Thursday, November 29, 2012

Come On In. The Door's Open!

The movie “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” opens up with a great contest going on.  Within a few select chocolate candy bars are golden invitations for a tour of Wonka’s secret chocolate factory.  Adults and children alike seem to be frantic to find the tour invitations, and when one young lad finds a winning ticket, he is immediately beset with huge offers to buy the ticket.  But he won’t sell.
  -  -  -  -  - 
I was sitting on the lid of a small trash can, reading my prayers in the cold morning air, when a shadow passed over me.  “You’re about to get hit in the face when this door swings open,” said Father Steve, as he unlocked the church doors.  I said: “I’ve been hit by worse things; it’s all relative,” and then I entered the door and the small chapel beyond.  As I knelt, alone in the temporary darkness, I looked up at the crucifix on the wall and thanked God for the privilege of visiting Him.  I said that I know He comes to me often during the day --- an unseemly thing, in my mind, for a God to come to the likes of me, but this seemed more appropriate, my coming to visit Him.
For whatever reason, then, my mind went to thoughts of the silly chocolate factory, and of “Many are called, but …”
It is a privilege we have, no -- I have, to be able to visit my God in a house dedicated to Him.  Throughout the world, many cannot.  Perhaps someday people in this country won’t be allowed either.  But for now, like the golden ticket of invitation, we have won the lottery, and we are all invited in.
Why do so many choose not to enter?
I know there is needed sleep, and work, and even needed recreation.  And bills and car repairs and crying kids and even, sometimes, a good movie.  So many things we want to do, and so little time.  It always seems that way:  so little time.
I said it felt unseemly, that a God should come to visit me and my house --- my messy house.  It’s embarrassing what He must think, as he looks about “my mansion” and sees the way I live --- and how little I prepared each day for His coming.  Truly, I love the blessings when I become aware of His visits, the gifts He gives me throughout the day.  But I feel more comfortable when I visit His house, and when I prepare a bit for the visit.
“Come in.  The door’s open,” I remember hearing my mom yell out to whatever neighbor might have politely rapped on our screen door.  We didn’t lock our doors back then, and neighbors were always welcome.  And no matter what she was doing, mom would stop and chat with them, or help them with their concerns.  Her door was always open.
God’s door is like that.
The chocolate factory movie was about a golden invitation given to a few lucky people, but Jesus’ invitation to visit Him, now in His Church, is given to everyone.  A golden invitation.  Willie Wonka waited at his factory for the five winning invitees to come visit.  Jesus waits for the millions He has invited.  I wonder what he thinks, as He waits.  And waits.
And, oh yes, at the end of the movie, ONE of those who came to the chocolate factory actually won the entire factory.  But at the end of our story, EVERYONE who comes to Jesus’ house wins, and they win something much better than a chocolate factory.
The huge prize waiting for everyone who comes is Jesus Himself, and all eternity with Him.  And yet few choose to come.  Do they think it’s all a con game, like most promotions are: A lie?  As Scripture says, the path may be narrow, it’s true, but at the end of the path the door’s not locked.  I think perhaps we may be scared away by the saying: “Many are called, but few are chosen.” 
Don’t we realize that it is us who are doing the choosing?
“Come on in.  The door’s open.”

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Will We Ever Again Agree --- On Anything?

“You’ve told lies.”
“No, you’ve told lies.”
“You aren’t even aware that you’ve told lies.”
“You don’t even know what a lie is.”
“Yeh, well, your mother wears army boots.”

Playground taunts?  Don’t we wish.  Those are words we hear every day from our “esteemed” politicians, the wise men we elected to lead us (well, perhaps not those last words).  The situation seems worse than it ever has been.  To some degree, it feels like the blind are leading the blind.
I liked this quote from Kenneth Minogue in his book, The Servile Mind:
“Much of taxation redistributes wealth to the needy and the incompetent, something that, in earlier times, the rich (intermittently) did themselves.  Governments feel that they will make a better fist at helping the poor if they take into their own hands the power to supply charity to those in need.
The inescapable conclusion is that the rulers of democratic states judge the populations of democratic states to be incompetent over a whole range of important matters – yet these are the very people who are charged by the constitution with deciding who should have the power to rule them.  The paradox arises because the foolish are deciding who the wise are.”
How did we ever get into such a situation?  Will we ever again agree --- on anything? 
I’ve formed my own conclusions and answers to those questions, and they give me a degree of peace – and hope.  I share them here.
To me, the basic problem which started our downfall is the seemingly simple question: What is truth?  Philosophers have been asking that question from time immemorial, and one man (Pilate) even asked it of God.  During the self-proclaimed Enlightenment Period of Man, many philosophers were emphatic:  man can never know truth.  He is of weak mind and his thoughts are swayed by his experiences and bias, and each man’s truth is different from the next.  No man can ever agree with another what is absolute truth.  Therefore, all truth is relative to the person proclaiming it; each has his own truth, and no one else can deny it.  
But this is not what the Catholic Church, nor most other Christian churches, teach.
Jesus said: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Light.”  There is an absolute truth --- but can man know it?  The Church would agree with the relativists in that no man can know Truth --- not entirely in this earthly life.  However, God has revealed Himself throughout history, as documented in the Scriptures and by many who heard and saw Him.  There is much about Truth we can know, and it is not relative to individuals perceiving it.  It is Truth. 
If all truths were truly relative, and as many say: “There is no absolute truth,” then of course this is a lie.  For they state, with the absolute certainty of truth, that there is no truth.  At best, they are confused.  No, if all truth were relative and acceptable, then I could kill your children if I thought it right, and you could rape my wife.  You could elect a government leader, while I could shoot him.  You could choose to work hard and achieve what you desire, and I could steal it from you.  And each of us could think that is the right thing to do, the relative truth.  And society would be chaos.  And the biggest idiots would reign. 
No, there are recognized truths, even among those who say they are relativists.  In the United States, the Constitution starts out by stating and accepting this fact:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident …”  And the Constitution mentions God.  In the thousands of books I have read, particularly in the past twenty-five years, I have come to believe that the starting point for the downfall in this country was: we stopped mentioning God.  Adam and Eve may have stated man’s downfall when they thought they could know as much as God, know the Truth totally, but only in more recent times has man disregarded God.  In effect man now states: “I won’t debate whether I know as much as God, but with our scientific advances I know as much as man can know.  And I am here on earth, and God is not.  And this is what I know:  the truth.”  And if I am in power, in the government, in cities, in schools, or in churches, I will teach MY truth.  And that is what many men do.  And they get more believers in their ideology every day.
And what of the churches?  A huge (but decreasing rapidly) portion of Americans state that they are Christians, but … they define for themselves what a Christian is or should be.  So one says a good Christian is this, and another says a good Christian is that.  The Catholic Church, in particular, is easy to denounce and demonize, since it has someone in authority saying what a good Christian is --- someone who says what is Truth, as far as man can know it.  “How dare you tell me what is truth,” they say.  “I KNOW what your church should say is truth.”  And in many churches, chaos reigns, and the most charismatic of the speakers leads the flock --- astray.
What to do?  This thinking that has evolved over hundreds of years, and crept into our churches and schools over decades, so how do we begin to change it?  Whether Christian or not, will men ever agree again?  I read some words this morning which triggered all these thoughts of which I’ve been writing.  They were from the second letter of the apostle Peter:
We possess the prophetic message (Scripture) as something altogether reliable.  Keep your attention closely fixed on it, as you would on a lamp shining in a dark place until the first streaks of dawn appear and the morning star rises in your hearts.     2 Pt 1:19
The pope has called for a New Evangelization, starting with ourselves.  We should make sure we know and are anchored in our faith, not wavering ourselves by “what WE know is wrong with the Church.”  St. Peter says the way we should begin to anchor ourselves is by keeping our attention focused on Scripture, the words of God, even as we would focus on a lamp shining in the darkness.  Until the streaks of dawn appears in our hearts --- and we really begin to see the Truth.  And there is nothing relative about it at all.  And when St. Peter says: “WE possess the prophetic message,” he is referring to the Church, not as a bunch of individuals, but as the Body of Christ, growing together in the Truth.
Will we ever agree again?  We can start by agreeing on what the Church and Scripture teaches.  And if you are one of those who might say: “But they are fools!” I would ask you to read again the line about how His Words would never pass away.  I would ask you to read of the thousands of saints and wise men, men certainly holier and wiser than me, who teach His Truth.  And then would you still say: “These tens and hundreds of thousands who proclaim Him and in many cases died for Him are all fools!  Only I know the truth?”  And if you could make such a statement, could you stand in front of the mirror and still state: “Only I know the truth.”  And then could you stand in front of God and state: “Only I know the truth?”
And who would be the fool?      

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The President Gives Thanks to God ...

The Ugandan newssite New Vision reports President Yoweri Museveni celebrated Uganda’s 50th anniversary of independence from Britain at the National Jubilee Prayers event by publicly repenting of his personal sin and the sins of the nation.

“I stand here today to close the evil past, and especially in the last 50 years of our national leadership history and at the threshold of a new dispensation in the life of this nation. I stand here on my own behalf and on behalf of my predecessors to repent. We ask for your forgiveness,” Museveni prayed.
“We confess these sins, which have greatly hampered our national cohesion and delayed our political, social and economic transformation. We confess sins of idolatry and witchcraft which are rampant in our land. We confess sins of shedding innocent blood, sins of political hypocrisy, dishonesty, intrigue and betrayal,” Museveni said.
“Forgive us of sins of pride, tribalism and sectarianism; sins of laziness, indifference and irresponsibility; sins of corruption and bribery that have eroded our national resources; sins of sexual immorality, drunkenness and debauchery; sins of unforgiveness, bitterness, hatred and revenge; sins of injustice, oppression and exploitation; sins of rebellion, insubordination, strife and conflict,” Museveni prayed.
Next, the president dedicated Uganda to God.
“We want to dedicate this nation to you so that you will be our God and guide. We want Uganda to be known as a nation that fears God and as a nation whose foundations are firmly rooted in righteousness and justice to fulfill what the Bible says in Psalm 33:12: Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord. A people you have chosen as your own,” Museveni prayed.

Okay, so it's not our president of the United States; we could only wish he could be like this man from Uganda.  But I am pleased that there ARE such REAL LEADERS in this world.

You can read the full story about the Ugandan President's prayer here:

Friday, November 23, 2012

Quiet Thoughts on Thanksgiving

Our entire body, then, will be preserved in Christ Jesus, and each of us should be subject to his neighbor in accordance with the grace given to each.  The stronger should care for the weak, and the weak should respect the stronger.  The wealthy should give to the poor, and the poor man should thank God that he has sent him someone to supply his needs.  The wise should manifest their wisdom not in words but in good deeds, and the humble should not talk about their own humility but allow others to bear witness to it.  Since, therefore, we have all this from him, we ought to thank him for it all.  Glory to him for ever.  Amen.
            ---- From a letter to the Corinthians, by Saint Clement, pope.
The above words were part of the Readings for this day, and a great reminder to me (the bold points are things underlined in my prayer book).  St. Clement first points out that grace is given to us, a gift --- not earned, not “my right,” and not given to everyone in the same way or the same amount, but “in accordance” with what we need.   And with this grace we are able to do (if we follow this grace) what we were made to do, to be as we are created to be.  Some of us have a body which can be strong, some have talents and drive to enable them to be rich, and some have depth of thinking to enable them to be wise.  And with the gift of who he is, a man should, according to Clement, be subject to his neighbor.  These gifts we are given are not meant for us alone, to keep, to hoard, but to be given to our neighbor.  This is following the commandment to “Love your neighbor, as yourself.”  This is imitating God, whose image we are made in.  This is being who we were created to be, God’s presence here on earth.  And for all this, this ability to receive grace, to be all we were created to be, and to love as He loved us, we ought to thank him.
As I read them, I thought those were great words from Saint Clement, whose feast day is celebrated today in the Catholic Church.  Clement was the third pope to rule the Roman Catholic Church after Peter.  Like Peter, he was martyred for his belief in Jesus.  In his letter he showed how he was using the grace and talents given to him, witnessing his faith --- even when it meant his death.  But the conclusion of his letter, like the conclusion of his life, was the most important statement:  “we have all this from him; we ought to thank him for it all.”  That’s what a real leader does: he leads, as he encouraged all his flock to use their gifts accordingly.   Jesus gave us the parable of the Good Shepherd; I see that in Clement.
While mom still sleeps this early morning, I quickly drove to my house, picking up the paper from the driveway and grabbing a coffee at the local shop.  I listened with pleasure to Christmas music on the radio, much of it singing of Peace on Earth.  It had rained last night and the streets were wet, the early morning sky full of bulbous, fast moving clouds, but off to the East the sun peeked through the horizon, casting a rainbow of colors across the darkness.  Life felt good, and I gave thanks.
This morning, in the quiet of mom’s house, I read a blog I follow.  The woman has many a worry in her life, but this morning I read how all her pains and worries seemed to be on hold.  She felt at peace, and she wrote of her feelings, and directly and indirectly, her thanks.  I thought: I wish I could read more words like that.  (I wonder if God feels the same way.)  If you occasionally read the nonsense I write here, you know that I don’t give thanks for MY blessings nearly enough, thanks for just my Being, for being who I am, and the graces I receive to help me be the best I can.  The grace and joy of being who we were created to be, it is a wonderful feeling. 
My 94-year old mom, the beautiful sky, a friend home from the hospital, your marriage, your kids, your dog (who listens sometimes), and for our health (even if only on some days), we have so many things to be thankful for.  As I watch the birds going in and out of the feeder on the window in front of me, first two than six then four, the flock sitting on the bush below, all taking turns at getting some seed.  The seed’s a blessing I give them, from my blessings, and they seem to accept it and be content.  I don’t know if birds have the capability of giving thanks, but their contentment seems to be thanks, in a way.  Certainly they have more uncertainties in their lives than I have in mine, yet they can be content. 
Despite all that’s happening in the world – or in our little world, if we could only really realize all that’s been given us, we could be content also.
I’m reminded of the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, with Jimmy Stewart (perhaps it may even be on television today).  Often shown at Christmas time, it depicts a man who is so sad that he wishes he were never born --- and then God grants him the grace to see what the world would be like if he HAD not been born.  And the world would be a much worse place, and the people he cares about would have a much worse life --- some would have died, and some would never have been born.  And in the end he understands, and despite all his woes and sorrows he realizes that his life is a blessing, and he exclaims loudly: “I want to live!”  In a very real way, his words were ones of thanks to God:  I want to live.
May we all want to live the lives God has blessed us to have, and to be as he created us to be.  And whatever that life might be, to give thanks.  Let us not forget to give thanks.   

Thursday, November 22, 2012

For Thy Great Love ...

If we had to name any one thing which seems unaccountably to have fallen out of most men’s practical religion altogether, it would be the duty of thanksgiving.  It would not be easy to exaggerate the common neglect of this duty.  There is little enough of prayer; but there is still less thanksgiving.  For every million of Paters and Aves which rise up from the earth to avert evils or to ask graces, how many do you suppose follow after in thanksgiving for the evils averted or the graces given?  Alas! It is not hard to find the reason of this.  Our own interests drive us obviously to prayer; but it is love alone which leads to thanksgiving.  A man who only wants to avoid Hell knows that he must pray; he has no such strong instinct impelling him to thanksgiving.  It is the old story.  Never did prayer come more from the heart than the piteous cry of those ten lepers who beheld Jesus entering into a town.  Their desire to be heard made them courteous and considerate.  They stood afar off, lest he should be angry if they with their foul disease came too near Him.  Alas! They did not truly know that dear Lord, nor how He had lowered Himself to be counted as a leper for the sons of men.  They lifted up their voice, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”  When the miracle was wrought, the nine went on in selfish joy to show themselves to the priest; but one, only one, and he an outcast Samaritan, when he saw that he was made clean, went back, with a loud voice glorifying God, and he fell on his face before our Saviour’s feet, giving thanks.  Even the Sacred Heart of Jesus was distressed, and as it were astonished, and He said, “Were not ten made clean?  And where are the nine?  There is no one found to return and give glory to God, but this stranger!” 
How many a time have we not caused the same sad surprise to the Sacred Heart!
      -- All For Jesus, by Father Faber, p161
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The world is full of miracles, and prayers answered.
My friend and dozens of others have been released from St. Joseph’s hospital.  Full wards are now empty beds.  Many with the fungal infection were treated for weeks with toxic medicines, and for the medicines’ awful side effects.  My friend was treated for only eight days, and then suddenly the doctors said:  “That’s enough of the experimental treatments.  Go home, take drugs for the next six months, and we’ll monitor your blood results every couple of weeks, and take additional tests as indicated.”
(I don’t know if the doctors suddenly think that they’ve solved the problem, or that they’ve done what they can, and it is now in God’s hands.)
But my friend, still weak and woozy, went home yesterday --- her birthday.  “Jesus gave me a birthday present,” she exclaimed.
Yes, He did.  He answered our prayers.  And lest we forget, this day reminds us:  give thanks.

Lord, we give Thee thanks for Thy many miracles, for the great and the small that we see all the time, but never stop to ponder, and for those which, no matter how much we might ponder, we will never understand. 
Lord, for Thy great love, we give Thee thanks.
My Jesus, I trust in You.
May the Lord answer in time of trial;
May the Name of Jacob’s God protect you.

- Psalm 20