Monday, August 28, 2017

The Truth, Beauty, and Goodness of God's Creation

"Even before revealing himself to man in words of truth,
God reveals himself to him through the universal language of creation,
the work of his Word, of his wisdom:
the order and harmony of the cosmos--
which both the child and the scientist discover--
'from the greatness and beauty of created things comes
a corresponding perception of their Creator,'
'for the author of beauty created them' (Wis 13:3,5)."

What if we encounter almighty God--who IS Truth and Beauty and Goodness--in our everyday experiences of truth, beauty and goodness?  

Reflecting on St. Francis of Assisi's profound communion with God's creation, St. Bonaventure maintained that we have the capacity to see "vestiges" or "traces" of God's Trinitarian Presence throughout the cosmos. Francis didn't love creation in a pantheistic way, as if the created order was divine in and of itself, but he affirmed its deepest dignity as a mirror in which we gaze upon the very wisdom of God.  St. Francis' sacramental world view enabled him to encounter the Supernatural in and through the natural order.

Our own glimpses of God's glory in and through nature are like detecting the fingerprints of the Creator in his creation. Such experiences of the truth and beauty and goodness of creation are not mere matters of taste, as today's prevailing relativism claims with ironic and absolute certainty. When we find ourselves touched by an overwhelming sense of the order and harmony of the cosmos--the unfolding miracle of new life in the womb; the power of the sea, or the majesty of the mountaintop; the preternatural dance of darkness during a total eclipse of the sun--we rightly sense that we are apprehending something More
Such moments of wonder are not mere matters of opinion. They are the perception of a reality which expresses itself through nature, even as it transcends the physical world. Individual human souls may have different sensibilities or capabilities to notice and appreciate these experiences, but all persons are capable of discovering truth, goodness and beauty. We may prefer a sunrise to a sunset, but we dare not deny that they are both literally awesome.  

The question, however, is what we make of these experiences. To perceive the truth that "everything is connected....everything is interconnected" (Pope Francis) should lead us to marvel at the beauty of creation's language. But it should also compel us to protect and defend the goodness which overflows from God through his created order.

Since Holy Father Francis has designated September 1st as the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, we might consider acting on these insights in one of the following ways:
  • Resisting the "throwaway culture" (Pope Francis) and rejecting products and practices which contribute to a toxic environment.
  • Exploring deeper issues about climate change through resources from organizations like the Catholic Climate Covenant.
  • Praying that we might personally and collectively have the mind to know, the heart to love, and the hands to serve God in and through our care of creation.

Finally, as the revealed Word of God reiterates, let us not fail to marvel at the Truth and Beauty and Goodness who is the source of all our everyday experiences of these three transcendental attributes of the Lord God:

"In the beginning was the Word....
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be."
John 1:1,3

"He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation.
For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth,
the visible and the invisible...
all things were created through him and for him.
He is before all things,
and in him all things hold together."

Colossians 1:15-17

Monday, August 21, 2017

America's Original Wound and Ongoing Eclipse of Human Dignity

Gordon, an ex-slave, from Wikipedia

Some scars never go away.

With our nation once again reeling from a violent eruption of heinous and explicit racism, a number of people have raised related questions about the way that unconscious and implicit racism continues to shape the current cultural landscape.

If humanistic luminaries like our nation's founders could be blind to their own denial of basic human rights to black citizens, and if highly educated judges and legislators could support institutional segregation for decades, how likely is it that 21st century Americans are without our own racial blind spots? Isn't the probability very high that this era has its own social and cultural structures of sin that impact all of us?

These are not comfortable questions for cocktail-hour conversations, of course. They are matters for deep reflection about our most basic presuppositions, which routinely go unexamined. They are also questions that often leave people thinking, "I don't know where to begin with that..."

Here's a starting point, a must-read for anyone who dares to delve more deeply into questions of institutional and structural racism: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in a Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander.

The importance of this book cannot be overstated, just as its provocative thesis cannot be easily digested: Alexander argues that the "war on drugs"--promoted by Republican and Democratic presidents alike, and propped up by a number of shocking Supreme Court decisions--is the vehicle of ongoing racism in our times. It is a machine which has targeted and incarcerated black men at outrageously disproportionate levels, and it leaves a devastating swath of convicted felons in its wake who have no hope of re-integration into society. Somehow the author manages to address what seems like all conceivable counter-arguments, even demonstrating the essential role played both by the myth of colorblindness and by black exceptionalism (e.g., the election of an African-American president).

Just as Original Sin left the human race with a weakened will and darkened intellect, so today's racial structures of sin continue to compromise and implicate us all. Statues and monuments may remind us of past structures of sin, but debates about where they belong might just be a distraction from addressing current racial inequities. With a targeted minority--black men--continuing to suffer mind-boggling levels of felony convictions, it seems that the least we can do is to begin seeing the unconscious and implicit mechanisms at work today.

Ultimately, of course, only a Wounded Healer can save us from the mess in which we are living. Yet he needs us to be his agents in this noble mission. The Lord knows we did not choose to be born into this particular system, but he also knows that we can choose whether or not we perceive the reality. And we can decide how to begin tending to the wounds.

Reading The New Jim Crow would be a great place to start.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Max-imizing Each Moment

Maximilian Kolbe

St. Maximilian Kolbe heroically stepped forward to accept a death sentence in the place of another prisoner at Auschwitz. What prepared him for such a moment, and what might we learn from his example?

There could be no ultimate gift of self
without a lifetime of giving of oneself.

There could be no heroic taking-the-place-of-another
without a lifetime of standing for-and-with others.

There could be no act of perfect courage
without a lifetime of courageous daily actions.

There could be no "yes" to self-sacrificing Love
without a lifetime of sacrificing one's lesser loves.

There could be no laying down one's life
without a lifetime of taking up one's cross.

There could be no "Martyr of Charity"
without a lifetime of dying to love of self.

There could be no explanation like Kolbe's "I am a Catholic priest"
without a lifetime of proudly professing one's Catholic faith.
There could be no allowing another person to live on one's own borrowed time
without a lifetime of sharing a New Life borrowed from Another.

May the witness of Max Kolbe, the patron patron saint of media communications, political prisoners, families, drug addicts, and the pro-life movement, help us walk in friendship with Jesus and our Immaculate Mother each day--