Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Are you in control?

Recently a semi-famous actor/comedian stated that he was "eternally grateful" that his wife had aborted their first child.  He reasoned that otherwise the life they have now, the life they crafted and created would not have been possible.  If that child had seen the light of day, then perhaps the careers they now have, the home the enjoy, the lifestyle they live, and the children they chose to have would not be here today.  He reasons, for some reason, that that first child they conceived would have ruined their lives.  And so he or she had to be eliminated.  That tiny, defenseless, voiceless human being had to be terminated, killed because he or she stood in the way of Andy's plans.

We live in the midst of a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) epidemic.  We live in a culture that worships the unholy trinity of Me-Myself-I.  Our society is plagued with me-monsters.

From the youngest age we are taught to seize life, control it, guide it, make it what you want.  Don't get me wrong.  I like plans.  I love dreams and desires.  I think it's wonderful to have a sense of direction and to be driven to achieve and accomplish great things.  The question, however, is at what cost?

Are we willing to lie and cheat to get the education we want?  Are we willing to destroy another's good reputation to get the job we've been working toward?  Do we have a problem with stealing or embezzling to get the house we've dreamed of or the car?  Are we willing to kill someone to make what we want to happen, happen?  Are we willing to murder someone in cold blood in order to gain control of our lives?  Even if that control is only an illusion?  Even if that "someone" is an innocent child? An elderly parent?  A sick spouse?  Does the end justify any means?

In today's First Reading Job shows us that God is in control.  Job knows this all too well.  Everything has been taken from him.  His plans for his business are now pipe dreams.  His goals for his children are all laid to waste.  His vibrant, healthy body has been decimated.  God is in control, not Job.  God is in control, not me.

Our fallen human nature rebels against that last sentence.  We want to be in control.  We want to say what does and doesn't happen in the world around us.  We want to control our home, body, health, family, job, finances, marriage, and on and on.  In short, we want to be God.  We can hear the conversation from Eden echoing in our brains...."did God really say...no, God knows...your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods..."

Yet when we learn that God is in control.  It is freeing.  It is comforting.  It is reassuring.  It's the difference between me driving our 15 passenger van or my ten-year-old.  If I'm driving the van, we'll go places.  Now, my family may not be happy with the route, the speed, the bumps, or the traffic but we will get to where we are going.  However, if the ten-year-old is driving, there will be a trail of disaster following that van.  Let God drive the van, trust Him!

In the Gospel too we find folks who want to be in control.  They want everything to be just so before following Jesus. They want everything to be perfect before they give themselves over to Him.  They want to know that their physical needs will be met.  Jesus promises no such thing, "Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head."  They want to know that their family is safe and nothing bad will happen to them.  Jesus promises no such thing, "Let the dead bury the dead.  But you, go and proclaim the Kingdom of God."  They want to know that the work they embark on will be profitable and useful.  Jesus promises no such thing, "No one who sets his hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the Kingdom of God."

Jesus is asking us to follow Him.  Yes, we can have plans and goals but He wants us to give those to Him.  Only when we give up our desire for control can we be truly free.  Only when we acknowledge that God is in control can we be truly happy.  Giving up control to God allows us to say, without reservation, "I will follow you wherever you go"...even if it's to Calvary.  The perfect time to follow Jesus is not when this or that is in line, the perfect time is today.

Let us pray for Andy and his conversion and healing.  Let us pray that he and we will give control to God and be freed of the slavery of self.

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, in the end, "Thy will be done." - C.S. Lewis - The Great Divorce  

(This is an affiliate link.  By clicking on this link I may earn money by your purchase.  I do not recommend anything I haven't read or used personally and believe is of value to you the reader.  Thank you)

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Holy Gauntlet of Life


Today's Readings

Have you ever been dining out with your family and been afraid to pray in public?  Have you at times felt people looking down on you because of your faith?  Do you suspect that some have talked about you in private because you are a Christian?  And all of this without them getting to know you!!

In today's Gospel Jesus sends some followers of His ahead of Him to prepare a place for them to stay.  They return angry and dejected.  Why?  Because the Samaritans refused them hospitality.  Why? Because His little band of followers was headed to Jerusalem.  For a number of reasons, the Jews hated the Samaritans and likewise the Samaritans did not like the Jews.  They especially did not care for devout Jews heading toward the Temple in Jerusalem.

You and I are pilgrims.  We too are on a journey to Jerusalem, the Heavenly Jerusalem.  As Job clearly tells us in the 1st Reading, this pilgrimage is difficult.  In fact, it can be so difficult at times that we may want to curse the day we were born!!

The pilgrimage itself is difficult enough.  Trying to stay on the journey while struggling with jobs, children, sickness, and the culture around us is at times seemingly impossible.  Add to that people who want to throw us off the trail or block our way, and we may be tempted to give up.  This pilgrimage to the Heavenly Jerusalem often feels more like a gauntlet!!

The answer to this struggle, the key to this seemingly impossible mission goes against our sinful, fallen nature.  Cursing the day we were born changes nothing.  Calling down "fire from Heaven" helps no one.  Only by continuing on our journey can we get to our destination.

Like Jesus, we may need to "journey to another village" but we can't change the destination or give up mid-pilgrimage.  When we lose our job, it is simply an unexpected journey to another village.  The goal is still Heaven.  When we face addiction or disease in our family, it is a journey to another village.  The end in sight is still Jerusalem, the Heavenly Jerusalem.

Lord, give me the strength to travel this pilgrimage, to be faithful though this holy gauntlet.  Give me the grace to neither veer to the left and curse the day I was born, nor to the right cursing those around me.  Please give me the grace to always keep my eyes on the Heavenly Jerusalem, you waiting there greet me, and all of my brothers in sisters in faith cheering me on!

A great book that has helped my keep my eyes focused on Heaven and withstand the Holy Gauntlet is The Spiritual Life: A Comprehensive Guide for Catholics Seeking Salvation by Fr. Jean Nicolas Grou.  (This is an affiliate link.  By clicking on this link I may earn money by your purchase.  I do not recommend anything I haven't read or used personally and believe is of value to you the reader.  Thank you)

Monday, September 26, 2016

Are you a fair-weather friend of God?


Today's Readings (Job 1:6-22, Psalm 17:1-7, Luke 9:46-50)

Are you a fair-weather friend of God?

Are you the Job God sees or the Job Satan sees?

I can be both at times.  More often I am a fair-weather friend of God.  Yet I want to be more like Job and more like Jesus.  So I offer this meditation to myself just as much as I offer it to you.

No one is born a murderer.  No one is born a liar.  No one is born a thief, adulterer, or con-artist.  It takes years of practice to perfect those sins.

The opposite is also true.  No one is born a saint.  No one is born virtuous.  No one is born patient, honest, or trust-worthy.  It takes years of practice to perfect those virtues.

Both sin and virtue take practice, years of practice.  Even Job was not born "blameless and upright".  In fact, in the verse directly before the beginning of today's first reading we read, "This Job did habitually"

What did Job do habitually?  He feared God and avoided evil.  He trusted God and wanted to please Him.  He interceded for his children.  They would often throw parties and so he would rise early and offer prayers and sacrifices to God on their behalf saying, "It may be that my sons have sinned and blasphemed God in their hearts."  He got up early to pray for his children, just in case.  With five boys, I need to start doing that!!

Job practiced his faith.  There is no other way he could have blessed God after losing all of his earthly loves and possessions.  He was in the habit, he practiced blessing God each day and every day for everything that was in his life - good and bad.

This should give us hope!  With the help of grace and with practice we can acquire the virtues we need to take us to heaven and bring heaven to earth for ourselves and those around us.

In the Gospel we find men who are the opposite of Job.  They (and I) are well practiced in the sin of pride.  They argue about being the greatest.  They want to trademark and control Jesus' "brand".

"Jesus realized the intention of their hearts," and our hearts, and gives us the antidote to this pride - be humble, be childlike.

Little children are joy to coach in sports.  They want to please the coach, learn, and win.  They have boundless energy and enthusiasm.  Most are humble, eager to learn....and to practice.  Let us be more childlike!

To become saints we must ask for the grace (coaching) and we must practice.  Only then can we be like Job with all of his patience.  Only then can we be like Jesus with all of his humility.  Only then will people say, "'This he/she did habitually,' and there is no doubt this person was a friend of God."

- A great book on becoming more childlike is Unless You Become Like This Child by Hans Urs Van Balthasar.  (This is an affiliate link.  By clicking on this link I may earn money by your purchase.  I do not recommend anything I haven't read or used personally and believe is of value to you the reader.  Thank you)

Saturday, September 10, 2016

How Firm is your Foundation?

"That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when the flood came, the river burst against that house but could not shake it because it had been well built." - Luke 6:48

WHEN the flood came.  WHEN the river burst against the house.  Notice it's not "if" this happens but "when".  

The floods of life will come.  Jesus doesn't dance around this issue.  The floods will come to each and every one of us.  The floods of cancer, accidents, financial loss; they will come.  The river of problems with children, pain, suffering, and addiction will burst against the house.  It's part of the fallen world we live in.

Yes, it is a fallen world, one tainted by original sin.  But, lest we despair, this fallen world, full of floods and violent rivers is also a redeemed world.  The Redeemer doesn't give us some easy out, a way to avoid the floods.  Rather, He gives us the tools and materials needed to build a life that can stand - when the floods come.  

The tools/materials are all there before us.  He even gives us the blueprint for the foundation in today's Gospel - Come, Listen, Act - "Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' but do not do what I command?  I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, listens to my words, and acts on them."

To build this solid foundation upon Christ we need to come to Him.  Come to Him for everything.  It should be the first thing we do.  Facing a flood? Come to Jesus in prayer.  Is the river of suffering rising in your life?  Come to Jesus in prayer.  Come to Eucharistic Adoration.  Come receive His healing and freedom in Confession from the sin that is weighing you down.

The next part of the foundation is listening.  As the floods begin to rise it's not enough to simply tell Jesus about the issue.  We must also listen and listen with an open heart rather than to reply.  Facing a flood?  Listen to Jesus in Scripture?  Is the river of suffering rising around your family?  Listen to Jesus in Mass.  Listen to Jesus in good counsel, holy writings of the saints, and in the quiet of prayer.

Finally, the foundation is not complete without action.  Jesus is a doer.  He doesn't sit idle.  He not only gives us the blueprint but throughout scripture He also witnesses, does, lives the blueprint.  He is always giving us the plan.  He prays to the Father, listens to the Father, and acts on the Father's words.  Facing a flood? Pray, listen, act.  Is the river of suffering rising to overtake you?  Pray, listen, act.  Act by helping others in their floods.  Act by fasting.  Act by self-sacrifice.  Act by offering up your sufferings to God for the salvation of others.

If we follow this plan, the floods will not take us by surprise WHEN they come.  They will come and they may even scare us terribly.  Yet if our foundation is built on Christ through praying, listening, and acting we will find that "the river burst against that house but could not shake it because it had been well built."

Thursday, September 08, 2016

The first step toward Heaven.

Luke 6:27-38

Often in Scripture we hear the disciples say, "this is a hard saying."  That was the first thing I thought while reading today's Gospel.  Do good to those who hate you?  Really?  Give to those who steal from you? Seriously?  Bless those who curse you?  Come on!  Lend money and don't expect repayment?  This is out of hand!!?

I guess I didn't listen to my own message yesterday...  Yesterday I was excited and felt free knowing that the things of this world aren't that important.  After all, you can't take it with you.  The attachment to things, the attachment to self is a constant struggle for me.  I also have a serious spiritual attention deficit disorder.

Have you ever met someone who actually lives this way?  Have you ever met someone who lives Gospel poverty?  We tend to think of them as crazy, a bit off.  It's the lady who sits two pews in front of you at church.  You know the one.  In conversation she mentions that a friend's cousin's boyfriend's brother just got out of prison and is trying to get back on his feet so she gave him her car.  "I'll just take the bus until God decides to give me another car", she says.

These people exist and they fill me with jealousy, a holy jealousy.  Lord help me to live that detached, that free!

A few years ago our parish hosted a retreat with a Franciscan Friar of the Immaculate.  I picked him up at the airport.  He was wearing his full blue-gray habit, sandals, and a watch.  He explained that the vow of poverty meant he owned nothing.  The only thing he possessed that didn't once belong to another friar and wouldn't be passed on to someone after him was his underwear.  Then too I was filled with a holy jealousy.  I too wanted to be that free, that unencumbered.  I too wanted to live as though I was already in Heaven where the things of this world are simply gifts and means to an end, Heaven.

If we are to call ourselves "children of God" for that is what we are, we must imitate the Father, "for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.  Be merciful, just as also your Father is merciful."

This truly is a hard saying.  It is a challenge to live a life detached from the cares of this world and learning to live that way is a life-long process.  It is a challenge to love and be generous with those who are selfish, mean, ungrateful, and violent but it is the first step toward Heaven.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

You can't take it with you!

On a recent trip the grocery store my youngest son found some little car or trinket that he just had to have.  On a previous trip he had spent his money on gum and so didn't have any money at this time.  I refused to buy it for him.  Needless to say, he was miserable the for the rest of the trip and much of the afternoon as he stewed over his "loss".

How is it that 25 cents worth of plastic and tin, that my son had no idea existed seconds before finding it, could make him so miserable?  How could the perceived loss of something he never possessed ruin his day?

Of course I'll need to step down off the soap box and get on his level because I do the same thing.  I bet you do too.  In fact, our culture, like no other, conditions us to be consumers.  It is as though we live to buy or at least possess.  We wake up early to perform a job we may not like in order to get things we don't need or use.  We may even take up a second job to make more money in order to rent a storage area to store the things we don't need or use.  If we can't obtain the things we want so badly, to put in our sheds, we fume and stew and say life's not fair.  It's almost comical.

Both the First Reading and the Gospel encourage us to walk a different path.  Jesus and St. Paul plead with us to simplify our lives.

St. Paul wants us to live as though this world is in transition, for it is.  Most of what we see today will not be here in 100-200 years, including ourselves.  Why should we spend so much time fretting over things that will one day belong to someone else or decay?

Jesus wants us to trust God, live simply, and love our neighbor.  Why focus on riches when they will all be taken from us?  Why focus on pleasures when thy pale in comparison to what is to come?   Why focus on being liked by others when there is only one we need to please?

We came with nothing and we will leave taking nothing.  Why spend the precious few moments we have on this earth concerned with what we can't take with us?  Why spend the little time allotted to us being miserable because of what we can't have?  Would it not be better to our time living simply and helping others, especially those who have far less than we do?

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose. - Jim Elliot

A great book that inspired me to simplify my life (and I need to read it again) is The Perfect Joy of St. Francis by Felix Timmerman.  Another, if you want a real challenge is - Happy are you Poor: The Simple Life and Spiritual Freedom by Fr. Thomas Dubay.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

No time for prayer?


Luke 6: 12-19

In today's Gospel we read that Jesus spent the night in prayer.  When was the last time you or I spent the night in prayer?  I'm doing great if I spend 10 minutes in prayer.  Maybe a few times a week I'll spend 20-30 minutes in prayer with the rosary.  Once a month, if I remember, I'll spend maybe an hour in prayer in Adoration but even much of that is time spent trying to rein in my wandering mind.

How does Jesus spend the night in prayer?  I mean, what does He do during that time?  The question sounds silly when I say it out loud, especially when I also say the answer, "He prayed."

In our technology driven world our attention spans have become shorter and shorter.  We have conditioned ourselves to be entertained.  Our cell phones, news, politics, web surfing, and television viewing are all just varying degrees of entertainment.  If you don't believe me, just ask an advertising executive; an honest one.

Today, making time for prayer is a sacrifice.  In a world where most folks check their Facebook page no less than 14 times per day for an average of 32 minutes per day, it's no wonder a prayer life is lacking for many of us.  Did you check Facebook today?  Did you pray today?  Today I can answer "yes" to both but Facebook and email are winning in the time allotted category...

After Jesus' night in prayer He does great things, important things.  Jesus comes down from the mountain and chooses His twelve closest followers.  Judas was part of that group.  Maybe that's why it was an all night time of prayer.  Then, after choosing His team, He goes out an heals diseases and casts out unclean spirits.  Do you see the connection?  Do you see a pattern with the Lord?  Prayer is the foundation for all that the Lord does.  It should be that way for me and for you too.  What could the Lord do through you and me if we spent more time with Him in prayer and less time "liking" the latest meme?

A large number of people from all over came to hear Him?  How?  Why?  Simon Peter didn't create a Facebook event to let everyone know.  Bartholomew didn't send out an email blast with directions and a meeting time. Philip didn't provide a massive text message to everyone who had texted "fishandchips" to 70809.

They came because "power came forth from him" and that power came from prayer.  Jesus said that we too will do great things but the the power has to come forth from Him through us.  This power can only come from Him through us if we are connected to Him, connected in prayer.

How to get better at prayer.

  1. Set a prayer appointment - Set a time on your calendar each day to meet and speak with God.
  2. Slowly increase your prayer time. - Don't jump in with an hour right from the get-go.  Build up your "tolerance" so to speak.
  3. Commit - to praying and slowly increasing your prayer time for 30 days.  Mark off the days on your calendar.  If you miss a day, jump right back in, don't give up.
  4. Pray - praying is talking to God, it's spending time with your attention focused on Him.  I enjoy spending time with my children regardless of their level of development.  God is the same way.  Spend time praying as best you can.  Use formal prayers if you want or simply speak in coversation.  Don't forget to listen
  5. Read good books about how to pray better - 4 Simple Steps to Better Meditations, Prayer Primer, Deep Conversion, Deep Prayer, Time for God, The Spiritual Life: A Comprehensive Guide to Catholics Seeking Salvation.