Monday, November 28, 2011

Wishes and Miracles

I’ve written some about the miracles which have occurred in my life, and most recently had a guest-post by someone who proclaimed a miracle in her life, but over the weekend I was reading some of the sermons by Bl. John Henry Newman (I’m almost done with the 1700-page book of his sermons). The one I read one was titled: Miracles No Remedy For Unbelief (Sermon 6, Book 8).

John Henry did not use the word wishes in his sermon, but to make his and my point more quickly, I shall. In Egypt, the Jews wished they were not slaves, and God made it so. The Jews wished they could escape the army following them into the plains, and God made it so. The Jews wished for water in the desert, and God made it so. The Jews wished for food in the desert, and God made it so. The Jews wished for meat, a particular food, and God made it so. You get my point with this list: As long as the Jews got their wishes, their list of wishes seemed to be endless. What they wished for was the genie in the lamp, a God who would do their wishes at their command, treating THEM as the Gods.

A number of things were happening here in the passages from Exodus. In the beginning the Jews wished for something which they needed, sustenance for life itself, but by the time of the latter requests, they asked for things they wanted. And a key point is that they asked for things THEY wanted, material things, which they wanted right now. They had no thought about spiritual needs, nor what God wanted, and had no thoughts about the future. Something was going on which they did not understand: Their wishes were about what they wanted, but the subsequent miracles were about what God wanted. As long as the two remained in harmony the Jews were happy. But when they wished for things contrary to the will of God, He again sent them miracles, but these miracles were in the form of punishments. One of those punishments would go on for centuries: as a result of their worshipping the golden calf, they were commanded to offer sacrifices to God of those very animals they and the pagans once worshipped, as a reminder of who REALLY was God.

John Henry points out the strangeness of this: the Jews saw gigantic miracles, the size of which has not been seen since. Plagues were sent on the whole country of Egypt. Specific children (the first born) were killed. The waters of the Red Sea parted. The largest most powerful army in the world was slaughtered, without the Jews losing a man. Food came down from heaven in the desert. Now THOSE were certainly some miracles! And yet they didn’t seem to have any impact on the Jews. The laws of nature were suspended again and again before their eyes; the most marvelous signs were wrought at the word of God’s prophets, and for their deliverance; yet they did not obey their great Benefactor at all better than men now-a-days who have not these advantages. Hard as it is to believe, miracles certainly do not make men better; the history of Israel proves it.

Advent is a time of preparation for the gift of Christmas, the gift of Jesus Himself. But while Jesus was a great gift to mankind, to each of us personally, we have to remember and focus on a key point of His coming: WHY? The Jews accepted the miracles and all God did for them, but they were too focused on WHAT they received to consider WHY they received it. Just as the Jews were being opened up to a new way of life with the Exodus, so with Jesus were we. And it is a life we must embrace, this destiny now open before us. In their wishing the Jews might have wished for everything, a heaven here on earth, but heaven is not to be here. Even Jesus only opened the doors of heaven for us, but it is not fully here. Even as God led the Jews on the pathway He intended, Jesus leads us on the pathway intended for us. But we must choose to go along that path. We must not only look at what He did, including the miracles He even does today, but why He did so. We must go along the path He laid out, the path to a growing holiness, a more heavenly existence until we obtain the final fulfillment He promised. We must grow in faith. We must change our hearts.

Let us then put aside vain excuses; and, instead of looking for outward events to change our course of life, be sure of this, that if our course of life is to be changed, it must come from within. Let us rouse ourselves and act as reasonable men, before it is too late; let us understand, as a first truth of religion, that love of heaven is the only way to heaven. Sight, like visible miracles, will not move us; else why did Judas persist in covetousness in the very presence of Christ? Let us understand that nothing but the love of God can make us believe in Him or obey Him; and let us pray Him, who has “prepared for them that love Him, such good things as pass man’s understanding, to pour into our hearts such love towards Him, that we, loving Him above all things, may obtain His promises, which exceed all that we can desire.”

Wishing for miracles? No, desire His will, His promises, which exceed all that you could wish for. It all starts with a faith, the beginning of a new course. A miracle would not indeed convert you, but it could be the first step toward thorough conversion; (and a) turning point of your life.

And then, of course my friends, once started along that path, whether miracles occur in answer to our prayers or not: Do Not Be Anxious.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Praise --- From the Hospital

I received this email from a friend, and I offer this "guest-post" as a reminder of what it REALLY means to be thankful:

Hi Tom. Happy Thanskgiving again! It's been a long day today as my mother continues her recovery and is in quite a bit of pain from the internal bleeding from the IR procedure, but I can give you the following praise to pass along in your blog.


On Monday night I was terrified. If the procedure for opening my mom's arteries in her right leg failed, the surgeons were considering other life-changing options [none of which my mom wanted to consider, and none that I wanted to consider for her, especially for someone of her age]. After leaving the hospital really late, I returned to my house to get ready for the next day and, more importantly, to pray, like I had never prayed before. Now, I could have ignored the inner urge from the Holy Spirit and gone about the 100s of things that I left unattended over the past few days (I was in my mother's hospital room nearly 24/7 during the last 7 days), but I didn't. I opened my Bible, for the first time in quite a while, and knelt by the bedside, reading before I prayed.

The first piece of paper that slipped out of my Bible was a copy of a sermon from 2002 (interestingly enough, that was the year of my mother's 1st major bypass surgery...which remained relatively successful until the past year, and definitely until the last week). The sermon focused on trust -- Is God worth trusting? When your life (or the life of a loved one) is threatened, where do you look?

The first part of the sermon focused on Elijah, and the second part concentrated on Peter. This is where I will direct quote from the sermon:

Peter gets out of the boat. This is an incredible thing [for several reasons].

The Sea of Galilee is known for its deadly storms. It's narrow, but it's very long and become very wavy in a bad storm. If you were a fisherman and you lived your life fishing on that lake, you probably had friends die when those sudden storms came up.

The disciples are out there on the lake, by themselves, and they see Jesus, or a figure, walking on the water and the very first thing they think is, it's a ghost. You wonder why. Had they ever seen a ghost before? No. But, for some reason, they don't know who this is, and they think there is a ghost walking on the water. Jesus makes it clear that it's Him. And Peter says, "If it is You, then ask me to come to You across the water." -- a very, very trusting thing to do. But it shows something about Peter's heart. Peter loved to go wherever Jesus was. Later when Jesus is seen on the shore, Peter simply jumps out of the boat and swims to the shore. Not willing to wait until the boat makes it to the shore because his heart is to see Jesus. He wants Jesus. He wants to be where Jesus is. He wants everything that Jesus has to offer.

So, he gets out of the boat. The first step was the hard one. Imagine, your foot's going over the edge and you're about to stand on water. This isn't a typical event. Especially the first time. This is one of those miracles that was particularly hard because there was no precedent for this. There was precedent for splitting seas and splitting rivers, but walking along watching the water on both sides of you, or even just standing on the water -- this was a first. And so, he takes that first step. After that it was easy. He kept taking steps -- second step, third step, fourth step. But, the first step was the hard one. Do you think he turned around and said, "Andrew, have a rope ready."?

And then Peter makes the mistake that is easy for all of us to make, he suddenly realizes what an amazing thing this is: he is standing on the Sea of Galilee in the middle of a storm! He then makes the classic mistake, which is all so easy to make: he takes his eyes off of Jesus and he looks at the circumstances -- [Peter to himself] Here I am, violating gravity. Here I am in a storm. What am I doing out here?

Peter takes his eyes off of Jesus, he looks at the storm and his immediate response is he starts to fall. Jesus is immediately at his side, and pulls him up. He doesn't let Peter go down the first time or a second time to teach him a good lesson. Jesus doesn't wave good-bye to the disciple that doubted. Jesus pulls him up. But, Jesus reminds him, when you're in the middle of a storm and you're walking on the water, don't take your eyes off of Me.

That's always the temptation. We're surrounded by the storms all the time. Sometimes the calm in our life is only the eye of the hurricane. And the bottom line is if we take our eyes off of Jesus, we will get blown away; we will go down. The only security, the only saftey we have is to keep our gaze constantly fixed on Jesus Himself.

Peter loved Jesus. Peter wanted Jesus. Peter risked everything and ultimately gave everything for Jesus. After Pentecost, Peter is a great spirit-filled evangelist who, in Rome, was willing to lay down this life for the One Who loved him first, because Peter learned the lesson: never, ever, ever take your eyes off of Jesus. No matter what situation or circumstance is clamoring for attention, look to Jesus. No matter how much the storm is raging, look to Jesus. Because only there can we be safe. When Jesus says "without Me you can do nothing", that is exactly what He meant.

Wow! Fairly powerful sermon and exactly what I needed to read, but the real blessing came when I opened the Bible directly to Acts 9:32-43. The first 4 verses focused on Peter healing Aeneas at Lydda and the remaining verses focused on Peter raising Dorcas at Joppa.

The next thought that occurred to me was that if Peter, who learned the lesson of keeping his eyes on Jesus in the middle of a storm, could go on (in Jesus name and power) to actually heal someone who had been paralyzed for 8 years, certainly I could focus through prayer on this same Jesus and believe Him for His healing power to reach my mother in a hospital. And, He did. Despite all the unfavorable circumstances, my mother's age, the nature of the artery failure, the fact that the first surgery on the preceding Friday failed, the doubting surgeons -- Jesus overcame! He worked through the talents and skills of the hospital's leading interventional radiologist and did something that the vascular surgeons didn't think was possible. PRAISE GOD!!!

Now, I'm not going to say that mom's ready to run a marathon (she has a long recovery road ahead of her with physical therapy), but God did intervene in exactly the way I prayed that night, and in the next morning as I knelt before her hospital bed.

So, while this isn't the Thanksgiving I expected (with a dinner table full of different foods, and family and friends at the house), it is certainly still right for me to give thanks to God, for saving my mom's life on Tuesday, and for being here with us now in the hospital, even as she struggles through the pain. And, I've learned, how each day it is a choice to focus our eyes on Jesus, and it's a path that must be chosen every day, in every circumstance -- bad or good.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Review: What to Do When Jesus Is Hungry

Fr. Apostoli is an appropriate person to have written this book. As one of the founders of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, he lives among the poor and experiences firsthand what he writes about.

Fr. Apostoli explains the theological (faith, hope and love) and moral (prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude) virtues and how they must find expression in the works of mercy. As the Catechism defines it, “The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor.” This book has a chapter on each of the Corporal Works of Mercy: Give food to the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead, and it also has a chapter on each of the Spiritual Works of Mercy: Instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, admonish the sinner, bear wrongs patiently, forgive offenses, comfort the sorrowful, and pray for the living and the dead. I enjoyed how Fr. Apostoli intermixed his personal experiences in his explanations with quotes from various saints or teachers.

I especially enjoyed his explanations on the spiritual works of mercy, which are so easily forgotten by the masses which are focused on material things.

• Many of the problems we encounter have emotional roots. If we encourage people to grow authentically in their emotional life, they will grow spiritually as well. It is like “dispelling the demons” of discouragement, self-pity, apathy, fear, and despair. This is a genuine work of mercy.
• The very purpose for which God created us, namely, to share eternal life with him in the Kingdom of Heaven dictates that in seeking to admonish the sinner, we need to admonish ourselves first.
• Jesus came for two reasons: he came to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. (Dorothy Day)
• It takes a great deal of patience to accept people and situations that are unexpected, or inconvenient, or irritating. This means that, many times, we end up having to clean up after them. Usually we experience varying degrees of anger toward these people. We might even react: “Who needs these people?” It is precisely at these moments that Jesus would say to us, “You do, and that is why I sent these people to you.” It’s precisely these kinds of people who help us to grow in patience.
• His greatest expression of forgiveness occurred when he prayed upon the Cross for those who were putting him to death: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what the do.”
• Jesus tells us that our love must be a love that costs us something to give.

The works of mercy, Fr. Apostoli explains, are the outward actions of our virtues, for our neighbors and ourselves. But the Corporal Works of Mercy should first be sought for our neighbor, while the Spiritual Works of Mercy should first be sought for ourselves. The reason differing priority is that while our neighbor will gratefully accept our gifts to aid his body, he won’t accept our attempts to spiritually help him unless he see that we are practicing those spiritual actions in our daily lives. We can say that we practice the Corporal Works of Mercy by just writing a check, but to practice the Spiritual Works of Mercy we not only have to do something, we have to live it.

I think What to Do When Jesus is Hungry provides the reader with a simple scorecard to comparatively measure how successful he is in this task of “growing in holiness.” I think many people would like to think they are “good people” because of the corporal works of mercy which they do --- and which can so readily be seen by others. But if we are really scoring how well our spiritual lives are advancing, we need to look at how well we are growing in the Spiritual Works of Mercy, administered to ourselves first, and then others.

As the book so softly explains: This is a challenge.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Decisions, Decisions

To tree or not to tree, that is the question. --- Thomas ShakesFear

It’s Thanksgiving week again --- already. Where does the time go? I wish I could spend Thanksgiving Day with relatives or friends, especially this year I think they may need my presence, but I’ll probably spend it here with mom. Her caregiver usually asks for holidays off to be with her family, and I always agree. I guess it’s right for me to be with mom and give thanks with her, although she no longer remembers any prayers, nor even the day. So I’ll celebrate and give thanks alone. Some things you just do because they’re right, not that you get any personal pleasure from them. And I think that, perhaps, these are some of the hardest things we do, discerning and then acting to do what we know is right.

Remember a few weeks back, the bare little plant I brought into the house, bare because I left it out in the cold too long? I displayed a picture of it here, bare-branched except for a single flower, which seemed to indicate it was happy to be in out of the cold.

Well look at it now. New leaves are emerging as it sits in the East-facing window, enjoying the morning light; perhaps it may be blooming again soon. But before then it will be time to replace it in the window with the Christmas tree (Good grief!! It seems like I just took it down yesterday!) When I put up the Christmas tree, I will relegate the plant to a dark corner in the dining room. I think it may be sad there (in part because I often forget to water it there).

What to do? Decisions, decisions. I enjoy coming home to see the Christmas tree each night, and all the ornaments with the many memories associated with each one. But I don’t enjoy putting the tree up, nor the outside lights for that matter. There are so many other “Christmas things” to do. Outside, I enjoy seeing the lights, and the tree brightly lit in the living room window, but do my neighbors really enjoy the display as they pass by, and do they think on why I celebrate so? (And what do they think as the display typically stays up through the winter, since I don’t like taking it down either.)

I enjoy the Christmas tree and lights, but perhaps no one else does, or at least certainly not as much as I. Living alone, no one comes to my house; inside the decorations give me joy, but they are a joy for me alone. And then there’s that little plant, now happily growing in the sunlight. I’ll get my selfish joys, while it goes into the corner. Decisions, decisions.

I wrote a few days ago about how God sometimes sends us pains and sorrows, His chastisements to teach us, or His testing of what we say we believe. And I discussed our reactions, and our need to trust in Him. But this discussion about the tree and plant, focused on things which make me happy reminds me about another question: Can God trust us? When God decides to send us sorrows beyond our control, the question is: Do we trust His decision, that this is a good thing even if we don’t understand why He sends us pain? But God gives us freedom, and often things happen to us, even bad things, which are not sent by God but happen because of our choices. Much of our life is not beyond our control, but is the result of our decisions.

When God decides to send us something, we are challenged: Do we trust His decision? When we decide something, however, the question is: Can God trust our decision? He taught us, sent His only Son to show us, and sends us graces to help us, but will we choose to do the right thing when faced with a decision, or will we choose to do the right thing --- for us? That is the real decision we often face. Can God trust us?

It’s hard enough for us to not eat a piece of candy when we’re on a much-needed diet, especially when no one else is around, but there are so many bigger decisions we face every day when we consider what is good for our neighbor versus what is good for us. We see so many examples of people who choose to love themselves first --- all we need to do is look at our elected officials for examples of that. They act as if we elected them for the purpose of getting them rich. It’s rare to see them making an unselfish decision. In fact, we see so many examples of selfish actions it almost seems as if that IS the right action: Me first, why not?

We all face those decisions almost every day: Do we love our neighbor first, or ourselves? God taught us, sent His Son to give us example, and gives us daily graces to make the right decision, but can He trust us to decide rightly? And while we daily face these decisions of me versus my neighbor, there also comes into our lives, on occasion, even more difficult decisions, life and death decisions not of do I love myself more than my neighbor, but do I love myself more than God.

We will all die; our life’s trip will end. And for each of us God waits at the final station, a heaven of joy forever, us and God together. Yet some of us are reluctant to leave this world when our journey is ending. We’re not totally sure God and happiness are waiting there. We trust in this life, even with its pains that we so often see, and we so quickly forget blessed are they who have not seen, yet believed. And for some of us who are still on our journey, we only reluctantly let friends and family complete theirs. We know they will obtain eternal happiness and yet we wail: “But I won’t be happy with them gone.” Ah, how easily we forget the right decision at that point: and so we choose to pray for our own happiness versus theirs --- and the God who waits for them.

We all face those very difficult decisions at some time in our life. Choosing to put our happiness aside and be happy with others’ happiness (and God’s will) is so difficult a decision that that it has been given a unique word in all human languages to describe it. It is called “love”.

There are so many things for me to do this Christmas, and this year in particular there are so many in need that I should find a way to remember. I think I’ll focus on them this Christmas and forego my pleasure of the Christmas tree and the outside lights. It’s a small thing to give up, and at least my little plant will be happy with it. And perhaps even God will be happy with my decision, as I try to focus on imitating Him this season and the example He came to earth to give us: an example of how to love, how to really love.

Love: It’s a decision, not an emotion.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Is This a Test?

As I sat in the chapel I happened to look down at the knees on my pants. They appeared to be getting a bit shiny. “Oh well,” I thought, “Better them than the butt of my pants.” If there was to be one outward sign of my activities, I’d rather it be shown that I kneel more than I sit and do nothing. For kneeling is REALLY doing something.

I thought back on why I now so gladly kneel --- I choose never to use a kneeler in church, but kneel on the floor when I pray. That started when the pews were filled in the overcrowded church in Medjugorje, and I chose to join those in the aisles and SRO areas so the more elderly might sit. Kneeling then, during the consecration of the mass and the full hour-long rosary each night, was done on the concrete floor. I remember on the flight over there thinking that I might attend one of those long nightly services, but it happened I was there every night, on my knees. And I remember on the last morning before I left, the man who shared a bedroom with me in the village house: in penance he traveled the mile to church on his knees. (As I passed him on my way, I recall thinking about the women of that village area, who I saw making the 2-hour climb I took along a steep rocky path to visit the large cross, high on a hill overlooking the village. Those women knew what penance was.) While at that village and in the Church of St. James there, it was all so clear to me, the mass, Jesus’ sacrifice, and His presence amidst all those who believed --- and among those who came to believe. I thought I understood it all, and I’d never forget, but I did.

On the very first Sunday back home, the church I attended instructed the people to sit during the consecration, “to see better.” I thought: “I know what is going on there on the altar now; I can’t sit!” But when everyone else did, so did I. To be kind to myself, let me say I felt very uncomfortable, even if “I could see better.” I realized those sitting around me couldn’t see though, not really, and especially when the host was raised and offered to the Father and the man next to me chose, at that moment, to open the church bulletin to read. And I knelt down then, and have been kneeling on the floor as a reminder to me ever since. It was a test, even as He gave one to Peter: “Do you love Me?”

It is written that He chastises those whom He loves, like the favorite toy that is taken from a child and he’s made to stand in the corner --- or like for us when the parent, or spouse, or child is taken from us and we feel if we are now standing alone in our pain. He chastises us in love, but it still hurts. But in truth, while it hurts us, it hurts Him also. Chastisements are given to those who are loved, so that they might learn through the hard lessons of pain --- so they won’t forget. God did it to the Jews a number of times; sometimes despite the pain, they still don’t learn. Sometimes neither do we, as we focus on the pain and not the lesson to be learned, because we don’t trust the love with which the pain is given. Much of the learning to be gained by chastisement comes down to a single question: How much do you trust the one who is chastising you? If the parent makes you stand in the corner, how much do you really trust that the parent still loves you, and maybe is even crying, as you cry? The lesson of chastisements is that you need more faith. Learn to trust in God, and grow that trust.

But it doesn’t stop there. You might want to say: “Lord, I believe. Stop these pains already.” If you are truly at the point, of really believing and understanding, then God is watching over you in a different way. He is not chastising you that you might learn, but testing you that you might not forget, for we are so easily distracted by the cares and enticements of the world. But He does not abandon us. Sometimes tests are gentle nudges to our physical well-being, but stabs in our heart, like the man who began reading the church bulletin next to me. “Did you forget?” God is asking us. We are often reminded of our weakening faith through tests. And sometimes these can be pretty severe, just ask Job about that.

We had a man named Ken speak to our little men’s group a couple of weeks ago. Ken began speaking by saying “well, I’ve never spoken before a group before and so I don’t have any speech prepared. I was just asked to tell what’s been happening to me, and so here goes.” And he proceeded to tell us.

Ken had 17 children, 18 including the one who died very young. His wife home-schooled all of them; six were now in college, although he didn’t help them at all in that, he said. Things were good until 2007, when his business began feeling the effects of the downturn in the economy. Then other things began happening. His son was injured in a car wreck, and his girlfriend killed. He was asked to care for his elderly mother, and make room for one more. His dearly-beloved autistic nephew died. He was forced to visit Catholic Services for help. He asked one of his grown children, “Do you think you could get me a job in your company as a janitor?” Humbled, he slipped into depression. Yet through all this, he said, he prayed and went to daily mass. And then he was sued for the little he had left. Offering up his sufferings, he said he prayed: “I hope You’re putting all this to good use, Lord.” His home was foreclosed on by the bank. He filed bankruptcy.

Ken cared for his mom, and to his joy she came back to the church, and went to confession. God was caring for him, he opined, even in his sorrows. With eight kids still at home, he began talking to various non-profits, seeking a house large enough for his family, and one that he could afford on his now limited income from his business. He noted how he would drive around, with his kids in the van and praying the rosary together, as they looked at one house after another. Only weeks from eviction, he sought friends who would take his furniture and store it, although he did not know where he would place his family. Suddenly, a large job he had bid on (and didn’t expect to get) was awarded to his company, “And they even gave me a large up-front payment.” Then one week before the eviction date, a non-profit offered him a large house on their property at low rent. Things were looking better. And even the bank called: “If you will promptly leave on the eviction date, leaving the home in good condition, its ‘Cash for Keys’ program would pay him $8,000!”

Ken concluded: “Well, that’s all I have to say, except that God is good.”

Ken was blessed with a thriving company, many children, and a loving wife; everything seemed good in the world, and yet he was tested. It seems to me that wherever means for good are established in this world, they can be used as means for evil, turned from their original purpose. Kids were a blessing, but seemed a burden when Ken had no money to care for them or a place for them to stay. His company was a means to provide for his family, but a target for someone to sue. It seems wherever there is a great good, there is also a possibility for great evil --- remember the Tower of Babel? Remember nuclear arms race, which helped bring down the Russian empire, but now might threaten Israel and the entire Middle East? Remember the good things about the internet, and that now 10% of its use is for pornography? Remember the laws enacted to protect minorities, and that are now being used to persecute the Catholic Church? Praise God while things are good in our life, but don’t expect the happiness of heaven here on earth.

The phrase “The Tyranny of Evil” has great meaning. Good things can be used to bring about great evils in this world, and to us. And when these evils strike us personally it is so easy to panic. We want to fix things ourselves. We so easily forget, and lose faith that we are not alone. So many of the evils which happen to us are but tests of our faith: “Do you love Me?” We want to ask: “Why is this happening to me?” But we forget the answer which we have heard so many times, but forgotten.

Through the devil’s envy death entered the world. (Wisdom 2:24). Thou didst make Him for a little while lower than the angels .. (and) He Himself has suffered and been tempted, (so that) He is able to help those who are tempted. Take care, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. (Hebrews 2:4) In our times of trial, it is so easy to forget what we already know, but let us pray we are not forgetful when we are tested. Rather let us pray that we are like the blind man who called out in his trial: Jesus of Nazareth, have pity on me. And when asked by Jesus what he, in faith, would desire he responded: Lord, that I might see. (Mark 10:46-52).

This day I myself have many worries, and I have friends who are in failing marriages, who have loved ones on the battle fields overseas, who have loved ones who don’t recognize them anymore, who are losing their homes, or fear losing their jobs, and one who fears losing her leg in surgery this very day. I know all of these people, and know they are people of faith. But I pray that today, in their time of testing, they might remember that faith, and in their pains and trials might clearly hear the question: Do you love Me?

Perhaps there are some of us for whom our trials are really admonitions; we just can’t understand why these things are happening to us. To those I would say: “Seek and ye shall find.” Go and try to learn about this Jesus and His promises and example. Read the Scriptures and writings of the saints; get to know Him, and He will bless your fertilized ground with faith. But if the sufferings you feel today are trials, don’t panic. “Do Not Be Anxious!” Remember your faith in His promises. Remember that the devil envies us even though we were made less than the angels, because for a while God became one of us to remove the power of death the devil created. God made us good and in His image. Evil may severely test us, but it is only a test. We can pass this test if we just tell Him: “My Jesus, I trust in You.”

Are you undergoing a great trial today? Perhaps you need to get the knees of your pants a bit more shiny.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Life Forgotten

No greater love than to give life, and eternal Justice for Life to return that love.

I was praying the Glorious Mysteries of the rosary when I read that meditation line. Read it again please; look at the capital letters and see what it really means. I did that tonight.

I do not have any children; I was not so blessed. But then tonight I thought back, and remembered that once I was so blessed. A child was once conceived in my wife, but within a couple of months the doctor told her that it had died in her womb; her body would soon pass it out naturally, and it did. I thought back on that night when it happened and she called to me from the bathroom: “Come see how pretty it is” --- I do not even recall today if it was a boy or girl. But I told her I didn’t want to see.

How cold a man that was. “No greater love than to give life.” I didn’t feel love then, not really, and so I guess it was Justice that I did not give life. And Life did not return love to me. Neither I, nor my wife as she later admitted, knew if the child was mine.

(Many marriages arrive at crucial, painful points like this. Like a house engulfed by fire, they seem unsalvageable. It doesn’t have to reach this point, however. We must remember that a single broken window does not make a house a derelict one, but studies have shown that one un-repaired broken window, given the image of unimportance, will subtly encourage others to appear. It’s like sin in that regard. And then a spark may lead to a flaming disaster, fed by air from the broken windows. Too often we think we are alone in our trials, but we forget that there are repairmen for windows, and even in disasters, a Fireman. If we have faith, we need but call.)

I said I was not blessed with children, but tonight I realized that in fact I really was. It was only for a couple of months, but in fact a life was given to me and put in my care --- to love. But in my concerns about myself and my life, I had no room to love another. And so Justice took it away.

I prayed, I believe, for the first time tonight for my child. A life forgotten, by me it is true, but I am sure not by Him, the true Father who does not forget. I pray now often that I might imitate Him, but then I did not. And my actions then reflected the weak sincerity and love in my prayers. It would take about 15 years before I would finally learn how to pray, sincerely. During those years, I thought I was a good man --- and so did everyone else. It’s what we all wanted to believe, but we were wrong.

How I lived those early years of my life was, I believe, how many “good” people live: they follow the rules. But that doesn’t mean they like the rules, or even understand them. And certainly they don’t think about them. A light turns red at the intersection and your foot hits the brake; today is Sunday and you go to mass; everyone gets up and goes forward to receive the Eucharist, and so do you. You don’t think about the red light, the mass, or the Eucharist. Your mind wanders. But to the world all around, --- and to yourself, you are a “good” person.

The day I finally learned how to pray was the day I finally knew what was happening at the mass, and KNEW Who I received in the Eucharist. That wisdom was truly a gift; it was nothing I figured out for myself. I am so thankful, now, that I was given that gift. Since then, through prayer --- conversations with God --- I have truly come to know Him, and my life is so much better. I no longer say “I am a Catholic” in the same manner as “I own a red car.” I have been blessed with real faith.

I thought tonight about a life forgotten, one that was a gift to me and which I never really loved, nor prayed for. That was a tragedy. But I thought further and also remembered another life forgotten: me. My life, it too, was a gift to me, and one which I never really loved nor prayed for. And that too was a tragedy.

I’m sure I had a heavenly Father --- and mother, too --- Who often was looking down upon me, wondering. He saw me growing up, living my life, seeming happy in many ways, and for that He was somewhat happy, but certainly not proud. Oh He loved me for what I was, His child, a “good” person, but I think He saw me kind of like a runner He had trained and had high expectations for. I was quick out of the gate, and He cheered, but He grew concerned as I quickly fell behind. He wondered if I would win the race, or even finish. And me? I’m not even sure I knew I was in a race, and if I was even aware of His love, not really; I took it all for granted.

I think a lot of us lead lives like that, seeing ourselves as “good” people. We’re on the track of life totally unaware of the heavenly cheerleaders in the stands, rooting us on. To ourselves, we are a life forgotten, unaware that there is a race to be won. If we are concerned at all, it is about ourselves in relation to others. “Is my race shirt as pretty as theirs? Do I have new shoes like they do? If they are in this lane, am I following them like other “good” people? If they seem to be running without any pain, does it seem unfair that I hurt?” It’s so often just a focus on us.

And we rarely think about the finish line.

The race of our life is really about learning to love, and through love to give life to others, that Love might be given to us. It’s not about us being focused on loving ourselves first. Growing in holiness during this life isn’t about being always happy now. It’s a race and it is hard work, and sometimes painful. Growing in holiness is about eternal Justice returning the love we have given, eternally.

I think I’m making some progress in my own race. Oh, just because I’ve been running a while one might think it makes the race easier, it does not, nor do the pains and trials come any less frequently, and perhaps they come even more. But now I expect those pains and am prepared to accept them; I know they come with love. And, I pray, I also expect the blessings and am prepared to appreciate them, unlike the blessing of a life I once ignored.

I started this reflection thinking on a life, a blessing, I once ignored because I was so caught up in my pains. Life was hard, and I couldn’t see the blessings there, even the really big ones. Don’t get so caught up with your pains, my friends, as I was. You are very blessed.

I am better prepared today to be thankful for the years, the days, and the hours He gives to me. I remember this life, this blessing He has given me, and I will try to live it well, in joy and in sorrow, as His Son showed me. He lead a wonderful life, and accepted His pains. And I shall try also.

Sometimes at mass we think back on the sacrifice that Jesus made for us many years ago, and reflect on the Eucharist he instituted so He could be with us even today. And then we think: so He could be with us today? But look at us, really look at us: are we someone worthy of His sacrifice? And we worry, and are sad. We so easily forget, however, that He is our God, and a God outside of time. He didn’t just choose to die for us some day long ago, He chooses now, today, to die for us, just as we are. “Oh Lord I am not worthy,” we think and pray. But how dare we challenge His judgment on the value of our life, the one He is willing to die for now, and the value of all lives for that matter, each and every one, even those we don’t value. He died for them all.

And His was a life which was NOT forgotten. And I hope in His promises, and that mine shall not be forgotten either. Each day He looks and decides: we are important enough to die for.

Friday, November 11, 2011

11-11-11 11:11:11

This is a moment like no other in history. The months, the days, the years, the hours, the minutes, and the seconds all strike ones, not once, but twice. I’m sure some think of this as some sort of magical thing, or perhaps an omen; an event no one shall ever see again on earth. It just sounds so special. Certainly for a people looking for something special to revel in, it is a day to take note of. But although in written form it is unique, it is not really special at all.

The number one signifies a uniqueness, it is true, but even as the above date and hour demonstrates, it IS unique but it is repeatable. There are lots of ones, even if each is unique. And I guess that’s what I was thinking about this morning. From a certain point of view I am just another person, and probably not that good of one at that. But from another point of view I am a unique person, like no other. At the bible study this morning the guys were discussing the words from Scripture: “I am a jealous God.” They were wondering what God has to be jealous about. I suggested that perhaps He is jealous because we are each one of those unique ones, like no other. Yes, He as God wants everyone, but He also wants THAT “one”, you, because you are totally unique like no other, like some precious diamond like no other found, and He cherishes that one and wants it, and is jealous if another lays claim to it. Another man suggested that God’s jealousy is like a parent who wants the love of his child. Even if he were a beloved teacher and hundreds of children loved him, still, he would strongly desire the love of that particular one, his own child. There is no other one like him, even if he has all the other children in the world. Such is God’s love for us, and His jealousy if we should love someone or something more than Him.

I guess on a day when we are reminded of the uniqueness of even a particular moment, we need to remind ourselves of the uniqueness of our being: existing like no one else, and loved like no one else. Despite all our failings and littleness in our own eyes, there is an eternal truth in the words that “Love conquers all.” God loves us anyway.

If we want to dwell on the “one-ness” of today, I suggest we might also consider these:

• And they shall be one flesh … Gn2:24
• And we will become one people … Gn 34:16
• Hear, O Israel, Jehovah our God is one Jehovah … Dt 6:4
• Blessed is the one who comes in the Name of the Lord … Ps118:26
• For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior … Is43:3
• Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one Who comes in the Name of the Lord! Mt21:9
• Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me … Mt26:21
• The one who believes in Me will also do the works I do … Jn14:12
• So we, who are many, are one Body in Christ … Rm12:5
• Love one another … Rm 12:10
• There is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus. 1Tm2:5

(As a totally inane and unimportant minor, but unique point, I see that this is my 500th blog post. I would have never guessed when I started that I would have so much to say, each post unique, yet probably for the most part, each equally useless.)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Mr. Know-It-All

The curtain rises, and Rocky (aka Rocket J. Squirrel) announces: “And now, Mr. Know-It-All.”

Mr. Know-It-All (aka Bullwinkle the Moose) tells us that: “Today we are going to learn how to open a jar of pickles.” Mr KIA (hmmm, considering what I know happens in the rest of this story, that seems a fitting acronym) then proceeds to demonstrate various ways of attempting to open a jar of pickles, each way getting progressively more explosive --- and failing. After the last effort (and he gets out of the hospital) Mr. KIA is about to demonstrate yet another way to open a jar of pickles when suddenly Rocky butts in: “Wait a minute! That’s not a jar of pickles, Mr. Know-It-All. It’s a jar of jelly.” Then Mr. KIA exclaims: “Well, of course! That explains the problem. It was jammed!”

(The curtain falls suddenly. Ker-Plunk!)

Mr. Know-It-All was confused on how to handle his problems. He concluded that opening a jar of pickles and a jar of jelly were different matters --- “Of course!” But the truth of the matter is that for what he was trying to do with them, open the jars, they should be treated the same. The laughable point of the cartoon was that Mr. Know-It-All was not what his name implied. He was a fool.

How so very much we are like Mr. Know-It-All in our treatment of some of the important matters in our lives. Like Mr. KIA, we fail to distinguish the difference between things we have available to us, and what we are trying to do to get them.

Gold and silver are more important than other rocks. Money is more important than newspaper. A mansion is more important than a cot to sleep on. We treat some things of this world as much more important than others. But we fail to ask: “Why?” While addressing these things differently, we are like Bullwinkle, Mr. Know-It-All, for we are not addressing the “what are we trying to do with them” issue. Or rather, what “should” we be trying to do with them: For what reason do these things exist in our lives?

The jars of pickles and jelly are like earthly and heavenly happiness, very desirable things we want to open. The things of the earth, money and the like, are tools to open them. The tools are not bad, they were created by God and declared as good. Some, like our neighbor, we were even told to love.

If we act like an atheist or a materialist, we will see that some natural things can make our lives happier in this natural world and focus on that alone. But if we view all created things from the purpose of The Creator, they are for earthly pleasures, yes, but they are primarily a means to get us to an eternal treasure. They are merely tools to open that treasure chest of eternal life; they are not the treasure itself. Some of these tools are definitely better than others to help us open the eternal treasure, but by themselves they don’t compare with it at all. Some earthly things can make our lives happier, but only for a while.

Yet some men act as if the earthly tools were more important to gain us earthly pleasures than to gain us eternal ones.

The sciences, for instance, of good government, of acquiring wealth, of preventing and relieving want and the like, are for this reason especially dangerous; for fixing, as they do, our exertions on this world as an end, they go far to persuade us that they have no other end; they accustom us to think too much of success in life and temporal prosperity. --- The World Our Enemy, by John Henry Newman.

Mr. Know-It-All viewed the jar of pickles and the jar of jelly as different things, not perceiving that the same tool would open both, so he struggled, focusing first on the jar of pickles. Earthly know-it-alls may recognize that earthly and heavenly happiness are different things, but they focus on “the pickles” first, trying various tools to get earthly happiness first. They fail to recognize that if they use the right tool, both earthly (pickles) and heavenly (jelly) happiness will be opened to them. And what tool is that? Well, it’s not found in gold or silver mines, nor is it minted and valuable because of the word of some government. The universal tool of happiness is found in our Churches, and it is given value because of the Word of God.

While focusing on getting the pickles, we forget that the jelly is so much sweeter. And so many of us think that we know it all, when eye has not seen, nor ear heard what God has prepared for those who love Him.

Most earthly Mr. Know-It-Alls are also fools. How many will laugh when the curtain falls on their foolishness? Gold, money, and mansions ARE good things, but if we only see them as things to bring us earthly happiness, we are fools. And like the Gospel today, if we focus on using are material goods for ourselves, we will not have any for the Bridegroom and His uses, and He will say to us: I do not know you. It is not enough to know that earthly and heavenly happiness are available to us, we have to DO something to get them.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

They Would Crown Him Again

Eternal Father, through Mary’s unblemished hands and the Divine Heart of Jesus, I offer You the wounds, the pains and the Precious Blood of Jesus’ Holy Head from the Crowing with Thorns, as atonement for my and all of humanity’s sins of the spirit (Sins of the spirit are sins against our faith), as protections against such sins and for the spreading of Christ’s Kingdom here on earth.
--- from The Prayers of St. Bridget on the Passion of Jesus

I have always viewed the Crowning of Thorns and the associated mockery of Jesus on Holy Thursday night as one of the worst parts of His Passion. Alone, He was mocked for all which He had said and done. His torturers did not believe anything of what He preached, not even the miracles which their own eyes may have seen. What more could He do, and yet they still didn’t believe. And so they mocked Him. For me, that would have given me great temptation to despair. I would have been thinking of the future: And when the Son of Man returns, will He find anyone of faith? I would have been very tempted to doubt the value of my life, and my sacrifice. And why: because there were then, and are now, some who don’t want to wait for a heavenly, even if eternal, salvation. They want what they can see and feel and find happiness in --- now. And they trust only their senses and feelings about what that is, therefore they declare themselves to be the ones who know best of what is good for them. They don’t trust promises; they want satisfaction now. They have no faith in what Jesus promised; they can only mock it.

As I read the prayer of St. Bridget, I understood that there are many who have little faith in His promises even today. They are like Adam and Eve: for all they had and were given, they wanted more and wanted it now.

As I read of some priests who are forming groups (to give support to themselves in numbers) to DO changes in the Church’s rites and actions, and other groups of priests forming groups to demand a democracy in the Church’s governing, I somewhat feel the same sadness which Jesus must have felt on Holy Thursday. These priests have lost faith in Him and His promises and His Church. They want happiness for themselves and those they minister to, now. They say they are members of His Church, followers, yet they want to lead. In saying He leads yet defining the way themselves, they mock Him. They crown Him with thorns yet again, a leader they will not follow. Even as they want to shift the Church’s teachings, as if they were on sand, they forget that they were built on Rock.

In championing a democratic Church, they are in effect saying: “Let us vote on what is sin.” And even further, they may vote differently again tomorrow, or next week, or next year. “It changes with the culture.” Even as Jesus died to open heaven, they say thanks: “But we’ll define who gets in.” Were the Jews to have had that right, the worshipping of Baal may have been considered a good thing. Today, many Catholics would vote for “de-sinning” many sexual sins, or many sins against the value of life, and perhaps they would vote to eliminate the shortage of priests by declaring that anyone may be a priest. They think they know what the people need.

They confuse “want” with “need”.

These are all things many may want, but the Church says they are sin, or are wrong-minded actions. By definition, sin IS desirable, so of course many want those things. Some say: “Who is the Church? We are Church!” No longer will they follow out of obedience, only out of their relative reasoning and feelings. In effect, they claim to be the successors of Jesus. For the popes who claim successorship to Peter and Jesus, they say: “Here is your crown of thorns. Lead us. Ha-ha.”

I personally don’t know if each and every thing, each and every Church leader says is proper --- is that really what Jesus said or did? Is that what He would do? What I do know, however, is that even Jesus had a respect for authority. Give unto Caesar, … . Even if I should suspect that some actions of the bishops are in error --- and certainly some are for they are but men, still I will obey, for not to is a form of disobedience. Not to is a declaring that I know more than those assigned by God. Not to is not having faith in Him, who said His Church will not fail. Not to is mocking His promises again, and I recall only too well how He must have felt that first time, at that first crowning.

I can’t stop praying in sorrow over that first mockery. Why would I ever want to participate in another?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Review: The Book of Man

William J. Bennett has written many a fine book, but this one is different. In his introduction to The Book of Man, Readings on the Path to Manhood, Mr. Bennett makes no bones about it: “There is a trouble with men today.” His introduction in short order lists what he believes to be some of the major deficiencies of men today: a decline in foundational virtues, the collapse of the code of gentlemen, and even confusion about what it means to be a man today. He cites measurements on the increasing time men spend in front of the television or gaming, and the decreasing amount spent working or entering into marriage. “The purpose of this book is to explore and explain what it means to be a man.” The readings “cover a wide range of life’s stages and circumstances and current maladies.” And as Mr. Bennett concludes: “I hope this book will lift up you and the ones you love. I hope it will help you learn and remember what it is to be a man.”

A quick glance at the reviews on Amazon for this book finds only two ratings, either 5-star or 1-star. And while the 5-star ratings were very enthusiastic for the book, looking at the 1-star ratings, I found unbridled hatred for the author and his Christian beliefs. The 1-star reviewers mentioned little of the book or its topics, only of their hatred. I guess that made me somewhat sad, that such is the state of our country that hatred is the main way for some to express their disagreement with something, but I guess Christians have felt this hatred throughout all history, and Our Founder felt it the most.

Quickly changing my mood though, I realized I probably would like this book, and I very much do.

The 500 page book contains about 300 chapters, each a quote from someone in history, broken into six areas of man: at War, at Work, at Play, at Sports and Leisure, in the Polis, with Women and Children, and in Prayer and Reflection. The authors range from Pericles and William the Conqueror to Pete Maravich and George W. Bush, and from just about every walk of life, from saint to sinner. The works are from speeches, books, poems, and yes, prayers. I found quotes, like this one from Calvin Coolidge, to resonate with my own thoughts of late: No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave. (I wonder if those in American calling for more from the government or from rich people know that one.) Almost all the chapters speak about men who gave of themselves to others; they were men. Some of the “chapters” are only a half page long and none longer than ten pages, so they are ideal for any of today’s youth challenged by short attention spans. But this book is a good pleasant read for adults also.

This book will be one I add to my Christmas list for my teenage Godchildren, boys and girls. For the boys I will inscribe how I wish them to read and know what it means to be a man, a real man. I’ll encourage them to keep the book, and measure themselves against some of the ideal men in it and their actions, not to ever hope to be the ideal man, but to have some benchmarks on how well they are doing --- and to remind themselves that there are those who have tried and have succeeded to be good men, and that they were happy, admired --- and remembered. They made a difference in this world. And to the girls I will write that they should read and then know: there are good men in this world. Never settle for less, for a spouse, or even a friend. And to both I will encourage that they continue to pray, even for me, as I shall for them.

If you are looking for a good book for the whole family, one to put on the shelf knowing that it may interest anyone, from young to old, then this is a good buy. Most of what we consider classic works contain specific morals or messages to be remembered. Most of what we consider the “Chicken Soup” books contain short stories to make you feel good. This book is in between those; it contains many classic messages and many short stories that only in total make you feel good. Finishing this book, you will feel a contentment, like hearing:“Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” But this is no fairy tale.