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Sunday, May 29, 2011

How Do We Pray for Enemies? And Why?

MT 5:44  You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. 

One of the most difficult things Jesus commands us to do is to love our enemies and pray for those who hate us. Most recently, the "debate", if you can call it that, has been prayer for Usama bin Ladin, the madman behind the mass-murder that was September 11, 2001, among other acts of terrorism throughout the world.

Enemy? Indeed! Persecutor? Absolutely!

Love him? Uh....WHAT!?

PRAY for him? HUH!?

Right. Jesus doesn't flinch at our objections to this teaching, and He gave it with full knowledge of the horrible things humanity did and would do to each other. Yet, He, knowing human nature so perfectly, knew that the only way for us to grow in holiness, to be perfect like our Father in heaven is perfect, would be to cooperate with Grace in order for Grace to change us.

Let us explore a few terms used in this very short passage, so that perhaps we may better understand WHY Our Lord gives us such a difficult commandment.

First, Jesus said to LOVE our enemies

He is not speaking here of gooshy puppy-eyed sappiness. He is speaking of the virtue of Divine Charity; the very love of God, the theological virtue we are given at Baptism, that is sealed at Confirmation. Divine Love is not the warped idea of "love" we humans have, but it is a supernatural gift from God to will the good of the other. To have it implies a connection with God that is stronger than our own will, choosing an active desire to conform ourselves to Him even though we may not know exactly what He wills for us...or for those for whom we pray.  We don't merely love others with our own emotions, but with the fire of Divine Charity. It means we can look upon another who has deeply wounded us and still recognize that human being as a willed and beloved child of God.

We do know that it is God's will that all enter heaven, that not a single soul be lost. We therefore pray for others with this in mind, for ultimately, all prayer is about salvation: for us, and for others. Even if we, in our fallen humanity, do not will certain people to go to Heaven.

Say what?

That's the crux of our human nature, isn't it? We are offended and we stop willing the good for another because we've decided, perhaps unconsciously or even subconsciously, that the one who offended us should just rot in hell.

Well...that isn't God's will, is it? Still, He, in His faithfulness to Himself and His creation, allows each and every one of us to choose, for Hell is not a place, but a state of eternal separation from God. God wills our eternal union with Him but He will not take back His gift of Free Will.


You have probably heard many prayers end with "in Jesus' name, Amen".

What does this mean?  There are those who misunderstand and think that just the words "in Jesus Name", means that He absolutely endorses what we have just prayed about, and therefore, it must be true.

In fact, to pray in Jesus' Name means that we are praying with the intention to conform ourselves to HIS will...not to bend His will to match our own deformed will.  We do not see as God sees, and often, we pray from a position of self-love, telling God what WE want, without giving thought as to what GOD wills for us.

Therefore, before we say, "In Jesus' Name, AMEN", we should be praying, "Not my will, but THINE be done!"   In that way, we are reminded that we may be desiring something disordered, but we are still, in humility, bowing to God's almighty will, knowing He will bring about our good with our cooperation, even if that good contradicts something we think we really want.

 What has any of this to do with Prayer for Enemies?

A lot.

When we are ordered to pray for our enemies and those who hate us, we are supposed to be praying for their good: their conversion, whether in this life or even when they stand before the Almighty in judgment. We also know that if a soul is not open to God, we desire that their hearts be opened in order to receive the grace we are asking for them.

And you know what? It's HARD to sincerely ask for someone we despise to be blessed with something so great as eternal salvation. It's HARD to sincerely ask for people we can't stand, or hate or want revenge against, to be blessed by God in some way.

It's dang near IMPOSSIBLE!

This is why, when we pray for our enemies, (or any prayer, for that matter), we step aside in humility by intending, "Thy will, not mine, be done", and praying also "In Jesus' Name", for in this way, we are recognizing that we can't forgive, we can't forget, we can't, in and of ourselves, carry that Divine Love we have received to another. It is Christ who forgives, who died for that enemy of ours, and it is Christ who died for us and allows us to struggle to be conformed to Him.

Prayer for Enemies is not Just About Them

It's also about US. Prayer changes US by conforming us to God's will, and the more difficult the prayer, the greater struggle and the greater growth in holiness; if we will allow ourselves to be changed.

Prayer and forgiveness of enemies does not mean "forgetting", but rather, to simply allow God to bring about the good in that person's life (or death), and to purify us by removing hatred from our souls. It is one thing to be angry, it is another to allow that anger to so damage us that we turn into the object of our hatred.

Prayer prevents that. Prayer helps us to see with God's eyes and act with His Love. It conforms us to His will and makes us holy, as Our Father in heaven is Holy.

Always remember: it's never too late to pray for someone. We as humans are bound by time, but God is not, and He knows best how to apply all graces. Grace is never lost. If we are praying for someone we believe to be in Purgatory but they are actually already experiencing eternal beatitude, that Grace from our prayers will be passed to another in accordance with God's will. And yet, we grow in Divine Charity, Faith, and Hope simply through the act of praying for that other - especially if that other is an enemy who has deeply hurt us.

As Jesus said, it is easy to love those who love us. But loving those who hate us calls us to perfection.

Final Thoughts

Because I often explain things badly, I thought I would allow a Saint to speak, and so I leave you with the words of St. Jerome from his Commentary on Matthew:

"But I say to you: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you."
Many who measure God's commands according to their own feebleness, rather than by the strength of the saints, think the things that have been commanded here are impossible. They say that in view of our strength, it is sufficient not to hate one's enemies; but to be commanded to love them, well, this goes beyond what is experienced by human nature. It needs to be known, therefore, that Christ does not command impossibilities, but perfection. This is what David practiced with respect to Saul and Absalom. Stephen too, the martyr, prayed for his enemies who were stoning him. Moreover, Paul desires to be accursed on behalf of his own persecutors. And Jesus both taught and practiced this when he said: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."
(p. 85)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Storms, Tornadoes, and Wreckage

All eyes have been on Joplin, Missouri, in the wake of the EF-4, possibly multi-vortex tornado that devastated the city.

Locally, here in Minnesota, I didn't learn of the Joplin tornado until evening because I was tied to our local news, alternating between the reports there and the sirens sounding outside my own door, knowing there was a tornado on the grounded headed in my direction.

When the warning got specific to my area, I realized this could be "it", and was relieved when the funnel that devastated north Minneapolis took another direction - away from the area where I reside. Still, for hours, I watched the ongoing reports of the tornadoes that same cell spawned over the Twin Cities area, and stood in shock when the first images of Minneapolis came to the screen.

Thankfully, there were only two reported deaths, and one came as a result of the aftermath - cleaning up right after the tornado struck.  There were many injuries, not many serious. Given the heavy population of the north Minneapolis neighborhoods that were stricken, given the number of trees that were tossed about like chaff, it's amazing there weren't more human casualties.

Still, as one police department spokesman explained, it was already a "distressed" neighborhood (economically, high crime, etc), so this storm was even more devastating in terms of long-term effects and hidden effects than anyone can understand by viewing the mere images. 

While our prayers and sympathy goes out to the residents of Joplin and their loved ones, we also have to remember those in our own vicinity as well. We have to remember those who are still trying to recover from the monster storm that took over 300 lives in several states earlier this spring. We have to respond to those who are waking up this morning to newly-leveled cities. Whever we are, there are people in need of help to recover from these storms.

 We also have to continue to watch the weather patterns and the skies here, too, because as this last weekend reminded us: no one is immune.

Remember the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster that happened in Japan a couple months ago? Up here in MN we were in the depths of what felt like the neverending winter, snowstorm after snowstorm, frigid temps, and I'd been complaining greatly, wondering somewhat rhetorically, "Why do we live here?"

Then THAT disaster struck and I realized:  we live in Minnesota because we don't have earthquakes, we don't have hurricanes, we don't have volcanoes, we don't have tsunamis. We live overall in a pretty safe place. I began to feel a little smug over that, I'm ashamed to admit.

Problem place is really safe. Up here, and throughout the midwest, from north to south and back again, we have some NASTY weather. We can be bopping along one day, happy as clams in a clam-ban, when suddenly a tornado comes along and wipes an entire town off the face of the earth.

No matter where we choose to live, there are natural disasters that threaten our lives and property, and even though we have warning systems - sometimes they fail. Like they did in Minneapolis on Sunday.

As I continue to read the reports of the recent tornadoes throughout the midwest, I can't help but marvel at the lives spared. I can't understand how so many people could survive so great a disaster, and in that, I see the hand of God. Not only did His hand spare so many, but it is the same hand that beckons the rest of us to respond with compassion, with urgency, with prayer and yes, thanksgiving.

There will always be disasters, and we must always, as Christians, be prepared to respond and offer hope to those who cry out for mercy in the aftermath.

Help for the Suffering

There are many organizations working hard to fulfill the needs of people directly affected by these terrible storms - and it's only May! There will be more to come. Having a garage sale? Check your inventory and see if you have items that can be donated to the Red Cross or other organization - they need everything, from food and medical supplies to furniture like beds and dressers.

At the very least, pray. Pray for the deceased, pray for the survivors, and pray that when the next disaster strikes, you will be ready - because your house might be next.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Firefighting and Evangelization

(This post is a re-run, posted nearly a year ago but as I'm in a dry spell, I'm running it again now. Besides: I need the reminder it provides. Realize that when I write, I am not writing to YOU, but to ME because I need a lecture far more than YOU probably do! This post was a lecture I needed to hear but no one else was out there to give me. And yes, if the over-use of the word "I" indicates anything, are reading a personal blog. Welcome to my narcissism. Just the same, I hope my navel-gazing is of benefit to someone else because it doesn't work much for me) 

I always become a little more reflective when I approach my next birthday, and given the movie I watched a few days ago, (Smokejumpers) I've been thinking a lot about the stuff I did in my 20's, the aspirations I had, and, well, the actual results of my efforts.

Although in many ways I often look back on those efforts and judge them as "failures", when I see them in light of the Cross, I can see something more, something that isn't about me, but tells a story that simply turns my experiences into a living parable.

To be honest, it is only in viewing my past through this lens that both gives me clarity and helps me come to terms with what happened, ensuring that I cannot possibly ever view my life as a "waste of God's time."

EVERYTHING is a part of God's time, and part of His timing. In cooperation with Him, I can look back and find the lessons He intended for me to learn, and hopefully, to pass on to others. What follows is only one of those lessons.

**       **       **

Back in my employment with the big city, during the Tower portion of Firefighter training our days consisted of roll call, review of the SOP's (Standard Operating Procedures), practice of certain foundational skills, and the training evolutions scheduled to build upon the previous day's training. It started out in the same way one learns to shoot a gun: with basic safety (i.e. "dry firing") care and cleaning, etc,....and then we began to get into the real meat of it, slowly building the skills at the appropriate time.

The six weeks at "The Tower" were the final culmination of our training, where we put all the academics and practical skills to use in a systematic application of the SOP's. In other words, it was where our real mettle was tested, where we confronted our fears and failings and had to make the choice to push beyond...or fall back.

There were lessons learned, however, that applied to other things. Much of the process was reminiscent of my law enforcement training and work, and for others in my class, of their military experience.  Yet, what we learned wasn't limited to the practical realm.

While I was there, I was also experiencing my return to God. That adage about there being no atheists in foxholes?  Yeah, well, we weren't in foxholes, but when you realize your mortality in exercises that might well actually cost you your life in mere training, well, that tends to introduce you more often to your knees. (Given that I was at the Training Tower on 9/11/2001, that lesson came even more completely home.)

Truly, God was a part of my training even when religion wasn't a formal part of my life.

The Evolution

We were sent into the Residence, where natural gas-inspired fires would burn according to the control of the Training Captains (read: Drill Sergeants).

Each trainee was assigned a position, and we were expected to know the details of each role within that evolution. I happened to draw what was perhaps one of the physically easier roles, but one requiring the most courage with regard to being center stage:  I was on the nozzle for our first "fire".

We went into the building in full gear, airtanks engaged as if the smoke was real, and with a "charged" hoseline running from the Engine at the closest hydrant.  I had the nozzle in hand, felt the door with the back of my gloved hand, opened it, and crawled in under the smoke, my secondary (in real life would be my Captain pushing/yelling)  behind me, "rolling" the tankline just as he was supposed to do.

It was pitch black, so I relied on my training thus far to follow the wall, find the doorknob, find the fire. Finally I opened the door to the proper room and from the midst of the smoke came the hot glow of flames arising from the gas pilot lights, mimicking a real fire. I entered the room slightly, pointed the nozzle, and opened the line. The Drill Sergeant Training Captain yelled at me to get closer, so, holding the fully open hoseline I struggled against the force of the water to crawl in further, surprised by the blast of heat that hit me so quickly. (No textbook explanation can describe this experience.)

I knew about not "steaming us out". I knew I had to nail this thing and had to do it right. My backup person (cadet like me) came up behind me to provide physical support, and just as he was supposed to, pressed his forearm and elbow against my back to brace me. With this initially-helpful counterbalance, I directed the nozzle according to our shared will to make the fire go away.


The Captain began yelling at me to advance. I tried, with all my might! 

 But my partner,expecting me to move on that command,  immediately put more pressure on me. 

The problem was this: he thought he was helping me to move forward, but in actuality, his main pressure point was against my upper back and shoulders. Instead of aiding a tactical advance, he was, in fact driving my entire upper body, and therefore the nozzle (our lifeline) into the ground. 

I tried to yell back at him to back off, but instead he only pushed harder, even while the Captain screamed even more loudly at me to get the nozzle up and to get closer to the fire.

I knew the Captains could see what was going on and wondered why they kept yelling for my advance when they could see that my face was nearly driven to the cement, such that the water stream had gone even lower than the base of the training fire!  I could see it splashing against the brown vents of the "fire source", far below the flames I was supposed to be hitting. With all my strength I was pushing the nozzle hard upward with my hand and biceps, painfully handicapped by the muscles I was not able to use as a result of my co-worker's own battle to get us into the mouth of the dragon. I was desperately attempting to relieve the pressure, desperately trying to crawl forward, completely unable to move because of the force against my upper back, continuing to drive me DOWN, not FORWARD.


The screams of the other firefighters yelling at me to "PUT IT OUT!!" "ADVANCE!" "YOU'RE STEAMING US OUT!" still ring through my memory. I can't forget the struggle to push back against my backup, trying to raise the nozzle and put us all out of our misery.

To me, it felt like we were approaching the sun. To them, it felt like they were vegetables being steamed in a convection oven. We were all suffering. We were all miserable, and it seemed that perhaps no one, not even the Captains, realized that I was so totally, embarrassingly helpless.

I was helpless because my backup was oblivious to what he was actually doing, and our Captains, ALL three of them,  continued to scream at me to advance, in spite of the fact it was quite literally impossible to do anything other than lay down and die to get any other message across to them.

Instead, I struggled in utter physical and emotional agony, and finally, at long last, I made my way to the fire, close enough to satisfy the Captains, aiming the nozzle properly enough to satisfy my fellow "firefighters".

The fire went out and, well, I barely remember my exit. The only thing I wanted to do was to breathe fresh air. I exited that fire to an entirely new verbal blast from the other trainees. The Captains didn't even allow me to defend myself...they cut us all off immediately with a command to stand down.

As it turned out, they had a point and knew fully what was going on.

One of their points, from a "personnel" (note: not "personal") standpoint was to see how I would handle being pushed both physically and verbally, especially when the two factors made obedience to either impossible. They wanted to witness the struggle and final outcome.

I didn't know any of this when I stood with my immediate "team" from our first evolution. I only recall standing up wearily, drenched in sweat, listening to the complaints of my coworkers and friends, all of whom had no idea what had just happened and why. I left the training building feeling like a total failure, knowing that I had lost respect, certain that in the future, NONE of them would ever want to work with me, certain I would kill them and anyone we were sent in to save. 

Then the Captains surprised us all

Yes, they were critical of me; as this was a first-time attempt, certainly I made errors, and serious ones at that!  Those errors were expected and normal. Our superiors went through a litany of errors that didn't leave a single classmate within that evolution untouched. I was certain I would be crucified in this one, and waited, expecting the worst, but, well, that was the capstone:  the harshest criticism was reserved for my #2 person: the guy who was supposed to be backing me up!

The Captains pointed out that it wasn't my fault that they and my coworkers were getting steamed out; it was HIS fault. They actually noted how hard I struggled against him in my attempts to advance, the effect of his force, and spoke of the physics of leverage.

I am not a tall person, but this guy was. All his strength, although intended otherwise, was put into pushing my upper back and shoulders DOWNWARD. It was HE who drove the nozzle into the ground, and me with it. The Captains could see that I wasn't hesitating, but was quite literally trapped by "friendly fire".

They preached awareness, not just of ourselves, but of those we are backing up. As a shorter person, they emphasized where I would need to place support on a taller person, and actually reversed our physical positions to demonstrate this for the entire group, with an open hoseline. For the tall firefighters working with a shorter person, they emphasized the importance of proper position, for the force from behind in any case will quite literally redirect the nozzle, usually to detrimental effect.

They spoke of communication, of the need for both people to be close enough to know each other well, to speak freely and  to be aware of the other and what they needed. It had to be a team effort. They had seen me trying, my partner not listening. It had to be a two-way street or, well...people would die. Those were the stakes.

Oh, yes, I learned that day how important the #2 person is, and it's a lesson I've never forgotten. Even though I was personally vindicated in that particular scenario, I have come to realize that there's more to that lesson, and where it matters, well...I'm the #2 person and I've more than pushed others down: I've steamrolled right over them in a misguided effort to get them to where I thought they should go.

That brings me to the main point:

That lesson makes sense in Evangelization, too.

In Evangelization, we are trying to advance a soul towards the light of Christ, towards salvation. In effect, they are "on the nozzle".

If the backup person is too harsh, too overbearing, instead of helping that soul towards the Divine Fire, they are driving them into stagnancy, or perhaps even worse.

Coming on too strong is as bad as being too lax; in both cases, the soul in question is left in limbo and might actually be destroyed.

There is a balance to maintain, it relies upon teamwork, and God is the Source, the Catalyst, and the Captain.  Every effort comes FROM Him and is directed TOWARDS Him. Any effort that places pressure so as to direct the focus away from Him is, well...deadly. (Yes, there is a place for backfires, for containment, for "surround and drown" spiritual terms we call those techniques the Sacraments, Sacred Tradition, and the Intercession of the Saints, among other spiritual realities.)

Every so often, when I think of evangelization and the mistakes I've witnessed or those I have made myself, I recall that scene, there in the training house, and I recall the sense of panic, the steam, the heat, and the pressure that wouldn't allow me to either advance or flee...and I am brought to empathy.

We are called to lay down our lives in service to Christ. We are NOT called to sacrifice the lives and souls of others. If we deny others the free will given to them by God, we both deny Christ and become culpable for all those we cause to flee from Him.

Evangelization isn't about us; it's about Jesus Christ and the salvation of souls, and the second we lose that focus, we drive others away, and may, in fact, spiritually murder them.

Evangelization must be bound and driven by Divine Charity, directed towards Hope, underscored by Faith. We need to be able to step aside, recalling that conversion and salvation do not depend on us. Many souls need a gentle approach, and hard sales tactics do nothing other than scare them away, or in the terms I experienced, drive them into the ground, paralyzing them.

It is a great temptation for believers to pressure others we love to go where we want them to go, however we must remain cognizant that our pushiness may not be the will of God, no matter what we may think. Perhaps some souls need to suffer in order to be brought to conversion. Perhaps they need to fall away in order to understand what they have lost.(I fell into both categories, and then some).

We have to recall that God is the only one who can bring good out of evil, and He allows evil and suffering for just such a purpose. Look at Our Lord Jesus Christ for this example! Who are any of us to complain of suffering in the face of the One who suffered on our behalf and invites us to partake, to unite our own sufferings to His?

Everyone We Meet is Fighting a Hard Battle

We must act with mercy, in light of what we know of divine justice. For our part, we must temper all we do with true charity, which is not a "warm and fuzzy" type of "total acceptance of all things".  What I experienced that day in the tower was real charity:  I suffered what I perceived as injustice, but were it not for that experience, neither I nor my fellow cadets would have gotten that lesson from any side.

True charity can be harsh, for it has in its sight the ultimate good of every soul. It meets the soul where it is and directs it to something greater. It allows the soul to suffer for what it thinks it loves in order that it might become purified enough to experience what it truly loves.

We must take care of the souls who come across our paths, and be willing to be gentle where a gentle touch is needed. It is easy to be forceful in evangelization;  most of those called to this work in a serious way have strong personalities; it is hard to stand down when the love of Our Lord drives one onward. Yet that very love must be the cause of awareness, for when only one soul is lost, if only one soul flees....we are all deprived.

We all suffer. We are all steamed out.

We become less if only one is compromised.

We lose souls if, out of our pride we forget to take a backseat to those we love.

We lose our own souls if we forget to take a backseat to God.


Sometimes one has to write about things not because they are so interesting, but because they are so RARE.

I am up past my bedtime, and knew my dog and my foster both need a final walk. It is a break from my normal routine, and in fact, originally I thought to just stay within my townhome "yard".

Instead, I opted for a short walk with my canine charges, so crossed my driveway, passed the lee of the building next to us, and as we crossed their driveway, we all, almost intuitively stopped...all at once.

It wasn't anything I did, or anything my dogs did. As a unit, we all simply STOPPED. And we looked in the same direction

There, standing properly on the sidewalk on the opposite side of a building from us, maybe about 50 feet...reigned a Doe.

She stood there, staring at us, evaluating us even as we evaluated her. The dogs were transfixed, not barking, not lunging, but staring. I could hear the dogs' respirations increasing in proper tempo as they, by instinct, readied for the hunt. Still we stood there. I wished mightily for the camera but knew if I left the Doe would also be gone. It was best to enjoy this very moment as it was.

She turned and fled, and the dogs strained at their leashes, both letting out extended yowls proper to their respective breeds. While the sound of my German Shepherd was loudest, she pulled the least, and while the tones of my Whippet-mix foster dog were diminutive, he was the one who made it clear he would be the one who would capture the prey...if only allowed the freedom.

Instead of freeing dogs I knew I'd never get back if I let them go, I continued our walk, with my own hope of seeing the Doe again. Indeed, she stood in the field, watching us, so we approached, I half-dragged, half-encouraging the dogs. About twenty feet into the field, one of the dogs caught my attention, as he was staring  towards our complex.

It took a moment for my eyes to adjust, but there stood a "pole" where a pole shouldn't be: at the intersection of our street and the main one that passed by, like an extinguished lamp planted dead center in the pavement.

With our attention she tentatively moved. With her movement the dogs shifted their predatory radars, and as she raced to join her companion, I could hear the rhythm of hooves on the pavement, even over the dogs' yowls, in spite of the strength required to reign in the predators who so desperately desired to pursue their prey....

Ahhh..that's not something one sees every day, not just one Doe, but two, and close enough to converse.

Had she been a buck...there might have been a charge involved.

Tonight, while the dogs kick and whine in their sleep, I suspect I may understand a bit more of their dreams.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Empty Lines

Recently I had to find my birth certificate, the original of which my mother gave me long ago, as well as a fire-safe box to keep it in. It was folded neatly and stored in a little cardstock sheath imprinted with the name of the County Registrar back when I was born. When I pulled it out, I saw that Mom had also kept my baptismal certificate with it.

I turned it over, noting the dates of my Baptism, First Holy Communion, and Confirmation. Left blank, though, were the three other options: Marriage, Diaconate (for men), and Religious Profession.

For awhile, I stared at those words and the blank lines next to it. Date. Church. Place.

I don’t know if those lines will ever be filled in. Is it possible? Yes…sorta. I wonder, though, if perhaps I’m simply not meant for that lifestyle, for nothing in my life now is actually permitting me to move forward to follow that Call. There are certain steps that I must take, but I have not been free to make them. It’s not a matter, as some would suggest, of just “willing” it. We are not free, ever, to trample over others or let others always take up our slack so that we can pursue what may or may not be the right course of action. Pursuing God in selfishness is not pursuing Him, but oneself alone. So it is that I have not been free.

Perhaps that will change in time. Perhaps it won’t.

All I can do is live the life I have, the one that’s right in front of me, every day. All I can do is consecrate each new day to Our Lord and ask Him to help me be more like Him.

But now, there is a new image in my intellect, floating there, reminding me that there is unfinished business that can’t be forgotten: those empty lines next to “Religious Profession”, waiting for something, like the final chapter of a long, epic story.

For now, it is unfinished, a work in progress, and only God, the author of all Creation, knows how it will end, and He is wonderful at keeping secrets. I just wish He’d let me in a little on this one.

Those empty lines…

Monday, May 16, 2011

Light in the Darkness

Today is a bright, beautiful day here in Minnesota, and the apple blossoms are nearly in full bloom. I still enjoy the scent of them, even though they still remind me of the acrid pain of tear gas.

The trees are varying shades of green, sprouting baby leaves, early spring flowers including the spring-summer-fall mainstays of dandelions, dot the land with their colorful presence. I noted the shadows playing upon the buildings as the sun continued its journey to the western horizon and I was startled to realize that those aren't shadows we see all year round.

Such a minor observation gave me a new sense of wonder at the order of Creation; such simple things as shadows reveal God's nature and care for us, if we but stop and ponder it, even if we psychosomaticaly tear up and sniff a bit at the scent of blooming blossoms.

Think about it: here in the northland where our winters  are long and harsh, and our summers are hot and humid, God has provided for us the maximum benefit of Creation. As the winter approaches, the temperature drops, and the sun retreats behind the clouds while focusing its power on the equatorial lands, the leaves change into brilliant colors, fall off, and leave the stark skeletal branches of the trees standing as our only testament to the eventual return of life.

It makes sense, though, because in that dark season, we have no need of leaves to shade and cool us, for we seek warmth and light, the things that are so important for survival, and dismally lacking in the cold months of winter. The absence of leaves gives us the maximum amount of light possible, and even when the trees are covered in snow, the light reflects off the myriad of surfaces available on the billions and trillions of tiny snowflakes. A winter's night is far brighter than a summer evening when the moon is full.

God never abandons us to the darkness.

Then, in the summer, when the sun is high and burning in the sky, the clouds have scuttled away, we have need of coolness and shade, and then..then, as the warmth begins to return to us, the trees and plants bloom into full life, so that at the hottest time of the year, we have a maximum amount of shade. Even more, at the very hottest time of the day, as the sun is setting and streaming its heating rays directly into our homes, the shadows of the trees become longer, breaking up the light so that we might have sweet relief as we try to relax after a long, hot day.

God knows that even though we need and crave the light, we also have need of shadows to protect us for we cannot tolerate the full strength of the sun.

The Spiritual Life Requires Light and Darkness

We must have both. The Saints have written about their spiritual journeys, using varying language, but all describe "the dark night" in some way. This darkness is a time where God is especially close, so close that they feel abandoned because they cannot "see" Him. They may have difficulty in prayer, and any joy previously found in devotions is gone. They long, then, for the light, but only later realize that they were so bathed in light that all seemed as darkness. It was only as they drew away into a different stage of the spiritual life that they could recognize God in those shadows, and therefore be renewed in spirit, so to always seek, forever, to reside in the shadow of the Cross. Everyone passes through these smaller nights, for they are like seasons, like winter and summer.

We need the seasons, just as the earth does, for they reveal something to us about God, who in turn uses them to reveal something about ourselves in relation to Him. The seasons of easy Joy and difficult Joy forces us to grow, too.

When we've been through a few of these times, even when we know the Joy that comes from God alone, from loving Him and basking in His love, we also know the bitterness of suffering.

I don't mind that the sweet scent of apple blossoms still gives me the acrid sensation of tear gas, like pepper in my sinuses, something I experienced long ago in training.  I don't mind that effect, for even as I can almost feel it again, it is a reminder of a day I entered into with great fear, yet completed in triumph. It was a day that required my willingness to suffer for something greater, and I will always be a better person for it, and once again, it brings a lesson home to me.

It seems that there is never any real joy without the experience of darkness and shadows, for it is they that give definition to the light. And the light, likewise, reveals the darkness that is not dark to God, but only a place of protection as we struggle in suffering to grow in holiness, in being conformed to Christ.

We are writing this so that our joy may be complete.
Now this is the message that we have heard from him and proclaim to you: God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.
~ 1 John 1:4-5


Foster Dog Update

Well, my new little foster has been with me for a week now, and while he's a bundle of wriggling happy joy when I wake up in the morning and when I come home from work, he's still terrified of every other human being he sees.

Although he's now met my next-door neighbors several times, and approaches them to investigate them gingerly, the second they speak or move, he flees to the end of his leash, shaking, cowering, clearly expecting something horrible to happen to him.

Inside, he will come when called, but once he is in my vicinity, he normally won't actually approach me without a great deal of coaxing. When I'm in one place, though, the only position he wants is one being velcroed to me - which really isn't very comfortable for me!

Interestingly enough, even in his fearfulness, his natural tendecy is to dominate, so this keeps me on my toes. His doggy behavior of pawing at me, of wanting to stand in my lap, to only lie where he wants to lie and persistenly remains even if I try to shove him away - these are all behaviors of a dominant dog that has been allowed to get away with it. It is very difficult to undo this and demonstrate to him that I am, in fact, the Alpha in my house, and because of this, he doesn't get the "cuddle-time" he perhaps wants. First he has to learn his place in the heirarchy, and when he is behaving, then I will give him attention.

It's good that I've taken a few dogs through obedience training, for the things I learned there are helping me to rein in this little guy who is one moment terrified, the next moment trying to be alpha.

He is clearly more and more comfortable in my home every day, and I hope that it eventually translates to him losing his fear of every other human being on the planet. He's eating and drinking normally, although he still struggles with the idea of having to go potty while attached to the leash. We had an unfortunately potty-training incident last night resulting from the leash issues and his fear of people.

Yesterday afternoon and evening I took the dogs first for a long walk, and then, because he (yay!) helped himself to the water bowl afterwards, I took him out every half hour or so. Unfortunately because it was a nice day, the neighbors were outside by one of their vehicles.

They weren't doing anything crazy, just standing there conversing. To Apollo, though, they were a terrible distraction and he apparently wasn't able to do his business because of it.  So I continued to take him out. Every time, there was a noise, such as a loud "BANG!" from the apartment complex nearby, the sound of a door opening on the neighbor's deck as he came out to smoke, another neighbor's puppy standing on their deck, kids playing street hockey on the other driveway of our townhome cluster.  There was always something.

So it was that not 10 minutes after taking my GSD out to go, Apollo relieved himself on a plastic bag filled with dog toys, and caused me to exhaust what remained of my enzyme cleaner.

And yet, I couldn't exactly discipline him without causing even more fear and a huge setback. Sure, I took him outside, but by then, he was done. Too late.

Ah, the joys of fostering. *sigh*

I am back to not trusting him, though - and will continue treating him as if he is NOT housetrained all until he becomes more trustworthy about actually going potty outside in spite of the annoying presence of people who have absolutely no interest in him whatsoever.

I do hope someone will adopt him soon, for he is a wonderful dog that just needs a good, mostly-quiet home with someone who will be patient and understanding with him. His fear isn't going to go away any time soon, but a good forever home, maybe one with a fenced yard that will give him freedom to run safely, will go a long ways towards allowing him to be the dog he is supposed to be!

In the meantime, I am doing my best with him and am thrilled every time I see his happy joyful personality and his happy-waggy tail! 

Oh, and those big brown eyes will suck you in and make you melt if you aren't careful!   ;-)

Friday, May 13, 2011

Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin - It's Not a Cop-out!

Reader Jose asks:

On the question of mercy and forgiveness I have trouble. I've brought it up before. My parents, being good at it, taught me that actions speak louder than words. So, I have come to regard my actions as more important than what I say. I see my actions as a true reflection of who I am. Even to myself. In other words, my parents linked my SELF to my ACTIONS, hoping to make sure I became a good person. I think that has created a problem for me as a Christian. It's hard for me to separate people’s actions from their SELVES. If they lie, they are liars. If they steal, they are thieves. If I were to put it into other words still, I cannot hate the sin and love the sinner. I equate people with their actions. If their actions are are THEY not bad?

Jose, again, thanks for your question, and as usual, it's a good one!

You bring up, at heart, the problem voiced by the adage, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” How does one do that???

It’s a great question, and it’s one many don’t understand, and even consider to be a “cop out”. Seriously, the people who take such a position are anti-intellectual post-modernists looking for comfort, not Truth. Don’t be cowed by such pop-responses, for there is nothing to back them up.

In order to understand this, one must know what "Sin" is and something about the nature of God. 

If one is to accept something as a sin, one must also accept that there is a proper authority that defines sin, definitively, objectively, and without a philosophical Locke-like defense attorney looking to redefine it according to any terms that might get the sinner off on a lesser, more comfortable word.

Sin is an offense against God. God is immutable, meaning he doesn’t change. Sin is not a part of God, but a part of us, as human beings. God, being all-Holy and all-Love, created us out of that love in order to love Him eternally, and be loved by Him eternally. When we sin, God does not do anything for sin offends our relationship with God. It’s all on OUR END, as it has been forever – Sacred Scripture documents this. We fall away. He tries to reconcile. We fall away. Etc. God is Faithful: we as humanity are screwed up and choose to be so, at least in part

Compare it to this common type of scenario:
(The following is not necessarily reflective of Jose's life or experience. "You" should be read creatively.)

You love your mother, right? But maybe your mother asks you to do something like, say, contact your brothers and sisters on her behalf to invite them to a gathering at her home for Mother's Day. You refuse this simple task because you decide that going fishing with your buddies or vegging in front of your TV is a far more interesting event than calling four siblings  you spoke with just yesterday. So you simply don’t do it and as a result, your brothers and sisters don’t show up at your mother’s house as she expected and as soon as they don’t arrive, she realizes you didn’t carry out that very simple task, and she is deeply offended. She still loves you, but she is mad as heck and your relationship with her is affected in a big way. In fact, she won’t be asking you to do ANYTHING outside of her direct supervision for a very long time, even if you ARE an adult. That’s how much damage simply ignoring her directive has done.

That’s a sin. It’s a terrible, terrible thing to disregard one’s mother, and as you know, your mother is like you in her emotions and human suffering, but it doesn’t change the fact that she is your mother, and she loves you and will not forsake you even for being an insufferable jerk.

Neither will God. And he puts up with far worse from us. 

You, Jose, say that you can’t separate actions from the person, but if you really look at YOUR life, can you say that you have not offended your parents, friends, or other loved ones in some way? In ways that were willful? Have you ALWAYS honored your mother and father as the Commandments say?

So, if you have failed in that way, or others found in a basic Examination of Conscience…does that make you a bad person?

Yes, it does, according to YOUR definition. According to your definition, provided in your question, you are the sum of your most horrible sins against man and God.

But, Jose, ARE you REALLY the sum of your Sins?

Maybe it’s more important to ask: How does GOD define you, us?

Here’s the truth: God made us good, but we fell and now we have a propensity for sin. We screw up a lot, and because of that, God sent His Only Son, Jesus, to suffer our penalty for sin, ransom us, and open Heaven so that we might become Saints in eternal adoration, eternally beloved!

On the way to that, though, we all get lost, and because Jesus died for us, we CAN’T be defined by the sum of our offenses, but rather, we are defined by the summation of who we are created to BE!

You can’t, therefore, get caught up in combining the Action with the definition of the Person. In your question, you have defined the person by the action. Do YOU think God defines you only by your actions, or do you trust in His Mercy?

Ask yourself that question, and ask it over and over again when you are tempted by the other way.

So to you, Jose, and anyone else who doesn't understand how the sin is separate from the sinner,  I suggest turning your philosophy to the side a bit. Rather than defining the Person as an Action, try looking at actions through God’s definition of a beloved Son or Daughter, and see how that changes, and how the virtue of Mercy enters and transforms your fundamental view of humanity.

As Archbishop Chaput, said, “The blood of the Cross reminds us that - at least on one day in history - love had no limits. And since then everything has been different.”

Indeed. That’s a reminder for us every day.

We COULD define people by their actions ALONE…or we could look upon their actions through the penetrating nails of mercy provided by the blood of the Cross. If we are Christians, we MUST adhere to the latter, for that is how God sees US; through the holes left by the nails in the hands and feet of His Son.

How else would we have any Saints at all?  All have sinned. All have failed. St. Paul was a murderer as was Moses. St. Augustine was an immoral hound dog among other moral failings, Peter denied Jesus 3 times, Dismas was an admitted criminal even as he died on the cross with Christ, and Bl. Matthew Talbot was an alcoholic.

Are those people the sum of their actions, or are they the fulfillment, now, of who they were called to BE? Why do we know their names? Why do we honor them if they ARE their worst actions?

That is how we separate the sin from the sinner: we recognize the dignity of the human person, knowing why he was created and the final ends towards which he is drawn, even if he loses his way every now and again...or even every day.

God does not ultimately look at how many times we fall, but how many times we get up and try once again to follow Him.

Were it not for free will, there would be no offense against God (sin), and were it not for Sin, there would be no Redemption. That is why we cry out during the Easter Vigil, the Exultet, "O felix culpa! O happy fault, that has gained for us so great a Redeemer!"

Jose, I hoped this helped you. Please comment or send a note if clarification is needed.

God bless you and may God’s Mercy be yours!


~ A fellow sinner praying never to become the sum of her actions.

Thought for the Day with GK Chesterton

It's been a crazy week in real life and I haven't been able to write. At all. Even a simple article due on Thursday to my boss didn't get turned in to her until this afternoon and in my opinion, it was dismal at best. Then last night I DID manage to write something up, an answer to a reader's question and you know what happened? Blogger was down for maintenance, and was STILL down this morning so I couldn't even post what I put in a Word document last night!

That was just as well as it does need some editing - whenever I actually manage to get to it. So, my apologies to Jose, I will get the answer to your question posted as soon as time and blogger maintenance issues allow.

In the meantime, here's a thought for you to ponder:

On the subject of Princess Beatrice's wedding hat:

I was wondering what G.K. Chesterton would say about it, and I think the words that would be emitted from his pen would be these:

"It's one thing to create a piece of dubious abstract "art" and display it in a museum where paying customers can come to observe it. It is another thing entirely to inflict it upon the world by bearing it upon one's or another's  head."

Monday, May 09, 2011

Meet My New Foster: Apollo!

Well, my friends, I have my new foster and suspect he won't be with me for long.

Why? Well, he's small, he's sweet, and he is meant for someone special!

Meet Apollo, who arrived in Minnesota just yesterday. Because I had to work, another volunteer met his transport and gave him a safe haven until I could take him into my custody. When I called her to let her know I was leaving work, the first thing she said was "Oh, you're going to love him!".

When we met, I got out of my car to meet the volunteer and introduce myself, thank her for taking the dog for a few hours, and then realized I was completely freaking him out with my very normal behavior; this poor dog was at the end of his leash, as far from both of us as he could get and when he stopped...he was shaking.

I immediately dropped my voice and my knee at the same time, giving him a chance to approach and sniff me while his volunteer and I discussed what we knew about him. Although I tried to reach out, he shied away from my hand, and the other volunteer showed me he did the same for her, although, she said, he'd warmed up to her considerably in only a couple hours.

People, it takes a lot of work to make a dog this fearful. And it takes a lot more work to undo that kind of damage. 

The awesome thing about dogs, though, is that they are very forgiving and these domesticated creatures are bred to love humans in spite of ourselves. So it was that he shied away but tolerated my touch, and as soon as I opened the front door in order to hit the button for the trunk for his food, he climbed inside and made himself at home on the front seat.

Thankfully he was very open to being taken out and moved to the back seat, and true to form, made himself just as comfy there and en route home, went right to sleep.

Poor lil' guy! Just yesterday he rode from his temporary foster home in Iowa all the way to Minnesota with a bunch of other dogs, went to yet another very temporary foster home, and then had to survive the chaos of being transfered and transported yet again!

Clearly, though Apollo is very mellow, and while he was also clearly very anxious, he was just fine in his temporary "kennel", that being my car, while I moved a few things inside, leashed my dog and went back out to him in order to bring him around for as proper an introduction I could manage given the circumstances.

When I first entered the house, my German Shepherd had known something was up - her johnny-on-the-spot nose was pressed right up against my clothing, getting to know the new dog. So it was, when I opened the door to let her out, she wasn't surprised but ,being her, was still a bit overbearing. Apollo clearly wanted to be in a corner somewhere.

Instead, we went for a short walk so my dog could go potty and they could get to know each other...and hopefully he would go potty, too.

They both did, but of course I had to pull my GSD's head away from the stream. *ahem*

When we returned, I immediately introduced Apollo to the kennel and he dove right inside, with great doggy gratitude, and curled up in a corner. I left his leash on, certain that if I tried to remove it I'd never be able to coax him out again.

In the meantime I prepared their respective bowls, and served him his dinner in the kennel. I gotta admit: I have no idea how much to feed this little guy and I'll tell you why:  We all thought he was a Greyhound mix, but as it turns out, he's far too small, so we now think he's a Whippet mix. That doesn't help figure his food, though, because, like Greyhounds, Whippets have a high metabolism so they must be fed MORE than other breeds of the same weight. The problem is further complicated by the fact that Apollo is still a bit underweight, even for Whippet constitution.

Happily, he was hungry and ate what I gave him, although he wouldn't approach the water bowl. I should have remembered to give him water mixed with his food!

During the evening, he remained in the kennel with the door open, venturing out occasionally for a little attention when offered, then promptly returned and curled up.

He's a very very frightened little dog, and I knew he was also very tired from his long confusing day. Because of this, I decided to let him stay where he was and I slept on the couch nearby so that he'd both get used to my presence and would hopefully not get too lonely. (I have done this with all my dogs, both adopted and fostered and find it useful in many respects to identify behavior problems and of course, to acclimate them.)

Good Morning!

Apollo didn't make a peep all night, and in fact, when I got up at 6 or so (on my day off!), as soon as I let him out of the kennel he was a bundle of shaking, wagging, happy joy waiting for me at the door in hopes of going out!

Unfortunately, we were in the middle of a thunderstorm and although my German Shepherd didn't care, Apollo wasn't thrilled. He still cooperated with being walked around the yard, but was not interested in doing anything other than returning indoors.

Yup. Whippet.

I'm still trying to get a sense of him and he has indeed warmed up to me very quickly. He seems to be house trained and obviously kennel-trained.

At the same time, things common to most dogs are objects of curiosity for him. This morning on our walk (when the rain had stopped) we had to pause so he could watch the Canadian Geese strut through the park. Then, at another point, we had to take a break so he could study the flapping American flag far over his head.

He's curious, he's taking everything in and therefore clearly intelligent as his first response to new things tends to be to stop and LOOK at it, really LOOK and see what it is. All he asks is that we stop long enough for him to do so.

Nope. This little guy doesn't miss a thing.

Good Afternoon Mr. Mix! 

This afternoon we watched a movie and he'd been cuddled against me, but couldn't help but react to the dog sounds, and then when people got to be loud and shouting, he stood up and ran around, looking for the source of those voices. In part, he was certain I was doing it, but after a bit he understood that I was not shouting, nor was anyone in the house.  Movies remain a mystery to him, but not such much that he couldn't return to the couch, curl up, and have a nice nap.

The unfortunate thing about living in a townhome without a private fenced yard is this: there are other people and dogs around, and many people don't consider it important to supervise and leash their own dogs.

I took Apollo out to try to go potty, which he seems to have a hard time doing in the yard. I suspect he's been allowed to run freely and doesn't understand about going pee at the end of a leash. He does on a longer walk just fine, but the reality of a dog's life is this: sometimes they have to do business within a structured area without the benefit of a long wonderful walk.

Well, in the meantime, other people were around and tried to approach. I warned them off especially seeing his reaction at their approach: he was shaking like a leaf in a hurricane! When my dog, unleashed, approached to invite him to play, he hid behind me, terrified.

Then my neighbor, clearly understanding the situation and staying back, saw that another neighbor had let their dogs out..unleashed and unsupervised. She spoke a warning to me, her own voice low so as not to startle my little charge.

Of course the unleashed dogs approached and poor Apollo cowered, shaking, terrified. I yelled (well, raised my voice a little) to the unseen neighbor to come leash their dogs. She came out, saw what was happening and came towards us, apologizing. Her dogs were fine, not aggressive, so I just explained the fear of my little foster dog, which she could see. Although I didn't prefer it, she approached and petted him trying to make amends. He was obviously fearful but, having nowhere to go, accepted her touch. This may turn out to be a good thing in the end.

I thanked her for coming to get her dogs while I held mine and brought them in.

What is he?

Lemme tell you this: doesn't matter what he is: he won't be with me for long!

When I first saw his picture online, it said Apollo was a Greyhound mix.

"Great!" I said. I know Greyhounds. My older readers will remember my Greyhound, Fire, and his story of osteocarcoma (bone cancer) and the resulting end of his life.

So it was that I saw Apollo on MARS web page, and that grey-lover in me, knowing them as the specialty breed they are, had to step forward and offer my home once again.

Well, Apollo isn't a Greyhound, but he has some of the characteristics. What is less visible but more a part of his personality, though, is not his Whippet-ness, but the part of him that is part of his mix.

You see the pictures, so let's talk about the elephant in the room:  I believe Apollo is a Whippet-Pitbull mix.

What does that mean?

You've seen the media drama, you all have stories about "Pit-bulls".  So do I.

Really, there's no such animal as a "Pitbull" or "Pit-Bull".

Rather, there are about three breeds that are commonly CALLED "Pitbulls", and they share characteristics, but you need to know that there is no such thing. There is such thing as some poorly-bred dogs, of any breed and most particularly a certain three, that are making the name for a certain profile...and what you see in popular media, as usual, is not accurate.

This dog, Apollo could be either Whippet-"Pit" or Whippet-Boxer or Whippet-Bulldog. He is small, has a skinny little body and a large bully-type head with big brown eyes and at the other end of his brindle body, a white-tipped tail ready to wag for anyone willing to love him. Even though he is fearful, he is looking to his humans for protection, eager to cuddle up, eager to cooperate. I'm not sure I've ever met a dog easier to love than this one. He's a canine kewpie-doll.

Apollo exemplifies the best of his breed mix, and that's why he won't be with me for long. He is sweet, eager to please, interested in his surroundings, and although fearful, is not aggressive. Several years ago I adopted a dog that started out fearful and quickly revealed his aggressive nature: this does not exist in Apollo. His fear is one that can be quickly tamed by simple everyday treatment. Be gentle, be quiet, be patient. Let him reveal himself.

He's a family dog, and while I've never heard him bark, I believe he will be loyal, protective (not aggressive), and loving. He would rather flee than bite the hand that feeds him. Incidentally, the only sound that has come out of him thus far was a tiny little snore as he rested in my lap while I sipped my coffee during the morning news.

Apollo needs a special person, and belongs to a special person who has not yet been identified. With him I broke a cardinal rule: not to let foster dogs climb on my furniture, for I don't know what his future owner will allow. This dog isn't a German Shepherd or other working breed...he's a lapdog.

So! That rule has been withheld for now. He needs to be curled up on the couch or bed, because he is small and because he is seeking love and companionship that is not likely to come down to him on the floor.  This is a dog meant for someone who loves to read or watch movies with a cuddly living teddy bear of a canine.

What do we call him?

Last night when I picked him up, although I knew his name was "Apollo", when the other volunteer said his name, I could have sworn she had said "Paolo", the Italian version of "Paul".  He could also be called "Palito", "Little Paul".  Or even Paco! (Seriously, though, he's a "Paolo". Meet him and tell me different!)

I can't help it: I think that if he were my dog, I'd call him "Paolo". Either way, he responds to "Apollo" (Paolo not being a huge leap in sound), and his personality may well reveal other good names.

His breed mix, though, I have to say, offers a few suggestions should he become a prototype for the AKC.

If he's a Pitbull-Whippet, would that make him a "Bullwhip"?  Or maybe a "Whip-or-Bull"? (Say it fast - whiporwill!)

Probably doesn't matter. This lil' guy is a lover and I'm already sad because I know he won't be with me for very long. Give me some time, though, ok? I want to work with him, socialize him, and see if maybe he will stop shaking at every approach of a strange person or dog.

But if you REALLY think you need him now...shoot me an email and I'll send you on to the people that matter, and then Apollo (Paolo!) might be yours.  :-)

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Kibbles n' Bits

Well, my friends, I'm doing it again.

I'm going to foster another dog. This one is a greyhound mix, although I'd inquired about a German Shepherd that looked to be a good fit at my house as a temporary home for him.  As it turned out, another foster home had claimed the GSD so I was put in touch with the person in charge of whatever category the grey-mix fits into.

He's a beautiful dog, quite a young one at only 11 months, but from the description given sounds to have the greyhound personality. That would work in my house and with my work hours, hopefully!

Unless his temporary foster home in another state adopts him (there is talk of this), then look for my new friend to be introduced early next week, complete with photos and new drama!

I guess I just can't help myself. I love dogs and I've got a heart for the unwanted.

In other news....

I'm as ditzy today as I was yesterday.  When I went to get dog food I handed over my Petco card, but failed to actually PAY for the purchase with my debit card. It took a few moments of me standing there confusedly waiting to sign a receipt that was not forthcoming.

Then after another errand I went to put something in my trunk and it wouldn't open. Not the button in the car, not the remote. It was stuck. No "click!" to unlock. Nothing.

Thankfully I was near my regular car repair place so I stopped in and asked for assistance. He went to the back to pull up on the trunk while I hit the interior button. Nothing.

Then he asked to see my keys. I was about to tell him the remote wasn't working either, when he pulled out my actual KEY and used THAT to open the trunk.

Wow! Why didn't I think of that!? D'OH!

I told him outright I felt stupid. He was nice and tried to make me feel better about being a total idiot and pointed out that the lock was, in fact, jammed due to obvious lack of use.

Guess that was my lesson in humility for today: I make fun of people who do the stupid things I did today with my "jammed" trunk.


Obviously I need a vacation.

Or maybe just a few more brain cells - some that actually function would be nice.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Say What?!

I'm at work today and a bit fried from everything going on. It's just TOO MUCH!

My schedule is in flux due to all the events and I have a running catalogue in my head of everything that needs to be done yesterday.

So I went down the hallway to speak with one of the teachers about one of our shared events. As we spoke she reminded me of some information I still need to provide to her.

Hmm...when can I get that to her? It has to be before Friday afternoon. 

"Ok, let's see.."  (thinking..)  "Well, I don't think I'm going to be here today."

Just as I said this I looked over and saw her expression and realized that I was, in fact, standing in her classroom, in person, speaking to her.

OK, so I guess I'm in today.

She's still laughing at me. I can hear her all the way down the hallway.....

Monday, May 02, 2011

Bl. John Paul II on Dignity, Moral Conscience, and Redemption

The following is a paper I wrote back in 2007. The sources used are linked in hopes you will read them for yourself. This is not an exhaustive synthesis of the topic and is not meant to be so, but only placed  here in hopes you will take interest in one or more of the Encyclicals and other documents used.  Blessed John Paul II, pray for us! 

**     **     **
The theme of human dignity underscored and was continually interwoven among all of Blessed John Paul II’s writings, becoming the very foundation of his philosophy. With each letter or encyclical of his pontificate, he seemed to draw upon this and as an intimate part of the discussion, and linked this theme to the necessity of a developed moral conscience and how this is inherently necessary in the work of redemption.

Even prior to his pontificate, John Paul II saw a link in these themes, which he expressed in his poetry and theatrical writings. As George Weigel observed in Witness to Hope, “He was making an important point, ultimately theological in import…your lives, which seem like so many other lives, are in fact caught up in a great drama of sin and redemption. In that drama, human love will yield to the ‘pressure of reality’ and crumble unless it is completed and perfected in being conformed to a Love that is capable of fulfilling love’s longing for absolute fulfillment. The human drama ‘plays’, as it were, within the divine drama, a play of which God himself is both author and protagonist, creator and redeemer.” (Weigel, p. 117).

The definition of human dignity is somewhat complex. The foundation of the dignity of the human person first arises from the fact that he is the only of God’s creations to have been created entirely for Himself. Humanity is created in the very image and likeness of God and was given the great gift of free will; that being the ability to choose to accept or reject the love of God. It is within this power to choose the good that man finds his inherent dignity, and discovers his ability to transcend his own condition and will in favor of a true gift of self to God. However, it is within the dimension of love that this dignity is fully realized and understood. “Human nature, by the very fact that it was assumed, not absorbed, in Him, has been raised in us also to a dignity beyond compare.” (RH, 8). As humanity was created by love, for love, we find in John Paul II’s writings that it is impossible to comprehend the amazement of humanity without the consideration of the dimension of love and how it is actually love that is the very foundation of human dignity.

In the Garden of Eden, man’s dignity was lost through original sin; that being distrust of God and the willful and conscious rejection of His love. That is not to say that dignity was fully lost; rather, man’s understanding of the meaning of his life was lost and with that, the understanding of his inherent worth and dignity.

One of the defining elements of human dignity is human freedom. In Redemptor hominis , John Paul II declares, “…freedom…is the condition and basis for the human person’s true dignity.” (RH, 12). It is this very freedom, that when abused, undermines dignity for abuse of freedom is a rejection of God’s love and God’s will. John Paul II develops this theme throughout his texts and underscores the idea that sin is, at its foundation, a rupture in the relationship between God and man, which is why it offends man’s dignity. “As a rupture with God, sin is an act of disobedience by a creature who rejects, at least implicitly, the very one from whom he cam and who sustains him in life….Since by sinning man refuses to submit to God, his internal balance is also destroyed and it is precisely within himself that contradictions and conflicts arise.” (RP, 1). Sin has two elements, that being personal and social, and the social arises from the personal as it begins to impact the larger society. John Paul II discusses this at length in Redemptor hominis and how society itself, when it is not working within the boundaries established by God and guided by a moral conscience, ends up in conflict with human life and suppresses man’s realization of himself according to God’s will.

Dignity is inherently linked to moral conscience, for this is what separates man from all other created beings in that it allows him to recognize his sin and thus willingly choose to transcend his disobedience and cooperate with God in the restoration of the relationship that has been ruptured. “The conscience…is not an independent and exclusive capacity to decide what is good and what it evil. Rather there is profoundly imprinted upon it a principle of obedience vis-à-vis the objective norm which establishes and conditions the correspondence of its decisions with the commands and prohibitions which are at the basis of human behavior…” (DeV, 43).

Conscience is a divine gift within man, that voice of God, so to say, in a sense a recognition that if there is a Creator, there is an objective reference in order to determine good from evil.

John Paul II goes into great depth to explain how the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, who dwells within man, knows him to his depths and “convinces concerning sin”. He draws the connection to the judgment that has already taken place for the “father of lies”, giving a reference point to this final judgment, while pointing man to what is good and holy. “By becoming the ‘light of hearts’, that is the say the light of consciences, the Holy Spirit ‘convinces concerning sin,’ which is to say, he makes man realize his own evil and at the same time directs him toward what is good.” (DeV, 42). Through this intervention of the Holy Spirit, man learns to call good and evil by their proper names, and thus begins the moral tug of war as man must seek to overcome the evil that disrupts his relationship with God.

In both Redemptor hominis and Dominium et vivificantem, John Paul II discusses the words expressed by St. Paul, “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good.” (Rom 7:14-16). This constant interior struggle is understood against the entire history of man, with reference to his very origins and linked always to the Cross of Christ. For it is Jesus Christ who, through his sacrifice and perfect obedience who demonstrated the Truth as the living Word, proving the objective norm to which man constantly strives to emulate. This objective norm, lived out on the Cross, provides in full relief the objective evil, leading to conversion, within which man turns from evil and seeks to restore his relationship with God. It is a gift of divine grace, requiring the cooperation of man who, even when convinced of sin, has the freedom to continue to reject God’s love or accept it, and as in the story of the Prodigal Son, return his love in a spirit of humility and repentance. It is here that we see the link to the Cross and how conscience must be linked to redemption. “Christ, precisely as the crucified one, is the word that does not pass away, and he is the one who stands at the door and knocks at the heart of every man, without restricting his freedom, but instead seeking to draw from this very freedom love, which is not only an act of solidarity with the suffering Son of Man, but also a kind of ‘mercy’ shown by each one of us to the Son of the eternal Father.” (DIM, 87).

Mercy is, at its heart, a fundamental concept with regard to moral conscience, redemption, and human dignity. Because it was a severing of the relationship with God at the core of the fall from grace, John Paul II demonstrates that it is mercy that acts to restore that relationship and thus, dignity. It can be further noted that the foundation of mercy is love, for love is the dimension that manifests mercy. In Dives en miseriacordia, this theme is developed in great detail through an exploration of the story of the Prodigal Son. We see how the father, in faithfulness to himself, is focused not on how the son had offended him and squandered his inheritance, but how his son could be restored to him. He was, “…totally concentrated upon the humanity of his lost son, upon his dignity.” (DIM, 57). It was the moral conscience of the Prodigal Son that made him aware of his sin, his offense against his father, and the rupture in their relationship, and as he returned to the father, he appealed to his mercy, somewhat defined as, “…a special power of love, which prevails over the sin and infidelity…” (DIM, 27).

John Paul II further addresses that this concept of mercy may seem to some to be damaging to dignity, however it is quite the contrary for, it is mercy that is the link from moral conscience to redemption. As we become convinced of our sin and aware of the harm caused through our own free will choices, we have the opportunity to approach the Father once again and appeal to His love for us. Just as the father of the prodigal son is faithful to himself, so is God faithful to himself, ready to restore the dignity of his creation. “This love is able to reach down to every prodigal son, to every human misery, and above all to every form of moral misery, to sin. When this happens, the person who is the object of mercy does not feel humiliated, but rather found again and ‘restored to value’” (DIM, 59).

It is through mercy that we meet the concept of redemption, which is “overcoming evil” (TMA, 7), the ultimate restoration of the dignity of man. The redemption that took place on the Cross redeemed us in an act of supreme justice, in expiation for our sins, for as St. Paul stated so simply, Jesus was “made to be sin, who knew now sin.” (2 Cor: 5:21). John Paul II explains that our redemption does not arise only out of the actions of Jesus Christ, but requires us also to cooperate with God, which itself is the definition of conversion. Just as it was free will that caused the fall from grace, so it is also free will that, choosing consciously to cooperate with God, restores our dignity. None of this can be understood apart from the mystery of the redemption, for it Jesus’ death and resurrection, “by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.” (GS, 22). Jesus reveals through love the objective good, revealing our true dignity and calling to holiness in eternal union with the Father. We see, finally, following John Paul II’s thought process, that human dignity is lost through abuse of our freedom, restored through correct understanding of our freedom (moral conscience), and that it cannot be understood without reference to the sacrifice of love through Jesus Christ in the mystery of our Redemption.

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Initials followed by a number correspond to the title of a document and the paragraph referenced. 
RH, 12, for example, is Redemptor hominis, paragraph 12. I did not link to scriptural passages or references. 

DIM:  Dives in miseriacordia, Rich in Mercy (Encyclical)
DeV:  Dominum et vivicantem, On the Holy Spirit in the Life of the Church (Encyclical)
GS:  Gaudium et Spes, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, (Vatican II Document, Pastoral Constitution)
RH:  Redemptor Hominis, the Redeemer of Man (Encyclical)
RP:  Reconciliatio et paenitentia: On Reconciliation and Penance (Apostolic Exhortation)
TIM: Tertio millennio adveniente: As the Third Millennium Draws Near (Apostolic Letter)

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Define Irony

It is Divine Mercy Sunday, and this evening I finally watched the movie, "The Stoning of Soraya M."  I emerged just in time for the 10 PM News announcing the death of Osama Bin Ladin and the assurance, with his carcass in the hands of the United States, that he is now facing Divine Justice.

My friends, as difficult as it is and even though I say this while gurgling blood thanks to my clenched teeth and bitten tongue - offer a Divine Mercy chaplet for the man. He needs it far more than Judas.

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On the movie, The Stoning of Soraya M, it came to me that this end was exactly what St. Joseph wanted to prevent with his betrothed, our Blessed Mother, when he learned she was pregnant even though they had not come together. Within the story of Soraya, within her Passion, I saw the metaphor of  the innocent woman as a Christ-figure, tortured, beaten, killed, the lamb sacrificed so that her spouse could follow his infidelity.

And in the end, no one was Redeemed, no one was freed from sin, there was no Justice, and there was certainly no Mercy. There was only death and destruction.

As the credits rolled, I prayed a Requiem and other prayers for Soraya M., and all those women of Islam stoned for their innocence for the guilt of the men who tortured them, only to find that I cannot, in sincerity, do the same for a man most in need of mercy as he stands before Our Lord in judgment. And yet, as a Christian, I know that it is necessary for our own salvation to pray for and forgive our enemies - even that criminal  Osama Bin Ladin.

Eternal Father, I offer you the body, blood, soul, and divinity, of your dearly beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world. For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world. 

Jesus I trust in Thee. Jesus I trust in Thee. Jesus I trust in Thee. 

Remember: There is no such thing as Justice without Mercy.