Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Life is Beyond Our Control

It’s been a challenging two weeks, and two events stretched my faith.  I’ve written long stories about what happened, but I won’t bore you.  I think, perhaps, the event details were for me alone to consider, but the insights I will share.
The first event was a dream about terrible events.  There were killings; there were suicides, and there were nuns listening to a sermon: “If these things are happening, they must be from God.”  My spiritual advisor and I discussed details of that dream at length and agreed:  these were not the inspirations of a good spirit.
This past weekend I went on my annual Steubenville trip, to listen to speakers at Franciscan University.  The Friday trip there included: confusing detours (I got lost), a terrible accident causing a very long delay --- and someone died, a slow conference registration process, hotel errors, a dinner order mix-up, and ---- the initial conference speakers I drove so far to hear seemed totally boring.
Before the evening’s speakers began, I said my night prayers in the University’s adoration chapel.  They were peaceful.  I went to the evening’s talks and quickly decided that they too were boring --- and I mumbled aloud that I could better summarize the topics and books they were speaking of (and, of course, I had read them all).  So, I retired back to the peace and quiet of the chapel.  I spent many hours there in the chapel this weekend.  And while there Friday evening, I pretty much resolved that God was telling me it was time to move on; this would be my last conference weekend here.  I even drafted a letter to the conference organizers telling them (politely, of course) how they needed “to get with it.”  And, of course, I knew what “it” was.
But Sunday morning, as the early sun shone its rays into the same chapel, the birds outside could be heard singing cheerfully through the open chapel doors.  And all seemed right.  I recalled the miracle I had participated in yesterday, and the pleasant dinner conversations.  And I recalled the one very enjoyable conference talk --- Patrick Madrid is always an interesting speaker.  And then I recalled the vivid presence of God, received in Holy Communion and adored during the Holy Hour, and looked up at Him on the altar in front of me.  No, I concluded, the bad events of Friday weren’t any signs telling me to stop coming to this event --- or at least, they weren’t any signs from God.  And I recalled words I had once read on the discernment of spirits: “Never make any decision to change your spiritual actions during a time of darkness” --- that when the evil one has influence on your thoughts.  Then, (right after I wrote the prior sentence), I saw that today is the feast day of St. Ignatius, who wrote those very discernment words I just quoted. 
Did I ever mention that I don’t believe in coincidences??
On Sunday morning, before mass, was the conference's final speaker: Kimberly Hahn.  And during her talk she told us this story:
Our prayers to God must be sincere, real, and not just words.  Our time with Him must be as with a friend, not like time scheduled to do a chore. Let me illustrate the reality of true prayer with Him:
“Good morning, Lord.  I’m here to tell You how much I love You.  Lord, You are my everything, and everything I have is yours.  I love You so much.”
(A loud voice answers): Thank you, Kimberly.  I love you also.  Did you say you had something for me?
Yes, Lord.  I came prepared to make my Sunday donation today (and she put some money on the podium in front of her).
Is that everything?  You said you wanted to give me everything.
Well, yes, Lord, I want to give you everything.  Here is all of my money (as she pushed a pile of cash across the podium); it’s all yours. (And in a lower voice she said) I can use my checkbook for the groceries.
You have a checkbook?
Yes, I … well, yes, Lord, I give you everything, even my checkbook.  We can live on credit cards for a while.
You have credit cards?
Yes Lord.  We have to live on something.
I thought you said you’d give me everything.
Well, yes, Lord, even these things I will give to you.  You can have it all (as she pushes her wallet to the side of the podium for God).  Well, I guess I’ll head out to my car now.
You have a car? 
(Taking a key off of a ring) Kimberly sighed and said: “Yes, Lord, even my car is yours.”
What are those other keys? (By now, the audience is roaring every time God speaks.)
Well, there’s our other car and the house keys and …
You have a house? 
(At that Kimberly looked up frustrated and angry): “Uh, wait a minute, Lord.  You don’t even need a house.  Just what am I supposed to tell my husband when I get home?”
You have a husband?
(Another long pause) “Lord, I am sincere.  All that I have I offer to you, even my husband.  But if you take him, Lord, how will I raise my children?
You have children?
“Okay, okay, Lord, I DO love You.  I DO give You everything, everything that is mine I give to You.  I love You.  Everything.”
(Now God pauses).  Kimberly, you know that I love you, and so I ask you if you would do something special for me. 
Anything, Lord.
I created a man, a very good man, who I love.  He is in need of a good wife.  Will you take care of him, … for me?
Yes, Lord.  Whatever You ask.
Remember as you care for him, that he is mine. 
Kimberly, I have some wonderful children I created, and I love them so much, but they are in need of a mother and father.  Would you care for and love my children, ….. for me?
Yes, Lord.  I will.
And to care for these I love, you will need a house and cars and money, so I give you these things to use well and to provide for these I love.
Yes, Lord, I will use all these blessings You give me to love those you love.
And remember, care for these well, for they are all mine.
Yes, Lord, they are all Yours.  And I will love them for you.
(And then there was a very long pause before Kimberly spoke again.)

I thought Kimberly’s talk was a wonderful example of a reality we often forget.  Not only did she give an example of serious prayer, but she also gave an example of sincere love of God.  How often we are so totally engulfed in our own lives that we forget the true reality of our relationship with God.  Daily, we are concerned with our jobs, our family, OUR possessions.  We stress over our decisions --- or the bad ones others make.
We think we are so in control, even as we (sometimes) honestly reflect: “Things are out of control!”
My dream of the world’s troubles, my concerns of a weekend that didn’t start as I planned, and the miracles which I saw and felt:  ALL of these things (and Kimberly’s talk) are examples of the reality of my life --- and of yours too:  Our life is beyond our control.
This is reality.  But God is here also.
How can one letter of the alphabet be both so important and so unimportant?  When Eve said “I” want that tree of life, she set in motion a reality which continues to this very day.  As Kimberly’s story/prayer illustrated, it’s the reality of what “I” have/want/love versus what God has/wants/loves.
What we truly have is the life which God has given us, but all the events and creations around us are not ours, to have or control for our selfish purposes.  These things and people in our lives are ours to love, as God would love them.
Actions in the world around us are not there to become anxious or angry over.  We are only here to love and care for the gifts God gives us.  The rest of creation is His to worry over, and ours but to pray over.  A long, sincere, conversation with God, as a friend, always makes things better, and we can see reality as it really is.
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As mass ended this morning, the pianist led us in the closing hymn saying: “We’ll sing all four verses this morning,” (versus the two we normally sang).  And so we sang:
O Church Arise
O Church, arise, and put your armour on;
Hear the call of Christ our Captain.
For now the weak can say that they are strong,
In the strength that God has given.
With shield of faith and belt of truth,
We’ll stand against the devils lies;
An army bold, whose battle cry is Love,
Reaching out to those in darkness.
Our call to war, to love the captive soul,
But to rage against the captor;
And with the sword that makes the wounded whole
We will fight with faith and valour.
When faced with trials on every side,
We know the outcome is secure.
And Christ will have the prize for which He died,
An inheritance of nations.
Come see the cross, where love and mercy meet,
As the Son of God is stricken;
Then see His foes lie crushed beneath His feet,
For the Conqueror has risen.
And as the stone is rolled away
And Christ emerges from the grave,
This victory march continues
Till the day every eye and heart shall see Him.
So Spirit come, put strength in every stride,
Give grace for every hurdle;
That we may run with faith,
To win the prize of a servant, good and faithful.
As saints of old still line the way,
Retelling triumphs of His grace,
We hear their calls and hunger for the day
When, with Christ, we stand in glory.

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