Sunday, October 30, 2011

I Missed Mass Today

It was a “this is a most unlikely to happen” circumstance, that did happen. The live-in caregiver was out of town for the weekend, and then the Saturday overnight caregiver called at the last minute: “My car broke down; I won’t be there.” And so at 11:30 on a Saturday night I was at mom’s house frantically calling for someone to substitute for my midnight to 2AM adoration.

Good friends dropped what they were doing and took my place; that’s what good friends do. I’m sure they made excuses for me to God when they got there; He understands these things. Or at least I think He does. Then this morning, with no one here to replace me still, I missed mass. I trust He understood, again.

I feel like I stood up someone for a dinner date, someone I really wanted to see. I called and explained, asked forgiveness --- and was politely forgiven, but still I felt like I let Him down. “Do you love me,” He had once asked of another of His friends. Did He ask it of me this day? How do you know when you have done your best? How do you know if you are doing what He would want? How do you know someone you really care about isn’t silently asking: “Do you love me?” How do you feel, when you want to ask those words of them?

I’ve heard those words spoken aloud often during my life, and even said (or left unsaid) them myself: Do you love me? Words spoken from a spouse to you, or you to your spouse; your child to you, or you to him, or you to your God --- or, perhaps He to you? They are words we feel, as if they were questioning a real concern, but I wonder sometimes if they are merely voicing what we want. We want to love and be loved, like we want to dress nice and be respected. We measure love, often like those things, in terms of material goods. Did you send me flowers or cards? Did you remember our anniversary? Did you buy me the things I believe you should know I want? Measures of love, by which we gauge how much we love, and are loved. But, I think, the real measures of love are more like those more which occurred to me today: Do you miss me?

I love You and wish to be with You, and so I miss you when we cannot be together. A missed meal or meeting isn’t a snub, evidence of a loss of love, but it is something which hurts the loved one who cannot attend. When both feel the hurt, this is love. Talking on the phone (or in prayer) is very good, but it really isn’t a great substitute for being there with each other. That’s why the mass or time in the Church --- ideally at adoration times, is so important. It is the real giving of ourselves, which is evidence of love.

I want spend the time to be with You, and when I am not, I miss You.

But because I believe in Him, I love Him, I want to be with Him, I know that I can always be so. I know Him and how He moves. He is there in each person whom I meet; he said so. I see His picture in their faces; I hear His voice in their words; I hear His sadness at events of the world leading to their sorrows. And I can be with Him there, in them.

I missed mass today, and adoration last night. The intimate time we were to have together didn’t happen. But then there were other things which happened today, gatherings with other people, on the internet, with the caregiver who came back home, and of course with my mom. It wasn’t an intimate gathering of just the two of us, but He was there in those gatherings. And in seeing Him there, I smiled --- and He smiled back.

Until we meet alone again.

As I finished these words, mom called out to me, up from her nap. And as I bent down in front of her and buttoned her dress she looked up at me, staring into my eyes: “You’re a good guy; you’re so good to me. You know I love you.”

Yes, Lord, I know.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Celebrate Past Successes

I sent the below letter to Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J., publisher of Catholic World Report magazine. CWR and the Homelitic & Pastoral Review magazines will cease printing and go to an on-line format next year. I wrote Fr. Fessio a note of encouragement and as a reminder to him --- and myself --- that we must celebrate our past successes, not regret their ending.

Dear Fr. Fessio:

I have lead many a good cause in my life, some even great. Many thousands in need were helped through my efforts; many cried in thanks, and I found much satisfaction and consolation that my efforts were His, yet over time support for some of my charitable efforts waned, and I found myself carrying the banner into battle with few behind me. And it was with great regret that I found my efforts increasing as others’ decreased, and then those helped diminished. The battle was not being won. We wish the successes of our life could go on forever. We tend to forget that they are not OUR successes, and that they won’t go on forever.

With prayer, I ended my leadership in some causes, and was led to join others. The war continued to be fought; I pray I was led to enter those battles where I might make a difference --- despite the fact that some might suffer because of my choices. I pray those decisions were made with His blessings.

Despite my abilities and praised past successes, I cannot forget that it is He who leads us into battle. We are just His soldiers.

I will miss both the Catholic World Report and Homiletic & Pastoral Review in my mailbox. Much good was done with them; may your future efforts do even more. Do not look back with regrets; those battles are over. For this I pray.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

I Found A Penny

Happy is the one who finds wisdom;
It is more precious than your most valued possessions.

-- Prov. 3:13

I found a penny in the street today, and I picked it up and looked at it. It seemed like any other penny. I looked at the front, the picture, year it was minted, and the words --- “In God We Trust.” Then I looked at the back, and saw another picture and words, including some Latin. I saw it was made of copper --- I wondered where it had come from. I paused and looked around the parking lot where it had lain --- where did the one who dropped it come from? Had he been distracted, and not noticed his loss? Was it precious for him, like for the woman who offered the two small coins in the temple -- for her, a great offering? Or did he see it fall and think: “It matters not; I have so many others; my time is too valuable to stop for even a moment?” Did he consider what he could have done with that small penny, for one who needed it?

And my mind wondered: How well do I protect the resources and blessings given me, making sure I do not lose or waste them, making sure they help the least of His children, whom He EXPECTS me to care for?

I attend a weekly Bible Study class; when we exchange emails about the class we sometimes refer to it jokingly as the BS class. That tells you something, I guess. In a very organized way, we dig into the verses at each class. Just a few small ones are looked at each week, like the penny I found, a small thing. For me, perhaps the small words are precious, and I see all things about them that the writer intended, and for whom and why. Or, perhaps, the words are trivial; I have heard them or ones like them many times before, and they bore me. I put them away like I put the penny in my pocket, and think nothing on them.

But if I did that, treated the time and words as casual thing, I myself would have lost something, something precious which I might never find again. For that moment, that reading of those few words, was a special time in my life, perhaps in a special place or with special companions, and that moment will never return again. ONLY a penny? ONLY words? That moment may have been the key to my entering heaven, or helping another to do so. And I might have ignored it.

The Word of the Lord, Scripture, is said to be precious for they are His words, a giving of His Spirit. The earthly writers wrote them with earthly intentions, for they were men. It is well that we understand their meaning and intents, but the words were also written by the Holy Spirit, through them. And of the Spirit’s intents, the writers really knew nothing about, for those intents included us, who would read those words so many years later. All of Scripture, God’s words, are intended for us, at the time and place at which we read them, for God knew when that would be, and He knew what we would need to hear at that moment, and so it was written. It’s a moment at which He speaks to us directly, what He wants us to hear.

I think too often we treat the words of Scripture lightly. Many Scripture scholars and saints have noted that if we read or study Scripture and get nothing personal out of it, we have wasted our time. If we treat them casually, like the found penny we put in our pocket, we will have ignored words God wrote and meant specifically for us, right now, today. We will have acted as if we have something more important to do or think about, than listen to God speaking directly to us.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. --- Mt 22:37-8

How well do I protect the resources and blessings given me, like the penny or The Word, making sure they help the least of His children, whom He EXPECTS me to care for? Do I treat them as the precious gift they are, not following the example of the unprofitable servant who hid his lord’s money, not using His grace, but neglecting it? He gives me many blessings, but the greatest are the words He speaks to me.

Sloth is the great evil of our not willing to take the time to seek and do His will. He speaks to us, and we do not listen.

Pray that you might seek and hear His word for you today, that you might be pure of heart, for ‘Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.’ Mt 5:8

Saturday, October 22, 2011

He Is There For Me

This morning as I knelt before the Eucharist after mass, I had a strong feeling: God is there on the altar, and more specifically, He is there for me. Oh, He is there every morning after mass in this small chapel, but this morning I was especially aware that He is there --- for me. And I felt a great comfort in that knowledge. I have lots of comforts in my life: money in the bank, a home that doesn’t leak on my head, and a pretty new car that gets good gas mileage. I have lots of things that give me security, but He’s not a thing. I realized this morning that He has made a commitment to me, despite the poor sinner, the forgetful servant, and the ungrateful “friend” that I am. Yet still He loves me. Yet still He is there, ever waiting, there, for me. O Lord, I am not worthy.

I guess the Parable of the Prodigal Son could describe how I felt this morning, but that wouldn’t be adequate. The Prodigal Son went home expecting that his father “likely” would not turn him away, and would at least let him work on his farm. I have no such feelings of “maybe” He’ll be there for me like that; I KNOW that He will welcome me with open arms, no matter how much I have acted as if I didn’t know Him. I feel the unconditional-ness of His commitment, and it gives me a deep comfort.

In my life, I have been pretty far away from Him at times, lost, and yet when I was most lost I heard the call of His mother, telling me what I knew but had chosen to forget: “He’s waiting for you,” and then I knew I was found. At that time, in my sorrow and pain, I went home and He was there for me, as I knew He would be.

I made a commitment to Him then that I’d never leave again, and always follow Him. Only He knows if I will be faithful to my sincere promise. But more important than anything in my life, I think, was that knowledge that He was there for me, and always would be. I think that one deep memory, carved on my soul, saved my life. If God had created me for some great purpose, if He intended me to have a fruitful, happy life, and if He wanted me to be by His side forever: None of that could have happened if I didn’t know with confidence that when I really needed Him, He was there for me.

I think Jesus had that same feeling in the Garden of Gethsemane relative to His Father. Jesus wrestled with where His life was going. He wondered what He had accomplished – betrayal was happening even as He knelt there. He wondered if He could handle what looked like sure pains ahead. And He wondered if it all mattered – how quickly it seemed they were forgetting Palm Sunday: Would anyone remember Him? And then, deep inside of His very being, He knew. He knew His Father was there for Him. His Father was waiting, and would always love Him. Always. And then nothing in this world could keep Him from going on, and trying sincerely to make that Father proud, and to be who He was made to be.

Many of us can recall our earthly fathers in that way, with a confidence that they would always be there for us. And many of us are earthly fathers, and are that example of love to our children. But some, like me, aren’t fathers, and some never knew their earthly father, or never knew him as someone whom they could trust to be always there for them. But despite these failures in our life, still our heavenly Father is there for each of us, even as He was for Jesus. And He is there waiting, always waiting for us, just as the Eucharist is always present on the altar in chapels and churches around the world. I know this with a deep confidence. But even while I know He is there waiting --- even for you, I can’t really bring myself today to encourage you to run to Him, as Mary encouraged me. You’ll have to find Him yourself, deep inside of you somewhere, in that firm knowledge which you have and can never forget --- even if you want to argue that it is not true --- that knowledge somewhere within you that your heavenly Father waits for you. And there will come a day when you will, in your sorrow or in your fear, finally open your arms, and He will rush in to hug you. I can’t tell you to seek Him or direct your path to Him; you have to let yourself be found.

What I can do, however is to encourage you to be that type of person, as a father should be, to your children and also your neighbor. I know on the surface that sounds unreasonable, to be that type of person to your neighbor because the relationship I described is so special. How can you be that way with just anyone? Not everyone is your flesh and blood, and deserves that much unconditional caring. But, I ask you, isn’t that exactly the way God the Father is, to everyone? And isn’t that the way Jesus was, to the saint and equally to the sinner? And isn’t that the example He set for us to imitate?

I think one of the most important parts of our life should be that imitation, that being there for whomever. I think that a critical weakness in our society, with the dissolution of the family and marriage, is the lost importance of being there for others. Throughout history many great leaders led through actions or words, but many who were thought of as being the greatest of leaders, were just there. They were a reliable fortress in all storms; they were there to give to others --- first. You can name many examples of these people, like Mother Teresa, but just recall what they started with, and then think of all that we are blessed with. If they had all the blessings of our wealth and family and friends and intelligence, just imagine what they could have accomplished! And so, therefore, what do you think is expected of you?

The other night I went to a Knights of Columbus meeting where a speaker was orating on the topic: Who is Your Neighbor. The talk was good, and the discussion afterward was good. And I liked the conclusion it came to: Who is your neighbor? First and foremost, it is the guy sitting in the chair right next to you right now, tonight. It starts there, with the one closest to you. And how do you show him your reliable commitment to him, to give him confidence? It starts with your being there that night. Your love, your example, your ability to give you neighbor confidence that you are there for him, starts with one neighbor, for one night, for one hour, with your being there.

I am convinced that some of the greatest strides we make in impacting the world are through impacts that we are never aware of. Just by being there as an example of someone who can be relied upon to help when called upon, as someone who will not shut the door, or as someone who can just sit there and listen – even as the Eucharist sits on the altar – we can be God’s presence in our neighbor’s life. Certainly as an analyst I can plan all sorts of things to help my neighbor, but I can never understand the Ultimate Planner’s plans, and they are infinitely better than mine. Whether to our children, our spouse, our family, our church, our neighbor, or even a stranger, one of the most important things we can do is: be there. Whether in our politeness, our calmness in the storm, our little prayer before a meal, our stopping in at a chapel --- even if just for a minute, or in giving a smile to a stranger we pass, our actions can demonstrate a consistency of our being, telling all who enter our lives that we are there, and we can be relied upon to be there as God’s presence for them. They will see us and our actions, and just know: I can rely upon him. For many, just knowing that we, one little person, can be relied upon, shows them that there is good (and God) in the world, for they have seen it. And for some this will be part of The Father’s gift to them, through us, which will be embedded in their heart. And perhaps at some time, when they need it most, they will recall that memory, that feeling that they can’t describe but know with confidence, and they will think: He is there for me. And their lives will be better for that knowledge.

I don’t know what huge important things you may think God wishes --- or expects --- of you, but I suspect you can’t possibly know. And despite all the plans about what we must do --- or think that we’ve failed to do --- in our lives, in the end I think we will find that HIS plans were nothing like ours. And the ultimate measure of His success, and ours, will have little to do with what we did outside of just being there, showing our love to our neighbor and family by really being there.

“And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love …”

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

It's Not Hopeless

I brought the plant in off the deck last week, and placed it back in the living room window. It looked more than a little sad; almost all of its leaves were frozen or blown off, and the few left quickly browned and dropped to the carpeting. Maybe I left it outside a bit too long.

But then this morning, I saw this. It seems happy to be in out of the cold.

Things may be bad in our lives right now, but we need to get beyond worrying about how bad it is for us --- as if no one or nothing else is more important. Last night politicians debated their proposals for the country. Each one told the others how terrible their ideas were, while their own ideas were perfect. They might all have stood together at the end, raised a stein of beer and sang: “My plan is great, and yours is stupid and so are you.” It would have been the only thing they agreed upon, as each was worried only about themselves, as if no other idea or anyone else had any merit. They didn’t sound much different than the protesters in the New York parks, seeking affirmation of how great and deserving they were. Meanwhile, locally, a drunken dad was in the news bragging about how he wasn’t driving drunk, since he had his 9-year old daughter driving for him at 3AM. What a good guy he thought he was (just like the politicians) --- but at least he had the excuse that he was drunk.

Even in our stupidity we want to make excuses about how we’re not really that stupid. In wanting EVERYTHING for ourselves and in saying we NEVER make mistakes, we are trying to justify how it would be right if we were given heaven here on earth, right now. We (and the selfishness we seem to proclaim so proudly) deserve it.

Sometimes I get sad over our present state of affairs --- witness some of my recent posts. But then I see things, like this plant, and I am reminded that it is not hopeless. And that I can and should stop worrying about MY situation. For this blog, my favorite line from Scripture is: Do not be anxious, but focused on these times I think it is: I will be with you always.

I saw a young woman in the 7-11 yesterday. She wore a tight-fitting t-shirt, and filled it out rather nicely. I commented to her that I really liked her t-shirt --- and she kind of frowned at me as she left the store. Go figure! But hey, I was looking at the saying on the back of her shirt as she was leaving. Really! It said: “It’s not what you wish for, It’s what you work for.” I liked that simple saying; it states my feelings well about what is missing in our country right now, a desire to get out and work to make things better. (As an aside, thinking on it now, I can see why that particular saying wasn’t printed on the front of the t-shirt.)

But when things are going wrong, as they are now, we so often ignore things that are right, and there are many. That young woman chose that t-shirt to wear; and that was a good thing. This morning’s paper noted that us social security recipients will get a 3.5% raise next year (thank you all you taxpayers) --- I smiled and told the guys in Panera’s that starting in January they will be buying my coffee each morning. (They didn’t smile back.) But this last Saturday was sweetest day, and I not only got candy, but a bottle of wine. Isn’t life grand? And in a couple of weeks the kids will have Halloween, and get their candy share too --- and probably even too much. There are so many little gifts in life that we quickly overlook, like the smile the tiny baby gave me this morning from across the chapel altar, as we both looked at the gift there.

Despite all that seems wrong and worries us, it is not hopeless. God is with us, always, and He loves us. We don’t have to worry so much about the bad things happening to us; we don’t have to concern ourselves about what we don’t have, or what we want. What we need will be given to us, because He said so. All we need worry about is what we can give to others, as He did.

And like my little plant, we’ll be happy. And what now seems bare and lacking in happiness in our lives will be filled with greenery, a new spring, before we know it. All we have to do is make others happy, like the flower on my plant makes me happy, and we too will be watered and cared for, in ways beyond our understanding.

Have hope. Trust in His promises. Do not be anxious.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Catholic Hypocrites

I prefer death in Christ Jesus to power over the farthest limits of the earth
-- Ignatious of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr

An army cannot have 10,000 leaders nor 1,000 nor even 100. Ultimately it must have one. There are right ways to win wars, but it seems for many people that those are the wrong ways, because they are difficult --- because people will die in wars. But those who would have “peace at any cost” fail to see that such a peace may result in even more dying, perhaps even everyone.

I read in the Catholic World Report magazine how 300 Austrian priests pledged to take part in a “Call to Disobedience”. They pledged to, among other things: Not deny the Eucharist to “believers of good will,” which may include anyone, to holding a “self-designed” Liturgy of the Word --- a priest-less Eucharistic celebration, to allow non-clergy to preach the homily, to oppose parish mergers but insist each parish have a “leader” --- man or woman, and to speak out in favor of married and women priests. These Austrian priests want to lead their flocks in the easiest of ways ---- “Where do you want to go? Okay, we’ll lead you there.” They would prefer to be liked by their flocks, to have this power over them, rather than to have to lead them into tough battles. (They wouldn’t have made very good apostles.)

That’s not leading, it is following, and it is following temptation. Eve led Adam to follow the easier route, “Why struggle to follow God; let’s be like God.” Aaron agreed to the Jews desire to worship a golden calf --- it was an easier route, for unlike God the calf made no demands on them. With Adam and Eve’s initial fall to temptation, all men were subject to these temptations. They feel good; they are the easy route, and even those who are supposed to lead us sometimes fall to these tempter’s wiles. And so often those who fall seek to justify their reasons, to make them seem as a good thing --- but they almost always forget to put a name to their actions: sin. No one wants to say what they are doing is sin.

Sometimes it’s harder for God to convert the preacher than those to whom he sends him to preach. --- Reniero Cantalamessa, in The Mystery of God’s Word

The “Catholic” governors of New York and Massachusetts are publically telling their bishops to tend to religious matters, while they tend to political matters, such as getting re-elected by promoting homosexual “marriage”. These governors want to lead the people where they want to go, to be married to their friend, or their child, or their dog if that is what they wish. If the people want it; these men will lead them to it. These Catholic governors are not leading, nor if they could be honest with themselves are they Catholic. Nor are the priests of Austria. None are in union with the Catholic Church.

“An honest, unaffected desire of doing right is the test of God’s true servants. On the other hand, a double mind, a pursuing other ends besides the truth … and a feeling of the necessity of defending oneself to oneself, and to God, and to the world; in a word, hypocrisy; these are the signs of the “merely professed” Christian.

They look upon themselves as independent parties, treating with Almighty God as one of their fellows. Hence, so far from seeking God, they hardly like to be sought by Him. They would rather keep their position and stand where they are, --- on earth, and so make terms with God in heaven. … Reasoning and argument is the mode in which he approaches his Saviour and Judge, … (and) stands on his rights and appeals to his notions of fitness, and therefore he goes about to fortify his position, to explain his conduct, or to excuse himself.”
--- Bl John Henry Neumann, Sermon 16: Sincerity and Hypocrisy

These priests and governors are not formed by the gospel, but by the world. These are men who would give incense to Roman gods, to get along with the people. They would never choose to be martyrs; it would be too hard for them to disagree with the masses. But Jesus never said it would be easy. And Jesus called them to their faces, such men who wish to appear religious but deny the hard truths of God, hypocrites (Mt 23:27).

“A hypocrite is one who professes to be serving God faithfully, while he serves Him in only some one part of his duty, not in all parts. The word is not commonly taken to mean one who uses a profession of religion as a mere instrument of gaining his worldly ends, or who wishes to deceive men into thinking that he is what he is not. (He is) one who, though his heart would tell him, were he honest with it, that he is NOT serving God perfectly, yet will not ASK his heart, will not listen to it, trifles with his conscious, is DETERMINED to believe that he IS religious, and protests his sincerity and innocence before God. … What is it that (they) lack? It is this: a willingness to BE changed, a willingness to suffer.”
--- Bl. John Henry Neumann, Sermon 17: A Testimony of Conscience

They would not be martyrs in a world which increasingly differs from the Christian message. They wish to be leaders and well liked by the flock, but leading the sheep where they wish to go, is not leading. Making themselves out to be shepherds, yet not acting in unity with the Church, they are merely lost sheep themselves.

All shepherds should therefore be one in the one good shepherd. All should speak with the one voice of the one shepherd, so that the sheep may hear and follow their shepherd; not this or that shepherd, but the one shepherd. All should speak with one voice in Christ, not with different voices. “Brethren, I beg all of you to say the same thing, and to have no dissensions among you.” The sheep should hear this voice, a voice purified from all schism, freed from all heresy, and so follow their shepherd, who says: “My sheep hear my voice and follow me.”
From a sermon On Pastors, by Saint Augustine, bishop

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Answer is Love

I do not know what the future will bring, but this morning as I lay in bed I could not sleep. I was thinking about it.

We are not prepared today. We are not prepared for those who are out of work. We are not prepared for those who have lost their homes. We are not prepared for those who will lose their sources of money quickly in the future, and be in need of even the basics, like food. Many are protesting, even more each day, that the government must provide. They are protesting that companies must provide. They are protesting that those who have must give --- or they will take it. Their protests are right in only one thing: those who have must give, but the protesters are wrong-headed in their thinking if those who have are unwilling to give. If they are unwilling to give, they must be preached to, they must be given example, they must be taught, they must be loved --- so that they learn how to love.

We know of a teacher who taught those things well. We say we will follow Him. We need to be prepared to do so.

The Catholic Church is home to so many of Christ’s people. It is home to so many of his Words, and actions. It teaches what those words are and what they mean. It teaches how we should live out His actions. It teaches how to love your neighbor. And it teaches that it is not the government nor companies who must first provide for our neighbor; first, it is us.

Read the catechism on the principle of subsidiarity:

Socialism presents dangers. Excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative. The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions.” (CCC 1883)

God has not willed to reserve to himself all exercise of power. He entrusts every creature the functions it is capable of performing. This mode of governance ought to be followed in social life. The principle of subsidiarity is opposed to all forms of collectivism. It sets limits for state intervention. It aims at harmonizing the relationships between individuals and societies. (CCC 1884-5)

The family should live in such a way that its members learn to care and take responsibility for the young, the old, the sick, the handicapped, and the poor. There are many families who are at time incapable of providing this help. It devolves then on other persons, other families, and, in a subsidiary way, society to provide for their needs. (CCC 2208)

I think many people in our Catholic family have forgotten these things. Perhaps many have never been taught these things. They need to be taught now. They need to be put into action now. We need to prepare now. We are a family in Christ. We are the ones called to help others. We are the first ones called to step forward, asking of God and neighbor, “What can I do?” --- for my family, first.

I am an analyst by the talents I was given. It would be easy for me to step forward with proposals for sharing and caring within my family of Christ. It would be easy for me to think that I must lead, but I would be wrong. The one to lead is the one who would not let me sleep this morning. He has the answers, the correct answers. They are not formulas and rules on how to share, like a socialist government would issue. The answers for each family many be different, for each family is different. The answers must come from Him and His Spirit, guiding each family. The answers start in family prayer, then I firmly believe, He will not let us sleep until we love one another, as He showed us how to love. Love isn’t based on what we need or what we take from another. Love is based on what we give, what we willingly give to another, as He did. He gave love to the people He met who needed love, one person at a time.

Subsidiarity: it started with Him. In each family, in each parish, we need to pray for the Gifts of the Spirit, that it might start with us.

The answer is in love.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

We're Scared

This morning I heard a baby crying in church. Its mother quickly took it outside into the hall, but I could still hear it crying. It cried and cried, and cried. The baby could not catch its breath, and its cries continued in rolling waves of distress, separated only by a hiccup of breath intake. And as it cried, its mother’s soft words of concern were lost, ignored in its screams. Too caught up in voicing its own concerns, it could hear no one else, not even the one who loved it most.

It was scared.

And it dawned on me that so many of us in America are scared today, and the newspapers echo each day the crying that we are doing.

But then my thoughts turned from the fear in the hallway back to the altar, as the second reading began:

Brothers and sisters: I know how to live in humble circumstances; I know how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I can do all things in him who strengthens me. Still, it was kind of you to share in my distress.

My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his riches in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father, glory forever and ever. Amen.

--- Phil 4:12-14, 19-20

I am no prophet, but I couldn’t help but feel that a dark shadow passed over me this morning, as I thought on the things I had heard. This past week I had people, strangers, come and ask me: “Do you know of someone who has a job available? Do you know someplace where a homeless man, a seemingly good man living in his car, can go?”

In days past I might have seen a good in these requests, for I felt that despite dire reports on the economy, many unemployed people I know seemed to be content sitting at home and waiting, perhaps waiting for things to get better, or perhaps dreaming that a former employer would call them back, but at any rate they appeared not too distressed by their plight, and were not working too hard to seek a solution to their troubles. And so I sometimes said to others, “No one is knocking at my door, asking for work, seeking a place to live. Things can’t be too bad.” So having some actively seek a solution to their problem – finally, seemed to me to be a good thing

But my views changed today, and the activity I might have seen as a good thing, I now feel as an omen. Things may be bad, but they may well get worse.

There are organized protests in various cities. These don’t distress me, even if some of them should turn violent as they have overseas. Like the baby crying, scared of he knows not what, some people may want to lash out in anger: “Someone should do something!!!” And they may expect that then help will come --- because they are crying. What they don’t realize is that the help they are asking for has proved unhelpful in the past. Like the baby, in their distress they want to scream and cry, but not pause to listen. Like the mother for the child, help is there. But in their noise, and fear, those needing comfort are not listening, and sadly, neither are we.

We are the help.

I fear coming months may only be worse in this country, and in the wailing and worry, the ready solution will not be found. Like the mother’s offering, the ideal and quickest solution isn’t from some stranger. It comes from one who loves. Crying for earthly comfort, what will really soothe the worriers is spiritual comfort: love. It’s what we are called to give.

If unemployment is 10% or 20% or even 30%, then there are 70% or 80% or 90% employed, who can afford to help, together, feed one more mouth. In one of the homes of the 7 or 8 or 9, there is an empty bedroom or an unused basement for the one needing it. But these are strangers we might say --- “Stranger-Danger,” as we taught our children. Oh ye of little faith! These are no strangers, they are your neighbors, your scared neighbors, who need your help, who need some love. You have a rainy day fund and you sometimes look at it today with worry, wondering if it will be enough for you at some distant future time. But it is raining on your neighbor, today. And for some, it is a downpour.

And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Many are crying so loudly --- and perhaps even more will in the future --- so many that they can’t hear those who would love them --- you. And we, in our fears, are ourselves crying, and we cannot hear Him who would love us, and make good of our efforts --- Our Father.

Do not be afraid! Do not be anxious! He tells us this over and over. Listen and hear beyond the crying. Don’t scream “Someone should do something,” without looking in the mirror. Don’t march in protest, without having a kneeler to rest upon.

Things may get worse, but God is here, and so is His Body. We trust in Him, and He trusts in us.

How much worse must things get before we begin to organize ourselves to help, and to live up to His trust? Where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth is not meant to be here, because we are here, we who have seen and heard Him, and who follow Him. We need not feel overwhelmed, seeking some massive solution that “somebody” should implement to end unemployment or hunger in this country. That is not His example: He healed and helped, one at a time.

As we should. We may be scared, but let us not be scared into inaction or despair. He is with us. As the reading said: My God will fully supply whatever you need.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

A Book Review: Safely Through The Storm

I said, “Let me walk in the fields.”
He said, “No, walk in the town.”
I said, “There are no flowers there.”
He said, “No flowers, but a crown.”
I said, “But the skies are black;
There is nothing but noise and din.”
And He wept as He sent me back;
“There is more,” He said, “there is sin.”

I said, “But the air is thick,
And fogs are veiling the sun.”
He answered, “Yet souls are sick,
And souls in the dark undone.”

I said, “I shall miss the light,
And friends will miss me, they say.”
He answered, “Choose to-night
If I am to miss you, or they.”

I pleaded for time to be given.
He said, “Is it hard to decide?
It will not seem hard in heaven
To have followed the steps of your Guide.”

I cast one look at the fields,
Then set my face to the town;
He said, “My child, do you yield?
Will you leave the flowers for the crown?”

Then into His hand went mine,
And into my heart came He;
And I walk in a light divine
The path I had feared to see.

--- George MacDonald

I’ve been reading this book, of late, as part of my morning meditations. It contains 120 reflections on Hope, like the ones I have included here above and below. The reflections are all short ; the whole book is only 65 pages, and most of the authors and works are ones I have previously read. Benedict XVI, JPII, Nouwen, de Sales, Newman, Anselm, Brother Lawrence, Kempis, von Hildebrand, and of course, Groeschel, are all among my favorites. Yet seeing them all here, some of their most memorable lines --- although many of which I had forgotten --- gives me great comfort and inspiration these mornings.

Of course, if you have not read as much as I, these things will all be new to you. A great start for the day is here for many Catholics or other Christians, as well as a great end to a day also. These thoughts on Hope are meant to be considered when thinking about life’s difficulties past, or the difficult day ahead. They are of great comfort when winding down from a difficult day behind --- finally! If I had known what Debbie Herbeck’s book is, I might not have bought it, thinking there was nothing new for me in there. But she puts all these things together, re-visiting old friends with me, and all that is old is made new.

It is a good purchase, my friends, even to just put on the bookshelf, and to lift up and carry with us when we face days that we know will be trials, or for when we’ve faced a difficult day and don’t know how to end it, but cry. It’s then that we need Hope, and you can find it here.

It is true that a canvas simply and blindly offered to the brush feels at each moment only the stroke of the brush. It is the same with a lump of stone. Each blow from the hammering of the sculptor’s chisel makes it feel – if it could – as if it were being destroyed. As blow after blow descends, the stone knows nothing of how the sculptor is shaping it. All it feels is a chisel chopping away at it, cutting it and mutilating it ---. We might ask it: “What do you think is happening to you?” And it might answer: “Don’t ask me. All I know is that I must stay immovable in the hands of the sculptor, and I must love him and endure all he inflicts on me to produce the figure he has in mind. He knows how to do it. As for me, I have no idea what he is doing, nor do I know what he will make of me. But what I do know is that his work is the best possible. It is perfect. I welcome each blow of his chisel as the best thing that could happen to me, although, if I’m to be truthful, I feel that every one of these blows is ruining me, destroying me and disfiguring me. But I remain unconcerned. I concentrate on the present moment, think only of my duty, and suffer all that this master sculptor inflicts on me without knowing his purpose or fretting about it.”

Yes, you frank and precious souls, leave to God what is his business and carry on peacefully with your work. Be quite sure that whatever happens to your spiritual life or to your activities in the world is always for the best. Let God act, and abandon yourself to him.

--- Fr. Jean-Pierre de Caussade

Friday, October 7, 2011

On Growing Old

All our days pass away in your anger,
Our life is over like a sigh.
Our span is seventy years
or eighty for those who are strong.

And most of these are emptiness and pain.
They pass swiftly and we are gone.
Who understands the power of your anger
and fears the strength of your fury?

Make us know the shortness of our life
that we may gain wisdom of heart.
Lord, relent! Is your anger for ever?
Show pity to your servants.

In the morning, fill us with your love;
we shall exult and rejoice all our days.
Give us joy to balance our affliction
for the years when we knew misfortune.

--- Psalm 90

Lord, I am not worthy. Those words came easy today.

I am not worthy of the years you have given me, Lord. Each day I read about the lives of your saints; so many of them died so young. They found holiness, and you, so quickly in their youth, while I struggle day after day wondering if I shall ever find you, even wondering if you wish to be found --- by me, and wondering about the day when we finally inevitably meet: will you say: “I do not know you”?

Lord, I am not worthy of the many blessings you have given me in my life. So many talents for my use, talents meant for your use, entrusted to me. But am I worthy of your trust? “Of those to whom much has been given, much will be asked.” Am I returning enough? What are you asking?

I am not worthy of your love, Lord. How often have I acted like I didn’t know you? How often have I done the exact thing I knew would make you sad? How often have I proved a disappointment to you?

Today I made a general confession, the first time I have ever done such a thing. I recalled sins of my past which you knew about and forgave, but I could not forget. The older you get, the more failures there are to remember. I confessed my biggest failures, my biggest disappointments to you --- and to me. And at least I took heart in that one thought: that there is one thing on which you and I do agree: so often, I failed. And yet despite the pain and disappointment I caused you and reminded you of yet again today, still you said: “Your sins are forgiven.” And I know you meant it, and I felt lighter somehow.

With the passing of years, Lord, it is so easy to remember my failings, perhaps with fear because the day comes ever closer when I shall have to remember them yet again, together with you, face-to-face. Perhaps today was just practice for that day. Please, Lord, don’t forget then how you said they were forgiven today. How I long to enter your kingdom, as so many of your saints did, so quickly. And yet I am still here. Help me, Lord, use these remaining days well, however many they may be. Let the memories, when we finally meet, include many acts and days of joy, perhaps yet to come, when you and I shared your love with all your children. Let our memories then be of happiness that the talents you have blessed me with were returned tenfold and more. Let the load of good things I bring you that day be like Santa’s bag of toys, huge, and full of things which were just what you would have wished for of me, and more.

Lord, help me to fill it for you, that these days might not be just a blessing for me, but for you also.

Perhaps someday soon, Lord, may I take a day and declare it not a day like today of confession and regret of my many sins, but one of profession and joy at my many blessings --- blessings which together we shared.

May the best be yet to come, OUR best. Jesus, I trust in You, to be there with me.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Greedy Wall Street Bankers

There are some protests going on in our country these days which are getting considerable press coverage. Many of the protesters are in New York, and, based on a few press interviews I have heard, are protesting that some people on Wall Street “make too much money. They don’t need $3 million bonuses to spend on luxuries, when there are so many poor and jobless people in the country.”

Hmm. That sounds right. Perhaps you might be tempted to join in their protests.

And you would be wrong.

Do Not Be Anxious! (Where have you heard that before?) That exhortation applies equally to you and the poor of this country: He will take care of you all. Don’t be angry at God or your neighbor because you do not see money being spent in “proper” ways --- “proper” being defined: as you would spend it. But I remind you: His ways are not our ways. Don’t let yourself be like Jonah, who didn’t understand why God didn’t punish Nineveh, the way he (Jonah) wanted it to be:

It displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “I pray thee, Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish (and ended up in the whale); for I knew that Thou art a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and repentest of evil.” --- Jonah 4:2

Jonah saw sin in Nineveh like the Wall Street protesters see too much money: “Nothing good can come of this.” Punish them!! Jonah was wrong, and so are the protesters.

At the heart of the protesters concern is corporate profits, and what should be done with them. They would eliminate this “root of all evil.” So to alleviate our anxieties, let’s address their concerns and look at the possible options for use of those “evil” profits: 1)They can be re-invested in the company to improve or grow it; 2)They can be given to investors; 3)They can be given to employees (“but $3 million is too much” --- although I suspect some unions might disagree); 4)They can be returned to customers in the form of lower prices; or 5)They can be taken/taxed by the government so it can decide who deserves these monies.

Given these options, I suspect the protesters would object to options 2 or 3, grudgingly accept option 1, and prefer options 4 or 5. They would dislike options 2 or 3 because they may give individuals “too much money which they don’t need,” implying options 4 or 5 would result in spending that money in “proper” ways. But the protesters ignore or don’t understand three basic facts. First: All companies need profits/investments, to start up, to grow, and to remain competitive and exist. Options 1 and 2 are needed to provide money for companies to exist, and trying to price perfectly to eliminate excess profits, Option 4, would put needed profits at the risk of unpredictable supply and demand factors.

The Second basic often ignored fact is: All people MAY act out of greed or vanity, whether it is a rich man buying a yacht or a senator buying an unneeded airport to be named after him. Some people MAY spend money frivolously, whether as individuals or part of the government. Options 3 and 5 are basically the same, just different individuals spending the money.

And the Third basic fact is: MOST people don’t act out of greed. The majority of Americans believe in God, and generally accept Christian values and virtues. Americans give more money to charity than peoples of any other country in the world. The government gives no money to charity and is less efficient than charities at helping the poor. Even though some people make immoral choices for the use of their money, most do not --- although certainly ALL people could make better choices, even the poor.

So, given these facts, what should be done with those rich people “who have too much money”? Well, God and the Commandments and the Gospels are about what you, yourself, should do out of love. They are not about what you should MAKE others do. Note: There is no commandment that you should punish others who break the commandments. Do not be anxious about these things. Rather through example and evangelization encourage those who have more --- even “too much” --- to do as Jesus would do with their riches. Jesus commanded no rich man to give to the poor. He asked. He said If you would be my friend, …. And many heeded and followed His example.

The protesters in New York may feel righteous in their actions. Mandatory socialism, equal rewards for everyone, may sound like a good thing. To them I would offer only two additional facts: 1)Only in heaven will there be equal rewards for everyone, and 2)In dictating equal rewards on earth, they set themselves to be more righteous than Jesus, who neither dictated nor coerced any such thing.

Considering the facts, all the facts, and considering the implications of their actions, I for one would not choose to be one of the protesters on Wall Street, nor support their cause. I will not judge --- nor will I be anxious.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Avoid Evil, or Do Good?

Sometimes we don’t learn the lessons of life as we should because they pass by so quickly, and we just are not paying attention. We so easily fit ourselves into this world of soundbites, and don’t stop to think, but just react. You can never grow in holiness, nor in wisdom, if you do not take time to stop and think, yet I believe few of us do. Time just spent in quiet, thinking, is so valuable.

The other day as I chatted briefly with the woman waiting on me at the coffee shop, she mentioned how she and her daughter were so proud of her grandchild, who came home from pre-school every day this past week with stars --- for not touching anyone. In previous weeks the child had been chastised, and even had a note sent home, because he had touched the other children. In the class, the woman explained, the 4-year old children are taught to respect another child’s space. And she thought this was a good thing.

I asked her how “Love Your Neighbor" could be taught in such an atmosphere. She responded: “Oh, they can’t mention religion or the ten commandments in school. That might be disrespecting some other child’s religion.”

Yes, it might, indeed.

I was much inclined to quickly conclude the conversation with a soundbite, and so I did: “Well I think that’s wrong, and your grandchild will be the worse for that type of education.” And I went on my way, coffee in hand. But later, I took time to think.

I thought it ironic that while teaching children to avoid the ten commandments, this lesson of “not touching” is teaching them to avoid evil. This lesson is made to sound like a good thing to the children and their parents: “Don’t touch anyone,” because it might turn out to be an evil thing. So if they are crying, you can’t hug them. If they are alone, you can’t hold their hand. It “might” be an evil thing.

This would almost be a funny thing (cue the laugh soundtrack) if this were not so sad. For such an over-sexualized culture, we’re teaching 4-year olds to avoid anything which might be construed as sexual, while we’re teaching 5-year olds in the same schools how to put on condoms. We teach “Avoid Evil,” even as we constantly change the definition of evil, so everyone becomes confused about evil, and what we should do about it. And of course the result is that we do nothing about evil.

And I wonder who is happy with that outcome?

In the adult world we see this “Avoid Evil” mindset carried out by many well-meaning individuals on a variety of topics. My favorite example are the environmental activists. The “Green” movement views as evil many things which could harm some individuals, or perhaps some animals, or even “mother” earth. This past week, for example, an oil company was sued by the federal government for the killing of a single bird as a result of its drilling process, and the bird itself was not on any endangered species list. But for many, the act of drilling for oil is an evil to be avoided, because it “might” result in hurting someone or something. Using this same mindset, I assume automakers, roadbuilders, and appliance makers could be sued also, because someone “might” die as a result of their products. And perhaps you could be sued also, because you “might” injure someone on your way to work.

And this is the mindset we are teaching our children: avoid evil, or even the possibility of evil. Is no one thinking anymore?

The only absolute way to avoid all evil, or all potential evil, is to do nothing. Eliminate all mankind and no man can do evil --- and there are some who even espouse this radical belief. Among some seemingly rational beings the issue is being categorized as one of priorities: Which is more important, to avoid evil or to do good? They would have you believe that first avoiding evil is necessary before you can do good, and so therefore it deserves the higher focus. They might even point to the commandments, the “Thou Shalt Not’s” as a justification for their beliefs.

But I believe they are wrong in their focus, and in their interpretations of even the commandments. All of the Old Testament tells us of a Jewish people growing in holiness. In the youth of their relationship with God, like children they were told what to do, and God, like a parent protected them --- and sometimes had to punish them. The Ten Commandments are firm laws on how they should behave. But as their relationship with God grew, a new covenant was made with them. Jesus came, and summarized the commandments as “Love God, and Love Your Neighbor.” There was no more specific “Thou Shalt Not’s”; they were replaced with what we should do, and the life of Jesus showed us how we should do those things, and why.

Jesus showed us that focusing on “Do Good” is much more important than trying to avoid evil. If we focus on knowing what good is, on growing in holiness, by knowing about Him and His life and His will, we need not worry about evil. Jesus lived among and talked with those deemed evil in His day; He didn’t avoid them. He didn’t worry about the poor, but rather said they’d be with us always. Evil will be with us always also.

And as some who do evil proudly admit: “It’s my choice.”

But we, followers of Jesus and His teachings must act as we say we believe: in Him, and in His example. And His primary example is about love. Do good toward your neighbor (and for those who need more specificity in this definition: your HUMAN neighbor), and you will be avoiding evil. Relative to the environment, human needs come before animals or dirt --- human NEEDS. And while some might dispute it, I place having a means I can afford of keeping warm in the winter as one of my needs, so I might categorize drilling for oil as a good. And if my neighbor should not be able to have a means of keeping warm, my adhering to the example of Jesus would have me inviting him to stay with me in my home. It’s up to me to love my neighbor, and show it in action.

And if my neighbor is afraid, it’s up to me to give him a hug. (And, fortunately, I guess, no school ever taught me that this was a bad thing.)