Saturday, July 30, 2011


I am at a conference at Franciscan University, in Steubenville Ohio, this weekend --- Defending the Faith. I drove 5 hours to hear, among others, Steve Ray, who was from my parish back in Michigan (go figure, :-) ). In his talk, Steve mentioned the situation in ancient Rome, where many gods were worshiped, but to the frustration of Romans, none answered their prayers. Then Roman citizens began to take notice of Christians; they were willing to die for their belief in Jesus Christ. They had a God, not one among many, but ONE in whom they had confidence to answer their prayers, a confidence even to death.

While the Romans despaired in what was happening all around them in their society, and their gods were of no help, Christians they saw had something better. It was not only the bright light, the joy, of Christianity that attracted the Romans, it was the darkness of their own despair.

It was like the darkness we see in our society, today.

Despair and fear are all around us. Everyone knows the truth, but anyone who says someone else is wrong is chastised: “Who are you to say you know the truth; this is MY truth.” And we despair that we cannot agree upon anything, even the truth, whether in Washington or in our cities --- or often, in our homes.

Steve spoke today about how we might prepare to live in our neo-pagan society. He said that the first decision we face is: Do we get involved, or not. Much talk followed that, but it stopped there for me.

If we want to change our culture, if we even want to be able to live in our culture --- without despair --- we must become involved. We can rail one political party against another, one church against another, or we can get out, ourselves, and do something to change, even one person.

Many of the speakers at this conference spoke of their witness of their Catholic faith. Whether by wearing a cross, or a collar, or just by their actions, many of the speakers noted that their witness was both noticed and questioned: “Why do you wear that cross? Are you a priest? Why did you donate to that beggar?” While many in our culture despair (while still proclaiming their “wonderful” culture of diversity), there are still many others who want to know the truth, the one real truth, not a relative one. They will give you opportunities to help them understand that truth, if you will first stand up in witness.

Love of your neighbor doesn’t start with a political party or a church, it starts with you. All change, all happiness, starts with you and one other person --- your neighbor, your spouse, or your child. The early Christians believed the words of Jesus, and ACTED as if they did in the treatment of their neighbor, and in their public witness. They proclaimed their joy in knowing that eternal life awaited them, and so they wanted to act in ways to get there. Helping their neighbor in his despair, they didn’t fix all his problems, but they weren’t afraid to stand up and help anyway, even a little. And to tell and witness by their actions the truth as they knew it.

One nation under God was our declaration, but now it seems one nation in despair. How does it get better? It starts with you, not Washington. The Roman Empire was converted from the despair of paganism, one person at a time. That is how we’ll change America.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Little Rain

Into each life, a little rain must fall.

This morning in my area of Michigan we had six inches of rain in eight hours. A little?? But while I look out the kitchen window at the continuing gloom I can remember the sunny (even if hot) days, and when the garden was first sprouting new growth (even if it was hard work to till that soil), and the days of laying in the hammock (now soaked in the yard). I remember the many good, if not perfect days of this summer. And I can smile.

I glance at other blogs on the internet on occasion which may help me grow in faith; I glance at some to follow their trials, and perhaps offer some of my earned-at-great-cost wisdom; and I glance at some, especially those of Catholic moms, who show pictures of their smiling babies and their funny little pets, to lift my spirits. (I wonder if they know how many lives they make better with their silly pictures and their rambling on and on about their kids? I do so appreciate them.)

On rainy days like today, there are places I can go and things I can do to make it seem a little less cloudy --- and forget my troubles.

When you have trials and troubles, depressing days, you also should seek out thoughts and places which can make you remember happiness, make you smile at others’ blessings, and make you laugh. God is good, we so easily forget, especially on days when it rains --- or perhaps even lightning seems to strike us. All our trials are for a reason. And God loves you and is with you, especially when your life is hard.

It may be obvious, but I have to remember that if I want to stop MY pains, and stop MY sorrows, stop MY worries, first I’ve got to stop thinking about ME. I was not put on this earth to be always happy; I was not put here to see only sunshine; and I was not put here alone. There are others here who will make me happy --- if I only let them. There are others here who will praise God and thank Him for sending them a blessing --- me --- if I let myself love them first, and not me.

We often pray “Lord, what would you have me do,” seeking to know and do the will of God. But what we would like to do for Him, we must instead do for others, for He is there in each of His creations, even as He is here in us. So often when we pray, we act as if all the world were only us and God: we ask Him to do things, or ask Him to help us do things for Him, but the world is more than just us and Him. Instead of praying: “Lord, how can I help You,” our prayers should be: “Lord, how can I help them?” All my friends, neighbors, and people I don’t even know, they are the prodigal sons God spoke of; they are the travelers beaten up by the roadside; they are the little babies crying out hungry for food --- and for love. They are what we can do to please God: love His children for Him.

While I so often focus on how hard my life is, theirs is too. While I pray for God to help me, He often sends them to my aid. And while they pray that He help them, He often sends me.

If only I would stop worrying about myself and trying to ease my own pains --- and let those God has sent help. If only I would stop worrying about myself --- and help them.

Then God would be happy, very happy, even if He were looking down on me and seeing me in pain. For my pains are opportunities for Him to show how much He loves me, and for Him to give me a hug.

If I let Him.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Tortoise and the Hare

In the Gospel today God tells Solomon he can ask for anything, and God will grant it to him, and Solomon asks for wisdom. And Solomon is granted great wisdom, and you can see it mentioned in a number of places in Scripture, including the Song of Songs. But later, in Ecclesiastes, you see that Solomon did not always choose the wisest options, even if he knew them. He had this great gift, but he took it for granted, and the temptations of the world led him astray. And then, for some strange reason, my thoughts went from Solomon to the fable of the tortoise and the hare. (And for those who know me, you will not think it strange at all that my mind wanders in such a way.)

Solomon may have had rumors of Aesop’s fable when he wrote in Ecclesiastes: “The race is not to the swift” (Eccl 9:11), but that’s pure speculation on my part. The fable itself has a number of moral interpretations, but some of the more common regarding the tortoise are: never give up, always keep plugging ahead, slow and steady is often better than a swift burnout, and never think you can’t win. Then there are maxims based on the hare’s performance in the fable: To win, you must never slow down, don’t stop to look over your shoulder, and then of course there’s Elmer Fudd’s take on hares: “Wabbits! I hate wabbits!” All good moral imperatives to think on (or laugh at), but that’s not where my mind went this morning.

In the fable, the hare slowed down and napped, and the tortoise passed him by and went on to win the race, but that’s not the important thing I see, when I think of our life’s race. From a moral point of view, our life is a race to heaven, and getting ahead, or closer to the finish line, means growing in holiness. It is a task for each of us. But where this analogy diverges from the fable of the tortoise and the hare is that, in life, this is not a race where the fastest wins, as Ecclesiastes notes. In fact, it is not a race where there is only one winner, but the goal is for all to be winners. The lifelong race to grow in holiness is won at the finish line, whether you get there through slow steady walking, or bursts of speed with plenty of rests along the way. The goal is to finish the race, period.

I think if some of the wise writers of Scripture were around today, perhaps they might use as an example of this call to holiness not the tortoise and the hare race, but the Special Olympics race. In the Special Olympics, children of various handicaps run races, and the goal is to finish. All finishers win, and are richly congratulated and given prizes. If some find it difficult along the way of the race, there are people there to encourage them, urge them to not give up, and tell them to not look at how fast or slow others are running the race, but to just continue to move ahead, to get to the finish line. That’s a more appropriate parable or fable of our life, a constant push of people with various handicaps, but who CAN finish. And it’s also a story of those who help those less able than themselves. In the Special Olympics fable, the rabbit wouldn’t stop and nap, he’d go back and help the tortoise and encourage him not to give up. And he’d probably be behind the tortoise as he crossed the finish line; who crossed the line first wouldn’t matter to the hare.

In a way, it’s like the parable of the hired hands in the field, whether some worked all day or some just at the end, but they all finished the workday and were rewarded the same. Finishing was the key, not when the work began or how slow of fast it was accomplished. That’s the way our life should be lived.

Some of us are slow, with few talents. Some of us are fast, with many talents. The slow ones may have had no one write a word in their high school yearbooks. The fast ones may have been congratulated as “Most Likely to Succeed,” before they had yet done anything; with their talents they were expected to succeed. But the tale of the tortoise and the hare shows that others’ expectations matter not, nor do our talents, it is our perseverance that matters. In life, in growing in holiness, in getting to heaven, it is about a lifelong race, to the finish line. And everyone can win, if they persevere.

They ways and wiles of the world are many. Solomon, with all his wisdom, found that out. There are many things which tempt us to stop, like the hare, along the way. Perhaps we think we are far ahead --- I’m holy enough; God must be happy. Perhaps we think the race is finished in this life --- I go to church on Sunday, but I must also rest and enjoy life. Perhaps we just plain get distracted, and church, prayer, and God become secondary. Perhaps we think the race for holiness is too hard: I’m not a saint. And in all these things, we rationalize quitting the race. Using our reason to rationalize things is good, but we need faith to go with our reasoning. Faith is underpinned by all those gifts, talents, and graces from God. We all have faith; unfortunately, we don’t all use it.

I think I stumbled upon a way to keep my life moving forward in holiness, to not grow lax. While I read, I meditated, and I prayed often during my life, I have had many periods where those things were done rarely --- other things seemed more important. What I also did, however, was care about my neighbor; it was something I was taught early in life, and it served me well. I learned it in what my parents did, I learned it in caring for my brother, and I learned it in Catholic schools and in church: Love you neighbor, and show it. And so I always volunteered in various ways to help the less well off, financially, physically, or mentally. If a volunteer opportunity arose, I almost always stepped up to the plate --- even at the expense of those things I “thought” were more important, money, career, and self-indulgences. And when I may have been slowing down in my faith walk, caring for these others, helping them, urging them not to give up --- like those helping at the Special Olympics --- my caring for others helped them, in a way, to care for me. For as they slowly ran the race, whatever the race they needed help with at the moment, I found myself walking along side them, and as they advanced, so did I. When I, who have so many talents, stopped along the way but still turned to help someone else, looking back I can see that I was also helping myself. And I didn’t even know it.

Be open to the tortoises which may cross your path, my friends, and slow down to help them. The race in life is not to finish first in anything, first in money, first in prestige, or first in happiness, the race is to finish as holy as you should be, no matter how long it takes you. And I’ve found that virtually ALL of my neighbors can help me do this, if I let them. If I let them by helping them first.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

We Create His Shadow

The Lord is my light and my salvation, of whom shall I be afraid? Ps 27:1

In various places in the Old Testament it is said that man cannot look upon the face of God; to do so is to die. So man turns away from the face of God, but God still shines on him, and when the man looks down, he sees before him only a shadow. It seems to be his shadow, for it looks much like him, but it is really a shadow of the Light of God, for the darkness he are looking at is but a small fraction of all the immense light around it. We all so often focus on our small shadow, and say: “Look what I’ve done”, and ignore the Light all around us. We are so foolish in giving glory to ourselves, when we really didn’t do anything at all.

I suspect much of our life is that way. God provided us the talents; God provided us the opportunities; God provided us the wisdom and graces. All we did was to use what He provided, and then became kind of like the backstage helper wanting to take the bow, when the real acting was done by someone else. There is very little, I suspect, that we can honestly take a bow for. But one of those things might be our children. They are one of the most important parts of our being; God has given us the opportunity to partake in His act of creation---- and in His constant act of loving His creation. He wishes us to join Him in heaven, and He has made amazing sacrifices for us to do that, and He has spent ages patiently trying to teach us what needs be done to join Him there. And He would be most pleased if we did likewise with our children. He loves us in the most grand ways, and in the littlest too. And as He loves, we should do likewise.

The other day at mass the priest was raising the host at the consecration, one of the most important moments of the mass, as Jesus’ sacrifice is re-offered to the Father. The entire church was in silent reverence at the moment, praying with the priest, making an offering with Jesus to our Father. And then, in the silence, the voice of a young child cried out: “Abba!”

I couldn’t stop my eyes from glancing a few pews over where the young boy, cradled in his father’s arms, was still raising his hands toward his father’s face. The word was so clear, I don’t think it was a child’s blubbering, but a word his father had taught him to say, to teach him a word that means love and dependence, an important word.

In this littlest way, this loving way, the father taught his child --- and became a witness to the whole church.

And as He loves, we should do likewise.

You know now what is more excellent: light is preferable to shadow, reality to its symbol, the body of the Giver to the manna He gave from heaven. - St. Ambrose

Friday, July 22, 2011

My Father Hates Me

About a year ago I wrote a post entitled “I Hate My Father”. It was written in reaction to a note which was sent to me. Sadly, in this past year that post has been the most popular of this blog, visited more than any other. People who Google: “I Hate My Father” are regularly referred here, and even if they don’t read my page or get anything out of it, it still saddens me that there are so many people who think that way, or wonder about their feelings that way.

I re-read that page again this morning, and I realized that perhaps there is more to say about the subject. The prior posting emphasized the individual and “what” he was feeling, but perhaps a slightly different look may help him and us see “why” he was feeling. Perhaps why he was feeling that he hated his father is because he felt that his father hated him --- and perhaps he felt that this father had a reason to do so. In a way, some people feel they are defective, and undeserving of love, and so if a parent hates them it is justified. They are wrong. Both that they are defective, and that they are undeserving of love.

It’s important for us to realize why we were created in the first place, to be loved by God. That is the reason He created the world, and everything in it, even you. Imagine a bucket, created specifically to be placed in a river, to capture its waters, and to be always filled with its cool refreshment. God is the river of life, and you are the bucket. But buckets are sometimes abused by those they are entrusted to – our parents, and they can become dented or even get large holes in them. They cannot function as they were made to do. So they keep dipping in the river, and are frustrated or even angry that the water flows out through their holes so rapidly. Life does not appear to offer them happiness. They wish they could fix their holes, but they were not made to do that either. Perhaps even their parents may grow angry with them, forgetting that they are possibly the ones which created the defect.

It may happen that if the bucket continues to dip into the river a piece of wood or a stone may flow into the bucket. It may block somewhat the hole there, and then water will flow out a bit slower. And it will be refreshed for a bit longer period, but it yearns for more. And there may come the day when a large leaf, or even an old newspaper may flow into the bucket and nearly perfectly seal the hole. Something which may have appeared as trash can be used by the river to heal the bucket, to make it stay nearly perfectly filled with the river. Oh, the bucket could seek to capture the perfect trash itself, but the river’s eddies and swirls flow as they will; it is not easy to tame. Nor are the flows of our life.

God, the river of life, can heal us in His good time. We need to keep dipping into His waters with faith; the healing is there. In the meantime, perhaps we will be healed some --- it is almost inevitable if we persist. And perhaps one day we will find we are filled with something we least expect, which nearly totally heals us, and the river flows into us and we feel almost completely fulfilled, being what we are made to be.


But one of the truths of life is that none of us will be totally fulfilled in this life. In at least some small way, every man is defective in this life. Only heaven brings perfection. Now in this life we can focus on the hole in our bucket, how we were damaged in some big or small way, or we can continue to dip ourselves into the river, over and over, confident that our betterment, our little fulfillment lies there. Like buckets, it is what we were made to do.

A father who did not make you into the perfect bucket he was tasked to do is something to regret. He failed, although perhaps if he is still in your life he can effect some repairs; he, the bucket’s earthly caretaker, is perhaps better able to do this than anyone else on earth. But if that is not to be, then the bucket still exists. Ruing the father, cursing him, hating him, does not change the lot of the bucket, it only keeps it busy on the shore, when the refreshing waters are flowing nearby, the waters the bucket was made to dip into, the waters which can bring it healing and happiness --- even eternal happiness.

Don’t be focused on the things which will not, which you cannot, change in your life. Be instead, who you were made to be, to the best of your ability. Therein lays your happiness, seeking to do the will of God, capturing the river of His love and graces, which flow there for you, if you would choose to dip in them.

But the choice is yours. Stay on shore and curse the heat and dryness, or join the rest of us defective buckets in the stream. None of us is perfect, and we won’t envy you if you are bigger than us or capture more water than us; there is plenty. And we won’t chastise your imperfection, no matter how big, because we all leak like sieves also.

And who knows, while something odd may flow down the river one day to partially heal you or I, perhaps, just perhaps, the river will push you and I together, and we’ll be surprised to learn that one bucket, of just the right size, will nestle within another, making the perfect seal for the holes in both of them.

Stranger things have happened in the river. Miracles occur there. Do you only remember the birth of Christ as being honored by the three kings, as life being a thing of richness and glory? The lowly shepherds were invited to Jesus’ birthday celebration, too. And an angel told the shepherds: Fear not!

Even the lowliest, the most defective are called into the river of His life and graces; they can be healed. He awaits them. And you.

If you think your father hates you, remember, your Father does not, and He heals all things.

If God is Love, then certainly the devil is hate. And the Love is All-Good, and the hate is all-evil. Remember the prayer Jesus taught us, and pray it sincerely throughout your life: Our Father, …. Deliver us from evil. Amen.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sleeping In

The bedside clock read 7AM. Rats! I had slept through the alarm and missed the 6:30A weekday mass I like to attend. So I just rolled over and went back to sleep. I woke at 8:30 again and quickly realized: Hey, wait a minute! This isn’t a weekday! But by now I had missed my usual 8:45A Sunday mass. The day wasn’t starting out well, or so I thought.

I quickly realized that the only local parish mass I could make and still get to mom’s to relieve the caregiver on time was the 10AM mass at Fr. John’s parish. I readied and headed out there, arriving in time to read my morning prayers before mass. Fr. John was the celebrant of the mass and I expected a fruitful homily --- perhaps this was why I had slept in; maybe there was something important I was to hear today. But I was disappointed. Fr. John’s sermon was very short, and not directly related to the mass readings. He spent the time stressing the importance of leaven.

He gave an example of a recent holiday that turned out to be very disappointing experience for him. It was disappointing because it started out bad, which colored his feelings about the rest of the vacation. He arrived to check in at the place he was to stay, only to find a check-in clerk who was too busy --- period. Oh, not busy with work, but with personal distractions, and was irritated that he had to stop his leisure to work, and expressed his frustration to Fr. John. Then, after a quick check, he informed Fr. John: “Sorry, no reservation in your name. You must be mistaken.” Well, I don’t have to go on with the rest of the details, you can just imagine. The point of the story was that the initial experience clouded his judgment of everything that followed, even the good stuff.

Fr. John explained the importance of first impressions, like leaven, it can spread to everything else, a bad first impression can make everything else seem bad, and a good impression can make everything else good. And the impression that Fr. John wanted his parish, his parish of good people, to make was that of a welcoming parish, from the moment someone entered the church door. He was encouraging individuals and families to sign up to be “welcomers” at future masses, standing at every church entrance, starting the experience of church for all visitors with a good impression.

It was a very simple homily, and request, and I know that simple points are the ones remembered, but my mind is not simple. So I found myself sitting after mass in the church thinking: Why?

Oh, I thought of a lot of answers to that question, but they all seemed so superficial. A welcome like that which was explained seems to me to be a social thing: Hi neighbor! It’s like something you would do to someone entering your home. Yes, it would show even uninvited people that they are guests, and it would indicate your pleasure at their arrival, but it would do nothing toward progressing the occasion of the gathering, if there was one. I mean if the occasion was a barbeque, the welcome might be: Come on in; let me grab you a beer! Or if the event were a Baptism party the welcome might be: I’m glad you could come; let me show you the baby. But just a “welcome” is something the ticket-taker does at the movie: I hope you enjoy the show. In answering my question of “why” to welcome to the church, I found myself thinking that a simple welcome does not go far enough, because it doesn’t invite the guests into the event; it doesn’t get them to be part of it.

We all know that many people go to church on Sunday because it is the cultural thing to do --- everyone goes, so they go, get it over with, and then do what they “really” want to do. That’s the feeling of Sunday service for many people of many faiths. But unlike many faiths, the Catholic mass is not just a gathering of neighbors, it is a gathering of neighbors and God. God comes to be physically present, and we physically receive Him at mass. In the Scripture readings, He speaks to us. In the prayers, we speak to Him. It’s not just any social gathering. God is there

And that’s where my short musings led me, after mass this morning.

So, to continue Fr. John’s analogy, if we wanted to spread a leavening moment at the entrance to the church, what should be done? We are believers in all that will be going on at the mass, but perhaps many others attending are not as much convinced. Well, in the moments at entrance certainly we can’t be preaching to them --- that would thin out the attendance pretty fast, and the purpose for the proposed greeters is to make the mass a better experience and encourage even more attendees, not less. But besides more, is there a way to make them better attendees?

Like the barbeque or Baptism greeting, how do you create one that gets people into the event, the mass, with the at-door greeting? I fleetingly thought about the prayers at mass: perhaps welcome people and ask if there were any prayer requests (and note them), or have a basket for prayer request cards to be dropped at the entrance --- and then later specifically include those prayers at the time of Petitions? That way you’re getting people thinking about praying and God, and looking for that during the mass? What about God’s speaking in the readings: Change the greeting each week by adding a couple of words to cue in people to what God will be saying to them, to make them focused on hearing it?

I don’t have any suggestions for a way to make the greeting at the door be both welcoming to the building, and to the event, but I think this may important to really create, as Fr. John explained, a leavening experience that expands to color the whole event. Perhaps it can’t be done at the door, and unsaid in the homily, Fr. John plans on layering on that first welcoming when he steps on the altar. Perhaps he will create that welcome into the event in some manner with a sentence or two before the mass begins. Something to get the mass “visitors” into participants of the event. Certainly we all know or remember priests who begin mass talking about the latest sports score or the weather, that’s their form of greeting at the door. And it’s not very effective, in my opinion. Perhaps Fr. John is thinking of a way to improve upon that. Perhaps a better selection of opening hymns would be a way to get people into the service?

Did God let me sleep in this morning for a reason, or are my musings after mass and here just more sleep-walking? What I heard this morning got me thinking that there should be an effective way to do this. Do you have any ideas, or examples of other parish’s success?

(And no, I don’t want to hear: Hand them a beer.)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Looking Up

I went for a walk this morning and then sat on the front porch bench. The sun warmed my jeans, and I could smell the neighbor’s fresh cut grass. Geraniums were in full bloom in the planters, unlike the ones on the back deck, which the squirrels had dug up and tossed aside. (I think they were looking for nuts I had given them a few days ago. I had emptied a package of stale cashews, leaving them too many to eat and so they had buried some and, based on their frantic diggings, had lost them. I’m not complaining; my memory’s like that some days, too.)

There wasn’t much of a breeze today, and the flag hung limply, jutting out to let passersby know that a proud American lives here --- or, as some studies show, an old person lives here, and may be easy pickings for those inclined to rob. But I don’t consider myself old, or at least I feel that God has things for me to do and likely still wants me here for a while. And when He gets around to telling me what those things are, I’ll get up off this bench.

My grass is pretty brown, and looks dead. But it’s not; it’ll come back. It’s just taking a rest during this dry spell. I guess I’m kind of like that, in some ways. Likely early next week, when some rain storms are predicted, it will take on some shade of green again, letting me know that it hasn’t given up. And even if the summer dryness drags on, I know it will be bright green again next spring. I guess I’m kind of like that, too, waiting for greener times, and confident that they will come.

Hummingbirds visit the hanging planters throughout the morn. Like big blue bees, they like the fuchsia plant flowers, but never choose to visit the flowers that open on the side of the plant, always choosing the ones hanging down. Perhaps they like looking up to be fed.

I guess I’m kind of like that, too.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Special Needs

Caring for my 93-year old mom is boring sometimes (watching tapes of her favorite shows over and over --- and over), and sometimes it’s a religious experience (Lord, give me patience!), but sometimes, ---- sometimes she makes me laugh.

Mom drinks coffee throughout her day, from her waking to her bedtime (“I go to bed at 9 o’clock”). And in all that time she drinks perhaps two full cups of coffee --- perhaps. Her day always starts off with hot coffee (Good, it’s not too hot. Thank you.), and usually a piece of cake. That first sip is always the best, “Ah, that’s good coffee,” she says. And then, about a half hour to forty-five minutes later, begins a routine that is repeated often throughout the day:

Hey! This coffee is cold, --- she might say in a surprised voice.

After re-heating the nearly full cup, there is another sip taken by her, and another Ah, good. And a half hour later:

Why did you give me this cold coffee? --- surprised again. Or sometimes she might lean forward in her chair, and look over at me and say:

You’re not going to believe this, but this coffee is cold. Or,

How come this is cold? Or,

This is remarkable; it’s cold. But sometimes it happens that she says:

Wow! That’s hot! Or, This is all wet. (On some days the dementia kicks in, and her words often get confused and her meaning unclear --- and on those times I have to try and stay sharp myself, because after re-heating that cup of coffee nine or ten times I get confused and am not sure if it IS hot. :-) )

And on most days, looking sadly at the cup of coffee, she says one of my favorites, in her small, quiet voice:

This is lousy.

Some days, mom, that sums up my feelings too.

Caregiving for mom is much more tedious than I ever could have imagined. I remember how my parents cared for my younger brother, who was retarded (although that word is not PC these days; his condition probably would be described today with 3 or 4 letters, an acronym for an illness that no one could understand, or he would be labeled as a “special needs” child.) I remember the difficult days my parents had with my brother; and often I could see the tenseness in mom and dad as they fought to control their emotions. Today, they’d probably belong to some support group; I do.

And outside of that support group, outside that immediate family situation, no one would understand what they felt.

It’s hard to see someone you love become someone different. Couples divorce when one changes, but very often when one changes in a physical way, developing special physical needs, whether due to illness or old age, the remaining spouse honors the “in sickness or in health” vow they made. And despite their spouse changing, their love remains and drives their dedicated, caring actions, even if the love that remains is only for who their spouse used to be. And for the caregiver, some days trying to remember that love are harder than others.

Looking back, my parents were saintly in their care of my brother. Even on the worst days they showed tremendous patience, and yes, love. On some days, caring for my mom is a problem for me, but there are so many good memories to recall, and mom and I sometimes share them together, looking at pictures on the wall, or those stored on my computer. And even if she’s forgotten them, I haven’t. Caring for a “special needs” child, however, like my parents did for 45 years must have been so much more difficult --- the difficult times with my brother spanned his whole life, not just starting at some point, starting after many years of good memories and love. How hard it must have been to love, when the good memories were so few.

I wrote here, once, about how my dad broke down one time --- one time in forty five years --- and in his frustration punished my brother, crying as he did it. I received a couple of critical comments to that post, chastising dad’s action.

With each passing year of caring for my mom, I better appreciate the love they felt toward my brother, and I appreciate the tremendous love of others who care for an elderly parent or a “special” child --- so many I see, some even in my support group, have much more difficult situations than mine. And so often they alone are the caregiver, caring and loving, alone, as the one cared for cannot love back any more.

I tried to write, today, of some of the humorous things I see in caring for mom --- sometimes I have to look for them. And sometimes in the caregiver’s group meeting we share the good times too --- even if we have to give ourselves time to remember them.

I guess the reason for writing these things is to document a reminder to myself. Special needs require special love. I’m not writing to pat myself on the back, but to remind myself to remember the good times. Yesterday I wrote about the Parable of the Sower, and how we all tend to focus on the bad results we see around us, despite our good efforts. This is a “Reminder to Self” note, to read yesterday’s post again also. So many good things may be happening that we don’t understand today, and perhaps we never will. But despite this, have faith, and just sow love. Just sow.

If you get a chance, my friend, you might call out a “Hey!” to someone you know who is caring for a parent or a “special” child. Your little “I admire what you’re doing; let’s get together for coffee,” or just a silly e-mail card, may seem to them to be a seed sown by them that yielded good fruit --- and they need to see that success sometimes during their day, and not just in their memories --- or, sometimes to just laugh.

After writing this down, I stayed in the chapel praying the rosary. It was during the Third Joyful Mystery, the Birth of Our Lord, when the cell phone buzzed in my pocket --- a text message had arrived. Glancing at it, in case it had something to do with mom, I saw that it was from a number I did not recognize. A stranger had mistakenly sent me a text message. The message? “Hey!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sow What?

I think our growth in faith and holiness is largely a result of using our existing knowledge and talents, coupled with inspiration from God. Just using our own talents and efforts won’t get us much progress without God’s help --- there are many very intelligent people who, we can see, “just don’t get it”. Similarly, there seem to be many people who we perceive as being blessed by God, yet they don’t seem particularly holy either --- they’re not working at it, and God can’t or won’t do it alone; He won’t force anyone into heaven. Now certainly there were some saints who, like Saul, God struck down to open their eyes, but there were many more who grew in holiness by learning of God and His ways and being open to His will, so that when inspiration came, as with Augustine, they were able to accept it as being from Him, and their eyes were opened.

Last night I read how John Henry Newman, in his book Apologia Pro Vita Sua, looked back at his life and his gradual conversion to Catholicism. He saw himself “slowly advancing and led on by God’s hand blindly, not knowing whither He was taking me”. But looking back he saw how stubborn he was in analyzing his beloved Anglican faith, and while growing slowing more Catholic in his reasoning: “I determined to be guided not by my imagination, but by my reason. And this I said over and over again in the years which followed, both in conversation and in private letters. Had it not been for this severe resolve, I should have been a Catholic sooner than I was.” John Henry admitted that he had a good education, talent and a resolve to grow in holiness, but he was not as open as he could have been to the inspiration of God, and this he later regretted.

And so it was perhaps with these thoughts in mind that I glanced at the readings before mass this morning, and suddenly I found new insight in old words, and I recognized it as such. Looking at the end of the Parable of the Sower reading, I became aware of the mathematics (one of my talents) in the parable, and new insights flashed in my mind. Old knowledge, even recently acquired knowledge like that of Newman’s faith walk, coupled with the new insight I gained this morning, and I saw a reinforcement on how to live my life in a better way. I see things such as this as growths in my holiness walk and a good thing. A major advance or a small one, or maybe just a brake to prevent me from falling back, I don’t know, but I felt it to be a good thing.

The verse I focused on this morning was Jesus’ explanation of the parable:
Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty. (Mt 13:18-23)

What struck me were the four results from the sower’s effort: on the path, on rocky ground, in thorns, and in good soil. Only one of the four seemed good. And I realized how much we tend to focus on the three bad results, and bad results seem such a big thing in our and others’ efforts. Look at all the focus on Fr. Corapi and his efforts. We worry about failings, and we focus on the need to see results, now--- or we judge efforts as a failure. We see; we judge. Even though Jesus explained the parable clearly, we forget His explanation or do not fully understand it, for we do not hear it with faith, and we do not apply it with faith.

The parable says that one seed will yield a hundred-fold harvest. The parable should be seen not as that only one seed in four is successful, it should be seen that the four seeds will yield one hundred, eventually, if you have faith. The parable tells us that we must sow, and continue to sow, and have faith in the harvest, and not focus on failures or unseen success. It is He who will create the fertile soil in some, and have it waiting there for our seeds. It is He who will bring the rains to make the seed sprout. It is He who will tend and nourish the fruits, so the bountiful harvest will be spread. It is He, not us.

But we so often look at our sowing (and that of others) and want to judge the immediate success, or failure. Even the parable tells us that we can’t do that, for some of the immediate results are deceitful, for we see that three of the four seeds actually do sprout. We can see immediate results in three of the four cases, and we might judge our efforts as successful. But eternal success cannot be judged by man, and we would be fools in our quick judgments.

And we are so quick to judge.

We are sad when our spouse doesn’t appreciate a little kindness we did for him; we are sad that our child didn’t heed our warnings and perhaps soiled his clothes; we are sad that our friends are divorcing. Seeds we have sown --- wasted, we think. And it gives us deep sadness. And we are discouraged: “Is there any good soil?” we seem to wonder.

I think we overestimate our value as sowers. We sow seed and desire, no expect, that we will see sprouting of new life, and we will nourish and water and we will see a great harvest for our good efforts. That is our desire when we do good, but it is a desire which will rarely be fulfilled because we do not do all those things. He does. We just sow seeds. A better expectation of our results might be if we imagined if we perceived we are sowing rocks. By themselves, nothing much will happen to the rocks we scatter. By themselves, they cannot create life no matter how much we wish it. We set ourselves up for disappointment with our optimism of results.

Only one in four seeds yields a great harvest, the parable notes, and even then the results are not immediate. Only one in four, and those are only odds, not a certainty. So like a coin that could be flipped to sometimes yield “heads” ten flips in a row --- despite the 50/50 odds of each flip --- so our sowing efforts could yield dozens of failures in a row before they result in a single success. It is not something in our control. We only spread the seed, we do not make it grow. That is His work. And as for ourselves, our growth, we need to prepare our soil, to make it good soil, by doing what we can to grow in knowledge of God, His ways, and using the talents He gave us, so that when a seed comes our way it will sprout, and perhaps yield a great harvest in us, and we might grow in holiness.

Even Jesus, God, spread twelve seeds and one of them yielded no fruit, but look at the billion Catholics in the world today. From the twelve seeds Jesus could have focused on Judas --- “I failed”. Or He could have looked at the eleven and said: “I succeeded”. But could He, as a man, have seen the billion? As a man, like us, I think not. But He did have faith. And with faith He sowed, and trusted the growth and the harvest to God the Father. That is the new insight I see in the Parable of the Sower: I must stop worrying about and focusing on my self-perceived failures. I must stop worrying about any failures I see in the work of others. Just live my life, trying to grow in wisdom, effectively using the talents I was blessed with, and being open to God’s inspiration. And then, while continuing to do my best, trust the watering of my efforts and the harvest to Him.

I like the optimistic note in which the Sower Parable ends: a hundred-fold yield. Don’t focus on the three failures, focus on the total yield of our efforts --- and His efforts. And in all these things: Do Not Be Anxious.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Too Much

“Too much of anything is no good for you.”

“You’ll make yourself sick!”

Sagely wisdom, and words from your mom, all are saying that we can want too much of a good thing. “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach.” And often these words are backed up by doctors: “Too much caffeine causes cancer” (or cures it, depending on which study you choose). Too much strict parenting, too much overtime, too much ice cream and even too much church are said to be bad for you. But when does a passion become an obsession? When does something which is good in itself become a bad thing because of our excesses? Is there a general line which can be defined, a warning point?

For myself, I have defined two warning points which I try to be on the alert for: 1) When I say to myself: “I wish I had more time for (some good thing)”, or 2) When someone, and especially when a friend, says to me “You’re really passionate about (something)”. The first instance is my usual “look the other way”, to avoid thinking about a problem by pointing to something else. The second instance usually is when a friend, a REAL friend, tells me I’m losing my objectivity about something --- and if I should hear this comment from a total stranger, I’ve really LOST my objectivity. In either case, I’ve been caught doing something which is taking an inordinate amount of my energy, and crowding out other things. I’ve lost balance in my life. Most often when I am doing too much of a thing, it is taking too much of my time, the most precious thing I have to give. I forget that my focus on “too much” of something implies that something else gets “too little”. And unfortunately, the thing that gets too little is often more important.

My thoughts on this subject began the other night at chapel. A young man mentioned that he was there praying and re-learning about his Catholic faith, which he had lost while in college. He didn’t say it, but I suspect that too much partying, too much focus his newfound freedoms (not to mention probably too much liberal teaching), and in general too much of everything else crowded out his faith life. It seems to happen to a lot of youth these days. This young man focused too little on his faith, and lost it; he was most fortunate to have realized his mistake. So many people who focus on “too much” of something, lose something else, forever. Lost faith, lost friends, lost spouses, lost family, any of these can be lost forever if we don’t pay them sufficient attention, if we focus “too much” on something of less importance.

And what about you, my friends? Do you wish you had more time for something? Has someone commented to you about how you are really passionate about something? Do you really think about the implications of your answers to these questions? Is something taking up “too much” of your time?

And then there’s the most important question of all: Is a really important SOMEONE taking up “too little” of your time?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Why Was I Born?

On Mother’s Day I wrote here of a deep insight I had on the importance of Mary, and of mothers in general. I noted that of all the things of this earth Our Lord could take --- and He could have “taken” anything --- through the Assumption, He took His mother with Him back to heaven. Only that one thing did He take, His mother. I pointed out the value that God obviously placed on mothers through that unique example, and that following His example, we likewise should value all mothers.

But why?

Jesus was born that the punishments due to Adam’s original sin might be negated --- “He came that we might have eternal life.” And the importance of that goes back to the reason for creation itself. God is love, and he created man so that man might be a receiver of His love, that so wishes to go out of Him. Man was created to receive God’s love and through his free will, to return that love to God through his actions while on earth, and then through his very being, to be united to God, in eternity. Mothers are so very important because they begin an earthly life, another receptacle for God’s love. The whole reason for creation was God wanting to give His love, and mothers create receivers of His love --- the exact thing God wanted. Mothers work with God’s creation activity, creating earthly lives so that through His love, He can create eternal lives, eternal love.

Why was I born; what thing about me is so important? I was born to receive God’s love, and to live in love with Him eternally. That is the underlying main reason for my existence. I so easily get confused with things of this earth, and their perceived importance to me, but that is my real importance. The purpose of everything I do, of everything I can do, had that final end in mind when I was first thought into existence. I was made to receive love, and to give love.

And my mother’s choice made it possible. Praise be to her, for giving me this first step toward eternal happiness for me. Praise be to her, for giving such pleasure to God, for creating a life that is meant to be His, and which he so desires. All of the heavens and earth were created just so my mother and other mothers could create a new place for God to present His never-ending love.

A mother’s love in creating new life is a finishing touch to make God’s creation perfect, just what He wanted it to be. No wonder He values mothers so highly! No wonder I was born, and He was so pleased!

But not every person chooses to assist God in His purposes for creation. Some think they have a better idea.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Further Thoughts on Fr. Corapi

Mom’s caregiver is out of town for the holiday weekend, but I did not have to sleep on the couch at mom’s house again. Yeah! Unfortunately, the power went out at mom’s Saturday, and with difficulty I brought her to live here at my house for a few days. She is sleeping on the family room couch, and to be nearby, I slept on the front room couch --- only a little more comfortable than the one at mom’s, but well, home is home. And God is good in all things, even these.

Waking up early, I read the Liturgy of the Hours in quiet, and what I read caused me to reflect on Fr. Corapi, again. He had been on my mind of late because of a comment to a previous post I made on his situation. In today’s Office of Readings was an excerpt from a letter to the Corinthians, by Saint Clement, pope. It concluded with these haunting words:

A person may be faithful; he may have the power to utter hidden mysteries; he may be discriminating in the evaluation of what is said and pure in his actions. But the greater he seems to be, the more humbly he ought to act, and the more zealous he should be for the common good rather than his own interest.

St. Clement’s letter was an admonition on the importance of unity within the Church. Looking at the immediate results of Fr. Corapi’s recent actions and his website, I see much disunity. Some comment there in favor of his actions, some against. Some comment favorably on the Church, and some criticize. In most comments I see sides being taken, disunity. Discussion and learning is a good thing, but I do not see much of that occurring there.

When I first commented on Fr. Corapi’s situation I said I will not judge him nor his actions --- even if I do not understand things, this may be the will of God. I further commented that regarding the Church, I will obey, even if there also I do not understand. I said I would try to make an evaluation of the fruits of these matters: is this good or bad for the people of God? Thus far, I have only seen disunity, and this, I think, does not promote the common good --- but only time will tell the total fruits of the event.

Saint Clement also asked this question in his letter: Why do we tear apart and divide the body of Christ? His answer to that question and other things are something that is good to read and meditate on in its entirety. I shall do so again later today. If you’d like to do the same, I’m sure you can find it somewhere on the web.

The situation of Fr. Corapi bears some similarity to that of the Order of the Legionairres of Christ. Its founder, Fr. Marcial Marciel was found, after his death, to have led a life that had many “un-saintly” aspects. As I understand the situation there, after much investigation and deliberation, the Church has ruled that his order will be allowed to continue (and I pray flourish) as part of the Catholic Church. His actions, through the workings of the Holy Spirit, led to hundreds of vocations to the priesthood and brought many to the Church, loyally seeking to serve God. God brought forth good fruits, despite the weakness of the man, as God has indeed done despite the weaknesses of many saints and even popes.

Judge any of these men or their actions? I will not. Evaluate the fruits of their actions, saying this one is good and I will taste of it to nourish me, and saying this one tastes bad and I shall avoid it? Yes, this I will do. And so I still financially support the works of the Legionairres of which I have seen (and the Church concurred) as being largely good. And of the work of Fr. Corapi, I think I will cease visiting his website, because for the moment all I see is disunity, and as Saint Clement reminded me, this is not a good thing --- although I will not judge by today, what tomorrow’s moment might bring.

The Morning Prayer closed today with Intercessions. This is the final one:

May we seek those things which are beneficial to our brothers, without counting the cost, to help them on the way to salvation.
--- Preserve us in your ministry, Lord.