Saturday, November 27, 2010

Sing Alleluia

The last day before Advent. The candles are ready on the table; even my Christmas cactus has buds, ready to bloom. And thoughts of the change in season fill the air (and some even anticipated it way too soon). But it is a good time, this time of change, however with all change comes anxiety.

In the last reading this morning I saw the words of a sermon by Augustine. If you want a great Christmas present, buy (or hint for) the book of his Essential Sermons. There you will find wisdom and peace for many a day to come. In today’s readings he spoke on anxiety. I was tempted to put the entire sermon here, but you can just look it up on the net. I’ll be content with just writing the portions I underlined, for you:

"Let us sing alleluia here on earth, while we still live in anxiety, so that we may sing it one day in heaven in full security."

"Every day we make our petitions, every day we sin. Do you want me to feel secure when I am daily asking pardon for my sins, and requesting help in time of trial? Because of my past sins I pray: Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us, and then, because of the perils still before me, I immediately go on to add: Lead us not into temptation. How can all be well with people who are crying out with me: Deliver us from evil?"

"You have entered upon a time of trial but you will come to no harm --- God’s help will bring you through it safely. You are like a piece of pottery, shaped by instruction, fired by tribulation. When you are put into the over therefore, keep your thoughts on the time when you will be taken out again: for God is faithful, and he will guard both your going in and your coming out."

"Keep on making progress. This progress, however, must be in virtue; for there are some, the Apostle warns, whose only progress is in vice. If you make progress, you will be continuing your journey, but be sure that your progress is in virtue, true faith and right living. Sing then, but keep going."

Advent’s the start of a new season, my friends. Let’s get going, and singing. (And for those with voices like mine, you can just hum along.)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

There Is One! There Is One!

The movie Miracle on 34th Street nears the end, and young Natalie Wood runs down the stairs, declares Kris Kringle to be Santa Claus, then rushes to the back door to check the yard for a swing: She screams: “There is one! There is one!!”

Ahhhhh, it IS Thanksgiving Day.

“And the Lions lose yet again.” Yes, it is indeed Thanksgiving Day.

Your day today may have been hectic, but mine was quiet. At mass this morning, Fr. John stressed our need for reflection after the reception of Holy Communion and at the end of the day; both times for thanksgiving, but also times for reflection on our relationship with God. Father? Brother? Friend? Acquaintance? Stranger? Should we change that? Will we? Tomorrow is another day; what will WE (us and Him together) make of it?

In the quiet of my day I took time out to reflect on my relationship with Him, and the things for which I give thanks this day:

1) I Was Found. I lived my well-planned life for many years. Some admired my success, but increasingly, I knew better. I was lost. One day I realized all my plans and all my successes were nothing, and I told Him so. I didn’t plan THAT thing, but suddenly there it was: I was lost, but now I am found. And He was with me. I am so thankful.

2) The Eucharist. Communion with God, or at least it was supposed to be, but for many years I felt it was just me. Then it changed. Along with being found and knowing it, He stayed. Suddenly I knew that Host on the altar was Him, really Him. And He was always there for me. I’d never feel alone again. Ever. I am so thankful.

3) Re-Gifting. Most people think of re-gifting as a bad thing, the giving away gifts received that you don’t want. I see re-gifting as a great blessing, when I am able to give away the things that I DO want. God the Father did that for me. A precious gift He had, His Son’s life, but He gave away for me. I could never give away such a precious gift as He did, but I can give away other gifts He gives me. The wonderful graces and blessings He bestows on me are always given in excess, so that I can choose to give some away, precious gifts from Him re-gifted to those I meet, His friends. I am thankful that He helped me understand the value of re-gifting.

4) Those Who Work for Me. Catholic book stores, Catholic radio, those dedicated to the poor, and those speaking up and participating in politics. Those people work for me, doing things for me and others that I would wish I could do, but I have been given other talents and things to do. I am thankful for their dedication, working for me.

5) Those Who Pray for Me. Like the elderly man, Mario, who spends all his day in the local chapel, caring for things --- and people --- there, and praying, for me. There are many religious orders whose members spend all their day praying, for me, among others. (And I remember them, too.) For all these, I am thankful. I need them so much.

You cannot be thankful for things you earned, money, prestige, or even power. That is only justice for your efforts. Things which you are freely given however, which you did not earn yet receive great benefits from, those are gifts for which you should be thankful. God has blessed me with many gifts, many sudden unexpected blessings. I look back and see how often that has happened.

Today I think on these gifts that I have received, through no merit of my own. Every time I come across a new one of them and suddenly realize that God has blessed me yet again, I smile quietly at His generosity, but I want to point and scream out at the top of my lungs: “There is one! There is one!” Something so wonderful, yet so unexpected. A gift.

I am so thankful.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Good Timing

I think all of us wonder at some point or other how we are doing on God’s scorecard. Some of us take a negative view of the scorecard --- let me count my sins, which can lead me to worry about my sins. Some of us take the opposite view --- let me count my accomplishments, which might lead to pride or self-satisfaction, thinking how great God must be rating me. And some of us don’t look at the bad or the good of the past, but look forward to what we might accomplish in the future. Regardless of what we did before, we ask ourselves: Can I do better?

I usually take that latter view of things. (Perhaps I’m just too scared to think of how God might be rating my past.) Looking forward, I think of the parable of the talents and how God has blessed me greatly, from the country I was born in to the place I live now. He has blessed me greatly --- and, as the parable of the talents explains, He expects a return on those talents He gave me, those blessings. That’s His real scorecard, I think: it’s not just whether I did poorly or did well, it’s how I did with the talents I had.

If I’m on a major league baseball team and I realize God is only counting victories, I’ll schedule every Little League team I can find --- we’ll slaughter them all. But God will look at those victories AND my talents and say: “That was nothing at all; you wasted all those talents.” Conversely, if I am a Little Leaguer and I can’t remember which hand the glove goes on or how to hold the bat, he won’t hold all my losses against me.

There is one thing wrong about my examples though, the talents God gave me are with me throughout my life, and I can not only use those talents when I am a child, but I can hone those talents as I grow, and use them even better as an adult. So, maybe I CAN win some games against other inept Little League teams, and maybe as an adult I use my improved talents to lead a major league team to victory against other very good teams. Throughout my life, I can improve the talents God gave me to do even better things, to give Him the return He expects on His gifts.

While we can direct our lives toward using the talents God gave us, it is also important to remember that God also had plans for our lives: He saw us even in the womb. The meshing of God’s plans with our plans is sometimes just a matter of timing. If we become aware of God’s plans, and we see the opportunities He is laying out before us, we can see the perfect fit of our talents and His opportunities, and we can accomplish so much more than whatever we might plan alone. I know some great stories of people who were open to God’s plans, and were able to use the talents He gave them to do remarkable things. I’ll tell them to you some day.

Meanwhile, look at the picture above. What do you see? A lot of open sky and gray clouds. Remember the picture from a couple of weeks ago? There was a big tree there, filled with birds looking for God’s light of day. I saw those birds in that big old tree for months and months, and finally decided to take the picture and tell you their story. Two weeks later the tree has fallen, and I don’t know why. I do know that if I had waited until today, I couldn’t have told you the story of two weeks ago. I couldn’t have meditated on the message that perhaps God was telling me there. It would have just been a curiosity --- hey, I remember there used to be a big tree there; I wonder what happened. And I would quickly forget about it. It would have been an opportunity, a little whisper from God, that I was too busy to stop and listen to, and to look at. And on God’s scorecard might have been been written: “A pitch right down the middle, and he just stood there looking at it – strike one.”

Has God been throwing you any pitches lately? Regardless of all that’s going on in the stands around you, you have to be ready, or it will just pass you by. He’s out there throwing you simple under-handed tosses, ones you can hit out of the park --- if you’re ready. It’s all about good timing. He’s giving you every opportunity to use your talents to their fullest. Or you can stand there making YOUR plans for the girl or guy in the stands, dreaming about your victory, and lose the game.

Just remember what the trophy, for victory in this game of your life, is.

Monday, November 22, 2010

To New Catholics

I follow the thoughtful blogs of a couple of new Catholics, marveling at their spiritual growth (most often faster than mine), and having sympathy for their difficulties, both with certain teachings and (unfortunately) sometimes with less-than-understanding friends. I offer this post, today, to any new Catholics who may happen here.

Today I read something in the Office of Readings, in the Liturgy of the Hours. I thought it spoke to all who sometimes need encouragement in their faith journey. It was taken from The Second Letter of the Apostle Peter, chapter 1, verses 1-11. I’ll just type the lines which I have underlined in my book, with comments I wrote there in parentheses:

May grace be yours and peace in abundance through your knowledge of God and of Jesus, our Lord. (Best blessings wishes).
Make every effort to undergird your virtue with faith, your discernment with virtue, and your self-control with discernment; this self-control, in turn, should lead to perseverance, and perseverance to piety, and piety to care for your brother, and care for your brother, to love (How to love: start by self-control)

(You want to know God?) Qualities like these, made increasingly your own bear fruit in true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
(My call is to Him: Lord, help me to do your will.) Be solicitous to make your call and election permanent, brothers; surely those who do so will never be lost.

The Liturgy of the Hours from which this is quoted is a 4-volume set of books which all Catholics, indeed all Christians, are encouraged to read. I find it to be like Scripture (in fact, much of it is Scripture), in that I seem constantly to find something new and relevant for me almost each time I read it. I have been using these books for daily readings, especially in mornings and evenings, for approximately 25 years.

For you new Catholics, or for any newly married people, your vows are just the start. In Matrimony, the vows are just the start of growing in love, there is much still to be gained in marriage. For the newly converted, or those seeking God, their commitment is also just the start of a journey, a faith journey. Both journeys are to last a lifetime, of growing in holiness through these partners you have been joined to. I’ve found these daily readings help me prepare for and understand my journey. Perhaps you may find them equally valuable.

I wish you a safe and blessed trip.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Life Everlasting

It took me a long time to know and understand the Church’s teaching about heaven: life everlasting. Oh, I knew there was a heaven, and it was beyond all my understanding --- but, well, I wanted some understanding anyway. The thoughts of wings, and clouds, and harps, or just sitting at God’s feet adoring seemed unsatisfying. That can’t be all it is, or at least that can’t be all of my understanding of it. There must be more I can understand, to make it more appealing. Eventually I did see and understood those parts of Scripture, the writings of the saints, and the teachings of the Catholic Church about what heaven is. And once I understood the teaching, I found it everywhere. And I did find great comfort.

This morning I found all I had learned about heaven summarized very succinctly by Saint Thomas Aquinas. Here’s his words regarding heaven and what it is:

It is fitting that the end of all our desires, namely eternal life, coincides with the words at the end of the creed, “Life everlasting. Amen.”
The first point about eternal life is that man is united with God. … This union consists in seeing perfectly. Next it consists in perfect praise.
It also consists in the complete satisfaction of desire, for there the blessed will be given more than they wanted or hoped for…. Only God satisfies. As Augustine says: “You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our heart can find no rest until it rests in you.”

Again, eternal life consists of the joyous community of all the blessed, a community of supreme delight, since everyone will share all that is good with all the blessed. Everyone will love everyone else as himself, and therefore will rejoice in another’s good as in his own. So it follows that the happiness and joy of each grows in proportion to the joy of all.

That is a great summary of heaven, as I understand it: Union with God, seeing perfectly, perfect praise, and satisfaction of all desires. But it is not just union with God, because if I am united to Him, so are all others, so the community is united in all things with God. Through union with God, everyone loves God and his neighbor perfectly ---- but wait, those are the two great commandments for here on earth, too! What Aquinas and the Church’s teaching is saying, then, is that we will never perfectly live out those two great commandments here on earth; the perfect fulfillment of them will be in heaven. With the charge to grow in holiness, all our life, we should be transitioning here on earth through focus on those two commandments, to that heavenly bliss.

I think, however, that some of us are too focused on transitioning to the “complete satisfaction of desire” and not enough to the “joyous community of all the blessed.” Especially now, when our neighbor needs us so much.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Breast Cancer and Abortion

I came across this message from Fr John Riccardo, of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, in Plymouth, MI. His message, stated in the parish weekly bulletin is one that should be re-printed in every Catholic parish in the country. It tells the truth (with supporting documentation) on the relationship between abortion, hormonal contraception and breast cancer.

I'll leave this link to his parish bulletin here, for as long as the link is active. I encourage you to read his message to his parishioners.

Waiting for the Light

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? (Mt 6:26)

As I leave the church in the early morning hours, I walk across the parking lot and look up to see these birds. I always wish them a “Good Morning”, (but they don’t respond back, except perhaps for a few chirps). They sit in the highest branches of the tallest tree on the West side of the lot. To the East, behind the church, the sun is rising. They’re waiting for it. On some mornings I come out at just the right time, and I can see them bathed in the sunlight, with the shadow line of the church cutting across below them. On some mornings, there are upwards of a hundred birds in those branches, waiting for the light.

They begin to gather almost as soon as the black of night begins to turn to grey. They seem to come in groups, of five or ten, kind of like families gathering at the church. Oh, the tree even at its fullest is mostly empty, but I think the ones who really want to be there are --- or perhaps the ones who really NEED to be there are. For some the increasingly cold nights are probably a burden, and they can’t wait for the warmth of the light. Perhaps for some, I don’t know, maybe they are somewhat afraid of the dark – in the late evening I sometimes hear a bird crash into mom’s front window, disoriented in the dimness as it looks for the bird feeder and seeds. Regardless, they are there in the tall tree for a reason, and they must believe it to be a good one. They are very loyal; most appear every day, looking for the light, looking for the warmth, looking to ward off the fears of the night.

Earlier, I saw similar groups of people flock to the early morning mass. Perhaps they were there for the similar reasons. Are they satisfied in what they seek? I don’t know, but they too come back there each day, waiting for the Light.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


I looked at the mess, piled up there on the beach.
Was a child at play here?
Flotsam, trash, mud; it looked smelly.
Sand, pebbles, and some sea shells lay there, mostly broken,
But one looked surprisingly whole and almost beautiful.
Once, I knew, the shells contained life,
But not now.
And there was a piece of wood.

I saw the sand piled up around these things.
The child had tried to create something of it all;
It looked like he failed,
Or perhaps the waters have just eroded his work.
I can’t imagine what he was thinking;
But perhaps the child once created a thing of beauty here, at least to him.
Will he return again, I wonder, to renew it?
Will I be there to see his vision?

I remember another jumbled “creation” that I see today,
Another hodge-podge piled high; and some people laugh at it.
I hear people laughed even at its start; for it was a mess then, too.
But, I read, in the hands of a craftsman,
A miracle happened, and a great thing was created, to stand forever.
It seems eroded now, to me, and it takes
Great imagination to remember what it was,
And perhaps may be again?

It all started with a young maiden, Mary, and, some said,
A strange husband. What an odd pair.
And then a child. Only one?
(Perhaps they were not blessed.)
But he grew, and wandered, and over time
Brought home odd friends, Peter and Paul,
Thomas and John --- and Mary Magdalene!?
What beauty or good could ever be created from this eclectic mess?

The Child’s creation seems all jumbled now; His vision clouded to our eyes.
It started surprisingly well and endured, but now the Master’s work seems in disarray.
It’s said beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and its Creator.
Perhaps I need glasses.
Or perhaps I need to trust in visions I cannot see, because I did not make them.
All my creations have quickly crumbled, like the one on the beach;
No one imagines them today, as I planned and saw them then.
Perhaps all that exists today, for all these efforts, is stones, for great buildings yet to be.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Church of Sinners

This morning I was thinking about how easily I jump to judge other people, and how I set my expectations higher for some than others, largely because of their positions of authority. It makes sense, to me, my expectations for business leaders to know how to run a business, and for church leaders to know the faith, and to teach it well. Those are business behaviors. It’s funny, though, how high of standards we (sinners) set for the moral behavior of others, especially priests and bishops. Because they are Church business leaders, we expect them to be supermen. The facts are, however we wish they were not, that they are just men.

Only one man in Scripture confessed directly to Jesus that he was a sinner (Lk 5:8); Jesus made that man the head of his Church --- so much for Jesus’ moral expectations of Church leaders! One of the twelve leaders he picked even betrayed Jesus --- and Jesus even knew he would! Jesus knew the moral weaknesses of men, all men.

Way less than one in twelve priests were involved in the recent sexual abuse scandals, a better morality rate than that of the apostles. Perhaps priests are becoming holier since Jesus’ time?? But they still sin, and we should not be surprised, nor expect otherwise. Oh, we can fault the bishops for failing in their leadership roles and teaching roles, for not doing something about those priests, but as I have written elsewhere here, I don’t believe that the whole story has been told on this issue. We may be justified (to some degree) in railing against the bishops, but I think most of us are saddened or angry at the priests. In that I believe, perhaps, we are wrong.

For those of us who are outraged that any priest sinned, we seem to be setting standards higher than Jesus did for His Church leaders. Will we get dizzy in those heights, you think, where we proclaim ourselves a better judge than He?

Monday, November 15, 2010

I Have No Friends

I read recently about someone who was giving up their Facebook page; she seemed reluctant to do so. She noted how easy it was to keep up with her family, despite vast distances separating them, and to feel part of their lives --- and to let them be part of hers. Oh, and her other friends, too. She was interested in what many did, and enjoyed their ‘company”. This seemed a good thing. But, she continued, she noticed how often she was updating her page, and the time she was spending there. She noticed that no one in her family was updating their page, or responding to her comments, nearly as often as she. And she realized that this computer screen had become a major part of her life. And she realized that the screen, for all the time she spent with it, was no friend, and really, neither were the vast majority of the “Friends” who were sent her words. And so she quit, as she noted in her blog. And her blog posts, in subsequent days and weeks became less frequent. I think this was a good thing for her.

I have no “Friends”.

Those who seek to read words written on this blog are called “Followers”, not friends – a better word, I believe. I don’t consider anyone who might read these words a friend, many I do not know and in truth I do not wish to know. As noted in the sidebar comment I wrote on “Why Follow This Blog”, I hope some of the words I write here are in some way inspired or uplifting, words of truth as I understand them, words which may help some others, God knows who not I, to also understand truth. And perhaps knowing the truth, they may lead better lives, and grow closer to Him. If they follow in hopes of learning, I welcome followers --- and I pray God use me as His teacher. The few blogs I “follow”, I do so in hopes of growing in holiness through graces which may seep through their words, from them to me, so that I might follow Him better.

Stay with me, Lord, to show me Your will.
Stay with me, Lord, so that I hear Your voice and follow You.

--- from Padre Pio’s Prayer After Holy Communion

I read a book recently which had a homosexual character in it; he led the “gay” lifestyle. As the book followed his life, and his thoughts, you could see, however, that he was anything but gay. He hid his thoughts and actions from friends and family, not only aware of their disapproval, but also aware that he, in his heart, was uncomfortable with his actions. Yet, he felt a longing for them and a wanting to explain or justify them --- in many ways they seemed “right” for him and his body. As the book progresses, his friends, his true friends, explain that what may seem right and good for the body may not be right and good for the soul. That’s the way sin is. His lifestyle was not “gay”; the word had been hijacked from its true meaning, to one which the body wished it to mean. That is the way with sin, also.

I think the word “Friend” has been subtly hijacked also. For many people, they perceive their human value by the number of Facebook “Friends” they may have, and gain comfort in talking to others about how many people they have befriended. They are kidding themselves. They have and are no more “friends” than that book character was really “gay”. The word is an illusion to justify something they want, their body wants: it wants to justify sin.

Our life is our interaction with real people. The people who see us on television, hear us on radio, hear our sermons, or read our words on Facebook --- or even our blogs --- are not part of our life. Oh, the Holy Spirit may indeed use us to reach them, to share His graces through us, but we don’t gain His graces from tens and hundreds and thousands of “Friends.” No, He reaches out to us very personally, one person to another. That is how love is given or shown. That’s how Jesus spread His word, worked His miracles: one to one, with love.

Some words of Psalm 6, which I read this morning, reminded me of the woman who would give up her Facebook page, the homosexual who would change his life (and of any sinner who would change his ways), or even the person who might convert to the Church and live out its teachings: many of their “friends” won’t like it, and they won’t understand. Many will be content to live the lives they lead, and not make the hard choices of those who would change for the better.

Lord, do not reprove me in Your anger: have mercy on me.
Return, Lord, rescue my soul.
Save me in your merciful love.
I am exhausted with my groaning;
every night I drench my pillow with tears;
I bedew my bed with weeping.

Leave me, all you who do evil;
for the Lord has heard my weeping.
The Lord has heard my plea;
the Lord will accept my prayer.
All my foes will retire in confusion,
foiled and suddenly confounded.

Show me Your mercy, Lord, and keep me safe.

For all those who would make the hard choices to change their lives, give up their “friends”, I pray for you.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Advent of Advent

The radio station was STILL talking about the election, and so I began flipping through the stations looking for something more relaxing, when much to my surprise (but I shouldn’t have been), I heard the beautiful, relaxing sounds of --- Christmas music. One station can’t get over re-hashing the election of two weeks ago, and the other can’t wait to anticipate a holiday eight weeks from now. All in all, I liked the Christmas station better.

Radio station WNIC in Detroit began broadcasting an all-Christmas menu of music starting on November 1. It seems a might early, but if I had known it was there, I could have avoided many hours of election commercials. Talk about bliss! And besides, who wouldn’t want to hear again such wonderful and holy Christmas hymns as I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas, or that sentimental one, Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer. They bring such peace into my heart.

Oh, not all is peaceful, I know, in anticipation of Christmas. I received my first Christmas card yesterday, a nice sentimental card, with thoughtful and kind words --- from my bank. (They promised me a present --- they’ll be issuing a dividend this year!) The card was a thoughtful reminder to me ---- I better get out to the local Hallmark store and buy cards. While sitting here with mom over the Thanksgiving weekend, I can be addressing them early this year (I hope my friends won’t get a heart attack from receiving them BEFORE Christmas this year), and maybe even write a Christmas note. God has been so good to me, and Thanksgiving weekend seems like an appropriate time to say it to all.

And then there are of course the Christmas presents to plan for. I’ve simplified things over the years, buying for fewer people, in part because some have gone on to receive their eternal presents (much better than anything I ever gave them), and others who agreed with me that we each had way too many useless toys already. But I will spend some time, perhaps next week, thinking on the books I read this year, and the one or two I believe would most be beneficial (and perhaps even be enjoyed) by select friends. The order needs to be placed at the Catholic book store in time for Pam to get them in for me, and for me to mail them to (hopefully) interested friends.

I asked Mxxx, the man I employ for jobs around the house, to put up the outside Christmas lights this weekend. It’s a nasty job I’ve grown to dislike over the years, largely because of the seemingly never-ending one-light-is-burned-out-and-the-whole-string-is-black syndrome, a disease which infects all strings of holiday lights. It’s especially frustrating when they test ok, but after hanging them I find a strand or two which won’t light. Arrrrrggggghhhhhh! I get angry just thinking about it. Oh well, that’s Mxxx’s problem this year, although I guess I feel a bit funny, paying him to get angry for me. Somehow that doesn’t seem right.

And then there’s the decorations for in the house. Sometimes a pain to put up, but I lighten the mood by putting on Christmas music as I work. Even if I start out a bit grumpy, I always find myself smiling by the end. I love the tree and the candles and the smells of Christmas. Perhaps that’s why I tend to leave the decorations up for three months or so ---- but perhaps you know the real reason. Oh well, please think pleasant Christmas thoughts of me, and my laziness.

And of course these thoughts of planning for Christmas would not be complete without some thought of planning for Advent, in the advent of Advent. The Advent candles on the kitchen table, to be lit while reading prayers each day, is an obvious task, but Advent is a time of preparation for our hearts, to plan to see and appreciate the great gift given to us at Christmas. It is something which is really beyond our understanding, a God becoming man – a thing strange in itself, but the reason: for me! is almost beyond belief, and in fact it is. I’ll never understand it, but I can spend time thinking on it, and learning to give thanks for it. I’ll select some books for reading, uniquely during Advent. Certainly Fr. Groeschel’s Advent meditations will be on the list; no matter how many years read, it is always new to me.

I wish you much calm and peace in these coming days. They can seem so hectic, but they don’t have to be. And remember what we’re celebrating, and what the present really was.


The day began well, or so it seemed, but perhaps even then the seeds were planted, as I thought: “This has been pleasant; things are going well” --- for me, I meant. Later, in a time of quiet, I did things I wanted and had time for plans and thoughts on the rest of the day --- my day.

So when the other duties of the day --- and the inevitable intrusions of the day --- came about not according to my plans, I viewed them as disruptions from the pleasantness I thought I was creating, not stopping to think they could be part of His plans. Looking back, it seemed the rest of the day had many disruptions to those things I wanted to do, as other things and people demanded my attention --- which I most reluctantly gave, and then day ended with my frustrations even being directed at God. In the late evening hours, at a time of quiet, I could see how selfish my actions had been throughout much of the day, --- with MY day.

The radio announcer I wake up to most mornings begins his show with the words: “Each day is a gift; use it well.” An appropriate reminder: the day is not MY day. I almost always pause, and silently nod when I hear his words, but perhaps my nod shakes them out of my head, or at least it seems so on some days, like today. It is so easy to fall into the habit of planning MY day, leaving no room for the unexpected intrusions --- or even the intrusions I should expect --- which may be part of God’s plan. Even if we plan for very good and holy things each day, unless we are cloistered (and perhaps even then!), we will have people cross our paths, and delay or disrupt our plans. But, it is important to remember, they are there for a reason! And often ours is not to reason why --- for we might never understand it. Ours is to just love them, to give them love. To each person who comes into our day, our duty is to make their day a little better. And if they should make our day a little better, it is a blessing, but we should not live to receive blessings such as those, but to give them.

I think there’s a reason the Glorious Mysteries of the rosary are usually considered to be the last ones, because the joys and sorrows and actions of Christ in our lives here on earth precede them. Yet so often we plan our days to achieve some measure of, some feeling of, the glorious results we expect. And when the sorrows or actions of Christ, or even unexpected joys, disrupt our plans, we feel frustration. In a way, we feel cheated out of something we deserved, because we were working so hard for it. But the real glorious results for our efforts will not come about solely because of our plans for our days. The glorious results will be a gift, even as “each day is a gift.”

I know that I am very blessed to have time at the end of many days to sit in front of the Blessed Sacrament, conversing with God, receiving His graces. Some nights, like tonight, He shows me my failings, which are often a result of my selfishness. And He reminds me that the graces He gives to me are not mine alone, but are given in excess to me so that I can pass some on to the people He sends across my path, into HIS day.

As we plan and live out our day, we need to plan for, and expect, the unexpected --- and resolve to make time for every person who crosses our path. Each may be special, sent by God just for us, just for us to pass on those graces he gave for us. We shouldn’t fail Him because of our selfishness. Each one, perhaps even those who appear least deserving of our time, may be the one of which He speaks: “When you did it to the least of these, you did it to Me.”

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace. Let me learn to love as You love, by giving of Yourself. Make me see beyond my plans each day, and be open to Yours. I strive for a glorious end to my life, but help me to see that each day, in each of the children You send my way, there, there is the Glorious You in each one of them. Let me love them now, as I wish to love You in all eternity. And let not my petty concerns, my selfish plans, get in the way.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Poetic Thoughts

Blackberry Picking

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for picking.
… We trekked and picked until the cans were full,
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.

We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking, too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.

Poems 1965-1975, by Seamus Heaney

A friend suggested I might like the poems of Mr. Heaney, but it’s been years since I read any books of poetry. I began reading the book she recommended as a kind of a politeness, but not expecting much of value, nor of interest. I found to my surprise that I quickly found not only interest, but heart. The words described things so well that I could see and taste them, and they opened my mind to so many other things. The above poem was one of the first I read in that book, the book I purchased but expected to quickly relegate to the shelf. I’m slowly savoring, and teasing myself in anticipation, as I read the rest.

So much of life is like the blueberries, as described above. I read of the blueberries tasting and smelling so lush and wonderful, springtime, growth, and a new happiness, and I think of so many things of life that I’ve felt like that. A new baby, a new friend, a new love, each new happiness a new joy, something that I wanted to pick and preserve and never have go away, the feeling of joy so divine. It’s something I thought I would never grow tired of, and the feelings would never grow old. But perhaps those are things which I just wished for, because they did.

I thought of the new job, the new book, or the new hobby, each was something delightful, challenging yet bringing joy with the discovery of seemingly never-ending newness, twists and turns --- and rewards, personal rewards of satisfaction, the ones that no money could ever buy. Those first hours, days, and months are times I wished could never end, and would never cease repeating. But over time, I found they did.

Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.

Seamus’ poem shows us the joy of springtime and newness, and the inevitability of autumn. Whether we wish it or not, on some things a rat-grey fungus will grow. All things in life have a season; nothing in life stands still, no matter how much we would like to capture and retain the moment. Pictures capture what we saw at one time, but they can never capture that feeling when we first saw some things, first tasted their newness and their beauty. Oh how we wish it could be otherwise.

I once read how our newness in God should be like the first explorers who came out of the wood and first caught sight of the Grand Canyon. No travelogue, no pictures, no videos to taint their expectations, but just pure awe at the unexpected majesty that they saw. That should be our continual relationship with God, ever growing, ever new, ever awesome. I like that concept, but I remember the blueberries. Things can never be as I’d like them; they can never stay the same.

Therein, I think, lies the problem.

There are so many wonderful things in our life which we would like to remain the same, but they can never be so. Nothing stays the same, except God. All life on earth is an ever-flowing river through time. As much as we’d like to stop at some scenic point and never leave, that is not our choice, we must move on. We can swim mightily against the current, but at some point we must tire, and then losing the battle becomes just that much more difficult to absorb – we lost despite all our efforts, and we feel somewhat of a failure. Seamus’ poem concluded with a key truism: I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not. He does not end his poem in disaster or in sorrow, but merely a wistful thought. From there the reader might imply the next line: “And next year I’d feel the same.” You see, Mr. Heaney doesn’t end his thought in despair, but looks at it as just being a thought, a pleasant memory of an event which had an end. But next year will come spring again. The end of one pleasantness does not mean the eternal end of pleasantness, even if at the moment all you see and smell is rot. But you, as a thinking and faith-filled person KNOW what will happen in the future, even if it seems at the moment far off. There will be another springtime.

And so, despite the smell of today, we know there will still be new jobs, new books, and new hobbies, each as exciting or --- pray God --- even more exciting than the last. And we will see new babies, new friends, and perhaps even new loves, and the old ones will merely be pictures, which evoke strong memories of good times. But in our minds, we KNOW of future good times, and we can expect them. No matter how dull or sad life may be now, you will know that you will again taste the sweet fruits of life, and its flesh (will be) sweet, like thickened wine.

Do not be anxious. God has promised you many wonderful things; you have barely begun to anticipate, much less see them, as yet. But He promised. And you will live to see them, to smell them, and to taste their sweetness.

He promised.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Plant's Life

The little plant in my living room is blooming again. This year it seemed to have bloomed more than ever, although it definitely had some hard times, too.

I’ve written about this plant before. It sat in my front room window for years, well-watered, with decent light, and not growing, not blooming. It just existed. Then one year, at Christmas, I put it in the dark corner of the dining room so I could place the Christmas tree in the front window --- for three or four months. In my laziness to not take down the Christmas tree, I also ignored the plant, leaving it largely dark and un-watered for those months. When the tree finally came down and the plant resumed its spot in the window, to my surprise it suddenly bloomed. A single bloom, which lasted only a day, but to me it seemed almost miraculous. Friends with greener thumbs than mine said the plant was stressed, and that caused it to bloom. I thought that it had grown complacent with the good life of watering and sun in the front window, and only after being in the dry darkness for a while did it realize how good it really had it all those years, and so when put back into its old spot it was happy, and bloomed to show it.

This summer, I put the plant outside on the deck. In June, the weather was hot and humid, and the plant bloomed again. My friends said it really was a tropical plant and the June weather was perfect for it. It seemed so. Even in July, August, and September it seemed happy as its branches grew longer as never before. But with October, the weather grew colder. By the time I got around to bringing the plant into the house, it looked pretty sad. Drooping, leaves were quickly drying up and falling onto my carpet. But it only took a couple of weeks indoors for new leaves to appear, and, as seen above, for it to create a new bloom. It seemed happy again.

Happy, sad, happy, sad. It seems like our life is so often like my plant, but of course it’s not. I wrote as if the plant had feelings; it doesn’t. It only reacts to its environment. I wrote how it was happy to come back to a good spot it hadn’t appreciated before, but a plant has no memories; it doesn’t know where it was before, or where it’s going. If it was happy this last June, it can’t anticipate the next June. Only people can do those things --- if they will to. Unfortunately, some in their sadness and their sorrows, don’t. They lose their will to do just about anything.

I don’t know how to describe what I sometimes see happening to some human beings. Perhaps “complacent” is a decent description. They become complacent, as my plant did sitting in the front window for years. Not extremely sad, but not elated either. Life was good, they knew that, but, well, it was “just” life. It was like something was missing, like maybe it could be better --- but they were not sure how. They didn’t exactly feel bad about that, but kind of hollow. And so their life went on, complacently. Then a big stress struck, like my plant being put in the dark of the dining room and un-watered. My plant seemed unhappy, but it was a plant! It can’t be unhappy; it has no emotions, only reactions. But that’s how these people reacted, like the plant. To the trials of life, which seemed to suddenly come up, they reacted with sadness. They seemed to have forgotten they are not plants, and they can do so much more than just react.

The rosary is a great prayer for me, especially the Sorrowful Mysteries. Meditations I wrote long ago always still seem meaningful as I contemplate them anew, thinking on Jesus’ sorrows, and mine:
I have pains now, but worse may come.
Friends abandon me, no one cares; I seem all alone.
The heaviest weight is the loneliness
I remember Peter’s betrayal; he is not here.
I know the Father loves me.
I trust in You, my Father, I trust in You.
I always had doubts, but they were in me, never in You, Father. Never You.

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

Do you see my sorrows, and Jesus’ sorrows there? Do you see yours? Do you think yours are bad? Jesus did sweat blood in His sadness, in the garden of Gethsemane. Does yours compare? Have you grown complacent, and so are just reacting to your sorrows? Look at the meditations above; we’re not plants to just react to sorrows. We can think on them, and reflect on our situation. We can recall past sorrows; we know they ended, and past joys. Even if friends, and even our Father, seem not with us now, we know they have been loyal in the past; they will come to our side again in this sorrow. We can trust in them. That is where we can, and MUST differ from plants. We can look at the past, and reliably see the future. We have HOPE in God’s promises; we trust in Him. And even in our sorrows, we can see the never ending Joy arrive. We can WILL to say: “I trust in You.”

Hope and love are two critical blessings bestowed on mankind. God gave men free will. Using his brain, man can WILL to hope and will to love. No matter how difficult things SEEM now, man can will to hope, to love. He is no plant which has to just react to sorrows. He does not have to wait for someone else to move him from the dark corner, and to water him.

Man can move to the light; he can drink of the water, if he wills to. He can go on, in confidence, of the coming joys. Even if it is with the assistance of needed medications, I believe in his darkest times a man can will himself forward. Hope. Trust. Love. No one is ever alone. We lead a plant’s life only if we give up all those things which make us human beings, all those blessings, all those friends, all that love. God.

And even if in our sorrows we seem only to have the strength of plants, still, the blessings are there. We can will to accept them.

In the end, Jesus says He Himself will judge us (Mt 25), but look at His criteria. He tells the righteous that they obtained heaven because they helped Him when He was hungry or a stranger or in prison, and the righteous seem to answer: “Huh? When did we do that?” And Jesus responds: “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” Jesus is telling them and us that He will judge us not by what we say or even what we do, but by what’s in our hearts. He’ll judge us by what we WILL to do. That’s why the laborer in the field, who only worked one hour, can be paid the same as the one who worked all day. The one who worked the hour willed to do his best; he sincerely worked for the Master and was grateful for His love. If we are weak, if we suffer pains in sorrow, yes even if we are on our very death bed, we can will to love Him; we can will to trust Him; and we can will to Hope in His promises, no matter how weak our pitiful efforts. And He will see our hearts. Ours is not to judge our efforts; His is. And He is a God of Mercy.

Have love, have hope, have trust, my friends. Even if we bloom only for a single day, He shall see us, He shall be pleased with our fragrance, he shall place us ‘round His eternal altar. We often judge our efforts harshly, but we are not the ones to judge. We are the ones to put forth the effort. We are the ones to WILL to do the Father’s will. And we need not be saddened by our results, nor worried about our future. We are not alone.

Do not be anxious.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Lost Children

The night began as any other, and I began to pray my rosary:

Lord, I offer this rosary tonight for an end to abortion, and for a cure to autism. I pray for Your children, all Your children, that they may live as You intended, be all You created them to be, and enjoy everlasting joy in Your house. All Your children …

Then this night I paused, and remembered all those children I was praying for, and their lives, as He intended …. But we sometimes chose otherwise.

I remembered the mothers, and it’s true, sometimes fathers too, who chose abortion. So wrapped up in their problems, their plans, their dreams, that they thought this little life, this gift, was theirs. They thought its happiness was totally meshed with theirs, and happiness was a thing which they needed, no craved, from each and every moment to the next. Happiness was for now, and plans for future happiness were decided now, and results as they foresaw them at this moment were as unchangeable as the stars in the sky. All depended on them, they believed, and so they were alone in this great decision. While they might be forgiven for believing that the life they created was theirs, and totally meshed with their lives and happiness --- because certainly for some years to come that would be true --- but they forgot (or perhaps we might charitably assume they never knew) that their child’s life was not created by them alone, nor would it EVER be totally dependent on them alone. Oh, they created a body, which they would be responsible for, at least for a while, but God created a soul, which would live forever. They chose to kill what they created, but they also killed what God created. They act much like a construction worker who admits he can’t build a home properly, and so quits, but in doing so he also burns down the entire structure, saying in effect: “If I can’t build this properly, no one can.” How arrogant of him; how dismissive of the work of the Master Architect, Who designed and planned each detail of the house so well --- and planned to live in it Himself. Those who chose abortion tore truly down a house of God. In charity, I remember them and think: “Could they really know what they were doing, what they were doing to God?” And I wonder, what does God feel toward those who so flippantly dismissed His plans, and His child?

But I remember tonight also those who chose life, but the life of their child was most difficult, even painful. (I think of autism in particular, but any lack of perfection in their child hurts them.) They think: “This is not as I planned, this pain for my child (and this pain for me),” and they wonder: “Would God plan for this continuous sorrow, this kind of life for His child?” Some cannot understand, and they rail against the heavens: “Why would You do this; why do You permit this??” And they perceive no answer. And precious few can accept the answer they DO hear. The pains and sorrows of their children are so intimately theirs. No parent wants their child to be less than perfect, less than they planned them to be, or to suffer any pains. Like the ones who chose abortion, they too forgot that they are not the only parent of their child; this is a child of God also, and in all its pains He grieves with them. But in their grief they never consider His plans, because His plans CAN include grief. The earthly parent may accept some sorrow in his child’s life, it is part of growing up, and a part of earthly life itself. The heavenly Father can accept prolonged periods of grief also, because He sees the growing of His child into eternal life. The earthly parent plans, and prays, for some earthly happiness for their child, but the Father plans and KNOWS His child will see the eternal happiness. It’s rare parents who can be at peace with the eternal Father’s plans, which they cannot see, and trust that they will bring happiness for their child, even as they watch him in pain. (Read the beautiful story of love and trust, Blessed and Broken, by Cathy Adamkiewicz) Such parents, although rare, are an inspiration for us all, truly among the walking saints. I remember, and am encouraged by them, even as I pray for a cure for autism, and an end to the pains of God’s children.

And then I remember one thing more: “God’s children,” but there was also one He called as His only Son. And for this one He saw the pains coming, and unlike earthly parents, He had the power to stop them. He could stop the horrible pains, and death of His only Son, and he chose not to. As parents we wonder aloud: “What kind of father would choose to let his son suffer, to watch him die? Wouldn’t any truly loving father choose to die himself, first?” And then I remember: He did; He did it all. For surely God the Father was intimately present as the earthly body of His Son died. God chose to watch, no even plan for, His Son’s painful death, and to die with Him --- something no loving earthly father could ever imagine doing, but He could. He was no earthly father, so He could do this horrible thing, and plan for it and choose it, for us. For the love of us.

I remembered all the lost children, and the pains of their parents, those aborted, those suffering lives of pain, and I remembered how the Father of them all loves them, and assures us, that in the end He will take all their pains away. Because He loves them, and us.

And so I again began to pray the rosary.

Father, whenever I feel lost or in pain, remember that I’m Your child, too.

And if I should see my neighbor, lost, alone, or in pain, let me love him as if he were my child, even as You would.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

One Step at a Time

The Pillar of the Cloud
Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home ---
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene --- one step enough for me
I was not ever thus, nor pray’d that Thou
Shouldst lead me on.
I loved to choose and see my path; but now
Lead Thou me on!

I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will; remember not past years.
So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on,
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent till
The night is gone.
And with the morn those angel faces smile
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.

John Henry Newman (1801 – 1890)

This morning I read a meditation on the Holy Spirit, and then the above words and prayer of John Newman, and I was reminded of the paths I have followed in my life.

So much of my life was planned out, each detail thought through. Actions and alternatives were considered, and steps laid out, from step one to step twenty-five --- and even more if necessary. It mattered not if my plans were to the benefit of me, my work, or even my neighbor, who I so often sought to aid. I planned well, to do good for them all, and I prayed that God would bless my plans.

Things sometimes, but not often, did not go as I planned, and so I made corrections. I brought most of my plans to fruition. It was only as I grew older, and wiser, that I looked back at the fruits of all those plans in total. In the light of wisdom, I saw that some things I built in my life were indeed built well, but they served no real purpose that in retrospect I could see, no purpose for anyone. “Why did I want that?” I ask. “Why did I waste those months, or even years?“ I wonder. And I looked at those few failures, big failures, and I saw that not only were my plans there not executed well, but they were flawed plans. I thought I was building something good, but the plans I made almost guaranteed failure.

It was then I realized that the few failures and the many, many successes didn’t really add up to something I was proud of, and perhaps more importantly, I realized that when I prayed to God He could see me as I saw myself, and I had not lived as a son for Him to be proud of.

Deep in my heart, I always wanted to be a son both my earthly and heavenly Father could be proud of. If I couldn’t accomplish that, then just what was my life for? For me? And then the sword struck home, that’s exactly what my life was, and how I had led much it --- for me. Although I thanked God for the gifts and the talents he gave me, I planned, I worked, and I decided --- everything. He had no part in planning or living my life, or in enjoying its success, or failure. My life was all mine. Truly, I was, and was living as, the Prodigal Son.

Fortunately, God gave me the grace, the love, and I believe the intercession of His mother Mary, to realize my situation. He called and welcomed me home. All my past plans, and all my less-than-stellar results of those plans, I could not change, but I could admit their main flaw: they were totally my plans. And so I was able to ask God: “From now on, You plan. You plan my life, and I will sincerely try to follow those plans, and not mine anymore.”

In truth, I was finally willing to walk the path He made, just for me, even before I was born. I committed to follow His plan, wherever it led me. I wanted to be the man He created me to be.

The prayers of John Newman reminded me again of that commitment I made. It was a hard one, and I still sometimes falter or question it: “Lord, are You SURE I should be doing this?” For one whose life was lived analyzing and planning, I would now be following His plans. And if I could not see the results of His plans, even if they appeared illogical or leading toward no results, still I would follow His steps. This I committed and still try to adhere to.

I did not ask to see the distant scene --- one step enough for me.

May you, my friends be blessed by the Holy Spirit, to see your life as it truly is --- and should be. May you be willing to live it, in faith, one step at a time.

Holy Spirit, come and shed your divine, life-giving light on the Church, the world, our nation, and each one we care about. Give hope to the hopeless, peace to the distraught, and conversion to those lost along the way. Lift up our hearts that we may be Your witnesses by the way we live and speak, and heal our wounds through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

Prayers from Praying with the Creed, (Meditation Thirteen) by Fr. Benedict J. Groeschel

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Music and Tears

On this All Soul’s Day I remember especially my childhood friend, Jack, in prayer. Jack and I grew up together, through all the years at St. Isidore’s grade school and St. Rita’s high school. We did many good (and yes, I’m afraid, some bad) things together. After college we grew apart in distance and in life, but I could never forget him in my memories. He will be missed.

I guess it was appropriate that on this day of memories I received in the mail and played a new CD I had ordered called “The Torch Still Burns.” Growing up in Chicago, I worked my way through college, spending late nights in the offices of the Rock Island Railroad. My dad also worked nights on another railroad. On WGN radio, in the late-night early-morning hours was the Franklyn MacCormack show, and in particular at 2AM was his “Torchlight Hour.” During the Torchlight Hour Franklyn played quiet melodies, as he softly read poetry and love songs. His deep bass voice often so vibrated the strings of your heart that there was nothing you could do but smile, breathe softly, and cry. Some nights dad would call me, or me him, to comment on a particularly well-done reading. Two grown men, talking serious words about love poems, as if we were discussing sports or other manly topics, but never speaking of the love in our hearts, or the tears on our faces. Some of the best words of love we ever spoke to each to each other were those words, on those nights, not spoken aloud. We both, I am sure, will ever remember them. I wish the CD I listened to this morning, and some of those poems being read by Franklyn, were available while dad was still alive. He would have cherished it. I will.

This day we pray for the souls of those departed, but perhaps even more importantly, we remember them, to the benefit of not only their souls, but ours. May they all rest in His peace.

Lord, you have brought many people into my life, some to influence me, make me who I am, and some for me to influence, too; I pray they are better off for having known me.

I don’t remember most of them; and they don’t remember me, but there is one thing that I do know, a memory most important: even if I meant nothing to them before, I can now. I can pray for them. And so I ask You, Lord, to look kindly on the souls of all those You brought into my life. You put them there for a reason; I pray it may have been that some small bit of Your grace may have dropped from me onto them, that they may have known You better. But even if they recalled You not, I do, and so I pray to You for the benefit of their souls, that they might be a little closer to you NOW, and near to you in all eternity. I ask this because I trust You, and all You have done for me. And because I love You, Father.

Why Do I Love You?
(As read to the Wayne King Orchestra’s “Melody of Love”)

Why do I love you?
I love you not only for what you are,
But for what I am when I am with you.
I love you not only for what you have made of yourself,
But for what you are making of me.
I love you for ignoring the possibilities of the fool in me
And for laying firm hold of the possibilities of the good in me.

Why do I love you?
I love you for closing your eyes to the discords in me,
And for adding to the music in me by worshipful listening.
I love you because you are helping me to make of the lumber of my life,
Not a tavern, but a temple,
And of the words of my every day, not a reproach, but a song.

Why do I love you?
I love you because you have done more than any creed to make me happy.
You have done it without a word, without a touch, without a sign.
You have done it by just being yourself.

Perhaps, after all, that is what love means.

I’ll Be Seeing you

I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places,
That this heart of mine embraces, all day through.
In that small café, the park across the way,
The children’s carousel, the chestnut tree, the wishing well.

I’ll be seeing you, in every lovely summer’s day,
In everything that’s light and gay.
I’ll always think of you just that way.

And I’ll feel you in the morning’s sun,
And when the night is new,
I’ll be looking at the moon, but I’ll be seeing you.