Archive for May, 2016

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Do you sometimes feel as if you’re wandering?

At times, it’s difficult to see the path we’re on. It may be a path not particularly good for us. It may be a path of sin, yet we don’t want to change our direction–even though there’s a restlessness inside us that says we should go another way.

“For Thou hast made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee.”—St. Augustine

Talk about great sinners! St. Augustine was truly one of them—until he became a converted sinner. . . and a saint.

As Augustine later told it in his work, “Confessions,” his conversion was prompted by a childlike voice he heard telling him to “take up and read” which he took as a divine command to open the Bible and read the first thing he saw: Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, called “Transformation of Believers,” consisting of chapters 12 through 15 – wherein Paul outlines how the Gospel transforms believers, and the believers’ resulting behavior. The specific part to which Augustine opened his Bible was Romans chapter 13, verses 13 and 14:

Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.

Other philosophers, as well as people he lived around, pointed out that Augustine ought to change the path he was on. One who pushed him toward conversion was his own mother, Monica, who harped day and night, for many years, about his strictly human obsessions.

In “Confessions,” St. Augustine writes about how much he regrets having led a sinful and immoral life, shows intense sorrow for his sexual sins, and writes on the importance of sexual morality.

Most of us are like St. Augustine.

We live in the “City of Man,” and ignore the “City of God.”

Augustine writes: Accordingly, two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self.

Nevertheless, St Augustine believed that God intervenes in the life of mankind by direct action—the action of grace– at certain definite points in time and place.

This is what happens to us, too. Our wandering spirits yearning for ‘something else,’ until we encounter the grace of God—maybe because of a situation, or through a person. This encounter with grace causes us to change our ways.

What a gift is this Grace, this ability to change! We can go from a lost and lonely soul, to one who recognizes the love of God, and yearns to be worthy of it.

Photo from Jesuit High School, Class of 2016

Photo from Jesuit High School, Class of 2016

Last week I attended the graduations of three of my grandchildren; one from kindergarten, one from Middle School, and one from High School. All three were well-planned and all produced a few, joyful tears, but the advice in the commencement address of Fr. Anthony McGinn, S.J. to the 2016 Class of Jesuit High School, New Orleans, is one I hope all ten of my grandchildren will live by.

For the past twenty years, Fr. McGinn has led Jesuit High. Because this was his final year, his address is particularly poignant and wise–not only for the young graduates, but each of us on our journey through life.

The Address, The Wisdom, and The Hope:

“My fellow graduates who are of the class of two thousand sixteen, this evening we join you in saying farewell to a stage of your life that has seen great personal growth amid hard-won victories and challenging obstacles.

Today you see yourself and the world differently from when you were a child. You have developed a more mature outlook.

Your perspective will continue to change throughout your life as you grow into the man God has planned you to become.

Life is a dance you learn as you go. Sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow. Don’t worry about what you don’t know as long you have a right frame of mind that will open you to learn in diverse and challenging circumstances.

Some mindsets help us to mature; others lead us to unhealthy places that turn out to be dead ends.

What is the basic mentality that will guide you in every encounter with reality?

Do you experience the world through a lens of self-pity?

If you absolve yourself of all responsibility, take the role of a victim, make excuses, and exaggerate obstacles, then you will live in a world where challenges are magnified into catastrophes.

Every disappointment will become devastating if you see yourself as entitled to every success, honor, and fulfillment.

I challenge you to avoid this toxic cocktail of self-pity, envy, and resentment which would enfeeble you and undermine your motivation to learn the dance.

On the other hand, do you view the world through a lens of control and dominance?

If you perceive any limitation on your choices as an injustice, then yours is a mentality of exaggerated autonomy. Do you feel entitled to have all of your desires and whims satisfied?

Unfortunately, we cannot love the truth and at the same time demand to have reality conform to our desires.

Healthy choices are always circumscribed by the truth. Making one’s own truth requires a distorted sense of self and a twisted view of the world.

Both of these attitudes are unhealthy because they distort the truth. Both self-pity and exaggerated control will prevent you from learning life’s dance as you should. Integrity should be your partner in the dance of life.

I suggest a third way which involves your looking at the world with a humble recognition that all you are and all you have is a gift. All is grace.

The gift may not always fit our plans. We may want someone else’s talent, someone else’s success, someone else’s gifts.

Part of learning the dance is understanding we are entitled to nothing. We have begun the dance when we can say that our situation is better than we deserve.

Be patient, be humble, be grateful, and be open to challenges because life is a dance you learn as you go.

Thank you for your years at Jesuit. Please make the effort to stay connected with one another. Thank you for the difference you will make.”

Photo by The Brass Glass, 2014, MorgueFile.com

Photo by The Brass Glass, 2014, MorgueFile.com

On June 8, 1783, George Washington reminded the new country of America that “without a humble imitation” of “the Divine Author of our blessed religion” we “can never hope to be a happy nation.” His own adopted daughter said of  Washington that you might as well question his patriotism as to question his Christianity.

Fast forward to today.

Have we become gravediggers burying GOD?

If we do so, we are burying part of ourselves as well.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) was a German philosopher and atheist, who claimed God is Dead. He thought the exemplary human being must craft his/her own identity through self-realization and do so without relying on anything transcending that life—such as God or a soul.

Of course, this is ridiculous, a contradiction to who we are. We have a soul–each of us, and that soul came from God. When we say we’re made in God’s image, our human soul is what we’re talking about. It is the one and only way we are like God, who is pure spirit.

However, my human soul, and yours, are not pure spirit. Spiritual, yes–but not pure spirit. Man is a spirit in matter, in the form of a body. He is spirit and body. God and the angels are pure spirits because they are not dependent on matter, as we are, either intrinsically or extrinsically. To be completely independent of matter for any material being is impossible. The human soul is intrinsically dependent on matter for some of its activities. But our soul is not purely material either, because for other activities it is not intrinsically dependent on matter.

So the human soul of man belongs to both the realm of the spirit and the realm of matter. Man is the lowest of the spirits, and the highest of the material beings, and he alone belongs to both the realm of the spirit and the realm of matter. As the new Catholic Catechism explains, spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature. (CCC 365).

Most human beings understand that the soul, by its nature, is often in opposition to the body. This is the struggle of every human person. Because we have free will–we can choose.

Nietzsche struggled with many questions, and used his free will–a component of his soul, and part of his human spiritual make-up–to come up with his own wrong answer about a living God, only because that living God gave him the freedom to choose.

We have the same freedom as Nietzsche, and many other God-despisers like him, because despite what they say, they have inherited spiritualty from God.

When we make personal, even political, decisions, are we helping to dig those societal graves that want to bury God, too?

Well, it cannot be done without burying ourselves–we are part of Him.

Photo by Hamstersphere, 2005, MorgueFile.com

Photo by Hamstersphere, 2005, MorgueFile.com

WHAT IS CONFESSION AND WHY IS IT GOOD FOR YOU? By Paul Wilkes, Huff Post Religion, 4/10/2012

Deep within every human heart, there is the desire to be good. We all want to find and be our best selves, to go to bed each night at peace with who we are and how we acted that day. We want to be the kind of person we ourselves would want as a friend: trustworthy, dependable, fair. Yet often we fail — ourselves and others — in ways both small and significant.

What can lift this burden and restore our humanity is confession, a word that I use often in my new book, “The Art of Confession.” In my own religious tradition, Catholicism, the word “Confession” has a very specific meaning. That is not what I am talking about here. Instead, I’d like you to consider confession with a small c. Religious confession is directed to a higher power, but it is first and foremost a conversation with ourselves.

When we take an honest look at confession, we quickly see that it is a pillar not only of religious belief, but mental health. It demands something for which there is no substitute: that we be honest with ourselves.

Confession strips away the veil that we often cast over our actions, realigning our souls with what is best and truest in our natures. I use the word “align,” because when we betray ourselves (some would define this as sinning), we fall out of alignment. Until we acknowledge — confess — our souls remain confused and fragmented.

This kind of confession, which demands self-reflection and change, has little to do with the flood of confessional disclosures that characterize our age — on tell-all TV talk shows and social networking sites, even via an iPhone app for confession. In this time of Internet connectivity, amid the din of over-sharing, we mistake spasms of self-revelation for honesty. Our inner voice is not so easily found and cannot be parsed into 10-second bursts. That voice needs time to find the right words to say and the right place to say them.

As Thomas Merton, a monk and mystic, wrote: We are at liberty to be real, or to be unreal. We may be true or false, the choice is ours. We may wear now one mask and now another, and never, if we so desire, appear with our own true face. But we cannot make these choices with impunity. Causes have effects, and if we lie to ourselves and to others, then we cannot expect to find truth and reality whenever we happen to want them. If we have chosen the way of falsity we must not be surprised that truth eludes us when we finally come to need it!

Because it has been so trivialized, confession has lost its power and vitality. In our society today to confess is often considered foolish, weak, even corrosive to our self-esteem, unnecessary. “Such an antiquated notion,” some might say, “of right and wrong. What a naive understanding of how things really work, what people are really like.”

The truth is that confession, as I seek to redefine it in my book and in this series, is wise and strong and necessary, unburdening both the soul and the psyche to live a forthright, productive, and fuller life. Confession is not only for those who have committed some great public or private “sin.” For most of us, our “little murders” — our duplicities, the daily hurts, neglects, and carelessness we inflict upon others and upon ourselves — need to be confronted and acknowledged.

When confession becomes a practice, a daily reevaluation of one’s actions — an art — its power continues to grow, instilling a new sense of confidence, a vision of what life truly can be and hold. Something as simple as a short, nightly reflection, which I present in a later blog, can sort out the chaff from the wheat of the day just past, clearing the mind right then, and setting the tone for the days to come.

Using confession to live honestly and consciously — the goal in this book — is an art to be learned and a skill to be practiced. It is neither an easy fix nor a heal-all. Our brash modern optimism assumes that all can be made well if we only will it to be so, but human behavior is complex, requiring deeper thought and actual, sometimes painful recalibration.

Confession is, quite simply, an attitude. It is the cornerstone of the intentional life, not merely a clearing out of the debris, that which is bad or wrong in us, but a realignment of what is best in us, an intention to live a better life. When confession becomes a practice, a daily re-evaluation of one’s actions — an art — its power continues to grow, instilling a new sense of confidence, a vision of what life truly can be and hold. It is building upon something strong and sure and ultimately reliable. Confession is about truth, and as Thomas Merton advises us, what follows from an attitude of truth will not fail us.

sad childHow many people in today’s world would you call ‘damaged?’ Or does life itself just pre-conclude that by the time you leave it you’ll have been damaged in some way?

Life is difficult. For many, it is sometimes dangerous. It doesn’t seem like a gift, but something to get through. Of course, that’s a depressing view–but many people, especially some children, hold it.

Countless children are born into circumstances they did not create, and under circumstances that cause them great pain. Others have been taught to have no faith in anything except themselves, a ‘self’ that is blemished and marred: Trust no one. Somebody’s always out to get you. Take what you can before it’s taken from you. Grab. Steal. Even kill.

None of us choose the circumstances of our birth, but some appear to be luckier than others—I’m not talking about the amenities money can provide–I’m talking about strong families who support their children. Yes they make mistakes, but they confirm their children as being valuable, and patiently direct them onto non-destructive paths.

I’m talking about one father per family, not a father of ten by ten different women. Appalling? Yes. Yet those young lives are no less valuable in the eyes of God than are the more fortunate children. But how can they know this when their parents slap God in the face with their own selfishly stupid behavior?
There is no all-encompassing solution to changing this. More parental responsibility would go a long way, with fathers who not only see life as a gift, but their child and his mother as a gift, rather than a notch on his belt of so-called, ‘baby mamas.’

Every parent is human and often makes poor decisions. There’s no getting around that fact. And sometimes it takes tragedy to see what our mistakes as parents have been. When that happens, we can either fall apart or try to rectify it however we can.

Because life IS a difficult journey for each and every one of us; no matter our parents, no matter our circumstances.

Maybe we don’t honor our children. Maybe they don’t honor us. In the frustrations of life, we say things we don’t mean. Sometimes we even forget HOW to love them.

But we can get that back –in little steps, one foot in front of the other without giving up–and all the while thinking of ourselves and our children not as victims, but as victors, the way God wants them to be.

You may need a Kleenex for this next video about reconciliation between a Father and his son.

washington_resigning_his_commission_1The distance between intent and actual result can be very wide indeed. Is it because we lose sight of our intention? Is it because we allow an opportunistic evil to chip away at our noble intent?

Take a look America–a long look at the distance between what we intended out nation to be, and what our nation is becoming.

Here are the intentions for America by our first President, George Washington in his Thanksgiving Proclamation, New York, 3 October 1789

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor– and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be– That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks–for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation–for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war–for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed–for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted–for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions– to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually–to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed–to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord–To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us–and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Wonderful words, yet for many years, we have watched the principles of America decay. Will we continue to ignore what is happening?

The following, very prophetic radio warning was given in 1965! Remember this old English adage–“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Living Lonely ???

Posted: May 16, 2016 in World On The Edge

file0001735309307Most of us have seen abandoned houses on country roads and city streets. There is something tragic about those unkempt places, those buildings that surely still hold the memories of people who once lived there, yet now, are no longer physically connected.

And because there is no physical connection, and the place is left alone, it falls into disrepair.

It’s the same with people left alone.

The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.–Mother Theresa

In fact, did you know that loneliness can kill you?

Emotional isolation is ranked as high a risk factor for mortality as smoking. A partial list of the physical diseases thought to be caused or made worse by loneliness would include Alzheimer’s, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases, and even cancer—tumors can metastasize faster in lonely people.

“Real loneliness is overwhelmingly painful, disintegrative, and paralyzing. It represents a blocking of the fundamental need for personal intimacy, and it originates in pathological object relations in infancy and early childhood. Psychotherapeutically it is difficult to discern real loneliness because the patient cannot communicate it verbally and is frequently unaware of it, and because the more prominent symptoms of hostility and anxiety mask it”– Psychiatry. XXII, 1959: Loneliness. Frieda Fromm-Reichmann. Pp. 1-16.. Psychoanal Q., 28:572-573.

Personal intimacy is the key here. A person can be in the middle of many people, but without a connection to any one of them, he can feel lonely.

Lonely house, lonely me
Funny with so many neighbors
How lonesome you can be

——Langston Hughes lyrics, Street Scene

 

Are there people in our lives who need us, need our care and intimacy, yet we’re not giving it to them?
Why? Too busy, too involved with social media? There maybe be someone right in front of us, but we don’t see them because our eyes are always on our phones. Sad.