Tuesday, March 31, 2015

How Can I Make A Difference?

Commit your life to the Lord,
trust in Him and He will act.
Ps 37
With Lent comes increased reflecting on Scripture, and in particular the Passion, and I am no different.  In my meditations I sought and felt sorrow for what He went through, and for what I did to bring it about.  In His great undertaking I saw great humility, while in my life’s undertakings --- well, not so much.
I want to make a difference with my life.  I look at Jesus’ life and see the great agony in the Garden, and then the commitment afterwards:  I will do this; it is will of My Father.  And even as so many around him, citizens and public officials, shout: “This man is innocent!!” still He in humility goes on.  He perseveres in His commitment. 
And He changes the world.
Sometimes I wish I were more like that computer voice heard in many cars.  Someone tells the computer to “take me to the bank” and the voice gives directions to the driver:  “Turn left here; go straight for a mile; turn right here; this is it!”  Once the computer selects the route, it doesn’t change its instructions on how to get there.  In a way, it perseveres.  I wish I could be like that, hearing what I take as the voice of God, finding the path to where He wants to get me, and then just following it.  But no, I am more like the driver acting like I’m the God.  When the computer says “Turn left here” I may be looking at the scenery and not paying attention, and then be surprised later on:  “Wait a minute; this isn’t getting me to the bank.”  Or, despite my firm conviction to follow the computer’s directions I may say:  “Wait a minute; I know a better way.”
And almost every single time, I am surprised when I find myself lost.
I DO listen for God’s will; I DO intend to follow it --- and then I get in the way.  I find that I have to take charge, to change course, to speak out, to hear God’s whisper and then shout it to the world, but saying: “Listen to what I think …”
As if that mattered.
Humility.  The big things God wants to do in my life are His ideas, His plans, and they indeed ARE big things.  He created me uniquely, for a purpose.  And it is so big I can’t possibly understand it.  But I can see what is happening around me; I can pay attention to the whispers and hints He gives me --- opportunities to do His will --- and then I can pray:  “Is this what you’d have me do?”  And then do it.
That’s what Jesus did, and then He committed to do what the Father asked, and He did it.  At any point along the way of His Passion He could have interjected His own will:  “No, the cross is going to be too heavy and the path too long; maybe this body of Mine will fall and not be able to get up.  A better death would be for all the people to just stone me right here in the courtyard.  If I just speak up now, they’ll do it.”  In this way, Jesus could have interjected His will into the manner of His death.  But He didn’t.  In humility, He accepted that the Father’s way was the best way, and He let it happen.
As the psalm says, He committed His life to the Lord, and trusted in Him.
I look at the events of my life, and I want to make a difference in this world --- as I know God made me to do.  But often I think that I’m like Jesus during His Passion:  He was the center of the story, the One doing the important thing with his life.  I try to imitate Him but I forget:  I am not God.  In this world, I am not the key player.
It takes humility to think that perhaps I am only the centurion who says: “Truly this was the Son of God.”  Or, maybe I am the Good Thief, or Joseph of Arimathea.  They were bit players, but still important.  But maybe I’m just meant to be one of the nameless people in the crowd.  It may not seem much today, but they too had a purpose for their life.
“Are You not the Christ?  Save yourself and us,” shouted the bad thief from his cross.  Knowing how I am, I’m not sure how I would have answered that taunt if it were directed to me, but with my mindset now, it probably wouldn’t have been with silence.  Perhaps it would have been with some great show of power, or perhaps some scathing words ---- but I’d make them KNOW how important I am.
But I’m not.  That's just me imagining I am.  I think I often imagine I am more important than I am.
You want to make a difference in this world?  I think you can, most often, by praying to discern God’s will for you and the just shutting up and doing it, like Jesus did.
With humility --- it is His will, not yours.  There’s nothing for you to be proud of.  Rather, let Him someday perhaps tell you how proud HE is, that you did His will, just as He planned it.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Review: The Three Ages of the Interior Life

We are seeking here to determine the normal way of sanctity or of a
 perfection such that one could enter heaven immediately after death.
Such is the stated purpose of this book, a classic first published in 1948.  Just how God leads the soul in divine love and how the soul may exercise itself in the discipline of love is the subject matter of great works on the spiritual life, and it is also the subject matter of this book --- so says the Foreward written by the great Cardinal Stritch of Chicago.  I remember him well from my youth; he was a very holy man.
As soon as a man seeks truth and goodness … little by little instead of seeking himself in everything … man seeks God in everything.  This is done through a growth in a man’s interior life, his life in God.  This book describes the three classically-defined stages of spiritual growth:  the purgative (the active purification of the senses, the passions, and the will), the illuminative (the way of infused contemplation), and the unitive way of the perfect (intimate union with God).  It refers to theological writings of Sts. Teresa, John of the Cross and many, many others, and explains their deep spiritual thoughts in ways a common – yet serious – seeker can understand.
The Reverand Reginald Garrigou Lagrange delves deeply into what defines spiritual progress, and how it can be perceived.  He explains various types of prayer, the workings of grace and virtue (and vice) and the sacraments, the role of a spiritual director, and the whole purpose of prayer:  if you want to be invited to live with God eternally, you better get to know Him now.
This is a wonderful book for those serious about advancing in the spiritual life, those wanting to find meaning and true joy in their life, and wanting to do the will of God for them.  The subtitle to this book is “Prelude of Eternal Life.”  If you look forward to that life, this book can bring you great progress to getting there, to being where He made you to be.
The interior life is in a soul that is in the state of grace, (living) a
life of humility, … with the peace given by the progressive subordination
of our feelings and wishes to the love of God.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Review: The Gate

I don’t review novels.  I mean, they’re just stories, and novels for kids, well ….
But I’m reviewing this one, because this one is worth reading, even for big kids, like me.
Nancy Carabio Belanger has written other novels; I read at least one other.  I recall enjoying it, but not like this one.  This one hit home with me, on a number of levels.  Oh, it started off a bit slow for me; the language seemed a bit forced.  The story was written through the eyes of the “smart-aleck Josh,” a thirteen year old once-upon-a-time Catholic kid.  At different times in our lives, in one way or another, I think many of us have been Joshes.  And as you begin to realize that, the story grows more interesting.
As the story progresses, you find yourself rooting for Josh, and wishing he can “grow up” and look beyond the hurts of his life and, if you are a person of faith, to see his life through the eyes of God.  Despite doing some bad things, Josh is a good kid.  What eventually brings about a change in Josh is a school assignment, an assignment to become a pen pal “with some old geezer” in a nursing home.
Buy this book; enjoy it; give it to a child you love.  Maybe even one you know, who desperately needs love.     

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Review: Narek - A Path Of Salvation

St. Gregory Narekatsi (b 950AD) is a doctor of the Armenian Church.  He was banished by local political authorities and lived out much of his life as a monk in exile, in hiding.  His book of prayers, “The Book of Lamentation,” (called Narek by Armenians) is deep in theological verse and confusing to many.  It is said to describe the path to perfection.  St. Gregory was recently declared a doctor of the Roman Catholic Church by Pope Francis.
This book is an analysis of Narek’s words, and the only recently published book on Amazon.  I am sure the analysis simplifies, yet it too is very deep.  “Each prayer-chapter of Narek (includes) self-analysis and glorification of God.”  The self-analysis described therein is often deeply degrading, but “once we see us as God sees us, we turn into a new person.”  There is much written in Narek about humility, penance, and of living others’ pain.
One line of the book, in particular, deeply impacted me:  “The repentance of Narek leads us to the acknowledgement of our own sins in ratio with God’s holiness.”  I perceived Narek as seeing God’s holiness as a picture of perfection, like a white sheet of paper.  Sin is a black dot on that white sheet which, whether large or small, destroys that perfection.  Sin and perfection cannot exist together.  Narek wants us to see that there is no “ratio” between our sins and God’s holiness.  There is no “little” sin.  Thus St. Gregory often describes himself as disgusting, and his sins as ruining the chance for the ultimate union of himself and God.
You can read this short 88-page book in an hour, or a year.

Monday, March 16, 2015

You Choose Your Friends

Matt 26:47-56   The Arrest of Jesus
The Scripture passage I chose to meditate upon was short, yet I stumbled to a halt in my musings at the very first sentence:
While He was still speaking, Judas came; one of the twelve
And I thought:  he’s still considered one of the twelve?  Jesus, praying in the Garden, knew well what was about to happen; He foretold it.  He dipped His hand with Judas at the Last Supper, and He said of Judas: “It would have been better for that man if he had not been born” (Mt 2:24).  And yet now here is the moment of betrayal:  Judas comes into the garden with the soldiers, to betray Jesus, yet this Gospel writer describes Judas as one of the twelve.
I want to say out loud that the writer is mistaken.  This Judas is no longer one of the trusted, one of the most loved, one of the hand-picked twelve.  No, this man chose to leave Jesus’ company.  He chose earthly treasures over Jesus.
But why, then, does the Gospel writer still call him one of the twelve?  Is the writer that far removed, that UN-moved, by the story?  Is he just some scribe, writing what someone else related to him?  He sounds almost like someone who doesn’t believe or understand the story he is writing.
This greatly bothers me, and I think: “At that point, Judas certainly was NOT one of the twelve.”
Finally though, I moved on.  Judas and the soldiers approach Jesus in the garden, and Judas then kisses Jesus:  the sign to the soldiers that this is the one.  And then …. Jesus said:   Friend, why are you here? (Mt 26:50).
Friend!!  Jesus said:  Friend?!!”  And my reading halted yet again.  I felt myself more agitated …
It was quiet, then in the chapel, as I pondered these words.  I looked up at the great host on the altar.  And I pondered more.  Friend.  And then thoughts came to me of other days, and other nights in MY life.  Sitting there in the heavens above, how often did Jesus look down at me and see my betraying Him by my actions?  And, was He agitated then, judging another, as I was tonight?
I think not.  That is not the Jesus I’ve come to know.  No, when I was far away from Him, when I almost forgot He existed, even then He looked down on me, in love, and called me friend.  Even then, when I was farther away than the Prodigal Son ever was, still He considered me one of His closest children, just like one of the twelve.  Through my sins, I left Him, but He never left me.
This was a good passage to meditate upon during Lent, as we approach Good Friday, when Jesus chose to die for me, His friend.
It is a good reminder that I must act like His friend.  I must make better choices with my life.  I must at least try to be that friend He thought worth dying for.  I want to live as He taught me.
I don’t want to betray Him, yet again.
            - - - - - - - - - -
It was very late night, early morning, and I felt extremely tired as I drove home, speeding way too fast through the dense fog.  When suddenly, out of the woods, out of the fog, there appeared a very large buck deer, its impressive antlers something that anyone would be proud to display ---- but I didn’t want to claim the prize this night.
My right foot did not even have time to twitch toward the brake pedal; he was right next to the road, right next to my car.  I couldn’t brace for impact:  He was there!  But almost just as suddenly as he appeared, he planted his right front hoof firmly and, despite his apparent speed, pivoted into a 180-degree turn.
My brain finally kicked in at that point:  Did I hear gravel spray up on my car as he struck his hoof down so firmly, so suddenly, so near?  Surely he kicked stones up from the gravel shoulder of the road.
But I didn’t know for sure:  I was past him.  It was over.  There was nothing to see in the fog behind me.  Nothing.  This was not my night to die, nor his.
I said a sincere prayer of thanks to my guardian angel.  I know there a people who don’t believe in guardian angels, but all I can say to them is:  Well, if you don’t want ‘em, send yours to me.  When I think of all the close calls I’ve had, I think I must be wearing mine out.
Yet still, I’m here; still, I’m protected ----- like a very dear friend.  And I’m glad He chose me to be one.