The enduring conundrum of faith

Chapter 4

Good Monday Morning to this week 5 of 2020

Watching the film “The two Popes” directed by Fernando Meirelles the quote with the conundrum of having two popes caught my attention.

Frustrated with the direction of the church, Cardinal Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce) requests permission to retire in 2012 from Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins). Instead, facing scandal and self-doubt, the introspective Pope Benedict summons his harshest critic and future successor to Rome to reveal a secret that would shake the foundations of the Catholic Church. Behind Vatican walls, a struggle commences between both tradition and progress, guilt and forgiveness, as these two very different men confront their pasts in order to find common ground and forge a future for a billion followers around the world.

Wondering why Benedict resigned, a cataclysmic event that caused an ecclesiastical conundrum: What do you do with two popes at the same time?

One of many wonderful scenes was on of a state of curious ignorance. Here were two men who have exhausted each other, as they sit in silence as brothers and just say nothing. Silence, allows for tolerance, for understanding.

In the film, Benedict the philosopher is balanced by Francis the pastor. The entire narrative is characterized by the juxtaposition of the two men in their diversity as much as it is a story of unity that unfolds in the images and sounds of 2,000 years of history. It presents a dynamic cycle of perspectives as one man grows to understand the other’s experience, spirituality and theology. They have to stretch their northern and southern hemispheric and ecclesial world-views as they spar in front of the altar in a stunningly beautiful 500-year-old chapel. Dialogue and hope for humanity and the church are showcased for a 21st century audience in unexpected ways. Benedict has the upper hand as the pope but Bergoglio’s confidence in responding to the older man is rooted in humility.

Some quotes:

Pope Francis: We have spent these last years disciplining anyone who disagrees with our line on divorce, on birth control, on being gay. While our planet was being destroyed, while inequality grew like a cancer. We worried whether it was all right to speak the Mass in Latin, whether girls should be allowed to be altar servers. We built walls around us, and all the time, all the time, the real danger was inside. Inside with us.

Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio: It’s not easy to entrust oneself to God’s mercy. I know He has a very special capacity for forgetting our mistakes. God forgets, but I don’t.

Pope Benedict: Perhaps we’ll find God over there, on the journey, I’ll introduce you to Him.

Let us be quiet together. Pope Benedict

Here some quotes out of real life of both Popes:

Pope Benedict XVI

To me, its seems necessary to rediscover and the energy to do so exists – that even the political and economic spheres need moral responsibility, a responsibility that is born in man’s heart and, in the end, has to do with the presence or absence of God.

True friends challenge us and help us to be faithful on our journey.

The Christian faith can never be separated from the soil of sacred events, from the choice made by God, who wanted to speak to us, to become man, to die and rise again, in a particular place and at a particular time.

The Gospel purifies and renews: it bears fruit wherever the community of believers hears and welcomes the grace of God in truth and lives in charity. This is my faith; this is my joy.

Pope Francis

I see clearly that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity.
Money has to serve, not to rule.

I dream of a church that is a mother and shepherdess.

Grace is not part of consciousness; it is the amount of light in our souls, not knowledge nor reason.
Although the life of a person is in a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow. You have to trust God.

We must restore hope to young people, help the old, be open to the future, spread love. Be poor among the poor. We need to include the excluded and preach peace.

Indifference is dangerous, whether innocent or not.

The Lord never tires of forgiving. It is we who tire of asking for forgiveness.

If our hearts are closed, if our hearts are made of stone, the stones find their way into our hands and we are ready to throw them.
Our faith in Christ, who became poor, and was always close to the poor and the outcast, is the basis of our concern for the integral development of society’s most neglected members.
The Church does not exist to condemn people but to bring about an encounter with the visceral love of God’s mercy.
Let us not be afraid to cross the threshold of faith in Jesus, to let him enter our life more and more, to step out of our selfishness, our closure, our indifference to others so that Jesus may illuminate our life with a light that never goes out. It is not a firework, a flash of light. No, it is a peaceful light that lasts for ever and gives us peace.Wishing you a blessed week with these quotes of faith.  Many may seem clear, but when put in application, aspects of faith seem as conundrums:
“And without faith it is impossible to please him God”. James says: “You ought to be happy when you suffer through tough times because it is strengthening and maturing faith”.  Then he takes it a step further by admonishing us that there cannot be any doubt involved.  Now, if you already know all this,  then here is the conundrum:  Why do we ask God to remove each and every difficulty that He wants to use to perfect our faith? Amazingly, things like suffering and apprehension are the things that actually perfect it.  So, why are we always praying for God to take away the very things that are actually going to insure that we are pleasing to Him?

Are we born with faith?  Isn’t it  a gift from God somewhere along life’s journey, not ready-to-serve kind of gift, far more –  it is a gift of potential.

Philemon

When God is silent

Chapter 3

Good Monday Morning to this week 4 of 2020

“Our God comes, he does not keep silence” (Psalm 50,3). That is a core sentence of the Bible. God can only be God for us because God is not silent? Is a speechless God not a God in the sense of the Bible? Many frustrated Christians confirm this in their own way; Since they no longer hear God, God does not exist anymore for them.

Mother Teresa spent 40 years in spiritual darkness. Abraham, the father of our faith, spent 13 years without any communication from God, yet his faith only grew stronger.
St. Ignatius of Loyola experienced so much of this spiritual emptiness that he wrote the famous “Spiritual Exercises,” with guidelines on what to do in these two states. Jurell Sison writes on the Ignatian prayer:

When in silent prayer, I get an overwhelming feeling that I am not in charge. While that sounds cliché, it seems to me that this simple mindset is the remedy to my stress, heartache, and anxiety. Day to day I get tricked into believing that my daily tasks, obstacles, and struggles are bigger than they are. Some days I even feel cheated that people don’t recognize them or validate them, but my prayer puts things into the proper perspective. I get a profound sense that God is in charge and that life is mysterious. And no matter what struggles come my way, God has a way to redeem them. I like to think that I trust God, but silence helps me to live that trust.

Marc Batko translated an essay by a German theologian, Wolf Krötke, a prominent Protestant theologian from Eastern Germany, whose work is known far too little in the English-speaking world. Krötke demonstrates how, taking seriously a world that has grown forgetful of God, recommends not retreat into vague religiosity or spirituality, but rather attention to the concrete possibilities for human freedom and faithfulness that the Christian gospel itself sets forth.

God’s silence is not entirely harmless. Whoever does not hear God is not simply free of God!  Even atheists become irritated when they are called “godless.” No one likes to hear this. That “godless” has this sound for real blasphemers is strange. Our language presumably transports something owed to a biblical experience.

The God who by nature is not silent is silent! When this happens, people are spit out, left without any goodness, hopelessly alone and miserable. “O God, do not keep silence; do not hold thy peace or be still,” implores another biblical praying person (Psalm 83,2). When God is silent, the power supply of his spirit and life is missing from our life. Other voices and other powers then fill the empty spaces of God’s silence.

All people do not regard this as terrible. The godless type is repeatedly encountered in the psalms as a careless person who likes God’s silence. “Nothing is lacking to me,” exclaims the confessionless person of today who shuts the door on visitors from the community. Since he never hears God speak, he does not notice when God is silent. Isn’t he better off than those tormented by God’s silence since they have good experiences of God speaking?

We must take this question seriously in a time when God means nothing for so many people. Whoever would open ears and hearts for God’s speaking,  tells them the reason for deaf ears and closed hearts is that God is silent? All who believe have had this experience. In faith in Jesus, it is engraved with the cry of the dying Jesus. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” – this is the desperate complaint of the person through whom God’s love spoke like no other!  With the words of Psalm 22, he joined with all the complaints of people about God’s silence. He anticipated something that could not be ignored. Too many after him, that was  also their ultimate question in their life.

God is silent – that is the experience of believers open for God in the discipleship of Jesus. We may not misunderstand this as insensitiveness for God to which people become accustomed to, voluntarily chosen, distance from God. In such a distance from God, people can be as sealed with concrete walls from God. The Christian community with its testimony of God’s speaking can and should shake these walls.

God’s silence hurts. It sets in like a mysterious wall before us and in us when God’s speaking is necessary. Hope and vigor are taken, gratitude that they are alive is driven out of persons plagued by sickness. Here there isn’t an atheist or Christian, religious or not religious. Everyone knows the experience “when we are in extreme distress” and God is silent. How do we still speak of God in such situations?

When God is silent, it seems as if God is uncommunicative or closed for us. This can only result in also our growing silence. Whoever is struck with suffering or tries to help other sufferers experiences this directly. The word “God” becomes like heavy in our mouths and hearts.

Yet, there are other times when we can only be silent with God. Communities that rediscover the old practice of Easter night have this experience.

On this night, something else comes into play than the mysterious abyss of God’s silence. In the experience of the Easter night, we notice something like God’s own deep affliction from the pain of Jesus Christ and from the suffering of his creatures. Far away from Golgotha, it is nearly impossible to understand God’s silence as enduring pains that make us speechless.

Good Friday teaches us that God is with us even in his silence. As he touches us with his silence, he bears with us the heavy experiences we make when he is silent. In all their gravity, such experiences stop being the ultimate experiences that imprison us in a distance from God and silence.  No, on the contrary,  they open the communication to hearing the words of God’s love in his silence.

Wishing you a blessed week.

Philemon

 

Capacity for greater Compassion

Chapter 2

Good Monday Morning to this week 3 of 2020

Exodus 3.3. Moses stared in amazement. Though the bush was engulfed in flames, it didn’t burn up. This is amazing, Moses said to himself.
Why isn’t that bush burning up? I must go see it!

One of the ancient Jewish texts that helps us conceive God in relation to compassion. God reveals his compassion in the calling of Moses. He chooses a man in Moses with a capacity for greater compassion.

One Midrash, an ancient commentary on part of the Hebrew scriptures, attached to the biblical text (found in Shemot Rabbah) offers an answer that I find particularly helpful:

The blessed Holy One only tested Moses by the flock. Our rabbis have said that when Moses our rabbi, peace be upon him, was shepherding the flock of Jethro in the wilderness, a kid (goat) escaped. He ran after it until he reached a shady place. When he reached the shady place, he happened upon a pool of water where the kid was standing, drinking. When Moses reached, he said: “I had not known that you had run away because of thirst. You must be tired.” He placed it on his shoulder and walked back. The blessed Holy One said: “You have shown compassion in guiding a flock belonging to a mortal; so, by your life, you should shepherd My flock, Israel.”

Geoffrey D. Claussen writes in his text “I will be with them”

In this Midrash, God characterizes Moses as acting with exemplary compassion. Moses, to his credit, does not rebuke the kid for escaping from the flock. Instead, he admits that he had not understood what it needed and shows the empathy required to understand what it must be feeling; he responds with an action that offers relief to the kid. God appears to Moses and charges him with his mission precisely because of this display of compassion to the kid.

One interpretation that in this moment Moses reveals not only his compassion for the particular kid but also his compassion for all beings. Moses’ concern for the kid revealed his capacity to understand what all creatures need: “Our rabbi Moses, who followed the kid so that he could figure out why it ran away after he found that it was tired and thirsty had compassion for it and placed it on his shoulder and so it was revealed that he was understanding and discerning of the needs of every creature. God found him fit to be the shepherd of Israel, Moses’ compassion thus came to resemble the divine ideal of compassion for all creatures, as suggested by a verse from Psalm 145: “The eyes of all look to You, and You give them their nourishment promptly” (Psalm 145:15).

I imagine the story of Moses and his calling in this way. The suffering kid is a revelation that demands Moses’ response, and as Moses acts with newfound compassion, he grows even more in compassion. As he realizes his capacity for greater compassion, he realizes how much further he could grow as he recognizes the broader ideal of compassion.  He understands that he is called toward that ideal—that this ideal obligates him, commands him, and demands his further action. This ideal of compassion burns within him and burns before his eyes, like a burning bush from which one cannot turn aside. The obligation to care for each and every creature rings in his ears and calls to him, as with a voice that cannot be silenced. Moses turns toward the ideal of compassion and the obligation that addresses him as if by his own name. He answers: “Here I am”.

The idea that the burning bush is a manifestation of divine compassion.
God says to Moses, ‘If you do not sense that I am suffering just as Israel is suffering, then you should know that I am speaking to you from within the thorns as if I am a partner in their suffering.” The burning bush is a thorn bush that shows how God compassionately joins the people of Israel while they suffer in Egypt.

Those included within the circle of divine compassion include the entire people, and Moses cannot separate himself from the people’s suffering or from God’s suffering alongside them.

Rather, he is called upon to emulate God’s compassion and to also experience the people’s suffering himself—and precisely so as to be able to respond that “he will be with them” in their suffering, just as God is with them in their suffering.

The revelation of the burning bush calls Moses to feel the suffering of Israel, to be a partner in their suffering, and to take responsibility to alleviate their suffering, to free “My people”, the Israelites, from Egypt as God instructs him.

Moses famously resists God’s call: “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and free the Israelites from Egypt?” But something has drawn him to the bush, and if we follow the Midrashic traditions discussed here, it is not merely the miraculous sight.

We might imagine that Moses sees not only thorns and fire that represent suffering, but that he, in fact, sees the images of what that suffering looks like, and that he hears not only the voice of God but also the cries of those for whom God is present. It might well be tempting to turn away from such scenes and even from the thorns and fire that represent suffering, but the text emphasizes that Moses feels that he “must turn aside” toward the bush (Exodus 3:3)

Compassion involves being a partner in the suffering of others, even feeling the painful thorns that others feel, and committing to being with those who suffer. We can imagine Moses, as he takes on this awareness of and responsiveness to even the most difficult suffering.

We can imagine Moses realizing just how much the ideal of compassion obligates him and committing to greater and greater responsibility.

The biblical narrative implies that Mount Horeb and Mount Sinai are the same location.
From the burning bush, God promises that “when you have freed the people from Egypt, you as Nation shall worship God at this mountain. And this promise is later fulfilled: after leading the people of Israel out of Egypt, Moses will bring the people back to this mountain. Moses will thus bring the people back to the spot where he had found his escaped kid and understood its suffering, where he had realized the need for compassion for all creatures, where he had encountered the ideal of compassion for the people.

When Moses returns to the mountain after the exodus from Egypt, it will no longer be only a single bush that will be in flames; rather, the whole mountain will now be aflame. The mountain was ablaze with fire and the divine voice comes “from out of the fire”.

As we understand the fire of the bush to be a sign of the ideal of compassion in response to suffering, we may understand the fire that envelops the mountain as an even more powerful symbol of compassion, a renewed manifestation of the ideal that Moses first encountered in the bush.

Like that first fire, this fire also clearly demands, obligates, and commands; the divine voice that comes from it is the source of legislation, the “fiery law” ”placed upon all Israelites. God, the ideal of compassion, commands the people of Israel to strive toward that ideal, to obey the laws that will teach them and help them to grow deeper in compassion.

The divine voice addresses each one of them and cannot be silenced; the divine ideal burns before the eyes of the entire people, threatening their complacency, setting forth a covenant of compassion that demands responsiveness to the suffering of others.

As I conceive of God, traces of the divine presence may be glimpsed through acts of compassion for those who suffer.

All of us, I think, can apprehend the obligations that God imposes upon us when we, like Moses, act with compassion. And all of us can easily turn away from these obligations, especially when they threaten our complacency, our self-centered desires.

It is difficult to be with others who are suffering and even harder to feel their pain, and it is all the more difficult to be compassionate when the number of those who suffer is so staggering.

We will inevitably fall short of the ideal of compassion, and yet have great hope that the ideal is one toward which we can take steps, as best we are able.

May God conceive in us an ideal of “being with them,” inspiration for our own growth toward ever-deepening compassion

Philemon

 

Hall of Faith

Chapter 1/2020

Good Monday Morning,

Grace is God’s acceptance of us. Faith is our acceptance of God accepting us.
Adrian Rogers

By faith, Abraham endured when God tested him …
By faith, Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future …
By faith, Jacob blessed each of Joseph’s sons …
By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus and gave instructions …
By faith, Moses’ parents hid him for three months,  not afraid of the king’s edict …
By faith, Moses chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than …
By faith, Moses left Egypt,  persevering because he saw Him who is invisible …
By faith, Moses kept the Passover, so no one would not touch the firstborn of Israel …
By faith, the people passed through the Red Sea …
By faith, the walls of Jericho fell, marching around them for seven days.
By faith, Rahab was not killed with those who were disobedient …
By faith, many heroes and heroines in the Bible are not all given names 

Hall of Faith and Hebrews 11:32-39 says;

Many of these never received their promises directly in their lifetime but they have received it because they were faithful and believed in and trusted God for they understood that God, He would deliver the promise…in due time.  The fulfillment of the promises did also depended on Abraham, a strong act of faith; it “was especially” strong in his ease from the circumstances that he had an only son, and that the fulfillment of the promise depended on his life. We do know that God never tempts any man in the sense of an inducement to evil is certain: “For God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempteth no man” (James 1:13). The factors in this supreme test of faith included an apparent contradiction in the word of God himself who had promised Abraham that all of the wonderful promises of the covenant were to be realized through the posterity of Isaac, called here his “only begotten son” (which he was, as far as children by his legitimate wife were concerned); but who then was commanded to be offered up as a sacrifice to God. Any man of ordinary faith would have concluded that the two aspects of God’s word were irreconcilable and would have rejected the command to offer up Isaac, such a command being contrary to every instinct of Abraham’s heart and which seemed, on its face, to nullify the promise of an innumerable posterity through Isaac.

The manner in which Abraham reconciled God’s apparently contradictory messages constitutes the glory of his faith.

Since God’s promise required the survival of Isaac in order to its fulfillment, and since Isaac was then to die, how could God’s promise be true? Many writers have dwelt impressively upon the turmoil in Abraham’s heart over such a dilemma, but the astonishing fact is that there seemed to be no such turmoil in Abraham. It simply was not there! The impression that we get from the Biblical narrative is that Abraham treated it as God’s problem!

It was for God, not for Abraham, to reconcile his promise and his command.

I gave in and admitted that God was God. C. S. Lewis

So when the command was given, Abraham promptly set about obeying it; his own duty was clear, and God could safely be trusted to discharge his responsibility in the matter.

A. Barnes writes in his commentary …

The requirements imposed by so tremendous a task as identifying the God-man, the Messiah, Christ, when he should come into the world, plainly demanded that seemingly contradictory things should be foretold concerning him. Thus, on the one hand, he was hailed as Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, Lily of the Valley, Fairest of Ten Thousand, the Bright and Morning Star, and the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, etc.; while, at the same time, the Scriptures described him as despised and rejected by men, a root out of dry ground, with no beauty or comeliness that people should desire him, and as being chastised, pierced, encompassed by the wicked, and crucified. Certainly, such apparent contradictory prophecies were an enigma to the Pharisees; and it was evidently in reference to this that Jesus raised his famous question of how David’s son could be David’s Lord (Matthew 25:45,46).

Significantly, had the Pharisees been true sons of Abraham, they would, like Abraham, have believed all that God said, even the seemingly contradictory things; and the very fact that the ancestor of all the Jews had given so astounding an example of doing that very thing makes the Pharisees all the more culpable in their guilt.

No less than the Pharisees, we, the people of today need Abrahamic faith with reference to all God has spoken, even regarding the things which appear contradictory.

To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible. Thomas Aquinas

“He that had received the promises sounds like “accepted,” yet it’s far more it’s welcoming and embracing the promises by faith.

Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times. Martin Luther

Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Friends, look up – take courage!

Philemon