Carmelite: March 2007 Archives

Okay, before we even get fully started, yes, we can say both/and.

However, one of the statements Father made during the retreat caused a great deal less controversy than I had anticipated and it has been the food for much thought for the last several days. He pointed out that Judaism and Islam are religions of Orthopraxy, whereas Christianity tends to be a religion of orthodox.

Now, before I continue down this path, I should make very clear my own stand and the stand that I believe was held by Father Patrick, although I cannot speak for him. Orthodoxy is very important--doctrine defines the boundaries and contours of faith. As such it is the road-map, the landscape, and the surroundings for anything we do within the faith. Improper articulation of the truths of the faith can lead the faithful astray and dissuade those who might otherwise be attracted by the Splendor of the Truth. So I have no gripe with orthodoxy and would like to think that I try to remain clearly within the bounds of those attempting to think with the Church. (Even saying this I realize that I often fail, but I pray to be more successful even in those instances.)

However, the focus on orthodoxy often leads us off-track. If we're so concerned about whether or not someone is holding hands during the Our Father (which, I guess properly is a matter of orthodox orthopraxy) that we fail to make that person welcome in the Church, we have failed in our mission as a Christian. If we stand so firm on doctrine that we tend to drive off all visitors, we're doing something wrong.

When you think about it, as important as doctrine is, it is not in itself salvation. It can lead to salvation--but it is no guarantee.

I think about the parable of Jesus in which he talks about the two sons told by their father to go out and work the fields. The one son says,"No, I won't do it," and then either repents his hastiness or overcomes himself and goes out to work. The other son says, "Yes, I'll be right there," and never shows up. Who has done the Father's will?

As a former Baptist I used to fret about doctrine a lot; but then I was reminded of the final exam. We won't be asked to define hyperdulia and its proper object, nor to give details of the hypostatic union. But we will be separated into the sheep and the goats on a question not of doctrine but of practice: "When I was hungry, you gave me to eat; thirsty, you gave me to drink; naked, you clothed me." God isn't going to be too worried about how we interpret the Vatican documents on Ecumenical dialogue nor its fundamental teachings on interreligious dialogue with nonChristian faiths. These are all important matters. But more important is that if we see our Muslim brother ill, hurting, or wanting and we can do something about it, do we? If we see our Catholic sister in need, do we help her, or do we quiz her first about how Catholic she actually is?

I personally can't imagine any Catholic I know administering some sort of grueling orthodoxy test as a prerequisite for aid. Nor any Christian I know for that matter. But sometimes if you hear us talk among ourselves, we sound as though we would.

I don't need to work on my orthodoxy. But I will admit that I often fail in my orthopraxy and I fail most often because of my lack of compassion and my lack of comprehension of what can be done and what part I can play in it. I hide my head in the sand and pretend not to know what to do. You all may be aware that we have a major problem with citizens of other countries occupying American Domiciles without proper authorization. I struggle with the political question of what we need to do about these people. And yet I consistently refuse to vote for any measure that would deprive them of health care or access to education for their children. I support the organizations that visit them with medical care and food and clothing. But I have never helped one of these people myself--perhaps because the opportunity has not presented itself. But I often think--perhaps I would not do so because I haven't the depth of courage to live out the convictions of my faith in the face of the hostility of my neighbors. And yes, I think my faith would call me to see to it that regardless of the status of their paperwork, these people are treated with the dignity of human beings. Now, this does not prevent me from holding whatever view I care to hold with regard to how we "deal with" such people--I haven't made my mind up on this matter yet. The Bishops clearly teach that we have a right and an obligation to protect the interests of the people of our own country by whatever laws we should happen to make.

My point is not to challenge political boundaries here. I don't know what to do about people who are in this country illegally--except what compassion demands from one human being to another. Should they be returned home? I don't know. What I do know is that so long as they are here they should be fed and their children educated to the best of our ability to do so. Is it a drain on our resources? Yes. But I heard (and haven't yet confirmed) that most of us in the blog world are among the top 5% of the richest people in the world. Perhaps we have resources that could be shared. Perhaps we could live with a little less so that others who have not had our advantages might have a little more. This is an opinion, not a teaching of the Church,but it is an opinion born out of compassion. Every time I look at my son's face, I think about the children of Dafur or the horrendous picture I saw the other day of the children of Zimbabwe picking through the garbage to collect enough to eat. Are they any less precious than we are?

So suddenly, I find myself thinking about compassion and the demand and necessity for me to share in the suffering of others--share in it so as to alleviate it, not simply to make myself miserable as well. That, it seems to me, is the sacrificial love we are called to.

Do we give away everything? No. Do we give away what we are not entitled to give away--the security of our neighbors and of our children's children? No. There are bounds and reasonable bounds. But is there more we can do for others. I think yes, and I don't think it necessarily has to do with money.

Orthopraxy--do I share in the sorrows and the toils of my brothers and sisters in the Lord in such a way as I carry part of the burden? In this Lenten season I realize that I do not do nearly enough. This is a place for transformation that comes only with transformation of the heart,

As I said, nothing provocative, nothing controversial, but much very challenging to the way I presently live my life. Giving money is not enough. Who would be first in the kingdom of heaven must be last among the sisters and brothers on earth--the servant of the servants of God. Now there's a goal to strive for--to allow myself to become such a servant.

Only through prayer. Prayer alone can make so distant a goal even a remote possibility. And when I see that I see how far I am from the Father's love. Not that He is distant from me, but I place the distance between us because like the rich young man. . .

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Distractions in Prayer

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True consolation and encouragement from a friend of God.

from Essence of Prayer
Sr. Ruth Burrows, OCD

. . . I do not think readers would want to be bored to tears by an account of what goes on in my head during prayer! Distractions are my unfailing companions at prayer; but I have learned that prayer doesn't go on in the head, in the brain-box, but in that secret heart that is choosing to pray and to remain in prayer no matter what it feels like or seem like to me. I am totally convinced that our God, the God we see in Jesus, is all-Love, all-Compassion and, what is more, is all-Gift; is always offering God's own Self as our perfect fulfilment. I believe, through Jesus, that we were made for this and that it is divine Love's passion to bring it to perfect fulfilment in us. So when I set myself t pray I am basing myself on this faith and refuse to let it go. I just take it for granted that, because God is the God of Jesus, all-Love, who fulfils every promise, this work of love is going on, purifying and gradually transforming me. What I actually experience on my conscious level is quite unimportant. In fact, I experience nothing except my poor, distracted self.

If one lives in close acquaintance with silence and has time set aside for prayer and contemplation and still goes to find distraction, it would seem that distraction is the human condition of prayer. I suspect there isn't a person in the world, saint or sinner, who goes to prayer without distractions. Distractions are part of our nature--they are the rambunctious child who lives on within us even when we have outgrown that child's body. They are not a sign of deficiency, but they are an evidence of our utter dependence upon God to accomplish prayer in us. We must go willing and mindful of the fact that we will accomplish nothing whatsoever on our own. We go nevertheless, not because we are setting out to accomplish, but because we are obedient to the discipline that will foster the growth that the Father wishes to accomplish in us.

So, instead of worrying about distraction in prayer, focus instead upon being present in the prayer, letting the distractions play around us and letting God encounter us as we are--distracted, weak, and child-like. He will not fail us, this great God of Love and Father of us all. When our will is His, however weakly, He will make the best of it and the best of us.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Carmelite category from March 2007.

Carmelite: February 2007 is the previous archive.

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