As the New Year begins, my prayers are with you, Pope Francis.
Above all, I pray for peace this year.
Peace within ourselves.
Christmas is a great time of year to celebrate the simple joy of life.
Let our prayers be with Pope Francis. May we embrace his prayers for peace in the Middle East and around the world.
In the wake of yet another mass shooting in the US – this time in San Bernardino, California – people are questioning their faith in each other and in God. “God Isn’t Fixing This” was the headline in the NY Daily News coverage, shaming prayer givers in the aftermath of tragedy. The knee jerk response is already unfolding in a twitter storm of #prayershaming and an outpouring of even more cynical attacks from left and right. Meanwhile, the victims are being forgotten and real point is being missed.
Prayer may not be the answer to all our problems, but it *is* a good starting point. It does (or should) provide a moment of focus and introspection. Prayer helps us define and vocalize our personal relationship to God, family and community. Prayer is not simply a placebo to make us feel good about ourselves. Nor is it an alternative to action, but it can be an important call to action.
In short, this is not God’s problem to fix, it’s our problem to fix. We should start by recognizing that we are all God’s children. The interfaith appeal by the muslim community in southern California is an important effort and it should be embraced and supported. Regardless of the outcome of the San Bernardino investigations, it would be wrong to indict any religious faith for the acts of individuals. Instead we should call on all communities of faith to condemn violence and use the power of prayer to unite us behind a common cause of peace and reconciliation.
It is also wrong for politicians to suggest that a single bandaid like solution such as gun control, enhanced surveillance or better mental health care is the answer to all our problems. Indeed, a combination of these and other measures is probably necessary and the greedy scoring of political points is not the best way of getting things done. We should have learned that by now.
What can and should be done immediately, is to tone down the rhetoric of blame and hatred, which only serves to divide us at a time when unity of purpose is necessary. Extremism begets extremism. Whether it is directed toward Planned Parenthood, people of color, the LGBT community or everyday Americans just going about their peaceful pursuit of liberty, vitriol sparks violence and violence inspired by hate is tantamount to terrorism.
Yes, God can fix this, but it’s really our problem to fix. We have the God given intellect and will to overcome our differences and do great things if we don’t give in to the politics of hate and division. It’s high time that we start using God’s gift as he intended for us to use it. I pray that we start fixing this now.
The only holy war that can surely be won is the one with ourselves – the fight against our own sins and evils that threaten to cut us off from God’s grace. While it is not wrong to fight a battle in defense of life, liberty and justice, it is another thing to wage war against even your most hardened enemies without regard for their own rights and aspirations.
It is deeply saddening to wake each morning to headlines about death and destruction throughout the Middle East. Israel has every right to defend itself against those who seek its destruction. There is no excuse for the refusal of groups like the Hamas to even accept Israel’s right to exist and for the barrage of rockets into the Jewish state that has been going on for years – even before the recent escalation.
At the same time, the killing of thousands of innocent Palestinian civilians is a terrible tragedy that must end. It must not be downplayed as simply a casualty of war, when hospitals and schools and mosques are destroyed and innocent lives lost in order to root out the evils that may be hiding among them. The cost to humanity is immense and it actually undermines the hope for sustainable peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Violence and extremism goes against the core of religious principles, whether Jewish, Islamic or Christian, which call for prudence, temperance and justice as among the key virtues. And while the courage to stand and fight for these principles is equally important when life itself is at risk, our actions must always be thoughtful, measured and just.
When King David fought wars for the rights of his people, he was reminded by the Lord that we are all accountable for our actions:
“You have shed much blood and have fought many wars. You are not to build a house for my Name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in my sight.”
Just before the beginning of the ongoing war in Gaza, Pope Francis tweeted: “With God, nothing is lost; but without him, everything is lost.” We should all be reminded that only our personal battle to find God is worth fighting (with ourselves) and keeping His virtues in our hearts the only measure of success. We must demand that our neighbors accept us for who we are, but everything is indeed lost if we unleash frustration and anger by waging war on our brothers and lose our moral foundation in the process. It’s time to stop that senseless battle.
Each Spring Fathers’ Day and Mothers’ Day come and go with tradition and ritual, but little thought toward their deeper meaning. Reading the many personal tributes on twitter and Facebook this fathers’ day weekend reminds me of the virtues of my own father and of the Proverb (15:20):
A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish man despises his mother.
To all religions, from Christianity to Islam, fathers and mothers alike are entrusted to be good guardians and shepherds of their flock and children are taught to respect the teachings of their parents. Even those who feel disappointed or misled by their parents can honor their father and mother by giving thanks to the life they were given. Considering the good virtues passed on by the family as a whole, including by grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles, wives and partners, we can be thankful that all of these people have shaped who we are.
A few hours ago Pope Francis tweeted this prayer: “May the Lord bless the family and strengthen it in this moment of crisis.” While there are those who will narrowly interpret this as an appeal to uphold “traditional family values” with regard to marriage, sexuality and the respective roles of men and women, it is important to remember that these roles have been the subjects of controversy and evolving interpretations throughout time and across religions. I prefer a more universal understanding of the Pope’s blessings today.
The crisis of which the Pope speaks is manifold and the evildoers are for the most part *men* who show nothing but disregard for their roles and responsibilities as good shepherds within the family, let alone as leaders within their community. By appealing to the strengthening of the family, the Pope is not only suggesting the new roles we must play in honoring our God given responsibilities as parents and children, he is importantly reminding us that we can only solve our crises TOGETHER as a family unit and in a broader sense in the community as a whole, not by the tired habit of divide and conquer.
It is time for us to open our minds to this broader context. Just as the Enlightenment changed the way Western predominantly Judeo-Christian societies have thought about the world, so too has Islam instructed that “seeking knowledge is mandatory for every believer.” Everything that we have learned over the years is that all men and women are created equal (although women are clearly a more level-headed and moderating force in society), that peace comes about through dialogue and understanding, not war, and that the sustainability of our entire world depends upon a mutual commitment and respect to the environment and resources which we all share on God’s green earth.
Given the efforts to which Pope Francis has encouraged a more forward looking, tolerant and inclusive world view, I firmly believe that this is the wise and joyful approach to honor the legacy of my father.
But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.
– Joshua 24:15
A couple of days ago Pope Francis tweeted…
Christmas celebrations are often full of sound. It would be good for us to make room for silence, to hear the voice of Love.
What a great message for Christmas morning as well – a good day to rise early for quiet and peaceful reflection. Soon enough the world will awake to the sounds of wrapping paper and ringtones. And for those of us lucky enough to enjoy a holiday feast, the kitchen will then chime in with the clangor of pots and pans.
So before the world wakes up, I am thinking of family and friends and give thanks to all the quiet blessings of life this Christmas day.
At this point I have to admit that I am not catholic, and I am by no measure a biblical scholar. The motivation for this blog stems from a firm belief that no one should walk alone. Pope Francis’ plea for our prayers appealed to me as a person of faith regardless of my religious orientation.
Belief in God or a greater good provides many people a sense of purpose and hope in the face of the otherwise mundane worries and iniquities of everyday live. With religiously motivated tensions on the rise around the world, spirituality is increasingly seen in a negative light. As Samuel Huntington criticized in his well-known book, “The Clash of Civilizations,” religious fervor and the zeal of Christian and Islamic missionaries pursuing their singular viewpoints threaten to unleash political upheaval, social unrest and violence — hardly an uplifting thought for the spiritually minded. Unfortunately, religious leaders have done little to mitigate these developments in the recent past.
Pope Francis seems to depart from the dogmatic views of his predecessor. Instead, the new pope’s messaging carries a moderate and conciliatory tone. His speech and prayers to the Egyptian people are case in point. In unmistakeable language, the Pope condemns violence as un-christian:
“The word of the Gospel does not authorize the use of force to spread the faith. It is just the opposite: the true strength of the Christian is the power of truth and love, which leads to the renunciation of all violence. Faith and violence are incompatible.”
These are welcome words when we are too often bombarded with images of burning mosques and churches, when the burning of religious symbols and inciting violence toward each other is condoned by some as acceptable or even expected behavior.
I pray that the message of Pope Francis is heard far and wide and that more religious leaders of different creeds speak and act responsibly to promote peaceful co-existence. Only then can we truly have faith that a purposeful and hopeful life will endure.