Sunday, September 11, 2016

Mother Theresa: Sinner or Saint?

Mother Theresa was canonized by Pope Francis at a ceremony attended by tens of thousands of people on 4 September 2016 in St. Peter's Square in Vatican City. About 1,500 homeless people from all over Italy attended. The ceremony was also streamed online on the Vatican channel. She is now officially known as Saint Teresa of Calcutta.

In the Catholic Church,the title "Saint" denotes a person who has been formally canonized, that is, officially and authoritatively declared a saint, by the Church and is therefore believed to be in heaven, A "saint" is anyone in heaven, whether recognized on earth or not. The Catholic Church teaches that it does not "make" or "create" saints, but rather recognizes them upon proof of their "holiness" or likeness to God

Formal canonization is a lengthy process, often of many years or even centuries, The first stage in this process is an investigation of the candidate's life by an expert. After this, the official report on the candidate is submitted to the bishop of the pertinent diocese and more study is undertaken. The information is then sent to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints of the Holy See for evaluation at the level of the universal Church.

If the application is approved, the candidate may be granted the title "Venerable". Further investigation may lead to the candidate's beatification with the title "Blessed". Next, and at a minimum, proof of two important miracles obtained from God through the intercession of the candidate are required for formal canonization as a saint. These miracles must be posthumous.

Finally, after all of these procedures are complete, the Pope may canonize the candidate as a saint for veneration by the universal Church. For Mother Theresa all these steps, including the two miracles, were fulfilled, and thus she was canonized.

Canonization of Saint Theresa of Calcuta on 4 September 2016 in St. Peter's Square

Mother Teresa was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in Skopje, Macedonia, on 26 August 1910. Her family was of Albanian descent. At the age of twelve, she felt strongly the call of God. She knew she had to be a missionary to spread the love of Christ. At the age of eighteen she left her parental home in Skopje and joined the Sisters of Loreto, an Irish community of nuns with missions in India. After a few months' training in Dublin she was sent to India, where on 24 May 1931 she took her initial vows as a nun.

The suffering and poverty she glimpsed in Calcutta made such a deep impression on her that in 1948 she received permission from her superiors to leave the convent school and devote herself to working among the poorest of the poor in the slums there.

On 7 October 1950, Mother Teresa received permission from the Holy See to start her own order, The Missionaries of Charity, whose primary task was to love and care for those persons nobody was prepared to look after. In 1965, the Society became an International Religious Family by a decree of Pope Paul VI.

The Society of Missionaries has spread all over the world, including the former Soviet Union and Eastern European countries. They provide effective help to the poorest of the poor in a number of countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and they undertake relief work in the wake of natural catastrophes such as floods, epidemics, and famine, and for refugees.

Mother Teresa's work has been recognized and acclaimed throughout the world. She has received numerous  awards and distinctions, including the Pope John XXIII Peace Prize and the Nehru Prize for her promotion of international peace and understanding. She also received the Balzan Prize and the Templeton and Magsaysay awards.

In 1979, Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, "for work undertaken in the struggle to overcome poverty and distress, which also constitutes a threat to peace." She refused the conventional ceremonial banquet given to laureates, and asked that the $192,000 funds be given instead to the poor in India, that earthly rewards were important only if they helped her help the world's needy. 

When Mother Teresa received the prize, she was asked, "What can we do to promote world peace?" She answered "Go home and love your family." Building on this theme in her Nobel Lecture, she said: "Around the world, not only in the poor countries, but I found the poverty of the West so much more difficult to remove."
Mother Teresa died on 5 September 1997.  The Holy See then began the process that would lead towards canonization. Her postulator, the person who guides a cause for beatification or canonization through the judicial processes, has said, "We didn’t have to prove that she was perfect or never made a mistake.," but he did have to prove that Teresa was of heroic virtue.

A saint is still a sinner,  as Martin Luther affirmed when he penned the famous Latin phrase: "Simul Iustus et Peccator." By this he meant that while a Christian is legally declared to be righteous in the sight of God on the basis of Christ’s perfect work, they will continue to commit sin in this life. Until they are glorified, Christians are both saints and sinners.

In traditional Christian iconography, saints are often depicted with halos, a symbol of holiness; note how Judas Iscariot at the forefront is the only apostle without a halo.

The same is true of Mother (now Saint) Teresa. According to some of her critics, her clinics have  received millions of dollars in donations, yet their conditions were criticized for a shortage of medical care, systematic diagnosis, and necessary nutrition. They charged that "Mother Teresa believed the sick must suffer like Christ on the cross."

One of Teresa's most outspoken critics was Christopher Hitchens, who wrote in a 2003 article, "This returns us to the medieval corruption of the church, which sold indulgences to the rich while preaching hellfire and continence to the poor. [Mother Teresa] was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction." He has also accused her of accepting contributions from dictators.

Mother Teresa experienced doubts and struggles over her religious beliefs which lasted nearly 50 years until the end of her life, during which "she felt no presence of God whatsoever, neither in her heart or in the Eucharist." 

Her postulator reported that Mother Teresa expressed grave doubts about God's existence and pain over her lack of faith: "Where is my faith? Even deep down ... there is nothing but emptiness and darkness ... If there be God—please forgive me. When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul."

He thought that some might misinterpret her meaning, but for him her faith that God was working through her remained undiminished, and that while she pined for the lost sentiment of closeness with God, she did not question his existence. He compared her comments to the 16th-century mystic St. John of the Cross, who coined the term the "Dark Night of the Soul." According to him, other saints have had similar experiences of spiritual dryness, .

That believers are both saints and sinners, as acknowledged by Luther, is widely affirmed in most Christian denominations. Protestants typically use the word "saint" to refer to anyone who is a Christian. This is similar to how the Apostle Paul in his letters addresses the recipients as "saints" or holy people.

All Christians need to be aware that they are at the same time both saints and sinners. That knowledge keeps them humble and consciously dependent upon God’s grace. If they refuse to identify themselves as sinners as well as saints, they risk the danger of deceiving themselves about their sins. That is part of the paradox of the Christian life.

Someone who fails to see this is likely to end up blind to their sins and embrace a form of self-righteousness, but they may also tragically break down in a state of spiritual depression when the presence of sin in their life becomes apparent despite their best efforts to live the Christian life.

For whatever reason, Mother Therese experienced depression much of her life. Yet she lived an amazing and productive life. "Simul Iustus et Peccator" is what she experienced in a very personal way. She is both saint and sinner, as are all Christians.

Should Christians vote for Trump? Part Two: Jesus, Trump and Poverty

This is the second of a series on why Christians (and other people of faith) should not vote for Donald Trump.

In the first part of this series I contrasted the humility of Jesus with that of Trump. Who would you vote for, I asked: Jesus or Trump? I stated there that these two men couldn’t be more different; they are polar opposites from each other, and thus I wondered how they can have so many worshipers in common; that is beyond belief.

One is the epitome of humility while the other is an arrogant and narcissistic fool. Unfortunately, many of Trumps supporters overlook his failings because they feel he is one of them. They identify with him. But how can they do that when the difference between them is like day and night?

But there many more areas where these two men differ. For that, I want to return to Luke 14, where the story is told of a dinner at the house of a Pharisee that Jesus attended. In the first part of the story, he had criticized the Jewish leaders for their arrogance in choosing the best seats at the dinner table.

But Jesus wasn't finished yet with his dinner-time lesson. He also criticized his host who had invited him and the other Jewish leaders for inviting only their friends, relatives, and other rich people to their dinners. He told them off for not inviting the poor and the disabled, who need a dinner. Besides, they can't return the favor.

What he told them is the gospel: it is good news for the poor. The poor are the ones who ought to be invited. They are the ones who deserve an invitation and not those rich, arrogant fools who think they are better than anyone else. “Blessed are the poor,” Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount.

Is this the Jesus we can expect when Trump is president?

Psalm 122: 9 contrasts two very different attitudes to the poor. On the one hand, there are those of whom the psalmist says, "They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor; their righteousness endures forever; their horn is exalted in honor." But of the wicked, the psalmist says, "The wicked see it and are angry; they gnash their teeth and melt away; the desire of the wicked comes to nothing."

The poor were excluded from this dinner. The disabled had also been excluded by the Jewish leaders. However, in Jesus' kingdom, as I have explained in a previous post, the poor and those who are disabled will receive special attention. The kingdom of Jesus is an up-side-down kingdom where different values are observed. There is no room in that kingdom for those who do not welcome the poor and the disabled. Jesus here is not only giving a lesson on humility but also on hospitality.

Right after these two lessons in Luke 14, Jesus taught a parable about a great banquet to which many people have been invited. However, some people gave excuses because they did not want to attend. Jesus himself is the one who has issued the invitation to this great eschatological banquet. Many have been invited, but a special invitation is reserved for the poor and disabled.

Only those who are arrogant and unconcerned about the poor and disabled are excluded -- or better, they have excluded themselves. They claim they are too busy to come. That sounds a lot like Donald Trump, doesn't it? What would his excuse be? I am too busy running for the presidency? Anyway, Trump is interested only in money! He  doesn't have time for God.

I am telling this biblical story because this post is intended especially for those in the US who claim to be followers of Jesus but are intent on voting for Trump. To them, I say this: You must choose one or the other of these two; you cannot serve both at the same time.

On the issue of the poor, Trump's record is poor. He has affirmed his support for the poor on many occasions: He has stated: "In fact, actually, the people I resonate best with are poor people and people that are really blue collar. That seems to be a base that I have. I have a tremendous base. Those are the people that like me. …I think the people that like me the least are the rich people."

Indeed, the poor do love Trump, but he doesn't reciprocate. Incredibly, he has told a newspaper that he thinks poor people, the people want to vote for him, are morons, His policies are intended to help the rich, not the middle class, much less the poor, in spite of what he says about loving the poor.

Trump has been called the wealthy poor boy. He is fabulously wealthy; He owns homes in Manhattan; Palm Beach; upstate New York; Charlottesville, Virginia; and Rancho Palos Verdes, California; as well as hotels, apartment buildings and resorts all over the planet. He even has his own fleet of planes, all bearing the Trump label. But he is not an advocate for the poor.

Yet he is poor: he doesn't realize his need for God. He attributes his wealth to the American work ethic. He regards himself as self-made man (with a little help from his daddy). Thus he is critical of welfare and extols the value of work:
That's what I find so morally offensive about welfare dependency: it robs people of the chance to improve. Work gives every day a sense of purpose. A job well done provides a sense of pride and accomplishment. I love to work. In fact, I like working so much that I seldom take vacations. Because I work so hard, I've been privileged to create jobs for tens of thousands of people. And on my hit show "The Apprentice", I get to work with people from all works of life. I'm known for my famous line, "You're fired!" But the truth is, I don't like firing people. Sometimes you have to do it, but it's never fun or easy. One of my favorite parts of business is seeing how work transforms people into better, more confident, more competent individuals. It's inspiring and beautiful to watch.

Both Trump and Hilary Clinton have this in common: both promise to help Americans find jobs, but neither has said much about helping people while they are not working. The US has the deepest poverty of any developed nation, but you would not know it by listening to them. It’s not at all unusual for people running for president not to talk about poverty, but that does not excuse Trump from not siding openly with the poor. Sadly, Clinton is no better.

In Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and a Culture in Crisis, J.D. Vance, a Yale Law School graduate who grew up in the poverty and chaos of an Appalachian clan, gives a voice and presence in the public square to the poor of America. He helps to explain why in the poorest parts of  West Virginia you can see nothing but TRUMP signs. Vance explains that these people -- his people -- are struggling, but laments the fact that not a single political candidate speaks to those struggles. Not even Trump.

Trump uses the poor just as he does other groups. They support him, but that support is not deserved if measured by what he has done for them: Zero! Nada! In fact, he has consistently made their situation worse and continues to do so.

Trump has filed for bankruptcy four times, which makes him the top filer in recent decades. All of them involved hotels and casinos and all were Chapter 11 restructurings, which lets a company stay in business while shedding debt it owes to banks, employees, and suppliers. He makes no apologies for having much of his debt wiped ou. "These lenders aren't babies," he says,"These are total killers,"  He should look at himself in the mirror, then he will see a morally-bankrupt person who does not deserve to become president.

His bankruptcy is also illustrated by his refusal to pay suppliers and workers on numerous occasions. That is how he treats the poor who work for him. According to Forbes, his trade policies threaten to make the poor even poorer. Indeed, in that event, all Americans will become poorer. Trump doesn't care, as long as he can continue to make money.

Who has demonstrated more concern for the poor: Jesus or Trump? What a question! When Jesus began his ministry, he told his listeners that he has been appointed to preach good news to the poor. He demonstrated his love for them by sacrificing himself on the cross.

In contrast, Trump is a narcissistic egoist who has never demonstrated any genuine concern for the poor, except as part of a staged political ploy. The man is a hypocrite! Some people have even compared him with the Anti-Christ. That might be a bit unfair, but he is an evil man who no person of faith should support.

Whom will you choose? You cannot serve both of them at the same time. You must either follow Jesus and reject Trump at the ballot box, or you may vote for Trump, but then you will be denying Jesus. That is how stark the choice is. You cannot serve both God and money. Unfortunately, a lot of Christians think they can, but they are wrong.

If you truly love God, you must also love the poor. That is what God commands all believers. Therefore, there is only one choice you can make on Election Day. To do anything else would be blasphemous. Don't join Trump in his blasphemy and evil deeds!

Instead, vote for the poor. If only the name of Jesus would be on the ballot, that would make voting so much easier. But this year you can still vote for the poor by not voting for Trump.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Should Christans vote for Trump? Part One: Jesus, Trump, and Humility

I want to begin a new series of posts asking the question: Should Christiansvote for Donald Trump? The idea came out of a sermon that I recently delivered. There I did not make the comparison directly, but it was implied. Here I want to make it explicitly. I am a Canadian and thus cannot vote in the US, but I am troubled that so many American fellow believers support Trump. My contention is that one cannot be a Christian and at the same time support a man whose behavior is so contrary to the Christian faith. 

Jesus or Trump? These two men couldn’t be more different. They are polar opposites from each other. How they can have so many worshipers in common is beyond belief. According to many  polls, three-fourths of Evangelicals (who belong to many Christian denominations) want Donald Trump to become the next president. They love him!

However, Trump is someone who has been divorced several times, mocks the disabled, denigrates women, engages in juvenile name-calling, disparages Mexicans and Muslims, encourages Russia to hack the emails of Americans, and -- most notably -- has devoted his life to the accumulation of money. How can so many Christians vote for him?

As the election date draws closer, I want to do what I can to persuade them otherwise. I also want to encourage those who despair when they witness his egregious behavior. Today I want to contrast Trump and Jesus. That is not a fair comparison, of course, since Jesus is incomparably greater than Trump, no matter what the latter thinks of himself.

I want to contrast them in terms of humility. In future posts, I want to raise other areas where they differ greatly and thus force Christians, especially Evangelicals, to re-examine their support for Trump.

One is the epitome of humility while the other is an arrogant and narcissistic fool. Unfortunately, many of Trumps supporters overlook his failings because they feel he is one of them. They identify with him. But how can they do that when the difference between them is like day and night?

The gospel writer Luke, in chapter 14,  tells the story of Jesus attending a dinner at the house of a Jewish leader. Jesus noticed how each of the guests had picked the best places at the dinner table. They thought they were the most important and therefore they deserved the place of honor. 

Jesus reprimanded them for this attitude. He may have been thinking of Proverbs 25:6-7: "Do not put yourself forward in the king's presence or stand in the place of the great; for it is better to be told, 'Come up here,' than to be put lower in the presence of a noble."

Jesus condemned the pride and arrogance of the Jewish leaders, as is clear from the next verses where he says those who had sought the most important place would be told to move to a lower place much further from the host. Imagine what the other guests must have thought of Jesus' remark. They must have been highly offended. 

Jesus chose this dinner as the place to teach a lesson to these stuffed shirts. I can think of many people today who would be equally offended. Trump, in particular, would probably have said to Jesus, “You are fired!” There are more like him, however, in every walk of life. However, they do not make the sort of leaders people should try to emulate.

Jesus did not always observe the norms of society. He broke the rules, if necessary, so that he could usher in his kingdom. That kingdom is a new creation, one that is very different from the kingdom of the world that we see all around us. So much so that his kingdom has been called the up-side-down kingdom. 

In that kingdom there is no place for those who are proud and arrogant. The kingdom of Jesus is reserved for those who are truly humble. Humility is the chief entrance requirement. Without this as passport one cannot enter.

The Jewish leaders did not understand that. Nor does Trump. He wants to set up his own kingdom. His is a kingdom of this world. It has totally different values. Trump claims to be a Christian, but his arrogant behavior indicates he is from from the kingdom of Jesus.

The apocryphal book of Sirach describes pride and its consequences very well. Listen to these words from Sirach 10:12-18, which is there for our edification:
The beginning of human pride is to forsake the Lord; the heart has withdrawn from its Maker. For the beginning of pride is sin, and the one who clings to it pours out abominations. Therefore the Lord brings upon them unheard-of calamities, and destroys them completely. The Lord overthrows the thrones of rulers, and enthrones the lowly in their place. The Lord plucks up the roots of the nations, and plants the humble in their place. The Lord lays waste the lands of the nations, and destroys them to the foundations of the earth. He removes some of them and destroys them, and erases the memory of them from the earth. Pride was not created for human beings, or violent anger for those born of women.

What is humility? The dictionary is not helpful. There it is defined as the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people.” The Greek word tapeinophrosýnē is used several times in the New Testament  where it often interpreted as having a modest opinion of oneself.” But that is not correct either.

Humility is not a denial of our talents and gifts but is our recognition of them. It expresses our desire to live up to our worth and do something even greater. It is in the service to others that the greatest form of humility is demonstrated. In the Old Testament, Moses especially is cited for his humility. See Numbers 12: "And Moses was exceedingly humble, more than any man on the face of the earth."

True humility involves submitting oneself totally to God. It means recognizing the virtues and talents that others possess, particularly those that surpass one's own, and giving due honor and obedience to them.

It also means recognizing the limits of one's talents, ability, or authority; and, therefore, not reaching for what is beyond one's grasp. In the up-side-down kingdom that Jesus ushered in, humility does not mean self-effacement, but putting God first.

Humility is the opposite of pride. As C.S.Lewis famously put it, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” 

Jesus is presented as the prime example of humility in Philippians 2:1-11:
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

In Luke, Jesus prophesied what would happen when people humble themselves and when they don't:: “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Jesus practiced true humility! He submitted himself totally, just as Jesus did.

Such submission, as Islam recognizes as well in its name, is the essence of humility. Those who are truly humble, submit themselves to God and they so so by serving others. I just can't see Trump doing that!

Mother Theresa, whom many people would acknowledge as a truly humble person and even a saint, has described several ways that people can practice humility:
To speak as little as possible of one's self. To mind one's own business. Not to want to manage other people's affairs. To avoid curiosity. To accept contradictions and correction cheerfully. To pass over the mistakes of others. To accept insults and injuries. To accept being slighted, forgotten and disliked. To be kind and gentle even under provocation. Never to stand on one's dignity. To choose always the hardest.
On this scale, Trump would fail miserably. He would fail even more miserably when compared to Jesus. Trump's character, as displayed in his speeches and lifestyle, contradicts the humility that Jesus displayed. personally and that he demands of his followers.

My question is: how can anyone support a person whose arrogance has become proverbial? Trump's behavior is the antithesis of that of Jesus. How can people who consider themselves Christians follow Trump rather than Jesus? One cannot serve both of them!

There are many good people of faith in the US who will band together in November to defeat Trump and his divisive agenda. The list is long. It includes both Christians and non-Christians. There are also many humanists, atheists, and agnostics, not to forget the one-fourth of those who label themselves as Evangelicals.

Even some of the last named group, who together probably consider themselves among the most ardent followers of Jesus, may yet desert Trump at the last minute. Would that everyone would desert him! That is my hope and fervent prayer!

Please join me in spreading this message. Christians (and indeed all people of faith) should not vote for Trump. He does not deserve to become the next American president.