Monday, August 3, 2015

Wisdom is Found Where You Are Not Looking

I read much; I study much; I have been increasing my knowledge of things all my life --- so why does it never cease to amaze me at how stupid I am?  There is so much to learn.
The Pharisees saw and heard, but did not learn.  The people of Nazareth saw the miracles and heard Jesus preach in the Temple, yet said:   “This is the carpenter’s son.  We know him.  Just who does he think he is, acting so high and mighty?”  They didn’t believe.  And when the apostles came and asked Jesus to send the crowds away so they could get something to eat, He answered:  “Why don’t you feed them?”  And they didn’t understand.
Those people could not believe even what they saw with their own eyes or heard with their own ears, because it was beyond their experiences.  “This can’t be,” they said.  They had never experienced anything or anyone like Jesus, so they couldn’t believe.  I think the question we need to ask ourselves is:  have we experienced Him?  Can we really believe?
About 5 years ago a young woman said she felt called to go on a mission trip to Africa.  Skipping a college scholarship, she felt compelled to go --- and with a large donation, I helped make it possible.  She spent a year in Ghana, teaching the poor, and then started a school there which has grown greatly.  Many children are being blessed through her efforts.  Recently she wrote on her blog how she now sees God in the beauty of Africa, and in the smiling faces of the children there.  And when questioned about God’s blessings on her work she said:  “I don’t believe that.  I am not a Christian” --- anymore.
And I felt very sad.
This woman has experienced so much in Africa and can believe God is in her experiences, but has, it seems, never experienced Jesus.  If she has heard His words, she did not understand.  If her parents taught her truths, somehow she came not to believe them.  She only believes in her experiences.  She only believes in herself.  How many in our culture are like her, alone in their saying:  “I know the truth, and all the rest of you all you religious believers, you are all wrong.”
“I know.”
It seems so many people want to tear down our history, our culture, our religion.  Since they did not experience these things and were never taught their value, they rely only on themselves.  “We need to fundamentally change America,” they say --- to what, they do not know, but to something they can experience and believe.
They have never experienced prayer in the quiet of a chapel, as I have, nor had God speak to them.  For all they have learned, they could not believe that once people experienced miracles.  They cannot believe that miracles still happen.  I do.  I know.  I have seen.
Like those Pharisees, those Nazarines, and those unbelieving apostles, I often don’t understand.  I too trust in the truth of my experiences --- much like the once-Catholic young lady in Africa.  For all my learning and experiences, I too am inclined to believe “I know,” or say “prove me wrong.”  But the point of my opening paragraph was that I AM learning, and I WILL BE learning --- all my life.  I will never learn enough in this life to know the mind of God, to know all Truth.  And so I will never really be able to understand the reason for many things that happen in my life, or in the life of others.  Maybe the pope is reaching out to non-Christians with his encyclicals.  Maybe this young lady in Africa is really finding God in SOMETHING for the first time, and this is the start of her faith journey.  Maybe her future is something I cannot see, nor understand, but I need to accept.  Maybe I need to look at fruits, and assume the tree is healthy, with roots I cannot see.
All I can do is Hope in Jesus’ promises about the future, and based on my experiences of how much He has loved me, trust in Him.
They say that is true wisdom.  You don’t learn it; you live it.  And it is a gift.   

Sunday, August 2, 2015

ION Television

At least three nights a week I come home late at night, after my adoration hours.  Often my mind continues to churn over thoughts begun in the chapel.  I’ve found that if I just hop into bed, the thoughts often continue, and sleep does not come easy.  And so I’ve formed the habit of pouring a glass of wine and watching television for a half hour or so, to get me drowsy.
The late night viewing options on the few cable channels I pay for are usually very old movies --- often black and white --- or commercials for some product I don’t need.  So usually I turn to ION Television, a cable channel which shows re-runs of long running series, like Blue Bloods, CSI, or NCIS.
I noted again last night the commercial on ION for something called  The commercial showed scenes of the earth’s beauty:  mountains, rivers, trees and sunsets --- and smiling faces from around the world, and in one of the commercials John Denver sings one of his songs of love in the background.  All in all, has created some absolutely beautiful, restful commercials.  They make me smile.
I thought about all the shows presented on ION Television, and it dawned on me that most of its shows display a very Christian image of morality.  With few exceptions, there are no sex scenes, no cursing, and the good guys almost always win --- or you perceive the moral lesson if they don’t.  And on some of the shows, you even see praying!
ION Television’s typical self-promotion commercial has characters from the various re-run shows standing in front of the ION logo and saying:  “ION Television, positively entertaining.”  The commercials always struck me as being pretty dumb.
But as so often happens, the Lord slapped me upside of the head, and showed me how it was I who was being pretty dumb.  It happened at the men’s Bible Study.  The guys were talking about evangelizing in our culture.  One commented on how he had to pause to choose the right words, so as to not offend anyone when he spoke.  “It’s like we have to hide the Good News, like we’re afraid to say the truth bluntly.” 
And then I, wise as I am, contributed my great insight:  “Yes, it’s like on ION Television’s broadcasting of moral television shows.”  And I related to them about the ad and how ION Television seems almost ashamed to advertise its good shows, and its stupid motto:  “ION Television, positively entertaining.”  And even as I said the words, the light went on in my brain.  ION presents morality in a positive light, it’s positively entertaining.  Positively, as opposed to negatively, like shows on all the other channels.
Sheesh!  Why hadn’t I noticed that before, “the hidden message”?  Are they being subtle because they also worried about offending anyone, concerned with being politically correct?
It’s a sad state we are in --- a sad state I am in --- when we can’t say or see the good right in front of us.  ION Television:  it IS positively entertaining.  You might choose to watch it over other channels, even in the early evening hours.  I  do.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Review: Laudato Si'

I will not judge Laudato Si’.
I recently began reading a book of Gospel meditations (yes, the one I gave away to a stranger at Steubenville).  In it, it was postulated that Jesus spoke in parables to break the ice of those whose hearts were frozen.  If they could come to understand the lesson of a simple non-threatening story, then with the grace of God they might come to understand how the lesson applied to them.  This is similar to the way God told David about the stolen lamb (2Sam12), and when David agreed the theft was a terrible thing deserving great punishment, God showed him that it was like he had stolen Bathsheba from her husband.  And David did understand God’s parable.
But at the end of some of His parables, Jesus noted that the Pharisees will NOT and cannot understand.  They are so confident/blind in their knowledge of the rules of The Law, which they know so well, that they can neither see the simple parable truths Jesus taught, nor how they might apply to them.
Having read Laudato Si’ and praying for understanding, I find myself asking:  Am I as blind as a Pharisee?
In Laudato Si’ (which is addressed to the world), Pope Francis tells some simple truths about the environment, perhaps meant to attract those non-Christians who would agree with these concerns --- and then perhaps their hearts may melt a bit and their minds be open to listen further to this Church, which so many of them openly despise.  It’s an opening, and perhaps they ARE saying yes to the pope’s words on global climate change and agreeing with them – there do seem to be many positive comments to the pope’s words from secular humanists.  But will they then look at his other words, and be open to saying yes to them also?  I don’t know.
As for me, I think I know many rules about the earth sciences; I read and study much.  I know many rules about capitalism, and can point to its many benefits --- including its contributions to halving world poverty in the last 20 years (U.N. data).  But in knowing these facts and “rules”, I find myself wanting to condemn Laudato Si’.  It is against the rules I think important.  I found myself making critical comments about some sentences, or even some words the pope chose.  But now, in my thinking --- or lack of it, I find myself wondering: am I just like the Pharisees, not open to even basic truths because I don’t want to hear?  Would I even call the pope wrong-headed, rather than myself?
            - - - - - - - - - -
I napped for a few hours early Monday night, woke, stopped for coffee at the 7-11, and then headed to the Ann Arbor adoration chapel.  The coffee kicked in about half way there, and I suddenly realized that I was heading to the wrong chapel!  This was Monday; my late night adoration hour on Monday is at the Plymouth chapel.  I made a quick u-turn, and took an unfamiliar dirt road to cut down the distance back, and I arrived at the chapel just on time --- to the minute.
As I began my nightly rosary prayers, one of the things I prayed for, once again, was for an end to autism.  Then I suddenly stopped and Pope Francis’ call came to mind:  he asked us to recognize that man’s impact on this earth and the earth’s impact on man are totally intertwined, and linked in ways that we cannot ever understand --- yet we must takes steps to respect.  Is Pope Francis’ call in Laudato Si’ somehow the beginning of an answer to my ongoing prayer for an end to this strange growing disease of unknown origin called autism? (I do know of some studies linking autism to the environment.)  Is this illness, too, part of our interconnection with creation --- and a result of what we humans have created?  In all that I think I know about the environment, capitalism and autism, is my sleepy-eyed mind headed in the wrong direction?  Was the trip to the chapel tonight a parable for me?  Am I too stubborn to turn around and take a strange road to see God’s truth?
I don’t know, but I will not judge Laudato Si’.  I will trust in Him, and in His ways, and that He might yet open my sleepy eyes to see beyond what “I know”.     

Monday, July 27, 2015

Steubenville 2015

Friday started out somewhat normally:  shower, shave, men’s Bible Study at Panera’s, followed by a drive to church and mass at 8AM.  But then I hit the road, and began a 5-hour drive to Franciscan University in Steubenville and The Defending the Faith Conference.  I expected to be there by 2PM, in time to hear the first talk by Fr. Michael Gaitley --- I’ve reviewed some of his books here; they are very inspiring, and I expected his talk would be too.

But the best laid plans of mice and men ….  The crash on I80 was near Cleveland, blocking the entire expressway, and everyone sat unmoving in the hot sun for well over an hour.  I read the Wall Street Journal, and began the crossword puzzle.  There was nothing very inspirational there --- surely this delay was not the work of God.  People and kids got out of their cars and walked about, one even setting up a card table and preparing lunch.  

I missed Fr. Gaitley’s talk, and most of Jennifer Fulwiler’s, too.  (I recently reviewed her book here also, and it too was very good).  I caught the last half hour of her inspiring conversion story, and then went to register at my nearby hotel.  I dropped Jennifer a quick note of thanks, and she promptly responded.  That was a nice, albeit delayed, start to the weekend.

Saturday morning’s talks were by Patrick Madrid and Dr. Peter Kreeft.  In my opinion, Patrick has replaced the late Fr. Benedict Groeschel as a key reason for attending this conference.  Mr. Madrid explains complex truths simply and more importantly, I think, gives everyday examples from his life of how really simple it is to evangelize effectively:  just go where God leads you and let Him do the work.  Dr. Kreeft’s talk was a reflection on a Harvard talk given by Alexander Solzhenitsyn 40 years ago.  His address to the Harvard alums was considered shocking and unacceptably depressing back then, but can be seen now as a preview of today’s culture; it offered most interesting insights.

After the late morning mass, I went off campus and got some soup and a sandwich from Kroger’s, and then returned.  I set out a pillow and blanket under a nice shade tree, and planned to relax the entire afternoon: having lunch, reading a novel, and maybe even napping --- skipping the various afternoon workshops and their speakers.  R&R was on my agenda.  But yet another unplanned interruption stopped MY plans --- and I think this one truly WAS from God.

I don’t remember feeling drowsy as I ate and lay down on the blanket, but I do remember suddenly jerking awake:  a seizure was upon me (you may recall my epilepsy).  As I sat up on the blanket, I glanced around:  there were no people nearby who might be disturbed by my problem.  Then I clutched the crucifix hanging from my neck, and began to pray to God and Mary for help.  I feared throwing up the recently-eaten lunch --- which could be a life-threatening problem --- but after a minute or two (or three), the trembling stopped, and I tried to relax.  I glanced at my watch; it was 1:45P, shortly before the first workshop scheduled to begin at 2.  I asked God if He wished for me to attend these workshops, and took out the Conference program listings.  Both Fulwiler and Gaitley had workshops that first hour, but for some reason I had circled Gaitley’s name in my program, and so I packed up my things and went to his talk and Q&A.

Fr. Gaitley largely talked about Marian Consecration, St. Maximilian Kolbe, and in general the topics of his book The Second Greatest Story Ever Told, and most especially about a call for Divine Mercy and its importance to the world today --- both its eternal importance, and its very IMMEDIATE importance.  I took his words to heart, and wrote myself a note to read his book again, and begin (as he suggested) the 33 day Marian Consecration on November 5, and to ask God what He would have me do regarding December 8, the final day of the consecration, and the beginning date of the Church’s proclaimed Year of Mercy.

Fr. Gaitley reminded us how St. Kolbe, echoing the calls of Fatima, had helped the Polish people to prepare for WWII, through a call for consecration to Mary and prayers for Divine Mercy.  Kolbe himself died in a concentration camp in that war. Gaitley told us how before the war Poland was considered the most Christian nation on earth, and reminded us how Christ called on his followers to be prepared to suffer in this life.  Kolbe’s work had helped the Polish people prepare for their suffering: 18% of the Polish population died in WWII.

And now, Fr. Gaitley said, the United States is considered the most Christian nation in the world, and he told us how now there are many calls here --- many calls --- for a renewed Marian Consecration and prayers for Divine Mercy --- for this country.   

And the auditorium was silent.  (Is God calling us to be prepared for great suffering here?)  The pope has called for a Year of Prayer for Divine Mercy, and this is most unusual. Only four such universal calls to prayer have ever been issued.

I was glad I was awoken from my sleep (and my plans) to hear this talk.  I believe there are things I must do, and applying a greater focus of my prayers on Divine Mercy among them.  I strongly suspect this is not the last thing I will hear on this subject --- but for now, I am awake.

The Saturday evening talk was by Dr. Scott Hahn, who was interesting as usual.  It was the holy hour, however, which was the highpoint of the evening.  I didn’t expect it to be, but then again my plans for this conference didn’t seem to matter anymore.

As the monstrance was processed into the auditorium, the words of the various hymns being sung, old and new, seemed to strike my heart.  Later as the monstrance was processed throughout the auditorium, aisle by aisle and at one point right next to me, I deeply felt Christ’s presence, and tears and sobs of joy overwhelmed me.  Later still, in the quiet adoration time, thoughts came to me of other nights here --- and previous years --- and especially those years when Fr. Groeschel led our adoration:  oh, how close to God we felt.  And then I thought:  but he is even closer to God right now, and so I began to pray and talk to Bennie, and so many thoughts of him flooded my mind.  His words and example were a special part of my life, and still are.  And then, somehow, my thoughts drifted to other holy hours I had attended, other very holy priests, and other thoughts were shared between God and I.  And in all this, I felt Him with me.

I was surprised when the prayers closing the holy hour began; the time on my knees had passed quickly.  I felt good as I got up and left the campus, and returned to my hotel.  I turned on my computer and checked for any new emails.  First in my Inbox was an email from a stranger, and opening it I read:  “Hello, I saw your post regarding Eucharistic adoration at St. Edward on the lake in Port Huron, Mi. and your experience with Fr. Hogan.  I've heard many great things about him and I'm seeking to find a book written about him by one of his (late?) parishioners.”  And then I recalled one more man with whom I had many special holy hours:  Fr John Hogan.  Why hadn’t I remembered him during the Holy Hour I had just attended?  Why did a stranger remind me of him right now, this minute?  And then I recalled how my rosary had turned gold at the very first Holy Hour I had attended with Fr. Hogan.  And thoughts of God’s presence again overwhelmed me.  This weekend He has something to say to me and I am hearing Him.  I think I shall add Fr. Hogan to my list of intercessors.

Early Sunday morning I had breakfast at the hotel and then went to the small adoration chapel on the college campus.  There were few people about.  The doors to the chapel building were wide open, and so as I read my morning meditations and prayed for God’s blessing on the day, I could hear the birds singing loudly nearby, and could see the sun’s light gradually entering the chapel, growing stronger, until the monstrance on the altar was bathed in bright sunlight.  My prayers and God’s answers seemed unusually focused, and with my pen I underlined many sentences in my readings, and wrote insights in the margins.

Strangely, it seemed at the time, my closing thoughts and prayers jumped to a couple of books I had purchased earlier in the week, which lay on the floor in the back of my car.  The thought seemed a distraction to my prayers, and I wanted to dismiss it, but the thought wouldn’t go away.  Finally I blurted out: “Do You have a purpose for those books, God?”  And I told Him I would take one of those books and offer it to whoever He pointed out to me this day.  And so I ended my prayers, stopped by the car to pick up the book, and went to the auditorium for the morning’s talks and mass.

I had only been there a few minutes when a man sat down in front of me, and turning around he noticed my name tag.  “Are you from Michigan?” he asked.  “My wife greatly enjoys the talks and books of a guy named Ralph Martin, who is from Michigan.  Do you know of him?”

“He’s in my parish,” I said.  Then he said: “We’re from Neenah, Wisconsin” --- a place I knew well; it is just down the road from where my mom and dad had retired for 30 years.  Both he and his wife knew the spot well.  And then they mentioned a Marian apparition site near Green Bay in Wisconsin --- which I have been making plans to visit soon.  That was enough.

I gave him the book I was carrying.  If this wasn’t the guy God wanted me to give the book to, I couldn’t imagine who might be.  You know, God doesn’t always have to slap me upside the head before I hear Him.   

As I wrote this in the auditorium, the Sunday talks are coming to a close.  And I thought:  “Perhaps there is something there too, that God wishes me to hear.”  This seems to be a weekend of His plans, not mine.  So I placed an order to get copies of those missed talks.


            - - - - - - - - - -

I think some people wonder why I attend the Steubenville conferences each year.  “A wasted weekend, same-ol’, same-ol’,” they might dismiss my travels.  Perhaps some wonder why I attend daily mass also:  same-ol’, same-ol’.  Perhaps in some ways it is; perhaps in some ways these things are an inconvenience to me (especially if you get stuck 2 hours on a hot expressway).  But if you are sincere in wanting to have God in your life, just what should you do?

I guess you could do nothing, or just say a prayer every now and again, and just wait for Him to act.  Or --- you could go into His presence, to places where His people gather, to places where He says He is.  And He might speak to you.

Or you could go off and just do what you want, and wait for God to throw you off your high horse, like He did Saul.  And maybe He will.

Or maybe He’ll wake you up one day from your sleep with a seizure to capture your attention.  These things happen, you know.

            - - - - - - - - - -

I was going to end this rather long post there, however perhaps that would leave you with some wrong impressions of my life.  The drive home Sunday night was uneventful.  I unpacked my car, got the mail from the neighbor’s house, and then sat down at my kitchen table to relax for a minute.

And I looked out the window and saw this:

I guess there had been a storm over the weekend, snapping off the large branch and crashing it on my deck furniture.  I don’t care to look for any damage right now; it’ll still be there when I get more energy to do something about it --- maybe next Thursday or so.  : - )

No, my life is not all miracles ---- but if this is the extent of the sufferings I am to bear, I will be most happy.