Tuesday, December 15, 2015
Short Reflection for the 4th Sunday of Advent (C)
Readings: Micah 5: 1-4; Hebrew 10: 5-10; L:uke 1: 39-45
Selected Passage: “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled." (Luke 1: 45)
Meditation: If Life is about TRUST, so too the relationships between individuals and communities. In the season of Advent, more than ever, we are invited to believe that the Lord has come and he is coming into our lives again as we prepare to celebrate his becoming one like us in all things but sin. Advent is a season when we, like Mary, witness to our FAITH in the Lord and in his promise.
Thursday, December 10, 2015
Short Reflection for the 3rd Sunday of Advent (C)
Readings: Zephaniah 3: 14-18; Philippians 4: 4-7; Luke 3: 10-18
Selected Text: “And the crowds asked him (John the Baptizer), "What then should we do?" He said to them in reply, "Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise." (Luke 3: 10-11)
Meditation: The preparing for the coming of the Lord is to accept the challenge to live a life of sharing and solidarity with those who have less in life. Give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty; clothe the naked; share shelter with the homeless; visit prisoners and the sick; etc. Do this and you shall live…!
Friday, December 04, 2015
The Heart of the Soul
by Dorothy C. Buck
In his travels as a mendicant preacher and spiritual master, al-Hallaj tried to lead his followers ever more deeply into the reality of the human soul toward ultimate unity with the divine. His writings passionately described divine love as he sought to lose himself in God (Massignon 1983, 2:198):
You infuse my heart with consciousness as You infuse bodies with souls.
One of the most compelling themes from al-Hallaj's devotional doctrine is that of the Virgin Heart, which refers to the secret place in the center of the human soul where God alone has access. Al-Hallaj stated (Massignon 1989, 133):
Our hearts are one single Virgin, which the dream of no dreamer can penetrate ... which only the presence of the Lord penetrates in order to be conceived therein.
Massignon's conversion experience, from modern secular intellectual to devout seeker of the divine, took place in Baghdad in 1908. The unique nature of his experience was that his call to Christianity took place in the Muslim world and that he was convinced that it happened through the intercession of the tenth century mystic of Islam, al-Hallaj.
Massignon's reflections on al-Hallaj's Virgin Heart, or le point Vierge, were incorporated in his major writings, lectures, and extensive correspondence, and became an integral part of his ongoing spiritual conversion. He conceived of this theme as a connecting link between his growing conviction of the need for interreligious dialogue and understanding and his belief in the need for hospitality, humility, and compassion for all of humanity. Massignon wrote (Massignon 1989, 133):
Introspection must guide us to tear through the concentric "veils" which ensheathe the heart, and hide from us the virginal point, the secret (sirr) wherein God manifests himself.
Massignon leads me to reflect deeply on the layers of meaning evoked by this image of the Virgin Heart at the center of the human soul. Here he is suggesting that my heart is "ensheathed," covered over by "veils" of illusions, assumptions, judgments, and attachments that prevent me from even imagining a place for the divine within me. This blindness prevents me from recognizing the same virginal point in the souls of others.
In 1959 the Trappist monk Thomas Merton began a correspondence with Massignon. Both men were seekers of the mystical aspects of diverse religious traditions. Merton was drawn to Massignon's increasing activism as a witness against war, specifically the Algerian-French crisis, and was intrigued by the theme of the Virgin Heart. In a letter to Massignon on July 20, 1960, he wrote (Merton 1994, 278):
Louis, one thing strikes me and moves me most of all. It is the idea of the "point vierge, ou le désespoir accule le coeur de l'excommunié" ["the virginal point, the center of the soul, where despair corners the heart of the outsider"] ... We in our turn have to reach that same "point vierge" in a kind of despair at the hypocrisy of our own world.
One day Thomas Merton was standing at the corner of an intersection in the heart of a busy shopping district. He wrote (Merton 1965, 156-57):
I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness ... This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud ... I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.
Merton's epiphanous moment reminds me of al-Hallaj, who, in his passion for God, came to see the Divine everywhere and in everyone. In this vision there is a recognition of the Virgin Heart, a momentary joy at knowing what is hidden from most of us by our own despair and inability to open our hearts to others in true hospitality, especially those who are strangers, who practice other religions, or whospeak other languages.
I am afraid to experience the sacred in others. It would require me to risk being touched by the Spirit, as Massignon was, and to experience my own conversion. My heart would be transformed by the presence of the divine seeking hospitality in the depth of my soul. Yet, despite my fear of changing my habitual way of seeing the world, of making artificial distinctions between people of different nationalities, races, or beliefs, the unexpected visitor awakens me and arouses my desire for communion, for connection, and love itself transforms my vision. Then I must see people "walking around shining like the sun". Then I can no longer pass by the homeless people as if they did not exist, nor can I make any distinction between those who have wealth, education, or position, and those who do not. I can no longer deny that I too am homeless, a refugee, a victim of social and political injustice. I must speak out with al-Hallaj, Massignon, and Merton, who wrote (Merton 1965, 158):
At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God ... this little point ... is the pure glory of God in us ... It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody.
I understand this "point of pure truth" to mean that I must be capable of recognizing the sacred in everyone, as al-Hallaj did. To believe in the mystery of the Virgin Heart is to believe in a secret place in every human soul where the sacred is given to us despite our unworthiness, failures, and human limitations. That place cannot be touched by anything I do, and yet it calls me to transcend myself, to see all others as they are -- sacred. Only then can I say with Hallaj (Massignon 1983, 426):
My soul is mixed and joined together with your soul and every accident that injures you injures me.
Massignon, Louis. 1983. The Passion of al-Hallaj: Mystic and Martyr. Vol. 2. Translated by H. Mason. Princeton, N.J.: princeton University Press.
Massignon, Louis. 1989. Testimonies and Reflections: Essays of Louis Massignon. Selected and introduced by H. Mason. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press.
Merton, Thomas. 1965. Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander. New York: Image Books, Doubleday.
Merton, Thomas. 1994. Witness to Freedom: The Letters of Thomas Merton in Times of Crsis. Selected and edited by W. H. Shannon. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux.
Thursday, December 03, 2015
Short Reflection for the 2nd week of Advent (C)
Readings: Baruch 5: 1-9; Philippians 1: 4-5; Luke 3: 1-6
Selected Passage: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God." (Luke 3: 5-6)
Meditation: What are the “valley”, “hill”, “winding roads” and “rough ways” in our lives? We need to do something about them. It cannot be ‘business as usual’! We need to reform our lives in order to see the salvation of God. Visit: www.badaliyya.blogspot.com
Thursday, November 19, 2015
The Feast of Christ the King (B)
Readings: Daniel 7:13-14; Revelation 1:5-8; John 18:33b-37
Selected Passage: “So Pilate said to him, ‘then you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice’." (John 18: 37)
Meditation: Jesus Christ is our Truth. The true followers of Jesus Christ do not live in lies and falsehood. They belong to the truth and they listen to His voice. Cast off, then, all falsehood in our lives and in our work!
Moreover, Jesus’ kingdom is unlike the one that Pilate symbolizes and what the ‘establishment’ proclaims… a kingdom that is one of arbitrariness, privileges, and power. Jesus’ kingdom is built on love, justice and peace.
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
Prophets for Our Tme: Are We Listening?
by Dorothy C.Buck
by Dorothy C.Buck
“ Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand! ...A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!”(Matthew 3:2, Isaiah 40:3)
Unless we listen to the prophets among us we are likely to wander farther and farther away from the kingdom of God's love into a maze of tempting cultural values and materialistic idols. We hear competing voices inundating our TV programs enticing us with more and more “things”we must have and that we are told will make us “happy”. Even cigarettes and an SUV are claimed to fulfill our longings for love and companionship, and more and more credit debt is the capitalistic means of achieving the successful consumer lifestyle that feeds our economy, but not our souls.
We have ample voices throughout our short history as a country who have warned us of the dangers of not heeding the call of the poor, of not feeding the hungry, offering a drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, and welcoming the strangers in our midst. Now we are challenged, almost beyond our capacity to respond, by the fear of terrorist attacks and the distrust and hatred felt towards this country in many parts of the world. Are we listening?
When Louis Massignon, the French scholar of Islam and a Catholic mystic started the Badaliya prayer movement in Cairo in 1934 with the Egyptian Melkite Christian, Mary Kahil, he was answering a call to a vocation grounded in love of God and love of others. As the Muslim Arabs became the majority in Egypt, Arab Christians were increasingly marginalized. While Mary Kahil devoted much of her life to both Muslim and Christian Arab women's rights she was also intent on maintaining the visibility and rich cultural heritage of Egyptian Christians in the midst of Islam.
The word Badaliya in Arabic means to take the place of, instead of, or substitution, and the prayer is an offering of oneself to God for the well being of others. Louis Massignon invited Mary Kahil to join him in devoting their lives and their prayer to the Muslim people around them. He understood the Badaliya as a call to feeling the pain and suffering of others and joining their experience of it to the sufferings of Christ for the salvation of all humanity. They took these words of Jesus seriously, “Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors”.(Matt.5:44) It is not easy to feel persecuted or marginalized and be willing to pray for those who persecute us let alone feel compassion and love for them.
The Badaliya movement became a means of “crossing over” to the other, of entering into the Muslim life and community in order to grow in understanding and mutual respect. Louis Massignon was a prophetic voice in his time whose embrace of arabic culture and Islam pointed to a means of interreligious understanding that went beyond dialogue to the essence of Christian love. It led to a Muslim-Christian shared prayer group that survived until 1979 and to an annual Muslim and Christian pilgrimage that continues to this day in Brittany, France. In 1948 when the modern state of Israel was in its infancy Louis Massignon was outspoken in his prophecy of disaster for the whole Middle East if the three religions of Abraham were not reconciled to living side by side in peaceful co-existence. The path towards a Palestinian crisis was already clear to him. Was anyone listening? On June 1, 1962, five months before his death, Massignon wrote:
“... We do not tire in repeating that it is necessary to pray together, Christians, Jews, and Muslims, for the advent of this so desired and waited for peace. Every tentative economic and even cultural agreement, if it is not founded on a sincere movement of hearts, united in faith in the God of Abraham, Father of believers, can only frighten the third world and be rejected...”
This letter was written 45 years ago. Christians are still being marginalized in Arab countries all over the world and there are communities of Egyptian,Palestinian, Iraqis, and other Arab Christians throughout the Middle East struggling to live together peacefully with their Muslim and Jewish neighbors.The prophets among them are the many grassroots groups working in mental health centers, parents circles, the Holy Land Trust in Israel, Christian Peacemakers Teams, the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions, Families Forum and Rabbis for Human Rights, along with many other human rights organizations from all over the world. “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?' Here I am, I said, send me!' (Isaiah 6:8-9)
An Iraqi friend of mine speaks of growing up in Baghdad very much the way a young married Muslim woman wrote in her weblog this past Christmas 2004: “Iraqis have strong bonds between them in spite of religion or ethnic differences, we all work together, have neighbors from other religions, visit each other and respect our differences. My neighbors are Shias, my best friends are Christians and Kurds, and I am Sunni, but we all have good relations between us. Christians celebrate Christmas with traditions very similar to our Eid (feast). Muslims and Christians visit each other in Eid (by the way the Christians call their Christmas Eid too).... They serve our traditional Kulaicha besides some pastries just like us. My daughter has her share of gifts for Christmas too, and she always asks me why Santa doesn't come to our house too? I don't know what to tell her so I usually say that Santa brings your gifts and puts them in our friends house so you can take them from there.” (Dec.22, 2004. www. rosebaghdad.blogspot.com) Are we listening to the prophets among us?
Here in the United States, in the spirit of Louis Massignon, we recreated the Badaliya prayer for our time two years ago. We are responding to a quite different challenge than he and Mary Kahil were in 1934 since we live in a predominantly Christian society and it is our Muslim neighbors who are a distinct minority. Ancient medieval prejudices and misconceptions still inform our unconscious responses to Muhammad and Islam and we can no longer afford to allow ourselves to remain ignorant of them. Giulio Basetti-Sani was an Italian Franciscan priest who met Louis Massignon in 1936 and continued to refer to him as a mentor until Massignon died in 1962. Basetti-Sani describes his own misconceptions of Islam at the time and realized how influenced he had been by the rhetoric of the medieval crusades of the popes and fears of later 17th century Christian writers. When he presented these views to Massignon the professor answered, ”The medieval Christian world taught that Muhammad was a messenger of Satan and that the Allah of the Qur'an was not the God of Abraham. We should not do to others what we would not have them do to us”.
Basetti-Sani writes,” Massignon had alerted me against an unjust condemnation of (Islam) that precluded any sincere and productive dialogue between Christians and Muslims. Islam is a mystery linked with the blessing obtained by Abraham from God for his son Ishmael and Ishmael's progeny. This line of thought, taken from the Bible, is the one to take in order to grasp the significance of Islam. Before we parted Massignon gave me two thoughts meant as guidelines in my reorientation. One was from Augustine, ' Love sees with new eyes', and the other was from John of the Cross, 'Where there is no love put love, and you will find Love Himself'. It was true: my eyes had seen badly...Later, when my eyes were to see clearly, I would discover in Islam and the Muslims the reflections of the infinite goodness of God”. (Basetti-Sani. 1977. “The Koran in the Light of Christ” Franciscan Herald Press IL pp..17-18)
The media coverage of Islamic fundamentalist and terrorist groups hardly helps us to overcome our misconceptions of Islam and the teachings found in the Qur'an. Yet, Muslims are very clear about the distortions of their religion and use of it for violent behavior and political purposes by fundamentalist groups. The meaning of the Arabic word, Islam tells us a great deal about those of this faith tradition. Islam means “submission” and comes from the root for the Arabic word for “peace”, salaam. Muslim believers are called to submit themselves entirely to the will of God, Allah, and to find within that experience an abiding peace. For most Muslims Islam is both a religion and a way of life that leads to peace, mercy and forgiveness.
“It may be that Allah will grant love (and friendship) between you and those who you (now) hold as enemies. For Allah has power (over all things); And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful”. (Qur'an Sura 60:7)
”But if the enemy inclines towards peace, you (also) incline towards peace, and trust in Allah for He is One who hears and knows (all things)”.(Qur'an Sura 8:61)
Are we listening to our Muslim neighbors, co-workers, brothers and sisters in Abraham? At a gathering of Muslims and Christians co-sponsored by the Islamic Council of New England, the Massachusetts Council of Churches, and the Archdiocese of Boston recently there was a newspaper article distributed at the gathering. It is a description with interviews of the detention at the US and Canadian border of 40 Muslims returning to Buffalo from an Islamic conference in Toronto entitled, ”Reviving the Islamic Spirit”. Most of those stopped were American citizens and included everyone from the U.S.A. who attended the conference. They were stopped, fingerprinted and held for as long as six hours with no explanation. One 18-year-old student was singled out, searched, finger printed and questioned. He was forced to go along and when he refused he was told that he legally had no choice. He was initially told that his vehicle was being stopped as part of a random check but he noticed that everyone from the conference was being held. “We weren't treated as American citizens. We were treated as suspects”.
Others described the incident as “an ordeal, embarrassing, dangerous and un-American, If objections are not raised, what’s going to happen in the future”? were some of the quotes. The article states, “the Toronto conference was open to the public and featured well-known and well-respected Muslim leaders, many of whom have had discussions with White House officials”.(paraphrased and quote from Buffalo News, Jan. 31,2005 by Jay Tokasz, staff reporter).
At the Boston gathering the discussion led to one prophetic voice from a Muslim living in the Boston area, “I came to this country seeking the safety of a country with laws that protect my right to live my faith as a Muslim and to escape living in fear every day. Now I feel fearful again”. Someone else asked that we ‘”Christians” stand with them as they fight against the religious and racial profiling that each of them has experienced after September 11th in the name of “homeland security”. Are we losing the very democratic ideals that are the foundation of this country in our fear of the strangers in our midst? Have we not yet heard this Gospel passage?
“I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me......Then the just will ask him: ....Lord, when did we welcome you away from home or clothe you in your nakedness?....The king will answer them: “I assure you, as often as you did it for one of my least brothers, you did it for me”. (Matthew 25:31-40)
Louis Massignon's experience of compassion was the ground for his spiritual life and a prophetic call for our time. In one of his letters to members of the Badaliya prayer movement he writes:
“As long as God leaves us absorbed in our own suffering we remain sterile, nailed to ourselves. As soon as compassion brings us beyond ourselves to another's suffering than our own, we enter into the science of compassion experientially, we discover wisdom in it. In the immortal company of all creatures purified by angelic and human trial we glimpse the joy of tomorrow through the pain of today.
Our desire, Christ's desire, for substitution,“badaliya”, for the most unfortunate, for the abandoned, for our “enemies”, make us little by little guess the secret of history, which belongs, Léon Bloy said, to the souls of compassion and pain; and it is through “substitution” that they decipher it, by achieving it”. (Letter #1 1947 )
The Badaliya prayer led Massignon to more and more social action as he responded to the injustices in his country and in the world in his time. He remains a prophetic voice as we continue to face many of the same injustices that he describes so passionately in his letters. Isn't our Lenten fasting, prayer and almsgiving ultimately meant to draw us ever closer to the mind and heart of God, to the fulness of life in God? And doesn't that lead us to greater and greater compassion, hospitality and to the heart of non-violence and love? In 1957 Massignon wrote:
“In its edition last August 9th, ‘the Commonweal', the New York Catholic weekly,
completed an article in which the Badaliya was urged to hold firm to its program of non-violent action, in saying," (the Badaliya) remembers that it is better to suffer injustice than to commit injustice, and that is the test which, to a Muslim ("one who has surrendered to God")proves that he is a Muslim. And for us, as St. Augustine pointed out, it is the test of a Christian". (LM Convocation #11)
Thich Nhat Hanh poignantly captures the essence of the Badaliya prayer movement for our time. There are many prophetic voices to guide us. May we always listen to them:
“If any accident happens to one member of our family, the whole family suffers. When an accident happens to a part of our nation, it happens to the whole nation. When an accident happens to a part of the planet Earth it happens to the whole planet, and together we bear it. When we see that their suffering is our own suffering, and their death is our death, we have begun to see the no-self nature.....Whenever we love, we see that the person we love is ourselves; and if our loved one dies, we also die. Although we are sitting here, and we have the impression that we are alive, in fact we have also died. What happens to one part of the body happens to the whole body.....The pain of one part of humankind is the pain of the whole of humankind. We have to see that and wake up”.
(part of a response to the recent devastating earthquake in Asia on Dec. 26,2004, the Tsunami, by the Vietnamese Buddhist --Thich Nhat Hanh)