Sunday, February 26, 2017

A Love Letter to My Friend

My dear friend,
You know that I love you.
How often words like that are said, but the true meaning uttered is not sufficiently conveyed, not felt, and not remembered.  I told the Friday Men’s Bible Study Group recently about the last time I saw my father.  It was just another friendly visit, one of many over the years, yet on that occasion we sat together and spoke at length of the good times past.  And at one point I said to my dad, most sincerely from my heart:  “You know that I love you.”  I didn’t know it at the time, but that would be my last chance to say those words to him, and have their full meaning appreciated.  With tears in his eyes dad nodded in response; he knew.  Looking back, I told the men’s group, that that was one of the most important conversations I ever had in my life.  I will never forget it.  The next week at the Bible Study one of the men said, moved by my words, that he had traveled some distance to visit his dad the past week, and had that conversation of love.  He was glad he took the time, to sincerely, deliberately, say those words, so often said --- and received --- so casually.
“You know that I love you.”  Words spoken to a friend; they may have meaning, and may perhaps be understood as they were meant.  But words from the heart, really from the heart are not said in a vacuum, nor heard in a vacuum.  The words are not said to a stranger, and those heartfelt words are supported by and reinforce heartfelt actions.  And if they are truly done well, those actions don’t need the support of words, and they are remembered --- and have an impact.
Many philosophers have said that true love conveys the meaning:  “I am glad that you exist.”  I don’t just like this or that about you, but everything, all of you.  I want to know you, be with you, now and always.  I am so glad you are in my life, and will be forever.  Forever.  That is a love “that you exist”; it is desired forever.
As Christians, forever is part of our life, indeed the biggest part.  We will someday look back at this life on earth and think:  “It was only a moment,” but a most important moment, like the one on which we were born.  So, my friend, when I say I love you, with all these words today to explain it, I am also praying that you will see and remember the actions of my love, and that they have an impact on your life.
There came a point in my life when I firmly began my life in the Holy Spirit, willing to be under His graces, His inspirations, on the path to an eternal life with Him, Jesus and Our Father.  Oh, certainly, I strayed from the path since then, but His Light always brought me back, and I took steps to know Him better as we traveled together.  (I am taking the Life in the Spirit Seminar starting tonight in my parish.)  I look forward one day to the end of this earthly journey, this moment in my life, and the forever of, I pray, a heavenly eternity with the Trinity --- but, one not alone with them.
I love you, my friend.  Forever.  I want you there, too, in my forever.  Oh I firmly believe that many of my past friends and relations are already there (and if not, I pray so soon), but I want my present friends to be there also.  And so I don’t just say “I love you” with words, words you might forget tomorrow, but also with actions.  As the Holy Spirit has become a light in my life, I wish Him to become one in yours also.  By my words, by my actions, by the gifts I give you, by my prayers, I want you to see the Light of the Holy Spirit that I see.  I want you to be on the path to a heavenly eternity also.  Certainly my walk on this Spirit’s path will be different than yours; all of us are called in different ways, to be the unique being we were created to be.  But I love you, my friend, forever, and want to be with you and you with me, forever.
I feel so drawn to the Light of the Holy Spirit.  As I prayed the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary last night, I paused as I meditated on the mystery of the Transfiguration.  Jesus took His friends with Him there, to the top of the mountain, where together they saw the Light.  Oh how I wish you, my friend, could see that light, too, and never lose sight of it.
That’s how much I love you.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

How Can I Change?

Each morning my opening prayer is one to St. Paul (see the sidebar).  I admire St. Paul for all he did, and pray I can do some small measure of his great work.  Paul worked very hard to follow the Lord, but in one way he had it much easier than the rest of us:  when it came time for him to change, God threw him from his horse and blinded him ---- he HAD to notice that something was up, and that his life was about to change, whether he wanted it to or not.  I’ve meditated on change in a recent blog posting, but it was on unsought change, the gradual changes that happen in all our lives --- illness, old age, and even changes in relationships.  But Paul was forced to change suddenly.  What if we too made a sudden decision to change, for whatever reason, and we decided to change our life’s course, and in particular to change our relationship with Jesus?
I suppose some of us do feel a subtle nagging desire for a closer relationship with Jesus, but we are too lazy to do anything about it --- or, to be polite, perhaps we don’t know what to do about it.  How can I change?  Some of us might think about that question for a second or two and not give it too much thought.  So the two-second answer to that question is:  Start out in a different direction .  Paul’s change was the exception to the rule; since most change is gradual.  You want to get closer to Jesus, change your direction so you start walking towards Him --- and then be honest in admitting how far apart you are.  This might be a long journey before you get close enough to where you can even think you might begin a conversation with Him.  But a long journey starts with one step, and takes perseverance.
Jesus said He came to call sinners; His words and actions were for them.  And so He taught us how to live, while on the long journey to Him.  I always like to consider the Parable of the Sower when I think about my journey.  I’d like to believe I am sowing His word, through my words and actions, as Paul did.  I’d like to think I am making a difference --- as He would wish me to --- in the lives of those whose paths cross mine.  Perhaps some of my seeds fall on good soil, and produce much fruit, I think.  But I guess I don’t think too much about MY soil.  How prepared am I to take in His words and graces, whether tossed in my heart by Him, or someone He sends into my life?  And how far away am I from Him?
The question is:  When I finally get around to deciding that I want to change my life, to get closer to Him, what if I discover I am the “rocky ground” that the Sower is hitting with his seeds, and so that can’t take root, they don’t resonate with me?  How do I dig out those rocks, the hardness of my heart, and replace it with fertile soil so His life can grow in me, so I can understand His words and actions?  Now we’re getting down to the basics of the question.  Just turning to a different radio station in the car won’t change the music if you have on some headphones playing tunes from your I-phone.  Real change isn’t a superficial thing done to please your friends or parents or God.  Even they can recognize superficial change.  Real change is not just starting in a new way; it’s also stopping in an old way.  It’s not just taking off the headphones, it’s throwing them away.   That’s commitment to change, trying to hear new music.  And, like trying to turn rocky ground into a flourishing garden, it takes hard work.
How can I change?  Where do I begin?  The very first step you must take is the hardest:  it’s to drop the “I” word.  Despite what our culture whispers in your ear, teaches in the classroom, reports in the news, and even riots in the streets to proclaim, you are not free to live your life any way you choose --- because you are not alone.  “You don’t live in a world all your own.  Your brothers are here too” --  (Albert Schweitzer).
If you’ve reached the point where “I think” I want to change, you need to be honest with yourself on why you want to change.  You need to be humble enough to admit that in some way you’ve recognized that you are drowning.  And when drowning you don’t say “I think I’ll change my direction;” you say:  “Help!!”
If you want to change, talk to a friend, a minister or priest, or someone who seems to be on the path you want to take, and ask for their help:  “How can I get there?  Will you help me?  Can I walk with you?”  And you will be surprised how ready they are to help you toss those big rocks from your someday beautiful-to-be garden.
Change begins with one step.
St Paul, please pray for us.
For to those who love God,
Who are called in His plan,
Everything works out for good.
Who is able to condemn?
Only Christ who died for us;
Christ who rose for us,
Christ who prays for us.

-- Hymn by Enrico Garzilli, 1970

Monday, February 13, 2017

Where Is Your Light?

I lit a small vigil candle at the foot of the statue of Mary.  I do that every Sunday morning, and always offer a prayer for those the Lord brings into my life, and sometimes a special prayer for a person or matter that has been brought to my attention.  I’m sure some would ask:  Why light a candle?  The reason is that the candle is a visible sign of invisible events --- my prayers, grace, love --- that are happening.  It’s not hocus-pocus or paganism; it’s so that I won’t forget:  I need to, I want to be a small light in this world, and I want to never forget that Jesus’ light forever burns in my heart.  I light the candle with nothing but good intentions in my heart.
This morning I was again reminded, however, that though my intentions may be good, God’s are better, and I need to trust in that fact.
As I sat during mass I glanced over at the rack of vigil candles, and I saw my small solitary light there, and it suddenly hit me that I WAS seeing that light.  Between me and that solitary candle sat perhaps 15 or 20 people, some large, some with puffy hairdos, and even one teenager who was wearing a cap in church (sheesh!).  Looking to the left of that candle’s light I saw only heads, and the same sight-blockage was on the right.  Only one tiny spot on that rack of perhaps 100 vigil candle lights was visible to my eye, and it was where my little light burned.  Two thoughts came to me:  First, how unlikely that this one spot is the one I should be able to see, and second, how I had expected to see that light --- since I had glanced over in so many past weeks and almost always seemed to see the light.  When I needed to see it, the reminder was always there.
A key point to note about the little candle I lit is that while I lit it with my intentions in mind, I never really prayed for God’s specific actions to accomplish my intentions --- God’s actions and ways were His business, not mine.  Perhaps someone else needed to see that candle and gain hope, so God used it for them.  Perhaps seeing it, someone else was reminded that they need to be a better light in the world.  Perhaps someone saw the light and was reminded:  God is there for her.  All those things are possible and maybe even likely, after I did my little good thing.
Every person, EVERY person, has that light of God within her, but like grace or prayers or love, you can’t see it.  If, like my little candle, our light is going to shine so others can be influenced by it, --- or even WE can appreciate that it is truly there --- we need to do something which CAN be seen.  Go to church, smile, help a poor or ill person, or even stop getting mad so often.  All these things can be seen by others, and then they can see the God who is within us.  God’s presence within us, His grace, His love, is not a private thing.  It is meant to be shared.  You do not put a basket over a candle to hide it; you put it on a lamp stand so it can be seen.  God’s love, which He has given you, IS within you, and it is meant to be shared with all those you meet.
Do something for your neighbor, and perhaps even you will see, in a passing window or mirror, a light you did not realize was there.  Because sometimes others can see what we ourselves can’t:  we truly are beautiful, made in His image.  And we are a light in this world.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Who Is God?

Genesis 2:4-9, 15-17
Mark 7:14-23
I noticed today that the readings at mass seemed at odds, and I pondered what they truly meant.
In Genesis, “God formed man of dust” and “planted a garden in Eden,” and “the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”  And then He told the man (Adam):  “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat,” or if you do “you shall die”.
In Mark we heard Jesus say: “There is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him, but the things which come out of a man are what defile him.”  And “What comes out of a man is what defiles a man.  For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, … pride…”
So in Genesis we heard “don’t eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil --- or you’ll die (the eternal death),” yet in Mark we heard that we are not defiled by what goes into us.  Genesis says “don’t eat” and Mark says “it doesn’t matter what you eat.”  Huh?
And what about the tree of life, which was also mentioned as being in the center of the Garden?
Laws were laid down in the Old Testament and Jesus came to fulfill them.  We were treated as God’s children in the Old Testament, but with Jesus we are treated as adults:  things are explained to us, and we assume responsibilities.  In Genesis Adam and Eve were treated as children when they were told “you can do this, but don’t do that.”  No reasons were given.  In the New Testament Jesus explains the “why” of the rules.
Applying Jesus’ explanation to the Garden situation, you can see that God wasn’t concerned about man’s eating certain fruits in the Garden, but what man believes he gains from eating them:  a knowledge of good and evil.  That knowledge is God’s alone, for sin offends God and only He can say what offends Him.  We can’t say He is or He isn’t offended by something, unless we think we know the mind of God.  And that would make us God.  That’s the root of the first commandment God issued to man:  I am God; you are not; you must not think or act as if you are God --- “or you will die the eternal death.”
Jesus later explains that if in our heart we believe something wrong and do it anyway, that is when sin originates.
Jesus said the first and greatest commandment was to love God with all your heart.  Jesus’ life then gives so many examples of what love means and what love does, how we are to understand and live that commandment.  In the Old Testament Adam and Eve, as yet, have no idea what love is or means, so God’s rule is put a different way:  Don’t eat of that tree.  Despite the lure of the devil’s temptations, God’s rule said (in effect): “Don’t think you can be Me; don’t think you can define good and evil.”
So that’s the lessons from today’s readings, and the question they ask of us:  What is in your heart?  Do you trust in God’s rules, or must you understand them --- meaning you understand God.  Do you think you can define the way to live a good life, ignoring that Jesus said: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life?”  Must every single thing make sense to you before you can believe? 
By definition, if you only believe what you know, you have no faith.
There’s an interesting example of these readings being played out in Congress right now.  A law (the ACA) was passed by some in Congress who readily admitted they hadn’t even read it, but they said: “Trust us, this is a good law.”  Now there are changes to be made in that law and those same people who hadn’t read the law are asking: “What changes?  Which words?  Why?”  And then they conclude their thoughts on the matter with: “Whatever you change will only make it worse.”  What they are saying is:  “If I wanted it in the first place, it was good (I define good and evil), but if you want to change it I must understand the changes in detail, and approve (I’m God).  That’s the implied words of Adam and Eve, in their sin: “I want that fruit so it must be good; tell me in detail why I shouldn’t have it.”
It’s so basic.  Jesus said love God first; man said he loves himself first.  The joke question is: “Who’s on first?”  The serious question is: “What is in your heart?”  God wants our hearts. 
“True religion has exterior manifestations, certainly, but it flows from the heart. (The Better Part, Meditation 115)”