In the face of a Silent God…

[NB. This blog is dedicated to the following:
First to two selfless people I have known in the ministry: Fr. Charito Collendres, former Chancellor of the Prelature of Infanta who lost his life in trying to save the lives of others during the typhoons of December 2004, and Bro. Ely Buenavente, AM who also passed away a year after due to leukemia.
Second, this is for the countless victims of the terrorist attacks staged by Muslim extremists this past year…
Lastly, to my mentor who has passed on, Fr. Colm McKeating, SSC whose insights on Theological Anthropology (From Grace, Creation and Sin to Eschatology) has served to deepen my faith in a God who is silent yet Present.]

bytheocean

Nov. 13, 2015…

Paris, France…

It doesn’t make sense…

It doesn’t make sense at all…

In a country where the Father Founder of our college hails from, found his faith and took his commitment on sharing God’s mission with zeal in his heart, in the place where we as Lasallians find the origins of the context of that same faith, zeal for service and communion for mission…

As Lasallians, we pray for what we need, and sometimes we pray because we are appreciative of what we have…

We pray at times as it gets deeper because there is acknowledgment in the presence of the Divine in what we say or do…

“Let us remember that we are in the (holy) Presence of God/the Divine…”

When the prayer becomes a conversation, we develop a relationship, and so we pray, “Live Jesus in our hearts forever!” because the prayer is not only in the sense of asking for something, but that a loving relationship is forged, established, later on developed and deepened.

When our Lasallian prayer begins to be translated into the way we think, say and do things, our contemplation becomes activity and mission that reflects our unique relationship with the Divine…

Then as it happens that way, we pray, “I will continue, O my God, to do all my actions for the love of You.”

There it is, praying and living the Lasallian spirit…

I was with Sir Aido Sepeda, giving this retreat to group of faculty members, when news of death, chaos and violence in different areas of France broke out…

My initial reaction was that of shock…

Then silence…

It struck my very core…

Ever since the very first ISIS news hit last June 2014, many didn’t pay much attention to it. I felt this was the effect of the very meddling that First World countries have caused since the time of the Bush administration in 1989, resurrected again in the 9/11 tragedy, and finally of the reaction of the Arab Spring against what was going on in the Arab States. When Mosul was occupied in 2014, the unthinkable happened with the establishment of a caliphate, a hermit kingdom that was in the style of the early Arab states.  And the scary part of this is that some who ventured into it (whether Muslim or not) had never returned.  I’m sure many of you have heard of the news of kidnappings, beheadings and tortures that they have perpetrated in the name of an extreme interpretation of the Islamic faith which centers on the three deadly concepts: revolution, jihad and armed conflict and war. And its militia is prepared to give their lives for their “faith” in Allah whom they believe blesses their work of war against the “infidels” (which actually translates non-Muslims = us).  Many had been beheaded, tortured and even killed in the name of their faith, even using the channels of social media as means of professing their misguided interpretation of their religious zeal. And believe me, they will continue to kill more.

I have to admit that I had been a bit desensitized by this a few years ago because I have already heard of the news of the Al-Qaeda, and their dealings with their enemies. Even in the Philippines, we know of the Jamiah Islamiyah, which is the arm of the Al-Qaeda network in the country.  I have known of their tactics as it is all over the news.  Since the beginning of the millennium, they have claimed a lot of lives including two priests, Frs. Rhoel Gallardo, CMF and Benjie Innocencio, OMI (both are whom graduates of MST).  While their deaths struck a chord in my heart, it was assuaged by the fact that after those deaths, peace work in the Philippines continued to flourish.

Then, Paris was attacked on November 13, 2015…

129 dead…

Just now as of this writing, a police raid was staged at Saint-Denis, and there were two casualties, one of them a woman who detonated an explosive vest as she charged against them.  I never thought that what I would say which could only be watched as a scene on a TV show, or even action movies wherein a part of the plot deals with a treatment of terrorism that the protagonists encounter in the development of their adventures in each episode can actually happen miles away…

Since the attack, and until now, I have been coming into grips with this reality…

Yes it was real…

It cannot be denied…It did happen…The violence was real, the deaths are real, and the war, the clash of nations looms on the horizon…

My faith in humanity is shaken once more to the core…

While my faith in the Divine stands grounded, I have a lot of questions to ask…

Why do people refuse to listen and instead given in to their primal instincts to kill, to maim and to devastate others in the name of some “misguided” interpretation of their faith?

Is it because we, as Christians have again forgotten what it is to love, to be compassionate and to work for the building of a world that is just and humane?

Does it take 129 people to die just for us to realize that the threat is real, that the violence is imminent, and that we have to rise as one human community to stand against the reality of war, violence and killing which is fueled by hate, greed and intolerance?  Or will the number grow because we keep on ignoring what the real problem is, and the devastation and destruction it will wreak havoc upon?

Tonight, I am hearing helicopters buzzing above my home along the almost midnight sky.  And while I am somehow reassuring myself that may only be transports for the world leaders who are attending the APEC summit done in my country this year, I cannot help but be afraid that somehow armies are being mobilized right now attending to some emergency which may have happened (though nothing is really happening, I hope so…).  Or that bombs may drop at any moment, signaling my last moment on Earth. Yes, one can become paranoid if one gives in to the fear and trepidation borne by those events last Saturday.

Yet the one question I have come to ask is WHY?

Why evil, why suffering, why killing?

Why do we as humans give in to the violence that is fueled by rage and anger?  Why do we fall under its spell whenever we are hurt, wounded and devastated?

It is in these moments that even when we turn to the sources of our faith (be it scriptures, prayer or even silent meditation), God seemingly becomes silent if we grapple with Him/Her the these questions. I do not know if many of you experience the same thing, but sometimes even after the tragic has struck, when we try to raise questions in the hopes of finding solace, comfort and calm through the answers, it seems nothing is forthcoming. As if, in the moment when we want God to be with us, She/He seems to be absent, or even silent…

2004…

In another time, I was also grappling the same questions as tragedy struck the towns of northern Quezon, Real, Infanta and Gen. Nakar when the typhoons Winnie and Yoyong hit them. In a time when I was undergoing drastic changes in my life (I took a leave of absence from my religious community as the family was facing a difficult moment as we were taking care of my Mom who was debilitated with the stroke), it was painful, sad and enraging to see a lot of people dead not only because of the storms, but also because of seeing the logs that destroyed a lot in their towns and in the lives of many.  It hearkened back to the years where the advocacy of the Prelature of Infanta was to raise consciousness among the peoples of not only building a “human” Church, but also a “cosmic” Church that is inclusive even of the care for the environment. And to hear the local government downplaying not only the issue, but also of those people who sacrificed their lives to save others, swelled the rage in my heart. It was obvious that what triggered the flashfloods as well as the destruction of lives and property was  the rampant illegal logging operations that destroyed the virgin forests of northern Quezon just so for the profiteering of the few. Even the priest who sacrificed his life saving the people in the barangay in the nearby river was criticized by the mayor because he was a “pakialamero”. The insensitivity and downplaying of the issue really pissed me off.

It was in these moments when I asked the God of my faith the same questions I mentioned above. And in grappling with the questions I have for him including evil and suffering, I also met the same silence…

Does this mean that God does not want to listen to us? Does it mean that God simply wishes to “punish” us with whatever he can dish out because we have done nothing to take care of the things assigned to our responsibility? Does it mean that our sins are so unforgivable that we deserve what has happened to us?

Could we say the same thing also of Paris, Bagdad, Syria and all the other areas that had been destroyed by the violent ambitions of those who are in conflict?

A tricky question really, and one that has seemingly two difficult images: 1) the seeming triumph of evil and suffering often viewed as punishment, and even as a portent to the “end-times”; and 2) the seeming “silence” of God amidst the suffering of the victims and the oppression of those caught in the crossfire.   And as if it was not even bad enough, we all raise our eyes up to God in the heavens as if we are pleading for Him/Her to come down and do something about everything that is happening.

Yes, we do live in a time where even our faith in a Divine Being is tested beyond limits.  And many go for the free fall of not anymore believing in the Divine because their prayers, it seemed to them, were not answered.  Others though never waver in their belief, but when one looks at it, that is all there is to it: belief.  Let me put it simply, there are two simple responses: 1) those who abandon the Divine they believe in, because in their hearts their God whom they believed before could do anything was powerless in this event; and 2) those who hold on to their belief in the Divine, not because they trust Him, but because this is the God (including their knowledge of this God) they were raised to believe in. No questions asked because to do so would mean either, 1) the reality of their belief of this God would be disturbed and that would merit eternal damnation; or 2) this is all they have, and all that they know, and to challenge it is to challenge their faith in the Church.

By this, it seems that we are faced with a God who is distant from us, and can do anything that She/He wants according to His/Her whims and wishes. God is up there, and we are down here…

Or is it really that way?

1985…

This was another painful time. I remembered that I lost my brother due to miscarriage. When I asked my dad, “Why did he have to die?”, I remember the best reply he gave me, and I never forgot that. The reply was not in the form of words, but it was in His silent sad face.  My father had known a lot of loss in his time: he lost a normal childhood, the chance of a good education and a good life, the love of parents who would take care of their children, a job and even livelihood. But none was greater than when he lost people he loved: my ate Joan in 1976, my younger brother in 1985 (we were supposed to name him Charles), and my mom in 2005. And I must admit he shed more tears on them than on his parents because he truly loved them.

And seeing that sad face made me realize and understand years later that he has no answers to the questions I asked. All he knows is that no matter what happens, he will be there with me even when I am sad and doubtful of what life is.  My dad is not used to showing emotions with us most of the time, but he sure knows to be that silent presence whenever we need support and help in life. He may not have the answers nor tell us of sagely treasures whenever things like that happens. What he guarantees however, is that silent as he may be, he will always be there for us.

And maybe that’s how God is (somehow) when we face these events and situations, and may appear like She/He is not there. I remember my old mentor, Fr. Colm McKeating, SSC telling us in his class, and now in his posthumous book, Light Which Dims the Stars about this seeming silent God who is “not and absentee landlord, but is continuously interacting with creation. Nothing happens in the world without God’s active participation.”[1]  It means that no matter what happens good and evil, God is there. Does this mean God permits evil and suffering to happen in the world? Painfully, yes She/He does. Does evil and suffering come from Him? Adamantly, the Christian faith tells us no however because if they do then the world, and all that is within it including us would not have been.  All creation in the universe even the violence as they appear in natural phenomena has its origins from the goodness of which God is. Furthermore, evil cannot create as only goodness can do that. Yet in a way God permits the evil and suffering that is born from the chaos of His creation, but it is so not to punish us and the world, but to respect the process this created world has in maintaining the balance of its existence. If there will be no chaos, then order will not assert itself. Without evil, the good will not flourish in the lives of those who uphold it.  Without death and suffering, then life will go on unchecked, and negate the possibility of those who have the potential to uplift lives however short the existence of these people may be so as to inspire others to do the same in the same shortness of life we share.

And when evil and suffering do strike, it must reminds us that God is active in their process not to perpetuate them, but to let us realize that we are but creatures who are being formed from that brokenness so as to become stronger and better in the real sense of the word. And silent though the Divine is during the process, She/He is there guiding us, watching us not from afar or from some distant place up there, but near enough to be with us because She/He wants us to grow from this experience.  When we are happy, God is happy through the people who share your happiness. When we are sad, angry and even question Him/Her, She/He will meet us at where we are, but not to argue with us, only to let us feel that She/He is just there, listening to us, accompanying us and struggling with us that we may grow open ourselves in His goodness and love.

You may not believe me as you read this nor am I offering or intending to give answers to the questions we may seek when we experience the tragic. All we can do really is to truly believe as in not just knowing about the Divine and the teachings upheld about Him/Her, but believing in the sense of exhibiting trust and abandonment to His/Her Divine Will because we are beloved.  In fact, if you feel asking those questions, show your doubts and even fall in disbelief in the Divine, be my guest to do so as this is your journey. What I can only offer in writing this piece is to share what I truly believe (which in the old English, is synonymous to being be-loved), i.e., that while God permits evil and suffering to happen in the world as a consequence of His active participation in the universe, by no means is He the source of it, but rather uses them to bring out the goodness and love in which the created universe was designed in the first place. Don’t ask me how it happens as it is a mystery to us, a mystery of faith as it unfolds. But, just like that day in 1985 on why I never understood why my father was silent on the death of my brother so it is with us when we meet God as we grapple with doubts and questions.  And just like it was only years later that I understood why it happened, and why my father only had that sad face as his response, God meets us with a wizened resolve as She/He slowly and gradually reveals to us what She/He intends for us as we grow from our experience of doubt, adversity and conflict during our further travels in life’s journey.

“Many goods (virtues) would disappear were God to permit no evil.” – St. Thomas of Aquinas

Notes:

[1] Colm McKeating, Light Which Dims the Stars: A Christian Theology of Creation (Makati City: St. Pauls Philppines, 2015), 224.

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ONLY THEN IF WE CHANGE (A Personal Reflection on the Past Natural Calamities and Catastrophes in the), PHILIPPINES

Judging from the videos, reports and articles I’ve read about typhoon Yolanda (International name Haiyan), this is more terrible and devastating than what happened at Aurora last October (even my experience 15 yrs ago in the same region is nothing compared to this). Yet we can also see the terrible beauty that nature unleashes as it cleanses itself…

It really does have to break one’s spirit if we see all of what has happened since September, and what has it done to our country.  But as Filipinos, we have always been resilient and seemingly unbreakable (even if our spirits are broken, and that’s the paradox because there is nothing left to break…) amidst all the odds.

But in these events, there is also a lesson at hand, something we have ignored for the longest time: The discourse must shift to social justice and ecology. Too long have been fixated on a morality that is as old as the Dark Ages itself. While I understand such morality is still valid, it can’t stand alone as the premier moral issue for the Church especially here in the Philippines. Even as I write these words, no one still has picked up on the discourse on social justice and ecological concerns. I am quite sad and indignant as the Philippine Church still raises its arms and voices on sexual morality which is being masked in the guise of family and married life.

The family is the backbone of the society, but the discourse in the family should not be limited to sex and sexuality. Like it or not, we have been too fixated on a morality that concerns “below the belt”, and not the whole cosmos of which we as a human race belong to. I have been posting statements here sometimes of an indignant tone because amidst the typhoons, earthquakes, and the corruptions in our Philippine society, the Philippine Catholic Church has turned deaf and mute to these discourses and situations choosing to align itself more on educating the people with an archaic morality as its motif. Sometimes even cuddling in secret with those in power to perpetuate the status quo while the rights of the people and of nature had been trampled. If the top of society is corrupt, it nourishes the corruption it perpetuates, and those at the roots sometimes think that the way things are can’t be changed. Only one cardinal and a few bishops (and even a few priests) have given to the discourse (even if not fully) of a new morality that speaks of the good of the human as well as the roots of our existence in Creation while the rest of the Church is still fixated on its views of an archaic interpretation of a sexual morality sounding as if we are above all creation. Admit it or not, we as a Church have failed and continue to fail to respond to the prompting of the Creator Spirit because we like where we are, and our comfort zone continuously blinds us and lead us to our impending doom.

If I sound idealist to you, tell me this then, why is it that instead of educating ourselves to face this, we instead rally to slogans that are not relevant anymore? Why then have we as a Church deluded ourselves to that “below-the-belt” morality forgetting that “above-the-belt” the “body parts” are used for selfish and oppressive intentions?


Again, these situations must now call to us as Church not to be fixated on an archaic sexual morality, but on a morality that is founded on a more cosmic and authentic selflessness that reaches out to the universe and to others on an equal scale.

We are not SPECIAL among God’s creatures for as we have seen, there is death and devastation in the onslaught of Mother nature whom we have abused and destroyed for our selfish intentions and gains, and all because we thought we are SPECIAL.

NO, WE ARE NOT SPECIAL, and FAR FROM IT.

What these events are telling us is that we can be eliminated like all other species, unless we reflect again our collective stories as a race from ALL (not just one) traditions. That we must turn to the our true place in the grand STORY of the Universe.  If we do that, only then when we turn to this discourse can we truly be a prophetic people who truly serves the will of the Maker/Force of this universe, and be in harmony with it.

ONLY THEN IF WE CHANGE.

BE STILL AND KNOW THAT I AM GOD…

Passion for God, Passion for the Earth by Elizabeth Johnson, C.S.J.

[Blogger’s note: I am posting two articles by Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, one of the renowned (and albeit controversial) woman theologians.  I have read two of her works: She Who Is, and the recent monumental work (which brought the ire of the Vatican especially the male-dominant CDF), Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God, both of which has helped me in understanding how God forms Her/His image through the experiences and contexts of the people who articulate them.  In honor of her and of the coming feast of the Nativity of Mary, and of the professors who introduced her to me through their guidance in Theology, I will post her two articles here…

The second one is her article on eco-feminist theology, a field in which she was renowned for.  This came out originally from the AmericanCatholic.org.  For many years, this was her advocacy that people may respond to the promptings of the Creative Spirit that empowers one to be responsible to care for the earth.  In this insight, I owe Dr. Agnes Brazal who has introduced to the leanings and yearnings of eco-feminist theology — Arvin]

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What an age in which to live! Although war and disaster, tragedy and sorrow continue to plague the planet, we may be living in one of history’s most exhilarating eras. Godly people are nothing short of mesmerized as they learn more and more about the amazing cosmic dance that is the universe.

In recent years, satellites, space probes, and the Hubble Telescope in particular have expanded our vision to a degree no one could have envisioned a decade or two ago. What God has made and continues to make unfolds before our astonished eyes, and these stories are vastly different from those in the opening chapters of the Book of Genesis. Should this make us nervous and uneasy? Not in the slightest. Our ancestors in the faith spoke from a worldview the polar opposite of our own. Their notion of earth as a flat plate, supported by pillars, and capped by an overarching dome or firmament seems quaint and fanciful to us, and so it is. God, the one constant, has not changed, but our frame of reference has, expanding our grasp of what has been there all along. With greater comprehension comes the need to process new ramifications and responsibilities. This old earth, its solar system and galaxy, and the far reaches of space are suddenly seen in utterly new lights, both literally and metaphorically.

A New Awareness of Planet Earth

The image of our planet Earth from space, a blue marble swirling with white clouds, has become familiar to this generation. Astronauts whose own eyes have seen this view speak of its power to change their deepest feelings and attitudes toward the world.

Saudi Arabian astronaut Sultan bin Salman al-Saud, part of an international crew, recollected, “The first day we all pointed to our own countries. The third day we were pointing to our continents. By the fifth day, we were all aware of only one Earth.”

Another astronaut, American Rusty Schweigert, who walked on the moon, had this to say, “From the moon, earth is so small and so fragile and such a precious little spot in the universe that you can block it out with your thumb. Then you realize that on that spot, that beautiful warm blue and white circle, is everything that means anything to you…all of nature and history, music, poetry and art, birth and love and death, tears, joy, prayer, dancing…all of it right there in that little spot that you can cover with your thumb. And then you are changed forever. Your relationship to the world is no longer what it was.”

In truth, these are religious experiences. On the brink of the third millennium, a new awareness of planet Earth as one community of life is growing among peoples everywhere. But this appreciation is marked by strong paradox: the more we discern how precious all life on Earth is, the more we also realize alarmingly how human actions are ravaging and exhausting the natural world. The spiritual/ethical question of our right relation with Earth emerges as a new, vitally important issue, one that encompasses all others, including relationship with God and peaceful justice among humans.

Like the Psalmist, we need to realize that God has made all creation glorious: “When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers / the moon and stars that you set in place— / What are humans that you are mindful of them, / mere mortals that you care for them?” (Ps 8:4-5).

One With the Earth

The new creation story, which is the tale told by contemporary science of how the world came into being, teaches us that the world is unimaginably old, large, dynamic, and organic. When filtered through the eyes of faith, it reveals a Creator Spirit initiating, upholding, moving, vivifying, and playing in the world that grows increasingly bright and complex, truly the Giver of Life.

Roughly five billion years ago an aging star died in a great supernova explosion that spewed its debris into the cosmos. Some of this cloud of dust and gas re-ignited to become our sun, a second-generation star. Some of it coalesced in chunks too small to catch fire, forming the planets of our solar system, including Earth. Thomas Berry calls this ancient, exploding star our Mother Star, our sacrificial Christ Star, because in its death it gave itself up so that we might live.

Out of the Big Bang came the stars, out of the stardust the Earth. Then, out of the molecules of the Earth emerged single-celled living creatures, setting off a new kind of explosion, life. From the evolutionary life and death of these creatures flowed an advancing tide of life, fragile but unstoppable; single-celled plankton, jellyfish, creatures that live in shells, amphibians, insects, flowers, birds, reptiles, mammals, among whom emerged human beings with a consciousness and freedom that concentrate the self-transcendence of matter itself.

If the inelegantly named Big Bang exploded on January 1, then our sun and planets came into existence September 10, and human beings came on the scene on December 31 at ten minutes to midnight. Bacteria, pine trees, blueberries, horses, the great gray whales…we are all genetic relatives in the great community of life. And we are all part of the larger universe. Everything is connected with everything else; nothing conceivable is isolated.

Telling the story of creation this way leads to three insights. First, we realize that human beings are not pilgrims or strangers on this Earth, merely passing through; rather we belong here. Second, while the Earth does have instrumental value for human use, we realize that it is more than just a stage or backdrop for the human drama of redemption; rather, it is a marvelous creation in its own right, loved by God for itself, saved by Christ, destined for eternal life in the new creation. It has its own intrinsic value. Third, since amid the whole web of life human beings are the ones consciously aware of the Holy One who created everything, we have a unique distinction and responsibility. In Abraham Heschel’s words, human beings are the cantors of the universe.

In our day the human race is inflicting deadly damage on the life systems that keep this planet a habitat for life. The twin engines of destruction are over-consumption and overpopulation. In 1950 the world numbered two billion people; now, at the turn of the millennium it numbers six billion; and by the year 2030 there will be ten billion persons on the planet. Think of it this way: the Earth’s population will have multiplied five times during the lifetime of someone born in 1950.

To translate these statistics into a vivid image: another Mexico City is added every sixty days; another Brazil joins the planet every year. Our species now uses up resources faster than Earth’s power to replenish itself. By a conservative estimate, in the last quarter of the 20th century, 20 percent of all living species have gone extinct. We are killing birth itself, wiping out the future of our fellow creatures who took millions of years to evolve. We live in a time of a great dying off.

But the odd thing is that, with some notable exceptions, many religious people and the church as a whole are curiously silent about the Earth. We are like the disciples asleep in the garden of Gethsemane while Earth undergoes its passion and death.

Responses in the Spirit

In spiritual terms, what this time calls for is nothing less than a conversion of our minds and hearts to the good of the Earth. Catholic Christians need to unlearn the dualism that led us to pit the spirit against matter and caused us to pursue paths of holiness marked “flee the world.” We need to learn to relate anew to the natural world not as dominators, not even as stewards (which does not go far enough) but as real kin in the one creation of God. How we pray and live responsibly in this community will determine whether life on this planet has a glorious or miserable future. The very glory of God is at stake.

The sacramental response gazes contemplatively on the world with the eyes of love rather than with an arrogant, utilitarian stare, and sees there the handiwork of God. Moreover, in the incarnation God chose to unite with the material of Earth in a profoundly personal way. The resurrection of the crucified Jesus transforms a piece of this Earth, real to the core, into glory in God’s eternal presence. “Charged with the glory of God,” as poet Gerard Manley Hopkins penned, the world with its beauties and terrors makes present the loving power of the Creator whose image it reflects.

The ascetic response calls for intellectual humility in our assessment of the human place in the universe and practical discipline in our use of natural resources. An ecological asceticism works to restore right relations between humankind and otherkind distorted by hubris and greed. Rather than the medieval construct of the hierarchy of being and honor ascending from the pebble to the peach to the poodle to the person, all under the sway of the monarchical God at the apex, asceticism reconfigures that pyramid into a circle of life with human beings thoroughly interwoven with all other creatures, special in virtue of being conscious and free but utterly interdependent on others for their life.

The prophetic response moves us to action on behalf of justice for the Earth. One stringent criterion must now measure the morality of our actions: whether or not these contribute to a sustainable Earth community. Undergirding this ethic is a startling idea: we need to extend vigorous moral consideration to the nonhuman community of Earth. We need to respect life and resist the culture of death not only among humankind but also among other living creatures. In such ethical reflection, the great commandment to love your neighbor as yourself is extended to include all members of the community. We all share the status of creature; we are all kin in the evolving community of life now under siege; our vision of justice must be one of cosmic justice. The aim is to establish and protect healthy ecosystems where all living creatures can flourish.

Conclusion

A flourishing humanity on a thriving Earth in an evolving universe, all together filled with the glory of God; such is the theological vision and praxis we are being called to in this critical age of Earth’s distress. We need to appreciate all over again that Earth is a sacrament vivified by the living Spirit of God. We need to realize that the way we are destroying it is tantamount to a sacrilege. And we need to act as members of the Earth community called to be partners with God in the ongoing creation rather than destruction of the world.

This moment of crisis calls for a spirituality and ethics that will empower us to live in the web of life as sustainers rather than destroyers of the world. Ignoring this view keeps the church and its members locked into fatal irrelevance while the great drama is being played out in the actual wider world. But being converted to the Earth sets us who are the church and our ministries off on a great spiritual, intellectual, and moral adventure. Instead of living as thoughtless or greedy exploiters, we, by conversion to the Earth, are empowered to rediscover our kinship and live as sisters and brothers, friends and lovers, mothers and fathers, priests and prophets, co-creators and children of the Earth as God’s good creation gives us life.

This is our generation’s great religious adventure which is absolutely a matter of life or death. No more monumental challenge faces those who are led by the Spirit of God at the start of the third millennium.

Elizabeth A. Johnson, CSJ, is Distinguished Professor of Theology at Fordham University. One of American Catholicism’s most highly regarded theologians, Johnson teaches and lectures on a variety of theological issues. Her prolific writings include an issue of Scripture from Scratch, “Trinity: To Let the Symbol Sing Again.” This article is a condensed version of an essay that originally appeared in Spiritual Questions for the Twenty-First Century (Orbis Books, 2001).

In Search of the Real Mary by Elizabeth Johnson, C.S.J.

[Blogger’s note: I am posting two articles by Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, one of the renowned (and albeit controversial) woman theologians.  I have read two of her works: She Who Is, and the recent monumental work (which brought the ire of the Vatican especially the male-dominant CDF), Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God, both of which has helped me in understanding how God forms Her/His image through the experiences and contexts of the people who articulate them.  In honor of her and of the coming feast of the Nativity of Mary, and of the professors who introduced her to me through their guidance in Theology, I will post her two articles here…

The first one is her work on Mary as we are nearing the feast of the Nativity of Mary which falls on September 8 (though this year, it will fall on September as Sept. 8 falls on Sunday this year). I owe this to Dr. Emmanuel de Guzman, my former professor who I consider as one of my mentors in my theological training — Arvin]

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Every century and culture has interpreted Mary in different ways. You could almost drown in the various ways that the Christian tradition has honored Mary! Consider the paintings, sculptures, icons, music, liturgies, feasts, spiritual writings, theologies, official doctrines. George Tavard wrote a book recently, and his title gets it exactly right: The Thousand Faces of the Virgin Mary.

It seems that the image of Mary has allowed the Christian imagination to think very creatively and very differently about understanding Mary. But now it’s our turn, we the generation alive today. How should we consider Mary (or Miriam, as she would be known in Hebrew) in the 21st century?

Recognizing Mary of the Gospels

We know very little about Miriam of Nazareth as an actual historical person. In this she is in solidarity with the multitudes of women through the centuries, especially poor women and poor men, whose lives are considered not worth recording. We must also be respectful of her historical difference from us in time and place. She is a first-century Jewish woman; she is not a 21st-century American. And that difference must be respected.

The four Gospels portray her in very different ways, reflecting their very different theologies. At first glance, Mark comes across as having a negative view of Jesus’ mother. She arrives with other members of the family as Jesus is preaching and they call to him. When the crowd tells Jesus his mother is asking for him, he replies, “Who is my mother and brother and sister? Those who do the will of my father are mother and brother and sister to me” (see Mark 3:31-35). And Mary remains outside. Mark does not seem to have a positive view, at that point, of Mary as a disciple.

Matthew’s view of Mary is rather neutral by comparison. He places her in the genealogy of the Messiah, in line with four other women who act outside the patriarchal marriage structure, thereby becoming unexpectedly God’s partners in a promise-and-fulfillment schema. In Matthew’s Gospel, though, Mary doesn’t speak, and all the focus on the birth story is around Joseph.

Luke describes Mary as a woman of faith, overshadowed by the Spirit at Jesus’ conception and at the beginning of the Church at Pentecost. She is the first to respond to the glad tidings to hear the word of God and keep it. This is a pictorial example of Luke’s theology of discipleship. It’s a very positive view of Mary from which we have mostly gotten our tradition.

Finally, John has a highly stylized portrayal of the mother of Jesus, and that’s all he ever calls her. He never names her. She is pierced twice in John’s Gospel, at the beginning and at the end, at Cana and at the cross. And again she is there embodying responsive discipleship to the word made flesh.

As with the Gospel portraits of Jesus, these diverse interpretations cannot always be harmonized. But each is instructive in its own way.

To glimpse the actual woman behind these texts is difficult. Now we get help from new studies of the political, economic, social and cultural fabric of first-century Palestine. New studies are enabling us to fill in her life in broad strokes.

Much of this knowledge of the circumstances in which she lived has resulted from the contemporary quest for the historical Jesus. But it serves us as well for a quest for the historical Mary. So let’s go questing for Miriam of Nazareth—as a Jewish village woman of faith.

Mary as Jewish

As a member of the people of Israel, Mary inherited the Jewish faith in one living God, stemming from Abraham and Sarah onwards. She prays to a God who hears the cry of the poor, frees the enslaved Hebrews and brings them into their covenant relationship. Given Jesus’ clear knowledge and practice of the Jewish faith in his adult life, as reflected in the Gospels, it is reasonable to assume that Mary, with her husband, Joseph, practiced this Jewish religion in their home, following Torah, observing Sabbath and the festivals, reciting prayers, lighting candles and going to synagogue, according to the custom in Galilee.

Later at the end of Jesus’ life, Luke depicts Mary in her older years as a member of the early Jerusalem community, praying with 100 other women and men in the upper room before the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. What we see from this—and most scholars think that that’s a historical glimpse—is that Mary participated in the early Christian community in Jerusalem. Now in the light of the death and resurrection of Jesus, this gathering of disciples believed that the Messiah had come. But in no way did they think that this was a cause to leave their religion; they kept going to the Temple, and so forth.

For many years, they preached the good news to their fellow Jews trying to get them to understand the promise of God has been fulfilled, before finally being persuaded by Paul and others that the gospel was meant for gentiles too. To use a term coined in scholarship, Mary was a Jewish Christian—the earliest kind of Christian there was. This was before Christianity split off from the synagogue. She was never a Roman Christian, never a gentile at all. So it does no honor to her memory to bleach her of her Jewishness. We’ve done this ethnically by turning her swarthy Jewish complexion into fair skin and blonde hair and blue eyes. But we’ve also done this religiously by turning her deeply rooted Jewish piety into that of a latter-day Catholic. She wasn’t.

Mary, a Peasant Woman

Mary lived in a Mediterranean rural village, Nazareth, whose population consisted largely of peasants working the land and craftsmen who served their basic needs. Married to the local carpenter, she took care of the household. Now how many children were in that household? Well, her firstborn son, Jesus, obviously lived there, but we also read in Mark’s Gospel that the mother and the brothers and the sisters lived together in Nazareth. And these brothers are named in Chapter Six: James, Joses, Judas and Simon. His sisters Mark leaves unnamed, as typically happened with groups of women in the New Testament.

The apocryphal gospels explain that these are Joseph’s children by previous marriage. But however many were in the household, we would know that in her setting, her days would ordinarily be taken up with the hard, unrecompensed work of women of all ages: to feed and clothe and nurture her growing household. Like other village women of her day, she was probably unlettered, illiterate.

The economic status of this family is a matter of some dispute. Scholars like John Meier place them in a blue-collar working-class arrangement, while others such as John Dominic Crossan assign them to the peasant class, desperately struggling under the triple taxation of Temple, Herod and Rome.

Either way the times were tough. This village was part of an occupied state under the heel of imperial Rome. Revolution was in the air. The atmosphere was tense. Violence and poverty prevailed. We owe a debt to Third-World women theologians who have noticed the similarities between Mary’s life and the lives of so many poor women, even today. Notice how the journey to Bethlehem in order to be counted for a census accords with the displacement of so many poor people today separated from their ancestral homes because of debt and taxation.

Notice how the flight into Egypt parallels the flight of refugees in our day—women and men running with their children to escape being killed by unjust military force. Notice how Mary’s experience of losing her son to death by unjust state execution compares with so many women who have had their children and grandchildren disappear or be murdered by dictatorial regimes. Mary is a sister, a compa—era, to the suffering lives of marginalized women in oppressive situations. It does Mary no honor to rip her out of her conflictual, dangerous historical circumstances and transform her into an icon of a peaceful middle-class life dressed in a royal blue robe.

Woman of Faith

Mary walked by faith, not by sight. As one theologian once said, “She did not have the dogma of the Immaculate Conception framed and hanging on her kitchen wall.” Scripture tells us she asked questions. She pondered things in her heart. And she went on faithfully believing even when grief stabbed her to the heart.

She had a relationship with God that was profound. Now in those days, people’s hope for the coming of the Messiah included the hope that he would liberate the suffering poor from oppressive rule. Luke’s infancy narrative gives a particular twist to our memory of Mary’s faith by placing her in a key position of partnership with God to bring about this historic occurrence. The Annunciation scene, as biblically analyzed today, depicts her being called to the vocation of being God’s partner in the work of redemption on the model of the call to Moses at the burning bush.

It’s a prophetic call, a call of vocation to be a partner with God in this great work. Mary gives her free assent, thus launching her life on an adventure whose outcome she does not know. She walks by faith, not by sight. Indeed her very pregnancy takes place through the power of the Spirit.

Mary’s virginity has been used to disparage women who are sexually active, as if they aren’t as perfect as Mary the virgin. But again this event actually sounds a powerful theme for women. Sojourner Truth, the 19th-century freed slave, was speaking once in a hall where a group of black-clad clerics were arguing that she should not even have the right to be on the stage. She noticed their mumbling and said to them, “Where your Christ come from, honey? Where your Christ come from? He come from God and a woman. Man had nothin’ to do with it.”

Business as usual, including patriarchal marriages, is superseded. And God stands with the young woman pregnant outside of wedlock, in danger of her own life. God stands with her to begin fulfilling the divine promise. Now Mary’s faith-filled partnership with God in the work of liberation is sung out in Luke’s Gospel in her magnificent prayer, the Magnificat (Lk 1:46-55). It’s the longest set of words placed on the lips of any woman in the New Testament.

Oddly enough, it is a prayer omitted from most traditional Mariology. Here’s the scene: Mary is newly pregnant; Elizabeth her cousin, an older woman, is six months pregnant; Zechariah, Elizabeth’s husband, has been struck dumb for his lack of faith; and so there’s no male voice to inject itself into this scene. The house is quiet of men. Mary arrives. Elizabeth, filled with the Spirit, embraces her and sings out, “Blessed art thou among women.” And also filled with the Spirit, Mary breaks into a new prophetic language of faith. She sings a song in the pattern of Miriam, Deborah, Huldah and Hannah, other great hymn-singers in the Old Testament, and she launches into divine praise. Her spirit greatly rejoices in God her savior.

Mary of the Magnificat

Though Mary is poor and lowly, and a culturally insignificant woman, the powerful living holy God is doing great things to her. And God does this not only to her but to all the poor: bringing down the mighty from their thrones; exalting the lowly; filling the hungry with good things and sending the unrepentant rich away empty. And all of this is happening in fulfillment of the ancient promise—and in her very being. For she embodies the nobodies of this world, on whom God is lavishing rescue.

In this song she sings of the future too, when finally, peaceful justice will take root in the land among all people. This is a great prayer; it is a revolutionary song of salvation. As writer Bill Cleary once commented, “It reveals that Mary was not only full of grace but full of political opinions.”

Miriam’s song has political implications—socially radical ones at that. With a mother like this, it’s no wonder that Jesus’ first words in Luke proclaim that he has come to free the captives and bring good news to the poor. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!

So Mary lived in solidarity with the project of the coming Reign of God, whose intent was to heal, redeem and liberate. It does no honor to reduce her faith to a privatized piety. Worse yet, which sometimes happens in traditional Mariology, is to reduce her faith to a doting mother-son relationship. She hears the word of God and keeps it. What I’m suggesting is that before Jesus was born she had her own relationship to God that wasn’t focused on Jesus. Even after his death and resurrection, when she is now part of the community proclaiming him as the Messiah, her pattern of faith is still that of Jewish hope: God’s Messiah who now has come will come again soon and bring this justice to the land as a whole.

She hears the word of God and keeps it. And in this too she is, as Paul VI called her in Marialis Cultus, our sister in faith. We can begin to see the potential in other Gospel scenes. As we remember her and keep foremost the idea that she is a Jewish peasant woman of faith, then we can interpret the other scenes in the Gospels where Mary shows up and where we are presented with the dangerous memory of this very inconsequential woman in her own culture and historical context. With a heart full of love for God and for her neighbor, Mary of Nazareth gives us this tremendous example of walking by faith through a difficult life.

Our partner in hope

We began by asking, what would be a theologically sound, spiritually empowering and ethically challenging view of Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, for the 21st century? My answer has been to suggest that we remember Mary as a friend of God and prophet in the communion of saints. Let her dangerous memory inspire and encourage our own witness.

We ought to relate to Miriam of Nazareth as a partner in hope, in the company of all the holy women and men who have gone before us. This can help us reclaim the power of her memory for the flourishing of women, for the poor and all suffering people. It can help us to draw on the energy of her example for a deeper relationship with the living God and stronger care for the world.

When the Christian community does Marian theology this way, our eyes are opened to sacred visions for a different future. We become empowered to be voices of hope in this difficult world. Like Mary, we will be rejoicing in God our savior and announcing the justice that is to come.

 

 

Five Features of Good
Marian Theology

In 1975 Pope Paul VI wrote an apostolic exhortation on Mary, Marialis Cultus (To Honor Mary). He began that letter by saying that he observed that, for many modern people, devotion to Mary was not only problematic, it was on the wane. He suggested that one of the main reasons for this lay in the fact that our approach to Mary reflected outdated ideas of the Middle Ages and the Counter-Reformation period of the Church, views of Mary that are unappealing to contemporary people. He named, for example, the way that some theology presented Mary as timidly submissive and said that this is repellent to the piety of modern women.

Then he said the Church is not bound to these older images of Mary, some of which are showing the ravages of time—this is his language. He ended up by calling on the whole Christian people and their pastors to be creative in doing for our age what our ancestors in the faith did for their age, namely develop an appealing view of Mary suitable for our own culture. To do this he suggested that such a theology would have five characteristics. It would be:

1) Biblical

Marian theology should be rooted in the testimony of Scripture.

2) Liturgical

It would be in tune with the great liturgical seasons. He named especially Advent, where Mary joins the Church in expecting the birth of the Messiah, and then Pentecost, the coming of the Spirit of the Church.

3) Ecumenical

It would be in harmony with the agreements we have reached with fellow Christian Churches. Rather than being a dividing point between Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Protestantism, it would be a unifying point.

4) Anthropological

By this term, Paul VI meant that it would be aware of the changing role of women in society. As women take leadership in various aspects of society, we cannot expect women or men to appreciate a Mary who is presented as a passive and subservient woman.

5) Theological

This means it would have God at the center—with Mary placed in relation to Christ and to the Church.

 

Elizabeth Johnson, a sister of St. Joseph, is professor of theology at Fordham University; an international lecturer and a former president of the Catholic Theological Society of America. Her Ph.D. is from Catholic University of America.

The article was adopted from a talk given at the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress in 2000; the full talk is available as an audiocassette, A Theology of Mary for the Third Millennium (A8161), from St. Anthony Messenger Press, for $8.95. Find more information at 1-800-448-0488 or www.AmericanCatholic.org

The Message of the Biblical Jubilee amidst the Culture of the Pork, the Under-the-Table and the Scams (2013)

(N.B. This post is dedicated to the memory of Fr. Carlos H. Abesamis, SJ [one of my biblical mentors among others] who first introduced to me the challenge of the Biblical Jubilee [the book A Third Look of Jesus is one of what I have of his great biblical legacy] which was the driving spirit in the ministry of the Lord Jesus as he proclaimed the coming of the Kingdom as envisioned by the loving God whom he called “Abba!“.)

This post may be biblical, and may thus be dismissed as nothing by people who think that this is more spiritual than real, but in the light of the recent controversies, I would like us to look at what the Jews held as a model of an egalitarian society (for them, there are no dualisms, just a unity of being). Though it may have been forgotten later on by later generations after the writer of Deuteronomy, this idea was alive in the heart of Jesus, and was alive in the spirit of the early Post-Pentecostal Church (not the denomination of course, but by the narrative in Acts) as they continued to live by the Kingdom’s values as envisioned by Jesus:

“Every seventh year you shall grant a remission of debts. And this is the manner of the remission: every creditor shall remit the claim that is held against a neighbor, not exacting it of a neighbor who is a member of the community, because the LORD’s remission has been proclaimed. Of a foreigner you may exact it, but you must remit your claim on whatever any member of your community owes you. There will, however, be no one in need among you, because the LORD is sure to bless you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you as a possession to occupy, if only you will obey the LORD your God by diligently observing this entire commandment that I command you today. When the LORD your God has blessed you, as he promised you, you will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow; you will rule over many nations, but they will not rule over you. If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking, “The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,” and therefore view your needy neighbor with hostility and give nothing; your neighbor might cry to the LORD against you, and you would incur guilt. Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.’ If a member of your community, whether a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you and works for you six years, in the seventh year you shall set that person free. And when you send a male slave out from you a free person, you shall not send him out empty-handed. Provide liberally out of your flock, your threshing floor, and your wine press, thus giving to him some of the bounty with which the LORD your God has blessed you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you; for this reason I lay this command upon you today. But if he says to you, ‘I will not go out from you,’ because he loves you and your household, since he is well off with you, then you shall take an awl and thrust it through his earlobe into the door, and he shall be your slave forever. You shall do the same with regard to your female slave. Do not consider it a hardship when you send them out from you free persons, because for six years they have given you services worth the wages of hired laborers; and the LORD your God will bless you in all that you do. Every firstling male born of your herd and flock you shall consecrate to the LORD your God; you shall not do work with your firstling ox nor shear the firstling of your flock. You shall eat it, you together with your household, in the presence of the LORD your God year by year at the place that the LORD will choose. But if it has any defect– any serious defect, such as lameness or blindness– you shall not sacrifice it to the LORD your God; within your towns you may eat it, the unclean and the clean alike, as you would a gazelle or deer. Its blood, however, you must not eat; you shall pour it out on the ground like water.” (Deut. 15 NRSV)

When this was written, it was done so that all may experience the blessing of God who created all the earth free, and not just to cancel debts and credits. This was considered the Biblical Jubilee where everyone again is equal in dignity and status, not just for humanity, but for all the earth under God’s care. The Jews took care not to violate as they remembered that what ever they have is not theirs, but the Lord’s. They were not to own everything as if they deserved it, but return that portion especially to those in need especially the anawim.  For once and the Lord reminds them that they were once anawim in the lands of Egypt, and that the Lord looked kindly on them, and made them His/Her people.  Thus, they must do the same for others whether Jew or not, slave or free.  All have the right to experience God’s blessing of Himself/Herself as reflected in the beauty of His/Her created universe.

This was alive in heart of Jesus as he proclaimed the words of Isaiah in the gospel of Luke (cf. 4:18-20).

This was even alive in the values of the early Church after the Pentecost as they continued to follow the vision of the Kingdom proclaimed by Jesus (cf. 2: 42-47; 4:31-37).

Then, its message is clear to us who live in these auspicious times:

If only our leaders could give more than take…
If only they could serve instead of lording it over…
If only they give more of themselves to make a lasting legacy, instead of putting their interests to insure their own false sense of security…

Then,

ALL (not SOME) are blessed…
ALL (not a FEW) are rich not only in resources, but in responsibility to take care of each other…
ALL (not just anyone) could experience happiness not because they have it all, but because they worked together for the needs of each other…

This is the Spirit of this passage, that ALL and NOT a FEW can actually be happy and experience God in the goodness and generosity of his/her neighbor…

“Let anyone with ears listen!” (Mat 11:15 NRSV)

My reflections on the Assumption (2013)

This morning I saw a post from one of my former professors.  He found this picture disturbing:

And I must admit it was disturbing to me too.  But, I also know that this is where I came from before.  To be honest, since then, I gave up this discourse (thanks to my MST family of which the same professor was one I considered my mentors), as this didn’t made sense with my faith-relationship.

And this is the discourse I made in reply to his suspicion on this post:

“Both statements are not biblical in the following sense:

1) The Ascension is not by the power of Jesus, nor was the author having the intention of writing this to show that Jesus was God. In fact, I’m suspicious that the words “carried up into heaven” was even mentioned in the official sources. Only the NRSV, NAB, and mostly Catholic bibles have this. I was looking this up from Bibleworks. Anaphero (the word used for the ascension) could mean 1) to carry or bring up, to lead up 1a) men to a higher place 2) to put upon the altar, to bring to the altar, to offer 3) to lift up one’s self, to take upon one’s self 3a) to place on one’s self anything as a load to be carried 3b) to sustain, i.e. their punishment. If Luke’s intent was to show Jesus as the Messiah to fulfill God’s promise in salvation history, then the Ascension should be seen as part of God’s power of raising Jesus in the Resurrection narrative. Therefore meaning no. 1 is the most likely meaning Luke was using. The Ascension cannot be seen as an independent narrative, and it would be absurd to say that Jesus ascended into by His own power as God for the simple reason that it negates the whole intention of Luke to highlight the fulfillment motif he wants to convey to his audience. To propagate this teaching is to wholly portray Jesus in an ideological way which I suspect is the discourse of power, and Luke was never in that category.

2) The Assumption’s discourse can be agreeable in the sense that it was God’s power that made the Assumption possible from a doctrinal perspective. Yet, the Assumption is extra-biblical in discourse so the Bible can not say anything about it. It was an formed in an age when people thought Mary has an extraordinary place in God’s plan in salvation, and that her holiness was exceptional. And I can only think that Pius XII used some early Christian writings to propagate the dogma which was pronounced only in 1950.

From a hermeneutics of suspicion, I can sense that the discourse is from a doctrinal perspective whose agenda is to promote only it from a doctrinal and dogmatic standpoint (read: to promote power from an authority). But the problem with this is that since the 20th century with the rise of greater self-consciousness, and the trappings of power deconstructed, this discourse greatly disconnects the Christian from the idea of true discipleship portrayed originally in the Gospels. The Gospels portray Jesus as having His own power as God rather than a person who offered his life to fulfill his conviction as He sought out to share the Good News to the house of Israel, and that those who shared his convictions (even that of Mary) were also willing to offer everything themselves for the sake of the mission. And this is something the doctrines have almost buried in centuries past to promote the agenda of blind obedience to authority more than true obedience to the Kingdom that is borne out of one’s conscious decision to be part of it.

Looking at this realization, both feasts should remind us of the true meaning of why they are celebrated by the Church in the first place: (1) that Jesus and Mary are persons with conviction who chose to do things in order to make real and present the Kingdom of God here on earth; (2) that to offer one’s life for the sake of the Gospel gains fullness of life with God; and (3) these feasts should challenge us to a conviction of living the values of the Kingdom in ourselves and to others should we choose to accept the invitation of the Kingdom in our lives. This is my hermeneutics of appreciation.

Therefore it has to be mentioned that discipleship is a call for both men and women on an equal basis where men and women are partners in solidarity.  Leadership then, is not that men are authoritative leaders, and women are subservient workers at the whim of the same authoritative leaders which sadly is prevalent in the present culture of leadership in the Church (which is all too clerical).  It must be leadership of partnership, equality and solidarity.  I call to mind here the struggles of the sisters and nuns of the LCWR with the leadership of the Vatican as they only want to promote a leadership that is nurturing and life-giving to the Church even in their creativity in their critical reflection of the prevailing doctrines of the Church.

To change this culture is also part of the demands of the Kingdom, and we know from history (much as the Church wants to hide it, and sugarcoat their claim biblically) that women are equal with men in terms of leadership. Inasmuch as this was a conflict in the Gentile world, the early Church made the best of its efforts to promote an equal and sustainable community among themselves by following the convictions of Jesus whose spirituality is rooted in his deep relationship with God whom he calls Abba.

This is part of what these feasts remind us as we are called to true discipleship in the Kingdom in which Jesus and his followers held in their convictions. The vindication of Jesus in the resurrection is a gift of God given to all, and coming home to the Father after his earthly life is a hope shared to all as seen in Mary’s assumption should we choose to take the path of discipleship in the Kingdom where love, peace and justice reign to all of God’s created universe.

Bottomline: This is not a good discourse if it veers away from the original intent which is true discipleship as demanded by the values of the Kingdom. The Kingdom is the true spirit as we celebrate these feasts.  True discipleship in the Kingdom is an offer and an invitation to all who wish to share the convictions of Jesus in his vision of renewed creation where true justice tempered by compassion, true love borne out of going outside one’s self to serve the needs of others, and true peace that is both the gift and task of a person who is filled with the Spirit of the Lord as she/he shares this to others in the hopes of making the created universe according to God’s vision a reality.”

I admit this is not complete and I haven’t gone through everything, but this is my conviction.  But in looking at it, I can only say “Wow!”, and then humbled because this reflection I could not even made it without the people who enabled me to do such reflection.  People who had shared the same convictions on the Kingdom, and have offered their time to be true disciples for it.

People like them have reminded me of the Spirit of God that empowered Jesus and all who have shared his conviction to make real and present the Kingdom on earth (as Luke portrays him to be).

But I can also say that it is God who is Grace that has enabled me to produce such reflection.  Yes, She/He was present in the people who nurtured me, mentored me and helped me reach this understanding of this same God who is Grace.

And as I end, I leave you with what Doc Manny always thinks of the feast of the Assumption (and I gladly share the same sentiment):

God be with you guys!