Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Eve Thoughts

Okay, to be honest, I don’t have any. In fact (in case you haven’t noticed) I haven’t had any thoughts in a couple of weeks. That’s because I spent them either caring for my mom, or sitting with my best friend’s mom in the hospital ICU, as they discover one thing after another after another after another after ANOTHER thing wrong with her. So what AM I supposed to think? I don’t know; no thoughts have been coming lately, despite my many prayers.

My prayers have gone from “Please heal her” to “Thy will be done” to whatever. What DO you pray for, as problems continue to come, seemed to be helped (or at least alleviated), only to have more problems appear? How do you offer hope (much less faith) through all the feeding tubes and breathing tubes and tubes and lines coming out of just about every part of the body that you can think of? What should you think when all the hospital people greet you familiarly each day? (Is it like you should think if every bar tender greeted you familiarly each day?) I don’t know.

Each day I pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and the words “Jesus, I trust in You.” I was saying it late one night last week when I felt a strong urge to kneel. I looked at the altar then, and felt a response to my prayer: “Do you trust Me?” Do you trust me?? I was praying the prayer that said I did. Was this like a Job question, trusting is most important when it is the hardest? I’ve written about that here before, but these recent weeks my friend, her daughter, and I have been not thinking about but living the reality of Job.

So when the real challenges come, not just a simple pinprick met by the repetitive refrain of a chaplet or a rosary or the Our Father, but a REAL challenge. Then, what do you say to: “Do you trust Me?” In response I repeated the chaplet, and I substituted her name in place of the generic “have mercy on US”. Lord, she needs mercy. I’m not sure what else to do, as I look each day into her sad eyes and at her bruised and swollen body, and as the doctors say “there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and we intend to get there --- moving one day at a time.”

Do you trust Me? Really? I’m not sure I ever really answered the question, but I put on a brave face for her and her daughter.

The below words were posted here on December 31, 2009. I don’t feel any urge to write lately, so perhaps it is best to consider these words again, as we face yet another new year. Peace and blessings to you, my friends. Please pray for Barb.

Dec 31 – St. Sylvester, Pope

“Few people realize that on the last day of the year the Church commemorates the first pope after the terrible centuries of persecution by the Roman Empire. Although he was not the very first bishop of Rome to die in bed, he surely grew up thinking he was going to be a martyr. As a boy he lived through the most ferocious persecution of all, that of Diocletian. Only a few years before he was elected pope in 314, the first decree of toleration of Christians was issued. One may suppose he made the same mistake we all make when times of terrible trial are over, that of thinking that things are finally going to work out and all will be peaceful with blue skies and roses.”

“Saint Sylvester’s feast falls on New Year’s Eve, when we happily bid the old year good-bye and wistfully hope that the next year will be better. For this reason each year the fourth-century pope always has a lesson for us: Keep going! Don’t look back! Look ahead and trust God, but don’t trust the next year will be wonderful. Rather be convinced that God will go with you. Christ will walk with anyone who invites him along. The Lord is my shepherd. Why should I be afraid? I don’t expect everything will be wonderful next year; in fact, one of these years will be my last one on earth. I don’t expect blue skies every day; that would mean a drought. But I do know that I will not be alone, because the lips of the man who was born in Bethlehem would say as he left this world thirty years later: “I will be with you always even to the end of the world” (Mt 28:20). “

Lord Jesus, as I end another year and prepare for the next one, make me ever more aware of Your presence. Help me to rest in Your presence even more than I have in the past. Help me spread the knowledge, the fragrance of Your presence wherever I go. Let more and more people know that You are with them, even in these anxious times. May this year, more than any previous one, be spent in Your presence. Amen.
Behold He Comes – Meditation on the Incarnation, by Benedict Groeschel, CFR

Not surprisingly, Fr. Benedict puts into words what is in my heart much better than I could. In many ways 2009 was a great blessing, in the midst of so many trials. I know, things could always have been worse. I look forward to 2010 with trepidation, and prayers. I am confident that if I do my best, and have trust in God, things will turn out well.

I will pray they turn out well for you, also.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Room At Your Inn?

I first started thinking about this issue a few weeks ago, when a friend involved in her parish’s evangelization team asked my thoughts about parishes, or groups of parishes, adopting homeless families. She had felt a call to do something, and was struggling with how to make it happen. After some discussion we agreed that perhaps one of the more difficult things would be to get parish members, especially people we know, to come forth seeking help ---- we had confidence in the generosity of our community members, but thought that some people would be reluctant to admit they were in need. (In my own parish, “Benevolent Funds” are distributed discretely by the pastor.) We settled on an idea that the outreach might be offered as a form of family caring, like grandparents always loving and being available for the grandchildren. Gifts could be offered not in charity, but in family love. My friend went off to pursue this and other ideas at her church.

Then a couple of weeks ago there was an article in the Wall Street Journal about young adults moving back with their parents. Times are difficult for many young people, even college graduates. The article pointed out that living at home helped justify them being on their parent’s insurance policy (until they turn 26), along with other cost savings associated with going back home. The article, however, implied that all this was a bad thing --- and I spoke aloud after reading it: “Nonsense!” (I may have used some other word, I don’t remember.) I described the article to those around me and voiced my opinion that “this is EXACTLY what should be happening. If our children are in need, one of the first places they should turn to is the family --- and they should be welcomed. This is the Catholic Church’s principle of subsidiarity --- needed help should come from the lowest levels of society, not the highest.” But the article implied that it was a sad thing that families had to help. This author was wrong.

Last week I had someone confide in me, in the adoration chapel, that they had lost their job. While I offered her some leads and places where she might start looking, even if for only temporary work, she told me that she was okay --- for now. She only asked for my prayers, and then kindly asked how things were going for me of late. Even in her trials, looking out for her neighbor. Of course, I prayed for her.

This last Sunday the Detroit Free Press began a series of articles on homeless children in the state of Michigan. The paper noted that, through the school system, there were identified 31,000 children whose parents were in a nomadic or homeless state – or they were living on the street. Under various programs this entitled those children to special considerations, like free meals and school supplies. Special school transportation needs were also addressed to the homeless children, some costing hundreds per day --- per child! The articles noted many specific examples of nomadic parents, living with friends and relatives, until their welcome wore out. They mentioned Covenant House, which picks up homeless kids off the street, and even has started a high school just for them! While I was at mass on Sunday my United Way director called me and left me a message saying (after reading the first article) she wanted to begin a program to help with the situation.

Well, considering all of this, do you think God is knocking, or what?

Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. … Truly, I say to you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ (Mt 25 34-40)

Some of you are aware that I am trying to pull together a book of people who answered God’s call and helped their neighbor, and their efforts grew and many were helped. They practiced the rule of subsidiarity; they did not go out and seek help for their neighbor in need, they GAVE help. If I can get the book completed and published, I hope they can be inspirations to others. We can all help our neighbor and answer the call to help God’s children, and in loving them show our love to Him. Do you have an empty bedroom or basement, a room at your inn? Perhaps you might be able to use that vacant space to welcome a child who calls in need. Or would you instead say to him: “Go find a stable outside there somewhere; this place is full?” Won’t we hear that question asked this Sunday, Christmas Day?

I’ve written in this blog how for the past couple of years I have tried to help my neighbor, hiring the unemployed to do work in and around my house, paying them a generous wage so that they might accept my charity with dignity. I encouraged you and others to do the same, but I was aware of no one taking up the banner, although I also asked churches and charities. A little can make a difference. Recently I received a Christmas card from the first man I hired. He ultimately lost his home to foreclosure, but now has found a job and is in a new home in another city. My little effort at helping him yielded results --- in the card he reminded me that I am his friend for life. Perhaps these latest events are a call for me to provide a physical sharing of my home, also. It seems just a natural growth of what I have been doing. But I can’t help but use this blog (and you few who might read it), to issue a challenge again: Is there room at your inn? I will develop a program for my local United Way to subsidize those who would offer “room at their inn,” but I think, especially at this time in our country, that we all need to consider it.

Every time we go to mass and walk up to the front of the church, the priest holds up a small white host in front of us and says: “The Body of Christ.” And we respond: “Amen!” Our amen is not just an assent to our belief that this host is actually the Body of Christ, but it is also an assent that we, together, are part of the Body of Christ, His Church. We are saying “Amen,” I am one with you, and we are one together, in the Body of Christ. If you sit up near the front of the Church you can hear the words said to each communicant, over and over again: “The Body of Christ! The Body of Christ! The Body of Christ!”

When will we REALLY answer: Amen!!? Yes Lord, You are here! Yes Lord, I am here with You! And I will love You and serve You and care for You wherever and whenever I may see you, even in the least of my brothers and sisters.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

I'm Happy --- And This Too Is Your Fault!

This Advent has, for me, been one focused on things which disturbed my peace. I’ve seen illness, sadness, confusion, and even death this year. I’ve taken the sad news of our country, our Church, and my friends seriously, as I should. I’ve prayed on these things so much that I worry I might test Our Lord with my cries. Perhaps He thinks on me and says: “You again? You think these things are bad --- wait, then you will see bad.” Or perhaps he hears my moanings and thinks: “Pitiful!” Well, I guess that’d be a better response: Yes Lord, I am pitiful, so pity me and my friends. But I know one thing for sure that The Lord does not think about me: He does not think of me as being sad because of these things, for He reads my heart and knows the great joy that lies therein. Not emotional feelings, mad or sad, but a chosen attitude of joy lies there, in response to His love for me. And I shall not forget His love, especially at this time of year.

I know friends who readily sacrifice for their families, and I know preachers who open my heart to God’s Word and His love. I know people who proclaim the joys in their life to me and others, despite their sorrows. And I know men who have sacrificed their lives for me --- One was even a God. I know people who tell me I bring to them God’s love. And I see children, and the gifts of life. And in my heart, I see God.

I have seen and known all these things, and they do make me happy. They are things you gave me, not any happiness that I obtained on my own. In my heart is an attitude of joy, and these things I see in you and your actions are like Christmas gifts to me. And the more they are a surprise to me, the more happiness I feel.

I was pretty young when I realized that I had obtained a new maturity with my life; I can even recall the Christmas Day on which it happened. A young teen, I think, I had asked my parents for a portable radio for Christmas (I’m not sure I ever believed in Santa Claus). When I opened my gifts that Christmas Day, the radio was there just as I had asked. But this Christmas I wasn’t wildly joyful over the gift, I think in part because I expected to get it. I was happy and I thanked my parents, but then I put this desired gift aside and watched everyone else open their presents.

I remember the great happiness I felt when others expressed their happiness. All right, perhaps I did feel a little more happy when they were happy with my gifts, but in truth all their smiles made me smile, regardless of the gift’s source. That Christmas I really learned the joy of giving and seeing others receive, and I have never lost that deep joy which I found. It was beyond feelings of happiness, mere reactive emotions, but there was a deeper joy, a satisfaction that this was good, very good. And while I enjoyed the smiles of those around me, I enjoyed more when those people gave thanks. The hugs and kisses and tears of joy and thanksgiving brought great joy into my heart. I shall always remember that Christmas, and that first real joy at giving and seeing others give, and receive. And unlike some drug-induced high, I have felt that joy throughout my years over and over again.

Some people have told me that this is a flaw I have, that I don’t appreciate gifts enough. Perhaps it is. I know there is no “thing” which will make me insanely happy, and even things which bring me a level of happiness only do so for a while. My favorite song soon grows old, the pretty sweater I received goes into the drawer, and the toy I desired gathers dust in a corner. Like foods, there are some I prefer more than others, but none I hate and none that highly excite me. But I like to cook, and find a joy when others enjoy my concoctions. Getting stuff is okay, I guess, but …

I find much more happiness --- and real joy --- in giving than receiving, things.

But as I said, I find even a greater joy than with the thing received or given, in the expressions of love shown over gifts received --- whether material gifts, “things,” or spiritual ones. I’m happy over any hug given or received, tears of happiness shed or seen, or on seeing a lone person kneeling in front of God --- unaware that I am watching. Seeing love in action gives me greater joy than any “thing.”

And I so often see that love in you, in how you care for your children, in how you bear up with the illness of your loved one, in how you bear up with me and all my faults, and in how you pray. In your actions I see love, and that brings me great joy.

So I am happy, and yes, it is often your fault. God sent His only Son, to show us how to give, how to hug, how to shed tears, and how to love. But then he died, and then rose to heaven. I read about His actions, but I can’t see them. But I see you. Through you I see His actions in this world. Last year I gave priest friends a beautiful picture book entitled “These Hands Bring You Jesus”. It depicted priestly hands holding the Eucharist. In many ways, you are like those hands to me.

I wrote in recent posts how you and your anger and your sadness and your frustrations can make me mad. But that is you, and you are just a poor excuse of a human being sometimes. I understand. I am too. But often, so often, you don’t just bring me you, you bring me Him. I can see Him in your eyes, and in your actions. I can see His love in you.

And you make me so happy. And as I gaze on Him as I kneel in adoration, I often think of you.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

I'm Mad ---- And It's Your Fault!

I’ve been thinking of writing this post for a few days, days when it seemed there were only troubles all around me. You told me so. You told me how irritated you were at all those politicians (And I don’t think you’ve missed anyone, from Obama down to that local guy of yours that I never heard of). The men’s prayer group gathered this week and around the table they chatted about their kids and grandkids, and how foolish they were, acting in sinful ways, and who don’t seem to know God anymore --- or visit Him. And even the priest opined (during mass) how “I’m glad that at least they didn’t change the Lord’s Prayer.” All these and many others I heard grumbling this past week, about how frustrated and mad they were --- and their talk made me mad!

And wasn’t that their purpose?

Each day I hear the priest say at mass: “The peace of the Lord be with you always.” And in response there remains a few who stumble, saying words no longer proper --- until they hear the proper words being said by others. And then they shut up and feel self-conscious. And then their lips may silently move, saying words to themselves which I won’t speculate on. But they’re mad. And what, you may ask, am I doing at that time? Well, usually I have no trouble remembering (or reading) the proper responses, but I do admit that lately when the priest says “Peace be with you” I recall all the anger I’ve been hearing all week, and I think: Peace to me??? Grrrrrrr.

Many who are mad about something these days want to be sure to tell me of their anger. For as often as they may have said that “there never is any good news in the papers anymore,” they themselves have readily become news broadcasters of the bad news they see. I said I was mad, in the title to this blog, and it’s your fault. That’s true. Your concerns so easily become my concerns, and it is easy to join in on the rage and rant. You want me to agree with you in your frustration, and I do. And perhaps on some days I even relate your rage to others --- let’s get them mad, too! Anger has become our standard conversation fare.

We need to stop this, you and I. We need to stop and think, and pray. Is this how we obey the commandment to love our neighbor? Is it love you are spreading when you make me angry? The Jews expected a conqueror-Messiah, someone who would rile them up and urge them into battle, and make them mad enough to do something. Is that what Jesus did?

Did He demonstrate that anger is the answer to their problems? Did He spread hate, or love? Did He rant, or speak softly? Did He become as mad or troubled as the people who came to Him, or did He calm their fears? Did He say “Someone must stop these evils,” or did He stop them?

And just look at how he did those things; look at His example. He chastised evil; he healed; he taught; he loved; He forgave --- to one person at a time. And He showed us ultimate love, and said: “Do this.”

If you are irritated at politicians, pray on the issues and discern answers and politicians seeking to implement those answers, and then support them --- quietly and calmly. If you are upset at the lack of Catholic practice and education in our youth, remember that you are all called to evangelize, so do it: resolve to give away at least one copy of YouCat this Christmas (and if you are like some of the men of my prayer group who responded “What’s that?” then go to Amazon (or your local Catholic bookstore) and find out). And if the changes to the liturgy bother you, I simply reply that “they are not changes, but only better translations of the mass as said for 2,000 years.” Listen to a CD titled: “A Walk Through The New Mass Translations” by Lighthouse Catholic Media; it is a cheap CD and easy to understand.

Do these things and they will calm your anger and fears. Think of it as being HIS answer to the concerns you speak of to others. And please note one thing in His response: He won’t be angry, and He won’t pass along your anger to others.

- - - - -

I’m in the ICU with mom now. Do you think she should sign a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order?

I felt that I should become a priest. God was calling me, but now I am not so sure. Could you pray for me?

I lost my job today.

Those words were spoken to me yesterday by people who were not trying to make me mad. They are people with much bigger problems than the ones I heard ranted about all week, but we spoke calmly about them. They were doing something, even as Jesus would, about the problems they saw. Even if it was only to ask someone: “Will you pray for me?”

These are people of integrity, faith --- and action. And I have every confidence that their actions will be wise ones and WILL accomplish something other than just making themselves or someone else mad.

There is much to worry about in this world, my friends. Let us pray we all have the courage and faith to become parts of the solution, and not just furtherance of the problems.

(One final point: I said at the start that I’m mad and it’s your fault. You’re forgiven ---- this time!)

And Peace be with your spirit.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

I'm In Prison

I look sadly around me at these narrow confines of my daily life. Blank walls face me on three sides, and on the other I can see some light and hope, but immovable bars keep me from going there. I once lived in that light, and so I can envy those out there who don’t realize how blessed they are, but my choices put me here. Each day my routine is the same: waking, eating, thinking about what used to be – or perhaps what someday might be, and sleeping. All around me are people I have gotten to know very well, but they are still strangers. I have no friends in this life.

At this time of year people tell me I should look forward to Christmas. The only thing I look forward to is the passing of yet another day, in hopes that perhaps someday it will be my last in this cell, this prison where I live. I heard that today is supposed to be a special day, a day of joy, a pause in our Advent anticipation of Christmas, to be happy about all we that have --- and all we are yet to receive. But I feel no joy here in my prison. I feel I have nothing, and I see no end to this life.

How many of us go through our life thinking those thoughts? How often has our prayer been: “Why me, Lord?” How often have we sat in our chair and felt totally alone --- even as the noise of our family, friends, and co-workers echoed around us. For some of us it is a clinical thing, depression, beyond our control without medical help. But for many of us it is just another choice we’ve made in our life. We choose to be unhappy; we choose never to smile. We choose not to leave our cell --- but the door is unlocked.

I think part of our problem is envy; we look at others and see happiness, and do not realize that they too have times of sadness and being alone. We all do. Life here is not eternal happiness; there is another place for that. Life here is joy and sorrows, happiness and sadness, smiles and frowns, and sometimes boredom. The key point to remember, however, is all the “ands” which describe our life. It is not only one thing or another, it is an alternating of good and bad things. In eternal matters, Adam got tossed from Eden, but Jesus came and said: “Come on, I know a way back in.” That is the ultimate spiritual bad and good, and our life is in between them, filled with lesser bads and goods.

The materialism which now surrounds Christmas is part of the problem for many of us. We look at things we have or don’t have, and envy and a whole lot of other sins enter our thoughts. The problem is the “things” we see; but Christmas isn’t a holiday about earthly things, it’s about heavenly things, that beginning of “the way back in.” Christmas is the beginning of that cell door of our life being unlocked. In our sadness we sometimes think I see no end to this life. But it IS ending, it HAS ended! The door has been opened, and the key was His birth. It started a new way for us to live; it gave us a new hope --- no matter how bad or sad our life may be at any moment. It is not an eternal lockup in a tiny small place. Our life has an open door to it, into happiness, into eternity. There is one big qualifier, however, to our being able to achieve that exit into the light, to obtain that happiness which can be with us throughout any ups and downs we may incur in this life. To achieve that happiness, we have to choose it.

One of the blessings and curses of this life is our free will. We can choose, and we can choose to do good or bad, to be happy or be sad. I know you want to say: “I can choose to be happy? With all these sad things around me? With death and sorrows and pains and poverty, I should choose to be happy?” The answer is yes, you should. The thing about free will is that no one else can choose how you feel but you. The martyrs were singing as they went to their deaths. The Romans were amazed that despite all their tortures and sadness “How much they loved one another.” The early Christians chose to be happy in their faith. I fear most of us have forgotten.

Our Christian faith puts a joy in our heart which remains there DESPITE all the toils and pains of this earth. The door to heaven is open again! Our toils and pains today are our working long hours for a promotion; they are our lifting heavy loads to build a beautiful house; they are our courting of the most beautiful person in the world to be our spouse. Work and toil and pains? Of course! But they are to get the thing we want more than anything else, our happiness.

The door is open. Whenever we see ourselves in a tiny room, in a dark place, in a dull routine which seems to not have an end, in a life alone without friends, we must choose to walk away from those places and thoughts. No matter what is going on around us, death, pain, poverty, drudgery, we can choose happiness, and we can choose to work for it.

Christ died, and it was one of the happiest events in all history. The door was opened! While people around Him may have cried because they didn’t understand, nowhere is it recorded that Jesus cried. He chose to obtain happiness, even if pain and sadness were along the way. You can too.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Waiting For New Life

Come O long- awaited One

I saw a young woman kneeling in front of the Blessed Sacrament, as her husband sat nearby. Late into the night she stayed on her knees; she seemed to have much to pray about. Perhaps it was to give praise and thanksgiving; certainly that should have been her first prayer. (It should be our first also.) But I felt I had seen the couple at mass one day, alone, in my parish where so many couples are blessed with large families, and I had a feeling that this night, this Advent night, her thoughts might not have been on Jesus’ coming, but on her own waiting for a child, another one long awaited and desired. And so she knelt in peace and quiet, before her God.

I had thoughts recently on the fears that many of us are facing; our lives are so often full of trials, and we worry about our unknown futures, and fearing the worst. But if we have faith, I reflected, our God can overcome our worst fears. He really and truly is a God who loves us, and that is where our faith must be, trusting in that love, and knowing that because He loves us He will do everything in His power to care for us. “Doing everything in His power” --- and who may I ask is more powerful? We really should laugh at our worries about the future and what WE must do about it. What we should DO is have faith, because Our Father will provide for His children, whom He loves. He said so.

Still … we can have faith and yet pray about the future. We have a free will. I think a good prayer is that we use that free will and talents given us to help bring about a future He would desire, one good for us and others --- although not necessarily the one we would think to pray for. Not my will, but Thy will be done. And to strengthen our faith in the future, a good future, we can look back on all the good that God has done in the past for us and others, to see proofs of His love.

I hope the childless couple can find faith there: He long ago promised to Abram that his family would be as numberless as the stars --- surely there is room for one more, for this couple, if it is His will. He once promised a nation that a messiah would come to fulfill all their dreams, and He did come, and He gave them more than they could ever have dreamed of. They waited and trusted in His coming for a long time, and He did come.

We wait for many dreams, each of us. Some dreams are for good things, the blessings which God has promised to those who love Him: sons and daughters, peace, healing, love, or even just a calming of our fears. These are things we can want and pray about, and can expect that our prayers will be answered, in accordance with His will. We need not worry. And for those who pray about our Church, our country, and our world, He also promised justice --- and mercy. These too are good things to pray for.

One thing which we sometimes pray for, however, is not a good thing. We pray for things to remain as they are, or to revert to as they were, but often the answer to our prayer entails change, the beginning of a new phase in our life, and not a continuation of the old. And change is hard to accept. Our prayers are answered, but not as we expected and so we don’t see the new life of promise in answer to our prayers. Remember the Jews, who prayed for and expected a Messiah-conquerer. He did come as was promised, however He came not to conquer their enemies, but their hearts. And many found they couldn’t accept this answer to their prayers. Their long awaited new life came, and they did not recognize it, or Him.

However bad we may think our life is now, however long we think we’ve been waiting for it to get better (or be as good as it once was), we need to have faith that God will bring us a new life, one happier than this. And not one to just answer our immediate prayers and needs, just one child or a temporary healing or a period of peace, but an eternally happy life, measured in love. We can be confident of that because of His love, it has already started. Our God came down to earth, to show us how much He loves us. And even the angels proclaimed the result: “Peace on earth to men of good will.”

Pray for better times? Much of what we desire is already here. All we need pray for is our awareness and participation and thanksgiving as it unfolds in each of our lives. Waiting for a new life? It is already within our hearts. And to ensure we accept those blessings already given us, all we need do is hold out our hand, and trust that even though the road may be rocky, He will guide us to even more than we could desire.

Waiting? That’s okay, our future is not yet here for us. But worrying, that is not okay. Trusting, that’s something we can and must begin to do right now. The Jews waited and worried. But for us Advent is a time of waiting but not worrying; it’s a time for trusting --- for we KNOW what God has done for us already. And it started on Christmas Day, with the coming of the long-awaited One.

Whatever you may think you are waiting for or praying about to improve your life, do you really think it could be better than this Gift which has already been given us? God was given to us in answer to our prayers. And the Holy Spirit was sent to be with us always. The New Life we think we want is already in our hearts, a present waiting to be opened, a Gift from our Father.

Do not be anxious.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Review of New Christmas Books

I just finished reading two books released for the holiday season by authors who seem to be setting themselves up as “Christmas authors,” each having written stories set in the season at least once before. Glenn Beck’s new book, The Snow Angel, follows on his book The Christmas Sweater. Richard Paul Evans new book, Lost December, follows on his books The Christmas List, Finding Noel, The Christmas Box Miracle, and of course the hugely successful The Christmas Box. I liked all of their prior works, and was not surprised to find I liked these two also.

Both of these authors write books that are relatively short (large print, small pages, lots of white space), and have short chapters. Beck’s 270-page book has 18 chapters, and Evan’s 341 page book has 51 chapters. The plots in each are relatively simple and easy to follow, not involving huge numbers of characters or scene changes. The short chapters coupled with the colorful artwork highlighting chapter changes are visually attractive. I believe these books would be ideal Christmas presents for teens or near-teens, who might be prone to short attention spans. If they read at all, the books should hold their interest and, perhaps most importantly, present a moral message to them that comes across loud and clear. They will make young minds think --- most assuredly a good thing. I have already written a dedication on The Snow Angel to my Goddaughter, who will receive it this year.

The dust cover describes The Snow Angel as “a poignant tale about family, forgiveness, and the freedom to live a future free of the past.” The lead character, Rachel suffered an abusive childhood, and then fell into an abusive marriage. She shields her young daughter Lily from the tragic parts of her life, and her father, but the daughter sees and understands, perhaps better than Rachel, what is going on. The story walks through their coming to know that other people care, and that the past doesn’t have to define the future. And at the end, old memories are stirred, in Rachel and in an Alzheimer’s patient at a local nursing home. And both come to realize that there was much good in their past, if only they can remember. And the bad parts were in the past, and they can stay there.

Lost December is a modern tale of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The main character, Luke, leads a blessedly sheltered, yet full life. Working at his father’s business at a very young age he quickly advances to be a very astute manager in his national business chain. After college, Luke plans to take over the business he knows so well, but his father insists he attend graduate school first, to get his advanced degree and “see the world”. And so he goes off to Wharton, living far away from home for the first time. And he is rather quickly taught many things about “the world” which he did not know. Graduating, and with a million dollar trust fund he returns home to tell his father he does not want to return to run his business, but rather to go out and “see the world,” traveling around it with college friends.

Evans goes on to tell the story of Luke’s travels and of his “friends”. Luke learns the ways of the world which he did not previously understand --- and learns that all is not good there. And he also learns that “friends” are not just people you hang around with, but that true friends are few and far between. Luke quickly wastes his money and in the end is broke and homeless. But of course, that is not the end.

Evens tells a very believable tale that reminds young and old alike that life is not just fun and games, nor should it be. And also that the best things you ever receive in this world are the things you work for. And that family, love and loyalty are of most importance.

I would give either of these two books, or both, to someone young or old --- or buy them for myself and just nestle down on the couch near the tree, and enjoy a present to myself this Christmas. I read both of these quick-reads once, but I just may do so again.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Beginnings and Endings

In the Church we celebrate beginnings of things, birthdays and anniversaries, but in our lives we often witness and bear (without much celebration) many endings. I sometimes think, in this matter, that Christ did not fully live a human life as we do today. He missed some of the futility we see, in constantly witnessing endings or downward slides in the whole world, and we even see evidences of our own end to come. It is so easy to see darkness in our days, and the celebrating beginnings from so long ago sometimes seems a forced thing, even a beginning as glorious and miraculous as the birth of our God.

I think our moroseness is magnified by our focus on only those two things, the good of so long ago and the bad we see to come. Endings, death hangs over us like a dark shadow, even when not yet here. Our mind slips so easily to focus on the darkness around us, and we see no way out. Our life seems only destined to endings: our lovely little children grow up and move away, our friends move on, our parents die, and so do our spouses, and dreadfully sometimes even our children. And so must we. It is so easy to be weighed down by the bad things which seem to be everywhere --- aren’t they the only things reported in the news?

What we do not so easily see is: today. Today, in all its glory and mystery, is a wonderful thing. Celebrations of the past and worries of the future absorb us, but today is amazing. Could you even imagine what someone from 10,000 years ago would think about things of today? “You mean you have permanent shelters from the weather --- and even avoid going out into any weather? Why? You mean food is brought to you, any kind of food? Why would you want more than one thing to eat? I own a weapon I made, but you own a WHAT?? Why would you want to own some huge machine, bigger than you are, to move around in? Did your feet stop working? I can’t imagine living in the world you describe, and I can’t imagine why you would want to either!” Today is indeed a day of glory and mystery, in this country in which no one starves, and the poor are those who have smaller televisions (I wouldn’t even begin to explain that to someone from long ago).

We don’t see today and ourselves as we really are. We are like stalks of wheat, in the rich, vast field of mankind. We’re just one of many. Thinking on today, it seems to us that we exist for only three things: 1) To have some part of us, like grains of wheat, used for nourishment of our community, although in truth they gain nourishment from us in ways we don’t fully understand. 2) We exist to have some grains spread on the soil, to create new life. Oh, this new life is not us, but in some strange way it is part of who we are. Who we are today will go on through new life. And we are aware of one other fact, 3) We will die, and fall to earth and again perhaps in some strange way fertilize the growth of others, although we can’t comprehend how this might happen, or even if it will, but it does somehow seem part of what happens in this grain field of mankind. It gives us a little hope that our lives might matter.

We are so foolish in thinking that we know and understand all the things of our lives. Like the wheat, we see only the obvious three outcomes for our lives, but so many things exist which remain unseen to us. Just because we can’t see them does not mean they are not real, but only that they are not seen as material things, and our reality extends beyond the seen --- we don’t fully understand the total reality of our being. The spiritual part of us is unseen.

There is the wind, which lazily brushes us each day, even as the Spirit of God does. Air so part of our surroundings we don’t think of it. Yet its very composition gives us nourishment when we breathe, an event we don’t even think about. And the breeze refreshes us and cools us in ways we don’t really understand. And strangely, even as the breeze moves us, our swaying creates a breeze which moves others. We don’t will it to happen, but our very existence, blocking one breeze creates another breeze. We influence this world by our very existence, in ways we will never understand. There may be some other stalks of grain which lived, only by the blessings of the breeze we created for them. And we’ll never even be aware of it.

Our death, like the breeze we create in living, causes a fertilized soil for others to grow in. Our death also matters and influences other lives in ways we’ll never understand. Both our living and our dying matters in this world, and despite all we think we know, we’ll never understand this spiritual dimension.

It does indeed matter that we lived, and our death is not some dark cloud hanging over our life, it is just part of our life, the fulfillment of this, our life that matters. I think that we are often confused on this subject because we don’t understand life itself. We start, we breathe, we grow, and in some strange way we’ll always continue. It is such a complex thing for a little stalk of wheat to understand.

Yes it is. And that’s where faith comes in, accepting that which we cannot understand, yet all the evidences around us give proofs of its existence. There is a God; there is a spiritual life, a spiritual part of our being.

Somehow we know there is a farmer, nourishing all this grain field, and putting it to best use. We know that weeds exist – the things we worry about, yet somehow they have always been overcome in the past. We look at what is going on in the Church today, in our country, and even in the world. Is the end coming, we wonder? How can these things be made healthy again? Will the weeds choke off all the plants of life, and overcome the beautiful fields of grain?

These things we will not know today. We cannot see the future. But man is blessed with being able to remember the past. The end seemed near many times there, also. But it did not happen. And the Farmer once did appear among us --- it is recorded in our history --- and He promised He would never leave us. He called it the new covenant. The field will always be watched over by Him. We need faith in that promise. If we do indeed see darkness, we need trust that the darkness will only bring rain, water that nourishes us and makes us grow even stronger. Although we cannot, today, imagine how.

Have faith. I have risen and am still with you. Do not lose heart.

There is much to celebrate this Christmas.