Month: April 2015

HOW CAN YOU… BELIEVE THIS STUFF?

By Susan Francesconi
A reflection inspired by last Sunday's readings, specifically, “The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” —1 John 3:1b
This reflection first appeared on Susan's blog, The Good Disciple.


SPACE_NEBULA_STARS

HOW CAN YOU, AN OTHERWISE NORMAL AND INTELLIGENT PERSON, BELIEVE THIS STUFF?

Last month on Facebook I happened upon a lively conversation between my friend—a respected environmental activist—and his friends, on the relevance of religion in today’s world.

In his original post my friend made a proclamation of faith stating he would persist in his practice of Catholicism—which he strongly identifies with values of charity and justice—and partake in the sacraments as is his right, despite what he called the antithetical “contempt for the lives of their fellow humans” exhibited by certain Catholic Cardinals (i.e. the largely dismissed, but widely quoted Burke). If I could have “liked” his post a thousand times I would have.

I did not know my friend was religious, or Catholic for that matter. But what followed was a series of challenges to his (and my) belief system, some of which may have been driven by curiosity or a sincere desire to understand, but my sense was that most of the challengers’ questions were based on the logical conclusion that “it doesn’t take a creed or cross to understand the difference between right and wrong” (quote paraphrased from the conversation). This statement is a sad reminder to me that for many, the beauty and vibrancy of faith and religion is lost, and the grandeur of God* that surrounds and saturates every waking hour and all of creation has been hijacked by moralists and functionalists.

My friend responded with the utmost kindness, patience and clarity to his readers’ questions such as whether religious institutions teach anything that cannot be found in the writings of great philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, Kant and Hume. My friend provided personal experiences from his younger days and concluded that being educated in philosophy does not make one a moral being, impart a desire to care for others, increase empathy, or instill a love or reverence for other humans or creation.

Another reader opined that religion is the source of authoritarian power against poor, helpless masses. He challenged my friend to name one thing, other than religious doctrine, that a church can offer which cannot be found elsewhere. My friend pointed to the radical examples of faith from people like Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Tom Berry and Paul Mayer, and questioned his friend’s premise that the presence of secular moral teachings that parallel those of Jesus indicate Christianity has run its course and is obsolete. He also noted that the actual cause of the world’s problems are money and power, both of which are capable of contaminating any institution including government, religion, education, media, and business. Of these, he said, “Christianity at least has values and beliefs around which one can build a life and community.”

Believers are frequently confronted with questions like these, which seem to ask “How can you, an otherwise normal and intelligent person, believe this stuff? It gets tiresome. But, in many cases, I think people really want to know what makes believers, believe. I have to admit, if I did not know God and was standing on the side of “I can be a good person without religion” I would have questions for my believing friends, too. It’s true.

But the purpose of religion is not to teach us how to live a “goal-filled life characterized by moral direction,” as one of my friend’s readers suggested. The purpose of religion is union with God; the act of religion is grounded in love of God, the creator, the higher power, or the “something greater” sensed by many people. Religion is God-centered, not self-improvement centered. Why do we do this? Because we want to know God, and when one has an experience of divine presence and abiding love (which by the way happens all the time if one is attentive), it’s pretty hard to understand how all people aren’t actively seeking the same.

At some point in life, maybe as a child, maybe as an adult, maybe at the point of death, believers come to see that regardless of our imperfections, God loves us with a radical love. And as author Cathleen Falsani writes in my new favorite book, Disquiet Time, “God loves me. Just as I am. (…) God fights for me. God pursues me. God never gives up on me. God never stops loving me.” (Grant and Falsani 2014)**

The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. —1 John 3:1b

This personal knowledge of God’s deep abiding love does not arrive by stork or magic or by lightning. People of all faith traditions have devoted their entire lives to the quest of knowing God. Spiritual practice is work; that is why it is called a practice. It requires conscious awareness, detachment and a decision to forego functionalist thinking, to follow that nagging “what if?” and traverse the jagged, unknown regions of life.

When we walk the earth with wonder and revere the miracle and dignity of every man, woman and child, every living creature, our planet and the universe, we make room for God and our hearts fill to the brim. It is entirely possible to become aware of God’s grace, God’s full-out mercy, and God’s limitless generosity. Here’s how: Remain open. You are beloved. Accept it like a soaking rain. This is the most profound statement of faith anyone can make. And the fact that one can deny it does not make it any less true. Sure, it is possible to be a good person without religion. And, let’s be honest. It’s damn hard to be good all the time. But religious people believe there is more to life than being good.

 

*God’s Grandeur

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

—Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ: Poems and Prose (Penguin Classics, 1985)

** Grant, Jennifer, and Cathleen Falsani, eds. 2014. Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels. Jericho Books. page 6.

Susan Francesconi is “this close” to earning her MAPS degree from CTU later this summer. She is a faith blogger (thegooddisciple.me) developer of a liturgical art ministry website (artinthesanctuary.com), citizen of the world, and student of life striving to generate something good. Susan lives in New Jersey with her husband of 30 years, and Rosie, who is the cutest dog ever.

 

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The Chapel of Resurrection

Introduction to the poem:
The Church of the Immaculate Conception near the Piazza Barberini in Rome is the site of one of the Capuchin Bone Chapels. It is composed of 5 chapels: the first chapel reminds the visitor that, “As you are now, we once were and as we are now you will be.” Then there are three chapels each composed focusing on one major bone type… the femur, skull, and pelvis. The final chapel, the Chapel of the Resurrection, has at its center a picture of the Resurrection of Lazarus rather than a picture of Christ’s Resurrection.

The Chapel of the Resurrection

Bone Church

david hirt poem pdf-page-001

The poet, Br. David Hirt, OFM, Cap., professed his perpetual vows in July of 2013. He graduated with an AB from Wabash College, received an MFA from Wayne State University in Scenic Design, graduated with an MDiv from CTU
in 2013 and is currently doing the summer Christian Spirituality Program at Creighton University. After graduating from CTU he spent a year and a half at St. Lawrence Seminary High School as a Spiritual Director and Campus Minister and is currently the Activities Coordinator at St. Ben’s Community Meal in Milwaukee. He is a poet and an artist.

Fifty Days and a Little Fire

A Poem by Marci Madary

Fifty days and a little fire-page-001

Marci Madary, CTU DMin. student, fell in love with poetry when she was a child and began writing poems during her teenage years.  In her undergraduate studies, she majored in English education.  Marci is currently an Affiliation Co-Minister with the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, but still enjoys reading and writing poetry to express who she is as a woman, mother, and child of God.

In Our Time

Golden anniversaries are occasions for great celebrations, honoring the life and spirit it takes to make it to the fifty year mark. Anniversaries ask us to celebrate what has been, but also to look forward to the new and exciting things that are not yet. 2015 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the promulgation of Nostra Aetate, the Declaration of the Church to Non-Christian Religions. Nostra Aetate clearly outlines the vision of the Council Fathers for building lasting intentional, mutual relationships with people of various faith traditions.  The Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops along with the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America are working together to commemorate this pivotal occasion in the life of the Church with a three day conference, “Nostra Aetate: Celebrating Fifty Years of Dialogue with Jews and Muslims”. In our time, scholars and religious leaders from three monotheistic traditions—Christianity, Islam, and Judaism—are able to come together to rejoice in the fruits borne of interreligious dialogue.

Nostra Aetate calls upon the Catholic faithful to strive beyond mere toleration of the religious other, toward honoring the human dignity of the other through encounter, mutuality, and friendship. In our time, Catholics are able to live more deeply into their faith commitments by sharing with and learning from the diverse nature of the human family.

This celebration is important not only because we need to take the time to reflect and recognize the great strides in friendship that have been made through dialogue, but also to think critically about the future of interreligious dialogue and the fruits it bears. In our time, the diversity of voices critically engaged with the religious other can be heard and respected.

While the strides the Catholic Church has made over the past 50 years to nurture friendship and mutuality among practitioners of differing religious traditions has enabled dialogue to flourish, the work is not finished. Interreligious Dialogue is a process. It is not always easy, but it is on the journey from stranger to friend that the fruits of dialogue and encounter shine forth. Nostra Aetate is the tool that allows faithful Catholics to engage the religious other with love, without fear. In our time, it takes courage and strength to speak out against religious persecution, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia.

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council of Interreligious Dialogue, will give the opening night keynote lecture, “The Catholic Church in Dialogue with Islam Since the Promulgation of Nostra Aetate.” Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York will give keynote lectures about the Church’s relationship with Jewish people, both internationally and nationally. Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, and Rabbi Noam Marans as respondents to the keynote addresses, respectively. In our time, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders and theologians are able to listen to one another and respond with thoughtful insights and critiques.

As the years go by, and we are ever farther away from the Council, and can sometimes lose the momentum of the Spirit ripping through the Second Vatican Council, we must look back in order to direct the course for the future.  Notably Fr. Thomas Stransky, CSP, who was present during the crafting of Nostra Aetate at the Second Vatican Council, will be giving a presentation about his experience, “From One Who Was There: The Crafting of Nostra Aetate.” This testimony of the creation of Nostra Aetate is invaluable for the those just beginning their engagement with interreligious dialogue, as well as the seasoned dialogue veteran. In our time, we must remember our past while looking to the future.

Currently, Pope Francis is the leading voice for an increased “culture of encounter.” Introduced to the world by Cardinal Tauran in March of 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio took the name of St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis not only cared deeply for the poor, but he also engaged in (what we would now label) dialogue with the religious other. In our time, Pope Francis embodies the spirit of St. Francis and is able embrace a Jewish Rabbi and Muslim Imam at the Western Wall.

With the same spirit of friendship and encounter the Council Fathers espoused, you are invited to join the celebration of the golden anniversary of Nostra Aetate. If you are not able to make it to Washington, DC for the conference, please follow along via social media. Twitter @USCCBLive and hashtags #NostraAetate #InOurTime. In our time, the entire world is able to celebrate, engage, and dialogue in ways unprecedented in history.

Translated from the Latin, Nostra Aetate means “In Our Time”. How apt is that for a title concerning the relationships among followers of various religious traditions in an ever growing globalized community? Though Nostra Aetate was written in the 1960’s, the importance of the declaration is just as important today as it was then, even possibly more so.  In our time, the Church recognizes the inherent dignity, beauty, and truth in faith traditions the world around, “The Catholic Church rejects nothing which is true and holy in these religions.” (NA 2).

Julia McStravog, a recent CTU alum, is a  Program & Research Specialist with Secretariat of Ecumenical & Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Julia McStravog, a recent CTU alum, is a Program & Research Specialist with the Secretariat of Ecumenical & Interreligious Affairs of the
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops