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

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Why should Man be loved?

Why Man Should Be Loved - You ask me,  Why should Man be loved??
I answer: the reason for loving Man is Man himself. And why should Man be loved for his own sake? Simply because Man is created to reflect the majesty and love of God. 
The First Degree of Love: Love of Self for Self's Sake
Love is a natural human affection. It comes from God. Hence the first and greatest commandment is, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God." But human nature is weak and therefore compelled to love itself and serve itself first. In the human realm people love themselves for their own sake. This is planted within us for who ever hated his own self?
The Second Degree of Love: Love of  Others for Self's Sake 
I cannot be happy alone, but in need for others for my own security. The first person that cares for me is my mother. I love her because she cares for me. Although I build my relationships around me, I learn that my parents love me unconditionally.  In life, I reflect what I learned  from them and/or sincere friends. Then, when I suffer some calamity, some storm in my life, I  turn to friends and ask their help. In my relationship with them, I discover the value of true love implanted in Man by God.
The Third Degree of Love: Love of Man for Man's Sake
In the first degree of love we love ourselves for our own sake. In the second degree of love we love others for our own sake, chiefly because they have provided for us. But if trials and tribulations continue to come upon us, God sends us other people to brings us through. Even if our hearts were made of stone, we will begin to be softened because of the rescuer. Thus, we begin to love others not merely for our own sakes, but for themselves.
However, the truth is in God....
Without God who grants love, there is no true love because in my self-idolatry  I die. This is why I hope that God will save me and save everyone else in his eternal love. Saints are examples that reflect God's love for us and everyone in Christ, because Christ willed and trusted his Father...(For more reflection see The Trinity here).

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Bringing Joy to Man?

In a distressed, polarized, and often violent world, is it possible to live in joy? We are threatened by extremists forcing themselves on the rest and vowing to replace civilization with their own government and law of Sharia. We are bombarded by consumerist-based media, surrounded by the politically-correct minds, wounded by materialism in the soul like the man wounded by thieves on his way to Jericho (Luke 10). and challenged by the racing computer machines of all sizes whose builders increasingly control our lives as if we too are robots.

In this divided world, is it possible to bring joy to myself, my family, and my friends? Do I need you in the individualism I learn everyday as already taught to our kids in schools and universities?

Is it true that joy is a product of love? Here we show:
1. How to enjoy a relationship with God and with others based on the four loves of St. Bernard;
2. The courage to step out of the self in two real stories: Oscar Romero, and Mother Teresa;
3. The heroic love of a wife and mother: Rita of Cascia in 15th century Italy - The tenderness of a woman's heart brings joy to her children and family that exudes joy to generations of the community;
4. The hero of all who brought joy - eternal joy - to so many : Jesus Christ; and the wonder his mother experienced in everything related to him;
5. How I learned to look for joy and why - If a smile on your face, that reduces your stress, makes me happy, how much happier would we be if we strive to listen to each other;
6. How science confirms the necessity of upbringing kids in places of virtue and joy and emphasizes positive relations;
7. The courage to be possessed by God's love - The way of Christian mysticism: Contemplation of Love;
Conclusion from Apocalypse - Surprise!

First: In the 11th century, the great mystic St. Bernard, wrote on the four loves (Read him here) while in the twenty-first century, as I try to love others, I am still tied at the very first love but I have hope that God will secure me and mine eternally in his love (Read me here).  In this "hell" of passions and self-idolatry where I enclosed myself, do I have the inclination to bring joy to my fellow people? Do I have the courage to step up to the next level of love? Do I have the courage to step out of fear? Do I have the courage to remove my mask and live the life of true freedom?

Second: Heroism is not merely the share of military leaders but is a capacity found in ordinary persons who struggle with fear and insecurity but still make a difference in their own decisions. We have seen it in the life of Oscar Romero archbishop of San Salvador from 1977 to March 1980 when he was assassinated by pro-Government junta. Oscar Romero was embattled by two devils: the Church's hierarchy concerned for the support of a dictatorial regime, and a widespread assassination of his own people, friends and priests who sided with them. He found out that he could not tolerate the injustice against the many poor and soon organized large protests and prayers for their safety. His eloquence in defending human dignity was more than rhetoric speeches from his Cathedral but a deep reflection and continuous examination of conscience. His love of the people of El Salvador, with whom he shared his daily life, made him "ascend the mountain to meet God" as in Christ's transfiguration which transformed Romero's inner life as he sought to find God in everything...a renewal taken from St. Ignatius of Loyola. When Romero dared to rescue men he found Christ! (for more read his story here.)

A second hero is found in Mother Teresa. At the age of 18, she joined the sisters of Loreto as a missionary in India and became known as Mother Teresa. Like  St. Teresa of Avila who questioned God,  Mother Teresa was a woman of steel. She radiated joy and humility, but  experienced the seemingly absence of God in her prayer. This did not deter her from following her unique vocation that she experienced as a "call within the call." On the contrary she trusted in the outpouring love of God, not only to the chosen but to every single human being. Mother Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity with the Church's approval in 1950. The mission in her own words was "to care for the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone." When Teresa dared to care for the unwanted dying in the streets of India, she found Christ shining more in the needs of humanity.She died in 1997 and was beatified by St, John Paul II in 2003 (for more read her story here).

Third: Heroes are found everywhere and in all ages. St. Rita of Cascia was a wife and mother of twin boys in the 15th century.She also struggled but her struggle was to convert her unfaithful husband from his abusive behavior - a behavior we still see today in families that often ends in divorce, the compounded abuse of children or the insanity in murder and suicide. When her husband was murdered by another feuding family, Rita pleaded with her sons not to take revenge and asked God to spare them from committing such a crime. Her prayer was answered as both sons died a year later from dysentery. Her heroic prayer life culminated in accepting her request to become a nun in the convent of St.Mary Magdalene. As she asked the Crucified to share in his suffering, a miraculous thorn on her forehead was a sign found by her superiors. She was beatified in 1626 and canonized in 1900. Her incorrupt body is venerated today as millions of people visit it at the shrine that carries her name in Cascia (for more read her life here).

Fourth: The most heroic person was and remains Jesus Christ of selfless love. Out of love he healed the sick of his people and against the customs of Israel's teachers he healed the sick of the enemies of his people, visited the robbers, broke the Sabbath for the sake of Man, challenged the teachings of the masters of the Law, rejoiced with the outcast, forgave sinners and prostitutes, and while dying on the cross, instigated by the religious authorities and executed by the Romans, he forgave everyone entrusting himself to his Father and inaugurating by his death his own resurrection and victory over death, St Paul writes about Jesus being “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1, 15-20) and in the very nature of God “Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness” (Ph 2:6-7).

Joy is at the center of the Gospel. In one night, the disciples were in their boat in a stormy sea. Having spent his night in prayer away from them, Jesus walked to them on the sea. "But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, 'It is a ghost!' And they cried out for fear. But immediately he spoke to them, saying, 'Take heart, it is I; have no fear.' And Peter answered him, 'Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.' He said, 'Come.' So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus; but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, 'Lord, save me.' Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, 'O man of little faith, why did you doubt?' And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, 'Truly you are the Son of God.'" (Matthew 14: 25-33). Fr. Georges Farah says that the story has a deeper meaning for it reminds the listeners of Jesus' victory over the waters of the sea considered the abode of death. He is the One who takes Peter by the hand to deliver him from death. Jesus not only says the word "have no fear" he also removes fear from the hearts and delivers us from death! The message of joy is to everyone who listens and follows Jesus!

Luke writes that the Archangel Gabriel greeted the Blessed Virgin Mary with "Hail, full of grace. The Lord is with you" and Mary greatly amazed and troubled "pondered in her heart" what she was to make of such greeting (Luke 1: 28-30). This translates into wonder, and amazement mixed with joy. Do we make it our own and greet each other with that blessing? Here with Mary we find the key to God in our midst as she already pointed us to him at the wedding of Cana “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5). In bringing him up, she pondered and knew the heart of her son Jesus, trusted what he would do for her and us. And today in our relationships, families, cultures, sciences, and nature we will find him if we seek his truth and train our consciences according to the teachings he gave the Church and still guides her through his Spirit to renew herself in him.

Fifth: In the 20th century, in reference to Jesus washing the feet of the Apostles on the night he was betrayed, Maurice Zundel wrote "God knelt before Man." That is one contemporary statement about God's love in Christ for his creation...Can we really betray the Triune God whose love created and redeemed us? If there is still love in the world can we find love? Can I find joy away from love? Can I find joy in my loneliness? Can I find joy in my selfishness? Can I find joy if the entire things around me do not fully satisfy my thirst for the infinite?

But I learned that joy is the product of love. In 1973, Fr. Henri Boulad, S.J. taught us in a retreat that, for lovers, time is a moment. The joy they have in their encounter makes time go fast. This is why children enjoy time with what they love and for them there is no time. Henri Boulad has been a missionary for over 50 years. He worked for many years as a missionary in the Sudan and Egypt, organized retreats and was invited to others in many countries around the world. A scholar he also authored some 30 books, some of them translated to 16 languages. In June, 2013 I wrote a little reflection on his thought here, and in 2014, I wrote a little hymn in gratitude to God for his birthday here. As far as I understand, he preaches and lives the joy found in the spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola (founder of the Jesuits) articulated in his Spiritual Exercises for the discernment of spirits and thus finding God in everything around us.

I recall the days when my parents, of blessed memory, cared for everyone of us, I recall the days when my wife and I sacrificed many hours at work in order to raise our kids in good schools. I recall the night a few years ago when, in darkness, I did not see the side-walk, fell, and broke my eye-glasses but a woman I did not know hurried to lift me up and cared for me. All these events are still alive in my memory, and surely other events of care by relatives and strangers alike can be recalled by many more people. The world is full of goodness by ordinary people but we have to see it and thank God for it.

Sixth: What do scientists think? Contemporary psychology demands finding happiness through others in my life to love and be loved by. Positive psychology scientists, such as Professor Martin Seligman, emphasize the importance of values, virtues, and talents. Positive experience and relationships that provide a meaning and purpose in life greater than oneself are studied methodically. This is too the basis of today's social networks that attempt to create small talks between friends across geographic boundaries on the Internet such as Facebook. They do not satisfy the search for meaning but can be used by Churches to connect people virtually at a starting level then direct them to in-depth discussions and reflections. Since I do not exist by myself, it makes sense that I need the other to exist as a person. I am really only a potential person until I find and love God in the other.This is not only contemporary psychology but is also found in St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century. My joy is in the other. Heaven is not an illusion, but, as is written in the Bible, it is where God lives. But God is not somewhere out there. The infinite love that is God is here, and wishes that we receive him. The Spirit of Christ thus says “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter his house and dine with him and he with me. I will give the victor the right to sit with me on my throne, as I myself won the victory and sit with my Father on his throne." (Revelation 3: 20-21). We do not pretend that any human person is God, but Christ is God who is also a human person that loves us to the end. In his judgment Christ, the Alpha and the Omega, grants eternal joy to the persons who find him in the needy and help them with the gifts that are always freely given to us (Matthew 25: 34-40).

On November 1st, 2014, The Economist published a report on genes and behavior that summarizes the latest scientific findings in genetics. An experimental study by Dr. Tiihonen and his team on violent persons shows the importance of interactions between someone's upbringing and his genes which, if not controlled, can trigger violence as manifested in high levels of alcohol drinking. You may be able to access the full report here. Although more study is needed for a useful medical conclusion, the results confirm what St. Augustine had already written in the 5th century: Be moderate in everything except in love.

Seventh: In Christian mysticism we find joy in  God. Here is a little text from the mystical theology of the 20th century evolutionary scientist Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. which fascinates our wonder: “Lord Christ, you who are divine energy and living irresistible might: since of the two of us it is you who are infinitely the stronger, it is you who must set me ablaze and transmute me into fire that we may be welded together and made one. Grant me, then, something even more precious than that grace for which all your faithful followers pray: to receive communion as I die is not sufficient: teach me to make a communion of death itself.” (Hymn of the Universe by Teilhard de Chardin, NY: Harper and Row, 1965.) 

ConclusionIn spite of continuing threats by materialism and extremism, the Church, following her founder Christ, continues to open herself and welcome humanity in her bosom. As the ages advance so does the kingdom of Christ spread in the entire human race.  The development of civilization itself is rooted in Christianity for eternal life starts on earth.

In spite of its many gloomy warnings, the Book of Apocalypse remains open to hope. The number of the eternally happy elect is so great that the visionary in Apocalypse could not count it. He had to give it a symbolic number of one hundred and forty four thousand (Revelation 4: 7) which reflects  12 (a symbol for the complete tribes of Israel) multiplied by 12 (the complete number of the Apostles) multiplied by one thousand (the perfect number 10 times ten times ten) indicating the New Israel of Christ.Why is 10 a perfect number as a symbol? In modern physics, 1 and zero are binary numbers in computer native language. They complement each other and together they become perfect. Thus 144,000 is a symbolic number of the outpouring love of God enjoyed by the multitudes.  This is the glory that St. Irenaeus referred to in his writing "The glory of God is man fully alive and the life of Man is the vision of God". (AH IV, 20, 7).

If the above interpretation is true, then we can hope against all hope that all nations may come to share in the joy and glory of Christ.

Today's Quote

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


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