Monday, January 16, 2017

Why Should I Believe in Jesus?

There is a large bridge soon to be built in a nearby city.  I don’t know if I will ever drive over it.  What if it should fall?  I’ve read about bridges that have collapsed suddenly, and many died.
I’ve heard lots lately about fake news; it’s everywhere.  Should I cancel my paper subscriptions?  How can I trust what I read is true?
IF: I one day slipped and fell off a mountain and were hanging by my fingertips above a bottomless pit, and a man reached down and said: “Give me your hand,” should I let go and trust him?  And if I remember that this very same man stood by, right next to me, when I slipped, and he did nothing to stop my fall --- would ANY sane person trust him?  It may be that he WISHED my fall; why should I believe he would now help me?
Why indeed?
I’m thinking about stopping this blog.  It seems God is becoming all consuming in my life.  I think about Him a lot.  And He seems to speak to me, in ways that, well, in ways that friends do.  I seem to understand His desires for me more, and my expectations of Him have gone beyond prayers as mere wishes.  And who would believe such things are happening to me, and why would I want to convince them?  At my spiritual director’s behest I maintain a separate journal of God’s interventions in my life and in my thoughts.  Blessed John of Avila wrote:  “Withdraw your heart from the world before God takes your body from it.”  I turn 70 this week.  Where should my priorities be?  Why should I worry about what others believe, or even write what I do?
What to believe?  What to do?  I read a meditation in Divine Intimacy last night.  In discussing the parable about the vine and the branches I read:  “Oh!  Grant that my soul may become always more closely united to You, and may always be ready to receive the vital sap of grace which You produce in me, Your branch!”
YOUR branch!
Those two words struck me.  Your branch!  The Vine and the branch are connected, and from the vine flows the Food of Life.  I think that when I was young, I didn’t have the maturity to understand God.  I believed in Him as a fact, like I believed in the sturdiness of a bridge.  Someone I trusted (mom and dad) told me it was so, and I believed in them and what they said --- not in God and not the bridge themselves, I believed in my parents.  They loved me.  And looking back, I wasn’t sure I knew God any more than I did that bridge, or that He loved me more than it.  I didn’t trust Him.  And there came a day when I DID fall suddenly, and I recalled that He HAD seen the cliff and my fall coming --- He is God --- and yet He did nothing.  But --- as I was taught --- He would reach out His hand to save me, and I looked for it then.  And I didn’t see it.
I thought a lot about God after that point.  Were the things my parents taught me wrong?  They were wrong about some other things, facts I eventually learned were untrue.  They, with their sixth grade education, didn’t know some things that I, with my college degrees, did.  I didn’t hold that against them, but God?  Were they wrong in what they taught me there, too?

For God’s own reasons He eventually did reach out to me --- not when I planned, nor in the way I called Him to.  I was compelled beyond all my wise logic to travel half way around the world to a Marian apparition site --- if my friends had known I was doing that they’d thought me nuts (and maybe I thought the same thing).  But there, in His way, God showed me that He DOES exist, really!  And Jesus lived, and died, and loved --- me!  And still does!  And I KNEW and I believed, and I began to earnestly speak to Him.  And, over time, we became friends.  And I learned to trust Him, always.
Why should I believe in Jesus, you may ask (as I did)?  Perhaps a better question is:  Why won’t you?  Someone taught you things which at some point you came to not understand, or believe.  So what?  So did I.  Is your belief too personal of a thing to talk about:  “I must believe; I must understand these things myself; You can’t convince me?”  Are you one of those people who believe that you (or someone else) might believe they are a man today, and then believe they are a woman tomorrow?  Would you believe such things that you can SEE aren’t true, yet DEMAND to see things you can feel are true --- yet can’t be seen?  Belief is based on facts and reason --- the Catholic Church teaches that, you know.  It doesn’t teach things which aren’t factual and reasonable --- and yet may not be totally understandable.  Like why Jesus saved me by a miracle, but perhaps not someone else.  Like why He answered my prayer, only not when and how I asked.  Why would you think it unreasonable that God, a living being, wouldn’t do things differently than you, as all other living beings do?  No ones the same.  And why wouldn’t you reasonably think He could do it better, since He is so much wiser than you?  Are you still that little kid at heart, who doesn’t know if they can trust mommy and daddy?
Why should you believe in Jesus?  Look at the facts; take time to study them and reason out events and people.  And talk to Him.  Don’t just think “I have to understand.”  TRY to understand!  And He is a person; talk to Him like one.  That was a failing of MY youth.  I didn’t do that.  No one taught me that, if you want to know someone, really know them, you have to talk to them.
One of the greatest prayers ever written was:  “Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief.”
“With age comes wisdom” is a sociological, biological, and scientific fact; it happens naturally without you doing anything.  But you can work at knowing Jesus better, and then you WILL know Him better, even in your youth.  And when you fall and can’t see a way back up, he will reach out His hand and you will have confidence in taking it.  He did to me.
And you can come to know He’s there now and always.  Why should I believe in Jesus?  Why should you believe in anyone, ---- Who loved you so much that He DIED for you?  Won’t you even try to know Someone who loved you that much?  The facts and reason say He did; He does.
A picture with its prayer hangs on my kitchen wall.  It is the food of my life:  “My Jesus I trust in You.”

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

All Praise, Honor, Glory, --- and Power

I awoke last night with a start to the ringing of the cell phone.  I quickly rose from the couch where I was napping and answered: “Hello?”  The voice there said: “Is this Tom?” as I glanced at the flashing “5:00” on the oven clock.  “Oh shoot!  The power went out,” I exclaimed.  The man on the phone said:  “I thought so; my cousin said his went out also.  Get here when you can.”  The man was calling from the adoration chapel, where I was already 15 minutes late.
While I arrived, considerably late because of the power outage at my house, my relief person was on time, and so I cut short my evening of prayers and went home, asking for God’s protection on my travels and a safe night.  But as I neared home I saw that the streetlights were out in my subdivision.  I pulled into my driveway, and saw that my house lights were dark.  And not surprisingly, the garage door opener didn’t work.  I left the car in the drive, unlocked the front door and felt my way into the kitchen, and the shelf where I kept the flashlight.  All was quiet in the house, except for the ticking of the old Regulator clock above the fireplace.  I lit two candles, and poured myself a nightcap.  I suddenly wasn’t sleepy.
I set my cell phone alarm for 5:45A, and four hours sleep before I’d wake for morning mass.  I’d be on time for that!  And then, by candlelight, I read some of the meditations in Thomas a’Kempis’ book, My Imitation of Christ, which had lain on the coffee table.
Holding the small book near the candle, the light was bright enough to easily see the words.  It’s funny, but the words seemed more “serious” when read by candlelight.  And the words I read there were about my need for humility, and to trust in the power of God.
I lay under the covers on the couch, and shivered a bit.  I looked at the candle’s steady flame; and I saw the shadows it cast around the room.  It suddenly dawned on me:  earlier in the evening the garage door opener had worked so I could get my car out to go to church.  The power outage, which had killed the oven’s timer alarm, ended so I could go to church, but power went out again before I got back.  On the return from church I could no longer open the garage door.  The God of Power:  He had given me power to visit Him.
And as I read, I saw the words which explained how much He longed for my company.  All praise, honor, glory --- and power --- be to Him!
- - - - - - - - - -
I woke again in the dark; glancing at the time on the cell phone, it was about 4:45A.  It was getting noticeably colder in the house.  “Lord, let there be light,” --- the words came into my mind.  And then I heard the refrigerator come to life, as the lights flickered on.  And I closed my eyes and went back to sleep.
Later, in the church, Psalm 18 was among the morning’s readings, and I read:
You, O Lord, are my lamp,
my God who lightens my darkness.
No one can ever say to me that God doesn’t answer prayers.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Why Does God Punish Me?

At times we all ponder the sorrows of this life, whether our own or that of beloved friends or relatives, and not only do we want to do something about the sadness, we want it to end!  Often we turn to prayer, and often it is not answered --- as we want.  And sometimes we question God’s role in the pain and sorrows:  Why do You, a loving God, permit this?  Why?
This morning I was reading a rather small book, a Christmas gift from a friend:  Letters of Blessed John of Avila, not an exceptionally well-known man (and yet a confidante of St. Theresa of Avila).  I read one of his letters to a widow, as he consoled her on the death of her husband, and his various letters to ill people, explaining how their sufferings are actually a higher calling of God --- a blessing!
He will have none but those who take up their cross
and follow Him, as sheep do their shepherd,
even though the path leads to death.
Those words struck me.  We all recall the parable of the Good Shepherd, and if we picture it in our mind, we see the Lord cuddling the small lamb in His arms, and we feel all warm and comfy at the thoughts.  We don’t often consider, however, as Blessed John of Avila wrote, that the shepherd’s path leads to death --- and this is a good thing!  He IS The Good Shepherd precisely because He not only leads us to death, but through death to eternal life.  It’s hard for us to ponder death and the life after, but we will all die, even as Jesus did, our Good Shepherd did. 
These are quotes from his letter to the widow:
It would be monstrous for slaves to refuse to obey a
law their master kept, or for an adopted son to rebel
against what the true son bore … Yet who was ever
afflicted with so many sufferings as He?  … How
ashamed should we feel at seeking to share His joys,
but leaving Him alone in His agony!  … as the King
of heaven entered His kingdom through tribulations,
we must reach it by the same path.
Oh! Blindness of the sons of Adam, who think nothing
of the future as long as they can enjoy the present;
who care not for what profits them, but only for
what pleases them.
Our Lord has sent you this trial to make you cling closer
to Him, since you have less on earth for which to care. …
He has taken your husband from you, that He Himself
may fill his place.  … Prepare yourself for that passage
from life which you have seen others take before.  Spend
not the time which was given you to gain eternal life
in mourning over death.  It is well to believe that our
Lord took him because he was ready for death, and
that you have been left here that you may prepare
yourself for it.
Blessed John of Avila wrote such consoling yet wise words.  Death is a parting not an ending, and suffering is not a punishment.  We have sorrows over things of this world, but all of us will pass from this world, and we will look back upon those sorrows as just a second in our eternal life.  The question Blessed John raises and strongly urges the suffering to consider is:  “Where will you spend that eternal life, and with whom?”  Your loved ones await you.
Thus, although your life may not be a very happy one,
it will greatly profit your soul.  … Take courage
to go on your way; you have a long road to
traverse before you can reach heaven.   … I pray
and hope that our Lord Jesus Christ may accomplish
all this in your soul.
Blessed John had one further example he wrote of, which I found most heartening:
A holy hermit saw a woman of the world pass by,
magnificently dressed and bejeweled.
He burst into tears, exclaiming:  “I beseech
Thee to pardon me, O Lord, for this woman
in one day takes more trouble to please men,
than I have done in many years to please Thee!
“Why does God punish me?” we sometimes ask.  But He is not punishing us but rather blessing us, taking our focus from the joys we seek in this world, to the joys we should be seeking in the next.  If suffering comes, if death intrudes, these should not be something we dwell on, but rather our eyes should be focused on the Good Shepherd.  He leads us to green pastures, even here sometimes, but certainly in eternity.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

I Remember When ...

I was on the way to the adoration chapel on New Year’s Eve for my usual Saturday night hour when I heard the radio talk show host offer a suggestion that I very much appreciated.
On New Year’s Eve we often gather together to celebrate the New Year, to welcome in “better times”.  And if we talk about the past year at all, it is often to celebrate the end to bad events which troubled our minds.  The radio host noted, however, that every year has its blessings, and those we often forget and forget to give thanks for, so she offered the following suggestion:
Every week (Sunday preferred), gather together as a family and identify one thing you are thankful for in the past week.  Write it down on a piece of paper and put it in a large glass jar.  (Perhaps turns could be taken among the family members to write the details of the thing or event you are thankful for.)  The note could begin:  “I remember when …”.  Each week the blessings note would be put in the jar, and then next New Year’s Eve the family could gather together and take turns reading all the notes, and then say a prayer of thanks for all the year’s blessings on the family.
I liked this idea.
I write down thoughts God gives me here on this blog, and I suppose they are a way of preserving thoughts of His blessings to me.  Today I shall go back and read the posts of this past year, and give thanks.  I think it would be a good start to the New Year.
This past year God has been good to me, for I remember when ….
- - - - - - - - - -
As the old year ended last night and the new one began, I was not without God’s blessings.
On the way to an early-evening New Year’s Eve celebration with friends, I stopped at the 7-11 store and saw the manager there, the one whose father was in the hospital.  R. looked sad as he told me how his father is in pain and discomfort, and is refusing to eat.  “The surgery for his broken hip went well, but I was told that upwards of 60% of the elderly give up living afterwards, successful surgery or not.”  I told R. I would pray for his dad and him when I visited the chapel later that night.
I had only driven a block away, however, when thoughts came to me of my own mom’s battle for life, and I quickly made a U-turn back to the store.  I told R. how my mom had also fallen, but broke NOTHING, yet the pain and discomfort and fear of falling led her also to stop walking and eating.  And so she quickly entered a hospice program, to die.  But tender care by myself and mom’s live-in caregiver, demonstration that she could be moved about easily despite not walking (Hoyer lift), and even spoon feeding, bite by bite, eventually changed mom’s outlook.  She lived another 5 years.  “Even when we feel things are hopeless,” I told R., “they are just our feelings.  There is ALWAYS hope.”   I then gave R. copies of Fr. Benedict Groeschel’s little booklet “You are Not Alone; Prayers in Dark Times.”  He smiled and thanked me sincerely for taking the time to tell him comforting words he needed to hear.
And I continued on to the evening’s party.
Then later that night at the adoration chapel, the midnight hour passed and I praised God quietly for the blessings of this past year.  But He gave me more.  A young man I did not know was in the chapel also reading and praying, when he turned to me and asked: “Would it bother you if I prayed aloud the Te Deum prayer?”  I assented and thought I might join him in reciting the prayer, when he began to beautifully chant the prayer, in Latin.  It has been many, many years since I had heard that prayer said aloud in Latin, and as I recalled some of the words times past it gave me immense comfort.  Prayers were said to Him, but it was truly His gift to me.  And I again gave thanks.
But God was not done with me.  Sunday morning I went to mass on this feast day of Mary, the Mother of God.  Shortly before the mass began a large family filed into the pew, with the father setting down the bassinet containing the youngest child right in front of me.  And as I stood for the opening prayers I looked down and could see the peacefully sleeping child’s face.  Despite the loud music and singing, the child continued quietly sleeping all through the readings and homily.  Nothing had changed when we again stood to recite The Creed.  And then we came to the words “and was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man,” and as I said those words aloud and looked down at that angelic face in front of me, the sleeping child smiled.
I wish you a blessed 2017.