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King_of_SiamThe king of Siam has been, in a way, a victim of his own success.
The king I have in mind is commonly known in the English-speaking world as Rama IV or Mongkut, who ruled the Asian nation now known as Thailand from 1851 to 1868.
The western world probably would be oblivious Rama IV if it weren’t for the accounts in literature, film, and live theater, of the experiences of the English tutor Anna Leonowens.
As it is, however, these romanticized versions of the teacher’s interaction with the king have made him a well-known figure.
But the image of Rama IV that has been embedded in western consciousness, notably by Yul Brynner’s portrayals on film and on the stage, resembles the real man only vaguely if at all.
It is true that Rama wanted to protect Siam from being colonized by a European power and that he wanted to introduce modern ideas to the Siamese people.
And it is true that to some extent he achieved these goals, although the reality was not nearly as simple or successful as Oscar Hammerstein would have us believe.
In keeping with Siamese expectations for young men, Rama became a Buddhist monk when he was twenty years old, and he led a reform movement in monasticism.
He studied Latin, English, and astronomy, and he became a close friend of Bishop Jean-Baptiste Pallegoix, who was apostolic vicar in Bangkok, a popular and influential figure in Siam.
Rama’s philosophical inquiry attracted the attention of Thomas Merton—a student of Buddhism—who recorded in his journal the king’s observation that “There is nothing in this world which can be clung to blamelessly, or which a man clinging thereto could be without blame”—an idea that Pope Francis might endorse.
In his effort to establish Siam’s place among the community of nations, King Rama corresponded with world figures including United States presidents Franklin Pierce, James Buchannan, and Abraham Lincoln.
Although it has often been written that Rama offered to send Lincoln elephants to use against the Confederacy during the War Between the States, it appears that the king actually wrote to Buchanan, Lincoln’s predecessor, offering to send the animals for use as beasts of burden.
By the time the letter reached the United States, Lincoln was president, and he responded, explaining that the climate in North America might not be suitable to elephants and that Americans were relying on steam engines to do the heavy hauling.
As a part of this correspondence, Rama, in 1861, wrote an expansive letter to Pope Pius IX, addressing him as the “Holy Father of the Catholic Christian World.”
The letter was dictated by the king and taken down in Siamese by a scribe, and then was translated by the king into a rather stilted English and carried to Rome by Pallegoix. This letter is now in the Vatican Museum.
The king began by taking note of his friendship with Bishop Pallegoix. He then wrote that although Siamese monarchs for centuries had practiced Buddhism, they also had allowed people of other religions to practice their faith unmolested and had welcomed refugees from places such as China and the southern region of what is now Vietnam where Christians in particular were persecuted.
Rama mentioned that Pius IX, in a letter hand delivered by Pallegoix, in 1852 along with a mosaic of the Pantheon, had specifically asked that Catholic missionaries and other Christians in Siam be protected from harassment.
What is most compelling about this letter is the king’s frequent references to religious tolerance.
After all, he wrote, the path to internal happiness and eternal life “is in fact difficult to be exactly known.”
The king refers in this letter to “the Superagency of the Universe”—in other words, the one God whose nature is hard to ascertain. Rama asks this “Superagency” to confer “temporal and spiritual happiness” and eternal life on the pope.
And some commentators have pointed out that the notion of one God is not a part of Buddhist thought, and that the king probably used this expression out of deference to the pope’s beliefs.
Rama’s interaction with the pope and his comments in this letter suggest that he embraced an idea expressed by Pope Francis in his apostolic letter “Amoris Laetitia”:
“Keep an open mind. Don’t get bogged down in your own limited ideas and opinions, but be prepared to change or expand them. The combination of two different ways of thinking can lead to a synthesis that enriches both. …
We need to free ourselves from feeling that we all have to be alike.”
Rama IV was born on October 18, 1804.
This post first appeared in The Catholic Spirit, Diocsese of Metuchen.
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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“Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. ‘Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity — greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.” But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted’” (Luke 18:9-14).
For Luke, prayer is not an exercise in piety. It is certainly not a practice to elevate ourselves so that others will point and comment favorably. Luke Timothy Johnson expresses it very well: “For Luke, prayer is faith in action. It is not carried out to demonstrate one’s relationship with God. It is that relationship.”
If prayer is the relationship, then the Pharisee in the parable is not praying at all, because he is concerned only for himself. He sets himself apart from and above the wider community. The tax collector, in contrast, begins by opening himself to a relationship with God, pleading for the mercy he recognizes he needs. He is fully honest with and about himself. With an attitude of genuine humility, he admits that he falls short of all God is calling him to be.
Any healthy spirituality needs to acknowledge that we are sinners, and that our dependence is on God alone. It is often difficult to be honest with ourselves, to look our flaws in the face and to embrace humility. Yet, we believe in a God who does not leave us to wallow in our sinfulness, nor expect us to “correct” our sinful ways by ourselves. We have a community to support us in the journey.
In the early Church, the sacrament of penance was a long process which concluded with a public celebration of absolution—clearly expressing the community aspect of reconciliation. Others carry us, and we are expected to carry others, supporting one another in our relationship with God.
If we see prayer as faith in action, which of the two people in the parable was more likely to go out and live a faith-filled life? Perhaps the real test of our prayer is about making the “kingdom come on earth as in heaven …”
– When have you felt either arrogant or humble, and what grace—good action of God—has come from this experience?
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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Love_Forgiveness_MercyIf after almost a year of reading, discussing, meditating, and praying about mercy we are still unconvinced, Pope Francis has laid it out in blunt terms, and his message bears repeating: “If God has forgiven me, why shouldn’t I forgive others? Am I greater than God?”
The pope goes on to underscore the fact that “judging and condemning one’s brother who sins is wrong.” Because, he explains, “to condemn the sinner breaks the bond of fraternity with him and ignores the mercy of God, who does not want to give up on any of his children.”
During a general audience in last month, Francis focused on a reading from Luke (6:36-38), in which Jesus instructs his disciples to stop judging others and be merciful, as God is.
The motto for the Year of Mercy, “Merciful Like the Father,” comes from this admonition.
Also, by showing mercy to others, God will return that measure of mercy to us after our deaths. As the pope said, “It is we ourselves who decide how we will be judged.”
Our prayer for today:

we pray that we may grow to be a reflection of you,
full of love, compassion and mercy.

Peter W. Yaremko, a former journalist, is the owner of Executive Media, Inc. and is a specialist in executive communications. He attends St. Peter the Apostle Church in Provincetown, Massachusetts and blogs at

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Persistent Widow“Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary. He said, ‘There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being. And a widow in that town used to come to him and say, “Render a just decision for me against my adversary.” For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought, “While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.”’ The Lord said, ‘Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says. Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’” (Luke 18:1-8)
Have you ever been put in charge of children? One thing you surely discovered is that children are masters at getting what they want—just as the persistent widow is in this parable.
A play on words has been lost in the translation of the Greek phrase rendered here as “strike me.” The original phrase could be understood to mean that the widow, by her constant badgering, was going to either literally or figuratively give the judge a black eye — either actually strike him or do something to damage his reputation. Either way, Jesus means to tell us that the woman would stop at nothing to get what is rightfully hers.
Jesus instructs his disciples through this parable to continue to pray even when it seems that God is not responding. If a corrupt judge eventually gives in (just as you may with some children), will God—the good judge—do any less? God is not ignoring the pleas of those who pray, rather, those who pray do not see what God sees and cannot always understand how God is present and active in their lives.
Luke’s message is less about persistence in the sense of holding out as long as it takes to get what we want but persistence in the sense of a deliberate dedication of time to prayer.
All relationships require spending time together in order to progress, and it is no different with God. Personal prayer is time spent alone with God—thanking God for the day; asking for help with things; meditating on God’s presence in your life; being together in silence.
Pray … pray constantly … persist in prayer.
– What does being persistent in your prayer and my faith mean to you?
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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yokeWhen we take up our cross, we discover that it is freeing, that the yoke is easy and the burden light, just as Jesus promises.
Isn’t this what Jesus meant when, on the night of his passion, he offered his great Priestly Prayer to our heavenly Father: “so they may share my joy completely”?
(John 17:13)
Pope Francis must have had this prayer in mind when he wrote his book, The Joy of Discipleship.
Jesus is all mercy, all love, Francis writes. In Jesus’ eyes, each of us is the little lost lamb, the mislaid coin, the child who squanders an inheritance on illusions of happiness.
The Pope writes that God does not forget us, never abandons us. He is a patient father, always waiting for us. He respects our freedom, but he remains faithful forever. When we come back to him, he welcomes us like children into his house, for he never ceases to wait for us with love. And his heart rejoices over every child who trusts in his divine mercy and returns to him and asks his forgiveness.
Our prayer today:

I pray for the courage and faith
to take up my cross daily
and taste its freeing sweetness for myself.

Peter W. Yaremko, a former journalist, is the owner of Executive Media, Inc. and is a specialist in executive communications. He attends St. Peter the Apostle Church in Provincetown, Massachusetts and blogs at

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