Thursday, August 8, 2013

What are we to do?

The world, is too quick to judge, to see things in a bad light, so that even the very best of persons with the very best of motives, with all sweetness and kindness and goodness, is maligned for some reason, as if judgment were a bright light that is designed and destined to bring out into utter clarity the slightest of defects. The internet amplifies this beyond measure. I don't know if I can bear it any more. And yet, the attraction is there, and the apparent utility is there: in email, in articles, in teachings, in Facebook and Twitter and Chat and the like. (Of couse there is the same problem in any media, even old-fashion letters, and in face to face conversations and interactions.) Maybe these things, like any tool, are not intrinsically disordered, but disordered people are using them, and everything used by disordered people ends up being misused and abused to a greater or lesser degree.

I read this:

Cardinal O’Malley said: Some people think that the Holy Father should talk more about abortion. I think he speaks of love and mercy to give people the context for the Church’s teaching on abortion. We oppose abortion, not because we are mean or old-fashioned, but because we love people. And that is what we must show the world. Recently I read about an American relief worker in Africa, who reported on being at a camp for a food-distribution line, it was very chaotic, even scary. He could see that they were running out of food and that these starving people were desperate. At the end of the line, the last person was a little nine-year-old girl. All that was left was one banana. They handed it to her. She peeled the banana and gave half each to her younger brother and sister. Then she licked the banana peel. The relief worker said at that moment he began to believe in God.

We must be better people; we must love all people, even those who advocate abortion. It is only if we love them that we will be able to help them discover the sacredness of the life of an unborn child. Only love and mercy will open hearts that have been hardened by the individualism of our age.

We, (human beings) are unable to communicate. It is rare that any two people are able to convey the complete and unadulterated thoughts and feelings living within their minds and hearts. Only God knows hearts and understands our thoughts. Only God knows the truth. I sometimes think that, when we propose to know the truth about anything, it is a futile endeavor, and it would be better to simply and humbly submit one's self to ignorance and utter reliance on God's knowing all, leaving it to Him.

There are, in the end, two realities that matter: God is all and knows all and is all-powerful, and God is love. So, our primary task is to humbly submit ourselves to his allness and his all powerfulness and his knowledge, and strive to imitate his love. There would seem to be nothing else, really, that we can do.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Holiness, Salvation - Simple?

I have mulled over this before. Salvation cannot be accessible only to those who can read, who have access to books (devotionals, bibles, manuals) because the vast numbers of people out there simply have not and will not have access to them, or be able to read them. Are we to believe that the billions of people before use simply could not be saved, or at least, could not become holy because they had no books, or ability to use books, AND no access to a spiritual director? That only nuns and monks and priests had access to holiness or salvation?

I don't believe it.

For that matter, there are a goodly number of Catholics who not only have no or limited access to books, or spiritual directors, but they also have limited access to the sacraments and to the ministers of the sacraments: to confession and the Mass. They might not even have access to a reasonably local church building.

So, holiness and salvation cannot be dependent upon books and daily Mass and regular confession. That cannot be God's intention, that lack of access to books means most people either barely get to heaven, or will certainly go to hell. It is not possible.

And yet, should the exceptional be the rule? I mean exceptional in that the church and the sacraments of the ordinary means of salvation and holiness, but if most people don't have regular access to them, that means most people are saved or made holy by the extraordinary means. That doesn't seem right either.

So, let's suppose that, in God's plan, even irregular, infrequent access to the sacraments and to good preaching are the ordinary means of salvation and holiness, what does that mean to those of us who have daily access to these things, but who are far from holy, and perhaps at risk of losing salvation? We are surrounded by sacramental and homiletic and devotional abundance, but we are caught up in the world's affairs and barely making it as Christians. How can this be? We are missing something.

And the early Christians did not have much of what we have. They did not have the devotionals. They probably did not have daily Mass or frequent access to confession, especially outside of the main cities like Antioch and Corinth and Rome. Yet many of them were holy. The monks in the desert, many of them, were very holy, with very limited access to these means.

Those of us in the first world, also, have come to rely on evangelization through the electronic media, but I think we are mostly perceived as a preachy, argumentative, hypocritical and judgmental lot. We even fight and argue amongst ourselves (just look at the comments on many Catholic sites.) We do not present the best of profiles for our faith. And many of us are not very dissimilar from unbelievers or persons of other faiths. We seem to divorce and remarry and contracept and abort and steal and pilfer and lie pretty much the same as the rest of the population, so whatever we "preach" on the internet, is lost on the world because we don't seem to live what we profess to believe.

Even in "good" Catholic families, that go to daily Mass and homeschool their kids, and are careful about what kinds of media they are exposed to, who do not commit many of the big sins on a regular basis, are still shouting at their children, fighting between spouses, hitting and berating, getting impatient, worrying about bills, striving to keep up with certain of the Joneses, and some of them are getting divorced for one reason or another, and some of these are later getting anullments and remarrying.

So, obviously, there is a problem here. A big problem.

And... there are a lot of people out there who have adopted the Breviary, the Liturgy of the Hours for their daily prayer, a perfectly good thing, but really, this prayer was originally designed for community use. It is the exception to the purpose that it be recited, not sung, and that it be used by individuals rather than communities. It is, by definition, a Liturgical Prayer, a prayer of the church, a PART of the Divine office, which includes the Mass and the Sacraments. So, I think it is fine that so many people, including lay people are using the Liturgy of the Hours or the Breviary, but the fact that it is recited out of community is really an aberration.

Prayer is what? Conversation with God. The perfect prayer is the Mass, which is the prayer and the sacrifice of Jesus. We are to participate in that prayer, as Christ's body, praying with and in Him to the Father. In the same way, we can, and probably ought to participate in the companion prayer, the Hours, as much as we can, in the Parish or Monastic community, but let's just make it clear, just as Mass said alone by a lone priest is something like abnormal, so are the Hours recited alone by a lone layperson also something like abnormal. It can be good, but it is not and should not be taken as normal or preferred.

So, IF one is fairly well catechized, and can attend the sacraments and the Liturgies at least sometimes, or as often as lifestyle and community situations allow, and one prays sincerely and often, as possible, I think the key then is to take what one has learned through catechesis and liturgy and prayer and live as best as possible by imitating Christ as seen in the Gospels, and by imitating the examples of saints who are set before us.

What does this mean, in practical life? First of all, to love God, to make him our first goal and aim and purpose, to let him be our Father and Leader and head. To see his will in the duties and obligations and trials of life, as if he stood directly before us commanding us to do this duty or accept this trial with patience and resignation, out of a motivation of love and trust and hope, because we believe Him to BE infinitely worthylove and trust and hope.

Second of all, to live in relationship with our fellow man as if we truly believed him to be our brother under the Fatherhood of God, our co-worker under the leadership and headship of God, without ill-will or rivalry, or bitterness or competition or deceit or any kind of injustice, lovingly correcting and reproving when we see error, showing mercy, setting a good example, being faithful and honest and sincere in all our words and actions, all for the love of God.

Really, we need no book for that. We don't even need to own a bible, or a breviary, or have access to a library or the internet for that. In some ways, it might even be easier without those concrete means, which can distract us, or make us THINK that we are holy because we have them or use them. And whether we can assist at daily Mass and weekly confession or not, to always avail ourselves to them and the other sacraments with as complete a love and devotion and attention and reverence as possible, with the help of grace.

As to prayer, while the Breviary is good, what is better, either in its place, or in conjunction with it, is frequent thought of God, as a young man thinks of the young woman he is attacted to, who wonders what she is doing now, who ponders her dress and how she wears her hair, and the scent she wore "that day," so we should ponder God, and the model of Jesus. We ought to think about and wonder about this thing that he did and those words that he spoke, and what did he mean and why did he do or say that, and how can I apply them to my life. In what way can I mystically BE Jesus to my wife, my children, my friends, my co-workers, even my enemies? How can I mystically BE Jesus in my duties and my trials and in my prayer?

This thinking is more useful than spoken, recited words, but the thinking should give rise to mental or verbal utterances, pleas, requests, praise, thanks, adoration, wonderment.

Holiness has little to do with the things: the rosaries, the breviaries, the bibles, the medals and scapulars, but of making the best, most intentional, most loving use of the things if we have access to them, but mostly of making the best, most intentional, most loving use of the present moment with its duties, trials, obligations, joys and sorrows, seeing in them the loving, merciful, eternally creative, eternally providential will of God our Father, and Jesus our Savior, keeping our mind's eye ever fixed on God and on thoughts of God and of desires for God.

Friday, July 5, 2013

"Independence Day," 2013

It didn't feel much like Independence Day, with fireworks and parades scheduled for Saturday, with all the stores open, with our government spying on us, with the health care mandate working to suck the spirit out of religious freedom, with our government supporting all kinds of violence and abuse throughout the world, especially against the most vulnerable through abortion, and the list goes on.

So we need prayer, and at the moment, I can think of no better prayer than the following, our National Hymn...

God of our fathers, whose almighty hand.
Leads forth in beauty all the starry band
Of shining worlds in splendor through the skies
Our grateful songs before Thy throne arise.

Thy love divine hath led us in the past,
In this free land by Thee our lot is cast,
Be Thou our Ruler, Guardian, Guide and Stay,
Thy Word our law, Thy paths our chosen way.

From war’s alarms, from deadly pestilence,
Be Thy strong arm our ever sure defense;
Thy true religion in our hearts increase,
Thy bounteous goodness nourish us in peace.

Refresh Thy people on their toilsome way,
Lead us from night to never ending day;
Fill all our lives with love and grace divine,
And glory, laud, and praise be ever Thine.

For information about this hymn, and to hear the tune, go here. and here.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Violence?

I was sort of reading/scanning Heather King's blog, Shirt of Flame, when I came across this:

"...I do know Christ did not use violence to get his point across and I try not to either."

I know what she means, of course, but the thought popped into my mind: "Yes, he did," He used violence against himself, by means of the Jewish leaders, Roman Soldiers, and Pilate, in order to redeem us. He used violence in a backwards way.

It's sort of like what he said: "If a man strikes you on the cheek, turn the other cheek." In other words, God was wronged by our sins - the ultimate injustice - and God paid us back, so to speak, by letting us do violence against him in a human body. He offered no resistance in order to teach us to offer no resistance, and by suffering in a human body, to pay for our injustice.

It's as if to say: "If you want to use violence to solve your problems, let it be done against yourself."

I don't think that would mean we should go looking for trouble, looking for violence to be done to us, but rather, to LET violence and injustice be done to us, and so make it stop there, let violence and injustice find a dead end in our bodies, in our lives.

We always want to get even, to pay back. God's way was to not get even, but to give more, not to win a fight or an argument, but to lose the argument so that there could be no more argument.

Yet, like Heather said, it wasn't Christ being a doormat. There were plenty of times that he stood up to his opposition and said it straight and true, mincing no words. But when it came down to the final episode, he had nothing left to say except, "I am," and that was his death sentence. He let it happen so that the death sentence on us could be lifted.

And you never get the impression that Christ argued with his opposition. He chose his words carefully, because it was never about winning, it was about the truth, and the truth setting them and us free. Usually, we read that they were silenced because he spoke with authority.

I think the absolute final authority with which to speak is love, and love isn't about proving the other wrong, or getting even, or winning a fight. It is about making good come to the other. We should desire nothing else, but good for the other.

And sometimes, the way to the greatest good for the other is to be "the loser."

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Present Moment

The future is a potential, a gift not-yet-given. It could be anything.

The past is gone, a gift used up and set aside.

The present is the only moment that is real, that matters, because it is the gift that we have Now.

And yet, the present so quickly and so easily becomes the past, used up, lost, unavailable, except to some degree in memory.

So, we only have a moment in which to live the present moment before it becomes the past, before it is lost to us.

In the present, we can know God's will: it IS this moment, with whatever it contains. It IS what God has given us.

So: work, joy, trial, silence, noise, love, hatred, whatever the moment consists of, is that which God has given me.

We cannot waste this gift by longing for the future. It may never come. Or mourning the past. We cannot change it. We may learn from the past, but not if we dwell on it to such an excessive degree that the present passes unnoticed.

We must not squander the gift of the present through impatience or reluctance or sin.

We must intend to live each moment as faithfully and as fruitfully as possible. This is primarily by accepting it and living it for love of the Giver, for love of God.

And nothing we do can be truly faithful or fruitful if it is done for any reason that excepts the love of God.

Even if we are forced, for instance, by the circumstances of the present moment, to not perform a good - for instance we must miss Mass in order to care for a sick person, the present moment becomes subjectively more valuable in God's eyes if we live is with patient acceptance for love of God.

In fact, to neglect our sick one in order to attend Mass could be subjectively displeasing to God, because caring for the sick was our duty, neglected to attend Mass, manifesting a preference of our will over God's. It could be said that most of the evil in the world arises from a "contempt" for the present moment, for the circumstances in which we find ourselves, even those circumstances that may arise as a consequence for our previous bad choices.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Too much...

There is too much to know, too much to understand, too much to read, too much to do for any one person. It is easy, very easy, ridiculously easy, to get caught up in the "too much" overload, the "too much" addiction. Especially today, with all the electronic devices that make is possible to read and search and peruse and google and on and on. It is even all to possible to study, thereby giving ourselves even more to DO. For instance: if my car or washer or drier or computer needs repair, I can go on the internet and find any number of sites that will show me how to make the repair. This is a good thing, to an extent, but it also places a burden on me, because now I have no excuse for not repairing the appliance or vehicle or computer or whatever. Speaking of the internet, it is all to easy to use, so even when we're not terribly interested, we can get sucked in so that we neglect what we really ought to be doing, because what we really ought to be doing may be less interesting, and less easy. I have read that in the days before automation, people were actually less busy than they are now. For instance, instead of appliances, very many people, even all but the most destitute, had someone, a servant or slave delegated to do the things that we now do with vacuum cleaners and the like. Well, we can't want to have slaves, but there are a lot of people out of work in the world because we have machines to do the work they would have done. I ask you, is it better for 30 men to sweep the streets of a city, than for one man to do it in the early hours of the day with a loud, expensive machine? Anyway, my point is, technology and automation and devices in general, make it all too easy to get sucked into busy-ness, to want to read and know and study and peruse and experience everything. Even in terms of travel, are we better off today because more of us can stand on the Great Wall of China, or go to Rome to witness first-hand the rising of the smoke from the Papal Conclave? I don't think so. Are we better off today because we can look up information and news on reuters.com and wikipedia, and mentalflos.com instead of either not knowing a fact (or speculation) or looking it up in the dictionary at home, or in the encyclopedia in the library, or asking your mother or grandfather? And then, there are all the options for so-called communication. Twitter, Facebook, reddit, blogs, (this blog) SMS and texting and email and on and on and on. Does this mean we are in better contact? Are our communications fruitful, useful or, more importantly, even virtuous? Often, no, in fact, often our digital communication is downright uncharitable and sinful. Look at the comments on most news articles and blogs. Too large a portion are very mean and unkind and negative. So, there is too much to do, too much to learn, too much to read, too much to experience. In the end, there are really only two things that matter, to do one's duty and to practice charity. I may go through life being the last person to have heard who the new pope is, and the only human to not regularly tweet or post on Facebook, but if I have done my duty, and I have been charitable and avoided judgment of others, I will have done what I ought to do. So, now I'm going to get to it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Fishers of Men?

We often hear the Gospels on the call of the apostles applied to we lay people, in that we are all called to be fishers of men. I realized recently (though it has always bothered me) that this is not true. The apostles and their successors are called to be fishers of men.

I think we lay people are called to be "the bait." We're the ones who are supposed to live our faithful Christian Lives in the public square in such a way that we make the Life attractive to non-believers. We're supposed to live in such a way, faithful to the model of Christ, that non-Christians will feel drawn to the Life, will think: "I want what they have."

True, on occasion, we might a call to more actively evangelize on a specific occasion, and some few might even be called to be lay apostles, but I think the vast majority of lay people are called to live as other Christs in the world, so faithful, so real, so attractive, that others will be led to "the fishers" and will be drawn into the net and eventually, into the Boat of the Church.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Making Life Worthwhile

Recently, I have had a problem with patience. More recently, this has improved. The change came about via two realizations: 1. It doesn't matter, at least, not as much as, and not in the way that I have tended to think it does. 2. It is about doing God's will, consecrating every thought, action, intention, trial, and blessing to God, dedicating it all to God, doing, receiving, enduring for the love of God. Pride blows things out of proportion. Pride makes everything about me, and when I am thwarted or contradicted or tried in that "state of pride" it becomes way too important. Impatience and anger follow.

But when I humbly turn the focus to God, it is no longer about me, it is about God, who is giving, permitting, ordaining, as the case may be, first of all for his glory, and secondly or thirdly, for the good of my soul. And it may be that someone else is in the line of sequence before me.

Doing God's will, living in love and adoration of God's will is what makes life worthwhile.