Monday, May 30, 2011

Bread From Heaven

Most good books of faith that I have read are books that stir my heart. If I rate them as good, or recommend them to you, most often it is because they stir up the emotions of faith. Sometimes books I would recommend are books of witness, and often these are written by saints – whether declared or not. These writers are saints, because of the love and inspiration God has blessed them with, and they in turn bless us with their witness. I gain much from their books of Love. The Church has declared public revelation ended with Jesus Christ, but many of these writers bring me their private gifts, and I partake of them as if I was at their side.

Sometimes the books I enjoy stir my faith because of the unique slant they give to old knowledge. Things I know and believe about God and His Church are reinforced when something I knew is shown to me in a different light. Sometimes things are written in the form of new or modern parables, and suddenly some old faith gets renewed. I relish these books because sometimes my faith grows weak, and books like these are like sweet nourishment for my journey.

I do not read many books of faith like this one by Brant Pitre. In his book, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, he brings to me new knowledge on a subject on which I thought I had exhausted all the scholarly insights, knowing what there is to know. Mr. Pitre brings together scholarship which may be old (and it may be “old news” to many Catholic teachers), but it was exciting “new news” to me.

Relying on Jewish sources, Mr. Pitre looks at the Last Supper, the Passover, and the Eucharist through Jewish eyes. He shows why so many Jews abandoned their faith for this “New Way”. And in reading his book, you find that, for Jews, it was not “new” at all, but just what they expected of the Messiah.

Early on, we are shown how the Jews believed that with the Messiah, God would bring a new Exodus. Four key points of this new Exodus are documented from Jewish sources: 1)There would be a new Moses; 2)There would be a new covenant; 3)There would be a new Temple; and 4)There would be a journey to a new promised land, which “would be like a Garden of Eden,” and a new heaven. They didn’t understand how these things would come about, but Jesus explained it to them, and their eyes were opened.

The Jews annually celebrated the Passover as a remembrance and a participation in the original Exodus. And so they believed that with the Messiah and the new Exodus, there would be a new Passover celebration. Mr. Pitre takes the reader through the five points that Jews understood about the Passover, and how Jesus fulfilled their expectations. For the Passover celebration: 1)An unblemished lamb was chosen; 2)The lamb was sacrificed (and the Jews saw this each year at the Temple, as their lamb was killed and spread open on a cross-like rack); 3)The blood of the lamb was spread; 4)Everyone ate of the flesh of the lamb; and finally 5)Everyone kept the Passover as a day of remembrance.

When all is explained, through Jewish eyes, and Jewish scholarship, one reading this book is led to believe that the Eucharist proclaimed by Jesus Christ not only fit the Jewish expectations of a new Exodus, but it also was something for the Jews that COULD NOT be a symbol. If you believed Jesus was the Messiah and God, you had to believe the Eucharist was truly His body and blood that, like the flesh of the lamb, you MUST eat to enter heaven. This was a hard thing to believe, yet Jews saw how this must be, as He said, and trusted in this Man, miracle worker, self-proclaimed Son of God.

While the truths shown in this book may be “old news” for some scholars, I think for many Catholics --- and Protestants --- this book presents very compelling proofs why the Eucharist cannot be symbolic, as so many believe. And if this is truly the flesh of the New Lamb which we must eat to go on this Exodus to heaven, how could we not? And how could we not come and worship and sit in the presence of this heavenly bread, even as the Jews of old came to be in the presence of the heavenly bread (manna) in the Ark of the Covenant?

Brant Pitre’s book provided new learning to me, and this helped strengthen my faith. And it is on a most critical subject. If your faith needs strengthening with facts, this book is for you. For me, it was a rare find.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Giving and Receiving Honor

Next to the statue of Mary this morning, I saw a flower-adorned set of steps set up for the annual May crowning ceremony this afternoon. Mary would be honored, crowned, by someone designated with the honor of doing it. I had wistful thoughts of the many other May crownings I had participated in throughout my life, but I won’t be participating in the one today, because I will be caring for mom. I miss participating in this and many other events of my parish, and my friends. They receive so many blessings in their comings together, and I feel left out and alone.

But I’m not.

Looking at the statue of Mary, my eyes are drawn to the flame of the single candle I lit at her feet this morning, the flame peeking out above the blue vigil glass. A small flame, alone, reaching up. And I’m reminded that this small flame, my small flame, still gives her honor, even if I will not be there at the gathering. How important is my little candle, when the church will be filled with of hundreds of people? Very little to them, I suspect --- although perhaps one or two will be moved by its witness, but that is God’s business. But I think that my little candle is in some way important to Mary, and her son, Jesus. With it I give honor to my heavenly mother, and I hope it will make her smile.

Despite the hoopla this afternoon, tonight the statue of Mary will sit alone in the church, with my little candle. Tonight my earthly mom will also be alone, except for me. All of mom’s earthly family --- children, brothers and sisters, parents, and indeed virtually all friends, everyone, are all gone. Only I remain, to love and care for her, and with my little presence, to give her honor. All these other people, these bright lights in her life are gone, and there is only me.

I’ve written before, and you know how important it is, that we always give honor to our parents. It is a commandment, and I’m sure it pleases not only our parents, but it also pleases God. I yearn to participate in the big gatherings of friends, the church ceremonies, the picnics, the birthdays, the dinners. Man were not made to be alone, and so we yearn for friends. I think on these things I miss for myself, but perhaps someday I will have them again. But it will never be that way again for my mom, and it is of her that I must think.

How many people has God put into your life who are alone, save for you? How many people have seen the joyful gatherings of their life turn into only memories? How many, alone, need you to be the little light in their lives?

I think many of us see the little candle as I do, alone in its dedication, alone in honoring another. We see it in terms of ourselves, but not often in terms of the honor we are giving to another, an honor and a love so sorely needed. And we forget the very key teaching of Jesus and His Church: We am not alone. We are members of the Body of Christ, some of whom are now alive and who we might be separated from, temporarily, and some of who are alive in eternal life, with Him, and who, like He, will never leave us alone. I often think that I am doing some duty alone, like the candle, but in reality there is a huge fire of Jesus and the saints behind me, urging me on.

So often I see myself doing what I know is a good work and thinking: “Who knows or cares that I do this thing, this thing that so few others choose to do?” Perhaps sometimes even those honored with our works are not aware of the work we do for them. So why do we do it? We know that honoring their life, any life, is a good thing, but we wonder …

But we need not wonder, we but need to have faith. Mother Teresa of Calcutta did not wonder if anyone saw her kissing the maggot-filled bodies on the street. Damien of Molokai did not wonder if he was alone cleaning the lepers. They knew that Jesus and all the saints of heaven were with them in the honor they gave to another. As one of my favorite books notes, we on earth, each of us, are now Jesus’ Other Self, doing as He would do. We are also the “other self” of each and every saint in heaven.

When we seem to act alone, to honor our heavenly mother with a little candle, or honor other individuals on earth --- an elderly parent, a crying child, a soldier in the hospital, a dirty beggar on the street, the neighbor celebrating the holidays alone --- for all these we honor with our time, our thoughts, our prayers, we do not really honor them alone. I am sure that when we act to help another Jesus Himself is the first to stand in heaven, to lead the standing ovation of all of heaven, to honor US, for doing this action that each of them would happily join us in doing. For they count on us.

When we give service and love to another human being, we are doing as Jesus would have done. It is to our honor, that He gives us this privilege: to serve Him, to be His trusted Other Self.

Are we alone in our sometimes burdensome, thankless tasks? No, my friends, we are never alone, and an eternal thanks awaits us, and even now is being given to us. For our honoring Him and the lives He has created, we are constantly being honored.

Be a little light to someone today.

For it is in giving that we receive, and in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Seeing His Hand

In his movie, The Passion, director Mel Gibson portrayed the moment of Christ’s death on the cross by having a single teardrop fall down from heaven. And the earth quaked. If that was a good illustration of God’s feeling, I wonder what He is feeling of late.

It rained about five inches in our area yesterday. “A chance of rain” became a deluge, and streams became rivers, and many roads were (and are) flooded for the first time in recent memory. And most people are saying today in one way or another: “I was greatly inconvenienced by this.”

I don’t know that those teardrops from heaven yesterday had any particular divine meaning, but I am confident they had some, even if I don’t understand it. They have some divine meaning because they impacted me. No, I’m not saying that God would flood cities, or part the Red Sea for that matter, to tell me in particular something, but I am saying He does speak to me, in the events --- and people --- that impact me. It’s how he speaks to and impacts everyone, by people and events in our lives. And to the degree we can stop worrying about “poor me,” people and events can help make us who God wishes us to be. If we let Him.

Fr. Wilfrid Stinissen understands that and explains it well in his short book: Into Your Hands, Father. In this book and others I have reviewed on abandonment to God’s will, what comes through very clear is a single thought: If we really want to abandon ourselves to God’s will, we must stop so ardently seeking to find it, and instead let ourselves be found. We don’t have to search for ways to reach out to God, but accept His reaching out to us. And every time we worry primarily about us, and our feelings and our hurts, we are not open to why things are happening to us. They happen for a reason. He is reaching out.

We deeply regret the fact that “into each life a little rain must fall,” and even into some, a deluge. But this happens for a reason, and a good one, if we accept it.

As long as we want to decide for ourselves where we will find God, we need not fear that we shall meet him! We will meet only ourselves, a touched-up version of ourselves.

Beautiful thoughts and theories … do not change our lives. They are not our most important teachers. We are influenced by events. God speaks through events. Every event is a word of God to us. I live in God’s presence when I accept what happens as a message from him without rebelling against it.

It requires a deep faith to recognize him in everyday, ordinary incidents. We seek him in the great things, but he communicates and reveals himself in the small. The most important thing is that we believe it is he who is writing the book of our lives and that we allow him to write.

Fr. Stinissen writes very well. His words are simple, yet intriguing. The short segments in this book make for simple, quick morning meditations. To make us think and, for a change, to think not about ourselves. They remind us to be open to seeing, and taking, His hand --- from wherever or through whomever it may be extended, even if it brings us pain. Fr. Stinissen’s words remind me of the simple admonishments of Josemaria Escriva:

Many who would let themselves be nailed to a cross before the astonished gaze of thousands of spectators, won’t bear the pinpricks of each day with a Christian spirit! But think, which is the more heroic? The Way, Number 204

Monday, May 23, 2011

To The People of Joplin

Coincidence or Plan? And if a plan, whose?

On the Monday night episode of The Little House on the Prairie, on the Hallmark Channel, a tornado struck the Ingles farm. All the family was safe, including the dog, but not all the farm animals. The house was damaged heavily, as was the barn, but the entire crop was gone. And Charles was devastated. Later, in town, he tells his friends: “Find a buyer for my farm; I’m going home to Wisconsin in three days. I give up.” And he was beyond any of their consolations.

Little Laura goes to church early the next morning and tells the pastor that they won’t be coming to his Sunday service. “Pa says he has to fix the wagon so we can leave. But pastor, I don’t think that’s the reason he’s not coming to church. I think he’s mad at God.” And then the pastor and Laura pray together.

An old man and his wife show up at the Ingles farm and offer to buy it. “We once lived here, and we too were wiped out by a tornado, but now we want to come back. We’ve always missed this place.” He tells Charles he will meet his price if Charles is willing to stay on for a few days to help with repairs – “I’ll buy the materials.” And Charles agrees.

Much of the rest of the episode shows the old couple looking forward to the future, but dreaming of the happy days of the past, while the Ingles family is also considering the future, in fear and sadness.

One night the old man asks Laura if she says her night prayers. Laura answers: “not lately. I asked God to help my pa, but He didn’t, so I figure He’s not listening.” The old man smiles, “Is that really true? I think you were really asking God to help you, so you wouldn’t have to move, weren’t you?” And then Laura slowly nods. “You know,” he says, “God doesn’t mind you asking Him for things, and He may give you what you ask for, if it’s right for you. But He doesn’t like people lying to Him. So why don’t you kneel down now, and tell Him the truth of things.” And she did.

As the days pass, Charles has time to think. He remembers all the good times, and the people of the town. Meanwhile, the old folks remember the past too, and think that maybe they are too old to start farming again. On the last day, Charles realizes he has made a mistake. He also realizes that HE made the mistake, because he made the decision to sell without asking his wife or family.

In the end, the old man and his wife realize they can’t go back, and that the Ingles are making the same mistake they did --- and now regret. So when Charles tells them that he decided to stay on in Walnut Grove with his family, and will start over somewhere else, the old man and his wife look at one another, and say they’ve changed their minds also. Then Charles is happy, but asks: “What about the materials you bought; I can’t afford to pay you back right now.” And the old man answers: “Just make a donation to the church, when you can. We were married there, and we owe an extra thanks to God for all His blessings.”

The moral of the story is that if you don’t give up on life, you won’t have regrets later. You’ll never regret fighting through difficult times, together. Oh, --- and never stop praying.

A tornado, disaster, fear and an easy decision to give up --- and a lesson on the importance of prayer. I wonder if the people of Joplin, Missouri were watching tonight. I hope so.

Was the episode’s airing tonight a coincidence or plan? As for me, I don’t believe in coincidences.

People of Joplin, we will be helping you in every way we can. We’ll be praying for you. Don’t give up.

Do Not Be Anxious.

On Receiving Communion

As I walked up the line to receive Our Lord, I suddenly had the thought that I was “taking” the Eucharist. Like everyone else in line, everyone in that chapel, I had some level of feeling that this Body and Blood of Christ was mine for the taking, kind of a right I had.

But I have no such right, even if I think so, and even if the evidence, the ease at which everyone just “expects” to receive it, suggests it can be taken by anyone, the truth is that it can be “taken” by no one at all.

Our Lord, under the appearances of bread and wine, really dwells in the Eucharist. It is He who “chooses” to come to us, as a supreme gift of God, when we receive the Eucharist. Like a guest coming to our house, we can invite Him in, but we cannot “take” Him in, like some captive slave, nor can we make Him stay. And in fact it might seem by some of our actions that we are actually inviting Him to leave, like some unwanted guest. “Ahem, can I get your coat?” “Well, I’m sure you have other things to do …” “Well, the mass is over …”

And we quickly ignore, and forget, this our “guest.”

I think, perhaps, that is why I so much enjoy praying the “Prayer After Holy Communion” by Padre Pio. Instead of quickly joining in songs after Holy Communion, or thinking on what I’ll do after mass, the prayer helps me think on this Jesus Who has just entered my body. And those petitions to Him, which start with the words: “Stay with me, Lord …”

The good padre’s prayer has only about a dozen reasons for the Lord to stay with me, but there are an infinite number, and one of the key unmentioned ones is because I know He WANTS to stay with me. And in light of that, how could I ignore Him, or turn Him out?

And of the Pio petitions, which one hits home most with me? Well, it’s the one: “Stay with me, Lord, to show me Your will.” Considering how much my will dominates my life, I think I need Him for that reason most of all.

Why do you need Him to stay with you? Do you ask Him to?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A New Priest

I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me. Song of Songs 7:10

Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God who will not receive (back) an overabundant return in this present age and eternal life in the age to come. Lk 18:29-30

Fr. Nathan Ernest Harburg
Ordained to the
Priesthood of Jesus Christ
May 20, 2011 – Diocese of Saginaw

This morning one of the new priests ordained from our parish said the Sunday mass, assisted by one of the new deacons, our pastor, and the many other parish deacons and men in formation to the priesthood. And the best of our parish choir sang in the best of their voices. It was a very moving sacrifice in which we all celebrated.

Fr Nate sang the mass with a great joy obvious to everyone. And as he began, opening the mass with the words: “My brothers and sisters …,” he was truly saying to us: MY brothers and sisters.

I’m not sure I recall ever participating in a mass with my brothers and sisters in Christ and having that feeling that we were truly brothers and sisters, a family, praying, honoring, and rejoicing, together. It was a beautiful experience.

And yes, in happiness, I cried. God has been so good to us.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Gimme !!

If I had to sum it up in one word, I think that “Gimme” sums up the problem with much of mankind today. “Gimme! I want it, and I want it now! You Promised!” Those sound like the words of a spoiled child, or at the very least, one who has not learned the lessons being taught by his parents. They sound like a child acting very selfishly. Perhaps in response to his rants his parents will softly explain to him: “Honey, I know you want those things, but they’re not good for you.” But still he whines. He just doesn’t get it.

So what is a parent to do?

Yet still they sinned against Him;
They defied the Most High in the desert.
In their heart they put God to the test
By demanding the food they craved.

They said: “Is it possible for God …?”

When He heard this, the Lord was angry.

Psalm 78

We can see what God did in the desert, when the Jews whined: “Gimme.” He gave them manna, food from heaven, but then He slew the strongest among them. He always gave to them, but He also made sure that they learned the lessons He taught --- and they learned the hard way if necessary. They so easily forgot God’s goodness. They didn’t learn the lessons of His love, of how He freed them from bondage, and how He promised to always care for them. They confused the things He gave to them with things they demanded of Him. They confused His love with their selfishness. They took His love of them and turned it into their love of themselves. They didn’t understand that His love was an example, something for them to imitate, in His image. That: as He loved them, they should love one another.

I fear this is a lesson that so many of us don’t appear to be getting, again, today.

This whole message of love is such a confusing thing. I wrote recently in the post about Finding Bad News that my parish is having all-summer long Theology of the Body classes for teens. I think this is a most important thing, and expect that many of the talks and discussions will center around this thing called “love.” They need to, we ALL need to, understand it better. With a 50% divorce rate in this country, it is obvious that many, many people don’t understand, they don’t understand the example He gave for us to imitate. He came that we might love one another, not that we might love ourselves.

I fear that many marriages are based on the statement: “You love me.” You love me, and therefore you give me things that I want, and therefore I will marry you. If this is true, then marriage begins with a selfish motive, and a spouse like this will be surprised at some point to learn that this person who loves them cannot keep giving “things that I want” forever. This leads to those confused statements heard by divorce lawyers and marriage counselors: “I’m not happy,” as a reason for divorce. “They gave me everything I wanted before, but now they don’t.” “They changed.” Of course spouses change, BOTH spouses change, all people change. Even things you want or expect from them, in your selfish needs, change. But what really changed was that you were not getting everything you wanted from your spouse anymore. You didn’t get what you wanted when you yelled: “Gimme!”

God the Father, and then Jesus the Son, gave us lessons in love. As I wrote recently about Jesus, He came into this world and He could have had, no, He could have taken anything. He was God! But He took nothing of those things we think most important in this world, although He could have had anything. And He didn’t even take love from this world --- they crucified Him! Unlike the love many of us expect from our spouses, He could have demanded it. But He didn’t. He came to give love, and in fact, to give us literally everything --- eternal life. And that is the example He gave us to follow. Love is about giving, not receiving. It is not even reciprocal: I’ll love you if you love me. Love is without requirements of return, although return may be desired and very much appreciated. Love is to be freely given, by everyone, meaning that who we give love to may choose to return it.

But that is the lesson we are to be learning on this train of life, this growing in holiness we are to learn to do. Marriage and a spouse are special tools for learning to grow in love, and in holiness. But they are not the only way, for single people, divorced people, old people, and young people are to be learning how to grow in love, to grow in holiness, also. I have a close friend who lost his spouse a few years back, and his total life is now focused on his grief over his loss: “Why can’t I just go to be with her? I miss her so much.” He obviously learned much in his marriage about love, but unfortunately it appears he thought that the marriage was the end, not the growing in love. He’s forgotten the reminder: In heaven there will be no marriage. And so he’s stopped growing in love, growing in holiness. He found a focus in life that gave him much pleasure, but like all things of this earth, in heaven they will be of no importance. The greatest marriage, the most wonderful kids, the biggest house, the most money, the most adulation from all your admirers for what you have done on earth, none of that will matter in heaven except to the degree that those things helped you better prepare for heaven, helped you grow in holiness, helped you learn how to really love, everyone.

As members in the Body of Christ in heaven, we will be eternally giving to each other, and to God. We will be giving eternal love, in perfect happiness. And we need to learn how to do that while here on earth. Love is about giving, not receiving. The things we receive here on earth are just distractions, temptations really, from our lessons on giving.

And we need to learn these lessons, from our great, and loving, Teacher.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Am I A Failure?

I received a call last night from Jack, with whom I served in the army, nearly 40 years ago. I remembered him, and even what he looked like back then. He’s been in contact with some from our old unit, and is thinking of having a reunion next year – not a bad idea, although I might not be able to attend, depending on how things go with mom. We had a nice conversation, and Jack mentioned some of the guys from the unit and what they were doing now, and I found that I didn’t remember most of them, and in fact, remembered few of the 100+ guys from our company, and the time we spent together in Fort Hood, Texas.

Jack talked about getting together and exchanging information on what had happened during our lives, in fact the bulk of our lives, since then, and that got me to thinking. If I were summarizing my life in a few short sentences to someone, how would I put it? How would I describe myself, not now, but the whole of my life? If I were objective --- if I could look at my life through God’s eyes --- what would I describe?

The first place my brain went to were my failures. I guess that thought, of looking at me through God’s eyes, immediately caused me some shame. If He were the one asking me to summarize things, I’m afraid I might find myself hemming and hawing, trying to put the right spin on things, my failures. I don’t think I’m unusual in thinking that way; I think most of us would look at our sins first, if we stood before God. Oh, I know all about confession and forgiveness and love and mercy, but I’m talking about what would be our thoughts if we were standing before our Father, right now. If a huge portion of our life had passed, and now we were suddenly in front of Him, what would we be thinking to tell Him about? I think we all would go back to the point where we last met, and start from His view --- His hopes for us, or perhaps from our view then --- our expectations or desires, which I suspect would be much in line with His. And going from there, I think I’d see the failures first. But like the father of the Prodigal Son, I don’t think He’d let me dwell on my failures very long. In these 40 years, I have learned some things about God, and His ways. He’d love me in spite of myself, and my failures. But if it were just me there talking to somebody, or even looking in the mirror, I’m not sure how easy I’d get off the feeling of failure.

I expected so much more of myself. I still do.

You know the point of life, a well-lived life, is to grow in holiness. I’ve written of it before, and I’m sure you’ve thought about it, and perhaps even asked yourself: Am I growing in holiness? I look back at much of my life and think that I didn’t see much progress for a long time; perhaps even a going backwards. And I look forward and the few years remaining, and I wonder: How is this all going to add up, in total? Am I to be deemed a failure?

For some reason this morning, as I thought on these things, I saw the image of life as being like a person on a train, for life surely is a journey. Baptism got us the ticket to get on life’s train, and heaven is the destination we are paid through. And we are off on the journey.

Now in heaven, Scripture and the Church tell us we shall be part of the Body of Christ, with Him as the head. We are part of the Body, even here on earth, but we are not yet perfected. That says we must change, and for the better, while we are here, so we can be perfect there; that’s the growing in holiness part of our life. So, on this train with us are people who will also be part of this Body in heaven, our brothers and sisters in Christ. Now if we are to be perfected in Christ in heaven, with them, it makes sense that we don’t grow independently on our trip, for once in heaven, we will be working together, but still unique parts of this Body. So, along the way it makes sense that we should both learn what these other parts do, and how we can get along with them. And even further, we should begin working together, helping one another. One hand learns to clip the nails on the other; one finger scratches an itch on the back; one foot coordinates its pace with the other, so we don’t all fall down. It’s something we need to learn to do, if we’re to be together perfectly in heaven. Unfortunately, the trip on the train, our life here on earth, is not perfect.

There will be some of us on the train that just want to be left alone; (I’m not sure what those people think will be going on in heaven). There will be some of us who think the ride never ends, or that the only purpose we have is to enjoy the ride --- they never leave the club car; life is just to be a joy, for themselves alone. And there are a few who will lose their tickets and be asked to leave, or even leave of their own will: “This ride’s not for me,” they might say. (If not heaven, I wonder what they think their destination is?)

But for the majority of us, there is both a growing in holiness and a unique purpose on this train. Some of us may have a religious vocation, and be conductors on the train, explaining sights along the way and giving some advice on how to prepare for the weather at the destination. Some of us have related jobs in keeping the train going, adding fuel to the engine or oiling the wheels. These are important jobs, even if they seem mundane. But most of us are just there to prepare for the destination, and help each other prepare. Yes, there is some personal hygiene we have to we have to do for ourselves, putting on make-up and perhaps deodorant --- and for some of us lots of it. But much of the preparation is done by helping one another, even if only encouraging another. This thing called faith --- none of us has even been to this destination before --- is a very trusting thing. We only got a ticket on this particular train because someone very convincing told us what a great place it is, and that He’d make sure we were taken care of during the ride. We need each other to boost our sometimes failing confidence along the way. “It will be as He says.”

As I have loved you, you must also love another. From the entire human race throughout the world, this love gathers together into one body a new people, to be the bride of God’s only Son. They love one another as God loves them so that they may be brothers of his only Son. For when God is all in all, there will be nothing left to desire.” -- From a treatise on John by Saint Augustine

Holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. -- Heb. 12:14

“Even supposing a man of unholy life were suffered to enter heaven, he would not be happy there. We see that in this world that men have their own enjoyments, (and) are led to act as if it will be the same in another world. (They assume) once admitted into heaven that they would be happy there, and deny that some preparation is necessary. Or, we think we can recommend ourselves to God when we will, some temporary attention to religious duties. But heaven, it is plain from Scripture, is not a place where many different and discordant pursuits can be carried on at once, as is the case in this world. Here every man can do his own pleasure, but there he must do God’s pleasure.

Heaven then is not like this world; I will say what it is much more like --- a church. Were a man to come there who had suffered his mind to grow up in his own way, he would prove himself to be an isolated being there. He would be in the presence of the Supreme Power whom he never on earth could bring himself steadily to think upon; the Holy God would be no object of joy for him. Further, without holiness, no man can endure to see the Lord. Inward separation from this world is necessary to our admission into heaven, because heaven is NOT heaven, is not a place of happiness EXCEPT to the holy.

Nay, I will venture to say more than this --- it is fearful, but it is right to say it --- that if we wished to imagine a punishment for an unholy, reprobate soul, we perhaps could not fancy a greater than to summon it to heaven. Heaven would be hell to an irreligious man. How forlorn would he wander through the courts of heaven! He would find no one like himself.

To obtain the gift of holiness is the work of a life. No man will ever be perfect here, so sinful is our nature. Many men, it is true, are contented with partial and indistinct views of religion, and mixed motives. Be you content with nothing short of perfection; exert yourselves day by day to grow in knowledge and grace; that, if so be, you may at length attain to the presence of Almighty God.”
--- from a sermon by Blessed John Neumann on Holiness Necessary For Future Blessedness.

And so, what of my original thoughts: the asking of myself if I am a failure? I think I see from further thoughts, and readings this morning, that as long as I live, this train ride to heaven is not over for me. I am still, with the help of God and of my neighbor, to grow in holiness. And of those imperfections of mine along the way, those (yes) failures? Well, they are just the trash I accumulated along the way. When I arrive, it shall be left on the train.

We need not worry that our life is a failure; if we are still alive and thinking, we have not yet arrived at the destination. No matter how much trash we have accumulated along the way, it can be left behind. Just ask any conductor what to do with it. And then get out and mingle with the other passengers, and help them, and let them help you. For we all must prepare, together, for a great destination.

If you should think that you are alone in this life, perhaps that your mistakes make you an outcast, you could not be more wrong. The train of life is full of others, and they are well aware that you are meant to be part of the Body of Christ, and each and every part is important, even you. And your neighbors want you to find, understand, and be the best you can be, where you are meant to be. For their perfect operation, in the Body, depends on you, too. We are all in this together. There are no failures on the train; there are no outcasts, alone. There will be no one alone at the destination. Have faith.

Do Not Be Anxious.

Monday, May 16, 2011

I'm Not In The Mood

I woke up before the alarm went off again this morning, and I hit the mental “Snooze Button” and rolled over for a few minutes until the buzzer awoke me. It never did.

I guess it may have been that second glass of wine before bed, or perhaps my guardian angel felt I needed a little extra rest, but he woke me 45 minutes later, running late, but not too late for morning mass. (I apparently hadn’t set the alarm the night before.) As I drove to the church, the radio station I had on from the previous day began a meditation on some words from St. Thomas More. He spoke of the importance of our actions, of how they witness what we really believe.

How often have I (or you, for that matter) said those words: “I’m not in the mood”? Get your mind out of the gutter, please, because I know the first thing you thought of when you read those words, was a situation in which either you or your spouse may have said them, in bed. Yes, maybe that really was the last time you said those words, but I’d bet it was not the only time. Sometimes you just think those words. And it’s probably more often than your realize.

At home, the children want your attention or help: “I’m sorry, kids, but I’m not in the mood right now.” The dog brings a ball and lays it at your feet: “Not now, Rover.” The spouse wants to talk to you about the kids’ grades, or the family budget: “Could we do this later?” Your parents are ill, or need your help --- even if they don’t ask for it sometimes: “I’d love to drop by this weekend, dad, but I have some things I need to get done for the office; maybe next week.”

At work, the boss wants you to bring in that report that you still have not finished: “Could we schedule that for later this afternoon?” Your secretary forgot to type that letter you needed mailed yesterday: “Oh Lord, not again!” Your direct reports challenge your direction: “You know, I don’t need this bull right now.” Or the guy from the next office races around a corner and bumps into you, spilling the coffee you were holding all over your shirt, and you say --- nothing, but he can read the thoughts all over your face.

These are all interactions with other people in which we are saying to them: “I’m not in the mood.” We’re saying “I’m not in the mood for this,” whatever ‘this’ might be. That’s what we are saying, loud and clear --- but what are they hearing? Oh I’m sure they are hearing your point about ‘this’ thing: you don’t want to do it or you don’t want to deal with it right now. They hear that. But there’s more that gets conveyed.

What are they thinking? What does your family, your co-workers, or even strangers think when you say to them: “I’m not in the mood.”? From your response, they perceive that whatever you are feeling or thinking at that moment is deemed more important than whatever they want. They are thinking that you are being dismissive of their wants or needs. They are thinking that you do not give them respect. And if they hear it often enough, they are thinking that you do not love them.

After I arrived at church this morning, I felt pretty good (must have been the extra sleep), and I began to pray the Office, and I read: Give me the wisdom and love necessary to pray this Office with attention, reverence and devotion. Wisdom and love are “necessary” to pray well, but praying well is also done with attention, reverence, and devotion. We need those same two things, wisdom and love, to act well toward our neighbor also. We need wisdom and love to act towards these others, with attention, reverence, and devotion, the way we should treat all of our neighbors. This is how we really “show” that we love our neighbor.

If all this concerns you even in the slightest, then you have the inklings of love necessary. And I have just given you some wisdom. So let’s try and remember these things the next time we are inclined to be dismissive of our family, friends, or even strangers. Let’s pause before we tell them: “I’m not in the mood.” You know, we can still do things, can still do things with love, even if we are not in the mood, if we will to do so.

St. Thomas spoke of the importance of our actions. They are a witness to what we really believe. Don’t let anyone be confused about what you really believe, especially if you believe that you DO want to keep that commandment, to love your neighbor.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

You Can Always Find Bad News

There are some people who can find bad news in even the most blessed of events. And, of course, there are those who can take bad news and just dwell on it and dwell on it, driving home to themselves and everyone around them just how awful it is. And they drive home their feeling that there is no hope; there is only the bad.

But as Christians, we know that even out of the bad, God does create the good. And even if we cannot see His magnificent plans, which sometimes include bad things, we must have faith. We must remember that even bad things happen for a reason. And we must trust in Him.

So the announcement that our small parish, Christ The King in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which has more men and women studying for religious life than any other parish in the country, will see a noticeable reduction in the number studying for that vocation, could be seen by some as a bad thing. With such an announcement, there may be some who would see only the downside, and speculate on why this “bad” thing has come about. They might be worrying about what can be done to improve things. They might even be depressed.

But then, there are those who see the truth of matters, and recognize that even in the “bad”, there is good.

This week will see three of the men of Christ the King ordained, and next month another. And this month also a priest, ordained from this relatively new parish, will be elevated to the office of bishop.

The number studying will go down, the number of ordained will go up. And this summer the parish will sponsor retreats to Steubenville’s teen conferences, vocation discernment weekends, and a summer-long weekly study of the Theology of the Body, for teens. And at this time next year, what will the numbers be, of those studying for or seeking to discern if they have a religious vocation?

Only God knows. But he makes good out of all that we may see as bad. And in my parish we loudly proclaim, we trust in Him.

Friday, May 13, 2011

On Hypocrisy

Hypocrisy: Double standards; two-facedness; insincerity

This morning I went to a charity fund-raiser. A near-by restaurant was donating a portion of the day’s receipts to a local charity, and so I headed there when it opened for breakfast. The timing of the event was not good for me today , as I was in a hurry. My cleaning lady was due in the morning, and my house was --- well, in a condition I don’t want anyone to see; some picking up needed to be done, and the bed made. And on Fridays, I head over to mom’s house at noon, but on this particular day the caregiver asked me to come an hour early, as she had a noon doctor’s appointment. And Friday morning is always my banking day, to pick up funds to pay the caregivers. Friday mornings are always busy for me, and this one was more so.

And today was Friday, the 13th. Hmmmm.

As I approached the restaurant I saw a group of people crossing the street from the benefitting charity’s offices. I greeted them all, and we went in and sat down to eat together. I enjoyed their company, but the slow service for our group caused me to begin glancing at my watch. And so immediately after eating, I stood and bid a hasty “I’m sorry, but I have to eat and run this morning. I hope you all have a good day, and a very successful fund-raiser.” And then glancing in my wallet, I tossed down the only bill I had there on the table, a $20 bill.

One of the women said: “Don’t do that. I said I would buy today.” “Oh, thanks,” I replied. “Just call that a tip,” and I began to leave. “Wait,” she said. “You can’t leave that.” As I started walking I said “Oh, you know me. I’m a big tipper.” But I had to pause because she had more to say. “That’s too much; you can’t leave that much.” To end the conversation I said, “I once dated a waitress; like her I’m sure this one is probably not rich and can use the money.” And as I departed, I heard her tongue cluck: “Tsk.”

You know how it is when a conversation doesn’t end the way you would like it to? Later, you find it going over in your mind, and yourself saying: “This is what I should have said.” And that’s what happened to me, as I hurried home.

What I should have said to this woman, to make her think about what she was saying, is: “Do you know that you are being a hypocrite? You work for a charity, and yet you criticize someone for being charitable. Do you think people should be charitable (I know she does), but ONLY to your charity, or ones you think deserving? You need to go read the definition of hypocrisy.”

I wish I would have said that, although I know my friend would have been embarrassed in front of the others by my comment. But perhaps that’s what all we need sometimes, something to embarrass us, and make us stop and think, and really look at ourselves. Sometimes, our reflexive thinking needs to be challenged.

But of course this need for reflection doesn’t just apply to our thoughts on giving. On so many things we think we are correct, or that our opinion outweighs that of another. We hear it a lot today in the political debates: “You should cut government spending, but not in education --- where I work, or my kids go to school.” “You should raise taxes, but not my taxes --- tax those rich people.” “You should cut government spending, but not lay off any government employees --- where I and/or my friend work.”

How did so many of us get to this point in our thinking? We judge what is good for others, and then say that those same things are not good for us. This is the definition of hypocrisy.

Why can’t we see what hypocrites we are?

I read a good article in this month’s edition of First Things magazine. It discussed “critical thinking,” and how many of us believe that we evaluate things, properly, that way. As I began reading the article, I had to admit that it described me very well: show me the facts, and then I’ll make a decision. So, if you think I should not give to some charity, for example, show me data about the charity, how it wastes money, or how it has high executive salaries, or whatever facts you wish to show me, but don’t just say to me: “I don’t like that charity, and so you shouldn’t give to it.” The article went on to say that if we base our decisions totally on “critical thinking” we may be missing the non-factual things, or things not easily quantified, and making some truly good decisions not possible for us. For instance, perhaps a particular charity is not efficient in what it does, but is the work it does, the NEEDED work, better than none? Does love for your neighbor have to be perfect before you will do it or support it? The article gave me much to think about, in how I judge others and how I judge things --- and my hypocrisy.

Well then, if feelings alone aren’t adequate to evaluate our actions, nor are facts alone, just how do we judge what we should be doing? What are our benchmarks for evaluating how we are living, and in particular how we are living out our call to grow in holiness. How do we know?

I have written some thoughts on these things in the past, and have had many more of late. I think the answer to how we are called to live our lives has to do with the answer to another question: Why was I born? And the answer to that question is a complicated one, because each of us was born for a different, specific reason. For now though, I think I’ll just stop writing. It is a big enough thing for us to consider honestly a simpler question: Am I a hypocrite?

I fear we may not like the answer to that one, but truth is always a starting point for change.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Mother's Greatest Honor --- Ever

When Jesus came to this earth, He came via His mother Mary, a most humble way for a God to appear. When I think of Mary, I often think of her consent to the angel. A virgin birth occurred, one like no other, and I think of this as being the unique honor for her, and it truly was. But in reflecting on the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary last night, I realized that this was not, in my opinion, her greatest honor.

When I consider someone as being honored, I think of them as feeling honored, but I wonder what Mary was feeling, when the angel said: “Guess what!”

I know a number of mothers who tell their families on Mother’s Day: “Please, don’t make me breakfast in bed.” These moms know what their kitchen will look like after this “honor” from their family, and so they gladly forego it. From Scripture we can see that Mary was, well, at least a little flustered at the angel’s words to her. But what if she knew the full outcome of this “honor” being offered to her: a son, would will be despised by the temple authorities she respects, and who would be tortured and killed as a criminal by them while she had to stand by and watch. If she knew all this, I wonder what would have been her answer to this “honor” being offered to her. I wonder what your answer would be in that situation. Somehow, if she were fully aware of what she was saying yes to, I believe she likely would still have said “yes,” but I’m not at all sure that Mary would have felt “honored.”

Jesus was a man like no other. He was God. Although the devil would tempt the man, Jesus, offering Him all the things and powers of this earth, Jesus could turn him down. He had no need of any of those things. They were already His, possessions of the God, Jesus.

In fact, Jesus came to earth not to take anything from it (or accept the devil’s offer of anything), but He came to earth to give, many things. He came to give healing. He came to give love. And through His death, He came to give eternal life. Many of the martyrs offered all they could possibly give from this earth to Jesus. He welcomed these gifts of men, these gifts of their utmost love. He accepted these most important things men had to give, but Jesus never took any of these things from men. He had the power to take anything of this earth, but He came to give to men, and He took nothing from them.

Except …

I suddenly had some insight last night on what the word “Assumption” means. After Jesus died and rose from the dead, He “ascended” into heaven --- by His own power. But His mother, Mary, was “assumed” into heaven, body and soul, not by her own power, but by His. Her Assumption: she was assumed into heaven to be with Him. And, as the angels and even God the Father looked on, oh, she must have felt so honored at what her Son did for her.

Jesus took nothing from this earth, nothing, that is, except His mother, Mary.

On this Mother’s Day, I wondered at His action, the Assumption. What an honor for Mary, and indeed for all mothers. A God came to earth, and He could have taken anything from it, and the only thing He chose to take was His mother. Chosen by God to be the most important thing on earth; what great importance and honor He must attach to motherhood!

We chase after so many things in our life: work, money, power, sex, and yes, even love. We want so much from this world, thinking that these things will bring us happiness. But even if we obtained all we seek, we would not find real happiness.

Jesus showed us where our happiness should lie. Of all the things of this earth which were His to take, He took only one thing. There was only one thing on this earth so important that even a God wanted it.

Of all the things of this earth, Jesus chose His mother to be taken with Him to heaven.

If we are so dense that we cannot understand the importance which He attached to a mother, He even gave us a commandment to emphasize the point. It is the only commandment which clearly explains its importance: “Honor thy father and thy mother, that you might have eternal life.”

Happy Mother’s Day to all you so very, very important mothers. Thank you for giving us earthly life, and through the actions of Jesus and Mary, even giving us eternal life. We can’t honor you enough; we are so glad that God did.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Mother's Day Story

When I last wrote here, I mentioned some words my mother said to me each night. Her words said something of who she is, a loving mother. This morning, as I lifted her out of bed and onto her wheelchair, she said some words which said something of who I am: “You know, you’re a pretty good guy.”

Now of course, it being the first thing in the morning, and mom perhaps not being fully awake --- and her having dementia, there might be some question as to who she thought I was, when she said those words. But I’ll choose to believe them in the best possible light: I try to be a good son. And it is with those thoughts and that relationship in mind that I choose to review this book for Mother’s Day.

Or did I choose? But we’ll get to that in a bit …

I picked up this book a few weeks ago. It is not my usual reading fare, but for some reason when I saw it in the Catholic book store I added it to my usual pile of purchases on the counter. I took it home, and it sat for a while on the shelf in the family room, but last week I was boxing up a few hundred books for a donation to a local parish library, and I found it in my hand. Read it? Or donate it?

I dropped it on the kitchen table to read this weekend while I stayed at moms, and then perhaps I’ll donate it.

Ruth Pakaluk was a convert to Catholicism in college (Harvard??!!), married, had a number of children, became an avid defender of the faith and pro-life advocate, contracted cancer and died. End of story. (I said it wasn’t my usual reading fare.) And that may have been the extent of my feelings about this book, had I read it ten years ago.

But instead I read it Saturday, and that was a strange coincidence. Because when I read it, I felt I was not only reading the story of Ruth and her family, I felt as if were re-reading the exact same story I have read so very often in these past two years, in the blogs I read and followed on the internet.

I only actively follow perhaps a dozen blogs on the internet. They are Catholic blogs I have discovered on sites here and in Great Britain. I follow these writers because, at least on occasion, I gain some new insights into my faith, and myself, through their words. Some are women living out their faith as they raise families. Some are new converts, and some new re-verts --- and they often have to explain their new Catholic faith to family and friends (who often are not very understanding), and a few of the blogs I follow are people discerning if they have a vocation to the religious life. In all of their lives, I see some of my life, and occasionally comment to them on my experiences --- or at least my readings of others’ experiences, since I read so much. These people and I often have much in common, in our faith walk. And I saw this commonness in the life and story of Ruth Pakaluk.

Ruth Pakaluk never blogged on the internet; it was just coming into its own when she died. But I know a woman who does blog, who went to college, and is raising a family while her husband continues to struggle toward advanced college degrees. She balances God and a growing family, and all while living a very busy life. She is a great cook, and writes out some wonderful recipes on her blog for others to try – I have. “If you want something done, ask a busy person; they can always prioritize to do more.” That’s this person, whose husband will soon study at Ave Maria College in Florida. That was also Ruth, who followed her husband to colleges in the U.S. and Europe and back, and raised his family (and “made pierogi on Saturday”). Ruth’s husband now teaches at Ave Maria University, as does his new wife --- who Ruth picked out for him on her deathbed. Two of Ruth’s children are now studying there also.

I followed the blog of a woman, a convert, who went on for advanced degrees, became an evangelist, and explained the faith so clearly, and with such compassion, that people were converted through her words. She is writing her story for a chapter in the book I’m doing. Through the book I hope others will see what they can do, with God as their partner. Ruth Pakaluk did those same things. She was such a good pro-life debater that Planned Parenthood members refused to debate her anymore. She spoke and wrote of her faith, explaining it patiently to anyone and everyone, even in her final letters.

I actively looked on the internet for people who read a lot, and who might provide me some suggestions on good books to read. I found only one, who has read many books that I have, and yet has read others which appear to be of value, the type I might be interested in. I purchased and read some of her blog recommendations, and I enjoyed them. Ruth was an avid reader, and despite being so young she raced through many wonderful books. I know; I’ve read many of them. I’m sure I would have liked to discuss them with her.

But Ruth was also a mother, and sometimes wrestled with her children’s problems --- and with one of their deaths. And she raised good children. Sending them off to camp, even as she was dying, her letters to them ended: “Remember to say your prayers morning and evening. Don’t do anything utterly brain dead. Have fun.” I follow a few blogs of mothers like this. Their love for their children comes through without their ever having to use the word love. They sometimes struggle with their family, their faith, and even sometimes with their local churchmen, who are sometimes tainted by the culture we live in. These mothers stand up for the truth, especially on life issues. That too, was Ruth. She wrote clear, forceful letters to priests, and bishops.

And then there is a business person, whose blog I read. Advanced degrees, an important job, prestige, and a strong faith --- most of the time. And she likes the outdoors and hiking, especially in Europe. She always writes so beautifully of how she sees God there. And I see in her life so many of the things and thoughts I have lived in my life, so much so that I think I’ve known her for many years, not just a short while. A distant friend, yet a friend nonetheless. And I read and saw all these things in Ruth.

And then there is a person facing the end of life. A husband with Alzheimer’s and now herself in an assisted living facility, and “I’ll never go home again.” She is a person of wisdom and faith, a model for how we all should view the end of this life, and all of life’s struggles, with an eye on eternity, and a heart full of thankfulness for all life’s blessings. Ruth wrote her thoughts of her impending death, knowing very closely the day, and the hour. And she wrote with great confidence of her future.

In my online friends, I see the beginnings of life and faith, a love of life, and looks at its end. And I see myself. And in a single afternoon I saw all that too, in Ruth Pakaluk.

How could I see all these things, these people, these friends, old and new, in this book I almost tossed away? A strange coincidence? And why did I choose read it the day before Mother’s Day, this Story of Ruth Pakaluk, Convert, Mother, Pro-Life Activist?

I don’t know. Perhaps it wasn’t my choice. Perhaps it’s just part of The Appalling Strangeness of the Mercy of God.

Friday, May 6, 2011

A Mother's Prayers

I received a note from an on-line friend the other day. She had gone back and re-read a post I wrote last year about (what I consider) a miracle associated with the operation on my sister’s brain tumor, and my seizure that same night. To answer some of my friend’s questions, I went back and re-read the post myself (Wailing, posted on March 6, 2010). Like my friend, I too was touched by the memories of that time, and how good God has been to me.

It is the month of May, and the trees are in bloom in front of my house, and the spring flowers in the back. Out by the curb, the mountain phlox is budding its purple flowers; and there will be a purple runner along the road next week. And on most days the sun is out. It feels right to think good thoughts these days, and good memories seem a little more meaningful – maybe it’s just the good Spring mood I’m in which enhances their impact.

Last Tuesday I heard a man speak on the Opus Dei organization. He mentioned that its members had some targets, measures of their spiritual growth and well-being, things they try to do to live out their faith in their daily lives. He even showed me an I-Phone app which you can download, which lists the targets. And there, among the many things (most of which I was pleased to find I regularly do) was something I didn’t expect at all. They recommend saying three Hail Marys, each night, before bed.

It was a Felician sister, when I was in the second or third grade, who told us that if we say three Hail Marys before we go to bed each night, Mary will never forget us. I don’t know the source of her admonition, but I have always been loyal to that charge, even during those years when I hardly ever went to church. The similar Opus Dei call was the first time I heard anyone else recommending the practice. And so I was more than a little shocked. And it tugged at my mind as I went through the rest of that day, remembering so much of what Mary has done for me during my life. She has never forgotten this weak sinner, no matter how bad I got. I think she has always prayed for me, remembering me, I guess, because I remembered her. I guess that’s just the way mothers are.

And I am so thankful.

This morning I attended a First Friday talk by Sister Ann Shields, the well-known author and radio show host. She spoke on, of course, the month of May --- and Mary. As a speaker, Sr. Ann is like a mother herself, so soft-spoken, and yet persistent. And even if you had any doubts about her topic, she wouldn’t let you harbor them, but she hammered away at her point until you could not but agree. Even if you didn’t really fully understand the topic, you just found yourself nodding at her words.

Mothers are like that; when they’re talking about something that they say is “for your own good”; they’re always right.

I guess all these thoughts got me thinking of my relationship with Mary. I suppose our relationship started with her loving me, before I even knew it, kind of like a mother loves her baby. But even if I didn’t intellectually know it, I kind of always felt it, I guess like a baby does. From my early education and thoughts about her, I always felt good just thinking about Mary. Knowing what she did for Jesus, and what He did for me, I always felt that special kinship with her. And I couldn’t think bad things about her.

It’s a strange thing. I admit that there are some times when I feel a bit estranged from Jesus, like when I sin and just want to go and hide from Him. And there are other times when I feel I really need Him, but He doesn’t seem to be around, and I wonder where He is, and what He is thinking. But I’ve never felt that way about Mary. Why is that?

I guess I think of Mary kind of like Augustine thought of his mother, Monica. Augustine went off and did his thing in his youth, and Monica just kept praying for him. And then when Augustine finally found God, he very much appreciated his mother’s constant prayers, never giving up on him. I think of Mary that way. I suppose I needed a lot of prayers over the years. And I’m thankful they’ve been answered, at least to some degree.

I care for my earthly mom these days. She needs me, as I once needed her. In my youth I needed her; in her old age she needs me. And although she forgets many things, and often gets confused, yet each night as I put her to bed she tells me “you know I love you.” She never forgets that. And amidst all her confused thoughts, the fact that she remembers to say that almost every night is something of a miracle.

I suppose I should write some about other miracles which have happened to me in my life, and of that time sis and I went to Medjugorje, which started it all. I’m in a mood to recall those blessed times.

When I started to bloom, because of my mother’s prayers.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Osama Bin Laden --- Peacemaker?

I didn’t stay up to watch the president’s speech last night, announcing the death of Osama Bin Laden. I’m sure his advisors were telling him it was “The Speech” of his presidency, and so it was constantly being revised and the “correct” people rounded up to hear it, late into the night last evening. I decided not to wait for it. I heard from the coffee shop group this morning that it was indeed the best speech they had heard from our president. I’m glad. I just hope it serves as a unifying speech, not for one man or one party, but for our country and the world.

I do not celebrate the death of any man. Yet I recall that God said it was good that the pharaoh had risen to be a great tyrant, so that God’s power could be shown against him. Last Good Friday, I and many others prayed a rosary between noon and 3PM for world peace. We prayed last week and yesterday a novena for Divine Mercy. Were our prayers answered in the death of a man? Yesterday, Divine Mercy Sunday, I also prayed to Blessed John Paul II, asking him to intervene for our country and the world. And then I heard the news of Bin Laden’s death last night.

During his papacy, Pope John Paul II helped bring about the destruction of the Berlin wall, and bring an end to domination of world communism. Did another wall begin falling last night? Has a time of greater world peace begun? Will bin Laden’s death be the start of a resolution to Muslim in-fighting between Sunni and Shiites? Will it be the start of a coming together of all of Abraham’s children?

For peace, Divine Mercy, and all these things I pray, and I trust in You, my Jesus, I trust in You.

It appears that many coincidences happened yesterday. I don’t believe in coincidences.

This morning as I read my Morning Prayers and attended mass, I found much to remind me of the events of yesterday --- and tomorrow?

Though the wicked spring up like grass
And all who do evil thrive:
They are doomed to be eternally destroyed.

See how your enemies perish;
All doers of evil are scattered.
My eyes looked in triumph on my foes;
My ears heard gladly of their fall.

Psalm 92

Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world, Grant us peace.

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

St Michael the archangel,
Defend us in battle.
Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him we humbly pray,

And do thou, O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
By the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits,
Who prowl through the world,
Seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

And when I opened a book for my morning meditation, I read the following words:
“When we concentrate too much on something that isn’t right, and make it our main topic of conversation, we end up giving evil more substance that it has. Deploring evil sometimes only strengthens it. I recently heard a priest say: ‘I’m not going to spend my life denouncing sin. That would be doing it too much honor. I would rather encourage good than condemn evil.’ And I think he was right.”
Interior Freedom, by Jacques Philippe

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Celebrate Mothers

Human nature is such that for most of us, our memories of the past are largely good ones. Our minds block out bad memories, and they can almost be forgotten if we don’t dwell on them. Don’t!

Present events, however, run smack into our face, and we can’t quickly forget them. The good of today is equally present with the bad. But while both are present, I think most of us focus unduly on the bad, and not give the good its fair share of our attention --- or celebration. So it is with much happiness and thanks to God that I celebrate here the events of this weekend.

My three nieces flew into town on Thursday from Arizona and Idaho, to celebrate their grandma’s birthday (which was really last Monday, but she didn’t know that, and this weekend was more convenient for everyone’s travel plans.)

The girls arrived at mom’s house at about 5:30, and when they walked in through the front door mom was clearly shocked. She turned and looked to me for help, but I just smiled. The girls one by one hugged mom, and then the fog slowly began lifting from her mind: “I know you,” she said, “and you,” and then she paused. “But I don’t know you,” she said to Annie, the one she speaks of most often. Annie’s new shorter haircut didn’t register with mom until we wrote her name on the white board to read. The mom stared and more mist cleared. “You’re Annie!” she spoke through the smile of recognition. “You’re a nurse!” And there were more hugs and big smiles on the girls’ faces, and a few tears of happiness.

The girls had picked up dinner on their way from the airport --- White Castle hamburgers, “gut bombs,” their annual dose when they come to visit. I dutifully ate my share and quite frankly, enjoyed them. Then it was time to catch up on many things, recall some memories, and just be happy. I think the excitement wore mom out, because at 8:30 she yawned and said she wanted to go to bed. And then the girls and I headed to my house.

I had dutifully stocked the house with all sorts of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, and an excess of many of the munchies I knew they enjoyed. But no one was too anxious to party at first, with the burgers still heavy on our stomachs. But I started the evening off right, and I think I checked off something which might have been on my “bucket list”, if I had one. We opened the bottle of Dom Perignon champagne I bought for the occasion. I was confident none of us had ever spent so much money on a bottle of wine, but for this occasion it didn’t seem an extravagance to me. I don’t remember all of the toasts we made before drinking it, but it didn’t matter. All the thoughts we were feeling did not have to be said aloud. We know we are blessed, in so many ways. And we are thankful.

Dom Perignon and White Castle hamburgers: a unique celebration which fits with the “class” of our family.

We played pinochle late into the night and sampled every wine, whiskey, and liquor bottle in my cabinet, but my internal alarm clock woke me up in time for early morning mass. Unfortunately, as I turned on the downstairs bathroom light and squinted at the bloodshot eyes in the mirror, something else in my throbbing head hit the “snooze” button, and I crashed back down on the family room couch.

I finally woke up at 8AM, but the girls slept until about 11 (well, to be kind, it was 8AM in their normal time zone). I went to mom’s at noon, my Friday routine, and they went out shopping, picking up presents, and the cake, and then that afternoon we celebrated mom’s 93rd birthday. Well, the afternoon actually started as a re-celebration of the girls coming, as mom was again surprised at their arrival. (That’s sometimes a good thing about dementia: each new day is a surprise). Mom was surprised at their visit each day.

Mom loved the flowers, the socks, and the T-shirt she received ---- all in purple, of course. She glanced at the cards, as we explained who they were from, and said “nice” to the DVD’s of dog movies and cartoons. I’m not sure she understood the large wall picture hanger the girls bought, but she recognized most of the people in the pictures they placed in it.

She ate some of her birthday cake, which surprised me, since she hasn’t been too fond of pound cake of late. We ate the chocolate side of the cake with ice cream, and mom ate some of the yellow side of the cake. (Mom won’t touch chocolate cake, and if I try to serve some to her she will point at it and ask: “What’s wrong with this?” Or sometimes: “This is all burnt!”)

The caregiver who comes in on Saturday nights so I can attend mass, also came by on Friday evening, so I could take the girls out to dinner. But not surprisingly, they preferred to eat take out: Mexican food was on the menu for the night. We have simple tastes. We washed it down with margaritas this time, and watched the movie I Am David together. As typical of our family, the girls were all crying at the happy ending, but I had seen the movie perhaps a dozen times before --- and so I began crying about two-thirds the way through, in anticipation of the ending.

We played cards again, changing partners after each three game set. Florence had won with her first two partners, including me, and now spoke confidently of a sweep. In the last game of the set, she and her partner Ann were ahead by a score of 70 – 6, but Rose and I ended up winning. I think Florence and Ann threw the game to their uncle.

I love those girls.

Saturday I was at mom’s at 9AM, my usual schedule, and the caregiver went home. The girls packed and then came to spend the afternoon with grammy, and look at some old pictures on my computer. Mom struggled to stay awake, and after the girls gave their goodbye hugs and kisses at 2:30, she said: “Good. That’s enough.” And as the door closed behind them she said: “I’m ready for bed now,” and I put her to bed for her nap.

It was a wonderful weekend for our family. The girls’ visit, mom’s birthday and continued good health (or relatively good at any rate), and I even received some good news from a few people working on my book project, and a wonderful note from an old friend.

It was a weekend when all seemed well with the world. We all need those times once in a while, and I am thankful for the blessing of this one. I think, perhaps, that we have them more often than we might imagine, but just fail to recognize them. There is so much to celebrate in our lives, if we take the time to think about them. Don’t ever waste time being anxious about the bad times, my friends. Don’t waste your precious, precious time. Remember the words from the Bucket List movie: Life is short, don’t worry about failings. Celebrate blessings.

God is good. He has risen, indeed!

P.S. I usually write words like those above in front of the Blessed Sacrament. But I felt compelled to write those on early Saturday evening, even as the girls were still in the air, on their way home. Shortly after finishing, I put mom to bed for the night; she was very tired --- and so was I. So I napped a couple of hours, waiting for the caregiver to return so I could go to my Saturday midnight adoration time.

When I woke, waiting the few minutes for her arrival, I turned on the television, and there was the movie: The Bucket List. (I like how God does those things, making me think the “random thought” about that movie earlier in the evening, and then putting it in front of me again, to make sure I paid attention to what He wanted me to know.)

In the few minutes I watched, Jack Nicholson was telling of the things he did, out of love, for his daughter. He did things to protect her from her abusive husband that led him to leave town, and then his daughter to say to him: “You are dead to me. You’ll never see me or your grandchildren again.” Nicholson sadly said how much that hurt him, but that he’d do it all again, for her. And he wondered aloud what God thought about that.

These thoughts echoed in my mind as I drove to church, and I suddenly had thoughts of my sister, the mother of my nieces, and I wondered what she thought about this weekend --- but only for a second, because I am positive how proud she is in heaven, of her girls and her seven grandchildren that they are raising, deeply concerned that she be proud of them, because they never forget her. And then I realized that this is the real story of this weekend: a mother’s love, leading a family of love.

Sis and I re-discovered our heavenly mother, Mary’s love, when we went together to Medjugorje so many years ago, and we knew then that Mary watched over us. Now I care for my mom, and her grandkids faithfully raise the grandkids of their own mother, who watches and, I’m sure, prays for us all. And then as I drove through the night, I even had thoughts of my grandmother, who so many years ago had those great family holidays at her home. Four generations of very loving mothers; these were very good memories.

Oh, I know that I am only remembering the good things. There were bad also, but this weekend I choose to celebrate all those mothers’ never-ending love. It far outweighs and makes light of any problems that may have happened along the way. Mothers do that.

I just changed the title I had written on this paper from “So Much to Celebrate” to “Celebrate Mothers.” That’s what, I think, God wanted me to see and say. And now as the clock passes midnight in the chapel; it is Divine Mercy Sunday. Sis’ beloved Pope John Paul II will be beautified in Rome today, and I’m sure sis is celebrating that also.

And next comes Mother’s Day.

Easter Sunday, Divine Mercy Sunday, and Mother’s Day: it’s the right sequence of priority, I think, but all are so important. I’m glad God showed me all these things tonight, and alone here in the chapel, I shall now kneel and tell Him so.

God is so good to us, and there is so much to celebrate in our lives. Don’t let those things pass you by.