Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Stubborn Old People

The topic at the coffee shop was the stubbornness of old people.  The owner’s father, just home from his hip surgery, stubbornly refused help in walking from his children.  Last night, getting up alone to use the bathroom his father fell, and is in the hospital --- again.  “I told him to let us help him, but he’s just a stubborn old man.”
My contributions to the conversation were tales of my mom’s stubbornness, and her refusal to use a walker to help with her unsteady steps, until she too fell --- and never walked again.  And in the period afterward she gave up eating for a period of time, willing to give up life rather than accept that she could no longer walk.  Stubborn!!
As I drove to church and sipped my morning coffee, my heart was opened to a wider view of our conversations: it’s not just walking we are afraid to lose --- and it’s not just old people.  If you’ve never had the hard conversation of having to ask mom or dad to give up their driver’s license because they had become a danger on the road, well, you are blessed.  And how many of us have heard (perhaps often) these words: “What?  What did you say? … No, I don’t need a hearing aid.  If you’d just speak up and stop mumbling I could hear perfectly well.”?  It’s a conversation conducted by many in a yelling tone of voice, to be heard over the booming noise coming from the television set in the background. 
And what of younger people, even children?  How many of us have noticed that our kid’s school grades began dropping and thought it a strange thing, because we were sure they knew their lessons.  Sometimes it took a note from the teacher to get over OUR stubbornness: “I don’t think (Johnnie or Suzie) can see the blackboard.”  And so then we tell the children we think it’s time for glasses --- and then THEY resist; they don’t want to be different from the other children. 
The fact is none of us want to be different, even as we all ARE becoming different.
We resist change.  Why is that?  Losing our sight, or our hearing, or our ability to walk causes most people anxiety.  They are not acting stubborn in resisting the change; truly they are acting normal.  Often change is hard to confront and accept, and in part that is because change is most often gradual.  It’s the   “-ing” part of changing that is the problem.  Change often sneaks up on us, until someone points out that we HAVE changed, and then we resist what they see as obvious.  “Dad, I love you, but you need help walking.”  And then we get angry --- both of us do --- because we think the other person can’t see reality.
But it’s not just changes in our body we resist.  How many winters did you resist getting out those winter gloves?  And how many summers did you resist that first cutting of grass?  And what happened when “the obvious” candidate for president didn’t get elected and we resist others’ saying: “that’s how things are in our country.”  “No,” we respond, “they’re not!  You’re just biased or -phobic, or stubborn.”  But change HAS happened in our country, gradually, and we didn’t notice it until others pointed it out.  And we’re all angry--- over what is.
And what of you the reader and I the writer of these thoughts about reactions to change?  Perhaps we might look at them as some story book tale: “Yes, that happens to some people, but not to me.”  And so we look in the mirror, and we can’t see ourselves as we really are.  We are ALL changing, as our body ages and as our mind takes in new things around us, all of which are changing.  Most of the changes around us are gradual, and we find it hard to see them.  And one of the things that changes gradually and is most hard to see, to accept, and is most hurtful when finally noticed, is a change in relationships.    
Sometimes there is a trigger to make us see ourselves as we really are:  I am alone.  My marriage has fallen apart.  My children don’t love me.  This job sucks.  I don’t know God, and if He exists He doesn’t know me.  As good a person (as we know we are), we find it hard to see and say those things about ourselves, because they’re bad things.  Oh, and if confronted suddenly by someone else, we instinctively resist “their opinion”:  “I am NOT alone; I have lots of friends.  My marriage is okay; we’re just busy sometimes.  My children love me but they’ve got lives to live.  My job is good; it pays well.  And of course:  I’m a good Christian, I go to church each Sunday --- except when something really important comes up.”  (Something more important than God?!)
And especially on that last item, the most important of relationships we SO can’t see ourselves.  But God can.
Do you think He looks at us with an angry face:  “You’re so stubborn; why can’t you see that?”  Or does He look at us as a loving father:  “Those things I want for are for your own good, and because I love you.”  And why do we so often respond, if not verbally then in our heart: “You don’t know me.”
Look more closely in the mirror:  Who doesn’t know who?  Who can’t see the change that has gradually happened in their life, and in their relationship with God --- and not for the better.  And who, in their anger, and frustration, and loneliness, won’t confront something as obvious as the image in the mirror, and won’t talk about it?  And won’t pray about it? 
I’ll tell you who:  just stubborn people.  Period.  The ones who are suffering the most are those who don’t know they are suffering --- or won’t admit it. 
-  - - - - - - - - -
And as these thoughts gelled in my head, I heard Ann Murray’s soft voice begin singing on the radio:
O Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works Thy hand hath made.
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee:
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee:
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Library or Landfill?

A few years back a local parish announced it was starting a library and was looking for book donations.  I emptied 400 books from my shelves, and felt somewhat satisfied when I saw many of my titles on the parish bookshelves.
Reading Michael Kelly’s recent book, Resisting Happiness, I saw where he maintained one shelf in his home of the books “which had an enormous impact on my life … in a sense my own Great Books collection.”  He noted that his favorites changed slightly over the years, but that he often went back and re-read them, and shared their titles with others. 
Many of the books I had donated to that parish library were ones I had read but wouldn’t have made it to my own “Great Books Collection,”--- if I had one.  Looking in on that parish library room recently, I was sad to notice that it was empty of people.  Shelves of books covered the walls, but no people the chairs.  Were all my “less-than Great Books” part of the problem, or was it something else?
The books I wouldn’t have recommended might possibly be of value to someone at a different level of faith understanding than I, but they were of no value if no one read them.  They’d be better off in a landfill or as fireplace kindling, to keep some home warm.  And I thought again of Matthew Kelly’s favorite books, which strengthened and grew his faith.  My favorites do the same for me, and many were among those 400 I donated, but ....
Books sitting on the shelf don’t do anything for anyone.
It appears to me that most parish libraries are wasted resources for spiritual growth.  Certainly in part because they include many junk books with little value to most people, but also because there is no “shelf of favorites,” (a librarian to select them), nor a means of encouraging their use.  Successful modern libraries are those which have found ways to encourage reading, even among the young who don’t read much, or have short attention spans.  We need to create parish libraries which are more than piles of books.
Couldn’t our parish libraries be arranged the with a “favorites shelf”?  Couldn’t an evangelization program be devised to encourage reading (if nothing else) those favorites (even the Boy Scouts have merit badges).  Couldn’t parish members be encouraged to meet and talk about these “Modern Classics”?  We have the Sacrament of Confirmation to affirm we are stepping forward in faith.  Couldn’t we create a Confirmation II as a measure that we indeed have stepped forward?
There are many great books which are great books for spiritual growth and evangelization, how do we use them?
Or should we just have a book burning, to make better use of the library space?

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Leaders: Please Lead

It is notable that President Trump took his oath of office on the feast day of Pope Fabian, who is known for seeking unity among Christians and their former persecutors, the Romans.  More than anything, our country needs unity.
Yet, quickly there came large marches on Washington, for abortion and against abortion.  Wouldn’t it be great if those groups met over a drink and said: We need to work things out, for the good of our country.  Perhaps one group could say: “You don’t want babies; we’ll take them.”  Well, maybe that isn’t a practical solution, but certainly talking (and praying) will be more effective than marching.
Protestants and Catholics marched in Ireland, and blacks and whites marched in South Africa, and over decades tens of thousands died.  Marches inflamed passions, but solved nothing.  Finally people opposed to deaths sat down and talked.  Do we need many deaths in this country before we can unify our country?
We have new leaders in Washington.  Leaders, please lead!  If you pledge to vote along party lines today without even knowing what is proposed:  Go Home!  Lay off your staffs, close your offices, go fishing and phone in your vote.  At least we’ll save the country some money.
… as we forgive those who trespass against us …

Some Celebrate God's Sadness

On the way home from mass last Sunday, I heard the story of Meghan Salter on the radio.  Doctors told her parents not to let Meghan be born, but she was, and is today.  Meghan has an undiagnosed illness which makes her life totally dependent on love.  She cannot breathe, eat or move on her own.  She has never spoken, never walked, never touched, yet she hears, feels, and smiles --- and was baptized and received her first Communion from Fr. John Riccardo.  She has brought her family together, her church together, and brought about more conversions than most evangelizers.  She is God’s gift of love to the world.  I had the radio station make copies of the talk by her parents for my friends, especially those suffering and asking the question: Why?
Tonight, on the eve of the anniversary of the Roe v Wade decision, I lit a candle on my front porch, to be a small light in the darkness at the midnight hour.  But I was on my way to chapel as that hour approached, and I listened again to Meghan’s story of the power of life, and of love.  It was extremely foggy as I drove.  The oncoming traffic looked like two little fuzz-balls of light approaching in the hazy darkness, and the traffic lines were nearly invisible.  But God got me safely to the chapel.
As the midnight hour struck, I was again reminded of the day’s memorial.  Suddenly I recalled another day a few months back, when my soul was opened to the heart of God, and I deeply felt His sadness with the world.  The trigger for that sadness was meditations about the priestly pedophilia scandal, and how it was only a reflection of the entire world’s turning from God in the ‘60’s “to do its own thing.”  I recalled my sad feelings then, and I shuddered anew in the chapel.  (I wrote about those feelings in the post “And When I Awoke, The World Had Changed” --- and it was a trigger for my prayers and fasting for our country and the upcoming election.)  And tonight I realized that my prior reflections on our country were incomplete.  Back then, when I deeply felt God’s sadness with the world, I thought of how the world had turned its focus from God’s will to “my will”, but I didn’t really reflect much on the biggest turning away from God of all:  as a country we decided that we, not God, would decide when a life was worth living, not just living our own as we (not God) chose, but even to the killing of a life we did not find convenient:  abortion.
Yes, in the ‘60’s the world chose to do its own thing, versus God’s will, but it also said:  “You are not the author of life; I am.”
As I approached the chapel and the anniversary of man’s great affront of God, I could not see through the haze, even as the world today cannot see its great sin, and God’s sadness ---- or does and doesn’t care.
It wasn’t chance that I chose to reflect on the Luminous Mysteries as I prayed my rosary tonight; we need to pray to see the light.  Yesterday in Washington many marched to demand abortion remain legal, and today many march there for life.  Some celebrate God’s sadness; some, like Meghan’s family, celebrate His gift of life, and light for the world.
I don’t have time for marching, but I WILL take time for prayer, for our country, and for all the Meghan’s of this world and God’s gift of life, here and in eternity --- where I will celebrate His happiness, not His sadness.