Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Politician's Prayer



I am on a retreat this week.  I’ve taken time off to focus on God, to quiet all the other affairs of my life so I can hear Him speak to me --- if He so wills.  My intent was to spend these days praying for our country, and listening if God wished me to do more.  Whether walking the quiet paths through the woods, sitting in the chapel, or alone at night in my bed, I am focusing my thoughts on praying for our country.

Since I am an organizer of my time, one of my resolutions is to pray each day the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious mysteries of the rosary, and so after mass this morning I began with the Joyful Mysteries.  I’d only begun the very first bead of the first decade, however, when my thoughts moved to a particular focus.

1.      The Annunciation of the Angel to Mary
This is what I’d have you do:  listen for My Will;
resolve to do it.  No matter how hard.

While I began my meditation on these words with thoughts of Mary and how difficult it must have been for her to hear God’s will from the angel --- her life was already planned out before her, but she resolved to do God’s will, no matter how hard --- my thoughts also were on our country.  It too is on a path many believe is all planned out.  They call it “progressive;” the word even has the sound of something firmly going forward.  But what if God sent His angel and asked someone to step off that path, someone who was firmly on it --- like a political leader.  What would his response be when he heard an angel, the voice of God, telling him to change?  I think he’d hear those words of the first meditation (above) and stop, frozen in his tracks.  Change would be a most difficult thing for him, even if asked by an angel.

And then I read the second meditation:

Can God really be calling to me?

Oh, I think that would be the politician’s next thought --- I know it’s often mine when I perceive He is asking me to do something, let alone something hard.  I think that is generally true of all of us, though, we SAY we want to do God’s will, but if it’s not aligned with OUR will, well then ….

And so I then prayed in particular for this country’s politicians, and that God would open their hearts to His will, and that He would give them the grace and fortitude to do it.  And then I read the next meditation:

How can I do this.  This will cause me shame,
embarrassment, deep sacrifice or pain, public
humiliation.  Do You want this?

The politician, always in the camera’s eye, always seeking visibility, always wanting honor --- but upon hearing God’s will, he would become aware that living it will cause him to feel the opposite of all he’s lived for in the past.  A radical change of heart, a radical change of life is what God calls some of us to do.  I can see or hear a politician saying those above words in response to an angel.  I can see him in prayers, looking up to God and asking:  Me?  Why me?  We, too, often ask that question of God.

The first thing we need to own up to, the first thing we must get into our heart, is something that often only resides in our head:  God is God.  He doesn’t make mistakes.  There is a reason for His will, even if we cannot understand it --- even if it is hard, even if it will cause us shame or embarrassment.  It is the right thing to do, for reasons beyond what we want or understand.  God often wants big changes in our lives, (Do You want this?), but for big reasons.  The politician wants so much to be big in the eyes of the people, but here is God offering him an opportunity to be big in the eyes of God.  How few of us small people are offered such a big opportunity.  I am praying for a change in this country, in the world, perhaps God would answer my prayer by asking one politician to change.  But through these meditations I can now understand:  for that politician, it would be a most difficult request to hear.

Do not be afraid.

Almost in answer to my thoughts about the politician’s fears, I read that next meditation.  The angel said it to Mary, and it’s all throughout the Scriptures.  Do not be afraid.  Trust me.  But Adam and Eve couldn’t do it, nor could people down throughout history.  Despite the many, many, many, MANY bad results, people still want to trust themselves, first and foremost.  And should there be something beyond their control, they devise controls:  they buy insurance.  We so much want to be in control of our future.  And yet so often we won’t seek the aid of the One who CAN control our future.  For thinking ourselves so wise, we are so dumb.

And then I read the next meditation:

No one who sees me will understand.
They’ll talk; they’ll laugh.

Even as I imagined Mary thinking or saying those words, as her heart (perhaps with a heaviness?) came around to fully accepting the angel’s request, I could imagine the politician’s thinking also.  The life he had build up, the image he had projected, how could he explain a change of direction --- to God’s will --- to anyone?  They’ll laugh.  In our culture today the words “God made me do it” are considered either a joke, or the ravings of a mad man.

But the apostles were called “mad men”, and they wore the name as a badge of honor.

These mysteries I am meditating upon are called “The Joyful Mysteries,” and yet the words and actions seem anything but joyful, and there’s the rub:  from great sorrow will come great joy.  It’s written that way everywhere in Scripture, and epitomized on the Cross.  Jesus came to change the future of mankind.  It called for a great sacrifice, great sorrow.  I pray for our country, to change the path it is on.  This too will call for great sacrifice.

Praying these meditations, I was made aware how difficult it may be to have my prayers answered, to change our country.  It WILL call for great sacrifice, whether from one politician, or from all of us citizens.  But I say with all confidence:  with God, all things are possible.

And at that point I read the concluding meditations of this First Joyful Mystery:

Who am I to question.  Any sacrifice You ask
will be more than repaid.

Thy will be done; I trust in You

In this I find joy.

I pray for our country, for God’s mercy, and for our politicians.  Even if God were to send His personal angel to speak to them, I understand how difficult will be their response.  In a way, their actions could save the world, but still their first thoughts likely will be:  “But what will happen to me?”

They’re the same thoughts we have when God is asking us to change our lives.  It’s not easy.  “Change is hard,” is a saying often heard, but little understood --- until we are the ones called to change.

Perhaps changing our lives won’t save the world, maybe it will only save one person --- perhaps only us.  But I’d like to believe God put me in this world right here, right now, for a reason.  There are others depending on me, on my change of heart, and perhaps on yours.  And He doesn’t want us to let them --- or Him --- down.

This meditation was called “A Politician’s Prayer,” but obviously it isn’t one.  Rather it’s a call for us to pray for them --- in case they don’t know how.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

I Saw A UFO



It was a kind of buzzing sound outside my back window that first made me aware that something unusual was happening, and as I looked out through the curtains I saw this thing in the sky.  I’ve seen lots of unusual things in my life --- and I have trust in God --- but, good grief, I admit I was scared.
I thought it might quickly go away, and when it didn’t I grabbed my phone and called the police.  It seemed the right thing to do.  And then I thought, well, others should be aware of this potentially dangerous thing, --- or at least it seemed so --- and so I called the local news station too.  I guess there must have been some other story being covered nearby, because both the news truck and the police car arrived at my home at the same time.
I told them again what I had seen, and well, quite frankly, I think they thought I was nuts.  “Time for the guys in the white coats” their looks said.  But I think they could see how scared I was, and so they followed me around to the back of the house to see this thing --- and despite their words of skepticism, I noticed that the cop had taken out his gun.
To my relief, I guess, I saw the thing was still there in the sky, and I was also relieved to see that they both saw it too.  They stood, silently for a bit, and then I saw the cop holster his gun.  “I saw something like this in the area once before,” he said.  “It’s not dangerous.  I did some research on it.  It’s called rain, and …”
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Thank You, Lord
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It’s cloudy today.  I was hoping for more rain, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.  It may be another two months before it rains again.
I spent much of this weekend with friends, in dinners, brunches, and good conversation.  They told me their woes --- I tried to be understanding --- and I told them mine.  And in the midst of that, it rained.
It would have been easy to ignore the rain, if it hadn’t been so rare this summer.  Thinking on it, and my friends, I wonder how many other rare, good things happen to us, and we don’t notice.
I think having good friends are like that.  We need to appreciate them more.  We need to thank God for them more.
We can’t really appreciate, in this topsy-turvy world, how very rare they are, and how blessed we are to have them.
Thank You, Lord

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Review: The Prodigal Son



This book was originally published in 1996, in Paris.  It is now in its fourth printing in English.  It is a very, very short book, and its opening sentence typo did not encourage me to read on.  It reads:  “The parable of the Good Shepherd has been called ….”  Oops!
But I read on anyway, and I’m glad I did.
I, probably like you, have often reflected on the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and my reflections have often been rewarded with new insights --- I’ve written about some of them here.  This particular book also presents some good insights, a few sentences here and there that I underlined, but it was only near the end, when it talks about the father character, that a key important insight is presented.  It presents, in words that really hit home for me, how really much the Father loves us.
“His father is so happy to be telling everyone about the return of the son he had been missing!”  The author had pointed out how selfish the Prodigal Son was and continued to be, even in his returning.  The son was returning for his own reasons, for food, and counting on his father’s generosity --- or at least pity.  He planned in advance the excuses he would make to his father to gain his pity.  The son had no idea how happy his return was going to make his father.  That thought never entered into his mind as he considered returning.
When I reflect on where my thoughts are at when I feel I am away from God, often they center on my sins and how they must sadden God --- heck, how much they sadden me --- and I think how I’ll never change and perhaps even that I seem a somewhat hopeless case.  Sometimes I feel as if God may be better off without me.  I think that surely there are others who must please him more, and I feel somewhat alone in my sinfulness.  This book, I think, states something truthfully which I know I DON’T reflect on when I think about the seriousness of my sin, and it is something most important.
“We discover the seriousness of (our) sin … only when we try to fathom how happy it makes God when we come back to Him.  The Prodigal Son never thought how happy he was going to make his father.  And we too forget that God is happy when he sees us coming toward him.  When you make the Sign of the Cross in the morning, when you kneel down at night, when you lift up your thoughts to him in the midst of the day’s occupations, when you make a detour to go into a church and pray for a while … every time you do these things, you make him happy.  His child is not lost, his child is not dead, his child is still with him.” 
“I leave you which this overwhelming truth, unbelievable as it seems:  we have the power to make God happy.”
Wow!  Just to go and be with Him, makes Him so happy!  We muse along and make plans and worry about our relationship with God, and are not at all aware of this most important thing TO HIM.  He just wants us to be with Him; He just wants to hug us.  Until he felt that hug, the Prodigal Son didn’t have a clue ---- and so often, neither do we.
For a short read, this book was long on goodness.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Chinese Schools



I arrived early this morning and the church was not yet open, so I sat in my car a while listening to the radio.  The news reported a story about changes taking place in schools in China.
Some Chinese leaders noted that despite improvements in Chinese schools, they still lagged the United States.  Innovations --- changes which impacted the world, largely came from the United States.  And so China, as it so often does, is now seeking to copy the winning ways of the United States; it is seeking to teach innovation. 
The news told of how in some Chinese schools even gym classes have been changed, from boring regimented military-like exercises, now some kids play tag.  Wearing t-shirts with chemical symbols on them, the kids seek to tag others with chemical symbols with which they could start a chemical reaction.  They in turn tag others.  They see and create relationships and learn the value of working together --- not with diversity celebrations that all are good, but rather that some fit and work well with us, and some don’t.  Putting together groups of random chemicals, or people, don’t automatically generate good reactions. 
The news people also told of changes to history classes in China, which are now being combined with mathematics.  Chinese children study historical facts and apply math to see historical relationships.  They see the odds of some actions of history working out well, and some actions of history ending badly.  When they see trends they investigate why they seem consistent in history, and how things might have been changed for the better.  A Chinese student comments: “I used to be afraid to raise my hand, in case I didn’t know the one answer to the problem.  Now I get up and justify why I think my --- and perhaps my teammates’ --- answer is best, and we discuss things logically.
The Chinese schools are beginning to teach their kids how to think, which will lead to innovations in the future.  I recalled a recent point I wrote regarding colleges in the United States are being like Judas goats, telling our kids “This is the way to think; this is the answer.  We know.”  I read in a book yesterday how already in this 2016 election campaign over 90% of Harvard professors have donated to Hillary’s campaign.  How much to you think these professors are encouraging free thinking in their classrooms?  And in First Things magazine I read last month how China is the fastest growing Christian nation on earth right now.  Oh, the numbers are somewhat small --- although perhaps as many as 30 million, but they are growing rapidly, and in the not too distant future China may be the largest Christian nation in the world.
In some ways, these are encouraging things, yet sad.  We who have so much, and have had so many blessings, are choosing to disregard them in favor of “what we want --- and have a right to.”  We think we know best, and will dictate it right now, even to our kids.  Meanwhile across the world is another country that is saying: “Perhaps we don’t know best, and so will stop dictating it.”  And they are opening their eyes to God.
Perhaps even in my lifetime I’ll see the day when American families send their children to China for a good education, even as Chinese families send their kids to U.S. schools today.  The thing that would bother me about that is that it would be proof that we who had so many blessings continued to reject them.  We’d have chosen to reject ways that worked in the past, and selected ways that were proven to have failed.  We’d have chosen to repeat the worst ways of history.
How stupid can you get?
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But even these things are not cause for anxiety.  In today’s Gospel I heard how Peter tried to protect Jesus from the government and planned to do “what he knew best.”  But Jesus then taught Peter not to do for others what he thought best, nor to take actions best left to the government.  Jesus taught Peter to do what he does best, and then trust God.  And so Jesus told the fisherman Peter to go fish, and in the mouth of the first fish he caught would be money to pay the taxes owed by Peter and Jesus.
“Trust me,” Jesus was saying.  And I also heard Him saying:  Do not be anxious.