Sunday, August 28, 2016

Look What I Did!!

I was at a small charity golf outing yesterday.  My friend and I were paired up with a nice younger couple, whom we quickly befriended.  The four of us had birdies and bogies, but when we reached the last hole we were hoping for one more birdie to get back to even par for the round.  But we eagled the par 5 finishing hole, perhaps the first eagle I have ever carded!  Amazing!  And even the rain held off until we were back in the clubhouse.  What a day!
Meanwhile, last week a representative from a local organization told me he nominated me for an award, for all the work I’ve done with charities, and so at his request I prepared a paper listing all my accomplishments in this area.  Perhaps I’ll get another certificate or plaque to add to my pile on the bookcase.  Well of course, when your good, …
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Perhaps, to be totally honest, I should add some clarifying words to those above, about MY accomplishments.  First of all, relative to that miraculous eagle we scored:  my implied participation is a loose wording of the truth.  I didn’t keep score, so the words about carding an eagle weren’t exactly true.  And as for US having carded an eagle, if you count the foursome in total, that is true --- kinda.  Well, what really happened was that the young wife hit the first shot we used, in the best-ball round, and the young husband crushed a 3-wood onto the distant green, 5 feet from the cup.  And so we happily let his spouse tap in the eagle putt.  Yes, WE had an eagle!  As for it being MY accomplishment, well …
And as for all those other accomplishments and awards of mine, well, in truth I can recall many good things I set out to accomplish in my life --- but looking back on THOSE, all I seem to recall are my many failures.  I can’t recall many major accomplishments of my own.  Now there WERE many events in my life which were triggered when someone else set out to accomplish something, and they asked me along to help.  Eventually God helped me use the many talents He gave me on those opportunities, and then much good was accomplished.  And because I was there at the end, many said:  Wow, great job guy!  But did I really accomplish those things?  Were they MY accomplishments? 
Well, let me tell you about the time I got an eagle at a golf outing …
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I was at a 4-day silent retreat last week, my first ever.  I went with thoughts of asking God what He wanted me to do, to perhaps help our country.  I planned walks, time in the chapel, meditation readings, and quiet time alone with God.  And at the end of the second day I recorded in my journal:  Lord, why am I here?  I heard no answers to my prayers.  (Another example of MY accomplishments)
It was at breakfast on the last morning of my retreat that I met a young lady from China.  A sophomore at the University of Michigan, she came to the retreat center for a couple of days of peace.  “My generation in China,” she said, “is questioning all the emphasis on money and power.  We look at the many big cities and crowds in China and ask:  Is this all?  And when I found my student friends here in America with the same focus on money and power, well, …  I need time to think on the meaning of my life.”  Aha, the magic words, I thought!  I gave her the copy of Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search For Meaning, which I had re-read on the first day of my retreat.  She thanked me profusely.  Who knows if it will provide her some “accomplishment.”
Was this the answer to my question: Why am I here, Lord?  I suspect He may have smiled at this new question, but I don’t expect to hear any answers.  And that’s our problem, our lack of humility, we want clear-cut answers to our questions.  We want clear-cut directions, or we’ll set out devise them ourselves.  But, I’ve already written about how things generally turn out when I try to accomplish MY plans.  Enough said on that.
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Today is the feast day of St. Augustine.  Here’s a man of some intelligence who set out to lead a great life, even as I did.  And his writings tell of his self-perceived failures, AND his search for meaning in life:
It is not as if a good life of some sort came first, and that thereupon
God showed his love and esteem for it from on high, saying
 “Let us come to the aid of these men and assist them quickly because
they are living a good life.”  No, our life was displeasing to him, but
 what he did in us was not displeasing to him.  He will, therefore,
condemn what we have done, but he will save what he himself has done in us.
Augustine came to see that goodness and meaning in his life did not come from his efforts alone.  And he prayed some prayers which inspire me today:
O eternal truth, true love and beloved eternity.  You are my God.  To you
 do I sigh day and night.  When I first came to know you, you drew me to yourself
 so that I might see that there were things for me to see, but that I myself was not
yet ready to see them.  Meanwhile, you overcame the weakness of my vision,
 sending forth most strongly the beams of your light,
 and I trembled at once with love and dread. 
I learned that I was in a region unlike yours and far distant from you. 
I sought a way to gain the strength which I needed to enjoy you.
And eventually, late in his life, he found God --- or perhaps more in truth, let God find him:
Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! 
You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for
you.  In my unloveliness, I plunged into the lovely things which you created. 
You were with me, but I was not with you.  Created things kept me from you;
yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all.  You called,
you shouted, and you broke through my deafness.  You flashed, you shone,
and you dispelled my blindness.  You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath
and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. 
You touched me, and I burned for your peace.
                                                            --- From Confessions, by St. Augustine

I so appreciate St. Augustine’s prayer, and I desire to accomplish all God wishes to do in me.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Prepare For His Coming

Therefore, you too must stand ready because the Son of Man
is coming at an hour you do not expect.
I thought the reflection in The Better Part on today’s Gospel was very good.  It talked about Christ’s three comings --- originally at His incarnation, continually through the Liturgy, and His Second Coming.  It spoke of them as having the purpose of reestablishing and deepening our friendship with God.  But then it went on to say that even now Christ wishes to be with us each day, and is so in the Eucharist.  “At each Mass, every day, He longs to take up fresh lodging in our hearts; His only hope is that there will be some room at the inn.”
Considering how superficially those (above) Gospel words are usually taken --- “oh, the writer’s referring to the Second Coming, whenever …” --- I thought The Better Part’s reflection made the Gospel more relevant. 
Then I heard Fr. Tom’s homily at mass this morning.
Fr. Tom reminded us that the Catholic Church teaches that Jesus Christ remains present with us on earth TODAY in three ways:  in His Word, in the Eucharist, and in the Church, i.e., the Body of Christ.  He said that while today’s Gospel is often seen as referencing Christ’s Second Coming to earth, it could also be seen as our death and our going to Him.  For neither do we know the hour.  However, he said, we must not forget that He is also present in the Body of Christ, the Church.  That’s us.  And sometimes, at a day or hour we do not know, He does come to us through that body --- in that sick person, that poor beggar, or that lonely soul who just needs someone to talk to.  THAT, said Fr. Tom with emphasis, is where we must be on the watch for His coming, and why we must stand ready.  Now!
When we get to the pearly gates and Jesus says “I don’t know you,” it will because of those times, explained Fr. Tom, when He came to us in the form of that needy person, but “we were too busy” to greet Him. 
Remember:  “Stand Ready; He is coming at an hour you do not expect.”  Perhaps today!
And for a few moments, the church was dead silent.  Well done, Fr. Tom.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Politician's Prayer

I am on a retreat this week.  I’ve taken time off to focus on God, to quiet all the other affairs of my life so I can hear Him speak to me --- if He so wills.  My intent was to spend these days praying for our country, and listening if God wished me to do more.  Whether walking the quiet paths through the woods, sitting in the chapel, or alone at night in my bed, I am focusing my thoughts on praying for our country.

Since I am an organizer of my time, one of my resolutions is to pray each day the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious mysteries of the rosary, and so after mass this morning I began with the Joyful Mysteries.  I’d only begun the very first bead of the first decade, however, when my thoughts moved to a particular focus.

1.      The Annunciation of the Angel to Mary
This is what I’d have you do:  listen for My Will;
resolve to do it.  No matter how hard.

While I began my meditation on these words with thoughts of Mary and how difficult it must have been for her to hear God’s will from the angel --- her life was already planned out before her, but she resolved to do God’s will, no matter how hard --- my thoughts also were on our country.  It too is on a path many believe is all planned out.  They call it “progressive;” the word even has the sound of something firmly going forward.  But what if God sent His angel and asked someone to step off that path, someone who was firmly on it --- like a political leader.  What would his response be when he heard an angel, the voice of God, telling him to change?  I think he’d hear those words of the first meditation (above) and stop, frozen in his tracks.  Change would be a most difficult thing for him, even if asked by an angel.

And then I read the second meditation:

Can God really be calling to me?

Oh, I think that would be the politician’s next thought --- I know it’s often mine when I perceive He is asking me to do something, let alone something hard.  I think that is generally true of all of us, though, we SAY we want to do God’s will, but if it’s not aligned with OUR will, well then ….

And so I then prayed in particular for this country’s politicians, and that God would open their hearts to His will, and that He would give them the grace and fortitude to do it.  And then I read the next meditation:

How can I do this.  This will cause me shame,
embarrassment, deep sacrifice or pain, public
humiliation.  Do You want this?

The politician, always in the camera’s eye, always seeking visibility, always wanting honor --- but upon hearing God’s will, he would become aware that living it will cause him to feel the opposite of all he’s lived for in the past.  A radical change of heart, a radical change of life is what God calls some of us to do.  I can see or hear a politician saying those above words in response to an angel.  I can see him in prayers, looking up to God and asking:  Me?  Why me?  We, too, often ask that question of God.

The first thing we need to own up to, the first thing we must get into our heart, is something that often only resides in our head:  God is God.  He doesn’t make mistakes.  There is a reason for His will, even if we cannot understand it --- even if it is hard, even if it will cause us shame or embarrassment.  It is the right thing to do, for reasons beyond what we want or understand.  God often wants big changes in our lives, (Do You want this?), but for big reasons.  The politician wants so much to be big in the eyes of the people, but here is God offering him an opportunity to be big in the eyes of God.  How few of us small people are offered such a big opportunity.  I am praying for a change in this country, in the world, perhaps God would answer my prayer by asking one politician to change.  But through these meditations I can now understand:  for that politician, it would be a most difficult request to hear.

Do not be afraid.

Almost in answer to my thoughts about the politician’s fears, I read that next meditation.  The angel said it to Mary, and it’s all throughout the Scriptures.  Do not be afraid.  Trust me.  But Adam and Eve couldn’t do it, nor could people down throughout history.  Despite the many, many, many, MANY bad results, people still want to trust themselves, first and foremost.  And should there be something beyond their control, they devise controls:  they buy insurance.  We so much want to be in control of our future.  And yet so often we won’t seek the aid of the One who CAN control our future.  For thinking ourselves so wise, we are so dumb.

And then I read the next meditation:

No one who sees me will understand.
They’ll talk; they’ll laugh.

Even as I imagined Mary thinking or saying those words, as her heart (perhaps with a heaviness?) came around to fully accepting the angel’s request, I could imagine the politician’s thinking also.  The life he had build up, the image he had projected, how could he explain a change of direction --- to God’s will --- to anyone?  They’ll laugh.  In our culture today the words “God made me do it” are considered either a joke, or the ravings of a mad man.

But the apostles were called “mad men”, and they wore the name as a badge of honor.

These mysteries I am meditating upon are called “The Joyful Mysteries,” and yet the words and actions seem anything but joyful, and there’s the rub:  from great sorrow will come great joy.  It’s written that way everywhere in Scripture, and epitomized on the Cross.  Jesus came to change the future of mankind.  It called for a great sacrifice, great sorrow.  I pray for our country, to change the path it is on.  This too will call for great sacrifice.

Praying these meditations, I was made aware how difficult it may be to have my prayers answered, to change our country.  It WILL call for great sacrifice, whether from one politician, or from all of us citizens.  But I say with all confidence:  with God, all things are possible.

And at that point I read the concluding meditations of this First Joyful Mystery:

Who am I to question.  Any sacrifice You ask
will be more than repaid.

Thy will be done; I trust in You

In this I find joy.

I pray for our country, for God’s mercy, and for our politicians.  Even if God were to send His personal angel to speak to them, I understand how difficult will be their response.  In a way, their actions could save the world, but still their first thoughts likely will be:  “But what will happen to me?”

They’re the same thoughts we have when God is asking us to change our lives.  It’s not easy.  “Change is hard,” is a saying often heard, but little understood --- until we are the ones called to change.

Perhaps changing our lives won’t save the world, maybe it will only save one person --- perhaps only us.  But I’d like to believe God put me in this world right here, right now, for a reason.  There are others depending on me, on my change of heart, and perhaps on yours.  And He doesn’t want us to let them --- or Him --- down.

This meditation was called “A Politician’s Prayer,” but obviously it isn’t one.  Rather it’s a call for us to pray for them --- in case they don’t know how.

Sunday, August 14, 2016


It was a kind of buzzing sound outside my back window that first made me aware that something unusual was happening, and as I looked out through the curtains I saw this thing in the sky.  I’ve seen lots of unusual things in my life --- and I have trust in God --- but, good grief, I admit I was scared.
I thought it might quickly go away, and when it didn’t I grabbed my phone and called the police.  It seemed the right thing to do.  And then I thought, well, others should be aware of this potentially dangerous thing, --- or at least it seemed so --- and so I called the local news station too.  I guess there must have been some other story being covered nearby, because both the news truck and the police car arrived at my home at the same time.
I told them again what I had seen, and well, quite frankly, I think they thought I was nuts.  “Time for the guys in the white coats” their looks said.  But I think they could see how scared I was, and so they followed me around to the back of the house to see this thing --- and despite their words of skepticism, I noticed that the cop had taken out his gun.
To my relief, I guess, I saw the thing was still there in the sky, and I was also relieved to see that they both saw it too.  They stood, silently for a bit, and then I saw the cop holster his gun.  “I saw something like this in the area once before,” he said.  “It’s not dangerous.  I did some research on it.  It’s called rain, and …”
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Thank You, Lord
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It’s cloudy today.  I was hoping for more rain, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.  It may be another two months before it rains again.
I spent much of this weekend with friends, in dinners, brunches, and good conversation.  They told me their woes --- I tried to be understanding --- and I told them mine.  And in the midst of that, it rained.
It would have been easy to ignore the rain, if it hadn’t been so rare this summer.  Thinking on it, and my friends, I wonder how many other rare, good things happen to us, and we don’t notice.
I think having good friends are like that.  We need to appreciate them more.  We need to thank God for them more.
We can’t really appreciate, in this topsy-turvy world, how very rare they are, and how blessed we are to have them.
Thank You, Lord