Sunday, January 6, 2019

It's Only a Moment

Matthew Kelly, in his latest book, The Biggest Lie in the History of Christianity, notes that holiness IS possible for everyone, and how we “can collaborate with God and create a single Holy Moment (that) is life-changing.”  We can begin the walk to becoming saints.  And he goes on to give dozens of examples of simple Holy Moments, starts on the path to sainthood.  I believe a summary of his book might be: “Holy Moments are possible.  Holiness is possible.”
I think Kelly’s words help me to re-frame my thoughts on life.
I was meditating before confession, considering what were my sins since my last confession, how they came about, and how I could put into action a resolve to avoid them in the future.  I think I used to think of sins as events, kind of like a film-clip snippet of my life.  A lot of things happen in my life --- in fact it goes on for 24 hours a day --- but sins, well, they were events on some days.  Sometimes you had to see the story of events before the sin, to see what led up to it, and sometimes you had to watch the events after it, to see its impacts and seriousness.  In fact, some of the film clips of my sin seemed rather long.  That’s why I always took time before confession to think things through.  Sometimes when I thought things out I may have concluded a sin rather minor, while one I hadn’t even noticed loomed large in its impact.  These thoughts helped me be serious about what I was confessing.
Recently, I was considering a sin and I recalled the words of St. Paul: “Why do I do the things I don’t want to do?”  I knew what this sin was; I didn’t want to do it, and yet I did.  And I asked myself why.  And then, God answered.  I heard Him ask me: “You often pray to know and to do my will, to be who I created you to be?”  And I said, “Yes, Lord.”  And then He asked: “At every moment?”  And then the event of my sin, the film clip which my mind was watching changed.  It stopped.  The story became a single, still picture.  A moment.  That was the moment I decided to sin.  And I argued with myself: “No, there were contributing factors, things that led up to and facilitated that sin.  Without those factors it wouldn’t have happened.”  And I heard God reply to my thoughts: “No, at that moment you decided not to do my will, but yours.  I KNOW.  I watched Adam and Eve do the same thing.  And I felt the same way about it.”
And I realized the truth of His words.
Matthew Kelly notes that our living as Christians --- true followers of Christ --- can begin with a single Holy Moment, a single moment when we resolve to do the will of Christ.  Our journey to become saints can start with but a single moment.  But, as my reflections noted, a single moment can also be a start to our being banned from eternal life with God.
It’s only a moment.  What causes us to make good or bad decisions in that moment?  I thought that it was the series of circumstances that happened to me, events that surrounded me.  But no, I now perceive decisions come from what’s within me.  In my heart, do I want to do the will of God for me, --- at every moment?
Certainly, the events with which I choose to surround myself influence my heart.  If I live in and around sinners, my heart will see sin in a lighter tone --- everyone does it.  If I live in and around people focused on living Holy Moments --- even if only occasionally --- my heart will perceive the great value of those moments.  And it is my heart which, at some critical moment, will decide.
Jesus comes to us in the Eucharist, not a Jesus Who came to earth in the past, not a Jesus Who promises to come again, but a Jesus Who is here each moment.  He waits.  We choose.
It’s only a moment.  We’re born into this world.  Our parents may have given us a Holy Moment in Baptism, but soon we have to choose, and from our hearts.  Do we seek to fill our days with God’s will, Holy Moments, or do we choose not to do His will, and sin?  I think we sometimes pretend that thoughts on these matters are something “I’ll consider later.”  And the moments go by, and whether we believe it or not, we are making choices.
Choose to grow in holiness?  Choose to slip in sin?  It’s only a moment, and it’s only our life.  Every moment counts.
Every word, every gesture, every telephone call, every decision
we make should be the most beautiful one of our life,
giving our love and our smile to everyone, without losing a second.
Let every moment of our life be
the first moment,
the last moment,
the only moment.

-- Testimony of Hope, by Van Thuan
(who spent 13 years in communist prisons)

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Life is a mountain.
There it is, a summary in under 20 characters.  You can Tweet it out.  And if you are known as a somewhat serious person, many will read the words and say “Yup,” and move on.  But very few --- perhaps those who think of you as an intelligent person or even a holy one --- will consider the words more deeply, for life is no simple thing.
A one-minute consideration --- a lot for the attention span of most people these days --- will note that life DOES have ups and downs, and whether things are going good or bad just wait; things will change.  This might be the “analysis” of those who consider life a random thing, influenced by its surroundings.  Thinking this way gives people an excuse for the bad things that happen to them, or that they do: “It’s beyond my control.  Don’t blame me.”    (yes, I noticed someone who recently said similar words.)
A deeper consideration of life, perhaps time in study or time in prayer, sees not just the four words, but begins to see a three-dimensional picture of the words.  A mountain goes up and down; it narrows at the top; it widens at the bottom.  Beyond the bottom is plain earth, mud, everything the same.  Beyond the top is eternity; the narrowness of the peak opens into an immensity of beauty beyond. 
If life is a mountain, our life, we’re choosing to go up that mountain, or down it.  Our choices are those moments we spoke of.  Now there may be a path circling the mountain, neither going up nor down, but it’s likely to go in one direction or the other at some point.  Paths are rarely straight lines, and neither is life.
Thinking people know life is not a random thing; we make choices, and we have a reason for those choices.  A person of faith believes God when He says He wants us with Him in eternity, and even if we can’t see the top of our mountain we can see the light there, the light He spoke of.  And with study and prayer, it can become clearer.
Those who study the mountain of life note the implications of its size, wider at the bottom, and therefore there will be more paths to choose from.  And the paths down will be easier, in fact if you aren’t careful you may find yourself running down a path, or even falling and rolling down, beyond control.  Once you start down, it sometimes is difficult to stop.  The paths up, however, are fewer as the mountain narrows, and they are more work to take.  Indeed, some peaks are so steep you can’t get up them yourself, which is a good reason to find someone to travel with you through life, who strongly desires to go in the direction you do, to help you on the more difficult paths.
Life’s path sometimes seems long and weary.  But if we choose, moment by moment, to follow the path up, we will at some point have a view of the destination, and our resolve to enter the eternity won for each of us will become a joy.
They looked up and saw a star,
Shining in the East beyond them far.
And to the earth it gave great light,
And so it continued both day and night.
-- Noel

Sunday, December 30, 2018

I Was First

I arrived very early for the Christmas Eve midnight mass, and sat in the small chapel saying my Evening Prayers.  The Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary and Jesus’ presence spoke to me of the beauty of this night.  And time stood still.  And in the background music of chimes and harps played; yes, it was Christmas Eve.
As I somewhat expected, my prayers were completed only minutes before midnight, and leaving the chapel I saw the church full of worshippers, and so I chose one of the chairs set up on a side, for the expected overflow of people.  I was the overflow.  As the mass proceeded and neared the time for reception of the Eucharist, I expected to watch the rows of people go up to receive, and I would step in at the end.  However, as the Eucharistic ministers stepped off the alter to go to their various stations, I watched the first one walk down the aisle and, without pause, walk directly up to me.
In that whole church, I was first.
I was shocked at the great honor, and amidst my thoughts and prayers I recalled a similar situation which had occurred on Good Friday this year.  Then, expecting overflow crowds (and noisy distractions), I had arrived early and taken the very last seat in the last row in the church.  Then, as this Christmas Eve night, I was shocked as the usher did something totally unexpected, directing people forward starting with the last row.  I was first.  Then too, I was humbled.
But it was the day after Christmas when I began thinking on the meaning of these events.  December 26th is the feast day of St. Stephen, “the first martyr,” as the priest mentioned in his homily.  And it struck me then to almost want to call out: “No, he wasn’t.  Jesus was the first martyr, who chose to die for us and the will of The Father!”  St. Stephen, and us, we only follow the example of Jesus.  St. Stephen may have been chosen by the Church to be called “the first,” but that was not Stephen’s choice.
The second day after Christmas is the feast day of St. John, apostle, evangelist, writer of the Gospel of Love, and a humble man.
Mary of Magdala … came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved.  ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb,’ she said … The other disciple, running faster than Peter, reached the tomb first, … but did not go in.”  (Jn20:1-10)
John was “the loved” disciple, “the other disciple,” yet he knew Peter was designated to lead the Church, and he deferred to Peter in all such matters.  John, beloved John, was certainly in a position many times in the Gospels (like the time above) to take a leadership role, but he did not choose to place himself first, even when he found himself in that position.  Are you seeing the pattern I saw?
On the third day after Christmas, we celebrate the feast day of The Holy Innocents, Martyrs.  I always thought it a bit strange, that we celebrate the Feast of St. Stephen, “The First Martyr,” and then two days later the feast of children who were martyred before St. Stephen, or Jesus for that matter!  So, who was first?
These innocent children suffered for Christ; in other words, the evil was directed at Christ, but it fell upon them.  Because of this, God will certainly give them a share in His heavenly glory.  All evil, ultimately, is directed against Christ.
… Christ redeemed suffering.  He made it a path to salvation … That’s why saints don’t respond to injustice with violence, they respond with charity, with love, --- they share the burden of their suffering neighbor, just as Christ shared ours.
--- The Better Part, Meditation 5
All of these, St. Stephen, St. John, and the Holy Innocents, followed Jesus, who chose to be last, the least among men, and for this they are seen as first.  Perhaps in this life, but certainly in the next, we will be honored, but it is critically important that we don’t seek, don’t choose honors, now.  Our future honor was won by Jesus, and by imitating His example, He will confer it upon us in due time.
I was reminded of a story I heard about the king’s favorite servant.  The servant sat at his feet, and never said a word.  He just stared at the king, always staring.  And because he knew the king, any little look, any little nod, any little lifting of a finger by the king caused the servant to run to do his will.  He knew the will of the king, and took any opportunity given him to do that will.  The king’s will was what he always looked for, always sought to do first.
It is a privilege to sit at His feet.  That is where we should choose to be first --- to be least.
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One final point was given me this Sunday morning, on the Feast Day of the Holy Family.
My morning prayers (for the last 25 years) are those from the Litany of the Hours, and more recently from a small book of The New Testament and Psalms, from which I read one chapter of each.  A couple of days ago I found myself reading the last chapter of The Book of Revelation, the end of the New Testament.  I thought that somewhat fitting, at this, the end of the year.
But this morning I opened to my two bookmarks and found myself reading Matthew, Chapter 2 and Psalm 70.  And now I see, in God’s wisdom, how those are a most fitting conclusion to these meditations, and a further reminder of Who is first.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

The Theory of Everything

You may think of this as strange, for a Christmas posting, but perhaps like the birth of one child long ago, it is just the start of the story.
I really don’t know of any trigger which started my mind, in recent weeks, remembering things of the physics textbooks I read so long ago, or more recent articles on the subject.  I was a physics major in college, earning a degree I never used, and sometimes thought of as wasted years.  But, as I’ve since learned, nothing in our lives is ever a waste --- we just don’t sometimes understand things happening to us, in the bigger picture of our lives’ purpose.
As I recall, physics can be split into the macro- and the micro-.  There are many theories and oft-proven equations to describe the big movements of the universe, the rotation of the earth and the movements of the stars, gravity, and even the Big Bang Theory on how it all started.  Einstein had one of the more well-known theories, The Theory of Relativity:  E-mc2, explaining the relationship of matter, movement and energy.  But there are also many theories and oft-proven equations to describe the relationships among micro-things, like molecules, atoms, protons, photons, etc.  I personally like The String Theory, which seems less popular these days than it once was.  But what I liked about The String Theory was something Einstein was quoted as saying.  Einstein admired the complexity of the physical world, and how it so beautifully worked together.  He thought it amazing, and amazingly complex, yet he believed that these hugely complex things could be explained by simple explanations.  Beauty is both complex and simple, he believed. The String Theory is simple in that way.  His Theory of Relativity equation is an example of a hugely complex thing simply explained.
Einstein created his Theory of Relativity early in his life, and spent the rest of his life searching for what he called The Universal Theory of Everything.  Much was known about the big things of the universe; much was known about the micro-things, but the equations and theories describing them were largely different.  How could little things and big things --- which were made up of little things --- seem to operate so differently?  Einstein believed that there was a single theory, a simple equation, which could explain it all.  He never found it, and physicists are still seeking the answer.
This morning, the Bible Study guys took a break from their slow progress through the Letter of St. James and read and discussed the Christmas Story in Scripture.  Among many things discussed, the group leader quoted some Old Testament scriptures which he firmly believed pointed to King David having a hand in matters which ultimately led to the creation of the inn in Bethlehem, where Mary and Joseph visited.  A thousand years before His birth, God, through David, may have had a hand in the events of His Son’s birth.  All the things we read and discussed this morning pointed to the small events of Mary and Joseph, and Elizabeth and Zachariah, and the much larger events which ultimately came about.  But, in those early days as their sons were being born, who would have guessed that small beginning and its relationship to the huge plans of God?
These past two weeks I and people God has brought into my life have been hugely blessed.  And yet amidst of the joy, three people I casually know chose to confide in me deep, troubling secrets.  Their marriages were undergoing great difficulty.  Each revelation was a total shock for me, and I didn’t know what to say.  Why would these people confide their marital problems to me, a twice-divorced man, I wondered?  And yet in short order, God gave me words, events, and things which I shared with them, perhaps tossing lifelines into their stormy seas.  Now surely you are inclined to ask me: “So, what happened?”  Or, “What do you think will happen with them next?”  But don’t you see, that yours are the exact same questions that Mary and Joseph, and Elizabeth and Zachariah, were asking about the sudden troubling events of their lives?  Looking back, we can see what happened to them and their sons; it’s very well documented.  And, we can see the bigger purpose of the pains and sufferings they endured at the start of their life’s purpose.  But at that moment of their sons’ birth, they couldn’t see the sense of it.
And so, what of the troubled people God tossed into my life?  And what of the lifelines I tossed to them?  Will they be pulled out of their stormy seas?  If the Gospel parents’ stories are any example, I suspect the ropes I tossed to them may just be something to hand onto, while their storms continue.  I doubt they can quickly see or solve the bigger purpose of their problems.
Which brings me back to my physics question.  We live in the little things, our daily lives.  We see the bigger picture in Scriptures and even science.  But how does it all connect?  Why are the marriages suffering?  Why do some friends of mine suffer excruciating body pains?  Why do some others feel so alone?  How do these things fit into that bigger picture?  Where is the Theory of Everything which connects the big picture of our lives with the little picture of today?  We all seek the answer, the answer which Einstein described as being so beautiful in its simplicity.  We CRAVE simple answers.
I don’t know if mankind will ever find or understand the answer it seeks, but I have found one which satisfies me, something so extremely complex I could never understand the details, yet so simple I can’t but stand in awe at the beauty.  And I live in trust that I know the answer.
The answer is:  God.

Are you sinking in troubled seas right now?  Look around, God may be using the least-likely person or event to toss you a lifeline.  Grab it, and hang on.  This is not the end of the story.
Merry Christmas!