Tuesday, January 29, 2013

On the Way to Finding Meaning in Suffering - Part I

Two weeks ago, I began facilitating a class entitled, "On the Christian Meaning of Suffering".  We finished our second of nine classes this morning.  We're studying Salvifici Doloris - an apostolic letter written by Pope John Paul II in 1984. 

The Holy Father says we can suffer in two ways.  Physically and morally.  According to our Endow study guide, moral suffering is mental anguish; "it is a pain of the soul, pain of a spiritual nature which can leave invisible wounds deep within our hearts.  Moral suffering may be caused by the effects of poverty or by the suffering and death of loved ones.  It can be the result of addictions, neuroses, or mental illnesses, or emerge due to the impact of sexual abuse, prostitution, or abortion.  It can be the consequence of any sort of suffering of conscience, injustice, or self-esteem."

In his letter, Salvifici Doloris, Pope John Paul II writes, "Man suffers on account of evil, which is a certain lack, limitation, or distortion of good.  We could say that man suffers because of a good in which he does not share, from which in a certain sense he is cut off, or of which he has deprived himself.  He particularly suffers when he "ought" - in the normal order of things - to have a share in this good and does not have it."

Did you know that evil is not something that stands on its own?  It is simply the absence of good.  "As darkness is nothing but the absence of light, and is not produced by creation, so evil is merely the defect of goodness." -St. Augustine

In The Promise,  Fr. Jonathan Morris tells us that "every action - even the most despicable one - is done for the sake of attaining some perceived good."  Can you get there in your mind?  What good could the attackers on 9/11 or the shooter in Newtown, CT have been trying to attain?!  On 9/11 (based on my limited understanding), according to their radical faith, didn't the attackers think they were doing something which was pleasing to Allah?  As for the shooter, perhaps he was seeking acknowledgement, justice, or peace (for himself)?

If evil (as a noun) is the absence of good, and evil (as an action) is always done in the pursuit of some good, can we find it?  I don't know if I should, but I feel better knowing that evil is not a "positive" force of its own.  It can (and eventually will) be abolished with Goodness.

Back to suffering...If we want to imitate one of the greatest Apostles of all time, we should eventually be able to join St. Paul in saying, "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake".  Col 1:24

Can you say that?  I can't.

"Suffering seems to belong to man's transcendence:  it is one of those points in which man is in a certain sense "destined" to go beyond himself..."  Salvifici Doloris

In a future post, we will continue to explore "the indissoluble connection between suffering, salvation, and joy." (Endow study guide)

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for Pope John Paul II and his writings, which reveal the nature and depth of Your love.  Thank you for the women I am privileged to explore these ideas with face-to-face.  It is even hard to write, but, thank you for suffering.  I do not understand it, but trust that when I do, I will fear it less.  And, hopefully, with Your grace, one day I will be able to "rejoice in my sufferings for Your sake."  Amen.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Chopped Liver and Boy-Packed Lunches

I read something today that explains a lot. 

In New Guinea, "Children were considered babies until they lost their front teeth.  When this happened, the little boys of the tribe left their mothers and went to live with the men in the village.  Fathers then took over the nurturing of their sons and the mothers raised the girls." - A Mother's Touch by Elise Arndt

Ohhhhhhh.  My middle son just lost both of his front teeth and not so coincidentally, I am chopped liver at my house.  No, I am not exaggerating.  Every night the two older boys fight over who gets to sit by Daddy at the dinner table.  The one who loses (who has to sit by me) is usually close to tears.

Just this afternoon, the youngest was down for a nap, the middle one was gone with Daddy, and my oldest was watching a movie.  Before, I sat down with a book and a cup of coffee, I asked him, "Are you happy watching the movie, or would you like to do something with me?"  He asked, "Why?"  I said "because if you don't want to do something together, I'm going to sit down and read."  He said, "You can do whatever you want to do."  So, I happily plopped down with my book, after being dismissed by my second-grader.

Just thought I'd share in case you are also experiencing being "phased out".  It's normal.

On a different note, I visited a friend last week and was able to see her "Kids Contribution" poster hanging up in her kitchen.  A gold mine in plain view for my plundering!  However, after laying my eyes on the "Pack your lunch" item, I had everything I needed.  Thank you, Julia!  Thank you, Amy for suggesting it to her!  Thank you, Elizabeth for pairing them up in your Titus mentor Mom program!  (Have you read Spiritual Mothering by Susan Hunt?  I never finished it, but would love to donate it to your cause, if you should want it.)

So, this last week, my boys started packing their own lunch.  This is coming at the perfect time, because just the week before, my husband was (unusually) home during our get-ready-for-school routine.  He was very unimpressed with my boys lack of respect and appreciation when fielding my questions about what to put in their lunch box.  Problem solved.

Another unforeseen benefit, is that one of my kiddos is a slow mover in the mornings.  In order for him to have time to pack his lunch, he has to keep moving.  If he doesn't, there is a natural consequence waiting for him - he has to eat school lunch.  Hee hee.  I just love natural consequences.

Oh, I almost forgot --in fact, I did forget, and came back to add this in-- Not having to make my sons' lunches returns time to my schedule, which allows me to sit with them at the breakfast table and read The Lives of the Saints.  Major bonus.

Another thing Julia mentioned (and which also came up this weekend in conversation with another), was encouraging our children to ask the question, "Is there anything I can do to help?"  We need to encourage the spirit of service.  This is my next quest.  Thank you, friends.

Dear Heavenly Father,  Thank you for last night's Confession with a new priest and the gift of Yourself in the Eucharist this morning!  Thank you for lessons from New Guinea.  Thank you for the gift of friendship and writing on the wall.  Thank you for loaning my boys to me.  Please "help me to do all I can to prepare them for the day when You will call them home. Thank you for the humility gained in motherhood.  I love You and can palpably feel Your love for me.  Thank you.  Amen.

Friday, January 25, 2013

A New Heart - Part II

If we repent of our sins, (tell God we're sorry and turn away from them), and ask Christ for a new heart, He will give it to us.  If we ask Christ for a new heart prematurely (before repenting), we block His action by putting ourselves and our sin in His way.  So, let's assume we've asked God's forgiveness, we're making every human effort to do better, and Jesus has given us a new heart. 

How do we honor and preserve this gift?  If we fail to act and let our new heart remain a lofty ideal, then we didn't need to bother asking for a new heart in the first place.  Action is necessary and must be specific.  So, what should it look like?  You can probably come up with a laundry list of your own here, but I'm simple and into "fail-safe" ideas, so feel free to borrow if you need a little inspiration.

#1.  Empty yourself.  Mother Teresa says, "Even God Himself cannot fill what is already full."  Ask yourself what you fill yourself up with (especially in those moments when you feel the void that only God can fill).  Facebook?  Email?  Food?  Shopping?  Texting friends?  Family?  Yes.  Yes.  No.  No!  Yes.  Yes. 

Seriously, I just started "fasting" from my phone.  I'm trying to look at it only every two hours, (instead of every time I walk into the kitchen and see it on the counter).  If it weren't for the possible phone call from school for a sick kid, or keeping in touch with my husband, I would be tempted to lock it up somewhere and only pull it out after the kids were in bed.  At any rate, iPhone time is definitely something that is on my chopping block!     

#2.  Forgive others.  There's a line from a Sara Bareilles song that says, "I'm not the girl that I intend to be."  That's for sure.  What's your biggest obstacle to being the girl/guy that you intend to be?  If you are tempted to answer with the name of another, then your biggest obstacle is forgiveness.  If you don't want to forgive, then your first step is simple.  You need to ask God for the desire.

#3.  Wait on the Lord.  Cultivate silence.  Begin your day in prayer and in Scripture.  You cannot walk through your day with your Savior, if you don't meet up with Him in the morning.  Yes, other prayer times are good (and necessary!), but kicking off your day with Jesus is non-negotiable if you want to dwell in His peace.  There's no gettin' around it.

Do not be too ready to do, just be.  I said "Be ye therefore perfect", not do perfect things.  Try and grasp this.  Individual efforts avail nothing.  It is only the work of My Spirit that counts.  Dwell in thought on this, more and more.  Saints have taken a lifetime to grasp it."
~Jesus, in God Calling

#4.  Accomplish your daily tasks with joy.  After spending time in silence and allowing God to speak to you in it and through Scripture, we have things that must be done.  We do not live on an island or in a vacuum (Thank goodness, because if I lived in my vacuum, I would be really dirty).  See every task and person as God Himself asking something of you, and the joy will come on its own.

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for another gorgeous day, where we can feel Your love through the sun on our faces and the breeze on our skin!  Thank you for the gift of a new heart every time we ask for it.  Thank you for Your unfathomable mercy.  It allows me to come to You as often as I need, without worrying about using up my quota of chances, forgiveness, and love.  Please help us be the person that You intended us to be, and give us the grace to see and remove those things that block Your Divine Action.  Help us to be more, and do less, especially when it is not for love and in the service of our brother.  Amen.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

A New Heart - Part I

The theme for the Women's Day of Reflection that I attended over the weekend was "A New Heart".  I'm not sure why, but attendance was down this year, and everyone should hear what we heard!  Because I wish you were there, and want you to know that Christ loves you, and encourage you in your walk with Him, I'll do my best to recap here...

A new heart also will I give you and a new spirit will I put within you, and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh and I will give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you shall keep my ordinances, and do them.  And you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers and you shall be my people and I will be your God.
~Ezekiel 36:26-29

For his first talk, Fr. Scott Reilly, LC led us toward the goal of understanding that Jesus is in love with each one of us.  Although, we will never comprehend fully the heart of Jesus.  That's what Heaven is about - discovering the heart of Jesus."

1.  "Jesus is close to us, because love is always loving.  It never takes a break."

2.  "Jesus' love is not in a vacuum.  It is not oblivious.  However, this is a perpetual temptation for us.  We enjoy this temptation because we - circle around it, consider it, nibble on it, get hooked on it, and finally embrace the lie that Jesus doesn't care."

3.  Jesus commands us, "DON'T LET YOUR HEARTS BE TROUBLED."  It is not a suggestion.  We cannot connect with Jesus if we are troubled.  We need to give our troubles to him.  How do we know when we've done that?  We won't "have" them anymore.  We have peace.  We must not let our hearts be troubled, because it is a choice.  Worrying is a choice, and it is a sin against hope. 

4.  When Christ touches us, as he did when he healed Simon Peter's mother, we rise up with love and energy, and we serve.

5.  Jesus didn't heal people en masse.  Every single person is different.  Their needs are different.  He touches us individually.

6.  When we think (or say to ourselves), "God doesn't hear my prayer", we need to follow it with "Buck up, girl!  That's from the devil!"

For his second talk, Fr. Scott explored three aspects of Jesus' heart.

1.  Simplicity.  Christ has a simple heart.  He can answer every cry with, "I forgive you." and "I love you."  "We don't owe anything to Jesus.  He paid the debt.  He loves us unconditionally.  We cannot destroy or diminish His love.  This love is independent of our merits or demerits."  With Christ, there is no second-guessing.  No complications.  No conniving.  An understanding of eternity brings simplicity.  What is anything compared with eternity?  Simplicity is about depth and is a shield that protects us from the complication of satan.  We only need one thing.  A TRUST button.  Push it and doors will open to you.

2.  Gratitude.  We celebrate extremes in our culture.  Let's practice extreme gratitude.  When we're grateful, we're much more aware of God.  When we're aware of God, He can act.

3.  Courage.  John 13 - Jesus' agony in the garden.  Knowing all that was to come, He got up and met Judas and the soldiers, and said to them, "Whom are you looking for?"  Courage comes from prayer.  People who pray are the most courageous people on earth.  All things are possible with God.  We need to pray at the beginning of each day and nourish our hearts with the Living Word of God, the Bible.  This will fortify our hearts.  If we don't do this, we can easily be fed with the stuff of the world.

If we can embrace the new heart that Jesus continually offers, the conversations in your life may go something like this (based on conversation between Claudia Procula and her servant girl, Dinah):

C:  "You've changed.  You're different."
D:  "Yes.  I've changed."
C:  "What happened?"
D:  "Jesus gave me a new heart."

In my next post, I will review four ways to honor and preserve the gift of a new heart...

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for the Women's Day of Reflection.  Thank you for Fr. Scott.  Thank you for Linda Frost-Clark and her insightful portrayal of Claudia, Pontius Pilate's wife.  Thank you for all of the Regnum Christi women who worked tirelessly to deliver this day for You and for souls.  Thank you for letting me participate, absorb, and contribute in  moments, days, and weekends filled with spiritual nourishment.  They are food for my soul.  I love You and I am eternally grateful for the glimpses of You I have already received and for those to come.  Amen.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Love Anticipates

"None ever sought Me in vain.  I wait, wait with a hungry longing to be called upon; and I, who have already seen your hearts' needs before you cried upon Me, before perhaps, you were conscious of those needs yourself, I am already preparing the answer.

It is like a Mother, who is setting aside suitable gifts for her daughter's wedding, before Love even has come into the daughter's life.

The Anticipatory Love of God is a thing mortals seldom realize.  Dwell on this thought.  Dismiss from your minds the thought of a grudging God, who had to be petitioned with sighs and tears and much speaking before reluctantly He loosed the desired treasures.  Man's thoughts of Me need revolutionizing.

Try and see a Mother preparing birthday or Christmas delights for her child - the while her Mother-heart sings:  'Will she not love that?  How she will love this!'  and anticipates the rapture of her child, her own heart full of the tenderest joy.  Where did the Mother learn all this preparation-joy?  From Me - a faint echo of My preparation-joy.

Try to see this as plans unfold of My preparing.  It means much to Me to be understood, and the understanding of Me will bring great joy to you."

~Jesus speaks, in God Calling

We have several birthdays coming up in our house, and I've been thinking about what gifts would bring my children the greatest happiness.  So, this resonates with me.  I am planning great things for my children that they know nothing about.  Because I love them, I delight in coming up with ways to make them happy.  And Jesus says here, that my "preparation-joy" is a faint echo of His own.  Can you imagine?!! 

I feel like a child at Christmastime - Imagining all of the wonderful plans God must have for me!  Not only because I know the joy of preparing gifts for my loved ones, but because I have also received them.  In fact, I just received one of His well-prepared gifts this Saturday.  My Regnum Christi group hosted a "Women's Day of Reflection".  I volunteered to sing and was asked to conclude the program with an overview of the day.  So, I did.  And, that a gift from God! 

As you already know, one of my passions is to collect quotes and ideas that inspire me, and share them.  Normally, this blog is one of my few means to do that.  So, an opportunity to do it in a room full of women, face-to-face, was a great joy!  Most often, I love God by indirect means.  By loving and serving others.  But, on Saturday, I got to sing and speak for Him and about Him, directly.  I was able to use my God-given gifts and give them back to Him.  And, now, after reading about God's Anticipatory Love, I know that that was a gift He prepared for me.

Dear Heavenly Father,  Thank you for preparing beautiful things and opportunities for those You love!!!  Thank you for continually revealing Yourself to us, through those who will listen to You.  I'm sorry for all of the times I've considered times of great joy as something coincidental or unintended by You.  I'm sorry for underestimating Your Love.  I'm sorry for thinking of You as the judge who finally grants the widow's wishes, but only because of her persistence.  I am in awe of Your Love.  Thank you for reminding me that I cannot carry my confidence in You too far.  I love you!  Amen.   

Monday, January 7, 2013

Reflection On A "Short" Life

If you read my last post, you know that I had a friend who died over the weekend.  She was 60 years old and a long-time friend of the family.  She didn't have any children of her own, so she "adopted" me and my siblings.  She would take us for a week in the summer to go fishing, make dolls, and just "be".  And she died in the middle of the night.  Her husband went to wake her when she didn't get up at the sound of her alarm, and she was gone. 

I've been thinking about how 60 seems like such a young age to die, and how it is harder to accept death when it seems wrong in some way. 

I bought my boys a couple of books on the lives of the Saints for the Feast of St. Nicholas, with the idea that we would learn about a new one every day of the year.  Our reading has been more miss than hit, but it occurred to me that most of the saints we've learned about die somewhere in or around their 40's.  Many younger than that, but few older.

That got me to thinking that if Heaven is full of people who have lived "short" lives, then maybe their lives aren't so short after all.  If you have lived long enough to enter Heaven, then that's really all that matters.  Time spent speculating on all that could have been, or lamenting the chasm between the final outcome and our expectations, is not time well spent.

Maybe one of the reasons for the many, many saints produced by centuries past, is that the people knew they wouldn't have 80 plus years to get it right.  If we were middle-aged at 20, there would probably be a lot less pot-smoking going on, and a lot more praying!  Maybe we would live more consciously.  My guess is that we would more readily live a life that glorifies God, and at a much younger age, too.    

Dear God, Thank you for the peace that comes with the first day back to school.  Thank you for my friend, Linda, and for the time we spent together.  Thank you for the lives of the saints, and the way they inspire us to emulate them.  You are the Author of Life and Redeemer of death.  Thank you for giving us Your Son, who is everything we need to spend eternity with You.  Amen.      

Saturday, January 5, 2013

I Should Have Answered the Phone

Have you ever had someone in your life that simply loved you well?  No strings attached.  Love without obligation or responsibility.  Love that seeks you out because you're you.  Years go by without seeing one another or even talking on the phone, but the world is still a friendlier and sunnier place because you know they're out there and they're crazy about you?  And the only memories you have together are good and wonderful with no junk thrown in?

I have.

 And today, during my son's naptime, my phone rang, and the number belonged to one of these special someone's.  But, I didn't answer.  I knew it was going to be a long conversation since we hadn't caught up in so long, and my son was asleep, and I was working on a gift that I needed to finish by tomorrow, blah, blah, blah...  So, I didn't answer and thought I would call her a little later today.

On the way to Mass, my friend called me again.  Once again, I didn't answer because I didn't have time to talk (and I hate it when people answer the phone to tell me they don't have time to talk - especially when I haven't talked to them in a really long time).  I generally think it is best practice to let your voicemail get it, if you really can't talk.  But, today, that was not what was best.

I got in the car after Mass and my husband's phone rang.  It was my Mom trying to get a hold of me.  She called to tell me that her (and my) lifelong friend died yesterday.  The same one I thought was calling me a couple of hours before.  When I didn't answer.  Only it couldn't have been.  She died yesterday.  It must have been her husband calling me from her phone, trying to get in touch with me, to let me know.  I tried to call him back tonight, but he didn't answer.  I left a voicemail.

I will be going to KS for the funeral in a couple of days and will be chewing on memories between now and then.  She was a tried and true friend to my Mom and my family, and a sheer blessing to me.

I trust she is in Heaven or on her way, so I'm not sad for her.  I will be praying for her soul and asking her to pray for mine. 

But, I am left with myself, which isn't feeling too awesome at the moment.  I'm a bad friend.  I should have answered the phone.  And the thing is, I'm a bad friend to many.  I don't initiate.  I don't reach out, unless there is an urgent need.  I don't pick up the phone to call, or sometimes even answer (if I can't talk or it's naptime). 

The last thing I want to do is make excuses, but I've tried to figure this out about myself at different times, and I think it boils down to being an introvert.  My husband argued with this assessment for years, but it's true.  I really love and am truly interested in people and their lives, but I recharge at home.  Alone.  In the quiet.  Raising three boys, seven and under, doesn't generally allow for the kind (or quantity) of recharging that I need.  So, I am always craving it, but fighting it at the same time, and I hate this about myself, especially today.

I know my friend knew that I loved her, but not because I showed it very well.  And for this, I am sorry.       

Dear Heavenly Father,  Thank you for my friend, Linda, and for all that she added to the lives of those around her.  Thank you for the friend that she was to my mother and to my family.  Thank you for the way that she loved me.  Please, eternal rest grant unto her, and let Your Perpetual Light shine upon her and the souls of all the faithful departed.  Through Your Mercy, let them rest in peace.  Lord, Please comfort her husband.  Rest Your Hand upon him and let Him know you are near.  Please forgive me for my selfishness today and every time it has robbed another of a blessing you had in store for them.  Especially when You intended it to come from me.  Lord, please show me how to be a better friend.  I don't want to fail those you have entrusted to me.  Amen.     

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Refuse To Be Checked In Your Upward Climb

I'm really going to try not to copy the entire God Calling book one reflection at a time, but some things are too good, too important, and too inspiring not to be shared.  Enjoy, again, Christ's words to the two little, old ladies (and to us):

"You are to help save others.  Never let one day pass when you have not reached out an arm of Love to someone outside your home - a note, a letter, a visit, help in some way.

Be full of Joy.  Joy saves.  Joy cures.  Joy in Me.  In every ray of sunlight, every smile, every act of kindness, or love, every trifling service - joy.

Each day do something to lift another soul out of the sea of sin, or disease or doubt into which man has fallen.  I still walk to-day by the lakeside and call My Disciples to follow Me and to become fishers of men. 

The helping hand is needed that raises the helpless to courage, to struggle, to faith, to health.  Love and laugh.  Love and laughter are the beckoners to faith and courage and success.  Trust on, love on, joy on.

Refuse to be downcast.  Refuse to be checked in your upward climb.  Love and laugh.  I am with you.  I bear your burdens.  Cast your burden upon Me and I will sustain thee.  And then in very lightheartedness you turn and help another with the burden that is pressing too heavily upon him or her.

How many burdens can you lighten this year?  How many hearts can you cheer?  How many souls can you help?

And in giving you gain: 'Good measure, pressed down and running over.'  I your Lord have said it."

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

What To Bury in A New Year

Happy New Year!  There's nothing like an official fresh start.  It's true that every moment of every day offers the same opportunity to begin again, but sometimes the obvious helps us observe the reality.

Normally, I feel very reflective this time of year and already have a list of things I want to improve or change.  So far, the list is short:

1.  Exercise (Still trying to figure out the plan here, as I cancelled my gym membership a few months ago.  It required me to drag my 3-year-old out of the house every day of the week, which just isn't fair).  I also tried putting my tennis shoes on and walking out of the house with a jump rope in my hand, as I saw my boys off to school.  That worked for awhile...  Probably need to be praying for the desire on this one, because right now, I have none.

2.  Make it to daily Mass once a week.

3.  Re-eliminate soda.  Stick to water and coffee.

4.  Make a menu and use it - avoid the "make dinner with whatever is on hand" scenario.

One of my favorite garage sale book finds of the year, God Calling, is a little red hardbound book, written anonymously by two old, poor, suffering women, to whom God revealed Himself.  They recorded His words to them, in a daily meditation format.  Today's is entitled Between the Years:

~Our Lord and our God.  We joy in Thee.  Without Thy Help we could not face unafraid the year before us.~

I stand between the years.  The Light of My Presence is flung across the year to come-the radiance of the Sun of Righteousness.  Backward, over the past year, is My Shadow thrown, hiding trouble and sorrow and disappointment.

Dwell not on the past-only on the present.  Only use the past as the trees use My Sunlight to absorb it, to make from it in after days the warming fire-rays.  So store only the blessings from Me, the Light of the World.  Encourage yourselves by the thought of these.

Bury every fear of the future, of poverty for those dear to you, of suffering, of loss.  Bury all thought of unkindness and bitterness, all your dislikes, your resentments, your sense of failure, your disappointment in others and in yourselves, your gloom, your despondency, and let us leave them all, buried, and go forward to a new and risen life.

Remember that you must not see as the world sees.  I hold the year in My Hands-in trust for you.  But I shall guide you one day at a time. 

Leave the rest with Me.  You must not anticipate the gift by fears or thoughts of the days ahead.

And for each day I shall supply the wisdom and the strength.

Dear God, Thank you for a new day, a new year, and keeping us safe through the night.  Please help me to do everything you command here.  Help me to remain in "today".  I leave tomorrow to You.  Please give me the courage, desire, strength, and love to do Your will. I love You.  Amen.