Kierkegaard on the Raising of Lazarus

The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard is one of my favorite Christian thinkers. He has a beautiful Johannine Christology.

Last Sunday’s Gospel reading reminded me of one of my favorite Kierkegaard reflections. It is on the raising of Lazarus and comes from the beginning of The Sickness Unto Death.

‘This sickness is not unto death’ (John 11.4). But still Lazarus died. Upon the disciples misunderstanding him when he later added: ‘Our friend Lazarus sleepeth, but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep’ (11.11), Christ told them bluntly: ‘Lazarus is dead’ (11.4). So Lazarus is dead, and yet this sickness was not unto death; he was dead, and still this sickness is not unto death. We know, of course, that Christ was thinking of the miracle which, ‘if [they] wouldest believe’, was to let contemporaries see ‘the glory of God’ (11.40), that miracle through which he awoke Lazarus from the dead; so ‘this sickness’ was not merely ‘not unto death’, but, as Christ had foretold, ‘for the glory of God, that the son of God might be glorified thereby’ (11.4). Ah!, but even had Christ not awoken Lazarus, is it not still true that this sickness, death itself, is not unto death? When Christ steps froward to the grave and in a loud voice cries out, ‘Lazarus, come forth’ (11.43), it is plain enough that this sickness is not unto death. Yet, even if Christ had not said that, doesn’t simply the fact that He who is ‘the resurrection and the life’ (11.25) steps forward to the grave mean that this sickness is not unto death? That Christ exists – doesn’t that mean that this sickness is not unto death? And what good would it have done Lazarus to be awoken from the dead if in the end he must die anyway? What good would it have done Lazarus if He did not exist, He who is the resurrection and the life for every person who believes in Him? No, it is not because Lazarus was awoken from the dead; that is not why we can say this sickness is not unto death. It is because He exists; that is why this sickness is not unto death. (p.37)

Kierkegaard suggests that the raising of Lazarus, like a sacrament, is a sign that points to a spiritual reality. It is a visible sign of an invisible grace. The raising of Lazarus merely confirms what is already true: that Christ is the resurrection and the life. It is like the breaking of the bread at Emmaus or the empty tomb. All three signs reveal the real presence of Christ. They are all Eucharistic encounters.

I will probably never experience an earth-shattering miracle, but Kierkegaard reminds me in his meditation on the raising of Lazarus that Christ is always the resurrection and the life.

 

Reference: Kierkegaard, Søren. The Sickness Unto Death. Trans. Alastair Hannay. London: Penguin Books, 2004. Print.

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My Lent: Thoughts and Readings

We are nearing the end of Lent. I have more or less succeeded in some of my resolutions and failed in others. Lent is more enjoyable with a partner. Unfortunately, this year I decided to do three things with three different people. Lent hasn’t been an utter failure though. I have learned more about my strengths and weakness and have become more involved with social justice. I wanted to get involved more, and I have.

Since reading The Art of Biblical Narrative early this year, I have found the motivation to reread the Old Testament. I recently finished Joshua and Amos. Joshua is basically a Jewish epic story. Reading the book in that context has helped me stomach the violence. I have difficulty believing that God told the Jews to annihilate surrounding nations. Still, the book emphasizes more God’s love for a formerly enslaved people. The weak and marginalized are liberated. An allegorical reading of Joshua (a reading Medieval Christians preferred) interprets Joshua’s victory as grace. Through grace, God helps us overcome sin.

Amos is so relevant today in America. The wealthy Israelites have forgotten the God who sides with the marginalized, so Amos preaches a fire-and-brimstone sermon to remind the Jews of God’s wrath. In Joshua, the Jews had the victory because they were obedient to God, but they have forgotten that their victory is due to God’s mercy. Instead of helping liberate the oppressed, they have sided with the oppressors. The Jews have become like Pharaoh. Amos’ words of warning are often cited in social justice contexts today.

Truly, the day of the LORD will be darkness, not light,
gloom without any brightness!
I hate, I despise your feasts,
I take no pleasure in your solemnities.
Even though you bring me your burnt offerings and grain offerings
I will not accept them;
Your stall-fed communion offerings,
I will not look upon them.
Take away from me
your noisy songs;
The melodies of your harps,
I will not listen to them.
Rather let justice surge like waters,
and righteousness like an unfailing stream (Amos 5:20-24).

I know that it is not fashionable today to interpret natural disasters and national failures as signs from God, but the Hebrew Scriptures do think of God’s wrath as imminent. The afterlife is not really a concern for the Jews. While I am not interested in reviving this tradition, I do believe we should be perceptive to the “signs of the times”. The racism and poverty in America should make us more comfortable Christians uncomfortable. Amos reminded me that I am wealthy. God does not look kindly on the rich.

Finally, I have begun praying in the morning. No long prayers. Just one Our Father and one Hail Mary. But these two prayers have reminded me of what it means to be a Christian. I am reminded to accept everything as grace, to live modestly, and to forgive those who have offended me. I am reminded that one teenage girl’s “yes” changed history, so my “yes” matters. .

Let’s Talk: Catholic Blogging

I’ve wanted to make a post about this topic for years. This is the third religion blog that I have started. I also have a literature blog, but my faith is a large part of my life. It has certainly influenced my research interests. I shut down my last Catholic blog for personal reasons that I don’t want to get to here. Let’s just say that I outgrew my last blog. It no longer represented who I am.

Christian blogging is different than other types of blogging because the blogger presents him/herself as an “expert” in the faith. I hate that part of Catholic blogging. I don’t like how self-righteous, narrow-minded, and anti-ecumenical Catholic apologetics blogs tend to be. I can’t relate to the content. I come from a mixed family. I am not interested in heresy-hunting. I am not interested in being seen as an expert in the faith. I am not an expert. Blogs that teach the Catholic faith are certainly valuable, but nobody has all the answers.

I started Catholic blogging because I know there are other people who feel the same about the current climate of the Catholic blogosphere. I want to find blogs I can relate to. I want to find Catholics who are honest about the joys and struggles of being Catholic in the modern world. Finally (and most importantly), I want to find bloggers who don’t hate the contemporary world and/or the contemporary Church. I attend a modern parish with a modern liturgy. I love the Gather hymnal. I love the fact that there are female altar servers, and I have no problem with receiving communion in the hand. So much of the Catholic blogosphere is anti-Vatican II, but I am grateful for the Second Vatican Council. I was so excited when Pope John XXIII was canonized, and Yves Congar taught me that you can be Catholic and ecumenically-minded.

If you are reading my blog, perhaps you can relate to my struggle. I want people to know that the Catholic Church is a big tent. We are such a diverse church.

I want to be honest on this blog about what I’m thinking and what I’m reading. That’s why my blog is called Incarnational Writing. I don’t perform my Catholic faith as well as I would like, but I also know that my faith is more than a performance. It’s a relationship. It’s a relationship with Christ and a relationship with my neighbor.

I’ve always loved Augustine’s image of the pilgrim Church. A Catholic is continuously on a pilgrimage. A pilgrimage includes many joys but also many hardships; despite the stumbling blocks and moments of discouragement, the pilgrim continues on the journey because she believes that the end goal is worth every sacrifice. Along the way, the pilgrim meets many others who are also on the same journey. These others are a diverse bunch and may even come from enemy territories. But they are all reaching for the same goal. So, if the pilgrim is truly concerned about reaching her destiny, the pilgrim will take every help she can get. In the end, after an arduous journey filled with detours, misunderstandings, and excitement, the pilgrim discovers that he who was once “the other” has truly become a friend because the Grace of God has been with them both.

I am excited to learn about you, and I promise that I will never call you a heretic.

Church as a Communion of Sinners

Since it’s Lent, let’s talk sin. Sin in the Church.

We all know that the Church has an eternal and a temporal aspect. The Church, we say, includes the saints in heaven and the souls in purgatory. The Church is also the visible, hierarchical, papal institution that we know. There are currently 23 churches that recognize Pope Francis as the earthly leader of the Church. The largest one is the Latin church in the West.

But we all know that Catholics sin. Day-to-day and structural sins. Inquisitions, crusades, corruption, sex abuse, Renaissance popes, hypocrisy, racism, misogyny, homophobia, etc. These sins cause scandal in the Church; yet, we insist that individual Catholics (not the Church) are responsible for the evil.

But therein lies the problem. We want to identify ourselves with the communion of saints without acknowledging our membership in the communion of sinners. As a heavenly institution, the Church gives us access to grace. This grace is communicated in the sacraments and through the intercession of those who have come before us and who now enjoy Christ perfectly in heaven. What a blessing! But as an earthly institution, the Church is also a community of sinners. Everyone, from the pope to the laity, is a sinner. Although we normally claim that sin is never a private matter (hence the necessity of sacramental confession) we often talk about sin in the Church as if it is. “The Church didn’t burn heretics at the stake, misguided inquisitors hand in glove with the State did.” “The Church didn’t exclude African Americans through slavery and segregation, racist Catholics did.” And yet we know that capital punishment was used to suppress heresy for centuries. It was defended through a particular interpretation of Augustine’s Just War theory. We know that religious orders owned slaves and that it was once illegal for blacks to join the priesthood. All of these practices were condoned by the Church.

Christians, on pilgrimage to the City of God, exist in an ever-changing world. We are always in dialogue with the surrounding culture. Sometimes this dialogue is more like a screaming-fest, but the Church never exists in a vacuum. In each age, Catholics must decide how to live out the Gospel. Unfortunately, the Church has condoned acts in the past that later we recognized to be evils. As individuals, we are always learning from past mistakes and taking steps to repair the damage our sins cause. Why should the Church be any different?

I know too many Catholics who feel the need to justify the Church’s complicity in past and current evils. But as individuals, we are taught to acknowledge our sins, confess them, and seek to make reparation for the pain they have caused. The Church’s understanding of discipleship has changed in some ways over the centuries, and that is a necessary development. Popes condemn capital punishment today and the Jesuits at Georgetown are giving preferred admission to descendants of slaves. But except for the Jesuits at Georgetown, not many institution-wide, collective penances have been attempted to make reparation for past evils.

I believe that the Church needs to think of penance less individualistically than it has done historically. It is ironic that a church that insists so much on community should be so slow to make communal apologies and implement communal penances. The world doesn’t expect perfection from Catholics. It expects integrity. It is tragic that priests sexually abused children, but it is even more tragic that bishops covered it up. In our desire to be seen as a communion of saints we have tried to suppress the fact that we are also a communion of sinners.

This Lent, let’s begin to consider the communal dimension of sin in the Church. The next time someone confronts you about an evil the Church has been complicit in, do not try to justify it. Acknowledge it. As a Church (beginning on the parish level) we should take steps to repair the damage our sins have caused. As a Catholic I have inherited not only the graces but also the sins of the Church. In the City of God, sin will not exist. But the Church on pilgrimage in the City of Man is marred by sin. I pray that we will begin to acknowledge collectively the sins we have committed in the past and take steps collectively to do better in the future. The Jesuits at Georgetown have taken a step in the right direction.

This is the first of a series of reflections I will be posting on confession and penance. What does your parish do to address structural/institutional sin in the Church?

Stations of the Cross – Paul Claudel

Paul Claudel is one of my favorite French poets. He wrote highly meditative poems about the Catholic faith. My favorites are “Processionnal pour saluer le siècle nouveau” and “Stations de la croix“. As it is Friday, I want to share with you an English translation I found of the Stations of the Cross. The translator is Rev. John J. Burke, C.S.P.:

First Station
Jesus Is Condemned To Death.

The end. And God by us is judged and sent to death.
We wish no more of Jesus Christ. He vexes us.
Our only king is Caesar; gold and blood our law.
Kill Him, if such your will, but free our sight of Him.
Kill Him! So much the worse for Him. If one must die,
Barabbas set thou free, but crucify the Christ.
On the high judgment-place Pilate the ruler sits.

“Speakest Thou not?” he cries. But Jesus answers naught.
Then to the crowd: “In Him I find no wrong: yet, bah!
He dies since you persist. I yield. Behold the man!”
Behold Him, clothed in purple, crowned with piercing thorns.

His blood-stained, tearful eyes meet ours in one last plea.
What can we do? We cannot keep Him with us now,
A scandal to His own; a folly unto us.
Sentence is passed; ’tis writ in Hebrew, Latin, Greek —
The crowd still shouts; the judge still washes clean his hands.

Second Station
Jesus Is Made To Bear His Cross.

They clothe Him once again. To Him the cross is brought.
“All hail”, cries Jesus Christ, “Long have I longed for thee.”
O see, my soul, and fear! Pregnant the solemn hour
When the eternal wood first pressed the Son of God.
Then Eden’s tree full-grown bore fruit in Paradise.
Behold, O sinful soul, the end thy sin has served.
God triumphs over crime; on every cross hangs Christ.
The sin of man is great; but we are silent, mute.
Heaven’s conquering God debates not, but fulfills.

Jesus accepts the cross as we receive Himself.
As Jeremiah said we give Him wood for food.
How huge that awful cross; how cumbersome and large;
Unyielding, painful, hard, a senseless sinner’s weight.
To bear it step by step till one shall die thereon!
Dost Thou go forth to bear it, Saviour Christ, alone?

With patience may I bear what share Thou givest me.
Each one must bear the cross ere cross his comfort be.

Third Station
Jesus Falls The First Time.

He lingers not but presses on to Calvary’s height,
At once the victim and the executioner.
Then God, stricken in swift collapse, falters and falls.

What sayest Thou, O Lord, at this Thy primal fall?
And as Thou knowest it, what thoughts arise within,
When thus sin hurls its evil weight on helpless Thee?
What answer gives the ground which Thou Thyself hast made?
Other than virtue’s path uneven is and hard.
Roughened is evil’s way with windings treacherous.
Each turning must be made; each special roughness met.
The foot will often fail, though heart may persevere.
By Thy most holy knees whose weakness caused Thy fall,
By Thy heart straightened at the fearful way,
O Lord, by snare that trapped Thee and by earth that stung,
Save me from that first sin that takes one by surprise.

Fourth Station
Jesus Meets His Afflicted Mother.

Mothers, who saw in death your first and only born,
Recall that night, the infant’s last — his helpless groans,
The water he refused, the ice, the rising pulse,
And death advancing now with final surety.
Put on again his tiny shoes, his little clothes,
From thee he will be taken back to earth again.
Farewell, my infant sweet, and life of my own self.

This station fourth is Mary who accepts in full.
She waits for Him, the richness of all poverty.
The tears dim not her eyes; parched is her mouth.
In silence absolute she looks at Him Who comes.
Her heart accepts; accepts again. The cry is crushed
Nor slightest utterance finds in her strong heart.
She utters not one word. Her eyes are fixed on Christ.
The mother sees her Son; the Church her Saviour true.
To Him her spirit speeds — a dying soldier’s cry.
Before the eyes of God she opens her whole soul.
No part of it refusal knows nor drawing back.
And every fibre pierced, transfixed, accepts; consents.
As God is here in Will divine, so is her will.
Her heart accepts. She sees the Child her womb brought forth.
In holy silence now she sees the Saint of Saints.

Fifth Station
Simon, The Cyrenean, Helps Jesus To Carry His Cross.

The moment comes at length when one cannot go on.
And then we find our touch with Thee, for Thou
Dost use us, even unto force, to share Thy cross.
So Simon there was drawn to bear his share of it.
With strength he seized the wood and followed Thee
Lest portion of Thy cross should drag or suffer loss.

Sixth Station
Veronica Wipes The Face Of Jesus

Disciples all have fled. Peter denied Him thrice.
Hurling herself ‘gainst insults and the threat of death,
Veronica receives His Face between her hands.

Teach us, O woman brave, to conquer human fear.
To whom Christ is not an image but the truth,
Will come the questioning glance of other men.
He dwells on higher plane; he thinks apart.
Some strange love holds him distant; he is not the same.
An adult man, he says his beads; he tells his sins;
Friday he fasts; and with the women goes to Mass.
Of course he rouses laughter, yet he irritates.
Let him beware, for on him rests the eye of all.
Let him beware each step. He, sign and symbol is.
Each Christian, though unfit, is likeness true of Christ.
The face his soul doth show is reflex small
Of that true Face of God, debased yet glorious.

Let us behold again, Veronica, that veil
Which keeps in trust the Face of our Viaticum.
That sacred cloth imprints this Gatherer of grapes,
Lifted to ecstasy by His own harvest’s fruit,
So that this likeness ever more may witness be
Of how is mixed our spittle with His blood and tears.

Seventh Station
Jesus Falls The Second Time.

No stone has caused it, nor a halter drawn
The soul itself grows weak and suddenly we fall.
O years of middle life! O sin of one’s own will!
The days their purpose lack; our faith sees no beyond.
For very long the way, and far, far off the end.
Alone, alone we drift and comfort draws not near.
O heavy-weighted time! Disgust that sickens self
The more because the shadow of the cross endures.
And then we stretch our arms, for one must swim or die.
Ah, no! not to our knees we fall but on our face.
Our body fails, ’tis true; the fall is of the soul.

Save us, O Lord, from hell of our own weariness.

Eighth Station
Jesus Consoles The Women Of Jerusalem.

Ere on the hill’s steep side He climbs one further step,
He lifts His hand o’er those who followed Him
In tears — some women poor, each carrying her own child.
Let us look on and listen, too, for Jesus speaks.
The lifted Hand shows Him Who, Man, is more than man.
This scene reveals the God Who suffered for our sake.
And, since He is our God, His act is for all time.
This day in very truth God suffers for our sins.
From what, then, and at what a price has He saved us?
Our tongue is beggared when we say “for this the Son
Was forced to tear Himself from His own Father’s side.”
If this the price at which we’re saved, what then is hell?
If our sick souls ask this, what of the Christless dead?

Ninth Station
Jesus Falls The Third Time.

Again I fall; prostrate I lie. This marks the end.
I could not if I wished it once more raise myself.
I lie as fruit that’s crushed. I bear a weight too great.
I have done wrong. My dead self weighs on me.
Come, death! Easier ’tis to grovel than to stand.
I welcome death beneath, not on, this wretched cross.

Save us, O Lord, from this last fall, this last despair.

And now one only thing remains — to drink the cup of death.
The cross is lifted but the iron still must pierce.
A third time Jesus falls; but Calvary’s height is reached.

Tenth Station
Jesus Is Stripped Of His Garments.

Behold the threshing floor where grain divine is bruised.
The Father is revealed; the tabernacle rent.
A hand is laid on God and all flesh suffers shock.
Fear paralyzes all creation’s deepest depths.
And now let us take heart to lift our eyes to Him,
Disrobed, of seamless garment stripped, Jesus all pure.

Nothing is left to Thee, for they have taken all.
They plucked the robe from Thee, as yesterday
They snatched from monk his cowl, from virgin nun her veil.
Nothing is left wherewith he might beclothe Himself.
In naked helplessness, as naked as a worm,
Without defence He stands, exposed to sight of men.
What, this your Christ? This mocked, derided one?
This wretched man begrimed, a mass of wounds and sores,
A subject He for alienists and for the courts?
“Fierce bulls besiege me. Lord, deliver me from savage dogs.”
He is not Christ, nor Son of Man; He is not God.
His gospel is a lie; His Father’s not in heaven.
A fool! A fake! Why speaks He? What holds His tongue?

The High Priest’s servant strikes: a French Renan betrays.
They left Thee stripped, but there remains Thy robe of blood;
They left Thee naught, but still that gaping wound is Thine.
Though God be hid away, here stands the Man of grief.
Though God be hid, I see my Brother here Who weeps.

By Thy humiliation, Lord, by Thy deep shame,
Pity the vanquished ones who to the stronger yield.
And by Thy ghastly clothing at the final hour,
Great pity have on all by bitter anguish pierced —
The little child who thrice must bear the surgeon’s knife;
The wounded man whose wounds must be with pain re-dressed;
The husband shamed; the son who mourns a mother dead —
Have pity on that love which our hearts must uproot.

Eleventh Station
Jesus Is Nailed To The Cross.

Our Lord no longer stands with us, but prone He lies,
Thrown like a wounded stag amid the hunting pack.
Thou hast come down to us; to our own level reached.
One man sits on Thine arm; a knee is on Thy chest.
The hand that twists Thy Hand contorts the Hand of God.
The weakling Lamb tied by the feet is God in bonds.
Thy length of arm, Thy height are chalked upon the cross.
When He will taste the nails, His Face will be revealed.

The Son eternal, without measure, infinite,
Has emptied Self into this human mould He craved.
Behold in him Elias on the boy outstretched.
Behold this, David’s throne; this, pride of Solomon.
Behold His nuptial couch with us so strong, so hard.
How God is straightened when He takes our human form.
The cross is placed. His Body, dislocated, cracks.
As by a heavy wine press He is crushed and torn.
With truth the prophet David said in ancient days
“My hands and feet are pierced. Revealed My every bone.”

O Saviour, Thou wert bound; escape was not for Thee.
Upon the Cross the nails held Thee by hands and feet.
I seek no further now with heretic and fool.
This God, by these four nails constrained, suffices me.

Twelfth Station
Jesus Dies On The Cross.

He suffered, it is true; but now He suffers death.
The huge cross trembles darkly as our Saviour breathes.
Earth’s power is done. To Him must now be left the work
That He alone can do. That Body and that Soul
In this One Person, God, have power without end.
Exhaust they must and will each unknown way of pain.
Alone He is, as Adam was in Eden’s land.
Three hours alone, His Soul alone has drunk the Wine.
O ignorance unknown of God’s own hidden life!
Our Host is wearied and His Head falls lower still.
He sees not Mary; and His Father, too, has gone.
He drains the cup. He drinks the slow-advancing death.
And yet He has not had enough of bitter drink,
For His own voice all suddenly exclaims: “I thirst!”
And in Thy thirst, O Lord, am I the one addressed?
Hast Thou, O Christ, still need of me and of my sins?
For me dost Thou await ere all be perfected?

Thirteenth Station
Jesus Is Taken Down From The Cross.

The Passion ends. Mercy, its fruit, forever reigns.
Down from the cross, He lies within His mother’s arms —
Calvary perfected her will of Nazareth.
The Christ Who, lifted up, bore openly the shame,
His mother takes once more alone unto herself.
And in those arms the Church guards well her well-beloved.
What God sent forth, what Mary gave, what man has done —
All, all is now within her heart forevermore.
She holds Him, sees and weeps, and in her tears adores.
She cerement and ointment is, and tomb and myrrh;
Altar and priest alike; chalice and cenacle.
The tabernacle door is gateway to the cross.

Fourteenth Station
Jesus Is Placed In The Sepulchre.

That tomb wherein the suffering Christ, now dead, was laid,
That sepulchre unsealed in haste that He might sleep
Before He rose again and with His Father reigned,
Is not a mere new burial-place — ’tis our own flesh,
‘Tis man, your creature, Lord, more one with Thee than earth.
Thy heart is open and Thy hands are deeply pierced;
Thou hast received, endured our bodies’ every pain.
No sin but is o’erreached by Thy almighty wounds.
From altar here where Thou dost hide Thyself, come, Lord!
Our hearts are open thrown. Come, Lord, and fill their depths.

Correcting Myself Gently

For its time, St. Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life (1602) is a surprisingly moderate spiritual guide.  Most Catholic devotionals have historically been written for monastics, but Introduction to the Devout Life was dedicated to a married noblewoman. Francis’ advice is therefore quite practical. True, some of it is dated, but it is surprising how much of it applies to my life. I have consulted this work off and on for the past few years.

While flipping through the book last weekend I came across a chapter called “On Gentleness Toward Ourselves”. It was what I needed to read at the time.

I suffer from extreme anxiety and experience bouts of self-loathing over past decisions. I have difficulty forgiving myself or feeling worthy of forgiveness. My sins frustrate me. Confession helps sometimes but not always because I never feel like I can talk about what’s on my mind (that’s for a future post). It’s too complicated. Medicine and therapy help, but I have an unhealthy habit of thinking that self-hatred is a virtue. St. Francis de Sales insists that it is not. It is actually a form of pride. It is also quite destructive.

“On Gentless Toward Ourselves” is a reminder that we are all frail. When we sin we should not react in rage. We should not beat ourselves up. Self-hatred does not prevent us from sinning again. It is actually a sign of pride. We have convinced ourselves that we are generally good, virtuous people who should be “better than those sinners over there”. There is not a whole lot of difference between the Pharisee who thanks God for being better than the Tax Collector and the Pharisee who experiences rage over a sin he has committed. St. Francis explains why:

[A]ll this anger and irritation against one’s self fosters pride, and springs entirely from self-love, which is disturbed and fretted by its own imperfection.

Instead of getting angry over our sins, we should confess them and then calmly promise to be more alert in the future. Like a good parent correcting a wayward child, we should focus more on what went wrong and what we can do to avoid near occasions of sin in the future than on punishment:

Believe me, my daughter, as a parent’s tender affectionate remonstrance has far more weight with his child than anger and sternness, so, when we judge our own heart guilty, if we treat it gently, rather in a spirit of pity than anger, encouraging it to amendment, its repentance will be much deeper and more lasting than if stirred up in vehemence and wrath.

If I fly off the handle when someone does something I don’t like, the other person focuses more on defending herself than on what I am trying to tell her. She may suffer emotionally from my abusive remarks, but am I not sinning when I do that? Does my anger really help my friend change her ways? The most useful criticism is always constructive.

St. Francis de Sales taught me last weekend to give myself gentle but constructive criticism.

So then, when you have fallen, lift up your heart in quietness, humbling yourself deeply before God by reason of your frailty, without marvelling that you fell;—there is no cause to marvel because weakness is weak, or infirmity infirm. Heartily lament that you should have offended God, and begin anew to cultivate the lacking grace, with a very deep trust in His Mercy, and with a bold, brave heart.

God is the potter and I am the clay. Without the potter, the clay is nothing but an unformed lump. I will try to be more gently with myself this Lent.

Reading the Bhagavad-Gita as a Catholic

The Song of God: Bhagavad-Gita. Translated by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood, Vedanta Society, 1972. Print.

 Image result for bhagavad gita christopher isherwood

When I was a high school freshman I took a world history class in which I was required to research a religion other than my own. I chose Hinduism. I spent a month reading everything I could about the religion. I visited the Hindu temple in my town and interviewed the priest.

I am not even going to pretend to be an expert on Hinduism, but thanks to that world history class I do know the basics. This religion project was one of the most formative experiences of my childhood. I was surprised to learn that Hinduism isn’t really polytheistic. The deities are different manifestations of a single God who creates and sustains all things. But I was the most intrigued by the life of Krishna, one of the most recent incarnations of Vishnu.

Krishna’s dialogue with the warrior Arjuna is described in The Bhaghavad-Gita. Although I briefly studied Hinduism in 9th grade, I never read any of the religion’s sacred texts. Yesterday, while browsing Half-Priced Books, I found a translation of the The Bhagavad-Gita. The Bhagavad-Gita is a part of the Mahabharata, an epic poem about a battle between two families. The warrior Arjuna is preparing to go to war with his own family. He knows that killing his family is sinful, but it is his dharma (duty) to be a warrior. Krishna advises Arjuna to fight without concern for the fruit of his actions. Arjuna cannot kill his family anyway because their true selves are distinct from their bodies.

I’d always wanted to read this poem because Krishna’s ethical teachings seemed to be the antithesis of Jesus’ even though the roles Jesus and Krishna play in Christianity and Hinduism respectively are similar in other ways.

Having finished The Bhagavad-Gita only a few hours ago, I don’t feel prepared to discuss Krishna’s teachings at any great length. Perhaps, I don’t have the right to since I am not Hindu. Unpleasant teachings don’t necessarily discredit a religious text either. There are unpleasant scenes in the Old Testament, but I still accept the Hebrew Scriptures as inspired. Krishna insists that mixing castes causes chaos, but he insists that all people can attain union with God regardless of the caste they belong to, if only they have faith in Krishna. There is something very human about the poem. Soldiers fight in wars they may not even support, but it is their duty to follow orders. Krishna is not discussing ethics in the abstract. This is not a philosophy class in which students entertain hypothetical situations so as to determine the most ethical path to take. Arjuna must either act or refrain. Krishna argues that refusal to act is itself an act. Since Arjuna is a warrior, he should fulfill his duty. But he must not act for his own self-glory. He must act with faith and love for God.

I was very moved by the poem. Passages reminded me of the Psalms. Here is my favorite passage:

Arjuna:

Well it is the world delights to do you honour!
At the sight of you, O master of the senses,
Demons scatter every way in terror,
And the hosts of Siddhas bow adoring.

Mightiest, how should they indeed withhold their homage?
O Prime Cause of all, even Brahma the Beginner –
Deathless, world’s abode, the Lord of devas,
You are what is not, what is, and what transcends them.

You are first and highest in heaven, O ancient Spirit.
It is within you the cosmos rests in safety.
You are known and knower, goal of all our striving.
Endless in your change, you body forth creation.

Lord of fire and death, of wind and moon and waters,
Father of the born, and this world’s father’s Father.
Hail, all hail to you – a thousand salutations.

Take our salutations, Lord, from every quarter,
Infinite of might and boundless in your glory,
You are all that is, since everywhere we find you.

Carelessly I called you ‘Krishna’ and my ‘comrade,’
Took undying God for friend and fellow-mortal,
Overbold with love, unconscious of your greatness.

Often I would jest, familiar, as we feasted
Midst the throng, or walked, or lay at rest together:
Did my words offend? Forgive me, Lord Eternal.

There are definitely differences (even significant differences) between Hinduism and Catholicism, but reading The Bhagavad-Gita and learning about Hinduism allowed me to encounter the beauty of God in another religion. That is an experience that I recommend to everyone.