Friday, February 28, 2014

Name-Calling Heterosexuals

I initially was irritated by the elitist attitude expressed in the article (in First Things magazine) “Against Hetersexuality” -- another young man with knowledge, who thought he had wisdom.  Then I smiled; I was once young too, and thought that only I knew the truth of matters.

The author acknowledges that Scripture calls sodomy a sin, but then seems to explain why those who proudly proclaim themselves “homosexual” and celebrate their sodomy acts should not be thought of as sinners.  I can see that no argument will convince him otherwise; HE KNOWS.

In my many years I was sometimes given a small measure of wisdom.  The gift usually came via some words written by saints or apologists, or was whispered to my heart in the quiet of an adoration chapel.  I won’t debate Mr. Hannon and his “wisdom,” which he challenges us to accept (“Mark my words …”), but I might suggest to him that rather than immediately joining the Norbertines to spread his wisdom, he might (like Paul) go into the desert for 3 years or so.  And since he seems to “know” the Bible so well, perhaps he might take along a copy of The Theology of the Body, and The Litany For Humility, and then just sit and think about himself. 

To quote a real wise man:  “To know oneself is the beginning of Wisdom” – Socrates.

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I wanted to document and remember the (above) letter I sent to the editor of First Things magazine this morning.  The article I read there roused me to anger for 12 hours or so.  I wanted to call the author names:  elitist, arrogant, supporter of evil --- and he plans to join a religious order!  But during the mass and through the day’s readings my anger calmed, and I saw not an arrogant ass, but a confused (albeit intelligent) young man, lost but loudly proclaiming in confidence:  I know the way!  How many among our youth are like him.  They are the fruit of the decline in our culture, the Tower of Babel we build and live in, and in which we think we are reaching the skies.

I don’t expect my letter to be published by the magazine, but I believe they forward all comments to the authors.  Perhaps he might read it.  Perhaps grace may be given to him.  Perhaps he might see that  celebrating diversity, avoiding name calling, and not judging those who would celebrate sin will not, as he is convinced, cause the issues now being forced upon Christians by a militant homosexual community to just drift away.   Sitting back and stopping the use of the terms Homosexual or Heterosexual will not cause the whole issue of “choosing my sex and what to do with it” to go away. 

Exactly “what” may be debated, but we certainly must do something.

I will not be anxious, it only leads to sin.

Seek then the highest wisdom, not by arguments in
words but by the perfection of your life, not by speech
but by the faith that comes from simplicity of heart,
not from the learned speculations.

--- St. Columban, abbot

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Books For Lent

Lent will soon be upon us, and my local Catholic bookstore has a variety of books on display, some old and some new.  Among the old are my own “old recommendations” from last year, and among the new are these two books:
You can see the cover of Matthew Kelly’s book, Rediscover Lent, here.  Quite frankly, it is a bit of a turn off to me when I see a book cover where the author’s name is bigger than the book title.  It says to me: “I’m important, so buy this.,” when --- at least for spiritual readings, I think --- it should be the topic which is important.  But having expressed my prejudices, now I’ll tell you (honestly) that the reason I bought this book was largely because Matthew Kelly was the author.  Go figure.
My experience with Kelly isn’t expansive; I’ve only heard a talk or two of his, and read maybe a book or two, but I recall that what I’ve heard or read impacted me, and I remembered his simple, Irish name.  (Do you think they made the cover all green because he’s Irish?)  Whatever the reason, I bought this book and read just a few pages of it to get a feel for its value as Lenten reading (and not to spoil my further Lenten reading of it).
I found the few pages I read of Kelly’s book very enjoyable.
Kelly notes that he has often spoken lectures on the “seven pillars of Catholic spirituality” (which is news to me), and this book consists of daily short reflections on those seven pillars, which are: confession, daily prayer, the mass, the Bible, fasting, spiritual reading, and the rosary.  Some excerpts of his reflections:
·         Ignatius, Francis, Benedict, Dominic, Joan of Arc, and Theresa all asked the question: God, what do you think I should do?  Henry David Thoreau said: “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.”  If you don’t ask the big question, you won’t discover your mission, and sooner or later you will be numbered among Thoreau’s masses.
·         My experience has been that more than 90 percent of Catholics can’t tell you what last Sunday’s Gospel was about.  If we don’t know what last Sunday’s Gospel reading was, only a few days later, then I have to believe that it didn’t significantly impact our lives.
·         “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  Since September 11, 2001, have you heard a single prayer in any of our churches for Osama bin Laden or for al Qaeda or for terrorists?  The teachings of Jesus are as radical today as they were when they were first announced.
·         The truth is, you cannot be healthy and happy without discipline.  In fact, if you want to measure the level of happiness in your life, just measure the level of discipline in your life.  You will never have more happiness than you have discipline.  The two are directly related to one another.
·         My proposal is that we encourage Catholic adults to read good spiritual books.  Fifteen minutes a day is as good as any place to start … this habit alone could be a game changer for the Church in our times. … If every Catholic spent fifteen minutes a day, every day, learning about his or her faith, how different would our Church be in a year?  Five years?  Ten years? Rome wasn’t built in a day.  Most great things are achieved little by little.
These are just random samples from this book.  See anything that made you stop and think?  Me, too.  Put this one on your Lenten reading list.
This next book, Meditations For Lent, is a compilation of the words of Jacques-Benigne Bossuet, who was a famous orator in France in the seventeenth century.  He has been favorably compared with St. Augustine and St. John Chrysostom, and some saints kept his writings as bedside reading.  The writings in this book are comments on and arranged according to the Gospel readings each day of the Lenten season.
The Bossuet book approaches meditations from a different angle than Kelly’s book.  Kelly’s book focused on specific topics, his seven pillars, and challenged you to make them part of your Lenten focus --- to change your spiritual life by doing something different.  Bossuet’s book is more of a self-contained “read this and learn” book.  You don’t have to go out and get anything else, and you don’t have to do anything else, just read and learn.
Honestly, most books I read are written in more of Bossuet’s style than Kelly’s.  Most inform me: by giving me new data, by explaining something I thought I knew in a new light, or by providing me a new opinion to think about and compare with my own.  Kelly’s book challenged me to “go out and change in this way,” while Bossuet’s book said “Here’s the truth of things” and then implied: “So what are you going to do about that?”
In the sample selections I read from Bossuet’s book, I found no “new news” for me.  He did provide good, clear explanations of Church teachings on various topics and/or Scripture passages.  If you were unclear on these teachings, or had never much reflected upon them, these Lenten meditations might be “Aha!” moments for you, but at first glance, they didn’t strike me that way.  Perhaps reading them in the adoration chapel, slowly, on the day and in the order they were meant to be read, perhaps they will provide me with deeper thoughts and spiritual insights.
I don’t mean to slight Bossuet’s writings.  He provides good, clear, concise meditations.  I am sure that for many people he will be providing “new news” to think upon during Lent, or old news which we too easily forget or ignore.  It is a good book, and I do plan to read it and Kelly’s book each day this Lent.
At least, that is my plan for Lenten spiritual growth. 
You should make one, too.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Creating a Parish Family

You may have read some of my recent book reviews:  How The West Really Lost God, Faith of the Fatherless and Worshipping the State --- which were in my first post on the Growth of Atheism.  You may have read some of my recent posts on the feelings of loneliness in the world, and the confusion over the word love:  Is it primarily for me to receive, or to give?  And you may have heard about recent surveys on the Catholic Church in America, or perhaps even participated in one in your parish (as I did recently).  There is all this information defining and quantifying problems out there --- one of the key ones is the disintegration of the family --- but much less real data or progress on what to do about it.
A thought came to me this morning as I knelt after Communion.
My series of blog posts on The Growth of Atheism will ultimately conclude with thoughts on what we can do about its rapid rise in this country, but that is a big picture.  We can each actually do something in a small picture, on our personal lives.  What came to me this morning is that in trying to support families or create better families, there are many ideas out there along the lines of “Here’s what I think we must do …” Many individuals have good ideas, but in my business career I learned that you can make much more progress, and quicker progress, if you don’t try to invent the wheel, but rather look at those rolling by you.  What are they doing?  And in the matter of creating family, of trying to facilitate a closeness, a feeling of not being alone, a feeling of being loved --- and perhaps even trying to find a place to give your love --- there are already many answers out there, answers we could try to imitate or adapt to our Parish family needs.  What I am talking about is the huge social media focus within the internet.
Most parishes, mine included, have a website to tell you the basics about the parish --- here we are.  Many parishes, mine included, publish a directory of parish members, names, addresses, phone numbers, and perhaps even email addresses.  Most parishes, mine included, publish a weekly bulletin: here’s what’s happening this week (and perhaps it might include some social info, like the sites of some area Christian talks, or even “Here’s what I have for sale”).  Most parishes have a gathering space right outside the worship space, and perhaps a coffee and donuts gathering after mass.  And most parishes have bulletin boards and/or media sites somewhere within the Church building, so info can be exchanged.  All this is good; all of this is communication among the parish family is what we are used to.  All this is so old fashioned.
None of this in itself BUILDS family, and little counters the increasing disintegration of the family.
On the internet, most people/families have a Facebook page, and many maintain websites or blogs.  They communicate with friends; they express views; they evangelize their faith in how they live their lives; they comment back and forth in real time: they communicate.  And in this communication, they know each other a little better.  Are they giving love with their internet activities?  Well, they are definitely taking the time to give of themselves, to write of their feelings, and perhaps with a goal of making others feel better.  Is this giving love?  I’d certainly say (without considering motives of their efforts), that this appears as a way of loving, of creating for a few people a relationship of giving.
And if we could create such relationships within a parish, focused on or at least available to parish members, I think this could be a means of creating better parish families.  Knowing that a specific group of people might be readers of their internet writings, authors might tailor their words to the family.
Logistically, what I am thinking is that a parish website --- your parish website --- should have a section for Parish Family.  In it could be sections on Facebook, Blogs, Events supported or participated in by parish members (like my Caregivers Support Group), and perhaps even the “I’ve got something to sell” section.  Within each section would be a list of names of parish members and next to each name the title of their Facebook page, blog, event, or item to sell.  Their name itself could be a link to the web site they maintain.  The site would have to be maintained by someone within the parish to ensure only parish members were listed there. 
With such a Parish Family section, parish members could contact one another easily, find out who in the parish has interests similar to theirs, find faith topics directly linked to their parish (with perhaps related events).  Unlike a parish directory with pictures and names, such a Parish Family area would create a REASON for parish members to contact one another, to get to know one another more, to learn from one another, and to find support from one another ---- just like a family.  Unlike “Small Faith Groups” which many parishes support, made up of random people, this family directory would enable people of like interests or backgrounds to contact one another.
I entered data from my parish’s recent survey of members.  I’d say the majority of parish members felt very good about our parish, what it does, and how it does it.  But there were a significant number whose responses indicated that they felt isolated.  Some seemed to indicate a need for some sort of personal support.  And some seemed to indicate single people living alone --- alone, like me, and feeling very alone.  The parish website, bulletins, directories, and gathering of strangers after mass, didn’t seem to mean anything to them. 
And these were the ones who participated in the survey.  What were the ones who didn’t participate in the survey thinking?  And what about the ones who only come on Christmas or Easter (some years)?  How do you reach those people, people to whom you might really wish to show love more often than the annual Christmas homily, people you’d really like to call your parish family?
I offered a suggestion here; surely there are better than mine.  I sent a note to a major Catholic Evangelization organization recently suggesting they create Catholic Family Apps for cell phones --- not games that friends can play together, but apps to link families together, to communicate, to express love, or to pray together.  You know, those things that used to DEFINE families in this country.
I certainly don’t have all the answers, but we need to start thinking of some, and we need to start communicating, in love.  The Roman historians, describing Christians, said: “See how they love one another.”  We need to create that same realization in the pagan society around us again.     

Friday, February 14, 2014

Review: The Rosary -- The Prayer That Saved My Life

As the priest opened the doors of the church for me this morning, I handed him a small piece of Ghiradelli chocolate: “Just to let you know that you’re remembered this day, Father.”  He smiled and said thanks.  The candy was left over from my Caregivers Support Group meeting last night.
Today is Valentine’s Day:  candy, silly cards, maybe dinner, and if you’re extravagant, perhaps even flowers (or you’re guilty).  It is a day which might be said to have a serious intention, but it is dismissed lightly.  Love: a word which seems to have so many meanings these days, and so little meaning at the same time.  But it is not that way for everyone.
I thought about the caregivers who came to the meeting last night.  Those are people who truly know the meaning of love, and I admire them for it.  I put some candy on the table as we talked; it was for them.  They are people who have committed their lives to the caring for a loved one, someone who perhaps in their dementia or Alzheimer’s disease does not even remember their name, yet still they love.  They probably won’t be buying their loved ones candy or cards or flowers:  they give love, instead.  We gather once a month, to talk about how hard love, real love, is, and to encourage one another to fight for that love.  I’m tempted to write of some of their stories --- some are most amazing, but I don’t think they’d want that.  They don’t desire thanks or fame or recognition for what they are doing; they know it is right.  They know it is right to love, no matter what: in health and in sickness, ‘til death do us part.  That is real love, which isn’t remembered or celebrated on a particular day, but every day.
I recently completed reading the book: The Rosary, The Prayer That Saved My Life, by Immaculee Ilibagiza.  I wasn’t planning this, but today seemed like a good day to review this book.  The title says it is a book about prayer, but I assure you, it is a book about love.
It helps understand this book if you know something about its author.  Immaculee was a young girl in high school in Rwanda in 1994.  Twelve years earlier, the Virgin Mary had appeared to some other Rwandan children, telling them that they needed to spread a message that prayer was fervently needed for their country, and hatred among peoples needed to be ended, or there would be a great tragedy.  In 1994, that tragedy struck.  The ruling party/tribe in Rwanda was the Hutu, and the minority was the Tutsi.  Immaculee’s family was Tutsi.  The President of Rwanda “promised peace and equality for all Rwandans” --- and then he was murdered.  Within 24 hours of his murder, the country’s radio screamed that every one of the 1.2 million Tutsi’s must be killed immediately, and the slaughter began.  The hatred that had been talked about for many years, was put into action.  Neighbor killed neighbor; co-worker killed co-worker; school children killed classmates; Christians killed Christians.  The slaughter was all that you could imagine: beheadings, rapes, and terrible tortures of all kind.  And while Immaculee’s father and mother gathered their Tutsi neighbors around them, encouraging them to love and forgive, and to not fight back, they told her to run to the home of a neighbor, a Hutu friend who they would trust her life to, a Protestant minister.
And for the next 91 days, Immaculee and seven other women were hidden in a small three by four foot bathroom in the minister’s home.  This book is the story of what Immaculee did during those 91 days:  she prayed. 
The first third of the book is about Immaculee’s early family life, and her education.  “Mom and dad drilled two guiding principles into our heads from the moment we were born: The first was to be well educated …. The second principle (and even more important one, they stressed) was to be a good and decent person, and the only sure way to accomplish that was to embrace and spread the love of God.”  She was 12 years old when her Catholic school teachers taught her the Rosary prayer, but “The rosary utterly confounded me.”  She didn’t understand it, the prayers and “mysteries”, but as a bright young girl she memorized the words.  Her priest counseled her to understand the prayer, the meaning of the mysteries.  And finally she did, passing her “rosary test,” which was given each student individually by the priest, with flying colors.  She was so proud.
But until she began praying that rosary, on the beads her father had given her, in that tiny room, for hours on end, as she heard the screams and slaughter outside, she really didn’t understand what the Rosary prayer was. 
The bulk of this book is a walkthrough of each of the mysteries of the Rosary, as Immaculee experienced them in that small bathroom.  Immaculee writes meditations on each mystery, her thoughts, her prayers, and her personal conversations with God.  With no knowledge of what was happening outside but the screams she could hear --- and even the taunts of her former closest friends:  “We’ll find you and cut off your head” --- Immaculee prayed, and she grew in faith.  Dear God, You say we should forgive, but sometimes I pray for the killers to die … please forgive me … but I don’t want them to find me and kill me and kill other innocent people … it’s so complicated, my dear God … how can You love them and love me?  … No matter what pain I might be going through now, I truly do want to live and serve You, and I don’t want to die in such terrible fear.  Please take care of my parents and my brothers, and please promise to hear their prayers as well.  Thank You.  Amen.
“Losing everything brought me face-to-face with the one essential truth of my existence:  We can rely on nothing but God.”  I know you must have Your reasons … maybe we are all supposed to learn some big lessons from this nightmare, and maybe it will bring us closer to You … but it is so hard to know if that is true when the killing continues on the other side of the bathroom door. Please help me find the strength to keep You in my heart always, so I can find Jesus wherever I look … even if I am looking at people who are trying to kill me.
I found some of the most powerful words in this book when I read Immaculee’s meditations on the Sorrowful Mysteries, “where I learned to evade the Devil’s grasp … how to let go of my anger and to forgive.”  Reflecting on the Agony In The Garden, Immaculee wrote: “For me, lying on the bathroom floor and using all my powers of prayer to save my own skin, everything clicked into sharp and sudden focus.  I realized that the moment Our Lord yielded to his higher self, his mental agony ended … submitting to and doing God’s will, and not his own.”  Immaculee had a moment of insight we all need to come to:  “I began to see that when we come to God in prayer only when we seek relief from our own suffering, we are forever asking God what He can do for us, not asking God what we can do for Him --- which is where real spiritual growth begins.”  And during her prayers, she begins to see what drove the hatred and killing in her country:  I still have much anger and hatred, and no matter how hard I try, it is still there in the corner of my heart and comes over me without my permission.  I continue to ask  You to show me how to rid myself of this bitter disease of anger… I can see what happens to people – to the world – if they let their hearts stray from You and then choose to satisfy whatever urge sweeps across them. 
There are many other words I could quote from Immaculee’s book, but they are all summarized in these few words from her meditations on the Fifth Sorrowful Mystery, The Crucifixion:  “I have learned that we can’t love when there is hatred in our hearts.”   
When Immaculee came out of the bathroom after 91 days, it was to find that her parents and her brother were among the hundreds of thousands that had been killed --- while the world stood by and watched.  Immaculee went into that bathroom a young girl and afraid.  She came out a young woman, with a great faith in God.  She has written a number of books and now speaks around the world on what she learned in those 91 days.  She learned that love, real love, is the most important thing.
If you are looking for a truly loving gift for this Valentine’s Day, don’t give candy or cards or flowers that will be forgotten tomorrow.  Give this book.  It documents a knowledge that saved a young woman’s life.  Isn’t that what you would truly want for someone you love?