Thursday, December 28, 2017

I Know You

“I know you.”
“You do?”
That conversation happens often in our lives, and very often without the words being said.
I opened most of my Christmas presents yesterday.  Over the past two weeks friends, relatives and acquaintances had given me the presents, which I tossed under the tree.  Christmas itself was a busy day, what with mass, time with a friend, cooking a huge dinner, and time with the Lord, well, I didn’t feel like opening gifts at 8PM when I got home that evening.  Besides, I had already seen one of the best gifts I received on Christmas Day:  a neighbor had shoveled the 8 inches of snow from my drive and walkways, so I came home late in the evening and did not have to do that chore.
I appreciated all the gifts I opened yesterday, and will send some thank you notes --- except for two.  I don’t know who they were from.  Oh, the labels said:  To Tom, From xxxx, but I didn’t recognize the names.  Either senility has made some advances on me, or they were gifts from people who for reason valued my acquaintance --- lives which I somehow influenced, without taking note of it.  I think we all influence people with our lives, and we are often unaware of it.  God uses us.  And so sometimes those people think, in some way, they know us.  And in some aspect, surely they do.
This morning the manager of the 7-11 said to me: “I saw one of your girlfriends yesterday.”  And before I could respond she continued: “She was about 6 years old and said: ‘I know Tom.’  And so, I told her I know Tom, too.  He’s a nice guy.  And the little girl agreed.”  I’m guessing that was a neighbor’s child who perhaps liked my Christmas gift. 
These people too “know me,” but only in a small way.
For the gifts received and the recognition in the store, I am grateful.  I’m happy I make people happy, and they think well of me.  But we know of others who “know us” also.  These are the people (in truth a lot like us, if we are honest) who are quick to make negative assumptions about the people they meet:
She’s old and fat --- she must have sugar diabetes, or no self-control around food.  He’s physically fit --- he must be an exercise freak.  Those two guys often come in together ---- they must be gay.  He wears a cross --- another religious nut.  She’s chosen to live alone and --- like Oprah asked the Sisters on her show (at least a half dozen times): “You mean you choose to never have sex?” 
We look at someone; we briefly speak to someone, and we think we know what motivates their actions.  We think we know them, at least in this area of their lives.
We have no degrees in psychology, but “we know.”
Usually our perceptions of “normal” drive our assumptions about others.  “It’s not normal” to be too fat, or thin, or gay, or religious, or committed to anything that we are not.  And we judge.  In saying that “we know,” we are judging.  And this reaction, and it is a reaction, is no different than the raising of our middle finger when someone cuts us off --- we instinctively think we’re right.  We instinctively think we know the other person is wrong, and why.  We presume the worst.  We judge.  And our judging gets in the way of two important things:  loving, and the humility that underpins true love --- the love that accepts the people that are not perfect, and wills to love them anyway.
Jesus came to earth among sinners, and sought them out, to be with them.  And if anyone had a right to say “I know you” it was Him --- but He loved us anyway.
He came, God came as a little child, the ultimate in humility.  And He loved everyone.  That’s the real Christmas Story.
We really need to spend more time learning about Him, talking to Him, talking about Him, so that at some point we might say, in humility: I know You.  And I love You.
He’s the most important person we SHOULD know.
I think I know a lot about Jesus.  The Alpha Program my parish is offering is to help people come to know Jesus; it invites Christians and non- to come together and talk about life, about God, and about what’s important in life.  Alpha is about the basics.  I think I know a lot, but I think I will sign up for the upcoming classes.  I may think I know Jesus; I wonder if He would think the same thing.  It never hurts to be open to learn more, and to spend time with our neighbors.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Christmas Dinner with Family

I wrote this a couple of days ago, but didn’t get around to posting it:
Last night I had dinner with some special friends.  The conversation centered around the many loving works they do, and their yearning to do even more!  I was humbled in their presence, even as I thanked God for blessing me with their friendship.
Later that night in the chapel, I read from a book titled Behold He Comes.  It contains daily readings for Advent, meditations by Fr. Benedict Groeschel (a man I too called a friend, and who while he lived also amazed me).  And I read for yesterday’s meditation:
In Advent, Christ reminds us: “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me (Mt 25:40).  Make sure in Advent you make special efforts and real sacrifices to help the poor … hands-on help.
The poor are all around you:  the bedridden, the very infirm and elderly, the mentally ill and lonely eccentrics, as well as the immense number of needy people, found in our affluent society.  … How appalling!  Ask the Lord to open your eyes … that you may serve Him joyfully.
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I woke early this morning to make one of my final Christmas present drop-offs, to the mother of one of my Godchilden.  (The Godchild is in college, and only the Lord knows if our paths will cross over this holiday break.)
As I then drove to the coffee shop for my Friday morning Bible Study, an idea came to me, which I really didn’t mull upon.  Arriving just as the store opened, I was the first customer.  I asked the manager, who was waiting on me: “Can you count to 10?”  “Yes,” she said, puzzled at my question.  And then I told her: “Good, take my credit card and tell the first 10 customers: ‘Merry Christmas; your breakfast is on us.’”  She thanked me and said she would do as I requested --- and told me my coffee was free.
As the Bible Study guys arrived, they said “Thank you, Tom, for buying my breakfast.”  The store manager apparently didn’t hear my instructions well.  I wanted no thanks.  Then strangers started coming over and asking: “Who bought my breakfast?” and the Bible Study guys pointed at me.  It was getting embarrassing --- and, I noticed, the count was getting considerably over 10.  I thought about going to the counter and asking for my card back, but I said to myself: “Lord, I trust in You.”  Perhaps He had His reasons.  Later the manager came by and, handing me my card, quietly said: “Here are the receipts for the 10 breakfasts you bought; this was a good idea.  Thank you.”  Obviously, she had bought at least 10 also.
The Bible Study was focused on sin and grace --- but most of the talk focused on Christmas, and upcoming Christmas gatherings.  Almost to a man, the talk was about “my dysfunctional family” --- this brother or sister or child, who does this thing, or who can’t forgive, or who they just can’t seem to bring to Christ.  I made attempts to deflect all the negative talk, but it was only when the discussion leader spoke about Jesus’ family that we got back on topic.  “Look at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel, and all the ‘begats’ there, the 42 generations of the family of Jesus,” he said.  And he described the many sins of those people, as documented in the Bible.  “Talk about a dysfunctional family history,” he said.  “Jesus was probably embarrassed to mention His family.”
But then a later passage was cited, where Jesus said: “Who are my mother and brothers?”  And Jesus told them that His family were those who loved their neighbor.  Someone pointed out that Jesus regularly ate with sinners, that He was even invited by sinners to eat with them.  “What do you suppose those dinner conversations were about?”  Were the dinners spent criticizing one another?  If that were true, the invites would have dried up quickly.  No, the conversations surely had a heavy focus on the good things these sinners were doing, the things they all had in common, and could celebrate.
Certainly, the Christmas dinner table, OUR Christmas dinner tables, should be a place where the good of the family is celebrated, those good memories of times and events.  No sinner is all bad; there is much good in even the worst in our families.  And those good conversations over Christmas dinner may spawn conversations at a later date, where differences can be calmly discussed.
It came to me, and I concluded the conversations, with an insight on what I had been led to do this morning: “I felt compelled to buy breakfast for 10 people, perhaps strangers.  Maybe some of those people were sinners; maybe some of them were rich people who didn’t need my generosity.  I loved them anyway.  This is what Jesus is telling us to do, a way to celebrate His birthday, with HIS family.
And then one of the guys wrapped up the conversation: “Well,” he said while raising his hand, “I can attest to the fact that you bought breakfast for at least one sinner here.”
And with that we concluded our time together in prayer, and thanksgiving.  And wished each other a very Merry Christmas --- as I wish you.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Trusting in God's Plans

It happened again last night.
I had a couple of drinks “to help me nap before my late-night adoration hours”.  I awoke to the alarm --- again --- and realized it had gone off a few times.  I had ignored it, in a drink-induced haze.
I was late.
I raised myself and quickly headed out, stopping at the 7-11 for coffee to rouse my brain, and headed out on the 20-minute drive to the chapel.  If I knew Kelly’s phone number (who was waiting in the chapel), I would have called or texted him that I was late.  I made up excuses as I drove.  And when I arrived at the chapel --- 15 minutes late --- I walked in to make my excuses to him … and saw the woman there, alone.
I didn’t know her.  After a few moments, I made excuses for my late arrival, and she said that it was okay.  She had enjoyed the time alone with Jesus, in the quiet of the late night, just He and her, alone.
And then she thanked me “for the beautiful prayer card” I had given her (I did???).  I knew immediately, however, the prayer card which she had referenced; I had felt compelled on more than one occasion (or perhaps once a year) to give it to strangers in the church.  It was Padre Pio’s Prayer After Holy Communion, but I didn’t remember giving it to her, this stranger.
Then I told the woman that this occasion reminded me of a similar event a few months before, when I had again arrived late (--- not a usual event, really!!), on a different night at a different chapel, for my late-night hours there.  Then I also had plans to apologize for my lateness and was surprised to see a strange woman, alone, in that chapel --- as tonight.  And she too had told me how we had met one day prior and I had explained to her how wonderful it was to sit with Jesus, alone, in the late-night hours I had in the adoration chapel (I later found out this woman was a new arrival to the Catholic faith).  And during the full hour I was late then, she said she had had a wonderful, glorious time with Jesus, even singing aloud to Him in their quiet time together.  And she thanked me ---- for being late. 
And then (as tonight) I didn’t remember anything of our previous conversations she had referenced.
I think if we are open to God’s plans, and His words, there are lots of occasions where He uses us to speak to others and, like tonight, we may not even take note of the event.  But that’s okay; it’s His plans.  We needn’t even be aware.  We are only instruments.
I told Jesus thanks as I said my rosary in the chapel, and prayed for the strangers He puts in my life, for His reasons.  I only pray I do my small part in His plans, and I trust He will bring about His good results.  And I have great confidence they are probably much better than my plans --- which, like tonight, often include my sleeping through them.
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From one point of view, I guess this is a reminder that when we fail to do our part, He’ll pick up the slack.  Trust in Him!  And it’s also a reminder of the great value, the often unknown value, of spending time alone with Him in adoration.  Twice now, even in my stupidity, I have facilitated strangers being alone with Him, and they were positively thrilled with the experience.  Imagine how many people I could love in a similar positive way if I deliberately encouraged them to spend time alone with Him in the chapel.