Friday, December 24, 2010
The Advent candles are getting shorter; the day of Christmas is almost here. So what did we accomplish this Advent Season? I had set about this Advent to renew and reinvigorate my knowledge and action in the virtues. How well did I do?
Human virtues are firm attitudes, stable dispositions, habitual perfections of intellect and will, that govern our actions, order our passions, and guide our conduct according to reason and faith. They make possible ease, self-mastery, and joy in leading a morally good life. The virtuous man is he who freely practices the good.
The moral virtues are acquired by human effort.
--- CCC 1804
So how much more “firm” has become my attitude, my “habitual perfection” in virtue this Advent?
Had I written this meditation yesterday, the words might have been different, but Our Lord has a way of helping us to see ourselves objectively, to see the truth of the matter, not how we wish things would be. Yesterday I might have written how I had read and re-read much on how to acquire virtue, and made deliberate steps, “firm attitudes”, about living them out.
This morning’s readings set my mind straight, as so often they do. The readings began with a look at the Jews, wandering in the desert after having been saved from the slavery of Egypt, and after having been literally given food from heaven. And yet they still complained. God had taken care of them so well, so lovingly, so much as a Father who loves his children, and yet they complained. They wanted ---- “more.”
They complained and complained until God gave them more; He gave them birds of the sky for meat, and they ate until they were sated. They had and ate so much food that it was almost coming out of their ears, and you could almost hear God say, like the somewhat frustrated Father would say to His children: “There! Do you have enough, now??” But they were like young teen-agers. Even if they got their way, it was not enough. They in effect told God: “Yeh, this is good enough. Thanks.” But their heart wasn’t in it. They were only satisfied until their next complaint. They weren’t satisfied with having a loving Father or God, they wanted to BE the Father or God, to have all things done at their beck and call. They had so much still to learn, as do teenagers, as do we. They didn’t know how to accept love, nor how to give it. They just wanted --- “More.”
Despite this they went on sinning;
they had no faith in his wonders:
so he ended their days like a breath
and their years in sudden ruin.
When he slew them then they would seek him,
return and seek him in earnest.
They would remember that God was their rock,
God the Most High their redeemer.
But the words they spoke were mere flattery;
they lied to him with their lips,
For their hearts were not truly with him;
they were not faithful to his covenant.
Yet he who is full of compassion
forgave their sin and spared them.
So often he held back his anger
when he might have stirred up his rage.
He remembered they were only men.
---- Psalm 78
For as much as we want things to go our way, for as much as we often want to be as God, we are “only men.” It was good that I was reminded of that this morning. Yesterday I might have written that I had a more “firm attitude” toward living virtuously, but last night I acted in ways that only said “More.” And I said “more” not even as Oliver Twist would have said it --- at least he added: “please”.
Last night, in the waning hours of Advent, I had my thoughts and plans made, and I was satisfied with myself. Presents were bought and delivered, mom’s gifts were ready on the kitchen table for Christmas morn, and an unexpected blessing had occurred: a local parish was having a Christmas Eve midnight mass, and so I would be able to attend Church in the early hours on Christmas Day, something I had not done for years, since I am always here caring for mom that day while the caregiver is out of town for the holiday. Yes, things seemed well yesterday, and I was pleased with myself, and how God’s plans seemed to mesh with mine. All was well.
Oh, there were the minor irritants, mom seemingly in a mode of constant needs. It broke my concentration on what I was reading or writing or thinking. But I tried to be nice, and not let it bother me. Early in the evening she began her usual ritual of saying every fifteen minutes or so: “You know I want to go to bed at nine o’clock; is that okay? Will you take me to bed then?” And I assured her, over and over again, “Yes mom, of course I will.” And I even tried to remember to smile! And I looked forward to reading my Night Prayers, perhaps watch some silly detective re-runs, and have a glass of wine before I laid down on the couch to sleep. But nine o’clock finally came and mom said: “It’s nine o’clock, but I don’t want to go to bed yet. I’ll go to bed in fifteen minutes.” And I smiled and said “Okay.” And so began a different ritual last night, one that had not done before, and every ten or fifteen minutes she would look at the clock and say the time and “but I don’t want to go to bed yet.” Nine, nine thirty, ten, ten thirty, eleven, eleven thirty, midnight: “But I don’t want to go to bed yet.” And inside I grew more irritated ---- although I did try to smile, and if my voice were raised …. well, she can’t hear so it didn’t really matter. But it did.
With the passing of time, I was growing irritated. In my head I knew I wasn’t irritated at mom. In her present mental state, she is as a baby. Sometimes, in effect, she cries, and it is not spiteful nor is she even aware of it. She acts as a little child, on instincts, and I have learned to treat her actions and words that way ---- sometimes. But not last night. I forgot that knowledge, and my “firm attitude” of virtue in dealing with it. I had had a very good Advent, a pleasant day, but I wanted “more”. I wanted the day to end as I had planned it, and no baby crying ---- or mom asking for love ---- was going to ruin it. I wanted things my way. And so when she began nodding off after midnight, I quickly grabbed the wheelchair, put her into it, and wheeled her to her bedroom. At last! This day would be over. And as I covered her, she said, as always: “You know I love you.”
I think I ignored it.
I woke at five this morning and drove to my nearby house, to pick up yesterday’s mail and stop at the 7-11 for coffee. All was quiet as I returned to here; mom still slept, as she is now. A quiet Christmas Eve morn --- except for the birds noisily eating the seed from the feeder on the front window. And I began reading my Morning Prayers and final Advent meditations. And then, I saw myself, as in a mirror. Last night I was like the Jews in the desert saying to themselves “Look God, things are okay, but here’s what else we need.” I was like the teenager saying to his father: “Yeh, thanks for the present, but I really wanted a new ipod.” I was like the parent blessed with the gift of life and saying to his baby: “Can’t you stop crying!” I was like someone with all the blessings in the world, for indeed they were offered to me, and yet I could not help myself but ask for: “More.”
He remembered they were only men.
I’m glad the Psalm ended that way in the readings. I needed to be reminded of how foolish I had behaved, how foolish I had thought: that I was making some great progress in virtue, just because I willed to do so. I had the firm attitude, but I had forgotten that the actions need to become habitual ones. No matter how often I seek to grow in virtue, to grow in holiness, I need to CONTINUE to seek to do so. I’ll never get to that perfection I seek in this life, all I can hope for is that my attitude and actions become habitual ones. And even then, I’ll fail. And I’ll have to seek forgiveness, and begin again to try and get it right. And try to not constantly be asking for “More.”
Even as I want more, I am so blessed to have a God, a Father, who recognizes that I do not HAVE more, and that I am only a man.
I was glad the Morning Prayers ended with one of my favorite prayers and psalms:
Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness.
In your compassion blot out my offense.
O wash me more and more from my guilt.
and cleanse me from my sin.
My offenses truly I know them;
my sin is always before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned;
what is evil in your sight I have done.
That you may be justified when you give sentence
and be without reproach when you judge;
O see, in guilt I was born,
a sinner was I conceived.
Indeed, you love truth in the heart;
then in the secret of my heart teach me wisdom.
O purify me, then I shall be clean;
O wash me, I shall be whiter than snow.
Make me hear rejoicing and gladness,
that the bones you have crushed may revive.
From my sins turn away your face
and blot out all my guilt.
A pure heart create for me, O God,
put a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
not deprive me of your holy spirit.
Give me again the joy of your help;
with a spirit of fervor sustain me,
that I may teach transgressors your ways
and sinners may return to you.
O rescue me, God, my helper,
and my tongue shall ring out your goodness.
O Lord, open my lips
and my mouth shall declare your praise.
---- Psalm 51
Oh Lord, you have given me so much, and I am so very thankful. However, if it is Your will, may I have some more ---- please?