Today's Wisdom

Those who do not pass from the experience of the cross to the truth of the resurrection condemn themselves to despair! For we cannot encounter God without first crucifying our narrow notions of a god who reflects only our own understanding of omnipotence and power
Pope Francis

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Theory of Everything

The entire essence of existence, God himself, is a relationship, according to Joseph Ratzinger "God, too, is absolute permanence, as opposed to everything transitory, for the reason that he is the relation of three Persons to one another, their incorporation in the "for one another" of love, act-substance of the love that is absolute and therefore completely "relative", living only "in relation to". As we said earlier, it is not autarchy, which knows no one but itself, that is divine; what is revolutionary about the Christian view of the world and of God, we found, as opposed to those of antiquity, is that it learns to understand the "absolute" as absolute "relatedness", as relatio subsistens." (Introduction to Christianity, 1968).
Relationship rests on communication. I will not be able to relate to you if I cannot communicate with you or if I do not have the intention of communicating with you. We know that the first communication in infants takes place when they suck on their mothers breasts. As little as one month, Rene Girard, correcting the great Jean Piaget, has shown that Children start immitating their parents and people around them and they learn how to communicate in gestures before they learn language. But communication goes deeper than using mere language. There is also body communication or body language. What matters in the end is the result: Relationship! John Polkinghorne, professor of nuclear physics at Cambridge University, wrote, in one of his latest books: Quantum Physics and Theology, about relationship as science is attempting to discover it at the subnuclear level: "Quantum theory brought to light a remarkable form of entanglement between subatomic particles that have once interacted with each other (the so-called EPR effect), which implies that they remain effectively a single system however far they may subsequently separate spatially- a counterintuitive togetherness-in-separation that has been abundantly confirmed experimentally as a property of nature. The physical world looks more and more like a universe that would be the fitting creation of the trinitarian God, the One whose deepest reality is relational" (Quantum Physics and Theology, p.104). Not only at the human level. Not even at the living cells level. But also at the microcosmic level there seems to be an inherent structure that calls for relationship.
We started with God and we will end up with God. But in between we move from the Big Bang, the formation of the high energy singularity as Stephen Hawking likes to call it, into galaxies, hundreds of thousands, to arrive into the Sun, and eventually the Earth. In this entire process non-living matter has solidified. Wait a minute or, in fact, 10 billions of years. Life then starts on Earth. In some 3.5 billion years humans appear from apes.
Here it is again to keep going: From God comes the universe. the universe explodes and is accelerating while energy is transformed to matter. Matter is inanimate and in this inanimate matter there seems to be a certain reality of relationship at its deepest level. Fast forward...Life begets plants, fish and so on until animals appear. There is a complexification of life as it develops. Man is at the top of this chain. Where is God? He is not sitting back or resting as the ancients imagined. God is at work always as Christ teaches. God is within us supporting and developing his creation. God is not in heaven above but here within his creation guiding it into fruition. But he can't hide anymore. His inner being "relatedness" as Ratzinger says is starting to be seen, and in the "fullness of time" he is united to his creation in Christ. This is how far we understand the Mystery of the Incarnation. For he is not only with us but his kingdom, that is he himself, is within us (Christ). This is partly why we as Catholics and Orthodox eat him in the Eucharist. Not only do we eat the flesh but the living flesh of Christ united with his divinity (The Body of Christ.)
With the appearance of humans there is not only complexification of life but of brain too. According to the 2009 Winter issue of "The Brain," the human brain is endowed with a neurochemical hormone called Oxytocin that is responsible for inducing social memory in humans. Oxytocin triggers the drive for social attachments. Moreover, recent studies in 2008 have shown that oxytocin is the agent for bonding between new mothers and their infants. It is also the agent that helps people find their life partners in monogmous love. The only other species that was found to carry oxytocin is the monogomous prairie voles. This leads us to contemplate the possibility that our love at the natural level is built in as much as it is a social encounter with the other. The scientific finding that oxytocin leads to a monogomous sexual life confirms what the Catholic Church has been saying for the past 2000 years. Of course, this does not at all exhaust love as a supernatural gift from God. Love of enemies is not found in any creature except in Christ's humanity and his saints. Since Original Sin, there is no other way to overcome human selfishness other than the gift of God's love which means self-emptying love.
Now we have stretched the theory of everything from the pure Mind of God to the inanimate matter to living creatures to man who is the epitome of creation fully saved in Christ. And in Christ we know there is only self-emptying love that transcends matter yet joins it in his incarnation to the divine. This is the basis of the Trinitarian God of Christians. It is the power of not only collaboration as seen in lower creatures, and not only in communication as is seen in inanimate matter, and not only in natural love as is seen in humans, but after all in self-emptying love that the Father eternally gives to his only begotten Son and his Son, accepting it in gratitude, returns it back to the Father...That binding love that is the Holy Spirit.

Amish Grace

Last night, we watched the movie "Amish Grace" based on a true story of shooting and murder of young girls in an Amish school in 2006 in the U.S. I wish to thank Fr. Youhanna Hanna for recommending the movie and assisting us in showing it. Thanks also to Fr. Georges Farah for his support and open-mind.

A Christian person Charles Roberts, having a grudge against God for taking his little daughter, went on a killing spree taking the lives of 5 young girls and injuring another 5. He then immediately killed himself. The Amish community responded with forgiveness of the murderer. But the event clearly showed the inner struggle for forgiveness in the heart of one person (Aida) in this small community as she was dealing with such tragedy when her own daughter (Mary Beth) was murdered together with other young girls by an outsider (Charles nicknamed Charlie).  The harsh response “Why me” descended upon that heart for, as a mother, she loved her own kids.  It reminded me of the harsh suffering that Mary the mother of Christ went through as she watched her own son unjustly crucified and murdered by the mob of Jewish leaders and Roman authorities in Palestine 20 centuries ago. The victim or scapegoat is the one whose death cries to heaven for justice, but Christ forgave his crucifiers and murderers without asking for their repentance. He who is God in the flesh became, for us and the world, the sacrifice. And, following in his footsteps, the little community dared to forgive the murderer. But the events raised more questions.  

Aida was reluctant to forgive Charles and indeed to forgive God for allowing the murder of her beloved eldest daughter!  The courage to question unexamined tradition is a sign of integrity. Aida was going to be “shunned” by the community elders (i.e. excommunicated) if she persisted in her rebellion, separated herself and joined her shunned sister in Philadelphia. It is here that I find one of the most illuminating points: Aida said to her husband Gideon, who was a loyal Amish, that she could not understand how the Amish community could forgive Charles while they could not forgive her sister for leaving them earlier. Gideon’s answer had come earlier when he said in a meeting of bereaved parents that forgiveness does not mean pardon of Charles. Charles, according to Gideon, is judged by a just God. It was for the sake of peace in the hearts of the families that forgiveness was necessary. Hatred eats hearts and leaves no room for forgiveness, he said to his young second daughter, a 10 years-old kid who had lost her elder sister Mary Beth in the massacre – She answered him “May be I can hate him a bit then forgive him”!

Aida was leaving the Amish community except that she got news that Rebecca in hospital wanted to speak to her. Rebecca, a 10 years-old kid, was with Mary Beth and the other children killed or injured in the massacre. Rebecca recovered in hospital and was able to tell what she saw. In Rebecca’s testimony to Aida and Gideon, Mary Beth asked “Charlie” to kill her first, as she was 14 - the eldest in the children.  She said to him that she will pray for him and that she forgives him even though he is killing her. That was the moment when Aida’s heart melted and her attitude changed from hate to acceptance. She loved Mary-Beth and wanted now to imitate her. In spite of her suffering, Aida offered reconciliation to her enemy’s wife.

How much of true love do we have and how eager are parents/children and society in general for forgiveness against vengeance for murdered innocents? How much do we get our children to learn the moral imperative of love and forgiveness by imitation? Penance includes a return to forgiveness. The real story is truly a heart-breaking event for every civilized human. And ironically the lesson comes from a community that still lives in the simple agricultural age, without any technology.  

I saw in this event how hard it is to really forgive. We rediscover the prayer that the Lord taught us which all Christians know “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” How hard is it to be in heaven? It is easy to praise God when we are in good health and enjoying a good life, but once the storm hits the boat, we cry out like Peter and ask for deliverance. If the storm swallows us or our beloved ones it becomes extremely difficult to praise God at this moment. The devotional “Hail Mary” prayer is quite appropriate as we ask Mary the Mother of God to “pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.” The Akathyst prayer is also intended for Mary’s intercession with her Son our Lord for us selfish creatures.

There is no limit to God’s forgiveness. Yet we must participate in it by forgiving everyone. This is a message too to the Catholic Church in Rome and the rest of the world. Throughout history, heretics and enemies of the Church committed doctrinal or moral errors by actions or through published-thought probably driven by rivalry or probably by good intentions that were not properly resolved. But the Church, in the footsteps of the “good pastor” Blessed Pope John XXIII, Pope Paul VI and Blessed Pope John Paul II, needs to forgive them and remove any remaining excommunications against them; for they too belong to God our Father.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Christianity and the Gods of Sisyphus

In Greek mythology, Sisyphus challenged the gods and was able to chain "the god of death" for he loved life and thought he was more clever than the gods. Of course, his challenge did not go well and soon the gods agreed to punish him. In the underworld, his punishment consisted of perpetually rolling a great stone from the base of a steep hill to its top then before he arrives, the stone would roll down and he was to go pick it up and again roll it to the top. Sisyphus had to comply. But how did he feel about this task? Every time Sisyphus rolled the stone, he felt the pointless hard work on ascending to the hill's top, but on descending Sisyphus felt for a moment that he was free and indeed was happy to see the stone rolling down.[1]

If we apply this to our own situation, we will see Sisyphus every time we despair but also every time we have hope that we will overcome our suffering. However, there is more to this story than Sisyphus alone, for he alone is still a miserable man! The Greeks imagined many gods, each with a particular power. The gods served themselves and could not care much about those suffering Greek slaves. The Christian God is a God of love. We learn from the Gospel that Christ loved his disciples and his enemies alike to the end. He loved his enemies who crucified him and still forgave them till the last breath! No historian can objectively deny that Christ lived and was crucified in Palestine of the first century.

Which god is then truer? If I think it is the Greek god(s) it would be in my interest to follow their example which I obviously find selfish and disgusting, but if I think it is Christ then my freedom impels me to do my best in imitation of him or else he is not really my God. I naturally love who loves me first. If God loved me first then I am inclined to love him. This is why I love my mother. She loved me first! We cannot give what we did not receive but we always have the great potential of loving those who loved us. My love of others is in my interest since they will also love me. You see that in the response you receive from strangers when you smile to them. They often smile back. Whether smiling is genetically inherited or a learned habit in the development and adaptation of the human race does not alter the fact that it is naturally present. Reciprocity is natural but more than that solidarity is a quality of survival. It follows that the more we have solidarity the more we imitate Christ in his love of the needy.  Heaven is the community of lovers whose response to the love of God in the crucified Christ and the suffering fellow humans eventually takes them to heaven because heaven is a matter of love.

Can we challenge God as Sisyphus did? I think "Yes," but then we would not be punished. If we roll the stone up to the top of the mount, we could expect God to be awaiting us and if we fail, he will be at the base too embracing our efforts. God is present to all: those who succeed and those who fail. He never despairs in his embrace! Unlike the Greek gods, he receives slaps and gets crucified until one day we learn how to love, like him, to the end. This is a hope that I share with you.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Archbishop Collins becomes Cardinal

Yesterday, Toronto's Roman Catholic Archbishop Thomas Collins became a Cardinal of the Catholic Church. See The Catholic Register here:

This is a joyful event for the entire Church in Canada and especially for Eastern Christians who have been helped by his program since 2008 in association with Immigration Canada to bring refugees from Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries. I met His Eminence in December 2008 and kept constant contact with him since then. The program has been extended until 2014, but obviously refugees need the help of many Arab Christians to find them homes, and schools for their children.

A man of great pastoral skills, down-to-earth humility, ecumenical endeavors, solid Catholic faith and Biblical scholarship, Cardinal Collins is definitely an asset for Eastern Christians as the Arab world continues to be unstable. Let's pray for His Eminence Thomas Cardinal Collins as he carries on with his responsibilities in the Greater Toronto Area.

Today's Quote

"Behold I make all things new." (Revelation 21:5)


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