Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Measure with Which I Measure

Today as I sat down to peruse the readings, I encountered one of my favorite -- and most challenging -- passages in the gospel. This text on mercy fits my new year's "mercy theme" and lives where I do.

It is helpful to be reminded that living with forgiveness really isn't enough. The state of mercy is not only a reactive state. Mercy is also proactive. It is not enough to forgive those who have "wronged me," I am called to "love your (my) enemies" and "pray for those who persecute you (me)." It gets tougher: I am called to "offer no resistance to one who is evil."

Even in Leviticus, we the faithful were exhorted to "bear no hatred" for our brother and sister; and of course to "Love your neighbor as yourself."

There is a parallel to today's gospel from Matthew in Luke (6:27-38) and I have always particularly loved this ending section of the passage:

Give and gifts will be given to you; 
A good measure, packed down, shaken together and overflowing
will be poured into your lap; 
For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you. (6:38)

It's such a hopeful passage! Give and it will be given to you! And so easy to forget the instructions that come before it: Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, judge not, lest you be judged.

What is the "measure" with which I measure? Is it a measure of generosity? Is it a measure of forgiveness? Is is a measure of proactive mercy?

That is surely the measure I need poured into my lap, one of generosity and non-judgmental-ism and
forgiveness. Food for thought!

I'll let Mother Theresa finish the thought:

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Considering it ALL Joy (Say, What?)

Thought for the day:
Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters,
when you encounter various trials,
for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
And let perseverance be perfect,
so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

(James 1: 2-4)

This is one of the hardest precepts in Christian thought, to "consider it all joy . . . when (we) encounter various trials." There are times we do it, right?  Particularly in times of crisis, such as losing a loved one, we are able to find our "Yes" and know that God is at work in us. 

It's the every day trials in which we find ourselves struggling: When a teenager is surly, or our boss is unfair, or our toddler is whiny, that is where the rubber meets the road. It's so easy to be surly myself, or retaliatory, or -- yes -- whiny. It's hard, hard to "consider it all joy." 

There are times I rise to the occasion, no question. Yet in the rhythm of the day, the ordinary cadence of daily life, it's easy to fall into a habit of complaining and unhappiness. It's hard to remember that I need that testing of my faith to grow my perseverance and that all of it is the refining fire, perfecting in me my finest and noblest self. And to remember, as Paul told the Romans, that "all things work together for good to them that love God" (8:28).

The first step in getting to that place where it is all "work(ing) together for good" is to accept what is, to grab hold of that joy, albeit at times elusive. In working to accept the things we want to push away, in clearing out the relentless chatter in our brains and looking deep in our hearts, we find the joy and from there, grow the perseverance. 

I cannot say it better than Paul did for the Romans: 
Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance,
and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope,
and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us. 
(Romans 5:3-4)

So take heart today --whatever your trials -- and know that you are not alone. We are together in the struggle to grow our faith through joy and then through perseverance. Blessings on your day.

[If you happened to notice that the "thought for the day" is really the thought for yesterday, you get one bonus point!]

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Art of Dying Well

Van Dyke's "Saint Rosalie"
I just finished St. Robert Bellarmine's The Art of Dying Well. In the middle ages, books and art on death reflected the preoccupation of the times and the saint weighs in with a fully Christian perspective.Written in 1619, it is certainly a relevant work for today. It is a challenging topic because the author's squirm-in-your-seat premise is that dying well requires living well.

In his dedication, the saint himself says that "this book does not contain a philosophical or oratorical or poetic art which might . . . delight the ears . . but to meditation on death and thinking about things which are not generally pleasing to men, such as poverty, humility, patience and other true Christian virtues."  I almost laugh at this sentence because where I grew up, we'd put it this way: "You've quit preaching and gone to meddling."

It is a challenging book because Bellarmine constantly shores up his arguments for living as well as possible with proofs from the gospels and a good many saintly authors. It is difficult to live well and the author does not lead us to believe otherwise, but he also points out that the teachings of the patriarchs and apostles can guide us. As well the Holy Spirit is at hand and able to deliver us from our trials and difficulties in this regard.

He tackles the stuff that is the fodder of our daily life: dying to the world, moral virtues, the "unmasked error of the rich," prayer and fasting, and finally the sacraments, ending with the sacrament of extreme unction. The saint says, "From it we derive a highly useful lesson, not only for the end of life but for it's whole course."  (Not) coincidentally, my reading this last chapter coincided with my receiving the Anointing of the Sick in mass on Saturday.

Bellarmine really gets to meddling in that last chapter when he points out how many of our sins start with our senses and also how easy they are to avoid if we choose to avoid them. He talks about lust, gluttony, drunkenness, flattery, malice, envy, laziness -- yes, full on to meddling.

This book was both convicting and inspiring. It is a good argument for living the Christian life, even if dying well is not your personal major concern. While it is a book written from a Catholic perspective, there is little that is specifically Catholic. Any serious Christian would find it worthy of consideration. Give it a read; I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Story of David and Dreena, and a Share of Discomfort

Since Christmas, the daily readings have been giving us the condensed version of the saga of King David. I love that these "David" stories come to us right after Christmas, when our New Year's resolutions help us keep up with the daily scriptures.

King David is alternately hero and scoundrel in these tales and well, so much like me. His crown is often tarnished! It's easy for me to be disappointed when David does something unthinkable -- a la Bathsheba -- or shows a profound lack of faith, as when he numbers the troops. "Disappointment" would be better characterized as discomfort, in truth. I am at "ill at ease" when David is so human. He exercises poor judgment, he is power-happy and greedy, he's impulsive, he's selfish . . . like me. Yuck.

Yet there is so much redemption in these stories. David always realizes his mis-step and gets back on the path to God. He shows great willingness to atone for his mis-deeds and a lot of character in owning up to them. Of course David didn't have the benefit of a Savior, so his penance came in the form of pretty severe consequences, some of which were also visited on his people. [An aside, I love the part where David chooses the consequence and then God, in His mercy, stops the destruction before the appointed time. Isn't that just like God?]

I am confident that when God chose David to shepherd His flock, He was fully aware of David's shortcomings. He had faith in him nonetheless.

What a poignant reminder this is for me. I am going to continue to make mis-steps and mistakes; at times I will turn my back on my calling and flagrantly rebel against my Lord and Savior. It always surprises me but I don't think it really surprises God. My part is to notice, to repent, to seek forgiveness and to strive to do better in the future.

If you have not had time recently to review this story of David, it bears a look-see. Maybe there is a little of David in all of us.

(The story begins with the January 21 Old Testament reading of 1 Samuel 16 and continues to today, February 6 in 2 Kings chapter 2)

Monday, February 3, 2014

Good News, Good News!

From today's gospel:
“Go home to your family and announce to them
all that the Lord in his pity has done for you.”  (Mark 5:19)

I am so greatly blessed in my life and while I count my blessings all the time, I seldom announce them to my family.

Hear ye, hear ye!

The Lord has had great pity on me! He saved me from a self-absorbent and self-destructive young adulthood by putting in my path friends and leaders of great faith and compassion so many I decided against listing them here!

He healed my scars.

He provided ample bounty even though quite often I was without hope.

He led me to a group of friends who led me to Austin and eventually to my Dear Hubby.

He has allowed me the freedom to make mistakes (so many mistakes, often big ones) and learn from them. This is true grace.

He granted me the large family I always wanted and sent just the right children to me. Each of my beautiful children is both gift and teacher to me every single day. (Even when I don't see it!)

He has saved my life numerous times, at least twice in the last 9 months.

He has allowed me to struggle. This is the foundation of my growth.

He has mercy on me, a often bumbling but well-intentioned ambassador, and offers me countless times of forgiveness and innumerable do-overs.

He gives me hope.

This is just the short list.