Monday, August 29, 2011

Hard Lessons

It seems funny sometimes, the things you remember, words or events that in themselves seem insignificant, and they happened so long ago. Why remember these? Of all the important things which happened to us, memories we wish we had, people and places that we wish we could recall more of, why do we remember some trivial events?

I think it is because that perhaps they were not so trivial.

I recall the only course I ever failed in my life, a course in Physics. That semester there had been a number of problems on the railroad where I worked, and I put in many long hours, extra shifts I enjoyed for the money they generated, but my sleep and schoolwork suffered. For that particular class, which I missed most often (the professor told us dates of all tests on the first day of class), the professor eventually sent me a note: “If you wish to drop this course, you must notify the registrar’s office.”

I hadn’t dropped the course; I just skipped most of the classes. Well, in truth, perhaps all of them. So it shouldn’t have been surprising when I failed the one question final exam: “Describe the forces impacting a penny rolling on a table.” I can even recall turning the exam paper over, looking for more on the other side: That’s it??

And I can also recall thinking: “Uh-oh.”

I think I described with equations and words the obvious forces affecting the penny, such as gravity, momentum, centrifugal force and even mentioned friction, but neglected the less obvious forces, like electromagnetic forces or the rotation of the earth or even the gravity of the moon. And I even neglected to mention the factors which would impact the degree of these forces, like the tilt or roughness of the table, whether it was a new or old penny, and whether it was made of copper or steel. I wrote the obvious answers, but not some of the key things I was to have learned in the class: many things in science --- and life --- are not obvious, many important things.

Acutely aware of my failure to attend class, I don’t think the professor was inclined to look with favor (or pity) on my simple answers, and he rightly failed me for the course. Oh, I made up the class at summer school, but I still vividly recall the failure. Of all the great classes, interesting classes which I took in college, why do I remember that one, the failure, so strongly?

But perhaps it is not really the failure that I recall. At some deeper level, perhaps what I recall is the lesson. With that failure I learned to focus on all of my subsequent classes and to look at the big picture --- each class was necessary for the degree. And with that failure came shame: I never told my father I had failed the class, so I resolved to never fail another. And perhaps in recalling the question on the final I am also recalling deeper lesson: the real heart of a situation, the important point --- especially when viewed by another --- is often not the obvious point. And, perhaps, sometimes the question or situation in life is not really important at all --- despite what I may think --- but rather what is important is how people perceive me in the situation, my intentions, my faith, my love. Thinking back on that professor, for instance, regardless of my answer to the test question, I don’t think he thought much of me as a student. That was the important point.

How many people do I impact with my life who don’t think much of me as a man, or as a spouse, or as a Christian? Do my actions or words matter to them as much as whom they perceive me to be? If they see me as greedy, as ego-driven, as self-important, as not caring about them or thinking them important, can they really care about what I say or do? Will they learn any lessons from me? Despite my sincere prayers to God, can I really be an instrument of His peace?

I remember lessons from my dad, given to me as I grew to maturity. It seems the ones I most readily recall are the ones which put some limits on me, at times when I felt it right for me to proceed without limits. “Don’t borrow money from your bowling league’s treasury, son. I’ll always give you money if you need it.” And “Don’t curse like that, son. You may be angry, but God will always be your true friend, if you treat Him with the respect of one.”

Dad’s advice that I recall was limiting to me, and in some way it hurt my ego or shamed me. Somehow I thought I remembered those times because of the pain I felt, but I think, looking back now, that I remember them because of the wisdom I gained. These were among the hard lessons I learned in life, often about him putting limits --- and teaching me to put limits --- on what I wanted to do, because limits are necessary in a life which is to be lived well. Looking back over the rest of my life, I wish dad would have taught me more of those hard lessons, put more limits on me, or taught me to put more limits on myself. It took me many, many years to learn some of the hard lessons he did not teach me. And learning them that way, they were harder still.

Like the physics question, often it is not the obvious things which are the most important. When my dad gave me advice, I don’t ever recall him telling me that he loved me. In fact, I don’t recall him telling me that much at all. He didn’t say it, but I knew it because he showed it in all his actions. That’s how real love works, it’s a subtle thing. Like the force of the earth’s rotation or even the distant moon impacting the little penny rolling on a table, love is a huge and seemingly distant force, and we often forget about it. But it is a key driving force in all actions we see or do: Do we do them with love? Do we do things giving something of ourselves, “putting ourselves into it,” as it were?

Whether we do act with love or not, it will be noticed. People will react to us based on how they perceive our actions, subtle things often become more important than words --- like weak test answers overridden by perceptions of a weak student.

There are many hard lessons in life. Some hard lessons are taught to us in simple, loving ways, but not all. There are many bad things which happen to us, sometimes seemingly in deliberate, evil ways. And we may think people doing some of those actions are evil themselves, having perceived who they are in many subtle ways, and perceiving that their actions are not done with love. But even those actions, those evil things which may befall us and we cannot forget, even those things have some good to them, some hard lesson to be learned. For WE are like that insignificant penny rolling on the table, and God is in the forces of the universe and all the heavens around us. He told us so: I will be with you, always.

Even in the worst, hardest lessons of our life, there is good, and there is love. For in all things, God is with us. We can ignore Him or forget Him, but still, He is there. Like the forces I forgot about on the test, He is there. He is constant. He always loves us.

That too is a hard lesson for us to learn. For many of us, it may take a lifetime, but like my earthly father, He is patient. Sometimes I think it hurt my earthly father to discipline me, to help me learn. How often did I think he acted in a hateful way, and at the moment not see the bigger forces at work in his action? How often did he --- and if not he, then my heavenly Father --- really act with love?

It is a hard lesson, sometimes, to learn of our Father’s love. But it is the most important lesson to learn.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Trading Prayers

I was alone in the chapel when the young woman came in, and she sat quietly while I finished saying the rosary. Then she turned to me and spoke: “Can I ask you something?” And so she asked me questions about God and His love, and spoke of recent difficulties in her life. And in God’s presence, I spoke words which I pray were ones He would offer to this searcher, to give her hope.

When we finished speaking I offered her a copy of two of my favorite prayers. For me, they speak from my heart to God, and I feel Him return the conversation. She then took out a copy of her favorite prayer. Reading it, I offered how I could see that it easily could become a favorite of mine also.

She went out of her way, and a couple of nights later came back to the chapel to give me a copy, and thank me for our talk.

Who knows what opportunities present themselves to us when someone says: “Can I ask you something?” And who knows how well our answers will be? Perhaps the better answers are not ones we give, but God gives, as we speak to Him in prayer.

And so here below is one of my new favorites, courtesy of my late-night friend. Reading and praying it, I can feel God listening. I look forward to His response.

(I’m reasonably sure I read this prayer before, although I don’t remember when. Searching the internet, I found no one attributed to its first writing, although it seems to have been around since the early 1900’s.)

No One Needs Thee More Than I

Dearest Jesus, all Thy creatures are more worthy of Thy grace,
Than the vile and wretched sinner who now kneels before Thy Face;
Yet one claim I have upon Thee which Thou never wilt deny:
In the bounds of Thy creation no one needs Thee more than I!

Other souls have been more faithful and have served Thee better far,
Many spotless hearts more fitting for Thy gracious presence are;
Many lips devout a greeting far more fervent can supply,
But, dear Master, well Thou knowest no one needs Thee more than I!

Many loving hands have carried richer offerings to Thy Shrine,
Many generous hearts have loved Thee with a purer love than mine;
These Thy chosen ones approach Thee as the doves to covert fly,
I am utterly unworthy, but none needs Thee more than I.

Sins unnumbered, unatoned for, have made havoc in my soul,
And against me stands as witness the recording angel's roll;
All untilled has been my vineyard and its soil is hard and dry.
O my God! my only Refuge, no one needs Thee more than I!

For without Thee I am helpless, fast in sin's strong fetters caught,
Blinded by my evil passions, swayed by impulses untaught;
I can do no good unaided, it were worse than vain to try;
Come Thyself to me, sweet Jesus, no one needs Thee more than I!

Thou didst leave Thy Father's bosom to reclaim and save the lost,
Thou didst take upon Thee freely our redemption's awful cost;
Thou Thyself has called me to Thee, Thou wilt hearken to my cry;
In the bounds of Thy Creation no one needs Thee more than I!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Drugs: It's My Body

Monterrey Mexico: 52 killed by terrorist bomb at casino.

“Mr Calderon (President of Mexico) made an impassioned plea to the U.S. to cut down its drug consumption.”

Remember how the headlines used to always tell us about the Columbian drug cartels? There were movies made about them, about how evil they were and how they controlled the entire country. Did you notice that you don’t see those headlines anymore? In truth, it was somewhat of a surprise to me when I saw recommendations recently that investors should consider investing in Columbian stocks, because their market and country was headed in a very good direction. With the heavy U.S. assistance and, obviously, the will of the Columbian people, the drug cartels there were reined in, and the Columbian economy took off. Inflation is low and the country safe and growing economically --- and not due to the drug trade. The Columbian people have demonstrated that things can get better, if the people are willing to make it so.

The above headlines and story are from today’s paper --- in one of the back pages. Not much of a news story, apparently. Ho-hum, another bunch of people in Mexico killed by warring drug gangs. In a way it was news, though, in that this story wouldn’t be reported in most Mexican newspapers --- stories of drug killings are routinely not reported, because then the reporters get killed. Killings of policemen are only known about in MOST Mexican cities because of Twitter or emails. Outside of Mexico City, most major cities in Mexico are heavily controlled by drug gangs. And the people are in fear. And the people are dying. And the president of Mexico pleads with U.S. citizens.

And the U.S. citizens reply: “It’s my body, and I’ll do with it what I want. I’m hurting no one else.”

I wish those U.S. citizens, with their rights so protected, could be forced to attend the funerals in Mexico, and apologize to the families, apologize for being so selfish, so greedy, so full of pride about their self-worth that they think everyone else is worth less. But no one is worthless.

As Catholics, more than anyone else, we should know better. We believe we are part of the Body of Christ; He told us so. Mexico is a heavily Catholic country. “It’s my body????” That’s part of your body down there also. And by your actions, you are killing it. I reflect sometimes on abortion; it is a horrible thing. I pray nightly for an end to it, but at the same time I recognize the underlying reason that it is a horror: all life is precious. And so I also reflect on the value of every life, and our --- MY --- obligation to protect it, and care for it, and love it. Every life. It is why I care for my mom in her old age, why I volunteer at the United Way and other charities, and why I donate to support other charities who help those in need. But today I was reminded of another way in which I, we, can also help place an importance on life. And that is to recognize that our body, our life, is not ours alone. While everything we do influences other people in some way, whether we recognize it or not, some things we do more directly affect others. The President of Mexico PLEADING with U.S. citizens brings that home most effectively. The casual usage of illegal drugs in the U.S., the “it’s my body and I’ll get pleasure any way I want” attitude, is killing others. By our actions, we are killing others.

It’d be easy to say: “Hey, the program in Columbia worked, let’s just come up with a government program to help Mexico.” Let the government fix everything; it’s not my job. But it is. Protecting life, ALL life, IS your job. It’s your commandment: Love your neighbor.

The headlines and story hit home with me this morning that we can and should take actions, each of us, to help protect the Body of Christ, our brothers and sisters in Mexico who are dying because of us. Certainly in our churches, most certainly in our homes, we should be talking about what our addiction to drugs is doing. What this does to our own bodies is a bad thing, but certainly in America we can point to many bad things we do to our bodies. But there aren’t that many things we are doing which are getting people killed. There are “green” groups protesting and advertising the evils done by oil companies against the environment. There are “health” groups protesting about fats in our diets or additives in our foods. Where are the groups protesting about what WE are doing, killing our neighbors more directly and more certainly than any oil drilling or added calories?

Our brothers and sisters in Mexico are pleading with us. They are part of our Body of Christ.

Our bodies are not ours alone.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

God is Pro-Choice

(This is a continuation of the thoughts I expressed in A Mother’s Greatest Honor and Why Was I Born, back in May and July of this year.)

God created man and offered him, by His death, eternal life. Each life is a new song, sung to praise God.

“Sing to the Lord a new song; His praise is in the assembly of His saints.” We are urged to sing a new song to the Lord, as new men who have learned a new song. A Song is a thing of joy; more profoundly, it is a thing of Love. --- St. Augustine

Each life is a new song because each life is unique. Meant to fit into a particular spot in the puzzle of creation, meant to be a particular portion of the total portrait of life, meant to be a particular receptacle of God’s love, each life is like no other. And each life is not alone, but it fits into the lives it comes into contact with, blending its colors with theirs. All life, fitting together, is a beautiful symphony of music to the Lord.

But the perfection that all life “could” be is not always as it is. We have free will, that we might choose to love God, and be as he created us to be --- or not. And some don’t choose to be as perfect as they could be, if they would choose wisely. They sin, and choose not what God wants for them, but what they want for themselves (Adam helped make them more aware of this option, to choose as they please, and they haven’t learned from his mistake.)

God is “pro-choice.” He gave man the option of eternal life with Him, but allowed man to choose otherwise. But even if man should sin, should choose to turn away from God, like the Prodigal Son, God still loves him and provides a way for him to “choose” to come home. Through Confession, bad choices can be forgiven, and all can be made well again between God and man. The portrait of life was meant to be a thing of total beauty and joy, but like any good artist, God can allow for areas of darkness, of chaos which by itself doesn’t seem to belong in the picture, but He can make even these pieces fit, and blend in the all the colors, even the shadows and darkness. These points of life, our sins, can become points of contrast, to highlight how bright and beautiful the other areas of the portrait are. He makes all things good.

The real sadness of our sins, however, isn’t just their impact on us. We can correct that impact through Confession. But our sins do not just impact us; they impact others: “No man is an island unto himself.” To the degree we choose not to be who we were created to be, then others around us also are not as they were created to be. One poor out-of-tune instrument destroys the harmony of the whole orchestra. At mass we ask “the Blessed Mary, ever virgin, all the angels and saints, and you my brothers and sisters, to pray to the Lord our God” for we have sinned, and all these created beings are impacted by our sin. God allows us to choose, but we must never believe that when we choose to sin “we are impacting no one else.”

We never sin alone. We pull all mankind down with us, and the beauty of God’s creation is a little less perfect, the painting has a little more darkness. When we sin, we and other humans, who were created out of God’s love, specifically designed to receive His love --- the purpose of all creation --- we are choosing not to receive that love. As a spouse choosing adultery, we are choosing to reject the one who pledged to love us forever, and hurting Him immeasurably.

God chose to create us so he could love us; by sin we are telling Him we don’t want His love. We are saying our choices are more important than His. We are saying, in effect, we are more important than God.

What a horrible thing this can be, our choice not to accept God’s love, but even this blot we create on the picture of creation can be covered over and repaired, and somehow made to fit in. That possibility too, was part of His love. Our choice of sin destroys the perfection of His creation portrait, but our choice to repent too creates a thing of beauty, albeit perhaps not as perfect as He wished it to be. But the final portrait of creation, of all creation at the end of all time, is ours together --- us and God. And we are meant to sit back in all eternity and admire it, even with its flaws.

There is almost nothing we can do to ruin the beauty of God’s creation, and our partnership in it. We work together to create new life, as He did, bringing us and our families into the beauty of life, the creation that was made for Him to love.

This beauty of earthly creation, it is good, is the beginning of the union of God and man. Man, made in God’s image, is meant to be united with God, forever. His earthly life is meant to be a stepping stone into eternal life, a time when he is created, grows in holiness, and then is deemed fit to be with God in heaven. And God, in His love, helps make all that possible, even for the least of men.

Only man can choose to prevent his own union with God. And unfortunately, horribly, some men can also choose to keep others from God. If there is ANYTHING on this earth that can give the devil pleasure, it is that men can choose to reject God, AND can also choose to prevent others from choosing God. Scripture says that even Jesus did not know who would be seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven, but if anyone could be identified to be seated at the right hand of the devil in hell, surely it would be these men. They can turn the beauty of choice into the ultimate evil.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Meeting The World's "Needs"

Throughout all of history, man has sought to improve his lot. And yet when man looked on all he had done, all the wars, all the greed, and all the poor, he saw that all the works of man thus far have yielded little --- or certainly not enough, in the minds of many. The philosophers of the Enlightenment and their followers thought they were wise in seeing this obvious fact, and proposed that man, now so much wiser and organized through science, can at last make progress in improving the lot of man.

This made sense to many people, (especially after the misery of WWI) and was a compelling temptation to follow the Enlightenment promises: All will be made equal, no one will suffer again, all will have all they need -- and will not have to seek it through war or through greed. It will now all come to them, be given to them, by a just government of the people. It will be a just world. And how would all this “justice” come about? Well, the best and brightest of humans, the real “Enlightened” ones, would lead them into this wonderful world of equality in everything. And just who WERE those best and brightest people? Well, they had to humbly admit, they were among them.

How silly were these “brightest” of men. They thought that they could organize and provide for all the wants of men, and men would be satisfied. In the end, those who came to political power by proclaiming they would meet all men’s desires, only sought to meet their own. But man’s yearnings will never be satisfied with things of this earth, and even those political leaders were greedy for more, and then there came WWII. But the truth of the matter is: Our hearts are restless until they rest in You.

We often pray the Divine Mercy prayer: “Jesus, I trust in You.” Trust in God, yes, but why do we still choose to trust in self-proclaimed “wise men?” Men have been proclaiming their “wisdom” (and even claiming themselves to be gods) throughout all history. And still there are wars, and still there is greed, and still there are poor people. Have we not yet learned?

As science and technology have progressed yet further from the Enlightenment times, the only thing that has changed has been the politicians’ promises on what “needs” of men they can now meet. Not satisfied with just trying to guarantee equal food for everyone, they promise virtually equal everything, from light bulbs to toilets, and even equal temperatures on earth. If we just trust them.

And why, after we saw how well that “equal housing” thing they delivered worked out, have we not yet learned Who, and only Who, can really satisfy our needs --- and Who we can trust? Why do we still seek out and follow self-proclaimed “wise men?” --- who promise us anything and everything. Science may be progressing, but man’s wisdom seems to be regressing.

This past weekend the Wall Street Journal had yet another good guest editorial, done by Lord Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. You should try to read it in its entirety, if you can. He was speaking about the child rioters in England these past weeks. No summary of his words would do justice, so I reprint some of them here:

“The truth is, it is not their fault. They are the victims of the tsunami of wishful thinking that washed across the West saying that you can have sex without the responsibility of marriage, children without the responsibility of parenthood, social order without the responsibility of citizenship, liberty without the responsibility of morality and self-esteem without the responsibility of work and earned achievement.”

“… Has this happened before, and is there a way back? The answer to both questions is in the affirmative. … In the 1820s it was unsafe to walk the streets of London because of pickpockets by day and ‘unruly ruffians’ by night. What happened over the next 30 years was a massive shift in public opinion. There was an unprecedented growth in charities, friendly societies, working men’s institutes, temperance groups, church and synagogue associations, Sunday schools, YMCA building and moral campaigns of every shape and size, fighting slavery or child labor or inhuman working conditions. The common factor was their focus on the building of moral character, self-discipline, willpower and personal responsibility. It worked. Within a single generation, crime rates came down and social order was restored. What was achieved was nothing less than the re-moralization of society --- much of it driven by religion.”

“Much can and must be done by governments, but they cannot of themselves changes lives. Governments cannot make marriages or turn feckless individuals into responsible citizens.”

“One of our great British exports to America, Harvard historian Niall Ferguson, has a fascinating passage in his recent book ‘Civilization,’ in which he asks whether the West can maintain its primacy on the world stage or if it is a civilization in decline. He quotes a member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, tasked with finding out what gave the West its dominance. He said: At first we thought it was your guns. Then we thought it was your political system, democracy. Then we said it was your economic system, capitalism. But for the last 20 years, we have known that it was your religion.”

“The Chinese have learned the lesson. Fifty years after Chairman Mao declared China a religion-free zone, there are now more Chinese Christians than there are members of the Communist Party. China has learned the lesson. The question is: Will we?”

I pray for our brothers and sisters, and children, in Britain, as I pray for our own here in America. But as Lord Sacks points out, even more is needed than prayers. Prayers and religion, is the critical start. But solutions came about when people acted. We need to put our prayers into loving action, with our neighbors, our marriages, and our children. Then we can meet the world’s needs, its REAL needs. As Peggy Noonan pointed out, the need is love.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Advice to New Caregivers

(The coordinator of our local caregiver’s support group noticed how well the group counseled new caregivers, people coming to the group for the first and just assuming responsibilities for the care of a loved one. She asked each of us to write out advice that we might give to new caregivers, so that she might summarize them into a handout for other caregiver’s groups. This is my submission to her.)

A simple definition of a new caregiver is this: Someone who has considered or even planned for an event his whole life, yet when it happens, looks like a deer frozen in the headlights. “Who me?” they seem to always say, as they panic at the reality of the situation, hoping against hope that someone else will step forward to assume a responsibility they know is theirs. This is some friendly advice to allay your fears, you new caregivers, and to get you moving forward again, deliberately and confidently.

There are two things any new caregiver needs to come to grips with, and as quickly as possible. The first is the hardest: yes, it is you who will have to do something. Whether it is the new baby or the newly-adopted child who is more-than-you-expected, your incapacitated spouse whether by accident or disease or old age, or your parent --- you have become acutely aware that this person needs special care, special love, and no one else is going to step forward. Yes, it is you who will have to do something.

You can continue to argue with your siblings: “You said you’d help care for mom.” You can continue to argue with the doctors: “Isn’t there something else you can do to ease their situation?” You can even continue to argue with them: “Mom, you really have to see a doctor about your memory loss,” or “Dad, you really shouldn’t be driving anymore.” You can defer taking responsibility for a long time, but at some point you will have to come to grips with the reality of the situation. YOU need to do something. So think about it, plan about it, seek advice about it, and then move on. That’s the first reality adjustment you have to make, but fortunately the second is much easier: You are not alone.

You are not the first person to have a baby, a troubled child, an injured spouse, or elderly parents. There are many others who have gone through this and ARE going through this. They can offer you advice and comfort. And you will find it a great comfort to know that these strangers care about you and what you are going through. They really DO understand.

So let’s get started. Now that you know you have to do something and you’re not alone in this, where do you begin?

1) Consult The Experts. This means doctors and/or medical advice in books or online. It means lawyers to make sure you are properly set on things like Wills and Powers of Attorney. Get more aware of what you are facing. What is the situation now, and what is it likely to be in the future. Much of our fear is of the unknown. Know what your loved one is facing, and expect it. Discover what experts say is likely to happen --- the progression of Alzheimer’s, or cancer, or the impacts on the body of a lack of mobility. At which stage is your loved one now. Know what will happen, and don’t panic when it does. Be prepared, physically and emotionally. Most long-term caregiving situations will involve a change in the status of the loved one being cared for. If it is an elderly person, the realities of death must be faced at some point. Get yourself prepared.

2) Get Emotional Support. Respite care, time away from caregiving duties, is a must. Siblings, relatives, neighbors, churches, or respite care agencies are available to you. Seek them out. Planning for yourself to be the caregiver 24 hours a day is not planning. You will fail, not only yourself, but your loved one. Day care programs or senior programs are available in most communities. Check with your local United Way. Find a caregiver’s support group, and attend their meetings. You are not alone.

3) Find God. You are not alone --- ever. But there will come days, there WILL come days, when you will feel terribly alone, and perhaps afraid. When my mom had her first TIF (a kind of mini-stroke) and didn’t recognize reality for hours, and didn’t even remember how to drink a glass of water, nor recognize me --- that first time I was in a panic. Call EMS or a doctor at 4AM? But in my panic and rapidly rising blood pressure, I called out to God. And as I lay back in the chair with my arm across my forehead, trying to calm down, despite her own confusion and panic mom saw me and said: “Aww, you’ve got a headache? I’ll be quiet.” And she was. And gradually I calmed down, and over some hours, so did she.

You are wasting your time reading this advice, if you are too proud to seek the advice of the ultimate caregiver. Coming to grips with the reality of God, that He is with you in the situation, greatly eases your problems. He is someone you can always talk to, an ever-present friend. But for some of us, before we can accept the help of God, we need the next step.

4) Find Humility. This is a non-negotiable. Find humility, or it will find you. Some of us are people of many talents. We are business leaders, educators, or scientists. We are smart. We have never faced a problem we couldn’t figure out a solution to. We will find the best solution to our loved one’s needs, and implement it. And then all will be well.

It won’t.

I’m sure there are some who have had success with this attitude, but I wonder if their loved ones FEEL loved with the results, being treated with some scientific formula for success. Every person is unique, as is the progression of any illness they have. It is THEIR illness, not AN illness. Doctors know this, which is why most fear government programs that might dictate some standardized care. There is no average person; each is unique. And if you really love your loved one, you will treat them as the special person they are. This means to care for them, your life will change, and you must accept this fact. Even if the most caring thing you can do is to place them in an assisted living arrangement, still, you need to be there for them more often than you were in the past. You need to take care of their finances. You need to make their medical decisions. They have become a greater portion of your life because they need help, because you need to give them help, because you love each other. You need the humility to change, to accept the fact that you can’t predict how their illness will progress – and so you’ll have to change even more in the future. Which leads to a final piece of advice: Not only you, but they need to get humble also, and you will need to help them in this transition.

5) Be Who You Were Made to Be. The Catholic Church teaches that we are called to grow in holiness, our whole life. Our relationship with God is not a stable thing; it should be getting ever better, culminating in the perfection of heaven. Human relationships are constantly changing also, but most noticeable in the relationship between the caregiver and the one cared for. In human families, in life-long commitments, there often comes a time when the caregiver and care-receiver must reverse roles, and that is a very hard time, for both.

A baby, needing everything given to it, crying in the night needing constant attention, eventually grows up. And its needs change, and so does the responsibility of its caregivers, its parents. Eventually, the babies grow into adults and there is some parity between caregiver and cared-for. It is the way of life; they become who they were meant to be. But with old age comes a reversal of the roles, parents begin to need the attention and care. Fortunately for us, this is a gradual thing, and we can see the signs of change, and gradually step up to some caregiving role for our parents --- or not.

Just as letting the teenager go onto adult things and responsibilities is a very gradual, subtle thing --- “Can they handle it?” so our taking over responsibilities for our parents is a gradual and subtle thing: “Can they handle it?” Just as teens often think they can, and their parents disagree and say no, so it often happens that elderly parents think they can still handle things, and now their children must say: “No.”

I’m not sure who this gradual role-reversal is most hard on, the parent who must cede some of his freedoms or the child who must assume them. But the key word is “must,” we must be who we were made to be, at all stages of our life. Even as the teenager wants to reason with the parent: “If I can die in the army, certainly I can drink,” so the elderly parent wants to reason with the child: “I only got lost shopping once,” or “Yes I forgot dinner was on the stove, but the house didn’t burn down, did it?” At these change points in the relationship, the stronger, more responsible one must take loving leadership of the situation, and not yet strong or weakening one must accede to their loving care. It is a most difficult time, but it must be faced and accepted.

At one point in my relationship with my mom she expressed frustration with my doing the things she couldn’t. Sometimes she grew angry at me. One day, I was confessing my feelings about caregiving to a priest; I felt that I was not loving enough. He wisely counseled me: “No, you are loving very well. What you are not accepting is that life has run its full course: now you are the parent, and she is as the baby. You do things, many stressful and difficult things, out of love for her. But as a baby, she just doesn’t understand. Don’t try talking or reasoning with her anymore, to explain your actions. Just try hugging her more. All babies understand hugs.”

6) Try Hugging More. Even yourself. Caregiving is not easy. You may sometimes think you are alone, but try hugging a little more: your loved one, your family, and your God. It helps.

Good luck, and God bless you for caring. And do not be anxious.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

In The Full Moon

The substitute caregiver came early, and I was still napping on the couch, the alarm on my cell phone still minutes from going off. I heard her open the kitchen door and I sat up, groggy, and turned on the light. “I’m a little early,” she said. “So you’ve got time to stop for coffee on your way to church. It’s a beautiful night out, now that the storms have passed.”

My drive to church was quiet, there were few cars on the road. But it was not until I reached a four-way stop sign that I became aware of the full moon. Looking for traffic to the south, I saw nothing in the darkness, but then I perceived the light. The fields were softly lit up; I could see the open grasses and each individual tree in the distance. And I could see the six deer, slowly, quietly moving about. And on the horizon I could see the lightening, flashing brightly, outlining the distant storm clouds. I sat there watching the surreal, live-action painting for a couple of minutes. It was so peaceful. I remembered that one of the nuns in grade school had told me that Mary could be seen in the moon, as a reflection of the brightness of her Son (sun). Looking up I saw the man in the moon. He didn’t look at all like I pictured Mary, and I smiled at my silly thoughts.

Arriving at the chapel, I begin writing my thoughts. On the altar in front of me is the large host, surrounded by the gold rays of the monstrance. Round like the moon, this IS the Son. He doesn’t shine like the earth’s sun; if He did, I wouldn’t be able to look at Him. But, oh, He gives off a warmth to me. I know my God is here, and He radiates the warmth of love.

At breakfast on Saturday morning, I had had a conversation with a friend. We discussed the Peggy Noonan article from the Wall Street Journal: children who are missing love. I commented somewhat confidently about how so many parents give their children things, even well into adulthood. Our society went from people living on farms where the children grew up with responsibilities, eventually inherited the farm and, of course, cared for their aging parents --- no social security/government welfare. Then the depression of the ‘30s came, and people learned to save for bad times – and to get by without frivolous things. My mom has money to take care of her, as long as necessary. Then my generation came along.

We heard of the depression. We struggled, for our parents didn’t unduly give us things. We learned to earn them. But somehow we thought that this was bad, and resolved that our children would not have to struggle as we did. So we gave them things, many things, even if we had to do with less. And they got used to it, and expected it. And even now in our older years many of us we want to scrimp and save, not so much to ensure we can be cared for in our old age --- we expect the government to do that, but so we can continue to give things to our kids, who aren’t really kids any longer.

I commented to my friend that this constant giving we seem to equate with love, but it isn’t really. And Peggy’s comment about the English children rioters being missing love, despite the welfare state (or parents) giving them everything, says this form of love is to the detriment of the children, and our culture. And it is our fault; we forget, or perhaps never learned, what love truly is. It is not about giving “things”, even to our kids. It’s about giving love, real love.

My friend was quiet and thoughtful during my long self-confident rant, and then offered only one comment: “You never had kids.”

He had me there. I remembered my thoughts on how you can never know something with wisdom unless you have experienced it, and I have not experienced having kids. All my Godchildren don’t count. Perhaps I really don’t understand these things I think on, and worry about.

But then, what about Peggy’s final question: What next? Perhaps I don’t understand how things got to be the way they are, but like her I can see these rioting younger people and know that “giving” them things is not the answer. They are not starving nor living in the streets, but like Oliver they “want more.” Only unlike him, they are not saying “please.”

Perhaps all I see is like the soft shadows I saw in the field this evening, reflections in the full moon. I think I see everything, but there might be other things in the shadows. I felt a peace in the moonlight, but in the shadows of the world today, I see and feel a growing fear.

Oh how I wish the sun would shine on us and we could see things clearly, and know what to do. How do we really love our children or our neighbor, in imitation of God’s love, for we are made in His image. If we could love as He does, that must be for the best. But how?

And then I looked again at the host on the altar. He gives me no things, but He is always there, whenever I call, whenever I am scared, and He gives me His very self, totally. Why would I ever riot for more? In Him, I have everything. That is the love I am given to imitate. Can our children learn to be content with that? Can they learn that it REALLY IS everything?

Thank You, Jesus, for so loving me.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Riots, Anger, and ?

“Where does that leave us? In a hard place, knowing in our guts that a lot of troubled kids are coming up, and not knowing what to do about it. The problem, at bottom, is love, something we never talk about in public policy discussions because it's too soft and can't be quantified or legislated. But little children without love and guidance are afraid. They're terrified—they have nothing solid in the world, which is a pretty scary place. So they never feel safe. As they grow, their fear becomes rage. Further on, the rage can be expressed in violence.

What's needed can't be provided by government. When the riot begins or the flash mob arrives, the best the government can do is control the streets, enforce the law, maintain the peace.

After that, what? Britain is about to face that question. We'll likely have to face it, too.”
--- Peggy Noonan in the WSJ, August 13, 2011

I think Peggy wrote one of her best columns ever today, having not so much her usual opinion about things as they are in the world, but a reflection. How did we get here? And where exactly are we at? There are no simple answers to those questions, nor to her final one: What’s next? But we do need to think on it; we’ll have no choice. Perhaps people like Eleanor Josaitis, who I wrote about yesterday, are part of the answer: we need more people like that. We need to BECOME more people like that.

Yesterday morning I read again a hymn which I have probably read a hundred times before, but in light of the events of these days, I saw it in a different light. I found a new wisdom there, and perhaps insights on what we should be doing these days --- what our God might be asking us to do in these times.

Lord, whose love in humble service
Bore the weight of human need,
Who did
on the cross, forsaken,
Show us mercy’s perfect deed: (Perfection --- love of others)
We, your servants, bring the worship
Not of voice alone, but heart? (Sincere, deep)
Consecrating to your purpose
Every gift which you impart.
(All we have is Yours)

As we worship, grant us vision,
Till your love’s revealing light,
Till the height and depth and greatness
Dawns upon our human sight;
Making known the needs and burdens
Your compassion bids us bear
. (Accept humility; it will be thrust upon you)
Stirring us to faithful service,
Your abundant life to share.

Called from worship into service
Forth in your great name we go,
To the child, the youth, the aged,
Love in living deeds to show,

Hope and health, goodwill and comfort,
Counsel, aid, and peace we give,
That your children, Lord, in freedom,
May Your mercy know, and live
. (WE do HIS work)

--- by Albert Bayly

Friday, August 12, 2011

An Unsung Hero

Unlike with many people I know who died, I did not pray for Eleanor’s soul this morning, but I did pray that God would gift us with oh so many more like it. I don’t think she needed my prayers, for I suspect the choirs of angels were singly loudly welcoming her arrival, home at last. She was an unsung hero here on earth, but not there, I’m sure. Not there.

A local newspaper has been awarding the Eleanor Josaitis Unsung Hero Award annually for the last five years. She died on Monday. I wonder how many other people are so honored during their lives. She has been called Detroit’s Mother Teresa. While quietly working for the poor, Eleanor sought no awards but was no stranger to them, both local and national, including 13 honorary degrees. All because she loved people, all people, and acted on that love.

Eleanor was a woman with 5 young children when she viewed the aftermath of the Detroit race riots in 1967. With Fr. William Cunningham, she said something must be done, and then went out and did it. She moved her husband and family of five young children into Detroit, and with Fr. Cunningham started Focus Hope in 1968. Her family was confused and totally against her commitment, and her mother hired an attorney to take away her children. But Eleanor persevered.

Focus Hope provides food distribution, child care, and job training, including a Center for Advanced Technologies, a Machinist Training Institute, and an Information Technologies Center. I don’t know if they pioneered the phrase “A hand up, not a hand out,” but they could have. I recall when my Paint The Town project selected their neighborhood to paint and repair the homes of elderly there. I visited Focus Hope to ask if our volunteers could do anything for them. They insisted I take a tour.

The tour was an eye-opener. I had no idea so much modern equipment and modern training was going on there, in what many considered ‘an area of town you don’t want to go into’. The technology center had modern robotics, donated by the auto companies. People trained there learned to operate the machines, but also how they worked and how to repair them. Graduates were hired by the auto companies. I remember the former drill sergeant who taught computer skills. As he described his work, a group of students began filing in the room. Suddenly he said: “Excuse me,” and walked over and stood in the path of a young man. He slapped the cap off of his head, and as the stunned man bent to pick it up he said loudly: “Leave it!” Then in a loud voice he said: “People, you are here to learn computer skills for the office place. If you want to BE in an office you must look like you BELONG in an office. Caps, dirty clothes, and sloppy dress do not belong in an office place.”

As I recall, Focus Hope didn’t need much help from our Paint The Town project that year; their people did a good job of keeping their facilities clean and neat.

When social security was founded many people in this country were against it, including the churches. Church leaders said: “Our family and neighbor and church and community are there to help and care for the elderly in need.” “It is our duty,” they said. Eleanor still believed that.

That belief, that first and foremost we must help one another, is so missed in this country. It is not only monetarily that we have been down-graded.

Eleanor rallied others to help the poor, but first and foremost, SHE helped them. She didn’t look for others to love her neighbors; she did. Like saints of the past, she didn’t ask people to follow her, they saw her and her work, and followed. Like Christians of old, she stood out. See how much they love one another.

Eleanor was buried today. I am sure there were very many singing her praises at her funeral. I suspect that in heaven she won’t be listening in; she’ll be looking for something to do.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Like Lost Sheep

My notebook pages are full of thoughts, things I see which occupy my mind. I make sense of them in some way, relieving my anxieties, and some I copy here, so that I won’t forget --- on the day when the worries come back again.

This morning as I knelt and prayed my opening prayer, praising God for all He is and all He has done --- even for me, and asking His blessings to make good out of all that seems so bad, I realized how I was going on, and on, and on.

Lord, please watch over us this day. Bless my tasks this day: the words I must write( please give me wisdom), the shopping I must do, the meetings I must attend, the consolations I must give. Bless those I meet, especially those seeking some measure of help from me --- let them see Your help, and bless even those I don’t meet, but You put in my path. If they should see me, let them only have thoughts of You. Bless our government, may the people in it be enlightened to make wise decisions, or in their lack of wisdom let them stupidly and “by chance”, make right decisions. Indeed, bless our world, Lord. So many seem so lost, so afraid, or perhaps even worse, so not afraid, when they should be. So many are going forth, loudly and righteously, seemingly confident that they and only they know the way, and all must follow.

But they are lost …

Lord, even as I pray I realized suddenly all that I am asking. Who but You could even consider all that I am asking? And who am I to ask? There are many millions in this world praying this day, even at this moment. Lord, who but You could hear us? Who but You could answer? I pray You make right out of all these things, even the wrong. I have faith in Your promises.

My Jesus, I trust in You. I trust in You. I trust in You.

Lord, when I think on all these prayers I can only realize one thing: we are like lost sheep, even as You described us. We bleat aloud in our fears, crying to one another, but no one knows the way. Some speak up boldly, like three-year old to his crying mom: “Don’t worry, mom. I’ll take care of you.” Wonderful bravado and intention, but they are just children in their understanding.

Truly, the most lost are those who do not know they are lost, until suddenly the end of a cliff is in their path, and there is nowhere else to go. Willingly or not, they must admit their confusion, for all around can see it: they don’t know the way. (Lk 6:39) More and more are finally seeing this, Lord. However, some are so stubborn they would rather leap to the depths below rather than admit they don’t see a path in front of them. Lord, have mercy on them, and us all. We all are as lost sheep. Oh Good Shepherd, find us and give us comfort!

I’m just beginning this day, Lord. Make me an instrument of Your peace to those around me. If You would, use me to calm their increasing anxiety, to speak or show Your words: Do Not Be Anxious.

We trust in You.

This morning I then read and meditated on these words of Saint Gregory of Nyssa, bishop:
“We may call ourselves true Christians only if our lives express Christ by our own peace. As the Apostle says: He has put enmity to death. We must never allow it to be rekindled in us. Gloriously has God slain enmity, in order to save us; may we never risk the life of our souls by being resentful or by bearing grudges. We must put an end to this enmity and live as we believe he lived. He broke down the separating wall, uniting what was divided, bringing about peace by reconciling in his single person those who disagreed. In the same way, we must be reconciled not only with those who attack us from outside, but also with those who stir up dissension within. Once we subject the wisdom of the flesh to God’s law, we shall be re-created as one single man at peace. For the quality of holiness is shown not by what we say but by what we do in life.”

This morning I again seriously prayed the words of the Pray to the Apostle Paul (as shown on the sidebar of this blog).

And finally, during mass this morning, I prayed the prayers of the mass most sincerely:
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.

Those things happened this morning, and now I am home, documenting my thoughts and prayers. But I remember now other thoughts and prayers, ones which also I must not forget. I have previously written some of them here and here and here If you read these words and feel down, read these others also, for there is always hope.

May you find God’s peace and joy this day, my friends, a day on which we may feel like lost sheep. But remember also the truth of what the Apostle proclaimed: Once I was lost, but now I am found. Do Not Be Anxious.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Market is Down, and So Am I

This is just a rambling of thoughts and notes this afternoon when fear and anxiety are impacting so many in America. Sometimes it’s hard not to be anxious, so perhaps this will just be a distraction for you.

The book Go In Peace is a summary (by topic) of various JPII speeches, books, and encyclicals. In the chapter on Forgiveness and Reconciliation, there is this quote:
“Sin’s essential nature is that it is an offense against God. It is an offense against the divine majesty. We must also say that it is an act that offends the divine charity in that it is an infraction of the law of friendship and the covenant God has established for His people. Therefore, it is an act of infidelity, and in practice, a rejection of His love.”

Only a person who has experience infidelity can know the impact of that statement. It’s your beloved telling you “I don’t love you anymore.” It’s a “I want to jump off a bridge and kill myself” feeling that cannot be explained, but only experienced. I know; I experienced it. And that is how JPII describes how God feels when we sin. This is a very hard-hitting sentence, for those who really understand it. (I found much of the rest of the book to be old news for me, but perhaps it wouldn’t be for you.)

Continuing in the commentary mode, there was an excellent article in the August/September issue of Catholic World Report. Titled “Only Part of the Story,” written by Russell Shaw, the article explores Catholic teachings on social justice. In the article he quotes Ronald Krietemeyer, a justice and peace executive at the US Catholic Conference in the ‘70s and ‘80s: “Social justice is not about private individual acts. It is about collective actions aimed at transforming social institutions … to achieve the common good.” This thinking is the type which culminated in the latter to Speaker of the House John Boehner from 80 Catholic college professors, including 30 from CUA, who complained that economic policies urged by Boehner and Paul Ryan would hurt the poor and were in social conflict with the Church.

As Mr. Shaw happily notes, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York promptly responded to that proclamation by thanking Mr Ryan for his “continued attention to the guidance of Catholic social justice in the current budget considerations in Congress.” It seems very confusing until he delves into the history and underpinnings of the Church’s teachings on social justice. It all derives from the 1937 encyclical Divini Redemptoris, as Mr. Shaw and others he quotes summarize. In it is stated: “It is the very essence of social justice to demand from EACH INDIVIDUAL (emphasis added) all that is necessary for the common good.” Contrary to the college professors’ and Kreitemeyer’s statements, social justice starts with the individual, not collective actions. “People like Ryan and Boehner might be right or they might be wrong, but calling them bad Catholics doesn’t work.”

It is a very thought-provoking article which every Catholic concerned with “social justice” in America should read. Contrary to what many believe, you CAN be Catholic and recommend cutting some governmental social programs; the Church does not teach that the solution to the problems of the poor is more government spending --- nor taking from the rich.

There’s one more article worth remembering here, and it was written in last Saturday’s Wall Street Journal by Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert cartoons. Mr. Adams wrote about a change in our culture which many consider to be a good thing: the tremendous number of high-tech toys now available to occupy our minds and answer our any question: immediately. Never does a person have to be bored again. Whether in a meeting or in a movie, if boredom starts you can always open your ipad and begin reading or watching something more interesting. Some parents seem to love this for their children; no more: “Mom, I’m bored” moments. But, Mr. Adams notes, this may not be a good thing. He documents that many/most innovative ideas have come about in times of quiet, when the mind is perhaps bored with events of the moment and then suddenly: a new idea pops into being. Boredom, he notes, may be a great stimulus for creativity, and might the country, and even the culture, be experiencing a great loss by creating this “no boredom” universe?

The article definitely left me thinking about things – and I wasn’t bored as I read it.

And I guess a final (and related) thought is from my notes from the Steubenville conference. There many speakers spoke about changes needed in our declining moral culture. They noted that in a culture, all big things come about from little things. Small trends lead to cultural changes, and the trends start with a change in one person. We see and can recognize this in clothing styles; there are certain clothing designers that are recognized as --- or want to be recognized as --- trend-setters. The mini-skirt designer, the maxi-skirt designer, or the croc shoe designer, we know these people; they started huge trends. We forget that in matters of faith and morals, however, that similar change has started with individuals. Changing the culture’s moral direction isn’t about making changes in Washington; it starts with changes in us.

Oh, I guess I should be clearer: It starts with positive changes in us.

Wednesday’s Dilbert Calendar page has Dogbert pointing to a chart in the boardroom: “I cooked the books by assuming your pension fund will earn 15% per year. Technically you aren’t crooks, just optimists.” Then, he notes, “If you hear a whistling noise, that would be your soul escaping through your nose.” The cartoon then shows the executives with little clouds coming from their noses, captioned with: “Tweet!”

May you go forth and change our culture, in peace, my friends.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Seeing Is Believing

“It is as if He said to them: ‘As time goes by you may be in danger of losing your faith. To save you from this I tell you now that some standing here listening to me will not taste death until they have seen the Son of Man coming in the glory of his Father.’ Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter, James and John, and led them up a high mountain where they were alone. There, before their eyes, he was transfigured.

“While living among them he had spoken of the kingdom and his second coming in glory, but to banish from their hearts any possible doubt concerning the kingdom and to confirm their faith in what lay in the future by its pre-figuration in the present, he gave them on Mount Tabor a wonderful vision of his glory, a foreshadowing of the kingdom of heaven.”
-- From a sermon by Anastasius of Sanai, bishop

On today’s feast of the Transfiguration, I read the above words in my morning breviary readings. They seemed to re-iterate something I had heard yesterday, which in turn was a re-iteration of something I had just written a couple of days ago. We are talking about wisdom, and what it is.

I had written that wisdom is a melding together of knowledge, learnings that we gain, into a new form of knowledge which we did not learn. This “making sense of things” is accomplished by the Holy Spirit in spiritual matters, because we cannot truly know spiritual matters any other way. The knowledge of spiritual matters cannot be gained by us alone; we live in a material world, and that is all we can experience with our material senses. Knowledge of the spiritual world comes through Revelation, a knowledge which is given to us --- but it is a knowledge that does make “sense” to our worldly bodies, when we consider all the material things we know. Faith and reason go together. I gave an example of how wisdom gained is sort of like realizing the sum of numbers, a totaling of things that were apart.

Yesterday, I learned a better example.

I attended a First Friday talk by a new young priest, Fr. Mark Rutherford, who was recently ordained from my parish. Fr. Rutherford was speaking about the experience of the Holy Spirit. He explained that the Holy Spirit brings us the experience of God. We can know Jesus Christ, but unless we ARE Him, and experience His relationship with the Father, we cannot really know His love of the Father. These words made great sense to me.

Think about it in terms of our own earthly fathers. Most of us grew up with them; they were part of our lives, and part of the shaping of our lives. We can describe our father to friends or even strangers, and we can recall examples (good and bad) to illustrate our relationship and learnings, but from our descriptions the people we speak to can only gain some knowledge about our fathers. They cannot really KNOW our fathers because they haven’t had ALL the experiences we had, all of those experiences which add up to our relationship with our father. Unless they have lived our lives, walked in our shoes, they cannot know our fathers as we do. That was the point Fr. Rutherford was illustrating. We can read Scripture and gain all sorts of knowledge about Jesus Christ, but we can never really KNOW him unless we were Him or lived with Him His whole life. Nor can we ever know His relationship with His heavenly Father. But, explained Fr. Rutherford, that is the gift of the Holy Spirit, we can experience God; through the Holy Spirit we can be gifted with that sure knowledge of Jesus Christ and God the Father as if we had really lived our lives with them. We can gain that sure knowledge of experience, the “seeing is believing” knowledge which is often used to describe the word: certainty. With the Holy Spirit’s help, His gift, we can gain a certainty of the truths of God and our relationship with Him; we can gain wisdom.

As we live our lives we often call upon God for help. We see our circumstances and recognize our weaknesses and call out for aid. But we often don’t realize the total of the circumstances to be considered. It’s like asking our earthly father for candy, but he knows such things as tooth decay or obesity or even that dinner will be ready in ten minutes, things beyond the limited circumstances we see. That type of relationship with God the Father doesn’t change as we get older in earth-years, we can never learn enough knowledge see the circumstances as He sees them. So sometimes our calls for help seem unanswered, or answered negatively, and we don’t understand. The reason we don’t understand is that we don’t have the experience of God, even as we did have the experience of our earthly father. Our earthly father may have told us something as simple as “too much candy is no good for you,” or even a simple “no,” and we could accept his answer because of our experience with him --- we knew our earthly father loved us and trusted he knew more than we did. That is the experience the Holy Spirit gives us of the Father and of Jesus Christ: He makes sense of what we may know, as if we experienced our relationship with them.

Today, on the feast of the Transfiguration, before the Holy Spirit was gifted to the apostles, God gave them the experience of knowing Him. As Moses did, they saw and spoke to Him. Seeing was believing; living the actual experience cemented in them the sure knowledge of His spiritual presence.

But we are not given such an experience. For some of us, some of the time, we are given gifts of the Holy Spirit, and experience God, and gain a sure knowledge of Him. I thank Him so much for those blessings, those consolations of sure knowledge of His presence. Peter said: Lord, it is good for us to be here. What an understatement! But unlike Peter, often we must be content with just the earthly knowledge we can gain of Him, content with only our faith in His spiritual presence. Faith is a precious thing.

But blessed are they who have not seen, but have yet believed.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Blog Worth Reading

No, it’s not this one.

This blog is about truths that have been given to me, which help to ease my anxieties, and with which I pray for inspiration --- that God might give me wisdom. Perhaps, on some very rare occasions, He does. And perhaps on some even rarer occasions, you also gain wisdom through what you read here, but none of that is my doing. For all wisdom comes from God, not me, and I can only help Him in some small way to bring it about.

I follow a few Catholic blogs which I find of value to me, however the blog worth reading that I refer to is one I have found which presents very well the truth of the Catholic Church, and reflects on it as it is shown in Scripture, and as seen in politics and in our culture. It is a relevant site, yet different from most. I have seen in it in the past a heavy dose of facts --- knowledge --- explained from a unique worldview, that of a convert to the faith, one who came to the Catholic Church from very, very far away. And the writer’s long journey is the unique knowledge she brings to the discussion, unlike many other teachers of the faith. In the past her blog has led to many comments, discussions from people around the world, Catholic and not, who want to discuss the truth as she presents it, and she responds to their questions and concerns from a viewpoint that can very truly say: “I understand where you are coming from; I’ve been there.” I’ve watched people follow her blog, and gain knowledge, and gradually find that the Holy Spirit is working with that knowledge, and giving them wisdom.

Aimee Cooper has been absent from the blogosphere for about a year for a variety of personal reasons, but now she is back again. Her new blog, A Catholic Worldview can be seen at and is well worth your occasional glance. I believe there is knowledge to be gained there for most people, especially those weak in understanding the Catholic Faith, which includes most of us.

It has taken me many years to begin to grow in wisdom. I have read so many, many books in my life, and gained so much knowledge about so many things. Spouting that knowledge back has led some to believe I was wise, but I was not. It’s like I learned that this thing here is a “one”, and that thing there is a “two”, and I can identify that thing over there quickly as being a “three”. And I will never forget those pieces of knowledge I have learned over the years. However, once in a while, very often suddenly, a different kind of knowledge occurs, one that no one else has taught me and that I have not ever read about. Suddenly I may realize that “one” plus “two” plus “three” equal “six”. Six?? I never was told about or read about something called a “six”, and yet I suddenly realize that it exists, as concretely as the other knowledge I have obtained. It is a strange thing, this wisdom, which melds together facts, truths, into a new fact, a new truth: wisdom.

Psychologists note that wisdom comes as a natural thing with the passing of years. Fr. Benedict Groeshel notes that is why it is natural to see more older people in church; they have become wiser, and now understand the things of God and His Church. The older we get, the more experiences and knowledge we have gained, so there are certainly more possibilities for that knowledge to combine, to make a new sense to us. But we learned from Scripture, a source of knowledge, that Wisdom is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and it is He who brings it about. Jesus explained that “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” and we know about Him, the Truth: Wisdom, with the help of the Holy Spirit. But we can help make this possible through our continued accumulation of knowledge.

Oh, you may sometimes see some of the wisdom I have gained presented here (I have much gained knowledge from Scripture, the saints, theologians and philosophers and perhaps I would go insane if the Holy Spirit did not make sense of at least some of it); sometimes I even noted in my writings here how surprised I was at suddenly seeing something, like my Mother’s Day post. I’d like to think that the Holy Spirit is bestowing more wisdom on me as I grow older, helping me to better understand and be friends with all members of the Trinity, but if you, my friends, would like to get some good basics, some good knowledge explained in a way you can understand --- or question if you do not --- I strongly recommend Aimee’s blog, for at least occasional reading. (It’s probably a lot better than reading a lifetime of books, as I have done.)

I pray you are granted much Wisdom, peace, and growth in holiness --- and happiness. And if I can help in just some tiny way, I will continue to do so.

Monday, August 1, 2011

If We Would Be Salt

Home again. Read the mail (mostly junk), watered the flowers, and fed the neighbor’s dog some Milkbones. I won’t hazard to guess the name of the flowers pictured here; my friend Gary notes that I can’t tell a lily from a dandelion (but I think these annual beauties are cala lilies).

I have no idea what type of dog she is, but she barks a lot.

The weekend conference speakers triggered many thoughts in my mind. (I ordered some CDs of the talks because I missed portions, as I wandered in my own la-la land of musings.) These thoughts were inspired by Kimberly Hahn.

We are called to be salt, but what does salt do? Salt makes people thirsty, and it brings a tang to the tongue, a sharp noticed, pleasant taste --- for most people. If we are called to be salt, I guess it means that people should notice us, and our faith. They should see us and feel a tang --- something is different about us. Young people dye their hair green or purple to be noticed; that is not how we, as Christians, are called to be noticed. We are called to be noticed as salt is. It gives a person a tang in his mouth, a tang which makes him think not about us (and our green hair) but about what we have made them feel, a tang.

And if you are a witness to Christ, you not only create this noticeable tang in other people’s mouths, but you will have created a longing in them to experience that tang again, in an even stronger way. They will thirst for more, and they will search to get this tang even if you are not around.

You will have created a searcher for Christ, for happiness not of this world but of everlasting length. No drug could ever create such an addiction, such a high, as a person who falls in love with Christ. Unlike drugs, where the first high is often described as the best ever, never to be repeated again, the discoverer of Jesus gets a high, a tang, which can not only be repeated, but one which can and does grow in intensity --- beyond what we could ever imagine.

Kimberly gave some little, but memorable, examples of how she has been salt to her family. She described having a bad day, behind on many projects and yet constantly being interrupted by her children for their minor needs, until finally she verbally jumped at one of them. Instead of sassing back, the 12-year old asked her: “Mom, would you like me to pray over you?”

She did, and he did, and both found peace. Her salt had found tang in his mouth, and he lived it and wanted more, and even shared it back with her. What type of salt had she spread to her family? She gave another example of the daily prayer said in her family, which ends with: “until we’re in heaven, together, forever.” Her family KNOWS they are family, and that they are loved, forever --- what greater tang than this could one leave in another’s mouth?

The Parable of the Sower describes the call to be salt in another way. A seed can start a whole field of growth, like the tang in the tongue which turns into a whole-body high, a tang which can be mixed with all the other ingredients of the world, and Scripture and the Church to create new, unique recipes no one has ever experienced before: our relationship with Christ. Unique, fulfilling, totally satisfying highs, that can forever change the lives of others, can be started from a very little thing: us.

If we would be salt.