Thursday, July 30, 2009

Render to Caesar ...

He said: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Mk12:17). But what if Caesar was using the money I rendered him to kill Jews? What if Caesar was using my money to slaughter innocent babes, or to condemn the weak elderly to early deaths by denial of needed medical aids? What if Caesar would think himself such a god that he would decree that even priest-doctors must perform abortions, or lose their medical license to help the physically needy? Would Jesus still say “Render to Caesar …”, money for this?

Recently I wrote to my congressmen that “I will not pay taxes to kill the young or old innocents. I WILL NOT PAY!” In a discussion with friends about the government’s proposed medical health bill, I voiced my opinions and was told: “Wow! You’re sure on your high horse today!” It gave me pause.

Somewhere I may have read, perhaps in Scripture, perhaps in the words of saints or people much holier and wiser than I, or perhaps in the words of the great philosophers, somewhere I may have read the answer to my dilemma. I don't remember. “Render to Caesar …” vs “Judge not …” vs “Thou shalt not kill”. I don’t know, and perhaps as long as this is in the news it will trouble me: Lord, what would You have me do?

Meanwhile, I think I’ll read and reflect again on this earlier meditation I wrote. It’s not about what He would have me do, but about trusting in what HE would do. In my arrogance and pride, I so often put HIS thoughts second to mine.

Orig: 11/12/2008

A Meditation: Are Martyrs a Bad Thing?

Last week a black man won the U.S. presidency. My initial feelings were that some innocent human beings, who would continue to die – and perhaps in growing numbers, via abortion -- lost. And I had secondary concerns with the outcome’s impact on the U.S. economy (being in Finance, of course I know THE solution to ALL the country’s problems – and darn, nobody’s asked me that yet).

Upon some reflection and prayer, however, I could see that perhaps my initial concerns were misplaced.

I didn’t care about the color of the skin of the presidential contenders, and to some degree I resented those who appeared to place great emphasis on it. I would have been chastised (and rightly so) if I said I were voting on the basis of color, yet huge numbers of minorities obviously voted that way. I did not call those people stupid, but I did feel they were ignorant (there’s a fine point there – think on it) on the importance of some other issues, including the value of human life.

Upon further reflection, perhaps I was the one who was ignorant.

I’ve known for a long time that there is a cultural issue associated with some minorities which I cannot logically understand. I saw it concretely during the O.J. trial, when black friends and co-workers looked at the same evidence I saw and yet reached radically different conclusions. And I couldn’t call those people stupid or ignorant – I knew some of them were definitely smarter than I was, and so we had to just “agree to disagree”. The same facts could be interpreted differently by each of us, and I could never quite understand why. Aren’t facts the facts? Isn’t truth the truth?

What caused me to change my initial feelings about the outcome of this recent election was the reaction of various black people and other minorities in subsequent days. I was told Oprah came out the next day holding flags, crying, and singing God Bless America. Other prominent blacks and Hispanics said: “I thought I’d never live to see this”, and “I kept my kids up all night to watch the tremendous, wonderful event”.

Huh? That was my initial reaction when I heard of these cries of happiness of these people. “Never thought I’d see this”??? What?? Well…. I did. A black president didn’t surprise me, nor would a Hispanic one, nor a Muslim one. This is America. Once again, I got that eerie feeling that I didn’t understand something here. I lived in this country; I saw the issues of the election race; I listened to the candidates; and I was not surprised by the outcome. So why were these people? Why were these people so surprised, why did they see this as a life-changing event, and why did they vote in such a block and seem oblivious to what I thought were extremely critical issues?

I may have found the answers to my questions in my prayers – both past and present.

During the election I did pray for some concrete things, like an end to abortion, but I always ended my prayers with a recognition of my ignorance of God’s will and power: “I know You can do these things because You said if I have faith, You could move mountains. I have faith, and so I trust that you can do the things I pray for --- although I do not pretend to know how”. So, I prayed for God’s will to be done in this election, and I trust it has. So what of the results which troubled me and the wild enthusiasm by minorities which confused me? Perhaps, just perhaps, they are God’s answer to my prayer.

If – for reasons I can’t understand – blacks and other minorities believed they couldn’t be equal in America, that their children couldn’t get equal jobs, that a majority of white-skinned people had a latent fear or hatred of them, that there was little real hope for their lot to improve in any way – wouldn’t that terribly depressing view of self overwhelm any other logical, reasonable views they may have – perhaps even views of their God? I saw in the Old Testament where many times Jews lamented and despaired of God ever coming to help them, despite all the evidences and promises they had to the contrary. What if U.S. minorities had a similar, lingering, generations-old despair? What would this election mean to them? Might it not mean exactly what I saw in voting patterns and exuberance over the results – neither of which I could quite understand?

Perhaps these results might be, as many minorities exclaimed, an answer to their prayers. Perhaps, truly, it was an answer to mine as well. Perhaps minorities will now come to know that they are exactly like me – and really believe it in their hearts. Perhaps in future elections, they will look beyond the color of a man’s skin (knowing that any man can be elected) and focus on more important issues. Perhaps they will instill in their children a new hope and confident outlook. Perhaps their Christian churches will join with all Christian churches in this country and fight for what is right, fight for the real Truth. Perhaps. There are many things I don’t understand about God, and how He works. But I trust.

And what of the key issue I was concerned with: abortion? I often worry that no one speaks for these little lives and so I must stand up and be counted. Perhaps I forget that God also speaks for them. Perhaps He sees the unity of His churches and people, and the giving of them hope, resulting from this election as a more important, necessary, first step to healing this country, and He accepts the little martyrs as necessary, for now, to advance the real truth, His Truth.

And so is continuing abortion in this country and more little martyrs absolutely such a bad thing? I can’t know that as an absolute truth. And I trust in Him who knows all Truth.

Perhaps everyone should be celebrating the election of Mr. Obama, and God’s answering of all of our prayers. Perhaps.

- - - - - - - - - - - -
Having written and read the above, I continued my morning readings, including the following meditation from Thomas More, written as he awaited his martyrdom: “So unfailingly unreliable is the common herd, always ready at a moment’s notice to take the wrong side.” They who called: “Hosanna in the highest” were so soon to call: “Away with him! Crucify him!”. “But all this was done so that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” (The Sadness of Christ)

And this from Fulton J. Sheen: “Unless there is a cross in our life, there will never be an empty tomb.” (The World’s First Love)

Peace be to you my friends; do not be anxious.

Monday, July 27, 2009


A number of years ago I read a book titled simply: Hell. Among other things, it had a chapter which discussed the Corporal Works of Mercy and the Spiritual Works of Mercy. The Corporal Works were easy to remember. In short: Care for your neighbor in his physical needs. I rated myself ok on those things. The 7 Spiritual Works of Mercy, however, kind of shocked me. I was doing so poorly there in things such as: "Instruct the ignorant; Counsel the doubtful; Bear wrongs patiently; and (Gasp!) Admonish the sinner. Caring for a man's bodily needs seemed so natural, but caring for his spiritual needs -- something far more important in the long run -- I barely considered. But I think I am doing better.

One of the ways I have taken to "admonishing the sinner" is to write letters to the editor of papers and magazines. Easier than confronting someone face-to-face (which I rarely try to do), it gives me some small measure of satisfaction that I am at least trying to care for the souls of others. And now, I guess, I can print those letters here also.

Here is one I mailed to the Wall Street Journal today:

The WSJ headlines a man who believes $100 million is fair pay for his gambling skills. The man, who admires the Nazis, believes we should admire him.

Judges must now recuse themselves from cases involving their heavy donors (hurrah!), but congress wouldn’t think of applying such a limitation to itself, and passes hundreds and hundreds of earmarks “coincidentally” to their donor friends. Airports, schools, and buildings are named after them, for their ability to buy votes with the money they were entrusted with. Elected as “servants of the people”, it’s obvious who they serve, and who they think is important.

Arrogance. Arrogance. Arrogance. If they want their pictures immortalized, it should be next to scriptural text references of “those with stony hearts

Saturday, July 25, 2009


Orig: 09/29/08

How did I ever get to this point in my life where I am writing a blog to explain to you what I feel? I don’t pretend to understand this. Even the words “explain” and “feel” are somewhat foreign to me. Much of my life I’ve TOLD others of what I KNEW. I distained or even belittled others who acted out of feelings and emotion, when I acted out of reason and facts. Even, sadly, those whom I thought I loved the most. If I felt strongly about something it was because I had the facts to back it up, and usually the reason, logic, and force of personality to make others see and understand why I felt so strongly. In my work I was a good business analyst, in my home I was a good provider and ran my household in line with the virtues of the gospel, and in my church I was a leader in explaining the words of God and leading those who have in the care of others who do not. I was very confident I was right in my thoughts and actions. Bending my actions to the ideas of those who spoke from “feelings” was very difficult.

In all my righteousness I was wrong.

This blog should resonate with people like me. I’ve read thousands of books in my life, am current on a range of topics from philosophy to physics, from faith to the foundations of this country. I’ve fought for what I know to be the truth. I am a defender of liberty, the American way, the Gospel, and all the little people. I use all the knowledge I have gained in my life to make this world a better place. I care about others. I am a good American, good family man, good Catholic.

And I am wrong.

Perhaps long ago I should have seen the illogic of a key point in my thinking. I said I care about others -- and I lived my life that way. But caring is an emotion, that thing I don’t put much stock in. All the knowledge I gained in my life, if anything, should logically have led me to care about myself first. I should have used it to gain money, power, and honor, and used these things care about others. That makes sense to me; having resources I can better care for others. That’s how some people with my ability have lived their life, perhaps that’s how you’ve spent your life. Or perhaps you have just amassed the money and power for yourself. Maybe that’s why I am writing this blog and you are not; we are so much alike, perhaps, except for a little difference in our life’s focus. But logically, I cannot see why I did not turn out like you. Don’t take this wrong, but despite all your money, power or honor, I am happy I am who I am. Somehow, God used all the knowledge I obtained during my life and touched it with his grace, and I saw that despite all my knowledge, I didn’t know the Truth of things. With Wisdom there is Truth. I have much knowledge, and will continue to accumulate it all my life, but Wisdom is a gift. And with Wisdom comes peace. And it came as a grace, a gift. Perhaps there’s the error of my reasoning, grace is not reasonable. Grace is like a “feeling”, the feelings I argued against as illogical.

God has given me peace. I can’t logically explain it to you. It’s like quietly seeing the early morning sun rise over the river, and hearing the birds chirping softly in the trees. It’s like hearing the most beautiful symphony softly playing, and the fire in the fireplace. It’s like being held in the arms of my mother when I was small and so unsure of things. It’s like holding my dying sister’s hand and her smiling at me and saying “I’m ready”, and both of us happy for each other. It’s like words can’t explain. And despite all the many wonderful things that have happened to me in my life, or even all the wonderful things that could have happened, I wouldn’t trade any of them for the peace I feel right now. And I want you to feel that peace too. It’s a reason for my writing

Do you spend much of your life arguing about things? Explaining what you know or believe to others who just can’t seem to get it? Have you ever said or thought these words in defense of yourself to another: “You don’t KNOW me?” Do you worry that you’re not being understood – by your boss, the politician across the aisle from you, or the person on the other side of your bed? Do you feel frustrated? One of the greatest difficulties we have in our life is being understood by another – our children, our spouse, our co-workers, our priest, and perhaps even for some of us, our God.

I’ve felt alone in me, the real me, many times in my life. In the quiet of my room reflecting on my life, it’s sometimes a sad place to be. It opens the door to many memories of things I wish I could have done better, words I should have spoken, what might have been. When I think on God, I wonder what he thinks of me. Have I been a failure? Are these thoughts just useless musings of the failures of life we all have – no one is perfect, least of all me. But God knows I am trying! I know he reads my heart and hears me. If I am taking the graces he has given me and using them the best I can, isn’t that enough?

I think it is.

As I look at the words at the top of this page, “Do Not Be Anxious”, I realize it is a good title for these words. How to look at the past, how to look at the future. With Peace.

Peace be to you, my friends.

It Was A Cold Night

Orig: 04/15/08

I awoke with a start early Sunday morning. A seizure was tickling its start in my throat; it’d been many months since my epilepsy had shown its ugly head. With a calm and fervent prayer, the seizure passed, but I feared it would return. Now fully awake, I noticed my nose was cold. I went downstairs and checked the temperature – 65, although the furnace was set for 70. Uh-oh. Walking to the basement, I surveyed the back of the furnace. Yup. Bunch of wires and stuff still in there, although what they were meant for was beyond me. But it was quiet, and that didn’t seem good. Going back to the thermostat, I turned the furnace off, then on. Nothing. As I watched, the temperature readout dropped to 64. With only 2 hours to go before waking for mass, and then to mom’s to be with and care for her all day and evening, it made no sense to call a repairman. I’d call on Monday morning. I hunkered back down under the covers, awake, waiting for the alarm to go off. Then the words came: “The flame has gone out between us”.

It was the prior Thursday when I fell from grace. There were lots of reasons to commit the sin, lots of reasons why it REALLY wasn’t that bad of a sin, even the concluding rationale that it wouldn’t prevent me from communion at Sunday mass. Committed to mom’s care every evening and every weekend, I couldn’t make any regularly scheduled confession hours – yet another reason it made rational sense that I would/could go to communion on Sunday. It wasn’t that big of a deal. Besides, a non-Catholic friend was to attend mass with me on Sunday. And what questions might she ask if I didn’t receive communion?? I didn’t want to contemplate that. As Friday and Saturday passed, along with my midnight adoration hours on Saturday, my conviction became stronger, my concerns and memory of the sin less. I barely mentioned it in 2 hours of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, but it would be only a few hours later that I heard the words. “The flame has gone out”. I knew exactly what these words meant. All my rationalizations aside, God reminded me of my sin. I felt colder. Sleep did not come again.

Getting up and driving to mass, I remembered the words and I was thinking of possible responses to any questions from my friend. I had a newfound conviction not to receive communion because of my sin, but the conviction was nervous and unsteady despite the words I had heard. When everyone else stood and moved towards the altar, and my friend looked at me, could I not go up?

Arriving at the church early, I read my Morning Prayers, which included these words:
I was hard-pressed and was falling
But the Lord came to help me.
The Lord is my strength and my song;
He is my savior

Still alone and with time, I flipped to the back of my Liturgy of the Hours to the Poetry section and read more:

Hear me, O God!
A broken heart is my best part:
Use still thy rod
That I may prove
Therein, thy love.

If thou hadst not
Been stern to me
But left me free,
I had forgot
Myself and thee

For sin’s so sweet,
As minds ill bent
Rarely repent,
Until they meet
Their punishment.

And: Love
Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lacked anything.
‘A guest,’ I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here’
Love said, ‘You shall be he.’
‘I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear
I cannot look on Thee.’
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
‘Who made the eyes but I?’
‘Truth Lord, but I have marr’d them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve
‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘who bore the blame?’
‘My dear, then I will serve.’
‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste My meat.’
So I did sit and eat.

And: O Deus Ego Amo Te
O God, I love thee, I love thee—
Not out of hope of heaven for me
Nor fearing not to love and be
In the everlasting burning.
Thou, thou, my Jesus, after me
Didst reach thine arms out dying,
For my sake sufferedst nails and lance,
Mocked and marred countenance,
Sorrows passing number,
Sweat and care and cumber,
Yea and death, and this for me,
And thou couldst see me sinning:
Then I, why should not I love thee,
Jesu, so much in love with me?
Not for heaven’s sake; not to be
Out of hell by loving thee;
Not for any gains I see;
But just the way that thou didst me
I do love and I will love thee;
What must I love thee, Lord, for then?
For being my king and God. Amen.

The gospel at mass re-enforced the importance of the words which still swam in my head and in my heart. The Good Shepherd called for me to “listen for His voice”. I found strength in my weakness from all these words that I had heard. When the time came, I didn’t go up to receive communion. Yet God and I were very close at that moment, though physically apart. My friend? She was running late that morning, and I met her later. I explained nothing.

I spent the rest of Sunday at mom’s house. On Monday morning, the temperature in my house was down to 54 when I called the repairman. He would not be out until the afternoon. I concluded my morning prayers and meditations, read the paper, and paid some bills. I was sitting at the kitchen table lightly considering what to do with the hours until the repairman showed up – when the heat suddenly came flowing out of the floor ducts. And some of the thoughts and words that had flashed unfocused in my head on Sunday came into clarity: drop by the local church and seek confession. That is something you must do now.

When I stuck my head into his office, the local parish priest was sorting a pile of papers. To my question he responded that “Of course I have time. Your confession will be a blessing for me also. It is always a blessing I am thankful for, to get away from filing.” So I confessed my sins and was absolved. And as I returned home and pulled into the garage, the words of an Andrew Lloyd Webber song played: “Any where you go, let me go too. Love me, that’s all I ask of you.

Amen. I am thankful for the words he speaks to me, and that he helps me to hear them.

When I arrived back home and checked the thermostat, the temperature had moved up to 64 degrees. Things seemed right again with the furnace. I called back the repairman and cancelled the repair order.

“The flame was back on.”

Friday, July 24, 2009

The "Sow-ee"

I thought I was content in my knowledge and feelings about the parable of the Sower – I want to be a servant of God and sow whatever he gives me, to those whose paths I cross. I want to be his presence at my job, in my family, among my friends. You do too; we want to be “good” persons. The only difficulty which sometimes troubles me is that I sometimes perceive a lack of results. You know how it is, sometimes you want to say to God: “I do all this work, and what difference does it make?” Often the job is a pain, the family is a pain, or I want my friends to go away. But then, then… you receive that consolation; you know, kind of like hitting that good golf shot: it makes all the bad ones ok, and you want to continue playing. The good performance review (he really thinks that about me?), the “I love you so much” from your spouse or kids, or the “I really value your friendship; you understand”. And even from the stranger, the smile or the thank you. And it makes all our efforts so much easier, to continue to be that “good” person.

I was talking to Jesus after communion a few days ago, and I was asking him to help me do his will – to grab my hand and pull me along, if necessary. I want to go with him. Then I perceived a picture of his holding my hand, and what I wanted to see was him pulling me up and along with him, but what I actually saw was him putting seeds into my hand. And then I knew. I knew.

My mind flipped to some of the words I wrote above, about me wanting to sow, about me saying “I do all this work”, about me looking for feedback on MY work. And I saw the seeds in my hand, the ones he had placed there. And I knew: I was not the sower, I was but an instrument in the planting of the seed. I thought some about this insight, and then the cares of that day swept the thoughts away.

Until this morning’s gospel: The Sower and the Seed. Looking up, I smiled and said OK, perhaps I should think on this some more. And I did. Perhaps a better analogy than me being a sower, is me being an ox. The ox is a dumb animal which is used to plow the fields, making the soil ready for the seed. Besides his labor, the ox’s manure is used to make the fields fertile, anxious to receive the seed and make it grow. Hmmmm. Perhaps these words I write are just manure, the waste of my efforts which God, with the seed HE sows, can turn into fields of grain, ripe for the harvest. Perhaps I may be the ox which pulls a cart which he has filled with seed, but I am certainly not the Sower. Perhaps Sow-ee is a more appropriate word, because at best I am the receiver of his efforts, which I in my stupidity try to help along. Among our jobs, our families, our friends, we are just plow oxen of the Lord, and so there is no need to get our pride up about how good a job we are doing. Just plod ahead doing the best we can, and trust the Sower to make the results happen. And if we happen to drop a little manure along the way, that’s ok: He can make all things good.

And so you readers, those of you who would offer some vulgar comment to describe my words or their value: There! See! I agree!

Asking And Giving -- II

OK, I stand corrected, or perhaps improved is a better way of putting it. In my musing about Asking and Giving, it was pointed out to me that the solution discussed failed to mention a key point: Prayer. Or as it was put to me: in these difficult times, what we need to be doing is filling in the GAP, with considerations of our Giving, Asking, and Praying. Well put, my friend.

That reminds me of this excerpt from Fr Cantalamessa’s meditation which touches on the value of other people. Often we think we are the experts on a matter, or that the Holy Spirit only speaks to us, and we too easily dismiss others’ opinions. There is Wisdom to be obtained from every person. While we value our own opinions highly, we are replaceable, and in fact will be replaced some day.

Orig: 12/12/07: Remember Jesus Christ

Chapter 6: Obedient unto Death
Why does God want to be obeyed by us so much? Certainly not because he likes to give orders and have subjects! It is important because in obeying we do the will of God; we want the same things that God wants, and thus we fulfill our original ocation to be “in his image and likeness.” Dante Alighieri summarized all this in the verse: “in His will is our peace.”

One difficult case of obedience to circumstances is the one that comes to all of us because of age, namely, retirement from activity, the termination of a position, the need to hand over matters to others, perhaps leaving some projects unfinished and some initiatives still in process. Someone has jokingly said that the office of a superior is a cross, but that sometimes the most difficult thing to accept is not being raised up onto that cross but coming down from it, being deposed from the cross!

I am certainly not making fun of others in such a sensitive situation, since no one knows how he or she will react until it happens. This is one kind of obedience that brings us closer to that of Christ in his passion. Jesus suspended his teaching, stopped all activity, and did not let himself think of what would happen to his apostles. He was not anxious about what would happen to his words that were entrusted only to the poor memory of some fishermen. He did not let himself think of his mother, whom he was leaving alone, either. There was no complaint, no attempt to change the Father’s decision: “I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go hence” (John 14:31).

Responding to the Challenges of Faith in Our Time By Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Asking and Giving

People ask God for many things: faith, wisdom, health, and, perhaps in this economy, jobs. And people also ask the government for many things: money, medical care, protection of the environment, and yes, jobs. And, presently there are debates in Washington about what the government WILL be providing – whether asked for or not.

Who to ask, what to ask for, and who should provide what, and when: at first glance, these seem like simple concepts, but they are not so simple, and you need more consideration than just a glance at them. So let’s consider some things, and perhaps decide NOT what God or Washington can do, but what WE can do.

What would you think of a billionaire who asked for money so he could buy a new plane? What would you think of a neighbor who asked you to mow his lawn – while he sat on the porch drinking beer? In considering the one asking for help, certainly we believe that his request must be something for which he has some reasonable level of “need”, and also a certain inability to provide it for himself. Insofar as we look to God for an example, we read his response in Isaiah: “He will satisfy your NEEDS” (IS58:11). If a man is poor and asks for money we may judge him as worthy of our help, as would be the man with broken legs who asks us for help with his lawn. The Catholic Church agrees with this concept of a worthy asking. But recognizing that people may always want/ask for more, it defines the asking/giving relationship in terms of what is proper for the responder to give, whether a neighbor, a government, or even God. It teaches the principle of subsidiarity: “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co-ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.” (CCC 1883). Putting it simply and personally, things should be done at the lowest level possible, federal to state, government to community to individual: it is your function and duty to do it yourself if you can. Further, for individuals your first source of help should be your neighbor (whether you pay him for his help, or not), then seek the help of God or government. The Catholic Church does not agree that we should be asking God or government to give us EVERYTHING, nor that they should choose to provide us everything.

OK, I can see my responsibilities in this principle as an asker, but what of my responsibilities as a neighbor who might give help? In particular, what if my neighbor seems to need help, but he’s not asking ME. The principle of subsidiarity seems to say I shouldn’t “interfere”. How do I offer help – in a loving way, to “love my neighbor as myself”?

Wake up!! Did the definition of subsidiarity put you to sleep? Have you forgotten everything Christ showed us on love of neighbor? How do I offer help?? What would Jesus be saying to do now, today, if He were a member of our parish, or our church community? The obvious: To pray and give money?? Perhaps, but certainly more. This is the time to live out his parables, to be what He created and formed us to be. This is not a time of despair, but of opportunity to live out our faith life. If our neighbor needed a job, Jesus would expect us to hire him – even if for only some part-time work we could have done – not charity, but the dignity of working for his money. He would expect us to use this economic crisis as a time to give example to our children on how to love their neighbors, especially those that can’t work, creating our own living parables for them. He would view this time as an opportunity for us to step up and act as a leader, to be an imitator of Christ: to re-read his parables about the role of a father, and to live them out in our families and our communities. When there are so many people in our country asking for and needing help, there is really only one thing we as loving neighbors should be asking:

“Lord, what would you have me do?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Faith – I (Logically) Choose to Believe

A reading this morning was from St. Ambrose, an early bishop of the church. He explained what Catholics believe on faith, starting with an example of what the Jews believe on faith. He taught that it is reasonable to believe a matter on faith, if we have confidence in the one who tells us.

"If the words of Elijah had power even to bring down fire from heaven, will
not the words of Christ have power to change the natures of the elements? You
have read that in the creation of the whole world he spoke and they came to
be; he commanded and they were created.
If Christ could by speaking
create out of nothing what did not yet exist, can we say that his words are
unable to change existing things into something they previously were not?...
This is then in truth the sacrament of his flesh. The Lord Jesus himself
declares: This is my body."

The readings of today (from the Liturgy of the Hours) were constructed as a total teaching: the Old Testament reading about Elijah, the words of St. Ambrose, and the prayer for wisdom from the book of Wisdom. Together, they showed a basic foundation for faith (the Old Testament), a new building block of faith (Jesus Christ), and the words of Jesus – a new matter for faith. The words of Wisdom explained why it is reasonable to put faith in the words of Jesus – because of the foundation exists for our belief in him, so why wouldn’t we believe his words – including the difficult to believe ones: “This is my body”. Even among many Catholics today, these are hard words to believe; perhaps because they don’t have a fundamental belief in the words of Jesus, or the Old Testament.

I guess in modern times, for those without the foundational belief of the Jews in the Old Testament, a new foundation for the very concept of belief in God is necessary. For many people it is difficult to believe in anything they can’t see or have scientifically explained to them. Like Thomas, they have to see and touch before they can believe. (An aside: I just looked up at the birds in the feeder on the window. The seed is almost all gone, and there are 4 birds in the feeder pecking at the remains at the bottom, and 2 birds sitting on top. One looked into the house and seemed to stare at me: “Well, when will you give us more seed?” But of course that’s silly. A bird would have no reason to stare at me, nor expect that I can provide him more seed – but something in his nature KNOWS that the seed comes from somewhere, and it can pretty reliably be counted to be there in that feeder, so much so that he appears confused when it is not. Hmmm.)

My physics degree gives me an understanding about the many theories underlying the relationship of matter to matter – how the universe works, the big and the tiny. But the science of things falls apart when you talk about a place with no matter. Physics breaks down when it tries to explain something happening where there is no matter because physics always talks about SOME THING. Metaphysics explains things beyond matter. For some people, like Thomas, that JUST CAN’T BE. I think, however, if Thomas were true to himself he would admit that there are some things that “seem” like they should be possible, even if he can’t see or touch them. Thomas saw the miracles of Jesus and heard his great Wisdom. The physicist sees the workings of nature and can “hear” that something may, likely may, lie beyond. The limitation of their belief IS a belief: that man is the highest being possible, and if he can’t “see” or “touch” something, it JUST CAN’T BE.

I wonder what the bird looking in at me “thinks” about that?

As for me, I can accept that there are things that I don’t know, and that NO man knows. The concept of God is within me, and I can believe in him even if I don’t understand all the reasons why. In my very being, it “seems” right. The building blocks of my religion start with that faith in something I can’t see or understand, but can perceive in my being. From there the written history of God’s revelation and interactions with man, with matter, passes my test of reason, and I can believe it on faith even as I can believe anything else in history.

God of my fathers, Lord of mercy,
you who have made all things by your word
to rule the creatures produced by you,
to govern the world in holiness and justice,
and to render judgment in integrity of heart:
Give me Wisdom, the attendant at your throne,
and reject me not from among your children;
for I am your servant, the son of your handmaid,
a man weak and short-lived
and lacking in comprehension of judgment and of laws.
Indeed, though one be perfect among the sons of men,
if Wisdom, who comes from you, be not with him,
he shall be held in no esteem.
Now with you is Wisdom, who knows your works
and was present when you made the world;
who understands what is pleasing in your eyes
and what is conformable with your commands.
Send her forth from your holy heavens
and from your glorious throne dispatch her
that she may be with me and work with me,
that I may know what is your pleasure.
For she knows and understands all things,
and will guide me discreetly in my affairs
and safeguard me by her glory
Wisdom 9:1-6, 9-11

The Little House on the Prairie

Mom likes watching animals and little kids on television. Last week we began watching some re-runs of The Little House On The Prairie. We watched an episode where a neighbor woman, whose husband died, works the farm and cares for her 3 kids. Then she visits a doctor and finds out she is dying. She comes home that night and tells her children: “Soon I am going to be in heaven with your father.” Her oldest boy cries: “Oh God. How could this be happening?” The mother chastises him: “Don’t you take the name of God in vain. And you stop crying right now. I am going to a wonderful place; if you are crying it is not for me, it is for yourself. And I thought I taught you better than to be selfish.” The boy apologizes, and everyone hugs.

At the church next Sunday, the mother asks for a family to volunteer to take in her children, when the time comes. After church, the mother invites the neighbor Ingalls family on a picnic: “It’s a nice day.” During the picnic, the kids are playing and the mother gets up to join them, but Mrs Ingalls asks if she is well enough. She responds: “I want my children to remember me laughing; I’ve got to show them the right example.” And all the adults join in on the games.

Meanwhile, young Laura Ingalls sits alone next to a tree. Her dad comes over and asks what’s wrong. She responds: “Look at her, dad. She’s dying, and she’s playing like it’s not important.” Her dad says: “Yes, she’s dying and will be going to heaven. You know that, and that is not a bad thing.” Laura then asks: “How old is she?” “About 35.” “You and mom are in your thirty’s. What would happen to us if you died?” And then dad replies: “Laura, you can spend your whole life worrying about things you cannot change. And before you know it, your life comes to an end, and you have never lived it. Look at them playing there. That’s what life is about: Laughing and loving and knowing they’re not really gone when they die.”

After we watched that show, I flipped the channel to the news, and immediately saw the images of the 5 teens killed at the train crossing. I wondered if any of their families had watched that Little House On The Prairie episode. I hope so, but probably not. I hope that someone, somewhere, gave them that message about what life is about. And I hope it gives them peace.

We’ve watched a few more episodes of the series since that day last week. Each one had a wonderful moral message, one which could be understood by watching children and adults alike. They were each an excellent teaching moment, an opportunity for parents to talk about and children to see and learn some of the very serious, very important moral lessons of life.

I don’t remember watching much of The Little House On The Prairie series when it first aired. Maybe I was busy with school, maybe with work. But I now know I missed something then. The few television series which I glance at today usually have parents and children yelling at each other, hating each other, belittling each other. Aren’t there any homes where parents still talk to their children, teach them, hug them, talk to them about God? Pray together? I hope so, but they’re certainly not shown as “reality” television.

Some people describe the old family television series from the ‘50’s and ‘60’s as “fantasy families”. Well, perhaps America needs more fantasy, and less reality. It certainly needs more morality on television. Meanwhile, my time with mom has me watching the re-runs of Little House On The Prairie. I’m not too old to learn from their moral lessons; I’m not too old to be reminded of timeless wisdom. And to give thanks to God for my family.

When was the last time you watched a television show which inspired you to pray, and give thanks for your blessings?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Love Conquers Pain

Mom’s dementia sometimes causes her to fixate on a topic, repeating a question or comment or feeling. That is especially troubling when the object is pain. She doesn’t understand it: “Why does my leg hurt?” Sometimes she cries. And then, sometimes, so do I, because I can’t make it better.

Sometimes during the day, mom’s needs, actual and perceived, her sometimes rambling talks – again and again, over and over – disturb my peace. I try to remember where her mind now is, often as a young child, and I must treat her and accept her as such. It is at bed time however, that mom’s relationship with me comes back into critical focus. After I gently lift her onto the bed, aware of the discomfort, and sometimes pain, in her legs, she always tells me: “Thank you.” And then her eyes wander with thought, as she remembers not this past day, but days long ago. Sometimes she comments on her dad, sometimes her sisters or brothers. And while she often forgets the day, the year, or her age, it seems at bedtime that she sadly remembers her dear family: “But they’re all gone.” The she looks at me, smiles, and never fails to say: “You know that I love you.”

Life may be hard for mom, it may be painful, it may be sad. But she remembers one thing, even if nothing else: she knows she loves me, and knows I love her. And she is content with not knowing anything else. Love is all she needs. And she smiles at me. And at that moment, all MY pains and anxieties pass, and it is all I need also.

I know that God feels that way about me too, and me about Him. Often I too am in pain, focused on earthly matters in a non-stop re-thinking of the “important” matters of my life – not unlike mom’s dementia-driven repetitions. So many things trouble me – as things trouble her. There is so much to worry about. So much, it seems, that I have to do.

But I am blessed, so very blessed. There are times, perhaps not nearly enough, but there ARE times where I let God gently lift me to a place of rest – just as I do to my mom each night. I focus on him, often in front of me in the Blessed Sacrament, and let Him help calm all my anxieties, all my thoughts of what I must do. And then I know, I KNOW, that He will be always there to help me with all the most important things, all the things that REALLY matter. He will help me. I don’t have to do them all. And then I can calm my thoughts, and see His. And I can say from my heart as mom does: “You know, I love You.” And in my heart, in every part of my being, I know: He loves me too.

It is all I need.

Above all hold unfailing your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins. 1Pt 4:08

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Are You Successful?

Orig: 09/17/07

I was out yesterday, and so didn't read my morning meditations. When I read yesterday's and today's, the two of them appeared to go well together:

Are You Successful?
Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it. – Joshua 1:7
Many people think success means acquiring great wealth and having friends who pat them on the back and say, “Man, you’ve got it made!” Others think they’ll be a success only when they’ve climbed the corporate ladder and acquired an impressive title.

Solomon, one of the wisest men who ever lived, said such goals are nonsense. He described these worldly endeavors and achievements as nothing but “vanity” (Eccl 2:11), “meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” Instead, he advised us to pursue a nobler goal: to “fear God and keep his commandments” (Eccl 12:13). Being obedient to what God calls us to do, he said, is he only true measure of success.

We should not look upon obedience with dread. For most of us, obeying God’s mission for our lives does not mean a lonely life devoid of material prosperity. Success can’t be measured by sacrifice any more than by abundance. The Bible tells us that “to obey is better than sacrifice” (1Sam 15:22). Obedience doesn’t necessarily mean sacrifice; it does mean being faithful to what he as called us to do. Whose success are you striving for?

Lord, let me find joy in obedience, living the fullest when I am faithful to my calling and my purpose.
Monday, Week 16 – Between Sundays - Shawn Craig.

September 16
We have reached the deepest root of religious courage then we hear Saint Paul exclaim that he speaks “… not to please mortals, but to please God …” (1Th2:4). To please God – that is his criterion. Because in the last analysis everything depends on “pleasing God”, Paul is therefore free and independent of the favor of mortals; faith is therefore, not a form of adulation for him, but a preaching of the truth and consequently of true love. To please God – that is what makes Paul free. God must become a reality for us, too, must be more real to us – no! not just more real – than the things we can grasp, so that to please God can become for us a criterion that is also a final liberation from the question of success. “To please God”” can thus become the center of our life, that which sustains and guides us. When faith experiences God as a reality and pleasing God is recognized as the sustaining sheltering joy of our life, then faith makes us free. Only faith can make us truly free. These words of Saint Paul, behind which we can detect freedom, the freedom of all the great messengers of the Gospel, ask us: Have we ourselves such a faith? These, I think, are words about which we must examine our conscience: Is God a reality for us in our life? Is pleasing him a meaningful concept for me? Is God so truly present in my life that pleasing him is a criterion for me and that I am sustained by the knowledge of what is pleasing to him, even if it is not pleasing to men? Have I found the freedom of faith? Has it become a guiding force in my life? Have we the courage to undergo the struggle of faith? Paul’s words become for us, at the same time, a prayer: that God will let faith of this kind flourish in our days, in each of us, and with it the freedom and liberating power of faith; that he will give us the courage, even amid the failures of the Church, to look to him, to the Lord, whose successes ended on the Cross but which also, on that same Cross, introduced a new period of history and a new life for the world.

From: Zeitfragen und Claube, pp70-71
Co-Workers of the Truth Daily Meditations - Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

In God We Trust

The woman at the grocery checkout paid with food stamps, and was told she owed an additional $2.56 cash for non-covered items. As she and the clerk began searching bags to remove the items, I stepped forward and paid the $2.56. "Thank you", she said. "God bless you." It wasn't much; I expect I'll be paying out more in the future. I expect I'll be needing many more blessings, too.

The news this morning noted that the UofM forecast unemployment near 16% for the state of Michigan next year, while another economist said up to 22%. I suspect no one wants to hear that, much less believe it. It's very scary. Friday, I received a publication in the mail which said to buy gold, silver, and guns. Very, VERY scary.

The readings at church today told of the Old Testament prophet who was sent away because he prophetized against the kingdom. The king didn't want to hear it; it was scary. In the New Testament gospel, the apostles were sent out to preach and heal and told to take nothing with them, no food, no money. Nothing. That would be a very scary thing to do. One point to be taken from both of the readings, I believe, is that you must trust in God in good times, and bad. Especially in the bad. And that to totally trust is scary, very scary.

Matthed 6:25-34 contains some of my favorite words of the bible. It starts out: "Do not be anxious". A lot of the words I put in this blog are about trusting God. The king didn't, the apostles did.

So what are you doing during these scary times? What's your reaction to scary news. Myself, I don't think I will be buying any gold or silver -- or guns. I'll try to take care of those around me in need -- across the street or in the checkout line. I'll try to not worry about my bank balance, or if the bank will even be there tomorrow. I'll try to follow our country's motto: "In God We Trust". And I'll try to remember the words of Matthew.

And I'll be praying: My Jesus, I Trust In You.

Wisdom Is Given To All Of Us

Orig: 06/12/08

I stopped at the bar on the way home last night to catch the end of the Tiger's game and have a beer. Out of the blue, the young lady behind the bar casually mentioned: "I'm a Catholic, sort of." She went on to speak of some things on her heart, and I went on to offer her some of what little wisdom I possess.

I drove home thinking: "Well Lord, I pray for this young woman, and I leave the rest to you." I had a casual degree of satisfaction in my heart -- until this morning's meditation gave me pause. It's aimed at priests and other Co-Workers of the Truth. I fear my initial reaction in most such conversations as the one I had last night is to assume I have some wisdom to give (or pass on), and rarely do I look to obtain it. I look to Christ, the saints, the philosophers et al for wisdom (and of course, wonderful people like you), and I forget that it (and He) is in the least of us. How very unwise (and prideful) of me.

Perhaps you also might find benefit from reflection on this meditation:

June 12
The arrogance of the specialist in matters of faith is just an especially obdurate form of the blindness inherent in all arrogance. The faith that rediscovers the fresh water of God's word in the desert of a godless world, in the empty conversations at fashionable spas, may be inferior to that of the specialist in the knowledge of biblical textual criticism, but it is often infinitely more clear-sighted as to what is actually to be drawn from this source. The weariness of the elder brother will always be there, but it must not lead to a stubbornness that is no longer capable of understanding the father's wonderful words: "All I have is yours." The priest must always be first in believing, but he must also be humble enough to receive and share the belief of others. He strengthens the others in their faith, but he also always receives faith from them. Consequently, it is never a foregone conclusion when we say: Only if we believe do we let God's power enter into our world. The first "work" of the priest is to be a believer and to be so always anew and always more deeply. Faith is never present as a matter of course; it must be lived. It leads us into a conversation with God that includes both speaking and hearing. Faith and prayer belong inseparably together. The time a priest spends in prayer and in hearing the word of God is never at the expense of his pastoral duties to the souls confided to his care. People can tell if the words and actions of their pastor have their origin in his prayer or only at his writing table. Above all else, he must encourage his parishioners to pray, teach them to pray, and so commit them to God's care. Here, too, there is, of course, a question of mutual exchange. Every prayer is a prayer in common with the whole praying Church, and a true hearing of the word of God can take place only in common with the whole listening Church.

Co-Workers of the Truth - Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger,
From: Dresdner Katholikentreffen, July 10. 1987.

Peace to you this day.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Sky Is Falling

Orig: 01/03/09

I’ve read many explanations of the root cause of our country’s present financial crisis. It appears, however, that much more is being written and debated about everyone’s solutions and not about the causes, as if the root cause were a moot point. And perhaps it is. I think, however, that the key to understanding the root cause and where to start to prevent a similar crisis in the future lies in examining the solutions we are considering --- and why. What is our motive in preferring one solution over another?

Are we focused on accepting things as they are and blaming others: accepting responsibility that we may have made SOME mistakes, that we may have put A LITTLE too much faith in ourselves and our abilities, but that others are really to blame for this crisis – all with the aim of helping ourselves to cope, to feel better, to recognize we have done our best in this crisis? Or are we focused on timing the market bottom, how much of the government’s money to put into the financial systems or which companies to bail out – all with an aim of taking charge to restore our personal safety, our financial position, and our future prospects? Or are we focused on helping in any way possible: others who may have lost their savings, who may have lost their jobs, who may have lost their faith in the future – all with the aim or helping others, if we can? Where is our focus? What are we talking about? What’s our worry, and our actions?

I suggest that the first two sets of reactions to the crisis are really concentrated on ourselves – restoring our ego and/or our financial health. I suggest that the third is focused on helping our neighbor, our society, and our country – and is close to hitting the real root of the problem: As individuals, as a society, as a country, we became too focused on ourselves, and have forgotten how much others really helped us along the way – including God. And how much we need their help, and they ours, now.

The sky is falling; what solutions are you considering? Will your solutions really fix the root problem?

A wise man once said that there are only 2 great commandments in this life: Love God, and love neighbor as yourself. I think many of us have confused those two commandments, and the sub-clause. If we are honest in looking at OUR solutions to today’s financial crisis, we’ll see the root cause of OUR problems. US.

We are made in God’s image; Christ came that we might know Him, and follow Him, and to be as Him: To be who He made us to be. He loves us as children, and asks that we depend on Him and love Him as such, such little, trusting innocent ones. So how do we act as ones made in his image? How do we follow Him? How do we honor Him in how we love our own children? Do we love our kids enough to guide them, even punish them – even if they can’t understand why? Do we look out for their long-term welfare, even if they don’t understand the depths of our love? Would we really die for them, as Christ did for us?

Look at how we have raised our children. Look at how we have failed to follow the example of love He gave us, even to the point of killing our children – His gift of Love – in our wombs.

We wonder at the chaos in our society, the greed, the lust, the lack of caring for the least of us. Look into the mirror and wonder no longer. See the image of the one we try to imitate. See the image and manner of the one we have taught our children to love, first above all. Themselves. It is no surprise our culture has deteriorated.

We have chosen to worship ourselves and our needs, rather than Christ’s. We have taught our children to depend on no one, least of all us. And we have taught them nothing of heaven, and they have little desire to be there.

Do we?

So what IS the solution to our nation’s problems, our problems? We can continue our lost ways – woe is ME. We can continue to try to figure out how WE can solve the problems. We can continue to be alone.

But that doesn’t have to be. Primarily because we are NOT alone. Even if we have separated ourselves from the needs of our children. Even if they have separated themselves from us. Still, even if we have been poor examples as parents, even if we are rebellious children ourselves, even if we are fearful of our needs – and ours alone. Our Father, our real father, loves us. He HAS given us the real example of a Father’s love. Even if we have failed our children and our neighbors, he will never fail us. He will always love us.

And sometimes, perhaps even now, He will discipline us. If we are wise, if we really love Him, we can become the adults He showed us how to be – and yet remain the His loving children – He is there for us. He still loves us. He still waits with open arms. He can and will comfort us. And He’ll help us together to act as loving parents to all our children, ours and His. To love our neighbor as ourselves, not JUST ourselves.

The start is our giving up of our pride. The start is our saying “I’m sorry”. The start is saying “I love you”. The start is saying “I trust in you”. And then getting on our knees to talk to Him. And meaning it. The child who really screws things up, and knows it, doesn’t go to his father and TELL him what he must do to fix things. The child starts by saying “I’m sorry”. He runs to his father’s arms, cries, and maybe like the Prodigal Son expects some just punishment for his errors. And the loving father most often says only “I understand. Everything will be OK. Trust me. Don’t worry. I love you.”

Can we accept a parent like that as OUR parent? Can we BE that parent? Can we put aside our pride to say “I’m sorry”? If we want to fix our financial problems; if we want to fix our children and our neighbor’s problems; if we want to fix our culture; if we want to save our country… .

If we want to save ourselves … .

"I’m sorry."

It’s a start.

A Call To Action

Orig: 06/04/07

Thank you again, T, for the thoughtful gifts. The St. Christopher medal is in my car, and the daily meditations .... well, the first day's meditation includes the following:

A Moment of Reckoning

But you, lazybones, how long will you sleep? When will you wake up? -- Proverbs 6:9

We don't always recognize a wake-up call when it happens. Only later do we realize that God was trying to shake us loose from the shackles of slumber. ...

God cannot fully use those who are totally self-reliant. It is from the broken places of our lives that we minister most effectively. In utter hopelessness we realize how much we desperately need God. Only then are we emboldened to do what is beyond ourselves, because only then do we realize our strength is from God and not something we can conjure up ourselves.

So when your faith is shaken or your world is suddenly turned upside down, stop and listen. It might be God's alarm clock going off in your life. Your wake-up call. Arise and shine; resist the snooze button.

Lord Jesus, let me recognize the crucial moments of my existence. Make me attentive to your workings, to your voice, and your purpose.


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Just Whose Sacrifice Is It?

I'd received communion and was quietly thanking God for the gifts He has given me: my life, my health, my friends, the time I could spend in His presence. And I realized what a gift that was. A gift.

When I think of Sunday church, usually I think in terms of MY giving -- of my time, my financial support, my commitment. But this morning I realized that I was looking at it wrongly. I'm just a small man, one of billions. In all of creation, what is my time, my money, or even my friendship worth? Just a grain of sand; it's all I am. When I go to church, in the presence of God, to receive Him in communion, MY giving is nothing. He's God! If He stoops to give to me: THAT is giving. When He gives me HIS time, it's not from one of billions, it's from one of one, the only ONE -- forever. That's the gift that occurs in church. My gift to Him is nothing; His gift to me is everything. When I say my favorite prayer "My Jesus, I Trust In You", it is a small thing. Each day in church, by His presence, He says: "I Trust In YOU" -- to me!! To me!! To little, me.

With so great a gift, freely given to me, how can I think it's some kind of sacrifice on my part to come and say: "Thank You"? How can I fail to acknowledge this great gift, His trust in me, by saying: "Lord, with Your help, I will try to do your will. I'll try to live up to Your expectations of me, Your love of me, and, yes, Your trust in me.

Thank You, Lord.

The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. PS 51:17


Orig: 07/01/08

Today's gospel reading:

And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, "Save us Lord; we are perishing." And he said to them, "Why are you afraid, O men of little faith?" Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, "What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?"
- Matt 8:23-27

And today's meditation:

My teenaged daughter is contemplating some changes coming in her life, and not happily. She's grieving a bit about what is being left behind, wondering what she'll be missing and what opportunities will pass her by. She's fearful about the new situation, unable to imagine that she'll be accepted or that she'll be anything but unhappy. If she had control, it wouldn't be this way, that's for sure.

I've tried to help her shift her thinking a little This is the way life is, I say. It changes and lurches in unexpected directions. There are, as the apostles discovered, storms. Instead of regret and fear, maybe this is the time to nurture faith. Faith that no matter where we go, God is with us and God is working.

So perhaps instead of complaining, we could try asking a question: "Here we are Lord. I'm glad you're in charge and not me. What next?"
Lord Jesus, help me accept my situation and see your hand in it.
- Amy Welborn, Living Faith -- July 1, 2008

WLY and hope your day is going well. It IS in his hands.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Forgiveness: We Get; We Give

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.
-- From a sermon by Saint Augustine, bishop

We have only to look at the news to see that Augustine's words from 400AD apply equally well today. A governor confesses adultery, and asks for pardon for failing his spouse, family, and the public trust. The word "sin" isn't politically correct as it was in Augustine's day, so we speak of hypocrisy, liar, and those who could benefit seek ways to advance themselves: "they seek to criticize, not to correct".

I'm reminded of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The first son goes off and wastes all his money, then comes home to the father, asking for forgiveness -- and not really expecting it. But he gets it -- and then some. The second son, who stayed home doing all the father asked of him resents the first son's return and his forgiveness, and seeks to gain from the first's sins: "What! Father, why aren't you throwing a party for me, who has served you so well!"

Parables were told by Jesus for us to be able to understand big truths. In understanding them, we are invited to put ourselves in the shoes of the characters in the parable -- ALL of them. We can see the adulterous governor in the First Son, and can see many of his critics (especially the politicians) in the second son -- and perhaps we can easily put ourselves in either's shoes. But what about the other character in the parable: the father? We are supposed to learn from his actions in the parable also. We are to learn to act as he did also, especially in relation to those close to us, important in our lives, like our spouse, our children, our friends, and perhaps even sometimes our neighbors and those who come into our lives for a short period of time.

The father in the parable forgives those who have hurt him deeply, even those whom he loves very much, even after they betrayed him. The father loves those who stayed with him, and treats them well -- yet sometimes he needs to remind himself that they need to hear words or actions of his love: they need to know they are loved, ALWAYS -- even if they too should sin. This is the lesson we need to come away with from the Parable of the Prodigal Son: We need to try (although we are all far from perfect)to imitate the loving father, the parable and the example Jesus set for us, in our relations with our spouses, our families, our co-workers (even that pointy-haired boss), and our neighbors. And even the governor we hear about on the news. Let's try to not let our first reaction to be one of hate or revenge or gossip, but of understanding, forgiveness, and love.

Will this attitude result in us sometimes getting "taken"? Of course! Sometimes the spouse will be filled with hate or anger and toss our words and actions back in our face. The kids will swear at us out loud (or in silence). And the neighbor may find a way to take us to court, or call us a fool. The tale of the Prodigal Son, or the Loving Father, shows us how to act in a loving, forgiving way. Even if those loved or forgiven don't understand. The actions of the father in the Prodigal Son parable are hard for us to imitate, but don't forget the other words of Jesus which put it in more blunt terms: How often should we forgive? Even as much "as seventy times seven".

Being forgiving or understanding of another's weakness isn't easy. Perhaps that's why a father was chosen to illustrate the problem: just ask any father of a teen-ager. I'm sure they get the parable.

I don't know if YOU get this; it is difficult for me. But I know that unlike Augustine's words, you are not "hopeless creatures". I have hope for you!

A Slice of Heaven

Orig: 07/10/08

I Saw A Slice of Heaven Today
Your work-leisure hours are most likely a 180-degree flip from mine; you work weekdays and try to find time in evenings and weekends for leisure – the times when I “work”. Our differing types of work sometimes require our leisure time to turn into work time; rarely does work time turn into leisure. Stress sometimes seems to make work omni-present, overwhelming us and negating the leisure time we so very much need for ourselves – and our families and friends. We try to schedule leisure time, to ensure it happens – the dinner, the movie, the golf outing, the family vacation. And we look at these upcoming events on our calendars and worry that they might get “out-prioritized” by work. How sad for us, both because we can’t enjoy our work (it is a blessing) nor our leisure.

This morning I had some insight into a better way to “schedule” leisure time, to get the relaxation and relief we need. I saw a slice of heaven.

As so often happens, it was when I was reading my morning prayers and meditations that some of the words suddenly had a strong meaning for me – you remember how I’ve sometimes sent to you words I felt important for your possible consideration/meditation. This mornings words were meant just for me, because you literally “had to be there” to appreciate their impact. I can’t re-create what I felt, but I can describe it – and the lesson to be learned which will benefit all of us.

The tone of the morning was set when I visited Panera’s at 6:30AM. The woman behind the counter was quick to point out what a bad day it was going to be – all the work to be done there, her older kids problems, the stress of caring for the younger ones at home, and the juggling of two jobs to make ends meet. A bit more than the “what’ll you have today” conversation I expected. I helped her see some of the good things in her life, and what good she has accomplished in raising her kids – and once she got going on this, she really got excited about how good they really were and how they blessed her life. But when she finished, the worry lines remained on her brow, and somehow went to mine. Then I sat down with my coffee and began to read:

Morning Hymn
O God of light, the dawning day
Gives us new promise of your love.
Each fresh beginning is your gift,
Like gentle dew from heav’n above.

Your blessings, Father, never fail:
You Son, who is our daily Bread,
The Holy Spirit of your love,
By whom each day your sons are led.

Make us the servants of your peace,
Renew our strength, remove all fear;
Be with us, Lord, throughout this day,
For all is joy if you are near.

To Father, Son and Spirit blest,
One only God, we humbly pray:
Show us the splendor of your light
In death, the dawn of perfect day.

Shortly after reading this I looked up. And in front of me, I saw a glimpse of heaven. As I sat in the chair I could see over the four empty tables and chairs in front of me, and the counter at their far end. In and behind the counter the cakes, cookies and breads filled the shelves, colored with soft browns and yellows. The morning sun shone in, putting a sparkling on the whole vision, and the music so very softly played in the background, and all else was quiet – and remained that way for about 5 minutes as I took it all in. A glimpse of heaven: the tables set waiting, the food glorious in abundance and looking so tasty that you’d want to try everything. And peace. If he were there, I’d have offered Thomas Kinkaid whatever his price if he could paint the painting, if he could capture the mood. But I don’t think you can paint heaven.

When I looked down at my book again I read: “The Lord has worked marvels for us; make it known to the ends of the world”, which is why I am writing to you today. I wish you could have been there with me.

I pray that you might find in your day something so simple, yet so profound as I saw this morning. Because I think that instead of scheduling leisure time, trying to make fun and joy in our life, we will be far better off if we are just able to accept the joys freely given to us – as they were to me this morning. I am confident they are there in each of our lives, small blessings that we so easily overlook. I didn’t look for it or schedule it, but I found five minutes of joy put into my life this morning – and, praise God, I was able to recognize and appreciate it as such.

Take the time to recognize and appreciate the small blessings that come your way today. They’re there – He said He’d never leave us alone. The hug from your spouse this morning, the “we love you daddy” from the kids, the driver who let you in on the way to work (what a miracle!!), the co-worker who said “thanks”, and the person passing by who briefly smiled your way. Don’t ignore those things; think on them and smile. A little glimpse of heaven is given to all of us – and we need to see it.

I hope you are having a “heavenly” day today.