Virtue exalts a nation, but sin is a people’s disgrace.

Prov 14:34

This blog is dedicated to Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Weeks and Glen Doherty – good and brave men all – who died at Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012.

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I began driving east from Notre Dame to Washington, D.C. last Sunday at 7 a.m. The hour was dark and without sound.  Few cars.  Nothing astir.  A peaceful predawn day.

As I drove slowly the sun began to show.  Just a hint of light on the horizon.  I was listening to 13 Hours in Benghazi as I drove.

Bit by bit the recorded book recounted how a security detail of experienced and highly skilled brave men, a short drive from the besieged American compound in Benghazi, rapidly and fearlessly prepared to respond to their colleagues in danger.

As the narrator took me though each detail of the preparation, day began to appear in northern Indiana.  The sun’s light painted its diffused pinks and outlined the tree-lined horizon across silent farm fields while the book told of men ready for battle and waiting for orders to traverse a short distance to defend their colleagues and America by engaging a murderous, rag-tag mob with lethal weapons intent on killing our brothers and destroying our scarcely guarded buildings in Benghazi.

As the sun rose to bless a new day, the narrator told of anxious men in waiting ready to fight and cell phone transmissions from their trapped colleagues urging their response and saying bluntly ” … we’re gonna die.”

While I entered a new day, those trapped men were looking at their last night, a night of violence and buildings afire, and no authorized government response … as brave men in waiting stood incredulously, in anger and disbelief, without orders to engage.

Virtue exalts a nation, but sin is a people’s disgrace.

Events allow us to judge the direction we are going and how we are living.  Are we moving with virtue or disgrace?  Each of us has a voice to give answer to this question.  In a free society elections offer us speech – time to speak, to answer the question posed: virtue or disgrace?

To live in sin is to die many deaths.  To live in virtue is to live forever.  Which do you choose?  Who are we?

Shalom.

In acceptance of the chalice of his existence, man shows his obedience to the will of his Father in heaven; in rejecting it, he rejects God.

Johannes B. Metz, in Poverty of Spirit

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My father deserted my mother and me when I was an infant.  I saw him twice in my life.  The first time was when I was about 4 years old and he walked right by me and never said “hi.”  I remember it still to this day.  I went to my darkened bedroom and cried.  Yet, through the grace of God, I accepted what was.

In life there are disappointments and hurts, more than a handful – some go to our core.  Amid this do we accept the chalice of existence?

I often hear from people of their longings, those things that stem from rejection, abandonment – real deep and basic hurts, cracks in their very foundation.  These injuries are hard ones.  They strike at the human heart, at the soul.

Many wounded people long for something in this life to compensate for the loss they have known. Many carry that loss, that deep hurt through decades.  They search for an answer to the loss.  Or they suffer by compounding their loss with alcohol, or anger.  Some try endlessly to right what is wrong by getting a better result from the people who have hurt them.  Others look for a prince or princess to fill the deep void they feel. Others seek fortune or status to compensate and protect against the hurt.

In any loss and any hurt God is offered to us.  What do I mean?

In a loss or injury or injustice things that might obscure our vision are vacated.  In loss, God remains – easier to see, easier to experience.  In loss He stands there with the chalice of existence in His hand, stretched out to us so we may drink and go on, so we might live in Him, live to do His will.  In loss, we are closer to Christ – who lost also in this world, but who did the Father’s will.

Life is messy. Bad things happen. Injustice is part of living.  We alone cannot right what is wrong.  We can however be made whole and human by God.  All we need do is this: accept the chalice of existence.

Accept life by accepting God, letting your happiness blossom because you trust in God, and drink from the chalice He offers – a life given to draw closer to Him and know contentment.  He raises us above our injuries and lifts us past our plans for fullness, in favor of a fullness He made in us right from the beginning, losses notwithstanding.

Take the Chalice.  Live what you have been given.  Find The Way in God.

Shalom.

But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day (is) with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.

2 Peter 3:8

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One of the most significant ways we are called away from God in secular culture is by time.  We are always “on the clock,” always in a hurry – just think of traffic in a densely populated city, or driving on a well-traveled interstate highway.  Everyone is rushing, anxious to get somewhere by some particular time.  Or think about the day you live and how the clock dictates the many things in a day that you “have to do,” and do “on a timely basis.

What does the above say to you?  Are you trapped by time as the secular world uses it, and uses you?

Peter is reminding us of God, God’s time, of the difference between sacred time and secular time, between temporal time and eternal time – eternity.

At this very moment you occupy eternal time and there is no escaping that reality, no more than you can escape that you are created and called into being by God or that you are designed to know and desire both God and eternal reality.

When I return to Washington, I attend daily Mass at a wonderful Catholic parish in a comfortable neighborhood.  Each morning at the nine o’clock Mass 40 or more men and women, even school age students, come to worship.  I notice that some of  these faithful, good people engage the prayers with great rapidity.  These dear people proceed with speed, a breathless dash many times.

They are, without knowing it, bringing temporal time and its qualities and demands into sacred reality, what is eternal.

But temporal time is not eternal time.  It is but a slice of eternal time.

Imagine a 200 pound man trying to fit into a suit of clothes made for a 90 pound 12-year-old boy. Our 200 pound man is unlikely to get so much as a leg in the trousers made for the 90 pound boy.  Something larger is not something smaller; and besides a man with nary one leg in a pair of pants made for someone smaller looks out of place.

My point?  When you pray, remember you are engaging what is sacred – something larger.  Be reverent.  Slow down.  Savor what is said.  Pause from the rush of the mortal world.  Preserve what is eternal.  Do not be captured by what is secular and temporal.

Shalom.

Each man’s life represents a road toward himself.

Herman Hesse

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The journey requires we discard fear and desire.  In the journey fear and desire die.

If we must both discard fear and desire to make the journey and yet journey to rid ourselves of both fear and desire, how does one begin the journey?  How does one discard desire and fear when the journey itself allows us to discard desire and fear?

First, we identify in us what we desire and what we fear.  Knowing that, we take a first step and then another – each step an embrace of life and what it brings. Step after step.  Each step diminishes fear and desire until they are no more.

It is a long journey, as long as life.  Life is the journey.  The longer we carry desire and fear, the more we defer the death of fear and desire, the harder it is to live, the more absent joy and contentment, happiness and wisdom.

When fear and desire are reduced, doors appear that you did not once see and they are ajar.  In the end, there are no doors – just as there is no fear or desire.

The one who journeys sees All in all, all in All.

The one who journeys sees no particular separation, except for those who have divided themselves from the journey and from others.  The divided ones are like limbs fallen from the tree, sad homes to scavengers, organically returning to the earth.

Those who journey leave behind neurotic ideas, outlooks and attachments.  They have no addictions.  They need no control over others, nor uniform or title, nor memberships and entitlements.  Those who journey leave ego for self.  All journeys go first inside.

Those who journey know their life experiences, have grieved, do not fear to feel, their work has had purpose as they sought inherent meaning, not meaning exclusive to them but meaning of all created things including them.  Those who journey are increasingly at ease.

Those who journey face issues within, their doubts and the origin of those doubts. They come to know the meaning of things that repeat in their lives, and see and experience meaning in things that arise.  In this, their stride strengthens and that which has been deprived to them no longer is – to them, life is recovered step by step, and wholeness appears part by part.

Those who journey walk with the Spirit as their companion.

Journey, Friends.

Shalom.

… be whole,

Excluding nothing, exaggerate nothing that is not you -

Be whole in everything.  Put all you are

Into the smallest thing you do.

So in each lake, the moon shines with splendor

Because it blooms from above.

Fernando Pessoa, Poet

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To be whole one needs a strong and healthy ego and, most critically, knowledge of self and the Spirit that flows for it.

Yes, we are talking about wholeness and the hero’s journey – a journey that moves from infancy and dependence, through the discontent of unsuccessful and unhappy habits, which reflect poor adjustments to past events and experiences, to spiritual growth, maturity, contentment and wisdom.

There is no wholeness without the journey, and no wholeness without spiritual maturity.  One is only whole who comes to know self.

The whole person lives all of life, all of life which comes to them – that which is joyous and that which is not.

The whole person sees life in all its events as affirming life, and self, and God.  To the whole person life actualizes life, one’s being - and God’s being too.  A whole person is a human being.

The whole person lives in the Spirit and the self - not in the ego.  The whole person loves more easily, sees more than others, lives at a greater depth and easily separates the wheat from the weeds and seeks the company of those who do – even when that company is silence.

The whole person shares themselves even in the most tender experiences for those experiences tell and teach, show others The Way.

Be whole.  Embrace the journey.  Delve into it.

Shalom.

 

 

 … take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.

Eph 6:18

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In the first weekend of October, Lord Jonathan Sacks, Emeritus Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, had an excellent article in The Wall Street Journal.  In it, he recounted the disturbing increase in anti-Semitism in Europe and elsewhere.

In the article Rabbi Sachs identified anti-Semitism with a “larger pattern” of attacks on Christians and minority faiths in Asia, Africa and the Middle East and likened these attacks to ethnic cleansing.

Rabbi Sachs also correctly identifies these attacks as an assault on democratic freedoms.  I would add: they are an attack on Western civilization which we shockingly are unwilling to respond to.  Indeed, our inability to respond may be more alarming than the attacks themselves.

The article prompted me to think about how it is that people engage in fits of murderous religious hatred.

Hannah Arendt, in writing about this, viewed those who managed the Nazi atrocities as representing “the banality of evil” – showing us not rabid hatred but a rather predictable bureaucratic disregard for anything beyond “following orders,” “doing one’s job.”

Ah, this seems to miss the point.

Those who are seen “to do what they are told” (in the furthering of evil) are far from merely obedient managers. They are evil in the cover and disguise of the modern state and institutional life – where no one is ever ultimately responsible of any malfeasance or incompetence.

Present institutional life can be a comfortable home for manipulators, and those with bad intent and dark hearts.  Indeed, such institutional conduct and condition is very hard to uproot.

As to the personal side of the equation, as to how one fosters such hatred, I turn to James Hillman in his The Soul’s Code – In Search of Character and Calling and specifically to some things he says about Hitler and others murderers.

Hillman offers this (and other) explanations:  these evil-doers lack human feeling, the capacity to feel, to empathize and that this emptiness is then filled with all sorts of signs of maladjustment and treacherous deficit like impulsiveness, rigidity, emotional poverty, a lack of guilt or remorse – I would add an asocial personality.

In this explanation, the murderous ways that flow from this inability to feel are or can be an attempt to find a way out of this exiled emptiness. That is, the murderous ways are acts committed by these deficient souls and evidence of a distorted search for human contact that cannot be experienced in a healthy way.  These are people who cannot love. The point being that their raft is directed at targets who can feel and who seek feeling, relationship and healthy social and personal contact, and those targets can well be others with religious views that encompass this coveted contact, seek to further love, experience love – seek a God who is Love.

If such is the case, it is all the more important that we value and protect religious belief and expression, and doing so might well be our task in the world as it is today.  Yes, faith – keep it dear to you and hatred is defeated.  Neglect it, and reap the consequences of evil.

Shalom.

 

Whatsoever is not said in all sincerity, is wrongly said.  And not to be able to rid oneself of this is only to sink deeper toward perdition.

Lao-tzu

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I sit this morning before the sun is seen listening to shakuhachi meditation music.

The shakuhachi is a simple, ancient Chinese bamboo flute brought to Japan and used by Zen Buddhist monks in their meditations.  It is difficult to play and requires its player to be attentive to their breathing.  Zen monks consider it an extension of their zazen – their sitting meditation.

The shakuhachi was played by komuso (“priests of nothingness”) as they wandered the streets of Edo seeking charitable offerings.

Those who play the shakuhachi and those who listen to it hear a breath in its sound and make us mindful of the breath that is loaned to each of us by God.

Like silence and the wind in the trees and the dark of night, listening to the breath of God in the shakuhachi draws us closer to the Divine, to the All, to the Infinite, to from where we came and where we may return.

Meditation and the sacred sound of breath in the shakuhachi bring us to The Way, their properties know no religious limit, no exclusion but what we impose on ourselves or accept as a dividing imposition.

We played the flute for you, and you did not dance …

Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.

Mt 11:17,28

Have a restful day.  Take time in quiet.  There God speaks to you.

Shalom.

 

 

 

 

… the formation of character … is .. a different task from, a prior task to, the discussion of the great, difficult … controversies of the day.  First things first … virtue … comes first.

William J. Bennett

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There are many ways to draw closer to God.  Virtue is one such way, much as silence is a path to God’s ever-present presence.

There is a primacy to virtue.  It exceeds ethics – for ethics are but rules, whereas virtues govern the heart, soul and actions of the human person.

One cannot have an ordered life without virtues, one cannot know self or other, have community without virtue being known, integrated and practiced day by day.

But what do we mean by virtue?  Do we know what virtue is?  Does our culture raise it up?  Do our schools teach it?  Do we know the language of virtue?  Do we use it?  Does it enter into our thinking?  Our decisions?  Our daily life?

Virtue is the disposition to do good.  It is the disposition to do good which is habituated in us; not merely doing good when it suits us but rather when life’s circumstances challenge us as to doing good.  It is the firm disposition to do good, doing good as a habit that then becomes who we are: a good person, and then a good society.

Virtue allows us to give the best of who we are.  In virtue the human being excels.

Virtue produces good actions; it gives a concrete presence and, in this, it inspires and encourages others to do the same.

Virtue leads.

There is no leadership without virtue.  One does not follow anyone who lacks virtue, whose actions are devoid of virtue.  Just as there is no “cheap grace,” there is no “cheap virtue.”

Virtue joins reason to faith but is governed by faith.  In uniting reason and virtue, we see the whole human – the unity of natural and supernatural reality, the oneness of heaven and earth, the sacred embrace of God and the human person.

In virtue life becomes easier, contentment is common to us, calm ensures, peace is at hand, we know wisdom.

Virtue is habit-forming.  The more you do good, the more you do good without thinking, without anxiety as to consequences, costs or “inconveniences.”  There is ever-present joy and stability in virtue.

In virtue we touch the Divine.  We are called to life to live in virtue.

Let us not be lost to virtue and its primacy.  Without it we are less than fully human, life is cheapened and full of needless combat.

Shalom.

Mr. Root: … Just how dangerous is he?

Carson Wells: Compared to what?  The Bubonic plague? … He’s a psychopathic killer, but so what.  There’s plenty of them around.

Dialogue from No County for Old Men

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We like to think of corruption as something that applies to institutions, – a trait, or state of being, that belongs to an inanimate object or others, a class of people, but not us individually.

We cannot personalize corruption and contemplate it can, and often does, lay claim to our soul.  We prefer not to think of ourselves as standing in a crowd that shouts: “Crucify Him!”

Nor can we see that in silence and misshapen belief we are often corrupted.  Or that the shelter we often seek is ideology: a way of comforting ourselves rather than see who we actually are or what surrounds us, a system of belief that can manifest our corruption and flirtation with evil frequently wrapped in seemingly good and benign ideas, words and plans.

It is hard for us to see we are corrupted out of the fear of being corrupt – fallen, in need of faith and redemption, God and mercy.

Do not enter into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.  For the enemy has pursued me, crushing my life to the ground, making me sit in darkness like those long dead.

Ps 143:2-3

We all know people who see in the world only what they want, what they can “handle.” They are not the bounty-hunter, Carson Wells, who sees the world as it is, not as he wishes it were.  Wells sees in Anton Chigurh, the corrupted, heartless, asocial, thoroughly evil, savage killer he will chase, a psychotic Chigurh who kills in absolute, doubtless certainty.

In Wells’ few words he offers this lesson: the most certain among us can be the asocial, psychotic.

Carl Sagan observes that when people are bambozzled long enough they reject evidence of being deceived, that they no longer seek truth because it is too painful to accept that they have been wrong.

Sagan also notes that once taken in by a charlatan we rarely get ourselves back. This: a useful caution about mass culture and the care one must give to belief.

Lest you think innocence is the answer, the highly-regarded psychotherapist Jim Hillman sees that evil is attracted to innocence and that innocence even prompts evil.

Life requires that we see all that is before us.  To do so is an act of faith.

The stakes are high.  See and have faith.

Shalom.

All things came into being through Him, and without Him not one thing came into being.  What has come into being in Him was life. (Emphasis added.)

Jn 1:3

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Why Jesus and not me?

Why not base my life upon me?  What I “need?”  What I want?  My plans?  My passions?  My dreams?  Myself?

Well let’s begin with this: Jesus is not merely a great man, a prophet, a teacher, and surely not a politico or a social reformer.  No.  Jesus is the Word of God made flesh, God incarnate.  He is being itself made present and visible to us.  He is what we are intended to be – one who lives as God’s child, God’s beloved as much as is possible with us as humans, the imperfect image of God.

This is what it means to say “I am a Christian.”  So for those who are Christian who wish to go their own way, “engineer” their own life, go it alone, lay exclusive claim to life as their possession and in doing this miss the gift of life and of intimate relationship with God, I say this: you are missing Christ.

In Christ we see what it is to live, to live as a human, to be, to live with the Divine, to live in faith, in relationship to God, to learn from Christ in his incarnate life, to come to know who you are and to be content, courageous in your action, compassionate as well, to be loved and to love, to be merciful and peaceful, to know peace – the peace of Christ.

The death of Jesus is a clear statement, as true today as it was 2000 years ago, that the world is in a bad way, a sorry state in need of love and care and understanding.  Ironically, such a world is the product of selfishness – going it alone, living without God, without Christ.

You see, human beings are incapable of living well when we depend exclusively on our own, on material existence.  We need a relationship with God.

Our existence, our being, is divine and deep and eternal in nature and as mortals acting alone, we cannot know the depth of our divinely gifted being.  Trying to live without God at the center of our life is, frankly, the cause of our troubles, calamities, conflicts and illnesses.

Dear Friends, a phrase to live by each day: Jesus not me.

” … who do you say that I am?”

Mk 8:29

Shalom.

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