The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘faith’

THE HYMN OF THE UNIVERSE

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Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was a French Jesuit priest who had previously worked in archaeology and paleontology.  He was involved in the archaeological digs which uncovered both Piltdown Man and Peking Man.

Several of his books were denied publication during his lifetime and others were censured by the church as they challenged the Augustinian concept of “original sin.” 

His most important work was “The Phenomenon of Man,” but the work I enjoy the most is, “The Hymn of the Universe.”

Teilhard viewed the universe as a cradle from which all life evolves.  Although it can be cold and violent it also is nurturing.  It is God’s way of bringing life into being.

In the book, Teilhard describes one Sunday night that he was working on a dig in China and realized that he had not yet fulfilled his priestly responsibility to celebrate the Eucharist.  And he couldn’t – at least in the traditional way of offering up bread and wine – as he had neither of them.  As he describes standing on the open Chinese plain, “the stars filled the sky – attesting to the omnipresence of God.”

During the canon of the mass, Teilhard offered back to God what He had given us – the majesty of His Universe.

It must have been a remarkable service.

DOING THE RIGHT THING

 I love good movies though I seldom go to the theater to see a film. The reason for that is quite simple. I enjoy a movie which has a soul and a moral. Or one that is about someone who is an exceptional human being – a person who has contributed something special to the world.

 I seldom find those sorts of films at the theater – no matter how many screens there are. When I want to view a good movie, I prefer spending a few hours at home with one of the classics I have in my extensive film library.

 One such film – one that I watch at least twice a year – is the Motion Picture Academy’s selection for Best Picture of the Year for 1966, “A Man for all Seasons.”

 The original play, written by Robert Bolt was adapted by him for the screen version. It starred the late Paul Scofield in the part of Sir Thomas More.

 Sir Thomas was one of Henry VIII’s most trusted advisers and had been appointed by him to several positions – the final one being the highest post that a commoner could achieve, Chancellor of England.

 But a conflict arose between the king and More when, in need of an heir, Henry put aside one wife after another. Sir Thomas had a crisis of conscience between his loyalty to the king and to his principles as a devout Catholic. This ultimately led to his imprisonment in the Tower of London and to his trial for high treason.

 Because More was esteemed by the English people as a man of supreme honesty and integrity, his successor as Chancellor resorted to perjured testimony to convict him. That testimony was delivered by Sir Richard Rich – a man who had previously sought out More’s patronage, hoping he would recommend him for a government post. Sir Thomas had rejected that request recognizing the young man’s desire for power – and the character flaws which made him unworthy to be entrusted with it.

 For me, the essence of the movie occurs in the scene after Rich has delivered his false testimony. By betraying his oath Rich has lost his immortal soul. And More realizes that he will be convicted – that political expedience is going to prevail over honesty and truth.

 As Rich is leaving the court, More sees that he is wearing an official chain around his neck.

 “Is that a chain of office,?” he asks. “What is it?”

 The prosecutor, his successor as Chancellor replies,

 “Sir Richard has been appointed Solicitor General for Wales.”

 To this More says,

 “You know, Richard – it profits a man nothing to sell his soul for the whole world … but for Wales.”

 The timbre of his voice and the look of resignation as Scofield says this causes me to gasp every time I view the movie. It is one of the most moving deliveries I have ever seen in any film.

 Based on the perjured testimony, More is convicted and sentenced to death.

 When asked by Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury if he has any final words before his beheading, More replies,

 “I die the king’s good subject – but God’s first.”

 Most of us will never be called upon to put our convictions, our beliefs or our sense of values to the ultimate test of holding on to them and face losing our lives. But we all make choices every day.

 Sometimes we can readily identify and follow the right path. Other times our decisions can be more difficult – made murky by expedience and the expectation of momentary gain.

 Whenever I find myself at that fork in the road, I watch, “A Man for all Seasons.” It has always helped illuminate my path and, I hope, rightly choose the road I must travel.

 

THERE ABIDETH THESE THREE

When I was ten I memorized St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, 13th chapter (in the King James translation).  I am not sure what it was that drew me to this particular passage other than the fact that I happened on it and thought it was beautiful.  I read it so often that the memorization was more of an accident than something I had intended.  The 13th and final verse, “And now abideth faith, hope and charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”

We are now in the season of bell ringing and red collection pots sitting at the entrances of grocery and department stores.  Although the Salvation Army does many wonderful things, I have a few issues with some of their interpretation of the Christian message.  As a result I do not contribute my spare change or dollars as I walk in and out to do my shopping.  (In saying this, I do not mean to discourage any of you – if you feel that is the way you want to extend yourself in charitable activity).

I prefer to do my giving in a more interpersonal way – to someone I see in need.  And in today’s economy their numbers are legion.

This September I was driving a friend to run some errands for both of us.  We came to an intersection and a tall, emaciated-looking African-American man whom I thought to be in his 50’s approached the car – obviously looking for a hand out.  He had a crutch under his right arm – on his right foot he wore a shabby athletic shoe.  His left foot was bare and dirty from his dragging it along the street.

As he approached my window, I reached in my pocket and pulled out a $5 bill.  He came over and said, “Can you help me?”  I gave him the bill.  He thanked me profusely, said his name was Joshua and asked me to pray for him.  I told him that I would.  He made his way back to the curb as the light changed and the traffic began to flow down the street.

As we drove, my friend looked at me and said, “Boy oh boy – you are a real sucker.  I can’t believe you gave that con artist bum five dollars.”

The insensitivity of that statement (both to Joshua and to me) really stunned me.  So I tried to reason with my friend using some plain old common sense syllogistic logic.

I said, “Can we begin by saying that one of two things is true?  Either he is a person in legitimate need – or he is, as you say – a con artist.”  My friend agreed with that beginning premise.

“Okay.  Let’s say he is truly needy.  Then my giving him the money has to improve his situation.  I am not going to question what he is going to do with it – whether he spends it on food or booze is not my concern.  But if he truly needs the money then he is a little better off having interacted with me.  Would you agree?”  My friend agreed with that.

“The alternative is that you are right and he is indeed a con artist bum.  Well, let me set up a situation where the con is working very well.  In fact, Joshua is so good that he is able to find fifty people like me each of whom gives him five dollars every day that he does his con.  And he is diligent about his business – he works every day of the year.  By my quick math, that brings him in almost two hundred thousand dollars a year.  So here’s my question.”

“If you knew that by walking with a crutch, wearing an old athletic shoe and dragging around a bare foot you could earn $200,000 a year – would you do it?”

My friend who is quite well-off immediately said, “No.”

So I said, “Well the next time I see Joshua I will tell him that you are not going to be competing for a place on his street corner.  And I imagine that will make him happy.”

I ended our conversation on the subject by telling my friend that my father never refused to give some change to anyone who asked for it.  He never questioned their motivation or their need.  And he used to say, “There but for the grace of God go you or I.”

I learned that lesson from dad and from St. Paul.  Truly – the greatest of these gifts is charity.

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