Saturday, January 28, 2012

Review: Christian Faith & Human Understanding

The book Christian Faith & Human Understanding is a grouping of nineteen speeches and essays, selected by the well-known philosopher Msgr. Robert Sokolowski, professor at the Catholic University of America. The book may be a difficult read for many Catholics who don’t understand much beyond the two great commandments of love God and neighbor, but for more questioning Catholics it provides some thought-provoking and clearing explanations of Catholic thought, helping us understand WHY we believe what we believe, and how to explain our belief to others. (This is always a vexing thing for me, when Catholics voice their “feelings” about some Church teachings or practices, without ever making any attempt to understand WHY those teachings or practices exist, and surprisingly it seems that some of the worst complainers are among the most intelligent of people, who have every opportunity to learn the truth of things.)

The book’s chapters are grouped into four main headings. Faith and Reason clarifies the distinction between God and the world and discusses the place of philosophy in the Christian faith. The Eucharist and the Holy Trinity section includes discussions on phenomenology, transubstantiation, and the role of the bishop. The third section, The Human Person, is the one I found the most interesting. “A theme pervading this section is the claim that things have their own natures and ends, that is, they have their own intelligibilities, which must be respected by human action, science, and philosophy, and which must not be undermined by religious belief.” Faith and Practical Reasoning, the fourth section, considers how faith can shape reason, and explores the implications of faith and reason in academic life and seminary programs.

I found something new or presented in a new way in most chapters (things I underline in the book), but I found a few things (my double or triple hash-marks in the margins) which caused me to stop and meditate, trying to understand their meaning for me and how I live my life. This is a book to be read in peace and quiet, in a chapel or alone in an easy chair. It is not one which can be read while caring for another (like my mom) or with the television or music on in the background. Given those caveats, I recommend this book for the serious Catholic; it is a wonderful grouping of articles to make you think.

That said, I’ll give you some excerpts, examples of my hash-marked items.

“The flowering of our reason requires the intervention of others; it does not occur by itself. It is not like the growth of our muscles and bones. … By knowing what we cannot grasp on our own – by knowing what we believe, and seeing that we can possess it only by believing it – we become much more aware of what we do know on our own. We become much more aware of and confident in our reason precisely in contrast with our faith. Faith justifies our reason.”

“For Christian understanding, the world exists “contingently,” and it exists as the outcome of a choice made by God.”

“In the Politics Aristotle describes political society as the culmination of human communities. In cities, he says, there are two irreducible parts, the wealthy and the poor, and the shape that political life takes on results from the perennial struggle between these two groups to rule over the whole. When the wealthy rule for their own benefit, the city is an oligarchy; when the poor rule for their own benefit, the city is literally a democracy, a rule by the people or the many, since there normally are more poorer than wealthier members of society. Aristotle says that the best outcome for most people in most places at most times, the practically best form of the city generally, is the republic, the politeia, which is intermediate between oligarchy and democracy. In a republic, a large middle class – middle in both an economic and an ethical sense – is established between the rich and the poor, and the laws and not men rule, and they do so for the benefit of the whole city, not for any particular part.”

“Not everyone is able to distinguish the end from the purpose. There are at least four types of people who are impeded from distinguishing them: the impulsive, the obtuse, the immature, and the vicious. Aristotle says that a young man, because of his impulsiveness and lack of experience, is not an appropriate hearer of lectures on political matters. … Second, we may have become adult enough to establish distinct purposes and to determine steps that lead to them, but we may still be unable to appreciate the presence of other people with their purposes. We permit entry into our awareness only of what we want. We remain unable to see that other people have their viewpoints and needs, that we are not the only agents involved in our situations. To fail to be “objective” in this way is to be what I would like to call “morally obtuse” as opposed to being vicious. … His consciousness does not expand enough to include the perspectives of others, even though he is able to distinguish means and purposes in his own case.”

“To the question “What is natural law?” one can answer very simply: “Natural law is the ontological priority of ends over purposes.” Natural law is shown to us when we recognize that there are ends in things and that our purposes and choices must respect their priority. … For example, the ends built into human nourishment must be seen to govern the way we eat, and the ends built into human sexuality must be seen to govern the way we live with our sexuality. In both of these powers, we ought not to be governed by what we simply want and the purposes we set for ourselves; we must differentiate between what we want and the reality and the telos of the thing we are dealing with.”

“There is one very significant distinction that very much needs to be made in our present situation, both in the Church and in society…. It is the distinction between thinking and speaking rhetorically and thinking and speaking philosophically. Far too much discourse is simply rhetorical, even when the speakers pretend to be giving an analysis. Far too often people think they are presenting the truth of things, or they pretend to be presenting the truth of things, when they really are arguing, and arguing rather emotionally, for their own point of view. The very grasp of this distinction is a tremendously important thing. … It gives us hope that there is something like the truth of things that can rescue us in a complicated and confusing situation.”

Have I confused you enough? I hope not. Not everything that is ultimately very simple, can be explained simply. It becomes simple only when we understand all the facts and implications, and meditate on them, until our heart sees their beauty.

I found some things of beauty in this book.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Moving On

You are our hope and our strength, in You we trust --- may we never despair.
From the Intercessions of Week III, Liturgy of the Hours

My friend is finally out of the hospital (and ICU) where she has resided for nearly two months, finally moving to a specialty hospital near her home for further recovery.


She still breathes with mechanical assistance, and is nourished through a feeding tube. The specialty hospital is to strengthen her and wean her from these assists, and hopefully begin her walking again. I saw some of the hospital staff plying their skills this first full day there, as they sat my friend up on the edge of the bed and her feet (at long last) touched the floor again --- and it felt strange and scary to her at first, but then she smiled. Progress!

I’ve written before about how our life’s journey is like floating down a stream, toward the ocean of God’s eternal love. Sometimes we float slowly and seem to make no progress and sometimes changes happen so rapidly we can’t catch our breath. Sometimes we find a comfortable place along the shore, and wish we could never leave, but we must. Sometimes the smooth waters become as rapids, and we bounce from rock to rock, and they hurt and we are fearful. Will the pain never end? And sometimes it seems like we are stuck on an island, and life passes us by, and as the months and years continue unchanging we think we’ll never be happy again, always alone, stranded while others go by happy in the current of their lives.

But even as Jesus rescued mankind a couple of thousand years ago, He rescues individuals even today. He said: “I’ll always be with you.” He meant He’d always be with YOU, whenever you need Him. In your trials, in your fears He will be with you, perhaps to work miracles to end your pains and fears --- He can, you know --- or perhaps just to be present to hold your hand, as I did today with my friend.

The fears of today become the memories of yesterday, only a strange thing happens in the transition. Just as Jesus helped us bear our pains, He helps us bear our memories. Unless we really want to cling to them, He makes them fade, like old photographs. The pains don’t hurt as much, and we don’t recall them as often. And life goes on, moving on down the stream. And as long as we remain in this life, we can look forward to the ocean of heaven which lies ahead.

When we get caught on the rocks and pains of this life, it’s easy to forget in the moment where we’re going. It’s like we’re headed West toward the Pacific Ocean, but when we’re lost in St. Louis and about to crash into the Arch, we’re not thinking about the salty waters of our destination, but instead the possibility of spilt blood --- ours! It’s easy to panic sometimes, especially when we don’t see a way past a disaster. But that’s because we can’t see the future, we can’t know what’s downstream, only He can.

My friend’s long illnesses caused much panic, in her and in her family. And when her health stabilized recently to where she could move on to further recovery, she and her family remained in that panic mode, caught in the recent memory of pains and life-threatening ailments. Move on?? They thought: What if something happens ---- again? Can I go to the hospital near my home to further recover, she and her family considered, or should I stay near these expert doctors, in case …….? For a moment, the raging waters she had recently faced were all calm around her, but she feared moving, afraid of where the current might take her again.

I tried to offer calming words and confidence in either of the two locations she was considering, near the ICU room she was in, or near her home. Finally I held out a Divine Mercy prayer card, with the picture of Jesus on the front, and showed it to my friend. She read the words at the bottom of the picture: Jesus, I trust in You. I told her I prayed that prayer this morning, and every day. Did she agree with that prayer, I asked? She nodded. Then just make a decision to move on, I said, whichever hospital you choose will work out well, if you trust in Him. But still, in fear, she couldn’t make the decision.

While she napped, exhausted by her body’s weakness and drugs --- and worry, word came that a room was now available at the hospital near her home. The family called and told me they were taking it; I concurred, but I was one in the hospital room, alone, to tell her. When she woke I told her where she would be transported to very shortly. “Why?” she wrote on the notepad in front of her. I think she was expecting me to say that I chose that hospital for her --- I had threatened to do just that if she continued indecisive. Instead, I picked up the prayer card, and pointing to the words: Jesus, I Trust in You, said: “He decided. You were physically ready to move on and He made a bed available in your hometown hospital. I didn’t have to choose for you; He did.” And her fears about the decision vanished, and she wrote no more words about it. The 2-hour ambulance ride was uneventful.

I wrote about the progress she has made in this first day at the hospital, her new temporary home. And despite her fears, she smiled many times today. But it was at the end of my time with her when I pointed out the window of her room and told her what a beautiful view was there that she nodded. And then she wrote on her notepad for me to read: “Yes, I’m glad I decided to come here.” All her fears of coming here were forgotten.

God helps us move on, past all our fears and our pains, even if we are not aware He is the one doing so.

Do Not Be Anxious.

Transcribed this 25th day of January 2012, the feast day commemorating the Conversion of St. Paul. It’s a fitting day to consider these thoughts of my friend and the feast day’s reminder that even when all seems beyond hope, God can do anything. Imagine what the people said after Paul’s conversion: How and WHY can this be? They could never know or understand the great plans God had.

My friend’s recovery thus far seems almost like a miracle; certainly I never expected her to survive as she has. If I were to hear she died at this moment, the reason for all her pains and sufferings, like Paul’s conversion, I know will perplex me, but I also know they will have served some great purpose which I never will be able to understand --- in this life. But my understanding matters not.

Jesus, I trust in You.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Filtering The Noise

“And we pray, Lord, that we might listen to You and not to others.”

It was a simple prayer the priest voiced, and perhaps had I not recently been thinking about hearing His call, I might not have heard what He said. So often it seems I am deaf to Him.

I’ve been thinking about praying and how to distinguish the call of God, if He should speak to me, but note the words of the priest’s prayer: he said no IF God speaks to me. He said the Lord IS speaking to me, and I should listen. But if that is true, then how come I can’t hear Him speaking, at least sometimes? Ah, then there is the second part of the priest’s prayer: “And not listen to others.” I don’t hear Him because I am listening to others, because I like what they have to say.

The fact is that we are bombarded with people speaking to us all the time, and we can’t help but listen to them. And we should listen to them, for surely God often uses others, their words and their actions, to speak to us. But if His words are in this noise which reaches us continually, how do we filter out the less essential stuff, and hear Him?

I think a simple filter for most of us might be to ask: These words and actions I hear and see, do I want them for me, for my benefit? Remember the prayer: “Not my will but Thy will be done, O Lord?” Implied but not said in that prayer is the fact that it is WE who must do something with ourselves; we are doing our will or His. We must stop filtering the world around us looking for things we want to do, our will for ourselves, and instead find what we and God would have us do, for others.

The advertisements of television and radio appeal to things we want. “Buy this and you’ll be happy.” Our friends also appeal to things we want so that we will appreciate them in return: “Let’s go play, or go to the mall or to the movies. Let’s have fun together.” And even among the more noble and virtuous words we hear from others: “Let’s give to the poor; come to this prayer meeting, or give your life to Jesus,” we hear the good words but then filter them to hear what they will mean for us and what we want: “Others may like me more if I do these things, and perhaps even God will!”

We filter so much of this world around us and think: “What’s in it for me?”

Consolations and rewards and simple “Thank you’s” really are good things and we should try to do things to deserve to hear them said to us, but the good we feel as a result of hearing these words said to us shouldn’t be a pride-like good feeling, “They acknowledge how great I am,” but rather an accomplishment feeling: “For all the times I screwed up, perhaps I got that one right, as You would wish me to do it. Thank you, Lord, for Your help.”

If we filter the world around us with the thought “Could this be God calling to me,” rather than “Is this what I want,” I believe we will be on a path to more often hearing --- and answering --- His call. If we look at the television ads and truthfully ask: “I wonder if God’s telling me to buy ANOTHER pair of shoes” or “Is God telling me to eat more French fries,” then we will be able to know with some confidence if it is His call. There are many things He would call us to say or do (or sometimes even buy) if we listen correctly.

Perhaps we might worry about God calling us to be “too holy.” But God doesn’t call us all to do priest-like things all the time (even priests!), especially if we have a family or other life commitments at this time. But He does call us to do some things each day, because He loves us and has a unique purpose for each of us, for exactly where we are now in our life.

And if we can but listen, perhaps we’ll even hear those words of praise (we so love) from someone and not think, like Little Jack Horner: “What a good boy am I,” but rather: “I heard God speaking those words to me through that person. And He told me He is pleased.”

Having God say “thank you” to us, isn’t that grand? If we are naturally inclined to seek the things we want in this life, shouldn’t we want that most of all?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Where Am I Going?

Scripture tells us that God called Samuel in the night three times, and three times Samuel thought it was someone else calling. Finally Eli, who slept nearby said: “It is God calling.” And when he heard the call again, Samuel said: “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”

In explaining the reading, the priest at mass mentioned the call the Holy Spirit makes to each of us, and our own deafness or wrong interpretations of that call. We may have received the sacrament of Confirmation, to be open to the call of the Holy Spirit, but then the world called also. And “God’s calling us” suddenly didn’t enter into our minds anymore.

And the priest also mentioned that Eli was nearly blind, and Samuel cared for him (God calling to caregivers??!). That caught my attention. I think of my prayers to God at mass or in my visits to the chapel, and I know He DOES speak to me there in answer, but does He speak to me in my sleep or in my daily activities? Intellectually and faithfully I know He is there with me, but in truth I often don’t think of Him when I hear another’s voice, as Samuel did. When I hear a voice telling me something, I look at the speaker and consider what they said or want, but I rarely consider: “could this be the voice of God speaking to me through them?”

As I go through my daily life, how often do I really say: “Speak Lord, your servant is listening,” and then listen? Do I consider fully enough that God’s answer to my prayers may be through that friend, or through that professional person, or even through that stranger? Or do I too often answer my own prayers, hearing the “thoughts” of friends, professionals and those I treat as strangers, and then saying: “That’s what you think, well here’s what I think,” and then go merrily on my way, thinking God didn’t answer my prayer, so I’ll have to do this myself. Alone.

God called Samuel four times! That’s the key point of that lesson. God calls us persistently. Confirmation is a sacrament bestowed on Catholics at about the age 13. It is supposed to be an initiation into the work of the Holy Spirit. It says, in effect, you learned thus far to listen to the voice of your parents, and they taught you well, now BEGIN to listen to the voice of God, for there is much more to learn.

I think many people treat sacraments like Confirmation as an event, a thing that happened and then is over and done with. But sacraments are really initiations, doors being opened to something new. They are just the start of something, something big and life changing. To receive a sacrament as an event is like receiving a car and putting it in the driveway, never to be used. What value would that be? Like a car, sacraments can open whole new areas to your life, if you use them properly.

Catholics receive Confirmation, and Protestants commit their life to Jesus; they are similar blessings and commitments, but they shouldn’t be just events. God’s continual calls to us can be like a map placed before us; distant cities are there to be reached, with confidence, if we follow. But when we first commitment to our faith life we are like an infant, and so a map in front of us means nothing. We must grow. Fortunately, when we receive Confirmation or commit our life to Christ we are grown enough physically to begin to take part in our own education, and discover what God’s call and our commitment to hear it means to us. Our parents’ teachings drift seamlessly into our own self-learning. One of the first commitments we make ourselves, as young adults, is to learn about God. It is a crucial part of our education in life, because it is the reason we have life at all. And we naturally yearn for God, even if we can’t express it (Ps 42).

We are each made with a purpose, like no one else. Each of us has a different map for his life, a road God has equipped us to follow. Reading our map takes lessons, to learn how to interpret its signals and symbols, and to hear the instructions from the Mapmaker.

We learn how to live our life well, as intended, if we continue to learn --- all our life --- about God. We made that commitment when we received Confirmation or committed our life to Christ. But for many of us the world got in the way, and we chose life routes not on our map. Fortunately, we have our whole life to reach our destination, our heavenly home at the end, and it is never too late to get back on the course, or even to begin like infants again, to learn how to read, to hear, and to interpret the route laid out before us. For no matter what route we may have gotten lost on, God lays out detour signs to direct us back to the right way. He calls, through friends, through professionals, through saints and even strangers. He calls. And we begin to turn our car in the right direction when we say, like Samuel, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”

All our life we are meant to make progress toward our destination. Our education in how to read our map comes from Scripture, Jesus Himself, and from His speaking to us through others. Read the words of saints and scripture scholars, the recognized experts in reading the map of life, but also be open to His personal call to you in the night.

Growing in holiness is a life’s journey, not an event. “This is eternal life: to know You, the One true God, and Jesus whom You have sent” (Mt 17:3). Fortunately, each of us has the same destination on our maps, and many of the routes to get there are common to us all, so often we can travel together. Come, let us go, enjoying the scenery and each others' company. Perhaps I’ve been down that route you are about to take, and I can explain its hazards --- or even a shortcut. We have much to learn from each other along the way. But let us get started. Let’s listen for the Mapmaker, and His directions.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

What Price Glory?

Retirement? Usefulness? Alone; forgotten. What value all my work? All forget. Why did I exist?
• Does it matter if I go on? Who benefits from my suffering? Should I abandon friends, as they do me?
• All the accomplishments, all the lauds --- gone.

Tonight I meditated on the Sorrowful Mysteries, and when I came to the third mystery, The Crowning With Thorns, I read the above lines for meditation, and more. My thoughts drifted, as always, between Christ’s life and sorrows, and mine. But tonight they swayed more toward mine, and stayed there.

When I retired my life changed. My life’s focus changed, from caring for my employer’s company, to caring for my mom. Certainly, I am sure, my focus now is more rewarding in God’s eyes --- all caring for others is, and especially for our parents. It’s what Jesus’ “job” on earth was, caring for others. And there are many days when I appreciate my new retirement job, and my blessings.

But not always.

If you’ve led a successful career, whether in the eyes of others, or even if just in your own eyes, how do you step away from that focus and not miss it, and not feel less useful? How do generals retire, and wake up with no army saluting them? How do mothers retire and wake up to no sounds of children in the house? How do you not hear the quiet?

I think perhaps like the rich man, a successful person also has some difficulty getting into heaven. Success in this life makes you enjoy it too much, seek the glory given by others too much, even if it’s only from your children (and then, even if only sometimes). Many of us, myself included, are used to saying: “Life is good,” because so often it has been good for us. We appreciate its goodness, and even give thanks to God, that we are blessed here.

But we were not born to be blessed here. We were not born to receive praise and glory here. We were not born to live only here.

How easily we forget those things, and even before we leave this life, begin missing it.

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately with a friend’s mother, who is very ill in the hospital. Recently out of the ICU --- finally --- she faces a long road to recovery, to whatever life she will be capable of, to the degree her body can heal. I was told tonight that I was a major factor in her recovery thus far, that someone’s presence there mattered very much to her. And I’m sure it did.

But then I read those meditations tonight and remembered. Once there were praises, accomplishments, lauds. Now I am a “presence”. A warm body to indicate to another, that “someone” cares. I’ve been that warm body to a number of friends, and in truth often that is all I am to my mother, a presence she wants, and sometimes needs. But there’s no applause anymore. It’s so quiet. I know that the other day I wrote about the importance of those who are there for another, the job they do, even the one I do, and these people cannot be lauded enough. But they aren’t, and there’s the rub. It’s a hard job to do, and probably most people don’t have the guts to do it, to really love their neighbor --- unless they get something back, some applause, some lauds.

I guess it’s fortunate that I have these thoughts, and write them tonight, in a chapel. As I write, musing on my self-pity, wondering how to conclude this melancholy note of my thoughts, I looked up and saw the tabernacle. And I heard the quiet here. For hours now, it’s been just He and I alone, me in my prayers -- and then sorrows -- and He in His “presence,” just a presence with me, who needed someone there with him this night.

I wallowed in some level of self-pity about ONLY being a presence, but that is what Jesus is to me. And I very much do appreciate the importance of my knowing that He is there. He doesn’t have to work miracles for me each day, all He needs do is listen to my prayers (or moanings), He doesn’t even have to answer. I am content, deeply content, knowing that he is present with me. His “presence” is important.

Thank You, Lord.

I guess I’ve moved on past my self-pity, thinking I have no value. St. Francis, who often prayed alone, Mother Teresa who helped the dying on dirty smelly streets as others walked by, and God here this night in this chapel, they were present for others when no one else would be. They received no applause and little recognition, but they did and still do some of the most important work in the world, God’s work.

I am humbled to be able to serve, to be and instrument of His peace. I and every other person on this earth are important, as part of this body and family of God. There is no greater glory in this life.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

On Being Led

As with gladness men of old,
Did the guiding star behold,
As with joy they hailed its light,
Leading onwards, beaming bright,
So, most gracious God, may we
Evermore be led to thee

Today, Sunday January 8, 2012, is the feast of the Epiphany, recalling the star in the sky, and the Three Kings who followed it. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy (Mt 2:10). This event, like many others, is called a theophony, a manifestation of God’s power and presence, perceived by all. There have been many theophonies in Scripture, the parting of the Red Sea, wine turned into water and other miracles of Jesus, and more recently the miracle of the sun at Fatima. Believers and non-believers saw these things. They happened.

Reading those opening lines (above) of the Evening Prayer Hymn, I recalled that visible miracle of the star, but in reading the words tonight, my mind’s eye read something other than the written words. I read the last lines as being: “So most gracious God, may we evermore be led BY thee.”

Then I realized my mistake.

I often pray to know God’s will, and to be led BY Him, but the words of the hymn spoke of being led TO Him, as the Magi were that night long ago. And I pondered the difference in those words I had thought and read.

A friend wrote to me last night about her son, who believed that he need not pray daily to God, since God expects us to use the talents He gave us to live out our daily lives. She asked for words or references to explain the importance of daily prayer to him. I responded (in much too much length, I’m afraid) that he was right about needing to use the talents we were blessed with, but confused on why we should pray. Only rarely should we pray for God to do miraculous things, theophonies, in the world, but rather daily we should pray that when WE do things, we do them in alignment with His will (which is the way I first read the words of the hymn, “to be led BY thee.”). As her son stated correctly, God expects us to use our talents each day, but our talents by themselves are not enough to know WHAT we should do, since we face so many choices. Our first choice should be to do what He would will us to do, as if He were here doing it Himself. We are to be His instruments in this world, living as He showed us how to live. So to clarify what we should do, our daily prayer should be for Wisdom, to know His will, that we might do it.

But as I said, I initially read that line of the hymn wrong. I read it that we should be led by Him, as I believed true. But the hymn is more basic: it says that before I can be led BY Him, I (like the Magi) must first be led TO Him. You can’t begin to live like Him until you first find Him.

With the Magi a miracle occurred, and because they could see the theophony of the star, they believed, but blessed are they “who believe without seeing.” Faith is believing without seeing, and like the star, it too is a miracle, but one that is not seen like the star but no less important. We can’t really follow Jesus unless we believe He is here, now, with us each day. He’s not a God who came in time and worked miracles we can only read about in the Bible. We need the faith that He is a God who can work miracles in our hearts, today, that He can clarify how we should use our talents.

I have a friend who is likely dying. I believe she thinks about and speaks to Jesus each day. Is that what it takes before we do the same?

Holy Jesus, every day
Keep us in the narrow way;
And, when earthly things are past,
Bring our ransomed souls at last
Where they need no star to guide,
Where no clouds thy glory hide.

In the heavenly country bright
Need they no created light,
Thou its light, in joy, its crown,
Thou its sun which goes not down;
There for ever may we sing
Alleluias to our king.

The Wise Men found Him and laid treasures at His feet. If we are blessed to search for and find Him, what will we lay at His feet? Might I suggest our will, that we might follow where He would lead us?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

I Gotta Tell Ya This

There are so many serious things happening in my life lately, and then this happens:

Mom and I are watching the Rocky and Bullwinkle show when, in the same episode: Boris Badenov steals the Kirwood Derby (which makes you supremely intelligent), and then Gidney and Floyd (the moon men) decide not to scrootch him with their scrootch gun. Then Boris says: “Nya-Ha-Ha! Now I’ll put on the derby and figure out how to control the world!!” And he puts on the derby, pauses, and then says: “You know, it really is stupid of me to be such a no goodnik. Everyone hates me. I should be a nicer guy.” And Natasha screams: “What!!” and throws the hat away.

And meanwhile the scene flips to an office door, with the words: “Rocket J. Squirrel, Congressman” on it. And outside the door are two guys with big guns, one wants to shoot him because of what he did, and the other for what he didn’t do. And one says: “I don’t know how we elected a squirrel in the first place.” And the other answers: “It just seemed a matter of time, with so many nuts in Washington, that a squirrel would show up!”

Ah, yes. Shows so old that they are new, and jokes so timeless that they never stop being funny (or true.)

I just had to tell you this.

But now I gotta go, Dudley-Do-Right is coming on.

(Hope you have a good weekend!)

Friday, January 6, 2012

Want A Job?

I first met AnnaMarie when she walked into the ICU room, two days ago.

My friend has been in intensive care now for so many days, I’ve lost track of the number, but certainly it’s been most of last month, and this month to date. She’s battled one infection or organ failure or bleeding or mystery problem after another, and has been successful in knocking out some of those problems entirely, major battle victories --- but the war remains in doubt. It’s as if the guns of the enemy have gone silent, and you want to cheer out loud, but then you look around and see all your wounded and dying, and see that you have very little ammunition left, and you realize that if the enemy does not give up now, all your victories-to-date may have been for nothing. It was into this type of tired, worn, scarred and scared battlefield that AnnaMarie walked --- with a big smile on her face.

AnnaMarie is a physical therapist. During my friend’s many days of battle, her body (and mind) was so totally engaged in the fight that distractions such as physical therapy were simply not possible. If nothing else, the many types of pains she endured would preclude the effort. But two days ago AnnaMarie entered the room and announced that “Today we are going to do some exercises to help make you stronger!” Not surprisingly my friend looked at her as if she were somewhat insane, and with a strength no one thought this wounded soldier had, she emphatically shook her head from side to side. No!!! The tubes from her mouth and nose shook (and probably those from other orifices as well). This battle veteran was not in for any “fun” today. But she hadn’t met AnnaMarie before that day either.

With her energy resources so totally drained that it was a struggle to breathe, even with the respirator’s help, I tended to agree with my friend that she was in no condition to exercise, but AnnaMarie persisted. “The only way you will get all those tubes out is to make your body stronger --- everywhere. You need to get strong enough to breathe, to swallow, to eat, and then to walk. It’s going to take work, but you’ve got to start.” Certainly AnnaMarie’s logic made sense, and so I took a whiteboard and wrote out some supporting words to my friend. After reading them, however, the same head shaking occurred --- although perhaps a bit less vehement. We persisted, stressing the need to take steps to get out of here. AnnaMarie said that if she felt any pains, pain medicines would be provided, and she wouldn’t work too hard this first day, but we MUST start. Again the shaking of the head. Then I wrote on the board: “Look, if she hurts you, I’ll punch her out. Let’s try it anyway.” That got a smile, and shortly afterward a nod to proceed. Little did she know what she was agreeing to.

AnnaMarie said: “Well, we can’t really exercise well with you lying there, so you’ll have to sit up.” Sit up? She could barely raise her head or arm; that seemed out of the question, but as AnnaMarie explained, laughing, well the bed will do most of the work. And then with some soft whirrs, the bed transformed into a chair-like position. My friend looked very distressed at assuming the posture she had not been in for a month or more, but when questioned admitted she was not in pain, but only something we could describe as “uncomfortable” for her to nod to. So while in the bed-chair, leg lifts and arm lifts were slowly done, up and down, side to side, push out and pull in, exercising long unused muscles. And perhaps breathing a bit harder, and exercising those muscles, too. At the end of the routine my friend raised her legs again, wanting more. And when she was again laid supine in the bed, she began a routine of lifting and pulling her arms herself. Success!

Yesterday, AnnaMarie came in all smiles again. Ready? This time her question was answered with a quick nod. But there was another surprise waiting as AnnaMarie said: “Sitting up was good, but we need to get you out of that bed.” My friend looked at me and, without being able to say it, had a facial expression which seemed to say: “Is this lady nuts?” But with the help of a ceiling hoist, my friend did sit in a wheelchair yesterday, and performed even more strenuous exercises, some self-initiated. And with a little help from some of my goofier written comments, smiled often through the work. When the half hour routine was over, she motioned she wished to remain in the chair, and repeated all the exercises for another 45 minutes. Today she was put into the chair again, and would be spending an even longer time in the chair. AnnaMarie was enthusiastic about how my friend exceeded her (and all the doctors’) expectations. And my friend’s daughter cried with happiness.

Next week my friend is (finally) supposed to get the hated respirator tube out of her mouth, to be replaced by a tracheotomy. Weeks of strengthening lie ahead, along with huge numbers of risks. She may never leave the hospital alive; the war may yet be lost. But today she was happily exercising, and fighting. I wrote some notes to her about how her and God and I are fighting here, and she nodded. I think she realizes that as long as we have life, we have to fight to live it well.

I think a couple of days ago my friend had won a number of battles, but attempting to cheer her up over the victories brought little signs of happiness. She seemed to worry that more of the same battles were coming, and she had no more strength left to fight. But a cheerful woman named AnnaMarie changed the ground rules for the battle; she helped rally my friend to get up and fight on, when she felt she had no fight left. One person, dedicated to making a difference, renewed my friends fight for life, and enjoyment with life. One person.

If you have read this far, you probably forgot the title of this blog posting: “Want a Job?” No, AnnaMarie isn’t quitting, but I had to tell her story to explain where the title came from. From one point of view, AnnaMarie didn’t do anything remarkable, with a little training (okay, perhaps a LOT of training) you or I could do the same. And any idiot could write the few encouraging funny words to break the frozen ice of a dark mood, as I did. But not anyone does. It takes someone to get out and decide to do it, to make it happen. Living around the ICU these weeks has made me realize how many people there are who do not have a cheerleader for them, someone who will take the time to encourage them to not give up, and to encourage them to think about God, in their plight --- and in His. In short, what many people in illness or depression need is someone to love them, to show them that someone thinks them important enough that they will spend some time with them.

If you ARE looking for a job, I hope you saw the point I was trying to make, that there are many jobs waiting to be done, just perhaps not the ones you are looking for. This afternoon a friend called me and we talked about what I and my very sick friend have been going through. The caller said to me: “Who would have guessed, you with all your business and analytical talents would be called by God to be a comforter to His sick children.” Who would have guessed, indeed. I certainly never foresaw this in my career path. But can you see it in yours? Circumstances forced me to choose early retirement, and I found a new career helping others (including my own mother). If you are in your fifties or sixties and not content to retire, but are mailing out tons of resumes (and attending a few interviews) with little success, perhaps you need to be open to a different job.

You may be mailing out resumes in hopes that someone will call and say: “I want you.” Your desire for this sign of being wanted, is just a form of your wanting love. That’s what love is, recognizing the value of someone. Jesus gave out lots of love to others, and then got lots of love in return. There are a billion people in this world today who profess to love Him, and it started with His love of some hundreds. Don’t you see, that to be loved you have to GIVE love first. You want a job? Well, take a job first. Fill one of the many positions available for people who want to care for the old and the ill, the least of His children. Give yourself this job, and perhaps other offers will pour in --- God does reward His children.

But then again, once you do this job, perhaps you might want no other. I have had a radical career path change, and the pay isn’t as rewarding in the last one, at least not monetarily. But if you are unemployed and sitting home doing nothing, you aren’t exactly raking in the dough anyway. There are lots of openings for jobs like the one I am engaged in, and perhaps I am taking the pay “in-kind” for now, in the smiles and hugs and thank you’s. But perhaps this is exactly the job I needed to get the ultimate pay, a major “deferred benefit” payment.

There are openings for this sort of work, you know. Want a Job? REALLY want a job?

I gave AnnaMarie a little prayer card when I saw her this morning. It was the prayer of St. Francis, you know, the one which starts out: “Make me an instrument of Your peace.” I told AnnaMarie that I thought of her when I said the prayer this morning. All the things I prayed which I might do, “bring faith where once there was doubt, hope for despair, light where there was darkness, and joy to replace sadness,” I realized she was doing. I prayed to be an instrument of His peace, and today I saw one of His instruments in front of me.

There are more openings.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

At The Stroke of Midnight

The last one arrived shortly before midnight. Now there were twelve. Somehow that seemed an appropriate number to be before Our Lord this New Year’s Eve.

I remember Christmas Eve, a week ago, when the numbers were fewer. Midnight at Christmas morn some were celebrating the arrival of Our Savior, His birthday, but more are here this night. I wonder: Are they celebrating the dawn of a new year, or the ending of the old? Or are they celebrating at all? Are they praying about the end of a year of trial, like me, and expressing hope for the future? Why is it important that they take this time to be in the presence of their God?

At the stroke of midnight, most were on their knees. Some were older (and I had seen them in the chapel before). Most, however, were younger, including some couples. The sight of them gave me hope, hope for the future. Even as I worry about the past and wonder about the future for myself and those I love, I can see that the future for God and His Church is promising. It’s good that my thought went there. I need hope. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in myself and my immediate concerns, but I am not present on this earth only for myself. Even as the young people present this night give me hope, we are all called to be witnesses to Hope, to everyone we meet. So, as St. Paul says, we can proclaim to others “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” We are here to give hope to others, to be His presence, in our life, and even in our death.

People continued to come and go during my entire adoration time. I am happy for Our Lord, that so many wanted to spend time with Him. (Or with thoughts of His Mother, whose feast day is January 1?) I felt as if my family were gathering with me tonight, here in prayer.

And at the stroke of midnight I was meditating on the Glorious Mysteries of the rosary, and read these words:

I am never alone for You are one with me.
I will be with you always, even to the end.
• Lord, I need You with me, by myself I am so weak.
• Spirit of Wisdom, guide me.
• Love come to me, that I might be love to others.
• Lord, You know that I love You.
• Yea though I walk through the valley … I shall not fear for You are with me.

My Jesus, Who so loved me, Who I so love, I trust in You.