None of That Dark Brown Feeling

Fulton Sheen beatification tickets available starting Friday | CIProud.com

Meditation effects far more profound changes in us than resolutions to “do better”; we cannot keep evil thoughts out of our minds unless we put good ones in their place. Supernature, too, abhors a vacuum. In meditation one does not drive sin out of his life; he crowds it out with love of God and neighbor. Our lives do not then depend on the principle of avoiding sin, which is a tiresome job, but on living constantly in the climate of Divine Love. Meditation, in a word, prevents defeat where defeat is final: in the mind. In that silence where God is, false desires steal away. If we meditate before we go to bed, our last thought at night will be our first in the morning. There will be none of that dark brown feeling with which some men face a meaningless day; and in its place will be the joy of beginning another morning of work in Christ’s Name. 

Fulton Sheen

If God So Loved the World…

Kyle Rittenhouse's former lawyer predicted weapons charge dismissal a year  ago in politically charged case | Fox News

…then God so loves Kyle Rittenhouse—and Joseph Rosenbaum, Anthony Huber, Gaige Grosskreutz, Jacob Blake, George Floyd, Derek Chauvin, Biden, Trump, Gandhi, Hitler, Madonna, Prince, the person crossing the street. Anyone. You. Me.

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.” But when I’m walking around town, pretty much all I see is ordinary people. Nice people, sometimes, but also annoying people. Obese, loud, forgettable people. Rarely extraordinary.

What would it mean to see only extraordinary people? What would it mean to recognize the immortal beauty in every single human being? What would it mean to love the whole world wholly—clean through?

And what does it mean to be so loved? To be so recognized and seen? And to know that we are not alone—that literally everyone else is just as loved, just as recognized, just as seen?

Annunciation

File:Henry Ossawa Tanner - The Annunciation.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Henry Ossawa Tanner, “The Annunciation”

I have come to accept the story of my own

obedience—how I waited not knowing

I was waiting, ear obliging, body

poised. You sent a man I could not

look at fully, or touch, he was a flame

which spoke, and I could not

be afraid—as it’s told,

I rose instinctive as a dove

startled into flight, blue

veil fluttering

floorward and tongue

unglued—May it be done

to me, I said, and it was done

so quickly, I thought to say it

meant I had some say, but

it was preordained—the breath

barely out of my body

before my mind had changed.

Leila Chatti, “Annunciation”

Till the Man Is Perfect

George MacDonald: The Fantasy Writer Who Shaped C.S. Lewis, J. R.R. Tolkien  and Madeleine L'Engle | Guideposts

To call the faith of a man his righteousness is simply to speak the truth. Was it not righteous in Abraham to obey God? The Jews placed righteousness in keeping all the particulars of the law of Moses: Paul says faith in God was counted righteousness before Moses was born. You may answer, Abraham was unjust in many things, and by no means a righteous man. True; he was not a righteous man in any complete sense; his righteousness would never have satisfied Paul; neither, you may be sure, did it satisfy Abraham; but his faith was nevertheless righteousness, and if it had not been counted to him for righteousness, there would have been falsehood somewhere, for such faith as Abraham’s is righteousness. It was no mere intellectual recognition of the existence of a God, which is consistent with the deepest atheism; it was that faith which is one with action: ‘He went out, not knowing whither he went.’ The very act of believing in God after such fashion that, when the time of action comes, the man will obey God, is the highest act, the deepest, loftiest righteousness of which man is capable, is at the root of all other righteousness, and the spirit of it will work till the man is perfect.

George MacDonald, “Righteousness”

They That Go Down to the Sea in Ships

They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters;

These see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep.

For He commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof.

They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble.

They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit’s end.

Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and He bringeth them out of their distresses.

He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still.

Then are they glad because they be quiet; so He bringeth them unto their desired haven.

Psalm 107.23-30

And I Learned to Love These People

The Life of Leo Tolstoy

I was repelled by the fact that these people’s lives were like my own, with only this difference—that such a life did not correspond to the principles they expounded in their teachings. I clearly felt that they deceived themselves and that they, like myself, found no other meaning in life than to live while life lasts, taking all one’s hands can seize. I saw this because if they had had a meaning which destroyed the fear of loss, suffering, and death, they would not have feared these things. But they, these believers of our circle, just like myself, living in sufficiency and superfluity, tried to increase or preserve them, feared privations, suffering, and death, and just like myself and all of us unbelievers, lived to satisfy their desires, and lived just as badly, if not worse, than the unbelievers.

No arguments could convince me of the truth of their faith. Only deeds which showed that they saw a meaning in life making what was so dreadful to me—poverty, sickness, and death—not dreadful to them, could convince me. And such deeds I did not see among the various believers in our circle. On the contrary, I saw such deeds done by people of our circle who were the most unbelieving, but never by our so-called believers.

Leo Tolstoy, A Confession

What then?

And I began to draw near to the believers among the poor, simple, unlettered folk: pilgrims, monks, sectarians, and peasants. The faith of these common people was the same Christian faith as was professed by the pseudo-believers of our circle. Among them, too, I found a great deal of superstition mixed with the Christian truths; but the difference was that … the whole life of the working-folk believers was a confirmation of the meaning of life which their faith gave them. And I began to look well into the life and faith of these people, and the more I considered it the more I became convinced that they have a real faith which is a necessity to them and alone gives their life a meaning and makes it possible for them to live. In contrast with what I had seen in our circle—where life without faith is possible and where hardly one in a thousand acknowledges himself to be a believer—among them there is hardly one unbeliever in a thousand. In contrast with what I had seen in our circle, where the whole of life is passed in idleness, amusement, and dissatisfaction, I saw that the whole life of these people was passed in heavy labor, and that they were content with life. In contradistinction to the way in which people of our circle oppose fate and complain of it on account of deprivations and sufferings, these people accepted illness and sorrow without any perplexity or opposition, and with a quiet and firm conviction that all is good. In contradistinction to us, who the wiser we are the less we understand the meaning of life, and see some evil irony in the fact that we suffer and die, these folk live and suffer, and they approach death and suffering with tranquility and in most cases gladly. In contrast to the fact that a tranquil death, a death without horror and despair, is a very rare exception in our circle, a troubled, rebellious, and unhappy death is the rarest exception among the people. And such people, lacking all that for us and for Solomon is the only good of life and yet experiencing the greatest happiness, are a great multitude. I looked more widely around me. I considered the life of the enormous mass of the people in the past and the present. And of such people, understanding the meaning of life and able to live and to die, I saw not two or three, or tens, but hundreds, thousands, and millions. And they all—endlessly different in their manners, minds, education, and position, as they were—all alike, in complete contrast to my ignorance, knew the meaning of life and death, labored quietly, endured deprivations and sufferings, and lived and died seeing therein not vanity but good.

And I learned to love these people. The more I came to know their life, the life of those who are living and of others who are dead of whom I read and heard, the more I loved them and the easier it became for me to live. So I went on for about two years, and a change took place in me which had long been preparing and the promise of which had always been in me. It came about that the life of our circle, the rich and learned, not merely became distasteful to me, but lost all meaning in my eyes. All our actions, discussions, science and art, presented itself to me in a new light. I understood that it is all merely self-indulgence, and that to find a meaning in it is impossible; while the life of the whole laboring people, the whole of mankind who produce life, appeared to me in its true significance. I understood that that is life itself, and that the meaning given to that life is true: and I accepted it.

An Inconspicuous Army

The Last Prayer

Hundreds of people, many of whom I have never met (and never will meet), who knew nothing about me except my name, from all over the world, since long before I was born. Some much poorer than I, some dealing with much graver loss or illness—in much greater need of my prayers than I of theirs. Some who never found out that their prayers for me were answered. Some who died long before their prayers for me were answered.

Everywhere—in dining rooms, living rooms, basements, churches, high school auditoriums, offices, shopping malls, parks, cars, planes—walking, standing, sitting, kneeling, prostrate, in bed half-asleep—in groups, in pairs, all alone. For a second or two—for a minute or two—for hours—for years on end.

It’s the old women’s prayers that get to me most: the tiny prayers of tiny women in tiny apartments with tiny jobs—and terrible perfumes—and endless hearts. Hundreds of them over the years, women with uncomplicated souls, better souls than mine.

And of course I cannot prove that any of their prayers made any difference. (How could anyone ever prove—or disprove—such a thing?) But to pray is to stand in solidarity with those who pray, and with those who are prayed for. And so I still often weep at the thought of the inconspicuous army of known and unknown saints who have prayed for me.

Ron Highfield’s Rethinking Church

Are mega churches just businesses masquerading as worship? – Film Daily

Quick read. Highly recommended. Some of my highlights:

[T]he traditional way churches organize themselves is the major obstacle to embodying authentic church life in the world…. A church may burden itself with so many and such extraneous accidental features that it becomes almost impossible to live out its essence.

[A]ssociations tend to stray from their founding purposes…. It is common, even expected, that associations supposedly devoted to education, a sport, a profession, or a particular subject will make resolutions and public proclamations on divisive political and social issues completely unrelated to their reason for existence. Not all mutinies occur on ships. Not all pirates sail the seas.

Later generations [of church leaders] … may begin to preserve the traditions of earlier days simply to safeguard their positions in a bureaucracy.

If [the state] leaves the church alone, if it recognizes its freedom to worship as it pleases, to organize as it sees fit, to choose its own leaders, and if it grants such privileges as tax-exempt status, it does so only because it judges that the church does not work against the essential interests of the state. … The church always faces the temptation to hold on to its freedoms and privileges by subordinating, compromising, or giving up its mission of witnessing to the lordship of Jesus Christ. … When churches operate like other institutions in society they place themselves under the ethics, laws, and social expectations applicable to analogous institutions.

I do not think that the status quo can be maintained for much longer. … [The church] can try to prove its continued relevance to society by adapting to society’s progressive morality while deceiving itself into thinking that this new morality is thoroughly Christian. In contrast, the church can give up its vain ambition to be recognized as chaplain and advisor to an increasingly pagan culture and take up its original mission as a countercultural witness to Christ.

“[P]arachurches” … conduct their work in ways that require a constant stream of revenue. They purchase and maintain building complexes, making it necessary to hire janitors, make periodic repairs, and pay large utility bills. To coordinate the activities of hundreds of people and programs for every age and interest group, churches must hire five, ten, or even twenty-five ministers. The Sunday worship alone requires the service of a worship minister, sound and lighting technicians, singers, and several band or orchestra members. … Even a medium-sized church needs an annual budget of $800,000 to $1,000,000. Megachurches need $10,000,000 to $50,000,000 annually.

And from where does this money come? It comes from member donations. And why do they give? … Some churches teach explicitly and others implicitly that giving to the church is a Christian duty or even a quasi-sacrament. … Or, we think of our gifts as membership dues. We attend church services, enjoy the pageantry and an uplifting message from a gifted speaker, and benefit from the work of staff and volunteers. We feel guilty if we attend without helping to pay for the services.

But money exerts a corrupting force. Churches have earned a reputation for constantly soliciting donations…. Churches need to meet their annual budgets. The staff’s livelihood and the viability of many programs depend on it. … If we set up the church so that we need to attract customers and keep them happy, how can we at the same time call them to “count the cost” of following Jesus (Luke 14:15-35)?

[W]hen i became an employee of a church my duty to God got confused with the expectations of my employer…. If your service to God becomes a means of livelihood on which your family depends for mortgage payments, school loan payments, and retirement savings, the joy of ministry often departs. You begin to think about salary, benefits, and working conditions. You notice who has power over you and who does not. … [A]fter a few years ministers are tempted to think of their ministries as they would other jobs, as means of livelihood.

If you gather around a table to share a meal, read the Scriptures, and pray for each other, you do not need a highly skilled speaker, a talented worship leader, an efficient administrator, or a meticulous bookkeeper. … In an assembly of 2,000 people, 1,950 will be completely unknown to us. For most of the time, we sit in rows looking at what is happening on stage. Senior pastors are like the celebrities we see on the screen. We feel like we know them, but we have never had a meal with them. In a small gathering we can hear from everyone, we can learn their stories, see their faces, and hear their voices.

If faith is to survive we must intentionally retreat to places where the Christian story is repeated and lived.

[P]reachers spend what time they have left after doing their administrative duties searching for hooks, movie clips, pictures, and stories rather than studying the Scriptures…. [F]or all that work, the modern sermon contains little instruction on the true scope and depth of the Christian faith. Nor does it really challenge the deep pagan myths that animate our post-Christian culture. … I do not think listening to a twenty-minute uplifting talk on Sunday morning will repair a half-century of neglect. We may have to do something more radical.

[W]hen an individual actually urges churches modeled on businesses, schools, charitable organizations, theaters, or community centers to return to the family or kingdom or the body of model of the church, the systemic logic of these models absorbs, overwhelms, and neutralizes all efforts at reform. At work in each of these models is an irresistible logic fundamentally at odds with the essential nature and mission of the church. … [Y]ou cannot reform the traditional church by tweaking this or that program or renaming an office or an activity to sound more biblical…. True reform begins with abandoning the foundational logic of alien models and all their outward manifestations. The problem is in the DNA, not in the name.

[M]ost contemporary churches are stage centered. People come to watch, listen, and feel. The preachers, readers, worship leaders, musicians, and singers are the center of attention. The church experience becomes performance and entertainment. If the performance is not satisfactory, we go elsewhere. … The stage replaces the table, the music replaces the Eucharistic meal, and a general feeling of transcendence replaces Christ crucified and risen. … [I]f there is any institution that reeks of inauthenticity, it is the institutional church. … Authenticity is not trendiness but honesty. It is having no gimmicks and playing no tricks. No plastic smiles, fake happiness, or implausible certainty.

The question for me is not “Why seek God?” The question is “Why seek anything else?”

What Christianity Offered

HOSPITAL; MIDDLE AGES; CHRISTIAN; LEPROSY

To cities filled with the homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachments. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis of solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fires, and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services.

Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries

Loving Less

The way to love foreigners more is not to love your countrymen less. And the way to love your countrymen more is not to love foreigners less. The way to love your neighbor more is not to love your enemy less.

The way to love the present more is not to love the past less. The way to love the past more is not to love the present—or the future—less.

The way to love the poor more is not to love the rich less. The way to love criminals more is not to love victims less. The way to love victims more is not to love criminals less.

The way to love animals more is not to love human beings less.

The way to love George Floyd more is not to love Derek Chauvin less. The way to love Derek Chauvin more is not to love George Floyd less.

The way to love your brothers in Christ more is not to love unbelievers less. The way to love unbelievers more is not to love your brothers in Christ less. The way to love holiness more is not to love sinners less. The way to love sinners more is not to love holiness less.

The way to love sacrifice more is not to love God’s gifts less.

The way to love God more is not to love anyone or anything in His creation less. On the contrary: “Love of Thee / Swells all loves as mighty floods / Swell all streams.” God is Love, and so loving less is never the way.