Merriam –Webster defines parable as a “short story that illustrates a moral attitude or a religious principle.” According to Robert Ludwig in our week five essay, Jesus spoke in parables to attack fundamental beliefs of his listeners (p. 4). The parables of Jesus were not just to tell a story with a moral; the reason was to transform lives. In my life there have been many transformative moments; the birth of my son, a divorce, and the foray into a life of professional ministry. Perhaps the most significant parabolic moment in my life occurred through the death of my father almost 17 years ago. It was in the hours preceding his death that I came to experience a moment of mystery. This essay will explore that personal parable.
A brief history of my mom and dad is helpful to explain the situation. My mother was the church going Catholic. She was the one from whom I learned my prayers and observed of a life of service. She volunteered whenever possible at our local Catholic church and expected me to do the same. My mother was a model of fidelity. Questions surrounding my faith or my God were directed to her. My father had been raised Lutheran, but never went to church except when his sister visited in the winter. He did attend mass a few times in my life when I was leading music ministry. Attending his first Easter Vigil service when I was 17 was his final visit inside a Catholic church, however. A three hour service was just a little too much for him to take.
My dad never interfered with my mom and her connection to the local church. This did not mean I was not connected deeply to my father. With my dad I explored the intellect through reading, writing, history and the sciences. He and I could argue politics and my future career at length. From him, I developed a significant work ethic. Prayer was never a part of our 32 year relationship other than grace before meals on holidays. When I began my work in professional church ministry he was happy for me, but there was never any discussion around what I did on a day to day basis. He was tough on me, but also, as his sole daughter, he was quite empowering, assuring me that I could do or be anything I set my mind to. (more…)
Perhaps the single most important spiritual issue of our time emerges in the global ecological crisis we face. The vast devastation that human beings have visited on the Earth in modernity poses profound threats to the survival of all life forms on the planet. Pollution of the land, air, and water has introduced life-threatening toxins into the food-chain and our bodies. Depletion of the protective ozone, global warming, alarming increments in human population growth, and the killing off of millions of plant and animal species–all of these suggest a grim future devoid of natural aesthetics and a radically diminished existence, if, indeed, we can survive at all. The source of these problems is not superficial. It has to do with our self-understanding and our relationship to the natural world. We are alienated from nature, estranged from the elegant magnificence which is all about us and within us. Growing awareness of this alienation and estrangement challenges our fundamental meanings and values.
We need to stand back from the present crisis and assess why things are so amiss. What are the underlying reasons for today’s threatening situation? The answer, of course, is the human species. We are what has thrown the natural world into such imbalance. But is the human species intrinsically the problem? Are we a mistake of nature, inevitably drawn to behaviors which are destructive to the planet as a whole? A closer look suggests that the underlying problem is not the human species as such, but the human species of the past 200 years–and more precisely, the human species in the Western hemisphere and north of the equator during the past 200 years. It is modern Eurocentered humanity that has plundered nature and wrought such destruction to the planet.
Thomas Berry suggests that the underlying problem is twofold: otherworldly religion and controlling science–religion that denigrates the natural world and sees it as at best neutral and at worst our spiritual enemy; and science as conquest which seeks to conquer and subjugate the world of nature. Transcending nature through religion and overcoming nature through science–these prevailing attitudes combine to create a human species which devastates the natural world, perceiving itself as separate from, and even alien to, nature. Clearly, it is our understanding and perception that must change.
On Friday, August 27, Eboo Patel, PhD, the founder and executive director of Chicago-based Interfaith Youth Core and a member ofPresident Obama’s advisory council of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, will deliver a public lecture on the Lake Shore Campus. Patel will discuss “Interfaith Leadership and Transformative Education” at 7 p.m., in the Mundelein Center Auditorium.
Named one of America’s Best Leaders of 2009 by U.S.News & World Report, Patel is the award-winning author of Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation and a regular contributor to the Washington Post, National Public Radio, and CNN. He was named one of ten young Muslim visionaries shaping Islam in America by Islamica Magazine and he was also chosen by Harvard’s Kennedy School Review as one of five future policy leaders to watch. This May, he was honored at Loyola’s 2010 Commencement with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.
Patel’s visit is sponsored by Loyola University’s Office of the Provost, the School of Education, the Division of Public Affairs, and the Office of First-Year Experience. For more information on Patel and his Interfaith Youth Core, visit www.ifyc.org.
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As a veterinarian, I have been “parabled” many times. During the course of my career, I have come to appreciate many clients and patients as teachers and know that there are lessons to be learned if I can only open my ears and heart and, at times, suspend belief. As is the case with parables in their truest sense, there have been uncomfortable twists to some tales, endings that I could not have anticipated and events that challenged my previous ways of thinking. Perhaps one of the most potent parables, out of the many, occurred on Christmas Eve 1983.
I was working a double shift that day as a technician at a veterinary emergency clinic on Chicago’s North Side. The evening was bitterly cold (it would plummet to – 25 degrees Fahrenheit) and concern among the staff was, as always, for the homeless people and animals who had no place to go for warmth, food and safety. Early in the shift, we received several calls from the far South Side about a dog who had been hit by a car and was lying unattended in a gutter. Our calls to the local police station, humane organizations and animal rescues found no one who would come and take the dog out of the elements and into a shelter. After a few hours, the calls from the public regarding the dog stopped coming. We all presumed that someone had stopped to pick up the poor pooch and get him to a place of warmth and treatment. Or, perhaps he had succumbed to his injuries.
About 10 p.m. that night, the doorbell to the clinic rang and as I peered out through the window, I saw a thin, older, shabbily dressed African American man cradling a large (approximately 40 pound) dog in his arms. I buzzed him in and he and the dog entered the clinic in a blast of frigid air and fog. It was clear that the dog had been injured and other staff members quickly surrounded the man and dog, wrapping each of them in heated blankets and bringing them to the back treatment area. It was only then that the doctor on duty made the connection that this was most likely the dog that we had heard of earlier in the day – the one who had been hit and left to suffer on South Ashland Avenue. Indeed it was. (more…)
I thought I had my life all figured out. My husband and I were married in 2000, and two years later we were blessed with the birth of our daughter. In 2004, God gave us our son. We were filled with love, joy, and gratitude. Since my husband and I are both the oldest of four children, we had always planned on having a six-person family. At the beginning of 2006, we were ready to have another baby – right on our schedule. Unfortunately, things didn’t turn out as we had planned.
That first year was an emotional rollercoaster. Each month I prayed fervently that I would become pregnant, and each month I was disappointed. I went to daily Mass, prayed the rosary, did novenas, and nothing happened. Our regular doctors failed to find anything “wrong.” I took my charts to a Natural Family Planning consultant, who determined that something was wrong, but could only refer me to the head of the Creighton Method who was out at the Pope Paul VI Institute in Omaha. There was no way that we would be able to afford that, so we just kept counting on God. The stress on our marriage had become difficult to handle. While I was extremely happy with my two wonderful children, I still yearned to have more. It didn’t make sense. This secondary infertility was becoming a monster, and I really wanted to give it up. But it wasn’t that easy.
In January 2007, we decided that we were going to see a fertility doctor, and if he wasn’t able to assist us, we would just give up the dream. We didn’t want to do any artificial means because we already had two healthy children and we felt that if God wanted us to have more, we would. He was neither able to help us nor provide a diagnosis. Even though I was “supposed to” stop being obsessed with having another baby, I couldn’t. When reading an article in St. Anthony’s Messenger one day, I discovered a shrine for infertile couples, Our Lady of La Leche/Mission Nombre de Dios in St. Augustine Florida. I had been so close to God during this experience and found God in so many ways with the help of my spiritual director, that I was sure that God would hear my plea at our family pilgrimage. In the midst of planning our trip, I came across a Natural Family Planning doctor in Hobart, Indiana. After running a series of tests, he recommended some medication that I was to begin taking after the trip.
The shrine was amazing! My husband and I both were overwhelmed with the presence of God as we prayed together, alone, and with the kids. What I came away with was something to the effect of John 15:5. “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.” When I was there, I first petitioned for a friend of mine who had been trying to conceive for almost seven years and a cousin of mine who has epilepsy and had lost two children. Neither of them had any children, and their situations were far more significant than mine. (more…)
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Dr. Robert Ludwig delivers Prayer in Cosmic Light at Loyola University Chicago’s Institute of Pastoral Studies Commissioning Ceremony March 12, 2010.
Prayer is energy. It is opening ourselves to the divine energy that creates and sustains the cosmos. It is directing that energy towards other energy maps: persons, situations, events, circumstances. Prayer draws us into the very center of the dynamic of cosmogenesis, where numinous, personal compassion mysteriously reconciles and harmonizes. Effective prayer requires our maximum attention and focus. Distractions from without and within must be noticed, but set aside, as we concentrate fully on the sacred Source who is love itself. Prayer requires effort, because we are so self-absorbed, so preoccupied with our fears and desires, so distracted by our concerns, petty and large. In prayer, we give ourselves and our field of influence over to this personal source of perfect compassion and open our consciousness with all its psychic powers to the great Mystery that rules the universe.
Prayer is a deeply personal encounter with the personal presence which permeates everything. Like all personal encounters, it moves gradually and with much hesitation towards trust and genuine openness, demanding in turn self-revelation, self-acceptance, self-confidence, self-assertion, self-surrender. Prayer leads us from alienation and distancing toward intimacy and communion. In the process, we give over our efforts to dominate and control, gradually yielding and finally surrendering. We are drawn out of ourselves and into the divine milieu, enlarging our field of vision, recognizing ourselves as part of an immensity, a flow, a great mystery, an intricate web of interaction. Some mystics compare it to a dance–a wondrous, music-drenched dance, where movement and personal presence cause our self-consciousness to melt and our awareness of everything around us to be heightened. Prayer leads us to awareness–alert noticing and empathy.
Thomas Merton reminds us that the love of God, which seeks us in every situation and seeks our good, also seeks our awakening. It is in and through prayer that we are awakened and our freedom reconnected with the purpose within the universe.
Praying for others is directing this focus on divine love outwards towards other energy maps, sending our openness and our yielding to circumstances and situations external to ourselves. It isn’t asking God to change her mind, nor is it a magical effort to control according to our own desires and fears. It is reflecting radial energy, focusing it with our psychic powers, communicating compassion. We send peace and harmony and love towards others to become part of the dynamic process affecting their energy field. The power of prayer is the power of radial energy communicated in and through the capacities of our own consciousness.
In Catholicism, as with Christianity generally, we pray in and with the risen and cosmic Christ. In his complete and total surrender to God in life and in death, Jesus has been swept up in the compassion of God which rules the universe. This is the meaning of the tradition that he is now “sitting at the right hand of God.” He has given himself over to the radial energy which seeks to reconcile all things and harmonize the cosmos. He is in complete communion with the creative force that brings everything into being and nurtures life and thought and love. In consciously joining ourselves to him, clinging to his surrender and his openness, we can and do experience a letting go of our external self with all of its fears and desires and an openness to God’s Basileia, where healing and liberation put us in harmony with the elegance of the universe and its divine source and goal.
I read with interest, Dr. Robert Ludwig’s essay titled, “Jesus in Galilee: Proclaiming the Reign of God” for I gained new insights into reading, “digesting,” and learning about the reign of God through Jesus’ use of parable. I am an example of one who thought of the parables as inspiring stories, example tales or exhortations on behalf of Jesus to inspire his disciples that a new reign was not only coming, it was here. Yet, what I learned was that it was Jesus’ intent to shake up the complacent and predictable world in Galilee in the 20s c.e. in order to encourage surrender to God rather than to remain entrapped in the ego-centeredness of our human nature in which we believe that if we live our lives in a prescribed manner, we can manipulate events to our liking; that is, to play God.
In my faith journey which includes a late-in-life vocation as a religious sister, I can see that I have been “parabled” several times in my life. A case in point was a long faith struggle which included my return to the Catholic Church after many years of separation. The basis of the separation was anger—with my parents, God, the world—yet mixed with that anger was an egotistical belief that I was smart enough to handle life on my own. I figured that if God would not give me what I wanted, then I didn’t need God. I duped myself into thinking (for years!) that I was free when in truth gained from twenty-twenty hindsight, I was drifting.
In my late thirties, I made tentative moves to deepen my relationship with God by occasionally stopping by a Catholic Church on my way home from work. I didn’t participate in Mass or any prayer service; I just sat and talked to God. I went to a book store and bought a Bible and began to read passages again. This was frustrating because every time I did this, usually in the evenings, I would come down with severe headaches. I would stop this practice for days or weeks and then I would start again. I would argue in my mind that these stories (gospels) were all well and good, but what was God trying to tell me at my age (and worldliness) about the direction I should go? I had arguments with God in my head and even though I got headaches, I would come back to the Bible and stubbornly study. About a year later, I was sitting in St. Dominic Church in San Francisco hunched forward with my arms on my knees and my head resting on my arms. I was sick of these headaches and was asking God to relieve me of this obsession of reading Scripture which only resulted in head pain. At one point there was silence in my head. I then began to weep and laugh at the same time. I lifted my head, looked up at the sunlit crucifix about the altar and declared out loud, “Okay! I give up! Come on in.”
It was only a few minutes later when my tears began to cease that I realized that my headache had left me. (more…)
It was a warm Saturday in May. The kind of day that makes one forget about the recently concluded Chicago winter. I was working that afternoon as a high school baseball umpire for a local high school. Neither team was particularly good, nor was there any prospect of post-season playoff success. Nonetheless, I went about my avocation with my usual attention to detail, and as much professionalism as my $45.00 pay check could encourage.
As the last inning began, the home team coach called to the visiting team coach and asked him to meet at home plate. He motioned for my partner and me to meet there as well and the four of us had a conversation. The home team coach asked for our indulgence. It seemed he had promised the “bat boy” that he could have one “official” at bat in a high school varsity baseball game. The coach explained that the bat boy was mentally retarded, and when the game was officially over and the last, real official out recorded, he wanted to bring the bat boy out for his at bat. He asked us to “stay in character” and give the boy an authentic experience. The coach went on to explain that he would personally pitch to the bat boy so the opposing team’s pitcher wouldn’t have to worry about what to do.
I saw the visiting team coach return to his bench and call a quick team meeting to explain the situation. My partner and I looked at each other and we both just rolled our eyes. We weren’t getting paid enough to be part of this charade, and furthermore, I wanted to go home. I was tired.
After the last out was recorded, I heard the home team coach yell, “Jimmy, get a helmet on, I want you to pinch hit!” Jimmy looked back at the coach through thick, Coke-bottle eyeglasses and said, “For real coach!” “Yep, get in there,” was the reply.
Jimmy came up to the plate wearing a mismatched striped t-shirt and plaid pants. He had on black socks and tennis shoes and a helmet that was far too big for his head. I’m no mental health expert, but it was clear that Jimmy was mentally challenged. The coach stood about half-way between the pitcher’s mound and home plate and softly tossed the ball underhand to Jimmy. He swung and missed, strike one. Again, strike two. Finally, on his third swing, Jimmy hit the ball about four feet. Everybody yelled, “RUN!” (more…)
In his essay Jesus in Galilee: Proclaiming the Reign of God, Robert Ludwig details the role of parables in Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God. He makes it clear that Jesus’ parables, whether in word or deed, “…are stories that shatter the deep structure of our accepted world, removing our defenses and making us vulnerable to God. It is only in such experiences that God can touch us, and it is only in such moments that God’s reign truly takes hold (Ludwig, p. 16).” Parables call us to conversion, to transformation, whereby we come to see the kingdom of God before us. I must say that I feel I have been very blessed throughout my life, which can be a scary thought, so I have a hard time coming up with a “shattering” event. I guess the excitement is yet to come. There are two occasions though where the way I put the world came undone. The first happened as a sophomore in high school and the second as a college student preparing to enter religious life, both played a vital role in my understanding of God and in his call to the vocation which I know live. In this essay, I will focus on the experience during my sophomore.
Brother Ted was a “young” Brother and this automatically made him cool. By the way, I had no idea what a Brother was until meeting the Brothers at my high school and even then it took a while to understand who they were and what exactly they did. Anyway, I do not remember my first impression of Br. Ted and do not even remember seeing him around my freshman year. It was during my sophomore year that Br. Ted really made an impression on me.
As a sophomore, I was looking for my “niche” in high school. I had been very involved in activities and sports throughout middle school and so not to have done much my freshman year was a bit disappointing. Then I heard about a campus organization called Lasallian Youth. All I knew about it is that it involved doing service work. So there I went some random September day and signed up for a Saturday service project. I remember arriving to the campus at 7 am on Saturday not knowing exactly what to expect or who to expect. I roamed the campus and at some point I heard “Chris?” It was Brother Ted. I think it was the first time we formally met. A few more students arrived and off we went to the Catholic Worker. We finished the service project and there I was stuck without a ride home, and Brother offered to take me home. He dropped me off and I felt so thrilled to have gone on this service project. Looking back, this service project was the invitation to become involved in Lasallian Youth, which eventually became the passageway to becoming extremely involved on campus. For the next few months, I must have been like glue on Brother Ted, I just admired the guy, and I wanted to be like him. I felt at home in Lasallian Youth, I got to travel to various service projects and gatherings with other schools. Eventually, because of Lasallian Youth I was invited by the school to attend a leadership workshop, travel to Mexico to build a house for the poor, and travel to World Youth Day in Rome. God was very present to me throughout these moments and in the person of Brother Ted. I felt like God would always be there, since Br. Ted was always there. (more…)