Saturday, April 28, 2012

Good Readings This Month

You know to say that I am a large reader of books, magazines and papers is to make a conservative statement.  I devour huge quantities of printed material each month.  Therefore when something REALLY strikes me, it is a “one in a large amount” kind of thing.  And that is what happened this month within two magazines to which I subscribe.
First Things, a magazine which I felt declined in quality with the death last year of its publisher, Fr. Richard Neuhaus, has put out a wonderful, interesting, and very informative May issue.  It had a number of very well-done articles, one of which is titled Liberalism After Liberalism by Wilfred M. McClay and is available in its entirety online here.
In talking about the new liberalism, the article includes such lines as:
 “The idea that there should be some connection between one’s own exertions and one’s own rewards (is) not only … sundered but rendered outmoded and meaningless.”
 “… calling liberalism the “supreme” form of generosity goes much too far. No one would say, “Greater love hath no man than that he tolerate the errant politics of his weaker neighbor.”
 Another striking article in First Things is the one by Mark Bauerlein, titled:  My Failed Atheism.  Mr. Bauerlein became an atheist as a teenager, and grew stronger in his convictions and defense of atheism as he matured.  He is a very intelligent man with very logical arguments and effectively defended atheistic views until he reached his fifties ---- then he read the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Mr. Bauerlein is now in an RCIA program.  
 I had just finished reading his moving story when I picked up my latest issue of The Sower Review.  The Sower Review is a quarterly magazine which “serves today’s catechetical leaders” and is put out by the Maryvale Institute in Birmingham, United Kingdom and the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio.  The two lead articles in its latest edition are titled “Faith in the Catechism of the Catholic Church” and “A Catechesis for the New Evangelization”.  The former article points to the Catechism as an effective on-the-shelf method for evangelization in this year of the New Evangelization, and seems to almost have been written in conjunction with Mr Bauerlein’s article in First Things, as if to say:  “See, here’s an example of how it could work.” 
 The latter article in The Sower outlines some new creative ways to re-propose the truth of Christ.  It mentioned things such as television commercials and parishioners going door to door to invite absent brothers and sisters to return to the Sacraments.  I have witnessed (in the diocese of Phoenix) and read about the effectiveness of these techniques, but the article goes much beyond.  The article outlines the USCCB National Directory for Catechesis five steps in the process of evangelization, and the importance of personal dialogue and relationship.  If we are to be serious in this coming year about evangelization, about beginning to change our culture, WE NEED TO BEGIN.  These articles not only showed how to begin, but the importance and effectiveness of beginning.
 I’d encourage you to try to find a copy of these magazines at your parish or Catholic bookstore.  They are serious reading, for a serious topic, in these serious times.  I always proclaim with this blog:  Do Not Be Anxious, but that does not mean for you to sit back and do nothing.

Good Times at 94

It was mom’s (and grandma’s) 94th birthday this week, and her three nieces again came into town for the celebration.  Although Florence and Rose promised to bring some of the Arizona warmth (it hit 100 already), what came was Anne’s Idaho cold weather.  No matter, a good time was had by all.  The picture shows mom, Anne (the nurse, as mom always says), and my Goddaughter Rose; Florence was busy taking her own pictures ---- which she promised to send to me (hint-hint).
Grandma got some new t-shirts, a dress and sweater, blankets and socks --- all in purple, her favorite color, and a new large clock which now hangs on the wall behind the television so she can see the time easier (and not ask me every ten minutes).  She was very alert, especially on her birthday, and actively sought to engage her granddaughters in conversation all evening.  And the girls did not think it tedious when grandma asked for about the fifth time how many kids each had, nor take exception when she asked if Florence (who will turn some magical not-to-be-named round number this year) had graduated from high school yet (we all said no!).      
And each night we went back to my house and played cards until late at night (my East-coast time).   And we drank too much, ate too much, and laughed too much.  Mea culpa.  And it was all too soon over, and they left for home and their kids and probably frazzled husbands.  Good times to be remembered, when times are not so good.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

What Do You Think?

After 400 years the Red Sea wipes out Egypt’s army, and the evils of slavery ended for the Jews, finally, and they would not come back --- at least in that form.  What, I wonder, did the Jews think then?
For us, the horrible job, or the horrible period without a job, or perhaps long years of suffering, they all eventually end.  And what do we think?
A spouse, a child, a parent, suffers for months or even years, a pain you would die to make go away, and suddenly the time of seemingly never-ending pain is over.  What do you think then?
When a long misery in your life ends, what do you think?
Relief?  Peace?  Thankfulness to God?  Worry about what’s next --- perhaps, more pain?  What do you think?
Those Jews who were saved from the Egyptian slavery will see even more miracles happen for them:  manna from the sky, water from rocks, and birds landing for them every night; blessing after blessing.  Then, what did they think?
The crowd didn’t, but the apostles knew that He had fed 5,000 from those few loaves of bread.  They KNEW a miracle had happened.  What did they think at that moment?
The gospel today tells how Jesus came back and appeared to the apostles, as He said would, and it so upsets them that they think He is a ghost.  And so He eats with them and explains Scripture to them as He did before.  He had told them that He would rise after the third day, but still …. miracles, even when prayed for or even expected, are hard to believe.  And we don’t know what to think about them.
We like to think we are in control of our lives.  That’s why when bad things happen we sometimes blame ourselves, as if we could have or should have prevented them.  And sometimes good things surprise us, because we KNOW we didn’t make them happen; they were beyond our control.
We so much want to be in control, of everything, the bad and the good.  And when we can’t control them we pray to God, asking Him to end the bad or bring on the good.  If we can’t control everything, by our prayers, we want to control the God who DOES control everything.
But that’s not how our relationship with God works.  He is in control, not us.  He doesn’t assist us with what we want; we are to assist Him with what He wants.  That’s what praying that His will be done means, that we are able to help do it, that we are privileged to be His servants.  And that IS a privilege!
You see, despite how much we wish to be in control of our destiny, when we ARE in control we often screw things up.  We make bad things worse and don’t appreciate good things when they happen --- not only for ourselves, but also for God.  We often do the things He wishes us not to do.  We sin.  As His servants, we are not very good, nor loyal.  That’s why it is a privilege that we still are His servants; because for the most part, we are not very good ones.
We are fortunate that He weighs heavily that we intend to do good, that we want to love Him, and that we want to do His will even if --- like the father of the Prodigal Son --- He has to wait for us.
When times are bad or when times are good, He waits for us.  And we don’t know what to think about that.  We can never appreciate the love He has for us.  Always.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Value of Suffering

My friend, Barb, was laid to rest yesterday, and her life celebrated by family and friends. As I thought on her recent long and painful death and the struggles of her daughter to lovingly care for her, I tried to make sense of its sudden end this past Friday.

As Barb’s personal struggles went from obtaining healing to accepting death, my prayer focus went from “My Jesus, I trust in You” to “Lord, have mercy.” And I think I noticed for the first time how often we respond during mass with “Have mercy on us,” for which I was substituting, “Have mercy on her.” But despite my daily prayers I couldn’t see God’s mercy, only Barb’s physical pains, and her daughter’s emotional ones.

Where was God in all this? Although I couldn’t see Him along the way, I can look back now and see His hand there. I think Barb’s daughter needed to go through this rejection of her mother by the medical system, rejection by those who say they care for the elderly, and indeed rejection by many of her friends and family --- she needed to feel alone and in despair, to appreciate God’s blessing and mercy in her mother’s sudden death at the end, but also to be able to look back and see that indeed He was with her all along the way. All her lonely efforts to find anyone who would help her care for her mother eventually resulted in her putting together a plan of care that all the experts said was impossible, and which at the end many said wouldn’t work. But I am confident that it would have.

God worked with Barb’s daughter to enable her to create a plan which would demonstrate her loving care of her mom --- and His. He wanted Barb’s daughter to use all the talents He gave her to accomplish what she prayed for. Her prayers (and mine) were for a peaceful death of her mom and she looked for God to do this, but first He had to teach her a lesson: He would do this thing she prayed for, not alone, but with her help. While she was waiting for God to act alone, He was waiting for her to act --- seemingly alone, but she was not. When she went out and used the talents He gave her He blessed her actions, and the solution she found for her mom’s continuing care, the one that everyone said was impossible, became possible. Through her, with her cooperation, I am confident He did indeed work a miracle.

But wait a minute. Even if we accept this as a miracle for Barb’s daughter, what about Barb who suffered through all this time? Was all her suffering because her daughter needed to be taught a lesson in God’s love? Could her daughter still ask with anxiety: “Did my stubbornness in failing to trust God cause my mom’s long painful death?” No, she cannot think such thoughts --- because God told her not to.

On Monday Barb’s daughter told me about “a dream” she had experienced. “You’re probably going to say I’m nuts or something, but: I felt that God was telling me that my mom was okay, and that He needed her in heaven to care for His little children.” No, I replied, I don’t think you are crazy, and that indeed I believed this may have been God’s way of assuring you that all was well.

But perhaps it was more …

For many years I have ended my day with a rosary. I’ve dedicated these prayers, praying for an end to abortion. In recent months, however, I have amended my prayer intentions, and instead prayed for God’s will (and mercy) to be done for Barb and her family. On Tuesday night at the adoration chapel I thought it was time to end my focus on Barb and again pray for those little lives cut off by abortion --- and then I remembered the dream of Barb’s daughter. It suddenly came to me: Perhaps Barb was watching over the same aborted children that I had long prayed for; my prayers for an end to abortion hadn’t stopped while I was praying for Barb, they had been answered.

Was Barb’s struggle for each gasp of breath at the end, only aided by that ventilator machine, and all her painful anxiety-filled days, were these permitted by God for the benefit of those little aborted ones, who were never allowed a single breath? Was Barb now uniquely situated to understand them and comfort them? Was this part of God’s plan for her suffering to have value, as (we believe) all suffering has value?

Where was God in all this? Perhaps Barb needed to suffer to fulfill God’s will for her, to further prepare her for not only His plans for her in this life, but even in the next. Even as the daughter’s work was fulfilling God’s plans, perhaps her mom’s suffering was also. God doesn’t always answer our prayers with miraculous healings or compassionate deaths, He most often answers our prayers, in His time and in His way, through the loving actions we take for one another. How often I heard Barb and her daughter speak of their love for one another, and they showed it --- and so did God. He showed His love for all of us, even the littlest and most forgotten.

God said to love our neighbor. He said to honor our father and mother. He said He would always be with us. I think the events of Barb’s suffering and death proved all His promises to be true.

We need not be anxious, even if we cannot see a good outcome, even if all seems dark in our lives. We need not cry out to Him: “Lord, where are You?” expecting Him to act in some miraculous way. First and foremost we need to trust in Him. We need to pray that He show us His will. We need to discern that will or to accept possible opportunities to love, to be charitable, or to have compassion with but a single mindset: “Lord, I don’t know if this is Your will, but I will try to do this, to take this opportunity before me to do as I believe You would, with love, with compassion, and with all the talents you gave me --- and, I trust, with Your blessing.”

If we live with that mindset, then whether we succeed in what we do, or indeed even if we or our loved ones live or die, we can be confident that when the tally is made at our life’s end He will say: “Enter good and faithful servant.”

And what more do we need out of this life to prove that we have lived it well?

Day is done, but love unfailing
Dwells ever here;

Shadows fall, but hope, prevailing,
Calms every fear.

Loving Father, none forsaking,
Take our hearts, of Love’s own making,
Watch our sleeping, guard our waking,
Be always near.

Dark descends, but Light unending
Shines through the night;
You are with us
, ever lending
New strength to sight;
One in love, Your truth confessing,
One in hope of heaven’s blessing,
May we see, in love’s possessing,
Love’s endless light!

Eyes will close, but You, unsleeping,
Watch by our side;
Death may come; in Love’s safe keeping
Still we abide
God of love, all evil quelling,
Sin forgiving, fear dispelling,
Stay with us, our hearts indwelling,
This eventide

-- Evening Prayer Hymn, text by James Quinn, S.J.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

And His Mercy Endures Forever

Thursday was a day of great trial. It was one of those days when nothing seemed right; disaster was upon us, and if there were some ray of light to be seen, it was a tiny the slit under the barred door. No, we could not help but wonder if any lights we may see were only our imagination, or but some faint hope. The room seemed dark indeed.

The day started when I picked up my friend Barb’s daughter, and again drove to visit Barb, --- in the hospital, still.

When we arrived, she was not conscious. The various drugs used to fight her illnesses and pains had even further weakened her body this day. It was not one of her better days. Only for the briefest while did her eyes open, and we knew she was aware of our presence. And so I began to read to her. I read her stories of miracles --- I wanted to remind her that anything was possible for God. We prayed some, and I read her some meditations that I had recently pondered, including this from Psalm 37:

If you trust in the Lord and do good,
then you will live in the land and be secure.
If you find your delight in the Lord,
He will grant you your heart’s desire.

Commit your life to the Lord,
trust in Him and He will act …
Be still before the Lord and wait in patience.

Calm your anger and forget your rage;
Do not fret, it only leads to evil.
For those who do evil shall perish;
the patient shall inherit the land.

I stopped suddenly. “Barb, “I yelled, “’The patient shall inherit the land!!’ Since you’ve been in the hospital for five months now, if you are not ‘The patient’ I don’t know who is!!”

She didn’t move in response to my outburst, but in her heart I believed she smiled at my weak attempt at humor. I liked her smile. And as I had said the Divine Mercy Prayer with her any number of times, I believed that she now said it with me: “My Jesus, I trust in You.”

But this past Thursday, even as Barb, her daughter and I prayed and trusted in a good outcome, we almost couldn’t see what that might be.

Barb’s daughter had asked me a number of times: “Why doesn’t God take her, and end her pain and suffering?” The doctors had said recently that although her condition was terminal, the end could be a week, a month, or even a year away. But the events of Thursday were much more immediate than that.

By Thursday, all the efforts of Barb’s daughter to get her into another facility --- ANY facility --- had ended. No nursing home, no private care facility, no hospital, and no hospice would accept her --- not even for hospice home care. And of the one facility in the state which would accept her, everyone said “Please!!! Don’t let your mom go to that horrible place!!” And so her daughter continued efforts to create a private, totally unique situation, a place for her mom to die in peace ---- maybe. After weeks of searching, Barb’s daughter had found a home to rent, the one nursing agency that would commit to her 24-hour care, supporting personnel, agencies for complex equipment and medical supplies, and even one to supply a backup generator for the home --- and she was contracting for all these services. Plans were made to sell Barb’s home and liquidate all her assets. And her daughter considered the selling of her own home also --- all to let her mother die in peace in a hospice-like setting, as she had asked.

But on Thursday, the result of all those weeks of calling and planning suddenly seemed in doubt. The hospital Barb was at stated that their policies required that they release a patient into “competent” care --- so all the personnel, all the equipment, and all the contracts were to be checked over, in person, by its hospital staff. And so a huge meeting was set for this next Monday where everyone would make the two hour drive to the hospital, to be evaluated by its personnel. But while this complex affair was moving forward, other things were happening on Thursday …

Someone became aware and perhaps felt a panic: the limits of Medicare coverage for Barb’s hospital stay would end next week, and so (coincidently, I’m sure) the hospital declared that Barb’s condition was stable, and so she would be transferred the next day (Friday) to the one hellish place which would take her. And then Barb’s supplemental insurance company called, also becoming suddenly aware that with Medicare payments ending, it would have to assume primary responsibility for Barb’s future costs. “We need to work out a plan,” they told her daughter. The daughter explained how they were far, far too late in calling; there were no alternatives to be discussed. Plans were set. And when the daughter asked just what would they cover, the discussion became very iffy, and so she asked for a copy of the policy for review by her mom’s lawyer, which they promised to send. Sometime. But time was passing.

The hospital discharge nurse counseled yet again: “Perhaps this transfer tomorrow is for the best. I’m not at all sure you comprehend all the risks of your private plan, risks to your mother’s health, and even to your own.” And then she offered that “Well, you could appeal this transfer, which might delay it for a while.” The length of “a while” could not be defined: an hour, a day, a week? And so Barb’s daughter filed papers for the appeal.

As Thursday ended and I drove Barb’s distraught daughter home from the hospital, she again wondered aloud: “Where is God in all this?” I said I trusted in Him and in His mercy, but “I don’t know” where He is at this sad day. And she voiced all her worries and guilt: “Did I cause all this? Was I overconfident in trying to do what they said couldn’t be done? Was I wrong in not quitting work and spending these last months with my mother --- would she have recovered if I were there at her side and praying more for her? Despite her wanting to fight her illness, should I have told her to turn off her breathing ventilator and just die quickly, as so many suggested I do? Did I cause my mother all this pain?” she asked. I looked heavenward for counsel, words to calm her fears, but I found none.

Thursday night was a very dark, and sleepless night.

Friday my plans were to care for my mother, as usual. Barb’s daughter planned to go to her office, to await, perhaps, a response to her appeal to block the immediate transfer of her mother, and further confirm logistics for Monday’s now hoped-for meeting. I had finished my morning prayers and Divine Mercy Chaplet when my phone rang. It was Barb’s daughter; the hospital had called her. Only it was not the expected call; they called to tell her that Barb’s condition had worsened. This woman who was “stable enough to transfer” likely would not survive the day. Crying, Barb’s daughter asked me if I could again drive her to the hospital. As I drove I made arrangements for my mom’s care, and I called friends, asking for prayers, for Divine Mercy, for Barb and her family.

When we arrived at the hospital two hours later, her daughter spoke into her ear: “We’re all here now, mom. Everything’s going to be okay. We love you, always.”

And approximately two hours later Barb was able to accomplish something she had been asking us about for over four months: “When can I go home?” We could never give her a plan to take her home, but God could. In His Mercy, on Friday He proved He could do anything. And His mercy endures forever.

Once there was no mercy for you, but now you have found mercy. 1 Pt 2:10

Receive the joy of your glory, giving thanks to God, Who has called you into the heavenly kingdom, Alleluia!

In your darkest hour, my friends, do not forget that He does not forget. His mercy endures forever. Do not be anxious. I give thanks to all those saints I have called upon: Fr. Solanus Casey, Padre Pio, Pope John Paul II – the Great, and my earthly and departed family and friends. I know all their prayers were heard. And I give thanks, now and forever, to my God, who loves and hears all His children. Even me.

One final note: As we left the hospital Friday, a call came through for Barb’s daughter. It was the hospital’s appeal board: “The doctor who had authorized the transfer of Barb had called and informed them that her condition had worsened, and the transfer would not occur. Therefore, they would not proceed with reviewing her appeal.” --- Our wonderful hospital system at work. Can it get worse??

Don’t answer that.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Leaves Magazine

Leaves is a small (20-page) pamphlet put out bi-monthly by the Mariannhill Fathers, located in Dearborn, Michigan. The magazine is sent out for free, and includes a few articles and pages of prayer requests and testimonies of prayers answered. Overall, I have found it to be a reliably uplifting little bit of faith. And so often, I need to read something that is nothing but good news. I think you might like it also.

Here is a short article which recently appeared, titled A Matter of Discernment, by Garfield Ogilvie. It'll give you a feel for the type of publication this is, and the site of the article will enable you to subscribe to the pamphlet.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Resurrection Was Not a Miracle

I’ve seen it written that the Resurrection of Jesus was a miracle, one that all could see and not deny. It happened. I myself have probably thought of the Resurrection in those terms most days.

But Easter was not a miracle.

Webster’s definition of a miracle is: An extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs. If you think the events of Jesus’ life were strictly human affairs, then I guess you could say His being raised from the dead was a miracle. But as for me, I believe He was God, and He was not raised, but arose Himself. His death and resurrection were not an “extraordinary event,” He predicted it! And I believe that if God says something will happen, it will --- nothing extraordinary about that at all, to my mind. And I don’t strictly believe the point about “divine intervention” either. He was God and He arose from the dead; He was capable of it and did it --- there was no other intervention. He did it. Therefore, based on Webster’s definition of a miracle, the Resurrection was not a miracle.

No, it only seemed a miracle then, in the eyes of non-believers, the ones who didn’t really believe in their hearts, those who would readily say: “This can’t be.” But that was then; what about today, and looking back with all our knowledge of the events before and after Easter? Could we believers in Jesus still say the Easter Resurrection was a miracle? I say not.

He did what He said He would do, and looking back, it is not a surprising thing for God to do.

And considering this past event, what of looking forward? What do we see, expect, and believe about the future? Does He care about us, and not forget us? Does He act in ways which show His love which we say believe in? Can we trust in Him as a God who loves us, always? If we should see His love in action, even if we do not understand the way or reason of it, would we say: “It is a miracle,” and would we say: “I believe”?

I had great plans for this Easter day. I would go to mass and then go to be with my dying friend and her family. My Saturday night caregiver would give up her usual casual Sunday so I could drive to my friend's hospital. I would console them when they need consoling, and would attempt to be His presence and His mercy. I would try to be His instrument of peace. These were my plans, and surely they were God's plans also.

But it turns out that I shall not do those things. One of my mom’s caregivers left town to be with her family, and the other agreed to be a substitute caregiver for a 104 year old woman, so that her regular caregiver could be with her family. And therefore, it is required that I be here with my family, my mom, this Easter Sunday. Not as I planned; as I had planned for His will to be.

I awoke early this morning and lay in bed thinking of these and many things, planned and unplanned, and of my dying friend. I had confidence that Jesus was acting in ways for her and her family that perhaps I didn’t understand, and that His mercy that I prayed for WAS being acted out. I trusted Him, or so I thought. Still, as I thought on my failed plans, and as I thought on her continued suffering, I wondered …

The radio alarm went off suddenly, jarring me from my thoughts. (The radio alarm? Hadn’t I set the buzzer as usual?) The radio blared loudly, the music sounded dramatic. I heard words, and realized what was playing was a clip from an old movie. And then I heard the words of a question: “And you, Thomas?” And I heard the reply: “I believe You are the Christ, the Messiah.”

The question was asked to the doubter (and btw, my name is Thomas). Hearing my name caught my attention, and I was sitting up and awake, but I didn’t pay attention to anything else said, and wondered in my heart how I would answer that question if it were put to me now. And was He in fact asking it of me now? The thought has hung with me throughout this day.

And if the movie script were re-written and your name inserted, how would you answer? How much would you say you trust in Him, or do you do as I did, and plan out His will for Him?

Happy Easter, my friends. He is risen, indeed! It indeed is no miracle, but just as He promised and just as HE planned.

I trust in all His promises.

Peace! Do not be afraid.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

How Will I Know? II

Our Father Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Thy will be done. How will I know what that is or when it happens? If someone is drowning, is that God’s will, or am I to risk my life to perhaps save him? How will I know? When I pray that prayer sincerely, “Thy will be done,” how long do I wait for Him to act? Will I know it when He does?

I’m reminded of the story of the man caught in a flood. The river surged and his house was surrounded and he got outside onto the roof and prayed: “Lord, save me!” And while he knelt there a neighbor came by with a rowboat and said: “I think there is room for one more; get in.” But the man replied: “No, I don’t want to risk these others; God will save me.” And later a helicopter flew overhead and the loudspeaker said: “We’ll send down a basket for you; get in.” But the man said: “No, I’m okay. Go on to help others.” That man had faith.

And then a surge of the floodwaters came and his house was swept away, and the man died. He meets God at the gates of heaven and God says: “You are here before your time.” And the man responds: “Yes, I believe that also, but I prayed for You to save me so that I didn’t die, and You didn’t answer my prayer.” And God laughs and says: “I sent the man in the rowboat and then I sent the man in the helicopter to save you. What did you want me to do?”

I think that story sums up well many of our prayers for God’s will. There is an expectation of how He will act, and if things don’t happen our way we think it is not God’s action. We won’t really admit it to ourselves that we don’t know His will; we just think we do, and we wait for it to happen our way. And usually it doesn’t.

I think there is a clue about why the Our Father prayer is worded that way. We begin by stating some facts: He is in heaven; He is holy as is His very name; His kingdom will come; His will WILL be done, on earth and in heaven. Given those facts, which by our prayer we agree with, how can we expect to EVER know His will? He is God; we are not. It’s as simple as that. His will WILL be done, but not necessarily as we want or expect it, because we can’t think in terms and facts that God can. He is not of this earth, and He does not think with our tiny mind. So then, just what does that prayer mean? If His will WILL be done, why does it matter that I say that prayer ---- it will happen whether I pray that prayer or not, won’t it? So why do I need to pray it happens? The answer is that no, sometimes God’s will won’t happen, if we do not cooperate with. We are the instrument of His will, and we can choose not to play.

I think perhaps we are sometimes confused as to what prayer is. So often we think in terms of prayer as being a petition ---- do this for me or that for me, i.e., do MY will. But that’s not the way Jesus meant that prayer to be prayed. The Our Father is not a prayer of petition for God’s will to be done, it is a prayer of a child to his father: “Not only do I want your will to be done, I accept it. I know that you do things, even punishments of me, even things that make me sad, even things that I do not understand, and I know that you do these things because you love me, and I accept and WANT your will. No, I don’t pray for MY will to be done with my petitions, but in whatever circumstance I pray for I pray that YOUR will be done, and I will accept it as the will of my loving Father.”

How then will I know His will? I likely won’t; His Godly will is beyond my understanding. But I pray it be done and that I accept it anyway that it is. And, I further pray that, like the man on the roof of the house, if an opportunity arises for me to participate in His will, I will see it as such and do it. Even if it is not as I would choose to do.

Yes God does do His will sometimes beyond our reason and understanding, and He just does it. Things happen that might otherwise not have happened. Some people call them coincidences; some people call them miracles. And sometimes choices arise wherein we might participate in His will --- and these happen much more often than miracles. And that’s where our prayer really enters the picture: Do we really want His will, or ours? Jesus the man was in the Garden when the soldiers came. As God, He didn’t have to die or be tortured. As a man He could have thought: “Well, if I am to spread this belief in God, certainly working more miracles will spread His word faster than confusing everyone with my death.” And on the cross, He could have taken up the criers challenge and come down from the cross ---- to the amazement and belief of everyone. But He didn’t. He opted for an opportunity to do something that He might not have chosen, but the opportunity was put before him. And He had a decision to make: Do what I think, or accept that this is an opportunity from God? But, you might ask, is this the same as the example of the man on the roof? His logic said wait on God, but a different opportunity arose and, as it turned out, he should have accepted it. In a way, I believe, it is similar to that story, in this fact: God is a loving God, and if He desires something for us He will not just give us one opportunity to participate in His will. The man on the roof had a number of opportunities; God kept knocking at his door. Jesus was threatened with death a number of times, but He always walked away. In the garden, did He finally say: “You have knocked at my door more than once and I didn’t listen, but now, Father, I am. Thy will, not mine, be done.”

It is hard to know God’s will with any certainty. All we can do is ask Him to make it clear to us. And I believe He will. Even as we want something desperately we will pray for it over and over again, and even as He wants something desperately for us, He will offer it to us over and over again. We just can’t be so stubborn or stupid to not accept that something may be from Him, His will, even if it is not as we would want.

When He finally acceded to the Father’s will, the opportunity for Him to make the supreme sacrifice of His life, glorious things happened, and He didn’t die forever, as any man might have expected as the outcome of that event. And, I believe, if we accept His will, His opportunity to act that He presents to us over and over again, we and those we love will also have glorious things happen to us.

I think that sometimes the opportunities that God lays before us scare us. It’s kind of like I have an old map and the path leads off to the right, but someone who I say I trust comes up and says that “I know a shortcut.” He says to go to the left. Now I don’t know much about the left path, but I know that there are many dangers off in that direction. Do I trust him, or do I trust myself? That is the key question in our relationship with God. When we say that we want His will to be done, it is not a question of “You would do it this way, and I would do it that way. Okay, I trust You; You do it Your way.” No, it is not His way or our way, it is OUR way, together. I want you will, Lord, and I will help you to do it, not doing things my way but wholly going with the path you lay before me, helping You along that path, and trusting that You will not lead me astray, and that there will be a glorious outcome ---- even if I don’t see it at first.

I trust in You.

That’s praying for His will to be done; it’s making it our will. And that is a hard thing to do, giving up our own will and pursuing His. That I might not live, but Christ live within me.

Happy Easter, my friends. He is risen, indeed. And is that not the REAL answer to all our prayers?

(This is titled “How Will I Know? II”, because this question of knowing God’s will, of are my prayers being answered or not, is one we must think on over and over again. And convince ourselves that we really do want His will. That we really do trust in Him. I expect I will continue to write and think on this as long as I live. It is not an easy thing.)

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Sometimes Catholic

Christ looked out over Jerusalem and wept for it, because it had not recognized God’s visitation.

As this Holy Week begins, I wonder if He is looking down from heaven and weeping over me, because I have not recognized His coming to me, have not felt His graces, not seen His mercy, and have not known His love.

When I pray “Thy will be done,” does He look at my actions and say: “Is THIS how you perceive my will? Would a loving God, such as I am, act as you do?” And does He wait for me like the father of the Prodigal Son, wondering if I will return, disappointed in my actions --- in MY will?

This Holy Week I will repeat some of my usual practices. I’ll watch the movies Saving Private Ryan, I Am David, and the Passion of Christ, and watch for and contemplate their presentations of the difficulties of our earthly life, and their point that many men must face a supreme sacrifice for others, and of the way they show that men can love one another, even in the simple acts of daily living. And during Holy Week I’ll read differing perceptions of the Passion, including Clarence Engler’s My Other Self and Fr. Groeschel’s The King, Crucified and Risen. And again this year my parish will offer adoration of the Blessed Sacrament all through Holy Thursday night, until 6AM Good Friday, that night when Jesus was alone with the guards who beat and mocked Him, and He felt forgotten by all He had come to save. But I will be with him all that night, offering atonement for all the times when I was one of those who forgot.

My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?

And this week I’ll meditate on His passion. I can’t begin to describe it, what He felt and what it means. So I will share with you here Engler’s moving perception of what Christ would say to us today about His passion:

My other self, I would have you learn three lessons from my passion and death. The first lesson is the horror and tragedy of sin. … The second lesson is how to conform your life to the divine will in the midst of sin. …

The third lesson is that you can endure anything sin can hurl against you if only you throw yourself trustingly upon me. That is how the saints were able to accept martyrdom. That is how you, too, will be able to accept martyrdom, if this should be the divine will for you.

Suffering is necessary to bring the mind and body into subjection. Either you will be the slave of your passions or you will be their master. Rightly endured, suffering will help make you free. I gave you example by suffering every torment imaginable; torture in every limb, every joint; torture in my back and head; mental agony of anticipation, knowing the torment that was to come, knowing the day and the hour; mental agony of sorrow at the betrayal of my onetime comrade; mental agony of revulsion as I was spat upon; mental agony of shame as I was exposed to obscenity; mental agony of dereliction as I was abandoned on the cross; mental agony of the utmost as I watched my Mother’s own martyrdom.

Every sorrow was mine, my other self. As I conquered them all, so I promise you that you also can conquer whatever suffering I ask of you; yes, conquer and rise again with new control over your passions and something regained of the integrity humankind lost through the first human sin.

Learn these lessons. And know this as well.

Though my soul was sorrowful beyond measure, even to the extent of asking my Father to let this chalice pass from me, yet I had one sweet consolation: the thought of my Mother, my saints, and you. You would understand me; you would be loyal to me; you would love me so much the more because these others hated me; you would follow me so much the more closely because my disciples left me; you would watch and pray so much the longer because my chosen three slept in the garden. You would come to me more often in the Sacrament of my love; you would live for me and in me; you would be, with me, the Father’s victim; you would join your life to my Calvary in one gloriously redemptive and atoning Mass.

Thus, my other self, I was consoled.

Knowing this, can you fail me? Can you ever, with full deliberation, sin again?

-- My Other Self, published by Ave Maria Press, pp 174-6

Returning home from mass this Palm Sunday, I listened to a talk on Ave Maria Radio by Fr John Riccardo. It was his Holy Week talk. He quoted Pope Pius XII and John Paul II who noted that “The most serious sin of our age is our loss of the sense of sin.” He mentioned the man who came to him in confession and said to him: “Well, it’s been a year since my last confession and, I dunno, I don’t know what sins I have to confess.” It was a classic example of someone who doesn’t know what sin is, nor what it does. Are you bored with Holy Week, hearing the same old gospels again? Are you tired of the movie The Passion (Ewww, too yucky!)? Are you, like this man who came to Fr Riccardo in confession, a “Sometimes Catholic” or “Sometimes Christian”? Do you visit church once in a while and think that, overall, you are a pretty good person? You are lying to yourself, you are lying to your family and friends, and you are lying to God. Not lying in a mean-spirited way, but by omission: you don’t understand your faith, the Passion, nor sin. I strongly encourage you to look up the Ave Maria Radio website and listen to and/or order this talk by Fr. Riccardo; have them express mail it to you. You need to hear this; you need to understand why God chose to sacrifice His Son for you --- for YOU. You need to find the gigantic value awaiting you in this Holy Week. Don’t be a “Sometimes Catholic”. Know and live your faith, and your life will have great meaning, and joy.

Dear Mother Mary;
This week I’ll contemplate the joy, the pain, and the sadness of the Passion of your Son, and you. You truly know what it is to carry the heavy cross of another’s pain. I ask you to remember those still here on earth, those for whom He died, who are carrying their crosses of pain or sadness. You Son bore His pain well, died, and rose again. Please pray that those carrying heavy crosses of pain may imitate --- entirely --- this part of his life also.

“If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honor him.” -- John 12:26