Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Jesus, I Trust in You

Perhaps it’s good that this week is dedicated to pleading for the Divine Mercy, making a novena of the prayers shown to us by St. Faustina. In my kitchen hangs a picture of Jesus, known as the Divine Mercy picture, with the rays of grace coming from His heart. The prayer “Jesus, I Trust in You” is written across the bottom. I don’t pray it often enough, nor, as I’ve reflected this week, really don’t understand it fully. It’s too simple, and I guess I’ve been so too.

This past year has been one filled with life’s usual ups and downs, joys and trials, but nothing too elating nor nothing so troublesome that I couldn’t handle it, although I very often needed (not remembered or want to, but needed) to pray the Divine Mercy prayer in the end. And life went on --- and, perhaps, I grew complacent.

“Lord, help me to remember that nothing is going to happen to me today, that you and I together can’t handle,” reads another prayer on my family room wall. I’ve prayed that one on occasion this past year also, but like the Divine Mercy prayer, I prayed without looking at it, and without really thinking about it. I guess it’s good to reflexively call on Jesus throughout your day, and I do, but I think I’ve grown accustomed to His answering. I’ve forgotten that part of the prayer in which it says: “and I”. I’m afraid I’ve grown complacent with His ready help, expecting Him to respond to my requests promptly, like a servant, not a friend, and certainly not like a God.

So I’ve been surprised of late, and feel unexpectedly put upon: some things which ran so smoothly --- even miraculously --- are now running into unexpected difficulty. And no answer to my prayers seems forthcoming, but answers are still required, and work must be done, work, by me, for no one comes to my rescue, and for some reason that surprises me. Long hours, and long days, and there seems not enough of either. People are depending on me; I’ve made promises to them; I’ve made commitments, and they seem increasingly difficult to achieve.

“Lord, I didn’t expect this. When I committed to do these things, these good things, I knew I couldn’t do them alone. I trusted You would be there to help me, but now I seem alone. I didn’t expect that." And I’m led to question both myself and God: “Is this Your will, or mine? What would You have me do, Lord? My Jesus, I trust in You!”

There is a meditation I consider when praying the Sorrowful Mysteries. It’s words Jesus might have said: “Father, I believe in you. But you are quiet.” I feel those words now, but perhaps I focus too much on the last two thoughts they contain, and not the first. “I believe in You” and “You are quiet” are things I think about, but what about: “Father?” What about all that word implies?

What is my Father thinking as he watches me struggle? Is He proud of my persistence? Is He troubled at my doubts? Will He catch me if I fail? How do I really feel about Him?

What do I really believe, when times are difficult, and He is quiet? Do I really trust, as I trust a father?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Last Brickmaker --- A Movie Review

It might seem a strange thing to be writing about, a movie review on Easter Sunday, but it’s never been said about me that I am not at least a little bit strange.

I write about things here which I have found to relieve my anxieties, and/or might relieve yours. And on Easter Sunday, I know many people are experiencing anxieties which they do not have on other days. It’s just that way with holidays, I think; there is some type of pressure that causes us to worry, even if it’s worry because we think maybe we’re not enjoying things enough. But I think mostly it is on holidays that many people see other people being happy, and they look at their lives and see that they are not. And that is a worrisome thing.

Last night mom and I were watching The Ten Commandments. She enjoyed all the action, and I found ever new insights. And mom’s insightful comments made the old movie somewhat interesting again: “Don’t put that baby in the water; he’ll drown.” “Hey! Don’t hit those people, they didn’t do nothing.” “Wow! Look at those fancy clothes on her. She must have lots of money.” And of course regarding Yul Brennar’s ponytail hair: “Hey mister! Go get a haircut!”

When mom grew tired, the movie was less than half over, and I was getting a little weary of watching it myself. How many times can I stand to see Edward G. Robinson saying negative things to the Jews: “The Pharoah and his army are right behind us; better a slave than dead!” --- and then the pillar of fire appeared to stop the Egyptians. “We’re trapped here; we should surrender!” --- and then God parted the Red Sea. And then “Look! The Pharoah’s chariots are riding through the wall of water; we better surrender quick before we are all killed!” --- and then God released the waters of the Red Sea, and all the Egyptians drowned. Sheesh! Enough! I turned it off and put mom to bed.

Then I put on a movie I had been meaning to watch for a while, The Last Brickmaker in America, staring Sidney Poitier. It immediately struck me that the movie seemed to fit in with what I had been watching earlier. I had seen the Jews making bricks for the pyramids, a heavy hard work, a work for slaves, but from their lowly work came mighty structures, and their work was rewarded with a great freedom, wrought by God. What, I wondered, might this brickmaker story tell, considering how I had chosen to watch it within minutes of watching the Jews make bricks.

Henry Cobb (Sidney Poitier) made bricks all his life, from the age of 16. Now in his seventies, his wife who was the beloved school librarian has died, but Henry still goes to her grave each day and talks to her. He accepted a contract from the school to make bricks for the school expansion --- a new library wing, dedicated to his wife. The contract was awarded largely out of nostalgia, both in memory of Henry’s wife and of the fact that he had made the bricks which were used in most of the buildings in the small town. But Henry felt old, and brickmaking was hard work, and he thought about defaulting on the contract and just retiring, too old to be of use anymore.

Then came 13-year old Danny Potter, a troublesome kid who was thrown out of school. We meet Danny’s parents, on the verge of divorce, separated, and living two very busy lives --- with no time for Danny. A chance meeting between Henry and Danny results in Danny helping Henry to make bricks for the new library. And then more troubles strike Henry, Danny, and his parents --- the rains are falling on all of them, literally. Then Henry, in particular chooses not to give up, as he remembers the promises he made to his departed wife. And despite knowing that things cannot end well, he perseveres, struggling on, to make more bricks, for a contract he cannot hope to fulfill.

Henry’s memories of he and his wife’s life provide lots of sage advice for the Potter family. He mentions how it is sad that people don’t work with their hands anymore, and they don’t talk to the people they work with. He notes the rewards of making something yourself, seeing the completed work of your hands, even if it is something as lowly as a brick. And then as the story progresses, we find that a brick can build many things beyond just buildings.

Henry finds a renewed passion for life. Danny discovers the things which are really important in life. And Danny’s parents find that a marriage is hard work, but working together in hard times can make bricks which will last beyond their lives. And like the Jews, their hard work and trust can lead to freedom and redemption --- and the nay-saying Edward G. Robinson’s of the world can be ignored. People like him place a priority on safety, money, and the things of this world, when the most important things are not of this world.

I enjoyed The Last Brickmaker in America. It was a good family story, and a most fitting reminder of Easter: Much work and pain, and even dying to our old selves, are required before we find happiness and glory, and we find it in ways in which we might never expect, if we but struggle on, and have faith.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Holy Saturday

At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

I am you God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.

For you sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weights upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

From an ancient homily on Holy Saturday

Friday, April 22, 2011

What Are Those Wounds?

And they will ask him: “What are those wounds that you bear in your hands?” And he will reply: “I received them in the house of those who love me.
Zach 13:6

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Suppose Only Ten Are Found

Then he (Abraham) said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.”
Gen 18:32

God promised Abraham He would not destroy Sodom if as few a ten good men were found there. But He couldn’t find that many. How many are in our cities, I wonder.

My parish will have adoration in the church chapel from midnight to 6AM on Good Friday morning. Most churches strictly follow the regulation that the Eucharist should be reserved from display at the end of Thursday, and they end any adoration ceremonies at midnight. But many theologians and bishops point out that, in Scripture, Thursday night ends with the dawn of Friday. And so the exact hour of the “regulation” is not exactly regular, but I am very pleased with my parish’s interpretation, allowing all night for us to be in the presence of the Lord.

For a number of years I have loved to spend Holy Thursday night in prayer and adoration. This was when the scourging of Jesus occurred in the praetorium, and later that night he was crowned with thorns, mocked, and spat upon. It’s that later humiliation that really bothers me, and I believe really bothered Him. It was the time He felt most alone, and had time to think. I wonder what were His thoughts then, thinking about His friends that abandoned Him, possibly questioning whether all His efforts --- and now all His sufferings --- would be worthwhile? Would He be remembered; did it all matter? And then there were the thoughts about His upcoming death. He knew it was about to happen. On Holy Thursday night I like to stay awake and talk to Him, letting Him know that I care, and that He is not alone.

I ask Him to remember why He is going through this; why He must die. I ask Him to remember that He is dying for my sins, and I am sorry for that, but also that He is dying for the sins of all mankind --- including our sins today. I ask Him to not punish the world now, for all its sins that He has already died for --- isn’t that punishment enough? I pray that He not let any be able to prattle: “See, He punishes the world again, even after He said He died for their sins. Or, He told Noah that ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man,’ but He lied.” I pray that He have mercy on this world, so in need of mercy.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells those gathered at the Last Supper that one will betray Him. And “Judas, who betrayed him, said ‘Is it I, Master?’ (And Jesus replied) to him, ‘You have said so.’”

How many of us think that we are “good people,” and if we were at that table that night might also have asked Him the same question: “Is it I?” Is it I who will betray You? But we don’t see that a better question for us is: Is it I who NOW betray You, almost every day, with my casual belief in what You said and did? Is it I who You had to die for? Judas didn’t know all I know today, and yet still I fail You. Who is the bigger betrayer?

And so if we were to ask Him about the betrayer: “Is it I?” I wonder what His answer would be.

While I fear what that answer might be, I have great hope, hope that He sees into my heart, and that He judges with great mercy. I received one of those internet chain letter things a couple of weeks ago, and it made sense to me. It pointed out that Europe was said to have been saved from the Turkish fleet in 1573 because of the praying of the rosary, and suggested that certainly the world was in very dangerous straights right now. It asked that everyone pray the rosary on Good Friday between noon and three, praying for peace in the world and a return to moral values in our communities. I think that is a good thing to pray for, and I will do that. I believe God does hear our prayers, and where two are more are gathered, ….

Good Friday is also the start of the Divine Mercy novena, leading up to Mercy Sunday, the Sunday after Easter. These nine days of prayer for Divine Mercy are also a good thing to do, and I will do that also.

Certainly there is much evil in this world, and in our country, and even in our Church. And in our hearts. But God does hear our prayers, and He does love us. He died for us. Surely if we ask, He might have mercy on us. Surely there are more than ten good men to be found in our cities?

I said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray
And they do not know my ways.”
So I swore in my anger,
“They shall not enter into my rest.”

Psalm 95

Creation is made subject to futility … but it is not without hope (Rom 8:20)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

No Greater Love --- A Movie Review

No Greater Love is an award (many awards, actually)-winning DVD about the Discalced Order of Carmelites who lead a cloistered life at the monastery of the Most Holy Trinity, in London’s Notting Hill. Their day is spent in silence. The video is one hour and forty-five minutes, and as I began watching it this afternoon I was fully prepared to be bored.

I did two things at the start of the video which greatly enhanced the viewing, I’d highly recommend. I put the volume up very high, so you can hear and appreciate the silence (I know that sounds stupid, but trust me, you will understand it, and see how the sudden frighteningly-loud bong of the bell fits into the silence and helps you really understand what is being presented). In addition to hearing the soft shuffling sounds, you need to turn on the closed captioning feature, to hear (or read) each word of soft prayers, or of quiet hymns being sung. I expected to be bored, but you will find, as I did, that you are very quickly absorbed into the beauty of the whole picture of these wonderful nun’s lives.

A large portion of the DVD is set during Holy Week, and so today was a most fortuitous viewing date for me. After seeing and hearing these nuns in their daily routines, and how their lives are lived for each other (and for us), watching them wash each other’s feet on Holy Thursday gave that ritual a whole new meaning for me. My recent meditations on whether I pray enough, especially in those ordinary yet sometimes critical times of my day, were cast into a new light, as the nuns expressed concerns that sometimes they wonder if their prayers matter, since they see so few indicators of results. When I worry that I am not praying at critical times, they are praying for me! Perhaps I should write them to say how much their prayers are appreciated.

You see the sisters caring for each other in so many loving ways in their daily activities. The young feed a few of the disabled elderly, and one confides that getting along with her sisters is sometimes as hard as when she grew up with her brothers, but they are family and she loves them all. You see the sisters out gardening, cooking, and even making communion wafers (I always wondered about that). And you see them singing and praying, at all hours of the day.

One of the sisters spoke about the dark night of the soul, as St. John of the Cross described it. “You see nothing happening; for all your prayers, there is silence. You are looking for something to change, but the Carmelite traditions help you to realize that the changes you were looking for were external, but inner work needs be done. You concepts of God change, making your relationship more personal, a deeper relationship.” She said she distracted herself with the external work of the convent while her prayer life seemed dry, while she was really, as she discovered, hiding from God. For her, this went on for 18 years, but she views them as years well spent, for she truly discovered herself, and Him.

You feel all of the sisters’ joy with them at Easter morn, as they joyfully and full of laughter greet each other with hugs and wish each other a happy Easter. And then suddenly you see death. One of the elderly sisters has gone home to God, and you see her plain wooden box laid into the ground near their garden, a unique juxtaposition of timing for the Easter season, where we usually think of death and then life, but here is presented life then death. Then you hear the sister’s softly singing “And may God’s angels come to greet you.” And then they pray.

“Do you think about death?” one is asked. She replies, “I see death as just a continuation of knowing and loving God.”

I thought the video was ending as I watched the sisters end their day, nodding good night to Jesus, praying their Night Prayers, singing a litany to Mary. But then the scene switched to the garden again, only now in full bloom. You see the sisters trimming overgrowing shrubs and trees. And you see them singing, dancing, and laughing during their recreation period. And then you see a new sister, professing her final vows. And the sisters are softly singing: “Your love and Your grace, that is all I need.”

And they, all of them, are happy, so very happy.

I strongly recommend this video to you my friends, and if you can get out today to buy it, it is great for viewing during Holy Week, but truly any time at all would be good. This one I shall watch again, including all of the trailers.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Why Have You Abandoned Me?

My God, My God. Why have You abandoned me?

Those are powerful words. I wonder how many of our neighbors are praying those words this week, praying them from their hearts? Are they giving up on God? How many more will be praying those words in the future? And where is God; where is the answer to their prayers?

I fear that perhaps God is asking us that question. Where is the answer to your neighbors’ prayers, that neighbor that I told you to love? Don’t you hear them? Aren’t you looking? Are you just walking by, as they walked by my cross? Are you laughing at them, mocking their financial mistakes and their ruin? Because I blessed you, and you have much, do you think I cursed them that they have so little? Why do you think I blessed you?

Didn’t I see you nod at my priest when he said the calls of Lent are prayer, fasting and alms? For whom do you pray? For what do you fast? Where are your alms?

Lenten meditations: thoughts on what is, what might be, and what should be.

What you do to the least of my brethren, that you do unto me.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Lord, You Know That I Love You

When I call, but especially when I do not, Lord, be with me.

Calling on the Lord has grown easier for me with the passing of years. Wisdom does come with age. Even in times that are good, whether an earthly joy like a successful accomplishment, or a heavenly joy like receiving communion, I often feel His presence. I speak to him and give Him thanks. There is a certain peace in knowing He is with me in my times of happiness, as if He were holding my hand, and we can look at each other and smile. No words are necessary.

But certainly, calling on the Lord in times of trial, also has grown easier with the passing of years. I know he answers those calls. So often I have seen His gentle hand making things right. I know even in my worst sorrows, and even if I must suffer those sorrows for reasons I’ll never understand, still, He is there with me. And that too, gives me a peace.

Today is Palm Sunday. We hear the gospel where Jesus received praise, and then a short while later He was crucified. We’re given blessed palms, which many of us (like me) take home and place behind the crucifix on the wall, a reminder of the glory given Him one week, and the crucifixion given the next. That too is our life, one of joy and of sorrow, happiness and of pain. And death. But those are the extremes, and they don’t really happen that often.

I included that short prayer I opened with, “be with me when I call, but especially when I do not” in my meditations on the Glorious Mysteries of the rosary. I often call upon the Lord in good times, and almost always in bad, but not nearly enough in some critical times which catch me unawares. Much of our life is that time in between. We go along, doing the best we can, experiencing some little satisfactions when things go as we planned, and experiencing only a short quickly-passing frustration when they do not. This is life, we think. So often in those casual times we don’t think, even for a moment, that God is with us. We think we are in charge. It’s then, however, that we may need Him the most. For the evil one comes to us when we least expect him. And when we need God then, we so often don’t call.

Oh yes, that is one more bit of wisdom I have become aware of in my older years, that many of the most critical moments of my life pass me by without my being aware of them. And those are really the times when I need Jesus the most.

In some of those past critical times, I know I’ve done well. On rare occasions the Lord gives me insight into what happened while I was unaware. “That book you gave me a few months ago, thank you. I really needed it last night.” (What book??) “I never did tell you before, but when you said you’d pray for me that time, everything took a turn for the better afterwards. Thank you for what you did.” (I did??) And “I saw how you were helping others, and it made me look at how I was spending my free time, and so now I volunteer to care for the sick, or for the poor.” (You saw me??) And “I’ll always remember that anniversary when we had no money, but you still went out and bought me a rose.” (What year was that??). Times, critical times, but I was unaware of their importance.

There are so many times, critical times, when what we say or what we do makes a huge difference in the life of someone else, and we don’t even realize it. I mentioned the good examples I may have been blessed to hear about. You may have heard some words like those, too. But I fear what we are missing, and not being told about, are those times when we also have a major influence in someone’s life, but in a negative way.

I suspect we’ll never hear those truths, those failures of ours, spoken aloud to us. “I needed someone to hold my hand that day, but you were too busy, and acted like I wasn’t there.” Or “When I tried to talk to you about the problems in our marriage, and you didn’t listen, then I knew you didn’t love me.” Or “I needed just a kind word or a smile from anyone. I didn’t know you, but you passed me by and turned your head away from me, like I didn’t matter. It was easier, then, for me to commit suicide.” Or “I was carrying My cross, and dying, alone. How I wish you were there to comfort Me.” Times, critical times, but we were unaware of their importance.

I am convinced many of our lives’ most critical moments pass us by when we are unaware. We just don’t think of those moments as important, but those moments may be the very reason for which we were born, chances to make a real difference with our lives. Chances for it to matter to the world, and to God, that we even lived at all. Soren Kierkegaard said that the greatest thing we can ever do with our lives is to be who we were created to be, to fulfill the purpose, the great opportunity that God had in mind when He created us, to really matter the most in His eyes. I fear that many of us, perhaps me more than anyone, miss those critical moments.

Peter prayed: “Lord, You know that I love You,” but even he forgot his words and intentions at a critical time. I pray the Lord does not let that happen to me, in those times which catch me unaware of their importance. I may have really good intentions in my heart, but that still doesn’t prevent me from failing Him, if I forget how much I need Him.

As I considered, today, Jesus’ times of joy and of sorrow, I’m glad I read the short words of meditation and prayer, which reminded me that perhaps when I most need Him is the time when I might be unaware, and I pray that He, especially then, be with me --- even if I do not call.

Lord, let me see You in every person who enters my life, my family, my friends, and even those I consider as strangers. Let me know, love, and serve You in each and every one of them, especially when they need me the most. When You look to me in need, through them, Lord be with me and with my spirit, that I may be Your presence to them.

My Jesus, I trust in You.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Whose Will Is It?

“You don’t understand!” How often I heard those words from my now ex-wife, and how often I felt like answering (and perhaps sometimes did): “No, it is you who don’t understand!” I heard those words again last night, and they echoed through my morning prayers, and I could not find peace.

“Lord, what would you have me do?” One of the writers for the book I am pulling together wrote to me last night, suggesting that perhaps he should not be part of this project. “If that’s what you want …” he replied to my editorial comments to his first draft. I could read that he was deeply hurt, perceiving rejection of his efforts by wording changes, stung by blunt comments of my perceptions of his efforts, perhaps too blunt. I spoke the truth as I saw it, but not everyone sees the truth as I do, no matter how much I explain. I’d like to believe they just haven’t taken the time to analyze things as I have. “Go read that again; your perception is not what I meant; look at the logic of my argument.” But perhaps they can’t see it as I do. But then again, perhaps it is I who can’t see.

If one person challenges your opinion, perhaps they can’t see things clearly yet --- but know that some can’t and never will. But if two, three, and four challenge your opinion or repeatedly challenge your opinions, perhaps you should also. But it is such a hard thing to do. I know my difficulties with patience with those who “feel” about things. I “think” about things, and often want to analyze someone else’s feelings, to discuss them. But feelings can’t easily be discussed, criticized or defended, because they are unbidden emotions. I want to discuss with logic, but their feelings are not logical.

But there is always one thing which we could discuss (but people rarely do), and that is from where their feelings arise. But if we did, I’d want to discuss their feelings, but not consider my own.

“Lord, what would you have me do?” is an oft-recited prayer of mine. All my logic doesn’t tell me His will; His ways are too deep for my mind to fathom, and so I pray to know. But sometimes when something comes to me out of the blue, a “feeling”, I wonder if perhaps it is His will or not, and stop to question it: “Is this your will?” If I were truly seeking to do His will, I should just be off to do the inclination, trusting that if it is basically a good thing, then it is indeed His “small still voice.” Questioning it only serves the purpose of finding reasons to ignore it, considering why “I” think something else is better to do or more important. While seeking to do His will, by stopping to question His urgings I am also in effect questioning myself: “And what is MY will about this thing?” I open the door to asking myself whose will should I do: His or mine. And yet I know there is only one proper answer to that question, it’s His.

I think the reason I sometimes stop and question God’s hints is that I fear the question exists, whether I ask it aloud or not. The question is: “Where did this small still voice come from?” Do I really trust Him? Is this thing I hear truly an opportunity to do His will, or an inclination of my own will, my ego? In stopping to think and question, before acting, am I really considering such things as: “Helping this person is a good thing to do --- and look how many people will see me and admire me.” Or, “Stopping at church for a prayer will be appreciated by God, and perhaps He (and any others in church) will perceive me as more holy.” When I stop before doing a good inclination, what are my real thoughts and questions? And what are they when I stop and question someone else’s good actions or intentions?

Ensuring that these authors who are writing for me tell good, convincing stories will help them get support for their works of mercy, and I’m sure will help others to see that God may be calling them to do similar good works. I’m sure that criticizing the form of their writing is a good thing, for I write and read much, and with a critical eye I know what it takes to write in a convincing manner. I’m sure.

I’m sure.

How often do I proceed without thinking, without even that short prayer: “Is this Your will” because “I’m sure?” And of others who wrote from their heart, are they also moving to do His will, or are they writing from their emotions and perhaps egos: “People should read of the good God has done through me, and they will admire me.” And who am I to judge where these feelings of theirs arise from, their heart or their pride? And when they say to me “you don’t understand,” is that their wounded ego speaking to me, or God?

Discovering His will versus mine is always a difficult thing, perhaps more so for me because I am so tempted to analyze everything. Or perhaps it’s just an excuse, for perhaps I am just so defensive of my ego: “You don’t understand? Let me explain it to you, because I’m right.”

Challenging the “feelings” of another, whether a business partner, a spiritual friend, or a spouse. Is our challenge a seeking to do His will, or ours? Is their “You don’t understand” their irrational emotions responding to our comments and questions, a temptation from their ego to not allow valid criticism for their good, or their vehemence in wanting to do the will of God --- even if they can’t explain it? And who am I to judge? Who am I?

If I am truly a servant of God, I should seek to do His will without question, if what I perceive as His will seems to be a good thing to do. Whether it’s a writer who says “This is how I need to say it,” or a spouse who says “I just want to do this,” or my mom who cries out “Please warm my coffee” --- even if it is already warm. Challenging things or ideas of others which will do no harm, but are not our ideas or ways serves no real purpose, except perhaps to disturb our peace, and even that of another. And as for trying to decide whether something is the will of God, who are we to know or understand His ways? We are to be just servants of His will. As soon as we unnecessarily question something, we are opening the door to our ego, our will. It is a most wise man who knows when to shut up.

Lord, what would You have me do? Lord, help me to see You in the least of my brothers. Help me to know, and do Your will, not mine.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

In Due Season

Happy indeed is the man
Who follows not the counsel of the wicked;
Nor lingers in the way of sinners
Nor sits in the company of scorners,
But whose delight is in the law of the Lord
And who ponders His law day and night.

He is like a tree that is planted
Beside the flowing waters,
That yields its fruit in due season.

Psalm 1

“There is a time for everything under heaven and earth,” why then do we so often believe the time of blessing must be now? We are a people who have grown up in a time of plenty, with more of the earth’s blessings than any of the generations past, and we have grown used to it. Even though we believe “into every life a little rain must fall,” we are not content with the many umbrellas we have been given, but challenge God to make the sun shine bright again --- and right now! We find that when life does not go according to our plans, we easily get upset. And when its pains come, as they will, we cry out in sorrow.

But we should know better.

“Happy indeed is the man … whose delight is in the law of the Lord.” That almost sounds like a contradiction in terms: Happy with the law? We view laws as limiting our freedoms, and in some way restraining our possible happiness. But if we think things over, and ponder His law, we come to realize that it exists for our own good. What we often don’t see, however, is that the real good the law does for us is not immediate, but at the end, in totality. So conditioned to immediate gratifications, we want things to be good now, but the law doesn’t aim to make our life totally joyful, without pain.

We are “like a tree” that “yields its fruit in due season.” That means much of the time the tree is merely growing, taking in nourishment, waiting to bring about its fruit. And it needs some fertilizer tossed on it every now and then, that it might grow stronger. The law governs our growth. And the tree will undergo storms, and even cold winters, all times of trial made more bearable because of the law, but still not the joy for which the tree, or we, exist. At the end of Lent, we celebrate the real “fruit” of our tree and of Jesus’ tree also, at Easter.

Much of Jesus’ life was like that of the tree in the psalm. He was growing in anticipation of the fruit of His tree. Then came His public life, and He expounded great wisdom and worked many miracles. Many would see this as the fruit of His life; this is what it seemed to lead up to. And in a way they were correct, for at this point His life yielded a fruit many could see, and they tasted it and it was good. Many would have been content with that fruit being the end of it, Him being a great prophet of God, blessing His people. But that wasn’t the end, and some of the wiser were disturbed that so many didn’t understand Him, didn’t follow Him, and even sought to kill Him. How could this be a good fruit that they seemed to see? Although doing the will of the Father was good fruit, but even while bearing that fruit the tree of Jesus’ life was subject to storms, and some of the fruit fell to the ground in those storms and rotted, like Judas, and yielded nothing.

But in the end, the tree of Jesus’ life yielded great fruit. His works, His immediate fruits, fell to the ground and were nourished by His blood, and grew into a great forest of trees. We are those trees, the fruits of His existence. “He came that we might have life.”

And our life, if we “delight in the law of the Lord,” will also yield great fruit “in due season.” The seasons of our fruit are in our children and our neighbors, but our ultimate fruit will be in Him at the end, for “He came to bring us eternal life.” Our tree will not be tossed into the eternal fires.

The storms of this life ARE difficult, and like Him, we will die, but only for a while, for like Him also, we will rise. So do not be anxious, my friends, because of the storms, nor even take too much joy in the fruits of your tree that you do see, for there is still a death in our future, but oh, there is also a great eternal life, and then we ourselves shall be “a fruit always in season.”

I’m suddenly reminded of the film The Miracle on 34th Street, where a young Natalie Wood asks Kris Kringle: “Is that like ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again’?” Kris nods, and then she sarcastically says: “I thought so.” But even Natalie found herself saying: “I believe, I believe.” And her belief was rewarded in the end. And so will ours
All happiness and an eternal delicious fruit will come to us in due time, in due season. Have faith, and all this will come to be. After our Good Fridays, will come our Easter. I believe.

Glory and praise be to God.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Put Off The Old

I put the “bear” in the closet over the weekend. Regardless what the weather in the coming weeks may be, I’ll wear my spring coat; the winter coat is gone, and I’ll not put it on again for a while. I will it so!

Part of the arrival of Spring is in our attitude. I looked outside last week and saw the daffodils with flower buds, and the hyacinth's green tops peeking through the mulch. They made a commitment to Spring, and stood regardless of the snowflakes which fell this week, or the freezing temperatures that chilled them to their roots. In many of the big changes of our lives, at critical points of awareness where we know we should --- no, we must! --- make changes, I believe the most important change we can make is like those of the plants, a change of heart and a commitment which says: “I will do this.”

We’re halfway through Lent. Did you make any commitments, even half-hearted ones? Now is the time to turn these thoughts or desires into firm commitments of will: “I will do this!” Any human growth, losing weight, giving up smoking, or exercising more requires such a will, or the progress will stop.

Much more so any commitments to spiritual growth.

This Lent I’ve been exercising at 4:30AM most every day, and last week the Christmas tree came down. It’s a start, a firm one.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Talking With God

If a man wants to be in God’s company, he must pray regularly and read regularly. When we pray, we talk to God; when we read, God talks to us.
Book of Maxims, by St. Isidore --- Feast Day, May 4th

You cannot know God unless you read. Saul was struck down off his horse and made aware of Christ, but that has not happened to me --- or at least not physically. But even he spent three years in the desert, praying to this new-found Lord, but also likely reading and/or meditating on what he had read in the past, growing in the wisdom of the Lord.

God often speaks to me in the books I read. I couldn’t begin to count the number of times I picked up a book which had long lain idle, and then, right there in the next chapter to be read, were words which touched my heart. Certainly the same words read a month, a week, or even a day before would not have had the same meaning, not have touched me that way. I often feel God speaks to me like that, and it brings me great consolation. Often as I kneel before the Blessed Sacrament it is words like these, presented at just the right time, which come back to me, and become part of the intimate prayers of the moment, God and I exchanging things of importance, words of love.

I know I am blessed to have learned at a young age to love reading, and to have learned to read rapidly, and absorb key points of a story or a text. That learning has served me well in this life. Often a novel flies in front of my eyes and afterward I couldn’t tell you if I saw the movie or read the book, but for books which were meant to convey me knowledge, often the wisdom remains deep in my heart, to be recalled at a moment I need it most. I often call out to God for help, but it is past-read words which most often answer me, explaining again His love, giving His answer to my problems, and making even the worst problems of my life now bearable.

Reading has helped me to know what God wants of me, and it has settled into my heart a contentment and desire, so that God can look back and see into my heart, and know His will is what I sincerely wish to do. And with this mutual understanding we can better talk, and be friends.

Reading would be a good Lenten resolution, even made at this late date. Ask me, if you need some suggestions.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Where Are Our Leaders?

Thinking more on what I wrote yesterday, about Jesus searching in vain for us, I realized that part of the problem is that we too are searching. We are searching for our leaders to lead us. We’re not looking to help our neighbors because we look for and expect that others will do that for us, as if the commandment about loving our neighbors doesn’t really apply to us anymore, because we’ve delegated that responsibility – “You commanded me to do that, God? No problem, I delegated it to the state to do for me; it’s not my fault if they fail, is it?” We have largely become in this country, in matters of faith and morals, like sheep looking for our leader. We look to others to lead us to do the right thing or to do it for us, and even largely accept what they define as right. We’ve stopped looking for what is right ourselves, whether because of moral relativism or just plain laziness on our part. Perhaps we’ve had it too good for too long, and we don’t know what to do in times of suffering and pain anymore. In times of tragedy we yell: “Medic! Doctor! Help me!” And we’d let ourselves (and our neighbors) die before we’d think to help ourselves. We all look to the state or the next guy to do things, or perhaps to lead us to do them, but we don’t think to do them ourselves.

I’m reminded of an episode of Mayberry RFD which I recently watched on television with my mom. In it, little Opie Taylor hits the ball through the window of a haunted house, and then he and his buddy debate who is going to go in and get the ball. “Not me!” “Well, you hit it there.” “Well, you pitched it outside.” And then of course: “You’re not chicken, are you?” They spent a lot of time debating who would go in, but they knew that someone HAD to go in --- that point was never in doubt. Later in the episode, even deputy Barney Fife (Don Knotts) was afraid to go into the haunted house (no surprise there; some people always are afraid to go forward, even when they know they have to – you know them and I know them, those incapable of leading, even themselves). Just so you won’t wonder about the ending to the story, it turns out that the town drunk, Otis, was running a still in the basement of the house, and creating the haunting effects. (No surprise there, either.)

The point of my telling that story is that it so resembles what is going on in America today. There is no money in the state or federal coffers, and we can’t keep borrowing, so “someone” has to cut expenses. “Not me!” “Well, you passed the bills that spent the money, you find a fix." "Well, you didn’t propose any alternatives and took that lobbyist’s money, so you find a fix.” The thing is, we all know that we have to cut spending, but no one wants to be the one to propose it. “Chicken?” Maybe that’s what we all need to send in a wire to Congress; maybe that’s the word which will get them moving; they are acting like such little children. Or maybe we need to paste it on the bathroom mirror, because we’re no better.

The Wall Street Journal recently said that total unemployment is 19% in this country; our neighbors need help, now! “The government should do something about that; it’s their fault.” “I don’t see why they can’t just lay off all government workers to save money (laying off more people will help unemployment?).” “The Church should do something, have special collections or something.” Nowhere do we find individuals saying “I’ll do something.” Don't you remember that when Jesus saw the poor, the lame, the sick, HE helped them?

Maybe some of you are saying there is nothing we can do, but there is. If you are not living on the street right now, you do have some assets. You do have some money, and you can spend less on yourself --- there is a way if you HAD to; and with 19% unemployed and if you are really a Christian --- you have to. You have a house, there is an empty bedroom or basement, or unused tools, or unneeded clothing; all these things can help your neighbors. You have time, you are reading this right now; there are better things to do with your time, even just visiting those alone, or worried. Our neighbors need us.

Some of us look to what is going on in various Middle-Eastern countries, and in various cities, and we think that is a good thing, that people are rising up, doing something. We’ve discussed those things here before, and yes it is a good thing that people are acting out, rising up, IF it is for a good reason. The “why” of their action is the key point, which is yet to be understood in some places. But here, in our country, as Christians, we know the “why” we should be rising up and taking action, and not waiting for our leaders to take us by the hand, or prod us onward.

The reason we should be taking action is because He told us so: “Love your neighbor.”

We need to stop searching for leaders, and lead. It’s what He expects us to do.


In his simplicity, the cured blind man asked them if they were going to become disciples of Christ because He had restored the sight of someone blind from birth. Why did they not become His disciples? Why instead did they react with rage and threaten him? Good questions.

Because it would have been difficult, inconvenient, humiliating, even dangerous, for them to suddenly accept this wonder-working prophet and His outrageous claim about His relationship to God.

A few of their number did in fact come to believe. We know of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who buried Him, but they were secret disciples. But looking back at the whole drama of the conflict between Christ and the Pharisees and scribes, a conflict that brought Him to Calvary, we can be astounded that intelligent human beings could reject the eternal Son of god, the Incarnate Word, because they would be inconvenienced or even endangered. But that’s what happened! And it still happens.

The question now is: How many refuse to look at Christ, to take Him seriously, even to read a Gospel, before they decide to drop out of the practice of their faith? How many politicians and would-be leaders deny both the Ten Commandments and the whole teaching of Christ to get elected to some office? How many believing Christians and even clergy symbolically come to Christ by night, like Nicodemus? They don’t open their mouths about many evils that call out to God for judgment.

And finally -- and this is the point of this meditation – how often do you and I fail to bear witness to Him when it involves some inconvenience or embarrassment, however slight? I say that I see, but am I blind to the presence of Christ in so many ways in daily life because it will cost me something – some inconvenience, embarrassment, or rejection? St. Paul said we ought to be glad to suffer for him who suffered so much for us. When we see this, then we see.
The King Crucified and Risen – Meditations on the Passion and Glory of Christ
By Fr. Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

I Looked In Vain

I looked in vain for compassion,
For consolers; not one could I find.
For food they gave me poison;
In my thirst, they gave me vinegar to drink.

Psalm 69

Is Jesus today looking in vain for us?

“These are the times which try men’s souls.” Yes, indeed, these are trying times. There is so much to worry about these days: wars, inflation, 401’s and IRA’s, and will I lose my home or my job --- or both. Trying times, yes, but these are also times in which saints are made, and of people who not only squeak through that narrow door of heaven, but for whom God runs to the door, throws it open and proclaims: “Welcome home, my beloved sons,” and hugs them and kills the fatted calf in celebration. These are times of opportunity for even the worst of sinners, when even those most lost can again find their way: people like you, and me.

Seek the Lord, and you will live.

When are we ever going to find as many poor, and hungry, and homeless at our very door, here in America? If that truly is they, in whom He hides in disguise, when will we ever have so many opportunities to serve Him again? When will we hear Him, and see Him, and watch Him cry, so very close to us, even in our own next door neighbor? Do you not see them everywhere, as I do? If caring for these is truly caring for Him; if loving these is opening His heart, and the doors of heaven, when will we again find such an opportunity?

When will He again give us such an opportunity?

I’m fearful my friends, in times like these. Oh no, I’m not fearful of losing my things: my money, my home, or my prestige. No, I’m fearful of losing my neighbors, my friends, and my fellow church-goers, the ones who say they love my best Friend. This Lent I see many of them praying the Stations of the Cross; the words I hear prayed say they will walk with Him, but will they? When they see the load is heavy, will they volunteer? Even when forced into service, like Simon, will they carry their share of the load?

He said to Peter: “Do you love me?” By our actions, in these difficult time for so many, what are we responding to that question? Do we pretend we don’t hear the voice, or see the sadness?

In these trying times I think about that “narrow gate,” and where “many are called, but few are chosen.” No, I’m afraid the answer I see in many of my friends is: that few choose.

I looked in vain for compassion.

But it is never too late, my friends. The opportunities today abound, to see Him and bring Him joy. We must make that choice, to face Him gladly now in our suffering neighbors, or face Him at some future point, very sadly. Today is a day of opportunity.

You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing.
Mt 25:41-2


Originally: 3/17/08

I know some of you may be busy at work this morning, preparing for a short week, and a weekend of celebrations. But I had to take the time to write at least one of the morning meditations I read today; they were all so appropriate to today.
When I retired I received Between Sundays as a gift, and began to read it daily. Today’s meditation is from week 41, so it should have nothing to do with Easter, yet it is so relevant:

You Are Not Your Own

Ye are bought with a price – 1Cor 6:20

It is an imaginary scene – and yet it is real: the auctioneer in his gibberish shouts out the bids, and the slavemasters peer at the slave with discriminating eyes, wanting the most for their money. The slave, standing alone, shudders as someone shouts out a bid. She knows that one. He is known for his intolerance and his abuse. “Going once … going twice …”.

Then, just before the dreaded cry “Sold!” seals her fate, a strong voice shouts out a bid from the back of the crowd, and the other slavemasters gasp. No one has ever paid that much for a slave!

Hurriedly the stranger steps up to claim his newest possession. He helps her from the auction block, removes her shackles, looks into her eyes, and says, “Go free.”
I cannot begin to imagine the horror of actually standing on an auction block. Yet, as Christians, this is our story. We were enslaved to serve the master of sin, who abused us by his evil devices. There, in our weakness and bondage, we waited. Then Christ came. He paid the highest price one could pay.

Is it any wonder why we should serve him with our very lives? He loved us and bought us when no one else could see our worth.

Father, once we were slaves to a master we could not escape from. But you have set us free!
Between Sundays by Shawn Craig Monday, Week 41.

Today, the headlines in the Wall Street Journal scream out “Bear Sold in Fire Sale”. The stock which traded at $70 last week was sold for $2 a share, with government backing yesterday because “you have to do a deal today; we may not be there tomorrow to back you up”. With a year-end book value of $84/share, employees complained “this building is worth $8/share”. Financiers in the US and Europe expect “the pain is likely to extend into 2009”. “The Fed also made the rare move of lending directly to securities dealers, the first time it has done so since the 1930s.” The market just opened down 150 points.

So much to worry about, yet also in today’s readings was this:

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
Of whom shall I be afraid?
Wait for the Lord;
Be strong, and let your heart take courage;
Yea, wait for the Lord!

Psalm 27 1, 14

How appropriate. Hope you have a worry-free day, and a blessed Easter week. Remember, we have already been saved from the worst that could happen.