Saturday, May 31, 2014

Why Do I Make Excuses?

I was thinking about the witnesses to Jesus Christ’s Ascension into heaven.  I think that must have been the ultimate proof for them, that He was God.  I mean, they saw something “impossible” with their own eyes!  I’ve read and heard it said that His rising from the dead was the ultimate proof for those who saw His raised body, but I think not, at least for some of them.
Some of them, even after seeing and talking to Him after the Crucifixion might have skeptically thought (as perhaps I would have?):  “No, that’s not Him.  He died.  This is just a great imitator who looks a lot like Him, but no, it can’t be Him.”  Or perhaps some thought: “I wasn’t there when He died on the cross; people only said that He did, but that must have been a trick they agreed to do:  fake His death.  That’s why I see Him now.”  Or perhaps even some thought: “Someone else died in His place; that’s where the switch took place.  It was all a planned ruse to make it appear He died and rose from the dead.  What a great idea to spread His religion!”
Many people probably made excuses for His rising from the dead, because they KNEW that couldn’t happen.
In thinking about the Ascension, however, what excuse was there, when they saw with their own eyes “what couldn’t happen?”  There was no excuse.  “Seeing is believing.”  They had to believe, but even that wasn’t enough to send them out evangelizing, as they probably thought: “Who’s going to believe what I saw?”  It took Pentecost to give them the courage to say what they knew, with no excuses.
I mused further on other excuses, those made by the people who saw his preaching and miracles, and even perhaps saw Him alive after He had died.  It’s almost like they HAD TO force themselves to make up excuses to explain away that which seemed obvious to others.  And I found myself asking: Why?  Why couldn’t they accept His divinity, when (to me) it seemed so obvious?
Let’s change the subject for a moment.  A mother asks her toddler son a question: “Whose muddy handprint is that on the wall?”  And he responds:  “I don’t know” --- (we can see that we began making excuses at an early age).  The toddler may have been thinking: “If I say I did it, I will be punished, so I must protect myself by lying.”  But it may also be that he doesn’t see his response as a lie, because that “couldn’t be” --- like Jesus being God “couldn’t be.”  Perhaps the toddler’s thinking went like this: “Making muddy handprints is wrong.  I don’t do wrong things; mommy says that is bad.  I am not bad, and therefore I couldn’t have made that handprint; that couldn’t be --- at least not deliberately.”  Either type of thinking results in the boy creating an excuse to excuse an action that DID happen: he saw it because he did it, yet he excuses his action.  Throughout our lives, we wrestle with telling a lie, like the first toddler excuse, or reasoning away our faults, like his second excuse. 
No man willingly admits that he has faults, or that his thinking is faulty, or that he sins.  All men think they are good, and do good things.  I enjoy the television show Criminal Minds, for it gets into the thinking of even the most evil of men, and we see how they make excuses to themselves that their evils are really a good thing --- and they can’t understand why others don’t see it that way also.
We can’t “see” the good or bad of our actions, as some literally saw the Ascension, a proof beyond any doubt.  And so we make excuses, to justify our sins, sins we don’t believe ARE sins, because logically --- in our minds --- that CAN’T BE SO.  We do things but, like the little boy, we think: “We don’t do bad things.”
I mentioned that I pray to the Holy Spirit for the gift of Wisdom.  They say it’s the wise man who knows he is not wise.  That’s the Wisdom I pray for, to be able to know that I am not wise, and to be able to see true Wisdom and Truth, and be able to stop making the excuses when I see the Truth, but want to say: “But that can’t be.”  I want to trust God’s truth, even when it is hard to trust.
Lord, grant me the grace to see Your love and truth in every human being I meet, and to love them without excuses.  And, I pray, that You would also grant me a special grace:  to be able to see the truth of myself as You do --- with no excuses for my actions.  Let me see the truth of them, what I do and who I am, that I may have a firm basis on which to improve, to become more like You.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

My Imitation of Christ

No, I’m not writing a review of this great book by Thomas a’ Kempis --- none of my words would be adequate to summarize one of the world’s most popular books --- ever, which is as popular today as when it was written 500 years ago.  No, I mention this book merely in a continuation on my earlier meditations about the necessity of our being open to the opportunities God gives us to love our neighbor.  But in those earlier thoughts I neglected to consider one very important thing:  we also need to be open to opportunities God gives us to love ourselves.
If you’ve read my earlier words about how self-love, narcissism, is one of the major problems of our society today, you may read these latest words and think: “That’s it.  He’s cracked up.  He says self-love is an evil, but now he says we need to be open to opportunities God gives us to love ourselves?  He’s getting confused in his old age.”  Well, that may be so, but let me explain.
The Second (great) Commandment Jesus gave us was to “love your neighbor as yourself.”  I explained how loving ourselves is something we naturally do; our culture’s problem today is that we are FOCUSED on loving ourselves, making that a priority over even loving God or neighbor.  Our love of self IS in our nature, but that is only because our nature comes from God; we are created in His image.  He, in the Trinity, loves Self.  Our natural self-love comes from Him.  He loved us first, that we might love others.
My copy of Thomas a’ Kempis’ book, The Imitation of Christ, lay on my family room coffee table, untouched, for at least the past 10 years.  I only picked it up recently again because I was out of new reading material --- a rare thing for me.  I’d only just started reading it again when at this morning’s mass in his homily the priest said these words:  “Let me give you a quote from a great book you should read, My Imitation of Christ …”
And at his words I looked down at the book sitting in the pew next to me, that book which I hadn’t touched in 10 years, and which was being recommended to me the day I picked it up.
And then I suddenly recalled another day, long, long ago, when I also had run out of reading material.  Then, with nothing else available, I picked up a book which also had lain on my coffee table for years, untouched, unread, --- ever.  And at that time I opened that book and began reading it:  Genesis, Chapter 1.
As I read it, I found the Bible to be an interesting and compelling book; I began to rise an hour early each morning to continue reading it, until I had read it through.  I now look back and view that time as an opportunity God gave me to love myself, and to accept His love by knowing Him more.  While I think of my trip to Medjugorje as my conversion story, the time when “the Light” went on in me, I think of that time I first read the Bible as the foundation for my acceptance of God’s call to make that Medjugorje trip.  My opening of that Bible was my acceptance of God’s call to love myself.
Paul’s words, It is not I but Christ who lives in me, should be our words also, but we need to let Christ get into our hearts before we can say those words with meaning.  Paul was thrown off a horse; I think our conversion opportunities or our opportunities to grow in holiness are likely much less dramatic, and we must be open to them.  A book that sits on your bookshelf, or one that’s given to you or recommended by a friend, or your family Bible that “decorates” your coffee table --- these may be opportunities.  Or if you are not inclined to read, then what about that Christian movie you heard about, or that roadside sign you noticed which read: “Did you take the time to pray today?”  All these may be opportunities God gives you to love yourself, by accepting His love, learning from His life, learning how to truly LIVE life, and making a difference in this world.
I’ve often spoken of how much I value the book My Other Self, by Clarence Enzler.  I have given away perhaps hundreds of copies of it, and leave a copy in every adoration chapel I visit.  (And often replace it as people take the book home, unable to put it down.)  In Enzler’s book, he writes in the first person, as Jesus talking to the reader.  It is a striking book, and modeled after Kempis’ book.  Looking back, it now almost seems funny, that I gave all those Enzler books away, when I’ve never given away a copy of Kempis’ book.
But I think I’ll accept this opportunity, which seems to have been given me, to change that, and will give others a chance to know Christ’s love through Mr. Kempis’ book, which I shall place in adoration chapels and routinely have on hand to give away – if the opportunity arises. 
It’s just a little thing I’d be doing, but who knows, it might change the world --- for someone.   

Monday, May 26, 2014

And I Remember ...

I saw the deer standing alongside the two lane road as I drove the twenty minute ride to church.  Her head turned as I slowly passed, and she looked right at me.  I waved, and said: “Hello, miss deer.”  And although I didn’t hear her response, I think she said: “Well, it’s nice seeing you, but today is going to be a busy day for me, so I must be off,” and she turned and walked back into the woods.  It is a beautiful Memorial Day in Michigan, and everyone seems to have so much to do.
Our parish remembers the sacrifices of our service men throughout the year, with a special mass for them each Friday night.  But at this day’s mass we especially recalled those who died from our parish family, even as we remembered those forty-two presently serving in the military --- their names are listed each week in our parish bulletin.  And we sang a song, at the mass opening AND closing, which is rarely sung anymore:  God Bless America.  I fear that most children don’t even know the words to it anymore.
As mass began, I saw the attendance was sparse, and most troubling was the few children there, in this parish of huge faith-filled families.  Perhaps they had something more important to do, and started their day’s tasks early.  Or perhaps they were not being adequately taught, by word or example, about the purpose and value and blessings of this country, and how much we have to be grateful for.  As I’ve read, perhaps they are being taught in our schools to be ashamed of this country, and to not celebrate those who would defend it.  Jesus came and changed the world; that is history.  Would those who would now seek to change this country have similar reasons to His?  Would they be willing to die for love of each and every person, as He did, or is the only person they value change for, themselves?  Studies show that few of those who seek “hope and change” serve in our military.
I took the back way home from church, down dirt roads I seldom travel.  I passed woods and ponds, some covered with ducks and geese (and goslings, too!), and others covered in their summer’s umbrella of green algae.  I passed stately farmhouses --- always painted white --- surrounded by great expanses of open fields.  No signs of the amber waves of grain – yet.  Nor were there signs of the Michigan corn which would grow there --- supposed to be “knee high by the Fourth of July;” it’ll have to grow fast to make that deadline.  And I passed a small country church, and next to it gravestones of past church members, largely forgotten now as families died out or moved on.  All this is part of America, the America we shouldn’t forget, nor let our children forget.
And then too soon I saw the pavement beneath my wheels, and the bulldozers and the wooden frames of homes under construction.  It’s called progress, and it indeed is.  But we too easily forget all that came before, all those who sacrificed to make progress possible.  Those were our brothers and sisters, they were our ancestors, and they were AND ARE our family.  We too often forget --- and fail to teach our children often enough --- that there is a heaven, THE reason for this life, and that we are all part of the Body of Christ, all our family members, those alive, and those even more alive in death --- still today, no less our family.
I remember words from the closing song of the play, Camelot:  “Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot.”  I don’t want those to be words sung about America. 
We can’t let them be forgotten.
I made a detour through downtown Plymouth.  Sadly, the Plymouth Nursery hasn’t done its job yet, of planting beautiful flowers on the main street of town in remembrance of mom, on this her first Memorial Day in heaven, where I trust she remembers me also.  Perhaps they too had more important things to do.
But it matters not, because amidst all the ceremonial remembering going on this day, I do remember mama.
Today will be another day of flower planting for me; I fear it will be the start of another WEEK of planting before I am done, but it is enjoyable work.  I think I’ll put some patriotic music on the CD player, as I fill the planters on the front porch, under the new flag which waves from the post there.  I guess that’s another thing that you don’t hear much anymore, patriotic songs.  Like the Christmas carols, Memorial Day once rang with patriotic songs from every radio station.  But that’s probably another example of music and words which our kids don’t remember; I wonder if they forgot, or never learned them.
I guess I’m getting old, recalling things as they were and, I think, as they should be, but in recalling these things it’s not myself that I am sad for.
But I shall always remember …

Sunday, May 25, 2014

You Can Change The World

This life became visible; we have seen and bear witness to it.
(He states that this is true knowledge, not faith in the unseen)
What we have seen and heard we proclaim in turn to you,
so that you may share life with us.

(His word is meant for us, together)
Our purpose in writing you this
is that our joy may be complete.
(Until all see His life, they are incomplete)
If we walk in light, as He is in the light,
we have fellowship with one another.
(We see no enemies; all are our neighbor)
-- 1 John 1: 1-10

Of late I have written words which task myself, and I believe the entire Church, to change this world.  I’ve quoted authors and studies, data which points to how we got to this place and time in our culture and the world.  And for many experts, the conclusion is that the decline in family life --- marriage families and Church families --- underlies our situation.  And further, to change this it is our purpose in living that we make a difference with our lives; that we bring our families to the relationships for which we and they exist, and reverse this decline.  We, each individually, are to change the world, one person at a time.  We are to truly love our neighbor in all our actions.
John says it in his letter, as quoted above: We are to “have fellowship with one another.”  John doesn’t just state his opinion here; he says “We have seen” and “We have heard” and “What we have seen and heard we proclaim in turn to you, so that you may share life with us." We read the words of Pope John Paul II telling us how to live:  the vocation of each individual Christian:  We must view ourselves, our life, our profession and our situation in the framework of the Church.  (This) means that in everything you do in your life by way of professional training and education and pursuit of your career must also contribute to some good God wants for the world. It seems to me that the words and directives are coming at me --- and you --- from all sides.  The Church proclaims a new focus, a “New Evangelization,” but as you see from John’s words, this isn’t new, it is just a re-newed effort, to do as Jesus told us and showed us, to love our neighbor and be at one with the Father’s will, as He is.
I had breakfast with a friend yesterday, and he couldn’t comprehend it; “The world is so big and so much needs to change,” and he wanted to talk about all the evils he perceives in the world.  In the bigness of the problem, he couldn’t see a solution, like a man tossed into the ocean who can’t see land: “What can he do?”  What the man in the ocean, my friend, and even you can do, is what you CAN do.  Start swimming, one stroke at a time.  I told my friend of Maryellen, who lives in assisted living with her husband; I described how she meets and influences the people around her.  Wherever we are at, there we are tasked to make a difference. 
When Jesus started His Church, He didn’t go to the highest place in Rome and proclaim to the whole world: “Be converted; change your hearts; love one another” --- and then work a miracle making everyone become a believer.  He is God; He could have done this.  But no, the example He gave us is that we imitate Him when we imitate His relationship with the Father, when we love, when we change our hearts, and when we help Him to change others, one person at a time.
When we love our family, our brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, grandkids and Godkids, and when we love our parish family, using who we are and what we are as tools to show our love, it is then that we ARE changing the world.  We change the world not by evangelizing to tons of strangers we never met --- you can’t love a stranger --- but we change the world when that person who crosses our path sees us, and with the grace of God, sees the Christ who lives within us.
It is not I who live, but Christ who lives within me
The priest this morning at mass said that people should look at us and see Jesus alive in us, even as they looked at the apostles and saw His presence.  The Holy Spirit came upon them; He seeks to come upon us also, if we would earnestly seek Him, if we would be open to be an instrument of His Peace.  Most Catholics have received the sacrament of Confirmation; it was given us so that we might receive the fire of Pentecost, and go forth and burn brightly in this world.
Have a relationship with God; be open to relationships with the neighbor who crosses your path, and you WILL be one of the people changing this world.
“I quit. I’m done trying to live my life, and failing. From now on, You plan.
 You show me what to do and where to go. You lead; I’ll follow. I promise.”