Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Eve Thoughts

Okay, to be honest, I don’t have any. In fact (in case you haven’t noticed) I haven’t had any thoughts in a couple of weeks. That’s because I spent them either caring for my mom, or sitting with my best friend’s mom in the hospital ICU, as they discover one thing after another after another after another after ANOTHER thing wrong with her. So what AM I supposed to think? I don’t know; no thoughts have been coming lately, despite my many prayers.

My prayers have gone from “Please heal her” to “Thy will be done” to whatever. What DO you pray for, as problems continue to come, seemed to be helped (or at least alleviated), only to have more problems appear? How do you offer hope (much less faith) through all the feeding tubes and breathing tubes and tubes and lines coming out of just about every part of the body that you can think of? What should you think when all the hospital people greet you familiarly each day? (Is it like you should think if every bar tender greeted you familiarly each day?) I don’t know.

Each day I pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and the words “Jesus, I trust in You.” I was saying it late one night last week when I felt a strong urge to kneel. I looked at the altar then, and felt a response to my prayer: “Do you trust Me?” Do you trust me?? I was praying the prayer that said I did. Was this like a Job question, trusting is most important when it is the hardest? I’ve written about that here before, but these recent weeks my friend, her daughter, and I have been not thinking about but living the reality of Job.

So when the real challenges come, not just a simple pinprick met by the repetitive refrain of a chaplet or a rosary or the Our Father, but a REAL challenge. Then, what do you say to: “Do you trust Me?” In response I repeated the chaplet, and I substituted her name in place of the generic “have mercy on US”. Lord, she needs mercy. I’m not sure what else to do, as I look each day into her sad eyes and at her bruised and swollen body, and as the doctors say “there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and we intend to get there --- moving one day at a time.”

Do you trust Me? Really? I’m not sure I ever really answered the question, but I put on a brave face for her and her daughter.

The below words were posted here on December 31, 2009. I don’t feel any urge to write lately, so perhaps it is best to consider these words again, as we face yet another new year. Peace and blessings to you, my friends. Please pray for Barb.

Dec 31 – St. Sylvester, Pope

“Few people realize that on the last day of the year the Church commemorates the first pope after the terrible centuries of persecution by the Roman Empire. Although he was not the very first bishop of Rome to die in bed, he surely grew up thinking he was going to be a martyr. As a boy he lived through the most ferocious persecution of all, that of Diocletian. Only a few years before he was elected pope in 314, the first decree of toleration of Christians was issued. One may suppose he made the same mistake we all make when times of terrible trial are over, that of thinking that things are finally going to work out and all will be peaceful with blue skies and roses.”

“Saint Sylvester’s feast falls on New Year’s Eve, when we happily bid the old year good-bye and wistfully hope that the next year will be better. For this reason each year the fourth-century pope always has a lesson for us: Keep going! Don’t look back! Look ahead and trust God, but don’t trust the next year will be wonderful. Rather be convinced that God will go with you. Christ will walk with anyone who invites him along. The Lord is my shepherd. Why should I be afraid? I don’t expect everything will be wonderful next year; in fact, one of these years will be my last one on earth. I don’t expect blue skies every day; that would mean a drought. But I do know that I will not be alone, because the lips of the man who was born in Bethlehem would say as he left this world thirty years later: “I will be with you always even to the end of the world” (Mt 28:20). “

Lord Jesus, as I end another year and prepare for the next one, make me ever more aware of Your presence. Help me to rest in Your presence even more than I have in the past. Help me spread the knowledge, the fragrance of Your presence wherever I go. Let more and more people know that You are with them, even in these anxious times. May this year, more than any previous one, be spent in Your presence. Amen.
Behold He Comes – Meditation on the Incarnation, by Benedict Groeschel, CFR

Not surprisingly, Fr. Benedict puts into words what is in my heart much better than I could. In many ways 2009 was a great blessing, in the midst of so many trials. I know, things could always have been worse. I look forward to 2010 with trepidation, and prayers. I am confident that if I do my best, and have trust in God, things will turn out well.

I will pray they turn out well for you, also.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Room At Your Inn?

I first started thinking about this issue a few weeks ago, when a friend involved in her parish’s evangelization team asked my thoughts about parishes, or groups of parishes, adopting homeless families. She had felt a call to do something, and was struggling with how to make it happen. After some discussion we agreed that perhaps one of the more difficult things would be to get parish members, especially people we know, to come forth seeking help ---- we had confidence in the generosity of our community members, but thought that some people would be reluctant to admit they were in need. (In my own parish, “Benevolent Funds” are distributed discretely by the pastor.) We settled on an idea that the outreach might be offered as a form of family caring, like grandparents always loving and being available for the grandchildren. Gifts could be offered not in charity, but in family love. My friend went off to pursue this and other ideas at her church.

Then a couple of weeks ago there was an article in the Wall Street Journal about young adults moving back with their parents. Times are difficult for many young people, even college graduates. The article pointed out that living at home helped justify them being on their parent’s insurance policy (until they turn 26), along with other cost savings associated with going back home. The article, however, implied that all this was a bad thing --- and I spoke aloud after reading it: “Nonsense!” (I may have used some other word, I don’t remember.) I described the article to those around me and voiced my opinion that “this is EXACTLY what should be happening. If our children are in need, one of the first places they should turn to is the family --- and they should be welcomed. This is the Catholic Church’s principle of subsidiarity --- needed help should come from the lowest levels of society, not the highest.” But the article implied that it was a sad thing that families had to help. This author was wrong.

Last week I had someone confide in me, in the adoration chapel, that they had lost their job. While I offered her some leads and places where she might start looking, even if for only temporary work, she told me that she was okay --- for now. She only asked for my prayers, and then kindly asked how things were going for me of late. Even in her trials, looking out for her neighbor. Of course, I prayed for her.

This last Sunday the Detroit Free Press began a series of articles on homeless children in the state of Michigan. The paper noted that, through the school system, there were identified 31,000 children whose parents were in a nomadic or homeless state – or they were living on the street. Under various programs this entitled those children to special considerations, like free meals and school supplies. Special school transportation needs were also addressed to the homeless children, some costing hundreds per day --- per child! The articles noted many specific examples of nomadic parents, living with friends and relatives, until their welcome wore out. They mentioned Covenant House, which picks up homeless kids off the street, and even has started a high school just for them! While I was at mass on Sunday my United Way director called me and left me a message saying (after reading the first article) she wanted to begin a program to help with the situation.

Well, considering all of this, do you think God is knocking, or what?

Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. … Truly, I say to you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ (Mt 25 34-40)

Some of you are aware that I am trying to pull together a book of people who answered God’s call and helped their neighbor, and their efforts grew and many were helped. They practiced the rule of subsidiarity; they did not go out and seek help for their neighbor in need, they GAVE help. If I can get the book completed and published, I hope they can be inspirations to others. We can all help our neighbor and answer the call to help God’s children, and in loving them show our love to Him. Do you have an empty bedroom or basement, a room at your inn? Perhaps you might be able to use that vacant space to welcome a child who calls in need. Or would you instead say to him: “Go find a stable outside there somewhere; this place is full?” Won’t we hear that question asked this Sunday, Christmas Day?

I’ve written in this blog how for the past couple of years I have tried to help my neighbor, hiring the unemployed to do work in and around my house, paying them a generous wage so that they might accept my charity with dignity. I encouraged you and others to do the same, but I was aware of no one taking up the banner, although I also asked churches and charities. A little can make a difference. Recently I received a Christmas card from the first man I hired. He ultimately lost his home to foreclosure, but now has found a job and is in a new home in another city. My little effort at helping him yielded results --- in the card he reminded me that I am his friend for life. Perhaps these latest events are a call for me to provide a physical sharing of my home, also. It seems just a natural growth of what I have been doing. But I can’t help but use this blog (and you few who might read it), to issue a challenge again: Is there room at your inn? I will develop a program for my local United Way to subsidize those who would offer “room at their inn,” but I think, especially at this time in our country, that we all need to consider it.

Every time we go to mass and walk up to the front of the church, the priest holds up a small white host in front of us and says: “The Body of Christ.” And we respond: “Amen!” Our amen is not just an assent to our belief that this host is actually the Body of Christ, but it is also an assent that we, together, are part of the Body of Christ, His Church. We are saying “Amen,” I am one with you, and we are one together, in the Body of Christ. If you sit up near the front of the Church you can hear the words said to each communicant, over and over again: “The Body of Christ! The Body of Christ! The Body of Christ!”

When will we REALLY answer: Amen!!? Yes Lord, You are here! Yes Lord, I am here with You! And I will love You and serve You and care for You wherever and whenever I may see you, even in the least of my brothers and sisters.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

I'm Happy --- And This Too Is Your Fault!

This Advent has, for me, been one focused on things which disturbed my peace. I’ve seen illness, sadness, confusion, and even death this year. I’ve taken the sad news of our country, our Church, and my friends seriously, as I should. I’ve prayed on these things so much that I worry I might test Our Lord with my cries. Perhaps He thinks on me and says: “You again? You think these things are bad --- wait, then you will see bad.” Or perhaps he hears my moanings and thinks: “Pitiful!” Well, I guess that’d be a better response: Yes Lord, I am pitiful, so pity me and my friends. But I know one thing for sure that The Lord does not think about me: He does not think of me as being sad because of these things, for He reads my heart and knows the great joy that lies therein. Not emotional feelings, mad or sad, but a chosen attitude of joy lies there, in response to His love for me. And I shall not forget His love, especially at this time of year.

I know friends who readily sacrifice for their families, and I know preachers who open my heart to God’s Word and His love. I know people who proclaim the joys in their life to me and others, despite their sorrows. And I know men who have sacrificed their lives for me --- One was even a God. I know people who tell me I bring to them God’s love. And I see children, and the gifts of life. And in my heart, I see God.

I have seen and known all these things, and they do make me happy. They are things you gave me, not any happiness that I obtained on my own. In my heart is an attitude of joy, and these things I see in you and your actions are like Christmas gifts to me. And the more they are a surprise to me, the more happiness I feel.

I was pretty young when I realized that I had obtained a new maturity with my life; I can even recall the Christmas Day on which it happened. A young teen, I think, I had asked my parents for a portable radio for Christmas (I’m not sure I ever believed in Santa Claus). When I opened my gifts that Christmas Day, the radio was there just as I had asked. But this Christmas I wasn’t wildly joyful over the gift, I think in part because I expected to get it. I was happy and I thanked my parents, but then I put this desired gift aside and watched everyone else open their presents.

I remember the great happiness I felt when others expressed their happiness. All right, perhaps I did feel a little more happy when they were happy with my gifts, but in truth all their smiles made me smile, regardless of the gift’s source. That Christmas I really learned the joy of giving and seeing others receive, and I have never lost that deep joy which I found. It was beyond feelings of happiness, mere reactive emotions, but there was a deeper joy, a satisfaction that this was good, very good. And while I enjoyed the smiles of those around me, I enjoyed more when those people gave thanks. The hugs and kisses and tears of joy and thanksgiving brought great joy into my heart. I shall always remember that Christmas, and that first real joy at giving and seeing others give, and receive. And unlike some drug-induced high, I have felt that joy throughout my years over and over again.

Some people have told me that this is a flaw I have, that I don’t appreciate gifts enough. Perhaps it is. I know there is no “thing” which will make me insanely happy, and even things which bring me a level of happiness only do so for a while. My favorite song soon grows old, the pretty sweater I received goes into the drawer, and the toy I desired gathers dust in a corner. Like foods, there are some I prefer more than others, but none I hate and none that highly excite me. But I like to cook, and find a joy when others enjoy my concoctions. Getting stuff is okay, I guess, but …

I find much more happiness --- and real joy --- in giving than receiving, things.

But as I said, I find even a greater joy than with the thing received or given, in the expressions of love shown over gifts received --- whether material gifts, “things,” or spiritual ones. I’m happy over any hug given or received, tears of happiness shed or seen, or on seeing a lone person kneeling in front of God --- unaware that I am watching. Seeing love in action gives me greater joy than any “thing.”

And I so often see that love in you, in how you care for your children, in how you bear up with the illness of your loved one, in how you bear up with me and all my faults, and in how you pray. In your actions I see love, and that brings me great joy.

So I am happy, and yes, it is often your fault. God sent His only Son, to show us how to give, how to hug, how to shed tears, and how to love. But then he died, and then rose to heaven. I read about His actions, but I can’t see them. But I see you. Through you I see His actions in this world. Last year I gave priest friends a beautiful picture book entitled “These Hands Bring You Jesus”. It depicted priestly hands holding the Eucharist. In many ways, you are like those hands to me.

I wrote in recent posts how you and your anger and your sadness and your frustrations can make me mad. But that is you, and you are just a poor excuse of a human being sometimes. I understand. I am too. But often, so often, you don’t just bring me you, you bring me Him. I can see Him in your eyes, and in your actions. I can see His love in you.

And you make me so happy. And as I gaze on Him as I kneel in adoration, I often think of you.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

I'm Mad ---- And It's Your Fault!

I’ve been thinking of writing this post for a few days, days when it seemed there were only troubles all around me. You told me so. You told me how irritated you were at all those politicians (And I don’t think you’ve missed anyone, from Obama down to that local guy of yours that I never heard of). The men’s prayer group gathered this week and around the table they chatted about their kids and grandkids, and how foolish they were, acting in sinful ways, and who don’t seem to know God anymore --- or visit Him. And even the priest opined (during mass) how “I’m glad that at least they didn’t change the Lord’s Prayer.” All these and many others I heard grumbling this past week, about how frustrated and mad they were --- and their talk made me mad!

And wasn’t that their purpose?

Each day I hear the priest say at mass: “The peace of the Lord be with you always.” And in response there remains a few who stumble, saying words no longer proper --- until they hear the proper words being said by others. And then they shut up and feel self-conscious. And then their lips may silently move, saying words to themselves which I won’t speculate on. But they’re mad. And what, you may ask, am I doing at that time? Well, usually I have no trouble remembering (or reading) the proper responses, but I do admit that lately when the priest says “Peace be with you” I recall all the anger I’ve been hearing all week, and I think: Peace to me??? Grrrrrrr.

Many who are mad about something these days want to be sure to tell me of their anger. For as often as they may have said that “there never is any good news in the papers anymore,” they themselves have readily become news broadcasters of the bad news they see. I said I was mad, in the title to this blog, and it’s your fault. That’s true. Your concerns so easily become my concerns, and it is easy to join in on the rage and rant. You want me to agree with you in your frustration, and I do. And perhaps on some days I even relate your rage to others --- let’s get them mad, too! Anger has become our standard conversation fare.

We need to stop this, you and I. We need to stop and think, and pray. Is this how we obey the commandment to love our neighbor? Is it love you are spreading when you make me angry? The Jews expected a conqueror-Messiah, someone who would rile them up and urge them into battle, and make them mad enough to do something. Is that what Jesus did?

Did He demonstrate that anger is the answer to their problems? Did He spread hate, or love? Did He rant, or speak softly? Did He become as mad or troubled as the people who came to Him, or did He calm their fears? Did He say “Someone must stop these evils,” or did He stop them?

And just look at how he did those things; look at His example. He chastised evil; he healed; he taught; he loved; He forgave --- to one person at a time. And He showed us ultimate love, and said: “Do this.”

If you are irritated at politicians, pray on the issues and discern answers and politicians seeking to implement those answers, and then support them --- quietly and calmly. If you are upset at the lack of Catholic practice and education in our youth, remember that you are all called to evangelize, so do it: resolve to give away at least one copy of YouCat this Christmas (and if you are like some of the men of my prayer group who responded “What’s that?” then go to Amazon (or your local Catholic bookstore) and find out). And if the changes to the liturgy bother you, I simply reply that “they are not changes, but only better translations of the mass as said for 2,000 years.” Listen to a CD titled: “A Walk Through The New Mass Translations” by Lighthouse Catholic Media; it is a cheap CD and easy to understand.

Do these things and they will calm your anger and fears. Think of it as being HIS answer to the concerns you speak of to others. And please note one thing in His response: He won’t be angry, and He won’t pass along your anger to others.

- - - - -

I’m in the ICU with mom now. Do you think she should sign a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order?

I felt that I should become a priest. God was calling me, but now I am not so sure. Could you pray for me?

I lost my job today.

Those words were spoken to me yesterday by people who were not trying to make me mad. They are people with much bigger problems than the ones I heard ranted about all week, but we spoke calmly about them. They were doing something, even as Jesus would, about the problems they saw. Even if it was only to ask someone: “Will you pray for me?”

These are people of integrity, faith --- and action. And I have every confidence that their actions will be wise ones and WILL accomplish something other than just making themselves or someone else mad.

There is much to worry about in this world, my friends. Let us pray we all have the courage and faith to become parts of the solution, and not just furtherance of the problems.

(One final point: I said at the start that I’m mad and it’s your fault. You’re forgiven ---- this time!)

And Peace be with your spirit.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

I'm In Prison

I look sadly around me at these narrow confines of my daily life. Blank walls face me on three sides, and on the other I can see some light and hope, but immovable bars keep me from going there. I once lived in that light, and so I can envy those out there who don’t realize how blessed they are, but my choices put me here. Each day my routine is the same: waking, eating, thinking about what used to be – or perhaps what someday might be, and sleeping. All around me are people I have gotten to know very well, but they are still strangers. I have no friends in this life.

At this time of year people tell me I should look forward to Christmas. The only thing I look forward to is the passing of yet another day, in hopes that perhaps someday it will be my last in this cell, this prison where I live. I heard that today is supposed to be a special day, a day of joy, a pause in our Advent anticipation of Christmas, to be happy about all we that have --- and all we are yet to receive. But I feel no joy here in my prison. I feel I have nothing, and I see no end to this life.

How many of us go through our life thinking those thoughts? How often has our prayer been: “Why me, Lord?” How often have we sat in our chair and felt totally alone --- even as the noise of our family, friends, and co-workers echoed around us. For some of us it is a clinical thing, depression, beyond our control without medical help. But for many of us it is just another choice we’ve made in our life. We choose to be unhappy; we choose never to smile. We choose not to leave our cell --- but the door is unlocked.

I think part of our problem is envy; we look at others and see happiness, and do not realize that they too have times of sadness and being alone. We all do. Life here is not eternal happiness; there is another place for that. Life here is joy and sorrows, happiness and sadness, smiles and frowns, and sometimes boredom. The key point to remember, however, is all the “ands” which describe our life. It is not only one thing or another, it is an alternating of good and bad things. In eternal matters, Adam got tossed from Eden, but Jesus came and said: “Come on, I know a way back in.” That is the ultimate spiritual bad and good, and our life is in between them, filled with lesser bads and goods.

The materialism which now surrounds Christmas is part of the problem for many of us. We look at things we have or don’t have, and envy and a whole lot of other sins enter our thoughts. The problem is the “things” we see; but Christmas isn’t a holiday about earthly things, it’s about heavenly things, that beginning of “the way back in.” Christmas is the beginning of that cell door of our life being unlocked. In our sadness we sometimes think I see no end to this life. But it IS ending, it HAS ended! The door has been opened, and the key was His birth. It started a new way for us to live; it gave us a new hope --- no matter how bad or sad our life may be at any moment. It is not an eternal lockup in a tiny small place. Our life has an open door to it, into happiness, into eternity. There is one big qualifier, however, to our being able to achieve that exit into the light, to obtain that happiness which can be with us throughout any ups and downs we may incur in this life. To achieve that happiness, we have to choose it.

One of the blessings and curses of this life is our free will. We can choose, and we can choose to do good or bad, to be happy or be sad. I know you want to say: “I can choose to be happy? With all these sad things around me? With death and sorrows and pains and poverty, I should choose to be happy?” The answer is yes, you should. The thing about free will is that no one else can choose how you feel but you. The martyrs were singing as they went to their deaths. The Romans were amazed that despite all their tortures and sadness “How much they loved one another.” The early Christians chose to be happy in their faith. I fear most of us have forgotten.

Our Christian faith puts a joy in our heart which remains there DESPITE all the toils and pains of this earth. The door to heaven is open again! Our toils and pains today are our working long hours for a promotion; they are our lifting heavy loads to build a beautiful house; they are our courting of the most beautiful person in the world to be our spouse. Work and toil and pains? Of course! But they are to get the thing we want more than anything else, our happiness.

The door is open. Whenever we see ourselves in a tiny room, in a dark place, in a dull routine which seems to not have an end, in a life alone without friends, we must choose to walk away from those places and thoughts. No matter what is going on around us, death, pain, poverty, drudgery, we can choose happiness, and we can choose to work for it.

Christ died, and it was one of the happiest events in all history. The door was opened! While people around Him may have cried because they didn’t understand, nowhere is it recorded that Jesus cried. He chose to obtain happiness, even if pain and sadness were along the way. You can too.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Waiting For New Life

Come O long- awaited One

I saw a young woman kneeling in front of the Blessed Sacrament, as her husband sat nearby. Late into the night she stayed on her knees; she seemed to have much to pray about. Perhaps it was to give praise and thanksgiving; certainly that should have been her first prayer. (It should be our first also.) But I felt I had seen the couple at mass one day, alone, in my parish where so many couples are blessed with large families, and I had a feeling that this night, this Advent night, her thoughts might not have been on Jesus’ coming, but on her own waiting for a child, another one long awaited and desired. And so she knelt in peace and quiet, before her God.

I had thoughts recently on the fears that many of us are facing; our lives are so often full of trials, and we worry about our unknown futures, and fearing the worst. But if we have faith, I reflected, our God can overcome our worst fears. He really and truly is a God who loves us, and that is where our faith must be, trusting in that love, and knowing that because He loves us He will do everything in His power to care for us. “Doing everything in His power” --- and who may I ask is more powerful? We really should laugh at our worries about the future and what WE must do about it. What we should DO is have faith, because Our Father will provide for His children, whom He loves. He said so.

Still … we can have faith and yet pray about the future. We have a free will. I think a good prayer is that we use that free will and talents given us to help bring about a future He would desire, one good for us and others --- although not necessarily the one we would think to pray for. Not my will, but Thy will be done. And to strengthen our faith in the future, a good future, we can look back on all the good that God has done in the past for us and others, to see proofs of His love.

I hope the childless couple can find faith there: He long ago promised to Abram that his family would be as numberless as the stars --- surely there is room for one more, for this couple, if it is His will. He once promised a nation that a messiah would come to fulfill all their dreams, and He did come, and He gave them more than they could ever have dreamed of. They waited and trusted in His coming for a long time, and He did come.

We wait for many dreams, each of us. Some dreams are for good things, the blessings which God has promised to those who love Him: sons and daughters, peace, healing, love, or even just a calming of our fears. These are things we can want and pray about, and can expect that our prayers will be answered, in accordance with His will. We need not worry. And for those who pray about our Church, our country, and our world, He also promised justice --- and mercy. These too are good things to pray for.

One thing which we sometimes pray for, however, is not a good thing. We pray for things to remain as they are, or to revert to as they were, but often the answer to our prayer entails change, the beginning of a new phase in our life, and not a continuation of the old. And change is hard to accept. Our prayers are answered, but not as we expected and so we don’t see the new life of promise in answer to our prayers. Remember the Jews, who prayed for and expected a Messiah-conquerer. He did come as was promised, however He came not to conquer their enemies, but their hearts. And many found they couldn’t accept this answer to their prayers. Their long awaited new life came, and they did not recognize it, or Him.

However bad we may think our life is now, however long we think we’ve been waiting for it to get better (or be as good as it once was), we need to have faith that God will bring us a new life, one happier than this. And not one to just answer our immediate prayers and needs, just one child or a temporary healing or a period of peace, but an eternally happy life, measured in love. We can be confident of that because of His love, it has already started. Our God came down to earth, to show us how much He loves us. And even the angels proclaimed the result: “Peace on earth to men of good will.”

Pray for better times? Much of what we desire is already here. All we need pray for is our awareness and participation and thanksgiving as it unfolds in each of our lives. Waiting for a new life? It is already within our hearts. And to ensure we accept those blessings already given us, all we need do is hold out our hand, and trust that even though the road may be rocky, He will guide us to even more than we could desire.

Waiting? That’s okay, our future is not yet here for us. But worrying, that is not okay. Trusting, that’s something we can and must begin to do right now. The Jews waited and worried. But for us Advent is a time of waiting but not worrying; it’s a time for trusting --- for we KNOW what God has done for us already. And it started on Christmas Day, with the coming of the long-awaited One.

Whatever you may think you are waiting for or praying about to improve your life, do you really think it could be better than this Gift which has already been given us? God was given to us in answer to our prayers. And the Holy Spirit was sent to be with us always. The New Life we think we want is already in our hearts, a present waiting to be opened, a Gift from our Father.

Do not be anxious.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Review of New Christmas Books

I just finished reading two books released for the holiday season by authors who seem to be setting themselves up as “Christmas authors,” each having written stories set in the season at least once before. Glenn Beck’s new book, The Snow Angel, follows on his book The Christmas Sweater. Richard Paul Evans new book, Lost December, follows on his books The Christmas List, Finding Noel, The Christmas Box Miracle, and of course the hugely successful The Christmas Box. I liked all of their prior works, and was not surprised to find I liked these two also.

Both of these authors write books that are relatively short (large print, small pages, lots of white space), and have short chapters. Beck’s 270-page book has 18 chapters, and Evan’s 341 page book has 51 chapters. The plots in each are relatively simple and easy to follow, not involving huge numbers of characters or scene changes. The short chapters coupled with the colorful artwork highlighting chapter changes are visually attractive. I believe these books would be ideal Christmas presents for teens or near-teens, who might be prone to short attention spans. If they read at all, the books should hold their interest and, perhaps most importantly, present a moral message to them that comes across loud and clear. They will make young minds think --- most assuredly a good thing. I have already written a dedication on The Snow Angel to my Goddaughter, who will receive it this year.

The dust cover describes The Snow Angel as “a poignant tale about family, forgiveness, and the freedom to live a future free of the past.” The lead character, Rachel suffered an abusive childhood, and then fell into an abusive marriage. She shields her young daughter Lily from the tragic parts of her life, and her father, but the daughter sees and understands, perhaps better than Rachel, what is going on. The story walks through their coming to know that other people care, and that the past doesn’t have to define the future. And at the end, old memories are stirred, in Rachel and in an Alzheimer’s patient at a local nursing home. And both come to realize that there was much good in their past, if only they can remember. And the bad parts were in the past, and they can stay there.

Lost December is a modern tale of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The main character, Luke, leads a blessedly sheltered, yet full life. Working at his father’s business at a very young age he quickly advances to be a very astute manager in his national business chain. After college, Luke plans to take over the business he knows so well, but his father insists he attend graduate school first, to get his advanced degree and “see the world”. And so he goes off to Wharton, living far away from home for the first time. And he is rather quickly taught many things about “the world” which he did not know. Graduating, and with a million dollar trust fund he returns home to tell his father he does not want to return to run his business, but rather to go out and “see the world,” traveling around it with college friends.

Evans goes on to tell the story of Luke’s travels and of his “friends”. Luke learns the ways of the world which he did not previously understand --- and learns that all is not good there. And he also learns that “friends” are not just people you hang around with, but that true friends are few and far between. Luke quickly wastes his money and in the end is broke and homeless. But of course, that is not the end.

Evens tells a very believable tale that reminds young and old alike that life is not just fun and games, nor should it be. And also that the best things you ever receive in this world are the things you work for. And that family, love and loyalty are of most importance.

I would give either of these two books, or both, to someone young or old --- or buy them for myself and just nestle down on the couch near the tree, and enjoy a present to myself this Christmas. I read both of these quick-reads once, but I just may do so again.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Beginnings and Endings

In the Church we celebrate beginnings of things, birthdays and anniversaries, but in our lives we often witness and bear (without much celebration) many endings. I sometimes think, in this matter, that Christ did not fully live a human life as we do today. He missed some of the futility we see, in constantly witnessing endings or downward slides in the whole world, and we even see evidences of our own end to come. It is so easy to see darkness in our days, and the celebrating beginnings from so long ago sometimes seems a forced thing, even a beginning as glorious and miraculous as the birth of our God.

I think our moroseness is magnified by our focus on only those two things, the good of so long ago and the bad we see to come. Endings, death hangs over us like a dark shadow, even when not yet here. Our mind slips so easily to focus on the darkness around us, and we see no way out. Our life seems only destined to endings: our lovely little children grow up and move away, our friends move on, our parents die, and so do our spouses, and dreadfully sometimes even our children. And so must we. It is so easy to be weighed down by the bad things which seem to be everywhere --- aren’t they the only things reported in the news?

What we do not so easily see is: today. Today, in all its glory and mystery, is a wonderful thing. Celebrations of the past and worries of the future absorb us, but today is amazing. Could you even imagine what someone from 10,000 years ago would think about things of today? “You mean you have permanent shelters from the weather --- and even avoid going out into any weather? Why? You mean food is brought to you, any kind of food? Why would you want more than one thing to eat? I own a weapon I made, but you own a WHAT?? Why would you want to own some huge machine, bigger than you are, to move around in? Did your feet stop working? I can’t imagine living in the world you describe, and I can’t imagine why you would want to either!” Today is indeed a day of glory and mystery, in this country in which no one starves, and the poor are those who have smaller televisions (I wouldn’t even begin to explain that to someone from long ago).

We don’t see today and ourselves as we really are. We are like stalks of wheat, in the rich, vast field of mankind. We’re just one of many. Thinking on today, it seems to us that we exist for only three things: 1) To have some part of us, like grains of wheat, used for nourishment of our community, although in truth they gain nourishment from us in ways we don’t fully understand. 2) We exist to have some grains spread on the soil, to create new life. Oh, this new life is not us, but in some strange way it is part of who we are. Who we are today will go on through new life. And we are aware of one other fact, 3) We will die, and fall to earth and again perhaps in some strange way fertilize the growth of others, although we can’t comprehend how this might happen, or even if it will, but it does somehow seem part of what happens in this grain field of mankind. It gives us a little hope that our lives might matter.

We are so foolish in thinking that we know and understand all the things of our lives. Like the wheat, we see only the obvious three outcomes for our lives, but so many things exist which remain unseen to us. Just because we can’t see them does not mean they are not real, but only that they are not seen as material things, and our reality extends beyond the seen --- we don’t fully understand the total reality of our being. The spiritual part of us is unseen.

There is the wind, which lazily brushes us each day, even as the Spirit of God does. Air so part of our surroundings we don’t think of it. Yet its very composition gives us nourishment when we breathe, an event we don’t even think about. And the breeze refreshes us and cools us in ways we don’t really understand. And strangely, even as the breeze moves us, our swaying creates a breeze which moves others. We don’t will it to happen, but our very existence, blocking one breeze creates another breeze. We influence this world by our very existence, in ways we will never understand. There may be some other stalks of grain which lived, only by the blessings of the breeze we created for them. And we’ll never even be aware of it.

Our death, like the breeze we create in living, causes a fertilized soil for others to grow in. Our death also matters and influences other lives in ways we’ll never understand. Both our living and our dying matters in this world, and despite all we think we know, we’ll never understand this spiritual dimension.

It does indeed matter that we lived, and our death is not some dark cloud hanging over our life, it is just part of our life, the fulfillment of this, our life that matters. I think that we are often confused on this subject because we don’t understand life itself. We start, we breathe, we grow, and in some strange way we’ll always continue. It is such a complex thing for a little stalk of wheat to understand.

Yes it is. And that’s where faith comes in, accepting that which we cannot understand, yet all the evidences around us give proofs of its existence. There is a God; there is a spiritual life, a spiritual part of our being.

Somehow we know there is a farmer, nourishing all this grain field, and putting it to best use. We know that weeds exist – the things we worry about, yet somehow they have always been overcome in the past. We look at what is going on in the Church today, in our country, and even in the world. Is the end coming, we wonder? How can these things be made healthy again? Will the weeds choke off all the plants of life, and overcome the beautiful fields of grain?

These things we will not know today. We cannot see the future. But man is blessed with being able to remember the past. The end seemed near many times there, also. But it did not happen. And the Farmer once did appear among us --- it is recorded in our history --- and He promised He would never leave us. He called it the new covenant. The field will always be watched over by Him. We need faith in that promise. If we do indeed see darkness, we need trust that the darkness will only bring rain, water that nourishes us and makes us grow even stronger. Although we cannot, today, imagine how.

Have faith. I have risen and am still with you. Do not lose heart.

There is much to celebrate this Christmas.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Wishes and Miracles

I’ve written some about the miracles which have occurred in my life, and most recently had a guest-post by someone who proclaimed a miracle in her life, but over the weekend I was reading some of the sermons by Bl. John Henry Newman (I’m almost done with the 1700-page book of his sermons). The one I read one was titled: Miracles No Remedy For Unbelief (Sermon 6, Book 8).

John Henry did not use the word wishes in his sermon, but to make his and my point more quickly, I shall. In Egypt, the Jews wished they were not slaves, and God made it so. The Jews wished they could escape the army following them into the plains, and God made it so. The Jews wished for water in the desert, and God made it so. The Jews wished for food in the desert, and God made it so. The Jews wished for meat, a particular food, and God made it so. You get my point with this list: As long as the Jews got their wishes, their list of wishes seemed to be endless. What they wished for was the genie in the lamp, a God who would do their wishes at their command, treating THEM as the Gods.

A number of things were happening here in the passages from Exodus. In the beginning the Jews wished for something which they needed, sustenance for life itself, but by the time of the latter requests, they asked for things they wanted. And a key point is that they asked for things THEY wanted, material things, which they wanted right now. They had no thought about spiritual needs, nor what God wanted, and had no thoughts about the future. Something was going on which they did not understand: Their wishes were about what they wanted, but the subsequent miracles were about what God wanted. As long as the two remained in harmony the Jews were happy. But when they wished for things contrary to the will of God, He again sent them miracles, but these miracles were in the form of punishments. One of those punishments would go on for centuries: as a result of their worshipping the golden calf, they were commanded to offer sacrifices to God of those very animals they and the pagans once worshipped, as a reminder of who REALLY was God.

John Henry points out the strangeness of this: the Jews saw gigantic miracles, the size of which has not been seen since. Plagues were sent on the whole country of Egypt. Specific children (the first born) were killed. The waters of the Red Sea parted. The largest most powerful army in the world was slaughtered, without the Jews losing a man. Food came down from heaven in the desert. Now THOSE were certainly some miracles! And yet they didn’t seem to have any impact on the Jews. The laws of nature were suspended again and again before their eyes; the most marvelous signs were wrought at the word of God’s prophets, and for their deliverance; yet they did not obey their great Benefactor at all better than men now-a-days who have not these advantages. Hard as it is to believe, miracles certainly do not make men better; the history of Israel proves it.

Advent is a time of preparation for the gift of Christmas, the gift of Jesus Himself. But while Jesus was a great gift to mankind, to each of us personally, we have to remember and focus on a key point of His coming: WHY? The Jews accepted the miracles and all God did for them, but they were too focused on WHAT they received to consider WHY they received it. Just as the Jews were being opened up to a new way of life with the Exodus, so with Jesus were we. And it is a life we must embrace, this destiny now open before us. In their wishing the Jews might have wished for everything, a heaven here on earth, but heaven is not to be here. Even Jesus only opened the doors of heaven for us, but it is not fully here. Even as God led the Jews on the pathway He intended, Jesus leads us on the pathway intended for us. But we must choose to go along that path. We must not only look at what He did, including the miracles He even does today, but why He did so. We must go along the path He laid out, the path to a growing holiness, a more heavenly existence until we obtain the final fulfillment He promised. We must grow in faith. We must change our hearts.

Let us then put aside vain excuses; and, instead of looking for outward events to change our course of life, be sure of this, that if our course of life is to be changed, it must come from within. Let us rouse ourselves and act as reasonable men, before it is too late; let us understand, as a first truth of religion, that love of heaven is the only way to heaven. Sight, like visible miracles, will not move us; else why did Judas persist in covetousness in the very presence of Christ? Let us understand that nothing but the love of God can make us believe in Him or obey Him; and let us pray Him, who has “prepared for them that love Him, such good things as pass man’s understanding, to pour into our hearts such love towards Him, that we, loving Him above all things, may obtain His promises, which exceed all that we can desire.”

Wishing for miracles? No, desire His will, His promises, which exceed all that you could wish for. It all starts with a faith, the beginning of a new course. A miracle would not indeed convert you, but it could be the first step toward thorough conversion; (and a) turning point of your life.

And then, of course my friends, once started along that path, whether miracles occur in answer to our prayers or not: Do Not Be Anxious.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Praise --- From the Hospital

I received this email from a friend, and I offer this "guest-post" as a reminder of what it REALLY means to be thankful:

Hi Tom. Happy Thanskgiving again! It's been a long day today as my mother continues her recovery and is in quite a bit of pain from the internal bleeding from the IR procedure, but I can give you the following praise to pass along in your blog.


On Monday night I was terrified. If the procedure for opening my mom's arteries in her right leg failed, the surgeons were considering other life-changing options [none of which my mom wanted to consider, and none that I wanted to consider for her, especially for someone of her age]. After leaving the hospital really late, I returned to my house to get ready for the next day and, more importantly, to pray, like I had never prayed before. Now, I could have ignored the inner urge from the Holy Spirit and gone about the 100s of things that I left unattended over the past few days (I was in my mother's hospital room nearly 24/7 during the last 7 days), but I didn't. I opened my Bible, for the first time in quite a while, and knelt by the bedside, reading before I prayed.

The first piece of paper that slipped out of my Bible was a copy of a sermon from 2002 (interestingly enough, that was the year of my mother's 1st major bypass surgery...which remained relatively successful until the past year, and definitely until the last week). The sermon focused on trust -- Is God worth trusting? When your life (or the life of a loved one) is threatened, where do you look?

The first part of the sermon focused on Elijah, and the second part concentrated on Peter. This is where I will direct quote from the sermon:

Peter gets out of the boat. This is an incredible thing [for several reasons].

The Sea of Galilee is known for its deadly storms. It's narrow, but it's very long and become very wavy in a bad storm. If you were a fisherman and you lived your life fishing on that lake, you probably had friends die when those sudden storms came up.

The disciples are out there on the lake, by themselves, and they see Jesus, or a figure, walking on the water and the very first thing they think is, it's a ghost. You wonder why. Had they ever seen a ghost before? No. But, for some reason, they don't know who this is, and they think there is a ghost walking on the water. Jesus makes it clear that it's Him. And Peter says, "If it is You, then ask me to come to You across the water." -- a very, very trusting thing to do. But it shows something about Peter's heart. Peter loved to go wherever Jesus was. Later when Jesus is seen on the shore, Peter simply jumps out of the boat and swims to the shore. Not willing to wait until the boat makes it to the shore because his heart is to see Jesus. He wants Jesus. He wants to be where Jesus is. He wants everything that Jesus has to offer.

So, he gets out of the boat. The first step was the hard one. Imagine, your foot's going over the edge and you're about to stand on water. This isn't a typical event. Especially the first time. This is one of those miracles that was particularly hard because there was no precedent for this. There was precedent for splitting seas and splitting rivers, but walking along watching the water on both sides of you, or even just standing on the water -- this was a first. And so, he takes that first step. After that it was easy. He kept taking steps -- second step, third step, fourth step. But, the first step was the hard one. Do you think he turned around and said, "Andrew, have a rope ready."?

And then Peter makes the mistake that is easy for all of us to make, he suddenly realizes what an amazing thing this is: he is standing on the Sea of Galilee in the middle of a storm! He then makes the classic mistake, which is all so easy to make: he takes his eyes off of Jesus and he looks at the circumstances -- [Peter to himself] Here I am, violating gravity. Here I am in a storm. What am I doing out here?

Peter takes his eyes off of Jesus, he looks at the storm and his immediate response is he starts to fall. Jesus is immediately at his side, and pulls him up. He doesn't let Peter go down the first time or a second time to teach him a good lesson. Jesus doesn't wave good-bye to the disciple that doubted. Jesus pulls him up. But, Jesus reminds him, when you're in the middle of a storm and you're walking on the water, don't take your eyes off of Me.

That's always the temptation. We're surrounded by the storms all the time. Sometimes the calm in our life is only the eye of the hurricane. And the bottom line is if we take our eyes off of Jesus, we will get blown away; we will go down. The only security, the only saftey we have is to keep our gaze constantly fixed on Jesus Himself.

Peter loved Jesus. Peter wanted Jesus. Peter risked everything and ultimately gave everything for Jesus. After Pentecost, Peter is a great spirit-filled evangelist who, in Rome, was willing to lay down this life for the One Who loved him first, because Peter learned the lesson: never, ever, ever take your eyes off of Jesus. No matter what situation or circumstance is clamoring for attention, look to Jesus. No matter how much the storm is raging, look to Jesus. Because only there can we be safe. When Jesus says "without Me you can do nothing", that is exactly what He meant.

Wow! Fairly powerful sermon and exactly what I needed to read, but the real blessing came when I opened the Bible directly to Acts 9:32-43. The first 4 verses focused on Peter healing Aeneas at Lydda and the remaining verses focused on Peter raising Dorcas at Joppa.

The next thought that occurred to me was that if Peter, who learned the lesson of keeping his eyes on Jesus in the middle of a storm, could go on (in Jesus name and power) to actually heal someone who had been paralyzed for 8 years, certainly I could focus through prayer on this same Jesus and believe Him for His healing power to reach my mother in a hospital. And, He did. Despite all the unfavorable circumstances, my mother's age, the nature of the artery failure, the fact that the first surgery on the preceding Friday failed, the doubting surgeons -- Jesus overcame! He worked through the talents and skills of the hospital's leading interventional radiologist and did something that the vascular surgeons didn't think was possible. PRAISE GOD!!!

Now, I'm not going to say that mom's ready to run a marathon (she has a long recovery road ahead of her with physical therapy), but God did intervene in exactly the way I prayed that night, and in the next morning as I knelt before her hospital bed.

So, while this isn't the Thanksgiving I expected (with a dinner table full of different foods, and family and friends at the house), it is certainly still right for me to give thanks to God, for saving my mom's life on Tuesday, and for being here with us now in the hospital, even as she struggles through the pain. And, I've learned, how each day it is a choice to focus our eyes on Jesus, and it's a path that must be chosen every day, in every circumstance -- bad or good.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Review: What to Do When Jesus Is Hungry

Fr. Apostoli is an appropriate person to have written this book. As one of the founders of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, he lives among the poor and experiences firsthand what he writes about.

Fr. Apostoli explains the theological (faith, hope and love) and moral (prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude) virtues and how they must find expression in the works of mercy. As the Catechism defines it, “The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor.” This book has a chapter on each of the Corporal Works of Mercy: Give food to the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead, and it also has a chapter on each of the Spiritual Works of Mercy: Instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, admonish the sinner, bear wrongs patiently, forgive offenses, comfort the sorrowful, and pray for the living and the dead. I enjoyed how Fr. Apostoli intermixed his personal experiences in his explanations with quotes from various saints or teachers.

I especially enjoyed his explanations on the spiritual works of mercy, which are so easily forgotten by the masses which are focused on material things.

• Many of the problems we encounter have emotional roots. If we encourage people to grow authentically in their emotional life, they will grow spiritually as well. It is like “dispelling the demons” of discouragement, self-pity, apathy, fear, and despair. This is a genuine work of mercy.
• The very purpose for which God created us, namely, to share eternal life with him in the Kingdom of Heaven dictates that in seeking to admonish the sinner, we need to admonish ourselves first.
• Jesus came for two reasons: he came to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. (Dorothy Day)
• It takes a great deal of patience to accept people and situations that are unexpected, or inconvenient, or irritating. This means that, many times, we end up having to clean up after them. Usually we experience varying degrees of anger toward these people. We might even react: “Who needs these people?” It is precisely at these moments that Jesus would say to us, “You do, and that is why I sent these people to you.” It’s precisely these kinds of people who help us to grow in patience.
• His greatest expression of forgiveness occurred when he prayed upon the Cross for those who were putting him to death: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what the do.”
• Jesus tells us that our love must be a love that costs us something to give.

The works of mercy, Fr. Apostoli explains, are the outward actions of our virtues, for our neighbors and ourselves. But the Corporal Works of Mercy should first be sought for our neighbor, while the Spiritual Works of Mercy should first be sought for ourselves. The reason differing priority is that while our neighbor will gratefully accept our gifts to aid his body, he won’t accept our attempts to spiritually help him unless he see that we are practicing those spiritual actions in our daily lives. We can say that we practice the Corporal Works of Mercy by just writing a check, but to practice the Spiritual Works of Mercy we not only have to do something, we have to live it.

I think What to Do When Jesus is Hungry provides the reader with a simple scorecard to comparatively measure how successful he is in this task of “growing in holiness.” I think many people would like to think they are “good people” because of the corporal works of mercy which they do --- and which can so readily be seen by others. But if we are really scoring how well our spiritual lives are advancing, we need to look at how well we are growing in the Spiritual Works of Mercy, administered to ourselves first, and then others.

As the book so softly explains: This is a challenge.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Decisions, Decisions

To tree or not to tree, that is the question. --- Thomas ShakesFear

It’s Thanksgiving week again --- already. Where does the time go? I wish I could spend Thanksgiving Day with relatives or friends, especially this year I think they may need my presence, but I’ll probably spend it here with mom. Her caregiver usually asks for holidays off to be with her family, and I always agree. I guess it’s right for me to be with mom and give thanks with her, although she no longer remembers any prayers, nor even the day. So I’ll celebrate and give thanks alone. Some things you just do because they’re right, not that you get any personal pleasure from them. And I think that, perhaps, these are some of the hardest things we do, discerning and then acting to do what we know is right.

Remember a few weeks back, the bare little plant I brought into the house, bare because I left it out in the cold too long? I displayed a picture of it here, bare-branched except for a single flower, which seemed to indicate it was happy to be in out of the cold.

Well look at it now. New leaves are emerging as it sits in the East-facing window, enjoying the morning light; perhaps it may be blooming again soon. But before then it will be time to replace it in the window with the Christmas tree (Good grief!! It seems like I just took it down yesterday!) When I put up the Christmas tree, I will relegate the plant to a dark corner in the dining room. I think it may be sad there (in part because I often forget to water it there).

What to do? Decisions, decisions. I enjoy coming home to see the Christmas tree each night, and all the ornaments with the many memories associated with each one. But I don’t enjoy putting the tree up, nor the outside lights for that matter. There are so many other “Christmas things” to do. Outside, I enjoy seeing the lights, and the tree brightly lit in the living room window, but do my neighbors really enjoy the display as they pass by, and do they think on why I celebrate so? (And what do they think as the display typically stays up through the winter, since I don’t like taking it down either.)

I enjoy the Christmas tree and lights, but perhaps no one else does, or at least certainly not as much as I. Living alone, no one comes to my house; inside the decorations give me joy, but they are a joy for me alone. And then there’s that little plant, now happily growing in the sunlight. I’ll get my selfish joys, while it goes into the corner. Decisions, decisions.

I wrote a few days ago about how God sometimes sends us pains and sorrows, His chastisements to teach us, or His testing of what we say we believe. And I discussed our reactions, and our need to trust in Him. But this discussion about the tree and plant, focused on things which make me happy reminds me about another question: Can God trust us? When God decides to send us sorrows beyond our control, the question is: Do we trust His decision, that this is a good thing even if we don’t understand why He sends us pain? But God gives us freedom, and often things happen to us, even bad things, which are not sent by God but happen because of our choices. Much of our life is not beyond our control, but is the result of our decisions.

When God decides to send us something, we are challenged: Do we trust His decision? When we decide something, however, the question is: Can God trust our decision? He taught us, sent His only Son to show us, and sends us graces to help us, but will we choose to do the right thing when faced with a decision, or will we choose to do the right thing --- for us? That is the real decision we often face. Can God trust us?

It’s hard enough for us to not eat a piece of candy when we’re on a much-needed diet, especially when no one else is around, but there are so many bigger decisions we face every day when we consider what is good for our neighbor versus what is good for us. We see so many examples of people who choose to love themselves first --- all we need to do is look at our elected officials for examples of that. They act as if we elected them for the purpose of getting them rich. It’s rare to see them making an unselfish decision. In fact, we see so many examples of selfish actions it almost seems as if that IS the right action: Me first, why not?

We all face those decisions almost every day: Do we love our neighbor first, or ourselves? God taught us, sent His Son to give us example, and gives us daily graces to make the right decision, but can He trust us to decide rightly? And while we daily face these decisions of me versus my neighbor, there also comes into our lives, on occasion, even more difficult decisions, life and death decisions not of do I love myself more than my neighbor, but do I love myself more than God.

We will all die; our life’s trip will end. And for each of us God waits at the final station, a heaven of joy forever, us and God together. Yet some of us are reluctant to leave this world when our journey is ending. We’re not totally sure God and happiness are waiting there. We trust in this life, even with its pains that we so often see, and we so quickly forget blessed are they who have not seen, yet believed. And for some of us who are still on our journey, we only reluctantly let friends and family complete theirs. We know they will obtain eternal happiness and yet we wail: “But I won’t be happy with them gone.” Ah, how easily we forget the right decision at that point: and so we choose to pray for our own happiness versus theirs --- and the God who waits for them.

We all face those very difficult decisions at some time in our life. Choosing to put our happiness aside and be happy with others’ happiness (and God’s will) is so difficult a decision that that it has been given a unique word in all human languages to describe it. It is called “love”.

There are so many things for me to do this Christmas, and this year in particular there are so many in need that I should find a way to remember. I think I’ll focus on them this Christmas and forego my pleasure of the Christmas tree and the outside lights. It’s a small thing to give up, and at least my little plant will be happy with it. And perhaps even God will be happy with my decision, as I try to focus on imitating Him this season and the example He came to earth to give us: an example of how to love, how to really love.

Love: It’s a decision, not an emotion.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Is This a Test?

As I sat in the chapel I happened to look down at the knees on my pants. They appeared to be getting a bit shiny. “Oh well,” I thought, “Better them than the butt of my pants.” If there was to be one outward sign of my activities, I’d rather it be shown that I kneel more than I sit and do nothing. For kneeling is REALLY doing something.

I thought back on why I now so gladly kneel --- I choose never to use a kneeler in church, but kneel on the floor when I pray. That started when the pews were filled in the overcrowded church in Medjugorje, and I chose to join those in the aisles and SRO areas so the more elderly might sit. Kneeling then, during the consecration of the mass and the full hour-long rosary each night, was done on the concrete floor. I remember on the flight over there thinking that I might attend one of those long nightly services, but it happened I was there every night, on my knees. And I remember on the last morning before I left, the man who shared a bedroom with me in the village house: in penance he traveled the mile to church on his knees. (As I passed him on my way, I recall thinking about the women of that village area, who I saw making the 2-hour climb I took along a steep rocky path to visit the large cross, high on a hill overlooking the village. Those women knew what penance was.) While at that village and in the Church of St. James there, it was all so clear to me, the mass, Jesus’ sacrifice, and His presence amidst all those who believed --- and among those who came to believe. I thought I understood it all, and I’d never forget, but I did.

On the very first Sunday back home, the church I attended instructed the people to sit during the consecration, “to see better.” I thought: “I know what is going on there on the altar now; I can’t sit!” But when everyone else did, so did I. To be kind to myself, let me say I felt very uncomfortable, even if “I could see better.” I realized those sitting around me couldn’t see though, not really, and especially when the host was raised and offered to the Father and the man next to me chose, at that moment, to open the church bulletin to read. And I knelt down then, and have been kneeling on the floor as a reminder to me ever since. It was a test, even as He gave one to Peter: “Do you love Me?”

It is written that He chastises those whom He loves, like the favorite toy that is taken from a child and he’s made to stand in the corner --- or like for us when the parent, or spouse, or child is taken from us and we feel if we are now standing alone in our pain. He chastises us in love, but it still hurts. But in truth, while it hurts us, it hurts Him also. Chastisements are given to those who are loved, so that they might learn through the hard lessons of pain --- so they won’t forget. God did it to the Jews a number of times; sometimes despite the pain, they still don’t learn. Sometimes neither do we, as we focus on the pain and not the lesson to be learned, because we don’t trust the love with which the pain is given. Much of the learning to be gained by chastisement comes down to a single question: How much do you trust the one who is chastising you? If the parent makes you stand in the corner, how much do you really trust that the parent still loves you, and maybe is even crying, as you cry? The lesson of chastisements is that you need more faith. Learn to trust in God, and grow that trust.

But it doesn’t stop there. You might want to say: “Lord, I believe. Stop these pains already.” If you are truly at the point, of really believing and understanding, then God is watching over you in a different way. He is not chastising you that you might learn, but testing you that you might not forget, for we are so easily distracted by the cares and enticements of the world. But He does not abandon us. Sometimes tests are gentle nudges to our physical well-being, but stabs in our heart, like the man who began reading the church bulletin next to me. “Did you forget?” God is asking us. We are often reminded of our weakening faith through tests. And sometimes these can be pretty severe, just ask Job about that.

We had a man named Ken speak to our little men’s group a couple of weeks ago. Ken began speaking by saying “well, I’ve never spoken before a group before and so I don’t have any speech prepared. I was just asked to tell what’s been happening to me, and so here goes.” And he proceeded to tell us.

Ken had 17 children, 18 including the one who died very young. His wife home-schooled all of them; six were now in college, although he didn’t help them at all in that, he said. Things were good until 2007, when his business began feeling the effects of the downturn in the economy. Then other things began happening. His son was injured in a car wreck, and his girlfriend killed. He was asked to care for his elderly mother, and make room for one more. His dearly-beloved autistic nephew died. He was forced to visit Catholic Services for help. He asked one of his grown children, “Do you think you could get me a job in your company as a janitor?” Humbled, he slipped into depression. Yet through all this, he said, he prayed and went to daily mass. And then he was sued for the little he had left. Offering up his sufferings, he said he prayed: “I hope You’re putting all this to good use, Lord.” His home was foreclosed on by the bank. He filed bankruptcy.

Ken cared for his mom, and to his joy she came back to the church, and went to confession. God was caring for him, he opined, even in his sorrows. With eight kids still at home, he began talking to various non-profits, seeking a house large enough for his family, and one that he could afford on his now limited income from his business. He noted how he would drive around, with his kids in the van and praying the rosary together, as they looked at one house after another. Only weeks from eviction, he sought friends who would take his furniture and store it, although he did not know where he would place his family. Suddenly, a large job he had bid on (and didn’t expect to get) was awarded to his company, “And they even gave me a large up-front payment.” Then one week before the eviction date, a non-profit offered him a large house on their property at low rent. Things were looking better. And even the bank called: “If you will promptly leave on the eviction date, leaving the home in good condition, its ‘Cash for Keys’ program would pay him $8,000!”

Ken concluded: “Well, that’s all I have to say, except that God is good.”

Ken was blessed with a thriving company, many children, and a loving wife; everything seemed good in the world, and yet he was tested. It seems to me that wherever means for good are established in this world, they can be used as means for evil, turned from their original purpose. Kids were a blessing, but seemed a burden when Ken had no money to care for them or a place for them to stay. His company was a means to provide for his family, but a target for someone to sue. It seems wherever there is a great good, there is also a possibility for great evil --- remember the Tower of Babel? Remember nuclear arms race, which helped bring down the Russian empire, but now might threaten Israel and the entire Middle East? Remember the good things about the internet, and that now 10% of its use is for pornography? Remember the laws enacted to protect minorities, and that are now being used to persecute the Catholic Church? Praise God while things are good in our life, but don’t expect the happiness of heaven here on earth.

The phrase “The Tyranny of Evil” has great meaning. Good things can be used to bring about great evils in this world, and to us. And when these evils strike us personally it is so easy to panic. We want to fix things ourselves. We so easily forget, and lose faith that we are not alone. So many of the evils which happen to us are but tests of our faith: “Do you love Me?” We want to ask: “Why is this happening to me?” But we forget the answer which we have heard so many times, but forgotten.

Through the devil’s envy death entered the world. (Wisdom 2:24). Thou didst make Him for a little while lower than the angels .. (and) He Himself has suffered and been tempted, (so that) He is able to help those who are tempted. Take care, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. (Hebrews 2:4) In our times of trial, it is so easy to forget what we already know, but let us pray we are not forgetful when we are tested. Rather let us pray that we are like the blind man who called out in his trial: Jesus of Nazareth, have pity on me. And when asked by Jesus what he, in faith, would desire he responded: Lord, that I might see. (Mark 10:46-52).

This day I myself have many worries, and I have friends who are in failing marriages, who have loved ones on the battle fields overseas, who have loved ones who don’t recognize them anymore, who are losing their homes, or fear losing their jobs, and one who fears losing her leg in surgery this very day. I know all of these people, and know they are people of faith. But I pray that today, in their time of testing, they might remember that faith, and in their pains and trials might clearly hear the question: Do you love Me?

Perhaps there are some of us for whom our trials are really admonitions; we just can’t understand why these things are happening to us. To those I would say: “Seek and ye shall find.” Go and try to learn about this Jesus and His promises and example. Read the Scriptures and writings of the saints; get to know Him, and He will bless your fertilized ground with faith. But if the sufferings you feel today are trials, don’t panic. “Do Not Be Anxious!” Remember your faith in His promises. Remember that the devil envies us even though we were made less than the angels, because for a while God became one of us to remove the power of death the devil created. God made us good and in His image. Evil may severely test us, but it is only a test. We can pass this test if we just tell Him: “My Jesus, I trust in You.”

Are you undergoing a great trial today? Perhaps you need to get the knees of your pants a bit more shiny.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Life Forgotten

No greater love than to give life, and eternal Justice for Life to return that love.

I was praying the Glorious Mysteries of the rosary when I read that meditation line. Read it again please; look at the capital letters and see what it really means. I did that tonight.

I do not have any children; I was not so blessed. But then tonight I thought back, and remembered that once I was so blessed. A child was once conceived in my wife, but within a couple of months the doctor told her that it had died in her womb; her body would soon pass it out naturally, and it did. I thought back on that night when it happened and she called to me from the bathroom: “Come see how pretty it is” --- I do not even recall today if it was a boy or girl. But I told her I didn’t want to see.

How cold a man that was. “No greater love than to give life.” I didn’t feel love then, not really, and so I guess it was Justice that I did not give life. And Life did not return love to me. Neither I, nor my wife as she later admitted, knew if the child was mine.

(Many marriages arrive at crucial, painful points like this. Like a house engulfed by fire, they seem unsalvageable. It doesn’t have to reach this point, however. We must remember that a single broken window does not make a house a derelict one, but studies have shown that one un-repaired broken window, given the image of unimportance, will subtly encourage others to appear. It’s like sin in that regard. And then a spark may lead to a flaming disaster, fed by air from the broken windows. Too often we think we are alone in our trials, but we forget that there are repairmen for windows, and even in disasters, a Fireman. If we have faith, we need but call.)

I said I was not blessed with children, but tonight I realized that in fact I really was. It was only for a couple of months, but in fact a life was given to me and put in my care --- to love. But in my concerns about myself and my life, I had no room to love another. And so Justice took it away.

I prayed, I believe, for the first time tonight for my child. A life forgotten, by me it is true, but I am sure not by Him, the true Father who does not forget. I pray now often that I might imitate Him, but then I did not. And my actions then reflected the weak sincerity and love in my prayers. It would take about 15 years before I would finally learn how to pray, sincerely. During those years, I thought I was a good man --- and so did everyone else. It’s what we all wanted to believe, but we were wrong.

How I lived those early years of my life was, I believe, how many “good” people live: they follow the rules. But that doesn’t mean they like the rules, or even understand them. And certainly they don’t think about them. A light turns red at the intersection and your foot hits the brake; today is Sunday and you go to mass; everyone gets up and goes forward to receive the Eucharist, and so do you. You don’t think about the red light, the mass, or the Eucharist. Your mind wanders. But to the world all around, --- and to yourself, you are a “good” person.

The day I finally learned how to pray was the day I finally knew what was happening at the mass, and KNEW Who I received in the Eucharist. That wisdom was truly a gift; it was nothing I figured out for myself. I am so thankful, now, that I was given that gift. Since then, through prayer --- conversations with God --- I have truly come to know Him, and my life is so much better. I no longer say “I am a Catholic” in the same manner as “I own a red car.” I have been blessed with real faith.

I thought tonight about a life forgotten, one that was a gift to me and which I never really loved, nor prayed for. That was a tragedy. But I thought further and also remembered another life forgotten: me. My life, it too, was a gift to me, and one which I never really loved nor prayed for. And that too was a tragedy.

I’m sure I had a heavenly Father --- and mother, too --- Who often was looking down upon me, wondering. He saw me growing up, living my life, seeming happy in many ways, and for that He was somewhat happy, but certainly not proud. Oh He loved me for what I was, His child, a “good” person, but I think He saw me kind of like a runner He had trained and had high expectations for. I was quick out of the gate, and He cheered, but He grew concerned as I quickly fell behind. He wondered if I would win the race, or even finish. And me? I’m not even sure I knew I was in a race, and if I was even aware of His love, not really; I took it all for granted.

I think a lot of us lead lives like that, seeing ourselves as “good” people. We’re on the track of life totally unaware of the heavenly cheerleaders in the stands, rooting us on. To ourselves, we are a life forgotten, unaware that there is a race to be won. If we are concerned at all, it is about ourselves in relation to others. “Is my race shirt as pretty as theirs? Do I have new shoes like they do? If they are in this lane, am I following them like other “good” people? If they seem to be running without any pain, does it seem unfair that I hurt?” It’s so often just a focus on us.

And we rarely think about the finish line.

The race of our life is really about learning to love, and through love to give life to others, that Love might be given to us. It’s not about us being focused on loving ourselves first. Growing in holiness during this life isn’t about being always happy now. It’s a race and it is hard work, and sometimes painful. Growing in holiness is about eternal Justice returning the love we have given, eternally.

I think I’m making some progress in my own race. Oh, just because I’ve been running a while one might think it makes the race easier, it does not, nor do the pains and trials come any less frequently, and perhaps they come even more. But now I expect those pains and am prepared to accept them; I know they come with love. And, I pray, I also expect the blessings and am prepared to appreciate them, unlike the blessing of a life I once ignored.

I started this reflection thinking on a life, a blessing, I once ignored because I was so caught up in my pains. Life was hard, and I couldn’t see the blessings there, even the really big ones. Don’t get so caught up with your pains, my friends, as I was. You are very blessed.

I am better prepared today to be thankful for the years, the days, and the hours He gives to me. I remember this life, this blessing He has given me, and I will try to live it well, in joy and in sorrow, as His Son showed me. He lead a wonderful life, and accepted His pains. And I shall try also.

Sometimes at mass we think back on the sacrifice that Jesus made for us many years ago, and reflect on the Eucharist he instituted so He could be with us even today. And then we think: so He could be with us today? But look at us, really look at us: are we someone worthy of His sacrifice? And we worry, and are sad. We so easily forget, however, that He is our God, and a God outside of time. He didn’t just choose to die for us some day long ago, He chooses now, today, to die for us, just as we are. “Oh Lord I am not worthy,” we think and pray. But how dare we challenge His judgment on the value of our life, the one He is willing to die for now, and the value of all lives for that matter, each and every one, even those we don’t value. He died for them all.

And His was a life which was NOT forgotten. And I hope in His promises, and that mine shall not be forgotten either. Each day He looks and decides: we are important enough to die for.

Friday, November 11, 2011

11-11-11 11:11:11

This is a moment like no other in history. The months, the days, the years, the hours, the minutes, and the seconds all strike ones, not once, but twice. I’m sure some think of this as some sort of magical thing, or perhaps an omen; an event no one shall ever see again on earth. It just sounds so special. Certainly for a people looking for something special to revel in, it is a day to take note of. But although in written form it is unique, it is not really special at all.

The number one signifies a uniqueness, it is true, but even as the above date and hour demonstrates, it IS unique but it is repeatable. There are lots of ones, even if each is unique. And I guess that’s what I was thinking about this morning. From a certain point of view I am just another person, and probably not that good of one at that. But from another point of view I am a unique person, like no other. At the bible study this morning the guys were discussing the words from Scripture: “I am a jealous God.” They were wondering what God has to be jealous about. I suggested that perhaps He is jealous because we are each one of those unique ones, like no other. Yes, He as God wants everyone, but He also wants THAT “one”, you, because you are totally unique like no other, like some precious diamond like no other found, and He cherishes that one and wants it, and is jealous if another lays claim to it. Another man suggested that God’s jealousy is like a parent who wants the love of his child. Even if he were a beloved teacher and hundreds of children loved him, still, he would strongly desire the love of that particular one, his own child. There is no other one like him, even if he has all the other children in the world. Such is God’s love for us, and His jealousy if we should love someone or something more than Him.

I guess on a day when we are reminded of the uniqueness of even a particular moment, we need to remind ourselves of the uniqueness of our being: existing like no one else, and loved like no one else. Despite all our failings and littleness in our own eyes, there is an eternal truth in the words that “Love conquers all.” God loves us anyway.

If we want to dwell on the “one-ness” of today, I suggest we might also consider these:

• And they shall be one flesh … Gn2:24
• And we will become one people … Gn 34:16
• Hear, O Israel, Jehovah our God is one Jehovah … Dt 6:4
• Blessed is the one who comes in the Name of the Lord … Ps118:26
• For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior … Is43:3
• Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one Who comes in the Name of the Lord! Mt21:9
• Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me … Mt26:21
• The one who believes in Me will also do the works I do … Jn14:12
• So we, who are many, are one Body in Christ … Rm12:5
• Love one another … Rm 12:10
• There is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus. 1Tm2:5

(As a totally inane and unimportant minor, but unique point, I see that this is my 500th blog post. I would have never guessed when I started that I would have so much to say, each post unique, yet probably for the most part, each equally useless.)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Mr. Know-It-All

The curtain rises, and Rocky (aka Rocket J. Squirrel) announces: “And now, Mr. Know-It-All.”

Mr. Know-It-All (aka Bullwinkle the Moose) tells us that: “Today we are going to learn how to open a jar of pickles.” Mr KIA (hmmm, considering what I know happens in the rest of this story, that seems a fitting acronym) then proceeds to demonstrate various ways of attempting to open a jar of pickles, each way getting progressively more explosive --- and failing. After the last effort (and he gets out of the hospital) Mr. KIA is about to demonstrate yet another way to open a jar of pickles when suddenly Rocky butts in: “Wait a minute! That’s not a jar of pickles, Mr. Know-It-All. It’s a jar of jelly.” Then Mr. KIA exclaims: “Well, of course! That explains the problem. It was jammed!”

(The curtain falls suddenly. Ker-Plunk!)

Mr. Know-It-All was confused on how to handle his problems. He concluded that opening a jar of pickles and a jar of jelly were different matters --- “Of course!” But the truth of the matter is that for what he was trying to do with them, open the jars, they should be treated the same. The laughable point of the cartoon was that Mr. Know-It-All was not what his name implied. He was a fool.

How so very much we are like Mr. Know-It-All in our treatment of some of the important matters in our lives. Like Mr. KIA, we fail to distinguish the difference between things we have available to us, and what we are trying to do to get them.

Gold and silver are more important than other rocks. Money is more important than newspaper. A mansion is more important than a cot to sleep on. We treat some things of this world as much more important than others. But we fail to ask: “Why?” While addressing these things differently, we are like Bullwinkle, Mr. Know-It-All, for we are not addressing the “what are we trying to do with them” issue. Or rather, what “should” we be trying to do with them: For what reason do these things exist in our lives?

The jars of pickles and jelly are like earthly and heavenly happiness, very desirable things we want to open. The things of the earth, money and the like, are tools to open them. The tools are not bad, they were created by God and declared as good. Some, like our neighbor, we were even told to love.

If we act like an atheist or a materialist, we will see that some natural things can make our lives happier in this natural world and focus on that alone. But if we view all created things from the purpose of The Creator, they are for earthly pleasures, yes, but they are primarily a means to get us to an eternal treasure. They are merely tools to open that treasure chest of eternal life; they are not the treasure itself. Some of these tools are definitely better than others to help us open the eternal treasure, but by themselves they don’t compare with it at all. Some earthly things can make our lives happier, but only for a while.

Yet some men act as if the earthly tools were more important to gain us earthly pleasures than to gain us eternal ones.

The sciences, for instance, of good government, of acquiring wealth, of preventing and relieving want and the like, are for this reason especially dangerous; for fixing, as they do, our exertions on this world as an end, they go far to persuade us that they have no other end; they accustom us to think too much of success in life and temporal prosperity. --- The World Our Enemy, by John Henry Newman.

Mr. Know-It-All viewed the jar of pickles and the jar of jelly as different things, not perceiving that the same tool would open both, so he struggled, focusing first on the jar of pickles. Earthly know-it-alls may recognize that earthly and heavenly happiness are different things, but they focus on “the pickles” first, trying various tools to get earthly happiness first. They fail to recognize that if they use the right tool, both earthly (pickles) and heavenly (jelly) happiness will be opened to them. And what tool is that? Well, it’s not found in gold or silver mines, nor is it minted and valuable because of the word of some government. The universal tool of happiness is found in our Churches, and it is given value because of the Word of God.

While focusing on getting the pickles, we forget that the jelly is so much sweeter. And so many of us think that we know it all, when eye has not seen, nor ear heard what God has prepared for those who love Him.

Most earthly Mr. Know-It-Alls are also fools. How many will laugh when the curtain falls on their foolishness? Gold, money, and mansions ARE good things, but if we only see them as things to bring us earthly happiness, we are fools. And like the Gospel today, if we focus on using are material goods for ourselves, we will not have any for the Bridegroom and His uses, and He will say to us: I do not know you. It is not enough to know that earthly and heavenly happiness are available to us, we have to DO something to get them.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

They Would Crown Him Again

Eternal Father, through Mary’s unblemished hands and the Divine Heart of Jesus, I offer You the wounds, the pains and the Precious Blood of Jesus’ Holy Head from the Crowing with Thorns, as atonement for my and all of humanity’s sins of the spirit (Sins of the spirit are sins against our faith), as protections against such sins and for the spreading of Christ’s Kingdom here on earth.
--- from The Prayers of St. Bridget on the Passion of Jesus

I have always viewed the Crowning of Thorns and the associated mockery of Jesus on Holy Thursday night as one of the worst parts of His Passion. Alone, He was mocked for all which He had said and done. His torturers did not believe anything of what He preached, not even the miracles which their own eyes may have seen. What more could He do, and yet they still didn’t believe. And so they mocked Him. For me, that would have given me great temptation to despair. I would have been thinking of the future: And when the Son of Man returns, will He find anyone of faith? I would have been very tempted to doubt the value of my life, and my sacrifice. And why: because there were then, and are now, some who don’t want to wait for a heavenly, even if eternal, salvation. They want what they can see and feel and find happiness in --- now. And they trust only their senses and feelings about what that is, therefore they declare themselves to be the ones who know best of what is good for them. They don’t trust promises; they want satisfaction now. They have no faith in what Jesus promised; they can only mock it.

As I read the prayer of St. Bridget, I understood that there are many who have little faith in His promises even today. They are like Adam and Eve: for all they had and were given, they wanted more and wanted it now.

As I read of some priests who are forming groups (to give support to themselves in numbers) to DO changes in the Church’s rites and actions, and other groups of priests forming groups to demand a democracy in the Church’s governing, I somewhat feel the same sadness which Jesus must have felt on Holy Thursday. These priests have lost faith in Him and His promises and His Church. They want happiness for themselves and those they minister to, now. They say they are members of His Church, followers, yet they want to lead. In saying He leads yet defining the way themselves, they mock Him. They crown Him with thorns yet again, a leader they will not follow. Even as they want to shift the Church’s teachings, as if they were on sand, they forget that they were built on Rock.

In championing a democratic Church, they are in effect saying: “Let us vote on what is sin.” And even further, they may vote differently again tomorrow, or next week, or next year. “It changes with the culture.” Even as Jesus died to open heaven, they say thanks: “But we’ll define who gets in.” Were the Jews to have had that right, the worshipping of Baal may have been considered a good thing. Today, many Catholics would vote for “de-sinning” many sexual sins, or many sins against the value of life, and perhaps they would vote to eliminate the shortage of priests by declaring that anyone may be a priest. They think they know what the people need.

They confuse “want” with “need”.

These are all things many may want, but the Church says they are sin, or are wrong-minded actions. By definition, sin IS desirable, so of course many want those things. Some say: “Who is the Church? We are Church!” No longer will they follow out of obedience, only out of their relative reasoning and feelings. In effect, they claim to be the successors of Jesus. For the popes who claim successorship to Peter and Jesus, they say: “Here is your crown of thorns. Lead us. Ha-ha.”

I personally don’t know if each and every thing, each and every Church leader says is proper --- is that really what Jesus said or did? Is that what He would do? What I do know, however, is that even Jesus had a respect for authority. Give unto Caesar, … . Even if I should suspect that some actions of the bishops are in error --- and certainly some are for they are but men, still I will obey, for not to is a form of disobedience. Not to is a declaring that I know more than those assigned by God. Not to is not having faith in Him, who said His Church will not fail. Not to is mocking His promises again, and I recall only too well how He must have felt that first time, at that first crowning.

I can’t stop praying in sorrow over that first mockery. Why would I ever want to participate in another?