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, September 30, 2015

A Pope of Hope Defies Atheistic Materialism

While dark clouds descended upon Europe with the flight of refugees from the Arab world, Pope Francis made his first visit to Cuba with the hope Cubans have desperately sought: freedom of worship and the right to human dignity. On the problem of the refugees in Europe, The Economist published an eye-opening report that counted 40 countries to have already built fences against 64 of their neighbours since the fall of the Berlin Wall. "The majority have cited security concerns and the prevention of illegal migration as justifications" said the report author. Questions have been raised as to whether the recent refugees from Syria and other Arab countries cover up for another step in the islamization and consequent fall of Europe to the extremist version of Islam's Sharia. But in the American continents, a glowing story has emerged in the Church's work to reconcile enemies as both the American and Cuban presidents repeatedly declared. For the missionary pope, it is an opportunity to restore Christ's presence to the public sphere and help reconstruct a fallen world that has increasingly embraced atheistic materialism. For the pontiff who already has had his "Dark Night" (an expression used by the mystic St. John of the Cross), he understands the plight of man (for the pope's "Dark Night", see here).

Francis' visit to America met with much enthusiasm when he spoke directly with  hundreds of thousands of fans, and celebrated Masses with crowds listening to his words about protection and renewal of the procreative family. In his address before the American Congress and the General Assembly of the United Nations, he drew attention to care for nature, and help of immigrants as well as the poor to live a dignified life. About his defense for the life of every person, he was not able, however, to clearly defend the life of the human person in the womb - arguably the weakest of all - before Congress but did show his belief in the right to life of the unborn when he spoke to the bishops. It inflamed a liberal American when he found the Pope's anti-abortion stance and opposition to homosexuality (see here). Although Pope Francis teaches and abides by the dogma of the Church, his keen enthusiasm to attract as many estranged faithful as possible back to the fold was sometimes understood to be too ambiguous on expressing the moral values that Christianity stands for. This is so because he wants to move away from abstract concepts and rather be a pastor close to people. It is written that Jesus said to the rabbis "Go and learn what this means, `I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.' For I came not to call righteous, but sinners." (Matthew 9: 13). In this vein, he declared a Year of Mercy in the Catholic Church. He wants the young couples to be properly prepared for the sacrament of marriage that does not allow divorce (For this they must avoid false marriages based on material needs or passing sexual desire); he directed the priests to hear confessions of repentant mothers that had abortion; he made the annulment process of invalid marriages shorter by treating it in local church courts rather than the lengthy process that used to take years. Since his election, the Latin American pope sought to enrich the core of an ageing Church in Europe with the vibrant and younger Churches in the peripheries of the world. But Francis' vision goes further to reconcile all of humanity in Christ, including not only Christians, but also strengthening the dialogue with followers of atheism, and other religions - many do not know the true God who loves without limit, yet they innately search for the God of Christians as the Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner, S.J. had proposed in his "Anonymous Christian" writings. The Spirit of God, according to Cardinal Henri de Lubac, S.J. is present in everyone. Yet not everyone follows the Spirit to be healed and become a real Christian. With the first Jesuit pope, memory of the reform-minded Second Vatican Council is vibrant again.

If Pope Francis could have extended his visit to America by one day, he would have probably been able to address the burning issue of global terrorism with the Russian President Vladimir Putin in the United Nations headquarter or could at least mediate a resolution between policy makers of America and Russia for peace in the Middle East. How can Christians of the world contribute to peace needed everywhere? Peace is a fruit of listening to the Spirit of God and responding to the divine love. Archbishop J.Jules Zerey of Jerusalem reminded Christians in his September visit to Toronto that they should pray to the Holy Spirit, often neglected in prayers. This confidence in the presence of the Holy Spirit is also found in the mystically-inclined Pope Francis. Archbishop Zerey invited people to properly read the Bible and spend a bit of time every day to contemplate Jesus. Restoring Christian unity, which was one of the goals of the Second Vatican Council and is urgently needed today, will not be achieved without the Spirit of Christ! Action by itself is insufficient. It must be based on the presence of God in sincere prayer.

Referring to new research by UCLA neuroscience researcher Dr. Alex Korb, an article for the secular mind written by Eric Barker was published in September 2015 in a number of magazines. He mentions 4  "rituals" that will make you happy. First: "Ask 'What am I grateful for?' No answers? Does not matter; Just searching helps." Second: Label negative emotions; Once identified, the brain will not be worried. Third: Decide on what you want to do; Go for 'good enough' instead of 'best decision ever made'. Fourth: Hug people you care about more often...
Although this research does not mention the Holy Spirit, the Holy Father believes as we do that the Holy Spirit works in all people and urges them to repent of sins in order to receive joy. To be grateful for what you are and have is a step in recognizing the gift of another. The source of all gifts is God. The second "ritual" is recognizing that worries are not helpful. This is also in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life..." (Matthew 6: 25) written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The third "ritual" is to be realistic and not greedy. This is also a good reminder for today's busy people with material success. The fourth "ritual" is particularly needed in our social life. Although we are individuals, we need to "hug" each other because it is a sign of love and relatedness (which is the essence of the Triune God in our life).

With the misuse of new Internet technology, excessive materialism, that promises false utopia and comfort, continues to be a concern for Pope Francis and other Christian leaders. Dark-Net dealers do illegal business across the Internet.They include hackers, traffickers in illegal drugs and prostitution across the Internet without being found. In a seminar in Toronto on September 12, 2015, Cardinal Thomas Collins spoke about the book of Revelation. Thomas Collins warned Canadians that the book of Revelation can be interpreted anew in light of today's suffering. He had recently met with the Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church and the Patriarch of the Syriac Catholic Church whose faithful trace their tradition to the Apostles of the first century and its Aramaic language. The two Patriarchs pleaded with Christians in Canada to help the suffering people of Syria where 250,000 were killed, and millions were forced to flee their land by the so-called Islamic State and other Islamic extremists. When the first Christians preached the Gospel they were persecuted and martyred by pagans but they survived because of the example of the Apostles who, inspired by the Holy Spirit of the risen Christ, dared to testify to the truth. This is the  situation of Christians in the Middle East. They need all the help we can give in good conscience.

In history, the Cardinal recalled two heroes who defended the faith of the Church in the 16th century: Saint Thomas More; and Saint John Fisher. They were martyred for the truth. The Book of Revelation is about Christian hope and faith. But in Canada and most of the civilized world, many people live like pagans concerned only about material satisfaction and pleasure. The sanctity of marriage, which St. Thomas More defended, is being attacked by the neo-pagans including recent decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada. Christians need to learn from our martyrs and saints and sacrifice to the last breath like they did, the Cardinal Archbishop of Toronto concluded.

Biblical Reflection: Christ thus spoke:
"You have heard that it was said, `An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you.
"You have heard that it was said, `You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:38-48).

Dig Deeper

First: Anthropological and Historical Reflections:
In "The History of Religions" published by the University of Chicago in 1959, Mircea Eliade traces the development of the sacred from primitive cultures. He advances the idea that in the 20th century, symbolism has been found in depth-psychology, especially that "the activity of the unconscious can be grasped through the interpretation of images, figures, and scenarios". He adds other factors that contribute to the study of symbolism such as the rise of of abstract art and "the poetic experiments of the surrealists" as well as the research of ethnologists in primitive societies, and finally the role of researches of certain philosophers, epistemologists, and linguists who wanted to show the symbolic character not only of language, but also of all other activities of the human spirit, from rite and myth to art and science." (Pages 86, 87). In the same book, Jean Daniélou clarifies "The history of religions today confronts us with an immense amount of material dealing with myths, symbols, and rites" (Page 68).

In "Truth and Tolerance" published in 2003, Joseph Ratzinger refers to Mircea Eliade's "Patterns in Comparative Religion" first published in 1948 and translated to English in 1958. Ratzinger writes "Today's man has a concept of religion that is always very much a matter of symbols, which despite the ultimate unity of the language of human symbols (as is increasingly demonstrated today by psychology and religious anthropology), vary in many details but nonetheless mean just the same thing" (Pp.23-24). Ratzinger outlines three distinctive paths in human cultures:
1. In the form of mysticism, the myth as a merely symbolic form is stripped of its illusion, and the absolute value of an unnameable experience is set up.
2. In the monotheistic revolution of Israel, the myth is rejected as man-made.The absolute nature of the divine call issued through the prophet is maintained.
3. In the form of enlightenment, first on a large scale in Greece, the myth is outgrown as a prescientific form of knowledge and rational knowledge is set up as the absolute value.

Another finding in "generative" anthropology is attributed to René Girard, retired professor of civilizations at Stanford University and member of l'Academie francaise! 
In his theory of mimetic rivalry, René Girard shows how we are born with a tendency for selfishness. Mimetic rivalry, that is imitative rivalry, exists in human natural relationships. According to him, I desire what "the other" has, not only because it is good, but more importantly because he also desires it. Thus, in effect, by desiring what he has, I want to fulfill myself. He became my model since we both desire the same object, but now I  must surpass him to acquire the object for myself.  I am my god, and will expand my family, my tribe, my nation, my religion, and my culture only because they are mine! When people fight because of rivalry, it becomes contagious, and society descends into chaos and disorder. The only "Satanic" remedy to restore order found in the early cultures was the scapegoat. In pagan cultures, men would collaborate and exclude or kill a person they accuse of not following them. The act of killing unites them again and order is restored. This is the ritual of sacrifice in archaic religions. Following the exclusion or killing act of the “innocent” person, the band starts feeling guilty as they see the victim not moving anymore. They then attempt to reintroduce him in their memory by making him divine, and celebrating his feast with dance and festivities. This remembrance accomplishes again what Satan wants: a lie. Order is re-established based on a lie (killing an innocent person), and a person is now divine based on another lie. This powerful chain was only broken by the death of Christ. This is the Satanic power that Christ reversed by his death, not because he was innocent but because being innocent he did not retaliate. On the cross he forgave his accusers.(Cf. Frederiek Depoortere;  "Christ in Postmodern Philosophy"; T and T Clark; 2008 - Pages 34-91). In his "Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World", Girard expounds his finding that of the ancient writings and myths, the Biblical writers not only reveal the crimes but proclaim the innocence of the victim  -This is the opposite of the pagan myths that put the guilt on the scapegoat victim who is innocent and kills him violently as is the case of the authorities in crucifying their opponent Jesus Christ. 

However, it seems from history that two forces shaped the construction of civilizations. One is a desire by the chief of the tribe or nation to expand his own to other lands; the other force is collaboration between tribes to conquer others or to extend their survival through trade. In June 2015, the historian Yuval Noah Harari explained to some 400 persons (as also reached through the Internet by nearly 900,000 persons) the rise of humans and the massive cultures that by now humans control the planet Earth (listen to his brief talk here; or read the transcript here). The reality of cooperation between the early homo sapiens has been addressed too in a massive article in the August 2015 issue of Scientific American by Curtis Marean, Professor of Human Evolution at Arizona State University. His team in collaboration with teams of researchers at the University of Johannesberg, and the University of California found the basis of the ascending home sapiens invasion of the planet. The migration from Africa to the Near East and Eurasia was successfully completed by our ancestors because of their collaboration in defending their tribes which then extended themselves to the shores and lands of Australia and the Americas some 70,000 years ago.

Although Harari speaks in terms of fictional stories invented by humans - which are not always the case for believers, especially that the historical evidence for Christ's crucifixion and resurrection has been demonstrated (here) - he makes two points:
1. What sets us apart is massive cooperation in all fields of knowledge and the transmission of this knowledge. This is the result of belief systems where I trust you will give me what I need to eat in exchange for a piece of paper (a dollar bill) even if it is the first time that you see me.
2.  The survival of human beings may be threatened soon by the machines they make (such as robots) or probably two classes will be created if material consumerism continues: the very rich (virtual gods) and the very poor (slaves). Eliminating this threat has been shown by Pope Francis in his recent Encyclical Laudato Si (here).

But this is only a scratch of the surface: The Western civilization is arguably based on the Christian anthropology of Man - That is the development of humanity based on Christ as Henri Boulad, S.J. expressed in multiple lectures (see here, and here) as well as his speech in December 2014 at the European Parliament (partially quoted here). Some historians believe the Renaissance started as early as Charlemagne (whose education program encompassed literature, arts, architecture, liturgical reform, and scriptural studies - Cf. G.W. Trompf; "The concept of the Carolingian Renaissance"; Journal of the History of Ideas; 1973:3ff). Brave steps in opening the West to other civilizations started with Charlemagne in 800 AD who collaborated with the Abbasid Muslim Caliphs in order to increase trade with the East. In return, Haroun Al-Rashid sent the pope the keys of Jerusalem. The Caliph had already learned from Christians in Persia and built a large library in Baghdad only to be burned by the Mongols from China centuries later. Here again we see the fruits of collaboration and the results of destructive invasions and wars.  In the atmosphere of learning in Europe Francis of Assisi was able to enrich the world with the idea that man could talk to nature; a step carried forward by Thomas Aquinas in adopting Aristotle in his reform of philosophy since Aristotle thought that nature is distinct from God. St. Thomas used the good elements in Aristotle's thought and refreshed Christian thought that nature could be explored on its own. The scientific exploration is still going on. The "sacred" cosmos is now accessible through Big Data gathered from galaxies millions of years away. The beginning of the cosmos has caught the interest of scientists at CERN's Large Hadron Collider  (see 'Quantum Synthesis' here and here)

History is being made today: In a significant article in January 2015, Dr. George Friedman (founder of Stratfor, an American global intelligence specializing in geopolitics) wrote about the continuous conflict between Christianity and Islam(Titled A War Between Two Worlds, it can be found here)

Second: Theological Reflections

Adaptation is a rule in the development of nations. For example, the Enuma Elish myth in 12th century BC Mesopatamian/Babylonian civilization is borrowed in the story of creation in the Bible according to many contemporary Biblical scholars. However only in the Bible the creator creates ex-nihilo (i.e. from nothing), which is what scientists call "singularity" in the standard Big Bang Theory for lack of expression in mathematical form (infinitismal nothing into zero).  

The idea of God underwent progressive understanding in the Bible (see here). God does not change but he chose to become a human person in Jesus Christ in order to restore humanity to him. Although there is much in common between Christian thought and other doctrines of the Far East, Christ is not the cosmos nor is he annihilated to be reborn anew. History has a direction. This is also found in the scientific standard Big Bang Theory. Christ is the Alpha and Omega (Revelation 1, 8). In Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., and Henri Boulad, S.J. the "Omega Point" refers to the "Cosmic" Christ who will restore saved creation to his Father at the Second Coming. Again scientific materialism is refuted by the spiritual insight.

In recent decades, false prophets of Radical Islam found the entire globe to preach their own "sacred" doctrines which have almost destroyed the entire Arab nations and threaten humanity with their ancient "wolves" but as throughout history Christ warns his sheep "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles?" (Matthew 7: 15-16)

Bonus: A homily by the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen on the Hour of Power at the Crystal Cathedral in 1972 - A hope for Christians:

Based on the above Christians need to make a choice if they wish a civilization that supports human development to continue.

Today's Quote

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


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