Saturday, September 8, 2007


Quote of the Day: President George W. Bush
(RNS) “I've got God's shoulder to cry on. And I cry a lot. I do a lot of crying in this job. I'll bet I've shed more tears than you can count, as president. I'll shed some tomorrow.”
-- President George W. Bush, in an interview with journalist Robert Draper for his new book, “Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush.” Bush's comments were quoted by the Associated Press

Many of us are crying with you, President Bush, and we have been since this war began. The photograph yesterday used to advertise the HBO Special with James Gandolphini, ALIVE DAY MEMORIES, was heartbreaking. A soldier dressed in all of his medals, without any legs. Just some high tech prostheses, left in full view for millions to see...and ponder. The toll this war has taken on our troops and our nation is great. Any no matter what your politics, there is no arguing with that. Maybe God is crying, too.
A Note: I'll be traveling over the next few weeks, so entries may be spotty depending on time and availability. I'll do my best to keep up. Blessings+

Thursday, September 6, 2007


I'm a bit late int0 THE SECRET bashing, but it's hard to do when you're an author, especially one who has a new book coming out next month. Any negative comments heaped on a runaway bestseller have the potential of being viewed as sour grapes. But not this time, because I really do think that THE SECRET is a waste of time. Even the format and layout of the book seems cheesy to me. We've known the benefits of postive thinking for a long time. Yes, we all know that thinking positively sometimes produces positive results. It's not rocket science. Yet, to say that the UNIVERSE is in alignment to produce only good and positive for you if you place yourself only within this postive energy--and negative if you don't--is hogwash. It simply doesn't explain the age old dilemma of bad things sometimes happening to good people. We don't always cause our misfortune. And most times it has nothing to do with positive or negative thinking. It's the human condition. It's the way the world is. We will suffer. We Christians believe it's a mysterious participation in the Paschal Mystery of Christ, who assures us we are not along in our struggle. That may seem scant assurance when one is in the midst of turmoil and loss. However, we simply will not get all of the answers in this lifetime. When Job questions God about his undeserved suffering and demands answers, he doesn't get any. Bascially, God's response from the Whirlwind is, "Because I'm God, and you're not." End of story. Mystery, yes. Satisfying? Not always. Do we have a choice? I don't think so. That's not to rain on positive thinking and on celebrating all that is good and holy about this marvelous gift of life. But when we don't get everything we have hoped for--or thought positively about-- let's not beat ourselves up by saying, "Oh, I guess I just wasn't positive enough." Sometimes that's just the way life is.

The following article says it well, I think:
'The Secret' and the prosperity gospel teach that what you think is what you get. But that message is unhelpful and untrue.
By Patton Dodd

Long before "The Secret" had readers talking about how we attract good or bad things to ourselves according to how we think, I was a young convert to Christianity who believed that the message of Jesus was, well, that we attract good or bad things to ourselves according to how we think. It was 1994, I was a new Christian, I was tender of heart, and I was impressionable. At the Pentecostal university I attended, not everyone embraced what is known as "the prosperity gospel," but somehow I was drawn to people for whom prosperity teaching—the idea that God wants us healthy and wealthy—was part and parcel of the life of faith. So, I carefully considered the counsel of a fellow student who told me that if I had faith, I'd never have another cold. I prayed alongside a fellow student who "claimed in faith" that God would provide him with a new Toyota 4x4. Passages like Mark 11:23-24, where Jesus says that anyone who has enough faith can cause a mountain to leap into the sea, began to haunt me as standard-bearers for whether I had faith at all. And then I lost my faith. I'll not blame prosperity teaching alone for my years of pained spiritual searching. But it was a lie that was hard to shake. To this day, when I have a bad day or a great need, somewhere in my mind is a voice accusing me of not having enough faith. That is the legacy of the prosperity gospel. It's a perversion of Christianity that encourages empty optimism and false faith. I hope it fizzles out before the end of my lifetime, but indications are that it will only grow. The prosperity gospel goes by various names (Word-Faith, and more) and many forms, from Joel Osteen's squishy "Just smile and receive happiness" approach to Creflo Dollar's direct name-it-and-claim-it approach to Bishop Bernard Jordan's "laws of thinking" approach. No matter its guise—and some practitioners, like Osteen, don't admit to being practitioners—Christian prosperity teaching emphasizes one or more of these doctrines: - God wants to bless you with health and wealth; - Health and wealth are a sign of God's favor; - Having the right thoughts and professing the right beliefs are the keys to receiving God's blessings. In other words, you gotta believe it to receive it. And in still other words, the opposite is true: if you confess the wrong beliefs or think the wrong thoughts, you can expect to get the wrong stuff. What you think and say is what you get. As Kenneth Hagin, the father of the Word-Faith movement, put it: "Say it, do it, receive it, tell it." As Rhonda Byrne, author of "The Secret," puts it: "Ask. Believe. Receive." Rhonda Byrne is not a Christian prosperity preacher. But her message is a close cousin of the beliefs of millions of Christians who are influenced by prosperity teaching. Note Ed Gungor, who says that the main problem with "The Secret" is that it doesn't tell people about Jesus. Note Bishop Bernard Jordan, who tells us he affirms Byrne's, and whose book "The Laws of Thinking" is basically a longer, clunkier, Christian-y version of "The Secret." Most of all, note the biggest movement happening in global Christianity: the rise of prosperity-oriented Pentecostalism in the southern Hemisphere, where, to be sure, the message that life can be better is a godsend for the impoverished. The current Christianity Today cover story observes this rise, showing how Christianity in Africa has been greatly influenced by the American prosperity gospel and reporting the results of a 2006 Pew Forum survey, where 80-96% of Africans surveyed (in three different African countries) said they believe God grants material wealth to people who have enough faith. "The Secret" and its Christian cousins are not flash-in-the-pan cultural trends. In some quarters, the Power of Positive Thinking has all the authority of doctrine. "Be optimistic" is the new gospel, and God's core message to humankind is: Chin up!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Mother Teresa, Dark Night of the Soul, and Depression

This week the new book about (and by) Mother Teresa is released by Doubleday. There has been a lot of press about the book, including the cover story of TIME magazine. Mother Teresa is in the news again because it has been revealed by her letters that she had doubts. I'm not sure why this is such big news. Did we think she didn't have doubts? Don't all saints? Don't all people? Perhaps, but most were struck by the extent of her doubts and how long they lasted. It was not too much of a surprise for me because the founder of my religious community (The Passionists), Saint Paul of the Cross, had 50 years of desolation and darkness when he felt as though God was far from him. His "Dark Night" was oppressive and, perhaps, "depressive"?
In the following article Therese Borchard finds hope and solace in Mother Teresa because the saint's doubts and darkness have helped Therese deal with hers, which are rooted in her struggle with depression. She comes to see that sometimes it is in the darkness that one finds the light.

Mother Teresa: My Saint of Darkness and Hope
"If I ever become a saint—I will surely be one of 'darkness,'" Mother Teresa wrote in September of 1959. "I will continually be absent from heaven—to light the light of those in darkness on earth."
Two years earlier she wrote this to Archbishop Perier of Calcutta:
There is so much contradiction in my soul.—Such deep longing for God—so deep that it is painful—a suffering continual—and yet not wanted by God—repulsed—empty—no faith—no love—no zeal.—Souls hold no attraction—Heaven means nothing—to me it looks like an empty place—the thought of it means nothing to me and yet this torturing longing for God.—Pray for me please that I keep smiling at Him in spite of everything. For I am only His—so He has ever right over me. I am perfectly happy to be nobody even to God. . . . .
As a person who battles despairing, intrusive thoughts during many of her alert (caffeinated and non-caffeinated) hours, I found great consolation in the personal writings of Mother Teresa included in a compilation entitled "Come Be My Light," edited by Brian Kolodiejchuk, M.C. And I wept many times throughout the book, mostly at her graciousness toward God in her suffering. "I want to smile even at Jesus and so hide if possible the pain and the darkness of my soul even from Him," she wrote.
I spent a week with Mother Teresa and her Sisters the winter of 1994. I stood beside her for about two hours as we distributed Christmas gifts to orphaned children. I sensed a sadness in her. But her light overshadowed it. Unlike a person wrapped in severe depression, wearing the expression of despair, she exuded light and hope. When she prayed, her deep love for God was visible, even contagious.
This saint of darkness has much to teach me about how to live with inner anguish.
First of all, I should stop referring to my depression and anxiety as the "Black Hole," (singular and capitalized), and call it, as Mother Teresa described her difficult places, the "dark holes." Because the darkness is never black, or without any light at all. Her legacy is proof that hope and faith and love prevail, even in the dark night.
And depression isn’t one place of despair with capital letters. It changes every minute we breathe, especially as we enter into deeper communion with God, even if we don’t feel that communion. It’s plural because we always get to try again, the same reason my son David’s pencils don’t have erasers. His kindergarten teacher doesn't believe in mistakes, just "happy accidents."
And, most importantly, all of our suffering can be used for the good. I’m not sure how Mother Teresa was able to regard her times of spiritual agony as the meeting place for she and God, or how she appreciated her pain in order to bring souls to God. Because when I’m in that place I can’t stop cussing him out.
I remember my own conversation with God one afternoon over a year ago. I had just flunked out of a six-week outpatient program for depression ("You are in no way ready to be discharged, but your insurance won’t cover you anymore, so goodbye"), having tried 21 different medications, plus every alternative method imaginable (acupuncture, magnets, Chinese herbs, fish oil, vitamins, craniosacral therapy, yoga), counseling, cognitive-behavioral worksheets, gratitude journals, prayer and meditation, and daily six-mile runs. The conversation, which happened while I was swmming laps, went like this:
Okay, God. I’m finally starting to accept the fact that I will live the rest of my life wanting to die. And I’ve already promised you that I won’t take my life. Since enjoyment of life is pretty much ruled out, I’m going to just devote all my time to your cause. In exchange, I’d like you to take me earlier rather than later. Deal? I was crying so hard that my goggles filled up with tears every two laps (it was better than chlorine, but still). I didn't appreciate anything about it. Even though I was wearing clear goggles in a fluorescent-lit room (equivalent to at least 15 mammoth HappyLites--the kind sitting on my desk), it was my dark night, and I'm glad Archbishop Perier wasn't around to talk to.
Because, when Mother Teresa told him about her darkness, this is what he wrote:
With regard to the feeling of loneliness, of abandonment, of not being wanted, of darkness of the soul, it is a state well known by spiritual writers and directors of conscience. This is willed by God in order to attach us to Him alone, an antidote to our external activities, and also, like temptation, a way of keeping us humble in the midst of applauses, publicity, praises, appreciation, etc. and success. To feel that we are nothing, that we can do nothing is the realization of a fact. We know it, we say it, some feel it. That is why stick to God and like the little Bernadette at the end of her last retreat wrote: God alone, God everywhere, God in everybody and in everything, God always. According to St. John of the Cross, the Carmelite mystic who composed the poem, "The Dark Night," the deepening of love is the real purpose of the dark night of the soul. The dark night helps us to love more deeply.
And Meister Eckhart once wrote, "Truly, it is in the darkness that one finds the light, so when we are in sorrow, then this light is nearest of all to us." How appropriate, then, that Mother Teresa’s writings be entitled "Come Be My Light." This saint of darkness is my light.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

New Jewish Prayer Book

It is reported in today's New York Times that the nation's largest Jewish movement, Reform Judaism is "preparing to adopt a new prayer book that was intended to offer something for everyone- traditionalists, progressives and everyone else--even those who do not believe in God." It is the first new prayer book in 32 years, offering 4 versions of each prayer, in Hebrew and in English. Not surprisingly, the more traditional prayers are on the right side of the books, and alternative versions are on the left. Interesting idea. The prayer book is expected to be released in about one month. I wonder if this would work for Catholics? I don't think so. Then there would be arguments everywhere about which prayers to use in which parish. Some would sit on the left side of the church, some on the right. Not a good thing. It might, however, be an improvement to reverting to the Latin Mass. Yes, I know it's only for those who want it, but it says something about the general direction in which we are heading. I just wonder who is going to be saying these Latin Masses? And how many are actually going to go to them? We shall see.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Labor Day

It doesn't get much better than Labor Day weekend in New York City with this weather. In my homily yesterday I said that Labor Day is kind of a strange holiday when we celebrate work by taking off from WORK. Shouldn't we actually be working OVERTIME to celebrate work? Honestly, most of us don't want to so much celebrate work, as be done with it. But that may be one of the problems. Many people are dissatisfied with what they do for a living. The ideal that our jobs are fulfilling and help us to create and make a positive contribution is just that- an ideal. I'm lucky that my vocation is interwoven with my "job" and I get to have real fulfillment in what I do as a priest. Many simply don't have that. I feel badly for people who have to drag themselves to work everyday because they really don't want to be there. A long time ago I heard a call to leave Wall Street and that "prosperous" track behind. And I've never looked back. I'm so happy I had the ears to hear that voice beckoning me into another way of living and viewing the world. I can't imagine what my life would have been had I taken a different turn. And I'm still so excited for all that lies ahead. So, workers of the world unite! And here's hoping that more of us can actually celebrate our LABORS and find true fulfillment in what we do. Enjoy being OFF from WORK today! Blessings+

Sunday, September 2, 2007

SOUL PROVIDER: Spiritual Steps to Limitless Love

"Father Edward L. Beck's Soul Provider explains the steps of a classic spiritual guidebook in a way that is apt for the modern world and attractive and useful to readers interested in making their lives meaningful. Anyone can apply these instructions about what to give up and what to adopt, whatever their own personal faith, or, indeed, even if they have none. Here is clear evidence of the role religion can play in promoting basic human good qualities such as love, compassion, tolerance, and forgiveness in the world today."
-His Holiness the DALAI LAMA

“Edward Beck is a profound, loving, and fierce force for good in this world.”
-Anne Lamott, New York Times bestseller author

“Beck, a Catholic priest, has an extraordinary gift for diving into the Christian spiritual tradition and emerging with profound perspectives and wisdom that speak directly to the heart…A gifted writer and storyteller, Beck delivers straightforward, honest and at times poignant prose...and many people will benefit.”
-PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, starred review