Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Time Has Come

As I spent Holy Thursday night in adoration, I thought back on the movie The Passion.  I recalled the scene where a young Jesus falls and cries, and his mother Mary rushes to him:  “I’m here, Jesus.  I’m here.”  And then the movie scene switches to Jesus falling with his cross, and his mother rushes to his side again, and tenderly says: “I’m here, Jesus.  I’m here.”
That’s how I felt about my presence in that small chapel on Holy Thursday night, the night when He suffered alone.  At least on this Holy Thursday night he would not be alone.  “I’m here,” I said.  “I’m here, Jesus.”
On that first Holy Thursday night, Jesus must have pondered in silence as he was crowned and mocked: “The time has come.”  What MUST happen was about to happen, and he assented to it. 
Thy will be done, Father.  Thy will be done.
While in the chapel I meditated on the rosary, prayed my night prayers, and read the passion accounts in the Gospels.  And I read a recently released book, Volume Five of the apostolate: Direction for Our Times, words given to Anne, a lay apostle, from Jesus and the saints.  There are a number of books published by this apostolate, with the concurrence of this woman’s local bishop --- although, of course, the Church won’t comment on the likely truth of this woman’s words until all has stopped, many years from now.  But for now, all of the previously published books were deemed consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church, as is this one, but this one is different:  it speaks to a chastisement for the world.
Now I’ve read many words of visions or apparitions where God or Mary has warned people about chastisements coming for the world.  And many have a certain immanence to them --- it will happen soon.  The words referenced in this book were identified as spoken to Anne in 2004; the reason for the delay in releasing them was not given.  I’m sure many will read the words in the book and become disturbed, but the words themselves note that “there is nothing new in your world, and these struggles you contend with have been contended with in the past,” and “your time is a time of upheaval, as was my time.  A new, renewed Church will emerge on the other side of this travail.” 
The words appeared to be saying:  The time has come. 
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I went home after the long night and slept for a few hours, before the phone awoke me.  “We’re calling about delivering this bedside table today, since (your mom) is permanently bed-bound.”  I awoke with a start:  “What did you say?”  And the message was repeated.  “Well, that’s news to me,” I said, “And I’m her son.  Who told you this?”  He responded that a hospice nurse had called, and so I immediately placed a call to the hospice organization.  Sr Mary returned my call: “Yes, I ordered that table, but I only said this was a permanent condition so they’d rush the delivery; she needs this now to be able to eat in bed more easily.  The doctor visited you mom this morning with me, and he ordered her to bed, with no getting up --- for now.  Until her persistent wounds heal.” 
After I rushed over to mom’s house, I found out more.  While some of her bedsores were healing (Thank you, St. Joseph), she had more wounds appearing on her legs, and bruising on her bottom from moving her with the Hoyer Lift device and even, the doctor said, from just sitting on the potty.  “Her skin is very thin and easily breaking down from any pressure.  She must remain in bed on the special mattress, for now.”   Sr. Mary told me that the doctor was surprised at my mom’s tenacity to now, but worried about these new skin outbreaks.  (Mom turns 95 in a few weeks.)  After we talked a while about what the new restrictions mean and how I and the caregiver will have to care for her, we talked some about new arrangements to be made.  I went out and bought a television and VCR/DVD for the bedroom, so mom could watch tapes of her favorite game shows and the animal and cowboy movies, and cartoons, we have stacked --- for now.  Maybe later I’ll get cable re-wired for the house so it can be in the bedroom.  I told Sr. Mary, the nurse, I was going to do these things, pending the healing outcomes and timing.  Then she said:  “I have to tell you one other thing the doctor said.  As he was leaving I said to him ‘I’ll see you next time in a couple of months.’  But he replied: ‘Maybe.  If she continues on her present path, though, I don’t think so.’”
After Sr Mary said this, I turned and went over to mom’s bedside.  She looked worried at all the attention she was getting, and the strangers in her room.  And with her deafness, she couldn’t hear me as I bent over and kissed her and said:  “Don’t worry, mom.  I’m here.  I’m here, mom.”
Perhaps, the time has come.
It’s hard hearing words you don’t want to hear, and it seems that even if others are in the room, you feel alone when they’re spoken.  Jesus heard them from His Father.  Perhaps the seer Anne heard them from Jesus and the saints.  And I heard them from Sr. Mary.
The time has come.
I’ve written here previously and meditated upon the changing phases of our life.  They happen to all of us.  No one’s life is smooth sailing always.  There are always storms, and even shipwrecks.  And sometimes we need to change course.  Whether we think things are going very good, or going very badly, we can be assured of only one thing:  they will change.  Just living means we are changing.  And the final change, the final phase, is death.
I liked that book by Anne, and the words of Jesus and the saints.  And whether “The End” or a chastisement, or merely “dark times” are coming, the words stated the positive:  “This is good.  This is necessary.  I am with you.” 
“Do not be anxious.”
Those words can be applied to all the changes in our life.  But we so easily forget them.  I guess it’s a good thing that I write this blog under the title of “Do Not Be Anxious,” to remind you, and myself, that there is nothing to worry about.  He is with us.  This is good.  Out of all things, even the bad, even the sad, He makes good.
We need to remember that as we think about our lives, and Good Friday, and the crosses.  And remember His Easter --- and ours, and that of all our loved ones. 
I came that you might have new life.
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“Life has lots of sorrows, lots of Via Dolorosas, and if you live long enough, several trips to Calvary.  But it has only one Easter.  Let’s get ready.”   --- The King Crucified and Risen, by Fr. Benedict Groeschel   

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

How Many Times Did You Hear the Cock Crow?

And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I say to you, this very night,
before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.”
--- Mark 14:30
The other Gospel writers cite this incident and quote Jesus as saying that “before the cock crows,” while only Mark quotes him as saying it will crow twice.  I relate to Mark’s version of this incident better than the others' because it implies that Peter wasn’t paying attention the first time, and needed to be reminded. 
That is so like me.
After Peter did deny Jesus the three times and heard the cock crow “he broke down and wept.”  But Peter was blessed to hear the cock crow, to be reminded of his denials.  Then he could weep.  We soooo need to weep also, but we hear no cock crow to remind us when we too fail Him --- or do we just not listen?
I reviewed that British book recently, about the British doctor who would not obey the letter of the law, and would not let a young girl die.  How many doctors are there like that, I wonder, versus those who would walk away, with their consciences soothed because what they did was legal?  Did these who valued man’s law over God’s hear the cock crow?  How many nurses assist the abortionist thinking, “Well, I am not doing the killing.”  What do they hear at the dawn?  And what of those citizens who will pay their insurance company for abortion coverage, thinking: “Well, I will never use that money for an abortion,” and accept that through their actions they are making it available for ones who will.  Do they hear any reminders of what Jesus said?
Whether these people hear the question Peter heard: “Aren’t you one of His followers?” or not, by their actions, if not their words, they would deny Him.  I suspect that there ARE some cocks crowing, in one form or another, to remind them of what they are doing, but they do not hear.  And that is a sad thing, because even if we deny Him, that is not the end of us.  Although Jesus knew what Peter was to do, He also knew that Peter would regret his sin, and so he forgave him in advance.  Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren  (Lk 22:31).  And Jesus made Peter the head of His church.  He waits to forgive us too, for our failures, for our denials of Him and His teaching.
But far too often, like Peter first did, we seek the approval of men, not God, in our actions.
I recently read a debate on a Catholic blog site, between a Protestant and a Catholic apologist about how we are saved, by faith alone or by faith and works.  Reading the back and forth, it just made me sad.  Finally, I commented how I had attended a similar, but a “non-debate,” a few years back.  At that one, Protestant church and Catholic Church members presented WHAT they believed and WHY regarding the issue of “being saved”.  And after each one presented their “evidence”, it was the priest who went up to the microphone and interrupted the presentation:  “Did you hear what he just said?  He said this and this and this.  And did you hear what she said?  She said this and this and this.  Don’t you see?  They said the same thing!  We believe the same thing!!”  And there was stunned silence in the filled church, and then spontaneously the entire gathering rose and applauded, and cried and hugged.  I commented on the blog debate that we must speak of what we believe, yes, but I much prefer an end to the discussion where we hug, than one where we debate further. 
We need to stop debating our neighbor and denigrating him and demanding that he recognize how wonderful we are.  Jesus told us loudly and clearly by His death, we are all wonderful in His sight. 
(By the way, that priest was Fr. John Riccardo.  That was the first time I had heard him or heard of him.)
The good men conducting the debate on the Catholic blog were men of good heart, and strong belief.  And yet, in their way they too were denying Jesus, where He said that we should love one another.  Yes, He said He came that father might deny son and husband his wife, but in the end He desired and died so that all may be one.  At a time when the cultures of the world are dividing us ever more, is this not a time to speak lovingly to each other, especially to fellow followers of Christ?  Oh, by the way, the title of that conference I referenced where they had the “non-debate” was “That They May Be One.” It was so named for a reason.
I don’t know how many times the cock crows for me, but I do hear it, it seems, many, many times, crowing all around me.  And do I wish they would stop ---- those who would deny Him by their actions, that is --- including me.
A quiet Easter sunrise would be a wonderful thing.
Greater love than this no man has, than to lay down his life for his friends.  It is so hard to remember that statement --- and His witnessing action --- when the only life and opinion we seem to value is ours.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Review: do no harm

Jesus, meek and humble of heart,
clothe us with compassion, kindness and humility.
-- make us want to be patient with everyone.
Teach us to be true neighbors to all in trouble and distress,
-- and so imitate you, the Good Samaritan.
--- From Liturgy of the Hours Intercessions,
Saturday morning, Fifth Week of Lent
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I had resolved to give up reading novels during Lent this year, but I found this book in the Catholic bookstore, and so that made it different (in my mind) from the other “entertainment” I usually read, or so I convinced myself. 
And so it was.
The book’s title, do no harm, contains no capital letters, which is a key telling point of the novel’s intent.  This is a book about humility in faith.  It is a book about great things, which often seem so small that we forget them.
The cover jacket summarizes the storyline:  “When a British emergency room doctor saves the life of a woman who apparently attempted suicide, he is accused of committing a crime and stands trial.  Not only is Dr. Matthew Kemble’s medical practice at risk, but also his liberty.  If he is found guilty of trespassing on a woman’s right to die, he could go to jail.” While a fictional novel, the story is set in the face of a real law, with real consequences --- for ALL those under it.
Dr. Kemble has cared for patients for over 25 years.  When the young woman is brought into the emergency room his immediate reaction to her suicide attempt is to treat her as he has done so many others over the years, and save her life.  But before he can begin treatment, the woman who brought her to the hospital notes that she has signed a “Living Will” document, which asks that no treatment be done if she is dying.  “Maybe we can get someone to look at this,” suggests another doctor.  “There might be a legal loophole.”  But Dr. Kemble responds: “There is no time.”  And after briefly considering alternatives he notes: “I did not train as a doctor so that I could stand back and leave a vulnerable patient to die.”  And so he lives out his oath to “do no harm,” and saves her life.
And his own life, as he has known it, ends.
On trail for assault, Dr. Kemble and his family are themselves assaulted, mentally and physically, as British society and media berate the doctor for doing what he was trained to do.  A right to die law which was passed as an option for sickly old or terminally ill people is applied to a young person who, as the story progresses, may have had many pressures applied to her to draw up the living will document, and to have attempted suicide.  Among those who may have pressured her is her brother, who will achieve great financial benefit if she dies.  So many things wrong with this law are brought out at the trial --- but, in the end, it IS the law.
I very much enjoyed this novel, a quick 3-hour read for me as my mom napped.  It was not a “preachy” novel, nor too one-sided --- a “right to die” person could easily read this novel and be unmoved by the doctor’s plight.  Nor is the novel heavily based on faith or morals, per se.  Although one picketer screams: “You have no right to force your religious beliefs on others,” the doctor does not seem to be overly religious.  And unlike some “Catholic” novels, it never cites any doctrines nor ascribes them to the characters.  Left somewhat unsaid is why Dr. Kemble takes his oath so seriously.  Implied perhaps, but never mentioned, is his perceived value of each life.
The issue of what are our natural rights to die is a complicated one (which I reflected on here in the recent past).  And while there can be debate over how much effort you should or should not take to prolong life, there should be less debate over any decisions to shorten life.  All life is a precious gift of God.  Suicide has always been rejected as evil by Christians, as is abetting suicide. 
Christ humbled himself and became man so that we might live.  When the sick were brought to him, he did not help them die --- some he even raised from the dead!  Valuing every person, He came to show man His love, of every man.  He walked among sinners and he spoke of the importance of faith, even in the face of sickness and pain.  This novel displays a world where faith in God has waned, and man thinks he is in total control, even of life, and of saying which life has value.
Jesus in his love and actions loudly proclaimed: “All life has value!  Don’t you understand?  You men seek to compare and judge one another, but I tell you I love each one.”
When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?  (Luke 18:8)
I finished reading this book, I read the words from the Morning Prayer (at the start of this post), and I considered that question:  “Will He find any faith?”  Dr. Kemble, in this story, was a man who stood up in faith, acting as if he believed what Christ taught:  “Every man is worth dying for.”  The story was fiction, but the facts of the novel are not.  We all may be faced in the not too distant future with standing up (or not) and professing where our faith is: in God, or in man.  This is where our society is at today; this is the real choice we must make.  Christ died for the value of life; what are we willing to do?
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Perhaps it is just God’s way, but I find myself a little excited about the next book which I am beginning:  Frank Sheed’s Society and Sanity, a book about the foundations of our society, and how they are crumbling today.  It seems a great follow up to the novel I just read. 
It is a hard fight we face, my friends, and we need to know that we are not alone in our struggles.  And so I also read these comforting words this morning:
(The bishops) should therefore insist on the value placed by the Church’s teaching on the human person, his freedom and also his physical life; on the family, its unity and stability, and the procreation and education of children.  … They should present Christian teaching in a way appropriate to the needs of the times, that is, in a way that meets the difficulties and problems that people today find a special burden and source of anxiety.  They should also safeguard this teaching, instructing the faithful how to defend it.
--- From the decree on the pastoral office of bishops in the Church of the Second Vatican Council.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

What Gift Should I Give?

Whoever meditates on the law of the Lord
-- Will bring forth much fruit at harvest time.

The first three words above are His gift to me;
the last word is my gift to Him.
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The above quote is from this morning’s Readings, while the words were my comments written in the book margin.
Yesterday I was called to reflect here on what we pray for.  We pray for things we can’t reasonably assure ourselves of, but we have some confidence that God can gift them to us.  But today I was led to think about what gifts we might offer in return.  I mean, among friends, isn’t that what reasonably happens, that they exchange gifts?  No matter that one gift may be much larger than the other, because certainly some have more to give.  God does.  What matters though, or so they say, is the thought.
So what would you give Him in exchange for His many gifts, even those you did not pray for?  And as you offer gifts to Him, just what is YOUR thought?
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Just one final thought:  It IS Lent; Holy Week and the Passion are celebrated next week.  Take some time to contemplate His gift, His BIG gift, before you think on what you might offer back.  And in thinking on these things, you might glance at the words above again, as I did.
It’s not much, but the gifts I will give next week include watching and contemplating three movies about sacrifice:  Saving Private Ryan, I Am David, and The Passion.  And my parish has graciously again offered Eucharistic Adoration through Holy Thursday night, and I will spend the night with Him, thinking about those hours He spent alone, mocked and beaten, that first Holy Thursday night.  But I will be there.