Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Review: Fatima For Today

I believe that Mary has asked me to read this book.  I’ve only just begun it, yet I am so convinced of its importance for me that I document that fact with this blog posting, so that I shall remember, and can look back on this date at some point in the future.
I am not a religious nut (by most measures), but I have learned to trust in my Mother’s guidance.  This book will be good for me (although I do not know how), and as such I feel justified in recommending it.
That is the summation of my review --- at least at this point.
            - - - - - - - - - - -
I was reading another book this past week.  I found the words of the book, Theology on the Way to Emmaus by Nicholas Lash, touched my soul, and I underlined much of Nash’s writings.  Yesterday morning, however, suddenly the words changed, like into a foreign language.  The first half of the book had so much depth and wisdom that I knew I should read this book over and over again in the future.  I thanked God for showing me His wisdom there, and then halfway through the book, the words suddenly had no meaning for me.  I prayed some over the words, but nothing changed.  While I had taken days to read and ponder the first half, I skimmed through the rest of the book in under an hour, underlining nothing.
It felt strange, like I was suddenly reading a different book or a different author --- and a boring one.  I did not understand.
Late last night as I prepared to leave for my midnight adoration hour, I casually picked up a new book to read from my stack of unread spiritual readings, and then after reading my Night Prayers in the chapel I began reading that book, Fatima For Today:
“World War I, called the war to end all wars, was threatening to annihilate Europe.  To end the conflict, Pope Benedict XV began a novena to the Queen of Peace on May 5, 1917.  ….On Sunday, May 13, 1917, the eighth day of the novena, our Lady responded to the prayers of the pope and her children in this valley of tears by appearing for the first time at Fatima.  Her message, with its hopeful promise, as well as its strong warnings, was meant for the whole world.  Pope John Paul II … said that it was more urgent and important in our day than it was in 1917.”
I quickly saw how this new book would deepen my understanding of the words that I had read in Fr. Gaitley’s book, The Second Greatest Story Ever Told, which I recently reviewed here.
            - - - - - - - - - -
This morning when I arrived at church for mass and began to read my Liturgy of the Hours, my mind went blank as to today’s date.  Was today May 14th?  If so, there were special Readings for that day, the feast day of St. Matthias the Apostle.  I pulled out my little Liturgy guide and looked up the date for today, and pages for the appropriate Readings.  I was surprised at what I saw:
            “May 13:  Wednesday of the 6th Week of Easter, Our Lady of Fatima (new).”
Today was a newly designated feast day of Our Lady of Fatima.  And today at midnight I had begun reading the book, Fatima For Today, the book which had laid on my bookshelf untouched for months.  The book itself was a gift from the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, a religious order which I’ve supported for many years.  The book was written by Fr. Andrew Apostoli, a founder of that order.
I pray to one of the other founders of that order every day; he’s a man I deeply admire:  Fr. Benedict Groeschel.  He also was deeply devoted to Mary.
I thought on all these things which happened last night and today, even as I listened to the mass Readings which mentioned Christ’s Second Coming --- a topic of these books and Fatima, and the Sun peeked through the narrow window of the church and shined in my face with blinding light. 
These things happen for a reason.
Our Lady of Fatima, please pray for us.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

On Living a Good Life

I’m glad that the readings in the Liturgy of the Hours (which I read each day) repeat each year.  Some things I need to hear over and over again --- I forget.  The words of St. Augustine in today’s Second Reading are ones I need to remember:
Our thoughts in this present life should turn on the praise of God, because it is in praising God that we shall rejoice for ever in the life to come; and no one can be ready for the next life unless he trains himself for it now.
Because there are these two periods of time --- the one that now is, beset with the trials and troubles of this life, and the other yet to come, a life of everlasting serenity and joy --- we are given two liturgical seasons, one before Easter and the other after.  The season before Easter signifies the troubles in which we live here and now, while the time after Easter which we are celebrating at present signifies the happiness that will be ours in the future.  What we commemorate before Easter is what we experience in this life, what we celebrate after Easter points to something we do not yet possess.  This is why we keep the first season with fasting and prayer; but now the fast is over and we devote the present season in praise.  Such is the meaning of the Alleluia we sing.
Both these periods are represented and demonstrated for us in Christ our head.  The Lord’s passion depicts for us our present life of trial --- shows how we must suffer and be afflicted and finally die.  The Lord’s resurrection and glorification show us the life that will be given us in the future.
We are praising God now, assembled as we are here in church; but when we go our various ways again, it seems as if we cease to praise God.  But provided we do not cease to live a good life, we shall always be praising God.  You cease to praise God only when you swerve from justice and from what is pleasing to God.  If you never turn aside from the good life, your tongue may be silent but your actions will cry aloud, and God will perceive your intentions; for as our ears hear each other’s voices, so do God’s ears hear our thoughts.
The words printed in BOLD in the above quote are underlined in my prayer book.  They remind me that I must “train myself” for the next life, now --- that’s prayer and reading to understand God and His word more.  They remind me that often all I seem to focus on is the “troubles in which we live here and now,” especially after I walk out the church door.  But, as Augustine reminds me, my life is not and cannot be lived only in the church, and to not worry about the trials of this life, and how well I bear them.  “God’s ears hear our thoughts.” 
He knows I’m trying.  God tells us we are not to judge our neighbor --- only He is the final judge.  I know that, and I do try to prevent myself from being judgmental of others. 
Why, then, am I so judgmental of myself and my failings?
Do not be anxious, He said..

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

How Can I Forgive Him?

In an emotionally charged courtroom a South African woman stood listening to white police officers acknowledge their atrocities (before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up by the Nelson Mandela government of the 1990’s to facilitate national healing following the terrible years of apartheid).  Officer van de Broek acknowledged that along with others, he had shot her 18 year old son at point-blank range.  He and the others partied while they burned her son’s body, turning it over and over on the fire until it was reduced to ashes.
Eight years later van de Broek and others returned to seize her husband.  She was forced to watch her husband be bound to a woodpile, as they poured gasoline over his body and ignited the flames that consumed him.  The last words she heard her husband say were:  “Forgive them.”
Now van de Broek awaited judgment.  The Truth and Reconciliation Commission asked the woman what she wanted.  “I want three things,” she said calmly.  “I want Mr. van de Broek to take me to the place where they burned my husband’s body.  I would like to gather up the dust and give him a decent burial.  Second, Mr. van de Broek took all my family away from me, and I still have a lot of love to give.  So twice a month I would like for him to come to the ghetto and spend a day with me so I can be a mother to him.  Third, I would like Mr. van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God and that I forgive him too.  I would like to embrace him so he can know my forgiveness is real”
As the elderly woman was led across the courtroom, van de Broek fainted, overwhelmed.  Someone began singing “Amazing Grace.”  Gradually every one joined in.

  Stanley W. Green, “When We are Reconciled, We are Free,” The Canadian       Mennonite 4, no.17 (September 4, 2000): 11.       As quoted in
“More Than You Could Ever Imagine, by Bernie Owens, S.J. (p32)

Monday, May 4, 2015

What Love Must Do

There’s been much in the news of late regarding the mother in Baltimore who was seen slapping her son for participating in the riots there.  Most news reports I heard made her to be a sort of hero, for doing what my mom --- or dad --- would have done out of instinct.  But I’ve heard of other news reports critical of the same woman, for daring to strike a child --- even her son.
I’ve learned over the years that love is not an emotion, something felt in our senses, a tingle.  No, real love is a desire to do good for another, even before ourselves.  Love is not something we can choose to get --- it cannot be demanded from another.  Real love is something given, and it is most felt by someone else by our actions.  Love does something for another.
Recently the Wall Street Journal ran a section of stories speculating on how the world would look in 15 years from now (there was no story questioning whether we would survive that long).  One of the stories focused on the availability of little robots which would know just how to maximize our sexual excitement, and even gauge our mood and determine when we needed a “sexual re-charge”.  A personal love toy, a machine to give us love is how it was described --- but a machine can’t choose to love anything or anybody.  A machine is run by programmed routines --- it doesn’t “choose” anything: it has no will.  It can’t love us.  The article reminded me of the song: “Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places”.
Our love grows not only as our knowledge of another grows, but also as our self-knowledge grows.  And as we come to more honestly see ourselves, we can change.  Everyone thinks of themselves as good, but sometimes they are fooling themselves.  Someone who truly loves them will tell them of their goodness, but will also be honest enough to point out their weaknesses.  And while it is hard to accept that we are not perfect, if we can see our weaknesses we can change.  We can become even more loveable.  Love, a relationship of love, grows not only from knowing our beloved more, it grows from knowing ourselves more.
In our relationship with God, we need to know Him more.  God IS love; if there is some area we don’t love Him, it is because we don’t know Him enough.  And if we feel estranged from God, unloved, it is because we do not know His honest speaking to us.  We can’t believe He can love us as we are, and/or we can’t accept the changes He’d like to see in us, so we can accept all the love He wills to give us.
The woman who slapped her son during the Baltimore riots was seen by most people as a good mom.  She slapped her son in love.  And, based on later interviews, her son knew this.  He changed what he was doing.
If some kid from the slums can recognize a love slap and know he has to change, why do we sometimes find it so hard to accept a love slap from God, and know we must change?  (How often, sadly, I myself have challenged Him when He chastised me.)  Why are we so often like those newspaper know-it-alls who say “A mom should never slap her child.”  Like them, why do we so readily look at God and say: “Why did you do that?  If You loved me, why did You allow that to happen?”
There have been times in my life when I had to look in the mirror and ask myself:  “Who are you?”  I wondered if I was like the teenager, tossing bricks in the riot --- or “wonderful ideas” at the office --- trying to impress friends and co-workers --- “looking for love in all the wrong places.”  At other times my relationship with God was like the teenager who expects food on the table, clean clothes in the closet, and a mom who is “okay --- except for when she butts into my life.”  At times I wanted God to butt out of my life too.  And sometimes when things got really bad, my relationship like God was like the teenager in jail who is allowed one call, and who says: “No, I can’t call mom; she’ll never forgive me for this.”  I think that sometimes I was almost afraid of God, like a teenager.  But when I really thought on it --- when I prayed on it --- I realized that no matter how badly I’ve sinned, this God who I am sometimes afraid to talk to is the same God who forgave His Son’s killers.  And then I realized that nothing I could do would ever stop his loving me.  I just needed to grow up, as a teenager does, and accept this in my heart.
My prayer life has improved over the years, and even more during this past year as I focused intensely on it.  It used to be a struggle to pray for 10 minutes; now prayer fills hours of my every day.  I am growing in my knowledge of God, by talking to him.  The typical teenager thinks he knows everything, even if in his heart he knows he doesn’t; I know that’s how I once felt about my relationship with God.  Thankfully, a friend told me I had to grow up, and so I began.  It wasn’t easy in the beginning, but I began.
Are you getting on in years?  When will you grow up?    An always forgiving, never leaving, loving God awaits you.  Perhaps you remember some slap from Him in the past, or fear one due in the future, but remember:  He’s not expecting you to die for Him.  You know that.  Whenever I find myself not quite knowing how to begin my conversation with Him, I always start out stating the obvious:  “Lord, You know that I love You …”
Because God DOES love us, He lets us make poor decisions, but that doesn’t change His love.  He will help us see our weaknesses.  And if you perceive God doesn’t like something you’ve done or are doing, it’s time for you to change.  That’s what love does too.  It’s a matter of growing in love, or with God, of growing in holiness.
It is what love MUST do.  It is the very reason for which we were created, to do the actions we must do:  to know and to love Him.
And to be loved.
            - - - - - - - - - -
Children, let us love not in word or speech,
but in deed and truth …
-- 1 Jn 3:18
Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless
it remains on the vine, so neither can you
unless you remain in Me.
-- Jn 15:4
If you are reading this and are someone who hasn’t sincerely spoken to God in a while, perhaps the words of Psalm 63 might help start your conversation.  I say them at least once a week:
O God, you are my God, for you I long;
for you my soul is thirsting.
My body pines for you
like a dry, weary land without water.
So I gaze on you in the sanctuary
to see your strength and your glory.
For your love is better than life,
my lips will speak your praise.
So I will bless you all my life,
in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul shall be filled as with a banquet,
my mouth shall praise you with joy.
On my bed I remember you.
On you I muse through the night.
for you have been my help;
in the shadow of your wings I rejoice.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand holds me fast.