Thursday, July 29, 2010

My Three Favorite Prayers

Anne asked (tagged??) me to write here my three favorite prayers, a MEME. I’m still not sure what MEME stands for or means except that I see others have done this, and it seems like a nice tradition -- and British, based on the spelling contained in the following rules that were given to me:

“Name your three favourite prayers, and explain why they're your favourites.
Then tag five bloggers - give them a link, and then go and tell them they have been tagged. Finally, tell the person who tagged you that you've completed the meme. The Liturgy and the Sacraments are off limits here. I'm more interested in people's favourite devotional prayers."

Thinking about my favorite prayers was a walk down memory lane. There was the prayer which resulted in my sister’s brain tumor being benign, despite all the other cancers which raged in her body; and she was blessed with three more wonderful years. There were a number of other prayers which were answered with miracles. I can never forget them. And then there were so many other prayers, so many, that gave me great consolations, just when I needed them, at some of my lowest points. All these are truly my favorite prayers, and as I walked through them one by one, I smiled. Thank you, Anne, for this little blessing of recalling these great consolations, gifts God has given to me.

But then I thought further: Prayers are not just about me and consolations I received, and I recalled the writings of Mother Teresa, John of the Cross, and so many other saints. They went many, many years and received no such consolations as mine, their Dark Nights of the Soul. Would I think my prayers greater than theirs? No, no, no, this can’t be my criteria for favorite prayers, ones where God answered my pleadings and gave me Joy in awareness of His answer. The joy He blessed me with was a recognition of the weakness, not greatness of my prayers, like candy given to a baby for “doing his duty” on the toilet rather than in his diaper: a reward for doing something he should be doing, he should be doing if he were growing up and learning.

A number of the saints wrote of growing in holiness in terms of mansions or rooms, growing closer to the largest place, the main place, the goal of holiness: unity with God. They described people who pray for consolations as ones being in the beginnings on the road to holiness. And many of them never get closer. Perhaps that is where I am in my prayer life, in the outer rooms of the mansion; I can only hope that is not true. But if not these prayers, the ones that gave me so many fond memories of God’s love, then what are my favorites (favourites)? Are they the most repeated ones, like the Hail Mary, Glory Be, or even the Our Father – Our Lord taught that one, shouldn’t it be my favorite?

I thought back on those other saints again, the ones who received no consolations: What might be their favorite prayers? I think it would be any prayer, perhaps even those I mentioned, that they knew spoke from their heart. Not prayers as just anyone says, but prayers they know THEY are saying, truly their conversations with God – even if He merely nodded to their prayers. And like any conversation with a loved one, or a dear, dear friend, the words may be repeated, like: “I love you,” or they may be no words at all. The words come from the heart, and just being near to each other, the two of them understand everything that is said --- or unsaid.

These, I think are really my favorite prayers, those which bring me near to Him. He doesn’t need to answer them; I don’t need consolations. I can feel His feelings, and I feel His closeness, even as I know He feels mine (and yes, bhg, sometimes it makes me cry tears of happiness).

These are the prayers, I say almost every day, which always bring me close to Him. They are my favorites:

1) A Prayer of St. Francis
Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love,
Where there is injury, pardon,
Where there is doubt, faith,
Where there is despair, hope,
Where there is darkness, light,
and where there is sadness, ever joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

It was around 1987 when I began praying this prayer in earnest, and often. That was the year of my re-conversion (see the sidebar story), when I again found Him, or perhaps He found me. No, truly, it was our mother who brought us back together, and she firmly said: “Now you two say you’re sorry and make up.” And so we did.

This framed prayer hangs in my upstairs hallway. Every morning I say it, in earnest, as I walk down the stairs. It is my good morning prayer to Jesus, telling Him I hope we both have a good day. And I know I will, if He would but make me an instrument of His peace.

2) Padre Pio’s Prayer After Holy Communion
Stay with me, Lord, for it is necessary to have You present so that I do not forget You. You know how easily I abandon You.
Stay with me, Lord, because I am weak and I need Your strength, that I may not fall so often.
Stay with me, Lord, for You are my life and without You I am without fervor.
Stay with me, Lord, for You are my light and without You I am in darkness.
Stay with me, Lord, to show me Your will.
Stay with me, Lord, so that I hear Your voice and follow You.
Stay with me, Lord, for I desire to love You very much and always be in Your company.
Stay with me, Lord, if You wish me to be faithful to You.
Stay with me, Lord, as poor as my soul is I want it to be a place of consolation for You, a nest of Love.
Stay with me, Jesus, for it is getting late and the day is coming to a close and life passes: death, judgment and eternity approaches. It is necessary to renew my strength, so that I will not stop along the way, and for that I need You. It is getting late and death approaches; I fear the darkness, the temptations, the dryness, the cross, the sorrows.
O how I need You, my Jesus in this night of exile!
Stay with me tonight, Jesus, in life with all its dangers, I need You. Let me recognize You as Your disciples did at the breaking of the bread, so that the Eucharistic Communion may be the Light which disperses the darkness, the force which sustains me, the unique joy of my heart.
Stay with me, Lord, because at the hour of my death, I want to remain united to you, if not by Communion, at least by grace and love.
Stay with me, Lord, for it is You alone I look for, Your Love, Your Grace, Your Will, Your Heart, Your Spirit, because I love You and ask no other reward but to love You more and more.
With a firm love, I will love You with all my heart while on earth, and continue to love You perfectly during all eternity.

O heavenly Father, I abide in your Son Jesus, and your Son abides in me. You Son, proceeding from You receives communion of Your Divine Life, in its fullness. I have received Your Son in faith. At that time faith tells me I am with Him. And since I share in His Life, look at me in Him, through Him, with Him, as the Son in whom You are well pleased.

I found this prayer in the Our Sunday Visitor newspaper many years ago. The first time I read it I realized I was praying it; I could not say the words without my heart echoing along. I could not say them without sincerity. Said after communion, I cannot say them without feeling His presence most deeply. I often cry in joy with that beautiful feeling.

My friend, Pat, quickly loved that prayer, and insisted I read it aloud after I brought her communion. I read it one last time for her at her funeral, as I’ve read it a many funerals of friends and relatives, including my dad.

It truly is one of my favorite prayers, and I love it anew each time it is said. I printed copies of it, prayer cards, and have given away hundreds. You can email me your address if you want one.

Oh, that last paragraph of the prayer, to our Father, was not Pio’s prayer, but it seemed to fit there. I hand-printed it on my copy of Pio’s prayer. I found it in a book by Blessed Columba Marmion, Christ, the Life of the Soul.

3) My Jesus, I Trust in You

A short and simple prayer promulgated by Sister Faustina, often shown on a picture of Jesus, robed in glory with rays of light coming from His side. It’s a bookmark I often use; you can find the little cards available in lots of places on the internet.

I say this short prayer often throughout the day. It says so many things I want to say, in those few short words. It says: “I want to do Your will.” It says: “I want Your presence with me in my daily tasks.” It says: “I’m trying.” It says: “I love You.”

And I always say it with meaning. He knows.

Three little prayers I say most every day, which put me in the presence of Jesus. For now, until being in His presence is (I hope) a permanent arrangement, these prayers will have to do. They are my favorite prayers --- for now.

As required, I will forward this MEME request to five well-done blogs that I follow, and ask them to publish their favorite three prayers: My Silent Journey, Pewspective, Be Thou My Vision, Grandma’s Musings, and A Follower of Francis. Again with thanks to Anne at Imprisoned in My Bones for taking me on this delightful journey.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

When You Fail

When I think of my sins, I most often think of specific things I chose to do. I erred in a choice today; I did wrong yesterday; and I remember how I hurt someone deeply 10 years ago, when I sinned. For some of us, however, there comes a time when we realize we’ve been sinning, and we’ve erred not one time but our whole life. We’ve lived a lie, and now we realize the awful truth: we’ve failed in how we’ve treated others, or ourselves, or perhaps even God, our whole lives --- and now we know it.

At one time scientists believed the earth was flat. What must they have felt when the truth became known, those who taught in universities and built their prestige on their scientific knowledge. They were respected for 60 or 70 years of their lives --- and now they were proved wrong. And what of the early pyramid builders, who convinced pharaoh to dedicate thousands of slaves and years to construct something which ultimately proved too heavy for the sand on which it stood, and in the end it was not as they expected. I don’t think those scientists and builders just said “Oops”. No, they were crushed, crushed with their failure that the whole world knew, and saw no one to blame but themselves.

Tonight I heard a radio talk show host give advice to two people, one a newly-married person, and one a young teen. The callers described actions of a spouse and a friend that the host, based on her knowledge of human behavior, said was abnormal or wrong. She advised both to leave their relationships. I understood her advice; the one to be left had some ingrained behavior which was wrong, and it would be very difficult to change. If you wanted happiness, she said, acknowledge that fact now and leave. But then I thought: But what about those left; what about their happiness? What about them realizing and changing the error of their ways, however difficult? Are they hopeless? It might seem so.

Certainly some scientists, when challenged with the earth being flat, could not accept the truth; they could not change their beliefs of a lifetime. Some, like the failed pyramid builder saw most clearly their errors, and did force themselves to confront their mistakes, but how? How do you unlearn a lifetime of belief, a lifetime of building more erroneous assumptions on top of the first error? I think the ones that survived did what the pyramid builder did: he admitted the now obvious error of his ways, left the mis-built pyramid as it was, and started a new one --- on a better foundation.

Many of us have realized big failures in life, errors of a lifetime: We were the reason our marriage failed. We were taught a false value system. We didn’t know how to properly raise our children. We were taught the Catholic Church was evil. We didn’t know how to love, or even what love truly meant. We thought we were following God, but realized we were only following ourselves. Blessed are they who will see the face of God; we looked into the mirror and saw ourselves. We lived our life based on a truth we were confident of, and suddenly we found the real truth, and faced facts we didn’t want to believe: we were wrong. Our truth was a lie. We failed. We now truly know what the phrase: “and the truth hurts” really means.

If we are wise enough to see a big lie in our life, what should we do? I’ve seen what many people do. Some, like the old university scientists can’t admit their failure and the loss of prestige: they continue on and argue against what they know is the truth. Others hide from the truth in drugs, drink, or even a monastery. But some, surely not enough, but some go back to a sounder foundation and start to build again. They can’t change or worry about the past, it is passed, but they work to change the future.

I think the AA programs have nailed down the way to survive a life-long failure, and show how to rebuild on a stronger foundation and start again. It is a tough road to travel, but it shows happiness at the end. God is a big part of traveling down that road.

No life is without difficulties. No life is without some failures. No life is without sin. No life will get to that happiness at the end of the road without God. I’m very blessed to have had a good foundation in my life, early in my life. When I later went off and built my own faulty pyramids and they crashed to the ground, I found I could go back to that foundation and start again. For me, my foundation was in the teachings of the Catholic Church, although in my youth I didn’t understand the importance of what I had.

If you find you need to build a new foundation, my friends, I will tell you with confidence that it is never too late. Public sinners, leaders of other faiths, and very well-known atheists have found their way to the truths of the Catholic Church. And they found peace and happiness at the end of their lives. I believe the Church to be the sturdy foundation, a road most direct to heaven, but as I have written here before, there are other roads to get there. What is important is to get started.

No matter how big your failure, no matter how big your lie, no matter how big your sin, you can always re-build your life on a good foundation, and it’s never too late. Do not despair; do not be anxious.

My friends, I won’t leave you as the radio host advised. I’ll give you all the brick and mortar I have, and stay to help you begin to build again. I am no master architect, but I now firmly know this truth: it’s never too late. The biggest failure in this life is just an error; there can be even bigger successes, bigger happiness, if you just start to find it. Come on, let’s go. We’ve got to start somewhere.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

No Words Today

Sometimes God fills me with wonderful thoughts, and gives me words which fill my heart with beauty.

Sometimes, he doesn’t need words.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Guide Me; Take Me

Thank you, Jesus, for coming to me. I am so little, so unimportant, and yet You came to me. Stay with me, Lord, give this body your nourishment, your strength, your hope. Guide me through this life; show me the paths I should take so that I may never be alone again, never without You. And I will step out in confidence and peace, for You are there with me.

And when we reach that final turn, and our path here on earth ends, then you, O Lord, YOU step out, and in your Love and Mercy, take me with you, for I wish to be with you forever.

My Jesus, I need you, yes, but my Jesus, I want You.

My Jesus, I trust in you. My Jesus, I trust in you. Now and forever, My Jesus, I trust in you.

After saying the above, I read these words from Loving the Church, by Christoph Schonborn (pp 51-57):

We call divine providence the disposition by which God guides his creation toward this perfection. By his providence, says the First Vatican Council, God protects and governs all things which he has made. (CCC 302)

(St. Therese of Lisieux said): “Jesus needs no one to do His work.” But she also said: “He uses the weakest instruments to work wonders.”

Believing in the Creator also means believing in the great things he expects of his creatures. It seems to me that the deepest crisis in the Church today is that we no longer dare to believe in what God can do for the good with those who love him (cf Rom 8:28). … The chief reason why there is so much gloom around in the Church today is that we do not respond generously to the bold challenges of God and fail to let ourselves be used, with all we are and all we have, as his coworkers (cf. I Cor 3:9). The creature can never know a greater self-fulfillment than letting himself be totally used by God. (P 56)

By our actions, by the good works we perform, we can cooperate with God’s Providence. By our prayer we can work with God so that he does something greater than we could ever attain. “Why did God institute prayer? To give his creatures the dignity of causality” (Blaise Pascal).

Saint Thomas explains this in his long quaestio on prayer. There are things we can do because it is in our power to do them. There are other things that, though not in our power to do, can still be done by us when we ask that they be done by someone who can do them – petitionary prayer.

“The Creator of the universe awaits the prayer of a poor little soul to save other souls,” (St. Therese, the Little Flower).

Together, my friends, we can make ANYTHING happen.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


I have to admit, one of the least things I like about caring for mom is having to sleep on the couch at her house on those weekends when her live-in caregiver takes off, to go home to care for her own mother. Throughout the night my mom calls out my name, and I awaken and quietly walk to the door of her room and listen: Is she calling me? Most often she then calls to my (deceased) dad, or her dad or some other family member, and I know she is just talking in her sleep, and then I try to return to mine – not that I need that much.

I am blessed with needing less sleep than most people, and have been waking at 5 or 6 AM for as long as I can remember. Having retired, attending weekday morning mass is no great sacrifice for me, but waking early here at mom’s gives me a special quiet time. Mom now often sleeps until after 11, and the house is silent, except for the birds pecking away at the feeder on the front window – often 6 or 7 at a time from flocks of 20 or 30 taking turns, and sometimes loudly pecking as they reach the plastic at the bottom of the feeder as it nears empty. Then they often peck and look up into the house: “What, is this all?” they seem to say. But they don’t disrupt my thoughts, they just seem in harmony with them, and some of my morning meditations take on a deeper meaning.

I’ve always been intrigued by the gospel words about the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment, and “he felt healing flow from him.” Flow? I do think of the powers of God given to us, grace, as flowing. They fill our souls, washing out the dirt, but then they continue to flow, often as nourishment for our own weak bodies, but just as often or perhaps even more, they flow from us to others – and so our grace supply can lessen, and/or our need for re-cleansing grow more acute. I find that if I let my trips to the Confessional take beyond a couple of months, I seem to run dry, and I seem to not have much for others, and unfortunately I also seem to not have much for myself, and sin becomes easier. My soul becomes like a sink full of dirty dishes, inevitably needing cleaning but my approach to them and to sin seems to become “hey, what’s one more to add to the stack.”

I liked the meditation I read this morning on Confession, taken from Meditations from the Oratory: Experiencing the Mystery of Christ, by Fr. Benedict Groeshel. It’s a great little book for morning readings. I can’t really summarize my thoughts on his words about Confession, and so I’ll just print them here, and let you take the time to think on them.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation: A Path to Ongoing Conversion
Our lives can be described in many ways. Perhaps one of the most realistic of these is to say that they are journeys of ongoing conversion. From the moment we become aware of God, we also become aware that no matter how we try, we fall short in our relationship with God. We try to love, but we fail. We try to be generous, but we’re selfish. We try to turn our backs on sin, but somehow we end up running toward it instead. Our conversion to God is always a process – usually a difficult and sometimes painful one. It will never be complete until we leave this world and rest in God’s eternal changelessness.

St. Paul’s conversion was about as dramatic as is possible for a human being to undergo and still survive. Thrown to the ground by a blinding vision of Christ, he finds his whole world transformed. All that he believed is changed. He has but one concern now – an obsession really – and that is Christ. His name is even changed from Saul to Paul because he has encountered the divine presence and can never be the same. But he still sins. In his letter to the Romans he laments this in frustration and bewilderment: “We know that the Law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing that I hate” (Rom 7:14,15). Even after his experience on the road to Damascus, Paul is still in need of constant forgiveness, of reconciliation, of conversion. If this is so for St. Paul, what must it be like for the rest of us?

Human nature is frail, enfeebled by the effects of origin sin. It is weakened still further by the many actual sins we commit and the patterns of sin in which we live so much of our earthly lives. If the human race were left to its own devices, only one person who ever lived would find her way to God – Mary, the Mother of God. We are in need of constant help, constant conversion and reconversion. Without it we are lost. But such help is graciously given to us. It is in the sacrament of Reconciliation that we find an endless supply of such help, for Reconciliation has as its inexhaustible source our Savior’s sacrifice on Calvary, the most complete and perfect act of reconciliation possible.

As Catholics, we are realists. We know our propensity to sin; we know our love of the very things we should avoid. Despite this, however, we should be joyful.
For hope is given us. We fall again and again, but we return again and again to the wellspring of grace that is the sacrament of Reconciliation. Days pass; years vanish; and still we continue to revisit this great sacrament and are forgiven anew. If we stand firm in this, if we do not lose hope, we will one day see a change in ourselves. As the grace of Reconciliation enters more and more deeply into our lives, it slowly begins to bear fruit. It reconfigures us to Christ. It makes us into the people God created us to be.

Lord Jesus,
you chose to be called the friend of sinners.
By your saving death and resurrection,
free me from my sins.
May peace take root in my heart
and bring forth a harvest
of love, holiness, and truth. Amen.

- From the Rite of Penance

Thursday, July 22, 2010


The psalm prayer this morning resonated in my heart: My soul is thirsting for You, O Lord, my God. But after its reading I looked up and noticed for the first time the words printed on the wall behind the altar: I thirst for you. (And my mind briefly recalled my thoughts of the other day, that God was perfect in Himself, and yet He chose to create me: From the beginning of creation, He thirsted for me.)

I went to confession this morning, perhaps appropriate on this feast day of St. Mary Magdalene, the standard-bearer for repentant sinners. One of the prayer petitions as mass was: “That St. Mary Magdalene might pray for us, and especially for those tempted by sins of the flesh.” I think that I and everyone in the church answered that particular petition a little louder than the rest: “Lord, hear our prayer.”

“When Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and did not find the Lord’s body, she thought it had been taken away and so informed the disciples. After they came and saw the tomb, they too believed what Mary had told them. The text then says: The disciples went back home, and it adds: but Mary wept and remained standing outside the tomb.
We should reflect on Mary’s attitude and the great love she felt for Christ; for though the disciples had left the tomb, she remained. She was still seeking the one she had not found, and while she sought she wept; burning with the fire of love, she longed for him who she thought had been taken away. And so it happened that the woman who stayed behind to seek Christ was the only one to see him. For perseverance is essential to any good deed, as the voice of truth tells us: Whoever perseveres to the end will be saved.
From a homily by Gregory the Great, pope

Mary persevered; she thirsted, and was satisfied. Lord, help me to persevere in prayer, that my thirst might be satisfied.

On more mundane matters, my garden was also thirsting this morning, so I took out the hose and a bit of mid-summer fertilizer. Yesterday I did the first round of picking: a half dozen cukes and green peppers, and ten quarts of green beans. It took me most of the afternoon because as all gardeners are aware: When the harvest is ready and the laborers are few.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Growing Pains

Lord, I am not worthy.

I think that’s been my silent prayer on many things. This morning I heard in a loud clear voice a response to that prayer: “Sez who??

Recently I had written here some clarifying thoughts on what I expected of others, and how when they sometimes didn’t live up to my expectations I became irritated with them. But then I realized that I was focusing on their weakness as some wrong, when I should have been focusing on my unreasonable expectations of them, that I should want them to be someone who they were not. This morning, just as I saw a weakness in them that was not there, I realized that sometimes I saw a weakness in myself that was not there. But while I tended to blame others for their weakness, I made my weakness out to be a good thing; I was just being humble.

Surely humility is a good virtue to be blessed with, but not when it masks God’s call to action for us. Just as I had for my neighbor, God sometimes has expectations for me, and for you – He made us and He really DOES know what we can do. But sometimes we don’t do them. I wonder if He gets irritated at us, as I did at my neighbor?

Over the past year or so I have felt God’s urging to do a few things, good things, and the urgings came repeatedly and in a variety of ways. I heard His call, and so I set out to make those things happen. They were big things; things I had never done, but I knew I had the organizing skills to make them happen, and so I enlisted some experts, ones who could do this thing in an excellent way. I organized the tasks, established a timetable, and said: “Let’s go.” I was ready to put the work of these experts together, as I had done on so many times in the past, and create an excellent result for God. Only a funny thing happened along the way of this work for God. When I enlisted these experts’ aid, they were encouraging and offered prays for the effort, but politely declined to help. While I saw these things as important works of God, they saw other things as more important. While other teams I had led worked with and for my company, these people didn’t see me as a leader in the company of God.

And so I subtly began to question my general: “Lord, I am failing to help bring about this task you asked of me. Perhaps, Lord, I am not worthy.” Maybe my organizational skills aren’t as good as I thought; maybe I’m not that good of a leader. Maybe YOU need to convince the experts to help me. Maybe, if I don’t get help, maybe this really wasn’t Your will. Such was my state of mind this morning after I led a meeting to move forward on one of these tasks, God’s tasks, a meeting of volunteers in which only I showed up. I was enthusiastic to lead others forward; but obviously they were not enthusiastic to follow. I was alone, and acutely felt it.

Later in the morning I was reminded of some other good works God had done through me --- I read encouraging words for what I had done, but in my heart I was feeling: “but not this time.” That was when a true friend dropped by for our weekly prayer meeting. I spoke of my doubts; I explained my vision of what God wanted, and the events that seemed to say: “But it ain’t gonna happen.” I was at my lowest, and expressed perhaps “I am not worthy.” My friend’s response was quick (and loud!): “Sez who?”

When I started to explain again how others weren’t cooperating to make this thing happen, she quickly cut off my very logical argument: “I thought you said God called you to make this happen.” Well, yes, but others aren’t cooperating and … “Wait a minute, you said He called YOU to make it happen.” Well, yes, but I don’t know much about some of these things, and it will take experts to … “Do you think God chose you, and wouldn’t give you what you need to make it happen?” Well, no, I have these organizing skills but … “He can’t give you other skills, or bring out ones you just haven’t used yet?” Well, yes, but … “Do you think God asked YOU to do this good thing, knowing you would fail?” (There was a long pause in the conversation here.) No, I answered.

There was more silence as we both thought. She pointed out many things that had already been put into place to enable me to accomplish the tasks before me. God put my mom in my care, and led me to retire from my previous work --- and have more time for His. He gave me new networks of friends and business contacts which would support these new tasks, His tasks. Together we began to see how these tasks, if done by me, might be accomplished, not in ways I had planned, but in ways He had planned. And so I will go forward to do these things, things I know I cannot do. Yes, I may fail because of my lacking of some skills, but I know I can accomplish many things when I put my mind to them. Perhaps tasks won’t be done as good as they could have been --- but perhaps they will be done as good as God intended them.

Yes, the old saying is true: “It’s hard to be humble.” But sometimes, it’s also too easy, when we use humility as an excuse to avoid a task we think we might fail in.

Looking back on this very serious time, a time when I struggled to do God’s will --- as I planned it (without His input), I almost have to laugh. The first thing I sought to do for Him involved providing others opportunities to love their neighbor, opportunities to answer His call. The second involved telling the wonderful stories of those who DID answer his call, a most difficult call, to do something they had never done --- and He greatly blessed their work. In these tasks I was looking to tell others to answer His call no matter how difficult --- and look at what I did. Was I an example of the blind leading the blind, or just the jackass who needed to be hit on the head to get his attention? I don’t know. Perhaps these are all just growing pains in my growth in holiness, in my learning to love – and trust, Him. I most often pray for Wisdom, and sometimes for Humility. Perhaps I need to occasionally pray for Courage and Perseverance, so that truly THY will, not mine, be done.

And so after writing I read the Hymn in my Evening Prayer, noticing again words I had underlined long ago:

Day is done, but love unfailing
Dwells ever here;
Shadows fall, but hope, prevailing,
Calms every fear.
Loving Father, none forsaking,
Take our hearts
, of Love’s own making,
Watch our sleeping, guard our waking,
Be always near

You are with us, ever lending
New strength to sight;
May we see, in love’s possessing,
Love’s endless light!

God of love, all evil quelling,
Sin forgiving, fear dispelling,
Stay with us, our hearts indwelling,
This eventid

We have many fears, my friends, but if we just try to answer His call, he will stay with us, our hearts indwelling. He will help us to grow in His image, even if that growth is sometimes painful. Do not be anxious; there is nothing to fear, except … ourself.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

It's All About Me

I AM <=======> Lord, Who am I?

I noticed those words, written so many years ago on the blank front page of my breviary. I think I’ve been saying that prayer, in many ways, in many forms, for many, many years. And sometimes I believe I get an answer – and I don’t like it.

It happened again tonight. The McDonald’s where I stop for coffee on the way to church said I’d have to wait while they made coffee, but I didn’t allow time in my journey to wait. “Wait?” I ranted. “I’m here every Saturday at 11:30 buying coffee. For four years I’ve been coming here every Saturday at the same time --- can’t anyone remember that?” And so I pulled away, irritated, despite already having paid. And that petty irritation stayed with me to the church, and into my rosary. Then a thought came to me about why I was irritated, and I paused in my prayers (well, in truth I wasn’t really praying in God’s presence, I was merely stewing in mine.)

It’s all about me. I suddenly realized why I sometimes get irritated and sometimes not: it’s all about me. In some dark part of me, that is who I am. If someone fails meet my standards, delays my timing, or isn’t as smart as me in something I view as important, there is a fair likelihood that I’ll become irritated --- not directly at them, but that they are not like me, and they don’t act or think like me! Good grief, what a poor standard that is, yet unfortunately I realized it is often the standard I set for people: be as good (or bad) as I am. Your weakness isn’t about you; it’s all about how it impacts me.

You don’t have my math skills and so you slowly count out my change in the checkout line --- I think: “You idiot!” You’re driving 40 mph in a 55 zone --- moron! You can’t remember I told you to have coffee ready at the same time for 4 years in a row --- stupid! You can’t figure out the financial impacts of some bills you voted on in Congress --- you political hack! Oh, I don’t actually say those nasty words (well, okay, I RARELY say them), but in my irritation I often think them. I get irritated because you don’t act or think like I do.

And when I read the words I just wrote about someone who is irritated because others are not like him, I think: You fathead! I don’t want to be like that person, who unfortunately is me.

I can be a very caring, sympathetic ear to turn to if you are suffering or deeply concerned about something: a death or illness, love forsaken, friends abandoning you, difficult church teachings, and maybe even the difficulties with just living life. You can talk to me; I understand because I’ve felt those things --- I sometimes still do. You need money or help, you can call on me – I’ve needed those things. Even if you don’t realize it when you call me, I think you’re just like me.

But as for you people who are different from me, who irritate me because you do stupid things, well…. I can try to be sympathetic, but it’s going to be hard. I never missed math classes because I had to drop out of school to work. I’ve never driven way under the speed limit just because I’m troubled by some deep worry, or perhaps had one too many drinks (well, maybe I did do that last thing once – or twice.) I’ve never forgotten to do important routine things, like making coffee, or sincerely being sorry for my sins, --- or telling someone that I love them --- (I never have forgotten those things, have I?). And I’ve never been so overwhelmed by my work that I didn’t do research which I could have, or did a sloppy report, or allowed myself to get irritated because things weren’t just the way I wanted them to be. That’s not me, is it?

But I’m afraid it is. There are so many weaknesses I have, but perhaps one of the biggest is that I sometimes wish people would have the same level of knowledge and empathy I have. What I SHOULD be wishing for however (no, what I should be praying for), is that I am aware of the knowledge level and empathy that they DO have, and that I might take God’s grace to me and pass it on to them, not in the form or irritating remarks or scowling faces, but in empathy for their weaknesses, for their trials, for the fact that they may not be as blessed with God’s bounty as I am. If I really think I am so good in some ways, then it is not for me to be angry that someone else is not, but rather for me to go forth and help them become better – or excuse their weaknesses which they cannot control.

If I am to be an instrument of God’s peace, I need peace myself, not irritation. One of the ways to get that peace is to start with the recognition that my life, the important part of it, is not all about me. It’s about them, my neighbors, those guys I am commanded to love.

It’s NOT all about me. I think now I can start my rosary again.

And as I prayed the third Glorious Mystery (The Descent of the Holy Spirit), I read: “Love come to me, that I might be love to others.” Amen. I think I’ve already meditated on that one.

As I stood and prayed this morning: “As we forgive those who trespass against us,” my mind flittered to those who had caused me irritation --- and I suddenly realized they didn’t need forgiveness. They were just being who they are. I stood ready to forgive them, but they had committed no sin against me. It was I who had sinned against them.

And as I walked slowly to Communion, I prayed: “Lord, forgive me, a sinner.”

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Holy Spirit Within Me ...

Like the traveler pitching his tent in the desert, the Holy Spirit takes possession of souls as their most sweet guest. But unlike the traveler, who folds his tent as morning breaks, the eternal guest stays on. The tent he pitches in the soil of our barrenness is something divine – a sketch, a reflection, of our heavenly home. In it dwells grace that divinizes the soul, divine charity, the supernatural image of the Spirit who pours Himself into our hearts, and all the virtues and gifts. These are the conditions of His indwelling, so that He may begin His work of sanctification, and direct us with the strong, gentle influence of love.

His ideal is to reproduce Jesus in us, and through Jesus and with Jesus, to take us to the bosom of the Trinity and glorify the Father with the supreme glorification of Jesus. Through the shadows of faith, we … try to get a glimpse of this divine work, to see how, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, souls are purified, illuminated, and enkindled until they are transformed into Jesus, who is the ultimate ideal of God’s love and of the aspirations of the soul, the glorious summit of the mystical ascent where we find peace and happiness – where we find God.

True Devotion to the Holy Spirit, Archbishop Luis M. Martinez

I don’t want Christ to speak aloud to me; I don’t want to hear His voice. I don’t wish to speak aloud to Him, to pray with His Holy Spirit’s gift of tongues. Rather I wish the Holy Spirit to come to me, as He did at my confirmation, and to now stay with me, to take up residence in my soul, and direct me with the strong, gentle influence of love. No, I don’t want God to talk to me, as to some passing stranger; I want Him to be so with me as to direct all my thoughts, and all my actions. I don’t wish to speak to Him with words; I want Him to hear my heart not my voice. I long to be one with Him, through the Holy Spirit within me.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Eucharist: The Path to Self-Giving

I meditated on the importance of self-giving these past two days, so I assume it is to be expected that God showed me how weak were my musings. The following is a meditation I read this morning by Fr. Benedict Groeschel, one of my favorite living saints. I am humbled.

The Holy Eucharist: The Path to Self-Giving and Contentment
Experiencing The Mystery of Christ - (Meditation Twenty-One)

In the words of the great twentieth-century theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, “The passivity of [Christ’s] Passion, with its fetters, scourging, crucifixion, and piercing, is … the expression of a supremely active will to surrender and for that very reason transcends the limits of self-determination into the limitlessness of letting oneself be determined.” (from New Elucidations)

What are we post-moderns to make of such strange words? A “supremely active will to surrender” is a blatant contradiction in terms to us. It is perplexing, disturbing. It is an affront. Active people never surrender. Passive ones do. And if there is one thing we claim to be sure of in our confused and confusing world, it is that constant activity is good. In activity we find our meaning. In activity we discover our worth. It is through activity that we triumph, that we achieve domination over others – an essential ingredient of life. But Christ, as always, teaches us new and deeper things about the meaning of human existence. In His Passion we are confronted with something we can’t comprehend: a will that triumphs through surrender. And – as if that weren’t disconcerting enough – we have a vague and troublesome suspicion that we’re supposed to imitate this in some way.

A self-giving active will, however, would not have been an especially difficult concept to those who came before us, to the generations of Christians whose faith was profound, whose lives were lived in the great mystery of God’s redemption of mankind. Such a will to them would simply have been one that had learned to be compliant with the movement of the Holy Spirit. For them, it was what we were all supposed to aspire to; it was that which would lead us to contentment.

Late in his life, St. Paul stated that he had learned to be content, implying that – even for a saint – arriving at this state involved a long process. If we are ever to come to the kind of contentment that Paul describes, we, too, will do it slowly, over long periods of time and in the midst of the fast-paced, sometimes chaotic activities of everyday life. This is a difficult journey, one beset by many obstacles. The world has always created barriers to true contentment, but the dramatically accelerated pace of present-day life can be so consuming that we forget that our lives have intrinsic value. We lose sight of the fact that what we do is distinct from what we are. Life is a pilgrimage that has as its destination eternity with God. It is this alone that gives meaning to our existence. For many people, including highly educated ones, however, all sense of life’s purpose has faded into oblivion. Human existence is understood as little more than a series of appointments and errands jotted down in a daily planner, a never-ending catalogue of obligations to discharge. In the world’s terms: we are what we do. To maintain our worth, to justify our very being, we must always be in the process of accomplishing something tangible. Life thus becomes drained of meaning and transformed into the senseless, endless task of Sisyphus who was condemned to push a heavy rock up a hill over and over again only to see it escape from his grasp at the last second and roll to the bottom again.

We must remember that the meaning of our lives transcends the material things we produce during them, that God has created us in His image, and that Jesus has given Himself on Calvary as our redeemer and continues to give Himself to us in the Eucharist until the end of time. The word “Eucharist” derives from a Greek word that means to be thankful, and in this word we find one of the keys to contentment. We must cultivate thankfulness to the God whose love knows no bounds. We must be mindful that we were created out of love and that at every instant our being is sustained out of love, that Christ gave His life for us out of love. The divine love does not depend on what we accomplish in this world or on how many possessions we accumulate, or what people think of us – it certainly doesn’t depend on whom we can dominate. It depends on what we are: beings made for eternity with God. St. Paul – the most active of saints – came to this understanding. He encountered the divine love in a dramatic way on the road to Damascus and then met that same love over and over again in the Eucharist. In this meeting, he discovered a deeper meaning to life than any he had previously known. As we enter deeply and meditatively into the mystery of the Eucharist, we comprehend more and more the fact that Christ offers Himself to us in Holy Communion despite our limitations, our failures, and our constant relapses into sinfulness. Our imperfections cannot limit His love. If we remember this, we will live in a way that more clearly reveals our true nature. Perhaps we might even surrender our will a little, become compliant with the movement of the Holy Spirit, and achieve the contentment of which St. Paul speaks. Who knows, we might even learn to give of ourselves to others in some small imitation of Christ.

Anima Christi

Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O good Jesus, hear me.
Within your wounds hide me.
Permit me never to be separated from you.
From the malicious enemy defend me.
At the hour of my death call me.
and bid me come to you,
that with your saints, I may praise you
forever and ever. Amen.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Choosing Friends

I saw a man last night; he looked like a lonely man. I offered him friendship; he politely declined and walked away with his head down in worry. I walked into the chapel and thought further on some things I considered yesterday.

The world has many sayings about friends. “Choose your friends wisely. A friend in need is a friend indeed. Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. A true friend is a rare thing.” These are all good words and correct in many ways. I believe friends are critically important in this life, from our temporary happiness here --- in all our definitions of happiness: joy, laughter, fulfillment, love – to our eternal happiness with God. Friends are a crucial help in our journey through life, but what about when I am alone, and I see no friends?

For many of us friendship seems elusive. Some so despair they say: “No one loves me” – that’s an obvious lie. Some search for friends in bars, in clubs, or in church groups. Some so desperately want friends they seek them on the internet, running counts of them on their Facebook or other webpage – as if the one with the most “friends” is the happiest. Some of us search so wildly for friendship because we don’t know the meaning of friendship, and wouldn’t recognize a friend if we had one, even if he were a most loyal one.

Most people think of friendship, on a basic level, as a kind of bartering, a fair trading of something: I give something to them and they give something to me – we both gain something from our “friendship”. But that is not friendship in the way God recognizes it. For God, all friendship has an element of love, of something freely given. A bartering transaction has elements of need and reluctance in it; one of the parties needs something and reluctantly parts with money or some other asset to get it. This need and reluctance of bartering is totally contrary to the free giving of real friendship, so if we are thinking that we “need” friends and are actively seeking them, we may indeed find them, but it is unlikely. We don’t know what they look like, nor act like.

God sees friendship as a giving, and not necessarily getting anything back in return; it’s almost more like a gamble than a sure thing. It’s like saying to an orchard owner: “I’ll pay you some money for your fruit, and when it ripens in the fall you can give me some --- if your remember.” God gave us life and continues to give us grace in this manner of friendship. He asks for something back, but it is up to us to respond. Made in His image, we should follow His pattern of friendship in our relationship with others --- but that is not how the world, focused on taking and getting things, views relationships. The world values a relationship like it values barter, it’s only good if you get something back (and ideally something of more value than what you HAD to give).

The examples I gave of lonely people searching for friendship, seeking someone to be a friend to them, seeking someone who will give them some type of emotional comfort, is the opposite of how we were created to relate to others. You don’t choose friends, you offer friendship. It’s not about YOU, it’s about them; they are worthy of your friendship because they are made in God’s image, as you are. Recognizing the importance of others, you act in a friendly manner to them. And they may accept your offers of friendship – or not. There is that risk in making the offer. You may smile in passing at one, and they may smile back – a tiny but not insignificant tie of friendship. For another you may take time from your busy life and offer consolation to them in their trials, and they may never forget your kindness – a friend for life. And yet another may ignore you.

This risk in giving is real, and sometimes there is no reward but pain. That is part of the risk; a friendship that advances to love is even more risky. You may donate money to a wonderful charity and put in long volunteer hours and discover the head has embezzled millions, to the detriment of the poor you thought were being helped. Yes, that happens. But you may also spend time with the poor, the weak, or the sick thinking there will be no friendship in return for your giving, but a stranger sees your good work and changes his life, and comes back to God or maybe to his family, and he thanks you -- a deep friendship formed, even if it may never have a further interaction.

We don’t get friends; we are friends. We offer friendship in our actions toward all who cross our life’s path. Like the parable of The Sower, we sow seeds of friendship, some to be ignored, some to have great results we may never see, and yes, some of which may come back to feed us. God doesn’t choose us like the manager of the baseball team chooses the best players – and the ones not chosen feel left out and hurt. No God offers to all: “Hey! Come play on my team; I’ve got just the spot for you.” Even if we can’t hit so well, even if we can’t field so well, even if we don’t know how the game is played, He has just the spot for us – and we are needed right there, so that the team can be complete.

Sometimes I am so disheartened by what I see in the world, so many people just “going through life.” Some just fill the hours with anything and anyone, thinking that this is how life is to be lived: busy doing something, anything. Some are busy doing all those things they “have to do”, and there is a never-ending list of things to do for those will do if asked – they think they are the important ones to do these tasks and they try to do everything. Their image of Jesus that they want to copy is someone who cured all the ills of the world --- He didn’t. They think He worked to make friends with everyone in the world – He didn’t. They think He gave salvation to everyone in the world – He didn’t. He offered healing; He offered friendship; He offered salvation. Some turned the offers down, and some wouldn’t hear of them, but through Him the offer would spread through the world. Imitating Him, we can continue to spread the offer. Our offerings of friendship are a continuation of His work in this world.

God offered us to be His friends, so that we could choose Him. He offered so that we could receive. And He continues to offer to us, as we should continue to offer to others. And true friendships, eternal friendships, may result.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

To Begin Again

This morning I read a reflection by Pope Benedict XVI on the parable of the prodigal son. Much of it was words I had said and thought before, but then he coupled some new words onto the parable which gave me some new insights, important ones, I think.

If you can indulge me a few moments, I’ll set the stage with some of his words on the Parable, and then perhaps you might see something new and important here, as I did:

Little by little the younger son comes to find this life (with his father) boring and unsatisfying. He thought: “But no, life is something more. I must find another life where I am truly free, where I can do what I like; a life free from this discipline, from these norms of God’s commandments, from my father’s orders; I would like to be on my own and have life with all its beauties totally for myself. Now, instead, it is nothing but work …” And so he decided to claim the whole share of his inheritance and leave. So his idea was: freedom, doing what I want to do.

Then, however, little by little, he felt bored here, too. It was then that he began to reflect and wondered if that really was the path to life: a freedom interpreted as doing what I want, living, having life only for me; or if instead it might be more of a life to live for others. The boy pondered and considered all these new aspects of the problem and began to see that he had been far freer at home, since he had also been a landowner contributing to building his home and society in communion with the Creator, knowing the purpose of his life. The younger son was motivated to return. He said to himself: I must begin again.

The son realized that it is precisely work, humility and daily discipline that create the true feast and true freedom. So he returned home, inwardly matured and purified: he had understood what living is…. This parable helps us to understand who the human being is: he is not a “monad”, an isolated being who lives only for himself and must have life for himself alone. On the contrary, we live with others, we were created together with others and only in being with others, in giving ourselves to others, do we find life.

The human being is a creature in whom God has impressed his own image. The human being is a free person. We must understand what freedom is and what is only the appearance of freedom.

From this point on, Benedict expands on the thoughts about the definition of freedom, but my thoughts lingered right here. The words about God creating us in his own image seemed out of place. From thoughts about the prodigal son to thoughts about what freedom is, he puts in between these a thought about the definition of the nature of man, one created in the image of God. I’ve always seen God as the Father image in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, but if every man is in His image, (as Benedict points out here) is God also in some way to be seen as the Prodigal Son in this parable?

In Genesis we see that God was alone. God was perfect in Himself; He needed nothing nor no one else. But then he goes on to create man, and to give Himself, in Love, to man. And, because He is God and in all ways perfect, then giving of Himself to man, creating him in His image, must also be a perfect thing. In His perfect freedom, God chose a perfect thing: to give of Himself to others: and man was created.

As Benedict reminded us here, man was created in God’s image, like Him in so many ways. I think that the reason for Benedict’s interjection of that point here is for us to note the parallels of God’s choice, made in freedom, and the Prodigal Son’s choice, made in freedom. God in His freedom was alone, but He found a better thing: to give Himself to others. The Prodigal Son was with others, but in his freedom he chose to be alone, thinking this was a good thing, but then he realized that real freedom existed in choosing to give himself to others, to love them and accept being loved by them (as God did in Genesis). Life would still be work; it might be a bore even, but life lived with and for others is so much more satisfying than life lived alone, only for ourself.

God chose to love others. Man, created in His image, is only being who he was made to be by choosing to love others, as God did. This is living our life to its fullest; this is our ultimate freedom of choice, when we choose to live life with and for others, not for ourselves alone.

True freedom is found in giving of ourselves, not in taking for ourselves. We once had a president who understood the importance of this concept when he spoke of asking “not what you country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” The thought that it is more important to give than receive is still alive today, even if sometimes we forget.

I liked Benedict’s subtle reminder. God in His freedom (and perfection) chose not to be alone. We are made in God’s image, and we should therefore choose the same. How are you doing in your choices? If you had to create a list of two columns, one for what you did for yourself today, and one for what you did for others, which would be longer? You were made in God’s image and therefore meant to give of yourself, like the Prodigal Son decided. Like him, it’s never too late to begin again to live our life in real freedom.

To whom have you given of yourself today? Are you living your life in the image God created --- or in the image you created?

Lord, I don’t want to be greater than I am; I only pray that I might be all who I am, who You made me to be.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

If You Only Knew ...

While I had written (in my post: Leaving or Leading) about my concerns over those leaving the Church, their mis-understandings and my possible role, I think a more general evaluation of change needs consideration.

A stranger spoke to me recently about his justification for a career change: “If you only knew how the executives at my prior employer treated us, they gave us so much work, expecting us to put in long hours, even as they went home. They required us to disregard our family as we sought answers to their whimsical questions, and then they often dismissed the results of our long labors with a ‘Hmmm, that’s interesting.’ If you only knew how poorly they managed people and the company ….” The implications in his statements were that “if I only knew” I’d agree with his evaluations and join in his condemnations. I’d agree that he should leave that “horrible place.”

If you only knew …

Of the people leaving the Catholic Church, I believe many of them are also saying “If you only knew ….” A few months back I wrote about a teenager who left his family and lived with me for a year. Relative to his father’s behavior he said: “If you only knew ….” I guess I’ve heard (and said) those words many times in the past, and now I realize how easily people say them about FACTS they don’t like, and therefore believe are wrong. “I don’t like this teaching of the Church; it must be wrong.” “I don’t like that policy of the company or some of its managers; they must be wrong.” “I don’t like the rules my parents laid down; they must be wrong.” And as we hear so often today, “I don’t like that political party’s agenda item; they must be wrong.”

If you only knew …

One thing that I do know is that I’ve written about “facts” like these, and our disagreement with them, quite a number of times in the past. And what I’ve generally concluded is that often our interpretation of “facts” ASSUMES that our interpretations are correct, and are the only possible ones, ergo: “They are wrong.” If they only knew ….

In this area our pride seems most often to lead us astray, or at least me. My mouth kicks in before my brain does, but whenever a great number of people, whenever a well-established organization, or whenever a long-standing rule or virtue appears wrong to us, we should be most hesitant to say “they are wrong.” We should stop ourselves and reflect: “Perhaps, I am the one wrong.” It takes a great deal of humility to do this. It also takes a great deal of faith in God. If we see a great many people wrong and us right, we need to talk to God, kind of as a referee on the question. Perhaps like a referee He sees things from a different angle: “Lord, do You have a knowledge more than mine? Are the ‘facts’ I see the facts You see? Do You have an agenda bigger than mine? Could You be using these “wrong” people for a bigger purpose? Dear Lord, could I be wrong, or if not wrong about the facts I see, instead be blind to seeing ALL the facts?”

While prayer, perhaps similar to the words I just wrote, should enter our heart before our great ego and pride does, a desire to learn more should also enter our heart. Before we would criticize or leave the Church, the organization we work for, the family, or even the large political party, we should humbly ask ourselves, and God, “Can all these people in these large groups be wrong, and I right?”

“Facts” describe physical, measureable things; they are verified by science. “Why” the facts exist, however, goes beyond their physical being. Perhaps our knowledge shortfall is not in missing some facts, but in not understanding why some facts we see are important, or what they imply. We need to understand “why” the other organizations or other people conclude different things than us despite seeing the same facts.

Disagreeing with facts or someone else’s interpretation of them can result in our leaving and going elsewhere, but if we can understand WHY they interpret the facts differently, if we can truly LEARN their point of view, their “why”, then we have a basis for mutual understanding, a point from which we can possibly lead them to the whole truth – or perhaps lead ourselves there.

All the great evangelists and leaders of history knew the importance of this rule: “Know your enemy.” Pointing and saying “they’re wrong” will result in few following you. Learning and then leaving, and explaining to others why you are leaving, may result in you leading many to the truth you have found and been able to explain.

“If you only knew ….” Yes, you should know. But before saying things as if you are a know it all, try learning some more. I for one am convinced that with knowledge comes truth, and I greatly desire it. But first I’ve got to be willing to admit that I don’t already know it all. Unfortunately, it’s hard to be that humble. If you only knew ….

Saturday, July 10, 2010


All life is a journey. Along the way we are called to “grow in holiness”, a simple summary of how to lead a good life and ensure that we reach our desired destination. But while our whole life is a transition phase of our being, from earthly being to eternal being, there are many sub-transitions along the way, and many of these are extremely critical, especially as we grow older.

Much of our life seems to be routine, perhaps almost boring. On our life’s trip, it’s as if we are on a long stretch of straight highway, the scenery passes by almost unnoticed by us. We’re alert to prevent accidents as we drive along, but they seem unlikely. We almost seem alone in our travels and our musings; we forget about all the other cars on the road. But although much of it may seem a bore, all life is not straight highways. If we are to get to our destination we have to pay attention for the turns we must make to stay on our route, and especially those unplanned turns caused by detours or accidents. These turns, these transitions in our journey, require our attention, and perhaps help of a neighbor.

If we are early in our journey, young in our life, most turns we make are minor ones, relative to their impact. If our journey is due West for thousands of miles, a turn might veer us North or South for a few degrees or a few miles, but we are still headed generally West, and we can make other mid-course corrections as we go. As we near our destination however, as we are older in our life, the turns become more critical. What might have impacted our direction early only a few degrees now becomes a ninety degree turn North or South, and if we are not careful we might miss our destination completely. We might get lost.

I have a friend who faced imminent death; another who faces her parent’s transition from independence to needing care, and another who faces a career change late in life. They all face important transition points. The one facing death was prepared and ready for that transition; she knew it was coming and she would not get lost. The one facing a parent’s increasing dependency is scared; something as inevitable as death in a loved one she had not wanted to face, had not wanted to plan, as if by ignoring the future it might not happen. She is facing many difficult decisions, and they must be made rapidly; her failure to plan for the transition has put her at peril that she may make mistakes at this transition in her and her parent’s life. The friend who is facing the sudden career change could not likely see the transition in her life coming; most people in her situation would not.

The thing which distinguishes the three situations I described is the level of preparedness for a future transition. Every life will have transitions, but we so often ignore their possibility, and make believe they won’t happen, even the inevitable ones like death. Some people prepare financially for these events and think they are prepared, but when the events occur they are greatly stricken, moved to tears, or moved to scared inaction just when confident actions are most needed. Confidence financially is no substitute for confidence spiritually.

Of course, spiritual confidence comes like any other confidence, with practice. If you haven’t really prayed for years, praying at a time of crisis often does not give you peace -- it’s a grasping at straws, hoping this one will work, but you are not at all confident it will. How can that give you peace? Most of my friends have God as a significant portion of their lives; He and they are not strangers. While THEY don’t know what to do when sudden turns come in their lives, they have confidence that HE does, and so they turn with confidence to prayer for guidance and peace. They make the hard decisions not with trepidation, but with confidence that the best outcome will occur, even if it seems the worst, even death. We all need to be putting ourselves in this state of confidence, my friends. I pray: “My Jesus, I Trust in You,” and I mean it. Others pray: “Thy will be done,” and perhaps have a bit less trust, but nonetheless find peace.

A crucial question is: “What if someone has not prepared? What if they are not ready a sudden change in their life? What if it happens anyway?” And perhaps sadly, “What if, because of their age and mental or physical infirmities, they cannot do anything, if they cannot make the hard decisions which must be made?”

Well, certainly turning to God, even in desperation, is never a bad thing. If we can bring themselves to get down on our knees, I am sure that God will hear our prayers (although, perhaps, He might ask: “Um, what did you say your name was again?”). But since spiritually unprepared ones are not used to conversations with God, they might not understand His reply; or they might not react with confidence in receiving His consolations. Or, perhaps, in their age-related infirmities, they might not be able to act. What then? Then I believe, my friends, is when OUR prayers are answered, our prayers of: “Make me an instrument of Your peace.” That is when we, as friends, can best act as true friends, praying with our family, praying with our friends, and showing our love for them – or if we are the ones needing consolations, accepting their love. And even if no consolations are felt from their prayers, or from ours, then just holding their hands, just being there with them in their trials and sorrows will be a source of consolation.

This is part of the commandment to “Love you neighbor” that we so often forget. So often love is shown by just being there. “A friend in need is a friend indeed (in deed),” from both of their points of view.

A friend isn’t dismayed at past faults or failings (or unpreparedness) of a friend, but is there right now, when they need a friend. Is there someone in your life’s path -- a family member, a friend, or just a neighbor -- who is going through a critical transition in their life and needs that love of neighbor, the prayers or just physical comfort of a friend by their side? Remember, this is one of only two great commandments. Perhaps if you can get this one right, the other may come easier.

Transitions in life may be critical, especially in older people, but they are especially troubling if these people feel alone. Don’t let them feel alone. If no one else prays for them, you must. Even if your neighbor is a total stranger like the one helped by the Good Samaritan, or the one seriously injured in the wreck in front of you, or the one dying in the house next door, you must.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

What If God Asks ... ?

My morning meditations lately included reading some of C.S. Lewis talks -- his words are often thought-provoking. I read one recently titled “A Slip of the Tongue.” The title doesn’t seem to be on target with the focus, which generally is: “I pray to do God’s will, but what if He asks me to do something hard?” I’ll just print some of Lewis’ words here, so you can think on it as I did.

I pray my prayers … but while I do these things, there is, so to speak, a voice inside me that urges caution. I come into the presence of God with a great fear lest anything should happen to me within that presence which will prove too intolerably inconvenient when I have to come out again into my “ordinary” life. For all I know I shall be feeling quite different after breakfast; I don’t want anything to happen to me at the altar which will run up too big a bill to pay then.

The following story was told as true. An Irish woman who had just been at confession met on the steps of the chapel the other woman who was her greatest enemy in the village. The other woman let fly a torrent of abuse. “Isn’t it a shame for ye,” replied Biddy, “to be talking to me like that, ye coward, and me in a state of Grace the way I can’t answer ye? But you wait. I won’t be in a state of Grace long.”

This is my endlessly recurrent temptation: to go down to that Sea (I think St. John of the Cross called God a sea) and there neither dive nor swim nor float, but only dabble and splash, careful not to get out of my depth and holding on to the lifeline which connects me with my things temporal. Our temptation is to look eagerly for the minimum that will be accepted, like honest but reluctant taxpayers.

We can become scrupulous or fanatical … that is the truth. The lie consists in the suggestion that our best protection is a prudent regard for the safety of our pocket, our habitual indulgences, and our ambitions. But that is quite false. Our real protection is to be sought elsewhere: in common Christian usage, in moral theology, in steady rational thinking, in the advice of good friends and good books, (or) in a skilled spiritual director. Swimming lessons are better than a lifeline to the shore.

What must exist only as an undefeated but daily resisted enemy – is the idea of something that is “our own.” In love, He claims all. Thomas More said, “If you have not chosen the Kingdom of God, it will make in the end no difference what you have chosen instead.” We shall have missed the end for which we are formed, and rejected the only thing that satisfies. Does it matter to a man dying in a desert by which choice of route he missed the only well? On this subject Heaven and Hell speak with one voice. The tempter tells me, “Take care. Think how much this good resolve, the acceptance of this Grace, is going to cost.” But Our Lord equally tells us to count the cost. What matters, what Heaven desires and Hell fears, is precisely that further step, out of our depth, out of our own control.

Failures will be forgiven.

Monday, July 5, 2010

We Are Church

A friend emailed me a link to a newspaper article critical of the Church’s handling of the sexual abuse crisis. Another one. “See,” he said, “the truth is coming out. If they would have come forth immediately, this wouldn’t have been so bad.” Perhaps.

It took only a single Google search, on the article’s author, to find the many other “news” articles the woman had written about the Catholic Church. All were critical, heavily quoting from dissenters within and without the Church. If there were a quote explaining a teaching, or rebutting others’ opinions, it was deep in the article. And, there were also articles about her articles, pointing out factual errors or omissions in her reported “news.”

Why are so many so quick to criticize the Church? There are many reasons, but one that stands out in my mind is the misunderstanding of what the Church is. “We are Church” is a statement made by dissenters, a true fact, but not in the manner of their understanding. Kerry Kennedy in her book “Being Catholic Now – Prominent Americans Talk about Change in the Church and the Quest for Meaning,” gives many examples of people preaching that statement. They point out that the Holy Spirit inspires each of us, even today as He did the Apostles, implying we are as important to the Church as the Apostles are. I think their misconception of the Church is best explained by C. S. Lewis, in his essay on “Membership”.

The society into which the Christian is called at baptism is not a collective but a Body. Personality is eternal and inviolable, but … the individualism in which we all begin is only a parody or shadow of it. It will not be attained by development from within outwards. It will come to us when we occupy those places in the structure of the eternal cosmos for which we were designed or invented. As a color first reveals its true quality when placed by an excellent artist in its pre-elected spot between certain others, as a spice reveals its true flavor when inserted just where and when a good cook wishes among the other ingredients, so we shall then first be true persons when we have suffered ourselves to be fitted into our places.

We have in our day started by getting the whole picture upside down. Starting with the doctrine that every individuality is “of infinite value,” we then picture God as a kind of employment committee whose business it is to find suitable careers for souls, square holes for square pegs. In fact, however, the value of the individual does not lie in him. He is capable of receiving value. He receives it by union with Christ. The place was there first. The man was created for it. He will not be himself till he is there. We shall be true and everlasting and really divine persons only in Heaven.

I have been anxious to bring out two points, I have wanted to try to expel that quite un-Christian worship of the human individual simply as such which is so rampant in modern thought, the pestilent notion that each of us starts with a treasure called “personality” locked up within him, and that to expand and express this, to guard it from interference, to be “original” is the main end of life. This is Pelagian, or worse. Secondly, I have wanted to show that Christianity is not, in the long run, concerned either with individuals or communities. Neither the individual nor the community as popular thought understands them can inherit eternal life, neither the natural self, nor the collective mass, but a new creature.

Lewis does not see the value of Church members as some group of equal sheep, “We are flock,” but sees value only in the end-total, including the Shepherd, else all are lost.

Throughout history there have been periods and people who believed God was in control, and totally trusted in Him --- and things went awry. There have been other periods, perhaps now, when people believed God inspired them to be in control, to be His instruments, but they found it hard to distinguish God’s inspirations from their own --- and things went awry. If some of the Church hierarchy, priests and bishops, are in error in their thinking or actions, those are errors of their humanity seeking to occupy those places for which (they) were designed. On earth they will make mistakes; they shall be true and everlasting and really divine persons only in Heaven. For our part as members of the body we can encourage them, we can advise them, we can pray for them, but we cannot replace them as a democracy ousts some leaders with others. We are not a collective body searching for a leader. We have one.

God and His people, together, as the Body of Christ, make up His Church. No one and no group has total control. No one, even God Himself, is totally in charge. All are not created equal in this body; some are more important. Each may receive gift of the Holy Spirit, but for each they may be different, for a different purpose. Yet for all the Gifts and all the good intent, while on earth the Body is made up of frail human beings. Weaknesses (and temptations) make them not function properly in this body. Even key parts may “get sick.” And so, men sin.

Yes, things would go better for the Church if all its members obeyed the teachings they claim to follow, and if they never sinned, if they were perfect functioning parts of the Body. But because of the fact there will always be some sinning, some view the institutional church as always being wrong. It can always point to sins and yell “Sinner! Hypocrisy!” When the Church kept things inside and attempted self-healing and forgiveness of sinners, “We’ll trust in God alone to fix this,” the “news” from the outside was that the Church participated in a cover-up. And when the Church went public and chastised its sinners, enforcing its beliefs on its members --- closing seminaries, investigating the teachings and practices of religious orders, hospitals, and public figures, or preaching against sin, the “news” from the outside was how prejudiced and hateful the Church was, allowing no freedom to criticize. Weak actions or strong actions, it matters not, for many the “news” is that the Church is wrong.

But few among its critics understand what the Church is, who it is, or what it really teaches. Too many inside proclaim a solution to sin, announcing “We are Church,” and assuming “WE” can run it better. But a democracy cannot run the Church, for the votes will be changing with the winds. Neither can the Body be run at the will of just certain parts, or the entire body dies and turns to dust.

Alright then, if we are not the ones to replace Church leaders, then what about our punishing or publicly admonishing of them? I don’t know. Certainly the Church has always taught obeying laws for the public good. It seems to me, however, that too often we are concerned with fixing all the wrongs we perceive in others, and Augustine offered some comments on this tendency: Let us never assume that if we live good lives we will be without sin; our lives should be praised only when we continue to beg for pardon. But men are hopeless creatures, and the less they concentrate on their own sins, they more interested they become in the sins of others. They seek to criticize, not to correct. Unable to excuse themselves, they are ready to accuse others. Or as David said: A sacrifice to God is a contrite spirit; God does not despise a contrite and humble heart.

Are some of us looking at the Church priesthood as getting their comeuppance in the press? Are we thinking “See, the truth is coming out.” Do we think ourselves somehow justified by the public airing of the sins of others? This isn’t new “news”; this sort of public penance is in fact old news, very old. The focus of the members of the Body should be on themselves, with humble and contrite hearts. To the degree they perfect themselves they perfect the body, the entire body. That is how the Body is constructed:

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love. (Eph 4: 11-16)

It’s funny, isn’t it, that we can argue that people in Washington need to work together for the good of the country, but we can’t see that the members of the Church need to work together for the good of the Body. Well, maybe it isn’t funny. As Lewis notes, many of us seem unable to distinguish actions we take, as a collective, in trying to run Washington, from actions we take, as a body, in trying to run the Church.

Am I also just being one of those people, pointing at others by the writing of this article? Perhaps it can be taken that way, but I see it as my thinking and learning. By meditating on all the things around me, in action and in writing, I am growing into that place where I was meant to be. And along the way, I am trying not to be anxious. May we grow together, even if functioning differently, in the perfecting of the Body.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

July 4th -- Little Things

There are so many big things people are celebrating this weekend, and not a few are lamenting big things also. But yesterday and today I noticed the small things. And for these I give thanks this weekend.

The police car in front of me was the only one on the 5-lane road in the early morning. It began to slow and stop --- in the middle of nowhere. I looked around: no fires, no suspicious activities, in fact, no people. What was he doing? Should I pass in the right lane? Will I get a tic …. The mother duck emerged from in front of the patrol car, followed by a line of her ducklings, crossing the road at a very deliberate pace. The police officers correctly recognized who should have the right of way, despite there being no stop or yield signs present. They knew they should always stop and yield to the most vulnerable of us. I’m thankful for my caring local law enforcement officers.

As I turned North, I saw the beautiful sunrise in the East. Reds, yellows, oranges and purples, lined with rays of sunlight, all on a beautiful blue pastel background. I’m thankful for the simple things of creation, so simple yet not even the greatest artist ever could arrange colors in the magnificence that now I beheld with my eyes. I’m thankful to God for the beauty of his creation, especially at those times when I am so distracted and concerned about much more trivial things.

I thank Him for the opportunity to receive Him in communion, and adore Him in the early morning quiet.

A good friend recently died; another is in tears over her mother’s operation -- so critical it can’t wait for the end of this holiday weekend; and someone I barely know is sitting home alone, depressed. With my mom’s caregiver gone for this long weekend, I’m sleeping on her couch for a few nights. Mom went out into the yard yesterday for the first time this summer; she enjoyed the flowers I planted. She laughed at the birds fighting at the backyard feeder, and she rocked gently in the swing. Oh, in an hour or so she saw a faint movement in the leaves and said: “Look, it’s getting windy. I’m getting cold; let’s go back inside.” And so we did. Things are difficult for many friends; things could be better for mom and me; but despite her health issues, she is reasonably happy, and so am I.

There are so many little things to be thankful for. We don’t have to look for or focus on the big things this holiday weekend. They’ll still be there come Tuesday.

Happy 4th of July weekend, my friends; may God bless America.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Great Timing

I had another one of those “Okay, I get it Lord. Thank You,” moments again tonight.

It was a good day today. A meeting with the township on ways to help our unemployed is moving right along. Good things will come of this. My cleaning lady came over (and I had time to clean up before she came), and she was in a difficult mood. It seems her grown up son isn’t so grown up, and we had a long discussion about it – after she had a long rant about it. But it ended well; she just needed someone to talk to, then she went about her business – and mine.

Getting to mom’s this evening, she appeared in a good mood. We talked some and then settled down to watch television. She grew bored with her game shows and so we flipped around channels looking for something of interest to her. As the evening wore on, she seemed more interested in various shows. At 9PM, her usual bedtime, she commented that she was not tired yet and would stay up for a little while. At 9:30 and 10, she was asking for more coffee and not at all interested in going to bed. Finally at 10:30 she said “Wow, it’s way past my bedtime; please take me to bed.” And I did.

By the time I was leaving her house, I questioned myself: “Should I stop at the chapel and pray my evening rosary and night prayers, or should I just go home?” I leaned toward the chapel, and so was driving in that direction when my cell phone beeped a text message arriving. Only one person texts me, so I pulled over and glanced at the text: “With mom @ UoM hospital. Surgery likely tomorrow.” I sent a note back: “Good timg. On way to church now.” And so I prayed for my friend and her mother. But before I did, I said a side comment to Jesus: “Okay, I get it Lord. Thank You. I understand why my mom stayed up way passed her normal bed time, and it was a good thing that I was delayed so I could receive this message and then pray for my friends, who you entrusted to my care. My Jesus, You know I trust in You.”

How often does that happen, when things don’t seem to be going as they usually do, or as we want them to, and perhaps we get irritated, but then later we realize that there was a good which came out of it. I wrote here a few months back about being delayed one night and then coming across a recent accident, one which I perhaps avoided being in because I was delayed. How often do these “bad” irritating things turn out to be good things, but we just didn’t realize it at the time? How often are they really good things and we NEVER realize it? Just when are we ever going to get it through our thick heads that God intends good things for us --- even if we don’t understand them? Just when are we REALLY going to trust Him, in all things? Just when are we going to trust not in our plans and timing, but in His Great Timing?

As much as I pray: “My Jesus, I trust in You”, just how sincere is my prayer? I wonder.