Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Love Can Hurt

What is love, properly given? How do you describe it? It gives without expectation of return, yes, to one whom we choose to love. But what if the love is not received in the manner that it is given? Can our love be given in truth, but not be able to be received in that truth? Can we love someone more than they are capable of receiving, and can that love be perceived so negatively, that it is better not to have been given? Can a love be “smothering”?

What if, in love, you gave a 10-year old a new car? He wouldn’t have the ability to use it or perceive its benefits. What if you gave a 10-year old $100,000? He wouldn’t have the maturity to spend it wisely. What if you offered all the wisdom of God to one not so wise? He wouldn’t be able to understand it and, indeed, may misunderstand it --- or even resent it.

I think sometimes our love must be offered as in a book; it can be read by some and received and appreciated, but by others read and received gratefully as a gift, but not understood. And for still others, put on a shelf --- perhaps never to be read. And still we must offer it, this, our action of love. Perhaps in another way our love must be as a faucet, water flowing as needed. The flow being received my be chosen to be less than that offered --- only the receiver can determine what water is needed, and when refreshment turns to a flooded disaster. And yet, for those giving the love, it is still offered full force.

But what if the one receiving our love is like the 10-year old, and lacks the wisdom or maturity to receive it --- they don’t know how to shut off the faucet, or they don’t perceive our offer as a book, but as a lecture? What then of our love?

Then our love can hurt the receiver. And when the receiver feels hurt, despite our intentions, they may hurt us in return, by rejecting our love. Love can hurt all involved. This thing called love, given with the best of intentions, can destroy friendships, can destroy marriages, can destroy families. It can even destroy civilizations, because this thing called love, perceived as a hurt, can turn to hate.

Sometimes our love must be offered as the caring of the father who runs alongside the child’s bike, as he rides for the first time without training wheels. He may trust us and want us nearby; or he may reject us: “I don’t need your help; I can do this myself.” But we’ll be there if they fall. And if they do, if we really loved them, then we wouldn’t say the words: “I warned you” or “I told you to be careful,” we’d just hug them, wipe their tears, and bandage their wounds. Love offered like that can be a joy to the giver and the receiver, or it can hurt both. And it’s hard to offer that love, knowing it may not be accepted in the manner as it is offered. Sometimes love can only be accepted with a certain level of maturity on the part of the receiver. And despite the magnitude of our love, despite our willingness to teach, despite our wanting the best of our beloved, sometimes in love we must let them learn on their own, and even be hurt. And that is a most difficult love to bear for the one who loves, to love with the knowledge and restraint that:

We cannot live our beloved’s life for them. We cannot protect them from all harm. We cannot MAKE them go to heaven.

And so we must watch our children fall off the bike --- or not go to church anymore, or not baptize our grandchildren. And we must watch as some of our friends may think that the only option for them in life is to play the roulette wheel, and we want to scream in our wisdom, and in our love: “Don’t do something so foolish. The odds are totally against you.” And they may reply: “You just don’t want me to win. Then I’ll be as rich (and as happy?) as you.” (No matter how much we love someone, we cannot live their life for them, nor protect them from mistakes --- or sin.)

Those were as the words of Adam and Eve, as they bet on the fruit in the Garden of Eden, and God stood by, in love, and watched them do it. It was a love that hurt the giver and receiver, but still it was offered. Adam and Eve had to live their lives, and risk their mistakes. God wouldn’t force them to accept His love. He still doesn’t force us today.

And we cannot force others to accept our love either, no matter in what form we may try to give it. Adam and Eve --- the whole human race --- continued to make mistakes, but also over time realized more and more that God still loved them. Gradually, especially after they saw the example of His love for His only Son, they came to realize that He would always be there to catch them if they fell. They grew in faith, in this one who loves them so much. And this love that God has, this Father has, for us we must try and imitate in our love for our children and our neighbors. And if we are always there with it, perhaps they will grow in faith in us also. We can’t make them accept our love; sometimes they are just not ready ---- yet.

This growing in faith, and in love, of God is sometimes a hard thing. Oh, it is a wonderful thing for the receiver, the one who grows in knowing, loving and serving God. It is what he was made for, and so naturally it brings him great joy, growing ever closer to his Creator, his Savior, his Father. But sometimes even as he grows closer to God, he grows farther from his neighbor who doesn’t grow along with him. He advances from the simple things, like addition and subtraction, to the more complex things like algebra, calculus, and multi-dimensional functions, and he better sees the beauty of all that God has created. But talking of these things to the one still doing addition and subtraction is most difficult, and sometimes frustrating. It must be done with deep caution, and love, for the one receiving the actions of our love. We cannot live someone else’s life for them; they must grow in maturity and wisdom --- if they ever will --- through their own initiative, with grace they receive. It is one thing to teach and instruct a 10-year old, and force him to hear and obey ---- in our maturity it is our responsibility to protect him and teach him how to learn. It is an entirely different thing, however, to use the same approach with an adult. Unfortunately, sometimes we cannot prevent ourselves from acting in the same manner to both --- including our friends, family, or our spouses.

It is a rare spouse or friend who totally trusts us --- as we might trust God. Studies say that most people only have one or two “true” friends in their life; what are the odds that it is you? And so our love of others must, if we truly love them, proceed with a degree of caution. It must not be demanding, as we would demand of a 10-year old. It is one thing to say: “I plan to buy a red car because I read studies which state it won’t fade as often and it is seen better by other drivers.” It is another thing to say to a fiend: “You should buy a red car because you never seem to wash yours and red will stay brighter, and besides you are a rotten driver and the red will keep you out of accidents.” Both statements may make the same point to our friend, but both may not be perceived in the same way or get the same intended result. One may hurt, and generate hurtful comments in return, despite our intention.

This thing called love, true, giving and not counting the cost love, is a most difficult thing. You want to do it for the ones you choose to love; you want to do everything to make them feel loved, to be happy, to be safe --- now and for all eternity. (And sometimes you wish, but don’t demand, that you feel, in return, something of their acknowledgement of your love.) But often what we want most must be tempered by the recognition of their freedom, their talents, and their differences. And so we must restrain our enthusiasm sometimes, and this is a hard thing, for someone we love. We must restrain our enthusiasm for this good we wish for them --- indeed would love to force on them.

I don’t know how God does it, for us, who are so lacking in understanding, receiving, and returning His love. He loves us so much; how can He restrain Himself from just dragging us into heaven? How can we restrain ourselves from trying to do the same for our beloved ones?

We can truly love only when we learn that He first loved us --- and that He loved us as we are. And when we can fully accept His love on those terms, we can more easily give love to others in the same way. And perhaps more importantly, we grow to understand that sometimes love can hurt, hurt virtually everyone involved. Yet still we must love, as He does, and still we must restrain our love, as He does. It is what real love does.

And that is a hard thing, even for God.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Venite Adoremus Dominum

Mom went to bed at 7 last night, I guess worn out from her late night the evening before, so I had time to nap before midnight mass. On the way I stopped at a gas station for coffee, the McDonald’s was closed on Christmas Eve (?!!). Inside, the cashier was slowing punching a page-long list of lottery numbers for a customer. The most important thing he could be doing was buying lottery tickets this important eve? I steered my mind quickly away, and tossed a twenty towards the register --- “Merry Christmas.” Someone behind me said “I wouldn’t be that generous.” I responded something, but thought: “Why not?”

I went to the back of the church and began reading my Night Prayers, as the choir sang out Christmas hymns and carols. As the church began to fill, people around me were excusing their way in, and out again, and the perfume of the woman in front of me drifted strongly my way. I packed up my things and walked to the chairs on the other side of the building, which had been set up for the crowded earlier mass. No one was there now. So I read and said my prayers in peace and quiet. This night, that seemed especially fitting.

I don’t know what someone looking at me might have thought. Some lonely old man? A recluse? Or someone who doesn’t know that this mass is to be a community prayer? What I felt was peace from the noise and smells (my epilepsy still reacts to those things some times), and a quiet for me and Jesus to talk. Yes, I know the mass is a community prayer, but as I’ve gotten older that seems less important, and it is more important as a time for me and God to commune, personally. Maybe it’s because I’m considering that I’ll be meeting Him face-to-face in some nearer day, and so I want to get to know Him better. But I think it’s more that He wants to get to know me better. It seems like He makes me aware of His presence so much more often and easily than in my younger days. It’s said that with age comes wisdom, a natural thing in human beings. Perhaps. But I think that with age is GIVEN Wisdom, a great blessing to know and love and serve God better. And I think this pleases Him. And so it pleases me.

Shortly before midnight the cell phone in my pocked buzzed. The text from a close and understanding friend said: “Merry Christmas Eve! WLY!” I quickly responded, “Ditto.”

The mass and homily were very well done, including the choir praise. People attending wore suits and what looked like gym clothes. I’m not sure who of them were regular attendees, and who were once a year attendees, or less. It matters not; they were there. And as mass ended, we all filed out and shook the hands of all the priests and seminarians present. It was a very good night for me.

On the way back to mom’s, I drove through the town center and just had to stop. I got out of the car and stood in front of the manger scene in the park. I looked closely at the figures and their arrangement. And I said a prayer. No, I was not praying to the statues, I was praying to my God. I know that I had just received Him in communion, a most precious and personal thing, yet I had to stop here and pray again. I prayed for our town, and all the blessings bestowed upon it --- including the manger scene in front of me. It is a blessing to have a town which celebrates Christmas, not in fear of what a very few others might say, or fear of offending some stray person, but in pride of recognizing how blessed it is, and from whence those blessings come. And the town celebrates. And so did I.

I have so many blessings to be thankful for. Glory be to God, now and forever!

Happy birthday, Jesus.

It’s A Wonderful Life is on --- again. I think I’ll watch it for a while.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Who Cares If I Live?

For some people Christmas is a reminder of the gifts they don’t receive. They are, or feel, alone. The meditations I wrote here on the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary displayed some similar feelings; I speculated that even Jesus may have felt such sorrows --- certainly there are times when I do. There are times in all of our lives when we don’t feel that important, when we feel unloved, when we feel not needed ---- or even, not wanted. At those times there is one very important thing to remember: They are just times, and time does march on. Those times will change.

Just as every life has times when things are feeling bad, every life, EVERY LIFE has times when things will feel good. So often our problem is that we want those good times now, RIGHT NOW. We may even say (in our huge and great wisdom) that: “I NEED those good feelings, those good times, NOW.” That is what we feel; that is what we think.

The real problem with our feelings and what we may be thinking however, is that we don’t know what others are feeling and thinking. We feel alone, or unimportant, or unneeded, or unloved, but all of these feelings relate to someone else. They are the ones who might be with us – so we are not alone, or they might value us as important to them, or they may desperately feel they NEED us, or they may love us but have no words to say it. And then we don’t know. So then, when we have all these bad feelings about ourselves and our worth, we need to remember that when we think these things that we are ASSUMING that we know what other people think and feel about us. How presumptuous of us!!

I thought only God knew such things about another person. Sorry, but I’m not him and I don’t think you are either. And even if you were so sure of these feelings of others that you might as well be Him, I offer you a further challenge: go read those meditations I had written on the Sorrowful Mysteries. I am very confident that Jesus, even God, had thoughts of loneliness, of feeling unloved, of feeling unimportant. These are feelings of human beings. This is life; all people have these feelings. But no one, no one save God, knows truly what another person is feeling or thinking about him. Unless ………..

When I went out this morning to my house to pick up my mail, I stopped at the local 7-11 store. I stop there most mornings on the way to church. I know the names of all the store clerks there; I see them often enough. But they are just casual people I pass during my day. They are no one special to me, nor me to them. But …..

This morning as I purchased a coffee and paper the woman behind the counter, Kim, handed me a Christmas card; I had given her one a few days back, as I do to many people. I said thanks and tucked it in the paper and came back here to mom’s house. I finally got around to opening the card this afternoon, and saw that she had added some words to those on the card:

Peace to you this season and always.
As my days are usually filled with the hetic mornings of work + orders, it’s the wonderful people like you, whom I look forward to see each day, with always a smile or kind words or a humorus tale to tell, that brightens my day. You kind heart, and spitual light, and gift are appreciated more than you’ll ever know. I thank God that I’ve come to know you, and as always, I pray that you keep in good health and faith. God bless you.
Merry Christmas

“More than you’ll ever know.”

Alone? No one cares? Un-needed? How do you know that? For some people, your very existence is a needed thing. You don’t need to do anything, just say “Hi” or just smile sometimes. And you may be, no, you will likely be needed “more than you’ll ever know.”

Who cares if you live? God cares. He cares through each and every person who comes into your life, even if they just pass you by in the hallway, or treat you for your many illnesses in the hospital. You matter to them; God put them into your life for a reason, and He felt they needed to see you, to hear you, or just to be near to you. Our lives are not all about our plans; we were created in a world made according to HIS plans. Even the bad things of our lives fit into the whole pattern of life, of creation. We are all important. He made us so.

Most of us never know or hear what another person is thinking or feeling, unless …. In those rare instances they, or God, lets us know. Mostly though, we will never know. We’ll just have to take it as a matter of faith that we are loved and needed, even if we don’t get told so. But ….. even if we never get a card such as I received this morning, we CAN give one. You feel like you are alone or unneeded or unloved? Then give a card as my store friend did, or just wish someone a Merry Christmas and tell them how thankful you are that you knew them during this past year. They may be just the words they need to hear. Who knows what they are feeling or needing right now?

You don’t.

Christmas Eve

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?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

You Must Act

One of the first and more oft-repeated phrases of Pope John Paul II was “Be Not Afraid”. He spoke those words to the Polish people to give them strength to live their faith with courage, despite the oppressing communism they lived under. Many say that his 1979 visit to Poland was a turning point, and helped lead to communism’s downfall. The pope also spoke those words to millions of youths, to give them courage to live out their faith, despite our increasingly secular culture.

John Paul II told them to “Be Not Afraid” to give them hope, and through that hope, to call them to action. Be Not Afraid: You Must Act. His words apply to each of us today. Despite our fears, despite our feelings that we can do nothing of any importance, we must act. Even if it seems we can do nothing, God can do anything, and will, but we must act, and act with courage. Now is the time to “walk the talk”. Now is not a time for separation of church and state, but a time of union of church and state. Not one or the other leading, but working together to make a better country and a better world. And it starts with our actions, each and every one of us.


Yes, those letters mean what you probably think they mean. To me, they don’t seem appropriate for an Advent meditation such as this, but the Hallmark Company apparently thinks they are an appropriate Christmas greeting. The letters were prominent on the front of a Shoebox Greetings “Christmas” card in my local Hallmark store. When I told the clerk there that I was offended by the card and a number similar to it, she responded that they had no choice but to display and sell cards Hallmark sent them to sell. So I turned in my Gold Crown Card there, commenting that I likely wouldn’t be needing it in the future. Later, I reflected and decided to make my thoughts known to the company --- I decided to act. I purchased the cards and sent them with a polite letter to Mr. David E. Hall, President and CEO of Hallmark Cards, Inc., via overnight express mail. I asked him to change this trend of offering offensive cards. It’s been a few weeks and he hasn’t responded, even with a form letter. I guess I can conclude that profits matter more than customer concerns. So from now on, I will use one of the many other greeting card stores, and I encourage you to do the same.

A couple of weeks ago I read that JP Morgan Chase bank had informed all of its branches that they may not display Christmas trees or other such Christmas decorations in the banks. They didn’t want to offend anyone. I sent an email to the CEO of that company noting that I was offended by his bank’s notice to not celebrate a Federal Holiday, out of fears of offending someone. Well, I was offended, and unless the policy was changed I would express my offense by moving my $100,000+ account to another bank. That note also gathered no response to date. My local branch manager told me she would like to see the policy changed, but noted she could not disobey it. I told her of my plans; she smiled and wished me “luck”. Yesterday I walked into my local credit union bank. There was a large Christmas tree in the lobby and bunting and wreaths. I wasn’t offended. I’ll wait a couple of weeks, but without a clear response from JPM Chase, I’ll transfer my account to the credit union bank. It will be a minor inconvenience to change, but I’m sure I quickly won’t notice the difference.

A few months back a man spoke to the small men’s breakfast group I attend on Tuesday mornings. George Schwartz had written a book titled “Good Returns: Making Money by Morally Responsible Investing”. George explained his faith, and his need to live it out, and how he came to start the Ave Maria Mutual Funds. The funds target investments in morally responsible companies. At least one of the funds was rated five stars. I read George’s book and commented on it on Amazon, but I took no action --- until last week. I thought about Advent, I thought about the need to change, I thought about the letters I had sent to CEOs of major companies, and the actions I would take there. And I decided to take action here, also. I looked at some of the mutual funds I had in my retirement account, and I looked at the Ave Maria funds. The returns were similar, if not better for the Ave Maria funds. So I sent a note to my financial advisor and said I had to “walk the talk”, and to sell the funds I had and to switch into the Ave Maria mutual funds. I’m not sure that the net financial results of that switch will be positive or negative to me, but it is one I HAD to make. I knew had to act.

These are three examples of actions I took in recent days, resulting from my Advent reflections. I wanted to turn my thoughts into action.

I know some of you now reading this little article are thinking, even if not voicing: “Your actions are to be commended, but they won’t make one bit of difference.” Perhaps in some ways, you are right. The CEO’s, as demonstrated by their inaction to date could care less about my little concerns or actions. And I certainly won’t sink any large mutual funds, and am unlikely to cause any major companies to behave in more moral ways. And so, from that point of view, nothing is likely to change --- although God could choose make changes even there. Who am I to say what He would choose to do with my meager efforts at standing up for Him?

Perhaps my small actions will make no changes these companies, but don’t you see? My small actions will make changes here, right here, in me. If I don’t act, if I give in to the declines in the culture; or if I say “What I do won’t matter”; then I will change. I won’t care as much anymore. I’ll make excuses for these CEOs, these companies, and others like them now, and others much worse to come. I’ll be buying into the separation of church from state: morality does not matter in business or government. And I will be a worse man for my giving in. I don’t want to be that man.

John Paul II challenged us: Be Not Afraid! What if my actions accomplish nothing more but a change in me? That could be a hugely valuable thing. What if my friends hear of my actions and respond with that quiet little smirk? What if some of my acquaintances think: “He’s a bit of a religious nut, always carrying this religious thing too far?”

But what if some of the youth I meet react like those who heard Pope John Paul II, and thought “Yes, we need to act as he does; we can make change.” And what if some of the confused adults I meet think “Well at least SOMEONE is making a stand --- perhaps I should also.”

A major wall fell, and the world changed, when John Paul II said: “Be Not Afraid.”

What are you afraid of?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

For This We Pray

For President Obama and all civic leaders, that they may protect the sanctity of life, and support the holiness of marriage; for this we pray to the Lord …

In the Catholic mass the Scripture readings come near the beginning, followed by a sermon on what they mean. God speaks to us, and we try to hear; he gives us example, and we try to understand. He extends to us blessings, and we try to receive. Immediately following His words is our public response to them --- and we immediately begin to ask for things.

This section of the mass rightfully is called “The Prayers of the Faithful”, because we are engaging in prayer, speaking to God. But it also rightfully is called “Petitions”, since all we do here is ask. It’s fitting, I guess, that our first words are those of needs and wants. Despite all that God has given us we feel we need more. Sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, we act like them. Despite the huge blessings we have, we want more. I guess we are all really like young Oliver Twist, we are blessed with food, shelter, clothing, and companionship, and still we ask: “More, please. I would like some more.” Putting ourselves in the shoes of Oliver, I guess it often seems like we don’t have much.

Still, today, as the petitions began, the one praying that our government respect life and marriage shocked me. It sounded no different to me than if I had asked for food because I am starving. Respect life and marriage??!! Those are basics, just as food! Are our leaders as Hitler and Stalin, murdering millions that we have to pray that they might protect life? Are our leaders like the those of the French Revolution, who murdered priests and nuns, such that we have to pray that marriage and the sacraments be respected? When I was a lad growing up in the ‘50’s, I never imagined that there would come a day that I’d pray that our government would not be like these others.

In the ‘50’s, we often prayed for peace. Having just come through two great wars, we knew the value of peace --- because we knew the costs of when we lost it. We may have felt that there were many things we would like to have, “More, please”, but we knew the value of what we did have, and we prayed our blessings, as meager as they might seem, continue. “Never say that things can’t get any worse” is the saying which comes to mind.

When I think back on that early time period, for me, there were many things the whole world seemed to worry about. China’s power was demonstrated in Korea to a stalemate, but we worried about what the outcome might be if we had to fight again. We practiced hiding under our desks, in case a nuclear attack came. And we discussed scientific studies that a new ice age was upon us, and what we might have to do to keep warm and grow food in the coming years, kind of the opposite of what kids are taught in schools today. And mass global starvation was predicted by 1990, as population growth would outstrip the ability to feed them --- and that was a scientific fact.

I guess there are always things to worry about; we are only men. I read a study recently that explained the drastic drop in the number of icebergs, the eventual starving of seals and eliminations of species, and the likely mass flooding of coastal cities which will occur in just a few years. The study was done in 1922. There are always things to worry about.

Now we worry about seals dying again, and we worry about our government killing people. Perhaps these worries, together, are worse than before, but I think they are not different. We are only men. There is so little we can control, and even those things we can control, we do so badly. And so we pray: “More, please.” Oh Lord, You give us so much, so many blessings, but can’t You make things better?

History tells us He can, He did, and if we trust, He will again.

Do Not Be Anxious. There is a reason I chose those words for this blog’s title. They are so important, and need to be remembered. And if you must, read the words following them in Matthew 6: He will take care of us. We need not pray our petitions with anxiety, He knows them even before we speak them, but we need to pray them in trust and in praise. He will make all things right; He has promised us. He can be trusted.

In a few short days we celebrate His birthday, the biggest promise kept of all.

Near the end of the mass, we pray again:

Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be Thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.

And shortly after this perfect prayer of praise and trust, we can receive Him. The biggest promise kept: He was born; the biggest miracle, the “more” we asked for: He is with us even today in the Eucharist; and the happiness we cannot even imagine: We will be united with Him forever.

For this we pray …

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Say to the anxious: Be strong and fear not, our God will come to save us.
(Isaiah 35:4)

I wrote earlier in Advent on the necessity of growing in virtue, and about the three Theological Virtues. Since I mentioned that I’d be re-reading some books I liked on virtues, to re-energize my own self-improvement, I thought I’d post some comments here from some of those sources and others on the Cardinal Virtue of Fortitude, and in particular, a key component of it, the virtue of Patience.

Patience is a precept for salvation given us by our Lord, our teacher: Whoever endures to the end will be saved. And: If you persevere in my word, you will truly be my disciples. Faith and Hope are the very meaning of our being Christians, but if faith and hope are to bear their fruit, patience is necessary. Patient waiting is necessary if we are to be perfected in what we have begun to be (growing in holiness), and if we are to receive from God what we hope for and believe.”

“Paul warns us not to grow weary: let us not grow weary in doing good, for we shall reap our reward in due season. Charity, he says, is always patient and kind; is not boastful, is not given to anger, loves all things, endures all things. He shows us that charity can be steadfast and persevering because it has learned how to endure all things. Bear with one another lovingly, striving to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace
On the Value of Patience, by Saint Cyprian

“For St. Thomas, patience is a necessary component of Fortitude. To be patient means to preserve cheerfulness and serenity of mind in spite of injuries that result from the realization of the good. Patience does not imply the exclusion of energetic, forceful activity, but simply, explicitly and solely the exclusion of sadness and confusion of spirit. Through patience man posses his soul.”

(It is through patience and endurance that) the inmost and deepest strength of man reveals itself. The decisive test of Fortitude is … to love and realize that which is good, in the face of injury or death, and undeterred by any spirit of compromise. It is one of the fundamental laws of a world plunged into disorder by original sin that the uttermost strength of the good manifests itself in powerlessness. And the Lord’s words, Behold I send you as sheep among wolves continue to mark the position of the Christian in the world, even to this day.”
The Four Cardinal Virtues, by Josef Pieper

Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it until it receives the early and the late rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble, brethren, against one another, that you may not be judged; behold the Judge is standing at the doors.
James 5: 7-9

Patience and endurance go hand in hand, the plodding along in spite of difficulties. These are not easy things to do, but the work has a high pay scale: whoever endures to the end will be saved. “The end”, unfortunately, just seems a long way off when you can’t see it. Some of our trials seem to go on without end, and worse, we can see no value in them: “Does God just enjoy torturing me?”

We just passed the midpoint of Advent, and last Sunday we heard the word: Rejoice! The priests were dressed in rose-colored robes to signify joy. To be patient means to preserve cheerfulness and serenity of mind. Sometimes, on days like last Sunday, we need to be reminded of that. In our patience and endurance, we need to find joy. Through patience and endurance the inmost and deepest strength of man reveals itself. This Advent, find your strength, and renew your joy despite the hardships you face. Turn away from thoughts of sadness to actions which bring joy to you and your family and friends. Keep your mind there; persevere there, and be patient with yourself even if you have to force those things.

These are some of the changes we should be endeavoring to make this Advent, and yes, change is work, even the changing our attitude so that we “work” to make joy in our life. But we have to persevere in our efforts, and we need Patience. Fortitude is a Cardinal Virtue; keep at it. All virtues, every one of them, if repeated and repeated and repeated, DO become habits.

If you find that the cards are not written, the tree isn’t decorated, the shopping isn’t done, and the plans aren’t made: Be patient! Work at them as you can, and trust in God. And even if the worst should happen and none of the things you worry about get done, still be patient and keep a cheerful disposition. Focus on that first of all. And if nothing at all gets done, knock on your neighbor’s door on Christmas Eve and ask: “Can we just come in and sit around your tree for a little while; ours seems to have died.” They will let you in and be understanding, and you will one day look back and laugh about that day. Despite all that does not happen according to YOUR plans, the world still goes on, and so do HIS plans. Have Faith; have Patience. Have Peace and Joy. I wish you much of them.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Catholics Worship Mary

Among the many things which divide Catholics and Protestants one which often comes up is the idea that Catholics worship Mary, and/or worship idols of her and/or the saints. It’s an issue that confuses many converts to Catholicism, and even many cradle Catholics, and causes many needless anxiety.

In our current culture of sound bites, where answers to complex questions are sought in one sentence or less (before our mind starts wandering), it is especially difficult to answer the question: Do Catholics worship Mary? So let me state an answer in the simple words most people seek: No. Catholics do not worship Mary. Now, if you are still reading and want to understand that answer, I’m afraid I’m asking you to read a bit more.

This morning I read a lecture by St. Augustine on the subject of “worship” of the saints. He says things so very clearly, so I will not attempt to expand on my one word answer, but will print here St. Augustine’s explanation of the Catholic veneration of the saints, and of Mary:

“We, the Christian community, assemble to celebrate the memory of the martyrs with ritual solemnity because we want to be inspired to follow their example, share in their merits, and be helped by their prayers. Yet we erect no altars to any of the martyrs, even in the martyrs’ burial chapels themselves.

No bishop, when celebrating at an altar where these holy bodies rest, has ever said, “Peter, we make this offering to you,” or “Paul, to you,” or “Cyprian, to you.” No, what is offered is offered always to God, who crowned the martyrs. We offer in the chapels where the bodies of those he crowned rest, so the memories that cling to those places will stir our emotions and encourage us to greater love both for the martyrs whom we can imitate and for God whose grace enables us to do so.

So we venerate the martyrs with the same veneration of love and fellowship that we give to the holy men of God still with us. We sense that the hearts of these latter are just as ready to suffer death for the sake of the Gospel, and yet we feel more devotion toward those who have already emerged victorious from the struggle. We honor those who are fighting on the battlefield of this life here below, but we honor more confidently those who have already achieved the victor’s crown and live in heaven.

But the veneration strictly called “worship” or latria, that is, the special homage belonging only to the divinity, is something we give and teach others to give to God alone. The offering of a sacrifice belongs to worship in this sense (that is why those who sacrifice to idols are called idol-worshippers), and we neither make nor tell others to make any such offering to any martyr, any holy soul, or any angel. If anyone among us falls into this error, he is corrected with words of sound doctrine and must then either mend his ways or else be shunned.

The saints themselves forbid anyone to offer them the worship they know is reserved for God, as is clear from the case of Paul and Barnabas. When the Lycaonians were so amazed by their miracles that they wanted to sacrifice to them as gods, the apostles tore their garments, declared that they were not gods, urged the people to believe them, and forbade them to worship them.

Yet the truths we teach are one thing, the abuses thrust upon us are another. There are commandments that we are bound to give; there are breaches of them that we are commanded to correct, but until we correct them we must of necessity put up with them.”

How simply put. I always liked that guy. Catholics don’t worship Mary or saints anymore than Protestants don’t go against teachings of their particular faith, but there will always be “abuses thrust upon us.” Some will do what is not taught, sometimes in deliberate error but more often in ignorance or confusion. Then “we are commanded to correct, but until we correct them we must of necessity put up with them.”

Be not the one to cast the first stone. Please! (for I fear I might be buried in rocks for all my sins.)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Spiritual Growth

O Lord, thou wilt ordain peace for us, thou hast wrought for us all our works
Is 26:12.

This Advent I was reflecting on my efforts at growing in holiness, and what further I could do. I recalled that at this time Mary was also thinking about a growing in holiness, growing within her. I wonder what she thought about her efforts then, and in subsequent years. Her life was so blessed, so different than mine. I seem to struggle so much to attain some degree of spiritual growth, and wonder if for each step I take forward am I not inching back two. Rather than focusing on my weaknesses, however, I decided to focus on my successes, and see what led to them and what lessons I might learn. Where I had some successes in the past, perhaps I could repeat those efforts and succeed in the future. So I considered what I deemed to be my major growth-in-holiness steps.

1. A Pilgrimage. I went half way around the world to visit a site of “supposed” apparitions of Mary. It was a silly thing to do, and I’m not sure why I did it, even today. While there, however, I gained a huge growth in closeness to God, and in particular I became aware in the deepest reaches of my heart and mind that Jesus was truly present in the Eucharist, there on the altar at each mass, and that when I came to receive Him, He and I were truly united. It was an awesome and truly humbling discovery. It changed my whole spiritual life. Many other things may have happened to me since then, but none were as life-changing.

2. Giving What I Did Not Have. Finance person, detailed, analytical, all these words described me, yet there came the day when I analytically (and spiritually?) felt the need to help financially someone in distress, and I did not have the money. So I wrote the check anyway, saying “Well, Jesus, I trust in You” but fully expecting the call from the bank or the bounced check fee to hit my account. But it never did. And I have never balanced my checkbook since then, and the jar has not run dry. I learned trust, real trust from this financial example of giving what I did not have, and it spread into so many other things I do.

3. Adoration. Ever since I was asked and took some scheduled hours of adoration in front of the Blessed Sacrament my thoughts and my understandings of God’s will have become clearer, and my desire for it stronger. And so it became much more natural to speak of His will, and of doing moral things. I had no embarrassment in Evangelizing; it began to become a natural thing to speak of things from His viewpoint. And with the speaking up, came the words. I didn’t find myself planning or fumbling for words to say, they came naturally.

4. Hourly Prayer. It was a boss who had some irritating habits which led me into praying constantly. Often his words or way of thinking were like fingernails on chalkboard to me, very irritating. Oh, I could have voiced my displeasure when it happened, but with him being my boss, that probably wouldn’t have been wise. So I determined to find a way to ignore the irritations. I purchased a watch which beeped on the hour, a very irritating thing to me, and with each beep on the hour I read a short prayer on patience, which I had pasted on my desk. After a few months I threw the watch away; I could ignore his habits for just what they were, habits he couldn’t change, and not be irritated by them. And I found that the habit of praying often during the day, especially in times of trial stuck with me. Constant Prayer and aware of Jesus being close to me at all times was a major step in spiritual growth for me.

5. Accepting My Talents. I often wanted to be things I could not be, but I often outgrew them or forgot them. We all can’t be spacemen or firemen. But in adulthood there was one thing I had difficulty accepting, and wanted things to be different. I wanted to help people, it was what I was taught was a good thing to do: Love Your Neighbor. Only I wanted to love them on my terms, which included them loving me back. So in all the efforts I volunteered for, I greatly enjoyed the handing out of the food, the giving of the presents to kids, the fixing of the houses, and even the handing out of checks to those in need; I greatly enjoyed these things because the people who received my aid were so grateful --- to me. They smiled, they hugged, and sometimes they cried in their happiness, and I loved it. It’s what I wanted to do. Unfortunately, I often had ideas of better ways of doing the projects, of helping more people, of doing it more efficiently, of helping them in more meaningful ways, and all those ideas inevitably led to my managing those organized efforts --- and suddenly I wasn’t dealing with the people being helped anymore, I was organizing other helpers for them. And the smiles stopped, the hugs stopped, and the tears stopped. And I wasn’t enjoying the projects anymore; they were work.
It was a long time for before I suddenly understood the parable of the talents. What we are given we are expected to use, and not bury in the sand. If I have the ability to organize efforts to help many, then that is what I am commanded to do, even if I do not get the rewards I desire now, or even in this life. If I have money I may wish to give it all away today, but if I have talents to grow that money to raise even more for the poor, to provide jobs for others, then that is something I must do with my money also. I must seek the rewards of eternity, of doing the Fathers will with the talents I have, then I will truly be who He made me to be. Not all can do what I can do; often I wish I couldn’t. The day I was able to accept my talents for what they were was a major step in spiritual growth for me.

6. Understanding Jesus’ Example. It was when my prayers for an end to abortion were answered that I understood Jesus’ example, of how to live our lives. I understood what the commandment to Love Your Neighbor meant. My nightly prayers to end abortion were focused on changing the Supreme Court, to overturning laws, to changing congress, to having every abortion doctor be struck by lightning --- I prayed, “Lord I don’t know how You would do this, but I trust You can.” (And in the back of my mind were these ways I hoped He was seeing.) But then I heard of a small group of people who were helping women considering abortion to have and raise their babies. They WERE eliminating abortion, one baby at a time. And I suddenly realized that is the way Jesus worked, that was His example for us. He spoke to, He called, and He healed one person at a time. He changed no laws, He didn’t bring manna again for all the hungry, He helped people one at a time, and He asked us to follow Him, and His example. Loving my neighbor isn’t some distant thing, some poor child in a far off country. Those things are good, but first I must help the neighbor I see, the one I come in contact with every day. I must love him as Jesus did, indeed I must love the Jesus within Him, the image of God that gives him worth, the worth of each and every person. When I realized this was the example of Jesus, some of my focus changed. I became aware more of the people I met and passed every day. Sometimes I helped them financially, physically with my time, or just valued them and listened to their ideas and problems. I tried to treat them as Jesus would. My love of neighbor became a much more personal thing – and sometimes I DID get those hugs I longed for, or just a “thank you for listening to me.” And I was using all those spiritual growth steps up to now in the way Jesus would --- or at least I was trying.

7. Scripture Meditation. I read all the books about the proper ways of reading and interpreting Scripture, (although I admit I didn’t always remember the various terms used). And so I saw Scripture set in time, as saying what the authors were thinking in their culture, and I saw Scripture set in total, as the story of Creation and Salvation, and I saw Scripture very personally, what God was saying to me, today, with each passage. There came a time however, a sudden awakening, when I learned to read the personal messages from many viewpoints, in fact from every viewpoint of every character. So I came to consider the parable of the Prodigal Son not only as me being that son, or even me being the father dealing with my children or neighbor, but also me being the son who stayed behind, and even the feelings of God who was viewing the whole story. I looked at the story of Abram offering Isaac and saw myself not only in their position, but also in the position of God, and even of the lamb which was eventually offered. Looking at each and every viewpoint gave me new wisdom and new insights to myself and my relationship to God. Reading Scripture this way, putting myself in the place of all of the characters, helped me grow in love of God, and of neighbor. It was another major step in spiritual growth for me.

It was only after I wrote down the above that I noticed the totality of what I had written. I intended to write of my successes, but instead I found things happened because I was asked to do something, that suddenly things changed for me, or even that I didn’t have the slightest idea why I had success in my spiritual growth. These things that were “my successes” in spiritual growth weren’t my successes at all. They were gifts, strictly gifts. The fact that I may be growing closer to God is not through my efforts, but His, His coaxing, His urging, His giving me wisdom. Gifts, strictly gifts.

My only success was in accepting them.

I think God will continue to offer me gifts, and it will be up to me to accept them. I’ll try to stay close to Him, to be aware of His presence, and of the opportunities He gives me to serve Him --- to accept His gifts. I guess that’s what growing in holiness really is, being ready to accept gifts. When I look at it that way, it doesn’t sound like too much work for me to do --- or you.

O Lord, thou wilt ordain peace for us, thou hast wrought for us all our works

Some have asked about where I worship, so I think I’ll show you some pictures, like above, of the churches I worship in.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

You Are Important

I was reminded again yesterday of the many people among us who are receiving this blessed season with some degree of sorrow. The unemployed, the lonely, the elderly, the depressed, the bi-polar, and the dying, are all in our midst every day. That person in the office next to you, that person in the coffee shop sitting alone, that person in the nursing home whom no one visits, that suffering person in the hospital, all these people may be seeing the Christmas lights all around them, but only feeling darkness.

If I could speak to these people, I would tell them they are not alone. If I could walk with them, I would tell them: “Come, now is not a time for sitting here in sorrow.” I’d remind them that at Christmas “There came a great light.” And I’d tell them that “You are that great light for many other people, and they need you. You think you are poor, lonely, old and useless, always sad, or ill, but look: You can walk! Come, let us go to visit those in darkness who can’t walk. You can speak; come, let us go to talk to those who may only hear. You can hold out your hand; come, let us go to touch the hands that lay alone on the bedside. You think you are lonely and things look dark? It’s only because you haven’t yet met the friends waiting for you; you are their light. They need you. You are not alone today, to help do His work, God needs you.”

The people feeling darkness this Advent season are many. They may be people you see; they may be members of your family; they may live in your house. Open your eyes to see them, then open your heart to speak to them. Call them to visit the hospitals, the nursing homes, and the treatment centers. Sit next to the alone person and talk to him, and listen. If he’s unemployed, ask if he’d be interested in visiting some lonely or ill people WITH YOU, and then plan on an hour or two with him – to introduce him to his new friends.

There are so many things we can do this Advent season to help our neighbors, to be Christ to them. It’s not with a checkbook, it’s with our time. If you see yourself as very blessed this Christmas, ACT like you are, and share the blessings you feel. And especially if you see yourself as needing a blessing this Christmas, start by being a blessing to others. Even in your sadness, in your personal darkness, you can bring light.

You can be an instrument of His peace this Advent. You are not alone, and you are so very important. That is why a God came to this earth, for you, because you are so important. Did you forget?

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
December 8: The Feast of the Immaculate Conception. It started today, the first of many critical junctures for mankind. Paul said sin and death had entered the world for all men, because of one man. This woman Mary, however, entered the world without sin, a critical change for mankind. A manger wasn’t being prepared for the birth of a God today, no a womb was, one perfect and sinless. The long-awaited promise of a savior was being fulfilled; it was starting. It started this day. In a way, today is truly the start of our re-birth day. It is a great thing to celebrate.

(Oh, the above picture is my tree, put up last week. Not a Church holiday, but many of my friends would say my getting it up that early is truly a miraculous event.)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Growing in Virtue

I awoke early again this morning, wide awake unable to sleep. As I went downstairs I remembered a similar morning, long ago. I had awoken early then also, and searched for something to do before work. An avid reader, I had already devoured all the printed material in the house and so as I sat at the kitchen table thinking about work, my eyes wandered over to the coffee table in the next room and the large book which decorated it --- you know, the Bible. Although I had read parts of it, I had never really READ it, and so I sat down and started, from the beginning, to read this “novel”. In subsequent days I continued to (deliberately) wake up early until I had finished it, cover to cover. I found parts interesting, but I didn’t think too much about it. Although I was not aware then, however, I think that was the starting point for a big change in my journey.

Advent is meant to be a journey of sorts, as we prepare for the upcoming Birthday celebration, but that’s not how we usually treat this time. We’ve too many other things to prepare for. My morning meditations today, however, got my mind in a proper focus --- at least for now.

Yesterday’s gospel reading had John the Baptist saying to prepare: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!” This morning’s meditations continued in this vein and asked how we might reform our lives. Interestingly, it defined reform as “re-form”, forming ourselves back to what we once were, “that dream that God has of each one of us, that dream-form in the mind and the heart of God of what He intends each of us to be.” Mother Mary Francis then goes on to speak of how a renewed focus on Faith, Hope, and Charity is a good place to begin our reform:

“In puzzlement, in bewilderment, and perhaps most of all in anguish, when it seems like things are not going right, when it seems almost like God has lost control --- this is the hour of Faith. … God asks us now in Advent to give evidence of our reform, of our being formed again into the essence, the radicality of ‘I believe’ --- not because I see, but because (like Mary’s belief at the Annunciation) I don’t see.”

“We ask: ‘But how is it going to turn out?’ …. Hope is such a strong thing, because it is hope in the face of almost everything not presenting human reason for hope…. Dom Gabriel, speaking about Faith and Hope and Love in prayer, said that when a contemplative is crushed with anxieties and still Hopes, this man is praying.”

“Love is perhaps less lyric than dogged. Love, true love, will not give up. … What are the things within me that hinder me from receiving Christ with joy? Do they not have a common denominator, that there is some lack of Faith, some wavering of Hope, some weakness in Love?” … “We want to be determined, with God’s grace, to give Him evidence of our allowing Him to reform us to His original thought of us, His original dream of us, so that we really are (people) of Faith, which is a suffering thing; of Hope, which is a demanding thing; and of Love, which is a dogged thing, so that it can become lyric.”

I think these thoughts, on the Theological Virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity, are a good place to begin an Advent commitment to prepare for Christ’s coming, His coming to us. We are so easily driven by our vices, the excesses of our senses, the giving in to the material world around us because “it feels good”. Virtues are driven by grace; they are the desires of our nature, to be good as we were made to be, to be holy. Vices form our actions; virtues re-form them. Look at the sidebar prayer here to St. Paul. It is a prayer for Faith, Hope, and Charity, but look at the adjectives: “Give us a deep faith, a steadfast hope, a burning love for our Lord; so that we can proclaim with you, ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.’” Advent is preparing for Christ to live in us, even deeper.

Virtues are driven; isn’t it time for you to get out of the passenger seat and start driving? Those adjectives are there to be had, but you have to work at it, to cooperate with the overflowing grace waiting to help you. You’ve seen some of my vices written about here; I admit to having no shortage of them. If you would like to make some progress in virtues to help overcome your vices, Advent is a good season to start. Perhaps you need to get up a half hour early, as I did today, and seriously drive change in your life. Like my early mornings, so long ago, it may be the start of some big changes in your life. It may be the start of you becoming who you were made to be. And that will bring you great joy, trust me.

If you are looking for some good books on the virtues, I might suggest these two: The Virtue Driven Life, by Fr. Benedict Groeschel, and The Four Cardinal Virtues, by Josef Pieper. Fr. Benedict’s book is an easier read, while Josef’s book is more philosophical. I plan on re-reading both this Advent.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Local Good Cheer

I’m a little too busy tonight to write my usual deep meditation here tonight (insert laugh track, please), so I thought I’d show you some of the work of my local United Way, which I support with my meager talents. I think they do an outstanding job, and this is just one of their events.

Every year around this time the Plymouth Whalers, a local minor league hockey team, designates a night for the “Teddy Bear Toss.” Fans are invited to bring a teddy bear to the game and toss it onto the ice with the scoring of the home team’s first goal. To really appreciate this you just have to be there, as the red light starts flashing “GOAL!” and it begins raining teddy bears onto all the players on the ice, hundreds of teddy bears, from little My First Teddy Bear toys to ones so big you could sit them next to you in the car.

While the players take a break, out come the snow shovels to capture all the bears. The Plymouth Community United Way takes the bears to the Salvation Army and other charities to be given to kids in need. I’m so proud of the Karmanos family Whaler team owners, the team players, and the United Way workers who make the event possible. (The Whalers won the game 4-1).

Saturday, December 4, 2010


As I pulled into the restaurant parking lot this morning the radio announcer mentioned the “critical” action taking place in Congress today. The politicians were there on a Saturday so they could write, re-write, debate, and eventually get around to voting on a “critical” piece of legislation --- which they knew would never pass. The reason for all the “critical” (and need I say, expensive) action was so at the end of the day they could go in front of the reporters’ microphones. “Those evil Republicans only like rich people.” “Those evil Democrats want to tax the middle-class and small businessmen.” All those evil people, pointing at each other, and hoping everyone notices them. No wonder the favorable ratings of Congress are at less than 10%.

I sat down inside the restaurant and had a coffee as I read my morning prayers. Not surprisingly, one of the readings was about the rich man who appeared at the temple so that everyone could see him. He only did things to be seen by others, and didn’t care what God saw. And I thought of “our” politicians, and a tear formed. These people were blessed with so much talent and power, and yet they use it only to advertise to other people how much talent and power they have. If that isn’t burying their talents in the sand, I don’t know what is. And yet they don’t see it; they don’t see that is what they are doing. How very sad. I know I should not be anxious about these things; after voting there is little I can do --- none of them read their mail; they don’t care what I think. No wonder why the rich man will find it easier to pass through the eye of a needle, than get into heaven. I often ponder on if I am using the talents I was given well enough. I wonder if these politicians ever do.

A friend asked me to write a short “Christmas wish list” of things I might want or need. At the top I put a request that a donation be made to the local Capuchin soup kitchen; the need there was greater than any need I had. I drafted my Christmas letter yesterday, to be enclosed in the cards I hope to address today. While updating friends and family about how the year went for mom and I, I included in the letter a request that they also consider their local soup kitchen this Christmas. I’m sure most will, as I am equally sure that they won’t seek to go in front of microphones to announce it.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Travelers Along The Way

I recently completed the book Travelers Along The Way --- The Men and Women Who Shaped my Life, by Fr. Benedict Groeschel. I’ve read many, many books in my life, from fun mindless novels to deep philosophical or theological tomes. I’ve reviewed none of them here, although I could recommend many. This book though, this book is one worth thinking about, especially now during Advent.

Fr. Groeschel writes twenty-eight short chapters about those who, I would put it, shaped his thinking. I was surprised at some of the names and stories; I knew of many of them. He wrote of saints or saints-to-be: Solanus Casey, Mother Teresa, Cardinal Terrence Cook, Mother Angelica, John Hardon, and Cardinal John O’Connor. He knew these people, some very closely. How I wish these could have been influences in my life, but perhaps they are to some degree, if I let them.

He wrote of very well known people: Frank Sheed and Maisie Ward, Judge William P. Clark, Dr. Alice von Hildebrand, Fr. Michael Scanlon, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, and Cardinal Avery Dulles, towers of knowledge and faith. And yet he wrote of smaller, less well known people too. I recognized the name Karen Killilea, and the book I remembered written about her titled: Karen. The book is the story of a girl born three months premature, with cerebral palsy; it was an inspirational story which I read a number of times in my youth. I wished I could have known her. Karen was Fr. Groeschel’s receptionist for thirty-five years; reading his comments about her was like reading about an old friend.

And Fr. Groeschel also wrote about people who may only have mattered to him. There was Mr. Graff, and Gary, and the elephant man, and the altar boy, And then there was Sr. Mary Joseph. You may remember Sr. Mary’s name before she entered the cloistered life at Carmel. She was called Ann Miller, the well-known West-coast socialite. Widowed with grown children, Ann elected to leave all the glitter and fame behind for religious life. Her friends threw her a gala sixty-first birthday party at a large hotel in San Francisco; Fr. Groeschel notes she danced until 2AM. And then at 6AM, Fr. Groeschel celebrated a mass for her, and accompanied her to Chicago to Carmel. She is there still.

I have had many people influence my life, some perhaps saints to be, perhaps even Fr. Groeschel. Others were virtual nobodies, people whose names even I forgot. But I remember them, and things they did which I cannot forget. Some of them are you, whether you are aware of it or not. That’s the thing, Dunne stated a profoundly true thing when he said that: “No Man is an Island.” Even Physics, with its String Theory, now believes this to be true. Every person we meet influences us, and we influence every person we meet. I remembered some negative stories about some of the people Fr. Groeschel cites in his book, but he only remembers good things about them. I think that is very important, to seek out and remember the good things. Everyone has some bad things about him, but we don’t have to focus on those things. We can choose to remember the good.

Fr. Groeschel summarizes the reasons for his recollections at the close of his book:

As Christ calls to them, He calls to every human soul. Despite this we see in our sad world many people who seem to have lost all sense of God, who seem far away from any sign of the supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and charity. Some seem to show very little of even the natural virtues of prudence, justice, courage, and temperance or even the subdivisions of these virtues, like kindness, patience, and generosity. Yet Christ still calls to them. Perhaps He calls in a special way to you. Perhaps He calls you to become a fellow traveler for such a person, a traveler through whom His call will become audible for the first time.

Life can be daunting and difficult, and it takes effort and sensitivity to make our journey in the company of others. We must never forget for even a moment, however, that this journey has a purpose: It is the journey to holiness, the journey to God. If you thoroughly reflect on your fellow travelers, you will see that often they make the road of life easier, that they illuminate your path, that they bring joy to you during times of sadness, that from time to time their lives make audible the call of the Eternal Traveler, the call of Christ.

Part of the reason for writing this book was to suggest, dear reader, that you spend some time examining your own journey and recalling the fellow travelers you have encountered along the road of life. I believe it can be very profitable to meditate on how their presence has changed you and, perhaps, brought you a little closer to God. If you do this, I am sure you will discover that they have taught you much. You can also be sure that you have taught others a great deal along the way, whether you realize it or not.

As you consider your fellow travelers carefully, perhaps you will begin to see something special in one or two of them. Perhaps you will find a hidden saint among them. There are many quiet saints; only a few have been chosen by God for fame, but many walk the road of life in the company of the Eternal Traveler, and they walk in our company as well.

I’m happy to have you along for my journey, my friends. May you be saints, for all those around you whom you influence through your presence. You may be the very saint they need.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

We Belong to God

There’d be no early morning mass today, so I slept in late – or at least I tried to. But the internal alarm wouldn’t stop ringing so as I lay there my mind turned to prayer. There were many things, and people, to pray about today. First came thanks however, for despite all the bad things to be concerned about, there were so many more good things. We don’t think often enough about it, but we are all very blessed.

When I finally got up and got ready, I went downstairs and sat at the table. I still had time, so I lit the Advent candle and began to read the two books of daily Advent meditations I was using this year. As I bagan reading, my mind slipped back to yesterday and the post you might have read here. “What a Dork!” Obviously I was being concerned about the bad things I saw in my life yesterday. But today I remembered that late last night I had read a response to that post, someone saying that “Being a dork can be a gift.” It was yet another little consolation from God; someone had read things I wrote here, took them to heart and remembered them --- and reminded me, who forgotten. “Gods plans are not our plans, and He can make good out of even the bad things in our plans, or our actions.” Being a dork can be a gift. Thank you.

As I read further in the morning meditations I saw yet another reminder of this. The writer was using an earthquake as an analogy for the problems we face in life. Sometimes things which happen to us are caused by things very deep within us. Advent is a good time to think about the bad things which happen to us, or even those we do, and reflect on the deep causes:

Each of us needs to ask this Advent, what is my epicenter? What is my greatest danger point? Where do I have to take most precautions? In the earthquake in California, we heard about this fault running through the earth, twelve miles beneath the surface.
This geological mystery cannot be remedied by man. But we CAN bring the plates together; we CAN mend (our) fault, that deep-down thing twelve miles below the surface of this occasion, this situation in which I gave such a bad performance. I really can. I do not despond, I do not wed myself to this mood, I do not sit down in self-pity, I do not erupt into anger. I can do what scientists can’t do, I have the grace to do it, and I CAN do it.
Let us look, each one of us, at our own epicenter, when something unexpected comes up or when something seems to build up, and there is this wreckage. Then I have to see what is really twelve miles below it. And I have to see this, not in a pessimistic dismay, but what I would call an affirmative dismay, and say: “Yes, that’s horrible! That is frightening, but I CAN do something about it.”

--- Mother Mary Francis, PCC, Come, Lord Jesus

I imagine my day as being my and Jesus walking along together. Sometimes we just talk, and I affirm to Him the things I saw Him do, and He affirms to me the things he saw me do. Sometimes he leads and I follow, even if sometimes not quite knowing where He is leading. Sometimes I get a bit heady and insist on leading, but He taught me well and gave me many talents so most often things turn out well. But occasionally I stumble, or even get lost. But He always seems there to catch me or find me. And no matter how astray I went, He can take my errors and build a new route from there. And we walk on.

Yesterday I was a dork, fumbling along on my own, but He helped remind me, through a friend, that He’d still get us on the right path, if I trusted in Him. This morning He reminded me that there is something which causes me to wander like that sometimes; it is a deep fault, but I can fix it. It’s something I need to work on, as we walk along, so I don’t fall again.

I went to a funeral mass this morning. A woman I know was caring for her mother for many years, as I am mine, and her mother finally died. During the short visitation period before mass, we hugged and I met her family. There were more people than I expected, but we never know how many people we influence with our lives, I guess. I met a woman who heard that I was taking care of mom, and she asked me some questions. Her father was in Phoenix and needed help. She didn’t know exactly what to do; she was considering bringing him up to Michigan and care for him here. I had brought mom up from Phoenix (what a coincidence!?) and described some of the things I considered in deciding how to help her. The woman thanked me for giving her new ideas and alternatives to consider.

As I went into the church proper to say my morning prayers and meditations before mass, I thought for a moment: Did I just ramble on too much with her? Should I have shut up? I guess I’ll never know, but either it was a good thing, a perfect timing again by God, or I’m confident he will make good of it, even out of my blathering. He does that so well.

I opened my morning prayers with words for my friend and her departed mother. Then I looked at the next meditation for the day: The Resurrection of the Body. (That God, even when my mood is somber, He can make me laugh.) These are some of the words I read, which gave me comfort:

God constructed humans from matter. It experienced the hand of God when He formed and shaped it. Reflect on God, His work, (and) His affection that guided its features. For, whatever was expressed in clay, it was Christ, the future man, that was thought of.
--- Tertullian, De Resurrectione Mortuorum

The dust around us will one day become animate. We may ourselves be dead long before, and not see it. We ourselves may elsewhere be buried, and, should it be our exceeding blessedness to rise to life eternal, we may rise in other places, far in the east or west. But, as God’s word is sure, what is sown is raised; the earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, shall become glory to glory, and life to the living God, and a true incorruptible image of the spirit made perfect. Here the saints sleep; here they shall rise. A great sight will a Christian country then be, if earth remains what it is; when holy places pour out the worshippers who have for generations kept vigil therein, waiting through the long night for the bright coming of Christ!
--- John Henry Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons

Well, I have to head over to mom’s soon. Her caregiver has a late-day appointment with someone or other and I have to be over there early today. It will be a good end to today, this day of walking with Jesus and spending much of the day thinking about all He has done for me. It is not only the bad, which I so easily remember. If you take some time, you may realize all the things He has done for you also.

As I am ready to end these reflections, I find myself suddenly humming the hymn that was sung this morning, as the casket was slowly wheeled into the church. They are good words to think on:

We Belong to God

None of us lives as his own,
and none of us dies as his own,
for while we live we are responsible to God,
and when we die we die as His servants.

(R) For both in life and death, we belong to God.
That is why, Christ has died for us and come again.
We shall all appear before the judgment seat of God,
For it is written, “Ev’ry knee shall bend before Me,
and ev’ry tongue shall give praise to God.”

For we are sure that neither death, nor life,
nor this, nor future ages, nor their pow’rs,
no height, no depth, no creature that thrives
will come between us and the love of Christ

Give yourselves as sacrifice to God,
holy and acceptable to the Lord.
Do not allow your minds to be conformed to this age,
but let your hearts be ruled by His Spirit

For both in life and death, we belong to God.
That is why, Christ has died for us and come again.
We shall all appear before the judgment seat of God,
For it is written, “Ev’ry knee shall bend before Me,
and ev’ry tongue shall give praise to God.”

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What a Dork!

It happened to me again yesterday, or rather it happened to a friend, but I did it: I couldn’t shut up.

He gave me a gift, with all good intentions. The gift was a video, meant to enlighten me. Watching the first part of the video with him, I began to analyze it, as I do with books I read. I raised questions unanswered by the speaker. I wondered why certain facts were omitted. I questioned the bias of the presenter --- I would have done it differently or I knew of others I felt had done it better. And so when it was over, I offered my comments to the presenter of the gift, a friend, or perhaps a former one. From his response I suspect he wanted to yell at me: “Shut up!” Of course that would not have been polite, and so he didn’t.

In truth, looking back, I wish I’d yelled at myself: “Shut up!”

Recently I presented my views on a book to someone I know. She had a totally different understanding of the book and commented extensively on my views, patiently going point by point, explaining why I was mistaken in my understanding. We were getting nowhere until I explained the background, my totally unique background, which colored my views on the subject matter. Having read that, she understood why I viewed things as I did, and we were able to then quickly agree on the strengths and weaknesses of author’s presentation. We had a satisfying intellectual debate on the book. But my friend who had offered me the video yesterday offered it just as a gift, not something to debate about, but just a gift.

Perhaps I might finally “get it” if a priest in a crowded church might read my mind, stop the mass readings, stand up, look at me and yell: “Shut up!!” Or perhaps if God stopped the earth and everything on it, appeared in His glory in the sky, and sent a lightning bolt landing at my feet, and glaringly said: “Can’t you shut up already?” Maybe, just maybe, then I might “get it.”

Perhaps then I might remember. Perhaps then I might value my neighbor, each and every one, and when they speak to me or offer me gifts of knowledge, listen for the wisdom they offer, however hidden in their words, and just shut up. And maybe even thank them. That’s what most polite people do when offered a gift, they say thank you.

Advent is a time of preparation, of making ourselves ready for the coming of God’s great gift. To all I have offended by my failure to accept their gifts, yesterday, last week, --- heck, probably most days of my life, I can only ask forgiveness. I want to grow in holiness through any gift they might offer me, but I’m such a dork. With all my reading and studying and experiences, I want to offer my “wisdom” on most any subject, but most people don’t want to hear it. I’d be much better off shutting up and listening. There is so much more for me to learn, and my growing to be done.

So often my mind races, and if people are around I want to take action, to offer thoughts --- even here on this blog. It’s like I’m constantly preparing gifts of myself for others. Certainly that is well and good --- if they are ready to receive the gift. Most aren’t; it will come in God’s time, not mine.

This Advent I will try to remember that I have no great gifts to offer anyone; the great gift was given by Him. Advent is a time for me to prepare to receive, in gratitude, His gift. I will try to talk less, and listen more, to be better prepared. I would really like to make a vow to do this, however I’m afraid it would lead me to be in confession every other day. I’m such a dork. A picture of Fr. Solanus Casey hangs over my bed. I pray to him for blessings; I suspect one of his biggest is containing his frustration at me, and not sending that picture crashing into my head some night.