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Affection is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our natural lives.

C. S. Lewis, in The Four Lives

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We are made to seek contentment, to love and be loved.  In this one fact alone is evidence of God and the essence of our sacred being, itself.   Yet, today there are piles of evidence that we are neither content, nor seemingly loving or sufficiently loved.

“Evidence?” you ask.  Yes.

Look around.  See how few intact families there are.  See the divorces.  The adulteries.  The overt expressions of selfishness and hatred.  How we have elevated sexuality and exploited the human body.  Look at the predators and those who remained silent while knowing of their assaults, their habitual abuse.  Look, too, at pornography. The sexual abuse of children.  Abortion.  Parents killing their children. The addictions.  The “normalizing” of abhorrent conduct – the fiction of “same-sex marriages,” the lunacy of multiple genders.  And the grotesque violence.  All a product of the desperately unloved.

Now contrast these things with the God who is Love.

We live in a time when God is forsaken and destruction is advanced as a substitute.  We make Sodom look tame.

Many like to point to a President as the cause of our serious problems.  Others expect “politics” or government to be the source of our health, contentment – salvation.

No, these cannot satisfy.

Our happiness resides with us, with who we are – and with the recognition that God is necessary and the source of all that is good in us, good in human existence and in this mortal world.

It is Christmas time.  The source of your happiness is born this month.  Wake up!

Shalom.

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All efforts based on parliamentary control and free-market economic mechanisms proved useless in quelling the growing polarization in opinion and stance.  Different propositions were put forward, ranging from anarchism to autocratic rule, and for many young people each seemed preferable to the rotten democracy they lived under.

Andrzej Franaszek, in Milosz

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These words describe the deteriorating political climate in Poland in the 1930’s and to some extent the political climate in Europe at the same time.

They so remind me of the extraordinary state of affairs and discontent in the U.S. today.  Partisanship reigns.  One Party houses the extreme Left.  Liberalism embraces nihilism and its echoes ring in the public square, mass media and the courts of law.  Anarchists, while small in number, dressed in black slash and burn.  Foundations fund the voices of Black racism.  We live in uneasy times.

Circumstances have changed.  The once stable America is less a source of certainty than it has been and the world becomes more dangerous.

We tilt Left and morals have been mothballed.  Trusted government institutions have lost their glow.  Public corruption tarnishes democracy.  Religious belief itself is in thin supply.  Education is below the waterline.  It is a troubled time.

History tells us that in such times the best young men mature more quickly … and across the land the wise turn back to faith.  Yes, extreme moments snap us into what is fundamental, personal, sure, uplifting, good and eternal – humanizing, strong, kind, heroic – the only option in dark days.

Beneath the flawless manners of a worldly gentleman he hid his compassion for all that is living.  Some people perhaps could sense it, but it was certainly known, in ways mysterious to us, to the small birds that would perch on his head and hands when he stopped in a park alley.

Czeslaw Milosz, in Goodness

Lord, bring us to our senses – to morality, honesty, kindness, compassion – Make us One.

Shalom.

 

There is for all of mankind but one felicity – a gracious God.

Flavius Josephus, in Antiquities of the Jews 

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Well, there you go.  Written in 75 A.D.  If only we had the wisdom of Flavius Josephus!  But alas it is absent.

Nowhere in public discourse is there much thought of God, of life in the Spirit, of our historical record or wisdom of the many centuries.

No, in its place – talking heads, the chattering class of ill bred, poorly schooled, ideologues incapable of holding two contradicting ideas in their head at the same time.  And yet the most astonishing thing is this: their words pass as worthy of our attention. Who is the greater fool there?

RETREAT while you can.  Take safety in wisdom and reality.

Imagine a God of felicity – a gracious and loving God.  Such a novel thought today in this deflated culture flooded with harmful utterances and ideas.

In contrast, I can offer this.  I have never doubted that there is a God and that this God had an interest in me and all others.  That is not to say that I acted without sin, nor that I did not attempt a life of self-reliance, a life in which I acted as if it all depended on me, my efforts.  Yes, we are foolish for a time until we prove ourselves less than we think we are.

There is nothing, by the way, like tragedy and injustice, chaos whose actions abound to your loss and pain to bring you to God … and, in due time, to Flavius Josephus and his insight.

In retrospect, I can now express daily sincere gratitude for the grace to have always known there is a loving and merciful God – and that God, not man, reigns over mortal and eternal life.

After years of life, I know the valuable gift of humility, in knowing that I am His subject … and you are too.  Likewise, I know in that reality, that relationship – the priceless value of intimacy … God’s love of me, of us and our divine opportunity to love others as God loves each of us.

Imagine if we knew what Flavius Josephus knew, we would not live in fear and think in that fear of the world as governed by race, or gender, or class, or force, or power, or money, or intellect, or sex, or status, or nonsensical ideologies.

No, on the contrary – tension and anxiety would dissipate; we would know certainty, live in confidence and gratitude, know peace and fellowship.

Best of all – if we were as Flavius Josephus – there would be no place for those who spread words of hate, who divide and speak so carelessly, so ignorantly.

That, Dear Friends, is a step toward Eden and you have been given the opportunity to step toward that Paradise.  Alas, seize it … or suffer more, and continue to hurt yourself and others until you die and face this question: Why did you not take the path I gave you?

God help us all.

Shalom.

God, let the words of Flavius Josephus rest in our heart and animate our every thought and action in the confidence of your gracious and loving dominion.

If you took one-tenth the energy you put into complaining and applied it to solving the problem, you’d be surprised by how well things work out.

Randy Pausch, in The Last Lecture

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I’ve never been a fan of whiners so the well-healed NFL football players, coaches and owners who put their social complaints on the captured audience of ticket-holders and television viewers have lost my interest and respect.  Shame on them.  Nothing admirable about them – nothing.

Just watched Patriots Day about the Boston Marathon Bombing.  Excellent movie.  More than that a terrific story about tough-minded, loving men, women and children who rallied together as one to see that those who killed innocent people were apprehended and punished.  It is a story about courage, toughness, achievement, honor, resolve, determination, individual strength, shared mission, sacrifice, community, love.

I grew up in Boston in a very testy public housing complex.  I know these people.  Many have been my friends for 64 years and more.  They are my family.  They would sacrifice for me and I for them.  Several recently faced tragic medical situations, I kept in touch: encouraging and caring.  I prayed for them and, as is always the case in tragic situations, I drew closer to God and became more thankful for all that we are generously given – especially for friends, neighbors, the capacity to care for others – and love God and others more than self.

Today, I see the legions of complainers in American culture today and am sickened by this – disgusted with them.  I knew a far different life.  I knew the life of taking what you get and moving forward, proving the obstacles non-existent, defying others who thought less of me by being more a person than they were.  I was not a genius but I was a hard worker, determined, tough, a realist who saw the near-empty glass and said: “Damn, I’ll fill the thing and more like it.”

I knew the bigotry that befalls the guy from the “wrong side of the tracks.”  The thoughts others affix to the poor neighbor and its residents.  This was my badge of courage – a badge shared by others in my same situation.  I saw life being raised with one parents and not much money.  I lived that life.  Became the first in my family to go to college.  First to graduate from college, go to law school, become part of a profession.

I became an Army officer.  Went on to graduate school at Johns Hopkins, worked in the U.S. Congress on foreign policy matters, had a successful law practice helping the poor, the sick, the under-represented.  People wrote articles about my work, about me.  I walked my wife through a devastating illness that took her life at age 29.  I left law in my late 50’s to earn a graduate degree in theology at Notre Dame, became a Catholic convert and vowed religious Catholic Brother.  I raised a successful son with his own Ph.D.  By the grace of God, he is a better man than I am – talented, smart, a terrific son, father and husband.  Ya, I was busy … I had no time to whine nor taste for it.  Like those around me, I saw bigotry and said “Screw you, I’ll show you who I am and what I can do.”  Their bigotry was motivation to me.  I didn’t sit on my fanny or make a political statement: I lived and defied those who discounted me and my friends.

At the end of the movie Patriots Day the men and women who participated in the hunt for the hate-filled brothers who killed and maimed children and adults spoke of visiting those wounded and without limbs and made this point: none were bitter – but rather they were optimistic, courageous – ready to strive, to live and prosper.  Yes, working class people I know are – not whiners … they are Boston Tough. 

Damn it, we ought to learn from them.

Shalom.

 

There is an internal longing for harmony and happiness that lies deeper than ordinary fear or the desire to escape misery or physical destruction.

Czeslaw Milosz, in The Captive Mind

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The politics of the Left in American today fuels anger, conflict, division and violence.  It does not seek to heal but rather to dominate and destroy those who disagree with them.  They proceed just as Milosz saw under Communist rule in Poland and Eastern Europe.

Today in American, Czeslaw Mislosz would likely be persona non grata among those on the Left for he appealed not to hate and hostility but to our better human nature: the divinely planted desire for harmony and happiness.

Would not this nation excel if we sought first harmony with others?  Of course it would.  But first we must say to those who shout, malign, insult and act out violently: “Stop – calm down – are we not brothers and sisters, neighbors, friends?”

The fever pitch is far too loud today.  The angry voices of the Left are breaking bonds that hold us together.  The distance between the privileged elites and the common person is far too great.  Those on top act in isolation and expect others to conform to their wishes despite any discomfort those wishes might cause in the life condition and circumstances of those without privilege.

Those in power forget that communities are built on relationships from which trust and fellowship flow, and harmony is the common treasure.

Nothing would become us more at this moment in American history than to say to those who shout: “Be quiet, sit down – let’s share a table and a meal and talk about things we have in common and the harmony and happiness that we each seek because God made us good and wishes our relationship with Him and one another.

Think about this.  Reach out.  Practice harmony.

Our present task: restoration of this culture.

Shalom.

“Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ this Jesus whom you crucified … Repent, and … be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ … and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit …”

… baptised … They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.

Acts 2: 36, 38, 41, 42

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Christian life is difficult.  Remember many who initially stood with Jesus left him. And but twelve Disciples assembled and one of them “jumped ship” while another denied Him three times.

The above words are those of St. Peter who denied knowing Jesus prior to the Crucifixion.  Yet, Peter devoted himself to Christ.  He rose in faith despite his failure.  He is just as we are.  Yes, a failure is not fatal when you have access to Christ – as we do.

No matter how dark the gathering clouds are – you have the Light of Christ inside you, and about you to impart strength and guidance.  In trials we grow most in faith.

When the hours are hardest, God is more consciously near.  See difficulty as a time when you draw closer to God, see more deeply, grow in confidence and wisdom and resolve, in faith and in Spirit. Never lose faith.

Shalom.

Combat – Living in and for Christ brings us first and foremost to witness Christ in how we live.  Yes, the task is to live as Christ would ask us to live.  That, Dear Friends, means a life not of combat with other mortals but with ourselves.  Yes, life in and for Christ brings us to spiritual combat – life in struggle with the dominant instincts of mere our human existence and the multiple challenges and demands of mortal life.  We journey in Christ from mere humanity to spiritual existence and its assent … mere mortals gaining traction over time in which our faith grows and we gain wisdom and our intended full identity.

 

Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does. (Emphasis added.)

Jean-Paul Sartre

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Sartre, of course, is wrong about being “condemned to be free” but he is correct in saying the human person is “responsible for everything he (or she) does.

Responsibility is largely honored in its absence now.  We can thank the Left for this. They talk about rights but never about responsibilities.  In health care they never see the sanctity of life as a gift and our responsibility to take care of ourselves, to eat properly, exercise, control our weight, avoid unhealthy vices, etc.

Indeed, the godless Left holds few “responsible” least of all themselves and those in their ranks who seek that others pay the tab for their irresponsibility. Of course, the Left does hold responsible those who expect each of us to be responsible.  Odd as it seems, even the godless Sartre is more to be trusted than the present day American Left.

I guess one can conclude that years of Leftist irresponsibility has made even Sartre a Conservative.  If you need a measure of how ill-conceived the positions and policies of the Left are – imagining Sartre a Conservative probably does it.

Shalom.

Remember – Spirlaw is a blog about faith and culture – as such it must address the culture as it is.  And that now means as its political state the condition of which would be vastly improves if God and faith were given a rightful place.  Yes, if each living being saw life as a gift and took responsibility for it as such.

The loss of the Christian religion is why the West has been fragmented for some time now, a process that is accelerating … (we are) stripped of ancestral faith.

Rod Dreher, in The Benedict Option

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What in particular has been lost?

To answer this question is to chart a course back to health and stability, joy, meaning and purpose, resolve, determination, responsibility, identity, intimacy, strength and courage.

So what is the answer?  Well here is part of it.  We once identified God with Creation – with our beginning, our origin, and this nexus of God and Creation placed God in the present moment of each day.  Having disconnected God from Creation, we are lost.

Lost, we are without stability, comprehension, understanding, hope and certainty.  We lack vitality.  We have nothing to fight for or to defend.

In our present state, our capacity for belief and the ability to have a full human experience are absent.  Yes, some among us have become like the Zombies in the Walking Dead – mindless, soulless stumble bums.

Losing the presence of God, nothing is sacred – when once all was sacred.

Having lost sacramental consciousness, the Spirit suffers – we are less than we have been created to be … more uncertain, anxious, frightened, confused.  We have been hollowed out.

Our medieval ancestors had it so much easier.  Imagine that.  They saw God in all things, revealing Himself through people and events, in places and things.  In contrast, we live starved of full human experience, and the experience of the Divine.  A pathetic and tragic disposition.  Those “with less” had so much more.

Think about it.  Without God we lose humility – sit and stand alone – dependent on self; this a desperate state given too frequently to addictions, suicides, violence, desolation, hopelessness – crushed by the burden of life without God, without belief.  In our midst stand sad clowns and crazies, and those in a stunned stupor – flat, nonsensical, troubled, unpredictable, explosive.

So what might one do?

St. Benedict reacted to the corruption and chaos produced by the fall of Rome by removing himself from the destruction and concentrating on his faith life, on Christ, prayer, living a modest, careful and caring life.  He dedicated himself to living his faith daily and in all things.

You can do the same and you need not flee to the desert or take a place in a cave.  No, you can “hunkered down” in place.  Make space between the confused and you, between you and Christ and those lost to belief.

The times call for a Benedictine presence.  Your witness can save others and sustain Christianity just as St. Benedict did.  Fear not.  This, too, shall pass.

Shalom.

 

“It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.”

Jn 4:42

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These are the words of Samaritan men speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well after having spent two days with Jesus.

You may recall that Jesus visited with the Samaritans after his encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well.

The Samaritan men, like the woman at the well, heard Jesus words and began to believe. Each one heard and believed.

We are entitled, indeed invited, to take these words into our heart and life.  But do we?

We have had access to these words for centuries.  Some of us have done as the woman at the well and the Samaritan men.  Some have not.  Regrettably now we are excising these words and removing Bibles and Crosses from college chapels (so at not to “offend” others).  

I often say to people that we are privileged to be back in the First Century of Christianity … that we have the choice to believe and renew Christianity.  This is a rare call … a sacred opportunity.  We live in a very special moment, a decisive moment in America and in the West.

The question is: Will we be as the Samaritan men and the woman at the well?

It is up to you.  Do you read His words?  Ponder them?  Do you show your faith? Do you stand with Christ?  Do you repudiate those who attack faith?  Christ? His Church?  Or do you affirm godlessness in your silence?  Or in your pursuit of self-centered desires?

Many, many in the public square tell us in their words that they do not believe, that they are hostile to faith and to Christ.  Only you can counter their destruction.

Shalom.

 

 

An Autobiographical Reflection

[Maybe it will help in your unique journey.]

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I know what I think when I hear what I say.

So, too, with writing – and more so with writing about one’s story – lived spontaneously breath to breath, scene to scene  – heartbeat to heartbeat, never planned.  In this is the gift of life in the moment, life in one long unbroken strand of time, and place, and experience.

Bobby Sylvester

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Living is story … autobiographical story with interludes of humor, unexpected twists, abject sadness, disappointment, unwarranted delights, war – interior and exterior – personal and communal.

Yes, swings of elevated joy and darkness darker than night … and fear and bliss, betrayal and unswerving loyalty, trust and distrust where losses seem to outrun gains at times … drama and science fiction, fantasy and detailed and specific certainty – or at least attention grabbing with focus on that one thing so odd, or so sublime … so eye and heart-catching that it reveals in time access to the puzzle – at least part of it.

Pieces of time and space and events that reveal a theme and explain the story as youth turns to age.

I have been conscious of my story and life as a story since that day in 1948 or it was maybe 1949 when my absentee father walked by me and never turned to say hello.

If movement and moment were a gripping paragraph that one thing might suffice as the beginning of my story, or its crystallization – it’s clarion theme, it’s overture and it’s one, first and true guidepost: we are abandoned, left … and from this we know that those who don’t love us, don’t love us.

Ah, what a gifted truth to have so young – preparation for what would come to pass.

I never left that point where by I lived within the story and watched it at the same time …

Oddly, I never felt merely a viewer – rather both a viewer and a participant in one body.

And there never was a script.  There was just being … just living the immediate instant while sustaining contact with the yesterdays produced in the same spontaneous manner. Life for me was and is: experience it – whatever “it” was or will be – and learn and grow in depth, insight, strength, faith, understanding, comprehension wisdom and tempered expectation.

As tragedy enters and exits overtime in-and-out, living takes on scope, humor and sensibility increase.  Faith might also grow.

I know what I think when I hear what I say.

May your story come to you – clearly, and give you strength, reveal purpose and meaning.

Shalom.

 

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