Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Growth of Atheism: 4. Planting New Seeds

I don’t know you, and perhaps that is a simple summary of the problems facing our country and our culture.  But whether you be atheist, agnostic, Muslim, Buddhist, Jew, or Christian --- or don’t know how to describe yourself --- still, I think you perceive that what I have been writing here is troubling.  Something is wrong in this world, something you would, if you could, make better.  As in the title of this and three earlier postings, I summarize the problem as a growth of atheism, a growing rejection of God and/or increase in self-love in our country, narcissism.  Despite the evidences I’ve shown to arrive at these conclusions, you might summarize the problem differently --- especially if you are an atheist!  But I believe most thinking people would concede:  there is a problem; it is getting worse; and someone should do something about it.
I propose that someone is: YOU.
This increasing self-love, this “looking out for Number One,” seems to have grown more common as families have deteriorated in our culture.  A recent Wall Street Journal article cited new studies:  “25% of American children now live in single-parent homes,” and “they don’t fare as well emotionally, economically, psychologically, educationally, or, in the end, economically as their two-parent peers.”  Add to this the one-in-seventy children now diagnosed as autistic, and the data says that a huge and increasing portion of our culture is growing up --- and living lives --- of increased isolation.  People now laugh at large families, and some think it is a virtue to have no children.  Perhaps you do also.  But even if you do believe that, still, you must not like where the data says that leads:  to increasing numbers of lives alone, without love, real love. 
On April 22, the Wall Street Journal noted that in Italy, “home to the Catholic Church,” nearly 50% of adults do not plan to have children --- they can’t afford them.  In past years they, and other Europeans, have demanded the government give them what they want --- as many in America now do.  And so their governments did, providing medical care and job security and retirement and anything else they “needed,” and then taxed them for it.  Now they can’t afford children, and of the children they do have over 50% under the age of 30 are unemployed, and forced to live at home.  Whether they desire it or not, family life is now forced upon them.  The Italians got everything from the government they “needed,” and now soon they will have nothing.  They, in effect, told the government to love them, and now they have forgotten, themselves, how to love.  Is this where we are headed in America, to loving ourselves more than our neighbors, and even more than our children?
In simpler times, love was more practical.  Far less emphasis was
placed on affection, especially the expression of affection.  In the
time of Our Lord and during most human history, especially among
the great masses of people who were farmers, hunters, and fisherman,
love meant faithfully fulfilling one’s duties to another, seeing to their
welfare, and providing for their needs. … Faith and love of God were
not seen as different expressions, and they jointly called for doing
something, for fidelity and generous concern.
-- The King Crucified and Risen, (P174) Fr. Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R.
I do not like where America is, or where we are heading, the “heaven on earth” the Italians have found.  I do not think it matters what your background is.  Mine is influenced by my Catholic faith, and that faith says that I --- yes, little old me --- can do something to change where this culture is headed, and in fact the God I worship COMMANDED me to do something about it, when He told me to “love God and my neighbor.”  Him, I do love, but I know that I can do better in loving my neighbor and in making this world a better place, even if for only one neighbor.  A place for me to start is with him, changing this world by obeying that commandment to love him.  And I think that’s a place for you to start also,--- neighbor.
In my growing old, growing in experience, growing in faith, and growing in wisdom (?), many little opportunities have presented themselves to me in which to love my neighbor.  On a few occasions, the opportunities to love were glaring --- in my face --- calls for help.  Sometimes answering those calls required my time, and on some occasions my work, and on a few others my money --- money that sometimes I didn’t think I had to spare, but looking at the situation of my neighbors I often felt compelled to ask myself:  does my neighbor need this more than I?  That’s what love is, you know, it’s not something you do because you get something back, like working overtime in hopes of a raise, or buying a girl dinner in hopes of sex.  Love is giving of yourself to another because it is as God would have you act.  And at one time in this culture, it was also as your family would have you act.  To show us how to love is why Jesus came into this world.
While sometimes the opportunities I had to love required me to make sacrifices, it seems in more recent times I have noticed that ever more opportunities exist which don’t require much effort on my part at all, little opportunities to give love that anyone could give.  Taking advantage of these opportunities, opportunities to love, to help in some small way to change our culture --- even if for only one neighbor --- sometimes JUST HAPPENS, whether you think about it or not, if you resolve to have an attitude of love, if you resolve to ACT in love.  So if the neighbor’s little kids are stepping on your flowers, you don’t yell at the kids, you smile and maybe offer to pick one for them.  And when that car cuts you off, you don’t give them “the finger,” but you say a prayer for them.  And if your spouse is having a bad day, you don’t say a word, but just hug her.
Despite how much you crave love yourself, you DO know how to GIVE love, even if it does not come naturally for you.  Our culture and our neighbor do not need THINGS given to them, but love.  Loving our neighbor is the starting point for us to change this culture.  Each act of love we do is a seed that may grow and spread.  And only you (and I) can spread those seeds which lie somewhere deep within our hearts.
You are not to spend what remains of your earthly life
on human desires, but on the will of God.
  (1Pt 3:18)
Trying to imitate the Love of Jesus Christ, here are some seeds which I have discovered in my life, and which you might resolve to sow, to make a difference, to show love to your neighbor:
In Your Family:  The day you take a spouse is the day you vow: “someone is more important than me.”  Act like it.  Make their concerns your first concern.  Giving love to your family includes growing in love with them:  pray together EVERY day, visit church together (and not just on Sundays).  Love means giving of yourself:  spend time with them, save for their Catholic education (and/or prepare for it in your will/trust or contribution to 529 funds), and teach them, by lessons and by example.  Early on children NEED love, but as they grow they need to learn how to GIVE love, so they can later give it to their spouses and children:  teach them.  And talk to them about sin, which is putting yourself first, before God or neighbor.  And if your family ever doubts for a moment that you don’t love them, then you aren’t loving them enough, in the right ways, in ways that they see and understand.  If you love your family well, you will be changing our culture by making more loving, giving people for the future.
At each mass the priest says:  “This is My Body,
 which WILL be given up for you.”  This is love.
In Your Neighborhood:  All the ways you would love your family can and should overflow to your neighbors.  Find out their kids’ birthdays, and on those special days give them a present, especially a Christian one, perhaps a book on virtues or bible stories.  At Easter, give them a basket of candy and a book explaining what Easter means --- beyond chocolate bunnies.  Invite neighbors over once in a while for dinner --- and say grace before the meal --- and always have a popsicle in the freezer for the kids during the summer (and I have BONES for the dogs, too!).  And if you have a garden, let the neighbors know they are welcome to pick of your harvest (you never eat all that you grow, anyway).  And like your family, let them see you as someone who is loving, giving, caring, that they might see the joy that gives to you and your family, and perhaps might make changes in theirs.
Religion that is pure and undefiled before
God and the Father is this:  to visit orphans
and widows in their affliction, and to keep
oneself unstained from the world.
(James 1:27)
In Your Parish:  Treat your parish as your extended family in Christ --- get to know them.  Perhaps you can set up links on the parish website to all parishioners’ blogs, Facebook pages, or other social media:  you should be linking to and being concerned about them before some strangers halfway around the country; you should know something about the needs/gifts of that person across the church aisle, especially if he publishes that info on the internet for anyone to see.  You should seek to visit sick or elderly parishioners, especially those alone (ref the Letter of James) – take your kids along; they can interact with new “grandparents” if theirs live far away.  If you have things or space (a spare room) you no longer need, you should readily make them available to your parish family.  And, of course, if you have time and talent, you should volunteer to lead and/or attend various activities within your parish, to grow in faith, and to give your love.  Giving of yourself and your things IS loving your neighbor, and giving of spare things costs you nothing, yet would go great lengths toward changing this world, one person at a time.
In that first sin man preferred himself to God, and by that very
act, scorned Him.  He chose himself over and against God.
  -- CCC 398
In Strangers You Meet:  After wearing a cross around my neck for many years, one day last year I felt an urge to wear it outside my shirt, visible on my chest.  That day a Christian in need, seeing the cross, stopped to talk at length to me; seeing that cross told them that here was someone who cared about their neighbor.  And in the time I gave her, she felt loved.  Just witnessing our faith, wearing a cross, dressing modestly, smiling at strangers we pass, all make this world a little better, one person at a time.  Of course, many of the things we would do within our family, neighborhood, or parish can be extended even to strangers.  You can visit Catholic blogs and offer comments to those in need of advice or sympathy.  You can volunteer with non-profit organizations to help people in need.  You can donate to charities who help those in real need (I verify the performance of charities by first searching their Form 990 on Guidestar.org).  You can hire unemployed Christians and neighbors to do work they need, the work you could afford to pay to have done --- my hedges are trimmed each year, and my garden tilled by those seeking some temporary employment.  And of course, you can donate food to the various food drives in every community.
We love because He first loved us.
Love isn’t giving to another that which he desires --- we see what happened to the Italians who got what they desired.  Love gives to another for his good, and a Christian sees good defined in the life of Jesus, in His actions of love.  Jesus was tolerant of sinners, but He never accepted or promoted their sins.  Neither should we “tolerate” sins; that IS NOT loving them.  And perhaps Jesus’ greatest example, yet rarely cited, is that He showed us how NOT to love ourselves first.  He gave of everything He had; He was concerned about others first; and He never asked for Himself or His needs.  That is the great lesson I cite in the title of this blog:  Do Not Be Anxious (for yourself). 
If I and you are to make a difference in this world; if we are to change this culture, we must start, not by changing some laws --- that’s not the example Jesus gave us --- not by seeking some grandiose impact on everyone and everything, but rather by the giving of love, to one person at a time.
It’s where He started. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

His Mercy Endures Forever

Yesterday the Catholic Church celebrated a feast day which was begun by Pope John Paul II:  Divine Mercy Sunday, now always designated the first Sunday after Easter.  How this day came about is a great blessing for mankind, a gift from God.  He Himself asked that we celebrate the day.
The depths of the story of Divine Mercy, and the phrase associated with it that I so treasure --- Jesus, I Trust in You --- I leave for others to expand upon.  I just wanted to record these thoughts for my own memory, for those days which will come when I might more easily forget, how blessed I am.  On some of those days, I pray, I might look back on these words and recall, and give thanks for two things:
             1)  Pope John Paul II reigned as pope for a long time and did many wonderful things for God and for His Church --- and for His world --- but perhaps none was more wonderful than setting aside this feast day, forcing us to remember and focus on God’s Divine Mercy, which we so easily forget.  And it is most fitting that JPII be declared a saint by the Church on this day.
2) Even as he is elevated to sainthood, even as I have taken to saying a prayer to my friend, Karol, each day, I must remember to keep his greatness in perspective.  Even as Sister Faustina and Pope John Paul II reminded us of Divine Mercy, it was there long before either of them.  THAT is the great thing.  I was reminded of this as I read this Evening Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours, written long before a Divine Mercy Sunday was ever declared:
Once you were no people, but now you are God’s people;
Once there was no mercy for you, but now you have found mercy.

--- 1Pt 2:10
This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.  Alleluia.
- - - - - - - - - -
Yesterday I attended the graduation of one of my Godchildren from Eastern Michigan University, while at the same time his brother (also my Godchild) was graduating from the University of Michigan --- both with honors.  In June, another Godchild will graduate from high school, and yet another will celebrate her 50th birthday!!!  Yes, I have many things to rejoice about; I see reminders everywhere.  God is merciful.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

In Heaven's Arms

Yesterday was not a good day.  It began with a small seizure early in the morning, and it got worse from there.  The day itself was a nothing day, the same old, same old tasks, the duties really required:  few.  The friends visited:  none.  The thoughts:  many, oh yes, many.
It was near the end of the day that I discovered I had been taken advantage of, robbed of hundreds of dollars.  The discovery seemed so important then; it consumed me; it made me so mad, so very angry.  I had willingly given away many thousands, but to have it taken away from me …
I was SO mad.
A friend had asked me to substitute for him at the adoration chapel late last night.  And as I approached the chapel parking lot, this tune played on the CD of my car.
And my lingering anger turned to tears, … at what had been taken away from me.
                                        In Heaven’s Arms
The most precious thought
                        Was to hold you in my arms
                        A brief moment my little child
                        The most precious thought
                        Was to kiss your tiny face
                        For just a little while
                        And now forever you’ve touched my life
                        Forever, you’ve touched my life.
                        The most wondrous thought
                        Is to see heaven’s arms descending
                        To embrace you raise you up
                        The most wondrous thought
                        Much more than I can give you
                        Angels in heaven cradle you
                        Forever, you’ve touched my life
                        Forever, you’ve touched my life.
                        And now eternally in heaven
                        And now eternally in heaven
                        And now eternally in heaven
                        You’re so blessed O in heaven’s arms
                        You’re so blessed O in heaven’s arms
                        It’s so good my child to know
                        For eternity you’re in heaven’s arms
                        It’s so good my child to know
                        Forever you’re in heaven’s arms
                                        -- by Eric Genuis

Mom would have been 96 yesterday, April 25, 2014.
Now in heaven's arms.

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Real Presence

On the cross was hid Thy Godhead’s splendor;
Here Thy manhood lieth hidden too.
--- Hymn Adoro te devote