"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

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Entering the Year of Mercy: Are You Willing to Take the “Rahner Challenge”? THE YEAR OF MERCY AND SANCTITY

Official Vatican Logo for the Jubilee Year of Mercy (CNS/Courtesy of Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization)
The oficial logo of the Year of Mercy

December 8, 2015 by Carl McColman 
Patheos: Carl Colman - A Contemplative Faith

So today is the fiftieth anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council.
It’s also the beginning of the Jubilee Year of Mercy as declared by Pope Francis. Which is a wonderful way to honor Vatican II — a year devoted not only to seeking God’s mercy, but to reflecting on how the Body of Christ can be mercy, can bring mercy to a world that seems increasingly fraught by violence, fear, and injustice.
What does it mean to be God’s mercy, to bring’s God mercy to a world where mass shootings have become a daily occurrence, where our public and political conversations are not only polarized but increasingly seem paranoid, and every minute someone in America harms him- or herself enough to end up in the hospital, with 1 in 12 of those acts of self-harm resulting in suicide?
How do we live the mercy of God? How do we share it? How do we give it away?
Karl Rahner (By Jesromtel (Own work)
[CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

In 1965, the same year as the close of Vatican II, the Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner wrote a short book called The Christian of the Future. The book is eerily prophetic, in its description of what sounds like the Christian of our present day: a world where faith is marginalized, where politicians use Christian rhetoric to further their agenda but without truly engaging the demands of the Gospel, where to be a true follower of Jesus means to be engaged in a community of cultural and sometimes even political resistance. Rayner even muses on how communication in the future will be decentralized and global, suggesting that he imagined something like the world wide web  twenty-five years before it was born.
But as prophetic as The Christian of the Future may be, its ultimate message is neatly summed up in a statement found in another of Rahner’s books, Concern for the Church: “The Christian of the future will be a mystic or… will not exist.” In a world where “cultural Christianity” is rapidly disappearing, it makes no sense to be a Christian unless we really mean it. Unless we really want a life-transfiguring encounter with Christ. Unless we really believe that compassion and mercy and forgiveness and loving our enemies can make a real difference.
Here’s the thing. For all the pious talk that comes from some of our political, religious and cultural leaders, we live in a  world that is increasingly indifferrent, if not actually hostile, to such values as mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation, service to the poor and vulnerable, and finding happiness through self-denial. And our world is even more indifferent, if not hostile, to belief in God, spiritual wonder, contemplative silence, and the testimony of the great mystics: that God will literally remake us from the inside out, if we only say “yes.” But such a yes is a yes to dying-to-self, to radical emptiness, to humility, to deep listening, and to a life surrendered to love and compassion, devoid of judgment and thirsting for justice.
This is what Karl Rahner is talking about. When he tells us that we Christians must either be mystics or pack our bags, he’s not saying we will all have visions (although some of us might), he’s not saying we will all encounter God in ecstasy and bliss (although some of us might), he’s not saying we will all turn into Christian versions of the Buddha, finding enlightenment beneath the cross (although some of us might). Rather, the Christian of the future, who must be a mystic, will be a radical contemplative, immersed in silence, devoted to love, committed to mercy and forgiveness and reconciliation, and luminous with hope and trust.
Are you willing to take up Karl Rahner’s challenge? Will you embrace the future God is calling us to — a future shaped not by Christianity-as-a-polite-religion, but rather Christianity-as-a-subversive-spirituality, where to follow Christ means bringing love and mercy and forgiveness to the corners of the world where such living waters are most desperately needed?
If you’re like me, you’re worried  you don’t have what it takes. That’s okay, this is all God’s doing anyway. Our job is like Mary’s: we don’t have to be in charge, we simply have to consent. And let the Spirit take things from there.
As we enter this Jubilee Year of Mercy, let’s take the Rahner challenge. Let’s give ourselves to God, and see where the adventure takes us.

The Trappist Martyrs of Tibhirine, Algeria, 1996
my source: The Good Heart

On the night of March 26-27, 1996, seven monks from the monastery Notre-Dame de l'Atlas of Tibhirine in Algeria, belonging to the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (O.C.S.O.),  or Trappists, were kidnapped and later killed during the Algerian Civil War.

At about 1:15 AM on March 27, 1996, some twenty armed men arrived at the monastery of Tibhirine and took seven monks into custody. Two others, Fr. Jean-Pierre and Fr. Amédée, who died in 2008, escaped the kidnappers' notice, hidden in separate rooms. After the kidnappers left, the remaining monks tried to contact the police, but the telephone lines had been cut. Because of the curfew in force, they could only wait until morning before driving to the police station in Médéa. 

On April 18, the Armed Islamic Group (GIA - Groupe Islamique Armé) issued communique #43, demanding      the release of GIA leader, Abdelhak Layada, as the price for the monks' lives. On April 30, a tape with the voices of the kidnapped monks, recorded ten days earlier, was delivered to the French Embassy. On May 23, the Armed Islamic Group's communique #44 reported that the Armed Islamic Group had killed the monks on May 21. The Algerian government announced that the monks' heads had been discovered on May 31; their bodies were never found. A funeral Mass was celebrated in the Catholic Cathedral of Notre Dame d'Afrique (Our Lady of Africa), Algiers, on June 2, 1996, and their remains were buried in the cemetery of the monastery at Tibhirine on June 4. The surviving two monks of Tibhirine left Algeria, to live in the Trappist annex near Midelt in Morocco, where the late Father Bruno had been superior. 

The circumstances of the Tibhirine monks' kidnapping and deaths remain controversial. In 2008, the Italian newspaper La Stampa reported that an anonymous high-ranking Western government official, then based in Algeria and in Finland, had told them that the kidnapping had been orchestrated by a GIA group which the DRS (Département du Renseignement et de la Sécurité, the Algerian state intelligence service) had infiltrated , and that the monks had then been killed accidentally by an Algerian military helicopter attacking the camp where they were being held captive. In 2009, the retired French general, François Buchwalter, who was military attaché in Algeria at the time, testified to a judge that the monks had accidentally been killed by a helicopter from the Algerian government during an attack on a guerrilla position, then beheaded after their death to make it appear as though the GIA had killed them. Ex-GIA leader Abdelhak Layada, who was in prison when the monks were killed, but was later freed under a national amnesty, responded by claiming that the Armed Islamic Group had indeed beheaded them after negotiations with the French secret services broke down.

In 2010 Xavier Beauvois directed an incredibly wonderful film version, both cinematographically and acting-wise, of the Tibhirine monks' story: Of Gods And Men (originally Des Hommes et Des Dieux). The film premiered at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival where it won the Grand Prix, the festival's second most prestigious award. It became a critical and commercial success in its domestic market, and won both the Lumière Award and César Award for Best Film.

Brother Christian, prior of the Tibhirine monastery, left behind a letter which he had written on New Year's Eve, 1993, to be opened by his community and family in the event of his death. He and the other monks were well aware of the growing tensions in Algeria, and that he, and they, might well become "a victim of terrorism which now seems ready to engulf all the foreigners living in Algeria". In the letter he assures those left behind that, while he doesn't desire such a death, indeed doesn't feel worthy of such an offering, he could never rejoice "if the people I love were to be accused indiscriminately of my murder. To owe it to an Algerian, whoever he may be, would be too high a price to pay for what will, perhaps, be called, the 'grace of martyrdom', especially if he says he is acting in fidelity to what he believes to be Islam. I am aware of the scorn which can be heaped on Algerians indiscriminately. I am also aware of the caricatures of Islam which a certain Islamism encourages. It is too easy to salve one's conscience by identifying this religious way with the fundamentalist ideologies of its extremists. For me, Algeria and Islam are something different: they are a body and a soul. I have proclaimed this often enough, I believe, in the sure knowledge of what I received from it, finding there so often that true strand of the Gospel, learnt at my mother's knees, my very first Church, in Algeria itself, and already inspired with respect for Muslim believers..."

The remarkable ecumenical spirit of Brother Christian's comments and his deep respect for another culture brilliantly shine through, both in his actual letter and in the movie's portrayal. The other element which is hard to miss in what he writes is his obvious sense of, as he puts it, "...JOY in everything and in spite of everything...this THANK YOU...sums up my whole life from now on..." His closing line reflects the epitome, not only of graciousness and selflessness, but of deep holiness: "And you also, the friend of my final moment, who would not be aware of what you were doing. Yes, I also say this THANK YOU and this 'A-DIEU' to you in whom I see the face of God. And may we find each other, happy good thieves, in Paradise, if it pleases God, the Father of us both. Amen! In sha 'Al ah!" The Scripture text which comes immediately to mind is: "Greater love than this has no one than to give one's life for one's friend." What an eloquent witness the martyred Tibhirine Trappists have left for our times!  

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