Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Knowing the False Self

Part of the luggage we carry to our prayer is a result of our being "a listening." From our earliest days, we learn that a simple cry brings the loving attention of parents. This love is so much like God's love for his creations. Unfortunately as we begin to develop some abilities to discern and make decisions, we find that the same loving parents begin to establish some of the parameters of our being "a listening."
"Mommy (or Daddy) won't love you if you don't eat your spinach." Suddenly and in many different negotiating ways, the child learns he/she is not lovable in him/herself. It is what they do that earns love.
The same is true when the child begins to have peers. Possessions, popularity, and brain power begin to separate kids from one another. There does become a king (or queen) of the hill!
The result of this negotiated love, this dividing among peers? The child begins to see and to think (his/her "a listening" experience) begins to realize that his/her value is built upon what he/she has, what he/she does, and what other "especially significant providers" think of him/her. This is where the false self takes its first formation.
As we grow older, especially in developed societies, what becomes the divider is what we do. "I am Joe Jones or Mary Smith; I am the president of the PTA or I am a history professor at the university or I am the chair lady of the flower society ... and so on." Where is the real self, where is the false self here? Unfortunately this kind of thinking has become so prevalent in our society. I lived in Florida for three years. A classmate at the University of Florida (Go, Gators!!!) conducted a study of the individual's sense of self worth among people who had retired and moved south. Many found themselves lost ... who am I? I am no longer the president of the local bank! I am no longer the lead lady at the Chamber of Commerce. Ugh oh, I am back to being just me!!!
This kind of emotional pain is brought about by that false self we began to build as children: what I have, what I do and what people think of me. And unfortunately, again, we carry this kind of thinking, this false self even to our experience of our faith. "God, I know that I will stop cursing if I get the promotion. God, I will give up alcohol if ... and so on. This false self think surely sets up a clear negotiating kind of relationship with God.
Go back in thought to the Baltimore Catechism: it was so easy to have a "relationship" with God. Go to Mass on Sundays; don't eat meat on Fridays; get to Confessions at least once a month. Rules established to assist us negotiate salvation from our God. Now days steak tastes somewhat better on Fridays. The strictness of Sunday Mass has tremendously weakened. Now we are called to reach out to the poor and needy. Now we are called to read the Bible -- uncharted territory for many Catholics! So what happens to our relationship with God. As Fr. Basil says so simply and directly: "Maybe we have to establish a real personal relationship."

Monday, October 13, 2008

I Am A Listening!

Some have asked me to picture Fr. Basil. This was the largest picture I could manage with my own computer skills since I never took his picture when we were together.
Recently I was listening to someone tell me the official Catholic position on voting for someone who favors abortion. I found it rather astounding because I have on my desk at the present time then Cardinal Ratzinger's letter to the American Bishops, through Cardinal McCarrick, expressing his opinion in this matter. Surely was not the same thing that the person telling me the Church position. Likewise someone told me of an accident that happened recently. Later in the day, I heard a story from a relative about the same accident. I felt like asking if it is true that both were at the same accident!
As Fr. Basil notes (p. 21), often stories told by two or three people are usually the same in essence but they are somewhat different. How does that come about? So often we filter what we hear! Let me repeat: so often we filter what we hear. How we listen, "the listening that we are," is no simple reality. How you and I become the listening that we are today is the product of a lifetime of experience.
Fr. Basil also points out that be "a listening" is much more than hearing. It is more than how we hear: how we see, how we smell, how we taste. In addition to the externals, our inner voices listen for feelings, emotions, memories, ideas, and concepts ... as the Trappist points out.
Good St. Thomas Aquinas is known for the following sentence and thought: "Quidquid recipiture per modum recipientis recipitur." What Thomas was teaching is this: Whatever is received is received according to the mode of the receiver." Let me offer one way of understanding what Thomas' thought is.
What meets up with the way we are a listen will be accepted. What does not fit, well, most likely it will be discarded very quickly.
If I am a rigid person, very little will ever get through the gates that lock out anything I don't believe. And, unfortunately, I become a person with some serious prejudices. Have you ever tried to get a relative to change a strongly held position about one of the "in-laws" that became a part of the family? Good luck!
Fr. Pennington taught that those who tend to be "more open," willing to listen to and consider another point of view, have the opportunity to expand the parameters of their way of listening.
What is important for understanding our true and our false selves, is that we are not afraid of, first of all, trying to understand how we are a certain listening (p. 25). A la Pennington, when we actually become aware of my listening, we have taken "the first step on our journey toward embracing my true self. Like a baby who takes those that first step, we, too, know that I can leave behind me any fears about what I can not do.
Likewise, even though I recognize the listening that I am, I have to also realize that it is "partial." A conversation at my brother's home recently: "Mom, I am going over to Sue's house." (Mom) "Let's get your Dad here and talk about this. You know there are some concerns we have. But we want to hear fully your desires. When we have talked about it, perhaps we can come to a resolution that is good for all of us."
So, before getting into a good session of prayer, it is so important to understand who I am. Learning to know "how I am 'a listening' will great open our hearts to God's speaking to me, to the Holy Spirit endeavoring to let us see more deeply who we are.
Today both principal candidates for the November election were speaking publicly about what each was planning to do in order to save the economy. Do you think that the person who is a dyed in the wool Republican is going to give Senator Obama any credence in what he says and proposes? Likewise the Obamaite will have heard Senator McQuain's proposals and found very little if any items of credibility.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Riches in Needs

Good afternoon. While the king’s son’s wedding might seem more interesting for a homily today, what St. Paul writes to the Philippians is much more pertinent the our current situation in the United States and in the world. I speak not about politics and the upcoming Presidential election.
When Father Harry Cronin, a Holy Cross Father – sorry Notre Dame fans about yesterday’s disappointing loss – wrote the following words in a reflection on part of the Pauline reading we have in today's Eucharistic liturgy, I was stopped. His words are these: "When we allow ourselves to be poor as Jesus was poor, there will be a change in our hearts. For the first time in our lives, we will be truly able to embrace."
In the letter to the Philippians Paul wrote these words that brought Fr. Cronin to make the previous statement: "My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus" (Ch 4, v 19).
There isn’t a tv station, a radio station or a newspaper that is not reporting that we are frightened, we are pained, we are somewhat confused by the current financial realities enveloping not only ourselves in the USA but our sisters and brothers throughout the world.
So what is it about the "riches in Jesus Christ" that we are to share? We know that Jesus was not a wealthy man. Quite the contrary. Remember his words while out preaching: I don’t have a place to sleep. And we know that he was also a man who had contempt for riches. And, ultimately, he died naked and poor. He was a man without any hope.
Today many are forced to abandon their homes, many have lost jobs and health care is a major problem for our elderly — and this is not a political speech, rather it is a reality of the new kind of being poor.
I have noticed that when people are in trouble, yes, they turn to their bibles and God. But I also notice that when they greet their friends with a hug, a warm embrace, it is so much more meaningful than when all seems to be just fine. Why the difference? Why is an embrace so much more meaningful when there are challenges out of the ordinary invading our existence? I suspect it happens because those in need have come upon a kind of freedom they may not have known before.
The freedom of the embrace comes from an awareness that another person is truly needed and appreciated ... not to provide financial solutions but, rather, to be a rock in the midst of a storm, to be a promise that all is not loss, that friendship and love are worth so much more than the "things" of this world.
When we embrace God, which happens when challenges are painful, we have to be free. We cannot be held back by "things of the world." This is the freedom that St. Paul refers to as the riches of Jesus Christ. Perhaps when struggling we find ourselves "wealthy" in a way that we may have forgotten ... wealthy in the love and support of Jesus Christ. And this is truly God’s gift of freedom.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Continuing with reflections from Fr. Basil's True Self, False Self.

Fr. Basil uses two concepts to present his help to those seeking to let the calming waters of prayer pour over their being (had to have a reason for the picture!): (1) the transformation of consciousness and (2) the evolution of human consciousness in the human family as a whole and in each of us as individuals.

Fr. Basil noted that one of his confreres, Fr. Louis (aka Fr. Thomas Merton) often spoke of an "easy route" to God: get into the center of one's being. Once there do not stop: pass through one's center into the center of God. Sounds somewhat challenging but truly it is not. How many times have you sat alone watching waves roll onto the shore? How many times have you sat alone watching suns run the last course of their day for us? The invitation to go beyond ourselves, beyond our being, comes to each person perhaps in a way different for each person.

In the early Church the following was much more popular than in our own times: lex orandi, lex credendi. What this means is the way that we pray is the way that we believe. Think of that for a moment: the way I pray is a reflection of the way that I believe. And, a reversal of the phrase is equally true: as I believe, so I pray.

What does this mean practically? As one's theology develops, so too does one's prayer. Consider the prayer of a person whose faith, whose level of belief is limited to, let us say, the Baltimore Catechism kind of faith. The prayer of that person, while effective as any prayer is, will be somewhat limited in its satisfaction to the person. Whereas the person who ventures beyond the fewer 100 Q & A format of the old catechism to learn more about the theologies of creation and redemption, that person will begin to pray with a deeper awareness of the gifts of redemption and a Holy Spirit.

This more opened, more aware of God's goodness, kind of prayer will lead us to a deeper awareness of our own selves, our own being. St. Augustine in his writing, The Confessions, made these words at the outset of his times of prayer: Noverim me ut moverim Te. My God, it is my prayer, my hope, to know myself so that in that discovery I might come to know you.

No matter how we stand in relation to God, no matter the history we bring to accepting the invitation to draw closer to our Creator, we have to realize that there could be no better a way to begin than to consider ourselves because we have been made in the image and likeness of God. So to know ourselves we are following a pathway that leads to knowing our God in unique ways. If I consider the crazy ways I have lived my life, the times I may have walked a different path than that which God wanted of me, is there a better way to get to know how God's mercy, God's love works in my life? Probably not! The stronger our understanding of ourselves, the better will be our getting in touch with who we really are and what our aspirations are. Doing this, coming to this understanding of ourselves and the natural result of coming to God through what Fr. Basil calls a "union of love," we find ourselves wanting "to love ourselves for God's sake and to see our lives grow in the fruits of the Holy Spirit." It is in this experience that we actually grow into the fullness of our "God-given and God-like humanity."

On Monday the reflection will be directed toward how we build who we are by being a listening. (That is a purposeful use of a gerund.)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Prayer and Listening

Today I am beginning a sharing of the insights of Fr. Basil Pennington, OCSO (Trapppist) regarding prayer. This diversion from the daily readings rises from the daily Eucharistic Liturgy readings of the last several days. One of the themes has been the matter of prayer. Remember the words of the apostles to Jesus: "Teach us how to pray." Fr. Basil, fulfilling a promise, published in the year 2000 True Self, False Self.

As mentioned the liturgy's readings have brought us face-to-face, once again, with the reality of prayer. What has become a model in learning how to make our prayer meaningful since the apostles asked to learn how prayer could be meaningful is the journey of self-discovery. For prayer to become the joy and goodness so often described by many saints, there is at some point in time the realization that I have to come to know who I am to be truly happy and at peace with myself.

It is in coming to God in prayer that I come to know myself and it is in coming to know myself through prayer that I come to know my God.

Through the regular practice of prayer, I peel away the many protective shields I have constructed since the days of my youth. Through the patient practice of prayer, I am able to discover a genuine and fulfilling relationship with God because I have come to understand my true self. With that discovery I can become aware of the truly awesome gift of being who I truly am. It is this gifted awareness that brings me to understand and buy into the sentiments of St. Augustine who said "The glory of God is the person fully alive." Isn't this remark so similar to our own sentiments today when we might say, "The glory of every parent is a child fully alive, living out all that was hoped for, being a person of goodness and love"?

And, to be honest, are there not many of us who have at different times in our lives wondered if we ourselves were truly living a life that is fully alive? This is why we need to know the meaning of prayer.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Our Father's Forgiveness

The words Jesus uses to teach praying -- what we call the Lord's Prayer --- are much more for us than learning to recite words. Jesus links his hearers to what seems critically important to prayer's beginnings --- forgiveness of those who have need of our forgiveness.
A priest who once provided spiritual direction for me remarked that he wondered if we are truly aware of what our words mean when we pray "...and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us"? Do we really mean "just as we pardon others"? To pray these words and to mean them is probably one of the most challenging moments of the day. If I pray for God's pardon, just as we do at the outset of each eucharistic liturgy, and continue to harbor genuine unforgiveness toward another person, I am creating petitions at odds with each other. Maybe it can be likened to our placing the same poles of two magnets near each other. There comes about a force that repels one from the other.
Who of us is free of this unfortunate resistance? So often prejudices prevail in most of us from our youngest days. Unfortunately prejudices are handed down to us from our families, communities, churches and races. No doubt it is one of the results of Original Sin.
Forgiveness is no easy practice because it requires of us the recognition that we have been damaged by someone else. Who of us is comfortable admitting others have hurt us? Do I find reaching out to someone who offended me and my life easy? My spiritual guide used to say "In love, we respond to what is good; in mercy we respond to what is not good and seek to make it good." The challenge God puts before us each time I pray as Jesus taught -- again the Lord's Prayer -- requires great strength because I have to remove resentment, anger, even unfriendliness toward another or others. We have to be strong enough to say, "Father, as best as I can, I forgive everyone" when we start to pray.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Sunday, October 5, 2008: Hope for all.

Today's Pauline reading brings us to a virtue that has become a part of so many lives in the last five years: Afghanistan, 9/11, Iraq, financial disasters. In his words to the Philippians from his prison cell, Paul writes not so much about the torture he has endured. Rather it is about his hope and trust in Jesus Christ that is the driving force in his life.

Have no anxiety at all, but in everything,

by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,

make your requests known to God."

This is genuine hope. There is not the slightest hint in Paul's words that there is only emptiness. There is no inkling of despair. In his second encyclical, titled "Saved in Hope," Pope Benedict was very direct: "a distinguishing mark of Christians " is that we believe that our lives "will not end in emptiness."

The other readings today are stories about hopes that have not been realized and walls that have been broken down. However, we should note that the same stones became the foundation for the cornerstone of a new building. These are words of a realized future. Indeed, all of us can live with the hope that we always will have a new future when our worlds collapse around us.

What we witness in the death of the vineyard owner's son is not immediate retribution. No! What we have experienced is the death of God's son as the foundation for the the beginning of a new life, a new future. God the Father has used the seeming failure of Jesus' mission as the beginning of a new Church.

The challenge before us is simple: do you truly believe God brings about new life for us when our hopes are dashed, when our expectations fail? When you experience failure or failed visions, do you believe God takes your weaknesses and renews your strength through his strength?

I know we live in very difficult financial times. I know many feel there might not be a tomorrow. Some know there definitely will not be work. Some know there will be no new car for a while. Some know the long-planned vacation will not happen. Despite all of this, I believe what Pope Benedict wrote in the hope encyclical: "God is the hope that surpasses everything else." And I know this is the time when many Americans are turning to their God. Any priest or counselor will tell you this: when the going gets tough, tough believers take their bible, their prayer books, not their guns, in hand and seek to renew their hope based on the promises of a loving and giving God. With the psalmist, King David, we, too, can pray:

Once again, O Lord of hosts,

look down from heaven, and see;

take care of this vine,

and protect what your right had has planted

the son of man who you yourself made strong.

Man of Prayer: Francis of Assisi

On this day in the year 1226 Giovanni Francesco Bernardone died. Yes, that was the name of today's saint before his father started calling him Francisco.
Perhaps Francis could be a model for young men considering his way of living during his later teens and early twenties. He was quite the young man in many ways.
In his early twenties he joined in the battle against the Perugians. He ended up in a Perugian prison for a year. Illness took over for a while. During his hospitalization his life began to change. His story at this point is very much like Ignatius Loyola's. For Francis it would require another venture in chivalry. One night he had a dream in which he was told to return to Assisi ... which he did immediately. It was then that he began his serious journey that led him to become the saint he is today.
Although a man from a relatively wealthy family, Francis became a devotee of poverty and lover of the poor.
Perhaps we might take some time today to consider his example. We do not need to give away everything we have. We don't have to adopt a new lifestyle although the current financial realities might make it seem that way. Rather, like Francis we might consider excess. Do we live in excess? Is our happiness found only in having anything we want?
Consider this saint in light of these questions. Consider these questions in light of this saint.

Friday, October 3, 2008

God's Greatness

Today's reading is worth marking for days when you feel you have been abandoned, when the world is overwhelming, when darkness is thrown over your day.

Job shares his recollection of God's words to him. Our Creator reminds Job of the marvels of creation. In taking a moment to consider these gifts to us, there is for us the opportunity to enter a genuine intimacy with God.

There are several items on my bookshelves that have been gifted to me by friends. Every now and again I stop and look at the gift for a few minutes. It brings me back to wonderful moments with the friend who gave the gift. Yes, it is a de ja vu experience but the moments are a refresher to my spirits because I am reminded of the love and care someone has for me.

In particular I have a small Goebel figurine of the Good Shepherd that was given by the parishioners at Mother Seton parish to my Mom when I celebrated my 25th ordination anniversary. When Mom had to move to Carroll Manor, she made it clear that the statuette should be on my shelves. So, as I hold it in my hands, I think not just of an image of the Good Shepherd but of many realities: first and foremost, I recall the way Mom shepherded my Dad, my siblings and me; then I think of her and how much I miss her moments with me in the later years of her life; then I think about the incredible gift of priesthood and my role in shepherding the people of God; and, finally, I am brought to God with so many thoughts I just don't know where to begin ... I just sit and imagine "how good is the good God", as Julie Billiard, foundress of the Sisters of Notre Dame du Namur, used to say.

The same can happen to anyone who takes time to think of the greatness of the Lord in all that he has created for humankind. Just looking at the picture above, the "Grand Canyon of Hawaii," reminds me of God's power and care for the earth and the gift of enjoying the beauty of his creation. Looking at it for a time, I find myself in conversation with God. There is that intimacy that can happen with my Creator.

I invite you, again, to mark the Job selection for future reading. I promise you this: if you begin to use these words for your prayer, you will not feel that God is far removed from your heart and your life.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Minister of His Will: Guardian Angels

For to his angels he has given command about you,
that they guard you in all your ways.
Psalm 91:11

Just a few days ago, we celebrated the feast of three archangels. Today the Church call to our attention the Guardian Angels. Why feast so similar, so close to one another? Is there a message? Give attention to the last verse of the responsorial psalm.

As I mentioned on the archangels day, perhaps we have allowed this extraordinary gift of God to slip beyond our attention more often than not. Today we live in a world that is hardened by so many almost inhuman challenges. Is it a wonder that so many people feel that religion has so little to offer them? The hearts of these probably wonderful people have become so hardened.

As the gospel reminds us there is a singular gift in being somewhat like a child. In Jesus' times children ranked lower than animals. They were little more than a nuisance. But their ranking in the society did not stop them from being trusting, hoping and loving. They may have been put down by society but they continued to be what God made them to be.

I believe when Jesus said "whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me," he must have been sharing the experience of the openness and trust of a child when he or she meets someone who accepts the child with love and care.

Look at most of our children today. Very few have had the unfortunate experiences of a hardened heart in their early years. This is the gift that they offer you and me today.

And it might just be that these little ones are expressions of the guardian angels to whom God has entrusted our care.