Thursday, June 28, 2012

... When The Sky Is Falling

“Supremes Rule Obamacare Legal”, is the summary headline just about everywhere this afternoon.  No use turning on the radio or television, you know what will be on.  Tornados, hurricanes, hundred-degree temperatures, murder, rape ---- all old news.  This is REAL news:  The Sky Is Falling!!!
NOW will you take seriously this Fortnight For Freedom and pray for our country?
I knew the court results even before I turned on the computer this afternoon; my phone has been ringing off the hook with requests for donations.  And when I finally looked at my email there were even more, many from the same people who had been phoning.  They seemed to indicate that donating to their efforts will solve everything, and perhaps it might, but it is no sure thing.  The truth of the matter is, when huge disasters strike us, or we are looking at them as they come roaring right at us, we just quiver and think this is the worst thing ever. 
It isn’t.
I mean, this law may seem like the one of the biggest messes for our country, seemingly ushering in a quasi-dictatorship and bankruptcy, but we have experienced other major disasters in the past, and more personal ones:  The spouse who admitted to an affair (or didn’t, and you found out), the bank failure and subsequent foreclosure on your house, the company which folded two years before your retirement, and the doctor who told you your child would not be getting better.  These are disasters we have known.  And we thought the sky was falling then, too.
And while we quivered and cried and prayed, our friends (and strangers) offered us platitudes:
·         When you have lemons, make lemonade.
·         The sky isn’t falling; Chicken Little lied.
·         This is probably for the best.
·         If you need anything, just ask me.
·         You’re better off without her; or He’s in a better place.
·         You need to get on with your life.
·         Shit happens, and
·         Never say it can’t get worse

There are tons more, and relative to this seeming disaster for our country today, who knows, maybe we’ll hear some new platitudes.  But the platitudes won’t solve anything, and we won’t feel any better.  It’ll still seem like the sky is falling.  And the platitudes don’t answer the question we face:  What do I do when the sky is falling?
Answers like “Don’t worry, life will go on” don’t provide direction.  We want to do something when disaster strikes, to make it better for ourselves --- and if we are living in the mind of Christ, to make it better for our neighbor.  And that’s where, I believe, that wanting-to-do-something question gets answered:  we should seek to do something for our neighbor.  When disaster strikes, people will be hurt, (and not just ME).  Putting on the mind of Christ, living in His beatitude, is loving our neighbor.  Find something to do to help; find the hurting and DO something, for them ---- really do something, not just write a check.  Get out and do something.
But, you might ask, what about me?  What about my hurt feelings, my pains?  Platitudes people say to me don’t help my pains.  That’s true.  Words don’t help, actions do.  And I pray that those I can’t help have others who do --- I pray you get help.  But if no one comes, then I think it’s crucial to look at those who are asking us questions.  They MAY be looking to help us, but whether they do or not depends on our answer to their questions.
Right now you will be hearing lots of politicians asking:  “Will you support me?”  With our personal disasters, some of us heard: “Do you still love me?”  And in the past sometimes our family or friends said: “Do you have the courage to do the right thing?”  Those are most critical questions being asked of us, and how we answer them may determine whether our pains will end and healing begin.  They are questions to be prayed over.  But I think there is a more important question being asked, when the sky is falling, and when it seems our prayers are NOT being answered.  It is a question being asked of us by God:
“Do you trust Me?” 
In God we trust.  My Jesus, I trust in You.  These are phrases that roll off the tongue just like platitudes, but the question which IS being asked of us by our God when the sky really is falling is almost always: “Do you trust Me?” 
Disasters are disasters in our eyes, but we don’t see with the eyes of God.  We see the now; He sees the future.  Do we trust that He always acts out of love for us?  Do we trust what He sees?   
And God saw that it was good.   (Gen 1:25)

Monday, June 25, 2012

Killing (Some) Babies Is Illegal in Michigan

My friend called me in the middle of the night:  "I think there is a raccoon in my attic.  What do I do?"  I told her to drink a glass of wine to help her get back to sleep; there was nothing she could do in the middle of the night.  The next morning we discussed options on exterminators to call.

She called me back this afternoon and announced:  "I've got bats in my belfry."  My response to that was: "I know," but she ignored my comment and went on to tell me that the scratching she heard was bats walking around in her attic.  The exterminator had seen them, their "droppings" and where they apparently got in.  But then my friend dropped the bombshell:  "He said there is nothing I can do about them."

In the state of Michigan bats are a protected species during the months when they are having baby bats.  During June and July in Michigan, under law the exterminator cannot kill, capture, nor disturb bat nesting places or potential nesting places.  Human babies can and are being killed every day in Michigan, but it is illegal to kill bat babies, because that would be cruel.

I'd like to think there is hope for our country, and that things are getting better, and then I hear stories like this.

And while my friend can't DO anything about her problem for a couple of months, I don't even know what to begin to pray for about the situation! 

She wondered if she could take a tax deduction for running a wildlife sanctuary in her house. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

I Hate My Brother

Sometimes you can know too much about someone or something, or just focus too long on it, and then something which should be relatively unimportant becomes too important; it irritates you.  And Prudence, that critical virtue which guides right and reasoned actions, goes out the window.  We stop reasoning with a mind formed in Christ, and act on emotion only.  And then the other three Cardinal Virtues also leave us.  Alone.
Justice is giving others what they are due, what is right for them as children of God.  Like Prudence, Justice is about how we treat others, but when our emotions become over-involved, it is not about others, but all about us:  what we want, and what will make us feel better.  It is not about what is right or just in God’s eyes, it’s about what we want.  And Fortitude, doing the right thing for others, no matter how contrary to our emotions, Fortitude also goes out the window when we let our emotions lead our actions.  We don’t consider what’s right for others.
And lastly, when we let our emotions rule our actions, it is the virtue of Temperance which, sadly, is most abused.  Of the four Cardinal Virtues, those good habits that our Catholic faith teaches us, Temperance is the only one not focused on our actions toward others, but on ourselves.  Temperance is meant to regulate our desires; it is about moderation.  Temperance enables us to be all that we can be, when we are in control of ourselves.  Work, self-discipline and humility are fruits of Temperance, and Jesus is its model.  Jesus had all the emotions which we have, but he was in control of them.  He even had anger in him, but it didn’t rage at everything which offended Him; it was controlled.
Sadly intemperance is the norm in society today.  Excess, not moderation, is everywhere, in every good thing, and in every bad thing.  We can’t get enough of anything we want.  Nonstop celebration of narcissism and hedonism threatens to undermine our society.  And if we are to change this rot in our society, it must start with us.  We must change ourselves, and the virtue of Temperance is where we must begin.
I began this post writing about knowing too much.  I know that the most popular pages of this blog are the ones titled “I Hate My Father” and “My Father Hates Me.”  Thousands of people have Googled those words, and looked at my pages.  From most every country in the world, people give sway to their hate of their father, and to some degree my knowledge of that fact makes me, the author of this blog on reducing anxiety, it makes me anxious, and to some degree it makes me angry, that others can’t control their anger.  It bothers me because I’ve been there.
Today this knowledge causes me to think on the broader, more general topic:  these people hate a brother in Christ.  Love and love of neighbor, commandments of God, are tossed aside for an emotion that is not for our neighbor --- or for God --- but only for us.  Hate, like all sin, is totally about us.  To our God who gave His life, in love, for His brother, we would say:  “You were wrong to die.  He doesn’t deserve Your love or forgiveness.  I know!!!!”  And we’d say it even to God, with great vehemence, with great emotion, and our uncontrolled rage.  We’d tell God what to do, but really we would be telling Him what WE would do --- if we were God.  If we were God, we’d dispense quick and vengeful judgment on our brother.
But we are not God.  And wouldn’t our world be an awful place if everyone who hated someone else could act as God?  We might think: “But wait a minute.  If all the bad or evil people were punished, that wouldn’t be a bad thing, would it?”  But don’t you see the corner we just let ourselves be led into?  We would have ourselves define good and evil.  But in the Garden of Eden God said man CANNOT eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the reason is that Good and Evil are defined by God, and He alone.  Good pleases God, and Evil displeases Him.  And He is God.  We cannot fully know of what pleases or displeases God in this life, or why.  We cannot know God fully in this life, for we are not God.  Somehow in our emotional concerns about what WE want, we forget that.  We want to act like God.
“But everyone gets mad at someone, sometime,” you might say.  “That’s natural.”  No, that is emotions, uncontrolled by right reason, by Temperance, and for man that is NOT natural.  Man, of all the animals, can reason.  Right reason separates a person from his actions, and looks at each separately.  Love your brother; hate his bad actions.  Your brother doesn’t offend God, his actions do.  Now he may face eventual judgment before God for the actions he chooses, but it is not for us to judge him.  Hatred is a perversion of love.  We are commanded to love our neighbor.  Period.
So how, then, do we deal with the jerks --- or even evil people --- (or their actions) who enter our lives, and who sometimes so enrage us?  Well, certainly we can reasonably tell them that their actions offend us, but we can also often be reasonably sure that they won’t understand or care.  So what then?  I don’t know, but I can tell you what I did when faced with my rage at someone.
I am a divorced person.  I didn’t want to be, but a person I wanted to love instead became a “near occasion of sin,” and was often a temptation to hate.  It was difficult to control my emotions, when someone I wanted so close seemed so far away.  After trying to fix the rift and emotions it caused, divorce became, for me, a means of avoiding a near occasion of sin.  I have avoided seeing or thinking about my ex-wife.  Not being able to change the past, I do not dwell on it, but try to make a better future of my life. 
I have had other people or other things in my life which seemed to be natural triggers of anger --- oil and water --- it seemed we could never work well together.  In some cases, especially when I HAD to work well with them I taught myself to ignore the things about them which irritated me; prayer really helped.  In other cases, I avoided the “near occasion of sin” which evoked in me some emotions I fought to control.  I practiced self-control by becoming more temperate.  To the degree that these people were sinning, I did not judge them, only their actions, as sinful.  And I avoided letting their sinful actions trigger my sin. 
I do now know how God will judge my past choices, sins and failings.  But I do know that I reached a point where I could see myself clearly, and my weaknesses.  I could worry about those weaknesses and past sins (mine and others) all the rest of my life and seek to correct them or make up for them, or act as best I could, seeking forgiveness for my past failings and seeking to be a better person with the rest of my life.  We are to grow in holiness and wisdom all our life; knowing we can’t change the past, but only grow through it, that is wisdom.  Not raging and worrying on past sins and hurts by others or ourselves, is wisdom.  Trusting in God’s forgiveness, is wisdom.  At some point he will judge my life; I can’t change my past sins, which he will see, but I can please Him, I pray, with my future doing of his will.  And so I resolve to do.
Each day at mass I see the Host raised in prayer to Our Father, thanking Him for His Son’s great sacrifice.  But I remember that it was Our Father’s great sacrifice also --- He willed the death of His only Son, for the love of me.  I see the just vengeance of God in the Old Testament, yet at the death of his only Son --- caused by my sins --- He did not hate me.  If He could ignore such a great evil for the love of us, surely we can ignore evils done to us or our loved ones for our love of Him.  He showed us how to love our brother, no matter how great the evils he has done.
Uncontrolled anger can lead us to hate our brother, the one we are commanded to love.  In the Bible Jesus tells us if we hate our brother to not even come to worship Him, but go first and be reconciled with our brother.  And if our brother will not be reconciled with us, we are to avoid him.
As much as I would like to be in control of my life and never sin, I know that I cannot totally avoid doing so.  But I CAN avoid the people or situations that I know lead me to sin.  And I can and must avoid hate, because in my heart I know that when hate of my brother controls my actions, it separates me from God.
And when that happens, I only hate myself.  I think I shall have to work at avoiding those people or things which I know irritate me all my life.  But I WILL work at it.  Like my words in Confession, I RESOLVE to sin no more.
And what about you?  Still can’t see in these words a way to control your hate?  Perhaps reading my prior blog post from yesterday might help.  In it Boris Badenov looked at our U.S. Congress --- boy, if they aren’t people who can stir my anger and hatred, then no one can --- and Boris watched their actions, and he laughed.  He saw what might be their sins ---- sins which would make me angry ---- and he just laughed at their actions.  “They’re goofy,” he said. 
And then he went away.
We need to be able to do the same.  We need to learn Temperance from Boris Badenov.  (Whoo boy!  Who woulda thunk it, Natasha?)  
We can stop hating our brother if our desire to love God is stronger.  Pray to Him for strength, the strength to control ourselves and change our future, to one focused on Him, and not ourselves.
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Thoughts on Virtues in this post were lifted from Bill Donohue's book:  Why Catholicism Matters

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Rocky and Bullwinkle

Watching old cartoon shows on a Saturday afternoon with mom ….
Boris Badenov has invented a Goofy Gas gun and is spraying the gas on all the smart people of the country, instantly making them goofy.  (Along the way, he sprays the Goofy Gas on Rocky and Bullwinkle too, but it has no effect on Bullwinkle because he’s already goofy.)
Meanwhile, Boris and Natasha decide to go to Washington D.C., where they’re shown sitting in the Congressional gallery getting ready to spray everyone when they hear a Senator say: “Mr. Chairman, I propose we spend $38 million dollars on a committee to discover why the government is spending so much money.”  Then Boris says: “Sheesh.  They’re already goofy,” and so they leave to spray someone else.
I’ve always heard it said that the old science fiction movies were becoming reality today.  No, unfortunately, it is the old cartoons that are.
And it isn’t funny anymore.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Music of My Life

The Lord is my strength and my song; He is my Savior.  (Psalm 118)
So often in Scripture God challenges us:  know and do the will of your heavenly Father.  This I wish to do with my life, as I’m sure you also wish to do.  But like heaven, just knowing the destination doesn’t get us there.  All those worries along the way may distract us from the route.
Our life is meant to be a song of praise to God, and we should want to play the music He has written for us.  That is doing His will.  But we are so like children:  we see what we want and, well, we WANT it.  But we forget the basic instructions that our parents gave us for most anything we might want:  You can have it, but ….  There always was that “but.”  Sometimes that “but” was to encourage me to work harder for something, and sometimes it was to limit my ability to chase after my dreams of heaven here on earth --- my, “I want it now.”  I remember that sometimes I thought my parents were mean:  “You could just give me what I want.”And sometimes I thought, “If you don’t give it to me, then you don’t love me.”   I was a silly child to think those things; I knew better.  I knew my parents always loved me.  I know my God does also.  And if sometimes they make things hard, it is to teach me a lesson.
 If I wish to do anything well in my life --- if I wish heaven, I must work for it.  That was the primary “but” my parents taught me, and that lesson applies to things of God also.  He could give us anything, but it will be better and more appreciated if we work for it.
If we wish to play good music, we must study, and practice, practice, practice, and practice.  And we must seek out advice and welcome criticism from ones who know and play better music than us.  Likewise, if we wish to be saints, we must look to the saints to advise us on how to do that.
And if you become proficient and can play beautiful music, even that is not enough.  If you wish to stand out, if you wish to be noticed and remembered, you will need to find and play extremely well, THAT tune, that one tune that when people hear it played they think:  “That’s his tune.”  Frank Sinatra sang “Chicago.”  Barbara Streisand sang “People.”  Mantovani played “Charmaine.”  St. Thomas Aquinas wrote “Summa Theologica.”  These were music played by them like no one else; music it seems that only THEY were meant to play, the music of their life.
We all have a song to play with our life, our song, written for us by God.  If we can learn it, practice it, hear it in our hearts played as He would love to hear it played, how He wrote it to be played, we will be associated with that song for all eternity.  We will be remembered; He will remember.
We can be the music that God hums for all eternity, the song that He can’t get out of His mind.  And when He hums this favorite tune, He will think of us.  There was a Big Band leader called Wayne King, and his theme song was entitled: “The Melody of Love.”  I think he perhaps stole that name, for it sounds like the name of our song, but he did not steal the music we would play, no not the music.  The music of our life was written uniquely for us, and it is up to us to find it and play it, and use it to give glory to the God who wrote it for us. 
We all would like to do something with our life so that we are remembered, so that our life will have been important.  If we do God’s will for us, play the music intended for us, we will fit within the symphony of all life He created.  We are a unique piece in that orchestra, like a piece in a puzzle.  We may think we are independent and do not matter, but for each unique piece of a puzzle there is another piece, or pieces, which uniquely fits with us, and only us. 
We matter, if we become who we were created to be.  And we will be remembered not only here on earth, but in all eternity, where we will know that our piece helped complete a picture of beauty, a melody of love.
The music of our life has been written; it is just waiting for us to find it and begin.  Then we can go on forever, playing our song, living our life, with a love like no other love, in harmony with God, the maestro of our life.