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Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Desire to be Known and Loved

Having worked with and around children for a several years now, I have an observation I've been pondering for quite some time.

A few years ago, the Pastor at the parish where I am employed went to visit the Kindergarten class. They had some questions to ask him; simple but VERY important things that told them all they needed to know about him, such as, "What is your favorite color?"  "What is your favorite animal?" "What is your favorite sport?". There were more, of course, but those questions told the children all that was important about Father as a human being. They were relational questions.

You see, the children already loved and respected Father but they wanted to know things about him to which they could relate. It was of IMMENSE importance that they learn about his favorite color, animal, and sport  to see if those things were also THEIR favorite things!

Of course, each time Father answered a question, all of the children would pipe up with THEIR favorite things and start telling him all kinds of stories about their own favorite colors, animals (pets!) and sports, and naturally, that required them to expound greatly in detail.

Father, being  a very organized sort, had a very difficult time getting a word in edgewise and left that particular class session just a little rumpled in spirit.

I remember him telling me about this and all I could do was laugh at the mental image. "Father, they just want to make sure you know them as well as they know you!"

This is what I've been pondering for so long. Yes, it's clear to anyone that the children wanted him to know them and that they wanted to know more about him. But why?

The answer is simple:  Love. 

Think about it. This is "Human Nature 101".  When we love someone, we want to be known by them. Maybe we already know them or think we do, but it becomes of the utmost importance to also be known. To be recognized. To identify with them on some level. To be loved back.

This is the foundation of friendship. First it is superficial (identifying with another on favorite ie superficial  things) and then it goes deeper. Before it can go deeper, though, one must learn about things specific to that person and help that person recognize things that are specific to us as individual human beings.

Because I am an adult employee in a church, and therefore must lead many events and come into contact with many youth volunteers, sometimes I become the focus of a particular need. When one of our youth come to me for direction on a project or offer to work with me, even if I'd rather handle that particular thing alone and delegate them elsewhere, I have learned to let them help in some way. It might be painting a decorative mural for the wall for Vacation Bible School. . It might be asking them to carry this little box of pens (that I could handle myself just fine)  to that location. It might be just to be patient and answer their various questions about the simplest or most unrelated things. It might be just to listen and encourage an interest in a particular subject.

In the end, their questions and their tales about themselves and their families (from age 5 or younger on up to teens!) isn't about the event at hand. It is rather a simple request from one human being to another:  "Please recognize me. Please love me and let me tell you what I want you to love about me and how God made me!"

What I've noticed especially is that children love to talk. When they have learned to trust adults in their lives, they reveal everything. They latch on to their favorite people and tell them as many tales as they can about everything they know. They try to imitate that adult (or teen, even!). They will reveal their very souls and all this is really just an elaborate way for one human to connect with another. To say, "Please love me as much as I already love you!"

This behavior doesn't end with childhood; it's part of what adults do every day, too, although the form it takes is much more refined. 

Do you know why it's so hard to get volunteers for ANY given event, and why some need a personal phone call? Because a general call for volunteers isn't enough for some people. They need a little extra "I love you and know you so I'm calling you personally to take on this task."

We live in a world of broken families; families that have bourne children, now adults, in need of love that a shattered family simply couldn't provide when it was most necessary in their individual formation.. When a child comes to you and shares their heart, be open to them. Smile, even if you are sad about something. Smile, even if you are angry or stressed out. Take a moment  to enjoy the happiness of a child who is expressing that they love you and love you so much they want you to love them, too.

Do the same thing with adults because they, too, are the children they have always been, and they, too, are looking for someone to love them and to know them for who they are as fellow children of God.

As with young children, know when to encourage, know when to correct, know when to discipline. Human relationships can be very complicated, but everything comes down to one simple thing:

 What does the sacrifice that is true love for another human being, knowing they have been called to life with Christ for eternity, demand of you right now? 

And pray...

Pray for Our Lord to help you discern that answer in union with His Most Sacred and Merciful Heart!

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Unhappy Endings

I used to wonder how I'd react if I was ever bitten by a dog. Would I be angry? Furious? Demand the death of the animal? Be fearful? Just of the dog or all dogs? Freak out completely?

As it turns out, none of those things. Inside of the shock of the experience, there was only a deep, terrible sadness. Even as I staunched the blood, I knew my wound would heal but for the was fatal action.

A couple months ago I wrote about my foster "Aslan", named for his mane of fur. I wrote of his aggression and the fact I was going to work with him and with the behaviorist's recommendations. For the last month or so, that's what I've been doing. And Aslan had been doing well...or so I thought.

I noticed other forms of aggression I suspected might also be Retriever-snottiness, testing me, and because I wasn't sure which behavior was aggressive, if I was tripping a trigger, I actually asked last week if he could be moved to a foster home with more experience with aggressive dogs. Maybe someone who could perhaps reach through and have success with him.

But it wasn't to be. On Tuesday night, while I was brushing him, Aslan turned and bit me. No warning. I wasn't touching his nails. I wasn't trying to muzzle him. I wasn't doing anything to trip his trigger. He just decided to bite and followed through on the impulse.

I could feel his teeth puncturing my flesh - there was an actual sensation of it, followed by the white-hot pain, and hot on the heels of that...the shock. And then the emotion - I knew in that very moment that it was a death sentence for him. I stood there, hand over the wound, knowing that as he laid there, ears flat out to the side, teeth bared, that it was over.

I was shaking a bit, and already crying, my breath rasping in my throat. I forced myself to calm down and do what clearly needed to be done. I went into the kitchen, grabbed a paper towel to soak up the blood, got a look at it, and took some photos of the bite - pretty hard to do but managed to get a few. (I did this partially to document, partially to, at some point, get an objective look at it later.) After that I washed the wound with soap and hot water - gently. And sprayed the hell out of it with Bactine. At some point I managed to wander into the bathroom and grab my old Ski Patrol pack with all my First Aid supplies, pull out some sterile pads and tape and patch myself up. I had to use a bandanna for a bit of a pressure dressing.

Doing this forced me to focus for a while, clear my head (well, as much as one can clear one's head when one is bleeding), and think about how best to proceed.

I called Aslan's adoption representative to let her know of the incident and asked her to call me in the morning. She called back immediately, and we discussed what would happen in all likelihood. I said that I wasn't angry and it was the truth; I wasn't. But I also was very clear in that I felt Aslan could not be adopted. He was too unpredictable - he would really hurt someone. I stood there bleeding, knowing the consequences of every possible course of action. None of them good.

And I was crying, and I was upset, and dang it, that bite HURT!

And then I had to act as calmly and normally as possible, for I don't have a fenced yard. I had to take the dogs out to do some business. It went fine.

Wednesday morning, when I awoke and changed the bandage, I realized I had to go to the doctor. No avoiding it - I needed a tetanus shot and likely a round of antibiotics. Although had I gone in immediately there probably would have been a couple stitches, as I waited until the next day it was too late for that.

Later that day Aslan's representative called me. His case had been discussed at length and sentence had been passed. He had to be euthanized. 

I knew that would be the verdict and yes, I agreed. Not out of anger, but out of realization that he was too unpredictable to be adopted. When a trigger can't be isolated, when every little thing becomes the trigger...that can't be helped. It can't be trained out of the dog. He made his decision, his terrible, terrible decision.

Unfortunately, it couldn't happen immediately. I had to wait and so my heart has been heavy and I've been weeping off and on for the last two days. Even amidst the stress of my professional life, I've had to push back the tears and profound sadness. At home I was on egg shells, careful not to make eye contact with the dog, careful not to trip on him or set him off. He was clearly also on "different" behavior, always watching me with a wary eye. Not baleful, just wary, as if waiting for a counter-attack.

Tonight I spoiled him with his last leisurely walks, hotdogs with his food, no longer concerned with his weight.

I drove to the vet clinic and played the song I always sang to him, "Little Red Riding Hood", realizing this big bad wolf had shown all his cards. All I could think about was the old folk tale about the snake who said to his savior, "You knew what I was when you picked me up."

Yes, I did. On some level, I did, and then after seeing him in action, yes, I knew. But I kept him anyway, hoping things could be different for him.

Tonight we said goodbye to my foster and I remained with him. I sat with him, I petted him, I forgave him. This evening before leaving home I actually looked into his big hopeful brown eyes and told him I forgave him. I apologized, too, for whatever I did to make him bite me. I apologized for what we were about to do.

It didn't matter to Aslan that I forgave him. He didn't know the difference, but I do. I knew I could not be in that room with him as he was put to sleep if I was angry. He had experienced far too much of human anger in his short life, and for me, I knew anger would only do more damage to my very soul. In truth I forgave him almost immediately, but I had to speak it. I had to say it out loud while looking into his eyes. 

And I prayed, too. I offered him back to God, Aslan's creator and my own. I know that even though animals do not have immortal souls, God cares about them. He has shown me that over and over again. [Note: please don't try to argue this point in the combox. I'm not in the mood and you won't get anywhere. Just let it go]

One of the things I resolved about about fostering animals is that, if they are in rough shape in some way, they will leave my hands in better condition than that which they arrived into my care. In some ways, Aslan was better. He'd lost weight, had more energy, was far happier than when he had first come to me. He wasn't in pain all the time. He showed me his best side, I think, in his clownishness and in his clear desire just to be a normal dog.

Oh, the tales I could tell!

As this was not a happy ending, though, I'm not sure if I can claim that kind of success with this particular dog. He didn't leave my hands better off. Healthier, longer living. Yes, it was the decision that had to be made, but I hardly call this a successful foster experience. I think the best I can say is that I tried, we all tried, and even in its imperfection, the last several weeks of Aslan's life were probably better than they had been before.

We'll never know, though. We can only guess.

Dammit, Aslan, you big fat  stupid butterball of fluff with teeth, I loved you and I miss you! Rest in peace, my friend. You will never ever have to be afraid ever again.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Man in Relation to the Angels

Hello, friends, long time no see!  Tonight I am answering a couple questions the very patient Jose' asked me MONTHS ago!

Here is his question:

The question is on the Angels and where we stand in relation to them in the "Great Hierarchy". 

When I speak to most Protestants I find that they believe that it is man's destiny to surpass Angels and stand nearer to God than they. Essentially, that Angels are closer to God FOR NOW because of man's fallen nature, but that man was once closer to God than Angels in the time of Adam and Eve, and that humans shall be raised higher than Angels once again one day. Man, as God originally made him, is higher than the Angels. 

Yet, as I watch EWTN I often find individual Theologian's often putting Angels closer to God than man, by nature. In Psalm 8 we find a line that says "Only a Little lower than the Angels you made us", and that to me sort of sealed the deal in favor of Angels, by nature, being closer to God. Recently, though, I have found that not all translators say the same in that Psalm. Some Translators actually say the PSalmist writes "Only a little lower than GOD you made us." ...That tips the scale in favor of my Protestant friends' belief that MAN has the higher nature, fallen as it currently is. What do you think?

Great question!

To answer it I looked not only to Sacred Scripture, but also to the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas who, of course, is far wiser than I am!

First, to Scripture. I went to my  1966 Jerusalem Bible and inquired there first, with the passage in question:  Psalm 8:5.

The Psalm states:

YHWH, our Lord,
how great your name throughout the earth!
Above the heavens is your majesty chanted
by the mouths of children, babes in arms.
You set your stronghold firm against your foes
to subdue enemies and rebels.
I look up at your heavens, made by your fingers,
at the moon and stars you set in place -
ah, what is man that you should spare a thought for him,
the son of man that you should care for him?
Yet you have made him little less than a god,
you have crowned him with glory and splendour
made him lord over the work of your hands,

set all things under his feet,
sheep and oxen, all these
yes, wild animals too,
birds in the air, fish in the sea
travelling the paths of the ocean.
YHWH, our Lord,
how great your name throughout the earth!
Now that we have the Psalm in front of us, we can consider the proper context. Notice first that the word "god" in this translation is not capitalized. The footnote for verse 8 states, ""The author is thinkin gof man in comparison with the mysterious beings that constitute the court of YHWH, Ps 29:1+, the 'angels' of Greek and Vulg. see Cf. Ps 45:6+"

With those directions, I look to Psalm 29:1:

"Pay tribute to Yahweh, you sons of God,
tribute to Yahewh of glory and power,
tribute to Yahweh of the glory of his name,
worship Yahweh in his sacred court." 

Psalm 45:6  
"Your throne, God, shall last for ever and ever..."
Then I went to look at the margin to see what directions this Bible gives me for  understanding Psalm 8:5.

It references Gen 1:26-28:
"God said, 'Let us make man in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves, and let them be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven, the cattle, all the wold beasts and all the reptiles that crawl upon the earth."

and Wisdom 2:23:
"Yet God did make man imperishable,
he made him in the image of his own nature;
it was the devil's envy that brought death into the world,
as those who are his partners will discover."

and Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 17:1-4
"The Lord fashioned man from the earth,
to consign him back to it.
He gave them so many days' determined time,
he gave them authority over everything on earth."

Taking all those scriptures into consideration, it is clear that God did not establish Man to be above the angels. First, in looking at the Psalm itself in its full context, the Psalm indicates Man was granted dominion over the earth and the creatures of the earth; to wit, all the works of God's hands here on earth. Man, too, was fashioned from the earth he rules.

Looking also at the fact that the word "god" is not capitalized, the footnotes in the Bible ring true; the word is not referencing the Lord, and doesn't use the Tetragrammaton as it uses throughout the rest of the Psalm when speaking of the Lord. Rather, the reference to "mysterious beings" and the common language of the Greeks for "gods", used poetically to mean "angels" in the Hebrew context does make sense. Therefore, the Psalmist was not saying that Man had ever been higher than the angels. If so, where is the reference to Man being set above the angels? It isn't there.

Secondly, then, I looked to St. Thomas Aquinas. In the Summa Theologica, Q108. Article 8, Reply 2, he states, "The angels according to the order of nature are between us and God".

Now, that brings us to your second question:

I am aware that there is ONE human being that has risen above the Angels. That is, of course, the Queen of Angels the Holy Virgin Mary. Yet, I must consider that she is hardly the answer to that question. She is, after all, a VERY VERY SPECIAL human being. God touched her nature in a very special way at her very Conception. She had a very special relationship to God in His human life on Earth. And of course there is her EXTRAORDINARY virtue to consider. She has the whole package in a way no other human, that isn't also God, has had or will ever have again. If we were talking math and statistics, I would consider the Virgin Mary an OUTLYER than skews the results. I can't help but think, "Yeah, SHE is held in Higher esteem by our Lord than the Angels, but....Who ELSE could God hold closer to our older brothers, the Angels, than she? There can't be anyone else."

The Angels were created as pure spirit and in the beginning, had free will. It was the creation of Man and God's plan of salvation that brought about the division of angels and demons;  those who, led by Lucifer, cried out, "Non serviam! I will not serve!" made their final choice in that moment. That was the, for lack of a better term (in my vocabulary in any case) the particular judgment of the spiritual beings we call "Angels".  After that point, Angels no longer had free will because it was not and is not necessary.  Angels are more intelligent than we are, they are always privy to the Divine Processions, always gaze upon the face of God, and always did.

Man was not created with the intelligence, or even the capacity for the intelligence of the Angels. Man was never higher than the angels (except for Mary).

As you alluded to, through the action of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ, God did indeed create Mary immaculately, preserving her from the stain of sin, and to her, He gave jurisdiction over the Angels. This is why she is called "Queen of the Angels" in one of her titles. It is why in art that the Archangel Gabriel kneels before her; the art is revealing this truth of who she was and more importantly, who she was asked to bear. It was her fiat that brought salvation into the world, and for this reason, she has been elevated the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, Queen of Angels, Queen of Heaven.

Keep in mind that Mary also had free will; she could have refused the Angel's message. She could have said "no". But no, she bowed her head and in joyful humility proclaimed, "I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to Thy Word."

And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.

We know how this story ends!

I hope that helps, Jose, and I hope my very brief, in-a-nutshell explanation suffices! Please let me know where I have been unclear or of course, if I botched an explanation. This, of course, is not meant to be an entire theology of the angels, but there are some wonderful books out there that cover the subject. I believe. Fr. Groeschel has one and I can think of a few others as well. Unfortunately I can't recall their titles so hopefully someone will happen along and help us out!