Saturday, June 28, 2014

Unfamiliar Paths~The Beauty of Suffering

We don't simply arrive alone at the point at which we can say, 'suffering is beautiful'~ No. We must first be carried there.

Never begin with an apology because people lose interest. That's fine. But I'm sorry that my thoughts might seem so scattered and I am as yet feeling so raw about the following that I can only say I hope it's helpful. And if nothing else it will be relatively short so not much of your time will be wasted. That's good right?

There is a deep pain in my heart that I never would have asked for and certainly wouldn't wish on anyone else. At least I thought so. I'm not going to pretend and say that everything suddenly, "got better," because in many ways nothing is particularly better and, if anything, things even seem a bit worse than before.  What I can say with confidence is what I say about Our Lord and this, He is good~ He is love~ He is merciful~ this is enough.

Nearly a month ago my father died. He was 82 and in, "tip-top" condition, physically.  My sisters and I had been betting that he would live beyond 100 and he likely would have.  His downfall was the dementia that slowly wound him down and slowly pulled him away from us. It began with gradual loss of the ability to speak~ then reasoning went~ then motor functions~ then he was gone. I'm not one to say that, "this shouldn't have happened" and surprisingly (due to the grace of God) I've never had a moment where I've even felt like God was absent. On the contrary, I have been closer to our Lord and far more confident in His love for me than probably ever before.  I've not even really thought to ask Him, "Why?" Because I frankly know He knows the answer and I'll likely know soon enough or I never really needed to know anyway.  I have come more face to face, however, with my own faults, weakness, pride, intensity etc...because I have asked God, "What is this all for?" and "What do you want for me to see in these circumstances?" He is still leading.

The real gift of this entire experience is to come to the realization that suffering is beautiful.  There were some rough moments at my dad's bedside that I still carry with me.  Moments that if they ever depart from me I will be surprised.  He was dying and death is not beautiful. Death is the enemy. I was carried to the point that I could not handle~ that I could never handle and that was to the point of watching my dear father die while holding my hand. It is an agony that I am sure Our Blessed Mother felt at the foot of the cross. Of course in my experience it was not a crucifixion, however, it felt like one. I came face to face with my helplessness to help the man who had helped me on countless occasions. He had helped me know Our Lord...he had shown such love for God and for other people through his peaceful example...and here I was watching him groan and slowly waste away.  Medical science was powerless.  We knew that it was only a matter of time.

This is beautiful? Yes. Because if I had not been carried to this point I would have never gone there.  I never would have seen the Lord in this way.  I have experienced plenty of tragedy in my life but for me this one was especially terrible for me.  My mom died in 2007 and this brought back all the feelings of loss and, frankly, doubled them. All will face heartbreak, but what you do with this heartbreak makes all the difference.

This is beautiful because Our Lord has continually shown Himself faithful. He will draw near to you as He has drawn near to me. I have witnessed the wake that a true man of God can leave behind him. Because, my Dad would say if he were able, "It is not my love for God that has amounted to anything worthwhile, no, it is His love for me that has made all the difference."  The beauty of all of this is where this is all is to Our Lord. He is faithful. So when you're facing down your own endless waves of suffering you can know, without a doubt, He will carry you through~ just ask and ask and don't stop asking.

My Dad with my kids

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Healing Blindness

Our nine-year-old daughter recently performed with her ballet company at a local nursing home. While she was off-stage and awaiting her next time on-stage my wife noticed her in the audience...talking during the performance...not exactly where she was supposed to be.

This is nearly every parents' nightmare when "my child" is "THE problem," in any given situation.  My wife was far enough away from her that she couldn't stop her from what she thought was her usual pattern of, "talking the ear off of anyone who will listen."

Our daughter's name is, "Hannah" which means, "grace."  In this case her name was going to be very fitting in a couple of ways as her mother would require the attitude of grace not to strangle her...and Hannah would require God's grace not to be strangled...once the show was over.

What we later found out about our seemingly rude and distracting little girl would forever change my outlook toward our daughter and her often "gregarious" personality.  The woman that Hannah had been talking to is blind.  Hannah had been sitting next to her describing every detail of the performance to this woman who would otherwise only be able to listen to the music.  My wife asked her, "how did you know she was blind?" Hannah said, "First I saw her eyes were whitish...and she was wearing a little tag that said, "I am blind."

When my wife recounted this story to me I was deeply moved.  I realized that I have often and far too quickly squelched and/or chastised her for being, "too talkative" or "distracting." Yes, often she is!  But in this case I told my wife, actually holding back a tear, that we got, "one of the good ones."  Hannah is one of the good ones. She is a sure sign of God's grace to me.

I have been proud of her on many occasions as she seems drawn to the downcast and to the, "less popular" kids...almost as a rule. In this case I am proud because Hannah truly lived up to her name~ not so much requiring God's grace as actively spreading it! I pray that she never loses this spark~ this tendency to reach out to our fellow children of God.  As a child of God, even when she grows older, I hope she will always choose to err on the side of love and never choose to hold back! To me, this would be the true measure of success. There is a type of blindness that is far worse than actual physical blindness and that is to not be able to see a fellow child of God in every person we meet...not so see their inherent goodness no matter how they are acting in the moment. Thank you Hannah for this reminder. I hope to continue to learn what you already seem to know.

Hannah (right) with her little sister Sophia

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

To See Truly

Reflections on the book, "Theology and Sanity" by Frank Sheed.

Seeing, truly seeing involves seeing things not merely in and of themselves.  We see things in their context.  Not seeing an eye in a jar and calling it beautiful-- at least not AS beautiful as it might be within the context of a face, properly placed, with another eye on the same face.  This is to see an eye aright.

In the same way is it right to see all reality through the eyes of the Church as She beholds the face of God.  God, through all, in all, above all.  Just as the sun shines we do not merely see the sun alone but also all the things the sun illuminates.  So it is when we see all things as blessed and held in existence by God.  All things are seen, or should be seen, as "God-bathed."

To me this connects to the idea that St. Josemaria Escriva would often refer to as the, "Unity of Life."  I can't be a different person in China as I might be in Venezuela.  Of course my context would appear very different on the surface but my own eyes, hands and heart would remain the same.  I would be affected by my surroundings, no doubt about it...I might even relate to other people in my surroundings differently according to rules, language and customs but I would still as yet not cease to be me.  Beyond this, as a Catholic, I would not cease to be a child of God.

If I am at work, I am a child of God.  If I am at home, I am a child of God.  If I speak to my wife I speak to her as a husband and likewise speaking to my children I am a father.  In all of these various roles and places I am a child of God.  As a child of God I am simultaneously a son of the Church that He established which provides the only proper overarching context in which a child of God can live.  It is in God that we, "live, move and have our being." because, "everything is created by Him and everything is created for Him...He is the head of His body, the Church."  Yes, and "...the firstborn from among the dead."  Without Him we would cease to exist.

To be a child of God we have but ONE LIFE to live.  Therefore, whether we sit or stand; run or walk; speak Portuguese or order a Porterhouse at dinner....we are to, "do all for the glory of God...Who IS OUR Father.

Monday, December 17, 2012

What God Wants From You Today

This will be brief...already you're captivated.

You already don't believe me.  What is this going to say that I don't already know?  What is this going to say that I haven't already tried?  We are a cynical lot's okay~ God knows this about you and me and isn't less willing to help us.

I start be recognizing that I don't know what God really wants.  Of course He wants me to be conformed to the image and likeness of His Son Jesus Christ but I must confess that my immediate thought doing this, child that I am, is growing a beard, buying some (new) sandals (maybe Keens because I need a new pair...perhaps they're on sale in Winter?) and wandering about the resort areas I live closest to and calling the Bourgeois of our world to repentance and acceptance of reality.  The good part is that I know that first of all God wants me to see that I am a child of His.  What is a child?

A child is one that  is small, powerless, silly, sensitive, boisterous, prone to foolish flights-of-fancy, jealous, greedy, idealistic, prideful, tender, needy, forgetful, funny, self-centered, messy and unaware of real danger just to name a few.  But mothers and fathers know, also, this about their children...their parents would walk through a burning building, step in front of a speeding car, and without thought swim through shark infested waters to save their little ones.  God, your Father, has done this for you.

God wants you to be His child today...and every day.  Don't worry about your faults...they are too numerous to count anyway.  Simply say to the Lord, "Father, I am sorry, please pick me up and hold me close and I'll be happy."  This is what God wants from you.  You will mature only in His arms and by His care and by the intercession of our Blessed Mother Mary.  Don't lose your trust~ you will be just fine little one.

Saturday, December 15, 2012


I recently encountered a most subtle temptation that is good to expose because it likely affects everyone.  It is worthwhile to shine light on such things to expose the enemy where he lurks to destroy and divide.

There is a way that I serve in the Church that is very slight and truly not worthy of fanfare.  It isn’t even worth mentioning how but it is only worth sharing that it is in a capacity that puts me “up front” in gatherings.  The thought did occur to me (and it was a whisper of the devil) that I have not been thanked for my service to the people...probably ever.  I wondered at first why I had not realized this before.  Could it be that I have simply been so busy that I have not noticed how people don’t appreciate my efforts?  Perhaps then I give too much time to them.  Could it be that I do things so poorly that nobody thinks anything of it?  Then they are ungrateful people.  Could it be that these people really would prefer someone else?  They could not do better themselves but fail to realize it because they do little as it is.

It is easily visible to anyone how destructive this pattern of thought could have been because it would leave me thinking too highly of myself and, therefore, thinking too little of others.  God granted me a special grace immediately after this to see myself for the sinner that I truly am.  He shined a light on me to show me this temptation.  All at once I could see that something was “different” in my thought did not follow my own usual, normal considerations within daily life but truly “jumped out” which at first seemed like a revelation.  I asked myself at the Lord’s prompting, “Why would this bother you?  Am I not enough for you?  What would you take from them that I Myself am not able to give you?  Have I not asked you to serve Me...Why then would you seek for others to serve you?  Be satisfied with Me~ I Am more than enough.”

Amazing.  I thanked the Lord for this realization and call to remember Him~ as I too easily forget...getting wrapped up in myself and how I can keep myself from perishing into nothing.  Very funny really...God can be hilarious in the way He shows me my foolishness.  I was then given even more through the writings of St. Faustina Kowalska in her Diary.  I quote:

From Paragraph #36:

“...I saw the complete condition of my soul as God sees it.  I could clearly see all that is displeasing to God...”

St. Faustina was given an experience where she was standing before God in all His Holiness.  She recognized how, in my own words, truly “Other” God is and how far above us.  Yet, it is clear that God continued to call her to Himself despite her realizations and it is this that gives me hope.

Also, another gift of God to me, was a reading I heard yesterday at Mass.  From the Gospel of St. Matthew:

What comparison can I find for this generation? It is like children shouting to each other as they sit in the market place: 
We played the pipes for you, and you wouldn't dance; we sang dirges, and you wouldn't be mourners.'For John came, neither eating nor drinking, and they say, "He is possessed." The Son of man came, eating and drinking, and they say, "Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners." Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.

It suddenly then hit me on another level.  It is what should be expected by every follower of Jesus Christ to be like their Master.  Unrecognized, unsung, undone.  St. John the Baptist came in one way and they scorned him and killed him.  Jesus Christ came in another way and they scorned and killed Him.  Should we not expect and in many ways delight in being mistreated, forgotten, misunderstood and unrecognized?  It is in this way that we are better able to draw close to the heart of our Savior.  Pray for me that I might love the Lord in my weaknesses...and continue to hear His voice over the shouting crowd, “Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!”  To be an unknown is to be more fully known by God~ this is truly enough.  Grant us your mercy Lord.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Psalm: Brothers and Sisters

You have called to me Lord
In the quiet place of my heart
Save me
Let all inclinations to resist
Be turned to strengthening bonds
Turn me toward You my Father
For I am Your weak, sickly child

I learn to walk along the steep path
Without sight and sorrowful
You have called me to yourself
What more can I ask?
What more should I seek?
I only find life in Your voice
Nothing else consoles me
The light of Your presence is enough

Haunted by visions of their destruction
I see in this light
Yet they are nothing but smiles
Emptiness fills their days
They unite in their depravity
They pursue nothingness
Ignorant of Your watchful eye

Turning again and again to the darkness
Away from Your flowing streams
They cannot drink their wealth
They cannot buy their well-being
They will surely die like the others before
Without You to help them

They continually turn away

You stand with us Our Father
You help those who call out in their helplessness
You are our only true joy and life
Why are we so dull and forgetful?
Why can’t we but decide for ourselves?
No, You know our weakness and Your love remains

Grant, Father a heart like Your heart to me
To all Your children~ let them hear Your praise on my lips
I am nothing and You raise me to Your side
Placing me safely in Your embrace
I do not want to go anywhere
But to where Your hand would lead me

Remember those who forget You Lord
Let Your radiant mercy be upon those
Upon those who hate us

Your love is better than this life
Even death becomes life
My enemy is my brother

You are my Father

Friday, December 7, 2012

When Dreams Speak

In the night I was restless though very much overtired.  Having just read a portion of a book in which one of the principle figures had asked the Lord for a Word of guidance in a dream, I thought I would ask the same of the Lord.  Why not?  I thought perhaps, if nothing else, seeking the Lord would be a good thing even if my history with such activities often causes me to lose more sleep.  It occurred to me that even good things can become idols and since this thought came to me I thought it best to not worry about it either way.

The Lord granted me the following dream:

It was in the middle of my living-room where I was standing near the Christmas-tree and among our many decorations.  The room was only illuminated by the light from the tree and some lights we hung around our Crucifix and some icons on our wall.  In this partial light I was able to make out the figure of a strange unidentifiable creature watching me from the corner of the room.  At once I was terrified by this thing as I knew it was not a common animal.  I began looking around the room for something to protect myself with and my mind raced and I could find nothing.  This creature then darted at me and made a hissing sound as it flew by my head.  I ducked and caught sight of it briefly and realized that it was dangerous.  Immediately my concern went to my children and wife sleeping upstairs.  I thought, seemingly aloud, "what if this thing makes it up the stairs?"  I then prayed to God to help me.

It was then I realized that I had been holding a sword in my hand all along.  This sword was decorated and beautiful with ornate carvings of angelic figures along the blade and around the hilt.  I had looked around previously for something else with which I could defend myself but found nothing.  Now with this in my hand I realized that this thing might leave on it's own if I opened the door.  I hoped that by simply opening the door it would see an escape and leave.  It didn't leave but went across the room further away from the door.  This thing didn't want to go anywhere but after me.

It made several more attacks at me which I evaded.  The thing made shrieks as it passed.  It was at this point the Lord said to me, "This will not leave on it's own and this thing must be killed."  I held up the sword to my side in hopes of getting a good swing at it.  I caught sight of it and moved the sword slightly and realized I had inflicted a severe wound along it's side.  This caused the demon to become even more ferocious and it made another pass and this time I took one swing and sliced it down the middle, completely in halves.  I knew it was dead.
I then looked for it and it was gone.  There was no trace of the thing and all.  I could feel a great deal of peace.  All was then quiet.

It was clear to me that after this dream this was a message to me from the Lord and possibly to you if you're reading this page.  What I believe the Lord is wanting to tell me is that I do have real and legitimate enemies of a spiritual nature.  Though I am sinful in countless ways~ many of which I'm sure I'm blind to as well as the ways I am aware~  The Lord wants me to understand that people aren't enemies.  People need to be protected.  My house needs to be protected~ My community needs to be protected but not primarily in a temporal sense.  The Lord has called on me to ask of Him for the protection (ultimately the salvation) of many souls.  And has asked me to inform others that they too are called to offer themselves for the salvation of souls.  The Lord directed me to the verse in Scripture that I had to Google to locate regarding, "Our struggle is not against flesh and blood...."  I looked it up.  Here it is:

Ephesians 6:10-19

10 Finally, grow strong in the Lord, with the strength of his power.

11 Put on the full armor of God so as to be able to resist the devil's tactics.

12 For it is not against human enemies that we have to struggle, but against the principalities and the ruling forces who are masters of the darkness in this world, the spirits of evil in the heavens.

13 That is why you must take up all God's armor, or you will not be able to put up any resistance on the evil day, or stand your ground even though you exert yourselves to the full.

14 So stand your ground, with truth a belt round your waist, and uprightness a breastplate,

15 wearing for shoes on your feet the eagerness to spread the gospel of peace

16 and always carrying the shield of faith so that you can use it to quench the burning arrows of the Evil One.

17 And then you must take salvation as your helmet and the sword of the Spirit, that is, the word of God.

18 In all your prayer and entreaty keep praying in the Spirit on every possible occasion. Never get tired of staying awake to pray for all God's holy people,

19 and pray for me to be given an opportunity to open my mouth and fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel.

Let me know if this has spoken to you in any way. May the Lord be praised forever!