Wednesday, November 26, 2014

That's Where Jesus Is

Before the mass readings began, the priest called up the small children to the front of the altar; they were about to leave for a separate Children’s Liturgy of the Word.  Usually, Fr. Ed asks the children to “face Jesus in the tabernacle and genuflect,” before leaving the church proper.  But this Sunday was different.
He looked at the young children gathered before him and asked:  “Who knows what the tabernacle is?”  A small voice answered: “That’s where Jesus is.”  Fr Ed answered: “That’s right.”  Then he told the young toddlers: “Come on, follow me up here,” as he walked up the altar steps and around to behind the altar, in front of the tabernacle.  He paused there as the kids (and some parents) followed behind.  He smiled.  “They’re all kneeling,” he said softly to the people in the church who could not see.  “Parents, I’m proud of you,” he beamed.
He then proceeded to explain to the children a lesson on what the tabernacle was, how Jesus is in there, contained in the form of the host.  And then he asked: “Who’s looking forward to receiving their first communion next year?”   A number of hands were raised.  “And Jesus is looking forward to coming to you then too, but for now you’ll just go and listen to His words.”  And the he handed the Bible off to the leader of the children’s liturgy, who led them off to their own meeting room.
It was a pleasant start to the mass.
Last Sunday was the solemnity of Christ The King, a special feast day for Christ The King parish, in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Naturally, Fr. Ed’s homily focused on that topic.  He mentioned the deadly sins, and especially pride, anger, and lust, as areas in which Satan holds sway over us.  He said that to make our lives into the image and likeness of Jesus, as we were created to be, we need to renounce Satan, as we did at Baptism, and make Christ the King of our lives.  That’s what is celebrated this day.  He is our King, and it is up to us to make that personal, to dedicate ourselves to Him.  To do this, we have lots of supports:  our parish family, the liturgy, and Jesus Himself in the Eucharist, always present in the tabernacle.
That’s where Jesus is.
Fr. Ed continued to talk and mentioned the movie and the book Heaven Is For Real.  Then ….
Well, in a day or so you can listen to his entire Sunday homily here:
It’s worth a listen.
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Happy Thanksgiving to all who might be glancing at this post.  I am in Arizona visiting my nieces and their children, and meeting Annie’s 6-year old twins for the first time.  They are adorable kids; I am so proud of Annie and her husband, Don.  They know how to raise children.
Tomorrow we’ll celebrate Annie’s birthday on Thanksgiving day, at Rose’s house with an army of friends and relatives.  I am so blessed, and I pray that you are also.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

It Can't Be About You

I had spent my time at the chapel meditating on Scripture, asking for clarity in whatever area the Spirit would have me see, but it was dark.  There was nothing.
I came home, perhaps a bit anxious to quickly get to sleep; I wished to rise in 3 hours for the weekly men’s Bible study early the next morning.  I turned back the covers, got into bed, pulled the light switch off and welcomed the darkness --- but in my mind it was light.  I was wide awake, and thoughts I had prayed for earlier came clearly into my mind.  They were clear and crisp, flowed, and wouldn’t go away.  My new prayer became:  “Peace!  I need some rest!” but it went unanswered.
I went to the library and picked up pen and paper, and got back into bed and began to write:

John the Baptist, at his birth he was destined to be the herald of the Christ’s coming.  He was to be the second most important man in history.  He was close to Jesus, if only by blood: he was family, earthly and spiritually.
Why did he have to die?  Why did Jesus let it happen?  Why didn’t Jesus console John the Baptist and remove any doubts he had?  If Jesus would abandon someone so close to Himself, what does that say of His loyalty to me, in my trials?
But John was not like me, just another man.  John was the pre-curser, the herald, AND the image.  He was a type of Christ.
We know of John’s miraculous birth; we know of Jesus’ miraculous birth.  John, older than Jesus by six months, was absent from Scripture until he is shown publically baptizing; Jesus was absent from Scripture until he is shown beginning His preaching.  John was arrested; Jesus was arrested.  John was killed by a reluctant Herod; Jesus was killed by a reluctant Pilate.   Both had to die --- for a reason.
Herod had made a public promise (Mt 14:7-9); as king he had to keep his promises --- to keep his power.  His respect and his power were the most important things to Herod.  In the immediate situation, John’s death wasn’t about John; it wasn’t even about Jesus.  It was about Herod.  Herod made it about Herod.  He had to keep himself important.  This event, it had to be about him.
Pilate didn’t believe Jesus had done anything worthy of death either.  He tried to appease the Jewish leaders by severely beating Jesus, by bartering for Him, and even proclaiming He had no right to kill this man who had done nothing deserving death.  But in the end, like Herod, Pilate feared the people.  He feared the loss of his power.  He washed his hands of the event, not wanting to take any blame which might be forthcoming --- but not wanting to take any immediate blame either.  In the immediate situation, Jesus’ death wasn’t about Jesus.  It was about Pilate.  Pilate made it about Pilate.  He had to keep himself important.  This event, it had to be about him.
Like the Jews in the Holocaust, the evil was not that they died, nor was it that John and Jesus died, we will all die; the evil was in the ones who killed them.  It was all about their desires, their sins, and their self-love for what they wanted.  Results cannot be evil; only actions can be evil.  When evil happens to you, it does not make you evil, but when evil happens to you, you have a decision to make:  you can accept the evil as something allowed by God for a reason you might not perceive --- trusting in God --- or you can rail against Him:  “I don’t deserve this; why are You letting this happen to me?”  Neither John nor Jesus railed against God the Father; they trusted in Him.
I was reminded about St. Ignatius’s rules about how to proceed in spiritual matters.  His Rule Number 4 is considered most important:  When spiritual desolation is enveloping you, make no decisions regarding your spiritual life.  Spiritual desolation is not willed upon us by God, but it is permitted.  It arises from some evil, or evil intent.  When evil is about you, influencing your thoughts, Ignatius notes, that that is not the time to be seeking to make new decisions about your spiritual life.  It is a time to renew your spiritual actions, and to trust in God.  This is not the time to focus on your woes and decide that YOU have to do something to change them; YOU have to make sure all is well with you.
For Herod and Pilate, each in a time of woe, his thought was about himself.  But we need to follow as John and Jesus did, and as Ignatius summarized:  When you are in a time of spiritual woe, your thought:  it can’t be about you.
A tree in the desert is totally focused on its survival and itself only, as it tries to hide from the burning sun.  It is desperate for shade and water.  But despite what it is feeling and perceiving about the desert around it, the tree cannot survive by itself.  This cannot be!!  What it is seeing is an illusion; it is something that cannot real.  Trees are not born and growing in deserts; they are in forests.  Trees cannot shade themselves; in the forest they shade one another, to survive, to survive together.  That is how we must be.  It cannot be about you alone; you are here to help others with your life, and they you.  Your focus cannot be yourself.
A God died to show this to you.  And in His death, as John’s, He trusted that there was a larger reason for His desolation.  He was not alone in His suffering.  Neither are you.  It was for a purpose.  So is yours.
Everything in the Bible is the inspired Word of God.  It is there for a reason; it is there to teach a truth.  In our life we may look at bad things casually and say: “shit happens.”  We may see no reason.  In the Bible bad things happen too, but ALWAYS for a reason, a lesson.  John did not die to teach us Jesus didn’t care about him.  Look deeper!  John did not waver in his belief in Jesus; he makes clear his belief in Mt 3:11-15, Jn 1:23-36, and Jn 3:24-36.  There are no contrary facts to these clear statements of belief, and trust.  In Lk 7:18-23 we see John sending his disciples to ask Jesus who He was.  But as the Catholic Encyclopedia (and many theologians) point out:  it was John’s disciples who didn’t understand, who questioned who Jesus was.  John sent them to see and understand for themselves.  And they did.
Unlike Lazarus and the others Jesus raised from the dead, or whose death was prevented, Jesus did not prevent John from dying.  He did not save his life.  That He would do later, when Jesus chose His own death.  It is then that He saved John, as He saved us.  John had a purpose for his life, and his death.  There is a reason.  John trusted; we need also to trust.
Like John and Jesus, our life is important.  We have a unique mission, a purpose for which we were born.  If we go through life burned by the events around us and think we are like the tree in the desert, alone with only ourselves to protect us, we are living an illusion.  That cannot be.  That is not how we were made.  That is not WHY we were made.  With his life, John taught us a lesson.  With His life, Jesus taught us a lesson.  With each and every parable Jesus told, and with each and every miracle He worked, Jesus SHOWED us a lesson:  This is how to live.  Your life cannot be about you.  It is about living in love, in love of God and in love of neighbor.  And you are not alone.  Even if every person in your life to date has abandoned you, you are not alone.  Your Father in heaven is there, and loves you. 
You can rest your eyes at night, and cease your worrying.
  I will never leave you alone.

I put down the pen and paper, and turned out the nightlight again.  And sleep came.  

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Review: The Hidden Power of Kindness

A Practical Handbook for Souls Who Dare
to Transform the World, One Deed at a Time
I remember some of the fairy tales mom used to read to me at bedtime.  Along with the story went the feeling of the warm covers and of mom nearby; they were good feelings.  Reading Lovasik’s The Hidden Power of Kindness brings to mind those memories.  It is a book which makes you comfortable, gives you warm feelings.
That’s not to say it is a fairy tale type story; it does give you pause at times.  While Mr. Lovasik describes what constitutes kind actions, he also notes what are unkind actions, and some of those make you look in the mirror.  He presents them in a kind way, but he makes no excuses for our sins.  While much of this book is a very comfortable read, you will find sections which will make you want to make excuses for your behavior.  He is truthful, yet kind, in explaining why you are mistaken.
The book has three sections, and their titles spoke volumes:  Develop a kind attitude; Learn to speak kindly; and Show your love in kind deeds.  There is also an appendix to the book which has the title:  How kind are you?  In it the author asks a series of questions of the reader, asking you to rate yourself in kindness.  I think perhaps some people should use that section as a prelude to Confession.
I found this book a very worthwhile read, perhaps even a book to be read by the family together.  I did underline a number of points in the book, but unlike most of my underlines in books, there were not sections or paragraphs underlined --- good explanations I wanted to remember --- but rather I have underlined a number of sentences.  Lovasik keeps it simple.  Here are some:
·         Kindness springs from the soul of a man; it makes life more endurable.
·         The selfish man knows no rest … compelled to strive for more … lives in anxiety.
·         The ability to find fault is believed by some people to be a sure sign of wisdom, but nothing requires so little intelligence. … Borrow your neighbor’s glasses sometime.  See yourself as others see you.
·         If you feel aversion to a person … it is the most dangerous time to form a proper opinion of him.
·         Love does not insist on its own way.  (Cf 1Cor 13:5)
·         You probably have the tendency to express impatience over the small faults of those around you. … Irritability is immaturity of character.
·         Instead of condemning people, try to understand them.  … be understanding and forgiving.  Since God does not propose to judge man until the end of his days, why should you?
·         If you must find fault, begin with praise.
·         It is not he who possesses much who is rich, but he who gives away much.
·         The reward for love is an eternity in which to live, to love, and to rejoice in love’s activities.  Love never ends.  (1Cor 13:8)
Life is short, and we must all give an account of on the Day of Judgment.  I am in earnest about using the time allotted to me by God on this earth to the best advantage in carrying out the ideal of my life – to make God more known and loved through my writings.  --- Lawrence G. Lovasik (1913-1986)

Monday, November 10, 2014

Should I Move?

I’ve meditated on the Parable of the Prodigal Son many times, and I’ve written about my insights from this one parable here a number of times.  I thought I had seen things presented there from just about all angles.  I was wrong.
Lk 15: 11-32
In my class this week, we were asked to meditate on Scripture, but with a focus on sin, the sin shown in the Bible and our own sin.  The first few days of readings and meditations were about the big sins:  the fallen angels, Adam and Eve, and the big sins in the world.  I admit that little came to me personally, and I didn’t feel any presence of God in my musings.  Then I read the passage from Luke, the passage I read dozens of times, and I was given a new insight.
The Prodigal Son takes property from his father, a future inheritance, now, and treats it as if it were totally his --- but the reality was that the property was his father’s to use until such time as he gifted it to the son.  But the son wanted it now.  I saw that the son was justified in receiving what he needs from his father, which the father would willingly give, but the rest is, if anything, a gift in the son’s care to be used in serving the father’s will.  But that’s not how he treated it. 
I recalled how I took the gift of life and talent nurtured in me by my father and selfishly used them as if they were solely mine.  I never really concerned myself much in what the needs of his life were, as the years past.
The Prodigal Son took the blessings given him by his father and moved to a faraway place.  He lived his life totally separate from his father, who loved him so much.  There are no words about what the father felt when his son went away.  He just let him go.  So did my dad.  I recalled how I had moved away to a far away city after college, “to begin to live my life,” as if it were mine alone to nurture from then on.  Some would say that this was a “cutting the apron strings,” and a good thing.  “We are meant to leave the nest and fly away.”  But thinking on this Parable, I recalled my youth, where all my aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins all lived in the same town, mere blocks away from each other.  And I recalled all the family gatherings, and I recalled the time I went to my aunt’s house and cried to her, when things weren’t going so well at home.  And my family, all of them, were there for me.
But I moved away; I lived alone in a distant city and now my grandparents, parents, sister and brother have died, and I know where few of my cousins even live; most moved away as I did.  The Parable of the Prodigal Son showed me a lesson this day --- family is MOST important in our lives.  We need family to be part of our lives; family continues to nurture us as we live our adult lives, until they age and reach a point where we begin to nurture them.  That is what families do.  That is what families are meant to do.  That is how we are meant to live, in social structures of love. 
(I know there are some who would say: “well, I can’t stand my father, or my mother, or siblings.  I moved to get away from them.”  To these I’d just remind about the command to love.  Perhaps your family didn’t love you, but that does not negate your obligation to love them.  Perhaps they don’t want your love, but living near them they can see your love, they can see your example, they can be nurtured by you without their trying, or your trying.  But you certainly can’t love your neighbor if you never see him, and he never sees you.)
The Prodigal Son squandered all his property on himself and his pleasures.  I focused my talents and gifts on myself, my career, and obtaining things I wanted --- or perhaps thought I should have, a kind of just payment for my labors.  I worked for what I wanted, a good thing, but once I received money for my labor, I thought it was all mine, earned solely by me.  I forgot about the gifts and talents nurtured in my by my father.  They were his investments in me, but I took his investment and all I earned from it, and looking back, yes, I squandered it on myself and what I thought important.  Oh, I was in contact and visited my parents occasionally, but they truly weren’t part of my life, not like family.  They didn’t see up close the fruits of their labors.
After his assets were gone, the Prodigal Son’s talents were used by another to feed his swine.  He had nothing.  There were people around me who valued my assets and talents, and they readily took them for their use, not caring about me.  The friends I chose were a lot like me; they cared about themselves.  Our ties were not so much love of others, as that we loved to give the same things to ourselves.  Jobs, hobbies, houses, cars, they liked the things we liked, and so somehow we thought that meant we liked one another. 
We didn’t know the meaning of love.
No one gave the Prodigal Son anything.  At a certain point in my life, I felt alone among my “friends.”
But then the Prodigal Son remembered his father, and went home.  I remembered my heavenly Father (or in truth, He called to me).  I came home to Him and confessed my sins, and he forgave me.  We’re going on together now, as family.  But in this, our discussion on the Prodigal Son, He showed me something:  I had also sinned against my earthly father, in all the examples shown above, and I never confessed my sins to him, nor sought earthly penance.  By moving away and not keeping him as part of my family, I did not honor him, as the commandment said:  Honor thy father and thy mother, that you might have eternal life.
And I thought:  do I deserve eternal life?
I don’t think children are meant to move away from parents, to not be part of their life.  It is to not honor them, disobeying the 4th Commandment, so great a sin that our eternal life is placed in balance.  It is a breaking up of family to move far away, as big as if you separated yourself from the Church, yet we take it as such a little thing.  There is a saying:  “You can always go home.”  Unsaid is why:  Because the father is waiting there to love you.
It is something He deserves; it is something we need --- to gain eternal life.
The Church is our spiritual family, but it is also our earthly family.  If we ARE far away from our parents and siblings, it may not be possible to move close with any ease.  We can use the social media to get closer, and we should.  We can get closer to our Church family, and we should.  I am investigating joining a 3rd Order Franciscan family; it seems the right thing to do.  I need family.
So do you.