"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Friday, March 30, 2018

Faith Filled Friday: The Twelfth Station

For Good Friday I was going to post some pictures and video of my annual procession of the Way of the Cross over the Brooklyn Bridge, but the batteries in my camera crapped out just after I turned the camera on.  This was the 23rd year of the March, and that surprised me.  I didn’t realize it went back that far.  I think this was my fifth year attending.  I blogged about the first time in 2014, here.   

Since I didn’t get pictures t post, I’m going to provide one last Caryll Houselander way of the cross station.  What could be more fitting for today, than the twelfth station.

Christ Dies on the Cross

To His enemies this seems to be the hour of their triumph and Christ’s defeat, but in fact it is the supreme hour of His triumph. Now when He seems to be more helpless than He has ever been before, He is in fact more powerful. When He seems to be more limited, more restricted, His love is boundless, His reach across the world to the hearts of men in all ages is infinite.

But to those who look on, how different what appears to be happening seems to what is really happening. How certain it seems that Christ has been overcome, that His plan of love for the world has failed utterly, that He Himself is a failure, His “kingdom” a pitiful delusion.

Can this be the same Christ who only three short years ago went up into another mountain and spoke to the multitudes, filling the heart of each individually with secret joy and hope?—teaching the poor their own glory, revealing the secret of his personal beatitude to each one who suffered, to each who was downtrodden or unjustly treated, showing them each the reality of the poetry of life, the inwardness of the kingdom which was already theirs if they could receive it with simplicity and the values of unspoilt children?

Did he not tell them, and did they not believe, that their very poverty clothed them, not in drab, worn garments, but in those that, seen by the true vision, are richer than Solomon’s robes, lovelier than the iridescent lilies growing in the fields of Palestine?

Did he not convince them that if their hearts were pure, the kingdom of heaven was already theirs—and he himself, who strewed the wild flowers under their feet and gave them the morning star, their king?

But now on this other mountainside how different everything seems to be. What hope is there now for them? Their king is poorer than any of them. He is stripped of all that he has; his crown is a ridiculous crown of thorns; he has nothing left of his own, not even a grave to receive his dead body. Far from being clothed in splendour that rivals the glory of Solomon, or beauty that rivals the wild flowers, his own natural beauty is hidden under wounds and bruises.

“He has no comeliness whereby men shall know him.”

He has never seemed so helpless as He seems now, not even as a little infant in Bethlehem.

The hands that could raise the dead to life with a touch, could heal the sick and give sight to the blind, are nailed to the hard wood: unforgettable, stiffening in death. The feet that blessed the delicate grass by their touch, that walked on the swiftly moving waves of the storm at sea, are fastened down to the rough trunk and held still. The eyes that could see into the depths of the soul are darkening with the blindness of death. The tongue that spoke the words of eternal love is swollen with thirst, and stiffened in death. The heart of the man who is love is turning to a small, hard stone that a man could hold in his hand!

More bitter than all His other suffering is the desolation of His soul, His own unutterable loneliness, the sense of being wholly unsupported by any love, emptied out, forsaken even by God: “. . . and at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’” (Mark xv. 34).

He seemed to be quite alone, quite defeated, dying a useless death at the end of a useless life, the tragic life of a poor deluded dreamer who, because of his fondest delusion that his love for the world could save it, had come to a still more tragic death, to die alone, an object only of scorn or pity—not even hated now, since now he is powerless—beaten. Men hate only when they fear.

“The passers-by blasphemed against him, tossing their heads. ‘Come now,’ they said, ‘thou who wouldst destroy the temple and build it up in three days, rescue thyself; come down from that cross, if thou art the Son of God.’”

But Christ would not come down from the cross—“I, if I be lifted up,” He said, “will draw all men to me.” Now He had done just that, He had drawn all men to Him because He was dying all of their deaths for them; He was giving Himself to them in death, so that in their turn they would die His death, with His courage, His love, His power to redeem.

From that moment when He bowed His head, crying out: “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” and died, everyone indwelt by Him to the end of time would die His death, with His power to heal and strengthen and redeem themselves and other men by their dying.

He came to the tremendous mystery of His death alone, He felt forsaken even by God; but from that moment until the end of time, no Christian man or woman or child will die alone. Each one will die Christ’s death, their hands in His hands, their feet folded upon His feet, the last beat of their hearts the beat of His heart; and because He has made their deaths His own, theirs too will have the power of His to save themselves and those whom they love.

Houselander, Caryll. The Way of the Cross (pp. 79-82). Angelico Press. Kindle Edition.

Let me leave you with this glorious hymn that is so fitting for today, “What Wondrous Love is This.”


Sunday, March 25, 2018

From Islam to Christ by Derya Little, Part 2

Part 1 of my posts on Derya Little’s From Islam to Christ: One Woman’s Path through the Riddles of God, can be found here.  I had gone through her conversion from Islam to atheism, but her spiritual development continued..

The conversion from atheist to Christianity happened several years later when in University.  It started by getting a job tutoring Turkish to an American woman who had moved to Turkey with her family.  As it happened, Therese and her family lived only a few streets down the block from her apartment.  She recalls walking in for the first time:

As far as I could see from the front door, the only thing one would not find in a typical Turkish household was the framed cross-stitched work, right across from the entrance.  It appeared to be a verse from the New Testament:

And there is no salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.  Acts 4:12  

As a now “militant atheist” for quite a number of years, the quote caught her attention and now could place Therese into a context, though she didn’t really know what the quote meant, but she could tell it had a religious context.  As a twenty-something who had “figured out the secrets of the universe…by reading about the cosmos and the theory of evolution” she decided that through their interactions she would bring Therese over to the atheist side.  But Therese was more than an intellectual match for her.

Since I was an atheist, and I had no qualms about spreading my own "faith", I was the one who brought up the subject of religion with Therese.  The Lord knew I needed a woman who was as intellectual and stubborn as I was.  We didn't have the tentative and gentle relationship of two women.  If someone had observed one of our heated discussions, he would have thought of two grouchy rams fighting with their horns, neither of them willing to yield.  In many ways these discussions were refreshing.  Over the years, I had surrounded myself with people who thought and believed what I thought and believed.  We enjoyed making fun of Islam and Muslims and reading about evolution and quantum physics.  There's nothing like being smarter than everyone else.  Thankfully God knows me better than I know myself, and He sent me someone who would not hesitate to put me in my place.  

Therese was not your run-of-the mill Christian who just listens in church.  She knew her faith and was a strong evangelist.  So the college student atheist who thought she knew it all came in direct debate with someone who was as sharp and contentious as she was. 

The major difference of opinion between Therese and me boiled down to what we believed in regard to human nature.  I believed that people are inherently good and that there is no such thing as sin.  People act the way they do because of the way they were raised or because of society's unjust treatment and expectations of them.  If people were freed from unnecessary rules and laws, we would all live in peace and harmony, I thought.  All the expectations of living together as social beings and the supposed wisdom of generations put undue pressure on otherwise good people and made them go astray.  Add income inequality and poverty, and there was the recipe for crime and war.  The only solution was to remove all this baggage.  It would take some time and effort to eliminate all traces of organized religion, government, and capitalism, but I was hopeful.  

But of course that view couldn’t explain real human nature.  Why were there murderers?  Why was there divorce? Why are people greedy? 

Christianity, on the other hand, is based on the fact that people are flawed and weak—sinful, in other words.  If they were not, there would be no need for Christ's sacrifice...According to Therese's Christian faith, we sinners need a savior.  

Their debates became heated, became intense.  Slowly Derya began to get some new insight.

Over the years, I had come to worship modern, atheistic science, which claims that there is no proof for an all-powerful, benevolent God, and that the universe is only matter.  Everything in it could be explained with the scientific method, I thought.  There was no room for God in the tightly woven tapestry of material causes and effects.  Not until I met Therese, and began searching for answers to her questions, did I begin to discover the weaknesses in my view of the world.

I came to see that my basic problem was a matter of perception.  Science has demonstrated that everything in the universe is finely tuned, particularly for life to be sustained on earth.  Rather than being the grounds for atheism, could not the discoveries of science point toward a Creator, who values life and therefore designed the conditions for its existence?

Finally there was breakthrough

Day in and day out, Therese and I talked about God and Christ and the necessity for His sacrifice.  I was not ready to hear about Christ at first, but it became harder and harder at first to insist there was no God.  Slowly, the realization dawned that evolution, and God, science and religion, were not mutually exclusive.

There’s more of course.  Derya works through arguments of beauty, from the sanctity of life, from reading Dostoyevsky, and from witnessing the home dynamics and childrearing of Therese’s Christian home, and the home of another Christian family.  I don’t have the space to go through it all, you’ll have to get the book.  Once her heart felt full conversion, she was baptized and volunteered for whatever few Christian events and outings were available in Turkey.  She describes her new being so well, it should be quoted.

With this new resolution in my heart, it was a brand-new day for me even as I went about doing what I ordinarily did.  I experienced a lightness of being, and the things that would normally have caused me anxiety failed to pull me down.  Classes were less stressful, friends less overwhelming, rain less annoying.  The irksome things in daily life shrank as the truly wonderful things expanded.  The world appeared more colorful, just as Knight Rider did the first time I watched it in color instead of in black and white.  Everything around me seemed to have more depth, as if I were watching Knight Rider in 3-D.  Behold, God was making everything new (see Rev 21:5)!

But she had one more conversion to make, and that involved the nature of Christianity.  It started when one of her friends, Anthony, sheepishly told her he had become Roman Catholic.

By this time, Anthony and I had known each other for about four years.  We stayed in regular communication because we had shared responsibilities for the teen camps.  As we talked about skits, improve sessions, and other activities, we became kindred spirits.  This friendship was probably why he was a little hesitant about sharing his life-changing news at the little family restaurant where we had lunch.  After the small talk, Anthony said, “I have something to tell you, but don’t be upset.”

I graciously replied, “As long as you’re not pregnant, I’ll be alright.”

Thankfully he was not pregnant.  He smiled and continued with a mixture of reluctance and hesitation.

“I’ve become Catholic,” he said.

I wished he were pregnant.

I could not believe my ears.  How could he do this?  How dare he side with those who believed in such weird and corrupted things as saints and purgatory?  How could he accept the infallibility of the pope, a mere man?  Also, what was all that idolatrous stuff about Mary?  How could I forget all the awful things the Catholic Church did, such as the Crusades and the Inquisition?  What was happening?

Needless to say I was hysterical.

I have to laugh at how some Protestants regard Catholics.  They really don’t see us as Christian, and yet, between all the commonality between Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Coptics, and other Apostolic Christian denominations, it’s clear that Protestants are the ones out of step with the general tenet of Christianity.  Obviously Derya’s reaction of hysteria was formulated from Protestant disparagement that she must have picked up in the “airwaves” around her.  So what does an intelligent girl do when she thinks her friend has made an intellectual error?  She goes on a mission to prove him wrong.  And, of course, that’s the hook, line, and sinker which brings Derya herself into the Catholic Church.  Derya goes on to find Roman Catholicism is not wrong, but as G. K. Chesterton, another famous convert, famously said, “The difficulty of explaining “why I am a Catholic” is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true.” 

The issue that persuaded Anthony was the lack of a central authority in Protestantism while the central authority within the Catholic Church held faith and morals stable.  He gave Derya a little book from another convert to Catholicism, Mark Shea, By What Authority? An Evangelical Discovers Catholic Tradition.  Derya dissected the book.

In his book, Shea points out the flaws in the Protestant idea of sola scriptura, that is, that the Bible is the sole authority for the Christian faith.  He demonstrates that many cherished beliefs of Evangelicals and Catholics alike cannot be found in the Bible.  The three major examples he gives are the sanctity of life as opposed to abortion, the exclusivity of marriage as opposed to polygamy, and the Trinitarian God as opposed to Arianism (an early heresy).  He argues that without Scripture and Tradition, that is, the teachings Jesus gave His apostles, Christians would have insufficient grounds for adopting these doctrines.  Shea explains that Christ Himself established the authority of His apostles over His Church, which He promised to protect to the end of time.

I learned from Shea that the Catholic Church’s teachings on faith and morals have been passed down to us through apostolic succession…To be honest, after reading Shea’s book, I was not suddenly convinced of the Catholic Church’s authority over all Christians, but I found a giant hole in my arguments against all things Catholic.

Giant holes in arguments have a way of opening larger gaps in one’s thinking, especially if you’re intelligent and honest with yourself.  Shea’s book presented answers to “nagging” questions Derya had since her conversion to Christianity. 

For a time, the rug I had swept my questions under was heavy enough to hold them down.  But as my faith matured and as more books on theology were added to my library, it became clear that Protestant teaching was not consistent on practical matters such as divorce and abortion or even on doctrinal matters such as the Trinity.  Also, I had been unable to find a satisfactory and convincing argument in favor of sola scriptura or against the Church’s Magisterium, the teaching authority composed of the pope and other bishops.  It was clear that the answers to my questions were to be found somewhere other than the Protestant churches, if they could be found at all.  I realized that three of the four matters that troubled me most were founding pillars of the Protestant movement; and I feared that if one crumbled, the whole thing would come tumbling down, and there would be nowhere else to go. 

And then Derya started looking inside herself and regarding the nature of her abilities.  Despite being incredibly intelligent, she realized that in no way could she on her own could fathom the fullness of the truth. 

Reading the Bible and relying on my own interpretation as the Holy Spirit led me did not inspire confidence.  Even though I believed I was saved, it was pretty obvious that I was still a sinner.  Especially in important matters of faith, how was it possible that every Christian could make up his own mind, when his intellect was not reliable?  In fact, the various Protestant churches were divided on these matters.  If the indwelling of the Holy Spirit were enough to guide every believer to the truth about Christ, wouldn’t every believer come to the same conclusions about Him?  Either there was something deficient in the Holy Spirit, or there was something deficient in our human nature, and it seemed more likely that the fault was ours and not God’s.  If so, that conclusion necessarily raises a question:  If human nature tends to get in the way of the truth, wouldn’t Christ have known that and provided His Church with something to counteract that tendency?

Besides sola scriptura, Derya explored other issues that she found lacking in the Protestant understanding of Christianity, such as “once saved, always saved,” the lack of necessity to do works when Christ Himself in parable after parable insists on it, the lack of a teaching Magisterium, and the sometimes incompatibility between science and faith while they seemed to complement each other so well in Catholicism.  Interestingly, it was not a long process.  She summarizes: “To be honest, the theological arguments for Catholicism were so strong that it did not take me very long to become convinced that my path was gently but surely leading to Rome.”  Finally, just as her father had been a letdown to her ideals, just as Mohammed, the father figure of Islam, had been a letdown for Islam, the father figure of Protestantism also let her down.

The last straw for me was reading about Martin Luther.  Just as Islam started to lose its appeal as I read the biography of Mohammad with an open mind, the warm glow of Protestantism began to grow dim as I read a biography of Martin Luther published by Penguin Press.  Being afraid of Catholic bias, I chose a title from a secular publisher that was not affiliated with any church.  The biography did not chronicle the life of a man who heroically stood up against the establishment but the life of a man who was used by those with political aspirations.  Luther had problems with some of the clergy and their practices that abused the faithful, but he had an unstable mind and chose the wrong way to deal with the grievances and problems.  Just like Muhammad, he was not a man I wanted to follow.  I was disappointed beyond measure with his life, and I was upset that no Christian had encouraged me to investigate this hero of Protestantism and the champion of sola scriptura.

There is so much more to the book.  I’ve left out most of the personal life.  You get some insight in what it’s like to live in Turkey, to live in a relative moderate form of Islam, and into her family.  Deya describes her life around the Christians who are on the margins of Turkish life, her trip to England for her doctoral studies, meeting what the person who would be her husband, breaking the news to her parents of her conversion, and of her new life with her husband and three children in the United States.  This is a gem of a book.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Faith Filled Friday: The Fifth Station

Since there was such a positive reception to the excerpt from Caryll Houselander's The Way of the Cross last week, I decided to provide another.  The previous post is here   and you can read about the book here

All fourteen stations are fascinating, but there is something a little more disturbing about the fifth station, the one where Simon the Cyrene is forced to help Jesus carry the cross up to Calvary.   He was just walking by.  He had no intention of following the macabre procession.  He didn’t know Jesus.  It’s almost as if we were walking down the street, turned a corner, and came across a robbery, and somehow got thrown into the drama.  There is such significance in it and Houselander does a great job of bringing it all out.

Simon the Cyrene Helps Jesus Carry the Cross

 He is labouring under the cross. It is too much for Him to carry alone. Everyone can see that, but no one offers to help Him. Someone, then, must be forced. The soldiers seize upon Simon of Cyrene. It has, or he thinks it has, nothing to do with him. He was simply about his own business in Jerusalem. It seems to him mere chance that he met this tragic procession—an unlucky chance for him, but there it is! He is made to take up the load and help this man, a stranger to him, and whom he supposes to be a criminal on the way to his execution.

Really there is no chance in the incident. It is something planned by God from eternity to show men the way of Christ’s love: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” It means that no one is meant to suffer alone. No one is meant to carry his own cross without some other human being to help him.

Again Christ is proving to the world that He has come to live the life of all ordinary men on the simplest human terms. Now as He accepts the reluctant help of Simon—accepts it because He perforce must, and yet in His humility gratefully—He is showing each one of us whom He will indwell, what he asks of us and what He wants us to give to one another.

A man who claims to be self-sufficient and not to need any other man’s help in hardship and suffering has no part in Christ. The pride which claims to be independent of human sympathy and practical help from others is unchristian. We are here to help one another.

We are here to help Christ in one another. We are here to help Christ blindly. We must know Him by faith, not by vision. We must help Him not only in those who seem to be Christlike, but more in those in whom Christ is hidden: in the most unlikely people, in those whom the world condemns. It is in them that Christ, indwelling man, suffers most; it is in them He cannot carry His cross today without the help of other men.

Houselander, Caryll. The Way of the Cross (pp. 31-32). Angelico Press. Kindle Edition.

How many times do we come cross Christ in our daily activities?  How many times do you help the person who can’t carry his cross by himself?  Helping the elderly is the first thing that comes to my mind, but anyone in accident, or disabled, or a child can easily be overwhelmed by immediate circumstances.  When you do so, you are Simon called to help Christ.

Here’s a clip from the movie, The Passion of the Christ that dramatizes the scene.


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Personal Note: My Broken Nose

No I didn’t get into a fight, nor get into a car accident, nor was I drunk when I fell. 

I was sitting on the couch reading and it had turned one in the morning.  The wife and child were both sleeping upstairs.  I said to myself it’s time to get to bed.  I had been fighting bronchitis for a month and my medication was on the TV furniture (It’s more of an entertainment center) across from the couch.  I got up to get the medication when I went into a coughing fit, lost my balance, fell over, and struck my nose against the corner edge of the very hard TV Center.  Next thing I know, I’m falling down to the ground, my hands cupped over my nose, and my head vibrating like a tuning fork.  Laying on my back, I could feel the blood coming out of my nose. 

I got up, ran to the kitchen to get towels, and tried to stop the overwhelming blood from rushing all over the place.  I put my head over the sink and tried to use the faucet to wash it clean.  There was a lot of blood.  I quickly looked in the bathroom mirror and could see a good gash across the top of the nose.  It needed immediate attention.  I ran upstairs, got my wife out of bed, got Matthew dressed, and off to the Emergency Room, all the while holding my nose in a towel. 

As it turns out, the nose was broken and I needed ten stitches.  We got home at 4:30 in the morning.  All in all, it could have been worse.  I didn’t hit my mouth, or I would probably have lost teeth.  My eye glasses have a scuff mark on it that won’t come out.  I think they might have prevented my eye from hitting the edge, and that could have caused me a lot of damage. 

Here’s a picture of it, if you can stomach it. 

Matthew has started calling me Dr. Scar, and that I should be a villain fighting some super hero.  And every time we play or horse around together, something keeps hitting me in the nose.  Urrgh. 

Stitches to come out tomorrow if the snow storm that’s expected doesn’t shut everything down.

Between the bronchitis and this, it’s been a hard Lent.  But Lent should be hard. 

Monday, March 19, 2018

Matthew Monday: 2017-18 Basketball Season

Matthew played basketball for his school team this winter, and it was really enjoyable, both for Matthew and us parents.  Matthew played for the second and third grade level team in the Catholic Youth Organization that ran the league.  On balance they were an average team, but they did seem to get better as the season went on.  They started the season losing and half way into the season were three wins and five losses.  A couple were close losses, but some of them were blowouts.  Then their team, the St. Rita Jaguars (his school is St. Rita’s Church), ran off five victories in a row, but unfortunately closed the season with three losses, for an overall record of eight and eight.  Still the first twelve teams make the playoffs and St. Rita’s came in eleventh.

Playoffs are elimination rounds, so if you lose, you’re out.  Their playoff game was against St. Patrick’s Church.  During the season the two teams had played a marathon of a game.  It was tied at the end of regulation time, and they had to play double overtime, both teams grabbing leads but losing it by the end of the quarter.  In the third overtime, St. Patrick’s squeezed out a victory.  So both teams were both evenly matched.

The playoff game was again evenly matched.  St. Rita took a lead but St. Patrick came back, but ultimately St. Rita held on by one basket, 14-12.  It was exciting because St. Patrick’s could have tied it at the end, but the ball failed to go into the hoop.  Amazingly the Jaguars had won their playoff game, and got to move on.  Here is a video clip from that game.  Matthew is #44, they are in their road uniform in black, and Matthew tends to wear a white undershirt beneath the tank top.  He is mostly on the far end of the camera.

Next up was another team that had beaten St. Rita’s during the regular season, Our Lady Help of Christians.  Though they lost it was still a close game, and another evenly opponent.  In this game, St. Rita was mostly down during most of the game, trailing as much as by six points.  But they tied in in the fourth quarter and with three seconds to go their point guard, Jackson, drove for the basket and was fouled.  All he needed to do was make a foul shot for the lead, and he sunk it!  St. Rita won 15-14. 

Here is a photo of Matthew trapping one of the opponents by the edge of the court and trying to take the ball.  Again St. Rita is wearing the road black. 

By the way, they wore the road black throughout the playoffs because their opponents all had better records during the season.  With this second playoff win, they were in the Quarter Finals.  Winner would go on to the championship game.  This time, however, their opponent would not be an evenly matched one, but one that routed them easily, Church of Sacred Heart.  There were two kids on Sacred Heart’s team that were just superior.  One of them was a full head and shoulders taller than any of the kids.  I wonder if he had gotten left back to be in third grade.  But St. Rita scored the first point off a foul shot, and actually took a 1-0 lead.  Sadly though, that was St. Rita’s only lead as Sacred Heart ran off 23 consecutive, unanswered points.  The final score was 23-3.  But what a glorious run.  St. Rita got better as the season went on and far exceeded the expectations.

Here is a video clip from that last game.  Matthew sees quite a bit of action in this clip.  You’ll see him run behind one of the Sacred Heart players and steal the ball, unfortunately he passes it errantly back to them, the Sacred Heart kid drives for the basket, Matthew blocks his shot but fouls him.  After the foul shots, Matthew is back in the St. Rita end of the court, gets a pass in the far corner, tries to take a shot but gets blocked.  Here:

Here is a team photo, though incomplete; a few players somehow didn’t get in.

Finally here is Matthew with his participation trophy.

Did I already say this was a lot of fun for the parents too?  I guess I did!

Friday, March 16, 2018

Faith Filled Friday: The First Station

Excerpt from Caryll Hollander’s The Way of the Cross.  You can read about the book at last week’s post, here.  

Jesus is Condemned to Death


He is a man of sorrows. He is covered in bruises and stripes. He is made a laughing stock. He is crowned with a crown of thorns. A reed is put into His hand for a sceptre, a tattered soldier’s cloak is thrown over His naked shoulders. His eyes are blindfolded. His face is covered with spittings. He is bound like a dangerous criminal. His own people have chosen a murderer before Him. His friends have forsaken Him. The kiss of treason burns on His cheek.

“He has no comeliness whereby we shall desire him!”

“He is a worm and no man, the reproach of men and the outcast of the people.”

And He is condemned to death.

“Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” 

“Behold the man!”

“Behold the Son of God!”

Behold the man abiding in mankind!

He had put on our humanity. He has put you on—and me. He had covered Himself with our shame, blindfolded His eyes with our blindness, bound Himself with our slavery to self. He is bruised by our falls. He bleeds from our wounds. He sheds our tears. He has made Himself weak with our weakness. Faint with our faintheartedness. He is going to die our death.

All men are condemned to die, but He is condemned to die not only His own death, but yours and mine, and that of every man whom He will indwell through all the ages to come.

“Behold the Son of God!”

“This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased!”

He alone, of all men born, need not have died; but because things are as they are, because we have to pay the price of our sins, and our life on this earth must inevitably be a journey through suffering to death, Christ has chosen to give Himself to every man who will receive Him, so that each man who wills can tread that road with the feet of Christ, and at the end of it he can, if he wills, die not his own death but Christ’s.

That is why death is the choice of Divine Love: “Dost thou doubt that if I call on my Father, even now, he will send more than twelve legions of angels to my side? But how, were it so, should the scriptures be fulfilled, which have prophesied that all must be as it is?” (Matt. xxvi.53–54). His bound hands hold back the legions of angels.

He has chosen our impotence in order to give us the power of His love, our weakness to give us His strength, our fear to give us His courage, our ignominy to give us His majesty, our pain to give us His peace, our wounds to give us His power to heal, our dying to give us His life; our interdependence that we may give Him to one another.

“Behold the man.”

In Him behold mankind!  (pp. 6-8)

All quotes taken from the 2015 reprint edition by Angelico Press, which is a republication of the original work published by Sheed and Ward, Inc., 1955.

And here is a wonderful exegesis on the first station by a young friar from my favorite of the religious orders, a Matthew Jarvis OP from the Dominican Order, Province of England.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

From Islam to Christ by Derya Little, Part 1

Conversion stories usually are interesting if the converter converts to your faith.  Derya Little’s conversion story, documented in her wonderful book, From Islam to Christ: One Woman’s Path through the Riddles of God, is perhaps a more extraordinary than most, and so perhaps might interest more than just Catholics.  First off she was born and raised to Muslim parents in a country that claims to be 99.8% Islamic, the Republic of Turkey.  Perhaps that claim might be exaggerated, but nonetheless the Muslim religion is probably near universal in the country.  That she went from Muslim to atheist to Protestant Christian to Roman Catholic is also rather extraordinary, especially when you consider how few Christians are even in Turkey.  Also interesting is the passionate adherence to each of her shifts.  So when she became an atheist, she was of the virulent variety; when a Protestant Christian, a staunch one; and when a Roman Catholic, a convicted one.  That Derya Little is incredibly intelligent (if I read correctly she has a Ph.D in international politics) means that her transitions took place with intellectual examination, and in this, her confessional memoir, she walks us through the intellectual transitions, filtered through her life experiences, in much the way of St. Augustine in his Confessions.  This is an extraordinary book.

The only way to do this book justice is try to capture the key transitional moments.  She grew up in what I take to be a relatively typical Turkish household.  Turkey is not the strict Islamic country as its Islamic neighbors, so the faith was not adhered to with a fundamentalist discipline, but still she went through Islamic education and learned the rudiments as any child in a western country goes through catechesis.  It was a nuclear family in that there was a mother, father, son, and daughter, with the only somewhat atypical element being that the mother worked, somewhat unusual, but more common in the large city Derya grew up.  The problem began in her pre-teen years when her father decided he was happier with other women, and ultimately wanted an open relationship with a mistress.  This was not acceptable to the mother, and so they divorced, which left the mother and the children in some financial difficulty. 

The divorce was shattering to the pre-teen child, and the disillusionment spread out into other parts of her life.  If the father she had put so much faith in could dissolve her family just like that, what other things she had put faith in were questionable.  She had not lost her faith, but her faith became nominal, if not perfunctory.  She turned to reading, a rather intellectual sort of reading for a teenager.  Through a friend, who had similar reading interests, though she was raised atheist, she was introduced to Turan Dursun, a Muslim scholar who had spent years understanding religion, only to come to the conclusion that it was false.  Ultimately Darsun was murdered by the fundamentalists, but he had written a number of books which Derya devoured.  Here’s an excerpt:

In the first book…God and the Quran, Dursun laid out the shortcomings and contradictions of Allah and Muhammed.  By that time, I had not read the Quran in Turkish, nor did I have the desire to read the numerous hadith, or traditions left behind by Muhammed.  In contrast, Dursun had devoted his formative years and a significant part of his adult life to the study of Islam…

[The book] begins by explaining Muhammed’s sexual deviancy and how new verses supposedly sent by Allah happened to accommodate his sexual whims.  For instance, at first Muhammed was supposed to sleep with as many wives in an orderly fashion so as to not skip anyone.  But then he received a revelation from Allah that he could sleep with whichever wife he wanted.  Allah so accommodated Muhammed’s carnal desires that if the prophet wanted a woman, her husband was required to divorce his wife so that she could be Muhammed’s.  This

One of the many other examples of Muhammed's sexual life that Dursun dwelled on, which had disturbed me even before I came to know Dursun's writings, was the prophet's betrothal to a six-year old child, Aisha.  Even though Muhammad did not have intercourse with her until she was nine years old and he was fifty-two, in the Sunnah Aisha recounts the day she was taken to his bed chamber, a day she had to leave her friends behind while they played on the swing and the teeter-totter.  I felt sick as I read the account of Aisha.  I thought of my sweet little neighbor who was almost nine and pictured her being married to a middle-aged man.  Instead of finding Muhammed's behavior disturbing, Islamist theologians have reasoned that since a girl of nine could cause lust in man, nine years old must be a marriageable age.  Hence the child brides in Muslim countries.  To this day this abhorrent practice steals the childhood of many girls, and it was started and sanctioned by Muhammed.

Muhammed's sexual conduct had many more elements that are repulsive.  Muhammed's legitimization of polygamy, child brides, domestic rape, and rape of women captured during battle were enough for me to take another step away from a religion founded by this kind of man.

So the first disillusionment with Islam had to do with the realization that Muhammed was far from the "perfect man" as claimed when it came to his private life.  Derya doesn't say but one wonders if the disillusionment with her father's behavior had made her more sensitive to seeing these ugly warts.  The second disillusionment had to do with what Islam itself stood for, and perhaps this was much more damaging. 

Alongside Ottoman history, the history of Islam is taught in Turkish elementary, middle, and high schools.  Textbooks chronicle the conquests of Muhammed and those of Islamic countries.  They claim that the holy prophet was trying to save stubborn and sinful people by bringing them under the rule of Islam, the only true religion.  Islam's expansion was good not only for the new territories that "willingly" came under its rule but also for Muhammed and for the glory of Allah.  I do not remember ever questioning whether the people of these strange lands wanted to become Muslims, or in what manner they agreed to come under Islamic rule.  Since there was no mention of bloody conquests or forced conversions, we assumed in our childhood innocence that all went smoothly as people joined the Islamic ranks with chants of bliss.

To me that sounds like the communist indoctrination of their people as they distort the facts and gloss over the details to make the immoral sound moral.  Derya went on to learn in excruciating detail of cutthroat strategies, the mercilessness of the warriors, and the viciousness with those that surrendered.

In book after book I read about Muhammed's life.  Since the naiveté and the submission of my previous years had left me long ago, I understood that not all who converted to Islam had the option to refuse.  For many, it was a choice between life and death.  If people were convicted enough to hold on to their own beliefs, such as the Jews of Mecca, available options under Islam were exile, alienation, and many times the bloody edge of the sword.  Muhammed could never claim that the killing he did and the wars he waged were for self-defense.  He became a warrior through and through, craving power over men and women alike.

It was hard to believe that I had been so blinded to the truth that Muhammed was yet another power-hungry man who was willing to do whatever it took to expand his empire…The veil was lifted.  After having read these accounts with fresh eyes, I was appalled at how so many people, including myself, could blindly follow this man.  He was not much worse than many kings, emperors, and sultans as far as his military affairs were concerned, but his claim to having been entrusted with bringing the one and only religion to the people was reprehensible.  How could I follow a man who had no conscience?  Muhammed not only wielded the sword, but also approved and encouraged the use of force to expand the kingdom of Allah.  The verses the Angel Gabriel supposedly brought him varied according to his political agenda.  As the Islamic state grew, Muhammed's power, wealth, and influence reached new heights.  He claimed what he wanted for himself.

Now does that sound like a "perfect man?”  Sex and power and wealth are not attributes that come with spiritual people, or with those that desire spirituality.  Derya's characterization as "the veil was lifted" is a perfect metaphor.  Derya goes on to summarize her complete loss of faith.

In Muhammed's life, I saw blood, destruction, and selfishness, not the acts of a sinless man, as the Muslims claim him to be.  I realized that the exalted founder of Islam was only a sinful man who used his influence to further himself.  I could not even respect him for his accomplishments.  Thus I completely turned my back on Islam.  I could not possibly follow a man so violent and selfish.  If there were someone I would be willing to lay my life down for, he would have to be willing to sacrifice himself for me and to promote selflessness and peace instead of chasing after the pleasures of this world.  As far as I knew, there was no such man.

After Muhammed's time, the reign of bloodshed did not diminish.  Muslim leaders continued to wage wars and to subjugate other peoples in the name of Allah.  By reading the history of Islam from the seventh century until the present day, one can see that Islam is not a religion of peace but of submission.  Thus, I came to the conclusion that religion was nothing more than an effective way for power-hungry men to manipulate people.  There was no authenticity or genuineness to be found in any religion, I decided.  I wholeheartedly believed that all religions started in the same way that Islam did and likewise evolved into a means to control the masses.  I therefore wanted nothing to do with any of them.

It would probably be an understatement to say Derya was a preconscious teenager.  While going from faith to atheism is actually an easy transition—young adults seem to do it all the time—Derya’s transition required the absorption of quite a lot of theology and history and a real look in at the core of her culture to find her faith on its face value didn’t pass an inner, moral test.  That is quite a leap for a teen, but especially so for a teen coming from a religion where social pressures are especially controlling.  She rebelled, and with the rebellion came a certain freedom, and alongside the dissolution of her family led to troublesome early teen and young adulthood years.

There I was, barely a teenager, with little parental supervision and even less moral guidance.  Needless to say, things went downhill for a while.  Since I had surrounded myself with similarly minded and misguided friends, as I drifted away from Islam, I started to embrace forbidden practices.  First in line was alcohol.

It didn’t stop with alcohol.  She went on to pills and smoking, but through it all she kept reading.  She read Freud and Marx and Nietzsche, which hardened her heart in atheism.  But she built up an impressive basis of knowledge, learned French and English, and scored in the top one percent in the academic tests of whole country and was accepted in the University of Istanbul.  Now free completely of her household she lived with boyfriends and got pregnant and twice had an abortion.

This already got long, so stay tuned for Part 2.