Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Jesus Is Not On The Cross

My friend, Kevin, greeted me: “Hello, Fr. Tom,” referencing the crucifix which hung from my neck, a treasured gift from a wonderful friend.  I guess there are worse nicknames to be called than that of a priest; it was meant as a compliment.  That I wear a crucifix has triggered many conversations since I began wearing it visibly atop my shirt, ever since the day I buried mom.
At the same Open Door Ministry where Kevin and I volunteer, Stan once pointed to my crucifix and said: “You know, He’s not on the cross anymore,” referencing the Protestant icon of a bare cross.  “No,” I replied, “but the cross isn’t there anymore either.”  My words then triggered a pleasant conversation with this saintly man. It’s good to have honest conversations on faith, and especially on faith lived out in good works.  In times like these, when the actions of some, the bad actions, are a national focus, it’s good to remember why we believe, despite our sins and the sins of others.
Long after Stan subtly questioned why Catholics usually image Jesus on the cross --- versus a focus on the Risen Lord and an empty cross --- I came up with another reason to focus on the crucifix icon.  Certainly, Stan and I would agree that the greatest gift Christ gave us was to open the gates of heaven, to establish a relationship between God and man again.  He forgave our sins.  His resurrected body was our proof of the gift, the greatest Gift of all time, and for all time.  We should never forget, and always treasure that gift.  It far exceeds any of the greatest Christmas gifts we ever received --- even those we still treasure today.  But, … I think there is something else unique about this gift from Jesus.
It's one thing to receive a great gift, to treasure it and to love the giver, but it becomes something much more treasured when we realize what it cost the giver.  We may treasure a Christmas present, but if we suddenly realize it was paid for by those long hours of overtime dad worked, or by the second job mom took, or the many late nights dad spent in the basement toiling hard at his workbench --- if we suddenly make sense of their great sacrifices made for us to receive that wonderful gift, then we’d drop the gift and run to embrace them.  When we truly know what the gift cost, and the love that went into it, then we know THAT is the real gift.
The crucifix is what it cost God to give us His great gift.  Yes, the gift is the greatest we will ever receive, but the image of the crucifix reminds us what it cost Him, and how much He loved us.  The gift, or what it really cost, which is the greater thing to celebrate, to remember?  Well, it’s not worth a debate, it’s just something to talk about among friends, and remember.
At a time when there is much scandal in the Church news --- and scandal is the proper word --- our real focus needs to remain on the cross, or the crucifix, the great gift of God to us.  Even if scandal causes some to focus on the tarnish or a small dent in the great gift we received, it is still a great gift.  No man, no matter how big a sinner, can change that.
Many are calling for prayer and fasting in this time of crisis, but I really hadn’t give it much thought.  Today I went to morning mass, then I had chores to do, bills to pay, then I realized I had enough tomatoes from the garden to make my chili, so I assessed my recipe needs, made a list and went shopping.  I came home, sliced the tomatoes, cooked the celery, onions and peppers (from my garden, too), and browned the meat.  I added the dozen or so spices and cooked all this for about 3 hours.  I took chili to my friends at the 7-11, and came to say my night prayers.  And I’m surprised to see it is 6PM already --- and I haven’t eaten today.
Okay, I didn’t think about prayer and fasting, but I think God just gave me a tap on the shoulder: “Ahem.  Fasting isn’t that hard, you know, and it IS important.”  To me it’s kind of funny, when I realize that God is opening my heart to His will, and I sometimes chuckle in the chapel.  Good friends can enjoy a laugh together.  And when they’re sad over events in their lives, they console each other with their presence.
Jesus is not on the cross, but He died for our sins, even these in today’s headlines.  It’s good to sit with Him and reflect on this, and reflect together on the events of these days, events which He undoubtedly previously reflected on, alone, on the cross.  He saw these days coming, and still chose to die for us.
What a guy!  What a God.
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Glancing at Fr. John Riccardo’s upcoming Sunday bulletin words, I see he takes a full page to quote the words of Ezekiel 34:1-16, on the Good Shepherd who never abandons his flock.  The words are most prophetic of these days.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Do Not Be Anxious --- But It's Okay To Be a Little Scared

It’s tiring, hearing all the continuing news stories about the sexual sins of priests, bishops and cardinals.  I see all around me that the stories are making some Catholics anxious, but not me.  My heart had been opened to what happened in the Church --- indeed in all churches, schools, medical personnel, and in all cultures everywhere: the world had changed with the “we’ll do our own thing” sexual revolution of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s.  It’s not surprising then that the hearts of so many priests and nuns changed, and so many, many left the Church (even those that stayed within it).  The world had changed.  Satan entered and said: “This is mine.”
Do not be anxious, Christ once said --- but I think it’s okay to be a little scared.
And as priests who stayed gained power in the Church, in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s, seminary teachings changed to teach these newly found beliefs: “It’s only sex;” all things of faith are relative, and not strictly true.  And the teachings in public schools also changed, as kids learned early on: “It’s only sex.”  And even a president said so, proudly.  And so why should it be surprising that the next step was to say: “It’s my body; I’ll use it any way I feel like: “I define my sex, not my body.”  We might as well be saying: “I am God,” for indeed many believe we are --- and our courts agree.
Yes, it is scary, this world we now live in.  To those who still know the truth, the world says: “There is no truth.”  And we can feel alone, like scared children in the dark.  And yet, we know that there IS a light.  We can see it, and are confused why others can’t, and we don’t know how to explain it, how to convince others that it is real, and it is most wonderful.  Looking back, I believe that was a failure of OUR parents, our community, and our Church as we were growing up.  They taught us faith and Light, but never taught us how to teach others properly. We never considered that the world could change. Our parents, community and Church, existing all around us as we grew up, supported the faith teachings we learned, but today parents/families, community/neighborhood, and the Church itself are no longer there as supports as they once were.  All the supports we had, our kids don’t have.  So, all our efforts at teaching the Light to them, as good as our efforts might be, have no support outside our homes, and Sunday efforts are offset by 24-hour social media, re-enforcing the message started in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s: “We’ll do our own thing.”  And the new re-enforcement is in the electronic communities and in the schools and in the culture at large:  There is no light; your parents are in the dark imagining a light that doesn’t exist.  And children are taught to celebrate their differences, diversity, yet throughout all history (which they are not taught) mankind has naturally celebrated community/ways-in common.  Kids today who celebrate differences are often confused when they don’t get enough “likes”, for it is not natural to “like” those different than ourselves.  We like what we have in common.
While those embracing the culture exclaim that WE are in the dark, they don’t understand why THEY are anxious; having never seen the Light, it’s a scary dark world for them, a world without meaning, except that which they make up.  And while they celebrate life as a game, many feel it is a game they can’t win.  Loneliness, suicides, and yes, anxiety is way up.  The culture’s worldview has changed in our post-Christian society, and there appears no simple way back --- but there is hope.
The Catholic Church has started to change.  With the scandals of 2002 in the headlines, the then new Pope Benedict XVI changed al the seminary leadership in 2004, back to orthodoxy from “we’ll do our own thing” which had crept in there.  And we pray his changes won’t be undone.  Many old priests (and bishops and cardinals), relativists, are still around, witness the scandals in today’s papers, but a good change is coming in the Church.  And in the culture?  No one has begun to change what the schools are teaching our children, except perhaps in some charter schools.  Meanwhile, the courts and the media strongly support “You have a right to do your own thing,” whatever you (or Satan) wants it to be. 
What will start a change in these things?  I don’t know.
Perhaps, as I’ve read some say, we need to go back to the basics, just beginning as Jesus initially began.  He had no school supports, no culture supports, no Church supports.  He started by visiting --- and loving --- His neighbor.  He built a community of followers.  He built a Church.  It’s both very humbling and scary to think we must start so low, that we must give up politics, and perhaps even our family --- such as it is, since so many have walked away from us, into that dark world.  As so, I guess we now all face one question as we go forward, one key question, that was asked so many years ago, when the going got tough then:
“And what of you?  Will you leave Me also?” He asked.
And it’s okay to be a little scared before you answer.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

And God Said Let There Be Light(s)

It was an ordinary Monday afternoon, as I lay on the couch quietly reading, when …
There was a loud knock on the front door.  “Good grief!  What salesman is coming now,” I wondered.  It was my neighbor, who asked: “Do you have power?”  I reached over and flicked a nearby light switch, and nothing happened.  “I guess not,” I replied, and as we stood there another neighbor came walking over.  “Hey, do you guys have power?”  He told us it seemed that our whole block was without electricity, yet across the street the power remained on.
Talking with my neighbor, I said how I was invited to a dinner that night in Ann Arbor, to honor a fellow K of C member, but with my car stuck in the garage because the electronic door opener wouldn’t work, I guessed I would skip that dinner.  But then I recalled I also had my Monday night midnight adoration hours scheduled --- and I would not miss that --- so I asked my neighbor to help me disconnect the opener and raise my garage door and get my car out.  And we did.
The dinner in Ann Arbor was about 30 people, and the guest of honor was running late.  When he finally arrived, in the dining room there were three full tables and one table completely empty of guests --- and I couldn’t let the guest of honor sit alone, so I directed him to my spot and I went to sit alone at the other table, where I was soon joined by a woman and her husband, both strangers to me.
It was good that the three of us were alone, for we talked throughout the whole dinner, explaining how we each were working to help those in need, me through friends and an organization we were just starting, and her, who is the director and part of a large nationwide charity, helping the poorest of the poor.  At the dinner and ceremony’s end, we exchanged contact info, and she promised she would get help to those I was struggling to help, and our organizations would work together in the future.  (And promptly Tuesday morning I received calls from her employees who were enthusiastic in helping find aid for those in need who God had put in my life.)
Later Monday night, I did go to my midnight adoration time, leaving my still dark house.  As I prayed at the chapel, I suddenly remembered another chapel I often visit, and that its 8-day vigil candle on the altar there was near its end, so I went to the Monday night chapel’s storage area and picked up two candles, to take to the other chapel.  And then I recalled my dark house, and said aloud: “Lord, I will take these candles to Your house, so that You will have light.  You know it would be kind of nice if You visited my house also and brought me light, you know, kind of a tit for tat thing?”  And I smiled, as I went back to my prayers and meditations.
And when I arrived home at 2:15AM, the lights were on.
Tuesday morning, I saw my neighbor outside in his driveway.  “Let me tell you what I did for you last night,” I said.  But he responded: “I KNOW what you did for me!!”  And I laughed and said that he couldn’t know because I hadn’t yet told him the story.  And I proceeded to tell him how I had planned to light God’s house and asked Him to return the favor, and I saw that He did.
Then my neighbor said how God does answer prayers, such a blessing, but that is not that he wanted to tell me.  “Last night, at about 12:30AM, I was sitting on my front porch reading the paper in the streetlight from across the street (we still had no power), when the repair truck came down the street.  It went down the block, then came back and stopped in front of your house, Tom.  And then the repairmen went into YOUR back yard, and fifteen minutes later, we had power.  What did you do??”  I laughed and mentioned the control box at the back of my yard, which somehow must have been the source of the problem.  But then I said: “You know, when I told God I was bringing light to His house, so could He bring some to mine, I didn’t mean it that He literally had to come to my house, but I guess that just shows God hears our prayers and loves us even in the little things --- even to the point of making house calls!”
God came to my house and said: “Let there be light(s)!!”   : - ))
And I realized that the time He came was the same as when I said that joking invitation to Him in the chapel.
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Later Monday night at the chapel, I continued reading the book The Spark of Faith, by Fr Wojciech Giertych, O.P..  In it, he explains how the spark of grace, given at baptism, is the start of faith, meant to grow from there, and even explains how babies and young children (and their parents) nurture this growth.  But I especially liked his Chapter 5, Growth in Faith.
He categorizes three levels of faith.  The first is recognizing the existence of God, as provoked by grace, “received on the basis of the authority of God Himself.”  Not much results from this.  “Christians frequently live only this first stage of faith; they accept but are not really interested in the divine Word.  They do not try to know revealed truths, do not care about them, even though they do not reject them.  Their faith is not alive and vibrant.”  (I recall this stage of my life vividly.)
The second level of faith expresses trust in God.  We know He exists, and He is part of our lives.  The truthfulness of the Word is recognized, and we live with Hope.
But the third level of faith is much more.  We believe in God and set out in His direction.  “I take hold of myself and tend toward God and, as a result, this focus on Him has an impact on everything I do.  At this level faith is formed by Charity, as so one tends towards God because He is loved, because there is a friendly relationship with Him and everything is done for Him and in view of Him … The believer who lives out an enduring encounter with God not only behaves well, but wonders how he can contribute to making something of divine charity visible present here and now, for the pleasure of God Himself.”
“There are two movements of the will: the desire of good for oneself, Heaven, and the drive of the Will for the good of others.”
And then in Divine Intimacy (Meditation 260) I read: “He who loves Me, loves all that is loved by Me.”  If our charity is arrested by the difficulties encountered in dealing with our neighbor, it is evident that our relations with our brethren are not regulated by our love of God, but our love of self.
Divine charity is loving those who seem un-lovable, even going to their house and turning on the lights for them.  This is loving by the drive of the Will --- His Will.
Reading those words, I know that is what I seek with my life, to do His will, living in Charity.  I pray He helps me to see the light.