Monday, April 27, 2015

Opportunities to Love God

This week my Spiritual Direction class assigned (among others) this Scripture passage for meditation:  Jn 21:15-17, wherein Jesus three times asks Peter if he loves Him, and three times Peter answers affirmatively.  And then, after Peter’s response, Jesus says back:  “Feed My sheep.”
Praying and reflecting on this passage, of course I saw the obvious key instruction to Peter:  Lead my Church.  I also considered that Peter’s thrice affirmation of love countered his thrice denials of Jesus.  With the reading of the Liturgy of the Hours on Sunday, however, I think I heard a further insight meant for me.
I am the good shepherd.  I know my own --- by which I
mean, I love them --- and my own know me.  In plain words:
those who love me are willing to follow me.  
These words of our Lord imply a test for yourselves.  Ask
yourselves whether you belong to his flock, whether you
know him, whether the light of his truth shines in your minds.
I assure you that it is not by faith that you will come to know
him, but by love; not by mere conviction, but by action.
From a homily by St. Gregory
With those words I saw the conversation between Jesus and Peter in a new light.  The words of love they exchanged need not have been said; both understood their love of each other.  Jesus’ response, however, was a step forward:  Since you do love me, Peter, show it!  Act it!  Feed my sheep!  Sunday’s Gospel about The Good Shepherd re-iterated that point.  Love in words is emotion.  Love in action is true love, commitment.
Time spent in the church is necessary.  Time in prayer is necessary.  Time reading and studying is necessary.  To love Jesus you must come to know Him.  But once you reach a point of knowledge and love, then action is required.
I had breakfast with a friend again last Saturday.  Retired, like me, he attends mass every day, goes on walks, and has a small group of social friends in addition to his family.  I had never really compared my life to his before, but I now realize that I have many, many more people who are part of my life, people I meet with, people I socialize with, close friends, and people who cross my path or even seek me out each day.  Compared to my breakfast friend, I have so many more opportunities to “Do Something!” as Jesus told Peter.  Every person who comes into my life, who crosses my path, is an opportunity to love Jesus, with a love in action.
How many people cross your path each day, each week?  I’ve written many thoughts here about our pose-Christian culture and what we can do about it.  Pray?  Certainly.  But, by the example of the Good Shepherd and the admonitions to Peter, we are clearly being told we must do more.
Opportunities:  people who cross our paths.  Do something!  Not many crossing your path?  Then create opportunities; get out and meet more people.  I wrote last November about the man I met in the bar at the airport.  God gives us many opportunities to show our love for Him.  Unsure how?  Spend ten minutes each day in silent prayer asking for and listening for God’s call.  He will give you opportunities to show your love for Him.
All we need to do is be open to His small, still voice.  He wishes us to feed His sheep.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Review: The Second Greatest Story Ever Told

These weeks of Lent and Easter we’ve heard much about how the Old Testament foretold the coming of Christ.  This book walks through the words of the New Testament, apparitions, inspirations, and martyrs who foretell of Christ’s second coming, and how we should prepare for it.
In the book’s conclusion Fr. Michael Gaitley writes:
This book makes a bold claim.  The greatest story in the history of the Church (the second greatest story after the Bible) is that surrounding the life and witness of St. John Paul II.  The story begins in the 20th century, the time of greatest evil and suffering in the history of the world, right in the place that bore the worst of it:  Poland.  And the story ends with St. John Paul II’s witness:  Now is the time of mercy … Now is a time of unprecedented glorious grace.
In 1917, Our Lady prophetized at Fatima that wars would come, but in the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.   In that same year in Rome a young seminarian decided to form “an active society that would engage and conquer the kind of evil he saw,” and 3 days after the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima, formed the Militia Immaculata … “to convert sinners and win the world for God” by consecrating their lives to Mary:  “Our Mom, is the instrument of God’s mercy, not however of His justice.”  Through their consecration, Kolbe’s followers would act as instruments of Mercy.
A small convent of sisters provided the printing press Kolbe used to publish a monthly newsletter --- four years later Helen Kowalska would enter that convent and take the name “Faustina,” and Jesus would begin talking to her.  By 1938, Kolbe was printing 1 million copies of his monthly letter, along with a daily newspaper.  Then WWII began.  No country lost a greater portion of its population than Poland; Kolbe had prepared them for their suffering.  And a young seminarian read Kolbe’s papers, survived the war, and would later become the first Polish pope, and would dedicate his papacy to Mary.  And although at Fatima it was predicted that a pope would die, he survived a bullet aimed at his heart, because, as he believed: Now is the time of mercy.
I’ve read and written much about our world today and this post-Christian society.  I wrote about “The Rise of Atheism” and what we might do about it.  Just last weekend I attended a conference at Franciscan University in Steubenville on “Challenging the Secular Culture.”  And I read each day about the increasing slaughter of Christians around the world, and I wonder:  “Where is God?  What can we do?”
Fr. Gaitley’s book says, with much data and reasoning:  “We can pray.”  We can pray to Mary not to hold back God’s justice for this sinful world, but to speak to Him as only a mother could, and say on our behalf:  Have mercy.  Kolbe, Faustina, and JPII have been declared to be saints, those chosen by God.  They said we need to dedicate our prayers to the Mother of God --- and our Mother --- and plead:  Mercy! These are the end times.  Will these times last centuries, decades, years, or only hours from now?  Our is not to know, but this book gives you much to think on, and pray on: today.
Even as a bullet predicted to kill a pope was deflected by the hand of God, the future is not cast in stone.  Through prayer we can change the future, and through love of neighbor be part of God’s mercy in these times of terror, and together survive even as Poland did in WWII.
Pope Francis said:  “We have been living in the time of mercy for 30 or more years, up to now.  It is the time of mercy in the whole Church.  Pope John Paul II instituted the feast day of Divine Mercy.”  Starting in 2015, Pope Francis has declared a Year of Mercy, and the focus of prayer for the entire Catholic Church.
Read this book.  Pray for Mercy.
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Now a personal testimony about this book:
I spent Holy Thursday night as I usually do, in the Adoration Chapel of my church.  On this night Jesus was alone --- His followers had fled.  A number of years ago, in part to atone for those years when I had fled His Church, I resolved to never let Jesus be alone that night again:  I would be there with Him, with Him in His sufferings.
This Holy Thursday night I had decided to read the four Gospel passages on the Passion.  I wanted to imagine what happened, be there, and feel the pain Jesus bore for me.  But despite my intentions, I felt no such sorrows.  As I read the words saying “This man is innocent,” and of how He was beaten, and mocked, and spat upon, I had a reaction I could not shake:  I was mad, and with each Gospel reading my anger only grew.  I tried to change my mood, my feelings; I wanted to feel sorrow for His sufferings and my sins.  But I could not overcome the growing anger, and I didn’t know why.
Then I began to read the book I had brought with me to church, one randomly picked up from my stack of “to-read” material.  It was Fr. Gaitley’s book.
I thought I knew much about St. Maximilian Kolbe, Fatima, St. Faustina and the life of St. John Paul II, but like the disciples on the Road to Immaus, I had much to learn.  Fr. Gaitley opened my eyes to recent events and New Testament descriptions of Christ’s Second Coming, and the most important role Mary plays in pleading for God’s Mercy. 
And suddenly I perceived the meaning of the anger I had felt earlier.  I was seeing the events of the Passion through the eyes of God the Father.  The abuses of His Son could only make Him angry.  And reading Gaitley’s book, and of the abuses that His Son and His Church bear today, I realized that this anger must be the Father’s feelings again, today:  After all His Son had done for this world, this is the result?  This is how His people behave?  And I perceived His righteous anger at the world today and could agree:  This calls for Divine Justice, even as it was administered to Sodom.
Fr. Gaitley’s book explains the events of today, and how very holy and intelligent people describe these as events of the end times which call for God’s justice, and which also call for our prayers for mercy.  In one of His appearances to Sr. Faustina, Jesus described a picture of Himself He wished her to paint, and under it to put the words:  “I Trust in You.”  A copy hangs in my kitchen.
This book is titled “The Second Greatest Story Ever Told” --- a bold claim.  But so it its claim that we can change the future of the world, even as a bullet was turned in its path to miss the heart of a pope.
You need to read this book, and pray on what it says.  And put the book on the shelf, to read again and not forget.  And like the disciple on the Road to Immaus, then say to Jesus:
Stay with us, because it is towards evening,
And the day is now far spent.
For the sake of His Sorrowful Passion,
Have mercy on us, and on the whole world.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

God's Children

I had just entered the chapel and begun my nightly rosary, when the little children filed in --- the VERY little children.  There were perhaps twenty-five or so, and two adults.  The children were, I would guess, four or five years old.
As they entered, some walked across the room, passing in front of the altar and monstrance there, focused on finding a good seat.  Others found a chair and searched for something to look at, a book to read, or perhaps pictures to look at, if they could not read.  And a goodly number of the children knelt down, put their hands together, and stared at the altar, praying.  And two went face down, stretched out on the floor before the altar --- obviously imitating a parent they had seen pray in this way.
And all were totally silent.
After looking at their entry and positioning, I myself looked up at the altar, and I wondered:  “What are You thinking of this display which just appeared before You?”  And as if in answer to my silent question I felt I could see God smiling:  these were His children.
After about 5 minutes, the adults stood up and without a sound headed toward the doors, and the children seeing them, silently followed.
I reflected a bit on what I had seen.  And after I thought about it, I surmised that perhaps that this event images how God sees us all.  Some of the children seemed deeply in wonder and awe at His presence, some were trying to pray as best as they know how, and some seemingly were unaware of His presence --- even though they were surely told that He was there.  That’s probably the view God has of us, too, and how we treat Him.
But I had this perception when the kids were there that regardless of the perfection of their love, He loved them all.  In a way, at that moment I know I did too.  I mean, they were kids, how could you not love them?
And, I guess, relative to his great majesty --- and mercy --- that’s how He feels about us.
That’s a good thing to remember, especially on those days when we don’t feel that “love-able”.  We’re just His kids, His family.  How could He not love us?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

How Do You Be a Friend?

“I don’t know why we get together; you talk and get excited about something and just go on …,” said my friend.
And so I went quiet.  I should have done so much earlier.
We had gotten together for dinner on the memorial date of a sad memory.  I went to her house with the idea in mind to celebrate the occasion as appropriate, but to not let the conversation --- and feelings --- focus on the sadness.  And when it came round to “how my week had gone,” I went on about the many blessings I had perceived --- the many, many blessings, in recent days.
Perhaps it was the enthusiastic joy I felt, or perhaps that she couldn’t get a word in edge-wise, but at length she voiced her frustration.  I don’t know that I have another friend who’d tell me --- in one way or another --- to shut up, and I appreciate that about this special one.
The rest of the evening was pleasant; we always enjoy each others’ company --- usually, but at home
later, and in the chapel now, I reflected on the question:  “How do you be a friend?”
Thinking on how the conversation went that night I wondered if I should have been silent on God’s goodness to me.  Are those thoughts meant for my spiritual director’s ears only – if that?  How much do you expound on how good your week has been --- not knowing how bad it might have been for your friend?  When is filling a void in the quiet being verbose?  When, in YOUR loneliness, is meeting with a friend only an opportunity for you to expound your self-importance?
When does a friend shut up, even into the silence?  WWJD?
I’m not sure I know the answers to my questions.  Reflecting, I DO KNOW that one thing missing from the visit to my friend was God:  I failed to pray for His blessing and presence --- invite Him with --- before my visit.  A prayer before dinner was just not good enough.  Perhaps in addition to a deliberate focus on God beforehand, there should have been a deliberate focus on the visit, beforehand, and some thought on things which should come up in the conversations, thoughts about what has happened in HER life since we last met.
God has been and is blessing me greatly these days.  Friends --- and even strangers --- seem blessed all around me, and I am aware of their blessings.  Perhaps it is good enough that God and I, alone, know these things; perhaps they are meant for OUR conversations, at Eucharist or in Adoration.
Perhaps some things are not meant to be shared.
I don’t feel I have answers to my concerns, but I shall try to be more concerned about them, when I next meet with a friend.
I sit in the adoration chapel with God in front of me.  He is a great friend Whose presence I greatly value.
And He says not a word.  Perhaps I need to be more like Him, in this manner also.
Just being there, and listening, that’s what friends are there for too.