Friday, February 12, 2016

Fleeing War; Bringing War

I read this prayer last night:
            Look with compassion on victims of hatred and war,
            Lord, grant them heavenly peace.
And my mind went to all those fleeing the wars in the Middle East.  “We’ve had enough of war; we want peace,” they are quoted as saying.  And so I prayed that they might be granted the peace they sought.  But then I thought of those we’ve read of who travel to spread the war; they hide among the refugees. 
And then I thought further of those immigrants who celebrated News Year’s Eve, the headlines said, by raping women in countless European cities.  And I realized that there were many who fled war (from the Middle East) THAT BROUGHT war (to Europe), deliberately or not.  They fled someone who wanted to change their culture, but they fled to another land --- where THEY wanted to change the culture.  And I suspect many were not even aware of what they were doing:  fleeing one war to wage another.  They fled to Europe wanting peace, as they know peace, and they are willing to act (even if in ignorance) to get it.
How many of us are like that, thinking that “of course our ways are better ways, and others must change to accommodate them”?  How often do we assume our ways are the right ways?  How often do we accuse others of wrong ways, when they are not our ways?  Does that make us bad?  And if that type of thinking is “wrong thinking”, is the opposite any better?
The problem as I see it is twofold:  When people of different ways are forced together, neither wants to change, but both want the other to change.  And that’s where laws come in.  Within a country, within a culture, people define acceptable behavior in laws.  Now I don’t like some European laws --- I wouldn’t want to pay their taxes for instance, and I don’t like some Communist government or Sharia government laws either --- I want my religious freedom.  But if I move to those countries, I really should expect to live under those laws; it is not reasonable to think otherwise.  It is not reasonable.  The problem is that we can think we ARE being reasonable, from our point of view, in part because we don’t at all understand their point of view, their culture.
It seems to me that today in the United States there are many who, in the name of tolerance or diversity, are willing to accept enclaves of Communist law or Sharia law refugees, or offshoots of either or other cultural mores.  Some of those encouraging emigration with diversity would encourage people to come to this country and not change their language or their ways to ours.  And I fear the spreading of these attitudes in our country will result in our dropping of the word “United” from our name, for ultimately we will not be unlike the Roman Empire, which tried to peaceably govern many differing cultures, with a live and let live attitude.  And it died, for you cannot create a unity out of disunity.  Nor can you create a unity where every single person thinks “my way” is the right way, and you must agree --- an attitude growing on our college campuses.
When it came on the scene, Christianity was a radically different religion, which preached love, and yes, it preached tolerance, to love everyone.  I am afraid that many preaching similar messages today, along with diversity messages, forget another thing that went hand-in-hand with that Christian preaching:  a willingness to die, rather than change, to love no matter what the cost.  As we’ve seen in Europe, others are willing to bring war to our shores to keep their way; are we willing to die?
And we must not forget that there is a difference between our willing to die versus our wanting death, or deliberately taking or accepting actions to bring our death.  Deliberately taking actions which will end our life is called suicide, a Christian sin.  I think many have forgotten this also.  Christianity preached love and acceptance, but not acceptance to the point of it being suicide to accommodate the other’s ways. 
It seems to me that that is the path many would put our country on, a path to cultural suicide.  And they think “my way is the right way, and you must agree.”

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Prayer is Exciting!

I was reading in The Better Part how Jesus and His disciples went off to pray.  They needed “to complement their activity with contemplation … dialogue with the Lord.  Without prayer and study and time alone with God, our well will soon run dry --- we will have nothing substantial to offer others.”
And I saw again, the importance of quiet prayer.  Without contemplation, reading, study, and new insights into God’s truth --- which He will show us in Scripture, or perhaps through the inspired words of His followers, or maybe even through direct inspiration of His Holy Spirit --- without these new insights we will have nothing new which we can excitedly explain to others!
I’ve reflected on complacency in recent days, and I saw it again in a new light today.  We must continue to grow in faith, in prayer, so we can ourselves become excited with the new insights we receive, so we can want to share those insights with excitement to others.  Those are the words I write in this blog, ones which excite me.  Those are the words I share in Bible study with friends.  Those are the words and actions of my life that others see.
If we just read the same-ol’, same-ol’, if we just preach the same-ol’, same-ol’, of course people will be bored listening --- and we’ll be bored preaching, or praying.  And we will stop.
Prayer and work (growth) --- such was Christ’s way, and such should be every Christian’s way.”

Lord, You are always thinking of others’ needs --- mine included.  My heart tends to center on my own needs.  But I know you can continue to change me.  Keep teaching me, Lord.  Keep making my heart more like yours, meek, humble, generous, and willing to give my life for the sake of your kingdom. 
            --- The Better Part, p403

Friday, February 5, 2016

Do Priests Pray Anymore?

My recent reflections on complacency in spiritual matters continued today.
I am reading a book titled: “The Contemplative Hunger,” by Fr. Donald Haggerty.  It is a follow on to his great book “Contemplative Provocations.”  Both consist of short paragraphs designed to promote contemplation on spiritual matters and therefore, to increase our prayer life.  This increase is the exact opposite of the complacency I recently have been feeling.
Early on, Fr. Haggerty notes: “Contemplative life (which he defines as quiet prayer) may be the most powerful adversary to the tides of secularization undermining religious belief in the modern culture.”  This is an important matter!  He goes on to note that contemplative prayer is an answer to our deep-seeded need for truth.  In the silence we find Truth, God.  But he also notes what we are fighting today: “In the narrowing of intelligence to a quest for utilizable truth, an egoism almost inevitably begins to dominate a person’s relation to reality.  The mind’s natural hunger to seek what is true is reduced to a pursuit of knowledge that can serve self.”  It is a great battle, this war between constantly looking at distractions in a hand-held device to serve self, versus silence.  “For many people a choice for silence can be completely absent on a typical day.  Yet it is only silence that replenishes our inner spirit.  Silence … allows us to sense that God is present.”
He implies an important point:  God is not easily found in noise; it is difficult to perceive his presence amidst our culture’s constant need for sensual distractions.
As I sat in the quiet of the chapel and contemplated these things, I further read: “Above all, there is a great need for priests and religious to return to the importance of prayer.  Their lives, if deeply prayerful, cannot but have an impact on the faith of others.”       
And then some thoughts came to me of things I noticed about the priests in my life.  Now I want to state that I am deeply blessed to have known priests whom I would nominate for sainthood.  And the priests I know around me today are in many ways what I’d want all priests to be:  dynamic speakers, community builders, and leaders of many to the faith.  But ….
Recently a friend reminded me of the words of a priest we both know.  The priest said: “I heard God speak to me, and He asked me: ‘When did you stop being my friend, and become my employee?’”  He was being reminded of how easy it was for him to let his relationship with God become one of formality, of rules, of things he was supposed to do --- or of things HE wanted to do, versus a relationship defined in friendship.  This formality is the complacency in spiritual growth, the stagnation of prayer life, which I recently wrote about.
I write these words, now, in the adoration chapel.  Over the years my hours here have increased; it almost seems like home.  I have noticed increasing numbers of people visiting the chapel, but there is one thing I also noticed through this week’s meditations:  I rarely see priests here anymore.  There was a time when I noticed one priest who always ended his day in the adoration chapel; he always visited during my late-night hours.  Now I don’t see him.  Have he and other priests become too busy, focused on other “important matters?”  Have he and other priests’ friendship with God turned into an employee relationship?  Do priests pray anymore; do they contemplate in silence?
I don’t seek to judge, but I’ve had these reflections about my complacency, and the “I know” bias that creeps into many of our relationships ---- and I even saw how it crept into the human relationships of Jesus Himself!  It is easy to fall into a rut in our daily lives, even for priests.
Our priests are our shepherds.  Fr. Haggerty notes the great importance of prayer, silent contemplative prayer especially for priests.  We need the leadership and example of our priests, not just in the sacraments and liturgy, but also in the example of their quiet prayer.
For them, and for us, it should be the natural exhibiting of a lifelong friendship with God, an on-going conversation among friends, not a job.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

There's Plenty of Time

Sin crept up on me yesterday.  I thought I had a wall against such a behavior, a defense to put in place for when I saw it creeping up --- but I never saw it coming.  And so the best laid plans of mice and men …
Reflecting back, maybe I should have seen some warning signs, perhaps in my recent complacency.  I knew I had spiritual things I should do in recent days, and in my head I had made plans, but, well, “There’s plenty of time,” I thought.  My plans had no timetable, or if they did, I didn’t adhere to it.  But these were spiritual matter of which I speak, and spiritual matters such as holiness or love either grow or die.  This is the lesson which was taught to me today, as I considered my weakness while also contemplating on God’s word for the day.
Mark 6: 1-6
Jesus went into his home town, “and they would not accept him.”  Why? -- Because they thought they knew him.  They said:  “Where did the man get all this wisdom that he preached?”  And Jesus said to them, “a prophet is only despised in his own country, among his own relatives.”
And I notice and underlined that word “only” in the text.  Why was that word there?  Now the meditations I read (in the book, The Better Part) noted that Jesus “gives countless signs … but he refuses to give any evidence that will eliminate the need for trust and faith.  He invites, he does not compel.”  He wants our trust in him, our love for him to be freely given.  No one can compel another to love.
But then the words of Mark go on to say that “Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith.”  Was Jesus – God really amazed?  He was amazed that “only” his own townspeople rejected him?  And as I considered this I saw something similar in both Jesus AND in the townspeople:  the natural human inclination to rely upon what we know --- which creates a bias toward our self-perceptions.  Without saying the words, each of us often thinks: “But I know …” Now it is true that a man can know many things, but in spiritual matters a man cannot know ALL things of God, and further, if he does not continue to learn new things of God a man will grow complacent, and a bias will form within him:  “I know all there is to know on these matters.”
The villagers thought they “knew” Jesus, and they did, but they did not “know” him today.  Jesus had changed from his earlier ways, but they didn’t.  And even Jesus was “amazed” at them, because he had seen so many other people grow in their faith in him.  But those other people didn’t think they “knew” him; they had no history of Jesus, as the townspeople did, to bias their thinking.
The meditations I read today went deeper.  “Christ appeals to us on a personal level as a friend … to get involved in his life.”  The defining of our relationship with Christ as a friendship helped me see how a bias can slip in even among friends, but it also causes me to reflect how true friends, really close friends, continue to speak to each other, and often, to prevent any bias.  And while some “friends” may sometimes surprise us (in our bias): “You did what!?”  But among really close friends they never do.   We notice that our close friends are continually changing, and we follow in their changing lives, as they do in ours.  That’s what friends do.  And so there are no surprises.  And real friends trust one another, and require no proofs of friendship.  This is the relationship, the friendship, we should be having with God.  “To demand assurances from God before following God is to treat Christianity like a business, not a friendship --- a contract, not a covenant.”
And finally in the meditations I read today I saw the concluding personal prayer: “You have given me so much, Lord, I can’t help wondering if because of your closeness and generosity I have let my faith wane.  Maybe I am like your hometown companions, so familiar with you that I forget what a grace and gift your friendship really is.  Never let me fall into routine, Lord.”  Jesus, let me grow in our friendship --- while there is time.
And so my meditations reached a conclusion --- and new knowledge and growth.  “There’s plenty of time?”  No there isn’t.  This faith journey must be a continuing thing.  There can be routines in our life, yes, but part of our faith routine must be prayer time, must be plans, must be growth in holiness --- and time dedicated to living this friendship with Jesus in his company, growing in this friendship, and doing things together.  Now, today.
If we don’t let this friendship grow cold, we won’t find ourselves concentrating on, or drifting into plans of “what I want,” or how I want things to be, forgetting our friend.  That is how sin crops into our life, when not friends but “I” becomes our focus. 
Remember that:  “I” is at the center of sIn.