Monday, February 29, 2016
In the New York Times Science section recently there is an article about approaches to getting off of drugs and alcohol substances. It fits our more modern world that is eliminating a God, or in 12 step programs, A Higher Power. Instead of a spiritual solution, the article speaks about therapy and also medications. There are other things too, but none of them require any God ideas. You get rid of the addictive substances and chemicals, but replace them with other chemicals that I guess are not supposed to be addictive. This all may work. No need to believe, except in the program offered. I went to therapy and learned a lot of very helpful stuff. I exercise. I eat only dark chocolate. But I don't think I would be truly well without a God of some sort, at least one to whom I can relate. Prayer has made all the difference. For me, knowledge and lifestyle avails me something, but it has to be grounded in a spiritual practice on a daily basis. But I am just a sample of one.
Sunday, February 28, 2016
The Catholic Church has a feast day called, "The Chair of Peter." When I first heard this, I wondered if this was some special feast about furniture. Well, yes and no. Is is a feast about dead Christians, especially Peter, who death date is not known. The idea comes from a chair that sits empty at the table of a family who occupy the other chairs. The empty chair is a reminder of the deceased who is not with us, but yet is with us in spirit. So we have a chair for them. They are not with us in "skin." The chair reminds us that we suffer the loss of their voice, their touch, their smell. This is the way we knew them. There spirit lives, but we did not know them in spirit. Whenever someone says to me, "Oh, they are happy and at peace with God," I take some solace, but I am not happy, because I want them in skin as I only knew them in skin. We miss the flesh and blood presence and the empty chair reminds us of this. Sympathy can only go so far.
Saturday, February 27, 2016
We bemoan all the religious antiquities, shrines, and statues that are being destroyed by radical religions. None of these religions are Christian of course. They are all non-Christian. But remember, that Christians used to destroy religious buildings and artifacts of the pagan cultures that were around way before Christianity came along. Judaism did the same in the Promised Land. It seems to be part of any these religions of the book, to destroy what went before them. I would like to have seen some of these ancient "pagan" structures. The word "Pagan" simply meant people who did not believe what the destroyers believed. Pagans actually had beliefs. They built structures to express the beliefs. Does "Do unto others what you would have them do unto you," apply here? I think that dialogue might do a lot better than destruction, and we might all learn something from one another.
Friday, February 26, 2016
It really does not matter how you pray. You can be still and silent or curse God. Yes, there are even psalms in the Bible that are called, "Cursing Psalms." You don't hear them in church because most churches have edited them out of what is said in the worship services. So God has been cursed and even inspired writers to put cursing into the Bible. Cursing is honest, as opposed to the way we manipulate prayer words to try and get something from God. God seems to prefer the honesty. God already knows our feelings and our moods, so you might as well express them in your frustrations about how your life is going or not going so well. If you have a really good friend who loves you, then you ought to be able to say whatever. Your friend knows your mood will pass. You may have to hold things in with your boss but not with God. Cursing is not something planned. It just happens. Yes, it is bad form to curse in a lot of circumstances. It is rude, and offensive to say the least. But in the privacy of your prayer, your dialogue with God, it is OK. But then, prayer being a dialogue, you have to listen too.
Thursday, February 25, 2016
The willingness to change is not the same as wishing you did not feel so lousy. Sometimes we say we want to change, but what we really want is for some mood, pain, economic situation or relationship to change. We want to enjoy a change but do not want to change our life to avoid these situations in the future. A person wants a hangover to go away, but they do not want to stop drinking. A person wishes their weight would change but won't stop overeating all the wrong foods. Change that is long lasting often begins with us.
Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Many people tell me that they like sermons that are short and to the point. They don't like priests to babble on in the pulpit. So why should God be any different when these same people pray? God may very well like prayer to be brief and to the point. Contemplatives don't really need any words. It seems that many people like to use lots of words in their prayers, but don't want lots of words in sermons. Hypocrites?
Tuesday, February 23, 2016
I am reminded that when I avoid gossip I am accomplishing at least two things. One, I am putting the damper on false pride, that is, I am better than whoever is the topic of gossip. Two, I am honoring the absent. Some of the same people I honor when I am with them, I dishonor when away from them. And why do I think that my gossip type opinions are correct anyway? Why do I have to feel better about me by gossiping about someone else? None of this is healthy or productive. Could this be an eleventh commandment: Honor Thy Absent Person? Working on it.
Monday, February 22, 2016
I am reminded that when I say, "My life is a cross," I might merely be whining. If so, then maybe my life is not as much of a cross for me as it is for others who have to put up with my complaints about my small world. Life can have its crosses for many people and for all of us at one time or another. Not wearing our cross on our sleeve, not advertising our miseries, might be our way of gifting the world around us. And it might even lighten our cross to know that we are not burdening others with our troubles at this moment. Honesty with close friends or spiritual guides can be OK, but we can wear out a lot of friendships with our self-focused list of troubles.
Sunday, February 21, 2016
In Catholic piety there is something called a scapular. It comes from a Carmelite background. In the lore of the scapular coming from Mary to Simon Stock in a vision, wearing the scapular would assure you salvation. This is what I call "Hedging your bets." The bible tells us that Jesus saved all from their sins. We are saved. But many people cannot believe this. They cannot get away from the idea that heaven is earned. You must do something to get something. There is no free gift when it comes to God granting salvation. What doctrine says you already have, you feel that you must earn. Does free salvation mean less than earned salvation? The only thing we can do about free salvation is to reject it. Many of us are insane enough to do this. It is insane to reject a friend who loves us unconditionally and would die for our happiness. But many of us do this. Many people reject Catholicism because of these pieties that make no sense to them. Nothing wrong with wearing scapulars. But ask yourself why you are doing it. There are good reasons, but earning salvation is not one of them.
Saturday, February 20, 2016
When I am living in fear I tend to live in what some people call, "The Wreckage of the future." I cannot live in any appreciation of the present. I am focused on the future and it is not going to be good. Mind you, the future is not real or even guaranteed, yet I ask God to fix it up or make it better for me. God lives in the present, not the future. The future does not exist, but I waste time there anyway, and I worry. An example: I have no time to get everything done today. The day will become a mess, full of chaos and failure on my part. Everything is fine now, but the rest of the day will be a mess. Another: if I don't make this reservation right now, I will get nothing, or pay a terribly high price I cannot afford. Rush, rush or else. Another: I am on a waiting list for the elementary school my child must go to. My child won't get in, I just know it. This elementary school is a must, or else no chance for a good college. No job for my child. My child will be unemployed and never leave home. Another: my stomach aches. I have cancer, I just know it. I am going to die and have to make out a will before it is too late. And so it goes. I have to stay in the present, in acceptance and the pluses that are part of my life now. Now is all that I have. It is enough. God and my friends are in the now.
Friday, February 19, 2016
I am not much on fasting from things I eat or drink. I find it to be, for me, too egotistical. I will give something up for forty days of Lent and then congratulate myself for being "tough." "I am not wimpy believer." The problem is, after forty days of fasting I am still the same person. I have all my old faults but none of the humility that recognizes I am too weak to overcome these shortcomings. I prefer to do something that focuses on an area of my life in which I would like to improve in behavior, attitude, relationships, or motives for doing things. I am down in sunny Florida now for some work and people are telling me how wonderful I am. So I guess I don't have any more faults? I need to spend more time in Florida!
Thursday, February 18, 2016
Throughout most of my high school, college, MBA graduate school and seminary I was a mediocre student. I thought maybe I was stupid or "average." When I finished seminary and was ordained, I was done with formal schooling. It occurred to me one day soon thereafter, "Now I can read what I want." I took a book off the rectory shelf that seemed to attract me, "The Other Side of Silence," by Morton Kelsey. That was 38 years ago, and it was the beginning of a career I have grown to love, and found myself not so mediocre. If you are not enjoying or doing well in studies, it might be that you are not where you are supposed to be in the study area. When you find your sweet spot for learning, you will find yourself "smarter" and happier about learning. All good teachers have a passion for what they teach.
Wednesday, February 17, 2016
I was a terrible stockbroker but am a rather good teacher as a priest. Both careers involved selling. I am an introvert. I cannot be very public and forthright about something that does not interest me. I cannot fake it. I was not interested enough in being a retail stockbroker. I was good at grinding out contacts because I have that ability to stay at a task, but I was no good at the actual selling of a stock or bond. On the other hand, I love to talk about the contemplative life of prayer, and church history. I have a great interest in these fields, and again, I can do the hard work of understanding some obtuse mystic, and then translating it into words that are more understandable and practical for people with a like interest. I can stand up in public and talk if I am prepared and interested in the topic. Canon Law bored me. It might be important, but not to me. I could never spend time researching or lecturing about it. People ask why I became a priest. One of my reasons is that it is a good fit in what I do, and who I am. I hope your life is a good fit today.
Tuesday, February 16, 2016
When I was a college student I thought of myself as someone who did not have a job while I was in school. "Job" meant that you went somewhere, did something and got a paycheck. But I did have a job while I was in school. My job was to study. No one was paying me, so I did not see it as a job. But that was my job. Many of us have jobs like this, no pay, but still a job, maybe even a career. Being a parent is a job. Being a grandparent is a job. Prayer, in whatever form it might take, is a job. When I sit and do meditation, or a walk in the countryside or even city street, it is part of my job. Meditation is not a waste of time just because no one pays me to do it. If we don't do the parent job, the spouse job on a regular basis, if I don't meditate on a regular basis, then the rest of life becomes quite costly and stressful. My paying work depends on these daily jobs I do, that pay nothing. For me to say I have no time to read or study, is to be giving up one of my daily jobs. "Do your job" is not a bad way to start the day. It keeps us focused on priorities.
Monday, February 15, 2016
If you want to talk to someone about a spiritual practice look for a selfless person. A lot of people can talk about prayer and how to live correctly, but if they are not selfless, their "wisdom" came from books. You don't need information. You need transformation. One aspect of the selfless person is that they do not judge others. You know this by the fact that they don't try to run other people's lives. The selfless person does not have to control everyone and everything around them. The world is not all about them and their ideas of how things ought to be. The selfless person might have opinions, suggestions, a point of view, but they don't try to make you conform to any of this. They care about other people. They are connected to others because they are connected to their own interior life. Fear does not rule them. They probably do not even think of themselves as selfless.
Sunday, February 14, 2016
I am so glad that I went to school the old fashion way in the Bronx. Desks lined up, I looked ahead at the back of someone's head. I was never in the front row, a place of exposure. Quiet was rewarded. I learned in quiet with little interaction. I did not become a mass murderer. Now I go into schools and the new way is desk pods. Four desks in a little group. Learn to team build and interact. Well, it may get you into Harvard, but if you are an introvert, it will be a stressful time. Helicopter parents worry about their kids becoming "loners," lacking social skills, which seems to equate with being unpopular, which will lead to becoming a mass murderer, unemployed, and not fulfilling one's potential. I might have survived this new way of organized pod class if I was paired with one child, but who was also an introvert. I have extrovert friends, but we don't spend all day five days a week together. Some of us need our quiet time, our solitude, to prepare us for activities that call for more interaction with groups. I always pray before going to coffee and donuts.
Happy Valentine's Day. Some of you may lean toward sadness that you don't have some special person. I will be your special person today if you like. You are wonderful just as God made you. Other people may have tried to make you be someone you are not, to fulfill their agenda. For me you are fine. Wrinkles? Walk with a cane? Underemployed? Sick? All these are add ons to who God made you. You are precious. Give God a Valentine shout out or whisper. God wants love too.
Saturday, February 13, 2016
Growing up a little boy in the Bronx I was very comfortable playing with one person. Bobby Cronin lived on the next street over. I could walk around the block, the long way, to his house, or I could climb over the fence, forbidden, behind our apartment house backyard, the short way. I did the forbidden way most of the time. I never confessed, so I guess I burn. But anyway, I did fine with Bobby. We were both introverts. We could talk, come up with inventive games and adventures, and feel bonded. It was in groups that I was lost. I did not feel comfortable with all these people at once. I don't know how to relate in "crowds" as I call it. I was not being prepared for college mixers. Maybe that is why I became a priest? But priests are supposed to be in crowds and comfortable among the many. No wonder I love to spend my summers in a monastery.
Friday, February 12, 2016
Jesus was an introvert, so I say. He got all his inspiration from spending time alone, in solitude, in the workshop or the desert. Even in the Gospels he would go off by himself and then he would join the people and do things and speak memorable and challenging words. He upset the status quo, which was probably run by extroverts, full of group participation. Jesus had only twelve disciples because that was the max with which he felt comfortable in his private teachings. He intuited that they had potential. He knew that he needed extroverts, like Peter and introverts like John. People wonder why Jesus spent those first thirty years in anonymity. Maybe because he is God and God is an introvert? God seems happy enough with God. Mystics say that God's primary language is silence. Just sayin'
Thursday, February 11, 2016
Why must we do this opening greeting at the beginning of church worship service? Introverts like me don't much care for it. It is not done in monasteries. Those places are full of introverts. But a lot of churches like to begin with this "feeling community" or building community. We introverts don't move so fast on making connections and do not care to have it sprung on us. We are comfortable being quiet. If you had no big opening hymn, we would survive quite well. We are sociable, but not so inclined to participate suddenly in group dynamics. "We are community" as the teaching seems to say, but are fine being among people and listening in a quiet way in church. I think lots of ministers are trained to be extroverts, even if they are not. I could sing more easily at the beginning of the service if we all sat and slowly sang a simple chant over and over. It is just that there is so much so soon and so sudden that puts introverts on edge. I speak only for me of course. I know God ought to be praised. Just don't start in fourth gear.
Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Helen Klein Ross wrote a new novel, "What Was Mine." A childless woman kidnaps a baby and raises it. I won't give away the plot. It is a really good read. My point is about Mercy versus Punishment. The Pope is talking about "God Is Mercy," which is the Pope's new book by the way. You might think, without reading Ross's novel, that the kidnapper must be put into jail as the law would stipulate. Laws seem to be about punishment for crimes. There seems to be something called Restorative justice. Read the novel first. I hope it makes you think. Read the Pope's #2 best seller, non-fiction, and you might think even more. I am expanding my horizons, plus reading good books. Ross' book is a page turner to find out what happens. Enjoy.
Tuesday, February 9, 2016
I get the sense that some Catholics think Jesus is asleep in the tabernacle in church up there behind the altar. They come to church with endless words of prayer, and petition as if to awaken God to their needs or wants. God is never asleep. God already knows all you need and all you want. God knows us better than we know ourselves. Why not come and rest in front of the tabernacle with only, "Your will be done." I think of the disciples in the boat when there is a storm. Jesus is asleep in the back of the boat. The disciples get frightened and wake Jesus up. "Don't you care that we are drowning?" they shout. Jesus, even asleep, knows what they need. He quiets the storm so that he can speak to them. "Do you not have faith?" he asks. What about the rest of us. Trust. Be still.
Monday, February 8, 2016
Why worry about your thoughts or wandering mind when you try to pray? Think of prayer as a farmer going into a field to plant seed. The farmer tosses the seed around in the field, walking back and forth among the rows. The farmer does not have to think or pay attention to exactly where the seed falls. It falls in the field because that is where the farmer is. Seed planting can be a mindless, rote action. The farmer may pay attention at times, or may not. Prayer is the field of your spiritual life. Show up to it. Say hello God, your will be done. Then sit there and pay attention if you can, but attention is not crucial. Your mind wanders at times, but you are still in your prayer place, your spiritual field, though not focused on what is going on. What is going on is that God is at work germinating the seeds of your time in prayer. You, like the farmer, have to show up in the field. You think the farmer has any idea which seeds will produce how much? No. The farmer knows some harvest will be produced eventually, given rain, which the farmer does not control either. Irrigation still relies on water, and the farmer cannot create water. Just show up on a daily basis. It keeps the weeds of bad behavior from sprouting up.
Sunday, February 7, 2016
Why do you feel the need to doubt the existence of God or deny that God exists? In my experience, most of the people who are in these categories are not real atheists of agnostics. That takes a lot of work or study. They are people who asked God for help and did not get it to their satisfaction. Ergo, there is doubt or no God. In reality, people just wanted God to take away the consequences of their bad behavior, immature actions/decisions, or the results of their flawed personality. They don't really want to change. They say, "God, get me out of this and I will never do it again." In fact they want the consequences removed. They have no tools for real change. Once they feel better or at least somewhat removed from suffering consequences, they go right back to bad behavior, bad habits. Change is at least as hard as studying to become an atheist. An atheist may yet be on the wrong path, and do good deeds. But a transformed person is always on the right path, and will do good deeds. The difference? The transformed person has seen hell and lived to remember it. The past is a great teacher.
Saturday, February 6, 2016
The New York Times does not give long obits to anyone who is not worthy of their attention, and ours. The above named woman made the obit column. She was living in cheap housing, subsidized living in D. C. She was thought to be crazy. She why the obit? She sat across the street from the White House for thirty years in protest of war and atomic weapons. Every day she did this. Many of the people who think war is a solution seemed to think she was nuts, weird, and should go away, if they thought about her at all. I guess after thirty years everyone around there knew of her. She thought war and having these destructive bombs to be wrong, as in no solution. She was crazy? Doesn't the Pope agree with her?
Friday, February 5, 2016
Men's fashion shows a marked decrease in tidying up, as in not tucking your shirt into your pants. Actually, I think it is fashion trying to catch up with culture. As guys get older biologically, more of them are staying children in the way they dress. Matching color schemes is a bother, as is looking "neat," whatever that might be. If not for Moms, most boys would run out of the house with whatever they grabbed to put on, with the least effort. So why not move into grown up look? Neat, without wrinkles, tucked in, color scheme matched. There is much less of a need to grow up into the adult male world of suits and ties, or casual looks. Silicon Valley does not care what you wear. They are only looking for smarts in their field of business. Shaving? Out. At least not on a daily basis. There is a tendency to stay a boy in a man's body. Social skills? Not so necessary. There is the daily routine of ignoring all these useful growing up skills. Cleaning your room would be out too. Spiritual life? Too much effort in a life that is sparing about effort. I find that a regular spiritual practice for me is the tidying up of my soul or innards. If I give myself some soul maintenance, I find that other things tend to fall into place. Laundry, cleaning up my personal space, being kind...tucking in my pants. Ladies, if any of this is important to you, the available men is a diminishing species. Of course, you might already have married one of these boys in men's body.
Thursday, February 4, 2016
I met a young lady recently who told me that she had been in and out of AA. She would go to some meetings and then get drunk. She would go back to some meetings and then get drunk. I asked her what they talked about at those meetings. She said that people talk about their problems, and sometimes she just spaces out. I asked if they ever talked about steps or sponsorship. "Oh, that," she said. "Sometimes." THAT! Duh, I thought to myself. So I suggested to her that AA is supposed to be a program of action, not attendance or merely listening occasionally. She left to ponder that. I find the same with some people who go to church for a stretch and then drift off, come back for a stretch and then drift off. Religion is more than listening. Even hermits do more than listen. I can easily fall into the soft way of listening. It is change that I don't like.
Wednesday, February 3, 2016
I met a woman recently who told me that she had lost a job, a house, and a relationship AFTER she stopped drinking and drugging. I asked her what else she changed after she stopped the drinking/drugging. She had done nothing else. She thought her problem was the booze and drugs. After she lost all, she surrendered to a twelve step program of recovery with all that entails. She found out that when she stopped drinking/drugging, she was a selfish, self-centered, manipulative and controlling, angry person, but did not see that. In other words, the drink was her solution to herself, all her flaws. The substance stuff was not her problem. It was her solution. She was her problem, but she did not find that out until she got into a recovery program. The steps revealed her to herself. Many of us use work, exercise, TV, and other things as ways to divert us from ourselves and our shortcomings. Others see us as we are. We are blind to it. This is why I need a spiritual practice, a God Program each day. I need God's eyes, either through prayer or another person who is on the spiritual path. By the way, this woman now has a job and a place to live. She is holding off on the relationship thing for now. She does not want a man to be the solution. She is learning to love.
Tuesday, February 2, 2016
I met a woman recently who said, "My life is in ruins!" Turns out she had expectations about her job that had not gone as she expected. She had gone from anger to resentment to near despair. Kind of the jumping off point. So I asked her what she did before she had this job. "Oh, I was unemployed." I asked how that had happened. "I was on drugs and drank a lot. I could not hold a job." "How is your health now?" I asked. "Oh, I am back to exercise and some yoga meditation," she said. Hmm. "Do you have friends, People who know and care about you?" I asked. Affirmative. So I listed for her all the things that she now had in her so called ruined life, that before she did not have: Health, spirituality, supportive friends, employability and job. She relaxed. I am not a genius, but I can at times help others to see the pluses in their life, that they take for granted, or forget how hard they worked to get there. Now, I need to do that for myself. Physician, heal thyself!
Monday, February 1, 2016
Recently I found out that a young woman who I have hardly seen in years, wanted me to preside at her wedding. Some years ago she had been a student at the local Catholic elementary school when I was preaching at their masses and on weekends in the parish. I did my best back then to be helpful and useful to the spiritual life of the children, but they rarely said anything to me, so I assumed that I was not very good or helpful. Turns out she was listening and I made a difference. We should never judge our service work, attempt at good deeds, being helpful, based upon feedback. Don't judge at all. You never know. Besides, if the work made you a better person, then it is all worthwhile. I have heard AA people say that being of service kept them sober that day. Being of service keeps me on the spiritual path and gets me out of being self-focused.