Friday, May 18, 2018

Death is NOT the End

I’ve written recently about eternal life, and my recently deceased friend, whose funeral I will attend tomorrow.  And I’ve written about how the saints and our families in heaven are all cheering for us, that we lead the lives we were born to live, so that we can soon join them in their happiness.  And so, I guess I wasn’t surprised to be reminded of this again this week.
Yesterday was a “shredding day” in my township.  The township provided a shredder truck and invited township residents to come with up to two boxes (boxes that they could lift) with paper materials they wished shredded.  And so, I undertook this week those things I should have done many, many, MANY years ago, but which always fell somehow to the back burner of things to do.  I rustled through packed file cabinets and drawers, pulling out old check stubs, tax returns, and legal papers which have long since passed their usefulness.  I boxed them and prepared them for the shredder.  (And afterwards looked around, sadly, at all that remained to be tossed.  We all accumulate so much over the years.)
At any rate, as I piled the old papers in the boxes, I noticed a pile of old letters which I had kept, so that “one day” I might re-read and enjoy them.  “One day,” I thought as I piled them in the box --- but then I stopped.  Perhaps today should be that day.  So, I put the letters on the couch and finished packing the boxes, and later on that afternoon I sat down to read long ago thoughts of my loved ones.
The letters were from my mom, dad, sister, nieces, and even one from my mentally retarded brother.  The envelopes were all dated in the early 1980’s.  Much of the words now seemed tedious to read, thoughts about what was thought important in those days.  Dad worried about his golf game; mom wondered what she should buy for dinner.  And sis always worried about her daughters, soon to be moving out of home and on with their lives.  And reading mom’s letters, I realized that this was a good week for reading them, this week of Mother’s Day, and the month we dedicate to Mary, God’s mother.
Many of mom’s letters closed with something like “go out and enjoy dinner on me,” or “get yourself something you want,” and I remembered that mom used to always enclose money with her letters, as though I were still her young son, just starting out in the world.  I was always her little boy, I guess.
It was in one of the last letters that I re-opened that I found the $25.  A twenty and a five, with a printing dates of nearly 50 years ago.  Honestly, my first thought was wondering if these were “antiques” with some old paper value, and then I thought about the shredding day.  No, these were just old paper, like any old papers.  There might be some value, like $25, to them, but their real value was in the memories, just like these old letters.  The $25 said mom loved me, forty years ago, when I cared for her in her old age, and even today.  And I am sure she still thinks about me.
When I finished reading, I put the old letters in the boxes to be shredded.  I’m not sure what to do with the $25.  It has more meaning to me than the letters.  And I was reminded of one of the most precious memories of my mom, which I will never forget.  In those years when I cared for her needs, she sometimes didn’t remember who I was during the day, but it seemed that she always remembered, as I tucked her in at night, to say to me, with a smile: “You know that I love you.”
And I am sure she still does.  And I’ll always love her.  Some memories will last a lifetime, and an eternity.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

And Death Comes ...

I’ve been reading Michael Augros’ book: The Immortal in You.  He asks the question: What is different about the body which was alive one minute, and dead the next?  All the physical parts are still there, what changed?  And he goes on, through his entire book, to explain what science cannot explain:  Why is there life?
Why am I alive?  Why are you alive?  Why now?  Is it random evolutionary survival of the fittest?  Is there no purpose, no meaning, like the roll of the dice?  Sadly, an increasing number of people believe that life has no ultimate purpose, and they live for the moment, for THEIR moment, thinking their life, their happiness, matters to no one else, and only exists --- not unlike the life of an ant that exists.
A long-time friend of mine has died --- and he lives.  His wife, his two sons --- my Godsons --- know he lives.  His life DID have a purpose, here on earth, and in eternity.  And because of his life, the life of his wife, his sons, me, and so many others are changed for the better.  Michael Augros’ book does not just explain the physical difference between a live and a dead body, but between life and death:  from a scientific and philosophical point of view, an immortal soul exists.
My friend, Chris, lives on.  I used to talk to him when I visited or called, but now it’ll be much more convenient.  There’ll be sadness at not seeing that face or that smile again --- but I miss my youth, too.  But that’s okay.
Life goes on, and death comes, and life goes on.
You know, I never liked surprise parties or surprise gifts.  I always liked being prepared for things in my life, whether for a big meeting or for the weather outside.  I prepared for those things to make them better events for me.  The Boy Scouts had it right:  Be Prepared.  A life well-lived is not a series of random events, it’s one with a series of events we are prepared for.
And death comes.  Death is no random event, nor should it be a total surprise party; it comes to everyone.  It makes me sad to think that more and more people are choosing not to be prepared.  It will indeed be a big surprise for them.  Unprepared, how messy will their house be on that day?  What will they think when the most important boss they ever had shows up to their surprise meeting, and finds them not prepared?
I am sure my friend, Chris, was prepared for his big meeting.  He met with his Boss, got a huge promotion --- and a raise --- and has now moved to a distant, better location.  We probably won’t see each other for a long while, but when we do it, I am sure, it will be a big party.  I’m happy for him, and I look forward to our future meeting.  I’ll be prepared for it.  And I pray that every friend I had or have will also work on being prepared.  When we all meet again, oh, I want it to be such a big party.
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Grant Lord, that my heart may ever be
turned toward heaven where You await me.
-- Divine Intimacy, Meditation 182
Those were the first words I read tonight after writing these reflections on Chris.  I guess God wanted to remind me that He’ll be at the big party, too.  As a matter of fact, it’ll be at His house!
And so, it goes on: This morning I read my daily Gospel chapter and Psalm; my bookmarks were at Matthew 15 (Be prepared) and Psalm 145 (Give Him praise).
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Just a final thought I want to capture this day.  Today in my diocese the Catholic Church celebrates the Ascension of Jesus, and meanwhile our country celebrates Mother’s Day.  For me and many others, these celebrations are appropriately together, for our mothers have gone from this world, as Jesus did.  But He said: “I go to prepare a place for you,” and I trust our mothers are now recipients of His promise.  So today some go out to celebrate this day with their mothers, while others, like me, go into the chapel to celebrate this day with our mothers.  And as Catholics we celebrate one other person today, Mary, THE mother of all eternity; to her also I give thanks. 
Thank God, for all mothers, everywhere.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

A Complete Day

The night began with a sudden urge to grab a copy of the book Humility Rules (which I recently reviewed) from the back seat of my car before I walked into the chapel for my midnight adoration hours.  I gave the book to the woman there, as she was leaving, as she was stopping to wish me a good night --- as she does every Monday night/Tuesday morning.  And then, to my surprise, as I handed her the book she handed me a letter.  We exchanged thanks, as I put her letter aside and continued the rosary I had begun.  But a few minutes later I heard the chapel door open again; she had looked at the book I had given her, and came back to give me a hug: “I so needed this book; thank you so much.”  And I responded: “Well, if it is what you need (pointing to the altar), then He gave it to you.”
Unbeknownst to me, I later surmised that He had also given me her letter.  I read it.  It was a heartfelt letter asking me for prayers, and telling me the very confidential reason why.  This stranger felt enough confidence in me --- or in despair chose EVEN me --- to pray for her.  And so, I pondered on the Joyful Mysteries, contemplating on her trials, and my own.  And the meditations stretched into hours.
As I prayed, I thought about the trials of life, hers, mine, Mary’s and Jesus’, and how those trials can be turned into joys.  Trials in this life have a purpose, and very often not one which we can perceive, and that purpose is good.
I thought of my early years, how I tried to live a good life, and my regrets now that, looking back, I did not even know what a good life was.  I was taught very well the good things you are supposed to do in life, but not how to do them well.  I was taught that those are things I must do, and I did them, so that I might lead a good life.  But it wasn’t.  My life was about me, and that was the source of my many trials.  Oh, I did things for God, as I was supposed to do, but even those things were in some way for me.  I never really learned that my life was not only about me; I never understood that “it is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”  And without Christ in me, I failed at so many important things in life, and even if I became aware of my failures, I didn’t know why.  Why had I failed, when I’d done everything right?
And the real reason was:  I walked alone.  I had no relationship with Jesus, and never knew that was a key to a life lived well.  And so, as I completed this day and meditated on the Joyful Mysteries, I contemplated on what I now know makes a complete day, a day well-lived, one which gives joy.
These are things we should try to do each day, during our days of trial, during our days of loneliness, and during our days of joy, for these are the things which will bring us true joy, with no regrets over the past failures or trials.
A complete day, lived well, is one in which you:
·         Love someone (Humility Rules)
·         Speak with God (and the oftener, the better)
·         Give a hug (showing someone they are appreciated for being God’s presence to you)
·         Meet a poor person (Poor in $$ or poor in spirit, be God’s presence to them.  Speak to them by name)
·         Find Joy (In particular, in those you meet each day.  Discover the reason God had them cross your path, and act towards them as He would)
·         Help someone else to love (All the other things are what you have done and benefit you, but a complete day --- in God’s eyes --- is one where you have helped someone else to live a complete day, by teaching him, or by praying for him so that his days may be complete --- if your day ends with you, it is not enough, it was not well-lived.  In some way, each day, you must have made an impact that goes on, that changes someone, that opens them to God’s love for them. Mary gave birth to Jesus on this earth, in a way, so must you.)
·         Give thanks at day’s end (Goodnight, Lord)
Will every day be one of joy?  Of course not.  But every day can be lived well, a complete day which accomplishes the things which Jesus might have done in your shoes.  And that is the key “why” of your life, why you should do these things:  because that is why He made you, just as you are, with all your trials, pains, --- and blessings --- He made all these things part of your life for a reason, so You can be His witness, His presence. 
And all these thoughts came because one stranger gave me a letter, asking for prayers.  It was a great blessing for me.  By asking, she helped me to love.  It was a great joy.
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Spring finally arrived in Michigan.