Tuesday, July 22, 2008

"The Fountain of all Holiness"

I can't believe it's been over a week since I posted.

The balance of the vacation was outstanding and now we're right back in the thick of things. Work, family, getting ready for retreat in a few weeks, getting our second child off to college, and the normal summer activities - friends, barbecues, swimming and baseball.

With my daily schedule I don't get to daily mass as often as I'd like. On some of those mornings I get to listen to Mass on The Catholic Channel on Sirius satellite radio (channel 159). They broadcast the daily 8:00 Mass from St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City.

Listening while driving can often be interrupted by, can you believe it, paying attention to the road, especially in the Pennsylvania Turnpike construction zones! Different parts of the Mass will have different effects on me on any given today. Today it was the Eucharistic Prayer. I've heard it hundreds of times but today one line really hit me. It begins "Lord, you are holy indeed; the fountain of all holiness" and BOOM! God makes me holy. I cannot make me holy! May seem obvious to some but not me.

Why was this impactful? I go through periods of my life "doing" instead of "praying". I substitute what I believe are good actions for good prayer time. For example, I am busy preparing for a number of upcoming events (retreat weekend 8/15, Calix convention 8/1, Calix meeting at my parish 7/26) plus my normal busy schedule and prayer time gets cut short.

All this to say that I think I realized today that these actions are not what makes me grow in holiness. Don't get me wrong, God needs us to act to fulfill his will. But we can only learn what that is when we "retreat" from this world to spend time with Him in prayer. It is through this prayer time that one can grow in holiness, can grow closer to God. After all He is the fountain of ALL holiness; not some holiness, not most holiness, but ALL holiness.

Thanks for reading and I promise to be be back in less than a week!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Compromises - Cypress Gardens

"My way or the highway". That was the motto for most of my life before I got sober. You could either come along for the ride or hop off anytime you wanted. But don't expect me to change my mind for you. There were a couple notable exceptions, especially if you had something I wanted. But other than that it was my way.

So if you've been reading here for the last week or so you read about my first Latin Mass last week and how I was studying for and looking forward to going again this week. Well I haven't mentioned here yet that I'm married and have four children. One child (daughter) is out of college and living in Cincinnati. The second child (son) just graduated from high school and starts college in the Fall. Children three (son) and four (daughter) are on vacation with us. The choice today was my way (Latin Mass) or their way, the "regular" 11:30 Mass as a family. As much as I wanted to make the Latin Mass, I wanted to go to Mass as a family and I'm glad I did. The youngest really participated and my son, the one I hope will be my priest, always seems to like Mass.

After Mass we ran out to Cypress Gardens to check out the swamp. They are having some financial problems out there which resulted in them losing their crocodile collection. The boat ride through the swamp was cool and Charlie, our guide, was informative. The one thing I didn't know about cypress swamps was that the oil they release below water level forms a "slick" of sorts on top that prevents mosquito larvae from hatching so there were zero mosquitoes. We took a short carriage ride (available on Sundays) that Mary Kate just loved as she has always seemed to like horses.

After Cypress Gardens we came home to eat, went for a walk down the beach and stopped to visit with my in-laws. Then back up the beach to come home, played some games as a family and put the kids to bed. It just doesn't get any better than that.

If I had pressed for the 6:00 Latin Mass tonight the whole day would have been different, starting with the "discussion" this morning about what Mass I was going to. So I'll just have to find a Latin Mass back in the Philly area. Small price to pay, huh!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Mere Christianity and the 4th of July

A few weeks back I heard an interview on EWTN radio of an "expert" on authors C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and G.K. Chesterton (did any of these guys use their given names???). In the course of the discussion they talked about Lewis' book "Mere Christianity". And they mentioned a part of the book which any alcoholic or addict can relate to and is what made me run out and purchase "The Complete C.S. Lewis" (see my library link below and left). One of the benefits of being on vacation is lots of time to read!

In Chapter 10 of book 3 - don't worry each chapter is only 3-5 pages! - Lewis writes:

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand , never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to the other country and to help others do the same.

How many times have we heard that people were searching for the answer in a bottle only to never be fulfilled. Here, then, is the answer. If nothing in this world satisfies our desire then we were made for another world, Heaven!

And the closing sentence sums up what we can learn in recovery, namely that we will not only satisfy that desire but help others to satisfy theirs as well. Just like we say in AA's Step 12 - "Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these steps in all our affairs." Perhaps that awakening may be to the fact that we are made for another world and that we "must make it the main object of life to press on to the other country and to help others do the same".

Finally - it's only fitting that we speak of country on this 4th of July holiday. For my American friends, let us thank God this day for the blessings of this wonderful country, flaws and all, where we are able to worship God freely and pursue that other country that Lewis talks about. Come to think of it, maybe that's what is meant in our Declaration of Independence where our founding fathers guaranteed us the right to the pursuit of happiness!

Note - I highly recommend "Mere Christianity" for anyone interested in or already living the Christian faith. It's only 175 pages or so and is a great introduction to the Christian life without any real deep theological writing.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Feast of St. Thomas

Well if your name is Tom today is a special day for you. Each year on July 3 the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of St. Thomas, the apostle.

In today's Office of Readings the second reading comes from a homily on the Gospels by Saint (and pope) Gregory the Great. It reads, in part:

Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. He was the only disciple absent; on his return he heard what had happened but refused to believe it. The Lord came a second time; he offered his side for the disbelieving disciple to touch, held out his hands, and showing the scars of his wounds, healed the wound of his disbelief.

Dearly beloved, what do you see in these events? Do you really believe that it was by chance that this chosen disciple was absent, then came and heard, heard and doubted, doubted and touched, touched and believed? It was not by chance but in God's providence. In a marvelous way God's mercy arranged that the disbelieving disciple, in touching the wounds of his master's body, should heal our wounds of disbelief. The disbelief of Thomas has done more for our faith than the faith of the other disciples. As he touches Christ and is won over to belief, every doubt is cast aside and our faith is strengthened. So the disciple who doubted, then felt Christ's wounds, becomes a witness to the reality of the resurrection.

In all matters, it seems, God is in control. Thomas just happened to be running an errand when Jesus shows up! How many times do we find ourselves in a situation that, in hindsight, we know was a direct result of God's promptings in our life? We are placed in situations that we would not have normally been in. Or, even odder, we are not somewhere we should have been and avoided some crisis.

How fitting is it, then, that circumstances were such that one of the disciples was not present when Jesus returned, only to be used to confirm through physical proof that the resurrection had really taken place. And through this proof, some 2000 years later all Christians know the story of "doubting Thomas" and because of his disbelief, believe!

From a recovery standpoint, how many newcomers do we meet who cannot believe that a 12- step program can bring them relief? And then the miracle happens and they not only recover but become the most vocal in a group when it comes to letting the next newcomer know that it works! As Thomas came to believe and supposedly went on to preach in Asia, so our believers in recovery go on to help the newcomer that follows for he now has proof that the 12-steps work.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Watch What You Pray For

We have had two gorgeous days here on Isle of Palms. Played golf yesterday with my brother-in law over at Dunes West. Great day despite the 100 score I had and the many lessons of humility I receive every time I play. Golf is so much like life but I'll save that for another day.

This morning I had the opportunity to attend daily Mass and a nice surprise after Mass was that the priest and a dozen or so others stuck around for Morning Prayer. Saying the Liturgy of the Hours with a group, I find, is much more fulfilling than praying them alone.

When I got home I had some breakfast with the kids and then took a few minutes to pray the Office of Readings for today. Today's second reading was taken from "The Way of Perfection" by Saint Teresa of Avila and as I read it I thought how many times in a meeting (or elsewhere) that we here the phrase "watch what you pray for, you may just get it!".

It opens with, "When asking a favor of some person of importance would anyone be so ill-mannered and thoughtless as not first to consider how best to address him in order to make a good impression and give no cause for offense? Surely he would think over his petition carefully and his reason for asking it, especially if it were for something specific and important as our good Jesus tells us our petitions should be."

How many times have I prayed without thinking? How many times have I asked for what I thought were immediate needs but would have long-term consequences. I think about the times where I have had to ask people for something (an employer for a raise or promotion, a parent for something "big", a child for something that they may not like, etc.) and how I play the scene through my mind many times before I approach them. On the other hand, I may not think at all about a request I am going to make of Jesus, expecting him to come through as long as it is His will.

On the other hand, how much greater would that prayer and petition be if we take the time to think it through. What do I really need? What is God's will for me? Today? Tomorrow? St. Teresa goes on, "O Eternal Wisdom, between you and your Father that was enough; that was how you prayed in the garden. You expressed your desire and fear but surrendered yourself to his will. But as for us, Lord, you know that we are less submissive to the will of your Father and need to mention each thing separately in order to stop and think whether it would be good for us, and otherwise not ask for it. You see, the gift our Lord intends for us may be by far the best, but if it is not what we wanted we are quite capable of flinging it back in his face. That is the kind of people we are; ready cash is the only wealth we understand". I can relate. Can you?

Recently a fellow Calix member shared about how she would pray for patience. Rather than receiving the gift of patience she would get a series of "opportunities" to be patient in order to learn patience. None of us have experienced that, right? But we curse those "opportunities" until we come to realize, sometimes many years later, that we have become patient. So it begs the question, do we ever really know what's good for us? Or, should we focus more on what God's will is for us and surrender to Him who knows what's best for us?

And, as a side note, my Latin-English Missal booklets arrived today. Time to start studying for Mass this coming Sunday!