Thursday, July 25, 2013

What People See In You

The Father is beyond our sight and comprehension; but He is known by His Word, Who tells us of Him Who surpasses all telling … The Son reveals the knowledge of the Father by His revelation of Himself … The Father’s purpose in revealing the Son was to make Himself known to us all and so welcome into eternal rest all who believe in Him.
            --- from the treatise Against Heresies, by St. Irenaeus, bishop
We know that people saw the Father when they saw Jesus, but what do people see when they see you?  What are their physical reactions, and perhaps even more importantly, what thoughts are awoken in their minds and hearts, because of you?  God’s grace is there in each of their hearts, like a book waiting to be opened.  Do your actions stir the winds in their being, flipping those pages in their hearts, causing the eyes of their hearts to glance at the words God would tell them?  Is God revealed through you?  Is that what they see, because of you and your actions?
Personally, I am convinced that God brings people into my life, and as our paths cross, however briefly, He uses me to love His children.  I affirm my will to do that each morning as I begin: “Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace...”  If this stirs their awareness of Him, I guess I am doing His will.  I will admit, however, regarding my actions, that there is something in my heart that wants to know: “Am I doing this well, Lord?  Am I making a difference in this world?”  But, of course, you can see the key word in those questions is “I”.  That yearning to know how I am doing, like a report card, is my ego speaking.  I want to be important in my own eyes, and I want God to tell me that I am. 
And if I can’t hear God’s judgment, I often judge myself --- and in that, I am wrong.  And, by the way, it is likely that you are wrong also, if you are judging yourself harshly.  The reason is that my actions and their results, their impact on people, both occur on two different planes, the physical and the spiritual.  On both I want to do well, but I can only really judge the sufficiency of my intents.  Often the results are not something I can correctly perceive or predict.
In my entire working career I received some sort of annual performance review from my bosses.  For some people, that review was critically important to them; they wanted to know that they were judged as valuable by their boss.  As my bosses know, however, I didn’t care much about their opinions; I was my own harshest judge, and I always found things I could have done better.  One boss once demanded I re-write my comments to his review, thinking my harsh words about myself somehow negated the value of his judgment.  But he was right in one thing:  Although I can judge the intent of my actions, how well I tried to do things, I cannot and should not be the ultimate judge of the ultimate value of the results of my actions and how they impact others; only they can say how they were impacted.  Maybe what I judged as not enough result was truly “just right” in their judgment.  And perhaps the spiritual results of my actions were also judged “just right” by God. 
While I pray that “not my will but Thy will be done through me, Lord,” I am in fact not God and so can’t do things as perfectly as He can.  Jesus led the life of the perfect man, sinless, doing the will of the Father, but those around Him didn’t understand the spiritual sufficiency of His actions.  Often He asked them in one way or another: “Do you think I did right?”  And many were critical, and many proclaimed Him and His actions to be from God, while many others were just plain confused.  They were just men, ordinary men, and so they couldn’t understand the value of many spiritual things.  And so, often He explained to them the will of the Father, what He had done, and why what He did was good.  But by themselves, they couldn’t know.
Neither can people who would judge the sufficiency or spiritual results of my efforts, nor even myself.  If I truly AM an instrument of God’s will, as I pray to be, only He can judge my success in doing His will because only He knows the real outcomes of my actions.  Perhaps He had me smile at that grouchy woman today so that she might be better disposed to her children tonight, who as a result might grow up to be great preachers of God’s love, helping God’s people long after I am dead.  How can I know of such results, or judge my actions leading up to them?  No, all I can do is to do His will, as best as I can perceive it, and then be content, at peace.  Do not be anxious means just that.  I can’t judge the true goodness of my actions, nor their results.  He will help bring about the results of my actions, and may stir the pages of His Word in another’s heart.  He will judge my success, or failure.
One thing only can I reasonably judge: my desires and preparations to do good actions, my intents and how they were shaped. I can perceive how well I am seeking to know and do His will.  How much time do I spend reading His Word and those of His saints?  How much time do I spend talking to Him, listening to His response?  How open am I to reacting to those who in some way enter my life?  How open am I to feeding the hungry, as He did?  How open am I to healing those suffering, as He did?  How open am I to crying with those mourning, as He did?  And how sensitive am I to the touch of my garment, when someone may quietly be seeking my help, as He was?
Only I know the answers to those questions, which impact how well I am doing.
In the things I say and do, people see me, but if I prepare well and choose to do things as best I can, then what people will see in me is truly “not I but Christ who lives in me,” and He will use me and them as He knows best. And the world will be a better place because I have lived. 
I am tempted by my ego to want to know that I am making a difference, to see and measure results, but all I can see and judge are the serious intent of my actions; the results are His results.  Even if I saw them, I likely wouldn’t understand.  Which is why I shall try to go through this life sowing seeds, being content not knowing if some of them are taking root and yielding huge fields of grain, or in fact most are falling on rocks and being eaten by the birds.  Who knows!!  Perhaps He wishes me to feed His birds!
Stay with me Lord, to show me Your will.
Stay with me Lord, for it is You alone I look for, Your Love, Your Grace, Your Will, Your Heart, Your Spirit, because I love You and ask no other reward but to love You more and more.
With a firm love, I will love You with all my heart while on earth, and continue to love You perfectly during all eternity.
            -- from Padre Pio’s Prayer After Communion

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Why Doesn't God Hear Me?

If they violate my statutes and do not keep my commandments, then I will punish their transgression with the rod and their iniquity with scourges; but I will not remove from him my steadfast love, or be false to my faithfulness.          
-- Psalm 89: 31-33
The readings today, in my morning prayers and in the mass, seemed to be a continuation of the thoughts I last had on “Where Is God?”  And people I have met and spoken to since then seemed to be asking me that question.  Only they were asking it in different words.
A woman, a stranger, came up to me and asked: “Can you pray for my children, and especially for my grandchild.  They seem to have lost their faith.”  And a friend spoke to me of her trials at work and her thoughts on the future: “I don’t know if any of this is important to me.  I see myself retiring someday and wondering: Have I done anything important in my life?”  Without speaking the words, it seems to me that both are asking:  Where is God?  Does anything I do matter?  I feel unhappy or worried; can you pray to God for me --- He doesn’t seem to answer my prayers, nor bless my actions.  Where is He?
In my last post here I described where God is; He is here among us, if we would just look for Him.  But even more, He is here among us if we would believe it to be so, if we would have faith in what we cannot see with our eyes.  Jesus told Thomas that he needed faith, and “blessed are those who believe without seeing.”  Both these people who came to me were looking for God, but not looking in their hearts.
I said that I was struck by God in Medjugorje, the clarity of my grey-ish beliefs becoming clear solely through His action, the action of His Holy Spirit in me.  That is what happened suddenly to me, even as it happened suddenly to Paul.  Why did God do that for me is for Him to know, and me not to worry about.  But what of the people who are wandering about, as I described it, in the dark and not seeing His light?  It’s hard to just talk to them and convince them by MY words or actions:  “Trust me, if you just look for God you will find Him.  You will see the light if you try.”  If they’ve grown used to the dark, telling them that there is light is like telling a blind person what it is to see.  They can get an idea of what I am saying; they might even feel around and understand to some degree what I am seeing.  But that is not seeing it for themselves. 
If you have not experienced the impact of faith, it is hard to believe.  I understand that.  Even Job in all his tortures still had faith in part because he had at one time seen the presence of God in His life, and had felt His blessings.  For some people it has been so long, or they have so focused on their particular sufferings of this day so much, they no longer remember that God once blessed them. 
Despair comes more easily to some than others; some experts say it is a chemical thing in our makeup, and that some are more prone to it.  Perhaps, but while God’s Holy Spirit can gift us with faith and turn on His light in us and chase away our darkness and despair, is there something we can do to encourage or be open to receive His light? 
I think there is.
I have described on this blog how I once reached a point of despair in my life also, and how I gave up hope of doing good with my life, or of finding true happiness in my life.  It was in that despair that I cried out to God that “I give up.”  And I gave my life to Him, promising to stop
trying to lead my life, but dedicating it to follow where He would lead.  I said I would always seek His will, not mine.  I would no longer make great plans for my life without first seeking, seriously, His plans --- and wait for them patiently if they were not clear.  And gradually over the years since then, the light has grown brighter for me, and I can see more clearly, and I have found true joy in my life.  Where is God?  Without asking those words, I found Him.  And without specifically saying the words, “I trust in You,” I firmly acted as if I did.  And so when I first read the story about Saint Faustina and the words of the Divine Mercy image, “Jesus, I trust in You,” they resonated within my soul.  That picture of the Divine Mercy now hangs in my kitchen, and while I sometimes turn to it in my times of trial --- many times in these recent weeks --- I also glance at it in passing, as a constant reminder to have faith.  And even more, it is a reminder of what I am to have faith in: not a man, but a God.  Not in actions which I pray for, but in actions chosen by the One who loves me like a Father.  That is what I have faith in, God’s never-ending love. 

What can you do to promote receiving of that faith?  I think putting up constant reminders to HAVE that faith will help.  I wrote here a number of times about things I have done to encourage myself to have patience or perseverance or humility or to pray more often.  All of the things I did to get those blessings involved reminding myself that I wanted them; and with the reminders, what I wished for and prayed for came about.  I think a reminder to “have trust in God” will bring it about also.  Trust, like love, is a matter of our will.  We can will to trust; and we need to be reminded to do so.  That Divine Mercy image does it for me. 
Scripture says that we can love because He first loved us.  I firmly believe that.  If we have faith in that love, if we remember the times when we felt loved, if we remember the times when we gave love, willingly, we will dispel the despair of our hearts.  “Why doesn’t God hear me?” we may ask.  A better question is” Why don’t we listen to Him?”, for He is always present. We can always ask strangers to pray for us; we can always ask friends their opinions and for their prayers, and to just hug us when we really need a hug.  All these things are good.  But all these things are good because we are seeing the Light of God in these people around us; we are seeing His love present in those He brings into our lives.  We need to understand that in turning to them, we are trusting in Him, and therefore in His love.  We are not alone, without God.  We need not fear or be anxious.  We only need faith and to listen.  And His never-ending love will flow over us.
Love conquers all things; we need to let it conquer our fears.
My Jesus, I trust in You.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Where Is God? II

I think perhaps that is one of the most asked questions of all time:  “Where is God?”  Most often it is asked in a particular circumstance:  Where is He at in my suffering?  Where is He at when cruelty occurs in the world?  Where is He at when people have no one else to turn to and they call to Him?
And they don’t hear Him answer.
Most peoples in the history of mankind have by their nature yearned for and believed in some sort of God, whatever they named Him.  It is only when they get down to a “seeing is believing” mindset that they get more confused.  They act like the apostle Thomas, who said: “I will never believe without probing the nail prints in His hands.”  (Jn 20:19-31)  They say “prove it to me so I can understand” even as they DO understand that God, who is so huge in being, cannot possibly be comprehended by their small mind.  Yet they persist because they believe that they alone are in control of their life, and of what they are to believe is true.  They might as well be saying: “I will never believe in an ocean liner unless I can hold it in my hand,” knowing all the while that is impossible.  Some things are just too heavy for us to lift with our hands, or with our minds.
I was blessed to be raised in a Catholic family.  I was taught what I could understand about God --- and what I could still believe in faith, even if I didn’t understand it, or couldn’t see it (or lift it).  But that basic understanding of WHAT or WHO God is was clouded (in my youth) on the question of WHERE God is.
Catholics are taught he is present, in a manner, in all of His creation; He is in all men who are body and spirit, and He is in His Word, and most especially He is in the Eucharist.  I was taught those things and I believed them in a distracted way, kind of like I believe water is good for you, but it is only on a hot day that I notice my thirst and more appreciate my need for water --- and the blessing that it is there for me.  For much of my younger days, that is how I generally believed in God.
Suddenly, like in a flash, my visit to Medjugorje changed all that for me.  While there on that pilgrimage, I suddenly KNEW that God was present in the Eucharist, and in His Word, and in the mass I attend with members of His Body.  And in the years since my visit to Medjugorje, my appreciation of His love, as shown by His presence, has grown.  I have a firm knowledge of WHAT and WHO God is, and I have a very firm perception of WHERE He is, and how I can see Him, if not with my eyes, then with my heart.  Often, I can feel His presence.
I think of God’s presence as similar to the presence of light coming from a large light bulb.  Attached to the switch controlling the light bulb is a rheostat, which I control.  The switch has no off setting; the light can only be varied in brightness.  Turned to its highest setting, the light is so bright you cannot avoid noticing it; it is so bright you cannot look at it.  It is so bright it casts off a heat which warms the room.  Turning the rheostat to its lowest setting, the light bulb dims so that you don’t even notice it is there.  Shadows disappear and everything seems dull, colorless, and hard to see.  And in the darkness you have to feel your way along, relying on yourself alone, kind of guessing the way.  Sometimes, like Thomas, we might ask: “Where are you, God?”  But then we walk around without seeing Him, never really looking up to see that He is still there in the bulb never goes out.  And some of us, as we walk around, have forgotten (or perhaps never knew) where the rheostat is.  And things always seem dark.
The readings at mass this past Sunday seemed to remind me that God never left us alone in the dark, with no way of finding Him.  Moses said in Deuteronomy 30 that God’s voice “is not too mysterious and remote for you. … (It is) already in your mouths and in your hearts.”  And Psalm 19 said: “Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.”  And if we need to see to believe, Colossians 1 tells us that “Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God.”  And later we heard in the Gospel from Luke 10 the question: Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?  And we heard the answer: You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.  Jesus then goes on to speak the parable of the Good Samaritan, and answers the question of who is your neighbor, and tells how you are to love him by giving of yourself.
Eternal life is something which was merited for us by Jesus Christ, and is offered to us, but we can choose, by our actions (what must I do) whether to accept the offer or not.  And the choice has to do with who and how we choose to love.  And last (and least important) on the list of choices, is loving ourselves.    
We can wander around by ourselves, confident that we know the way we should go in our lives, but  if we walk alone we are walking with the rheostat turned fully down, in darkness.  It may still be possible for us to attain eternal life, but we also can easily stumble and fall in the darkness.  To find our way, we need to know “Where is God”.  The last step in Jesus’ answer of what me must do, love your neighbor, is actually the first step, the lowest step, we might take toward eternal life.  It is like turning up the rheostat a bit and suddenly seeing those around us --- we don’t necessarily appreciate it, but we are seeing them as they truly are, and loving them because of the light we now see.  The light is from God, the light bulb, but we will see the light as coming from them --- and in truth He is present in them in some manner, even as He is present in us.  Loving our neighbor gets us on the path to heaven more surely than wandering around in the dark, but unless we become aware of the full brightness of God, and He shines in our heart and all of our being, unless He is our strength and helping shape our thoughts, our destination is still far from sure.
And in helping us to love, Jesus gave us His Church and the sacraments, and even Himself:  “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (Jn 6:54) 
And oh the light shall be bright then, as we love Him and our neighbors, together eternally.  And I will hug mom and all my relatives once again. 
Where is God?  He is in you, my friends and neighbors, and in the words I read about His life, and in His Church and sacraments, and in my heart.  When I want to ask where He is, I need only to go to those places, and I will find Him.  Sometimes those who shout the loudest “Where is God?” are the ones shouting into the darkness, alone.  They demand to see him, but they won’t turn up the light.  He is right there in the room with them, but they won’t look up.
I pray for God’s mercy on them, that perhaps He may suddenly flash before their eyes and they can see, even as He did to me.    

Friday, July 12, 2013

And Life Goes On

The repairman is whistling behind me as I type these words.  His bill will be $300.  Maybe it’s because I’ve written so many checks these past couple of weeks, but somehow that doesn’t seem to bother me right now ---- much.  But that’s the end of this story.  At its beginning, I worried that many things would bother me, and that they would never stop.
It’s hard to think that it’s been over two weeks since mom died; maybe that’s because I was so busy much of the time and the days just flew by.  Those first days I will always remember, though.  And I will remember that it rained --- it rained almost every day --- from the day of mom’s death until the day of her being put into the ground.  All that rain seemed to somewhat fit my mood, though, and seemed appropriate, and not at all bothersome.  But then the sun finally did come out, and a clear blue sky marked the day we stood around her grave site, just me, my three nieces, the neighbor who took care of mom’s house for seven years, and the couple dad used to golf with (and who still drive his golf cart), and the deacon who intoned the final prayers that day for mom.  We all looked up at that bright blue sky, and then down at the dirt around the grave, and then at mom’s casket.  And all this, too, seemed appropriate.  A new day, a bright new day, was beginning for all of us.
Those first days after mom’s death, however, were spent in a whirlwind of meetings with the church, with the funeral home and, of course, with the lawyer.  And in mom’s case, with yet another funeral home in Wisconsin, the state where I would fly her body to be buried, to be next to dad and my brother.  I told the people at my parish church to expect perhaps 10 to 20 or so of my friends at mom’s funeral mass; she had outlived all her immediate relatives, except me and her three granddaughters, and none of my friends had even met mom.  My best friend took control of all the flower arrangements, and so when my nieces arrived that weekend from Arizona and Idaho, it seemed like things were under control, and so I smiled again. 
With their heads in a time zone three hours earlier than mine, my nieces and I played pinochle each night until 1 or 2AM, (Eastern Standard Time).  We told stories and we laughed, and on that first night, at least, I thought mom was shuffling the cards in my favor.  “You’re on fire, uncle Tom,” the girls all said.  From the first hand which I laid down on the table and melded points for every card, to the hand where I had no points in my hand --- except the double pinochle, the cards went my way against all odds.  And we laughed. 
I was so glad they took the time off from work to be with me, and their beloved grandma.
On Monday, I was surprised at the funeral when over 60 of my friends took time to be with me in my time of sorrow.  I was VERY surprised.  Some came from my work, some from my volunteer activities, some from church, some from my caregivers support group, some from the men’s prayer group, and some from the charities I support.  And then there were my mom’s two caregivers who had been there with me in her most difficult times.  Because I had been somewhat secluded for the seven years caring for mom, I hadn’t seen some of the people at the funeral mass in years.  And so, while I did shed some tears that day, it didn’t feel nearly as bad as I expected.
My nieces and I drove to Wisconsin the next day in the SUV we had rented from Hertz.  The Hertz store in Canton had only been open a couple of days; I may have been its first customer, or at least it looked like it from the sparsely furnished building I entered and the single Hertz agent there.  He apologized for the vehicle’s high rental rate, noting that it was a holiday week, but as we spoke he offered me a bereavement discount, then a Ford employee discount, and then as we talked yet another discount --- just because I’m a nice guy, I guess.  And at the end, the rate he gave me was only half the one originally quoted.  I’ll go back there.
The trip up to Wisconsin was long but uneventful (except for me getting lost in Milwaukee --- why didn’t anyone tell me that in the past 7 years they had totally re-done highway 894 bypass, and so I missed the exit).  After arriving in Appleton, we went out and bought a pile of cleaning supplies, figuring we’d have to do some major cleaning of mom’s house, unoccupied for seven years, and moving furniture donations to the Salvation Army, in preparation for putting mom’s house on the market.  But when we arrived we sat down and chatted at length with the nearby neighbor, who had been caring for the house and yard these past years.  She is a wonderful person, and indicated that she and her husband, a builder, would buy the home as is, and later tear it down and build a new one on mom’s very scenic spot on the river.  And so we didn’t need to do any cleaning at all, and suddenly we had time on our hands, and so we wandered about the area and about town.  (Later, two other neighbors also indicated an interest in mom’s house, so regardless who buys I expect selling mom’s house will be a simple matter.)
After mom’s gravesite ceremony on Friday, just the neighbor and my nieces and I went out to lunch.  And after my nieces flew home that weekend, the neighbor invited me to lunch again, and we talked for hours about the years she and her family had spent time with my mom and dad.  It was so comforting to know how much they were loved every day in their final years together.  I checked with my dad’s lawyer in Wisconsin about what needed to be done legally to sell mom’s home, and he said he’d take care of things for me, including getting a current assessment of its value.  And so many of the things which I worried about and which could have been so time-consuming and complex, all fell into place.
And during the free time I had, alone, reading, thinking, remembering, and wondering what plans God had next for me --- for I certainly have none --- I was given a glimpse, I think, of what might be next for me.  One afternoon, sitting and reading alone in the hotel lobby, a woman stopped and asked me if I were a veteran.  After she chatted on for a while about her husband and how he had served in the Korean War, I invited her to sit down.  And then she told me why she was in that particular hotel.  Fearful of her husband’s growing depression and resistance to treatment, and his guns in the house, she had recently moved out --- taking with her the mother she cares for, who has Alzheimer’s.  She was taking a major step in her life, her own moving on, and she just wanted someone to talk to.  And I was there.
On my last night in Wisconsin, she knocked on my hotel room door at 8:30, apologizing again for disturbing me, but saying that her mom had gone to sleep, and wanting to know if she could bounce some further ideas off me.  She talked about her life and her family until 11.  She seemed a strong woman, making some hard decisions in her life, and just wanting someone to talk to, so she didn’t feel so alone in her difficult time.  Little did she know that she was talking to someone whose name is: Do Not Be Anxious.
I drove the 500 miles from Wisconsin on Wednesday in 7 ½ hours, arriving home in time to turn in the rental vehicle, drop off the books on CD I had rented for the trip, and picking up my plants and mail from the neighbors.  I opened the pile of cards from friends --- mom is having more masses said for her than anyone I ever knew --- and I realized I have lots of thank you notes to write.  But that will be next week.  For now, I thought, I was home.  I was going to relax.  The new normal, for me, was beginning.
I poured myself a drink and reached into the freezer to get some ice ---- and touched the water in the tray.  Uh-oh!  Everything in the freezer was thawed; I guess my refrigerator had decided to take the week off also. 
Yes, the new normal for me was beginning.  And like any normal life, I was reminded, into it a little rain must fall. 
Life without mom will not be some bed of roses for me, a glorious retirement of travel and fishing and golf.  No, there are still things for me to do, some trials to bear, and some people, who I probably don’t even know right now, that need some love.  No, I’m not sure my life will really be changing that much, just the focus and the needs of whom I am to love. 
And like all thing and all times, God will provide.  He will lead, and I will follow.  And I will not be anxious.
(Although that repairman’s whistling is driving me crazy at the moment!!)
 And I wish you love, my friends.
- - - - - - - - - -
Be With Me Lord
O Lord Jesus Christ, as in Your Passion, sooner or later we must all go on alone – and there is always that place in my heart where no one can come but You.  Without Your presence, that inner solitude becomes oppressive, even devastating – a wasteland of howling winds and dark nights.  But when you are there with me – and only You can come there – my whole life is filled with light and I can go on even in the midst of great trials.
Be with me, Lord, in the dark time, and let me rise from the darkness because You are there.  Be that friend who brings me all that I may have lost in life’s crushing and heartbreaking blows.  Give me Your hand, and I shall be saved.  Amen.
                        --- You Are Not Alone, Prayers in Dark Times by Fr. Benedict J. Groeschel