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Today is Memorial Day, a day of remembrance for those who have died in military service.  It is also a day on which we pray for peace, for an end to all armed conflict.

My friends at ReligiousLeftLaw ask an uncomfortable question: “is it possible to honestly pray for peace while our country is far and away number one in the world in waging war, military presence, military spending and the sale of weapons around the world?”  The statistics they cite are sobering and the post is worth reading in its entirety.

I do not minimize the value of praying for peace.  I think we should pray and pray hard.

But perhaps we also need to do more – to lift our voices as people of peace to criticize the actions of our government in allowing the United States to become (in Martin Luther King’s words in 1967) “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”

I also do not minimizing the sacrifice and heroism of so many members of the United States armed forces.  But we ought to be troubled by the fact that “US military spending is about the same as the total of military spending by the next eight largest countries combined, that is more than China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, UK, India and Germany combined” and that more than half of our national discretionary spending goes to the US military.

Pray for peace; I do so every day.  But let’s also think about our government’s policies and the extent to which they do or don’t make peace a realistic possibility.

Today is Pentecost Sunday, the day on which Christians celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples of Christ, and the day that ends our celebration of the Easter season.

In his book Walking With Jesus: A Way Forward for the Church, Pope Francis writes that a “fundamental element” of Pentecost is astonishment.  He writes

Our God is a God of astonishment; this we know. No one expected anything more from the disciples: after Jesus’ death they were a small, insignificant group of defeated orphans of their Master. There occurred instead an unexpected event that astounded: the people were astonished because each of them heard the disciples speaking in their own tongues, telling of the great works of God (cf. Acts 2:6–7, 11). The Church born at Pentecost is an astounding community because, with the force of her arrival from God, a new message is proclaimed—the resurrection of Christ—with a new language, the universal one of love. A new proclamation: Christ lives, he is risen. A new language: the language of love. The disciples are adorned with power from above and speak with courage. Only minutes before, they all were cowardly, but now they speak with courage and candor, with the freedom of the Holy Spirit.

Thus the Church is called into being forever, capable of astounding while proclaiming to all that Jesus Christ has conquered death, that God’s arms are always open, that his patience is always there awaiting us in order to heal us, to forgive us. The risen Jesus bestowed his Spirit on the Church for this very mission.

Take note: if the Church is alive, she must always surprise. It is incumbent upon the living Church to astound. A Church that is unable to astound is a Church that is weak, sick, dying, and that needs admission to the intensive care unit as soon as possible!

Happy Feast of Pentecost!

Today is a day many people have been waiting for a very long time: the beatification of Oscar Romero, one of my great heroes.

Romero’s path to sainthood, however, has not been without controversy.  There are some who during his life viewed him (and some who continue to view him) as a Marxist or, in one commentator’s words “a poster boy for the left-wing cause.”

I think there is no better answer to the charge of Marxism than the words Romero spoke during his homily on the feast of the Ascension in 1977, three years before his assassination.  The message of the bishops in the Documents of the Second Vatican Council, he preached

condemns this false understanding of tradition that wants to present the Church as simply spiritual – a Church of sacraments and prayers but with no social commitment or commitment to history.  We would betray our mission as pastors, if we were to reduce evangelization to mere practices of individual piety and the participation in non-incarnated sacraments.  The Pope says: Evangelization would not be complete if it did not take account of the unceasing interplay of the Gospel and of man’s concrete life, both personal and social (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 29).  My bothers and sisters, let us not place our faith in some corner and reduce it to some private place and then live in public as though we had no faith.  The Council said that this divorce between faith and our private life is one of the great errors of our time (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 43).  So great is this error that in the name of this error, the Church is called subversive because she wants to lead Christians to a faith commitment in their concrete life.  My dear Catholics, let us study this right doctrine and wisdom of the Church.  Then we will understand that priests and Christians who live their Christian commitment in the world are far from being communists or Marxists or subversives.

Blessed Oscar Romero, pray for us!

 

 

Tikkun Olam

Although articles discussing it are several  days old, I just came across  a link to the Baccalaureate Address given to graduating Yale students by Yale President Peter Salovey.

Salovey’s address was titled Repair the World.  He began with the question “If a graduating senior asked me to capture the purpose of life after graduating from Yale in just a few words, what would I say? What would that purpose be? Could I articulate your life’s mission as you leave Yale — on Commencement weekend, no less — while ‘standing on one foot’?  (As many may recognize, the phrase “standing on one foot” is a reference first century rabbi Hillel, who was asked to summarize the meaning of the entire Torah while standing on one foot.)  He suggested that there are many answers to the question of the students’ commitment after Yale – finding a good job, nurturing a family, etc.

Salovey had this suggestion as to the purpose of the lives of these new graduates: to improve the world, or as it would be expressed in the Jewish tradition: Tikkun Olam, literally to repair the world.  He elaborated

What I like about this proposal for life’s purpose is that improving the world can be accomplished from within nearly any political framework. Repairing, healing, or improving the world — often captured in the idea of alleviating suffering — can be pursued from a liberal perspective (develop social programs that encourage self-sufficiency but provide a safety net), from a conservative point of view (teach fundamental values in order to cultivate individuals of good character who make the world a better place), and even from a libertarian agenda (enable free market forces to reinforce good ideas and good behavior; in the meantime, live and let live).

I also favor improving the world as the life purpose of a newly minted Yalie because it is possible to embrace this life mission in so many ways:

When you start a new business that employs people and contributes something new, you improve the world.

When you serve others with great distinction in one of the professions, you improve the world.

When you pursue an academic career in order to light fires in the bellies of the next generation of college or high school students, you improve the world.

When you inspire others by creating a beautiful work of art, you improve the world.

When you build a service organization and you listen to and collaborate with those who you would like to help, you improve the world….

Improving the world is a difficult project to take on because – unlike so many aspects of your education at Yale or of life itself – there really is no beginning, middle, or end here. There is no “bottom line.” What may be most challenging is that even after a lifetime of work, further repair may be necessary. Maybe even more than when you started. My predecessor, President Richard Levin (whom I like to refer to as “Twenty-Two”), often quoted Rabbi Tarfon, “It is not your responsibility to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it. ….

Tikkun Olam is a task for all of us.  We may debate what it means to repair the world, but it is a task as to which we each have a part.

You can read the entirety of President Salovey’s address here.

I am reading Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s book Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now. A prominent activist for victims of Islamic violence, Ali is a fellow at the Harvard’s John f. Kennedy School of Government.  Although I have not read any of her other books and have not followed her career I know she is considered controversial by many people.  (Brandeis invited her to receive an honorary degree in 2014 and subsequently revoked the invitation.)

Calls for reform of Islam are not new.  What Ali claims as original are her precise suggestions of what needs to be reformed.  She argues five things must be “recognized as inherently harmful” and “repudiated and nullified.”  The five are

1.  Muhammad’s semi-divine and infallible status along with the literalist reading of the Qu-an, particularly those parts that were revealed in Medina;

2. The investment in life after death instead of life before death;

3.  Sharia, the body of legislation derived from the Qu’an, the hadith, and the rest of Islamic jurisprudence;

4. The practice of empowering individuals to enforce Islamic law by commanding right and forbidding wrong;

5.  The imperative to wage jihad, or holy war.

I was struck as I read her chapter on the second of those of how much difference in practice a small difference in emphasis can make.

Christianity is certainly concerned with life after this human existence.  Measured against eternity, our human lives (even for those who live to 90 or 100) is a very small blip.  Our goal, as Ignatian put it in his Principle and Foundation, is to live with God forever and Jesus told his disciples to have no fear of those who could harm the body, only those who could destroy the soul.   Life is not less transitory for Christians than it is for Muslims.

Yet, the fact that our ultimate goal is union with God does not make this life unimportant.  We are called to be God’s love in the world and to work to secure a just society and work on behalf of the least of our brothers and sisters.

As described by Ali, Islam’s focus on the afterlife leads to a different view.  Many of the words are the same as ones we might hear preached to Christians: Our life on this earth is short and temporary…everything in this world is transitory; only Allah is permanent.  But the conclusion they lead to, she argues is a cult of martyrdom and fatalism.  She relates stories of parents raising their children to be martyrs because it more quickly leads them to “eternal bliss.”   And while “islam is not unusual in having a tradition of martyrs [what] is unique to Islam is the tradition of murderous-martyrdom, in which the individual martyr simultaneously commits suicide and kills others for religious reasons.

Ali argues that “[u]ntil Islam stops fixating on the afterlife, until it is liberated from the seductive story of life after death, until it actively chooses life on earth and stops valuing death, Muslims themselves cannot go on with the business of living in this world.”

I am in no position to judge the merits of Ali’s reform suggestions.  But from what I’ve read thus far, there is a lot here worth discussing as we seek to discover how to live in peace with those who do not share our faith and may not share our values.

 

Last night was the final session of the monthly program Christine Luna Munger and I have been offering through St. Catherine’s University this year, Now What? Deepening Your Ignatian Retreat Experiences.  The program was aimed at people who have had some experience with the Spiritual Exercise of St. Ignatius through a weekend preached retreat, a retreat in daily living or some other format and designed to – as the title suggests – help them deepen the insights and experiences of those retreats.  Over the year, we’ve reflected on desire, individual and social sin, discernment and some of the core meditations of the Exercises.

Our topic last night was the Contemplation on the Love of God that ends the Spiritual Exercises. The Contemplatio provides what one author called “ in highly condensed form the very kernel of the Exercises,” a “kind of coherent synthesis with, simplified and in a concise form, may be used in daily life as an ideal containing various elements scattered here and there in a hundred and one particular truths.” One author called it not only a summary of the Spiritual Exercises, “but of perfection itself.”

The idea of the Contemplatio is that the culmination of all the divine actions is gift. The culmination of the divine actions lies in the love they draw from humans. Importantly, love cannot be forced. It is not that we can simply tell ourselves to love like God. (We’ve said this before: this is not just a question of will. “Tomorrow I will love like God all day long.” It doesn’t work that way.) Yes, we can work to overcome the challenges that make it hard for us to love like God. But the Contemplatio wants us to realize that love emerges spontaneously from consciousness – one realizes what God is doing to love him or her and that realization itself enables us to do what otherwise would be impossible – to be so caught up in God, to be so attracted and drawn by what God does, that we love. Love is not forced, it is evoked.

I was reminded as I spoke last night of something Archbishop Flynn said at the racism panel at Lourdes on Sunday.  When someone asked what steps one can take to remove racist attitudes, the Archbishop said that the key was more deeply internalizing God’s love for us.  If we truly understand to the depth of our hearts how much God loves us, we will more naturally love others – regardless of their race or other circumstances.  That is precisely what Ignatius is trying to help us understand in this meditation.

You can find an online version of the Contemplation on the Love of God here.

Yesterday I moderated a program at Our Lady of Lourdes on Race and Justice, the inaugural program in Lourdes’ new Salt and Light Series.  We had a panel of three speakers, each of whom spoke for about ten minutes, after which we had time for dialogue and question and answer.  The three speakers were Archbishop Emeritus Harry Flynn, Nekima Levy-Pounds (my colleague at UST Law School and the newly elected President of the Minneapolis NAACP), and Tom Johnson former county attorney and former president of the Council of Crime and Justice.  It was a moving and sobering event.

One of the things that was mentioned was the pastoral letter on racisim Archbishop Flynn released in 2003, In God’s Image.  Archbishop Flynn talked about the circumstances of his issuing it and the reaction (positive and negative) he received, and Professor Levy-Pounds noted that she assignes the pastoral letter (along with Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail) to her students each semester.

When I went back to look at the pastoral letter again when I got home yesterday afternoon, I realized how that the words the former Archbishop used to introduce his letter are as timely and important today – perhaps more so – than they were when he wrote them in 20o3.

Here is the Preface to In God’s Image:

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

In the Hebrew Scriptures the prophet Micah gives us a simple but very challenging formula for holiness. He writes,

“… This is what Yahweh asks of you: Only this, to act justly, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

This is the spirit that I hope all of you will bring to the discussion of racism and racial justice in our church and in our society. We cannot be a church that is true to the demands of the Gospel if we do not act justly, if we do not act to root out racism in the structures of our society and our church. And we cannot achieve personal holiness if we do not love tenderly, if we do not love and respect all human beings, regardless of their race, language, or ethnic heritage.

Only if we do these things can we expect to walk humbly with our God. For our God is a God of love and justice, a God who made all of us in His image. Racism is a denial of that fact. It is an offense against God. I realize that the subject of race can be a very difficult one for all of us. Yet I am convinced that we must address it with honesty and courage. For it remains a significant and sinful reality in our midst.

I am issuing this pastoral letter as an invitation to discussion and dialogue. I hope all of you will accept this invitation by taking part in discussions in your parish and community. By engaging in such a dialogue, we can all enhance our understanding of the role that race plays in our lives and we can join together in working to combat racism in all its forms.

Thank you for your commitment to the values of human dignity and racial justice.

God bless you,

Most Reverend Harry J. Flynn
Archbishop

You can read the pastoral letter in its entirety here, and I encourage you to do so.

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