Category Archives: Religion

Strangers in our Strange Land

wire-fenceI was stopped cold this morning at Mass in our recitation of today’s psalm. The words were almost too painful to say, given our president’s recent travel ban on refugees trying to enter our country.

“The Lord keeps faith forever,

secures justice for the oppressed….

The Lord sets captives free.”

And

“The Lord protects strangers.”

If I were sitting at an airport with the few possessions I had left after fleeing a place like war-ravaged Syria, I would wonder where that justice is. Where that God is, who promised to set me free. Where the people of faith are, for that matter, those who supposedly live by such words, the people who profess to believe that they are to follow the Gospel, which outright declares its support for the poor and wretched of the earth.

The Book of Deuteronomy puts it even more bluntly:
‘Cursed is he who distorts the justice due an alien, orphan, and widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

Ouch.

I used to wonder how a victim of one of Hitler’s concentration camps could possibly manage to retain faith in the face of such horror. Faith in humanity or faith in God.

Many of them, I suspect, couldn’t. I don’t know if I’d be able to. If I were crying out day after day for help, for sustenance, for some end to what I was enduring.

The fact is, God doesn’t usually swoop down and with some swish of the divine magic wand open gates and free the oppressed. God tends to leave that work up to his faithful, indeed, entrusts that work to the faithful. We are explicitly called to minister to the sick, the poor, the abandoned, the imprisoned, the stranger. In today’s second liturgical reading, we are reminded of that: “Consider your own calling, brothers and sisters.”

Are we remembering our calling? Or are we preferring the much more comfortable state of blindness, to others’ needs, to our own responsibility?refugee-words

Not to mention to our own nation’s tradition from its inception of welcoming immigrants to our shores.

I don’t know what action each of us is called to in response to this latest ban on refugees. I understand that most of us don’t have the ability of a leader like the Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau to say–to America’s shame–Come on in! We’ll take you! We welcome you!

But each of us is called to do something.

 

St. Thomas Who?

I know I just posted yesterday, but I can’t help it: I’m back. Because today, January 28th, is the memorial or feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas, and I had to say something about him.

 

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Please note: I’m not a philosopher or great reader of philosophy, and everything I say about this colossal man and mind is from a layperson’s point of view. If you really want to understand him, one entryway would be to watch one of Bishop Robert Barron‘s Youtube videos, beginning, maybe, with his Reflections on Thomas Aquinas.

I was first drawn to Thomas from a young adult biography that a local library was throwing out (the way I get a lot of my books). I wondered, after reading it, how could they toss out such a story? Fiction couldn’t create more drama: when Thomas wants to join the Dominicans, his brothers kidnap him from school and imprison him for an entire year. When finally allowed to study, he is so large, slow, and quiet, his classmates and professors call him–literally–a dumb ox. How can all us underdogs not feel for this figure? Then, in classic Ugly Duckling narrative pattern, when he does start to speak, he is so┬ábrilliant and so prolific that the Catholic Church came quickly to consider him its greatest theologian and philosopher.

Gentile_da_Fabriano_052What continues to attract me to St. Thomas is his role in my own faith life. If someone so learned spent so much of his life composing brilliant arguments for the existence of God, who am I to second guess? Of course I continue to have questions, doubts, irritations, but fundamentally, I love his point that every single thing on this earth is contingent, that is, couldn’t exist without being caused, at some point, no matter how far back, no matter HOW far back, by something else. And, that being the case, there has to be some thing which, no matter how far back, kicked off the whole process. Is itself not contingent upon anything. But simply is. Or, as God said to Moses when asked his name, “I Am Who I Am,”, “I Am Who Am.” Unlike us, God simply is. Is the essence of ‘isness.’

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Do I understand that? In a feeble way, a balloon-of-argument-brushing-against-my-earthbound-mind-before floating-on-up kind of way.

What I appreciate from this is that for once (and for all, if I can hang onto ┬áThomas’s kind of faith), I could hit the pause button on my interminable and exhausting mental circling, “what am I? what’s my purpose? what am I doing?” Because if there’s really only one thing that exists on its own, that provides, that IS, its own meaning, I can take a break from frantically trying to figure out, seek, impose, meaning on my own life. If Thomas’s God exists, and I dare you to try to argue (with Thomas) otherwise, we, each one of us, even me, have meaning already.

That takes a lot of pressure off my day.

P.S. You do know, don’t you, that Catholics don’t pray TO saints, ie confuse them with the divine. They ask saints to pray FOR them.