Book Review: Reflections on Old Age: A Study in Christian Humanism

Cornelius F. Murphy, Jr. is  a former professor of international law and legal philosophy at Duquesne University. He is the author of over a half dozen books, including Beyond Feminism: Towards a Dialogue on Differences (Catholic University Press).

In his golden years, Dr. Murphy has extensively researched and taught on the spirituality, psychology, and sociology of aging.  More important, he has lived it, not only personally, but within the family, community, and culture. Thus he writes from research, reflection, and experience. His comments are therefore neither academic nor banal, but what I would term philosophically practical and existential.

In the spirit of realism that accompanies both old age and the mentality of this book, let me begin by acknowledging the limitations of the book, or more positively, its scope and focus. It is not meant to be a comprehensive treatment. It is primarily a literary, philosophical, and sociological work. It does not reflect an acute theological sensitivity, nor does it claim to. However, it competently incorporates contemporary currents of Catholic spirituality, judiciously and accessibly citing magisterial teachings.

The real strength of this book is its assimilation and synthesis of ancient and post-seventeenth century literary sources. Dr. Murphy’s previous books have focused on New England literature from that period, and thus these are featured prominently in this book.

This book is practical and down-to-earth, rather than abstract and academic. Accordingly, it is accessible to any reader seriously wishing to contemplate and wrestle with the essential issues of aging. It is a good resource for lectio divina, that is, prayerful spiritual reading, as it draws significantly from Scripture and both traditional and post-conciliar Catholic spirituality.

The book is not an easy read, but an essential one. Aging is not an issue amenable to superficiality and trivialization, and thus Dr. Murphy does the reader a service by not capitulating to contemporary desires for over-simplification and politicization. The book is readable, stimulating, interesting, affordable, and dialogical. The author brings his own experiences in prudently, without becoming autobiographical or testimonial. The book makes for an excellent companion to old age.

Perhaps the highest praise that could be accorded the book is that it fills a void. I cannot think of another recent work that provides as stimulating a literary,  sociological, spiritual, and experiential exploration of the confusing, hopeful, and often disconcerting phenomena of old age.

At $17, the book is a great value, because it is like sitting in on a course on the subject. The book never becomes tedious, boring, monotonous, or repetitive, and thus one can work through it over a period of weeks, patiently assimilating its observations, assertions, and challenges.  It is good for both neophytes and experienced readers on the subject, and thus makes for a wonderful gift and companion to its aforementioned predecessor, Beyond Feminism, .which similarly tackles a socially relevant phenomena from an informed, thoughtful, and uncommon perspective.

The book can be ordered from the publisher, Resource Publications, at the following website: http://www.wipfandstock.com. Their phone number is 541-344-1528. Orders can be placed at orders@wipfandstock.com.

 

Posted in Dialogue: The Divine and Human Dynamic of Modern Life, Lectio divina | Leave a comment

Pope Francis on spanking

Pope Francis deserves support, prayers, and heeding for his brief remarks on spanking children. It is a sign of the times that he is being criticized for something that would be taken for granted a century ago. And we are the enlightened generation?

Have you been around children who lack discipline, particularly that of a father?

They need guidance.

Parents are human. Children can push you to the edge.

Sometimes reactions are instinctive or instantaneous, and only God knows the motivation.

There is also a lack of common sense here. Having been spanked, I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that the pain of verbal comments far exceeds that of physical punishment that is coming from someone who loves me. We forget physical pain much quicker than verbal and emotional. The pope mentioned that such punishment should not be humiliating. Let’s critique the critics for just a moment.

We live in a shame culture where on both a mass and individual scale people harm other’s reputations without remorse. Whole magazines are built around gossip. Slander is a way of life for many in the culture. The media destroys reputations without considering the harm done to the person. They worship at the altar of the dollar.

The pope, however, rightly pointed out that the child’s dignity should be preserved. is the child’s dignity preserved by the foul, profane material they are exposed to on television? is the child’s dignity safeguarded by companies exploiting them and parents and conditioning them to consume more and more of things they don’t need.

The obsession with Harry Potter and so many other cultural trivialities is certainly not for the benefit of children. Temporary entertainment perhaps, edification, no.

I rally around the pope and encourage others to do so.

My sense is that his critics really haven’t been around children much in the real world. Have they seen the behavior of children who are neglected by their parents, which is much more harmful than proportionate and well-meaning spanking?

The so-called women’s liberation movement, which has become tragically an enslavement to the worst in human nature: the quest for power, greed, pleasure, and revenge, advocates a woman’s right to an abortion.

Abortion is not murder they say. With all we know scientifically about the mystery and fragility of life, its unimaginable wonders, it is incomprehensible that people would assert that life does not begin at conception. If it is not life, what is it, and at what moment does it arbitrarily become life? We are a disjointed society.

A woman can take the life of her child, and a man can pressure a woman to take the life of her child, and so called physicians, in violation of the Hippocratic oath, profit from the taking of an innocent life, but a parent can’t spank a child.

Since there is no sense of proportion and continuity with respect to abortion and the onset of life, there obviously is none with respect to spanking. Where do we draw the line, and who is qualified to draw it as a matter of law? The government has no right to impose abortion on a woman and family, and it has no province to regulate spanking. There are laws against violence against fellow human beings, and these certainly can be applied in cases of obvious child abuse.

Absolute prohibitions of spanking are illogical and subjective. If a parent chooses not to spank, that is their prerogative. But it is not the prerogative of others to impose subjective values with respect to child discipline, particularly when it goes against tradition.

What are the fruits of the way we treat children today in our spank-averse culture? Are children growing up healthier due to the way we discipline them? People’s conscience and values should be respected on this matter as long as they are within certain norms and boundaries. It is wrong to injure a child, but causing pain with proper intention is another matter.

What about children who go astray due to neglect, societal conditioning, peer pressure, or verbal abuse?

We need to change our laws to protect the life of an unborn child before even pondering legislation against corporal punishment. It’s okay to kill an unborn child, to take away their life at its very beginning, but it is not okay to show a child in practical ways not only that we care that we do the right thing, but that we will take the necessary steps, to the best of our ability, to protect and guide them.

In our culture, people can make false accusations against a family member or a member of the clergy, destroying their reputation and to a degree their life, and go unpunished, but God forbid that they touch a child with other than the purest gentility.

Children who have been spanked and grown up to be mature and healthy adults know that this politically correct and misinformed (poor psychological foundations) assault against common sense and the natural order (parents are entitled to responsible authority over their children) is not only nonsense but dangerous.

We live in a culture where a political administration can demagogically mislead and deceives the masses and embark on a morally unjustifiable war that results in hundreds of thousands of deaths and life-impairing injuries and yet face no consequences, and where unborn children are slaughtered by the hundred of thousands and not protected by the law, and a slap on the bum designed to protect and guide a child, however imperfectly dispenses (for parenting is not a perfect science or art) is a criminal offense.

Parents who care enough to pay attention to a child and seek their welfare, sometimes at the expense of their own, to the point where sometimes mild and prudent physical correction is utilized, commit a crime, and those who pursue careers, power, prestige, and pleasure to the neglect of their children escape practical consequences and corrective action.

Spanking need not become child abuse. It should be monitored just like other parental actions. But the prerogatives of the parents must be respected and protected.

The pope rightly focused on the dignity of the person. That is the ultimate issue. Does war (such as the invasion of Iraq), manipulative and exploitative marketing and consumerism, and laws permitting abortion, among many contemporary plights,  respect human dignity? Much less than proportionate and prudent spanking!

Pope Francis, we are grateful for your honesty, sincerity, frankness, straightforwardness, courage, compassion, and common sense. You are in the footsteps of Pope John Paul II, who decried lusting after one’s wife and objectifying her, and was similarly criticized by so-called woman’s advocates.

In a culture where unborn children are not protected and children are manipulated by economic and social conditioning and exposed prematurely to sexual behavior and language that is unquestionably detrimental to their welfare, it is unconscionable that those who spank their children with good intentions and moderation are treated as criminals.

The pope needs defenders and cannot defend himself — Like the unborn child and the children who need rearing. Will you join me at his side, exhorting him to persevere in his proclamation of the Gospel, expressing solidarity with his defense of traditional morals and values, and trying, however imperfectly, to live it?

His critics need to advocate for children on the issues of abortion, economic and social exploitation of children, parental neglect and irresponsibility, and offensive and damaging stimuli in the media. Then they will have a sense of proportionately and dialogue intelligently on proper measures for child rearing and discipline. Let’s get the fundamentals in order as a foundation for refining our prudential judgment.

Posted in Signs of the Times | Leave a comment

Homeschool vs. Public School

Homeschool vs. Public School

Laura Haber

As parents, our foremost thought and purpose is to protect our children. A second close is to teach them what values, virtues, morals, and skills we believe are necessary to function in this world and live a Christ-centered life. When it comes to our children and education, the big debate is what is best; a public provided education or a parent provided education, and what curriculum will meet our set goals without compromising the education we give our children.

With a Master’s in Elementary Education, I am often asked why on earth I have spent so much money and time to get a degree in education to homeschool my own children. The answer is very simple; once I began my student teaching, it became apparent what was really going on behind those beautiful brick walls covered with posters, which hide the cinder blocks (and germs).

Now, please don’t get me wrong, there are schools that are building children up and growing their intellect so we have future thinkers and leaders, but we also have schools that are “producing” our children, imparting misleading and downright wrong educational material and ideas, and foregoing character building and love of one another, with a central focus. Wait, there is a central focus, the test, but that is for another day. Teachers are piled with more and more of the parental burden, as administrators push more and more of a political burden. There are not enough hours in the school day (there are seven, but only about four hours can actually be considered educationally engaged hours) to do what is required and often times, teachers simply move on, leaving the students who don’t understand, behind.

As a once perspective teacher, I was very upset that I did not come to the realization that I was what was best for my children, sooner. Who better than the child’s parents to teach them? Sure, my degree made me excellent with crowd control, but what about really teaching these kids? It is almost impossible to reach students without parental involvement, and with the current state of the world, more and more children are raising themselves or being raised by siblings or friends. In a public school setting, it is extremely hard to reach every student, especially those who are exceptional (one end of the spectrum or the other). In a homeschool setting, the parent sets the course of learning through student interests and ability and the timeline is flexible (in many states).

As a thoughtful, loving, and concerned parent, why on earth would I send my child away to “work” (that is what it is, is it not?) for nine hours a day to have to supplement and correct for the remaining five to six hours? Not only do I have to focus on what is being taught by the adults in the school system, but also focus on what the other students are teaching my children. There is no better place for children to learn about misinformed sexuality, social norms, and secularism, then a public school setting. Unfortunately, many private Catholic schools are adopting the Common Core and embracing, with a touch of Catholic Faith, the “dumbing us down” mentality. Common Core you ask? Well, that is another stadium size can of worms that must be addressed, but I will save that for another article.

So, back to the original idea; why homeschool and what are the benefits weighed against that of a public education? The answer for me is my children’s morality and individual intelligence. I don’t expect to teach them only about our Faith, but I do intend for my children to live the Gospel and be that light for so many others who, for one reason or another, are living in darkness. I want my children to grow and prosper under His guidance, which is given through me and the Church. I want my children to know that they are important and have talents that will most definitely not be highlighted with a public education, given its current state. Not to mention the fact that so many people who do send their children to public school speak so poorly of teachers and how much they make for “babysitting” but continue to place the burden of moral and intellectual education in the hands of teachers who they criticize and belittle whenever said child does not perform up to some set of unimaginable standards.
What about those parents who want to homeschool and can’t because they have to work? Well, I am a working mother. I am busy, very busy (just ask my husband who has to make appointments to talk to me) and I homeschool. My children, through homeschooling and love and respect, have become self-starters, goal setters and achievers. Nothing thrills my twelve year old more than finishing up a textbook and work in March/April when we have slotted the work to end in late May. You can homeschool your kids. You have to remember that the educational day does not have to (nor should it) look like that of a public school. Work around the obstacles, or make changes to your current situation. God provides. He always has for us and I know he always will.

It would be just lovely if I could wrap our family up in a nice Catholic Bubble and leave everything else outside, but we do not have that much bubble wrap. Instead, I will guide my children’s learning and character through parental love and support, the way God intended it to be. I know that my children may never go to college or become millionaires, but if they are happy, productive, Christ-centered people, than I have done my job.

Laura Haber, B.S., MaEd, CFCP
Homeschooling Mother of 5
Berkeley Springs, WV

lbreengoad@aol.com

 

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Natural Family Planning

Natural Family Planning

Laura Haber

Natural Family Planning has been around since the beginning of time. In the book of Leviticus, written between 900 and 800 BC, it is written, “When a woman has her menstrual flow, she shall be in a state of impurity for seven days…If a man dares lie with her, he contracts her impurity and shall be unclean for seven days…When a woman is afflicted with a flow of blood for several days outside her menstrual period, or when her flow continues beyond her ordinal time, as long as she suffers this unclean flow she shall be unclean, just as during her menstrual period. If she becomes free from her affliction, she will wait seven days and only then is she to be purified…On the eighth day she shall take two turtle doves or two pigeons and bring them to the priest at the entrance of the meeting tent.” Leviticus 15: 19-29). In other words, the woman was unclean during her menstrual period and had to wait for 12 days before she could dip her whole body in a basin called a mikvah and say a short blessing and then be touched by her husband. No surprise that this coincides, in general, with the most fertile time of the menstrual cycle and was consistent with the Jewish law to be “Fruitful and multiply.”

Since those days, things have changed and we have come to understand a woman’s cycle and her fertility in a scientific and medical way. There has been much scrutiny and many obstacles to the use and implementation of Natural Family Planning as a means to regulate and space children naturally. We often hear the term “ineffective” or “counting days does not work” and Calendar Method often comes to mind. The up-to-date means of Natural Family Planning is extremely effective and does not use counting days to determine the time of fertility. Natural Family Planning, particularly the Creighton Model Fertility Care System, now also has the added benefit of NaPro Technology, founded by Dr. Thomas Hilgers, as a call to Pope Paul VI in 1968 with Humanae Vitae. This new technology provides the means to treat women who suffer from infertility and general gynecological problems using a method that preserves the fertility of a woman in a more natural way.

This article sets out to educate and reaffirm the values that Natural Family Planning can instill not only in Catholics and those who value the true meaning of life, liberty and happiness, but also those who wish to understand their bodies in a more natural state, those who suffer from infertility, and those who are looking for an alternative to harmful contraceptive methods. We will also touch on some of the statistics that will help to reinforce the true value that Natural Family Planning offers not only to couples and women, but also to the nation as a whole.

VALUES
Western culture as it enters the 21st century faces a wide spectrum of alarming social problems before it; the disintegration of the family as evidenced by ever-increasing divorce rates, family violence, sexually transmitted diseases, induced abortion, out-of-wedlock pregnancies (in spite of wide-spread contraceptive and abortion practices), sexual and physical child abuse, alcohol and drug addiction and teen suicide. These very real social issues are breaking down the very core of humanity.

Natural Family Planning focuses on the total person perspective, bringing the attention back to where it should be: on the family, self education and body awareness. NFP educates women and couples about their bodies and the way in which we are designed and work. We are made to procreate, as we are also created to love and be loved, not only in the physical sense but also in the emotional and marital sense. Natural Family Planning highlights and emphasizes this very fact. The couple comes together and begins to understand how their bodies work separately and together.

When young girls embrace the art of Natural Family Planning, they harbor a respect for the body and the reality that “sex” has more to it than just the physical act. They begin to look at the world around them in a whole new light and begin to ask more of themselves when it comes to relationships with the opposite sex. Because they understand the consequences of what can happen, more and more young girls who embrace Natural Family Planning are abstaining, and if they are sexually active, stopping.

The value of life is highlighted with Natural Family Planning. Every child is a wanted and loved child as there are no surprises with Natural Family Planning when the correct program is used with the aid of a knowledgeable Instructor or Practitioner, which in turn creates a decline in abortions.

UNDERSTANDING OUR BODIES
We have been entrusted with an incredible ability to procreate and to simply just “be.” We have amazing bodies that allow us to run, jump, speak, feel pain and joy, and simply go from the couch to the fridge without a second thought. Many of us put our bodies through the wringer with unhealthy food, little to no exercise and bombard it with untested and downright harmful medications. Birth control pills, intrauterine devices (IUD’s), sterilization and abortion are part of this family. They create a false sense of security and allow the user the excuse to be frivolous with their sexuality regardless of the consequences. This “sexual revolution” has brought about freedom; freedom for sexually transmitted diseases, promiscuity, adultery and gender confusion.

When we are born, we are in our most natural state. Why on earth would we deviate from the natural when most of the “products” advertised for us are so unnatural? Simple — convenience. Natural Family Planning is natural and simple. As mentioned above, this is the most natural means to regulate family size as well as manage health issues for women. Somewhere along the line we have lost the ability and even the drive to understand ourselves and how we work. We have turned to doctors and pharmacies to ease our pain, space our children, and even give us our children.

With the use of a natural method, the couple relies on the body’s reliable bio markers to determine when the time of fertility is approaching and has passed. For those who suffer from medical issues, known, unknown, or infertility, these bio markers are the cornerstone to identification, treatment and a possible cure. Many NFP users who suffered from unexplained infertility have found their answer and have gone on to have happy, healthy children; this speaks truth as well as volumes.

APPROACHING INFERTILITY
Many couples today face the very real experience of infertility, whether it is unexplained, diagnosed or secondary. This is a painful situation that has opened up an industry profiting billions at the expense of women, their dignity, their savings, their health and the lives of their unborn children. What not many understand about IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) is the damage, both emotionally and physically, that this process entails.

IVF requires the couple to go through a very invasive process that is not only expensive, but time and most certainly emotionally consuming. The pharmaceutical drugs mandatory to produce the mock cycles needed for embryonic transplants are downright dangerous (Lupron, just to name one. Have you read about the lawsuit?) Cysts, bruising at the injection site, hyperstimulation of the ovaries, ovarian torsion (twisting of the ovary in on itself, cutting off blood supply and ultimately the loss of the ovary), ovarian and breast cancer, ectopic pregnancy and multiple gestation (which often leads to reduction or abortion) are all very real and dangerous side effects with IVF, although not nearly as well publicized as IVF’s “success rate.”

Natural Family Planning has absolutely no side effects. The cost is far less than IVF, and the outcome of pregnancies carried to term is far greater, as seen below. IVF clinics do not treat the cause of the infertility; instead they give – sometimes — babies (Instant family, just add doctor). The turnaround may be quicker, but the cost and true health benefit exempts this from being considered a healthful alternative.

Natural Family Planning, with the right Instructor or Practitioner and Physician, will help to diagnose and treat infertility issues with far greater success in both pregnancy achievement and a successful pregnancy outcome. Babies are the icing on the cake; a healthy woman is the ultimate goal. Once the issue is diagnosed and treated, a successful pregnancy can result as well as future successful pregnancies without repeated expense and invasive treatments. IVF clinics will never say that make that claim.

Most recently, an IVF clinic has advertised a “natural cycle” IVF. This would be wonderful if were truly that. “Natural Cycle” requires the use of Natural Family Planning, and the methods that promote respect for life and human dignity would never allow anyone to chart their cycle simply to throw away life at an IVF clinic.

NFP vs. Artificial Reproductive Technologies
As stated above, Natural Family Planning strives to help the woman achieve a state of healthy living through tracking her cycles naturally. ART (Artificial Reproductive Technologies) do not provide any such assistance. Below is a table of statistics to truly compare Natural Family Planning to ART in both cost comparison and treatment of women’s health issues and infertility.

Courtesy of Pope Paul VI Institute

NaPro Technology Artificial Reproductive Technologies
Success Rates (in percent) Success Rates (in percent)

Infertility Treatment
Endometriosis………………………………56.7 – 76.4 57.0
Polycystic Ovaries…………………….…….62.5 – 80.0 25.6

Premenstrual Dysphoric Syndrome (PMS)
Antidepressant …………………………………95.2 43.0

Prematurity & Severe Prematurity Rate
Prematurity Rate…..………………………………7.0 12.1
Severe Prematurity Rate…………………………1.3 3.9

Recurrent Spontaneous Abortion
Current Medical Approach ……………………….79 Lower

Chronic Pelvic Pain
Hysterectomy rate…………………………………11.5 40.0

Cost Effectiveness (Based on 5 years of use)
NFP(Creighton Model System)…………………$494 Birth Control Pills…..$1,866

 

Cost Effectiveness (Based on cost per cycle)
Infertility…………………………………….…….$322 IVF……….$9,226

(Based on cost savings generated by decrease in pre-maturity rate to 7.0 percent
Pre-maturity)

Current Medical Approach……….…………. $16,795 $28,556
PMS Evaluation & Treatment………………….$3,218 $5,104
NFP vs. Hormonal Contraceptives
There are many reasons to choose a natural means to regulate fertility over using hormonal contraceptives and devices. Foremost, any hormonal contraceptives (chemical) and all IUD’s are abortifacients. The birth control pill has three ways in which it prevents a pregnancy; the first is to stop ovulation, but numerous cases have cited that this is not effective since the doses of estrogen in the pill had to be cut back due to the high incidence of breast cancer reported, and ovulation can and in some cases, does still occur. The second step is to alter the state of the cervical mucus to inhibit sperm transportation. The third and final step in chemical birth control pills to avoid pregnancy is to alter the lining of the uterus, thus preventing a fertilized egg (a new human life) from implanting and growing. The IUD’s real action mechanism is to prevent implantation of a fertilized egg as well.

Natural Family Planning evokes self mastery as the woman grows to understand her body and use the times of fertility to achieve pregnancies and the times of infertility to avoid pregnancies. There are no surprises. Contraceptives provide the couple with a false sense of security and the false notion that there is no need to be selective, to wait for the right person and to abstain before marriage.

Couples who use NFP have a much lower divorce rate than those who use nothing or contracept; there is better communication, they respect the truth of sexuality and the language of the body and become cooperators and co-creators with God.

CONCLUSION
Natural Family Planning boasts many benefits, all of which are backed by scientific and medical research. There are a few methods of Natural Family Planning which can be used, Sympto-Thermal, Creighton Model Fertility Care System, which includes NaPro Technology, The Ovulation Method and the Couple to Couple League. Each method applies education to NFP to ensure the couple is educated and knowledgeable in its use. Many methods also have the added benefit of an Instructor or Practitioner to help guide the woman/couple in navigating long, irregular and/or anovulatory cycles, during breastfeeding, in cases of infertility and for those wishing to simply avoid or achieve a pregnancy. The effectiveness of NFP versus chemical methods of contraception is comparable, each having a method effectiveness of 98% and a use effectiveness of 95%. The only question remaining, with all the clear statistics, is why would someone go against natural law, God, and their very own body to ingest chemicals simply for the sake of convenience when there is a better, more natural approach?

Laura Haber has a BS in Human Services and is a Fertility Care Practitioner. Laura is a devoted wife and mother of four beautiful children,currently working on her license as a Certified Professional Midwife. She lives in and loves Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. She is also an officer in The Defenders of The Faith, Inc. Her email address is lbreengoad@aol.com.

 

Posted in Lectio on Love: Theology of the Body | Leave a comment

Contemporary Masterpieces on Mercy and Forgiveness

If I had to select the finest theologians and spiritual writers of the contemporary Church I would choose three:

Pope Benedict, Cardinal Martini (recently deceased), and Cardinal Kasper

Pope Francis to me is more of a pastor than a theologian, though he is that as well. He has become the world’s pastor. One who remains elusive in the sense that he is full of surprises! What a blessing he has been to the Church and the world.

In the late 1970s I read a book by Cardinal Kasper (CK) entitled “Jesus the Christ.” It was my earlier introduction to this superb thinker. He is viewed with the highest regard within the Church. I subscribe to this view, independent of him sharing my heritage.

Paulist Press recently published two books by CK. They are entitled “Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the key to Christian Life” and “The Gospel of the Family.” My thoughts: get a copy. You will note that I did not qualify this recommendation. CK is in a rather limited company of contemporary spiritual masters, and these books are recent proof.

The Gospel of the Family is a small and short book packed with great insights on the family. It is an intense read. You’ll have to take your time with it.

CK is not afraid to think outside the box. That is a feature of great minds and persons. They are willing to venture into the unknown yet without ignoring the foundations of the faith. He addresses a problem for which for decades he has been known for wrestling with: the admission to communion of divorced and remarried (but not annulled) Catholics.  He is prudent, thorough, and pastoral.

How could I not recommend a book on the family by an acknowledged master, writing in his specialty, during a time of crisis on the subject, as recognized by the upcoming Synod on the family.

This book addresses a crucial issue in a masterly fashion. It also offers a mini-catechesis on the anthropology of gender and sexuality. Worth studying and pondering. Get it. Even if some parts require rereading, it is worth the time.

This book nicely complements Mercy, by CK. The latter is slightly easier to read, in my opinion, but it is no less substantive. It is much longer, 270 pages.

Permit me to indulge in a subjective personal observation. Within the Germanic bloodlines is a gift for intellectual inquiry and expression. It is present in other heritages of course, but I believe it is a gift that is not unique to Germans, but is certainly apparent. Pope Benedict is another example.

And Germans can be intense. When applied to intellectual pursuits, this can be a particular charism. Cardinal Kasper knows his stuff. When he addresses an issue, he is thorough and balanced. He is not just touting opinions. Once he gets started, he dissects his subject with masterly efficiency. You know you are in the presence of true substance. A master teacher and thinker.

It is interesting to have a book on mercy come from a German, as within our tradition are many examples of the opposite. Sometimes the least likely surprise us with revelations that astound us.

Mercy is so needed in our Church and society. It is essential for the family, where strict justice has no place (Niebuhr).  Both CK books are masterpieces that are appropriate for anyone. Yes, those without theological training will struggle with them, perhaps mightily. They’ll need help. But the message justifies the effort.

CK handles biblical texts masterfully even though he is not strictly speaking a biblical scholar/specialist. He is known for his theological acumen. However, his biblical expositions show his mastery of the material that even calls into question my aforementioned statement. If he is not a biblical specialist, he sure writes like one.

Which leads us to Cardinal Martini, who shares much in common with CK.

Recently deceased (2012), Martini for years was the foremost biblical scholar in the Church. A renowned text critic, he did more to promote biblical spirituality that anyone else. He Jesuitized lectio divina and made it international. He was a once in a generation biblical master.

Alba House recently published a book entitled “The Challenges of Christian Community: Loving, Correcting, Forgiving, and Searching for the Lost.” It is an extended homily or exposition of Mt 18, a discourse on Church discipline.

In reading this short book, I discovered a Martini that is not always present in his other books. Often he holds down his exegesis simply to remain accessible to the reader or audience. Here, he takes off the shackles and reveals a brilliance of analysis that many who have studied under him were long aware of.

If you can pardon the profane example, it is like watching the Beatles in a recording studio in 1965-1967. You know you are in the presence of a master at work. He opens up the Scriptures in a way that only a few can.

In fact, I have learned far more from Martini on how to interpret the Bible than from anyone else. That is a benefit of reading his books. They have an osmotic quality of teaching you by example how to approach the biblical text.

He reminds me of Cardinal Kasper in his incisive analysis. it is like Beethoven composing a symphony, or a master surgeon operating. You are in the presence of greatness, doing their thing.

Mt 18, the subject of this book, is one of the most important chapters in the Bible. After reading this book, I understand more fully why. Further, it gave me a greater appreciation for the evangelist himself. Matthew is a genius. There is a reason his Gospel comes first. With apologies to the others, if i absolutely had to choose only one Gospel to accompany me on a desert island, it would be Matthew. This does not mean that it is better than the others. Such comparisons limp. It bridges the Old and New Testament, and for that reason in my judgment it stands alone. Not better, as I said, but different.

We are halfway through the liturgical year showcasing Matthew. It is a great time to explore this uncanny evangelist and his inspired masterpiece.

Martini touches upon the reason why Matthew stands out. Pardon, forgiveness. Certainly Luke and John emphasize this. In equally profound ways. Luke in  a sense is the Gospel of Forgiveness.

But the ending of Chapter 18, discussed insightfully by Martini, provides the key to Matthew’s brilliance in a way that is lost on us at first.

The parable of the wicked servant ends on an ominous note, with the king, representative of God, seemingly putting a limit on his forgiveness. He forgave the unrepayable debt surprisingly and magnanimously, but when the servant fails to respond properly, he rescinds the forgiveness. This seems to contradict the message of the chapter, the importance of unlimited forgiveness on both the human and divine plane, 7 times 77. Why would Matthew end on such a harsh and foreboding note? If you are not afraid,  you have missed the point.

Matthew has a habit of describing things in scary terms. His apocalyptic discourse in chapter 24 is more ominous that the other Synoptic Gospels. His images of hell and damnation are downright chilling. Even in the context of mercy and justice, as in Mt 25:31-46.

I have often wondered why Jesus / Matthew ends this parable with a provocation of fear. Fire and brimstone. Don’t blow your one chance. Blood-curdling punishment.

However, what underlies this is a theological and moral principle of the highest order, one which is present in veiled terms in the Old Testament (including, surprisingly, in the book of Sirach, where we are told that no one is in a position in which he can justifiably judge or withhold forgiveness from another) and throughout the Old Testament. It is the centrality of pardon, which is intimately connected with justice.

Pardon is not rigorism or laxity. Pardon is peace. I believe that Matthew and Jesus mean to scare us, not in the sense of frighten, but of warning. There is nothing more dangerous and unforgiveable than blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit brings forgiveness. To blaspheme the Spirit means to definitively close oneself off from God. I don’t need or want God, and I will not receive Him. I freely and unequivocally choose against Him. I will not listen or respond. Period. This is much more than the hardening of heart mentioned in the Bible. It is a definitive, irreversible hardening of the heart. Given every chance, the person remains freely entrenched in his isolation. He becomes his own god.

When we deny others forgiveness, whether in the name of justice, tough love, or whatever we choose to call it, we put ourselves in the perilous position of judge. There is only one qualified to judge, not only others, but ourselves. Jesus. The merciful one. And I believe that Jesus and Matthew, evangelists of mercy, are merciful to us in communicating in no uncertain terms the centrality of forgiveness. Matthew appends the Our Father with an exhortation to forgiveness.

If God and Matthew have to scare us into it, so be it. Unforgiveness is a scary topic. Who among us is not in infinite need of unforgiveness? And yet to deny it to another………….

I thank Cardinal Martini, and Cardinal Kasper, for bringing this message home in an eloquent manner. How much healthier and happier I would be if I stopped judging others, stopped seeking revenge, however I cloak and disguise it, and submit to the Lord. This is among the most difficult spiritual tasks, for it puts us squarely on the cross. We hand over our egos, hopes, and hurts to the one who penetrated them and healed them from the inside, first hand, who encountered death and received life. We don’t forsake justice, we purify it, refine it, allow it, for justice ultimately comes from God.

Jesus really died. Do you believe that? In a fully human way. He no longer existed in life as we know it. It was the end. but only only temporarily. Actually, it was the beginning. The start of something new and better. And there is no better way to experience this than forgiveness. When we forgive others, we actualize God’s forgiveness of us. Goodbye guilt and self-hatred. Hello shalom. Jesus lives to forgive and intercede for us. Woe be it for us if we refuse to join him.

as that classic either lutheran or methodist 1960’s commercial recalling the Good samaritan put it “Forgive him: it will teach him a lesson.”

Mercy and the Gospel of the Family can be ordered from Paulist Press. Their website is paulistpress.com. Their phone number is 1-800-218-1903.  “The Challenges of Christian Community” can be ordered from Alba House. They can be reached at albahouse.org or 1-800-343-ALBA.

All three books are spiritual classics. Deservedly reviewed together, given the congruence of their style, quality, and spirit. High praise indeed, but merited. Secure a copy, and drink in their riches.

Posted in Lectio divina, Lectio on Love: Theology of the Body, Men and Women in Dialogue, Signs of the Times, The Bible in the Church: The Ongoing Dialogue | Leave a comment

Reflections on the Afterlife

The late  Cardinal Martini was a prolific writer on biblical spirituality, so much so that a number of his books are being published posthumously. He was known for bringing cutting edge biblical scholarship down to earth and at the disposal of the non-scholar, while appealing to learned readers as well.

One of his latest books, “I Believe in Eternal Life” (Alba House, 2014), is a thought-provoking reflection on the phenomena of death and the afterlife. The mysterious nature of the topic makes this books less concrete than his previous books, but no less insightful. He provides very helpful psychological and spiritual insights into our last days and the hereafter. As always, he draws extensively from the Bible, Ignatian spirituality, and the wisdom of the saints.

This book requires multiple readings due to the profundity of thought expressed and the ambiguity of the realities discussed. I suggest reading small portions and mulling over it, so as to extract each spiritual and psychological morsel from this great master of the spiritual life.  As in his previous works, Cardinal Martini brings the Bible to life, applying it to contemporary experience without getting lost in scholarly details. Few topics are as ominous as this one, and Cardinal Martini does an admirable job of bringing it down to earth and susceptible to prayer and meditation. Given the importance of the topic, and its relevance to everyone, the book can be warmly recommended for anyone interested in both the spiritual and human life.

The book was published in 2014 by Alba House, and can be ordered at albahouse.org, or by calling 1-800-343-ALBA.

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A Contemporary Study of Prayer

Brother Enzo Bianchi, prior of a monastic community in northern Italy, has written a perceptive and well-balanced analysis of prayer in contemporary life, entitled Why Pray How to Pray, and published in 2014 by Alba House. He offers a very balanced approach, addressing many practical and phenomenological obstacles to prayer while drawing extensively from Sacred Scripture and the Tradition of the Church.

Rather than rely stodgily on traditional formulas, Bianchi ventures out into contemporary life and wrestles with the challenges faced by pray-ers of all eras.

What is most unusual is the book’s frankness and incisiveness in addressing cultural and ecclesiastical phenomena that bear on our prayer, either helping or hindering it.  It offers a contemporary spirituality of prayer without jargon or trendy expressions. Rooted in biblical principles applied to today, Bianchi offers an outstanding prayer companion appropriate to individuals at varying points in their spiritual journey. Accessible to the beginner but helpful to more mature Christians as well, it is a manageable reflection on a sacred practice under attack in modern life. Very highly recommended. The book can be order from Alba House, whose website is albahouse.org. Their phone number is 1-800-343-ALBA.

 

 

 

 

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