Thursday, May 28, 2015

Review: The Gift of Years

In the book’s Introduction, Joan Chittister writes:  Life is about becoming more than we are, (it’s) about being all that we can be.”  She quotes E. M. Foster, who wrote: “We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”
“Life is about becoming more …, the life that is waiting for us.”  In this book Ms Chittister makes clear that old age is not primarily an ending of something, but the beginning.  It is a new phase of life, and a most important one --- perhaps THE most important one.  Old age, and perhaps some hardships which may come with it, is not to be rued; all stages of life have hardships; they just change in purpose --- and the lessons we can learn from them.
Each short chapter in this book (there are 40 of them) has a one word title.  A few talk about the past:  Regrets, Meaning, and Memories.  Some define change:  Ageism, Newness, and Letting Go.  And some speak to the importance of this stage of life:  Learning, Freedom, Wisdom, Spirituality, Forgiveness, and Legacy.
I liked the fact that early on Ms Chittister corrected some common misunderstandings about old age.  “Decrepitude and incapacitation that comes with age are, on average, only about the last three months of life.  Even then, studies assure us, mental clarity is more likely than not to remain to the end.”  On television, she notes, “the elderly of our time are portrayed as frail and bumbling creatures who dodder along doing nothing.”  Like much of television, it takes the situation of some and treats it as the norm of all.  (No, 50% of the population is not gay, nor even 5%, and although most television shows would depict it as a rare family indeed which does not have at least one gay person in it --- but this is not true.)
I liked many of the quotes which start most chapters of the book:
·         We turn not older with years, but newer every day.  (Emily Dickinson)
·         For the unlearned, old age is winter; for the learned, it is the season of harvest.  (The Hasadim say)
·         When physical eyesight declines, spiritual eyesight increases.  (Plato)
·         In youth we learn, in age we understand.  (Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach)
I especially liked the two chapters titled:  Adjustment and Letting Go:
“I begin to understand as never before that holiness is made of dailiness,
of living life as it comes to me, not as I insist it be.”
“We come into this world naked and alone,” a saying declares,
“and we leave it the same way:  naked and alone.”  (But), what
we meant to other people along the way, what we became inside,
along the way, that is really who we are.”
I liked this book; it should be read by anyone contemplating growing older or the value of your life.  I liked very much the conclusion of each chapter, which was a note about the burdens and blessings of “Growing Older Gracefully” --- a very positive note:
A burden of these years is that we must consciously
decide how we will live, what kind of person we will
become now, what kind of personality and spirituality
we will bring into every group, how alive we intend to be.
A blessing of these years is the invitation to go
lightfooted into the here and now --- because we
spend far too much of life preparing for the future
rather than enjoying the present.

            - - - - - - - - - -
For the friends who have noticed that I did no posting these past couple of weeks, I remind you that this is Spring in Michigan.  Now that the last chance of frost has passed (Please Lord!), I spent days planting my garden, tending to the yard, but I still have about 7 flats of flowers to plant.   (Things are looking better.)  Know anyone who wants to trim my hedge?  Trimming six foot of it yielded four bags of clippings; I dread to think what the other eighty foot will yield (or the work involved).
I had the deck repaired from damage caused by the extreme cold of the past winter, and repaired some of the damage caused by the Water Department when they changed the outside valves which were broken.  And I put my deck furniture out on the deck – and even spent a couple of hours relaxing there.
Ahh, Summer is arriving.
These things take time.  And I will take time for these things ---- as Joan’s book which I reviewed above recommended.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Review: Fatima For Today

I believe that Mary has asked me to read this book.  I’ve only just begun it, yet I am so convinced of its importance for me that I document that fact with this blog posting, so that I shall remember, and can look back on this date at some point in the future.
I am not a religious nut (by most measures), but I have learned to trust in my Mother’s guidance.  This book will be good for me (although I do not know how), and as such I feel justified in recommending it.
That is the summation of my review --- at least at this point.
            - - - - - - - - - - -
I was reading another book this past week.  I found the words of the book, Theology on the Way to Emmaus by Nicholas Lash, touched my soul, and I underlined much of Nash’s writings.  Yesterday morning, however, suddenly the words changed, like into a foreign language.  The first half of the book had so much depth and wisdom that I knew I should read this book over and over again in the future.  I thanked God for showing me His wisdom there, and then halfway through the book, the words suddenly had no meaning for me.  I prayed some over the words, but nothing changed.  While I had taken days to read and ponder the first half, I skimmed through the rest of the book in under an hour, underlining nothing.
It felt strange, like I was suddenly reading a different book or a different author --- and a boring one.  I did not understand.
Late last night as I prepared to leave for my midnight adoration hour, I casually picked up a new book to read from my stack of unread spiritual readings, and then after reading my Night Prayers in the chapel I began reading that book, Fatima For Today:
“World War I, called the war to end all wars, was threatening to annihilate Europe.  To end the conflict, Pope Benedict XV began a novena to the Queen of Peace on May 5, 1917.  ….On Sunday, May 13, 1917, the eighth day of the novena, our Lady responded to the prayers of the pope and her children in this valley of tears by appearing for the first time at Fatima.  Her message, with its hopeful promise, as well as its strong warnings, was meant for the whole world.  Pope John Paul II … said that it was more urgent and important in our day than it was in 1917.”
I quickly saw how this new book would deepen my understanding of the words that I had read in Fr. Gaitley’s book, The Second Greatest Story Ever Told, which I recently reviewed here.
            - - - - - - - - - -
This morning when I arrived at church for mass and began to read my Liturgy of the Hours, my mind went blank as to today’s date.  Was today May 14th?  If so, there were special Readings for that day, the feast day of St. Matthias the Apostle.  I pulled out my little Liturgy guide and looked up the date for today, and pages for the appropriate Readings.  I was surprised at what I saw:
            “May 13:  Wednesday of the 6th Week of Easter, Our Lady of Fatima (new).”
Today was a newly designated feast day of Our Lady of Fatima.  And today at midnight I had begun reading the book, Fatima For Today, the book which had laid on my bookshelf untouched for months.  The book itself was a gift from the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, a religious order which I’ve supported for many years.  The book was written by Fr. Andrew Apostoli, a founder of that order.
I pray to one of the other founders of that order every day; he’s a man I deeply admire:  Fr. Benedict Groeschel.  He also was deeply devoted to Mary.
I thought on all these things which happened last night and today, even as I listened to the mass Readings which mentioned Christ’s Second Coming --- a topic of these books and Fatima, and the Sun peeked through the narrow window of the church and shined in my face with blinding light. 
These things happen for a reason.
Our Lady of Fatima, please pray for us.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

On Living a Good Life

I’m glad that the readings in the Liturgy of the Hours (which I read each day) repeat each year.  Some things I need to hear over and over again --- I forget.  The words of St. Augustine in today’s Second Reading are ones I need to remember:
Our thoughts in this present life should turn on the praise of God, because it is in praising God that we shall rejoice for ever in the life to come; and no one can be ready for the next life unless he trains himself for it now.
Because there are these two periods of time --- the one that now is, beset with the trials and troubles of this life, and the other yet to come, a life of everlasting serenity and joy --- we are given two liturgical seasons, one before Easter and the other after.  The season before Easter signifies the troubles in which we live here and now, while the time after Easter which we are celebrating at present signifies the happiness that will be ours in the future.  What we commemorate before Easter is what we experience in this life, what we celebrate after Easter points to something we do not yet possess.  This is why we keep the first season with fasting and prayer; but now the fast is over and we devote the present season in praise.  Such is the meaning of the Alleluia we sing.
Both these periods are represented and demonstrated for us in Christ our head.  The Lord’s passion depicts for us our present life of trial --- shows how we must suffer and be afflicted and finally die.  The Lord’s resurrection and glorification show us the life that will be given us in the future.
We are praising God now, assembled as we are here in church; but when we go our various ways again, it seems as if we cease to praise God.  But provided we do not cease to live a good life, we shall always be praising God.  You cease to praise God only when you swerve from justice and from what is pleasing to God.  If you never turn aside from the good life, your tongue may be silent but your actions will cry aloud, and God will perceive your intentions; for as our ears hear each other’s voices, so do God’s ears hear our thoughts.
The words printed in BOLD in the above quote are underlined in my prayer book.  They remind me that I must “train myself” for the next life, now --- that’s prayer and reading to understand God and His word more.  They remind me that often all I seem to focus on is the “troubles in which we live here and now,” especially after I walk out the church door.  But, as Augustine reminds me, my life is not and cannot be lived only in the church, and to not worry about the trials of this life, and how well I bear them.  “God’s ears hear our thoughts.” 
He knows I’m trying.  God tells us we are not to judge our neighbor --- only He is the final judge.  I know that, and I do try to prevent myself from being judgmental of others. 
Why, then, am I so judgmental of myself and my failings?
Do not be anxious, He said..

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

How Can I Forgive Him?

In an emotionally charged courtroom a South African woman stood listening to white police officers acknowledge their atrocities (before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up by the Nelson Mandela government of the 1990’s to facilitate national healing following the terrible years of apartheid).  Officer van de Broek acknowledged that along with others, he had shot her 18 year old son at point-blank range.  He and the others partied while they burned her son’s body, turning it over and over on the fire until it was reduced to ashes.
Eight years later van de Broek and others returned to seize her husband.  She was forced to watch her husband be bound to a woodpile, as they poured gasoline over his body and ignited the flames that consumed him.  The last words she heard her husband say were:  “Forgive them.”
Now van de Broek awaited judgment.  The Truth and Reconciliation Commission asked the woman what she wanted.  “I want three things,” she said calmly.  “I want Mr. van de Broek to take me to the place where they burned my husband’s body.  I would like to gather up the dust and give him a decent burial.  Second, Mr. van de Broek took all my family away from me, and I still have a lot of love to give.  So twice a month I would like for him to come to the ghetto and spend a day with me so I can be a mother to him.  Third, I would like Mr. van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God and that I forgive him too.  I would like to embrace him so he can know my forgiveness is real”
As the elderly woman was led across the courtroom, van de Broek fainted, overwhelmed.  Someone began singing “Amazing Grace.”  Gradually every one joined in.

  Stanley W. Green, “When We are Reconciled, We are Free,” The Canadian       Mennonite 4, no.17 (September 4, 2000): 11.       As quoted in
“More Than You Could Ever Imagine, by Bernie Owens, S.J. (p32)