Reflection

As you like it (or maybe not): Thoughts on Milton, Shakespeare, and Evil

fish

By Dustin S. Hungerford

The seventeenth century England in which John Milton found himself, was one of intense strife, turmoil, and disappointment. Milton, whose life is well know from myriad sources, had been a strong supporter of Cromwell’s rebellion against Charles I. This is partly evidenced by several of his published works which attempt a legitimation of the Protectorate. Of note among these was his book, The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, which generally defended regicide and explicitly defended the execution of Charles I.[1] It is safe to say that Milton, upon witnessing the restoration of Charles II, found himself in a world riddled with the question of good and evil. If the state he had so diligently labored for was ordained by God, how is it that it was fallen? Could Milton’s answer have been anything less than the all-pervasive influence of a global and self-willed evil?

What we know Shakespeare, as opposed to Milton, is almost completely restricted to his works.[2] Shakespeare, working several decades before Milton, wrote in a time of a much more settled (though, we will not say peaceful) England, that is to say, the major problems for Elizabeth’s crown came from outside the realm rather than from within. This England, however, was one no less plagued by the worry and doubt stemming from the radical conduct of Henry VIII and the messy succession which followed.

If, as has been suggested, Shakespeare was a secret Catholic,[3] the questions of the rights of the Church, the legitimacy of the Tudor throne, and the heinous acts of Tudor monarchs, while intensely personal, would not have been ones the Bard could have engaged head on.[4] We are left then to discern, from his plays and poems, what precisely this great playwright thought and believed.[5] To that effect, when we examine the ways in which Shakespeare addresses the question of evil, we get a subtler, less potent, and more classically Catholic answer than what we receive from Milton. It is not that Shakespeare failed to see the problems of evil in the world, it is that he simply was not prepared to hand power and responsibility for human ills wholly over to an abstract, inhuman, power. In this way, he denies an ontological status to evil which Milton was only too happy to grant.

When one picks up John Milton’s Paradise Lost for the first time, it may not be immediately evident that the system of thought (and ethics) it advocates, contravenes (or at least challenges) a classical Catholic approach to God, humanity, and evil (not surprising as he was a Protestant). The unprepared reader, however, can be so engrossed in the powerful and flashy Satan, whose arrogance and pride make him the first “Who durst defy th’ Omnipotent to arms,”[6] that they may well gloss over the implications of such a “puissant” antithesis (should we say anti-god?) to the “bright effluence of bright essence increate.”[7] The Satan of John Milton is a transplanted Angra Mainyu, heavily endowed with chthonic power and eternally engaged in subtle warfare against the Almighty. This is not the Satan of Dante’s Comedia, who “stands forth from mid-breast out of the ice,”[8] frozen at the lowest pit of Hell. This is a Satan ever mobile, ever active in his defiance of God, the God who dared exult the Son as the highest.[9]

At its core, Milton’s Satanic character operates as a larger gloss on the nature of evil itself. Is evil a thing? Is evil an ever moving reality which sneaks into the heart of man as he sleeps?[10] Or, does evil represent a more ancient or medieval view, a no-thingness? Is evil simply the privation of God and good?[11] While at first these questions seem innocuous, they have real implications for our view of the world. Not the least of which is the idea of God’s creative goodness and His supreme divine justice.

When one looks at the world Milton occupied, one in which, at least from Milton’s view, the bright and glorious reign of Protectorate England was dashed by the corrupt pertinacity of the Restoration, one is able to understand why it may have been an inevitability that he viewed evil as a corruptive and powerful force in its own right. Surely it was this evil that had destroyed all his hopes and dreams for the “Sceptered Isle.”

At the same time, Shakespeare’s work will represent a more classic approximation of the nature of evil and the way in which humans encounter that evil, not from without, but from within. The nature of evil in his characters highlights, not an external influencing presence (even in the evil Aaron of Titus Andronicus), but the internal failings and brokenness of the those characters. As expressed so eloquently by Mark Antony, it is the “evil that men do[12] (emphasis mine) that is the problem, rather than some formless evil that stalks the earth.[13]

For Milton, it seems very evident that evil itself has real existence. Evil is a functional outcome of the will of the human person, the subject of choice. Much as St. Thomas uses the angels in his Summa as a means of discussing human traits in a “frictionless” way, Milton uses the Satan of Paradise Lost as a means of speaking about evil in the world. In the face of the ever omnipotent and omnibenevolent God, Satan does not despair of a means of rebellion. He still has one thing with which to challenge God, the will. Turning to Beelzebub he says, “All is not lost; [this remains] the unconquerable Will, And study of revenge, immortal hate, And courage never to submit or yield.”[14] Milton reflects a certain Nominalism in constructing evil this way. As opposed to the Thomistic system, this evil does not emerge through privation, but rather through the direct choice of the will between contraries.[15] The will may directly choose to do what is evil, for the sake of evil. Thus humans, for the sake of nothing else but evil, can overthrow a righteous government (the Protectorate) and install an unrighteous government (the Monarchy). This ceases to be a function of God’s divine fiat and becomes the result of the pervasive power of evil to corrupt men in the world, enticing them to choose evil qua evil.

The seeming inability of God to respond to this evil, bound as He is by human free will, may be the reason that Milton’s depiction of God paints Him as a weakling. He is devoid of any effective potency outside the realm of Heaven, where often among “thick clouds and dark doth Heav’ns all-ruling Sire choose to reside, his Glory unobscur’d, And with the Majesty of darkness round covers his Throne; from whence deep thunders roar must’ring their rage, and Heav’n resembles Hell.”[16]

In reading Shakespeare, we discern a concept of evil that is not the presence of any “thing.” In fact, it is the absence of a “thing.” When we look at the hatred felt by Oliver against his brother Orlando in As You Like It, we are looking at the “absence” of fraternal love which should be naturally present within human families. Oliver goes as far as saying, “I hope I shall see an end of him (Orlando); for my soul, yet I know not why, hates nothing more than he.”[17]

There is a Thomistic realism in what Shakespeare does here. The defect is not contained in the act of the will, for the will perceives what it believes to be good and pursues that.[18] The defect is within the activity of the intellect in discerning and selecting an appropriate good to be pursued. The human being is incapable of pursuing evil qua evil, he merely pursues what he perceives to be a good.[19] When Oliver is saved by Orlando, his feelings are wholly transformed, his perception of the good is corrected, the evil (which was a privation in Oliver) is filled up with goodness. Evil, then, exists precisely in the refusal to be human. Oliver confirms this when, reflecting upon the man he was before reconciling with Orlando, he says, “for well I know he (meaning himself) was unnatural.”[20]

Were we to imagine Satan through the lens of Shakespeare, we would see a creature who is not free to roam the earth, tempting humanity to sin. He would not be Milton’s bold and heroic rebel, so much as a fool, a fool who obstinately rejects what would make him whole. Through his own pride, Satan deprived himself of Heaven. In this way he lost all goodness, all unity with the Most High, and thus it makes sense for him (in Milton’s words no less), in the presence of the faithful angels in Eden, to have “felt how awful goodness is, and saw Virtue in her shape how lovely, saw, and pined his loss.”[21]

In his encyclical Salvifici Doloris, Pope St. John Paul II took up the question of evil, relating it to human suffering. He states, quite pointedly, that “man suffers on account of evil, which is a certain lack, limitation or distortion of good,”[22] reinforcing the classical Catholic approach followed by St. Thomas. Human beings do not suffer because devils range the world tempting us in all things or because we are base creatures incapable of goodness, humans suffer “because of a good in which [they do] not share.”[23]

Ultimately, this good is God, but Pope St. John Paul goes on to teach that the privation of evil also amplifies suffering when it “cuts us off” from more particular goods, specifically goods that we “ought—in the normal order of things—to have a share in.”[24] This way of approaching evil always sees it in relation to the good.[25] Evil is never given free reign, it always exists in tension with the vision of perfection in which it can never participate. This vision of humanity, sees the human person as always an inherently good creation. Evil and suffering are the outcomes of our separation from God and, to their (evil’s and suffering’s) dismay, serve as a continual means of turning humanity towards true happiness and fulfillment in the Summum Bonum, that is, God.

When one considers the ideas put forth by these great men, one cannot, regardless of intellectual leanings, but be awed by their thought. However, in final consideration we have a system, which paints the picture of humanity as inherently susceptible to evil, enticed by it, even naturally evil, and plagued by the roaming and ravaging powers of darkness. They are even unable,  to turn to God, who is impotent to come to our aid because He must respect the free-will with which He Himself endowed us. On the other hand, we have a system which sees in the human person a primarily and inherently good creature. Through the problem of sin we are “cut off” from our natural relationship with God and goodness. This does not result in the creation of some all-powerful maleficent creature who  proceeds to tempt us, but the privation of our original and natural state. The project of humanness (and redemption) then, is the restoration of what has been taken away from us through sin. By this process of transforming evil into good, we are able to come, like Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor, to Herne’s Oak and declare, “I do begin to perceive that I am made into an ass.”[26] However, in Christ Jesus, I may yet become a saint.

[1] Barbara Lewalski, The Life of John Milton, (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2003), 224 & 231.

[2] Bill Bryson, Shakespeare (New York: Harper Collins, 2009), 33.

[3] See Claire Asquith, Shadowplay: The Hidden Beliefs and Coded Politics of William Shakespeare (New York: Public Affiars, 2005). See especially pages 90-104 where the nature of evil in Titus Andronicus is discussed.

[4] Bryson, Shakespeare, 48. See also pages 38-65.

[5] Bryson, Shakespeare, 48. See also pages 38-65.

[6] John Milton, Paradise Lost (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2005), I.51. Textual references are to book number and line number(s) of this edition.

[7] Milton, Paradise Lost, III.6. For what power can truly challenge the Almighty?

[8] Dante, Inferno (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989), XXXIV.28-29. Textual references are to canto number and line number(s) of this edition.

[9] Milton, Paradise Lost, V.657-665.

[10] Milton, Paradise Lost, IV.799-809.

[11] St. Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica I, vol. 1 of The Basic Writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, ed. Anton Pegis (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1997), q.5, a.4, respondeo; q. 49, a. 1, respondeo & a.3, ad. 2. See also, St. Thomas Aquinas. Summa Contra Gentiles III, vol. 2 of The Basic Writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, ed. Anton Pegis (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1997), III.vii.

[12] William Shakespeare, “Julius Caesar,” vol. 2 of The Riverside Shakespeare (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997), III.ii.75. Textual references are to page number, act number, scene number, and line number(s) of this edition.

[13] We are not, here, rejecting the existence of the Devil, only that he suffers from the same condition.

[14] Milton, Paradise Lost, I.106-109.

[15] Servais Pinckaers, O.P., The Sources of Christian Ethics (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1995), 337.

[16] Milton, Paradise Lost, II.263-268.

[17] William Shakespeare, “As You Like It,” vol. 1 of The Riverside Shakespeare (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997), 405, I.i.164-166. Textual references are to page number, act number, scene number, and line number(s) of this edition.

[18] Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, iii, iv, x, & xi.

[19] Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, iii. pg. 7-9.

[20] Shakespeare, As You Like It, 428, IV.iii.124.

[21] Milton, Paradise Lost, IV.845-849.

[22] Pope St. John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris, Encyclical on Human Suffering, Vatican website, accessed September 30, 2015, http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_letters/1984/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_11021984_salvifici-doloris.html, sec. 7.

[23] Pope St. John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris, sec. 7. Again, this is not to say that demons do not exist or do not tempt us, merely clarifying that what they do is tempt us away from a proper understanding of the good.

[24] Pope St. John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris, sec. 7. Perhaps food, water, land, the ability to conduct virtuous labor, etc.

[25] Pope St. John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris, sec. 7.

[26] William Shakespeare, “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” vol. 1 of The Riverside Shakespeare (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997), 95, V.v.119. Textual references are to page number, act number, scene number, and line number(s) of this edition.

Photo Credit: Flickr

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Fear in the Church

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I was already writing this blog post when a blog was posted by Archbishop Coleridge of Brisbane. I want to quote him here because he states from an inside perspective what I have been noticing from an outside perspective.

I’ve noticed as I’ve been paying attention to the synod that the issue of “fear” seems to keep coming up. There is a perceived fear of change and yet like Archbishop Coleridge I don’t believe fear is of God. I’ve always preferred the translation of being in awe of the Lord. I think fear limits our ability to be in awe of what God is capable of doing in our lives and in the church. No one likes change. I certainly do not. It’s terrifying at times because we don’t know what is going to happen. Human beings prefer not to be surprised. We want to be in control of what happens and it’s not as scary if we determine what happens. I certainly know I am not a huge fan of change and yet I’ve also learned that fear, in that it doesn’t allow change, keeps me from growing. It pushes God out of my life and puts me at the center. To be afraid I think is to put myself at the center because I am unable to trust in God.

Fear causes the deterioration of right and just relationships because we become consumed by a way of thinking that puts “me” first. It was this fear I believe Pope Francis spoke to while in this country. I think it would be a grave mistake if we were to so quickly forget the visit of our holy father. I have found myself reflecting deeply on his words and his actions while he was in this country. He arrived at a time when our nation and our church are becoming more and more polarized by ideological differences driven in part by fear. No one knew for sure what Francis’ message would be. Many thought he would come wagging his finger at the oppressive nature of western ideologies and the evils of unbridled capitalism. Yet in watching and listening to his speech to congress I found myself mystified by every word he was saying and which at times moved me to tears.

His speech was nothing less than prophetic. He stood in the midst of the center of power and spoke truth and love to power. Rather than scolding this nation he used our historical memory as a people to remind us of who we have been in the past, who we are today and calling us to become an even better version of ourselves in the future. He pointed out in no uncertain terms that these issues that divide us now we have overcome together in the past. He warned us of the path division will take us down and reminded us that moving forward as a nation we have to work together.

This is I think the hallmark of his papacy. It is a papacy that at its heart is driven by a spirituality of encounter. His words during his visit were powerful and thought provoking. However, his actions and his deeds were even more powerful. Taking his namesake to heart, like Saint Francis, this pope has an uncanny ability to pick people out in the crowd and to shine the light on them; people often turned away or rejected by society. He is drawn to them and in that encounter fear is driven out and love is allowed to flourish.

I think one of the major problems at the heart of our polarized nation and even our church is a fear of encountering the other. It’s a fear of being challenged in our beliefs or values. Maybe it’s even a fear of loving the other and allowing ourselves be loved and to be transformed. Something blocks our ability to meet the other where they are. Whatever it is I think one of the reasons why Pope Francis is so popular, even in the United States, is that he reminds us of who we are. He searches out the good in us and around us and reminds us of what we are capable of. In this I think the fear breaks down and we begin to stand in awe of what God is capable of in us and through us and in and through the church.

-Jason Salisbury

Quote found: (http://brisbanecatholic.org.au/articles/on-the-road-together-invective-fear-surprise)

Photo: Flickr

Why I Wear the Habit

by Frater Michael Brennan, O.Praem.
As a “youngish” religious, I find myself somewhere in the middle of this conversation of clerical
dress, which in my case includes my Norbertine habit.  Some have accused those that wear the
habit of being overly clerical or of wanting to draw attention to themselves.  I, myself, have been
accused of wearing the habit as a way of “hiding behind it.”  This accusation disturbed me and
continues to disturb me.

Recently, I was walking through Northwestern Hospital in my habit on my way to distribute
Eucharist to patients on the oncology floors.  Before reaching the escalator, a woman called out
to me and invited me to join her and her friend in conversation over coffee.  Naturally, I agreed;
both women shared their stories with me.  One is at the hospital holding vigil with her 18-month
old granddaughter, who is battling cancer.  The other woman is at the hospital holding vigil with
her 23-year old son, who is battling a rare reaction to previous medical treatment.  These two
women have become intimate friends over the last several weeks.  They found each other
because their loved ones were having surgery on the same day.  One was drawn to the other
because she was praying the rosary in the family waiting room during surgery.  This public
display of prayer drew them together.  Thus, they have been able to share prayer, coffee and
other means of support for one another over the last few weeks.

In this example, because of my habit—a public expression of our shared belief—I, too, was
drawn into their circle of support.  They felt comfortable sharing beautiful stories of their
struggles and their joys.  We concluded our brief encounter with shared prayer, hugs and
promises to hold one another in prayer.  First and foremost, I thank God for this opportunity to
encounter these women and to share our common faith.  I also thank my community for
encouraging me to wear the habit as a means of facilitating these chance encounters.

In closing, I recognize this is a sensitive issue for many women and men; I offer this story as
part of the conversation, with the recognition of the value and call inherent in each of the individual and communal decisions surrounding distinctive religious dress.
Frater Mike Brennan, O. Praem.

Blog author, Frater Mike Brennan, O. Praem., is an Mdiv student at CTU.

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.

 

The Call to be Prophetic Prisoners of Hope

This is an edited version of a talk given by Ernest J. Miller, FSC, to the Diversity Week Assembly at De La Salle High School in Concord, CA.

The Call to be Prophetic Prisoners of Hope

I am one humbly trying to fulfill my small role in the world as a Brother of the Christian Schools, as a teacher with a liberationist orientation, and assuredly as a Christian, because I don’t know how to be a Christian and not be concerned deeply about love, hope and justice.

I invite you to walk with me, to listen as well as you hear. I hope I say something that unsettles you, unnerves you, and even if for a moment, un-houses you.

I want to begin with Zechariah chapter 9 v. 11-12, to draw on its central theme as a frame for our reflection this morning.

And you, because of my blood covenant with you, I’ll release your prisoners from their hopeless cells. Come home, hope-filled prisoners! This very day I’m declaring a double bonus – everything you lost returned twice-over! (The Message)

I want to have a conversation with you about the call to be positioned as powerful prisoners of prophetic hope. The Book of Zechariah is a short, unfamiliar book to most, tuck away near the end of the Old Testament.

The prophet Zechariah’s message was addressed to those he described as prisoners of hope. These prisoners of hope had come up from slavery, the Babylonian exile, now back home struggling to complete rebuilding the Jewish temple. But obstacles were in their way, stopping them from completion.

The prophet, speaking for God, does not deny the challenges the people faced. He does not dance around their despair.

In verse 11, the prophet owns where they are: metaphorically describing their situation as hopeless cells, or in another version, waterless pits.

What Zechariah does is a crucial step to prophetic hope.  Publicly owning the despair.

You ask, “What does this scripture has to say to us today?”

Sisters and brothers, as individuals within community, you have the exhausting task to respond to Zechariah’s call to be prisoners of prophetic hope.

Publicly owning the trouble that comes from bigotry based another person’s gender, ethnicity, skin complexion, sexual orientation, income, or religion, indeed, owning all that disrespects the humanity, the dignity of other persons is a crucial step to prophetic hope. It opens us up to renewing the movement for community rooted in prophetic hope.

We are now living in a difficult moment in the history of the grand democratic experiment in the United States.

On child poverty, which affects a disproportionate number of brown and black children, the U.S. ranks 36 out of the top 41 wealthy nations in the world.

Something is wrong.

Protests following the grand jury decisions in the police killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner on Staten Island has largely died down. While each of these cases including Fruitvale represent a tragedy for all involved, the case that tears at my heart the most it is the death of Tamir Rice, the 12 year old boy with a toy gun in a Cleveland park, gun down by a police office in 2 seconds time.

But, as is often the case, there is still no full resolution or reconciliation in these cases. New York Times columnist Charles Blow writes: “The issue of police-community relations was raised but not solved. The memory of mistrust still wafts through the air like the smell of rot being carried by the breeze.”

Something is wrong.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are 939 active hate groups all stripes in the U.S. A hate group is defined as having beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.

hate map

Hate groups by state. http://www.splcenter.org/hate-map

Though it is a despairing moment in U.S. history because of the distance that still remains in achieving democracy, it is crucial that we continue to look for sources of light to sanctify our public life.

The Trappist monk and social activist Thomas Merton tells us:

Even saints cannot live with saints on this earth without some anguish, without some pain at the differences that come between them. There are two things which [people] can do about the pain of disunion with other [persons]. They can love or they can hate.

That is why you and I must hear the call to be prophetic prisoners of hope.

We must help our nation develop the grand vision of public life, which is to say how we live with one another, that we see articulated in the elegant prose and poetry of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, Dorothy Day, and Maya Angelou, among others, in whose work we find a democratic vista.

The Athenian thinker and social critic, Socrates, expresses how vital self-criticism is when he pronounces in line 38a of Plato’s Apology, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

Here, Plato’s Socrates is concerned with both the life of the individual as well as the community to which one belongs.

My hope is to urge you towards embracing criticism of self and society with a Socratic, jazz-infused democratic sensibility, wrestling with this fundamental question: whether the grand Christian and democratic traditions of “struggle for decency and dignity, the struggle for freedom and justice” can be both sustained and expanded across our city, our nation, and our world.

The goal of such Socratic questioning and critical exchange is democratic paideia—the cultivation of an active, informed citizenry—in order to preserve and deepen our democratic experiment.

Cornel West eloquently describes this Socratic, jazz-infused sensibility this way:

“The interplay of individuality and unity is not one of uniformity and unanimity imposed from above but rather of conflict among diverse groupings that reach a dynamic consensus subject to questioning and criticism.  As with a soloist in a jazz quartet, quintet or band, individuality is promoted in order to sustain and increase the creative tension with the group—a tension that yields higher levels of performance to achieve the aim of the collective project.”

Recognize the distinction between individualism and individuality—it is rooted in community, it seeks dialogue and engenders respect amidst the diversity that is humanity.

Theologian Shawn Copeland from Boston College in her theological work tries to

Shawn Copeland

unmask the thought-systems that would allow for the stigmatizing, identifying, and eradicating of whole groups of persons—persons deemed different, inferior, dangerous. Indeed, her theological vocation may be described as a defense of the vulnerable, not only from invisibility in society, but from evils that render them all-too-visible in the body public: that is, racism, sexism, and classism. (Pramuk, Horizons)

Merton offers this image: the human person as a body of broken bones. “As long as we are on earth,” Merton writes, “the love that unites us will bring us suffering by our very contact with one another, because this love is the resetting of a Body of broken bones.

To reset this Body of broken bones, we must become prisoners of prophetic hope.

The unmasking of systemic colorism, classism, religious bias, homophobia, and sexism is a task that all us—black, white, yellow, red, and brown, gay and straight, rich and poor, of whatever religion, no matter bank account size—must shoulder together.

Each issue demands attention. For now, allow me permission to dwell on the question of “race” for a moment. I believe that “race” is arguably the most nettlesome of issues.

Copeland tells us: “The most mundane as well as the most significant tasks and engagements are racially charged—grocery shopping, banking, registering for school, inquiring about church membership, using public transportation, hailing a taxi- cab, even celebrating the Eucharist or seeking a spiritual director. We  see race. . . . We see and we interpret.”

So, what do we see when we see “race”? What do we see?

It’s about the color line. We’ve heard the experience of those who are perceived as too “white” or light-skinned by some in their brown and black communities. Look at black-oriented music videos and see colorism upfront.

This conundrum of “race” results from the fumes and odor of the Enlightenment discourse (beginning in the late 17th century) beginning with Rene Descartes.

Race is a social construct, an ideological, cultural construct.

Race has no biological element. To the degree there are those who believe race does have a biological dimension, it is because we have awarded it one. Over history race has taken geography, language, and vague impressions as its basis.

“Race,” writes the great historian Nell Irvin Painter, “is an idea, not a fact.” Indeed. Race does not need biology. Race only requires pseudo-science looking for a reason to fix certain people into categories to claim a false sense of superiority. (T. Coates, The Atlantic)

Yet, the paradox is race remains a phenomenon we must confront. Yes, it is a social construct but it’s institutionalized.

Copeland puts it succinctly: “The ability to read race accurately, to categorize people (black or white, red or brown) has become crucial for social behavior and comfort; the inability to identify accurately a person’s race incites a crisis.” (Horizons)

As I prepare to conclude, let me offer these final thoughts.

First and foremost, keep examining self and community.

Second, a Catholic school, especially a La Salle school must be a place where justice education is a priority. Listen to what Brother Alvaro Echeverria, FSC, former Superior General of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, writes:

Education for justice should not be merely a specific subject area but a common thread that runs through the whole
curriculum. This common thread should be reinforced by daily practice within the school. It is important to create a kind of micro-climate which offers an alternative, miniature model that does not support the anti-values which society often presents to us: … Otherwise the school runs the risk of duplicating the system and preparing students for a society of privileges … where there is no solidarity. It is precisely this situation which we have to try to avoid … (Pastoral Letter, 2003)

If education for justice is to truly take hold and diversity matters are justice issues, it must be a commitment of the whole educational community. It is not just for religious studies to consider. Education for justice cuts cross disciplines; it a concern for the whole academy.

Third, the great activist and historian W.E.B DuBois gives us two questions to consider, joining the mix of other questions we have:

What does honesty do in the face of deception? Deception defined as false, a fraud, a ruse.

What does decency do in the face of insult?

Finally, my sisters and brothers, you must possess courage. You have to be courageous to think critically, to cut against the grain. Professor West asserts: “Recognize that it takes more courage to examine the dark corners of your own soul than for a solider to fight on the battlefield.”

Part of the challenge for this generation is that we have too many imitations, not enough originals—too many folks just trying to fit in because we hear that success and fitting is adjusting to the status quo. Be attentive to acquiring a Disneyland mentality where we perceive the sun is always shining and everybody is smiling. Be wary of a living in a culture of superficiality.

But Martin King and Dorothy Day and all those folks in that sculpture would say don’t be well adjusted to injustice; don’t be well adapted to indifference. Be like Martin and Dorothy and all those giants, maladjusted to bigotry and all forms of injustice.

Courage is the great enduring virtue that allows one to realize other virtues such as love, hope and faith. Courage requires knowledge that transforms who you are. The struggle for freedom and justice, for decency and dignity is a long-distance race. As Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaims, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.”

It is up to you to say yes to committing yourself for the long haul to be prophetic prisoners of hope. It is a long-distance run.

 

Ernest J. Miller, FSC, CTU D. Min student, gave a version of this talk to the Diversity Week Assembly at De La Salle High School in Concord, CA.

Ernest J. Miller, FSC, a CTU D. Min student, gave a version of this talk to the Diversity Week Assembly at De La Salle High School in Concord, CA.

Rahner at the Oscars: A Sacramentology of Film

by Stephanie Cherpak Clary
Moving pictures—shadows and light—like a magic trick, done in plain sight. Why do we love them? Why do we care when they’re just moving pictures that aren’t really there?” –Neil Patrick Harris
neil-patrick-harris-87-academy-awards-show-gi

Neil Patrick Harris hosted the 87th Academy Awards

Neil Patrick Harris opened the 2015 Academy Awards with an entertaining, musical number that begun by asking just why we all care so much about what was being celebrated that night—actors, actresses, directors, cinematographers, make-up and costume designers, editors, musicians, writers, artists, and more. The vast majority of us do not work in the production industry and will never attend the Oscars as either nominee or guest. Still, many of us care deeply for the work honored at this ceremony because it has entered our theaters, our family rooms, our minds, and our hearts. It has awakened our emotions. It has touched our lives. But, just why does an audio-visual story represented on a screen affect us so significantly? By using the framework of Karl Rahner’s sacramentology, one can see how a categorical expression of existential human experience sacramentalizes these experiences into something that can be meaningful for all who encounter it.

Rahner’s Sacramentology

Karl Rahner’s theology of sacrament begins with assertion of the church as the basic sacrament of Christianity:

As the ongoing presence of Jesus Christ in time and space, as the fruit of salvation which can no longer perish, and as the means of salvation by which God offers his salvation to an individual in a tangible way and in the historical and social dimension, the church is the basic sacrament.[1]

The church (as sacrament) does not cause Jesus to exist historically or cause Christ’s resurrection. These are events that have already taken place—historical realities to which the present existence of the church points and simultaneously pushes forward into a future reality by its very existence. Therefore, by saying that the sacrament of the church does not cause the initial existence of Jesus of Nazareth and the risen Christ, one is not saying that the church has no effect on the promulgation of these realities and their subsistence into the future, but is, instead, suggesting that the church is a categorical expression of an event (God’s revelation) that is already taking place and, aided by this categorical expression, will continue to take place in the future.[2]

By understanding the church as the basic sacrament, with past, present, and future dimensions[3] (i.e., the result and proof of the historical Jesus and risen Christ which already existed and exists; the present, tangible manifestation of Christ’s existence and message; the foundation for the continuation of Christ’s existence and message into the future), one

Karl Rahner

Karl Rahner

establishes a framework with which to view “the sacraments” as meant by the typical use of the term within Catholic doctrinal theology—the seven sacraments of the church (i.e., Baptism, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Eucharist, Orders, Matrimony, and Anointing). In the same way that the church does not cause the existence and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the sacraments are not magic rites causing miraculous events to occur. Rather, the sacraments are rituals categorically expressing “existentially fundamental moments of human life,”[4] moments filled with God’s grace regardless of whether they take place within or outside of the sacramental ritual. Rahner explains:

We are not people who have nothing to do with God, who do not receive grace and in whom the event of God’s self-communication does not take place until we receive the sacraments. Wherever a person accepts one’s life and opens oneself to God’s incomprehensibility and lets oneself fall into it, and hence wherever one appropriates one’s supernatural transcendentality in interpersonal communication, in love, in fidelity, and in a task which opens one even to the inner-worldly future of humanity and of the human race, there is taking place the history of the salvation and the revelation of the very God who communicates Godself to humanity, and whose communication is mediated by the whole length and breadth and depth of human life.[5]

What the sacraments do is express these experiences of God in a way that is tangible in time and space. Additionally, like the expression of the church as the sacrament of Christ’s presence, the sacraments not only celebrate the ongoing existence of transcendental experiences of God, but also promote future, similar experiences. After recognizing God’s action and presence in the seven sacraments of the church, one should be led to recognize God’s action and presence during other times “when a person believes, when one hopes, when one loves, when one turns to God, when one turns away from one’s sin, when one acquires an inner and positive relationship to one’s death, when one opens oneself in eternal love to another person in an ultimate way,”[6]as well as amidst any other number of existentiell[7] human experiences. It is the act of existentially and categorically expressing existentiell and transcendental experiences that sacramentalizes universal life events into the faith-based, faith-filled, and faith-promoting rituals commonly known as the seven sacraments.[8]

Film as Sacramentalizing Human Experience

Rahner’s strongly anthropological theology allows film to be sacramental because it reveals existential, human experiences. S. Brent Plate highlights this idea in his reflection on Man With A Movie Camera, saying,

by focusing on the profane, the everyday and taking the events to the editing room, the film gives insight into the extraordinary events of life: birth, death, love, community. . . . It is only through the world’s re-creation that the sacredness of such profane activities can occur.[9]

In the same way that a sacrament sacramentalizes an event of God’s grace, calling attention to, expressing, and affecting the reality of the event, film has the capacity to sacramentalize life events. The capturing of oft occurring events of human life onto a screen, within specific constraints of time and space, from particular distances, angles, and perspectives, sacramentalizes these events for no other reason than that they are purely human. Identifying with the events expressed in the film and recognizing the commonalities amongst humanity represented by the sacramentalized events allows one to observe and experience these events in a different way than when experienced in reality. It is because of this sacramentalizing of existential events of human life that a conversation between film and theology is possible.

By approaching study of film and theology in with this methodological framework, one avoids forcefully thrusting a reading of God’s presence into a film’s narrative or lying a theological theme over a film as a filter through which it should be viewed. Instead, the film is encountered on its own, often atheological, terms and theological connections are allowed to be raised by the film’s sacramentalizing of human life. This method of film as sacramentalizing requires one to first discuss the way that the film cinematically represents the existential life event(s) in question and then to discuss the suggestions and implications this representation has for theology.

Near the end of Neil Patrick Harris’s 2015 Oscars’ opening number, he aims to answer the question with which he opened the performance: why do we care so much about films when we know that their stories are carefully planned and presented representations of reality, but nonetheless, representations. His answer, “Moving pictures—millions of pixels on screens—moving pictures, they may not be real life, but they’ll show you what life really means,” proposes nothing advertently theological; but, because it speaks to the experience of being human, of finding meaning in life, and of seeking truth, it suggests that our films are so important to us because they are nothing short of sacramental.

—–

[1] Karl Rahner, Foundations of Christian Faith: An Introduction to the Idea of Christianity (New York: Crossroad, 1978), 412.

[2] Lambert J. Leijssen, “Rahner’s Contribution to the Renewal of Sacramentology,” Philosophy & Theology 9, no. 1-2 (January 1, 1995): 210.

[3] Rahner, referring to Thomas Aquinas, explains how sacraments are simultaneously signa rememorativa, demonstrativa, and prognostica (Rahner, Foundations of Christian Faith, 428-429).

[4] Ibid., 415.

[5] Ibid., 411; Quotations throughout this paper have been edited for inclusive language.

[6] Ibid., 429.

[7] “The two spellings, ‘existential’ and ‘existentiell,’ follow the German usage. ‘Existential,’ as in Rahner’s phrase ‘supernatural existential,’ refers to an element in humanity’s ontological constitution precisely as human being, an element which is constitutive of one’s existence as human prior to one’s exercise of freedom. It is an aspect of concrete human nature precisely as human. ‘Existentiell,’ as in Rahner’s phrase ‘existentiell Christology,’ refers to the free, personal and subjective appropriation and actualization of something which can also be spoken of in abstract theory or objective concepts without such a subjective and personal realization” (Ibid., 16, footnote).

[8] Leijssen, “Rahner’s Contribution to the Renewal of Sacramentology,” 206-207, 214-215

[9] Ibid., 52-53.

photoStephanie Cherpak Clary is an M.A. Student in Systematic Theology at CTU, focusing her studies at the intersection of film and theology.

Now is an Acceptable Time: A Challenging Ash Wednesday Reflection

by John DeCostanza

Working together, then,
we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.
For he says:

In an acceptable time I heard you,
and on the day of salvation I helped you.

Behold, now is a very acceptable time;
behold, now is the day of salvation.[1]

Now.  This is it.  The acceptable time, the day of salvation, the moment at hand, NOW Paul tells us.  These words from today’s second reading were written for me and they were written for you.  The call for a “clean heart” as the psalmist tells us is never more true than this moment at the beginning of this Lent.  As I write, NOW would be an acceptable time for many of us to become aware of the machinery at work around us and I ask you to consider this as your walk to the cross this Lent.

The machinery I refer to has brought the names and stories of men who lost their lives tragically, needlessly into our minds and hearts in these past few years – Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and countless others.  If there is a name you don’t recognize here, commit to understanding why.  It may just be that you do not live with the reality that ultimately claimed their lives.  Perhaps you, or your son, or your neighbor, or your friend has never been read as a threat before being understood as a person.  You have been privileged.  NOW is an acceptable time to begin to understand why that happens to African-Americans and Latinos at a staggering rate compared their white peers.  NOW is also an acceptable time to ask yourself why your life looks different than theirs.  I know many whites like me have been pained at succession of black lives lost to police violence. One friend envies my pain.  He has nothing left to lament.  He is an African-American male.  We are the same age.  “Oppression feels normal,” he said recently.

Behold, now is a very acceptable time.

Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God.[2]

Many hearts have been shred anew by the recent punishing reminders of violence fueled by fear and hatred.  The news of this past week’s murder of three Muslim college students in Chapel Hill, NC should pain all of us.  The beheadings of 21 Coptic Christians should be a reminder that unbridled evil can emerge from the hearts of humans.  It is true that the intersection of race and religion is a complex crossroads, but we cannot move beyond atrocity without moving through it.  Rending hearts in this season means recognizing our common humanity even in the face of such pain.  As King wrote over fifty years ago from a jail cell in Birmingham to a group of white pastors who regarded the movement as too radical and his actions as being outside agitation:

I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.[3]

Returning to the Lord means taking steps beyond the slacktivism of a Facebook post.  There are so many creative endeavors to bring restorative justice, God’s justice, to communities.  One of the marks of a good creative venture in restorative justice is that it highlights the true relational fabric of which King writes.  Soul Fire Farm in New York is a farm that “bring[s] diverse communities together on this healing land to share skills on sustainable agriculture, cooking, and natural building, and contribute to the movements for food sovereignty and community self-determination.”  This is multivalent right relationship with the earth, with others, and with self and God.  The farm sponsors various programs that promote solidarity with the marginalized.  This is just one example.  To be woven into a single garment of destiny means regarding ourselves as having a common future in full awareness of the blessed and broken character of our disparate pasts.  In that future, we cannot set ourselves apart as the “the hypocrites do” in today’s Gospel.  Their pious practice turns in on itself and what is meant to be the habits of focusing us outward on solidarity and justice – prayer, almsgiving, and fasting – becomes the stuff of egocentrism.  NOW is an acceptable time to make Lent more about others than it is about us.

A clean heart create for me, O God,

And a steadfast spirit renew within me.[4]

Too often, the Lenten imaginary privileges lament and does not move us toward compassion.  The traditional Lenten praxis of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving can be more bound up in sackcloth and ashes than in the relationships with God, self, and others which we contemplate.  ash wednesdayOn this day especially, the sacramental of ashes on the forehead readily fills pews, but I often wonder if there is as much desire to walk the long journey that comes after.  In a beautiful discussion of compassion’s role in more adequate Roman Catholic engagement in racial justice, Bryan Massingale uses stories of deep relationship between whites and blacks to call those of us in the dominant group to task on how we might imagine ourselves into our privilege.  Drawing on the work of social scientist Joe Feagin and personal narratives from whites in transracial families, Massingale unpacks how deep identification through love and friendship can disrupt socialized norms to foster a new identity.

Such loving and committed relationships give one the visceral outrage, courage, strength, and motivation to break free from the ‘rewards of conformity’ that keep most whites complacent with white privilege.  Transformative love, or compassion, empowers them for authentic solidarity… Without the cultivation of such solidarity – rooted in lament, compassion, and transformative love – truth-telling and affirmative redress result in superficial palliatives that leave the deep roots of injustice undisturbed.[5]

If Lent truly does move us outside of ourselves to constitute a world that is more fully as our God intends it to be, then we cannot sit idly by while our sisters and brothers suffer.  There are too many alternatives.  As King wrote so prophetically, “If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.”  Those words cannot be more true and more relevant than they are today.  A clean heart and a steadfast spirit are needed to face the difficult and grinding reality of racial injustice in our society and hatred in our world.  More importantly, they are what is needed to be able to forge meaningful relationships across difference.  Friendship and love are our hope.  This Lent our practice has to go beyond lament for what is broken and reach toward compassion and transformative relationship.  If all my friends look like me, I have to ask myself, “Why?”  If I struggle to build bridges between different ideologies and belief systems, the question remains, “Why?”  If I struggle to value what is unique in “others” in my life and I tend to remake them in my own image and likeness, I should always question “Why?”  Today is the day.  In this first moment of Lent, feel the fierce urgency of now for justice delayed is justice denied.  After all, it’s not justice for me that matters anyway.  What begins in me must come to be realized in us.  Moving through lament we can arrive together at right relationship.

NOW is the day of salvation.  NOW is the time.

profile 3 john.jpg

This blog post’s author, John DeCostanza, is a D.Min student at CTU, a member of the Theophilus Editorial Board, and the Director of University Ministry at Dominican University

[1] 2 Corinthians 6:1-2

[2] Joel 2:13a

[3] King, Jr., Martin Luther. “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Accessed February 17, 2015. http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html.

[4] Psalm 51:12

[5] Massingale, Bryan N. Racial Justice and the Catholic Church. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2010. 120.

Do we want Christ to come?: A Lessons and Carol Reflection

This is a reflection given at a Lessons and Carols service recently by a CTU student.

The Lessons and Carols Readings are:

Genesis 3:1-15
Isaiah 40:1-5
John Paul II Advent Sermon in 2008
Luke 1:26-38
Isaiah 9:1-6
John 1:1-18

Reflection:

Think of the last party you planned? How big was it? What was the occasion? What was involved in the preparation? Texting your friends to come and hang out on a Friday night at 10PM is “preparation,” but think bigger. What is needed for a successful party? A good location, food, beverages, the proper arrangement of furnishings, maybe a theme for dress and activities, but importantly awesome music? Overall, proper party planning takes a lot of work and energy.

Tonight, we have heard stories from our past. Some have been disappointing, others uplifting, some consoling, maybe one or two curious. But they are stories for us, actuality, they are stories about us. We easily understand the challenges of temptation seen in Adam and Eve. How our pride drives us to be something or someone we are not. How shame prevents forgiveness or admitting our weaknesses. We know our pitfalls and shortcomings.

And we know Isaiah’s story as well. When too we have been broken by stress and torn apart by trauma like Israel during the Exile. We know loneliness, we have felt forgotten. But even greater, but even greater, we too have experienced the power of God’s comfort.

“Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.” Think of the countless times God has spoken to us through our friends and family. In the pit of despair, how God has sent his angels as our loved ones who have pulled us out of the darkness and into his glorious light. How the Lord always manages to speaks the peace we long to hear.

And in the fullness of time, as the evangelist Luke and John proclaimed, God set his love in person. A love so great, so generous, so magnificent that the Creator would be become a creature to be with His creation that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us named Jesus. A love so tender desiring to walk with us once again like in garden so long ago. How beautiful, how loving.

And as Pope John Paul II said, Advent is not just about commemorating historical events. We do not just dwell in the stories of yesterday, we recall the past that we may see Christ walking with us today – in the present – in the garden of our hearts. For the promises of the past, are made manifest in the present that shows forth a guarantee toward the future.

Now think once again of the last party you planned? How big was it? What was the occasion? What was involved in the preparation? While, food and drink and location are important, what makes a party is who comes.

Who do you want to invite, who do want to be celebrating with you? Christ wants to be in your our lives. Regardless of our shortcoming, he dispels the darkness of loneliness and walks directly into our arms, pouring forth comfort and joy.

Advent is our party preparation. Advent allows us to reflect that Christ wants to be in our lives and Advent calls us to question, “Do we want Christ to come? Do we want to invite Christ into our daily lives, to transform us, to glorify us, to make us wholly human?” If so, let us cry out with the ancient command handed down through the ages, “Maranatha,” “Maranatha,” “Come, Lord Jesus!”

This is a reflection for a Lessons and Carols service by a CTU student who wishes to remain anonymous. The blog curator vouches that this student is in fact a CTU student. 

 

Mysteries of Jesus the Migrant

Br. Maxime Villeneuve, OSA, is a new student at CTU. He has offered these mysteries of the Rosary below for our reflection and prayer.

Br. Max writes: I am proposing these mysteries in solidarity with the millions of our brothers and sisters who live in the shadows of our society.  It is my prayer that these mysteries may be meditated upon by all, especially those undergoing great suffering. I pray that they may find solace in the hardships faced by Jesus and the Holy Family, and know that the Lord walks with them.

 Mysteries of Jesus the Migrant

1st Mystery– Mary, who is in labor, and Joseph find no room at the inn.

Luke 2:7 “And she gave birth to her firstborn son.  She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

2nd Mystery– The Flight from Herod’s Persecution.

Matt. 2:13 “When they had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.”

3rd MysteryThe Journey through the Desert

Matt 2:14 “Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt.”

4th Mystery- The Hidden Life of the Holy Family in a Foreign Land

Matt 2:15 “He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

5th Mystery– The Son of Man has no place to lay His Head

Luke 9:58 “Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”

The Migrant Jesus

(c) Liguori Publications

Suffering, Remaining, and Witness

Below is a post by Theophilus editorial board member and CTU MA student, Susan Francois, CSJP. She reflects on this year’s LCWR address which happens to correlate to work that Susan is doing right now as she prepares for her comprehensive exams. This post first appeared on her blog.

I was delighted to see that Nancy Schreck, OSF drew upon the work of Shelly Rambo in her 2014 LCWR Keynote address. I have been 412Gx1t-D-L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_reading (and re-reading) Rambo’s Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining (2010 Westminster John Knox Press) these days. I first used Rambo’s book for a paper I wrote on the ministry of reconciliation with trafficked persons. I’m now using it as part of my thesis work (today in fact …. it sits open before me as I procrastinate in my research with this blog post!)

It was interesting to read Schreck apply Rambo’s work on trauma to the place where women religious find themselves today.

This shifting within religious life and in world events has taken us to what I call a middle space. We find ourselves in this place of both creativity and disorientation. Much of what was is gone, and what is coming is not yet clear….

I am greatly helped in this next section by the work of Shelly Rambo and her book Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining. Rambo speaks about a theology of remaining in difficult places because “when you enter certain worlds, they do not let you go.”

Though her work is with trauma survivors and in no way do I want to diminish the aspect of trauma, I do think some parallels with or experience can be drawn….

The task of “remaining” in this uncertain place is to pay attention to the reality that does not go away. In this experience all of our theological categories are re-defined: concepts like love, divine presence, incarnation, and world view are reshaped. Knowledge, truth, and experience of our world are transformed, placed on much more fragile terrain because of the radical disruption….

What we try to do in the middle space is to describe events that shatter all that one knows about the world and the familiar ways of operating within it. What if from this place we simply witness to and provide testimony about this experience, with special attention to truths that often lie buried and are covered over….

In this middle space that is what we do: we call attention to things, things others might bury, or are afraid to face. That is why I say, however long the night we will be faithful and we will speak about what we are learning in the middle space. We trust Holy Mystery revealed in our midst. (Excerpt, Schreck, pages 7-10)

I need to think and pray into that some more, especially as it relates to my experience as a woman religious.

I’ve certainly been thinking and praying with a heavy heart today about the immense (human induced) suffering in our world today. And I mean, quite literally, today. A friend recently posted a very poignant list she’s been carrying around with her these days: “Fergusson (police state, Black Man Walking), Gaza, Ukraine, Malaysian Air Flt 17, Refugee kids fleeing violence in Central America, Yazidi’s fleeing the Islamic State, The Islamic State, Syria, Afghanistan, Ebola …” No doubt you have your own (similar) list. It seems to be growing by the day. So much violence, oppression, death, and trauma being caused to human beings by other human beings. One can feel paralyzed, helpless, or even complicit. Our globalized media savvy reality means that we are present to this suffering on one (superficial/virtual) level, even though the vast majority of us are removed in our privileged spaces of comfort and safety. In my case, I think that’s at the root of much of my own sense of being uncomfortable in my own skin as human induced suffering rages on and seemingly spreads. Removed as I/we are from the reality of suffering, I worry that it becomes easier to ignore or fail to act against it, thereby fueling more suffering.

Which is where I find Shelly Rambo’s work so helpful:

In our current world, we are witnessing ongoing atrocities and different manifestations of suffering. The invisible forces of global capital and the undetectable effects of new wars and their justifications demand that theological accounts of suffering attend to the elisions constituting traumatic suffering. Although some may say that all ‘suffering is suffering,’ there are different expressions of that suffering and its effects that press for renewed theological articulation. I understand this as the increased invisibility of suffering and the power of its erasure. The discourse of trauma engages these invisible realities, continually calling attention to what falls outside the lines of what is, or can be, represented. The challenge of theological discourse is to articulate a different orientation to suffering that can speak to the invisibility, gaps, and repetitions constituting trauma….

A theology of the middle Spirit can help us rethink the theological discourse about suffering, given its new unique dimensions in trauma. Bessel van der Kolk acknowledges that one of the primary effects of trauma is a crisis of the human spirit. This crisis refers to a complete loss of meaning and trust in the world. … How does a theology of the Spirit meet this crisis of spirit?….

I have started to envision practices patterned after this testimony, practices of tracking and sensing that propel us to recognize suffering amid its multiple elisions….

The tracking and sensing, then, not only unearth and give theological significance to the unknown and unutterable within human experience, but these practices also testify to something of who we understand God to be. The work of the witnesses is to track the undertow and to sense life. But this witness is, as well, a testimony that runs deeper than we might imagine, to the nature of divine love. In the middle, divine love is witnessed in its remaining. …The work of tracking and sensing is sanctifying work, the work of making love visible at the point where it is most invisible.

If we read this sacred story as a story of survival, we are pressed to think about what it means to remain in the aftermath of a death that escapes our comprehension. To witness this sacred story is also to receive it for the truth that it tells: love remains, and we are love’s witnesses….

From this space, a different vision of life can be glimpsed. It is life as remaining. This transformation, this redemption in the abyss of hell, is not about deliverance from the depths but, instead, about a way of being in the depths, a practice of witnessing that sense life arising amid what remains. The middle story is not a story of rising out of depths, but a transformation of the depths themselves.

(Excerpt, Shelly Rambo, Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining, 169-172)

A lot of words, many of them big theology words. But really, if I am even beginning to understand their power, I think it is summed up best by these two contrasting photos that have come out of Ferguson:

Top: Violence, suffering, and trauma.                                                           Bottom: Witness, remaining, and healing.