Friday, January 23, 2015

Review: Night of the Confessor

Tomas Halik’s book is subtitled: “Christian Faith in an Age of Uncertainty.”  I believe the word “My” should be inserted at the start of that phrase, for this book speaks largely about Mr. Halik’s faith --- or lack of it.
The sacrament of reconciliation “experience has shaped my perception of the world,” he begins, and his subsequent words bear that out.  He deeply focuses on sin and failure, and dismisses most efforts at faith as frauds.  He thinks that true faith is rare.  Charismatic or other faith movements are mere cults he says.  Faith movies (The Passion) or large faith gatherings? --- frauds to make money; “better to fill the stadiums with crying people for football games.”  He seems to have forgotten that people rarely state their good deeds in his confessional, the miracles and importance of God in their lives, or of the living of the Holy Spirit in their faith communities.  In confession he hears man’s failures, and he thinks there are no successes.  Nor does he ponder much on God’s successes.
Halik states that Jesus’ promise that faith can achieve the impossible excludes miracles or the presence of the Holy Spirit, but rather the “impossible” that Jesus defined is a simple trust --- forgiving and “even loving my neighbor,” or being generous: things that are “crazy in the eyes of the world.”   His idea of faith sounds like a ‘60’s movement, with all its negative views of the world at large --- and all the positive views that WE know the way.  Halik speaks strongly of HIS knowledge of the way things are, and of the ways of God.  He writes of a faith that can do HIS definition of the impossible, but he appears to deny the possibility of God doing the same.
Halik, a clinical psychologist, analyzes God and religion:  “God for me remains hidden in paradoxes.”  He is a pessimist on the future of the Church in Europe.  He speaks of no personal relationship with God, and rejects the possibility of others having one.  He concludes with the statement: “For the era on whose threshold we stand, my guess is that hope will be what is needed most of all.”  And he seems to have so little of it.  How sad for him.  Out of the depths, I cry to Thee O Lord …
Mr. Halik’s subtitle spoke of an age of uncertainty, but I perceive the book is only about Mr. Halik’s uncertainty.  Still, he discusses the paths of our culture which disturb us, but he offers no solutions for the culture, or for us.  For me, this started me thinking and praying on what I can do, and in particular the question: What was I made to do?  Like Mr. Halik, I often perceive that I know the answers and the way things should be done.  But I don’t.  And admitting that is the first step toward humility.  From a certain point of view, you could describe Mr. Halik’s definition of “the impossible” that Jesus promised us as merely living in deep humility, rejecting the priorities of the world and self, seeking to do the will of God while trusting in Him.  But he never used the word humility in his book.  But this book DID get me thinking about that word, and its meaning in my life.    

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Is That The Lord Calling?

At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim, so that he could not see, was lying down in his own place; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down within the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was.  Then the Lord called, “Samuel!  Samuel!” and he said: “Here I am!” and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.”  But he said: “I did not call; lie down again.”  So he went and lay down.  And the Lord called again, “Samuel!”  And Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said:  “Here I am, for you called me.”  But he said:  “I did not call, my son; lie down again.”  Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.  And the Lord called Samuel again the third time.  And he arose and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.”  Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy.  Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak Lord, for thy servant hears.’”  So Samuel went and lay down in his place.                                -- 1Sam 3:2-9

A nurse is trained in emergency care, and for hours a day she works in the hospital emergency room.  People enter with life-threatening injuries, and people enter with headaches.  There is a prioritization process, but no one is turned away.  Some days there are no great emergencies.  Some days the same people are seen coming again, and yet again.  The nurse is trained in caring, and she cares for them.  Should she turn away the ones who continually come back with minor problems?
You walk out of the church on Sunday, and there stands a man dressed in raggedy clothes.  “Can I borrow $2 so I can eat today?  I’ll pay you back when I can.”  You give him $2, and head to your car.  The next Sunday, the man is there again, asking the same question, making the same promise.  And you again give him $2.  By the third Sunday you almost expect the man to be there, and he does not disappoint you.  You may even smile at him as you give him $2 yet again --- knowing his promise to re-pay is one he cannot keep.
And then the next day you go to the weekday mass, as you normally do, and walking out of the church, you see the man there again.  Again, he asks for only $2.  And your mind immediately thinks of your plans for Tuesday mass, and Wednesday, and …   and will he be there outside the church those days too?  Will he be there every day, looking for you?  It is only a minor thing, a minor problem to give, but do you reach a point at which you turn him away?
 How many people do you know in your life with a need that won’t go away?  How many are in your life with a need that they don’t know how to satisfy?  You would like to train them to fish, to solve their problem, but in your heart --- and perhaps from years of experience --- you just know they will NEVER learn to fish.  The alcoholic, the drug abuser, the financially incompetent, the never-can-hold-a-job, the physically abusive, the physically abused, the mentally challenged, the autistic, the physically challenged, and the one dying alone:  they have many similarities.  They often live alone, and they have few (if any) friends.  And they have a need which will not go away.
So do you?
From my experience these needy people often fall into two groups:  those (like the beggar outside the church) who ask and ask and ask – and then ask yet again.  (And some don’t even ask, they demand:  “You owe me (guilt, guilt) …. because I’m so needy”, “or you’re so rich”, or even, “you’re so blessed.”)  Their needs never end; you can never give enough; their problem never goes away.  You think to yourself that if you gave them a million dollars today they would be back tomorrow saying “I hate to ask again, but I just need ….”  It never ends.  And then there are those who never ask.  Perhaps they have tapped out (financially and emotionally) all those they know to beg from, or perhaps they are too embarrassed to ask, or perhaps they feel there life is not worth anyone caring about them.  They’ve learned no one wants them around.   
Do you stay away from them?  Do you say: “I can’t help them”? 
Are you really saying: “I can’t love them?”
I haven’t written many book reviews lately, but my reading has not lessened.  Lately, I’ve read some very good books, and some very challenging books.  They talk about the situations above.  They talk about the questions above.  They don’t give answers --- there are no simple answers to life’s problems --- but they give examples of what others have done.  And they make you think.  I’ll be reviewing some of those books in the coming days.
But there is one thing I can tell you now about those books:  when I heard last Sunday’s gospel (as written at the start of this post), I recalled some of those difficult people in my life and I thought:  “Is that you calling, Lord?”

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Smart Pope, Dumb Pope

The sunset is beautiful. 
It is winter, and so the earth’s distance from the sun differs from the summer; the angle it faces the sun on its axis differs also.  The air is denser with the lower temperatures, and the sun’s light is affected by the ice crystals in the sky.  The winter clouds vary slightly from the summer also; the dense black towering thunderheads don’t appear as menacing in the winter.  The sunset is a complex interface of matter and energy, light reflection and refraction:  it is a marvelous thing to consider.
The sunset is beautiful.
Standing by the lake shore or seaside, you can watch the sun slowly dip below the horizon, and see the gradual changing of color shade and intensity.  It is awesome.  It is holy.  It is like seeing God: it is a marvelous thing to consider.
Two people watching the same beautiful sunset, a brainy scientist and a holy man, see the same things, but think different thoughts.  Neither is wrong in his thinking or seeing; they are just focused on differing aspects of the same truth.
I think we see a similar thing going on with our recent popes.  JPII and Benedict were towering intellectuals.  They both often spoke with scientists, aware of and discussing the latest scientific discoveries and thought.  Their encyclicals were masterpieces of truth, logic, and proofs to all doubters.  Pope Francis, however, has a different intellectual level and background.  The example I gave of two people looking at the same sunset could be applied to the differing popes, but it is more than that.  It’s as if the scientist, the intellectual, is standing next to Pope Francis facing the sunset and voices his view of what he sees, but at the same time Pope Francis says: “Oh, look at the pretty butterfly.”
When Pope Francis talks about the small things, the simple things, the small people, he is describing them --- and us --- in simple terms.  Reading his words, sometimes I want to shout:  “It’s not that simple.  There are complex factors at work which you cannot ignore.”  But then I ponder his actions and his words some more, and I feel like I am arguing with Christ.
There is much I could write about Pope Francis and his generalities; what he is missing.  If I am honest, however, and can get past my own intellectual leanings, I must admit there were things JPII and Benedict also missed in their writings.  Are any of them wrong, or right?
I think they are all looking at the same beauty of God’s creation, and His Church.  They look from differing angles; they emphasize differing things.  Their words reach some intellectuals; their words reach some more base individuals.  They are conveying God’s truth in ways all can understand --- and perceive its beauty.
There is no smart pope; there is no dumb pope.  There are only God’s children, some of whom think they need to understand all of God’s ways, and some content to just feel His love --- which is beyond all understanding.

Monday, January 12, 2015

When Does Love End?

When you ask that question, of what are you thinking?  The past?  I know of some people who have lost loved ones --- through divorce, children who won’t speak to them, or through death.  Sometimes they look back and think that love has left their life.  I think they mis-understand their situation.  Love given to us, like life itself, is a gift.  And once given, those gifts never go away; they are in our hearts; they are part of who we are.  We can never un-receive love freely given to us.  All we can do is to remember it fondly; we can never change the past.    
We can look back and perhaps see that we loved poorly in the past, or maybe didn’t even give love at all.  Things I have been writing about in recent posts --- greed, money, things about self-love --- can greatly interfere with our freely giving love.  Perhaps we didn’t love as well as we might have in the past, but there are two critical points about the past we often forget:  first, that the past IS the past.  We cannot change it; it has become part of who we are.  We cannot change it, but we can learn from it.  And the second point is that God IS Love, and He came to give love to us.  And part of true love is understanding, and forgiveness.  Certainly God, above all else, knows we are but humans.  We are not perfect, but we are meant to live our lives growing in perfection.  A teen-ager knows more than a toddler, and an adult more than a teen-ager, and an older adult more than a younger one.  We grow in knowledge, wisdom, and holiness.  Perhaps you might think that you are NOT growing; you have not learned from your weaknesses.  Ah, but even if you are considering, perhaps worrying, about those weaknesses that means that you are thinking about them.  How do you think growth comes about, if not by thinking on the things that were and are, and how they might be better?  You are growing.  And any thoughts about love lost or love not given in the past, are in the past.  Your life did not end then; He told us life never ends.  Those thoughts are pictures in the album we can look at and say:  Remember when …? 
And then we put the album on the shelf, and live today.
And when you ask that question about love ending, what if you ARE thinking about today?  Do you look at where the past has brought you to, and find yourself dissatisfied?  Do you feel you have no love in your life --- to receive or give?  I think the key word there is the word “feel”.  Often we can’t control our feelings, they just arise.  I almost got hit by a reckless driver the other day; he cut across two lanes of traffic to turn right in front of me --- and if I had not instinctively sharply swerved to the right, he would have turned right into me.  I couldn’t control his driving nor, in truth, my reaction.  I didn’t think if there was a car on my right when I swerved, nor did I think that I was suddenly heading for the curb and perhaps a pedestrian there.  The feelings and reactions just happened.  That’s what feelings do.  There is no use in regretting things you can’t control.  There is a picture Maximilian Kolbe in a nearby small local adoration chapel.  There is a quote written in Polish under the picture.  Perhaps because I am Polish, I was compelled one day to get it translated.  Here is the translated quote:  Do well what depends on me, and endure well what does not depend on me.  --- That is the total perfection, the source of true happiness in the world.  Maximilian Kolbe died in a Nazi concentration camp, doing well what depended on him, caring for his fellow inmates.  I don’t think he worried about his past, nor his being unloved by the guards.  Nor should we, we should just love others, as the Great Example Who came among us showed us.
And what if you are asking that question about love with an eye to the future?  I do know people who have sadly said: “I can never love again.”  Somehow they were let down in their past, and while they think they are talking about the future, what they are really doing is remembering the past.  The future is a blank slate; we can make it what we will, as Kolbe says: doing well what depends on us.  We can love; we can grow in love --- for others.  We can live a life with meaning, being who we were created to be.  It is the future.  There is no “I can’t love”.  We can will to love; there are many people in the world, in OUR world, who need our love.  And perhaps, just perhaps, that is what we were created to do with our life:  to look at our past and learn from it, and then look at our present and ask God:  “What path would you have me take?” and then look into our future and resolve to be all He created us to be.  It is our choice; we can do it.  Love does not end; it never ends.  We make it happen.
I once met a woman at work who at a very young age planned out her life.  She said she resolved to live her life in three phases:  she would work for one third, teach what she had learned for one third, and the final third would be devoted to the poor:  “I won’t need much money then, and I hope I have learned by then all I need to know to serve the poor well.”  She didn’t say it that way, but she was planning her life to grow in love, to make a difference with her life.  I was so impressed with her young wisdom --- or the gift of wisdom God gave her.  I know of some Ford executives who retired to live serving the poor or the dying.  I greatly admire them.  He said it is difficult for a rich man to enter heaven, but He also said that with God all things are possible. 
Christ first lived so that we might live.  He first loved so that we might love.  He is in our future, and so love definitely IS there, along with the joy that love can give us.
We sang the hymn We Will Go at the end of mass this morning.  It softly spoke of a love received, and of one freely given.  It was written by Sr. Sarah Burdick, and the closing words were these:
Keep me safe from harm,
Help me to follow You.
I want to give You my life,
And to love You with all my heart.
Lord, we will go,
Wherever You send us.
The words You command we will speak,
And we shall not be afraid;
You are at our side.
As we go forward, there is nothing to worry about, past, present, or future.  Love is always there; it never ends.