Saturday, April 27, 2013

Why does God...

I  read this in an article, and decided to try to articulate a response:

As a person who suffers (and I mean that in a very real and active sense of suffering) from depression, I want to believe what you're saying here with every fiber of my being. But then what? Believing that God "allows" suffering to happen rather than actively causing it may be more theologically accurate, but it does nothing to relieve my actual suffering. None of the ideas you present, while they do appeal to me theologically and intellectually, do anything to actually relieve my or anyone else's actual, lived-in-the-flesh suffering. Somehow, knowing that God is just "present" with me in my suffering, as if God were a sort of mystical Teddy bear, isn't enough. Not after thirty years. - Cynthia

Hi, Cynthia.   Your comment is excellent and essential.  Thank you for it.  I am challenged by your reflection and question, which I read as asking for a bridge between the rational theology and practical application.  Here’s some of my thinking on those lines.  Please know that I, too, know suffering and am speaking of my personal experience and reflection, rather than telling you what yours should be.

The bridge, for me, is the incarnation.  God became human so that humans might become God, as St. Athanasius believed.  Thus, the incarnation is not only about God and God’s love for humanity.  It is not merely God showing love by becoming one with the beloved.  That alone would be nice, and reason to praise God’s humility but not  very meaningful if left there.  There is another, too often neglected side of the equation: humans might become God.  Wow!  Now that’s love.  For God to be so far beyond what we understand to be human and then show love by, not just coming to our level, but to bring us to God’s own level.  When we perceive this, that is when we experience awe, in both amazement and in ear and trembling.

So, what does it mean to become God?  Well, first, like Jesus, we do not deem equality with God something to be grasped at.  Rather, we empty ourselves.  We take the form of one who serves, rather than of one who is served.  For some of us, we think of our pain as either something directly or indirectly caused by God or at least as something God could and therefore, out of love, should take away.

If humans have been given the gift of becoming God, or becoming who God is, then human beings are invited to be God taking away the pain, sin, suffering, etc. of the world.  When I focus on doing that, I find, my suffering stops being the focus or even the identity of who I am.  By being God to another human, especially in their pain and suffering,  and allowing them to be God to me, the two of us become one, just like the Son in the Father and the Father in the Son.  And we become one with both, as well.  Jesus’ prayer, that all be one, is at least partially fulfilled.

In my own pain and suffering I must die to self and rise to be who I am made to be:  the presence and action of God in the world now, and in complete communion with God and all that is forever, in what we call heaven.  I summation, the important question is no longer why, but how.  How do I go beyond my suffering for the sake of others?  And the answer is the question:  by going beyond myself for the sake of others; by being God.

Might your own experience validate this in anyway?

Friday, April 5, 2013

Whose Church is it Anyway?

"I don't believe in those positions that propose supporting a kind of 'corporate' spirit in order to avoid damaging the image of the institution.” This is today‟s quote from Pope Francis, who seems to really get it!‟ He was talking about the abuse scandal when he said it, but I pray it prefigures his approach to 
leadership, and there is every indication it will.

Jesus tells us that we are to “die to self,” and to live for others, especially 
those on the margins of society. He did not exclude His Church from that in-struction, yet so often Church leadership has seemed more concerned about itself as institution over the needs of people working in communion to live the Good News. Or, as I have often said, the main mission of Church cannot be topreserve and protect itself! That‟s the corporate spirit Francis speaks about.

In a recent opinion piece in the New York Times, Notre Dame professor Gary Gutting reflects on why he stays in the Catholic Church. He has a number of
reasons, including that the church is so much a part of his life that to leave it would be to leave himself, he doesn't want to leave it to the "preserve and protect‟ group and that he wants to show the world that faith and reason are not incompatible. 

It was his article that led me to a Trinitarian understanding of church:  The 
Church, meaning the institution headquartered in the Vatican, the Church, meaning religion, and the church, meaning the people of God.

Too often, these distinctions are ignored and only one or another becomes the working definition, to the detriment of the other two. The Church makes
proclamations to the Church that are impractical and insensitive to the churchThis leaves the people of God in a position to do one of three things: obey,
ignore or leave. The first and third choices are called enabling in the mental health field. The second, while perhaps often the most reasonable alternative, causes division. Is there another? I think there are many.

The long-term goal is dialogue—mutual respect and compassion leading to 
understanding and insight. If we trust in God‟s Spirit, which we call Holy, we
should not be afraid of dialogue. One cannot have the church without it, yet The Church can be too power-driven and the Church too timid and weak. So we work toward it with honest discussion. I suspect Francis can lead in that direction.