Not Service Alone

Service is a central aspect of Christianity. In the words of Ed Hahnenberg, “God calls me through others for others.”

But, as Hahnenberg’s phrasing suggests, we can never lose sight of the fact that our service is in response to God’s call, which means our service must be connected to our faith.

I’ve been reading Matthew Kelly’s Rediscover Catholicism, given to all members of parishes in our archdiocese. On this issue Kelly writes:

When the practice and preaching of Christianity are not clearly focused on the universal call to holiness, the activities pursued in the name of Christianity disintegrate into little more than a collection of social welfare initiatives. As the Church becomes more and more separated from this call to holiness, whether locally, regionally, nationally, or universally, it very quickly begins to resemble a social welfare organization rather than the great spiritual entity it was established to be for every age.

I was reminded, when I read those lines, of something Archbishop Chaput said at the CCMA National Convention last week. Questioned about the service component of our faith, he said that we can never to doo much social ministry. But, he cautioned, our service must be connected to the Gospel, that service alone can never substitute for the fullness of the Gospel.

There are three legs to the stool, Archbishop Chaput suggested of an “honest Christianity”: preaching the Gospel with integrity, building a community where people are genuinely loved, and helping the poor. If any one of those three is missing, Christianity is absent. The Archbishop was clear that people err in different directions. So it is not enough, he said, to say, “I’m Orthodox” alone or “I’m helping the poor” alone. We need all three legs of the stool.


Contradiction, Liberation and Compassion

One of the books I’m currently reading is the third volume of Pope Benedict’s series Jesus of Nazareth, this one titled The Infancy Narratives.

Talking about St. Luke’s account of the presentation of Jesus in the temple, in which Simeon prophesies to Mary that “a sword will pierce through your own soul,” the Pope talks about the contradiction of Jesus: that “the theology of glory is inseparably linked with the theology of the cross.”

Jesus is the sign of contradiction. The King of Glory will be crucified. But, Jesus is not the only one who experiences this contradiction. “The contradiction against Jesus is also directed against the mother and it cuts her to the heart. For her, the Cross of radical contradiction becomes the sword that pierces through her soul.” In that, claims the Pope, Mary is for us a model of true compassion: “From Mary we can learn what true com-passion is: quite unsentimentally assuming the suffering of others as one’s own.”

Pope Benedict contrasts this with the Church Fathers’ characterization of paganism as an insensitivity toward the suffering of others. In contrast to paganism, “the Christian faith holds up the God who suffers with men, ad thereby draws us into his ‘com-passion.” The Mater Dolorosa, the mother whose heart is pierced by a sword, is an iconic image of this fundamental attitude of Christian faith.”

The liberation of Chritianity is not, Pope Benedict reminds us a romantic good feeling. Rather, it is a “liberation from the imprisonment in self-absorption.”

A Christian Faith Enriched By Buddhism

“A Christian Faith Enriched by Buddhism.” That is the title of the blog post I wrote for Huffington Post, which which had asked me to explain in 700-800 words how Buddhism has enriched my Christian faith.

Yikes – that question occupies an entire chapter in the manuscript I have just completed on my conversion from Catholicism to Buddhism back to Catholicism. The task of distilling what I expressed in 13-15 manuscript pages into a shot essay was not simple. But I think I managed, with some success to at least convey something of both how necessary Buddhism was to my ability to return to Chrsitianity and the ways in which it has influenced my spirituality.

You can judge for yourself how successful I was by reading the whole piece, which was posted by Huff Post yesterday. You can find it here.

Fall Reflection Series – Week 3: Christian Teaching on Forgiveness

Today was the third session of our Fall Reflection Series on forgiveness at UST School of Law. We had a good turnout again this week, despite a number of competing events during the lunch hour.

As we always do, We began the session by giving participants time to share in small groups some of their experience from their prayer over the last week with the material I distributed last week.

Following the sharing and some time to address questions and answers, Fr. Dan Griffith offered the reflection for this week. His talk addressed Christian teaching on forgiveness and he drew on scripture as well as tradition in talking about the centrality of the command the we forgive in the same manner that God forgives us. As he discussed during his talk that means forgiving with the same depth and breadth with which God does and forgiving with sincerity. In the course of his talk, he shared some of his own experiences of forgiveness.

You can access a recording of Fr. Dan’s reflection here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 26:56.) You can find a copy of this week’s prayer material here.

Follow Me

One of the things I subscribe to is receipt of daily meditations by the Center for Action and Contemplation. The daily reflections are taken or adapted from the writings of Richard Rohr.

One I read recently addresses the central question of what what is the “true and full Gospel.” Rohr writes that we “keep worshiping Jesus and arguing over the exact right way to do it. The amazing thing is that Jesus never once says,’worship me!’, but he often says, ‘follow me.'” He continues:

Christianity is a lifestyle—a way of being in the world that is simple, non-violent, shared, inclusive, and loving. We made it, however, into a formal established religion, in order to avoid the demanding lifestyle itself. One could then be warlike, greedy, racist, selfish, and vain at the highest levels of the church, and still easily believe that Jesus is “my personal Lord and Savior.” The world has no time for such silliness anymore. The suffering on Earth is too great.

There is nothing wrong with worshipping God. But unless our worship is part and parcel of following Jesus, that is, actually living a Christian life, it means nothing. Jesus was very clear in his teachings that it is not enough to say “Lord, Lord…” Rather he demands a fundamental reorientation of our lives.

God Will Make Us Good

While reading something else, I came across an excerpt from C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. Lewis is explaining why Christians are different from those who hope, by being good, to please God. He writes that

the Christian thinks any good he does comes from the Christ-life inside him. He does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because he loves us; just as the roof of a greenhouse does not attract the sun because it is bright, but becomes bright because the sun shines on it.

I fear too many Christians actually do have the mistaken belief that they must be good to be loved by God and that is a myth that needs to be dispelled.

I love the analogy to the greenhouse roof, all of the brightness of which comes from the sun shining on it. As I sat reflecting on the passage, I could (even though I was indoors) almost feel the sun pouring over me, bathed in the love of God. A love that is freely offered to all of us. The love that is the source of our very being. And the love that enables us to love in return.

Focusing on Practice and Experience

I just read a piece on America’s website written by a Jesuit who was asked by a Buddhist group in San Francisco to sit with them and then give them a talk about Thomas Merton and his dialogue with Buddhism. Early in the column, the author, John Coleman, S.J., observed that “Merton who early on in his career showed a keen interest in dialogue with the religions of Asia ( Hinduism, Sufism as well as Buddhism) tended to think such dialogue should, primarily, focus on practice and experience and less on doctrine or beliefs, as such.” (The column is well-worth reading in its entirety.)

I would not advance the proposition that doctrine and belief are unimportant. But, as a meditator and as a retreat leader, I agree with Merton’s conclusion that there is richer fruit when inter-faith dialogue focuses more on practice and experience.

That is the thought behind my forthcoming book, Growing in Love and Wisdom, which presents adaptations of meditations drawn from the Buddhist tradition for Christian prayer. (The book will be out the end of October and can be pre-ordered at the links on the sidebar.)

Like Merton, I believe there is much drawn from the Buddhist tradition that can benefit Christians. As then Cardinal Ratzinger recognized in a 1989 letter to Catholic bishops issued by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, “genuine practices of non-Christian meditation” may “constitute a suitable means of helping the person who prays to come before God.” Similarly, the 2000 letter Dominus Iesus acknowledges that prayers and rituals from other faith religious traditions may be “occasions or pedagogical helps in which the human heart is prompted to be open to the action of God.”

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be posting dates and locations of book talks/signings. I hope to meet some of you at them!

Defined by Faith

I was at a program recently where one of the speakers suggested that we live in a society (he was speaking of the United States) in which people define themselves more by their partisan political party than by their faith. If that is true – If “I am a Republican” or “I am a Democrat” comes before “I am a Christian” (or “I am a [fill in the blank with another faith]”) – that is a very sorry state of affairs.

We can describe ourselves in a lot of ways. I am a New Yorker (which I’ll always be, even though I’m currently living in Minnesota). I am the daughter of a (now-deceased) NYC police officer. I am of Italian descent. (I used to say “I am Italian” until I lived in Asia and people from Italy corrected me, observing that was American not Italian.) I am a wife and a mother. I am a registered Democrat.

But those are descriptions that do not define me in the way “I am a Christian” or “I am a Catholic” defines me. To say I am a Christian – to say my life belongs to Christ – is to identify that which gives my whole life its meaning and direction, in a way none of the other ways of describing myself do.

I think there is truth to the statement that we live in a society where many people define themselves more by political party than by faith. But it is also the case that there are plenty of people out there who, like me, do define themselves by their faith.

What the speaker’s comment suggests to me is that what we really need is for the people who define themselves by their faith to be a visible witness to that. To help let others know that there are people who see themselves as Christian first and everything else after that…to let them know that that is OK to say that and to live that.

Practicing What We Preach

As virtually everyone knows, Mitt Romney, the almost-certain Republican nominee for President, is a Mormon. Many people in this country have very strong views against Mormonism. And I have heard any number of Christians claim that Mormons “are not really Christians.”

Most of what non-Mormons know about Mormonism consists of things like: Mormons once practiced bigamy…Mormons don’t drink coffee, tea or alcohol…Mormons send their young people around knocking on people’s doors…Mormons believe some funny story about Jesus appearing to someone in the United States.

A recent Pew study reveals some other facts about Mormons that give all of us who call ourselves Christians something to think about These include:

Mormons on average devote about nine times as many hours a month to volunteers activities than do other Americans.

Mormons generally tithe to their churches and donate approximately another $1000/month to non-church charities. (Even Mormons with low income tithe and give more of their income to charity than other Americans.)

In short, as John Diiulio observes in an article in America magazine, “most members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints practice what they preach about helping the needy.” Another scholar called Mormons “the most pro-social members of American society.”

None of this has anything to do with the Presidential campaign, apart from the fact that Romney’s campaign puts Mormonism on people radar screens in a way it would not be otherwise. But, while they are on our radar screen, instead of criticizing Mormons on their brand of Christianity, it might be worthwhile figuring out what the Mormon church is doing right and what we can learn from them.

There is No Christianity at a Distance

Fr. Dale Korogi gave a very brief homily at Mass yesterday, as priests typically do on Palm Sunday, given the length of the Gospel reading. (Yesterday’s was St. Mark’s account of the Passion and death of Christ.) But he packed an important message into very few words.

Fr. Dale referenced two lines from the Gospel. First, we are told that when Jesus was led away to the high priest, “Peter followed him at a distance.” Later in the Gospel we hear that while Jesus was dying on the cross, “[t]here were also women looking on from a distance.”

The simple question Fr. Dale posed was what about us? Do we walk by Jesus side all the way to the cross or do we stand off at a distance?

We had time and invitation to ponder the question: During the preparation of the gifts the song was Were You There, in which the question is asked, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?”

As difficult as it can be, we need to walk with Jesus all the way to His crucifixion and death. To understand the enormity of his Incarnation, Death and Resurrection and to understand how we are to live.

As Fr. Dale said as he ended his brief sermon, There is no authentic Christianity apart from the cross. There is no authentic Christianity from a distance.