Sunday, May 30, 2010

As I Lay Dying

The final days we are able to spend with a friend, a parent, or a spouse are special days, a unique blessing for us. God has given us a time to be ever closer to them, intimate in our conversations, knowing they will be our last on this earth together. They are special days, as in unique, for if we use them well, we will be as close to our dear ones --- and God --- as we can be on this earth. It can be as deep a union as possible here, a foretaste of the eternal union we will share. Jesus promised this to us: We shall be one in Him. It is His eternal plan, which begins for us here on earth, but it will not end here for us, for: He goes to prepare a place for us.

Pat and I sometimes spoke during our trials: “If I should ever get to heaven …”, but it was in our joys that we spoke happily of: “Whichever of us gets to heaven first, will ….” These days, we speak more confidently about which of us that will be: Pat plans to enter a hospice program this week. Each day, each conversation may be our last --- here on earth. We used to meet on Tuesday afternoons to pray, and support each other in our trials, and to celebrate our victories. Now, I remind her, that we will no longer be restricted by this limited time and space --- and I plan to pester her for prayers anytime I am in need (which is often). “So you better not plan upon a perfectly quiet and peaceful heaven --- because I won’t leave you alone.” She laughed when I told her that, and we remembered other friends and family who over the years we’ve prayed for, and to. And then she said: “Well, you know I never did plan on just laying around and relaxing in heaven either. I plan on speaking to Jesus or His angels any time I see one of my friends wandering from the path down here, until we all meet again there. So if you stray, you’d better be expecting more lightning bolts --- or kicks in the pants --- to be hitting upon you than you ever felt before.”

And I laughed.

Pat and I these days speak honestly about our growing closeness, and our soon-to-be new relationship. And we say it and feel it in our prayers together. As we pray, it is me often voicing our prayer, and her silently saying it in her heart. This is the way it will be in the future. Tonight, and every night, as I say my rosary and meditate on its mysteries, I speak and feel as if it is us saying the prayers, reflecting on the mysteries, together, as we lay dying. (See the Glorious Mysteries post)

The sorrows and humility of this life are over. Now Glory! Like Jesus must have felt at His resurrection, soon we shall be able to say those words. No more sorrows; no more humility. Only love --- the only thing we will take with us from this life, love. But first we must face the real and spiritual burial of this life. Hail Mary, pray for us. That we might be raised.

You go to make a place for me; I stay in Your place here. Times up, Lord. I hope You have my place prepared, because I am ready for it! I’ve tried to be a good representative for You while here on earth; I hope our Father is pleased. My life has had many sorrows, most in truth, caused by me. But You know that: “Life is a trial,” and “No man is without sin” --- save one, of course, You. Now and at the hour of our death; no more sorrows, no more pain. I look forward to being with You, Lord. My journey here ends in the springtime of the year; an appropriate time, for it reminds me of You. I hear the birds singing. I hear the waiting choirs.

Lord, I need You with me; by myself I am so weak. These final days are ones of physical weaknesses, and I so hate to be a bother to hospital staff, and to my friends. I don’t want these distractions to be how they remember me. And I don’t want this old body’s weakness to distract me from you, either. When I call, but especially when I do not, Lord, be with me. I don’t want to die alone. Yea though I walk through the valley …, I shall not fear, for You are with me.

My Jesus, Who so loved me, Who I so love, I trust in You.

Lord, I believe You raised your own mother into heaven. You prepared a place for me; she prays I might take it. I prayed to Mary often in my life, asking for her to intercede for me. She knew very well the commandment You gave to us about mothers, and what it meant. You certainly did too; I rely upon that. Honor thy father and thy mother, that you might have eternal life. I do honor my Father, and also Mary, my spiritual mother. So, Lord, might I …?

I sometimes wonder how God can forgive me; but I know my mother does. Lord, you called on us to be as little children, and certainly when I am afraid, as I am now, I feel like a child. In my fear, like any child, I often turn to my mother. O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee. I trust that You will hear Your mother’s prayers for me. My Jesus, I trust in You.

My Jesus, how glorious is Your love for us. As I lay dying, I reflect on all the wisdom and love you have given me over my life. It was good. Now with my friends and family around me, we celebrate that blessing together, here, one final time. But as for me, I feel I am looking backward upon them, and there, in front of me, is the next phase of my life, where: I look forward to praising You forever.

My Jesus, I trust in You.

Monday, May 24, 2010

I Stand Ready

With the passing of Pentecost, the Church’s celebration of the Easter Season ends. The Divine Office, my daily prayers and readings, switches from one book to the next --- or it should. But as I entered the chapel this morning I looked down at the prayer book in my hand and, slapping my forehead, said aloud: “Ahhh!” (And the few early worshipers there looked up at me who had disrupted their silence, frowned, and undoubtedly thought: “Ahhh!”)

So this morning, lacking the proper prayers for the day, I randomly read some of the prayers I had underlined in my Easter Season prayer book. They were worth recalling:

This Word of God was made flesh and dwelt among us. He had no power himself to die for us: he had to take from us our mortal flesh. He effected a wonderful exchange with us, through mutual sharing: we gave Him the power to die; He will give us the power to live.
(From a sermon by Saint Augustine, bishop)

The reason why Christ died …was that he might lead you to God. Christ suffered in the flesh; therefore arm yourselves with his same mentality. You are not to spend what remains of your earthly life on human desires but on the will of God.
Above all, let your love for one another be constant, for love covers a multitude of sins. Put your gifts at the service of one another, each in the measure he has received. The one who speaks is to deliver God’s message. The one who serves is to do it with the strength provided by God. Thus, in all of you God is to be glorified through Jesus Christ.

(From the first letter of the apostle Peter)

Today I’ll again go downtown to visit my friend, Pat. The doctors have again begun some treatments which tax her strength mightily, but she still hangs on and prays, as do I. She is embarrassed by her weaknesses and the fuss of others as they tend to her daily needs --- she cannot see (I read to her); she cannot walk (others carry her), but she prays with and for all of us.

As I think about Pat and my mom, I sometimes reflect on their sufferings. It’s kind of like they are struggling to get a stuck door open, but they know what’s on the other side, and so they will push and pull hard. But what of my struggles? Lord, where are my struggles going? Any happy destination I can imagine seems so dim in the mist, so far off. With Pat and mom, I sometimes feel I am with them on their death-watch, but what of mine? Am I also waiting, is this my task in life, or are there further tasks to be done? I want You to know, I stand ready, Lord.

I stand ready to ride the fastest steed, and win the race. I stand ready to devise the great battle plan, and lead the army. I stand ready to think of new business plans, to create new enjoyable jobs, to lighten the burdens of my fellow-workers. I stand ready to convey Your words to millions of people, and guide them to the path to Your kingdom. I stand ready to battle Satan himself, for you Lord.

And all this is to come from the man who can’t remember to bring the right prayer book to church??

No. I suspect (but I may be wrong!) that, although desirable, those are not His plans for me. Not at all. I look at You, there on the altar in front of me, Lord. And listen.

More reasonably, I stand ready to take the keys, and park the car of the rich man. I stand ready to clean the toilets in the dying man’s home. I stand ready to help the child who needs constant attention, but no one has time, or the elderly person who needs constant love, but has no one to care. I stand ready to be beside the poor, and the dying. I stand ready to be ridiculed for Your sake.

I stand ready to smile, when I feel like crying.

Lord, I stand proudly ready to serve You in ways which will make headlines around the world, and loudly proclaim of Your glory and Your love. Lord, I stand humbly ready to serve You in ways which only You will know about.

Lord, I stand ready.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Hole Truth

I’m sure there are some Catholics who would say: “Look at the sins of the priests and bishops; why should I support this corruption.” I know that these Catholics exist; the newspapers seem to be forever quoting them. I admit I can understand their viewpoint, but I do not see why their logic, if correct, should not be applied to other situations. So to the man who overturned his boat and was drowning I would say: “Why should I save you from your stupidity?” And to the man who cries: Lord, Lord --- “Why should I save you from your path to hell?” And to the prodigal son in my family who squanders his inheritance, I would say “And don’t come back.”

But that’s not the logic Jesus would apply. And that’s not the logic I apply, because I know and attempt to live my faith, a faith that ACTS when it sees sin and trouble, and does not stand idly by and criticize.

In this morning’s paper, on Pentecost Sunday, was a front page article criticizing the Catholic Church. It parallels the articles on Easter Sunday which called for the pope’s resignation. Do you think that this is a coincidence, that articles of criticism appear prominently on our holiest days? I don’t. And so I will take the time to write a letter to the editor of the newspaper, trying to be more polite and unbiased than the article was. I will act in defense of the Church. Earlier this week I had heard Sr. Ann Shields on the radio: “This is a time of trial in the Church; the devil is at work to destroy its unity.” And all I can think in response to her words is: Amen.

Pentecost is a great day to talk about action, action WE are to take. Some remember Pentecost mostly as a day in which tongues of fire appeared over the heads of those gathered – “Wow, look at that! Look at WHO they are.” But it was what they DID that day that was the “real happening”, and what we celebrate. The apostles went out and spoke in tongues, spreading the gospel. It didn’t really matter who they were, they were defined by what they did. They started the Church of Christ. The followers of them continued their teaching. I heard a great line in the homily this morning at mass: “While they were scared, Pentecost turned out not to be a time for the apostles to circle the wagons and defend, but a time to go out and attack. God is with us.”

The Catholic Church defines a teaching of infallibility, associated with the teaching of the Catholic faith. Many are confused by this, and think it means the pope is infallible. No, the pope is a man, as are the cardinals and bishops of the Church, and all men, save one, sin. (Rather interestingly, I think, are the first words spoken to the apostles on Pentecost: “Whose sins you forgive …”. The first spoken words are about forgiveness of sins, even before the admonition to go out and preach. You think that was a coincidence??) Now go back and read the first sentence of this meditation. Pointing to the leaders of the Church and saying “Sinner!” is not really important. Of course they sin, and their sins can be forgiven. It’s not important WHO they are, but what they do for the Church. They teach the Catholic faith, and that, we are promised will not be in error.

Some saints and writers have described our growth in holiness as similar to our creating a bucket, to be filled with graces. Some of us have bigger buckets of graces, some smaller, but all will be filled to the brim and our largest desires sated in heaven. Upon reflection, I don’t like that analogy. I think our growth in holiness is more like our creating not a large bucket, but a large sieve. The holier we become, the larger our sieve to receive graces, and pass them through us to others. That’s the “hole” truth. The Church’s leaders and its sacraments are merely great sieves to pass through the graces of the Holy Spirit to us. And those graces are promptings for us to act. That was the great event of Pentecost, the turning on of the graces to the prepared sieves.

If all you are is someone who reads the “news” in the paper, who watches the drowning man, who points at the sinner, I believe you are rejecting the gifts of the Holy Spirit. You’ve sought a faith that would only be something you could define and feel and retain for yourself, like in a bucket, a faith you could use to compare yours to others – “I’m holier than that one.” Your faith is not one defined by how much you could spread it to others. That’s not the true definition of “hole-y”. Holy is like the apostles speaking in various ways, reaching some in this language and some in another. Holy isn’t pointing at the sins of your brother, but consoling and forgiving him and loving him. By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another. (Jn 13:35) Holy isn’t banishing the prodigal son, it’s recognizing that we are all part of the family of Christ, and supporting each other in our weaknesses. Holy isn’t abandoning our house when it is leaking, it is working together to patch and strengthen the weak points.

And that's the "hole" truth, as I see it on this Pentecost Sunday.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

What's Important

I’ve read many thousands of books in my life, seeking truth. The Bible, the Catechism, and others that I have read, I will read again and again, for the depths of their wisdom cannot ever be reached by my tiny brain. And I have spent many hours in prayer: “Lord, that I might see.”

In recent days I have heard and read the words of many a troubled soul, self-proclaimed Catholics worrying about many things: damage to the environment, the health of the poor, world-wide poverty, and even world-wide excess. I have read of people deeply concerned about the shortage of priests, the souls of bishops, and the conversion of the world. All of these things do seem worthy of concern and worth writing many words about, and of saying many prayers about. But of what should I be writing about? What should be MY deep concern?

Last night a young woman spoke to me of her desire for heaven, and wanting to get as much of it as she could. It was a deep and good desire, but I left our conversation somewhat conflicted: from some wanting everything good for everyone in the world, to this one wanting everything good for herself: what is the greatest of these things? Is getting to heaven myself the most important? If I were to spend my life focused on doing the greatest good, what should I be doing? I prayed this morning: “Lord, what would You have me do? What is the greatest?”

And in the quiet of the chapel I remembered (and heard?): “And the greatest of these is love.” I think God answered me. Oh, it was not an answer I hadn’t heard before, but perhaps He must keep telling me and telling me, again and again, and yet AGAIN in differing ways, because I keep asking Him the same question again and again, in differing ways.

Once I had pondered about the greatest learning I had achieved in my life thus far, and concluded it was this: Q. Why did God make me? A. To know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him …. The Q&A of my third grade religion class, yet it took me a lifetime to understand, “And the greatest of these is love.”

Of all the works of Scripture, of philosophers, and of theologians I have read, I wondered, is there one great insight that has been given especially to me? What greatest thing has God told me that I needed to understand to give meaning to MY life, to focus my purpose, to give me the truth and wisdom I have sought?

God, through His Son, came to save the world, to save and repair all of creation, to reveal to us how we might join him in the place He promised, to tell us and to give us the example of what He would have us do … if we are to obtain eternal life. And this he did, not in grandiose miracles, not as a God changing His world, or His country, or even His city. He came and talked to, worked miracles for, and loved: individuals. He focused his life, his example for our life, on one person at a time. This is the one greatest insight I have gained in my life, from all my readings, from all my prayers, this one great gift of wisdom: Q. Lord, what would you have me do? A. Love one another.

Perhaps by my actions He may begin great changes to the world. Perhaps He may use me as an example to change peoples’ hearts, and He may make a great renewal of the country or even His Church spring forth. Perhaps, by my actions great works of charity will be begun, to feed the hungry, to comfort the poor. Perhaps.

God once gave me an answer to my nightly prayers for the end to abortion. While my mind was seeking a change to the Supreme Court or new legislators who would reverse Roe v Wade, he showed me a very small band of people who were saving babies one at a time, and these people needed my meager financial help, and asked only for my prayers. And I gave them both, but I realized, in learning of their work and its results, that my nightly prayers were answered. Here was the end to abortion that I so fervently prayed for: one abortion ended at a time. One person stopped at a time. One person loved at a time.

God didn’t create me to save the world; he gave that task to someone much greater than I. My greatest insight, the greatest Wisdom given me by God: He came to show us how to change the world and all that is wrong with it. He came to change nations, and all that is wrong with them. He came to change the hearts of all men, and turn them to Him. And he did all this one person, one miracle, one act of love at a time. This is what He showed me in His life, and now, in my heart.

So don’t worry, my friends, about those grandiose changes we would like to see in the environment, in the world, in our government, in the Church, or even in the hearts of peoples – even in our own. These are things for God to worry about. All we should be worrying about is our neighbor, our family, one person at a time. Help and love the one, the example He gave us of how we might live life to its fullest, and then have faith in Him to do all the grandiose things. In His plan of creation, I am supremely important, but I am just one small part of His plan. I shouldn’t worry about the whole, how the whole plan is being done, nor even if I can do more. I should focus on finding and doing what he created me to be, and nothing more. I shouldn’t seek to make myself a bigger part of the picture, lest I spoil the beauty and holiness of creation.

This is the greatest insight God has given me. Praise be to God, from His lowly servant. Lord, what would you have me do?


Monday, May 17, 2010

For Pat

Psalm 71
You have stood by me, Lord, from my youth

In you, O Lord, I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
In your justice rescue me, free me:
pay heed to me and save me.

Be a rock where I can take refuge,
a mighty stronghold to save me;
for you are my rock, my stronghold.
Free me from the hand of the wicked,
from the grip of the unjust, of the oppressor.

It is you, O Lord, who are my hope,
my trust, O Lord, since my youth.
On you I have leaned from my birth,
from my mother’s womb you have been my help.
My hope has always been in you.

My fate has filled many with awe
but you are my strong refuge.
My lips are filled with your praise,
with your glory all the day long.
Do not reject me now that I am old;
when my strength fails do not forsake me.

For my enemies are speaking about me;
those who watch me take counsel together.
They say: “God has forsaken him; follow him,
seize him; there is no one to save him.”
O God, do not stay far off:
my God, make haste to help me!

Let them be put to shame and destroyed,
all those who seek my life.
Let them be covered with shame and confusion,
all those who seek to harm me.

But as for me, I will always hope
and praise you more and more.
My lips will tell of your justice
and day by day of your help
though I can never tell it all.

I will declare the Lord’s mighty deeds,
proclaiming your justice, yours alone.
O God, you have taught me from my youth
and I proclaim your wonders still.

Now that I am old and grey-headed,
do not forsake me, God.
Let me tell of your power to all ages,
praise your strength and justice to the skies,
tell of you who have worked such wonders.
O God, who is like you?

You have burdened me with bitter troubles
but you will give me back my life.
You will raise me from the depths of the earth;
you will exalt me and console me again.

So I will give you thanks on the lyre
for your faithful love, my God.
To you will I sing with the harp,
to you, the Holy One of Israel.
When I sing to you my lips shall rejoice
and my soul, which you have redeemed.

And all the day long my tongue
shall tell the tale of your justice:
for they are put to shame and disgraced,
all those who seek to harm me.

Lord, God of the living, you give us lasting youth through the waters of rebirth, and happiness through the bread of life. Do not desert us when we are old, but help us to follow your will in both good times and bad, so that we may for ever praise your faithfulness.

Ant. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

I intended to visit my friend, Pat, in the hospital this afternoon. I was told by her sister not to come. She was resting after bad news: the drugs treating her failing kidney and her failing heart were at odds, while helping one they were hurting the other. They stopped all treatments, including medication for her painful leg. What next, if anything, will be decided later today. I stopped at the chapel and read the above Daytime Prayer from the breviary. I believe if she were alert, Pat would have liked to have said it, so I said it for her. If you have a moment, I would appreciate it if you also offered up a prayer for this woman, this gift from God. Thank you.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Who? Me??

It’s a rare person who has never been chosen last. It’s one thing for us to finish a race last, or get the lowest grade on a test. When that happens we know that we have failed, but perhaps with work there is some hope we can do better. But when we are CHOSEN last, not only do we know that we have failed, but we realize that others know we have failed, and they don’t mind announcing it to the world. “Okay, everyone else here has been chosen for a team, I guess we’ll have to take Johnny.” We’ll HAVE to. He’s the only one left.

You know that feeling.

And so many of us are sometimes surprised when we are chosen first; it’s never happened before. When our name is the first one called, we look around confused and say: “Who? Me??” It rather seems like someone has made a mistake. We NEVER get picked first. I wonder if St. Mathias (Feast day May 14), who was chosen to replace Judas, felt that way.

Mathias was a follower of Jesus, just like the apostles, but also like so many others. He probably didn’t feel very special, and in fact when he was picked to replace Judas the apostles didn’t really even choose him, they pulled his name out of the hat. And his name was only in the hat because he had witnessed the ascension. Not because he was a great preacher, not a wonderful holy man, and not even a good friend – no, it was “Let’s put that guy’s name in the hat because he was there; one more guy to support us when others say we’re lying about the ascension we saw. You’ll back us up, won’t you, Mathias?”

Mathias, chosen because he was a flunkie. Is that what he felt? Mathias, replacing Judas, “You can’t be any worse.” Is that what he felt? We now tend to think of Mathias as a man blessed by that choice, one chosen by the Spirit. It’s SAINT Mathias. But I wonder if he felt that way. Sometimes you only understand the rightness, the importance, or the greatness of something in retrospect, in looking back on it. At the time, it may have seemed like nothing important, and maybe even a bad thing, when we were suddenly chosen and we said: “Who? Me??”

I don’t know what Mathias thought on his being chosen. I do know that, looking back, we can see the importance of that choice, whether he understood it or not. And that this, like many things in the history of the Church, needs to be a lesson for us: God sometimes calls to us in small ways, and sometimes in rather surprising ways. And in response we should not respond to his call as some dumb, useless nerd: “Who? Me??” Rather, we should respond to God’s call, even if it seems strange or unusual, with the response of a loyal servant: “Speak, Lord, I’m listening.” Just because we think ourselves unimportant does not mean that God thinks of us that way. It just means we are dumb, useless nerds – but we don’t have to act that way.

I don’t know what Mathias was thinking, but I’d like to believe that when called what he said was, “Speak, Lord, I’m listening.”

I’d like to think that’s what I’ll say --- when he calls. When he calls.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

I'm Bored


I feel bored.

Well, at least you’re getting a little more honest. When you first read this page’s title and tacitly agreed with it, you were lying. You’re never bored any more than you’re never a rock. It’s physically impossible. Now I grant you that if you agreed with the second line you read, “I feel bored,” you may be stating something closer to the truth, but only because you are not thinking about what you are saying, and you really believe you are “feeling” bored. But that is not true either.

If you think about it, you must agree that boredom is better described as an absence of feeling, rather than something you feel. If your brain and body are functioning properly, you cannot really NOT feel your environment, the things around you, but you can will your brain to ignore the sensory inputs it receives. Boredom is something you will – you choose it, not something you “feel.”

Today is just the same as yesterday, you think. The smells, the sounds, the touches, the tastes, and the sights --- all the same. I know them so well I need not think about them. I WILL to ignore them --- I “feel” bored. That truly is a description of boredom. But wait one second: if you chose to ignore your senses, then your brain IS working. You ARE thinking! So, I’d suggest --- just as a thought --- that you might think of something else, to relieve this boredom you “feel, and so disgusts you.”

So what might you think of? Speaking strictly for myself, when I am in that state of mind, I have to start slowly to change my mind’s focus. I often start with just staring out the window. Oh yes, if I CHOOSE to continue my bored “feeling,” I’ll look outside at the things there and say: “same, same, same, and same. Boring!” I could CHOOSE to do that, and if I do, I must really love my boredom, to want to keep it so strongly. And it would indeed take strength and will, because if I am honest with myself, I can never look outside and say of everything I see there: “same ol’, same ol’.” God did not create an earth made solely of unmoving rocks – at least not in my backyard.

In my yard this morning, I saw spring flowers, blooming brightly, and smelling wonderful (if I “chose” to smell them). I saw new green growth on trees, and buds on the bushes. And today I even saw a duck sitting in the (un-mowed) grass beside my deck. I thought: “I wonder if he is just resting (bored?), or is he looking for a nesting site?” It proved to be the latter, I think, for soon I saw a female duck nearby. Perhaps I’ll have some new ducklings in the near future, to avoid as I do my yardwork.

Perhaps I am “feeling” ---wait! Hmmm, I am thinking again. My brain has gone out if its self-willed “bored” neutral. I find I could not look into the yard at God in his creation and in his beauty, and not be moved with some “feeling”. And, strangely, this “feeling” was not willed by me. But neither did my five senses trigger it. Some might say that my sight triggered this new thinking, but I assure you, had I been looking at nothing but rocks (rocks I had seen a thousand times before as if I were living on the moon), I would still “feel” bored. No, God in his creation and creatures moved me with their beauty. And the beauty was not something I sensed; he came into me in a way beyond the senses for me to “feel” the beauty. And I thought about it.

If we are ever in the situation where we “feel” bored with what our senses are telling us, we are not being true to ourselves, and our very nature, if we do not turn our mind to things beyond our senses. God gave man so many gifts of the Spirit, amazing wonderful things to ponder, things beyond our senses. He is one of them.

And for these things we will never reach the point of saying “same, same, and same.” For God is never the same, in any “sense” of the word. God is always newly beautiful, newly knowledged, newly loving. You can never get enough of him, or all he has done for us. You can start with the simple, the things and creatures he created for us, and admire their beauty, but that’s just a start. The saints, the poets, the philosophers have just begun to describe Him. There is so much for us to think on, learn, and love. It is endless; it is not boring.

God didn’t create us to be bored. Everything he created, day by creation’s day, was for us. He even gave us women. Then he even gave us himself. Not to relieve our boredom with life, but to teach us what life really is. It is not boring. If you look at everything outside you and think “what a waste”, it is not the things outside of you which are a waste.

Thank you, Lord, for this day. This day that is not boring, but is beautiful, even as you are beautiful. Thank you, Lord.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

To Irish Catholics

Peace be with you.

Pope rebukes Irish bishops, the headline in the Catholic World Report magazine read. Does that make you angry, my Irish friends? It does me. But then, perhaps because I am so old, I can pause and take control of myself, and remember. When I am angry I can’t remember things well, and I certainly cannot reflect on them. And this is not a time for anger; it is a time for serious reflection.

This is a time of trial; have you forgotten what that means? Were your parents and priests so neglectful in your education that they never taught you the words of Jesus on the matter? Were you so “busy” that you never took time to read His words, or those of his saints? Now is a time of trial, but it is not the first time, nor will it be the last. He showed us how to act in a time of trial, and said we would see more.

When he prayed, drops of blood flowed from his whole body … What is this blood streaming from his whole body but the martyrdom of the whole Church? … The body of Christ must suffer anguish until the end of time. …
When day was fading into evening, the Lord laid down his life on the cross, to take it up again; he did not lose his life against his will. Here, too, WE are symbolized. What part of him hung on the cross if not the part he had received from us? … Christ, nailing our weakness to the cross.

- From a commentary on the psalms, by Saint Augustine, bishop.

If you wish to follow me, you must take up your cross.

The sins of His Church are nothing new; they were there at the beginning; they are here with us now. But this is not a thing for us to lose heart over. Remember: I will be with you until the end of time, and He chastises those whom He loves.

Augustine fought Arianism in his day, when three-fourths of the bishops of the Church went astray. Did you forget that, my Irish brothers? Would you leave the Church now because it contains sinners? Augustine did not. If this were a just thing to do, then perhaps no one should have followed Jesus after the sins of His cardinal, Judas. If we should leave in disgust because of the failures of some Church leaders, then perhaps we should all have followed Luther or Henry VIII, when they pointed to priests and bishops and said: Sinners!

Have you forgotten, my Irish friends, about those others cried “sinner,” --- and then He began to write in the sand, and one by one they dropped their stones and walked away. Oh yes, there are sinners within the Church, and among its leaders. Indeed there are great sinners: Woe to he who would lead my flock astray. Great sinners, indeed. But we are not the ones who should cast the first stone, because we promised that we wouldn’t:

Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation …
Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles: I leave you peace, my peace I give you. Look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church, and grant us the peace and unity of your kingdom where you live forever and ever.

Although I address this to Irish Catholics, you are not alone. Here in America I remember the sins of my forefathers, who hung signs for employment, but “No Irish Catholics need apply.” I read of and pray for the millions of children killed through abortion each year in this country, many, many by Catholics. If we are to cast stones at sinners, my Irish brothers, my goodness, just where shall we begin … and, sadly, where we would find enough stones?

No it is not for us to judge, but neither is it for us to grieve. Oh, we grieve over sin, even as the Father does, but remember what He did for us, despite our sins. Don’t grieve, my Irish friends, because this is a time of trial. Rejoice, because this is also a time of cleansing. Many Catholics led easy lives in the past, but blessed are the martyrs. Today, you, we, are martyrs. We are suffering, and we may suffer more, but he did not come to bring us ease of living, he came to bring us the cross.

And in this time between Easter and Pentecost, remember how Jesus spent this time. It was a time of encouragement. He was risen! The fear and confusion of the cross must be overcome, and his apostles must go forward and preach his words. He said Peace be with you. He gave them joy, and courage. But all the while they saw him, they could see the holes in his hands. The cross didn’t go away, but it was not to be feared. The cross was a good thing then, it became the Church’s symbol. It is a good thing now.

Peace be with you, my brothers in Christ. Peace be with you.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Little Blessings

I have seen the beautiful sunrise, the glory of God shown to me as an unexpected gift. Sometimes I called a friend who would be driving to work at that moment, facing East at the same time as I. A quick hi, then a mere mention of the Glorious display before us was enough to get us on the same page, and then for a few moments we’d silently drive on, two friends, together as if holding hands, yet separated by many miles. Together in the quiet moments, bathed in God’s gift to us. I will always remember those mornings.

I have seen magnificent displays of grandeur. I have stood on the rim of the Grand Canyon at sunset, watched the purple and red colors drift over its walls, and seen the gentle twinkles, as if gold, shine in the changing reflections on the rocks, reflections of God. I have felt His presence there.

I have stood alone amidst creations whose beauty I could not comprehend, despite my scientific mind. I’ve walked miles through a wood and suddenly found myself on the shore of a small lake. Looking up, to the front and either side, I saw only towering snow-covered peaks. Summertime in the Canadian Rockies, snow, gentle blue waters, warm green trees, all around me. Air so fresh, yet rich and tasty – you want to breathe in until your lungs burst, and smell its cleanliness to taste its flavor. Beauty, quiet, me, alone – and God. I’ll never forget the way He spoke to me then.

And in my youth, I have fished calm waters. Well, to be completely honest, I remember rowing the boat in calm waters. That was my role as a 9- or 10-year old, as dad and Uncle Walter stood in either end of the boat, casting into the morning air for bass. Row gently – two strokes only, no more – quietly swish the oars in the water, then lift them up and let the boat gently drift along. The only sound was the gentle whirring of the line feeding out, and the soft plop of the lure hitting the water. Fishing in small backwaters off of the main river, little fingers of water reaching back into the woods, those mornings will ever be in my memory. Strangely, it is not the occasional fish caught (and netted by me!) that I recall most from those days, but rather the occasional animal which came to the shore to drink. The beautiful deer slipping silently out of the wood, only twenty yards away, and bending down to drink. We could hear her sipping as we slowly drifted by – no oars in the water, no lines being cast. We all watched each other slowly drift apart, all feeling somehow blessed at each other’s presence. And I remember that one time when the huge moose appeared. He stood staring at us for a while, and then walked into the water and began swimming towards the boat --- shades of Jimmy Carter!!! Even that occasion was a memory never to be forgotten, and especially when he turned away, and seemed to have a smile on his face.

I remember those days. Little blessings I will never forget. God has smiled often down on me. I wonder how many never stopped to see or hear those blessings in their lives, and who now miss the consolation of those memories. I pray for them, and for their peace.

As I see a beautiful sunrise or sunset, or feel the quiet of the wood or stream, or smell the cleanness of air, or read the manifold descriptions of our mutual love in His Words, I will recall those little blessings.

Like the deer that yearns
for running streams,
so my soul is yearning
for you, my God.

These things will I remember

- Ps 142

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Sunday Meditation

Sometimes it seems to take me a lot of words to complete a meditation; some things which come to me are complex feelings – no, beyond feelings, and are difficult to describe in words.

Last night as I meditated on the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary, I read this line from my rosary meditation, and it hung with me for hours:

Yea though I walk through the valley … I shall not fear for you are with me.

Enough said.

You Are a Hero

Let’s get something straight from the start: you are a hero, and the world needs more heroes today. A hero is someone who is exceptional, and yes, yes, YOU are exceptional.

Now this isn’t such a startling statement; you know it’s true. Beyond the fact that you look like no one else in the world, you also have different experiences, gained from your schooling and learning from the unique events of your life. The result is an individual like no one else – you truly are exceptional. But, you say, that just makes me different, not a hero. Here I – and I’m sure, God – disagree with you. You underestimate your importance to Him and to His Divine Plan.

If Superman, who was very smart, sat at home reading the books he liked, would we consider him a hero? If Mother Teresa lived a cloistered life, praying quietly with the God she so loved, would we consider her a hero? If George Washington sat comfortably on his plantation and paid England its taxes – which he could afford, would we consider him a hero?

I think you see the point. Someone can really BE a hero, and have all the potential to do great heroic things, but unless he does those things, WE won’t consider him a hero. We’ll never see the great, unique gifts he has been given, and even he himself will never see and live all that he could be. If a hero does not ACT as a hero; everyone loses, even him. Perhaps most tragically and sadly, even God.

So how did Superman go off and leap from tall buildings and stop speeding bullets? (I don’t recommend you try this.) How did Mother Teresa go off to another country and start picking up dying beggars from the street? How did Washington lead an army, and eventually a nation? What plan did they follow?

I honestly don’t know the answer if the question were put to them: “Why did you do that?” I suspect it was a very personal and difficult decision to make. One thing I am confident of, however, is that they did not reason their way to being a hero. Superman did not say: “Well, I’m pretty strong, let’s see if I can stop a bullet.” Mother Teresa did not say: “Having poor people is a bad thing, I think I’ll go save them all.” Washington did not say : “Well, my slaves listen to me, I must be a pretty good leader. I think I’ll go out and form an army.” That’s not the way things happened. It didn’t happen that way because logically and reasonably they wouldn’t have done that. They didn’t think their way into being heroes. And you, exceptional as you are, won’t figure out on your won how to be the hero you can be, either.

The way for you to stand up and be the hero you can be, is first to get down on your knees. Acknowledge the Creator and ask what He created you for, and you’ll be well on your way to showing the world the exceptional person you are. A true hero starts in humility, not pride. He starts by acknowledging there is someone stronger, not by exercising his strength. A truly wise man knows there is much he does not know.

A hero is recognized for making moral, Godly choices, in an exceptional way. Many women could be a Mother Teresa; many men could be a George Washington. I think what made them heroes was not that they chose to be different, but they accepted the fact that they were different. They may have gone to the same schools as thousands of other children. They could have followed the same careers as their teachers recommended, as their parents wished, and as their peers did. They could have followed what was easy, and pleasing to others. And they would have led good, – and in the eyes of most – very fulfilled lives. But there was one who made them different, MADE THEM different. If they did not lead lives according to His plans, surely He would have considered them unfulfilled. They would have been created unique, but they would have acted common. They would not have been heroes in His eyes. And that’s all that really matters: are we being who He created us to be.

How are you trying to live your life? Who are you seeking to follow? Is there something unique in you that cries out for you to act, to not follow the crowd, to be a hero? Who are you asking about it? Who’s advice are you listening for? The Holy Spirit DOES abide in you.

You can be a hero to your spouse, your kids, your company, and your God. All you have to do is act like the one you were made to be. And how’s that? Well, duh! If there aren’t any directions on how to use a thing on the box (you did come in a box, didn’t you?), then you call the manufacturer and ask him for the directions. Duh!!

Come on, Superman, you can do it. I’m waitin’ to cheer. : - )

You, O Lord, know my path. (Ps 142)
Speak Lord, I’m listening.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Learning To Love

As a child we learned how to receive love. Learning how to give love takes many more years, and for some it takes a lifetime. The Church, the saints, and Jesus attempt to teach us, but, This is a hard thing. Parents have the easiest time learning to give love, it is so natural to give it to your children, but even parents find it hard to apply that learning to others.

It is so important to learn how to love. Not the love that has to deal with sex, not the love we receive, but the love which we willingly give – no, in which we prioritize giving. That’s real love; it’s the example He gave us. And the world so much needs that love, especially now, in times when so many have so many fears.

I recently read some books on Alzheimer’s. One of the things I learned was that the Alzheimer’s disease destroys the functioning of the brain in approximately the reverse order of which it was learned. So one of the first things to go is recent, short-term memories, then more complex tasks which have many steps, and some of the last things to go are the things learned as a baby: the love contained in a hug or just holding a hand, or the soothing sounds of music which could have been heard in the womb. I think this learning about the progression of Alzheimer’s can be related to the importance of love.

Love is a basic need which virtually never goes away in a person. Love isn’t only shown in the things we learned as adults, in its best most intimate forms, it is shown in ways we learned as infants. A friend recently reminded me that she needed to hear from me; sometimes she felt very alone in her trials – even through an email I could have been holding her hand; giving her a hug; showing that someone was there, and cared. I was reminded: these things are important to so many people. How easy we forget.

My mom, despite her dementia, never forgets to tell me each night as I put her into bed that “You know I love you.” She may forget many things, but she knows that is important to express her love out loud --- why do so many of us without dementia forget to say it? Especially to those around us who really need to hear it, like the out of work neighbor, the elderly living alone, the hospital patient no one visits, or the mentally retarded adults who no one stops to listen to. What are these, who so much need someone to love them, thinking about us? Do you think they resent us? No, I get a reminder of that also from my mom when sometimes she has difficulty matching her body function urges with her ability to make it happen, and so she may ask every 5 minutes for help to get on the toilet, but nothing happens. Almost always after the second or third attempt, she looks at me and says: “I’m sorry.” She perceives she has inconvenienced me, and feels that my love for her is diminished, and so she says she is sorry, when she has done nothing wrong.

That’s what many of those who so need our love are thinking about us: I’m sorry. I’m sorry I need to inconvenience you, but I need your love. They apologize to us because we’re so insensitive to their need; we’re so selfish. They apologize when it is really us who should be apologizing, and not just to them, but to God. “I’m sorry, Lord. You gave me an example; you gave me lessons to learn; you told me I would be tested; and yet I failed. When the critical moments came, my lamp was the one out of oil; I didn’t reflect Your light, but only my own inner darkness. I’m sorry for being so selfish, for not being ready for the moment when Your love was needed and I was to be an instrument of Your peace – and I failed.”

It’s hard to learn how to love with the love He teaches us, a love that grows throughout our lives, a reflection of our growing in holiness. We get married and think that that is the end of the pursuit of our beloved, when marriage is just an agreement of its beginning. We hear “blessed are the poor” and then we send a check somewhere to someone we never even met – but Jesus didn’t sit in Nazareth and heal some people in Rome, He went and met the person needing healing. Then He healed the person right next to Him. This is love.

Love is a thing you give, whether in the form of a hug, a kind word, or healing. Love doesn’t look for something in return. Love isn’t centered on ourselves. Love is patient; love is kind.

Learning to love; This is a hard thing.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

I am an Evangelist

The thought struck me recently: I am an evangelist. “Struck” is the right word to describe it, for it was a sharp and sudden awareness. And with the awareness, which I really can’t describe, came a joy, which I can’t describe either, … but you know what I mean.

It’s an awareness which cannot be learned, as a book might teach you something. Indeed you may know something from book learning, but not really KNOW it, not really believe it in your heart. It’s the awareness like when you discover that someone loves you. It’s the awareness like when your friends jump out of the dark and yell “Surprise! Happy birthday!” You knew they were your friends and you knew it was your birthday, but now … now they are “special”, and your heart, not your head tells you so. It’s like the awareness when you see your baby for the first time and the nurse holds it up for you to see – and perhaps it had been crying, but now it stops and looks deep into your eyes, and smiles. And you KNOW, with an awareness no one could explain to you ….

It’s the awareness that comes to some when the priest raises a piece of bread into the air and says “This is my body,” and though you had heard it a thousand times before, though you had studied the teachings, though you affirmed before all men that you believed this, and yet now, this day, this moment, suddenly, you knew, you KNEW: THIS IS HIS BODY!! At that moment in the church, a small baby gurgles and giggles into the sacred silence, and you know the joy it is feeling. You KNOW. Not everyone is gifted to know the things of God; it is a blessing to be made aware of these things.

I know. I am an evangelist.

I know we are all called to be evangelists. I’ve often analyzed my actions --- over and over and over and, anxiously, over again: Am I doing Your will? Is this what I should be doing? Am I a witness to Your Church’s truth and beauty? Am I being, or at least becoming, who you made me to be?

I think part of my difficulty in coming to accept the truth in any faith matter is my scientific background. A physics major, as is my beloved pastor, it’s hard to get past analyzing things. Although in knowledge and wisdom of my faith I want to always ask: “What should I do, Lord,” still in my nature is a constant asking of “Why?” I want to, I yearn to understand everything. Faith is difficult for me. I yearn to study all the complexities of life and faith and work them down to the simplest form: 1 + 1 = 2, Q.E.D.. But faith exceeds the mathematics I so easily rely upon. And in truth, I know I only pretend to rely upon the math as true, because I also know, as a scientist, that even that is not truly true. For science has learned that at the most detailed level of the existence of matter, it does not surely exist, but only a probability occurs of its existence at a certain point (Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle). It’s kind of like the question: “Is that really ‘1’ or is it really 1.000000000000001?” Faith takes us to a level beyond the numbers adding up, even beyond the satisfying Q.E.D. of proof. With faith, you KNOW, even when reason – and physics – say you can’t know with certainty.

In today’s gospel we heard “I am the vine; you are the branches.” We can logically understand the relationship, and say “I understand,” but it is a supreme blessing, a great joy, when you suddenly are aware of what that really means. As a branch we, not the vine, bear fruit or flowers. As a branch, we uniquely bear a certain kind of fruit, or a certain quality. The apple tree cannot bear an orange, no matter how much it tries. The branch can seek more nourishment from the other plants, trees, or even humans, but it is only fed through the vine. The branch can graft onto itself other branches and think it is producing other fruits or other flowers, but is isn’t. The grafted branches are gaining nourishment through you, but it comes from the vine; you are just an instrument to convey the food. You can look at other branches and see that some bear very ugly, deformed or even rotten fruit --- and you don’t need scientific equations to prove the ugliness, for you know true beauty. And strangely, that awareness too comes from the vine.

What you are, what you can be, how you can be, can be seen in the parable of the vine and the branches – but you’ll never figure out how it all works no matter how many “Why’s” you are able to answer. But you may grow in confidence that you are a branch, a very unique branch, like no other, a thing that can be very beautiful if it accepts what it is, and stops worrying. And should we suddenly be aware of what we were truly made for, it will be a great joy.

Throughout his history, man has asked the question: What is the purpose of life, and in particular, of my life? Never give up searching for the answer to that question, my friends; it is important. But don’t look for the answer by looking at what other people are, or what other people think of you, or what you should do. The answer will come to you through the vine. And if you are open to being made aware of it, one day you may suddenly realize what you are and what you were made for, or even some small part of that answer – and you will be surprised, for you will become aware that you are not like any other person. And it will give you great joy.

I am an evangelist. Perhaps that is no great thing, but it is a part of who I am, some small part of why I exist, right now. It is a good thing – no, it is a blessing -- to know.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


The other day I wrote that I had attended church in the morning and then again that evening. Someone read those words and thought “I wish I could be so close to God.” What childish reasoning! You read one sentence, out of a larger context, and focused on that one good point and thought: “Blessed is he; woe is me.” Rather than meditating on the words I wrote – in total – and asking God “What does this mean for me,” instead you looked to reinforce your own misery, and justify your sadness. You envied the consolation of another, and missed the point of the consolation, for it was not given to signify any holiness. You missed the whole point, the WHOLE point. Never envy another for where they are, or what they have; you do not know what it cost them to get there; and you do not know that they may lose it tomorrow.

In recent days I wrote some and hopefully you thought some on the wholeness and beauty of life. Much earlier I wrote four posts which described the journey of life, the road we travel. If you recall, although we are all different and at different points on that journey, there are a few key points which are common to all our journeys. First and foremost, we have the common idea, thought of in differing ways but still in common, of our destination. One way or another, we are all trying to reach heaven as we know it; I wrote of it as an analogy about a trip on the Road to San Jose. A second and equally important point is that we are not traveling alone. No matter what you feel about your life’s journey right now, I pray most fervently that if you get nothing else out of these musings, that you learn and put deep into your heart that key fact: You Are Not Alone. When I accepted that one fact, my life’s journey became much easier, and much more enjoyable.

Let’s try another parable about our life’s journey: I am the plane that has landed at the airport and is taxiing to the terminal; and some of you may look at that and think a safe journey is ending – and you’d be wrong. I’ve read many stories of pilots taxiing on the runway who, distracted, got lost; some others hit other planes or drove into the path of other planes – and people died, even sometimes the pilot. And I’ve read of pilots ending their flights and finding out they’ve landed at the wrong airport. Don’t look at me, the plane on the ground, with the envy of a completed safe journey; the trip is not over until everyone safely reaches the destination. Just being on the ground is not it; even a crashing plane gets to that point.

And for those, perhaps you, who are flying through storm clouds right now, worried about any passengers in your care, worried that your old plane might not hold together long enough, worried you might be lost – I remind you that you have a co-pilot who has made this trip safely many times in the past. Even if you lack confidence in your abilities, you must trust in His. You are not alone.

Finally, I recall and am encouraged by the words of the CEO to whom we trusted my former company. He said that we were in a tailspin and heading down, and things will be getting even more scary than now – a thought which seemed inconceivable – but, he said, from this point on we will take control of this dive. We’ll check the engines, the fuel level, and even the structure of the plane, so that when we pull up out of this dive, and we will, our plane can withstand the stress. And then, when we start up again, the rise will be glorious and the trip much smoother. That CEO seems to have delivered on his promise, and I’m glad for all the employees who stuck around and followed his lead.

But make no mistake, this huge company is nothing in importance compared to the importance of YOU, and your life. This CEO utilized his human experiences, knowledge and wisdom very well, but his is as a gnat compared to the wisdom and talent of your CEO, your co-pilot, your God. If your life seems to be tail-spinning down, don’t look with envy at others further along in the journey; don’t put your head down and say: “Woe is me.” Look over to that experienced co-pilot you have and ask: “Well, what should I do now?” Have confidence in His directions, or if you are too weak, get out of way and let Him take control.

You’re just going through a rough storm; we all do. And if you look with envy at me taxiing down the runway, seemingly closer to home than you, it is because you do not see the chaos inside my plane from all the storms I passed through, and you do not see the imprints of my fingers on the steering wheel where I grabbed it so hard. And you do not see me looking anxiously this way and that, for my journey is not yet over.

Have faith, my friends, we’re going to the same destination. The landing runway may seem extremely narrow to you right now, but that’s just because you’re still so far away. Hang on, calm down, take control. And remember, of all the fatal plane crashes I’ve ever read about, virtually every one was caused by pilot error, by a pilot who said “No problem, I can handle this --- alone.” No matter how bad things seem right now, you are not alone. If you feel like you’re in a dive right now, don’t be afraid to turn the controls over to your experienced co-pilot. I know he’ll pull you up and bring you to a safe landing.

He did me.

And remember our thoughts about beauty, and how every life has good and bad things happen in it, and it all works together to create the beauty of creation. And this beauty and harmony in your life is very important to all of creation, an importance recognized long ago:
If there is harmony in the heart, there will be harmony in the family.
If there is harmony in the family, there will be harmony in the nation.
If there is harmony in the nation, there will be harmony in the world.

- Confucius