Sunday, February 28, 2016

It's the End of the World As We Know It

The political primary season is well underway.  I don't intend to use this post to talk politics specifically.  However, in watching and listening to the candidates, I've come to the conclusion that it's time to give up on our politicians.  Let me elaborate slightly before getting to the real point of this post.  I've had inklings lately that our culture is in decline.  If you want to read something interesting along those lines, check out this article.  I see a lot of parallels between things going on in America right now and what was going on in Israel in the times of Jesus (minus the being occupied by a foreign power, of course).  Certainly I think there's a general lack of concern for the less fortunate in our society.  Individualism is getting to the point that what the individual wants takes precedence to the exclusion of other people.  Screw everyone else as long as I got mine.

Which gets me to the point of this post.  I've just finished reading the majority of The Joy of the Gospel by Pope Francis for my Orientation to Theology course.  I HIGHLY recommend reading this book/encyclical whether you're Catholic/Christian or not.  If you care about other people, you need to read this book.  Pope Francis talks about many things, but overall he really lays out the Catholic position on social justice with a focus on helping the poor.  In it, he really nails the problems and malaise with our society (American and global).  I'm sure you've heard about parts of it.  This is the document that states trickle down economics is a fallacy with no proof that it works.  It challenges the notion that growing the economy at all costs results in prosperity for everyone.

And it goes much further than that.  It discusses the rise of a materialistic society and cult of individualism and moral relativism.  He calls everyone to action to stop thinking only of ourselves and think about how we can help others.  He talks about how we are stewards of our resources and should use them to further peace, justice, and elevating the poor.  He talks about how we should not be producing goods purely for profit but for the benefit of humanity.  He's not saying accumulation of wealth is bad, only the unbridled quest for wealth at the cost of others.

There was so much in there that I'm going to need to go back and read it several more times to really absorb it all.  It just blew my mind on the first read.  All the while I was thinking our politicians need to read this and really absorb it.  What a different world we would live in.  Pope Francis even said that being a politician is one of the noblest pursuits, assuming, of course, that you're in politics to improve the lives of your fellow citizens.

I'll need to keep coming back to this book as I go through diaconate formation to see how this might affect my ministry.  Social justice issues have always been of interest to me.  Call it my innate sense of fairness, but I've always had empathy for those less fortunate than me.  The Joy of the Gospel is a call to action to do something to help those less fortunate and build a better society.  Even if  you're not Catholic, you can learn something from him.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

It's Sunday I'm in Love

Today being Valentine's Day, I thought I would reflect a little on my relationship with my wife.  Although many of you probably know the story, I'll recap.  Ellen and I met our freshman year in high school.  We were in the same homeroom since both our last names began with the letter F.  She sat in the row to the right of me a few seats up.  I won't claim it was love at first sight, since it wasn't.  Honestly, we were just two kids in the same homeroom.  I got to know her through a mutual friend.  In band, I played baritone sax and sat next to a clarinetist with whom I became friends (shout out to my buddy Roz!).  I began hanging out with her friends and Ellen was a part of that group.

However, I never honestly considered dating her until junior year.  Apparently, she thought I was kind of cute (a fact of which I was COMPLETELY oblivious at the time).  We dated through the rest of high school for the most part and went to our junior prom and senior ball together.  However, by the end of high school we decided to break it off as we were going to different colleges (although both of us were local).  That lasted through the summer and until about the middle of September.

We still talked to each other throughout that time and in September I needed a date to the Marine Corp birthday party as I was part of the ROTC unit at the time.  Since I didn't have a lady friend, I invited Ellen.  We realized that night that we still liked each other and that we should get back together.  And the rest, so to speak is history.  About a year or so later, I realized I really wasn't interested in other women and that I was truly madly in love with this woman.  I eventually proposed to her and we were married in 1989.  And I've been a happily married man ever since.  I'm still madly in love with my wife and can't imagine life with another woman.

So, what is the point in my story?  People have asked my our "secret" to staying married over 25 years.  Before I answer, I'll move to the real reason for this post.  And that's a reflection on marriage.  I've come to believe over the years that one of the causes of the issues facing our society are due to the breakdown in marriage.  I'm not going to get into the debate on what "marriage" is in the legal sense.  What I'm talking about is the divorce rate in this country.  It's over 50%.  Marriage has become disposable, like a car or a home.  You really liked your car when you bought it, but now it just doesn't satisfy you.  So it's time to trade it in for a new one.

Except marriage isn't supposed to work that way.  We've lost our sense of marriage as sacramental.  That marriage is a union that should not be lightly entered into or lightly broken.  We've lost that understanding that marriage is a hard thing that requires work on the part of both people in the relationship.  Marriage isn't that romantic, happy ever after, found my soul mate and life is perfect kind of thing that is sold to us by our culture.  So what is marriage?  I really believe marriage is the union of two people into something greater than they are.  Marriage is a sacrament where two people become one.  I also believe that a marriage is really between three people: the couple and God.

Scripture is very clear that when people marry, they are no longer two but one.  And like all areas of our lives, we need God to bless it and help us to be successful.  And if you ask me the secret to how my wife and I have made it this far, I would tell you it's because we realize that we need God in our marriage to help us work through all of the issues that come up in life and in a relationship.  Part of it too is that we're committed to making this marriage work.  We went into it with the idea that we're in it for the long haul.  And we rely on the grace of God to help us get there.

Sure, there are lots of practical reasons we're still together.  I won't speak for my wife, but one of the reasons I think we've gone this long is because, at the end of the day, I'm still madly crazy about her.  We've fought, been angry with each other, didn't talk, and you name it.  But then I look at her and can't stay mad for very long.  Even after over 30 years together, I find her to be the most beautiful woman I know.  I wake up in the morning and marvel that God has blessed me to have this amazing woman in my life.  I thank God for her every day.

I think another reason we've been together so long is that we're genuine with each other.  By that, I mean that we're honest with each other and don't pretend to be what we're not.  Be both respect each other for what we have in common and what we don't.  And we support each other, even if it's something we may not be completely interested in.  And we can disagree with each other without thinking the other is wrong or being unsupportive.

At the end of the day, I think what has kept us together is that we both try and take care of the other. Paul was very clear in his epistles that spouses should put the interests of the other above their own.  That they should be subordinate to each other.  I think when we put the welfare of our spouse first, it allows us to love each other more deeply and makes it easy to stay together for so long.  It's not an easy thing and certainly a process, but it's one we've gone through together.

So Happy Valentine's Day to my wonderful wife.  I think she knows how much I love her, since I tell her often.  And I think she knows I mean it.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

We're Not Worthy

This weekend's Mass readings included one of my favorites.  It's the story of the call of Peter.  Jesus is teaching by the sea in a boat.  Afterwards, He tells Peter to go out and lower his nets for a catch.  Peter tells Jesus that they were out all night and didn't catch anything.  But, because Jesus insisted, Peter goes out and lowers the nets.  He catches so many fish it takes 2 boats to bring in the catch and the two boats almost sink.  Peter reaches the shore and tells Jesus to leave him because he is a sinful man.  Peter recognized he wasn't worthy to be in the presence of Jesus.  And what does Jesus do?  He tells Peter that He wants Peter to follow Him.  And, to top it all off, Jesus makes this scared, unworthy man the head of His church.

I love the story of Peter and his association with Jesus before the Crucifixion.  Peter tries so hard to do things right.  And he keeps screwing it up.  He eventually denies even knowing Jesus.  And yet, Jesus picks this seemingly most unworthy person to be a leader.

Peter's story resonates with me because there are many times that I feel unworthy of the blessings and graces the Lord gives me.  Who am I that God would do so much for me when I don't always do enough for Him?  And yet, that's the love that God has for us.  That even though we always fall short, we're forgiven.  God picks us up, dusts us off, pats us on the head and seeming says "Keep working at it and try to get better."  Peter is my model for that.  The way I look at it, if Jesus trusts a man like Peter to take care of His flock, then there's hope for us all.

Before the most recent change to the English version of the Mass, just before communion we used to say (and I actually still say) "Lord, I'm not worthy to receive you.  But only say the word and I shall be healed".  I firmly believe this is an essence of the Catholic faith.  Even though we're not worthy, God sent His Son who died on a cross for us to forgive our sins.  Jesus could have walked away from that destiny.  But He chose to do it despite the cost.  Think about the depth of love that must be.  Who among us would die a horrible death for people we don't know that probably don't like us anyway.  And yet He did.

Lord, I'm not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.  And, for the most part, I feel healed.  Thank you Lord.