Monday, August 30, 2010

Catholic Truth

I can’t tell you how many times I challenged a Catholic truth, how many times I verged on disbelief, or at least apathy. Perhaps it’s the workings of the Holy Spirit which won’t let me ignore these things that seem wrong to me; perhaps it’s just the curiosity of the mind I was blessed with. Regardless, I find I can’t stay apathetic to something I think is an error, and I can’t accept relativism. I have to seek out the truth.

And so I have dug a lot in the past, seeking the answer to the question: “Is the Catholic Church wrong, or am I?” I guess there’s one other blessing I have which I should mention: I’m blessed with a mindset which can accept the fact that I am sometimes wrong. My dad proved that to me many times as I was growing up. In believing I am correct on a matter, I am not irrationally stubborn in my thinking. Of course, though, I have to be PROVED wrong.

Sometimes I think I’m reluctant to just sit down and read Catholic truths. I read the Catechism of the Catholic Church and look at the footnotes. Truths stated, explained, and justified from Scripture --- but sometimes I still don’t get it: “That can’t be right,” I think. And so I can’t help myself, and I begin searching: Why is the Church teaching that? Sometimes I read encyclicals for deeper explanations; sometimes I read the writings of the Church fathers; sometimes I read the meditations of the saints --- men and women much holier AND SMARTER than I. What are they seeing as true that I cannot see?

I may have started blind, but I inevitably did see. For all the times I sought the REAL truth, I inevitably found it in the Church’s teachings, although sometimes it took me a long while. What the Church put succinctly for us to believe, I had to wade through the details, to follow the logic of the faith, the words, and the meanings of Jesus. And I always ended up admitting: I was wrong in my thinking. Even now, despite any doubts or lack of clarity as to “why” a teaching is true, I can accept it as so, based on the many times it has been proven to be. I think that is called “faith.”

As often as I proved myself wrong, I guess I could have doubted my reasoning ability, my wisdom, perhaps doubted my worth. Fortunately, there is another Catholic truth which I never had trouble believing, and which underpins my Catholic faith, and erases all my doubts in myself. The Church teaches: I am not a failure.

I, me in my very essence, my very being, am not a failure. God created me uniquely, and He was right in His creation. My essence is right, not some mistake, and if somehow I deviate from what I was created to be and my mind wanders in error or confusion, I can return to His path. It can never be said of me by anyone that I am a failure. That gives me great consolation in my wanderings. Within the Catholic Church are some wonderful tools to help me return to God’s path for me, should I ever get lost: the sacraments, holy sacraments, instituted by Jesus Himself, to make sure I can NEVER stray so far away that I cannot come back. I may get confused, but I am never lost. I am never a failure in the eyes of the Catholic Church, nor of Jesus. The sacrament of Penance can bring me back to Him, and the Eucharist even physically brings Him to me! My God, wanting and waiting to come to me! How great is that! He not only brings back the lost lambs, He brings back the pig-headed mules.

I am so very grateful I found the truths of the Catholic Church. Many very wise men have found them before me, and I am humbled to think I can follow in their footsteps. I, the challenging one, the sometimes apathetic believer, I am not a failure. As often as men lead me astray, confuse me with their logic, overwhelm my little mind, still there is help, there is grace, there is the Church to help guide me home.

When I pray, I pray: “Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief,” He answers my prayers.

I think all doubts I feel, and perhaps even you feel, about the truths of the Catholic Church come down to one simple question: Who should I believe? Should I believe the truths as I reason them while I search to understand the Church’s truth (I in my great wisdom of 60 years), or should I accept the truths as taught by the Catholic Church for 2000 years and the martyrs and the saints and even the words of its Founder? If my reasoning and the Church’s teaching are contradictory, even for a time, who should I believe while it is so? Am I able to reason better than any other man in the last 2000 years, that I would challenge the Church? Are you?

Who would you choose to believe? Think on that the next time you read about some enticing contrary “wisdom” by someone who is challenging the Catholic truth. In all my searching, I have never found the Catholic truth to be wrong, but rather a great stepping stone for me to find my way to heaven.

Late have I loved you, O Beauty, ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you. You called, you shouted and you shattered my darkness. – Augustine.

Lord, I accept that you love me beyond anything I can understand. Who can know the mind of God? But, Lord, I do know myself. I know my mind; I see into my heart. So it is with an even greater wonder, that I also know that You deem worthy of Your love. You made me wonderful in ways I cannot ever perceive, so wonderful that You would sacrifice Your only Son, for me. You deem me worthy, regardless of my self-perceived failure.

Lord, I don’t understand how this can be. I look at the great sins I have done; I look at my tiny accomplishments. How can I be deemed worthy? Are Your standards that low?

Ah, but I am setting myself as judge here. Even someone I know so well as myself, I am not worthy to judge. You and only You are the judge of my worth. Only the Creator can say whether His creation is as he intended.

Lord, looking at all I have done, I’ll never understand how I could be worthy of your love. In my sight, I am not. But is not what I, but what You have done that makes me worthy. In your sight, I know that I am.

Praised be to You, Lord Jesus Christ, my creator, my judge, my Savior. Lord, I will never understand your love of me, but let me choose to act as if I do.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Virtue is an Attitude

You’ve got a bad attitude, young man.

I can still recall the nun saying that to a troublesome boy at the front of the classroom (no, it wasn’t me). At the time, it seemed a very correct statement, and a very precise one. It exactly stated what was wrong about the boy --- and he often expressed it by picking on other boys, talking in class, being sassy to the nuns, and not caring about his homework. In total, though, it was a good description, the fact that he had a bad attitude.

I don’t think we tend to describe things that way anymore. Besides not talking about anyone as being bad or good anymore (relativism holds sway), we don’t talk about some of the things which might help define us as bad or good: how we demonstrate virtues.

Virtues can’t be measured, although they can be seen in our actions. It’s hard to describe virtues in short, simple definitions. They’re not so much physical things which you describe and measure, as metaphysical things which you know. It’s hard to build virtues, as you might build a house, yet during our lives virtues must indeed be built up --- they’re how we grow in holiness.

From our earliest youth, our families begin building virtues in us. Faith was one of the earliest. As Scripture notes, a loving father will not give his hungry child a snake or a rock --- and the child knows this. The child early on develops a faith in his father, and knows that his father will give him what is good, and would sooner starve himself than let the child starve. At some point the child doesn’t even think on this anymore, he just has an attitude of knowing this, even if he could not prove it by any physical measures. It’s that attitude of faith, or any virtue, which makes us better men, better Christians. It has much to do with how we relate to one another, and to God.

Jesus spoke of it many times; He often noted the amazing faith of the people He cured. In fact, most often He noted that their faith was a pre-cursor to their cures; their faith saved them. I think Jesus was talking of this attitude of faith and other virtues when at the end of Matthew he described those who came to the wedding feast but He said: “I do not know you.” Those people may have appeared outwardly to those around them as if they were following Jesus, but He knew they were merely acting --- they did not follow Him in their hearts. They had no attitude of faith.

St. Monica’s feast day was yesterday. If you’ve read Augustine (her son)’s writings about her, you will see that she had an attitude of faith. She prayed for her son, over and over, never giving up. AND, she was confident that God would and was answering her prayers. Ask and you shall receive, but like the maidens with the lamps, before receiving you must prepare to receive first. Part of that preparation is development of an assumption or attitude that you WILL receive. The right fielder in the ball park wears a glove because he expects a ball will be hit his way, and he will catch it. He doesn’t go out to the field gloveless with an attitude that a ball “may” be hit his way, and then he’d borrow a glove from the center fielder. No, with that attitude he may drop the ball. The maiden with the lamp, the right fielder, and us --- we need to be prepared, to have the right attitude, and to expect things will come our way.

A friend and I were discussing virtues the other day. We touched on this growing in virtue and holiness and the general “attitude” which describes it. We could see a long-term growth in virtue, and the overt or subtle training behind it, best described by the attitudes which a father instills into his children (and which we can instill into our children). But as adults, what concrete actions can we take to grow more virtuous? How do we become more humble, more faith-filled, more hopeful, more loving, or more temperate? How do we make that happen? How do we become more loving to our wretched sister-in-law, for example, when she comes over and trashes her husband and kids --- and ours, and starts giving us advice on how to live our life? Just where do we start to change our attitude towards her (and sometimes, we wonder, why should we?)?

Cleanse your heart of evil, O Jerusalem
That you may be saved
. (Jer 4)

Okay, after reading the above, we’re reminded of the answer to the “why” part but, again, how do we start to change? How do we grow our virtues?

I think it goes back to our earlier description of virtue; it is an attitude. Attitudes are feelings which are formed, and as children we saw that they were formed by repetition. Our father fed us over and over again, and we gained an attitude of faith in him and his love --- and that he’d continue to feed us. This developing of an attitude based repetition can be used by adults as well, but it will not be easy.

Remember in the father-child example, the father actually demonstrated HIS virtues to us, so that WE could grow in virtue. At the same time, our feedback to his repetitions helped reinforce (not start, but reinforce) his virtues. So, how can we grow our virtues, using our wretched sister-in-law, for example? We can grow our virtues by ASSUMING AN ATTITUDE of already having them. We can choose to react to her diatribes not with anger, but humility. We can choose to respond not sarcastically, but with charity. We can choose to have faith that God will not let the worse happen to us or her because of her bad attitudes, her lack of virtues. Our persistence in repeating our virtuous responses will result in our developing habits, good ones and a better attitude of virtue. And, perhaps with the grace of God, even she may grow in virtues as a result of our demonstrating it to her, and we may therefore get reinforcement of our growth. But it starts with us. It starts with our wanting and then deliberately, forcefully, repetitively, confidently, practicing virtues in our relationships with those around us. And not just to the worst people around us, as the sister-in-law example I used, but even to the best ones around us. Be virtuous even to those whom you don’t have to be nice to, and who have no expectations of your being nice to them, the grocery store clerk, the man passing you in the hallway, the operator on the phone.

Be deliberate in being “acting” virtuous to these people, and you will find that at some point you will no longer have to “act” virtuous, it will be your habit, it will be your attitude. Unlike the young CHILD who was acting out his lack of virtues, his bad attitude, to try and demonstrate his importance to the world, you’ll finding yourself acting as the ADULT, and one who is confident not only of his own importance, but that of everyone around him, all created in the image of God.

And you WILL be growing in virtue and in holiness. And you’ll never hear anyone say to you: “You’ve got a bad attitude.” (Or tell you to go stand in the corner.) ; - )

Friday, August 27, 2010

Peter's Betrayal

As I prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary tonight, I reflected on some meditations I had written long ago.

While Carrying of the Cross: I remember Peter’s betrayal. He is not here.

I have a number of friends and relatives whom I expect will always be there if I call. Were I sick or in great pain, I think they would drop everything and come running. But when the deepest pains of my life occurred, I didn’t call --- I didn’t want to “bother” them. Perhaps in the back of my mind, I worried: “What if I should call, and they didn’t come?” Then I’d feel even worse.

In His time of agony Jesus didn’t call to His friends either; He knew they were already aware of His plight. And they didn’t come. No one came forward to defend Him at His “trial”; and later they didn’t offer to help carry His cross. Not even Peter, who actually betrayed Him. Not even Peter. How sad and forlorn must Jesus have felt, when the one He was counting on most, failed Him.

The ones Jesus expected weren’t there, but then, then others were. Other friends came forward and offered prayers, and consolations --- and tears. He heard them and saw them, and from them He gained hope for His ordained journey.

I thank the Father for giving me friends, help for the journey.

I’ve had some heavy crosses in my life, when I chose to not call friends for help, but it seems that other friends always appeared for me also --- and sometimes even strangers. The caring nurse in the hospital, the co-worker who asked in sympathy: “Are you having a bad day? Can I help?”, and the stranger who saw my tears in Church, and briefly put a hand on my shoulder. All these were friends, friends given and sent to me when I needed them, by my Father. (And let me never forget, Lord, that the friend that I so often needed, I am to be he to others.) Even as I bear some small part of Jesus’ cross in my crosses, I’m glad I’m able to share some of His consolations, received from friends, but really gifts from Our Father.

I always had doubts, but they were in me, not in You, Father. Never You.

My meditations on the agonies of Jesus, and of my own life, ended with The Crucifixion. He died, as I shall one day die. And even as I share in His agonies of the journey, I’ll share in His end. But I know the real ending doesn’t stop there. If I had any doubts as to whether it is all worth it, He proved them wrong. He proved that death isn’t the end, but the beginning. And just as I found during my journeys, the end will bring a sharing, with old friends, and new ones, and with Our Father. Despite my present pains, I look forward to that day.

In my sorrow, I see the never-ending Joy arrive. I trust in You.

I hope these thoughts in some small way give you consolation, my friends. Sometimes in our sorrows we feel all alone. We’re not. Our Father sends you friends, and even strangers (like me). Do not be anxious. All will end well.

May the Lord answer in time of trial;
May the name of Jacob’s God protect you.

-- Ps 20

Monday, August 23, 2010

Tribute to an Angel

I’ve written here about my life, as it is, and sometimes how I wish it could be. I’ve written about my Lord and Savior, and the mystery of His continuing love for me; I’m always fascinated by it. I’ve written a lot about my mom, and had fond memories here of my dad, my sister, and my brother. And I’ve written about my friends, priests, and even strangers who I have encountered and who have impacted my life. And I’ve written about and to you, my on-line friends. You are all important.

I’ve written here about peaceful herds of deer --- and the few I’ve almost hit; and I’ve written about birds, dogs, cats, bears, and yes, even cows. I’ve written some about trees and sunsets and my garden, and so many other blessings of God’s creation. I’ve written about many things that were and are part of my life, things which I now see were and are very important, although they may have once seemed very small.

But I’ve never written about Michael.

I don’t know when I named my guardian angel Michael. It’s just always been his name; perhaps he told me it once long ago. I’ve been aware of his presence for a long time, and I pray to him each morning and each evening. But it’s the times in-between in which he gets me into trouble --- or is it the other way around? I guess you’d have to ask him. He’s always around me, whether working or playing or praying, but I think he waits for those adventurous days, the days when life is so fast and often so interesting. Although he is always a friend I can talk to, then is when he plays a major role in my life. (I think he secretly likes to take control of things in rough times, just to show me up for all those times when I screwed up big time, but still had the nerve to say to him with a straight face: “Well, Michael! Where WERE you?”)

I can’t tell you how many times I think Michael saved my physical life, in part because there’s so many I remember, and lots I remember only through an alcohol haze, and only he would be aware of the times I never even knew about. I suspect he’s stopped counting too. He’s just there. I remember the time I was walking in the railroad yard on a rainy night (I worked my way through college there), and I wasn’t watching things around me as the silent flat car crept down the tracks behind me. Only the faint ‘click’ as it went over a track joint caused me to jump aside, as it brushed my pant leg. (I never checked if a joint was really there, or if that was Michael clicking his tongue.) And there was the time a caboose brushed my leg one day, as I did a very stupid thing and walked right behind it, knowing that an engine was tied to the other end of the train. The cars slammed together as the train pulled back, narrowly missing me as I hopped off the track --- I think Tom Ryan, the conductor on that caboose not three feet from me, almost had a heart attack as he screamed my name. Afterwards, he had to sit down for twenty minutes; he was shaking so much. But Michael and I, well, we went in and had a coke. In the four years I worked on the railroad, three men died. One from a car rolling over his legs, as almost happened to me, and two during the huge snow storm of 1967, including the man I insisted work during that storm, although he had only come in for his paycheck. I’ll never forget his name. I’ve often sent Michael to be with others who I worried about, asking him to help their angels because I thought it was necessary. I wish I would have asked him to help others that night, the night two very good men, with families, died within 24 hours.

But Michael was not just there to save my physical life, he’s also saved and guided my spiritual life --- one which I often paid no attention to, but he did. I think that at some times of my life I was as a King Arthur, or so I acted, and Michael was as Merlin. I talked to him, because I knew that he knew so much. I think I probably did sing to him the song “How to Handle a Woman,” although I don’t think I ever heard his answers --- or if I did, I didn’t pay attention. I think I lived much of my life in a little Camelot, carefree, relatively happy, and thinking that it never rained until after sunset, even as wars and deceit were brewing around me. I was oblivious to many of the bad things until they happened, but Michael saw them coming and often gave me advice on doing things which I later saw made the bad things be much less worse than they could have been. Michael let me waltz happily down the road of my life, even when I took a turn or two towards hell. He kept the briars and brambles from scratching me, so I was protected from my stupidity along much of the way --- looking back, I’m not too sure that was a good thing, but no matter, when he was fed up with my behavior Michael put roadblocks up in front of me which I gleefully crashed into (the second had to be so large that I believe he called my heavenly Mother, Mary, in to help him). And the pains of those crashes were very, very deep, and the recoveries long and very touch and go. But he was with me all the way. From when I played in my sandbox, until when I lay in my final sand box, I know he will be there. I love him so much.

And Michael was there for my dreams, when I was a Don Quixote and he was a Sancho Panza, fighting imagined dragons, together. Oh I was going to save the company I worked for, the Church, and oh so many poor and weak I met or just read about. Michael knew I often was tilting at windmills, but he went along with me, singing along the way. He knew that sometimes it was the effort and intention that counted, and it made me a better man, even if, despite all my glorious efforts, it helped no one else. I imagine many of those times he was humming “To Dream the Impossible Dream.” No, I am confident he was, because I can recall many a time when I hummed along with him, as we tried to do so many good things.

And who knows what lies ahead for us? I can see the room wherein lies my death bed, but it’s not a place I’ve yet visited, and there is so much more I wish to see and do, for my Lord and my Master. Perhaps even the rescue of some fair maiden?? (But does one even exist in these days so lacking grace and enchantment; I don’t know.) But for a knight errant, with his faithful companion at his side, surely all quests are theirs to achieve, if only they will believe.

We may have failed often in my life, but it was not for want of trying.

Oops, did you catch that last line? “We may have failed;” I just gave Michael co-blame for the disasters which I lived through, and all of which I undoubtedly caused. Looking back now, I can see how few times I gave him credit for our successes. Michael, I’m sorry.

I think I’ll stop here. I feel there are so many other things I must say to Michael, but they are private. I trust you’ll understand. Before he and I go to celebrate with a glass of wine together however, I just want to say once more what a wonderful guardian angel he is, and how blessed I am that God chose him for me.

No, Michael, just because we’re having a glass of wine together at the bar, you needn’t worry that I’ll start calling you Harvey. That was a rabbit not an angel, and anyway, I never have more than two glasses of wine any more. That’s one lesson you taught me that I won’t forget. What’s that? Oh yes, I know, there are lots of other lessons you still need to repeat --- often. I’m trying, Michael, I’m trying. And with you with me, I’ll not be anxious.

So let’s go, already. I’m sure adventure awaits us.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

On Saving the World

I’ve often taken solace in that phrase: “The poor will always be with us.” To me, it meant I should try to care for my neighbor, but humbly recognize that there are limits to my ability, and limits to what God expects of me. It gave me a peace in my efforts, of loving and caring for my neighbor. When others urged me to “Go there” or “Give to them,” I was able to say no, or put limits on my generosity --- I must save some for myself, and perhaps for others even more in need. I set myself as judge as to who was most in need, and who was most worthy of my love.

Then I read this prayer:

Lord, why did you tell me to love all men, my brothers?
I have tried, but I come back to you frightened…
Lord, I was so peaceful at home, I was so comfortably settled.
It was well furnished, and I felt cozy.
I was alone, I was at peace.
Sheltered from the wind, the rain, the mud.
I would have stayed unsullied in my ivory tower.
But, Lord, you have discovered a breach in my defenses,
You have forced me to open my door,
Like a squall of rain in the face, the cry of men has awakened me.
Like a gale of wind a friendship has shaken me,
As a ray of light slips in unnoticed, your grace has stirred me … and, rashly enough, I left my door ajar. Now, Lord, I am lost!
Outside men were lying in wait for me.
I did not know they were so near; in this house, in this street, in this office; my neighbor, my colleague, my friend.
As soon as I started to open the door I saw them, with outstretched hands, burning eyes, longing hearts, like beggars on church steps.

The first ones came in, Lord. There was after all some space in my heart.
I welcomed them. I would have cared for them and fondled them, my very own little lambs, my little flock.
You would have been pleased, Lord, I would have served and honored you in a proper, respectable way.
Till then, it was sensible …
But the next ones, Lord, the other men, I had not seen them; they were hidden behind the first ones.
There were more of them, they were wretched; they overpowered me without warning.
We had to crowd in, I had to find room for them.
Now they have come from all over, in successive waves, pushing one another, jostling one another.
They don’t come alone any longer but in groups, bound one to another.
They come bending under heavy loads; loads of injustice, of resentment and hate, of suffering and sin …
They drag the world behind them, with everything rusted, twisted, or badly adjusted.

Lord, they hurt me! They are in the way, they are everywhere.
They are too hungry, they are consuming me!
I can’t do anything any more; as they come in, they push the door, and the door opens wider …
Lord! My door is wide open!
I can’t stand it any more! It’s too much! It’s no kind of life! What about my job? My family? My peace? My liberty? And me?
Lord, I have lost everything, I don’t belong to myself any longer;
There’s no more room for me at home.

Don’t worry, God says, you have gained all.
While men came in to you,
I, your Father,
I, your God,
Slipped in among them.

- from The Oxford Book of Prayer (#222, by Michel Quoist)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

I Admire You

Admire: (fr. ad-mirari: To wonder, fr. astonishing); Admiration: 1: Archaic: Wonder 2: An object of esteem. 3: Delighted or astonished approbation (praise)
Work: …..

I was just leaving the coffee shop and walking to my car when I was stopped by the man. I had seen him often in the shop, and exchanged “good morning’s” on occasion. He knew my name; I don’t think I ever knew his. He just wanted to chat, and I just wanted to move on to my Friday morning chores: banking, shopping and the post office, before I went to mom’s house.

After a couple of minutes of polite conversation, I ended it with a “well, I have to be going; I’ve got a few things to do before I head over to care for my elderly mother.” And then he said it: “I admire you.”

I knew what he was referring to, but it struck me as odd nonetheless, this stranger saying he admired me. I made light of it, saying “that everyone does what he has to do” as I walked away, but the words wouldn’t leave me, and I thought on them as I drove around.

Surely he said the words casually in conversation, without any deep meaning, unless perhaps they had some deep (unknown to me) meaning to the speaker. Perhaps he wished he had offered similar care or concern for a loved one; perhaps he wished he could do it now. And as for me, the recipient of his words, I had some semblance of wishing the words WERE spoken not casually, but in truth, but I didn’t really believe myself worthy of such good wishes. Admiration: esteem, praise?? Me?? My flippant remark as I left was the only truth I recognized in the brief conversation: everyone does what they have to do --- don’t they?

Earlier that morning, around the coffee table, I had mentioned to the men gathered there that I was making progress in setting up a website to help the out-of-work in our community, those who wanted to work at anything, even small part time jobs. (I’ll write more on this at another time, if this comes about.) One of the small businessmen gathered there said: “Let me know when you get that site set up; I’m tired of looking for people who really want to work.” He indicated that many of the men he hired were unused to coming in every day on time, and/or felt no concern at just taking an unannounced day off because “they were tired that morning.” He offered steady pay, benefits, long-hours if they wanted, and even travel --- but he was having a difficult time finding and keeping steady workers at $8 - $18 per hour.

With unemployment rates as they are, how could this be?

I think perhaps one reason is that we’ve had it too good for too long in this country. We’ve grown lax in assuming the good times will continue, no matter what we do or say. And we’ve passed those assumptions on to our children, thinking this mindset will “make them feel loved and secure,” a good thing – or so we think. But we are wrong. Good things do not have to continue; they have to be earned, over and over, and over again.

Our way of saying things has begun to reflect our thinking on them, growing very casual, assuming, and without any serious meaning. You see it in the words teen-agers often use: “sort of,” “kinda” and “like” are used to describe almost anything and everything. They “sort of” enjoy that television show or that person. They “like” want to do good in school, or do good in, “like,” school. And they “kinda” want to wear that outfit. The casual words and the way they are used are very flexible, applying to both verbs and nouns. So they “sort of” or “kinda” or “like” want to do something, and the place they want to go is “sort of” or “kinda” or “like” the mall. The casual words indicate they may or may not want to do the action, and they may or may not want to go to the place. It’s a casualness about both their purpose, and how purposeful they are.

If we believe that we really ARE very serious about those things which are important, then this casualness seems to indicate that they believe nothing they do is important: no particular action, no particular thing. Young people appear to express an unsaid assumption that regardless of what they do, things will still turn out all right. Whatever they need or want will still be given to them; the important things will get done; they need not worry about anything.

From my many readings of history and philosophy, this is an attitude and thinking that brings about the downfall of countries, and of civilizations. What we do DOES matter, and when a people believe that what they do is unimportant, they will find that no one does the important things.

I’ve read many theories about how we’ve gotten to this situation. Some say we’ve given our kids too much. Some say we haven’t expected enough of them, taught them to know the meaning of work, and the real rewards of work. (Some say we haven’t taught them much at all.) And some say we haven’t taught, or shown by our example, the important purpose of their lives --- not just their lives, but the PURPOSE of their lives, and how to live them as morally good people. And some say it’s not about what we’ve given or we’ve taught at all, but it’s about what they’ve learned and how they’ve grown up --- and the fact that many of them haven’t. Many of them still think and act as kids, thinking they will be given things, thinking they will be loved, thinking they will even be rewarded ---- no matter what.

They seem to have never heard, and never expect to hear, those words we recently, seriously, thought about, those dreadful words from our Lord: “I do not know you.” At the end of their lives we won’t be there for our children to hug them when they cry or bail them out of their problems, and when the Lord says “I do not know you” they won’t “sort of” be getting into heaven. And perhaps, considering our failures in this critical responsibility, we won’t “sorta” get in either. And all of our temporary disappointments in the ones we love, our hopes that things will eventually get better for them, will be permanently destroyed. But this does not have to be our future; we can change it.

Our time on earth is a time for growing in holiness, and helping those around us (and our children) to grow in holiness, and I think GROWING is the real important word there. We can’t be “kinda” getting holier. We need to do things with a deliberateness, a purpose, and with a confidence that what we do does matter. We need to say and do things, knowing what they mean, and not treating them like casual coffee-shop chatter. We need to teach our young to be serious about virtues, and to see and understand their concrete, real, and everlasting value, and that what they do with their lives does matter.

And if we fail to understand some of these things ourselves, we need to take the time to learn them --- after all, we are supposed to be the adults --- or do you view yourself as “kinda” an adult?

I hope not. I hope and pray you are more than that, because I truly want to say, and mean, that: “I admire you.”

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Bible Study

He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem. And some one said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the householder has risen up and shut the door, you will begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us’ He will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from; depart from me, all you workers of iniquity!’ There you will weep and gnash your teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves thrust out. And men will come from east and west, and from north and south, and sit at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some first who will be last.
Luke, 13:22-30

It’s been a while since I went to a mid-day bible study. The priest leading the large group I attended was an expert at unpacking this Sunday’s Scripture reading, explaining the meaning and context, and packing it all up again into the comprehensive story of scripture. You understood the point he was explaining. And I followed along for a while, but then my mind went off on its own track of understanding and analogy.

When I (somewhat fearfully) rolled the words of “I do not know you” around in my head, my mind went back to other wedding parables. In Matthew 22:13, the king sees a guest who has on no wedding garment, and has him “cast into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And in Matthew 25:12 the maidens who ran out of lamp oil showed up late and asked to be let into the marriage feast, but were told: “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.” Obviously in all these examples, it appears that the bridegroom or king SHOULD know these people. They followed him and/or they were invited to the wedding. So why couldn’t they get in? And equally obviously these parables are meant to refer to me – despite my invitation, might I not be allowed in? Uh-oh.

I think all the people involved in the parables were invited to the wedding; they had an invitation, but apparently that alone was not enough to get them in. The host of the party checked them over, to verify they were indeed the guests intended. And so, they had to be dressed right, had a gift, and had to have had a pretty close relationship with the wedding couple, or else the “guests” might find themselves being asked: “Who are you?” --- despite their invitations.

Our invitations to the heavenly party are our Baptisms; we were marked as invited by Him. But later, when we get to the party, we’ll need more, we’ll need to be seen as His friends. We’ll need to be seen as someone who He has seen before, and who knows Him and respects Him. Getting to that point is called “growing in holiness.” Baptism at the beginning of our life; growing in holiness throughout our life; then welcomed at the party at the end of our life. That’s the complete cycle of our lives --- as He intended.

At the bible study group they talked about the parable of the field hands; some worked all day and some only an hour, yet they all got paid the same. It was a difficult parable to understand. But looked at in the light of Luke above, it makes sense. The field hands are us, invited in and called to grow in holiness all our lives, so we can be fit for the heavenly party, our pay, at the end. We’re all called to grow in holiness, but some people grow faster than others. For some, once they receive their invite, they only have to work for an hour before quickly blooming in God’s grace. For others, despite an early invitation and many of God’s graces, they may struggle to grow in holiness their whole life, to get to the same point that others found so quickly. And so when they get to the end of their lives the rewards are the same, and that’s as it should be, for all were now prepared to be good guests.

When you show up at the heavenly party, you’ll need to be seen as a friend of the host, not some bum from the alley who found the invitation on the ground. You’ll have worked much of your life to get to know Him. Unlike a stranger, you’re not going to His party to get something, food or drink or fun, you’re going there GIVE something: honor to the host of the party. It’s not like walking into a stranger’s house; you know Him. Guests are not just invitees; guests are friends. They know Him; He knows them. They celebrate with Him; He celebrates with them.

What a party it will be! Be there or be square!

…… or be left out.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Rebuking Sin

I was at a local Catholic book store this morning when a woman came up to the counter holding a holy card. “You should not be selling these here. This card says ‘Our Lady of Medjugorje’ on it. That is not an approved apparition site.” A discussion ensued --- if you can call a stating of opinions a discussion. As it turns out, the woman behind the counter and I both had both been to the alleged apparition site in Yugoslavia. The customer was adamant about the evils of that town, and lies told in support of it. For myself, I offered that the site has a way of opening the eyes of those who go there; perhaps she would like to visit there to try to understand things better – I’d pay for her vacation. She didn’t hold up her hands in a cross in front of me, but I got her message clearly. There would be no communication on the subject, and so I left.

This evening I picked up my book of sermons by John Henry Newman; I hadn’t looked at it in months. And so of course, the next sermon to be read was entitled: “Rebuking Sin.” (John Henry Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, by Ignatius Press. Sermon 24). Here are some excerpts.

“There are two sorts of men in the world; those who put themselves forward, and speak much; and those who retire, and from indolence, timidity, or fastidiousness do not care to express an opinion. Neither of these classes will act the part of St. John the Baptist (who rebuked King Herod’s sin) in their intercourse with others: the retiring will not rebuke vice at all; the bold and ill-mannered will take a pleasure in giving their judgment, whether they are fit judges or not. These self-appointed censors of vice are not to be countenanced or tolerated by any serious Christian. The subjects of their attacks are often open to censure, it is true; and should be censured, but not by them. They flatter themselves with the notion that they are energetic champions of virtue; there is a multitude of such men in these days.

Now such officious accusers of vice are, I say, to be disowned by all who wish to be really Christians. Every one has his place, one to obey, another to rule, a third to rebuke. It is not religious to undertake an office without a commission. Those who take upon them to rebuke vice without producing credentials of their authority, are intruding upon the office of God’s Ministers. They may be popular, be supported by the many, and be recognized even by the persons whom they attack; still the function of censor is from God, whose final judgment it precedes and shadows forth; and not a whole generation of self-willed men can bestow on their organ the powers of a divine ambassador.

What rules can be given for rebuking vice? To perform the office of a censor requires a maturity and consistency of principle seen and acknowledged. They who reprove with the greatest propriety, from their weight of character, are generally the very men who are also best qualified for reproving. To rebuke well is a gift which grows with the need of exercising it. The more his habitual temper is formed after the law of Christ, the more discreet, unexceptionable, and graceful will be his censures, the more difficult to escape or to resist.

What I mean is this: cultivate in your general deportment a cheerful, honest, manly temper; and you will find fault well, because you will do so in a natural way. Be frank, do not keep your notions of right and wrong to yourselves. Do not allow friend or stranger in the familiar intercourse of society to advance false opinions, nor shrink from stating your own, and do this in singleness of mind and love. The single-hearted Christian will find fault, not austerely or gloomily, but in love; not stiffly, but naturally, gently, and as a matter of course, just as he would tell his friend of some obstacle in his path which was likely to throw him down, but without any absurd feeling of superiority over him. And though his advice be not always taken as he meant it, yet he will not dwell on the pain occasioned to himself by such a result of his interference, except so far as to be more cautious in future against even the appearance of rudeness or intemperance in his manner.”

The conversation did not go well this morning, and I was reminded of another defense I had made of Medjugorje. Fr. Philip Lawler, editor of Catholic World Report, stated that he would not be seeing Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of Christ, because of comments he had read of its bias. I wrote him using my experience of Medjugorje as an example of something I didn’t understand, but could judge on its fruits – which were very favorable for me. I’d watch the Passion with the same open-mindedness, and watch for the fruits. He agreed.

In retrospect, I probably should not have spoken about Medjugorje as a topic this morning, but like with Fr. Lawler I should have merely spoken of my personal experience. I had attended church only spottedly for about seven years when I felt compelled to go there. And then I was able to see things more clearly. Like the blind man who was cured and then hauled before the temple priests, when asked what Jesus did to cure him he merely answered: “I don’t know, but now I see.” Before I went to that village, I was a blind man, but now I see. I don’t know more, and there are no arguments for or against which will change that fact.

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Priest's Life

I am sending you across land and sea, to the whole world. And that world is in a miserable state. Do not think that you are destined for easy struggles or unimportant tasks. “You are the salt of the earth.” What do these words imply? Did the disciples restore what had already turned rotten? Not at all. Salt cannot help what is already corrupted. That is not what they did. But what had first been renewed and freed from corruptions and then turned over to them, they salted and preserved in the newness the Lord had bestowed. It took the power of Christ to free men from the corruption caused by sin; it was the task of the apostles through strenuous labor to keep that corruption from returning.
-- Saint John Chrysostom

The above words were in this morning’s readings; I hope every priest read them and took them to heart. Serious words, yet I think they were meant to be encouraging words. “What had first been renewed and freed from corruption and then turned over to them, they salted and preserved in the newness the Lord had bestowed.”

I think many priests view their vocation too critically; they’re too hard on themselves. They act and feel as if God has charged them with leading all souls to Him, to pull dirty old sinners out of the gutter, to save the dying, and to work miracles. My dear fathers, I love you and all you do for us, but get real. You’re not our Savior, who we are to look up to and adore, who has to be some kind of perfect example, an outstanding preacher guiding us to heaven. No, you’re not the great Shepherd, or even the Good one. Your role is important, but much less critical: you’re the bus driver. (Look in the mirror and think: “That looks like Ralph Kramden,” --- sans the halo he imagined over himself.)

Saint John summarized it well this morning: What was turned over to you was a newness “the Lord had bestowed,” not you. You’re not charged with being some great converter of souls, you are charged with helping the converted get to heaven, like the salt that preserves them, --- or like a bus driver. Your vocation and the Church are a great vehicle to help you, but the people must willingly get on your bus to go with you; you’re not out there forcing them on, and there are lots of other buses --- you don’t have to personally bring everyone. You’ve been given a beautiful bus, well-maintained by the owner --- who by the way, is in the lead car of this caravan to heaven --- don’t lose sight of Him! (He who serves me, follows me, says the Lord. – do you remember that from this morning?) Don’t forget to stop and pick up passengers along the way (remember they’re getting on willingly --- but they’ll have to pay! Challenge them!), because you don’t want to reach the end of the line empty. Don’t inflate your responsibilities too big, but don’t belittle them either: you have a job to do. Do it! Many people are counting on you, to do your part to get them to heaven, Mr. Bus Driver, Sir! Father.

Okay, so I guess the rest of you think you can sit back and relax now, and listen to your priest who says “Leave the driving to us.” Wake up, will you! You’re not paying attention back there.

Perhaps you got distracted with those words directed at our priests, but try to remember that you were part of that story also, a rather crucial part. Crucial as in: No passengers equals no need for a bus line. You’re the whole reason for the priesthood. You’re the one they serve, to help drive you to heaven. “Yes,” you may say, “and we’re very grateful for their help. (Perhaps we’ll give them a tip --- wink, wink.)” Ha, ha, very funny, but laugh at this fact my friends: Despite the existence of a very reliable public transportation system, just how many people actually take the bus? How many rely on the priest to be a primary guide to heaven? Well? Do you? And if you’re not taking this beautiful and efficient form of transportation (God is green!), then how are you getting to heaven? Do you have a better way than this one established by Christ?

You became heaven-bound when God first gave you life, and then the grace of Baptism was bestowed on you by the Lord, the newness needed for your journey, kind of like a lunch bag packed to keep you nourished along the way. Now if you choose not to get on the bus, taking advantage of the salt to preserve your grace, the easy way to heaven provided by Christ, you can always drive yourself, or walk, but those may be a bit more risky forms of transportation. We’ve discussed the rigors of traveling that way before on this site. If you’ll recall, you need to be more focused if you are taking the scenic route AND doing the driving. And a good map, or even better, a passenger who’s been there before (like Jesus) is most advisable. But I don’t think we’ve talked about your vehicle in the past. We just spoke about the bus and its drivers and their responsibilities, but if you’re determined to do the driving, what about your vehicle and responsibilities?

No man is an island. I hate to tell you, my friends, but your vehicle in this life is nothing but a mini-bus. It has a passenger seat --- okay, your excellent co-pilot should be there --- but it also has back seats. Your vehicle seats 4 or 6, or maybe even 10. And like the bus driver above, I don’t think you want to reach the final destination alone. Remember, God is THE ultimate in energy efficiency, MR GREEN Himself. Even after your long hard journey, despite His tremendous relief that you safely arrived (IF you did), He might very well say to you: “I gave you that big safe car for your journey, paid for all that gas, let you go into all those scenic by-ways --- where My lost sheep were, mind you --- and you’ve come here alone?!”

Well, let’s just say I wouldn’t want to be part of that conversation. You are my friends, but I think I’d step outside when you try to explain that to God --- who also paid for your travel insurance, by the way. You see, my friends, in this journey of life, we are really all priests. They are the professionals; we are the amateurs, but we are all trying to get to the same destination. They bring others as part of their job; we bring others because the road is dangerous, and we should never travel alone. Never. Not only should we be prepared to accept help, we should be prepared to give it. That “Love your neighbor” commandment, He said it to ALL of us.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Do Not Be Anxious

It happened again.

Late Saturday on the way to Adoration a slow driver putted along in front of me, driving 40 in the 55 zone. The double-yellow line and hills and curves prevented my passing, and I could not help myself: I was getting antsy to pass. Then, finally, he put on his right turn indicator, but way in advance of the flashing yellow light ahead. Then ever so slowly, it seemed, he began drifting into the right turn lane, and I was starting to ---- when right in front of us a car full of teenagers raced through the intersection, ignoring the flashing red light over them. In the on-coming traffic lane, I saw the car slam on its brakes and spin sideways to avoid a collision, even as I hit my brakes and horn and began to skid.

It was over in a second, as the teens raced on, and I thought: “There, but for the grace of God ….” Again. Again I saw the obvious accident, the accident that wouldn’t have been dented fenders but steaming wrecks – and bodies, the accident I had avoided, because I was slowed by the “irritating” driver, who unknowingly may have saved my life. The “irritating” driver who immediately disappeared from in front of me, after I was safe. Again.

How many times does God have to show me that He makes all things, even the irritating ones --- perhaps most importantly the irritating ones, for my good? And how many times do I, do WE, still not get it?

Do not be anxious. This blog is not frivolously titled; it is a constant reminder for me, because, apparently, I need to be constantly reminded. For my own good, for my own safety, and out of love, do not be anxious.

Thank You, Lord, for always caring about me, and for me. My Jesus, I trust in You.

Do not be anxious. Do you get it yet? All things happen for a reason. Even the bad we see, can be good in His eyes. Must you be like Job, demanding He explain all the bad things you see? Can’t you trust Him, trust that He loves you, and that He is always with you --- especially in your sorrows?

Do not be anxious. When it seems the light coming towards you is a train, it takes a lot of faith to not panic. It takes a lot of faith to believe that He will turn it, or He will turn you, or it really is just the brightness of His love, coming rapidly for you --- a good thing. It takes a lot of faith; it takes a lot of trust.

Do not be anxious. He loves you, always. He will save you ---- again. Do not be anxious.

Do you get it yet?


Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary into heaven. Jesus her Son called to her: “Come, Mother, celebrate with Me My Victory.” Undoubtedly hers is a place of great honor; I’ll perhaps one day be content with any place there.

I turn to Mary this day and pray: “I’m so thankful to you, Mother, that despite your being raised into the glory of the Father, your Son, and the Holy Spirit, as we celebrate this day, yet you were able to turn from all this unimaginable Love, to love me. A feast day today, but I will remember on every day, of how you turned to call me back to your Son, when I was so lost.”

Sweet Sacrament
Jesus, my Lord, my God, my all,
How can I love Thee as I ought?
And how revere this wond'rous gift,
So far surpassing hope or thought.
Sweet Sacrament, we Thee adore.
O make us love Thee more and more!
O make us love Thee more and more!

Had I but Mary's sinless heart,
To love Thee with, my dearest King;
O with what bursts of fervent praise,
Thy goodness, Jesus, would I sing!
Sweet Sacrament, we Thee adore.
O make us love Thee more and more!
O make us love Thee more and more!

Hail Holy Queen, Enthroned above ….

P.S. Today many people are remembering V-J Day, Victory over Japan in World War II. The church does not celebrate secular holidays, yet I read from Psalm 46 this morning: He puts an end to wars over all the earth. Thank you, Lord, for loving and caring for us, your children. All our victories are from You.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Adjectives Matter

Give us a deep faith,
A steadfast hope,
A burning love for our Lord.

From a Prayer to the Apostle Paul

Of late, I have noticed a strange thing in my relations with God: the lead has reversed in our conversations. It used to be that I read something or heard something and then my heart heard it in a new way, Scripture was opened anew for me, and I heard God’s voice, to me in particular, and then I meditated on what I heard and considered it. Sometimes I wrote of those musings here. Lately, however, I have noticed a reversal of order: I prayed or considered things and some of them seemed to have a new deeper meaning, and I debated whether I should do something about my thoughts --- perhaps even sharing them with you, but then I often reflected: But these are just my thoughts, my opinions, how valuable can they be? Later, after these things, I then read or heard things which repeated and confirmed the thoughts of my musings. The words came after my musings, confirming them, rather than being the inspiration for them. Things were reversed. I don’t know what to make of this change in communication with God; perhaps this is a good thing? I wonder.

This morning as I entered the church and knelt I prayed” “Lord, bless our day.” Then I sat and thought: Am I assuming too much casualness in my relationship with God? Do I assume His friendship? Has it become not special, but taken for granted? Then, as the priest began mass he spoke about the readings of the day and said: “Familiarity breeds contempt.” And I realized that my earlier thoughts were not without purpose, and then throughout the day I thought more on my relationship with God, and others.

Throughout my life my relationship with God has gone from knowing of Him, to respecting and sometimes adoring Him, to knowing Who He is in relation to me, to having a real relationship with Him and considering Him not only my God but my closest friend, to ….? Where has it gone to now? Has it gone to a casualness, an assumption that He’ll always be there --- no matter what --- so much so that I often ignore Him? Has it gone from trying to follow Him to assuming that He is following me? And then I thought of other friends, once good friends, who I had treated in a similar way. And now they’re gone.

I thought about friends and relationships in general. Is there someone you have come to take for granted in your life? The spouse who once so enthralled you; is your “I love you” now said casually, if at all? Are words to your children just directions of what to do, with no meaning of WHY it and that they matter TO YOU? Simple words like “I love you” or even “Please” can keep a relationship close, but how you say and feel and act as you say those words are important: the adjectives matter, greatly.

Look at the words of Paul I started with: A deep faith is not just some memorized facts, but facts with importance. A steadfast hope is not one which will easily fade away. And a burning love? That word, burning, says this is no casual love, it says it is a consuming love – and one which needs to be and WILL BE constantly fed, and kept bright. All real love is that way, if we want it to last. You need to constantly add fuel, stoke the embers, or you may find that the fires have gone out. This morning the priest asked in his short homily: “Do you pray enough? Does anyone?” And I wondered: can you pray too much?? Can it become too assuming, too casual? Is there a sense of ignoring there, despite your words? Can you say “I love you” too much in the same way? Would it be better to not say it at all --- but act it instead?

In my English classes we used to diagram sentences, and we were told that an adjective modifies a noun. Having lived many years, I think I would now describe it better by saying that an adjective focuses a noun; it makes it precise and therefore shows it is more important. The noun is not just a casual thing. A burning love. In our close relationships with people and with God, our adjectives are sometimes said but more often they are shown in the actions we take toward them. Adjectives are important words, but they matter only if THEY, the receivers of our words, know the adjectives come from our heart. Our adjectives convey that THEY, and only THEY, are the real focus of our nouns. We need to ensure that we stay focused on those near to us, my friends, or else we cannot really give them our love, the most important gift we have to give and the thing they most need to receive --- from us, really from us and not from some casual stranger nearby. It needs to be focused on them, and they need to know it.

When was the last time you put an adjective to your love, focused your love? For you married ones, why not spend some time or money this weekend to physically express your love, flowers or a movie or even just some non-casual, focused time together. Show your love; show them they are special. And what about your relationship with God? Time in an adoration chapel with Him will be time well-spent, or even better what about time for a well-thought-out confession? Confession can be a deep talk with Him, admitting that things may have gotten too casual, too assuming, and a commitment that things will be different. It can be a renewal --- or a start --- of a close relationship. It can put things in focus.

And what of the ones who are perhaps most prone to letting their relationships with God grow too casual, the ones who had the closest, most focused relationships to start: priests. Dear fathers, do you raise the Host at the Consecration and recite the prayers with casualness and without meaning: raise the Host, pray, lower it --- just one constant, repetitive motion, AGAIN today, without thought? And do we, my friends, receive our very Lord’s body, for Him to be intimately with us, hearing the words: “Body of Christ,” and respond with “Amen,” while really meaning: “Amen – again,” as in: boring? The adjectives matter, my friends; but regardless of what we say about things our feelings are conveyed by the adjectives of how we act about them, how important we show them to be. Do our actions convey “you are of no importance” to our spouse, our children, or to our God? I speak from experience my friends, if your actions do and they continue to do so, you will find yourself alone.

We should want our relationship with God, our walking with Him leading, to always be like that of the disciples on the Road to Emmaus --- full of wonderment, always interesting. We should want our conversation and time with Him to be a thing of joy, and He a friend we never want to go away. We shouldn’t treat Him (or any friend) like the ass which goes along behind us, carrying our load.

Show me one who loves; he knows what I mean. Show me one who is full of longing, one who is hungry, one who is a pilgrim and suffering from thirst in the desert of this world, eager for the fountain in the homeland of eternity; show me someone like that, and he knows what I mean. But if I speak to someone without feeling, he does not understand what I am saying.
From a treatise on John by Saint Augustine, bishop.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Lord, how often shall …I forgive? … seventy times seven … (Mt 18:21-2)

We are often sinned against, sometimes by strangers, sometimes by people who just have it in for us – and maybe we don’t understand why, and sometimes even by those closest to us. We often painfully see and hear these sins against us: mean actions, hateful words, cruel things deliberately done, and designed to hurt us. And they DO hurt. And, as Jesus said, we must forgive. I think however, that sometimes we only perceive others’ sins against us, sins we see as committed over and over again in a way that almost makes us cry out to God: “Lord, how can I forgive him? He just won’t stop! Surely he’s passed seventy times seven already, do I have to forgive him?” I think in many of these cases God’s answer to us would be: No.

1) - We come home from a very rotten day at work, the traffic was bad, the news was bad, and then our wife goes on and on about HER problems and the kids: “Doesn’t she care about me,” we think. 2) - The kids scream and yell and cry and just can’t shut up: “Don’t they know I have a headache --- and they gave it to me?” 3) - I prepared a homily all afternoon; these words are important and need to be said --- and heard ---and I’m trying to be precise: “Why are those people staring off into space, yawning, or reading the church bulletin?” 4) - I spend all my day worrying about how I can love him, how I can and do jump to his every need and whim, how I can ease his pain and suffering: “Why do you sometimes yell at me? Why do you sometimes ignore me? Why aren’t you happy --- despite all my efforts?”

I think we often perceive, in all of the situations of the above paragraph, that we were sinned against. We felt mean hateful actions, or cruel things designed to hurt us --- just like the situations in the first paragraph, but there is a crucial difference. In the first paragraph those people intended to sin against us, while in the second we felt sinned against. In the first, we must indeed forgive the seventy times seven times – and more, but in the second we don’t have to forgive them because they have not deliberately done anything wrong. We have to forgive ourselves.

We have to forgive ourselves that sometimes our best actions and intentions aren’t perceived that way – sometimes they’re not perceived at all. We have to forgive ourselves for needing love. The spouse who complains to us, the unruly kids, the members of our church, the loved one we care for – they all do love us, and very often we know that. But sometimes we just need to hear that; we need hear that we are loved – kind of like a reinforcement, to recharge us, but we don’t hear it. Sometimes we need to feel loved, and unfortunately at that exact time they ALSO need to feel loved --- and so neither does.

Make no mistake, my friends, they did not sin against you because their need for love, and you did not sin against them either. It is no sin to want or need love. Needing and giving love is both a natural thing and a commandment. But what do you do then, at those times when you need love and yet don’t get it? How can you live some days without a needed love? How can you not feel sinned against, and perhaps angry at the perceived sinner?

Well, there is no universal answer to those questions, but when those situations arise I try to think of my need for love as a kind of hunger, and then solutions begin to come to me. If I am hungry for a fattening or unhealthy food or drink, I sometimes exercise or go out for a drive, or call a friend. If I am hungry for some sinful temptation, I distract myself by turning on the TV, reading a book, or cooking dinner. Or in any case (unfortunately) as a last resort, I pray. If I am hungry and it cannot be satisfied, I can find a way to distract myself from that hunger; I need to do the same if I am hungry for love and it cannot be satisfied.

I addressed this particular meditation title to caregivers, because I think they have it hardest, this unrequited need to feel loved. The uncaring, mean, angry, or totally unresponsive loved one who they care for, who they sometimes feel is sinning against them, is at no fault, and the caregiver knows it. The diseases of old age (and sometimes young) aren’t sinful against them, they just are. And the suggestions I wrote, the ways to get away from a frustrating, unloved situation often don’t apply to the caregiver. They can’t leave; they can’t stop caring; they can’t stop giving love, often to someone who can’t give it back --- no matter how much the caregiver needs it. The caregiver often cannot become distracted. Often the caregiver can only pray, and we should pray for them, and all who feel unloved, and need desperately to feel loved.

I have one final possible distraction that perhaps even caregivers feeling a need for love might try: laugh. Laugh to forget the love your family, your church members, your loved one can’t give you at this moment. Remember a joke, smile and tell the spouse or kids: “I love you, even when you’re having a bad day,” tell the church members: “Well, I’ll stop here. There’s not much more to be said, and I don’t want to put you or me to sleep. Praise God for His goodness,” or tell the loved one you are caring for: “You know, I love you. Do you remember the funny time when …”

Sometimes remembered laughs are better than none.

Or maybe you can just think about other things, or talk to a cow.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Road to Church

The sunflowers are in bloom along both sides of the road leading to my church. They’re beautiful in the morning. And at night, as I leave the adoration chapel I turn on my bright lights, and there in the field of flowers across the road I see from five to ten sets of eyes reflecting back at me, deer sampling the sunflower seeds.

On the way to church as I see the sunflowers it is easy to begin to pray: Oh eternal Son, brightness of my life, light up this day and our time together.

And across the street from the church I see the cows relaxing in the field. And I pray: “ ……,” well, I dunno, I guess I don’t pray anything, but I usually say: “Hello cows. How are you this morning?”

They tend not to answer though.

I’m not exactly sure how this rates as a religious experience, but somehow I think it does, and relative to this blog, it does make me less anxious.

And then I enter the church to speak to the master and creator of all these beautiful things.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Too Many People

On a recent morning a friend who I respect mentioned casually that there were too many people in India. “They need to get their population in line; those 1.3 billion are just too many people. No wonder they have so much poverty and are looking for our jobs.”

I was not shocked at his words; certainly I’ve been hearing words like that my entire life, but I took up defense of the people of India --- perhaps a bit too vehemently, I admit, and perhaps too loudly. (I admit that raising my voice when passionate is a fault of mine, and one I find most difficult to overcome.) I voiced defense of India from strictly a human, logic, and factual point of view. For many reasons, India has made great progress in caring for its people – all of them – although certainly there is much progress to be made. Still, the words I heard in my youth: “By 2000, half the world will be starving” have not come to pass. Huge strides in crop yields have pushed back that dire prediction, and pushed it back forever according to the most recent trends of falling birth and population rates, even as crop yields continue to rise.

I voiced my passionate defense of India based merely on logic, and for that reason my argument was weak; it was weak because I didn’t think my friend would hear or think about the real, definitive argument: killing any person is wrong, and wishing them dead in our hearts is just as wrong. I did my friend an injustice in thinking he wouldn’t understand this argument, that he could only understand the dumbed-down logic seen in a newspaper; that he couldn’t see the truth. I was wrong in judging him --- as he was wrong in judging others also.

I think many people judge the value of others, whether said aloud or in their hearts. They compare and think: “They are not as important as I am” and they let that thought go on to: “Therefore, I deserve more than they do.” If there are good things, I will appreciate them more. If there is a shortage of things, even food, I should be fed. If someone should die, it should not be me. Many people think this way, and many think this is good --- a healthy ego is a good thing. Perhaps, but not when it equates human importance with worth.

Some human beings ARE more important than others in this world, largely by circumstance of birth, but also perhaps even in the plan of God. “There but for the grace of God go I” is a true statement, in that regard. But a man’s worth, his true worth, is equal to others in God’s eye. All are equally worth EVERYTHING. Remember the meditation here of a few days ago (The Father’s Sacrifice)? Abram offered to kill his son for God, but God DID kill His Son --- for us. We are worth that much. From that viewpoint, we each are as important as God Himself. Who are we to say that one of us is worth less than himself, when God would not say that? But it is a sad fact that we do. Ever since the Garden of Eden, man has yielded to the temptation to want the fruit that would make him like God; he wants to be most important. Perhaps that is just an echoing of the image in which we were created, that of the MOST important. But despite all our yearnings --- and temptations --- we are not God, yet, and on this earth we never shall be.

Today is the feast day of St. Edith Stein (Teresa Benedicta of the Cross). Born Jewish, then a choosing atheism, then a philosopher, then Catholic, then nun, she spent her life searching for truth --- and found it. When friends worked out plans to rescue her from the Nazi gas chamber she replied: “Do not do it! Why should I be spared? If I cannot share the lot of my brothers and sisters, my life, in a certain sense, is destroyed.” She understood the value of each human life; if someone was to die “Why should I be spared?” She chose to die even though from a more logical viewpoint, her education, talent, and actual and potential contributions to the world, she may have been the most “important” person in her country, perhaps even Europe. But she knew that importance does not equate to worth.

As I received communion this morning I prayed “Lord, I am not worthy to receive You.” That is a true prayer, recognizing both my importance and my worth. A God was willing to die for me, but that is His valuation of me: my eternal value in the eternity He created me for. But now, right here and now, I am not worthy to be with Him. It is something I want; it is something I yearn for, this “to be as God is.” I want to be more important than other people in the world, in His eyes. But it is in His eyes, not mine, that the importance of a man is judged. The least important old man, or even baby, in the worst slum in the world, may be exactly the important person in His plan, exactly as He made him to be. Despite all my self-perceived importance, in the eyes of God I may be a failure, for failing to use all the gifts He has given me, for failing to be who He created me to be, for failing to really be what He knows I am worth, and what I could be worth in eternity. He didn’t make heaven for me to be in as I was, but for me as I am to become. I could spend eternity united with Him; I could truly be as a God --- but not here on earth.

Lord, I am not worthy,” I’m really not, but I want to be. “Be with me, Lord, as I try to grow in holiness, as I try to be as You are, as I try to be all that You created me to be --- with You.”

There indeed may be too many people on this earth. Perhaps I am the one who should leave. Who am I to think that I am the one to judge?

Peace be with you, my friends, as we all struggle to grow in holiness. As yet, we all are not worthy. As yet.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

I Need Love

This past weekend I suddenly realized how much help I need to love my neighbor. Despite the urges I felt to do some things, and despite the will I had to do them, I wondered: Did I have pride in thinking I actually knew how to do them? Did I have pride in thinking I COULD do them – alone? Love is what WE are all made for. It’s a commandment: To love our neighbor, but sometimes I perhaps think I see it as my obligation alone. But no task, no commandment is mine alone; the bigger the task I see, the more I need God and my neighbor, not to do things with or for me, but to help me to do things with more love.

Big things need to be done with more love, or else the person helped, the little individual man, won’t feel love flow onto himself. He’ll see the benefit he receives not as a loving gift from God, but some obligation of those providing the gift. A huge soup kitchen can help many people; someone I feed in my kitchen feels loved. That is more important than the food. That is why giving to a charity is a good thing, but being charitable is better.

I need to get and feel loved, not to keep it, but to give it away. The more I seek to help my neighbor with good things, the more I need love, love that I can give to them, to make the things provided be of real value to them --- to make their life better.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Work Without Pay

Did you ever see any of those old movies where they had prisoners out on a chain gang, splitting rocks all day? Can you imagine how that must have felt? You swing a heavy sledge hammer hour after hour, on a large rock, until gradually you smash it into small stones. And then, when the huge stone is entirely smashed down into stones --- then you’re moved on to begin smashing on yet another huge stone. Not only is your work endless, it is fruitless and without purpose. No one will ever use the smaller stones you created. They will never go into the construction of a building, a wall, or even a walkway. They will just be left there, unused. Truly this is a cruel form of punishment, to see that your life’s work means nothing. There is no pay for your work beyond that of basic subsistence --- you are allowed to live, if this can be called living.

Unfortunately, this prisoner’s lot can describe the life of many a man, only he doesn’t know it. And the guards of his prison are himself and his neighbors. Oh, these prisoners may imagine their lot is different. They see the water they get to keep them going as beer and wins and cool refreshments. They may see their evenings as great retreats from labor, as vacations. They may see their basic cots to sleep on as luxury homes or mansions. They may look on all these things as their rewards for their labors, some great things they have for all their efforts, --- but really, these are just things to subsist on. Other men with differing tastes and values may be equally happy to drink dirty water, eat rotten food, and sleep on the ground. They are not all that different. But for none of them does their life’s work create anything, it’s just like the wasted stones.

You cannot serve both God and mammon.

My lips will speak words of wisdom.
No man can buy his own ransom.
In his riches man lacks wisdom:
He is like the beasts that are destroyed.

Psalm 49

A man who works only for earthen riches is working for the basics of life --- food, shelter and clothing, just like a beast of burden. Oh, he may feel a desire for better quantities and qualities of them, or to build reserves of the basics “in case” he wants or needs more, but a rich man only consumes a limited amount of those things, just like a poor man does. Some men may think their life’s work DOES produce fruit, some walkway of their stones which all future men might walk on – some great invention or discovery. They delude themselves; few if any will use their work, or it will quickly be exceeded by someone else’s great invention or discovery; it will be forgotten when they go to the grave. And most importantly, their life’s work creates nothing which they themselves will ever use; they die and it is gone from them.

But some men accept the basics as they are given, and do not focus on achieving any of the riches of this world. They focus on their life’s work, the stones, and they insist on building something with them, something for themselves. Oh the guards and the people around them will jeer and try to tear down their efforts. They can’t imagine how all the stones can create anything of value, and least of all equate to the value they set on the basics they consume. They want and need rewards now; they can’t see to work for the future.

But some men persist in building great houses out of their stones. One by one over their life they create a mansion of beauty. And even as it grows larger and more comely in shape, still the others will go home to their cots, or fancy homes, and each night and say: “That’s nonsense. He’s wasting his whole life to create that mansion, and by the time he actually completes it, he’ll die.

And they’ll be right. Those builders of stone mansions will die, but so will those who are satisfied with whatever luxuries they are given in this world, whether real or imagined. Both will die. But one will die to nothingness, for he created nothing that lasts beyond his earthly life, while the other dies after creating a mansion, and in his death the Great King will come to admire his life’s work, and then the two of them will live in the mansion, together, forever.

Neither man was paid anything in this life, for his life of breaking rocks, although one man thought he had received pay of great value in his earthly life. But in death it all had no value at all. The other man many never have felt paid, may never have felt he had anything of great value in this life, but was satisfied to work without pay now, for an eternal reward.

Which life really yielded the greater riches?

Lord, take away my heart of stone.

I read that prayer the morning after I wrote the above meditation. I think it says more in those few words than I said in all mine. But if they should not speak to you, please forgive me if I write still more, of what those words said to me.

Our hearts are the large rocks we chip away at all our lives. They are the core of what we are as men of clay, as men of earth: the hardest most unmoving things on earth, rocks. We are always chipping away at our rock hearts; things around us affect us and our hearts are sometimes moved, chipped. But for many people the movement goes no further than chipping at their hardness. And if their heart should really be shaken by something around them and be torn asunder, most often they just move on to the next rock, a new hardness of heart, but really no different.

But if their hearts should be chipped away in love, by Love, their immovable hardness can be chipped into smaller stones which can be re-formed into new, beautiful hearts. They can be created into mansions of beauty. The rock there can become a solid construction material, stronger than it was originally, to last forever: if we build it of Love. Take away our hearts of stone, Lord, yes, please. And let us together build a house of love: for each other, and for all our family, where we can live in for all eternity.

We are called to grow in holiness our whole lives. What analogy would you create to describe this growth? I like this one, a rebuilding of our hearts, in Love, a task for a lifetime, a hard task, but one I can see myself working on.

And I’m willing to work without pay --- for now.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Father's Sacrifice

We often recall Jesus’ sacrifice for us: He chose to die in our place. He chose to do the will of the Father in all things, even choosing death. Death did not come to Him as it does to us, like an enemy in the night. No, he chose death --- for us. What more could one man do?

But what of Jesus’ Father, our Father?

We recall that Abram stood ready to sacrifice his son, Isaac, at the command of God. The knife was ready to slay him; Abram was willing to offer all of value in his life to do the God’s will. He was willing to slay his only son in sacrifice to please God. Instead, a lamb was found at the last minute to replace his son, and used as the offering. We often are told this prefigures the offering of Jesus, the innocent lamb, to please the Father, willingly dying. Jesus wasn’t a lamb slaughtered against its will like the one of Abram, Jesus chose to be sacrificed; He chose to die for His Father, and for us. Both Abram and Jesus chose to do the will of God.

This morning I read from a sermon by St. Alphonsus Ligouri: (God), by giving us his Son, whom he did not spare precisely so that he might spare us, he bestowed on us at once every good, grace, love and heaven; for all the goods are certainly inferior to the Son. He who did not spare his own Son, but handed him over for all of us; how could he fail to give us along with his Son all good things.

Jesus offered Himself for us, yes; “Greater love than this no man has …,” but the Father also made an offering for us: his Son, his only Son. I think we often recall Jesus’ willing sacrifice, but we forget the Father’s sacrifice. He also truly was prefigured by Abram, but with a crucial difference: Abram was willing to give his great sacrifice FOR GOD. God the Father offered his great sacrifice, of his only Son, FOR US!! He offered Him precisely so He might spare us!!!

A God chose us over his only Son!!! Are we worth that offering? Can we ever be? God choosing me, over His own Son? Can I be worth that??

Can I ever stop trying to be worth it? Can you?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Mr. Brown Thumb

Sorry to waste your time with nonsense, but we have enough worries; good cheer is never out of place. This plant, which usually resides in my front room window was put out on the back deck for the summer, and hasn’t bloomed in two years – nor did I notice any buds before I left on Friday morning. Yet when I went out this afternoon I found this. Guess who else had a good weekend? (It apparently didn’t miss Mr. Brown Thumb.) Its last blooming was the first time in about 5 years or more, and I wrote about it then, calling it a hyacinth --- much to the razzing of friends. I’m not sure what it is. Perhaps a Rose of Sharon, or some type of lily??

The garden also did well this weekend. The butternut squash plant vines grew another 4 feet as they raced down the length of the garden. They’ve reached the turning point, so I’ll point them East for another 15 feet or so. If they are still in a racing mode after that, I’m afraid the tomato plants will have to hurry and turn their fruit red, before they’re dwarfed by the huge squash leaves. Meanwhile, the eggplants are about 9 inches to a foot long (the plants are over 4 foot high) and are beautifully shaped. Fried eggplant and eggplant lasagna will be on the menu starting this week. And the late night and mid-afternoon snacks will start to be fried green peppers, lots there. Yummy.

One of the tomato plants was so heavy with fruit (?) that it tipped its trellis over. I added a stake to put it back upright, but I’m glancing at the amount of harvest vs my amount of containers and wondering: Tomatoes anyone? (At least I learned my lesson and never plant zucchini any more.)

Hope your week is starting as well as mine, my friends. (Sorry for those of you who may be glancing at this at work --- get back to work! Nights are still long; there’ll be time enough to relax when you get home.)


Sunday, August 1, 2010

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

It was a weekend retreat at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio --- at its Defending The Faith Conference. I’ve gone there every year for about 10 years or more, and it is my R&R, my retreat, and my vacation --- in 3 days. I took my friend Pat there the year before her stroke; it was very slow going to get around, lots of rest stops, but she had great fun. If you want to go along next year, I always like company. This year there were over 1300 attendees. It is a good conference, on a beautiful campus, with good speakers: Scott & Kimberly Hahn, Fr. Benedict Groeschel, Dr.Alan Shreck, and a variety of others who you would recognize.

It was beautiful weather, and I managed to nap for a couple of hours under a big oak tree on Saturday afternoon on the pillow and blanket I always bring to the conference --- I come prepared! In between the talks, masses, and the absolutely-nothing-like-it holy hour, I managed to read a novel I’ve had on the shelf for a few months. I saw bunnies everywhere on the campus, and unlike the ones at my house these didn’t run – they just stand there eating, ignoring you as you watch from a foot away. Everything on the campus is peaceful. I wrote a few meditations while I sat in the chapel saying my morning or evening prayers, but you’ll see those another day. Tonight I just want to jot down and share a few of the snippets of wisdom and delight I received over the weekend.

On the five-hour drive to the conference I listened to Glenn Beck’s book The Christmas Sweater. Read by the author, it will give you a side of Mr. Beck you never hear spoken of; you’ll hear of the huge failure he had in his life, his reaction, and how he recovered from his reaction. For me, it confirmed much of my thinking about dealing with failure, which I recently wrote about, but this is a first person story, told very frankly. It is a story that could have been mine, could have been yours, and his reactions to the pain of failure is perhaps one you have heard before, especially if you have a teen-ager in your house. But it is also a story of great hope. It’s worth listening to, if you are not a reader.

On the drive home I listened to The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch. Very popular on the internet, The Last Lecture is just that: the last lecture of a dying professor at Carnegie Mellon. A man with great successes in his life, he summarizes his childhood goals and their achievement, and then gives 60 “lessons learned” points --- you’ll probably agree with the vast majority of them. He dedicated his final lecture to his students, his friends and staff, and his family – including his three children under the age of six. Many things are touching, many are words of wisdom, but I came away with a feeling that it was a celebration of his life and what he had done, and what he wishes will continue to be done. HIS life; the word God is not mentioned once, although he did say that his minister sent him good wishes. Although I had not planned it that way, it was an interesting contrast to the Glenn Beck book --- God was all-important in one; and not mentioned in the other. One said what God did; the other said what he did. I came away from Mr Pausch’s book thinking that anyone with great brains, great drive, and great self-confidence can accomplish almost anything, especially if they follow some of the lessons he learned along the way. Strangely, though, he never mentions what others might do, who do not possess those blessings – and they cannot be learned despite his supporting “lessons.” Mr. Pausch based his book on his success in life; Mr. Beck based his on his failure in life. There is a lot to be learned from either one, but I think that Mr. Beck found real joy in his life, while Mr. Pausch noted that he did all the things he wanted to make himself happy. There is a difference.

In Glenn Beck’s book he mentions a man he describes as “like a Dutch Uncle” --- I had forgotten that term. A Dutch Uncle tells you the honest truth that no one else has the guts to say to you, but in such a caring way that you take the words very seriously. We all need a Dutch Uncle in our lives; I hope in some small way I may be one to you.

I saw some great some great Catholic commercials, which might be airing in your area soon. You can see them on, and get information on how to get them aired in your diocese. Surveys indicate that up to 200,000 Catholics have come home in dioceses where the commercial blitz has aired. For those who are wondering what Jane Roe of Roe v Wade is thinking lately, there is a video of her on --- very interesting. There is also a new site out you may want to visit called There is also a wonderful conversion story of a minister and his family --- now a Catholic priest and his family --- on the blog And now just a few pieces of wisdom I heard;

Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.

If sugar water in the hummingbird feeder were replaced with Nutri-Sweet water, the hummingbirds will die. They die of starvation, getting no needed nutrients despite feeling full. We are like the hummingbirds when we take in the fake satisfactions that the world gives us.

The world offers you comfort. You were not made for comfort; you were made for greatness! (from Pope Benedict XVI’s initial address in Rome)