He had performed … many signs, yet they were not believing in Him … they could not believe because Isaiah said … “he has blinded their eyes and he hardened their heart, so that they would not see with their eyes and perceive with their heart …”

Jn 12:37, 39, 40

One of the fundamental aspects of life in the past 100-150 in the West has been the changing landscape of belief – its decline, its variation, and the emergence of unbelief and of phenomenology – the study of human experience and the conscious perceptions that foster human behavior, influence belief or its absence or dissipation.

If there is but one thing we might be wise to attend to in this chaotic and disintegrating age we live in the West today, it is belief – and the rise of unbelief.

When you think about it belief and unbelief are central to human relationship, the nature and quality of human existence, the perceptions that govern individual and collective conduct – especially government conduct, policy and behavior – both things pursued and things shunned.  Is it not, as a result, important to take account?

Yes, the conflicts we have in our culture and politics are based in belief and unbelief.

But what separates the two?

Charles Taylor in his book A Secular Age gives a brief way to distinguish belief from unbelief.

To him belief as manifest in humans has these characteristics:

  • an understanding that human fullness comes to us from another loving source who gives freely
  • it prompts the practice of devotion, prayer, charity and self-giving
  • it produces an understanding that one is far from fullness in its perfect state – i.e., it fosters humility
  • it reminds us that as humans we are bound to lesser things and goals – i.e., that we are not the source of life nor the embodiment of perfection
  • it evokes knowledge that power and fullness come through relationships
  • it teaches that the reception of fullness transforms a person for the better
  • that morality is heteronomous.

In contrast, unbelief carries these characteristics:

  • the power to reach fullness is within oneself, one’s own ability and doing – i.e., that we are agents of our own fullness
  • that reason exceeds nature and elevates above all else the human person as a rational agent
  • that our genius for reason allows us to be fully self-governing with laws as the vehicle of our genius
  • that morality is autonomous
  • that reason fully engaged creates a reverence for our own power and for power itself – coming in turn to see fullness as power fully employed
  • that in this context (construal) we are individualized and relationships with others less likely and less necessary – we become in reason and power atomized, divided.

Perhaps in this, you can sense the crisis we face.

Are we to form a more perfect union as unbelievers?  Know peace?  Community? Love? Brotherhood?  Pursue the full development of the human person and come to know happiness and contentment as unbelievers?

From the look of things it hardly seems likely.

” … he has blinded their eyes and … hardened their heart …”

Shalom.

“I am the resurrection and the life, and whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

Jn 11: 25-26

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Kayla believed.

After learning of the plight of refuge children she, at 23 years of age, contacted the Danish Refugee Council and Support for Life and went to Turkey in 2012 to work with displaced children.

In 2013 she was captured by terrorists and held in Syria.  In her captivity she befriended other female prisoners, teenage girls.  Some of them report that she would eat little, preferring to give her food to them.  They also tell how she became a big sister or mother figure to them.

Some who escaped capture report that she was killed by those who captured her.

The words above are those of Jesus in speaking with Martha.  In response to Jesus asking Martha if she believed what he said, she replied, “Yes, Lord, I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God …” (Jn 11:27)

Today we are challenged as Martha was challenged.  We are asked one simple question, the question Jesus posed to Martha: “Do you believe …?” (Jn 11:26)

That is a question posed daily in secularized American culture.  That is a question that ought to be applied to anyone who claims to lead you.

If you believe, why would you elect those who do not believe to lead you?  They neither understand you, nor hold the view that your beliefs matter to them, or have any place in civic life.

We live in a sea of unbelievers, those who care only about themselves – no one else.  They are a danger to us in a very real sense – because they divide and seek only for themselves. They, unlike Kayla, are not apt to share their food with you as she did.

Kayla and Martha believed.  Do you?

Shalom.

Note: My long time friend, classmate, fraternity Brother and Marine Officer, proud father and grandfather John, commenting on Bernie Sanders reducing his campaign staff, sent me the following amusing and accurate piece of wisdom: “Bernie Sanders is cutting staff members … because even the Socialists run out of other people’s money.”  Can I hear and “Amen?”

Love is a portion of the soul itself, and it is the same nature as it … Love is the celestial breathing of the atmosphere of paradise.

Victor Hugo

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Dedicated to J.F.S., S.G.S, E.F. and P.M.

# # #

Few things say love to me like the sound of solo classical guitar music.

Perhaps, it is the sound that comes from touch, touch that moves and changes – yet, constant, always pleasing, comforting and confirming.

Yes, confirming that there is beauty, and Creation, and humans are gifted to share in the creation of beauty – channel God in this, that we might hear it, receive this beauty that gives us peace and assurance.

This sound and its beauty says to us: there is an eternity, that we are called to it through the toils of each day, the losses, and the rains and winds of nature and disappointment.

It says too that man need not always summon the fight that they so often must engage.

Today the guitar plays.  It is raining and the cows have eaten their way down the ridge. They provide a parade of the unharried, the unworried – a daily reminder of that state of being that God promises to those who believe.   A state a woman provides in her gentle loving presence and its unceasing, unconditioned gift. This: a rest and so great a hope in the midst of life’s combat.

Yes, it is quiet here and it is gray and no one stirs outside.  The clouds lay low and the mist has settled in the valleys.  The cool dampness speaks of a warming fire and that, too, adds peace to the day, enkindles the heart’s memory.

This sound of love calls to me to those women who love me – past and present.

Yes, a man receives a woman’s love and it is the comfort of the heavenly breath of paradise.  It is a glimpse of God for life’s weary soldier.

So here we are – with Mother’s Day coming on us.  Can we as men not stop to remember who women are in their heavenly best – the gentle breath of paradise?

Shalom.

Belief in God is no longer axiomatic.

Charles Taylor, in A Secular Age

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I remember reading A Secular Age and having these words literally jump off the page and grab me – for their pristine, simple truth of the matter – and the deadly consequences that this reality brings to us.

If there is anything that can succinctly identify the source of our troubles today – the violence, sickness, corruption, division, disorder, destruction and confusion so prevalent – it is not just a loss of belief in God, but a loss of the capacity to believe at all.

Think about it.  If we cannot believe, can we experience human experience?  Can we live as full humans, with all the range of experience available to us?  Without belief can we retain an identity?  Relationships with one another?  Love?  Be at peace?  Know joy?  Have a purpose in being?  Face trials with confidence?  Know our way in this world?  Sustain hope – and experience it?

Yes, believing is the central problem in our life today.

Loss of belief is the central challenge in secularism and the poison fruit of all that Leftist ideology projects on us so to deconstruct human existence, gain control over us, and derail the pursuit of happiness, stability, contentment, meaning, purpose and peace.

How can one understand belief itself?

I direct you to the Gospel of John.  It mentions believing far more than any of the Gospels.

In it you recognize that believing is an action verb.  It requires that we act, show what we belief, live what we believe.  Likewise, you will see that there are many in Jesus time who did not believe, just as there are now: high officials, chief priests, even some of his early followers, people at-large.

In the Gospel of John you will see that those who believe do not perish, but have eternal life now, in this world. (Jn 3:15-16, 5:24, 6:40, 47)  That they will become the children of God. (Jn 1:12).  That they will not be condemned.  (Jn 3:18)  That they will be brought from death to life in this life. (Jn 5:24).  That they will know God.  (Jn 4:42, 6:64, 69, 10:38)  That they will neither thirst nor hunger.  (Jn 6:35)  That they will live in God.  (Jn 6:56, 14:17 15:4-10)  That they will live in the Spirit, live from the heart.  (7:38, 39)  That they will be disciples and friends of Jesus.  (Jn 8:31, 15:14-15).  That they will see the glory of God – His works and presence in the things and circumstances of life. (Jn 8:31, 15:14-15)  That they will be the Children of Light and live in darkness no more.  (Jn 12:46)  That they will do the works of Jesus and things even greater.  (Jn 14:12)  That they will live in Jesus name.  (Jn 20:31)

The Gospel of John tells us that those who believe will know peace both individually and communally. (Jn 14:27, 16:33, 20: 19,21,26)  That they will not fear. (14:27, 16:33, 20:19, 21, 26)  That they will be one with God and others. (Jn 10:16, 17:11, 21-22)  That they will find meaning and purpose in serving others.  (Jn 13:12-17)  That they will be able to love others and be loved by others.  (Jn 13:34-35, 15:12-13, 17:26)  That they will know joy and live in it. (14:28, 15:11, 16:20-24, 17:13, 20:20)  That they will receive forgiveness and come to forgive others. (Jn 20:23)

We see in John, however, that those who refuse to believe will be condemned, will know God’s wrath, and die in their sins. (Jn 3:18; Jn 3:36; Jn 5:38)  The trouble, of course, is that when we fail to believe and act on our belief we will die at the hand of those who refuse to believe.

Have you come to think about belief?  Perhaps you best do so.

Living in an age of unbelief is a living hell.  We are NOT consigned to this.

Shalom.

Note:  Credit is due to Felix Just, S.J, Ph.D., for his citations.

“Do not walk through time without giving worthy evidence of your passage.”

St. Pope John XXIII

+ + +

Carl’s funeral will be tomorrow.

Carl was 60 when he died.  I met him last summer.  He had retired from his work as a plumber after battling throat cancer.

First time I met him we talked easily about good things, especially his restored 1930’s Ford truck.  Like most guys who work with their hands, Carl could do pretty much anything that was “hands-on.”

Less than a week after I met him, I arrived back from Church and grocery shopping to find Carl mowing by severely uncut grass and the weeds it accommodated.  Surprised, I got out of my car with arms stretched out wide and a smile of disbelief on my face.

“Carl, what are you doing?” I said.   Over the hum and motion of the mower he replied, “Mowing your lawn …”  He then added, “I had nothing to do.”

That was Carl, a man of seamless friendship.  I was merely his latest beneficiary.

Thinking of Carl this week brought me back to a telephone conversation I had with my Dear Friend and legal colleague John, some years earlier.

Shortly after I began a year in a monastery setting in the mountains of Colorado, I got a call from John, still work-bound in Washington, D.C.

In that call, John asked me, “So what’s it like.”

With the emphasis on “it” I knew he was not talking weather, terrain, atmosphere, daily schedule or the like.  No, he was asking about the defining nature of daily life focused on faith, prayer, solitude, worship, silence, reflection, contemplation, study and physical labor.

My response: “Do you mean is there a special door you go through, a magic portal that changes you?”  “Ya,” he said.

Spontaneously I uttered this truth, “John, there is no special door. It’s all one-on-one basketball.  You against God everyday and he beats the devil out of you. If you show up each day, you get better.”

His apt reply, “I’m so relieved.”

Well folks, maybe there is a special door.  Maybe it is Carl.  Maybe it is my Dear Friend Jackie Quinn LaRocca who died last month.

The special door you ask?  Friendship.

Seamless friendship mediates the love of God and enkindles belief in us if we see it, recognize it and experience it – this seamless friendship.

Carl could not be other than a friend.  That was who he was.  It offered itself through him as he was made to give it – by doing for you, sharing what he had with you.  Jackie did the same.  Her most special trait was friendship served as welcome and ungarnished honesty, a perpetual sense of humor, and a sharp Irish eye for bluster, fraud, and fakery, and a delight in naming each plainly.

Loving and befriending this way as a friend is the special door.

Befriend others.  Know yourself honestly and give the way you are equipped to do so.

When you befriend you mediate the love of God and in a time of lost belief, you give ceaseless life to belief, and to those who will believe because of you.

Shalom.

Postscript – I gave both Carl and Jackie small rosaries when they were sick and hospitalized.  Each carried their rosaries everywhere they went.  Carl and his wife got baptized when his illness took its worse turn.  Jackie was buried with her rosary in her hands.  I suspect Carl will as well.  In friendship we believe and show we believe.  In friendship, we mediate God’s endless love of us, of each of us.   

” … it is not enough for the deviant to be normalized.  The normal must be found to be deviant.”

Charles Krauthammer, in “Defining Deviancy Up,” The New Republic, November 22, 1993

+ + +

I have been asked by others what I think of Catholic colleges and universities inviting abortionists and others antagonistic to the Church’s teachings to speak on their campuses, or who give awards and grant honorary degrees to those who publicly oppose Catholic moral teachings.

In thinking about this question, the above quote came to mind.

Mr. Krauthhammer observes that it is not simply that a sick culture houses and accepts bad behavior, but that the housing of bad behavior results in normal behavior becoming identified as deviant.

I cite an example which attends to the question raised in the first paragraph.

When those who engage in conduct and practices that offend Catholic teaching are invited to speak at an heretofore esteemed Catholic college or university, or given awards or honorary degrees at the institution, any objection raised by Believers who take offense is seen as “censorship,” “intolerance,” or worse.

Yes, asserting a standard of moral and religious belief is identified itself as an offense, outlawed, as a deviant conduct – an offense to free speech.

Aside from this stifling the free speech of the Believer, such a response makes one person’s free speech deviant and prohibited and spreads the objectionable conduct of the abolitionist or others into the culture.  It provides a legitimacy to conduct that the Church rightfully and morally finds objectionable and at odds with tenets of the faith and it beliefs.

So, the Church and faith itself becomes suspect, delegitimized.  Its faith, beliefs and practices – the institution and the mere notion of belief becomes “deviant” and discredited.  This is pretty much where we are today.

Yes, the Catholic college and those who run it, by permitting deviancy to be honored, are undermining the Church to whom it is attached, and making religion and belief itself deviant.  Such is the attack on Western Civilization and its deconstruction by the Left.

Simply stated, housing deviancy – honoring it – has the effect of destroying what is good and has been identified as such for centuries.

In practical terms this is what the ideas and practices of modern liberalism and the modern liberal state and its proponents on the Democrat Left have done.

As to the co-option of Catholic institutions – some colleges and universities once honored as esteemed run the risk of becoming neither a community of saints, nor a community of scholars.

Some have already taken on the form of modern liberalism and their constituents.

One wonders in this what can be made of those who rally around Mr. Trump? Are they the Believers who have been discounted one time too often?  I suspect a strong repudiation might be in the air.

We live in interesting times.  Could it be that the door is closing on modern liberalism and its deviance?

Shalom.

… the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has feed you from the law of sin and death.

Rom 8:2

+ + +

These are the words of St. Paul in his Letter to the Romans.  Romans, Chapter 8, verses 1-13 are perhaps, in our time today, among the most useful and significant passages in the New Testament you can read.

In this Letter, St. Paul reminds us that law “weakened by the flesh” was “powerless” to free us from sin or death.  That is, that humans governed by law alone are, as mortal humans, full of fears, and doubts, passions and desires and will not adhere to the law as given and understood.

This, according to St. Paul, is precisely why God sent His Son to us in the flesh so we may know that through Him we can be freed of sin and death, made whole in belief in Him. Indeed, that in Christ, says St. Paul – as did Jesus, the law is fulfilled – for our wholeness is in living in and according to the spirit, not in and according to the flesh.

In effect, St. Paul reminds us the Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

This, according to St. Paul, is so because those who live in the flesh, think only of the flesh and a concern for the flesh is a concern for death, for the flesh dies while the Spirit does not.

He adds, that the concern for the flesh is “hostility toward God,” for God is of the Spirit, not the flesh and the flesh cannot submit to the law of God.

Yes, reason (being of the flesh) is no substitute for God and what is divine and supernatural.  I add, as a lawyer, this is why the law and education have no primacy over God – no matter what the secularists and their politicians say.

St. Paul reminds us that we are “in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in (us).”  And he notes that if Christ is within you, you belong to God, and you are alive and freed from the sin and ways of the flesh.

Flesh versus the Spirit.  This is the battle today.  Think of our materialism, possessions, our quest for financial security.  Think of the focus on “health care” and the body.  Think as well of abortion and contraception.  Likewise of all the claims regarding sexual dispositions and the attacks on marriage.  And on how everything is political, and so little is about morality and honor and mental, emotional, social and interpersonal well-being. Think, too, about the assault on family, and religion and faith.  And the racial politics which divides us and re-institutes racial conflict.

Our problems?  They tell us we are living in the flesh and demonstrate that life in the flesh and in the law absent the primacy of God is death, and sin, and destruction.

It’s not that difficult to understand, folks.

… if you live according to the flesh, you will die …

Rom 8:13

Shalom.

“Come to me all who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Mt 11:28

+ + +

We live in difficult times.  Many are concerned.  There are many changes that we encounter.  Many uncertainties.  For the first time in a number of decades we wonder about our country’s prosperity and the hostility of the world we live in – foreign and domestic.

What might we do with these burdens?

In the above words Jesus calls us to him so we might lay our burdens down, be at rest. But what does this say to us?

In a way it brings us opportunity.  Yes, the opportunity to ask ourselves: Do we live in the Spirit of Christ?

This is an age-old question, and should be a consistent reality for all who claim to be Christians.

For centuries to be a Christian was to live in the spirituality of Jesus.  Those who call themselves Christians have the vocational call to live within the spirit of Jesus.  Yet, in our lifetime we have lost our way, lost a sense of what Christian spirituality is, how it can be lived day-to-day.

In part this is so because tasks like caring for the ill, the poor, the widowed, the aged, the orphaned and abandoned, and the pursuit of peace and justice have been absorbed into public institutions, institutions of government.  As an aside, this helps explain how the Church has, in a subtle way, been secularized by their collaboration with Big Brother government.

That said, it is the case that we can, under today’s circumstances, dig deeper into the spirituality of Christ.  Yet, alas, we have not – and the burdens and doubts we face have multiplied.

Now we can renew our commitment to living as Christ, moving more deeply into the mystery of Christ.  Indeed, it is the case that each age brings its opportunity to know Christ more fully and live Christ more completely.  Our time is no different.

Today, as always, we begin with the indwelling of God which makes of each of us a home for the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  In our baptism we take on the vocation to be one with the Trinity, to live in that oneness, that basic spirituality.  That is the fundamental rest to which Christ calls us.  This is our invitation, particularly in troubled times.

In times of doubt and worry, seek Christ – live in him, live Christian spirituality – make it a daily point of refernece, a place to spend time, a reason to pray, and a path to worship.

Shalom.

“There is only need for one thing.  Mary (of Bethany) has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

Lk 10:42

+ + +

In this quote Jesus is speaking to Mary’s sister Martha who complained to Jesus that her sister Mary sat listening to Jesus while Martha was busy with household tasks.

What was Jesus saying in this?  It seems, on first blush, to be a harsh response, perhaps even egotistical … but alas it speaks a truth.

It speaks this truth: we cannot do without reflection, without contemplation, without God and the wisdom and peace He alone brings the human person.

It tells us we are, by design, contemplative.  We do not live by task alone, by work, being busy, habitually in motion, surrounded by noise and activity.

Yes, we cannot work ourselves into peace, nor pursue pleasures to secure tranquility and contentment.

We are made for a deeper satisfaction, an eternal assurance, an everlasting certainty realized here among the conflicts, disappointments, worries and distractions – yes, among the evil and its foolishness, frustrations, injuries and hostility.

There is in all of us a monastic disposition – a need for silence, solitude, simplicity for we are not human beings but rather spiritual beings in search of the Divine and the peace God brings, a peace and contentment that surpasses mortal existence and all its calamities.

In the modern world, our contemplative nature is shunned, discounted, ignored. ‘Tis a big mistake and the source of our pain and suffering.  You see there is no truth in mortal existence.  In mortal life there is man and his imperfect being, his exclusive and self-serving longings, his ego, his “belief” in self, and the fear and violence it produces.

This is the point that Jesus is making in his response to Martha – yes, “Mary has chosen the better part”  – made the wiser, more healthy choice.  How about you?

Christian monastic life has existed since the 4th century when it flourished in Egypt, Syria, and Asia Minor – the exact places where radical Islamists are executing and exiling Christians and destroying Christian artifacts, burial sites of Saints, churches, museums and shrines while neither political party, nor the President or Congress do anything. Shameful isn’t it – we trifle , yet, over the “concerns” of transsexuals.

There are two axis for peace for you: you and your culture.  When you find sickness, violence, disorder in your culture, you see godlessness.  When you feel deflated, angry, lost, depressed do as Mary of Bethany did – listen in silence, contemplate – let God be known to you, in you and in the world and beyond mortal existence.  Block out all the other noise, foolishness and distractions – they mean nothing and cause you to lose your precious way.

Shalom.

Prayer Request – Please pray for the repose of the soul of Carl Rowland who died of cancer last night and for his wife Jodie, his and her extended family, and for friends who will miss him.  He was a very good man – and Jodie was heroic in all she did for him in a time of great suffering and pain.

… we are all already in a state so disastrous that there are no large remedies for it.

Alasdair MacIntyre, in After Virtue

+ + +

This quote is lifted from Chapter One, “A Disquieting Suggestion,” in Alasdair MacIntyre’s widely acclaimed 1981 book on moral philosophy, its current state, and ours.

Reading it once again sheds light on the darkness of today.  Yes, on our present pitiful state of being – on our intellectual, social, political, emotional, and interpersonal deficits and the absence of wise leadership.

In Chapter One, MacIntyre imagines a world in which the natural sciences suffer a catastrophe when natural disasters are blamed on scientists and riots destroy laboratories, scientists are hung, books are burned, instruments destroyed while a Know-Nothing political movement seizes power and abolishes all science education while imprisoning all who vary from its prohibitions.

With but few remnants of scientific truths remaining, people are unable to resuscitate what once was, what once was known and common.

In this condition, people’s discourse on matters scientific invoked scientific reference here and there, but none of what they said made any sense.

What was lost, could not be recovered.

In After Virtue, MacIntyre explores what might happen if we lost our moral bearings, our reference to what we learned over the centuries, lost the place of moral reasoning and its easy integration into decisions and human existence.

As he says … a disastrous state ensues.

Now some 35 years after he wrote After Virtue, it is hard not to ask: have we come to what MacIntyre imagined in our moral ife?  Have we not lost our capacity for moral reasoning? Forfeited our intellectual legacy that stretches back 2,000 years or more?

Think about it.  Killing the unborn is a constitutionally protected right.  Selling the body parts of aborted children is acceptable.  Pornography is widespread.  Sadly, while homicides among African-Americans are largely confined to Black-on-Black violence, we listen to those who focus on the dubious proposition that White police officers are the principle cause of homicides in their communities.  Drug addictions and mass murders are too common.

Likewise, we are all bundled up in odd propositions surrounding sexual conduct and are attentive to demands pursued thereto.

Then, there is the legalization of drugs, the redefinition of marriage, unlawful expansion of federal executive initiative, an inert federal legislature, corrupt bureaucracies, unprotected national borders, the unraveling of long-standing allied relationships … The lost goes on.

We seem lost, much as MacIntyre describes.  How did we get there?

Well, I am old enough to remember when we discarded moral philosophy in law school in favor of ethics.  We did something quite the same in teacher education.  Out with moral reasoning, in with the rule book.  Applying rules is a far cry from moral life lived.

Additionally, we waltzed away from God, convinced that we were sufficient unto ourselves.

And finally, we touted but one guiding index – equality as if equality alone, detached from morality, was a Holy Grail.

Nice try – we now look and act like the crew of Monty Python, but have no remote understanding that we impose this grotesque image on one another, and in a hostile and dangerous world waiting for easy prey.

Shalom.

Note – Alastair MacIntyre is a Scot.  He has taught at a number of great universities in the U.S. and in Europe.  He arrived at Notre Dame as an atheist and Marxist.  In due time, he became a Catholic and migrated from Marxism.  Would that we might follow his path.

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