Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Life is SO Hard

Of course, then there are days like yesterday …

After I did my usual morning routines yesterday, I noticed a few strange things: I was temporarily caught up on my writing and reading, there weren’t a stack of bills to be paid, I didn’t have twenty errands to run, and no one was expecting me to do anything or be anywhere. And the sun was shining and the temperature perfect. A rare morning, indeed.

And so I went out to the garage and looked around for my golf clubs. After a bit of searching, I found them and the shoes and tossed the package into the trunk. A quick dash into the house for a cap and some golf balls off the shelf and I hit the garage door opener, and watched it rise up and reveal the gorgeous day.

And saw my friend standing there. “Well, are we going to do our bible study together today, or are you going out?” Oops, well perhaps there was someone expecting me to be somewhere: home. We chatted, and read one of Newman’s sermons and reflected on it and on God in our lives, and prayed. We admitted we had it pretty good --- in no part because of our actions, but because of His. I gave her a ride home, picked up a few bucks from the local ATM and headed to a nearby course.

Things weren’t crowded, and I got off quickly, and things moved along nicely … except for the delays caused by my hitting that little white thing all over the place --- and often. I was hitting all my drives well, a remarkable thing for me. But, of course, “well” as defined by me means hitting them past the women’s tees each time. (I set low standards for my golfing, then I have some semblance of a chance of achieving them.) I turned the corner after nine and stopped at the clubhouse for a hot dog --- cold and raw, that should have given me pause right there. Things were turning. A deer ran across the fairway right in front of me at the 12th --- I let him play through. But one hole later I caught up with a foursome, including a woman who might have just been learning to play, or so I judged after her 14th or 15th swing (not counting the ones I thought were practice swings). I sat there thinking I was in no hurry this fine day, but after she hit it ten feet again, and again hopped into her cart to drive the ten feet, again, I thought: “Oh nuts, I have better things to do than this”, and I turned around and headed off the course.

When I got home, it turned out the only better thing I could think of to do was to put together the hammock, grab a book, and relax in the yard. And take this picture, to record the event for posterity --- and for myself, for those days on which I may be thinking: “Life is SO Hard.” Yep, and there are cold winter nights, and cold coffee, and cold feet. Often there are days in which it just seems that life sucks, to put it mildly.

I hope I’ll remember on those days, or my guardian angel will prod me to remember, this article and this picture. There were good, warm summer days, and hot coffee, and bare feet on the hammock. And there will be again.

Because God is good. Do Not Be Anxious. God is good.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

My Way is the Best Way

I was thinking about the interests of some friends, the things they are focusing on to grow spiritually, and I found myself thinking: “Those things are good things for them, and I wish them well, but they are not for me.” Indeed, sometimes in the past I have rather forcefully stated those thoughts to friends when they discussed, and sometimes promoted, their activities to me. But in addition to my stated good will toward what they were doing, in all honesty, I also felt a certain amount of ill-will. Even as I was saying that their way was good --- for them, I was saying (sometimes vehemently) that my way was better --- for me.

Only sometimes I left off the “for me” part.

I’m reminded of the saying: “If you can’t say anything good about a person, shut up.” It is a good saying, and one we should probably call to mind more often.

This morning a bible-study group invited me to “show up anytime; you’re always welcome,” and I wrestled with a polite way to decline. I reacted the same when asked to join a men’s group which gathers to pray or discuss ways in which men can be better fathers, spouses, or leaders. I reacted the same when a rosary group asks me to join, or a devotional group to the Sacred Heart or Mary, or to some saint asks me to join their group. In my mind and heart I think that these are all very good groups, but are “not for me”. I feel that way, but I don’t often challenge my feelings with reason. I could say that the Holy Spirit is not leading me in those ways, and this would be true, but I don’t often ask: “why”.

One of the things I have become more aware of in recent years is this call to grow in holiness, this challenge for each man. And while I am increasingly aware that not everyone advances as far nor as fast in this growth as someone else, I must constantly remind myself that each man also does not advance down the same path. We are all unique, in our talents and blessings, and in our purposes and God’s plans for us. So to the degree that some things which help advance some in holiness are “not for me”, they may in fact be very good for them. And further, things that are very good for me now, in all likelihood will not be good for me in the future, because if all things stayed the same in my life, I would not be growing in anything, much less holiness. These two points, that some things are good for others but not me, and that some things are good for me --- now, are difficult to keep in perspective.

I so want to believe that what I am doing now is God’s will, and I wish others were doing the same with me. And I so want to believe that my way, right now, is the best way. It is hard to both want these things, and yet accept that these yearnings are only temporary, that these things and times will pass, and other things and times must come --- if I am to grow in holiness, and if I am truly to wish you to grow in holiness. If I am to wish you well, I cannot insist you be like me. And if I am to wish myself well, I cannot even insist that I remain like me, for I must be content with and open to change. If I am open to hearing God’s will, I must be open to the change it might be asking. And these are hard and humbling things.

It is one thing to recognize that we have passed through some state of growth and moved beyond it and not want to go back. For instance, I have been in a men’s prayer group, I have been in a rosary prayer group, I have participated in bible study groups or devotional practices and I have found them good and needed things at a time in my life, and they helped me grow in faith. And not stopping in them, and their comforts, but accepting further challenges to grow, this was a good thing. But it is something entirely different to reject these things as “not the best way”, or to say “they are not for me” because of some negative perception we may have of them or members of the group. It may be that the Holy Spirit is calling you to participate in such activities, if only for a time, to help you grow in faith in some way --- or perhaps in humility.

We all like to think, or somewhat instinctively think, that “My Way is the Best Way”. We so often are not humble enough to admit that “My way is not the only way”.

When we pray that “Thy will be done in me through service to others” yet we wish to change others to our ways, we are not really seeking to serve them, rather we are wishing them TO SERVE US by their imitation of our ways. Our ways are better we imply, even if we do not say it with words. Do you not see the pride sneaking into our actions? Serving others, no!! We are asking them to serve us! Is this the way we give glory to God and His Spirit for showing us our way --- by attempting to steer others from the way the Spirit intends for them --- their way?

If indeed there is a growing in holiness in this life, we have to admit that others may be at differing levels of holiness than we are. We have to admit that there are some holier than us (not a hard thing for me to admit), and we have to admit that there are some earlier on the pathway. And while by our words and actions we should encourage others, it is not we who will define the best path for them. That is best discerned by their prayers and their cooperation with the Holy Spirit, not our pushing (or demanding) they follow a path we set before them, or our path. In doing so we may be leading them astray and with our good intentions harming them. The greatest thing St. Augustine’s mother did for him was not harass him to a greater holiness, but to set an example and pray for him.

My way may indeed be the best way, for me, for now. But let’s not be saying to others: “It’s my way or the highway.” We have to remember that some highways will get you to the destination faster than others. In our trying to do good for ourselves, for our families, or for those God puts in our life, let’s not think that our way is the only way. Pride is such a sneaky thing. Adam and Eve were almost at the door of heaven, when they heard: “But look here. I’ve got a better way.” Let’s not follow the actions of Adam and Eve when they were tempted, nor be the tempter, either!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Praying for Trish . II

Today is the day Trish’s baby is due, but that scheduled arrival does not run, as they say, like the on-time trains. Indeed, that arrival is awaited more like the flight arrival waited by a parent who fears flying: the fear about the whole experience does not focus on the “when” the arrival will occur, but rather will it occur at all, or will some feared tragedy occur.

I suspect, despite assurances, Trish has many fears, about the arrival, yes, but also about what happens after the arrival. When our future is proceeding not as we had planned, it is a very scary thing. This “Trust in God” is easier done when we can see around the corner, and no so easy when it seems we are moving forward, like it or not, blindfolded.

With Trish’s anxieties in mind tonight, I guess it was appropriate that I prayed and meditated on the “Sorrowful Mysteries”, as both words seem to apply to her situation.

The First Sorrowful Mystery; The Agony in the Garden: Anticipation.
Jesus sweat blood in the garden, as He contemplated what was to come, and He was God! How hard things must be for Trish. The meditation words I read tonight seem to apply to her thoughts: Can I accept God’s will? For me? Whenever life goes not as we would have planned it, it is easy to challenge it: Is this REALLY God’s will (is there a way out of my sorrows)? Our resolve to accept God’s will is challenged. Friends abandon me … I seem all alone. That is always a problem in our sorrows: we think friends have abandoned us, when it’s often the case that different friends are there, put there by God, waiting for us. In our anxieties, we think too much, and don’t recognize them when they appear. Anticipating our sorrows, it is hard to keep them in perspective: My sorrows are nothing compared to Yours.

I pray, Lord, that Trish can see her sorrows in light of Yours. Even as your Father gave You friends for Your journey, I know you will provide them for Trish. Your journey, Lord, ended in death, while hers will only entail sorrows. May she appreciate the difference, and in seeing Your cross, accept hers.

The Scourging at the Pillar: Physical Pain.
Pain is a consolation; it takes my mind from what will come. The birth of a child comes with pain, but as everyone who has raised children knows, the real pains come later. So Trish’s childbirth pains are a consolation, a good thing, if for a while she stops worrying about the future. God help me! I feel alone, and hear no answer. This too, Trish is probably thinking; at some point in our pains we all think this. But the wisest of us also think this: In my sorrow, My Jesus, I Trust in You.

Lord, be now with Trish in her pains. But please, Lord, be with her in her anxieties also. Send Your Holy Spirit, enlighten her mind, that You, that the good people You put in her life, somewhere, will always be there. Never let her feel alone.

The Crowning With Thorns: Mockery.
While the mental pain in the Garden, anticipating unknown sorrows, is difficult, I think the mockery that Jesus endured with the crowning of thorns was worse; being laughed at, being ridiculed, and being told: “Well, however high and mighty you may have thought yourself before, look at you now! You told others what was right and wrong, now let me tell you!” Oh, yes, Trish will face mockery, as Jesus did. And as with Him, it will come away from the public eye, one on one, and perhaps from “friends”. In times of sorrow, you learn who your real friends are. The quiet pains hurt more. Mockery is a very personal pain, and sometimes it’s even a pain we self-inflict.

Lord, You know what Trish is hearing, and feeling. You’ve been there. Especially in times like these, we can appreciate the great gift You gave us, oh not the miracles or the Godly examples, but the pains you willingly took on. You’ve been there, where we are now. We think so often about God elevating man, but when we are being made to feel little, it is a consolation to remember that a God CHOSE to become little. He became a true man, just like us, and was mocked and made to feel little, just like us. Help Trish to remember your mockery, Lord, and that this too shall pass. Thank you, Lord.

The Carrying of the Cross: Friends.
The heaviest weight is the loneliness, but even Jesus found that a stranger would be sent to help Him. Friends come from many, often unexpected places. I can only count on My mother. As Jesus looked around, at some point His thoughts must have turned to His mother. And now Trish has a child, and she is a mother. A mother’s love is so natural and strong that at some points it has to be restrained, so that a child can learn independence and grow in personal strength. And yet it must always be there, something a child knows it can count on, even when it becomes an adult. Perhaps Trish never felt it before, but now there is a little someone who relies on her to always be there, to be strong in action, to be strong in love. And to be there, especially when her child faces the sorrows of his life.

Lord, send friends into Trish’s life to aid her in her difficult times. But also, dear Lord, make her aware that she must be a friend like that to others, and especially to Your gift of this child.

The Crucifixion: Inevitable Tragedy.
This is my agony. This I finally accept --- I will to love. Jesus embraced His cross, accepted His tragedy. Trish may think the moments she is going through right now are a great tragedy, but there will be worse. The challenge for her will be to accept the inevitable tragedies in her life, and to go on, even as Jesus did. I trust in you, My Father, I trust in You. I pray for Trish, not just for her present challenges, but also for her future ones.

Lord, I thank you for this opportunity for me to share in some small way the trials and joys of Trish. While we are together here on earth, struggling, as part of the Body of Christ, we look forward to the day when our struggles end, and You wait to welcome us home. Give Trish, and her child, strength for the journey. In times of sorrow, in times of difficult decisions, be with them. And even as you sought to be all You were created to be, give them strength, wisdom, and courage, to be all You created them to be.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, I AM… (Ex 3:14)

The little bible study group was discussing Jonah, and about knowing and doing God’s will. Jonah found it hard, even when God TOLD him His will. The study group rightly concluded that all we as men can ever do is to try to know God’s will, and that as men here on earth we will never know it perfectly, and therefore never do it perfectly. And thus, prayer is so very important. We need to keep up that conversation with God, constantly asking to know His will, and be given the fortitude and wisdom, and charity, to do it.

And then, for some reason, my thoughts wandered from the group discussion back to the Old Testament, and other attempts to know God.

Moses also was told God’s will for him directly by God, and yet he questioned it. Moses questioned how it was possible that he could do God’s will: “And Moses said unto God, who am I, that I should go …” (Ex 3:11). And further, Moses asked God for some proof that he could give to the Jews that they might believe Moses was doing the will of God: Moses asked God for his name. And God replied: “I AM”.

Two words, so simple and so basic, to describe something so huge, but then I realized that there is even a simpler name, and perhaps in some ways describing even a huger thing to us: “I”. I realized that “I” is the shortest word in the English language, a single letter, and that it is unique in that it is capitalized. The single letter “a” is also used as a word, but it is never capitalized. Why is that, I wondered?

I don’t know the history of the English language, nor when it was decided that “I” would be capitalized, nor why, but as you know, the word “why” is one which occupies my mind often. God speaks of Himself and says “I AM”, and we speak of ourselves and say “I”. And we both write of ourselves and our pronouncements in capital letters. God certainly is that important and should be placed in capital letters, but am “I”? Perhaps therein lies man’s problem, an age-old problem: his feelings of his own importance, an importance which at least sometimes takes on a meaning to him as important as God.

From one point of view, the word “I” is more focused than the name God used for Himself, and so may give an intrinsic feeling of importance, in just saying it. “I” conveys that there is nothing more to be said; this is all important. When we speak the word “I” it is usually with a feeling of importance, both to ourselves and in an expectation that it should be important to others: This is what I am saying (or proclaiming --- as if it were something of note).

We can convey our feelings of distain or disbelief in what someone else says by how we describe it: He says this, (but you know I don’t believe it). Jesus both diminished another’s words and stressed the importance of His own words when He said “You have heard it said that you shall not commit adultery, but I say unto you …” (Mt 5:27-28). But in stressing the “I” of that statement, Jesus was also proclaiming He was speaking as God.

We don’t.

We are called to imitate all of Jesus’ actions and words in Scripture, except those where He speaks of Himself as God, because we are not. I think that perhaps sometimes, however, we are confused on that point. We cannot speak as God speaks not only because we are not God, but also because we cannot fully know His will, as Jesus did. God’s revealed truths are His alone, and can be repeated as His, but our pronouncements, our interpretations of His truths and His will are but shadows of what are His real intents, His will, His WHY He speaks. To know His will is not to just know and imitate WHAT Jesus did, but WHY. At best, we can grow in wisdom of this, as we grow in holiness in this earthly life. But we will never fully know.

It is only our ego which states more, that “I” know more. For we forget the second word of the name of God, which is also important, for it not only defines the WHAT of God, but the WHY. I can convey my importance with a second word, in what I know, what I see, what I feel, what I say, but I can never convey simply and totally what I am in my very being, the “WHY” of my being. Only God can say and fully describe Himself by saying: I AM.

“I” am really not much at all in comparison with God, just little pieces of what He is. But as a foolish man, I so often forget that. And so when I am full of myself and am about to proclaim how stupid you are, I should stop and recall how really small “I” am. My feelings of superiority in any way are like an ant calling a flea small, but from the view of the universe we both are almost invisible.

We are so very blessed that God does see us, and knows us, and loves us even in our smallness --- and this is part of the very WHY of His being. I can never understand this nor never imitate it, but I can give thanks.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Fr. John Corapi

To know the will of God is the eternal challenge. To do the will of God is the challenge of every man while on earth.

Thoughts of Fr. John Corapi weaved through my prayers this morning.

Accusations of immoral conduct were made against him, but what would you do? Your child becomes angry at you and tells his teacher you have abused him and the police are called, and your child taken away “pending review of the charges”. What would you do? Spend your time berating the child, protesting your innocence? Spend your time berating the police, for not enforcing the law as you see it should be? Spend your time berating God: “Surely this is not Your will, so I shall seek to chastise the child in love, and work to change the laws, with all my heart and all my will.” Spend your time praying, waiting?

Is this the will of God? Would this be doing the will of God?

Every man lives under the law, the law of God and the law of man. When they are in conflict, we must obey the law of God, but the law of God is not totally personal --- “Just follow your conscience.” Revelation gives us the commandments, and Jesus Christ gave us their full meaning, in His word and example. And His Church helps us to fulfill those laws, in her teachings, in her example, and primarily in her sacraments. The sacraments bring God to us, both His eternal will and the fortitude to follow it. The sacraments are great gifts, but like all gifts they must be accepted. And within the rites of each sacrament are words and/or actions which demonstrate our commitment: I will accept this blessing, this gift. I will use it as a blessing, to help me to do the will of God.

And like any gift, once accepted and opened, it cannot be given back. It is ours to use, or throw away. And if we choose to throw it away, we do so to the great disappointment of the Giver.

One of the acceptances of the sacrament of Holy Orders, the acceptance of the gift of the priesthood, is the individual’s vow of obedience. “I will obey.” Many wonderful words have been written on the challenges this vow presents, especially when the one to be obeyed is commanding you to do something which is contrary to your own will. And then, so often, you convince yourself of the goodness of your will.

Isn’t that the way Adam and Eve obeyed?

Fr. John Corapi put forth his document explaining why he will not obey, why he will give up the priesthood, and his vow. Such things are no longer nailed to a church door; they are posted on the internet. And, sadly, it came to my mind something I wrote here a while back, a commentary in a book about how some of the holiest men on earth were among the Church’s greatest heretics. In seeking to know and fully commit to the will of God, some of these great, wise, and holy men became confused, thinking that in this earthly life they could fully know and understand the will of God --- but that can never be --- and so they confused their will and understanding with what they thought was of God.

I read a great commentary to Fr. Corapi’s letter by Al Kresta, head of Ave Maria Radio. You can read it here

And as for me: What are my thoughts? Well, I will obey. In today’s readings I read how David went to take up arms against Saul, and “he was joined by all those who were in difficulties or in debt,” i.e., those who saw him as a solution to their problems. Despite all the good he had done, the average person probably saw David as someone now seeking to overthrow the king, a good person turned lawbreaker. How should people have judged David? In Scripture we read where God rewards the one who obeys Him, and we also read that He chastises the one He loves. So how do you judge which one a person is? From my viewpoint, you don’t --- judge the person, that is.

But I will choose not to follow those who proclaim “I will not obey” the Church, or her teachings, or those who proclaim a new meaning to her sacraments. To do so is to reject Christ and why He came to earth and established His Church. But, you might say, the Church is made of men, they can sin and err! Yes, that is true. And so I will look at the fruits of all those who teach, saying they are teaching the truth of the Church: Do they generate greater numbers of souls dedicated and totally loyal to and obeying God and His Church on earth, or like Arius, do they generate greater numbers of souls dedicated to them and their teachings and their church? Or do they just fade away? I won’t judge the men, but I trust that God’s will may be shown in the fruits of their labor. Men err in their judgments; they cannot fully know the mind of God. Men can reject God’s will for them and perhaps yield what appears to be good fruit, but perhaps so much more, better fruit could have been yielded if they had obeyed. And men can be misunderstood by other men -- perhaps my understandings of the heart of Fr. Corapi are in error.

And so if their fruits are good, I will praise the fruits and give thanks to God. And even if their fruits are bad, I will give praise to God, for in ways in which I do not understand, He makes good of all things.

And for all men who teach contrary to the Church’s teachings, I will not judge, but neither will I follow.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Good Have Many Troubles

I awoke again this morning with a seizure. I’ve come to take these rare events, of late, as a message from God. Wide awake, I prayed to Him to end the trial, and show me His will.

I went to church early, and the chapel was open. Perhaps the priest also could not sleep. Perhaps he too was troubled, and was seeking God’s will.

I realized that I know many people with troubles. The child with autism, the spouse they fear, the unending financial trials, the father they never had, divorce, loneliness, substance abuse and depression. And these things I see in just the few people I know. How many worries there are in this world, even for good people like these --- and that is a good point to note: that these are good people. In their trials, in their woes, they so often forget this. But God never does.

I think it was Mother Teresa who said: “If this is how God treats His friends, no wonder He has so few of them.”

We know that every life will have trials, but that knowledge offers little comfort when we are having ours, and especially when we look at our efforts to do good, and yet see the bad that befalls us, and when it seems like evil is so often the winner in this world. We wonder why we should even try. And our mind wanders, sometimes looking for blame. Sometimes we find it hard to accept that the fact that the blame really is ours for our trials – look at John Edwards or other politicians. Sometimes we don’t think it proper to blame others --- look at (Fr.) John Corapi. But somehow we think it right, in our heart, to blame God (even if we don’t say this aloud). “If you love me, God, how could You let this happen?” It doesn’t seem fair. We wish our problems would go away, for we find neither a solution nor a reason for them.

We forget that: He chastises those who are close to Him. (Judith 8:27)

I began my morning prayers in the chapel, and one of the first things I read was Psalm 73. It was headed with the words: “Why is it that the good have many troubles?” And these words from Psalm 73 were underlined in my book:

My steps had almost slipped
for I was filled with envy of the proud
when I saw how the wicked prosper.
For them there are no pains;
their bodies are sound and sleek.
They have no share in men’s sorrows;
they are not stricken like others.

They scoff; they speak with malice;
from on high they plan oppression.
So the people turn to follow them
and drink in all their words.
Look at them, such are the wicked,
but untroubled, they grow in wealth.

I strove to fathom this problem,
too hard for my mind to understand,
until I pierced the mysteries of God
and understood what becomes of the wicked.
How slippery the paths on which you set them.

I was stupid and did not understand.
I was always in your presence;
you were holding me by my right hand.

You will guide me by your counsel.
To be near God is my happiness.

Every day has its troubles, for the good and bad alike, and not just me. Yesterday, Father’s Day, I had many thoughts I wished to write down here, of my dad, of events of my life, and of events of the world and the Church; so much was happening, so much to think and pray on. I titled my draft “Today”, remembering that all my worries of the past and future are a futile waste of time. Today is the day in which we live and act, and can make a difference --- if we can get past concerns about our own problems.

But mom required much attention yesterday, and my plans for the "today" of yesterday were overridden by more her important events. God helped show me that what I thought important at the time, wasn’t. There is one thing from yesterday, however, that I wish to leave with you, even today. They are the words written by a daughter remembering her father, and remembering him in a way in which all fathers would be proud. Please take the time to read this. If you know of any young fathers or fathers-to-be, it would be a great gift to give them, this example of how they could and SHOULD impact the life of their child. The words tell better than I ever could how a child might grow in love and in confidence in both her earthly father, and her heavenly one. And how a child can be taught to accept and bear, gladly, all those troubles which may come her way. It is an important lesson, for us all.

Happy (belated) Father’s Day.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Yes, But ...

I had breakfast with my friend this morning. We had our usual conversation about matters of family, church, state, sports, and of course the stock market. I enjoy our weekly mornings together. And I mentioned to him that I had read, this week, the statement put out by the British bishops announcing the re-commencement of meatless Fridays in Britain. I told my friend what a good thing I thought this was. He responded, “Yes, but I have dinner with my grandchild every Friday night, a time for us to share and grow closer, and I’m not too sure he’d appreciate eating fish each Friday. For that matter, I’m not too sure I’d be keen on that either.”

I had an instinctive reaction to that, to his instinctive reaction. His immediate reaction was “Yes, but …” And my immediate reaction was “You don’t get it” (although I did not voice my reaction with those words).

Unfortunately, my friend’s reaction was the same as that of most Christians, sadly even me. Our first thoughts on matters of faith are to ourselves. How will I be inconvenienced by this? His response to the goodness of a matter of faith was a single word: yes. His response to how it impacted him was a litany of words, and feelings. He concluded by saying: “Well, maybe I could do meatless Thursdays or something.”

He didn’t get it.

The Church does not ask us to discipline ourselves as a form of punishment. The commandments are there not to punish men, but to help them grow in holiness. And even if a commandment were, for me, a form of punishment, for all mankind they are a blessing. The commandments, the world, and other people, do not exist just for me and my convenience. Yet that is our immediate reaction to them. “What’s in it for me?” But if we could be honest in asking that question, “What’s in it for me?” we’d see it is not a bad one, for all those things do impact us. But we are quick to only look at “what’s bad” in it for me, and not “what’s good” in it for me. And what’s good in it for me, is what’s good for my neighbor.

I told my friend a story of how once I heard from a stranger how my life had influenced his, even though I was not trying to influence him, and indeed I was barely aware of his existence. But he was, as I found out, aware of me, and was influenced by the actions he saw. And it made a major difference in his life, and a good one. I told my friend this story to illustrate the importance of the example we set for others in this world, even if we are not aware of it. I view meatless Fridays in that light.

Meatless Fridays as a form of voluntary penance for us is a good thing, a reminder of our faith, a reminder of what Jesus gave up. Sacrifice is a good thing, and a good discipline to establish. But even more, it is a good example. Yes, perhaps we might not be convenienced by giving up meat on Fridays, “maybe I can do it some other day.” But then the example would be lost. If all Catholics abstained from meat on Fridays, every restaurant would notice our public witness, and at least some would ask “why?” And importantly, some would seek out the answer to that “why”. (Even the Romans asked why these Christians love each other so much, that they would die for one another.) If we abstained from meat each Friday, we would also be a witness to our family. And our children would ask “why”, and we could very simply give them an important lesson in faith, and in life --- and they would remember it.

And it would work even for our grandkids.

The British bishops as part of the same announcement said they will seek to break out some of the “convenient” celebrations of certain feast days which had crept into the Church calendar, from Sunday back to the weekdays on which they were previously celebrated. Ascension Thursday will again be celebrated on Thursday. This too, is a good thing, and witness.

I’m not big on going into the theological significance of many of the Church’s teachings and practices. I have researched most everything I question, and I have found them to have great reasons for being as they are, the good outweighing any “inconvenience” they may cause to individual members of the Church. Unfortunately, so much of our culture focuses on us as individuals and what we want, and ignores things for the benefit of the culture (or Church) as a whole. We see it in the debates about homosexuality and married priests, and in the debates about curtailing the expenses of national social programs to prevent a national bankruptcy. Everyone acknowledges the facts and the need for discipline, and then says:

“Yes, but …” And then follows the reason why it should not apply to me.

Our instinctive thinking is to believe that we are more important than others, even if we don’t say things that way --- but our actions (and reactions) do. The saving of all the people of the Church, or all of the people of the country, does not seem to outweigh our concerns for ourselves.

I guess I’m glad that Jesus didn’t feel that way. He’d never have come to earth, for certainly He didn’t die only for Himself. He did it for us --- and to give witness to us. And we complain that we can’t give witness by changing our menu for one day.

What must He be thinking?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Giving Thanks

I start off each day with great intentions: “Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace”. And I vow to let pass all those things which trouble and distract me; I do remember: Do Not Be Anxious. And I say my morning prayers and make my commitments to God: “I will do what You desire; hear me O Lord.”

But I think that, each day, His commitments to me are much greater than just the ones I ask for.

We can learn lessons in our lives from many unexpected places; God opens our eyes and we can see, if we are awake. Today as I prayed I recalled the cartoons that mom and I watch each day (I DID say unexpected places, right?). Occasionally I still laugh at something Bugs Bunny does, or chuckle at the many ways Tom the cat tries to catch Jerry. I know that laughter is good for me and I enjoy it, (but in truth I enjoy even more those few times when mom laughs also).

Strangely, I find that I rarely laugh at the cartoon adventures of the Road Runner, and today in my meditations thoughts of that character came to me, and I think I saw something which has lain unseen by me before.

Most cartoons have one character plotting against another, and one of the characters is in effect “the hero”, and one is “the bad guy”. The hero is easy to spot; he never gets hurt. The bad guy has all sorts of disasters happen to him, some the plans of the hero, but most the result of his own failed plots to harm the hero. But the Road Runner is different in that he runs through the cartoon without trying to attack or retaliate against his nemesis, Wile E. Coyote. In fact, it most often seems that the Road Runner races through life focused on where he is going, and is not even aware that he is being attacked by Mr. Coyote. While many other cartoon characters celebrate when the bad guy fails to harm them (or harms himself), the Road Runner is oblivious to it all.

And I realized that I am much like the Road Runner in this regard.

I race through my day focused on my plans: How often do I really ask God what are His? Sometimes I see a pothole in the road ahead, and I successfully steer around it. And on other occasions I see disaster coming and I pray that God help it pass me by, and most often it does. We seem to work together, when I ask. But I think that throughout much of my life there are many other disasters aimed at me, and I don’t steer around them nor ask for help. There is an evil one plotting against me and laying traps and seeking my destruction, but the evils don’t happen to me, and I am not even aware of their constant dangers. Just like the Road Runner.

A rock is aimed to fall on the Road Runner, but he races past before it hits. The dynamite is set to blast Road Runner, but the fuse is longer than the Coyote thought, and only he is blasted. He puts glue in the road to catch Road Runner, and strangely it doesn’t; it only catches him.

Contrary to his name, is Wile E. Coyote that stupid, or is someone watching over the Road Runner?

In my youth, I sometimes partied late into the night, and awoke the next morning a bit perplexed at how I ended up in my bed; what perils had I avoided last night? Friends or family faced serious illness or death, and on occasion so did I, but we lived on as my prayers were answered, but I saw no one save them, or me. Financial ruin or job-ending errors seemed unavoidable sometimes, and they happened, but looking back I can see I was not harmed; I did not die, as I expected.

Why not?

And how many other disasters happened to me or around me that I was not even aware of, and I was saved from life-ending terrors. And I didn’t even know it.

I think there were many.

We so often go through life, like the Road Runner, so focused on where we want to go. And we act as if we are going down the road alone, but we’re not. There are so many dangers out there, more than we are even aware, and there God is also, to protect us. Even if we are unaware.

That’s what Fathers do, you know. Children go on with their plans, unaware of danger. For despite the wisdom they think they have, they are only children.

Take time to give thanks each day, to God your Father, who watches over you. There are things which go “bump” in the night, and you are never really sure of the possible dangers lurking there, but He knows what they are. And He saves you. You needn’t worry.

Give thanks, to the Father who always loves us. Perhaps especially this weekend, give thanks.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Praying For Trish . I

The email asked if I would be a “Prayer Angel” for a month; I responded “Okie Dokey”.

I was asked to pray for Trish, a mom-to-be, living in a community of women who support her. Her baby is due on June 25th. “Trish is working on decision making and setting realistic boundaries for herself. She is working on letting go, and letting God into her life. Please pray for Trish, especially for community living and its challenges”

I came home tonight after putting mom to bed, and felt compelled to say my nightly rosary. I’ve been skipping some nights lately; excuses come easy. My latest is that the local 24/7 chapel is due to re-open soon, then I’ll be “religious” in my efforts again. But tonight, I thought about praying on the way home, and then on the kitchen table I saw the flier I had printed out, asking me to pray for Trish.

I guess it’s fitting that today is Thursday, and so I began the Joyful Mysteries. The first is the Annunciation: A decision has to be made about new life. Mary says yes, a blessed event, but also the beginning of her trials. I was just starting this first decade when suddenly I recalled another “Trish,” my friend Pat who had died last year. And I found myself praying to her.

Hi Pat. I pray that my words find you in heaven this night, or at least in Purgatory and near heaven’s entrance door. Tonight I am praying the rosary for a young woman named Trish, a namesake of yours. She is young and pregnant and soon to have a baby. Pat, I remember how you and I sat and talked about our youth, and our youthful mistakes. I always felt comfortable talking to you. It’s funny, although I can recall some of our specific conversations about sad events in our youth --- the results of our “knowing” everything, yet I can’t recall us ever wishing they didn’t happen, even the ones that caused us so much stress and pain. I guess looking back, with some wisdom of age, we could see that even the bad was a good thing, in the long run. We found it to be true, that God could make good out of any bad. And in our older years we knew that without a doubt. Too bad we didn’t have that wisdom when we were younger, eh Pat, perhaps some of the errors could have been avoided, and perhaps the ones that couldn’t be wouldn’t have been so painful. And perhaps you might not, and I might not be worried about, spending some long periods in Purgatory.

Pat, wherever you are at, would you also pray for Trish? I committed to pray for her for the next month; I’d like it if we could pray for her together. I miss our conversations. And I miss our praying together. And at least we can still do that.

I prayed on to the Visitation Mystery, Mary getting comfort in her pregnancy from those who love her, from those who will pray for her. Then the Birth of Jesus, pain, happiness, and then wonder at it all. What does all this mean? I suspect Trish will be feeling some of those same reactions. The Presentation is the offering of baby Jesus to God, giving thanks for God’s blessing of the child. Every child is a blessing; every life is precious; every life has a purpose – some great, some small, and some perhaps unknown. But all are loved by God. And the Joyful Mysteries end with the Finding in the Temple. A most fitting ending; the near-teen Jesus begins exhibiting his independence: and you think you had it bad up to now? The “Joyful” period ends. Nothing is written in the scriptures about Jesus’ teenage years; perhaps Mary made the apostles promise not to repeat those stories? Those are difficult times, for moms and their children. But even those are blessings, even if they don’t seem like it at the time.

I pray all will be well for Trish and her baby, and to the degree that she needs to learn and really appreciate in her heart how much God loves her, I pray she gains even more graces than she might need --- that some of that love might flow over from her to her child. We are so confused about love in this country; we think of the word and we wonder if anyone loves us. But real love, the love that God images in us, is not about getting love, it’s about giving it. I pray that Trish, in having her child, and in giving it the best of care, learns what real love is.

Lord, grant her this grace.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The First Pentecost

… He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, …

I was praying the Creed at mass on Sunday, Pentecost Sunday, when I looked up and saw the statue of Mary in front of me, her hands folded in prayer, and it felt as if we were praying together with the whole of the church. And then I remembered the feast day, Pentecost, the Holy Spirit coming, and then said the words describing when she first received the Holy Spirit, years before. And I felt the Immaculate Conception was like a first Pentecost --- although to be technically correct, I guess the Greek word to describe it would be Proti, instead of Pentecost, first day instead of fiftieth day. (Don’t ask me why that little technicality bugged me and I had to look it up; I guess you’d have to know me.)

On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came and the apostles received tongues of fire above them; on the day of Jesus’ conception, the Holy Spirit came to Mary and she received the Fire of Life within her. The Holy Spirit came to the apostles that we might receive life; He came to Mary so that she might give life, to Him, the man Jesus. Pentecost: the eternal life of Jesus came to us; The Immaculate Conception: the earthly life of Jesus came to us. Both were gifts of the Holy Spirit, both giving us life, visible gifts of the love of God --- for us.

Lord, send down Your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.

Mary said yes to the gift of the Holy Spirit, and Proti, the First Day of God on Earth in the form of man began. Fifty days after Easter, Pentecost, the first day of God’s Spirit coming to man began. And He still comes to us through the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ death unlocked the gates to heaven for man, but Jesus did not force men into heaven. But He sent the Holy Spirit that we might know the will of God, an invite to come home through those open gates.

Pentecost is such an important feast. It’s our receiving a formal invitation to heaven, with constant follow-up reminders. The invite and reminders even contain directions on how to get there! But it is for us to prepare and actually get there, to accept the invitation. Like the waiting women, we need to make sure we get the oil and have our lamps ready so we can go through the door when the bridegroom comes. But it is also very important that we remember: without His mother, there would be no bridegroom.

A friend of mine wrote a blog post explaining why Catholics attach such an importance to Mary. As I prayed the Creed on Sunday, I saw the image of her praying also. On this Sunday, I prayed for the gifts of the Holy Spirit. But she had received them first, and in a most important way. Why wouldn’t I honor her for this, and be so glad that she who had received the greatest gift of the Holy Spirit was praying with me, that the Spirit might come to me also.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners …

Monday, June 13, 2011

For Whose Glory?

The other day I saw an opportunity to do something for God. A good deed was being done by a group in the parish, but I saw what I perceived as a lacking in follow through by the project organizers, perhaps out of fear that enough volunteers could be found to complete the good deed. And so I offered myself to the project leader, to do those more difficult things involved, to do something even greater, in total, for the glory of God.

The project leader was most gracious in response to my offer. “You are a wonderful man to be so giving of yourself. We had considered expanding the project as you suggested, but found in looking back to prior years’ efforts, that the project goals were considered achieved with the smaller number of volunteers we knew we could raise. However, you are so kind with your offer, that I shall try to convince the other leaders involved to allow you to do the greater good you wish as part of this project. Your commitment is an example for us all.”

Stop and think. Did you see it? Did you see what happened?

I saw an opportunity to give greater glory to God, but it was subtly changed into an opportunity to give greater glory to me. And the unsaid question was heard in my mind: Do you want this glory? Fortunately, something struck my heart as both good and yet somewhat unsettling in the leader’s response to my offer. My initial inclination was to defer the praise given me in with polite words, and then offer thanks to the project leader for letting me do the work I had volunteered to do (this wonderful work of mine that others would see me do). Fortunately, that little niggling of uncomfort delayed my response, and my eyes were opened as to what was going on.

How often do we pray the words: “Not my will, but Thy Will be done, oh Lord”, but do we look for His answer? We need constantly to question our intentions even for those actions which we think are good. Temptation comes to us in many forms, and perhaps especially to hijack God’s blessings, and obscure those things which would give Him glory. My initial intentions in this instance were good, but they were subtly deflected, from actions for His glory into actions for mine. But, you may ask, if we worried beforehand about all possible implications of our actions, then how would we ever even start a good work? True, but what I am saying my friend, is that our eyes and hearts need to consider constantly: For whose glory do we act? Is someone being helped --- this is good. Does someone begin to act for God or open their heart to God --- this is good. Is no discernable result seen by others except our praised action --- this may not be good.

Now, I constantly give God thanks when He shows me that my good works have had good results, and especially those where normally I would not see the results. The man who told me why he did a good deed: because he saw me do one. The person who thanked me for praying for them: the prayers were answered. For me to know these things is a good thing, for they give me encouragement: my life and my commitment to Him matters. I thank God for these little consolations to me, which show me I am on the right path (I so worry about losing my way), and the His consolations help defer the little temptations I sometimes hear: “Why are you doing this? What does it matter?”

And then God shows me, again. What I do matters to Him. Praise God!

The lesson to be learned here today is that our intentions may start out good, as mine did, but they can be turned into a temptation for us, and that our pride and ego are great sources of temptation. To be specific, the lesson is this: Whenever we receive praise, an alarm should be sounding in our head: To whose glory is this praise being given? If the greater glory, as seen among men, is to ourselves, we should re-consider our efforts. All glory belongs to God. Even if our intentions remain pure, if as a result of our actions much glory is given to us, we should re-consider those actions. Are we doing things only to gain praise for ourselves? God knows our hearts, whether we take physical actions or not, but men only see things of this world. Our actions should inspire them to greater actions, not to sit back and admire us.

Our climbing a mountain, even if we say it is for the glory of God, serves no purpose except possible temptation to us, if no one else ventures to climb. When you hear praise, alarm! Whose greater glory is being done here? Will my actions give more glory to God among men, or to me?

Having thus considered my intentions and what my work would really accomplish, today I will send a polite decline to the program leader’s offer “to me”, to let “me” do something noteworthy. It is unneeded for God.

And, I realize, it is unneeded for me.

Each day I pray the little prayer to St. Paul, shown on the sidebar of this blog: “Help us to become apostles serving the Church with a pure heart, witnesses to her truth and beauty …” Not mine.

And some days, our prayers are answered.

Sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done wonderful things.

Our Father … for Thine is the kingdom, and the power --- and the glory --- now and forever. Amen.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Why Pentecost?

That word, “Why”, is one of the most critical in human language. The other questions which give us learning, the Who, What, Where, When, and How of things instill in us knowledge, but Why instills in us wisdom. Many answers to the question of Why are not scientific answers: they cannot be measured, computed, nor easily duplicated by some scientific experiments. “Why’s” get to the heart of most matters: not “What” was done, but Why.

Sadly, I don’t think most men ask Why very often. Some don’t even think Why is important: It is What things are that seem important --- I can measure them; and see: That’s what they are. Why is a question which is often asked of God, Someone who many men now fail to ask, in part I think, because they fear the answer, or would like to believe that they mis-understood God’s answer because it is not something they would want. But here I am wandering (again) and I haven’t even got past the first word of my title, but this meditation is to be about Pentecost, and specifically: “Why Pentecost?”

I admit that until recently, I didn’t really have an answer to that question. Pentecost was one of those things I just accepted on faith. Oh, not the What of Pentecost, since the coming of the Holy Spirit was seen not only physically by the apostles, but also seen in their actions: these were changed men. I accepted the “What Happened” at Pentecost based on historical records, in the Scriptures and elsewhere. But the Why of Pentecost never made sense to me, and specifically Jesus’ words: Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Comforter will not come unto you (Jn 16:7). Why did Jesus have to go away? I never quite understood: Why. Until I read these words of Saint Cyril of Alexandria, commenting on those confusing words:

After Christ had completed his mission on earth, it still remained necessary for us to become sharers in the divine nature of the Word. We had to give up our own life and be so transformed that we would begin to live an entirely new kind of life that would be pleasing to God. That was something we could do only by sharing in the Holy Spirit.

As long as Christ was with them in the flesh, it must have seemed to believers that they possessed every blessing in him; but when the time came for him to ascend to his heavenly Father, it was necessary for him to be united through his Spirit to those who worshipped him, and to dwell in our hearts through faith. Only by his own presence within us in this way could he give us confidence to cry out, “Abba, Father,” make it easy for us to grow in holiness and, through our possession of the all-powerful Spirit, fortify us invincibly against the wiles of the devil and the assaults of men.

The Spirit changes those in whom he comes to dwell.

With the Spirit within them it is quite natural for people who had been absorbed by the things of this world to become entirely other-worldly in outlook, and for cowards to become men of great courage. Very true, then, was our Savior’s saying that it was to their advantage for him to return to heaven.

I have often written here and thought much on the reason for my life, the “Why” of my existence. In short, I exist to grow in holiness, so that I can become more like God, to become more as He intended me to be, so that I one day might be united with Him. I so often read Scriptures and think: “There! There is the example of Jesus which I should try to imitate. He is a man, and so am I, and I can imitate His actions.” And this is a true and worthy thing, but it is not the wisdom of the matter, for it is only the “What” of my actions: What I am to do, but not the Why. The Why of my actions is so that I might grow in holiness, and ultimately be united with Him in heaven.

The apostles saw Jesus as I see Him so often in Scripture. He is True God, and true man. But as long as the apostles saw Him as I do, true man, they were tempted to imitate Him on just an earthly plane. Without the Why, without holiness, they were committing to follow a man’s actions. Any man could follow Jesus’ actions and be acclaimed by other men as a very “good” person. And, in truth, there are many men who do this today, for exactly that reason: to be acclaimed by other men. But if we act Why Jesus did, honor by other men means nothing; that would not be Why we act. As men, we must choose to grow in holiness, and our actions are merely outward exhibits of our inward choice.

In truth, Jesus gave up His earthly life when He died. He stayed a while in His glorified earthly body to further instruct His followers, but He said He had to go, and the Spirit would come. It was the Spirit which would and SHOULD motivate them in the future, to grow beyond this earthly life, to grow in holiness, and to prepare for life eternal. Following Jesus as men was not good enough; they had to grow to follow Him as God, follow Him with the will of the Father guiding their lives. It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Comforter will not come unto you.

Jesus while still here as man freely gave up His earthly life, so that His heavenly life could come. It is imperative that we choose to do the same. Following the actions of the man, Jesus, is not enough; we must follow the actions of the God Jesus, and the Spirit comes to us to make that possible. Why Pentecost? To help us change our focus from earthly things to heavenly things.

Those who live according to the flesh are intent on the things of the flesh, those who live according to the spirit, on those of the spirit. (Romans 8:5)

That makes sense to me.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Why Free Will?

The other day I wrote about free will, and the purpose of a free will and the need for limits of free will, but I neglected to mention that critical question about free will that perhaps some were asking: Why?

If we were created with a purpose for our life – but some of us will choose not to fulfill it; if we were going to be making mistakes – sins, and if we were going to be suffering so much in this life because of our and others’ choices, why didn’t this God Who so loves us make us without free will? Why didn’t He just make us as perfect as he intended us to be?

Well, for a start, He did create many perfect things, which were and are just as He intended them, and they never choose to sin and never suffer the pains of this human life. They’re called rocks. But I suspect He doesn’t find as much pleasure in rocks as He does in us, despite our imperfections.

This blog is to lay forth my thoughts on matters in a simple way, to ease my anxieties about questions in a simple way that (hopefully) I might recall in the future. So this morning when I read Fr. Stinissen’s simple words on WHY God gave us free will, I thought they were worth stating here:

If God had created us in a celestial state from the beginning, so that we beheld him face to face, we would surely never have sinned, but something important would have been missing. We would not be able to share in the mutual giving, which is the essence of the Trinity. Our desire to give ourselves would never be satisfied, since we would see clearly that we gave nothing, that it was God who gave everything, even our love for him.

If we are subject to trials here on earth … it is because in eternity God wants to say to us: “You have given me something. It is not only I who give, but rather we give to each other.” … To do something for God, belongs to our earthly life. … It is necessary for us to have an imperfect freedom so that we can give. If we want to be able to say Yes to God, we must also be able to say No.

It is an essential element in our faith that human beings can give something to God, that, as Catholic theologians express it, we have “merit”. Without this, we do not participate fully in the life of the Trinity, which consists of a mutual giving and receiving.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

How Do I Love Thee?

Let me count the ways ...

Well, the rains finally stopped around here, and I was able to get the garden planted --- only about a month later than last year. The sunshine and warm weather are being appreciated, and as you can see, the glads are, well, glad!

About a month ago my blog was “tagged” by Anne Bender and I was asked to write things I love about Jesus. I admitted to her that the request had me stumped; I couldn’t put my finger on a limited number of things or create some priority list I felt comfortable with. There was just so much to consider --- although I HAVE been considering it. More recently, Colleen has tagged my blog with a request to list my three favorite Bible verses, another difficult thing.

This morning at mass, on this feast day of the Ascension, some thoughts came to me which seemed somewhat to answer both requests. But despite the fact that both requests centered around Jesus, my answering thoughts, selfishly, centered around me.

I know that I exist so that I might give of myself, that I might love others. And I recalled that: We love, because He first loved us (1Jn 4:19). And with those thoughts, suddenly I clearly saw what I loved most about Jesus, and what were the related Bible verses:

1) Do not be anxious …. (Mt 6:25) That shouldn’t surprise you.

I think the words of Matthew 6:25-34 are the most important lines in the Bible (I was pointed to those words on my visit to Medjugorje). Those verses show God’s love in action, explained in simple ways that all men can see and understand. He takes care of the birds and even the flowers of the field, surely you can understand that He will take care of you. Do not be anxious. Those lines give me so much comfort. Those are the words said by a loving Father, my Father. No matter how bad things get, no matter how alone I feel, He is there.

What words could be more comforting in the Bible to a person who worries about so many things --- most of which are centered around himself? “I’ll take care of you.” Nothing in the Bible hits home with me more than that.

2) For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. (Jn 3:16)

After the first verse, telling me that my Father will take care of me here on earth --- my immediate worries, this second verse tells me yet again how much He loves me. He gave the world His only begotten Son, that I might have eternal life. I know there is a lot to be argued that this should be the first choice, not the second, but I was honest in saying that my selections are all about me. They’re selfish. And from the first moment I awake each day, I begin to worry about things of that day, not eternity. But while I selfishly worry about the little things, Jesus takes care of the big ones.

3) I, the Lord, am with you always, until the end of the world. (Mt 28:20)

This was the Ascension Day verse which first got me thinking this morning. I felt it as the tie between the first verse I chose --- He will take care of me here on earth --- and the second verse I chose --- He will give me eternal life. On Ascension Day Jesus connected this life to the next. He rose from this earth, and promised to go prepare a place for me, but that even in His going, He would be with me always.

Why do I love Jesus? What are my favorite Bible verses? These three are “comfort food” for me both bodily and spiritually. With them I know that I am loved, now and forever. With them I know I will be taken care of, now and forever. With them I know that no matter how far I stray, He will always be with me.

Anything else I feel about Jesus or the Bible just builds on these three. They’re the heart of the matter, selfishly, to me.

P.S. With “tags” among bloggers there is always a request to “tag someone else”. This time, however, I don’t think I will play along with that. Unlike so many other tags, designed to link you to the thoughts of others, for this tag I (selfishly, I guess) don’t care to read about others’ selections. Please don’t take offense, but anything else I could read on this topic might be “interesting,” but I don’t read blogs on the internet just for “interesting” ideas, but to learn and to grow from the words of others. On this topic, I am perfectly content with where I am at.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Free Will

The press recently made much ado about the death of “Dr. Death,” who promoted euthanasia and actively helped people kill themselves. Much less has been written about his personal weirdness, like being so entranced at looking into the eyes of the dying, “to see the moment when life left.” Was it the “right to euthanasia” or the “right to watch people die” what he really espoused, I don’t know, but regardless of his personal strangeness, there are many who espouse what they see as his higher-level philosophy: “Man is free to do anything he wishes, even dying.” Strangely, this is espoused as some sort of sacred right, although nowhere is it written that it is a right, nor sacred. (What truly is sacred is life, all human life, a topic of most importance --- but for another time.)

Those favoring abortion base much of their case on that the same “free will” argument: it’s my body, and I can do with it what I will. These “free will” advocates are quick to dismiss any weird examples which can be brought up, like Dr. Death --- or Hitler or Stalin. Like euthanasia now, there were many followers of Fascism and Communism in this country prior to the obvious, blatant, and undeniable horrors later documented at the end of WWII. But even now, there are those who ignore those horrors, and espouse socialism and all of the “rights of the common man” it claims to protect, regardless of how many common men must be killed.

There are many excellent resources which define and explain free will. The catechism does it fairly simply, and the writings of our most recent popes are excellent at going into great depth to explain it. There is nothing I could improve upon those efforts. Free will is a gift from God, the catechism explains, and part of our nature, the part that is like Him. And it is meant for us to freely choose the good, and the God. Other uses of our free will are really misuses.

The simplest analogy for explaining free will which I ever read was one which described our free will as like that of little puppies. They have a free will of sorts, and very liberally use it. They use it to explore --- everything, and to test limits. But they have someone which is their parent or guardian, who teaches them the limits of their free will, limits set so that they will be protected from harm. Sometimes the puppies ignore the limits, and harm does come, even death. But when they ignore the limits, their parent or guardian chastises them and explains the limits again --- if painful penalties they suffered were not learning enough. And perhaps most importantly, the parents make clear to the puppies that despite their errors they are still very much loved. Forgiveness is always available for mistakes of free will.

Some puppies are stubborn, however. Their free will is taken as a matter of self-importance, as if their free will is somehow a definition of who they are: “I am free!” Having tasted some of fruits of a free will gone wrong, it sometimes seems sweeter to them than the use of free will as it was intended. We all know that the circus lion or elephant which kills usually must be put down, because once it tastes blood and the freedom to kill, it is hard for it to not kill again. Power over another, even oneself, is such an ego-boosting thing: “I am like a god.” Which is why clearly defining the purpose of free will, and its limits, is so important: to protect us --- from ourselves.

But equally important is clearly defining that an abuse of free will can be forgiven.

We want our children to grow up to be independent, to freely express “who they are,” yet we must teach them limits of their free will. A child coloring a picture is instructed to “stay within the lines.” There are rules on how to color properly, or the result will not as beautiful as the creator of the picture intended. And there are some children who, despite our instructions, will want to color the sky green instead of blue, or the plants black instead of green. Some parents may laugh at their “independent little man” who would do this, but wiser parents will yet again instruct their children on the proper use of colors. Knowing what is right and what is wrong, are among the limits on free will. And they are most important to be taught, and adhered to.

As adults, we are not like little puppies any more. When we abuse our free will from what it was intended, choosing to not “stay within the lines,” we are acting, still, as little children. We have so much to learn. And we have a loving Father, who is always willing to explain to us --- yet again --- how wrong we are in our stubborn actions of “free will,” and to chastise us and correct our actions, in love. He always loves us, even when we “choose” to disobey. But as adults, our chastisements become stronger.

“Dr. Death” chose to disobey. His “free will” seems to have gone far astray from its intended uses. When he killed, did he become like the animal which once killed, became more likely to kill again? And how is he now being treated by God? Is His love still ever present? Or has it become necessary to have him “put down?” This is not for us to know; we are not the Father, and we do not possess His wisdom --- nor His love. We can only look at one of our litter gone astray, and perhaps hope to learn from his mistakes.

Our lives may depend upon it.