Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Archbishop Dolan's Letter to Obama

I read with some interest (and sadness) Archbishop Dolan’s letter to President Obama last week, and commentaries which have flooded across the internet. Some avidly support “his” actions; some avidly oppose “his” actions. You can select which of the two men you think I refer to what I say “his” actions, because my ambiguous words serve to illustrate the problem I see.

We seem to have reached a point in America where most people think they know all the answers, on virtually anything. While there may be a few honest Bible-study groups going on across the country, elsewhere many people think they already know what it says and what it means; further study is unnecessary. They know.

Relative to comments on Archbishop Dolan’s letter, some staunchly defend President Obama’s actions and condemn the Archbishop for “wanting to dictate Catholic beliefs” on all Americans. And in some areas there are heated debates --- among Catholics --- as to what those beliefs are! And the defenders of Archbishops Dolan’s letter and principles cite many a Catholic bible, chapter and verse, as do his detractors.

But despite all the words written back and forth, it appears no one is reading them, because no one appears to be considering what is written. It appears they believe there is nothing to be learned in the exchanges, for they are confident they already know all there is to know. They know! Oh, it is not that they are not open-minded; they are. Explain to them (in a couple of sentences) some new deeply philosophical or theological insight --- in ten words or less --- and they are open to the new learning. Just hurry up and explain it, because their (“open”) mind is already planning their retort.

The Reverend Archbishop’s letter centers on the DOMA law – the Defense of Marriage Act – passed by Congress, signed by President Bush into law, and which President Obama directed the Justice Department not to enforce. The Archbishop’s letter points out that this is just one action in a dire trend of actions by this president. We are trending toward religious and other persecutions in America. The Executive Office, in religious matters, is saying: “We know” --- and you don’t --- and so you (religious people) must be stopped.

The Executive Branch of government chooses not to enforce one law, and through the EPA and various “czars” it creates and enforces other laws. It sues states for not enforcing some federal laws, while suing others (like Arizona) for enforcing some. It almost seems as if the actions of Congress and the states don’t matter, as the Executive Office chooses what laws do matter, or creates them. Perhaps the new Congressional “Committee of Twelve” seeking cost cuts and efficiencies should look at these trends and propose abolishing Congress and state governments; perhaps it would be more efficient for the Executive Office to run everything. Then the input of “we who don’t know” would be stopped, as an efficiency for the good of all America.

This form of governmental efficiency has a name: a dictatorship. We The People becomes I The Government.

Archbishop Dolan rightly points out our country’s trend. There are some who say this will not happen in America; they will “take the government back” in the next election and repeal any “unfair” actions. They say they will make things right again --- because “they know.”

I’m beginning to fear all those on the Right or the Left or the Middle who “know.” They want to give the American people what “they know” the government should do. What is forgotten in the rush to do what “they know” is right, is that whatever can be given to Americans can be taken away again --- by others “who know.”

So many people in political circles “know”, but it appears none of them are learning anything new. Even in the Church, where Catholics are called to “grow in holiness,” there are many who act as if they’ve reached their destination: their actions imply “No more growing is necessary for me, but let me MAKE you grow.”

Because, “I know.”

I often say here “Do Not Be Anxious,” my friends, and I do mean that. But that does not mean there aren’t reasons to pray. Many reasons.

I have incorporated into my daily prayers an appeal for God’s Mercy in our country. I don’t know what else to pray for, because I readily admit: amidst all those who “know,” I am proclaiming I do NOT know. And I fear that those who proclaim they DO know, don’t either.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Forgiveness For Abortion

My last post on forgiveness and reconciliation concluded that the reason for my reconciliation, with God and with my neighbor, is so that I can love them, even as God loves them. Reconciliation is not just for me, it’s for them. That’s a key purpose of my life, to get myself and others to heaven, through God’s love, which He and I can bring to them.

I thought when I wrote this last one that it was a concluding meditation, but I guess not, because my mind wandered back over it again last night, and suddenly I realized there was more to be said. I cannot conclude my thoughts on the importance of life, without considering the implications of death, of taking a life.

I started out by recalling the three meditations I wrote on motherhood and giving life, which I started on Mother’s Day. In them my mind went from the realization of the importance of motherhood --- Jesus’ own mother was the only thing He took from this earth (The Assumption) --- to the reason for that importance: mothers, like God, bring forth life. And human life, created in the image of God, is the most precious thing in creation. It is a soul for God to love, the reason for His creative action, since he has no other obvious needs or wants from creation. Life exists that He might love, and that we exist that we might imitate His love.

And I realized last night that this conclusion was similar to that of my last post, on reconciliation. Reconciliation is important because it again enables God to love us, or us to imitate Him in our love of our neighbor. All these thoughts point to the importance of God’s Love, and the value and purpose of human life.

And then I thought further: If love, life, and reconciliation are so important for us to achieve what God MADE us for, then what of those who eliminate any possibility of those things happening? What of those who commit abortion, taking of a life created for and destined to satisfy God’s love?

Someone who commits abortion rejects God’s love, even as a spouse rejects her mate’s love by adultery; it is the ultimate act of betrayal. Life, the special gift of God to mothers, their special responsibility, is not only not brought to God (as I sometimes fail to bring some to Him), not only rejected (as I fail to forgive some of my neighbors), but it is also killed. One who commits abortion not only rejects reconciliation with God for herself, but also rejects a key purpose of her life, to bring others to God, and especially the one whose life was a precious gift to her to care for, and her alone. “I won’t come to Your banquet and I won’t seek to bring this other either, and I will kill him rather than let him come to You,” her actions seem to say. How horrible the thought!

So then, what of God’s desire for forgiveness and reconciliation in this situation? His child seems to be screaming at Him in words and action: “I hate You! I hate You! I hate You!!!” What now, of God’s desire to love?

My first reaction is one of horror in the face of this blind hatred. Hatred seems such an evil thing in itself. Sometimes hatred may be put in words, but I think hatred is especially felt by actions, by seeing the hateful actions of another --- even if the one doing the actions may not perceive the hurt they convey. The adulterer in a marriage looks to another person for some type of satisfaction, some fulfillment of something THEY WANT. And in the greed of their desire for themselves alone, they may not realize that there is something missing that THEY GIVE. The forgotten spouse feels the effect of adultery in the love not given to them, and in the rejection of their love. I perceive similar feelings are felt by God, when someone makes a “choice” for abortion. I’m sad for God, and wish I could do something to brighten His spirit.

I think, as with earthly parents who may have heard such words of hate from their teenage child, the only consolation possible for them is through reconciliation with their child. Words alone won’t fix the hurt; actions are needed. Despite the horrible rejection by a teenage child, the parents still want to love him. Despite the abortion, God still wants to love His child too. God always offers forgiveness, His love is always available, but how does the one who commits abortion actually reconcile with Him? The adulterer can tell his spouse that he now rejects his lover and ask forgiveness, vowing not to commit adultery again. Then the spouse’s forgiveness and reconciliation is in forgetting the adultery --- a most difficult, but possible, task --- but how can anyone, even God, forget that a child has been killed? A little child who was special to God was killed. How can God forgive and act as if it didn’t happen? How can the one who killed forget? It did happen, and the result of it continues on, like an empty chair at the eternal banquet. How can He not notice? How can He forget?

How can anyone make up for killing one of God’s little children? It is impossible.

But: With God, all things are possible.

So how does one seek forgiveness of God for committing abortion? Oh, the Sacrament of Reconciliation enables forgiveness and reconciliation, and anyone can seek it and be given absolution there. But even in being forgiven, how can the one who committed abortion imagine sitting at Christ’s eternal banquet, in total joy, with the empty seat next to her? Were it I, even if I were STILL invited to the banquet, I would be most reluctant to go. Even if offered and given forgiveness, I don’t know if I would be able to forgive myself.

And I think this is the situation with many a would-be-mother, who has killed her child.

But there is hope. All things are possible.

If the special guest you were asked to bring to the banquet, your little child, can no longer come (for reasons both you and God know), I think the next best thing you can do to please God, the banquet host, is to bring someone else. I think God would understand this, and be pleased at your extra action to ensure His banquet is a total success. Surely in this world there are many lost souls, one-time friends of God who turned away, or perhaps just forgot Him. I believe you can please God very much by bringing that someone to the banquet to sit in that empty chair next to you. Bringing God’s long-lost friend to the banquet will give Him great joy: “It’s been so long since I’ve seen you. I’ve missed you. I am so glad that you are here.” And then God will look over the long-lost friend’s shoulder, and He will smile at you for bringing him.

And you may even find that the long-lost friend of God, the one who did not seem destined for heaven, but who you found and brought along is, surprisingly, you. And I think this would please God very much.

You can never make up for the child you prevented from receiving God’s eternal love, but that does not mean there is nothing you can do. You can’t expect to create a bed of roses from a pile of lemons, but you can make lemonade.

And the taste can be sweet, if you put enough love and commitment in it, for with God, “all things are possible.”

Lord, it is not for myself that I live, but for Thee. Turn from my great sins, please, or surely I shall die. But I know that in Thee all things are possible because You are all love.

Despite my sins, give me Your great Love, O Lord, and I shall attempt to spread it throughout the world. This I promise You. Not just for me Lord, but for all Your children, have mercy on me, and I shall share Your Love with those I meet, that together we might meet you in eternity.

“Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also those of others.
---- Philippians 2

Friday, September 23, 2011

Does God Miss Sinners?

I’ve had some continuing thoughts of late on forgiveness, repentance, and reconciliation. I’ve come to the general conclusion that reconciliation is what Jesus calls for in Matthew 5 and 18 --- that’s where there has been repentance sought and forgiveness given --- but that forgiveness is called for even without repentance, or at least the willingness to forgive. That’s the “you must forgive seventy times seven” thing, I think. But the point of reconciliation is to achieve more than just one-sided forgiveness, it’s to restore a broken relationship, which seems a good thing. Jesus died for it. Without reconciliation between God and sinner, something would be missing from the Body of Christ, and heaven might be less for it.

Question: So what? I know that if I don’t reconcile with my brother I am the less for it because our relationship brings something to me --- and to him. But what of God’s relationship to us? Is somehow Christ less for the missing sinners? But He’s God; God doesn’t need anything, much less the dust of man He created. So how does God somehow miss sinners? Being God, He does not need them, or anything.

I know that being open to forgiveness is for me the same as the actual act of forgiving. If the one I wish to be reconciled with does not wish the same, I still can be open to forgiving him (or asking his forgiveness). Whether reconciled or not, I can push the “sin” into history and forget it. In Matthew 18, it says that if he won’t be reconciled with me, ultimately I should treat him like a tax collector or Gentile --- and move on with my life. I know that forgiveness by itself it not as good as reconciliation for me, but I can move on without the reconciliation I desire. But what of Christ?

Christ cannot treat a lack of reconciliation as I do. Through reconciliation I definitely gain something I didn’t have before, if my brother comes back into my life. My life is better for his being a part of it. But Christ has no need of anyone, so He can’t gain from being reconciled with sinners in the same sense that I gain. Christ desires reconciliation with the sinner so that He can love him, and share His being with him. Christ wants reconciliation for all He wants to give --- He wants to give so much that He even gave His life. But I view reconciliation considering what I might gain from my brother, not give.

Or am I looking at my concept of the purpose and benefit of reconciliation wrong?

Christ desires reconciliation with man so that Christ can give man more. Should I be seeking reconciliation with my brother, my neighbor, so that I can give him more? That sounds kind of like: “Hey! I want you to be my friend so that I can give you my money.” And that doesn’t sound logical. And it is not. I was tending to look at my relationship to my brother and neighbor in earthly terms --- what you can give me or what I can give you, of earthly treasures. How Christ is viewing a renewed relationship with man is in terms of spiritual treasures. If He can give us His love, and we accept it, we will ultimately be joined in eternity, forever. That’s not some earthly, short-term treasure. He wants to give us, ultimately, eternal happiness, not short-term happiness. And we, too, should think in those terms in thinking about our desire to be reconciled with our brother.

If Christ is not reconciled to the sinner, Christ DOES lose something: the eternal presence of that being with Him in heaven. It is a loss to the Body of Christ. If I am not reconciled to someone who sins against me (or me against him), we are risking our eternal loss also. Failing to love our neighbor, to GIVE love to him, is failing in the second great commandment. It’s a key to the whole purpose of our existence, to give love, to God and neighbor. Our life is not about ours alone. Our neighbor is here. We are not born to ONLY get ourselves into heaven, but help to love our neighbor enough to get him there also --- because that is what God desires, and it should be what we desire too.

Heaven without the sinners who don’t repent and be reconciled is like the banquet where no one came. Oh, in the parable when the invitees did not come to the banquet the lord sent out his servants to the byways and invited anyone in. But, since we are invited to this great heavenly feast, wouldn’t it be good if we showed up?

Part of the reason for our requirement to forgive and love our neighbor is to ensure that the banquet hall of heaven if full. It’s to ensure that the talents we were given aren’t buried in the ground, but returned with more. It’s to ensure that we ourselves are welcomed, as a good and faithful servant, for a job well done.

We don’t have to worry that God will miss sinners if they don’t make it to heaven. We have to worry that God might might miss us, if a sinner fails to reach heaven through our pride and failure to be reconciled with him.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Ba-Ba-Ba, Barbara Ann

Summer’s officially over, but tonight as I came out of mom’s house the temperature was still the 70’s. One last night of nice warm, and yet cool night air. And so I started the car, rolled down the windows, and put in a Beach Boys CD --- and turned the music up loud. The first track was Barbara Ann; for me that’s summer music.

As I slowly drove through Plymouth (the speed limit in town is 25 miles per hour), the music switched over to Little Deuce Coupe, and I sang along. The last words of Help Me Rhonda were playing as I entered the chapel parking lot, and I let the song finish before rolling up the windows and getting out. (I wondered briefly if Jesus liked the Beach Boys music?) In the chapel I said my rosary and night prayers, and then skipped my usual reading of one of Newman’s Sermons in favor of a few pages of, of all things, Peter Kreeft’s latest book. I think this one I’ll have to read all the way through to be able to consider how to review it, but the beginnings are a treasure, like fine wine, to be slowly sipped and thought about, and talked about --- with a friend, of course. And who better to chat with about my thoughts and feelings than Jesus, there on the altar.

Now this book, I know He would have liked.

Going home, driving through town The Sloop John B, and then Catch a Wave played. There were few people on the streets of Plymouth, so alive during the summer nights but now just quiet. The indoor clubs and bars were still active; I could tell by all the cars parked on the streets and in the lots, but by 10:30 even they were winding down on this weekday night. So You Wanna Dance was playing as I turned into my subdivision. I wondered what the neighbors were thinking. I was one of those people who played loud music as they rolled down the quiet subdivision streets at night --- or at least on this night.

This last warm night of summer end was a good night, even for the few minutes I rolled down the street and sang with the radio. Isn’t that a good part of what makes summer enjoyable? Good music, good wine, good reading, good company, the things of good times. Life is good.

I think I’ll stop here and go sit on the swing on the back deck, and have that glass of wine.

It’s supposed to rain later tonight.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Acing The Class

In the parable of the vineyard workers, heard this Sunday, we heard of the same reward being given regardless of the hours of labor. For most of us, this seems unfair. Now I got the rewards part of the parable (or think I did): heaven can be gained by everyone, whether a life-long Christian working hard, or a convert in the last minute of his life. And while perhaps not fair from an earthly point of view, the blessing of being offered this reward is just that: a blessing. And we all thank God for it. But that is looking at this parable from God’s gift point of view, but I think our concerns with the parable stem from our work and man’s point of view.

Another way of looking at the same situation might be to consider students taking a test. Some study for days on end, and get a 100% score on the test, while some others seem only to glance at the textbook and yet get the same 100% score. To the ones who studied so hard, it almost seems unfair – but they don’t think the teacher is the one being unfair. Jesus explained that the vineyard owner paying the same wage regardless of the hours worked IS being fair, in the eyes of God. The example of the students’ work perhaps makes it clearer for the eyes of man: we don’t see the teacher as being unfair in giving 100% to each student, regardless of their work to achieve the score. In fact, the 100% score is more greatly appreciated by the ones who worked harder to get it, is it not? Would you want it otherwise?

We are used to thinking of life, and our dealings with other people, in terms of barter. If you give me one, I’ll give you one --- assuming that each of the “ones” is the same. But in real life, barter considers other things. Sometimes the “ones” are not the same, so you must give me two of your less-valuable ones, and I’ll give you my one in return; the trade is of things equating to the same value. And sometimes things may appear to be the same, but someone has a greater desire for the trade than another: I really want your red one, so I’ll trade you two blue ones. The vineyard parable is from this viewpoint, that Jesus has a greater desire for us to get to heaven than perhaps we have a desire to get there --- there are so many distractions here on earth, so He offers us a “better deal” to make our trade.

I suspect members of some Protestant churches like the vineyard parable from a slightly different viewpoint. Payment guaranteed, a gift to all, once saved always saved. Eternal life (or a 100% test score) is available to all, and this is true. But what some may forget, or don’t notice in the parable, is that the vineyard workers (like the students) work, and continue to work to the end of the day. Not until midday, or one, or three o’clock, but to the end. If they walk away before the end, regardless of the hours worked, they will be skipping the payment at the end. Oh works do not in themselves justify the reward, it is a gift, but still the work is necessary to demonstrate the commitment to receiving the gift, and in effect testifying to its value.

Like Jesus notes, the payment is just --- but so is the work. No, the work (or works) don’t justify the payment, it is freely offered, but still the work must be done. (And it must be work in the vineyard owner’s field, not another’s field.) But let’s expand the examples a bit to illustrate another point about work. While the vineyard workers may get a daily wage, it is possible that a generous vineyard owner will offer a bonus when the entire field is picked, perhaps requiring several days or even weeks. The student may ace a particular test, but there will likely be more than one test in the course, and perhaps he has a goal of acing the class. He will have to take more tests. Do you see what will happen over the period of the entire course? The student who studied so hard to ace the first test will find that as he continues to work hard he will gain some of the knowledge (like holiness?) that the other student already has: the dumber student will become smarter. So that by the final exam, it is entirely possible that the “dumber” student will not have to spend nearly as much time to get the final 100% score. He has grown in wisdom during the course --- which was the whole point of the course! The same holds true with the vineyard worker, or us living our lives. Skills honed through practice, means you can do more with less; perhaps you can complete your allotted field area sooner and can help someone else with theirs, perhaps out of a desire to please the vineyard owner.

Every worker in the vineyard benefits from working to accomplish his assigned task, as does every student. They both work toward a known and desired reward, and their work helps them to achieve it. It is an earthly thing to want a reward, for ourselves; but it is a heavenly thing to want a reward solely to satisfy the vineyard owner or the teacher. Working for ourselves, it is receiving. Working for others, it is giving. And it is always more blessed to give than to receive. If you receive $10 for mowing your parents’ lawn, is it the same feeling as when you mow the neighbor’s lawn for the same wage?

And that is truly the lesson of growing in holiness, of working in the vineyard, that we so often miss. It is not only about what you gain, but why you do it. Whose vineyard do you think it is?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Free, At Last

Lord, by Your cross and resurrection, You have set us free. You are the Savior of the world.

Set us free? Even as I said those words at mass this morning my mind switched over onto a different train of thought. Even as my mouth followed the priest and everyone else present down the continuing mainline of the mass, my mind switched over onto a rail siding, and stopped there. There was something at this destination that I felt I had to pick up --- or perhaps deliver.

What was Jesus setting us free from, by His cross and resurrection? Free from sin? No, I am living witness that He did not deliver me from sin; it comes and remains with me far too easily. Free from hell? Oh no, I fear that destination may well be in the cards for me; I pray that prayer MOST sincerely: “Free us from the fires of hell, and lead all souls to heaven …” --- especially me. So then what?

In truth, when I think of what Jesus gained for us (and for God) by His cross and resurrection, I think of heaven. The doors of heaven were once again opened for us. His death made it possible for us to be reconciled with Him and BE with Him forever, a huge, unimaginable gift. His cross gave me a gift beyond my yearnings, beyond anything I could imagine I could ever earn by myself, or deserve. It was a huge gift, this possible destination of bliss for all eternity. But in giving this gift, what did He take away; what does that prayer mean when it says: You have set us free?

In meditating on the book of Job in recent days, I discovered that at the time of Job many Jewish people did not believe in a life after death. After Adam, Genesis told them man was cast out of Eden. A Messiah was eventually promised, but He was not yet here. For Job, then, this life was all there was. That’s why Job’s trust is a most remarkable thing. With no promise of a heaven for all his earthly sufferings, still Job chose to trust in God. It was a remarkable example he set for the Jews.

But Jesus, by His cross and resurrection set us free. What He set us free from was, I believe, was the life that Job saw. After Jesus, we were no longer limited to this earthly life, but an eternal continuing life, was ours to be had. Jesus set us free from the limits of the book of Job. Life and death had a totally new meaning than that understood by Job. We weren’t just living our lives in obedience, as slaves, but in trust, as sons. Our Father showed us how and why to live good lives, and/or bear sufferings --- so we would be with Him forever.

In a way, our required trust in God has lessened from that required of Job, for we now trust in the promises of Jesus, and man has seen or heard Jesus. He has lived as one of us. “Seeing is believing”, and mankind has seen.

Jesus has set us free from the limitations of this world, and opened our eyes. We were all blind men, but now we can see.

We are indeed set free. Praise be to Our Lord Jesus Christ. You have set us free. You are indeed the Savior of the world.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Review: John Paul II, We Love You

Let’s get this out of the way right up front: For me, this is a terrible book.

I’ve only completed two chapters of the book, but I can write this review without having yet read the rest. I mean, every morning as I read a couple of pages in the chapel, there I am, tears running down my face, sobbing, sniffling, blowing my nose, and generally looking like an old idiot. I’m sure people around me must be thinking: “The old guy’s lost it. Perhaps we should call the guys in the white coats.” This book just does terrible things to me.

Terribly wonderful.

Perhaps the book’s impact is just on me. I’ve read so much of what JPII has written; I’ve heard so many of his speeches; I’ve seen him so many times. And this book brings back all the wonderful memories of those times, the faith-building words, the hope, and the love I felt when around anything this man has done. And perhaps it is also the miracles I know he has worked on my behalf, especially the time when I first prayed to him for his intercession, as my sister lay dying. My prayer to him was answered within the hour, and a great peace overcame all my anxieties. And I knew it was him who helped make it happen. Maybe it’s just for me, that he is a most special man.

But as this book so clearly presents, he is a very special man for so many people.

The book, written by Father Peter Mitchell, is centered around his thoughts and experiences during the last days of Pope John Paul II, and his funeral. Father Mitchell --- “I am a priest of the JPII generation” --- was scheduled to complete his studies in Rome and come home to America, but received permission to stay, and was there in the pope’s last days. His thoughts are written, but even more are the thoughts of many others, of the youths of the “JPII generation.” Their stories of how the pope impacted them with his words, and in so many cases just with a look, a glance, of his eyes are so moving to me. They bring to mind all those feelings I also had of the man, of the saint. As part of my morning meditations I am also reading another book, about all the doctors of the Church; surely he rivals the greatest of them.

The young people who write in this book about their experiences with the pope most often cite the impact of their participation in various World Youth Day events. Some could not forget his words; for some, a brief touch struck them like electricity; and for some his eyes looked into their souls, and for the first time they could see their souls too. So many lives were forever changed merely by his glance. So many heard his words, and thought he was speaking only to them: “Trust God because He trusts you.”

And so many cried in happiness.

This is another book which will be on my Christmas give-away list. I’ll make sure to give copies to my younger acquaintances. I wonder if they will feel its impact also.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

This is the Start

I’ve been to a number of groundbreakings in my life. No, no one has ever asked me to turn over that first shovel full of dirt, but I’ve enjoyed participating in those celebrations. Often after years of planning, something you could physically see was finally happening.

In my career, many of the “groundbreakings” were actually the signing of contracts, contracts which we had spent many long months, sometimes even years, negotiating. I was never at those contract signings, but on the final day of negotiations the negotiating team members invariably celebrated. Any difficulties, any bitterness along the way, were forgotten. The fruits of all our preparations were going to start to blossom. We could envision good results in the future.

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Birth of Mary. Destined to be the Mother of God, she was special from the start, for she was “The Start”. She was the beginning of God’s promise to mankind. She was the beginning of a unique contract between God and man, a contract that once existed in the Garden of Eden, but which was broken by man. Yet God so wanted this contract that he did something that no earthly negotiator would ever do, He made it a totally uneven agreement. He put on the negotiating table something far more valuable than anything man could offer Him; He offered His only Son. It was an offer no man, nor even no god, could not accept. He offered EVERYTHING so that we could again be in agreement. And with Mary’s birth, the contract was physically started.

I wonder if the heavens celebrated.

Yet with Mary’s birth there were many more physical things to be done, just like the first shovel full of dirt doesn’t mean the building is done. Much work remained, often difficult work, often dangerous, even deadly work. And while there was joy along the way, there was also sadness. But as the rosary prayers remind us, while there were the Joyful and Sorrowful Mysteries of Mary and Jesus’ life, oh, there were the Glorious too.

Mary’s birthday is a feast day in the Church. In truth, it was the physical start of the Church, the groundbreaking of the agreement between God and man, and the Church which would spread throughout the world, as Jesus said it would. I wonder when God was planning for this great work, what were His thoughts? Was He seeing the great results, or was He seeing the hard work necessary to achieve them? But He was God, and He knew the work started would yield great results; it would be worth the effort, even the great pain.

Sometimes I think that is part of our problem in life, in that we are not like God in this regard. We can envision things being better for us, our lives having more joy, and we can see the work necessary to achieve that “happy ending” but, unlike God, we are not at all sure that we can achieve the result, that we can handle the pain along the way. And that’s where faith comes in.

The contract between God and man is a done deal. You can read about it. Jesus, God, as one of the terms of the contract said: “I will be with you always.” We look at so many of the difficult choices we have to make in life, and we have fear: “This is difficult. Can I do this?” But in this, we are thinking the wrong thoughts. We forget the contract we have with God. The real question isn’t: “Can I do this?” The question is: “Can WE do this?” And the answer is: With God, all things are possible.

So what are the things you wish were different in your life, the joys that you can envision if only some difficult task were done? Can you envision finally being sober, or not addicted to drugs anymore? Can you envision your family not arguing anymore? Can you envision yourself being happy in the Catholic faith, as so many, like me, are? Can you envision yourself retired?

Whatever it is that you can envision will bring you greater joy and peace, you can do, with God. Oh, it will take plans and perhaps negotiations between you and God --- you need to talk to Him in prayer – but at some point you’ll have to do the physical part. Like the groundbreaking, like the birth of Mary, all good on this earth must begin with a decision to do something, and then the start of action.

Even if the road be long, and perhaps painful, have faith that God will keep His end of the contract and be with you. And then start.

And who knows, perhaps someday I will hear from you or meet you, and together we will celebrate your birthday, your great start. Wouldn’t that be grand?

I love a good party.

Happy birthday, Mary. Happy birthday. Oh what a great start you were.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Should I Be A Priest?

(You may want to read this post, as one more directly on the topic.)

That is a question many young men ask themselves at some point in their life. And certainly there are many reasons for and against the proposition. But the real answer to the question lays not in some quantitative analysis of the pros and cons, it is in a discussion between a man and his God. What we others can do, however, is not interfere in that discussion.

I have mentioned before that I am blessed in that my small parish has many programs supportive of young men and women who might be considering religious life, and parents actively speak with pride of sons and daughters in religious orders or on spiritual pilgrimages around the world. There are thirty from the parish presently in religious formation programs to be priests or nuns.

I recently supported a young woman who taught at an orphanage in Ghana for a year, and yesterday a bishop from Uganda presided at mass in my parish and told us of the great blessings wrought by our support of a sister parish in Uganda. He was at our parish visiting one of his young priests, who was in a study program nearby. Uganda is a largely Catholic country. In his archdiocese, he told us, there are 95 men in study for priesthood, he sends 10% of his priests as missionaries to other African countries, and more recently he has answered the call of a U.S. diocese, and sent four priests to work in America. He was thanking us and not asking us for money --- although, he opined, you could offer to pay for the studies of one of his seminarians, almost all of who come from very poor families. He laughed as he said his little “however,” and so did we, but he did bring up a serious point: money is a serious impediment to many young men and women entering religious life, even here in the United States.

It was totally by accident that I heard of a man and his wife who have started a non-profit organization to raise money for men and women who cannot afford to enter religious life. Even as we pray for more vocations, there are some people who believe they may HAVE vocations, yet are prevented from entering religious orders because of money problems: they have college debts. Most religious orders, with a vow of poverty, cannot afford to help pay the college debts of potential new members, and so they turn away potential vocations, telling them to come back after they have paid off their loans. Of course, after working for years in secular jobs, most don’t come back. A call from God, an answer to our prayers, an opportunity, lost.

The Mater Ecclesiae Fund For Vocations is a non-profit organization which takes on the college debts of young men and women wanting to enter religious life. As long as they continue pursuing their vocation, it assumes payment of their debt, paying it off entirely shortly after they make their final vows. It is a wonderful idea of cooperation between the laity and the newly religious, however … even here, there are money problems. Each year the Fund turns away many applicants for aid because it does not have sufficient resources to help all who seek aid. I don’t know if they have surveyed what happens to those they turn away – I’m afraid to ask.

Starting next year, when the Fund does its deliberation on which applicants it can accept, and considers how much money it has available before it must turn applicants away, I have asked it to move the cutoff line one person over, to accept just one more request for assistance it had planned to deny. I will commit to support payment of the debt of that young man or woman while they enter religious life and discern if they have a vocation. I understand it is a multi-year commitment, while they study, and so I offered to include any commitments in my will. The Fund was willing to work with me and my offer.

How could I be praying for an increase in vocations every day, if I am not willing to help those God has chosen? I believe He answers our prayers; how could I not be grateful for His answer? But even with my offer, the Fund will be turning away many others. I am not asking that any who might read this support the Mater Ecclesiae Fund, but as the Ugandan bishop politely said: however ….

This is the prayer I say daily for vocations.

Litany and Prayer for Priests
God, the Father of Heaven and Earth, Have mercy on us.
God, the Son Lord Redeemer of the World, Have mercy on us.
God, the Holy Spirit, etc.
Holy Trinity, One God, etc.
Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, etc.

That you see fit to preserve our Holy Father the Pope and all ranks of the Church,
We beseech you, hear us.
That you see fit to call back to the unity of the Church all who have strayed from the truth,
We beseech you, hear us.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, Intercede for us, pray for priests.
Immaculate Heart of Mary, etc.
Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, etc.
Gate of Heaven, etc.
Our Lady of Guadeloupe, etc.

Archangel Michael defender of the faith, Intercede for us, pray for priests.
Saint John the Baptist, etc.
Saint Peter, etc.
All you holy angels & archangels, etc.
All you holy patriarchs & prophets, etc.
All you holy apostles & evangelists, etc.
All you holy martyrs, etc.
All you holy bishops & confessors, etc.
All you holy doctors, etc.
All you holy priests & clerics, etc.
All you holy monks & hermits, etc.
All you holy men & women, etc.
Saints of God, etc.
Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, we trust in You.

Let us pray --
Father, You have appointed Your Son Jesus Christ as eternal High Priest, guide those He has chosen to be ministers of word and sacrament & help them to be faithful in fulfilling the ministry they have received.

Let us pray that no man who asks the question: “Should I be a priest,” answers that he can’t afford to be.

Friday, September 2, 2011

And Job Laughed

Yesterday I wrote about the Eternal Accountant, and balancing the books, and trusting in God, all well and good things. But in the past 24 hours, I learned a bit more. And I felt that the Job of the Old Testament was calling to me. And laughing: My boy, you don’t know a THING about trust.

I wrote yesterday of the daily things you come to rely upon, like being able to pay your bills each month. I wrote about how the simple things can mean much to others, who are not as blessed as we. And I wrote about how we can and must help each other. Part of God’s answering our prayers is in accepting His answers via others, and giving of His answers to others via us. But most of the things I wrote about were not really critical things. Were I truly unable to pay my bills this month I might have had to humble myself a bit, but I could have called upon friends. Were people really hungry this month, they could find food at a soup kitchen, if they could humble themselves to go there. For most of our needs there are answers in this Body of Christ, and we can and should help one another. We can and should be able to trust one another, here.

Most of our issues of trust, and my examples yesterday, are more like “I trust in the Post Office,” rather than “I trust in God.” An important letter or bill must arrive on time, and I trust in the Post Office to deliver it ---- but it does 99.9% of the time, even without my worries or perhaps prayers. Perhaps at a basketball game I may trust the man at the foul line to make the free throw --- he has made 75% of them in the past. I think perhaps much of our reliance on God is for things like this, things He has reliably delivered to us, time and time again. And even if it is somewhat less frequent, the 3-point shot by the guard who hits them a third of the time, still we can have much confidence in God to deliver, especially in the crucial situations.

I think Job would say that that is not a real critical test of your trust.

Job might ask: “Are you willing to bet your house on the team which is one point down in the game, with one second to go, and is just inbounding the ball on the opposite end of the court?” If you really and truly are, without worry or anxiety as to the outcome, THAT is trust. Job knew about trust. Job not only couldn’t pay his bills, he lost all his possessions, yet still he said: “I trust in you, my God.” Job lost all his family and friends, yet still he said: “I trust in you, my God.” Job lost all his health and was in terrible pain --- and God wouldn’t let him die --- yet still he said: “I trust in you, my God.”

That’s trust.

For us, trust in God is when we are “all in,” and committed in situations in which we could see nothing else to do, but to totally commit. The spouse who says: “There is no work here, we’ll have to pick up and move to a new state and trust we’ll find work there.” That is trust. The parent who hears the doctor say: “There’s only a 20% chance of success with this surgery,” and after praying to God says: “Let’s do this.” That’s trust. The spouse who accepts the adulterer’s apology and says: “Okay, you’re forgiven; let’s move on from here.” That’s trust. The soldier who says: “The only way we can get out of this is for me to rush the enemy position; cover me.” That is trust. Trust isn’t just expecting the outcome you hope and pray for, the good job or the successful surgery, or that your life will be spared, trust is expecting that the outcome will be successful, even if it is not the one you prayed for. Trust is expecting that whatever the outcome, God wills it for us, and there is a good thing there, even if we cannot see it. Even if, like Job, all we see is disaster.

I’ve been working on a project for well over a year. After praying, I thought it was as God willed, so I proceeded as best I could. I enlisted others and they spent much time and effort. I trusted in others who said they’d help. All seemed well and good, even if there were struggles along the way. And then as I neared the end, one who had supported me all the way, who said “trust in me,” told me yesterday that they would not do as they promised. Perhaps a key part of the whole project, now gone.

What do you do when someone you thought of as a friend lets you down? What do you do when you fear you are going to let others down? What do you do when you think you are going to be laughed at?

I wrote some meditations for the rosary a while back. Under the Annunciation, when the angel asked Mary to commit to accepting a pregnancy, when everyone knew she was not yet married, I wrote this meditation, as I imagined what perhaps were her thoughts: How can I do this? This will cause me shame, embarrassment, deep sacrifice or pain, public humiliation. Do You want this? I pray that meditation both to feel Mary’s pain, and to admit that sometimes I feel those exact same pains. I ask those exact same questions when REALLY difficult trials face me. Like this one.

But then I read down to the next meditation line, where I suspect Mary’s thoughts then went, or rather both her thoughts and that of the angel: Do not be afraid. Four simple words from God’s messenger, and from God Himself: Trust in Me.

When the shock of my letdown yesterday hit, I was asking some of those questions I thought Mary asked. There was a strong inclination to “do something,” to take charge and figure out what I should do next. I thought of what alternatives were possible, were there ways to salvage this year’s worth of work, this year’s worth of trust. Instead I waited, and spent time asking God: “What would You have me do?”

I could imagine a now healthy, somewhat rotund Job laughing loudly at my situation: Har! Har! Har!! What now of your trust, my boy, what now? Go read of my trials again, and learn what trust really is.

And so I shall.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Eternal Accountant

Give without counting the cost.
--- Prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola

The credit card bills arrived in the mail this month. Ack!! They totaled more than my entire month’s income, and that before considering the property taxes, which are also due this month. The savings account is its usual dusty drawer, and so the home equity line of credit account will be tapped -- again, for a while. Next month a CD matures, and it will be money enough to pay off the loan and get back to breakeven.

Even with the bank, and even with God.

It was nearly twenty five years ago when I first told God: “Tell me what You wish me to do, no matter what, and I will do it.” When I made that promise, I had in mind cleaning up my sinful ways, focusing on loving my neighbor more, and later, perhaps even selling my house and going to wherever He might send me, to do what He might ask. It was a sincere commitment, but somehow when talking to God then, I did not have in mind financial matters. I did not consider that He might ask me to sell everything and follow Him. Take no bag for the journey (Mt 10:10) was not on my mind, nor the above prayer of St. Ignatius. Those things would come later.

I’m not sure whether not balancing my checkbook or giving without counting came first, but somewhere along the years they both happened. If something appeared to be what God wished me to give to, I did, regardless of the money in the checking account. And there was always money enough, or money came in at just the right time, like the inheritance this year from the unknown relative, or the CD coming available next month, at just the right time. And if push came to shove, I knew I could always tap into the retirement funds, although I had planned to give those to charity. But I stopped worrying a while back, and trusting. Now I know you may say: “Must be nice, having enough money to fall back on so that you needn’t worry.” Yes, the fact that I saved all my years is a blessing now.

I know not everyone has money to give, as I do, but I do believe that everyone has something to give, even if it is a little thing, like the widow’s mite. It can be time at a soup kitchen, canned goods to a food drive, or even cutting an ailing neighbor’s lawn: we all can give something. And, for that matter, when we have given all that we think we have to give, we can always give more, just a little more.

How often have you prayed the prayer popularized by St. Faustina: My Jesus, I trust in You? Do you really pray that prayer sincerely, really trusting Him? If you are telling Him you trust in Him, I’d advise you, don’t lie! Trust in Him! You may be very poor, you may have no free time at all, you may be physically ailing, but REALLY, can’t you spare one hour of the 720 hours in a month and trust that He won’t somehow ease your burdens so the hour is available for the needs of others? Can’t you spare one can of soup to a food bank without starving? Can’t you find time to pray one hour with Him at a chapel, or even make the chapel your room, or even your bed, if you are ailing? Can’t you give of any of these things? And if you are giving that and more, then can’t you give that little, tiny bit more also?

I don’t worry about giving and not having enough money; it always seems to be there, like the jar that won’t run dry. God is the eternal accountant; He balances my checkbook. But He balances more than just financial accounts like my checkbook, He also balances heavenly accounts. But I confess to you, I find these heavenly accounts strange and beyond my understanding.

The worker who works only the last hour is paid the full days wages. The prodigal son who returns is given a feast. And some seemingly unknown women who wait with well-oiled lamps are invited into a wedding feast, while some who appear to be relatives are not.

For the eternal accountant, it doesn’t seem to take much on the Credit side of the ledger to balance against the many Debits. I don’t understand, but I give thanks, and try to do even the small things, even if I don’t have the time, or money, or talent. I trust that He will fix the outcome somehow, if I but try. My Jesus, I trust in You.

Try praying that prayer sometime, and then acting like you mean it, for He IS balancing accounts.

Your wisdom, goodness, and mercy have simply overlooked my many faults and sins. Because of your merciful forgiveness, I have made your charity and love of neighbor my own. Have I been coerced? Not by my own virtues, but by your love. I pray that that same love will cause you to enlighten my mind with the light of faith, so that I may know and understand the truth you have shown me. May I remember your blessings, that I may burn with the fire of your love. May that fire inspire me to give my own body and blood, together with your blood, and then through obedience let me unlock the gate of heaven. With all my heart I beg this same blessing on everyone who makes up the Mystical Body of Christ.

--- from The Dialogue by St. Catherine of Siena (Number 167)