Monday, September 30, 2013

The Shadows We Cast

I knelt in church this morning, my arms resting at either side on the pew in front of me, my head bowed down in prayer, when --- for some reason --- my thoughts stopped, and I opened my eyes.  Below me, on the cushions of the pew I leaned against, I saw the shadows of my arms and head.  I knew the overhead lights and my body, together, caused the dark outlines in front of me, but at first I was confused, for in the shadows I saw four arms and two heads.  Then I noticed that half of the shadows were much fainter than the others.  The brightness of the nearby light above me caused dark shadows, and the relative dimness of further away lights caused fainter shadows.
And my thoughts drifted to my experiences of this past weekend.
I read some blogs of online friends.  One focused some thoughts on how few intimate friends he had: should he seek more?  How?  Some moms I read focused their thoughts on how much they loved their children, and their worries for them, and their need of them.  Reading that, I remembered my own mother’s agony when my siblings died:  it is a tragedy when a mother loses her child.  And this weekend I also spoke with a friend, who was angry because some co-workers couldn’t understand --- or perhaps wouldn’t take the time to understand --- her business insights.  She felt her life had less importance than it should.
All of these saw some purpose in their lives, some valuable meaning dependent on the lives of others.  And, in some manner, they longed for a greater closeness.  They didn’t perceive, as I did this morning, that the shadows they cast, dark or light depending on their closeness, doesn’t change the essence of those they interact with, nor do the shadows of others, --- even those very close to them --- change them.
In Guissani’s Religious Sense, I read this morning his analogy of our relationship with others.  He asked the reader to imagine being born today:  “What would you think if you just emerged from the womb, into the bright light?”  “I would be overpowered by the wonder and awe of things, (experienced) as a ‘presence,’ a presence I do not myself make, which imposes itself on me.”  “This is the original experience of the other.  A baby lives this experience without being aware of it, … therefore, the very first sense of the human being is that of facing a reality which is not his, which exists independently of him, and upon which he depends. … The wonder of this presence attracts him, and that is how the search breaks out,” --- the search for the meaning of his life.
This year my garden didn’t do too well.  The tomato plants weren’t as large, and the tomatoes took longer to ripen.  The nearby trees had grown, and the shadows they cast much of the day blocked the sun which the plants needed to thrive.  Some shadows are necessary to keep the plants from too much heat or too much drying, but too much shadow (as experienced this year) is not good.  There needs to be a balance.
The shadows in our lives need a balance too.  The ones we cast onto others, we should be aware, will never totally make others in our image --- they will never think just as we do.  And although we can and should nourish others, like the fertilizer I put on my garden plants, we should never be angry if they do not turn out as perfect as we would like --- their roots are not in us.  And our lives should never be dependent on theirs, for our roots are not in them either.
And while we might yearn for shadows of others to be cast over us – we need others in our lives to fully live – we should never forget the awe of the presence we first felt as we were born, the other on whom we are really dependent, the Light.  “Be as little children” was one of the sagest advices Jesus ever gave.  “Before you were born, I knew you in the womb.”
The world is an awesome, confusing, and sometimes lonely place, but we should not forget:  He knew us in the womb; He knows us still.  And it is not mere shadow He casts on us, He is the Light of Life.  Be aware of the shadows, other people who we meet and who meet us, but don’t make your life as dependent on them; it isn’t.  You and they merely cast shadows in the Light.  You may think you help others grow, but you can only provide them fertilizer, He provides their roots, which can absorb the nourishment.  Don’t think more of yourself than you are; don’t expect more of others than they can give.  If you do, you are not getting to the root of your problems.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Starfish on the Beach

Most everyone has heard the story of the boy finding thousands of starfish washed up by a storm on the beach.  Moved with pity, he begins tossing them back into the ocean before they die.  A stranger asks him why he makes the effort: “It will make little difference when there are so many.”  And the boy responds: “It will make a difference to this one,” as he tosses it into the ocean.
There are three lessons to this story, but I fear that often only one is taken to heart:  that there are many in need and something must be done.  But there is a second, perhaps more important message:  I must do something.  And even a third:  I see so many people like me laying on the beach of life that I think I am “normal,” but perhaps I am just one of the many who are dying, missing that which would give me more life.  I think people of good will often confuse the importance of those three messages.
Luigi Guissani in his book, Religious Sense, says that ideology is developed from a preconception, “based upon an aspect of reality … taken unilaterally and made, in principle, into an absolute.”  It is “the starting point for the intellectual and his or her opinions, or by the politician to justify and publicize his own platform.”  Guissani quotes Francis Bacon as saying: “People are not inclined to live by pure experience, that it’s easier for them to pollute experience with prejudices.”  “The idols of the tribe, are the idols of the cave.”  This has been happening since the beginnings of man, his prejudices toward himself, toward making his own life easier.  Whether kings or presidents, a man tends to follow those who say: “I will do this for you.”  He desires to follow an ideology which makes his life, and his obligations, easier.
Jesus came onto this earth and said: “I will do this for you,” and He did something so great that no mere man could have done it: He gave us eternity.  But as for others things of life, He said: “Follow me” --- do as I do.  Love your neighbor, and I will show you how.
He expects us to do this, and no one can do it for us.  This is his message and example:  Love.  Be as the boy on the beach, and love your neighbor, one by one.  Don’t worry about the size of the task.  You are to help a hungry person.  You are to offer a neighbor work.  You are to show him the example of a life lived following Christ.  And, you are to allow him to do the same for you.  For some times and in some ways, we each are that starfish dying on the shore.
The priest at mass preaches to you.  Missionary efforts ask for your financial support.  Catholic radio broadcasts the truth.  Christian saints, old and new, write so that you might understand.  They are as the boy on the beach, reaching out to you, to save you from dying. Don’t reject the opportunity they present to you.  Don’t say: “I’m okay.  See, everyone else is like me; we’re okay together.”  Don’t say or think this, as you die together.  Be open to saving your life and those who would care for you, who were put there by God to give you the opportunity to save your life.  And if you should be one of those rare ones, whose primary task IS to save many on the beach, to preach or lead a major Christian effort, do it well, and don’t be overwhelmed by the size of the task.
One at a time.  Be as the boy, tending to your neighbor.  Be as the starfish, open to the fact that you might grow more fully alive in faith; seek it and accept it.  Don’t worry about saving everyone who is dying; don’t assume that God expects you to do everything: That is His task.  Just love one person at a time, as He did and would.  Be His presence in the world.  And never, never, NEVER, look at the need and needy and just walk on, saying the task is too big.  “There is nothing I can do.”  As long as you live, even if it is only praying with your last breath, you can and should do something.   

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

How I Pray The Rosary

These are my thoughts, as I meditate on the mysteries of the Rosary.  Once I wrote down some key points of my meditations, and now I have printed those out to use in the chapel each night, to focus my thoughts on these prayers.  (The full list of them are elsewhere in this blog.) 
Last night I felt a need to write out my thoughts as I prayed the rosary, so below are my mind’s wanderings as I began to pray:

The First Joyful Mystery: 
The Annunciation of the Angel to Mary
This is what I’d have you do:  listen for My Will; resolve to do it.  No matter how hard
Listen.  Were you listening, Mary?  What were you thinking as you prayed?  Did you worry about what God might ask of you, even before He asked it?  I try to be open to listening; I try to quiet my thoughts during prayer, but sometimes I think about what He asked of the saints.  Could I resolve to do as they did if He asked me?  When I think on the hard things already happening to me, the difficulties of my life, I often try to make them go away.  I make believe that can’t possibly be God’s will for me.  If I find it hard to accept what is happening now, Lord, how can I be open for more?  I’m sorry I am so weak.
Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee.  Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the Fruit of thy womb, Jesus.  Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.  Amen.
Can God really be calling to me?
Whether listening or not, sometimes I can’t help but hear.  And then sometimes I make believe: “No, that can’t be God calling, not to me.”  Mary, you answered so quickly: “Be it done unto me according to Thy word.”  Please pray for me, Mary, not that I just listen, but that I hear and understand:  God really does call to me sometimes; and He will show me the way I am to go, if I just listen.
Hail Mary …
Full of grace --- ME??  Lord, I am not worthy
I pray: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.”  But even as I say those words, in the back of my mind I think:  “Yes, you are holy, Mary, but me --- well, me God can’t be too proud of.”  Just look at how I have led my life.  The word “I” was so often all important in my decisions, my pride, my failures.  “Lord, I am not worthy,” I want to cry.  But that’s what this prayer to You is about, Lord, conversation, and so I can hear You tell me:  “Of course you are not worthy, but that is why I send you my graces.  Do you think I would ask anything of you if I didn’t also give you the grace to do it?”
Hail Mary …
How can I do this?  This will cause me shame, embarrassment, deep sacrifice or pain, public humiliation.  Do You want this?
Ah, I’m sorry Lord.  Even when I DO listen to You, even when I recall Your assurances that You will be with me, I fail You.  Almost as soon as I hear Your will in my heart, MY will interrupts: “But ….”  My will always has lots of “buts” associated with it.  But this may be hard for me.  But praying in private is one thing, will my acting in public may cause my friends to laugh at me?  But what if someone gets mad at me?  But what if it hurts me?  My will always worries about one thing, first and foremost: ME.  My will always worries about what OTHER people think.  Why can’t I seem to put what YOU think, first?  Do You want this, really?
Hail Mary …
Do not be afraid
Mary, why did the angel say that to you?  I not only need those words said to me too, but I need them printed in big block letters on big signs everywhere I go.  I need my hand held.  Sometimes walking in the way of the Lord seems so scary.  It’s not a way I’ve traveled, sometimes, in a long time.  It’s like walking into a dark forest, where there “might” be lions and tigers.  “Do not be afraid.”  That means trust.  That’s the key to my failure to listen for and to do Your will in the past:  I didn’t trust You.  Mary did; I didn’t.  But I want to, Lord.  I want to.
Hail Mary …
No one who sees me will understand.  They’ll talk; they’ll laugh
Mary, certainly these thoughts flittered through your mind.  When God asks things of me, they usually are short quick actions, but He was asking you to consent to become pregnant.  Very shortly everyone would know it; they would see.  You couldn’t hide what He was asking you to do.  How often, even if I do obey God’s call, do I try to hide it?  Me, doing something because I trust in God:  Giving to the beggar who may be scamming me, going to adoration when the football game is on, saying I can’t make the Sunday morning outing because I must attend mass -- public showings of my faith in You, Lord.  How many of my friends will quietly --- and some perhaps loudly --- laugh?  They’ll think me a fool for trusting in You, but I must.  Lord, give me the strength to always trust in You, even if I don’t understand why You ask difficult tasks of me, even if others laugh.
Hail Mary …
Who am I to question.  Any sacrifice You ask will be more than repaid
You don’t often say it, Lord, even in the Scriptures.  This trust that You ask of us, it is for a reason:  “that you might have eternal life.”  I am so used to the short term rewards of life that I almost always expect them:  “you put your money down, and you get your prize.”  Now.  And if I don’t get a prize almost immediately, I question:  “Is something wrong here?  I did what I should; where is my prize?  I prayed for it; where is my answer?”  I want it now, at this time, in my world.  But I always forget, Lord, in Your place there is no time.  And yet You promise --- a God promises to little ol’ me:  You will be more than repaid.  A God promises.  Who am I to question?
Hail Mary …
Thy will be done
Mary, in reading the short Scripture passage about this event, your answer seemed so prompt:  “Be it done unto me according to Thy word.”  But look at how many words I’ve written even here, almost all of them talking about my will, and my worries --- my lack of trust.  I think that is the true mystery in this short event in your life, Mary, and this short event in Jesus’ life.  He is conceived in you, and the two of you come together as one.  That is what I need to accomplish also, in my heart; that must be the use of MY will: to want to be in union with Him.  It is a mystery how this will be accomplished, but I DO will it.
Hail Mary …
In this I find joy
These meditations are called the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary for a reason.  Not only for the eternal results, the big payoff, do we do God’s will.  With doing His will, with trusting in His promises, comes a great joy, today:  Peace in my heart.  My life is not all about me and MY struggles.  It is about US, Jesus and me, and what WE must do, and our sharing of the struggle.  Ours is meant to be a labor of love.  My yoke is easy and my burden light.  Even in the work of this life, there is joy to be had.
Hail Mary …
I trust in You
What else is there to say.  I understand this mystery now, Lord.  I understand what Mary felt and did when You called, and why.  She was so much holier than I, but I trust that with You I can become as holy as I should be, as I want to be.
I trust in You.  Please walk with me this day. Hail Mary …

Reading my thoughts on this first of the five decades in the rosary, you can see why sometimes it takes me quite a while to pray the rosary.  The rosary is not just some repetitive words to be rattled off; it is mysteries meant to be pondered upon.  We are meant to meditate on the events of Jesus’ life; He came to give us example on how to live, how to love.  When we think about how difficult our life is, we are meant to think about His life.  He came to die, something a God couldn’t do, but He also came to live, and to show us how to live, to live His life in ours.
Together, we can do anything.  Together we can give love to our neighbor, and find joy.

Monday, September 23, 2013

That's The Day That Satan Wins

While driving around, doing the day’s chores, I was listening to Ave Maria Catholic Radio.  They are in the midst of a pledge drive this week, and the on-air discussion was about serious matters.
Talking about the pressures Pope Francis is facing, the commentary between Tom Lowe (station manager), Teresa Tomeo, and Dr. Ray Gurendi turned to the culture. 
“From an interview hours long, the media pulls a sentence out of context and says: ‘See!  The Catholic Church is changing its teaching on homosexuality!’  But of course it’s not.  The culture so much wants to influence the Church and Catholics, wants and even expects us to ‘change with the times,’ and why not?!”
“It has seen most other churches change their teaching on contraception, and then divorce, and then abortion, and now some are changing their teaching on homosexuality and marriage, but the Catholic Church is the steel ball in the culture’s stomach.  It just won’t dissolve; it won’t change.  And they are angry about it, and getting angrier by the day.  They don’t know, nor care, that the Church CAN’T change; the pope CAN’T make some arbitrary decision and cave to the culture.  And any attempt at explanation enrages them all the more.”
“Can’t you feel it?” 
“They’re not just prodding the Church and Catholics to change, they’re gleefully reporting any little crack, any words subject to misinterpretation.  They want to spread confusion among Catholics.  They want them to rise up and speak out against Church leaders.  And, sadly, some confused Catholics do.”
That’s where knowledge of the Catholic faith comes in.  The vast majority of conversions to the Catholic Church come about when people study the faith.  The majority of defections are by those who don’t understand what they say they believe, despite the ready availability of explanations of the truth, like the catechism.  They’re driven by feelings, not knowledge.  The Catholic Church was founded by Jesus on Truth and Reason.  It’s not a lie.  The Truth cannot be changed by vote or opinion.
And that is what Catholic media presents, truth.
My last post here was about a book presenting words said to be from Jesus today.  He says He is sad; He says the world must change.  When will that happen?  Well, listening to the discussions on Ave Maria Radio this afternoon, one would get the impression that the culture --- and Satan --- thinks it is sooooo close to getting the Church to change, so close to getting the Pope to renounce Jesus, that it is positively giddy with anticipation, and angry to the point of rage each time he says no to the temptation.
If the Catholic Church ever changed, that would be the day Satan wins.
Looking and listening and seeing what is going on, you might get caught up in the culture’s anxiety:  Will today be the day we win?  But go read that book I reviewed yesterday, or read my comments about it.  That day will not come.
Do you recall the movie, The Passion of the Christ?  It almost seems like the day of the Crucifixion is upon us again.  Then the crowd yelled: “Crucify him!  If you are God, come down from that cross!”  And today the culture yells:  Change to our truth!  Who do you think you are?!
And Jesus died on the cross --- and the heavens and earth shook.  Satan thought that with Jesus’ death he had reached the point of winning, but suddenly he realized he had lost!
Doesn’t the tension feel the same now, with the culture thinking it is close to winning?
Now is a good time to support Catholic media and its airing of the truth.  Around the world Catholics are shopping in a mall, and killed just because they are Catholic.  They are going to mass in a crowded church, and are mass murdered.  And in our country they are telling us we MUST change. 
You can make a pledge to Ave Maria radio at , and there you may also download an app to listen to its interesting and educational shows at anytime, anywhere.  If you have any questions or doubts about the Truth, the answers are there. 
If there ever should come to a time when you are asked what your faith is, and your life depends on the answer, don’t you think you should understand the Truth?