Sunday, February 28, 2010
I am not the best Christian.
I am not the best Catholic.
I am not the best wife.
I am not the wisest parent.
I am not the best mother.
I am not the smartest student.
I am not the coolest parent.
I am not the best photographer.
I am not the most insightful blogger.
I am not the best listener.
I am not the most eloquent speaker.
I am not the best writer.
I am not the best gardener.
I am not the best daughter.
I am not the best sister.
I am not the most patient person.
I am not the most learned theologian.
I am not the best intercessor.
I am not the kindest.
I am not the most helpful.
I am not the one who knows the most about anything.
I am not the one with all the answers.
I am not the most forgiving.
I am not the best dressed.
I am not the most beautiful.
I am not the youngest.
I am not the best housekeeper.
I am not the neatest person.
I am not the one with the most friends.
I am not the one with the most perfect children.
I am not the one with the most grandchildren.
I am not the best daughter-in-law.
I am not the best aunt.
I am not the best sister-in-law.
I am not the best niece.
I am not the best employee.
I am not the one with the most awards.
I am not the best athlete.
I am not the best singer.
I am not the best artist.
I am not the most creative.
I am not the best dog trainer.
I am not the best neighbor.
I am not the best cook.
I am not the most informed.
I am not the most politically involved.
I am not the best read.
I am not the most tidy.
I am not the most reliable.
I am not the most consistent.
I am not the most energetic.
I am not the most thorough.
There are so very very many things that I am not...
I am not the one sitting at His right hand.
I am aware of my mistakes, aware of my limitations, aware of the ways I have let others down.
I often hear my accuser remind me of all the ways that I am not worthy. I often hear my accuser's voice. My accuser often tells the truth. My accuser is often right about my failings. My accuser does not tell the whole truth, though. And the part he does not tell is the part I need most to hear.
I am a sinner.
I am very much in need of forgiveness.
I am very much in need of a Savior.
I am very much in need of the Eucharist.
This morning at Mass, once more, I was confronted with the truth. Jesus comes to me not because of myself but in spite of myself. He comes to me out of love. He comes to me always because He is merciful. I am very much forgiven. Without Him, I am nothing. I am a wilted flower. Nothing to behold. Nothing to recommend itself.
St. Theresa of Lisieux reminded us, "The guest of our soul knows our misery; He comes to find an empty tent within us - that is all He asks."
Unmerited Mercy. Grace. That is what I receive from Jesus. That is His gift to me.
I hope you experience it, too.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent today, Feb 17, 2010.
This is a flower pic, taken a couple years ago, which I've converted to this black and white image. Just as I have stripped away the color from this image, during this season of Lent, we now strip away ourselves to find more of the genuine, and less of the facades. We quiet those external noises that drown out the voice of our Creator. We gladly make sacrifices because we find our truer selves in so doing. And we turn our hearts toward God and others. This is the way we were meant to be. This is how we were designed.
We are not perfect, but there is beauty in our imperfection. We are not whole, but He can make up what is lacking.
Like the tulip above, we are open, and ready.
"Here I am, Lord. Your servant is listening."
As I woke today, I thought of St. Paul. He had many reasons to feel secure in his relationship with God. Born a Jew, circumcised on the eighth day, years of zealous (overzealous?) service within his tradition... But his worldly standing did not grant him access to the One he desired. All that effort to be good and holy... fell short. Paul tells us that knowing Jesus was worth more than all of his public position and standing. Paul's relationship with Jesus was the thing he valued most. St. Paul is a credible witness. Knowing all that he knows, he tells the Philippians (3:8-10), "I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ...being found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ...that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible, I may attain the resurrection form the dead."
We fast during Lent because it gives us great joy to be joined with Jesus in his own selflessness. While it may cause us temporary pain or difficulty, our eyes are looking toward the prize, the goal. That is, we are looking toward Jesus, himself. Our faith sustains us when He seems quiet. This is why, as Catholics, we are pleased to embrace small (or great) sufferings for we know that they are good teachers. We are not afraid of hardship. Our sacrifices teach us to be patient, and to wait in faith.
One more thing about St. Paul is that he leaves the outcome of his soul with Jesus. "...that if possible, I may attain the resurrection from the dead." He doesn't boast that it is his. If he boasts at all, he boasts only in his trust, in his relationship, in his faith in Jesus.
So many times it is difficult to trust. When He seems quiet, or we feel distant. That is when we must call on the virtue of patience, and rely on His timing. God is not a genie to be called forth from some shiny lamp. He is God. We must be his patient servants.
God bless any of you who stop to read these words. Those of you who observe Lent and those of you who do not. We are all His creatures.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
I am giving some thought today to the weeks just ahead as many of us begin the period of Lent. Yesterday, I mentioned in my blog that if we are not thoughtful, we can easily drift from our chosen path and end up where we never intended to go. The antidote to this can be found, in part, in the observation of Lent.
Lent, the forty days prior to the Christian celebration of Easter, begins tomorrow. In many traditions, Lent is observed as a time to reflect on our need for salvation, our need for God, and to examine our lives in the context of virtue. Lent provides a time for self-reflection and repentance. As part of this "life review", it is customary to make small sacrifices, to demonstrate that we are serious about our desire to live more closely with God. Such acts, often of self-denial, can serve a dual purpose, for as we deny ourselves earthly comforts, we shut out the noise of the world. That "noise" often comes from within, as our inner selves make demands all day long: "Feed me!" or "Don't make me work so hard!" As we quiet those inner demands, we gain something scripture refers to as "self-mastery", which is a freedom that is often overlooked and undervalued by our Western culture. It is the freedom to say "no" to that often irrational and demanding voice that is inside us. Another part of this season of Lent includes reaching out, giving alms, and remembering others. Here we put into action our insights that it is better to give than to receive, better to think of others before thinking of ourselves.
The Christian life should be modeled after Jesus, himself. Therefore, we must concern ourselves to build a closer and stronger relationship with the Father, and also to love and help those He created.
This year, I think I will be considering Christian virtues.
What are virtues? In general, virtues involve a habitual and firm disposition to do good. They involve our intellect, and govern our actions, giving order to our passions and desires, and are informed by reason and faith. Virtues can be grouped around the 4 (four) cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. The Catholic catechism tells us that there are 3 (three) theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity (love). These undergird and give direction to all other virtues.
The term human virtues, is used to describe qualities such as compassion, responsibility, a sense of duty, self-discipline, and restraint, honesty, loyalty, friendship, courage, and persistence, and others. These related to those Cardinal Virtues but they are supported by, or even driven by, the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity.
The theological virtues are acquired through baptism and granted to us by God's unmerited grace. But the cardinal virtues we acquire by doing good. We learn them through observing them in others, and repeating them in our own behavior. We grow in virtue by frequent repetition of virtuous acts. For example, each time we choose to tell the truth, rather than a lie, we grow in honesty. Each time we ignore our fears, we grow in courage.
There are many lists of virtues. Generosity, poverty of spirit (humility), purity of heart,... I will have much to think about!
The flower above is a yellow salsify. It grows wild in the midwest where I live. I have converted it to black and white. The stark tones seem appropriate for the journey ahead.
May He draw us always closer to His heart, and teach us to love as He does.
Monday, February 15, 2010
"Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and seen in me, do, and the God of peace will be with you." Philippians 4:8-9
When I was in high school and college I spent a good deal of time reading and praying about lessons from the Old and New Testaments. St. Paul's exhortation to the Philippians, noted above, has always held deep meaning for me. It teaches the way to a) maintain a positive attitude, b) is excellent advice for warding off depression, and c) is a wonderful first step for problem solving when one is confronted with problems.
This has all come to mind again recently as I have watched television take on darker and darker themes. There seems to be a marked increase in shows that deal with a non-Christian view of spirituality-- shows that elevate magic, and the afterlife or vampires, which, of course are very popular these days. There are increasingly gruesome crime scenes and an exploration into the psyche of those who torture or perform unthinkable acts on others. On a certain level it is fascinating. I admit that I am drawn to many of the shows that deal with crime. On the simplest level, they are about good and evil. Mixed in to even the best shows, however, are the little jabs against my beliefs.
There is very little to watch that inspires one to be a better person, but there is plenty to normalize our baser instincts. There are few times when Catholic virtues are supported, and many more times when their ideal is actually mocked. It's funny, too, because really, the argument against Catholic ideals doesn't have much to support it. Mocking virtue and idealizing vice hardly holds up to real scrutiny. But isn't that the idea? In a way, aren't we just being numbed or lulled into a torpor so we won't scrutinize. Taking the path of least resistance, we can drift further from our truest selves, further from our real capacities. It's like Western culture has become so adolescent that we stand as a group and laugh at things we don't even understand, but act in front of one another as though we have superiority. Western culture thinks it is pretty "cool".
We know better. What good parent doesn't hold up some sort of ideal for their children? Who wouldn't encourage their child to improve their soccer or reading skills, or to practice their violin? We know it takes effort to meet our goals. So maybe the problem is that we have lost sight of our spiritual and moral goals. Maybe the problem is that we have replaced the real and authentic, with something that is not real but counterfeit.
There is a story, and I don't know the source or I would give it. But it is the story of someone who works in the banking industry. He or she is an expert at identifying counterfeit bills. This individual was asked one time about how he got so good at identifying counterfeit bills, and if he didn't have to see a lot of counterfeit money as part of his education. His reply was that he didn't need to study the counterfeits. He studied the genuine bill. That is all he did. If you study and know the genuine, you can spot a counterfeit.
So this is the point I am making. If we submerge ourselves in what is base, we are likely to lose sight of the virtues and our moral compass may drift, over time, leading us down a path that we never really intended to travel. This doesn't happen because we are bad, but because we are human. We are easily influenced by what we hear and see, and if we are not paying attention, we may forget ourselves.
So St. Paul's words speak to me. And that is why I post this photo of the gladiolus. It is not the best picture of a flower that you will ever see. But it is good enough. And I hope it points you to consider something good, and true and beautiful.
As we approach Lent this coming Wednesday, may we all turn our hearts back to the One who made them. May we take each other's hands to guide us all back to the path if we have strayed. Our happiness truly comes from Him.
Peace to you, my friend.