Where is the line?

Where do we draw the line between our religious faith and our political choices? My first response is that it is a personal choice.  This choice is given to each American by the US Constitution. But for people of faith, we each must discern our choices and then live with the fruit or destruction that may come from those choices. We cannot hide from our choices that seem to be consistent with a worldly life, but are not perfectly aligned with the choices God would like us to make. We must recognize that these choices are the consequence of living in this world.  We cannot use our intellect to rationalize these choices as being not of sin.  But we can forgive ourself and try not to continue the behavior that brought us to this place.  

 Freedom has consequences AND responsibility. We must each reconcile our choices with our conscience, that ideally is formed with the Holy Spirit present. Since none of us are perfect this is the struggle of life. The best way to deal with this is to find a spiritual director and a faith community of like minded people to confer with and participate in regular worship services.   Where ever two or more of you are gathered in his name he is present.  With out this we are left with an isolationist perspective which can be very destructive.    Politics adds complexity because although some may want this to be true, the US Constitution is not a moral document, but rather a civil document.

Intention of being in the Presense

We had the great honor and privilege of having The Most Reverend Gregory John Mansour, Bishop of the Eparchy of St Maron present the St Joseph Maronite Catholic Church Lenten Retreat this year February 13 and 14, 2015.  His topic was Intention.  Intention to live with and in Christ, Intention to serve, Intention to pray and move to action in witnessing our faith. He thought sharing this article might be a great follow-up.   Enjoy.

 

The Practice of Attention/Intention

Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O.

By way of introducing this subject, let’s start with a little anthropology. Anthropology is the study of human nature through its physical, emotional, mental, cultural and mystical manifestations. This will be a theological anthropology, which is the study of human nature and its faculties through the added perspective of Christian revelation.

Let us think of ourselves as coming into existence as a little dot that might represent our conception, our personal “big bang”, so to speak. Theological anthropology suggests that at the moment of conception, the Source of our being is present in that tiny organism whose cells are multiplying at an enormous rate. Basically all our human potential, physical, emotional, mental and spiritual is present in that initial “bang” of creation — our personal entrance into the human family.

The teaching of the Divine Indwelling is a fundamental doctrine for the spiritual journey. The Father, the Son, the Eternal Word of the Father, and the Holy Spirit, are present within us. These relationships, which are never separate in their unity, are forever interacting. The Father is the potentiality for all existence; the Son is the actuality of all possibilities of existence; and the Spirit is the love that motivates both. Love loving itself eternally in the Trinity is the basis of our own existence, the most intimate part of us, that which is most real in us, the part of us that is capable of infinite happiness through participation in the divine life.

The true self, which is what we are trying to awaken through spiritual practice, is not separate from God. The true self is the divine manifesting itself in our uniqueness, in our talents, in our personal history, in our cultural conditioning, and in all the rest of the complex factors that go to make up our conscious life and its manifestation in our various activities. The infinite tenderness of God, right now, minus all the obstacles we place in opposition to that manifestation, is present in us right now. But each of us, because of what traditional theology calls the fallen human condition, is out of touch with this enormous energy of love that is inviting us to participate.

This does not mean that we have no identity of our own. Nor does it mean total absorption into God, as it does in some Eastern traditions. It does not mean the total loss of self. We remain uniquely whoever we are in virtue of our creation, but there is no possessiveness towards that uniqueness. The movement of the Spirit prompts us to give back whatever we are, all that we are, as much as we are, and everything that we have received from God. To give all back to God in love is the work of everyday life.

Around the true self there is a circle of awareness that we might call our spiritual nature. It has two principal faculties, the passive intellect and the will-to-God. These are respectively the innate desire for infinite truth and the innate desire for boundless love.

Because of the damage resulting from our fallen human condition, we are not normally in touch with our spiritual nature. Our actual psychological consciousness on a day to day level consists of our homemade self manifesting itself and not God.

The spiritual journey is initiated when we become aware that our ordinary psychological consciousness is dominated by the false self with its programs for happiness and over-identification with our cultural conditioning. The spiritual journey involves an inner change of attitude beginning with the recognition of being out of contact with our spiritual nature and our true self, and taking means to return. Only then can our true self and the potentiality that God has given us to live the divine life be manifested. Contemplative service is action coming from the true self, from our inmost being.

To liberate our true self is an enormous undertaking and a program that takes time. Centering prayer is completely at the service of this program. It would be a mistake to think of Centering Prayer as a mere rest period or a period of relaxation, although it sometimes provides these things. Neither is it a journey to bliss. You might get a little bliss, along the way, but you will also have to endure the wear and tear of the discipline of cultivating interior silence.

Thinking our usual thoughts is the chief way that human nature has devised to hide from the unconscious. So when our minds begin to quiet down in Centering Prayer, up comes the emotional debris of a lifetime in the form of gradual and sometimes dramatic realizations of what the false self is, and how this homemade self that we constructed in early childhood to deal with unbearable pain, became misdirected from genuine human values into seeking substitutes for God. Images that don’t really have any existence except in our imagination are projected on other people instead of facing head-on their source in ourselves.

Just think of the beatitudes that Jesus proclaims. The capacity to practice them are within us as part of the patrimony of Baptism. Similarly, the Seven Gifts of the Spirit and the Fruits of the Spirit enumerated by Paul in Galatians 5 are vibrating within us all the time. But, they are mediated through the various levels of the psyche so that we don’t experience their power until they are awakened through the discipline of deep prayer. Of course, there are other ways that God has of awakening us to his presence. For instance, he is perfectly free to reach up and pull us down into that area any time, but don’t count on it. It is better to practice a discipline.

What would be an active discipline to assist our centering prayer, so that it doesn’t become self-centered or a mere process of self-perfection, but actually is the assimilation of the infinite tenderness of God living his life within us? In general, such a discipline might be called “contemplative service”; in the concrete, I call it the “attention/intention practice”.

When you emerge from centering prayer, the present moment is what happens when you open your eyes. You have been in the present moment of prayer when you were completely open to the divine life and action within you. Now you get up out of the chair and you continue daily life. This is where attentiveness to the content of the present moment is a way of putting order into the myriad occupations, thoughts and events of daily life. Attention to this context simply means to do what you are doing. This was one of the principal recommendations of the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the fourth century. The disciple would come for instruction and say, “I am interested in finding the true self and becoming a contemplative. What should I do?” The Desert guides would reply in the most prosaic language. “Do what you’re doing.” Which means, bring your attention to the present moment and to whatever is its immediate content and keep it there.” For instance, it is time for supper. Well, put the food on the table. This is true virtue. Turning on the television at that time or making a needless phone call might not be. Attending to the present moment means that our mind is on what we are doing as we go through the day. Thus we are united to God in the present moment instead of wondering about what we are going to do next or tomorrow. There might be a good time set aside for planning but not now.

To be completely present to someone you are talking to is one of the most difficult of all practices. Your presence will often do more than what you say. It gives others a chance to be present to themselves. Moreover, if your presence is coming from a deep place within, the divine compassion that is inspiring you will be there for them in the degree that they are capable of receiving it.

To be totally present to children, if you have them, to the old folks, if you have them, to counselees if you have them, to the job of the present moment that needs a responsible fulfillment – this is what might be called how to act from the center, how to do contemplative service, how to put order into ordinary daily life by being present to the occupation of the present moment. This cuts off an enormous amount of needless reflection, projects of self-aggrandizement, and wondering what people are thinking of us.

If we refuse to think of anything except what we are doing or the person that we are with, we develop the habit of being present to the present moment. In a way, the present moment becomes as sacred as being in church. Far better to be present to your duty if you are a bartender, than to be present in church and to be thinking about being in a bar. At least you are present to yourself when you are paying attention to what you are doing.

Attention, then, is a way of doing what we are doing. It cracks the crust of the false self (our psychological awareness of daily life) in which we are the center of the universe while everything else is circling around our particular needs or desires. This is an illusion, but unfortunately it is the heritage we all bring with us from early life.

A practice, then, of just paying attention to what you are doing for a certain part of the day for the love of God, and disregarding every other thought is a practical way of opening ourselves to a deeper level of contemplation. It will not work instantly, but regular practice has long-range effects. It might be called the how of activity.

The spiritual level is also healed of the false self by the why of what you are doing. Your intention to do what you are doing for the love of God connects you with the divine presence in a powerful way. The power of intention is immense. The will willing God actually enters into union with God although you may not consciously experience the effects of this union right away. My intention is why I am doing what I am doing.

Here is the practice: Choose a certain time when you deliberately establish and renew your intention of doing some particular work for the love of God. Our minds are generally so scattered that we keep forgetting. To have a time or one particular activity when you do this deliberately as a daily practice will quickly show you the influence of your intentionality on the false self. Nobody does anything without a motive. You don’t know why you are doing something unless you know both your conscious and unconscious motivation. For example, as soon as you start trying to do a particular job at hand for the love of God, the motivation of the false self begins to arise and you may find yourself acting out of jealousy; or you want to get even with someone who has wronged you; or you are trying to get ahead in some situation and you trample on some one else’s rights. The galaxy of bad intentions motivated by the false self emerges when for a few minutes you try to maintain a pure intention.

The great insight of the early Desert Fathers and Mothers was that a pure intention leads to purity of heart; selfish motivation is gradually evacuated and the habit of a pure intention is firmly established. You begin to enter into God’s intentionality, which is to manifest infinite compassion in the present circumstances, however painful, however joyful, however seemingly bereft of the divine presence.
As soon as you focus your intention — why you are doing this particular action — your unconscious motivation arises. The unconscious motivation might be that in our service, however devout it may appear outwardly, we are really looking for praise. In other words, our secret desires begin to emerge into consciousness when we deliberately focus our intention on loving God in all that we do.
How to work — attention. Why I am working — intention. Awareness of these two aspects lead to the third and final quality of contemplative service — who is doing the work. Having uncovered the spiritual obstacles of pride, envy, and whatever else might be hidden on the unconscious, we are now approaching our true self; we are approaching our inmost center; we are approaching Love loving itself. What’s going to happen? Without your intending anything special, without necessarily doing anything special, people begin to find God in you as you humbly do what you are supposed to be doing. Complete submission to God allows the divine energy to radiate, and others seeing you have a sense of being in touch with God or in the midst of a community where divine love exists. This is what a Christian community is suppose to be, whether it is a family, parish or organization. The third way of working or acting in daily life might be called transmission.

When attention to the present moment and a pure intention are established as habits, then you have, in the fullest sense of the word, contemplative service. Your contemplation is then perceived, enjoyed and received, perhaps without a word, or without anyone being able to explain it. People know that somehow, Christ is acting in you, is present in you, and is loving them in you. This is the atmosphere in which people can grow and become fully alive. One needs to feel loved as a human being to come alive. And the greatest love, of course, is divine love, especially when it becomes transparent in another person. And it is most impressive when that person is not even aware of it and it just happens.
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Remembering Deacon Peter Joseph

December 8, 2014 – Remembering Deacon Peter- St. Joseph Maronite Catholic Church in the City of Waterville, Maine experienced a loss that cannot be easily expressed by words. This man known as Deacon Peter, Uncle Peter, Dad, Rabi, and friend and community leader passed from this world to eternal life in Christ.   In that moment he was reunited with his beloved wife and sweetheart, Pat.  Peter was born and raised in Waterville, the youngest of seven children of John R. and Lena (Ferris) Joseph. As a young boy, Peter helped his father lay the foundation of St. Joseph Maronite Catholic Church, the church in which he spent his life serving, as an altar boy, parishioner, lector, council member, Sub-Deacon and Deacon. He left a legacy that all will remember and his spirit will live in his family and all who knew him forever.       Joseph spent a lifetime helping people from the time he was a child handing out food to homeless people who stopped at the family market on Front Street,.  Joseph came from a large Lebanese family that owned not only the market, but also Joseph Motor Co. His father, John R. Joseph Sr., came to the U.S. from Lebanon in 1900 and married Lena Ferris, who also was from Lebanon. Peter’s daughter Lea Williams said his deeds imparted a lesson that can only be taught through example — giving of yourself to others.     I remember him always telling me that his favorite saying, the one that he identified with most, was the following: ‘I shall pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.’ I think most people would agree that he lived up to this creed.    Another parishioner, Paul Ferris, wrote on Facebook:”  Peter had too many achievements to recount but what I remember most is the fact that he was one of the first people after Vatican II to serve in the role as permanent Deacon. He pioneered that ministry which had been dormant for hundreds of years. He had no map or example to follow so he made his own path with great humility and distinction. He once related a conversation he had with Father Paul. He said to him, “I am a Christian, a Catholic, and a Maronite.”
My father in law, Deeb Ferris, was ordained with Peter as  Subdeacon, which led me to answer the call as well.
Rest in peace Deacon Peter.

Thanksgiving for Dale Ferris

I am not sure when I first met Dale, but I am sure she was with her sister, Judy, as they were never very far from each other.  It may have been at our wedding, 1975 when we received a plaque of an American Indian Marriage Ceremony from Dale and Judy, which continues to hang on our wall and reminds me of Dale’s acceptance of the diversity of cultures. Or it may have been at one of the family gatherings that seemed to happen so often when all the children were younger.   If you ever saw the movie Big Fat Greek Wedding, then you know the ethnic family experience, although my experience might be called the Lebanese version of that movie.   Meeting Dale and the rest of the family was quite an experience for a WASP from Philadelphia.    Dale was one of Allison’s most colorful relatives. She was honest and straight forward and a deep spiritual thinker.   She enjoyed providing honest feedback regarding those who strayed from what she believed was the truth. 
I loved her for her frank and honest discussion of the most controversial of topics and will miss her terribly.  I am sure many here today will also miss her. 

When I was preparing this I called Fr Jim to get some ideas.  He was one of her favorite people, I am sure she is smiling from heaven upon Fr Jim here today with us to honor and celebrate Dale and her life.   Fr Jim said they first met at the Blessed Sacrament, was just before he was scheduled to go to Africa. They invited him to the Holy Childhood Nursery School and they became the best of friends for the next 40 years. They corresponded often between Africa and America.

Their First airplane trip was to Africa to visit Fr Jim 1980. They made a lot of friends in Africa.  Dale Loved to talk about her travels like going to Africa, Rome, Bar Harbor and Cadillac Mountain.
She had a great love for the Eucharist and like serving as an Extraordinary Eucharistic Minister. She was very interested in the Peace and Justice Activities in the Church and her model was Dorothy Day

Whenever I saw Dale I always  felt “ at home”.  AT PEACE. She always smiled and gave me a big hug and kiss.  On a few occasions we visited them on a Sunday afternoon at the Nursery School before they moved to Seton Village and she would sometimes get out some wonderful cheese, maybe a bottle of wine or some beer and always some zytoon, bread and whatever else she might find when she went downstairs to the basement of her home where she kept her treasures of the pallet. I think she and Judy bought a barrels of various Lebanese food from a middle eastern grocery story in Brooklyn, NY or Lawrence Mass to be sure she always had something special to share with their guests.  During these visits, we would talk about politics, the Catholic Church, the days social problems. She always asked about family.  She usually had a strong opinion about something and could back up her opinions with facts she had read or learned in her research as she had a real thirst
for knowledge.  On one of these visits she and Judy gave me a copy of Seven Story Mountain by Thomas Merton. This book inspired me and I am sure began my path to serving God and the Church.   I found a quote from that book that provides a perspective from Dale AND her impact on my faith in God.

“I was not sure where I was going, and I could not see what I would do when I got [there]. But you saw further and clearer than I, and you opened the seas before my ship, whose track led me across the waters to a place I had never dreamed of, and which you were even then preparing to be my rescue and my shelter and my home.”
― Thomas Merton, The Seven Story Mountain

Dale Ferris was a remarkable women.  She was loved by all who knew her including her family, many friends and people in this community.   She loved the children she taught for 28 years at the Holy Childhood Nursery School.  She loved the parents of those children. She loved spending time with the adult children who so often would return to visit her and Miss Judy.  She loved visiting the sick and infirmed. She loved justice.  Most of all she loved Jesus like no one I will ever know. 
She was a model Christian.  She encouraged and promoted Jesus Christ as our savior and bridge to eternal life.   Her faith in Jesus Christ our savior was an inspiration me and to all who knew her. 
  Thank you Dale for your gift to us all.  I believe you encouraged GOD’s grace to be present to us all as a result of knowing you. My thoughts and prayers go to Aunt Judy, who with Dale, became the book ends of the early childhood catholic education for this city.  We are all grateful for her gift and service to this community.

WE need not be sad for Dale. Dale is very happy . She is with the LORD She is with her family members who have gone before her. She will live in eternal life with and in the Most Holy Trinity – Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit forever.  AMEN 

Basketball and God…

I first learned about basketball at my grandfather’s basketball camp in Etna, Maine called Camp Katahdin.  I started playing basketball there. Check out the picture below, I am the little tanned guy with his arms hanging down  to the left of the coach.

Then then I played as a young person in South Jersey,  where I was on a junior high school intramural team and a good friend of mine recruited me to join the CYO Catholic Youth Organization basketball league.  I played in High School.  Then coached both my son’s at the YMCA and was a Freshman Coach at Waterville High School for one year.

The wonderful thing about basketball is that is an equalizer.  Good players are good players no matter their ethic or socio-economic background.  Later in life I met and married a Lebanese women and soon was introduced to the 1944 New England Championship team that was comprised of Lebanese men.  My cousin Ray Edelman played at Kentucky and his Dad, Ray Edelman SR. was a coach at the University of Pennsylvania.

Lots of basketball in my history.  I love the game. Seems two things have been part of my life.  Basketball and God.

 Then recently I saw this video and it touched my soul.  And I knew.  There must be a court in heaven.  Playing the game of basketball has had an impact on the lives of many young people including some wonder seminary students featured in the video.  The game taught me to be a team player, to get back up when I fell down and to keep on even in the light of a terribly mismatched game.   What a great game.   Watch this.  http://www.heroicpriesthood.com/

Waiting for his plan to Unfold

Thy will be done. This intention can be very difficult if one does not regularly give one’s self to Christ in contemplation and prayer with out clarity of expectation but true irrevocable Faith that indeed God does have a plan for each of us.  This is not fate as some might call it. It is the unmistakable Divine plan for our life that comes when we give ourselves over to the will of God.  Kyrie Elieson. As we travel through the worldly life we have been given by the Source of Life,  there are times when a plan is not coming to fruition quite as we expected or even hoped.  These are the times when faith is critical.  Think of Jesus Christ on the cross, near death “my God why have you forsaken me”.  His humanness had the doubt, but his Divinity let the plan unfold and his resurrection has save millions of lives and souls.  Will I die for the Lord, I honestly hope it never comes to that.  Today’s martyrdom is not physical death, but rather psychological and social death.  Good honest people are discriminated against, fired, terminated and treated with disrespect all through the guise of corporate profit.  Top executives still earn their millions, share holders stock value increases and the board is happy.  Bottom line?  The organization must must survive.   The harm caused people who have been treated this way is not weighted as heavily as organization survival, stockholder return on investment and maintenance of executive compensation. This is legal from a letter of the law perspective.  There is no violation.  The constitution gives the right to the pursuit of happiness.  But what of the spiritual damage?

So, I guess we need to some how organize against this regard for humanity in the name of a free market.  How do we reconcile this year after year, and person after person.  Collateral damage?

This is not an easy question to be addressed.  Pray, Love… do not eat too much….