Tuesday, May 31, 2016

I Don't Care

It is the early morning hour before sunrise.  It is dark.  I am awake in my bed.  No alarm wakes me; I’ve reached the perfect amount of rest.  My mind wakes but my eyes stay closed, and all I see is darkness.
I thought of the gathering of friends last night over dinner.  The conversation covered things we shared in common, and things of a personal concern.  And we asked each other to pray about those personal concerns --- and so they became OUR concerns.  And it all seemed right.  And we touched on the Gospel of the rich man and what he couldn’t give up, and perhaps it was that parable which led us to talk about the money that we had given up, unwillingly.  Looking back, it was obvious the losses we spoke of concerned us very much, and we could not let them go.  We, who are rich in so many ways, couldn’t forget money.
In the dark of my bedroom I thought of the Parable of the Rich Man.  His money symbolizes all our cares in this world, all the things we prize, that we would never consider giving up.  We all have something like that.  The Prayer For Humility I pray asks that I give up many personal, very difficult things for me to give up; they are things that drive the ego, things that make me feel important.  And I pray that I can give them up.
But money, money is the catchall of all desires.  “Money buys anything.”  We have this learned desire for money, and our hearts think that no matter how bad things get, “If I have money, well, money can buy happiness.”  And that’s why we spoke of our loss of money last night.  Even as we also spoke of our many givings of time and talent (and money) to charities, still, we acutely remembered the loss of money.  It was somehow important, this loss of money we readily admitted that we didn’t even need.
And the darkness seemed to deepen in my bedroom, as I thought:  That’s it!  That’s the point of the Parable of the Rich Man.  That’s what Jesus is asking the rich man to give up.  It’s not the money; it’s the attitude about money which we can’t give up.  The rich man was honest and walked away.  If he gave up HIS money, he would always regret it.  “Money can get me anything I want.”
What Jesus was saying is: “I am everything you want.”  What Jesus asked of the rich man is what He asked of Peter: “Do you love Me?”  What Jesus was asking them is the heart of the Gospels.  Can you give up all YOU want and say “I don’t care” to it, and not regret the loss?  Can you love Him; can you trust Him, as He trusted His Father?
Can we say: “I don’t care”?
Those words, “I don’t care,” seemed to deepen my feelings of quiet and darkness, and aloneness.  My heart felt heavy.  I thought briefly of the soldier with the PTSD contemplating suicide.  Was this how he felt?  But no, his darkness was not a giving up of caring, but the ultimate opposite:  He cares about horrible things so much that he could never stop thinking of them, never stop caring about them, and realizing that for all his caring, he could do nothing about it.
In the darkness I suddenly recalled His words: I am the Light.  And I perceived light in my darkness.  I’ve walked in absolute darkness on a Texas starless night, far from the city lights, when I couldn’t see the hand in front of my face.  And I’ve read about the effects of light, and how in a perfect darkness the human eye could see a candle from miles away.  And in my mind’s eye, this night I saw that candle.
I think it is good that these thoughts came to me.  I write them in hopes of remembering the lesson.  And as I sit on my sofa and write, I hear the birds chirping outside my living room window.  And I recall:  “It’s always darkest before the dawn.”
So many things concern us in life, and that is good.  Teresa of Calcutta, Joan of Arc and Jesus all had great concerns, and sometimes they too felt a great darkness.  Darkness itself is not a bad thing; because of it we can better see the Light.
I think sometimes all we need to do is put aside our concerns about the darkness we perceive, and open our eyes to see the Light.  And then we can see a new day dawning.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Sacrifices Forgotten

Last night on the way home from the adoration chapel The Redeye Radio Show began, and I heard the hosts announce: “Welcome to our Memorial Day Show.”  And with little further ado, they took their first caller to the show.  The man was a veteran who suffered from PTSD; it was a lasting memory for him of the war he fought for us.
The man drifted over what he actually did during the war --- I find most soldiers who fought are like that, as my dad was.  War is hell; it is not something you talk about.  Veterans truly are men who have been to hell and back, and it’s hard to speak of the horrors they’ve seen --- and perhaps even had to do.
The veteran spoke of his return home, and how it seemed a strange place.  He had changed, and he couldn’t easily change back to the man he had been.  He still loved his family, but he wasn’t the husband and father they had known.  He spoke of the nightmares, the flashbacks, and his thoughts of suicide to end the never-ending horrible memories.  (I think every man goes to war wanting to survive --- but not like this.  Although he didn’t die, this man sacrificed his life for us.  Do we remember him and those like him?)
The veteran spoke of attempts at help, and of the days he and others sat in waiting rooms at the VA hospital, and of how even when they were finally called, it was still as if they were just a number.  No one seemed to care.  No one understood.  He eventually posted his suicide thoughts on social media, and then to his surprise within minutes his phone began to ring, calls from men he had served with.  His sergeant, his leader in war, called and said he would continue to be there to lead him --- as long as the veteran’s war lasted.  And then the man named his sergeant, and publicly thanked him for saving his life --- and remembering.
The veteran told his story for about 20 minutes on the radio show, uninterrupted by any commercials, comments, questions, or even a cough from the show hosts.  He spoke clearly and firmly, and for at least those 20 minutes all the show’s listeners heard and remembered how blessed they were, by the sacrifices of men like this.  (More people need to hear voices like this.)
Today is Corpus Christi Sunday, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.  It’s kind of a celebration of multiple events:  Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ.  We celebrate how he offered His body on the cross --- “Greater love than this hath no man.”  We celebrate how he offers His Body to us each day in communion at mass, and in the quiet of the adoration chapel.  In each of these circumstances God humbles Himself; He waits for us.  And in His waiting --- a God is waiting on us!!! --- He patiently washes our feet.  And He loves us, even if we don’t show up, even if we don’t remember.
What a great blessing we have in a God Who promised He would never leave us, for Whom no sacrifice is too great.  And like the veteran in the waiting room, he waits alone as we forget all He has done for us.  Like the rich man in today’s Gospel, we can’t get beyond loving ourselves first, no matter what blessings Others have given us.
Today before mass I lit a candle for forgotten veterans, and all during mass thoughts came to me of how easily we forget the blessings of this country, and I cried.  On college campuses ROTC courses are not allowed, and few consider military service as a job option.  Two things most families discourage today are their sons becoming priests or soldiers.  How did we get to this, detesting those who bless us?
The soldier willing to give his life; Jesus Who offered His life and eternal love, and the rich man who couldn’t let go of his riches ---- so much to ponder on this day; so much to cry over.  So important that we remember, we pray for, and we give thanks for these sacrifices forgotten.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

If It Walks Like a Duck, Quacks Like a Duck, Is It God?

I read in a homily by Fr. Robert Barron (in his book, Vibrant Paradoxes) that for the first time ever agnostics and atheists outnumbered Christians and Jews in the freshman class at Harvard.  Harvard University was originally founded for religious purposes, but it appears the upcoming self-proclaimed American aristocracy doesn’t consider God as a part of their life --- or any life.
This, they say in their self-proclaimed freedom to say and do anything, they know.  For them freedom has emerged as their ultimate good and their object of worship.  And in their freedom they can do and say as they wish, defining their existence to be what they want it to be, even beyond any scientific evidence:  I am a man because I say I am, or I am a woman because I say I am.  In a way, moving beyond what the scientific method can prove, these people have moved into the realm of what they deny --- the spiritual.  And in this realm they believe whatever they say or think is truth IS truth. 
Mankind has always had a word for those who act and talk like this in the spiritual realm:  they are called gods.
Fr. Barron notes that “If there is no God (other than ourselves) then our lives do indeed belong to us, and (they) have no meaning or transcendent purpose.”  Or value.  And so assisted suicide, or the killing of those who are without the mental or physical standard we’ve set --- in “truth” --- makes perfect sense, and we are free to do it.
“The incoming freshman class at Harvard is a disturbing omen indeed,” says Fr. Barron.

It’s so sad that after all these years it appears we still yearn for the Garden of Eden, where we think we’ve gained the knowledge of good and evil, without listening to the Word of God.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Where Is The Line?

I remember when I was in my 20’s and Ron and Carla, our best friends, spoke about raising their kids.  I was an advocate then of teaching strict limits --- there are the commandments --- but Ron, especially, was one who believed in teaching his kids (they had two) what he believed.  “I’ve learned that things are not always black and white,” he said.  I responded: “Well, kids being kids, wherever you draw the line, they’ll test it, they’ll stretch it to the limit, and soon create their own line much further out.  You do them no favors by starting them with broad limits; set limits broad enough and they’ll soon have none at all.”  Carla died about age 32, and Ron moved away and eventually found someone else to help raise his kids.  I never got to apply my child-rearing theories, and my then-wife found another man, crossing a line that was all too clear to me.
Pope Francis today seems to be stretching the limits of our faith; he reminded me of Ron.  The pope talks in words which seem --- especially to the secular press --- as if they are stretching the limits of the line which cannot be crossed.  The pope doesn’t actually say that some things which were clearly defined as sin are now no longer considered sinful, but he does seem to want to talk about those things, as if the matter were open for discussion, as if “it’s not always a matter of black and white,” as Ron used to say.  And that troubles many, including me.  I want clear boundaries, perhaps recalling how in my youth I often dared to step over even those clear lines, and fearing what I might do if they were more grey, even today.  I know me.  And so some people, good people, rightly seem to say to the pope:  “You’re leading the flock astray.  With grey lines, there will be more of the flock (like me) sinning, and becoming lost.”
Those words of criticism, even of the pope, seem right to me, but then I noticed that word, “flock,” in what was being said.
The pope is often called the shepherd of the Catholic Church, and I recalled the story of the Good Shepherd, who left his flock to go after the lost sheep.  He left the 99 to search for the one.  Looking at Pope Francis’ actions that way, from the point of the loving shepherd, which he is supposed to be, perhaps I can see what he is trying to do (even if I still don’t totally agree).  He seems to be reaching out over “that line” to the lost sheep.  Unlike his flock “which know my voice,” the ones outside DON’T know his voice.  Calling to them will accomplish nothing, and perhaps even scare them further away (stranger-danger alert).  So he has to reach out to them, and get near to “that line” by his actions.  Is that leading his good flock astray?  Perhaps some who would hang on his every word and action might think so, but not most, who know him.  I’m reminded of the time I caught my dad doing something wrong, and I said: “So, can I do that then?”  And I recall clearly his answer: “You know the rules.  Just because I jump in the water doesn’t mean you should follow.  You can’t swim!”  If I thought my dad’s actions were making “the line” a bit grey, he reminded me of how black and white it was, despite his actions.  Maybe Pope Francis, reaching out to the lost sheep, is doing something similar.
I’ve read how some hear the pope’s words and think: “He’s setting up what used to be the norm as now being the ideal --- something not reachable.  He’s preaching that we all sin.  Yes we do; get over it; it can be forgiven.”  From the pope’s words and actions it certainly can seem that way, but I think he is not denying our striving, our REQUIRED striving, for the ideal.  Look at it another way:  everyone should graduate high school with some knowledge of calculus.  Is that an ideal?  No, if you know nothing of calculus you might not graduate at all.  But everyone can’t just be taught calculus and be expected to understand.  A first grader won’t understand the concepts of calculus; he must grow and learn.  That’s our life in Christ:  we must grow and learn all our life; we must grow in holiness, becoming more like Him.  Is that “an ideal,” since we will never become as gods here on earth?  True, the PERFECT achievement of our goal is beyond us, an ideal, but the STRIVING to achieve it is not an ideal; it is a commandment.  The pope is not changing the commandment to strive for the ideal, nor is he teaching ways around the commandment.  He is reaching out across the line, to the first graders, to get them on the road to calculus, to get them to want to know calculus --- or in the matters of faith, to know Jesus Christ.
And all of this reminds me of, if you can believe it, an even bigger picture.  It’s in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  It speaks about the unconditional love of The Father.  The son who stayed at home --- like the 99 of the flock --- doesn’t understand the celebration at the return of the one who was lost.  “But everything I have is yours,” the father explains to the loyal son.  He gives that son unconditional love, but He also offers that unconditional love to the one who strayed.  “But look at what he did,” the loyal son says.  And it seems hard for the Father to get His explanation across, so he says: “What part of the word ‘unconditional’ don’t you understand?”
Unconditional love, the love Jesus wishes us all to have, to strive all our life to achieve, loves a person despite his actions --- even sins.  Sins can be forgiven --- by Jesus, not us --- but we are to love the sinner anyway.  In imitating Christ, we are to really “hear His voice and follow Him.” 
So just where is “the line” we shouldn’t cross?  It’s where it’s always been.  And if we see others on the other side of the line, even if they seem happy, even if they’re celebrating all their victories of THIS life, even if the pope is beginning a conversation with them, we need to remember:  They’re on the other side of the foul line.  Their points don’t count in the real game of life, eternal life.  The pope’s trying to get them back on the field.
And if all these things, these goings on of the pope still confuse us, perhaps we need to spend some more time reading the words of The Shepherd, so when we hear His voice we know it (and it’s not as hard to learn as calculus), and we won’t be pointing at others and saying “But look what they did”.
Finally, after considering all these things, I read the Gospel on this the feast day of St. Matthias, from John 15:17.
What I command you is to love one another.
There is no “line” beginning, ending, or bounding the limits of that commandment.