Sunday, August 21, 2016

Week of August 14

This week has been a reminder to stay in the moment and not worry overly much about the future.  It was a week filled with music rehearsals for upcoming Masses and events.  I went into the week a little overwhelmed and feeling that I may have over extended myself.  However, once we actually began a rehearsal, things were much more relaxed and some of the anxiety went away.  It was particularly rewarding to work with Mike and Doug again.  Besides being excellent musicians, they're great people that I don't want to lose touch with.

Rehearsal with the choir was also very rewarding.  It was a mixed group from all the St. Pius musical groups so it was great to work with people I hadn't played with in a while.  Also, working with the choir is far more relaxing as the only expectation is that I play the music.  With no planning needed, it's far less stressful.  Planning music and dealing with issues within the group still is a source of anxiety that makes me wonder how much longer I can do it.  Couple that with trying to work with a rock band and I again wonder if I've over extended myself.

We had a blessing in getting tickets to see the Bills/Giants game in the suite owned by Ellen's employer.  While work intruded into part of the game, just being able to get away and enjoy being there and in the moment was a blessing.  I have a habit of worrying about the future so I need to remember to enjoy what is going on now.

Classes start up again this week.  I'm looking forward to it but the work that will be involved on top of everything else I have going on may make things feel like too much.  This coming week I have something going on every night and it's all music or school related.  However, I still feel relatively at peace.  I'm trying to trust in God and pray each day for faith, peace and trust.

I've been trying to take Fr. Paul's advice concerning prayer.  Along with this journal, I'm trying to spend some prayer time listening instead of going through my list of intentions.  I'm not sure what, if anything, to expect, but I know that insight has come to me in the past when I stop thinking about things too much and just quiet my mind.  It tends to wander where it will and can give me good insight.  I believe that is when the Spirit is speaking to me.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Week of August 7

One of my struggles this week was of trust.  Trust that God will take care of me.  Trust that I'm doing the right things.  I'm not sure exactly what caused me to worry, but it really brought me down.  It was one of the usual things, financial.  Overall, God has taken care of me but lately it seems like we're getting hit with large expenses.  It doesn't help that I felt we shouldn't have taken the vacation that we did.  While it was enjoyable and we all loved the experience, I sometimes feel that we would have been better off keeping the money available in case we need it.

And this feels like the root of my lack of trust.  I keep saying that everything that happens to me is part of God's plan.  I believe He put me in my last job to remind me that money isn't everything.  I'm now doing work I really enjoy, but the difference in pay is significant.  It's hard sometimes to trust that God is still looking out for us and can take a little and turn it into a lot.  Or make sure that the jar never runs dry.

Part also may be feeling a little overwhelmed with commitments.  I believe I'm called to music ministry.  But I've committed to a few other Masses outside of the usual ones and it is shaking my confidence to deliver.  I always want to do the best I can but feel like sometimes the load is on me to make sure it all comes together.  Planning the music, playing referee between the musicians and staff, an upcoming event cantoring for the Bishop.  That has me quite nervous.  When I agreed to do it, I didn't know the Bishop would be celebrating Mass that evening.  If I had, I might not have agreed.  Now it's a little more than a week to go and I don't know the music and am not sure there will be time to rehearse it.

Again, where is my trust?  Every other time I've played, it's all gone well.  Any mistakes are minor.  But I can't shake feeling that something will go horribly wrong.

Mass helped a lot today.  We had a visiting priest who at that beginning of Mass told us to lay all of our troubles, concerns, and fears on the altar and give it to God.  I tried to do that.  I did bring me a measure of peace today.  Although reflecting on it again does bring back some of the trepidation.  I need to try to let go of the worry and fear and try to make wise decisions.  I also need to focus on doing whatever I do (work or ministry) well and in the service of others.  Not an easy thing but I need to just keep going forward.

It's hard to think of my blessings this week beyond the usual.  I'm always grateful for Ellen and her presence in my life.  I'm grateful for friends and family and the people I get to work with and play music with.  I know I need to get to confession so perhaps it's time to reflect more deeply on that and just go.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Spiritual Formation

One of the requirements of deacon candidates in our diocese is to have a spiritual director.  This is someone you meet with to give you guidance on your spiritual path.  It's something I've never actually done before (have a spiritual adviser, that is) and I asked our pastor if he would be mine.  We met for the first time this past week.

We discussed many things, including what I'm looking for from an adviser.  I honestly didn't know as I'd never done it before and said so.  One of my classes this semester is Spiritual Formation so I was hoping between that classes and meeting with our pastor I'd get a clearer sense of what I wanted out of it.  When we discussed my prayer life, he'd asked if I'd done any spiritual journaling and I admitted I really hadn't.  I've used this blog to perhaps take some tentative steps in that direction, but as you can see, I haven't done so regularly.  He said I should give it a try and to make the time at whatever periodicity I thought best, daily, weekly, etc.  So, for now, I thought I would give it a try here weekly and see where it goes.  I don't know if a spiritual journal should be public or not and at some point if I continue I may go offline with it if I feel it's getting to personal.  But, who knows, perhaps by chronicling my journey, someone else may be inspired to do so as well.  You never know what God will grow out of the seeds we plant.

So, this week, there seemed to be a theme that hit me that I think I need to explore more deeply.  When I was discussing what it meant to be a deacon with my pastor, he reminded me that beyond the ministerial role of a deacon (serving at mass, weddings, baptisms, funerals, etc), there is an evangelical side to being a deacon.  St. Stephen, one of the first deacons, was stoned to death for proclaiming the Gospel and enraging the religious leaders of his time with his "blasphemy".  Later in the week, I was listening to a Catholic podcast that talked about the "new evangelization" and proclaiming the Gospel in our modern world.

It seemed to me that God was trying to tell me something about that.  I've always believed in living the Gospel as best I can and being an example to others.  I've said before the best way to preach the faith is to live it genuinely.  But should I be doing more?  I know there was at least one occasion that I saw a Facebook post that was critical of Christians in general and I thought I should say something but didn't. I don't recall the exact post but it was along the lines of mocking Christian belief as being for the simple or uneducated.

I also read an interesting piece by Bishop Fulton Sheen from his weekly television program for the 60's called "A Life Worth Living".  It was about tolerance.  I'm sure I'll get it wrong, but the essence is that we tolerate what is evil, or at least not good.  We would never say we tolerate something good, we celebrate good things.  But if we tolerate something, that means we in some way to not agree with what we are tolerating.  At it's heart, it gets to the definition of Truth.  There can only be one Truth, and Catholics believe that Truth is found in the teachings of the Church.

So where am I going with this?  There's so much discussion in our world today about tolerance.  We need to be tolerant of other opinions, lifestyles, etc.  And yet, by definition, being tolerant means that we don't agree in some way.  We don't tolerate the Truth because the Truth is our yardstick for measuring our lives and how we should live it.  There's so much division in our society these days.  Is it because we tolerate too much?  Much has been said and written about relative morality in our society.  I'm firmly convinced that our times are much like the times that Jesus walked the earth.  I think we need to turn back to God and focus on what Jesus taught us to make this world a better place.

I'll finish by stating some things I'm thankful for this week.  I'm definitely thankful for my friends.  I had a chance to be with my group of high school friends when one of them got married this weekend.  It was wonderful to see the joy in her face.  And it was great catching up with and seeing people I've know since I was 14.  I'm also thankful for my family.  Nick's graduation party was this weekend and from the little to the big the were a blessing in making the day just right.  I'm also thankful for the gifts God has given my and was reminded today to make sure I nurture and use my gifts in the service of others, not just for myself.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

So there has been some drama in my life this week.  Before you jump to conclusions based on the post title and that previous sentence, it was BAND drama.  At home there's only the usual household drama.  Long and short of it, then band decided it was time to part ways with our singer.  And it didn't go well, which we knew it wouldn't.  We knew we it should have been a face to face conversation, but we also knew there would be, you know, DRAMA.  So one of the guys agreed to call our singer.  Who didn't get back to him after several voice mails.  So he (dum dum dum!) did it via email.  I can hear you groaning through the screen.

We really wanted this to be amicable split.  On our part, there was nothing personal in the decision.  We had a great singer with connections in the music scene who we got along with.  Why, then, did we part ways?  Because we weren't on the same page as to what it would take to be polished as a band.  The instrumentalists felt weekly rehearsals were a requirement to becoming a great band.  EVERYONE rehearsing.  Our singer felt as long as everyone did their "homework" we could get together less frequently and be ok.  The final straw was an email at 10 pm the evening before our scheduled rehearsal stating they couldn't make it because they wanted to go to a performance a friend put together.  Oh, and that they couldn't make the next 2 rehearsals as well.  But we'd have like 2 rehearsals before the next gig so we'd be fine.  I'll let you draw your own conclusions.

The bottom line is that our singer's level of commitment was not the same as the rest of the band.  So, what is my point with this?  Am I just venting or airing my dirty laundry?  Actually, no.  It occurred to me today that this is a good metaphor for this past Sunday's Gospel (which you can find here if you care to read it).  This Gospel reading always confused me a little.  Jesus tries to teach us about priorities.  I believe He does so in sort of an odd way.  People come to Him and say they'll follow Him, but first they need to do something.  One needs to bury his father, another wants to say goodbye to his family.  To yet another, he seems frustrated and says "Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head."

So what is Jesus really trying to say?  Jesus is questioning their level of commitment to Him (see how I tied that together?).  For those of us that profess to be Catholics and Christians, what really is our level of commitment?  Is Jesus at the top of our list?  Or do we thing we can just "show up" when it's convenient and nothing better is going on?  Can we really help build the Kingdom of God with minimal effort or on our own?  The obvious answer is no.  For a band to be successful, they need to rehearse together regularly so they get to know each other and even anticipate what the rest of the band is going to do next.  When a band is tight, just a glance will clue the rest in about what you're going to do next.

So too, I believe, with being a follower of Jesus.  You practice your faith in small and big ways every day, pray often, go to Mass weekly, take opportunities to give back your time, talent, and treasure.  After a while, it becomes easy to know what God is calling you to do.  Bringing about the Kingdom of God starts to become second nature.

We have so many distractions in life.  Things we'd rather do.  Obligations we place upon ourselves.  Our children have activities we need to take them to, we work, volunteer, try to find time for friends and family.  Where is the time for God?  If Jesus asks us to follow Him, would we be willing to drop everything, as the disciples did, and just go?  Or would we say, "oh, let me tie up this loose end and them I'm good to go"?  I wish I could answer the same way as the disciples did, but it's not so easy.  I keep saying I'll need to let some things go in order to follow the path to being a deacon.  Yet I haven't given up much at all so far.  That's something I'll need to continue to reflect on and discern.  Am I really ready to let the dead bury their dead and follow Jesus?

Sunday, June 12, 2016

On Love and Hate

So, as a preface, I'm starting to find that cycling is a great way to do contemplative prayer and mull over ideas in my head.  Last couple of rides have given me enough internal quietness to let the Spirit speak and to let things bounce around in my head.

Today's ruminations were about the tragedy in Orlando.  I was thinking less about the details and more about the cause.  The conversation started with my youngest before I hit the road and continued in my brain as I rode.  There are several reasons this tragedy happened but I think it all boils down to one word: hate.  Hate for people that are different.  Hate for people that don't meet our preconceptions.  Hate for people that don't share our values.

Why?  Why did someone hate these people enough to take their lives?  What did any of them do to the shooter?  For that matter, what did they do to anyone?  What makes the existence of people that are different (gay, straight, or whatever) a threat to anyone?  I've never understood blind hatred of a group of any sort.  I'll be honest and say I've met people I don't like.  I'm not sure I ever really "hated" anyone, but definitely didn't like.  However, that was an individual assessment.  I didn't, by extension, not like anyone else that has some characteristic that person had.  I've always judged people as individuals.

I'm firmly convinced that hatred is the work of Satan.  It's that voice inside someone that justifies all kinds of terrible things in the name of righteous anger.  You know what that is.  It's the anger you think you're justified to feel for whatever reason.  You're in the right, others are in the wrong, and it's perfectly acceptable to be upset that your righteousness has been offended.  We've all felt it.  I know I have.  But righteous anger is an oxymoron.  Anger is never right.  Neither is hate.  And the first leads to the other.  That's how Satan tricks us.  Believing that our own righteousness is reason enough for our actions.

So what's the answer?  Well, the obvious answer is love.  The Beatles told us that back in the 60's, right?  Sounds easy, doesn't it?  Well, maybe not.  However, it's what God calls us to do.  It struck me that today's readings (for you non Catholics, if you're interested you can find them here) are a good contrast to the hatred shown in Orlando.  In the Gospel story, a "sinful" woman bathes Jesus' feet with her tears, dries them with her hair, and anoints His feet with ointment.  Why did she do this?  Well, first, out of faith in the mercy of God.  She was truly sorry for her sins and desired the mercy of God.  Her way of showing this need for mercy was to humble herself before Jesus.

Which ties into the second part.  She humbled herself out of love for Jesus and God.  This act of love and desire for mercy resulted in her being forgiven.  In her day, this woman was shunned by the community for being a "sinner".  She was the other.  Did Jesus condemn her like everyone else would have?  No, Jesus loved her and forgave her.  Jesus did not get on his high horse and use "righteous indignation" or anger to cast her our.  Jesus showed us that we need to love those that are different or don't meet our expectations.

Let's face it, we're all sinners.  On our own and by our own actions, we can never be worthy of salvation.  The New Testament is clear that you can't get to heaven by just doing good works and following "the rules".  Only God's grace and mercy allow us to get into heaven.  And how do we receive this grace and mercy?  By loving others.  By confessing our sins and being truly repentant.  By trying every day to live by the example that Jesus set.  By not judging others who do not walk the same path that we do.

As Christians, we're called to live our lives using Jesus as our example.  To be a light for others.  To lead others to God by lighting the way and illuminating the path.  It's not our job to force others to follow us or condemn those that choose a different path.  We plant seeds and we leave the rest to God.  This is what we do by loving others.  We shine God's light to the world in the hope that others will see the path to eternal life.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

For Those Who Wait

I posted a while back about my struggles as a musician, both as a hobby and as a music minister.  Since then, I’ve continued try and figure out just what it is I’m being called to do with music.  Basically trying to discern where the Lord is leading me.  I’m still not 100% sure (are we ever sure of God’s call?) but recent reflection has gotten me closer.  Since I now have a longer drive to and from work, I’ve gotten in the habit of listening to Catholic podcasts on my way home. 

One of the things they’ve reminded me is that God doesn’t always call us to do things that are easy.  Or things that we necessarily want to do.  Sometimes God is like a parent reminding us that we need to do certain things because they’re good for us.  We might not feel like brushing our teeth but cavities are way worse, right?  That’s kind of where I am with music.  There’s the good part (playing) and the hard part (planning, rehearsals, etc).  However, God doesn’t make us do hard things just to be tough on us or to “build character”.  God makes us stretch out of our comfort zones to prepare us to do something bigger.  He helps us learn and develop skills we’ll need for the things He needs us to do down the road.

So I’ve come to the realization, at least as it relates to music ministry, that I need to keep things going.  In fact, I probably need to step up my game a little.  I’ll be honest, I’ve been kind of like a kid doing everything possible to avoid doing something they don’t want to.  You know, like when you put off an assignment until the very moment because you really don’t want to do it?  That’s kind of been it.  I’ve been trying to find reasons to justify why I don’t want to do all the unpleasant parts of music ministry so I can just enjoy the part I like – playing.

But I’ve also realized that I can’t walk away from this ministry.  The last couple of Masses I’ve played, the genuine gratitude people have expressed to me and the group has reminded me why I do it and what the point of ministry is.  And if that means I need to put a little more in to it, then that’s what I need to do.  I need to remember that music ministry is not my work, but God’s work.  It’s not for me to worry about where it goes, who is part of the group, who can commit or not commit.  It’s my job to help put together the best musical product I can to enhance the worship of the people at Mass each time we play.  God can take care of the rest of it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Fear is the Mind Killer, Fear is the Little Death

I attended a seminar just around the time I was laid off last year that said fear is of Satan.  Meaning, Satan uses fear to paralyze us and lead us into sin.  Fear keeps us from trusting in God.  After all, if we truly believe that God will take care of us, what is there to fear?  In one of my favorite passages from the Bible, Jesus reminds us not to worry.  If God takes care of the birds and animals, how will He not care for us if we mean so much more to Him than they?

However, sometimes it's difficult to trust and not to fear.  For example, even though I landed very quickly in an amazing position after being laid off (thanks be to God!), the position isn't at the same salary as my old one.  While the work and being happy doing it is far more important than salary, it does mean my financial situation is different than last year.  And this is a big year for us.  One kid in college and another starting in the fall.  The youngest will be driving soon and we need to get him a car (he'll be commuting in the fall).  Additional insurance to go with that.  Top that off with some repairs (car and home) that need to be made and I'm feeling the strain.

Overall, I know we're good.  But back when the kids were small, we weren't in such a good position.  With 2 young children and day care expenses, we had 2 options: we both work and go slowly into debt or Ellen stays home with the kids and we go quickly into debt.  Guess which we chose?  We hoped that by the time the kids got older, we could pay off the debt.  It actually took Ellen's parents passing away to do it.  Since then, I've been kind of paranoid about not getting into that situation again.

Hence, the fear of not being able to keep up.  Therefore the need to relax and trust in God.  I know we're making smart decisions.  But fear can make you question what you're doing.  Which is why prayer is so important.  Giving the fear over to God to worry about for you is very freeing.  That's not to say you make poor decisions.  But giving your problems to God not only frees you, but it results in new blessings.  The story of the multiplications of the loaves and fishes is still relevant today.  We take what we have.  We give thanks to God for giving us what we have and offer it for others.  God then multiplies what little we have and does more with it than we could have imagined.  So that's what I try to do.  Give what I have to God and trust He'll figure out how to make it enough for me.