Monday, September 23, 2013

Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind?

There is no feeling like the one you get when you're sitting at Mass and the homily is so spot on that you realize you're nodding at certain points, welling up at others, and wishing you could take notes during the whole thing.  Our Associate Vicar, Father Spisak, spoke yesterday during his homily about how to order our lives and make our decisions.  His premise was simple: as a Christian, you have one overarching goal, and that is to get to Heaven.  So every single decision you make throughout your day should be guided by that question.  

Some may see this as excessive, but truly it is a reliever of burden, for it clears away confusion and offers clarity.  If we REALLY believe what we claim to believe about Heaven and about the person of Jesus and about our Church, then even the simplest and seemingly most trivial choices we face need to be filtered through this question: how does this help me get to Heaven?

I worded it a bit differently from Father Spisak's question and I offer this metric: "How will this help me and/or someone else get to Heaven?" because I think we have to be a bit more demanding of ourselves and a lot more truthful.  And making the question more specific certainly helps us do that.  Father Spisak used the example of a daily schedule.  Look at each activity and appointment you have, as well as how you spend your "free time."  We can take it a step further.  Look at how you are handling your money, your words, and your relationships.  

Relating to others involves decisions that vex us. And it's key to scrutinize this aspect of our lives, because yes, we are our brother's keeper. Not just our spouse's, not just our children's, but everyone with which we come in contact.  We need to be, even in our briefest and most casual encounters with people, driving them towards their eternal Beatitude, not away from it.  This is not as simple as running around with tracts, or even living as an example, both of which I have advocated in prior blogs.  Perhaps there is a toxic relationship you are involved in because you think you can "save" that very difficult someone, that somehow you can, by sheer desire and fervent prayer, by constant haranguing even, bring someone around to your way of thinking.  If it hasn't worked by, oh, I'd say, NOW, it's time to stop.  Sometimes, and this has happened to me on at least three separate occasions, the best thing to do is to cut ties with someone in whom, despite your best efforts, you seem to bring out the worst, or someone who just doesn't want to give your point of view a shot at the microphone. Ever.  You have to examine that relationship through the lens of our question: how is this relationship helping me or this person get to Heaven?  If the relationship turns into an occasion for sin, like you end up acting with pride or if the person you are "working on converting" ends up getting angry with you and actually seeing you as a walking reason NOT to become Catholic,  then neither of you is getting closer to Heaven.  It's time to move on, shake the dust off of your feet, and say a prayer that someone else better suited to help that person is brought on staff by the Holy Spirit.  

Your time is better spent else-ways   As much as we worship money and the material things it buys, I believe our time has even more value.  Time gets sucked up so quickly and easily, particularly for those of us who live in first world societies, have access to many amusements and conveniences, and work long hours.  Our disposable time, like our disposable income, must be spent in a way that, again, reflects a positive response to our guiding question.  For every conversation I'm having over coffee with a girlfriend, for every half hour of play time with my kids, for every twenty minutes in the car with the radio on, I have to be asking myself, am I acting this scene out in a way that will somehow further the cause of getting me and these other children of God into Heaven? 

Does this sound obsessive or excessive to you?  It shouldn't.  Because what is likely driving your decisions now is something random or primal or not even of your own volition.  You may be letting life drive you, and then viewing yourself as a victim.  You may be making all your choices based on Hedonism, or materialism, or a crooked version of charity that promotes a "live and let live" attitude.  We all have to live in the world, and that means financial and health concerns are extremely important, but even there, the final arbiter must be the journey back to our true home with God our Father.  So no, this is not "going overboard" or being a holy roller, or being a Pollyanna.  This, frankly, is common sense.  If you want something, then you direct everything you do and say and choose TOWARD that thing.  Or, you will be moving AWAY from that thing.  There is no such thing as a neutral move, try as you may to spin it that way. 

So the next time you are facing a major life decision, or the next time you are at a tiny crossroads that you'd usually just skip over without a thought, THINK.  Reflect on our guiding question: if I take this job, if I say these words, if I buy this, if I watch this, if I go to this party, if I volunteer here, if I hit SEND, if I take this phone call, if I take this pill, if I lend this fifty dollars, if I hit snooze, if I mind my own business, if I hug her, if I defriend him, if I tell the truth, if I sell my car, if I choose this school, if I share this meme, if I open that door, if I block that person's phone number, if I let him ahead of me in line, if I invite her to lunch, if I open that magazine, if I shut my mouth . . . how is this helping me or someone else get to Heaven? Not just IS IT, but HOW is it? Demand an explanation from yourself.  We tend to let ourselves off the hook far too easily. That's why we need the Confessional, and just a bedside "sorry" to God.  Because invariably, we tend to twist things to our advantage, to make ourselves look better, righter, or just to help things be EASIER for us, because, yes, life is hard.  

Are you facing a choice right now?  If you are, I will pray with you that you sincerely consider our guiding question.  Picture me holding your hand as we pray together, and give honest answer.  If we keep our goal in mind, with humility and fervent desire, we have a better than good chance of pleasing our Savior and also making our lives go way more smoothly, and even if not, we'll know we acted for the right reason, not the wrong one.  Regret is a harsh and heavy load, and I don't want you to carry it.  Neither does Jesus.  So the things that would be obstacles between you and finally being WITH Him?  Dump 'em. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

A Piece on Peace

Wars and rumors of wars.  We're there. No one knows the day or the hour, but it's beginning to look a lot like the advent of something apocalyptic.  Our food is poisoned.  Corporations are people, but babies covered up by an inch of their mother's skin are not.  Kids are orphaned because their parents have died of dysentary or malaria.  The quick fixes of new wells or mosquito nets are held back by corrupt leadership.  Even in the most "civilized" of nations, natural law is now an eye-roll.  You can get your kicks from anyone, anything, anywhere, and if anyone expresses concern about the fraying of moral fiber, they face both a lawsuit and the scarlet letter "h" for hater.  Syria, Darfur, Israel, Iraq . . . pain is everywhere.  Politics has become the new religion.  Everyone has a party loyalty.  Greeners hate Republicans and Democrats.  Democrats hate Republicans.  Republicans hate Democrats.  It doesn't matter what anyone says; it matters what your label is.  Our schools are the backdrop for bullying, shooting, and second rate education.  Common Core is something I would have thought was an April Fool's joke if it were handed out in a meeting ten years ago when I was teaching. Gender doesn't exist. You are what you say you are.  God is a quaint idea, reserved for baptisms, weddings, and foxhole pleadings.  Where are we and how did we get here?  I, for one, feel lost, and I fear for my children, because even living in a semi-rural Midwest upper middle class community, I see signs of the infections of relativism and idol worship.  

No, we don't have a statue of Baal in our town square, but when I pull back the lens and look at what the grown ups expose in our poolside or parking lot badinage, I see golden calfs aplenty.  Most parents want their kids, more than anything, to be happy.  No matter what.  Not holy, but happy.  Not decent, but happy.  The next highest ambition seems to be academic or athletic.  Parents want their kids to be winners.  The idol of best.  Sliding in at third place is coolness and popularity.  Parents want their kids to have a lot of playdates and connections.  They are letting fourth graders have and boast about YouTube accounts, iPhones, and the right shoes.  

If I've depressed you, I'm sorry.  I'm done now.  You're probably wondering if I'm going to give you a remedy for the world's ills.  And you're thinking that since this is primarily a Catholic blog, I'm going to say to pray and then I will have written my page and done my part and then the reflecting and the convicting are over.  

The truth is that I have been chosen by the grace of God to belong to a Church that provides me with several ways to save the world and to save my soul.  I've written at length before about these things -- the Sacraments (all of them, including Reconciliation!), prayer, weekly Mass attendance, spiritual reading daily, maintaining custody of the eyes and ears, dying to self, talking to the Saints, and going to Scripture daily. 

But today I attempt to push both you and me a little harder.  I've been reading for days about what should be done about Syria, and this is as serious a situation as I've seen in my lifetime.  But while we discuss world peace, peace in the region, peaceniks, those against peace, those who advocate for peace, and who should be voting for what and why, I think we miss the giant elephant in the room.  Actually, we miss the rooms.  The home.  The family.  

If you have spent two hours of your day working for a phone bank, trying to solicit donations for a charity that supplies malaria nets, if you then drive your hybrid to work at a non-profit and while there, talk about how out of this world WRONG it is to lob bombs at Syria, and then you go home and call your wife a bitch, guess what?  You're not working for peace. If you attend services weekly at your church, tithe, and serve Thanksgiving dinner to the poor, and then go home and smack your son in the back of the head so the fork goes flying out of his mouth, guess what?  You are not a peaceful presence in our world.  

The first war you need to negotiate an end to is the one in your soul.  Second is the one in your house.  The first has to come first, and the second will follow.  You can't do this alone, but you can't do it only relying on God's grace either.  You have to participate.  

Is there a warzone in  your home? Do you have two children who are living in constant competition with each other?  Are you taking your spouse for granted?  What is the general timbre of your voice when you speak to your family?  Listen to your voice at different points during a random Saturday with your family.  Are you raising your voice more than you'd like?  Are you employing sarcasm so heavily that your kids have picked up on it and are using it back at you?  Are you rolling your eyes at your husband when he tries to excitedly tell you about a new project he has an idea for at work?  Are you poking fun at your wife's body because it doesn't look like the one she had when you married her?  

Do you "tease" your children in order to "toughen them up" and teach them what the real world is all about?  Well, congratulations, because you are contributing to the real world, alright.  For war.  Everyday war.  War on the playground, war in the grocery store line, war at the gym, war in the bleechers at the game.  

When you go out to eat, how do your kids see you treating the wait staff?  Do you gossip with your spouse and friends in front of your kids?  Do your eyes wander to a young, shapely gal who walks by your table as your wife sits there with her head down? 

Husbands and wives, moms and dads, grandparents: test yourselves this week and report on yourselves the way the news reports on Syria.  Who made what threats today?  Who spoke a venomous word?  Who fell asleep at Mass?  Who name-called?  Who said thank you?  Who said "shut up"?  Who said even worse than that?

For days and days I've been reading and hearing assessments of President Obama, his narcissism, his lack of honesty, his coldness.  I wonder how many people who have scrutinized him and found these character flaws have seen these very traits in themselves?  Dads, you are the President of your home.  Are you giving more of your time to your kids or to your own hobbies and interests?  Moms, are you supporting the President of your home, or are you working against him by mocking him in front of your children?  Or by demanding he work harder and harder in order to give you and the kids material possessions?  In short, are you, as the leaders of your "nation," working for peace? 

We can't change the world, the country, in one day.  Or even one year.  This is a big ship that has to make a big turn, and that takes time and strength and divine aid.  What we can change INSTANTLY, what we have the power to do this very moment, is say a prayer for grace and assistance, and then get back to the negotiating table in your own home and draft a peace treaty.  Decide that the tone of your voice, your words, your time allocations, your money, will all reflect peace.  If your family is in really bad shape, have a press conference (family meeting!) and be honest about the state of the union under your roof.  Make promises that you can and WILL keep.  Be unlike the politicians you mock and actually follow through in the best interest of your constituency -- your spouse and children.  One house at a time, we can start turning the ship away from the enormous iceberg for which it is headed.  One day at a time, you can make your house a sanctuary and an example for others.  One word at a time, you can give peace a chance.