Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2016 Random Thoughts

                                         2016 Random Thoughts
The earliest of the four written gospels, the one attributed to Mark, does not begin with the stories about Jesus’ birth and infancy, but rather begins with Jesus as being about 28 years old and coming down from his home town of Nazareth (1300 feet above sea level) down to the shores of the Sea of Galilee, the lowest freshwater lake on earth (700 feet below sea level).

In Mark’s narrative, Jesus comes to those who will be his disciples and says to them, “The present moment is the right time. Change the way you think because the Kingdom of God is within you. Believe this ‘good news’ [Mk.1:15]. Although I love to read all of the gospels, I am particularly struck by this passage because I believe it is the central message of Jesus.

When I was a child, I used to pray for things I wanted to get or have happen. These were not all self-centered requests but my prayer was usually directed to a very far away God who sometimes didn’t seem to be paying attention. There was no question whether or not I believed in God for my mother and father were believers and so I readily became one, but rather the problem seemed to be where was this God to whom I  prayed .

As a child I learned to believe He was in the tabernacle of my parish church so I would always look towards the sanctuary, or stare at the Eucharistic host, which after all I was taught to believe was the Real Presence, the consecrated body and blood of Jesus. Because of this, I was led to believe that our prayer could be focused upon a reality in space and time.

As I grew up, I began to focus upon a life which believed that all reality was spatial and temporal. My scientific pursuits taught me that whatever could not be sensed as having mass and occupying space simply could not be proven to exist and therefore I became a total materialist. I strove to understand the theological arguments of Saint Thomas Aquinas which were presented as proofs for the existence of God. These proofs, however, left me high and dry in my wish to “experience” God.

It was only my friendship with a man who has remained my spiritual guide for the past fifty years that led me to a much deeper experience with a prayer called contemplative or centering prayer. His name is Thomas Keating, OCSO, a retired abbot living at Saint Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass Colorado. He has written many great books on the subject, culminating with his recent Reflections on the Unknowable. His teaching, combined with the quote above from the Gospel of Mark, indicate to me that I have finally discovered where God dwells.  God, or whatever name you choose to call God, Yahweh, El, or whatever, all of these are words stemming from ideas we have of the Transcendent Being. And all of these ideas are inadequate, for God cannot be understood by humans.

This Being we term “god” in the Christian tradition, is to be found within us. Thus the many words we use in prayer may or may not be helpful, but words ultimately fail. To pray to god, we should perhaps do as Jesus taught when he is recorded as saying, “But when you pray, go to your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen/ And your Father , who sees what you do in private, will reward you,”[Mt.6:6], and in Mark we see Jesus pray by example: “Very early next morning, long before daylight, Jesus got up and left the house. He went of town to a lonely place, where he prayed.”[Mk.1:35]

In centering prayer, we are taught to focus in the present moment, breathe and gently “flush” out the mental pictures that invade us and simply BE in the presence of God within us as Jesus taught. Try to do this for a half an hour or longer if possible, wherever and whenever  you are.
Today, astrophysicists teach us that the entire cosmos sprang from a “point of no dimensions” 13.7 billion years ago.  It is that point to which we face in contemplative prayer. Try it.

Do not worry about knowing God, or understanding God, rather simply ask for belief. This is what Jesus asked us:
                                  "Believe this good news" 
                                                                                               Charlie Mc

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A Visit to Saint Joseph's Abbey

                    The World's "Inner Room"
Ten miles west of Worcester, Massachusetts, in the town of Spencer, there is a monastery of contemplatives called Saint Joseph's Abbey. Most Catholics don't even know about it, except for the fact that one of the industries of St. Joseph's is one producing Trappist Jams and Jellies. Another more recent one, is a brewery which makes Trappist Ale.

The monks at Saint Joseph's live lives dedicated to prayer, manual labor and  life according to the Rule of Saint Benedict in effect since the Fourth Century. It appears to be a very hard life, but in comparison to the frantic lives most of us live in the modern world, it is a life of peace and charity.

Since many of you may never be able to visit Saint Joseph's, I wish to give you here the opportunity to visit vicariously through the link below. be sure to click on all the venues for a complete visit. Thank you,                        Charlie Mc

A visit to Saint Joseph's:

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Thomas Keating @ Folsom Prison

Dom Thomas Keating OCSO was my abbot at Saint Joseph's Abbey while I was there between 1963-1968. During my time there, I had Father Thomas as a spiritual director, little realizing how much of a trial he was having as abbot during such a tumultuous time after Vatican II where the insights of Pope John XXIII were being met with such conflicting opinions. During those years, Dom Thomas underwent a metamorphosis from the centuries old predominance of asceticism and austerity of Trappist life, to the more contemplative ancient emphasis on interior prayer as Jesus recommended when he is quoted in Mark 1:15 as saying, "The present moment is the right time. Change the way you think for the Kingdom of God is WITHIN you. Believe this good news."

Mt.6:6 continues this in presenting Jesus as saying, "When you pray, go to your room, close the door, and pray to your Father , who is unseen."

This practice of interior contemplative prayer was emphasized by monks and mystics through the centuries, but was less emphasized by the Western Church where Sacraments, liturgy and service were prominent. In modern times, many religious wish to have a greater and more meaningful experience of God than they seemed to be having, and many turned to the East and meditation and Zen and Buddhist religions for what they sought.

Father Thomas realized that without diminishing the apostolic works in their daily life, experiences in meditative and contemplative life might give the faithful what they sought. The combination of Faith and Contemplative Prayer is what offered the faithful what they sought. Dom Thomas while at Saint Benedict's Monastery in Snowmass Colorado began Centering Prayer with retreatants. The practice has spread worldwide in thirty years. A few years ago, Dom Thomas visited Folsom Maximum Security Prison to talk with prisoners there who have formed centering prayer groups. The following is a link to those sessions which I hope you will like. Thank you.     Charlie Mc

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Reflection on "Spotlight"

Recently.a movie called "Spotlight" opened in theaters across the country depicting the pursuit of the true story behind decades of of child abuse by priests of the Archdiocese of Boston. The story has grown to include priests everywhere around the world. The reaction to the revelations in the Boston Globe are focused on the investigative journalism of reporters with the Globe. The following is a critique of that movie by Erin Trahan. It prompted me to write a COMMENT to her article, and is followed up by a contributor's COMMENT to which I wrote a RESPONSE. Thank you for reading this.  Charlie Mc
 'Spotlight' Brings This Film Critic Back To Her Catholic Roots — And Rebellion

 The superb new movie “Spotlight,” about The Boston Globe’s investigation into the Catholic Church’s child abuse cover-up, was the best film I saw at the Toronto International Film Festival by a marathon mile. It opens in Boston on Friday, Nov. 6, and I wholeheartedly recommend it. More On 'Spotlight':

As a professional critic there’s an incredible amount of film artistry to laud about “Spotlight,” an old-fashioned procedural of the best sort. For me, though, it was a reminder of what it is to be, or to have been, a Catholic.

I moved to Boston from Michigan in 2001, the year most of the movie takes place. That’s when the Globe’s four-person Spotlight team started uncovering the Boston Archdiocese’s rampant abuse of children and power. Though I’d grown up Catholic, even attended the University of Notre Dame and served a year in a kind of Catholic Peace Corps, I’d distanced myself enough from the church that the news felt more inevitable than personal.

Ever since, I’ve remained oddly dulled to the extent Catholicism is woven into the fabric of this city and my own identity, too. I shrugged it off as part of the Boston stereotype, having nothing to do with me, because, I figured, being an outsider trumps all else. So I’m white, Catholic, Irish (my name is Erin!) — a veritable trinity — and I’m an outsider? “Spotlight” showed me the absurdity of such logic.

On the film’s surface, it takes an “outsider” editor-in-chief Marty Baron (a wonderfully stoic Liev Schreiber who paradoxically plays the kind of Boston character I’m griping about in the TV series “Ray Donovan”) to push the abuse exposé to the front page. The fact that Baron is Jewish and from Florida raises a few eyebrows at first. But this film suggests, some would say trumpets, that the story is precisely about how systems are rigged to make insiders feel like outsiders.

Spotlight editor Walter “Robby” Robinson (played with gravity by Michael Keaton) is the closest thing to a main character in an ensemble film that prioritizes process over psyches. For too long he either does not or cannot clearly perceive his relationship to the powers that be, whether among fellow alums of Boston College High School across the street from the Globe or within the newsroom’s hierarchy. Before he can put the church story together, though, he needs to see the pieces of himself in it.

In that way, “Spotlight” asks that question on so many of our minds: What institution can we trust? It’s a movie less about individual journalists and more about journalism’s function in democracy; less about predatory priests and child victims, and more about the institution that allowed the abuse, and the corrective systems that, with time and resources, could oblige the former to change. It mourns what’s lost, and in fact made me nostalgic for a past I’ve never known, including working in a newsroom.

A secondary storyline also caught me off guard. In it, reporter Sacha Pfeiffer (a sharp Rachel McAdams) weighs how to break the news about the scandal to her devout grandmother. Her grandmother’s sorrow rang familiar. She grieves for the dissolution of the church and the rites and rituals that used to bind generations. The church abandoned her heart.
Of my 19 first cousins, nearly two-thirds no longer practice Catholicism. Our reasons are legion and inexplicable to our parents, who almost all still regularly attend Mass.

Watching “Spotlight” I thought of the victims, of course, but I also thought about my aunts. One has lamented that her grandchildren will not find solace, as she has, by reciting prayers. For two others, the scandal was the straw that left them attending Mass only on holidays, if at all.

Still, as it was for the lapsed Catholic reporters of “Spotlight,” something is missing without church. The Michael Rezendes character reveals how until this scandal he always felt he might go back someday. When you grow up Catholic, you understand that tug.

After much mulling, my non-Catholic husband and I recently decided to baptize our daughter. It was the first time I celebrated Mass with extended family since I can’t remember when.
Erin Trahan edits The Independent, and is a regular contributor to the ARTery.
Charlie Mc:

Beautifully said, Erin. I too am a Catholic, Irish, Jesuit educated Bostonian who loves this wonderful city. That it has been so blighted by the silent secret acts of parish priests, pastors and hierarchy sickens me to the heart. That all of this filthy "underwear" is now out in the daylight for all to see is the best thing that could possibly happen to the Institution. History shows that this has happened countless times before when the rotting branches needed pruning back to the truths of its founder.
My suggestion for us all is to read Thomas Keating's ["Reflections on the Unknowable"], or any of his recent works; and read Emily Dickinson ["Some keep the Sabbath going to Church..."].
Religion is sometimes helpful but often divisive.

Jesus first recorded words: "The present moment is the right time. Change the way you think, for the Kingdom of God is WITHIN you!"[Mk.1:14-16]

God is within all, including those countless of little children  suffering for all their lives from the deep wounds inflicted upon them by any who teach them what evil is. The harshest words ever attributed to Jesus is also from Mark:

"If anyone should cause one of these little ones to lose his faith in me, it would be better for that person to have a large millstone tied around his neck and be thrown into the sea."[Mk. 9:42]

As Mark Ruffalo [Mike Rezendes} is presented as saying: "This applies to anyone, be it priest, or Bishop or even to the Pope himself!." Again, check out Thomas Keating.
COMMENT: "Ummm. Do you even own a Bible?
Mark 1:14-16 does not say what you say it says.
Jesus never said "the Kingdom of God is within you."
You also misquote Mark 9:42.
Please don't mislead people like this".
Charlie Mc:
In Mark1:15, Jesus came into Galilee proclaiming the ‘good news’ of God, saying ‘The right time is now, the Kingdom of God is "ηγγικεν" [eggiken]. This word in Greek, the written language of Mark, but not the spoken language of Jesus, is derived from the Greek “εγγιων” which [according to Liddell and Scott] can be translated as “to bring very near, to draw nigh, to be at hand”.In “An Introduction to the New Testament’ by R.E.Brown, we read: “Although some would translate the proclamation to mean that the Rule or Kingdom of God has come, the best translation of the verb “eggizein” is probably “come near”—the Kingdom is making itself felt but has not fully arrived.

In the JBC [Jerome Biblical Commentary} Edward J. Mally SJ writes: “ Mark1:14-16 is a summary of Jesus’ preaching which was edited in line with his own theological preoccupations. With regard to vs.15, Mally writes “’God’s reign is at hand; Repent”. This indicates that Mark is emphasizing the eschatological nature of Jesus’ presence in Galilee. 

Throughout the four Gospels, Jesus repeatedly refers to the Kingdom of God as a mystery, and not one of this earth. He also asks the disciples not to refer to him as the Messiah, for that title in Jewish traditions refers to a king of this world, one who will lead and succeed in overthrowing the oppressive foreign domination by Rome. He frequently has to use parables, metaphors and mythological images with reference to the Kingdom and emphasizes its hiddenness from human observation [“Like a seed planted in the ground, etc…] 

The Synoptic Gospels represent Jesus as proclaiming the imminence of the Kingdom of God from the beginning of his public ministry. According to Carroll Stuhlmueller, CP, in JBC, (#44:125), he writes: “Luke writes, therefore, in some way , the Kingdom has been and always will be ‘WITHIN you’. The unusual phrase "γαρ η βασιλεια του Θεου εντος υμων εστιν. [“for the Kingdom of God is within you”. (lk.17:20). 

In an earlier letter of St. Paul to the Colossians [ca.57AD], he writes: “It is [my] task of fully proclaiming [Christ’s] ‘good news’ which is the secret he hid through all past ages from all mankind but has now revealed to his people. God’s plan is to make known to his people, this rich and glorious secret which he has for all peoples. And the secret is that Christ is in you.” (1:26-27)  In his letter to the Corinthians (ca. 52AD) Paul wrote: “Put yourself to the test and judge yourselves, to find out whether you are living in faith. Surely you know that Christ Jesus is in you? – unless you have completely failed.” [2Co 13:5] 

Now this is very difficult to believe because it is truly impossible to understand. Our understanding comes from our intellectual processing of data received from our outside world of sensory experience. We cannot see this, nor hear it, nor touch it, taste it or smell it; nor can we imagine this nor perceive it; but we can believe it. Why can we believe it? Only because someone truly trustworthy attests to it. We believe our mother when she tells us something. Why? Because she is our mother and Mom never lies, we can hopefully say, Our belief in the immanence of the Kingdom of God depends upon how trustworthy Jesus testimony (and that of the evangelist) is viewed. This also explains why so many who hear this good news reject it and instead substitute some more conceivable interpretation. This explains why early Christians were in a quandary concerning whether Kingdom of God was already come, or would come at the end of the world. Paul addressed this confusion in his letters to the Thessalonians.

In A Marginal Jew, Vol2 1994, John P. Meier gives the greatest coverage of the difficulties in interpreting this particular text in Mark, and also that of Lk17:20. [See Meier, pp. 430-434; 484-487; 484-488]. “Sentences with the Kingdom of God as the subject and a verb of motion (come, arrive, draw near) as the predicate are characteristic of the historical Jesus, while they are practically absent from the Jewish writings before him as well as the rest of the NT outside of the synoptic gospels. [p.431]. …The precise meaning of the word “eggekin” (“has dawn near”) has been a battleground for exegetes for a good part of the 20th Century…our problem stems from the fact that the form of the verb used in Mk.1:15, is not the present case but the perfect tense in the Greek . It denotes an action (1) that was completed in the past but (2) whose effect lasts into the present. “Thus, Meier cannot refer to this Kingdom of God as “either/or”, but as “both/and”. It is close to what a person says while awaiting a train at the station when he says, “The train is here”, meaning it is “coming into and already here”, or when a person in danger might cry out, “the wolf is at the door!” 

Since it is impossible to distinguish, then I believe it is perfectly acceptable to recognize the difficulty and to accept both meanings, such that “The Kingdom of God is within you” is acceptable, as well as the belief that "the Kingdom of God is coming". 

Two other factors encourage me to use that expression. In Mk. 1:15, the text continues by having Jesus say: ‘Repent!’ and believe this ‘good news’”. The word repent is commonly translated as “Be sorry for your sins and do the things required to seek forgiveness”.” This indicates that before we can be baptized, it is necessary for us to be forgiven. This presumes that we all need to be forgiven. 

In the development of dogmatic theology, this need for repentance by all was seen as sin transmitted to each of us by birth. It’s cause was seen as the punishment for Adam’s sin at the origin of mankind. It is difficult to appreciate how this could be referred to as the "good news' by Jesus.

In 1898, a book  The Great Meaning of METANOIA was written by Treadwell Walden. In it, he explored the history of the “mistranslation” of the Greek word “Μετανοια” by early Church Fathers. The first meaning of the word is from the Greek “Μετανοεο”, is “to perceive afterwards, or too late” about something". A secondary meaning is “to change one’s mind or opinion”, and last of all “to repent “. If we translate Mark1:15 with “change the way you think” it fits the context much better for it means to change your mind about the way you think about reality itself, especially as to where you can find God, and God’s Kingdom. It is to be found within you AND within everyone else. It seems to be the heart of Jesus’ message, his ‘good news’ as to how we are meant to live, to pray and to appreciate others, even the “least of our brothers”. 

This doctrine of the INDWELLING of God has been the most neglected of Church’s teachings throughout thousands of years except in the teachings of the mystics and monks, although this teaching was itself often considered crackpot and heretical. It seemed to be similar to that of Buddhism and Zen. In the twentieth century, in the past 40 years, Catholics have been evidencing their growing belief in the indwelling of God with a regrowth of interior, centering or contemplative prayer. Writers like the late Thomas Merton,  the 92 year old Thomas Keating, and very successful interreligious dialogue have been most successful at drawing believers into this practice. [See Reflections on the Unknowable, by Thomas Keating (2014)]. 

In conclusion, I am NOT a scripture scholar nor a Catholic preacher, but I do practice silent prayer in which I begin with a recitation of Mark 1:14-16, and try(!) to go into my inner room and pray there in secret and silence to my Father who hears my prayer.
Thank you for your comment and reading all of this. ---Charlie Mc

P.S. I think the Mk.9:42 quote is correct.