Silencing Cogitation

The list of ways to safeguard the soul is a lengthy one – strengthen one’s faith, habitual study of religious teachings, confession, daily prayer, attend Mass regularly, read only spiritually enriching material, view only inspirational programs or movies, charitable works, follow the ten commandments, and be especially observant of actions and words – are just a few.

We’ve heard those and many more reminders scores of times. Faithful practice of the suggestions from the above list is important to our spiritual health but of those the one that may be critically daunting to achieve is that concerning speech.

Comments fall so easily from our mouths when subjects are presented; everyone has an opinion and readily shares it. Few of us are guiltless. Articulating our views with little to no restraint does happen when often it would better serve our souls (and others) if we, at minimum, severely censored and limited comments, or preferably shackled our lips into silence altogether unless our words rendered praise to God, were constructive, or encouraged one another.

Inadvertently, three acquaintances often help me remember to hold my opinions in check and not be so expressive as to endanger the future that I so ardently pray to experience. When I hear useless information and judgmental inference invariably it is jolting and persuades me to minimize my time in the company of those who don’t feel likewise; however, sometimes that is not possible because of mutual involvement in organizations and activities wholesome and worthwhile that I believe in and are beneficial to many.

These three are not worthless individuals or gossips and while their actions typify what Catholicism teaches as charitable acts their words reveal uncharitableness toward others when meetings convene in which collectively we participate. In the not so distant past in one of those meetings it seemed reasonable to one attendee (with a kindred spirit to the thinking of all but the three) to diplomatically bring their faux pas front and center with a well-intentioned chide that was met only with resentment. Dissension resulted where acquiescence should have prevailed.

It was preferable to think the offenders naïve rather than callous each time their words stained the character of others and their souls with the sin of rash judgment, detraction, or calumny. Increasingly though, hope is waning since in the absence of these few offenders the words of idle insinuation is nonexistent at our meetings. This community of volunteers gather to assist others and the majority of altruistically inclined tolerate often intolerable behavior from a few in hopes (and prayers) that eventually what we cannot seem to expose in words, God in His time will one day impart to these otherwise decent three opinionated members.

I tend to agree with the adage: from all bad comes some good. The indiscretions of associates that are also members of organizations that I support remind the rest of us of the importance of the spoken word. Words can give life or death and we are responsible for how and when we use them; we will be judged on how we use them.

Wisdom in the choice of words and when we share them is critical to the state of our souls; it is essential because as James 1:19 reminds us, “Remember this, my dear brothers! Everyone must be quick to listen, but slow to speak and slow to become angry.”

Like with any offense, when we share disparaging opinions they will eventually lead us to the valley of regret whereby guilt and punishment exist.

All offenses are against God. They should lead to frequent examination of conscience and ultimately confession since we understand that contrition is absolutely necessary for the forgiveness of sin, and true sorrow includes a firm purpose to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin. Foremost in pointless verbal disclosures (truth or rumor) we subject ourselves to offending God, and secondarily incur the debt of temporal punishment whereby penance is imposed that the Church teaches will be satisfied here or in the hereafter.

There is never a way to know the true relationship one has with God and I do not mean to imply that the average person can always refrain from forming assessments or opinions of others in their minds from what we see and hear, but we can keep those opinions to ourselves.

If we circumvent the tendency to speak without thought of consequences now and later we can substantially limit the practice of unnecessary speech. Otherwise, how sincerely can we claim true love of God when what we say belies what we do?

It is well worth an additional prayer of petition to God to keep ever before us the possibility of having our names omitted from the book of the living due to misuse of the vocal capacity He so graciously endowed upon us.

 

 

“I will punish those who have hurt others with their injustice. Jerusalem’s humiliation will come to an end, and this age which is about to pass away will have the final seal put on it. Then I will give the following signs: the books will be opened across the sky for all to see.”        2 Esdras 6:19-20

“You can be sure that on the Judgment Day everyone will have to give account of every useless word he has ever spoken. Your words will be used to judge you – to declare you either innocent or guilty.”     Matthew 12:36-37.

“Then I saw a great white throne and the one who sits on it. Earth and heaven fled from his presence and were seen no more. And I saw the dead, great and small alike, standing before the throne. Books were opened, and then another book was opened, the book of the living. The dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books.”                         Revelation 20:11-12

 

{Thank you for spending some time with me. God Bless you always.}

Counting to Seven

The disagreement began when our taciturn neighbor, Paw-Paw, unexpectedly engaged me in conversation one unusual day. Unusual because other than to say hello he hardly ever stopped his work around the home or yard to talk with anyone. Over the twelve years I had known him it was apparent he was dedicated to his family and duties and over that time began to blend into the scenery so perfectly that he was barely noticeable even though our yards were adjacent with no separation between them.

Grade school was coming to a close for me then and I didn’t understand why he dressed in his good suit, shoes shined to a sparkle, and went to church every Saturday yet we went to Mass every Sunday. I found his practice of Saturday worship baffling so the next time I saw him dressed for church I posed my question. He didn’t answer me then but told me he would later.

A few days passed before Paw-Paw called me over to his porch. He told me that he was not Catholic, but was a practicing Seven Day Adventist. I had no idea what that was but obviously they believed in going to church on Saturday. We talked for quite a while as he tried to explain why Saturday was the Sabbath and, in turn, I tried to rationalize how that could be. It didn’t make much sense to me then but I wanted to be respectful and asked only the questions that reflected that.

Paw-Paw believed that scripture proved him right and, bible in hand, told me to check it for myself. Of course at the time I couldn’t but felt telling him that would only solidify his belief that Catholicism was wrong in its teachings and practices as he mentioned beforehand. He told me that even the Ten Commandments confirmed how wrong Catholics were in observing the Sabbath, and said we even had them wrong. Catholics, he said, believed that the commandment concerning the Sabbath was the third one, when clearly it was the fourth. He told me to count the days for myself and I had to admit that if you began counting Sunday as the first day of the week the seventh, indeed, was Saturday!

I went home flustered and hopeful to find out which denomination had it right. Paw-Paw would not be the beneficiary of my discovery because it would have been disrespectful to argue the points we discussed, but it would greatly benefit my spirit.

My first (and actually only) source of information at the time was Father McGuire’s new Baltimore Catechism from which all religious instruction that I received in school to that point was taken. I hurriedly scanned the pages to soothe my troubled state. I reviewed those that addressed our discussion and in doing so assimilated it wasn’t just Paw-Paw’s faith that declared Saturday the Sabbath – the Jewish religion agreed with that premise as well. However, my religion book clarified how that came to be: it was a truth held before Christ established His Church, the one, true, Catholic Church.

The teachings so familiar to me were validated in my catechism book, that the Catholic Church commands us to keep Sunday as the Lord’s Day because it was on a Sunday that Christ rose from the dead and when the Holy Spirit came down upon the apostles. The Catechism affirmed that we, as Catholics, are strictly obliged on Sundays to attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and to keep from doing any servile work that is not necessary. With a sigh of relief I had only one matter left to resolve: was it the third or fourth commandment that spoke of the Sabbath? According to Father McGuire, it was the third!

Throughout the years since those I continue to wonder about denominations and their beliefs about which commandment is third or fourth, and which day really is the Sabbath. Exponentially my consideration of the two subjects grew post-Vatican II (late 60′s) when Saturday Mass became the norm and the line became blearier for me on which day the Sabbath fell. If the Catholic Church allowed Saturday Mass sufficient to satisfy our obligation to attend Sunday Mass could Fr. McGuire have been wrong on both counts?

Paw-Paw would have been rapturous to know that now sometimes I attend Mass on Saturdays and I often think of him when I do. It still feels odd though. He died not long after we began our discussions of God and religion and our respective beliefs so I never got the opportunity as an adult to revisit the subjects with him although I wish I had. Before he passed I found that he was interesting to talk to and true to his beliefs, and ever before me was the possibility that I may have presented him with more than a listening ear.

As to the matter of keeping the Sabbath – we must allow our conscience to guide us. And, if the number of the commandment that reminds us to praise God in a way that is more special than any other day ranks third of fourth among His ten commandments, perhaps in the end His kindness and mercy will shine forth in the mere fact that we are mindful and vigilant in keeping it.

There is much to read and consider especially about the Sabbath and one source beautifully written is an apostolic letter from Pope John Paul II , Dies Domini, to the bishops, clergy and faithful on keeping the Lords Day holy:

Pope John Paul II apostolic letter

 

“Observe the sabbath day—keep it holy, as the LORD, your God, commanded you. Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God. You shall not do any work, either you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your ox or donkey or any work animal, or the resident alien within your gates, so that your male and female slave may rest as you do. Remember that you too were once slaves in the land of Egypt, and the LORD, your God, brought you out from there with a strong hand and outstretched arm. That is why the LORD, your God, has commanded you to observe the sabbath day.          Deuteronomy 5:12-15

 

 

{Thank you for spending some time with me. May God Bless you always.}

Neither Defer nor Neglect

Our father was given numerous presents –jackets, slacks, shirts, ties, belts, pajamas, cologne, and an array of other gifts – over years of Father’s Day, birthdays, and Christmas by my sister and I. When he passed one suit, a shirt, one pair of socks and shoes, and a belt with a small bag that contained his personal items were on a hanger in his closet. Except for the laundry ticket attached to his suit and shirt nothing more was there.

For years he explained where his important papers were and frequently reminded my sister and me of what needed to be taken care of when he passed. I really didn’t want to consider that time. Everyone must die but there was no guarantee that he would precede me in death yet my father felt the need to reiterate his directives, so reluctantly yet quietly I listened whenever he inserted the subject into our conversations.

His written will and explicit verbal instructions over the years ensured that when the time came his burial arrangements and business affairs would be settled seamlessly. We very much appreciated the effort he exerted in downsizing his closets, wardrobes, chest of drawers and furnishings so that we would not have to. Having to allot the belongings of a loved one will certainly augment an already painful experience.

My father’s sparse closet was a poignant reminder that there is much to say for the diminution of possessions while we have the strength and presence of mind to do so. There are so many in need of the clothing we have not used in the last six months (or more) or household furnishings that primarily collect dust, and it’s liberating to donate these items before we become guilty of allowing our possessions to possess us.

To care about the earth and establish the good practice of recycling is no doubt commendable; to carry that concept further by recycling our physical blessings to those in need is God-inspired. Those less fortunate depend on the generosity of God’s people to whom much has been given. It is the ultimate recycling plan, and above that, pleasing to God. But He may require more. Buying extra food and dropping it off at the thousands of missionary centers may offer a meal to an otherwise deprived person or family in these economically challenging times for many. There are hundreds of ways we can give to others; God expects us to find at least one way.

Particularly throughout the Book of Proverbs several verses remind us not to forget the poor:

Proverbs 11:4             “Wealth is useless on a day of wrath, but justice saves from death.”

Proverbs 19:17           “Whoever cares for the poor lends to the LORD, who will pay back the sum in full.”

Proverb 22:2               “Rich and poor have a common bond: the LORD is the maker of them all.”

Proverbs 22: 22-23       “Do not rob the poor because they are poor, nor crush the needy at the gate; For the LORD will defend their cause, and will plunder those who plunder them.”

Proverbs 28:8             “Whoever amasses wealth by interest and overcharge gathers it for the one who is kind to the poor.”

Proverbs 28:27           “Those who give to the poor have no lack, but those who avert their eyes, many curses.”

Proverbs 29:7             “The just care for the cause of the poor; the wicked do not understand such care.”

Proverbs 31:8-9          “Open your mouth in behalf of the mute, and for the rights of the destitute; Open your mouth, judge justly, defend the needy and the poor!”

Soon the Church will delegate speakers to address the annual Catholic Charities Appeal. Every weekday, on Sunday throughout the year, and on Holy Days of Obligation we are fed by the Word of God while on this one Sunday we receive a reminder of the opportunity to give generously to others while we can. The New Testament also reminds us of our duty to help God’s people who cannot help the dire straits they may find themselves facing.

John 13:34-35             “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Matthew 25:35-40      “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me. Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’

 

Although it is disputed that the following quote was made by the man known to me as Stephen Grellet, born Etienne de Grellet du Mabillier, a former Roman Catholic turned Quaker, I kept it on my office wall for many years and still find it inspiring: “I shall pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness I can show to any human being let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”

{Thank you for spending some time with me. May God Bless you always.}

In the Midst

Recognizing struggles or lack of faith in God or that He will hear and answer our prayers of petition always disrupts my prevailing state of serenity. What seems straightforward in my view is anything but clear-cut for some. Incredibly (to me), intelligence has little to do with faith.

Today a lifelong friend stopped by just to say hello. We met when we were six years old. At that time she lived around the corner from my great-aunt and one day just as I stepped out of my mother’s car Joni walked toward me cuddling a small yellow kitten close to her chest. I recognized her from school which had started a few weeks before that day. She approached me as though we were already friends and that was the start of our lifelong friendship.

Joni was the smartest girl in our class. She hardly had to study at all. From first to twelfth grade she was a straight “A” student. Throughout that time she won every academic award offered, earned placement on the honor roll every semester in high school and when she received full academic scholarship to the university of her choice she maintained a Dean’s List average. I greatly admired her inherent academic acumen and the fact that she never flaunted or bragged about it but generously came to the aid of anyone for any reason. Meanwhile, she was (and remains) the ultimate animal lover and magnet for strays. Instinctively they know that she will not only care for them, but will also offer them compassion and love. Today she has four cats and a dog. For her that count is scant; typically she houses upward of seven cats and three dogs and attentively sees after their care in food, medical expenses, and hygiene.

As I prepared tea for us today the phone rang, it was another friend, Ursula. I put the phone on speaker just so the two could say hello and then would have turned the feature off but Ursula asked me to leave it on as she just wanted a moment of time. She asked if I would join her in prayer for her son’s health that had worsened since we last spoke and expressed concern that the doctors were still conducting tests to determine a diagnosis.

When the conversation ended Joni commented that she wished she had my faith, she called it “the really strong kind”. I realized she had been saying that to me for all the years I’ve known her and going even further by telling anyone who would listen that my prayers were especially persuasive and effective. In the last few years she even cited my husband’s and my cancer survival as examples. Although I thought she was teasing I discovered that she wasn’t. She was convinced that her opinion of me was right despite my strong protests or attempts to explain that faith is a gift and my prayers have no stronger effect than hers or anyone else’s. The look of doubt in her eyes remained as I told her Ursula’s request wasn’t directed just at me; she was soliciting prayers from those who knew the power of group prayer.

Although we shared religion classes for twelve years I reminded Joni that fortification of faith comes from the bible. We must believe not only CAN God answer prayers but that He WILL.

Joni admitted she analyzed the bible to the extent that it caused her to abandon study of it. Instead of thinking on the whole, often she would fixate on a word which ultimately veiled the true message. As I thought about it she had the same struggle when we were in high school and a group of us discussed what we were taught in religion class. Her analytical logic interfered with her faith. Faith does not follow the course of logic.

Hebrews 11:1 explains – “To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see.”

Joni is a good person, respectful of God, highly intelligent, compassionate and patient with people and animals (sometimes to a fault), generous, kind, and for thirty-five years worked with the poor as a social worker. During her tenure they had no better advocate. We talked about all of those things as we shared a few cups of tea.

I know she will consider my words that often I prayed her faith would increase, that she would come to understand belief in God begets faith and is for all who ask and exercise it. She couldn’t deny that if what she thought and told others about me was indeed true by now she would have the faith of Abraham!

We may not have gotten to the heart of what was on her mind today but her smile assured me she would return soon or if she was too busy tending her pets she would call to discuss specifics over the whole reason for today’s visit. That is just Joni’s way.

 

 

“Where two or three are gathered together in My Name, I am there in the midst of them.”          Matthew 18:20

 

 

{Thank you for spending some time with me. May God Bless you always.}

Real Life

From my voice the most melodic sounds do not come forth; at best my singing voice is average but I didn’t let that stop me from joining the choir in grade school or the Glee Club in high school. The nuns didn’t seem to mind either. Most members in both groups were ordinary vocalists with only one or two exceptions and the lead nuns made do with what God provided them.

I don’t remember why I joined the choir in grade school, perhaps it was my mother’s doing, however, I do remember that I was glad to be a part of a faction that praised God through music. It made me feel good. The choir sang every Sunday at Mass, for Mass on Holy Days of Obligation, and other occasions such as weddings. It was the funerals that I would have preferred to skip. Yet, I was loyal to my obligation and sang as required at those too.

Forevermore when I hear the Ave Maria sung, in Latin or English, it will conjure memories of one funeral in particular that our choir was required to sing for when I was in seventh grade. Under the direction of Sister Maureen Therese we practiced after school and on weekends. During the week and after those practices four of my friends who were also in the choir and I often gathered to discuss a range of subjects. None could remember who singled her out but the magnetism was spun by the question, “Isn’t she pretty?” Another commented, “Pretty, isn’t the word.” They were both right. Collectively we were suctioned into the je ne sais quoi of a senior in high school and everyday thereafter we would watch her walk by our playground with the other high school students on their way home from school. Her name was Eulaylei. She had no idea we existed but every girl in my seventh grade class felt the same about her – she was the most beautiful girl we knew. None of us envied her beauty, we admired it. It wasn’t just physical beauty that she possessed; she was kind and described as a gentle soul by those who knew her well. We were mesmerized with every aspect of her life.

On what was an otherwise typical Monday morning we went to Mass, returned to the classroom, said our morning prayers and Sister Mary Claire began our first subject only to be interrupted by the principal. Outside in the hallway there was a brief discussion between them and Sr. Mary Claire returned and announced that Sr. Maureen Therese wanted the girls in the choir to report to the church for a special practice. Although everyone wondered what was happening no one talked on the walk from the classroom to the church. The choir director offered only a curt statement: “Today, Tuesday, and Wednesday the choir will practice to perform for a funeral Mass that will be held on Thursday.” No one in the choir was aware of any deaths in the parish or neighborhood so her announcement created a wave of questions. Sr. Maureen Therese asked for quiet and received our full attention.

Over the weekend a young police officer pursued a suspect and that person hid in an alleyway. The officer was shot by the suspect and died early that Monday morning. It was his funeral that would be held on Thursday morning. After more discussion we learned that the officer was Eulaylei’s fianće; they planned to marry shortly after her graduation less than two months away. We were speechless.

On the day of the funeral the choir assembled in the loft of the church to sing while friends and congregants gathered below us to pay their respects. The casket of the deceased was rolled down the aisle as his parents physically supported Eulaylei; they followed it and eased into the front pew. Tears could be found of the faces of the entire congregation. The choir could barely sing the Latin version of Ave Maria, and Sr. Maureen Therese’s sole voice was the only one clear and audible. Throughout the entire service the mournful sobs of Eulaylei also filled the church and her black veil hid the pain that was apparent and shared by all for the couple whose future had been so bright only days before.

To young impressionable girls who sought fitting role models I discovered that Eulaylei was not where our attention should have been on that day or any other; ever before us stands the ultimate paradigm, the Blessed Mother who invariably directs us to her Son. As is written in 1 Peter 4:13“Rather be glad that you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may be full of joy when His glory is revealed.”

Latin was the language used in Mass and song at that time so I didn’t realize it then but later I considered the words to the song that stirs the emotions of so many. They are, in fact, the prayer that is repeated by Catholics worldwide in the rosary and, for me, when no other prayer seems appropriate: the Hail Mary!

These few words suffice whatever the occasion, be it joyful or sorrowful:

Hail Mary, full of grace,
the Lord is with thee,
blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death.
Amen.

 

 

“You have been raised to life with Christ, so set your hearts on the things that are in heaven, where Christ sits on His throne at the right side of God. Keep your minds fixed on things there, not on things here on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Your real life is Christ and when He appears, then you too will appear with him and share his glory!”                   Colossians 3:1-4

 

{Thank you for spending some time with me. May God Bless you always.}

Comfort and Joy

Whether we think there is reason to celebrate at all times or not, actually if we are truthful, there always is one cause or another to rejoice – God loves us, the gift of life, health (even a semblance thereof), our five senses, the ability to use the latest technology, or presence of mind to read and comprehend all on our own accord. Each of those justifications render testimony that the Almighty has blessed us more than imaginations can grasp. If we are sincerely mindful of considerations such as these we will not be left empty.

I don’t at all mean to imply that the less fortunate have not been blessed. God has His reasons for creating each of us just as He allowed and I cannot find justification for questioning any of His decisions. Although quite a few people that I know or have known have no problem is doing just that, still, I leave those actions to those who are comfortable with them.

Powerful consolation available to all who seek the truth comes in many forms. God has left us unmistakable evidence of His existence even for those who choose to overlook creation alone. He sent His only Son to guarantee that His message was received. Once His ministry began, Jesus gathered followers not for companionship, He is the Son of the Most High and needs no one else. His followers were also witnesses. When He returned home the Holy Spirit took over and inspired the writings of the apostles and thousands of saints that so comfort truth seekers when the time is taken to find and meditate on them.

Past messages from the Blessed Mother, and more recently in our times today, there are those from Medjugorje that are given to the six visionaries each month for our benefit. It takes my breath away that the Blessed Mother’s love is so profound as to visit earth at all, but that these visits have occurred for such a historically extended period is mindboggling. I am deeply grateful to her. Like obviously millions of others, I prayed for her return just as she had done at Fatima. She heard our prayers and illustriously responded.

And, if the love of the Blessed Mother is so overwhelming, what of the love of the triune God?

One theme has been consistent in the messages from Medjugorje: Blessed Mother advises us to pray. In her words, “Pray. Pray. Pray.” We should take her words to heart. The more we utilize the power of prayer the more substantial our relationship with God becomes and the fullness of life is revealed in unexpected ways.

In this age of information sharing it is impossible not to find God if we want to. The bible, thousands of other obviously inspired books, priests with an astonishing command of theology, apparitions that are occurring all over the world, and the faithful willing and able to epitomize the true meaning of how children of God conduct themselves are only a few sources that also witness not only to God but to the love of God.

If there is but one catchphrase to adopt as life moves forward it may serve us well to be: God IS love!

He is OUR Father – notwithstanding His perfection, that fact alone is reason to bow before Him daily in exaltation and thank Him for every second of every day.

 

“This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice in it and be glad.”          Psalms 118:24

 

{Thank you for spending some time with me. May God Bless you always.}