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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Question at the Back of Our Minds

It's an interesting conundrum that we have the luxury to spend time in our day thinking about if we are really using that day well, really "living." It was not so long ago that people simply had to work to live. I'm not arguing that they had a better quality of life, as I have never had to work the earth just so that I can eat. Yet, the stress we create for ourselves in a culture of leisure is interesting. It's as if we do not want to lose touch with our forefathers' way of life, since we know they worked so hard to make our lives possible. Yet, we do not live the same way that they did.

It begs the question, will our grandchildren be worrying about whether they are "living life to the fullest"?

A quote from the HBO "John Adams" comes to mind:
"I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain."

So what is it that keeps eating away at the mind, that little tick that you can't seem to get rid of? Or do we not all feel that impulse to "do more"? Perhaps it is a personality trait more than it is a universal norm for man. Yet, I feel convinced that we all have a natural inclination to feel that we must go, or do, or see, or create.

What is this impetus? Perhaps it has something to do with the natural order. Consider our position in the natural world, in the food chain. The dog comes to man because he is in need of a master, just as that dog may very well be capable of being a "master" to sheep or some other herd of animals. Even within humanity, children are not only disciplined because it brings about good behavior. Children need boundaries, need guidance. We carry that need for parameters with us into adulthood. We may obey civil laws, moral laws, natural laws, personal laws - yet we are subject to some things higher than us whether we acknowledge their power over us or deny it. The earthquake, for example, will still shake the earth whether or not we admit that it cannot be controlled.

So if we are over a great many things in the natural world, which we are, such as the inanimate objects and the lesser animate creatures (vegetable and animal life), this dominion requires a response from us. Every relationship requires a response from us. We begin with the most basic of relations - the dependent child to his or her mother. Every relation we have from that point on, whether sought out or "by birth," is one that puts a demand on us. We are free to foster, nurture and grow that relationship, or we are free to ignore, deny and hurt that relationship. Yet, any reaction to it is a response, and so we see that we are never really free from relation as long as we live.

This relation that extends to the animal and vegetable world is real as well. We have a dominion over them. This dominion can be exercised with responsibility or with cruelty, as we know. There are many in our day and age who are very familiar with this dominion, as it is a part of their livelihood. Whether they raise animals for food or grow crops or have some other share in bringing forth natural resources from the earth, they are well aware of their situation in the natural order. They also are aware that while they may be on top of the "food chain," they are still subject to nature as created and natural beings.

I am beginning to think that perhaps some of modern man's confusion with his use of his time and life comes from a detachment from the natural world. I do not mean this to be an accusation that technology is bad or has stolen something precious. I would not be able to share these thoughts if I did not have modern technology at my fingertips. Yet, I do think that we may not realize just how connected we really are to the world, and I believe this may be part of that "natural impulse" that we find stressful or confusing.

The relationship we have to the natural world is present because we are creatures who are born into this world. While we are the only rational animals, the only ones with reason and free will, that does not negate that other creatures are living beings to whom we have some relation - one of dominance but in turn, one of caring and nurturing. It is the stewardship that we have been given for the earth and her creatures that I believe presses upon us at times. I am beginning to believe that it is this particular "demand" made upon us by an existing relationship (to the natural world) that we do not always know how to respond to. When we feel that we need to "do" something, to "go" somewhere, to "make" something or "create" something... I believe this has something to do with our lifestyles that remove us from the natural order.

Certainly, we cannot all go and farm. Many of us do not have the ability, the money, the talent, or even the desire. Yet, there are so many small ways that we can still participate in that dominance and stewardship. Growing some herbs in our kitchen window, some boxed vegetables in our back yard, raising a pet, being part of a community group that cares for public parks and forests, etc... are all small but real ways we still "give back" something. Even simply admiring the beauty of nature from time to time - walking, exercising, hiking, boating, swimming, etc... and enjoying not only the activity but the world that makes the activity possible. Small moments of appreciation can foster a greater understanding of the gift that the world really is.

There are many other just and viable answers to the "question at the back of our minds" concerning what we are doing with our lives and if we are "really living." I am not exploring all of them here. I think the most frequent (and often the most accurate) answer given concerns our relationship with God and our response to his invitation to know him, love him and serve him. But here I wanted to explore another piece of the puzzle, one that I think is legitimate. Perhaps we can begin to answer a larger question by answering a smaller question - that is, by understanding our relationship with the world and its creatures and by exercising our stewardship over them, we can then better understand ourselves in context to God who is the creator of all of these things and ourselves, and who has deigned that we be the stewards over his creation. Also, in exercising our stewardship and dominance, we find a small imitation of God who made us in his image and likeness. He is the Creator and yet he allows us to share in that power by things such as growing plants that bear fruit. It is a small participation, to be sure, but it does help us to better know ourselves and our Creator.

Perhaps we are to a point in history that John Adams did not include in his thoughts. We have reached the point where man can study all of those things if he desires, or at least, some men are so privileged. Therefore, as some men have the luxury to determine what it is they will spend their lives pursuing, it seems that some may need to choose those "less fine" arts so that those arts will not be lost and so that mankind will continue to benefit from their existence. While it is a luxury to study painting, we cannot all study painting, for how will we eat? Likewise, the world still needs philosophy and natural history, even if it benefits from poetry. Therefore, it only means that we must work for a balance in a world where we have such privilege, to maintain ever reaching for great heights while simultaneously holding fast to those foundations upon which our current culture stands.

Perhaps most of us, we must keep asking ourselves the same question, revisiting it time and again throughout our lives... are we really living?

Monday, May 18, 2015

Sacred Heart of Jesus

St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, in a vision of Christ revealing his Sacred Heart

The Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a special time for all people to recall the nature of the love of God, a love that is so real and so potent that it is the essence of God himself. It is a love that is often referred to as the third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. It is also revealed to us by God himself taking flesh and coming to us as a tiny child in the Incarnation. The love of God has been revealed to us as something that changes substances; something that makes old things new and dark things light. It is a love that purifies, a love that challenges, a love that leads. It is a love that demands sacrifice, even as it gives unconditionally. 

As St. John teaches us so beautifully:

"Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.
This is how we know that we remain in him and he in us, that he has given us of his Spirit. Moreover, we have seen and testify that the Father sent his Son as savior of the world. Whoever acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God remains in him and he in God. We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us.
God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him. In this is love brought to perfection among us, that we have confidence on the day of judgment because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love. We love because he first loved us."

Sometimes we need to sit back and remember that the holiness we are called to by our baptism - that call to live for the Lord that can sometimes be so challenging - has at its core a gaze. A gaze of love. A gaze of love for a Heart that has gazed at us since the moment of our conception. A Heart that has always gazed upon us with love, even in the times we have been furthest from returning that love. As that Heart loves us, it draws us. "I drew them with human cords, with bands of love; I fostered them like those who raise an infant to their cheeks; I bent down to feed them" (Hos 11:4). We need only to look back, to return the gaze. To be within that love that he is generously giving.

To love is an act of the will, and also engenders many acts of service... yet, initially, it is a reception. Allow him to gaze upon your heart... allow him to love you, and look him back in the eyes. Recognize that Heart as the source of your life, the source of hope and the source of joy. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

What is Truly Priceless

Diving right into my thought for the moment, let's talk about human life. 

This morning I saw a tweet from Planned Parenthood praising Obamacare and the ACA for making women's "healthcare" accessible to all. Not only that, but they were emphasizing the "free" aspect. They referred to it as "priceless," which is only somewhat true. 
Yet, it wasn't the issue of healthcare that stirred something in me, but the question of what was being considered "priceless." 
The tweet read, "Birth control: $0. Cancer screenings: $0. Well-woman exams: $0. Affordable access to care: priceless."

You see, when I think about the main services offered by Planned Parenthood (abortion), the thing that comes to mind (before cancer screening) is human life. Particularly, children. Even more specifically, innocent, defenseless babies. 
It just seems more than a little contradictory to be praising the care of women as a priceless gift but at the same time to be benefiting financially from the death of children (which includes women). 

I have never been in a crisis pregnancy situation. I made a choice to not be sexually active until I was a married adult. Therefore, my experience of pregnancy, while full of the natural hardships, was not one surrounded by fear or doubt. However, having witnessed first hand my daughter rapidly growing inside of me and rapidly growing after she was born, I can quickly attest that there is nothing more important to me than her well-being. I can say with 90% accuracy that I would have had a very hard time deciding to give her up for adoption if I had been in a situation where I could not give her the care that she deserves... but I can say with 100% accuracy that if I truly could not care for her - if I couldn't feed, clothe and educate her - than I would absolutely find someone else who could before I could ever kill her. 

What is priceless is life. Children have their share of burden, of course. No child is easy to care for. Yet, nothing about this life is truly "easy." Whether we have it "made in the shade" or not, we all know that suffering is real. Everyone carries with them some form of heartache. Yet, when we embrace those challenges and work through them, we find ourselves SO MUCH stronger than before. Raising my daughter has completely changed me. I would have said that I was a strong woman before I had her, but I had no idea how much love was really inside of me. Daily, I feed her before I feed myself. I dress her before I dress myself. She gets a bath, I might get a shower. But that is exactly what I want for her. I see her life stretching out in front of her and I want her to live it! It will have its share of sadness and hardship, but it will also be full of beauty and love. That is what every single child deserves, no matter what the circumstances are of his or her conception or the circumstances of his or her parents. 

So basically, choose life. Choose adoption if that is what is the most loving choice. But do not let the voice of Planned Parenthood tell you that what they offer is priceless... the priceless gift is the little one living inside of you! Caring for that tiny person is the most priceless gift you can give in return.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Go With Him the Extra Mile

"Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles." (Matt. 5:41)

Sometimes I wonder if Jesus thought about Simon helping him to carry his Cross at the moment when he said that statement during his Sermon on the Mount.

What is brewing in my heart is the figurative "carrying of the cross." This is directly linked with some meditation on the Scripture concerning Our Lady: "And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart" (Lk 2:19). Mary, from the early moments of the conception of Christ by the Holy Spirit, finds herself the keeper of something special.

I wish there were words to express how I understand this. Analogously, she was given a garden to tend, a special, secret place, set aside from the eyes of the world. She was the guardian and protector of that little piece of land, and her charge was to keep it safe and to bring forth fruit. She tilled the soil and watered the ground as best she could, until she began to see the fruit of her labor springing up. And then when that fruit was ripened, she gave it away, that it might bring the nourishment to others that it was intended to give. She let go of something that she had spent years working on, caring for, guarding and tending, so that it could go and die. And in death, the seeds which were within it spread themselves far and wide, so that there was a rich harvest of new life brought forth from its death. And in that way, she saw the fulfillment of her work taking even greater measures than she could have hoped for when she first started to work. All of this, she kept in her heart. All of this work, growth and death, she witnessed with the eye of her mind and understood in the wisdom of her heart.

In the practical, Mary did experience what all pregnant women experience, which is a unique understanding of allowing life to grow within you, a life that is intrinsically linked to your own, and inherently dependent on you, and yet... is absolutely separate. There is a mind and heart, a body, organs, blood running through veins that are not yours; yet, they can only be there because of your mind, heart, organs, blood and body. It is a strange balance of a deep bond that is still separated by two bodies. Even while Our Lady had the Son of God growing and developing in her womb, she knew how completely "his own" he was. Even while she scarified her public status, her physical comfort, her appetite, her previous freedoms, all for the sake of the little being inside of her, she also knew and understood that this being was not hers.

This understanding of the unity between the mother and the child, but also the true and real distinction, followed and continued to grow in her heart as her child was born and matured. The Son, who at one time could not live without her physical presence, would grow to be a man who was completely independent of her. It is the human condition. Yet, she kept these things and reflected on them in her heart. I think it is safe to say that even when Jesus was far from her, traveling, preaching, teaching, living an independent life, she still knew something of that interior sense of union that she knew while he was inside her womb. I think this is what it means to "keep someone in your heart." Presumably, the most unique or profound experience of this "keeping someone in your heart" is possible for a mother and child. But even for those who simply love someone else, this is possible.

It is the profound "holding someone in your heart," even if they do not know of your love, or do not want your love, or simply cannot appreciate your love, that is what I think of concerning "going the extra mile" with someone. Many people, really all people, suffer. Many, or all, of the people we know and are acquainted with will carry heavy burdens at one point or another. Perhaps we will be able to help them. Perhaps the circumstances will allow us to make them meals, send cards, spend time with them to help them cope, give them a hug, etc... Perhaps the circumstances will be that we are hundreds of miles away, and we really cannot be a physical presence to them in their time of sorrow. What then?

This is where we can still go another mile with them, even if it is only in our hearts. We can carry them within. We can lift and shoulder the burden with them by remembering them in our prayers. We can make sacrifices and offer penances for their sake. We can turn daily to the Lord with our petition, and present them to him for healing, consolation, mercy and love. We can say, in essence, "Lord, as long as I live, and as long as I breathe, let each breath be part of my prayer to you for that person, for his or her sake." We can bear them in our mind and heart as we go through our daily work. In each circumstance, whether it is a joyful one or a sorrowful one, we can thank God and petition him on their behalf.

Is this not what a mother has to do for her child? Is that not what it really means to live for someone else? To go another mile with anyone, be it a spouse, a sibling, a parent, a child, a friend, or even a stranger, is to accept that the first thing we can do is to welcome that person into our hearts. Perhaps there are many other very real and physical things that we can do for that person. Perhaps there is nothing material or physical that we can do for that person. Either way, the first thing we must do is to take them into our hearts. There we can tend a little garden of empathy, of understanding, of patience, of mercy, of forgiveness, of prayer, of solidarity in suffering. There we can be a balm for the wound they bear, even if unknown to them.

We have to have faith, a faith that can bear fruit, so that what we bring into our hearts we offer to God for his cultivation. We have to imitate our Blessed Mother in bearing with her Son from the moment that his tiny body was growing within her until his body was pierced for us all on the Cross. Even there, her faith allowed her to hold the darkest of sufferings in her heart and to return it to God. And the seed that died bore such an abundant harvest! We have to believe that God can and will do good things with the prayers and petitions we offer, even if we never know about the fruit that comes from it.

Let us not be afraid, let us not even hesitate, to hold others in our hearts, and to go with them each mile that they need.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Culture with Double Standards

So, I'm not sure how many of you have been paying attention to pop culture lately, but Miley Cyrus has "wowed" everyone with her display's at the VMAs and also in her new music video.

However, sadly, most people probably just flipped the channel or had a good chuckle at how ridiculous it all was, before moving on to more interesting things.

This, my friends, is a problem. A serious one, too. There's a fine line between being "desensitized" to things that we see or hear consistently in a culture full of music, video, dialogue and ongoing movement, and being "desensitized" to the point that we don't apply any common sense.

The downward spiral of women being excessively sexualized to sell their music, videos, movies, etc...may seem like nothing new. It's been years in the making, right? Ever since women have been "liberalized," they have felt that great freedom to express themselves in ever creative, and revealing, ways. Right?

It seems to me that this is a false notion. It seems that if we apply some common sense, we might notice something. A young woman who has a talent for music, dance or acting, but who does not have any interest in being sold as a public prostitute through the media, may not make it very far. That is a reality. That does not seem like freedom or liberty. That seems like a very specific pigeonhole that one either has to accept or reject. Those who accept, like Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Miley, Katy Perry, Selena Gomez and the many others, are all doing the same thing. They are being sold by their bodies. They are selling products on sexual appeal, on sexual expression, on sex. They are not selling products because of their quality, talent, creativity and ingenuity. (And need I mention, for those things to sell, there has to be a market. There are consumers who create this demand and keep it going.)

There are some women artists who are able to maintain a somewhat decent amount of fame and success and also maintain their own decency in terms of their bodies... but the reality is that they are still not ever going to enter the "upper crust" of the market unless they decide to forsake some of their decency for racy and risque expression. This is what I see as such a problem.

There will always be artists who desire to be shocking and revealing and who feel that their value and worth really is only in their sexual appeal and sexual expression. That is a very sad situation, but I don't think it is likely to change. However, there is a wide gap between those who truly desire that sort of expression and those who feel they have no other choice if they wish to be competitive and successful. (I'm setting aside the question of "if you know that's the market, why get into it in the first place?" Let's assume these artists are in it to win it, and look at the bigger picture.)

The larger picture is that the same culture that decries sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, rape, incest and other such horrible crimes (and for very good reason), the same culture that defends young women in foreign cultures from sexual abuse and from forced child marriages or other instances where a woman is likely to be abused, that same culture demands that the entertainment world provide women in soft porn situations in every level of artistry, music, movie, video, etc...

HELLO. Again, we through common sense out the window when we decided we were desensitized. The effect of consistent and similar experience that causes us to have our senses dulled to what we are experiencing should not translate to our purposeful ignorance and relativistic tolerance of something that is inappropriate!

What on earth can we expect a young girl of middle school age to think at this point? She has been told that all of those abuses I already mentioned are terrible things. Yet, she sees women constantly being marketed as only sexual objects. The ads from underwear to potato chips include women barely covered, and often the actions and body language of the models and actresses is more suggestive than the clothes they aren't wearing. What does that translate to in the mind of a thirteen year old girl? "If I want to be beautiful, if I want to be desired, I have to be like that. Because she is so desirable. So therefore, that is what will make me desirable." Is there anything being taught to this child about how to protect herself from abuse? How to value herself as a person? How to realize her worth both in the beauty of her body and in the many talents she has, and her intelligence? Is she really to understand her self worth as only the physical body when it is being seen and lusted after?

That is precisely what our culture had decided. Despite the many who cry out against the abuse of women that still continues today, there are just as many who cry for the "freely accepted" abuse of women through contemporary media and entertainment. This is a double standard that cannot continue.

A woman is beautiful. A woman should understand her beauty in her body, certainly. That is a very important part of what it is to be womanly. Yet, that is only a part. Every woman is still a person. Every person has a mind, soul and body. Every person is comprised of both the spiritual and the physical. We are never just a body, just as we are never just a mind. The person must be understood for the whole. A woman who is only valued for how she looks scantily clad or undressed, is not being valued appropriately, and is suffering a form of abuse that everyone just accepts because it has become "commonplace." It should not be. It cannot remain so. Our culture has a responsibility to every woman, and especially every little girl, to wake up and realize exactly how far down this road we have gone. It is much, much too far.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

To Want, or Not Want, A Pregnancy

So I apologize for a long happens. 

However, to dive back into some curious intellectual stimulation, I have a little article to share with you. In summary, it is a young woman who decided to do a social experiment on a college campus by wearing a baby suit for a few days to record the reactions of other students. She wanted to see if a baby would be as well-accepted and celebrated on a campus as Prince George was for Kate and William. Her thesis after the experiment of the college/university mentality was this, “It’s ok to have sex, but an unwanted pregnancy is still considered shameful.” (Please feel free to read the whole article, as it will help with the context of this post.) 

I began to think about this article more, beyond the disappointment that this young woman experienced in her social rejection. Why was it that she was shunned, exactly? It seemed as if people felt like she was infectious, or somehow could spread her "condition."

This lead me to consider why it is that people would assume that her pregnancy is a disease, or a condition, rather than... a pregnancy. The logical answer was that the assumption was based on the desirability of the child. Kate and William wanted to be pregnant - therefore, pregnancy is a normal state, even a good one. A young student couldn't possibly want to have a child - therefore, the pregnancy was a disease. 

This thought process was also enhanced when I heard of a MSNBC host who stated that the beginning of life could not be determined by science. Her exact quote was, "When does life begin? I submit the answer has an awful lot to do with the feeling of the parents, a very powerful feeling, but not science...." (Please feel free to watch the video.)

This seems to be the same mentality that the young woman was experiencing in her campus/university experiment; the feeling of the parent must be one of embarrassment, shame, doubt, disappointment, or desperation. The feeling of the parent clearly isn't excitement, joy, gratitude, peace or contentment. 

However, this begs an important question. What is the rationale being employed here? Is it as simple as people assuming things about others? Is it simply that this young girl is probably pregnant out of wedlock, probably doesn't have a stable job, probably will need financial assistance to raise this child, and probably doesn't have the father in the picture? Would it be more accepted if the pregnant girl had obvious signs of wealth and was holding hands with the man who was probably the father? In some ways, I think we can guess that people would be more accepting if it appeared that the child was in the context of a good relationship, but that still goes back to the element of desire versus accident.

A Catholic perspective on conception is based on principals drawn from Aristotle and from St. Thomas Aquinas, as well as obvious modern science. Two cells (egg and sperm) meet and are fused into one, new cell. This new cell has new DNA, a new program or structure that immediately begins to unfold. The cell begins to divide. The cell is active, mobile, busy. It is clearly animated. It has movement and growth. It is not a rock. We hold that trees are alive because they have animation, and grow. They have souls, in the sense that they have a form for their matter. They certainly do not have souls like animals, who also do not have souls like people, but these creatures that grow are animated, and clearly alive. So we can understand the newly formed cell. There must be a soul, some kind of animus, that is the potential that is written into the cell structure - the form that will be expressed over time as the cells divine and take shape, forming the person who has just been created. Catholics hold that at that moment when the two cells are fused, conception takes place, and a new person is created. This means that a soul is infused by God. We are always an "embodied soul" - a soul and a body, form and matter, which are together at the beginning and remain so until we die. 

In that context, I look back at the comment of the news host: life begins based on the feeling of the parent. Then I look at the experiment done by the young woman: life is only acceptable and worthy of celebration when it is desired. Are these not the same thing, in essence? 

Where a certain group of people would understand the power of God to be what affects life, another group would replace the idea of "God" in the process of life with "man." It is the mother, or the father, or the parents, or some other outside person, who determines if this is a life, and the value the life has. Isn't that exactly what we see within the culture of abortion? It is a medical doctor's opinion, or the feeling of the mother, that determines if a child lives or dies, and this is predetermined on the very "existence" of a child in the womb, versus simply understanding the baby as cells/tissue/fetal matter, etc... 

I think it's rather obvious, actually. If you remove a cause, you remove an effect. Remove God as a cause, then the effect is not necessarily a human life. If you replace the cause with man, then the effect is determined according to man. 

I believe this is the general consensus of how many people perceive unborn life. I would venture to say that the young woman's experiment revealed more than simply "students aren't supposed to be parents." I think it points to a much larger rationale that is accepted overall by society today, and that is that we do not have an origin or an end that is God. This means we are free from the idea of "god." This means that man has free reign to determine his own standards, values, and structures. This means that if man has decided that “It’s ok to have sex, but an unwanted pregnancy is still considered shameful,” then this is a moral truth that will be upheld and supported. It also means that if ten years from now there is a swing in society to reclaim a certain level of femininity that protects the mother in the work place and in the school from feeling isolated or diseased, because she is empowered to want her baby at any point, then that will be a moral truth that is upheld and supported until whatever next wave of rationale takes hold. The problem with no cause and no end is that there is no permanent truth that is accepted throughout the intermediary time (that would be, life). You are born, and you die. In between, good luck! That's what being a free human means. How you feel about something is measurable only against the popular societal rationale, because it is man, and therefore, society, who determines the moral compass. 

There were many other elements of the young woman's story that I would like to have considered, and perhaps at another time I will. However, I think this very broad idea raises some interesting questions for us. If even science, which for so long has been what replaced "god" in our culture (as it was able to do everything that "god" could supposedly do), has now been pushed to the sidelines as something to be referenced only when convenient, and it is nothing but man's "feelings" that determine truth... well, where do we think that mentality will lead us? Assuming that a mother doesn't want her child, and therefore treating her as if she were infected with an unfortunate disease, does not seem like a very cultured, accepting, educated or principled society. Seems like an unfortunate thing to go through, as is evidenced by the young woman's feelings at the end of her experiment.

Maybe we need to consider the bigger questions a little more deeply, or even, at all.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Lord, Grant us Peace

“You will have peace with my will.”

This was the answer to a recent prayer of mine, and it brought with it a comfort which I did not expect.

One of my favorite verses from the Book of Isaiah is, “O Lord, you mete out peace to us, for it is you who have accomplished all we have done” (Is 26:12).

There are so many times that I find myself struggling to have the right state of mind or heart concerning my accomplishments (or lack thereof). Too often, I find myself feeling dejected and ill-used, unappreciated or underworked, failing in some way or another, and rather unsatisfied with work. Then there are days when I feel so full of pride for the achievement which I have made, however small or large, that I can barely give God the proper credit for his support, grace, and the gifts which he has given to me to use. Where does one strike the proper balance?

This is why this verse of Isaiah brings me so much comfort and peace – because it is a reminder that what is good or great that I have accomplished, it is really by the Lord’s work. And what is evil or a failure that I have done, it is readily forgiven by the Lord, because all of my life and work are subject to him, and he desires my peace and reconciliation.

Further, it also brings with it the peace of realizing that goals that I have set for myself that are not being realized or accomplished may still be yet to come. Some things are not yet in their proper time, even if I would like them to be. Some things require more study, more work, more maturation, more prayer, or perhaps, different circumstances. It is very easy for us to forget, I think, what it feels like when something does come to fruition in its proper time. I know we have these experiences in our memories – those moments when we reach a destination that we have desired to visit, or a friend whom we have desired to spend time with, or an accomplishment that we have finally finished – and we realize just how proper, how perfect all of the timing and circumstances were, to make that moment so good.

A tiny example I can recall is the second time I climbed a specific mountain in Gaming, Austria. I had first made the climb in 2005, and it was a good experience. But I made the climb with friends who I had not known for a very long time, and so the experience ended up being a more internal one. I spent much of the time thinking and reflecting. It was very good. But the second time I climbed that mountain, four years later, I climbed it with a very dear friend. This changed so much of the encounter. The gratitude that I felt in my heart and soul to God for the gift of the beauty that surrounded me was multiplied by the added joy of a dear friend whom I could share the experience with.

In any case, there are going to be many moments in this life when we know the bitterness of disappointment, failure, rejection, etc…when we had hoped for victory, success and acceptance. This happens often with job searches, for example. Other “life-plan” elements such as a person whom we may wish to date, a home we may wish to purchase, a move to a new place that we want to make, etc…may not work out as we had hoped or foreseen.

This leads us to the crux of the issue; do we forsake hope, or find hope to be foolish, and make our own way? Or do we decide to accept what has come to us, and to trust.

Now please do not take this the wrong way, for I am not trying to negate our responsibility in life nor trying to present some idea of fatalism or providence that removes free will and expects us to simply submit until death. That is not how the Lord has revealed himself, and it is not our faith. What our faith does challenge us to, is serious prayer and discernment. There are going to be times when our will is simply not the will of God. We need to acknowledge that. I can certainly attest to times in my past when I have been grasping, like a little toddler, and have demanded that I am given my cookie before I have to eat dinner. Sometimes the Lord allows us to go on in our stubborn wills, so that we learn that his will is not only good, or best, but that it is truly in love for us. Sometimes we are so very attached to what we think is good for us, that we cannot believe that something else might be truly good for us. It is hard to have faith that God really desires our happiness, health and holiness, when we are so confronted by sin, evil, chaos and struggles in life.

We can have periods of time, as well, where even when we are sincerely striving to discern the will of God, and to follow him unreservedly, we are not able to gain guidance. There are times when we are challenged to take up our banner and carry it as best we can, even if we cannot see the road ahead of us. Sometimes we have to walk through mists and fog, trusting that the Lord will not allow us to fall over the cliff. Sometimes we are asked to take great risks, to live the Gospel in a radical sense, and we may not be sure of the consequences.

Again, I am not advocating for omission, complacency, lethargy, passiveness or any other form of “God will take care of it – I’m not going to do anything” syndrome. I am advocating for prayer. I am advocating for faith. I am advocating for a belief in God’s goodness, his mercy, his power and his faithfulness. We need only look to the Old Testament to be reminded of how often God’s people were “wandering in the wilderness,” figuratively and literally, without assurance of his will and in contention with their own wills. Yet, God is faithful, and merciful. Jesus Christ has revealed the depths of that faithfulness and mercy, and that is why we can, with faith, place our trust in the Lord.

We have been made members of the Body of Christ at Baptism. We have received the gift of freedom from sins. We have received the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Those Gifts are confirmed in us at our Confirmation, and we can learn to live a life practicing the virtues and seeing the Fruits of the Spirit in our lives. We need to take advantage of the sacramental graces available to us, especially through the Eucharist and through Confession. We need to keep ourselves close to the Lord. If we are working for our spiritual good, our spiritual health and wholeness, we will see how God is guiding us and leading us according to his holy will.

When I prayed the other day, it was in discernment between two things. One, I wanted very much, but could not guarantee. The other, I did not want, but was assured that I could have it. I turned to the Lord and prayed first, “Let your will be done.” Then further, I prayed that I would truly want what the Lord willed, not only be able to submit to it. Then I prayed further, wanting to have peace with my life, because I recognized how blessed it was, and I did not want the discernment of one decision to hang like a cloud over my head.

And it was then that I heard, “You will have peace with my will.” This brought me great freedom and peace! I could feel the Holy Spirit consoling me, and I felt so much gratitude. It was more important for me to know that I could be peaceful in either situation, knowing that the situation would be according to His plan, and therefore, for my good, than to have things go according to what I hoped or desired.

This is what we need to do – try to be like children; children who are matured, and who work hard, and who give the work of their hands to their Father in trust. He has given us everything. He has handed over the works of his hands, the earth and all that is in it, to us. He has entrusted us with families, friends, and many responsibilities. He has done this, knowing that we will fail from time to time. He has done this, also knowing that his grace is sufficient in our weakness.

Let us ask the Holy Spirit to be with us, to grant us his peace, to bring us counsel and guidance, and to increase our faith, so that we will be able to pray with the prophet:

“O Lord, you mete out peace to us, for it is you who have accomplished all we have done.”

Poetic Last Days: To Ascend

It has been a very long time since I posted something for "Poetic Last Days," and since we are nearing the end of the month, it seemed appropriate to share a poem.

To Ascend

When we begin to truly climb
some hill that before us lies
Not knowing at the top to find
Safe haven or further end

It's not the height that gives us strength
Nor the rock that leads our way
Rather, at the end of the day
Nothing but our will remains

To place the foot once more upon
the path, perhaps unwanted
To push further upwards into mists
Simply, not to cease climbing

This is the moment
here and now
To decide how much courage
Within truly lies

Yet one more moment and
the decision before the eyes again
Press on still, another step
Courage and fortitude must be met

Hope draws the heart to high places
Faith leads the mind in part
Love drives the soul with them
With all, you can ascend

From whence come these three?
Hope, faith and charity
Some secret spring beneath the skin
Some abundance deep within

The glance must first
be to within
Where virtues may be greeted
and found

Then turn the eyes back
to the skies
And once more take up
The road unto the heights