Tuesday, November 29, 2011

As Detroit Goes, So Goes. . .

Other towns may think they're far from the cancerous microcosm of problems that plague Detroit.

Decades ago, I remember demographers predicting that as Detroit goes, so goes the rest of the nation.

Fractured foundations of family and households, business collapses and moral failure pervades Motown. In a smaller way, however, similar pathologies press the outer-most rings of rural towns in Michigan, and elsewhere nationally.

People talk and seem to peep about the problems poking but some seem to simply dismiss the issues as Detroit's to settle alone.

I think not.

The domino effect seems to down houses, sales, businesses and the quality of life everywhere these days.

Will residents rise up and reclaim neighborhoods by first fixing the family?

After all, is not the family the foundation of society? If the community goes by way of weakend households, will not more of the same corruption and demise raise its ugly head?

Together States grow firm. Testaments to the past prove this well before World War II.
Hands, hearts and minds, firmly gripped in getting the job done of raising families well works best.

Who will lead if not dad, mom, young people, clergy and community and civic luminaries who care deeply?


Will you rise while others sit or say little that builds and mends so much collapsing before the eyes of all?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

For 4 Decades at Mass: The Lord be with you!

And, the Catholic assembly responded: And also with you!

But today, the first Sunday of Advent --that prepares Christians for the anniversary of the birth of Jesus, and his eventual second coming -- across America, and other English-speaking nations, people will respond:

And with your spirit!

The hour-long Mass remembering the Lord's final supper before his crucifixion will end with the same pair of phrases to close the loop's start and finish. The mission of taking the "good news" of Jesus to the world at work, school, or home begins afresh for Catholics today when they arrive to fill their obligation to participate at Mass.

More than words, however, make Mass work, if you will, to inspire and mend and morph hearts to enlarge and reach out like the worshipper's leader, Jesus, who clearly set the table to reform and renew often tired and tried hearts.

And, today's joblessness and bleak economy has these 28 dark days of Advent's work cut out for us. Dim, depressing darkness encompasses many, along with so many living in poverty.

It's the latest, and some say final revision in words at Mass since English made its debut and Latin is less used, although it is still the offical language of the Western or Roman Rite.

A new Roman Missal, ritual text of prayers and instructions for celebrating Mass is unveiled.

It is a thick tome.

Changing words must be met, however, with hearts changed, and morphing, in the spirit of "full, active and conscious participation" in the Mass. Vatican II called for that kind of participation.
And words help Mass-goers do that. Hearts, however, are inspired not solely with a litany of texts from the head, but by those that move one deeper to his or her heart.

People will want to be inspired when they head to worship this Sunday morning.

Words help. Yet, at Mass, words applied to music ministry, preaching, and more will tell how effective the new Roman Missal is in moving people's hearts to heal a broken world with God's eternal and unconditional love.

That takes one's entire being. Engagement.

For a complete list of changes to the Catholic Mass prayers and responses, visit the Archdiocese of Detroit website at www.aodonline.org/AODonline/AODonline.htm.

And, go in peace when the Mass is ended this high holy day.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Advent for Catholics and Other Christians: I Hope You Dance

Catholics are always exceptional claims noted author and Franciscan priest, Richard Rohr, OFM.

That's true. Exceptional.

Advent is the 28-day season aiming to recall the birth of Jesus the Christ in his first coming as believers wait his coming again a second time at the end of time.

So, we wait but we watch also.

And, we wake up in a world that seems asleep, attached, addicted in a slumber!

Those who trek Advent with a plan know that as one ages, the bones and brain seem to realize that faith is more dark than light.

Faith is like that. However, faith is an illumined darkness.

Like a ray of light, or a sliver of it, it seems just enough to keep on walking in a world bursting with terror, trauma and fear all around everyone these days, it seems.

Four Sundays and weeks before Christmas Day, December 25, 2011, are a time for children and those still with a child within to hear again Isaiah's refrain that a child will lead us!

Is it then a time to play, to laugh, to take ourselves less seriously, even to be silly?

I think so.

Silly, after all, is from the Greek word, "selig," meaning "blessed." That is, consoled in the roller-coater-like ride of the spiritual life we traverse 'til the light goes out for each of us. We die eventually.

We pass over. And, are far from destroyed, but morphed and changed. Even scientists say this. That is, that we are not destroyed -- this temple I am - rather, CHANGED. Amazing grace!

As political debates steal the air on TV, pilgrims who know better than to get crazy about elections so soon center anew on the birth and spontaneity of Jesus who wants us to play and to enjoy life's little trek of five or six or seven decades, or so.

God becomes one like each of us inhabitants on the earth in the moment of Mary's miracle to be the tabernacles and home to the Greatest Story Ever Told!

For sure!

That is a stellar hope heralding confidence to get through these lean and mean days for many.

That light and the sliver it may be for many today is enough to see one through the thick and thin of life's obstacles. We walk through doors, as it were, then. Miracles abound in sharing.

Advent light and hope.

Humans need both.

With the little path of light one shuffles along, moving in "the Way, the Truth and the Life" of Jesus the Christ, the Light of the world. Wonder counselor. Divine healer of hope.

The Hebrews had heightened hopes that the parched land and sandy, dry desert would be transformed into fertile and fruiful soil.

These Old Testament folks forged forth in their ruptured and fractured culture aiming on gathering again despite scattered and frightened hearts like one's own today.

And, forgiving again and again, O stubborn one!

One hopes for a time when war will never come again anywhere. That we would stop this primitive play that devours and smashes human hearts and precious temples.

Debut Peace on Earth, goodwill to all! Exit battle and conflict within where all hate stems.

War never again to our own hearts, homes and streets.

That the blind who call conflict and battle will see.

That the deaf will hear and the lame and wounded walk tall with everygreen hope.

Unlike the unfulfilled dreams in the ancient days of recorded Scriptures, Jesus assures us that God is already in our midst among us. God is. For sure. Mom and dad's dreams give way to the impassioned vocations of their children's own hearts and minds.

Mary and John the Baptist deliver this Advent hope heralding promise. Walk by faith and use words only when necessary. Show God off. Go on. Be Godly for others at home especially.

Favor fills forever the voids and holes hurting lots.

Even the air and dim light and dark feels different these still and quiet days, exploding, however with bombs and violence. Yes, people get depressed but depression is not one's first name. Expression is the opposite of it. Walk. Work. Visit. Call. Whistle. Dance.

A flame burns bright and bells ring out with carols to calm a crazy culture.

For Catholics, and families, and households even of one also, the circular shape of the Advent wreathe and world reminds of the oft-forgotten reality that we are one globe, one precious pie in God's eye! A circle around one table of Word and Sacrament where issues are settled and life gives more birth! Make a round wreathe out of evergreens and light up a candle or two, or three or four each week. Spend some cash. This custom is worth kids watching and lighting daily at supper. Yes, eat together during Advent.


To give faith a fighting chance and fear a chase seems sufficient amid injustice noted in "Justice in the World," a social teaching on its fiftieth anniversary since the world Catholic bishops urged another way with Vatican Council II's fresh air and pastoral hope for those sliced from the global pie.

Leanne Womack's tune tenderly tugs one's inners:


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Day and Remembering, Forgetting Justice in the World

I hated tests while I was in school.

Tests help remember.

And, reminding, Seneca, said, is more important than new information.

Yet, like benchmarks, and keeping one's eye on the prize in the trek through life, students and disciples need to be tested to be reminded later, less they fail to recall lessons learned.

After all, on this Thanksgiving Day proclaimed during the Civil War in 1863 while President Abraham Lincoln was severely tested, Americans need to be formed and prepared by way of education.

It helps to be equipped to contribute and serve well as a resident of a young nation that has known its share of birthpangs.

Forty years ago, an examination of conscience, called, Justice in the World, was issued by the world's Catholic bishops.

They wrote:

"Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformaton of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel, or, in other words, of the church's mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation."

Ed Rowe, a pastor at Central Methodist Church in downtown Detroit, always asks:

"Whatever happened to social justice in the Catholic Church?"

That exam question always stirs within me to get moving and act more justly, love more tenderly and walk more humbly with God, as the prophet Micah shouted in the Old Testament.

Whatever happened to this document?

In the church's proud Catholic social teaching on the dignity of the worker from Pope Leo the XIII in 1892 up to the present day advocates of it, the storied living out of it matters most.

"Justice in the World" depicts God as liberator of the poor and oppressed and Jesus as preacher of justice for the poor in the sacred scriptures.

"Christian love of neighbor and justice cannot be separated. For love implies an absolute demand for justice, namely a recognition of the dignity and rights of one's neighbor," this
historic piece notes.

A civilizaton of love linked to justice was encouraged by Pope Paul VI. This was further enunciated by Pope Benedict XVI in two encyclicals on love and political charity.

An inner examination of conscience in church life is invited in "Justice in the World."

"While the church is bound to give witness to justice, it recognizes that anyone who ventures to speak to people about justice must first be just in their eyes."

Respect and promotion of rights within the church are empahsized with care for temporal goods and urging "sparingness" in one's lifestyle, including bishops, priests and religious.

Has "Justice in the World" been forgotten four decades later?


Downgrading of the role of the synod of bishops in church governance may be a reason this document seems to have gone the way of dinasaurs showcased in museums. In turn, collegiality is a sore subject for some who have been challenged to include all levels of church life in rendering decisions.

In lean and mean times like these, reminders about justice, and, an examination of conscience may help in the abundance this nation still has this Thanksgiving Day.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Behind Wolfgang's Before Thanksgiving

Before dining in Wolfgang's, you'll need to wind up behind this fine feeding trough in navy seal style with TRX.

That's right! It's all about YOU!

Renewal Body Bootcamp in the East Building at 415 Norwood St., NE, in Grand Rapids, MI., 49506, 734 883 5366, renewalbodybootcamp@gmail.com is the place to be before taking on, and, tackling the turkey this Thanksgiving Day!

A big heart in a small spot has instructors there paying personal attention to YOU! Every minute of the workout, for example, Jen's kickboxing class has something for YOU!

Do it! ReNEWal now awaits to personally greet you to make you feel and look GREAT!

Nevertheless, be kind to the turkeys this week. Not a good time for them.

RENEWALbodybootcamp. A grand place in Grand Rapids behind Wolfgang's.

Be there today! Get the personal attention you deserve now. You won't find it at the market, the mall or in the BIGGER kickboxing class like YOU will here.


Long before I knew of the Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, the principal and public address system piped these words into every classroom of Saint Thomas the Apostle School at Townsend and Miller, on Detroit east side:

"Your attention please!"


"The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention," that revered Buddhist said.

My entire class of 56 fifth graders also gave fullest attention as Sister Mary Valerie's voice boomed out from her office into our ears.

After all, the leader of our school was speaking.

Sister deserved our attention, unlike today, when common courtesy and the common good seem gone the way of dinasaurs.

A litany list of current events voiced through, including special visitors to our school, a reminder to worship this weekend and to bring a copy of the weekly bulletin as proof of our participation at community Mass.

Full, active and consciously we participated in the life of the family and parish.


How often does it happen in today's high-tech, less personal and highly dysfunctonal days at most levels, including family and goverment structures?

For my part, as we mark this Thanksgiving Day, I can vow attention to each person standing or sitting before me.

And, I promise a little attention to my elderly neighbors who struggle for life as much as turkey and deer do these days.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Cell Phones and Youngsters

When is it appropriate for children to have a cell phone?

As they learn how to communicate and relate with others face to face, it seems that cell phones could be a distraction.

Until the necesssary skills to talk with others are acquired, I'd wait giving children a cell phone.

Even amid peer pressure at middle school, it seems that waiting is the best policy.

Youngsters will be acquiring social graces, and, skills to resolve conflict long before they need a phone.

And, with so much cyber bullying, why would a parent want to invite cell phones into a child's life so early?

Visit Coleen Torres at www.phonetvinternet.com for 10 Ways to Tell Your Kid Is Ready for a Cell Phone, nevertheless.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


Sunday should be different.


When I awaken each Sunday there is a decidely different feel for this day of the week.

I grew up learning to make Sunday special.

Less work and more leisure.


Dinner together with the family.

Recreation and play time.

While more and more business bustles on Sundays it doesn't mean one should continue to make Sunday a day of transactions.

Keeping this day holy and workless as possible is good for everyone, especially the family.

Resting more, working less, enjoying more - these are a plus in frentic family living today.


Feel the difference.

Make it special.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Teen Addiction

Gene Schabath, a former Detroit News reporter, writes about Families Against Narcotics (http://www.familiesagainstnarcotics.org/) in the Fall edition of the Macomb Now Magazine.

"This is a bona fide, community-based organization that has taken dead aim at the epidemic of drug overdose and drug deaths in "tidy" little communicities such as Clinton Township and Fraser," Schabath writes.

According to the story, Clinton Township District Court Judge Linda Davis and her neighbor who was a Fraser police officer voiced concern and united over the "drug overdoses of neighborhood kids spiraling out of control."

Alerting people to Percodan, Oxycotin and Vicodin - legalized forms of heroin - the writer notes that they're called heroin-light.

Christ United Methodist Church at 34385 Garfield in Fraser (between 14 and 15 Mile Road)
hosts FAN the third Tuesday of each month from 7-9 pm.

Former drug addicts and parents of children who died from drug overdoses speak at the gatherings, Schabath reports.

This epidemic merits attention of all local residents and beyond.

Another death of a teen to overdose is not what we need.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Jane Eyre's Clarion Call for Truth

A couple of nurses who participated in my spiritual aerobics sessions months ago noticed me browsing the DVD's of the Clinton-Macomb Library in Clinton Township, Michigan.

After greetings, they aimed for the theatre to view the latest Jane Eyre's video.

Minutes later, I followed along to watch it, given that I usually get recommendations from others before I go to view any movie. Both inspired me to take time to recreate. And, I'm glad I did.

Truth seems to concern Jane when she meets the coldness of Edward Rochester who enjoys her company for more reasons than one.

After all, Jane flees Thornfield House where she did chores as a governess for Ed who pushes the young woman's resilience. After a rigor of discipline and abuse as an orphan years earlier, Jane's personality is forged from the suffering and empathy she learned to endure and feel in all she met.

The pastoral wildness of the fields and its haunting dark that brings up her past life shows up throughout the two-hour drama and romance, including violence.

In retrospect and reflection upon her storied life, Jane recovers her spontaneity and curiousity.

Jane even returns to Mr. Rochester despite the roller-coaster-like relationship. That return includes a visit back to the terrible secret that Ed keeps under cover.

Truth told, this is one worth watching. Both main character morph and mend much.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Occupy Detroit at Grand Circus Park

Truth speaks to power.

Truth did last night, and, weeks now since they inhabited Grand Circus Park.

Truth speaks to power.

Merit marks their aim. Get power's attention was the goal, it seems to me.

The conversation was re-ignited.

After joining in a wedding reception and dinner in the Arab-American Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, I was pulled to the Occupy Detroit in Grand Circus Park.

In fact, Deborah Davidson, a dinner guest at the Muslim wedding sitting at the same table I did shared that "justice requires that the inequity be addressed."

"We have offers at a warehouse nearby," a Henry Ford Community College student said to me with her friend standing nearby as they packed up and began to move from the park. Their permit expires Monday, they said.

I told them I thought that Occupy Detroit has merit worth supporting despite the mixed and
varied agenda. Like society represented in a democracy, diverse accents, colors and creeds comprised the crowd of Occupy Detroit.

While other cities, such as Portland, Oregon and San Francisco seemed to be troubled, and
getting violent with police occupation, Detroit was honoring a respectful exit.

Truth is speaking to power in this example of nonviolence as they departed and packed up.

Occupy Detroit served the City I love well, thanks be to God and beautiful human beings
standing up while others simply sat a few weeks.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Help Wanted

"Jobs Must be the Focus" is the topic Saturday, November 19th at 1 pm in Our Lady of Fatima Church in Oak Park, MI.

Detroit native and Wayne State University economics graduate, and lone Muslim in Congress, Keith Ellison (Dem-MN) of Minnesota, addresses the issues of jobs and the struggle to manage the budget deficit.

Michigan Catholics for the Common Good, a Detroit-based group founded early in 2000, aims to bring members to an understanding of the moral dimensions of public policy issues, and, "ensure that all Americans are put on the path to prosperity, not just the wealthiest 1 percent," organizers noted in a letter about Saturday's event sent by co-chairs, Tony Kosnik and John Hooper, ordained priests, currently leading MCCG succeding former chair and founder, the late Jim Sheehan.

Human needs, health care, children, the environment, war and peace, and one's conscience and vote have been issues concerning the MCCG, their website lists.

Among objectives of the MCCG, noted is "for greater balance, both moral and political, in the messages from Catholic pulpits and publications."

Located at 13500 Oak Park Boulevard, off of Coolidge, interested participants may contact http://miccg.org/, or Michigan Catholics for the Common Good, P.O. Box 7064, Huntington Woods, MI 48770.

Friday, November 11, 2011

All have right to life, liberty

All have the right to life, liberty.

That's what I heard on WWJ All News Radio 950 in the voice of U.S. Congressman Hansen Clarke. Clarke, a passionate believer in people was to have said that in Elmwood Cemetary in Detroit this Vet's Day.

All do.

Yes, in and outside the womb, all have the right to life and liberty.

Life's trek is too precious for any of us mortals to decide to end it, although defense, among other reasons have always been part of Catholic social teaching down through the ages from Saint Augustine of Hippo to Saint Thomas Acquinas to more recent official teaching.



How can I stand up for life in and outside the womb?

How do I live my breathing moments today and tomorrow may help me respond to the query.

Veterans Day - Dedicated to All Who Served and Saint Thecla School 8th Graders Who Prayed a Special Mass for Vets

This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.

"I am a soldier of Christ and it is not lawful for me to fight," the fourth-century Martin, born in present day Hungary said as his regiment battled with barbarian invaders, achives show. Catholics celebrate his feast day along with Veterans Day today.

Martin of Tours, later ordained a bishop in the fourth century, was required by law to enter the Roman army at 15. He resisted this fate and was inducted in chains. His conversion to Christianity came later.

The tale is told of a him using his sword to divide his cloak to give to a shivering beggar. That night he dreamed he was Jesus wearing that part of the cloak he gave away. The next morning, he resolved to be baptized.

This Veterans Day remembers personnel who serve to defend and protect. Many men and women have been in the service in this nation throughout recorded history.

Among them is my brother, Lucas Ventline, who served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam where he died during the TET offensive in 1968. That year witnessed the death of Robert Kennedy, Trappist monk Father Thomas Merton, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and more. It marked the beginning of the so-called women's movement.

This fresh day to breathe again is a good one to lift my heart and mind in prayer to the Maker for men and women who have served well.

"There can be no question tht unless war is abolished the world will remain constantly in a state of madness and desperation in which, because of the immense destructive power of modern weapons, the danger of catastrophe will be imminent and probably at every moment everywhere," Trappist monk Father Thomas Merton noted. He goes on to say that unless we tend to this task now that we cooperate with the destructive forces that "are leading inexorably
to war."

A blessed and fruitful Veterans Day! (And sweet memories of the Mass of St. Thecla Catholic School 8th grade students, parents and teachers in Clinton Township, MI., for all veterans, inlcuding my own brother, Vietnam '68, deceased, Spec. 5 Lucas Ventline, Nov. 9th).

+ Our help is in the Name of the Lord who made heaven and earth!

- Father Ventline

Lifting Hearts and Minds

God knows we could use some help here.

Terrbile things happening, including so much violence and sexual abuse among children and other innocent people, including pedestrian traffic and those we meet in the community who are robbed, beat up and battered. We should know better.

Prayer is defined as lifting one's heart and mind to the Creator.

Some ask, however, how do I do that?

Like the University of Michigan or Pennsylvania, it takes practice to pray well. At least, to learn this art like football.

By the way, I hope all the receipts at the gate Saturday when the U of Penn plays, will go to the abuse victims, or at least to an organization that assists and imagines resolution to this epidemic, I pray God now and later today.

I quiet myself. Close my eyes. Rid myself of thoughts, and a running and racing minds.

This clearance may take time since the frentic pace we keep requires much taming and calming down if I'm ready to talk directly to the Maker of heaven and earth.

Go right to the heart of God, as it were. As if God has a heart! Human metaphors help here also, however. Be in your own heart and silence self for a change. Too much chatter all around us clouds any relationship.

Limit your words. No need to multiply or even say a word since God knows my every thought.

Still, I quiet down. Just be in the Presence. Prayer works, research shows. It helps heal up hospital patients and more.

It will take time since we're used to doing, running, and working hard.

You can do this. Be part of the solutions to all the problems facing us. After all, God made us and God will see us through. Just ask. WIll you?


Be now.

Be in prayer for a moment at least. Say nothing except the greeting, perhaps, God!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Pathological Sex Epidemic

How pathetic a people we are if we cannot protect our children's innocence from sick sex predators who need to be contained and tethered.

The epidemic of sick sex pervades this nation I love.

When I counsel one who is sexually abused by an adult my heart breaks open and anger stirs within.

Televison rock star Archbishop Fulton Sheen noted in his Life of Christ: "The penalty of those who live too close to the flesh is to never understand the spiritual." Physical, spiritual and emotional human beings we are. But, are we out of control when it comes to sex and its dignity and worth in every one?

Internet pornography are the most visited sites today.

Alcohol and sex mixed together is deadly.

These bottomless pits that are never satiated without God drive the attached and addicted humans no end, and dead ends of meaninglessness. And, even more ghastly horrors of unspeakable crimes against children.

This false self plugged in, according to Trappist Thomas Merton and other mystics, is fueled by sex, fame, power, and greed, among other variations. The true or real self does not need dressing up in vice.

Why the cover ups, covert sexuality activity, and denigration of sex's sacredness ordained by God?
When will we bring together the finest minds to address the pathology of the sex epidemic in the land of the free and home of the brave? When? Why haven't leaders led on this issue?

Is sexuality too new a study for us to raise it to its elevated place and dignity far from the epidemic problem swirling around parents where studies show most abuse happens, teachers, scout mentors, sports figures, athletic organizations, the Catholic Church, and more?

Who will lead without blaming and passing the buck along hierarchical links in all organizations and institutions? When will each of us finally stand up and speak up when one witnesses sexual assaults and predatory, criminal, morally bankrupt behavior?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Pretty Amazing Grace

Lyrics of Neil Diamond's, Pretty Amazing Grace, emerge from the quiet silent solitude shining within these days. Five days in the plush pastoral woodlands of Kentucky's Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani got me going:

"Pretty amazing grace is what you showed me
Pretty amazing grace is who you are
I was an empty vessel
You filled me up inside
And with amazing grace restored my pride

Prettty amazing grace is how you saved me
And with amazing grace reclaimed my heart
Love in the midst of chaos
Calm in the heat of war
Showed with amazing grace what love was for

Stumbled inside the doorway of your chapel
Humbled and awed by everything I found
Beauty and love surround me
Freed me from what I feared
Asked for amazing grace and you appeared."

Judge Joe Oster and I arrived just before evening prayers, called vespers, after driving from Detroit to the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani near Bardstown, Kentucky.

Monks live here. They produce cheese and fudge and fruitcake for a living while they chant psalms seven times daily. Furthermore, silence is spoken in the enclosure, for the most part.

Of Gods and Men, the movie I watched in horror four times was the last time I spent time with Trappist monks. That thriller grabbed my heart like no other as extremests led a line of monks in Algeria to their deaths in the 90s.

Although that tale was true and painful to watch this visit to the home where Thomas Merton is buried was far from violent.

Indeed, my days were in solitude communing with the Maker much of my moments where "the monks dedicate themselves to the worship of God in a hidden life within the monastery," according to the rule of Saint Benedict that steers this community now for more than 160 years when it was the first abbey founded in the United States in December, 1848.

Jesus and his call are always the beginning of discipleship.

From the earliest days of the Christian era men and women ascetics have heard that call and followed the Savior in gospel simplicity and authenticity.

In fact, toward the end of the third century, Saint Anthony the Great led a movement of such persons from the bustling world to the solitude of the desert. Life devoted to prayer and service in community was also widespread, and as the fifth century dawned, Saint Benedict of Nursia founded such an abbey at Montecassino in southern Italy. His Rule remains the most influential and enduring document of western monasticism. The Abbey of Melleray in western France established Gethsemani where 2,000 acres of plush, pastoral wooodlands pulled me from the harmful frentic life I lead so often.

Silence and calm pervaded the days, and me, for sure. My real and true self is better for it.

Sitting there in the edifice enabled me to hear my heart beat. And, in union with the Creator, the experience took my breathe away, so to speak. I was conscious of slowing down and feeling my way into my heart where God lives 24/7.

At the heart of Merton's spirituality is the distinction he makes between the real and false selves. My false self is the identity I enable to function in society with pride and self-possession. On the other hand, my real and true self is a deep religious mystery, understood entirely and only by God.

The false self is created by what we inhabit, namely, the culture where I reside. The false self and society ignores the real one, and therein lies the paradox of human existence, that is, the more we make of ourselves, the less we actually exist. How true that is for me and my experience of six decades. Sin, missing the mark, emerges in the false and egocentric self within. The fall of Adam and Eve, our representatives at the dawn of time, proved this in their drive and attachment to be the center of creation. They crossed boundaries. Sin entered the world.

Everything else I am or do is ordered about this false self, according to the ancient mystics, one head over heel in love with God. All that I am about, then, uses up life in the desire for pleasures, power, honor, knowledge, and more to clothe and vest this false self and its nothingness into something that is objectively real. I begin to believe it! Like bandages I cover myself with pleasures to make myself perceptible to others, Merton, among others hold. The false self endures then.

The mask or fasle self fabricates into thinking it is the real self even at the loss of one's truth. It is all illusion, however, and, like playing Haloween 365 days a year.

Getting in touch with the true and real self is part of the contemplative life far from the frentic life I live so often.

This project of being God's image and likeness, however, is a process, a lifetime perhaps. Glimpses of my communion and union with God assure me sufficiently for the time being.

Quiet uncluttered time drops away the fasle self and all that I create to prop it up on the stage of life that is all an illusion. Enter the true and real self.
Pretty amazing grace, wouldn't you agree? Perhaps Neil Diamond does.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Operation Proper Exit

The pain poked deep as I watched Operation Proper Exit on Sixty Minutes Sunday.

Memories of my own brother's demise in Vietnam in '68 emerged alongside those of men and women who came home from Iraq mangled in mind and body with another kind of war that still haunts, only to feel the need to return to the horror they have to carry.

Tear flowed from returning soldiers. Scott Pelley seemed to be red-eyed also. Who wouldn't be?

Aches from explosions and missing body parts let these soldiers know that something was incomplete for them. Something unfinished, at least that still awakens them in the middle of the night. Or, projecting the unhealed pain on a spouse, a son or daughter.

Tears flowed as I watched and remembered the saga of my brother's death. The hole still festers within.

Closure always seems necessary. For them. For me. For my family who still feel the raw unhealed wound of my brother, Lucas' death.

What for? What for this battle?

I hadn't heard that question since the final days of Eleanor Josaitis when I praised her for yet another award that decorated her hospice room only days before her final breath.

"What for?" she bolted back almost in an angry state of dying at her door.

Pain is never easy. War pain. Cancer pain. Watching someone in pain. Recalling pain.

To experience pain penetrating deep within from battle scars is a different kind of pain, however.

War doesn't have to be.

We can imagine other less primitive ways to settle conflicts.

We must.

Or, we'll keep watching another show like Operation Proper Exit where soldier return to Iraq's hot spots to bring some closure to an ache that will haunt until their own final breath, sad to say.
And, more tales of violence will fill television and one's own pained vision within.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Thomas Merton on Nuclear War - A Cold War Letter

Imagine that: the thought that a monk might be deeply enough concerned wit the issue of nuclear war to voice a protest against the arms race, is supposed to bring the monastic life into disrepute. Man, I would think that it might just possibly salvage a last shred of repute for an institution that many consider dead on its feet...

These thoughts from one of Thomas Merton's more than 10,000 letters that he wrote in his liftime from 1915 until his death in 1968, were a way of this monk to tell of his commitment to peace and nonviolence.

On a retreat this past week in Gethsemane, Kentucky, where Merton is buried, I found myself immersed in his writings. His Cold War letters were written to Daniel Berrigan, among others.

Merton wrote:

"...The monk is the one supposedly attuned to the inner spiritual dimension of things. If he hears nothing, and says nothing, then the renewal (of the Church) as a whole will be in danger and may be completely sterilized. But these authoritatrian minds believe that the function of the monk is not to see or hear any new dimension, simply to support the already existing viewpoints precisely insofar as and because they are defined for him by somebody else...The function of the monk...then becomes simply to affirm his total support of officialdom."

On the way home from the retreat, I was told the Church needs a new "rock star" like Merton.
As we pondered who does this kind of truth to power talk, not one person today could be recalled.

Who is the emerging voice of peace and nonviolence?

Please stand up.