Monday, September 05, 2016

The Eye of the Storm

It's funny how I was just listening to a talk on Jesus in the middle of the storm bringing his interior reality to bear on the exterior reality. Here I wanted to get away from the stress for a day, and I unwittingly drive closer to a major storm.

There's something about storms that excites me. I don't know if it's from growing up in Virginia Beach and living through some direct hits and near misses, or if it's just the way the wind in my face exhilarates me. I just know that hunkering down with oil in my lamp and something to keep me occupied as the storm rages outside makes for a somewhat pleasant experience of what can be scary otherwise.

God is my refuge. I hunker down in Him. With the Holy Spirit to guide me, my lamp will not be blown out nor run out of oil. This kid will nap in the boat and let Jesus keep his hand on rudder.  

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Talking Back

Evagrius Ponticus is one of my favorite desert fathers. He writes about the eight basic temptations (gluttony, greed, sloth, sorrow, lust, anger, vainglory, and pride) and how to combat them using scripture. First Evagrius names the tempting thought and then gives the scripture that combats it.

I've been looking at his scriptures against pride because pride is the one "spirit" that will reintroduce all 7 others, like in Matthew 12:43-45, unless carefully guarded against.

These two have caught my attention:

57. Against the prideful thoughts that look down on one's brothers who commit faults, because of their faults: "Brothers, even if a person is caught in some transgression, you who have the Spirit should correct that one in a gentle spirit, and keep watch over yourself, so that you also may not fall in temptation."
Galatians 6:1

58. Against the proud thought that exalts me as if I have reached perfection in the practice of the commandments: "It is not that I have already taken hold of it or have already attained perfect maturity, but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it, since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ Jesus."
Philippians 3:12

Growing in Wisdom and the Spirit

These scriptures have been on my heart this morning. Together with the second reading from the Office of Readings they remind me to ever be docile to the work that God is doing to bring me to the "dawn from on high," which will break upon us all "through the tender compassion of our God."

"Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show his works by a good life in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. Wisdom of this kind does not come down from above but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace." - James 3:13-18

"For you were called for freedom, brothers. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' But if you go on biting and devouring one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another. I say, then: live by the Spirit and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh. For the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want. But if you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ [Jesus] have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit. Let us not be conceited, provoking one another, envious of one another." - Galatians 5:13-26

From the Moral Reflections on Job by Saint Gregory the Great, pope
The Church moves forward like the advancing dawn

Since the daybreak or the dawn is changed gradually from darkness into light, the Church, which comprises the elect, is fittingly styled daybreak or dawn. While she is being led from the night of infidelity to the light of faith, she is opened gradually to the splendor of heavenly brightness, just as dawn yields to the day after darkness. The Song of Songs says aptly: 'Who is this who moves forward like the advancing dawn? Holy Church, inasmuch as she keeps searching for the rewards of eternal life, has been called the dawn.' While she turns her back on the darkness of sins, she begins to shine with the light of righteousness.

This reference to the dawn conjures up a still more subtle consideration. The dawn intimates that the night is over; it does not yet proclaim the full light of day. While it dispels the darkness and welcomes the light, it holds both of them, the one mixed with the other, as it were. Are not all of us who follow the truth in this life daybreak and dawn? While we do some things which already belong to the light, we are not free from the remnants of darkness. In Scripture the Prophet says to God: 'No living being will be justified in our sight.' Scripture also says: 'In many ways all of us give offense.'

When he writes, the night is passed, Paul does not add, the day is come, but rather, the day is at hand. Since he argues that after the night has passed, the day as yet is not come but is rather at hand, he shows that the period before full daylight and after darkness is without doubt the dawn, and that he himself is living in that period.

It will be fully day for the Church of the elect when she is no longer darkened by the shadow of sin. It will be fully day for her when she shines with the perfect brilliance of interior light. This dawn is aptly shown to be an ongoing process when Scripture says: 'And you showed the dawn its place.' A thing which is shown its place is certainly called from one place to another. What is the place of the dawn but the perfect clearness of eternal vision? When the dawn has been brought there, it will retain nothing belonging to the darkness of night. When the Psalmist writes: 'My soul thirsts for the living God; when shall I go and see the face of God?,' does he not refer to the effort made by the dawn to reach its place? Paul was hastening to the place which he knew the dawn would reach when he said he wished to die and to be with Christ. He expressed the same idea when he said: 'For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.'

Friday, September 05, 2014

Mary's Motherhood is Real

A friend of mine was sharing with me about a realization he had. "My mother was emotionally unavailable, and I noticed that everywhere I go, I tend to be looking for someone to substitute the love I missed. Even the Blessed Virgin Mary seemed for me a substitute for the love of my mother, until one day it hit me: Mary is my mother! She is not a substitute! She is my mother! And she is caring, attentive, kind, gentle, and loving! She's not a substitute for my mom. She is my spiritual mother!"

What my friend shared helped me to realize too that, often times, I look at Marian devotion as something for folks who missed out on a maternal relationship like John Paul II, whose mother died when he was young. But this makes Mary a second class mother when in fact she is a real and true mother to all who believe in Jesus. We only need to look at John 19 and Revelation 12 to see that this is true.

May we fly to the patronage of our Mother Mary without shame and without feeling that she is somehow only a substitute mom. 

Holy Mary, mother of God and our mother, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Six Words That Can Change a Life

About 17 or 18 years ago when I was a freshman at George Mason University, I wasn't quite yet convinced about my Catholic faith. I would go to mass at the Catholic campus ministry, but I felt that something was missing. 

Despite my regular attendance, it didn't seem like anybody noticed me. One particular Sunday evening when I went to mass, I had this heaviness on my heart. I thought, "Why do I even come here? No one seems to care whether I show up or not." 

After mass, God stepped in. A senior, the student campus minister that year by the name of Melissa, took a moment to smile at me. She then said to me five words that changed my life (or four words if you count contractions as just one word). It was nothing profound. In fact, it's the mere simplicity of what she said that makes it so memorable to this day.

"What was it that she said?" you may ask. She simply said, "I'm glad you came."

It's taken me the 17 or 18 years to realize how important those words were at that time in my life. You see, I wasn't a convinced Catholic at the time. I was questioning why I was coming to mass. I didn't see anybody caring that I was around. And one person showed that they cared. That one simple act, those five simple words were an answer to my heaviness. I left feeling much lighter and feeling as though I belonged.

Had it not been for those five simple words, I might not have continued to attend mass and eventually discover the depths of my Catholic faith. I might have never heard God calling me into relationship with him and to the religious life and to the priesthood.

I'm not sure whether Melissa knew that I was struggling that evening. Perhaps something told her that I needed a word of kindness. But with all of the talk today about people struggling with depression and the tragic news about Robin Williams, it may help us to remember how a simple word here or there can change someone's life for the better.

So, if we happen to see someone struggling, perhaps we can say six simple words to let them know that we care. Those six words are simply, "I'm glad you're here."

Reflection on today's gospel 8/14/14

Hatred and unforgiveness often resurface if we don't take the wounded heart to the one who can restore it most completely, the one who loves us so unconditionally, God.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

“Well-being” in Recent Magisterial Documents

Because some have criticized Pope Francis for speaking out against the “culture of prosperity,” or more correctly “the culture of well-being,” calling him a Marxist, I’ve decided to look into the use of the term well-being in recent magisterial documents. However, knowing there to be greater translation issues with English, I have decided to look specifically at the term well-being in Italian “benessere” to see how recent pontiffs have used it and in what context. What results seems to be a consistent picture of the Church’s understanding of well-being.

Pope John XXIII

As Our Predecessor Pius XII observed with evident justification: "Likewise the national economy, as it is the product of the men who work together in the community of the State, has no other end than to secure without interruption the material conditions in which the individual life of the citizens may fully develop. Where this is secured in a permanent way, a people will be, in a true sense, economically rich, because the general well-being, and consequently the personal right of all to the use of worldly goods, is thus actuated in conformity with the purpose willed by the Creator."  From this it follows that the economic prosperity of a nation is not so much its total assets in terms of wealth and property, as the equitable division and distribution of this wealth. This it is which guarantees the personal development of the members of society, which is the true goal of a nation's economy. Pope John XXIII, Mater et Magistra, 74
It is proper for states to promote the full development of all its citizens. This development of all and not just the amount of wealth is the true goal of the economy.
It pains Us, therefore, to observe the complete indifference to the true hierarchy of values shown by so many people in the economically developed countries. Spiritual values are ignored, forgotten or denied, while the progress of science, technology and economics is pursued for its own sake, as though material well-being [benessere material] were the be-all and end-all of life. This attitude is contagious, especially when it infects the work that is being done for the less developed countries, which have often preserved in their ancient traditions an acute and vital awareness of the more important human values, on which the moral order rests. MM, 176
Already John XXIII speaks about the tendency to absolutize material well-being.
Certainly, the Church teaches—and has always taught—that scientific and technical progress and the resultant material well-being [benessere materiale] are good things and mark an important phase in human civilization. But the Church teaches, too, that goods of this kind must be valued according to their true nature: as instruments used by man for the better attainment of his end. They help to make him a better man, both in the natural and the supernatural order. May these warning words of the divine Master ever sound in men's ears: "For what doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul? Or what exchange shall a man give for his soul?" MM, 246-247
John XXIII makes it clear that the church is not against material well-being. It is however, against seeing material well-being as an end, as the goal of life, instead of seeing it as an instrument to help all live better.

Pope John Paul II

The Pharaoh of old, haunted by the presence and increase of the children of Israel, submitted them to every kind of oppression and ordered that every male child born of the Hebrew women was to be killed (cf. Ex 1:7-22). Today not a few of the powerful of the earth act in the same way. They too are haunted by the current demographic growth, and fear that the most prolific and poorest peoples represent a threat for the well-being and peace of their own countries. Consequently, rather than wishing to face and solve these serious problems with respect for the dignity of individuals and families and for every person's inviolable right to life, they prefer to promote and impose by whatever means a massive programme of birth control. Even the economic help which they would be ready to give is unjustly made conditional on the acceptance of an anti-birth policy. Pope John Paul II Evangelium Vitae, 16
The eclipse of the sense of God and of man inevitably leads to a practical materialism, which breeds individualism, utilitarianism and hedonism. Here too we see the permanent validity of the words of the Apostle: "And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct" (Rom 1:28). The values of being are replaced by those of having. The only goal which counts is the pursuit of one's own material well-being. The so-called "quality of life" is interpreted primarily or exclusively as economic efficiency, inordinate consumerism, physical beauty and pleasure, to the neglect of the more profound dimensions-interpersonal, spiritual and religious-of existence. In such a context suffering, an inescapable burden of human existence but also a factor of possible personal growth, is "censored", rejected as useless, indeed opposed as an evil, always and in every way to be avoided. When it cannot be avoided and the prospect of even some future well-being vanishes, then life appears to have lost all meaning and the temptation grows in man to claim the right to suppress it. EV, 23.
Special attention must be given to evaluating the morality of prenatal diagnostic techniques which enable the early detection of possible anomalies in the unborn child. In view of the complexity of these techniques, an accurate and systematic moral judgment is necessary. When they do not involve disproportionate risks for the child and the mother, and are meant to make possible early therapy or even to favour a serene and informed acceptance of the child not yet born, these techniques are morally licit. But since the possibilities of prenatal therapy are today still limited, it not infrequently happens that these techniques are used with a eugenic intention which accepts selective abortion in order to prevent the birth of children affected by various types of anomalies. Such an attitude is shameful and utterly reprehensible, since it presumes to measure the value of a human life only within the parameters of "normality" and physical well-being, thus opening the way to legitimizing infanticide and euthanasia as well. And yet the courage and the serenity with which so many of our brothers and sisters suffering from serious disabilities lead their lives when they are shown acceptance and love bears eloquent witness to what gives authentic value to life, and makes it, even in difficult conditions, something precious for them and for others. The Church is close to those married couples who, with great anguish and suffering, willingly accept gravely handicapped children. She is also grateful to all those families which, through adoption, welcome children abandoned by their parents because of disabilities or illnesses. EV, 63
At the other end of life's spectrum, men and women find themselves facing the mystery of death. Today, as a result of advances in medicine and in a cultural context frequently closed to the transcendent, the experience of dying is marked by new features. When the prevailing tendency is to value life only to the extent that it brings pleasure and well-being, suffering seems like an unbearable setback, something from which one must be freed at all costs. Death is considered "senseless" if it suddenly interrupts a life still open to a future of new and interesting experiences. But it becomes a "rightful liberation" once life is held to be no longer meaningful because it is filled with pain and inexorably doomed to even greater suffering. Furthermore, when he denies or neglects his fundamental relationship to God, man thinks he is his own rule and measure, with the right to demand that society should guarantee him the ways and means of deciding what to do with his life in full and complete autonomy. It is especially people in the developed countries who act in this way: they feel encouraged to do so also by the constant progress of medicine and its ever more advanced techniques. By using highly sophisticated systems and equipment, science and medical practice today are able not only to attend to cases formerly considered untreatable and to reduce or eliminate pain, but also to sustain and prolong life even in situations of extreme frailty, to resuscitate artificially patients whose basic biological functions have undergone sudden collapse, and to use special procedures to make organs available for transplanting. In this context the temptation grows to have recourse to euthanasia, that is, to take control of death and bring it about before its time, "gently" ending one's own life or the life of others. In reality, what might seem logical and humane, when looked at more closely is seen to be senseless and inhumane. Here we are faced with one of the more alarming symptoms of the "culture of death", which is advancing above all in prosperous societies [nelle società del benessere], marked by an attitude of excessive preoccupation with efficiency and which sees the growing number of elderly and disabled people as intolerable and too burdensome. These people are very often isolated by their families and by society, which are organized almost exclusively on the basis of criteria of productive efficiency, according to which a hopelessly impaired life no longer has any value. EV, 64
John Paul II coined the term the “culture of death” to describe these attitudes preoccupied only with material well-being at the cost of the dignity of human life. Though the term is different for John Paul II, the jump from the “culture of death” to the “culture of well-being” is not all that far off. One only need to consider that John Paul II was focusing on pro-life matters while other popes, including himself, will use the “culture of well-being” in a broader sense.
Another kind of response, practical in nature, is represented by the affluent society [la società del benessere] or the consumer society. It seeks to defeat Marxism on the level of pure materialism by showing how a free-market society can achieve a greater satisfaction of material human needs than Communism, while equally excluding spiritual values. In reality, while on the one hand it is true that this social model shows the failure of Marxism to contribute to a humane and better society, on the other hand, insofar as it denies an autonomous existence and value to morality, law, culture and religion, it agrees with Marxism, in the sense that it totally reduces man to the sphere of economics and the satisfaction of material needs. Centesimus Annus, 19
Here the great critic of Marxism, John Paul II, critiqued capitalism, showing that without a Christian soul, affluent society also tramples upon human dignity.
The fall of Marxism has naturally had a great impact on the division of the planet into worlds which are closed to one another and in jealous competition. It has further highlighted the reality of interdependence among peoples, as well as the fact that human work, by its nature, is meant to unite peoples, not divide them. Peace and prosperity [prosperità], in fact, are goods which belong to the whole human race: it is not possible to enjoy them in a proper and lasting way if they are achieved and maintained at the cost of other peoples and nations, by violating their rights or excluding them from the sources of well-being [benessere]. CA, 27
Prosperity and well-being are seen as goods. They cannot however be seen as goods that can belong only to a few.
Love for others, and in the first place love for the poor, in whom the Church sees Christ himself, is made concrete in the promotion of justice. Justice will never be fully attained unless people see in the poor person, who is asking for help in order to survive, not an annoyance or a burden, but an opportunity for showing kindness and a chance for greater enrichment. Only such an awareness can give the courage needed to face the risk and the change involved in every authentic attempt to come to the aid of another. It is not merely a matter of "giving from one's surplus", but of helping entire peoples which are presently excluded or marginalized to enter into the sphere of economic and human development. For this to happen, it is not enough to draw on the surplus goods which in fact our world abundantly produces; it requires above all a change of life-styles, of models of production and consumption, and of the established structures of power which today govern societies. Nor is it a matter of eliminating instruments of social organization which have proved useful, but rather of orienting them according to an adequate notion of the common good in relation to the whole human family. Today we are facing the so-called "globalization" of the economy, a phenomenon which is not to be dismissed, since it can create unusual opportunities for greater prosperity [benessere]. There is a growing feeling, however, that this increasing internationalization of the economy ought to be accompanied by effective international agencies which will oversee and direct the economy to the common good, something that an individual State, even if it were the most powerful on earth, would not be in a position to do. In order to achieve this result, it is necessary that there be increased coordination among the more powerful countries, and that in international agencies the interests of the whole human family be equally represented. It is also necessary that in evaluating the consequences of their decisions, these agencies always give sufficient consideration to peoples and countries which have little weight in the international market, but which are burdened by the most acute and desperate needs, and are thus more dependent on support for their development. Much remains to be done in this area. CA, 58
Here John Paul II does not advocate either a free market or socialism. Recognizing the good of prosperity, he advocates controls that can make sure that this prosperity is shared by all.
At the beginning of industrialized society, it was "a yoke little better than that of slavery itself" which led my Predecessor to speak out in defence of man. Over the past hundred years the Church has remained faithful to this duty. Indeed, she intervened in the turbulent period of class struggle after the First World War in order to defend man from economic exploitation and from the tyranny of the totalitarian systems. After the Second World War, she put the dignity of the person at the centre of her social messages, insisting that material goods were meant for all, and that the social order ought to be free of oppression and based on a spirit of cooperation and solidarity. The Church has constantly repeated that the person and society need not only material goods but spiritual and religious values as well. Furthermore, as she has become more aware of the fact that too many people live, not in the prosperity [benessere] of the Western world, but in the poverty of the developing countries amid conditions which are still "a yoke little better than that of slavery itself", she has felt and continues to feel obliged to denounce this fact with absolute clarity and frankness, although she knows that her call will not always win favour with everyone. One hundred years after the publication of Rerum novarum, the Church finds herself still facing "new things" and new challenges. The centenary celebration should therefore confirm the commitment of all people of good will and of believers in particular. CA, 61
Straight capitalism has in the past trampled on human dignity. The job of the Church is to uphold that human dignity and to defend it.
It should be noted that in spite of the praiseworthy efforts made in the last two decades by the more developed or developing nations and the international organizations to find a way out of the situation, or at least to remedy some of its symptoms, the conditions have become notably worse. Responsibility for this deterioration is due to various causes. Notable among them are undoubtedly grave instances of omissions on the part of the developing nations themselves, and especially on the part of those holding economic and political power. Nor can we pretend not to see the responsibility of the developed nations, which have not always, at least in due measure, felt the duty to help countries separated from the affluent world [dal mondo del benessere] to which they themselves belong. Moreover, one must denounce the existence of economic, financial and social mechanisms which, although they are manipulated by people, often function almost automatically, thus accentuating the situation of wealth for some and poverty for the rest. These mechanisms, which are maneuvered directly or indirectly by the more developed countries, by their very functioning favor the interests of the people manipulating them at in the end they suffocate or condition the economies of the less developed countries. Later on these mechanisms will have to be subjected to a careful analysis under the ethical-moral aspect. Populorum Progressio already foresaw the possibility that under such systems the wealth of the rich would increase and the poverty of the poor would remain. A proof of this forecast has been the appearance of the so-called Fourth World. Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 16
John Paul II called these mechanisms the structures of sin and called on world leaders to eradicate them.
Nor would a type of development which did not respect and promote human rights - personal and social, economic and political, including the rights of nations and of peoples - be really worthy of man. Today, perhaps more than in the past, the intrinsic contradiction of a development limited only to its economic element is seen more clearly. Such development easily subjects the human person and his deepest needs to the demands of economic planning and selfish profit. The intrinsic connection between authentic development and respect for human rights once again reveals the moral character of development: the true elevation of man, in conformity with the natural and historical vocation of each individual, is not attained only by exploiting the abundance of goods and services, or by having available perfect infrastructures. When individuals and communities do not see a rigorous respect for the moral, cultural and spiritual requirements, based on the dignity of the person and on the proper identity of each community, beginning with the family and religious societies, then all the rest - availability of goods, abundance of technical resources applied to daily life, a certain level of material well-being [benessere] - will prove unsatisfying and in the end contemptible. The Lord clearly says this in the Gospel, when he calls the attention of all to the true hierarchy of values: "For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?" (Mt 16:26) True development, in keeping with the specific needs of the human being-man or woman, child, adult or old person-implies, especially for those who actively share in this process and are responsible for it, a lively awareness of the value of the rights of all and of each person. It likewise implies a lively awareness of the need to respect the right of every individual to the full use of the benefits offered by science and technology. On the internal level of every nation, respect for all rights takes on great importance, especially: the right to life at every stage of its existence; the rights of the family, as the basic social community, or "cell of society"; justice in employment relationships; the rights inherent in the life of the political community as such; the rights based on the transcendent vocation of the human being, beginning with the right of freedom to profess and practice one's own religious belief. On the international level, that is, the level of relations between States or, in present-day usage, between the different "worlds," there must be complete respect for the identity of each people, with its own historical and cultural characteristics. It is likewise essential, as the Encyclical Populorum Progressio already asked, to recognize each people's equal right "to be seated at the table of the common banquet," instead of lying outside the door like Lazarus, while "the dogs come and lick his sores" (cf. Lk 16:21). Both peoples and individual must enjoy the fundamental equality which is the basis, for example, of the Charter of the United Nations Organization: the equality which is the basis of the right of all to share in the process of full development. In order to be genuine, development must be achieved within the framework of solidarity and freedom, without ever sacrificing either of them under whatever pretext. The moral character of development and its necessary promotion are emphasized when the most rigorous respect is given to all the demands deriving from the order of truth and good proper to the human person. Furthermore the Christian who is taught to see that man is the image of God, called to share in the truth and the good which is God himself, does not understand a commitment to development and its application which excludes regard and respect for the unique dignity of this "image." In other words, true development must be based on the love of God and neighbor, and must help to promote the relationships between individuals and society. This is the "civilization of love" of which Paul VI often spoke. SRS, 33
Material well-being is put in a hierarchy of values. It is not an end unto its own, rather it is intended to be at the service of man, “worthy of man.”
We are celebrating the ninetieth anniversary of the Encyclical Rerum Novarum on the eve of new developments in technological, economic and political conditions which, according to many experts, will influence the world of work and production no less than the industrial revolution of the last century. There are many factors of a general nature: the widespread introduction of automation into many spheres of production, the increase in the cost of energy and raw materials, the growing realization that the heritage of nature is limited and that it is being intolerably polluted, and the emergence on the political scene of peoples who, after centuries of subjection, are demanding their rightful place among the nations and in international decision-making. These new conditions and demands will require a reordering and adjustment of the structures of the modern economy and of the distribution of work. Unfortunately, for millions of skilled workers these changes may perhaps mean unemployment, at least for a time, or the need for retraining. They will very probably involve a reduction or a less rapid increase in material well-being [benessere] for the more developed countries. But they can also bring relief and hope to the millions who today live in conditions of shameful and unworthy poverty. It is not for the Church to analyze scientifically the consequences that these changes may have on human society. But the Church considers it her task always to call attention to the dignity and rights of those who work, to condemn situations in which that dignity and those rights are violated, and to help to guide the above-mentioned changes so as to ensure authentic progress by man and society. Laborem Exercens, 1
Pope John Paul II is calling for a new economic model that will bring work to a greater number of the earth’s population.
The phenomenon of abandoning the dying, which is spreading in developed societies, has various causes and many dimensions which you have carefully analyzed. There is a sociocultural dimension which is known as "concealing death": societies governed by the quest for material well-being see death as meaningless and, in order to eliminate the question it raises, sometimes propose its painless anticipation. The so-called "culture of well-being" [cultura del benessere] often involves an inability to see life's meaning in the situations of suffering and debilitation that accompany human beings as they approach death. This inability is all the worse when it occurs in a humanism closed to the transcendent, and is often expressed as a loss of trust in the value of the human person and life. Then there is a philosophical and ideological dimension which appeals to man's absolute autonomy, as if he were the author of his own life. In this perspective, the principle of self-determination comes into play, with even suicide and euthanasia being exalted as paradoxical forms of both self-assertion and self-destruction. There is also a medical and care-giving dimension which is expressed in a tendency to limit the treatment of the seriously ill, who are sent to health-care structures which cannot always provide personalized and humane care. The result is that the hospitalized person often loses contact with his family and is subject to a sort of technological invasiveness that humiliates his dignity. Lastly, there is the hidden pressure of the so-called "utilitarian ethic", which governs many advanced societies according to the criteria of productivity and efficiency: in this perspective, the seriously ill and the dying who need prolonged specialized treatment feel, in the light of the cost-benefit relationship, that they are a burden and a liability. This mentality prompts people to give less support to the final phase of life." John Paul II, Address to the Members of the Pontifical Academy For Life, 2
Long before Pope Francis, Pope John Paul II used the term “culture of well-being” [cultura del benessere]. This is not to be confused with well-being and prosperity, which are seen as goods. Rather, this “culture of well-being” is a absolutizing of material and physical well-being. Pope John Paul II addresses this issue in terms of dignity of life; however, the idea of the “culture of well-being” being one that seeks fulfillment in the material goods is quite easily seen in other pontificates.

Pope Benedict XVI

Charity in truth places man before the astonishing experience of gift. Gratuitousness is present in our lives in many different forms, which often go unrecognized because of a purely consumerist and utilitarian view of life. The human being is made for gift, which expresses and makes present his transcendent dimension. Sometimes modern man is wrongly convinced that he is the sole author of himself, his life and society. This is a presumption that follows from being selfishly closed in upon himself, and it is a consequence — to express it in faith terms — of original sin. The Church's wisdom has always pointed to the presence of original sin in social conditions and in the structure of society: “Ignorance of the fact that man has a wounded nature inclined to evil gives rise to serious errors in the areas of education, politics, social action and morals”. In the list of areas where the pernicious effects of sin are evident, the economy has been included for some time now. We have a clear proof of this at the present time. The conviction that man is self-sufficient and can successfully eliminate the evil present in history by his own action alone has led him to confuse happiness and salvation with immanent forms of material prosperity [benessere materiale] and social action. Then, the conviction that the economy must be autonomous, that it must be shielded from “influences” of a moral character, has led man to abuse the economic process in a thoroughly destructive way. In the long term, these convictions have led to economic, social and political systems that trample upon personal and social freedom, and are therefore unable to deliver the justice that they promise. As I said in my Encyclical Letter Spe Salvi, history is thereby deprived of Christian hope, deprived of a powerful social resource at the service of integral human development, sought in freedom and in justice. Hope encourages reason and gives it the strength to direct the will. It is already present in faith, indeed it is called forth by faith. Charity in truth feeds on hope and, at the same time, manifests it. As the absolutely gratuitous gift of God, hope bursts into our lives as something not due to us, something that transcends every law of justice. Gift by its nature goes beyond merit, its rule is that of superabundance. It takes first place in our souls as a sign of God's presence in us, a sign of what he expects from us. Truth — which is itself gift, in the same way as charity — is greater than we are, as Saint Augustine teaches. Likewise the truth of ourselves, of our personal conscience, is first of all given to us. In every cognitive process, truth is not something that we produce, it is always found, or better, received. Truth, like love, “is neither planned nor willed, but somehow imposes itself upon human beings”. Because it is a gift received by everyone, charity in truth is a force that builds community, it brings all people together without imposing barriers or limits. The human community that we build by ourselves can never, purely by its own strength, be a fully fraternal community, nor can it overcome every division and become a truly universal community. The unity of the human race, a fraternal communion transcending every barrier, is called into being by the word of God-who-is-Love. In addressing this key question, we must make it clear, on the one hand, that the logic of gift does not exclude justice, nor does it merely sit alongside it as a second element added from without; on the other hand, economic, social and political development, if it is to be authentically human, needs to make room for the principle of gratuitousness as an expression of fraternity. Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 34
For Benedict XVI, the true building up of mankind is based on the truth of man’s dignity and of God’s gift to mankind. Without a proper sense of God, mankind turns in on itself and loses sight of true hope based in God. This leads to purely material and earthly hopes and the conviction that mankind can liberate itself. Because this is not true, the current societies do not deliver on what they promise, rather they create more injustice in the search of securing the well-being in which they hope.
The world-wide diffusion of forms of prosperity [benessere] should not therefore be held up by projects that are self-centred, protectionist or at the service of private interests. Indeed the involvement of emerging or developing countries allows us to manage the crisis better today. The transition inherent in the process of globalization presents great difficulties and dangers that can only be overcome if we are able to appropriate the underlying anthropological and ethical spirit that drives globalization towards the humanizing goal of solidarity. Unfortunately this spirit is often overwhelmed or suppressed by ethical and cultural considerations of an individualistic and utilitarian nature. Globalization is a multifaceted and complex phenomenon which must be grasped in the diversity and unity of all its different dimensions, including the theological dimension. In this way it will be possible to experience and to steer the globalization of humanity in relational terms, in terms of communion and the sharing of goods. CinV, 42
A prosperous society [società del benessere], highly developed in material terms but weighing heavily on the soul, is not of itself conducive to authentic development. The new forms of slavery to drugs and the lack of hope into which so many people fall can be explained not only in sociological and psychological terms but also in essentially spiritual terms. The emptiness in which the soul feels abandoned, despite the availability of countless therapies for body and psyche, leads to suffering. There cannot be holistic development and universal common good unless people's spiritual and moral welfare is taken into account, considered in their totality as body and soul. Cin V, 76
True prosperity and well-being takes into consideration the whole human person.
I now leave each one of you to reflect on this “pomp of the devil” on this culture to which we say “no”. In fact, being baptized means, essentially, being emancipated, being freed from this culture. Today too we know a type of culture in which truth does not count; even if apparently people wish to have the whole truth appear, only the sensation counts, and the spirit of calumny and destruction. It is a culture that does not seek goodness, whose moralism is in reality a mask to confuse people, to create confusion and destruction. We say “no” to this culture, in which falsehood is presented in the guise of truth and information, against this culture that seeks only well-being [benessere materiale] and denies God. Moreover, from so many Psalms we are familiar with this opposition of a culture which seems untouchable by all the evils of the world, puts self above everyone, above God, whereas it is in fact a culture of evil, a dominion of evil. - Pope Benedict XVI, Lectio Divina, 11 June 2012
For Benedict XVI, the tendency to selfishness is part of the culture we reject at baptism to rather belong to the kingdom of God.

Pope Francis

“Each and every one of us”, the Pope continued, “needs to examine our conscience and find out what riches keep us from approaching Jesus on the road of life”. They are the riches that come from our culture. The first is “well-being” [benessere] or comfort or luxury he said. “The culture of well-being [la cultura del benessere] that gives us little courage, makes us lazy and selfish”. We think comfort is enough. He referred to a possible dialogue between spouses: “No, no, no more than one child, no! Because then we can't go on vacation, we can't go here, we can't buy a house; no! It is all fine and good to follow Jesus but only to a certain point...”. “We are in love,” he said, “with temporal things”, while what Jesus offers is infinite. We like the temporary “because we are afraid of God's time”, the end of time. Wellness and transience are precisely the two riches of contemporary society that “prevent us from going forward”. On the other hand, the Pope's thought turned to the example of the “many men and women who had left their homelands as missionaries for their whole lives”, and to the “man men and women who have left their homes to get married and for their whole lives are working towards the infinite”. “This”, the Holy Father said, “to follow Jesus closely, is the definitive”. Pope Francis, Meditation on Morning Mass, May 27, 2013, reported by L'Osservatore Romano, Weekly ed. in English, n. 22, 29 May 2013.
From this synopsis, it is clear that Pope Francis does not equate the “culture of well-being” with well-being or prosperity per se. Rather, like popes before him, he is referencing the sinful attitude of egotism that becomes a culture and influences us.
The culture of comfort [cultura del benessere], which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people, makes us live in soap bubbles which, however lovely, are insubstantial; they offer a fleeting and empty illusion which results in indifference to others; indeed, it even leads to the globalization of indifference. In this globalized world, we have fallen into globalized indifference. We have become used to the suffering of others: it doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it’s none of my business! Pope Francis, Homily, Lampedusa, 8 July 2013
In English, the term is not translated with consistency, but in Italian it is clearly the same concept of the culture of well-being [cultura del benessere].
In our time humanity is experiencing a turning-point in its history, as we can see from the advances being made in so many fields. We can only praise the steps being taken to improve people’s welfare [benessere] in areas such as health care, education and communications. Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 52
Well-being [benessere] in and of itself is a good.
In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity [cultura del benessere] deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us. EG, 54
Here Pope Francis is referring to the sinful culture that serves egotism and only immediate and hedonistic ends without a reference to spiritual values and to other people. Again, the term is consistent in Italian “cultura del benessere” but not in English, here translated as “culture of prosperity.”
If we really want to achieve a healthy world economy, what is needed at this juncture of history is a more efficient way of interacting which, with due regard for the sovereignty of each nation, ensures the economic well-being [benessere economico] of all countries, not just of a few. EG, 206
Economic well-being for all and not just a few is the opposite of the culture of well-being that seeks one’s own good without regard to anyone else.

It seems consistent with the gospel that the Church and her leaders would call people’s attention to the danger of absolutizing well-being, of putting one’s hope only in economic gain. The Church has never opposed prosperity and well-being when this is achieved in a human way that respects all. She has and ever will call with the voice of conscience attention to where society has let well-being become a god. This is not as much Marxist or socialist as it is humanistic, defending the dignity of all people.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Treat of Hallowe'en

Happy All Saints' Eve! Happy All Hallows Eve! Happy All Hallows Even! Happy All Hallows E'en! Happy Hallowe'en! Happy Hallowmas Eve!

Let's play trick or treat!

Trick! Get distracted from your eternal destiny as a saint by celebrating tonight as a spook-fest and concentrating on (limited and already conquered) powers of darkness, letting Satan trick you into thinking he can intimidate you and scare you as if he were God's equal.

Treat! Remember your eternal destiny and that God not only calls you to be a saint but he promises to make you one (1 Thes 5:23-24) by celebrating tonight as a holy-day. You can still dress up and have candy, either by dressing as something dark, remembering that Jesus has over come all evil and gives us the ability to as well, or by dressing as a saint. And candy and treats are as equally valid on feast days too! Remember, liturgically speaking, the Solemnity of All Saints begins this evening.

Okay, now you pick. Trick or treat?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Full Measure of God's Grace

I was struck by this morning's first reading from Ephesians 4:7-16:

Grace was given to each of usaccording to the measure of Christ's gift.Therefore, it says:
He ascended on high and took prisoners captive; he gave gifts to men.
What does 'he ascended' mean except that he also descendedinto the lower regions of the earth?The one who descended is also the one who ascendedfar above all the heavens,that he might fill all things.
And he gave some as Apostles, others as prophets,others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers,to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry,for building up the Body of Christ,until we all attain to the unity of faithand knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhoodto the extent of the full stature of Christ,so that we may no longer be infants,tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teachingarising from human trickery,from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming.Rather, living the truth in love,we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ,from whom the whole Body,joined and held together by every supporting ligament,with the proper functioning of each part,brings about the Body's growth and builds itself up in love.
Normally we are so caught up in looking at this reading as being about the various ministries raised up by Jesus Christ that we completely miss the main point Paul makes in the beginning about grace.

Let's hear that first verse again. "Grace was given to each of us according to the full measure of Christ's gift." In Greek it is "Ἑνὶ δὲ ἑκάστῳ ἡμῶν ἐδόθη χάρις κατὰ τὸ μέτρον τῆς δωρεᾶς τοῦ Χριστοῦ." Literally this means "To each one of us has been given the grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ." As in English, so in Greek, "the gift of Christ" can be either, "Christ's gift," i.e. whatever Christ chooses to give (which may tempt us to think that Christ is arbitrary and plays favorites), or "the gift that is Christ." Given the context that Christ is to "fill all things" and that "we all" are to "attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood to the extent of the full stature of Christ," again all of us not some of us, the reading seems pretty clear. Though Christ has given different ministries of service and hence different "graces" to different people, we are all given the same measure of grace to attain to perfect maturity in Christ Jesus, a measure as deep as the infinity of the Godhead, everlasting and immeasurable, as is the height and depth and length and width of the love of God, who has given us himself by giving us Christ Jesus (cf. Eph 3:18). Truly then, by not sparing Christ Jesus, but rather giving him up for me and to me (especially in the Eucharist), God the Father has truly graced me with all things besides along with gracing me with the gift that is Jesus (cf. Rom 8:32 the Greek uses "χαρίσεται" "to give graciously, give freely, bestow" i.e. "to grace" where most modern translations use "give".). We remember that "grace builds upon nature and perfects it," according to the scholastic axiom. Therefore, in giving me Jesus, the Father has given me every grace according to the fullness of His very Godhead, not only in regard to my own sanctification - how I can fail to become a saint is now only a matter of what can stand in the way of my receiving the full measure of this grace, my vices and sins and especially my unbelief - but also in regard to the sanctification and salvation of everyone else. This seems a bold statement even as I think it and write it, but I am reminded by the upcoming feast of All Saints that the intercession of the saints indeed distributes to others grace from Christ as if it were the possession of the saints because Christ has indeed shared with them his salvific mission. They are completely united in him. Won't I, then, in heaven, and certainly more perfectly than here below, be one who distributes to others grace from Christ? Then what is to say that very role does not start here? Why else would the Church ask its members to lift up prayers of petition and intercession for themselves and for the world?

"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened." Mt 7:7-8. How true this is when one is asking for the good of others just as one has already received in Christ as much grace as the depths of God himself!