Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Fine Line: Faith in God~One in Christ

My Way vs God's Way
Recently I have been having a healthy discussion with a friend of mine about the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. No small potatoes to slice on that subject! What I have realized through the conversation is that, at times, I have felt as if I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth. I’m hungry now because I just mentioned potatoes (which I like perhaps too much) and my mouth which I like to fill with potatoes if given the opportunity.

Why do I feel like I’m (almost) saying two opposing things at once? Here’s a basic breakdown of my problem…I also suggest that it’s your problem too...

It is logical, for me, to assume that any nation, when attacked, would choose to defend herself. Similar to a bully on the playground...the person bullied would be within their rights to “fight back” or, at very least, exercise their right to be “bully free” in whatever manner might be best. But what is “best” depends entirely upon the “force” presented by the bully, right? Consider it, it wouldn’t be appropriate for the kid being bullied to pull out a shotgun if the bully comes at him with mean words, right? Now if the bully came at the person with a tire-iron and took a swing and said, “I’m going to kill you!” then pulling out a shotgun might seem a bit more appropriate. (God forbid a child arrive on the playground with either a tire-iron or a shotgun...this is merely for illustrative purposes) What I’m getting at with this first consideration is that our Catholic faith allows for a certain degree of self-protection...whether we’re talking about individuals or nations. We have a God-given right to avoid harm and to avoid being injured, killed, etc. This is part of the notion of, “Sanctity of Life” as we consider life to be sacred and fundamentally, a gift from God, therefore we have a basic right (even a duty) to protect this gift. We can even take it so far as to say, “We are not our own possession.”

Now for the “fine line of faith…”

There could be a time in our lives when we would choose to, “turn the other cheek” as Jesus Christ encouraged us to do. But this is NOT a call for every believer to become a door-mat. So back to the bully above. It is good in many cases to allow people to mistreat us as Christians but this has to be in a case by case basis. How, you may ask, would one determine what is “right” in a given circumstance, after all Jesus Christ offered Himself up to death on a cross! My suggestion: prayer. Daily prayer. If you are a Christian who does not have a regular prayer time every day you are like a boxer entering the ring who is not adequately trained. You will be able to get in a couple punches but you will not have the stamina, technique, strategy or the physique to encounter the many “punches” the world, the flesh and the evil one would throw at you. Prayer is the most basic NEED for every believer because it is what connects us more completely with the ONE who knows what would be “best” versus what we might consider “best” in any given circumstance. This is why on some occasions Jesus Christ would respond with warmth to certain people in certain situations and why He would, at times, upbraid people in other situations. He KNEW the will of the Father. So those folks who want to have the “easy answer” to all of life’s questions are seriously out of luck. The bottom line here is that we need to walk the fine line and knowing this, call it, “narrow way” requires an attentiveness to Our Lord on a regular basis. We NEED to hear His voice and not simply on occasion. So in regard to the question, “when is it right for me to defend myself?” versus, “when should I (or my nation) turn the other cheek?” There is not any one answer...there might be multiple answers...which is precisely why a believer might begin to sound like they’re waffling when others seem so clear in their convictions. A Christian’s conviction is that they may not personally know what is may take some time for them (perhaps longer than the average person) to come to a plan of action when action is required. This is not always a lack of concern or a lack of understanding (I have been accused of both) but it may just be they understand things more clearly...which, generally speaking, people who see the bigger picture may have more, “dots to connect” than someone who hears one side and has a less informed understanding of things.

To connect some dots here and now...Israel, many believe, has a right to defend herself against aggression (both within and without) her borders. Can I argue with this? After all, if Canada began launching missiles into Minnesota we might respond in a way that would be surprisingly, “cruel and violent” to some. Some people castigate Israel for exercising her right to defend herself. But perhaps there is another “fine line” at play here in these circumstances? What Israel has been doing in Gaza, to the casual observer, may seem inhumane and an exaggerated response. It is almost represented like Hamas (which is the real aggressor in this circumstance and NOT the “people of Gaza” in general) is coming at Israel holding twigs and berries and Israel is responding with tanks and F-18’s. This is not the case. Back to the bully scenario...Hamas has been launching rockets that can kill people...launching them into Israel. Israel took the approach, “enough is enough.” This is NOT a new situation for Israel to be bombarded by their neighbors and as the bully approaches and lands a couple Israel has a right to respond. But the fine line much is too much? I will not pretend to know what Israel, “must do” as a nation in this circumstance but I can say that from all appearances it looks as if they have gone above and beyond what one might consider a “reasonable action.” Hamas, however, continues to send missiles into Israel...the “bully” continues to mess with the same kid on the same playground. The bully has not chosen to relent.

But what can one say when looking at this through the eyes of faith? Some Christians, I believe, are blind when it comes to their support of Israel. They try and associate the current State of Israel with the biblical Israel and this connection is tenuous at best. This is NOT to say that Israel (the state of) may not play a role in biblical prophecy and/or world events of an apocalyptic nature...I can’t claim a great deal of clarity on this matter and I believe that those who DO claim to have this, “all figured out” are simply naive and carry on an overly simplistic view of Sacred Scripture. Again, I have to say (as Scripture does say) that though the end is closer now than it was we do not know “either the day nor the hour” when Christ may return. I also have a storehouse of examples in history in mind where people were convinced they had reached the, “end of the age” when in reality we keep right on trucking. For those who adhere to the Christian faith...I suggest the following...stop making connections and predictions about these matter and live your faith! Stop making the state of Israel such a high priority in what it means for you to “follow the Lord!” Be concerned more about the teachings of Jesus the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew Ch. those things FIRST and then, after much prayer and deliberation (if you need to) speak your opinion. I am not advocating for door-mat Christianity and I’m certainly not able to say, as many do, “I support Israel no matter what because Israel is ‘God’s chosen people!” This, in my mind, is not in line with biblical revelation.

Another important matter of faith is the fact that Jesus Christ came to establish a, “New Israel.” What is this New Israel? It is the Church. Jesus Christ did not come to set up (and certainly didn’t choose to preserve) ancient Israel from outside invasion. Could God have chosen to do so? Yes! Of course. He didn’t do this however and this should be instructive to any believer. What did Jesus Christ choose to do in regard to Israel? He chose to give His life so that Israel (the ancient and contemporary Jewish people) and Gentiles (people who are outside of the people of Israel) would be ONE PEOPLE within the Church. Many of Jesus Christ’s initial “enemies” (Pharisees, Sadducees, Romans etc) became His most ARDENT followers! Those who were once His greatest “enemies” became the ones, after the Resurrection and birth of the Church at Pentecost, who followed Him even to the point of their own martyrdom! What should this tell you dear believer? This should instruct any person of faith in Jesus Christ that our enemies are no longer “flesh and blood” and we are not, as a general rule, meant to support a militarized notion of faith. We can see the state of Israel as our ally and I won’t argue against that point. We, as a nation, need allies who are of like mind to stem the growing tide of global Islamic fundamentalism. To support Israel in this manner isn’t wrong and in fact is likely very necessary for stability and eventual peace in the region. This, in my opinion, could only be brought about through the peaceful, “heart to heart” conversion of the Muslims (as well as the Jewish people) to Christianity...but this is another point for another day.

Lastly, I have to stand against the mentality that thinks thusly: “I need to support Israel because Israelis are the, “chosen people of God” and therefore I would be going again God Himself if I were to speak against the state of Israel.” Though I fully understand this is a weak connection to make. St. Peter (who we Catholics consider the first Pope) wrote the following from 1 Peter Chapter 2:

“1 So put away all malice and all guile and insincerity and envy and all slander. 2 Like newborn babes, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation; 3 for you have tasted the kindness of the Lord. 4 Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God's sight chosen and precious; 5 and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in scripture: "Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and he who believes in him will not be put to shame." 7 To you therefore who believe, he is precious, but for those who do not believe, "The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner," 8 and "A stone that will make men stumble, a rock that will make them fall"; for they stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were no people but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy. “

So what does this mean except that those who believe were “no people” but we are NOW God’s people. Israel rejected Jesus Christ and it will be their salvation to become, once again, part of the New Israel...the Church. We have ALL been called out of darkness but to leave this darkness we need to adhere to the Lord Himself Who truly is...the ONE in whom all people, Jew, Gentile, Man, Woman, Young, Old, Rich, Poor etc will find salvation. Salvation, remember, is the goal of this life and this is only to be found in Our Lord Jesus Christ...not in support of one regime or another.

This is a fine line isn’t it? Our Lord spoke of following the “narrow way” that leads to salvation. Consider your own life in relation to Scripture and in light of world events and ask the Lord, daily, “Lord, help me to follow you wherever you may go.” Walk the fine line and by His mercy, “ you have received mercy,” you will not fall to the left or to the right but you will remain in His love and peace forever...regardless of what the world may do.  We must not deny that we are to love all people...but we must also make it our priority to seek the Lord and His Kingdom above all else~ this is the way we must go.

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