Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Perhaps it was meant for me to read today; and perhaps for you also.
Desire What God Wants
And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” - Matt 26:39
Life can unexpectedly ask of us something we believe is so big and so overwhelming that we don’t think we can handle it. We cry out to be relieved of the pain, to be removed from the situation, or to be exonerated. We know that we can’t manage it ourselves and feel deeply our helplessness and vulnerability. That’s the moment when we recognize that the only way we are going to survive the situation is to throw ourselves on the mercy of God. How close we can be at such ties to the pain of Jesus’ own struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane as we finally acknowledge, as he did, that the only real surrender is to what God wants.
“God of mercy, you know my pain! I am bereft of any comfort or peace, and feel totally unable to change things myself. Save me from the depths of my distress. Please remove from me the cause of my great suffering, and let me find rest in you. You can save me if you will. But let me add, from my broken heart, that I trust you will carry me through this pain. So I ask to let be whatever is your will. You will give me strength.”
Surrendering Our Stress – by Joan Gunzelman
Monday, March 29, 2010
I remember when I first heard the English translation of that word; it seemed to explain so many things about Holy Week to me. Hosanna means “Save us, Please!”
I used to think of Hosanna as a unique word which applied only to God. It reminded me of the word “holy”, and that’s the meaning I associated with it, a praise of God. Knowing the true meaning however, I suspect most people shouting that word as Jesus entered Jerusalem were not praising a God, they were praising a Caesar -- or so they thought. They expected the messiah to be a savior, an earthly savior, to re-establish the glory and army of the once proud Jewish nation. Shouting “Save us, Please!” they were shouting to be saved from the Roman armies, not to be saved from their sins. They didn’t realize which of these was the greater terror. Like Eve in the Garden of Eden, they did not understand the word “die”, and the warning of eternal death that awaits those who turn from God. They were more concerned with earthly things.
And so only a short week later, those shouting “Hosanna” did turn from him. Seeing him “defeated” by the Romans, it was easy to shout in frustration “Crucify him; crucify him”, and go home to spend the Passover again pleading that the Lord would send them another Moses, another David, another Savior. They ignored the Savior in their presence, and all he had said and done. And so he suffered and died, alone. “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him,.” They mocked him. There were some people around him as he hung there, but he was alone.
Understanding the real meaning of Hosanna today and what it meant to the Jewish people then, I can make sense of the events of the week, from their points of view. I, however, understand more than just their points of view, I understand God’s point of view, and what this week really means, not only to the Jews, and indeed not only to the man Jesus -- I understand what it should mean for us.
The Jews in their earthly knowledge went from happiness in the Messiah to disappointment. Jesus, in his Godly Wisdom went from sadness to Joy. The question we need to ponder this week is: what have we learned from the lessons shown us this week? What does this week mean? Are we more like Jesus in the joys and trials of our lives, or like the Jews? This weeks’ actions are the ultimate example of Jesus for us, the peak of all his words and actions. Are we seeing and trying to live this example? This is THE example of his teaching ministry. This is his two commandments: love God, and love your neighbor. Take time this week, to pay attention, meditate, and learn. This, his example, is how we should be living our lives.
Unfortunately, I’m afraid we are weak, and most often live our lives like that of the Jews: we’re happy and celebrate when times are good, but quickly forget and turn away when a friend, a parent, our child, or our spouse REALLY needs us. His disciples even turned away from God, when he needed them. And we do too. When God and our neighbors need us to be strong for them and to be with them, when they are too weak to carry a burden alone, how often do we not show up? How often do we look away and say: we’re too busy, or “other things” are more important, or “they’ll just waste any money we give them.” How often do we not show up at their crucifixions; how often do we let them spend their nights of torture alone? And how often do they call to us in their agony, and we pretend not to hear?
He said “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” ; this was a prayer for us, you and me. We often remember the Scripture: “I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40), and remembering this we try to be charitable (and then we give ourselves a pat on the back). But we forget the next words of that same lesson: “Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire ... for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ (Mt 25:41-43)” It’s the second Scripture quote we should be remembering, not the first. Forget the few times we actually were charitable. For all those times when we turned away from those who needed us, we DESERVE the eternal fires, for it is really at those times that “as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me (Mt 25:45).” This week is a reminder to forget the times we want to pat ourselves on the back, but look at our failures – the ones He died for.
The people of Jerusalem ignored Jesus’ cries because they judged him. The wanted an earthly savior, and he was not as they expected a savior to be. They didn’t want to listen to the words he said; they only listened for the words they wanted to hear. How often we are like that, even to our friends, our children, our spouse, and yes, even our God. They’re not acting the way we want them to, and so we judge them. Our prayers are not really for “Thy will be done”, but MY will be done. It’s fitting that Jesus began his agony this week with much soul searching in the garden, which ended with “Father, … not my will, but thine, be done.” (Mt 22:42)
It’s fitting that we do some soul searching this week also. Then look at the agonies we are facing, and ask honestly whose will do we wish to be done? How are we facing our trials, and those of our neighbors? Are we looking at someone in need and acting like the Jews, or Jesus? Only then, can we pray with our Lord, and honestly say: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done …”
P.S. After writing this meditation, I read the Office of Readings from the Liturgy of the Hours for today. The psalms and first reading were most appropriate, and themselves great words to meditate upon this week: Psalm 31:1-17, and Heb 10:19-39. I pray you have a blessed Holy Week.
Sunday, March 28, 2010
I often fall prey to the assumption that time stands still. Things as they were, or as they are, or as I want them to be are static, unchanging things. But they’re not, and even the past I must reflect on differently, as I change and the people I deal with change. Both our changes cause us, with (hopefully) better wisdom, to SEE the past the same, but REFLECT on it differently.
I was forced to see this fact last week as I went to my Lenten confession. (Please! No notes reminding me of all I should have confessed, nor asking me how many hours that took!) As I told God, through the priest, my many failings, he focused on one thing: my anger and frustration at my elderly mom. Between her dementia and physical weaknesses, sometimes I get frustrated and angry – even as I know it’s not her fault. And I sometimes talked to her and asked her to change some things, even as I knew she wouldn’t/couldn’t. And my behavior troubled me.
The priest mentioned all the many things about the situation I knew, and quite frankly, his words were starting to go in one ear and out the other. I knew what he was saying. Nothing sounded new. But then he asked me to imagine I was a baby again, and my mom was caring for me. Certainly I often cried in the night, and mom was frustrated/angry at getting up to calm my cries. And certainly there were times where she was busy, yet my diaper needed changing and she stopped what she was doing because I needed her – and sometimes I promptly messed the clean diaper and she had to re-change me yet again. Surely she must have been frustrated or even angry at times. And maybe she talked to me about her anger. And yet, she still loved me. It may have been frustrating at times, but still she cared for me. She loved me, and that helped offset the frustrations and anger. She knew I couldn’t help being a baby, and not understanding her words of frustration to me. So she met my needs, and loved me anyway.
Tom, the priest said, now your mother is your baby. And you must love her and treat her – even with your sometimes anger and frustration – as she treated you. She is as a baby. And you must love her despite all her failings. You may remember conversations with her in the past, you may remember explaining things to her – or long ago, her to you. But that is the past. Time never stands still. You need to grow in your understanding of how the past was, and how things ARE, now. And love your mom, as you might love a baby. As she did – and does – love you.
That was a good confession. And even though I thought I understood everything about my mom and my present relationship to her, I grew in wisdom that day. I was able to move forward from the time I was stuck in, to reality today. The history I could see didn’t change; my understanding of it did. And I am a better, wiser person for it.
And I thought briefly of my relationship to God, and He to me. If my mom is as a baby to me, and sometimes very frustrating to me – as I was once to her, what must God feel about his relationship to me? Don’t I repeat the same mistakes over and over? Doesn’t it seem like I can never learn to do something the right way? Doesn’t it seem like I make a mess of things so very often? Doesn’t it seem as if I will never grow up? I guess He probably treats me as a baby too – a very slow-learning one. I must be very frustrating to Him. And yet He loves me anyway. And He loves me anyway. But that’s a reflection for another time.
I pass this on to you today because I think we all very easily get stuck in a time rut – we know the way things are, and we never change our thinking about them. We know what we want, and we never change that target. We understand how others think, and we never change our thinking about them. We understand the Church and God from what we learned as children, and we never change our thinking about them.
I’ve written in the past about our challenge to grow in wisdom, grow in holiness our whole life. Non-stop. So our attitudes about our friends, our family, our church, our work, our purpose in life, our understanding of God, should be always changing with that growth in wisdom. And if it is truly Wisdom, those attitude changes will be for the better, for them and for us. This week I read some of the writings of St Isidore – he’s considered the patron saint of farmers, and so maybe you’ll appreciate this (Smile!!). I took special note of what I read in part, I guess, because of the fact it was St Isidore’s parish and grade school that I attended so many years ago. St Isidore wrote: “If a man wants to be always in God’s company, he must pray regularly and read regularly. All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection. By reading we learn what we did not know; by reflection we retain what we have learned. The more you devote yourself to a study of the sacred utterances, the richer will be your understanding of them.” Good words. I’m glad I read them.
Take the time to read some sacred utterances; take the time to reflect on them. Then you will grow in wisdom; you’ll grow in holiness; you’ll be a better person. And things that are changing all around you will not trouble you, for you will not be trying to stand still in time.
Peace be with you, my friends.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
That was among my first thoughts today, as I finished my morning routine and left the house. Today is the Solemnity of the Annunciation, when Mary said yes to the Angel Gabriel, and Jesus was conceived within her. Aha! Today is Jesus’ real birth day! Today is the day he came to us, became a human being. And therefore, today, it is appropriate that we celebrate his birth. Hence, today I have a Real justification, to explain to my friends and neighbors, why my Christmas tree is still up in my living room. Today is the birth day of Jesus, so OF COURSE I’m still celebrating. : - ))
And in truth, I really AM celebrating this day, but the day became solemn as I entered the chapel for morning mass.
The relief of Mary on the wall, to the left of the large crucifix behind the altar, had three candles lit in front of it this day. In this particular church, named in honor of Mary, the lights were lit in front of this image of her, holding her baby child, to honor her and the Light which had come into the world. Today, her picture attracted my attention immediately. I DO think of her as my mother. Ah, my mother, I give you honor this day. If you hadn’t said yes to the angel, I know I wouldn’t be here to receive Jesus, my God! If you hadn’t said yes, I also know I wouldn’t be here this day at all. In giving you honor today for what you did for God, I also remember what you did for me.
All my life, in all my sin, I still prayed to you each night, and remembered what the nun had told me so long ago: “If you say three Hail Mary’s each night before you go to bed, Mary will never forget you.” I know neither you nor God are bound by such simple guarantees as this, but I did pray, and you didn’t forget: Thank you, mother. While you said “yes” to the angel, thank you for saying “yes” to me too, and calling me back to the Church of your Son when I strayed so far away. Your son opened the gates of heaven for me, but it was only by your intercession, I believe, that I again found the path to it. Words do not convey my gratitude, nor my love for you.
I thought of Mary’s honor during the mass this morning, and many of the words took on new meaning to me, and my heart was light – and my eyes often damp. My God, you are so good to me!
PENITENTIAL RITE: … and I ask blessed Mary, ever virgin, all the angels and saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.
GLORIA: … Lord God, heavenly King, almighty God and Father (And Father!!).
RESPONSORIAL PSALM: Here I am Lord; I come to do your will.
GOSPEL: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you! … Do not be afraid, Mary. … For with God nothing will be impossible.
CREED: … he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man (and then all in the church knelt in honor of her commitment – and His, just as we knelt at this point on Christmas Day) …
CONSECRATION: This is my body … (Heavenly Father, today especially, I thank you for this gift of your Son. I will never understand the depth of your sacrifice, to give me this gift, but I will be forever grateful.) … This is the cup of my blood … (Lord Jesus, you, a God, chose to be born like us, and to die like us. Thank you for your great love, of which I am so undeserving. And thank you for Mary, my mother through adoption – which you arranged. She has been so good to me.)
COMMUNION: Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word, and I shall be healed.
After mass during a period of adoration, I thought of the scene again: Mary, Gabriel, Holy Spirit, Father, and Jesus. We’ve reflected previously on the importance of meditating on a whole gospel scene, and ALL the characters. I think we most often forget the Father in this scene. Mary conceives, yet we forget the Father. She didn’t do it alone. And like each father and mother on earth who gives life, they give it through the giving of themselves. While Mary said “yes”, so did the Father. The Father’s yes was to give Mary of himself a huge gift: his Son, a God!, whom he placed in her care. When she said “yes” and conceived, I’m sure the Father could be described to be as proud as any earthly father: A son, my son! My first born!! (If he could have given out cigars, I’m sure he would.) Jesus said: “Greater love has no man than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:12) – and He did. But if this is the greatest love that a man can give, what is the greatest love that a God can give?? I think perhaps this was it; and we celebrate it today.
The Lord said to me: “You are my Son.
It is I who have begotten you this day.
Ask and I shall bequeath you the nations,
put the ends of the earth in your possession.”
… Blessed are they who put their trust in God.
- - Psalm 2
Today, through the few candles we light in front of Mary’s icon, we honor her and the entire Trinity of God. And you all know, all of you, what a great light burns in your honor in my heart.
Thank you, Mary. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Holy Spirit. Thank you Father!
P.S. As I slowly walked out of the chapel past the icon of Mary and Jesus, I noticed that his two small hands were clutching hers. So do I. And so do I.
P.S.P.S. Today my friend’s daughter will fly across the country to visit her. Separated at birth, through the daughter’s efforts they were re-united a few years ago. I think they will celebrate my friend’s birthday, which is next month, while she feels well enough today. Who knows what next month will bring. But today they will celebrate both of their lives, for truly both gave a gift of life to each other. And I somehow think it is fitting that they are getting together again on this feast day. A celebration of life, and of great gifts. God is good.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
I wish you a blessed day.
Twelve Things to ALWAYS Remember …
And One Thing to NEVER Forget
Your presence is a present to the world.
You’re unique and one of a kind.
Your life can be what you want it to be.
Take the days just one at a time.
Count your blessings, not your troubles.
You’ll make it through whatever comes along.
Within you are so many answers.
Understand, have courage, be strong.
Realize that it’s never too late.
Do ordinary things in an extraordinary way.
Have health and hope and happiness.
Take the time to thank God.
And don’t ever forget … for even a day …
How very special you are.
- Collin McCarry (with a minor revision)
as published by Blue Mountain Arts
Monday, March 22, 2010
God created men; men created sin.
So what are we to do next? Our temptations certainly are to judge the sinners – “Make them pay.” But we are told by our Creator to judge not, lest we be judged. So then, does sin go unpunished? No, but we are not to be the punishers. So what then should we do? We should act to lessen or negate the effects of sin or evil and perhaps, through our efforts and God’s blessings, perhaps cause even good to come out of this. We should not unduly waste time pointing at the sinners or chastising them, although we should ensure, to the degree we can, that they do not sin again. We should instead point at the evil done, and seek to reverse or minimize it. We should seek to bring good out of evil; that is as God taught us. It’s as He made us.
Our actions should not be to highlight the evils of actions taken by Congressmen, it should be to minimize them or negate them. Don’t point: “Look, costs are going up, not down.” We should take actions to make them go down in ways that people are not hurt. Don’t gleefully point: “Doctors are abandoning their practices in disgust.” Find ways to pass laws to ease their hardships, to incentivize and even glorify those who choose the medical profession, to care for their fellow human beings. And if some are indeed denied care, find ways to enable or encourage their neighbors – US -- to care for them, yes, to love one another.
Making good out of evil will be a difficult task, but that is the way God operates in this world. He allows us to do evil, but he also allows us to repent and fix it, too. And yes, I used the word “repent”.
There is some risk that should our efforts succeed in making good of this evil, the evil-doers will loudly boast of their sin: “See, no evil came about. Costs did not go up; doctors did not abandon you. They lied.” They may even echo the words heard in the Garden of Eden, tempting Eve to believe that evil was good: “You will not die.” They may try to paint their evil as good all because of the results of our good efforts. Considering this, possibly there will be temptations for us to let the evil happen. But it is not our place to judge, nor is it our place to permit the evil we see coming to happen. And who knows, maybe those who have done evil may see our good works and good results, and repent.
With God, all things are possible -- but His work on earth starts with us.
Let’s stop pointing at the sin we could not prevent, and get on with the work of fixing things. In the eyes and plans of God, this evil may just be an opportunity for us to do His good. And He’s counting on us. All of us.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
My friend’s back in the hospital. I pray you are with her, Lord. Earlier this week she fearfully went in for treatment and was surprised, as was I, that she was sent home in one day. You are so good to us. But it didn’t last, and two days later she returned once more for more intense, life-prolonging treatments – but there will be no cure. I can’t be, but I know you will be there again with her tonight. She needs you, and I know she trusts you.
A friend called last night. My teen-aged Goddaughter seems to be making some poor choices lately, playing her divorced parents one against the other. I guess that’s not surprising, Lord, you and I both remember how it was when I was a teen – so you know I’m not casting any judgments on her. She sees me as an example, I know, but I hold no real influence with her. I wish I did. I’m just a dim candle in her life. But you, Lord, you are the Light, the Way, and the Truth. Please guide her in ways I cannot.
This week and especially tonight many people are praying for our country, as I am Lord. I think the situation we are looking at is in many ways strange, and I struggle to understand. Virtually everyone would admire a soldier who sacrificed his life to save a comrade, yet so many seem to understand the congressman in Washington, who wouldn’t sacrifice his life -- and not even his income, to save the future of millions of Americans – whom he says he represents. How can some people “understand” the actions of both? Perhaps it’s because they see the immediate risk of the grenade to the soldier’s friend, but can hope for some other savior to prevent the longer term explosion to America. I guess that’s why the people on Flight 73 acted, and helped crash a plane in a field in Pennsylvania – a plane which was destined to crash in Washington, where the congressman worked. How ironic. He can accept being saved, but not saving. I guess only you would die, would sacrifice yourself Lord, for the greater good. Where is the border of where we expect men to just be men, versus men to imitate you, both man and God? Are our expectations too low?
Do we see the soldier as a kind of shining star, something we might wish upon, but not reach? And do we see the congressman as someone here on earth, like us, in the growing darkness? Have we given up on Hope, hope in You, and replaced it with mere wishes of how things might be?
On some days much of our life seems like the dying candles on the altar, and we await the darkness. But we’re looking at those little lights as if they are the most important things, because they flicker and attract our attention. But they are NOT the most important things. On the altar, You, You are at the center. Lord, you are the most important thing. All the lights, all of creation, are there to give you glory, yet we so often focus on these side things as if they were the most important. And we forget you. We look at our lives, our careers, our safety as more important than You.
My life, Lord, needs you at its center. I need you as my Hope. The trials, the disappointments, and even the inevitable deaths around us may darken our days, but like the flickering candles on the altar, they will soon be replaced. Then we will again see bright lights, joy and the fullness of life, and it will be easy to see you at the center of all things, and give you praise. But whether in the darkness or in the light, Lord you are still there at the center of the altar, the center of our lives, the center of the world, and the center of all creation.
Bless us, dear Lord, with hope, for those times when the light flickers low, and it is difficult to see you. Help us to remember the bright lights past, and have confidence in the bright ones to come.
Bless my friends, Lord, my country, and its future. Let me be your light for those who cross my path this day, and let me be of help also, to your future children who I will never know. Perhaps for some, that because of my actions or prayers they may even be allowed to have life, and perhaps for others that their life might not seem so dark because of actions I was afraid to take today. Lord give us the courage by our actions to imitate your love, for all your children, today and tomorrow.
Lord, help us all to be witnesses to Hope.
My Jesus, I trust in You.
With all my voice I cry to the Lord,
With all my voice I entreat the Lord.
I pour out my troubles before Him;
I tell him all my distress
While my spirit faints within me.
But you, O Lord, know my path.
-- Psalm 142
Saturday, March 20, 2010
It's now a difficult weekend, and the health care vote is tomorrow. There are lots of things for me to pray about tonight at adoration.
Perhaps God'll help me make sense of this week and its problems, and I'll write on them then. For now, tonight I was reading through prior notes I had sent to a friend. This one gave me some peace about our present situation:
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
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
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
I sometimes called the notes I sent you “Meditations”, because they were meant to be thought about. Sometime I just stuck a general topic title, without giving it much thought. Last week I sent out one titled “Knowledge”, and mused on the values of acquiring knowledge. It was a topic I had been thinking about for quite a while, and I thought I had some answers I’d share with you.
It was appropriately titled. Today I forward you something more meaningful – it’s called Wisdom. And it’s not just my musings; I turned to a higher source.
I returned from receiving communion. As I knelt, I prayed to the Lord: Why me? Why have you blessed me with this gift of yourself? Why have you blessed my life with so much knowledge of you, through your grace to me, and through the writings of so many of your saints and devoted servants? Why do I want to know you more? Am I wasting my time seeking knowledge, when all true Wisdom comes from you? Is it just vanity, seeking to know you more for the pleasure it brings me? Is it just a prideful thing that I seek to become more like you – become more like a God? Do I seek what is way beyond me to have?
The answer I felt was: “So that you might love me”. My lifelong work, my greedy desire to find and know Truth, my wanting to have lived a life worthwhile, to have made a difference – however small – in this world, to my family, to my friends, to be who I was created to be: is all that effort, my driving passion, all to be fulfilled in something so simple: “So that you might love me?”
As I’ve grown older, I’ve found many answers and much peace from some simple words which, fortunately, I recall from my earlier days, only now with much deeper understanding. Someone once said: To know him is to love him. I’m sure they were speaking about someone in their life who they deeply admired. But when I hear those words now, they have a richer meaning for me. The “H” in “Him” is capitalized for me. My life’s reason is to grow in knowledge of Him, and through that grow in holiness – to be more like Him. I don’t have to gather facts, consider alternatives, plan strategies for growing in holiness, plans to follow His lead. I don’t have to measure my progress, and berate myself with a poor report card. Gathering facts, considering alternatives, making my plans: those are things I do for me to achieve earthly goals. I cannot create my plans to achieve my heavenly goal. The plans are not mine to be made. The goal is not one I can achieve. It is all given to me, all set aside for me. I cannot conquer through my will to achieve it. It’s not about me and my will, it’s about His. All the knowledge I gather is nothing, until He makes me understand it with Wisdom.
One day I was returning home from Sunday mass and I reflected on my life and its goals and progress, somewhat similar to my musings of today. I summarized all my thoughts into a single question to God: Why did you make me? The question felt very profound at the time. It seemed to summarize everything about my life up to then, and my thoughts about the future. The “profound” answer came to me as I suddenly recalled my third grade religious study question and answer: Q. Why did God make me? A. He made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him. Third grade.
A third grade bit of knowledge which has taken me a lifetime to understand the wisdom contained therein. Why all this seeking in my life, to read of God and the Truth of Him and his creation? A. To know Him. All that work to what result? A. To love Him (as He has today reminded me). And having achieved some level of loving Him, to what end? A. Why, the end He promised us: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments, and I will give you life everlasting.” If we love Him, while on earth we will serve Him, keeping His commandments, and when no longer on earth, He will give us life everlasting.
To know, to love, to serve. Third grade simplicity.
So the simple responses I received today on the value of my life’s efforts, to know the Truth, to know Him, have an infinity of value, and an eternity of reward. And all I have to do is continue to seek … “and you shall find … so that you might love me.”
I’ve always liked these words from an old Nat King Cole song (When I Fall in Love): “When I give my heart, it will be completely, or I’ll never give my heart. And the moment I can feel that, you feel that way too, is when I fall in love with you.” My life of searching, is to reach that moment when I can know and feel in the totality of Truth and of trust, the love of God, so that I might love Him too.
It’s easy to sit back and enjoy all the blessings of my life, to think that their best use is to make this life enjoyable for me and my friends. But life is a journey, an endless flowing river. As much as we might like, we cannot stay where we are. What I have now, I didn’t always have. What I will have in the future will be different. Time flows on, as does my life. We must prepare for the rough portions of the river, which inevitably come, but we must also prepare for when we finally reach the all encompassing sea. For we will be part of it someday. Where we will love in an infinite greatness, an infinite Goodness. Then we will receive an infinite reward of peace from all our searching.
For we will have found.
Monday, March 15, 2010
Mom’s caregiver is out of town for the weekend – again. As I tried to sleep on the couch, mom was busy singing Christmas carols -- in Polish -- in her sleep. Although I gave up alcohol for Lent, at 1:30A I went out and bought a bottle of wine. A couple of glasses, a couple of CSI re-runs (and a few more verses) later, and I finally fell asleep.
I have a headache this morning. I do forgive myself for slipping in my Lenten resolution; you’ve got to do that sometimes, you know. But my head still throbs, and my eyes are red. Perhaps my plea for God’s forgiveness is stuck in His Inbox.
Sunday, March 14, 2010
Below I reflect on spiritual and human courage in the headlines today. Recently I had one of my letters to the editor again printed in the local newspaper. I sent the second reflection below to the WSJ; I don’t expect you will see it there. Courage is a hard thing to talk about, or to ask for.
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After the blind man was healed, the Pharisees questioned him: “How were your eyes opened?” He told them, and then told them again. Finally, frustrated, he told them: “This is what is so annoying, that you do not know where he came from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners.” They answered to him: “You were totally born in sin, and you are trying to teach us?” The Pharisees couldn’t dispute the truth of Jesus’ message or his miracles, so they attacked the messenger.
I thought of this gospel as I read recent news articles saying that perhaps Pope Benedict XVI, when he was bishop, may have been party to the transfer of a priest later convicted of sexual abuse. Much of world hates the message of the Catholic Church yet, especially by the words of the two recent popes, it is hard to dispute. Therefore, they would love to attack the messenger. The press would like nothing more than to paint the Catholic Church as evil, by attacking its messenger, the pope. I can imagine the headlines. What I don’t understand is why this would be so important to any Catholics.
The pope goes to confession daily. Daily he admits he sins, so I imagine he also sinned while he was a bishop. He made not only spiritual errors, but he undoubtedly made human ones. We’ve certainly read many details of other popes who did. But let’s not forget, we’ve also read and understood how God was always with His Church, and with His servant – and even you and me, sinners if there ever was one. So proving that the pope once made a spiritual or human error would mean nothing to me. I am still confident that he is THE man of God, and faithfully leads His Church, free from teaching error, even if he himself is a sinner. Unfortunately, for non-Catholics this is a confusing point.
Were I the pope and I discovered I had made an error, spiritual or human, which was being highlighted to take down the Church through me, I’m not sure what I would do. I do pray that as a man, and as the spiritual leader of the Church the pope listens to the voice of God, and has the courage to do His will, no matter how personally painful. Courage is the virtue to do what is right for all God’s children, not just one.
Doing what’s right for me, and me alone, is the secular message today. As Catholics, we can and do refute that message – and not just the messengers.
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Isn’t there any man of courage left in Washington? Isn’t there anyone who will stand up to the thugs, arm-twisters and bribers that now so abound our capital? President Kennedy wrote Profiles in Courage, a great book. Would he find anyone to write about today?
Didn’t you once say you wanted to clean up Washington? To do what was right for your career, did you compromise that goal? Well then, now is the time to negotiate the best bribe you can for your vote, and when that time comes, stand up and demonstrate that it was not for sale. And when the news people ask why you voted as you did, you can point to the words you once said – and their bribes. This is courage.
Must you trust only your party? Can’t you trust your people? Can’t you trust the one our nation’s motto points to? Courage is the virtue to do what is right for all Americans, not just one, not just you. Have you no courage?
Saturday, March 13, 2010
I don’t think they thought that was very funny. And so I’ll convey some of the further conversations we had and my further thoughts on the matter. But first I have to start at the beginning, back to basics.
A human being starts out as a baby, who learns a human language, first the basics and then the details. First it learns by hearing and copying, and what it learns seems to make sense, based on the feedback it gets. Crying sometimes resulted in hugs, and sometimes food. A lot of different things brought a smile from mama. Then the baby learned that “mama” brought the smile every time, and “hungry” got food. It later learned that A + B + C + etc. equals an alphabet. Then it learned that the alphabet made words, and words may sentences and paragraphs that explained thoughts and ideas. Later it learned the formal rules of the language, nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verb tenses, etc. In adulthood it made good use of all these things to communicate – that was the purpose of learning the human language.
A very wise priest, sociologist, speaker, and writer, Fr. Benedict Groeschel, explained in one of his books how men grow in human wisdom. It is a totally natural thing, the collective experiences of a life coming together in the brain which analyzes them, perhaps gathers additional information, and puts it all together in a pattern that makes something more than just the pieces, it equals wisdom. The more you live, the more wisdom you can gain – although not necessarily, because you have to work at it. The same holds true, he explained, with spiritual growth and wisdom. You learn basics of a religion, then you learn how it all fits together into a comprehensive belief system, and then you relate it to earthly experiences and earthly wisdom – with input from God and His Holy Spirit -- and you put it all together into a spiritual wisdom. Like earthly wisdom, it comes with time. Unlike earthly language, which is developed by the young to make use of in adulthood, spiritual wisdom is developed to make use of in spiritual adulthood, which really doesn’t happen until our earthly death. Just like young people must grow in their language knowledge to be good fully functioning adults, so we must grow in our spiritual knowledge to become good fully functioning beings after our earthly death. Fr. Groeschel explained this progression as a comfort to him when he visited churches and saw lots of old people in them: this was a perfectly normal thing. They are the ones who better understood what was happening in the churches and why it was important; they were growing in their knowledge of it their whole lives and had a wisdom which largely could not be found in youth. Only with great study, tutoring, and blessing from God do the very young appreciate the purpose and value of faith. But they will grow into it. Hopefully.
This explains the phrase that “we are all called to grow in holiness”, because we are, our whole lives. Unfortunately, while we MAY grow in spiritual wisdom our whole lives, there are many temptations to grow in earthly wisdom first, and these often push out our desire for the longer-term spiritual growth. I think one of the greatest temptations Satan came up with was: “You can have it now.” He said it to Eve in the Garden of Eden, and he says it to us now in so many ways. “You can have it now.” He even tried to tempt Jesus with this very earthly, human desire. Just like the baby felt, I want it now. The concept of deferred gratification is one of the most difficult ones to accept about Christianity; it runs counter to man’s whole nature and learning from the time of being a baby: “If I say I’m hungry, I’ll get the food now. If I call ‘Mama’, I’ll get the hug now.” It’s very hard to overcome this basic learning with the teachings of Christ. It’s also why, in part, the call to grow in holiness our whole life is so important; it acts as a constant reinforcement against the constant temptations of “I want it now.”
Just this morning a friend spoke of a local priest who “was running some type of religious education program every night at the church.” My friend spoke of these “mini RCIA programs” negatively. I think he felt that way because he could not attend them; he had too many other “important” things to do. The important things had to do with his job, his marriage and family, and even the formal RCIA program he helped run. All these earthly, short term things he was concerned about seemed more important than the longer term programs which, without saying it, he felt he would get to “later”. This call to grow in holiness our whole lives is a hard thing.
When my friends challenged me about my last post, and my response to the difficult questions posed, they were thinking about the short-term problems faced by many people, versus the long-term goals. And they want a short-term answer. I’m reminded about the saying that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter heaven. Rich is usually thought of here in terms of money, but I think the saying also refers to those rich in talents or human wisdom. This saying goes along with the parable of the talents, where much is expected of those to whom much is given. People rich in money or talents or wisdom are used to having their way. They’re used to figuring things out. They’re used to giving orders and getting things done – NOW. They’re used to short-term goals and actions and results. This concept of “deferred gratification” is contrary to the way they structure their whole human life. That’s why it is hard for the rich man to get into heaven, it’s hard for him to properly prioritize his short-term and long-term goals. He’s used to doing and deciding things, and not playing by anyone’s rules but his own – and sometimes not even by the Church’s or even God’s.
So what WAS my response when my friends explained to me their problems and their short-term fixes to the short-term/long-term conflicts? I honestly don’t know. I don’t remember. I know there was discussion, and I “think” they went away with something to think about, but I don’t remember. And what I said is not important.
I’ve explained before the purpose of this blog. It’s not here to teach Catholic Doctrine, although I strongly believe it (I can refer you to some great sites, if you ask). It’s not here to tell the story of my life, although some of my life’s events must be mentioned to explain my thoughts about matters of faith. If I should ever explain something in a manner contrary to Catholic Doctrine, I would ask any reader to post a comment and explain your concern. I will research, respond, and rescind where I am wrong. But mostly I write these blogs to describe how I believe God is working in my life, how I am trying to grow in holiness. I write to explain how difficult that sometimes is, so that you may recognize that you are not alone in your journey, whether you are just starting or are far along. If just starting, I can explain some of my troubles, thoughts, and learnings as I traveled the road you are embarking upon. If further along your faith journey, hold my hand and we’ll face storms together. And if you are further along than I, please look back at my stupidity and my fears, and offer me comfort. We are all on this journey together, and Jesus is along too: we need not be anxious.
My blog “Do Not Be Anxious” fits well with my prayers to “Make me an instrument of Thy peace.” We are all anxious at some time, and we all need peace. Now, and in eternity. For my friends who want short, quick answers to large long-term problems, AS I SO OFTEN DO, I can only offer some words about priorities. I have studied the Catholic faith long and hard, and have always found it to be true to the teachings of Jesus Christ and true to its long-term goal: to get me to heaven. When faced with life situations which would seem to have me turn against my friends, I am reminded of the teaching that we may be expected to turn against friends and family, and that the true response to many of life’s immediate problems is: “This is a hard thing.” We won’t like the answers, and our friends may not either. We may lose some friends, and even family, along the way. But none of that is an excuse for not continuing along the way.
Yes, it is true that Jesus is love, and he taught love. And it is also true he ate with and spent most of his time with sinners. But he didn’t just live with them, and approve of their lifestyles, he lived a Godly life. What he couldn’t explain to them to resolve their human needs for a “short-term” fix, he showed to them by how he lived. The divorced friends who remarry, the homosexual “good” man, the people who think the church doesn’t understand what Jesus taught: you will convert none of these people with your words. Don’t try to be friends with them by accepting what they say or teach, be friends in just the manner in which you say Jesus taught: be friends to them in love. Love doesn’t take what others give; love gives to others without looking for anything in return. What Jesus couldn’t explain to sinners in words, he showed to them in his actions. God and His grace did the rest. Jesus didn’t come as a God to convert sinners, zapping them into belief, he came as a man. He converted them just as you can. And in being their friend, he did not have to tell them that their sins and errors were ok. Accepting that their sins exist is not agreeing with them on the morality of their sins. Being friends with sinners is ok, but not at the expense of your own soul. Be careful of who is converting who.
You are called to grow in holiness. Seek to grow in spiritual wisdom your whole life. Find the time!! In this way, you will truly be a friend to those people in your life who NEED you to be a true friend, one who will help them to grow in holiness. This is what love is.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
“She divorced her alcoholic husband. He was terrible. The Church granted her an annulment, and then she met HIM. He was so good to her. She is so happy now. He was divorced too, but wouldn’t seek an annulment of his prior marriage; he didn’t want his kids to think they weren’t his sons. I can’t tell these people, my friends, that I think they were wrong. Even a priest blessed their marriage, which was before a judge. My God is a God of love; Jesus wouldn’t condemn their actions.”
Left unsaid to me was: Would you?
“He is a good man; he is a homosexual. He seems happy with his life; he goes to church and gives to charity. I can’t believe God wouldn’t bless him. And since I’m sure God wouldn’t judge him wrong, I won’t either.”
And then the look at me: Well?
“She was always a mean-spirited person growing up. She abused us kids, just like mom did. She was mom’s favorite. And now she abuses her own children, and when she visits, even mom. I won’t have anything to do with her, but I will try to protect mom. My sister only wants to see me when she wants something. I know Jesus wouldn’t want me to forgive her, to associate with her, and imply I condone her behavior.”
And implied, but unsaid: Would you?
How do we answer these unasked questions? Friends turn to us instead of Jesus, and implicitly ask for our understanding and agreement with their thoughts. They don’t want to challenge Him or his Church, but they will challenge us. They seem to imply that Jesus’ Church somehow doesn’t know what Jesus taught. (And when they turn to me, I’m reminded of Eve asking Adam: “Well, want some?”) They imply by their actions and words that they believe in Jesus and His Church, as we do, EXCEPT in this case. How do we answer our friends, and their asking of us for a blessing of their thoughts and actions?
Although I pray: “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace,” when the opportunity does arise, I often think: Who, Me? Quietly I think: Lord, I want to play on your team, but toss the challenges to me underhand; don’t fire those fastballs at me. And my initial inclinations to my friends’ anxieties are almost always a desire to say: “Yes, yes, I understand. Of course, Jesus would not judge these people harshly, and neither should you. I agree, He IS the God of love.” (Now let’s change the topic.)
If I were to respond to my friends in that manner, I think it’d be like I DID swing at a lightly tossed, underhanded pitch – after I had already heard the THWACK of the ball in the catcher’s mitt: Strike One! If we really expect to do God’s will, to follow His example, to be an instrument of His peace, it won’t always be easy. We’ll face a lot of fast balls, and we can’t pretend they’re not what they are. And we have to be ready for the pitch.
All my above thoughts from recent days flashed through my mind this morning, as I knelt and spoke to Jesus, who I had just received in Holy Communion. And He was in a holy communion with me. I said (thinking those thoughts): “Lord, I am not worthy.” He responded: “But I gave you opportunities to show that you are worthy. If you want to be with me, you must act like me. If you want to act like me, you must be open to bringing my presence to my children when I send them to you. You think they should be praying to me, when instead they talk to you. When they talk to you, they ARE praying to me. Your prayers to me in that you might be an instrument of My peace: I have granted you your prayers. Now, BE that instrument of my peace. People sometimes can’t face me, and come to you with their problems, their worries, be my presence to them. You’ve studied my words, you’ve felt my love. And the love I give to you is like the love my Father gave to me. So give that Father’s love to those you meet. The Father’s love doesn’t judge harshly, but it doesn’t condone wrong either. It corrects with love, but it does correct. Can you love your neighbor thusly – even when it is hard to do? I come to you now in communion; despite all the wrongs you did, I still love you. But I expect you to go out and do as I taught you, even the hard things, but to do them with love.”
I think God has confidence in me – and in you, my friends – even in the hard times. If we think of Him as being a God of Love, never forget what He did out of Love: He died for us. Sometimes tough love is the best love, and we’re the ones who have to be tough. “Judge not, lest ye be judged”, is true. But equally true is: “Don’t cry Lord, Lord” without actions to back up your call, lest He say “I do not know you.”
Life is a challenge, but do not be anxious. We are not alone.
Sunday, March 7, 2010
I’ve read other blogger's writings on their struggles. Some seem to obsess about finding and doing God’s will. That almost seems like an “of course” to me; we will try all our life, but there’s no need to obsess about it, just commit to it. Others seem to focus on their past sins, and/or current trials and temptations. But if you believe all this is worthwhile then you believe in what Jesus said, and he said there is forgiveness if we repent and confess. So do it, and try to forget your past sins; he said he would. I think, in summary, all of these people are trying to reach, and worrying about, a level of perfection. And so am I.
At the low points of my self-worth, I am on my knees begging for forgiveness for sins, present and past; I lament over wasted time. At my high points I receive consolations from God, the little pats on the back that seem to say I am doing SOMETHING right, and even knowing I did something right is better than the nothing I often feel I accomplish. (You are doing something right by even reading and thinking on these words.) It always seems to be such a struggle, to be perfect “even as my heavenly Father is perfect.” He gave us an example, but it’s so hard to follow, and to know that we are making progress, growing in holiness. On days when I have troubles, or on days in which I can’t seem to be of any use to others’ troubles, I reflect often on WWJD, and I pray “Make me an instrument of thy peace.” All the while, I strive, for myself, to know that my life has meaning.
I’m not sure I could be a cloistered contemplative monk, even though I’ve sometimes thought that would be a good thing – at least cloistered I would be away from SOME of my sins. Praying to God in the quiet, alone, would definitely bring joy to my soul, but never having those consolations from God, via others, would leave me desolate. I need those “highs”. I’m not sure, as a man, I will ever be confident enough of my value to want to be alone with God, even if he would want me to be. I know this means, in a way, that the value I place on my life is higher than perhaps the one He does – even if I am very confident of my value in His eyes, of the love in his eyes, I’ll never feel that I am good enough for his standards. In effect, I’ll challenge him because I feel he is wrong: I am not worthy. And would such a soul be fit to be alone with him? Would not one who could be more unconditionally loving be a better one for that blessed life? It’s a life I know I would deeply desire, but it’s a life I fear would lead to a self-loathing. How can I love and respect someone so much, that I don’t want to be alone with them? Perfection is a hard thing to contemplate.
I think on this tonight, and think perhaps my concerns are a good thing. On earth, I believe I fear no man, even one who might end my life. Arrogant, I believe I could withstand any man’s scrutiny, and ignore or challenge any criticism. Is not my fear of God thus a good thing, because he is the ONLY being I fear? For as many beings as I really DID fail in this life, and they are sadly numerous, still I trust in God’s forgiveness of those wrongs, yet strangely they are in some way a part of why I find it hard to trust him. He has seen those wrongs! He knows me like none of these others. How can he still love me? I don’t understand. How could I even be alone with him and not skulk out the door, or melt into the floor in shame? How could I not be perfect in the presence of perfection?
He tells me that with him anything is possible but I, in my imperfection, find that hard to believe. I think I know me. Perhaps then, this is the final point to be cleaned in my soul, perhaps any honest man’s soul: knowing and accepting that Christ can make even me, EVEN ME, perfect in his eyes, and accepting of my knowledge of his forgiveness as the ultimate criterion of perfection, not my knowledge of my sin. It is a difficult thing to even try to achieve, this growing in holiness, this attempt at perfection.
It is so very hard, but I try to truly say: My Jesus, I trust in You.
“Oh my Jesus, forgive us our sins. Save us from the fires of hell, and lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of thy mercy.” With every rosary, I say this prayer. It has deep meaning for me.
As I concluded these thoughts and writings in front of the Blessed Sacrament tonight, I read the following words:
Now that we have been justified by faith, let us be at peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
- Antiphon to the Canticle of Mary, Evening Prayer I, Third Sunday of Lent
Praise be to God, now and forever! My thoughts and feelings tonight were true: I am not worthy. But, as just reminded, I must never forget He came to earth to make us worthy!! So that we can “be at peace with God through Our Lord Jesus Christ.”
If YOU have forgotten, my friends, I now remind you: There is no sin, no failure on your part, that God through his Son cannot make right. He came to forgive our sins – ALL of them! He IS the pathway to holiness, to our ultimate perfection. Just by wanting to, you are starting the walk with him, you are starting to grow in holiness. Confess then forget your past sins; ask to know his will, then hold out your hand to him and go forward in trust. If he can find a lost someone like me, surely he can find you. Come, let us walk together with Him. The journey may be long and hard, but I promise you we will find joy along the way.
Father, when we are discouraged by our weakness, give us confidence in your love.
- concluding Evening Prayer
P.S. As I’m typing out this meditation, mom and I are watching the movie Pollyanna on television. She just told the preacher who was practicing his fire and brimstone speech: “You know, there are 800 “glad” sections in the bible, where God told the people to find joy, and to be happy. If he told us 800 times, he must surely have thought it important.” I think that’s a fitting conclusion to these thoughts. I hope you have a happy and joyous day.