Sunday, January 14, 2018

Saving A Life

I have a friend whose daughter, last year, was near death from a drug overdose --- for the third time.  On his part, he has tried helping her with lectures, then encouragement, with support for treatment programs, then love.  Now he simply prays for her, with a heavy heart, while waiting for that next, perhaps final, phone call.
Saving a life is no easy thing.  Watching a loved one choosing to die because they find no more reason to live, is a harder thing.  But, sometimes life IS hard.
In today’s reading at mass, God called Samuel three times, and he didn’t get what was happening.  Finally, Eli said next time you hear a voice disrupting your own thoughts or plans, say: “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”  And Samuel did as Eli suggested, and his life changed.  It changed because, listening to God’s voice in his heart, Samuel began doing more for others.
My friend never asked me what I would say to his daughter, were I in his shoes.  I think I’d like to believe God would give me the right words to say; I know I’d ask Him.  But at this moment, what comes into my heart are the words of Donne:  No man is an island, a body unto himself.  I think, were the opportunity to arise, that I would tell someone who perceives no reason to live that there IS a reason to live, and an important one.  There is someone, some one person, who needs him or her, and they’re waiting, thinking they are alone, finding no value in their life.
No man is an island; we were put here among people, a unique being like no one else --- for a reason.  What reason?  Well, that’s Samuel’s witness: until he tried to listen for that reason, he didn’t know it, and he was confused.  He thought life was living in a comfortable cocoon that he created for himself with a blanket, or in modern times perhaps with some drugs.  He didn’t feel he needed anyone else, but with no one else to focus on, he really had no reason for living.
God commanded us to love God and love neighbor.  Why?  Because God yearns for our love; He needs it so much that He chose to die for it --- not for Himself because He saw no reason for living, but for us.  For us, He loved to the ultimate.  He came into the world to be who He was created to be, to love us to death --- even though we were sinners and didn’t look like someone particularly attractive or worthwhile.
We need to discover our uniqueness in this world, and to be who we were created to be, for someone else who needs us, who needs our love in some unique way, a love no one else can fulfil, because this person is, or will be put into, our life at some point, and then we will be there to love them, to save them.
Many of us, who are so focused on “me”, strangely, don’t really know who “me” is.  We define ourselves by our wants, and how we can satisfy them.  We forget, or never knew, the Jesus who didn’t seek to satisfy His wants, but rather the needs of those around Him.  He came to love them, as we were created to do also, to save their life.
We think of one lifeguard going out at some point to save one person.  If we relate that to ourselves perhaps we say: “I don’t see any drowning person,” or Everybody’s drowning; there’s nothing I can do.”  And we forget what Jesus did in a world filled with drowning people: He save this one, then He save that one, then that one, then that one.  One by one.
So where is the one we are supposed to save?  Well, it might be that woman who had to leave her husband because of abuse.  It might be that woman caring for her ill son or dying parent, alone.  It might be that man sitting on the bench, bundled against the freezing temperatures.  It might be that kid sitting in the corner, apart from the others.  You don’t see them?  Then you must walk around with your eyes closed.  They are everywhere.  There are many in need of saving, but which one is the one we were meant to save, the one we were created to save?  If my life is important and was created not to just focus on living it, but making a change in this world, how can I find that meaning, that person who needs me, that person God is watching for me to help?
God called Samuel three times, until he finally listened on the fourth.  How many times has He called to you?  When will you finally answer: “Speak Lord, your servant is listening”?  There is a life out there which God is trusting you to save, maybe many .  Don’t tell me your life isn’t worth living; it’s critically important.
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As I considered the above thoughts while riding home from church this morning, I heard this song being sung:
One day I’ll hear the laugh of children
In a world where war has been banned
One day I’ll see men of all colors
Sharing words of love and devotion.
Stand up and feel the Holy Spirit
Find the power of your faith
Open your heart to those who need you
In the name of love and devotion
Yes I believe
I believe in the people
Of all nations to join and to care to love
I believe in a world where
Light will guide us, and giving our love
We’ll make heaven on earth
Yes! I believe
I believe in the people
Of all nations to join and to care for love
I believe in a world
And giving our love
We’ll make heaven on earth.
I believe
I Believe, by Universal Music Publishing
sung on Andrea Bocelli’s “My Christmas” CD

Friday, January 12, 2018

God In The Little Things

As I came out of church this morning, I saw my car covered in snow.  Only a scant hour before I had walked into that church clutching my umbrella against the heavy rains and wind.  That was then; this is now: winter was back.
As I drove home, the heavy moisture-laden snowflakes each burst across my windshield, in four or five-inch splatters.  It seemed as if I were caught in the middle of a serious snowball fight among the angels, and all around me I saw the white roads and grasses that had been brown just minutes ago.  It was beautiful, and I thanked God for this small gift this day.
The last few days the temperatures had soared into the 50’s around here, ending weeks of below-zero temperatures (and snow) since Christmas Eve.  We had a White Christmas, and New Year’s, and, and, and, …  But then we were given a respite --- and that small blessing made us think of summer and swimsuits, if only for a while.
My Tuesday Meals on Wheels deliveries were to 20 people --- deliveries of a hot meal tray and a brown paper bag of rolls, fruits and milk.  My car was full with large thermal carry-bags, to keep the hot food hot, and to pile all the brown bags into a manageable heap.  The temperatures had broken 30 that morning, and I drove around with my coat open, and everyone I delivered to seemed to be smiling, happy for the “warm” cold temperatures.  But as I reached the end of the delivery route, the last 6 stops at a mobile home trailer park, I reached into the hot bag for a meal tray and noticed:  there were only 4 hot meals left for the 6 remaining stops.  Uh-oh.  My mind immediately flipped from good thoughts to ones of how do I handle the shortage.  The obvious solution was to deliver what I had and then return to the pickup point for 2 more meals and come back to the park --- adding thirty to forty-five minutes to my morning commitment.  I resolved, grudgingly, to do just that as I delivered a meal to the first trailer stop.  And when I went to the second, still in a bad mood, there was no answer at the door.  He was not home.  And when I knocked at the third, there also was no answer.  Suddenly my grumblings “Oh-no!” turned into: “Well, Lord, I see You planned this well.  Thank You.”
I had said “Uh-oh,” and unheard, God had said: “Got that.”
On Thursday, I received an email telling me that one of the people I was to deliver groceries to that afternoon would be at the doctor: “Leave my groceries on the porch,” she wrote.  Uh-oh; heavy rains were forecast, and I thought about the paper grocery bags and boxes I’d deliver.  How could I cover them from the rain?  But then I had another surprise.  When I went to pick up the food at the food distribution ministry, I was told one of the other delivery volunteers was sick, and I had three new stops to make, and was given addresses, but no directions --- and my flip phone would be of no help.  So, I loaded groceries, filling my car, and made home my first stop --- to look up directions to the added delivery locations.  After mapping out the now 60-mile delivery route, I finally set out --- late.
Every single person I delivered groceries to that afternoon was pleasant, and thankful.  And I think perhaps, especially, Emily, who I helped walk to her trailer just as a friend was dropping her off from her doctor’s appointment.  “You’re late,” she said,” but I’m glad.  I was so worried my groceries would be a soggy mess on the porch when I got home.”  She needn’t to have worried --- nor should have I --- God had things covered, again.
I wasn’t looking for these small blessing these past few days.  And I wondered: how many had I missed?  I suspect we all miss many blessings, as we focus on our daily worries, never noticing that perhaps God took care of some of the biggest ones.
And we never even said thanks.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

How Do I Begin to Pray?

Sunday night I sat down with some people from my church, had dinner, watched a 30-minute video, and discussed the question posed by the video: “Is there more to live than this?”  Our time together was the start of the 10-week Alpha Program, which has run in Christian churches throughout the world.  Alpha is intended to get people thinking, thinking about perhaps making changes in their lives, to create a more meaningful life.  If there “is more to life,” Alpha is designed to encourage people to go for it.
The people at my Alpha table were all Catholics, most were converts.  Some studied their way into the Church, while others were led by friends or family.  They thought, then, that they HAD changed their lives, so why were they here?  They wanted more.  The video asked: “Where do you go for answers to life’s big questions?”  This group of very intelligent people took that question to heart, for it was at the heart of their coming to spend this time with strangers --- you can talk of your fears honestly among strangers.  You can raise your unanswered questions, your yearnings for more.
I had a discussion yesterday with a friend, basically asking the same questions.  They’re questions we have all asked at some point.  We talked about our life journeys and wondered: “Where to now?”
Later that night I read a Gospel meditation (From The Better Part, re Mk 6:45-56); it discussed Jesus’ walking on water through the stormy sea.  “One of Jesus’ favorite ways to show Himself in our lives is through storms.  Every fear and crisis that brings us to our knees is a precious gift from God, because it sobers up the false intoxication of self-sufficiency, one of the greatest and subtlest obstacles to spiritual growth.”
That summarized, I believe, what all these people I wrote of earlier --- myself included --- are seeking: “spiritual growth”.  Something more.  And that sentence also states the starting point of that growth: the “crisis that brings us to our knees (prayer) is a precious gift from God.”  Prayer.
The meditation concluded with a prayer: “Jesus, help me to recognize You in the storm, in the midst of my fears and confusion.  I know You never abandon me.  You walk by my side, knowing all my troubles, just as You did with Your apostles.  Increase my faith, Lord!  I don’t want to walk through life alone!”
Ah, another great insight, this “false intoxication of self-sufficiency” says I can walk through life alone, and we can fool ourselves for a long time, but storms erase that false self-confidence.  We don’t want to be alone, especially in the storms of life.  As in the Gospel, we need to invite Jesus in.  And often that invite starts, as it did for me, on our knees, as the Better Part reflection noted.
I recall my own deliberate start in prayer.  I set a cross on my bedroom dresser, lit a candle, and each night knelt down to pray a rosary before I went to bed.  I wanted to change my life, and that was my first commitment to it:  I’d talk to Him about it.  In praying that rosary, I’d reflect on His life, His spiritual growth, and consider it in relationship to mine.  (You might use the reflections I have on my blog about the Joyful Mysteries as a good starting prayer meditation aid; I still use it myself every week.)  Reflecting on His and Mary’s walk helped me to change the paths I chose, and I was surprised to see new ones open I had never considered before.  I found that as I spoke to Him more consistently, more honestly, He spoke back in my heart.  And slowly, I could perceive spiritual growth, and with it “more” to life.
And it started when I began to pray, as part of my life.
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I wrote the above words last night, in the chapel.  I thought that was it.  But this morning, at mass, the priest began his homily: “Did you notice a key point about that first reading (1Sam 1:1-20)?  It uses Hannah to teach us how to pray.”  (Uh-oh, what did I miss last night?)
“First, Hannah prays about her misery: ‘I am an unhappy woman.’  We are used to praying like that, complaining to God, but she goes further.  She relates her misery to God, weeping, putting her misery in His hands.  She persisted in speaking so openly and sincerely to God that her husband thought she was drunk, mumbling to herself.  This is relational prayer, talking to God as if no one else were there, as you would to an understanding friend, who you could tell all your secrets to.  And then Hannah receives the consolation that her prayer was heard; she knows it, and she trusts in God so much that her misery left her.  Her problem didn’t go away --- yet --- but she trusted it would.  Grace came to Hannah, and her burden was lifted.  That is how we must pray, in relation with God, and trust God hears!”
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Two separate reflections about how to pray.  Both had good points.  Both had a similar conclusion:  prayer can change our lives, for the better.  Why wouldn’t we want to start --- and persist?
At it’s heart, the Alpha program is about getting into a better relationship with God.  You could start that program as an atheist, a lukewarm Christian, or a confident Catholic.  It doesn’t matter.  Wherever we are at, we can always go up.  And strangely, that starts to happen by going down, on our knees.  The beginning of the end of our false self-confidence starts with humility.