Saturday, April 11, 2015

After a Long Dry Spell

Okay, so much for daily posts through Lent. My apologies.

I was asked to deliver a prepared reflection for a lay prayer group that meets monthly for rosary, Mass, confession, reflection, prayer, and fellowship. I agreed because I figured it would be good for me even though the very thought of it was intimidating and I was nervous for the two weeks leading up to it all the way through until about ten minutes or so after I had finished and sat back down.

I can take no real credit for what I have written here, as it has all been said many times before and I still find myself learning from what I put together. Since my lack of discipline makes it difficult for me to persevere in a task for weeks on end, this is something that I need to work on myself.

Hopefully, this will help me to remember why I want to choose to do the right thing each day and to actually follow through with doing the right thing every day.

Without further ado, I share with you my personal reflection on obedience:

Two years ago, April 11th fell on the second Thursday of Easter. The first reading for that day came from the Acts of the Apostles: chapter 5, verses 27-33.

When the court officers had brought the Apostles in
and made them stand before the Sanhedrin,
the high priest questioned them,
“We gave you strict orders did we not,
to stop teaching in that name.
Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching
and want to bring this man’s blood upon us.”
But Peter and the Apostles said in reply,
“We must obey God rather than men.
The God of our ancestors raised Jesus,
though you had him killed by hanging him on a tree.
God exalted him at his right hand as leader and savior
to grant Israel repentance and forgiveness of sins.
We are witnesses of these things,
as is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”

When they heard this,
they became infuriated and wanted to put them to death.

In his homily that day, Pope Francis focused upon the word obey as it appears more than once in this passage. He explained that the word “obey” comes from the Latin word that most literally means to listen and attend… that is what it means to obey. We often use the word listen in the same way. ‘Listen to your mother’ means much more than to register the sound of her words as she speaks. If we truly listen, we take in what we are told. We understand and absorb the truth of it. We make a determination that will build upon what we are. When we truly listen, we must make an action of the will to either accept or reject what we have heard. This acceptance or rejection is the heart of obedience or disobedience.

It is of the utmost importance, at this point to reflect upon one of the defining characteristics of our human nature: our free will.

The will is one of our insubstantial parts. It cannot be forced. Any action of our will is truly ours alone. Obedience is a free action of the will. Greek, the original language of the New Testament, went even further than Latin in how it expressed the concept that we call obedience. The Greek word that we would translate as obedience is actually a form of the verb that means to persuade. A slight change in the ending of the verb points it back to oneself so that obedience is the idea of persuading yourself. We should always be mindful that we have chosen to submit to any rules that govern us, whether they be human or divine.

The Apostles show us, in the passage above, that we must constantly and freely choose which rule will govern us.

God gave Adam and Eve only one command while they were in the Garden of Eden. While there are many levels of meaning that can be explored in the story of the fall of man, in one respect it does not matter so much what had been forbidden them so much as it matters that there was but one thing that was forbidden. In the Garden, there were no mitigating circumstances; there was no option “C”; there was no moral sophistry before they ate of the Fruit of the Knowledge of Good & Evil. That one command given by God required Adam and Eve to make the free choice between obedience to God solely for the love of Him who had given the command or disobedience because their own desires mattered more.

Our choices would never be so simple again. Now, mankind is able to understand the right and wrong of an action in a very different way. We balance consequences and foreseeable outcomes with conflicting desires. Utility and pleasure influence our choices as much or more than love.

Many generations after the fall of man, God showed mercy to His chosen people by giving them more commands. This time, there was not the single test but the revelation of the way to live well in the sight of God. There are three commands that tell us how to know and honor God and seven commands that tell us how to live amongst each other.

When the Chosen People found that ten simple commands left a great deal of room for temptation and justification, they had recourse to God, through Moses, for further instructions so that they might know when and how to obey the commandments properly. Deuteronomy is not a popular part of the Old Testament to read, but the multitude of minute rules comes at our request. Careful and explicit laws give us the opportunity to know when we are obedient to God’s law. We know when and how to obey the commandments and by obeying the commandments, we know how to properly live out our love for God and for our neighbor.

As Easter people, we have Christ’s instruction that takes us back to the simple choice of obedience for the sake of love. Jesus affirmed that obedience to the commandments was the path to heaven, but he also taught us why. The greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your strength and all your mind and because we cannot truly love in thought without loving in deed, that command cannot be separated from the second, that you should love your neighbor as yourself.

We are called to be perfect, as our Heavenly Father is perfect. God is love itself. When we love, we live out God’s perfection. We put our love into action when we obey God’s law that has been revealed to us.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

My Hope and My Fidelity

My attitude regarding ecumenism is hope for souls. I have faith that God’s love and mercy are truly infinite and that the only limiting factor in our salvation lies in our own free will. I am reminded of this whenever I think on these verses from chapter 9 of the Gospel of Mark:

John answered him, saying: Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, who followeth not us, and we forbade him. But Jesus said: Do not forbid him. For there is no man that doth a miracle in my name, and can soon speak ill of me. For he that is not against you, is for you. For whosoever shall give you to drink a cup of water in my name, because you belong to Christ: amen I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.         -Mark 9:37-40
I do not believe that only those in full communion with the Catholic Church are certain of heaven. First off, I know that just because I am a Catholic does not make me assured of heaven. Thanks to the sacraments of Christ, I have greater hope of heaven. That is all. The rest is still up to me. I have the assurance that God will be with me and help me to follow Him, but I have to stay on the path. I am still free to deviate and go another way.

Even though I do not believe that one must be Catholic to follow Christ, I will remain a Catholic and I believe that the Church shines the brightest light on the path to heaven. While the man who performed miracles in Jesus’ name was permitted to continue doing so, it still remains that he did not follow Jesus with the apostles. Such is the way of the varied churches today. There is the sacramental Church (sadly divided into East and West) and there are the protestant churches. There are those who share a cup of water with you in Christ’s name and for that they are blessed and then there are those who walk in Christ’s presence. The Miracle of transubstantiation occurs every day all over the world as the Church’s priests say the Mass. Christ is with us still: Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. For that we give thanks and thus we call it the Eucharist. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

In an Imaginary Heaven

In the writing exercise below, a little angel of hope who is no more significant than a distant twinkling star asks if she may help her fallen brethren return to grace. Sometimes we meet people whom we want to call angels in the flesh. Catholics will call them living saints. In an imaginary world that holds the stories written by a dear friend of mine, where magic is everywhere and so is the love of God, just such conversation as this might have taken place:

“May I remind them?”

They have chosen to do things their own way.

“Father, may I remind them?”


“Father, may I go tell them?”
What do you wish to tell them?
“I wish to tell them that they can come home.”
They know this.
“They are not mindful of it. They need to remember.”
Someone has already gone.
“But Father, He did not go for them. He went for the ones who did not know Him.”
They heard Him, regardless. They recognized Him. They fought Him.
“That is because they do not remember how much they love Him. They do not remember how good it is to be home. They do not remember that they want to be here.”
Why do you say they want to be here if they have chosen to remain below?
“They are unhappy. They have been unhappy ever since they left.”
Whom do you wish to tell?
“I wish to tell everyone.”
There are many.
“I do not mind.”
Where do you wish to go?
“I wish to go to them, where they are.”
They have made Hell to appear vast. Should you go, it will be a long and arduous journey.
“But they could hear if someone comes and they could remember if someone tells them.”
Hell is where I am rejected; to go there you must leave me.
“Your Spirit never leaves me, Father. Whither-so-ever I may go, You are with me.”
Then whither-so-ever you may go, Hell will not be there. Even the smallest of my angels is too bright. They will recoil from you.
“If I am too bright, then make me dim enough for them to see. If I am too great, then make me small enough for them to hear.”
To be that small you must be housed in flesh. You would cease to be what you are.
“When I have you, Father, what need have I for my self?”
Will you pour out yourself for the others who still may reject you?
“If I tell them, they could remember where they want to be and you may bring them home.”
Why did you not first go to Gabriel? He is your superior.
“You are my Father as you are his. I am one of your little ones as he is one of your big ones. You love me as you love him. You speak to me as you speak to him.”

Because you have asked this of me, I will give you a house of flesh with a voice both soft and sweet and I will fill you with a humble glory so that you may reflect my light for even the blind to see. You will not lose your inmost nature, nor will my Spirit ever part from you. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

So There

Tonight, I was busy living out the things that give me good thoughts and enjoying time with my best friend.

Better than spending my time blogging.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Rejoice in the Law

In Chapter 8 of Nehemiah, Ezra read the laws of Moses to the people of Jerusalem. For hours. Everyone assembled to listen and be educated in the Law. When he had finished teaching them, he told them not to be sad or weep on this day, for it is holy.

I will admit that there is much about this period in history and about the Jewish traditions in general that I do not know and I could easily be overlooking a blatant textual clue that Ezra was reading the Law to the people on that day because it was a holy day. This chapter begins a section of the book in which the Feast of Booths, during the seventh month, was celebrated for the first time in many, many generations. Likewise, these chapters explain that the people who were living in Jerusalem in this period of return from the Babylonian Exile were not educated in the Laws of Moses. The reading of the Laws was a significant part of the holiness of the day, whether that alone made the day holy or the reading of the Law was the proper way to observe that holy day.

Many lessons can be taken from a given Scripture passage. Today, I am drawn to the thought that the Law is a gift from God. We should rejoice in this gift rather than presume it is burdensome. At the beginning of last school year, some of the high school girls complained to me that the rules and dress code were so long and detailed that they felt it was a burden. In response, I asked them if they preferred to have the school's standards and expectations spelled out so precisely or if they would rather be subject to each teacher's personal opinion of what constituted modest and civilized conduct and dress for the whole year. Thinking immediately of a couple teachers in particular who were by nature very prim, the girls quickly changed their tune and answered that they would prefer to have the school rules available to use in their own defense should someone ever take issue with something they have done.

In a perfectly free society, Heaven, the Laws of God will still be in place. It is a mistake to think that the Laws will no longer be needed. We will rejoice when we can not only perceive God's great and orderly creation, we will be able to freely participate in that order without the burden of temptation or sin. We will perceive and obey God's divine Law of our own free will because our wills will finally be perfect. There the Law will not need to be enforced from without because the citizens of Heaven disobey the Law. Nor will the Law be needed for a person to defend themselves from an authority abusing its power because the Authority of Heaven is the Father, who is perfect. The Law will simply be. We will know it in our hearts and it will be a part of the truth and beauty of all things in which we will rejoice with the angels.

On Earth, we are not so lucky. Even in what we would like to call a free society, temptation and sin prevent the truly free use of our will to do as we ought and as we want. The wisest attempts at structuring human governments have always sought to limit the power any particular man or men may have because our fallen nature has proven itself time and time again. Without the rule of Law, life is nasty, brutish and short. Crime is a despot all its own. And yet, when we men come together to form societies and governments, political despotism is a valid fear. Law limits not only the citizen from becoming a criminal, it limits authority from ruling by whim.

Taking into account the proper definitions of reason and of free will, we must acknowledge that all men are governed by consent, regardless of the name of the political structure under which they live. God's Law is written in our hearts so that we may recognize right from wrong in our own actions and in human laws. It is a divine gift in which we should rejoice.

The Oroboros of Success and Failure

Regardless of the title, this post is not a complaint.

That aspect of my life seems to have returned to normal. That's where my danger lies. My own cessation of complaint was my first goal with this blog and for Lent. Those aren't my only goals, but it is very tempting to be satisfied when that alone is no longer a serious problem.

The relief I felt as soon as committing to fill my complaining time with good thoughts that I would share has been sustained and for that, I am truly thankful and remember to be thankful for that every day. I am able to have good thoughts throughout the day, though they are usually little things along the regular themes of my life, so if I shared most of them, I would be writing about the same thing in the same way often. My evenings are no longer consumed with venting about work. I am attentive to my husband and to friends. I am able to contentedly settle into the night.

Those comfortable nights are my most forgetful. I am living in the moment and do not think about evaluating my day. I think it is time for me to set a next goal, a goal that will compliment and continue my first goal, both for this blog and for Lent. At Easter, we will see what this project become next. In the meantime, be prepared for some Scripture comments from the non-authority, Yours Truly. I think I can make writing thoughts about that a daily habit.

Pray for me. I will pray for you.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Keats' Ontology... or was that Tautology?

The Keats poem tells us that "Truth is beauty and beauty truth." Modernists call that a falacy while Christians would welcome you to one of the many mysteries of God.

I wanted to fit a bad joke about Greek etimology in that last line above, but my jokes are rarely funny and it would have taken too much explanation anyway. You see, the Greeks have a word, kalos, which means both beauty and goodness. It describes those things that posess a wholesome beauty. To be kalos, a thing must be good as well as pretty in appearance. It also implies that good things are pleasant to behold. 

Liteature throughout history contains plots that explore the irony or the tragedy that comes from only one of these traits being present in a thing. Victor Hugo gave us the tragedy of Quasimodo with his good heart and physical deformity. Oscar Wylde horrified us with the corruption of Dorian Gray. Professor Tolkein whispered to us the mystery and wisdom of the Cross when Strider laughed that he seemed foul but felt fair. 

My 8th graders will have to take some time tomorrow to try figure out why they think love is an emotion when we are told that God himself is love and Christ has commanded us to do it rather than feel it.  I look forward to hearing what they come up with.

[Another oops. I did not realize that when I wrote this one on my phone that I had only saved it as a draft rather than publishing it. Here it is, for the record...And the kids discussion was very interesting to watch. They were impressive.]