A Hidden Life in the Ordinary

March 22, 2015 at 10:24 am

It is early morning in Hyderabad.  I am still stunned how I landed here and hope that it is replicated  in my life somehow upon returning to the US.  I sit on a fourth floor balcony.  Our neighbor’s yard is a good size lot filled with trees that make a home for a multitude of birds.  There must be some small fruit.  8-12 birds the size of cardinals are in constant motion with the sun rising behind them.  They have a black crown and are much less colorful than a North American cardinal in that their wings and tail are brown and  their breasts are  gray.  There is a spot of white at the base of the tail feathers and a splash of red appears  as they energetically flit among the branches.  There are tiny birds about half  the size of a wren with thin beaks as long as their body.  Their song is unexpectedly loud.  Its volume is like a cardinal’s.     In the midst of this, suddenly a bright green parrot swiftly flies past the edge of my balcony.  A rooster crows down the street.  The eagles seemed to have left the mango tree while we were gone the past couple of weeks. There are a few butterflies present with their jerky but graceful passage through the air as they seek to escape the beaks of birds who are waiting for breakfast and to quickly dart out from the limbs of the trees.   Later even at the moment that I say  “Thank You,”  a bright yellow bird with black wings flies past to land on a limb in full view.

It is our Garden of Eden.  A sacrament or an encounter with God’s presence in our lives.   The God of surprises blessed our life in India with this sanctuary in the midst of a crazy and chaotic city.  It feels like the medicine of the Lord seeking to restore me to sanity and health after the intense but good years of life in public accounting.  No matter what one does, there are wounds to be bathed and healed.   Here is a spot where I feel and recognize  my hardness of heart that comes from cultivating and nursing bitterness, resentments, and  jealousies.  Hopefully I can  begin to move past them to a better place of knowing both that I am forgiven and how to forgive.  Much of the pain is a result of my own arrogance and pride.  As someone once said:  “Pain is in proportion to the need for purification.”  Feeling the pain also puts me  in touch with my kinship with all the children of God.  Our fragile packages have all been broken, diminished, misunderstood.

I read a quote this morning in Courage to Change from Albert Schweitzer:  “ The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.”    As I have probably previously written, Schweitzer has been a favorite of mine since my dad gave me a Landmark biography to read as a kid.  He lived as a doctor in the African jungle working with the sick and needy.  I was surprised to find when I reached college that he was one of the leading New Testament scholars and pioneers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries who sought  the Historical Jesus.    Apparently, his understanding of the Jesus of history led him to service in Africa. While admittedly and obviously not as heroic,  I thought that public accounting also provided an avenue to service.

Martin recently shared with Kathleen and I that service is a major ingredient in the transforming sauce that Bill W prescribes.  As Holy Thursday approaches, it is one of the few direct commands that Jesus gave us as he washed the feet of his disciples.   I have always admired how our friends Kathy and Mary have poured out their lives in service as nurses.  Not to mention our own Timothy who has managed to thrive in a high school classroom for almost 4 decades.  They are the hidden ordinary saints found in every age quietly doing the Lord’s work.

Top of the Morning

March 22, 2015 at 10:22 am

It is good to pause for a moment and appreciate our roots and the sacrifices made by those who went before us.

On the Gorman side,  our ancestors were peasant farmers who left Ireland at the time of the Great Famine in the 1840s and 1850s, settled North of Chicago in Waukegan and farmed the land.  At the time of the famine,  Ireland was part of the UK, the richest country in the world, but suffered from neglect.  The Irish people were considered racially inferior.  The English did not allow them to vote, go to Church or school.  The tenant farmers were pushed off land to allow cattle to graze to feed the English appetite for beef.  Absentee English landlords controlled the land.  Ireland is a rich farming area and sufficient food was grown in Ireland during the potato blight to feed the 8 million Irish, but the peasants could not afford to pay for what they grew and the grain was exported to England.  All they could afford to eat were the potatoes that they grew and on which they subsisted.  Originally, a third or more of the potatoes were grown to feed the cattle.  It was a blight that caused this crop to fail and resulted in an estimate of 1.5 million people starving.   Some might say it was genocide, but it was more likely simply neglect, apathy, or the bigotry of the English  and a strong belief in market forces vs government intervention.  During the famine over 25% of the population died or immigrated.   Many boarded the “coffin ships” to the US.  20 percent of the passengers did not survive.  Apparently the Gorman/Egan/Brady families thrived in the US.

Your great grandpa was a very successful coal salesperson in the early 20th Century.  Commonwealth Edison was one of his main accounts.  He married Mame at Old St Patrick’s.   He was a Republican in the days of Teddy Roosevelt.  Not sure if he was actually a progressive or not.  The Depression hurt the family’s net worth, but he was still able to send Grandpa to College and Law School.  They lived on the near Westside of Chicago  around Garfield Park.

The Scanlon’s came to the US in the early 20th Century and reflect an economic reality in the  Ireland  of that time wherein the younger generation was forced to immigrate to find economic opportunity.  While the economy of Ireland has improved in the late 20th Century, many young are still forced to leave Ireland.  Grandpa Scanlon like many Irish worked on the railroads.  He did not actually build them as the Irish did in the 19th Century.  Martin O’Meara was part of the Chicago police force after fleeing the Black and Tams in Ireland.    They immigrated prior to Irish independence.  They lived on the Westside as well in Austin which borders Oak Park.

The Irish were the earliest immigrant group from Europe.  As such, we had the opportunity to figure out how to succeed in the new world and gain positions of influence and power prior to the wave of European immigration.  This is evidenced by the Irish presence in the big city political machines such as the Daley machine in Chicago and the hierarchy of the 20th Century American Church.    As time passes and the Irish find other opportunities and success and the demographics of the city and Church have changed, this  Irish presence has receded as it should.

Whether they immigrated in the 19th or 20th Century,  the Irish and other Catholic immigrant groups left an unbelievable legacy as reflected in the Catholic infrastructure of parishes and schools.  The immigrants believed in educational excellence and  the importance of family as well as  their religious traditions.  The parish community became the vehicle for embodying and propagating these values.   As I lived and breathed these values growing up,  I knew no other reality.  As it has shaped me, I am sure it has influenced you as well.  If you look around, you will see products of the Catholic educational system everywhere.   For instance,  the Supreme Court is largely Catholic as is the partner group at Deloitte.  Catholic Universities continue to provide graduates who not only have the skillset to succeed, but also make a difference in the lives of others for the common good.

We celebrate the memory of St Patrick today.    He was an English lad kidnapped and taken to Ireland.  He later escaped and returned to England  where his relationship with God continued to mature.  He was inspired and discerned a call to return to Ireland as a missionary.  Along with St Brigid, he is a patron saint of Ireland.  His feast day in Ireland is a holy day of obligation.  May Sts Patrick and Brigid pray for us this day that we may grow in wisdom and grace.

Happy St Paddy’s Day!  And Happy St Joseph’s Day to my Italian friends.

A Good Place To Begin

March 22, 2015 at 10:19 am

“Progress can be hard to recognize…the only thing that matters is the direction that I am moving.”

“Keep adding little by little and soon you will have a big hoard.”  – Latin proverb

Courage to Change March 16.

I sometimes wonder if I have grown spiritually at all over the decades.  There is some risk that I may have regressed.  Similarly, I am not sure that I have developed additional flexibility doing yoga. Neither can I jog as far or as fast as I used to do.  Admittedly I have not been consistent with respect to either activity over the past year or so.  Work and discipline are required.   Even when one practices regularly, one soon reaches a plateau and then progress is hard to perceive.  We can hope that our progress looks like a jagged arrow  with peaks and  valleys yet pointed up towards the northeast or towards the 2 on a clock.

“You can cultivate love, compassion, joy, and equanimity by learning to relax where you are.   There is no problem with being where you are right now.  Even if you are feeling love for only one sentient being that is a good place to start.”   –Pema Chodrun

So we should keep the faith.  When I went to Mass a week ago, there was a college student in front of me wearing a tee shirt that expressed a similar thought:

You are where the Lord wants you right now.

Right now.  In this place.  A good spot to begin.  Even in this moment, as we live and move and are grounded in God,  God is communicating to us.

Reveal Yourself to us O Lord.

May we not be preoccupied with ourselves or with work.

May we not be threatened or afraid.

May we accept and follow your way

and put love in our day.

Rex Pai compares  this journey to the Wise Men who followed a star until it brought them to Christ:

“To follow the star is quite challenging.  We have to leave home ( the place where we are secure and comfortable)…”  Perhaps home is simply our everyday mind sets and world view that does not allow God space?

“…and strike out into the unknown (‘Leave the seed that you have sown.  Leave the crops that you have grown. Leave the people that you have known.  Come follow me’)…”

Is it time to shift directions?  It may or may not be.    It is easier to follow the physical principle of momentum and keep going the same direction that we have always gone.  Hang with the same people.   We may have created a safe and secure environment that comforts us in the face of the GREAT UNKNOWNS AND UNCERTAINTIES  that all humans face but try to control.    It is a question of discerning.

“We have to be prepared to face inhospitable deserts and stormy winds that accompany any human quest….Prayer gives us desire to constantly look for the star (Christ) in our lives; it clarifies the Star and helps us recognize the true Star from the many twinkling and alluring lights around us; it gives us the strength to follow…through ups and downs, difficulties and obstacles; it brings real joy, gratitude, love and peace….”

A great vision.   The Fourth Sunday of Lent’s readings proclaim that  a Light  has come into the world, but many of us prefer the darkness to the Light.  The Jesuit presider at the liturgy stated that Jesus is the Light because his thoughts, desires, drives all aligned with God’s will for him.  Are ours?  For example, the many alluring lights of materialism or hedonism have quite an attraction in our Western world and easily distract us or send us down a lesser path.

As Paul states in Ephesians, we are called to be the work of God’s hands.  We are God’s handicraft.  A bold statement to make.   Paul encourages us to put aside our sense of weakness or unworthiness and step into the truth . The creation story of Genesis 1 also affirms this truth by stating that we are made in the image and likeness of God.  What does that mean?  That we are creative like God?  That we are the pinnacle of creation because of a self-awareness, ability to reflect, or possess a higher consciousness than the animal and plant world?   Or  that we are the stewards and caretakers of the created world?   Perhaps that we can love as God loves?

We are called to be the Light.  God is within as well as without.  Let us  “ Let Go and Let God” and then as the Gospel of John states  we will live the Truth and not cling to darkness but  to the Light and our works will clearly be done in God.

May our work be God’s work beginning with where we are today.

What Me Worry?

January 25, 2015 at 1:36 pm

The story is told about a man on a journey who suddenly finds himself running away from some tigers.  The tigers are gaining on him as he reaches a cliff.  Fortunately, there is a vine hanging down the side of the cliff.  He grabs it and begins to rappel down the cliff away from his pursuers only to realize that there are tigers also at the bottom of the wall waiting for him.  As he clings thinking about what to do next, he realizes that there is a mouse that is gnawing away at his vine.   He is soon  hanging only by a thread.

This story is about the reality of our existence.  It can reflect many different aspects of our life.  How we live in illusions and build castles in the air.  We seek security and comfort.  We curate our image so that we find approval and esteem in the eyes of others.  All the while,  we think that we control life and its outcomes until events occur that wake us up to reality or scare the hell out of us.  One could also interpret this story to reflect that we are all aging and ultimately will die.  That notion is incomprehensible to us during our invulnerable years of youth; however, it becomes more real as our hair grays and our face wrinkles and sags.

I could not stop thinking the past few days about this story recorded by Pema Chodrun since  Hyderabad is in the midst of a swine flu epidemic.  300 people have tested positive.  25 people have died very recently.  I am not sure this government knows the real numbers.  There is no panic.  The authorities say  not to worry.   There is no public health alert or encouragement to get vaccinated.   People are basically unconcerned at work.  The newspapers generally report the epidemic on page 3.  Quite a contrast to the Ebola event in the US a few months ago.  However, it scares me.  I had not heard much about it.  I had not been reading the papers in the past couple of weeks.  Then I picked one up on Wednesday and saw that 200+ were tested positive for H1N1 and 20 people had died.  Moments before, I had  read the tiger story.

Kathleen wondered why I was so somber. I mumbled something about being tired from running 4 miles that morning rather than saying that I felt surrounded by tigers.  I was morose.   I was not sure if there was even a vaccine for this flu.  I googled H1N1 and found that there is. I wondered then if it was possible to get vaccinated in Hyderabad.  Is the vaccine available and if it is, are there sufficient supplies?   I then thought about the recent outbreak of HIV in one of the states of India because a doctor was reusing the same needle.  I then remembered that in another state poor women were paid some rupees by the government to get sterilized to control the population.  They died after the surgery when the antibiotic that they were provided had poison in it.   India is not the place to be when you need a sound public health system.    “The line,” my dad once said in his later years, “between the here and hereafter is very thin.”

I did not have a panic attack.  However, I did remember how Jesus sweated blood during his agony in the garden as he realized that his tigers were about to get him.   In the end, he embraced our  human condition.  He willingly and nonviolently walked the path to death.  One of the central pieces of Christian iconography is Jesus on the Cross capturing the pain, suffering, and death inherent in our natures.   I get it.   I grasp the concept easily enough ; you can know something with your mind, but not your heart.  It is another matter when you have actually have a sense of our fragility.

The  story of the person on the vine does not end with him hanging by a thread.  In the midst of his predicament, he notices some ripe strawberries within his reach.   He reaches over.  He plucks them.  He enjoys tasting them.

I am tempted to end this meditation here.  Let you explore its meaning.

The conclusion  reminds me of the French existentialists.  They viewed life as absurd and meaningless, but were excited about how they could shape their lives creatively.  What kind of masterpiece could they create?

I am also reminded how our world was created out of love and is rooted and ultimately grounded in love despite its many perceived shortcomings.

Kathleen dropped me at work that day.  We made plans to get our vaccination the following day by a doctor who we met serendipitously.  She  practiced medicine at Mt. Carmel and Riverside in Columbus for 15 years.   As we rode, I told Kathleen and Mr Shah, our driver, that I had had a dream and related the Tiger story.  But I added something.  In the past, Mr Shah shared with me Islam’s view of heaven and hell.  So right after the part about enjoying the strawberries and the thread snapping, I added  how  I was borne up to Paradise by the prayers  of others to the arms of God.

A Skulking One-eyed Mullah

January 25, 2015 at 1:30 pm

“ I do not know where Osama came from.    I do not understand ISIS.  They are not Muslims.  Islam is not violent.  We greet each other by wishing that God’s peace be with you.  The last revelation from God through the Prophet, may God’s peace be upon him,  was  effectively ‘To live and let live.’   We are to let others live in peace and ask to be left to live in peace.”

We were shopping in a handicraft shop with our good friends, John and Mary, just before their departure to the US two weeks ago.  The Muslim shop attendant was showing us a “Happy Buddha” statue of a 15th century laughing  Japanese Buddhist monk.  The Paris terrorist attack had just happened and he volunteered that the terrorists were not Muslims.  I said that they sure gave Islam a bad name. He then responded with the statement above.  We had also recently witnessed the celebration of the Prophet Muhammad’s birth anniversary.  My driver reinforced the retailer by saying that in ISIS territories,  Muslim faithful were afraid to go outside to celebrate the Prophet’s birthday.  “How,” he asked, “could these guys be Muslims?”

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan was quoted in the Times of India (November 4) long before Paris: “Terrorism has no place whatsoever in Islam; it is not acceptable or justifiable under any circumstance.  If an individual or group has a grouse or complaint, it can be addressed using peaceful means.”

Also in the same newspaper Aamir Raza Husain wrote “ It is regrettable that a religion of pacifism should be linked to violence.  That the perpetrators of violence carry it out in the name of religion is blasphemous…Islam stands for peace…it is a path of grace and harmony…The Muslim greets another with the salutation, ‘Salaam’—Peace.  He prays for peace, fasts for peace and gives in charity to gain ultimate peace.  He starts conversations with salaam and ends his prayers with ‘salaam.’”

I am reminded of our recent visit to Hamuyan’s Tomb in Delhi with John and Mary.   John was taking a picture of Mary in front of mammoth 16th century door.  6 Muslim men were walking side by side and they all looked at us at the same time.  It was like an “eyes right” command had been given.  I said “Salaam Aleikum.”  They responded in unison “Walekum Salaam”.  They stopped and gathered around John and I to learn who we were and from where we hailed.  There was much smiling as we parted.  John was amazed.

One of my partner buddies visited from Grand Rapids last November.  When he learned that Hyderabad is 50 percent Muslim and that my driver is Muslim, he commented on how  Islam  is not particularly popular in the states right now.   I commented that I have never met a finer human being than my driver and told him how when I read the Gulf news, the leaders of UAE, Saudi, etc. are trying to address the radicalization of their youth and other segments of the population.  They  are hoping that education may provide a key.  The leaders are hopeful that reinvigorating the system of education will both train their young in what the Koran teaches as well as prepare them so that they will not be  unemployed.  The Gulf states are also talking about joining together to enhance their military capability to fight ISIS.

I recently read ( in the local media I think)  how parents are shocked by questions from their children about misinterpretations of the Koran that they find on the web when they google certain questions.  Those who pervert Islam for their own ends have propaganda all over the web.  The religious leaders are talking about how to make sure that their young are educated in a manner to avert that influence.

Kathleen and I hear Muslims refer to some Muslims as “Bad Muslims.”  We have heard a few times that the terrorists will end up in hell.

Islam is not centralized.  There is no one central figure that can speak out against terrorism.  While many in the US, wonder why Muslim leaders are not speaking out, those that do speak out, do not  seem to get any attention.  Someone apparently decides that it is not newsworthy.  Aamir Raza Husain wrote in the Times of India last November:

“No imam of a mosque, no sheikh or head of an Islamic state and not the followers of the late and unlamented Osama bin Laden of the al-Qaida nor the skulking one-eyed Mullah Omar of the Taliban have ever had any universal religious sanction to lead Muslims into battle. Since the time of the Prophet, there have been saboteurs and hypocrites in the ranks of the Uslim Ummah.  These are the modern-day terrorists who have unleashed a reign of fear, tarnishing the name of Islam.”

 

Opening Our Hearts

January 14, 2015 at 2:29 pm

Mother Teresa wrote:

“ Love is a fruit in season at all times

And within the reach of every hand.

Anyone may gather it

And no limit is set.

Everyone can reach this love

Through meditation

The spirit of prayer

And sacrifice,

By an intense inner life.

 

Do we really live this life?”

 

In a few words, Teresa gives us a vision of a life lived in love.  She tells us it is there for taking.  We all have access to it.  It is unlimited.

Yet, looking in the mirror,  I realize how I do not live it and access it.  I fall far short of the mark.  I read about it. Pray about it. But do not follow her prescription as I should.  There is a need to live the intense inner life, to pray, meditate and sacrifice.

Her quote comes from a chapter in Everything Starts from Prayer called “Opening Your Heart.”  Later in the chapter she writes  “ It is so easy to be proud, harsh, moody, and selfish, but we have been created for greater things; why stoop down to things that will spoil the beauty of our hearts?”  Perhaps the intense inner life involves cultivating an awareness of our emotional life, listening to what it is telling us, how it may be directing us or controlling us, and holding it before God so that we find the way of purity.

Jesus came and told us that Kingdom of God is at hand and within.  The “intense inner life” of Teresa is a journey to the Kingdom of God within.

Rex Pai SJ writes “Prayer is a journey inward…We move toward deeper levels within us, towards the centre and core of our being where we meet the one who is waiting for us, the one who is the source of our being and the meaning of our life…prayer anchors us on God.”

Courage to Change on January 13 provides a similar message: “ Our group gives me great spiritual freedom because it encourages me to find a personal understanding of God, and to allow others the same freedom.  Until I could think of God in terms that were meaningful to me, I was not able to truly turn my life over to a Higher Power.   My concept of God evolves.  It changes and grows as I continue to change and grow.  How wonderful it is, for I now sense a Higher Power that is as alive as I am!  Never in my life did I dream of finding such a source of serenity, courage and wisdom.

There is a sense of unique purpose to my journey through life.  I am the only one who can live it, and I need the help of the God OF MY UNDERSTANDING in order to live it fully.  Grounded in faith, I can hold tight to my course and meet the future with confidence.

Once upon a time I was afraid to live life for myself.  This was because I did not know how to do it and thought that there was no one to show me.  Now I have a resource deep within me to guide me along life’s many roads.  I am not alone on my journey.”  The reading concludes with the following quote:

“In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.”  – Albert Camus

Rex Pai continues writing about this journey inward to the invincible summer:  “ Prayer  makes us keep our heart at the lotus feet of the Lord while we plunge into the struggle of life ( Krishna’s advice to Arjuna in the Gita.)

We realize the words of wisdom spoken by little Anna of “Mister God” fame:  ‘People can only love outside and can only kiss outside, but God can love you right inside and can kiss you right inside.’

The inward journey, by its very nature, takes us outward, back to life—but with a renewed vision, a new sense of purpose, and a deeper commitment to work for a better world.  In ‘Longest Journey’ John Dalrymple brings this out very well:  ‘ The Christian who prays involves himself in a double journey, a journey inwards and a journey outwards.  The journey inwards is the journey from the issues of this world towards God.  It is a journey towards the mind of Christ beyond feelings of expediency or fear of what people will say, to truth itself.  It is followed by the journey outwards back from the depths where we meet God to the issues facing us in our everyday life,

A journey which we now undertake with a new sensitivity to the will of God in all things…

It is a two way exposure.  The journey inward exposes us to God and the journey outwards pitches us back into God’s world, and as with all pendulums, the bigger swing towards God in prayer the bigger the swing back towards the problems and persons of this world.’”

As Mother Teresa asks  “Do we really live this life?”

The heart in Christian spirituality is where we meet God within.  It is beyond discursive reasoning and the intellectual abstractions of our minds.  We embrace God with our hearts in a way that is beyond the grasp of our minds.  Buddhism also talks about this awakened heart.  Pema Chodron says “ No matter how committed we are to unkindness, selfishness, or greed, the genuine heart cannot be lost.  It is …never marred and completely whole. ..When inspiration has become hidden, when we feel ready to give up, this is the time when healing can be found in the tenderness of pain itself.”  Doesn’t this sound like how God reveals himself to us?  How God’s light comes to us in darkness?  God provides hope in the midst of bleakness.

Much like Rex Pai describes above the two way exposure of the journey inward exposing us to God and a journey outward to embrace the pain and people of the world, so too does Pema Chodron describe the awakened heart as “equated, in part, with compassion—our ability to feel the pain that we share with others.  Without realizing it we continually shield ourselves from this pain because it scares us. ..we erect protective walls made out of strategies, opinions, prejudices, and emotions.  Yet just as a jewel that has been buried in the earth for a million years is not discolored or harmed, in the same way this …heart is not affected by all of the ways we try to protect ourselves from it.  The jewel can be brought out into the light at any time, and it will glow as brilliantly as if nothing had ever happened.  This tenderness for life…awakens when we no longer shield ourselves from the vulnerability of our condition, from the basic fragility of existence. It awakens through kinship with the suffering of others…we become open that we can take the pain of the world in, let it touch our hearts, and turn it into compassion…” and put love into each moment of every day.

All of the above were the readings from four different sources  with which I started my day.  They are intertwined.  It is the Holy Spirit teaching and guiding.  Rex Pai finished his meditation with the following prayer:

God of life and love,

You know me and you understand me through and through;

You know everything I do or say, everything I think or desire;

‘Your knowledge of me is too deep; it is beyond my understanding’ (Ps 139)

You invite each one of us and challenge us to an exploration

Of our inner space and to an ongoing discovery of you as the God of our heart;

In discovering you, we more truly discover ourselves;

In discovering ourselves, we progressively discover other persons and our world.

May our inner journey liberate us from being absorbed in ourselves and our own interests.

May it take us towards others in concern and service and bring to realization the kingdom promised by Your Son Jesus.

May we like Teresa really live this life.  Amen.

 

Cochin Fishermen

January 13, 2015 at 9:12 am

Today is my birthday so I found it edifying how the readings for today, the first week of ordinary time, spoke to me.  Happy New Year.

With the new liturgical calendar, the readings begin with the start of Jesus’ public  ministry.   The readings focus on His message:

The Kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent.

After the death and resurrection of Jesus, the apostles preached Jesus.  They did not forget his message but Christ became the focus of the message of the Apostles.  ( Referred to as the Kerygma in academia).    Here though we see the Church emphasizing the message of Jesus at the beginning of the liturgical year that the Kingdom of God is present.  Wake up and Repent.

Jesus then sees Simon and Andrew casting their nets and tells them to Follow Him and he will make them fishers of men.  Next,  He meets  James and John who are mending their fishing  nets.   He calls them as well.   They left their father Zebedee and the hired help on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

When we were recently with our friends John and Mary in Cochin  on the Arabian Sea, we watched men casting nets as they have for thousands of years.  They retain about 30% of the revenue from the fish that they catch and  sell.  The rest goes to the owner of the nets and dock.   The fishermen likely take home somewhere between 3 and 10 dollars a day.  This reading reminded me of these men.   Like these fisherman,  the first disciples were the working poor.  Jesus’ father was also a common laborer.  A technon.  Commonly portrayed as a carpenter, but more likely he was a mason who worked with concrete. Perhaps that is why  Jesus who was also born in a barn always had an affinity for the poor and called his disciples from the little people of this world.

As I read this passage,  I also imagined the reaction of the  father,  Zebedee.  Was he shocked or surprised to see his sons walk away?  Had he met Jesus before?  Had Jesus already been spending time with his first disciples?  Were they already familiar with his wisdom and charisma?  Had their hearts already been touched and were they  burning within?  Perhaps Zebedee blessed them as they went.

Reading this message on my birthday and reflecting on the call to follow Jesus, I wonder what does it mean for me to follow Jesus?  What is he asking me to do?  Am I called to be a fisher of men and women?

Yesterday at the end of Sunday Mass, Fr Packiaraj introduced a newly ordained Jesuit ( who he welcomed to the crazy club) and a newly married couple.   He talked about how each are called to their respective vocations.  Indeed, as a married man,  I can follow Jesus and discover God’s will by loving my wife.  I am called to serve and be the face of God for her.  Deep inside our protective persona, we are all fragile packages.  We need to be gentle with one another. Husbands have a responsibility to respect and love their wives’ fragile packages and vice versa.   We are called to live the vow that we made to one another to be faithful to one another no matter what  comes our way whether in sickness or in health.  It sounds easy, but is not without its challenges.   Isn’t that why we need the grace of the sacrament of matrimony?

These days, many young people are not interested in the artifices of marriage.  They see people marry and divorce like teenagers in middle school going steady and breaking up.   On the other hand,  I remember a married couple telling Kathleen and I when we were engaged that a married couple living for the Lord makes others hunger for what they have which comes from the Lord.  So perhaps as the culture around us has more and more people of all ages living together without marriage and unaware of how God can sustain their love, the remnant of married Christians has an opportunity to truly be a light to the world and  a lamp upon a lampstand.   In that way, married couples living out their vocation can be fishers of men and women.

At the same time, it is clear to me that all human beings are swimming in God, moving in God, living in God whether they acknowledge God or not.  We all live, move, and are  grounded in God.  God comes to us through one another.  A happy, loving marriage is not the special preserve of believers, Christians, or any other faith tradition.  I have more recently been conscious that it is important to not be self –righteous or think that God has given me or Christians something special.  A special knowledge.  If anything, one of the premiere points of Jesus ministry and message to the Jews was just the opposite.  He was always talking about how he found greater faith outside the Jewish tradition. There are many examples. A few include the story of the Good Samaritan,  the Samaritan woman at the well, the wise men who came from outside Israel to honor Jesus at his birth, Paul’s transformation of Christianity from a Jewish sect to a religion for all.  As the sun shines on all people, so too does God’s love.   Clearly God acts and seeks to draw all no matter their ethnicity or religious tradition to Her love.  Nonetheless, I know the power of the sacrament.  I have experienced how when I call upon the Lord, he keeps me true to my vow, removes impediments, distractions, temptations.

Thomas Aquinas discusses our concupiscible desires.   Aquinas baptized Aristotle who stated that we are animals.  We share an animal nature with sexual desires that are good and purposeful.  All desires are a yearning for the good.  According to Aquinas, all choices we make are for a perceived good.  The perceived good may be contrary to the real good which is ultimately choosing God.  While desires are  in themselves  good,  they may be misdirected  by us and end up weighing  us down.  They can be stirred up and perhaps form habits that lead to an addiction.  Some people live their lives on this level.  They enjoy the pleasure of such stimulations even though it makes them crazy and can lead to sin.   On the other hand, the grace of the sacrament or making conscious contact with God will help integrate our desires in a healthy and wholesome manner that aligns us with what is good, loving, and pure.  This example is only one among many of the ways Jesus calls me to be the face of love for Kathleen from moment to moment.  It is God’s will that we love and love in a special more intense way within married life.  At the end of the day, such love is incarnated and realized in how we treat one another.  Acting out of love  is  how we worship and honor the Lord and walk in Her way.

As Jesus asks us to come and follow him,  married couples are called to be of one heart and one mind as we seek to walk with the Lord in His way of love.  May we not refuse anything that He asks of us.  We may tend to complicate the discernment of the way of the Lord.   Aquinas can be boiled down to saying that God simply wants us to love one another.  St Augustine said “ Love and Do What You Will.”  Yet, we cannot be faithful to that call without His help and grace.  Whether known or not, God may be helping us, atheists, and agnostics to live in His love and reveal His love.

Lord, may we be obedient to the call that you have given us.  As we walk together through life,  may we see your face in each other and in others.  May we see your love revealed and reveal it.   As we seek to do your will in all that we do, may all our actions be worship.  May we as a married couples be a light for others in our shadowy existence.  May we hear your call to “ Come, Follow Me” and refuse not anything that you ask us to do.

Humble Water

December 18, 2014 at 10:12 pm

Kathleen and I arrived in the US last week to celebrate Christmas. The contrasts to India are always stark. The streets are quiet as there is no honking. The sun disappears behind overcast skies.   AND you can use water right out of the tap! Kathleen and I enjoyed dinner with Jim and Dianne Gardner at Basil in the Short North a few nights ago. As we sat at our table, I marveled at the crystal clear water sitting in a glass on our table. It shone. I thought how amazing it was and appreciated the clarity, beauty and the gift of a simple, humble glass of water. I did not think about all the work, cooperation, good governance, and engineering that brought it to our table.

Today on the radio, I heard a professor from OSU talk about urbanization in the US in the late 19th and early 20th century. It sounded much like the India I see every day. In India, there is a mass movement from rural areas to the cities much like the movement of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe to the US over a 100 years ago. He highlighted how our cities were overwhelmed. There was not sufficient housing stock or infrastructure to handle the inundation of people. People lived in substandard housing. Our thoughtful ancestors, however, managed to address the issues that they faced. He highlighted how the progressives of the time figured out how to put in the place the infrastructure to handle sanitation, needs for water, and also policies to enhance public health. What we take for granted and assume, these folks created. He described going to one of his favorite markets in Cleveland that dates to 1910 where 20 different kinds of sausages are sold. The marketplace has tiled floors first put in place at that time so that every day they can be hosed down in order to avoid the challenges that rotting food might generate.   His report helped me to realize that 100+ years ago we faced the same challenges that countries like India face now.   So often it is easy to bad mouth government and its fallibilities. Apparently our government once functioned effectively to put in place infrastructure that is essential to our quality of life 100 years later.  What can we do today that will enhance the lives of our descendants in the next century?

Life in the Face of Death

November 2, 2014 at 5:56 am

7 Camels.  20 Swami’s dressed in black carrying bundles of clothes on their heads, 3 burros, 3 wandering cows and a handful of beggars.  All part of a 30 minute drive forth and back from church this morning on All Soul’s Day.

The Church in India faithfully observes many of the devotions of the Church.  On All Soul’s Day, rosaries and masses are celebrated at the Catholic cemeteries in remembrance of those who have gone before us.  The Mass this morning included a long list of  departed family members for whom we prayed that God’s perpetual light might shine upon them.

Fr Pakieraj SJ shared many insights that emphasized how an understanding and awareness of our mortality can sharpen our experience of life.  We will live more fully and purposefully.  He mentioned with a smile visiting a local cemetery on All Souls Day that has an archway over the entrance that says:  Today for Them Tomorrow for You.

He also described  the mourning and grieving that he sees there including a spouse crying as she threw flowers on her husband’s grave.  How much better, he suggested, that we express such affection to our family members before they depart this life.   At the end of Mass, he sent us home with a homework assignment to sit with each other and quietly appreciate the other and the gift of our lives to one another.

He also mentioned the Jesuit spiritual exercise from the time of Ignatius where you use your imagination as you  lie down and imagine yourself as dead.  First, you lose the power to use your limbs, then hearing, sight, smell and taste disappear.  Your heart stops.  Then after 15 or 30 minutes, you wake up and are restored asking the Lord:  “  How will I use my life for you?  How will I use my lips, my tongue, my eyes, my feet for you?”

He also told the story of a woman recently hung in Iran for murdering a man who she said attempted to “violate her modesty.”  After enduring 7 years of jail and  trials in the court system, she wrote a note to her mother asking her to beg the courts to donate anonymously all of her organs to those in need.  A Muslim, she also wrote her mother that the judge, the attorney, the false witnesses would all be held accountable on that day that they appear before the Lord as she and  her mother would stand together in her innocence.

He used that story as a platform to emphasize our Christian belief that one day  like the Muslim woman and her mother we will all be together with Jesus and our loved ones in the afterlife.  In the meantime, he prayed that we might have a fantastic journey with Jesus in this life.

He also mentioned the Buddhist emphasis on the temporary nature of our existence; but he said, our life on earth is like blowing out a candle that lights the night but is no longer needed as the dawn of everlasting life with God breaks.  Death is no more than blowing out a candle that we no longer need in the Bright Light of our birth into heaven.

Let us remember in prayer our departed loved ones and heroes  this day who held candles for us to illuminate our lives and show us the way. Parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles, priests, nuns, teachers, good friends.

 

Bird’s Nest in My Hair

November 2, 2014 at 5:52 am

A Hallow Eve reading From Courage to Change:

“Fear can become a power greater than myself.

I may not be able to make it go away.

But today, with a Higher Power who is greater than my fears, I don’t have to let them run my life or make my choices for me.

I can grab hold of my Higher Power’s hand, face my fears, and move through them.

Today instead of seeking relief from fear by trying to do battle with it, I will turn to my Higher Power.”

Some say that our brains are hard wired to expect the worst and be fearful.  As humans evolved, this instinctual fear enabled us to be alert and survive.  Some call it our “monkey brain.”   On top of this inclination, our life experience will give us more reason to be afraid.  As I experienced various dislocations and job changes over the course of my life,  fear became my dominant emotion and  likely ran my life from time to time.

Fear also creeps in ways that I do not even notice.  How often do I fear what other people think?  How many choices do I make so that I am accepted by others?  What items do I purchase?  What do I say or not say?  And doesn’t it all go back to the need to survive and perhaps listening to my monkey brain?

Rarely is life so stark or black and white.   I generally also had the habit of looking to The Higher Power, making conscious contact, and seeking guidance.  Yet,  I am sure that Fear frequently made it difficult for me to choose the better course or the higher good.

I know that at times I was aware of my fear, acknowledged it, saw it as a positive motivator, and followed its lead so that I and the family could be safe and secure.  Is this all bad?  As St. Paul says, “ All things work together for good for those who trust God.”    While being inordinately afraid is not good, fear is a god given emotion that in itself is not bad.

Of this I am certain,  there is much ambiguity and uncertainty in life.  John Dunne CSC encouraged  embracing understanding with your heart as opposed to thinking that you will find certainty with discursive reasoning.  Dunne is likely on to something there.  Even so, for me  trying to follow path of the heart’s desire does not erase the fog of decision making or guarantee that fear will not run my life.   Perhaps our hearts need a purity that is difficult to possess in this life of shadows, darkness and compromise?  Perhaps the path includes earthquakes, mud slides, and avalanches if we choose the wrong fork in the road?  Is there a wrong fork for those who seek  to choose in the light of truth?  Or may we think that we are on the path of our heart’s desire leading to God, but are not?

In the end, we may be in a bit of a fog from time to  time which forces us to recognize our need for God and our dependence on Her to help us find our way. For the past few weeks, I have been reading daily the following four quotes of Mother Teresa:

“If we really fully belong to God, then we must be at His disposal and we must trust in Him.  We must never be preoccupied with the future.  There is no reason to be so.  God is there.”

“Yesterday is gone.  Tomorrow has not yet come.  We have only today.  Let us begin.”

“Don’t search for God in far lands—He is not there.  He is close to you. He is with you.  Just keep the lamp burning and you will always see Him.  Watch and pray.  KEEP KINDLING THE LAMP AND YOU WILL SEE HIS LOVE AND YOU WILL SEE HOW SWEET IS THE LORD YOU LOVE.”

“Today more than ever, we NEED TO PRAY for the LIGHT to know the will of God, for the LOVE to accept the will of God, for THE WAY to do the will of God.”

Living in the present moment, let us rest in God’s love in which we all swim.  May we see that we live and move and have our being in God.  We are grounded in Her Love.  It is very likely that we are free to choose our way and the Lord will bless our choices as we move toward fuller and deeper union with God.    Lord:  Reveal your love and mercy to us this day.  Let us know the Love that casts out all fear. Enable us to rest in your love.  Help us to “Be Not Afraid.”  May You rather than Fear be our Higher Power.

“That the birds of worry and care fly above your head, this you cannot change.  But that they build nests in your hair, this you can prevent.”

  • Chinese Proverb