Don’t be “goin’ it alone”

One of the ways the world pulls us down the wrong path is by telling us that we have to “stand on our own two feet,” “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps,” and do things “my way.” My way is not God’s way. Living the eternal life is a team sport; there are no solos.

I keep a copy of Saint Faustina’s Diary on my night stand. Saint Faustina was a Polish nun who lived in the 1920’s-30’s. Jesus spoke to her on a regular basis and she was the one who brought The Divine Mercy to the Church. She kept a diary for most of her religious life, and I find it to be a great source of wisdom.

A few nights ago I was paging through it and came across this insightful paragraph.

“When one day I resolved to practice a certain virtue, I lapsed into the vice opposed to that virtue ten times more frequently than on other days. In the evening, I was reflecting on why, today, I had lapsed so extraordinarily, and I heard the words: You were counting too much on yourself and too little on me. And I understood the cause of my lapses.” Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, Paragraph 1087.

This is a common trap for me. I will often realize that I’m overeating, underpraying, cursing or falling prey to one of dozens of worldly shortcomings and I’ll resolve to stop doing that. I take the very manly route of determining that I will be stronger, I will be a better person, I will force myself to build the habits that I need; I will, I will, I will. And then I fail.

There’s nothing wrong with self-discipline and gradually building ourselves into the person that God created us to be. Living the “if it feels good, do it,” lifestyle is destructive to both our bodies and souls, and we need to resist those constant temptations. But we are designed to do that in cooperation with our Creator. He wants us to call on him constantly throughout the day, not just at bedtime.

So the next time I’m faced with temptation in its many forms, I pray that I will have the common sense to resist…and to pray.


Thy will be done

Your will be done

Sometimes, I hate those words. I finish all of my prayer times by saying; “your will be done.” I lay out all of the needs that I have for myself and the people around me, and I offer up my requests for the day. And then I close with, “thy will be done.” But oftentimes that’s not what I really want.

The willful, self-centered me wants it my way. I am the man in the midst of the action, and whether it’s healing, guidance, a miracle or a parking space, I can clearly see the right solution for the world’s needs; or at least for my needs. Dear God, I’m humble, but please trust my judgement in this case.

I was sitting in church yesterday, marveling at the people around me. To my left was a family whose daughter was in the hospital suffering, and yet here they were at mass, asking God for strength. Behind me was a wife sitting by herself because her husband was at home recovering from having donated a kidney. In front of me sat a shy man who was no doubt thinking about a speech he was to give that night about his struggles to find God. Over there, an empty spot where an elderly couple had sat. Empty because the wife was in her final hours on earth, and her husband was at her side. Your will be done.

God, you have given us each our own path to walk. Each one of those paths is different. We will enjoy great moments and we will despair during great trials. You have given us self-will, to decide how to react to the obstacles, challenges and gifts that we will encounter in our path. We can tell you that the path is just too hard, and turn away. We can soldier on miserably. We can jump off the path and decide to make our own way if it looks like our way makes more sense. Or we can simply walk forward, one more step at a time; trusting that this is the right path for us.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was terrified. He knew what was coming and he was in agony, so much so, that he literally “sweated blood,” (see Luke 22:44).  He could see the next obstacle; the cross. He had a choice to make. He could have chosen to walk away. He begged God for another way out. But he closed his prayers with, “They will be done.” And because he did, he saved my life.

I doubt that I’ll be faced with the agonizing choice Jesus had to make. My obstacles are more of the, “do I say bad things about that guy or don’t I?” variety. “Do I give or do I withhold?” “Do I go, or do I stay?” I cannot save the entire world, as Jesus did. But I can relieve a little bit of suffering here and there. I can share a burden or two. I can make this small spot on earth just a little better for the people around me today.

What would Jesus do?

Thy will be done.

Prodigal blogger

Good morning. Yes, it’s me again. Yes, it has been a while. My spiritual muse ran dry on me several months ago, and I just haven’t been able to get it back. Even now, I feel like my thesaurus of faith is blank. But God continues to call me to write, so here I am.

They say all of the great saints went through periods of spiritual dryness. Did they also go through periods of spiritual laziness? I don’t want to call what I’ve been going through “dryness.” The spirit has been with me. Jesus has remained in me; my faith does not feel empty at all. It has been a good time in my life. Not the best, but far from the worst. I just haven’t been able/willing/inspired/self-disciplined/what? to put pen to paper…or finger to keyboard.

But here I am. I apologize for the lack of inspirational zip in my writing this morning. No scriptures to quote; no theology to paraphrase. Just me.

Perhaps we can chalk this one up to two sinners comparing notes over coffee. How’s your spiritual life been lately? Mine could be worse, and it could be better. I’m working on better. What about you?

Here’s to you, St. Peter

Today is a feast day for the Chair of St. Peter (I think that’s a churchy way of inviting him to take a break; “Here, Peter, sit down and rest for a few minutes. Luke will keep an eye on the Pearly Gates for a while.”) It used to be the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, but that got moved to the Summer. Don’t ask me why. If you are curious and find out why, reply to this post and tell the rest of us.

I’ve said before that St. Peter is my favorite Apostle. He’s just so…human. Sometimes he was a hot-head, sometimes he was a bonehead, and other times he was just plain scared. When they saw Jesus walking on water, Peter was the one who jumped out of the boat and tried to imitate him. It worked for a few minutes, until his human side took over and he sunk. (Put yourself in his mind. “Wow! I’m doing it! I’m doing it, I’m walking on water! Hey, guys, check this out, I’m walki…wait. What the heck and I doing? This water is deep. What if I trip over a fish? I can’t do thi….glub, glub, glub.”)

Peter was imperfect by most human measures. He wasn’t wealthy; he was a simple fisherman. He wasn’t scholarly. He wasn’t saintly. On more than one occasion, Jesus had to correct him, and when the chips were down, Peter claimed that he had never even met Jesus. But he is the the rock. He is the foundation of the universal church that Jesus came here to form. He was given the power to make rules for both Earth and Heaven. (His first rule was probably, “Okay, from now on, NO walking on water.”) And he is as human as you and I.

So, what does that say about God’s plan for you and I? Can we still argue that we’re too (choose one or more) weak, ignorant, old, young, hotheaded, fearful, doubtful, willful? God made Peter. He chose Peter. God also made you and chose you. So, if he calls you to do his will, how can you say no? Go ahead, step out of the boat. Remember, even if you sink, he will catch you, just like he caught Peter.

Let’s all be handmaidens of The Lord today

Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Today we celebrate the historical moment where a teenage girl told God, ‘Yes, I’ll do it.’ The world was saved because an innocent young lady was willing to put her life into God’s hands rather than her own. Because of Mary’s brave yet innocent acceptance, salvation was born.

As you can tell, I have a bit of a hero-worship thing going for Our Blessed Mother. Her example of acceptance instead of question, doubt, or argument is a model than I look up to, even though it’s seldom one that I can live up to.

In God’s creation the simplest way is usually the right way. I love the great philosophers and I am grateful for their wisdom. But I get most of my inspiration from the saints who love God and do His will because it’s the right thing to do, not because of their deep theological knowledge. I’m a fan of those, “little ones,” as Christ names them. Saint Augustine and John Paul II have given our church an unchallengeable depth, and their brilliance has come as close as any human can to understand our part of His plan. But Mother Mary, Saint Francis, Saint Therese of Lisieux and Mother Theresa show us the way by example, by living The Way.

May I have the strength today to say, “Let it be done to me according to your word.”

Jesus is a troublemaker

Today’s gospel reading is one of those that gives heartburn to us “soft and squishy” Christians. Our Lord reminds us that being one of His followers isn’t always going to win us good neighbor awards. And we have some choices to make; sometimes difficult choices. Toward the tail end of Chapter 12 of Luke’s gospel, He tells us, “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided three against two and two against three.” So much for love your neighbor as yourself.

We could argue that Jesus was talking to the early Christians, and that they were going to face some serious tribulations along the way of establishing the Church. We could say his message was intended as a warning to them of the difficult days ahead. That’s probably true. However, like all of His inspired word, Jesus was speaking to every generation of Christians, including us.

Let’s face it; we know it’s true. Being a faithful and attentive Christian is still a challenge. Perhaps you and I won’t face lions, beheadings or gladiators, but in some ways what we face is every bit as dangerous to our eternal life. We are threatened, not in body, but in soul, every time we are tempted to sleep in on Sunday, talk ourselves out of going to confession, or rationalize away our point of view about “that” particular commandment.

And then there’s good old peer pressure. Sometimes we find ourselves hiding the fact that we’re Christians, trying to be “sensitive,” to the people around us. While I’m all for tact, keep in mind who you are “hiding.” The next time you are at a restaurant and find yourself too embarrassed to say grace, ponder this line from Luke, “Everyone who acknowledges Me before others the Son of Man will acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God.” Think about it.

Here I am

Here I am, Lord,
You called me.
So said Samuel.
But he answered the wrong master.
He was sent back to bed.

Here I am, Lord,
You called me.
Again answered Samuel.
But he spoke to the one who did not beckon.
And back again he was sent.

Here I am, Lord,
You called me.
In persistence was he heard.
Sent back again, but told to heed
That quiet, insisting voice.

Samuel, Samuel.
Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.
Each time I heard you,
Each time I responded to you,
Tho ignorant of Your voice.

Samuel, Samuel,
You call us by name.
We arise, we answer,
But often we go to the wrong teacher.
And we are sent back to listen again.

Samuel, Samuel,
You call us patiently,
Knowing and hearing,
Waiting and caring
For the teacher to learn what the pupil must know.

Samuel, Samuel.
Here I am, Lord.
Speak, for your servant is listening,
And now I know Your voice.
For the one whom You sent has sent me.

All about niggling

Niggling is a multipurpose word. (And I didn’t make it up, honest.) It’s a noun, a verb, an adverb and an adjective. All of its forms convey the same thing: pestering or being pestered by the annoying, small, and trivial things. Giving the small stuff more weight in our lives and thoughts than they deserve. It’s the straw that broke the camel’s back, the fly that won’t stop buzzing around your ears, and the itch between your shoulder blades.

One big problem with niggles is that, in getting wrapped up in our own problems, too often we become the “niggle” in someone else’s life. We are the rude customer, the spouse with the annoying habit or the careless driver on the highway. In our self-centeredness we forget about the people next to us, focusing on our own petty needs (or our own internal niggles), and as a result, we thoughtlessly bump into their lives.

Being human, we can’t help but deal with niggles. They are everywhere in our lives. Niggling little problems crop up at home, at work, even in church (like that guy behind you who can’t carry a tune…oops, that’s me; sorry!). Our humanity, which allows us to hunger, thirst, be bored and tired, thrives in a world of niggling. What’s a soul to do?!

Saint Paul had a niggle in his life. He never tells us what it is, so I don’t want to suggest that it’s a niggling niggle, but it is a “thorn in the flesh,” that annoys Paul. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul said he asked God three times to take it away, but God told him to live with it, because God’s “power is made perfect in weakness.” Rather than continue to complain about whatever was niggling at him, Paul embraced God’s word, and tells us to be “content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions and constraints for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

So the next time you’re being niggled, remember the words of St. Paul to his friends in Corinth, and “boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell within me.”

I sing in Church. Sorry about that.

I always feel like apologizing to the people around me when I sing in church. God made my children talented singers, but not so much their father. I couldn’t carry a single note, let alone an entire tune. My voice sounds like the noise you would hear from a lonely cat in a dark alley on a cold night.

And I have no sense of rhythm. When the hymn calls for hand-clapping, I am always a gentlemen–I hold onto the music book for my wife while she claps. That way, people don’t see that I would turn a simple 1-2 rhythm into 1-2, 1-2, 1-1.75, 1-1.5, 1-1, pause, 1-2, 1-3, etc. You get the picture.

And yet I sing anyway. Why? Two reasons. Obedience and joy. First, obedience. When Father says kneel, I kneel, when he says respond, I respond, so when he says sing, I sing. Some time ago, I decided that the collective wisdom of Jesus and of the entire Church goes into the order of mass, so the odds are pretty good we are called upon to sing for a perfectly good reason, even those of us who sound like stray goats caught in a fence. So, where the mass calls for us to sing a hymn, I sing a hymn.

Second, joy. When I was younger and much more impressed with my dignity, I thought I was too cool to sing. Later, as I became less impressed, but still pretty vain, I was too embarrassed. But every now and then, I would allow my voice out of its locked cupboard on special occasions, like when the church was full and we’d sing a really loud hymn. I figured nobody could tell that noise was me and not a bad wheel-bearing on the furnace blower.

I soon noticed that those masses were some of my favorites, and that I felt closer to the Lord than when I’d just stand there. Over time I began to sing more and more. The songs became more familiar to me. Eventually I realized the wisdom in the old saying, “he who sings prays twice.” It’s not that God is closer to us, it’s that we are closer to Him when we give ourselves completely over to His purposes.

So now I stand when Father says stand, I kneel when he says kneel, and when he asks us to praise God in song, I do that too. “Sing a new song unto the Lord.”

Want to follow God? Turn around.

God’s kingdom is full of paradoxes. The last shall be first, the leader must be the servant, to be rich we must give away everything we have. Want to approach the Almighty? Approach as simple as a child. Are you starting to see the theme here? God’s way is not the world’s way. In most circumstances, God’s way is the opposite of the world’s.

In Magnificat magazine, author Peter John Cameron cites 17th century St. Claude as saying, “a rule God usually follows is to attain His ends by ways that are the opposite to those human prudence would choose.” Going on, St. Claude imagines God saying to us, “If I paid heed to what you think you need you would have been hopelessly ruined long ago.” Ouch.

How true, though. How many times have I followed my own lead, or my “gut,” only to end up deeper in the briar patch? Our human instinct leads us naturally toward earthly solutions, while God’s direction leads us somewhere greater. As creatures, our instincts are for survival and self-gratification, while as children of God we are called to love. It sets up a constant internal conflict.

Following God is not a choice that you can make once and never think about again. Following His direction instead of our own instincts means making an endless series of “right-versus-left” decisions, all through our day. Often we will get it wrong, or simply forget that it is a decision, as we “go with the flow” of the world. But when we do remember to place God first and to be led by His will instead of our own, good things usually follow. God promises repeatedly that, if you ask, you will receive His help. The Bible is very consistent, whether the lesson involves a lost sheep, Peter the failing water-walker, a blind man, or a leper. Ask for help in following God, and you will be given that help.

Give it a try today. As you’re walking along today’s path of life, ask yourself (or better yet, ask Jesus who just happens to be walking right next to you), “am I moving toward heaven or away from it?” The answer is usually pretty obvious. And so’s the solution. About face, forward march!