Saturday, December 31, 2016

Review: Life Lessons

God loves you just the way you are,
but he loves you too much to let you stay that way
-- Patrick Madrid
A few years back I wrote a letter to one of my Godchildren on his graduation from college.  I offered him a handful of lessons I had learned in life, in hopes he might not have to learn them the hard way, as I did, and also in hopes he might not forget some of the more important lessons his parents had taught him --- as I did.
For every good lesson learned, there must be a good teacher.  For most of us, that good teacher was our parents, and for some particular lessons perhaps it was God Himself, through His Spirit or His Word.  Patrick Madrid doesn’t focus on the teacher of lessons in this book --- although he does imply that in some cases he thought he needed no teacher at all (as do many young people, even today).  He did learn, however, how foolish a man is who has himself for a teacher.
Patrick gives 50 examples of the lessons he learned in life, and not a few the hard way.  In some cases he admits how his ego (or sometimes his youth) prevented him from seeing matters clearly.  And in some cases, he admits how he hurt people because of his vain stupidity.  But through his words he explains clearly how and what he learned, and why it was an important lesson.
I cried as I read some of Patrick’s stories, because they were my stories.  I cried in happiness remembering how I learned similar lessons, and then I cried in sadness as I recalled the people that I had hurt along the way, and how stupid I was in my youth.  Life is a lesson.
For old people, this is a book of remembrances; for the young it will give pause and (hopefully) reflection.  And for the very young, many thoughts here might be totally new, and perhaps this book can serve as a teacher for them.  It would be a good one.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Cheerleading

God loves you just the way you are,
but he loves you too much to let you stay that way.
I opened Patrick Madrid’s new book, Life Lessons, last night and read the above words.  It reminded me again of recent events in my life:  my efforts and what God does with them.
Today, Christmas Day, I attended mass and had brunch with a dear friend.  Later, it was my plan to go home and cook dinner for myself and R, the man who runs the 7-11 store down the block.  On Christmas Day R works a 36-hour shift, giving his employees a paid day off to spend with their families.  Or at least he did in prior years, but this year was different.
The employees told me how R’s father was in the hospital, very seriously ill, yet R still planned to work Christmas Day to give his employees the time off --- but this year they wouldn’t hear of it.  They told him THEY would manage the store Christmas Day, and he should use the time to be with his father.  This was their Christmas gift to him, for the good man he is.
If you’ve been reading these posts, you’ve noticed a lot of stuff like that of late, stories of the many good people in my life, people I call friends.  And once again I am humbled by their acts of love.
I did make the Christmas Dinner as I planned, but shared it with Rick and Shirley at the store, instead of R.  Before I had left of Christmas Morning mass, I had even dropped off a prepared lunch for Shirley, not knowing she would be in the store all day and into the evening. When I saw the love of these beautiful people, dinner was the least I could do in some small way to salute and encourage their efforts. 
Sometimes it seems as if I don’t do much good in this world, as I become more aware of all the truly good people around me.  And maybe I can’t do much, but perhaps I CAN encourage these others to do more, to act as their cheerleader.  Perhaps this is God’s way of telling me He loves me just the way I am, even as through others’ actions He encourages me to do more.  Meanwhile, He trusts me with the little things, like cheerleading.
We can’t all do the really big stuff as He did, or sometimes even think of ways of going out of our way to love our neighbor, as the 7-11 employees did, but today of all days we can remember this important point:  even He started small.
He gives us hope.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Christmas Letter

This is the note I sent out with my Christmas cards this year:
                                                                                                                   Christmas, 2016
Dear Friends and Relatives:
Next month I will be celebrating the 41st anniversary of my 29th birthday (I stopped celebrating birthdays a long time ago).  God has blessed my time here, and He and I have become greater friends over the years.  I always find time to talk to Him each day, and greatly benefit from reading books such as The Better Part, gospel meditations which help me see God’s purpose for me, and how I can make a mark in this world.  Meanwhile, He pleases me greatly with the beautiful people He has brought into my life, especially those who are an example for me, of how to make a difference.
My friend A. cared for her ill mom but still finds time to cook and serve food in a park to feed a hot meal for up to 200 souls each Wednesday night --- including last Wednesday, when temps were in single digits here.  MB finds time to visit the dying, to pray with them, or just hold their hand.  AW spends every Saturday morning in front of an abortion clinic asking women: “What can I do so you don’t go in there?”  She has saved over 400 babies over the years.  D. is director of the organization caring for 90 developmentally disabled, and she knows each of them and their families as friends.  N. is a local school teacher, who also runs a charity to support poor kids in Africa, whom she often visits --- all on her own dime.  And C. is a young man who even as I write this is helping in a Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon; he thinks this might be his life’s work.
These are just some of the wonderful people God has put in my life.  I know and support many more.  And you.  May you have a Blessed Holiday, find some time for peace in these hectic days, and then in 2017 find time to make a difference in this world.  I’ve seen what one person can do, whether young or old, rich or poor.  All it takes is a will to do something; God takes care of the rest.
- - - - - - - - - -
Each Sunday morning I light a small candle at the foot of the statue of Mary in church.  I pray to Mary that she would intercede for me: that I might be a small light in this world, and that others might see not me, but the light of Christ, and perhaps set the world on fire.
Thinking again the thoughts expressed in my (above) Christmas letter, perhaps my Sunday prayer should change.  I pray that somehow the Lord would use me to, perhaps, somehow influence those around me.  Looking at the great many good --- and even holy --- people God has put in my life, perhaps it is I who should be influenced.  It is I who need to be more set afire.
Merry Christmas!  And may He be born again in this world, and the fire of His love grow, in every person we meet.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

All I Want For Christmas ...

The Gospel today has John the Baptist’s disciples asking Jesus:  “Are you the one who is to come (the Messiah)?”  In response Jesus performs the miracles described by Isaiah as being the works of the Messiah, and through them “the Good News is proclaimed to the poor.”
You say you long to see the Messiah, Jesus is saying to John’s disciples, then open your eyes, and see.
The book The Better Part explains how WE keep our eyes closed to this truth (Meditation 174):
The lesson is clear, but so frightening that we can easily miss it:  it is possible for a human person – for me – to thwart God’s purpose for my life.  We can, by abusing our freedom through self-indulgence and arrogance, shut out God’s grace from our lives.  When we live focused on our feelings, our petty desires, and our whims, we blind ourselves to God’s will (which always demands self-mastery and self-sacrifice), and we frustrate his glorious plan and beautiful hopes for us.  The scariest part of this lesson, however, isn’t merely the fact of this possibility; it’s the fact that the Pharisees, who had fallen into just such a state, truly thought they were doing the right thing by rejecting John and Jesus.  They were so full of self-importance that they were literally blinded to the truth.  May God save us from such a tragedy!
“May God save us.”  This is the season of Advent, but most people don’t stop to consider:  the advent of what?  Like for John’s disciples, it is the advent of the coming of the Messiah, but they, the Pharisees and we ourselves often don’t see it.  We see this time as a time of fulfillment of our feelings, of getting all we want for Christmas.  We blind ourselves to God’s will, why He came.  Christmas is His birthday, but we focus on presents for ourselves.
It’s funny to watch the target of Christmas advertisements by merchants; almost all focus on telling you how wonderful their product is for YOU, and why YOU should want it.
“They were so full of self-importance,” says The Better Part, and so easily we are tempted to think the same way.  “The Pharisees … truly thought they were doing the right thing by rejecting John and Jesus;” we think we are doing the right thing by celebrating Christmas with a party for ourselves.
It is not our birth day.
Jesus’ celebration of His gift of birth was to live His life in giving and loving others, especially the poor.  That is what we too should want for Christmas.
It is Advent.  It is still not too late to prepare a gift for the One Whose birthday it is.
- - - - - - - - - -
A Santa Story
On the radio this morning I heard a Santa story I guess I had forgotten.  Glenn Beck told how many early paintings of St. Nick had him holding three bags.  The story behind the paintings was a true one.  St. Nicholas was a rich man, and during the time he lived it was expected that women would be given into marriage with a dowry by their fathers.  If a potential bride had no dowry, she remained husbandless, and to survive often turned to prostitution.  The story goes that there was a poor man with three daughters.  The week before the first came of an age to be married, St. Nick tossed a bag of gold into her window, so she had money for a dowry.  He did the same for the second.  And when he was later doing the same for the third he was caught in the act by the father.  St. Nick told the father: “This is not my doing; I’m just the messenger.” 
From this story came the paintings of St. Nick with the three bags, and also probably the concept of the “Secret Santa.”  Regardless of how the story came about, it is a good one, and yet another example of what we should be DOING for Christmas.    

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Who Did I Help?

The Bible Study guys didn’t seem to make much progress.  They spent the entire hour discussing only one sentence:
And all who believed were together and had all things in common;
and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to
all, as any had need.  
– Acts 2:45
The discussion quickly got past any notions of communism, and focused on the concept of “community”.  We discussed at length our cultures’ --- and our personal --- collapsing community.  We see it in families which can’t even find time to dine together, and full churches of people who don’t really know one another.  We discussed how “friends,” as spoken of today, are really more often “acquaintances.”  We actually have few friends.  And then we discussed things that friends do, as witnessed by the words in Acts describing the early Church.
At the bottom line, friends freely love one another, without counting the cost.  They freely give of their time and resources.  Each of the Bible Study guys had an example of someone in need they had helped, but all sadly admitted those were rare examples.  It doesn’t come easy to think of others first, especially strangers.
We discussed how sometimes our efforts to help our spouses or children too are unappreciated, and seem to yield no results, and we get discouraged.  Then we thought of St. Theresa and her efforts at helping the sick and dying on the streets of Calcutta.  Did they who may never have heard a kind word or felt a kind gesture in their entire lives respond to her with words of: “Oh thank you, Mother, bless you, or I’ll pray for you?”  That’s unlikely.  More likely she heard:  “Stop it.  Ouch!  Leave me alone!”  She’s thought of as being a saint not because of all those she helped --- the streets of Calcutta are still full of the sick and the dying --- but she’s thought of as a saint because of her loving efforts to help, even if she saw no great results, and because she trusted that God DID see results.
My contribution to the conversation was what happened over the recent holiday, on the day I arrived in Arizona.  One of the first things I did was go to the store to pick up those things I was discouraged from carrying on the plane:  aerosol cans for shaving cream and hair spray.  At the checkout line in front of me was a young couple, both of whom (by their actions, words and facial expressions) seemed to have some sort of mental disability.    And when they went to pay, the clerk told them their card didn’t have sufficient funds to pay the total.  This seemed to confuse them, and then they began to discuss what they “would have to put back.”  So I stepped up and offered to pay what they still owed.  They quickly said thank you, and went back to their discussion, as I paid their balance due.  I didn’t give a thought to their curt gratitude.  As I told the Bible Study guys, I’m not sure they knew or would later remember what had happened.  What WAS memorable, however, was the young checkout clerk’s reaction.  He seemed stunned that I willingly paid some few dollars to help my neighbor in need.  And as I checked out my few groceries, the clerk went on and on about what I had done.  It wasn’t until later, I told the Bible Study guys, that I realized that who I intended to help and who God intended to help through my efforts may have been different people, me to help the shoppers and Him the clerk.  Or, perhaps it was I who was meant to be helped, when God showed me that His intents were so much better than mine.
And so the Bible Study discussion continued on the path of how God uses our good intentions to love, often for better or bigger purposes than we can perceive.  And a lack of gratitude for our efforts, or a lack of results (as we see them) shouldn’t deter our efforts to love.  We just need to act in love, and trust God.
And then we remembered the man from long ago who chose to love in a great way, and no one seemed to understand HIS efforts at love, as He chose to die on the cross.
It was only one sentence in the Bible we studied, but from it we learned a lot, in time well-spent, one Friday morning last week.