Life after Epiphany


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Salvation: my first attempt at recording and sharing my own music

Back in April I blogged about a song I wrote some years ago during a difficult time in my life, a time where I was experiencing a crippling slavery to the things of this world and to certain behaviours that were quite simply destructive to my interior life.

I wrote the song on Easter Sunday of 2009, and it was my first glimmer of hope – grounded in the Resurrection – that the Lord could free me from this slavery and draw me more closely to Himself in love.

When I wrote about the song I posted the lyrics, but did not include an audio version. Since leaving my previous cloistered environment I’ve discovered Soundcloud and this is my first attempt at recording and sharing – so there are a lot of mistakes! In your generosity, please forgive/ignore the mistakes – I’ll clean them up later – but for now, here goes:

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Is freedom of religion in Australia a thing of the past?

I’m currently looking for work.

The part-time role that I have been covering since I returned from the convent is about to come to a close; it was only ever a temporary arrangement and I’m nearing the end of it, and trying to look for an alternative to move into when this one has finished.

I received an email today from a recruiter for a company with whom I have actively sought to obtain employment. Here is an extract from the letter:

I wanted to reach out to you to introduce myself and ask a few questions to learn a bit more about you and see if we can match what you’re looking for.
1. Availability
Were you seeking Part-Time or Full-Time position with us, and what days would you be able to work? Please note our Part-Time requirements are at least four full days of availability, including full availability over the weekend. Our Full-Time requirements are seven full days of availability.
Yes folks, that’s right.
This organisation requires availability ALL DAY on both Saturday and Sunday.What about people from Catholic, Jewish, Seventh Day Adventist and various other denominations of Christianity or other faiths that entail obligatory worship on either Saturday or Sunday?
The email closed with:
We are committed to diversity. <COMPANY NAME> are an Equal Opportunity Employer.
That sounds like they’re committed to diversity so long as you are prepared to waive your right to freedom of worship.
Is this even legal?
I’ve noticed that most organisations in the Retail industry are imposing similar availability requirements as a matter of policy. This sounds like institutionalised religious discrimination to me.

Having spent 24 hours considering all of this (and fuming over it!) I realise that the odds of getting any momentum behind an effort to do anything about this in any serious way is zero to none.And so this particular post remains a soapbox rant. Nothing more.

Seriously, though – am I the only one tired of a society where this sort of thing is OK?


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“Salvation” … a song I wrote about the hope that the Resurrection gives me

Many years ago I was in an awkward situation. It was Easter Sunday and I hadn’t been to confession in a long time. I had been struggling in faith and in life for a little while and here I was at Easter Mass thinking I’d have to miss out on receiving Our Lord in the Eucharist.

My parish was one of those parishes where we were blessed to have more than one priest. As I stood for the Gloria I saw out the side door of the Church one of the other priests of our Parish walking across the carpark to the Parish Office. Amazed at how Providence works, I ran outside and asked him to hear my confession. He heard it on the spot and I returned to Mass before they even got to the Second Reading!!

I was on fire with joy and gratitude at the forgiveness I had received! I could participate fully and receive Our Lord! As I listened to the priest’s homily on Salvation History, ideas started forming. Later that Easter day I wrote a song. Here are the lyrics:

SALVATION

Surely if You could free the Israelites from Egypt, You  free me
from the things that tie me down – the things that keep me far from You
Surely if You could make the world anew after the flood, You could
create a new heart in me – a heart more capable of loving You

Your Resurrection gives me hope
in the power You have to change my life! 
Roll the stone away and pour Your mercy out to heal the world!
Salvation History points to the mystery of how 
You gave Your people life

A man who conquered death: my King, my Saviour
You paid off my debt
Emptied Yourself that I be given life
There had to be a reason why

(Refrain x2 with melodic variation second time)

Surely if You could free the Israelites from Egypt, You could free me…

The hope that I realized that day really helped me to face some of the things in my life that were keeping me from God. He truly DID free me. From time to time I sing it and play it on the guitar to remember and to praise Him for what He did for me. One day I might make a recording of it.


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the harrowing of hell

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An empty tabernacle

In churches around the world today, the Tabernacles are empty. The Lord Jesus, who makes Himself truly present to us in the form of bread and wine and dwells Sacramentally among us in our churches, cannot be found where He usually resides.

The empty tabernacle calls to mind the Lord’s lifeless Body in the tomb. Jesus, who is God, truly died on that First Century Passover. What transpired between His Death and Resurrection? We profess in the Apostles Creed to believe that He descended into Hell, and on the third day rose from the dead.

The following is an “ancient homily on Holy Saturday” – a moving, powerful piece that dares to imagine the Majesty of the Lord enacting His victory over death:

The Lord descends into hell

Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and rasied him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.

For your sake I, your God, became your son; I the Lord, took the form of a slave; I whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol o life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by the cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

— Taken from the Office of Readings for Holy Saturday


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subverting shame – a symbol of love

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Crucifix laid out for Good Friday veneration.

 Shame is a lie.

Likewise, discouragement is a device of the evil one and must be seen for the deception it is.

Shame is our instinctive response to an internal acknowledgement of inadequacy or wrongdoing. Discouragement is a response to an awareness of shame. A spiral of lies.

Before Jesus shouldered our sin upon Himself and died to reconcile the world to Himself, the cross was the instrument of the most shameful death in society. Crucifixion was the execution of choice for criminals and agitators; there was nothing dignified nor heroic about it.

Setting humanity straight in more ways than one, Jesus subverts everything we think we know about the world. The Cross had no power over the Creator of its makers, nor the nails over the Lord of the man who hammered them into place.

A friend of mine wrote a wonderful song, a reflection on this very point. Her song was called “Not by Nails” and it speaks of the Love which held Our Saviour to the Cross. God is love, and Jesus is God. Jesus was physically nailed to the Cross but it was Jesus’ own choice to be bound by that physical reality. Love and obedience carried the day. Jesus did the Will of His Father out of such a pure, personal, particular and preferential love for you, for me, for each individual that ever has or ever will live that we can’t even begin to fathom it.

Horror is juxtaposed with beauty. That Holy Face which was Transfigured has, for a time, become disfigured. (Pope John Paul II writes eloquently on this reality in Vita Consecrata.)

As a child, I understood on some level my complicity in Christ’s death, but rather than solemnly contemplate in silent gratitude the gift of our salvation and the means by which it was wrought, I used to get very upset about the brutal way in which Jesus was executed. It took some time before I started to learn that love was more than a feeling. Love is a choice. Love is the choice symbolized by the Cross.

Before Jesus died for us, shame was the only appropriate response to sinfulness and inadequacy. In dying, Christ won for us the freedom to choose between  continuing to dwell in that shame, or a radically different response: love… and the trust and the gratitude that go along with it. I no longer look to myself and my weakness. Yes – my weakness is there… but I’m not scandalized, I’m not ashamed. No… I no longer look to myself. I have Christ ahead of me and I choose to look to Him, to He who is Love.


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avoiding accountability, refusing responsibility

pilate

The events of Holy Week present us with one of the most universal weaknesses to result from The Fall – the tendency to point the finger.

The similarities between The Fall and the Passion and Death of Our Lord can be summarised into four elements:

A – Desire to be without God

B – Enactment of selected means to be without God

C – Attempt to hide from consequences of act

D – Attempt to shift responsibility to another

The Fall

        Element A:

In the Garden, a crime occurred that amounted to deicide. The first
parents wished to be like God, but without God and not in accord with
God.

Element B:

The enactment of this desire was one of proud disobedience in eating the
fruit that God had forbidden them. This was essentially a severance of
their relationship with God and for all intents and purposes was for them,
within their scope of being, attempted deicide.

Element C:

After their act, when they hear God walking through the Garden, the first
parents attempted to hide from Him.

Element D:

In the interrogation/trial that follows, the man blamed the woman who in
turn blamed the serpent. When Adam blames Eve, it is interesting to note
that He also blames God – “the woman YOU put with me.”

The Passion & Death of Our Lord:

Element A:

Judas, the chief priests and eventually Pilate each wanted to be without
Jesus Christ, each for their own motive. In the case of Judas and the
chief priests, this was manifested by a conspiracy to kill Him. In the
case of Pilate, this was less of a pre-meditated reality and more akin to
looking for what he considered to be the “path of least resistance” from
the standpoint of maintaining control of the people under his governance.
Nevertheless, in all cases the desire to be no longer “inconvenienced”
by Christ is present and only differs in its degree.

Element B:

Fast-forward to another Garden.

Judas consummates his betrayal of the Lord with a kiss, having already
accepted money for his crime. The chief priests enact their part in the
conspiracy by giving over to Judas the promised 30 pieces of silver.
Pontius Pilate is a little more complicated – for him, Elements B, C and
D are all encapsulated in a single act – the ritual act of washing his
hands. The decision to permit the chief priests to have their way was the
internal enactment of Pilate’s desire to be rid of the inconvenience
Christ posed to him, and this was manifested in the external act of
washing his hands.

        Elements C & D:

The elements are a little less easily divisible in Judas’ case. Confronted
with the horror of what he had done, having now fled the garden, Judas
attempts to return the earnings for his treacherous deed to chief priests.
In desperation as a result of his inability to shoulder responsibility for
what he had done and seek forgiveness, Judas takes his own life. The
chief priests, concerned with the ritual uncleanliness of the money with
which an execution had been purchased, refused to take the money back.
In this case, the 30 pieces of silver are symbolic of responsibility.
Acceptance of the money is acceptance of culpability for deicide. Pilate
hides behind his office and his responsibility to the Emperor and washes
his hands of the whole affair, explicitly stating his desire to be
disassociated from the act and specifically casting responsibility for the
execution back onto the Jews.

I too

I too, am culpable of deicide. If evil, by definition, is the privation of a due good, then it stands to reason that to choose evil is to choose for the absence of God who is the embodiment of ALL good. I too attempt to hide from my wrongdoing and through each little self-lie I try to convince myself that I haven’t done anything wrong. I too look to blame my wrongdoing on others, or on circumstances, or on anything I can think of to shift the blame from myself.

Reparation & Reconciliation

In my fallen state, I sever my tie with God, I alienate myself from Him through sin. The best act of love that I can think of to offer my God in reparation for my sinfulness is to solemnly examine my conscience, admit my guilt and, realizing that I cannot undo the damage that I have done, turn back to Him in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the gift by which the fruits of His Sacrifice, that is, reconciliation with the Father and a healed and renewed relationship with Him, is made legitimately mine. No longer do I feel the need to reach out and take for myself a forbidden fruit. The Lord Himself, who makes all things new, is OFFERING legitimate fruit to me, fruit that is wholesome and good. All I need do is have the honesty and humility to receive it.


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‘saving’ Kierkegaard… looking for truth in his dialectical approach to freedom

Some time ago, when I first read Søren Kierkegaard in anything more than a passing way, I have to admit I got pretty worked up on his behalf. His personal story was somewhat tragic, and the confusion in his texts did little to comfort me that he ever found peace or fulfilment. Not surprising, really, that he writes so extensively on despair. As I explored some of his work, it struck me that he really seemed so sincere… in a Kantian duty-driven kind of way.

My grand plan was to pray for the repose of his soul, freed now from his “sickness unto death”, not so much “in fear and trembling” as in the hope that he could finally rest in peace. I proceeded to look for an opportunity for a plenary indulgence to be offered for him. I got all excited and was encouraging those with whom I lived to adopt for themselves a messed-up philosopher and to gain a plenary indulgence to be applied to him. My reasoning was this: these people who have done so much damage to the world through their contribution to Western thought – if they got to Heaven, could you imagine how fervently they would be interceding for us in an effort to mitigate the disaster their work could have caused?! Perhaps it all sounds a little silly, but that’s just where my mind went.

I have to admit my genuine (yet surprising) sympathy for this confused man motivates me to attempt to find SOME truth, however little of it exists, amidst the mess of fear and insecurity and lovelessness by which his work is characterised.

Something that really climbed inside my head and asked me to explore it was Kierkegaard’s dialectical notion of ‘self.’ Kierkegaard defines self most deliberately at the commencement of his work The Sickness Unto Death:

The self is a relation that relates itself to itself or is the relation relating itself to itself in the relation. The self is not the relation but is the relation’s relating itself to itself. A human being is… in short, a synthesis.

What seems at first glance like confused rambling is really a sophisticated presentation of a reflexive locus of self-relating between self as it is (S1) and self as it will be (S2) which is synthesized in the very process of becoming. (No, don’t get excited Whitehead. Heel, Hartshorne! I am NOT a proponent for process philosophy… not indiscriminately, anyway, and certainly NOT applied to God. Now THERE is something to post about at a later date!!) So let us consider moving from S1 to S2, where at the next point in time S2 becomes S1a seeking to move to S2a which then in turn becomes S1b, etc.

Among the several different lenses through which Kierkegaard explores this notion of self, one in particular really took hold of my interest; Kierkegaard proposes the dialectic of thesis: possibility and antithesis: necessity, arriving at the synthesis freedom. If we substitute these values into Kierkegaard’s “formula” for self (above), we see movement from necessityS1 to possibilityS2, which having been exercised, becomes necessityS1a, that is, the necessity of the self at the next given moment. Freedom within this scheme, therefore, constitutes this continuous movement through time from necessity to possibility.

Before jumping in and exploring his views on necessity and possibility in any depth, its helpful perhaps to establish a benchmark against which we can test what Kierkegaard tells us. A slightly Thomistic vein of thought is helpful here. A true conception of freedom is ordered toward the ultimate good of the self. The ultimate good of self surely consists in the attainment of its final cause, which is to be itself in the presence of God. In the process of attaining this final cause, freedom is the ability to exercise the will, informed by a judgment of the will and with the agreement of the appetite (c.f. Summa Theologiae Ia Q.83 a.3) An obvious impediment to freedom would be coercion; a less obvious impediment may be ignorance of the good – how can one choose what one does not know?

Now Kierkegaard astutely observes that to be spoiled for choice is not freedom. This overemphasis on possibility – to be able to arbitrarily choose anything without any sense of necessity, is actually an impediment to freedom. It causes stagnation on the cusp of decision, and the movement from possibility to necessity ceases. (Incidentally it is interesting to note the similarity between what I have called here “stagnation on the cusp of decision” and what Camus calls “living life at the crossroads”… is the existentialist ever truly free?) At any rate, I feel compelled to interpret Kierkegaard’s position here as a claim that to operate on this plane is to abuse one’s imagination. The use of the imagination involves drawing self out of self in most cases to be another self for a period of time. From an opportunity cost perspective, excesses of this can be dangerous – all that time in possibility is unable to then be spent in actuality. Living thus in the imagination rather than in reality is an impediment to the attainment of the ultimate good for it represents ignorance of the good.

Likewise, “our hero” realizes that to overemphasize necessity results in either determinism or fatalism… ultimately, in the absence of hope. The trajectory of the determinist is fixed upon necessity and never moves back to possibility. The fatalist has no God, or perhaps more accurately, necessity itself functions as the god of the fatalist. There is no room for possibility here – therefore no room for choice and no context for freedom. Kierkegaard asserts that such people are “bereft of imagination” and as such are unable to engage in the activity described above that Kierkegaard calls “healthy functioning of self”. Essentially this exaggeration of necessity constitutes a subtle form of coercion and as such is clearly an impediment to freedom.

Testing against the benchmark established earlier, we can see that both of these discussions of what Kierkegaard claims freedom is not are, in themselves, accurate. His negative doctrine of freedom appears sound.

The positive claims Kierkegaard makes concerning what freedom is are more complicated to test, and I’ve run out of time for now. I am glad, however, that I was able to find some truth in amidst the confusion, even if it resides only in his negative doctrine!!