Friday, November 29, 2013

Why You Must Sacrifice

The gospel was about the rich man who gave what he didn’t need as offering in the temple, and the woman who gave all that she had.  The woman sacrificed, but the man gave from what he didn’t need; he might as well have been offering his garbage; his sacrifice meant little to him.  In some real way, it hurt the woman to give, and it seems a natural question to ask:  Why would she want do that; why would she to hurt herself?  And perhaps even more importantly, why would God want her to hurt herself?  Why does God ask for sacrifice from any of us?
I’ve written here that, well, I have more money than I need.  In truth, I have more of many things than I need, from the size of my house and car to the amount of chili I made using all those tomatoes from my garden.  (I could live many weeks on the dozens of containers of chili now sitting in my freezer.)  And so what am I to make of this gospel, this call to sacrifice?  What are YOU to make of it?
Is every rich man to give away all his riches, and then live as a poor man?  Certainly there are some poor people who think this would be a wonderful thing.  And there are also many hypocrites, especially it seems in government, who think the rich should either give or have everything taken from them --- but for those in government that never seems to apply to them.  I’m often led to imagine those in government are acting as children, taking money from the rich and giving it in “fairness and justice” to the poor, and all the while saying: “Okay, let’s divvy this up fairly.  Here’s one for you, and two for me, and one for you, and …”  Those in government who distribute others’ money to the poor never seem to forget to say: “and oh yes, of course there is this here for me.” 
That taking from others isn’t a sacrifice on anybody’s part, nor is it “fairness and justice.”  But back to the original question again:  Why should we sacrifice?
The parable of the poor widow’s sacrifice gives the answer, indeed it is the answer hidden in every parable Jesus ever preached.  Why must you sacrifice?  Because sacrifice is giving from yourself, giving from what you want and desire, and perhaps even need ---- and perhaps even to the point of giving your very life.  And why should you do this?  There is only one answer:  for love.  To sacrifice is to show love.  Sacrifice is taking what is mine --- (and I want it!!!) --- and giving it to you.  It is saying I love you more than myself.  And a sacrifice we make for God is our telling Him: “Lord, I love you more than myself.”
During the mass, when the host and then the chalice are raised in offering, in remembrance and participation in the sacrifice of Jesus, I think of the words said by the priest, and how we are participating in Jesus’ sacrifice, in love.  But usually when the host is raised my thoughts go out to God, our Father, and HIS sacrifice:  He gave His only Son, in sacrifice (in love) for us.  Our heavenly Father gave the ultimate sacrifice of the universe, of all eternity, for love of me.
And He gave that ultimate sacrifice, for love of you.
When the chalice is raised, I see Jesus’ sacrifice of His Blood, His bleeding out of His life, in sacrifice also.  For love of me --- and you --- also.  And I am there, participating with Him, in some way I am sacrificing too, for the love of God, and for the love of my neighbors around me.
Because of what he did, I do.  That is why I sacrifice, in love, and so should you.
So what should I sacrifice, is a question many ask; how much?  I think that is a question we have to answer individually, and it has to do with our calling in life, what God created us to do with our lives.
I can logically see why the gospel didn’t say that every rich man should give all his riches away and join the ranks of the poor:  because if the gospel were successfully followed to its logical conclusion, then there wouldn’t be any rich men anymore, nor needs for those Gospel words.  And then not too long afterward, there might not be many poor men either, as all starve to death together.  We’ve seen that very gospel interpretation preached in some cults, where all the members starved and then killed themselves, thinking this was God’s will.  They were wrong.
For me, I think another parable, the parable of the talents, tells the other side of the coin of sacrifice for God.  It tells not only of what you must give to God and neighbor, money and sacrifice --- and love, but also what you must DO for God and neighbor.  Some people are given more talents than others, and God expects them to use them.  If you have management talents, you are expected to manage, not travel to Africa to feed the poor.  If you have teaching talents, you are expected to teach children how to grow into loving, responsible adults who can effectively use THEIR talents.  And if you can effectively invest money, you are expected to invest it for the benefit of many men, and not just to spend it all away on a few --- and least of all on yourself alone.
How important did God think sacrifice was?  Go and read the beatitudes.  God said for you to love your neighbor.  Sacrifice for him.  Use your talents, but don’t think first of your wants or even your needs, but rather those of your neighbor.  Be realistic in distinguishing your needs from your wants, your desires for the best “because I can afford it,” or “I deserve it.”
Sacrifice which becomes natural in our lives starts with our looking at our lives, honestly.  Do you really need the biggest house, or the most costly clothes, or the finest hotels or the costliest meals?  Do you need these things, or just think of them as justice for you?  Do you need to have your way, prove you are right, get angry at “those stupid people,” or be irritated at “those constant beggars” around you?  Do you need to do so many things that really don’t benefit you in God’s eyes, or that hurt your brothers?  Sacrifice isn’t just to not eat meat on Fridays or to donate a dollar to the collection plate, sacrifice is to forego these things I feel I need, for the love of God and of my neighbor.  Sacrifice is suddenly realizing that so many our needs are really only our wants, and most of these are merely symbols of what we really what:  to be loved.  Our sacrifice is our giving to others in love, so that love may be returned to us. 
And then, we shall have all our hearts desires.
All the “bests” you could possible desire will be given to you, in heaven.  You don’t have to reward yourself now.
Sacrifice now.  Love now.  Heaven awaits --- it really does.
And for this, we give thanks.
- - - - - - - - - -
We plough the fields and scatter
The good seed on the land,
But it is fed and watered
By God’s almighty hand;
He sends the snow in winter,
The warmth to swell the grain,
The breezes and the sunshine,
And soft refreshing rain:
All good gifts around us
Are sent from heav’n above,
Then thank the Lord,
O thank the Lord for all his love.
I read that hymn Wednesday morning, but it seemed a perfect Thanksgiving Day prayer.  It opens describing me, and you, and what our lives should be: plowing and scattering seeds.  This means we don’t focus on doing good things, nor should we expect good things to be OUR result.  We merely prepare our lives, and those who then enter our lives, for God’s work; He is the one who will create the good results.  Ourselves: we live humble lives, giving, praying, and loving, and then --- and most importantly --- trusting.  And God will bring the rains of blessing on our efforts.
But being naturally selfish, we may ask: What will God do for me, in my life?  Doesn’t it seem just that I be given some peace, some love, and yes even some earthly rewards, for my trust? 
Yes, you will see rewards.  What you will see, is your children grow in faith, strangers you meet give praise to God FOR YOU, and churches and charities you sacrificed for and donated to will flourish, and many more will be helped than you alone could have accomplished.  And the Holy Spirit will descent upon you, and give you peace.  Riches, no you will have none beyond what you need to do His will.  Jesus came and lived among the poor, but: The Lord makes poor and makes rich (1Sam 2:7).  Don’t you see:  He loves us all, equally, rich and poor, and yet each one specially.
You may have wealth, but the God Who has wealth beyond imagination, walked among the poor.  Why must you sacrifice?  To be like Him, my friend, to be like Him.
We must trust, give praise, and yes even thank God, in our sadness, in our pain, and in our feelings of being unloved and our aloneness.  We plow the field and scatter the seed by our actions, even when it is bone dry and we can’t imagine anything growing there, trusting in the great harvest to come.
And we give thanks.
- - - - - - - - - -
I love it how sometimes the right words just flow from my mind and give me peace. And I also love it how on some very special, very rare occasions as I sat in the church the sun has suddenly shined through the window, right on me, right into my face --- as it just did now.  And I can feel God’s heat.
And may God be with you this day, and may you also feel the heat of His love, in all that you do.   

Monday, November 25, 2013

Leaving Bad Memories Behind

I confess to Almighty God
and to you, my brothers and sisters
that I have greatly sinned,
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done,
and in what I have failed to do.

Through my fault, through my fault,
Through my most grievous fault;
Therefore I ask Blessed Mary ever-Virgin,
all the Angels and Saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me
to the Lord our God.
                                                            -- the Penitential Act said at mass

We say the words at mass.  We don’t think about what we are saying nearly often enough.
We recall Mary’s fiat: “Be it done unto me according to Thy Word.”  And Jesus was born in her body.  We focus on Mary’s “yes” to God’s will as being like the “yes” we all must say to His will, but our saying we will accept His will is only part of our commitment, for most often in saying yes to His will being done, we are also agreeing to DO His will.  Mary’s “yes” wasn’t just to being pregnant, but also to being a mother, and all the commitments lived out associated with that title, and even more than most, for she accepted being the Mother of God.
Whether we pray “Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace” --- as I do, or “Lord, give me this thing I ask for,” rarely is our prayer answered with a miracle.  Most often, an opportunity is given to us to participate in God’s will, participate by living our lives, by doing something for our brothers and sisters here on earth, the people God brings into our lives.  And in doing for Him, we are often able to see the answer to our prayers.
The words of the confession at the start of this meditation are to God, but also to “my brothers and sisters” there with us in the church.  I confess to them sins, what I have done and what I have failed to do, in my obligations to them.  I make no excuses for my failings, but humbly repeat: “through my fault.”
I admit at mass, in front of my brothers and sisters in Christ, that I have failed to live my life as God has created me to do --- and they are the ones I have sinned against.  I have failed by not living my life loving them enough, for to do God’s will is to love God, and my neighbor.
I’ve meditated and written in the past comparing my experience of living as being like driving the car of my life.  With my free will, I steer; I am in sole control of my life.  I’ve written that if we are wise, we will recognize Jesus in the passenger seat of our life-car, giving us directions to the place He knows so well, our destined eternal home.  And perhaps for long stretches of our lives we also notice friends or relatives in the back seat, along for the journey.  We’re all heading in the same direction; and we bring each other comfort along the way.  But while we do good things for each other, along the way we can --- deliberately or not --- also do bad.  “Back seat drivers” can distract us as we steer and despite the expertise of our front seat passenger, they may tell us: “I know a better way.”  And we listen.  And then they and we can become lost, and that is an example of OUR sin against them, for with OUR life WE are the drivers.  If we lead them astray, even if they asked us to, it is our fault for not listening to God’s will, His direction for our life.
In recent days and weeks friends have spoken to me about the situation of their life, the route they have driven their car of life.  For them, I am a backseat passenger.  They talk to me, not to ignore Jesus sitting next to them, but perhaps in some fear that they may be confusing His instructions, and maybe considering that I may have already traveled the road we were on, this part of their life’s journey.  And certainly in some cases that is true (while in other cases, I guess we somehow take comfort that we are lost together).  Most often, it seems of late, that the concerns they are speaking to me about are not their life’s progress or which direction they should take next, but rather that their life’s car seems to have stopped, and they can’t get it started again.
There are many events on your life’s journey which may cause you stop, often suddenly:  an oncoming car veers into your lane, a deer crosses into your path, a deep pothole suddenly appears in front of you, and then the “smooth sailing” ride turns into anything but, and you slam the brakes on.  Sometimes the obstacle moves out of the way by itself and we can continue on; sometimes there is a delay while the problem in our path is fixed, and sometimes our car stalls out, and we wonder: “How can I get started again?”  And I notice something in what my friends are saying about their situation: they describe again (and again) the thing which blocked the road, while ignoring the real problem: their car is stalled.
Most often it is a tragedy which causes us to slam on the brakes of our life:  an injury or death to a loved one, a loss of a job, or some other major unusual, unplanned event.  And we stop, in fear and in shock, and after a moment we start breathing again, but we can still feel our heart racing.  “Calm down,” we whisper to ourselves; “It could have been worse.”  And sometimes that’s all it takes, and we turn to Jesus in the passenger seat and say: “Thank You for being with us.”  And we move on.
But there are other times, perhaps they occur in most people’s lives, when we can’t let go of our death-grip on the steering wheel, and we stare ahead at the tragedy in front of us, stopped, and unable to turn our eyes away, acting like a deer frozen in the headlights --- only we are supposed to be in the driver’s seat of our car, and not out front feeling as if we are getting run down by it.  And we are stopped, perhaps not even noticing that the road is now clear and we can move again.
I think that sometimes we need to step back and look at life, and our life in particular, as God sees it.  Our life is on a highway, from our birth place to our death and heavenly home.  We are born, we learn many new and wonderful things, as throughout our lives we grow from the experiences of our lives, in two primary areas:  we grow in love, and we grow in wisdom.  We travel with our brothers and sisters on the journey, and meditate on our navigator and the direction He gives us.  And with His help, we grow wise, and learn to love, and don’t get lost --- along the way.
I think if we can see life like this, we can get a better perspective on the sudden blocks we hit --- certainly, stepping back, we can see that death is not some sudden wall in our way, but rather a foreseeable event along our journey.  And then fears won’t paralyze us.  And we won’t get angry at the guy behind us honking his horn: “Move it!”  Nor will we get angry and scream back: “You don’t understand.  I CAN’T move.”  We’ll see a tragedy for what it is, an event along our way, and the people around us, as brothers and sisters and not irritating fellow-travelers on OUR road. 
It is a rare tragedy in our life which doesn’t get cleared out of our way.  Only our memories of the tragedy keep us frozen, remembering moments of the past as if they were the present, recalling events leading up to a tragedy thinking: “What if I had done something different, or pursued a different route.”  And we forget the irrationality of our musings:  we didn’t choose a different route, and it is too late now.  The tragedy did happen, but it has passed, and now is the time to continue our journey.
And when we seem to get stuck on our journey, I think we sometimes forget another very important point:  we are not alone on life’s journey.  Our brothers and sisters are with us, in some manner traveling in our back seat, and our stopping is delaying them also.  And there may be other people, perhaps only remotely related to us, stopped behind us, in the traffic jam that we have created. 
Whether we like it or not, our lives do affect others.
A plaque hangs in my hallway: “Remember your brothers are here, too …” – Albert Schweitzer.  We are not on this highway of life alone; others depend on us, as we depend on them.
And others love us, including God, our navigator.  And others await us at our journey’s end, the loved ones who have gone before us.  Life is not without purpose; there is a destination.
Good memories are yet to be had, ahead of us.  He promised it will be so; He died so it will be so.  Don’t let the bad memories of the journey delay you or spoil the many pleasant, good surprises planned for you along your life’s journey.
Surprises ahead, you say --- planned?  Yes, never forget, my friends, the God who put you in this car, and who knows the most scenic route to His most beautiful home.
Leave the bad memories in the past; they are just a part of life, just part of the journey.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Who Said It's Not Wintery?

Last week after a particularly bad night I commented that it was a “blustery, wintery day,” and then amended that to say that it was only blustery, since the prior night’s windstorm occurred during reasonably warm temperatures. 
Not wintery?  I guess ol’ man winter took that as a challenge, and so today (and next week) we are recording wind-chill readings of near zero.
Oh well, I do feel so sorry for my neighbors, but in two days I will be spending a week with my nieces in Arizona, taking off for Phoenix on Tuesday, where it will only be in the 70’s.  I wish all my northern neighbors a wonderful and blessed Thanksgiving, but dress warm if you go out for a walk to burn off some of that big turkey dinner.  Myself, well, I might pick up some sun tan lotion for my walk.    

Friday, November 22, 2013

Yes, We Can

The meditations I write are often triggered by a paragraph I have read, a sentence, a word, or a thought.  This morning it was the re-statement of something I knew, in a book I was reading.  There I read of the meaning of the word “Amen,” which is said at the end of many a prayer.  It means “I concur.”
Amen is said at the end of the Creed, which begins with “I believe.”  It is also said at the end of the “Our Father.”  Our saying of Amen is as if we are taking an oath: “Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”  And the answering words are: “I do;” I concur with what you have said.  The thing unique about the word “Amen” is that regardless of how a prayer begins, with an “I” or with an “Our” or even with a “We,” it ends with me saying, “I” concur.
Making a personal commitment, a big one, is something which scares many a man.  When you put that “I” to it, you are saying you will do it.  You are saying that you can and will live up to it.  And you are triggering a natural anxiety: “What did I just commit to?  Can I really do that?”  Ask many a future spouse what they are thinking about in the days before they commit to marriage with the words: “I do.”  Many are wondering if they can live up to that promise to be made to their spouse, to that promise made in front of a gathering of witnesses: they’ll be watching!  And not a few (I pray) are wondering if they can live up to that promise made there to God also, for He is part of any oath in the Church.
The marriage “I do” is a great example of a personal commitment, made only by you.  You know only you are responsible for it, and only you can live up to it.  You can’t delegate it as in: “Hey, will you care for my spouse and kids?  Could you give them money, so they don’t go without food or shelter?  Could you take them to where they need to go?  Could you be with them when they feel alone?”  No you, not someone else, promised to do these things, and it is your responsibility.  Nor could you make the following request of another: “Hey, could you make my family know how much I love them?”  No, no one but you can do that.  Love is the most personal of personal commitments, and only you can give your love.  Only you can do actions with love, so that those you love see and feel your commitment, so that they feel loved.
The “Amen” we say in prayer is like that commitment of love.  The prayers we say, the Creed, the Our Father, and the very personal prayers which we address beginning with “Lord,” are prayers stating more than just something we will do, but commitments of how we will do things: with love.  Scripture, and many a saint, has called on us to speak with “prayers from the heart,” prayers of love, which are not just recited prayers, but ones spoken with our hearts.
God told us in simple words how we must live our lives, the personal commitment He asked us to make:  Love God, and love your neighbor,” in all you do.  And our response, our response and personal commitment, our personal commitment to God (!) is a simple “Amen.”
So how could we ever believe that we can delegate such a personal commitment, to say to someone else: “Well, here’s what we must do.”  I once before wrote here about the question: “Can you delegate moral responsibility?”  The answer is “no,” personal moral commitments are personal; like love, only you can do them.  Yet despite this truth, which we often affirm when we say “Amen,” we still often try to hide our personal fears of failure in our commitment behind the word: “We.”
We think if “we” commit to do something and fail, then “well, it’s not MY fault.”  We think if “we” say we will do something, “I” don’t even have to understand it.  Somehow we think there is power in numbers, a power where I can hide my perceived --- or feared --- weaknesses.  But I cannot delegate any moral responsibility, any commitment I made to God, to any group of “we.”
But, you might say, surely some things are done more efficiently in a group.  That may be so; I will even go so far as to concede that may ALWAYS be so.  But, some things are not meant to be done “efficiently.”
A man could have all his food needs, all his clothing needs, all his entertainment needs efficiently dropped on his doorstep each day.  Technical marvels could be attached to his body to determine his medical needs, and pills delivered to him each day.  Mechanical devices could be attached to his limbs each night to provide him with efficient exercise while he sleeps.  If we provided all those needs, would “I” be meeting my individual moral responsibilities to love this man, my neighbor?  Obviously not; love is a personal thing which can only be expressed or felt by a person-to-person interaction --- even if “things” which might indicate our love can be delivered efficiently.  But what about some poor person overseas, you might say, “I can’t be there to help or love them in person.”  No, but there IS someone who can and should be there, someone who in answering God’s call for them to love, acts as a missionary.  And yes, we can support him financially, or with our prayers, but he is called to primarily live his vocation as missionary, as we are called to live our vocation.  Each one of us has our individual responsibility to act with love to our neighbor.  Perhaps our call is to love in our family.  Perhaps it is to help lead our church family to work at a soup kitchen.  Perhaps it is to visit, alone, a lonely person.  And perhaps, and this is a very important responsibility, it is to take another with us on our vocation, our child or our fellow Christian, to show them how we love our neighbor, by our personal commitment, by our person action.  In doing so, we are teaching them how to love by example, even as God taught us, a most important moral commitment we also made.
Man was created to love; Jesus told us this is so in two simple commandments.  It’s not a confusing thing, and it cannot be and should not be done “efficiently,” or impersonally.  We are called to learn to love in this life so that we can possess eternal life, the life of love with the Trinity in heaven.  We practice love here on earth so that we can fully live love in heaven.  If we try to delegate others to “love for us,” then we don’t really love or teach others to love.  We are alone, not doing what we committed to do.  And if we become perfect in delegating all our responsibilities, we become perfectly alone.  And that is the definition of hell, a fulfillment of all our desires for ourselves --- alone.
A man ran for president of this country on the motto of “Yes, We Can,” and so many rallied around him, each one thinking of some “good thing,” some personal commitment they made to God at one time or another, which this man and his minions would bring about.  Very little was said by the man about exactly what he would do, but “we” would get it done, and many people followed, relieved that someone else, rather than they personally, were stepping in to fill the void of their fears: “Can I do this?” with a resounding answer of “Yes, We Can.”
There are many things in life which “we” can and should do “together”, but “together” in supporting one another as each does his part, first and foremost.  First and foremost is what “I” do, for I have made a commitment.  When we do things “together,” it should not be my watching what you others can accomplish, and then perhaps me offering some small token of help, if needed (and hopefully not).  The Catholic Church’s definition of “in communion,” together, has each living his part, his commitment, to work in love with each other.  Unlike the oft-spoken saying, the Catholic Church believes there IS an “I” in “we;” in fact there are many of them.
The man who shouted a political slogan of “Yes, We Can” should have been watched most closely, nervously, but instead many sat back, in sort of a personal victory: “Yes, they will,” they thought.
And they felt no responsibility to do anything, nor strangely, any responsibility for ultimately what was done.  But they are in a self-imposed darkness, not seeing the light of their responsibility, for they ARE responsible for their neighbor, personally responsible, as am I and you.