Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Review: The Road to Eternal Life

I didn’t want to read this book.  The preface noted that the book consisted of fifty reflections on “The Prologue of the Rule of Saint Benedict” --- just the prologue, not the Rule (?) --- reflections on one sentence of the Prologue at a time.  Reflections on one sentence??  Boring!
How wrong I was.
I guess I could quote some of the many startling insights the author provides on how monastic life, as referenced by Saint Benedict, widens “the narrow path” to eternal life; I often use quotes in book reviews to demonstrate a book’s value, but I think I’ll just give you my reflections here on the author’s last reflection.
Mr. Casey notes how “we die to self and to the world’” in order to live for God: We are born in this world; we live to die from it. 
If I may use my own analogy, it’s like when we are born in the uterus of a woman.  It’s a small simple world we live in, but it is all that we want or need --- and there, we know we are loved.  We don’t realize it, but our life there is just a start.  Some think that’s all there is to life, but some can hear the voice of their creator from without, and know they are not alone.  If we live a healthy life in the womb of this world, fed by the creator who put us here, we grow.  And at some point, we realize there is no more growing for us in the world we live in.  It’s time to leave, but we are most reluctant to leave; being born again is hard and scary work, but with our Creator’s help we can be born into so much more --- into His world.  That’s the road to eternal life this book’s insights leave you to consider.
For those serious in hearing our Creator’s call from outside of our little womb --- the Creator who we WILL meet some day --- this is a great book to read, and pray over.  It will help you grow comfortably in this life, and yet yearn for the next.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Come! Let's Celebrate! (my sins)

We are all good people!  We all want to do good things!  We would never consider worshipping some devil or evil thing; not us!!
There, those are things we can all agree upon:  we want good things; we don’t want bad things.  We admit we may not be perfect, however, we ARE good.
But, …
In the book The Screwtape Letters, a wise old devil is counseling a young devil on how to tempt men.  He doesn’t say: “Whisper in their ear to do evil things.”  No, he knows all men are like us; they want to do good things, so instead he advises the young devil: “Tell them boldly: ‘Let’s do this good thing, together --- in this way.’  Then invite them to aim for a good thing, in not such a good way.”  What the old fox is saying is: Tell men that a good thing justifies using any means necessary to achieve it.
So, celebrating with friends is a good thing --- even if you have to miss mass on Sunday.  Giving your all to your job, even working lots of overtime, is a good thing:  your boss is happy AND you get more money --- even if you have to ignore your wife and children.  And being careful with your money is a good thing --- even if you have to pass by that beggar.
We often think of good and evil as white and black, but that is not the way it is.  Many people today are confused on this point as they protest: You are evil if you disagree with them on some fact or way of doing something.  But whether you are for or against slavery, global warming, gay marriage, abortion, or even free cell phones doesn’t make you good or evil.  People, and their beliefs and actions, are not white or black in total (I thought we agreed upon that in the opening paragraph.), but rather a PARTICULAR belief or action may be described as white, off-white, cream, dirty white, greyish, grey, dark grey, or (yes) even black in color.
A typical person can be defined by many PARTICULAR beliefs or actions, but no person is all white and no person is all black --- so we need to stop thinking that we are all good and someone who disagrees with is all bad.  It just ain’t so!!
Many things about this world disappoint me.  Iceland is celebrating the elimination of Down’s Syndrome, a wonderful thing, by requiring that all such babies be killed by abortion.  East Lansing, Michigan is protecting all its loving citizens, a good thing, by telling a farmer trying to support his family (also a good thing!) that he cannot sell his crops in that city because he refused to allow one gay marriage to be performed at his farm --- which is many miles from East Lansing, and its laws!  And even I, when on my retreat a couple of weeks ago, saw roadblocks set up to avoid hazards, good things, as evil things because they blocked the way I wanted to go.  Neither the citizens of Ireland, East Lansing nor I am evil --- nor is the farmer --- because we may do some things that irritate or are judged as bad by some people.  Those things and those actions may in fact be bad, but we are not all bad.
How did the Jews come about to be worshipping Baal at some point?  They were a good people who God had saved; how could they come to worship evil?  I bet what happened was that some people who worshipped Baal invited their Jewish friends to a party: “Let’s celebrate together!  And this good thing, my friend, will be held at the house of Baal --- a minor point; it’s convenient.”  So, what they were saying is let’s do a good thing in not such a good way: the ends justify the means.  This is called a temptation to do evil, or perhaps something that could be described as colored “off-white.”
Even Jesus was tempted in the Bible.  The devil said: “Hey, all these people of the world should be Yours; I’ll step aside and give them to You --- if You fall down and worship me.”  The devil was saying: Don’t You agree that the ends justify the means?  And Jesus strongly said: “No, they don’t.”
The Bible also tell us that Jesus ate with sinners, but He never celebrated what they did, nor participated in their sins.  We need to learn from His example.  In eating with sinners, He did not “tolerate” their sinful actions --- when the actions were discussed He firmly said they were wrong, and tried to explain why.  But neither did He avoid sinners, because they were not all “black” with sin, but there was much “white” in them, because they, like us, thought themselves “good.”
We can’t be like the Jews who went to celebrate at Baal’s house and eventually get converted, rather we must be like Jesus who went to gatherings of sinners to convert them!  We need to be firm in our faith --- or get there --- and then reach out to everyone, as He did, and not separate ourselves from them by calling them evil.
And while trying to convert them, let’s not be tempted to do this “by any means.”
- - - - - - - - - -
One final point:  The idea of spiritual progress has much to do with growing in love --- accepting fully those “Two Great Commandments.”  Most temptations we face are about us, and what we want for ourselves (like avoiding those who disagree with us).  Love is a desire for good things for others.  Spiritual progress is often a qualitative change in us, changing why we do what we do, our intentions.  If we do more out of love for our neighbors, and less out of love for ourselves, we will be making spiritual progress.  And that is something worth celebrating.

Monday, September 4, 2017

What to Labor For

Labor Day.  If you went to mass today, you undoubtedly heard that labor is good, as is rest.  But little was probably said about what to labor for, something that has changed within my heart over the years (hopefully, as God has answered my prayers for Wisdom).
Mom and dad always said I can have anything I want --- all I had to do was work for is (and I did).  It was a good lesson, but not a complete one, since it set no guidelines on what I should want.  I think our children today have a great focus on what they should want, and even “have a right to,” and that is: anything and everything.  In a way that is similar to what I was taught, work for what you want, but I was never told, per se, that I should want everything!
Europe today has a heavy emphasis on wanting and getting everything, and because “it is a right” it is given to everyone --- by the government.  Work is not often mentioned, except in all the protection of workers’ “rights” laws, including never to be fired, have lots of paid days off, and a huge say in what your employer does.  So, companies, which don’t vote, have huge burdens, and they hire fewer, more selectively chosen people.  And college graduates have 40-50% unemployment rates.  In the U.S. when college graduates are asked about their plans, they say: “Well, I’m going to get a job and …,” while in Europe they say: “Well, that depends ….”  There are many people in Europe who choose to never work, and overall unemployment is 20% in many areas.
Here we still say, as God said: “Labor is good.”
My parents told me I had to work for things I wanted.  In Wisdom, I’ve come to want less, and have realized I now have much more than I need.  Need versus want, that lesson was never taught to me, nor sadly is it taught today.  Today we teach children they can want --- and “have a right to” --- anything, and get it, even to getting a different sex!
The Gospel today talked about the rich man being asked by Jesus to give up his riches.  He wasn’t asked to give up everything, for to give up all his gifts would include giving up his life, God’s greatest gift of all to him.  No, he was only asked to give up what he didn’t need.
What should we labor for?  First for our needs, and then for the needs of others; that is where the Gospel asked the rich man to give his excess riches --- whether money, time, or prayer.
There were only two Great Commandments.  How often we forget the second, and we must labor for it.
The plaque which hangs in my stairwell reminds me each day:
It is not enough merely to exist.
It’s not enough to support my family:
I do my work well, I’m a good father,
husband, and churchgoer.
That’s all very well.  But you must
do something more.  Seek always
to do some good, somewhere.

Every man has to seek in his own
way to realize his true worth.
You must give some time to your
fellow man, even if it’s a little thing.
Do something for which you
get no pay but the privilege of
doing it.  For remember, you don’t
live in a world all your own.
Your brothers are here too.
-          Albert Schweitzer