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Sunday, March 1, 2015

Breast Feeding Jesus

My rosary meditations may sometimes lead  me down strange paths.  My meditations one the nativity has led me deeper into the relationship between Jesus and Mary.  In Rosary meditations my practice, as that of many others is to imaginatively model the behavior and thoughts of a character in the rosary mystery.  For those who don't know, the prayers of the rosary are organized into decades of ten Hail Mary's and an Our Father, each with a "mystery" of biblical origin, such as the "Nativity of Jesus" to meditate on while praying.  For me, meditating on the nativity leads naturally to the closeness of Mary and Jesus.

There is no closer moment between a mother and child than the moment of breast feeding  Since the Virgin became the subject of painting, the depiction of Mary nursing Jesus has been the way to show there intimacy and union.

In the Gospel of Luke the good doctor records that Mary remembered and contemplated all the moment of the nativity and infancy of Jesus. As a mother may become as one with the child while nursing, the Virgin was remembering and contemplating her union with God incarnate.

Through experience and practice at the rosary, and letting the grace of God lead me in my understanding of the words and images the rosary meditation stirs up, I have been able to add a great deal of physical sensation to my identification with the characters of the biblical stories.  I believe it it within the reach of anyone who is deep in prayer to do this, and that it is the gateway to the stage none as "contemplation"  Contemplation is that stage of prayer were one simply listens to the Word of God" or gazes on the Sacred Images or otherwise moves into higher awareness of of the Divine Presence.  I believe some of the painters of Sacred Images were in or moving towards this stage when they painted.  this has occurred from the most ancient times to modernity.

I have been mediating on the experience of Mary nursing Jesus attempting to overcome the limits of my gender experience in identifying with Mary.  And through God's grace I have had some limited success in visualizing and physical knowing the act of feeding Jesus. It may seem impossible to some, but while never having had a crown of thorns on my head, I have had some limited experience of the thorns in meditating on them. I advocate the use of this technique to deepen ones prayer.

Perhaps, as in this painting above, I should imagine Mary's Joy in suckling Jesus. My effort is to enter Mary's union with her child, through her help and God's grace. In the Benediction and Eastern Orthodox  traditions of Christianity union with God is the usual described object of contemplation.  It is to be understood that as creatures approaching the Unknowable, such unity is never complete, but that it does change us and our relationship to God.  This is the experience I seek and urge all you who pray to seek.  

The above is an eastern icon of Mary nursing her child.  Icons deliberately exclude anything that might lead someone away from contemplation of God.  For instance the eyes are flat and non-reflective.  The figures have a graceful simplicity of form so that we are drawn to nothing but there relationship to God. Icons point us to God.  One could pray the rosary and and the same time view an icon such as this.  The tradition with icons is to begin to commit them to memory so that you can remain in contemplation of them.  I believe that it is possible to reconcile the contemplative listening to the Word and the contemplative gazing upon images through such efforts.   Finally I leave you with a hymn to the Theotokos, the Mother of God. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Catholic Hordes and Catholic Action.

The Irish Potato Famine of starting in 1845-1855 started a massive wave of Irish immigration to the United States. The Nativist backlash, sometimes refereed to as the Know Nothing movement because of it's secrecy called the newly arrive "Catholic Hordes. ".  The 1.5 million Irish who came during that period were matched by 1.4 million Catholic, Protestant and Jewish Germans. French Canadians, like some of my own ancestors, also added to the largely Catholic "hordes" Later, in the first two decades of the 20th Century, largely Catholic Italians, Eastern  and Basques from Spain arrived.  By 1910 there were over 16 million Catholics in the U.S. and immigration continued to swell our numbers.   It is largely because of this immigration that Catholics today are the largest religious body in then U.S.

This immigration changed the character of American and build it up, industrially, culturally and spiritually.  That was possible largely because of generally tolerant immigration laws, except for anti-Asian laws.  The Constitution gave to Congress the power to establish a uniform naturalization law.   Later, the 14th Amendment protected the rights of all children born in the U.S. In 1875 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states may not pass there own immigration laws, that under the Constitution, including the 14th Amendment, immigration is the province of the federal government.  Some of the few limits to immigration were laws excluding lunatics, the illiterate,infection disease carriers and anarchists. Immigration through points of entry, like Ellis island, was usually easy, but becoming a naturalized citizen was a much longer process. The border with Mexico was fluid, with many families having lived, worked and owned land for generations both in Mexico and in the Southwest to the point that it may have been unclear to many of them which country they were citizens of. It was only in the 1920's, after World War I, that the U.S. initiated strict immigration quotas, the Emergency Quota Act.   Similar, more complex plans followed.  It was largely after this that anything like "illegal" or "undocumented" immigration emerged, largely from the countries with the lowest quotas or in the Southwest from those who continued to go back and forth across the border. during the 1930's depression millions were "repatriated" across the border to Mexico, regardless of their documentation status.

The Know  Nothings, none as the American Party, emerged in the 1850's as the first of many anti-immigration and anti-Catholic organizations.   Another secret Society, the American Protective Association was founded in 1887 by Protestants to oppose Catholics and immigration.   Various sub-groups, fraternal organizations and splinter groups came out of it.   The Klu Klux Klan revived in the 1920's  as a nativist and pro-Jim Crow organization.  Anti-Chinese  racism  during this period also created Chinese exclusion laws.

Angel Island immigrants

What Was the Catholic Response? 

First from the 19th Century on priests and religious orders were brought from  the "home countries" to minister to the new immigrants. Parishes, schools, charitable organizations, mutual aid groups, hospitals and other organizations were created to meet the need.  Saint Mother Cabrini founded an order of religious sisters to aid the immigrants. Parochial schools were largely about giving this  population an opportunity for advancement. In the 1920's a National Catholic Welfare Conference concerned itself with legislation, education, and social action for Catholics, and started a Social Action Department to aid immigrants this organization eventually became the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference. 


Sunday, February 15, 2015

Diatessarons of Gospel Films Vs. Film as Icon

Diatessorn?  Don't bother running to your Oxford Dictionary for the meaning.  I have borrowed it from the title of a mid-second attempt to harmonize the four Gospel--causing deletions, confusion and lack of consistency, and missing the unique purpose of each Gospel--but in the positive creating an easy reference for the essentials of the story.  The Diatessorn (made of four ingredients) was composed by Tiatin, a Christian apologist and an Assyrian.  Inevitably, to harmonize the four, important parts of the Gospels were excluded,  and while consistent within itself, the consistency to the separate accounts is lost. The unique emphasis of each Gospel is muddled.

As someone who has worked with religious films series and viewed many biblical films, I view the fact that most Gospel films draw on more than one Gospel account and sometimes non-biblical sources as a problem for the artistic and religious value of these films.  The harmonization of the Jesus story in film has produced bland Jesus's, mediocre story telling and theological error. Most of the controversy in Gibson's "The Passion" was caused by the inclusion of material from the visions of mystics. Zefferilli's "Jesus of Nazareth" comes closer to a successful harmonization, but it portrays Judas as duped into betraying Jesus. Theological errors creep into such films simply because the directors and script writers are not viewing the Gospels as each being a unique authority, and because there are seemingly contradictory elements in each account that represent parts of the unique message of them.

"Jesus of Nazareth"

"The Passion"

In contrast, some Gospel Films such as John Heyman's "Jesus" (1979) and Pier Passolini's "The Gospel According to St. Matthew" avoid this problem by choosing one account. I haven't seen Heyman's film, but I'll include  some of it of it from You Tube. Passolini's film, by contrast, I have seen several times. Passolini was a Marxist, an atheist and a homosexual, and yet his film was, up until Heyman's movie, the most faithful Gospel film.  He included absolutely no language not found in Matthew's story.  His photographic staging did, however, inevitably color the story somewhat with his belief in Jesus as figure in class struggle, but it was otherwise completely faithful-- to the point where the hard sayings of Jesus hit home and trouble some viewers.


"The Gospel According to St. Matthew"

There are other films, such as Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ" depart even further.  It is based on the novel of the same name by Kazantzakis, a Greek writer of Gnostic tendency who used his imagination, and not the Gospels, as his primary source. The sexuality of the novel becomes even more problematic in full splendor on the screen.  While even in this film there is a distorted reflection of the gospel Christ, it is faithful to nothing the Gospel's teach.

"The Last Temptation of Christ"

When a Gospel film uses multiple texts, perhaps even non-Gospel sources and the imagination of writers, however vivid and creative, they stray from the essential function of a Gospel film religiously and artistically.  A mislocation of the function of the art in this context has occurred.  It goes back to the ancient purpose of religious painting as defined in the early debates about Icons.  In the early church some wanted no depiction of God or the saints for fear that idols where being produced. Besides the matters of who was being depicted, and for what purpose, there was another defense of icons offered.  Not only were these depictions of God and his saints as opposed to pagan gods, and objects to promote the Christian faith, but they were designed to refer away from themselves. Icons were not painted to draw one into them as objects of worship or devotion in themselves, but rather were made to point away, towards God in heaven, towards the mysterious and unknowable God.  In that sense, Passollini's film perhaps becomes the closest thing to an icon in film.


Diatessaron - Wikipedia,

The Problem of the Cinamatic Jesus

Icon - Wikipedia

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Women In Black

Today  Seattle's Women in Black/Homeless Remembrance project held it's monthly vigil for the homeless who have died.  There is a world wide Women in black movement composed of diverse and not necessarily affiliated groups who hold vigils to give witness for peace and justice. In Seattle one Women in Black group holds peace vigil's, and the other gives witness to those who have died in or because of the condition of homelessness.

At the vigil downtown today four who died were remembered:

Jeffery Davis, 44 by suicide 1/4/2015

James Carlson, 56 outside, cause of death pending 1/7/2015

Kevin Guempel, 49 , cause of death pending 1/13/2015

Juri Skolin, 60, found on Third Ave., cause of death pending.

According to the Women in Black 45 homeless people died by violence or outdoors in 2014 and since then 5 more.  The Women in Black leaflet calls on us to be a community and to support a basic social network including shelter. It calls on us to stand with them and to support the Homeless Remembrance Project.  This project is tied to Wheel, a project to organize homeless women.

A Women in Black vigil 5 years ago:

To give witness, to hold a vigil, it to be a constant reminder of what is good as against an evil.  It calls on all of use for better behavior, most especially on those with power and authority.  It prevents us from forgetting a problem.

It is within the Christian tradition to give witness.  Jesus said that he would divide households. This is what witness does.  Before we can be united for what is good, some have to divide from something that it not good.  In the case of the homeless, someone has to give witness to the fact that the homeless are being dehumanized, robbed of their dignity, and denied basic human needs.  The homeless go not only without shelter, but without hygiene and personal security.

Information on the Homeless Remembrance Project can be found here:

Homeless Remembrance Project

Here is information on Wheel:

Women's Housing Equality and Enhancement League

Here is information on the movement worldwide:

Vigils Around the World

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Living the Rooming House Blues

One subject I have not touched on much in my writing is the actual manner of life in a rooming house.It is part of the economic condition of   the low income students and workers, the unemployed and the disabled who live in rooming houses and shared housing that there is very little home life.  Relationships in the home are transitory and most are superficial.Space is limited and communal activities are limited.
 I have had some goo friendship develop from contact with roommates, and many who at least remain Facebook friends.  but this relationships were cultivated by going against the isolation and difficult living circumstances found in a rooming house.
One of the things I do every year, to attempt to build community, is to try to involve roommates in some kind of Christmas  celebration.  I put up a creche set, I go by a tree.  I break out the decorations and try to get a tree decorating party going with a little music. Maybe we watch a Christmas movie.   I can do a little to impart my faith in this while respecting where others come from.
I also make coffee every morning to share with my fellow rooming house denizens.  I  very the coffee blend to keep it interesting.  Sometimes we wind up drinking coffee together and talking.  More on rooming house life at a latter date. 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Jean Valjean Conviction Overturned by Appeal to Natural Law

It has been said that the rich and poor need each other.  The poor need the rich to help them, and the rich need the poor for the opportunity to obtain salvation.  Jesus told the rich young man that if he wished to reach perfection to shed himself of his wealth to the benefit of the poor (likened to the camel that has all it's goods taken off so it could enter Jerusalem through the gate called the "Eye of the Needle."  While we perhaps lose our attachment to worldly goods in the state called purgatory, could we not profitably do this while we are still alive?  And do not the poor need the basics of a decent life?

One of the severe criticisms of Pope Francis is that he (in agreement with prior Popes and the entire body of Catholic Social Teaching, although with more english the ball called solidarity)  has repeated called for more help for the poor from the church, from government and from the rich, and further has sought to limit neo-liberalism to the benefit of the poor and the workers.  It is far better, some feel, that a Pope should repudiate some of the teachings of Jesus Christ than he should miss part of the Gospel of Adam Smith or the Epistles of Ayn Rand the Atheist.

Now blogger Mike Flynn in them Dang Commies (later cited and amplified by our friend Mark Shea) notes that Thomas Aquinas, using natural law, made the same point as  Pope Francis.  What's the matter with this Jesuits that they read Aquinas instead of Rand, you may ask?

 Or you may just ask are you bloggers just taking in each others laundry?  Well Flynn did the wash and Shea the rinse, and I felt someone had to stick this in the dryer. Maybe we can get Arur Rosman to fold the stuff up.  Back to the subject at hand.

Aquinas, in the great Summa Theolgicala, for reasons that may appear obscure to those who believe in the Divine Right of Rich Guys, believed that "whatever the rich have in superabundance is due, by natural law, to the purpose of succoring the poor." Aquinas then said if the need is urgent it can be remedied by any means at hand.  Thus a father in a SS camp may properly or even by duty, steal to feed his son.   So Jean Valjean, says Shea, was guilty of no sin, secular state aside, and to very loosely paraphrase, unless Ayn Rand be right.

I'm going to share with you, before moving on to the implications of this for jurisprudence, the two most important things my Grandfather ever taught me.  First, one day a bee flew inside our glass window enclosed front porch, and having once been stung it scared me. He took a newspaper, I thought to swat, then wrapped it around the bee, opened the door and released it, then turned to me and said "Always be merciful whenever you can be."

Second, he told me a story from his days as a home owner in Seattle's Central district.  At that time, his family was the only white family on the block and most of the neighboring black families were poor.  He had a cherry tree in the backyard, and one day he saw a neighbors kid up in the tree, picking cherries. He approached the tree to chase the child out and then the unawares boy plucked a cherry and dropped it to his mouth with the proclamation "Honey, honey, comes to me honey." This changed by Grandfathers heart,  so that he walked away leaving the tot to his repast. This of course, was a different motive for stealing fruit than Augustine ascribed to his boyhood episode in his Confessions.  Where Augustine and his pals stole for the pleasure of crime, the boy in my Grandfather's tree clearly took for the pleasure his family could not afford. Thus my Grandfather applied mercy to his property rights.

Thus in jurisprudence we could approach justice with a benevolent assumption rather than assume that conflict with justice. Jean Valjean's judge could have said that while I must convict you to uphold the property rights of bakers and shopkeepers, I benevolently assume your sisters huger is real and superior to the shopkeepers needs.  So I will suspend your sentence, I will direct you to the nearest source of aid, hoping you can obtain it.  In the 30th depression, a judge in Canada was disbarred for doing just that, but he had a good defense in the court of heaven.

In his book Unrugged Individualism, philosopher David Kelly says that benevolence does not conflict with justice.  We do not temper Justice with mercy.  Benevolence is essential to justice.

The links to Shea, Flynn and Kelly below.

The Dangerous Komminism of Thomas Aquinas

Them Dang Commies


Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Politics of Compassion

Today in the Seattle Times, a guest op-ed titled "The Politics of Envy" in print, and prosaically  "We have a Fixation on Income Inequality" missed entirely what is really happening in today's economy. .  It's author, Richard Davis essentially claims income inequality does not matter.

 He gives the misleading example that if the four richest men in King County moved to Boises income inequality would fall, but we would be not better off. This is utterly misleading for several reasons. We don't measure income using a median figure. The essential problem that some had benefited extensively from the relative poverty of others would remain and the poverty would remain.  And lastly, it would only be a matter of time when another handful of individuals would amass the same wealth as the first few.

Davis says it is better to concentrate on generating employment and income opportunity for the lower income without a recognition of what has made them lower income.  It is not generally within the power of workers of resolve extensive unemployment, nor with the tattered condition of the union movement do workers have much leverage over income opportunity.

He says we must ensure that people have access to affordable quality education.  He fails to see that current income restricts opportunity, so that many cannot afford the desired education.  They are in the situation of the Real Change salesperson I met st the bus stop.  the bus was coming and he was two dollar short of the fair.  He could not take the bus unless I bought a copy of real change from him. Too many people in our country are too poor to get on the bus.

Davis criticizes the proposed new state minimum wage of $12 an hour as something that could not close the wage gap between a CEO and a fry cook.  That is true as a single measure, but it points to the essential problem.  Wages and benefits for most occupations are stagnant and far to little for the work actually preformed.

He erroneously suggests that minimum wage increases reduce employment, citing on of the few studies to back this assertion. In fact the overwhelming evidence is that when workers on the bottom get higher wages they generate economic activity by paying bills faster and spending more on goods and services.  Any jobs replaced by automation or other efficiencies are more than off set by this activity. In fact automation creates opportunities elsewhere.

He also ignores that many workers at or near minimum wage are actually often highly skilled.  To be a good kitchen worker you must know how to use many food processing machines and hand tools, understand food safety,  understand food chemistry , taste and presentation.   A janitor has to know  cleaning technique, the use of several machines, a certain degree of chemistry and the safe handling of bodily fluids. The same can be said for many occupations not rewarded for their knowledge any more than for their hard work.  As a society we over value thr contributions of a elite and under value vastly the efforts of others.   It is precisely income inequality that we must adress.

But this view of income equality is not about envy.  It is about human dignity, compassion and justice.  And ultimately it is about greater societal happiness. It has been demonstrated that socieities with greater income equality are happier.  Even the richer members of a nation are generally happier when their wealth is not vastly greater than it's poorest members.  We all seem to get a long much better when equality is greater.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Rooming House Pope

I have been studying the pronouncements, activities and history of Pope Francis with an hopeful intensity since his surprise election. His choice of name and, the simplicity of his of first appearance and his style of behavior became immediate indicators that something was different, but it remained to be seen what wold be the substance of that difference. 

One of the immediate surprises is that after election, he went to pay his hotel bill, and then he moved into the Vatican guest house, Domus Sanctae Marthae, rather than the papal apartments.  He freed himself slightly from his staff by this, setting some of his own appointments, lived a in slightly simpler manner and became in my mind "The Rooming House Pope."  He had a Rabbi friend come and stay with him in the guest house, invited the Editor of La Republica over for an interview, kissed cleaned and kissed the feet of prisoners on Holy Thursday and did numerous acts that constituted his style. I explored his background.  As Bishop he had ridden the bus to work. His parents had been refugees from Mussolini to Argentina. He group up watching the films of Italian anti -fascists. He was conservative on doctrine, but close to the poor and had organized a network to rescue people from the Argentinian Junta. 

His economic pronouncements and advice to the church stirred up  opposition from Fox News commentators and certain, mainly American conservative Catholics.  Yet other conservatives seemed to like his as much as the liberals. He upheld conservative moral principles and family values while he changed direction in favor of the poor. He presented no new doctrine, yet the difference was greater than style. The difference was an emphasis on the attribute of Catholic social Teaching that most made him the Rooming House Pope: solidarity. That we are all brothers and that we most need to help the weakest: the poor, the sick, the refugees. That the Church should become a poor church for the poor.  That priest should drive used or inexpensive model cars. That all clergy are first and foremost servants. That religious orders should used there closed monasteries as places for the marginalized instead of for income property.  That neo-liberal unregulated capitalism was wrong.  That there needed to be greater collegiality among the Bishops. That reform of the Curia and, the Vatican bank was needed. That the church would take certain measures that would reduce the influence of the Mafia in Italy. That continued work relations with the Orthodox and Protestants was needed. That more work on the role of women in the church was needed. 

A simple example: he did not change Catholic teaching about homosexual behavior and marriage, yet he asked, "Who am I to  judge?"  by that simple question he said the more important consideration was are solidarity with the homosexual, not our teaching regarding sexual matters.  He said the church has to act like the emergency room medics, patch up, not worrying about the fine details of health.   He saw that the church had to heal and nurture those in need.

One of his recent steps is to announce that Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, martyr,  slain  over the altar while saying mass because of his unswerving care for the poor and his call for his nations soldiers to cease killing the populace would be beatified.  Here was the martyr hero of Catholics for whom solidarity with the poor was one of the most important duties of the church. 

As a Roomin' House Blues Catholic, in solidarity with the poor, the sick and the lonely throughout the world, I feel comforted by this new emphasis that Pope Francis has placed on certain aspects of  Catholic social Teaching.  I pray that during his papacy Dorthy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Workers will be beatified. I pray that the church will succeed in influencing the economic policies of governments around the world towards the poor.   I pray that my own behavior will grow in solidarity.  I pray for the re-unification of Christianity and that the church truly become a poor church for the poor.