Sunday, November 11, 2018

Review: Saying Yes

This is a really great book, summarizing lessons I’ve learned over a lifetime.  The sub-title of this book is “Discovering and Responding to God’s Will in Your Life.”  That is a most important thing to dedicate your life to but, as I’ve found, the title notes something even more important: “Saying Yes” to what you discover.  Sometimes, that’s hard.
The author begins with reflections on the focus of a life --- how “we discern our unique and individual contribution to being a coworker with Christ,” our vocation in life.  Early and throughout, he points to an ongoing problem: “The ego is a heavy piece of luggage.”  He notes: “Discernment involves surrender (of self) and trust (in Him),” adherence to the Word as seen in the Church, Scripture, prayer, and as brought to us through interactions with others.  In various ways, he teaches us to listen, which is “The Heart of Discernment.”
Mr. Haase notes that “God has a preferred mode of communication with each of us.”  (I’ve found mine in reading.)  And, as I discovered late in life, he notes the value of a spiritual director, an annual retreat, and journaling --- I write this blog, a nightly report card of my day, and a “spiritual journal” of the times when I felt God’s presence.
Mr. Haase concludes his book with chapters on wrestling with the devil --- our disagreeing with what he tells us to do, and wrestling with God --- our rationalizing what He tells us to do.  “We fear failure.”  I love his supporting quotations from saints throughout the book, but most especially his Appendix of Prayers for Discernment by various saints.  Those prayers so reflect my heart --- and will open yours.
This book is the best Christmas present you could buy yourself.

Friday, November 9, 2018

First Snow

The first snow is on the ground.  I looked at this picture, taken a couple of months ago, out my family room door.  The planter on the right is now in my living room, in front of the East-facing window, with a half dozen large blooming flowers.  I think it can see all the snow outside the window, and is happy to be in the warmth.  I just got a call from a friend who had had her power cut off.  Sun, warmth, the beauty of flowers and the gift of friends --- so many things we take for granted.

I am so blessed.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Value of Self-Esteem

Christ in My Life   I am glad I exist.  I am glad You created me and invited me to become a citizen of Your kingdom.  Thank You, Lord.  You have already taken away so many of my burdens --- the guilt of my sins, the weight of ignorance and anxiety, the insecurity of wondering what life is all about.  I believe in You, Lord, and I am looking forward to the day when I see You face to face.                   -- The Better Part, Meditation 199

The above prayer closes meditations on Luke’s version of the Parable of the Mustard Seed (Lk 13:18-21).  The book, The Better Part, presents a series of meditations on that parable which opened a new door in my heart, which that closing prayer expresses so well.
In his meditations, the author of TBP notes that the Pharisees were focused on a “flamboyant visibility.  They made sure that all their religious practices were seen and appreciated.  Jesus advocates a different type of religiosity.  He focuses on the interior attitude of self-forgetful love for God and neighbor.  The Christian way is the way of the heart.  But who can see the heart?  No one --- only oneself and God.  This law of love and self-giving, therefore, is like the mustard seed and the leaven:  barely perceptible to anyone at the beginning, but magnificent when it matures.
“If it dies, it yields a rich harvest.” (Jn 12:24)
Jesus is talking about a “law of love and self-giving” --- not of a self-esteem, but an esteem of God and His will for us.
It is no coincidence that the book Divine Intimacy’s meditations this week also focus on self-esteem, something so highly praised in our culture.  It notes that “Few know how to recognize in the sorrows of life the hand of God who wishes to purify them (of self-esteem):  illness, … struggles, … failure of works that were cherished, … physical and spiritual solitude --- these are some of the sufferings which are met with more or less in the life of every man. …. We must see only the blessed hand of God who offers us these better remedies to bring perfect health to our soul.”  The soul must, even for “some really unjust treatment, bow its head and accept all humbly, as the most suitable treatment for curing its faults and imperfections.  This must be our conduct, if we wish to draw profit from all the trials God places in our path.  We must keep ourselves from posing as a victim, from protesting, from complaining… let us be persuaded that all serves greatly for our spiritual progress, because before attaining to union with God, it is necessary to be reduced to nothingness, that is, to be established in profoundest humility.”  (Divine Intimacy, Meditation 351)
“If the Holy Spirit did not make you understand and experience your wretchedness, you could not be delivered from it. … The sight of your miseries, however ugly and detestable they may be, should not plunge you into discouragement; rather it is to divest you of every trace of secret self-esteem and to extinguish in your heart any claim to meriting divine gifts and favors.”  However, “despite all the suffering that you may experience at the sight of your misery, you must remain confident and certain that God will never abandon you. … God loves you and, far from rejecting you, He desires to unite Himself to you; but first He wants to make you perfectly aware that you are wholly underserving of this great grace.”  (DI, Meditation 352)
“You desire to arrive at divine union, but perhaps you think to reach it by a broad, sunny, pleasant way, by the way of success, where one goes from victory to victory, where one enjoys abundant spiritual consolations, where one finds the applause, support and esteem of creatures.  But by now you must certainly have understood that it is necessary to take quite another way, … where the soul discovers all its misery, and where consolation from God and man is wanting. … Have much patience, … entrust yourself to Him blindly and you will have nothing to fear. … Thy will be done. (Mt 26:42)”   (DI, Meditation 353)
“The Lord comes to your assistance with purifying trials in order to empty you to self, to immerse you in true humility, … to extinguish the illusionary fires of self-love, pride, earthly affections, … so that only one fire may burn within you, ever more intensely and strongly, the fire of charity…. God secretly teaches the soul to love independently of all happiness and joy.  Learn to love God by a pure strong act of the will, without being preoccupied with what is sentiment, consolation and joy of heart, … too dependent on feeling.”  (DI, Meditation 355)
“To prefer Him to everything else (means) it pays no attention to anything, neither to the repugnancies of nature, nor to the voice of self-love or egoism, nor to what others may say or think; it plunges headlong with great courage …  This great love of esteem of God … is not concerned about acquiring any possession except the possession of God.”  (DI, Meditation 356)

Help eliminate self-esteem by accepting life’s trials; grow in humility; trust in God; grow in love.  All the above quotes say it better than I could have.  And now we get back to the mustard seed story.  It gave up its life --- as Jesus did --- and from that tiny insignificant seed God’s actions --- His sun, rain, and His very self --- can make it grow and spread far and wide, and bear much fruit.  That was how His Church started.  And that’s how we start our contribution to His kingdom.
It starts with our giving up self-esteem.  Every person DOES need to know his is valued, but not in his own eyes, but in God’s eyes.  His value does not come from himself.  “For God so loved the poor” not because they had no possessions, but they had no illusions about their self-worth.  “Happy are the poor in spirit” (Mt 5).  Why must we become “like little children to enter the kingdom of heaven”?  Children are innocent of pride; they trust in others and God.  They love so readily.
Our country once answered it proudly, but the question now comes down to each of us individually:  In Whom do you trust?  Can you die to self for the greater good?
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I was praying a rosary for our country tonight, praying God’s blessing down on each state, one by one.  As I began the final decade, in which I pray for local governmental leaders --- and in particular for leaders of our schools --- my thoughts came back to this topic of self-esteem.
I was led to ponder how within our school systems are many good, dedicated teachers.  They chose a lowly vocation --- for various reasons --- and many receive little recognition for their efforts.  In a way, they have chosen to live a life which exhibits low self-esteem which, as suggested above, is a good result, except …  No one is meant to wallow in a life which they believe has little worth.  Achieving a low self-esteem is creating a doorway for God to enter, to put a better focus and purpose of our life than self-gratification or self-glorification.  Unfortunately, many educated elites have thought themselves so wise that they KNOW there is no God, because they have never been taught about Him, never proved His existence, and never felt a need of Him for anything.  Anything they want they can get for themselves --- or find it on the internet --- EXCEPT a feeling of self-worth, of being loved.  And, not knowing God, if other people don’t value them and they don’t value themselves, who is left?  No one, and they wallow in a self-pity.  But, educated as they are, what do they do?  One thing, I’ve seen, is that they stress to the children they teach how valuable they are; they drill into them a self-esteem that is natural, that is a right --- in this country, and is based on their actions, and their actions alone.  They are taught they are responsible for creating and maintaining their value.  And their education never mentions God.
It used to be that the poor, who had low self-esteem, or even the rich who suffered tragedies, could count on God, their neighbors, and their families to be with them, TO VALUE THEM, when they felt little self-value.  And this is how God created things to be, tragedies and sufferings to learn from, to humble ourselves, and God and neighbor and love to fill our lives.
Children who today are taught that they must create their worth eventually fall on hard times, economic, physical or mental pains.  And they see that they have failed at avoiding hard times, maintaining their self-worth, and then who do they turn to?  They don’t know God; they’ve never trusted neighbor, and often are alienated from family.  When these, who were taught they need no one else, NEED someone, what do they do?  Unfortunately, we are seeing what they do.  Record numbers of suicides, more deaths from pain killer overdoses than traffic accidents:  When they think there is no one else, they try to end the pain, themselves.
Good Christians are in difficult times.  Our society needs them and their self-giving love more than ever, even as it rejects them more than ever.  It is like the child rejecting the bad-tasting medicine, or going to bed without supper saying: “You don’t love me,” to the ones who love him most.
They have no idea how much they are loved by God and His family, who see their true worth.  Their worth is in God’s eyes, not their own.  Our schools once taught that, and I pray that God in His love and mercy can lead us back to those teachings, or better ones. 
I know He especially loves children; He told us so.
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I guess I was not surprised that when I completed what seems to be a satisfying meditation tonight, God had to have the last word.  I head it on the way home, listening to the wonderful CD titled “Trust Him,” by Brian Blum.
You Are Loved (Don’t Give Up)
Don’t give up,
It’s just the weight of the world.
When your heart’s heavy
I will lift it for you.
Don’t give up,
Because you want to be heard.
If silence keeps you,
I, I will break it for you.
Everybody wants to be understood.
Well, I can hear you.
Everybody wants to be loved.
Don’t give up,
Because you are loved.
Don’t give up,
It’s just the hurt that you hide.
When you’re lost inside,
I, I’ll be there to find you.
Don’t give up,
Because you want to burn bright.
If darkness blinds you,
I will shine to guide you.
Everybody wants to be understood.
Well, I can hear you.
Everybody wants to be loved.
Don’t give up!
Because you … are … loved.
Don’t give up,
It’s just the weight of the world.
Don’t give up.
Everyone needs to be heard.
You are loved.