Sunday, July 15, 2018

Why Did I Fail You, Lord?

Sometimes, it’s hard to tell the difference between success and failure.  Sometimes, success is that you tried, but when the outcome is not ideal, you feel a failure. 
And sometimes, what we are feeling is God showing us what He is feeling.
Tonight, I listened to that sad song titled: Smile.  “Smile, though your heart is breaking … you’ll find that life is all worthwhile, if you just smile.”  This week, within hours, I had one person, beyond consolation, tell me “I wish I were dead; don’t touch me; I just wish I were dead,” and then later that same night I heard that another person I know was being rushed for special evaluation due to suicidal thoughts.  Two people I know were in deep despair, seemingly without hope.
Did I fail You, Lord?
It’s almost instinctive for us to question: “Is there something I could have done differently” when we feel failure.  We’d like to think that our good intentions are enough to ensure good results.  I obey the speed limits --- how did I get into that accident?  I did what the boss told me --- why did someone else get that promotion?  I took my kids to church every Sunday --- why have they grown up to be atheists?
When it comes to other people and their actions, it is imperative that we remember that THEY are in control of their lives, not us.  Our actions DO impact other people, but sometimes their responding action is to ignore us.  When it comes to the actions or directions a life takes, we can only change ours.  Sometimes it’s hard to remember that only God can change lives.  Sometimes all we can do is point out a situation to God, in prayer, and then trust in Him --- as Mary did at Cana.
“They have no wine,” Mary said to Jesus, nothing more.  And the Gospel showed us how it is amazing what God can do, if we trust in Him.  And while He showed me two women in despair that day, He also showed me how He acts toward one who trusts in Him.
The very first person I met on Thursday, a homebound woman I was delivering groceries to, had been in so much pain the prior week that she couldn’t get out of bed to come to the door.  I left her groceries with a neighbor; she later called, thanking me and telling me of her pain.  This week, in her wheelchair, that same woman greeted me at the door, and in the few minutes we spoke, a number of her high-rise apartment neighbors stopped by to chat about things they would do later --- or rather, things she would later do for them.  “How is your pain,” I finally got around to asking her.  “Oh,” she said smiling, “I’ve got some meds, but it was more getting used to it than anything else.  God doesn’t give us more than we can bear.  I’ve got things to do; I can’t stay in bed all day.”  And then before I left her, we prayed.  I think God showed me this woman first, to strengthen my hope to bear with the events of later that day.
The second woman I delivered groceries to that afternoon was also in pain.  “I spent two days in the hospital, but they didn’t do anything.  The pain is so bad, I wish I were dead,” she lamented.  My offer of a hug (which she was grateful for on previous occasions) was met with “don’t touch me,” and my promise to pray for her with a re-iteration of her despair: “I wish I were dead.”  What a difference from the first woman, whom I had seen only minutes before.
Analyzing the two situations (before I read the email telling me of a third woman’s thoughts of suicide), I could see three differences in the lives of the two women which impacted their reaction to similar problems in their lives.  Age was the first obvious difference; the first woman was more than double the age of the second.  Faith was a second difference; the first knew God, the second didn’t.  And the third difference was community; the first had many friends and neighbors in her building, while the second was alone.  Even in prior weeks when she was feeling better, the second often spoke negatively of her neighbors and relatives.  She was alone, by choice.
Many studies have demonstrated our changing culture.  Younger people very often are atheist, giving up the faith of their family.  Many are very self-absorbed, and often feel alone.  I heard a study quoted this morning which said the percentage of 18-34 year-olds still living at home is the highest since 1880, when young people stayed home to help on the family farm.  And today, way more often than ever in the past history, young people commit suicide or contemplate it.
I spoke of our good intentions, of being nice to people.  I delivered groceries to the above two women.  I’d like to think I do some good in their lies, and I do!  But, my simple good intentions can satisfy only my own soul, not theirs.  If I were to truly desire to impact their lives, more would be needed.
I am reading George Weigel’s latest book, The Fragility of Order.  In it, he analyzes our declining culture, and he offers some thoughts on what we can do --- on what we MUST do --- to change it.  He notes that a root cause of the culture’s decline is that men have forgotten God, and communities and families have dissolved.  We are more than ever alone, and like the early cave man, we are inclined to believe that if we want something we have to get it ourselves (or perhaps the government should give it to us).
There are today many villages in Africa where during droughts people survive by digging up and eating plant roots.  And neighbors don’t allow neighbors to starve, or be alone.  And many surveys show these poor people are very happy --- happier that people in our culture who have many more “things”.  Christianity is exploding in Africa, and dying in Europe and America, as people replace love of God and neighbor with love of self.
Weigel’s primary recommendation in his book is not to preach the Gospel --- words or good intentions alone are not going to make a big difference today.  He notes that we need to build community, starting with our neighbors.  We need to care about them, and be committed --- SERIOUSLY committed --- to helping them not with money, but time and presence, to give them hope, to show them that they are not alone.
“See how they love one another” was a Roman historian’s comment about Christians.  We need to be that noticeable, in that way, again.  No one should feel alone.  No one should, in despair, be without hope.
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The Gospels say over and again that we should give priority to the poor, yet in today’s Gospel (Mk 6:7-13), Jesus tells His apostles to go out and “take nothing for the journey, … no money.”  No money to help the poor?  But, even the uneducated in the remotest African villages understand this Gospel, that a rich life, a happy life, has little to do with money.  Jesus said that’s what He wants us to bring to the poor, a rich happy life, with God and neighbor.
I began these reflections with a heavy heart, but I’ve come to perceive very strongly that it is in fact God’s heart which is heavy, over the path we are on.
He wants His world back. 
We have to help Him.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Review: Mary in the Bible and in Our Lives

Sadly, it took nearly 20 years for the Swedish edition of this book to be translated into English.  In many ways, this is one of Fr. Stinissen’s best.
Certainly, references to Mary in the Bible are known, in some depth, by all Christians.  What Fr. Stinissen does is not extract the words from the Bible and comment on them, rather he puts them INTO the Bible, and answers the key question needed for real understanding the whole Bible: Why?  Why Mary?  Why that way?  Why then?  And importantly, the words also compel you to ask yourself: Why am I reading these words now?
The good father’s meditations offer unique insights, food for your meditations, to make better sense of what the Holy Spirit wished to convey with these particular words of the Evangelists, to us, right now.
And how those words should change our lives.
Some excerpts of note:
The root of sin, which is egoism, makes it difficult for man to open himself to others.  The one    who is no longer interested in himself can be completely engaged in the suffering and needs of others.
Mary pondered.  She reflected.  Reflection of this kind is not very common in our day.  We often have no time to listen to God.  We see only a fragment of the road, but not where it is leading, what the goal is and the meaning of life.
It is nice to dream about holiness and perfection, but as long as we do not understand what this obliges us to do in everyday, concrete reality, nothing has happened with us yet.
God cannot become man in a heart that only gives itself halfway.  Our life could be so much richer if we learned from Mary to be wholehearted.  We prefer our own plans to God’s plans and are astonished that the results are poor and the fruits are few.  Mary had no plans of her own.  She was open to God’s plans.  Whoever opens himself to God lets God’s love flow into the world.
To receive a mission from God always means to grow deeper into the human community.  One receives nothing merely for himself.  Everything must be shared.
Her simple words are for all times a model for Christian prayer.  She did not tell Jesus what to do.  She had no personal plans that she wished him to carry out.  She pointed out the need (at the wedding in Cana) and nothing more.
St. John of the Cross gives three reasons why it is best simply to point out one’s need and pain, rather than tell God directly what he must do.  First of all, God knows better than we do what we need.  Secondly, the Beloved feels a deeper compassion when he seen an absolute surrender and trust in the suffering person.  And thirdly, the danger of self-love is less: by trying to force God to give us certain gifts, we risk feeding our ego.
The future is always richer than the past.  For a Christian, nothing could be as unreasonable as sadly to relive old memories and think back with melancholy on the carefree joy one experienced as a child.  A Christian can always say to God: “You have kept the good wine until now.”
Stress is an infallible sign that we are going our own way and directing our life too much.
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Perhaps appropriately following on these reflections, I read these words of St. Augustine this morning:
“Let us never assume that if we live good lives we will be without sin; our lives should be praised     only when we continue to beg for pardon.  But men are hopeless creatures, and the less they concentrate on their own sins, the more interested they become in the sins of others.  They seek to criticize, not to correct.  Unable to excuse themselves, they are ready to accuse others.
A sacrifice to God is a contrite spirit; God does not despise a contrite and humble heart.”

And I also heard the words of this beautiful hymn echo in my heart:
Here is My Life
Behold, the eyes of the Lord
search the face of the earth
to find hearts that are given,
seeking souls to make pure.
To enflame this world’s darkness
to warm cold hearts with grace.
Am I here, Lord, for such a time,
for such a place?
Here is my life, Lord, heart mind and body.
My soul’s surrender, take it for Your own.
And you will lead, I know, where only love can go.
Here is my life, O Lord,
My life for You.
There is a love stronger than death,
passion deeper than this life.
In the heart’s purest longing
lies the pearl of great price.
One Love, all loves surpassing,
true surrender the cost.
Am I here, Lord, to bear this love,
and share its cross?
Here is my life, Lord, heart mind and body.
My soul’s surrender, take it for Your own.
And you will lead, I know, where only love can go.
Here is my life, O Lord,
My life for You.
                                                --- The Servants of the Word, Ann Arbor, MI c2004

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Who Owns Your Phone Number?

First, let me ask some easier questions.  You buy a house and one day you come home and find someone else living there.  Who owns your home?  You buy a unique painting and come home and its missing, but you see it on EBay.  Who owns your painting?  You buy the use of a parking space in front of your apartment from the landlord, and come home and see someone else parked in it.  Who owns the parking space?  You go into a Verizon store and buy a phone and they say: “Here’s your phone and your new phone number.”  Who owns your phone number?
Now, you think you know the answers to those earlier questions, and you are probably right.  You buy something, you own it, even if what you buy is the use of something.  It’s yours.  Relative to the phone number, every month you get a bill; it lists that number and calls you made, texts you made and received, and minutes used.  You pay for the use of that number.  It would seem Verizon owns that number, because they bill you under it.  Or --- perhaps you own that number, but Verizon is billing you for the airwave usage you accomplish using that/your number.  I guess you could assume either way.  But what does Verizon say?  They say: “I dunno.”
Last month I received a couple of nasty emails to my cell number, a nasty call (I couldn’t get a word in edgewise), and then a more polite call asking me to stop calling someone --- someone I never heard of.  Someone had hacked and was using my number.  (and lest you think someone sent me malware in an email, I have a flip phone, not an iphone --- I don’t get emails on my phone.)  I was a little anxious over the texts and calls because of the vehemence of the anger in them.  Knowing a phone number, it is easy to find the owner’s address ---- I was watching my door closely for a few days.  But I heard nothing else.
Until today.
Today I received a call from a nice-sounding elderly gentleman asking me why I was calling him so much.  He saw my number in his machine, but he didn’t answer because he didn’t recognize the number.  He called me thinking perhaps there was some sort of emergency, since I continued to call him.  I told him I hadn’t called, but apparently someone else had hacked my number.  Then I called Verizon.
Their customer service response was: “Yeh, you’ve been hacked.  Nothing we can do about that.”  I suggested cancelling my number for a month or two, allowing no calls from it, and maybe the hackers would move on.  “No,” customer service responded, “Your cancelling your service would not prevent them from continuing to use that number.”  “So, a number that was no longer validated by you could still continue to be used?” I asked.  “Yes, there is no way for us to stop that.”  “Well, if an invalid number can still be used, I guess I’ll just reprogram my phone to some fake number and get free service from now own --- you’d better look for a new job, your company is going out of business soon, if anyone can use a fake number and you can do nothing about it.” 
My local police department was more polite in their response.  Yes, Verizon can track outgoing and incoming calls from a number, and could identify a call-source.  (Gee whiz, you mean GPS really works?  Wow!)  But tracking a source can be masked.   But if it’s not masked --- like I don’t do --- Verizon could tell if my number was being used from my location, and block any other usage ----- if they wanted to.  But it’d be a hassle, and they’d rather leave that to the police, who don’t have the technology to do that.
So, if you find out your number is being used for harassing calls, well, this is just another reason for owning a gun.  No one else seems to be able to protect you from overt threats.
Oh, and after all this, I’m still not sure who owns my phone number.  So, I guess I won’t go out hunting for the guy using my number harassing people; He may have a legal right to do that.  At least Verizon seems to think so, because they don’t want to try to stop him.