Saturday, June 26, 2010

It is good to be alive because God exists!!!

In the book Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, the king of Brobdingdang, a nation made up of giants, “observed how contemptible a thing was human grandeur, which could be mimicked by such diminutive insects as [Gulliver]: And yet, said he, I dare engage, these creatures have their titles and distinctions of honour; they contrive little nests and burrows, that they call houses and cities.”

Among these giants, suddenly Gulliver’s accomplishments are not so grand. He is angered and offended by the king’s comments, but in a way, the king is right. We are not as important as we think we are. We and everything around us are ephemeral, “a mere handbreath” (Psalm 39:5). Why is it that we place so much emphasis on what does not last, but ignore God who lasts forever? The Bible, especially the Old Testament, reminds man of who he really is.

Nowhere is this more emphasized than in the book of Ecclesiastes. Ignored by pastors and priests for its seemingly depressing message, Ecclesiastes is yet one of my favorite books in the Bible. Qoheleth, the leader of a religious assembly, starts this work with a bold and shocking exclamation: “ ‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!’ What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever” (Ecclesiastes 1:2-4). The Teacher poses a very important question. What he is asking, of course, is what millions of people in the world ask themselves daily. Mainly, what is the meaning of life? What is the reason for my existence, and why is that important?

At first glance, Ecclesiastes’ message seems to echo Jean-Paul Sartre’s philosophy of Existentialism. Life is meaningless. Yet Sartre and Qoheleth come to very different conclusions. Sartre decides that “l’existence précède l'essence” (existence precedes essence). In other words, apart from ourselves, there is no meaning to life. We must create our own meaning to life. Sartre points out that when we first realize how insignificant we are, we fall into deep despair. This nausea, as he calls this emotional state, pervades our whole being until we come to terms with it and decide to make our own meaning to life. Notice that God does not exist. The Teacher experiences this nausea as well when he writes, “So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (2:17). In fact, he even sounds a bit suicidal when he says, “And I declared that the dead, who had already died, are happier than the living, who are still alive. But better than both is he who has not yet been, who has not seen the evil that is done under the sun” (4:2-3).

But Qoheleth eventually discovers the reason for his existence. It is because of God that we are living and because of Him— and only because of Him—that we can continue to live. Everything on earth, which is in fact temporary, is yet a gift from God. Because it is a gift from God, we are allowed to enjoy it. “So I commended the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun” (8:15). Qoheleth overcomes the nausea by acknowledging God and allowing Him to bring meaning to his life. Because of God, Qoheleth has been given a duty and his actions do matter. Suddenly, life is good—very good. It is a gift in fact. However, although our actions matter, they do not define us. Now, the unborn, the handicapped, and the elderly have a place in society, and they are actually living. Life has meaning apart from themselves. We must continue to recognize our dependence on God, because, yes, apart from God there is NO ultimate meaning to life. Because we place our full trust in God, we recognize that all good things come from Him, and thus, there is no place for pride in our lives. We do not need to continue to put our full and complete trust in our own works and in our material possessions that do not last. Becuase of this realization, the Teacher takes back his previous view on life. “Anyone who is among the living has hope—even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!” (9:4). It is good to be alive because God exists!!! Sartre, on the other hand, argues that without continuous action a person is not living. Life is only good if you actually have the ability to make choices, and even then, there is nothing constant in our lives to protect us, love us, and give us peace.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Prayer for Reconciliation

We thank you, Christ Jesus, because the Catholic Church is the Church of the Eucharist, rooted in your words, "This is my body, this is my blood", and so giving life by your adorable presence.

We thank you, because the Protestant Churches are the Churches of the Word, and constantly recall the power of your Gospel.

We thank you, because the Orthodox Churches, so often in their history, are brought by faithfulness to go to the very extreme of loving.

So Christ, give us all openness to ways leading beyond our own selves: may we no longer delay reconciliation in that unique communion called the Church, irreplaceable leaven set in the midst of humanity.

                                                               ---Mother Teresa and Brother Roger

Saturday, June 19, 2010


This is the fifth chapter of The Little Flowers of St. Francis. I am continually awed by St. Francis' great understanding of the Gospel message.

One day in winter, as St Francis was going with Brother Leo from Perugia to St Mary of the Angels, and was suffering greatly from the cold, he called to Brother Leo, who was walking on before him, and said to him: “Brother Leo, if it were to please God that the Friars Minor should give, in all lands, a great example of holiness and edification, write down, and note carefully, that this would not be perfect joy.” A little further on, St Francis called to him a second time: “O Brother Leo, if the Friars Minor were to make the lame to walk, if they should make straight the crooked, chase away demons, give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the dumb, and, what is even a far greater work, if they should raise the dead after four days, write that this would not be perfect joy.” Shortly after, he cried out again: “O Brother Leo, if the Friars Minor knew all languages; if they were versed in all science; if they could explain all Scripture; if they had the gift of prophecy, and could reveal, not only all future things, but likewise the secrets of all consciences and all souls, write that this would not be perfect joy.” After proceeding a few steps farther, he cried out again with a loud voice: “O Brother Leo, thou little lamb of God! if the Friars Minor could speak with the tongues of angels; if they could explain the course of the stars; if they knew the virtues of all plants; if all the treasures of the earth were revealed to them; if they were acquainted with the various qualities of all birds, of all fish, of all animals, of men, of trees, of stones, of roots, and of waters - write that this would not be perfect joy.” Shortly after, he cried out again: “O Brother Leo, if the Friars Minor had the gift of preaching so as to convert all infidels to the faith of Christ, write that this would not be perfect joy.” Now when this manner of discourse had lasted for the space of two miles, Brother Leo wondered much within himself; and, questioning the saint, he said: “Father, I pray thee teach me wherein is perfect joy.” St Francis answered: “If, when we shall arrive at St Mary of the Angels, all drenched with rain and trembling with cold, all covered with mud and exhausted from hunger; if, when we knock at the convent-gate, the porter should come angrily and ask us who we are; if, after we have told him, ‘We are two of the brethren’, he should answer angrily, ‘What ye say is not the truth; ye are but two impostors going about to deceive the world, and take away the alms of the poor; begone I say’; if then he refuse to open to us, and leave us outside, exposed to the snow and rain, suffering from cold and hunger till nightfall - then, if we accept such injustice, such cruelty and such contempt with patience, without being ruffled and without murmuring, believing with humility and charity that the porter really knows us, and that it is God who maketh him to speak thus against us, write down, O Brother Leo, that this is perfect joy. And if we knock again, and the porter come out in anger to drive us away with oaths and blows, as if we were vile impostors, saying, ‘Begone, miserable robbers! to the hospital, for here you shall neither eat nor sleep!’ - and if we accept all this with patience, with joy, and with charity, O Brother Leo, write that this indeed is perfect joy. And if, urged by cold and hunger, we knock again, calling to the porter and entreating him with many tears to open to us and give us shelter, for the love of God, and if he come out more angry than before, exclaiming, ‘These are but importunate rascals, I will deal with them as they deserve’; and taking a knotted stick, he seize us by the hood, throwing us on the ground, rolling us in the snow, and shall beat and wound us with the knots in the stick - if we bear all these injuries with patience and joy, thinking of the sufferings of our Blessed Lord, which we would share out of love for him, write, O Brother Leo, that here, finally, is perfect joy. And now, brother, listen to the conclusion. Above all the graces and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit which Christ grants to his friends, is the grace of overcoming oneself, and accepting willingly, out of love for Christ, all suffering, injury, discomfort and contempt; for in all other gifts of God we cannot glory, seeing they proceed not from ourselves but from God, according to the words of the Apostle, ‘What hast thou that thou hast not received from God? and if thou hast received it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?’ But in the cross of tribulation and affliction we may glory, because, as the Apostle says again, ‘I will not glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Amen.”

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Our Greatest Desire Put to Words

One of my favorite poets is Christina Rossetti. Below is a poem called Paradise. Here she beautifully puts to words every Christian's deepest longing: to be with God and to experience the last things. The new Heaven and Earth that Rossetti dreams of experiencing is taken primarily from Revelation 21.

Once in a dream I saw the flowers
That bud and bloom in Paradise;
More fair they are than waking eyes
Have seen in all this world of ours.
And faint the perfume-bearing rose,
And faint the lily on its stem,
And faint the perfect violet
Compared with them.

I heard the songs of Paradise:
Each bird sat singing in his place;
A tender song so full of grace
It soared like incense to the skies.
Each bird sat singing to his mate
Soft-cooing notes among the trees:
The nightingale herself were cold
To such as these.

I saw the fourfold River flow,
And deep it was, with golden sand;
It flowed between a mossy land
With murmured music grave and low.
It hath refreshment for all thirst,
For fainting spirits strength and rest;
Earth holds not such a draught as this
From east to west.

The Tree of Life stood budding there,
Abundant with its twelvefold fruits;
Eternal sap sustains its roots,
Its shadowing branches fill the air.
Its leaves are healing for the world,
Its fruit the hungry world can feed,
Sweeter than honey to the taste,
And balm indeed.

I saw the gate called Beautiful;
And looked, but scarce could look within;
I saw the golden streets begin,
And outskirts of the glassy pool.
Oh harps, oh crowns of plenteous stars,
O green palm branches many-leaved---
Eye hath not seen, nor ear hath heard,
Nor heart conceived!

I hope to see these things again,
But not as once in dreams by night;
To see them with my very sight,
And touch and handle and attain:
To have all Heaven beneath my feet
For narrow way that once they trod;
To have my part with all the saints,
And with my God.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

What is God Really Saying?

This has been taken from a Wikipedia article on SpongeBob SquarePants:

In 2005, a promotional video which showed SpongeBob along with other characters from children's shows singing together to promote diversity and tolerance, was attacked by an evangelical group in the United States because they saw the character SpongeBob being used as an advocate for homosexualityJames Dobson of Focus on the Family accused the makers of the video of promoting homosexuality due to a pro-homosexual group sponsoring the video.
The incident led to questions to whether or not SpongeBob is homosexual. Creator of the character, Stephen Hillenburg, had previously denied that SpongeBob was gay in 2002 when SpongeBob's popularity with gay men grew. He clarified that he considers the character to be "almost asexual". After Dobson made the comments, Hillenburg repeated this assertion that sexual preference was never considered during the creation of the show. Tom Kenny and other production members were shocked and surprised that such an issue had arisen.
Dobson later asserted that his comments were taken out of context and that his original complaints were not with SpongeBob, the video, or any of the characters in the video but with the organization that sponsored the video, We Are Family Foundation. Dobson indicated that the We Are Family Foundation posted pro-homosexual material on their website, but later removed it. After the controversy, John H. Thomas, the United Church of Christ's general minister and president, said they would welcome SpongeBob into their ministry. He said "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we".

Did it ever occur to anyone that SpongeBob is just a silly cartoon? Certainly, there is a lot of trash on television, but I can honestly say that SpongeBob is one of the few clean shows available for all people, young and old. I think that this controversy brings up a pretty important issue. Many groups and organizations, it seems, want to find support for their agendas in everything they see or experience. Why?

In my opinion, SpongeBob was barely the issue for any of the different groups mentioned in the passage above. There were three groups with three agendas, and these three groups wanted reasons to bring attention to themselves. Firstly, the Focus on the Family spokesman saw the SpongeBob ad as a way of promoting his organization. I don't doubt that he was worried about the moral statement the advertisement seemed to be making, but he was more interested in bringing attention to himself. He later even said that he wasn't even criticizing the show. He just wanted to find a way to attack the gay community and promote his own organization. The gay community was of course trying to find a way to get its agenda across: acceptance of homosexuality. None of this would have been an issue if the gay community was not trying to find a "gay" character to support its cause. And finally, the UCC minister was trying to advertise his denomination. In 2005, the general synod of the UCC officially recognized gay marriage. Rev. Thomas probably did not care much about the SpongeBob ad, but since the issue arose he used the controversy as a way of promoting his church. 

But why is this important? Often, when we read and interpret the Bible we become guilty of eisegesis, defined by wikipedia as "misinterpreting a text in such a way that it introduces one's own ideas". The issue in the SpongeBob controversy is not who was right or wrong, but the reason behind the controversy in the first place. Obviously, no one, except the creator of the show, pointed out that SpongeBob was merely a sponge and that promoting homosexuality was not the intention of the maker . There would have been no controversy if the show was seen the way it really was intended to be seen. 

So when we read the Bible we must ask the right question. What was the intention of the Creator? What is God trying to tell us, and not what can we find in the Bible that will support our cause? I sometimes find that I am looking for something in the Bible to support my belief and prove it to others instead of allowing the Bible to speak for itself--- instead of allowing God to speak. Let's open our hearts to what God has to say. You may be surprised at what you hear.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Why We Can Pray: the Uniqueness of our Trinitarian God

I am in the process of reading a collection of writings and speeches by Joseph Ratzinger from his years as a university professor to his present position as pope of the Catholic Church. I recommend this book to anyone interested in Benedict XVI; it’s called The Essential Pope Benedict XVI and is edited by John F. Thornton and Susan B. Varenne.

In an excerpt from his book The Feast of Faith: Essays in the Theology of Worship, Joseph Ratzinger discusses the importance of prayer in an era which has come to replace faith in a Trinitarian God with self-transcendence which is the essence of most Asiatic religions. In the latter religions like Hinduism and Buddhism, the ultimate goal of man is to become united with the Creator; to accomplish this, individuality is abandoned and replaced with collectivism. In other words, each person must see his/herself as united with all others, with all of creation in fact. In Hinduism, the ultimate goal is for man to escape samsara (the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth) and achieve moksha (complete unity with the Brahman who is God). Thus, nirvana (eternal bliss) is gained only when a person denies his/her individuality and become one with God. This concept of the afterlife is not Heaven, and the relationship Hindus have with the Brahman is different from the relationship Christians have with their God. At first glance, Hinduism and Christianity may seem very similar. In Christianity, there was on incarnation, Jesus Christ. In Hinduism, there have been many incarnations; these are the many deities worshipped by Hindus. Both religions believe in one God. A Hindu priest I interviewed told me that God is “form-full and formless.” In a sense, Christians believe this as well. But Ratzinger points out well the great difference between the two religions.

Ratzinger writes, “In a nutshell one could say that the goal of Asiatic contemplation is the escape from personality, whereas biblical prayer is essentially a relation between persons and hence ultimately the affirmation of the person.” Let’s look at the Trinity for a moment. Christians believe that God who is One is present in three Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These three Persons retain their individuality in that they have their own distinct personalities, but they are all One God. In the upper room Jesus prayed, “that all of them may be one Father, just as you are in me and I am in you…May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:21a, 23b). A Christian’s relationship with God and with other fellow Christians parallels the Father’s relationship with the Son. There is in fact a relationship. When we pray to God, He answers us individually. Yet, the universal Church is the body of Christ. Thus, there is a harmony between the individual and fellow believers because there is a perfect harmony between each Being of the Trinity and the One God whom they make up. In Hinduism, there is not much dialogue between the Creator and His creation; there is no such thing as a personal relationship with God because that is precisely the opposite of the goal.

Joseph Ratzinger beautifully shows the uniqueness of our faith. Even in religions like Islam and Judaism there can never be a personal relationship with God because He is so transcendent. But Jesus came as a human and thus has a unique relationship with His people. It is because of this relationship that we can pray and have a conversation with Him. We must pray together though. Ratzinger stresses the importance of Church because Christians must be united as the Father, Son, and Spirit are united. The Our Father requires Christians to say, “Our Father” and “give us our daily bread” because the Church is the one body of Christ. In Christianity, unlike any other religion, neither individualism nor collectivism sums up the faith. Both are mysteriously present in the Godhead and are present in Christians and their relationship with each other and with God.