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?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Reflections on Fr. Benedict Groeschel

I have chosen you from among the world,
To bear fruit that will remain.
-- a Gospel Acclamation
These days I have had many reflections on my life, and shed many tears as I reflected on the life of Fr. Benedict Groeschel, and how he brought God to me.  He was a saint that I have known.
He said that as a child his friends called him Bennie --- I have always thought of him as a friend.  He started his religious order, The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, in the poor Bronx district of New York.  The order has grown greatly since then, and even includes a newly-ordained member from my parish.  Like St. Francis, Bennie and his brothers choose to live among the poor.  He said learned much from the poor, even as he gave them much, even all that he had.  I remember how he often spoke of the wisdom of the Jewish women of the Bronx, and especially their no nonsense retort to those who questioned events of Scripture:  “Oh, you were there?”  Bennie lived like the poor he loved.  He only possessed a couple of old faded brown Franciscan robes; they were often patched rather than replaced.
I don’t know how long I have been donating monthly to Bennie’s order, increasing the amount as I received raises over the years, but I found that no matter what the amount, none went to him.  At Christmas each year I would send an extra gift, sometimes writing a letter proposing its use --- but he never used the money for himself.  Once he sent me a note of apology, for not following my wishes:  “I don’t need anything,” he wrote.  I remember the time I asked him to give my Christmas gift, as an act of humility, to someone he wouldn’t normally chose to give it to.  “Be humble,” I wrote.  “Let God decide.”  He wrote back how he gave the money to a lady who pestered him for money so that she could move to be with her daughter.  “An act of humility?” he wrote back.  “I don’t feel so humble using your gift.  It was a great blessing to no longer hear her complaints.  Thank you.”  Over the years whenever we chanced to meet and exchange a few words, he always associated that gift with me, and laughed again.  I remember Bennie’s laugh.  I always will.
At one of his talks Bennie spoke about the trials of living in the Bronx.  “I look forward to dying and spending a lot of time in Purgatory,” he said.  “It will be a step up from the Bronx.”  I pray that that time he looked forward to spending there may be short.
Bennie died on the eve of the feast of St. Francis.  I think that is a day he would have chosen to die, a time when his and other’s thoughts would turn to his role model, yet not on the saint’s feast day itself, to take away any focus from the great saint’s honor.  St. Francis was said to be a happy beggar.  I think that described Bennie, also.  He loved the poor, and said that in many ways they were closer to God than he.  But I don’t know if I would agree.
I loved the many talks of Bennie that I attended over the years.  Even in those latter years when he only spoke short homilies because “my mind and my mouth don’t connect so well anymore,” still, he spoke wisdom, and love.  I recall the last parish weekend retreat he led; I was there.  He spoke from a chair at the foot of the altar, on which stood a monstrance and Jesus in the Eucharist.  He did that, he said, not to distract from Jesus, but to remind us who was the important person there.  Bennie never considered himself as important. 
I remember weekend conferences I attended at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.  The talks were always very good, including Bennie’s, but it was the Holy Hour which made the weekend a touch of heaven.  Near the hour’s conclusion, Bennie took the large heavy monstrance from the altar, and holding it high he walked slowly up and down every aisle of the large darkened auditorium, with the spotlight shining on the Eucharist.  He stopped every few feet and turned to face the nearby people, making the sign of the cross over them with the monstrance.  I will never forget those moments, when he and Jesus were near to me, and how it always made me cry tears of happiness.  I have had many great consolations from God in my life, even many miracles, but I have never felt God with me as much as during those moments of that procession.  And in my heart, those moments with God, and Bennie, will always be present.
So many things these days, like the Gospel Acclamation which started this reflection, remind me of Bennie.  My daily readings this week, from the book Divine Intimacy, have been on the virtues, or how we are to love our neighbor.  Bennie knew how to love his neighbor.  Through his many talks on EWTN radio and television, and his many speaking engagements and books, he reached and affected millions.  I recall how happy I was when I learned that he would recover after being hit by a bus about ten years ago.  I was happy that he survived --- remaining with us even after having been declared dead by his doctors --- but I was also happy when I read his many thousands of “Get Well” notes which his fellow monks posted online, from literally every country on earth.  Everywhere Bennie had impacted lives, and saved souls.
He impacted mine.  I shall miss him.
I thought to send donation to his religious order in his memory.  What I shall do instead, however, is send a special donation to a lay apostolate called A Simple House.  It consists of a group of individuals who have pledged, even if only for a while, to live the life of Francis, even as Bennie did, living in slum housing in the poorer areas of Washington, D.C. and Kansas City.  They live from month to month only on donations, giving away any excess received, and trusting in God when the money is lacking.
And living to love their neighbors.
I think Bennie would understand my donation to them, and approve.  I can see his smile.