July 29, 2011

It's a Matter of Trust..and Patience

I have discovered that it is very easy to talk about trusting God, but a bit more difficult to put it into practice. Last week I wrote that I was having several medical tests.  Well, in addition to the high cholesterol, I just found that that my sonogram showed something that is potentially serious. Of course they don't tell you anything over the phone so I started to worry and after looking the condition up on the internet my mind started expecting the worst.  I decided the best thing to do was go down to the beach to walk and pray.  It was there that I realized that I have to put my money where my mouth is so to speak. I talk about trust in the Lord, now I have to do it, put all my trust in Him, no matter what the outcome.
Sunset at Jones Beach

As I was walking over the sand at sunset, I sensed a calm come over me.  I recall walking on the beach several years ago during a rough time, and "hearing" the Lord tell me that I have much more to suffer. I sort of shrugged it off, but last night those words came back to me.  Yet, what also came back to me were the words of St. Therese in one of her poems. This great saint totally embraced her suffering, giving it all to Jesus, and trusting in His Love for her.

If sometimes bitter suffering
Should come to visit your            heart,
Make it your joy:
To suffer for God...                     what sweetness!...
Then Divine tenderness
Will make you soon forget
That you walk on thorns
Well, I'm not a saint, and I don't think I can easily get to the point that Therese got with regard to her suffering and illness. But I can learn from her.  Her Love for God put her pain and suffering in the proper perspective.  I am praying that I will find out that I really don't have anything too seriously wrong, but I will have to be patient in finding out since I could not get a follow up appointment until the end of August.  Patience is a virtue that is almost as difficult to achieve as trust.  But, it is a Fruit of the Holy Spirit so perhaps God is asking me to pray my favorite novena, the Novena to the Holy Spirit.  Prayer is a better way to deal with situations like this rather than getting anxious any day.

July 21, 2011

Diet and Exercise

My annual medical checkup had been almost two years ago so I thought with summer kind of slow it is a good time to schedule appointments with my various doctors.  This week I had two doctor appointments for physicals, a complete blood workup, an EKG, and a bone density evaluation. Two weeks ago I had a mammogram, and next week I have to go for a sonogram.  So far everything seems fine except for one thing, my cholesterol is 235.  The doctor wants it to be 185. The good thing is that my HDL and triglycerides are good, but I still have to lower that LDL.  She said I need to lose weight (yes, I know that), stop eating animal fats, and get plenty of exercise. Also, to keep my bones healthy she wants me to lift weights and walk.

I took the news in stride, but when I got home I realized that means no burgers on the grill, and the sausage and peppers I made the other night will have to be eaten by someone else.  I'm not a big red meat fan, but the fact that I am now called to avoid it makes me feel deprived. As for exercise, well, I have weights just sitting in the corner of my room, and the 4 mile boardwalk, which is delightful to walk, is only a 10 minute drive away.  I guess it's time to make some changes and pay attention to diet and exercise to keep healthy. The truth is, when I don't pay attention to these things that might not be good for me, my body lets me know its time to start paying attention or pay the price of getting sick. 

This evening while meditating, I was reflecting on what the doctor ordered and started to think about my spiritual health.  My spiritual side also needs an occasional checkup and "diet and exercise" to keep it healthy and to help  me advance toward the goal of union with God. What kind of diet and exercise do I need?  Well, just as what I eat will have an affect my physical health, I have to ask myself what I let enter my soul that I really should be avoiding, and what should I be doing to keep a healthy spiritual life? What is my spiritual diet? The word diet is derived from the Greek word diaita, which means "a way of life." A healthy spirituality means following a way of life that is centered on Christ and on the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist.  Diet also derives from a Latin word dieta, which means "a days work." Being a Christian is work, more often than not. But what is the "work" of a Christian?  The work of a Christian is to continue the mission of Christ in this world, and to follow the will of God in all things. This calls for a steady diet of prayer, scripture, sacraments and avoiding those temptations that lead me to sin and away from God.

So how to we sustain this way of life? Here is where the exercise comes in.  All the great saints have engaged in any number of spiritual exercises.  Prayer is first on the list, in fact for a healthy spiritual life prayer is essential.  How do I pray?  It is simply routine or do I really communicate with God? These are important questions. I  also include some sort of meditation and spiritual reading as part of my daily spiritual exercise.   I know as a Benedictine Oblate I really should be engaging in Lectio Divina daily, but just as I make excuses against going for that walk on the boardwalk, I often find all sorts of excuses not to engage in Lectio. Acts of popular piety are also on the excercise list. Today many people reject some of these acts as old fashioned or not for them, but many traditional acts of piety such as the Rosary, chaplets, time spent in adoration, novenas, and dedication to particular saints, are ways to deepen our spiritual life.  Regular celebration of the Sacrament of Penance and confiding in a spiritual director or a close spiritual friend (in Celtic spirituality this is called anam cara), are good ways of being assured that I am on the right track in my spiritual journey as long as, like with my medical doctors, I give heed to the advice I am given. Having a prayer partner or having a Christian community to pray with helps keep me focused and accountable.

What happens when I don't stick to a diet and exercise routine? I gain weight, feel sluggish and put my body at risk for illness. What happens when I don't stick to a spiritual diet and exercise routine? I don't know about you, but I usually can tell that my life is out of sorts. I don't have enough patience, it seems that things start to go wrong, and I get restless and anxious. It also pulls me away from what I need to do to grow in my relationship with God. In other words, it keeps me from being open to God's Grace. So here we are in mid summer and I have been pointed on a way to good health physically and spiritually.  The important thing is to now stick to it!

July 20, 2011

St. Apollinaris and Ravenna

Basilicia of Saint'Appollinare
in Classe

 Today being the memorial of St. Apollinaris, I am posting some pictures of the two of the churches named for St. Apollinaris in the city of Ravenna, Italy.  In 1999, while on a trip to Italy with my mom, we had the opportunity to visit these churches and view their magnificent mosaics. It is off the beaten path so it is not a popular tourist stop, but a must for anyone who is an art lover and interested in the almost lost art of mosaics. There are eight places in Ravenna listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites. Ravenna was the capital city of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century, and was greatly influenced by the Byzantine when in the 6th century Emperor Justinian I made Ravenna the seat of the Byzantine Empire in Italy.

Saint'Apollinarius Nuova

There are two basilicas named for St. Apollinarius, a  bishop and martyr who tradition states was appointed by as bishop of Ravenna by St. Peter himself.  The basilicas of Saint'Apollinare in Classe and Saint'Apollinare Nuovo are both in the Romanesque style but their mosaics are Byzantine.  

The following  are from Saint'Apollinarius in Classe.

St. Apollinaris

Baptism of Jesus


Interior of the basilica

The following are from Saint'Apollinarius Nuovo. The mosaics on the sides of the nave are male and female martyrs facing toward the sanctuary. We know this because they are carrying the crowns of martyrdom.

Nave of Saint'Apollinarius Nuovo

female martyrs

male martyrs

These particular mosics came to mind immediatly when I first walked into the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles and saw the magnificent tapestries that line the walls of the nave. 

Despite the Cathedral being ultra modern in design, the tapestries show the influence of early Church art.  As I have posted previously, I think we have lost something in today's modern world with regard to great relious art.  Religious art was meant to catechize people and to lift their hearts to God.  I think the mosaics of Ravenna are fine examples and I wish I had more room here to explore further the art work in these beautiful churches. If you are ever in Italy, it is worth the trip to see these and the other historic places in Ravenna.

July 18, 2011

Taking Another Look at Confession - part II

When I talk about the Sacrament of Penance in RCIA or in adult catechesis classes, I often hear the question, "Why should I confess my sins to another person?"  That's a valid question.  But if you think about it, most of us engage in some sort of "confession" all the time, we just don't think of it in the same way as we do celebrating the Sacrament with a priest.  How many of us have a friend or confident to whom we confide our deepest secrets?  How many are in or have gone through therapy sessions? Talk to a bartender, hairdresser, or barber about how many "confessions" they have heard while serving drinks or cutting hair. There are plenty of "confessions" done over the internet.  I freqent a Catholic website and I can't beleive how many people write asking for advice about how to deal with a particular sin or vice they have committed (sometimes with a bit too much detail). Then look at television.  Some of the shows with the highest ratings , like Oprah, often have people on who reveal the wrongs they have done on national TV without batting an eyelash.  There is a saying that "confession is good for the soul," and another that states, "we are only as sick as our secrets."  I believe both are true.  Deep down inside we have a need to tell someone what it is that we have done wrong.  Many criminals are caught because they just can't keep what they did secret, and they tell someone who eventually reports it to the police.  So why is it, that in a world where almost no one keeps secret what we do and what we don't do, is confessing to a priest so uncomfortable?

I think a lot has to do with guilt, or lack of it. If we don't sense that we are really doing something wrong then it is no big deal to tell others about it in the situations I mentioned above.  But, when going to confession, I have to admit that, yes, what I did or am doing is  wrong, it is sinful, and  that I am want  to stop doing it because it offends God (I beleive this is a major stubbling block for some). Carrying the weight of guilt and the anxiety of sin and offending God is a great burden to bear. But some people would rather carry that weight than have God lift it from them. Admitting our sins to a priest is a humbling experience, and it seems that today humility is looked down upon as a weakness. St. Benedict's fifth step of humility in the Holy Rule is to confess our sins.  In Twelve Step programs, steps 4 through 10 speak of humbly acknowledging, confessing and making amends for our wrongs (sounds like confession to me). Humility leads to self-knowledge and to a right relationship with God and others, which leads to healing and growth. In celebrating the Sacrament the burden is lifted.

When I explain it in this way, I think it makes a lot of sense to some people.  Sure I explain the theological reasons and the grace of the Sacrament, but for those with "high anxiety" over celebrating this Sacrament, appealing to simple logic seems to be a good start. 

July 17, 2011

Taking Another Look at Confession - part I

Over this past week the subject of Confession has caught my attention in several different ways.   On July 24th, the Congregation for Clergy released a document for priests titled "The Priest Minister of Divine Mercy: an Aid for Confessors and Spiritual Directors, which I took the time to read.  Although it was meant for priests, it gave great insight into the Sacrament. In the book I am currently reading,"Rediscover Catholicism" a Spiritual Guide to Living with Passion & Purpose," by Matthew Kelly, I was up to the chapter titled Confession. To go even further, in an online discussion I was engaged in, the conversation centered around the Sacrament of Penance.  Was God trying to tell me something?  It's only been about two weeks since my last confession, so I don't think that was it.  Perphaps God is asking me to write about it. 

I must admit, celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Penance, or Confession (what ever one cares to call it), is something that has caught my attention over the last twenty years, especially since I began studying theology.  If fact, I chose it as my ad libitum topic for my comprehensive exams at Notre Dame.  I have been fascinated by the history and development of the Sacrament and also the obvious decline in its celebration among Catholics today (although I think we are seeing a slight increase).  I also feel that it is a Sacrament that is much needed in today's world.  But I didn't always feel that way.

As a child I went to Confession every few weeks, but a bad experience with a priest in confession as an adolescent instilled a fear that stayed with me for years (and to some extent still rears its head at times).  I did still go, but over time it went from months to years between confessions. Also, I gave in to the mistaken notion that if I didn't commit a mortal sin then I didn't need to celebrate the Sacrament. That's what it might appear to say in Canon Law, but what I discovered is that my conscience formation was a bit flawed, and I also gave into a bit of relativism (OK maybe more than a bit), so that I had myself convinced that I really wasn't sinning mortally so I didn't need confession. But God was working on convincing me that this Sacrament was necessary, whether I commit mortal sins or not. When I finally came back to Confession after an absense of 9 years, I still did not feel that great about it, but made it a yearly "gotta do" kind of thing, until I started studying theology, reading about the saints, and looking into enriching my own spiritual life.

What I discovered is that this Sacrament is a beautiful encounter with Jesus, who is loving, forgiving and merciful. It is, writes Kelly, "the perfect spiritual practice to rekindle our passion for excellence in the spiriutal life."  What made ordinary people great saints?  I believe it was the realization that they were sinners and that they believed in God's mercy and accepted His Grace, becoming all that God called them be.  Look at some of our most beloved saints, Paul, Augustine, Francis, Ignatius, they all had less than perfect lives before they encountered Christ.  But, in being open to Grace, they confessed their sinful ways, abandoned their way of life, and drew close to God.

Broken Trust
by Natalie Holland
Taking that step to be open to and accepting of God's Grace requires trust. Perhaps that is another reason why I stayed away from the Sacrament for so long, having been hurt, I was unable to allow myself to trust. What I failed to realize however, was that my lack of trust was based on the fault of a human being, not on God. I let one priest, who was unable to be compassionate to an eleven year old girl, influence my relationship with Christ, who is full of compassion. I allowed one man to affect my trust in God. I wonder how many people have let a bad confession experience keep them away from our Lord's forgiveness and mercy? It took me a long time to rebuild that trust by finding good confessors and availing myself of the Sacrament regularly so that I can keep building my trust in God by experiencing His Love and Forgiveness. Have you been away from the Sacrament for awhile, for one reason or another? Why not take another look at Confession!

July 14, 2011

Feasts, Feathers, and Tom

Today is the memorial of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha.  Kateri was a Mohawk Indian born near Auriesville, NY in 1656.  She became a Catholic at the age of 20, relocated to Canada, and devoted herself to prayer and the Eucharist. She died at the age of 24 in 1680.  She was the first Native American to be declared Blessed and has been called "the Lily of the Mohawks."

History has painted a pretty awful picture of Native Americans. While I do not deny that there was much violence against European settlers, and especially against priests and religious, it is also true that these were a very spiritual people who had a deep respect for creation and their traditions. When I was doing graduate work in education, I took a history methods course and the prof was very much into Native American history, especially their spirituality. While we as Catholics tend to dismiss Native spirituality as pantheism, there is something we can learn from it...respect for God's creation, adherence to tradition, and the importance of ritual celebration.

Speaking of ritual, the memorial of Blessed Kateri brings back memories of my summers at Notre Dame and one of my classmates named Tom. Tom is the kind of person who makes being Catholic fun!  Some of the things Tom did or said might have bordered on the irreverent, but if you know Tom, you know his love for Christ and for the Church.  What does Tom have to do with Kateri, or ritual?  Well, when we were at Notre Dame, Morning Prayer was celebrated for the students every weekday before class in Our Lady's Chapel. It was an intimate setting where usually just a handful of liturgy students and profs would antiphonally chant or sing Morning Praise. Kateri's feast day seemed to be one of Tom's favorites, or was it just that the hymn they would always choose to sing that morning seemed to have an Indian tom tom (no pun intended) beat.  Tom is good at making up alternate lyrics for hymns, and as I recall he came up with some good ones for Kateri (always presented to us after prayer as we walked to class).  Tom knew the power of humor, and never a day went by when Tom would have us in stitches as we sat around the table in the South Dining Hall (which is reminiscent of Hogwarts main hall, complete with a portrait of Dumbledore at one end - actually it was Fr. Sorin but the beard made the likeness unmistakable).  Study evenings in the dorm were often filled with laughter and silliness at break time.  Working on a class project with him for Ritual Studies didn't seem like work at all (we explored "strange new worlds"and decided that birds must live in the basilica). Tom showed us how not to get anxious over our studies, helped us to relax, and not take ourselves too seriously.

One year, on the feast of Kateri, I took a morning walk by St. Mary's Lake before prayer, something I never did since it was hard enough to get up early to even make it to prayer.  As I was walking I found a feather. Finding a feather is no big deal considering the duck, swan and goose population around the lakes, but it made me think of Kateri, and of Tom.  I brought the feather to the basilica and presented it to Tom before prayer as a gift in honor of Kateri.  Tom put it in his hair and wore it.  He wasn't trying to be funny, at least it didn't seem like it.  He was truly grateful for this simple gift. I hope he realizes what a gift he was to us during those summers. 

Humor is a great gift from God.  It helps to lighten our load, brighten our day, and see things from a different perspective when it is done to build up and not break down.  So often today humor is used as a way to make fun of people, to put them down, to criticize, and to tear apart. The Church often bears the brunt of jokes and degrading humor. I will always be grateful for Tom's contribution of good humor during my time of study, as I have so many stories of how Tom lightened my load and those of my classmates.  

So lighten up! As we celebrate Kateri's feast day, spend some time outside honoring God's creation (she is one of the patrons of the environment).  If you happen to come across a feather, well maybe Kateri is smiling on you.  And Tom, if you still have that feather I gave you, take it out and know that I am thinking of you, blessing you for your humor, and hearing the sound of tom toms.

July 13, 2011

"I will be with you."

It amazes me sometimes how God lets me know when He is trying to get something across to me.  This morning, as I usually do before Mass, I was meditating on the scripture readings for the day.  In the first reading from Exodus (Ex. 3:1-6,9-12), God appears to Moses in the burning bush and tells Moses  to go to Pharaoh and lead the Hebrews out of Egypt. Moses protests saying, "Who am I that I should go...?" I was thinking, how many times in Scripture do we hear that argument, or one like it,  in response to the call of God?  I know Isaiah and Jerimiah both expressed it. So did Peter, and Paul, and many of the saints throughout our history. God calls the most unlikely people to do His work.; people who are too young, too old, cannot speak well, are afraid, don't feel up to the challenge, or simply don't want to or think they can't do what God is asking of them.

My meditation led me to reflect on my own faith journey and how God called me into ministry.  The first time I was called upon to give a talk for a retreat, I really felt frightened and anxious. While I was a teacher and had spoken in public before, this was different.  This was about my faith and I was being asked to call others to faith through the words I was speaking.  Before I was to speak, someone opened the Bible and read from Jeremiah (1:4-9)
"The word of the LORD came to me thus:
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I dedicated you,
a prophet to the nations I appointed you.
"Ah, Lord GOD!" I said,
"I know not how to speak; I am too young."
But the LORD answered me,
Say not, "I am too young."
To whomever I send you, you shall go;
whatever I command you, you shall speak.
Have no fear before them,
because I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.
Then the LORD extended his hand and touched my mouth, saying,
See, I place my words in your mouth! "
Wow, did those words speak to me, and a whole new world was opened up. 

Mass began, and when it came to the homily it was about Moses reaction to God's call and how often we say to God, "Who am I that I should go...", or do, or say, or be something that is beyond what we ever thought possible. Father said that when God calls us, He gives us the Grace to see through to completion what He is asking of us.  I took this as a confirmation of my own meditation, but also as a reminder that I need to trust in God and be willing to answer His call, whenever that may come, and to do whatever God asks of me. 

The priest also made reference to the Gospel (Mt.11:25-27) and said that we have to have "childlike" trust. Somewhere in our "growing up" we tend to lose that trusting demeanor. Perhaps it is because the world is so untrustworthy that we carry that over to our faith life.  Perhaps the problems in the Church of late have caused people to lose trust. Yet, we have to remember that the Church is more than simply the people in it, that there is a Divine dimension to the Church that many overlook.  If we have faith in God, we must have trust that God will not lead His Church or us down the wrong path.

My meditation today, and the words of the homily, remind me to have childlike trust and be willing to believe that if God asks something of me it is because He knows that I will be able to do it with His Grace. I know that God will be with me, just as He promised Moses. God will give me what I need to carry it through. All I need to say is "Here I am."

July 11, 2011

A Blessed Feast Day

Today is the feast of St. Benedict, the 6th century monk who wrote a simple Rule for beginners in the spiritual life that has become the foundation of a rule of life for for religious and lay men and women for over fourteen centuries.  As a Benedictine Oblate I follow the Rule as best I can in everyday life.  The great thing about the Rule is that it really is very simple. It is the way we should be living our lives as Christians and indeed as the human persons God created us to be.

The Holy Rule begins with the word "Listen."  Benedict teaches us to listen to the voice of the Lord in humble obedience. To obey is to hear, to listen, and to act upon what we have heard.  Obedience for Benedict is about Love, that is our loving response to our Loving God.  Obedience is a word that we don't like to hear these days, but the obedience to the Word of God leads to genuine freedom and true happiness.

Benedict also asks us to practice humility and he lists twelve steps to achieve humility. Again this may be a word that many don't like to hear, especially in this day of rampant individualism and the push to get ahead and to achieve the most we can out of life. For some, these twelve steps may seem too hard or too degrading.  But as we read in Scripture "whoever humble themselves shall be exalted" (Lk 14:11).  Practicing the steps of humility leads to recognizing our right relationship with God and with all God's creation.  

One thing that attracted me to the Rule and the Benedictine way of life is that it is very practical, and I am a very practical person.  But it is also very spiritual. Benedictine spirituality focuses on two things "ora et labora;" prayer and work.  Benedictines find God not only in their prayer but in their everyday work, always aware that they are in the presence of the Almighty. Prayer for Benedictines is the Liturgy of the Hours, what we call "Opus Dei," the Work of God, and "Lectio Divina" or Holy Reading.  Along with the celebration of the Eucharist this makes up the prayer life of Benedictines. But work is also a prayer when we dedicate our work to the glory of God. 

Most of all, Benedict calls us "to prefer nothing to the Love of Christ." I have this quote posted on my computer screen at work so that I am reminded everyday to practice the rules of a simple 6th century monk so that I can "set out for the loftier summits...and under God's protection (I) will reach them.


July 9, 2011

The Beauty of Truth and Charity

I started out my adult life as an art major.  It's not that I was extremely talented in that area, but it was something I enjoyed, and for a number of years I worked as an art teacher. When the Spirit led me into the world of theology, specifically liturgy, my life's path changed as I focused on new areas to immerse myself.  However, I did find that art and theology went very well together.  Over the years I would dabble in different art and craft forms, but I have always been drawn back to oil painting.  My last attempt had to be eight or nine years ago when I started painting the Kousa Dogwood in front of our house.  I never finished it.  I don't finish a lot of things, which is something I need to explore, but the desire to paint is always there (even if it is just painting the dining room walls).

For awhile now that feeling of wanting to go back to painting has surfaced again. I thought about taking a class on writing icons, which I still might do, but in discovering my unfinished dogwood painting a few weeks ago, I really feel the call to work in oils. I have come across some beautiful photographs of flowers that I thought would be good subject matter, but all of a sudden I felt nudged to paint religious subjects. Over the centuries, religious art was the dominant subject of most art forms, but it seems that aside form the liturgical arts, statues, and architecture, we do't see our faith expressed that much anymore in paintings.  One could say that religious themes don't fit in well with today's modern art, but even as reently as the middle of the last century, artists like Salvatore Dali made religion a focus of much of their art. In fact, Dali's depiction of Christ of St. John of the Cross is one of my favorite works. I have it on a prayer card to mark my place in my journal and I meditate on it often,

Another 20th century modern artist that I am fond of is Georges Rouault. I was introduced to his monumental work Miserere et Guerre when taking a course on Theology and Art at Notre Dame. Rouault created a series of prints that show that when the world suffers, God suffers with us, and that His mercy endures all suffering. If you ever get the opportunity to sees the entire work of 58 prints, you will not be disappointed. 

My point in mentioning these artists is to show that contemporary religious art is possible and it is a shame that we do not see more of it. I was speaking with someone this past Tuesday, July 5th, about my thoughts on painting religious themes.  Call it coincidence or not, but the very next day, I read that Pope Benedict XVI gave an address to artists on July 4th at an exhibit titled The Splendor of Truth, The Beauty of Charity, that was organized in honor of his 60th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood. The following words in the Pope's address spoke to me:

"Dear Friends...never separate artistic creativity from truth and charity; never seek beauty far from truth and charity, but with the richness of your genius, of your creative impulse, be always courageous seekers of truth and witnesses of charity. Make truth shine in your works so that their beauty awakens in the sights and hearts of those who admire them the desire to make their existence, all existence, beautiful and true, enriching it with that treasure that never diminishes, which makes of life a work of art and of every man an extraordinary artist: [the treasure of] charity, love."

Wow, just what I needed to read to encourage me to pick up my brushes.  I went in search of my paint box and lo and behold the tubes of oils are still good.  I even went out and bought some canvases.  So I am ready to begin...but first I have to finish my dogwoods.

July 7, 2011

God is watching us

I was talking with someone the other day about the surveillance cameras that are being installed just about everywhere.  First we just saw the traffic cams that would keep us abreast of traffic jams and accidents as we watched the morning news to judge our commute to work.  But now, these cameras catch us if we try to beat the red light, make a illegal turn and I am sure they soon will catch us if we are speeding.  You can't walk into a store without seeing cameras that were once only common in banks and jewelry shops.  In some areas they are even on the main streets.  More and more schools have them and they are even being installed in churches. Yes, they are for our protection but many people view them as "Big Brother" watching over us.

Then there is this little innovation called "Google Earth"  I love the site.  From a satellite high above the earth it can pinpoint minute details of any place you choose to look at. Granted it is not a live picture, but in looking up my own address, I was amazed at how much was visible from these satellite images. You could practically see that my lawn need mowing (no, that was from the ground level cameras that practically see into my living room).  Once I found a friend's house whose address I did not know, simply by Googling the specific area and zeroing in on landmarks that I saw in a picture she had sent me.  If someone wants to find you, seems there is no place to hide. 

Yes, it seems the government is always watching us, but Someone else is always watching over us as well, noticing our every move, our every step. Someone even knows our thoughts before they come to our consciousness.  However we don't seem so concerned that He sees all and knows all.  For some, the fact that God is ever present and ever watchful is not a deterrent to wrongdoing.  Most people I would assume, are totally oblivious to the fact that God is watching us, and not "from a distance" as Bette Midler would have us think, or as the satellites circling above us in space.  No, our God watches from a place much closer than surveillance cameras can ever get.

Psalm 139 expresses this beautifully.  It is, according to the footnotes in my New American Bible, "A hymnic meditation on God's omnipresence and omniscience."  The psalmist makes me aware that God is with me always, and there is no place where I can hide from Him.  Yes, this should jolt me into making sure that my life is being lived in light of God's commandments, but it above all should give me a sense of security knowing that God's "hand will guide me."  

The fact that God is watching me at all times is comforting, is calming, it gives me hope and it shows me the great depth of His Love. I cannot escape Him, no matter how far I try to run from Him. He finds me, and lets me know the foolishness in trying to flee from His Love, for it is His Love that gives me freedom, His Love that gives me Life.  The fact that God knows my every thought, helps me to trust in Him more and more, to seek His mercy and forgiveness, and to know that my goal in life is to do His Holy Will and I praise Him for I am "fearfully and wonderfully made."

"Probe me, God, know my heart;
   try me, know my concerns.
See if my way is crooked,
  then lead me in the ancient paths." (Psalm 139: 23-24)

July 5, 2011

The verdict is in

I usually do not follow criminal trials and I don't like shows like Law and Order or CSI, but the trial in Florida that ended today caught my attention over six weeks ago when I was visiting my parents in Florida. I knew nothing of the case, but they were watching it and I soon got drawn in. Perhaps it was because it involved a young child.  Cases about the murder of children always touched a nerve in me.  How could anyone murder their own child?  I watched the proceedings daily, if not the actual trial, I watched the commentaries that were on in the evening.  I was convinced of her guilt. Needles to say I was greatly disappointed with the verdict of not guilty on all counts except for lying to the police.  

Three things came to me as a result of this trial, that I feel are good for personal reflection. First is the consequences of lying.  "Everybody lies," as Dr. House would say.  But lying, as we have seen in this trial, leads to other lies and deceptions, and after a time it may be impossible for the truth to be known. The pursuit of truth, whether in the secular or spiritual realm, should be a goal that we all strive for.  I admit, that one of my weaknesses, one of my sins, has been lying.  Although my lies were no where near the outrageous fabrications of the young woman on trial, my lies were brought on, like hers and other witnesses, by a need to protect myself or others, and to avoid unwanted actions and consequences.  However, I came to discover that lies, no matter how small, just delay the inevitable and don't really protect anyone.  The truth is always the best course to take.

The second thing I am coming away with is the power of the media. How much of our lives are controlled by the secular and even religious media.  Most of the media had this woman guilty and did much to convince their viewers of her guilt as well. How much of our religious beliefs are swayed by what I read and see on the news and the internet. Yes, the media is necessary to make people aware of what is going on in the world, but when it dictates what we think, or when we allow it to, then it becomes dangerous.  We need to be able to discern the truth.

The third thing that gives me something to reflect on is the number of children who are basically "thrown away" by parents who do not care for them.  There are probably thousands if not millions of unwanted and uncared for children throughout the world, children who need homes, medical care, food and most of all love. In addition are the thousands of children who are abused by their parents or other adults.  What do we do about it? What can we do about it?  If we do nothing, are we basically allowing it to continue?  I don't know if there is an answer.

Finally, and this is what probably bothers me most, is the fact that there are the millions of unborn children who are aborted simply because it would be inconvenient for them to be born.  I wonder how many people who are outraged at the not guilty verdict in the killing of this one two year old child, think nothing about the killing of thousands of unborn children.  

This evening I am taking a few things to prayer.  I am praying for this young woman, who will have to live with herself, if indeed she is guilty.  We may not know the truth, but God knows, and if justice was not done today, then it will be in the next life. I pray for her family, who I believe have basically been destroyed by this trial and by the lies.  I hope they can rebuild their lives.  I pray for the beautiful child, and for all children who are murdered, abused, or abandoned by those who should love them the most.  I pray too for all those women who feel that their unborn children would be an inconvenience, would cramp their style, disrupt their lives, or feel they have no other choice. I pray that they will have a change of heart, bring their child to term, and offer that child in adoption to a loving mom and dad who will love them for the rest of their lives.  I pray for the children.

"A voice was heard in Ramah: wailing and great mourning. Rachel was crying for her children. She refused to be comforted, because they no longer existed."

July 4, 2011

Happy Independence Day

Today as a nation we celebrate our freedom.   The day is filled with backyard parties, good food, good friends and family, and of course fireworks. Yet, I feel that many of us celebrate this holiday with a view towards triumphalism, and I believe that is dangerous.  We have seen from history that freedom can be easily lost.

It is a day to remember that freedom comes with a price, and many in our land have lost their lives to attain our freedom. But it is important to remember that there are people in places around the world that do not have freedom.  We need to realize that peace is the only way to achieve true freedom in this world.  When we look down on other countries, other cultures, other peoples, we work against peace.  Our country was founded upon a belief in God.  Yet so often, it seems, we as a people and as a nation, even as Christians, easily forget that.  We talk about peace, yet we don't often act peaceful.  True peace comes in following the will of God and in being the Body of Christ in this world.

I once read a bumper sticker that said "if you want peace work for justice." Peace, freedom and justice go hand in hand.  You have to have all three. Only when those three act together can we speak of true freedom. Thomas Merton wrote, "Peace is not something you must hope for in the future. It is a deepening of the present, and unless you look for it in the present, you will never find it." Jesus came to announce the Kingdom of God to ALL the world, a Kingdom of peace, of freedom, and of true justice.

Several summers ago when I was at Notre Dame working on my MA, the following hymn was sung at Mass on July 4th.  I was never one for patriotic songs at Mass for our focus should be on the praise of God, not on our country. When I heard this song and read the lyrics, I finally found a song that I believe deserves to be sung on Independence Day.  I brought it back to our parish and we have been singing it ever since. It is a song for our nation, and for nations around the world, for we truly are one.  As we celebrate July 4th, join me in a prayer for peace and freedom, for all the world.