Sunday, August 31, 2014

I Believe In Love

“There are times in marriage and religious life
when we do not need to feel or understand love
to make the decision to love, we only need to believe in it.”

When I read the above words by Anthony Lilles (in his book: Hidden Mountain, Secret Garden), they really struck me:  We do not need to understand love, only to believe in it.  How often in my life have I let my decisions be guided by my feelings or my understandings of a situation?  I let reason or my logic --- as poor as it sometimes is --- be my guide, doing what I felt or reasoned to be right, and then often being surprised at the poor outcome, especially, sometimes, at the hurt feelings of others.
I thought I had to make reasonable or logical decisions in my life, and these would “or course” be good.  I thought I could understand love, and analyze it.  I thought love was logical.  (I guess I forgot the cross, and how illogical that great love was.)  I wanted my life to make sense, to plan it out.  I now realize what I wanted was my success to be the work of my hands (although at the time I didn’t realize I was thinking that way).  I was taught that I could have anything I wanted on this earth if I worked for it.  I guess I took that lesson too deep to heart, and forgot the one about it being impossible for me to earn heaven … or to earn love.
They say seven is the age of reason, and twenty-one is the age of adulthood, but it took me about forty years before I began to gain any wisdom, and even then saw that wisdom was a gift, not something “I” gained.  My eyes were opened then (in Medjugorje) and “I gave my life to Jesus,” as my Protestant friends would say.  In truth thought, it took me ‘til then to realize that He gave HIS life to me, and He loved me unconditionally.  Unconditionally, of course, because it made no sense to me that He would choose to love me.  I know I didn’t.  Looking at my life up to that point, I didn’t feel that I deserved to be loved.  And that was my true analysis of the situation.
But He chose to love me anyway.
At that turning point in my life, I first began to feel God’s presence, that undeserved love, and since then I’ve felt it more often and consistently.  And maybe because of that --- that He first loved me --- I’ve grown to feel, to somewhat understand, and to firmly believe WHY He loves me.  The answer is the answer to that third grade catechism question:  Why did God make me?  (And if you really don’t know the answer to that question, please use your internet search skills for something useful for a change.)
God loves me that I might be all that He made me to be, His presence to those I meet, that I might love them as He does.  It’s family.  The Father created the children out of love, and that they might love Him.  The children don’t need to understand His love, nor even their love for Him.  They just need to believe in it and act on it, and all happiness will follow. 
The Gospel today had Peter telling Jesus to deny His cross, but Jesus said: “Get behind me, Satan.”  Jesus believed in love, and would not be tempted to put self-love before His love for us.  Despite facing the cross, Jesus chose to believe in love.
Anthony Lilles’ quote begins “There are times …”  I believe those “times” he refers to are the tough ones, when we don’t feel loved and we don’t feel like loving.  That was the time Jesus was facing.  We’ve all had similar tough times in our lives, and our usual response to them was to pity ourselves.  Jesus didn’t pity Himself.  Those are the times when we need to throw out all our logic and our self-pity, all our thoughts about deserving love, or needing to understand a particular situation or person --- especially one who should love us --- and just believe in love.  We just need to decide to love, and believe in it.
It is how God loves us, and how He asks us to love our neighbor.
And yeh, it ain’t easy some times, to believe without seeing results, to believe without understanding, and to believe just because He said to …. But, I believe in love. 
And every time I look at a crucifix, I see it.
Whoever wishes to follow Me, must deny himself.
We sang these beautiful words of love this morning in church:
Behold the eyes of the Lord
Search the face of the earth
To find hearts that are given,
Seeking souls to make pure.
To enflame this world’s darkness
To warm cold hearts with grace.
Am I here, Lord,
For such a time, for such a place?
Here is my life, Lord,
Heart, mind, and body.
My soul’s surrender,
Take it for Your own.
And You will lead, I know,
Where only love can go.
Here is my life, O Lord,
My life for You.
There is a love stronger than death,
Passion deeper than this life.
In the heart’s purest longing
Lies the pearl of great price.
One Love all loves surpassing,
True surrender the cost.
Am I here, Lord,
To bear this love, and share its cross?
Here is my life, Lord,
Heart, mind, and body.
My soul’s surrender,
Take it for Your own.
And You will lead, I know,
Where only love can go.
Here is my life, O Lord,
My life for You
-- Here Is My Life, by Ed Conlin,
© Servants of the Word, Ann Arbor, MI

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Most Precious Temple

Last night was the final concert in the park in downtown Plymouth, Michigan.  Summer is over.  Around 5,000 showed up for the free concert; they danced the twist, did a conga line and danced to lots of other oldie classics, too.  There were plenty of kids and babies and dogs of all sorts present.  A bearded Abe Lincoln was there in his fancy suit and top hat, signing autographs.  When asked if he’d consider running again he said: “I’m not sure that’d be necessary; you know I still have 3 years left on my term of office.”  Later in the program (after everyone was getting a little tired, I think), the bandleader looked down from the stage at Abe and said: “You know Lincoln was Jewish, don’t you?”  He paused and smiled:  “Yep.  He was shot in the temple.”  Lots of groans followed, but still, a good time was had by all.  Small town America, it’s a wonderful place, and Plymouth with its free concerts, free parking and lots of caring people, is a great place to live.  We are so blessed.
As I drove to breakfast this morning, the hour hit 6AM.  I was listening to Fox Radio and I was somewhat --- no, VERY --- surprised to hear the National Anthem being played.  As I pulled into the parking lot, I stayed in the car to listen to the music to its completion, and I wondered how many children today would even recognize the melody, which once was played on every radio station and every television station at the start of the day.  Just this week I read how a public school teacher scolded a child for saying “God bless you” when his schoolmate sneezed.  Yes, we are very blessed in this country, but, I fear, realizing it less and less.
The reason for this post, however, is not last night’s concert nor the state of our culture, but this morning’s readings.  The Second Reading in the Liturgy of the Hours was from a homily on Matthew by Saint John Chrysostom, bishop.  I thought it worth noting here, so I would not forget how well he states the reasoning for the Second Great Commandment, to love our neighbor (even the one who sneezes).  Here are excerpts of his words:
“Do you want to honor Christ’s body?  Then do not scorn him in his nakedness, nor honor him here in the church with silken garments while neglecting him outside where he is cold and naked.  For he who said:  This is my body, and made it so by his words, also said: You saw me hungry and did not feed me, and inasmuch as you did not do it for one of these, the least of my brothers, you did not do it for me.  What we do here in the church requires a pure heart, not special garments; what we do outside requires great dedication.
Let us learn, therefore, to be men of wisdom and to honor Christ as he desires. … God does not want golden vessels but golden hearts.  Now, in saying this I am not forbidding you to make such gifts; I am only demanding that along with such gifts and before them, you give alms, … for he is much more pleased with the latter.
Of what use is it to weigh down Christ’s table with golden cups, when he himself is dying of hunger?  … No one has ever been accused for not providing ornaments, but for those who neglect their neighbor a hell awaits.  Do not, therefore, adorn the church and ignore your afflicted brother, for he is the most precious temple of all.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Review: finding God in all things

As the cover states, this book by Jesuit Father William Barry is meant to be a Companion to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.  The Spiritual Exercises are notes or directions for spiritual directors, who help people to examine their conscience, rid themselves of inordinate attachments, and to find the will of God for themselves, forming a personal relationship with God “and living in harmony with God’s creative purpose for (them).”  “Ignatius presupposes that at every moment of our existence God is communicating to us who God is, (and) who we are in God’s sight … but we are not always conscious of the presence of God” --- but we can be.
 The Spiritual Exercises are broken into four weeks (which, depending on the individual, can take months or even years to complete).  The weeks focus on sin and healing, understanding Jesus’ love for us, His death and resurrection, and finally, “The Contemplation to Obtain Divine Love” --- knowing who we are in God’s sight.
This book is a summary of the focus of an Ignatius-based spiritual discernment exercise, but it has many insightful comments which benefit anyone.  One of the first things the author notes is that many people seek spiritual direction, but cannot accept it because of preconceived bias.  “People who have been abused physically, psychically, or sexually may carry around gravely distorted images of themselves in relation to authority figures and especially God.  Many people have also been hurt badly by tragedies.”  The first chapter of this book is titled:  Can I Trust God?: Healing Life’s Hurts.  It provides great insights for a spiritual director to begin a difficult conversation.
The chapter on sin mentions how God “knows that we have not lived up to His hopes and dreams for us,” and our sorrows in realizing that He loves us tenderly anyway.  I especially liked Chapter 8: The Struggle Between Jesus and Evil.
In Chapter 8, Ignatius speaks of Satan’s worldly temptations:  “The first step will be riches, the second honor, and the third pride.  From these three steps the evil one leads to all other vices.”  Fr. Barry then gives an example of a university professor: first a student, then with a doctorate, and then one in a position of prestige and honor.  He works on a research project, but “the numbers do not add up,” but the data could be fudged.  “Has he succumbed to the pride that would say ‘I desire to be at this university; I’ve earned it’?  If he has, then the temptation to falsify the data will be almost overwhelming”.  From riches to honor to pride, this was a good example of the temptation that many of us face:  “the belief that one deserves what one has, and the honor and respect one receives.”
Countering the temptations of Satan, Ignatius presents the program of Jesus:  charity.  “To seek to help all, first by attracting them to the highest spiritual poverty, and should it please the Divine Majesty, and should he deign to choose them for it, even to actual poverty.  Secondly, they should lead them to a desire for insults and contempt, for from these springs humility.  Hence, there will be three steps:  the first, poverty as opposed to riches; the second, insults or contempt as opposed to the honor of this world; the third, humility as opposed to pride.  From these three steps, let them lead people to all other virtues.”
Satan’s three steps:  riches, honors, pride, then falling to all other vices.  Jesus’ three steps:  spiritual poverty, insults or contempt, humility, then the advance to all other virtues.
Fr. Barry presents Ignatius’ words on how we choose to lead our lives:  it is our choice, yet he also presents a view that it really isn’t.  We choose the route of sin: our desires for ourselves.  But, as Fr. Barry explains, Ignatius’ definition of Spiritual Poverty does not define it as being a choice, but rather as an “indifference”.  “One so loves God that everything else is in proper perspective … We try to live in the real world in which all is a gift.”  Ignatius says we should live as grateful people.  “Notice once again that Ignatius does not believe that anyone should choose actual poverty on his or her own … but Ignatius suggests that I leave the choosing to God alone.  I can ask to be chosen for the life of actual poverty, but I leave the actual choosing to God.”  Like poverty, Ignatius suggests that we might desire insults or contempt, but we are not to bring them upon ourselves; we are to remain indifferent to their happening.  But why would we even desire insults and contempt? -- Because they are “opposite of the honors of this world, (which) are very dangerous.”
I desire to be accounted as worthless and a fool for Christ, rather than be esteemed as wise and prudent in this world.
“Truth to tell, the wealthy and the powerful as well as the town whore and the village drunk are potentially good so long as they aspire after spiritual poverty.”
Ignatius proposed meditating on three classes of persons, all who have legitimately acquired a large sum of money.  “The first class would like to do something. They may talk a great deal about what they should do, but they do nothing. … The second class also wants to get rid of the attachment, but they decide how they will handle it.  They will regularly give to the poor.  The third class wishes to get rid of the attachment, “but they wish to do so in such a way that they desire neither to retain nor to relinquish the sum acquired.  They seek only to will and not will as God our Lord inspires them. … The third class wants to do their level best to find out what God wants them to do with the money.”
“Ignatius wants retreatants to open themselves to what God wants and then to beg for the grace to choose what God wants. … Only when we have discerned what God has chosen for us, do we have a choice of whether we will choose it or not.  We must beg God for the grace to do so.”
If only we each had a spiritual director who could help us see, believe, and live those words.
I greatly enjoyed this book; I trust it will be a great aid as I begin classes in a couple of weeks to help me become, if it is God’s will, a spiritual director.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Discount People

We all know what a “discount store” is, and what items marked “at a discount” are.  In a word, the items being sold there are “cheaper,” marked at a lower price than that found in other stores or on other days.  They’re “on sale.”  But we also all know or perceive something else:  they are inferior.
When we see items “discounted,” we assume they are “cheaper” in price for a reason.  We assume the quality or desirability of the item has somehow justified the lower price.  “Well, with that crazy color, no wonder no one wanted to buy those shirts at the original price.”  “Well, look at the size of that pile!  Just how many spare tire jacks do they think a person needs?!”  Or, “Well, you shouldn’t buy those canned goods; they’re all dented.”  The fact that some discounted items are marked “as is” just re-enforces our perceptions that discounted items are defective in some way.
But despite our perceptions, some discounted items are not defective in any way.  They’re just different.  Sometimes they’re different in the manufacturing process; a more efficient process enables lower prices.  Horseless carriages were once discounted as were wireless phones.  Because they were not correctly perceived, they were thought inferior.  Electric cars are discounted and subsidized today; perhaps someday they will be looked at as a bargain or a necessity.
People also are often discounted in our perceptions of them, and of their value.  Most often we use the word “just” to voice our perceptions.  “They’re just slaves; they’re just Irish;” or, “they’re just Jews” are words from our history.  Our perceptions of those groups of people have changed over time, but other perceptions of people, people who we discount, persist.
“They’re just kids; it’s just an embryo; they’re just old people,” are not uncommon words today.  This morning’s scheduled mass was cancelled as the priest had a last minute emergency to attend to, and so a communion service was held, presided over by “just a deacon.”  That’s what I thought, as he walked out onto the altar.  What I didn’t think about were the years that man studied in preparation to become a deacon, nor the hours or days he made himself available --- often at the last minute --- to serve people like me, “just” me.  And that, I now perceive, is the crux of the matter:  while we discount some people as being “just this” or “just that,” thinking of them as in some way inferior or defective compared to ourselves, we never discount ourselves.  I am never “just me.”  This is a problem we all have.
It’s called “pride.”
The slaves, the Irish, and the Jews were thought defective or inferior by people of pride, who thought themselves better.  When you put yourself on a pedestal, everyone is below you.
I’ve meditated on this subject in the past, about how few of us think of ourselves as evil, or even as sinners.  “We are good people who want only good things,” we think.  I’ve sure the good Christians at the time of slavery, or of mass immigration, or of the concentration camps felt the same.  “We’re good, and they … well, they’re defective in some way.  They are worth less.”  And we don’t want things, or people, that are worthless.  After all, “We have our pride!”
We look back at slaves and other discounted humans and think we are past such misconceptions of the value of human beings.  We are wrong.  If we look to the root cause, pride, we must concede it has not been eliminated in this world, and in fact it has been elevated from the number one vice to the number one virtue in our society.
Everything is about “you” in our society.  “You” have rights; “you” deserve this, and “you” are important.  And with the constant re-enforcement of society, we come to perceive that compared to others we ARE better, and so what we want is better.  And those other people?  Somehow, they are defective, and we can discount them, and their ideas.
As long as pride exists --- and it will always exist in man --- there will be a tendency to see ourselves as better than others.  And as long as Christianity exists, Pride will be labeled a sin, and Charity --- true love of neighbor --- a virtue.  Jesus came to earth to show us how to love our neighbor, every human being.  As a God on earth, He still said all men are created equal in His eyes, none discounted versus another, none defective.
And so as long as Christianity exists in our hearts, will we avoid thinking:  they’re “just” Democrats, or Republicans, or liberals, or conservatives?  And will others avoid thinking: they’re “just” Christians?