Monthly Archives: April 2015

Blessed are the Pure of Heart

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“The Eucharist and other people are the two most sacred objects you will ever lay eyes on.” – St. Teresa of Avila

“Christ did not die for the good and the beautiful” – Shusaku Endo

I haven’t identified as “pro-life” since college, not because I disagree with pro-life principles, but because movements give me the jibblies. But pro-lifers are doing good work, and lately I’ve been especially impressed.

Abby Johnson, former Tyler, Texas Planned Parenthood Director, pro-life author, speaker, and founder of And Then There Were None (offering financial, emotional, and legal support for anyone wanting to leave the abortion industry), spoke alongside Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ, leading advocate against the death penalty. They presented at the Consistent Life Ethic Conference in Austin, Texas.

Consistent Life Ethic (CLE) is a term used to describe opposition to abortion, capital punishment, assisted suicide, euthanasia, and unjust war, as forms of violence against the ultimate dignity of the person. Joseph Cardinal Bernadin promoted the idea after the Catholic pacifist Eileen Egan challenged 1970’s pro-lifers to adopt a holistic defense of all human life. “When human life is considered ‘cheap’ or easily expendable in one area, eventually nothing is held as sacred and all lives are in jeopardy,” Cardinal Bernadin told a Portland, Oregon audience.

At the conference in Austin, topics included abortion, racism, feminism, and the death penalty. The latter presentation garnered a low turnout, but it was an applause-worthy effort to get people talking about all of these issues under the same roof.

Especially interesting was that the feminism talk was given by Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa and Kristen Walker Hatten of New Wave Feminists, a group of pro-life and good humored feminists whose work I’ve come to admire more and more.

New Wave Feminists-1

Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, left; Kristen Walkter Hatten, right.

Another proud moment: not long ago I opened Facebook to see this conversation from a pro-life friend, two days after a woman was arrested for throwing a molotov cocktail at a group keeping vigil in front of an Austin Planned Parenthood.

LConvo

My friends, this is exactly the way that Christ flips the world upside down.

Christ Overturning the Money Changer's Table - Stanley Spencer (1921)

Christ Overturning the Money Changer’s Table – Stanley Spencer (1921)

Of course, I can hear the objections. Let her get angry if she wants to! The world will always hate those who stand up for the Truth, but how is she going to learn the Truth if you don’t tell her! More than giving her toothpaste, love means teaching people the Truth even if they’ll get mad. She may just think some pro-choice people sent her the money.

There are problems with this way of thinking.

First, have you ever received a gift that wasn’t really a gift? Your friend buys you a stick of deodorant, and you’re like, Oh, how thoughtful. It’s like that, especially if for some reason you were someone violently opposed to deodorant.

Second, Christ didn’t say, “Love your enemies so that you might win them over or convert them.” He said, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you . . . [your heavenly Father] makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. . . . So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect,” (Matthew 5:43-48).

Kindness, mercy, love of enemies are all part of the truth, part of the “light of the world”. They don’t need to be attached to another message in order to scatter the darkness, and indeed, shining too much light on someone who’s lived under lacquered skies can be too unsettling to be much help. Yes, Christ “told it like it is” when push came to shove, but that’s not a license for Christians to SHOVE SHOVE SHOVE because maybe it’ll help.

Third, if she doesn’t know pro-lifers sent her money, so what? We can’t fastidiously ensure every single scattered seed takes root in the way we see fit. Such an approach is not only doomed to fail, it’s terrible for our own spiritual health. Our own hearts are knotted with good intentions and bad intentions, wounds and selfishness, and charades that only God sees through. Other people’s hearts are ever more shrouded in mystery. Yes, the world is in bad shape, and we are called to do our part. But only God sees clearly, only God is the source of all grace, and because of our limitations, we must seek to imitate God’s respect for human freedom.

Freedom is what dignifies us and enables us to live as temples of the Holy Spirit, and we are not to bring our own schemes into the temples of our Father. We must learn how to love while respecting their freedom – not always an easy task. When we persist in trying to change people when they’re cornered and have no choice, we aren’t reflecting God. Instead, we come across looking like terrible sea lions.

Terrible Sea Lion

Maybe in a year the woman who threw a molotov cocktail will still be pro-choice. Maybe she’ll die pro-choice. But she’ll receive mercy in prison, and that’s reason enough. Hopefully too, she’ll be more predisposed to receive mercy on the last day. And in the mean time, you know, find less reasons to firebomb people.

Scatter and move on. The rest is God’s business.

You’ll notice that these reasons are for both parties: the gift giver and the receiver. This is because every single person is a living image and likeness of God.We are brothers and sisters to Christ. We are equals in the eyes of the Lamb of God. What one person needs to receive, another person needs to give. That’s another foundation corner of the consistent life ethic: we need each other. No matter what sins we’re guilty of, we need each other.

Pray that God will give us a pure heart to see this.

“Beatitude 6 – Consciousness” – Stanley Spencer
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (in other people).
Matthew 5:8

The Right Way to Break a Heart

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Prayer

Then he told them a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary. He said, “There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being. In that city was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” ’For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought, ‘While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me I will grant her justice, so she may not wear me out by continually coming. The Lord said, “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says. Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:1-8)

In the prayer series I am facilitating at Pilgrim Center of Hope called Lord, Teach Me to Pray, we are taught the Ignatian Spiritual Exercise of ‘sitting’ with the Gospel. We are instructed to read a passage three times very slowly. Each time we are to take notice of a phrase or even a word that sticks out. We learn it is the Holy Spirit that uses the Word, this two-edged sword, to cut through our imagination, memory and perceptions and teaches us how to know, love and serve God.

The formula is quite easy:
1. Find a quiet place for a space of 15 minutes.
2. Ask our Lord to sit with you, “Come Lord Jesus.”
3. Ask for a particular grace/virtue you are trying to cultivate (perseverance, for instance.)
4. Read a Gospel passage three times slowly.
5. ‘Sit’ with a word or phrase from the passage that strikes you with each reading.
6. Ask the Holy Spirit about it.
7. Listen.
8. End with an Our Father.

It is through the Word, conversing with the Holy Spirit and praying to the Father that God, in all three Persons of the Trinity, reveals Himself to us and reveals who we are to Him.

Let’s take the passage on the persistent widow above as an example of how this works:

I am trying to cultivate the virtue of perseverance and I struggle with how God does not quickly answer my prayers even though I am confident what I am asking is a good prayer. What gives? This is the question that hangs in my heart.

First reading: The word/phrase that strikes me is: ‘kept’ as in “In that city was a widow who kept coming to him. . . ” and also, Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily.

Obviously, I am struck by what I am struggling with and so I ask, “Why do we have to keep coming to ask? Why is once not enough when You are God and you obviously know what we are going to ask before we do?”

Second reading: The phrase that hits me is, “Grant me justice against my opponent.”

The Holy Spirit is now asking me to contemplate so I sit with this phrase for a few minutes and respond, “How bold she is! She knew what justice is, she knew it was due her and she was not going to stop coming until she got it. How often do I ask with such confidence?

Third reading: I am sensing a new path the Holy Spirit wants me to walk because the phrase He stops me on is, “because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice . . .”

The Lord said, “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says.” What did the judge say? He said the word ‘justice’ as if he knew exactly what the justice rendered should be, he just didn’t feel like giving it to her. Why? Could be any number of reasons: perhaps it meant more work for him or maybe he never felt he got justice so why should anyone else. Or maybe, it was just a power trip, who knows?

God knows. He knows the judge’s heart and what the Holy Spirit was telling me is that there was a purpose to the consistent ‘coming to him’ through the widow’s perseverance. He was relying on her persistence to force the judge to choose good.

That choice for good may have been the crack God was waiting for to enter this dishonest judge’s heart. God was counting on His faithful daughter, this bold and confident woman, to not give up. He needed her faithful perseverance to be the hammer that made the crack in the judge’s stony heart.

What about the stony hearts in our lives? How often do we pray for others only to give up before we see the results we want? How many hearts have stayed sealed because I failed to remain confident in prayer? I think of what God told St. Catherine of Siena, “I created you without you, but I will not save you without you.” Or others either, it would seem. This passage reveals that it is the very act of persistent prayer that is the force that effects the outcome. Our lack of confidence in an all-loving, all-knowing, all-merciful God results in us too often putting down the hammer of our asking, just before the heart is set to crack.

I end with the Our Father thanking God for helping me know His Way, to love Him for showing me who I am created to be, His confident and faithful daughter, and the opportunity to serve Him in perseverance.

I read the parable one more time and stop at the end . . . .

But “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

If we remain persistent in confident prayer . . . . Yes!