Monday, July 30, 2012

I Can't Live Without Jesus?

The speaker at Steubenville was raising the question of Catholics:  Do you really believe that Jesus is the Lord of your life?  He was speaking about Pentecost and the Holy Spirit coming upon the apostles.  He spoke of an analogy, the Holy Spirit being like the gasoline or battery in a car --- it looks complete without it, but those are the things that power the car.  Similarly, the Holy Spirit powers our living out our life in Jesus, which is why the apostles didn’t begin to evangelize until after Pentecost, after they had received the Holy Spirit, after they had the power.  In answer to the question: “Have you made Jesus the Lord of your life,” he noted that the true answer to that question, after receiving the Holy Spirit, is an enthusiastic “I can’t live without Jesus.”  He powers my life.
I got his point.  I understood the words, analogy, and truth of his statement.  But I choose to look at it differently.
Jesus can’t live without me.
I don’t think I am a very important person.  I don’t have a huge family.  I don’t have large numbers of followers in work or ministry.  I am not wealthy.  From so many points of view, when I die the world will not notice.  So the statement that “Jesus can’t live without me” seems to place a huge amount of power with this nobody, an importance way beyond what evidence seems to support.  How, in any way, can God depend upon me, much less that His very life depends upon me!  Jesus can’t live without me?? What a deluded, egotistical, and stupid statement that seems!
But it is true.
The speaker at Steubenville this week stated a truism that “I can’t live without Jesus,” but my life is not about me!  My life is not only about what I do, where I live, what I think or even how I am to go on --- with the gift of Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  My life is not only about “what, where, or how,” but it is about “why.”  Why do I live?  Paul prays that “it is not I who lives, but Christ who lives in me.”  But why?  So that Paul can gain eternal life?  Yes, but is that all?  If that were true, there would only be one commandment:  Love God.  But Jesus gave us a second commandment:  Love your neighbor.  In all eternity we will exist as part of the Body of Christ, all together --- God, me, and my neighbor.
So the statement “I can’t live without Jesus” creates one side of the triangle of our eternal union: Jesus united to me.  Our neighbors iterating the same statement create a second side: Jesus and them.  But we need to complete the connection, to mirror the Trinity, by in effect stating that: “I can’t live without my neighbors.”
“I can’t live without Jesus” is read putting the emphasis on the first word of that sentence: “I”.  Fulfilling that need for God is like no other need we possess, but still, it is just one of a long list of things we need, or want.  In our human nature is a desire to want … well, almost everything.  We want riches and health, certainly, but we want wisdom and beauty and love, also.  And while God sent Adam outside Eden to toil for what he wanted, Adam greatly missed Eden because there everything was freely given to him.  And a gift given and received signifies love, a thing at the heart of all our needs.
God created man in His image.  Eve, being created out of Adam duplicated that image, but that action mirrors a part of God’s very being.  He is love.  Man yearns to be like God, and Satan tempted him by saying “if you want to be like Him, take this fruit.”  But the very act of taking indicated that Adam was NOT like God, because God gives; He doesn’t take.  God loves.  At the very heart of who God is, He is love.  That longing we have to be like God?  When Adam was cast out of Eden he definitely was not like the God he longed to be.  And an eternity of toil on this earth would never make man like God, even if he gained all the things of earth.  Because man cannot DEMAND or take love.  Love is something which is chosen to do; it must be freely given; it cannot be won or earned.
If man wishes to be like God, he must first love like God.  And while God gave man all the other things of the earth to TAKE, He gave man other men to love.  Jesus left the world and rose to heaven, but he left man here to act in His place.  And by His life, He showed man how to love, and why.  To be as God, man must love as God, freely loving his neighbor, even as God did when He was present on earth.  Why?  Because this is fulfilling man’s innermost longing:  to become as God.  For that is the promise, the covenant of Jesus:  If we live as him, we shall indeed become one with Him, for all eternity.
“I can’t live without Jesus?”  Certainly if the emphasis were on the last word, it would be a perfect statement, but so many of us saying those words would put the emphasis on the first word.
“Jesus can’t live without me” states it better, I think.  His name is the first word and the emphasis, as it should be.  We are secondary, and the reference to us is in the third person, “me,” not as saying what “I” want.  Jesus can’t live without me because He wants to freely love me, as only God can do.  But even more, while He rose to heaven, He sent His Holy Spirit to be with me, to animate me, to help me to live as He lived, to help me to love --- as He would, to give my neighbor the gift of His Love.
Many of our neighbors will be shocked at this free gift:  something they yearned for, and didn’t have to toil for, didn’t have to take.  Love received as a gift is almost a strange thing.  “See how they loved one another,” the Romans said of the early Christians.
We want to say are the words of Paul: “So it is not I who live, but Christ who lives within me.”  So, through us, He can love.  So, through us, our neighbor can look but not see us, but see a gift from Jesus.  So through us, no one will ever feel lonely again.
In my years, I have heard the pains of many a person.  They thought their life was useless.  A failed effort, a tragic loss, a deep hole in their being, or a loss of love, all gave rise to a loss of a reason for living.  “Why go on?” I heard wondered more than a few times.  “My life is so unimportant, so useless,” were words often whispered, as a statement, and as a question.  Many a well-meaning person told them that to re-vitalize their life they needed to find Jesus again; perhaps I did also.  But I think, instead, they need to realize that God is not something they want or need, like some other things they want or need on this earth.  The things of this earth were put there to please man; God wasn’t put here to please man. Man was put here to please God.  You think your life is useless, or unimportant?  A God NEEDS you!!!  Unimportant?? Completion of His plan, His love, depends on you --- being who He created you to be.  You ARE important now, and for all eternity.  The pains which happened in your past are part of the building blocks of who you are:  trees need to be cut down to build houses.  We live to give animation to His love, for the continual building of His kingdom, until it is complete. 
Jesus needs us.  C.S. Lewis said “There are no mere mortals.”  Through us, Jesus lives here still.  He evangelizes here still.  He works miracles here still.  He loves here still.  Jesus can’t live without us.  He lives that we might live.  We live that He might live.
“I can’t live without Jesus” may sometimes be a mournful statement, but “Jesus can’t live without me” is one of joy.  I know that I am loved --- and I love it!  And I am not anxious, no matter what trials may come my way.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

But If You're Dirty ...

“But if you’re dirty, you need to take a bath.”  I can still recall those words of my mother, in those days when I was so young and trusting.  My routine as a child was a weekly bath, and even then sometimes it was in water previously used by my brother or sister.  (We practiced conservation even then, but it was not for the greening of the earth, but of dad’s wallet, which never had much spare cash.)  Washing hands before meals was our normal weekday cleaning, with perhaps some touchups before bedtime.  Still, there sometimes happened in the life of all young boys those days of some unexpected dirt or mud.  And then mom would say:  “Ewwww!  You need a bath!”  And almost as sure as her words were my words, with the logic of a child: “But I only take baths on Saturdays, and today is Tuesday!”  And it was then that I heard mom’s logic:  “But if you’re dirty, you need to take a bath!”
And if I were smart that day, mom’s argument ended all discussion.
I built my house in 1972, and have lived here long enough to see many neighbors come and go, and a few grow up.  The family across the street lived there many years.  Their oldest son was, as they say, a handful.  More than once I looked out my front window to see the flashing police car lights and saw him, hands up and leaning against the car --- in trouble, again.  I don’t know if he ever went to jail, but I did stumble across his name a few years back on our state’s sexual predator registry.  And regarding the three bungled attempts at breaking into my home years back, well ….  But now he is an adult.
A few years back he received a crippling injury at work, keeping him home for over a year, just when jobs were becoming scarce.  He’s been unemployed since.  Perhaps his injury was a blessing, however, for his mom and uncle who lived with him both were dying of cancer.  It was a long, slow death for both of them, and I saw and heard how ornery they sometimes were while bearing their pains.  But he took care of them, and he spoke very lovingly of them to me, even as I heard them cursing him for not doing some trivial task fast enough, or in anticipation of their needs.  He loved them well, and they both died this past year, and now he is the owner of the house across the street, and still unemployed.
In the beginning he wouldn’t take charity, and so I paid him to cut the grass, shovel the snow, trim the hedge and whatever else I could find for him to do.  But recently, in this long hot summer, the grasses have all dried up, and with it so did his lawn cutting business jobs.  And he has taken to borrowing money from me on occasion, to be paid back in work, work which I don’t have for him.  And as the balance between us grows, I’ve turned to God in the chapel and asked:  “Is this what you would have me do?”
Where does “Love of Neighbor” turn into enabling one who seems on the wrong path, whether it be drugs, drink or sloth?  Has what started out a routine with good intentions, had an unexpected turn?  Does the “adult” in the situation need to point out that something unexpected has happened and the routine must be broken?  “But if you’re dirty, you need to take a bath!”  But we’re not dealing with children, only child-like behavior.
And, perhaps, sometimes baths must be taken unwillingly.  The situation I described has me, obviously, thinking of myself as being in the adult role, with my neighbor as the child.  Thoughts on this situation rolled unresolved through my mind these past few days, but this morning at mass I suddenly found myself asking:  “And how often are you, naively, acting as a child, to your own detriment?  How often are you going down the wrong path?  And who will set you straight?”
And would I accept their advice --- or chastisement?  It’s hard to see, sometimes, how we have drifted into wrong thinking, and it’s impossible to see longer term implications which only God can see. 
I also think a lot, lately, about our country’s upcoming election.  How could one not?  There are large groups of people in this country, heading down differing paths, each thinking theirs is the right way, each thinking they are the “adult” in the situation.  And each thinks, in their own fashion, that the other “is dirty, and needs a bath.”  But there is no reasoning going on between them, as happened between my mother and I, and certainly no love. 
My neighbor and I have more love for each other than is seen in politics today.  At least we can calmly talk.  And I wonder who might get dragged, kicking and screaming, to the bath tub this fall, and will they really get clean, or will the mud just get splashed over everyone?
How do you “love your neighbor,” when he doesn’t want to be loved?  How do you “judge the sin but not the sinner,” when he wants to continue sinning?  And how do we overcome the temptation to give into concupiscence, our own tendency to sin, and just make the situation worse?  How do we act in love, when love hurts?
The way before us does not look easy.
Today is the feast day of the apostle, St. James.  The gospel spoke of his mother’s asking Jesus if her son, James, could sit at Jesus’ right hand in heaven.  And Jesus’ response was directed at James: “Can you drink of this cup of which I will drink?”  James said “yes,” not realizing all the pain that his answer would require.  It reminded me of Peter’s “yes” to the question: “Do you love Me?”  Peter gave the right answer three times, and then found the cost of love. 
Wanting to follow the Lord, wanting to do what is right, and wanting to love our neighbor sometimes will cause us pain, sometimes beyond what we can expect or imagine.  But we know the answer to the question, as the apostles did.
I don’t know what will happen in the next election, but I find it hard to imagine that either side is “the adult” in our present situation.  And I wonder if, perhaps, pain must to be meted out, in love, to both sides.  There are so many things about our country and the path our culture is on that just make me feel dirty. 
Will we hear our REAL Parent say: “But if you’re dirty …”
And I think of some other words so often said:  “Jesus, I trust in You.” 
Faith is hard when you don’t understand, but that’s what faith is.  But our faith is not without hope.
“Jesus, I trust in You.”  Say it often in these difficult times, my friends.  And also remember some other words of His, which were once pointed out as being the best words in the Bible: “Do not be anxious.”  

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Review: Bible Basics for Catholics

I’ll admit that when I first saw this book I was tempted to not buy it.  An explanation of the Bible in 150 pages (and large print at that)??  I’ve read larger books trying to explain just one sentence in the Bible.  I thought this book would be a waste of my time.
And I was wrong.
John Bergsma is an award-winning teacher from the Franciscan University at Steubenville (it was this back-cover notation which really caused me to buy the book.  I am going this coming weekend to a conference at Franciscan University, a great island of Catholic orthodoxy in our country.  If he teaches there, he must be good.).  In this book Mr. Bergsma walks the reader through a simple explanation of the Old Testament and New Testament covenants in the Bible.  He explains that a covenant is like a contract, only with a covenant you exchange persons, not property.  “A covenant is a legal way of making someone part of your family.”  Keeping it very simple, he walks you through the covenants of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus --- and he even draws stick-figure pictures to illustrate his point, about as basic a summary as you can get! 
Again, even as I read the Introduction and glanced ahead at the stick figures drawn throughout the book, I was thinking: “Maybe I should stop here.  This is a waste of my time.  I won’t learn anything here.”  It just seemed too basic, but I had heard so many positive comments about this book….  Could I be wrong in my thinking?  And then, of course, there was the pedigree of the author, and so I continued.  And I admit that through much of the book I was thinking: “Yeh, yeh, yeh.  I got that.”  But still I continued.  And then he wrapped it all up around page 150 and I was somewhat pleased that the quick read of “explaining the Bible” was done.  But then I had some time to ponder on what I had read, and what I had recently read in the catechism (the parts about how to live your life in Christ), and other books I had recently read on our purpose in life, and on the purpose of God’s creation.  And although I was correct in my assessment that I had not learned much new in this book, I realized that it WAS a very good re-enforcement of what I did know.  It was another parable, if you will, explaining things in a simple way, a way I expect that I will remember long after I have forgotten what I read in other “more interesting” books.
This book is truly “Bible Basics.”  It reminded me of a review I did on another book a while back, a book “aimed at the average Catholic.”  Like my first impressions about this book, I initially panned that book too, until I realized that I was not “the average Catholic.”  I read more and so I know more, which may seem to be a good thing, but if I don’t retain what I read, if it doesn’t “change my heart,” --- as God in so many places tells us we must do --- then reading all the books in the world won’t matter.  I think that from the average Catholic to the deeply-understanding orthodox Catholic, this book will help you retain the knowledge of the unity of the Bible.  The Bible is a book, a whole book with a complete story, like any other good book.  It has a story to tell, and a message for us to receive, but so often we get focused on a particular scene in the story and forget the total message.  This book will help you focus on the key message of the Bible:  “the sonship Adam once enjoyed with God has been restored to us by Jesus Christ.”
The longest chapter in this short book was the last one, on the Eucharistic Covenant.  Mr. Bergsma explains how all the previous covenants are summarized in Jesus, and points out (a new insight for me) that all the original covenants were between God and a man, but the new and final covenant was IN a single man, Jesus Christ, true God and true man.  Instead of bringing God and man closer together as in the original covenants, this final covenant MADE God and man together.  And in this final covenant, Jesus, was the image of the everlasting covenant: God and man will be together eternally in heaven.   This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.   “What Isaiah predicted is coming true:  the servant of God is becoming the covenant itself (Is 42:6).”
I strongly recommend this book to any Catholic or Christian, weak or strong in their faith, and weak or strong in their understanding of the Bible.  It is a short and easy read, and you WILL remember the points the book makes.  But I will end this review with a few quotes from the final pages of the book (don’t I always steal quotes in my reviews?  ;-)   )
·         The main goal of this book was to show the Bible’s “unity” – how it all fits together.
·         We now have an idea of the “big story” of salvation history … (and) we should want to take part in it, and God has provided a way, through the sacraments.
·         (The) privileges of Adam have been restored to us.  Like Adam, we can call God “Father.”  As royalty, we rule over our passions and possessions, rather than being ruled by them.  As prophets, we speak God’s word to the people around us.  As priests, we offer to God our very lives on a daily basis, as a “living sacrifice” for the salvation of the world.  Finally, as grooms and brides, we find our love and joy in embracing our true Spouse every time we come forward to receive communion.
·         I believe the concepts we have shared, and the symbols we’ve used, can be a powerful way to remember and convey some profound concepts about God’s plan through history.
I agree.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Review: At the Heart of the Gospel

At the Heart of the Gospel, by Christopher West, is heavy-duty reading material about JPII’s series of talks summarized in “The Theology of the Body.”  By heavy-duty I don’t mean that Mr West uses a lot of big confusing words, although he has a few, but rather that het states some simple things that just don’t seem logical.  Kind of like Jesus’ saying “You must eat my flesh.”  It’s a simple statement and you think you know what it means, but unless you really THINK, you don’t.  This book makes you think, to understand what the author is really saying.
Early on Mr. West states: “The signs of the times continue to underscore how desperate is the need – both in and outside the Church – of recovering a vision of the “great mystery” of divine love revealed through our bodies.”  He points to Ephesians 5:31-2 where Jesus tells us why the “two shall become one flesh:” to reveal the great mystery of Christ and his love for the Church.   All of the original covenants of the Old Testament were between God and man, but the final covenant was in one being, Jesus Christ, uniting God and man, uniting the spiritual and the material body.  Mr West explains, through the theology of the body, how the marriage of man and woman reveals the ultimate covenant of Jesus:  man was meant for union with God in all eternity. 
That eternal unity of the Body of Christ, in which we are to participate, is shown to us through the construct of the human body, created in the image of God.  It was meant to be a thing of unity; it was meant to be a thing of beauty.  “Helping the world to ‘see’ the human body and the ‘great mystery’ of human sexuality in this way is central and essential to the new evangelization.”  Mr. West notes: “In summary, the terms ‘sex’ and ‘sexuality,’ properly understood, refer first and foremost to a rich theological ‘identity’ not to an impersonal or animalistic ‘activity.’” 
Mr. West goes on to explain how we must go about evangelizing society.  He speaks about making sure we can talk to those we wish to reach, not speaking in a judgmental way, but recognizing everyone as “good” and desired for union with Christ, and so we must treat them with respect.  We must find common ground on which we speak to one another, and then move forward to teach. 
West quotes Hugh Hefner as saying: “It’s the key to my life, the need to feel loved.”  That is something we can agree upon.  Further, he notes that Catholics should agree with Hefner’s diagnosis of the disease of Puritanism, the fear and rejection of the body and sexuality.  “We agree with Hefner’s diagnosis of this disease, (but) Christians must disagree with his cure.  Hefner’s remedy doesn’t, in fact, solve the problem of Puritanism at all.  All he did was flip the puritanical pancake over from repression to indulgence.  Both approaches flow from the same failure to integrate the body and soul.” 
“The human body is not in itself shameful,” wrote Wojtyla, and as Pope JPII he ordered a restoration project for the Sistine Chapel, removing many of the loincloths that previous churchmen had ordered to cover Michelangelo’s original nudes.  The body, created in the image of God, is a thing of beauty.  Satan, “by mocking the body and the one-flesh union, twists their ‘theo-graphic’ nature into something ‘porno-graphic.’  It is sobering to realize that the diabolic plot behind the pornographic culture in which we live has one final aim:  to blind us to the ‘great mystery’ revealed through our bodies and thereby foil our participation in the Marriage of the Lamb.”
I said that this was heavy-duty reading!  But a slow, thoughtful read of Mr West’s work will lead you to better appreciate the deep insights of JPII’s Theology of the Body work.  It is said that theologians will be studying all the implications of this great work for 50 years; I think it may be more.  The only shortfall of this book is practical advice, for those who can understand this teaching, on how to convey this doctrine to others.  West notes that we must reach down to begin the conversation with others, but only hints at the roadmap of what then to say.  Perhaps that, too, is just something this book leaves you to think on.
I found this book a great read, a great meditation.  Mr. West did offer practical advice on spousal love and lust and thoughts on the difference between idolatry and iconoclasm --- worship of versus appreciating the beauty of the body.  He gives you a great interpretation of Blessed John Paul II’s teaching on the body, and leaves you longing to understand more.  I guess that’s what a good book does.       

Saturday, July 14, 2012

What Are My Rights?

How often have you heard it said:  “I know my rights!”  I couldn’t begin to estimate how often I have heard that sentence, but lately I’ve been hearing a different phrasing, (perhaps deliberately, I believe) which is confusing people.  Lately I’ve been hearing: “You should have the right to ….”
This is such a broad subject that I wanted to make sure I was talking about the correct definition of “rights”, so I looked up the word “Rights” using the thesaurus option in this word processing software.  Under “Rights” it had the comparable words of “human rights, civil rights, constitutional rights, civil liberties, privileges.”  That helped clarify things a bit, however under “human rights” was listed the comparable word of “rights” --- I guess the software authors couldn’t bring themselves to mention God as a source of human rights.  The writers of our Constitution, however, could do so. 
All of the definitions of “rights” stated above refer to things we are free to do, and the last definition states it pretty definitively:  “privileges.”  They are things you can’t be stopped from doing.  People mention “acceptable” laws as those limiting rights when those rights infringe upon another.  People fight laws which limit what we can do to ourselves, and seemingly not impact others (I’ll leave the fact that “No man is an island” for another meditation).  So rights, by definition, are about things we can do.
But recently, the public discourse has been confused by the words I mentioned in the statement above:  “You should have the right to …,” for instead of ending that statement with things you should be able to “do”, it ends it with things you should be able to “get.”  You should have the right to get good medical care.  In the local paper today the lead editorial noted that you should have the right to a college education.  And, of course, we remember the one broadly proclaimed a few years back: “You should have the right to own a new home.” 
And how did that “right” work out when it was dictated by Congress?    
I suspect all these other rights-to-be-given-things will work out the same way.  And, for our country, it won’t be good. And for our Church, it won’t be good.  I said I had begun a study, with friends, of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Like this blog says on its header, I am not here to preach, but to grow in faith, myself.  You are invited to come along, if you wish.  So when I tell you what I read in the catechism it is not to convince you of anything; it is just what I read, and my thoughts here are mine and not ANY church’s.  And that is as it should be, because the topic I want to delve into is “freedom.”
I didn’t have to read many pages in the catechism, reading in a section about how we should live our lives, when I came to a doctrine titled: “Freedom and Responsibility.”  The very first sentence read:  “Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one’s own responsibility.” 1731  So freedom is the underlying basis for what I can do or not do --- this sounds a lot like “rights.”  But note what goes along with freedom in the title:  Responsibility.  It’s not often said, but that word also goes along with “rights.”  They go together.  Since freedom and rights are about what you can do, there is a responsibility about your actions. 
Now sometimes in human affairs there will be those who do not act responsibly.  In the public arena that results in laws, to limit freedoms or rights which infringe upon others.  If you won’t act responsibly, the laws will dictate that you do.  Relative to human rights, that is why God gave us the Ten Commandments.  And, in fact, many civil laws are based on the Ten Commandments (for those not accepting the religion-based limits).  But rights are not totally defined by laws.  In fact, the Constitution talks about “inalienable” rights --- rights which cannot/should-not be limited by laws.  We talk about rights based on our human dignity --- we are not like other animals --- even if we cannot bring ourselves to mention God as a source of those rights.  Dropping back to the catechism for a moment, it has this sentence:  “The right to the exercise of freedom, especially in moral and religious matters, is an inalienable requirement of the dignity of the human person.”  1738  This doctrine of the Catholic faith is the reason Catholic bishops are opposed to the HHS mandate on contraception and abortificants:  it limits a person’s right, his inalienable right, to the exercise of freedom in religious matters.  I spoke of limiting rights being permissible in a society when people don’t responsibly exercise freedom --- they infringe on someone else’s rights.  But my religious right to not do or pay for abortion does not infringe someone else, only me.  I can’t make you get an abortion.  Aahhh, but under the revised concept of “rights”, “You have the right to …” make me give you an abortion, or contraceptives.  Or as we’ve seen, to make me give you medical care, or a college education, or a home. 
The definition of rights has been subtly changed from “what I am free to do”, to “what you are free to do to me.”  But the words “I” and “you” are interchangeable, depending on who is speaking.  Who defines “I” and “you?”  As we are now seeing in this country, it is whoever is in power.  Thus the all-consuming effort of people in government to STAY in government:  they have the power to say what your rights are; what can be done TO you.  By subtly changing the meaning of rights, they have ended individual rights, those “inalienable” ones given us by God.     
“What are my rights?” is a scary question right now in America.  I saw it in the newspaper editorial this morning:  “You should have a right to a college education.”  The newspaper editors are in a position of power to demand those “rights.”
The Catholic Church weighs in heavily on the responsibilities associated with freedom, and rights.  “Freedom makes man responsible for his acts to the extent that they are voluntary.  Progress in virtue, knowledge of the good, and ascesis enhance the mastery of the will over its acts.” 1734  Freedom involves our will, and we are responsible for forming our will; we can train ourselves to do what is right.  The catechism talks about the morality of our acts, conscience, and virtues as things involved in our freedom, things we can reason on and train ourselves to do better.  “By free will one shapes one’s own life.”  “Human freedom … attains its perfection when directed toward God.”  1731 
So freedom and rights are about doing good things, and good things are those directed toward God.  Rather than commanding what we should not do relative to our neighbor (limits to our freedom), Jesus gave us the Beatitudes, defining how we should behave relative to our neighbor.  At its heart was the commandment to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  This understanding, or lack of it in the public sector, is at the heart of the debate over rights.
The Ten Commandments defined limits on what you were free to do under your “rights.”  These commandments became the basis for laws limiting human rights.  Then Jesus came and gave us a more encompassing viewpoint, not only what we “can’t” do, but all that we should do.  Here was a picture, in the Beatitudes, of how to live like Him.  This is the way we should not limit, but use our rights, to love our neighbor.  But while the civil area copied the commandments into laws, it does not copy the Beatitudes, and indeed many now even decry the limits of our “freedom” imposed by the commandments.  Instead of copying the Beatitudes on how we should love others, many focus on the fact that we should love ourselves.  Crying against the Beatitudes, they change its words: “don’t limit what I can do for others” into “don’t limit what I can MAKE THEM do for me.”
The great commandment went from “Love God and you neighbor as yourself” into “Love yourself.”  The temptation of that latter alternative is exactly the temptation of the Garden of Eden.  We saw how “everyone has a right to own a home” turned out in our human existence.  How do you think “everyone has a right to love himself” will turn out relative to our heavenly existence?  God gave Adam and Eve a preliminary example of His thoughts on the matter, and then gave us Jesus to help clarify our thinking.  But it appears many are still confused.  
“What are my rights?”  As we’ve noted, your civil rights today depends on who is in power and what they say.  They can change.  So don’t get too comfortable with your rights to do something to others today, because tomorrow someone else may be in power, to use their “right” to do something to you. 
Our human rights, our rights from God, do not change.  And they are associated with responsibility.  On a comparable basis in civil society there are responsibilities associated with rights also.  You DO have a right to medical care and a college education and even a home.  Your responsibility associated with those rights is to DO what is necessary to obtain those things:  work.  And in the “rare” exception of someone not able to work “the poor old granny who you would throw in the street and starve if the government didn’t give her stuff,” there is a responsibility for me to “freely” give to support her, in love. 
There are so many things we have a right to:  a big-screen color tv, a cell phone, a big new car, fancy clothes, and even drugs.  But if I use my freedom to choose those things and spend my money on them, I am also choosing not to spend my money on food for my kids, for their education, or for my retirement.  Consistently making choices for my immediate happiness means I am not acting responsibly.  To choose the good, to choose God, to love his neighbor, man must make choices that are not focused on himself and things to pleasure his body today.  This is acting in freedom; this is acting responsibly; this is acting in align with the Beatitudes; this is growing in holiness and attaining heaven.
This is my right; no one has a right to take it from me. Or to slyly change the meaning of words, like the ones heard in the Garden:  “You will not die …”

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Catechism Study

My post titled:  Self Evangelization a few weeks ago led me to start up a catechism study class at my home.  It meets weekly, and we read the catechism, intending to grow in our understanding of the Christian, and in some cases specifically Catholic, faith.

We are starting with the section of the catechism titled:  My Life In Christ, which is focused on living out our Christian life.  This has meaning not only to Catholics; most of the doctrines stated in this section of the catechism apply to all Christian faiths.  This is about learning our faith, and understanding how we are to live, in this increasingly post-Christian culture in America.

I've set up a blog and format for anyone to follow along.  Each week, I'll post the readings of the catechism for that week, giving time for anyone to read and offer comments on the blog site.  Then after the group meets at my home on Tuesday nights, I'll post summary thoughts of mine.  That way anyone can follow along, in an organized study of the catechism.

This year has been designated as the year of faith.  I encourage everyone to do something to improve their knowledge of their faith, so that they might truly live it.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Disappointing God

I think I wrote one of my best posts ever a couple of years ago, when I wrote the one titled: Sin and Disappointment.  I read it again today, because I felt compelled to write on the topic once more.  I wrote then of an innocent sin, and the disappointing of parents’ expectations --- and of shame.  Those three things: expectations, sin and shame, necessarily belong together, so as to create a healthy --- and indeed Christian --- mental outlook on life.  Sadly, we not only have disconnected them in our culture, we don’t even know what the words mean anymore.
I think part of the problem is that we’ve become stupider.  We have the capability now to satisfy our every whim of interest; knowledge is at our fingertips on the web.  And if we think something interesting enough to comment about, we tweet, blog, or post to Facebook, and we get almost instant reactions --- others think what we say is interesting.  And then we go on to something else, to interest ourselves or project ourselves to others as being “important” enough to notice.  But most of our tweets and responses are merely quick reactions, no different than when we jump when we hear a loud bang.  They are instantaneous, and without thinking.  Now, human reactions are not a bad thing, but truly human reactions should not be the same as any other animal’s reactions.  We can think and reason. 
As we live our lives, we should be gaining knowledge and, hopefully, wisdom.  To do so requires lots of information, but not just willy-nilly facts, but a set of data which we can reason on and connect.  We can make sense of our knowledge, and if we gain good knowledge and instill it in our being, “becoming good,” then our human reactions can be good reactions.  So, for example, if we see someone hurting we can instinctively seek to help and comfort them, and not to take a picture to post for our “friends.”  We need to develop this good knowledge, and most of us get a very good start in making this happen. 
Our parents and God taught us as we were growing up; they gave us certain expectations of our behavior, and they defined them as good.  And they let us know that if we failed in their expectations of us, they would be sad.  And when we failed them, we felt shame because one thing which almost all humans did learn and take to heart early in life is that they don’t want to make their parents sad.  And Christians learned that they don’t want to make God sad.  And so disappointing them, sinning, caused us shame.  And that was a good human reaction, for it gave us resolve to not disappoint or sin again.
But even if we were blessed to have these expectations instilled in us early in life, something we knew so well and intimately can get covered over and forgotten, if we don’t seek to build on it, to grow in our knowledge of what is good.  I think with our newfound capabilities to flitter around to satisfy our every interest, we’ve lessened our capability to remain focused on something, or to build additional knowledge, because “we already know that,” and instead seek to know something else.  What were once important expectations of our parents or God, deeply held in our hearts, became replaced by expectations of our “friends.”  Ever so subtly, our focus changed from not disappointing our parents or God, to not disappointing our friends, or in truth, not disappointing ourselves.  Keeping our parents and God happy became secondary to keeping ourselves happy.  Good or bad was not judged by what they felt, but what we felt about something.  And the dissatisfaction and shame we felt at not living up to their expectations went away.  And so when we sinned, we felt no shame, and therefore had no reason to stop sinning --- because we were doing something important to us, and that’s all that mattered.
And what a disappointment that must be to God.
From time to time I’ve thought about my judgment day, when I stand before God.  Usually I thought of it as a serious time, and perhaps even a long time, as we look over my life and how I’ve done.  And in thinking on it, maybe I ask myself the question:  “Will He be disappointed?”  Recently, though, I thought that the encounter might be different.  Perhaps God is as busy as we seem to be, and so His reaction to our presence might be a flippant “You’re in” or “You’re out,” a split second response.  I guess I could accept such a prompt judgment; I certainly couldn’t argue with it. 
But then I thought about another possible reaction of His:  “You here already?”  He made us for a purpose; He set before us something to do with our life; and He has an expectation that we will succeed, but perhaps we might not.  But what if He looks at us on Judgment Day and says:  “You didn’t fail, and you didn’t succeed either --- because you didn’t even try.”  What a disappointment that would be for Him, I expect.  He did everything for us, set us up for success, but we chose to ignore all He taught us.  We chose to not understand it; we chose to not seek to learn what was His will; we chose to be concerned only with our will.  His happiness mattered not, only our own.  He would be disappointed, and sadly, we wouldn’t even feel shame.
My words to God often are “I trust in you.”  I think those are His words back to us.  He won’t disappoint us, but we can disappoint Him.  Somehow, that seems like it gives us some power over God, and maybe in our hearts that is what we want.  Through His death, Jesus gave us to power to enter into eternal life, His life, to become part of God’s body.  Through some distortion of our self-worth, we want Him to become part of OUR life, ratifying our decisions with His blessings.  In Genesis it says that God looked down on all He created and said it was good.  I think many of us want to look down on all we want to do and say the same thing.  When our focus is on our happiness alone, we want to be like gods.
Narcissism.  My browser thesaurus offers me definitions of “self-importance, egotism, and self-absorption” --- it’s all about me.  Isn’t it strange that we can have a president who is routinely described in the press as being a narcissist, and we think nothing of it?  One who is elected to represent us all by definition only cares about himself.  And we seem to think that’s okay.  And perhaps that’s why nothing he does seems to bother many people:  He’s doing what he thinks is right --- doesn’t everybody?
The Church is calling for a New Evangelization, and that seems so needed.  So many of us have ignored and forgotten those things which were instilled in us in our youth, and we need to be taught them again.  Christopher West, in his book At The Heart of the Gospel says this new evangelization will demand an “unorthodox” orthodoxy, and in some instances must use “a language with which a more pious and refined audience might take issue, so that a much less pious and refined audience might be reached.”
I hope so.  I pray so. How do you explain our faith to those who will only look at a twenty word Tweet?                   

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


I could have written this as a review of this book, This is The Day The Lord Has Made, by Fr. Wilfrid Stinissen, but I’ve only been reading these daily meditations for about a month.  I previously read Into Your Hands Father by Fr. Stinissen and it made my Christmas list last year, so I thought there might be some gems in this book of daily meditations.
The following meditation for July 3 is one; I am sure there are more (The bold points are mine).  You might want to pick up this book.

Unnecessary Self-Assertion
Conscious that God affirms you, you can affirm yourself.  You don’t need to analyze yourself and dig up your positive qualities.  If you build your self-confidence on things such as capability and intellect, you will never reach such deep affirmation.  You have no idea how long you will retain your health, intelligence, and strength.
Only if you affirm yourself in God’s affirmation of you, do you live in the truth, and only in the truth will you find complete security.  When you know that you are valuable in the eyes of God, you don’t need to find reasons to prove your worth.
Likewise, you are no longer in need of asserting yourself with others.  The tendency to assert oneself, which is rooted in the insecurity we all feel, slowly melts away when you learn to rest in God’s love.  There is no reason to be so sensitive to the opinions of others if you know the opinion God has of you.
Those who can affirm themselves as being affirmed and loved by God will not find it difficult to affirm and love others.  This is evident in the life of Jesus.  He was totally safe in the love of the Father.  Because he rested in the Father’s affirmation he felt no threat from anyone and was free to meet anyone and anything full of love.  The love he received from the Father was an inexhaustible spring in him, and from it flowed a mighty river out into the world.
Jesus wants to give you his own life; he wants you to receive him and live the same life as he lives.