Monday, August 31, 2015

Review: The Better Part

The Better Part is over 1000 pages, and includes over 300 meditations on the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  It is not a book to be read like a novel, but an outstanding reference book.  It is not a “daily meditation” or “daily devotions,” or any other 2-minute read after which you might say: “well, that one was nice” and then forget what you read.  As its subtitle says, The Better Part is “a Christ-centered resource for personal prayer.”  And what a resource it is!
Personally, at various times I’ve included daily Gospel reading in my prayer life --- I’m in the process right now of daily reading one chapter of the New Testament and one Psalm; it’s been a while since I just read through the New Testament.  In the past, I’ve seriously meditated (with my mind) and contemplated (with my heart) passages of the Gospels, often following a particular method of study called Lectio Divina, or “Divine Reading.”  While the Holy Spirit has certainly given me much direction and some wonderful insights as a result of these past efforts (there are some blog posts here), but more often than not those days provided me no great feelings of God’s presence in my prayers.  In a way, it was like a work to continue, day after day, waiting/willing and persisting in the desire to perceive God’s instruction – many days were dry.  While certainly my relationship with God has grown stronger over the years as a result of studying the Gospels (and if nothing else, I do relish time with God, together in the chapel --- even if to just sit quietly in each others’ presence), still, a lack of insight/interest from ANY reading material would be a temptation to stop doing it.  And in the past, I sometimes had dropped or skipped planned Bible Study time.  I haven’t found that to be so with The Better Part; I look forward to reading this book.
Personal Bible study and prayer requires both commitment and patience --- you want results; you want new learning/insights/wisdom; you want to hear the voice of God.  But, as I said, more often than not you hear quiet.  But this book is different; more often than not you do perceive SOMETHING, some touch of God.  And you do find yourself stopping, thinking, and praying.    
The format of the book (and as how you are to use it) is as follows:  before each Gospel passage you should pray an opening prayer (some are suggested), then a quote from some saint opens each meditation, followed by the Gospel passage, and then there are four separate meditations (of increasing depth), and then it is suggested you close your meditation time with a closing prayer (again, some are suggested).  The first meditation after reading the Gospel is from Christ The Lord’s perspective:  What big thing is God saying here?  The second is from Christ The Teacher:  What general lesson is being taught here to the Jews --- and to us?  The third is from Christ The Friend:  What particular lesson is he saying to His apostles, and to us?  (Here, often there are some direct words to us, as if Jesus were speaking.)  And finally there is a meditation from Christ In My Life:  Here the subject of the words changes to be ourselves, and we find ourselves speaking directly to God about the Gospel message and its impact on us:  “I thank You, Lord …..”
Myself, I have found so many new and deep insights from these meditations that I began a new journal, noting some key thoughts.  I think these will help me see and measure my spiritual progress, and help me focus on areas needing improvement, and perhaps topics for discussion with my spiritual director.  I gave him a copy of this book.  You may find you wish to read a deep meditation weekly; some friends and I plan to use this book as a resource for weekly Bible Study, and I’ve put copies in local Adoration chapels, or if you have the time and desire, you may find this to be wonderful daily time with the Lord.
If you are seriously seeking to deepen your relationship with Jesus, this book will be a great aid.  Indexes are organized so you can identify the daily gospels, if you wish to follow and meditate on them, or you can use another index to pursue reading all Gospels relating to a particular topic (humility, death, Mary, etc.).  
If you are used to 2-minute spiritual “ditties,” this book may be a shock for you.  God IS talking to you, this book is a great aid to helping you listen.  You may be surprised at what you hear.       

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Finding Someone To Love

Love and the fruits of love will remain.
-- Gaudium et Spes, n.39
It seems that in recent days I have noticed something in the people I meet, and in the things I read.  I noticed that there are some people looking for someone to love, and they often seem a bit lost, not knowing where to look, and perhaps even unsure it is a PERSON they seek, but yet they want someone (or something) to give their lives to; they seek a meaning or purpose for their lives.  I perceived, in a way, that they wanted to feel needed --- or wanted.
I also noticed what I consider a second group of people, small in number but still quite a few, who have found joy in loving someone.  They talk of the happiness in giving love, yes, but I guess I’ve noticed more, lately, that they are also willing to share how sometimes it is a burden to love --- but it’s one they willing bear.  Our culture talks about the “feelings” we get in love --- feelings seem to be a priority in the news today --- but the people I am describing instead talk about the people they love; they talk about how important these people are, and how important it is to love them, and how they make it their priority to love them.
And lastly, I’ve been noticing a third group of people.  In a way, they are somewhat like the first group --- perhaps they even are some of the first group:  they are the people needing love.  And sometimes, sadly, they are not even aware of it.  They are alone, unloved for so long, that they feel this is normal.  On one extreme, these are those people who are “different” --- physically, mentally, or even spiritually --- and are shunned by society.  On the other extreme are those who choose to separate from society:  they’ve never ever experienced love, or have experienced it and found that it can hurt --- and they are afraid of being hurt again.  They can’t become like the first group, looking to change their future; they can’t seem to let themselves make it a priority.
Love is described as a giving on one’s self to another, of saying to the other: “You are important.”  A Christian might describe love as “seeing the Jesus in my neighbor.”  St. Paul talks about all the virtues love exhibits, and the troubles it willingly bears.  Relative to those troubles, St. Rose of Lima says Jesus spoke to her and said: “Let all men know that grace comes after tribulation” --- and all sufferings done for love, as His were, yield “unfathomable treasures of grace.”
But back to the purpose of these words, the examples I have been noticing of late.  Of the first group, I’ve seen the seekers:
·         The man whose girlfriend dumped him feels lost.  A Christian, he resists the culture’s sexual excesses and self-love focus --- or so he thinks --- as he spends his free time on his boat, patiently waiting for God’s call.
·         The newly-retired friend whose golf game I expected to improve this summer offered this excuse:  “I started out the summer playing more, but it just didn’t seem important.  Then I heard that Angela Hospice needed volunteers, and I feel so very important again:  what I am doing really matters.”  He found someone new to love.
·         And there was another friend who, upon hearing the above one’s story, said: “I retired and was quickly bored also, so I went back to work.  My employment contract will be up in a year and then,” he said with tears in his eyes, “I want to talk more with you guys about what’s important, and people who need me.”
·         There was another man who, joining a conversation about how there doesn’t seem to be enough time for “God-things” in our lives said:  “Even when I get home after a long day’s work, I can rarely rest.  My kids are always right there when I walk through the door, wanting to do something with me --- and you know what, I do it; always!  That’s my God-thing, my time for God, loving these blessings He gave me, even when they seem a burden.  It’s what I choose to do, for them, and for God.”  And some of the other complainers in the group were humbled.
These are just some of the people who, I noticed, were seeking (and perhaps finding) someone to love, or who yearned to love.  But about the others, who need love:  It seems a goodly number of them have caught my attention also --- as are some of the people seeking to answer their need:
·         A study showed that only 17% of young adults with autism had ever lived outside their parents’ homes.  In Pennsylvania, a group of people saw the need and are building the nation’s first apartment complex to mix individuals who want to love them with higher-functioning autistic adults, who need a special love.
·         In Michigan, an organization focused on developmentally disabled children saw them aging, and noticed growing numbers of older adults with dementia or Alzheimer’s who require care not unlike the children they cared for, and so they began expanding the reach of their caregiving commitment --- and their use of volunteer caregivers, people seeking to love those most in need of loving care.  Those who loved, found they could love even more, using the talents God gave them to expand the organization.
·         News headlines tell us of the silent cries of unborn babies torn apart for their parts, and laughed at in their sufferings.  My niece texted me from Arizona about a protest she attended:  “Very hot, but I am so glad I went.  A 16 year-old boy gave an amazing speech.  Many tears.  Many prayers are being said today.”  Love needed and people (including my dear niece) wanted to love.  And it felt good.
·         And I also recalled an event of my past, a call to me from someone needing love:  the assisted-living facility where I did a Communion Service each Sunday was opening a new building for those with worsening dementia or Alzheimer’s --- it would be a lock-down facility.  The week before its opening one of my Sunday communion regulars told me she was being transferred to the new building.  With tears in her eyes she asked:  “Could you come there also --- please?”  And I will never forget the image which flashed in my mind: of a young, innocent Oliver Twist holding out his food bowl and asking:  “Could I have more --- please?”
Parents of developmentally disabled adult children were asked their greatest fear for their children.  Their answer:  that if they died there would be no one there to take care of their children.  There would be no one to love them.
In nursing homes, among shut-ins, in hospice facilities, among those with autism, dementia, and Alzheimer’s and among “special needs” children, there are so many people yearning to be loved, needing to be loved.
In this culture so concerned with “feelings” many people “feel” some lives are not worth living.  In Oregon, with the state’s blessing, those with lives deemed not worth living are encouraged to commit suicide.  In all states extensive fetal testing identifies babies which “might” develop some illness or “might” have some defect, and parents are encourage to abort them, because no “feeling” person would want their child be born to suffer; better to kill it.
People; all lives involve suffering!!
And yet what do these “feeling” people do when confronted with those who are or become the weak or the suffering?  It is my experience that more and more they turn away, or turn to the government “to address the problem.”  I see this so often in families where only one of the siblings is left to care for mom or dad in their old age, while the others are “too busy” --- busy loving themselves first of all.
Don’t be a “feeling person” who doesn’t care.  All the commandments and Gospels can be summarized in this:  Choose to love.  Make it a priority; there are so many who need love, YOUR love.
Finding someone to love will make your life whole, because God will be with you there.
                        - - - - - - - - - -
We recognize Christ as the Light of the World, and perhaps we sometimes wonder if anything we do can really matter, but we forget that in the darkness even the smallest light can show the way.  If we want to find someone to love; if we want to make a difference with our life; we must look in the darkness.
As I entered church this morning, I lit my usual small candle at the foot of the statue of Mary, and prayed to be a small light in the darkness.  And then the Morning Prayers I read seemed to speak to me with a new volume:
Holy Spirit, you impart
Gifts of love to every heart;
Give us light and grace we pray,
Fill our hearts this holy day.
Father, creator of unfading light, give that same light to those who
to you.  May our lips praise you;
our lives proclaim you goodness;
our work give you honor.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Who Am I?

I often pray: “Lord, what would You have me do?”  And very often I hear His answer, as He gives me opportunities to serve Him.  I await and look forward to those opportunities, often through the people He puts in my path, and most often through my new awareness of their needs, which I try to fulfill.
Sadly, we are often not aware of our own REAL needs.
In the gospel of Matthew (19:16-22), the rich man asks Jesus “What should I do?”  And Jesus answers him: “Obey the commandments.”  But the man asks further: “What else can I do?”  And Jesus answers that he should give up all his riches and follow Jesus.
And the young man found this too difficult to do, because he was like the Pharisees, who couldn’t see beyond the Law and ways of life familiar to them.  Jesus’ answer to the rich man was not just another thing for him to DO, something which HE could accomplish.  Jesus answered who He wanted the man to BECOME.  “Be a follower of me; partake in My life; do not be anxious.”  Jesus wanted the man to make God’s priorities his priorities.  That is who He wished the man to be.  It is who He wishes us all to be.
“Lord, what would you have me do?” is not the most important question for us to ask of God.  “Lord, who would You have me be?” is the most important question.  And to check how we would respond, we must ask of ourselves:  Who am I?
Where is your heart?  What is important to you?  What things are your priorities each day?  Are you only looking for things to do, like the calls of work or society or even Church rituals?  Jesus showed us what is at the heart of all those things:  He wishes us to BE who He made us to be, as He is, wherever we are, and to whomever we meet.
Following God is not just following rules.  The rules don’t change.  Throughout our life though, we are meant to change, to grow in holiness, to become ever closer to God, until we are with Him.  This is a hard lesson to take to heart, to never be satisfied with who I am today, but to constantly yearn to be better tomorrow --- and yet at the same time say:  “Jesus, I trust in You.”  And proceed with the confidence that He is with me on my journey. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Review: Light in the Darkness

“What if,” Father Keller thought, “what if all of us were to light a candle in this
world of darkness.  We could change the world.”  Father Keller made a decision
there and then to dedicate the rest of his life to spreading the word that
nobody is like you, and that you can make a difference for the good.
-- Introduction, P9
“You are a Christopher if you are lighting a candle of love everywhere you go,” summarizes the Christopher movement, started by Father James Keller in 1945.  I greatly admire people who have heard God’s small still voice, and are making a difference in this world, and so Fr. Keller’s words resonated deeply within me.  This book is a selection of the writings of Fr. Keller, short one-page moral stories designed to illustrate how small things any of us can do, or an attitude we can exhibit, can make huge difference in this world.  I love the Church’s answer to big government, in its call to subsidiary; Fr Keller shows us with practical examples how it is done.
“This book aims … to add spiritual meaning and purpose to daily lives … to remind persons that God has given you a special mission.  If you cooperate, the world itself will be better because you have been in it.   There is no better pedagogy … than the silent witness of a Christian life.
This very uplifting book will be high on my Christmas gift-giving list.  Read it to warm your heart.  Live it to brighten your eternity.  In your very busy everyday life, you can --- and should --- make a difference.
            - - - - - - - - - -
For my fellow bloggers, I offer just one page (P119), one story from this book:
Don’t Just Feel Sorry, Do Something
On a mountain trail in the Andes a traveler met a farmer riding on a mule, while his wife walked along behind him.
“Why isn’t your wife riding?” the traveler asked the farmer.
“Because,” the farmer replied “she has no mule.”
It is even possible, when you come to think of it that the farmer felt sorry for his wife.  He may have thought to himself: “Too bad my wife has to walk.  Now if only she had a mule!”
How often do we do this!  How often we fail to help those in need, out of the abundance of the things we possess, yet feel sorry for them!  We express sympathy and do nothing.  And all the while there lie right at hand the means whereby we could relieve their burden.
Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when
did we see you hungry or thirsty or a
stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister
to your needs?’  He will answer them, ‘Amen,
I say to you, what you did not do for one of
these least ones, you did not do for me.’”
Mt 25:44-45