Friday, October 24, 2014

What Is God Saying?

Gen 22:1-19
The weekly class assignment includes meditating and contemplating on an assigned Scripture passage each day.  The first day this week was the above chapter from Genesis, which tells of God asking Abraham to travel to a place and then to sacrifice to God his only son, Isaac.
I read the passage and saw the oft-referenced imagery to God’s later sacrificing of His only Son, Jesus.  I even noticed the similar use of numbers, the two servants who traveled with Abraham (ref the two Good Thieves of the cross?), and the three days journey (ref the three days in the tomb?).  I read the passage a second time, looking for any further insights, but in reading it again I had a “is that all there is?” feeling ---- I perceived no great new insights here.  Oh well, I thought, some days prayer is like that.
The next evening, when I looked for the assigned Scripture passage to read, I found the word “Repetition” indicated --- read it again.  Uh-oh, it was to be another some-ol’, same-ol’ night, but I dutifully took the time and re-read that passage from Genesis.  Blank.  Nada.  Nothing.  Been-there, done-that, heard-that.  Same-ol’, same-ol’.  All Scripture reading is good, but apparently this one had nothing to say to me.
Or so I thought, but God had other plans.
The next morning as I spent time with my morning prayers, the Genesis passage came back to me --- and I found myself walking in Abraham’s shoes.  He traveled for three days with his son Isaac, I suddenly realized, knowing all the while that he would soon be sacrificing him.  What fear would fill my heart, what darkness, and what pain?  And despite Abraham’s love of God, surely he must have been thinking (as I would): why?  And then thinking further on that I perceived an answer:  the answer must lie in the depths of Abraham’s love.
Real love trusts:  it sees no fear; it sees no darkness; it sees no pain.  It does not ask “why” in self-pity (for self-pity is the root of that question).  Real love just trusts the other.
I saw my reactions to past difficult circumstances in my life.  I saw my fears, my pains, my darkness, and my anger, and my asking: why?  And I saw clearly my self-pity, for the real question I was asking was: why ME?  I have walked many difficult roads, as Abraham did, but I saw rarely walked them with his firm love and trust in God, trust that this bad situation was for a good that I could not see.
And then I saw the related imagery of Abraham’s walk, of God the Father and Jesus in Their walk, with the two thieves, and the real death of the beloved Son on the cross, and then their three dark days.  They foresaw what seemed a terrible thing (to us), but in them I saw no fear, no darkness, no spiritual pain, and perhaps most telling, no self-pity.  They trusted all this was for a good reason; They trusted in Their love of us.
In our class we are studying the spirituality of St. Ignatius, and his rules for discerning spiritual feelings hidden in our emotions:  is what we are feeling from God, or from evil spirits?  It’s often a confusing thing to discern, and I find myself wishing there rules which could be simply applied to yield a definite yes or no answer, but there are none, because many of the questions I ask are only answered in due time, God’s timing, not mine.
And then it came to me:  I have found this day some simple answers.  Feelings of fear, darkness, pain, and anger:  these feelings are always of the enemy, not of God.  I can bet on it, and I can reject those feelings.  And the same holds true for those feelings of self-pity.  These are not feelings God wishes for me.  All these feelings are encouraged by bad spirits, encouraging me to not trust, not love, the God who so loves me.
Later that morning I went to mass, and as the priest held the host in front of my eyes before placing it on my tongue, I clearly smelled the fragrance of roses, and I knew I had gotten the message God wished me to perceive from that passage of Genesis.
In reading Scripture daily and contemplating on what God is saying, there is much to be learned, even from the same-ol’, same-ol’ words --- if we would just listen, and pray to hear.  

Monday, October 20, 2014

Angry Again?

The morning Bible Study guys got onto the topic of Christian witness:  How do you effectively preach without preaching, or sounding “high and mighty” like you know it all?  But I noticed a rather curious turn in the conversation:  They each gave as examples of their Christian witness attempts some conversations they had with their spouses, children, bosses, or co-workers, who “just didn’t get it.”  To a man, they spoke of long-running disagreements and how they wanted to do the Christian thing, but the other person couldn’t seem to understand, and that made them frustrated or even angry.  To me, it seemed the ones who were speaking of their family members were especially frustrated; without saying it aloud, their tone implied: “But they should agree with me because they love me.”
“Trying to do the Christian thing can be very frustrating,” noted one of the men, and without saying it implied: because THEY don’t get it.  And then as the conversation carried on a thought came to me which caused me to stop and think, and for a few minutes I stopped listening; this thought seemed more important.  And so I said aloud my thought--- and all conversation stopped.
“No one loves an angry man,” I said.
The men went into a stunned silence because each recognized the vehemence of their feelings about their particular example of “Christian witness.”  They thought their thinking was right on a particular matter, and they so worked to convince their other that it made them angry when they couldn’t succeed.  And with my words they suddenly saw it:  they wanted to do a proper and Godly thing; they wanted others to love them and agree with them, but by their anger they were inspiring people to do the opposite thing:
No one loves an angry man.
The men immediately saw the truism of that statement.  It’s as if by their anger they were saying to their spouses or kids: “Don’t love me,” or saying to their bosses or co-workers: “Don’t listen to what I’m saying.”  Speaking in anger is rarely a Christian witness, and it rarely inspires others to agree with us.
We spoke some, then, about acting in love, and perhaps not getting our way.  Jesus did that.  He wanted people to change their ways --- and talk about a “Christian witness”!!! --- but people did not change their ways, nor understand His message, but still he did not express it in anger.  Jesus did not begrudge us for His having to die for us.  He forgave our sins with love.
Part of our frustration over others “not getting it” is that we want them to get it RIGHT NOW.  We see the truth of matters and it frustrates us that they don’t.  What we often forget, however, is how WE came to see the truth of the matter.  Did we study data and facts for hours or days?  Have years of experience or education (or prayer) made us experts on seeing the truth of a particular matter, and its importance?  And yet we get mad that when the light bulb goes on for us, it doesn’t go one for others at the same time?  Others, who didn’t spend the time or have the experience that we do?
I read in the book Roses and Thorns (meditations from St. Francis de Sales) about how some trees never have fruit until in their third year; sooner or later the fruit will come.  Someone looking at a tree may think something is wrong with it because it does not bear any fruit, but it just isn’t time.  Often getting angry with God or our friends does not get us what we wish.  Sometimes we must be content to bear fruit on a matter “sooner or later.”  And anger does not make it sooner.
And in the same book I read this:
Suffering borne well will carry you closer to heaven than if you were the healthiest person in the world.
Sometimes it is the proper “Christian witness” to stifle our frustrations that others “don’t get it.”  Maybe it isn’t the proper time or season. 
Or maybe, in love, we’ll just have to forgive their errors, as He did.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Review: The Accidental Marriage

I think you will like this book; you should buy it.  I want that to be clear. 
It is a book with a message and it is very well put.  It brings out perspectives on the real meaning of friendship and commitment, and considerations on the gay lifestyle which are not readily considered.
However … I probably am not like you.  I read many, many novels each year, and as such have a basis for comparisons.  From MY point of view, this book lacks some of the fullness of a well designed novel:  in particular, sub-plots.  I readily saw where the story was going in this book and became a little bored along the way.  It was a fast read.  It is well written and the concluding chapters, in particular, caused you to really think about the message being conveyed, but as a book it was more like a long short-story, rather than a novel.
This is an excellent introduction to the writings of Mr. Thomas.  I hope he writes more novels.  He has much potential.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Will I Get To Heaven?

I notice that many of these reflections begin/are titled with a question.  I guess that’s what triggers my thoughts, an anxiety or question about something.  Often God then leads me to some conclusion, easing my anxiety --- but not this time.
I’ve reflected in the past on the question of “Am I doing enough with the blessings God has given me” --- re the parable of the talents.  I’ve reflected on my actions, my priorities, and my prayer life --- am I doing enough in the eyes of God?  I don’t think, however, I’ve reflected that often on how my actions are judged in the eyes of men --- and what I should think about their judgments or opinions, or their needs.
I think, whether I judge it wise or not, that I do highly value the opinions of men, and I want to justify myself to them when they voice their opinions on my actions.  I greatly value God’s opinion also.  I wish, however, that He would speak a bit more loudly of His opinion of my actions, because often when I try to discern His opinion I am confused.
In my Scripture readings this week, I reflected on the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  I think if you searched this blog, you’d see a number of reflections on this subject.  I’ve considered the Prodigal Son’s viewpoint, the eldest son’s, the father’s, and even God’s viewpoint in this parable.  This week, however, I was led to consider “The Rest of the Story” --- what might have happened next in this parable.
The Prodigal Son received an inheritance of money, and he blew it.  I’ve discovered that many people are not good money managers in our society, which encourages borrowing and spending NOW, because: “You deserve it.”  (No, you don’t, but let’s not travel that path right now.)  The fact is that the Prodigal Son’s spend-it-now behavior was not that unusual.  His father’s forgiveness of the son’s sin, however, was unusual, and a key lesson of the parable.  We need to forgive, as God does, with love.  But, I wondered, what happened in the parable after the now poor son returned home, and life went on?
If the sinner son were like most sinners, he fell again into the same sin.  If his father later gave him an allowance, would the son have gambled it away, asked forgiveness --- again, and then asked the father for even more money?  If the father titled half his land to the son, would someday someone knock on the father’s door and say: “You’re being evicted for non-payment of the mortgage your son took out on this property?”  And if this son again begged forgiveness, would the father have let him live with him in an apartment, until one day the father returned home and discovered all the furniture gone, sold to cover the son’s debts?  And when the son returns yet again and says “Father, forgive me,” what does the father do then?
I thought of the admonition to “forgive seventy times seven.”  It has no qualifiers.  I thought of confession, and how many times I have sinned and been forgiven.  I thought of the punishment due my sins and perhaps the long stint in Purgatory which awaits me --- is that also the ultimate justice for the Prodigal Son?  But what of the father?  What are his appropriate actions, in the eyes of God?
If a beggar constantly knocks on your door begging money which he likely will blow on drugs, do you give him because he says he will use it for food --- which he needs?  If you are a wife, bloodied and beaten, do you forgive your abusing husband who says “I’m sorry; it’ll never happen again.”?   Do you give until you are broke, or forgive the beatings until you are dead?
This morning a friend looked at the tip I left on the table after breakfast.  “The waitress must be happy the rich guy is leaving the tip today, so she doesn’t have to deal with the cheap couple of bucks I leave.”  I tried to explain to him --- again --- why I think my action was just, but I don’t know if he is really criticizing me out of envy or guilt, or even compassion.  And I know I’ll hear his comments again, as I’ve heard others.
The one who can’t manage money says I should give him more.  The one who tries to manage his own money tightly tries to manage mine also, and says I should give less.  And God says it’s hard for a rich man to get into heaven.  Certainly, whether reading Scripture or listening to the advice of men, the pathway to heaven does not seem clear.  Perhaps that is the definition of its narrowness.   
I read in the book Divine Intimacy a meditation titled: “Blessed are the Peacemakers.”  It says the peaceful man is guided by the Holy Spirit in his actions.  I do pray for guidance ---- and perhaps that is the only clear thing to do in matters related to money, and finding the way to heaven.  Pray and listen.
And relative to the men who constantly ask me for more, and those who ask me to give less --- I pray for them also, in the words Our Savior taught us:  “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Do I?
            - - - - - - - - - -
The radio noted, this morning, the spread of Ebola in this country, and I reflected on this also.  I may see my neighbor (and perhaps soon many of my neighbors!) dying, in dire need.  How would I love him?
St. Peter Damien moved to live and care for those with leprosy --- for which there was no cure; he died for them.  In early Church history, to admit being a Christian meant death, but if all Christians moved forward to admit being Christians and were killed, would there be Christianity today?  How much do we love?  How much do we give?  Are those questions ones at the heart of the matter, asked at the fork in the road, to heaven or to hell?  Obeying the letter of the law was what the people did who knocked on the door to heaven, and to whom Jesus said: “I do not know you.”  The lesson of His life moved us beyond the letter of the law.
People who ask us for money who we know will waste it; people who make us angry; people who don’t seem to love us --- dealing with all these people triggers worries:  worrying about our money, our righteousness, and our aloneness.  It may be that the answer to these anxieties will be put into a proper perspective when Christians again face death.  Will Ebola force us into facing right priorities, or at least into prayer?  Maybe this terror is indeed an answer to our prayers.
We don’t seem to hear or consider other answers given to us by a God who loves us, and wants us to get to heaven.  We so often only hear the answers we want to hear, and make the simple clear-cut decisions.
Will that get us there?