LET IT aLL sTART hERE
For Catholics who care...
Many of us have been transformed through Christ's involvement in our lives, and our involvement in His church. It is here that many of us have discovered what we have been searching for most of our lives, and, as a result of this, we want to share this found "treasure" --our joy-- with others. And, many of us have joined committees and groups at our parish to spread this Good News. Thus, we find ourselves wishing with all our hearts that: those who are wandering and lonely will come home. Still, we must remember that wishing is not enough, that prayer enjoys action.
The hope for the "prodigal" return is all well and good, but what steps are we willing to take "as Church" to create an environment that invites the lost and lonely home? Are we willing, so to speak, to walk our talk? Are we willing to give of ourselves, to others, the way Christ gives himself to us? Are we willing to make that effort?
I look around, and I see people in our community have many needs. I see people who are unable to recognize their own talents and charisms...so they remain unemployed. I see children who are raising themselves, because their parents are not much older than they are and they lack the proper training and life experience to grow a healthy family. I see people who have real challenges managing money because it is a life skill they were never taught.
These are only some of the problems that fill one's heart with despair. Often people who cannot cope, turn to drugs, alcohol and seek love in the "wrong places". They want to get numb, and to forget their unhappy lives for a while. I feel that this is where the Church can help the most.
If people knew they could find the support they need (not only money, but also training and positive energy) at the church, perhaps they would begin to trust, and would suspend their disbelief. And, perhaps, they would open their hardened hearts, providing The Holy Spirit an opportunity to enter.
And, then they would find their way home.
If we, as members of the church, would love them as their "Father" in heaven loves them; and, if we were to illustrate this through our own willingness to give completely of ourselves to build a HOME for them in our parishes...people would come back to church and would realize that this is where they belong. Then the cycle of love could begin again. The once lost and lonely could become Christ for others, as we once were for them.
“People are looking for love in all the wrong places, and they're thrilled to hear that somebody cares for them. And that's exactly what I'm saying: 'I care for you…. Can we pray together'?”
Have you had the inexplicable feeling that you should be doing something…but you don’t know what? Are you honest enough to admit to yourself that you haven’t really made a difference in anyone’s life lately... but you’d like to?
As Mother Teresa said: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
Why not decide right now to do some small thing that will have a great effect on a person’s life: Invite someone today to be your prayer partner.
You can choose the day and a time to meet in a church, in a park, or even on the back deck of your home. Create a ritual… light a candle, read a Gospel passage, or recite the words of an inspiring Saint. You can sing a familiar hymn together, or scribble an intention on a slip of paper and place it in the other’s hands. Try sharing your memories of what church was like for you; perhaps discuss prayer with your partner, and how each of you experiences God. Share your triumphs and tragedies…share your time and yourself.
But, by all means: Don’t refuse another's invitation to pray with them. The point is to step out of your comfort zone and do something for someone who might need your encouragement. Someone who desperately wants to find her way back to The Father, but does not know how to begin the journey.
Become trusting--as a child would be-- in letting your guard down, and invite someone to join you in prayer much the same way as you would have invited another kid to come and play during recess. No expectations. No rules; just a desire to be together, joyfully, as you guide each other toward God.
So, before you leave the Church this Sunday, choose a person you think might like to pray with you... and then go and ask.
The story you are about to read is true. Only the names have been omitted to offer anonymity. Not everyone who attends a 24 Adoration can expect to experience what is described below, but remember this: If one doesn’t place oneself before the Most Blessed Sacrament (in most cases, exposed), one may never get to experience Our Lord at work in such a poignant way.
So… come closer. Let me tell you the things that I had witnessed....
They gathered in the dark of early morning hours, like co-conspirators: the young, the old, the lame and the nearly insane. The church was quiet and filled with a golden light cast from a grouping of candles that surrounded the solar monstrance, the vessel intended to house Our Lord for the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. Pillars of light, kept vigil with Him through afternoon, evening and into night. And like good sentinels, these candles, dared not weary, dared not turn away from their assigned task and extinguish themselves. Our Lord would not ever have said to them: “So, could you not watch with me one hour?” These candles glowed triumphantly!
At the entrance of the church one man said: “Maybe He will show Himself to us tonight.” His companion, standing close by, nodded carelessly in agreement. She had never been in a church at this hour and there were things she did not understand.
They passed a Latin woman who had sat vigil since the Adoration began and she was now well into twelve hours of silent prayer. As they approached her, the woman did not falter, she did not turn from her whispered invocations. She did not care that anyone else had come to sit with Christ. Her veneration was enough…it was something between her and her Lord.
The two passed by a family that had come to worship together. Sleep filled the teenagers’ eyes, but their mother’s gaze was pointed with determination.
The two newcomers knelt as close to the altar as was allowed and bowed
their heads, reverently, as the melody of How Great Thou Art moved along the
walls of that hallowed place, like swirls of light. They had prepared, they had waited, they had sacrificed; and now they were there with their Lord.
Would He come and show Himself to them?
Suddenly, a man’s guttural voice, filled with sorrow, broke through the
trance of late hour, the hypnotic music and the solemn posture of the faithful:
“Oh my God”, he began, “I am heartily sorry
for having offended thee and I detest all my sins….”
Another woman raised her perfect voice in agreement and prayed with him:
“…but most of all because they offend you,
my God, who are all good….”
The man began to weep as strange voices joined his contrition. Their unity,
a force that raised the man’s tear stained words higher and higher into dark apex of the church, had the strength of many. He pleaded the rest:
“… and deserving all my love.
I firmly resolve, with the help of your grace….”
The small congregation sat for a long time, silently recovering from witnessing the pain and awe the man had shared. Then he began again:
“Our Father who art in Heaven….”
The 7 people, who sat silently in Adoration, picked up his words and carried them in the baskets of their hearts to the altar. This was faith! When the prayer was completed, the Sorrowful Man, having the authority given to one who carried Christ’s cross on his crippled back all his life
“Jesus show yourself to us. Come and
sit with us. Jesus, show yourself.”
He wrestled free from the arms of his aged, black leather biker jacket
and called out again:
“Jesus, show yourself to us!
Then his words fell away, like a stone in a deep well and only his careless companion could hear the sound of his labored breath mingling with the “p”…“l”…“z” of his desires. For a long time only a hymn, vaguely recognizable, could be heard in the church until the Sorrowful Man began his contrition again:
“Oh, my God, I am heartily sorry.… Please.
And then the perfect voice of a woman who had moved into the shadows away from the struggling man and his despair spoke:
“Be still…and know that I Am.”
The command restored peace to all. They sat together for a long time there after… grateful and listened hard for another chance to hear Christ’s voice.
I often think about what brings people to Church.
I do so in response to Pope Francis' invitation to participate in The Call To A New Evangelization. Of course, there are as many ways to bring people to Church as there are people. My personal role as a member of the Pastoral Council at our parish is to figure out what some of these ways are. How do we invite people who are searching for a place to worship to join our community of Faith; moreover, how do we inspire the absentee Faithful back into the parish? My goal is to encourage people to discover what I myself have discovered: That all we need can be found inside the doors of The Church. My Catholic Church is very much my home.
To begin to fill our Churches with people, parishes must become a "home away from home" for it's parishioners and members of the community. In this day and age, sadly, home does not define itself as it once did. For many, it is no longer where the heart is. Home, for some, is not comforting word, it does not describe a place where one feels safe, validated, cared for, appreciated, or the least bit loved. Nor is it a place where one can find help if needed. Many people-- and they may not even be conscious of it-- regard home as something like a motel, that is, a place where they only sleep and shower.
In some homes healthy relationships have not been established, there is no nurturing going on in the home, no life instructions given, and even less guidance provided. In fact, in some cases, family members are left more wounded then empowered by their experience of family life. We are finding that there are a great many "home-less" people who live in well constructed, warm houses.
Happily, I believe I have a prescription for this malady; a solution to the ever-growing, serious situation of half-empty Churches. If we can encourage people to sample parish life, and to experience personal, as well as spiritual growth; if we can offer them a "home away from home" people can recover. Once people have experienced The Joy of the Gospel for themselves, the Church, will in turn, help resurrect that "dwelling place"... that home , which psychologically has come to mean everything.
A woman is given a Bible as a Christmas gift. Minutes after opening the extravagant wrappings of red ribbon and elegant paper, a man who was looking on asked: "May I see your Bible? I would like to read the psalms."
What should the woman have done? Should she have said: "I'm sorry. No. I won't share The Word with you; even though I recognize your need. I can't. The book is valuable and somewhat fragile and must be preserved. I will take it home and put it in a place of honor...perhaps my coffee table." Or this: "By all means! Let's turn to the psalms right now. Take the Bible and read it. Keep it as long as you need to. I am happy to share The Word with you...."
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One of the most difficult challenges we Catholics are faced with is bringing about conversion in a world where many People don't believe that God exists at all. It is probably more difficult to evangelize in this day and age than when Jesus' original 12 disciples were sent out to spread the Good News of The Gospel. The fact is that in the beginning of the Christ phenomenon, the majority of people did believed in a god - in one form or another. And, it was their willingness to believe, and the gift of Faith, that motivated their quest for the Truth.
That being said, I believe one of the most demanding parts of our mission, when answering The Call to the New Evangelization, is to convert those people who already think that they are Catholic to (real or true) Catholicism. They are the people who vaguely remember their childhood catechism, who trip over the words of familiar prayers, and who bury a statue of Saint Joseph upside down in their backyard, or carry a Knight's of Columbus card in their wallets as though it were a "get out of jail free" card. They are the ones who say: I got my own thing going on with God.
How can we reach these folks? How do we encourage people - who think they are already Catholic - to redefine their experience so that Christianity (or being a true Christian?) informs their lives and guides their hearts? How do we convince the ones who do not see the need for, because they feel that they have already "jumped through the hoops" required of them by, the Catholic Church (being Baptized, attending Sunday Mass, and receiving an occasional sacrament ) that there is more to being a Catholic Christian than arbitrarily fulfilling the basic requirements of the Church? How do we help people find delight and amazement inside the framework of their Lives of Faith?
Christianity must return to that place in people's lives where it governs the way they see the world and it governs the way they live their lives and respond to one another. The problem is: No one enjoys being governed! So now what? In a culture where people have become their own god, how might we encourage them to eliminate that false idol so that one day they might turn and say: " My Lord and my God", and not be looking in the mirror?
Christianity is: The love of God and the love of neighbor.
What Christianity isn't...is the love of self.
Recently, I learned about "Pray 60", a campaign to encourage schools, leagues, and coaches to not schedule games or practices for kids until after 1pm on Sundays. (This is a play on the National Football Leagues "Play 60" exercise campaign for children.) I love the sentiment behind the efforts of this Grass Roots movement! I love how "Pray 60" wants to change the world one kid at a time by pushing back at the attempt to push God aside. I love how there are Believers out there willing to do all they can to stop the erosion of Faith. I love the energy and commitment Coach Thomas Cronin (of St. Joseph's Parish, Greenfield Center, NY) has shown in establishing this ministry. And I am offering this personal testimony on behalf of Cronin's declaration: "We love sports, but we love God more!"
When I was a young parent, if asked: What do I want most in the world? My answer was always: That my child be healthy and HAPPY!
That is not an unusual response for a mother to have. Most parents, if they truly embrace their role, model a happy life worth living. After all, we are our children's first teachers. Right? But this inexperienced mom of the 90's, despite the "How To" self help books, knows now that hell is paved with good intentions and that I had somehow missed the forest for the trees.
I was a huge proponent of the arts, education and of course sports! (I myself played basketball in school and later coached a Travel Basketball team.) Those activities were, I believed, a prescription for healthy childhood development. My 26 year old daughter has been the benefactor of Maria Montessori (Montessori School) and Rudolph Steiner's
Waldorf School) ideology on learning. She attended one of the best private high schools in the northeast...and she can say she keeps company with our nation's first Catholic president; his name appearing in her high school's alumni catalog. She was a Scout, played basketball, soccer, was captain of her lacrosse team and had a chestnut gelding that she rode regularly. I had embraced the 90's cultural sense of what good parenting involved: Keep the kid as active as possible to build a solid college application and in the mean time... keep her too busy to get in trouble.
So are you wondering where God was in all that?
Actually, we were so busy there wasn't time for God.
Yes, He was mentioned occasionally as an expletive. He made a cameo appearance at supper time; He came to comfort us at our bedside when saying a brief: Now I lay me down to sleep.... And we visited Him a couple of Sundays a month. 'Not a perfect Mass attendance, but at least we did what we could. I was satisfied with just satisfying the bare requirements of our Catholic faith.
What I didn't realize was that our obligatory, spotty Sunday visits to church and CCD classes were too little exposure to the source of happiness I had hoped for my daughter. I didn't really show her how to have a relationship with God because I didn't understand how to have one with Him myself. And I was too busy and she was too busy. So it seems that I failed to live up to my responsibility as a Catholic parent and to the promise I made at her Baptism. I didn't get it. I didn't know that her Baptismal promise ought to have been taken as seriously as wedding vows.
The Good News is that this doesn't have to become a common story. Every Sunday, in one form or another, the invitation to become a part of the parish body...Christ's body is extended. So trust the invitation, make time for God... set aside what you think you know is good for you and invite Jesus into the heart of your family. Learn how to pray. Pray without ceasing and don't permit outside sources to distract you from the time you and your family can spend learning about and giving thanks to God.
A hundred years from now... no one will care how your child's team made the playoffs. A hundred years from now your grandchildren will enjoy the benefits of the Legacy of Faith you worked hard to preserve. And both God and you will be pleased as you gaze down on them from Heaven.
I like to ponder koans. Because the effort to “solve” the riddle is intended to exhaust the analytic intellect and the egoistic will, readying the mind for a spiritual awakening. It gives one the opportunity to hear the voice of the Divine and a chance for
enlightenment. I need that.
Here is my attempt at a koan : The mass shooting that occurred in San Bernadino,
California, where 14 people were senselessly murdered is a sin; the refusal of our law makers to really do something to stop gun violence is a sin; the headline of the New York Daily News, the following day, that spit in the face of God and slapped the face of
the Faithful? 14 Dead in California Mass Shooting: God Isn’t Fixing This… is a sin . Which is most sinful?
There is no right answer to the koan: Sin is sin .
“ It is any action that harms the relationship we have with God and/or another person. It is choosing to act in away that pulls us away from God.” Contemplating these transgressions allowed
me to consider the origin of the sin committed in California and the origin of the sin that occurs, day after day, with the reluctance of our legislators to write appropriate laws prohibiting excessive manufacturing of firearms. To do so would
result in encouraging citizens to personally take responsibility for gun pollution in our country.
It has become obvious to me, that this type of violence is happening with more frequency because too many Americans really don’t know Christ, they don’t get His message and they don’t understand power of prayer.
As I readied myself to wrestle with the hand that penned the statement about God by means of this blog, I went to Mass and prayerfully asked the Holy Spirit to fill me with the right words to correct the offense that was committed yesterday with the wrong four words: God Isn’t Fixing This.
And God answered my prayers, lending me His words in today’s Gospel reading: “Jesus replied: ‘Let it be done for you according to your faith.’ ”
(Matthew 9: 29)
Saint Augustine of Hippo said: “Bad times, hard times…this is what people keep saying; but let us live well and times shall be good. We are the times. Such as We are, such are the times.” It is just that simple.
President Kennedy once told our Nation: “Here on earth God’s work must surely be our own.” The work has been clearly defined by the Son of God. The problem is too few Americans want to do it.
Jesus once asked: “However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” Sadly enough I must admit, He will not find enough of it and that is
why we are killing each other.
In September, hundreds of thousands of people filled the streets of Philadelphia the day Pope Francis celebrated Mass on Benjamin Franklin Parkway. They wanted a chance to see him “in persona Christi capitis” or “in the person of Christ the head.” Maybe, they hoped that by just laying eyes on him, he would have some effect on their lives, maybe they had wanted their presence to exclaim: Thank you Francis for all you have done for us! Maybe they needed to witness one of God’s modern day miracles in real time. Whatever their reasons…they came. People gathered from all over the United States: Those who believe and those who are just seekers and admires caught up in the Francis frenzy. Everyone loves a superstar!
Imagine the heroic effort that was required to just get the chance to breathe the same air the Pope breathed. Imagine the planning, the expense, the amount of time, effort and the discomfort some individuals may have endured just to have an opportunity to say they saw him. Have you asked yourself: Why was this so important to all these people? After all, he is not God! And I am asking you now: If you had a chance to see God would you make some such effort? Would you? Of course you would!
In his homily, that day our beloved Pope reminded the faithful that “much like happiness, ‘holiness is always tied to little gestures’.” He said too: “These little gestures are those we learn at home, in the family; they get lost amid all the other things we do, yet they do make each day different.”
Now, I will ask you this: If I were holding in my hand free passes for you to have a private audience with the pope, how many of you would wait on line for hours just for the opportunity to secure the pass? How many of you would get up at 1 am to start the journey toward the place where this holy man could be found?
As I revised this essay I could not help but hum the theme song from the 1970 rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. And I want to tell you all: Guess what...we actually have the “SuperStar” in our midst. So come on out to see him!
On December 4th and 5th , the first Friday and Saturday of next month (at Sacred Heart Parish, Stamford, NY), you’ve been invited, free of charge, to a private audience with someone who is greater than the pope, someone who is holier…someone who wants to be with you so that he might make a difference in your life. You have been invited to keep company with the only superstar that really matters: Jesus himself!
On December 4th at 3pm, Fr. Michael will expose the Blessed Sacrament: the real presence of Christ in His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, so that you may enjoy a visit with Him at some point during the following 24 hours.
Recall what Pope Francis said about ‘little gestures’. It is so important. Participating in our inaugural 24 Hour Adoration wouldn’t cost you as much as traveling to Philadelphia to see the Pope might have. Your making the special trip to come and just sit with Jesus for an hour is the kind of small gesture the Pope invites you to make and it tells the world: We remember…we celebrate…we believe!
Are we born or are we made peacemakers?
I wondered about this as the choir sung our congregation out through the open doors of the church and into the bright sunlight. I blinked and felt a bit sheepish as I sang along: “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”
I have never been known for being a peacemaker. As a matter of fact, I pride myself as being a warrior. In my world, if you didn’t fight you didn’t survive. I had dangerous childhood. I never felt safe. Later in life, I became a Domestic Violence statistic and I learned quickly to be threatening before I was put in the position to be threatened. It was like this: If my back was up against the wall I innately knew how to puff myself up, as a frightened bird would, to create the illusion of being big and bold and scary. That survival tactic, having had to rely on it more often than I care to admit, became a habit and then the habit became a way of life. I am tough and ready to strike back. Is it possible for me to become a peacemaker?
If I were to look inside the tool bag of a peacemaker what might I find? Would the bag be filled with words like these: “I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” or would there be the promise: “…Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God”? I think so. And inside the bag too, folded around Christ’s teachings, God’s Mercy would also be found-- for without His grace the peacemaker can do nothing.
Jesus is the ultimate arbiter. It is through His willingness to: Instruct the ignorant; counsel the doubtful; admonish sinners; bear wrongs patiently; forgive offenses willingly; comfort the afflicted and pray for the living and the dead, that we have a model of what it means to be Children of God. (The Church has come to identify these acts as The Spiritual Works of Mercy) Its quite simple: The peacemaker must be as merciful as Christ himself is.
Mercy, as it is considered here, is said to be a virtue influencing one’s will to have compassion for another. Compassion is needed for the black- hearted enemy as well as the persecutor for they suffer internal strife that far exceeds the harm they inflict.
Can I become a peacemaker? Yes, because nothing is impossible for God. But first I'll want to reach deep inside my bag and grasp the greatest tool God has offered me: love. I have His love, which gives me the grace to love. And if I choose to love God with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my mind and I can love my neighbor as myself (Matt 22:36-40), then I will become one of Jesus’ cherished peacemakers one day.
When you love a Catholic whose earthly journey is coming to an end: CALL A PRIEST!
When you work in the medical field or when you are caring for an elderly Disciple of Christ in a nursing home, take ownership of the duty and honor you have been given and pay attention to what that faithful person of God needs: CALL A PRIEST! Understand that for a believer it goes beyond what the body requires and at that point no one can help him but a priest. Remember this: There are no dress rehearsals in death...no second chances. So when you love a Catholic one way to show that love is to acknowledge his faith and understand what The Catholic Church teaches then CALL A PRIEST before it is too late.
Think of my words as an alarm sounding! Think of them as a piercing alert that will be followed by clear instructions. Or think of them as something like gong that breaks the silence to wake you up and get you to PAY ATTENTION to the needs of the dying Catholic and his soul.
If you love a Catholic you owe him that much. The spiritual needs of the sick and the dying at this point supersede all else and "the dying should be given attention and care to help them live their last moments in dignity and peace." (CCC, no.2299) The guardians of the sick and dying have a responsibility to their charges to provide the prayer that is necessary, and they"must see to it that the sick receive at the proper time the sacraments that prepare them to meet the living God." (CCC, no. 2299)
There is no way around this. If the Catholic's needs are forgotten, dismissed or ignored as he is dying, if his spiritual necessities are overlooked simply because the caregiver isn't a believer, isn't Christian, or isn't in agreement... then that is neglectful in its intent. And I say this because I have seen this; and I want to talk about it so that there are no more forgotten Catholics who leave this planet with an “un-punched” ticket.
Families and health care providers are obligated to do what is right for the dying Catholic and that begins with understanding his faith. It begins with having a dialogue with the Catholic to learn what he would like done, as well as what he needs done. I have been in hospital settings where a nurse, when questioned about calling a priest responded: "Well... we’ll get to that tomorrow I’m sure." (Tomorrow! If her house was burning down would she look for a bucket of water tomorrow?) I have also heard of healthcare facilities calling for a priest to come after the person has died. ("Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." ) Remember, sacraments can only be celebrated by the living!
Caregivers must be empathetic to the urgency of a dying Catholic's plight. But how does a person who does not believe in God find that empathy? Try this: If your home was on fire, if your house was burning down and you had less than two minutes to take what was most important to you, ...think of how might you feel? Remember that those feelings of panic and uncertainty are multiplied and heightened for the dying Catholic who believes with all his heart in the promises of
Christ. He needs your help to get ready....
The Catholic’s affairs must be in order and that means he must participate in The Sacrament of The Sick and Dying. He must participate in reconciliation, which can only be celebrated when a person still has the ability to communicate. More importantly, receiving communion as viaticum, which is what Last Rites are, is only possible while a person is still able to swallow, even if only a small piece of the Body of Christ, or a drop of his Precious Blood.
My prayer is that everyone reading this essay realizes something they hadn't thought much about before and remembers to always call a priest for the sick or dying Catholic.
Sunday morning, our small, quaint, usually joy filled Catholic Church in Grand Gorge, NY, was filled with many grieving parishioners. Women wept and men cast their eyes down, as men do in such moments, as our pastor shared the sad news of the untimely passing of our friend and fellow disciple, Dave Martin. Dave lived in the house directly across the street from St. Philip Neri, he greeted each day by gazing out his window at our church, and he was pleased. It was a dwelling that Dave knew well having been Baptized at its font and he considered “this” church his second home.
As Fr. Cambi spoke, I glanced over at the pew that was Dave’s place in our congregation and I could almost see him standing there in his St. Philip Neri “Got Faith?” T-shirt, and Levys with that ornate black belt that he always wore. For a long time Dave had a little girl with him who resembled Cindy Lou Hoo. She was his companion in Christ. She was his gift to God and to God’s people each Sunday. She was his granddaughter, Briell. And that little girl reminded us not only of how beautiful innocence is, but also how we need to restore or cultivate more of her child-like nature in ourselves. But, alas, the little girl moved away, so her place beside “Pa-pa” was vacant, and one could sense how much he missed her...how much we all missed her.
I mention Dave’s black belt because it was an unusual belt; as unusual as the man who wore it. I recognize now that, for me, it has become a symbol of this friend I met in Church. The years had distressed the strip of black leather. It was not pretty, but it was soft and had great character…like Dave. The belt was strong and durable and constant… like Dave. It was adorned with several silver conchae that were scuffed and chinked from life’s wear and tear, but still gleamed and reflected Light…like Dave. It was a cool-looking belt, and I had wanted it for myself for years. Dave was a cool guy, and had a quality about him that I wanted for myself as well: It was a joyful generosity that came from his 100 percent certainty that he was a child of God.
I walked the Rail Trail, past the cow fields, and through the mountain corridors of Upstate New York this morning and I asked myself this question: "Am I in love with Jesus?"
There is a lot talk about falling in love with Christ in Church and at spiritual trainings because, as I am told, that is the ultimate goal of a true disciple. As I walked on, I noticed spider webs that were cast like fishing nets in the branches of young saplings, illuminated by the culmination of early morning light and dew, and I identify my feelings for God: I know I am humble in the presence of our Lord; I believe in God enough to request that He “help my unbelief”; I honor and respect the Trinity; I admire and want to protect the God/Man called Jesus.... But am I in love with Him? No, I don't think so...at least not yet.
I had a dialogue with myself, considering this question and trying to discern what it meant to be in love with God. I began by identifying the prescription for being in love - something I have never done before because, too often, I just “fell”. Then, I reasoned that my lack of true devotion to God was based on my limited human-ness and I began to convince myself that if I am not in love with God, it is because we have never met!
Certainly, I have fallen in love with other men that I have never met, their reputations being enough. In my old life I was enamored with the writer, Henry Miller. I came to admire him - so much so, that I wanted to be reincarnated as the American author who was known as the pioneer of a type of autobiographical novel that involved character study, social criticism, philosophical reflection, sex, surrealist free association and mysticism. I often imagined what it would be like to take a walk with him, spend the evening in a pub with him, cook a meal for him, catch him misbehaving… watch him at his desk writing. I found myself searching for any information I could find about his life. I collected and read the words he wrote, studied his drawings, familiarized myself with memoirs written by his friends and associates, and I coveted the lilt in his voice captured in ancient recorded interviews. It was clear I had fallen for this man whom I had never met, a man who had died before I had even read the title of his famed novel, "Tropic of Cancer," aloud. Is this what causes one to fall in love? An insatiable curiosity? A fascination? An admiration? An attraction to qualities seen in another that one recognizes and appreciates in oneself? Lovable traits and characteristics that may go under-developed in you but are beaming from beloved?
And then, there was my preoccupation with the mystic, writer and Catholic priest, Thomas Merton. (I see Merton as Miller’s twin, if it were not for Merton’s open invitation to God. In "The Seven Story Mountain," Merton writes: “All I knew was that I wanted grace…and that I was helpless without God. It seemed that every step I took carried me painfully forward under a burden of desires….”) I read books by and about Merton. I studied photographs of him and I listen to his lectures, repeatedly, teasing out Merton 's own particular kind of brilliance. I chased after Thomas Merton in much the same fashion as I had Henry Miller. Merton died when I was 5 and not yet reading full sentences.
I mention Miller and Merton in contrast to my heretofore inability to fall in love with Jesus because my feelings for these “perfect strangers,” ironically, refute my explanation or defense: I never met Him!
I am thinking more about the task, no…the process…no… the act of falling in love with Jesus, the God/Man and I have come up with this: The obstacle to my pursuing Jesus as I have Merton and Miller, for example, may be the seemingly “un-godly” sexual implications involved with falling in love with God. That unspoken and understood place where lovers travel together to, seems inappropriate and wrong when Jesus is identified as the Beloved. Til now, for me, being in love has culminated with a union between lovers. I'm wondering: How is that possible for me to achieve? And must true love be realized only through the conjoining of the two who love? I am pondering all of this in my heart and I am realizing that a fear of intimacy and the surrendering what I know I want are the obstacles that keep me from a personal relationship with Christ.
I leave you with these questions to ponder as well and I ask you to apply the practices you exhibited the last time you fell in love as you turn toward God.
There comes a time, if one is paying attention, when patterns in one's life become undeniable. There is a... "ah hah!" moment. A time when one realizes what its all about. Some call it "enlightenment". Thomas Merton tells us that true enlightenment can only occur when a person recognizes, accepts and lives what God has willed. It is all in the action! But that topic is material for another blog. For now, I will say that I have arrived at a discovery that if I act upon it, can only be beneficial for me. I am sharing this with the hope that it will be helpful to you as well.
The change in my life that I am desperately in need of is based on my voluntarily submitting to "God's will of good pleasure."
From Philippians 2:13... we are told that: "...not in your own strength...
for it is God who is all the while effectually at work in you,
both to will and to work for His good pleasure and
satisfaction and delight. Do all things without grumbling and
faultfinding and complaining."
Do all things that we recognize as pleasing to God.
What I have slowly come to realize is that I must attempt to do what
I recognize is pleasing to God, for there is where the peace I have
been searching for is found. I understand now that it is a peace
that only Christ can offer me, because I have tried everything else.
In other words..."God's will of good pleasure" is about embracing,
gladly, what God has willed in my life. There can be no more
messing around, no more "swivel hipping" my way through
life in an attempt to realize "a happy ending." No more
pretending or posing. I must remain focused on the
concept of "God's will of good pleasure"...
then go deeper until I am walled up inside Christ.
For as St. Augustine once wrote: "I will not rest, until
I rest in Him."
Hoping that through the process of osmosis I will be able
to understand and embrace "God's will of good pleasure",
I have listened over and over again to the monk's voice
speaking God's truth as he, Merton, understood it.
(Thomas Merton on the 12 Degrees of Humility)
I listen as though my life depends on it... because more and
more it feels like it does! My turmoil, my lack of peace...
my anxiety is born out of my laboring, no... my wrestling
with God's will. I know that now and I believe that
a sick spirit comes from struggling with what the soul
already knows is good and right.
So I ask myself: Could it be that wresting with God
is the source of madness itself?
Because of the importance of this Sunday's Gospel reading which focuses on Jesus as The Bread of Life (John 6:51-58), I feel compelled to speak to a reply I often hear when the subject of attending Mass regularly is mentioned: "I don't have to go to Church. God is everywhere. I do my own thing. We have understanding he and I (noticed the lower case h)...I'm good." And then the discussion is over and the speaker leaves no room for any idea other than what he/she feels is true.
I always find these encounters unfortunate and sad because many times these same folks are also afflicted with "the dark night of the soul"; a real malady of spirit based on a person's life that has been invaded by despair. The fifteenth-century Christian writer John of the Cross described this experience in what I see as a hopeful way; he called it la noche oscura, or dark night, and explained that it is a difficult invasion of God's astringent grace to open us to new realms of spiritual experience. Many would call this "depression"...a Saint calls it opportunity.
Without participating in The Holy Mass, logically speaking...from start to finish...the idea of "being an Island unto one's self" doesn't, won't and can't work if one wants to be in just relationship to God. And why is that? Because without participating in Mass we are not able to live the Mystery of the Eucharist. Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you." He could not have been more clear.
In 1956 Thomas Merton addressed what he felt was "the whole problem" and I quote:
The whole problem of our time is the problem of love:
how are we going to recover the ability to love ourselves
and to love one another? The reason why we hate one
another and fear one another is that we secretly or openly
hate and fear our own selves. And we hate ourselves
because the depths of our being are a chaos of frustration
and spiritual misery. Lonely and helpless, we cannot be at
peace with others because we are not at peace with ourselves,
and we cannot be a peace with ourselves because we are
not at peace with God. ...In order to see something of the
meaning of the Blessed Eucharist, we must live the Mystery
of the Eucharist we must see God and adore Him in this
Sacrament (The Living Bread, pg. xii).
SO simply put...one can't live the Mystery of the Eucharist...see God and adore Him in this Sacrament if one remains outside the doors of The Church