Daily Riches: Religion and Established Privilege (Thomas Merton)

Thomas Merton’s quotation on religion and privilege arrived following a national campaign with loud cheers and boisterous rallies that turn Christianity into white nationalism. “…Faith in God . . . becomes in fact faith in [one’s] own nation, class or race.”

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“Of course, it is true that religion on a superficial level, religion that is untrue to itself and to God, easily comes to serve as the ‘opium of the people.’ And this takes place whenever religion and prayer invoke the name of God for reasons and ends that have nothing to do with him. When religion becomes a mere artificial facade to justify a social or economic system–when religion hands over its rites and language completely to the political propagandists, and when prayer becomes the vehicle for a purely secular ideological program, then religion does tend to become an opiate. It deadens the spirit enough to permit the substitution of a superficial fiction and mythology for this truth of life. And this brings about the alienation of the believer, so that his religious zeal becomes political fanaticism. His faith in God, while preserving its traditional formulas, becomes in fact faith…

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Daily Riches: Without Excuse or Defense Before God (Thomas Merton)

Pope Francis quoted Thomas Merton. Here’s more thought-provoking Merton.

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“ …we should let ourselves be brought naked and defenceless into the center of that dread where we stand alone before God in our nothingness, without explanation, without theories, completely dependent upon his providential care, in dire need of the gift of his grace, his mercy and the light of faith. …But when the time comes to enter the darkness in which we are naked and helpless and alone; in which we see the insufficiency of our greatest strength and the hollowness of our strongest virtues; in which we have nothing of our own to rely on, and nothing in our nature to support us, and nothing in the world to guide us or give us light – then we find out whether or not we live by faith.” Thomas Merton

“I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne;
 and the train of his robe filled the…

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A prisoner of my own violence

Pope Francis quoted the American Cistercian monk Thomas Merton in his address to Congress.

“I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers.”

Perhaps Mark had something like that in mind when he attributed to Jesus a grotesque instruction about following in the way of Christ. The images of Mark 9 are ludicrous, violent, grotesque.  Cut off a foot or a hand. Tear out your eye if it causes you to “stumble” — if it causes you to lead a child toward the fire of hell.  It is better to enter the Kingdom of God with one eye than to enter hell with two.

Author Flannery O’Connor seems to have known the genius of these jarring metaphors.

“I use the grotesque the way I do because people are deaf and dumb and need help to see and hear.”

Watching the news of grotesque crimes against humanity, we ask how anyone could behead another human being. How, indeed? And always in the name of God, in the name of righteousness, the children of light against the children of darkness.

Jesus’ words from Mark 9 were read aloud last Sunday in many churches around the world. They are as off-putting now as they were spoken into an earlier violent time, a world that was for Jesus and for Mark what Merton’s was for him: a picture of hell.

But for Jesus, the word we translate “hell” was not a place of divine punishment. It was the name of a place outside of Jerusalem. Paul Nuechterlein writes in last week’s Girardian Reflections:

‘Gehenna’ in Mark’s Greek rendering would have been ‘Ben Hinnom’ in Jesus’ own Hebrew/Aramaic. It’s the valley referred to in Jeremiah 7:30-33:

For the people of Judah have done evil in my sight, says the LORD; they have set their abominations in the house that is called by my name, defiling it. And they go on building the high place of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire — which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind. Therefore, the days are surely coming, says the LORD, when it will no more be called Topheth, or the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of Slaughter: for they will bury in Topheth until there is no more room. The corpses of this people will be food for the birds of the air, and for the animals of the earth; and no one will frighten them away.

‘Hell,’ ‘Gehenna,’ ‘ben Hinnom’ is the place of human sacred violence that has never even come into God’s mind. It is our violence that we need to fear, not God’s. Jesus is speaking grotesquely of lesser sacrificial violence like cutting off one’s hand, as being better than amped-up sacrificial violence like the child sacrifice of Jeremiah’s day — or the Nazi Holocaust of our day. [bold print added by VFTE]

Self-criticism, prayerful introspection, the opening of one’s own divided heart to Divine judgment and mercy are the stuff of which heaven is made; hell would be when we remain prisoners of our own selfish violence, a place filled with people just like me.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, September 28, 2015.

Pope Francis and Speaker Boehner

Is it a coincidence that Speaker John Boehner announced his resignation the morning after his invited guest, Pope Francis, spoke to a joint session of Congress?

Pope Francis and John Boehner - Joint Session of Congress

Pope Francis and John Boehner – Joint Session of Congress

Before his address to Congress yesterday Pope Francis turned to the two former altar boys behind him on the dais.  He looked quickly at Vice President Joe Biden; he looked much longer into the eyes of his host, Speaker John Boehner. It was warm but it also seemed like something else – a moment between a priest and penitent?

The Speaker wiped his eyes, as any faithful Catholic would be prone to do.  He cried, as he often does, but this time as if to ask in humility, “Who am I, John Boehner, a mere altar boy, to share this powerful platform with the Holy Father? I am not worthy that you should come under my roof.”

One had to ponder Mr. Boehner’s inner turmoil listening to the Pope’s words gently reprimand leaders who forget the Golden Rule, push aside the poor, ignore or criminalize immigrants and migrants, prefer aggression to dialogue, ignore the common good for private gain, put people on death row, and refuse to act responsibly on climate change.

What do you do sitting behind the Pope?

You take out your handkerchief at the great privilege of hosting the Pontiff and the honor of being in his presence, but perhaps also because you recognize the prevalence of sin, as in Francis’ quotation from Thomas Merton (see quotation below) or his choice of the socialist Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker Movement as one of four Americans to emulate.  And, if you haven’t already done so in your private time with the merciful Pope Francis, you might go to confession, repent, and do penance.

This morning John Boehner announced his resignation as Speaker of the House at the end of October. Preparing to speak to the United Nations in New York, one can imagine Pope Francis blessing John while lamenting Boehner’s colleagues’ loud cheering, wondering whether anyone but Joe and Johnny was paying attention the day before.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Sept. 25, 2015

Quote from Pope Francis commendation of Thomas Merton as an American example to follow:

A century ago, at the beginning of the Great War, which Pope Benedict XV termed a “pointless slaughter”, another notable American was born: the Cistercian monk Thomas Merton. He remains a source of spiritual inspiration and a guide for many people. In his autobiography he wrote: “I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers”. 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.

[Bold print added for emphasis by Views from the Edge]

Daily Riches: Cutting Through Political and Religious Illusions (Vernon Howard, Thomas Merton and Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

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“Every day that you attempt to see things as they are in truth is a supremely successful day.” Vernon Howard

“It seems to me that the most basic problem is not political, it is apolitical and human. One of the most important things to do is to keep cutting deliberately through political lines and barriers and emphasizing the fact that these are largely fabrications and that there is another dimension, a genuine reality, totally opposed to the fictions of politics…. My own peculiar task in my Church and in my world has been that of the solitary explorer who, instead of jumping on all the latest bandwagons at once, is bound to search the existential depths of faith in its silences, its ambiguities, and in those certainties which lie deeper than the bottom of anxiety. In those depths there are no easy answers, no pat solutions to anything. It is…

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Daily Riches: Your Enemy the Savage (Thomas Merton, Martin Niemöller and Richard Rohr)

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“It took me a long time to learn that God is not the enemy of my enemies. He is not even the enemy of His enemies.” Martin Niemöller

Today, if African American protests turn into riots, the offenders are often referred to as “animals.” In the early American West, native Americans were called “savages”, and wartime slurs dehumanized Jews, Germans, and Japanese. Richard Rohr reminds us that we all have a viewpoint, and that each viewpoint is “a view from a point.” Consequently, he says “…we need to critique our own perspective if we are to see and follow the full truth.” To love our enemies, as Jesus commands, and to escape our own unconscious biases, we will need such a critique.

“Do not be too quick to assume your enemy is a savage just because he is your enemy. Perhaps he is your enemy because he thinks you are…

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