Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Jesus, I Trust in You --- How Much?

I often pray that short Divine Mercy prayer:  Jesus I trust in You.  A picture of Jesus with that saying is on my kitchen wall, and a plaque hangs in the upstairs hallway.  Of late though, I’ve had to question my sincerity in saying those words.
I’ve written here the example of the man who constantly begs for some trifling amount of money.  The constancy of his begging is irritating.  I wish he would “straighten out his life,” but know that isn’t going to happen.  (You know someone like that.)  Friends counsel me:  “Stop giving if it bothers you.”  I, looking at my humility, question why it bothers me --- perhaps it shouldn’t.  And so I continue to give to him, although I now always give with a request to him:  Please spend some time praying for God’s help in your life; He WILL hear you, and I’m somewhat heartened by the positive response I’ve heard to that request.  So in this matter, I now DO trust in Him.
Recently I received some free tickets to a concert.  I offered them to friends I wished to reward for their goodness to me.  There were no takers.  So I offered them to acquaintances.  No takers.  I offered them to the nuns I see at mass --- not a convenient night.  I offered them to a friend as we ate breakfast at a restaurant.  He also declined, but then a stranger came over and said:  “I overheard your offer of free tickets; I’d like them if possible,” and he gave me his business card.  He was a promoter; he’d probably give the tickets away to promote his business, I thought.  I told him I would get back to him, and I sent out emails to even more remote acquaintances.  No one was interested.  Finally, the day of the event arrived, with still no takers, and I wondered:  should I call that stranger as a last resort?
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I’ve written about how money is not a problem for me.  I wouldn’t think myself rich, but certainly compared to many others I am.  I have money I don’t need; I give it away.    When mom died she left me a sizeable amount, and I chose some investments to store it.  If I feel called, I readily give chunks of it away to what seem worthy causes, and I offer to help those in need.
I received a note from a friend, a priest friend, yesterday asking me for a substantial donation.  He wishes to begin a new initiative in his parish, one that seems good and needed.  We had talked about the changes he was considering --- but I don’t recall mentioning money in the conversation.  The amount he asks for would dent my bank savings --- and I’d lose the whopping 0% interest I am earning there --- and his note implied that perhaps a greater request would be coming in the future.  I might have to cash out some of those investments.
His note left me, I don’t know to describe it, perhaps a bit scared?  It was a lot of money, but truly money I don’t expect to need.  It was mom’s money in the first place, and the request for a very good cause which I am sure is needed.  So I wonder:  why am I scared of the request?
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My Jesus I trust in You;  I say that prayer often, but just how much do I trust?  Looking at the example of the tickets and the giving of money to those in need, I perceive that there is a limit to my trust:  it seems to end when I lose control. 
If I choose to give away the tickets, it seems a good thing.  If a stranger asks for them, it seems, well, perhaps not.  If I choose to give away a trifling amount of money to a beggar, even an irritating beggar, it seems a good thing.  And even if I choose to give away a larger sum, it feels a good thing.  But if someone, even a priest, asks for a lesser amount for a good cause, I hesitate.  Why?  Is the answer that when I offer the tickets or money I expect to receive a response of “thank you” for my generosity?  Is that part of the reason why I give --- because it makes me feel like a bigger man, or just one in control?     
I think the answer lies in not how much I trust Jesus, but in how much I trust myself --- more.  I have been thinking and praying and writing about humility and its relationship to charity.  This week I saw more examples of that relationship in my life.
Charity is a matter of will; I must will to love my neighbor.  He does not have to be “lovable;” I can love him anyway.  That’s how Jesus loved even the sinners --- even me.  I just need to “will” to love Him, as I seem Him in my neighbor.  I think my hesitation is my confusion on my will and God’s will:  which am I trying to do?
I’ve seen examples this week of how I am willing to love my neighbor, but with MY will, MY discernment, MY choosing of a neighbor worthy of MY love.  But, I say that prayer:  My Jesus, I trust in You,” and if I am truly saying that prayer from my heart, what I should be saying is:  “Lord, Your will, not mine, be done in me.”  By definition, I am not God, and so I can never truly know the will of God.  I can only pray, and trust He will show me His will.  Did He show me his will in that stranger asking me for the tickets?  Did He show me in that priest asking for help with his ministry?  How do I know; how much do I trust?
I don’t think there is an easy answer to that question, but certainly the path to that answer begins when I learn to move from trusting myself first.  And that path is the path of humility.
One man asked me for tickets which cost me nothing.  Another asked for a substantial amount.  What if someone with a very good cause asked for all I had?  How would I decide; how much would I, should I, trust?  I don’t know --- but Jesus asked a similar question of a rich man once. 
But the same Jesus also told of the parable of the talents and how they must be used wisely ---- He’s counting on us, who have been given much, to use it wisely.
It’s hard to choose, to decide to love, really love my neighbor, without counting the cost, without thinking I know what’s best for him.
Jesus, I trust in You.  Or, I’m trying to.
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I wrote the above words last night, and after writing them, I continued with my Evening Prayer for a Monday night, and I read the following:
Do not judge others, and you will not be judged,
For as you have judged them, so God will judge you.
The words seemed another shout about my willingness to give, another consideration for my prayers, and my humility.
But then later in the Night Prayer I read these words from Psalm 86:
In the day of distress, I will call
and surely you will reply.
Ah yes, there’s words showing my level of trust --- when I call to God and it’s for me and my distress, then I really do trust Him.  But if I am (as I pray in the Prayer of St Francis) seeking to be an instrument of His peace, to be God’s presence to my neighbors, then why can’t friends and even strangers call to Him in the above prayer, and God use me to provide an answer from Him, and be a real instrument of His peace in THEIR time of distress? 
Why can’t I listen for that small, still voice of God’s call, and recognize that sometimes it comes to me from my neighbor’s mouth?
And then finally last night I read this:
Humility is to charity what the foundation is to a building.
-- Divine Intimacy, Monday, Second Week of Lent (p301)
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At mass this morning, I had one final thought on these matters.  I was saying a short prayer to Fr. Benedict Groeschel to intercede for me this day when I recalled a check I had given him one Christmas many years ago.  It was a large amount and I told him to give it to someone he didn’t want to give it to.  If they ask, give this money to them, even if you don’t want to, I said.  Call it a lesson in humility for yourself.  He did what I asked, and in subsequent years as our paths crossed, he always remembered that request. 
And now, as I prayed about giving to someone I don’t want to, these thoughts of Bennie, and my request came to mind.  He probably whispered them in my ear in response to my prayer to him.  And I can almost hear him laughing.  And I almost wanted to laugh aloud with him. 

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Speculations on Marriage

The article in the March-April 2015 issue of Catholic Answers Magazine (CA) was titled:  Divorce and Communion.  It spoke of the two meetings of bishops called for by Pope Francis, one in October 2014, and one in October 2015, “about ways to help families.”  The article focused on a proposal first made by Cardinal Kasper of Germany in 1993, “advocating Communion for the divorced and civilly-remarried.”  Then Cardinal Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, responded to that proposal by reiterating Church teachings on marriage.
In February 2014, Cardinal Kasper re-stated his proposal.  Cardinal Kasper identified 7 conditions, but CA noted that “in essence, Cardinal Kasper is proposing to allow people to receive absolution in confession and Communion while continuing to have sex with each other, even though they are not validly married to each other and are therefore committing ongoing adultery,”  CA noted that the key question was: “Is it possible for a person who has a sacramental first marriage to contract a new marriage that is valid but non-sacramental while the first spouse is alive?”  CA was blunt: “The answer is no.”  That “no” was backed up by a listing of Church teachings on the Sacrament of Matrimony.
The article summarized the seriousness of the debate (vocal and public among some cardinals):  “Even if the Kasper proposal does not require a change in the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, it would require a change in the Church’s teaching in at least one of the following three areas:  1. (Sex outside marriage is sinful); 2. (Confessors MUST resolve to sin no more); or 3. “The need to be in a state of grace to receive Communion.”  The article concluded: “The Kasper proposal thus requires the belief that sexual relations in a second, civil marriage are not gravely sinful.”      
My initial reactions the CA summary were that the changes it noted which “would be required” are obviously impossible --- as worded. 
The article noted without comment that “Pope Francis will make the final determination on the proposal.  The synod has a role in advising him, but all decisions are made by the pope himself.”  Bishops were asked to provide input to the October synod by April 15.
To be honest, I finished reading the CA article a bit angry.  The wording implied that divorced Catholics had broken the rules, were not allowed participation in the Church, and that the discussion was about letting them participate anyway.  This sounded strangely like the amnesty debate going on in this country right now.  No wonder the Pope Francis and President Obama seem friends, I thought.  They think alike, a comparison which did not sit well with me.
But I did the one thing I could do about the situation and my feelings: I resolved to pray on it --- and then rather quickly forgot that resolve. 
But God didn’t forget.
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I was in the Adoration Chapel to say my Evening Prayers later on this week.  I began as I often do, with a rosary prayer.  Beginning the rosary, I prayed the Creed and then, placing my fingers on the first rosary bead, I began to pray: “For the intentions of our Holy Father, Pope Francis.  Our Father Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name ….  And then I stopped my prayer.
I looked up at the monstrance and Jesus on the altar, and unbidden thoughts suddenly flooded my mind, and for the next two hours I raced to jot them down: thoughts on Pope Francis, his intentions, and on the sacrament of Matrimony:
My mind initially fixated on a comparison between the sacraments of Matrimony and Holy Orders.  Each has for its purpose the growing in holiness of (one or more) persons.  Each sacrament is focused on evangelizing a family.  There are many other similarities between the sacraments.  Even in description, in their vocation women religious are said to be married to Christ, and men religious are said to be married to His Church.  We tend to think of Holy Orders, perhaps because of all the people impacted by priests, as the more important of the two sacraments, but the Church makes no formal statements to that effect.  In fact, perhaps because of its fundamentality, or perhaps because it was the only sacrament not initiated by Jesus but by the Creator, but whatever the reason,  the Church in one key way DOES treat the sacrament of Matrimony as the more important of the two:  In Matrimony, you are not allowed to fail.
If you fail at Holy Orders, you may request to be discharged of your vows (and obligations) or you may be forbidden to exercise them by the Church, despite the mysterious fact that “you cannot become a layman again” (CCC 1583).  But while you “cannot” be a layman again, you can act as one --- without sin.  And even if you should continue in Holy Orders while living in sin, the failure of the minister does not prevent Christ from acting through him (CCC 1584).  And whether discharged or practicing, those vowed in Holy Orders can always have their sins forgiven in Penance.
For those vowed in Matrimony, however, the Church rules are stricter.  There is no choosing to be dismissed from the vow, nor even dismissed in penalty by the Church for obvious failure in the duties of the sacrament, or even public scandal.  The “acting like a layman” priest has no more priestly obligations, but the “acting like an unmarried” person still has obligations to the spouse, and family, which the Church says can never, ever go away.
Speaking in simple terms: the vow to get many souls to heaven (Holy Orders) is dismissed more easily than the vow to get one soul there (Matrimony).  A very public failure of a priest or bishop is treated lightly, while a relatively private failure of a spouse is held up as scandal.  It almost seems we should have never stopped the stoning of adulterers ---- but we did.
I thought the Catholic Encyclopedia (c1991) brought out some interesting facts about marriage:
Marriage was officially recognized as a sacrament by the Church in 1215 at the Fourth Lateran Council.  St. Paul referred to marriage as a mysterion, or great mystery.  Theologically, it is considered a sacrament because it images the union of Christ and His Church.  Unlike other sacraments, marriage itself was not instituted by Christ.
The total relationship entails the giving of one spouse to the other for the purpose of aiding in the well-being of each other.  As a sacrament, it is a means of encountering Christ in a special way and of bringing about the salvation of the spouse.  The theology of Vatican II and the revised Code refer to marriage as a vocation (Canon 226.1), through which married persons work for the building up of the Body of Christ in a special way.
Once the marital covenant is entered into, the spouses are obligated to remain faithful to each other for life.  Furthermore, after the consent has been consummated by sexual intercourse, it cannot be dissolved by any power on earth.
The Church acknowledges the fact that many men and women, products of a secular and materialistic society, enter marriage not believing in its sacramentality.  In spite of this lack of faith, the Church teaches that these marriages are sacraments, and not mere natural marriages.
Sitting in the chapel, I considered these facts about the Sacrament of Matrimony, and its heavy responsibilities.  Married and divorced myself, even though raised Catholic with much education in the faith, I certainly did not realized the seriousness of what I was committing to, nor the penalties for failure, or the responsibilities on me to ensure success.  Holy Orders may require ten years of study before final vows are permitted.  I met with a priest for an hour or so, and scheduled my Matrimonial vows --- vows the Church seems to regard as more important.
Theologians exist in the Catholic Church not to change the teachings of Jesus Christ, but to understand them better and more fully.  Changes in teaching are not made, but understanding is expanded.  The Catholic Answers article said major changes to Church teaching would be required to make any changes to the understanding of Matrimony; that didn’t make sense to me.  Matrimony itself, which wasn’t declared a sacrament until 1215 obviously HAS undergone some changes of understanding.
And perhaps with the aid of theologians --- and the Holy Spirit --- this is the time for a further fullness in understanding of this sacrament.   In the chapel, I thought and prayed on this:
·         There are degrees of Holy Orders, bishops, priests, and deacons.  Should there be degrees of Matrimony? 
·         Even as there is a hierarchy of responsibilities among the ordained priests, perhaps there should be a hierarchy of responsibility among those vowed in marriage together.  Perhaps even as the priests prove their faith and abilities and are raised in rank and responsibility, so should those vowed in marriage.  Should a Marriage Council of some sort exist in every parish?
·         As marriage is a commitment to grow in holiness, should we not celebrate within our community those growing in their commitment?  Perhaps as evidenced by children?  Perhaps as evidenced by leading roles in Church activities?  Perhaps by longevity?  Can we celebrate the best without denigrating the sinner?  Who would Jesus be dining with today --- would he avoid coming to the home of a divorce and remarried?  If He wouldn’t judge them, why is the Church?
·         For those who fail in their marriage vows, like those who fail in their Holy Orders vows, if their failure is public (divorce or ????), perhaps they should be prohibited from certain promotions or responsibilities within the Church, like the failing priests.  For extremely scandalous (murder of a spouse??) actions, perhaps they SHOULD be banned from making another vow to God in the Church --- but still not cut off from the mercy of forgiveness.  Perhaps, recognizing the failure of man in his judgments, there should be some allowance for evidences of God’s blessing of civil marriages, OR some sort of Church blessings --- and even vows --- for a second marriage, even after a human failure of the first. 
·         While there recently have been mandatory marriage preparation classes before Matrimony, perhaps there should be mandatory continuous education classes for marrieds, as there are for priests. 
·         If mandatory marriage preparation classes were sufficiently strengthened, perhaps the annulment process could be discontinued --- the sacramentality of the marriage (including “full knowledge and consent” – CCC 1857) should be determined BEFORE administering the marriage vow, not years after in an annulment process.  Perhaps there should be clear definitions of when a priest may deny the administration of the sacrament of matrimony, as the sacrament of Holy Orders is sometimes denied.
·         “We must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God”  (CCC 1861).  Perhaps for those considering divorce, as those considering leaving Holy Orders, there should be some type of mandatory retreat offered, at which spouses may clearly understand their situation AND RESPONSIBILITIES in the eyes of the Church.  If they continue to recognize their human failure in keeping their vows and seek divorce, perhaps there should be some requirement of confession, but no further penalties for these who fail in their vows to God. 
·         Considering the situation of no-fault divorce in many states, should there be some unique recognition of the non-failure of the one not seeking a divorce?
·         Should there be special ministries for single parents --- and their children --- in the Church.
May my faults serve only to humiliate me, not to offend you. 
--- Divine Intimacy, Venial Sin (p289)
A murder victim may never have had the chance to repent of his sins; he may have been condemned to hell by his murderer.  Yet, that murderer can obtain forgiveness in confession, and amend his life.  It seems not reasonable that a spouse who fails in his vow to help his partner attain eternal life is cut off from the sacraments by the Church for a divorce and re-marriage.  We may yet see both in heaven.
Blessed are the merciful …
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The above speculations came to me while in adoration.  I make no claims about them, nor do I express any disobedience to existing or future Church teachings, which are developed and administered by souls much wiser and holier than I.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Roadblocks to Charity

A soul cannot have lofty charity without profound humility
The Three Stages of the Interior Life by Rev. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P

The Scripture passages I meditated upon this week had Jesus preaching in the temple.  In general, He spoke with humility, as He taught His poor, confused people.  The above quote notes a key relationship between charity and humility:  To love your neighbor greatly, you must be willing to love yourself less, and to give of yourself more.  That’s what Jesus was doing in the temple.
I’ve been contemplating and praying on humility in recent months.  I think God has been asking me to focus on the varied ways I have failed in this virtue, and that a result of my failings is that I don’t love my neighbor as I should, as he commanded.  You’d think that when Jesus summarized all the commandments down to just two simple ones, love God and neighbor, we’d find it easy to obey: We could just will to love. 
If only it were that simple.
Charity, in love of our neighbor, can only rise to a great level when humility, in a reduced love of ourselves, also rises to a great level.  When Jesus speaks of the rabbis and teachers in the temple, He tells the people to do what the religious leaders say, but not what they do, for these leaders of the temple do not practice humility --- AND (although He doesn’t say it), therefore they do not love you as they should.
The people understood what Jesus was saying to them, and the rabbis did too, and so they were angry.  “They preach but they do not practice (Mt 23:2), Jesus said.  And in my heart He showed me how often I do the same.
Humility enables true love; we need to put on the heart of Jesus to achieve it.  I pray the Litany of Humility at night and have perceived it as a prayer asking for abasements, that I might be belittled.  But I think these Scripture passages I’ve been reading tell me that I am not praying it to be belittled, but rather to accept the fact that I AM little --- little, not littler or littlest.  God loves each and every one of us the same way; no one is worth more; no one is worth less, and none is worthless.  In His eyes, I am not bigger, I am not littler ---- it is only in my eyes that I am so.
Pride is often said to be the root cause of all sins.  In pride I often think I am better than others.  In pride they irritate me and do things I find hard to forgive.  The Our Father asks God to forgive us as we forgive.  These things are deeply related:  Forgivenessè humility è charity è Love of God and neighbor.
In Luke 4:14-30, we see where some people could not accept Jesus as a preacher.  They asked Him for miracles.  They were His neighbors who saw Him grow up in Nazareth as a carpenter, and they couldn’t see Him in any other way.  They wanted something concrete, a miracle, they could see before they believed Him sent from God.  They had to see with their eyes.  But the reality was, that they needed to close their eyes, so they could see with their heart.  In another Scripture passage, Jesus threw the moneychangers out of the temple in Jerusalem, and the temple leaders couldn’t understand why either.  They too saw only an earthly man.  They could not see His zeal for the temple as a virtue, as an expression of His love for His Father.  Their only love was of themselves, their positions, and their possessions --- not getting beyond love of themselves, they really didn’t understand love of God and neighbor.
I pray for humility, to see with my heart my proper position in this world, and in the next.  Like Jesus did to the moneychangers, I need to flog myself to change my ways.  I need to close my eyes in prayer and see things as they really are.  I need to not see others as needing my forgiveness, but rather see me, as not taking deep offense, not being so easily irritated, not being angry --- usually at things of no real great importance.  I need to see what God sees in my neighbor, and to love them as He does.  It starts with me loving myself less, and then, instead of really being less, I will be able to be all He created me to be --- in His image.  This is all possible, if I can humbly change the focus of my attention from myself.
Much of getting there, to the holiness we were all created to attain, starts with humility.  It is a good thing to pray for.
The roadblocks to charity, love of God and neighbor, are many, and the biggest one is Pride.  But we can tear down the roadblock of Pride with humility.
I continue to press on in my life.  He continues to teach me in Scripture and in other ways.  I think I have learned a lot.  I have no idea how much more remains, but I shall not worry.  St. Thomas Aquinas says that as we grow in holiness throughout our lives, we accelerate in that growth.  It’s kind of like a falling rock acted upon by gravity:  as it nears the ground it is going at its fastest speed just before impact.  Our growth in holiness will increase like that until that day we meet God face to face. 
And it will be breathtaking.
Charity is an infused theological virtue, just waiting for us to use it.  The only roadblock to our using it effectively and expansively is ourselves, our love of ourselves.  Humility, real efforts at humility, often need a visible effort so that we can believe that it is achievable --- kind of like the rabbis had to see to believe.  A good, visible place to start being humble, is on our knees.
One of the most important decisions you can make
in your life, is to decide to pray daily.
--- Ralph Martin