I’m the Best

Jesus instructed us to never think of ourselves as more important than others, to never put ourselves before anyone. His message is clear: think little of yourself and be happy that others do not consider you very important. Moreover, Jesus asks us to stop struggling to control events for your own benefit, and instead try to be a servant to others. Sadly, I find it easy to ignore His advice.

Self-importance fosters an addiction to and craving for human respect. I am the source of my own misery. As my ego decreases, happiness and peace increases. All addictions mask a craving to be loved and express a need for acceptance or power.

The best way to lovingly serve our neighbor is to take our eyes off ourselves, to forget ourselves, to become unimportant to ourselves, and fix our eyes and hearts and minds on Christ. We must let go of self-centeredness to love with true purity under all circumstances.

Amazing Grace

Sin is saying no to grace. Sin closes my eyes to the truth. Sin erodes the will and renders it impossible to stand against the tyranny of lust in all its manifestations. Sin weakens us, then kills us.

Christ’s resurrection turned disgrace into grace. Grace opens the door to the possibility of change. Grace changes a person. Conversion is about being changed.

Grace is the breath of Love. Beg for the grace of prayer. Hail Mary, full of grace, help me to pray.

Mindless Worship

The emerging global economy has a strong tendency to foster soulless consumerism and mindless worship of technology, and it often tramples the rights of workers and the poor. We need to be attentive to the human consequences and social impact of globalization.

Poverty will not be reduced until we address the extraordinary growth of the inequality of income and wealth that has been fueled by American-style, no-holds-barred capitalism. Unfettered free markets and financial systems perpetuate structural injustice and social sin that often keep people trapped in poverty. Merton would have had a field day with this stuff.

Climbing the Mystical Ladder

Only God knows who I am, originally, essentially. The Good News is God wants to tell me who I am, and what I can be. Right now, God is busy trying to teach me how to listen. Truly listen.

Asceticism plays a part in the spiritual life just as discomfort plays a part in the natural life. We do what we need to do in order to fight cold and heat; so also, we need to fight sin and weakness. But compulsive asceticism is of no use. At the very least, asceticism can be an effective self-management tool. And God knows I can use a tool like that. When asceticism and mysticism wed, the saints tell us they give birth to a luminous creation…as long as both are hidden with Christ in God. Some degree of mysticism is within the reach of everyone, and all Christians should aspire to climb as high as they can on the mystical ladder.

Inner Disunity

Even my sin cannot separate me from God, because there is no separation between ourselves and God. Sin is our attempt to grab something we feel we lack. Lust seeks a forceful union with another in order to compensate for the inner disunity we feel.

God accepts our humanity – why can’t we? God does not dole out punishment. We do.

God is aware of the hurt we feel before we sin, the hurt which caused us to sin. God does not wish to heap more hurt on top of that hurt by punishing us. We are doing a fine job all by ourselves. When we sin, we are trying to bury ourselves because we do not like who we are. God saves sinners. Punishment is not part of the equation. The devil is the manifestation of our temptation toward self-destruction.

A True Brotherhood

Years ago, long after I had lost my faith, I read about the Crusades in detail for the first time. I was horrified by the brutality employed by the Church and sickened by the political corruption that had infected the Church. My reading helped reinforce my belief that God did not exist. For a long time, religious intolerance was, for me, a stumbling block to God. It seemed that people of faith were more prone to hate than love, more prone to violence than peace. I made a rather fundamental mistake: I viewed religious fundamentalists as if they possessed the real truth of whatever religion to which they belonged. Today, many people see bad priests, phony televangelists, and Christians killing each other in some parts of the world and reach the conclusion that Christianity is full of hot air and empty promises. Likewise, even more people, especially in the West, see Islamic terrorists flying planes into buildings in America, becoming suicide bombers in Iraq and Israel, and beheading “infidels” in Syria and they believe all Muslims are dangerous and Islam is an inferior religion. In these tumultuous and terrifying times in which terrorism, war, genocide and chronic, debilitating poverty engulf the entire globe, religion seems incapable of creating a community of peace, a climate of brotherhood.

St. Francis’ spirituality grew out of the tumultuous times in which he lived; it was an age of tremendous social change and horrific violence. Francis read the Gospels as a man of his times, a man who felt within himself the enraged passions of his age and who was swept along by the social currents of his society. He had all the aspirations of the people of his time. But reading the Gospel made it possible for him to liberate those aspirations from their limitations, and to make them blossom forth into a more complete vision of humanity and human destiny. The Gospel rubbed up against the turmoil within him, and in the depths of his heart, he encountered a peace beyond all understanding, a living peace which made the labor of transformation the only job he wanted. In God’s humility and humanity, Francis saw a way to rebuild society. He knew the accepted form of society, with lords and subjects, no longer worked and new gospel-inspired community of interdependent, mutually respectful people was essential for survival.

The ideal of a true community of all people, excluding no one, is still, eight centuries later, a long, long way from being realized. The blueprint which Francis discovered in his time in the Gospel and which the Sultan found in the Koran is there for us to discover. Our survival depends upon it. We need to talk to each other, listen to each other, learn from each other…and grow in love and compassion together.

Being Present

Without prayer, God dies in our hearts. “This day is yours, Lord,” I say each day upon rising. Yet, before I even finish my first cup of coffee, the day has become mine.

Contemplation requires tranquility and patience. The art of contemplating divine truths grows out of the art of remaining still. To be a contemplative is to be receptive to the divine Word. Prayer is being present.

God never shouts to be heard over our noise. Only silence gives God a chance to speak. The soul that waits on God, patiently and unhurriedly, will eventually be filled with the realization he or she is infinitely loved.


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