News: Bad, Fake, Too Much?

Or perhaps . . .?

Our society seems to have fallen in love with news, and news of any kind. National TV = 24/7. Social & Local = Facebook, Twitter et al. We have this compulsion to know everything that’s going on anywhere in the world, and to share every bit of news that we’ve either heard from others or have experienced ourselves. Why is it so important to share every trifling item with an ever-growing audience? Why should I expect anyone to be interested in my trivia?

There are a few reasons why we are so attached to news.

  • ¨ We need the social connection. Our congenital loneliness welcomes companionship and attention, preferably on a constant feed.
  • ¨ We need to be valued, and having a “scoop” puts us in the limelight, if only for a minor event and if only for a moment or two.

Our insatiable appetite for news ensures that we doggedly keep watching or listening for it, even though it almost invariably upsets us. My repeated and basic question is, “How much news do I really need to be a good neighbor, parent, or citizen?”

I’ve been on the planet for a few years and even as a youngster I remember my teachers alerting us to the fact that we couldn’t believe everything we heard (e.g. rumors, gossip), nor should we believe everything in print (this now includes digital alerts). I still remember teachers telling us how to evaluate the trustworthiness of reports: how reliable is the source? Does it come from someone who routinely trashes others? From someone whose vocabulary doesn’t include those three precious words, “I don’t know”? From someone whose chief occupation lies in fluffy entertainment? From a sensationalist? Or from someone who is willing to die for his/her claims?

I can’t pretend to have the answers to how much news others need, only how much do I need. If the constant stream of robberies, murders, overdoses, and especially wars, violence, man-made destruction – if these pull me down to a place of almost constant fear and excessive grief, then maybe I don’t need so much. If these reports result in numbing my sensibilities, that’s a reason to ease up. I can’t afford to de-sensitize myself; I need to maintain the ability to compassionate with others.

If, on the other hand, these events move me to pray and to ponder how the Kingdom of God contrasts with the kingdom of this world, then I need to keep watching and praying, lest I fall into temptation, as Christ urged his apostles in the garden of Gethsemane.

For after all, we have been given news that is life-giving: the Good News that is a how-to for happiness on this earth – in spite of all its injustice, cruelty and woes.

Reading and pondering the Good News teaches me about the three stages of discipleship:

  • ¨ Servant: The Ten Commandments provide the basic fundamental rules about living justly with others. These prepared humanity for the coming of Christ.
  • ¨ Friend: The Beatitudes, introduced by Christ, deepen our level of knowledge to an awareness of the spirit of the law. These transfigure us.
  • ¨ Child and Heir: taking to heart Christ’s final Command to love others as he has loved us is the ultimate consummation of love that transforms us into the very image of God.

I use the phrase “taking to heart” rather than the word obeying. That is simply because, for many, obedience has gotten a bad rap. It can have the connotation of some kind of slavery to a demanding, tyrannical Boss who will punish us if we don’t follow his Rules. On the contrary, as Jesus showed us, the laws of God and the command of Christ lift us to the highest level of freedom which is our soul’s union with God. To take the command of Christ to heart means that we have allowed God to take complete possession of us, not as slave to master but as lover to lover.

Being lifted up to this transformative level is to experience, to a limited degree of course, what Jesus meant by entering the Kingdom of God, by having the Kingdom of God at hand, close to us, accessible. Now this is really Good News!

When Pontius Pilate questioned Jesus, he affirmed: My kingdom is not of this world . . . I came into the world to testify to the truth. In other words, we can’t find the truth in the values of this world.

Pilate scoffed and asked, without waiting for an answer: What is truth?

Happy are we, in the midst of all this bad news, to have been taught the truth of the Good News. We are more than the “people” of God: we are God’s children. As such, our destiny is to be holy as he is holy. We can say with Christ, our impeccable source and model: Take courage, little flock. I have overcome the world!

Holidays, Holy Days

cookoutSummer is on the wane. Its last holiday is Labor Day when families and friends will be gathering in back yards, patios and public parks. There will be games: softball, volleyball, croquet. The traditional hamburgers, hot dogs and sausage will be served along with a variety of salads, topped off by watermelon, cakes and pies. In another day or two, children will be laying out their new clothes for the first morning of school. The mingling fragrance of new pencils and shoes will soothe them to sleep.

Such are traditions. We look forward to them as welcome islands of rest spent with loved ones in an atmosphere of laughter, story-telling and open affection – a powerful antidote to the heavy seriousness of our days at work or school. The goal is simply FUN, pleasure in the companionship of people who love and value one another.

Then too there are celebrations that honor an individual person: birthdays, mothers or fathers day, anniversaries. Special practices often mark these days: the favorite flavor cake is made and extra little services are performed for the honoree.

Count them, these oases of rest and celebration: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, weddings, and so many more opportunities for a relief from the everyday blahs.

As each of these special days arrives, we attentively prepare for them, careful to observe and repeat certain practices that provide the continuity of one celebration to the next. These rituals convey a sense of stability and permanence in our unpredictable world. Yet along with the sameness is a special something new to mark this one celebration as unique this year: maybe a 40th birthday that ushers a young adult into middle age; a Fourth of July that might draw us to consider afresh our nation’s foundation and values.

Most who read this post have been blessed to have been brought up in this nest of traditions that both refresh us and anchor us to a sure place of safety. Holidays can be holy days that cement affectionate relationships with others.

Our liturgy of the Mass consists of the same elements as holidays and is even referred to as a celebration. Each time we participate at a Mass we are at a feast. It is a commemoration of that famous of all dinner parties — the last dinner, in fact, that Jesus celebrated with his friends. This was a farewell dinner, for all at table knew that their Teacher would be leaving them. It must have been a sorrowful celebration, as our going-away parties often are, but it was the high point of Christ’s mission and his relationship with his friends. I no longer refer to you as servants! We disciples had now been raised to the special status of friend.

The Mass is designed to recall and even relive both the Last Supper and the post-Resurrection appearances. In the story of the journey to Emmaus, Jesus reviewed Scripture passages with the two disciples to illustrate how the prophecies referred to his life and death. Just so, at each Mass various scriptural readings add luster to the changing liturgical seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost. In this way, the life and teachings of Christ are reviewed for us throughout the year, just as the Emmaus disciples experienced on their walk with Jesus. As they listened with burning hearts to old revelations made new, they came to recognize and receive the living Christ in the breaking of the bread. The sacrament of life-giving love was the high point for them in their journey, just as it is for us at Mass.

When I attended Mass for the first time after a long absence, I was amazed to see the pews emptied as virtually everyone went up to the altar to receive Communion. For me, this was a significant change that was probably not realized by those who had remained in the Church. It was a powerful revelation of how the congregation had evolved over the years into such an intimate relationship and greater comfort level with the Person of Jesus Christ. To me, it concretely demonstrated what St. Paul mysteriously referred to as the Body of Christ. The widespread reception of Communion confirmed for me Christ’s real presence in the world and in us.

This is what Christianity is about: our union with God and with each other in Christ. This happens not just once in a while, a few special times a year, but every time we join with one another in the celebration of the Mass.

Proof of Faith

During this season when the Acts of the Apostles are read, we’re led to think about the early Church, its formation and growth. (Believe it or not, I used to think that these readings were boring! That tells us how God helps us grow.)

It was not only during the Apostolic period that the Church was faced with problems. What becomes clear is that there were many different “beliefs” plus challenges to those beliefs that cropped up from one era to another. This post is dedicated to brevity, so even if I knew them I can’t list the many heresies that invited constant clarification, correction and defense. Certainly, the most basic attack on faith today is atheism which still thrives and still gives rise to some form of apologetics. Next threatened is dedication to  mainstream religious practices that promote and require belief in what seems to be unbelievable.

Arguments over doctrines throughout the ages have led to un-Christian extremes of wars, bloodshed and martyrdom. This in turn leads to the disintegration of the religion that promotes such beliefs.

The problem is that we humans want evidence and certitude; logic and reasonableness. And the fact is, faith seems to elude these standards.

We don’t have a problem agreeing with the doctrine that says we’ve been made in the image and likeness of God, probably because it lifts us above the mud of our nature. However, our God-likeness gives us a mind, and the mind will simply not stop asking questions and looking for solid evidence. Even when God came to us as a touchable human being, we still wanted more. “Only show us the Father; that will be enough for us!” Phillip asks Jesus. “Give us a sign!” was the constant demand from people who had already seen many signs and who really didn’t want a sign because then they’d be forced to accept Jesus as the Christ.

Over the centuries, various proofs for the existence of God have been offered as absolute. (And heaven help you if your god is different from my god!) But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8)

Just what is this faith that Jesus hoped would fill the earth?

I think it’s safe to say that Christ wants us to believe in him — rely on him — enough to follow what he taught: a way of living that would actually imitate God; a way of treating one another as God treats us, forgiving us and making his sun to rise on the just and the unjust. This is how we become the “image and likeness” of God our Father. This is what the Kingdom of God looks like. We don’t start out that way; that’s how we hope to finish.

A wonderful insight as to to what constitutes proof of the existence of God is to be found in the May 1 issue of America magazine. In a review of a recent film “The Case for Christ,”  Jesuit Paul Lickteig writes:*

“. . . these movies are unlikely to convert unbelievers, because they demand a type of belief in God that requires unassailable evidence. The problem is that for those who live a life of faith, certitude is something that we seldom find. Evidence for God’s existence can always be questioned.”

Lickteig’s premise is that we Christians need to offer proof of Christ with our lives, not with apologetics.

“That we so often lack the capacity [I would say the “willingness”] to live our convictions—to practice love, mercy, fidelity and self-sacrifice—leaves the outside observer wondering not if Jesus existed, but if faith really matters. Where is the proof for that?

“… Faith in Christ costs a person everything. As Christians we will be asked to profess the equally implausible beliefs that Jesus rose from the dead and that we are supposed to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. (Really, which is harder to believe?)

“… The only proof we will ever have is observed in the power of Christ to transform the ways we live. The truth is that nothing other than the love of Christ, revealed in a Christian’s life, has ever, or will ever serve as proof for the existence of God.

In this, Lickteig echoes Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner who wrote that the Christian of today must be a mystic (i.e., one who is totally in love with God). Add to that these statements from other notable human beings:

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” G. K. Chesterton

“I would have been a Christian if I hadn’t met one.” Mahatma Gandhi

“So let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

The visible practice of Christ’s teachings is the only proof that can persuade others that God is real and, especially, that God is good.

+       +       +

* “The case for (and problem with) “The Case for Christ””. Paul Lickteig, S.J. America May 1, 2017. For the complete article that appeared online April 6, check this link:
https://www.americamagazine.org/arts-culture/2017/04/06/case-and-problem-case-christ