Sunday, July 24, 2016

Prayers For Our Country

A couple of weeks ago I read, and then prayed, prayers from a booklet I found in the adoration chapel at my church.  Although the prayers there deeply moved me, I didn’t then perceive their true value --- until the more recent spiritual events overcame my heart.
I’ve been blessed to have a perception of the spiritual state of the world and our country (as I wrote recently in previous posts), and have been troubled with subsequent thoughts about: “What can I do?”  I think this prayer booklet was shown to me to calm my anxieties, not because it is an answer to the question as to what I can do, but rather that it may be an answer to WHAT WE CAN DO. 

The booklet is called:  Patriotic Rosary, For the Consecration of Our Nation.  It is put out by Caritas of Birmingham.  (You can get a copy for free by calling them at 205-672-2000, x315).

The booklet arranges prayers of each decade (of 10 beads) of the rosary in the following format:
There is an opening exhortation from one of our nation’s founding fathers (Washington, Adams, etc.) on the importance of God to our nation’s existence.  This is followed by …
a dedication of the Our Father prayer for a particular branch of our government (the Presidency, the Supreme Court, Congress, etc.).  Then, on each one of the individual beads there comes …
a separate prayer for each one of the 50 states, which are prayed for in alphabetical order.  And then comes …
a closing prayer for the conversion of our country.  And finally, each decade closes with …
a patriotic song (America, The Battle Hymn of the Republic, God Bless America, etc.).
As I prayed the various words and songs for the first time, I found them deeply moving, and I felt my heart reaching out to God, sincerely asking for His mercy.  I think these particular prayers would affect most people in a similar manner.  I don’t know if this is THE answer for what God may be calling for me to do for our country, but I feel strongly it should be, and will be, a part of my response to His call.  Although in the coming weeks I shall use this prayer occasionally to replace my nightly rosary meditations, in the month of October (the month dedicated to the rosary prayer) and through the first week of November leading up to the election, I shall pray this prayer nightly.
I believe it may be in our country’s interest if many others were to do the same, to reinforce my weak pleas to the one Who CAN do something about the mess we are in.
Matthew 9:1 said:  Then some people appeared bringing Him a paralytic stretched out on a bed.  And then Jesus said to the man:  Your sins are forgiven.  Note what happened here:  Friends brought the perceived sinner (the one who was struck with illness) to Jesus.  I believe our objectives should be the same:  to bring our sinful country to Jesus, by praying for each other.
He chose to involve the very sinners
He came to save in the project of their
salvation, and in that way to give meaning
 and purpose to their lives.
-- The Better Part, Meditation 30.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

I Want Things My Way

A couple of times in recent years, I have felt God speak strongly to my heart.  It seemed He wished me to do something --- but I failed each time.  Looking back, I know I tried to do His will, but MY way.  I saw the problems placed before me, and resolved to fix them --- in my way.  But my way, judging by the results, was not His way.
This gift that He has given us, of freedom, is a most difficult gift to use properly.  It’s like getting a toy train and running it in the middle of the highway.  It will soon get crushed; it was not meant to be used that way.  Often gifts come to us with instructions; too often we don’t read them.  The problem is that we think we know how to do things, but we don’t.  “God’s ways are not man’s ways.” 
How easily we forget.
This morning on the radio the news was all about a politician speaking: “I want things my way, and I will do things my way.”  And then he spoke even further:  “And you should do things your way, too.”  And then in my mind I heard echoes of something similar I had meditated on last week, about the ‘60’s, and how the world then began to say:  “You have a right to do your own thing” --- and I recalled where THAT has gotten us.
 I have no doubt that the politician was speaking from his heart, in freedom.  Perhaps He thought He was doing God’s will for him --- as I did in the past.  Perhaps he thought: “listening to your conscience” was the same as “Listening to God’s will.”  In my personal experiences, however, (as I sadly referred to above) I often find that in trying to do God’s will I do mine instead.  Instead of trusting in Him, I trust in myself.  I presume I know the mind of God completely, and I forget: “But if that were true, that would make me God, wouldn’t it?”  And I am not.
Scripture says: “Go out and proclaim the Good News.”  Note that it says it is not OUR Good News, and also note that it clearly does NOT say: “Go out and condemn the bad news.”  No, the key commandment in the Gospels is to love your neighbor --- all your neighbors.  Each of us is created in the image of God; there is NO ONE whom you cannot speak of in love, even those who won’t do things our way.  Over and over again, we are reminded: “Do not judge,” for if you do, you are saying “I’m better.”  But as a recent Gospel said, only God is “The Better Part.”
I wrote recently how God seems to have put in my heart a perception of His heart:  the world is using its freedom in the wrong way; it is choosing to be The Prodigal Son.  Everyone is choosing to do “his own thing, in his way,” and not the way the Father taught them.  And my heart is heavy.
It seems that each day I hear more things about how far astray the world has wandered.  A study says that 80% of Catholic kids leave college --- after learning the ways of the world there --- and never go to church again.  It reminds me of the Judas Goat, the one that leads the lambs to the slaughter in slaughterhouses --- that seems to be the role of our colleges today.  It also reminds me of the recent political events surrounding an FBI investigation.  A radio commentator noted that it used to be that in Ethics classes in college you were taught to avoid even the appearances of impropriety.  Now they teach you that you must not be caught.  And in light of the recent FBI findings, perhaps THAT will be changed to reflect that getting caught is okay, as long as you can avoid prosecution.  That’s our country.
One of the Bible Study guys commented last week: “There seems to be so many television shows these days focused on saving the world.  Whether from zombies or crazy animals or global criminals or aliens: someone must save the world!  It’s like our view of our country today:  75% of the people say we are headed in the wrong direction, but no one seems to know the right direction.  We are just lost.  Someone needs to save the world.”  He stopped short of saying how those shows end:  Someone says “I know the way.”  At the end of every show there is someone saying “I know the way.”  And I thought about that politician speaking last night, and of each person saying “I want to do my own thing; I know the way.”
It seems so silly that we can’t see what’s happening.  Imagine if the cardinals elected a new pope, and afterward a cardinal came forward saying: “But that’s not who I wanted, so I won’t follow this pope.”  I think we would all say: Well, who do you think you are?  You did not elect that pope alone, AND you prayed for God’s help in the selection (or at least you mouthed the words).  How DARE you say you won’t follow!  But when a politician says the same thing, many in our country, our culture say: “Right on!!  We have a right to do our own thing,” and vote (again) for whom we think is best ---- and if we are honest with ourselves, we’ll say that is US.  We’d all vote for ourselves to lead, and there would be chaos.
But that is where our culture and our country largely are focused:  “We have a right to do our own thing!”  Our family is wrong, so we won’t talk to our siblings.  Our church is wrong, so we’ll choose another.  Our company is wrong, so we’ll sue or leave for another.  It’s as if we’re back in the Garden of Eden:  Our God is wrong, so I’ll do my own thing.  We seem to have forgotten --- or have been taught to forget --- the good things of that sibling, our family, our church, our job, our company, or our country.  We judge:  if one thing is wrong (not as I want it), it is ALL wrong.  There is NO good there.  But God teaches unconditional love, even of our enemies.  There is SOME good in everyone, everything, and we must love THAT, even if there are bad things there also. 
I recently saw that movie, Spotlight, and how Pope John Paul II gave Cardinal Law a prized position after he had failed the people of his diocese in Boston --- and I thought that was wrong.  I recalled how Pope Benedict XVI punished priests “accused” of wrongdoing, without any due process --- and I thought that was wrong.  And I see how Pope Francis seems to be making light of homosexuality and divorce, and I think that is wrong.  Those are things I think, but I recognize that they are what “I THINK”, not God.  Perhaps He has a bigger plan in mind than I, or perhaps it is just that these popes are men; they fail even as I fail --- often.  I will not judge them as men, NOR as popes.  I will choose to love them and follow their leadership, with the Church, knowing that the Church and MY WISHES are not the same.  I must lead my life as best I can, following God’s will as best I can, but I can’t lead the Church nor my siblings nor my city nor my country.  That is not for me to do, but as a community of peoples, I will join together with my neighbors as best we can in those groupings.  And we will love our neighbors, even if they are not perfect.
So then, if we shouldn’t forcefully judge others in the use of this gift of freedom, how should we use it to act in a way we sincerely believe, especially on important matters?  What now, Lord?  And I recalled a novel I recently read.
The mystery novel begins with a woman at a neighborhood block party.  Her thoughts are interrupted by a small child who walks up to her and asks: “Can I have so soda pop?”  In the book I read that the first thought which came into the woman’s mind was: “she didn’t say please” --- the child didn’t act as the woman wanted.  But she trudged to the kitchen and got a pop for the child, and as she turned to give it to her the child said: “No, I wanted a cherry pop!”  And then the woman burst out loudly: “Who do you think I am, your mother?” And the child was shocked.  And then the woman thinks to herself: “Wow!  Where did that come from?  I need to apologize.”  And so she turns to give the cherry pop to the child, ----- but the child is gone.
And the child is never seen again, by anyone.  Years later the story picks up with the woman remembering how, in some unintended way, she caused the child to disappear --- because she so wanted things her way.
In recent weeks I’ve caught myself reacting just like that woman, irrationally angry at others because they didn’t do things my way.  These compelling thoughts, of wanting to change the Church, wanting to change politicians, wanting to change the world, were put into a proper perspective when I read that mystery novel.  Acting out the way WE want things can have many unintended consequences beyond US.  Wanting to change the world?  Heck, I need to be honest, it’s much easier --- and perhaps more important --- that I change myself, and stop judging others and the world because “I want things my way”.
The great insight I believe the Holy Spirit recently gave me, to see the world as it truly is --- and how sad God is with it --- was followed in a couple of days by another insight, which eased my anxiety somewhat:  the first thing I must do is to do as Jesus did (and said):  Love my neighbor, the one not across the world or in Washington, but the one right in front of me.  That is the most important thing I believe God wishes me to do.
But then why did He give me those deep insights into the larger problem in the world?  Did He not open my heart to these things for a reason?  Well, I don’t believe He speaks anything to me without a reason, but as I began this posting, I remembered that I had strong insights such as this in the past, after which I chose to go off and create MY solutions to the problems --- and I failed.
This time I’ll consider/pray more deeply on how my thoughts --- and, I pray, God’s thoughts --- are leading me to respond.  But in my heart the path seems clearer:  “I don’t want to do my thing.  I don’t want the world to be as I want it.”
- - - - - - - - - -
Again this morning, parts of my Morning Prayers seemed to emphasize these matters to my heart, but perhaps none more so than these words from the mass:
Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world, Have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world, Have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world.  Grant us peace.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Calming Words

There are days where anxiety seems to jump on our shoulders and beats us on our head.  It is hard to ignore.  And in our anxiety, sitting and not worrying does not seem to be an option:  We want to do SOMETHING!!  God put in my heart the sins He sees in the world; what should I do?
I try, in times like these, to pray not that I might figure out what to do, but to ask God:  What (if anything) do You want me to do?  And if I can be humble enough, I’ll take the time to read His Word.  There is where He often shows me His solutions to my anxieties, as he did today.
With thought about the state of the world and what should I do in my heart, I read the reflections on today’s Gospel in The Better Part (Meditation 187, Lk10:25-37).  The Gospel begins with the lawyer asking: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” and Jesus responding with the commandments to love God and neighbor.  And when the lawyer persists: “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus responds with the Parable of the Good Samaritan, who helped the injured man by the side of the road, when others had passed him by.
The words from The Better Part calmed my anxieties over what can be done for this sinful world.  These words from the Gospel meditations spoke to me:
  “But we are not satisfied with simplicity.  We pester Him for clarification.  “Yes, but who actually is my neighbor? …”  And He obliges us with further explanations, with the explanation given by the words and examples of thousands of saints, by the teaching of the Church in every age, by the nudges of our own conscience … And still we find it hard to learn the lesson.  One would venture to think that perhaps we don’t really want to learn it.  What holds us back from deciding once and for all to make Christ’s standard our own?  The complicated shadows of self-absorption have become too comfortable; the simple, bright light of Christ’s truth hurts our eyes.  But in our hearts we know what we should do.  The time has come to pack up our books and leave the classroom behind; the lesson of how to live only makes sense when we let it change the course of our life.”
“Jesus (says):  Life is so short….. Open your eyes and your heart to the people around you.”
(And we pray):  “How I yearn for clarity of mind!  Life seems so complicated sometimes, Lord.  I know it’s because I’m too self-absorbed.  Help me, teach me, send me the wisdom of Your Spirit, clean out the junk drawer of my soul.  I want to be completely free to live life as You created me to live it.”
Remember that the Christian life is one of action, not of speech and daydreams.  Let there be few words and many deeds and let them be done well. – St. Vincent Palliotti.

Friday, July 8, 2016

And When I Awoke, The World Had Changed

The Google counter says this is my blog posting number 997.  I think it may be the most important thing I have ever written.  I’m sorry this will be a long post, but I think it is important.
My heart is heavy today.  I cried through the Friday morning Bible Study, afterwards felt and urge to attend mass, and then cried there.  And as I now sit in the chapel recalling these recent events, my eyes tear up at the thoughts.
In recent weeks I have prayed that the Holy Spirit come to me, to show me His will for me.  I think that this morning perhaps my prayers were answered in a special way, and I am so sad.
- - - - - - - - - -
I think the lead-up to today’s events began last Monday night in the chapel, when I prayed a special prayer for our country, and new thoughts flooded my heart.  But reflections on that prayer and those subsequent thoughts will be for another day.  Thursday night, yesterday, I had simpler prayers.  I prayed for myself and my needs, but in a special way.
It hadn’t rained in my area of Michigan in about, well now that I think about it, in about 40 days.  June was almost totally dry, as was July.  I watered my garden every other day, yet my tomato plants still looked sickly, a foot or more shorter than normal at this time of year.  So thoughts of rain were in my mind in the chapel as I looked up to the altar and prayed:  “Jesus, I trust in You.  I often say those words, Lord, but I really believe them --- right now --- in my heart.  So many days ‘a chance of rain’ has been in the forecast, but the rains have passed us by.  But tonight, Lord, I trust You will bring us rain.  I shall not worry.  And so I thank You, Lord, for the rain --- and trust my tomato plants will thank you, too.  But, of course, You know that.  Amen.” 
As I walked out of the chapel there were clouds to the West and clouds to the East, and sunshine overhead, but I wasn’t worried.  Then I looked to the South, where there were more clouds --- and over them a beautiful double rainbow.  And again I thanked God for the rain to come, and as I walked the short distance to my car, faint drops began to fall.
It was 8:30P and I thought about driving to the store to get something for dinner; I had gone from a late afternoon meeting directly to the chapel.  But as I drove I passed near the condo of a friend, and remembered some recent sadness she had mentioned, and so I turned into her driveway.  I rang her doorbell and she came outside with me, to witness the faint remains of the rainbow in the sky.  “God is good,” we said together, but He was just beginning this night.
My friend invited me in and we chatted a bit about this and that, and then she asked if I wanted to watch a movie with her, one that she had seen and enjoyed, but wanted to watch again.  And I said yes.  The movie was titled: Spotlight.
Spotlight was/is the name of a small 4-person department within the Boston Globe newspaper.  The department chose stories for in-depth research.  Not strictly reporters of news, they sought out what should be news.  The movie begins, in 2001, with a new editor taking over the Globe, a relatively young Jewish man, with a reputation for head-cutting and turning things around in his prior assignments, a task needed at the Globe, where its readership was declining.
The editor hears of a court case which had papers sealed because of their personal stories of people’s lives, and the editor was intrigued.  “Get our legal people to work on unsealing those papers,” he says.  When informed that the papers were sealed at the request of the Archdiocese of Boston, he says: “So?”  The reporters persist: “You want us to sue the Catholic Church?”  And again he says: “So?”
And thus began the story of one Catholic priest who had molested a number of children twenty years prior.  But then there came to light stories of three more priests, and a man who claimed he knew of 15 priests and the many people they had molested.  Everyone scoffed at this man’s claims, including the reporters.  But dogged research showed, one-by-one, that the accusations were true.  And along the way they discovered a lawyer who, acting as a go-between people who claimed molestation and the Diocese of Boston, was negotiating private settlements outside the court system, with no records available to the public.
The Spotlight reporters wanted to go to press with the story, but the editor wanted to go deeper.  How could this knowingly go on?  Who let it?  Where had the organization failed?  “You want us to go after Cardinal Law?” the fallen-away Catholic reporters asked.  “So?” he replied.
They found a psychologist who said his studies, over the years, showed that approximately 6% of priests had molested children, and 50% of priests were sexually active.  There were 1500 priests in the Diocese of Boston; six percent of 1500 was 90 priests.  Unbelievable!!  But through continued research, Spotlight reporters identified 87 names of possible pedophile priests, and one-by-one found proofs of their sexual abuse of minors, until finally a Church insider caved, and looking at the long list of names, indicated that the reporters were right in their suspicions on each one of them.
It was almost by chance, it seemed, that the reporters were led to look for some “missing” court records, and when they eventually were able to get copies found the missing papers to be letters, from individuals and even a bishop, to Cardinal Law, telling him of the sexual molestation problems and saying he must do something.  But he did nothing, except sometimes requiring priestly reassignments.  This was the smoking gun they had been looking for.
September 11, 2001 and the fall of the Twin Towers in New York happened, and the pedophile story was delayed, but early in 2002 it went to press, on the Feast of the Epiphany.
And the movie showed the Globe’s phones rang off the hook as hundreds of new victims called.
The movie ends showing white words printed on a black screen background.  Cardinal Law resigned.  He was appointed to a prestigious post in Rome.  Then the words said:  “These are the cities where significant numbers of molesting priests were reported.”  And then a screen appeared showing three columns of U.S. cities, and then another screen of cities flashed up, and then another.  And then a screen listing cities from around the world flashed up, and then another, and another.
- - - - - - - - - -
I thought the movie Spotlight was well done.  It didn’t overly slobber over the poor kids (now adults) who were molested, nor did it interview or unduly focus on the priests, nor did it focus on the evils done by representatives of the Catholic Church.  It wasn’t unduly slanted; it just reported the facts.
My friend and I talked a bit about the movie.  I mentioned studies I had read which stated that the same pedophilia was going on in schools, and even to a larger degree --- but no one wrote about that.  My friend mentioned she had read of studies that said some Protestant churches had higher rates of pedophilia; I think I read those things too.  Why was the Catholic Church singled out for the major focus?  I guess there can be many reasons assumed, but perhaps it was just a random thing --- that’s where it was first noticed by some curious reporters.
I wondered, aloud, why the story didn’t mention what I had always perceived to be a curious fact:  All the examples of abuse (or at least a huge percentage) were from events of 20 or more years prior, in the 1960’s through the 1980’s.  Most all of the priests involved were much older in 2001; some were dead by then, but what had happened in the 1990’s?  Did those pedophile priests succumb to the lower sexual drives of old age?  Did the Church finally take some effective actions?  Why weren’t there stories of new young pedophile priests preying on kids in the 1990’s?
I commented to my friend how I was aware that Pope Benedict had in his very first year done a major clean-up of the seminaries, and soon after enacted (what I perceive are unfair) new policies that required removal of priests at the first accusation of sexual abuse --- and a number of priests were falsely accused and severely treated by the Church until the accusations were proven false, accusations lured by the large money settlements rumored around the country.
But still, my question hung in the air.  In 2001, why were there no huge outcries of “And yes, it happened to my kid last week or last month?”  What changed, before any reporters or the Church or the police took any actions?  What changed?
- - - - - - - - - -
This morning I got up early and drove to Panera’s for the Friday morning men’s Bible Study.  I noted that it had rained overnight; I thanked God for His mercy.  And then out of the dark morning sky the thought came to me, the answer to my question:  What changed?  And I believe the answer is:  We did.  America changed, beginning in the 1960’s, but very noticeably, everywhere, by the 1990’s. 
My thoughts went back to why the Catholic priests were reported on, when school teachers or Protestant ministers were just as bad?  And I recalled the listings of all those cities around the world, and suddenly I got it.  It wasn’t just Catholic priests or teachers or Protestant ministers, it was EVERYWHERE.  All across the world, in countries, in occupations, everywhere, the world had changed.  Pedophiles began acting out everywhere.  The entire world had entered a chapter of deep sin, everywhere.
And then, there in the car, in the early morning darkness, I felt a sadness such as I have never felt before, and I began to cry.  I said I had been praying for the Holy Spirit to come to me.  Was this Him?  Did I now perceive the mind of God?  And even as I now write these words and look at the monstrance on the altar through tears, I ask: “Is this what You feel about the world?”
Thoughts came to me about the 1960’s sexual revolution, and people --- so many, many people --- vowing to “do their own thing.”  Laws, and God, be damned.  Priests and nuns left religious orders by the tens of thousands, and many of those who stayed, apparently, also “did their own thing.”  The world began to change.
What happened in the 1990’s?  I’m guessing that many of the 1960’s revolutionaries got jobs, still did their own thing when outside of work, and got promotions.  By the 1990’s many of those people were now leaders in schools and other institutions.  The teachers, the lawyers, and the judges were now more and more saying:  “You have a right to do your own thing.”  And so pedophilia, homosexuality, and child molestations likely have not gone away, but now those are no longer “bad” things.  Raped kids from the 1960’s came forth as adults who were troubled by what had happened to them, and they accused priests.  But kids today are taught “it’s only sex” from an early age.  Even our president said so.  And recent surveys have shown that elementary school children believe that 30%of people are homosexual. 
The world has changed.
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At mass this morning my soul was opened to see things differently, and I noticed prayers I had routinely mouthed before.  Blessed be God, forever.  Within Thy wounds hide me.  And I never noticed so acutely how often we pray at mass for mercy and peace.  And then at the end, our final prayer was said in tears:
St. Michael, the archangel, defend us in battle
And as I read my morning prayers, the words there seemed to jump out at me:
Lord, in your anger, do not punish me.
                             Psalm 38
My wounds are foul and festering,
the result of my own folly.
I am bowed and brought to my knees,
I go mourning all the day long.
Spent and utterly crushed,
I cry aloud in anguish of heart.
O Lord, you know all my longing:
my groans are not hidden from you.
My heart throbs, my strength is spent;
the very light has gone from my eyes.
My wanton enemies are numberless
And my lying foes are many.
They repay me evil for good
and attack me for seeking what is right.
O Lord, do not forsake me!
My God, do not stay afar off!
Make haste and come to my help,
O Lord, my God, my savior!
Do not abandon us, Lord our God; you did not forget the broken body of your Christ, nor the mockery his love received.  We, your children, are weighed down with sin; give us the fullness of your mercy.
I confess my guilt to you, Lord, do not abandon me, for you are my savior.
My eyes keep watch for your saving help.
through the obedience of Jesus,
your servant and your Son,
you raised a fallen world.
Free us from sin
and bring us the joy that lasts forever.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit
one God, for ever and ever.