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Posts Tagged ‘Catholicism

Is Merton Still Relevant?

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Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton

Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.

–Pope Francis

I was surprised and taken aback when Pope Francis honored Thomas Merton in his speech before the U.S. Congress. It is not that I wasn’t not happy about it, but considering the bad blood between Merton and the American Catholic Church hierarchy — it was quite unexpected.

Who is Thomas Merton? Why did Pope Francis honor him? Is he still relevant for our times?

Thomas Merton was an American writer and intellectual who became a Trappist monk, officially known as the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, which is considered one of the strictest Catholic religious orders, in 1941 at the age of 26. Before that, he was a restless young man living a troubled life. But in 1938 he converted to Catholicism; he was only 23 years old. He spent the next 27 years of his life living at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky.

It was not an easy decision for him to become a monk, considering his extroverted and gregarious personality. But, above all, it wasn’t easy for him to give up writing. The Trappists are known to live a simple life of prayer and manual labor. And intellectual pursuits, like writing, are not encouraged in the monastery. Fortunately, his abbot, Dom Frederic Dunne, was a man who valued and appreciated Merton’s writing abilities. Thanks to him, thousands upon thousands of people have been and are still inspired by Merton’s books.

In 1948 he wrote his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, which became a best-seller. On a personal note, I read this book when I was in my teens and it changed my life. His autobiography as well as the many books he wrote later inspired not only monks and nuns, but also ordinary people, even non Christians, to live spiritual lives. For Merton, the experience of God’s presence and love is something that is available to everyone.

Later in his life he became a social activist, who was involved in the peace and civil rights movement in the 60s. Unfortunately, this drew heavy criticism from officials of the Catholic Church. This rift between Merton and the Catholic establishment continues to this day.

10 years ago the first national catechism for adults was published in the U.S. Included in an earlier draft was Merton’s story. Sadly, though, his story was removed from the final version. It was a bad decision, because Merton’s story is significant and central to 20th-century American Catholicism.

Two influential Catholic officials considered him a lapsed Catholic, due to the fact that he was involved in dialogue with people of other faith traditions, especially Buddhists. They said he spent his last days “wandering in the East, seeking consolations, apparently, of non-Christian, Eastern spirituality… ” I find this incomprehensible. The Vatican II Council, a gathering of Catholic bishops in the 60s, came out with an official document encouraging dialogue with other faith traditions. In the document, Nostra Aetate (In Our Time), The Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions, Catholics are encouraged to respect and even learn from other religions. It states:

The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men…

The Church, therefore, exhorts her sons, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions… they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men.

Cardinal Wuerl, who was often seen at the side of the Pope Francis during his visit to the U.S., was the chairman of the committee tasked to write the catechism. When the catechism was published, the then U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ president Bishop William Skylstad said they were deeply disturbed by the exclusion of Merton. He said:

Merton, has played a crucial role in the faith journeys of thousands upon thousands of Catholics (as well as other Christians and even non-Christians) both during his lifetime and since his death, and we believe his inclusion in the catechism can and should be a significant way to extend the powerful witness of his life and writings to a new audience.

Merton’s pursuit of a deeper spiritual life led him to embark on a trip to Asia in 1968. During that trip he explored Eastern spirituality and met with people of other faith traditions. One of the most significant persons that he met with was the Dalai Lama, who continues to talk about Thomas Merton as his “brother.”

He met an untimely death, at the age of 53, in Bangkok, Thailand, electrocuted by a faulty fan.

Almost 50 years after his death, Merton continues to be an inspiration to many people, especially through his books.

Pope Francis, in spite of the rejection of Merton by the official American Catholic hierarchy, honored him:

Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.

So, if you ask me: “Is Merton still relevant?” My resounding answer is “Yes!”

And here are some of the reasons why:

His Humanity

Merton was a genuine human being; he was no plaster saint. He didn’t like pretense and phoniness. He had his share of struggles, weaknesses and failures, and didn’t attempt to hide them. He wrote about his doubts and questions. Towards the end of his life he writes:

When I first became a monk, yes, I was more sure of ‘answers.’ But as I grow old in the monastic life and advance further in solitude, I become aware that I have only begun to seek the questions… I have been summoned to explore a desert area of man’s heart in which explanations no longer suffice, and in which one learns that only experience counts…

His Respect for People

During Merton’s Asian trip, John Stier, an American government official, hosted him during his stay at Sri Lanka. As they were discussing Buddhism, Stier asserted that Buddhism was a negative approach to life. Having studied Buddhism in-depth, Merton disagreed with him. Stier says: “He was surprisingly gentle in disagreement, he had a wonderful way about him.” Hundreds of the people that Merton related and corresponded with will agree with Stier’s observation. Merton respected and responded to people in their uniqueness; he accepted them as they are.

His Openness

Merton is known to have cultivated many interests; he also related with people of diverse cultures, races, and religions. He was capable of communicating with people who had a different background and tradition than his own. He wrote about William Blake, James Joyce, Boris Pasternak, William Faulkner, Louis Zukofsky, Flannery O’Connor. His correspondence was voluminous, having written to a great number of people. Here are few of the names: Jacques Maritain, Erich Fromm, Ernesto Cardenal, Dorothy Day, Catherine Doherty, Aldous Huxley, Bernard Haring, Henry Miller, Pope John XXIII, Pope Paul VI, Paul Tillich, Rosemary Radford Ruether, D.T. Suzuki, Rachel Carson, Louis Massignon, Mark Van Doren. This gave him a great insight into the human condition that enabled him to articulate our deepest longings; his insights transcended that of his own life and his own generation.

His Deep Spirituality

Once Merton stated that he didn’t want to have any disciples. He urged people not to follow him but to follow Christ. But in spite of his protestations he has become the spiritual director of many people. He wrote about the spiritual life in a fresh and attractive way; he articulated the depths and riches of the spiritual life in a way that can relate to the modern person. Whether he liked it or not, he guided the spiritual journey of many people, even those who didn’t have any link with any institutional religion. For these people, his writings will continue to be a continual source of inspiration and guidance.

–Matt

Written by MattAndJojang

October 16, 2015 at 4:13 pm

We’re Excited With The Pope’s Visit

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Photo: Aaron Favila/Associated Press

Photo: Aaron Favila/Associated Press

Tomorrow afternoon, Pope Francis will arrive in our country, the Philippines, for a five-day visit (Jan. 15-19). And we’re all excited!

In a country where 80% of the population (80 million) are Catholics, the Pope is expected to be welcomed with a rock-star intensity.

Josephine Graza, a retired government employee, sums it all up:

Filipinos are excited about the visit because people have a lot of problems and have been through a lot of calamities.

Although our country is rich in natural resources, it has always been plagued by a vast inequality in the distribution of wealth and widespread poverty. It is for this reason that one-tenth of the population is working abroad to support their families.

To compound this, our country is hit by 20+ typhoons every year, causing loss of lives and destruction of property among a populace that, for the most part, are saddled with poverty.

Two years ago our country was hit by Typhoon Haiyan, considered as the strongest typhoon in recorded history. Entire villages were destroyed and thousands were killed.

We’re not surprised that Pope Francis opted to spend a significant amount of time in Leyte, the province that was devastated by Typhoon Haiyan.

But even before Pope Francis’s arrival pope mania has swept our country. You can see his face in tarpaulins, posters, shirts, dolls, coffee mugs and all sorts of mementos. Someone even wrote a musical entitled Pope Francis, the Musical in his honor.

Rev. Enrique Luzung, a theologian who plays the young Argentinian pope when he was still then known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio, admits that reading about Pope Francis’s life and playing him in the musical has been a life-changing experience for him. He adds:

Through him we see the presence of God.

The Pope’s humility, compassion for the poor, and message of God’s mercy has touched not only Rev. Luzung, but also countless numbers of individuals — I and my wife included.

In the words of Marina Bringas, a retired doctor:

You always feel that he cares.

–Matt

Written by MattAndJojang

January 14, 2015 at 1:24 pm

Finding God in All Things

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Fr. James Martin

Fr. James Martin

One thing that I and Fr. James Martin have in common is our love for Thomas Merton.

Armed with a prestigious Bachelor of Science degree in Economics from one of  the best business and Ivy League schools, University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, he was on his way to corporate success.

One day, however, after having a bad day at the office, he decided to watch TV. After flipping channels, his attention was grabbed by a PBS documentary on the life of Thomas Merton. It was a turning point in his life.

The documentary spoke to him in a way that made him decide to be a Jesuit priest.

Fast forward.

He’s been a Jesuit priest for 26 years and has become one of the most popular spiritual writers today.

On a personal note, Fr. James Martin is one of my and Jojang’s favorite authors. He writes most of the time about his personal experiences; that’s probably why most people could relate to him.

His simple, direct, and practical way of presenting spiritual truths is what makes his books relevant for our time.

Just recently he was interviewed in a podcast entitled Finding God in All Things. Krista Tippett, the host of the podcast, introduces him with these words:

Before Pope Francis, Fr. James Martin was perhaps the best known and loved Jesuit writing in American life. He’s followed the calling of the founder of the Jesuit order, St. Ignatius of Loyola, to “find God in all things” – and in 21st century forms, as editor of America magazine, but also as a wise and witty presence on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Stephen Colbert has proclaimed him the chaplain of “the Colbert Nation.” To delve into Fr. Martin’s way of being in the world is to discover the spiritual exercises St. Ignatius designed to be accessible to everyone more than six centuries ago. These underpinned the Jesuit way of “contemplation in action” and are now shaping the Vatican in a new age.

To listen to the podcast, click on the link below:

Finding God in All Things

— Matt

Written by MattAndJojang

December 22, 2014 at 11:30 am

Words of Wisdom from Pope Francis

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Pope Francis Caressing A Disfigured Man

Pope Francis Caressing A Disfigured Man

I’m a Catholic, and I just love Pope Francis! He’s now expressing what, all along, I really felt about certain things.

I believe in God, not a Catholic God.

— Pope Francis

Exactly! For me. at the end of the day, religion is really simple. It’s about the love of God. In Christian and Trinitarian terms: it’s simply experiencing the love of God through Christ in the power of the Spirit. After cutting through the maze of theological concepts, legalistic rules, and complex rituals, God is simply a loving God. And His love is not confined to any specific race, nationality, or creed. He is the God and Father of all persons – whether Jew or Greek, Christian or Non-Christian, Believer or Unbeliever. And a person who experiences the love of God shows compassion towards all individuals regardless of their religious beliefs or lack of it.

The church has sometimes locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules.

— Pope Francis

Sad to say, this is what religion is all about for many people. Religion is something that is used to browbeat people to submission, and to perpetrate the power of so-called spiritual leaders through the use of legalistic rules and threats. Religion is no longer a venue to love God and serve others but is a means to maintain the status quo, sometimes with very harmful consequences (for example, the financial scandal in the Vatican as well as the sexual abuses committed by some church leaders).

~ Matt

To read the entire article click this link: Pope Francis: “I Believe in God, Not In A Catholic God.”

Written by MattAndJojang

November 21, 2013 at 12:15 pm

A Bit of Mercy

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The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt

The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt

“A bit of mercy can make the world less cold and fairer.”

~ Pope Francis

Written by MattAndJojang

March 18, 2013 at 11:04 am

Habemus Papam! (“We Have a Pope!”)

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The New Pope - Pope Francis

The New Pope – Pope Francis

 

Brothers and sisters, good evening!

You know that it was the duty of the Conclave to give Rome a Bishop. It seems that my brother Cardinals have gone to the ends of the earth to get one… but here we are… I thank you for your welcome. The diocesan community of Rome now has its Bishop. Thank you! And first of all, I would like to offer a prayer for our Bishop Emeritus, Benedict XVI. Let us pray together for him, that the Lord may bless him and that Our Lady may keep him.

(Our Father… Hail Mary… Glory Be… )

And now, we take up this journey: Bishop and People. This journey of the Church of Rome which presides in charity over all the Churches. A journey of fraternity, of love, of trust among us. Let us always pray for one another. Let us pray for the whole world, that there may be a great spirit of fraternity. It is my hope for you that this journey of the Church, which we start today, and in which my Cardinal Vicar, here present, will assist me, will be fruitful for the evangelization of this most beautiful city.

And now I would like to give the blessing, but first — first I ask a favor of you: before the Bishop blesses his people, I ask you to pray to the Lord that he will bless me: the prayer of the people asking the blessing for their Bishop. Let us make, in silence, this prayer: your prayer over me.

(…)

Now I will give the Blessing to you and to the whole world, to all men and women of good will. (Blessing)

Brothers and sisters, I leave you now. Thank you for your welcome. Pray for me and until we meet again. We will see each other soon. Tomorrow I wish to go and pray to Our Lady, that she may watch over all of Rome. Good night and sleep well!

~ Pope Francis

Written by MattAndJojang

March 14, 2013 at 8:32 am

What Happens During The Conclave

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Here’s a look at what’s expected to take place in the Sistine Chapel March 12, 2013 as 115 cardinals choose the next pope.

Written by MattAndJojang

March 9, 2013 at 10:36 am

Pope Benedict XVI’s Humble Courage

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Pope Benedict

Photo: Andrew Medichini/AP

Like scores of fellow Catholics, I was initially unnerved by the pope’s decision to resign. The more I think about it, though, the more sense it makes. At 85, Pope Benedict XVI realized that he simply couldn’t continue to do what’s necessary for the communion of faithful.

A strong administrative steward (butler and bank controversies aside) and a brilliant theologian, Benedict’s fulfillment of duty over the past 8 years has been truly impressive, albeit neither flashy nor duly appreciated. One of Benedict’s first undertakings was to address the child sex abuse scandal that recently plagued the church. Benedict moved swiftly and decisively. As a close confidant of Pope John Paul II, Benedict was familiar with the toll it was taking on the church, mincing neither word nor action: declaring the abusers “gravely immoral” and removing the likes of Father Marcial Maciel from active ministry. Pope John Paul was purportedly in shock and couldn’t fathom the evil required.

Nearing his end of days, John Paul aspired to show the face of God, emphasizing the sanctity of life to show that all life was paramount. His ailing health became an asset enabling him to embody the church’s pro-life doctrine, an undeniable example of the fragility and impermanence of the human condition. But his denial and infirmity may have inadvertently prevented timelier action.

As the controversy consumed the church, then Cardinal Ratzinger, witnessed the consequences first-hand. When he became Vicar of Christ, Benedict spent an inordinate amount of time readdressing issues left behind by his predecessors. Benedict instituted behind-the-scenes reforms and mechanisms aimed at preventing a repeat of the misdeeds of those vile few. The true impact of his contributions is yet to be seen. It is impossible to deny, though, that God’s Rottweiler cracked the whip.

In the corporate world, we see CEOs who know when it is time to pass the reins. We also see CEOs who continue long past their prime. Bill Gates handed Microsoft over, whereas Steve Jobs arguably left Apple too late. We can argue their respective leadership skills, however, one clearly bridged the transition while the other, simply, didn’t have a continuity of operations plan.

And now we see the pope, holding one of the most storied and impactful leadership positions in history, a visionary and servant leader, emerging, as a spiritual symbol of courage. Perhaps after deep reflection, Benedict decided that the church needed to bridge a leadership transition smoothly so that the progress and reforms instituted could continue, unaffected. Crises arise and fester when leadership is incoherent and incompetent; so too does spiritual decay.

The pope has dedicated 85 years to the ministry of Christ. It’s inconceivable to think he woke up one day and decided he was too tired to continue. Perhaps God is simply doing what he has done for millennia, using the humble as shining examples, a Christian grace, to be revered and replicated.

One of Benedict’s greatest contributions may well be his voluntary resignation: a status quo reset for the greatest of all CEO torch passes. Greater papal self-awareness could become the new norm. His actions could also pave the way for future popes to resign – engendering Benedict a trendsetter.

He has set the stage for the next-generation to take the mantle and lead Catholics globally. In a world increasingly turning away from God, Benedict’s example should well inspire greater leadership for the Apostolic church, particularly during periods of tumult.

It was with great humility that Benedict resigned. It would have been easiest to ride out his tenure in a limited fashion citing doctor’s orders. He chose a difficult and controversial path instead – one not taken in nearly 600 years. No doubt it weighed heavily and was made only with great deference to the larger needs of the church’s more than 1 billion followers.

By breaking with tradition, Benedict encompassed the nature of a leader who understands deeply what the job of the pope means. He refused to let the pressures of convention confine what he believed to be necessary. Instead, Pope Benedict, not the perceptions of and by others, defined his service and his tenure, and in doing so, defines the indelible mark of his legacy.

While Pope John Paul exemplified the human condition and the tenet of universal suffering, Benedict exemplifies a fundamental tenet of God’s nature – to reject the trappings of prideful arrogance and choosing instead to offer the church the divinely inspired representation of utter humility.

In the end, one of Pope Benedict’s most lasting teachings will remind us that to be a trendsetter necessitates we are first and foremost humble servants of Christ. “It is not that I have already taken hold of it or have already attained perfect maturity, but I continue in my pursuit in hope that I may possess it, since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ.”

~ Timothy W. Coleman

Written by MattAndJojang

March 1, 2013 at 11:02 am