Tuesday, July 15, 2014

How Can I Love My Neighbor?

The priest at Monday’s mass said there are two crosses we all must carry before we can love our neighbor.  The first is our self, and the second is our neighbor.
He told a story of his youth to describe the first:  “My sister lost her favorite pen, and she was crying.  I loved my sister and so I helped her look everywhere for her pen, but I couldn’t find it.  So I hugged her and said: Please don’t cry.  We’ll find it soon.  And a little while later, she stopped crying; she had found her pen and was happy again, and so was I.”
“Then I noticed something:  I had lost MY pen.  And when I looked at my sister’s pen it had some markings on it just like my pen did.  That’s my pen, I said.  And then she started crying again.  So I said:  Please don’t cry.  I won’t take it from you.  You can keep it.  That’s okay.  And she looked at me, and stopped crying.  And that made me happy.”
“But that’s my pen, I said.  And the crying started all over again.”
“Even as a kid I couldn’t overcome my desire to get in the last word and to prove myself right.  But if we are to love our neighbor, that’s the first cross we must carry, the cross of our desires.  In order to love, we must put our happiness second, to theirs.”
“And the second cross we must carry is similar to the first.  I loved my sister, and over the years I’ve gotten better at putting her happiness before mine.  But no man is alone on an island, except perhaps Tom Hanks in that movie.  There are other people who we all meet who are not so lovable.  Mother Teresa found them covered with maggots dying in the street.  We find them in our stupid co-workers, our crazy neighbor and his dog who leaves his stuff everywhere, and in all those texting drivers and loud people in the grocery store.  Who can put up with those people, much less love them?”
“We can --- and should.  We are called to put our feelings about them second, to bear this cross of the miserable people they truly are, and to love them anyway.  There really aren’t that many truly lovable people in the world --- maybe not even that person in the mirror --- but Jesus said to imitate me, and love them anyway, to pick up our crosses, and to love them.
                        - - - - - - - - - -
Oh God.  Oh … God!  Why can’t I just die?
I was visiting a friend’s mother in the rehab clinic over the weekend.  In the bed next to her, a woman was drifting in and out of a restless sleep, and moaning in pain.  Ooooo … It hurts. …. If I could just have a sip of water …  And when I heard those words, I went over to her side, took her cup and put the straw to her lips.  Thank you, she said.  Her eyes opened slightly, and she looked at me.  I’m Tom, I said.  I’m Ann, she murmured.  I’m sorry to be a bother.  Old ladies like me just need to die.  I smiled at her and said:  Pretty ladies are never a bother for me.  And for a brief moment, she smiled, and then went back to sleep.
And in the days I’ve been going there, her pain and her grief have continued. 
And no one visits her.
                        - - - - - - - - - -
The deacon leading the Communion Service this morning spoke after the Gospel.  “Please pray for my brother-in-law,” he said.  “He died last night of a sudden heart attack.  It was a blessed death, though, because he was a priest and he died at a gathering of priests and medical people, and so he received the Last Rites, and comfort in his last moments.” 
But then the deacon continued: But he and I didn’t get along.  I’m very orthodox and he was very liberal, and we often disagreed on the importance of Church teachings.
And I thought:  The man has died.  You asked us to pray for him, and still you had to get in the last word about your feelings.  And I wished this deacon had heard the priest’s words yesterday, about bearing our crosses, and loving anyway. 
But,  ….sometimes we can’t conceive that some things are part of God’s plan, and perhaps I needed to hear the deacon’s words, to act as a reminder to me:  Loving our neighbor isn’t an easy thing --- for anyone.
As I left the Communion service, I was stopped by a woman entering the chapel:  Please pray for me, she said.  Things are very dark, and I don’t know what to do.  I’ve lost my job because of my depression.  My husband had lost his job because he’s going blind.  And now I have to sell our house and find somewhere else to go.  I hugged her and asked:  What help are you getting?  Do you have children?  She replied:  They think we should work this out ourselves.
I promised to pray for her, and asked her to email me details.  Perhaps there is more I might do, even if just to listen --- to love in some way, someone who so needs love.
A short while later, at the men’s prayer breakfast, the coordinator asked:  “Are there any prayer intentions today?”  When it was my turn to speak, I mentioned the plight of the two women, and I asked that we pray for those who feel alone and unloved.  “Everyone needs to feel loved,” I said.  The men agreed, and so we prayed for all of our various intentions.  But as we were praying, the prayer card from my mother’s funeral appeared in front of my eyes, and I recalled the earlier words of the priest on how love is given.
With the men, I prayed the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Glory Be, but then I saw the prayer on my mother’s card.  How I wished we could have prayed THAT prayer.  It was not a prayer calling for the Father, or Mary, or the Trinity to love the people we prayed for.  It was a harder prayer, like the priest said, a prayer that we could bear our crosses, so that then WE could love them.

The Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi
Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace.
Where there is hatred let me show love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grand that I may
not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Review: Made For Love, Loved By God

Fr. Peter John Cameron wrote this book, I believe, as a result of much meditation on God’s love for us, and how He would desire us to love --- like Him.  I thought of ways to summarize or comment on his words and insights, but all I can do is provide some examples of his words --- words which often caused me to ponder, and pray:

  • Jesus knows how we can be:  like those people who madly rush around cleaning the house on the morning that the maid is coming.  We are ashamed to let others see our mess.  … The last thing God wants is for us to try to fix ourselves before allowing Him into our lives.
  • Nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus speak the words: “I love you,” … yet throughout the Lord’s public ministry people are convinced that Jesus loves them.  Why? 
  •  My friends are God’s gift to me in proof of His love for me. 
  •  (from a poem by St. Therese of Lisieux): I could find no creature who could always love me and never die … O Heart of Jesus, treasure of tenderness, … stay near me till the last night. 
  •  The moment we start to love, the specter of suffering arises.  Why?  Because to love you means I never want to lose you.  Losing you would bring on unimaginable suffering.   But the only way to avert the suffering of loss would be not to love you in the first place.  Not an option --- that’s even less bearable. … Pain is part of being human.  Anyone who really wanted to get rid of suffering would have to get rid of love before anything else. 
  •  The perfection of God the Father consists in His mercifully loving others who deserve love not at all.  … Is this possible for me?  Pope Benedict XVI answers yes! 
  •  Peace is the grace that blesses us with the facility to enter into a new and lasting friendship with others, especially those from whom we were formerly estranged. … How exactly do we “make peace”?  By engaging in intentional acts of charity.

Fr. Cameron concludes his book with a prayer of St. Catherine of Siena, which reads in part:
Eternal Goodness,
You want me to gaze into You
and see that You love me. …
So that I may love everyone
with the very same love….

What then shall I do
to come to such a vision?
I shall strip myself
of my stinking garment,
and by the light of my holy faith
I shall contemplate myself in You.
And I shall clothe myself in Your eternal love.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Review: The Discernment of Spirits

Why do I feel so far away from God?
Nothing I do is ever important.
Prayer is boring; it doesn’t seem to be working.
I want God, but He doesn’t seem to want me.
I’m a failure as a Christian.
Maybe I shouldn’t be in this chapel.
God wants me to be unhappy, and I should just accept it.
I’m just too tired to pray.
With these and other words of saints and would-be-saints, Fr. Gallagher illustrates examples of the work of evil spirits in our lives --- and even in the lives of saints.  He uses words from their personal journals to illustrate the highs and lows of life --- and he makes very clear that the spiritual highs (consolations) are from God, while the spiritual lows (desolations) are not from God.
The book, The Discernment of Spirits, explains one by one St. Ignatius’ fourteen rules “for becoming aware and understanding to some extent the different movements which are caused in the soul, the good, to receive them, and the bad to reject them.”  The book’s subtitle says it is “an Ignatian guide for everyday living,” and indeed it is.  I found Fr. Gallagher’s examples to be ones I could readily relate to, and the “rules” clearly explained.
Ignatius’ Rules 1 and 2 distinguish physical actions/feelings from spiritual ones, and notes that they ARE related (physical weariness, for example, can lead to spiritual weariness).  Rule 3 describes how we feel consolations, like the tears I often shed.  Rule 4 describes desolations, a “lack of confidence,” while Rules 5 through 9 describe the causes and what to do when you are in desolation, and are “under attack.”  I found Rule 6 very enlightening:  when in desolation do not change the spiritual practices begun while you were receiving consolations --- while you are being influenced by evil spirits is not the time to make spiritual changes!  Rules 10 through 12 describe how you should act when receiving consolations, including your plan of attack for when desolations again arrive, as they will.  Fr. Gallagher clearly shows how EVERYONE’S life has spiritual ups and downs, and you can AND SHOULD count on it --- and not be anxious.  : - )
Rule 13 brings forth another key point in discerning actions of the evil one:  “he conducts himself as a false lover in wishing to remain secret and not be revealed.”  Whether because of your fear of embarrassment or because of doubt, the enemy will encourage you to “go it alone.”  Like hiding adultery from your spouse, or fearing to ask a stupid question of your boss, the enemy wants you to worry --- and not talk things over with another friend (or priest), but figure things out on your own --- like making some major changes in your spiritual practices, which is EXACTLY what Rule 6 says you should NOT do.
Finally, Rule 14 notes that often a good offense is a good defense, and that we should search out our spiritual weak points --- before the enemy does --- and strengthen them.
“Ignatius here provides an unparalleled resource for overcoming what is generally the major obstacle faithful persons encounter in their efforts to grow spiritually:  discouragement, fear, loss of hope, and other troubling movements of the heart.”  This book explains how to be aware of our inner spiritual experience, to understand the stirrings of our heart and to take action (accept that of God, and reject that not of God).  In the end, the goal is moving the direction of our lives closer to God’s will.
I have lots of underlines in this book!  If one of those opening statements is one you’ve felt at one time or another, this book will help you to distinguish and understand your physical and spiritual feelings – and do something about them, something that will change your life for the better.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

St Thomas, My Namesake

Bring your hand and put it in my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe
Jn 20:27
What will it take for YOU to really believe; to be CERTAIN of Christ’s presence in your life?
                        - - - - - - - - - -
Some of my friends know of the miracles in my life.  They say I am so blessed.  Yes, indeed.  But one is astounded at the very concept of miracles, and when she hears of one today all she can say is: “How strange!”  Yes, indeed, it is strange that God should love us, (and even me!!) so much.
I used to be ashamed of St. Thomas, the apostle, and his unbelief.  I deliberately took St. Thomas of Aquinas as my namesake, my model in my youth; I didn’t want to be thought of as one who doubted.  But, with age there comes wisdom.  I realize, now, how much the apostle and I are alike.  And so this day, his feast day, I prayed to him.
I always pray that I might live my life as a servant of Our Lord, being who He created me to be, imitating what HE would do, to be “an instrument of Thy peace.”  Some days He gives me consolations (sometimes, even miracles!), and an awareness of His presence, and it gives me great joy.  Yet even in that joy, there is that temptation of my thinking that it is somehow deserved: “Yes, perhaps in some small way I really am successful in imitating Him.”  Pride never leaves me alone.  Yet if I think on these matters, --- and, better, if I pray on them --- I can see the truth of things.
What do I really think about my imitation of Christ --- and indeed what do I think about ANY imitation?  That cheaply-made foreign copy of a Ford-designed vehicle --- what do I think of that imitation?  And what of the imitation artwork I so often see, plastic statues or fuzzy pictures, or even what of imitation sugar?  “Not as good as the original,” I think.  “That’s crap,” I often say.  And what do I think about imitation gods that we are counseled against?  “I don’t worship those,” I say.  And therefore, what do I really think about my attempts at imitation of Christ and His life?  If I were honest, I would say “crap” again.  And relative to any joy at my efforts, should I ever take joy in crap?
How can I, on some days think I am worthy of God’s blessings on me?  I sometimes donate to a good political candidate, and celebrate his victory should he be elected.  What if eventually that politician should become president, and what if he one day returned to his home town and knocked on my door.  Opening it, seeing him there, and looking at all the cameras and reporters staring at me --- what would I say?  If he said: “This is one of the guys who helped me accomplish all I started out to do” --- how would I respond?  Surely it would be most humbly.  But what if the pope came to visit my town, and did and said as the politician did?  What would I say to him?  “Oh Holy Father,” I’d say, “Who am I that you should visit me?  I am no one important; just a servant.”  And I’d wish the cameras would go away.
Who am I, indeed.
And so, what if God Himself came to my door?  Would I wonder, as I sometimes do now: “well, perhaps I am imitating Him in some small way” and so His visit is justified?  No, if I REALLY realized God was at my very door, someone so much more important than any pope, I think I would REALLY say and mean:
Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof.
And then I would appreciate the feelings and humility of my namesake, St. Thomas the apostle, when Jesus asked him to put his hand in His side --- when He offered Thomas this consolation, this proof, of His existence --- and of His love.  Then I’d understand the meaning of true faith, and the humble plea:  But only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.
St. Thomas, please pray for me, that I might
believe without seeing, that I might act
without seeking consolations, and that
I might ALWAYS find joy in the Lord,
and in what He has done for me.