discipline, the work of the school year. There’s just no quick or easy way around it. Despite the fact that many of us perhaps don’t want to go to school, or work, or back to the regular pace of life, we have to. We must return to gain knowledge, to learn how to live and interact in our society, to gain and perfect the skills we need in life. And, no matter how much we convince ourselves that we could find an easy way around it, there simply isn’t one.

Well, there is a similarly conflicted nature in what Jesus is telling his followers in today’s Gospel passage. Someone asks him the question, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” And Jesus gives an answer that perhaps they didn’t want to hear. He says, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” This isn’t the answer we were looking for. We probably wanted Jesus to tell us, “Don’t worry, be happy. Do what you want, everyone is saved!” We hope that all we have to say to Jesus is, “I am a good person, isn’t that enough? Does it really matter that I don’t worship the Lord as I should? That I don’t follow His commands as I should?” Jesus gives us the tough answer that this simply isn’t enough. Our relationship with God must come first. We must follow God’s commandments and Jesus’ example and that it is indeed a narrow gate that leads to salvation.

Perhaps the man in our Gospel isn’t asking the right question, “Will only a few be saved?” Perhaps what he really should have asked was, “Lord, how can I be saved?” Just think back a few years ago before the turn of the year 2000, everyone was in a tizzy about the coming millennium and whether or not it would signal the end of the world. Did anyone ask, “Lord, how can I be saved?” No, they asked, “When will the world come to an end? When is the Armageddon coming? Who will the Anti-Christ be?” If salvation is what you’re after, these are the wrong questions!

Rather than the curiosity of who will be saved, we need to be asking questions of personal importance like, “What do I need to do to be saved? How can I serve God better in my life today, right now? How can I make use of the opportunities God gives me here and now for my eternal salvation?” Are we more worried about getting into a certain school, a particular sport or club, a better job or home than we are about getting into Heaven?

Christ has shown us in Word and in Sacrament everything we need to know for our salvation. Perhaps you’ve heard the acronym for the BIBLE – Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth? The gate is indeed narrow and we have to do the hard work to be ready to walk through it. Just like the impending school year, there’s no easy way around it. The only way we can go through the narrow gate is by turning our whole lives over to God who is our salvation.

This is the key – our openness to God’s leadership. Do we believe that God’s Word is good for us? Do we believe that God’s way is the best way? Do we believe that the Commandments are absolutes in our life that lead to Heaven? Or do we try and find the quick and easy way around it creating a God and a Bible of our own making? One that suits our own whims, will, ways and sins? Without an openness to letting God lead us, surrendering to Him, we are discouraged when we hear of those who were turned away who said, “But, we ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.” We might feel the same way, “Lord, we have eaten your body and we drank of your blood and you taught in our Church. Isn’t this enough?”

To this Jesus says: Eating and drinking beside Me is not the same as eating and drinking with Me. You can be near Me and not a part of Me. You can hear Me without ever listening to Me. You can know Me and still not accept Me. You can wink at Me while never loving Me. You see, I am not the one that is locking you out. You are locking yourself out. I’m not closing the door on you. It is you who close the door on Me. The door you are knocking on doesn’t lock from the inside. It is locked from the outside. And the only key that will open it is – YOU. Acknowledge Me, accept Me, love Me and the door – the very Kingdom – will open itself to you.

This is how we pass through the Narrow Gate – by allowing God to change us, to form us, and transform us. Remember, Jesus tells us, “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved.” Jesus says, “You cannot earn your place in heaven. I earned it for you when I spread my arms on that cross. It was my sacrifice for you that opened the Gates of Heaven. I was innocent, you were guilty, and I stood in your place – willingly, lovingly – all for you. And now, you have a choice – one choice – enter through Me. Be changed, be transformed, not into your image of yourself, but into My image. Let My love save you. Come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and recline at table in the kingdom of God.”

My friends, let us ask with every fiber of our being, “Lord, what must I do to be saved?” And may God give us the strength to follow.

May God give you peace.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

You're just like your mother!


Have you ever been told, “You’re just like your mother?” I hear this often, and I take it as a great compliment as my Mom is one of my favorite people and closest friends. I’m proud to be just like my mother. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has heard this. Many of us have been told at one time or another that we are just like our mother. Sometimes it can be a good thing, sometimes not so good. Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, our Mother, and today, it is a very good thing to be told that we are just like her, our mother.

As Catholics, we treasure our devotion to the Blessed Mother, this special relationship that Jesus leaves us with His mother. From the cross He said to the beloved disciple and to us, “Behold your mother.” We celebrate today the fact that Mary was assumed into Heaven body and soul. This was proclaimed a dogma of the Catholic Church on November 1, 1950 by Pope Pius XII, who stated this belief that had been commonly held by the Church for centuries. There are homilies on the Assumption of Mary dated from before the sixth century, and by the thirteenth century, there was universal agreement concerning this reality. When declaring the dogma, Pius said, “Finally the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be more fully conformed to her Son the…conqueror of sin and death.”

When you think about it, Mary’s assumption makes sense. After her time on earth, Mary did not suffer the corruption of death the way most humans do. Why? Well, we also believe that Mary was immaculately conceived, that she was conceived in the womb of her mother, Anne, without the stain of original sin. We know from scripture that death is partly the result of original sin. So, if Mary didn’t have original sin, then she shouldn’t suffer the result of it, and so after her 72 years on the earth, she was assumed into heaven, body and soul.

So, what does this have to do with us? Today’s celebration is so much more than a mere commemoration of a moment in the life of Mary. We commemorate this event because it is also an invitation for us. The Preface of the Eucharistic prayer today says, “Today the virgin Mother of God was taken up into heaven to be the beginning and the pattern of the Church in its perfection.” The beginning and the pattern of the Church. That’s what today celebrates. So, Assumption is not only about Mary; it's also about us. Mary sets a pattern that we are meant to imitate – where Mary has gone, we hope to follow.

The Assumption of Mary into Heaven is closely linked to what we find in the Book of Genesis. We know that in the story of Creation, that from the very beginning, God did not intend us to die. God created us for eternity, for immortality. But, because of sin, we lost that eternity. But, of course, Jesus, born of Mary, welcomes us back into that eternity that God had planned for us.

And, this is precisely where we need to hear the words, “You’re just like your mother.” What we celebrate in Mary today is what God promises for all of us. We have been created for eternity, we have been created for immortality. In his encyclical on the Rosary, Pope John Paul II reminded us that we “sit at the school of Mary and are led to contemplate the beauty on the face of Christ.” Mary shows us the way to follow her Son and how to reach eternity in our own lives.

In the Gospel we heard, “Blessed is the womb that carried you,” Jesus replied, “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and observe it.” Jesus is talking about His mother. Jesus reminds them, it was not Mary’s womb that masw her blessed, it is that she repeatedly over the course of her life heard the Word of God and observed it. She said “yes” to what God would ask of her in life. And her “yes” was not only in response to the question of the angel. She didn’t say “yes” in that moment and then once Jesus was born return to Heaven. She continued to say yes to God throughout her and her Son’s life. She raised her son, she followed Him during His ministry, she endured the piercing of her heart by watching her son be tortured and killed by the very people He came to save, and even after Christ rose and ascended to Heaven, Mary went on saying “yes” to God. She became the spiritual mother to the disciples. Mary became their strength, their guide; the link between Jesus and His followers. She was there in the upper room when the Holy Spirit descended. Mary continued on to spread the Good News, to give witness to a life dedicated to God, to help establish what would become the Church. Tradition holds that Mary made it as far as Ephesus and it was there that her earthly life ended.

Look at Mary and see her life – she believed in the potential of God to do anything from the moment that the angel came to her until the moment of her Assumption into Heaven. Mary trusted that God’s plan would unfold in her life.

The great news of today’s feast is that what we see in Mary, we can see in our own lives. We see Mary reach eternity with God in Heaven and we’re reminded that “we’re just like our mother.” We too can achieve that eternity in our own lives by hearing the Word of God and observing it. At the School of Mary we learn that the most fundamental lesson that our Mother has to teach us about our spiritual lives is that it all comes down to hearing God’s Word and having the courage to follow it. It is about obedience; it’s about listening, hearing with heart and mind, and following. What God promises in Mary, He promises in us – nothing short of Heaven.

Let us all strive to be just like our mother, Mary. Let us pray today, through her intercession, that Jesus will say of us as he said of His mother, “Blessed are you, all of you, who hear the Word of God and observe it.”

May God give you peace.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Not seeing is believing


Nine year old Joey was asked by his mother what he had learned in Sunday school. “Well, Mom, our teacher told us how God sent Moses behind enemy lines on a rescue mission to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. When he got to the Red Sea, he had his engineers build a pontoon bridge and all the people walked across safely. Then he used his walkie-talkie to radio headquarters for reinforcements. They sent bombers to blow up the bridge and all the Israelites were saved.” “Now, Joey, is that really what your teacher taught you?” his mother asked. “Well, no, Mom. But if I told it the way the teacher did, you'd never believe it!”

As we heard in our second reading today, “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” We’ve all heard the phrase “seeing is believing.” This phrase suggests skepticism; it implies that we will not accept the truth of something unless we can somehow see it; unless it somehow makes sense to us. While the phrase may validly express a concern for verification, it contradicts basic religious ideas. To paraphrase what we heard from the Letter to the Hebrews today, “Not-seeing is believing.” In other words, we do not believe what we see; rather, as people of faith, we believe what we do not see. Confusing? Yes, but this is the heart of real faith.

The Letter to the Hebrews gives us Abraham as a perfect example of such faith. Without knowing exactly what he would find as he followed the inspiration of God, Abraham left his home of origin and journeyed through a foreign land. Abraham did not see, yet he believed. He clung to God’s promise of descendants, even though, to him, having children seemed an impossibility for he was such an old man. He did not see, yet he believed.

The Gospel also gives us a message about the need to cling to faith even when its fulfillment seems far off. Jesus exhorts His followers to be steadfast in their faith, and He provides a story about the servants entrusted with the management of the household. No one knew when the master would return, so a wise servant will be vigilant, since the master could return at any moment. The wise servant does not see, yet he believes.

We may also experience some of these challenges of faith in our own life. How many of us have asked the question “why” in the face of losing a loved one too young, or too soon? How many of us have scratched our heads trying to understand things like the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives; or the Transubstantiation that takes place at every Mass changing ordinary bread and wine into the very Body and Blood of Jesus? We know the challenge of believing what cannot be seen.

So if our faith is not based on what is seen, then what is it based on? Well, very simply, our faith is not based on what we see or don’t see; it is based on who we know – and we know the Lord. And it is this relationship of faith, implanted on the day of our Baptism, reaffirmed in the many ways that we are open to the presence of God in our lives; that is precisely what gives us the courage, the strength and the ability to believe in things that we cannot always see; to believe what our hearts tell us to be true – that our God is real; that our God is love; that our God wants to make Himself known in our lives over and over again.

Our faith is based on the trustworthiness of God, who has generously blessed us in the past. The author of the Book of Wisdom encouraged the people of his time by reminding them of how God had protected their ancestors as they escaped from Egyptian bondage. God’s faithfulness to Abraham is invoked here to strengthen the faith of the Christians to whom the Letter to the Hebrews was sent. And writing to his community of Christians, Luke recounts how Jesus instructed His followers to be steadfast in their faith in Him. God has never failed us, will never fail us – and on that our faith is based.

Like believers in the past, we too have been called to cling to the hope of a future that may seem uncertain. Like believers in the past, we too are expected to be steadfast in our faith. I think this is a timely message for all of us. Putting our faith in Jesus can change our perspective. We can see what really matters – not the material things we can verify with our eyes – but the true gifts of life that we can only verify with our hearts; gifts of love, family, friends, peace and our own deepening relationship with our loving God.

Our faith in things not seen tells us that our God will continue to be with us, our God will continue to be steadfast, our God will continue to lead us, guide us, and bind us together – in and through our faith. And that, my friends, is Good News. Although we do not now see, we too must believe.

“Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.”

May God give us a strong faith and may God give us peace.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Boys Don't Cry...and other lies we tell men. Why developing an inner life is essential to healing men from the explosive violence bottled up within.

By Richard Rohr, OFM

We are getting used to the troubling news reports of men who kill their whole families, their wives, their children, or their fellow workers. We are, of course, appalled and saddened, and suspect that these men must have been mentally ill or drunk or on drugs. They often are, but more often the “reason” is probably even deeper and less obvious than addiction or illness.

I have no exact statistics, but my assumption is that this has been on the increase since the recent economic recession, loss of jobs, and all the insecurity and fear that goes with it. I surely would not want to blame it just on these factors, but let me also suggest a few others at a deeper level. Men as a class appear to be “at risk,” maybe even high risk.

We are certainly seeing this in the return of many soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan. Last year I was invited to give a retreat to the Army Chaplain Corps, and they are genuinely overwhelmed by the high incidence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, among their men and women. Edward Tick’s influential book War and the Soul makes the case that many men seek some kind of initiation in joining the armed forces, only to be massively disillusioned.

After 20 years of working with men on retreats and rites of passage, in spiritual direction, and even in prison, it has sadly become clear to me how trapped the typical Western male feels. He is trapped inside, with almost no inner universe of deep meaning to heal him or guide him. Historically, this is exactly what spirituality meant by “losing your soul.” It did not happen later unless it first happened here.

For centuries, males have been encouraged and rewarded for living an “outer” life of performances, which are usually framed in terms of win or lose. Just listen to boys talk—they have already imbibed it, and usually with the encouragement of both dad and mom. The world of sports, contests, American Idol, video games, and proving oneself is most males’ primary “myth,” through which he frames all reality. I challenge anyone to claim that is an overstatement.

In such a worldview there are only winners or losers, no in-between, and little chance for growth or redemption once you are deemed—or deem yourself—a loser. In the West, even the gospel is largely taught in terms of a giant reward/punishment system, which I guess made sense to a largely male clergy. It is the way we prefer to frame reality. Here there is little talk or concern for healing or growth or inner spiritual development. “Why would I need healing?” I have heard men say outright. The word is even strange to many men; it sounds “soft” and “needy”—and this rejection is a surefire plan for having an absolutely huge shadow world and an unconscious agenda that largely calls the shots. Are ongoing political, Wall Street, and church scandals really a surprise?

By “shadow world,” I simply mean all of those aspects of our own memory and hurt that remain hidden in our unconscious, those things that we’re not prepared to deal with at the moment. They highly influence us, but we have no conscious control over such feelings, motivations, fears, and agendas, so they tend to do more bad than good. Spiritual healing is precisely about bringing those issues to consciousness, which is often quite painful and yet also deeply consoling.

I once suggested to a group of middle-class Catholic men that the gospel might actually be a win/win scenario between God and humanity. An obviously successful man came up to me afterward and said, “But Father, that would not even be interesting.” It took away his whole motivation if life could not be framed in terms of some type of win/lose contest—at which, not surprisingly, he saw himself as the ultimate insider and winner. American, healthy, white, heterosexual, Roman Catholic, and probably Republican. No wonder Jesus said to the outsider, “Never have I found such faith inside of Israel.”

Take a typical woman, educated or uneducated, of most any race or ethnicity, and give her this agenda: “You are not to have any close friends or confidants; you are to avoid any show of need, weakness, or tender human intimacy; you may not touch other women without very good reason; you may not cry; you are not encouraged to trust your inner guidance, but only outer authorities and “big” people; and you are to judge yourself by your roles, titles, car, house, money, and successes. People are either in your tribe, or they are a competitive threat—or of no interest!” Then tell her, “This is what it feels like to be a male, most of the time.”

Maleness can be a very lonely and self-defeating world.

Very few women would choose that kind of agenda. Feminism and social engineers were right when they said that the typical male in most cultures has many more options and chances for advancement. But few pointed out that they were largely talking about outer options. After 40 years of ministry with many groups at different levels, I am convinced that women have far more inner options and a richer inner life—even if equally neurotic. Men have more outer options, women have more inner; that is the norm.

In describing inner feelings and states, and in talking about what they really want and need, women have many times the vocabulary that men do. They have a much more nuanced emotional life in most cases, and in general they are more skilled at relationships than men. I have done my own survey on this one: On my visits to the local grocery store, on the street, or on a hiking trail, women I meet are three times as likely as men to say “Hello,” “Pardon me,” “Sorry,” “Thank you,” or a simple “Good morning.” Many men do not even say “Excuse me” when you step out of the way for them as they barrel forward—our slowed-down version of road rage, I guess. Maybe this is simply because I am male myself, and the rules would be different if I were a woman. But it sure makes me wonder about the relational capacities—and even the relational interest—of the typical American male.

But how else would a man be expected to act if he does not know how to identify, much less know how to share, his sadness, his anger, or his endless grief—often about his own love and losses, or the world that he once dreamed would happen? In the male initiation rites we have been leading for almost 15 years (, one of the most surprising but revealing discoveries was that much male anger is actually male sadness. Men often have no way to know this themselves, and many probably even think of themselves as “angry men.” They are often very sad men, but they have no differentiated feeling world, no vocabulary, no safe male friends, no inner space or outer setting in which to open up such a chasm of feeling—not even in their churches or with their partners.

I know I am walking on sacred ground here, but I am going to say it: The church often does not really encourage an inner life. It substitutes belief systems and belonging systems and moral systems for interior journeys toward God. As a result the outer behavior is pretty weak as well. I would be willing to argue this position at the highest levels of Catholic hierarchy, Protestant scripture interpretation, or fundamentalist mental gymnastics.

In fact, the reason that such external hierarchy, simplistic and dualistic readings of scripture, and heady fundamentalism exist at all is primarily because of the male unwillingness to feel, to suffer, to lose, and to stand in the place of the outsider with even basic empathy. Which, of course, is exactly where Jesus stood and suffered, “even to accepting death, yes death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). How do we dare to worship a “loser” and yet so idealize winning?

So what do we do for our men, our husbands, our fathers, sons, and brothers? First of all, it’s important to note that throughout history many varied cultures, all over the world, have recognized this problem. These cultures saw that men would not go inside themselves until and unless they had to—and then it was often too late. So they guaranteed and structured an inner journey for the male somewhere between the ages of 13 and 17, and it was called “initiation.” It likely didn’t even work in most cases, but cultures knew they had to do it for the social survival of the tribe. Initiation was effective for enough men to guarantee eldership, wise men, men who moved beyond ego, control, and power into the “second half of life,” the non-dualistic mind that we call wisdom.

Initiation in most cultures was done largely through two methods: extended solitude and silence, and ritualized sacred suffering. That was the cauldron of transformation for the male. Many cultures, in a wide variety of times and places, came to the inescapable conclusion: There was no other way.

If our churches do not find ways to validate, encourage, structure, and teach men an inner life—as opposed to mere belief systems, belonging systems, and moral systems, which the Olympics do much better!—I am not sure what the church’s reason for continued existence might be. We are failing the test with one half of the species, which means we are failing for the other half too. Organized religion is not doing its inherent job of transforming people at any deep level.

In short, we have substituted an intellectual life for a symbolic life, a largely mental life for a life of inner meaning, a nice Christian club for the call to a journey that males could actually respect. We can live without success, but the soul cannot live without meaning.

An important message is found in the Genesis 27 story of Jacob and Esau. Our men are like Esau, fooled by their brothers and their fathers too, and deprived of their deepest birthright. No wonder that the Esaus of our time “want to take revenge and kill” (Genesis 27:42). You cannot take away a man’s soul or fail to reveal his soul to him without dire consequences for family, neighborhood, church, and society as a whole. Esau seems to eternally cry out, “Father, do you not have a blessing for me? Do you only have one blessing?” (27:38).

Notice in this famous story of Jacob and Esau that both of them are led by pure self- interest and seeking to maximize their “outer options.” That is the uninitiated male in every culture, including the Hebrew culture of the Bible. Rebecca, their mother, opens up their “inner options,” guides them every step of the way, protects them from one another, covers for their father, validates their cunning, and protects them from their own deceit and ambition.

Rebecca might not be perfect—in fact she isn’t. But at least she has some imagination, some caring, some passion, some creativity, some risk taking, some inner intelligence, beyond the simple win or lose game of Jacob and Esau. I wonder if Jacob and Esau are not the very archetypes of win or lose, all or nothing, dualistic minds, no blessing left if you are not Jacob himself.

Could this be the very name of faith for men in our time? We need to help our men move beyond the self defeating game of either-or, and to find the open and gracious space of the limitless, alive, and God-given world that is in-between. Where all of us live anyway.

Richard Rohr is founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation ( in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and a Franciscan priest of the New Mexico Province.

Boys Don't Cry. By Richard Rohr. Sojourners Magazine, July 2010 (Vol. 39, No. 7, pp. 19). Cover.

Portiuncula: Feast of Forgivenes

Homily Feast of Forgiveness – St. Mary of the Angels
(Porziuncula – August 2, 2010)
Br. Jos̩ Rodriguez Carballo, ofm РMinister General
Celebrating the Grace of Forgiveness

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
May the Lord give you peace!

It is with great joy that we arrive to the Porziuncula in order to taste and celebrate the grace of pardon; to taste and celebrate the goodness of the Lord who is love (1 Jn 4, 8); he loves and forgives us. He is preparing for us, not just any banquet, but a banquet in which he himself becomes our food and drink.

The event of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ Crucified, which is at the heart of Christianity, is understood by Paul as an event of God’s love for humanity in its condition of sin as enemies of God (cf. Rom 5, 8-11). This event, moreover, is marked by the love and gratitude of God manifested in the gift of his Son to humanity, a gift of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is remission of sin. Forgiveness is the removal of obstacles that block our intimate union with God with others and creation in such a way so as to feel anew the grace of reconciliation and of deep communion between God and us, us and others, and us and creation which were all weakened through sin. This happens, moreover, not by virtue of a juridical relationship between God, who receives the offense, and man, who sins, but rather thanks to a relationship of grace. In other words, our repentance like that of the prodigal son (cf. Lk 15,11-32) will only begin the moment we become aware of the faithful love of the Father, who never stopped loving us though we were far from him through sin. What we call forgiveness, in fact, in the eyes of the Father is none other than a love that can never deny itself. Forgiveness, therefore, can only be understood in light of the freedom of love and the logic of the gift which became total and totally gratuitous in the Son.

As part of a reflection on the Trinitarian love of God, forgiveness is a participation in the victory of Christ over death. If resurrection means that death doesn’t have the last word, then forgiveness means that sin is not the last truth of the human person. The last word and the last truth in the life of the human person will always be the love of God. The human person is above all the beloved of the Father for whom He (the Father) doesn’t hesitate to give his Son, so that humanity may return to full communion with God, others, and all of creation – as willed by the Creator from the beginning. In this way, we can say that the Church is a communion of converted sinners, who live the grace of forgiveness, handing it down, in turn, to others (Joseph Ratzinger).

The forgiveness we feel the need for comes to us through the indulgence of the Porziuncola obtained by Francis directly from the Pope, in order to send us all to paradise. Because Francis experienced the mercy of God in his life as he himself confessed it in his testament, he wants everyone, likewise, to experience it. What is specific about this indulgence is its gratuity. Unlike other indulgences, this one is gratuitous. That is why we can say that it is the indulgence of the Poor who cannot go either to Jerusalem or St. James of Compostela. Francis’ big heart doesn’t want anyone to be deprived of the possibility of going to paradise without the possibility of being forgiven.

Dear brothers and sisters, convoked to taste and celebrate the grace of forgiveness, we are being called first to rediscover the love of God and then to share this love and forgiveness with others. This is, in fact, the attitude necessary to participate fully in the Feast of Pardon. The first as a condition to taste forgiveness while the second as a consequence for being forgiven.

If anyone is not aware that God loves him/her, how then will he/she celebrate the Feast of Pardon? The saints are those who, like St. Francis, feel forgiven and consequently feel the urgency to break with any situation of sin, no matter how small, precisely because they feel really loved by God. When Francis was crying out on the Mount La Verna, Love is not loved! Love is not loved!, he did so because he experienced the great love God for humanity and the insurmountable distance between the love of God and the love of man. Furthermore, when he affirms in his Testament that he was in sin he doesn’t say this out of humility, but rather because he is convinced it was true. He knew it was true because God’s love for him is without limit, that is, seventy times seven (Mt 18, 22). This is why the Lord in his Gospel according to Luke when teaching the Our Father teaches us to pray God to forgive us as we forgive others. Anyone who feels forgiven, of necessity becomes an apostle of forgiveness and reconciliation. Francis teaches us this, for example, when he sought to reconcile the bishop with the podesta (governor) of Assisi and the wolf with the city of Gubbio.

Brothers and sisters, my friends, as we celebrate the solemnity of Holy Mary, Queen of the Angels, we address her in this liturgy with the same praise the book of Sirach in today’s first reading addresses wisdom. Like Lady Wisdom, Mary is the mother of fair love, and of fear, and of knowledge, and of holy. In [her] is all grace of the way and of the truth, in [her] is all hope of life and of virtue…She is full of grace as the Angel called her whose memory is unto everlasting generations. (cf. Sir 24,27). She is the woman from whom the Son of God was born to rescue us who were under the law of sin (cf. Gal 44, 4-5). She is the faithful disciple who found grace before God (Lk 1, 30) because she conceived the Son first by faith before conceiving him in the flesh (cf. Lk 1, 45). She is the Virgin made Church, the palace, the tabernacle, the dwelling, the clothing, the servant and Mother of God – as St. Francis praised her (Salutations to the Virgin 4ss).

Following the advice of the book of Sirach, let us then draw close to Mary and this Mother of Mercy will then lead us to the Son in order to taste how good the Lord is (cf. Ps 33). We, too, will find grace before God; and as we go into ourselves (cf. Lk 15, 17), let us embark on a journey back to the Father’s house. He will have compassion on us; will run to meet us half way and as he embraces us, will welcome us with great joy (cf. Lk 15, 20) because a sinner has repented (cf. Lk 15, 7). Then the feast will begin, the Feast of Pardon, the feast of him who was lost, but now alive again, lost but now found (cf. Lk 15, 32). Hence, the Feast of Pardon consists precisely in this: to feel loved by God who is LOVE.

May both the Queen of the Angels, Mediatrix of All Graces, and our father St. Francis obtain for us from the Lord the grace to experience this each time when, due to human weakness, we feel like sinners! Happy Feast of Pardon!

Changing the impossible

HOMILY FOR THE 2nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, January 20, 2019: When my parents got married more than 50 years ago, my Mom came from a pract...