Let Go

[I wrote this back in 2013 and never posted it because it felt unfinished. Well, too bad. Here it goes….]

Nothing will shake a man-or at any rate a man like me-out of his merely verbal thinking and his merely notional beliefs. He has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses. Only great hardship will bring out the truth. Only under hardship does he discover it himself. ― C.S. Lewis

After I gave a talk on discerning one’s personal vocation the other day at a local high school, I was speaking to a young man I’ll call “John” about his personal journey of faith. He shared with me a really stirring story and so I asked him, of course, if I could share it with others for teaching purposes. He kindly agreed.

He loves to act in plays, is a sax player in a jazz band and wants to be a playwright one day. He was telling me he had tried out for a particular play last year that he was very excited about, but did not get the part he had really wanted. He said,

When I found out who got it, I was totally depressed and felt that the guy who got it just was not the best pick for that part. I knew I could do it SO much better. Yeah, it may have been true, but I knew it was pride talking. I was mad and took it personally.

I had prayed to God to help me get this part before the final selections were announced, but after’s a different story. I was so upset I just quit praying for a while. I was like, God if you’re gonna dis me I’m gonna dis you. One day, a girl friend of mine sent a text to me saying she was really sorry I didn’t get the part, that I deserved it more than so-and-so, and then totally trash-talked him. That made me feel bad for this dude and I just lost it. Ashamed of myself. I saw that my attitude was shallow. It wasn’t fair to him. He worked hard, he got it. Fair and square.

And then I prayed. I said something like, “God, whatever, ok, so look, I want what you want. If he’s the best man for this, so be it.” God and I were cool. It was a total God-thing. I was feeling 100% at peace. I’d just let go of it all and felt so much better. And then you know what happened? Freaking craziest thing ever. It almost spooked me. Like 20 minutes after I let go of it all, and God and I were good, I got a text from the play director saying: “John, because [the other guy] can’t make all the practices now, you get the part. Congratulations.” I was like FREAKING losing it! Are you kidding? I was so happy, major endorphin rush. But I knew right away: God, man, you made me wait till I could accept what-was-what before you’d give me what I wanted.

That’s how I saw it, at least. God is so cool. Yeah, it’s really a small thing in the scheme of things, but it was big to me.

Unheard of maturity for a 17 year old. He held in his hand one of the golden keys for discovering God’s will, the sine qua non of discernment. As I noted in my journal at the end of this story:

If you can’t see God’s will in the present moment, right where you’re standing, and embrace it then and there, you’ll never discover it for the future. You can’t receive it.

This is why in the Our Father, which is the model for all prayer, the first three petitions, all in the present tense, require an unconditional embrace of God’s will: “Thy Name be hallowed, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.” Only after saying “we accept” are we ready to ask-seek-knock for more in the last four petitions: “Give us, forgive us, lead us, deliver us.” Before I can receive tomorrow’s sacrament of divine Providence, I must first worthily receive the sacrament of the (real) Present Moment.

Many years ago when I was struggling to manage the grave responsibilities of my full-time graduate studies, full-time employment and full-time family, I fell into a rut and became obsessed with looking for an escape-hatch. I started quietly searching for other job opportunities and began to think about what kinds of jobs I could get if I quit school. In this fantasy, everything seemed so much better! I went to my spiritual advisor and shared with him my alternative plans, certain he’d see my impeccable logic. He listened patiently, and when I was done explaining my plans he said:

Tom, you already discerned this path you are on. Carefully. Your wife discerned it with you. There’s no more discernment. This is a temptation. We can discuss how to make the specifics more livable, get more support, trim out fat in your schedule, but bolting is not the answer. You’ve set your hands to the plow. No turning back. Once you know the path, your prayer is not: God, grant what I ask! Your prayer is: God, grant what you ask. Give me all I need to be faithful.

I wrote in my journal that night:

Damn! I hate when people pop my fantasy bubble. When he said that to me, it was like shingles fell off my eyes and I saw the temptation. Fear of the cross. Fear of commitment. Fear of success. Fear of failure. Fear of reality. Funny, counter-intuitive, but after he popped the bubble, instead of deflation I felt a rush of grace fill my soul to strengthen my commitment. Like Quikrete was poured in my soul and immediatly created a solid core. The grace I received did not say: “I freed your shoulders from the burden,” but “I strengthened your shoulders for the burden.” Whoa.

When it’s tough in the “now,” when Today offers me a bitter sacramental Host, my character’s mettle is really tested and laid bare. And it ain’t pretty! Thank you, Lord, for loving my mess and building my temple out of scraps and rubble.

Three years later, when I faced a final temptation to abandon the journey, God would re-infuse that same grace when my wife seized hold of my tie, looked me in the eyes and said: “You were made for this. Be a man.”

Grace in my face.

My grandfather wrote to me in a letter back in late 1987 after he’d heard I’d broken up with the girl I thought I would marry. Here’s a few snippets:

You have to be able to find peace within you and not rely on circumstances. Even in a war zone, your soul should be a sanctuary. If you can’t find peace here, now, inside, you’ll never find it anywhere. If you ain’t happy now, you ain’t never gonna be happy then …“Overcome space, and all we have left is Here. Overcome time, and all we have left is Now.”  … But you must choose this. God has made you Captain of your own destiny … “If only” is a declaration of defeat. If you don’t see opportunity where you are, in every moment, no matter what’s going on, you won’t ever see it … You only get to keep what you’re ready to give up. You can’t give what you don’t have and you can’t have what you aren’t ready to let go of. The tighter you squeeze water in your hands, the faster it drains away. You see, it’s all free, Tommy, and it’s all meant to stay free. You got to take it like it is … This is a secret to living from this old poetaster, gained from his almost 80 years of life. It’s up to you to take it or leave it.

Beginners, all of us

[re-post from 2015]

I know a priest in his late 70’s who gives retreats to nuns all over the world. He told me once about a retreat he gave at a convent in France, where he met a nun who was in her late 90’s. He said she was a very joyful woman, whose face betrayed her age. She enthusiastically thanked him for the retreat after his last talk. He said to her in reply, “Thank you, Sister, but did you really find the retreat helpful?” She said, “Oh yes, Father, I did.” Then he said to her, “At this point in your life, how would you describe your spiritual state?” She said, “Father, I’m just beginning.”

I told him, “I quit.”

The priest then offered me his fascinating interpretation of her answer. Here’s what I wrote later in my journal:

Tom, that’s the definition of being poor in spirit. She gets her vow of poverty. Man is a beggar who needs to ask God for everything. I thought at once of St. Catherine of Siena’s vision of Christ, who told her: “You are she-who-is-not; whereas I am He-who-is.” In other words, God is the cause of her existence, whereas He is the cause of His own existence. She depends on Him for every nanosecond of existence, He is self-subsistent Being. That blows your mind, doesn’t it?

You can never imagine yourself in the spiritual life to be some adept, or take an elitist stance that places you above others. Humility is the ground of everything. And humility is the most elusive of the virtues, because once you claim it, you’ve lost it. Every day we begin anew, utterly dependent on God for everything. St. Anselm prayed, “O Lord, do not withdraw from me, for if you would, by nightfall, I would be an unbeliever.” It’s said that St. Francis, at the end of his life, said to the friars, “Let us begin again, brothers. For up till now we have done little or nothing.”

When I was a new priest my first pastor, who was a wise old salt, said to me: “Remember, John, this parish belongs to Christ, not to you. So while you are here, make everything you do for the people about Him, for Him. Lead them to Him, bring Him to them, unite them around Him. Don’t build the parish around your personality. Build all to endure. If, when you leave, people think only of you, of your gifts and your greatness, they will always think less of your successor because he’s not you. And because it was, in the end, really all about you. If you think it all depends on you, you’ve failed. Christ can use anything or anyone to do His work, speak through a jackass [Numbers 22:30], so if you build on Christ, no matter what or who follows, the people will find Him. If it’s about you, it will all fall.”

Being poor means being free of burdens that should never be yours. So, Tom, every day begin by letting go of everything, everyone, all your successes and your failures, and return all of them to God. Mother Teresa got this: “Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” This way, success and failure will hold equal value, as God receives both as a worthy sacrifice and turns them to His good use.

The late Orthodox Bishop Anthony Bloom once wrote, “To pluck a flower means to take possession of it, and it also means to kill it. The obsession we have in our spiritual lives to possess, to be right, to be better, to turn everything toward ourselves, to manipulate God and others, to demand control over our spiritual progress, over the oscillations of consolation and desolation, or over the speed with which God eradicates our sins. This obsession kills the life of God within us, which demands poverty of spirit.”

St. John of the Cross, referring to God’s action of purifying this impatient need we have to control His work in us, captures this well:

Softened and humbled by spiritual dryness and hardships and by other temptations and trials in which God exercises the soul in the course of this [purifying night], individuals become meek toward God and themselves and also toward their neighbor. As a result they no longer become impatiently angry with themselves and their faults or with their neighbor’s faults. Neither are they displeased or disrespectfully impatient with God for not making them perfect quickly.

Lord, make me poor in spirit so your Kingdom might come in me. Amen.

Parenting advice

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Dear friends of ours, when they found out they were expecting their first child, asked Patti and me for parenting advice. Though I think there are tons of people far more qualified than I am to offer true wisdom, I acceded to their wish. What wisdom we do have on parenting we learned from God’s kindly light, from others or from our many mistakes. Patti also wrote them her advice, which I never saw. I’m sure it was far more practical than mine. Below is what I wrote. As my blogs go, it’s long! But if there’s anything useful here for new parents, I hope it does some good.

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Let everything take second place to our care of our children, our bringing them up to the discipline and instruction of the Lord. If from the beginning we teach them to love true wisdom, they will have greater wealth and glory than riches can provide. If a child learns a trade, or is highly educated for a lucrative profession, all this is nothing compared to the art of detachment from riches; if you want to make your child rich, teach him this. He is truly rich who does not desire great possessions, or surround himself with wealth, but who requires nothing. Don’t think that only monks need to learn the Bible; Children about to go our into the world stand in greater need of Scriptural knowledge. — St. John Chrysostom

Moral education entails asking of a child or a young person only those things that do not involve a disproportionate sacrifice, and demanding only a degree of effort that will not lead to resentment or coercion. Ordinarily this is done by proposing small steps that can be understood, accepted and appreciated, while including a proportionate sacrifice. Otherwise, by demanding too much, we gain nothing. Once the child is free of our authority, he or she may possibly cease to do good. — Pope Francis

“Thoughts on Raising Children.” I will limit myself to [twenty three], so I’ll actually give you something useful and won’t put off writing this until “that day” that will never come! There’s so much more to say. This is what came to me as I sat today. Have no illusions that we achieved them all! But we aspire to them all. Love you both. Cherish every day. Jesus is with you! Tom

  1. Remember your children aren’t yours, are not your possession, and you are neither the arbiter nor the judge of their worth or purpose or mission in this life. They are given by Him to you, entrusted to your care. Though you are given the dignity of being co-creators with God in bringing your child into being, once they exist your power over them is only that of shepherd and steward, a divine vicar who mediates and discerns for and with them. You must not manipulate their life’s unfolding under grace. Your main task is to help them learn, like the prophet Samuel, to hear the voice of God for themselves and be ready to consent to His will when they know what it is. So your primary posture toward your children is reverence and gratitude, holy fear and a readiness to reveal to them, as best you can, the Face of God each day in your own faces. Especially in your smiles.
  2. The greatest gift you can give your children is your marriage, which is meant to be for them a safe playground within which they can grow. Framed by stability, consistency, joy, faithfulness, affection, laughter, openness to life, generosity, hospitality, humility, forgiveness, adventure and diversified unity, this playground will allow them to feel safe enough to sprout, grow and bloom. Let them see a living model of what love looks like so they can internalize what is to be the grand narrative of human existence: The wonder-full drama of human and divine love!
  3. Order your home with rhythms of time and predictable patterns, within which spontaneity means something. Your home should know that balance between the given and unyielding structures of nature and the creative and spontaneous freedoms of grace. Too much rigid structure can stunt the unfolding of their playful uniqueness, while too much freedom can leave them without the safety of boundaries or the solid foundations of virtuous habits. Somewhere between tyranny and anarchy is charity. 🙂
  4. As spouses-become-parents, you are sacramentally consecrated as priests empowered to bless your children and intercede for them in their needs. Bless them every day, all their lives. Make it a bedtime routine every night, a brief ritual that will imprint itself in them as a gesture of care and tenderness. A sign of the cross on their foreheads with a brief formula that is your own, including the Trinitarian invocation, with a splash of holy water. Relentlessly pray and quietly sacrifice for them every day, especially in times of need, celebration or rites of passage.
  5. Teach them to pray. Have them memorize the traditional prayers from the earliest age. Encourage them to speak to God from their heart with intention (i.e. knowing they speak to God who loves them) from the first days they can speak. Never make prayer a punishment, never discipline them with anger during prayer, and make daily family prayer time short and sweet and consistent, though with a variety of forms. Give them a role in creating prayer forms as they mature. Use sacramentals as much as possible in prayer — candles, holy water, incense, holy images, relics, beads, etc. Soak their senses.
  6. Make Sundays special days of worship, catechesis, joy, fun, food, family. Develop Sunday traditions that set it apart, a special time of family leisure and celebration. We recommend “screen free Sundays” to protect face time: no electronic devices with screens all day, except for family movies or sports. Have Sunday Mass stand as a centerpiece of the day. Have a special meal, offer hospitality to others, visit a nursing home, play games, take trips to the park.
  7. Teach them to work, sacrifice and serve in (always) age-appropriate ways by giving them home responsibilities early on (i.e. chores). Though your witness as parents to a life of hard work and servant leadership is essential, challenging them from a young age to work and make sacrifices themselves, and put others first, is far more important. Can’t emphasize that enough! This links to the principle of subsidiarity, which, as you know, means that the life of a home is a work of shared governance as each takes his or her proper role in contributing to the common good of all. “Do your part.” Responsible care and use of their own possessions, as well as responsible care for common areas and things in the home, should be part of every stage of their growth in virtuous self-mastery. Social justice, and all the social virtues, are first learned at home.
  8. Let them know love for the poor, the sick and the needy. Make sure they are never far from those who suffer and help them develop, age appropriately, compassionate and merciful hearts. Keep close to the lowly and teach them to live simply.
  9. Oversee their friendships. Friendships are of extreme importance in the growth of children, and ensuring their friendships are healthy and compatible with your family culture is crucial. Get to know the familes of their friends and try to connect your families as much as possible, so they see friendships and family life form a natural unity. That said, don’t be overprotective helicopter parents that require perfect friends who will not challenge and stretch your children. Let them learn how to fight and reconcile, to deal with differences and learn the appropriate virtues for real life. For God’s sake, don’t try to protect them from all disappointments, mean and hurtful words, or the ups and downs of relationships. Strike a balance and let them learn some of life’s harder things for themselves. Bit by bit.
  10. Expose them to great art from the earliest age. Music, paintings, plays, musicals, movies. Encourage their love for painting, sculpting, drawing, singing, building. Get them into kinesthetic learning modes as often as possible. Sing with them and teach them to sing, to play instruments, to write poems and stories. Teach them to make beauty!
  11. Cultivate a love for reading. Read to them, teach them to love to read, especially literature that grows their moral and spiritual imagination. Let their imaginations run wild, without help from screens. Don’t moralize your children, browbeating them with moral lessons, but inspire them with stories of virtue and vice, sin and redemption. Let their consciences grow gradually and don’t expect too much altruism or impose a rigid code of moral rectitude at too young an age. If you press too hard, they may explode later in life. Let them experiment and learn in the playground of your family.
  12. Help them to see the beauty of the natural world by spending lots of time outdoors, exploring the mysteries and adventure and excitement and dangers of nature. Let them get dirty and muddy and wet. Teach them to fish, hunt, spot birds, explore the wild world and breathe the fresh air deeply. Let them feel cold and hot, rough and smooth, sharp and soft. Let them get stung and pricked and scraped knees. Let them be afraid of the thunder, awed by the wind and thrilled by the first snowflake.
  13. Have clear rules for technology. Don’t be afraid of teaching them how to live in a digital world, but have clear guidelines and keep to them. Don’t trust their online explorations for a long time — filter everything. Protect their imaginations when they are to be innocent, but help them face the dark images of life when it is time as they mature. Don’t leave them naive when they should not be. No phones until they absolutely need them. Stand strong, the pressure is fierce.
  14. Guard your speech. Create a language culture in your home that you would like them to imitate all their lives. Be especially wary about gossip, detraction and calumny. Don’t talk about your children in front of them, unless you feel they must hear what you say and would benefit from it.
  15. Yelling is a sign you have lost control. Avoid it at all costs, and work mightily to keep to serene, firm, immediate and consistent consequences. Talk is cheap, action works. Work hard as a couple to be on the same page for applying discipline to the children. You will differ, yes, and you will have to work on that always, but never let your children see you divided on essentials. Never disrespect your spouse in front of them, or let them disrespect your spouse. And unless you have agreed on it for some specific purpose, avoid the good-cop, bad-cop default roles, e.g. dad’s nice and easy on us, mom’s hard and mean. Kids pick up on that and exploit it, and tend to lose respect for parental authority when they see division. Though there tends to be the natural default in a marriage (one is better at discipline than the other), you must work hard to keep toward a happy medium and a united front.
  16. Practice forgiveness. Let your children see you forgiving each other, let them hear about people who forgive others, forgive them often and teach them how to forgive and reconcile. Be humble when you are wrong. Help them see that forgiveness is not overlooking wrongdoing, that it requires a change in the forgiven person, and that it is not a sign of weakness but of strength. Help them develop a healthy conscience that sees mercy as the predominant context of sin and failure. Let all this dynamic be the way in which they learn the meaning and value of monthly Confession. Have a family tradition of going to Confession, even before their first celebration of the Sacrament. Once they receive, have a post-Confession celebration every time — friends of ours called it “Prodigal Son” — that links the experience of forgiveness with the experience of joy.
  17. Teach them how to suffer and fail and sin. They say in my dad’s Russian church that the vocation of the priest and the parent is to teach their children to suffer well. The natural instinct of a parent is to protect their child from suffering and failure, and to a certain extent this is absolutely appropriate. But it must be balanced with your vocation to teach them how to suffer with grace and courage, how to offer their sufferings up to God for good, how to learn from suffering and to not be afraid of it (unless there is good reason to!). The best teacher is to allow as many of the natural consequences of their actions as possible to befall them, so they learn the world of cause-and-effect, personal responsibility and how to avoid bad decisions in the future. Natural bad consequences are often far better teachers than manufactured ones. You also have to teach them how to fail, how to accept failure and its consequences, to learn from these, grow and not be crushed by them. Start this lesson early, and cultivate, age appropriately, virtues like courage, humility, patience, longsuffering, perseverance. Teach them not how to sin, but how to recognize it, face it, repent of it, and rise up from it full of hope and joy. Help them to distinguish sin from weaknesses and imperfections, to avoid scrupulosity and obsessive guilt, and help them see it is really about relationships, and the greatest harm of sin is the damaging or destroying of a relationship and not simply the violation of a moral code. But know that process of growing a conscience is uneven and gradual, is Spirit-led art. So you need to beg the Spirit to guide you, as He alone is the true pedagogue of their soul.
  18. Talk about the faith openly and often, embrace your role as primary catechists and don’t default to allowing parish or school to do your work for you. Whether you choose to home school or not, what they learn from you is their most important source of faith formation. Talk about the Trinity, the Saints, and especially Mary, their patron saints and guardian angels. Teach them to pray for the dead, and visit graveyards so they know how to reverence the dead.
  19. Teach them to honor their mother and father by never allowing them to disrespect either of the two of you. Let them know that you guard each other’s honor, and will not stand for any dishonorable behavior. Honor your own parents openly and visibly. Never speak disrespectfully of your parents in front of them, or of any of their relatives. Though you may have to speak difficult truths to them about family now and again, always do so in charity and justice and respect. Teach them to intelligently honor all authorities in their life (e.g. teachers, priests), and never speak of these people with disrespect, even though, again, you may have to speak difficult truths about these people.
  20. Let them always know that they can tell you anything, no matter how bad or scary it is, and you will not respond with anger or outrage. Yes, you will have to respond to things that require a firm response, but you will never receive anything they tell you with a harsh or angry or punishing response. Always with love that is in their best interests.
  21. Every night when they go to bed, as they grow, let them talk freely. It may take patience and you will have to draw some boundaries of time, but they should feel that there is a designated time and space for sharing their inner lives and that you are interested in everything they say. Building trust from the beginning is the pearl of great price. And let me say, bedtime is a very opportune time to let them open up.
  22. Give them great memories that they can draw on all their lives, memories of a childhood and young adulthood that they can celebrate and laugh and cry over one day.
  23. As Dad, I say: mostly, have them listen to their Mom. “Behold your mother” (John 19:27).

Love them.

Bearing Baptismal fire

Parents and Godparents, this light is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly. This child of yours has been enlightened by Christ. She is to walk always as a child of the light. May she keep the flame of faith alive in her heart. When the Lord comes, may she go out to meet Him with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom. – Rite of Baptism for Children, §100

The Church does not dispense the sacrament of baptism in order to acquire for herself an increase in membership but in order to consecrate a human being to God and to communicate to that person the divine gift of birth from God. ― Hans Urs von Balthasar

A dear friend shared with me this absolutely remarkable music video by the very Catholic contemporary sacred music composer and performer, Audrey Assad.

The video, accompanied by the song, Be Thou My Vision, is an allegory of the perilous journey of life from baptismal innocence to eternal life. It is filled with rich symbols of faith, but the most prominent one is the “flame of faith” that is lit at baptism and entrusted to our parents/godparents when we are children, but then to us as adults.

The key, according to the baptismal rite, is to keep the flame burning throughout life. Life, however, is filled with innumerable distractions and threats to that flame; to the resolute journey toward the Kingdom of God in the Age to Come. Both colorful and dark threats confront God’s pilgrim people, as we are tempted by both seductive beauties and fearful horrors to abandon the Way that leads to life and allow the flame to dim and die.

Audrey reminds us, throughout this allegorical tale, that the most important element for “success” on the journey is prayer. Listen carefully to the song’s words that accompany the woman’s journey, addressed directly to God. Faithfulness is not possible apart from this divine-human colloquy of personal prayer. God wishes to walk with us along the Way, but always awaits our responsive opening to His offer; awaits our unfolding in prayer like flowers to the Sun above the canopy.

The woman’s final act before fully entering the spacious land of Paradise is to cast the fire, the whole of her life of faith, into the sacrificial Wood by which the whole cosmos was redeemed. “The Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done” (1 Cor. 3:13).

Watch when you have a free 4 minutes. Lyrics below.

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
naught be all else to me, save that thou art –
thou my best thought, by day or by night;
waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.

Be thou my wisdom, and thou my true word;
I ever with thee and thou with me, Lord.
Thou my great Father; I thy true son,
thou in me dwelling and I with thee, one.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise;
thou mine inheritance, now and always;
thou and thou only first in my heart,
high King of heaven, my treasure thou art.

High King of heaven, my victory won,
may I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heaven’s sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
still be my vision, O Ruler of all.

Mashley’s Silent Night, a capella, on a birthday

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↑ My motto as Maria continues to grow older ↑

Ashley and Maria released a new cover again! Silent Night.

“Lovely and haunting. Two thumbs up!” – Dad.

AND today is Maria’s birthday! 17. A young lady with a soul as sweet as her voice. No, sweeter. Some descriptors: joyful, faithful friend, lover of God, soft light, encouraging, fun(ny), smart, honest, humble, artsy, soulful, night owl, cool, a family’s delight, caring.

But the subtitle of her preschool yearbook picture sums her up best:

Beautiful Maria.

Eccentric thoughts on time-management

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This is an excerpt from an email I sent to a friend, who told me he was working on disciplining his family’s time management in 2016. You can see why so few people email me back a second time.

…Yes, time management.
A constant struggle for me! I get you.
My spiritual director years ago
handed me an ultimatum:
“You won’t make progress in your spiritual life, son,
if you don’t manage your time better.”
Whenever someone tells him they don’t have time to pray,
a minute or two of questioning them is all he needs to expose:
They do have time to pray, but they don’t manage their time, wasting, sloppy
with priorities – especially the more ‘intangible’ ones that protesteth not back
like prayer, time expended on spouse or children, regular family meals.
St. Augustine defines peace as ‘the tranquility of order’. Order!
Order requires a well thought-out plan, realistic, build around priorities.
Want a peaceful home? Manage your time around your goals!
My wife and I are the main celebrants of the Sacrament of Marriage in our home.
We plan our ‘liturgical calendar,’ an ordo with Christ at the center;
with rhythms of feasts and fasts, play and work, silence and talking.
Cultivating unity, virtue, mutual service, subsidiarity chores
for full, conscious and active participation in the common good.
A rhythm of comings and goings of life that make an imaginative world where home
is the stable, safe welcoming center whence all are sent on mission into the world.
We have an horarium, hours of the day and night all have meaning:
Waking, sleeping; eating, cleaning; studying, playing; exercise, rest; screens, none.
Prayer must show itself a master of time.
Love what St. Benedict says: “The day begins the night before.”
How do you protect the night from distraction, anxiety, temptation?
“Do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Eph 4:26)
Each day begins, ends with a blessing on your children and spouse.
Home economics should enflesh St. John Paul’s vision:
“Christian marriage is a liturgical action glorifying God
in Jesus Christ and in the Church. By celebrating it,
Christian spouses profess their gratitude to God
for the sublime gift bestowed on them of being able
to live in their married and family lives the very love of God
for people and that of the Lord Jesus for the Church, His bride.”
God’s love for us in Jesus is well organized, planned out, faithfully executed.
It bends with life’s unpredictability, but it retains its center
in Jerusalem, the City of Peace; City of God.
Yes, well-ordered love is laborious, limiting, filled with constant missteps;
but a disordered home is exhausting, enslaving, filled with constant conflict.
Order is the only means to true liberty, the only context for genuine spontaneity.
The amazing gift of time cries out for our stewardship!
Humanity was created by God to serve as priests of creation, to ‘sanctify time.’
Time relies on us to make it holy, structured by love and lifted up into the eternal Kingdom
at every Mass: put your calendars in the Offertory!
How we use time determines whether or not our times get consecrated.
We spend time, invest time, save time borrow time, beat time,
hoard time, defy time, manage time, need time, lack time, squander time,
buy time, waste time, gain time, pass time, use time, take time, kill time.
But do we consecrate, sanctify and lift up time as a living sacrifice?
When we consecrate time in Christ, we punch holes in eternity,
permit irruptions of grace, and ensure nothing good done in time is lost in eternity.
When you remember what God has done, you sanctify the past.
When you bear the hope of God’s promise, you sanctify the future.
When you love God and neighbor in the present, you sanctify Today.

O Church: Serve the Sacred Secularists!

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One very big obstacle to getting a significant number of lay Catholics to participate in missionary formation is the fact that, when this formation is complete, there will be no “job” for the “graduate” to perform. The current lay ministry formation processes run successfully on the hopeful premise that after lay students complete their formation they will be employed or given meaningful work by a pastor, or a hospital or a prison or some diocesan office. There is no such incentive for formation in the lay apostolate. This is a real hurdle to overcome if we are to attract larger numbers of parishioners to a formation in a theology of the laity. In short, after any education in the meaning of lay life is complete (if it ever really is), one will simply remain, for example, a plumber, a doctor, a truck driver, and will continue in the vocation of marriage, with two children, a dog, and a house payment. The missing incentive of getting to do pastoral ministry (e.g., being an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist or a visitor to the sick), cannot in itself abrogate the necessity of finding a way to offer such formation. To neglect this task is to neglect our duty to fill the world with secular missionaries. — Deacon James Keating

I met with some colleagues yesterday to discuss lay faith formation. You know, my same ole’ trope. Here’s my journal entry from last night. A collage of thoughts:

Every diocese, and every parish and Catholic institution in every diocese, should communicate unambiguously that their best energies are in service to lay Catholics called to live and move and have their being in the world, doing their secular things, and learning how to do them God’s way. In service to helping the lay faithful discover, embrace and carry out their noble secular vocations. Their best energies in service to the work of formation, catechesis, preaching, cultivating small faith communities, etc. All geared toward adequately resourcing those 99% of Catholics not called to church ministry but called to be salt, light and leaven in the lay apostolate. All geared toward illumining the specificities of people’s professional lives; the specificities of their life as faithful citizens in the ordinary, local, day to day worlds they inhabit; the specificities of their married/family lives; the specificities of their engagement with culture.

Those called and gifted for church ministry, ordained or not, need to be all about the specificities of these secular missionaries, experts in the actual details of the real people they are called to serve in the parish, school, nursing home, hospital, etc. under their care.

I remember when a reader of this blog 2 years ago wrote me and begged the church for this:

I am a cradle Catholic and a business owner. I have been very active in my parish for most of my adult life and I have had the benefit of having very orthodox priests and pastors in my life.

Here is my problem. A struggle every day with a whole variety of issues which challenge my ability to live my Catholic Faith in the business world, a world which is agnostic at it’s best and anti-Christian at it’s worst. I am dying for assistance on this, but what do I get at my parish? Homilies which deal with things too general to be helpful, from “do good and avoid evil” to immigration reform and abortion. Don’t get me wrong, I totally believe everything Mother Church teaches and I appreciate homilies which remind me of her teachings. But the Church also teaches us to live our Faith out in the world, and I am not getting any help on doing this.

So I beg you, Dr. Neal, to pursue your inspiration to find people who can speak to those of us in the secular world.

My business consultant friends tell me that if you want to find out how to improve service to your customers, you need to talk to the customers and ask how you can serve them. Even better, talk to former customers and find out why they left.

I’m not saying that the Church is a business, but I have never heard of a priest asking his parishioners for homily ideas. Actually, that is not quite accurate. I have heard many “church people” telling the pastor that he needs to deliver a strong message from the pulpit to the riff raff who show up late, are inappropriately dressed, leave early, etc. I’ve been on all the committees, so I know that the pastor is busy, but perhaps the pastor needs to talk to the riff raff to find out why they arrive late and leave early. And by “talk to,” I don’t mean send out a check-the-box questionnaire. I mean really get to know them, like a father knows his children.

Isn’t that how it is supposed to be?

I desire nothing more in my work as a theologian-catechist than to detonate this “lay apostolate” teaching of the Second Vatican Council in the midst of the ecclesiastical scene of America. I feel I am inept before such an immense task! I want to kiss the feet of those who are sent out into the world to live there, love there, work there, play there, witness there, struggle there, suffer there in order to bring every aspect of the secular life they inhabit into contact with the re-creating power of the living God.

The aggressiveness of anti-religious secularism begs for an equally impassioned religious secularism, an unleashing of the secular genius of the laity that does not withdraw into safe-zone ministries or world-renouncing enclaves insulated from society and culture, but a laity that boldly exits every Mass with a re-enkindled sense of their world-enhancing mission to imbue all-things-secular with the very earthy love of God.

In particular, two temptations can be cited which they have not always known how to avoid: the temptation of being so strongly interested in Church services and tasks that some fail to become actively engaged in their responsibilities in the professional, social, cultural and political world; and the temptation of legitimizing the unwarranted separation of faith from life, that is, a separation of the Gospel’s acceptance from the actual living of the Gospel in various situations in the world. — St. John Paul II

Those of us who are Baptized are living temples (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19), bearing within the fullness of a God who longs to take delight in His creation. As His image, we were created to be the locus of His delight in creation, the nexus of His love, the fire of His justice, the channel of His peace, the overflow of His mercy, a prism for the light of His Face to shine gloriously on all things He has made (Revelation 4:3). Man’s vocation is to reveal to all creation that His love for her transcends her finite longings. It is astonishing to think that it was by becoming man (John 1:14) that God chose to purify, reconcile (Isaiah 11:6-9), elevate, espouse (Isaiah 62:4) and reveal to all creation her final destiny of transfiguration in a New Creation where God will be all in all. The Incarnation was not just about us, but about the whole cosmos He entrusted to our care to cultivate and lift back to Him transformed and consecrated by means of our priestly hands (Romans 8:18-30; 12:1).

How God loves all He has made (Wisdom 11:24-12:1)!

St. Maximus says it beautifully:

…the Cause of all things, through the beauty, goodness and profusion of His intense love for everything, goes out of Himself in His providential care for the whole of creation. By means of the supra-essential power of ecstasy, and spell-bound as it were by goodness, love and longing, He relinquishes His utter transcendence in order to dwell in all things while yet remaining within Himself. Hence those skilled in divine matters call Him a zealous and exemplary lover, because of the intensity of His blessed longing for all things; for he longs to be longed for, loves to be loved and desires to be desired.