Today's Wisdom

When we meet a person truly in need, do we see the face of God?
Pope Francis

Handel's Messiah by Halleluja Chorus


An Elegant Hymn

Written by the Late Coptic Orthodox Pope Shenouda III (in English My Throbbing Heart; in Arabic قلبي الخفاق )

Monday, June 29, 2015

Sexuality: An Introduction

It is commonly known that the oldest industry in the human race is prostitution. Prostitution continues to exist everywhere even though it is illegal in many countries. With the widespread access to the Internet, prostitution is accessible to persons with smart phones including teenagers and younger kids in most countries. While parents are busy at work, their kids have an easy way to watch pornographic videos on the digital media. With that in  mind,  liberal individualism has invaded homes and schools. The alarming trend of recognizing different types of sexual orientation as valid expressions of love, together with advances in scientific technology, pressed the justice systems in the West to legally recognize gay marriages.In imitation of other Western jurisdictions, the government of Ontario, Canada has introduced sex education to school students as young as 8 years old. 

However, thoughtful intellectuals have expressed their discontent with the above trend. In the June 2014 issue of the renowned First Things, Professor R. R. Reno describes the revolution of the "empire of desire".The full article can be found here

More comprehensive is Saint John Paul II's "Theology of the Body" which I presented in 2008 at Jesus the King Melkite Catholic Church in Thornhill, Ontario (See the lecture here).

Psychology: New findings

Any discussion on human sexuality requires familiarity with the advances in psychology and neuroscience particularly as the topic addresses the needs of children in schools.

A pioneer in cognitive child development, Jean Piaget taught his theory at the University of Geneva and at the Sorbonne in Paris (1950s). A most interesting article on the philosophy advanced by Piaget's psychology can be found at Stanford's Encyclopedia of Philosophy herePiaget's model goes through stages including "sensorimotor" (0 to 2 yrs); "preoperational" (2-7 yrs); "concrete operational" (7-11 yrs); and "formal operational" (11 yrs.+). His influential work in education was adopted by the U.K. Government in 1966. His work, however did not lack criticism by others. By the end of the 20th century,Piaget's work was rated second only to the behaviorist school of B.F. Skinner in psychology. 

Dr. Alfred Tomatis (1920-2001) was an internationally-known otolaryngologist and researcher/inventor. He received his Doctorate in Medicine from the Paris School of Medicine. His major contribution is his theory that in humans, hearing and speaking are integrated for communicating by means of the whole psyche and the entire body. Tomatis distinguishes accordingly between hearing and listening. The child in the womb of his mother listens to her conversations as early as two months before the formation of the brain. It is his cumulative experience which gets stored and can be elevated to the higher levels of the brain and consciousness when ready (Cf. Raymund Schwagger, S.J., "Banished from Eden", English translation 2006). Not only do Tomatis' experiments support Evolutionary Theory but also show the importance of listening in the relationship of children and parents. For more on the continuing research by his collaborators/scientists see here

A widely appealing psychology today is "Positive Psychology" pioneered by Professor Martin Seligman, Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. As defined on the website, "Positive Psychology is founded on the belief that people want more than an end to suffering. People want to lead fulfilling and meaningful lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experience of love, work, and play." To achieve the above, the reader is referred to a list of attributes here. Evidently, "Positive Psychology" generously uses Christian attributes for having a better community including responsible parenting, and communications between parents and children.

Associated for decades with the Christian Orthodox Youth Movement in Lebanon and Syria, the late Costi Bendaly, who earned a doctorate in applied psychology from the University of Lyon III,  wrote about sexuality and its human meaning as early as 1971 (in Arabic, republished later in Arabic and French under different titles). Check his website here and here.

In his lecture  in 2003 at Jesus the King Melkite Catholic Church, the Jesuit scholar Henri Boulad, S.J. spoke about sexuality from a psychological perspective in human life summarized in his book "The Dimensions of Love" (in French and Arabic) and based on his study of Freud and other psycho-analysts in his Master's degree from the University of Chicago. Henri Boulad, S.J. wrote extensively on the psychology of love, and sexuality. His publications can be found on his website here (French) and here (English). His latest publication translated to English is titled "Psychology of Love, Orality, and the Eucharist."  Once published, it will surely fascinate the readers as it draws on the insights of modern science, and the writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.

Anthropology: Natural collaboration between sexes rather than competition for work

Desire has been studied by anthropologists and academics of fame including René Girard of Stanford University whose "Mimetic Theory" brought to light the powerful influence of mimesis (or imitation) that increases man's desire which he shares with a rival model (man) for the same object (woman). See an introduction and an interview with Girard in 2003 here and another interview in 2009 here. Readers may also wish to read this introduction to his thought here and here. In his book "Christ in Postmodern Philosophy" (2008), Frederiek Depoortere dedicates an entire section to Girard's responses to contemporary questions in several fields of science, anthropology, and philosophy (Pp. 34-91).

Recent discoveries in the evolutionary anthropology of the human race point to reasons why homo sapiens survived adverse conditions while their earlier neanderthal and homo erectus species could not. One factor is based on competition between male and female animals of the same species to hunt for the prey. In homo sapiens early males and females divided the jobs rather than competing for them which resulted in maintaining a higher level of reproduction and survival. Rather than going out together to hunt for and kill preys which harms the upbringing of offspring, the male fetches the food, likely by killing the prey, and brings it home to his female whose role is the delivery of, nursing and upbringing of their offspring. This way the jobs in the family are distributed. It does not prevent the female from getting her well-deserved education, but the government must compensate her with a suitable income in the modern state by taxing the very rich and using the tax to support mothers at home.

Once competition between males and females has been naturally eliminated, tension between them is reduced which results in more fruitful relationships. The events of wars should not blind humanity. If women had to go to work after so many losses of fighting men in World War I and World War II, it does not follow that society must legalize the selfish evils found in divorce, abortion and competition that result in the weakening of the family and the stealing of children from their parents by secular authorities with minimal interest in the healthy growth of kids.

Sociology: The Powerful Example of Brené Brown
Brené Brown, Research Professor at the University of Houston Graduate  College of Social Work, has shown and written on the need for children to be themselves  in order to achieve confidence that they are loved in society. Her TED talk about vulnerability has been watched online by 20 million people. See also Brené Brown, 2012, "Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love and Lead", Published by Gotham. And over 5 million listened to her talking about shame. But it is above all worth noting how Brené Brown was transformed into the loving parent through her research.

Probably parents can do what she did: Be yourself to your children. Love them as they are. This is the first step - a huge one - if parents are willing to teach their kids about sexuality. If it is true that the family is a domestic church, then it makes sense that the mystery of Christ, that starts with selfless love, should be lived in the family. By simple extrapolation or extension, if it is true that the diocese is a church, it makes sense that the Bishop be himself to his priests, children and collaborators so they can look up to him and say this is us. We are one in Church!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Will America Listen to Pope Francis?

On June 18, 2015, the Vatican published Pope Francis much-awaited encyclical "Laudato Si" on "care for our common home" or the environment (See link to the text in English here, in French here, and in Arabic here).

The encyclical is a masterful treatise not only on the Church's tradition from the earliest Book of Genesis but also on today's global economic situation. Pope Francis does not shy away from naming actions by their moral effect on the lives of creatures drawing from the canticle of the creatures written by his widely beloved patron and first humanist Saint Francis of Assisi. The encyclical notes that the theology of creation caused by the Good God finds its support  in the Angelic Doctor Saint Thomas Aquinas. A man of the gospel centered on Jesus Christ, Pope Francis is quick to call for actions that would bring people back to their senses and awaken their conscience (Cf. Matthew 5, Rom 8: 22). He refers to Genesis 2, 15 to show the commandment to humanity to care for the earth. While emphasizing the three fundamental relationships of the human person to God, his neighbour, and the earth, he points to the incorrect interpretation of Genesis 1: 28 that has encouraged the unbridled exploitation of nature. With regard to the ecological crisis and related human misuse of natural resources, Francis refers to encyclicals and texts by his predecessors Saint John XXIII (Pacem in Terris), Blessed Paul VI (Octogesima Adveniens, and his Address to the U.N. FAO), Saint John Paul II (Redemptor Hominis and Centesimus Annus) and more recently Pope Benedict XVI (Caritas in Veritate). In addition to Catholic tradition, Francis refers to the Orthodox Church voice in the Ecumenical Patriarch's repeated calls for us to repent of the ways humanity has contributed to the "destruction of creation".

Pope Francis has unleashed the second phase of his revolution for human dignity in the footsteps of his Master Jesus Christ. In the same Spirit of Christ, Francis demands a liberation from the slavery to money in what he terms excessive capitalism and the abuse of technology for business dominion. The encyclical is particularly aimed at North Americans and Europeans who maintain a "throw away culture" that is a symptom of deeper concerns for injustice that rich nations of the North contribute to the poor in the South. The pace at which technological advances move has already created a climate of adversity between nations that threatens the survival of the human race and the rest of creatures on the planet. The gap between the have and have not is increasing rapidly.

The encyclical, The New York Times wrote "offers blistering criticism of 21st-century capitalism, expressing skepticism about market forces, criticizing consumerism, and cautioning about the cost of growth." (full article here). A few days earlier, however, The Economist published a report that warns of a possible impending global recession which will be hard to avoid unless central banks raise interest rates in order to avoid inflationary pressures (full article here).

It is hard to predict what the reaction would be in a Congress controlled by conservative Republicans when Pope Francis speaks to them in his much-anticipated visit to the U.S. in September.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Sex Education for Kids?

The Ontario Government wants to force its own liberal agenda on the entire people of Ontario. Part of the agenda is a cultural revolution similar to the sexual revolution of the 1960s. This September our kids in early school grades will be taught a new curriculum on sex education directed by the Ontario Premier, a self-confessed lesbian.

Example: In Grade 3, teachers will have to describe "invisible differences e.g. gender identity and sexual orientation." How does sexual orientation become similar to gender identity? Homosexuality is suddenly taught to young kids as only another sexual orientation similar to heterosexuality (which is the natural way of having sex between a grown man and a grown woman. The teacher will have to answer such questions as "If I am homosexual, how do I practice it?" But then those kids have no knowledge that active homosexuals cause fatal diseases such as AIDS and some other sexually-transmitted diseases through anal sex which involves a man putting his penis in the anus (or bottom) of the child. Not only there is a high risk of transmitting sexual diseases to children but also the educators are encouraging pedophilia which some men accused priests of having forced them into it when they were young serving the church some 40 years ago.

Example 2: In the curriculum for Grade 6 students, the teacher will have to prompt "Exploring one's body by touching or masturbating is something that most people do and find pleasurable. It is common and is not harmful and is one way of learning about your body." How is masturbating not harmful? Do they fail to tell kids in Grade 6 that masturbation is not only a physical act but has psychological effects such as narcissism (the pursuit of gratification from vanity or egoistic admiration of one's own attributes). Narcissism is considered a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association. Stimulation of sexual organs leads to arousal which increases blood pressure and the heart rate, but above all stimulation of sexual organs leads to internal fluctuation of hormones which influence sexual arousal leading to orgasm which is naturally reserved to the very intimate relationship of a couple. Here again educators would be encouraging the child to try any drugs that stimulate a sense of orgasmic pleasure such as dopamine-based marijuana and heroin (See more here).

Example 3: In the curriculum for Grade 7 students, it emphasizes "the importance of consent and discussions about delaying or abstaining from any genital contact including vaginal, oral or anal intercourse." Who will be discussing this and with who?  Are we telling kids that they are free to discuss among themselves about what kind of intercourse they wish to have, abstain from or delay?Where is the role of parents in the curriculum in such intimate and emotional matters? What does the Liberal Government think of the religious traditions, expert opinions and Churches?

I will only mention the case of a student in the U.K. reported in November 2014 after implementing a similar sex education program (video here). The boy wanted to explore what he was taught so he asked his classmate a girl to have intercourse, but she refused. He finished it by raping her. He got his orgasm while her life was chattered.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Anthropological Reflections

In "The History of Religions" published by the University of Chicago in 1959, Mircea Eliade traces the development of the sacred from primitive cultures. He advances the idea that in the 20th century, symbolism has been found in depth-psychology, especially that "the activity of the unconscious can be grasped through the interpretation of images, figures, and scenarios". He adds other factors that contribute to the study of symbolism such as the rise of of abstract art and "the poetic experiments of the surrealists" as well as the research of ethnologists in primitive societies, and finally the role of researches of certain philosophers, epistemologists, and linguists who wanted to show the symbolic character not only of language, but also of all other activities of the human spirit, from rite and myth to art and science." (Pages 86, 87). In the same book, Jean Daniélou clarifies "The history of religions today confronts us with an immense amount of material dealing with myths, symbols, and rites" (Page 68)

Another finding in "generative" anthropology is attributed to René Girard, retired professor of civilizations at Stanford University and member of l'Academie francaise! 
In his theory of mimetic rivalry, René Girard shows how we are born with a tendency for selfishness. Mimetic rivalry, that is imitative rivalry, exists in human natural relationships. According to him, I desire what "the other" has, not only because it is good, but more importantly because he also desires it. Thus, in effect, by desiring what he has, I want to fulfill myself. He became my model since we both desire the same object, but now I  must surpass him to acquire the object for myself.  I am my god, and will expand my family, my tribe, my nation, my religion, and my culture only because they are mine! When people fight because of rivalry, it becomes contagious, and society descends into chaos and disorder. The only Satanic remedy to restore order found in the early cultures was the scapegoat. In pagan cultures, men would collaborate and exclude or kill a person they accuse of not following them. The act of killing unites them again and order is restored. This is the ritual of sacrifice in archaic religions. Following the exclusion or killing act of the “innocent” person, the band starts feeling guilty as they see the victim not moving anymore. They then attempt to reintroduce him in their memory by making him divine, and celebrating his feast with dance and festivities. This remembrance accomplishes again what Satan wants: a lie. Order is re-established based on a lie (killing an innocent person), and a person is now divine based on another lie. This powerful chain was only broken by the death of Christ. This is the Satanic power that Christ reversed by his death, not because he was innocent but because being innocent he did not retaliate. On the cross he forgave his accusers.(Cf. Frederiek Depoortere;  "Christ in Postmodern Philosophy"; T&T Clark; 2008 - Pages 34-91).

In his research, Girard found that the story of killing an innocent person violently goes back to the earliest human people. Archaic religious texts and mythology are based on the same theme. The exception is the Bible. Contrary to the mythic stories of other religions, in the Genesis story of Cain killing his brother Abel, the author does not condemn the victim but the killer. The victim is also justified in many other Biblical events such as the story of Joseph who resisted the invitation of Egypt’s ruler's wife to intercourse and ended up being imprisoned for his innocence. Joseph was released and eventually became the prime minister of Egypt. As the people of God become more responsive to the Spirit of God, God reveals himself more fully in terms of relationships to His people (e.g. the victim husband Hosea to his people). The full self-revelation of God becomes actualized in Jesus Christ, His Only Son. Only in Christ, the truth is fully revealed and Satan’s lie is revealed. The only way out of the vicious circle of violence is to not retaliate which means becoming like Christ. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Children of God

Thanks to Fr. Jim Reposkey for introducing Fr. William Nordenbrock, the Moderator General of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, to the faithful at St. Alphonsus Church. It was an honor to meet this distinguished visitor from the Eternal City, Rome. However, I was most impressed by the words of his homily in today's Mass. Commenting on the Epistle's reading "See what love the Father has bestowed on us, that we may be called the children of God" (1 John 3:1), he drew a comparison to the joy that the parent feels when he/she sees the little child after he/she is born. If we, as limited as we are, can love and enjoy our children, how much more does God love us and receive us with joy as a Father?

On a personal note, it is with much joy too that I was able to attend the wedding of my youngest niece yesterday at Merciful Redeemer Church in Mississauga. The priest who officiated the wedding and celebrated the Mass is the same one who, a bit over 34 years ago, married my twin brother and his wife.  My first son together with the gifted Audra Sharp (PhD. in Music) played the instruments and sang in the Mass.  As the God-father of this youngest niece, it was a special moment for me to see her joy with the very kind bridegroom, parents and many family members around her.  It is written that in the transfiguration of Jesus, Peter cried to Jesus "Lord, it is good that we are here" (Matthew 17, 4). This was my feeling too. At the same time yesterday, my second son made an important milestone in his doctorate program when he played a concert of sacred music at the great Cathedral Notre Dame de Paris in France. I received a report that he was greeted with a standing ovation by the attendees.This too was a special moment for me as a parent.

And in spite of continuing suffering and persecution of Christians in the Middle East as elsewhere, I found joy that the government of Saudi Arabia decided to build a church in Arabia for Christians to publicly worship God. While the Turkish President Erdogan refuses to recognize the genocide of Armenians in 1915 by the Ottomans (Turkey), I found joy too that, following Pope Francis lead, the leaders of Europe joined an increasing international voice that supports Armenian President Sarkisian and Christian Armenians for the international community and particularly Turkey to make up for their long suffering.

It is not because we are children of God that we dare to challenge his mercy. Let us ask God with Hans Urs von Balthasar that in the never-ending love of God, the whole creation, guilty or not. may be offered the possibility of salvation and everlasting joy in heaven. Heaven came to earth so as to bring earth to heaven in Christ.

Today's Quote

"Behold I make all things new." (Revelation 21:5)


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