Friday, August 31, 2012

I Killed Rachael Yesterday

I knew it was wrong, even before I had done it, but I couldn’t help myself.  And after it was over, it felt so good, like I had accomplished something good, even though I knew there would be serious repercussions afterward.  The bottom line is: I now confess that I was wrong in my action, because I had acted out of emotion --- and this from a man who writes a blog titled: Do Not Be Anxious.
The day started as a busy one.  I was planning on using the refrigerator full of tomatoes from the garden to make spaghetti sauce, lots of spaghetti sauce.  I was trying a new recipe (off the internet), and it was a bit complex, so I was trying to pay attention to cooking methods and times.  And I was trying to get the laundry done at the same time.  And I was checking on email in between tasks.  And I worried about having time to go shopping for mom’s needs. 
And the phone rang.
My hands were covered in grease, the pot was boiling too fast, and I picked up the receiver to hear the “important” call:  “Hi!  This is Rachael of cardholder services …”  I quickly hit the END button on the phone and dropped it down to attend to the REAL important tasks.  But even as I turned back to the tasks at hand, I realized there was more than one pot boiling over.
When I got things under control, I called AT&T.  After a dozen or so electronic voices, I finally got a real one: “Can’t you block this nuisance caller, who seems to call every day?” I asked.  The operator indicated it was virtually impossible to block, but “I could file a complaint.”  Still frothing, I quickly said no, that won’t do, and then I said: “Wait, I DO know how to block that caller.”  “How?” asked the operator.  I responded: “Cancel my service.  I’m tired of listening to Rachael anymore.”  Even as she was telling me yes, she would do that, the operator was trying to sell me various bundles of MORE services, to which I responded with an adamant: No!  Finally, as a last ditch effort she said: “Well, sir, you really should keep a land line for use in emergency.”  But I had a logical answer to that:  “At this moment, ma’am, I think that if an emergency occurred, I would WRITE a letter to the police department before I used your phone service.”  At that, she got my message clearly, and the next words I heard from her were: “Your service has been cancelled.  Is there anything else I can do for you today?”
And so I killed Rachael yesterday.  I will hear her voice no more.  I continued cooking, but now it felt more of a chore than a good thing.  And that evening, I still felt unsettled, replaying the events over in my mind.  I had acted in haste --- but it felt good in a way.  And the quiet which followed --- no more ringing of the phone with election messages, or Rachael --- did bring a level of peace to my soul, offsetting the unease with my actions.  But looking back today, I think I was wrong in what I had done.  Not that cancelling my phone service was a bad thing --- I’ll save $35/month, among other things --- but the means by which I arrived at the decision was wrong.  I acted on emotion on a fairly important decision, and that is what was wrong.
This morning at mass the priest asked us to pray a Hail Mary, a special prayer --- for Rachael!!  He said that Rachael was making a critical decision today, on whether to abort her child.  As I prayed for this Rachael, I felt a connection to my actions of yesterday.  Important decisions should not be made in haste, I mused, not based on emotion.  Reason and prayer always yield the best decisions.  But I had done neither.
As I arrived at the coffee shop, the guys of the bible study group were discussing an important decision in the life of one of them.  He and his ex-wife had a disagreement on their children’s faith education, and it was now in the court system.  At a lull in the conversation I interjected a couple of comments, reflecting on St. Monica’s recent feast day and her prayers for Augustine; she never giving up on her adult atheist son.  And then I told them of the priest’s request for prayers for Rachael, in her difficult decision.  Prayer, I commented, is a better thing to do, when we want to give in to frustration or anger.  And then I read them a meditation from Cardinal Newman (from the book I was reading), about stepping back from things we want to change but can’t, and instead praying and fasting --- giving God a chance to act.  And at the end of the bible study hour, they closed with a prayer for Rachael.
Then the businessmen of the community rolled into the coffee shop, and the talk was all about politics.  Some of the talk got a bit loud.  There was anger and frustration in their voices.  These were important times and important decisions must be made, they said --- they said, with much emotion.  And I thought then, and now, that a lot of non-decision making was going on, for opinions were being voiced not based on reasoned discussion (or prayer), but emotion. 
“You hit me, and I’m going to hit you back.”  And I think if they had the opportunity, they would have voted that morning for someone or something, or they might have punched some candidates if they were handy.  And these important decisions they had talked about --- they wouldn’t have THOUGHT about.  And that, my friends, is not what is needed at this critical time in our country, and in our church.
We’re making too many decisions, of late, based only on emotion.  We criticize our priests, we criticize our bishops, we criticize our politicians, and we criticize our neighbors based on our current mindset: WE KNOW WHAT’S RIGHT!  And therefore, with polls showing a 50-50 tie in likely election outcomes, we are saying that half the country is stupid because they don’t agree with us.
And that is a stupid to say or believe.
I started this post talking about killing, imaginary and real, and then spoke about things affecting families and then our country.  These ARE important things, very, very important things.  These are not things to get anxious about; they are things to pray about.  St. Monica and St. John Newman had the best advice, echoing that of Jesus: prayer can move mountains, and we pray because we have faith, trust in Jesus.  At this time, we need to reason calmly about the important matters facing us, and pray for wisdom.
Father, I pray for the leaders of Your Church and this country.

I pray for those who think that after hundreds of years, they know better than our founders; you blessed Your Church and our country, yet they would say they could do better.  They would repeat to us words heard long ago in the Garden: “Just eat of this fruit I offer, and you shall be like gods.”  And without thinking, we are ready to taste.  Father, be with us.
Dear Mother Mary, I pray that I might do as your Son teaches, that I might trust in Him, and that I might not be anxious over what He might do.  And I pray most seriously, that He might not be anxious over what I might do.
Father, bless and keep safe You Church and our country.  We trust in You.
Our Father, Who art in heaven,
Hallowed be Thy Name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation, but
Deliver us from evil.  Amen.
St. Michael the archangel,
Defend us in battle,
Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
And may thou, O prince of the heavenly hosts,
By the power of God,
Cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits,
Who prowl throughout the world,
Seeking the ruin of souls.  Amen.
My Jesus, I trust in You.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Review: The Way of TRUST and LOVE

I never could understand how St. Therese of Lisieux could be declared a saint, much less a doctor of the Church.  A doctor of the Church is a designation given to those recognized as the greatest defenders and teachers of the faith.  A little girl who died at age twenty-four in a small, out-of-the-way convent, one of the greatest teachers of the faith --- ever?  Now St. Augustine, who wrote hundreds of books, sermons, and defended the faith against hugely popular heresies --- that’s who I think of when I think of doctors of the Church.  He was a teacher who I am still learning from, 1600 years later.  But how could this little unknown girl be considered a great teacher of the faith?  I think better than I have ever appreciated before, Father Jacques Philippe teaches me about her “little way”, and why it is a great teaching, for us all.
His introduction succinctly explains why St. Therese is a teacher:  “The message of the young Carmelite from Lisieux, is, in my opinion, essential for the Church and society today.  In a vulnerable, wounded world like ours, where nevertheless the Holy Spirit is addressing all Christians with a ringing call to holiness and inspiring them with a desire to live out the Gospel message in all its depth, I think there is no better path than the one St. Therese of Lisieux offers us:  her little way of trust and love.” 
Trying to understand how she could become a saint, Therese read this in Proverbs 9:4:  “Whoever is VERY LITTLE let him come to me.”  “To reach perfection,” she wrote, “I do not need to grow up.  On the contrary, I need to stay little, to become more and more little.”  And for young Therese, this was a challenge.  For one wanting to become little, she knew she had an innate desire to become great.  She wished to be recognized and thanked for any little thing she did, even watering the flowers.  And if “no one thanked her, it was a full-scale drama for her.  She cried about it, and then … she cried for having cried.”  “I was so oversensitive that I was unbearable,” she says.  But she was able to overcome her selfishness and need for attention, and become very happy with no attention.
Fr. Philippe gives us many examples of how she bore up with irritating relatives, co-workers, or tasks.  She became as a little child, accepting everything as a gift from someone who loves her.  “When she didn’t manage as perfectly as she would have wished, she didn’t get depressed about it.  ‘Being little means not being discouraged by our faults, because children often fall over, but they are so little they don’t hurt themselves badly.’”   Fr. Philippe describes five fundamental inner attitudes which unfailingly attract God’s grace:  humility, trust, living in the present moment, love, and gratitude, of which humility and trust are the most important, for “they make us pleasing to God.”
The book contains much about developing those key points of humility and trust, but I found peace in some of his other explanations:  “Another important aspect of the spirituality of the little way is to live in the present moment.  Not to go endlessly over the past, but leave it entirely to God and his mercy.  Worrying has never solved any problem.  What solves problems are trust and faith.  Living in the present moment means accepting the poverty in us: not insisting on going over and over the past or taking control of the future, but contenting ourselves with today.  God does not dole out grace by a sort of profit-and-loss accounting of my past based on my good and bad actions.  He gives me grace according to my faith today.  The past doesn’t matter.”
I also enjoyed greatly Fr. Philippe’s words about thanksgiving:  “The question is how we choose to live our lives.  Today people have a strong tendency to shut themselves up in anxiety and fear.  People are never satisfied with life, with government, with each other; they always demand more, claim more rights, and accuse one another instead of living in trust and responsibility.  This really is one of the basic laws of life.  The more trust we have, the more we thank God for the way our lives are going, the more we will advance.  If we give thanks for what we have received, we will receive a lot more.”
“Today, people often adopt a victim mentality.  When we accept life as it is, with trust, it becomes good and beautiful, even in its difficult aspects.  But if we’re quick to complain and demand more rights, life becomes unlivable.  It isn’t God’s fault or the fault of our lives; our inner attitude is destructive.  Conversely, faith, hope, love and thanksgiving are remedies, counterweights, to the victim complex in which we sometimes are at risk of becoming entangled.  ‘She (Therese) wrote to her sister Leonie:  The only happiness on this earth is to be determined always to find that what Jesus gives us is delightful.’”
There weren’t many pages in this book where I didn’t have at least one sentence underlined, which as you know, is my criteria for a good book --- one which says something new to me, or says something in a new, memorable way.    Fr. Philippe has only written a few small books, like this one, but they are all gems.  You can bet that this one will be on my Christmas gift list for friends.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

I Support Dolan's Invite

I support Cardinal Dolan’s dinner invite to President Obama.  But of course, I support everything Cardinal Dolan does, because I trust he uses good “means”, aimed toward good “ends” --- two subjects I have been reading and thinking about a lot lately.
But regardless of Dolan’s intents, only God knows the true ultimate ends of his actions --- something else I’ve been considering in recent weeks.
“The ends do not justify the means” is a doctrine of the Catholic Church which I studied in reading the catechism.  The “ends” are the desired outcomes, and the “means” are actions to achieve the outcomes.  The catechism says both what you do and what you intend to accomplish must be objectively good.
Relative to my support of Cardinal Dolan: in general, to publicly support the cardinal is a good action on my part, which seeks to achieve a good outcome --- unity of God’s Church.  Would someone challenge my action or intended outcome, or the good of either?  Among true Christians, I would hope not.
Relative to Cardinal Dolan:  I think that those who are concerned about his invite to the President are, with good intentions, thinking that either Dolan’s action (the invite), the “means”, or the outcome Dolan intends (????), the “ends”, are not good --- or not as good as he thinks.  So some wish to inform him what they think on the matter, so as to help his judgment. 
How noble of them!
So let’s look at what these noble critics of the Cardinal are seeing, starting with Dolan’s action-to-date:  the dinner invite to President Obama.  Is this a good action, a good “means”?  Well, Jesus went to eat with sinners, often.  I’m not calling our President a sinner, but if Jesus had a home, or even a dinner at which he was being honored, wouldn’t he likely have invited enemies?  I think so.  And what of the forum for this dinner, its honoring of Al Smith, the first Catholic to run for president.  Did you know that crosses were sometimes burned outside the places where Mr. Smith spoke?  A Catholic persecuted for his faith --- and considering President Obama’s recent actions, isn’t he also persecuting Catholics?  Now Cardinal Dolan can stand far off and treat the president as someone to avoid, like a leper, and yell criticisms, like: “Unclean! Unclean!”, or he can invite him to dinner, as I think Jesus would.  And if not this unique forum, which?
No, I think objectively, the dinner invite to someone you have strong disagreement with is a good action.  Alone, it should not be criticized.
Now let’s look at Cardinal Dolan’s intended outcome of his action, the “end”:  Is this also a good thing?  Well?  Well, just what is the cardinal’s intended outcome?  Has he stated one?  What about Jesus’ actions of eating with sinners?  What were His stated goals?  Did He intend to convert all sinners by His eating with them --- if so, from my reading of Scripture, He failed.  Did He intend to strengthen or teach His followers something --- if so, Scripture mentions many who were scandalized by His actions, and so at least for some of them, He failed again.
Did Jesus actually state WHY he ate with sinners, the “good” outcomes he intended?  Did Cardinal Dolan actually state WHY he invited President Obama to dinner, the “good” outcomes he intended?  We saw some in Scripture who gave Jesus advice about his eating with sinners, and now we see some who are giving Cardinal Dolan advice.  Without knowing the intended outcomes, these advisors judge both of them wrongly.
I wrote often, recently, about how we cannot really know the outcomes, the “ends,” sought by God; He is God, and we are not.  We pray to God, advising Him for example, how good it would be to stop our sufferings.  We want good outcomes (as we define them) to everything, yet we are not privileged to understand --- or perhaps in our lifetimes to even see – the ultimate outcomes of some of our actions.  All we really can do is take good actions, and intend good results.  The actual results, and the actual ultimate goodness of them, are in God’s hands.  And we need faith to say, “My Jesus, I trust in You.”  Can we trust Him too much?  Can we trust Cardinal Dolan too much --- or the good of what God will do to Dolan’s intended outcomes? 
As for myself, even if it is said that ultimately this coming election was lost because of this invite, I will trust in God.  Even if our economy falters and all my savings turn to dust, I will trust Him.  Even if I become one of those poor I’m always trying to help, I will still trust.  Scripture says:  Trust in the Lord in all things --- and so I shall.  I’ll trust God with the big outcomes of this election, and Dolan with the little outcomes of a dinner invite.  And if Dolan proves a fool, a sinner who God should not have ever trusted with making a dinner, may he be demoted to dishwasher --- but I will not pray for that.  Even there, I’ll trust.
I don’t know what Cardinal Dolan intends as an outcome of this dinner, so I can’t begin to say it is good or bad --- from the point of view of my great wisdom, so I will not choose to criticize or “advise” him.  I can say, however, that his action-to-date, the invite, seems a good thing.  Beyond that, I am content to wait.
I’ll leave the ultimate outcome of the dinner and its goodness to God, and worry about other things, like what good things I should be doing this day.    
I hear the politically-focused among us worry about the core issues not being discussed enough in this election campaign because of so many distractions.  As what is this, this invite of a President to a single dinner, if not a distraction?  And just who, by their loud harping, are seeking to make of it a distracting headline?
As for me and my household, we will trust in the Lord.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Review: Sober Intoxication of the Spirit – Pt II

Like the first part, this book is a collection of teachings given at conferences of the Catholic charismatic renewal.  I know that “charismatic renewal” might sound scary to some Catholics, with visions of people speaking in tongues and waving their hands like they’re crazy, but I assure you that is not a proper vision of those participating in the renewal, nor is this book strictly for them.
Fr. Cantalamessa begins his book by first clarifying the word “conversion”: under the Old Testament conversion was committing your life to the Law, but in the New Testament it is committing your life to Jesus, to be like Him.  “We no longer say, ‘Do this and that so that you will be saved’, but ‘Do this and that BECAUSE you are saved.’”  He explains how good works naturally flow from conversion, “working through love.”  I liked the comparison he made of a faithful follower to a living tree, bearing fruit, but which “must undergo, like actual fruit trees, defoliation in winter, pruning in spring, and heat in summer – that is, it must go through the cross.”  So many who have converted their hearts and received blessed consolations yearn for this joy to always be so, but it will not.  Receiving His Holy Spirit also requires receiving His cross.
For myself, I found Cantalamessa’s description of the Holy Spirit’s working in our lives to be almost like a Christmas carol.  He sets the mood, like the Christmas season with all the decorations and peace, and then he writes familiar words that sing, but ever new and always beautiful.  I am familiar with the charismatic renewal in the Catholic Church, but for some who only heard general descriptions of it, he makes it real.  He explains how the Holy Spirit touches hearts, and it is a beautiful thing.  “The charismatic renewal … helps believers rediscover not only who they are but also the divine reality that they bear within themselves, (and) enables them to accomplish what the gospel asks of them more easily, and to do it not out of a sense of obligation but out of gratitude, not out of fear but out of love.”
I happened to be having a bad day dealing with the demands of caring for my mom, listening to friends and neighbors woes, and generally feeling somewhat burdened when I read Cantalamessa’s words on love.  “In this sense, love is a law, a commandment:  It creates in Christians a dynamic that leads us to do all that God wants.”  As I read I reflected on my morning prayer” “Make me an instrument of Thy peace,” but when given opportunities that day to be His peace to others, I was anything but loving --- I was having a bad day.  And then I read “The lover flies, runs and rejoices’ he is free and nothing can restrain him … Love feels no burden, would like to do more than it can do, … in fact, is ready to do anything.”  Humbled by these words, I realized that they did not in any way describe my actions that day, towards those who needed love, who needed peace --- the peace I had asked God to enable me to give.  He gave me the opportunities to do His will, to be His peace, and I failed Him.
As I read Cantalamessa’s words, they often hit deep in my heart.
There was once a time in my life when I knew the teachings of the Catholic Church well.  Twelve years of Catholic schools and a number of books by saints had planted much knowledge in my brain.  Like my geometry and algebra and trigonometry classes, it all added up like a large equation.  Like the math formulas, I had my faith’s teachings memorized.  Then there came a time, late in my high school years when I took classes in physics.  Suddenly, what I knew of math changed.  The math formulas, surprisingly, could be applied to life:  they described how oxygen renewed my body, how planes flew and how the moon and stars all related to one another --- what happens to one impacts another, even in the farthest reaches of space.  Suddenly the math formulas were not just memorized facts, they were part of reality, and all around me.  That awakening eventually led me to choose physics as my college major.
My knowledge of the Catholic faith underwent a similar change.  I knew my faith like a math formula, doctrines on the left side of the equation all added up together to equal the Church on the right.  You could not subtract something from the left of the equation without changing the right (although some Catholics today don’t understand that --- but I did).  Then one day the Holy Spirit came to me, and suddenly I knew, deeply within my heart, that my faith isn’t just an equation.  It is real!  These teachings and doctrines I memorized could be applied to all reality, all creation, and even beyond physics, to all eternity.  They weren’t just like blocks you could stack up, they were a unified thing which had inseparable pieces.  And that awareness that overcame me was beautiful, for the faith was beautiful. 
I could never describe the beauty of that conversion in my heart, a gift of the Holy Spirit, but Fr. Cantalamessa’s book comes close to what I would say.  And it too is beautiful.
I like to quote meaningful words in reviewing a good book that I have read.  In this book, however, there are too many words I could quote.  I read this book with its six short chapters over a period of two weeks.  For a short book, it gave me much to meditate upon.  I urge you to take the time to read it and meditate upon it yourself, and perhaps you too will feel the “Sober Intoxication” of the Holy Spirit, which Fr. Cantalamessa invites you to experience.