Tag Archives: New York Times

About Suffering


“In America, there is education for success but no education for suffering.” Ross Douthat wrote in the New York Times today. There’s no education to bear the suffering we have or deal with the suffering of others.

We’re told we can achieve anything we set our minds to and surmount any hardship that comes our way. We filter out the misery around us, Douhat says, with the filters of political party, race, social status.

Douthat confessed that while reading a book by one of his political adversaries, a book in which the man described his experience of sickness and other hardships, he realized he never saw that dimension in him. He was only someone to argue with.

Tragic moments like the shootings in Las Vegas and the storms in Puerto Rico are temporary reminders of suffering, but we quickly forget and turn to something else.

St. Paul of the Cross saw the Passion of Jesus as a book to learn about life and how to live. It seems the Passionists have a mission today, as a recent letter of Father Joachim Rego reminded us, to offer a remedy to society today with “no education for suffering.”

Why Read the Old Testament?

Some people complain about the selections from the Old Testament we’re reading at weekday Mass these past few weeks. Too long, they say, they don’t tell us anything. They’d rather hear what Jesus is saying and doing.

Why do we read from the Old Testament? Reading from the Old Testament is a lot like reading from the New York Times or the Daily News, or following David Muir on ABC each evening. You’re not going to hear much about Jesus there either. The media gives us the news of the day as it happens and, especially these days, it’s not encouraging.

Not much encouraging news in our Old Testament reading today from the Book of Numbers either. (Numbers 13-14) Giants are out there blocking the way to the promised land. Israel’s scouts face giants as they reconnoiter the world ahead. There’s no way ahead.

Our media tells us the same: giants are blocking our way– North Korea, the Middle East, storms from climate change, political giants who seem to get in the way of a world of justice and peace. And we don’t have answers what to do.

But the Old Testament tells us more than the media. It’s salvation history. More than the story of the Jews, the Old Testament is the story of the human race and all creation on a journey, from the beginning of time to its end. Human sinfulness, tragedies and delays are there, but the story begins and ends in hope. God is there.

That makes the Old Testament stories so different from the stories the media serves up everyday. God is there from the beginning. That’s the way our selection today from the Book of Numbers begins: “The LORD said to Moses [in the desert of Paran,]‘Send men to reconnoiter the land of Canaan,
which I am giving the children of Israel.’” And God is there as his people experience the consequences of their foolishness and lack of faith.

The columnist David Brooks in the Times yesterday said he has to think less about Donald Trump or he’s going to go crazy. He needs to think more about the deeper shifts taking place in society, he says.

I wonder if thinking about the deeper shifts is enough to stop you from going crazy these days. We need hope from another source. That’s where the Old Testament and the rest of the scriptures comes in. Some prefer calling it the “First Testament.” It testifies that the first thing to keep in mind about time is that God is there, from beginning to the end. God is our Savior.

Stories of the Patriarchs

Stories of Jacob and his sons continue the story of the patriarchs from the Book of Genesis we’re reading in our lectionary these days. They trying to get food to eat in a time of famine.  Inheritors of God’s promise to Abraham, the patriarchs are searching for a land of their own, but they’re not going to find it in Egypt with Joseph and his connections to Pharoah. They’ll leave Egypt and cross the desert, indeed, their search never seems to end. But that’s God’s plan; the search is not theirs but planned from above.

The stories of the patriarchs might be called the Jewish phase of the Book of Genesis. The first 10 chapters of Genesis describe the origins of the world and the beginnings of the human race. Chapter 11 introduces Abraham, followed by stories of his descendants, the other patriarchs. Then, we read from the Book of Exodus.

One Jewish tradition says that because the peoples of the world, from Adam and Eve on, resist God’s invitation to be one with him, God decides to concentrate on one nation hoping to eventually bring in all the rest. So then, the experience of Abraham and the other patriarchs affects the whole human race. Their stories are also ours and have lessons for us.

Abraham is our “father in faith”. The patriarchs, especially Abraham, are examples of faith and trust in God as they face an unknown future. That’s what keeps them going from place to place searching for a final homeland, and that’s what keeps all humanity going. Faith and trust keeps the Church going as she makes her pilgrim way. Those virtues also keep all peoples of the earth going as on their journey through time.

Besides faith and trust we need to accept the humanity we find in the patriarchs, their wives, their children, their friends, their servants and their enemies. They’re far from perfect. They live in a world of cruel wars and famine, stubborn enemies, political instability and unpredictable events. There are family fights, jealous brothers and sisters and sneaky deals at every step.

The early Christian writer Marcion wanted to do away with the Old Testament because it wasn’t spiritual enough. But there’s reality in the Old Testament. It’s a sinful reality God accepts and a humanity the Word of God embraces. “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”

In my opinion our Old Testament readings at Mass from the lectionary tend to feature the nobler, more spiritual parts of the Old Testament and unfortunately neglect the raw parts that Marcion and other critics complain about. Are we past this ugly reality in our times? Will we ever? Yet, God’s promise in never withdrawn.

Old Testament stories, like the New, have a wonderful way of speaking to our own world. Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt at a time of widespread famine. “In fact, all the world came to Joseph to obtain rations of grain, for famine had gripped the whole world.” (Genesis 41,57) Egypt wisely opened its food supply to eveybody. Was it just from kindness, or was it good politics too?

The New York Times recently carried an article questioning present US policy to cut foreign aide to poorer nations of the world, especially those experiencing climate related shortages of food. Inevitably, violence in those countries will spill over to ours, so we must take care of them now, the writer said.

I remember reading that the Byzantine Empire fell so quickly to the armies of Mohammed because the Byzantines neglected to care for the Bedouin tribes at their borders and along their trade routes.

We’re all bound together, whether we know it or not.

Go or Stay?

Bill Keller in an op-ed piece in New York Times on June 18th had some hard words for the Catholic Church which, as he sees it, is governed by a dysfunctional leadership and is falling apart.  His advice:

“Much as I wish I could encourage the discontented, the Catholics of open minds and open hearts, to stay put and fight the good fight, this is a lost cause. Donohue is right. Summon your fortitude, and just go.”

Keller finds himself agreeing with Bill Donohue, a strident Catholic voice on the right, who urges leaving the church but for another reason. He’s telling Catholics not in agreement with some of the Church’s positions: Get out.

A letter in today’s Times offered a fine answer to both Keller and Donohue:

“It seems to me that both Bill Keller and Bill Donohue, the president of the Catholic League, misunderstand the catholicity of the Catholic Church. Mr. Keller’s advice to disaffected Catholics, including priests, nuns and vowed religious, to “summon your fortitude” and leave allows no room for reconciliation, reformation and peace within conflict that is central to Christian social life.

“Christian community is not a social contract like those of liberal democracies; it is a covenant that seeks to give witness to God’s unconditional love for humanity through the bonds of community. Leaving, as Mr. Keller suggests, may serve our consumerist attitudes well, but it does little to improve community; it only weakens community.

“Mr. Donohue makes a similar misreading of Catholic catholicity by seemingly insisting on ideological purity. This is a dangerous desire that has plagued Christianity since the fourth and fifth centuries. There is no such thing as an ideologically pure church, and frequently such perceptions have led to serious abuses of power.

 

“Disaffection and ideological dispute among Catholics are a pastoral issue that should be approached within particular religious communities, parishes and lay groups with their pastoral and ministerial leadership. It is a chance for reconciliation and understanding.

MARC LAVALLEE
Arlington, Mass., June 18, 2012

The writer is a Ph.D. candidate in practical theology at Boston University.”

 The writer’s on target.

Someone said to me today: “If your father develops Alzheimer’s  do you abandon him? If your family breaks down, is split by misunderstandings, do you leave it? Is the church a political party? You don’t like the platform, join another one?”

The church is a community formed by God’s unconditional love for humanity. That same love is asked of us.

I liked another letter to the Times also:

“The behavior of the Roman Catholic hierarchy disappoints me on so many fronts that it would be difficult even to begin cataloging those disappointments. How many times have I contemplated joining the Episcopal Church? More times than I can count.

“Why do I stay? Because my own parish, with its engaged pastor, deacon and staff members, vibrant liturgy and forward-leaning membership, is a comfortable home that embraces each one of us in times of joy and sorrow and provides an atmosphere for real spiritual growth.

“I suspect that many Catholics, including a lot of the nuns who are being hounded at the moment, stay for the same reason I do, and I would suggest to those who are on the verge of leaving that they should shop around first. There are welcoming and joyful Catholic communities just waiting for you to join. I know. I belong to one.

MARION EAGEN
Clarks Green, Pa., June 18, 2012

Learning from the Bible

In my last blog I mentioned an article about Catholics reading the bible. They don’t read it much, in fact, and those who do may read it as biblical fundamentalists do. The author quoted from a 1998 report from the Pontifical Biblical Commission, the pope’s advisors in biblical  matters, which said that “Fundamentalism actually invites people to a kind of intellectual suicide.”

It can also lead to political damage as well according to an article in the Op-Ed section of the New York Times today “Why the AntiChrist Matters in Politics” by Matthew Avery Sutton.

Especially in troubled times, some may see political consequences in the bible and its prophecies that really aren’t there.

“Biblical criticism, the return of Jews to the Holy Land, evolutionary science and World War I convinced them that the second coming of Jesus was imminent. Basing their predictions on biblical prophecy, they identified signs, drawn especially from the books of Daniel, Ezekiel and Revelation, that would foreshadow the arrival of the last days: the growth of strong central governments and the consolidation of independent nations into one superstate led by a seemingly benevolent leader promising world peace.

This leader would ultimately prove to be the Antichrist, who, after the so-called rapture of true saints to heaven, would lead humanity through a great tribulation culminating in the second coming and Armageddon. Conservative preachers, evangelists and media personalities of the 20th century, like Billy Sunday, Aimee Semple McPherson, Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell, shared these beliefs.”

Last week was catechetical Sunday, marking the beginning of our religious education program at St.Mary’s. We blessed our catechists who are going to be involved in the religious education of our young people.

But religious education involves more than young people. All of us are called to grow in our faith and live what we believe. Unfortunately, as adults we may see faith as something you learn as a child in school or in a religious education program and you never have to learn about it again.

The Catholic writer Frank Sheed said the problem with adult Catholics is that they don’t keep engaged in the faith they learned as children. He used the example of our eyes. We have two eyes. Let’s say one of them is the eye of faith; the other is the eye of experience.

As children, with a religious education, we may  see the world with two eyes; but as adults losing our engagement with faith we gradually come to see the world only with the eye of experience. We lose the focus that faith gives, another dimension. We won’t see right. Faith is what  helps us to see.

“You are all learners,” Jesus said to his disciples in the gospel. It’s not just children who learn, all of us learn. We are lifelong learners. Lifelong believers, engaged believers, struggling believers, even till the end.

One of the areas we have to learn about today in the Catholic Church is the Bible. It’s there every Sunday and every day of the week. It’s our new catechism and prayerbook, one of the gifts our church gives us.  We need to learn about it and pray from it as much as we can.

Daily Prayer

I read two articles today on daily prayer. One from the New York Times on Jack McKeon, the manager of the Florida Marlin’s by Richard Sandomir. McKeon, the oldest manager in major league baseball, begins his day at Mass in whatever city he happens to be in. The other article, from the recent issue of America Magazine, is a review by Msgr. Thomas Shelley of Eamon Duffy’s book “Marking the Hours. English People and Their Prayers: 1240-1570” (Yale University Press)

I hope America doesn’t mind my copying their cover of Holbein’s picture of St. Thomas More’s family, holding their copies of their prayerbooks. They were not unusual. Daily prayer was part of Catholic life in those days, and prayerbooks held the psalms, prayers and personal reflections for those who could read and afford them.

Daily prayer may not be high in our spiritual priorities today, I fear, but I think it should be. It’s probably going the way of Sunday Mass attendance and become “occasional” prayer. But daily prayer has always been at the heart of Christian spirituality. So thanks, Jack McKeon and the More family for reminding us of its importance.

My last blog was about our cooperating in God’s work and I ended by saying that daily prayer is one of the ways we get ready for what God gives us to do each day.

The prayer Jesus taught his disciples, the Our Father, was a daily prayer. It tells us who we are: we’re children of God and should act like God’s children.

We need to live with large vision, doing our part that God’s kingdom come, “on earth as it is in heaven.” We need “daily bread” of all kinds. We’re part of a messy world that’s torn apart by selfishness and smallness and pride. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

We need light to go by the right path. “Deliver us from evil” and guide us to do good.

We live in a big world, where we are not sure what to do about the famine in sub-Saharan Africa, for example. We live in a world close by. We need the vision and grace to love and care for our everyday world nearby.

Daily prayer, Jack Mc Keon might tell us, helps us stand up to the plate.

Beauty every ancient, ever new

The recent blogs from America and Commonweal magazines mention Pope Benedict’s new book, Jesus of Nazareth, Part 2, which is due out next week and which devotes a great deal of attention to the gospel narratives of the Passion. The bloggers, like the New York Times yesterday, seem interested mostly in what the pope says about Jewish responsibility for the death of Jesus. Following Nostra Aetate from the Second Vatican Council, Benedict says the Jewish people were not responsible for putting Jesus to death; the Romans and a few Jewish leaders were the primary culprits.

Yet, it would be regrettable to see the pope’s treatment of the Passion narratives only as a lengthy statement about this issue, important as it is. From what I read, he’s doing more. He’s looking at the Passion of Jesus like other believers before have done: as a book that reveals in those harsh and heroic moments the wisdom of God.

He seems to be using insights from modern scholars, new tools that can add to the way we reflect on this great story. The Passion of Jesus has always been “the well-trained tongue” that God uses to speak to us, but we may not hear it so well today, and the pope is reminding us of its power and glory.

We tend to say “I’ve heard that already. I know the story.” But it’s a revelation of God and humanity;  “a Beauty ever ancient, ever new.”

Nearing his death, Paul of the Cross was supposed to have pointed to the crucifix over his bed and said to the brother caring for him, “Give me my book.” That seems to be what the pope is doing also.