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"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

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Thursday, 29 December 2011

PEACE ON EARTH III - SAINT ISAAC THE SYRIAN AND DOROTHY DAY

St Isaac the Syrian has come into his own in modern times. Why God should use a seventh century saint to talk to Christians of today, a "Nestorian" to boot, though he shows no sign of the Nestorian heresy, is something known to God.   Perhaps it is because he shows us by his universal love what it means to be "Catholic" in a world of many faith and none.   We must reflect in our lives the universal love of God; this arising, not from a wishy-washy liberalism, a belief that one religion is as good as another, but from a belief in the Incarnation, that God took on the whole human nature, showing his love for the whole human race and for all creation, and looking at all human activity, including religious activity, in this context.

This is the third post in a series entitled "PEACE ON EARTH".    In the first, there was a video talk given by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware on how the Divine Liturgy embraces the whole world in a universal love; and an article by Professor Olivier Clement on the Byzantine tradition on war and peace.   The second post gave examples of two great saints of universal love, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, a Catholic, and Mother Maria Skobtsova, an Orthodox nun who died in Ravensbruk.   In this third post on PEACE ON EARTH, after giving something of the vision of St Isaac the Syrian, using his own words, which provides a key to understand modern Catholic and Orthodox sanctity.   We shall look at another witness to the universal love of God, Dorothy Day and, in PEACE ON EARTH IV, another called Thomas Merton. Both are Catholics who drank deep from the well of Orthodox spirituality; and both strive to discover an authentic Christian way of living their faith in modern times   In this task I seek the help of Jim Forest, an Orthodox, who has written extensively about both people.

Words from St. Isaac of Syria
 source: Glory to God for All Things

 St. Isaac stretches love and mercy to it’s farthest limits, occasionally beyond the bounds of canonical understanding. He remains a saint of the Church and his words are very important to hear.


Let yourself be persecuted, but do not persecute others.


Be crucified, but do not crucify others.


Se slandered, but do not slander others.


Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep: such is the sign of purity.


Suffer with the sick.


Be afflicted with sinners.


Exult with those who repent.


Be the friend of all, but in your spirit remain alone.


Be a partaker of the sufferings of all, but keep your body distant from all.


Rebuke no one, revile no one, not even those who live very wickedly.


Spread your cloak over those who fall into sin, each and every one, and shield them.


And if you cannot take the fault on yourself and accept punishment in their place, do not destroy their character.


What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation. For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm her or him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner such a person prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns without measure in a heart that is in the likeness of God.


The person who is genuinely charitable not only gives charity out of his own possessions, but gladly tolerates injustice from others and forgives them. Whoever lays down his soul for his brother acts generously, rather than the person who demonstrates his generosity by his gifts.


God is not One who requites evil, but who sets evil right.


Paradise is the love of God, wherein is the enjoyment of all blessedness.


The person who lives in love reaps the fruit of life from God, and while yet in this world, even now breathes the air of the resurrection.


In love did God bring the world into existence; in love is God going to bring it to that wondrous transformed state, and in love will the world be swallowed up in the great mystery of the One who has performed all these things; in love will the whole course of the governance of creation be finally comprised.


Question: When is a person sure of having arrived at purity?


Answer: When that person considers all human beings are good, and no created thing appears impure or defiled. Then a person is truly pure in heart.


Love is sweeter than life.


Sweeter still, sweeter than honey and the honeycomb is the awareness of God whence love is born.


Love is not loath to accept the hardest of deaths for those it loves.


Love is the child of knowledge.


Lord, fill my heart with eternal life.


As for me I say that those who are tormented in hell are tormented by the invasion of love. What is there more bitter and violent than the pains of love? Those who feel they have sinned against love bear in themselves a damnation much heavier than the most dreaded punishments. The suffering with which sinning against love afflicts the heart is more keenly felt than any other torment. It is absurd to assume that the sinners in hell are deprived of God’s love. Love is offered impartially. But by its very power it acts in two ways. It torments sinners, as happens here on earth when we are tormented by the presence of a friend to whom we have been unfaithful. And it gives joy to those who have been faithful.


That is what the torment of hell is in my opinion: remorse. But love inebriates the souls of the sons and daughters of heaven by its delectability.


If zeal had been appropriate for putting humanity right, why did God the Word clothe himself in the body, using gentleness and humility in order to bring the world back to his Father?


Sin is the fruit of free will. There was a time when sin did not exist, and there will be a time when it will not exist.


God’s recompense to sinners is that, instead of a just recompense, God rewards them with resurrection.


O wonder! The Creator clothed in a human being enters the house of tax collectors and prostitutes. Thus the entire universe, through the beauty of the sight of him, was drawn by his love to the single confession of God, the Lord of all.


“Will God, if I ask, forgive me these things by which I am pained and by whose memory I am tormented, things by which, though I abhor them, I go on backsliding? Yet after they have taken place the pain they give me is even greater than that of a scorpion’s sting. Though I abhor them, I am still in the middle of them, and when I repent of them with suffering I wretchedly return to them again.”


This is how many God-fearing people think, people who foster virtue and are pricked with the suffering of compunction, who mourn over their sin; They live between sin and repentance all the time. Let us not be in doubt, O fellow humanity, concerning the hope of our salvation, seeing that the One who bore sufferings for our sakes is very concerned about our salvation; God’s mercifulness is far more extensive than we can conceive, God’s grace is greater than what we ask for.


When we find love, we partake of heavenly bread and are made strong without labor and toil. The heavenly bread is Christ, who came down from heaven and gave life to the world. This is the nourishment of angels. The person who has found love eats and drinks Christ every day and every hour and is thereby made immortal. …When we hear Jesus say, “Ye shall eat and drink at the table of my kingdom,” what do we suppose we shall eat, if not love? Love, rather than food and drink, is sufficient to nourish a person. This is the wine “which maketh glad the heart.” Blessed is the one who partakes of this wine! Licentious people have drunk this wine and become chaste; sinners have drunk it and have forgotten the pathways of stumbling; drunkards have drunk this wine and become fasters; the rich have drunk it and desired poverty, the poor have drunk it and been enriched with hope; the sick have drunk it and become strong; the unlearned have taken it and become wise.


Repentance is given us as grace after grace, for repentance is a second regeneration by God. That of which we have received an earnest by baptism, we receive as a gift by means of repentance. Repentance is the door of mercy, opened to those who seek it. By this door we enter into the mercy of God, and apart from this entrance we shall not find mercy.


Blessed is God who uses corporeal objects continually to draw us close in a symbolic way to a knowledge of God’s invisible nature. O name of Jesus, key to all gifts, open up for me the great door to your treasure-house, that I may enter and praise you with the praise that comes from the heart.


O my Hope, pour into my heart the inebriation that consists in the hope of you. O Jesus Christ, the resurrection and light of all worlds, place upon my soul’s head the crown of knowledge of you; open before me all of a sudden the door of mercies, cause the rays of your grace to shine out in my heart.


O Christ, who are covered with light as though with a garment, who for my sake stood naked in front of Pilate, clothe me with that might which you caused to overshadow the saints, whereby they conquered this world of struggle. May your Divinity, Lord, take pleasure in me, and lead me above the world to be with you.


I give praise to your holy Nature, Lord, for you have made my nature a sanctuary for your hiddenness and a tabernacle for your holy mysteries, a place where you can dwell, and a holy temple for your Divinity.


Adapted from Bp. Hilarion Alfeyev’s The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian (Cistercian Studies 175), Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 2000.




Interview with Jim Forest – Work Hard, Pray Hard. by US Catholic Magazine By editors of US Catholic Magazine Jim signing books at a talk in Washington DC at Catholic University on Oct. 23, 2011.Photo courtesy of Jim Forest


source: "In Communion" of "The Orthodox Peace Fellowship"

. Few have written authoritative biographies of the 20th-century spiritual giants Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker, and Thomas Merton, the celebrated Trappist monk and writer. Fewer still knew them both. But Jim Forest, a former Catholic Worker himself, did, and his unique insight reveals the human side of two figures many Catholics revere as saints, if as yet uncanonized.

 Why the interest in these two people, both dead for decades? “Merton is just a perennial, like certain plants that refuse to stop blooming no matter how many years pass,” says Forest of the monk, who died in 1968, but whose writings are still not all published. “There’s a new book by him coming out every year or two.” As for Day, with whom Forest lived as a member of her staff, “Her canonization proceedings have gradually made people more and more curious: Who is this Dorothy Day?” The close friendship between Day and Merton, rooted in their common commitment to nonviolence and the works of mercy, is a fact known to few of their admirers. At heart, they shared a desire to restore to the church its early refusal of violence for any reason. “If you were to be baptized in the early centuries, you had to make a commitment not to kill anybody, period,” says Forest. “How did we lose that? Merton and Dorothy were two of the people in the 20th century who helped to unpack those boxes that had been pushed up into the attic.

 ”Dorothy Day lived in New York City among the poor, and Thomas Merton was a monk in rural Kentucky. How did you come to know them both?
 When I first came to the Catholic Worker in 1960, I was still in the Navy. I was 19 years old, working at the U.S. Weather Bureau as a young meteorologist and taking kids to Mass on Sunday from a little institution in Washington where I was volunteering in my spare time. I found copies of Dorothy’s newspaper, The Catholic Worker, in the library at this particular parish, Blessed Sacrament, and became curious about the woman. One weekend I went up from Washington to New York to see what the Catholic Worker was all about. In New York I was given a bag of mail to take to her in Staten Island. She was sitting there with a letter opener at the end of a table with a half dozen people sitting around. One of the rituals of life, as I discovered, was Dorothy reading the mail aloud to whoever happened to be there and telling stories. One of the letters was from Thomas Merton, and I was absolutely astounded that Dorothy Day, who was very much “in the world,” was corresponding with Thomas Merton, who had left the world with a resounding slam of the door. Of course, they were both members of the Catholic Church and both writers, but Merton had taken the express train out of New York City for good, and Dorothy lived at its very heart. Dorothy periodically got arrested; Merton certainly did not. Dorothy was very much under a cloud from the point of view of many Catholics because of her anti-war activities, and Merton was regarded as one of the principal Catholic writers in the world. But if they had been brother and sister they couldn’t have been very much closer. 

 How would you introduce these two figures to someone who doesn’t know them?I might start with a photo: Dorothy Day between two policemen, awaiting arrest at age 75. It was her last arrest, and you can see that this is a person worth knowing about, somebody who never stopped being disturbed about things that were disturbing, and she did it without hating anybody. She had a gift for seeing injustice and responding without rage but with persistence. She’s looking at these two policemen like a concerned grandmother of two kids who have their water pistols ready to open fire on grandma—but she’s definitely not in a state of enmity with these two boys and their big guns. 

In the case of Merton it’s more difficult because monastic life is so removed. The average age of a monk at Merton’s Abbey of Gethsemani now is 70. Today there aren’t a lot of young people thinking of becoming monks, whereas 50 years ago a lot of people were. I remember when I first saw Merton—there were no author photographs on his books, so you had no idea what he looked like—I sort of imagined some skinny person fasting all hours of the day, certainly not a person with a sense of humor. When I actually saw him for the first time in the monastery, he was on the floor with his feet in the air and clutching his tummy, laughing so hard that he was a shade of red. What was he laughing about? Merton had invited me to come down to the monastery, and I hitchhiked down because of my economic situation. It was in the middle of winter, 1962, and by the time Bob Wolf, one of my friends at the Catholic Worker, and I arrived, it had been two and a half days of the worst weather I’d ever experienced. When we finally got to the abbey, we hadn’t had a shower in two and a half days, so we probably had a pretty rich aroma. I had gone into the chapel loft at the monastery to pray, as I was excessively pious in those days. Bob more sensibly had collapsed on his bed in the guest house. Soon I could hear in the distance this funny sound that seemed like laughter but, of course, it couldn’t be laughter because this was a monastery. I followed the noise into Bob’s room, where I found both Merton and Bob laughing. It was, of course, the “Catholic Worker perfume” that had been inhaled by Merton that set him off.

 Why was meeting Merton such a big deal to you? I can only compare it to meeting someone like Oprah Winfrey today. You could not walk into a bookshop in America then without finding Merton’s autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain. For tens of thousands of people, it was a life-changing book. It’s a perennial bestseller, probably the most important religious autobiography that had been written in 200 or 300 years. It was the beginning of a succession of books by Merton, all of which were automatic bestsellers. Most of the people who read it didn’t become monks. But they did discover a kind of monastic place inside themselves where they could live a more coherent spiritual life. They found a core, a center, an anchor of some kind, and it opened their eyes in ways they hadn’t been opened before.

 Was Dorothy Day as well known? No, but on the other hand you could not walk into a Catholic church in America and not run into somebody who knew about the Catholic Worker. There were Catholic Worker houses of hospitality all over the country. The Catholic Worker newspaper was one of the most widely read Catholic publications in the United States with 100,000 copies printed every month. And once you became interested in Day, you were likely to read her autobiography, The Long Loneliness. 

How did Merton and Day become friends? It was a friendship of letters; they never actually met. Their oldest surviving letter is from December 1956, from Dorothy to Merton. She had received the news that he had offered Christmas Mass for her and the Catholic Worker and wanted him to know that “this has made me very happy indeed.” She goes on to say, “We have had a very beautiful Christmas here and quite a sober and serious one, too. There have been occasions in the past when the entire kitchen force got drunk, which made life complicated, but you must have been holding them up this year. Please continue to do so.” You get a sense of the frankness of their exchanges. The next letter that escaped the vicissitudes of time is also from Dorothy, from June 1959. It’s a reply to a letter from Merton, and she apologizes for not having answered more quickly and also recalls with gratitude the copies of The Seven Storey Mountain he had sent to her way back in 1948. That might have been the beginning, just Merton sending her a box of books. So Merton’s interest in Dorothy goes back at least to 1948.

 Why do you think Merton was interested in Day and the Worker? The big decision for Merton was whether to be part of Catherine Doherty’s Friendship House in Harlem near Columbia, where he was studying, which was like the Catholic Worker, or to go to Gethsemani and become a monk. Monastic life tilted heavily toward prayer, and ultimately Merton realized there was just something mysterious in him that pulled him toward that vocation. He didn’t feel it was necessarily as high a vocation as the works of mercy, but it was the one that God was calling him to. But that tension was always there, and he had a sense of gratitude that the Catholic Worker existed. Having a relationship with Dorothy allowed him to be a part of the work he hadn’t been led to do. As he wrote to Dorothy in December 1963, “If there were no Catholic Worker and such forms of witness, I would never have joined the Catholic Church.”

 How did they influence each other? I think Merton probably had less influence on Dorothy than she had on him, actually. Merton was trying very hard to write through the church censors— the abbot-general of his order blocked some of his writings about war and peace, for example. But Merton mainly wanted to reach Catholics who were bewildered by the idea of nonviolent, disarmed life, with works of mercy as a core of Christian life. I think he tried harder than Dorothy to communicate with people who didn’t completely share a pacifist view, and she was impatient with him for doing so. Dorothy was very outspoken: no footnotes, no commentaries, just bang, there it is. Merton would make a great effort to meet people midway, which I think was one of his talents. Merton’s voice changed all the time depending who he was talking to. If he was talking to a Quaker, he might use Quaker vocabulary. The same if he was talking to a Muslim. He created spaces in which dialogue occurred that might not happen otherwise. Merton had this facility to study and appreciate radically different points of view and somehow integrate them into his style with some people. Dorothy didn’t have a vocabulary for talking to Buddhists—she was so Catholic. I can remember having to argue Dorothy into publishing articles by Thomas Merton in The Catholic Worker because he wasn’t taking the pacifist position that Dorothy took. Can you imagine having to convince the editor of The Catholic Worker to publish an article by Thomas Merton? 

Did he influence her in terms of prayer? Dorothy was there already. She wouldn’t have lasted five years at the Catholic Worker if she didn’t pray. Of all the people I’ve known in my life, including Thomas Merton, I haven’t known anybody with a more disciplined spiritual life than Dorothy Day: Mass every day, rosary every day, confession every week. A community of Benedictine monks sent us prayer booklets for use during the day at the Worker—lauds, vespers, compline. We used them until they were worn out and then they’d send us more.

 How was Day’s approach to war and peace different from Merton’s? I can remember going with Dorothy one night when she was speaking at New York University on Washington Square. I was impressed by how much hostility there was from some of the students because of her antiwar stance. The Cold War was very cold, and anybody who was seen as a little short on the patriotic side—which meant an uncritical, enthusiastic support of the military activities of the United States government—came under suspicion. One of the students said, “Well, Ms. Day, you talk about loving enemies, but just what would you do if the Russians were to invade?” Dorothy said, “I would love them the same as I love anybody else that comes here. Jesus has said to love your enemies; that’s what I try to do. I would open my arms and do my best to make them feel welcome.” It was an absolutely scandalous answer, but it was straight out of the New Testament. It was like a lightning bolt, this shocking simplicity of the gospel. Dorothy knew enough by that time to be able to speak that way without apology or embarrassment. I suppose the young man who asked that question has never forgotten the answer. He probably will come back to it again and again and move from scandal and shock to maybe even thinking she was onto something. It wasn’t just words. Dorothy was in situations time and time again when she was confronted with people who were dangerous, and she did exactly what she hoped to do. She responded to them in a caring, motherly way.

 How do you think Merton and Day would respond to today’s wars? Dorothy would be doing the kind of things Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence and other peace activists are doing: going to Iraq, going to Afghanistan, meeting with people, helping them, making known through writing and photography what the world is doing to human beings in these situations. I saw a picture on a poster in Milwaukee a couple of days ago that peace activists use at a weekly vigil on the Marquette campus. It is an American soldier—helmet, battle fatigues, gun at his side—holding the dead body of a child, the soldier obviously weeping. That’s the kind of imagery we’re not seeing on the front page of any newspapers in America, but that’s the reality of war, and Dorothy would be encouraging young people to bring it out. One of the things Merton stressed that we’re missing in our discussions of war is what he called the human dimension. We have to try to bring the face of suffering people to the fore and see what we can do to make that suffering happen less often, with less dreadful consequences. 

You’ve talked about Thomas Merton’s sense of humor. What about Dorothy Day? Was she ever funny? One of my favorite stories of Dorothy was the moment when a quite well-dressed woman came in to the Worker. She took a diamond ring from her finger and handed it to Dorothy. Why she was moved to do that, I have no idea. Dorothy thanked her politely with no more fuss than she would if the woman had brought a dozen eggs. A little while later a woman that we didn’t particularly enjoy seeing showed up. I think her name was Catherine, but we called her “the weasel.” She was, as far as we could tell, genetically incapable of saying thank you. Dorothy reached into her pocket and said, “I have something for you”—and gave her the diamond ring. I don’t know if it was me or somebody else who went to Dorothy afterward and said, “You know, Dorothy, I could have taken that ring up to West 47th Street to the Diamond Exchange, and we could have paid her rent for years to come.” She responded, “Well, if she wants to sell the ring and go to the Bahamas, she can do so. But she might also like to just wear the ring. Do you think God made diamonds just for the rich?” 

 Despite their differences, how are Day and Merton most similar? You would think that they wouldn’t have much in common, but the more you look the more you see how much they complement each other. I think they both represent a radical search for a deeply rooted spiritual life that is not separate from the world. We always hear the commandment, “Love God, and love your neighbor,” but one or the other usually takes priority. Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day were both remarkably successful in finding that balance point in terms of their own unique identities. The balance is slightly different, but the scales are very similar, which makes them convincing to us today, each in their own way.

 USC ? IN COMMUNION / issue 62 / October 2011
click on DOROTHY DAY AND THE LIGHT FROM THE EAST: Eastern Christianity, the Fathers of the Desert and Dostoievsky



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