Monday, July 18, 2016

Respecting God in the other is the only way out of the spiral of violence.

Each day, we seem to be exposed to more and more stories and reports of terrible violence committed that is planned, calculated and pre-meditated.  One only knows how numb one is to the horror that we can afflict to another human being when one reads of the unbelievable carnage done and turns the pages of the newspaper with hardly any reaction of surprise, shock, sadness or empathy. 

Animals who see the rotting carcasses of their own species walk pass them with little reaction.  To expect more from them would be imposing human standards of feelings and sympathy onto beings that have not been endowed with a conscience.  But we know that there is something terribly wrong with us as a race of humans when we see reports or instances of people maimed, shot, bombed or mowed down by a truck, and do little more than lament that there is something wrong with the world.  Do we see ourselves as the priest or the Levite who walked by the half-dead man in the parable of the Good Samaritan? 


Perhaps there are too many of us who think that we are just too insignificant to make any impact on a global scale as a single human being.  Unless we are people who have some global clout or who hold some position of power and authority, our little ways of living and working in our office, our neighbourhood or small social circles can hardly make a difference to change or stop these from happening.  With blinkers on our eyes, causing us to narrow our vision, we could justify our unwillingness to live differently. 

Those of us who are Christians, especially Catholics who understand the impact and depth of what it means to be a living part of the global and universal organism known as the Body of Christ, cannot afford to be lackadaisical in this regard.  Small and seemingly insignificant actions of charity, forgiveness, hospitality and mercy done to even one other human being has a much larger effect than meets the eye.  We must believe what Jesus says in Matthew 25 is true when he says “whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do it to me”.  This has to affect the way that we treat each person we meet in the pathways of our lives.  The one problem we all share as a broken Body of Christ is that we have very limited definitions of who makes up this ‘least of my brethren’.  Most of us have no qualms being merciful to those who are merciful to us, being kind to those who are kind to us, and being generous with those who are generous with us.  It’s those who do not fit into these categories that make this a very great challenge, and it is most likely that it is when these are the beneficiaries of the extension of our love and care that God takes extra delight in.

The Christ-follower has a divine reason to want to try to extend love to the stranger and the one who has fallen through the cracks of life.  The divine reason is that in the person lives the very image of God whom he or she is made in the likeness of.  No other religion upholds this dignity of the human person with the same loftiness and excellence.  This has to be one very compelling reason why and how Christ is the savior of the world.  It is when his image is valued and honoured and treated with dignity that peace can be restored – a peace that the world cannot give.

As a confessor, I often hear confessions of so many people (men and women, adults and young people alike) who find themselves so beguiled by the evil of pornography.  When time permits, I ask them if they are only interested in getting God to forgive them of their sin, or if they are willing to do the hard work that it takes to see this sin for what it is, and render it more and more powerless over them. 

The way I see it, whether it is trying to stop hate-violence on a global level, or self-violence on a seemingly private level (as in the case of self-destruction through pornography addiction), it has very much to do with the way that we see our fellow man and woman.  The trouble is often that we do not pause to see that the other person is more than just who he or she is to us.  This needs explication.

If the person before me isn’t seen and appreciated for more than just who he or she is in relation to me and my self-serving or self-protecting purposes, I am not honouring the fact that just like me, that he or she has a mother, a father, probably a sibling or more, could have nephews and nieces, grandparents who dote and cherish him or her, and want to be proud of his or her being in the world.  This expands and deepens the reality of the person and invites me to consider him or her more than just for what he or she is in that flat dimension devoid of his or her entirety. 

The vice-gripped world of pornography flattens the person and robs him or her of her depth, and what is sold or presented blatantly negates and ignores this.  It is often saying “use him or her solely for your pleasure”.  The director, the photographer and the industry (porn, drug, slave, insert the applicable) at large has already robbed and stripped him or her of all her deep worth as a child of God.  They make it easy to forget and ignore that this person also has the dignity of being a loved child of a mother and father, a brother or a sister, or even possibly a parent of a child or several children.  The person is seen as having only one-dimension.  This of course, is a lie, but millions and millions buy into it.  Why?  Possibly because it takes too much effort to realize the intrinsic worth and dignity of the other.  It is way easier (and more convenient) to use another person for one’s personal and selfish benefit. 

The same applies to the foreigner, the refugee or the person with special needs.  It is only when we pause to see that each person, each individual has a worth that is more than what meets the eye (a threat, one who is taking away what I am entitled to, one who doesn’t deserve or who isn’t entitled to my same privileges in life), that I know that I cannot be justified in dismissing his or her basic and human needs. 

I am more and more convinced that the true contemplative mind is the one which is given the important ‘hermeneutical flashlight’ to see beyond what is apparent and physically visible.  This term ‘hermeneutical flashlight’ is used astutely by Ronald Rolheiser in his groundbreaking book ‘The Shattered Lantern’ to refer to the way that the contemplative mind is given the insight to peer beyond the surface knowledge of reality, where hermeneutics is understood as the deeper interpretation of Biblical texts.  So, when one applies a ‘hermeneutical flashlight’, one opens up one’s way of looking past and into the reality of what and who is before one.  Because it changes the way the seer sees reality; it also changes the seer himself. 

I attach a video of a song which I had recently come across, powerfully depicting the message of our shared dignity as children of God.  The lyrics are appended below to help you to appreciate the depth and essence of the song. 




This is a son – by Jody McBrayer

No one looks him in the eye
No one dares to take the time
We only see him as the guilty and the shameless
We write him off as wasted and nameless

This is a son
He has a mother
He is a child
Maybe a brother
This is a heart
This is a soul in need of love
To see beyond
the awful things that life has done
This is a son

He knows how it feels to hurt
He thinks this is what he's worth
He knows we see him as the guilty and the shameless
and write him off as wasted and nameless

This is a son
He has a mother
He is a child
Maybe a brother
This is a heart
This is a soul in need of love
to see beyond
the awful things that life has done
This is a son

Mother Mary stands beneath the cross
Staring up in utter disbelief
and as the angry crowd screams out in hate
she whispers through her tears and through her grief

This is a son
He has a mother
He is my child
He is your brother
He has a heart for every soul in need of love
To see beyond the awful things that you have done
This is a son
This is a son
This is a son

A Post-Script
I do realise that what I have written and shared today in this blog may be rather esoteric, and may fail to appeal to the masses.  I would be na├»ve to think that this type of reflection has a strong following.  But here is where I am appealing to your charity as a reader to help me grow and develop as a writer and a thinker.

Your comment is appreciated.  It always is.  I have mentioned to some circles that I had intentions to stop these weekly reflections, and invariably I get the response that my writings are being read and being forwarded. What would help me sustain this solo effort is when I am able to respond to your reactions.  Any feedback is useful as it tells me several things - the helpfulness of the topic chosen for the week, the language used, the relevance to you as a reader, etc.  

Posting these reflections on Facebook is my way of reaching a larger audience, but I am not so much interested in your ‘liking’ what I post.  Please do not just ‘like’ this.  It makes no difference to me (and I say this with no intention to sound arrogant or egotistic - it truly doesn't make a difference to me as a writer).  What makes me continue to pursue this effort of mine is when I know that it creates in my readers a willingness to expand and enlarge their hearts, and to live out the challenges to be part of the organic Body of Christ.  Can I ask that you do not just ‘forward’ these, not just 'share' these or 'like' these, but that you take some time to pause, reflect, and then with some deliberation, make a personal comment about the piece.  It doesn’t have to be a comment that agrees with what I have written.  It could be a question, a clarification, a reaction or just a thought to add.  My improvement as a thinker and a praying person is when I can take negative feedback and look at it as something that moulds, shapes and forms my future thinking.  Writing without any feedback is supremely challenging, and I am appealing to your assisting me to improve and deepen – as a writer, as a priest, and as a person.  God bless you.






12 comments:

  1. Hi Fr,

    Let me start the ball rolling with my comments about empathy.

    According to the "Theory of Mind", some people (usually those on the autism spectrum- many with high IQ) lack empathy by nature. They suffer from "mind blindness" and cannot put themselves in the shoes of others and understand different perspectives.

    IF the theory is correct, then the priest and levite could possibly have been "mind blind" and the Samaritan simply had empathy in heaps.

    The thing I find odd is that while Jesus had empathy in heaps as an adult, He seems to have lacked it as a child when He stayed back in the temple, causing distress to our Blessed Mother and St Joseph when they could not find Him.

    One could argue He was doing exactly what the priest and levite did, being so engrossed in religious matters that he was "mind blind" to the distress he would cause his parents.

    Possible to shine a "hermeneutical flashlight" on this?




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    1. Dear Jonathan

      I thank you sincerely for writing back in the comments section of this blog. And I do hope that it does pave the way for more questions and comments of a similar nature.

      You have opened with an interesting tangent, conjecturing on the "Theory of Mind". If we extend this to all cases where we see evidence of a lack of empathy in the general population, then I suppose we will come to the conclusion that everyone is autistic to some degree.

      But to extend this to the Divine, and to suggest that at some point in time Jesus was autistic, would be an interesting point to consider, if we take care not to attribute this as a flaw in Jesus but something that was handled as a growth phenomenon. After all, scripture does say that it was after Jesus was after this event of being lost and found in the Temple that he went down to Nazareth and it was there, with his mother and Joseph, that he advanced in wisdom and age. There was a development in his growth. Scripture never holds that Jesus was all-knowing from the moment of his birth. He too needed to grow and mature, and if so, perhaps this may throw some 'hermeneutical lights' on understanding this oddity where Jesus seems to be 'lacking in empathy' as a child. Interesting proposal.

      Thank you Jonathan. God bless.

      Fr Luke

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    2. Hi Fr,

      Thanks so much for replying. I agree with your thoughts.

      To my mind, what Jesus did at the temple is akin to a young Catholic boy today, abandoning his parents to discuss papal encyclicals with priests in Church! So we can possibly infer his IQ developed very early but his EQ took some time.

      It is such a pity the Bible is largely silent on His teenage years. We do not know HOW Jesus advanced in wisdom and age. What was his teenage relationship with our Blessed Mother, St Joseph, St John the Baptist like? At what age did he realize He was the Son of God?

      If only our Blessed Mother and St Joseph had recorded His growing up years in some form, we would have so much more insight about our Lord as a Man and how He developed the way He did with so much empathy as an adult.

      God bless you with good health Fr. Be assured your blogs are read and appreciated.

      Regards
      Jonathan



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  2. Thank you for your deep sharing, here, and in sermons during mass. This is my first time visiting your blog, as I was searching for the transcript of your sermon for the Sunday evening mass. It touched me so, to hear your preaching about xenos-phobos. Though the contexts you shared were not so relevant to my personal life, they made me scrutinise the way I think and speak about my mother-in-law, who lives with my husband, myself and my 10-month old baby. My feelings of "xenophobia" towards her often make me second-guess her intentions towards my baby - that she wanted to be no. 1 in his eyes through vying with me for time with him. Taking a step back and considering my discomfort with her unfamiliar ways (as compared to how my grandma used to treat my brother and I when we were young), it does seem like much of my emotions about the matter stems from my own sense of insecurity and fear of the unknown as a new and working mother.

    Thank you for sharing. It would be wonderful if you could post the transcripts of your sermons each week too, so I can share it with my skeptical non-Catholic hubby. You're one of the few he finds "interesting" enough to want to find out more about what your take on issues are, from the Catholic viewpoint.

    Do freely respond to and criticise my writing and thoughts as well. It ought to be mutual!

    Cheryl

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    1. Dear Cheryl

      Thank you for the courage that you took to share your thoughts, fears and feelings. I am sure that my blog readers are grateful too.

      It does appear that you may have reached some breakthrough in stepping into the shoes of the other person (your mother-in-law) to handle these feelings of insecurity and fear. I am sure that it will go a long way to alleviating or addressing these whenever these feelings emerge in the course of your life. Psychologists will always say that most of the time, the issues or problems are not 'out there' in the other person, but rather that they start 'in here', i.e., with unsettled or unaddressed issues that we ourselves have. To admit of this possibility, is a huge first step in handling personality conflicts. And when we have the Holy Spirit as our guide and strength, great things can happen.

      I am afraid that I have never considered using this blog page as a place to post my preaching notes. In fact, the homilies that I give are better listened to than read. At least that is what I personally think. Is it possible for you to encourage your non-Catholic husband to come with you to Mass on Sundays? At IHM, posted on the noticeboard outside of the Adoration Room is the preacher/celebrant schedule of all the priests in the parish, and you can thus ensure that the Mass you come for will be one where my preaching can be heard by your husband. At the present moment, I will prefer to use this blog to reflect on issues outside of the Sunday's liturgical readings. I hope you understand.

      God bless
      Fr Luke

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  3. I like the lyrics of the song and what is haunting are the first two lines, which I’ve taken the liberty to link together………….. “No one dares to take the time………to look him in the eye” – and I ask - Why?

    I believe if we do that….look him in the eye…..he will not remain nameless and faceless…… perhaps -we may even recognize a fleeting glimpse of ourselves in that face that confront us - for which of us has never suffered the guilt, pain and shame of failure and sinning against another (and against God)?

    Not only that………. once we are made aware of his “humanness”- we can’t write him off coz he’s become too real to and for us. We will be compelled to go deeper…..to see him not only as a problem to our community, a number in the file of undesirables…………but someone who (like you said) has “our shared dignity as children of God.” It is definitely not going to be comfortable to live with such thoughts especially for followers of Christ, for – he becomes the challenge thrown to us ( like the proverbial gauntlet) mocking us to daily- live our faith!

    So sometimes, it’s easier to have a non-contemplative mind……everything is smooth, no sharp corners, no jagged edges that cuts into our cushioned somnolence of our own “real” world.

    Thank you for posting this Fr. Sometimes, suffering does become one, for it gives one the boldness to broach on matters that may be ‘un-flattering’ to the community. I suppose that’s why they had to kill the prophets in the OT.

    God bless u.

    tessa


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  4. Thank you Father.

    I am more aware of the strangers around me this week. Took time to talk to a special needs child and walked up to an old lady selling tissue paper and bough some from her.

    Not having the contemplative mind to be merciful to those who aren't merciful to me...yet. Hopefully, my being aware and being kind to strangers (who don't affect my life directly) is a small step in the right direction.

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  5. Dear Father

    Thank you very much for sharing the song "This is a son". It is indeed very moving, especially the last part of the song:-

    Mother Mary stands beneath the cross
    Staring up in utter disbelief
    and as the angry crowd screams out in hate
    she whispers through her tears and through her grief

    This is a son
    He has a mother
    He is my child
    He is your brother
    He has a heart for every soul in need of love
    To see beyond the awful things that you have done
    This is a son

    For the first time, I can empathised with Mother Mary when she was grieving so deeply at the foot of the cross seeing her beloved dying so shamelessly. I have attended so many Good Friday services but I could not empatised with Mother Mary.

    Please continue to blog, even if no one reads your blog. God will read it.

    God Bless

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  6. Hi Father

    Thanks for the blog. I like the questions that your piece poses - that there is a deeper reality to what we normally see. In fact it had even crossed my mind before that what makes, say a child with special needs, less able to grasp the things of Heaven or God? At this point in time, I don't think there is. If it is sin (only) that separates man from God and God's ways, then God is all in all, special needs or not.

    However in a very harried and crowded world, not to mention disruptive technologies, it is difficult to cultivate a contemplative mind which necessarily is a slower mode. But without some contemplation, will we know where we are heading or exactly what we are doing and for who or for what? What scares me nowadays is when people reply for the sake of reply, do for the sake of doing and say for the sake of saying....it is a dumb-down world.

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  7. Dearest Fr Luke,

    This week post resonates with me; empathy/compassion for others is my struggle of living out God’s commandment of “To love one another as I have loved you.”

    When the spectrum of “one another” is increased to encompass all mankind- inclusive of the unlovable taker, it seems simply impossible to give unconditionally. Yes, it is not possible to love with compassion without fatigue if we are drawing on within ourselves alone.

    To have genuine compassion and authentic love for others, we need to be loved first. We must be consistently sustained by love, as we can’t give what we do not have. I should know as my job requires me to be unconditionally compassionate to those under my charge...

    For those who never experience this abundance of love will be in constant craving and need, desperate to be fed and yet not knowing where and how to seek this authentic love. Hence, they accept counterfeit versions of this love to satisfy the void in their hearts.

    As GK Chesterton reputably quoted – “The man who rings the bell at the brothel, unconsciously does so seeking God.”

    With authentic love, we are satisfied and filled to the brim, till we have to share out this overabundance. With the lack of this love, the opposites is true, we become self-absorbed, lacking, unlovable.


    Pope Gregory the Great -

    At first she sought but did not find, but when she persevered it happened that she found what she was looking for. When our desires are not satisfied, they grow stronger, and becoming stronger they take hold of their object. Holy desires likewise grow with anticipation, and if they do not grow they are not really desires. Anyone who succeeds in attaining the truth has burned with such a great love.

    For those who did truly experience the love of God, and allow ourselves to be transformed and burned by this greatness of love, then and only then, can we be given NEW eyes, the hermeneutical flashlight, to truly see. When we truly see, tears will flow, we will be on our knees, praying.



    Thank You Fr, for sharing the heart stirring song with us, for our quiet reflection.

    Laura

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  8. Good day to you Fr Luke.

    If you welcome comments and feedback of any kind, why are comments moderated before it is being published in the comments section? I find that ironic.

    Secondly, when you use complex words in your posts, it makes me stop and look up the meaning of the said word. This disrupts the flow of thought and is time consuming.

    Hope my feedback helps.

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    1. While I do welcome feedback and comments, in the 8 years of the existence of this blog, there have been numerous instances when 'comments' have turned out to be spam and unsavoury advertisements in disguised forms. There have also been very unpleasant 'comments' which turned out to be stalkers of my other readers and the blog was almost hijacked for evil intentions to harm the readers of this blog. It is out of protection that I choose to moderate them. I don't edit them. I only accept or mark them as 'spam'. It may seem ironic, but it really is for my readers' protection.

      As a writer, I am a lover of words and invite my readers to expand their vocabulary through the use of a variety of words. I would like to think that not just the words I use invite an expansion of knowledge, but that the very topic of choice invites my readers to broaden their thinking and approach towards spirituality. I believe that like muscles that are not used end up atrophied, our minds need to be constantly stretched and challenged too. Maybe it's the hidden educator in me that makes me think this way.

      Thank you for your feedback.

      Fr Luke

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