Teilhard de Chardin Quote of the Week (September 1, 2014): Religion and Spirituality


“I was having a comfortable glass of beer with a lieutenant who is a friend of mine, and observing with curiosity the Spanish mission who were loading one another with congratulations around their cups of tea. Our conversation gradually turned to the moral life; and then I saw that my companion was a fervent disciple of the ‘religion of the spirit’. His attitude is this: he believes in our Lord, he reads the gospels constantly, he offers up to God all his actions as so many prayers . . . but he wants no dogma, no ritual, no ‘organized religion’. He’s above all that . . . I tried, without much success, to show him how contradictory his attitude was . . . I pointed out to him that the dilemma is becoming more and more imperative: either integral Catholicism or agnostic liberalism. . .

[W]hile I was talking about ritual and practice and external institutions . . . I couldn’t help feeling the attraction of this apparently more spiritualized form of religion, of a religion that seems to be contained entirely in the heart and will. . . It was then that I remarked that I was behaving just like Isocrates, who killed the spirit of Athens by trying to separate it from its political basis. And I reminded myself, fitting to my case, of this truth . . . that the emancipating spirit of the Church is indissolubly bound up with its existence in an organized body, whatever may be the vulgar corruptions and inconveniences inherent in this incorporation, Vatican intrigues or repository trash. . .  And even if my friend wasn’t convinced, I at least felt more certain in my own mind”.

– Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Making of a Mind; Letters from a Soldier-Priest, 1914-1919 (p.143) (from letter to Marguerite Teilhard dated November 6, 1916)

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Sunday Reflection, 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 31, 2014): The Call to be a Prophet


“You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped; you were too strong for me, and you triumphed. All the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me.” — Jeremiah 20:7

This weekend is the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings can be found here.  The readings are tough in that they clearly show that following the will of God is not easy. The first reading has Jeremiah raging against God for God’s calling Jeremiah to be a prophet. This reading is profound on a number of levels, not the least of which is the comfort that it is OK to be angry with God. However, for us to be ultimately at peace, we must follow God’s plan for us, even if it is one we would not have independently chosen.

Today’s reflection comes from Dr. Robert P. Heaney of Creighton University’s Online Ministries Program. Dr. Heaney is one of my of favorite authors on that site, not only for his profound reflections but also because he is a living example of how scientific and faith work together for the betterment of humankind. Dr. Heaney is a Professor at Creighton’s internationally-known Osteoporosis Research Center.  Accordingly to his biography, Dr. Heaney also reads a lot of theology and his wisdom shows in his reflections.  You can read Dr. Heaney’s reflections on the Sunday readings here, but set forth below is an extended summary:

“Perhaps today should be called “Prophecy Sunday”. We start with Jeremiah. Prophecy was not a job he wanted. “You tricked me Lord” he tells God. And what did he get? Derision and reproach. Why? Well, the job of a prophet was not to serve as fortune teller (as perhaps we might think). It was to be God’s spokesperson, to tell people they are not doing what God wants, that they are not running the world the way God intended it to be run.

A prophet’s job didn’t stop with words though. A prophet was to show by his/her life how God wanted people to live and govern. A prophet had to “walk the walk”.  And a prophet was to witness God’s vision for humanity to those in charge – at obvious risk to the prophet’s physical health. Nobody likes to hear that his priorities are wrong, especially those who are in a position of power.

Jesus was a prophet (He was more than that, of course, but prophet was the role He played as God incarnate). He anticipates His fate as a prophet in today’s gospel (“suffer greatly from the rulers”), and He straightens Peter out, Peter who, like Jeremiah, would rather that their prophetic message would be received with joy and gratefulness. Dreamer!

* * *

As a society we may be a little more humane than the rulers in Jesus’ time. (After all, we don’t line the roads with crucified rebels as the Romans did.)  But power is still abused massively. Worth is still defined by wealth. Today in the U.S., people are driven into poverty and homelessness, despite working full-time. Even our clothing and foods are the products of little more than slave labor. What are we to do? We feel helpless. Just look the other way? Don’t make waves?

No, we are called to take seriously the missionary charge at the end of Mass “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your lives.” That’s the missioning of a prophet. “By our lives” means more than virtue and piety, observing the rules and receiving the sacraments – though those are good traits to have. (But remember: the Pharisees did that much.)  When Jesus didn’t know what to do next, He spent the night in prayer, asking His father to show Him what He should do next.  That’s a good place for us to start, too.

One thing we should recognize: not “conforming to this age” will put us out on the margins – where we could encounter “derision and reproach”. However, as Pope Francis has assured us, that is precisely where the Church needs to be. And the Church, as always, is us.”

Read Full Reflection

Other Resources:

Living Space Reflection
James Predmore Reflection
Robert Barron Podcast

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William Ockham:

Reblogging due to its beautiful reflection on the evolutionary migration of humanity.

Originally posted on Embracing Forever:

I was in Washington, D.C. this past weekend with my wife and her eight year old grandson, and we went to an IMAX film to see the story of Fred and Norah Urquhart, who spent much of their lives in a quest to understand the migratory path of monarch butterflies.  After several weeks of an extremely busy schedule at work and an annoying skin infection that has been insistent on delivering its message– a time in which even meditation has felt like squinting at my heart through wax paper, or running up an incline against the jet stream– the beauty and audacity of these little creatures (and the people who tracked their movements over decades) brought me to tears.

Sometimes you hang on for the ride, and take deep draughts of meaning when you can.  You hunt and hunt, and then somehow synchronize with it in a quiet moment.  …

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Feast of St. Augustine of Hippo (August 28)

St. Augustine of Hippo

St. Augustine of Hippo

“Our hearts are restless, O God, until they rest in You.” — St. Augustine of Hippo

Repost from Last Year:

St. Augustine of Hippo was an early Christian theologian whose writings are considered very influential in the development of Western Christianity and Western philosophy. He was bishop of Hippo Regius (present-day Annaba, Algeria) located in the Roman province of Africa. Writing during the Patristic Era, he is viewed as one of the most important Church Fathers. Among his most important works are City of God and Confessions, which continue to be read widely today. Augustine wrote in troubled times during the end of the western Roman Empire.

Confessions was particularly helpful to me as Augustine detailed his early life of rejecting the Christianity of his mother in favor of the trendy philosophies of his day and the pursuit of worldly success. God kept patiently knocking on Augustine’s door and when he finally opened it he became consumed by the fire of love of God.  For someone looking for a great movie on St. Augustine, I recommend Restless Heart.

Augustine  was born on 13 November 354 in Tagaste (present-day Souk Ahras, Algeria), then a Roman city in North Africa. His mother, St. Monica, was a Berber and a devout Christian and his father, Patricius, a pagan. He was brought up as a Christian but not baptized. He studied rhetoric at the university in Carthage with the intention of becoming a lawyer. However, he gave up this idea and instead went into teaching and study. His study of philosophy, mostly of Plato, and later of Manichaeism over a period of nine years resulted in his effectively abandoning the Christian faith of his mother. Over a period of 15 years he lived with a mistress by whom he had a son, named Adeodatus (meaning, ‘a gift of God’). He left Africa and moved to Rome to teach rhetoric and later to Milan where he got a very prestigious professorship. It was at this point that he began to become disillusioned with Manichaeism and became interested in Neo-Platonism. He also came under the influence of Ambrose, the bishop of Milan. In the year 386, he was greatly inspired by reading the life of St Anthony, a desert Father. There is also the famous story of his hearing the voice of an unseen child, while sitting in his garden in Milan. The voice kept chanting, ‘Tolle, lege’ (‘Take and read’). He opened his Bible at random and the text he found happened to be from Paul’s Letter to the Romans: “Let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the desires of the flesh” (13:13-14).

Augustine decided to give up his promising career, give up the idea of marriage, and
become a Christian and a celibate priest. After a long interior conflict, which he graphically describes in his Confessions, Augustine was finally converted. Together with his son, Adeodatus, he was baptized by Ambrose at the Easter Vigil of 387 in Milan.

In 388, he returned to Africa, sold off his inheritance and gave it to the poor. He then set up a kind of monastery in his house. In 391 he was ordained a priest and, four years later, became coadjutor-bishop of Hippo. From 396, he was the sole bishop in the diocese. He left his monastery but continued to lead a monastic life in his bishop’s residence. He left a rule of life which was later adopted by what is known today as the Order of St Augustine (OSA). Augustine’s intellectual brilliance, broad education, passionate temperament, and deep mystical insight resulted in a personality of very special, if not unique, quality. His interpretation of Christian revelation revealed in his many writings probably has had more influence on Christian thinking than anyone since St Paul. Among his most famous works are his Confessions, Sermons on the Gospel and Letters of John, a treatise on the Trinity and, at the end of his life, his De Civitate Dei (The City of God). This last work deals with the opposition between Christianity and the ‘world’, occasioned by the invasions of the north European tribes and the collapse of the Roman Empire. It is regarded as the first Christian philosophy of history. Many other works were responses to controversies with Manichaeans, Pelagians, or Donatists and led to the development of his thought on the Church, the Sacraments, and Grace. Few, if any, Christian writers have written with such depth on love (caritas) and on the Trinity. Many of Augustine’s themes in City of God are very relevant today.

While Augustine’s great influence on Christian thought has been mainly positive, his teaching on Predestination has come in for criticism. Perhaps due to his Manichean background which he never fully shook off and guilt about his own immoral past, he became almost obsessive about sin and evil. He would condemn unbaptized children and others to eternal damnation. He has also been criticized for his teaching on sex and marriage. Even sex within marriage was seen as a necessary evil and never completely without sin. At the same time he did emphasize, against the Manichaeans, the threefold good of marriage – family, sacrament and fidelity. Later Christian tradition also set aside his view that Original Sin is transmitted through sexual intercourse or that intercourse is tolerated only with the intention of having a child. The Second Vatican Council made it clear that, in a marriage, sexual intercourse is an important expression of love and union.

As a bishop, Augustine lived with his clergy a community life and was actively engaged in church administration, the care of the poor, preaching and writing and even acting as judge in civil as well as ecclesiastical cases. As bishop, he was an upholder of order in a time of political strife caused by the disintegration of the Roman Empire.

He died at Hippo on 28 August 430. At the time of his death, the Vandals were at the gates of Hippo. The cult of Augustine began very soon after his death and was widespread. His relics were first taken to Sardinia. Later Liutprand, king of the Lombards, enshrined his body at Pavia. He is usually depicted in episcopal vestments with pastoral staff but later artists also showed him with the emblem of a heart of fire.


Living Space
Catholic Encyclopedia

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Teilhard de Chardin Quote of the Week (August 25, 2014): At the Heart of Matter

cosmic sunset

“Talking with you has revived and given a new start to many ideas and impressions in my mind. As the best way of depicting the beauty of our Lord at the heart of things — as I see him in my mind’s eye — I thought of something that pleased me greatly.  It would consist of three stories in the style of Benson (The Light Invisible), three sorts of vision (The Picture, The Monstrance, The Pyx) in which Christ would appear gloried by everything that is blessed in reality and infinitely attainable and active in each creature . . . Don’t you think, too, that it would be a good idea, as a way of filling out my (our) ideas, to give a picture of the saints we were speaking of, those through whom, most particularly, there shone a sanctified, deep-seated passion for all that made up the life of their own times (St. Francis of Assisi, St. Angela of Foligno, St. Catherine of Sienna, etc.) — not, of course, complete biographies, but biographies from a particular point of view: ‘Holiness nourished by an intense communication with the earth.’ My ideas are still vague, but you’ll be able to help me to get them into shape and document them. What one would have to write would be a sort of history of the ‘Christian cosmic feeling . . . I think it could be quite easily done, and fascinating.”

– Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Making of a Mind; Letters from a Soldier-Priest, 1914-1919 (p.130) (from letter to Marguerite Teilhard dated October 9, 1916)

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Sunday Reflection, 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 24, 2014): Leadership Through Service


"Upon this rock I will build my church"

“Upon this rock I will build my church”

For who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor? Or who has given the Lord anything that he may be repaid? For from him and through him and for him are all things.  To him be glory forever. — Rom 11:34-36

This Sunday is the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings can be found here.  The Gospel includes the famous scene where Jesus appoints Peter as leader of the early Church.  What Peter and the early disciples did not fully appreciate at the time is that, unlike leadership of political or economic institutions, Christian leadership means a deep love of God and service to neighbors, especially the outcasts.  We have been blessed by our recent Popes who have not only understood that but attempt to live it out in practice.

This week’s reflection comes from Living Space.  You can find the full reflection here, but set forth below is an extended summary:

IN TODAY’S GOSPEL WE RECALL a high point in Jesus’ relationship with his disciples. It represents a quantum leap in their understanding of who he really is. It took them quite a while to come to this point. And even here, as subsequent events in the rest of the Gospel clearly indicate, they still did not fully understand the implications of what they had just begun to realise. We will see a clear indication of this in next Sunday’s Gospel reading.

In a way, of course, today’s passage really is an expression of the faith of the early Church rather than just that of the disciples at the time of the event described. Mark, in particular, likes to emphasise the poor understanding of the disciples with regard to the identity and teaching of Jesus. The first person in his Gospel to recognise Jesus fully was a pagan soldier at the foot of the Cross (Mark 15:39). At that moment, Jesus’ disciples, his chosen followers, were nowhere to be seen.

* * *

Nevertheless, aware of their limited grasp of what they are saying, Jesus praises Peter. “Simon, son of Jonah, you are a happy man! Because it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven.” Only faith could have led Peter to say what he did. It needed faith to recognise the Saviour-King in the dusty human figure standing before him, so different surely from the images that most Jews would have had of their long-expected, all-conquering and nation-liberating leader. Only with God’s enlightenment could they see God’s presence in this carpenter from Galilee, their friend and teacher. Peter must have glowed with pride and this will partly explain his bitter disappointment and shock in the passage immediately following (cf. next Sunday’s readings).

Despite this moment of insight, Peter and the rest have a long way to go in fully knowing Jesus.  We might say at this point that we are in exactly the same position. Perhaps for a long time we have recognised in Jesus the Son of God and our Lord but we, too, have a long way to go in fully understanding and in accepting the full implications of being his followers.

* * *

The leadership of Peter and his successors is not one of coercion and political power but of example and service. As long as faith, hope, and love are strong in the community, it will survive and flourish. It is not just a matter of unquestioning obedience to the decrees of an institution, issued from some far-off headquarters.

Today we see in the pope the successor of Peter. He shares the same charism or gift of leadership, a leadership of service. Traditionally the popes have called themselves Servus servorum Dei, the ‘servant of the servants of God’. The pope is not a dictator with absolute powers, as he is sometimes depicted. He is limited by the faith of the whole Church. He is not the originator of that faith; he does not decide what we should believe. Rather, he communicates to the Church at large what it already believes.  He is the focal point of unity of that one faith, the unity in the Spirit. The pope is the servant of that one community united in one faith.

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Slate Book Review: Know Nothing, the True Story of Atheism

An examined faith leads to a deeper faith

What would Plato and Aristotle say about the “New Atheists”?

This blog has been fairly quiet lately, mostly because of work and family commitments (as well as discernment about whether I am ready to commit to an eight month retreat in Daily Life, but that is another story). However, I came across this excellent book review by Michael Robbins in Slate (courtesy of The Outward Quest Blog) and had to share it.  I have not read the book but based on the review I intend to.  Here is an excerpt from the review:

Atheists: The Origin of the Species seems to have been born out of frustration with these and other confusions perpetuated by the so-called “New Atheists” and their allies, who can’t be bothered to familiarize themselves with the traditions they traduce. Several thoughtful writers have already laid bare the slapdash know-nothingism of today’s mod-ish atheism, but Spencer’s not beating a dead horse—he’s beating a live one, in the hope that Nietzsche might rush to embrace it. Several critics have noted that if evangelical atheists (as the philosopher John Gray calls them) are ignorant of religion, as they usually are, then they aren’t truly atheists. “The knowledge of contraries is one and the same,” as Aristotle said. If your idea of God is not one that most theistic traditions would recognize, you’re not talking about God (at most, the New Atheists’ arguments are relevant to the low-hanging god of fundamentalism and deism). But even more damning is that such atheists appear ignorant of atheism as well.

For atheists weren’t always as intellectually lazy as Dawkins and his ilk. (Nor, to be sure, are many atheists today—Coyne accused me of “atheist-bashing” the last time I wrote about religion for Slate, but I really only bashed evangelical atheists like him. My father and sister, most of my friends, and many of the writers I most admire are nonbelievers. They’re also unlikely to mistake the creation myth recounted above for anything more than the dreariest parascientific thinking.)

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