Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mom, the Universe and Everything

Mother's Day doesn't appear on the liturgical calendar. However, Father Paul Morrissey, S. M. pastor of St Louis, King of France parish in St Paul drew a very fine analogy today during his homily.

He asked how best to characterize the love-life of the Trinity which God displayed in Jesus and which is the subject of today's gospel reading (John 14:23-29)?

There is nothing so close to it, he said, as a mother's love- which perennially bears, hopes, believes, and endures all things.

How true! Here is my mother's 1936 high school graduation picture. She passed away in 1987. There is no other person on earth, with the possible exception of my father, to whom I owe more of the good in who I am today, however little that be.

I won't go into biographical detail here. But I do urge you to think of your own mother today, and let those musings in turn reflect back on the love which God gave her, for you.

My own continuing meditations on the nature of this self-giving love received a shot in the arm this morning on the way to Mass from an unlikely source, Minnesota Public Radio and the Physics lab.

Krista Tippett interviewed Dr George Ellis on the program "Speaking of Faith." Ellis is a South African who has championed the cause of equality in his native South Africa. He spoke of the supernatural nature of the events surround Apartheid's abolition. It's just plain counter-intuitive that the white rulers would ever give up power to the Afrcian majority. However, it did happen.

Ellis, who is Quaker, has also championed a recognition in the scientific community concerning the universal nature of ethics. He says that the self-giving response is built into creation, calling it the "kenotic" behavior. Kenosis is the Greek word for self-emptying, as found in Paul's hymn to Christ in Philippians 2: 9-11. As Ellis notes, such behavior is also commended in every major world religion, as if it were firmly imprinted on life itself.

Here is a notation from the Templeton Prize website, with more detail:

In nominating Ellis for the 2004 Templeton Prize, Rev. Dr. William R. Stoeger, an astrophysicist with the Vatican Observatory Research Group, noted that Ellis’ service to a broad spectrum of social, economic and ethnic groups in South Africa and elsewhere had sparked significant insights into the workings of the physical universe.

“He has demonstrated how genuine religious and theological perspectives can help us understand the constitution and character of our universe in terms of ‘kenosis,’ self-sacrificing love,” Stoeger wrote, adding that Ellis had shown, “that our universe seems to be particularly suited for fostering that attitude and practice, and to require it for its harmonious functioning at every level.”

Self-sacrificing love, according to Ellis, is the true nature of morality, another area that he says cannot be explained with simple physics. “Ethics is causally effective,” he said in his prepared remarks that referred to the power that ethics has to change the world, “and provides the highest level of values that set human goals and choices.”

Describing himself as a “moral realist,” Ellis noted his belief that ethics and morality are a very real part of the universe, as compared to something that humans have socially developed over the millenia. “I believe that we discover the true nature of ethics rather than invent it,” he said.

Referring to On the Moral Nature of the Universe, Ellis added, “Indeed it is only if ethics is of this nature that it has a truly moral character, that is, it represents a guiding light that we ought to obey.”

He believes, along with co-author Murphy, that kenotic behavior is “deeply imbedded in the universe, both in ethics and in other aspects of our lives” and that it is the only way to achieve what might otherwise be “rationally impossible” in a world fraught with war and insecurity.

There is something profoundly reassuring this Mother's Day to think that my own mother's love and care are somehow part of much larger framework.

We are all a part of the natural creation and supernal redemption which my Church proclaims as the birthright of every human being.

Mary, Queen of Souls, Mother of All, pray for us.

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