Monday, May 22, 2017

Let's Have Sex

It rained all weekend --- hard.  Sunday evening had temperatures only in the 60’s, but it felt like the 90’s as heavy humidity weighed down the air.  But Monday was promised to be a day of sunshine.
And so, as I took to the road this morning I was surprised to see the sky cut, like a knife, into three pieces:  to the East was a line of very dark clouds, the last of yesterday’s rains, overhead was a narrow strip of blue sky --- the promise of today, but to the West lay yet another line of clouds.  Oh, no!  What would the day really bring?
As I drove West towards church the landscape seemed a dark grey color everywhere.  In my new car I listened to the Sirius Radio Sinatra station, to old songs of love and romance, and how good they were, and yearned for by everyone.  They were bright thoughts, but the dark grey of the early morning overwhelmed them.
I thought of how today’s songs no longer focus on love, or if the word is used what is usually meant is sex.  Unlike the time of Sinatra, many people no longer know what love really is --- or truly, what sex really is.  Last night on the news I heard how one state now leads in teen out-of-wedlock births, and the reported cause was the state schools’ (shocking) teaching of sexual abstinence.  That will change.  Now kids will be taught how to have wonderful sex and avoid pregnancy.  Isn’t that the responsible thing to do?  As an analyst all my life, I easily saw the problem with that type of solution.  The solution is “what I want, what I think, what is my opinion, and what I KNOW is right,” implemented without any analysis by self-proclaimed experts.  Reasoned analysis looks at a newly-discovered problem and asks: “What facts changed to cause the problem,” not “What do I think is happening.”  A rise in crime during the full moon IS NOT (!!!) caused by the full moon just because someone thinks so!  To fix a problem, you must first find the facts of its cause, and not run for more bandages.
What has changed in our schools (as I am aware of) is the forbidden mentioning of God, virtues, love, marriage, and what they are and why they exist, and how sex is only a part of the picture they paint of our culture --- a complete picture which existed and was good from the beginning, but our children are no longer allowed to be taught that.  The bigger picture is not taught.  Today history in schools is not how things were in total, but a focus on how the bad things were, and the solution to all history’s problems is to change today, a change to be found in the mirror: you, and no one else, draws the picture of your life.  And those bigger picture items of the past and even the present? --- they do not involve you, paint them out of your life:  no marriage, no commitments, no children, and certainly no religion; we will not teach those things; they are unimportant.  “Let’s have sex” is all that’s important.  It’s what you say to the mirror.
As I drove West this morning listening to the soft crooning tunes, thinking, I looked into the mirror of my life.  I recalled my sins, and yes, the word to describe them is sin, a word soon to be removed from Webster’s Dictionary, I fear, or at least one whose definition will be preceded by “arch.  I was melancholy in my thoughts; yes, I had sinned but I also had done many good things.  But then I recalled how many of those good things came about.
Ring-ring, and someone asked if I’d like to join the Jaycees, and I did.  Ring-ring, and someone asked if I could spend some time fixing houses so poor families could live in them, and I did.  Ring-ring, and the diocese asked if I would lead a support group for troubled marriages and address marriage prep classes --- and I said no.  Ring-ring, and I was asked to take over leadership of the local Catholic Charities chapter, and I said no.  I thought how many of those calls over the years were from complete strangers, but I knew who they were really from --- although at the time, perhaps stranger did define His relationship to me.  Why did He keep calling?  Why did I say no so often?  What would my life have been like if I had said yes more often?
As I was nearing the church I drove around a curve in the road --- and the scene before me caused me to gasp!  Very tall trees lined both sides of the road, but they seemed to be cut in half.  The bottom half was colored the dark grey of the early morning, but the top half was a brilliant gold color, which overwhelmed the Spring green leaves which covered the trees.  Behind me, to the East, the Sun had shown itself through a slit in the dark clouds and brightened the treetops before me.
What a blessing to see, with my eyes, and with my heart.
It was a reminder, a ringing.  Behind even the darkest day, there is God’s light.  Perhaps it will sometimes shine so brightly that we can’t not gasp, as this morning.  Or perhaps sometimes it will be a call from a stranger.  Or it may be a silent ringing in our heart.  But He does call; He does brighten our lives.  He will always call, whether we answer or not.  He promised.
You can look back at your life and perhaps only see darkness.  You can look at our culture and dark things capture your attention first.  But don’t forget:  There was Light; there is Light; there will always be Light.  And He will call you.  Listen!
And even if Webster no longer defines it that way, even the oldest of us can be taught what our country, and what the world once knew:  God, family, marriage and our culture and its history are important.  And “Let’s” means “Let us --- together,” do something, together in our plans, together in our desires, for the good of all.  Regardless of what the schools teach, what you want is not that important, for you are not alone in this world.  Creation is not meant for you, but for God.
Don’t confuse who you are seeing in the mirror.

The commandment that I write you is new, as it is
realized in Him and you, for the darkness is over,
and the real light begins to shine.
The man who claims to be in light,
hating his brother all the while,
is in darkness even now.
The man who continues in the light
is the one who loves his brother.
1Jn 2:8-10

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Review: The Power of Silence

I told the local book store to throw all their other books away; this is the only one they need.
I am greatly blessed.  Over the years, I’ve read many thousands of books which have chiseled my heart, forming solid niches of learning of this thing or that, making my heart, I pray, somewhat as He designed it to be.  But all those books together, even the best of them, fail to summarize the total truth of the matter as this book does:  there are no words.
Cardinal Sarah explains the peace of silence found in beauty, in nature, in the chapel, or even in Gregorian chant.  He explains the “I” in Ipad: the noise and unrest found in the Ipad, Iphone or any other “I” forms, focused on the self.  Peace is found in love and loving actions to the Grand Other, in all His forms in heaven or on earth, and in the silence of a loving heart.
This is one of the better books of the decade.
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Some quotes say this better than I ever could:
-          The young priest met Mother Teresa, who asked him how much he prayed.  He responded he prayed the required prayers each day, but he said he had expected her to ask: “What acts of charity do you do?”  And “she responded in a stern tone of voice: ‘Do you think I could practice charity if I did not ask Jesus every day to fill my heart with His love? … Read the Gospel attentively, and you will see Jesus sacrificed even charity for prayer.  And do you know why?  To teach us that without God, we are too poor to help the poor.’”

-          “Jesus Himself points out to men the beautiful places of solitude and silence.” … And, “there are the houses of God that are our churches, if the priests and the faithful take care to respect their sacred character, so that they do not become museums, theaters, or concert halls, but remain places reserved for prayer and God alone!”

-          “Without silence, God disappears in the noise.  And this noise becomes all the more obsessive because God is absent.  Unless the world rediscovers silence, it is lost.”

-          A chapter in the book is titled: “God Does Not Speak, But His Voice Is Quite Clear.”

-          “How I would love it if Christians, in the liturgy, could experience the power of silence.”

-          “This pathological fear of suffering and silence is particularly acute in the West.  On the other hand, African and Asian churches manifest a remarkable acceptance of pain, sickness, and death, because the prospect of a better life in the next world is profoundly present in them.”

-          Q: “In Iraq and Syria, children are mutilated, violated, sold, reduced to slavery, crucified, and God does not say a word?  The Islamic State’s policy of extermination is unleashed against the Christians of the Near East, and the God of Love seems absent?”
A: “May I first broaden the question?  The current genocide of babies with Down Syndrome in the West is no less tragic, and I am not sure that it is less barbaric; it is only less visible.”
There are so many words in this book which touched my heart.  “In killing silence, man assassinates God.” … “Developing a taste for prayer is probably the first and foremost battle of our age.”  

Monday, May 8, 2017

Are You A Good Shepherd?

Jesus’ parables were given so that the hearers might put themselves in the place of the characters, and learn a lesson.  But the Good Shepherd parable, as was read today at mass, rarely has us considering the key character of the parable, and asking:  Am I a good shepherd?  How many lost people, especially among those we’re supposed to love the most, have we given up on, and stopped trying to save?  Read on, and consider.
It’s easy to consider ourselves as one of the 99 in the parable, the flock who loyally follows Jesus; we DO believe He is the Good Shepherd and we want to follow Him.  It’s also pretty easy to consider ourselves as the lost sheep; we all have strayed.  And perhaps today we might even consider that in our culture it is not just the one but the 99 who are straying.  It must give the Good Shepherd a headache!
But … He doesn’t give up on us.  Never.  And that’s something we need learn from the parable, to trust in, and evaluate.
Do you have a spouse you more often hate more than love?  Do you have a child who doesn’t go to church anymore?  Do you have a sibling who you avoid, so you don’t argue?  Do you have a parent, who in their old-age dementia, doesn’t recognize you anymore?  And so, you ask yourself:  How can I love them, when they act like that?  And perhaps you even seek support from friends:  Isn’t it right that I avoid them, and their toxicity to me?  (As a divorced person who avoids his ex, I DO understand.)
But, …
Put yourself in the place of the Good Shepherd in today’s parable.  Those 99 sheep are no problem; of course, He loves them, and they love Him.  But that last one, … that lost one is the stubborn one, the one who thinks he knows a better way.  He wants to have nothing to do with you.  He could get himself into brambles, fall off a cliff, or even get eaten by a wolf, but still he’ll say:  I don’t need your help.  And if we try to tell him we’re concerned because we love him, he’ll tell us he doesn’t need that kind of love.
Regarding his life, he is loudly (proudly?) proclaiming: “I know the way!!”  (And oh, as we think about chastising him remember, we’ve all heard those very words come out of our mouths, too.)
But the Good Shepherd goes out looking for that sheep who thinks he knows the way, the one He loves who wants nothing to do with Him, that awful spouse, that bratty child, that know-it-all sibling.  He wants good for them; He wants them to be found --- even if they don’t know they are lost.
I know we all think we are good people.  We all believe, in some way, that we are the good shepherd.  So the real question isn’t: “Am I a good shepherd?”  It’s: “How do I BE a good shepherd?”  And I think the answer to that question is back in the parable:  we persevere.  We look in places, in ways, we didn’t look before.  And we pray.  And we trust.  We put ourselves in the role of the good sheep we think we are, and turn to the REAL Good Shepherd and ask: “Where would You lead me?”  And we trust.
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Trusting and persevering are two of the most difficult things in my life.  Why do I write this blog?  Why do I get involved in the church and non-profits?  I rarely see meaningful results.  I am alone.  In recent weeks, I heard talks from two men who dedicate their lives, travel the world, to help the poor.  They are making a difference.  And this week I met with Naomi, who was disposing of the last of her possessions, before she leaves for Africa on Friday: “Mom died; there’s nothing holding me here.  The children in Uganda need me.”  And I was so humbled.  And then she asked: “Will you come and visit me?”
The Good Shepherd said He’d focus His life to even save just the one.  His example is a humbling one: He doesn’t expect us to save the world.  The lost sheep was from His flock; perhaps He pursues it because He feels guilty it got lost.  The example of the Good Shepherd is to trust and persevere.
He didn’t say it would be easy.  He didn’t promise great consolations, or results.  And the Good Shepherd felt alone, and perhaps He too wondered:  Am I making a difference?
My friends go off and help the poor; it seems so tempting to follow them.  I want to make a difference.
But the Good Shepherd, who we are called to emulate, perseveres and trusts, alone.
He doesn’t give up, and neither should we.  Even though the world seems a scary, lonely place at times.