Saturday, January 22, 2011

The King and the Humble Maiden by Søren Kierkegaard

There once was a king who loved a humble maiden. This king was of uncommon royal lineage. He was a king above kings, with power and might to make all others humble before him. Statesmen trembled at his pronouncements. None dared breathe a word against him, for he had the strength to crush all who opposed him. The wealth of his holdings was unfathomable. Tribute arrived on a daily basis from lesser kings who hoped to gain his favor.
And yet this mighty king was melted by love for a humble maiden who lived in the poorest village in his vast kingdom. He longed to go to this maiden and announce his love for her, but here arose the king’s dilemma: how to declare his love? Certainly, he could appear before her resplendent in his royal robes and surrounded with the Royal Guard, ready to carry her away in a carriage inlaid with gold and precious stones. He could bring her to the palace and crown her head with jewels and clothe her in the finest silks. She would surely not resist this type of proposal, for no one dared to resist the king.

But would she love him?

She might say she loved him. She might be awed by his royal splendor and tremble at the thought of being blessed with such an amazing opportunity. She might tell herself that she would be foolish to reject such a marriage proposal. But would she love him, or would she go through the motions all the while living a life of empty duty, nursing a private grief for the life she had left behind? Would she love him or regret the moment of being face to face with the overwhelming grandure of the king?
Or would she be happy at his side, loving him for himself and not for his title or riches or power?
He did not want a wife who behaved as a subject to his royal decrees, cringing at his word and unwilling to do anything but agree with all he said and did. Instead, he wanted an equal, a queen whose love knew no restrictions or limitations. He wanted an equal whose voice would speak to him at all times without hesitation. Love with his beloved maiden must mean equality with her. He wanted a relationship with the woman that had neither barriers nor walls in which he was not a king and she was not a poor subject of the crown. The love shared between them would cross the chasm that threatened to keep them apart, bringing the king and peasant together and making the unequal equal. In short, he wanted the maiden to love him for himself and not for any other reason.

He had to find a way to win the maiden’s love without overwhelming her and without destroying her free will to choose. The king realized that to win the maiden’s love, he had only one choice. He had to become like her, without power or riches and without the title of king. Only then would she be able to see him simply for who he was and not for what his position made him. He had to become her equal, and to do this he must leave all that he had.
And so one night, after all within the castle were asleep, he laid aside his golden crown and removed his rings of state. He took off his royal robes of silk and linen and redressed himself in the common clothes of the poorest of the kingdom. Leaving by way of the servant’s entrance, the king left his crown, his castle, and his kingdom behind. As the next day’s sun rose in the east, the maiden emerged from her humble cottage to find herself face to face with a stranger, a common man with kindly eyes who requested an opportunity to speak with her and, in time, to court her for her hand in marriage.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Day 1 of the 2011 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

 Every day for the next eight days I will post the prayers, readings, and reflections for this week of prayer for unity. The brochure from which I am getting my information can be found on the World Council of Churches and Vatican websites. This brochure was, "Jointly prepared and published by The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and The Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches."
The theme this year comes from Acts 2:42-47:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Day 1 sets forth the background to the mother church of Jerusalem, making clear its continuity with the church throughout the world today. It reminds us of the courage of the early church as it boldly witnessed to the truth, just as we today need to work for justice in Jerusalem, and in the rest of the world.

Day 1 – The Church in Jerusalem
Joel 2:21-22, 28-29 I will pour out my spirit on all flesh
Psalm 46 God is in the midst of the city
Acts 2:1-12 When the day of Pentecost had come
John 14:15-21 This is the spirit of truth

The journey of this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, at the beginning of the Church’s own journey.

The theme of this week is “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers.” The “they” is the earliest Church of Jerusalem born on the day of the Pentecost when the Advocate, the Spirit of truth descended upon the first believers, as promised by God through the prophet the Joel, and by the Lord Jesus on the night before his suffering and death. All who live in continuity with the day of Pentecost live in continuity with the earliest Church of Jerusalem with it leader St James. This church is the mother church of us all. It provides the image or icon of the Christian unity for which we pray this week.

According to an ancient eastern tradition, the succession of the church comes through continuity with the first Christian community of Jerusalem. The Church of Jerusalem in apostolic times is linked with the heavenly Church of Jerusalem, which in turn becomes the icon of all Christian churches. The sign of continuity with the Church of Jerusalem for all the churches is maintaining the “marks” of the first Christian community through our devotion to the “apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers.”
The present Church of Jerusalem lives in continuity with the apostolic Church of Jerusalem particularly in its costly witness to the truth. Its witness to the gospel and its struggles against inequality and injustice reminds us that prayer for Christian unity is inseparable from prayer for peace and justice.

Prayer: Almighty and Merciful God, with great power you gathered together the first Christians in the city of Jerusalem, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, defying the earthly power of the Roman empire. Grant that, like this first church in Jerusalem, we may come together to be bold in preaching and living the good news of reconciliation and peace, wherever there is inequality and injustice. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, who liberates us from the bondage of sin and death. Amen.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A Knight of Faith has Faith in the Absurd

What is faith? The book of Hebrews gives us a definition of faith: “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). What does that mean? Throughout the history of Christianity, different theologians have attempted to define faith. However, faith is not something that can be clearly defined because it is really a subjective experience. In his book Fear and Trembling*, Søren Kierkegaard attempts to explain why Abraham is one of the greatest examples of a man of faith, a "Knight of Faith". 

Abraham Sacrificing Isaac, Reims
Kierkegaard (writing under the pseudonym of Johannes de silentio), follows Abraham’s journey to Moriah and argues that there are times when faith requires one to cross the boundaries of the Ethical. According to the Ethical, if Abraham had sacrificed Isaac, he would have been a murderer, but because Abraham was acting in faith, he was justified. Many people dwell on the fact that Abraham was “merely being tested by God,” and fail to understand the grief and pain of a man who is called to kill the person he loves the most in the world. Abraham was a Knight of Faith, and not a Tragic Hero, because he had trust in the absurd. “It is not to save a nation, not to uphold the idea of the State, that Abraham [goes to Moriah], not to appease angry gods” (p.88). Abraham does not go to kill his son because he thinks that he will get something in return, but because he has trust in God’s promise and has completely resigned himself to God’s Will. Abraham’s story can be quite disconcerting when read from the perspective of Abraham. It is true that a misunderstanding of the story could lead one to condone terroristic behavior. However, it is worth repeating again that Abraham does not go to kill his son for any reward or because of any hatred he had towards Isaac. He goes to kill his son as proof of his faith to God. Only Abraham can understand what he has been called to do, and others do not have the right to judge his choice. “When a person sets out on the tragic hero’s admittedly hard path there are many who could lend him advice; but he who walks the narrow path of faith no one can advise, no one understand” (p.95).

There are other characters in the Bible who are also called to do the absurd and sometimes to cross what is considered moral and ethical by the world's standards. For example, Hosea is called to marry a prostitute. Kierkegaard writes, “There was one who relied upon himself and gained everything, and one who, secure in his own strength, sacrificed everything; but greater than all was the one who believed God. There was one who was great in his strength, and one who was great in his wisdom, and one who was great in hope, and one who was great in love; but greater than all was Abraham, great with that power whose strength is powerlessness, great in that wisdom whose secret is folly, great in that hope whose outward form is insanity, great in that love which is hatred of self” (p.50).

And what about the Virgin Mary, called to be the Mother of God? What about her? Though the angel explains the situation to Joseph, who can really understand Mary and her calling? Mary, in her faith, her complete resignation to God’s Will, accepts to suffer in complete trust that her Son will save the world. “[I]t takes a paradoxical and humble courage then to grasp the whole of temporality on the strength of the absurd, and that courage is the courage of faith” (p.77). The most courageous of all was Jesus who allowed himself to be crucified in complete faith and trust in his Father. After all, if Abraham had indeed sacrificed Isaac, his sacrifice would not have been an atonement for the sins of the world, but the Father perfectly sacrificed his Son and saved the world. To have faith, one must be willing to tell God, “[S]till, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42b). Of course, most of us are not called to do radical things to prove our love to God, but let us not think that unconditional faith is easy to have. Kierkegaard writes, “[W]hat no one has the right to do is let others suppose that faith is something inferior or that it is an easy matter, when in fact it is the greatest and most difficult of all” (p.80). 

*Kierkegaard, Søren. Fear and Trembling. London: Penguin Classics, 1985. Print.

Side Note: The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity starts in a few days: January 18-25. Pray Pray Pray. God Bless!! I will post daily the daily readings and reflections that can be found on the Vatican (use search box) and the World Council of Churches websites.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

You Can Be Sin's Master

What can we learn from the story of Cain and Abel? It can be summed up in one verse:
"If you do well, you can hold up your head; but if not, sin is a demon lurking at the door: his urge is toward you, yet you can be his master" (Genesis 4:7).
I have just finished reading the story of the Fall, and a demon (the serpent) was certainly lurking at the door; however, we are called to resist all temptations. Blaming the serpent is not a sufficient excuse for God. With God, we can overcome evil; with God, we take responsibility for our sins. We can receive forgiveness if we are truly repentant. Life is a battle, but we know that Christ has overcome the world. John writes,
"If we say, 'We are without sin,' we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing. If we say, 'We have not sinned,' we make him a liar, and his word is not in us" (1 John 1:8-10).

Abel's blood is a dark mark on human history, but Christ's blood saves us and gives us hope. Since God is a God of second chances, we can approach Him with confidence. We have a new year before us. Let us focus on overcoming our weaknesses. With God alone is this possible.