Friday, August 30, 2013

Brother Martin: Jesus Liberates from Religion

Jesus is always there to liberate people from the cage of religion. - Brother John Martin Sahajananda, in his book, You Are the Light: Rediscovering the Eastern Jesus

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Teach Me to Fish in Deepest Waters

"Teach me to fish for Thee in the deepest waters of my soul." - Yogananda Paramahansa

“I call to remembrance my song, and in the night I commune with mine own heart, and search out my spirit" - Psalm 77.6, Coverdale

Buddhism and Christianity

Thomas Merton and the Dalai Lama

The Famous theologian Paul Tillich said that the meeting of Buddhism and Christianity would lead to a spiritual revolution.

Paul Tillich

In the 20th Century, several notable representatives of both faiths of worked to make this meeting happen.

John C.H. Wu

Wu Ching-hsiung, also known as John C. H. Wu, was an author, lawyer, juristic philosopher, educator, and prominent Catholic layman. He was president of the Special High Court at Shanghai, Wu translated the Psalms and the New Testament into Chinese.

Although he converted from Buddhism to Catholicism, he did not reject his Buddhist heritage. He translated the Gospel of John, chapter 1, verse 1, "In the beginning was the TAO, and the TAO was with God, and the TAO was God." As a Christian, he wrote a great book called The Golden Age of Zen, and made one of the most authoritative translations of the Tao Te Ching.

He served as Chinese minister to the Holy See (1947-48). Wu authored and translated numerous books and articles on many subjects including Religion, Philosophy and Law.

Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton, the Roman Catholic Monk, was very interested in the affinities between Christian and Eastern Mysticism, particularly Buddhism. He was friends with both the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh, and wrote several books on the relationship between Christian and Buddhist spirituality, including Mystics and Zen MastersZen and the Birds of Appetite, and his Asian Journal.  He died in Thailand, where he was addressing a meeting of Christian and Buddhist Monks. 

The Dalai Lama and Bede Griffiths

Bede Griffiths, the English Benedictine who led a Christian Ashram in India, was an exponent of deep ecumenism, and taught that all religions had the same Reality "at the center." Bede engaged in dialog with Buddhists and met with the Dalai Lama. Bede brought Buddhist teachers from both the Zen and Theravadan traditions into his Christian Ashram to teach meditation techniques.

The Dalai Lama himself led the John Main Seminar for the World Community of Christian Meditation in September of 1994. A book based on the seminar, The Good Heart, was released, with portions of the Dalai Lama's talks and dialog from other seminar participants. Most the Dalai Lama's comments were his reflections, from the viewpoint of  a Buddhist, on select readings from the Christian Gospel.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Zen Master and popular Buddhist writer and speaker. Influenced in part by the social action in Christianity, he champions "engaged Buddhism," which seeks to combine Buddhist mindfulness and awareness with social justice. Th?y, as he is affectionately called, says that on his own personal altar in France he has images of both Christ and Buddha, and he wrote two books on the relationship and affinities of Christianity and Buddhism, one the classic, Living Buddha, Living Christ, and the other Going Home, Christ and Buddha as Brothers. He notes that as Christians take refuge in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, so Buddhists take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. He makes a connection between Buddhist mindfulness and the Holy Spirit.

In summary, Christ and Buddha indeed are brothers. Both teach wisdom and compassion, both lead the way to peace- within ourselves and in the world. We Christians and Buddhist can learn from each other.

When I was in undergrad, I took a class with a Unitarian Universalist Minister who also was a therapist with a Jungian orientation. It was at that time I was reading a lot on Buddhism, and was very interested in Thich Nhat Hanh's engaged Buddhism. My professor gave me this formula "contemplation + awareness = liberation." In other words, our meditation practices should not take us out of the world, but help equip us for engaging the world. The first step to justice and world peace is to find peace within ourselves. Christ and Buddha both show us how to seek peace.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Beggar Condemns the Priest: “You are responsible! You are the Criminal!” - Brother John Martin Sahajananda, OSBCam

After trying to be some kind of Christian nearly all of my adult life, changing churches and modes of theology and spirituality several times, I have come to realize that the spiritual teachers I admire most are Bede Griffiths (+ 1993) and his disciple, Brother John Martin Sahajananda of the Shantivanam Ashram in India. Their teaching resonates with me, makes the most sense to me. I recently have had an experience in which I encountered the Life Force, the Spirit of God, outside of the confines of religion. I find the teachers of the Shantivanam Ashram can speak to this experience whereas much religious teaching cannot.  
I treasure Brother Martin’s book from 2003, You are the Light: Rediscovering the Eastern Jesus. It is a powerful and moving teaching on our status as children of God.
Below is a brief excerpt from Brother Martin’s book, about the encounter he had with a poor beggar girl and the impact it had upon him.
Although Brother Martin’s book is not about liberation theology, I feel this piece represents liberation theology at its best and most spiritual. One of the implications of Brother Martin’s teaching on non-duality is that we are all connected, and responsible for each other, and that our choices as affluent people directly impact our brothers and sisters in the world.
-         Lance 

One evening, I was going for a walk, when something unusual happened to me. Whenever I walked out, I would come across many beggars asking for help and I would feel pity for them, and give them whatever I could give. But on this occasion a girl of 10 years came up to me, stretched out her hand with an empty bowl, begging for something. Her condition was pathetic. Her eyes had sunk inside her sockets. Her stomach was empty, as if she had not eaten properly for days. With her torn clothes, she was half naked. Her bowl was empty. Confronted by this a new revelation came to me.
In front of her empty bowl I found myself with pockets full of money.
In front of her empty stomach I found myself with a full stomach.
In front of her insecure life, living on the footpaths, I found myself living a secure life with all of the luxuries. 
In front of her orphaned and uncared for life, I found myself in a well-cared for life.
In front of her half-naked body I found myself with cloths and fully covered.
Then I felt a kind of call:
            The empty bowl is calling to the full pockets, “fill me.”
            The empty stomach is calling to the full stomach, “feed me.”
            The insecure life is calling to the well-secure life, “give me security.” 
            The uncared for life is calling to the well cared for life, “care for me, love me.”
            The half naked body is calling to the fully covered body, “Cover me.”

The material emptiness was calling to the material fullness, but the material fullness had no life to flow spontaneously. I did not know what to do. I felt myself standing like a criminal in front of a judge who was condemning me.
            Your pockets are responsible for my empty bowl.
            Your huge buildings are responsible for my desolate life on the footpaths.
            Your cared for life is responsible for my uncared for life.
            Your well-dressed body is responsible for my nakedness.
            You are responsible. You are responsible. You are the criminal. You are the criminal.

My ears resounded with these words. I felt as if she was the prophetess sent by God to open my eyes. I could not bear any more. I took two rupees from my pocket and placed it into the empty bowl of the little girl. When the girl saw the two rupees, there was joy in her face. She slowly turned and started going. But I still heard the words, even as she left:
            “You are responsible. You are responsible. You are the criminal. You are the criminal.”
This was not just an encounter between the little girl and me. It was an encounter between two classes of society of which we were only representatives. As an individual I came from a poor family, but as a seminarian, I belonged to the official church, I was rich. It was an encounter between the rich and the poor, between the powerful and the powerless, the able and the disabled, the masters and the slaves, the secure and the insecure, the employer and the employee. It made a deep impression on me. I felt as if millions of these helpless people were standing on the side of the road, mocking me, saying, “See here goes the criminal! See, here goes the criminal!” Even today whenever I see a beggar I hear the same words.
That evening I began to reflect on the incident. Am I responsible for the suffering of my millions of brothers and sisters in the world? I slowly realized that I am responsible for them, because I am not an isolated individual but part and parcel of a system that exists. In choosing my own options, either political or economic, I choose for the whole of humanity and not just for myself. My decisions, my choices, my options affect the lives of my fellow human beings. I realized I had been committing a mortal sin against my fellow human beings by separating myself from them.

-         Brother John Martin Sahanjananda, OSBCam, from his book, You are the Light: Rediscovering the Eastern Jesus, 2003, O Books, pages 28-30.

You can read more of Brother John Martin here:

Unfortunately, Brother Martin’s books is out of print, but you may find and order a used copy here:

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Praying the Name of Christ in Sanskrit: Praying with Shantivanam

... This essay of mine talks about using prayer beads, but you do not have to use prayer beads. You can simply sit and meditate, using the Mantra. You recite your mantra anywhere, anytime. Mine somtimes recites itself. The teachers in India say that if the mantra repeats itself, or you start reciting it without thinking about it, it is a sign that your spirit has really connected with the mantra... - Lance

The Witness of Shantivanam

           Bede Griffiths                        Brother John Martin Sahajananda

I admire the witness and teachings of Bede Griffiths and disciple Brother John Martin Sahajananda, of Shantivanam, also known as the Saccidananda (Holy Trinity) Ashram, in Tamil Nada, South India. Father Bede sought to incarnate the message and worship of Christ in an Indian/Hindu context. To this end, Father Bede devised prayers drawing from the Hindu tradition,  from the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita, for example, that can be used in Christian worship.

           Russill Paul

Russill Paul, another disciple of Bede, describes the cycle of prayer practiced at Shantivanam in his wonderful book, Jesus in the Lotus: The Mystical Doorway between Christianity and Yogic Spirituality (I will have a review of this book coming shortly). On pages 82-93 of his book, he describes these prayers in two sections, Prayers and Mantras, and the Tantric Liturgy (which is the Holy Mass with elements from traditional Indian spirituality). Much of my explanation of the prayers is taken from this section of Paul's book.

The Anglican Rosary
Very often throughout my day, I simply use Tibetan prayer beads that I wear on my wrist. I have found another good way to incorporate these prayers in my life, in order to join with the prayers of Shantivanam, is to make use of the Anglican Rosary, or Christian Rosary, as it is also known. Praying "by hand" is very common across religions; for most major religions have some form of prayer beads, including Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and others.
I first need to explain a little about the Anglican Rosary, and so here is a description of the Anglican Rosary beads from the Wikipedia article:

Anglican prayer bead sets consist of thirty-three beads divided into groups. There are four groups consisting of seven beads with additional separate and larger beads separating the groups. The number thirty-three signifies the number of years that Christ lived on the Earth, while the number seven signifies wholeness or completion in the faith, the days of creation, and the seasons of the Church year.

Grouping of the Anglican Prayer Beads
The groupings are called "weeks", in contrast to the Dominican rosary which uses five groups of ten beads called "decades". The beads between and usually larger than the "weeks" beads are called "cruciform" beads. When the loop of beads is opened into a circular shape, these particular beads form the points of a cross within the circle of the set, hence the term "cruciform." Next after the cross on Anglican prayer bead sets is a single bead termed the "invitatory" bead, giving the total of thirty-three. The beads used are made of a variety of materials, such as precious stones, wood, colored glass, or even dried and painted seeds.

Anglican prayer bead sets are made with a variety of crosses or, occasionally, crucifixes. The Celtic cross and the San Damiano cross are two which are often used.

Typically, on the Anglican Rosary, one will recite the sign of the Cross on the cross, recite the invitatory on the invitatory bead, the trisagion prayer on the cruciform beads, and the Jesus prayer on the grouping of beads known as the “weeks.”

Reciting The Holy Name of God
The prayers from Shantivanam described by Paul in his book focus on worship of the Christ as God. In Hindu spirituality, and in other forms of Eastern religion, the mantra, or repeating the Sacred name of God is a powerful way of bringing us into God's presence. In Christianity, we have a similar tradition with the Jesus prayer.

Therefore, repeating the sacred name of Christ is a powerful way of to come to know God in Christ, and to bring us into God's presence, and for us to seek union with God. This kind of prayer is not the “vain repetitions” spoken of by Jesus in the sermon of mount, but rather, the invocation of God's Holy Name to experience God's immediate presence.

The Bible says, “whoever calls on the name of the Lord will saved (Joel 2.32 and Romans 10.13),” and “the Name of the Lord is a strong tower, the just run to it and are safe (Proverbs 18.10).”

Russill Paul says in his book that the day at Shantivanam begins with repeating the name of God, namajapa.  Namah means, “name,” and  japa, to “repeat.” We will see in a moment that this is the focus our the prayers.

Praying the name of God on the Anglican Rosary.
First, we make the sign of the cross on the cross or crucifix.

Then, on the invitatory bead, we recite prayers from the Trantric Liturgy expressing our worship of Christ:

Om Ishaaya Christaaya, which means, Lord and Christ we worship you, is proclaimed by the priest proclaims in the Mass, and the participants respond: Namo Namaste Christo Namaste, which means, Christ we adore you.

So on the invitatory bead, we say:

Om Ishaaya Christaaya/
Namo Namaste Christo Namaste

On the Cruciforms, we recite a mantra of Christ:

Hare Yesu Hare Yesu Yesu Yesu Hare Hare
Hare Christa Hare Christa Christa Christa Hare Hare.

This is based on a traditional Hindu mantra, only using the name of Christ rather than Rama and Krishna, transforming the prayer into a Christian mantra.

And then on the the Beads of the Weeks, worship God in the name of Christ:

Om Namah Christaaya, which can mean, I bow to the Christ, the Anointed One; or, I worship the living presence of the Anointed One.

Om is the sacred syllable in Hinduism, and is like the Hebrew Amen, acknowledging the Divine Presence. It also represents the Divine Word, like the Logos in St. John's Gospel, the mystical Word the creates the World, with which Christ is associated (see Paul, page 80). Namah has the same root as Namaste, which is nam, to bow, bend, to prostrate; and Christaaya of course, is a Sanskrit pronunciation of Christ- thus,  I bow to the Christ. And so our prayer is built around the phrase, Om Namah Christaaya.

When we finish our prayers, we say on the invitatory bead:
Shanti, Shanti, Shanti, which means, peace, peace, peace.

In Conclusion
Many people seek to find a robust spirituality in Eastern Religions. They can certainly find it there. But Christianity has its own traditional mysticism and spirituality.

Many people, including myself, have found meaning in what Paul calls in his book, interspirituality, in which one draws from more than one spiritual tradition. In practicing interspirituality, I remain a committed Christian, for example; but I make use of practices from other faith traditions, too, which can enrich my spirituality. God ultimately is beyond religion. Religion is relative, God is absolute. God has revealed God's self in all religions and cultures. God, or Ultimate Reality, is at the center of all religion, as Father Bede taught; all religions lead us to that center.

As a Christian, one who believes in the Reality of Christ (C.S. Lewis), I have found profound truth and useful practices in Eastern religions, which help enrich my devotion to Christ and practice of Christianity, and ultimately, my relationship with God.

This in part explains my attraction to the teachings of Shantivanam.

The Om Nama Christaaya Mantra- Communion with the Cosmic Christ

Tibetan Prayer Beads. I use them for the Christian Mantra, Om Nama Christaaya. I learn this Mantra from the teaching of Bede Griffiths, and the Shantivanam Ashram in India. It has sustained me through difficult times. If I feel down, or feel out of touch with God, or any hopelessness, I pray the mantra, and I feel assured of God's Presence, even if the pain remains. It is part of my daily spiritual practice, and has been for awhile.

The sacred syllable "Om" is the name of God, and the vibration of the supreme. It is the Word of God.

For the Christian practitioner, the focus of the Mantra is the Word, Christ. 

The New Testament represents Christ as the Word made Flesh:

"In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and the Word was God." - John 1.1.

"For in him, the complete being of God, by God's own choice, came to dwell..." - Ephesians 1.19, NEB.

"For it is in Christ that the complete Being of Godhead dwells embodied." - Ephesians 2.9, NEB.

It is the Cosmic Christ that we worship, who "fills the universe in all its parts" (Ephesians 1.23).

The Mantra focuses not only on the Divinity of Christ, but his name, for "The name of the LORD is a strong tower..." - Proverbs 18.10.

It is by union with Christ that we realize our own divinity, for "as many as received him, he gave them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in his name," - John 1.12, Douay-Rheims, and "For both he that sanctifieth, and they who are sanctified, are all of one. For which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren..." - Hebrews 2.11, Douay-Rheims.

George Harrison famously said that repeating the mantra was like having "God dance on your tongue."

Indeed, Jesus said "If any one love me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and will make our abode with him."- John 14.23, Douay-Rheims.

To practice the Mantra is to practice the Presence of God. For the Christian, this means honoring the Name of Christ. For it is in Christ "that you have been brought to completion." - Colossians 2.10, NEB.

What Father Bede Griffiths (Introductory post)

Father Bede is my spiritual father, even though I never knew him personally. He makes sense of Christianity, Christ, and religion in general for me. He exudes such love and piety. I ask his prayers, I have felt very close to him recently through some hardship, and I know he is praying for me.

Father Bede taught that all religions have a common center, and at that center is the divine. To picture this concept, he took his hand, and would say that his fingers represent different religious traditions - Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist- and then he points to the middle of his palm and says that this represents the center.

Father Bede in the early fifties, after being a Benedictine monk in England for several years, went to India to "find the other half of [his] soul." He became a leading proponent of interfaith dialogue and interspirituality. Yet, his life was centered in Christ. He led a Christian Ashram, Shantivanam, in which the Christian and Benedictine life were lived authentically in the context of Hindu culture.

I am a committed Christian, and Jesus is my contact for God, and my rock. But I find much delight in Eastern Religion, especially Hinduism and Buddhism, and seek to enrich my Christian practice with insights and practices from these great faith traditions.

Two of his followers, Brother John Martin Sahajananda and Russill Paul, have both written excellent books about inter-spirituality.

I would love to go to India some day, to Shantivnam where Brother Martin is abbot.

Father Bede, pray for us!

Bede Griffiths Trust

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Honoring Christ's Presence in the Eucharist and the Poor

Christ is not only present in the Holy Supper, but also in the poor and oppressed…The Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and in the Poor are closely related. Ignatius of Antioch (+107) made the connection very clear in his Epistle to Smyrna. Christians are to care about real needs and suffering. Again, just as Christ himself teaches us that he is truly present in the bread and wine, he also teaches us that he is truly present in the poor, sick, naked, thirsty, hungry, imprisoned and oppressed…The pomp and ceremony which is traditionally associated with the High Mass is vain, unless we also have solidarity with the poor and oppressed. For only then are we truly worshiping the Body and Blood of Christ. - Lance 

And so our Redeemer's visible presence has passed into the sacraments. - Pope St. Leo the Great
Christianity is a Sacramental, Incarnational religion. God fills the whole creation, matter is sacred. God works through material means. We believe that God cares about creation, and reveals God's self through created matter. Jesus did not need to use mud, spittle and water to heal people, yet, the Gospels record that he did in fact do so- "A man that is called Jesus made clay, and anointed mine eyes, and said unto me, Go to the pool of Siloam, and wash: and I went and washed, and I received sight."- John 9.11, KJV (c.f., John 9.6-15).

We believe our God appeared in human form and took on a human body (Psalm 40.6,7; John 1.14; Hebrews 5.7-9). But it is not just a body that he wore as it were; God truly became a human being. Christian faith confesses that Jesus Christ is truly and fully human, and truly and fully divine. He gave his life for the life of the world.

And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.-Hebrews 10.10,14, RSV. 
In the Holy Eucharist, the consecrated bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem taught his catechumens this mystery in his Catechetical Lectures:

"1. Even of itself the teaching of the Blessed Paul is sufficient to give you a full assurance concerning those Divine Mysteries, of which having been deemed worthy, ye are become of the same body and blood with Christ. For you have just heard him say distinctly, That our Lord Jesus Christ in the night in which He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks He brake it, and gave to His disciples, saying, Take, eat, this is My Body: and having taken the cup and given thanks, lie said, Take, drink, this is My Blood. Since then He Himself declared and said of the Bread, This is My Body, who shall dare to doubt any longer? And since He has Himself affirmed and said, This is My Blood, who shall ever hesitate, saying, that it is not His blood?

2. He once in Cana of Galilee, turned the water into wine, akin to blood, and is it incredible that He should have turned wine into blood? When called to a bodily marriage, He miraculously wrought s that wonderful work; and on the children of the bride-chamber, shall He not much rather be acknowledged to have bestowed the fruition of His Body and Blood?

3. Wherefore with full assurance let us partake as of the Body and Blood of Christ: for in the figure of Bread is given to thee His Body, and in the figure of Wine His Blood; that thou by partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, mayest be made of the same body and the same blood with Him. For thus we come to bear Christ in us, because His Body and Blood are distributed through our members; thus it is that, according to the blessed Peter, we became partakers of the divine nature.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem: Catechetical Lectures - Lecture XXII on the Body and blood of Christ

St. Cyril clearly teaches that if Jesus can turn water into wine, he can surely transform bread and wine into his Body and Blood. It is by partaking the Sacred Mystery of the Eucharist that we are deified.

Today's epistle reading is from 1 Corinthians, and teaches the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist:

The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? - 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, KJV

Archbishop Michael Ramsey of Canterbury (+) said in his book, the Gospel and the Catholic Church, that it is "a special pleading" to try and deny that this passage teaches the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Supper. Christians from the very beginning have always believed in Christ's corporeal presence in the celebration of Holy Communion.

What's more, our Lord himself taught the doctrine of his Body and Blood, which we read in today's Gospel:

"I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh." The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever." - John 6:51-58, RSV

Some Christians object and say that he is not speaking of the Eucharist. They say that Jesus could not have been speaking about the Eucharist because it was not being celebrated yet. But this is a rationalist argument, which does not understand the type of literature the Gospel is written in. Early Christians would have understood this passage in John's Gospel, which does not include a narrative of the Last Supper, to refer to the Holy Eucharist.
This is made clear by the witness of St. Ignatius of Antioch, a bishop consecrated by Peter himself, and a disciple of John:

They (the Docetists) have no care for love, no thought for the widow and orphan, none at all for the afflicted, the captive, the hungry, or the thirsty. They even absent themselves from the Eucharist and public prayers, because they will not admit that the Eucharist is the self-same Body of our Saviour Jesus Christ which suffered for our sins... - Epistle to the Smyrnaeans 6-7. 

The witness of Ignatius and many other early Christian writers is that Eucharist is indeed the very Body and Blood of Christ.

But Ignatius teaches that Christ is not only present in the Holy Supper, but also in the poor and oppressed. The opponents that Ignatius is criticizing in the passage above not only deny the Presence of Christ in Holy Communion, but fail to care for those oppressed and poor.
The Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and in the Poor are closely related. Christianity, as Bishop Desmond Tutu says, is a materialistic religion. Christians are to care about real needs and suffering. Again, just as Christ himself teaches us that he is truly present in the bread and wine, he also teaches us that he is truly present in the poor, sick, naked, thirsty, hungry, imprisoned and oppressed (c.f., Matthew 25.31-46).

We cannot worship Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, but fail to recognize him in the oppressed:

"You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the Tabernacle, if you do not pity Jesus in the slums. It is folly - it is madness - to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacraments and Jesus on the throne of glory, when you are sweating him in the souls and bodies of his children." -Anglican Bishop Frank Weston

St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, also gives a power teaching this truth, connecting Christ in the Eucharist with Christ in the poor:

"You make golden vessels, but Christ himself is starving. You make golden chalices, but fail to offer cups of cold water to the needy. Christ, as a homeless stranger, is wandering around and begging, and instead of receiving Him you make decorations."

If you wish to honor the Eucharistic Victim, offer your own soul for which the Victim was immolated. Make your own soul all of gold. If your soul remains viler than lead or clay, what good does it do to have a golden chalice? Do you wish to honor the Body of Christ? Then do not disdain Him when you see Him in rags. After having honored Him in Church with silken vestments, do not leave Him to die of cold outside for lack of clothing. For it is the same Jesus Who says, “This is My Body” and Who says “I was hungry but you would not feed Me. Whenever you refused to help one of these least important ones, you refused to help me.” The Body of Christ in the Eucharist demands pure souls, not costly garments. But in the poor He demands all our care. Let us act wisely. Let us honor Christ as He Himself wishes to be honored; the most acceptable honor to one whom we would honor is the honor which He desired, not that which we ourselves imagine. Peter thought he was honoring his Master by not letting the Lord wash his feet; and yet it was just the opposite. Give Him the honor which He Himself has asked for, by giving your money to the poor. Once again what God wants is not so much golden chalices but golden souls.

- St. John Chrysostom

The pomp and ceremony which is traditionally associated with the High Mass is vain, unless we also have solidarity with the poor and oppressed. For only then are we truly worshiping the Body and Blood of Christ.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

“Ye Are Gods”: the Biblical Call to do Social Justice

God presides in the great assembly; he gives judgment among the gods: "How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked? Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed…" I say, ‘You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you.’" – Psalm 82.1-3, 6

In the Bible, we are called “gods” in Psalm 82. To do social justice is a god-like activity. To imitate God, we should strive for justice. Another Psalm tell us that when we pursue and work for justice, we are imitating the ways of our God:

The LORD works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel. – Psalm 103.6,7

Returning to Psalm 82, God reproaches humanity for a failure to observe social justice, the failure to “Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.” He calls them "gods," but says they will "die like men," because of their failure to do justice. 

Social Justice, far from being a partisan, political concern, is central to living the Way. It is a central theme in Holy Scripture. There is no separation between the Gospel and social justice; “There is no holiness but social holiness (John Wesley, Anglican Priest, and founder of the Methodists).” The Gospel IS a social gospel.

Some people think that religion is just about individual morality or piety, but this is not true. Isaiah the prophet rebuked the Israelites for relying on their religiosity in lieu of social justice:

Hear the word of the Lord,
You rulers of Sodom;
Give ear to the law of our God,
You people of Gomorrah:
11 “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?”
Says the Lord.
“I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
And the fat of fed cattle.
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
Or of lambs or goats.

12 “When you come to appear before Me,
Who has required this from your hand,
To trample My courts?
13 Bring no more futile sacrifices;
Incense is an abomination to Me.
The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies—
I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting.
14 Your New Moons and your appointed feasts
My soul hates;
They are a trouble to Me,
I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands,
I will hide My eyes from you;
Even though you make many prayers,
I will not hear.
Your hands are full of blood.
“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;
Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes.
Cease to do evil,
Learn to do good;
Seek justice,
Rebuke the oppressor;
Defend the fatherless,
Plead for the widow.”

 - Isaiah 1:10-17, NKJV.

Notice that the prophet indicts the rulers. The call for social justice has political implications, the gospel has political implications. God is not pleased with their sacrifices, he is not pleased with their liturgy or religiosity; God, rather, is seeking justice.

To become God-like, to be deified, is the same as to become sanctified. 2 Peter 1:4 says that we have become “partakers in the divine nature.” Those who will be god-like must seek justice. St. Basil says that the baptized person has received a command to become God. If we receive that command, we should seek to imitate God and work for social justice. When we do so, we know that the Holy Spirit is at work within us, sanctifying us, deifying us.

I leave you with a quote from Anglican writer C.S. Lewis:

"The command 'Be ye perfect' is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command...He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, dazzling, radiant, immortal creatures, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to Him perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less."